Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ancient Khmer Families Discovered Living in Southern China

Angkor Wat Apsara & Devata: Khmer Women in Divine Context
Decoding the World's Greatest Archaeological Mystery: Who were the ancient Khmer women depicted on the Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat?

Xishuangbanna, “Twelve Thousand Rice Fields,” is the poetic name of this semi-tropical paradise, hidden in the mountains of Southern China. On a recent visit, Cambodian scholars discovered a living connection to their Khmer homeland: families descended from ancient elephant drivers who never returned to Angkor.

By Kent Davis

Xishuangbanna, China – Xishuangbanna — known in the Thai-Lao dialects as “Sipsongpanna” (สิบสองพันนา) — is an autonomous prefecture at the southern tip of China’s Yunnan province filled with an exotic diversity of people, plants and animals. There, the colorful culture points to strong connections between these Chinese people and their southern neighbors in Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and beyond.

Radio Free America (RFA) now reports that a group of researchers from the Royal Academy of Cambodia have found a group of more than 1,000 ethnic Khmers living in the area, evidently descended from 13th century exchanges between the Khmer Empire and the Chinese Emperors of that era. The team, led by H.E. Sum Chhum Bun, Secretary General of the academy, next plans to investigate the southern migrations of ethnic Tais into what is now Thailand.

According to the RFA report, “The Khmer king sent two families of mohouts (elephant drivers) to help care for the (Chinese emperor’s) elephants. Later, the Khmer king learned that the emperor enjoyed Khmer food so he sent two more families to cook for the emperor. Today, local ethnic Khmers here still say that the four families of their ancestors came to China from Cambodia. They also speak some of the ancient Khmer language that they remember”

The assimilation is not surprising and has been occurring in the region for thousands of years. Reports as early as the 6th century B.C. indicate that the Tai cultivated rice in lowland areas. During the first millennium A.D., Tai speaking tribes from the mountainous plateau near the Yangtze River had already begun moving southward. Meanwhile, to the south, the Khmer civilization grew in what is now Cambodia. Khmer influence then spread northward, sharing their religion, technology, architecture and system of government.

Tai and Khmer groups blended until 1,238 A.D. when the Tai (Thai) people organized a distinct nation based in Sukhothai, previously the northwestern capital of the Angkorean government. This divisive development weakened the Khmer empire north of the Dangrek Mountains however strong ties, often through intermarriage, continued to exist throughout the region.

The Lao kingdom of Lan Xang (A Million Elephants) that formed adjacent to Xishuangbanna also has strong connections to the Khmer empire based in Angkor.

Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan penned his Record of Cambodia in this era, which still remains the only eyewitness account of the Khmer capital at Angkor.

Simultaneously, Marco Polo was making his unforgettable journeys through China. While Marco ventured into the mountainous regions of Southern China he never visited Cambodia like Zhou Daguan.

With the discovery of Khmer people in China, Cambodian researchers are now interested in exploring the connection with modern descendents of both Tai and Khmer people in Xishuangbanna. H.E. Sum Chhum Bun says that the initial research would take between six months and a year to complete and would be compiled into a book and a documentary film.

Similarities to Khmer Culture in China

In researching this story, we found these interesting photos to share.

Xishuanbanna natives display a greeting instantly familiar to Cambodian and Thai visitors.

Nearby forests reminiscent to those of Angkor.

Colorfully dressed Pi-Nong Dai women at a festival.

Umbrellas, a sign of royalty throughout Southeast Asia and India, are featured in Xishuanbanna dances and festivals.

Of special significance is the Xishuanbanna water festival, coinciding with Khmer, Thai and Lao new year celebrations on April 13-15 each year.

Around a central square featuring an elephant fountain the Xishuanbanna water festival is as wet as in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.

Far from the Khmer empire, naga dragons still protect sacred places.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is the Sam Rainsy Party’s candle burning out?

Wednesday, 09 March 2011 15:00
Dara Saoyuth
Phnom Penh Post

People are sitting in a room looking at a large TV screen. They are watching a person on the screen and if they want to speak, they have to get out of their seats and go to a desk and talk in a microphone so that the person on the screen can hear and respond. This is the method employed by Sam Rainsy Party members to communicate with their leader, Sam Rainsy, who is now living in self-exile in France.

Sam Rainsy was convicted in January 2010 of destroying public property and racial incitement with Vietnam by pulling up border posts along the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province in 2009. On March 1, 2011, Cambodia’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal and his sentence of two years in jail still stands.

“The court is used as a political tool to shut Sam Rainsy’s mouth or eliminate him from the political arena since he is the leader of the opposition party,” said Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party.

On the other hand, Cheam Yeap, a senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker, said the ruling party did not order Sam Rainsy to remove the border posts. “Our country has law, so Sam Rainsy has to face court because of his wrongdoing, and if one day in the future I do something wrong, of course, I will face the court as well,” said Cheam Yeap.

A press release issued on February 22 by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights stated “the convictions against Sam Rainsy may leave the country’s largest opposition party without a leader at the next general election”.

Sam Rainsy fled the country in early 2009 and will serve 12 years in jail if he returns to Cambodia because in a separate case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced him to an additional 10 years in jail on charges of forging public documents and disinformation after convicting him of disinformation and falsifying public documents.

The executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID) in Cambodia, Hang Chhaya, said what has concerned him is that Cambodia is a democratic country, so Sam Rainsy’s case should not have reached the level of removing his parliamentary immunity and sentencing him since he had rights as a politician. “What the ruling party want is to make a good leader who people see, love and support, have to stay abroad as long as possible,” said Hang Chhaya.

While Prime Minister Hun Sen can stand and talk to CPP members and his supporters directly, Sam Rainsy needs support from technology to be able to communicate with SRP members and supporters.

However, Yim Sovann said the fact that Sam Rainsy is not in Cambodia is not a problem for the party. “If you want to meet the party leader, we can make a phone call or video conference that you can see the picture and there is no difference in communication by having or not having him present,” said Yim Sovann, adding that Sam Rainsy is still the party leader who leads meetings and keeps communicating between all levels of leaders and members.

While the frog tries harder, the snake also tries harder

To gain more support in the upcoming election, the HRP and SRP have been working on merging their parties. After the 2008 national election, on January 15, 2009, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha signed on a joint declaration officially establishing the Democratic Movement for Change. Since then the alliance has not reached 100 percent agreement and recently each party created a working group of five people to discuss the merger.

Mu Sochua, a SRP lawmaker and one of the five people in a merger group on the SRP side, said some conflict of ideas and misunderstandings from the past were the reasons for slowing the merger.
However, she said she believed it would be successful soon. “We are democratic people and we have the same goal,” Mu Sochua said.

Mu Sochua said she was sure of success in the next election when the alliance reaches full agreement. She gave as an example Kampot province, where the SRP needs about 10,000 votes more to get one more parliament seat, however the HRU gets more than 14,000 votes. “Because we were not united at that time, about 14,000 votes were useless because none of us got any seats in parliament,” she said.

“Previously, we didn’t work well on the merger, but now we have a clear objective and we have clear steps to take,” Keat Sukun, a coordinator in merger group on the HRP side, said. He added that both sides had recently found common ground for a lasting unification of the parties.

Keat Sukun said that in Cambodia, each party cannot do everything alone and unification is very important in terms of exchanging human resources.

“It is the right decision to join as an alliance,” said Phnom Penh-based political analyst Chea Vannath, who explained that the seat allocation formula in Cambodia makes small political parties waste a lot of votes if they are not united.

However, she said she’s unsure if this unification can last much longer because, based on her observations, it seems easy to break up.

“To unite successfully, it’s very important to have trust building between the two parties, as wife and husband do,” said Chea Vannath. “We have to think that there will be a lot of obstacles with each step we take, and if we can trust each other, this unification will last forever.”

“While the frog tries harder, the snake also tries harder,” said Cheam Yeap, explaining that the ruling party was also working harder. Cheam Yeap said the ruling party did not fear the union of opposition parties.

However, he added: “All CPP members are not advised to ride a horse with a free hand.” He added that they are not just sitting there happy with their victory, but they are working to keep it.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Accelerating the Global Health Initiative: Cambodia's HIV/AIDS Efforts Put Women in the Driver's Seat

February/March 2011

The exchange of sex for money remains a major driver of the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout Southeast Asia, but the karaoke bars, massage parlors, beer gardens, and other settings where these transactions are brokered remain some of the most viable employment venues for vulnerable women.

In Cambodia—where more than 10 percent of female entertainment workers are infected with HIV, and more than 25 percent of these women and girls report having no education—USAID programming supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is implementing a new approach to reducing HIV risk by focusing on the central principle of the Global Health Initiative: that the health and well-being of women is key to the health of all.

Instead of exclusively focusing on distributing condoms and conducting risk-reduction education for high-risk women, the SmartGirl program aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health of its beneficiaries more broadly through linkages to personal counseling, voluntary family planning services, clinical care, savings schemes, and legal services.

Late last year, the program received a PEPFAR Heroes award from the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator for its efforts to reduce the risks associated with entertainment work, while also supporting women in the pursuit of other employment.

"We're committed to having women in the driver's seat," said Michael Cassell, the coordinator of the PEPFAR initiative in Cambodia. "SmartGirl is largely designed and run by entertainment workers to address their own felt needs. And the skills they acquire in the process help many of them to consider and pursue other careers, including ones in HIV and reproductive health service delivery."

Avoiding "Message Fatigue"

Previous HIV/AIDS programs have focused on raising awareness of HIV, and educating people about how to avoid getting infected. But by demonstrating that staying healthy is key to the pursuit of education, wealth, happiness, and other personal objectives, SmartGirl strives to engage beneficiaries while sidestepping some of the "message fatigue" and monotony associated with more didactic approaches. Education sessions are run by peers, cover a broad range of topics that are updated regularly, and offer referrals to free HIV testing, family planning, and other services.

During a recent visit to a SmartGirl club in Phnom Penh, U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) was inspired to join program beneficiaries in a rousing karaoke rendition of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," noting her appreciation for the leadership of club members in providing health education and referrals to health care, vocational training, and legal services to other entertainment workers.

"I am so proud of you," Richardson told the club members.

The SmartGirl program, which is implemented by USAID-partner Family Health International, currently provides services to 12,600 of the estimated 35,000 women working in clubs and night spots in Cambodia. The program is funded by PEPFAR but is consistent with the overarching objectives of the Global Health Initiative, the U.S. government's six-year, $63 billion commitment to help partner countries strengthen their health systems, with a particular focus on improving the health of women, newborns, and children.

"Almost 30 percent of entertainment workers in Cambodia report having an abortion in the past year, suggesting inconsistent condom use and unmet needs for family planning," said Cassell. "By linking these women to sexual and reproductive health services, we stand to prevent new HIV infections while also reducing maternal mortality—the latter arguably being Cambodia's biggest public health challenge."

A Model Approach

Cambodia is home to one of the most renowned national success stories in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Late last year, the country received international recognition in the form of a Millennium Development Goals country award for cutting adult HIV prevalence in half, from 2 percent to 0.9 percent between 1998 and 2006, while extending HIV-related care to more than 70 percent of HIV-infected adults, and HIV treatment to more than 90 percent of eligible individuals.

The estimated proportion of sex workers infected with HIV is down to around 10 percent from over 21 percent in 2003, according to the 2006 HIV Sentinel Surveillance (HSS). However, the maternal mortality ratio in Cambodia remains the second highest in East Asia.

"We're particularly excited about the potential of this program to serve as a model for the scale up of higher quality and more holistic approaches to address the needs of populations at high risk for HIV infection," said Cassell. "Many of the service delivery and referral protocols pioneered through SmartGirl are now being implemented as part of Cambodia's national program with support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria."

In the past decade, the U.S. government has invested more than $150 million in HIV/AIDS programs in the Southeast Asian nation, providing almost 40 percent of the resources available to the national response.

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World Bank tells Cambodia to halt evictions, offers help

Published: Wednesday, Mar 9, 2011, 14:27 IST
Place: PHNOM PENH | Agency: Reuters

The World Bank called on the Cambodian government on Wednesday to halt the eviction of another 10,000 people at a controversial real estate development and offered to help those who had lost their homes.

The dispute centres on land around Boeung Kak Lake in the capital, Phnom Penh. Activists say around 2,000 families have already been evicted and forced to accept minimal compensation after the government leased the land to a private developer.

"We are deeply troubled and frustrated about the people who are being forced from their homes," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in a statement.

He said the World Bank would help those facing eviction and that it had offered the government financing and technical advice.

"We are open to other ways to help these people. We have repeatedly called on the government to end the evictions. We are seeking a positive government response," he added.

Land ownership is a big problem in the Southeast Asian country, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed.

The World Bank had been helping the authorities with land management and administration but the government pulled out of the project in September 2009 because of rows over evictions.

"We call on the government to stop the evictions and to find a way to help the people. Over the last decade Cambodia has experienced high levels of economic growth, leading to increased pressure on land," said Annette Dixon, the World Bank's country director in Cambodia.

The World Bank statement acknowledged that people evicted from around Boeung Kak Lake had been "displaced in violation of the policies the Bank agreed with the government for handling resettlement" and that the Bank had been slow to respond.

A Cambodian government spokesperson declined to comment. An official working on the case said those who had already left the lake area had gone voluntarily and he denied activists' claims that the remaining families had been given a deadline to leave.

"We have accepted residents' request for talks on this on Friday," said Keut Chhe, deputy cabinet chief of Phnom Penh City Hall.

He said he could not comment on whether the government would renew its work on land management with the World Bank.

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