Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Khmer Rouge court 'damaged' by new case row

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIA'S UN-backed war crimes tribunal has come under fire from observers and Khmer Rouge victims as it weighs a controversial new case that is strongly opposed by the government.

The court's third case - which targets two unnamed individuals - has proved so contentious that Cambodian and international prosecutors openly argued about whether to pursue it this month.

'There is definitely already damage to the court because of the controversy,' said tribunal monitor Clair Duffy from the rights group Open Society Justice Initiative.

So far only one member of the murderous 1975-79 regime, former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, has been successfully prosecuted. He was sentenced last July to 30 years in jail for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case is now under appeal. A second trial involving the regime's four most senior surviving leaders is due to start next month.

But the government want the court's activities to end there, arguing that going after more suspects further down the chain of command could plunge the country back into civil war. Prime Minister Hun Sen - himself a mid-level cadre before turning against the movement - last year said the third case was 'not allowed'.

Little information has been made public about case three, but the suspects are believed to be former Khmer Rouge navy and air force commanders. A possible fourth case, thought to involve three mid-level cadres, is still under investigation but is also facing political pressure. -- AFP

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Misruling Cambodia

Corruption is rife and dissent is stifled, as "Cambodia's Curse" shows. But entrepreneurs are giving the country some hope.


If schools are a reflection of society, then they show Cambodia to be a limp and defeated nation. On the first day of class, Cambodian children learn they must bribe their teachers to get good grades, a practice that continues for the 3% of them who make it to college. Teachers, struggling on salaries of less than $100 a month, take their cuts and pass the money up to the principals. The principals then pay off local education officials, and so on to higher circles of government. In the end, those who give the largest bribes eventually win promotions—giving them access to even bigger cash flows.

Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land By Joel Brinkley Public Affairs, 416 pages, $27.99In this system, students learn few useful skills except how to survive under a corrupt regime, writes journalist Joel Brinkley. For the lucky few who pay, and sometimes even murder, their way to the top of the government, life is good. But for the ordinary farmers and laborers, kickbacks are simply an expensive roadblock to economic and social advancement.

"These demands are humiliating. It pushes a lot of smart kids out to the rice fields instead of helping our country," Sok Sopheap, a high school student who was kicked out of class because he didn't pay a bribe, told me. "This is why Cambodia stays poor."

Mr. Brinkley's depressing book is a mostly illuminating, though sometimes lopsided, chronicle of the politicians and bureaucrats who have plagued Cambodian society for the past 30 years. After the Khmer Rouge regime oversaw the deaths of 1.7 million people and was unseated in 1979, a new group of opportunists took their place. That wily clique, installed by the invading Vietnamese, includes current Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) solidified its hold on power in part by manipulating foreign governments and keeping the country poor. Its first big target was the United Nations, which took advantage of the end of a Cold War stalemate in 1989 to attempt a democratic transformation of the country. In 1992, U.N. peacekeepers tried to rebuild the country by launching the most expensive peacekeeping operation at the time—total cost $1.6 billion—and overseeing elections that attracted a remarkable 90% voter turnout.

Mr. Hun Sen lost those elections but refused to step down; four years later, he ended the U.N.'s dream of democracy for Cambodia when he ousted his democratically elected co-prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranarridh, in armed clashes. Since he has consolidated power, Mr. Hun Sen has repeatedly sued and pushed his critics into exile, and has attempted to stall progress of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Nevertheless, foreign governments funded the CPP-led government with $18 billion in aid and soft loans after U.N. peacekeepers departed. The leaders squandered much of this largesse on mansions, luxury cars, private security forces and political pandering—all to further their power. Today, the country loses $500 million a year to corruption, USAID reports.

Mr. Brinkley won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for covering Cambodian refugees, and he weaves the details of the nation's underbelly into a compelling argument, interviewing powerful figures and foreign officials involved in politics, courts, hospitals, land development, forests and schools. Particularly engrossing is his account of the country's infamous 2010 anticorruption law, something the West pushed Phnom Penh to pass since the early 1990s, which would force government offices to face tougher audits.

For 15 years, Mr. Hun Sen repeatedly promised donor countries and organizations that he would pass the law. But while the donors complained every year that he still hadn't, they nonetheless assented to his requests for more money, raising their annual aid pledges from $770 million in 1994 to nearly $1.1 billion by the time Mr. Hun Sen acceded to their requests in 2010.

But the new law hardly meets international standards. It does not require officials to publicly disclose their holdings, the heart of any anticorruption law, and allows them to offer gifts in exchange for favors "in accordance with custom and tradition." The saga becomes yet one more example of the ineffectiveness of foreign aid, and Mr. Brinkley rightly wonders what foreign officials are up to. When he visits the new anticorruption office, he finds that it sends complaints directly to the institutions that the complainants accuse, with their names attached—leaving them open to threats and intimidation.

Such gifted storytelling makes up for some shortcomings, including some minor errors of fact. For instance, Mr. Brinkley writes that a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally occurred at a park across from the National Assembly that is named after Mr. Hun Sen. While the location of the blast is correct, it is actually a separate, nearby park that is named after the premier.

More troublesome are Mr. Brinkley's historical arguments. He suggests, for example, that leaders can act with impunity because most Cambodians will not change centuries-old attitudes. Kings traditionally awarded posts to mandarins who paid kickbacks, a scheme that Mr. Brinkley asserts continues uninterrupted.

It is true that Cambodians do not have a history of popular sovereignty, which may help explain why democracy-building faltered. The Khmer language reflects the fact that most Cambodians have low expectations of their leaders: The verb translated into English as "to govern," for example, literally means "to eat the kingdom."

But that fact is a long distance from Mr. Brinkley's sweeping conclusion that Cambodians, timid and wavering by upbringing, accept tyranny because they see no alternative. "They carry no ambitions. They hold no dreams," he writes. "All they want is to be left alone." The first two statements are patronizing and disproven by the growing number of entrepreneurs. The third gives short shrift to the recognition of many Cambodians that democratic government is the surest path to domestic tranquility.

Mr. Brinkley's grim assessments on issues such as corruption and the ineffectiveness of donor aid ring true. Nevertheless, Cambodia is fast shedding its image as a lawless mafia state. The society is, despite all its problems, becoming more stable. Its economy is improving, thanks to limited regulation and taxation. Once pitied as a basket case, Cambodia may yet prove its critics wrong, despite its governance curse.

Mr. Cain is a writer in Vietnam.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Judges Rap Prosecutor at Khmer Rouge Trial

Published: May 18, 2011 at 9:06 AM ET (The New York Times)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — An internal debate over the targets of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal turned into a public dispute Wednesday, when judges ordered a prosecutor to retract his call for further investigations.

The fight at the United Nations-backed tribunal added to mounting fears that prosecutions are being quashed for political reasons.

The two investigating judges, from Germany and Cambodia, on Wednesday ordered British co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley to withdraw a statement he issued last week citing specific crimes that deserved further investigation. They said the statement violated tribunal rules and must be retracted within three days, without specifying the punishment for failure to comply.

Critics fear the judges ended their investigations prematurely into what the court calls Case 003, bowing to Prime Minister Hun Sen's demands that the trial's focus be kept narrowly on the one suspect convicted last year and four set for trial next month.

About 1.7 million people died of starvation, exhaustion, lack of medical care or torture during the communist Khmer Rouge's reign of terror in the 1970s.

Cayley's statement was issued just a few days after co-investigating judges Siegfried Blunk and You Bunleng announced that all investigations into Case 003 had been concluded.

The tribunal follows French-style law, which mandates that investigating judges collect evidence that is then forwarded to prosecutors who decide whether to go to trial. There are parallel sets of Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors working together.

Legal observers and victims advocates complained that the investigations into the new cases were cut short without even the most basic effort being made, such as summoning the suspects for questioning.

"They've basically done a desk study, and it appears that that desk study was a sham," Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in an interview last week in Bangkok. "It was a political decision, it appears, to shut down this case."

Cayley's statement called the investigation inadequate and detailed previously unreleased information about the yet-to-be-prosecuted cases, including information about mass graves and other alleged crime sites.

The judges' order said that Cayley violated court confidentiality rules and ordered him to publicly retract his statement within three days.

Cayley was traveling and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But his deputy, Bill Smith, told The Associated Press that Cayley had not decided yet whether to appeal the judges' order. He said Cayley was justified in releasing the information under court rules.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cambodian rice exports

Published: 16/05/2011 at 02:51 PM
Online news: Bangkok Post Learning

Agreement with Philippines for low-cost rice may cut into Thai and Vietnam market share.

Cambodia eyes Filipino market, Nascent rice exporting industry is eager to ship, offering to undercut competitors by Steve Finch

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia has held high-level talks with the Philippines that could result in the country's fledgling rice-export industry competing with Thailand and Vietnam for contracts to supply the world's largest importer.

On the sidelines of the recent Asean Summit in Indonesia, Prime Minister Hun Sen offered to sell rice at lower prices than competitors in a meeting with Filipino President Benigno Aquino, according to a Cambodian government aide. The offer was made in return for investment in Cambodia's under-developed agricultural sector, said Srey Thamrong, an adviser to Hun Sen, who was present during the talks in Jakarta on May 7.

''They expressed their desire to import rice,'' he said, adding that President Aquino told Hun Sen he would appoint a team of government officials to negotiate the arrangement.

The meeting followed a fact-finding mission by the Philippines National Food Authority to Phnom Penh early last month as part of the Aquino government's plans to diversify and reduce spending on rice imports that hit 2.25 million tonnes last year, the highest in the world.

''We are studying the possibility of Cambodia as an alternate source [of imports],'' NFA chief of staff Gilbert Lauengco told the Phnom Penh Post in April. Shipments would start ''at the very latest next year'', he added, although the exact amount and price the Philippines would pay Cambodia is yet to be agreed.

NFA Administrator Angelito Banayo told the Philippines' annual Rice Congress earlier this year the country paid an average US$630 per tonne for rice imports in 2010, or $1.42 billion overall, which represented more than 44% of the Philippines $3.47 billion trade deficit for the year.

This figure is set to fall dramatically in 2011 amid rising rice stocks and improved domestic production in the Philippines, according to government projections, providing tropical storms do not damage crops as has happened in the past in the typhoon-prone country. A Department of Agriculture report showed Philippines rice stocks reached a record 3.08 million tonnes by April 1, up 8% on the same period last year, while rice production climbed an annualised 16% in the first quarter to just over 4 million tonnes

In response, the NFA has announced plans to slash rice imports to just 860,000 tonnes this year after the new Aquino government accused its predecessors of over stockpiling rice, a move likely to further diminish opportunities for the country's two main suppliers Vietnam and Thailand as Manila also looks to add Cambodia as a lower-cost alternative.

Reports in the Philippines said the government has agreed to purchase 200,000 tonnes from Vietnam this year as part of a rice-supply deal with Hanoi, while Thailand is set to be the main supplier of the country's reduced-tariffs programme with an agreement to ship 98,000 tonnes.

In recent years Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, has struggled to compete with Vietnam to supply the grain to the Philippines after shipments of 500,000 tonnes in 2008 dwindled to 80,000 tonnes in 2009 before climbing again to more than 200,000 tonnes last year. In the past Thailand has said it hopes to ship half a million tonnes of rice per year to the Philippines

Meanwhile, Vietnam is also set to lose out if the Philippines imports rice from Cambodia, say analysts. The Thai Rice Exporters Association estimates Cambodia supplies up to 1.5 million tonnes of paddy to Vietnam every year, which is then processed and shipped on as official export produce to markets including the Philippines. But during the talks in Jakarta, Mr Aquino reportedly told Hun Sen that Manila was ready to ''remove the middleman'' - Vietnam - resulting in lower import prices for the Philippines should Cambodia become equipped to process and ship the necessary quantities of rice, which is not yet the case

''Cambodia's rice exports are mainly to Thailand and Vietnam at the moment and that is Cambodia's best option while the necessary downstream structures and logistics are not yet in place,'' said Korbsook Iamsuri, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association.

It remains unclear whether the Philippines will meet Hun Sen's request for the necessary investment in Cambodia's underdeveloped agricultural industry, subject to a formal agreement.

Although Cambodia is currently the world's seventh-largest exporter, it still has a long way to go before it can turn a paddy surplus estimated at just under 4 million tonnes this year into processed rice of a quality ready for shipment given inadequate infrastructure, high electricity prices and a lack of financing options in the industry.

''Hence Cambodian rice is not yet a threat to [the] export markets of both Thailand and Vietnam,'' said Ms Korbsook.

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Cambodian Survivors Seek Justice: Cases: 003 -004 - -San Jose Cambodian community awaits justice

Message from Dr. Leakhena NOU, Ph.D
ASRIC is asking for your support to push for continued prosecutions of other potential KR defendants for cases 003-004. Please see link below and sign if you wish, and fyi you don't have to be Khmer/a survivor to sign the petition. We are simply asking for your support to help the survivors fight for justice they deserve.

"Cambodian Survivors Seek Justice"

San Jose Cambodian community awaits justice
One of the worst genocides of the 20th century happened in Cambodia, in the 1970s. The extremist Khmer Rouge party, led by Pol Pot tried to create a rural farming society, evacuating people from their homes and jobs in urban areas to the country, where many were killed by the government, starved, or were worked to death.
SOPHANY BAY: If I did not see justice, you know, it’s kind of like I kind of cannot close me eyes properly when I die.
SINA MEAS: Pain me to death. I cannot find my husband, I cannot find my son. So I do not care the judgment day, but for the sake of my community I want justice done for them.
KELVIN SO: I am so happy that this is the first time that my case have been accepted by the Phnom Penh tribunal.

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Local Cambodian-Americans play active role in trial of Khmer Rouge leaders
Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge government fell more than 30 years ago. The power behind the infamous “Killing Fields” killed as many as 2 million Cambodians through executions, starvation and disease....
Sophany Bay counsels Cambodian-Americans on mental health matters. In the 1970s, she was a teacher in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, until the Khmer Rouge sent her to a forced labor camp in the countryside.

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Petition Link:

Facebook Page link: (A quick way to send a link of the petition to all of your facebook friends by logging in and selecting the 'Share' option as well as the 'Like' button - I also suggest sending a personal message to all of your friends letting them know how important it is to sign this petition and share it with others as well)


Leakhena NOU, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Sociology
California State University, Long Beach
Department of Sociology, PSY-143
1250 Bellflower Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90840-0906
Direct Office #: (562) 985-7439
Fax #: (562) 985-2090
E-mail: lnou@csulb.edu

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eng Chhay Eang: The SRP strongman has resigned

By Khmerization

Mr. Eng Chhay Eang (pictured), former Secretary General of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the party strongman, has resigned as an MP for the Battambang constituency where he had served for several terms already.

It is not sure what prompted him to resign, but he was known to be under tremendous pressures after he was publicly attacked Mr. Mao Monivan for nepotism and cronyism. Mr. Mao Monivan had resigned as an MP and was then expelled from the party for his public outburst against Mr. Eng Chhay Eang and the party spokesman, Mr. Yim Sovan.

Mr. Eng Chhay Eang was instrumental in strengthening the party's rural base and in the setting up of party branches across the country. He is politically astute and earned high praises from Mr. Sam Rainsy for his intelligence and management skills. He was once touted as a possible successor to Mr. Sam Rainsy as a party president due to his political shrewdness. However, he was heavily criticised for his heavy-handedness against internal criticism and has often been considered as a liability to the party due to his past gambling addiction.

Mr. Eang Chhay was replaced by Mr. Vann Narith.

At the same time, Mrs. Long Sakhorn, an MP from the ruling Cambodian People's Party, has also tendered her resignation as an MP for the seat of Prey Veng and she was replaced by Mr. Pov Samy.

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