Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vietnam 'secret army' vets gathering in Conn.

Associated Press /  March 29, 2013

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Early in the Vietnam War, the U.S. military trained former Maj. Sar Phouthasack in special combat operations and sent him back into his native Laos to put together a local force to patrol the Ho Chi Minh Trail, rescue downed U.S. pilots and conduct sensitive operations behind enemy lines.

Phouthasack was part of the Special Guerrilla Unit, known as the ‘‘secret army’’ that the CIA established to conduct covert operations in Laos, where North Vietnamese forces were operating but U.S. forces were forbidden by Congress to enter.

More than 35,000 local fighters from the unit died in combat in Laos, and thousands eventually relocated to the U.S. and became citizens.

Phouthasack helped organize a daylong event in New Britain on Saturday to honor the special unit of Lao and ethnically Hmong men who were organized and funded by the CIA. About 200 veterans are expected to gather from around the country in an event that is part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s multi-year commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

Since arriving in the U.S., the former fighters have not been eligible to receive military veterans benefits. In the coming weeks, unit veterans and the SGU National Headquarters in Windsor, Conn., say they will petition Congress for formal recognition of their service and for U.S. veterans benefits.

‘‘We don’t ask for a million dollars or something like that because we know the government doesn’t have enough money,’’ said Phouthasack. He said he wants the standard benefits, such as medical care and the option of a military burial.

When the war ended in 1975, most unit members escaped the communist takeover in Laos by fleeing to refugee camps in Thailand before thousands moved to the U.S. Phouthasack served the U.S. military for 20 years in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand before he moved to Connecticut in 1983 with his family and became a U.S. citizen.

Dennis Tarciani, who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War and is a senior adviser at the SGU National Headquarters, said the unit members saved many American lives.

‘‘One pilot was downed 12 times and saved by the SGU each time,’’ Tarciani said. ‘‘The SGU were recruited, trained, paid and led by the U.S. government. They feel that they were part of the American military.’’

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy planned to attend the opening ceremony on Saturday, joined by U.S. Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney, both Democrats, and other U.S. military officials.end of story marker

Cambodia: Supreme Court Keeps Activist Jailed

(New York, March 29, 2013) The Cambodian Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the trumped-up imprisonment of a land-rights activist should prompt Cambodia’s donors to demand her unconditional release, Human Rights Watch said today.

 The land rights activist demand King Norodom Sihamoni help in Mar 29, 2013. Photo: Quoc Viet/RFA
On March 27, 2013, the Cambodian Supreme Court denied bail to Yorm Bopha, who was imprisoned in December 2012 after receiving a three-year sentence on apparently politically motivated charges for protesting government land grabs that have adversely affected 700,000 Cambodians. On March 19, with Bopha’s appeal pending, Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a speech in which he declared Bopha’s sentence a “simple case of her beating someone up,” for which she had properly been criminally convicted.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling against the activist Yorm Bopha was no surprise following Hun Sen’s public endorsement of her trumped-up conviction,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Donors should not shrink from demanding that the government drop the charges against Bopha and raise their concerns about the Cambodian judiciary’s lack of independence.”

Bopha, 29, is one of the leaders of long-term protests against illegal evictions of residents of the Boeung Kak area of Phnom Penh by a Chinese company and a local firm closely linked to Prime Minister Hun Sen. In May 2012, 13 women who were Boeung Kak residents and who had demonstrated against the deal were arrested, summarily convicted of illegally occupying land and rebellion, and sentenced to up to 30-month prison terms. Bopha was a major voice in peaceful public protests against the jailing of the 13. She helped put the issue on the agenda of then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who forcefully raised it with Hun Sen and other senior officials. The 13 were later released, albeit with their convictions intact.

Before being returned from court to the prison after the Supreme Court ruling on March 27, Bopha called on other land activists “not to retreat,” declaring “no matter what label anyone applies to us, there will be justice for us.”

The government has pursued a large-scale program of providing title to land since May 2012. This has resulted in many land disputes that have been the subject of protests by people alleging that they have been unlawfully displaced, including at Boeung Kak. On September 4, 2012, Phnom Penh authorities, in an apparent attempt to deter protests, arrested Bopha for alleged involvement in a conspiracy to assault a man for stealing side mirrors from her car. She was charged along with her husband, Lous Sakhon, and her two brothers.
The four were tried by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on December 26 and 27, 2012. Despite insufficient evidence to establish guilt, Bopha was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, while her husband received a suspended prison sentence. Her two brothers were convicted in absentia. Bopha appealed her conviction to the Appeal Court, which has yet to set a date for hearings. The Appeal Court denied her application for bail and she appealed for bail to the Supreme Court.

On March 13, a group of land activists, including Sakhon, staged a protest at the Justice Ministry, calling for her to be given an appeal date and be released. They then marched to Hun Sen’s residence in Phnom Penh. They were assaulted by a mixed force of police, gendarmes, and security guards, who severely beat several protesters, including Sakhon.

The Supreme Court ruling against Bopha is further evidence of Hun Sen’s brazen interference in the work of the Cambodian judiciary, Human Rights Watch said. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Dith Munthy, is a member of the ruling Cambodian People Party’s politburo and a close confidante of the prime minister.

“A politically controlled judiciary has targeted a brave woman who has had the audacity to challenge powerful interests and people, including Hun Sen,” Adams said. “Donors successfully took up the case of the ‘Boeung Kak 13’ and ensured their release from prison, but they have more to do. The release of Yorm Bopha and an end to attacks on land activists should remain at the top of the donor agenda.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cambodian Land Rights Activist's Bail Plea Rejected

Yorm Bopha (C) with her son at the Supreme Court 
in Phnom Penh, March 27, 2013.

The Cambodian Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a jailed land rights activist's appeal to be released on bail, drawing criticism from rights groups who said the whole case smacked of political interference and should be thrown out.

Yorm Bopha, who had championed the right to housing for residents forcibly evicted from the capital Phnom Penh’s former Boeung Kak Lake neighborhood, had cited health and family reasons to be out of jail pending her appeal on a conviction but presiding judge Khim Ponn The said there was no basis for her application.

About 200 villagers protested outside of the court, burning a scale of justice replica, as Yorm Bopha was taken to prison. They yelled, "Corrupt court, hear the cry of villagers.”

Yorm Bopha, 29, was ordered jailed for three years by a municipal court which convicted her in December for committing “intentional violence" in connection with the beating of a suspected thief. Human rights groups said she had been targeted for her activism.

She told reporters in court that she was suffering from heart and respiratory problems and had to take care of her young child. Her husband, following a recent beating by the police, is unable to work.

“I am having heart, respiratory, and stomach issues,” she said. “I have many responsibilities, defending my family and land. If the court wants to see real justice, I believe that I should be released."

"But the Boeung Kak community and I will continue to struggle forever and we will not be defeated," she said.

'Political interference'

Local rights groups Licadho, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, Equitable Cambodia, and the Community Legal Education Centre in a joint statement called on the judiciary to set a date for Yorm Bopha’s appeal against the conviction and for "an end to political interference in this case, and more generally the court system."

"The Supreme Court’s ruling comes as no surprise," they said, adding that just over a week before Yorm Bopha’s appearance at the court, Prime Minister Hun Sen had publicly stated in a televised speech that her case had nothing to do with land issues and that she instead had acted “violently and unjustly in the eyes of the government."

"In a judicial system renowned for its political obedience, it's impossible to see the Prime Minister's comment as harmless," the statement said.

Yorm Bopha has now spent 204 days in jail since her initial detention in early September 2012.

“Bopha is not the one to have acted unjustly here,” said Eang Vuthy, a representative of Equitable Cambodia.
“Back at the Municipal Court in December 2012, no testimony was presented in support of her guilt. Not a single witness, whether from the prosecution or the defence, at any point stated Bopha had engaged in violent actions."

“The procedural and substantive flaws in Bopha’s original trial were so dramatic, so blatant, that it’s impossible to conclude that this conviction isn’t politically motivated,” said Licadho Director Naly Pilorge.

“How else do you explain a conviction for ‘intentional violence’ against a person who never laid a finger on anyone?”

The denial of bail for Yorm Bopha came just a week before her fellow Boeung Kak community activist Tep Vanny is due to be honored by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington.

She is one of five honorees to receive the 2013 Global Leadership Award conferred by the organization Vital Voice.

Hun Sen Touts Successes, Distances Himself From Local Leaders

By - March 28, 2013 
The Cambodia Daily

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday told voters not to hold it against him if they disapprove of local CPP officials and to vote for him anyway come this year’s national elections in July.

“Please don’t hit the cart if you are angry at the cow. Don’t stop voting for Hun Sen if you hate your commune chief,” he said in a speech in Kompong Cham province to inaugurate a pagoda.
“It’s a national election,” he said. “Don’t be confused, the national policy is set out by me.”

More than 97 percent of the country’s 1,633 commune chiefs are ruling party officials. Given broad authority to manage electoral registers, commune chiefs have come under increasing scrutiny from various independent election monitors who have found irregularities in voter lists.

Speaking at the inauguration of the pagoda in O’Reangou district, Mr. Hun Sen applauded the decision to again raise the minimum wage for what he estimated are Cambodia’s 600,000 garment workers.

“The minimum wage has increased from less than $30 to over $40, then $62 and now $80,” he said. The $80 includes a pre-existing health bonus in the minimum wage of $75, which will be effective in May.”
“That’s why some garment workers can send money to their family,” he added.

Cambodia’s minimum wage is still the lowest in Southeast Asia, and economists and labor advocates have said that $75 is well below a living wage in Phnom Penh.

Comparing Cambodia to countries around the world beset with internal conflicts, such as Egypt, Syria and the south of Thailand, Mr. Hun Sen boasted that “only the CPP can maintain long-lasting peace and stability.”
“The CPP has never changed its symbol. It is simply an angel spreading flowers. So just tick that angel sign [and] you are electing Hun Sen,” he said.

Mr. Hun Sen also noted that O’Reangou district was where he lost an eye as a soldier in the country’s civil war in the 1970s.

“O’Reangou is the land where I lost one of my eyes. One piece of shrapnel is remaining in my eye, so sometimes when there is rain and thunder, I suffer,” he said.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cambodian Polls a ‘Win-Win Situation’ for Opposition

 Sam Rainsy (R) speaks with Burmese comedian and activist Zarganar (L) in Rangoon, March 11, 2013. AFP

Source: RFA

Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that his party will get an indirect boost in July elections even if he is not allowed to return to contest in the polls.

The president of the National Rescue Party (NRP) united opposition coalition told RFA's Khmer Service that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government would be in shambles if it was returned to power without implementing election reforms or allowing him to contest in the polls.

“Participating in the election would be ideal, but if I can't participate, it would be good too in a way,” Sam Rainsy said.

“Without my presence, the election will be seen as worthless and no one will recognize it. Cambodia will be seen as having an illegitimate government.”

Sam Rainsy said he would nevertheless continue to exhaust avenues to push for him to return to Cambodia, where he faces up to 11 years in prison after his conviction on charges he says were part of a campaign of political persecution against him led by Hun Sen.

But the 63-year-old, who currently lives in Paris, said that if he cannot return to participate in the election, the NRP—formed from his erstwhile Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and another leading group, the Human Rights Party (HRP)—would indirectly benefit from his absence because it would highlight the polls as being neither free nor fair.

Sam Rainsy said he believes that the international community would shun the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) leadership if Hun Sen were to win an election criticized as being a sham and could move to end financial assistance to the country.

He said Cambodians would also view the government as unlawful if there was no free and fair elections, which could undermine the CPP’s rule.

“This is a win-win situation. If the CPP wins the election, it would be just as if they had lost, because no one will recognize the result,” he said.

But the opposition leader vowed to continue his fight to take part in the polls.

He is traveling to England on Wednesday where he will meet with government officials, lawmakers and other activists from around the world to gain their support for his bid to return to Cambodia.

“I will raise support to ensure a free and fair election in Cambodia,” adding that he would push for reform of the country’s National Election Committee (NEC), which critics say lacks independence from the ruling party.

“The committee must be independent and I must be allowed to participate in the election campaign in July.”

The NEC had removed Sam Rainsy as a voter and disallowed him from standing as a candidate in the elections in a ruling in November. The committee reaffirmed its position in January, saying that his convictions for crimes that included destroying border markers near Vietnam in 2009 make him ineligible to vote or to run for office.

Government claim

Sam Rainsy’s comments came as Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong met with outgoing Australian Ambassador Penny Richards in Phnom Penh, stressing that the elections will be free and fair, regardless of the opposition leader’s participation.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Kuy Koung said Hor Namhong told the ambassador that the election would be “conducted smoothly.”

“[Sam Rainsy’s] party will participate in the election as planned, even without him here,” he said.

“The deputy prime minister said there is no way that the election will not be free and fair.”

The United States in January criticized the NEC’s decision to disqualify Sam Rainsy based on his criminal convictions, saying it called into question the vote’s legitimacy.

Free and fair elections “require a level playing field and unfettered participation of opposition parties,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at the time. “So the exclusion of a leading opposition leader calls into question the legitimacy of the whole democratic process in Cambodia.”

Sam Rainsy has said that the opposition's chances in the coming elections are good, basing his forecast on local elections last June in which he said the SRP and the HRP collected a total of 31 percent of the popular vote in spite of what he described as a partisan election commission and serious manipulation of voter lists.

“Therefore, one can understand why incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen wants to exclude me from the election process in spite of international condemnation,” he said.

Hun Sen is the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia, having ruled Cambodia since 1985. In 2009 said he would continue to stand as a candidate until 2023.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cambodia’s forthcoming poll remains free and fair despite absence of opposition chief: deputy PM

Souce:Xinhua Publish
Updated 26/03/2013

PHNOM PENH, March 26 — The forthcoming general election will be free and fair despite the absence of opposition leader Sam Rainsy living in exile due to his convictions, Cambodian deputy prime minister and foreign minister Hor Namhong said Tuesday.

“We believe that the July 28 election will be conducted in a free, fair and democratic atmosphere as the previous elections,” he told the outgoing ambassador of Australia to Cambodia, Penny Richards.

“There is no any reason to say that the forthcoming election is not free and fair even though Sam Rainsy has not joined the race due to his conviction of criminal offences,” he said.

He said an election is deemed “free and fair” because of the participation of parties from all political camps.
He added that despite Sam Rainsy’s absence in the upcoming poll, his party has actively campaigned for the election.

The 63-year-old Sam Rainsy, leader of the newly-formed National Rescue Party, fled the country in late 2009 before Cambodian court sentenced him to 11 years in jail in absentia for two counts — removing border poles and publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam and accusing Hor Namhong of being a member of the Khmer Rouge regime.

In November 2012, the National Election Committee removed Sam Rainsy from the voters list because he is unable to participate in the upcoming election as a convicted criminal.

Some countries, particularly the United States, said that the conviction of Sam Rainsy was politically motivated and urged Cambodian government to allow for the return of Sam Rainsy ahead of the election, but the request was rejected by the government, saying that Sam Rainsy is not a political prisoner, but he committed crimes and deserved punishment by law.

Prime Minister Hun Sen predicted Monday that his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) would win at least two-thirds majority in the forthcoming poll.

“In the last election, we won more than two-thirds in the parliament. I do believe that the CPP will be able to maintain the parliamentary seats not less than two-thirds in the forthcoming election,” Hun Sen, who is also the CPP Vice-President, said.

Hun Sen, 61, has been in power for 28 years and vowed to retain until he is 90.

Cambodia shuts orphanage after reported trafficking, abuse

Mar 26, 2013

Cambodian authorities said today they had shut a foreign-run orphanage that is suspected of beating its children and carrying out human trafficking.

Officials and a rights group said police in the capital, Phnom Penh, on Friday raided the unlicensed orphanage, called Love in Action, and rescued 21 children.

Gratianne Quade, a spokeswoman for SISHA, an anti-trafficking organization in Cambodia, said an Australian woman who ran the orphanage was not arrested in the Friday raid and her current whereabouts were not known.

Poverty compels many parents in Cambodia to send their children to orphanages. SISHA estimates that 70 percent of Cambodia's 100,000 orphans actually have at least one parent.

Um Sophanara, an official at the Social Affairs Ministry, which oversees orphanages, confirmed the closure but declined to give details. A SISHA statement said the raid came after several groups of children had fled the orphanage recently and reported a variety of neglect and abuse problems to authorities.

"The shutdown is a massive step forward, demonstrating the Cambodian government's increased capacity to deal with abusive orphanages," SISHA said, adding that its Australian owner was under investigation for human trafficking, child abuse, neglect and running an unregistered orphanage.

An investigation found "the food standards were subpar, some children were visibly ill and not taken to a doctor, the facility was dirty, sewage was blocked, and the living quarters were overcrowded," the SISHA statement said, adding that interviews with children revealed "many instances of physical abuse from the staff."

Love in Action's website describes it as a Christian-run facility that receives funding from church groups in Australia.

Separately, the 36-year-old director of an orphanage in northwestern Siem Reap province was arrested Friday for repeatedly sexually abusing two girls, 11 and 12, over a four-month period, police said.

The suspect, Mon Savuth, was detained for the alleged abuse at the Angkor Orphanage & Education Organization, but the center - which cares for 36 children - remains open, said Duong Thavery, the head of the anti-trafficking police unit in Siem Reap.
- AP

Monday, March 25, 2013

KRouge 'Brother Number Two' fit for trial: experts

 Mar 25, 2013
Bangkok Post

Pol Pot's former deputy Nuon Chea is fit to continue with his trial for war crimes and genocide, medical experts told Cambodia's Khmer Rouge court following the death of a co-defendant.
Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea in court on March 19, 2012. Nuon Chea is fit to continue with his trial for war crimes and genocide, medical experts told Cambodia's Khmer Rouge court following the death of a co-defendant.
"From a physical point of view, I felt he is well enough to continue with the trial," Professor John Campbell, a geriatrician from New Zealand, told the UN-backed tribunal.

Another expert who examined the physical and mental conditions of the 86-year-old "Brother Number Two", British forensic psychiatrist Seena Fazel, said his mental health and cognitive function "is currently good".

Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving leader of the hardline communist regime which oversaw the "Killing Fields" era in the late 1970s, is currently on trial alongside former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, 81.

The death on March 14 of regime co-founder Ieng Sary at the age of 87 intensified fears that the remaining two elderly co-defendants may also die before verdicts can be reached in their trial, which began in June 2011.

Nuon Chea has also suffered a number of illnesses, including high blood pressure, acute bronchitis and back pain.

"One of the questions we asked ourselves is would we be surprised if this person was not alive in six months? I have to say in Nuon Chea's situation, we would not be surprised," Campbell said.

"Life is very unpredictable at age 86, especially with the underline problems that he has," he added.
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan deny charges including war crimes and genocide from their roles in a regime blamed for the deaths of up to two million people.

Ieng Sary's widow Ieng Thirith, the regime's former social affairs minister, was freed in September after being deemed unfit for trial due to dementia.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia in 1975-79.

Fazel said that Nuon Chea "has a clear understanding" of the consequences of a verdict in this trial.

"He explained that if he was found guilty, one possibility was life imprisonment," he said, adding that Nuon Chea believed that he would not receive capital punishment "because it wasn't part of the national law".

Saturday, March 23, 2013

UN HEALTH BRIEF: Everyone needs a place to go

Friday, 22 March 2013 

As ancient, unsanitary habits fade out, modern toilets continue to improve the quality of life for women and children across the world. PHOTO | FILE
Jan Eliasson
Keo Samon, a rice farmer in southeastern Cambodia, had no toilet in her home. Nor was there even an outhouse or latrine for Keo and her husband and five daughters. Instead, they would defecate on land around the home, or in the rice fields.

That changed after the Water Supply and Sanitation Council, a United Nations partner, began to work with her village. 

Keo’s family, along with 30 others, attended community-led awareness sessions, built simple dry toilets and joined the drive to make their village ‘open defecation-free’.

“In the past, I did not know the consequences of defecating outdoors. It was simply my habit, like others in my village. We were not aware of the importance of good hygiene. But now, I am very excited to have my latrine,” Keo said.

What good does a toilet do? More than you may imagine. Adequate sanitation prevents disease or malnutrition caused by contaminated water.

Open defecation – practiced by more than 1 billion people around the world – is among the main causes of diarrhoea, which kills more than three quarters of a million children, aged five or under, each year.

Sanitation is also a necessary path to protection and empowerment for women and girls. When schools lack toilets, girls stay home when they are menstruating. 

When adequate sanitation is unavailable, women and girls are forced to take their private needs to the open, leaving them subject to sexual abuse.

Finally there is the economic argument. Poor water and sanitation costs developing countries around $260 billion a year -- 1.5 per cent of their gross domestic product. 

On the other hand, every dollar invested can bring a five-fold return by keeping people healthy and productive.

So, it is difficult to understand why, in 2013, 2.5 billion people around the world still lack access to adequate sanitation. More people have cell phones than toilets in today’s world.

Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the year 2000, global poverty rates have been reduced by half. So has the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water. 200 million slum dwellers live better lives.

Enrolment in school has increased dramatically. The global mobilization behind the MDGs has been a remarkable success that has changed the world’s approach to development for the better. 

Yet, with just over 1,000 days remaining before the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs, we are not even close to reaching the goal on proper sanitation. 

That is why I am, on behalf of the Secretary-General and the UN, launching a call to action on sanitation as we mark the beginning of the International Year on Water Cooperation.

There are three things we can do to speed up progress on sanitation.

First, we should speed up the elimination of open defecation – country by country, community by community, family by family. 

We need to talk about the problem, not turn our heads away from a subject many find uncomfortable.

Second, we need to strengthen cooperation. The water and sanitation challenge is everybody’s business. We need everyone to play their part. National governments need to lead by making commitments.

Local governments can work with communities to help them to help themselves. The private sector can invest in the health of their employees and the environment. And civil society organizations can monitor progress and advocate for solutions.

Third, we should scale up the projects that work. Simple, affordable actions have already proved their worth. 

Between 1990 and 2010, about 1.8 billion people gained access to sanitation – a significant achievement. Many countries have tackled this problem within a generation.

Doing nothing is not an option. The social, economic and environmental cost is simply too high.
Let us commit now to end open defecation and provide adequate sanitation and safe water for all – so women and girls can live with dignity; so our children can survive and communities can thrive.

Keo in Cambodia reports that all her family members are now using the latrine. They are drinking safe water.
“I ask all families in my village to start building latrines for their use. This will help our village to end open defecation and bring good health for everyone, especially our children.”

Keo has set an example. Let us follow -- one community at a time. Nobody can do everything - but everybody can do something.

The writer is Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

Cambodian hikes wages for garment workers

 By: AFP | March 23, 2013

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia has raised the minimum wage for its garment workers by 20 percent, following a series of strikes over pay and conditions, but union leaders said Friday it was not enough.

The monthly minimum wage for the hundreds of thousands of workers who make clothes for firms such as Levi Strauss of the US and Sweden's H&M will rise from $61 to $75, the government said. Workers will also be given an additional $5 a month for healthcare, according to a government announcement on state-run television late Thursday. The increase will take effect from May 1, it added.

Cambodia's garment sector, a key source of export earnings, has been hit by a series of strikes and high-profile media scandals over wages and working conditions in factories producing for top western brands.

Recent negotiations between factory owners and union leaders over pay and conditions had ended with no agreement earlier this week, prompting the government to intervene.

Trade union leaders said the 20 percent increase was insufficient and demanded $100 a month. "The increase is too small. It will not improve workers' livelihoods as inflation is high," Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, told AFP.

The outspoken trade unionist said he would organise a mass protest by workers if their demands are not met.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC), told AFP that employers would follow the government order.

The textile industry is a key source of foreign income for Cambodia and employs about 650,000 people, mostly women.

The country earned $4.6 billion from its garment exports last year but a series of strikes has pointed to festering discontent in the industry.

Protests by workers have also turned ugly. Three women were wounded when a gunman opened fire on protesters demanding better working conditions at factories in eastern Svay Rieng province in February last year.

Tension between staff and bosses also erupted in 2010 when tens of thousands of workers went on strike until the government stepped in and arranged talks with manufacturers.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Police Accuse Four More Khmer Krom of Acts of ‘Terrorism’

By and
March 19, 2013 

Four Khmer Krom men were arrested by Thai authorities in Thailand’s Pathum Thani province outside Bangkok and are being charged with what Cambodian police claim are acts of terrorism and plans to attack Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

The arrests come exactly a week after the arrests of two other Khmer Krom men in the same province by Thai authorities on similarly vague charges.

Khmer Krom, or lower Khmer, refers to the ethnic Khmer community in southern Vietnam. Members of the Khmer Krom community frequently accuse the Vietnamese government of human rights abuses and repressing their cultural identity.

The four men arrested Friday— Yorn Kimsrun, 27; Yorn Yoeub, 25; Theac Kongphuong, 37; and Khem Ma, 28—will be extradited to Cam­bodia to face a litany of charges, Cambodian National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith said in a statement posted on the National Police’s website.

“The arrest of those people followed a court warrant for their arrest, they are charged with terrorism, distributing leaflets, possessing explosives, creating illegal armed forces and creating the Khmer National Rescue Front that violates the rule of Cambodian law,” the statement says.

Despite the police statement, no details regarding the alleged move­ment, alleged attack plans or alleged act of “terrorism” have been provided by police.

Taing Piseth, a representative of Khmer Krom refugees in Thailand employed by the U.N., declined to comment on whether any of the six men arrested were asylum seekers, saying that officials from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand told him not to speak publicly about the arrests.

One source close to the case said that the two Khmer Krom men arrested last week were political asylum seekers and were to be resettled in Australia in a matter of weeks.

James Heenan, the officer-in-charge of the U.N. human rights off­ice in Cambodia, said he was concerned by the arrests, but didn’t have enough details to comment further.

Speaking by phone from Thailand on Sunday, Theach Tha, 52, the wife of Theach Soeu, one of the men arrested on March 8, said that her husband had been part of a group of Khmer Krom who were working to set up a Khmer Krom advocacy association in Thailand.

“We created an association because we wanted to protect all Khmer Krom people when we have problems, he was not against the government,” Ms. Tha said.

Yun Tharo, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker and president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Cultural Center, said the arrested men are innocent. “They were not involved with criminal activities,” he said.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Thais hand over ‘terrorists’

kampuchea krom
Khmer Krom Buddhist monk Thach Kuong (centre) leaves
the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday.
Kuong and five others have been charged with
creating an armed terrorist organisation.
Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Mar 18, 2013
Phnom Penh Post

Six Khmer Krom men, including three Buddhist monks, were charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday with creating an armed terrorist organisation.

The charges came two days after Thai authorities arrested the men — who had been seeking political asylum in Thailand — and sent them to Cambodia.

Chea Vuthy, an internal sec-urity officer at the Ministry of Interior, said the six had been charged with forming a terr-orist group and unlawfully raising an armed force. 

“These six men were members of an illegal armed movement called the Khmer Nat-ional Liberation Front,” Vuthy told the Post yesterday.

“They were arrested by Cambodian internal secur-ity police in collaboration with Thai police in Thailand’s Nonthaburi province.”

The men — Yorn Kimsrun, 27, Yorn Yoeub, 25, Thach Kuong, 37, all monks, and laymen Khem Ma, 28, Yin Yav, 34, and Thach Toeu, 35, were arrested on Thursday and handed to Cambodian police on Friday. Their arrest follows the arrest of two others charged last week with the same crime.

If found guilty, they could face 15 to 30 years in prison.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said warr-ants had been issued for the group’s arrest last year after they allegedly distributed   anti-government leaflets. In the material, the group had written about forming an armed movement aimed at toppling the Cambodian government, Chantharith said.

All six are members of a Denmark-based dissident group, the Khmer National Liberation Front.

Its president, Sam Serey,  wrote in an open letter that the men had been seeking asylum with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“They are asylum-seekers in Thailand,” Serey wrote in an email. “[We] would like to reject all the government’s allegation[s] . . . My members are arrested because they are members of the Khmer Nat-ional Liberation Front.”


'Big rice' killing Khmer wetlands

 Mar 18, 2013
Bangkak Post

Around half of Cambodia's tropical flooded grasslands have been lost in just 10 years, mostly to new rice farms by new agrobusiness ventures, according to research published on Monday.
The sarus crane is one of 11 globally threatened bird species native to Cambodia's northwest grasslands, and threatened by massive commercial land grabs. This photo by Dr Charlotte Packman was released as part of a report by the University of East Anglia.

Scientists from England's University of East Anglia said big companies have swept into the region, blocked off local communities, and set up commercial rice farms.

"The loss of this entire ecosystem from Southeast Asia is imminent," they said bluntly.

Researchers around the Tonle Sap great lake in northwestern Cambodia called the loss "catastrophic". The area is a wildlife centre of biodiversity and, equally, "a vital fishing, grazing, and traditional rice farming resource for around 1.1 million people," the researchers said.

The research was summarised on Monday in a media release by UEA.

"Intensive commercial rice production by private companies, involving the construction of huge channels and reservoirs for irrigation, is denying local communities access to the grasslands on which their livelihoods depend and destroying a very important habitat for threatened wildlife," said the UEA researchers.

"This high-speed conversion and land-grabbing has intensified pressure on already threatened species and on the marginalised rural communities that depend on the grassland ecosystem."

The land grab by "big rice" threatens numerous bird species found in the grasslands area. Among them are sarus cranes, storks, ibises and eagles - and the critically endangered Bengal florican, the world's rarest bustard.

Friday, March 15, 2013

UNTAC Legacy Questioned Ahead of Election

 By - March 15, 2013
The Cambodia Daily

Cambodia’s fifth national election in July is likely to be the least fair in the 20 years since the U.N. organized the historic 1993 elections, which were designed to usher in a multiparty democracy after years of communist rule and civil war, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) said on Wednesday.
“This is the start of the least fair elections,” Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said.

“If you compare it to 2008 or 2003 or during UNTAC time, UNTAC time was much better in terms of fairness; much, much better than this,” Mr. Panha said, referring to the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia, which administered Cambodia from 1992 to 1993.

“Now, everything is controlled by the ruling party in terms of mil­itary, police, media—that’s a concern—and the new problem is the leader of the opposition not being able to participate in these elections,” he said.
“And also going into the future, we don’t know what will happen over the next coming five years.”

According to its annual report titled Democracy, Elections and Reform in Cambodia, which Comfrel released on Monday, democratic reform deteriorated so much over the past year that “Cambodia’s political system is in an increasingly fragile state of democracy.”

The political playing field continues to be far from level, and the government’s National Election Committee (NEC) continues to reject the majority of recommendations put to it by independent election monitoring groups, Comfrel said.

This was not what was envisioned 20 years ago when, in May 1993, as decided in the Paris Peace Agreements, the U.N. invested billions to disarm Cambodia’s warring political factions, re­patriate some 300,000 Cambodian refugees from Thai border camps and organize the country’s first national elections in decades.

To a large extent, UNTAC did all three. But the electoral climate two decades on falls far short of what was hoped for in 1993 in terms of a vibrant, participatory democracy.

“It doesn’t show a multiparty system,” Mr. Panha said of the current political landscape. “It should be about the substantial engagement of [lawmakers]…. It’s about how the parties play a role in politics and how they influence decision making.”

Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the legacy of UNTAC was a series of missed opportunities that saw Cambodia segue from communism to neopatrimonialism, where a ruling elite uses state resources to build loyalty and solidify its own economic and political powerbase.

“With regard to the UNTAC legacy, the thing is that all the Cambodians who are elite themselves and the donors, however generous they are, they missed out on what to do to rebuild Cambodian society to build a pluralistic democratic liberal system,” he said.

Despite the ruling CPP’s “systematic control of the system,” how­ever, Mr. Mong Hay said that there is a growing grassroots understanding of the situation.

“I’m more positive in the sense that more and more Cambodians have realized there are more injustices and nepotism is wide and many don’t like it,” he said.

“I think more people have taken action. There is awareness and perhaps we would see that in votes.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said claims the forthcoming July election would not be fair were simply the excuses of parties who had no chance of winning against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party, which has dominated Cambodian politics in one form or another since 1993.

“It is a losers’ culture,” Mr. Yeap said of the pessimistic comparisons between the 1993 and 2013 elections.
“If there are two or more political parties, that is called multiparty. Other political parties should work hard. We work hard, and you should work hard too,” he advised the country’s opposition.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha also denied that the forthcoming national elections would be unfair, noting that international observers had given their stamp of approval to previous ballots.

“This is just an opinion of an individual or a group of people,” Mr. Nytha said.

“We always have national and international observers during each election. And most of them think that the elections have gone very well. Violence has decreased. And this contributes to the process of building democracy and the nation.”

In October, the European Union issued a resolution urging “the Cambodian Government, the National Election Committee and the provincial election committees to implement the recent U.N. recommendations on re­forming the electoral system to ensure it conforms with international standards before, during and after the casting of votes.”

The U.N. recommendations cited were made by the world body’s special envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, in a report released in August 2012.

“There are major flaws in the administration of elections in Cam­bodia and urgent and longer-term reforms are needed to give Cambodians confidence in the electoral process and in the workings of the National Election Committee,” Mr. Subedi stated in that report.

Myanmar affirms commitment to achieve ACMECS objectives

Souce:Xinhua Publish By Updated 15/03/2013
By Feng Yingqiu

YANGON, March 15 — Myanmar has affirmed its commitment to join hands with fellow members of the Ayeyawaddy- Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (c) to realize the action plans of the grouping.

It was pledged by Myanmar Vice President Sai Mauk Kham at the 5th summit of the ACMECS in Vientiane, Laos which ended on Wednesday.

The five-member ACMECS countries comprise Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
There are eight sectors that ACMECS is cooperating, namely trade and investment, agriculture, industry and energy, transportation, tourist, human resources development, public health and environmental conservation.
The 5th ACMECS summit adopted the Vientiane Declaration and ACMECS action plan for 2013-15 and approved Myanmar as the next venue for holding the next summit which Myanmar assured of taking concrete step for its successful holding.

Participants vowed to double the efforts of member countries individually and collectively for the sake of ACMECS nations and their people.

The Vientiane summit reviewed cooperation process among the five ACMECS countries approved at the previous summit and the regional leaders reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the targets of the 2003 Bagan Declaration for the sake of good neighborliness, peace, stability and sustainable development in the region.

The summit also reviewed the implementation of the Phnom Penh Declaration in November 2010 and the 2010-12 action plans.

A dialogue between ACMECS leaders and business sector also took place in Vientiane touching on future work plan of ACMECS businessmen meeting.

In November 2003, the original four countries — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, which share border with each other, held their first ACMECS summit in Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan, laying down ACMECS program which provides for cooperation in five main strategic areas of agriculture, industry, trade and investment, transport, tourist and human resources development.
Vietnam joined the ACMECS in 2004.

In May 2007, ACMECS foreign ministers met in Myanmar’s Mandalay and pledged to work for greater competitiveness, narrower economic disparity and promoting socio-economic development in the subregion.
Calling for realization of their 2003 Bagan Declaration efficiently and effectively, the foreign ministers also expressed their desire to strengthen the aims and objectives of the declaration and work for attaining prosperity in the subregion through enhanced solidarity, mutual respect, goods neighborliness and active cooperation among the member countries.

The 5th ACMECS summit was held along with the 6th Cambodia-Laos- Myanmar-Vietnam (CLMV) Summit in the Lao capital.

Death Coming Before Justice for Khmer Rouge Regime

(PHNOM PENH, Cambodia) — Decades after Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge movement oversaw the deaths of 1.7 million people by starvation, overwork and execution, the regime’s imprisoned top leaders are escaping justice one by one. How? Old age.

Thursday’s death of 87-year-old Ieng Sary, foreign minister under the Khmer Rouge, has fueled urgent calls among survivors and rights groups for the country’s U.N.-backed tribunal to expedite proceedings against the increasingly frail and aging leaders of the radical communist group, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

Ieng Sary’s wife, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to stand trial last year because she has a degenerative mental illness consistent with Alzheimer’s disease. Only two top Khmer Rouge leaders — ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, who is 81, and the movement’s former chief ideologist, Nuon Chea, who is 86 — remain on trial for charges they carried out some of the 20th century’s most horrific crimes.

There are growing fears that both men could die before a verdict is rendered. Both are frail with high blood pressure and have suffered strokes.

“The defendants are getting old, and the survivors are getting old,” said Bou Meng, one of the few Cambodians to survive Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21, where up to 16,000 people were tortured and killed during the Khmer Rouge era. “The court needs to speed up its work.”

“I have been waiting for justice for nearly 40 years,” Bou Meng, 70, told The Associated Press. “I never thought it would take so long.”

When the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, they began moving an estimated 1 million people — even hospital patients — from the capital into the countryside in an effort to create a communist agrarian utopia.

(MORE: Khmer Rouge’s Ieng Sary Dies During Genocide Trial)
By the time the bizarre experiment ended in 1979 with an invasion by Vietnamese troops, an estimated 1.7 million people had died in Cambodia, which had a population of only about 7 million at the time. Most died from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution under the Maoist regime. Their bodies were dumped in shallow mass graves that still dot the countryside.

The tribunal, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was tasked with seeking justice for crimes committed during that era.

The court was 10 years in the making and opened in 2006. But despite some $150 million in funding, it has so far convicted only one defendant: Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, the commandant of S-21 prison.
Duch was sentenced in 2010 to 35 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The sentence was reduced to a 19-year term because of time previously served and other technicalities, a move that sparked angry criticism from victims who said it was too lenient. Cambodia has no death penalty.

Several other major Khmer Rouge figures died before the court even existed, including supreme leader Pol Pot in 1998.

Ieng Sary’s death was no surprise given his age and ailing health, said Ou Virak, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. But “given the fact that the other two defendants are also in their 80s, it should act as a wake-up call to all concerned — the Cambodian government, the U.N., the international donors and the tribunal itself — that these cases need to be expedited urgently so that justice can be served.”

“The whole future of the tribunal is currently in limbo, and the possibility that hundreds of millions of dollars will have been wasted is now a very real threat,” Ou Virak said. “Most importantly, though, if all three die before their guilt or innocence can be determined, then the Cambodian people will quite understandably feel robbed of justice.”

The court has been criticized before for the sluggish pace of proceedings. But one of its prosecutors, William Smith, said the trial has taken time because the indictments are lengthy and the list of alleged crimes long.
The tribunal has been dogged by other problems, including funding shortages from international donors. Earlier this month, Cambodian translators angry that they had gone without pay for three months went on strike just before the court was to hear testimony from two foreign experts.

Tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said Thursday that the interpreters would all return to work this week after the court administrator promised that they would get paid. But he added that the translators have threatened to strike again if they are not paid by month’s end.

In recent years, the tribunal has also been hit by infighting and angry resignations by foreign judges over whether to try more Khmer Rouge defendants on war crimes charges. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, has warned that no more trials will be allowed. Many former members of the Khmer Rouge, including Hun Sen himself, hold important positions in the current government.

After Ieng Sary’s death, Human Rights Watch issued a statement blaming Hun Sen for denying justice.
“(He) asked the United Nations in 1997 for assistance in holding Khmer Rouge leaders accountable – and since then has done everything in his power to stymie the tribunal’s work,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for the rights group. “Hun Sen bears primary responsibility for denying justice to the victims of Ieng Sary’s atrocities.”
The trial against Ieng Sary, his wife and the last two accused senior Khmer Rouge leaders alive began jointly in 2011. All have denied guilt for any crimes and have said they acted in Cambodians’ best interest during the radical communist movement’s rule.

Lars Olsen, another tribunal spokesman, said Thursday that “we understand that many probably are disappointed with the fact that we cannot complete the proceedings against Ieng Sary, and therefore we cannot determine” whether he is guilty or innocent of the charges against him.

But it’s important to remember, he said, that the case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan “is not over.” He said it would not be affected by Ieng Sary’s death and proceedings will continue on schedule.

(MORE: At Cambodia War-Crimes Trial, Defendants Are Not All There)
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group gathering evidence of the Khmer Rouge crimes for the tribunal, said Ieng Sary’s death “carries little value for the regime’s victims, who patiently wait to see justice done.”Ieng Sary died early Thursday at a Phnom Penh hospital, where he was admitted earlier this month suffering from weakness and fatigue. He suffered heart failure, said one of the prosecutors in his case, Chea Leang, who added that under Cambodian law, all charges against him will now officially be dropped.

Yim Sopheak, a 47-year-old street vendor who said the Khmer Rouge regime had executed her parents, said Ieng Sary “deserved to die in prison, not in a hospital. He should have died in the same way as he executed my parents and other people.”

Yi Chea, a 72-year-old flower seller who says her husband and other relatives were also killed during Khmer Rouge rule, said she was happy Ieng Sary was gone. But, she added that “he did not deserve to die naturally like this.”

Tribunal hearings resume on March 25, said Neth Pheaktra. Foreign medical experts are due to testify on the health status of Nuon Chea, to determine whether the ailing ex-leader is still fit to continue to stand trial.
Pitman reported from Bangkok.

ICJ defence plan to head to cabinet

Mar 15, 2013
Bangkok Post

The Foreign Ministry will submit the Thai position to be presented at court hearings on the Preah Vihear dispute to the cabinet on April 2.
This map was prepared by the ICJ in 2011 as a proposed demilitarised zone for Thai and Cambodian troops.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said Thursday the ministry will ask for opinions from the cabinet before the Thai team leaves for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings at the Hague in the Netherlands on April 15-19.

Mr Surapong said approval will be sought regarding a live translation from French to Thai at the oral hearings, which will be broadcast via internet from the court.

The hearings will be conducted in French.

He said a translated broadcast in Thai should be aired so the public can receive information directly from the court. That would avoid any misinterpretation in media reports, he said.

The ministry will also brief the public about Thailand and Cambodia's positions at the end of each day of the hearing.

Meanwhile, Mr Surapong said Thailand is planning to develop a special economic zone (SEZ) in Poipet and Koh Kong with Cambodia, similar to the SEZ to be developed with Myanmar in Mae Sot. Under the plan, Thailand will develop transport links between the two countries and upgrade border checkpoints, he said.
Cooperation on agriculture, health, human resources and industrial development will also be part of the plan.
Mr Surapong said Thai and Cambodian officials will talk in detail before he meets his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong, in May or June to discuss the plan.

Mr Surapong said the Defence Ministry will also hold talks with Cambodian officials on illegal logging of Siamese rosewood along the border and will set up a patrol police unit to stamp out the activity.

Hun Sen a 'coward' says Cambodia opposition chief

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Monday branded strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen a "coward" for barring him from running in a key general election later this year.

Rainsy, Hun Sen's main rival, lives in self-imposed exile in France to avoid prison for a string of convictions that critics contend are politically motivated.

In November the 63-year-old Rainsy was told he could not stand in the polls because of his convictions by the National Election Committee (NEC), a body he says is a tool of the premier.

He accused Hun Sen, who has ruled the country since 1985 and has vowed to stay in power until he is 90, of using the NEC to block his election bid - something the premier has repeatedly denied.

"I think Hun Sen is a coward because there are only two challengers," he told AFP by telephone from Yangon, where he met Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"But Hun Sen dares not to compete with me. He uses a kangaroo court to blame me so that he can go into the ring and fight alone."

Hun Sen, 61, is routinely accused of suppressing political freedoms and violating the rights of dissidents, but analysts say he remains firmly entrenched in power.

Rainsy, who leads the recently-formed Cambodia National Rescue Party, said he still harboured hopes of running in July's election and expressed confidence his party could end Hun Sen's 28-year grip on power.
Suggesting Hun Sen is committing "political suicide" by not allowing him to compete, Rainsy warned he will "start a strong movement to topple" any government formed by the election.

He also accused the NEC of handing Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) landslide victories in successive elections.

French-educated Sam Rainsy is one of the most outspoken figures in Cambodian politics but has lived in self-imposed exile in France since 2009, and faces a total of 11 years in prison if he returns.

In 2010 he received a seven-year jail term in absentia for publishing a 'false map' of the border with Vietnam, claiming the neighbour holds Cambodian territory.

Other convictions include accusing the foreign minister of being a member of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.

The international community has urged Cambodia to allow all political participants, including Rainsy, to compete fairly in the looming election.

Despite his apparently unassailable grip on power, some experts question whether Hun Sen's strong-arm tactics could eventually bring him down.

"How can he rule by fear and at the same time try to keep everybody happy?" Ou Virak of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights recently told AFP. - AFP