Friday, August 26, 2005

Monks attack after drink, drugs

Phnom Penh - A Cambodian Buddhist monk was in hospital and his colleague was under detention on Thursday at a pagoda after a drug and alcohol fuelled fight allegedly ended in one attacking the other with a machete.

Police chief of Kandaing district in the central province of Pursat, Pen Thun, said after a night spent binging on methamphetamines and rice wine, the pair had quarrelled over a 50 cent loan owed to Khieu Aen, 23, that fellow monk Van Chanthoeun, 19, said he would need time to repay.
"Khieu Aen became enraged, produced a machete and chopped Chanthoeun once in the shoulder, requiring him to be sent to hospital," Thun said. "It is unseemly behaviour for monks and it gives the police a headache dealing with such cases."

He said police were now waiting for the ministry of cults and religions to make a decision on the case as the police cannot arrest monks.

"We have to wait for the ministry to decide whether there is a case and if so to strip them of their robes before we can go any further," Thun said.

The ministry of cults and religions investigates cases where Buddhist monks may have acted in a way that brings the state religion, practiced by around 95% of Cambodians, into disrepute.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Cambodia: A Victim Of 'Aid'

From the air, there appeared to be nobody, no movement, not even an animal, as if the great population of Asia had stopped at the Mekong river.

Even the patchwork of rice paddies and fields was barely discernible; nothing seemed to have been planted or growing, except the forest and lines of tall wild grass.

On the edge of deserted villages, often following a pattern of bomb craters, the grass would follow straight lines; fertilised by human compost, by the remains of thousands upon thousands of men, women and children, it marked common graves in a nation in which as many as two million people, or between a third and a quarter of the population, were "missing".

That was Cambodia as I found it 26 years ago, in the wake of the Khmer Rouge, whose murderous rule had followed an inferno of American bombs. Shortly afterwards, Jim Howard, senior engineer and fireman for the British charity Oxfam, joined me and sent his first cable: "Fifty to eighty per cent human material destruction is the terrible reality. 100 tons of milk per week needed by air and sea for the next two months starting now repeat now."

Thus began one of the boldest aid operations of the 20th century, which surmounted an American and British-led embargo designed to punish Cambodia's liberator, Vietnam.

By the sheer ingenuity and political wisdom of its actions and domestic campaigns, Oxfam saved and restored countless people. Later, in demanding that the west stop supporting the Khmer Rouge in exile, Oxfam incurred the hostility of the Thatcher and Reagan governments and was threatened with the loss of its charitable tax-free status. This was clearly meant as a warning to the independent aid organisations, or "NGOs", lest they became too "radical".

Many have since embraced a version of corporatism and a closeness to the British government, whose neoliberal trade policies remain a source of much of the world's poverty. On 27 May, the watchdog ActionAid will publish an extraordinary, damning report, Real Aid: an agenda for making aid work. With the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in Scotland in July, and the Blair government (and other European governments) propagating the nonsense that it is on the side of the world's poor, the report reveals that the government is inflating the value of its already minimal aid to poor countries by a third, and that the majority of all western aid is actually "phantom aid", which means that it has nothing to do with the reduction of poverty.

The ActionAid study describes a gravy train of overpriced "technical assistance" and "consultancies", of careerism and scant accounting. Britain frequently exaggerates its aid figures (by including debt relief); and America binds its aid to trade and ideology and its "interests". In fact, real aid accounts for just 0.1 per cent of rich countries' combined national income. Set against the UN's minimum "target" of 0.7 per cent, this is barely a crumb.

Cambodia is a prime example. One of the poorest countries in the world, Cambodia was never allowed to recover from the trauma inflicted by Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Pol Pot. During the 1980s, with Pol Pot exepelled by the Vietnamese, an American and British-led embargo made reconstruction almost impossible. Instead, a "resistance" was invented by the Americans with the British SAS contracted to train the Khmer Rouge in secret camps in Thailand and Malaysia.

In 1990, when the United Nations finally arrived in Cambodia to organise "democracy", it brought corruption on an unprecedented scale, along with Aids and "aid".
This was misrepresented as a "triumph" for the "international community".

Cambodia today is a victim of this "aid". As in Africa, the "donors" (the west and Japan) have perpetuated the myths of a "basket case": that Cambodians cannot do anything for themselves and that genuine development aid and rapacious capitalism are compatible.

No finer symbol is Cambodia's fluorescent-lit sweatshops, making consumer goods for a fraction of their retail price in the west, overlooking hovels where children play in malarial cesspools. Of course, fake, or "phantom" aid and rapacious capitalism are compatible.
The ActionAid report quotes Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch:
"In the 1980s, there was a popular T-shirt satirising US army recruitment commercials with the slogan, 'Join the army. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them'. In the new millennium, it could be rephrased, 'Join the aid community. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And make a killing'."

Roughly half of all aid to Cambodia is spent on "technical assistance", or TA.

Between 1999 and 2003, this amounted to 1.2bn dollars. What is TA? It is an invasion of "international advisors" on whom up to US$70millon was spent in 2003 alone.

Add to them "international consultants", who each cost more than 159,000 dollars.

By contrast, the cost of a genuine foreign aid worker in a truly independent NGO is less than 45,000 dollars, and the cost of recruiting a Cambodian expert is an eighth of this.

More than 740 foreigner advisers and experts earn nearly as much as 160,000 Cambodian civil servants, who get as little as 25 dollars a month.

In many ministries, the pay of foreign advisers exceeds the entire annual budget. It is more than twice the budget of the agricultural ministry and four times that of the justice ministry.

Foreign aid workers constantly complain about local corruption, often justifiably. But they rarely identify and measure their own legitimised corruption. "There has been no systematic analysis of the effectiveness of TA in Cambodia," says ActionAid. "Government of Cambodia officials [have] suggested that this is because donors don't want to recognise the ineffectiveness of their aid."

The Council for the Development of Cambodia says that the foreigners “create parallel systems to the government. They don’t transfer capacity. The experts just provide reports which no one reads... donors always complain about the lack of human resources [but] Cambodians are human beings..." The report cites a scheme to protect villagers from flood, in which Britain's Department of International Development is involved.
Even though it is promoted as "community-based", three-quarters of the budget is being spent on foreign consultants, offices and administration.

Cambodia has three separate national economic plans, each designed by a different foreign agency. One of the biggest donors is the American government agency USAID, notorious for its bloody political interventions throughout the world. USAID funds Cambodian opposition groups, "human rights advisers" and newspapers that are in line with Bush's idea of "good governance".

Even the most basic humanitarian aid is tied to American business. For example, oral rehydration salts, which are essential in the tropics, must be bought in the United States at five times the price of the same product made in Cambodia.

There are good people in the foreign NGOs in Cambodia, and there are a number of effective schemes. But "partnership" with local people is a word both governments and aid agencies abuse.

Cambodians get what they are given, such as World Bank and IMF "loans" with the kind of outrageous conditions that have damaged countries like Zambia. More than 600,000 Cambodians were killed by American bombs in the 1970s. As the CIA later admitted, the devastation provided a catalyst for the Khmer Rouge horror.

Thousands of child deaths were subsequently caused by an economic blockade which the British government backed.

I see that Tony Blair, like newsreaders and other celebrities, has been wearing the fashionable "Make Poverty History" wristband. How perverse. Like those nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America long plundered in the name of western "interests", Cambodia has a right to unconditional reparations so that it can meet the urgent needs of its people, not the demands of those claiming to care

Legacy of the Khmer Rouge: Untold Stories

His school peers used to maliciously tease Sinell about his lack of a father figure. They taunted him by yelling, "you have no father, you must be dumb kid, your daddy died, you're not good." Unfortunately for them, Sinell was not afraid to beat up anyone who teased him. There was one incident in which he stabbed a classmate in his head with a pencil. Despite his violent nature, teachers were lenient in disciplining him. The village children--the same children who were now Sinell's teachers--knew Sinell's father, who had been the equivalent of a mayor in the village, for giving money and sweets. Out of pity for Sinell and respect for his father, they often turned a blind eye to his antics.

In elementary school, Sinell learned math, French and Cambodian. The English language was taught one hour a week. His village did not boast a high school. Therefore, when he graduated from the village school, he left his mother and grandmother and traveled to Battambang to attend Preah Monivong High School, a prestigious high school in the area named after a Cambodian king who ruled from 1927 until 1941. He stayed with some relatives who lived a few miles outside of the city area. While living with them, he found out that he had distant relatives nearby. He visited them one day and met his ninth cousin, Sovanya Yin, who was fourteen at the time.

Sovanya Yin, or 'Ya' as she was called, grew up three miles outside Battambang city. She was the second daughter out of nine children. Her father, Bun Yin, worked as a bank manager; her mother, Loeub Ouk, was a housewife. Sovanya went to school, came home to do chores and worked on the family farm. Sometimes, when she didn't have school, she helped her neighbors in the rice field. She always "like[d] to see the field, the farm, the forest." Being one of the older children, and a daughter at that, she often had to take care of her little brothers and sisters.

In March of 1970, the prime minister at the time, General Lon Nol, launched a successful coup d'etat. The National Assembly was hastily convened and voted unanimously to depose Sihanouk as the head of state. This was the beginning of the Cambodian Civil War, which lasted for five years. This war began as a class war--Sihanouk and the peasants rioting against Lon Nol and the middle-class. Later, the war dragged Cambodia into the vortex of a wider struggle. The escalating conflict pitted government troops initially against the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, well known for their role in the Vietnam War.

The year Sihanouk was overthrown, Sinell was in the 11th grade. When the Cambodian Civil War broke out, many of Sinell's classmates decided to join the army. Sinell had read Karl Marx and Mao Zedong's The Red Book and was turned off by the ideology these two men espoused. After all, the French had imposed its ideologies on the schools in Cambodia so Sinell's Western-inspired education promoted capitalism. He did not see how Communism could work in practice. As he says, "Then the lazy equal to you. There is no incentive for them to work hard. Everything is equally distributed anyway."

He joined the army and was sent to Vietnam to train. Battle was "typical of Third World pity, no press coverage." He fought until 1973, then quit so he could finish high school.

In school, Sovanya learned math, American and Cambodian history, and as was standard, she learned how to read, write and speak in Cambodian and French. Once or twice a week, she was taught a little bit of English. She did well academically. However, outside circumstances dictated that she not graduate from high school.

On New Year's Day of January 1975 the Khmer Rouge launched what it hoped was the final assault on Phnom Penh. The now-fanatical Khmer Rouge, strengthened by a steady stream of supplies from Hanoi and emboldened by surviving years of sustained US bombardment, made their push into the Phnom Penh suburbs. Five days later, on April 17, 1975, Khmer Rouge forces marched unopposed into central Phnom Penh. At first the residents of the city celebrated - the siege was over, there would be no more fighting. But within hours, the joy would turn to horror as the Khmer Rouge began to implement their barbarous plan for a utopian communist society. April 17, 1975 was Day Zero for the new Cambodia - two thousand years of Khmer history were now meaningless.

The Khmer Rouge attempted to completely transform Cambodia overnight, by organizing the country into farming cooperatives, demanding total devotion to the state and wiping out any remnants of the old regime. That meant shutting off all contact to the outside world, eliminating loyalty to friends or family, emptying the cities, eliminating the Buddhist religion, and creating a fearsome central authority, the "Angka" or "organization," that punished any deviation with torture and death.

Right before Sinell could take his exit examinations and go to France to study medicine, the Khmer Rouge came to power. He and millions of other Cambodians were sent outside the city to work in farms constructed hastily by the Khmer Rouge. The only color they were allowed to wear was black, to symbolize unity and equalness. He was at times a construction worker, a tractor driver, a farmer--he did whatever they asked because "if you protest, they kill you." When the Khmer Rouge asked him about his background he lied and told them that he had quit school at an early age and became a taxi driver. If a person knew a foreign language, had worked for the French or Americans, or dared to express feelings of love, he or she was a target for execution. Sinell remarks that, "in their rhetoric, they always said...they don't want the intellectuals to survive. They take Karl Marx's theory to the extreme. They tell the farmers 'Look, these are the class that dominate[d] you for centuries. Now it's your turn'."

Sovanya was separated from her parents and sent to work on one of the many farms dotting the countryside. When they asked about her background, she lied and told them she dropped out of school early to work on her family's farm. "They asked me to multiply, and I said I didn't know." Because of her pretended ignorance, the Khmer Rouge ignored her and ordered her to leave home and work. The routine was simple but hard: get up at 4 am, work in the farm, eat one scoop of rice or porridge, work some more, and if she was lucky, sleep for a few hours. She never talked unless they asked her a question. She recalls, "You have to shut your mouth all the way. You have to pretend you don't know anybody. Mind your own, work, work." She remembers the isolation she felt, surrounded by silent workers who were afraid to make eye contact. Sovanya didn't know what was going on. There were "no radio, no news, no journalism...nothing, we don't hear from anybody, any country."

She hardly ever saw her family, except on certain occasions. Every few months she would ask a Khmer Rouge farm manager if she could go home to visit. Depending on his mood that day, he would grant her wish or send her away. On one occasion, in 1978 she came home to find that her father had been taken away by the Khmer Rouge. She knew that she wasn't ever going to see him again because they had most likely killed him. "They told him to go get something and then he left...he didn't know. Then they killed him, he never came back." She cried for 15 days. When the Khmer Rouge saw her display an excess of emotion, they threatened to take her away too. "When I cry, they see me cry, they almost kill me. So I stopped crying." She was taken to another farm. Her oldest sister, who was living at home with her mom, died from starvation at 19 years of age. Sovanya became the eldest.

Sinell didn't have many friends and he didn't trust many people. He kept his mouth shut most of the time because if you "don't talk much, don't argue much, they leave you alone." He was part of the mobile team--a group of single men and women who were forced to move from one farm to another, as per the Khmer Rouge's orders. They allowed each person to bring one book bag. If you had too many belongings, they would kill you: "your mind is still capitalist." They would routinely pick ten men and ten women from the mobile team and have a huge wedding celebration, which they called en masse marriages. On these wedding days, everyone was given extra food, a handful more than the usual scoop of rice.

Sinell was asked if he wanted to marry. One of the Khmer Rouge soldiers was a young man who had dropped out of Sinell's high school. Although they could not show that they were friends, this man helped Sinell avoid marriage. He also sent Sinell on driving jobs all over the countryside so that the Khmer Rouge was more likely to forget about him.

The Khmer Rouge was a fractured group. In 1978, another Khmer Rouge group from the Southwest killed all the soldiers in the Northwest group. According to Sinell, the Southwest group was a lot "nicer." But the Khmer Rouge was struggling to keep their foothold in Cambodia. In 1979, the Vietnamese stormed in and suppressed the Communists. They installed a government controlled by exiled Cambodians.

The next few months was a blur of traffic as people from all over the countryside walked back to their hometowns, trying to locate loved ones on the way. Sinell stopped by Battambang on his way to Thmor Khol. While he was there, he ran into some of Sovanya's family, who told him that she was alive and not married. He was surprised because he thought the Khmer Rouge would have married her off already.

He asked her mother if he could marry her. He thought, "she seemed to be from a good family." Class was very important to his family--to his society, in general. He would never have been able to marry someone who was from a class lower than his. In a way, this value of marrying within class or marrying into a higher class was a practice the Khmer Rouge sought to abolish with their en masse marriages. However, Sinell and Sovanya saw nothing wrong with marrying in the same class. It had been ingrained in them since they were both very young. In August/September of 1979, Sinell and Sovanya got married.

He started a business transporting goods from one province to another by water. Local Cambodian officials, appointed by the Vietnamese, lacked clear rules and organization from the installed government and wrongly accused him of smuggling contraband. So he left Sovanya to go to the border of Thailand and Cambodia, where a temporary illegal camp was set up, called Chum Rum Tmei. Ironically, he started a smuggling business in order to make money. He smuggled medication, food, rice, and motorcycle parts. He had built a huge hut on top of a hill near the border and whenever someone wanted something, he would have to go to Sinell's hut, explain what he needed, then stay however many nights it would take for Sinell to go across the border and get the item. It was a lucrative business. Sinell was not stopped often because the commander who patrolled the border studied with him in the army. Eventually, Sovanya came to live with Sinell in the camp. She never felt safe there. "It's scary...there were robbery, fights."

Living alongside the smugglers was a group of freedom fighters--a pocket of resistance against the Vietnamese installed government. They fought with the Vietnamese and with the leftover Khmer Rouge. Sovanya remembers, "I saw a lot of bomb[s], all over the place. People didn't know where to go." In the midst of all the fighting, the Khmer Rouge burned Sinell's hut. It was time to move on. He had heard about a refugee camp deep in the heart of Thailand. He sent someone to get his cousin and his mother. When they arrived, they all jumped in the back of an open truck, which took them to Khao-I-Dang, which means 'white mountain' in Thai. Sovanya describes the camp as "a jungle. We have to build our own house from bamboo and some kind of grass to put on the top." The camp was divided into neighborhoods of about 3000-4000 Cambodian refugees. Sinell was elected to be the neighborhood leader because he did well on an English test the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) administered to those who could speak English. He had taken classes when he was in the army. Being a neighborhood leader meant that he gave out food, spoke with the UNHCR and the Thai authority on behalf of the residents. He also taught eight English classes a day and tutored English at night, making a lot of money in the process. At that time, Sovanya was expecting their first child. Unfortunately, she miscarried at eight months due to her anemia. Although she cried a little, she says she doesn't remember feeling too sad. Death became such a part of life that most people were desensitized to it. "We saw a lot of people dead, killed. It was normal."

Someone from an N.G.O. spread the word around the camp that certain countries were accepting refugees from Southeast Asia. Families rushed to fill out forms for resettlement. Sinell filled out forms for the U.S., Australia, France and Belgium.

Although the U.S. has a long-standing tradition of accepting people fleeing oppression in other countries, many Americans were not in favor of admitting numerous Southeast Asian refugees, most likely because it would remind them of the Vietnam War. However, President Gerald Ford and other public figures, including people who had been opposed to the war, strongly supported the refugees. Congress allocated resettlement aid and passed the 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Act which allowed refugees to enter the U.S. under a special migration and "parole" status.

Sinell and Sovanya knew nothing of the U.S. and actually wanted to go to France. But the U.S. was the only country that accepted their family, which consisted of Sinell, Sovanya, Sinell's mother, Sinell's cousin and Sovanya's cousin by marriage. They had no sponsor in the U.S. so the family flew to a Philippines processing camp in 1980, where they learned English and how to use the toilet. Besides Cambodian refugees, Sovanya remembers that there were also Vietnamese, Laotian and Hmong refugees. Since there was no one language uniting the different groups, each kept to themselves, sharing food and information only with those who knew how to speak their language. Each family had one house, which consisted of one room. For every twenty houses, there was one bathroom.

While in the camp, Sinell heard word from a friend in Australia. His friend's father was willing to sponsor him. So he sent another form to the Australia embassy. It took them 8 months to reject his request for resettlement. Meanwhile, the U.S. was still willing to grant asylum to Sinell and his family. Not knowing anyone made the decision to go hard, but they went anyway. A church agency from Rhode Island (World Relief) sponsored a few families, Sinell's being one of them. Father Dunning was their local sponsor. They arrived in the U.S. in August 1981. As they were filling out their forms to enter the U.S., one immigration officer misspelled Sovanya's name. So Sovanya became Sovanna. On December 2, 1981, their second daughter after the miscarriage was born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. They named her Jennet.

In 1983 Sovanna had another daughter, whom they called Jenneen. Three months later, she applied for a job at the Providence School Department. She knew little English, but she said her co-workers were very nice people who were patient with her. She was placed at Asa Messer School, an elementary school, as a teacher's assistant. She would go to the classrooms and help the children. There were a lot of Cambodian children at this time--"three classrooms full!" Sovanna remembers.

Sinell had taken his G.E.D. to get the equivalent of a high school diploma. When Jenneen was born, he enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island, School of Nursing. He became a full registered nurse and worked at the local hospital. However, he didn't like it much so after three years, he left to go work for New York City's Health Department. But the commute took considerable time away from spending time with his family. He then got a job at the Massachusetts Human Services Department, where he was a social worker.

In 1985, Sovanna and Sinell had another daughter, Jennella. A year later, their first son, Kennell was born. Sovanna worked for the school department for sixteen years. She left it to open an Asian fruit and produce market in 1997. Sinell, after trying a multitude of different jobs, finally found one to his liking. In 1994, he opened up a seafood exporter business in Maine. He lived above his business during the days and commuted to Rhode Island on the weekends. This put a strain on Sinell and Sovanna's marriage so in 1999, they filed for divorce, something that is virtually unheard of in the Cambodian community.

Sovanna is still working at the store. Sinell is still working in Maine, but he comes to visit his children and his mother often. Their children give them much joy and tribulation; hopefully more of the former than the latter. Sinell and Sovanna readily admits that Jennet, Jenneen, Jennella, and Kenny can be a handful but they'll keep them anyway.

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Stalled Again

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has thrown another log in the road to justice for citizens of the region's most abused country. The premier announced that while he, his government and parliament all had agreed to pay a share of the cost of a tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders, they just can't do it.

That throws another pall over the quickly dying hope that the main, surviving butchers of the Pol Pot era will pay for the crimes of the horrible days of Khmer Rouge rule. There is more than good reason to doubt Hun Sen's glib explanation that he can't fund a trial because the country is broke.

According to the prime minister's statement, Cambodia might be able to come up with about $1.5 million of the $13 million it promised to provide. That promise came after years of excruciating talks between Cambodia and foreign friends, with delay and dodge at every turn, on every point, by Hun Sen and his officials.

The talks frustrated even the United Nations, which simply walked out at one point. The US and Europe negotiated the UN's sceptical agreement to talk again.Last year, the UN and several concerned members thought they had reached agreement. The final hurdle, after evading hundreds thrown out by Hun Sen and his government, was over how to fund the tribunal.

The UN agreed to provide $43 million to help a three-year, Cambodian-controlled trial _ the equivalent of 1.8 billion baht, no small amount. Premier Hun Sen committed the rest.

Now, he says, he just doesn't have the money.In some cases, compassionate agencies and foreign friends might be sympathetic to the claim that Cambodia has run out of available cash.

But years of experience have produced different reactions _ vexation and suspicion. Corruption in Cambodia has become rife, including within the government.

In addition, there has long been doubt, spread over the years of discussion about a Khmer Rouge tribunal, that Premier Hun Sen has any desire to see such an event, which would surely see his own days as a Khmer Rouge commander brought up again.

Neither the international community nor the people of Cambodia have much choice in these events. The greatest fear among UN officials and diplomats in Cambodia is that even if they hold their noses and finance a tribunal, Hun Sen and his government supporters will torpedo it by delay, obfuscation and bringing only minor Khmer Rouge functionaries to the dock for many more years. Khmer Rouge leaders have already died of old age.

These include their odious leader Pol Pot and his heavily involved wife, Khieu Ponnary. The highest ranking living suspect, Ieng Sary, lives with his wife and accused murderess Ieng Thirith in a protected western Cambodia village, more happily and more prosperously than most Cambodian people.

As much as United Nations members would like to see payment of their debts by Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and other cold-blooded killers of between one and 3.5 million of their fellow Khmers, the Cambodian people deserve to see such a trial. No one who knows the country can doubt the huge damage to a population that has struggled for 25 years to deal with the after-effects of three and a half years of the most brutal rule in Southeast Asian history.

The superficial claim that the government can't come up with money for a tribunal was unconvincing. It ignored a hugely conciliatory offer by Japan to allow the government to use aid funds for its paltry share of the tribunal.

It also brushed aside all consideration of the importance of a tribunal to the Cambodian people.In short, it is fair to assume that the Cambodian government and Prime Minister Hun Sen have access to the needed funds for a tribunal that would benefit their people.

It is fair to speculate why the premier has pleaded poverty rather than attempt to find the funds. He may find it convenient to blame the world community. The truth is Hun Sen has no intention of allowing any meaningful tribunal to judge the Khmer Rouge crimes of excess, possibly due to his involvement with the Khmer Rouge at the time.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Food Shortage

Millions May Need emergency Food

Phnom Penh, August 19, 2005 AKP --

While several provinces are currently afflicted by flooding, officials fear that a long period of drought could leave about 2 million Cambodians depending on emergency food in 2006, according to the Cambodia Daily.

The lack of water has left farmers nationwide unable to plant more than 45 percent of their paddy fields, Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said at a NCDM meeting on Thursday.

"If there is no rain by the end of August millions of Cambodians will need emergency food, "he said. "If is a serious problem. We need to find a solution."

Hunger could just be the first consequence if the drought continues. According to Cambodian Red Cross Director of Disaster Management Uy Samath, the drought could force a great deal of Cambodians to leave their lands.

"Eighty-five percent of Cambodians are farmers so they depend on the rain," he said in an interview Thursday.

In Prey Veng province only 40 percent out of 250,000 hectares of paddy fields had been planted and 20 communes were reported to suffer badly from the drought.

"The harvest for this year will not be good compared to last year's harvest, because a part of the province has been struggling with drought for so long," said Yous Mony, deputy director of the provincial agriculture department.

In several provinces along the Mekong River, however, high water levels have caused floods.

For three weeks nearly 10,000 hectares of paddy fields in Stung Treng, Kratie and Kompong Cham province have been under water, which are sill rising, Nhim Vanda said at the meeting.

In Kratie province, 21 km of road, 17 pagodas and 35 school building have been damaged, he said, adding that several locations along the Mekong have been or were close to being declared in a state of emergency

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hun Sen Criticizes Rich and Powerful Countries

Hun Sen Criticizes Rich and Powerful Countries for not Finding Remedies to Drug and Human Trafficking

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday criticized ‘’rich and powerful’’ countries which have not found remedies to drug and human trafficking problems within their own borders and scolded those nations for purportedly ‘’blaming small countries’’ like Cambodia.

His verbal attack on Western countries came in a speech at a graduation ceremony of medical students, and some two months after the U.S. State Department publicly criticized and formally reprimanded the Hun Sen government for its lack of action against human traffickers and the apparent complicity of some of its officials and police and military officials in human trafficking and human smuggling.

Hun Sen pointed out that more illegal drugs were consumed in ‘’those countries’’ than in Cambodia. He noted that ‘’hundreds of tons’’ of drugs were being trafficked into North America from countries such as Colombia, and that in the ‘’American continent’’ young girls routinely were ‘’tricked’’ into accepting ‘’good jobs’’ in large cities but instead ended up as ‘’sex slaves at hotels.’’ In some ‘’acts,’’ it’s one girl for three men, he said, adding people behave like ‘’animals.’’
U.S. Embassy spokesman in Phnom Penh, David Gainer, said he had no comment on Hun Sen’s statements.

Keo Remy, an opposition lawmaker, said Hun Sen ‘’should not get upset’’ and instead ‘’should accept’’ recent criticism from the U.S. ‘’constructively’’ and ‘’take action to stop’’ Cambodia’s growing problems with trafficking of drugs and humans. Keo Remy acknowledged that developed countries continue to struggle with the same problems but emphasized that they ‘’at least have the rule of law to deal with these issues.’’ He rapped Hun Sen for being ‘’pessimistic’’ and suggested he ‘’face problems in his own homeland.’’

Keo Remy said Western nations know well that Cambodia’s efforts to create a just society built on ‘’rule of law’’ are dragging slowly and that they periodically point out shortcomings of the Cambodian government to illustrate why reform is necessary.

Cambodia was ranked by the U.S. State Department along with 13 other nations as the worst afflicted by rampant human trafficking.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cambodia Tourist Quiz

Blatantly and flagrantly stolen from Gordon’s website, so check there for the answers, link above and below.

Cambodia Tourist Quiz

Traveled around Cambodia a bit? What did you really learn? Planning a trip soon? Find out if you've done enough research.

1.) You've taken a motorbike taxi ride a short distance. Reaching your destination you pay the driver 2000 riels for the journey. He stands there holding the money with an incomprehensible grin on his face. What does this mean?
A.) You paid too much.
B.) You paid too little.
C.) He just passed gas.
D.) Any of the above. The grin is incomprehensible to us, too.

2.) How many passengers can you put in the back of a pick-up truck?
A.) That depends on what kind of truck it is.
B.) A carefully determined figure taking into account the stated gross vehicle weight, condition of the vehicle, the age and size of the passengers, and present road conditions.
C.) 12.
D.) One more.

3.) Your guesthouse informs you that your laundry will be ready soon. Soon is how long?
A.) Within the hour.
B.) Tomorrow.
C.) When the girl who does the washing can find the laundry detergent.
D.) Soon is an unquantifiable value.

4.) You are at the border and are told the tourist bus to Siem Reap is leaving now. When is it leaving?
A.) Now.
B.) When it's full.
C.) This afternoon.
D.) Soon.

5.) You flag down a moto, tell him your destination, and ask him if he knows where it is. He says "yes". This means:
A.) He knows where it is.
B.) He knows where you are.
C.) He knows what "yes" means.
D.) He knows how to say "yes".

6.) You're buying a bottle of water from some kid in front of Angkor Wat. She asks for 1000 riels. How much should you bargain?
A.) Haggle to the bone. Bleed her dry.
B.) 500 riels.
C.) 700 riels.
D.) The same amount that you bargained the price of the eight beers you were served by a British bartender in an expatriate/tourist bar the previous night.

7.) You rented a motorbike and have just been stopped by the police. What should you do?
A.) Pay whatever is asked.
B.) Stand around for ten minutes trying to bargain the "fine" down.
C.) Offer sincere apologies for being an inconvenience to the good citizens of Cambodia.
D.) Why on earth did you stop?

8.) Your motodriver tells you that, "You are number one!" What does this mean?
A.) You're his best customer.
B.) You're his first customer.
C.) You're his only customer.
D.) You're a condom.

9.) A beggar shakes his hat in your face, then points to his prosthesis and makes hand motions indicating 'no leg'. What should you do?
A.) Give him $1.
B.) Ignore him.
C.) Buy him dinner.
D.) Point to your head and make hand motions indicating 'no brain'.

10.) You'd like a posting as an election observer. What are the necessary qualifications and responsibilities of the job?
A.) Degree in political science and prior experience observing elections in fledgling democracies.
B.) You come from Florida and helped count votes in the 2000 US election.
C.) Your name is Charles Taylor or Robert Mugabe.
D.) See no evil, hear evil, talk no evil.

For answers check:

Useful Phrases in Khmer ?

English: I’m not evil, I just have bad hair.
Khmer: Kayom mun men baisich, krun dai sau at saat.

English: How much would it cost for you to take off your shoes?
Khmer: Tlie pon mon prason buy nyet da sabai jung?

English: I just killed a man to watch him die. He took forever, the damn
Khmer: Kayom cham ju pel kayom mur kayom somlap menoo.

English: Your head looks like a douche bag. And smells the same.
Khmer: Cabal nyet tom nung suoy doy prahong loo.

English: So, did you fight for the good communists or the bad communists?
Khmer: Dao nyet bro chang dum bai communi laaw rue communi akraw?

English: How many Cambodians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Khmer: Da meine pra chea juen Kampuchea pon mon nyet twer ka?

English: The more I drink, the prettier you get.
Khmer: Puk tran kana, songha gkal nung.

English: Honesty is an excuse not to be creative.
Khmer: Kejal niyea ca pit. Chalat ca niyea kit.

English: Aim to please, shoot to kill.
Khmer: Som dum rong, pel banh som lap.

English: I’ll protect you, as long as you can run as fast as me.
Khmer: Kayom nung caa peea nyet dowa tai nyet arut luen doy kayom.

English: Make Cambodia a better place. Kill a cop today.
Khmer: Go sang Kampuchea ow saat. Somlap poli tnai nee.

English: Money doesn’t buy love, but it can rent something similar.
Khmer: Loi mun ting snai ha, bunthai achul rueng doy knear.

English: Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies.
Khmer: Mut cla juey raa. Mut jut snut juey araa cluen.

English: Where do I go if I want to shoot a cow with a B-40 rocket?
Khmer: Da kayom dao na prason bao kayom jong bang cgo nung kra

Monday, August 15, 2005

Mobile Porn Anyone ?

PHNOM PENH -- A teenage craze for sending doctored naked images of female celebrities to each other by mobile phones sparked a demand on Thursday by a Cambodian minister for government action against pornography. The local press in the mainly Buddhist nation has been in a frenzy in recent weeks over the sudden spread of pornographic images by phone after the mother of a pop singer spotted a photograph of her daughter sent to a phone.

While the government is powerless to monitor what images people are sending to each other by phone, minister of women's affairs Ung Kantha Phavy told a press briefing that it should shut down indecent Websites.

We "ask the government to block Internet ISPs which are used to transfer pornographic images, show sex sites and chat sites", she said, speaking after talks with legislators and nongovernment organizations on pornography. She said that each government ministry should also educate its own officials about the inappropriateness of sending images.

Fuel was added to the media fire late last month when a man was arrested for allegedly forcing a woman to take off her clothes while being filmed in return for not being sexually assaulted. The four-minute movie was quickly distributed around the capital via mobile phones.

"The increase in the distribution of the pornographic pictures to youth has severely affected the value, honor and dignity of Cambodian women and family, social, cultural and Khmer traditional values," the women's affairs ministry said in a separate statement.

In a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Ung Kantha Phavy described the phenomenon as "a state of emergency because if there are no measures to crack down quickly, more women will become victims". The minister also urged the government to close shops that play pornographic videos and ban the importation of inappropriate DVDs and CDs.

In February Hun Sen ordered that pornographic magazines be removed from newsstands, arguing that they posed a danger to society.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Working as a Volunteer Professional

So how much work does a volunteer actually do?
What is expected for that couple of hundred dollars a month ??
To whom do they report to ???

*** *** ***

As I am now supporting two separate departments, mornings in one afternoons in the other, I seem to be finding my workload increase somewhat.

But more than that, I seem to have to keep telling everybody that they only have me a couple of days a week, that is what happens when you want me to work in two place at the same time, things have to get prioritised, things that are not prioritised, do not get done.

Plus on top of that, I now have to keep multiple people informed about things and report to them all!?!

In fact, I belive that now my (oh so excellent) de facto reporting structure is:

Reporting Line 1
to Vuthy and the CFDO, DoF

Reporting Line 2
to Mong Leng and the PFO, DoF

Reporting Line 3
to Chris/Danith for the FAO/DFiD/FAO/Trust Fund that came up with the cash for year 2

Reporting Line 4
and, of course, let us not forget VSOC and its wonderful staff

With each of the above having their own agendas, timetables, priorities, et cetera…

Even more amusingly I now have to write an 'end of project' report on the work I have been doing, even though I have only been doing this new role for three afternoons - due to some funding cycle nonsense - on top of the original funding cycle nonsense being forgotten by all involved. This a couple of weeks after my ‘halfway’ performance review by VSO.

But these people have to tick off the boxes on their checklists; regardless of reality, bureaucracy must be followed.

All in all, this is pretty much exactly what I said I did not want to happen when my second year funding got all screwed up and I had to agree to doing two jobs at the same time; or more accurately, when I HAD to agree to do two jobs at the same time.

I think that I will do a little revision of my curriculum vitae over the weekend…


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Cambodia Visitors Q&A

For visitors coming to Cambodia, I have found this little Question and Answer article that might help you in preparation.

Tourist Red Tape and FAQ's
For those who have never been to Cambodia and who are considering travelling here, Khmer 440 has compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers dealing with visas, immigration, customs, money, health and crime.

Click link for full article.

Genocide to Latte

It is not often that I give space on my Blog to another writer, but this seems to be a theme this week !

In late 2002, Christopher G. Moore, the author of the Vincent Calvino series of novels set in Southeast Asia, returned to Phnom Penh at the behest of his editors. His assignment was to visit and share his impressions of Cambodia today. His piece below gives a feel for the undoubted change that has occurred in Cambodia in the last decade but also for some of the contradictions that is Cambodia today.

*** *** ***

Digesting mass murder has no clear time frame. In the case of Cambodia, between April, 1975 until August 1979 when the Vietnamese arrived, the Khmer Rouge managed to kill about one-third of the population. A bullet, a shovel or hoe were killing tools. Starvation and disease added significantly to the piles of bodies accumulated during Khmer Rouge rule. By any standards, there had been a lot of murder. Tensions between those who supported the Khmer Rouge and those at the receiving end of their wrath were still strongly felt when UNTAC forces were sent to Cambodia with the mission to bring democracy, free elections, and a fresh start where both sides could reconcile themselves with the past and each other. In March 1993 I was in Phnom Penh as a journalist covering the UN venture into Cambodia. Drawing upon this experience, I wrote Zero Hour in Phnom Penh - the only novel that has emerged from this period.

Almost ten years later, I returned to Cambodia to explore the changes that had intervened in a half a generation. “Time walks fast,” said the young Khmer woman DJ with a breezy California accent. She might have been in a shopping center in Los Angeles. But she had never been outside of Cambodia. And she was young; broadcasting in English to the generation of Cambodians born after the Khmer Rouge had been defeated. “Time walks fast,” she said again.

“It seems like Monday but already it is Thursday. I like the fastness. But I don’t want to grow old. Do you want to grow old? Of course you don’t. Like me, you want to stay young forever.

And I have been thinking about how much I like Santana. He wrote a song called Black Magic Woman. I wish I knew his nationality. I mean, he’s not American and he’s not black or Asian. I don’t know where he’s from. But I really think he’s cool.”

On the 7-dollar ride from the airport, the driver had tuned to an English language station in Phnom Penh. He understood English. The whole country was studying the English language. The bookshops stocked Madonna, an intimate Biography and John Grisham’s Summons. Study and How to do tapes for Chinese, French, and Japanese were displayed on the shelf.

A generation before the Khmer Rouge had been killing anyone who spoke a foreign language or read foreign books. Now the streets were filled with students in their white shirts and black trousers carrying books and dreaming of riches.

The Monorome Hotel had been famous in 1993. Journalists on fat expense accounts stayed there, as they had done since the 1970s, preferably in one of the balcony rooms. It had been renamed the Holiday Villa, and had the look of an aging hooker with too much makeup. The old Royale had buckets in the main lobby catching water from the ceiling in 1993. A room could be had for $18 and the swimming pool was packed with weeds and mud. Today, the Singaporeans had transformed the hotel into a world class five star Raffles hotel with $300 rooms and offered a Champagne dinner for New Years at $70 per head.

At the old Russian market, in 1993 Khmer soldiers with amputated limbs hobbled after UNTAC soldiers who roamed the market which sold AK-47s for $75 and marijuana cigarettes in packs for 40 at $2. A decade later, the UNTAC soldiers had been replaced with tourists in their twenties looking through pirated DVD titles such as Die Another Day, 8 Mile, and Spiderman.

The AK-47s and marijuana had vanished. The instruments of war and the drugs to fight pain and terror had given way to the new age of consumption. The images were not of the recent past but of the cartoon worlds churned out by moguls in Hollywood who couldn’t find Cambodia on a map.

That night was a full moon. The reflection shone over the Tonle Sap as I walked along the quay.

I had witnessed a part of a procession, which between one and two million Khmers had participated in. On the forty-five kilometer journey, Khmers lined the street. In spots they were stood ten deep. They had come out wearing their finest clothes. I stood along the quay, a military vehicle with red light flashing and siren blaring slowly led a procession of a half dozen floats. Monks sat in rows on several of the floats.

On one float was a large glass case and inside were Buddha relics - hair, teeth and bone - and the procession was taking the relics to a new stupa built in the old capital of Odong. The new temple had been built on a mountain in Ponhea Leu district in Kandal Province.

The King and Prime Minister and princes and officials were at Odong waiting. What we witnessed had historic meaning. It had been over three decades since the relics had been moved. Thirty years was a lifetime in Cambodia.

Later in my room, I watched the procession on TV. The truck with the cameraman outside of Phnom Penh captured people stepping forward, handing lotus flowers, incense sticks and Cambodian flags to the monks. Some of the trucks overflowed with such offerings.

Looking at the vastness of the crowd ­- one to two million - one couldn’t help think they nearly equaled the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide. All people and all factions had, however, come together in a bond of faith and belief. Had they put their differences aside for this procession or was this evidence of healing taking place?

That same Thursday evening a one-star general killed a nineteen-year-old who had allegedly beaten up his son. The new threat to the social order were the children of the ruling class who had formed gangs and roamed Phnom Penh, claiming turf, fighting each other, and other wise raising hell as untouchables. In this case, the general had been arrested.

A day later another general, a former aging Khmer Rouge commander, was sentenced in a Phnom Penh court to life imprisonment for ordering the murder of three young tourists in 1994.

The Australian, British, and French Embassies applauded the sentence. Like the movement of the relics, a general’s arrest for murder and another general carted off to prison on a murder conviction appeared as once in a life time incidents. The local papers covered the UN Secretary-General’s call for the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders in accordance with internationally recognized standards of justice. It was one thing to imprison one general who ordered the murder of foreign tourists, but what about his accountability for and participation in genocide, Cambodian killing Cambodian? No one raised the issue. There was only silence. Will true justice ever be brought to Cambodia? Will those responsible for the genocide be brought before such a tribunal? Or is it still the reality, that justice and truth are too threatening and divisive? A decade later after UNTAC, no one can answer these questions.

The Foreign Correspondent’s Club had just opened in the spring of 1993. As a journalist covering events on the ground, I found it a place to meet colleagues. A decade later, if there were any foreign correspondents in Phnom Penh, they had found a new watering hole.
The FCC was overrun with tourists and NGOs with their toddlers and teenagers running around with the arrogance of a Khmer general’s son, racing among the tables with their pool cues and eating hamburgers. The FCC as a day-care-center, a tourist trap, a place to write postcards showed the distance between the days when UNTAC land cruisers roamed the streets, and the threat of war remained real, the possibility of genuine elections uncertain.

The new generation of tourists sat in internet cafes intermingled with restaurants where they had a communication connection with the outside world that we never dreamt of in 1993. While they were more connected in one way, in another they were more isolated, in their small booths, never giving them a chance to find that being cut off, being isolated brings advantages and insights into your location and also into oneself. Being connected gives a sense of certainty and safety. The tourists had never left home, family, friends, or colleagues. Physically they were in Phnom Penh but inside their minds they had gone nowhere. It is unlikely they would have heard of the Briton, Australian and Frenchman -all in their 20s - who in 1994 had been dragged off an upcountry train, held for two months, then killed.

In 1993, when Calvino arrived in Phnom Penh, he explored the back streets; he sought out the places where there might be a story - or a body.

Sipping a latte at the Pink Elephant Restaurant with a half-dozen fellow travelers was not his way of understanding Cambodia. The old Lido was a place where the UNTAC soldiers rolled up in their white land cruisers, and with their $168 daily allowance, were a welcome sight for the mainly Vietnamese hookers who waived from the balcony. The Lido is no more. Recently, the government cracked down on prostitution in Phnom Penh in advance of hosting several regional conferences. But have the working girls disappeared from the scene or have they only faded away waiting until the guests leave? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, in Phnom Penh women in green frocks work under a hot mid-day sun sweeping the main streets. The vast complex of slums in the heart of town has been knocked down and replaced with a sprawling shopping center and office complex. Next door to his complex is a park named after the Prime Minister Hun Sen.

At the end of the day, Zero Hour in Phnom Penh is a unique crime novel as the private eye Vincent Calvino finds himself seeking to solve a private crime in the midst of a society that has suffer the trauma of mass murder. He comes to realize that any individual crime pales when compared to what happened to more than one million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

If Calvino were to return to Phnom Penh today, he would find many things unchanged - such as the fear of using justice and truth to resolve the past - and many things on the surface much changed - internet cafes, hordes of tourists, five-star hotels, and a new airport where the menu includes melted tuna au gratin, cheese cake, and latte.

In Cambodia, the human conditions continues to stretch the void - from the horror of genocide to the vulgar ostentatious travelers who, in their own way, seek to have their cake and eat it, creating the illusions they have never really left home.

Letter from Phnom Penh

Thoughts from the front lines of US Immigration

The two young men sporting hip hop clothes and gang tattoos wander easily among the tourists.

There are so many people visiting the ancient temples of Angkor that no one in particular draws much attention. These two are Cambodian American, visiting the temples that represent the glory of the Khmer empire, icons which they have known all their lives only through the stories of their parents. The two kneel in front of a statue of Buddha, heads bowed in prayer. Boxer shorts sprout out of their sagging pants, and the tattoos running down their arms end in hands with palms pressed together, sticks of incense cradled in their fingers.

They are not tourists and this is not a vacation. They are “returnees,” deported from the United States where they have grown up, back to the country they fled as young children with their families. While there are currently 67 returnees in Cambodia, there are another 1,500 awaiting deportation in the U.S.

They have all been ordered deported, mostly on the basis of having been convicted of a crime. Changes to U.S. immigration law have largely eliminated defences to their “removal,” as deportation is now called, even though most of them have lived in the U.S. for 20 years or more and many, like these two young men, came as young children and have grown up as “Americans.”

Kimho Ma left Cambodia in 1979 as a sick baby tied to his mother’s chest with a scarf. They were among the tens of thousands of Cambodians fleeing the murderous Khmer Rouge. In the regime’s attempts to rid the Cambodian population of all traces of Western and intellectual thought, close to two million Cambodians—almost one-third of the country’s population—died between 1975 and 1979, victims of starvation, sickness, and arbitrary execution. When the Vietnamese army “liberated” the country in 1979, survivors flooded across the border into Thailand.

The Ma family travelled on foot to Thailand without food, with Kimho sick and lifeless, wrapped in a krama. His mother walked hand-in-hand with Kimho’s brother and sister, with his oldest brother in the lead taking the place of the father who stayed behind, too ill to make the trek. Throughout their difficult journey, skirting land mines and Khmer Rouge soldiers, his mother would periodically check to see if the baby was still moving, ready to leave him for dead by the side of the road. He managed to breathe just enough to convince them not to abandon him.

When they made it to the Thai border, his sister remembers, “We knew then he would live a long life because he was so strong to survive that trip.”

They spent five years in refugee camps on the Thai/Cambodian border, waiting for sponsorship to a third country and for international immigration policy and laws to embrace the waves of refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. The Ma family came to the U.S. in 1985 when Kimho was seven, along with his mother’s sister’s family.

The family came as part of the large wave of Cambodian migration between 1975 and 1985, when some 127,000 Cambodian refugees arrived in the U.S. They were war refugees, without plans or suitcases, carrying only a few photographs taken in the refugee camps, the memories of the atrocities they had experienced, and a desire for freedom. Rural dwellers mostly, they had few skills and little education. The cities where they settled were not ready to take on whole populations of strange refugees without job or language skills. They were poor in a United States that would become increasingly hostile to the poor over the next 20 years.

The struggles they experienced in adapting to their new culture were exacerbated by psychological distress. Close to 50 percent of adult Cambodian refugees were ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 1999 report by the office of the U.S. Surgeon General, while many more exhibited some of the symptoms. Most adults were unwilling to talk about their experiences under the Khmer Rouge, either with aid workers or with their young children, who had no memories of the atrocities. Children feeling isolated from their peers, both socially and at school, were reluctant to bring their troubles to their parents, who were struggling with the demons they carried from Cambodia, while trying to feed their families on low paying jobs.

English quickly became the language used by the younger generation to describe their experiences in an English speaking world. Children became the translators for their parents, interacting with social services, doctors, lawyers, and schools. Older sons took the place of fathers who had been lost to war or the Khmer Rouge. One refugee remembers answering a phone call from the police in the middle of the night, looking for the father of the family to come pick up his younger brother. “There is no father,” he told them. “I am the father. I will come get him.”

As family roles reversed, elders lost the respect of their children and the control they traditionally had in the family. Teens felt estranged from their Cambodian families because of their language and cultural differences and marginalized at school for the same reasons. Many found security with others in the same situation, groups that sometimes grew into street gangs. The breakdown in traditional family structures is considered by many to be a root cause for the growth of Asian gangs. A worker with the Khmer Community of Seattle-King County admitted, “Most kids join a gang because of the loss of power as a parent.”

Kimho Ma described the reasons he and his friends joined gangs. “Many of the Asian youths were looking for a place of acceptance. A lot was very young, some was in their early teens, and they had no understanding of their culture. Many came from poor living conditions and most were undereducated. Gangster life was a chance for them to build status in post- modern America.... I spoke some English but not good enough, so I would get teased at school. Most of us got mocked for being different, taunted for being poor, and battered for being foreign.... We saw the gang as a congregation for strength and unity...there was no more intimidation at school.”

There was also antagonism among the many immigrant, refugee, and ethnic groups living together in housing projects and attending the same schools. Kimho explained, “...members of the early year join for the sole purpose for protection against out-side attack from different ethnic group. One of the biggest rivalries in the street of America is the Latino gangs and the Asian gangs. Many blame the problem on the ethnicity, but I see it as a poverty issue…. Here we were, young Khmer men living in the ghetto of America. So was it wrong for us to stand up for ourselves? Was it wrong for us to be free of harm?”

Kimho was 17-years-old when he was arrested for participating in a gang shooting in 1995. Throughout the 1990s, many minors who ran afoul of the criminal justice system were being charged as adults, bringing younger and younger lawbreakers into the adult system where they could be charged with more serious crimes and sentenced to longer sentences in adult prisons.

At the same time, many refugee adults didn’t or couldn’t apply to naturalize themselves and their minor children because of a lack of English skills, lack of low income legal assistance for refugees and immigrants, and a lack of understanding among social service providers of how important citizenship was for ensuring the stability of immigrant and refugee families. The psychological baggage that many refugees carried with them also created real fear of government officials. An incompetent immigration service made things difficult for those who did apply—stories abound of lost paperwork, wrong forms, incorrect information, and utter indifference on the part of the bureaucracy for the families whose lives were permanently affected by its inefficiency.

This left family members exposed to increasingly draconian immigration laws. But most refugee children who were growing up here assumed they were no different than U.S. citizens, or at least that their parents had taken care of whatever legal manipulations their immigration to the U.S. had required. Even if they did understand their immigration status and the severity of not naturalizing, as minors they were not able to apply for citizenship on their own. Along with many others, Kimho’s parents did not naturalize, nor did they understand the significance of the clothing and “colours” he wore, the music he listened to, or the places where he hung out with his friends—until he was arrested and charged with a gang-related murder.

Charged as adults, a jury found Kimho and three of his co-defendants guilty of manslaughter. After serving a 22-month sentence, he was released from state prison only to be incarcerated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). That was when he discovered he was not a U.S. citizen and faced extremely punitive immigration laws. The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) required that anyone convicted of a dizzying array of felonies must be deported, and eliminated any discretion for immigration judges to grant waivers no matter how compelling the individual circumstances. For Kimho Ma, there was no defence to deportation.

Before he and his family understood what was happening, Kimho was ordered deported. He remained behind bars, in INS “detention,” but Cambodia had not accepted the repatriation of any of its citizens since the Vietnam War decades earlier and refused to accept him. With deportation pending, but not possible, the INS insisted on holding Kimho in detention, even if it was for life.

He found other Cambodians like himself in the various INS jails. There were Vietnamese and Laotian detainees in the same situation, since U.S. relations with all three countries were cut off after the wars in Southeast Asia. Nationally, there were estimated to be close to 5,000 Southeast Asians being held in INS limbo indefinitely, the “lifers” waiting to be deported.

The INS argued that these former criminals, who had all served their sentences, were a danger to society. The government also claimed that because they had been ordered deported, they had been stripped of their constitutional right to freedom. Kimho and the others fought back, filing handwritten petitions for writs of habeas corpus from their cells. These jailhouse litigants ultimately came to the attention of lawyers who would take on their cases and fight the detentions. Kimho’s case became the focus of appeals through the federal courts, finding their final victory in a 5 to 4 decision at the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2001 in the cases of Ashcroft v. Ma and Zadvydus v. Davis. The decision allowed the release of thousands of detainees, some of whom had been in INS detention for five years or more. Kimho Ma had spent two and one-half years in INS detention after completing his sentence in state prison.

But the win at the Supreme Court left the deportation orders of all of these people untouched. As anti-immigrant policies intensified in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. officials pressured the Cambodian government to sign an agreement in March 2002 that would allow Cambodian nationals in the U.S. with deportation orders to be sent back to the country they had fled decades earlier.

Kimho was among the first groups to be sent back. In early October 2002, his family gathered at the shabby gas station across the street from INS headquarters in Seattle where he was to turn himself in. As his mother watched the door to the immigration building swing shut behind him, she sank to the sidewalk, as if all of her spirit and strength had disappeared along with her son.

Kimho’s trip across the Pacific retraced the journey his family had taken 17 years earlier. Except this time he was in shackles and handcuffs, guarded by INS officers on a U.S. government jet.
Arriving in Phnom Penh for the first time in his life, Kimho Ma was struck by how beautiful the country was and how friendly the people. After an initial period of detention by Cambodian immigration, he now lives as a Cambodian in Phnom Penh. Along with the several dozen men who have been deported to Cambodia, so far, he has found himself in a country unlike anything he could have imagined from his parents stories.

Cambodia overflows with the unfortunate. Limbless land-mine victims fill the streets of Phnom Penh, swarming foreigners for handouts that will allow them to eat for another day. They share street corners with clusters of street kids, many abandoned by families too poor to care for them, sniffing glue to cut the constant hunger and heat. HIV positive babies, acid attack victims missing parts of their faces, 12-year-old prostitutes, orchestras of amputee musicians, all vie for the limited services offered by privately funded non-governmental organizations. Raw sewage flows into the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers and power lines routinely collapse in the winds and rains of the annual monsoons, falling into flood waters in the streets below and electrocuting anyone wading through at the time.

Still, one of the first impressions Kimho had of Cambodia was that, for the first time in memory, he was in a place where everyone looked like him. The racism that dogged him in the United States was gone. Many of the returnees experienced the same sense of familiarity, along with relief at being free of the U.S. immigration system.

But they also find that they stand out. While most of them speak Khmer, their accents give them away as non-native. Some try to dress like locals so they won’t look different, but many of their mannerisms—the way they walk, the way they look at someone while conversing—all give them away as “foreign.” They are often asked where they come from, and are usually requested to pay the more expensive foreigner rate for public services and activities. “To start off we already look different, then we all speak in English and just act different,” writes Kimho. “My Cambodian is still questioned by a lot of locals.... It’s a trip how so many people think [I] am not Khmer. But, then again maybe that’s a good thing. Almost everybody I meet thinks [I] am a tourist. If they only knew.”

Kimho writes frequently of the confusion of not knowing in which world he belongs. “All I know is [I] am here and that it’s for a while.... When you wake up and you hop on a motodup [motorcycle taxi] and you see the struggle of the country again. Only then you realize that this is a part of my world now. It ain’t Bush, Backstreet Boy, or MTV no more. Now it’s the CPP [the ruling Cambodian People’s Party] or the Sam Rainsy Party, the dusty road, and the traffic of Cambodia.”

Talking to his mom, he says “Hearing her voice really make me homesick. It’s funny how I also say home sick. Shit. This is home.”

How does someone who’s spent a short lifetime building a bridge from Cambodian to U.S. culture, turn around and recross the bridge? The term acculturation describes the process of adapting from one’s old culture to the new. But what about “reverse acculturation,” where someone must relearn—or learn for the first time—their old culture and shed the adopted one? While supporters of the INS policies argue that Kimho and the others never were U.S. citizens, so never earned the rights of citizens, they are clearly U.S. citizens by their upbringing, their way of looking at the world, their sense of themselves. Kimho understands this: “ mind is caught up in two different worlds and it’s hard to forget where you use to come from. I mean it’s hard to erase 20 years of living.

“I had been thinking a lot about life and what is going on in my life. It rain yesterday and I like it a lot. I was just sitting in front of the house and listening to the rain fall. And it got me thinking how much I miss the Seattle rain. It been so hot over here it was nice having a break from the heat. I mean I can remember when I was a kid running the street with my friend and how we use to get caught up in the rain. We would be walking and all of a sudden the rain would come down and hard. Then we would find a little shelter and just hide until the rain went away. But, what cool is that while we were waiting for the rain to go away we would talk about everything.

And that what I remember most. I remember how innocent we were under the rain and here we are now, most of my friends are lock up or dead and some on their way back to Cambodia.”

Most of the returnees are leaving family behind in the United States. Many, like Kimho, have elderly parents who they are expected to be able to care for. Many also leave behind U.S. citizen children. One returnee leaves 6-year-old twins; another has a 3- year-old daughter. One has two young girls and was working and taking care of his family as his wife finished her MBA when INS wrenched him from his home.

The cost to U.S. society of breaking up these families is significant. The loss of the breadwinner from families living in borderline poverty will push many more people onto public assistance. Mental health issues also appear to be rising among family members affected by deportation, with depression and stress contributing to an increasing level of dysfunction. The U.S. legal system promised freedom and justice to these families, but now many Cambodians feel betrayed by the U.S. and its laws that destroy rather than protect.

Members of the Cambodian American community are fighting back. Looking for recognition that refugees are different than economic immigrants, they are hoping to convince Congress that refugees deserve a waiver to harsh immigration laws. The history of Cambodian refugees—their survival and flight from the Khmer Rouge and their struggle in the United States—argues for some form of particularized relief from the present, cruel U.S. immigration policies.

But the impact of these deportations on this single community illuminates more universal truths: that deportation destroys families and is a punishment of grossly unjust proportions. Even if deportation may be warranted in a handful of cases, more often than not it is a policy that creates more problems than it solves. At a time when government policies increasingly restrict who is considered “American”—and who, as a consequence, falls within or without the protections of our celebrated democratic institutions—the U.S. also needs to acknowledge that healthy families and communities are essential for our own security and enact policies that preserve rather than destroy our communities. Then maybe the people who are being sent to Cambodia can come home to their families.

Waiting for visitors to arrive in Phnom Penh, Kimho writes, “I wonder when I be on that flight heading back to America. I guess it’s just a dream...but, then again dreams do come true.”

*** *** ***
Jay Stansell is an attorney who argued the case of Kimho Ma, a subject of this article, at the U.S. Supreme Court. Dori Cahn is an adult educator working with immigrants and refugees. The article is based on a chapter in a collection entitled Race, Culture, Psychology and Law (forthcoming from Sage).

Monday, August 01, 2005

T on Holiday in Cambodia :-)

Sunday the 10th
Teresa arrives for a holiday
09:00 out at PP International Airport (again) waiting for Thai Airways to land and deposit the first of my visitors this month…
having half an hour to kill I treat myself to a café latte and a chocolate croissant at the airport café. The coffee is virtually undrinkable and cost roughly EIGHT times the price one would normally pay in a Khmer restaurant – only double what one would pay in a western restaurant bar… the choc croissant though is fabulous, although that may only have been because I have not had one in a couple of years !?!?

T arrives and we head home so that she can unpack and catch her breath after the long journey out.

Not wishing to risk going native completely on the first night, T opts for an opening night meal of good old Indian Curry :-)
So it is off to Shiva Shakti – On Sihanouk Boulevard. The finest Indian curry house in Southeast Asia! With dishes ranging from classic Indian to Moghul specialities. Slightly boring I know, but the best Tandoori dishes I have had in a very long time.

Having dined, we decide to call in at the Peace Café for a nightcap, only to find that Dave has closed the bar a couple of days early, citing to much work to do one the new premises and their big re launch party on Saturday in the new space. So , down this end of town our only options are now; a Khmer beer garden, or Martini’s.

Heading over to Martini’s we find it almost empty, well it was early and the place rarely gets going before 10 o’clock at the earliest.

Monday the 11th
Day one of my short holiday
I am in work 07:00 to 09:30 for a meeting that I could not get out of, back home at 10:00, wake T up and start to give her the tour of the city.

Stroll along the riverbanks – Tonle Sap – stop off for an ice cold drink or two.

Lunch at the ‘Mary Bubble Tea Euro Gratin Restaurant’ on Monivong Boulevard: Spaghetti in a cream mushroom sauce au gratin.

After which I get Thou to pick us up in his tuk-tuk and it is off to P’sar toul tom poung - The Russian Market
Although Toul Tom Poung is primarily a residential area at the southern edge of Phnom Penh, P’sar (Market) Toul Tom Poung (i.e. Russian Market) at streets 155 and 50 is perhaps the most important market for expatriates and many would claim, myself included, a must see on any good tourist itinerary. This is where we buy our US$2 DVD’s and Gap T-shirts, our Ralph Lauren workshops and Birkenstock shoes.
For the visitor to Cambodia this is possibly the best market in Phnom Penh to buy souvenirs; with a large range of antiques both real and fake. Carvings, statues and Buddha’s are but a few of the items you will find here, along with a large variety of beautiful silks and other fabrics.

T buys assorted ‘Cambodia: Danger Landmines’ T-shirts for Dick – classic traveller purchase for Cambodia :-) I particularly like the one with diagrams of various pieces of ordinance on the back !?!

Then it is time for us to visit Wat Phnom
Set on top of a tree-covered knoll 27m high, Wat Phnom is the only hill in town. According to legend, the first pagoda on this site was erected in 1373 to house four statues of Buddha deposited here by the waters of the Mekong and discovered by a woman name Penh. The main entrance to Wat Phnom is via the grand eastern staircase, which is guarded by lions and naga (snake) balustrades.

Nowadays people come here to pray for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs. When a petitioner's wish is granted, he or she returns to make the offering (such as a garland of jasmine flowers or bananas, of which the spirits are said to be especially fond) that they promised when the request was made.

The vihara (temple sanctuary) was rebuilt in 1434, 1806 , 1894, and, most recently, in 1926.

West of the vihara is an enormous stupa containing the ashes of King Ponhea Yat (reigned 1405 to 1467) . In a small pavilion on the south side of the passage between the vihara and the stupa is a statue of the smiling and rather plump Madame Penh.

A bit to the north of the vihara and below it is an eclectic shrine dedicated to the genie Preah Chau, who is especially revered by the Vietnamese. On either side of the entrance to the chamber in which a statue of Preah Chau sits are guardian spirits bearing iron bats. On the tile table in front of the two guardian spirits are drawings of Confucius, and two Chinese-style figures of the sages Thang Cheng (on the right ) and Thang Thay (on the left). To the left of the central altar is an eight-armed statue of Vishnu.

Down the hill from the shrine is a royal stupa sprouting full-size trees from its roof. For now, the roots are holding the bricks together, but when the trees die the tower will slowly crumble. If you can not make it out to Angkor, this stupa gives a pretty good idea of what the jungle can do (and is doing) to some of Cambodia's monuments.

Curiously, Wat Phnom is the only attraction in Phnom Penh that is in danger of turning into a circus. Beggars, street urchins, women selling drinks and children selling birds in cages (you pay to set the bird free locals claim the birds are trained to return to their cage afterwards) pester everyone who turns up to slog the 27m to the summit. Fortunately it is all high-spirited stuff, and it is difficult to be annoyed by the vendors, who after all, are only trying to eke out a living.

After boiling in the midday sun on top of the hill, we wander down to the Coyote Ugly Bar just off from the hill. As the only customers in there we are subjected to a huge amount of attention from the 10 barmaids, they turn the air-conditioning on, redirect fans towards us, top up our complementary bowl of popcorn every few minutes and giggle frantically when I am able to chat to them in Khmer - although they may just have been laughing at my bad pronunciation…

Thou and his tuk-tuk turn up after an hour there to take us over to Café Freedom on the lake, where we relax and watch the skies darken – we are hoping for rain, but it does not seem to come. After a while we stroll down the lane and call into a few more places, until we stop off in the imaginatively named ‘The Pub Crawl Bar’ where we have an ice cold glass of beer, or two. The promised rain finally comes and you can feel the temperature dropping as it falls.

Home to shower and change then

18:00 out to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) for dinner. Love it, or loathe it, the FCC is a place you have to drop into at least once if you are visiting Cambodia, while these days you do not have to be an intrepid reporter to enjoy the French colonial ambiance of this beautiful restaurant and bar. Tourists, business travellers, expatriates and even a few locals enjoy drinks on the first floor or rooftop bars overlooking the Tonle Sap River. The menu is a mixture of Western and Asian, with Khmer curry sitting on the menu next to pasta dishes, pizza, Caesar salad and desserts. Beer is a little more expensive than in other bars at USD1.50 and upwards, but for a piece of classic Phnom Penh charm, it is worth it; well, once in a while.

Tuesday the 12th
Day two; the depressing stuff you have to do with visitors
Khmer breakfast – rice~pork, fish and beef broth, pickled vegetables and chilli dipping sauce; standard stuff for us ex-pats but Teresa was not impressed!

10:00 Thou picks us up in his tuk-tuk and takes us out to The Killing Fields Memorial – Choeng Ek
This memorial is on the site of a Khmer Rouge extermination camp where almost 9,000 bodies were exhumed from mass graves after the fall of the regime. The real number of victims is estimated to be twice as many, as the dead were not exhumed from all the graves discovered. The centre piece of the memorial is a solitary stupa in which the bones of the dead are displayed along with many personal possessions buried with them.

Lunch at the Bodhi Tree restaurant with its lush garden setting being bombarded by torrential rain. A virtual oasis in the otherwise barren suburban neighbourhood near the genocide museum.
Among the highlights on the menu are mixed tapas in authentic Spanish style and a spicy vegetable curry served with coconut and long rice noodles.

Once the rains stopped we were at last able to visit the former S21 concentration camp –the Toul Sleng genocide museum. Now to be honest, I have already been there a couple of times with various visitors and I was not looking forward to going again.
When Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, this former high school was converted into the detention and interrogation centre known as Security camp 21 (S-21). Political enemies suspected of treason were brought here and tortured for confessions. Very few detainees survived S-21, but the brutal history of Toul Sleng was documented by the Khmer Rouge themselves in the post-mortem photos of many of the victims. The tragedy of S-21 is almost too much to bear

A couple of beers at the Gecko Bar while waiting for Thou to return from his afternoon airport run.

Back home for shower and change before…

18:00 off to Raffles Hotel for cocktails in The Elephant Bar – well, it is nice to do this sort of thing once in a while :-)
The thing about the Elephant Bar in Raffles is that you are unlikely to forget it. The paintings on the ceiling of this famous watering hole lend it its name. Colourful elephant motifs catch the eye as the legendary signature cocktails capture the taste buds.Here you can enjoy a Femme Fatale, a cocktail named in honour of Jacqueline Kennedy’s visit here; an Airavata, a cocktail of secret ingredients; or the Million Dollar Cocktail which gained notoriety in Sommerset Maugham's bedsite tale, The Letter. The hotel itself originally opened in 1929. It was completely refurbished in 1997 and is now both a modern hotel and a historical landmark. Architecturally stunning, the hotel is spread out in a series of low-rise wings interconnected by courtyards and gardens, which surround a pair of swimming pools. There are a variety of rooms and suites, all luxurious, ah to be rich !

Wednesday the 12th
Parting of the ways
07:00 - I am back in the office, breakfast with the usual crowd and a meeting ?!
09:15 – I nip back home so that I can lock up after T leaves
09:30 - a car picks T up to drive her up to Siam Reap for 3 days. I have booked her a trip up there with the Speed~King to Siam Reap taxi driver, a friend of Thou’s (only Glen and Paul will know, which taxi driver I am talking about here…) have also booked her into a hotel that is owned by a Heng’s family up there, knowing that her and her husband will look after her, sort out temple tour guides, taxis, boat tickets back to Phnom Penh, et cetera.

Back to work for me for a few days, boo hoo.

Friday the 14th
The return of T
Not being too sure of T’s itinerary, I arrange to be ‘working at home’ on the Friday afternoon…
As it turns out, she gets the bus back from Siam Reap with one of Heng’s cousins, Nong, who helps her deal with it all :-)
I then get a phone call from Nong saying that T is at her house, so I head up there on the bike to pick her up.

Saturday the 15th
Off we go to Kampot town, Kampot province
08:00 the taxi is here to drive us down to Kampot town

The Boroy Bokor Hotel: US$15 for a twin room with air-con and cable TV, not the cheapest, but far from the most expensive, and a nice hotel to boot.

11:00 an early lunch / late breakfast in a Khmer restaurant which extends out into the Mekong River, the view opposite is back dropped by the Bokor Mountain range

12:00 our car turns up for the arduous journey up the mountains to the top.
Now the Bokor mountain resort was the site of protracted fighting during the Khmer Rouge which destroyed the French built hotel~casino on the top, as well as the other outlying buildings up there

The road up there is bad, in fact using the word ‘road’ in any connection to it is misleading, potholes, craters, gravel sand, sheer drops, eroded cliffs and the odd bit of tarmac protruding up like black icebergs ready to take out an axle from an unwary driver. Built in 1917 by the French colonists using conscripted labour it took many years to finish and cost the lives of many Cambodians.

After two arduous, jarring and spine fusing hours up this mountain ‘road’ we reach our first stop, the Black Panther Palace, built by former Khmer King Monivong in 1912. Now it is little more than a concrete shell, riddle with bullet holes and bad graffiti – in Khmer and English – the view from the balcony does however give an indication of why it was built; sweeping down the hill bellow are acres and acres of forest / jungle, which joins into the flat land below, further out still are the fields and rice paddies of Kampot province, past them you can see the coast and the Gulf of Thailand, in which several large islands sit like emeralds. The islands in question no longer belong to Cambodia, they are currently owned by Viet Nam as part of some border deal that the French cut. One of the many boundary disputes that are currently being argued over here in Cambodia.

After our break here, it is back in the car for the slightly better road across the flat(ish) top of the mountain (and I do mean only slightly better)

Twenty minutes later we are driving past the burnt out (bombed out?) shell of the French post-office that was built up here to service the hotel and casino guests, we do not stop, all that is left to be seen, can be seen from the 5 minute drive by.

Reaching a fork in the road we have a choice to decide what to see next, we decided on a visit to The Waterfalls, more properly known as Popokvil Teuk Cheu which translates as Swirling Clouds Waterfall. Half an hour, jostled again along a very rough road, we reached them. Or rather we reached to point where we parked the car and walked through the thicket to the top of a double waterfall. In a country as flat as Cambodia mountains are few and far between, waterfalls like wise. So this double fall was quite impressive after a year and a half of flat plains, flat rice paddies and rivers.

At last we reach the ‘highlight’ of this little tour, the former Bokor Palace Casino Hotel. This French folly opened in 1925, when it must have been truly spectacular. Unfortunately the strategic location of the building and the hill made its capture critical during may periods of fighting – independence from the French, the Lon Nol coup, the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese invasion/liberation. In fact, at one point the Khmer Rouge were barricaded in the Church, while the Vietnamese were barricaded in the Hotel (500 metres away) and they spent months hurling bombs and bullets at each other!

The hotel has been pretty much stripped of everything walls, ceiling and oddly enough some rather nice ceramic floor tiles? Graffiti adorns every wall in the place, in both English and Khmer, with random bullet holes punctuating it.
One of the ‘better known’ guide books for Cambodia draws allusions to the hotel in ‘The Shining’ and the former Bokor Palace is just about as creepy as any building I have been in.
As we reached the Hotel a thunderstorm was just starting, within 10 minutes of us being there it had become a full blown storm, with booming claps of thunder and lightning striking the grounds around the hotel, holed up in the grand ballroom, along a few other visitors, we watched the rain being driven through the open window spaces, jumped as the thunder echoed around this ghost hotel and jumped as one when lightning exploded only metres away from us. Dark and primal; as elemental an experience as much as a historic journey into Cambodia’s past.

Then it was time to start the equally hairy decent back down the road from hell – only this time in the rain…

Somehow we made it back to Kampot town in one piece, although I did feel like my internal organs had been rearranged, but that is not an uncommon feeling after travelling any distance on a provincial Cambodian road.

Back just in time for Dinner at the Little Garden Bar, one of Kampot’s few foreign bar / restaurants ran by an Englishman called Norm
Roast Pork coated with rosemary, roast potatoes, carrots turnip and red wine/onion gravy!
Surprisingly enough T opts for an Asian dish – sweat and sour pork with rice.

Sunday the 16th
Off to the beach
I am awake and up at 06:00. T is still feeling ill, so I head off for a stroll on my own and to see if I can find a Pharmacy that stocks anything useful for her.
Breakfast in the Khmer pavement café opposite – Rice and Bacon with the usual trimmings, scrummy ! after which I call into the Little Garden Bar for a coffee with Norm and to ask him [his Khmer staff] where to find a Chemists

10:00 car and driver turns up for the trip to Kompong Som – Sihanoukville

12:00 and we are checking into the Sokha Beach Resort – the only 5 star hotel at this beach town, once we cleared the roadworks on the edge of Kampot town, the road was only a few months old, easy, smooth and comfortable, a nice change from yesterday!

Having done so much travelling over the last few days we just had a lazy afternoon; the pool, the beach, the sea – damn that sun is hot, thankfully plenty of trees, sun loungers and bamboo beach umbrellas are provided :-)
Only leaving the resort for half an hour to visit the local ‘western-style, luxury supermarket’ after which it was back to the hotel, all the while our drivers were trying to find out when we were going back to Phnom Penh and could their ‘friend’ drive us there in his car – cheap, cheap!

After this very restful afternoon, we decided to head into town for dinner, leaving the hotel by chance we ended up with the same motodops to town, which involved more taxi haggling for the following day. The earlier attempt by them having been thwarted by the hotel concierge who also had a ‘friend’ who could take us to Phnom Penh - basically they were fighting over who would get the commission on trip!

Dinner at the Sri Lankan restaurant ‘Bamboo Lights’. Having eaten here a couple of times before I was looking forward to it. The Lamb Rosti with spicy vegetable curry was excellent, after which a few drinks at the ‘British Pub’ – The Angkor Arms, ran by a slightly strange Swedish guy who spent half his life in Australia and for the last 10 years has been running this British pub in Cambodia?!?

Monday the 17th
Ho hum, back to Phnom Penh
The taxi driver managed to set a new world record for driving from the beach to Phnom Penh, this journey takes the bus over four hours, we did it in two and a half – although the speed run did cost the life of one puppy who was foolishly trying to cross the main road, as well as us having a couple of near misses with various herds of cows and water buffalos…

After which, purely to recuperate and for medical reasons, it was time for Gins and Tonic at DV8, then over to the new Peace Café to see Dave and his new bar. I missed the opening night party on Saturday because we were in Kampot, so I really wanted to see how it had turned out, the last time I had seen it was a couple of weeks ago and it was still a building site.

Have to say, it is looking good.

Tuesday the 18th
Ow, last day of holiday

A late breakfast at the Rising Sun – sausage, bacon, eggs, chips and beans, wonderful, I am starting to forget what rice for breakfast tastes like (although not for long I suppose!)

The afternoon at the Royal Palace and then onwards to the FCC for Happy Hour cocktails.
Followed by dinner at the Pon Lok Restaurant, which offers some of the best Khmer/Thai/Chinese food in town – although not at the best prices :-)
Rounding it all of with a nightcap – or three – at the recently relocated Peace Café.

Wednesday the 19th
Ho Hum, back to work
At 08:00 Thou the tuk-tuk driver turns up at my house to take T to the airport, we say goodbye and I head off to the office. In my absence not much had changed, some new reports needed my attention, some meetings had been planned that I needed to attend and some more reports from VSO needed to be filled in by me.

Back to the grind for a bit I guess.

Safari World fined over apes

Safari World fined over apes

The Forestry Administration has fined a business owned by one of Cambodia's most powerful tycoons nearly $57,000 for illegally importing 36 orangutans from Thailand to Koh Kong Safari World.

The administration made Heng San, the deputy director of Koh Kong Duty Free Shop, responsible for the fine on behalf of the company owned by Ly Yong Phat, who also owns Koh Kong Safari World.
Ty Sokun, director general of the Forestry Administration (FA), levied the fine on July 15 at the direction of the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to documents obtained by the Post.

The zoo was charged under Article 96 of the Forestry Law with illegally importing the orangutans, which are classified as endangered under Article 49 of the same law.

San was given 15 days to pay the fine and must also pay for DNA testing to determine whether the orangutans were bred in captivity or taken from the wild. While the Forestry Administration recommended seizing the endangered apes, the final decision letter did not mention confiscation and no date was set for DNA testing.

If testing reveals that the orangutans were taken from the wild, Cambodia will be obliged under international conventions to confiscate and return the apes.

On July 19 a representative from Koh Kong Duty Free Shop traveled to Phnom Penh to pay the 227 million riel ($56,746) fine into the state budget held at the National Bank of Cambodia, according to a receipt from the bank.

Many view the breakthrough in the long-running controversy over the orangutans as a positive step for the government and a welcome improvement in the enforcement the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).

"This decision alerts present and would-be dealers in the wildlife trade that smuggling will not be tolerated by the government, and perpetrators of this crime will face prosecution," wrote Michelle Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

"If Cambodia can successfully close its doors against international smuggling of wildlife, it will be a significant break in the chain," Desilets wrote in an e-mail.

The importation of the orangutans to Koh Kong was described at a major CITES meeting in Bangkok in October 2004 as a "very serious incident of illicit trade", and was raised again during a top-level gathering of CITES officials in Geneva from June 27 to July 1.

"This is the first occasion that the Secretariat has brought such an incident in Cambodia to the attention of the Standing Committee," wrote John Sellar, from the CITES's anti-smuggling, fraud and organized crime department, by email on July 26.

"We are aware that the matter has been brought to the attention of the Prime Minister," wrote Sellars. "The Secretariat will report formally on this subject at the next meeting of the Standing Committee, which takes place in late 2006.

" A receptionist at Koh Kong Safari World who identified himself as "Para" said on July 28 that park manager Amphoun Phan, a Thai national, was "absent" and there was no other manager available. When asked whether orangutan shows were continuing, he hung up the phone.

However, another receptionist said by phone later in the day that the orangutans were still being displayed to the mostly Thai tourists who visit the zoo. The controversy over the apes dates back to early 2003, when Koh Kong Duty Free Shop requested permission from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishers (MAFF) to import 22 orangutans from Thailand.

Minister of MAFF, Chan Sarun, agreed, but only on the provision that the company cooperate with CITES and FA to ensure the transfer was legal.

The 22 orangutans cost between $487 for a 6 year old and $1,097 for a 10 year old, according to receipts.

It is unclear when the additional 14 orangutans were imported. The orangutans were brought in without consulting FA or CITES and put to work at Koh Kong Safari World entertaining tourists in daily shows that included boxing, bicycle riding and skateboarding.

Similar shows involving orangutans have been banned at the Bangkok Safari World. In November 2004, Thai police confiscated about 150 illegally acquired orangutans from the zoo and returned them to Indonesia.However, the wealth and connections of Ly Yong Phat caused some Cambodian government officials to proceed gently with investigations in Koh Kong.

The orangutan issue simmered until November 2004, when the CITES Secretariat wrote to its Cambodian office requesting an investigation. CITES also asked Interpol to investigate, because of concerns the illegal importation was authorized by a government agency, according to minutes from the October 2004 CITES meeting in Bangkok.

Lobbying from conservationists added to the mounting pressure on the government to act, according to a source involved with the issue, with Chan Sarun reportedly receiving 36 separate appeals and King Norodom Sihamoni receiving nine appeals from concerned groups and individuals.

The paperwork that forced the breakthrough in Cambodia's orangutan saga began on June 15 when Chan Sarun wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for his advice on how to proceed with the case. A June 23 letter from the Council of Ministers advised MAFF to go ahead with the penalty and order DNA testing.

It was signed by Bun Uy, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, and noted that the PM had seen and approved the letter.

"[It is] proposed that Okhna Ly Yong Phat cooperate on related work as soon as possible," the council of Ministers letter stated. On July 12 and 13, a four-person team from FA and CITES visited the zoo.
They were accompanied by Heng San, according to a source who was at the meeting. The team reported their findings to the FA and on the next day, July 15, Ty Sokhun issued the letter penalizing Koh Kong Safari World.

The move to prosecute illegal wildlife traders is seen as a boost to conservation efforts in Cambodia. A new sub-decree on the International Trade in Wild Animal and Plant Species is currently being drafted by the local CITES office with funding from conservation group TRAFFIC Southeast Asia-Indochina.
The sub-decree will be part of a plan to implement the CITES convention that will be assessed in September by Marceil Yeater, head of the legislation and compliance unit of the CITES Secretariat.