Saturday, February 27, 2010

Long Beach student, business owner raise funds for toddler's surgery

This is simply an inspiring story about how so many different people and groups can come together for a single cause without knowing it ahead of time. I'd love for something similar to take place with the Sustainable Sanitation Cambodia project!

Millikan High senior Lauren Briand and Socheat Nha in Briand's Long Beach home on Wednesday. (Jeff Gritchen/Press-Telegram)
Socheat Nha at Lauren Briand's home. Behind her is Nha's father, Phin Ken, and her cousin, Kenha Heang, right. (Jeff Gritchen/Press-Telegram)

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Long Beach Press Telegram

LONG BEACH - A student and a Long Beach business owner are raising money to help save the life of a Cambodian toddler and support the fledgling local nonprofit that finds treatment for destitute children.

When Lauren Briand went to Cambodia, she was looking for a project. At Angkor Children's Hospital, her project found a purpose. Now that purpose has a face.

Lauren and her mom, Debbie, were part of an educational and humanitarian tour to Cambodia led by Cal State Long Beach professor Alex Morales. Lauren was hoping to find something that would inspire her for her upcoming senior project at Millikan High.

The 17-year-old found it when the group went to Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap and saw scores of children in need of help. Already looking ahead to a future in medicine, Lauren found a natural fit in doing something to aid those in need.

Read the rest of this heart-warming and inspiring story here.

Cambodia opens luxury casino

Oh boy! Cambodia is treading a very precarious line with this one. I'm not sure how gambling is OK and fully-promoted, but not contradictory to "traditional cultural values". How is gambling not in the same camp as pornography, adultery and drug addiction. Oh, yes, it's because you can make a boat-load of money from it.

The irony is that last year several casinos were closed due to the lack of "visitors". I guess Mr. Kith Theang has better PR and marketing capabilities to attract more visitors than his rivals.

Feb 26, 2010

PHNOM PENH (Cambodia) - CAMBODIA opened a luxury, US$100 million casino on Friday hoping to attract more foreign tourists and promote its fast-growing entertainment industry, casino owners said.

The Titan King Casino, located along the Vietnam border, is one of a number that have sprung up along the country's frontiers with Vietnam and Thailand, attracting thousands of gamblers.

The Ministry of Finance says Cambodia earned US$19 million from 29 casinos in 2008. But revenue fell to US$17 million in 2009 because of a decline in tourist arrivals and a border dispute with Thailand.

The Titan King Casino is owned by Mr Kith Thieng, a business tycoon close to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In a message posted on the casino's website, Mr Kith Thieng said the town of Bavet, where the casino is located, was fast becoming an entertainment centre, 'much like Las Vegas and Macau'. Bavet is 68 miles (110 kilometres) south-east of the capital Phnom Penh.

Mr Hear Sopheaktra, assistant to the owner, said the casino would help attract more foreign tourists.

Who will be Big Brother? Ministers differ on Internet controls

I think it is very thoughtful of the Cambodian government to consider the consequences of granting a single government entity the exclusive rights to monitoring and filtering all of the internet traffic for Cambodia. This is a particularly sticky point when it comes to encouraging free market policies since government-controlled services are the opposite of free-market capitalism.

100226_5Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
Suong Senghuot, a line supervisor for the Internet service provider WiCam, checks for data service on the corner of Monireth and Sihanouk boulevards.

Friday, 26 February 2010
Brooke Lewis and Sam Rith
The Phnom Penh Post

SENIOR ministers on Thursday were in apparent disagreement over the extent to which the state-owned company Telecom Cambodia would be able to block access to individual Web sites if it were granted control of the country’s Internet exchange – a move both company and government officials are reportedly looking to implement as soon as possible.

An official from the company on Tuesday said it would seek to block access to Web sites deemed inappropriate for a range of reasons, a statement that drew fresh outcry from representatives of the private telecommunications sector, one of whom said it could be “very dangerous” for the government to filter online content.

“If any Web site attacks the government, or any Web site displays inappropriate images such as pornography, or it’s against the principle of the government, we can block all of them,” Chin Daro said. “If TC plays the role of the exchange point, it will benefit Cambodian society because the government has trust in us, and we can control Internet consumption.”

In any case, rights groups and private telecommunications sector representatives have expressed concern over the plan to funnel traffic through TC’s exchange point, with some painting it as a threat to freedom of information.

MPTC and TC officials have said that the proposal stems from national security interests and a desire to preserve cultural values, but some private sector representatives have countered that the government is attempting to mask an attempt to make money from Internet traffic.

For the full article, go here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This is very real and very alarming, but not surprising in the least. I am constantly reminded: the love of money is the root of all evil.

Kith Meng is an entrepreneur whose parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge (All Photos: Agnes Dherbeys)
A mansion being built in Phnom Penh for prime minter Hun Sen
Victor in his parents' luxurious home in Phnom Penh
Sophy(far right), the 'Paris Hilton of Cambodia' at a shoot

February 14, 2010

Andrew Marshall
The Sunday Times (UK)

Cambodia has been colonised all over again, this time by its own greedy and ruthless ruling class.
Meet the spoilt, young elite who, unlike most Cambodians, enjoy the privileges of wealth - and aren’t ashamed to flaunt it

I am going to drive a little fast now. Is that okay?” There is one place in Cambodia where you can hold a cold beer in one hand and a warm Kalashnikov in the other, and 21-year-old Victor is driving me there. We’re powering along Phnom Penh’s airport road with Oasis on his Merc’s sound system and enough guns in the trunk to sink a Somali pirate boat. Victor is rich and life is sweet. His father is commander of the Cambodian infantry. He has a place reserved for him at L’Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr. And, in his front passenger seat, there is a thin, silent man with a Chinese handgun: his bodyguard.

“His name is Klar,” says Victor. “It means tiger.”

Devastated by decades of civil war, Cambodia remains one of the world’s poorest nations. A third of its 13m people live on less than a dollar a day, and about 8 out of every 100 children die before the age of five, but Victor — real name Meas Sophearith — was raised in a very different Cambodia, where power and billions of dollars in wealth are concentrated in the hands of a tiny ruling elite. They prefer to conceal the size and sources of their money — illegal logging and smuggling, land-grabbing and corruption — but their children like to spend it.

I first met Victor at a fancy Phnom Penh restaurant called Cafe Metro. Outside, Porsches, Bentleys, Cadillacs, Mercedes and Humvees fight for parking spaces. The Khmer Rouge are dead; the Khmer Riche rule. The son of a powerful general, Victor has his future mapped out for him. He went to school in Versailles, speaks French and English, and now studies politics at the University of Oklahoma. “My mother wanted us to get a foreign education so we could come back and control the country,” he says. The shooting range is where Victor and his friends go to relax. “I’ve grown up with guns and soldiers all around me,” he says. Victor and his generation are Cambodia’s future. Will they use their education and wealth to lift their compatriots out of poverty, or continue their parents’ fevered pursuit of money and power?

Britain’s Department for International Development gave £16.5m of taxpayers’ money to the country in the last fiscal year, but has announced the closure of its Cambodia office by 2011. Perhaps the development agency tired of throwing money at a nation where so much poverty can be blamed on a grasping political clique and their luxury-loving children. The Khmer Riche kids sometimes seem indistinguishable from the old colonial ruling class. They carry US dollars — only poor people pay with Cambodian riel — and live in newly built, neoclassical mansions.

Sophy, 22, is the daughter of a deputy prime minister. Rich, doll-like, and self-obsessed, she could be the Paris Hilton of Cambodia. She imports party shoes from Singapore, selling them in her own multistorey boutique. It has six staff, no customers and a slogan: “It’s all about me.” Sophy’s name is spelt out in sparkling stones on the back of her pimped-up Merc. She is launching a magazine with her brother Sopheary, 28, and their cousin Noh Sar, 26. All three were educated abroad and prefer to speak English together. Sopheary, who studied in New York State, seems both amused and slightly embarrassed by his wealth and privilege.

“What can you do?” he asks. “Your parents give you all these things. You can’t say no. If someone gives you cake, you eat it.”

Cambodia’s official economy largely depends on garment exports, but there is a much larger shadow economy in which only the rich, the ruthless and the well connected survive and prosper. The closer you get to Hun Sen, Cambodia’s autocratic and long-serving prime minister, the better. Hun Sen staged a bloody coup d’état in 1997 and has kept an iron grip ever since. Opponents have been silenced, while loyalists have grown rich. The armed forces are a major player in the black economy. Cambodians are often driven from their land at gunpoint by soldiers or military police. Cambodia has been colonised all over again, this time by its own greedy and ruthless ruling class.

Ask Cambodian ministers how they got so rich on a meagre government salary, and they will reply: “My wife is good at business.” When I ask Noh Sar, whose father is a senior customs official, why his family is so wealthy, he smiles and says: “My mother works a lot.”

Victor’s mother, too, is good at business, according to Country for Sale, an investigation into the Cambodian elite’s wealth published by the London-based corruption watchdog Global Witness in February 2009. “She is a key player in Royal Cambodian Armed Forces patronage politics, holding a fearsome reputation among her husband’s subordinates,” says the report.

It is only in the past few years that the children of Cambodia’s elite have grown confident enough to show off their family’s wealth. “If you want people to respect you in Cambodia, you must have a good car, good diamonds, a good cellphone,” explains Ouch Vichet, 28, better known as Richard. “It’s an I’m-richer-than-you competition.” Richard drives a black Cadillac Escalade ($150,000) and wears a Hèrmes watch ($2,500) and a 2.5-carat diamond ring ($13,000). “My money is from my parents,” he says with refreshing candour, and then breaks it down. They gave him a villa ($500,000), and a rubber plantation that will generate income for the rest of Richard’s natural life. His parents-in-law gave him $100,000 in cash and another villa, worth $200,000, which he sold and invested in real estate. He also runs a nightclub called Emerald — his parents made their first fortune in gems — which provides him with “pocket money”. A party of rich kids can spend $2,000 on drinks and mixers in a single night — more than an average Cambodian earns in three years. His parents’ second, much larger fortune comes from real estate. A few years ago they bought about five hectares of land just outside Phnom Penh for $14 per square metre, then sold it for $120 per square metre two years later. They made more than $5m. “Where else can you make profits like that?” grins Richard. “It’s crazy money.” He has a daughter called Emerald and a son called Benz. His living room features giant chairs ornately carved from tropical hardwood, and a flatscreen television the size of a pool table.

Yet Richard’s house is modest by the operatic standards of Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kuok district.

A taxi driver shows me the neighbourhood — it’s like a “homes of the stars” tour in Beverly Hills, except that Tuol Kuok’s backstreets are piled with uncollected rubbish. My driver points out giant mansion after mansion, and tells me who lives there. Defence minister. Prime minster Hun Sen’s son. Hun Sen’s daughter. Secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour. A deputy prime minister — Sophy and Sopheary’s dad. A four-mansion compound with high walls, razor wire and a gate guarded by special-forces soldiers — Victor’s family. Tuol Kuok’s houses are well guarded for a reason: until there was real estate to invest in, many wealthy Cambodians kept their money at home in bricks of cash, sometimes for so long that the elastic bands around them rotted. “We don’t trust banks,” says Richard. “The old generation kept their money under the bed. The new generation keep it in safes in their houses.”

Victor’s family, too, stay away from banks, but for a slightly different reason. “If you put your money in a bank, everyone will know how much you have,” he explains. I had also heard that rich Cambodians had repatriated hundreds of millions of dirty dollars from Singapore banks after a post-September 11 shake-up of global banking, and that this money had helped fuel the land speculation in Phnom Penh. Richard had heard this too. The bank accounts had belonged to “government people”, he said. Buying land and selling land had not only enriched them further, but had also allowed them to obscure the source of their wealth. Laundering any dirty money was vital, since foreign donors were pressing the Cambodian government to pass anti-corruption legislation that would force the rich to declare their assets.

For the children, the wealth comes with one big condition: they must do exactly what Mum and Dad tell them.

“I wanted to go to art school, but my parents wouldn’t let me,” says Sopheary.

Most kids dutifully join the family business. For some, that business is politics. The commerce minister, Cham Prasidh, whose house is the size of an airport-departure hall — one with a jet-ski lake — gave a ministry position to his wife and made his daughter his chief of cabinet. Cambodia’s ambassadors to Britain and Japan are brothers, and their boss is also their father, the foreign minister Hor Namhong. “It’s not nepotism,” he insists.

Their parents also expect them to marry young and strategically, to someone from a rich and influential family. These marriages are often arranged. Many high-society Cambodians soon find themselves trapped in loveless unions; extramarital affairs are common. Sophy, that deputy prime minister’s daughter, was married off at 17 to the son of the rich and powerful interior minister. A web of marriages binds together the elite and ensures the ruling

People’s Party’s stranglehold on power. At the centre of the web sits prime minister Hun Sen. His three sons and three daughters are all married to the children of senior ruling-party politicians or, in the case of his son Hun Manet, to the daughter of the late national police chief. Hun Manet is being groomed to succeed his father. He graduated from West Point in 1999, amid protests by members of the US Congress over his father’s human-rights record. Senior Khmer Rouge figures such as Comrade Duch, the mass-murdering commandant of Tuol Sleng prison, are currently on trial at a United Nations-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Riche, on the other hand, remain above the law. Victor displays a military VIP sticker on the dashboard of his Merc. “It means that the police cannot touch me,” he says. Many of his generation abuse such privileges. Last August Hun Chea, a nephew of the prime minister, hit a motorcyclist with his Cadillac Escalade, ripping off the man’s leg and arm. Hun Chea tried to drive off but couldn’t, because the accident had shredded one of his tyres. Military police arrived, removed the Escalade’s licence plates and, according to the Phnom Penh Post, told Hun Chea: “Don’t worry. It wasn’t your mistake.” Hun Chea walked away. The motorcyclist bled to death in the road.

Hun Sen has yet another bad-boy nephew, the widely feared, mega-wealthy Hun To (“Little Hun”). In 2006 a newspaper editor filed a lawsuit against Hun To for alleged death threats, then fled overseas to seek asylum, with the help of the UN. Hun To owns, among other cars, a Lamborghini, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a Bentley. Victor test-drove Hun To’s latest acquisition before it was put on a Cambodia-bound shipping container: a $500,000 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercar. “He’s built a special garage for it,” says Victor. He dares not criticise Hun To. But he is critical of Cambodian society. “From top to bottom, everyone is corrupt,” he says. He hopes one day to set up a foundation to help poor Cambodians send their children to study overseas.

“We want to change things, but we’ll have to wait until our parents retire,” he says.

But the older generation shows no sign of retiring — not when there’s so much cake to eat. In January 2009 foreign donors pledged $US1 billion to Cambodia, its biggest aid package yet, mostly donated by western tax-payers. The government relies on foreign aid for almost half of its budget. It could break this reliance by exploiting its reserves of oil, gas and minerals: the International Monetary Fund estimates that Cambodia’s annual oil revenues alone will reach $US1.7 billion by 2021. Could, but probably won’t. Why? Because the same elite who cut down the trees and sold off the land are now poised to extract the oil and minerals. And they will expect their children to help them.

Some Hun Sen loyalists have already been allocated exploratory mining licences, including General Meas Sophea. He recently hired a temp to act as his foreign liaison officer. The temp is his son. His son’s name is Victor.
I love to see Cambodians making academic and intellectual steps forward by adding to the existing research! So Sokuntheary's complete dissertation can be found here.

Drain G-2 (Photo: So Sokuntheary's Doctoral Degree Dissertation)
Drain D-1, inner structure, by CCD camera (Photo: So Sokuntheary's Doctoral Degree Dissertation)


A team of Cambodian and Japanese archaeologists said it has uncovered an ancient man-made drainage system at the site of the Bayon temple at Angkor Thom, local media reported on Thursday.

The temple, built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries during the reign of King Jayavarman VII, has been the subject of three digs since 1999, but this is the first time such a drainage system has been discovered, according to the archaeologists.

"The drainage system is for rainwater flow from the first and second levels," the Phnom Penh Post quoted Heng Kamsan, one of the archaeologists as saying.

Heng Kamsan said 14 metres of the 70-centimetre-wide drain had been dug up, and that its covering of laterite stone was due to be removed next week.

He said the archaeologists had at first been hoping to learn more about the condition and construction of the temple's foundation.

After one largely fruitless month of work, however, he said the archaeologists were elated to happen upon the drainage system.

"While we did not expect to find it, we did, and it has made us happy," he said.

The ongoing dig, which began in January, is being carried out under the auspices of UNESCO and the Apsara Authority, which manages the Angkor Wat temple complex. The dig was expected to conclude by the end of March, according to Heng Kamsan.

Victims to play simpler role at KRT

And the struggle continues. . . Now civil cases are being considered for the Khmer Rouge Tribunals to allow victims to have a voice.

A photo supplied by DC-CAM shows Boeung Rai prison, a security centre in Svay Rieng province that was not specifically named among the sites investigated by the Khmer Rouge tribunal for its second case. (Photo by: DC-CAM)

Wednesday, 10 February 2010
James O'Toole
The Phnom Penh Post

AS its critical second case approaches, the Khmer Rouge tribunal is wrestling with the issue of how to expedite proceedings against the ageing leaders set to stand trial, while at the same time giving adequate voice to the regime’s many victims.

On Tuesday, the court formally adopted reforms to civil party participation, including the establishment of a team of lead co-lawyers who alone will represent all admitted civil parties in court. In the first case, that of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, civil parties were represented by four distinct legal teams.

This change was paired with an expansion of responsibility for the Victims Unit, renamed the Victims Support Section, to include “a broader range of services, as well as a more inclusive cross-section of victims than those who are admitted as Civil Parties in cases before the [court]”, the UN-backed tribunal said in a statement Tuesday.

More than 4,000 civil parties have applied to participate in Case 002, and about 250 had been accepted by the end of December, compared with just 90 who participated for the duration of the first case. Under the old system, this many civil parties could not have been accommodated, court officials say, though observers warn that the newly diminished legal role for civil parties may sow discontent among many victims.

“The judges ... have to balance between the rights of the accused and also respect for the victims,” said Long Panhavuth, project officer at the Cambodia Justice Initiative. “The victims have to have a meaningful way of participating.”

A further concern, aired by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee last week, is the potential disappointment of thousands of civil party applicants whose applications may be inadmissible.

Though the court’s mandate is to investigate crimes committed under Democratic Kampuchea (DK), charges in individual cases are confined to particular crime sites falling under the scope of the judges’ investigation. As such, prospective civil parties with applications pertaining to other sites will be unable to participate at trial.

Although the Case 002 investigation began in 2007, the sites being examined were not publicly revealed until last November.

Theary Seng, the former executive director of the Centre for Social Development and a civil party in the case, acknowledged the court’s need to keep the investigation confidential, but said the delayed disclosure did a disservice to victims.

“To use the blanket of confidentiality to keep the public from being adequately informed generally, and then to keep the victims who could become civil parties from knowing whether they fit into the scope or not is irresponsible,” she said.

After being imprisoned as a child at the Boeung Rai security centre under Democratic Kampuchea, Theary Seng was frustrated to learn that the site, where perhaps 30,000 people were killed, was not named specifically by the court (though it may be included in the investigation of purges in DK’s Eastern Zone). She said she plans to file an investigative request asking judges to examine the centre.

More broadly, Theary Seng said she resented what she views as the court’s diminished engagement with victims and civil parties.

“The fear is that they’re going to really emasculate and water down the concept [of civil parties] to make it completely not meaningful,” she said, calling victim participation essential “to give a larger meaning to this process”.

Defence teams, however, say the increased number of civil party applicants in Case 002 may undermine the rights of the accused.

Richard Rogers, chief of the court’s defence support section, said in a statement following the conclusion of Tuesday’s plenary that the newly established 10-day window for lawyers to appeal decisions about the admissibility of civil party applications is unacceptably small.

“According to international standards, an accused’s right to appeal must be practical and effective. In adopting these amendments, the plenary has left the accused with a right that is merely theoretical,” Rogers said.

Outside the courtroom

Helen Jarvis, head of the Victims Support Section, emphasised the importance of contrasting between “the issue of admissibility in a particular case … and recognition of somebody’s status as a victim”.

“It’s an important distinction. I think it’s a technical distinction, and I think that we have done and certainly will [continue to] bend over backwards to thank people for the information that they have provided,” she said.

Jarvis said her section was developing outreach efforts through “non-legal measures” to ensure that victims who are unable to officially participate nonetheless have their suffering addressed.

These measures notwithstanding, a more limited role for victims is inevitable in Case 002, said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, who called on the court to be open about its reforms.

“If a person can no longer speak, you’re no longer a civil party,” he said, adding: “It’s a bumpy road by having to explain this, and perhaps the fear is of being resented by the victims.”

While he noted the importance of outreach efforts for Khmer Rouge survivors, Youk Chhang said the broader expectations of the Cambodian people are uncomplicated.

“None of the people here expect the court to go down to the villages and record their story on file,” he said. “They expect delivery of justice and a verdict.”

Number of Cambodian landmine casualties shows further annual drop

This is good news. But there is still a long way to go!

Thu, 11 Feb 2010

Phnom Penh - Official figures released Thursday showed the number of Cambodians injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance dropped 12 per cent last year from 2008 although the number killed remained constant at 47 in each year. A total of 243 people were killed or injured in 2009 by explosive remnants of war (ERW), down from 271 the previous year, the Cambodian Mine/ERW Victim Information Service said.

The number of victims has shown a steady decline year-on-year since 1994 when almost 3,000 people were killed or injured.

Chhiv Lim, a project officer for the service, said a survey undertaken four years ago showed several reasons behind the annual decline in deaths and injuries.

"We found the number one reason was demining activities, and that's because we have a lot of people involved in demining," he said. "The second is that people [have been educated] to understand the dangers of mines and ERW."

Other experts have previously said a further factor in Cambodia's predominantly agricultural society has been farmers earning better prices for crops. Improved incomes mean less need to forage for supplementary products such as bamboo and firewood and a lower risk at coming across unexploded ordnance.

More than half of last year's deaths and injuries came from three provinces in the country's north-west. The majority of victims were men while around one-third were children.

In 1999, Cambodia ratified the Ottawa Treaty, which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines. While more than 150 countries have signed the treaty, China, Russia and the United States are among those that refuse to do so.

The treaty gave countries 10 years until 2009 to clear all mines from their territory, but Cambodia missed that goal. In December, Cambodia was granted a 10-year extension on the deadline although it is still thought unlikely to reach that revised target.

This week, Germany pledged 1.4 million US dollars for demining in Cambodia's north-west, adding to around 10 million dollars it has provided for demining in the country since 1999.

Cambodia has one of the highest disability rates in the world, a legacy of the country's decades of civil war that started in the 1960s and finished in the late 1990s.

The importance of speaking English

"Don't forget Cambodian" is essential if the Cambodian people would like to maintain their cultural ties, but learning how to speak English is essential for any kind of advancement. However, as an English teacher in Cambodia for 4 years, I have actually started recommending that students begin to learn other languages such as Japanese, Chinese, or even Korean. Despite the stigma attached to Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodians would also benefit greatly from learning those languages, too!

Au revoir, le Français ... Hello English? But, Kom Phlech Khmer!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Tharum Bun
The Phnom Penh Post

THE seed of the English language was planted in Cambodia during the UNTAC mission between 1991 and 1993, which facilitated the cooperation of some 60,000 Cambodians with 20,000 peacekeepers and personnel for 34 nations around the world. But the importance of the English language has truly taken hold as Cambodia integrates into a global society in which it is widely used as the language for business, education and development.

Two decades ago, those with the ability to speak some broken English stood a chance of working with the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). Today, the ability to speak English continues to represent hope for a better future and solves common issues in the Kingdom. “You learn English to survive, it’s a language you acquire for your stomach,” said Kieng Rotana, 43, a former interpreter for UNTAC.

For students such as 23-year-old Tep Livina, it became obvious that expertise in English would open doors, regardless of the specific career he chose to pursue. In 2004, Tep Livina enrolled in the computer science programme at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. However, a year later he quit, having lost faith in the power of an engineering degree. He decided instead to enroll at the Institute of Foreign Languages, where he graduated with a degree in English last year.

As a sales executive for Japanese-run Sumitomo Corp in Phnom Penh, Tep Livina speaks English fluently and communicates confidently. “It’s more than just a bridge, you major in business, law or whatever field, without this language to communicate, you won’t be on the stage to compete,” he explained.

After years of learning and teaching English as a second language, including two years mastering the language in Australia, Kieng Rotana is convinced that acquiring fluency in English can be life-changing for all Cambodians. “Speaking at least basically or intermediary [English] is necessary to be in the workforce, in the marketplace and to thrive in higher education in this modern society,” he said.

“Early 2000 saw the arrival of foreign culture through tourism, international scholarships and international aid agencies,” Tep Livina said when asked why English has become widely used in a country that was once governed by France and is still home to many francophone intellectuals and elites.

Also in the new millennium, as Cambodians witnessed political stability and economic growth, a surprising number of new private universities have been opened, many of which have integrated English as an essential part of their curriculum.

“In 1997, Cambodia’s first private university, Norton University, helped transform how lecturing is conducted and how students access study materials; again English is the main language,” said Kieng Rotana, who is also vice chancellor of Pannasastra University, where English competency is mandatory for graduation.

When employers try to whittle down a pile of hundreds of applications, it is often those people with the best English skills who rise to the top. Students who have studied in countries such as Japan, the United States, Australia and even China’s Hong Kong usually possess strong English language skills. But this is not only due to their experience abroad – they have invariably spent thousands of hours self-learning and participating in intensive courses to perfect the language.

Being fluent in English not only improves one’s job prospects, it allows one to access a wealth of information that is not available in Khmer. “It opens and widens up my world view, since I am able to read textbooks, newspapers and magazines in the English language, not to mention to watch foreign TV channels and movies,” Tep Livina said.

As linguists estimated in 2009 that two billion people worldwide are trying to learn English, Cambodia – once isolated by civil wars – is gradually integrating itself into the regional and global economy.

“I can see the world in a bigger, clearer picture than I could have if I hadn’t learned English,” Livina said proudly.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Cambodia Rebukes Google Over Disputed Thai Border Map, AFP Says

I love that my family, friends, and all others think about me whenever they see, hear, or read about anything related to Cambodia. This is one of those examples. Thank you to a Swap-Bot friend, I am posting this article she read about how Cambodia is responding to Google's map of Cambodia & Thailand.

By Jonathan Burgos

Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia is asking Google Inc. to withdraw a map of an ancient temple at the center of a border dispute with Thailand, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a letter by the Cambodian government to Google.

The Google map “places almost half of the Khmer (Preah Vihear) temple in Thailand and is not an internationally recognized map,” according to a letter written by Svay Sitha, secretary of state of the Cambodian Council Ministers, as reported by AFP.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads over their border for decades. Nationalist tensions spilled over into violence in July 2008, when the Preah Vihear temple was granted UNESCO World Heritage status. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen was to make his first visit today to the 11th century temple, according to AFP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Burgos in Singapore at

Last Updated: February 6, 2010 00:49 EST

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Child prisoners in Cambodia

Here's a very sobering look at one of the many unfortunate situations in Cambodia. Two problems immediately come to mind: lack of a juvenile justice system and lack of a social services system.

Wednesday 3 February 2010 00.05 GMT

Lodging for the family of the little girl shown on the top photo

In developing countries, children, including those who have only committed minor offences, often serve their sentences in appalling conditions alongside adult prisoners. Photographer Matt Writtle travelled to Cambodia with the charity EveryChild and gained unique access to some of the country's provincial prisons and children incarcerated there. Here he tells their story.

Cambodian govt panel to target racy images

This is certainly a slippery slope that will be interesting to see how the Cambodian government decides to rule. In a country like Cambodia where the Constitutional rights are much different than in the United States, I would expect a less lenient decision.

Wednesday, 03 February 2010
Sen David and Brooke Lewis
The Phnom Penh Post

THE government’s morality committee will soon begin holding bimonthly meetings to review Web sites featuring racy images of Khmer women, and will consider blocking access to those deemed in conflict with national values, officials said Tuesday.

Ros Sorakha, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said Tuesday that representatives from local Internet service providers as well as mobile-phone companies would be present at the meetings, which she said would begin in about two months.

She added that the ramped-up monitoring of online content was necessary in light of the rapid growth of information and communications technology nationwide.

“As young Cambodians have access to such technologies, they indulge and commit wrongdoings that deviate from our customs and traditions by accessing and replicating erotic and pornographic pictures over Internet sites,” she said during the annual conference of the National Committee for Upholding Cambodian Social Morality, Women’s and Khmer Family Values.

The committee includes officials from the Post and Telecommunications Ministry as well as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Interior Ministry.

In her remarks, Ros Sorakha noted that officials have occasionally implemented similar measures in the past – including targeting magazines featuring “sexual” images of Cambodian women as well as shops in which such images can be uploaded onto mobile phones – but stated that the growing popularity of the Internet mandated a systematic effort aimed at Web sites.

“We are still concerned about it because nowadays the world has modern information and communication technology from developed countries, so it is difficult for us to fight it,” she said.

But the announcement renewed debate about whether the government should have a hand in filtering online content.

For his part, Oum Sarith, president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, said he had no problem with the shutting down of “pornographic sites” so long as other Web sites were not affected.

“I think it’s good if they close down the pornographic sites if they don’t close other sites that are not offensive,” he said. “This is not of concern for freedom of information or freedom of the press because these sites are not good for Khmer society.”

But Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), said he was concerned about the proposed monitoring effort.

“It depends on how they implement it,” he said. “The fear is that they’ll use this to censor the Internet and that they will move on to political content. If they block users, that could be very, very dangerous.”

Ou Virak said he doubted that the effort could be effective. “I’m not sure if blocking access to Internet sites is going to work, because of the presence of VCDs, which are available very cheaply. That could be very easily controlled, and it’s not – they’re being sold in public,” he said.

He also said that pornography transmitted by mobile phone was a more persistent problem in rural areas, where Internet access is limited.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi, who is also president of the morality committee, said the monitoring of objectionable Web sites is entirely consistent with its mission.

“If we can stop the flow and influence of foreign culture, then we can maintain our own culture and traditions and foster values for our women.”

Past restrictions
The effort to block Web sites featuring steamy images of Cambodian women is not entirely new. On Tuesday, Ros Sarakha pointed to the government’s decision to prevent local Internet service providers from allowing access to, the Web site of the Khmer-American artist Koke Lor.

Ros Sorakha said the site, which displays paintings of scantily clad Khmer folktale figures, was blocked early last year “so that it wouldn’t affect Cambodian women’s dignity, society and culture”, adding that the site remained blocked.

But the Web site was accessible yesterday from a computer connected with the MekongNet service provider. Sonak Kouy, assistant CEO at MekongNet, said the service provider was not among the major providers operating in Cambodia when the site was targeted by the government, and thus had not been asked to block access to

“Now our engineers are working on it, and it will be blocked later today,” Sokan Kouy said Tuesday afternoon. The site was still accessible on Tuesday evening.

IRI's involvement with Marginalized Groups in Cambodia

Something of interest to me: youth, education and providing great opportunities for them.

In many countries young people, the disabled, ethnic and religious minorities and indigenous peoples have been excluded from the political process. As more countries join the growing number of democracies, these groups are demanding and gaining a greater say in their governments and communities.


In Cambodia, IRI helped to establish a nonpartisan youth organization, the Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC) that trains young people in how to become civic activists.

A basic civics class teaches 14-17 year olds about how their government works and citizens’ role in effective democratic governance.

A more advanced course for 18-24 year olds teaches effective activism by engaging government officials at public meetings, conducting petition drives, fundraising campaigns and grassroots advocacy.

Graduates have access to additional training in topics like debate, public speaking, information technology as well as access to YCC’s libraries, matching funds for community service projects, and networking opportunities with other youth activists around the country.

IRI spreads the concepts taught by YCC through two additional channels – provincial Youth Democracy Festivals and the Youth Leadership Challenge reality-TV show. The formats reach millions of young people throughout the country empowering Cambodian youth to become more active in their communities and more interested and engaged in the political process.

A network of future political and civil society leaders, the Europe and Eurasia Young Political Leaders (EEYPL) Seminar provides a space, both through periodic seminars and online forums, for up-and-coming young leaders to share experiences and ideas. One of the most prominent features of EEYPL has been the Democratic Youth Network website, which allows participants to engage in a dialogue on social and political issues.

In addition to its online community, EEYPL has gathered more than 150 young political and civic leaders at conferences in Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia and Turkey. Organized by IRI and its partners the National Democratic Institute and the American Council for Young Political Leaders, these conferences have focused on leadership attributes, communication skills, political and community organization, and the use of technology and social media.

Seven people found with cholera in Mekong Delta province

Yet another reason why I am interested in funding sanitation projects in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Thanh Nien News (Hanoi)

Seven of 45 people with acute diarrhea who were admitted to local hospitals in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang between January 19 and 28, were found to have cholera, a health ministry agency reported on Sunday.

All seven cholera patients came from Cambodia’s Takeo and Kandal provinces to An Giang for treatment, according to the Department of Preventive Health and Environment.

The department did not clarify whether all the patients were Vietnamese or not.

The Ministry of Health has warned of an outbreak of cholera, an acute intestinal infection transmitted through water or food contaminated with the bacteria vibrio, causing diarrhea and dehydration that can lead to kidney failure and death if not treated promptly.

The disease has ravaged northern Vietnam two times, in 2008 and 2009, infecting hundreds of people.

Meanwhile, in the central province of Ha Tinh, which has been hit by outbreaks of the avian flu H5N1, reported that seven people had fallen sick with fever and flu symptoms after coming in contact with sick poultry.

However, tests at the Hanoi-based National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology showed they did not have the avian flu virus.

Also on Sunday, the Nam Tra My General Hospital in the central province of Quang Nam said they had admitted 25 people with malaria over the past week from Tra Tap Commune.

The local health agency found nearly 100 people affected with the mosquito-borne infectious disease, but they had not approached the hospital for treatment. Hospital staff said they had also found patients in Nam Tra My District’s other communes.

Cambodian PM says irrigation network to cover 70 pct by 2013

This is a follow-on to the previous post about investments in rice production from China into Cambodia. No matter what people might think of Prime Minister Hun Sen, he is saying the right things when it comes to the key to economic development withing Cambodia: infrastructure.

February 02, 2010

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia, Feb 02, 2010 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Tuesday that by 2013, irrigation network in his country will cover up to 70 percent of the total cultivated land.

In his speech at ground breaking ceremony of Kanghot Irrigation Development Project, donated by China, in Battambang province, Hun Sen said that the irrigation network will be able to cover as many as 70 percent of all cultivated land in the country by 2013.

He said that by now cultivated land for farming has increased to 2,547,402 hectares but irrigation ability is only able to cover some 43.97 percent, compared with the total cultivated land of about 2,253,000 hectares in 1967 and the irrigation ability in percentage was just about 49.72 percent.

During his speech, Hun Sen has commended China for continued and great assistance to Cambodia at all fields, in particular, infrastructure and irrigation network.

He said encouragement and promotion for agricultural products are important for sustainable and economic growth in the country because as many as 80 percent of all Cambodian populations are farmers.

Rice is one of Cambodia's major agricultural products for export to others countries.

Cambodia uses Chinese loans to boost rice exports

Rice is central to what it means to be a Cambodian. I have often heard it said that "It's not a meal, unless you have rice." Even question, "Have you eaten?" directly translates to, "Do you eat rice?"

Agricultural investment is vital to Cambodia, particularly in areas of technology for the small farmers, since farming is the backbone of this country. Not only that, but young people need to know that they can and should be studying agriculture in order to further improve upon its agricultural productivity.

PHNOM PENH, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Cambodia will spend $310 million of mostly Chinese money on improving irrigation systems to boost rice exports over the next two years, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Tuesday.

Cambodia, which is forecast to export as much as 700,000 tonnes of unmilled rice this year, had the potential to produce bigger yields, but still needed more funding to upgrade its irrigation systems, Hun Sen said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cambodia exported 500,000 tonnes of rice in 2008, a figure dwarfed by neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, the world's top two exporters of the grain.

"Cambodia has the ability to export much more unmilled rice than this, many times more," Hun Sen said during the inauguration of a new irrigation system near the capital, Phnom Penh.

"Cambodia's ability to export is high, so we must invest in this sector," he said, adding that he hoped to increase yields from 2.5 tonnes to 4 tonnes per hectare.

In December, Cambodia signed 14 deals worth an estimated $850 million with China, the country's biggest source of foreign investment.

That included $240 million for irrigation projects, but Hun Sen said even more was needed from its ally, which has pumped more than $4.3 billion into the impoverished nation.

"I would like to send a message (to China). Cambodia doesn't just need the $240 million, Cambodia needs more than this," he said.

IRI Releases Latest Survey of Cambodian Public Opinion

Some interesting results from this survey. But, how will they be acted upon? Meaning, what sort of policy implications are there? A few things need to be clarified such as:
  • What is the definition of the "right direction" and the "wrong direction"?
All in all, it seems to show a more positive response, which is good, since constructive development and improvement can only happen when the people "buy in" to what is being "sold."

Another area of interest is the people's responses to the economic questions and infrastructure questions.

February 2, 2010

Phnom Penh, Cambodia –
The International Republican Institute (IRI) released a survey of Cambodian public opinion. The poll, conducted July 31-August 26 2009, covers general attitudes toward the direction of the country, the economy, communication from political parties, government services and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Opinions of Muslims, particularly regarding integration with Cambodian society, were also solicited separately.
The randomly selected general sample consists of 1,600 adult men and women, representative of the Cambodian population 18 or older by gender. The general sample was drawn from all 24 provinces and municipalities with a margin of error for the national sample of ± 2.5 percent and an 86 percent response rate. The randomly selected Muslim sample consists of 400 adult men and women 18 or older. The Muslim sample had a margin of error of ± five percent and an 85 percent response rate.
The poll was funded by the United States Agency for International Development and conducted by The Center for Advanced Studies.

Click here to read the survey result (PDF)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A little fun with some very old and classic Khmer music from the 1960's. Believe me when I say that Cambodians still LOVE to listen to this. Not only that, but much of today's pop music sounds very similar to this but with updated instruments. I must say, I'm slightly hooked.
Khmer oldies collection distributed by Mietophoum in Long Beach

The following is a personal story (not from me) regarding the "discovery" of this classic Khmer music.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

By P. from Long Beach

Dear All,

About once a month, I would make my pilgrimage to the Mark Twain library in Long Beach to borrow some Khmer books to read. Today, on my way back home, I decided to stop by the Chaktokmouk (Riverside) market to pick a few odds and ends.

At the exit of the market, a small kiosk at one end of the parking lot caught my eyes and I decided to take a look at it. As it turns out, the kiosk was selling Khmer DVDs and CDs. What caught my attention was a display table that contains several CDs bearing the photos of old time Cambodian singers, such as Sin Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, etc… Out of habit, I picked up one of the CDs bearing Sin Sisamouth picture and started reading the song titles on the back cover. Ah! I said to myself, the song “Any” (one of Sin Sisamouth’s most famous song) is here, so I asked the salesman if it was the original version or one that contains a low quality version with new music added. He told me that his songs are all original version with no add-on music. I was somewhat skeptical at first, but asked him to try the song out for me anyway. As the old CD player belted out the song from Cambodia’s King of Crooner from the 60s, one man approached the kiosk and claimed: “You know what, it was because of that song that I lost my innocence back then!” He then proceeded to tell us that, in his youth, as a young soldier in the Lon Nol army, the song inspired him so much that, one day, as he met a woman by the name of Any, he lost his innocence to her. He told us that she already had a child when he met her, but it did not matter because her name was Any! However, his romance did not last, at the end, she apparently decided to marry an army captain rather than a simple soldier like him, and that was the end of Any and the “Pulto Aphoap” (sad private).

The anecdote above shows that for the majority of us, Cambodians, who have lived through many eras, listening to old songs bring us back a flood of memories. In my case, listening to these songs bring me back to a time before April 17, 1975. Back then, it was a rather pleasant life for my family (well, it was in fact quite painful some times after 1970) and on Sundays, after dinner, my family would all gather around an old radio set, listening to Sunday evening songs. Most of the time, if I remembered correctly, the evening would be filled with mainly Ramvong, Lam Leav songs, etc... I can still picture in my mind one of these evenings: my dear mother working at the table, my father reading something or another, other siblings trying to complete their homework for the following day. Being the youngest in my family, I would always bug my older brothers and sisters once in a while. After a while, my older sister would invariably chase me around to make me stop. To calm me down, my father would sometime punish me by making me stand on the table and giving out an impromptu performance of one of the songs on the radio. Of course, being tone deaf and not knowing any song in particular, I just yelled out anything that came to my mind to the giggling and laughing of my older siblings. Alas, those joyful moments did not last forever, since then, some of us have passed away under horrible circumstances, some of us survived but we are now spread all over the world. You can now easily understand my attraction to these oldies Khmer songs.

I ended up picking 6 CDs that cost me 20 bucks. The CDs are produced and sold by the “Mietophoum National Library and Cultural Center”, located at 2338 E. Anaheim Street, Suite 102, Long Beach, CA 90804, Tel: (562) 968-7188 and (562) 450-8756. As I was paying for the CDs, it occurred to me that there used to be a Mietophoum store on Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach also. The salesman told me that he was the owner of that store and he now moved to his new place on Anaheim Street where he opened a library and cultural center. He told me to stop by some time to see his place. I agreed.

On my way home, I popped one of the CDs I bought into the CD player, it was a collection of songs by Mao Saret (see CD cover). I immediately recognized the first song, “Than Suor Kirirom” (Kirirom paradise), the music is inspired by a song by Kyu Sakamoto, a famous pop Japanese singer from the 60s. while the Japanese song title is “Ue wo muite arukou” (I look up when I walk, so the tears won’t fall), the English song title is usually know as “Sukiyaki”. I have attached here a low quality version of this song, I hope I will not get into trouble with the CD distributor, but I want all of you to hear this sample to have an idea of the song quality and clarity. “Reatrey Nov Saumur” (Night in Saumur) is an oldie song that I had never heard before. Knowing that Ms. Mao Saret was one of the singer usually featured in Sihanouk’s movies, I believe that this song could have something to do with the old king. Indeed, during the French protectorate era, a young king by the name of Sihanouk completed his military training in Saumur. Most likely, this song was part of the former king’s repertoire from that era.

Through this collection, I learned that our oldies singers were quite up to date for their time. For example, Kyu Sakamoto’s song was a top pop chart in the 60s and it was quickly adopted by Ms. Mao Saret. The CD also includes a plethora of other well known songs such as “Kun Meul Kang-ha Trov Khyol” (Looking at the wind blowing on the windmill), “Om Touk Rosay Rosat” (Rowing the boat here and there?), and the original interpretation of “Teuk Chruos Bou Sra” (Bou Sra water fall) by Mao Saret and Toch Teng. While I included here a sample of two low quality songs from the CD compilation, they do not provide justice to the original CD quality version. Therefore, I would encourage all of you, Khmer oldies buffs, to purchase these CDs for your own collection. The cost is somewhat expensive for a Khmer CD ($4 a piece, but if you buy 5, you get one free), but the quality of the songs and the CD covers are well worth it. I don’t know if Mietophoum has a website or not. In any case, I hope you could enjoy these oldies as much as I do.

When time permits, I will try to give a brief update of the other CDs I purchased.

Thank you for you for your interest!

P. from Long Beach

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Mietophoum, nor do I get any special pricing for my purchases from them.

Australian agro-deal in Cambodia carries risks, rewards

I'm currently secretly fascinated by land and agricultural issues in Cambodia. There are some very unpleasant things happening alongside the promise of development and modernization.

Mon, 01 Feb 2010

Phnom Penh - As a former finance minister of Australia, Peter Costello is comfortable with large numbers. The latest is his proposal on behalf of an Australian fund to invest 600 million US dollars into at least 100,000 hectares of land concessions in Cambodia. The concessions would see private equity investors pumping money into plantations of teak, palm oil, sugar, rice and bananas. In return, Cambodia would get 150,000 jobs, the government said after Costello met with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Significant investment, plenty of jobs plus the promise of improved agricultural methods? Such a deal should be good for Cambodia on all three counts.

But human rights workers said they worry the country's ongoing problems with corruption and poor governance combined with often-violent land evictions mean it is less certain that ordinary people would benefit.

And as veteran opposition legislator Son Chhay made clear, transparency in investment deals is hardly the order of the day.

Son Chhay has plenty of experience in how the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) operates when it comes to investments. He headed parliament's foreign affairs committee until 2008 but said his deputy, a member of the CPP, regularly prevented him from getting information on deals.

"It's still the case that we are not able to get our hands [on investment documents], and that's a cause for great concern," he said.

In the past two decades, much of rural Cambodia has been carved up into economic land concessions (ELCs). The UN's human rights office released a report three years ago that said 59 large concessions totalling almost 950,000 hectares had been granted to private companies to develop agricultural-industrial plantations.

The report made it clear that the true figure was certainly higher because data on smaller ELCs were not available. What was clear, it concluded, was that the concessions had "adversely affected the human rights and livelihoods of Cambodia's rural communities."

In the intervening three years, government figures showed it has approved 33 more agricultural-industrial projects worth 837 million dollars although they did not indicate how much land is involved. State-to-state deals, however, are not on that list, and Qatar, Kuwait and South Korea have so far expressed interest in, or signed deals for, ELCs.

Human rights workers said risks to the rural poor over such deals are significant because they are regularly evicted to make way for foreign investors. The government's often-brutal approach to evictions and its disregard for its own laws in doing so have raised concerns abroad.

Such government behaviour was one of the items discussed by the UN's special rapporteur on human rights during a recent two-week visit. Surya Subedi asked the government to suspend all land evictions until proper legal safeguards are in place.

The government denied the request, citing the need to develop the country. It told Subedi that national guidelines on evictions were being drafted but did not say when they would appear.

The UN envoy expressed cautious optimism in telling reporters that the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution that requires guidelines be put in place to protect the vulnerable.

"So it is now becoming an international requirement," Subedi said.

One relevant regulation recently approved by Cambodia's parliament was a much-criticized expropriation law. Subedi criticized parts of the law for being far too vague.

"For example, what do we mean by public interest?" he asked. "If land can be acquired in the public interest, how do you define it? Who defines it?"

Acceptable compensation measures for those affected were absent, too, he said.

Those concerns are shared by many in Cambodia, including Son Chhay although he did welcome one of the benefits touted by Costello: new ways of farming to boost production.

The opposition lawmaker said new methods could help 80 per cent of the 14 million people who rely on outdated farming techniques. The country's rice yield of around 3 tons per hectare, for example, is far below that of some of its neighbours.

But the primary motive for Costello's investors is financial. Investors want a return on their money, and the food crisis of 2008 when prices rocketed showed that food can be profitable.

"I think agriculture is going to come back into its own as an investment in the decades that lie ahead, and of course, that's a great opportunity for Cambodia," Costello told the Phnom Penh Post.

For his part, Son Chhay would prefer investment from countries like Australia rather than from Cambodia's more traditional investors, such as China and Vietnam, whose companies, he said, are uninterested in improving local skills.

Yet he insisted that a transparent, corruption-free approach is vital to ensure the Cambodian people benefit from the deal.

"A lot of concessions have caused problems to our farmers and indigenous people who have no knowledge of what is in the contracts," he said.

But he called on Costello to make public the full details of any contract with the government.

"He should act upon his word [to do so]," Son Chhay said. "We would hope that this kind of investment from a society like Australia would be done in a proper manner."

'Enemies of the People' Wins Sundance's World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Documentary

This documentary looks to be another interesting view into the dark Khmer Rouge period, particularly since it focuses on the issue of leadership turning on itself. I hope to get my hands on it sometime soon.

By Poch Reasey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Park City, Utah
30 January 2010

‘Enemies of the People’ is a new documentary film being shown for the first time in North America at the Sundance Film Festival 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah (from January 21 to 31).

In the documentary ‘Enemies of the People’, former Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two, for the first time gives details how he and Pol Pot decided to kill party members they considered to be ‘Enemies of the People’.

Thet Sambath, the journalist who produced the 93-minute film, says he met with Nuon Chea on the weekends for five years before Mr. Nuon agreed to give testimony.

“One day he told me the truth.” Said Sambath. “He said that he had observed me for many years and had realized that I am honest and not biased toward any side.So he said from now on he could tell me all the decisions he and Pol Pol had made.”

Sambath says he spent 10 years making the documentary to find out more about the deaths of nearly 2 million people in Cambodia, people that included his parents and siblings.

Rob Lemkin co-produced the documentary.He says viewers will decide if they Nuon Chea is telling the truth.

“Whether you believe him or not,” says Lemkin, “ it’s very important that he should be allowed to give his version of events so that future generations can make a decision about what they think about these events.”

Like millions of Khmer Rouge victims, Sambath says he has suffered emotional trauma for years.However he says he feels much better once he understand the Khmer Rouge’s policy.

“It’s precisely these sufferings that had pushed me to find the truth behind all the killings during the Khmer Rouge’s regime.” Says Sambath. “ Now that I know what had happened behind the scene, I feel liberated.I don’t have any remorse anymore.”

John Cooper is the Director of the yearly Sundance Film Festival for independent filmmakers, held this year in Park City, Utah. On the festival’s opening day, Mr. Cooper praised Sambath’s courage in making the documentary.

“This film is both frightening and mesmerizing at the same time.” Says Cooper. “ It’s such a fresh approach.It couldn’t have been told until now because nobody was willing to go there yet.And this film has waited out.I think every weekend he went and shot until finally these people broke down and started talking to him.It’s an incredible story and story changes lives.”

Robert Redford is the founder of the Sundance Film Festival.He told VOA Khmer he has not seen “Enemies of the People” but praises the filmmakers’ effort.

“What I like about it is that that goes further and deeper in by a journalist to explore what was behind the Killing Fields.” Says Redford. “We heard about the Killing Fields in that film.But to cover the untold story, that’s what always interest me.What’s beneath the story?You think you know? And I think this is another example of that that goes deeper into the situation and therefore break new ground, therefore there’s new information.”

During the decade he spent meeting with Nuon Chea, Sambath also found the people who actually carried out the executions.He had to spend years meeting and talking to them before he could convince them to speak.

Sam Ratha is a Cambodian-American living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He’s among the first Cambodians to see the documentary. He says he is glad to hear Nuon Chea speak.

“He told the truth so that the younger generation know what he has done in the past.” Says Ratha. “Those who are committing this crime should know that one day they will have remorse.While in power you can do anything you want, but don’t forget that in the future you will end up like Nuon Chea.”

Park City’s cold, winter weather did not stop a woman from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and a young man from Canada from coming to Sundance.

“I had seen the ‘Killing Fields’ but I didn’t know what the film was going to be about.It’s very interesting how he went in to interview the people and who the people were.I guess I understand now when the Cambodian people say they want to forgive and to make peace with the people who did the killings.”

“It’s extremely powerful. I was in Cambodia 2 years ago for 3 weeks. I saw the killling fields. That really struck me deep.”

“Enemies of the People” is among 12 documentaries selected from over seven hundred submissions from around the world at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in Utah.