Saturday, July 16, 2005

Cheam Channy's Accuser Committed Suicide

Heng Savy the accuser of Cheam Channy, opposition Sam Rainsy party's Member of Parliament, committed suicide in April in Pursat Province.

The news of Heng Savy's death just emerged a few weeks before Cheam Channy's trial starts in the military court.

Cheam Channy is accused of forming illegal armed forces against Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Ker Thy, Cheam's lawyer, said that the death prevents him from asking the plaintiff at the court hearing if he acted alone or if he had received orders from someone else.

SRP's Secretary General Eng Chhay Eang reacted by saying the suicide should be investigated.

A Human Rights activist in Pursat Province investigated the death and told VOA that Heng Savy hung himself near a police post, but gave no further details.

Provincial police chief and military court investigating judge, Pok Porn, confirmed the death.

Hun Sen's Counter on Terrorism

Prime Minister Hun Sen
Cambodia's government officials claimed Prime Minister Hun Sen told his cabinet members at a Friday meeting to cooperate with international police in the fight against terrorism.

Minister of Information and government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith said PM Hun Sen appealed to his cabinet members to exchange and share information with international police.

Secretary-General of the Sam Rainsy party Eng Chhay Eang said he welcomed the move.

President of the human rights organization ADHOC Thun Saray, agreed with Hun Sen's action, but worried that it might interfere with the people's freedom of speech.

Editorial: HM King Sihamoni's dignified settling in

By Verghese Mathews

Former King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Mother Monineath Sihanouk returned to Phnom Penh on Thursday June 23 accompanied by their son King Norodom Sihamoni, who flew to Beijing a few days earlier to travel home with them. The King's open devotion and show of respect for his parents and their obvious love for him on this and other occasions have touched many hearts.

Sihanouk, who left for medical treatment in January after having passed on the crown to Sihamoni in October 2004, had been away for almost six months and much has happened in the interim in the country, including in the public perception of the new King.

Sihamoni, the reluctant monarch, who was little known on assuming the throne a few months back, has settled in with charm and dignity and endeared himself very quickly to his people. He has surprised most observers and even some Cambodians themselves, in the manner and the sincerity of his outreach and his concern, like that of his father before him, for the poor and the marginalised in his country - and there are many of them.

From the onset it was very clear that Sihamoni was extremely keen to know his people and that he wanted them to know him. He has more than succeeded on both counts and the increasing public demonstrations of affection for him are indicators of this.

In a post-conflict third world society that is Cambodia, bedevilled as it is with unceasing political infighting, Sihamoni is fast becoming a rallying point for national unity and national reconciliation.

One of his earliest comments on assuming the throne put politicians at ease with his unsolicited undertaking not to directly involve himself in the political arena. He has kept his word. He has also made good his promise to go to his people by visiting many of the provinces.

Early last month, on a visit to the four northwestern provinces, he stopped in Pailin, the former stronghold of the dreaded Khmer Rouge, who had imprisoned him and his parents in the Palace at Phnom Penh and who were responsible for the deaths of several of his immediate relatives. There was no rancour on either side as thousands of former Khmer Rouge soldiers, now mostly farmers, came out to greet the new King. He embraced them with his by-now-much-photographed smile and outstretched hands.

All this achieved in less than eight months. Small wonder that Sihanouk, on the recent occasion of his favourite son's 53rd birthday, proudly congratulated Sihamoni for "serving as a bridge uniting the Cambodian population to understand one another and to strengthen their cooperation."

Despite these expressions from the public, there are still a few skeptics who argue that the King has not been really tested and that without Sihanouk around, the new King would be weakened and would falter. There were more who thought so initially.

However, those who have now come to know the new King confide that this concern is misplaced.

The King's first nine months has generated the popular belief that with this support of the people he will grow in his role as a unifying and a rallying force for Cambodia, and that should anything happen to Sihanouk there would be enough trusted advisors and experts at Sihamoni's service, if need be.

While Sihanouk should undoubtedly be credited for the smooth succession process and for the expert tutelage of his son, it was the new King's own efforts that gained him the affection and respect of the Cambodian people.

Moreover, Sihamoni has proven that his father's preference for him to succeed the throne was well-placed.

A related observation is that Sihanouk has in his inimitable way ensured that the monarchy did not end with him, and that in Sihamoni the Cambodian people have a worthy successor. So long as the King remains above politics and continues to relate to his people, he will be a natural rallying point and a unifying factor.

In this context, the royal father and son have disproved a favorite theory of the late King Farouk of Egypt. There is the old story of how Farouk, after he was forced to abdicate his throne in July 1952, boldly predicted that by the end of that century there would be only five Kings left in the world - the King of Hearts, the King of Diamonds, the King of Clubs, the King of Spades and the King of England.

If Farouk were still around, he should not be surprised that King Sihamoni of Cambodia reigns with dignity.

The writer, Singapore's former Ambassador to Cambodia, is presently a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore.

Prime Minister's 'iron fist' campaign has judges, prosecutors in cross hairs

By Cheang Sokha, Sam Rith and Timothy Wheeler

The Supreme Council of Magistracy (SCM) are continuing to review a list of court officials who may face expulsion if they are judged guilty of wrongdoings, said Hanrot Raken, a member of the SCM.

Phnom Penh municipal court judge Kong Sarith and deputy prosecutor Siem Sok Aun were sacked this week, according to Ministry of Justice officials.

In addition, judges Ham Mengse and Hing Thirith, and deputy prosecutor Khut Sopheang have been suspended for one year, while Phnom Penh municipal court chief prosecutor Ouk Savouth was given a warning.

The decision to expel a judge and a prosecutor, and suspend two more judges and a prosecutor, is the first time that the SCM has punished court staff since the council's honorary head, King Norodom Sihamoni, came to power in October, Raken said.

"The SCM took about one month to make a decision about the punishment of these judges and prosecutors," said Raken, "The SCM decision cannot be appealed."

Judge Kong Sarith told the Post on July 14 that he has heard rumors about his expulsion but has not yet received any official word from the SCM.

"If [SCM] expelled me, it would be an injustice to me," said Sarith. "I am shocked after hearing this information."

The other court officials involved were not available for comment.

Raken attended a July 11 meeting with the SCM - presided over by King Sihamoni - in which they discussed punishing the judges and prosecutors as well as rotating the placement of judges and prosecutors every four years so that they will avoid creating networks of power that may foster corruption or bias.

"If we talk about procedure, the decision is correct because it was made by the Supreme Council of Majesty that has the King and other members participating in making decisions," said Ouk Vandeth, director of Legal Aid of Cambodia.

"If we depend on law, the decision was not correct because laws pertaining to the ethics of judges have not been established yet," Vandeth said.

Raken said the real problem was a shortage of staff at the courts.

"In Cambodia there are 200 judges and prosecutors. This amount is not enough. We need double the judges and prosecutors to handle the upcoming cases at the moment," Raken said.

"The changing of judges and prosecutors will affect the judges and prosecutors that take their place because they will have to re-investigate cases and that it a waste of time," he said.

Cam-Americans Returnees shortchanged by project

By Leonie Sherman

USAID is looking to shakeup the way assistance is offered to Cambodians deported from America, following a highly critical report on the current Returnee Assistance Project (RAP).

On July 8, the United States Agency for International Development began advertising for organizations interested in managing RAP, after the previous administering body - the Center for Social Development (CSD) - pulled out of its two-year contract with the current program after just nine months.

The move follows an independent review of current RAP services. Commissioned by USAID, researched in five days, and released in May, the review was co-authored by clinical psychologist Nicholas Tenaglia and independent contractor Kevin Lineberger. It has not been released publicly but was obtained by the Post on July 12.

The review highlighted a laundry list of shortcomings and proposed an overhaul of nearly all areas of what it described as a "dysfunctional system".

"The present RAP program lacks a formal structure and therefore services are not clearly defined and not consistent as reported by some of the returnees interviewed," the review stated.

"The RAP Review Team recommends that significant change is required within RAP management systems, staffing, facilities, and overall budget to allow RAP to provide the services envisioned in the Grant agreement," the review said.

Since 2002, 129 Cambodian nationals convicted of felonies have been returned from the US. Many arrive with serious substance abuse and mental health issues. Recently, the number of deportees has dwindled, with the last group of three people arriving in March.

As the only known project of its kind in the world, the review noted that RAP had the potential to be a model for other countries in the future and warned that failure to help resettle these convicted felons could pose a risk to the community.

"All the elements for public safety disaster and/or narco terrorism are present in Cambodia: e.g. drug cultivation and preparation, rampant corruption in the local law enforcement community and easy access to weapons," the review stated.

Some of the most serious criticisms of the project included financial mismanagement, untrained and unsupervised staff, and allegations of extortion and physical abuse by a former employee.

"There were a couple of altercations where [Meas] Bopha slapped returnees who were being obnoxious," said Bill Herod, RAP project coordinator and Bopha's spouse. "I was present on one occasion and heard about several others."

The 15-page assessment reported that returnees were afraid of Bopha, RAP's former community services officer, and as a result many were reluctant to visit one facility.

The review team also heard allegations from returnees that Bopha had clients arrested by local police and then attempted to extort money from their families. There are currently four returnees in prison, three involving incidents that occured on RAP property.

Herod called the extortion allegations libelous and baseless.

Bopha is no longer employed by RAP, but Herod said July 13 that she was "still doing this work" and had met with top government officials recently about the project's future.

Financial issues have plagued RAP, which was set to receive $300,000 from USAID over two years. The project does not employ an accountant but uses a former returnee with no formal training as an "administrative assistant" responsible for preparing all financial documents associated with the program.

"We have provided a lot of technical assistance for financial accountability and feel that all RAP finances can be properly accounted for," said a top USAID official involded with RAP issues.

In an email dated July 13, however, Herod admitted to having cash flow problems.

"We are perpetually weeks or months behind in paying staff and others to whom we owe money," he wrote. "... Over the last ten months, it has not been unusual to be $20,000 in debt."

In assessing RAP's ability to help returnees reintegrate into society, the review highlighted poorly implemented support services, untrained and unsupervised staff, and residential arrangements that could pose a risk to returnees, staff members and their families.

On RAP's website, the program claims to provide a support network for returnees through orientation, training, employment and housing. Herod, however, claimed that RAP acts only as a "safety net" program for returnees, and often returnees have no for the services they provide.

The assessment states that in some instances, the lack of clinical training and experience among staff is leading to "non-existent professional boundaries that only reinforce negative behavior."

One incident cited in the report detailed the use of alcohol as a sedative for returnees with mental health issues.

"Under the direction of the program director this staff member [a returnee employed as a residential site manager], in his own words, escorts these mentally challenged and heavily medicated returnees to purchase alcohol on a daily basis. The mixing of alcohol and psychotropic medications is potentially life threatening," stated the review.

Herod defended his actions, saying the client was prone to violence if he did not have access to alcohol and RAP staff were only trying to limit the amount of rice wine purchased.

The review criticized Herod's role as "clinically unsound", arguing that he saw himself as a "pastor" who never gave up on a "black sheep".

Herod admited that his 30 years of development experience didn't give him even "the most rudimentary qualifications for doing this job", and he would be happy to step down as project coordinator and continue on as a consultant.

Early on, Herod decided to ditch formal orientation in favor of ad hoc guidance. While jobs had been found for approximately 50 returnees, substance abuse and discontent with low salaries resulted in short-lived employment for many.

However, Holly Bradford, director of Cambodian Harm Reduction Collaborative, a program administered by RAP but operating independently, currently employs about 10 returnees and is optimistic about their abilities.

"The majority of returnees, they want to make a change in their lives ... These guys are educated in America, they're bilingual, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to get a job out here," Bradford said.

While RAP does provides services such as emergency medical assistance, Khmer language classes, transitional housing, and assistance with job placement, many returnees have been critical of the implementation of some of these services.

"The RAP program didn't do shit for me," one returnee told the Post on condition of anonymity. "They talk a good game, about job training and all that shit, but I couldn't get none of that stuff."

"This program ain't working," said another. "I just don't want to see the next group of people suffer like what we went through."

In addition to expanding and improving the services offered, the review also recommends increasing the operating budget for returnee assistance to almost three times the current amount.

However, some of the recommendations contained in the review may attract further controversy.

The authors suggest expanding the project to include a 30-day orientation during which returnees must be accompanied when leaving the project residence. After completing this phase, the returnee would be given ongoing support with housing, jobs, medical care, counseling, detox and vocational training.

"Failure to enter or complete the 30-day orientation and assessment program will result in a waiver in the returnees rights to access RAP services," the review recommended.

Herod described this model as effectively a "mandatory 30-day detention", and said that he would not work under this "re-education camp" arrangement.

USAID stressed that while parts of the review would help inform the agency's approach, "the comments and recommendations do not necessarily reflect or establish USAID policy."

Despite the critical report, Herod said that he has been in discussions with three organizations in Cambodia interested in partnering with the current RAP team. According to Herod, all of these organizations have read the May review, and he expected them to turn in submissions to USAID by the July 14 deadline.

Drug addiction rampant in Koh Kong

By Joshua Kraemer and Sam Rith

Yama addiction in Koh Kong province is growing so quickly that officials fear widespread social and economic breakdown.

In some areas, an estimated three-quarters of fisherman rely on the drug to get through work, and use is rapidly increasing in other parts of the population.

Hou Thy, villge chief of Phum Pe in Pack Khlang commune, said that 70 to 80 percent of fishermen in his village use the drug, and 50 percent of all the village's residents are addicted to the amphetamine.

"Their bosses put yama in the water and offer them [the fishermen] to drink. It affects the peoples' health and security in the village. It causes a lot of robberies, and people are killing each other," said Thy.

Yama has the short-term effects of creating feelings of intense energy and suppressing sleep and hunger, which boosts productivity among fishermen. The long-term effects, however, include violent or unpredictable behavior, schizophrenia and psychosis.

There are no formal studies documenting the use of yama among fishermen, but anecdotal evidence suggests the drug has become alarmingly popular in Koh Kong.

"I used yama for six years when I was a crab fisherman," said Ngean Hong, 39, of Phum Pe village. "When I used yama, I had power like an elephant. But on days that I did not use yama, I was tired like an ant. I smoked seven to eight tablets a day."

"There were 30 people in my crab fishing group [and] they all used the drug," said Hong. "I bought it from the boat owner [and] if I did not use the drug, the boat owner would not rent the boat to me and my group would kick me off."

"After I stopped using the drug, I had to change my career from crab fisherman to carpenter," he said.

In Koh Kong, yama pills sell for around 6,000 riel each, a price that can quickly consume the income of a fisherman and his family.

Hong said the strain that his addiction placed on his marriage and on the health of his family was too much to bear.

"When I used yama, my wife and my children had no rice to eat and had no house to live in. Gradually, my family suffered more and more, so I decided to stop using the drug," Hong said.

Hong is one of the fortunate few fishermen who have kicked the habit, but ADHOC human rights activist Chhang Cheang fears a widespread deterioration of the family unit throughout Koh Kong if the drug use trend continues.

Cheang works directly with addicted fishermen in Pack Khlang commune, a 10 minute boat ride from the provincial capital of Koh Kong. He estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of the local residents were using yama, mostly fishermen over the age of 15.

The sociological effects of yama addiction can be severe, and the spiraling trend among fishermen is not unique to Koh Kong.

"There is a direct link between poverty and drug use," said Graham Shaw, programme officer at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"People just above the poverty line often think that they can take a drug and work more efficiently and make more money, however, there is a knock-on effect, and as the addiction worsens they will not be able to function as normal human beings," Shaw said.

"They become unable to work and generate income because of the cost of the drug, and in the end, it impacts the family and community, causing them to fall below the poverty line," he said.

Shaw said that Cambodian provinces bordering Thailand have had the most chronic drug use and trafficking problems because of their proximity to trade routes.

"People working in the fishing industry in border areas are at even greater risk [of drug abuse] because they have easy access to their contacts in Thailand," Shaw said.

In a report on drug use and trafficking released by the Center for Social Development (CSD) in August 2004, the second deputy governor Chea Him described Koh Kong as the province most effected by drug use.

"Most victims are fishermen workers because they need to use the drug to be able to endure the heavy work," Chea said.

Cheang believes the only hope for the fishermen of Koh Kong lies in the hands of the government.

"If there is no intervention from top provincial officials, everyone, including youngsters and elders in the communes, will become addicted in the next few years. Village and commune chiefs have never walked around and looked at the situation firsthand," Cheang said.

Lim Shy, a 63-year-old resident who lives in Phum Bei in Pack Klang, said that yama addiction extends beyond just fishermen.

"Right now, it is very difficult to survive, because my son goes fishing just to buy more yama," Lim said. "Phum Bei is full of people using and selling the drug. Not only fisherman use it, but also many other people in the village."

Thy said he had reported the yama crisis to the district chief, and that the district chief had reported to the provincial governor.

On July 11, a deputy governor of Koh Kong said authorities had arrested a man identified as only Ngov, his wife, and his mother for the possession of 30 yama tablets.

"We just cracked down on the biggest drug seller last night in Pack Klang," In Sokhom said. "Ngov had only 30 tablets last night due to the fact that he is sick and cannot import more drugs to sell. Since June we have cracked down on seven other drug dealers."

3 nations and Asean sign terror pact

BANGKOK, Thailand: New Zealand, South Korea and Pakistan will sign agreements this month with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on cooperating against terrorism, a Thai Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

The signing will take place during a series of high-level Asean meetings in the Lao capital, Vientiane, on July 24 to 29, said Kitti Wasinond, the head of the ministry’s Asia Division.

Laos, Asean’s current chairman, will host an annual meeting of Asean foreign ministers, followed by talks with the group’s major diplomatic partners and a meeting of the Asean Regional Forum, the region’s main security forum.

Asean consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Fourteen other partners participate in ARF, including the United States, China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, the European Union, Australia, India, Canada and Pakistan. East Timor will attend for the first time this year, Kitti said.

Underlining regional concern about terrorism, the ARF meeting is expected to issue a statement on increased information and intelligence sharing to combat terrorism and other transnational crimes, Kitti said.

Terrorism became a major issue for Southeast Asia in October 2002, when bombings of nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.

That attack, and a bombing of a J.W. Marriott Hotel in Indonesia’s capital in 2003, were blamed by authorities on Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terror group linked to al-Qaeda which has been accused of planning other attacks throughout the region.

An unusual aspect of this year’s ARF meeting will be the absence of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said during a visit to Thailand on Monday that she had “other essential travel in roughly the same timeframe.”

Rice will be the first US secretary of state to miss the annual security meeting since Alexander Haig skipped it in 1982. Rice’s top deputy, Robert Zoellick, is to fill in for her.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported from Moscow on Thursday that the first Russia-Asean summit will be the main topic at a ministerial meeting between Russia and Asean to be held in Vientiane on July 25, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alekseyev.

Editorial: ADB must take a stand on corruption

Published by the Nation on July 16, 2005,

The Asian Development Bank must ensure transparency in its lending practices if it is to continue receiving funding./The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has always played a major role in bringing more trade and investment to the Mekong sub-region as part of an effort to promote sustainable development in the six states that lie along this important international river.

Earlier this month, it hosted a summit of leaders, ministers and senior officials from China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan Province. The ADB has always been an advocate of the economic benefits of infrastructure construction agreements made under its auspices, including huge dam projects and the building of international transport links. While these major projects do offer tangible benefits in facilitating trade and investment as well as improving people’s living conditions, they also pose potential social and environmental effects that must be taken into consideration at the planning stage.

In the past, social and environmental costs, particularly those that might not be immediately obvious, were all too often left out of the equation, and inadequate corrective measures were developed as an afterthought and put in place only after projects had been completed. Much has changed for the better in this respect, as international development banks like the ADB and the World Bank have embraced higher international standards in the projects they fund in developing countries.

However, there is one area in which international development institutes still need to improve – the accountability in their lending operations and the rampant corruption in many countries in the region. It is still commonplace for large slices of development loans approved by the ADB or World Bank to be siphoned off and into the pockets of local politicians and bureaucrats.

For several years, multilateral development banks, including the ADB and World Bank, have been subjected to increased public scrutiny for corruption in their lending practices, which is now causing members of the US Congress to make further funding of these financial institutions conditional upon comprehensive reforms in their lending practices.

In a 2003 assessment of the ADB’s loans to its three major borrowers – Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – the New York-based Environmental Defence Centre concluded that at least 70 per cent of the ADB’s projects failed to produce lasting economic and social benefits, in part due to corruption. The findings prompted an investigation into ADB loans to Cambodia last year by the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee after reports that ADB funds intended for projects to help poor farmers and improve rural infrastructure had been misappropriated. The US Senate committee has urged Japan, one of the biggest shareholders in the ADB and the World Bank, to do the same.

As the US replenishment of funds to multilateral development banks becomes due later this year, Senator Dick Lugar, chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee, introduced legislation that ties reforms to a US$3.7 billion (Bt155 billion) contribution to development banks, of which $461 million is due to go to the ADB. Among the reforms stipulated are measures to safeguard against development bank employees misusing their positions for personal gain, promoting transparency and accountability at development banks, and requiring that all funding documents be made public.

The US and Japan are the two largest shareholders in the ADB, together holding more than 30 per cent of the bank’s shares.

As has been noted by Transparency International for some time, graft has been a known problem in countries that borrow funds from the ADB. It is therefore surprising that the ADB still has not lived up to the highest international standards in anti-corruption measures.

The ADB has long been preaching good governance to borrowing countries, but still has not done enough to deal with cases of corruption related to the projects it funds.

Take for example Thailand’s notorious Klong Dan wastewater treatment plant. Massive corruption brought this ADB-supported project to a halt last year, when it was already 90-per-cent complete. Rajat Nag, director of the ADB’s Mekong Department simply shrugged off the controversy, claiming that while the bank looks out for corruption, there are limits to what it can do.

Attitudes such as this have a lot to do with ADB’s loan approval practices, which should be discarded. While the scale of the corruption problem is not fully known, there is no question that it will continue in some form or another unless the ADB operates in a more transparent manner. After all, international development banks have a responsibility to their shareholders and the citizens of the borrowing countries to see to it that the funds for projects they approve go towards sustainable development and improved living conditions, which is only possible when the lending practices are corruption-free.

Remains of 455 VN soldiers repatriated to Vietnam

An Giang, July 15 (VNA) - Remains of 455 volunteer soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the battlefields of Cambodia were repatriated to the southern border province of An Giang.

Thousands of local people joined provincial leaders at a ceremony to rebury these volunteer soldiers at Doc Nui Ba Dac cemetery in Tinh Bien's Thoi Son commune.

Over the past five months, a working group of military zone 9, with troops in An Giang province, cooperated with local authorities, army units and people in the Kandal and Takeo provinces of Cambodia to search for remains of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers.

A total of 1,307 sets of remains have been so far repatriated by working groups from military zone 9. -Enditem-