Monday, August 01, 2005

A Cambodian court sentenced two men to 20 years in jail each

(Kyodo) _ A Cambodian court sentenced two men to 20 years in jail each on Monday for murdering a labor leader last year.

Kong Seth, chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, meted out the ruling to Born Samnang, 23, and his accomplice Sok Sam Oeun, 36, for killing Chea Vichea, the 40-year-old head of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and for possessing arms illegally.

Chea Vichea, also a well-known activist for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle in January last year as he was reading a newspaper at a kiosk in central Phnom Penh.

After the ruling, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun cried for help from former King Norodom Sihanouk and current King Norodom Sihamoni, saying they had committed no crimes.

Chea Mony, younger brother of the late union worker, also urged the government to release the two men, saying they were not the real murderers, but only used as scapegoats by the government to "show its commitment to punish culprits."

Opposition politicians have said Chea Vichea's assassination was conducted out of political motivation.

Japanese charity fund launched to help victims of Khmer Rouge

(Kyodo) _ A private Japanese charity fund was launched Monday in Cambodia as a "symbolic gesture" to console and support people facing psychological, physical and economic difficulties as a result of the policies and actions of the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime.

The Dr. Handa Compensation and Memorial Fund for Victims of the Khmer Rouge Genocide was initiated by the University of Cambodia in Phnom Penh with a reserve budget of $1.3 million for the initial three years.

It was named after its main contributor, Japanese philanthropist Haruhisa Handa, who is also the university's chancellor and heads the Japanese charity organization World Mate, as well as various other business, charitable, cultural and religious organizations.

Of the $1.3 million, Handa personally contributed $300,000 while the remainder comes from World Mate.

Handa said the project will soon commence with a planned initial allocation for 10,000 victim families, each of which will receive $100 in cash.

He said he hopes that further support for the fund will arrive from other sources.

"The really intended to make positive contributions to the Cambodian society by providing a token of compensation, in its own way, for those who died as well as for those who survived the Khmer Rouge regime," Handa said.

"I truly feel that there is no way -- in whatever terms -- that we can fully compensate anyone for the tremendous loss of many lives, as well as those who had survived the Khmer Rouge regime," he said.

Khmer Rouge leaders are blamed for the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians in late 1970s.

Men pedal for Asian women power

Raphael Parker, right, and Jacob Richardson ride their bicycles in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- The two young American men rolled up the dusty street on bicycles, stopping at the feminist-run labor rights center to earnestly deliver a message they have been pedaling across Southeast Asia to spread: "Real men support women."

Raphael Parker and Jacob Richardson scribbled notes while former workers from a nearby garment factory gather round to tell how thousands of them toiled under tough conditions and then got scant compensation when the plant closed.

The bicyclists, high school friends from Cincinnati, took turns explaining their purpose: to teach people back in America about the plight of women in Southeast Asia -- "because we believe that real men support women," Parker said.

That elicited chuckles from some of the workers who apparently found the sentiment a novel one, especially coming from men.

The curly haired Parker, 24, who is fond of cracking jokes, started Tour for Equality -- a project that is taking him and Richardson, 23, over the bumpy back roads of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos to talk with local people and humanitarian groups.

They relay their findings on a blog, or Internet journal, whose readers include supporters around the globe, Parker said.

Their small organization, a partner of the Washington-based Men Can Stop Rape, received a US$4,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and other donations for the Southeast Asian trip.

"They have an inspiring and worthy project and goals," Tade Aina, a Ford Foundation representative, said in an e-mail. "It is indeed most gratifying to see young people think beyond their own immediate needs and want to work for social change and social justice."

Tour for Equality had its beginnings in a different field of activism: voter registration. During the 2004 U.S. presidential race, Parker rode his bike from New York to Florida, registering more than 3,000 people.

He said the experience taught him that a bicycle is a "good vehicle for social change," and a way to reach people who "don't read The New York Times."

After that, Parker rallied friends and family behind a three-month Tour for Equality bicycle trip around the United States to talk with children about women's rights and masculinity as they are in real life, distinct from the images projected by pop culture.

The group chose Southeast Asia for its next mission due to the region's serious problems with the trafficking of women and children.

The State Department recently put Cambodia on its list of worst trafficking offenders, citing its failure to combat severe forms of the trade -- and to convict public officials who are involved.

Many Cambodian women and children are trafficked into Thailand and Malaysia for labor and commercial sexual exploitation, while most male victims are sent to Thailand as laborers, the State Department said.

Parker said Americans become incensed when they hear about human trafficking.

But many still have to learn about it, chimed in Richardson.

"It's just so far away and you feel distant from that, so we're trying to ... help bridge that gap quite a bit, through mainly our Web site and visiting these organizations over here," he said.

The pair have had their tough moments. They were robbed in Bangkok, Thailand, unknowingly ended up at brothels that appeared to be guesthouses in Cambodia, and slept among pigs and cows on a stormy night when a kind Cambodian family took them in.

In Phnom Penh, the garment workers seemed impressed with their efforts. One woman called them heroes and models for Cambodian men.

But after meeting the garment workers and hearing about their difficult social and working conditions, including low pay and long hours without even trips to the restroom, the feeling was more than reciprocated.

"It was amazing to see the determination of these people who are in worse situations than I could ever imagine," Richardson, an aspiring music journalist, wrote in his blog.

He and Parker have been "witnesses to slavery," he added. "There needs to be a change and if they have the perseverance to do something, I would like to think that everyone reading this does too."

Cambodian ballplayers turn rice paddy into "Field of Dreams"

A bush serves as a marker for home runs, motorcycles laden with goods cruise by second base and rice planters and water buffaloes look on as a ragtag collection of ballplayers embrace America's favorite pastime in steamy rural Cambodia.

The former rice paddy, cleared by the players to make a ballpark, is Cambodia's "Field of Dreams," where the children and young adults of Kraing Khmer village compete each day in the impoverished nation's first foray into baseball.

The unlikely spectacle of young villagers wearing a hodgepodge of uniforms donated by Americans, tossing balls and practicing their swings is the brainchild of Joe Cook, a Cambodian-American living in Dothan, Alabama, who introduced baseball to his former homeland two years ago.

"You can see the kids, so inspired with the game of baseball. Without that, they have no hope," said Cook, a 35-year-old chef and father of two. "They don't have proper uniforms or just wear flip-flops, or go bare foot ... but baseball is baseball, it doesn't matter if you're bare foot or flip flopped."

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with the World Bank estimating that 42 percent of its nearly 15 million people live on US$1 (euro0.83) a day or less. Baseball followers here would be hard-pressed to find a glove or bat available for sale in the country, much less be able to afford it.

Cook has spent about US$37,000 (euro31,000) of his own money to bring baseball to the Kraing Khmer youth. His efforts include building a local house for visiting baseball coaches and orphans who want to learn the sport, sending videos of baseball matches to the players to watch, and collecting donated equipment from many southern states to send to the village in northwest Cambodia _ which has no running water or electricity.

Cook landed in the U.S. state of Tennessee at the age of 12 as a refugee fleeing the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, blamed for the deaths of nearly two million Cambodians during the late 1970s.

He quickly took up baseball as a way to learn English, to make friends and fit into his new American setting.

When he returned to Cambodia a few years ago to unite with a sister he believed had perished under the Khmer Rouge, he saw children who weren't able to enjoy themselves like their American counterparts because they had to work on rice farms or tend to the family livestock, such as water buffalos.

Cook wanted to show them they could do something more with their lives, sharing with them a sport that had motivated him, given him confidence and a sense of professionalism.

"I see in their eyes. I look around and they need hope and they need opportunity," said Cook who speaks with a distinctive Southern drawl and whose legal name is Joeurt Puk. "They need to understand about other cultures, other countries, what is offered to them, what they can become."

The players also send Cook stats and videos of their matches so he can coach them via telephone and the Internet.

So far the players have responded enthusiastically to baseball.

"When Mr. Joe talked about baseball, we were surprised. This is strange for us because there was no baseball in Cambodia. We never heard about this sport before," Poun Phybo, a 23-year-old local, said through a translator.

"Everybody, all of us wanted to try it and then we were part of baseball," he said. "Then, in our minds, it was like we fell in love with baseball."

Cook's efforts got a major boost last week when Major League Baseball officials and U.S. coaches visited the village as part of its foreign outreach program to hand out much needed equipment in the form of crisp leather gloves, shiny bats, helmets and protective gear.

"Every year, we'll do five or six donations of equipment to people like Joe Cook," said Jim Small, vice president of market development for MLB International. "Places where, you know, baseball's not established but they need a little bit of equipment and we can put it in the hands of people like Joe Cook, that we trust that the stuff's going to go into the right hands and help kick start baseball."

Small acknowledged that Cambodia probably wouldn't have been on MLB's radar if it weren't for Cook.

"We probably wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him because the world's so big and there's only so many things that you can do to get baseball started," Small said. "We had no choice, we had to get involved. When you hear about what he's done and the fact that he's made such a commitment because he love's baseball, you can't turn your back on someone like that."

The American coaches schooled dozens of youngsters, some wearing a mix-match of jerseys, caps, cleats or pants donated by American high schools and universities, while others donned T-shirts, pants or flip-flops _ typical footwear in the Southeast Asian country.

Bill Thomas, assistant coach at California State Polytechnic University, led the youngsters through fielding exercises and calling out encouragement.

"The players are great, enthusiastic. They're just like sponges trying to absorb as much as they can," Thomas said.

Cambodia embraces cell-phone craze

By Samean Yun, Rocky Mountain News
August 1, 2005

Cambodia, a developing country in Southeast Asia, illustrates how cell phones are catching on, especially with young people, thanks to new technology, competition and declining prices.

Only a small percentage of households in Cambodia have telephone land lines, partly because of high monthly fees and the lack of infrastructure throughout the country.

But today, cell phones can be found everywhere in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

Competition and the country's low incomes have forced carriers to come up with ideas such as prepaid phone cards. About 90 percent of cell-phone subscribers use prepaid phone cards, with cards available for as little as $5.

The prepaid phone card, or pay-as-you-call, has allowed even a poor motorbike taxi driver to use a cell phone. Calls cost about 3 cents per minute.

Teenagers especially have gone crazy about cell-phone technology.

New technology has driven them to buy some of the most advanced cell phones on the market, phones that can cost as much as $300 to $500.

They have stopped using black-and-white screen cell phones, opting for cell phones with color screens, built-in cameras and Internet access.

Teenagers like to use the phones to download games, video clips and music. They often change their phones when new products are introduced to the market.

It is common for teenagers to talk to their friends about the new phones rather than what they have learned in classes.

There are three major telephone companies: Mobitel-CamGSM Co. Ltd., Cambodia Samart Communication and Cambodia Shinawatra Co. Ltd.

The three companies are owned by foreign businessmen.

To draw more customers, Samart launched new phones last year that allow Cambodians to send text messages in Khmer characters.

But the local telephone companies haven't been able to provide services to satisfy all of the teenagers' demands.

The companies don't have networks that enable users to send pictures from camera phone to camera phone. Some of the most popular games also aren't supported by the carriers.

Young technology students have set up lucrative businesses to transfer music, pictures, video clips, games and even English dictionaries from computers to cell phones.

Cell phones in Cambodia have become so common that businesspeople have set up hundreds, if not thousands, of phone boxes, or booths, on the street, where people can make a phone call using a cell phone and pay according to how many minutes they talk.

Samean Yun is associate editor of The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. He is at the Rocky Mountain News this summer as part of the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships program.

Cambodia loses 100 mln US dollars annually due to HIV/AIDS

Around 100 million US dollars is lost every year because of HIV/AIDS and its impact on the country's economy and population, according to Cambodia's National Aids Authority (NAA).

"Although the HIV/AIDS infection rate has declined in the last three years, the negative impact still exists," The Cambodian Press Review quoted NAA Communication Officer Kim San as saying on Monday.

Since 1999 the country has paid out a yearly 100 million dollars.

As the government lacks the appropriate funding, many people have to pay the cost for treatment by themselves and become poorer in the process, it said.

Since the government can only provide a limited amount of services, many communities have to take the burden of the disease on their own.

The money spent on fighting the disease goes to buying medicine, offering care and food, and providing help for orphans whose parents have died of AIDS. The country's human resources are also affected, causing indirect financial losses.

According to experts, 20,000 people will die of HIV/AIDS annually in the next five years. An estimated 90,000 people died of HIV/AIDS from 1991 to 2002.

Today's major concern is the effect of the disease on the country's housewives, who are becoming the main victims of the disease, Kim San said. In 2003, the infection rate amongst housewives reached 2.2 percent.