Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cambodia Born Anew

Here's news of a brand new exhibition being launched at the Northern Illinois University in the States.
NIU Anthropology Museum debuts new exhibiton post-Khmer Rouge life in Cambodia

The Anthropology Museum at Northern Illinois University is preparing to launch “Cambodia Born Anew,” a major exhibit on Cambodia’s remarkable recovery from the devastation of war and revolution. Anthropologist Judy Ledgerwood will speak at the opening of the exhibit on 5 Oct and which will run through May. The museum is free and open to the public, with normal hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Cambodia Born Anew” examines the country’s recovery in the wake of the Vietnam War and later the horrors of the Khmer Rouge-led genocide. The genocide claimed the lives of about 2 million people between the years of 1975 and 1979 and resulted in widespread destruction of institutions and infrastructure. The period was followed by 12 years of civil war. “The exhibit takes a broad look at aspects of rural and urban life in present-day Cambodia, illustrated through exceptional photographs and artifacts,” said Ann Wright-Parsons, museum director. “We all gain a bit more understanding about ourselves, our institutions and our social systems by viewing exhibits about other ways of life.”

The exhibit depicts the revival of crafts and institutions as Cambodia races to catch up with its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Crafts and weaving are crucial for the reconstructed rural economy. “In many ways, Cambodia’s recovery has been quite remarkable,” Ledgerwood said. “The country was devastated, its infrastructure destroyed and a quarter of its population dead or missing. Today Cambodia is reclaiming its vibrant heritage. The education system has been slowly rebuilt, and young people who were part of a post-Khmer Rouge baby boom are coming of age, replacing a generation of intellectuals who were killed or fled during the war years. The Buddhist religion is experiencing resurgence as well. About 4,000 temples have been rebuilt and about 60,000 men have been ordained as monks. “All this is happening as war crimes tribunals are only now convening and the perpetrators of the genocide are being brought to trial,” Ledgerwood added. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, shortly after Cambodia’s government asked for the United Nations’ help in setting up a court to prosecute regime leaders. Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s second-in-command, was arrested just this month. The NIU exhibit was made possible by a $115,000 grant from the Henry J. Luce Foundation in support of the Cambodia cultural heritage project, directed by Ledgerwood and Wright-Parsons, both specialists in Southeast Asia. The NIU museum collaborated on the exhibit with the Cambodian American Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial on Chicago’s North Side. Representatives of the two museums traveled to Cambodia to collect artifacts and are launching complementary exhibits. “Khmer Spirit”—depicting Cambodian fine arts, including sculpture, painting and music—opens this month at the Chicago museum.

The NIU exhibit is divided into four major themes: fishing and marine ecology; the revival of traditional silk weaving; agricultural life, the primary occupation of most Khmer people; and Theravada Buddhism, the religion of some 90 percent of Cambodians. Photographs taken by renowned Cambodian photographer Chan Vitharin add vibrancy to the text and artifacts.
The exhibit also boasts photographs from the collection of May Ebihara, the only American anthropologist to conduct research in pre-war Cambodia. Ebihara lived in a Cambodian village for a year in 1959-60. Her writings remain as classic sources on pre-revolutionary society. Ebihara died in 2005, leaving her collection of photos and field notes to Ledgerwood.
With the assistance of an NIU Venture grant, Ebihara’s photos are being scanned by the Digitization Unit at Founders Memorial Library and will be made available to the public online as part of the library’s Southeast Asia Digitization Project. Throughout the coming year, NIU will hold a series of lectures and films on the Cambodian genocide and Cambodian society. And, under the direction of Ledgerwood, NIU graduate students have been enlisted to work with the Chicago museum volunteers on collecting the stories of survivors of the killing fields who now live in Illinois. The oral histories exhibit will debut in 2008.

Never lose hope

From the Killing Fields to the White House Sichan Siv never lost hope for the American Dream - by Donna Harris (U.S. Civil Air Patrol Volunteer magazine Sept-Oct 07)

As a young boy in Cambodia in the 1960s, Lt. Col. Sichan Siv listened to the planes taking off and landing at the airport near his home, their engines revving his imagination and fueling his dreams. His mother told him, “Never give up hope.” “I always wanted to fly one of those,” he said. Someday Siv would fly planes, but his life took a lot of turns before he landed in the pilot’s seat. After graduation in Cambodia, he taught in a high school and was a flight attendant for Royal Air Cambodge. Siv was educated and he was a friend to the U.S, working for the humanitarian service organization CARE, Cooperative of American Relief Everywhere. For implementing food distribution to half a million refugees, he became a target of the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerrilla group led by Pol Pot, who took power in Cambodia in 1975. He missed a U.S. evacuation helicopter by 30 minutes, because he was arranging food and medical supplies for 3,000 stranded refugee families in an isolated province. He and 15 members of his family left their homes a few days later with only what they could carry, joining a throng of 3 million other Cambodians doing the same thing.

A refugee survives the Killing Fields
Siv saw decomposing bodies along the roadside, dead from exhaustion and executions. In a New York Times article headlined “The Karma of the Killing Fields,” Siv said Cambodia had become “a land soaked with blood and tears, a hell on earth.” So his presence wouldn’t endanger his family, Siv traveled across Cambodia on a bicycle for three weeks until he was stopped and placed into a Khmer Rouge work unit, where he endured 18 hours of hard labor and one meal a day. He eventually escaped, making his way through the jungle, avoiding mines and patrols and doing without food or drink for three days, until he was severely injured in a booby trap. He was jailed for illegal entry into Thailand and placed in a camp, where he taught English to other refugees. Siv made it to America on June 4, 1976, with $2 in his pocket and his mother’s words: “Never give up hope.”

A hopeful immigrant chooses to adapt and be adopted
In Connecticut he picked apples, washed dishes and flipped hamburgers. In New York he drove a taxi. He said he chose to adapt to his surroundings to become adopted by his promised land. “I kept on working, working. I did everything that came my way,” he said. He attended Columbia University’s master of international affairs program on a scholarship, which led to a position as an adviser to the Cambodian Delegation to the United Nations. His decade-long interest in the U.S. political process caused him to volunteer for George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign to better understand elections, and on Feb. 13, 1989 — exactly 13 years after he began his escape through the jungles of northwest Cambodia — Siv became the first American of Asian ancestryto be appointed a deputy assistant to a U.S. president. While working at the White House, a chance meeting with a computer repair technician piqued his interest in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol. Siv’s computer was on the fritz, and while the technician worked on it, she learned of his interest in flying. She suggested he give CAP a try. He joined in 1990 and trained to be a pilot while a member of the National Capital Wing in Washington, D.C.

Siv’s American dream comes true
From 1993 to 2001, Siv continued his distinguished career as a consultant and director for several major financial corporations. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Siv as a delegate to the 57th U.N. Commission on Human Rights, then later that year he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the 28th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. While he was ambassador to the U.N., he let his CAP membership lapse, but now that he is in the private sector he has joined the Civil Air Patrol’s Texas Wing and is a lieutenant colonel with the Bexar County Senior Squadron near his home in San Antonio. He encourages others to join CAP for the opportunity to be part of search and rescue operations. “I am proud to be wearing a uniform,” he said. Following a political career in which he has impressed world leaders and five U.S. presidents, Siv has continued his tradition of adaptability in the private sector as an international consultant, advising corporations on foreign investment strategies. He also oversees refugee resettlementand educational changes. His wife, Martha, often travels with him as he brings his motivational message of hope and endurance to audiences around the world.

His book, “Golden Bones,” is set for publication by HarperCollins in spring 2008. In it, Siv recounts his journey from humble beginnings in Cambodia to the White House and the U.N.
The life of the man who is fluent in English, Khmer, French, Spanish, Thai, Japanese, German and Arabic is also condensed on the pages of his Web site,, which begins with Siv’s rendition of a Bee Gees song. “I started a joke, which started the whole world crying, but I didn’t see, the joke was on me. I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing. If I’d only seen that the joke was on me,” Siv sings. “It’s a contradiction,” he explained. “My life is not the traditional path. You don’t start in the Killing Fields and end up in the White House.” Siv will be forever scarred by his journey, though the external wounds healed years ago. After arriving in America, he learned his mother, brother and an older sister and their families were clubbed to death by the Khmer Rouge. He is the only survivor from the original group of 16 who left Phnom Penh together. Yet he holds on to hope, just like his mother told him. And that is what he wants to be remembered for. Siv is someone who became adaptable to his circumstances and survived to make the most of his life and his mother’s memory. His friend, Joe Connors of Arlington, Va., took the portraits of Siv for his Web site. “He survived and not only did he survive, he made something of his life that is obviously a testament to his mother, to make this a better world,” he said. Connors said whenever a tough roadblock comes his way, he recalls Siv’s life. “Take a look at this guy’s Web site when you feel frustrated and you’ll feel a lot better,” he said. “He is quite an inspiration.”

Stories from Artisans d'Angkor

The Star newspaper in Malaysia today carries two stories from artists working with the successful Artisans d'Angkor organisation in Siem Reap. I have posted both stories in the Comments section. And of course take time to visit their website for more details about their story and range of products.

Life Under Red Light

Film Portrays Cambodian AIDS Orphans - by Poch Reasey, VOA Khmer
An award-winning Cambodian-American TV producer is bringing the reality of AIDS to his fellow countrymen in the United States through a documentary film he made in Cambodia earlier this year. Veteran NBC producer Peter Chhun followed the victims of the deadly disease in Cambodia and listened to their stories for three months. The result is a 63-minute film "Life Under Red Light." Chhun, who started working for NBC in 1970, says he initially got the idea of making a documentary film on AIDS in January when he met with the Long Beach Health Department. "The Long Beach Health Department told me there are some families in the Cambodian community who are living with AIDS," he told VOA Khmer. "So I started thinking about what kind of program to help educate our Khmer people in Long Beach.
"Chhun told the Long Beach Press Telegram last month that he wanted to make a movie on HIV/AIDS in the Long Beach area but was unable to find any Cambodian-Americans who would come out. "So I said I would go to Cambodia and talk to our Khmer people and let them explain their pain and suffering," he said. "Maybe our Khmer people in the United States would listen." Two months later, in March, Chhun was in Cambodia shooting the documentary, thanks to NBC, which let him use network camera and other equipment, free of charge, for shooting.
"Life Under Red Light" has so far only been shown to the doctors and health workers at St. Mary Medical Center, in Long Beach. Chhun said he plans to show the documentary to the Cambodian community in Long Beach at Cal State Long Beach in the near future. Eventually he wants to make the film available to the public. Chhun is very involved in both the Cambodian community in Long Beach and in Cambodia. He is the founder of Hearts without Boundaries, a non-profit organization that sends doctors to Cambodia to perform surgeries. Chhun will lead a group of 20 American doctors to Cambodia from 15 Oct to 22 Oct, to Siem Reap, to provide free heart surgery.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Daun Tri unmasked

If you read my dilemma of Daun Tri story a few days ago - if not, click here - you'll know that I never saw the 1,000 Buddhas statue of Daun Tri myself as it was stolen three months before my visit. However, some digging around on the internet unveiled this photo of the priceless artifact, courtesy of the Angkor Explorers website.
Now I thought I was something of a Cambodia temple-hunter, but I pale into the background compared to these guys. They are the tops when it comes to locating and uncovering Cambodia's glorious temples of Angkorean age and before. Their photographs open up more of Cambodia's temples than I've ever seen before and I recommend you visit their website and follow the links to Khmer Ruins in Cambodia and Thailand. Click here. The site is in Japanese but the pictures speak for themselves. I'd love to hook up with the Angkor Explorers on one of my future trips.

Cambodia Reborn

How about this for a final paragraph to a travel story in yesterday's New Statesman online magazine. Positive, upbeat stories on Cambodia are all too rare in the news media these days, so this is worth reading:

Now is the moment to visit Cambodia. Its Buddhist people are cheerful and courteous; its culture (notably the youthful "apsara" ballet) is captivating; its Khmer cuisine (based heavily on fish such as amok from regular flooding of the Tonle Sap great lake in the central plain) is memorable. The landscape is studded with incom parable archaeological sites. Angkor has yet to be polluted by commercialism: for me, it recalled the brooding majesty of Machu Picchu back in 1963. Cambodia's emergent society is unformed, unlike capitalistic Malaysia, now celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence. But something new, and maybe better, is growing.

You can read the full article by Kenneth Morgan, titled Cambodia Reborn here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bad road, old story

Don Ross in The Bangkok Post shares his tuppenceworth on the state of Highway 6 leading from the Thai-Cambodian border at Poipet to Siem Reap. Its an old story that is oft repeated but there's no escaping the fact that the road is in a very sorry state and coupled with the scams at Poipet can give visitors a very unfavourable first impression of Cambodia.
Read the story here.

Print Piracy in Phnom Penh

Whatever next? The police and authorities in Phnom Penh have finally taken action – albeit in the shape of less than twenty confiscations – against some of the book piracy that has been rife in Cambodia, and Southeast Asia, for as long as I can remember. You have to give grudging credit for the pirated copies of most of the major books published about Cambodia that you find on the street and market stalls in Siem Reap and the capital, as many of them are remarkably well done, but don’t let that cloud your judgement – book piracy is wrong. The authors and publishers get precisely zilch of their rightful dues when you buy a pirated copy of the Lonely Planet or David Chandler’s Brother Number One for four or five dollars, and that is, inescapably, wrong.
So imagine the surprise on the faces of the stall-holders on Tuesday when police raided the Central Market in Phnom Penh - and impounded less than twenty books. Monument Books, who legitimately sell the books at their shops, have been appointed to act for a number of publishers who were simply fed up at not getting their rightful monies and have conveyed their complaints to the appropriate authorities. The police finally acted and made this token seizure. It’s not known whether this will be the first of many such raids – doubtful, but who knows with Cambodia, anything is possible - but if it is then there will be one helluva bonfire burning in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh over the next few months.
Link: Monument Books.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Black Roots In Session

All credit to French re-issue label Makasound, who have excelled themselves with their latest offering, a release of Black Roots' In Session album alongwith some choice early singles and 12" versions, on CD. This is long overdue and full credit to Makasound who are making great strides in issuing crucial re-releases.

Anyone who has visited my website, will know of my love of this group. In my collection, I have everything they ever issued (I think), so this is a 'must have' for me personally, and I think it should be in your roots reggae collection too. Black Roots were more than just a group. They were a company created in Bristol’s Jamaican neighbourhood in the late 70s. Although they were all born in Jamaica, its members followed their parents in the many successive immigration waves that emptied the island in the 50s and 60s – and still today -, driving American, Canadian and British wannabes abroad. Growing up in Bristol’s Jamaican community, in streets resounding with the rebel songs of Burning Spear, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, the eight youths decided to found their own group, Black Roots. It all began at a street corner, around a game of dominoes, as Jabulani Ngozi recalls: “Black Roots was formed in 1979. We were already playing in different small groups. But we were all childhood friends and had known each other since the mid-60s. We all went to school in England. With only the dole ahead of us, we decided to create this group while playing dominoes, one day. It came from a blues we wanted to control”.
Their first 2 albums (Black Roots & On The Frontline), released in 1983 and 1984, were critically acclaimed by the press, specialised or not. The Guardian wrote: “The best of the new British reggae bands”. Black Echoes and other in-depth magazines wrote: “The next great hope for reggae in this country” and “One of the most polished and uplifting reggae albums we had the pleasure to hear”. Makasound reissued both in May 2004 on vinyl under the title On the Frontline.
This new In Session release revisits these tracks with two live studio sessions recorded at BBC Radio One by famous broadcaster John Peel and his partners David 'Kid' Jensen and Peter Powell. The first recording dates back to April 1982 and was broadcast on May 27. The other was broadcast on November 14, the same year. Both were put together on the 1986 album In Session, and now reissued for the first time in 2007. Makasound have complemented the 10 original tracks with the band's first singles (Bristol Rock/The System), and some alternative versions of other tracks (Chanting for Freedom/Confusion/The Father/Tribal War). All on CD for the first time. Bravo Makasound!
Link: Makasound.

New single from Percydread

One of my favourite reggae singers, Percydread, is just about to release a vinyl double A-sided single of his tracks, Father's Love and Dungeon, on his own Lemonapple record label. It should be out in about a week and Dungeon is pencilled in as one of the cuts on his Upside Downside album that is still in the pipeline. Read about the album here. Percydread was formerly the lead singer and songwriter with one of Britain's best-loved reggae combo's, The Natural-Ites, back in the Eighties. Read more here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

TCWL update

A few months ago I announced that I am editing a new guidebook - To Cambodia With Love - that will be launched in the spring of 2008 by ThingsAsian Press, based on the successful formula trail-blazed by To Asia With Love: A Connoisseurs’ Guide to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand & Vietnam. I have spent the last six months and more badgering a lot of people, all of whom live in or have travelled extensively throughout – and are all united in their love of – Cambodia. My desire is to produce a guidebook that reflects that love and affection in every one of its pages. Well, as I'm new to this editing role, its taken me a lot longer than I initially thought. Added to that, the publication deadlines have slipped a little, so it looks like this exciting and unique guidebook will now be hitting the bookshelves later in 2008. I have some marvellous articles from some top writers and travellers, so when it does come out, for anyone with an interest in Cambodia, it should go straight to the top of your shopping list.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cambodian art on show

Six Cambodian artists are exhibiting their works in Phnom Penh this month, and all of them were formerly students at the art school of Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO on the outskirts of Battambang. Created in 1994, the NGO includes free art, music and circus schools plus a centre for non-formal education, and a home for orphans and young people in difficult situations. Sokuntevy Oeur is exhibiting at the Meta House til 28 Oct; Net Phileap’s paintings are on show at the French Cultural Center til 9 Oct; and four more former students are showing their works at the Comme a la Maison restaurant, Mao Soviet, Loeum Lorn, Kchao Touch and Seum Kakada. I've already blogged that Vann Nath's current exhibition of his paintings is at the Bophana Center until 12 Oct. Two of the paintings are for sale and may go for around $2,000 apiece.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Football and Cambodia

Football and Cambodia - does it get any better than this? Two of my favourite subjects...ummm, how can I shoehorn reggae music into this piece?

Football For Hope visits Cambodia’s dream fields - by

FIFA's Football for Hope Movement continues to gather pace this weekend with a visit to Cambodia and review of the work done in addressing the dangers of landmines by one of its newest implementing partners. Spirit of Soccer, which uses the medium of football coaching clinics to educate children on the threats posed by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in post-conflict regions of the world, was among the 27 additional programmes recently approved by FIFA as part of its commitment to social responsibility. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter said: "In the cooperation with organisations like Spirit of Soccer and the support of programmes that use football every day as a tool for social and human development, lies the essence of the Football for Hope Movement, and of FIFA's social responsibility." FIFA's Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Federico Addiechi, along with Juergen Griesbeck, managing director of Streetfootballworld - FIFA's strategic ally in the Football for Hope Movement - will visit the Spirit of Soccer project centred in Battambang, a four-hour drive north of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh. The rural province surrounding the Southeast Asian country's second-largest city is an area where, on average, a civilian is killed or maimed every day by exploding mines.

During the four-day mission from 23 to 26 September, the Football for Hope team will meet representatives from the Football Federation of Cambodia, listen to a briefing from Spirit of Soccer officials, chat with coaches and children on the benefits of the programme and collect reports on FIFA-supported projects related to Football for Hope's growth strategy in Asia.
Among the teachers they will observe are the six that have passed Spirit of Soccer's unique training programme and begun working with children from ten primary schools in the Kosh Krolor, Banan and Moung Russey districts of Battambang province. Already, 240 children each day are participating in the football/Mine Risk Education (MRE) sessions. Also on the itinerary is a trip to a school on the outskirts of Pailin where a 60x40-metre field, recently cleared of mines, has been bulldozed, graded and rolled. Posts have been erected and three small pitches have been drawn on the previous no-go land. This month 500 children are expected to compete in a five-day football camp with the goal being to create a five-a-side league. Spirit of Soccer's Executive Director Scotty Lee said: "No child should ever be denied the right to play sport because of landmines. The message is simple: don't play with landmines, play football. I want to give them the dream."

A legacy of three decades of war, there exists an estimated four-to-six million landmines or Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) in Cambodia. Many of the victims are children tampering with the bombs. Although 2006 registered 450 casualties from landmines - almost half the figure of the previous 12 months - this year has seen an increase in incidents involving children.
Currently incorporating close to 60 programmes in 40 countries, the objective of the Football for Hope Movement is to support, advise and strengthen sustainable social and human development programmes in the areas of health promotion, children's rights and education, peace building, anti-discrimination and social integration, and the environment. By drawing on its huge potential, football is doing its part in contributing to the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Following the example set by the industrialised nations in 2002 with their agreement to earmark 0.7% of their gross domestic product for international development aid, FIFA has also decided to invest at least the same percentage of its overall income in social and human development towards football throughout the world.

Escaping the killing fields

Escaping the killing fields:
Cambodian refugees recount harrowing pilgrimage to freedom
- by Brett Dalton, Lee's Summit Journal, Missouri, USA

The following article is the first in a series about a Lee's Summit couple who survived the murder and genocide by the Khmer Rouge in their native country of Cambodia in the mid 1970s.

On Wednesday, Nuon Chea, the top surviving leader of the murderous Khmer Rouge Communist group that terrorized Cambodia in the 1970s, was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. While more than 2 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, many survived, fleeing to Thailand, the country's neighbor to the west. At least two of those refugees now make their home in Lee's Summit, surviving one of the worst cases of genocide in the 20th century.
To read the rest of part 1 of this story, click here or go to Comments.
* * * * *
I also wanted to direct you to the website of another survivor of Cambodia's tragic past. His name is Kilong Ung and he's already posted some of his writings about his life in the Khmer Rouge period onto his blog. Click here to read more from Kilong and use the links to visit his website too.

The dilemma of Daun Tri

The dilemma of Daun Tri

In January this year, whilst on a visit to Battambang, I took a norry ride – aka, a bamboo train – south to the provincial town of Moung Russei for a scout around the town and its neighbouring villages. One of the places mentioned on my list of ancient Angkorean temple sites lay to the east of the town, on the way out towards the Tonle Sap Lake, at a place called Don Tri. As I’m always on the lookout for my next adventure in the Cambodian countryside, I rode pillion as my friend and moto-driver Sak pointed his Honda Dream in the right direction and off we went. To check we were on the correct route, we called into a couple of pagodas along the raised track, flanked on both sides by bright green paddy fields flush with water and with a smile on everyone’s lips - rural Cambodia at its most majestic.

Nearly two hours into our ride, we arrived at Wat Daun Tri North, which turned out to be a fascinating location. Used by the Khmer Rouge as a hospital in the late 70s, Chhen, the frail old gentleman who guided us around, told us that bones often wash up out of the ground in the rainy season, when much of the area floods as the Tonle Sap Lake dramatically expands in size. I quickly spied a quartet of sandstone pedestals and Chhen confirmed the pagoda was built on the site of an Angkorean temple, known as Prasat Daun Tri. He unlocked the padlocks on the vihara doors and took us inside, where a small sculpted antefix in the shape of a miniature prasat in red sandstone stood to one side of the main altar. An empty space on the opposite side signalled where a “beautiful carved stone with a thousand Buddhas,” in Chhen’s words, had stood until it was stolen at night by thieves just three months before.

This raises for me the difficult dilemma about whether valuable items like the Buddha sculpture should be kept in their original location – which seems right and proper – or moved to a far safer venue like the National Museum, Angkor Conservation or even the local provincial museum – which seems sensible. I’ve had this debate with myself many times over the years and still can’t decide on which side of the fence I sit. In an ideal world, retaining such pieces of history in their original location gives the locals a sense of pride and cultural identity about their own village and its history, but more realistically, in a country like Cambodia, they are far more concerned about where their next meal is coming from. And of course, the absence of any security other than a padlock and the high demand for Khmer art in the antique shops of Bangkok increases the huge risk of theft from these remote locations.

Meanwhile, Chhen wasn’t finished and led us outside again to show us three carved lintels made of sandstone, one of which was in excellent condition with Indra sitting atop Airavata, together with a few lines of Sanskrit script. We thanked Chhen - who is one of those locals I mentioned who derives great pride in his pagoda’s historic artifacts – and said our goodbyes to the crowd that had joined us on our tour of inspection as we headed back towards the main highway, about ten kilometres due west.

Note: Though I never saw the Buddha sculpture of Daun Tri, I have seen something quite similar I believe at the Guimet Museum in Paris. It’s actually a votive monument, 105 centimetres high and covered on all four sides by miniature images representing a standing Vishnu, 1,020 figures in total. It’s an amazing piece of art from Preah Khan of Kompong Svay, dating from the 12th century. As for the Buddha of Daun Tri, I am left to wonder, and hope that one day soon it will find its way back to its rightful location.

Friday, September 21, 2007

CNN airing blogs from Cambodia

Cassie Phillips: Reporting from Cambodia
CNN features Duke Hart Fellow Cassie Phillips's work with children
- by Iza Wojciechowska, Hart Leadership Program

Throughout this year, Cassie Phillips, will be able to share her experiences as a Hart Fellow with audiences around the world. As one of six young participants in “Be the Change”— a CNN International project to showcase what its website calls “the power of social change through action”— Phillips will maintain a regular record of her fellowship in Battambang, Cambodia, where she works with orphaned and vulnerable children at a non-governmental organization called Homeland. She will keep a written and video blog on the “Be the Change” website for the entirety of her yearlong fellowship, and beginning this week, segments of her video blog will air regularly during CNN news shows in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. The six participants’ videos will be rotated on a weekly basis.

This is the first time CNN has used blogs as a major component of any of its programs, and the first time CNN video and blogposts are being created by people not trained as journalists, said Chris Wheelock, producer of “Be the Change.” Phillips and the five other volunteers were chosen to participate in the program based on referrals from NGOs and from recent publications that list exceptional young people around the world, Wheelock said. “We wanted a diverse group of people in various parts of the world,” he said. “Every one of these people has a slightly different mission and very distinctive personality.” “It’s exciting to be a part of something that I think is an improvement in the media: news about places and people that are largely ignored,” Phillips said. “I understand ‘being the change’ is dedicating yourself and your actions to achieving a goal. In my case, my goal is to go somewhere very unknown with an open mind and try to apply the skills I have to help in every way I can, while learning more about myself.”

Phillips’ Hart Fellowship assignment involves intensive volunteer work with Homeland, which provides various services for Cambodian street children and families, including caring for formerly sex-trafficked children, working with children at risk of coming into conflict with the law, and facilitating home-based care and group counseling sessions for people living with HIV/AIDS. As with all Hart fellows, there is also a research component to Phillips' work, which is meant to both help her critical thinking about the work and provide tangible benefit to Homeland and the children it serves. As a research-service learning project, the Hart Fellows Program is part of Duke's commitment to knowledge in the service of society.

The Hart Fellows Program fosters leadership development by placing recent Duke graduates in organizations around the world each year to do research and fieldwork on pressing policy issues.
Maintaining a blog and filming her experiences adds a new dimension to Phillips’ work. She said she’s gone through a period of getting used to the camera and the effect it has on the people she works with. “I’ve taped odds and ends of things that I find interesting, things I do on a daily basis, and some trips I’ve taken,” she said. “At work I tape more structured activities and programs. Since there’s no real structure [to “Be the Change”], I’m making it up and trying new things as I go. Knowing I share my experiences with a large public adds a different layer of responsibility and changes the dynamics of my fellowship,” Phillips said. “The blog makes me think more critically about my experiences and delve a little deeper into issues.” Wheelock said CNN has already received very positive feedback about the program. “We have the highest expectations,” he said.
Link: Cassie's Blog.

Blogging from Cambodia

Blogging in Cambodia is taking off big-time and here's a news report from the International Herald Tribune that says so...

Cambodians of post-Khmer Rouge era embrace new cultural revolution — the blog by The Associated Press

A Cambodian blogger asked recently whether former King Norodom Sihanouk should be considered the country's founding father of blogging. He got no definitive answer. Cambodian blog watchers say the 84-year-old monarch may not have known he was blogging when he unveiled his Web site, updated daily by his staff since 2002 with his views on national affairs, correspondence with his admirers and news about his film-making hobby.But it is clear that young, tech-savvy Cambodians are joining Sihanouk in embracing blogs. The trend is changing their lives and their communication with people abroad — even as electricity remains a n unreachable dream for most households in this poverty-ridden nation of 14 million. "This is a kind of cultural revolution now happening here in terms of self-expression," said Norbert Klein, a longtime resident from Germany who is considered the person who introduced e-mail to Cambodia, through a dial-up connection in 1994. "It is completely a new era in Cambodian life."

Cambodians with the skills and the means to blog are discovering a wider world and using the personal online journals to show off their personalities and views about the issues facing their country, from corruption to food safety. "Blogging transforms the way we communicate and share information," said 25-year-old student blogger Ly Borin. To his surprise, a recent blog post of his on poor food safety in Cambodia drew a comment from an international traveler. He said interaction with a stranger living perhaps half a world away was unimaginable in Cambodia just a few years ago. Cambodia became one of the most isolated countries in the world during the late 1970s, when the communist Khmer Rouge were in power and cut off virtually all links with the outside world as they applied radical policies that led to the death of 1.7 million people. The Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, but the country is still struggling to rebuild. Fewer than one-third of 1 percent of Cambodians have regular Web access. If the Internet opened a path for news from outside Cambodia, blogging is turning the path into a two-way street. "Having a blog brings me up to date with technology," said Keo Kalyan, a 17-year-old student whose nom-de-blog is "DeeDee, School Girl Genius! Khmer-Cyberkid." "I can do social networking and contact other bloggers" around the world.

She and three peers organized the first-ever Cambodian Bloggers Summit — the "Cloggers Summit" to the cognoscenti. Foreign professional bloggers and 200 university students took part in the two-day meeting in Cambodia last month to trade ideas. Her team also has conducted 14 workshops for 1,700 students to share their knowledge about digital technology. Raymond Leos, an American professor of communications and media arts at a Phnom Penh university, said Sihanouk showed his countrymen blogging's broad potential. After seeing TV images of same-sex weddings in San Francisco in 2004, Sihanouk posted a statement expressing his support for gay marriage. When a foreigner allegedly wrote him an e-mail criticizing his stance on the subject, Sihanouk shot back on his Web site, saying "I thank you for insulting me" but "I am not gay." "We can learn from him that blogging can be fun, interesting and provocative," Leos said. One politically conscious blogger rapped Prime Minister Hun Sen's government over its failure to curb chronic corruption."I feel so shameful of our Prime Minister Hun Sen. We are begging the world for money," Vanak Thom wrote on his "Blog By Khmer." "(His) government is too corrupt. Without corruption, I know our Cambodia can be free from the abyss of this poverty."

Human Rights Watch continues to criticize the Cambodian government's tre atment of dissent, but bloggers are able to express at least some overt criticism. And there is no official censorship. More to the point, said John Weeks, an American who runs the Web design firm in Phnom Penh, blogs are not yet relevant to most Cambodians. "I don't see blogs where farmers talk about rainfall, or where (motorbike-taxi drivers) complain about gas prices," he said. Cambodia's Internet penetration is among the lowest in the world, in part due to high electricity and Internet connection costs. An hour of access at an Internet cafe here costs about 2,000 riel, or 50 cents, while 35 percent of Cambodians make less than the poverty-level income of 45 cents a day. While only a tiny proportion of Cambodians go online, the Pew Internet and American Life Project says more than 71 percent of American adults use the Internet. About 13 percent of residents of neighboring Thailand and 19 percent of people in Vietnam have regular access, said Preetam Rai, Southeast Asian editor of Global Voices. Seeking to reduce poverty and encourage economic growth by narrowing the digital divide, Cambodia's government has made national computer literacy a priority. It is linking local governments and national agencies to a main government data center, using a US$50 million (€35.6 million) loan from South Korea, said Soung Noy, deputy secretary-general of the official National Information Communications Technology Development Authority.

Blogger Ly Borin said modern technology such as computers are simply too advanced for many older Cambodians, who have mostly just been struggling to survive for the past 30 years. The new technology, he said, "is hard for them to follow." Cambodia's violent past also has made many older people — though not Sihanouk — fearful of speaking their minds, said Klein, the early Internet user. Less elevated Cambodians than Sihanouk meanwhile said they hoped to use their blogs to show how far their country has come from its troubled past. "Cambodia is not just about Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot," said Bun Tharum, 25, referring to the now-defunct radical communist group and its late leader. "Now we have a tool to inform the outside world about how we are thinking and progressing."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Jimi Lundy video

A new video of the song, Cambodia by Jimi Lundy (pictured), has just been released. The song will be featured in the forthcoming Tim Pek-movie, The Red Sense and the video contains clips from the film. You can watch the video here.

Here's a previous blog posting of mine about Jimi's CD, Steal My Heart, which was released in 2004. The blog post included the lyrics from the Cambodia track, which was included on the CD release. It's also a bonus track on a new single release from Jimi that's coming soon. Stay tuned.

Arnaud's watercolours

I have just encountered some beautiful watercolour paintings by the artist Arnaud d'Aunay, from a book published in France by Gallimard in 2004. The paintings, like the one above which is a view of the village of Phnom Krom near Siem Reap, are superb and I simply must get hold of a copy of the book titled Au Fil du Mekong, the story of the artists' boat trip from Saigon to Angkor and what he saw and experienced along the way.

Profile: Born in 1947 in France, Arnaud d'Aunay is a painter of deep realism, whose canvases emanate subtle poetry and peaceful atmosphere that each individual relates to. He is greatly inspired by the master Andrew Wyeth, whom d'Aunay met in 1985. Like Wyeth, d'Aunay meticulously fixes the details which leads to their apparent simplicity and traditionalism that holds an eternal character. The artist discovers beauty in ordinary, everyday scenes through his use of composition, color, light and refined Tempura technique. D'Aunay has exhibited throughout Europe and Japan and now exhibits in the United States.

Gloucester couple head for Cambodia

As I reside in Gloucester myself, I was keen to repost this article about a retired couple from my area who are heading out to help the fight against drugs in Cambodia. I've seen the problem of youths who are involved with glue-sniffing myself and its prevalent in a city like Phnom Penh where there are thousands of street living and working children. There are quite a few charity organizations who already offer a helping hand to these kids, like Friends International, Cambodian Children's Fund, Mlop Tapang and The Global Child for example, who all do fantastic work in supporting the street kids towards a brighter future.

Couple to Fight Drugs menace in Cambodia - from

Retired Gloucester couple are preparing to head to Cambodia to help young people overcome drug addictions. Patrick Prosser, 68, and his wife Jenny, 65, of Speedwell Close, Abbeymead, jet out next Wednesday to set up the operation. They are working on the initiative with the Cambodian government, non-governmental organisations and volunteers in the country, with the support of the United Nations. They will be in the capital Phnom Penh for one month, where they will teach volunteers how to help young people and their families.

Mr Prosser was a drugs worker for the Life for the World Trust charity, which had premises in Blockley. He was moved to act after a visit to Cambodia in September 2005. He said: "Really, this project chose us. I was contacted to provide basic training to church volunteers over there." The church we go to, the Gloucester Community Church, as well as the Gloucester City Church, supported us by paying the air fare, so we jumped at the chance. I was there for ten days and I realised immediately that this would take a much bigger effort. What I saw was unbelievable. I know that there are problems with drugs among young people in England, but I was seeing children aged six sniffing glue or on amphetamines. Even while they were high, they were scrambling around rubbish tips looking for recyclable material to sell for their next hit. It was shocking." People-trafficking in the Asian state has also added to the drug problem. Mr Prosser said: "Maybe as many as 350 to 400 children are kidnapped from Cambodia and sold into slavery every week. They are given drugs to keep them docile and unaware of what is happening to them. When they do eventually realise their situation, they return home, but they are drug addicts. There are very few people to help them out of their vulnerable position."

On the couple's return to the UK, they vowed to do all they could to help. After consultation with the UN, negotiations with the Cambodian government and close contact with the Cambodian church movements, they developed the five-year programme that they are about to launch. Cambodia's average wage is less than £25 per month, while the population's average age is just 19½. The Prossers believe that the population's lack of experience of parenthood and society is another part of its problems. Mr Prosser added: "We are there to help give them the skills they need to make Cambodia a happier place to live. We will have a training role and it will be the Cambodians who make the difference to their country. But we will return to see how things are going and offer every help we can. We expect to go over three times a year in the next five years."

PEPY does it again...

The folks at PEPY have done it again. This time they're partnering a well-respected Khmer NGO to enhance the knowledge of teachers and students at schools in the Kralanh area of northwest Cambodia. PEPY's first school, at Chanleas Dai, is in the same area.

Kids learn to practice conversation in rural Cambodia

PEPY, an adventure cycle tour and humanitarian aid organization, has partnered with Mlup Baitong, a well respected Cambodian NGO to launch an Eco-Club program at eight primary schools in the region of Kralanh, Siem Reap province. The innovative program gives rural students hands-on experience in environmental awareness and resource management.
With PEPY’s support, Mlup Baitong will train teachers and principals at each school about environmental education and conservation, and how to apply the action-based Eco-Club concept. The trained teachers will be involved in facilitating club activities through micro-projects, where students can choose to initiate activities such as tree planting, compost making, waste collection, vegetable gardening, a schoolyard clean-up, or an anti-litter campaign. The program launches at all eight schools at the start of the academic year in October.

This program is one of PEPY’s many educational and environmental initiatives, aimed at increasing opportunities for students and families in developing areas. PEPY has funded the construction of two rural schools in Cambodia, and has several humanitarian programs, which focus on increasing access to and quality of education. These programs are funded by PEPY’s unique volunteer and adventure tours. PEPY founder Daniela Papi notes, “Many people donate in support of development projects they will never visit, but with PEPY, you can go where your money goes. By joining one of our trips, you see first hand the difference you are making.” Each tour participant fundraises for specific, ongoing projects, which they then have the chance to visit during their tour in Cambodia.

This December, PEPY will organize an experiential tour in Kralanh, offering a chance for the 20 volunteer travelers to witness the activities of the Eco-Club program and assist with student-run environmental initiatives. Thus far, over 50 schools, 250 teachers and 4000 children have participated in Mlup Baitong’s existing Eco-Clubs all over Cambodia. The partnership with PEPY will allow even more schools to benefit from this program. Cooperation with a school typically lasts two to three years, after which the schools may still be involved as demonstration centers for new target schools in the project. Eco-Club members develop an increased awareness of the natural environment around them and how they can make a positive impact. Students are encouraged to share their new skills and knowledge with their friends and family. To strengthen this effect, the project also implements activities in the communities surrounding the schools. In addition to environmental education projects such as the Eco-Clubs, Mlup Baitong is also invested in Community Forestry and Ecotourism activities across Cambodia.
Links: For more information about PEPY, to make a donation, or to sign up for any of the upcoming volunteer trips, please visit To learn more about Mlup Baitong’s environmental programs across Cambodia, please visit

New website to chronicle the KR Tribunal

With excellent timing to coincide with the arrest, detention and charging with crimes against humanity and war crimes of Nuon Chea, Brother No 2 in the Khmer Rouge regime, a new website that will follow and report on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal taking place in Cambodia has begun. The Cambodia Tribunal Monitor contains a who's who of experts and scholars who really know their stuff, inluding Youk Chhang, David Chandler, Elizabeth Becker, Alex Hinton and others. Here's some details from the newswires:

Groundbreaking Web Site to Chronicle Cambodia War Crimes Tribunal

A new Web site has been launched that will provide ongoing coverage and commentary on the Cambodia war crimes tribunal, now in its early stages of work near Phnom Penh. The Cambodia Tribunal Monitor, now available at will serve as a leading source of news and information on the upcoming trials of senior officials of the Khmer Rouge regime for atrocity crimes. Throughout the court proceedings, the Web site will offer news updates, video excerpts of the trials and guest commentaries by leading international experts on the recent history of Cambodia, politics, human rights and international law.

From April 1975 to January 1979, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodian citizens died under the Khmer Rouge regime. After nearly 10 years of negotiations, a special war crimes tribunal has commenced near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as the special Cambodian court is formally known, will oversee the proceedings and is a joint partnership of the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia. In addition to archiving daily international news articles, the Web site also provides background information on the history of the Khmer Rouge and ECCC. Important resources such as court documents and bibliographies of scholarly articles and books are also posted. Once the trials formally begin, which is estimated for early 2008, Cambodia Tribunal Monitor will provide daily tape-delayed video of the court proceedings, as well as video of interviews with Cambodian citizens documenting their reaction to the events.

The Cambodia Tribunal Monitor will also feature essays written by leading experts on the subject. The commentary section opens with companion essays by David Scheffer, Northwestern University law professor and former U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, and Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam). In their essays, Scheffer and Chhang set the stage for the tribunal and reflect on why the trials are important to both the international community and the Cambodian people. "Cambodia has had enough justice administered behind closed doors. It is essential that the ECCC provide some answers ... about who is accountable and why," Chhang writes. "The tribunal must leave people with a judgment, something concrete they can take away and debate, and something they feel was done in fairness to all." When discussing the importance of the ECCC, Chhang speaks from personal experience as he lived in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. During this time, his family was relocated to the countryside and into forced labor. Several of his family members were killed by the regime, including his sister and brother-in-law. In addition to the significance the ECCC represents to the Cambodian people, Scheffer points out that it will also be a closely observed by an international community of human rights and justice advocates. "That fact alone [the existence of the ECCC] sends a powerful signal throughout the world that the international community is getting serious ... about accountability for atrocity crimes and that there is no stopwatch for justice," writes Scheffer, who is currently the director of the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern University School of Law. In the coming months, commentary and insight from more than a dozen additional contributors will be added to the site. The Cambodia Tribunal Monitor was developed by a consortium of academic, philanthropic and non-profit organizations committed to providing public access to the tribunal and open discussion throughout the judicial process. The academic manager and sponsor of the site is Northwestern University School of Law's Center for International Human Rights, joined by co-sponsors Documentation Center of Cambodia and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. The prime sponsor of the site is the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation.

The Web site concept was conceived by Illinois State Senator Jeff Schoenberg, a Chicago-area legislator who also advises the Pritzker family on its philanthropy. In January, Schoenberg participated in a trip sponsored by Build Cambodia, a U.S. based not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping Cambodians build their lives and society. As a result of the experience, Schoenberg enlisted the support of the aforementioned sponsors, and with their assistance the Cambodia Tribunal Monitor was created. "The goal of this site is to provide broader public exposure to one of the greatest atrocities in modern history and the pursuit of justice that is now in front of us," Schoenberg said. "Unfortunately, because these crimes were committed more than 30 years ago, there is a generation who knows nothing about this period of history. I encourage professors, teachers, students, historians, journalists and the general public to use Cambodia Tribunal Monitor to ensure that we don't forget the past - and to demonstrate that in the end, justice prevails." In the coming months, certain portions of the site will be translated into Khmer and French.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Doug does it again!

I'm always keen to report on Doung Mendel's fund-raising exploits which are giving the hard-pressed Cambodian fire service a better chance to save lives. I've known Doug for a while now and his continuing efforts deserve great praise.

Mendel set to give second fire truck to Cambodia
An eight-person fire department in Cambodia’s rugged Ratanakiri Province will reap the benefits from Doug Mendel’s latest round of giving - by Nicole Formosa, Summit Daily News, Colorado, USA.

Doug Mendel, who is known locally for his philanthropic efforts to improve fire protection in Cambodia, will leave next month to give a second fire engine to a department in the impoverished southeast Asian country. Mendel leaves on October 25 and will spend three weeks in Cambodia, where his first order of business will be a trip to the remote Ratanakiri Province to attend a dedication ceremony for the new truck. Mendel paid about $13,000 with funds from his nonprofit organization — The Douglas Mendel Cambodia Relief Fund — to have the fire truck built in the capital city of Phnom Penh over the past four months. A contractor there began with a used, two-and-a-half ton Korean truck and added a 2,000 liter water tank, five sections of hose, a pump for drafting and a gear compartment. The finishing touches included a coat of bright red paint and sirens. The work was completed about two weeks ago.

Firefighters from far Northeastern Ratanakiri Province will make the 12-hour trek to Phnom Penh to pick up their gift, Mendel said. The new truck will replace the fire department’s existing 20-year-old Chinese fire truck that’s currently only about 50 percent operational, Mendel said. Last year, Mendel shipped an old fire engine donated by Breckenridge’s Red, White & Blue Fire District to the port city of Sihanoukville, where it has since helped put out several blazes. Now, Mendel is concentrating on raising money to either have another fire truck built for a different province or to pay for a fire station in Ratanakiri Province. “There’s already a fire station in Ratanakiri, but it basically is just bare bones — they don’t even have bays (for equipment),” Mendel said.

Mendel makes most of his money from fundraisers, private donations and the sale of handmade Cambodian crafts at local flea markets. Since Mendel formed his nonprofit organization three years ago, he’s raised more than $100,000, about 80 percent of which has gone back to the Cambodian people. Beyond donating the fire trucks, Mendel has provided numerous fire stations with fire-resistant jackets and pants donated by local fire departments. He regularly delivers stuffed animals, toothbrushes and toothpaste to Cambodian street children and has given one underfunded national park nearly $10,000 worth of electronic equipment, such as GPS units, compasses and digital cameras. Go to his website to learn more about Mendel’s work.

The Gatekeeper

So many tragic events befell the Cambodian people in the 70s and 80s and some of these are recalled by Justin Sok in the following article. He discusses the Preah Vihear tragedy where up to 45,000 Cambodian refugees were herded down the landmine-infested cliffs of Preah Vihear by the Thai army, in one of the most appalling acts of that era:

The Gate Keeper - by Justin C. Sok
I have read literature about the tragedy of Cambodian people. I hear horrible stories shared by Cambodian refugees on how they had survived and how they had managed to escape the “Killing Fields” from the tyrant Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique (aka Khmer Rouge, Angkar Loeu’s regime). The Cambodian civilians, for generations, had been beset by civil wars and had endured unbearable suffering and extremely inhumane acts committed upon them by those so-called leaders, whose principal duty and responsibility were to “serve and protect” its own citizens and country. Those atrocities were far beyond the imagination of mankind.During the period of 3 and a half years under the Pol Pot-Ieng regime, an estimated of 1.7 million innocent Cambodian civilians were killed by systemic execution, disease, and mass starvation. Although the atrocities had happened over a quarter century ago, for the majority of Cambodian victims, it appears that their macabre life experiences and bitter memories, continues to have an enormous negative impact today on their daily lives. In spite of many obstacles and adjustment issues that they have to face everyday in their new environment, Cambodian survivors often participate in social gatherings, reminiscing with one another about their vivid memories and fateful past. Despite the horrific experiences they had survived, let us not forget the most heinous incident, which has recently recorded in our Cambodian literature, was the tragic incident that happened at the Preah Vihea mountain cliffs during the first six months of 1979.

In the early part of 1979, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia. Within less than three weeks, the Vietnamese ousted the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime and installed its figurehead leader, Heng Samrin, to lead the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (now Cambodian People’s Party led by PM Hun Sen). The fighting between the Vietnamese and the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary troops continued in Northwest Cambodia. The relentless fighting created chaos and caused the first wave of hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees to flee to Cambodia-Thailand border.Desperately searching for freedom, Cambodian refugees trekked and trudged through wilderness, they had little food or water, walking days and nights, carefully navigated through a landscape teeming with landmines. In many incidents, they often encountered some small guerrilla factions, which were lying-in-wait for the right opportunity to rob, rape and torture, kill, and maim those refugees. The news about the influx of Cambodian refugees at the Cambodia-Thailand border had echoed into the international community. The officials from various humanitarian organizations including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Relief and Works Association, the International Committee of the Red Cross, diplomats, and journalists from the countries around the world reacted with great passion to help these Cambodian refugees. In January of 1979, Poul Hartling, former Danish prime minister, representative for the UNHCR had made a formal request to the Thai Prime Minister General Kriangsak Chamanand for the purpose of offering UNHCR help in dealing with the overflow of Cambodian refugees. The offer was not only “ignored” but the Royal Thai Government had attempted to keep not only journalists out but also all international aid officials from reaching to the Cambodian refugees. Leslie Goodyear, an Englishman, represented the Bangkok office of the High Commissioner brought the exigency attention to UNHCR headquarters in Geneva but was also “ignored.” The Royal Thai Government rejected, despite incessant requests made by journalists, international aid officials, and diplomats all offers of help, and pled not to repatriate those Cambodian refugees back to Cambodia. The only excuse the Royal Thai Government offered was the “Cambodian refugees threatened Thai national security and infringed Thai sovereignty.”

The Royal Thai Government was the “Gate Keeper,” which could render a judgment on the lives of the Cambodian refugees, sentencing them to either “heaven or hell.” The Royal Thai Government could choose to execute Cambodian refugees so easily, like turning an electrical switch, on and off, and no authority representing any country from around the world could stand in her way. For example, in mid April of 1979, the Thai military handed over approximately 50,000 Cambodian refugees to a group of about 8,000 Khmer Rouge soldiers. Since then, there was little information available on what really had happened to those Cambodian refugees. In May of 1979, approximately 826 Cambodian refugees had been taken in buses about 230 kilometers to another part of the border. Once they reached destination, they were ordered out of the buses and made to walk for two and a half hours “to a large mountain, which had a steep cliff on one side, 150-200 meters high. The whole group was pushed over the cliffs by Thai soldiers and killed.” Within the same month, another 250 Cambodian refugees more were pushed back to Cambodia, despite their pleas to stay and their fear of being killed by the Khmer Rouge. In mid May of 1979, officials from humanitarian organizations, international aid officials, and diplomats from international community put more pressure on the Royal Thai Government on the issue of “not to repatriate Cambodian refugees back to Cambodia.” This time the response from the Royal Thai Government was, “Thai authorities were not pushing people back but merely trying to ‘persuade’ them to return.” In addition, the Royal Thai Government had imposed conditions on the United Nations to provide her with “food and money for the refugees but Thai government would remain under control . . . . Thailand required was money not words . . . . Money in hand ..... food for the new arrivals should be bought in Thailand ..... it would be distributed by Thais ..... Thai did not want any foreign relief officials in the field . . . . Send the supplies to us . . . we will do it.”

Cambodian refugees vividly painted the dark image about their experiences when they were living in Thailand Refugee Concentration Camp in the early 1980’s. The camps were crowded, unsanitary, with a limited food supply, lack of health care facilities and medication, and a lengthy and uncertain wait for resettlement. They received, on a weekly basis, a small ration of food including rice, a small portion of chicken or pork, vegetables, and of course, the “century salty dried fish - Trey Plah Tu.” The water was transported in by truckloads. The water as supposedly portable water but was murky, muddy, and filthy with debris and duck or bird feathers. In addition, while awaiting for their resettlement, Cambodian refugees remained in the camps were vulnerable to robbery, rape, and extortion from inside and outside of the camps. During the day, the Thai soldiers harassed, beat, shot at, and sodomized and raped women, and at night, they had “intentionally” allowed the bandits and/or small group of guerrillas to come inside the camps to commit robbery, terrorize people, and rape women. From January through June of 1979, several international aid officials and foreign diplomats had made several attempted to negotiate with the Royal Thai Government on the issue of “not to repatriate the Cambodian refugees back to Cambodia.” The negotiations, however, were fruitless. And so the tragedy of Cambodian refugees continued.

In June of 1979, the authorities ordered most foreigners out of the refugee camps and nearby towns. Several hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees were herded from different temporary campsites all over eastern Thailand. They were prodded and beaten by Thai soldiers before they climbed fearfully into buses. The Thai soldiers told the refugees they were being moved to another, a better camp to await resettlement. Hundreds of buses took those Cambodian refugees on a long journey toward a mountainous region of the northeastern border near the temple of Preah Vihear. They arrived at the destination after dark and with several hundred Thai soldiers were waiting for them there. The Cambodian refugees were then ordered to get off the buses and walk down the steep cliffs back into Cambodia. People meticulously and cautiously tried to walk down the steep cliffs by holding on to sticks and tree branches to steady themselves, or sliding down through vines. A small group of refugees attempted to climb back on toward the Thai soldiers, carrying with them a white flag, but the Thai soldiers opened fired and killed them all. When they reached valley floor, there were hundreds of thousands of landmines planted by the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime and the Thais there. Making their way through an austere landscape toward a certain death, the people were crawling or in a sitting position, scooted over inch-by-inch, at a snail’s pace, trying to avoid the mines. Recently, I had an opportunity to do an informal interview with Cambodian survivors about the tragic incident that happened at Preah Vihea. One Cambodian survivor attested, “It took me a whole day to scoot over, inches at a time, approximately 5 meters. Like popcorns popping in the hot pan, people stepped on landmines and were blown up into pieces. The jungle was littered with corpses and debris of human body parts and pieces were ubiquitous: hanging from the tree branches or lying motionless on the ground. Children were crying and people were dying of thirst and hunger. I will never ever forget that as long as I live!”There was not any information available on how many days the Royal Thai Government carried on this operation. However, according to William Shawcross, there were between 43,000 to 45,000 Cambodian refugees who were pushed down the cliffs at Preah Vihear.

It was indeed a tragedy caused by the “ignorant.” This political matter, which could be diplomatically resolved to save the lives of those hundreds of thousands of innocent Cambodian refugees, if the Royal Thai Government was to give some leeway on the grounds of humanitarian principles and acquiesced to the requests made by the international aid officials and foreign diplomats. Several times, the Royal Thai Government had turned down these requests and chose to “collaborate” and served as an “accomplice” to the Khmer Rouge regime, instead. My legal objective opinion on this historical atrocity is that, the Royal Thai Government had allegedly committed the following: (1) denied the Cambodian refugees the “basic rights of humanity”, (2) consistent patterns of gross violations human rights, and (3) committed mass murder. The Royal Thai Government, as a matter of law, is as guilty as the leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime of this atrocity. To the United Nations and the world legal community, what are the remedies and legal grounds, if any, which could hold the Royal Thai Government responsible for her grossly inhumane acts committed on those unfortunate Cambodian refugees?

Link: Read more about the border camps on the Thai-Cambodian border here. In addition, I'm still reading a book called Climbing Back Up by Kim Chou Oeng, which contains his personal experiences during the Khmer Rouge years as well as a shocking description of that decision by the Thai authorities in 1979, to forcibly repatriate around 45,000 Cambodians refugees.
* * * * *
Breaking News...Police detained the top surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea, this morning over his role in the notorious former Cambodian regime that caused the deaths of 1.7 million people in the late 1970s. He was taken by police escort from his home in Pailin in northwestern Cambodia near the Thai border, police and witnesses said, and was to be be flown by helicopter to the capital Phnom Penh. Nuon Chea helped the group's infamous leader Pol Pot seize control of Cambodia's communist movement in the 1950s and '60s and then became the movement's chief political ideologue during its murderous rule in the 1970s. Prosecutors for the UN-backed genocide tribunal investigating crimes by the Khmer Rouge have not publicly named Nuon Chea as a suspect. But he is believed to be one of five senior Khmer Rouge figures they have recommended for trial before the panel. Already in detention is Comrade Duch, chief of the notorious Tuol Sleng Prison.
Link: For background info, you can read two reports on Nuon Chea on the PBS website and at the Cambodia Daily.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Photography for change...Ceramics festival

Have I mentioned it already? If not, the third annual Angkor Photography Festival will be held this year in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from November 17-28. The festival brings together well-known and passionate photographers from across the world such as Philip Jones Griffiths and Roland Neveu in a spirit of creativity and sharing. It showcases exhibitions and outdoor projections by renowned artists and photojournalists, while differentiating itself from other events with its strong educational goals. Participants share their art by leading free workshops for young Asian photographers, and give their time to outreach projects for underprivileged Cambodia children. They prove that photography can change lives. Read more here.

The fourth issue of Heritage Watch's TouchStone Magazine has been published. It's a quarterly mag that's distributed in Cambodia and abroad and well worth getting hold of a copy. When I get mine, I'll share with you what's in this new issue. I've just received their regular newsletter, which features news of a Ceramics conference and festival in Siem Reap later this year.
The National Center for Khmer Ceramic revival in partnership with Heritage Watch and the Center for Khmer Studies will host a festival and academic conference in December. The Conference, entitled Ancient Khmer Ceramics: New Archaeological Findings, Production and the Revival of Techniques, aims to bring together Cambodian and international scholars specialized in ancient Khmer ceramics, with contemporary potters and craftsmen working in the revival of ancient production techniques. The objective is to raise awareness of the archaeological importance of ancient Cambodian ceramics and the new opportunities for sustainable economic development in the region through ceramic technology. In conjunction with the conference, a festival will be held that is open to the public and will involve ceramic production and special 'firings' of kilns. The festival lasts from 11-29 December. All are welcome to visit the Center on National Route 6 not far from Siem Reap's airport.

The Cave Temples of Kampot

The Cave Temples of Kampot
For an unusual diversion from the everyday attractions of Kampot and Kep, try the cave temples that can be found in Kampot province. These are large limestone caves where in pre-Angkorean times, brick temples were erected within the cave itself and where these temples have remained hidden to outsiders until recent times. As far as I’m aware, these are the only cave temples in Cambodia of this type.

If you are based in Kampot, aim for the farthest away first. It’s called Phnom Trotung and is located beyond the village of Tuk Meas and near a cement factory. 200 steps up the hillside will lead you to the cave entrance and behind the modern shrine is a square brick tower in remarkably good condition. Accompanied by the squeal of bats, you can see a large stalactite descending into the top of the tower, which despite having no decorative carvings houses a badly worn lintel on the floor near the doorway. The lintel style indicates the tower was from the late seventh century.

The second cave temple is considerably more difficult to see and is located between Tuk Meas and Kompong Trach. It’s called Phnom Khyang and is located behind a school and on the side of a small hillock. You have to descend a rickety ladder into the mouth of the cave and then squeeze through a small gap in the rock formation before you gain access into a larger cavern. The brick tower is in fantastic condition with recesses built into the tower wall to house fruit offerings from local worshippers. Beware, the cave floor can be slippery, it’s sweltering hot inside and I recommend you take a good torch with you.

Stop in Kompong Trach town and head for Wat Kirisan, at the foot of a rocky limestone outcrop called Phnom Sor. There you can gain access to a series of caves which lead into the heart of the outcrop that is open to the elements and bathed in sunlight. It’s a lovely green space, complete with birdcalls, a reclining Buddha in one corner and rock formations in another. The formations have been given a series of names to identify them and include a huge fish, an elephant and a monkey, as well as one hundred small ricefields and musical stalactites that resonate when struck. Back on the road to Kampot, a turn off near the Cham fishing village will take you to Phnom Chhnork and the third cave temple. Another 200 steps up the hill takes you to a wide cavern entrance that leads down to a larger brick tower. In good condition and a popular shrine for local families, there are some detailed carvings on the 7th century brick temple walls and a half lintel still in situ. As with the first cave temple, a large stalactite is growing into the roof of the tower.

Another series of caves that are popular, though don’t house an early brick temple, can be visited on the road from Kampot to Kep, at Phnom Sorsia. There’s a small wat and school at the foot of the holy hill and a path takes you to several major caves. The biggest is White Elephant cave (Rung Damrei Saa) with a stalactite formation in the shape of an elephant’s head, while the cave of 100 Ricefields is actually a peep-hole of terraced paddy fields. There are some nice views over the surrounding countryside and other smaller caves to investigate, most containing colonies of bats and small shrines.

To read about my own visit to these cave temples, click here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The revival of silk-weaving in Siem Reap

Skilful revival - by The Star (Malaysia)

Rows of Apsara dancers (celestial nymphs) springing across a swathe of scarlet silk gradually unfold under the weavers’ skillful hands. The dancers’ intricate headpiece and jewellery can be discerned, so fine is the weaving. This design is inspired by the bas-reliefs at the temples of Angkor Wat which offer vital clues to the origins and beauty of Cambodian silk, says silk expert Kikuo Morimoto. “The bas-reliefs depicting the people’s daily life, or Apsara dancers show their clothing bearing floral motifs and geometrical border patterns are glorious!” exults the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) director. On my visit to the IKTT, dozens of women from teenagers to 70-year-olds are busily creating Cambodia’s fabled textiles once again. The IKTT is located in a modest wooden house along a dusty road leading to the Tonle Sap Lake on Siem Reap’s southwest route. The air is heavily scented with flowers, roots and bark boiling in huge cauldrons to extract their natural dye. Looms are set on woven mats beneath the stilted house. With hair wrapped in the traditional Khmer kroma – red and white checked scarves – the women work in silent concentration spinning the silken threads onto old-fashioned iron spools set on the floor. Others are methodically transforming these threads into magnificent textiles with a steady rhythm of clicks and clacks from the looms. What catches my eye are the many babies and children accompanying their mothers. Slung in hammocks or doodling with charcoal on scrap paper, they are the reason so many women are here.

“Over 1,000 names are on our waiting list, many are mothers,” explains Morimoto. “I encourage mothers to bring their children with them, as it’s a way of passing on the art to the young.” He already employs many pairs of mothers and daughters fresh out of school with no employment or education waiting for them. The trainees receive wages of US$35 to US$150 (RM125 to RM540); the highest of US$180 (RM650) is paid to one worker who worked with IKTT for 10 years. The trainees learn the entire process of creating textiles, from the initial process of producing silk fibres and dyeing, to weaving, including plain, striped and ikat weaving, wooden and bamboo works, needlework and painting. Sokhun, a fresh-faced 17-year-old orphan, is busily spinning thread onto spools, an early stage of her training. “This is tedious work but I yearn to create my own textiles to sell,” she says. “At my age, I have much to learn. This trade will enable me to make a living.” Another weaver, Phalla, 35, has been with IKTT for four years. Her policeman husband draws a salary of US$30 (RM110). It was difficult to feed their four children, aged 10, eight, five and nine months. “I’m happy. We can dream of sending our children to school and maybe even college,” she says. “The future is brighter for them if they have some education.” Another mother, Pov, 47, says her husband, a soldier, struggles to feed the family. “I like working here because I can bring my baby Mony with me,” she says. “I earn US$45 (RM160). My children can now stay on in school. They wanted to work in hotels and restaurants but I want them to finish their schooling and not be uneducated like me.” The wizened hands of Seneg, 70, slowly spin thread onto spools; at her age and speed, this is the only position for her. Seneg has been with the IKTT for four years after she lost her job cleaning guesthouses in Phnom Penh. Her husband is also employed here to strip the bundles of sharp palm leaves to be woven into packaging.

The IKTT relies entirely on sales of its textiles to keep afloat. There were times in the past when sales were down and salaries were delayed. Morimoto is hopeful that the increase of tourist arrivals to Siem Reap, 1.3 million last year; will help sales. He refuses to sell the textiles through middlemen, preferring to sell directly to consumers. Hence, the brand is not as well known as Artisans d’Angkor, a French-originated organisation reviving traditional arts like sculpture, carving and silk-production, which generated US$6mil (RM21.6mil) in sales last year. In comparison, IKTT earns some US$20,000 (RM76,000) a month. “It is important for the Cambodia people to produce textiles from the heart rather than purely for commercial purposes as in Thailand,” he explains. “Traditional Khmer textiles were nearly extinct during war. It is not just a business, but also a way of living for the people. Hastening the process will create as much damage to the craft as war did.” While the IKTT has none of Artisans d’Angkor’s marketing finesse or refined retail concept, it is disarmingly genuine in its own rustic way. Its operations remain in that wooden hut and the shop upstairs has nothing fancy about it.Children handwrite brochures with little illustrations. Each piece of textile bears a tag with the names of the primary weaver and the plants the colours are derived from. Morimoto believes that gives the people pride. It is a simple reminder that behind every piece of fabric is a human being weaving a future. The products are sold only at the IKTT in Siem Reap and at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington D.C. in the United States. For information, click here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

John Vink's Khmer Chronicles

The Khmer Chronicles by John Vink have just begun at the Magnum Blog website. You can pay a visit here. His first focus is on UNICEF in Cambodia, with lots more to come. Vink is based in Cambodia, so visit his own website as it contains lots more of his photos and his stories from the land of the Khmers.
Profile: John Vink was born in Belgium in 1948. He studied photography at the fine arts school of La Cambre in 1968 and is a free lance journalist since 1971. He joined Agence Vu in Paris in 1986 and won the Eugene Smith Award for his work on Water in Sahel that same year. Between 1987 and 1993 he completed a major work on refugees in the world and became a nominee at Magnum Photos in 1993. He became a full member of Magnum Photos in 1997. He is based in Cambodia since 2000, a country he's visited since 1989.
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I loved the book Bones That Float - you can read my review here - by Kari Grady Grossman. So I recommend you take a look at her Be The Change Network blog here where you can find interviews and video's that tell the story of the book and her ongoing work to improve the lives of schoolchildren in Cambodia. And whatever you do, get a copy of the book!

Sanctuary & Angkor Masterpieces

Reuters report that the Sarus Crane is getting some much needed help in Cambodia in order for it to flourish and survive. And also on the newswires is a review from SwissInfo of 'Cambodia's Divine Legacy,' 140 of Angkor's best sculptural masterpieces, currently on tour in Europe.

Cambodia sets up sanctuary for rare crane

Cambodia has established an 8,000 hectare (20,000 acre) sanctuary in flood plains near the Mekong Delta to protect the rare Eastern Sarus Crane, Environment Minister Mok Mareth said on Friday. Nearly 300 of the red-headed, 1.3 meter (4 feet) tall birds have been found in two districts of Takeo province near the border with Vietnam. Conservationists said in 1999 there may be fewer than 1,000 of the birds left in the wild. "We need to protect these beautiful creatures," Mok Mareth said, adding that wildlife officials had been dispatched to tell local fishermen and farmers not to hunt the cranes for food. The cranes have also been found in the northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey province, 300 km (185 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh, in an old Khmer Rouge reservoir. Thanks to a similar government protection and sanctuary scheme introduced in 1999, that population had grown from 220 to 495 this year, officials said.
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Rare treasures from Angkor come to Zurich

Masterpieces from Angkor in Cambodia, thought to be the world's first-pre industrial city, are currently pulling in the crowds at the Rietberg museum in Zurich. With its 140 examples of Khmer art from different periods, the exhibition -"Cambodia's Divine Legacy" - offers fascinating insights into the ancient kingdoms of the country. The director of the Rietberg museum, Albert Lutz, couldn't hide his enthusiasm as he presented the works to the media. "We have never had so many significant treasures of art history from one country," he said. It was largely thanks to German president Horst Köhler, who held discussions with King Norodom Sihamoni, that Cambodia's national treasures were allowed out of the country. The two curators of the exhibition, Wibke Lobo from Berlin and Helen Ibbitson Jessup from Washington, are among the world's most knowledgeable specialists of Khmer art. "Even if you know the masterpieces by heart, they come to life again at every exhibition", the United States art historian said when seeing them in Zurich. "This is one of the most beautiful presentations I have ever seen." Orange recesses bring out the contours of the Buddha statues inside them, large panelled walls were chosen for imposing heads and special lighting intensifies the illusion of movement of the four-armed sculptures.
The Rietberg museum prides itself in providing a fitting setting to such timeless treasures. The entrance to the exhibition presents a model of the Angkor Wat temple, which was probably built between 1113 and 1150. "Since the Paris peace agreements in 1991, archaeologists from all-over the world have been working in Angkor" Lobo explained. " New temples are being discovered all the time". According to museum director Lutz, recent archaeological findings show that Angkor could have well been the world's first pre-industrial city. It is thought to have had up to one million inhabitants. Beside the impressive model of the renowned temple, the first room contains the bust of a demon made in 1191. With its squint eyes, the stoneware face comes from one of the monumental statues that lined the "Alley of the Giants" and were intended to ward off visitors. The first room is also decorated with copies of low relief, which ornamented the galleries around the temple. Over 500 metres in length, these two-metre high panels show all kinds of scenes, such as fighting between gods and demons. Lobo explained that the photographer Jaroslav Poncar made a "slit scan" of it, a single long negative lit up laterally, which allows you to see numerous figures almost better than in reality. The detail is so fine that it's as though you're in front of a painted fresco. Apart from many linga, phallic symbols of Shiva, the exhibition also shows the first anthropomorphic representations of Shiva, coming from north Cambodia. The shapes are very simple with a very characteristic torso and a meditative posture. The entrance in the Angkorian period, from the ninth century shows a new wealth and iconography. The kings now identify themselves with gods and want to show it. One of the most beautiful pieces of the exhibition, "Vishnu Anantashayin", a face elegantly posed on a double arm, required an "intensive exchange of letters" before the National Museum of Phnom Penh gave permission for the work to leave the building, Lutz said. With a height of about six metres, it is the biggest bronze masterpiece discovered to this day. It was found in 1936 in an artificial lake, where it had been "resting" for centuries. Another significant item in the exhibition is the portrait of King Jayavarman VII (1181 to about 1218), the biggest builder of Angkor, who through his meditative face expresses the two principles of Mahayana Buddhism - compassion and wisdom. The celebrated "Angkor smile" may well remain engraved in visitors' minds.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Osborne on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Respected historian Milton Osborne is professor of Asian Studies at The Australian National University. He's also written a number of books on Southeast Asia and here he looks at the present state of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, taking place in Cambodia:

The End of the Beginning for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal?
More than twenty-eight years after the Pol Pot regime was defeated in early 1979, there is now the real prospect that a small number of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders will be brought to trial before the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). When this happens it will be the first occasion that any Khmer Rouge leader appears before a properly constituted court. In August 1979, shortly after the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam that ousted the Pol Pot regime, the newly installed People's Republic of Kampuchea put Pol Pot and Ieng Sary on trial before a 'Popular Revolutionary Tribunal' which sentenced them to death in absentia. Conducted with minimal regard for legal niceties, this event is widely regarded as having been a show trial in character. Since that time two of the most senior Khmer Rouge leaders, Pol Pot and Ta Mok have died, in 1998 and 2006 respectively. After much delay the ECCC was finally established in July 2006 with the backing of both the Cambodian government and the United Nations. That it was delayed for so many years is judged by many observers to have reflected a reluctance on the part of the Cambodian government to see a tribunal in action given the large number of current politicians and officials who had links with the Khmer Rouge regime. There is also little doubt that the Chinese government, which exercises great influence in Phnom Penh, would have preferred that the tribunal did not come into being because of its well-documented role as a major supporter of the Pol Pot regime.

Once established, the ECCC was further delayed from functioning by a series of technical disputes over the right of foreign lawyers to appear before the tribunal - opposed for months by the Cambodian bar association - and disagreements between the Cambodian and international judges sitting on the tribunal - over a range of procedural issues. These issues were only finally resolved in May of this year.With these issues resolved, the ECCC's prosecutors announced on 18 July that they have submitted the names of five individuals to the tribunal for consideration in relation to twenty-five 'distinct factual situations of murder, torture, forcible transfer, unlawful detention, forced labour and religious, political and ethnic persecution'. While the names of the five individuals have not been released, there is little doubt that they include Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two and the Pol Pot regime's principal ideolgoue, Khieu Samphan who served as the regime's head of state, Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister, and Kaing Khek Iev, better known as Duch, who directed the Tuol Sleng extermination centre, or S-21. Observers in Phnom Penh are speculating that the fifth individual is Khieu Thirith, Ieng Sary's wife, who was minister for social affairs in the Pol Pot regime.

Of the five names just listed only Duch is currently in custody, though his detention relates to charges brought by the government separately from the ECCC's jurisdiction. The other four are living unrestricted lives either in Phnom Penh or in Pailin in western Cambodia. It is not entirely clear what will happen next. Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea all severed their links with the rump of the Khmer Rouge in the 1990s. Ieng Sary received a pardon for his past from the then King Sihanouk and Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were granted amnesties by Hun Sen in 1998. While there is a presumption by many observers that past pardons and amnesties will be overridden by the ECCC's procedures, there seems little doubt that this will be a contentious issue likely to be addressed by defence counsel once trials begin. Whatever is the case, there is also the fact that age may yet defeat the effort to try the likely defendants. Nuon Chea is in his eighties, while both Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary are in their mid-seventies, with Ieng Sary in poor health. And there is some concern that, while having moved very slowly to reach its present position, the ECCC may exhaust its budget of nearly US$60m before the planned trials are completed. All this said, the announcement that prosecutors have submitted the names of individuals to be considered for prosecution is the most important development in the long-running saga of efforts to bring the top Khmer leadership to justice. Not all agree that prosecution before the ECCC is the most desirable course of action to bring some form of end to the nightmare memory of the Pol Pot period. The respected biographer of Pol Pot, Philip Short has expressed his doubts, observing that a trial procedure that focuses on a limited number of very senior figures will allow the government to disregard the large number of less prominent Khmer Rouge officials who continue to occupy positions within the administration. On the other hand, many observers share the view expressed by Craig Etcheson, one of the most active foreign scholars to have documented the Khmer Rouge's crimes, that trials before the tribunal will play an important part in challenging the culture of impunity that continues to exist in Cambodia. Whatever might be the case, and echoing Winston Churchill's famous words after the Second Battle of El Alamein, what has now happened is not the end, 'but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning'.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Lighthouse Orphanage

I've not visited the place myself - though I will on my next trip to Cambodia - but a good friend tells me that The Lighthouse Orphanage is looking for volunteers who are prepared to devote themselves to making a difference. The orphanage lies about 15 minutes from the city centre in Adoung village, close to Monivong Bridge, and houses children from 1 to 15 that have been rescued from the street after being abandoned by their parents. It gets no official funding so relies on hand-outs and volunteers.
Contact the manager Mr Lee at 012 756 604.

I have just received an email from a volunteer at The Lighthouse, Lee-Anne Pitcaithly, which provides much greater detail:
There are now 67 children at Lighthouse and it is a lot more structured than it was in 2005. We have proper sleeping quarters and the children are learning English, French and Japanese. Though we welcome tourists and we love donations we do have some rules and it would be great if you could put these up for people who might read your blog.
- Volunteers willing to do physical labour are welcome to come and meet the staff at Lighthouse but we ask for the period of volunteering to be not less than 1 month with 5 days per week. Most of the work we have now is developing the land and buildings. General day to day management needs to be done by the Khmer's as they have the on-going relationships.
- Donations of food, cleaning products, fruit, hygiene products, educational equipment are greatly appreciated BUT no sweets, biscuits/cookies, candy, or soda drinks. Their teeth are totally rotten and we are struggling to get them to brush every day.
- We request that visitors do not interrupt any classes or take photos. We are trying to protect the rights of the children and we do not have any details on people just visiting.

Link: Read this story from one such volunteer about his visit to the orphanage here.

Gabbidon on song

Lovers of reggae fused with rock and some great vocalists should make sure they get to one of the forthcoming gigs by the band Gabbidon, in the next month. Led from the front by guitarist and singer Basil Gabbidon (pictured), the band will play a series of gigs on the back of their success at Glastonbury and are an integral part of this weekend's Arts Fest in Birmingham.
On Friday 14th, they kick off at The Drum and then on Saturday, they will play on the main stage in Centenary Square, as well as an acoustic set at the CBSO Centre.

On Thursday 4 October they will be at their regular spot at The Jam House in St Paul's Square, Birmingham and follow that up with gigs at the Birmingham Town Hall on Sunday 7 October, in Gloucester on Monday 15 October (my birthday!) and are at The Cross in Moseley on Friday 19 October. The band are definitely worth a look, they play a great range of reggae classics as well as their own compositions.
Link: website; myspace.

S-21 insiders speak

I've long been interested in the work of the folks at DC-Cam (The Documentation Center of Cambodia) in uncovering the real truth of what the Khmer Rouge regime did in Cambodia in the late 70s. One of the S-21 insiders (either guards or survivors) from whom they are able to extract valuable testimony has now re-appeared and should be able to shed more light into what took place in the regime's torture headquarters at Tuol Sleng.

Photographers claim foreigners killed in Pol Pot's prison - by DPA

Although 79 foreigners and hundreds more Vietnamese prisoners of war are known to have died in Pol Pot's secret prison, the real toll is even grimmer, two former photographers from S-21 claimed this week. From his present provincial home south of the capital, former photographer Nim Im, charged with documenting in pictures the thousands of prisoners who were tortured or killed at S-21 or Toul Sleng, remembered a New Zealander, a Cuban, a Swiss, their Thai boat driver and more who he says may have simply disappeared from the records. "There were a lot. I particularly remember the Cuban. It was 1977. He had a camera and they seized it. He was young. He had a beard. They took him from the sea," Im says. "Mostly I remember he looked sad. Just sad, not screaming ... he was killed and burned."

Also known as Nim Kimsreang, Im, 55, was believed by many, including Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC Cam) director Youk Chhang, to be dead. Instead, he was serving a jail sentence for beating a neighbour to death in 1997 and has just been released. DC Cam's painstaking records show one New Zealand victim in 1978, as well as US, Australians, Lao, French, Thais, a Javanese and Indians. However, no Cubans or Swiss nationals are recorded, though historians admit some records are missing or incomplete. Im's claims and his recollections of life at the former high school converted into one of the most notorious prisons in the world by the Khmer Rouge during its 1975-79 Democratic Kampuchea rule sheds new light on life in the capital under the insular regime.They may also give some families closure who have wondered what happened to their disappeared for three decades.

Nim Im's former colleague Nhem En corroborated Im's claims that more foreigners disappeared, apparently without trace, inside S-21. "I believe not all the documents were left. I remember the group of foreigners in 1977. They were seized off the coast with a detailed map and cameras. There was a Thai with them too," Em says. At his home in an interview this week, Im cooly detailed how the documentation at S-21 became more sophisticated and the consequences of passing through its gates more dire as the regime progressed. "In 1977 we didn't hang plaques around most of their necks. We just photographed them. Later, we documented them much more carefully. In 1977, many, many of them were sent to jail in Prey Sar if Duch decided they had no mistake. Later, more came, and more had mistakes," Im says. Duch, alias Kang Kech Iev, was the commandant of S-21. He has been formally charged with crimes against humanity by the 56-million-dollar joint UN-Cambodia Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia which has been set up to try a handful of surviving leaders and is expected to face court next year.

Historian and author of Voices from S-21, David Chandler, has estimated around 14,000 people were processed at the prison. Only a handful of survivors remain.But Im remembers his revolution differently to the thousands who died after entering S-21 and the million or so more who were starved or worked to death around the country. He lived beside one of Phnom Penh's main markets, Psar Thmei, and a stroll from a bakery which provided fresh pastries and rolls for the elite. He went to work by bicycle or motorbike. "Most days you would only see one car," he remembers. After work, he would take dinner and go home to his apartment. Up to 2 million Cambodians died during the Democratic Kampuchea regime of starvation, disease, overwork, torture or execution. Im, who served in a provincial village militia before becoming a photographer and whose Phnom Penh base was ironically titled the International Photo Shop, claims he saw none of the crimes against humanity. The ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge virtually emptied the cities and sent millions to the fields in an attempt to turn the country into an agrarian utopia. Im says he doesn't have any opinion on the regime now. He remembers Duch as a man who, like himself, followed orders and did what he was told. From whom he says he doesn't know. But he does recall the strange foreigners at S-21. He says he still remembers them, even if the documents that prove they were once there have disappeared. "A lot of people disappeared," he shrugs.
© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Interview with Dy Saveth

One of Cambodia’s greatest actresses and now still performing in public, Dy Saveth is a legend in her homeland. She was one of the fortunate few to escape the wrath of the Khmer Rouge in the ‘70s. Many of her fellow actors were not so fortunate. I focused on Dy Saveth in some blogs posts in November 2006, so I was pleased to see this interview with her in the July-September issue of the Heritage Watch TouchStone magazine.

Interview with Dy Saveth

From the ‘golden age’ till today, Dy Saveth has been a leading performer and patron of Cambodia’s film industry and performing arts.

Dy Saveth, one of Cambodia’s legendary actresses, talks to TouchStone about life before Pol Pot, working with the former King Norodom Sihanouk and today’s new generation of artists.

She emerged as one of the most successful actresses during Cambodia’s ‘Golden Age’ in the 1960s, which saw the growth of locally produced films and the opening of cinemas across the country. When the Khmer Rouge took control, from 1975 to 1979, most of the film industry’s leading figures were either killed or fled the country. During Vietnam’s 10-year control, cinemas were reopened though no local films were shown nor produced. Gradually, Phnom Penh has seen in the last few years the reopening of cinemas and a rebirth if locally produced films.

What inspired you to become an actress?
I was initiated to the art of performing by the people that surrounded me. It started when I was young, maybe 10 years old, when the local children would call me to dance and sing for them. I also loved posing for photos and performing in front of a crowd. Than at the age of 16 one of my aunts, one of four who danced for the royal ballet, enlisted me in a beauty contest. To my surprise I won and from then on I was asked to act in a variety of films. Once I started acting I became passionate about performing. I was also a very determined and stubborn child and once I was introduced to this film-performing community I knew it was my calling and I was determined to succeed.

What was it like working with former King Norodom Sihanouk?
I made three films with the former King, which all took place during the 1960s. He chose to work with me but I am not sure why. He must have seen me in my other films and liked maybe my acting, or character or beauty. Whatever it was, it was such a pleasure to work with him. He was simple and nice and was a great joke teller. He was always making people on the set laugh and feel relaxed. He was never rude and showed a lot of respect for all the actors. One time when we went to Kampot to shoot he came down to where all the actors were lodging and made sure we were all comfortable and were being well looked after. When I worked with him I never thought of him as a King but as a producer and a lover of the arts. As well as films he loved to sing. For me, as a simple girl from Phnom Penh, it was an honour and I was always made to feel comfortable whenever I worked with him on set.

How did you survive the Khmer Rouge period?
By coincidence. I had travelled to Thailand to take some rest a month before the Khmer Rouge took over. As I went to the airport to return to Cambodia, the people told me that no planes were flying to Phnom Penh. I wanted to return to my country but they told me that everyone was trying to leave Cambodia. I was terribly saddened and had such an urge to go back but it was impossible. I then went to France and stayed there for 18 years until my return in 1993. Many of my colleagues were killed during this terrible time. I was lucky but many of my family members were not.

Why and how was your return to the country?
I believe that my life is in Cambodia even though before Pol Pot I had many opportunities to live abroad and I had lived in France for such a long time. Cambodia is in my soul, it is my country and when I returned I knew I had to do something for the country. On my arrival it was hard, so many people disfigured by the war and traumatised. I decided to put performing to the side and instead help my fellow people. I tried to set up an orphanage but unfortunately it was still impossible as times were difficult and I did not have enough funding. Since, I have opened a ‘club’ which provides free training in performing arts such as acting, singing, presentation and some traditional dancing, which I learnt from my aunts when I was young.

How do you approach teaching the younger generation of Cambodian artists?
I believe in combining European and Khmer techniques. It has to be a mix of both. There is the refinement of the Khmer presentation but living in Europe also taught me the importance of allowing younger ones to express themselves and to teach them to take initiative. This is one part of Khmer culture that needs to be changed. Being shy and fearful of elders is not something we should encourage. We should encourage adults and children to learn from each other, hold hands and play together so that there is a mutual understanding between the older and new generation.

How do you view the younger generation of Cambodian performing artists?
The new generation of performers is mixed. I believe that performing and art is part of the Cambodian blood. We simply cannot get enough of it, it is the soul of our culture. However, it has to come from feelings from the heart. I believe some of today’s performers understand this, others prefer to believe in stardom. This scares me a lot and I worry. Worry that our culture of dancing, singing and performing will disappear as this younger generation forgets our traditional art-forms. I have worked with some, such a Preap Sovath, who is very professional. But a lot of them believe that once they are famous they will remain so forever. That is not true.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Kulikar Sotho & Kambuja

I have taken this article from the fashion pages of the quality magazine Asia Life – Phnom Penh: The What’s On Guide to Phnom Penh (September 2007 edition) as Kulikar is a good friend of mine, a workaholic who juggles being a wife and mother with managing three businesses, but who as a rule, shuns the limelight. So the following article is a rarity.

Design Talk : Kulikar Sotho

Khmer designer Kulikar Sotho’s fashion career started in 1990, when she ran a second-hand clothing stall at the Central Market. She then went onto work in the family tourism business and the film industry, while continuing to explore her love of fashion.
“I found I was good at mixing colours and combinations,” she says of her origins as a designer. She started sketching clothing and devising colour combinations before her passion was translated into a business. A meeting with a US-based designer presented her an opportunity to join forces and go into business, resulting in the beautiful Phnom Penh boutique – Kambuja.
Open for two-and-a-half years now, Kambuja houses Kulikar’s own daywear creations on the ground floor and an evening wear collection by US designer Lauren Marrie on the mezzanine level. The evening dresses here start from US$180.

The daywear is made of cotton, linen and silk, with some very elegant pieces leaning towards the dressy side of casual. Kulikar fuses elements from the east and west, with her Cambodian heritage influencing the designs and fabrics used. One such example is a pair of hipster pants featuring an embroidered dragon, which she says were made in memory of her father who was born in the year of the dragon.
Not all the clothing is this flamboyant though. Delicate and feminine silk tops and casual cotton dresses mix with flattering western style trousers. Kulikar introduces some new designs to her collection on the fifth day of every month.

A small menswear collection was recently added, consisting of daywear such as cotton shirts and casual trousers. The men’s shirts start from US$22 for the short-sleeved variety. Whilst most are in plain neutrals, some have a creative east-west touch.
Kulikar says she finds most of her inspiration behind her clothing designs through travel. “I think designs belong to the world,” she says.
Kambuja, 165 Ang Duong Boulevard (Street 110), Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Tel. 012 613 586.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Links to news stories

Nick Meo reports in The Sunday Herald on the grave robbers destroying Cambodia's past. In the past six years there has been an epidemic of looting in Cambodia, so much that archaeologists fear knowledge of a key period in Asia's history is being lost forever. Ancient artefacts are being sold as amulets on eBay and Meo tells us more here.

The Nation in Bangkok has another feature on the Living Angkor Road Project which has been receiving lots of publicity in recent months. On the road to Angkor - a bilateral project seeks and preserves 12th-century trade route built by the ancient Khmer; read the full story here.

Another snippet; Funcinpec lawmaker and Senior Minister, Veng Sereyvuth has been appointed Minister of Culture in Cambodia, replacing an ailing Prince Sisowath Sirivuth, who suffered a debilitating stroke a few months ago. Sereyvuth was previously the Minister of Tourism and was a great advocate for the development of his country's tourism infrastructure. Lets hope he will do the same for the management of his country's cultural heritage.

One news story that won't go away is the increasing prevalence of bag-snatching that is taking place in Phnom Penh. This is the ugly side of Cambodia and one which the police need to crack down on smartish. There are well-known hotspots for this, especially around Wat Phnom after dark and this is exactly what happened to one of my friends at the weekend. Sitting on the back of a moto, she was the victim of such a robbery and has only just been released from hospital, nursing her wounds, which include substantial grazing on her legs, arms and shoulders and a deep, open wound on her hip bone. Her bag was slung across her shoulder so when the thieves grabbed it and pulled, she was yanked off the moto and onto the road. Thank goodness she didn't hit her head, but its a reminder that these bag thefts do happen, especially in the run-up to the holiday festivals of Pchum Ben and the Water Festival. As the Lonely Planet guidebook points out, Cambodians need money to buy gifts for relatives or to pay off debts, and for some individuals theft is the quick way to get this money. So be vigilant and don't take out your valuables unnecessarily.

To Touch the Soul

A brand new feature-length documentary called To Touch the Soul has already won a prestigious Accolade Competition award before its official release!
Its a 70-minute documentary that follows American University Professor Carlos Silveira, an artist educator and social activist, who wants to bring a sense of joy to impoverished children in Cambodia affected by HIV/AIDS. He has recruited 27 American university students to join him as part of a pilot program in using drawing and painting to help these children express their wishes and desires for their futures. As Carlos and the students grapple with the realities of a culture much different from their own, a language they don't understand, art projects that don't go as planned and a three-week deadline, they form a bond with the children. Through these young Cambodian mentors—all of them abandoned by society—the Americans empower their own social activism and learn the true meaning of kindness, selflessness, courage and community.

Told from Carlos’ and six of his students’ perspectives through a mix of spoken (voice-over) diary entries, interviews and interaction with the children as they create art projects together, this documentary shows that even the smallest attempt at making a difference can have life-changing consequences for all the people involved. The film also highlights the growing problem of the 77,000 children in Cambodia who have become orphans due to their parents dying from AIDS, a population expected to grow to 108,700 over the next five years. Yet, the audience is left with a sense of hope that adequate funding, proper food and medical care, as exemplified through the featured NGOs Little Sprouts and Little Folks, will allow these children to thrive until hopefully there is a cure for this unforgiving disease.
Link; Film website.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Pulse update: sad news for UK Pulsers

If anyone thinks that performing in one of the world's greatest reggae bands is anything other than damn hard work, then read the Selwyn Brown blog on the official Steel Pulse website here. Read for yourself how travelling and performing is about all the band have time for during their relentless touring in the United States. One downside of their popularity Stateside is that their scheduled gigs in London and Birmingham in September have been cancelled. The band simply don't play often enough on their own turf, so this is a major blow to their UK supporters.

However, some lucky punters will have seen them perform at the WOMAD festival on July 29th. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of the lucky ones. So the next best thing was to read Selwyn's blog from the festival:
"Next morning we left the hotel at 8 am to catch our flights to the UK where we were due to play the WOMAD festival on the Sunday. We caught an 11.30am flight via Houston and arrived at Gatwick, London at 7 am the next morning. We were met at the airport by 2 splitter buses which drove us the 3 hours to Malmesbury in Wiltshire. However, along the way we stopped off at a hardware outlet to pick up some wellingtons (waterproof boots) and black bags/tape. Reason?...... we were tipped off by our management that the festival site is covered in mud and normal footwear is not advised. We only managed to find 4 or 5 pairs that would fit and the rest of us had to make do with black bags taped and wrapped over shoes.

We arrived at around noon at the site where we were met by the festival assistants/ helpers/liason folks. The place really WAS a mudbath and it's a good job we decided to get the wellies and bags. I wrapped some black bags over my shoes and taped them to my calves, then proceeded to navigate the 'mud rink". Everyone was in great spirits and made a joke of the circumstances we were all in. I've got some great photos of the various footwear which everyone adorned themselves with. We were due to go onstage at 4 pm but the promoters asked us to go on earlier as one of the acts got stranded at the airport. After a quick line check we hit the stage at 3 pm and our tent was packed to the rafters with mud-soaked fans, most of whom had been camping on-site since Thursday.
We had a few technical problems onstage but it didn't diminish the great vibes we shared between ourselves and the audience. We also greeted several friends and family who attended the festival, most of whom had traveled down from Birmingham. After the show I jumped on one of the fairground rides with my daughter Aaliyah then plodded through the mud back to the food tent to grab something to eat. After that we sat through a rough edit of the Door of No Return video which had been brought down by Trishul, Yoni and Karsten from the film crew.
Then it was time to head back to Birmingham before the traffic built up. We were back in B'ham by 9pm and I made sure everyone got checked into the hotel ok ( We'd be spending 4 days in B'ham before heading to Portugal for the next show ). Sid, Moonie, C Sharp, Derrick and Dave Jacobs all came round to my place for dinner on the Wednesday. I also picked up Griz to join us and it was great for everyone to link up and just chill for a while. On Friday morning we were picked up and left B'ham by 4 am to drive to Heathrow for the flight to Portugal."

I was also very interested to read about their gig in Saratoga on 8 August. Instead of an opening act, the promoters had suggested a Q&A session with the audience, so Selwyn, David, Sidney and Amlak invited questions from the audience ranging from their views on various issues to the future/present projects and how the band started and how they'd survived for 30 years. A great idea in my book and one which I'd love the band to do at one of their future UK gigs if the opportunity arises. I know Selwyn really enjoyed the chance to chew the fat with the fans.
After appearances in New Caledonia and Tahiti next week, Steel Pulse head back to the States for a few gigs to close September and are looking likely to be over in Senegal, Ivory Coast and Bukino Faso sometime in October. The video of their Door of No Return track, shot in New York City and Senegal, should be out very soon.
Link: Steel Pulse official website, my unofficial website.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Virachey National Park

One of the areas of Cambodia that I have yet to experience is Virachey National Park, one of the top priority areas for conservation in Southeast Asia. The park is located in Ratanakiri and Stung Treng Provinces in the northeastern corner of the country and covers an area of 3,325 km². There's an abundance of flora, fauna and wildlife that is a conservation priority, whilst in and around the park, the area is populated by ethinic minority peoples and the streams from the mountains of Virachey National Park contribute significantly to the flow of the Mekong river. The Park has its own website which is definitely worth a look though it hasn't been updated for a while. A project that began in 2000 and is due to close at the end of this year is BPAMP (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Project) and is carried out by the Department of Nature Conservation and Protection of the Ministry of Environment with the aim to help the Government of Cambodia achieve sustainable management of its system of national protected areas, Virachey being its pilot site.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

CLA and Kong Nay

Whoops.... I forgot to direct you to the review of the recent Kong Nay tour of England on the website of Cambodian Living Arts. The tour by the master of the chapei dong veng and his protege Ouch Savy was a wonderful success and CLA hope this will be the start of more collaboration between them and the organisers of the Womad festival in the UK. Click here to read more about the successful tour, as well as on the blog of Somongkol Teng, who acted as translator for the tour. Blog.
Link: More info at

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hagar well worth a visit

One of the restaurants in Phnom Penh that I have no hesitation in recommending is the Hagar restaurant on Street 288 in the NGO-quarter of the city, Boeung Keng Kang 1. It's upmarket decor, nicely prepared and reasonably priced meals and its friendly staff make it a definite on my 'places to dine' when I'm in the capital. $6 for a 3-course evening meal is excellent value by anyone's standard but the tasty cuisine I've been presented with on my visits makes it fantastic value for money in my book.

The restaurant is one of the projects operated by the organization Hagar, who focus their efforts on assisting women and children in Cambodia who are dealing with serious crises in their lives, as well as those who are the most vulnerable and at risk. Founded in 1994, Hagar is a Swiss-based Christian development organization which has been helping Cambodia’s disadvantaged women and children by giving them a second chance to rebuild their lives through a range of integrated social and economic projects. Their projects and businesses focus on the prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration of women, mothers and children who have been abused, abandoned, trafficked and impoverished. The projects and businesses also operate together to integrate the spiritual, educational, social and economic needs of vulnerable women and children. You can find out more about the organization and their varied projects here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Still a long way to go

Cambodia is a country struggling to come to terms with its past. I regularly attempt to highlight some of the positive stories surrounding a country I love very much but there are many areas where there's still a very long way to go, and one of those is in the field of mental health. This story from AFP highlights exactly that:

Cambodia's long look backwards; doctors struggle to heal a troubled country

"I always have nightmares about being chased by something black, a shadow," says doctor Sotheara Chhim, describing the aftermath of peering into the dark places most Cambodians are trying to forget. "It is not something clear, but it is probably relevant to the Khmer Rouge," says Chhim, one of only 26 psychiatrists providing care for a rising tide of Cambodians who are no longer able to cope with the damage caused by the brutalities of the past. "I listen to so many stories. I dream about being in a kind of trap, a cage," says Chhim, himself a survivor of the apocalypse that engulfed Cambodia in the late 1970s, explaining the personal toll exacted by confronting, again and again, other people's demons. Chhim, who directs the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), one of the country's few mental health facilities, warns that worse could be yet to come as a genocide tribunal forces Khmer Rouge victims to re-live atrocities inflicted by the regime. But the psychological fallout of the trials only highlights a much broader need for mental health services in one of the region's most traumatised countries. "The incidents of mental illness are getting higher from year to year, but still a lot of psychological problems are not being cared for," says Dr Ka Sunbaunat, dean at the University of Health Sciences and director of the National Programme for Mental Health.

Some 30 percent of Cambodia's nearly 14 million people reportedly suffer from a debilitating mental condition -- from anxiety and chronic unexplained physical pain to unpredictable mood swings or sudden eruptions of rage. Millions more are thought to be plagued by less profound problems, but the true extent of mental illness in Cambodia -- caused as much by today's crushing poverty, neglect and abuse as by past upheavals -- is unknown. What is clear to Chhim and other healthcare providers is that Cambodia is woefully unprepared to address this issue, with one psychiatrist for every half a million people. "At the government mental health clinics, one psychiatrists sees over 30 patients a day -- you would be exhausted. I can see only three or four a day in order to provide good care," he says. As many as 100 people line up each day outside Phnom Penh's municipal referral clinic, where the government established a psychiatric ward two years ago, one of 61 now open throughout the country. They wait for a chance to speak with the psychiatrist on duty, or perhaps to see one of a handful of medical residents drafted from the nearby university. "Sometimes we have problems. With mental patients you have to spend time and when we're overcrowded like this there is not enough time," says Dr Chak Thida, walking briskly amidst the dozens of mostly middle-aged men and women arriving one recent morning at the clean and, for Cambodia, well-equipped clinic. But even with facilities such as this, Chak Thida says, "we need more resources ... we need more psychological education for the public. People don't know that they are ill".

Cambodia's unwanted peace dividend
A decade of peace following the country's long civil conflict has ironically led to an eruption of mental health problems, as Cambodians, freed from the daily traumas of war, have time for perhaps unwanted reflection, stirring sometimes devastating memories, doctors say. "After the Khmer Rouge the trauma was still going on -- people were struggling to survive. Somehow even if they felt pain, they put it aside," Chhim says. "For Cambodia the fighting stopped less than 10 years ago, so the people have just started getting on with their lives and that pain is starting to come back." But many do not understand the cause of that pain, and a majority of mental health cases are often un-diagnosed or mis-treated. As many as 80 percent of Cambodians going to see general practitioners are actually suffering from psychological trauma, Ka Sunbaunat explains. "They don't believe they have psychiatric health problems -- they believe this is normal for everybody after the war," he says. Doctors say they are battling ignorance or heavy social stigmas that often associate mental problems with witchcraft or sorcery. "There is no recognition of mental health, most of the people we meet never come to us straight away -- they go to traditional healers, they think that their problems are caused by black magic," Chhim says.

Chhim's TPO is engaged in an ambitious public education campaign that he says reaches as many as 10,000 people a year. The group trains traditional village authority figures such as monks to recognise the symptoms of mental trauma, and organises counselling sessions for alcoholics or victims of domestic violence. Substance abuse and physical attacks are the most common causes and affects of mental trauma today, Chhim says. "To help people deal with trauma, a lot of things have to be involved, we need a holistic approach bringing in things like religion and social justice," he says. "We are purely community-oriented. We train the stakeholders, especially the traditional healers, the monks, the nuns, those who help the people in the communities with their problems so that they are able to recognise these problems and provide support." Ahead of the Khmer Rouge trials, TPO is preparing a campaign to deal specifically with mental issues that are expected to arise as a result of dredging up the blackest chapter in Cambodia's modern history. Chhim says the group plans to distribute leaflets detailing the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome and other related illnesses, a well as provide counselling for those directly involved in the trials as witnesses. "The tribunal can trigger memories," Chhim says. "The people who experienced these terrible events will (re-live) the experience when they hear about investigations or crimes. It will reactivate the traumatic memories." Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed by the communist Khmer Rouge which took over the country in 1975 and set about erasing modern Cambodia and trying to create an agrarian utopia in its place. Millions were exiled to vast collective farms, while money, schools and religion were outlawed. The educated, including doctors, were systematically hunted down and killed. Khmer Rouge leaders called the first year of their rule "Year Zero". For most Cambodians it was simply the end of the world -- the fall of the regime in 1979 was followed almost 20 years of famine and conflict, the effects of which still echo today. "Some people say the Khmer Rouge (regime) was so long ago that maybe the Cambodian people forgot," Chhim says. "But actually we don't forget. People have not had the chance to deal with this." While some healthcare experts hope the trial will bring into sharp relief the failings of the current system, others are less optimistic. "From the beginning people believed the tribunal had some miraculous healing power, when in fact it does not," says Ka Sunbaunat. "My parents died. After a year of trial my parents remain dead -- how can I feel better? We should think about what Cambodian people are really suffering from. "People who are victims (of the Khmer Rouge) suffer more from the poverty and hardship in their daily lives."
* * * * *
One group of Cambodians who are helping their fellow countrymen and women are the volunteers who make up the Working for Children (WFC) organization, who operate from their base in Roluos, near Siem Reap. WFC have selected 3 rural locations at vocational training centers at Prasat Bakong, Banteay Srei and in Puok district to run their various programs that include Health Care, Education Support, Vocational Training, Better Education Teach the Less Education Program, Teachers’ Support, School Support and Poor Families and Rural Communities programs. You can read more about their hopes to improve the lives of orphans and the poorer communities in Cambodia at their website.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

New role for Sichan Siv

Currently enjoying a few days in Cambodia, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Sichan Siv, has joined the Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for President campaign as National Chair of Asian Pacific Americans. In addition, Ambassador Siv will provide Governor Romney with important policy counsel in the areas of international relations, Asian issues and U.N. reform. Mitt Romeny is currently the Governor of Massachusetts and a Republican Candidate for the President in the 2008 Elections. "I am proud that Ambassador Siv has joined Romney for President as Chair of our Asian Pacific American coalition. With a distinguished career in public service, he brings years of valuable experience to our campaign for higher office. I look forward to working with him to reach out to an important constituency and communicate my vision for the future," said Governor Romney. "Unprecedented challenges from abroad and at home are too great to leave to an inexperienced executive,” said Ambassador Siv. “We need someone ready to provide steadfast and innovative leadership. Throughout his career, Governor Romney has proven his ability to take on difficult situations, analyze all variables, and find the right solution. I am excited to work with him."

Ambassador Sichan Siv’s distinguished career of serving the United States is paralleled by his own example of courage and strength to overcome the worst possible horrors and continue to serve his nation and the world. Forced to work in the Khmer Rouge labor camps, Ambassador Siv escaped from Cambodia in 1976. After arriving in America with two dollars in his pocket, he resettled as a refugee in Connecticut and went on to get a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University. From 1989-1993, Ambassador Siv worked for President George H. W. Bush as the White House Deputy Assistant for Public Liaison, and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. In October 2001, President George W. Bush nominated him and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the 28th Ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council. From 2001-2006, he also worked to promote U.S. interests in the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council. In March 2008, his memoir, Golden Bones, is due to be published. My own interview with Ambassador Siv was posted on 16 May.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bloggers unite

The first-ever Cambodian Bloggers Summit has just ended in Phnom Penh and you can read more about the first day of the event here. For more of the background to this getogether click here.

'I am precious'

Garment factory workers work long and hard for small reward in Cambodia. And most come from villages in the provinces to earn money to send back home to their families. A new competition that aims to raise their profile and find a golden nugget or two amongst the mainly female workforce has been launched this week.

Cambodia launches a competition to promote value of garment workers
A nationwide competition titled "I am precious" was launched in Phnom Penh this week in order to honor Cambodian garment workers, value the work they do, and enable them for the first time to show their talents and expression through a dress design and song lyrics competition. The competition is a joint campaign under a collaboration of Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs and some NGOs, including ILO Better Factories Cambodia and Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC). All workers from garment factories are eligible to submit their dress design and song lyrics until Oct. 15, a press release said. The final event of the competition will be held in December this year, and during the closing event, best dress designs and song lyrics will be presented in a show and the champions will be selected by representatives of the Cambodia's garment industry stakeholders. This national competition is aimed to highlight the importance and contributions of the garment work and workers to Cambodia, and provide the workers an opportunity to release their self-worth and potential skills through a friendly competition, it said. There are over 330,000 workers employed by the Cambodian garment industry, adding that most of them are young women with limited education from rural areas.

Two rising stars - Keo Sokngon & Kith Meng carried an interview with one of Cambodia's rising young sportsmen today. Popular throughout the country, organised football in Cambodia is still very much in its infancy, but this young man is determined to make a difference. Here's the interview:

Cambodia's Rising Star Keo Sokngon
Lethal with both feet, Keo Sokngon is the captain of the Cambodian national Under-17 team where his hard work has proven to be inspiration to his team. And while the goals might not have been free-flowing as he would have liked, there is no doubt that striker Sokngon is the rising star of Cambodian football.

Tell us a little bit about where you are from?
I was born in Kratie province which is located some 300km away from the capital city of Phnom Penh. And from there I started to play football first with the schools before I was spotted to play here in the city.
How old were you when you first started playing football?
I was six-years-old then and the reason why I chose football was because of all the games which I've played, I love football the most.
Your first team?
Roka Kandal School. I've never played for the national age-group teams for Cambodia before. This Under-17 team is my first national team assignment in an international competition.
Who do you play for at the moment?
Previously, I played for the Kratie Province Football club – before they changed the name to Moha Garuda FC - I've been with them since I was 15-years-old. The team is currently playing in the Cambodian Second League where we are all looking forward to playing in the higher Cambodian Premier League in 2008.
How many goals have you scored for Moha Garuda FC? A: I've scored 18 goals from 13 matches. Q: Have you always played as a striker?
Always – I like to score goals and of course, I've been told that it is my natural position.
Who do you fashioned your playing style after?
Thierry Henry. I feel that we have a similar built and I like the way he moves forward.
What do you think of Cambodian football at the moment?
Cambodian football is developing. The level is higher than before. So there is a lot of excitement for the future. The football management currently (in the Football Federation of Cambodia) is working very hard for the game to grow further and in the right direction.
Do you harbour any thoughts of playing abroad some day?
Of course – it is the ambition of any footballer to hone their skills to the highest level. I would like to change clubs to get more experience and high level competition. But more that importantly, I would like to join clubs with good coaches.
Where do you think you would like to go?
Vietnam for the V-League. The standard is higher than it is in Cambodia. Perhaps given the opportunity, I hope to play for Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) some day.
Now that you part of the Cambodian national Under-17 team, do you have any intention of playing for the senior Cambodian national team?
Of course, I would like to be part of the Cambodian national team for the Asean Football Championship qualifiers next year. I don't think that it will be hard to fit in though because the older players in the team will guide me through.
What do you think of Cambodia's chances for the qualifiers of the Asean Football Championship next year?
It will not be easy for sure but I believe that we can be competitive.
* * * * *
Another rising star in Cambodia, but in a very different field, is Kith Meng. He's seen as the bold new face of Cambodian capitalism. Widely considered the country's richest entrepreneur, the Sino-Khmer businessman presides over a sprawling business empire held under his Royal Group of Companies which has leveraged into and helped drive Cambodia's recent economic boom. For an in-depth view of Kith Meng and his rise to become one of Cambodia's most important businessmen with controlling stakes in key areas of commerce, read Shawn Crispin's article at Asia Times online here.

SCC news story

I've long been a supporter of the Schools for Children of Cambodia (SCC) charity who do great work in and around Siem Reap and here's a story I picked up on the newswires today about one teacher's experiences in Cambodia.

Teacher recalls Cambodian experience - ThisIsHampshire (UK)

A teacher from King's Somborne has returned from the trip of a lifetime teaching English to children in Cambodia. Maggie Mackay, who has taught at Stanbridge Earls School in Romsey for 14 years, spent six weeks in Siem Reap after being inspired by her son's experiences in Cambodia. The mum of three, a lifelong teacher, said she had many happy moments and that the children were "an absolute joy" to teach, although there were some difficulties. She said: "Like all teachers, learning the children's names was a priority. Unfortunately, the Khmer sound system has a considerable amount of sounds absent from our own English language."This meant I spent an inordinate amount of time asking each child to repeat his name in an attempt to transcribe the sounds into an English equivalent."

Mrs Mackay, who is married to Duncan, said classes were organised by ability, rather than age, so in one class there were 12, 15 and 19 year olds.There were also some "guest appearances". She added: "I had dogs wander into the classroom on at least three occasions. It was also accepted that pupils could bring younger siblings along to the lesson, most of whom would simply sit at the desk, sucking their thumbs or falling asleep." Mrs Mackay was working for the Schools for Children of Cambodia charity, which supports six schools in Siem Reap. One of the organisation's main aims is to supplement the teachers' $50 a month salary. Summing up her trip, Mrs Mackay said: "Before I went, I was warned that Cambodia would 'get under your skin'." I know now exactly what is meant by this. A country of many contradictions, I am finding it very hard to stop thinking about both the country and the very wonderful people and children I had the privilege to meet."
Link: SCC website.