Friday, September 11, 2009

Rough weather to continue

A vendor sells sandwiches to motorists amid the downpour in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

We have six boats prepared for helping victims if the water rises higher.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:03 Tep Nimol and Mom Kunthear

Ratanakkiri officials prepare for evacuation as government says it is unsure when destructive rains and floods will cease

OFFICIALS in Ratanakkiri province said they were prepared to evacuate roughly 2,000 families in two districts where water levels surged to 13 metres Thursday, as a week of wretched weather continued in three provinces across the Kingdom.

"There has been flooding in five communes within those two districts," said Pav Hamphan, Ratanakkiri's provincial governor.

"There will be one more district affected by floods if the rain still falls every day."

No one had been reported injured as a result of the Ratanakkiri storms.

The head of one of the affected districts said officials were prepared for an evacuation.

"We have six boats prepared for helping victims if the water rises higher," Kong Srun, Lumphat district's governor, told the Post Thursday.
"I think those boats are enough for us because the water isn't rising fast enough to make us worry," he said.

Wet weather nationwide
Three provinces - Ratanakkiri, Kratie and Kampot, where two men drowned earlier this week - have been hit with flooding, said Ly Thuch, deputy president of the National Committee for Disaster Management.

But he said the conditions weren't yet severe enough to spark a countrywide flood alert.

"The water isn't high enough yet," Ly Thuch said.

"We will issue an alert when the water reaches 22 metres."

In Kratie province, water levels had swollen to 17 metres in five districts, said Chen Hong Sry, the province's deputy chief of Cabinet.

Floods in Kratie destroyed almost 2,500 hectares of rice paddies and more than 1,200 homes on Wednesday.

After days of rough weather throughout the country, meteorologists were unable to say Thursday when the rains would end.

"I don't know when it will stop," said Seth Vannareth, director at the Department of Meteorology at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.

"I will announce later if [the rain] affects more people and when it's expected to end," she added.

Work cut out for them

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:03 May Titthara and Kim Youthana

Roughly 100 science students demonstrated Thursday in front of the University of Health Science, complaining that the institution had unfairly blocked too many of them from advancing to the next level. They say only 500 students made the cutoff, whereas they were previously promised a quota of 700 students. "We need school, but the school does not need us," said student Him Sokneag. The students say they will draw 3,000 people to a protest today.

Evictions hit Cambodia's poor, group says

Villagers in northwest Cambodia set court documents on fire in protest over a land dispute.

By Miranda Leitsinger

(CNN) -- Villagers march more than 300 kilometers from northwest Cambodia to ask the prime minister to save their homes from developers. Some 400 families in the country's south learn their farmland had been given to developers only when bulldozers arrive.

Such examples of forced evictions and land conflicts are cited by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) in a report, "Losing Ground," released Thursday.

The report was a collection of voices from people rarely heard and "present a painful look into the lives of people affected by forced evictions and intimidation, mainly the rural poor," said CHRAC, a network of 21 non-governmental organizations.

"The voices in the report belong to Cambodians who have been or are facing eviction. Most have insisted that their names and photographs be used, believing that openness will bring justice and appropriate solutions," the group said, adding that such trust is "the springboard for the next stage of Cambodia's recovery from decades of civil strife."

An estimated 150,000 Cambodians live at risk of forced eviction, Amnesty International said in its 2008 report on the country. Read about AIDS patients who were resettled to an isolated area

Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, deputy director general of Cambodia's Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said the government was committed to finding the best solutions for not just squatters, but the entire population, and that it is drafting legal guidelines on squatter resolution. He also said the government rejected the term forced evictions, saying that meant people were forced off land they legally owned.

He noted that various factors affect land use and ownership in the country: The 1970s ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime abolished all legal and regulatory documents regarding land, strong economic growth has contributed to demand for land, particularly in urban areas, and the pace of urbanization has stepped up in recent years.

"Many people illegally occupy land that does not belong to them," he said, later noting: "What has happened now with the resettlement, or the relocation, of people is the fact that the government is implementing the law."

"I am very sure that those who claim to be on the land before the legal land owner, most of them do not have any proof at all," he said. "Most of the cases that people -- illegal squatters, settlers -- have claimed that they have been on that land since, let's say 1979, are not true. If you study the legal development of Cambodia, you will understand, and not many people understand, including the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) themselves."

Amnesty said poor Cambodians share the plight of many impoverished people around the world. The group cited the forced evictions of thousands in Angola, violence and insecurity in Brazil's shantytowns, and social services denied to Roma in Italy.

"There are more than 200,000 such communities, home to 1 billion people around the world," the group said.

"In Cambodia for the last two years, Amnesty International has been focusing on forced evictions as one of the country's most serious human rights violations today," Amnesty said in a statement on CHRAC's report. "The increasing number of land disputes, land confiscations, and industrial and urban redevelopment projects hurt almost exclusively people living in poverty."

People fighting evictions "experience harassment at the hands of the authorities or people hired by private businesses. The rich and powerful are increasingly abusing the criminal justice system to silence communities taking a stand against land concessions or other opaque business deals affecting the land they live on or cultivate," Amnesty said.

CHRAC said development of Cambodia, recovering from the Khmer Rouge genocide and ensuing decades of conflict, "must not negatively affect" people's lives.

"Our communities are losing land and natural resources. These are the resources that people have depended on for generations," CHRAC said.

The report details evictions across the country.

One group of villagers walked from the rice bowl of Battambang in the northwest to Phnom Penh to deliver a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, seeking help in two long-running court fights with businessmen who claim to own a total of 200 hectares of their land.

"We didn't have enough money to get the bus to Phnom Penh. We had to walk. It was our last hope. We had to see Hun Sen or we would lose our land," said Chim Sarom, 45.

They delivered their letter, but Sarom said they were unsure whether he ever got it. She said authorities gave them money to go home and were told an official would visit them.

Preah Vihear temple hostilities over : Thai and Khmer army chiefs

By Rasmei Kampuchea/Asia News Network, Deutsche Presse Agentur

Phnom Penh - Cambodian and Thai armed forces chiefs said 13 months of sometimes-fatal hostilities around the ancient Preah Vihear temple are at an end.

Military top brass of Thailand and Cambodia meet in Phnom Penh on Monday.

After the meeting, Thai Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Jaggabatra said the dispute would no longer be allowed to damage relations between the two kingdoms.

"I would like to clarify again that there will be no more problems between Thailand and Cambodia. The border will not be the cause of any further disputes," he said.

"Cambodia and Thailand can not live separately. As Asean members, both countries shall not be in any cannot confrontation," said Songkiti.

At least seven soldiers from both sides were killed in occasional clashes around the temple complex since mid-2008 in a tense standoff that has had other members of the Asean regional bloc concerned.

Meanwhile Songkitti's counterpart; Gen Pol Saroeun echoed; "We have the same view. Our goal is to achieve peace and solidarity with each other as siblings."

Their meeting came just days after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Cambodia would cut the number of troops stationed at Preah Vihear after Thailand reduced its forces to just 30 soldiers.

Preah Vihear Temple has been at the heart of controversy between Thailand and Cambodia. In 1962, the World Court granted ownership of the temple to Cambodia. The conflict erupted again after the Unesco listed it into the World Heritage List, a move that draw opposition from the Thai side.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Look, Ma! Just one hand!

A Cambodian man drives his motorbike loaded with empty plastic containers on a busy street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday. Sept. 9, 2009. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)


Pair of reports on land rights face cynicism

A man stands on the railway tracks near Boeung Kak lake in Phnom Penh last week. Plans to rebuild the lines have left residents in Tuol Kork and Daun Penh next in line for eviction. (Photo by: Sovan Philong)

Thursday, 10 September 2009
Robbie Corey-Boulet and Chhay Channyda
The Phnom Penh Post

"The strongest reason for the government to be concerned is the fact that this is the biggest issue that could undermine the ruling party" - Ou Virak, CCHR President
TWO new reports addressing land rights in Cambodia argue, as others have, that the pursuit of development has led to widespread rights violations, including forced, sometimes violent evictions.

But they also share a conciliatory message that emphasises the importance of government dialogue with affected communities and civil society.

That message has drawn scepticism from civil society and opposition figures, who on Wednesday said they doubted such an approach would amount to much in light of the government's tactics in recent land-dispute negotiations.

An overview of land disputes released today by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of NGOs, offers "a painful look into the lives of people affected by forced evictions and intimidation".

It then positions the coalition as "a bridge to support genuine and productive dialogue between communities and policymakers".

Similarly, a report to the UN Human Rights Council, released Monday, expresses concern over the "commonplace" evictions of families who had been living in their homes for years.

The report's author, Surya Subedi, a UN envoy on human rights in Cambodia, later adds: "This is an area where I will be happy to offer my advice and seek to foster cooperation in the search for long-term solutions to this painful issue."

In interviews Wednesday, observers said this faith in dialogue might be misplaced.

CHRAC Executive Secretary Suon Sareth acknowledged that several past attempts by affected residents and civil society to engage constructively with the government had failed.

He cited a case last month in which about 300 Cambodians involved in land disputes in 19 different provinces petitioned the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Interior and the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes.

The effort was an attempt to circumvent unresponsive provincial authorities, but Phnom Penh officials also failed to respond to the villagers' petition, Suon Sareth said.

"The complaints have been ignored," he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday that all complaints were forwarded to the ministry's inspection department. He added, as did other officials, that the government was more than willing to engage with residents affected by land disputes.

"The ministry has always welcomed complaints from people about land cases," he said.

But Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said he believed threats and other forms of intimidation were often conveyed under the pretense of constructive dialogue, citing as examples meetings between officials and residents of the evicted Dey Krahorm and Group 78 communities.

"I get a lot of complaints from people who say they were forced to leave there, that they were forced to take compensation," he said. "Then the government tells the media, 'Oh, the people have agreed to leave, they have agreed to take the compensation.' There are threats and intimidation behind that."

Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, also said officials' interactions with villagers involved in land disputes were often of little benefit to the villagers themselves.

"Information about the dire situation of people and abuses committed on people related to land are often dismissed despite credible evidence," she said.

For his part, Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the stated goal of the UN and CHRAC to foster more good-faith government engagement might not be unrealistic given that government officials want to keep donors happy and retain voter support.

"The strongest reason for the government to be concerned," he said, "is the fact that this is the biggest issue that could undermine the ruling party."

UNESCO helps preserve Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Archives in Cambodia

10-09-2009 (Phnom Penh)

The UNESCO Office in Phnom Penh will assist the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the preservation of the historical documentary collection from the former S-21 prison and interrogation centre. It is estimated that over 15,000 prisoners were held in this former high school by the Pol Pot regime. The collection, which has been inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, contains photographs, ‘confessions’ and biographical records of prisoners.

The historical photographs and documents from the site of the S-21 prison and interrogation centre of the Pol Pot regime, currently held at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), are now listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Last July the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, announced the inscription of this collection on the Register, on the recommendation of the International Advisory Committee, which recognised its outstanding value and world significance.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Archives include various documents showing the fate of over 15,000 prisoners who were held from 1975 to 1979 in the Tuol Sleng compound. The Archives include 4,186 ‘confessions’ (many extracted under torture); 6,226 biographies of prisoners; 6,147 photographic prints and negatives of prisoners, demolished buildings, research activities, mass graves and remains of victims, as well as photos of visitors.

These Archives constitute the most complete existing documentary picture of the Democratic Kampuchea prison system, a fundamental part of the regime under which about 2-3 million people (25-30% of the population) lost their lives in a period of 3 years, 8 months and 20 days.

Copies of these historical documents have already been made. However, much more needs to be done in order to preserve the collection. UNESCO’s Office in Phnom Penh will assist the Museum in the preservation of the originals in danger of destruction, mainly because of the tropical climate.

The Museum has started the digitalisation of the most significant parts of the Archives. The Tuol Sleng Museum personnel lack capacity and management skills, which is the case of many Cambodian institutions. In order to address this issue, UNESCO’s Phnom Penh Office, in collaboration with the Cambodian National Commission for UNESCO and the National Museum, is organising a workshop for Cambodian Memory of the World focal points. During this training, to be held from 14 to 17 September 2009, about 30 participants will learn how to advocate, preserve and identify the national documentary heritage. They will, subsequently, become members of a future National Memory of the World Committee.

Handwritten detainee confession © UNESCO

Democratic Kampuchea © UNESCO