Khmer News in En

Cambodians Offended Over Gifts of Coffins to Elderly From Company Owned by Hun Sen’s Daughter

Support for a drinking water company owned by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter is drying up after the firm provided elderly residents of Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province with free coffins and other funeral supplies, leading social media users to label the stunt disrespectful.

On Thursday, Hun Mana’s Vital Premium Water Company distributed drinking water to Kampong Thom’s Prasath Balaing district, as well as more than 20 coffins, white cloth for covering the deceased, and other funerary items.

Members of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia—which is directed by Hun Mana’s brother, Hun Many—were on hand to deliver the gifts, saying they had been requested by elderly residents and that there was “no ill will” meant in the gesture.

Photos taken at the event of bewildered-looking villagers sitting in plastic chairs next to coffins soon made the rounds on local media websites, as well as on social media sites such as Facebook, where they drew condemnation from netizens who called the gifts “inappropriate” and “offensive.”

Commenters suggested that a better gesture might have involved donations of medicine or the construction of senior centers to help improve the lives of the elderly.

A staff member who answered the phone at the Vital Premium Water Company refused to comment when asked for clarification about the event by RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday.

Luon Savath, an award-winning rights activist known as the “multimedia monk,” told RFA that the gifts had frightened residents of Prasath Balaing instead of bringing them comfort, noting that Hun Sen has previously issued threats against villagers there who have opposed his rule.

“No one wants to die—they don’t want coffins when they are still alive,” the monk said.

“People need to live with dignity. They need food, shelter, employment, land for farming, access to free medical care and rights, and other basic needs,” he said.

“We need to help to people to live as long as they can. We should not encourage them to die.”

More appropriate gifts could include medicine, cash donations, clothing or food, Luon Savath said, adding that keeping a coffin at one’s home is “unpleasant and scary for young people.”

A July 2016 report by London-based Global Witness found that Hun Sen’s family members are “amassing vast personal fortunes in Cambodia’s private sector, and wield significant control across most of its lucrative industries,” with links to major international brands including Apple, Nokia, Visa, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Honda.

Hun Sen’s family has a combined wealth “estimated to total between U.S. $500 million and U.S. $1 billion,” the report said, while 40 percent of Cambodians still live below or close to the poverty line.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Japan to Continue Electoral Aid to Cambodia, Despite US, EU Withdrawal

Japan will continue to provide electoral aid to Cambodia in the lead up to Senate elections next month and a general ballot in July, the country’s foreign ministry said Thursday, despite recent announcements by the U.S. and EU that they will withdraw their support amid restrictions on democracy.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government arrested opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief Kem Sokha in September on charges of “treason,” and two months later the Supreme Court ruled to disband his party for allegedly planning a “rebellion” with backing from Washington, essentially eliminating any challenge to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ahead of votes this year.

In recent statements, the U.S. and EU said the moves against the opposition—as well as a months-long crackdown on NGOs and the media—had called the legitimacy of Cambodia’s upcoming elections into question, and cited them as the basis for withdrawing electoral support and placing trade agreements with Cambodia under review.

But Japan, which along with the EU is the largest funder of Cambodia’s 2018 elections, told RFA’s Khmer Service Thursday that it has no intention to pull its electoral aid ahead of the votes.

“It is of utmost importance to have [this] year’s national election reflect the will of Cambodian people,” Kaori Tanabe, first secretary of Japan’s embassy in Phnom Penh, said in an email.

“Japan will keep dialogue with RGC [the Royal Government of Cambodia], will monitor the development of the situation closely with strong interest, and will continue to provide electoral reform assistance.”

Japan has already provided Cambodia’s National Election Commission (NEC) with computers to assist with the ballots and has faced criticism of its continued support from observers, such as New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The world’s fourth largest foreign aid donor with an annual budget of nearly U.S. $10 billion, Japan donated 17.3 billion yen (U.S. $153 million) in loans, 8 billion yen (U.S. $71 million) in grants, and 3.4 billion yen (U.S. $30 million) in technical cooperation to Cambodia in 2015.

In addition to electoral support, Japan also provides Cambodia with a variety of aid for projects including infrastructure improvement, humanitarian assistance, and business development.

Hun Sen has repeatedly stressed that his country does not need foreign governments to fund its elections, or international recognition of their legitimacy, saying acceptance by Cambodians is sufficient.

He has also said that he will continue to welcome aid from China, which is poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s top foreign donor, and which is currently Cambodia’s largest international aid provider.

China typically offers aid to countries without many of the prerequisites that the U.S. and EU place on donations, such as improvements to human rights.

President of Cambodian rights group Adhoc Thun Saray told RFA Thursday that Japan’s reluctance to tie electoral support to a reversal of the ongoing political crackdown is likely part of a bid to shore up its waning influence in Cambodia, as Hun Sen improves ties with China.

“Japan used to have much influence in Cambodia in the early 1990s, but that is no longer the case, thanks to recently strengthened Cambodia-China relations,” he said.

Satisfying the Cambodian people

Also on Thursday, Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou told a briefing in Beijing that China believes upcoming elections in the Southeast Asian nation will be free and fair.

“China respects and supports the development path chosen by the Cambodian people, and believes Cambodia’s future election can, under all sides’ supervision, reflect its fairness and select a party and leader that satisfies the Cambodian people,” Reuters news agency reported, quoting Kong ahead of a Jan. 10-11 visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Cambodia, to attend a regional forum.

Kong said China had offered Cambodia election support, but did not specify what kind. Cambodia has said China will provide various equipment for the July election, including ballot boxes and booths.

According to the vice foreign minister—in addition to being its largest source of international aid—China is also Cambodia’s largest source of foreign investment, its largest trade partner, and its largest source of foreign tourists.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodian Family Still Mourns Missing Son on Crackdown’s Fourth Anniversary

The family of a young Cambodian missing since police fired on striking garment workers four years ago still hopes for answers to his fate, fearing he may have been killed and his body destroyed by authorities seeking to cover up evidence of his death.

Khem Sophath was reported by witnesses to have been shot after Cambodian police fired at and killed at least four people and wounded nearly 40 others as they broke up the strike in the Veng Sreng factory district of the capital Phnom Penh.

Video of the Jan. 3, 2014 violence captured by RFA’s Khmer Service showed police firing at a group of people scrambling from the scene, with one person falling in a pool of blood and surrounded by weeping colleagues and relatives.

The violence came as the now-banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had backed workers’ unions in their campaign for a higher minimum wage, held daily protests demanding that Prime Minister Hun Sen step down following accusations of voter fraud in national elections the year before.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Sophath’s mother In Leakheaka said she still seeks closure as she and other family members conduct Buddhist prayers in memory of her missing son on the fourth anniversary of what may have been his death.

“He has been missing all this time,” Leakheaka told RFA.

“We could have a sense of closure if his body were returned to us so that we could conduct a proper funeral, but the authorities may have dumped his body,” she said, adding, “They may have even given it to a crocodile for food.”

Hard-working, dutiful son

Sophath had been a hard-working and dutiful son who regularly sent money home that he had earned at his factory, Leakheaka said.

“We are poor and desperate, and that’s why we allowed him to work in Phnom Penh,” she said.

“If we had known that the authorities were this barbaric, we would never have allowed him to go to work there.”

Also speaking to RFA, Sophath’s father Khem Soeun said he still seeks justice for his son.

“I want to see him again. Even if he is dead, I want to see his body,” he said.

Soeun said he had been told by witnesses to the police crackdown that Sophath had been shot in the chest and left to die before being tossed into a vehicle and taken away.

“His friend, who was shot in the arm, said that this was what happened,” he said, adding that the friend would also have been killed if co-workers had not hidden him from police who were chasing him.

Cambodian authorities have long since closed their investigation into the Veng Sreng shootings, saying no one is now unaccounted for and blaming the unrest on rioters trying to topple the government.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodia Threatens to Arrest Jailed Opposition Chief’s Daughter

Cambodia’s government on Tuesday threatened to arrest the daughter of jailed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief Kem Sokha if she returns to the country and disband NGOs calling for the release of “political prisoners.”

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak told the Phnom Penh Post Sunday that Kem Monovithya, Kem Sokha’s daughter and CNRP permanent committee member, had committed “treason” by lobbying foreign governments to pressure Cambodia over a crackdown on the opposition, media and NGOs ahead of elections in February and July.

“We will wait for her at Pochentong [Airport] to give her flowers and then escort her to a five-star hotel,” he said, referring to Kem Monovithya.

“We will keep her at five-star hotel in the VIP room,” he added.

Khieu Sopheak additionally threatened to extend a five-year ban on politics for 118 senior CNRP officials that came as part of a decision by the Supreme Court to disband the opposition party in November for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

The court ruling followed the arrest of Kem Sokha in September on charges of “treason” for what authorities say was a planned rebellion against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government with the backing of Washington.

The Ministry of Interior spokesman also condemned a “White Sunday” campaign launched over the weekend by a trio of former CNRP members and Cambodian Center for Independent Media Director Pa Nguon Teang calling for the release of 24 “political prisoners,” including Kem Sokha and other opposition members previously convicted of insurrection.

He said any NGOs that join the campaign, in which participants post photos of themselves online wearing white, would be investigated to determine whether they were violating their by-laws by doing so.

Unfazed by threats

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service Tuesday, Kem Monovithya said she was unfazed by the threat of arrest.

“It is so unfortunate that the government resorts to making more threats instead of finding a solution to the current political crisis—I’m afraid that makes a bad situation even worse,” she said.

“What we have been doing overseas is nothing wrong. What the government has done to the opposition party, including the arrest of Kem Sokha, dissolution of the CNRP and ban of 118 CNRP officials from politics, is completely against Cambodia’s laws and constitution.”

Kem Monovithya said recent amendments to the Law on Political Parties, that were adopted by the ruling party-dominated parliament and used to disband the CNRP, “are against the principle of pluralism and democracy” and have been condemned by Cambodia’s citizens and the international community.

“What Hun Sen and his government are doing is just to maintain power at all costs,” she said, vowing to continue lobbying foreign governments to find a solution to the political situation in Cambodia.

“I believe the government is under pressure to negotiate now. It is just a matter of time.”

The U.S. and EU have said they plan to compile lists of individuals who spearheaded the dissolution of the opposition and other rights violations in Cambodia, with a view to level sanctions against them, and have pledged to review trade agreements with the country.

Both the U.S. and EU have withdrawn funding of this year’s elections, and Washington recently placed visa restrictions on “individuals responsible for undermining Cambodian democracy” in response to the arrest of Kem Sokha and the dissolution of the CNRP.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay told RFA that the government’s repeated use of threats is tarnishing its image.

“The government appears to be ramping up its totalitarianism,” he said.

“People should not be threatened or restrained from exercising their rights to engage in politics. The law that dissolved the CNRP and banned its officials is, itself, unconstitutional.”

New Year message

The government’s latest rhetoric came as Kem Sokha issued an open letter to the people of Cambodia from his jail cell, which was read by his daughter in a video posted to his Facebook page on Sunday, and reflected on a year that had left the country in “a serious political crisis.”

“The problems are the result of the undemocratic path of our county’s leadership,” Kem Sokha wrote in the letter.

“They are the root causes of poverty and increased social injustice,” he added, saying Cambodia was increasingly in danger of “division, instability, and further deterioration of human rights and democracy.”

Kem Sokha called for national reconciliation through nonviolent means, the right for Cambodians to decide their leadership through free and fair elections, and for the government to respect the conditions of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which ended civil war in the country and set the stage for a multiparty democracy.

Beehive subpoena

Also on Tuesday owner and director of Beehive Radio Mam Sonando, who is living in self-imposed exile in France, told RFA he had no plans to respond to a court subpoena over past broadcasts of programs produced by Kem Sokha, saying he believes he would be jailed upon his return to Cambodia.

Investigating judge Ky Rithy issued a third subpoena for Mam Sonando on Dec. 22, requiring him to appear for a Jan 11 hearing on Kem Sokha’s treason case, but the radio station chief posted a letter to the court through his Facebook account saying he had never received it and wouldn’t be able to attend in any case, due to a medical condition.

Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Mam Sonando—who has dual French-Cambodian citizenship—said he would be of no use to an investigation into the CNRP president.

“Why would I be summoned to speak in relation to Kem Sokha—I have nothing to do with him,” he said.

“I think if I turn up for the testimony I will be arrested and jailed again.”

In March 2013, an appeals court in Cambodia freed Mam Sonando from prison after serving eight months of a 20-year sentence for alleged involvement in a secessionist plot.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodian Court Orders Former CNRP Chief to Pay Hefty Defamation Fine

A court in Cambodia on Friday found the exiled former chief of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) guilty of defamation and fined him for accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of bribing a political operative to undermine the opposition.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered Sam Rainsy—who has been living in self-imposed exile in Paris since 2015 to avoid convictions on similar charges widely seen as politically motivated—to pay 4 billion riel (U.S. $1 million) for a January Facebook post which alleged that the prime minister had offered pro-government social media activist Thy Sovantha U.S. $1 million to attack the CNRP.

Sam Rainsy, who was found guilty in absentia, was also ordered to pay a fine of 10 million riel (U.S. $2,500) to the state.

The former CNRP president’s accusation stemmed from leaked social media messages between Hun Sen and Thy Sovantha in November 2016, in which they discussed bringing down the opposition party, which was dissolved by the Supreme Court last month for allegedly working to topple the government with the backing of Washington.

In the leaked messages, Hun Sen calls Thy Sovantha “grandchild” and offers her U.S. $1 million. Thy Sovantha has said her page was hacked.

According to The Phnom Penh Post, Hun Sen was represented at Friday’s hearing by Ky Tech, the same lawyer who represented the government last month in its case against the CNRP.

“What Sam Rainsy said was not true and it affects the reputation of Samdech Techo Hun Sen,” Ky Tech said, using an honorific title for the prime minister.

Som Sokhong, an attorney for Sam Rainsy, told RFA’s Khmer Service that he found Friday’s ruling “unacceptable” and “failed to provide my client any justice.”

“We will discuss whether to file an appeal,” he added.

‘Kangaroo court’

Sam Rainsy, who resigned in February this year in a bid to preserve the CNRP in the face of a law that bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party, dismissed Friday’s decision by what he called Cambodia’s “kangaroo court.”

“Judicial officials know nothing and simply listen to instructions from their superiors, who make arbitrary decisions,” the former opposition leader said.

“I am even somewhat happy with the judgment—it gives me an opportunity to reveal more clear evidence of the wrongdoings of the government’s top leaders, who waste the national budget and undermine the dignity of the country,” he said.

“They might think that they can do whatever they want, but they are making fools of themselves in the eyes of the world and bringing shame to the country.”

Sam Rainsy said the ruling will provide the country with another chance to “see the truth about the regime.”

He later posted images of the more than 400 messages of correspondence between Hun Sen and Thy Sovantha, which he said are “real,” adding that he had his “own means of verifying … that Hun Sen gave U.S. $1 million to Thy Sovantha to carry out activities against the CNRP.”

“If someone had wanted to invent something to discredit the two concerned persons, they would not have needed to fabricate so many fake messages,” he said.

“They have never been convincingly denied by Hun Sen over that period of time, meaning that the public is entitled to believe that these photos effectively reflect the substance of a real exchange involving Hun Sen, especially when it comes to the point concerning the one-million-dollar bribe.”

Sam Rainsy is also facing a charge of incitement brought by Cambodia’s military after he urged soldiers on Facebook to disobey “dictators” who order them to shoot protesters.

Months-long crackdown

Friday’s conviction comes amid a months-long crackdown by Hun Sen’s government on the opposition, the media and NGOs.

The CNRP’s dissolution followed the arrest of the party’s president Kem Sokha on charges of “treason,” and has left Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) virtually unchallenged ahead of senate and general elections set for February and July.

In recent weeks, the U.S. and EU said they plan to compile lists of individuals who spearheaded the dissolution of the opposition and other rights violations in Cambodia, with a view to level sanctions against them, and have pledged to review trade agreements with the country.

Both the U.S. and EU have withdrawn funding of the elections next year, and Washington recently placed visa restrictions on “individuals responsible for undermining Cambodian democracy” in response to the arrest of Kem Sokha and the dissolution of the CNRP, which it said had called the legitimacy of the ballots into question.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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China to Assist Cambodia With 2018 Elections After US, EU Withdraw Funding

China will donate equipment to assist in Cambodia’s elections next year, including computers and ballot boxes, according to Cambodia’s top electoral body, weeks after the U.S. and EU withdrew support amid a crackdown on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

NGOs in Cambodia expressed concern Thursday over the plans, saying the Communist nation’s involvement undermines the ballots and calling instead for election officials to seek assistance from democratic governments.

In a statement posted to its website on Wednesday, Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) listed planned donations from China that consisted of 30 different types of equipment, including computers, printers, photocopiers, cameras, ballot boxes, and voting booths.

The NEC was unable to confirm the cost of the equipment, but said China had pledged to provide the committee with additional assistance in coming months to “ensure that the next elections run smoothly, fairly, transparently, and with accountability.”

Cambodia will hold a Senate Election on Feb. 25 and a National Election on July 29, and plans to spend around U.S. $50 million organizing the two votes.

The statement followed announcements by the U.S. and EU that they had withdrawn funding for next year’s elections in response to a crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government on the CNRP, which saw its chief Kem Sokha arrested on charges of “treason” and the party dissolved for allegedly trying to incite a “rebellion” with Washington’s backing.

The U.S and EU said that Kem Sokha’s arrest and the dissolution of the CNRP had essentially eliminated any viable challenge to Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and called the legitimacy of the ballots into question.

On Thursday, NGOs urged Cambodia’s government to reconsider accepting the aid from China, which they said has little interest in upholding democratic standards, and instead seek assistance from the U.S. and EU—who have made Kem Sokha’s release, the reinstatement of the CNRP, and an end to recent restrictions on the media and civil society preconditions to their participation.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace (PDP), told RFA’s Khmer Service that Chinese electoral aid should end with supplies and funding.

“I’m afraid there will be issues if China provides technical assistance to the NEC as well,” he said.

“China’s involvement is not good for Cambodia, as China is a communist country that has no experience in democratic elections.”

Yong Kim Eng called on the government and the NEC to instead find support from democracies such as the U.S. and EU to promote the legitimacy and credibility of the elections.

Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) executive director Sam Kuntheamy noted that China was “quick to step in” after the U.S. and EU withdrew support.

But he said that China “doesn’t seem to care about the process of the elections, as long as they take place,” and suggested assistance is better sought elsewhere.

China is the largest source of foreign aid to Cambodia and has provided electoral support in the past, including equipment valued at U.S. $11 million for local elections held in June.

Election legitimacy

Hun Sen has repeatedly stated that Cambodia does not need any foreign nation to legitimize its elections, saying that it is “sufficient for Cambodians to recognize them.” The prime minister has also said that Cambodia will be able to fund the NEC to organize the ballots.

Last month, while addressing factory workers in the capital Phnom Penh, Hun Sen urged the U.S. to cut the assistance to the NEC, saying such an act would be akin to “killing democracy in Cambodia.”

He also called on the U.S. to “cut all other assistance as well,” adding that by doing so “all local NGOs will die.”

“Just beware that those who die first are the local NGOs who are destroying [our country],” he said at the time.

Kan Savang, coordinator of election observers for the Committee on Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said that the government’s crackdown on the opposition, media and NGOs had created a difficult situation for the country in the lead up to the elections.

“Free and fair elections are elections in which all stakeholders are allowed to participate freely,” he said.

“NGOs are monitoring very closely and we hope the current political situation will be resolved in order for the next elections to be conducted in a free and fair manner. We will need to observe further before we decide whether we should engage in the elections or not.”

No investigation

The controversy over Beijing’s assistance in the elections comes as Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed that the royalist Funcinpec party will face no investigation for soliciting funding from China, despite an article in Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties which bans parties from receiving financial support from foreign governments and organizations.

Funcinpec President Norodom Ranariddh told reporters on Monday that he had requested financial assistance from Wang Weiguang, the president of the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He said Funcinpec had already received some equipment.

According to a report by the Phnom Penh Post, Funcinpec spokesman Nheb Bun Chhin denied the request was ever made, despite a recording of Norodom Ranariddh’s comments, and Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday that there is “no evidence” of wrongdoing.

The same law that was used to dissolve the CNRP for its alleged ties to a foreign government also bans political parties from receiving contributions from foreign institutions, companies, foreigners or organizations that are financed by foreign sources.

The Post quoted CPP spokesman Sok Eysan as saying that the situation was different from the CNRP’s because Funcinpec “aims to improve relations, solidarity and friendship to serve Cambodia,” whereas the CNRP “took a foreign plan … to topple the legal government.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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