Khmer News in En

Cambodian Villagers Refuse to Leave Homes as Dam Testing Floods Sesan District

Villagers affected by the U.S. $781 million Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam project on Mekong River tributaries in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province said on Monday that they will remain in their villages as the water level keeps rising during a test of the 400-megawatt project.

Officials previously warned locals that the area would be flooded when testing began on July 15, but scores of residents of Sesan district’s Sre Kor and Kbal Romeas communes refused to move out and abandon land they have occupied for generations.

On the tenth day of the test on Monday, eight of 10 sluices were closed during the initial round of testing, pushing up the water level in the Sesan River to 66 meters (217 feet) at the dam site, they said.

The water level will reach a height of 67 meters (220 feet) at Sre Kor commune. In the meantime, the Sre Pork Bridge and a few roads in Kbal Rormeas, where the dam is located, are now flooded, villagers said.

Um Reth, a representative from Cambodia’s Royal Group, which is part of the joint venture with China’s Hydrolancang International Energy that has built the dam, told RFA’s Khmer Service that Sre Kor and Kbal Rormeas will be flooded when the other two sluices are closed.

He also said that weather conditions are contributing to the elevated water level.

“There are rain storms in the area,” he said. “The water level may be higher than anticipated. The Sre Pork Bridge shouldn’t be inundated, but now it has already been flooded.”

Futh Khoeun, a resident of Old Sre Kor village told RFA that those who have refused to leave the area remain in their homes there, although authorities have imposed some restrictions on people’s movements in Sre Kor and Kbal Rormeas.

Authorities also have prevented some visitors from entering the area.

About 124 families in Sre Kor commune and 58 families in Kbal Rormeas commune have refused compensation plans offered by the government and the joint venture.

They say they do not want to move to a new location because it would be much more difficult for them to eke out a living and because they do not want to abandon their ancestors’ tombs and the place they have called home for generations.

Hundreds of others have already accepted compensation offered to them and left the area near the dam’s reservoir to resettle in new homes.

On July 5, the joint venture that built the dam said it would start testing the facilities from mid-July to mid-August, during which the water level of the river is projected to rise to 72 meters (236 feet).

Once it becomes operational in September, the Lower Sesan 2 will be the largest hydropower dam in Cambodia.

Reported by Chanthy Men for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Cambodia Charges Second Facebooker in One Week For Alleged Hun Sen Threats

A court in Cambodia has charged the second person in one week for allegedly threatening the life of Prime Minister Hun Sen on the head of state’s Facebook page, drawing concern from a rights group that suggested the post may have been faked to frighten online critics.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Rom Chamroeurn, 28, with making a “death threat” under Article 233 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, court spokesperson Ly Sophanna told reporters Thursday, adding that his case had been sent to an investigating judge.

“The person posted a message on Facebook threatening to kill Samdech Techo Hun Sen,” he said, using an honorific title for the prime minister.

According to screenshots published by government-aligned media group Fresh News, Rom Chamroeurn posted a photo of himself posing with a pistol alongside text that said, “Hun Sen, somehow I will kill you” and claiming that Cambodia would not have peace until the strongman was dead.

Rom Chamroeurn allegedly claimed that Hun Sen and his family are ethnic yuon, using a term for Vietnamese in Cambodia which some consider derogatory, and suggested that he had an affair with the prime minister’s wife, Bun Rany.

The case is the latest in a series of court actions pertaining to supposed threats against government officials and comes just one week after police in Sihanoukville detained a young man named Pich Ratha, also for allegedly threatening to kill Hun Sen in a comment posted to the prime minister’s Facebook page.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service Friday, Am Sam Ath, head of investigations for the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said he was concerned that some Facebook accounts may have been faked as part of a bid to frame the accused and to discourage online criticism.

“We are concerned that the Facebook accounts might have been fabricated or hacked to cause the victims harm,” he said.

“Recent arrests [in connection to the alleged threats] have sent a chilling message to other Facebook users.”

Am Sam Ath urged authorities to undertake a “thorough investigation” into online threats before making any arrests to ensure that the accounts are not phony.

He also warned against the use of the judicial system to restrict freedom of speech.

Other civil society groups have also accused the authorities of practicing a double standard by arresting those who have allegedly threatened members of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), when several people who have made death threats against members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) remain at large.

Other cases

In addition to Rom Chamroeurn and Pich Ratha, three other people have been charged or detained in connection with comments they allegedly made linking Hun Sen to the murder of prominent political analyst and scholar Kem Ley.

Last week, Cambodian police arrested Heng Leakhena for a video she posted on Facebook suggesting that Hun Sen and his family had a hand in the gunning down of Kem Ley a year ago when he stopped for coffee in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in the capital Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen has sued three others for defamation—Sam Rainsy, former head of the CNRP, opposition Senator Thak Lany, and jailed political commentator Kem Sok—over accusations that the CPP planned Kem Ley’s murder.
Sam Rainsy and Thak Lany are both in exile, and Kim Sok is in jail awaiting trial.

Former soldier Oeuth Ang—who calls himself Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill”—confessed to shooting Kem Ley over a U.S. $3,000 debt. Though he was sentenced to life in prison in March for the crime, it is widely believed that others were involved in the slaying and that Oeuth Ang had had no contact at all with the political analyst prior to the killing.

Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia’s Sam Rainsy Backs Proposal to Grant Outgoing PMs Immunity

The former president of Cambodia’s opposition party has come out in support of a proposal to grant immunity to outgoing heads of state after Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed it as a “wicked trick” meant to suggest his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will lose a general election set for next year.

On July 15, veteran politician and former senior official of the royalist Funcinpec Party Lu Laysreng wrote a letter to Hun Sen and Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha, proposing that the leaders of the two parties controlling parliament draft a law guaranteeing immunity from prosecution for all prime ministers after leaving office.

Hun Sen immediately rejected the proposal in a statement published by government-aligned Fresh News the following day, calling it a “serious insult to the CPP that might appear as if [the ruling party] is preparing to lose the election, while the opposition party is about to seize victory.”

“The proposal is wicked trick to make the public mistakenly think that the incumbent prime minister has been making serious mistakes, which is why he would support such a law,” said the head of Cambodia, now in his 33rd year of leadership.

He went on to slam the waning political power of the Funcinpec party since its success in the country’s 1993 election, and accused Lu Laysreng, who is now aligned with the CNRP, of “ill intentions.”

The CPP won last month’s commune elections, but the CNRP received nearly 44 percent of all votes to the ruling party’s 51 percent, in an outcome that many see as a bellwether for next year’s ballot.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service Wednesday from France, where he has lived in self-imposed exile since 2015 to avoid questionable defamation charges, former CNRP President Sam Rainsy said such legislation was necessary to avoid conflict in the event of government change.

“We had better create this law, even though now some individuals may feel ashamed to [initiate it],” he said.

“Our country is truly in need of such a law to ensure the smooth transfer of power and further progress of our democracy.”

Sam Rainsy also questioned why Hun Sen was no longer interested in being granted immunity, noting that the prime minister had been the one to propose a similar law during power-sharing negotiations held amid a post-election stalemate between the CPP and CNRP in 2013.

“Hun Sen personally proposed [at the time] that—should the CNRP initiate such a law to protect … the leaders of the ruling party from any [future] prosecution in the event of a power transfer [via election] to the CNRP—the CPP would definitely support it,” he said.

“But [Hun Sen added that] it appeared improper to have the CPP initiate the law.”

Sam Rainsy said that negotiations centered on reforming the National Election Committee (NEC), the nation’s top electoral body, and the leadership of the National Assembly, or parliament, and the proposal was dropped.

Responding to Sam Rainsy’s support for such a law, CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San echoed earlier statements from Hun Sen and called the proposal a bid by the CNRP to “lure the ruling party into a trap.”

Even if the law is drafted by the CNRP and submitted to the National Assembly, he said, CPP lawmakers—who hold 68 parliamentary seats to the opposition’s 55—will not support it.

The CNRP has yet to comment on whether it intends to pursue the proposal by drafting legislation for the National Assembly.

Need for law

Cambodian political analyst Chan Vibol told RFA that a law granting immunity to the outgoing prime minister would promote a spirit of compromise between Cambodia’s politicians in the event of a power transfer next year.

“There is a saying that ‘when the water is rising, fish eat the ants, but when the water is receding, the ants eat the fish,’ and in this kind of political culture—should power change hands—Cambodia will never enjoy any harmony,” he said.

“Creation of such a law would help to resolve that kind of culture. We don’t want to see revenge among politicians.”

But other experts have questioned the need for such a law, saying it could undermine the existing system.

Ou Virak, a political analyst who heads the Future Forum think tank, recently told the Phnom Penh Post that the proposed law would incentivize bad behavior, and that he believed more substantive efforts were needed to build trust between the parties ahead of the election.

“If we did [pass this proposal], the prime minister could do whatever he wants,” Virak said.

“To solve the problems we have at present, [we have to] demand our politicians have some flexibility, and give each other the confidence to take steps toward national unity.”

Political analyst Sok Touch told the Khmer Times that the proposal was a moot point because such mechanisms already exist.

“In the case that the prime minister does something wrong, the National Assembly has the right to vote for dropping the immunity of the prime minister,” he said.

“If the prime minister holds his position until the end of his mandate, that means that he has not done anything wrong, so there is no need for this law.”

Reported by Chandara Yang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodian Evictees Protest For Fair Compensation, Ask to be Moved

More than 30 representatives of 140 families evicted by Phnom Penh authorities from their homes in the capital’s Borei Keila area gathered on Thursday outside government offices to press for better compensation for their loss.

The families had been moved following the January 2012 destruction of their homes for commercial development to Phnom Bat, an area 25 miles away in Cambodia’s Kandal province described by evictees as lacking running water, markets, hospitals, and schools.

“Sometimes I can’t catch frogs or crabs [to eat], and I have to cut my hair to sell to support my family. I can only buy two kilograms of rice to cook each day,” Kim Sarann, one of the Phnom Bat representatives, said on Thursday.

“Some days, we don’t even have enough money to buy the water we need,” Sarann said.

“I am asking Samdech [prime minister Hun Sen], who hears what I am saying now: Please pay attention to us. We are destitute!” she added.

The families’ eviction from their homes by the politically-connected Phanimex Co. five years ago followed a deal struck in 2003 by Hun Sen in which the firm agreed to construct ten new apartment blocks to accommodate  displaced residents, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Phanimex built only eight of the buildings, though, and on Jan. 3, 2012 the homes of the 384 families living in Borei Keila were razed and the residents sent to settlements far from the capital in Tuol Sambo and Phnom Bat.

Gathering outside Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance and Phnom Penh municipal offices on July 20, protesters from Phnom Bat demanded compensation of U.S. $5,000 per family and asked to be moved to one-room houses in Kandal’s Aung Dan village, an area better able to support their needs.

Alternatively, grants of U.S. $10,000 per family would allow them to run businesses to support themselves in Phnom Bat, they said.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service after meeting with city officials, protesters said they were promised that Phnom Penh governor Khoung Sreng would go personally within the next two weeks to inspect living conditions in Phnom Bat.

If he fails to do this, they said, protesters will return to demand action from the prime minister’s cabinet.

Reported by Savi Khorn for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Savannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Interview: ‘No One Can End my Political Career as Long as I’m Alive’

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy, who has been forced to live in exile since 2015 in the face of questionable defamation charges, spoke with reporter Vuthy Huot of Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service from France Wednesday to discuss a second amendment to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties, which effectively cuts ties between him and the opposition party ahead of national elections in 2018.

RFA: Recently you met with a number of senior officials of the CNRP in Hong Kong and some of your colleagues said it was the last meeting with you prior to implementation of the amended law, so as to avoid any possible legal challenges. How will you help the CNRP while at the same time avoid any legal problems for the party that could lead to a five-year suspension of operations or dissolution?

Sam Rainsy: I will continue my activities. Even if I’m a normal citizen, I still have the rights and freedom to express my ideas by not having to tie myself to any political party. As a Khmer citizen, I will continue to talk about the truth, to reveal the truth—either concerning the past, our history, the present truth, or any future progress that concerns me and Cambodian citizens as a whole. I will continue raising such concerns, along with my hopes as a patriot and lover of justice.

These two amendments are targeting me because they are afraid that if I continue to lead the CNRP … or work together with the CNRP, the party will remain strong and I would maintain my influence. Such amendments illustrate the fear and panic within the CPP, and of [Prime Minister] Hun Sen personally.

Our country is currently facing many great challenges. [The government] should have spent time creating proper laws so that justice can be granted to our citizens. They should have spent time considering how to better serve our society. However, they only know how to think about causing troubles for Sam Rainsy, because they know that I pose great danger to their dictatorship. Sam Rainsy dares to speak the truth and dares to protect the voices of the many victims in Cambodia, who are experiencing tremendous suffering under the present regime.

RFA: Before returning to Paris recently, we learnt that you went to meet with CNRP lawmakers and senior officials to discuss a number of issues. Can you tell us what the purpose of the meeting was? And what are your thoughts about the fact that your colleagues today wrote a joint letter requesting [King Norodom Sihamoni] to intervene by refusing to approve the amendment?

Sam Rainsy: [The meeting] concerned expressing mutual regards, contacts, beliefs and trust—regardless of how the situation has changed. Our minds and commitments remain unchanged. We will continue our work. Either separately or individually, we will continue upholding honesty and integrity along with our fellow citizens. We all are well aware that even if [the government] wants to terminate my influence or reduce my influence, or end my political life, they can only attempt to do so. No one can end my political career as long as I’m still alive, I continue to draw breath, or I still have the energy, health, freedom and means. I will use everything I have to rescue the nation through any means possible.

I believe that what my former colleagues have done by bringing this issue to the King is the right thing to do. We have followed the monarch for many years, even since during the reign of our former King Norodom Sihanouk, as they have always promoted unity, reconciliation, and peace within Khmer society to keep the Khmer nation thriving and prosperous. These are the intentions of our former King, the present King, and [the CNRP].

But the intentions from the other side are completely different. They want to wage war—or at least a war of minds. They want to bring accusations against one another and attack one another. This is because our present leader [Hun Sen] used to be a military commander for the Khmer Rouge regime. For those with a dictatorial mindset like the Khmer Rouge, this is how they want to live, because their power can only be preserved in an environment of war … As long as the former Khmer Rouge leaders remain in power, the Khmer people will never enjoy happiness; they will endure endless troubles and animosity against one another for the rest of time.

RFA: What is your reaction to the second amendment to the Law on Political Parties—in particular with regard to the controversial clause … which states that no political parties shall carry out any activities that “openly or tacitly agree or conspire with a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor to carry out any activities for political gain or in the interest of its party.” Any party found violating this clause will be subject to a five-year suspension or dissolution, and many have said it could be employed by the ruling party as a pretext to dissolve the CNRP or to terminate its operations for a period of five years if it does not openly reject involvement with you.

Sam Rainsy: What is most crucial is not that I am supporting the CNRP, but I am supporting the cause of rescuing the nation … Any party fearing that Sam Rainsy’s words may be used as a pretext to dissolve it may declare that those words are my sole responsibility.

RFA: So the CNRP may issue a letter once the law is enforced saying that, from then on, it rejects involvement in what is said by Sam Rainsy?

Sam Rainsy: It may declare in principle from the very beginning that the only individuals allowed to speak on behalf of the party are its leaders, permanent committee members, and spokesperson, etc. But as for other individuals, their comments are their own, and such individuals must be held solely responsible. As I’ve said earlier, I will speak about the issues facing our country. If I see any party doing well—say the CPP may one day awaken and rectify themselves through good deeds—I will commend it. And if I see them continue to do so, I will continue to commend them. In such a situation, if the CPP doesn’t issue a rejection of [my commendation], the CPP itself would also be subject to dissolution.

RFA: Regarding your wife, Tioulong Saumura, she is also a lawmaker from the CNRP and a senior official of the party. How will you manage your marriage despite your status as a criminal convict? Once this new law comes into effect, how will you manage your relationship so that it won’t cause trouble for the CNRP?

Sam Rainsy: Respect for human rights must distinguish between political affairs and private life. Only the Khmer Rouge sent its agents to spy and cause trouble against its own citizens [based on family relationships] … My wife is still my wife, and I remain her husband. We maintain our private lives just like other families. If this law is promulgated so that I will have to divorce my wife, I will never follow it … I will continue leading a political life as much as I possibly can. I will never let them use [my marriage] as an excuse to cause trouble against those who share a similar conscience as me and who are struggling to rescue the nation.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo.

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Cambodia’s Opposition Commune Chiefs Denied Office Access by Ruling Party Predecessors

More than one month after Cambodia’s commune elections, several opposition candidates who beat out ruling party incumbents for local councilor positions are reporting being blocked from accessing their new offices, in what some observers have called examples of political discrimination.

Cambodia’s June 4 ballot saw the largest reshuffle of local politicians since the country’s first election in 1993, with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) losing nearly 500 commune chief positions to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), out of 1,646 nationwide.

On July 3—two weeks after the official election results were announced—the Ministry of the Interior held a ceremony to mark the handover of responsibilities to newly-elected councilors, as mandated under the country’s electoral laws, which it said had progressed “smoothly.”

But days later, the CNRP informed RFA’s Khmer Service that many of its elected chiefs had reported being blocked from accessing existing commune offices, lacking office space to take on their new responsibilities, and missing office materials that had been taken by their predecessors.

The CNRP has yet to compile data on the exact number of disputes, but has called on its new councilors to resolve their issues peacefully.

There is no law in Cambodia that dictates where commune chiefs should perform their duties, and the National Election Committee (NEC)—the country’s top electoral body—has said it is up to the Ministry of the Interior to investigate and resolve the quarrels.

On Monday, Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak told RFA one reason for the delay in handovers may be that some commune chiefs have had to personally renovate their offices due to lack of funding from the central government, and feel they are entitled to keep them.

“We know that in the past not all commune offices were built by the state—some spaces were rented from residents’ homes, while others used space belonging to the ruling party,” he said.

“So we need to properly determine the root causes and shouldn’t immediately place the blame on those who disagree with handing over their office space. In some way, these people have their own reasons … so we must study each case and find out the real problem.”

Khieu Sopheak said that the government allocates funds from the national budget for local use to build commune offices in only 70 communes each year, forcing some commune chiefs to cover their own costs of arranging office space.

Recent tiffs

Last week, newly-elected CNRP chiefs from seven communes in Kampot province’s Chum Kiri district accused their CPP predecessors of locking them out of their offices, delaying the issuance of administrative documents to local constituents. The chiefs reported having to work out of conference rooms or “under trees” located in the vicinity.

A day later, Heng Lay Hour, the newly-elected CNRP councilor of Phnom Toch commune in Banteay Meanchey province’s Monkul Borey district, told RFA that the commune police station stopped renting its space used by the previous chief shortly before he assumed office, labeling the decision an act of “political discrimination.”

Also last week, newly-elected CPP and CNRP councilors, and their deputies, from at least eight of 15 communes in Kampot’s Banteay Meas district reported a lack of office space, saying they were forced to carry out their work in their own homes or in homes they had rented from residents.

Reports suggest that similar situations have occurred at communes in Preah Sihanouk and Stung Treng provinces.

Personal disputes

Meng Sopheary, the CNRP’s head of election affairs and legislation, acknowledged that some commune offices had been built by predecessors through personal expense, but added that she believes many of the disputes are personal in nature.

“I think that since we have never witnessed such a huge reshuffle in the past, incumbent [commune chiefs] are used to performing their work at their own offices and when they have to hand over their responsibilities, they can’t immediately accept having to do so,” she said.

The CNRP, however, doesn’t expect that the disputes will have a negative effect on general elections set for next year, Meng Sopheary said, adding that by simply allowing the ballot to proceed, the country’s politicians have indicated their readiness to abide by the will of the voters.

Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) executive director Sam Kuntheamy, however, told RFA that his organization considers the office disputes examples of “powermania” on the part of commune chief predecessors, reluctant to give up their authority, and said that the Ministry of Interior must take a stronger stance.

“The Ministry of Interior is validating their position—this means that they continue to enjoy full and legitimate rights in managing their commune administration,” he said.

“In principle, parties that lose elections must hand over all their responsibilities to the new commune chiefs so that they can manage and ensure the sustainable operations of their commune.”

Reported by Moniroth Morm, Maly Leng, Vandeth Vann, Hour Hum, and Vandeth Vann for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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