Khmer News in En

In Cambodia, Some Hope for the Irrawaddy Dolphin

There’s still some hope for the Irrawaddy dolphin as an environmental organization announced on Tuesday that they have discovered 10 new calves in the section of the Mekong River that flows through Cambodia.

While the discovery marks a bit of good news for the critically endangered species, conservationists warn that the species is still under pressure from fishing and habitat destruction – especially from the dam-building boom on the Mekong.

The population of the mammal, also known as the Mekong River dolphin, is estimated at about 80.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature-Cambodia (WWF-Cambodia), seven calves were spotted in Kratie province and three were sighted in Stung Treng province.

While the discovery of 10 new calves gives environmentalists some hope for the species, the bodies of six dolphins were also discovered in 2016.

Irrawaddy dolphins are found in coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia, but they can only be found in three fresh-water rivers: the Ayeyarwady (Myanmar), the Mahakam (Indonesian Borneo) and the Mekong.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins inhabit a 118-mile stretch of the river between Cambodia and Laos.

If past is prologue, the 10 newly-discovered dolphins are in for a tough life as the threats they face are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

Illegal fishing and the loss of habitat from the construction of the hydropower dams, mining and deforestation are among the main threats to the species survival.

The dolphin may be having a comeback in Cambodia, but the WWF claims the species is functionally extinct in Laos where gill nets are legal.

While finding the new dolphins is encouraging, WWF-Cambodia Country Director Chhith Sam Ath said they still need protection.

“WWF-Cambodia will continue to address the challenges of Mekong dolphin conservation with renewed hope and energy,” he said.

Earlier this month villagers near the Cheuteal transboundary pool between southern Laos and northern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province found that only three of the dolphins remained in the pool. Eight lived in the area in 2010.

Residents of the Preah Rumkel environmental community blamed the dolphins’ demise on the construction of the 260-megawatt Don Sahong Dam along the Mekong River in southern Laos. The dam site is less than a mile from the Cambodian border.

On Nov. 23, during a meeting in Siem Reap with leaders from Laos and Vietnam about development in the Golden Triangle area, Hun Sen said feasibility studies had been conducted and that the dam project would have no impact in terms of lack of water or fish migrations.

Civil society groups say the prime minister is turning a blind eye to other issues related to the dam’s construction that are affecting thousands of people in the area.

Ek Chamroeun, coordinator of the Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), a group of NGOs that advocate for fisheries issues and monitor policy reforms, earlier this month described the dam project as a disaster for food security.

“Though Hun Sen said there is no impact, we don’t agree with him,” he said. “We are concerned because we see the real impact on the communities regarding the dam project.”

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Cambodian Opposition Lawmaker Loses Appeal, Returns to Jail

An appeals court in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Friday turned down a request by a jailed opposition parliamentarian that it overturn a prison term imposed in connection with a border dispute with neighboring Vietnam.

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Um Sam An was handed a two-and-a half year sentence and a 4 million riel (U.S. $976) fine in October for “inciting discrimination” and “inciting social instability.”

The charges arose from accusations posted on the lawmaker’s Facebook page that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had failed to stop land encroachment by Vietnam and used improper maps to demarcate the border between the two former colonies of France.

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen had ordered police in April to arrest anyone accusing the government of using “fake” maps to cede national territory to Vietnam, which invaded and occupied Cambodia in 1979 to overthrow the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

In rejecting Um Sam An’s appeal on Dec. 23, Seng Sivutha—president of the Hearing Council of the Appellate Court—said that the parliamentarian’s actions had brought disorder to society and damaged the government’s reputation and dignity.

Defense attorney Hem Socheat said however that the appellate court’s move in upholding the judgment of the lower court was politically motivated and had demonstrated bias against his client.

Unfair judgment

“We see this as unfair,” Hem Socheat told reporters following the announcement of the court’s decision. “The courts always behave like this.”

“The courts say they are independent and act according to the law, but for my clients who are involved in political cases, the courts always take prompt action by detaining, arresting, and prosecuting  them.”

“I have never seen a court use its independent power to free someone unless a political solution has been reached,” he said, adding that he will now appeal to Cambodia’s Supreme Court to secure his client’s release.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodia-based political observer Kim Sok said that the rejection of Um Sam An’s appeal only serves to strengthen the CPP ‘s campaign to destroy its political opposition and win favor with Vietnam.

“What they are doing here is pushing for Vietnam to reach its goals [for a favorable border demarcation] quickly in case the CPP loses political power in the near future, Kim Sok said.

“Thus, they will never allow Um Sam An, who is a prominent and outspoken member of the CNRP, to be released anytime soon,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodian National Assembly President Blocks Testimony on Kem Ley Murder

The president of Cambodia’s National Assembly blocked the opposition party’s attempt to interrogate members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet over the investigation into the murder of popular analyst Kem Ley.

Heng Samrin, who heads the National Assembly and is a leader of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), refused to forward Cambodia National Recue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang’s request to question the cabinet members to the legislative body.

The move effectively prevents the National Assembly from questioning Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana in an open session.

A press release issued by the National Assembly said Kem Ley’s July 10 murder is still under investigation, and that it falls under the court’s jurisdiction and not the National Assembly’s.

“The Kem Ley case falls under the court’s jurisdiction from the first stage, and both the National Assembly and the royal government have no right to interfere in court affairs,” the statement reads.

The decision comes a day after it appeared that government officials might offer up some explanation about the slow pace of the investigation.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak told RFA earlier this week that Sar Kheng plans to provide clarification on the investigation to the National Assembly, but the exact nature of the clarification was unclear. In addition to his role as interior minister, Sar Kheng also carries the deputy prime minister title.

‘The assembly acts with groundless reference’

Eng Chhay Eang, who heads the National Assembly’s Human Rights, Complaints and Investigation Commission, told RFA that Heng Samrin’s logic is flawed.

“I am surprised over this matter because it should not be the National Assembly that replies,” he said. “The government should be the one who replies.”

“The National Assembly has a duty to submit the request and summon relevant ministers to clarify in the presence of any expert commissions of the national assembly,” he added. “But now, the assembly acts with groundless reference.”

Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight on July 10 when he stopped in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Though authorities charged a former soldier, identified as Oueth Ang, with the killing, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the former soldier over a debt. The accused killer has used the nom de plume Chuop Samlap which roughly translated means “meet to kill.”

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

Since the arrest, the investigation has apparently stalled, or is not being pursued as the Cambodian authorities have someone in custody.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court says the case is still open as the investigative judge, Seng Leang, is still pursuing it.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy filed a petition in with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, requesting Chevron Corporation to release any surveillance footage it may have of the shooting death of Kem Ley.

Caltex is the brand name the Chevron Corporation uses in more than 60 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Southern Africa.

Caltex and Star Mart have declined to respond to RFA’s inquiries concerning the surveillance videos.

Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Interior Minister to Address Kem Ley Investigation Before the National Assembly

Cambodia’s minister of the interior may shed some light on the government’s investigation into the July murder of popular political analyst Kem Ley when the cabinet member appears before the National Assembly in January, RFA’s Khmer Service has learned.

The appearance comes as Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, who heads the National Assembly’s Human Rights, Complaints and Investigation Commission, seeks to question top government officials about the unsolved murder.

Eng Chhay Eang confirmed to RFA on Wednesday that his commission submitted a letter summoning Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to the National Assembly to answer questions about the investigation on Jan. 12.

“Justice is important, and all citizens must receive justice in any matter, not just the Kem Ley case,” Eng Chhay Eang told RFA. “Competent authorities must carry out their roles properly in order to render justice to those victims of all kinds of murder cases.”

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak told RFA that Sar Kheng plans to provide clarification on the investigation to the National Assembly, but the exact nature of the clarification was unclear. In addition to his role as interior minister, Sar Kheng also carries the deputy prime minister title.

Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight on July 10 when he stopped in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Though authorities charged Oueth Ang with the killing, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the former soldier over a debt. While the accused killer has been identified as Oueth Ang, he has used the nom de plume Chuop Samlap which roughly translated means “meet to kill.”

‘Why don’t the authorities reveal the security footage?’

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

Since the arrest, the investigation has apparently stalled, or is not being pursued as the Cambodian authorities have someone in custody.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Ly Sophanna, briefly told reporters via instant message on December 21 that the investigation is still active.

A senior interior ministry official told RFA that the accused murderer’s use of the alias appears to be an attempt to befuddle investigators.

“We have concluded that the accused has the intention to confuse authorities by not telling the truth,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Am Sam Ath, head of human rights organization LICADHO’s investigation bureau, told RFA the interior ministry still needs to release the security footage from the gas station where Kem Ley was killed.

Video was released in several other high-profile murder cases in Cambodia, but the video of the Kem Ley killing has yet to be released.

“Why don’t the authorities reveal the security footage?” he asked.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy filed a petition in with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, requesting Chevron Corporation to release any surveillance footage it may have of the shooting death of Kem Ley.

“The company owns and runs the Caltex gas stations and on-site Star Marts throughout Cambodia,” Sam Rainsy wrote in a release posted on his Facebook Page.

“The gas station at which Dr. Ley was killed is equipped with multiple video cameras,” he added. “Human rights organizations and media sources have confirmed that Chevron has refused or ignored requests to release the footage to date.”

Reported for RFA’s Khmer Service by Zakariya Tin. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Cambodia Sends a Group of Montagnards Back to Vietnam

More than a dozen Montagnard asylum seekers in Cambodia were repatriated to Vietnam this week after they failed to qualify for refugee status, and authorities in Phnom Penh say most of the nearly 160 other Montagnards living in capital city are likely to meet the same fate.

“Thirteen Montagnard asylum-seekers returned voluntarily to Vietnam earlier this week,” U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Vivian Tan told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“The members of the group had either received negative decisions on their asylum applications or had withdrawn their applications before they could be assessed,” she added.

The group left Phnom Penh on Monday and crossed into Vietnam on Tuesday under escort from UNHCR officials, who also planned to check back in on the group to assess their wellbeing, Tan said.

“UNHCR escorted them up to the border before Vietnamese officials took over to bring them back to their villages in the Central Highlands,” she said. “We plan to visit them soon as agreed with the Vietnamese authorities.”

Currently, 156 Montagnards remain in Phnom Penh. While the evaluation for refugee status has yet to be concluded, Tan Sovichea, head of the Interior Ministry’s refugee department, said most of those Montagnards would be sent back to Vietnam as they failed their initial interviews.

The answers provided by the asylum-seekers were irrelevant to political persecution, which makes up the grounds for granting refugee status, explained Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak.

Vietnam’s Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar. The group of Montagnards who fled to Phnom Penh comes from the mountainous region of Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Kon Tum provinces in central Vietnam, which border Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces of Cambodia.

The Montagnards living in Phnom Penh are among the more than 200 who have fled their country and crossed the border into Cambodia seeking help from UNHCR, citing oppression by the Vietnamese government.

Rights groups say the Montagnards, many of whom are Christian, have been victims of persecution and repression in Vietnam. The Montagnards also backed the U.S. in the Vietnam War and some have suffered repercussions for this.

Reported by Vuthy Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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U.N. Human Rights Watchdog Gets to Stay in Cambodia

Phnom Penh and the United Nations reached an agreement this week that allows the U.N.’s human rights office to stay in Cambodia, despite threats to kick the international watchdog out of the country.

Both the government and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced they had reached a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Monday that will allow the office to stay in the country for another two-year term.

In its press release, the foreign affairs ministry said the OHCHR agree to new language that stipulates that the office will respect Cambodia’s sovereignty.

“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state,” the ministry wrote.

Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon accused the OHCHR last month of “arrogant and disrespectful behavior toward the sovereignty of Cambodia,” and threatened to end the country’s cooperation with the office unless it agrees to quit “meddling” in the nation’s internal affairs.

“Despite the [Royal Government of Cambodia’s] efforts to enhance the smooth, constructive, and effective cooperation based on mutual respect, the OHCHR has furthermore been stepping up its interference in internal affairs of Cambodia,” he wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to OHCHR leader Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.

The OHCHR had continued to operate in Cambodia even though the MOU with the country lapsed last year.

‘Mutually acceptable agreement’

Liz Throssell, the OHCHR spokesperson in Geneva, called the new deal a “mutually acceptable agreement that takes into account the positions of both sides and preserves the integrity of the MOU.”

Cambodia’s government has bristled over comments made in November by the OHCHR’s country representative Wan-Hea Lee, who told local media that an Interior Ministry directive barring Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy from entering the country was a likely rights violation.

“No elements of the decision to block the entry of Mr. Sam Rainsy into Cambodia have been brought to light that would allow anyone to assess its reasonableness, which renders the decision unjustified and arbitrary,” Lee wrote in an email to The Cambodia Daily.

In October, the Cambodian government ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to “use all ways and means” to prevent opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning from exile, as he has pledged to do before elections in 2017 and 2018.

The opposition leader has been abroad for a year to avoid a two-year prison sentence handed down in a defamation case. It is not the only conviction handed down by the courts.

In the latest case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the opposition leader guilty of defamation on Nov. 8 for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase his support.

At the time of his latest conviction, the opposition leader said he could never win in the Cambodian courts because they are “puppets of the government.”

Reported for RFA’s Khmer Service by Sothearin Yeang. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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