Khmer News in En

Lao Dam Tests Regional Cooperation

The Lao push to build a third dam on the Mekong River’s mainstream presents the latest test for cooperation in Southeast Asia as fears rise that the Pak Beng dam will further damage the fragile ecosystem that some 60 million people depend on for a living.

The proposed 912 megawatt Pak Beng dam in the northern province of Oudomxay marks Vientiane’s latest move as it attempts to make the impoverished country the “battery of Asia” through construction of a series of hydro-electric dams along the Mekong River and its tributaries.

Laos notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its intent to build the dam Nov. 4, but it’s unclear if the MRC has the power to address concerns over the project.

With the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams, Laos went ahead with the projects despite the objections from the other countries, scientists and conservationists, and critics pummeled MRC for its inability to stem the dam-building tide.

The MRC saw its funding drastically reduced as international donors expressed their ire over what they saw as the commission’s complicity in Laos’ head-long pursuit of an energy strategy that causes harm to its neighbors.

Following the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dam debacle, the MRC was restructured giving Vietnam more influence, but questions still remain over the commission’s ability to manage the resource.

“By allowing regional consultation to begin over the Pak Beng Dam before addressing outstanding concerns around decision-making on Mekong dams, the MRC risks history repeating itself at the expense of the Mekong River and regional cooperation,” the environmental non-government organization International Rivers wrote in a press release.

International Rivers contends that the MRC’s “prior consultation” process fails to take into account the impact projects like the Pak Beng dam have on communities that depend on the river.

“The procedure lacks clear requirements to ensure the meaningful participation of affected communities and the public in the consultation process,” International Rivers said. “There is little transparency as to how concerns are addressed and factored into decision-making.”

Lessons learned

MRC Secretariat CEO Pham Tuan Phan said that the commission is up to the task.

“We have learned lessons from the previous two cases,” he said. “The Secretariat is ready to assist the member countries to review the project, assess technical aspects and come to a conclusion in an inclusive and meaningful way.”

A high-ranking MRC official defended the commission, telling RFA that the organization follows the mandate given to it by the member countries.

“The MRC is not weak, but it just works under the 1995 agreement,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On April 5, 1995, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam signed the Agreement on Cooperation for Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin that established the MRC as a platform for regional cooperation.

“Many people think the MRC has a mandate to decide whether or not a dam can be built,” said the official. “We don’t have that mandate or that right. If the country members want MRC have that mandate, they should change the agreement.”

While the MRC is often blamed for the multitude of woes that beset the Mekong River, the official told RFA the commission is acting as it was intended.

“Those who say MRC is meaningless don’t have enough information or they are just dead wrong,” the official said. “Our job is to give information and assessments. To build or not to build depends on the decision of the country members.”

Given the restrictive mandate placed on the MRC, the official told RFA the commission plans to take quick action on Pak Beng dam.

“We want to get it done very quickly because we want to publish the information about the possible impact from the dam; on how it will be built; how it will impact positively and negatively; and how people will react,” the official said.

Reported by Max Avary for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Cambodian Courts Continue to Pursue Cases Against Opposition Political Figures

An opposition lawmaker was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and a land rights activist lost her bid for freedom on Thursday as the Cambodian courts continued to hold their hard line against dissent.

Opposition Senator Thak Lany received an 18 month sentence and an 8 million riel (U.S. $2,000) fine for a speech to her supporters in northeastern Ratanakkiri province in which she allegedly accused Hun Sen of ordering the murder in July of political analyst Kem Ley.

The court also has ordered her to pay 100 riels (25 cents) in compensation to Hun Sen.

Thak Lany’s husband Chhun Bunsan, who watched the court proceedings, said he does not believe his wife would dare to incriminate Hun Sen, telling RFA’s Khmer service a recording of her speech was edited.

“I think the recording of her speech was edited to make it sound like she was saying Hun Sen killed Kem Ley,” he said. “I don’t think she would say that.”

He said Thak Lany is living in political exile in Sweden.

Thak Lany’s attorney Sam Sokong didn’t present evidence during the trial showing the recording was edited, because he has no faith in the lower court. He told RFA he plans show a video clip in which Thak Lany gives the speech before the appeals court.

“We had no faith in the lower court’s handling of the exculpatory evidence, and we were not prepared to submit it earlier,” he said. “We will submit it with the higher court. We are more hopeful that our case is better addressed by the appeals court.”

Thak Lany may have been able to take refuge in Sweden, but Boeung Kak land rights activist Tep Vanny doesn’t have that option. The Cambodian appeals court denied her request to be released from jail.

‘Judges are afraid of losing their jobs’

Investigating Judge Nguoth Ratana ruled out Tep Vanny’s request for provisional release, saying the government feared that she would cause violence.

After the ruling, Tep Vanny accused the government of attempting to silence land rights activists.

“Decisions by these courts is very influenced by the people in power and the rich,” she said. “Judges are afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t follow the orders from the top. Their discretion is compromised by their patronage relation with those in power.”

On Sept. 19 Tep Vanny was convicted of insulting and obstructing public officials and was sentenced to six months in prison in relation to a protest in November 2011 near Hun Sen’s residence.

Her attorney was absent from the courtroom in what some human rights organizations called an abuse of her right to a fair trial.

The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.

In one of the most egregious land grabs, some 3,500 families were evicted from the land surrounding Boeung Kak lake, which was filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling CPP.

While Tep Vanny and Thak Lany were being sentenced, Buddhist monk But Buntenh refused to show up in court for a hearing on a lawsuit filed against him by Mam Sonando, a popular radio host who last year founded the Beehive Social Democratic Party.

‘I would be seen as abetting the court’

But Buntenh, the founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice and Cambodia’s most prominent activist monk, told RFA the court was the wrong forum for the complaint.

“It was unwise of Mam Sonando to file a lawsuit against me with the court in the first place,” he told RFA. “He should have lodged it with the (Cambodian Supreme Patriarch). It’s very paradoxical that he resorted to Cambodian courts for a solution when for over the past twenty years he has been criticizing these courts as corrupt and unjust.”

But Buntenh’s claim that Mam Sonando tried to purchase a position as a lawmaker and an official with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) led to the lawsuit.

“If I showed up for the flawed proceedings, I would be seen as abetting the court to further abuse the procedures,” he said. “On top of that I have never received the summons.”

‘Let’s not make this a big deal’

While the legal sparring went on in court, CNRP lawmaker Nhem Panharith told RFA that Kem Sokha, the acting leader of the party, has indicated that he is willing to attend the next plenary session of the Cambodian parliament.

“I have received information from him that he is willing to attend the parliamentary plenary,” he told RFA.

CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said he would not be surprised if Kem Sokha and other CNRP lawmakers to return to national assembly.

“Let’s not make this a big deal. There will be business as usual whether they attend the plenary or not,” Chheang Vun said. “They should know that as lawmakers they are obliged to serve their constituents. It is as simple as that.”

Reported and translated by RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Inter-Parliamentary Union Finds Cambodia is Violating the Opposition’s Rights

Cambodia’s legal war against members of the political opposition is violating the rights of opposition lawmakers, according to a resolution recently adopted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The Swiss-based organization that aims to promote the rights of parliamentarians to carry out their work without fear of persecution found that Cambodian opposition politicians “face serious violations of their fundamental rights.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have been engaged in legal attacks on more than a dozen opposition lawmakers in an attempt to neutralize their effectiveness before local commune elections in 2017 and national elections scheduled for 2018, the organization said.

“A total of 15 opposition parliamentarians, including the leaders of the main opposition party, continue to face serious violations of their fundamental rights and are therefore being prevented from effectively playing their role as parliamentarians and members of the opposition freely without fear of persecution, particularly given the fast-approaching local and national elections,” the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) wrote in a decision released this week that was approved on Oct. 27.

The IPU singled out a series of legal cases brought against Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers that have resulted in jail time and fines. Included in those cases are legal attacks against CNRP leader Sam Rainsy.

‘The ruling party is attempting to weaken and silence the opposition’

Those cases “demonstrate that the ruling party is attempting to weaken and silence the opposition in order to derail the upcoming 2017 and 2018 local and national elections,” the IPU wrote in its report.

While the IPU criticized the ruling CPP, it urged the two sides to resume talks to resolve the political stalemate, a notion rejected by senior CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun.

“The parliament has been created and so has the government, and the roles and responsibilities of lawmakers have already been assigned,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“If every lawmaker complied with the parliament’s internal regulations, constitution and the laws of Cambodia, everything would be all set,” he added. “It’s impossible for the CPP to resume talks about the convictions or personal scandals of public figures.”

‘The IPU sees the current cases as politically motivated’

Sam Rainsy supported the IPU decision, telling RFA that the political crisis should to be resolved through political dialogue not through courts.

“The IPU sees the current cases as politically motivated,” he said. “It urges the political parties to solve them through political dialogue. Those who turn their blind eye to such appeal are unwilling to see the current political tension resolved.”

Sam Rainsy is one of the lawmakers targeted by Hun Sen and the CPP-dominated government, with the IPU saying the CNRP leader “has been targeted by an ever-increasing number of court cases initiated against him.”

The opposition leader has been in exile 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.”

“The court cases brought against me by Hun Sen’s government are an attempt to refrain me from competing in the next elections,” he said.

Reported by Sarada Taing and Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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A Fatal Beating Illustrates the Cambodian Police's 'Culture of Impunity'

Local Cambodian police officers accused of beating one man to death and critically injuring another in Kandal province ignored calls by the local police commissioner to answer questions about the assaults, RFA’s Khmer Service has learned.

Kandal Police Commissioner Iv Chamroeurn told RFA on Nov. 1 that the officers accused of the beating twice failed to report to Judicial Police in the district prompting him to ask the prosecutor to take action.

In Cambodia, the Judicial Police Department is in charge of most forms of criminal law enforcement. They are meant to function under the prosecutor-general’s office, but they receive their orders from the national police commander.

On Oct. 21 Chamroeurn Seiha, 26, and his brother-in-law Tith Leap, 22, of Tanung village in Kampong Speu province were stopped and brutally beaten by local police after the two motorbikes he and his friends were riding were stopped by police in Kandal province’s Sa’ang District, witnesses told RFA.

Sa’ang district police officer Chhay Sina overtook Chamroeurn Seiha’s motorbike and Tith Leap sped up and passed them. Words were exchanged, and that’s when the fatal altercation began, Tith Leap told RFA.

“He stopped his motorbike to block us,” Tith Leap said. “Then he pulled his gun and pointed it at me while making a phone call to his colleagues to arrest us.”

Chhay Sina accused the men of robbing people. After the other police arrived and the altercation became a physical one, he added.

Villagers who saw the beating attempted to stop the police officers from attacking the men, but they didn’t listen, witnesses told RFA.

“When they arrived they started to kick and punch us,” Tith Leap said. “My brother-in-law and I were then handcuffed and brought to the police station where we were further beaten very badly by the police officers.”

The police claimed that the two men were beaten by the angry mob because they were suspected of robbing people, but the villagers dispute that account, saying it was the police who beat the two men.

‘He was beaten so brutally’

The villagers told RFA that the men’s injuries did not seem that bad at the scene, but after they were detained at the police station their condition became critical, according to the witnesses.

By about 8 p.m. they were released as villagers in Sa’ang vouched for them. They were taken to a hospital in Sa’ang, but the hospital didn’t admit them because their injuries were too severe.

The men were then transported to another hospital in Takmao, but Chamroeurn Seiha didn’t make it, family members said.

Chamroeurn Seiha’s wife Khuon Sreymom said she is calling for the authorities to speed up their investigation and the arrest of her husband’s killer so that justice is done.

She told RFA that her husband supported the family, and life has become very difficult since his death.

“I felt very sadden to see what happened to my husband,” she said. He was beaten so brutally that his entire body was covered with bruises. His skull and throat were severed.”

Tith Leap’s mother Hem Vann said her son has sustained severe injuries also. He might not be able to live a normal life again.

“I feel much pity for my son,” she said. “He has never been beaten that badly. If he is unable to live a normal life, I will be in a very bad situation financially for I am a widow.”

Cambodian police often act with impunity, and the violence of the police there is a grave breach of human rights, said Am Sam Ath, an official with the human rights organization LICADHO.

“Concrete measures will have to taken by the relevant authorities and the courts to punish the perpetrators and find justice for the victims,” he said. “Authorities have to make efforts to end the culture of impunity.”

The search for justice

While names of Chamroeurn Seiha and Mith Leap are obscure, even to people inside Cambodia, even the famous face obstacles with the police.

Kem Ley is a name that is known throughout Cambodia and to much of the outside world, but the investigation into his murder appears to have languished for months.

Kem Ley, a popular social and political critic, 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.

Although authorities charged former soldier Oeuth Ang with the killing, there has been little official word about the investigation since his arrest.

Many in Cambodia doubt the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the former soldier over a debt, and Kem Ley’s family and supporters tell RFA they are planning to deliver a petition to Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Ministry of Justice and foreign embassies to push for a transparent and genuine investigation into his murder.

People who live near the location where Kem Ley was slain are afraid to talk about his death, but they have told RFA they have no faith the Cambodian courts to find justice for the activist.

Reported for RFA’s Khmer Service Thai Tha and Sothearin Yeang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Cambodia and Myanmar View Trump's Triumph

Cambodian strong man Hun Sen issued an “I-told-you-so” message in reaction to Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president as a spokesman for the democratically-elected president of Myanmar said he expected relations between Naypyidaw and Washington to grow stronger.

The Republican nominee and president-elect has vowed to reorder the U.S. place in the world as he has rejected the internationalism practiced by his predecessors in both parties, rip up trade agreements and draw back from American military commitments overseas.

Asia’s longest-serving despot gloated over the victory in a message posted on his Facebook page.

“Several days day ago, when I publicly expressed my support for your candidacy, some people verbally attacked me by saying that only someone like me would support a dictator like you,” he wrote. “Now it is unequivocal that Americans have wanted you as their leader. I was therefore not mistaken to endorse you.”

The head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy used the election as a reminder to a country run by Hun Sen for 31 years that functioning democracies peacefully change leadership.

“The U.S. election results reflect real democracy at work,” Sam Rainsy said Wednesday on RFA’s Khmer-language Live-TV Show. “Americans very regularly change their President. Presidents can serve only two terms.”

That’s a vastly different reality than in Cambodia, he said.

“On the contrary in Cambodia, the prime minister, who has clung on to power for several terms, is a dictator,” Sam Rainsy explained. “The Cambodian National Assembly is nothing but a puppet while the courts are dummies. It is paradoxical that Hun Sen endorsed Donald Trump while he has acted against the principles of democracy which are fully embraced by Americans.”

Myanmar’s president expects more

While Myanmar has seen a democratic transformation with the election of the country’s de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi, some officials there didn’t expect much change.

“U.S. policy toward Myanmar will not change much, I think, but Hillary Clinton has more interest in Myanmar,” said Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Press Council trade union who experienced censorship and intimidation under the country’s previous military junta.

U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel echoed the sentiment.

“We’ve had a long tradition under both Republican and Democratic presidents of supporting the people of Myanmar,” he said. “While the details of the policies of the new president will depend on who that person is, the general approach of staying engaged and supporting the Myanmar people will continue.”

A spokesman for Myanmar President Htin Kyaw said he thought relations between the two countries would improve with Trump in the White House.

“I believe that the relationship between the USA and Burma can only get better under President Trump,” said President’s Office Deputy-director Zaw Htay, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma.

“Now the Republicans will dominate both the U.S. Senate and Congress, and their candidate also will become president.” he added. “Looking to the past, it was Republicans such as such as (Sen.)  John McCain (R-Ariz.) and (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who led the push for democratization in Burma.”

Crossing the 38th parallel

North Korea had yet to react to Trump’s victory, but the official outlet DPRK Today in May praised Trump’s international stance, saying North Korea’s slogan “Yankee Go Home” may actually become a reality.

“Trump said ‘he will not get involved in the war between the South and the North,’ isn’t this fortunate from North Koreans’ perspective?” according to an NKNews.org article on the editorial.

Referring to Trump’s speech in March threatening to withdraw U.S. forces from South Korea if it does not pay more of its defense costs, the North Korean editorial welcomed the Trump with open arms.

“Yes do it, now … Who knew that the slogan ‘Yankee Go Home’ would come true like this?” NKNews.org wrote. “The day when the ‘Yankee Go Home’ slogan becomes real would be the day of Korean Unification.”

While North Korea hailed Trump, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said she expected close cooperation between Seoul and Washington to continue.

“The Government of the Republic of Korea, upon Mr. Trump’s election, will continue to closely cooperate with the next U.S. administration for the peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia region, as well as the world, through further deepening and developing the ROK-U.S. alliance,” Park said in a statement.

When asked by The New York Times if he would withdraw United States forces from Japan and South Korea if those countries do not increase their payments to cover the costs of those troops he answered:

“Yes, I would. I would not do so happily, but I would be willing to do it… We cannot afford to be losing vast amounts of billions of dollars on all of this… And I have a feeling that they’d up the ante very much. I think they would, and if they wouldn’t I would really have to say yes.”

In a May interview with Reuters, he said he is willing to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un directly in an effort to try to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program, proposing a major shift in U.S. policy toward the isolated nation.

“I would speak to him, I would have no problem speaking to him,” he told Reuters.

Reported and Translated by RFA’s Myanmar and Khmer Services. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Cambodian Court Finds Opposition Leader Guilty of Defamation

A Cambodian court on Tuesday found opposition party president Sam Rainsy guilty of defamation for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase his support.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered the head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to pay 10 million riels (about U.S. $ $2,500) and 15 million riels (about $3,720) in fines and compensation.

Judge Im Vannak also said the court’s decision would be broadcast for three days through the media, according to a report in The Cambodia Daily. He also said Sam Rainsy had damaged the honor of Som Soeun, a government minister involved in Hun Sen’s social media campaign who filed the defamation lawsuit in March.

Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service during a live interview that strongman Hun Sen “should be liable for compensating the Cambodian people for all his lies and purchasing ‘likes’ for his Facebook [page].”

“American companies and Facebook can confirm that Hun Sen’s Facebook is full of fake ‘likes,’” he said. “He is again a coward for fabricating his popularity and asking his petty people to sue me in his stead.”

Sam Rainsy, who has been in exile abroad for a year to avoid a two-year prison sentence handed down in a separate defamation case, has other cases pending against him.

He went on to say that it was “hilarious” that Hun Sen’s Facebook page, which is available only in the Khmer language, had received almost a million likes from people in foreign countries such as India where Khmer is not spoken.

“How could about a million Indians know and support Hun Sen when they don’t even speak the language on his Facebook posts?,” asked Sam Rainsy “So, the bottom line is millions of his like have been purchased.”

Reporters at The Phnom Penh Post in March analyzed the countries of origin for “likes” on Hun Sen’s Facebook page after he had surpassed 3 million fans and found that only 20 percent of them originated in Cambodia. Their analysis showed that in the previous month more than half the “likes” were from abroad—mostly from India and the Philippines—calling into question their legitimacy.

‘He is afraid to face me’

The opposition leader said that he could never win in the Cambodian courts, despite presenting strong evidence, because they are “puppets of the government.”

“The court cases brought against me by Hun Sen’s government are attempted to refrain me from competing in the next elections,” Sam Rainsy said, in a reference to Cambodia’s next general elections in 2018.

“Hun Sen is a coward,” he said. “He is afraid to face me. However, I will do my best to make sure I can return to Cambodia to join the upcoming elections.”

Sam Rainsy’s lawyer told Reuters that the opposition plans to appeal the court ruling.

On Monday, Sam Rainsy rallied to the defense of CNRP Senator Hong Sok Hour who was sentenced to a seven-year prison term for posting a disputed copy of the border agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam on Facebook in 2015.

In an open letter, Sam Rainsy accused strongman Hun Sen of using the courts to punish a political opponent and “pervert the election process by creating and maintaining an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.”

Deputy CNRP party leader Kem Sokha has been hiding out in the party’s headquarters in Phnom Pehn for several months because of an alleged affair with a young hairdresser a five-month jail sentence for refusing to appear in court to testify in a related case.

The CNRP sees such court cases by Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as attempts to disrupt its activities in the run-up to local elections next June and general elections the following year that could bring an end to the prime minister’s 31 years in power.

CNRP candidates will run against those of the CPP in the general elections, seeking to prevent Hun Sen from winning a fifth term in office.

Reported by Vuthy Huot RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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