Khmer News in En

Former Lao Deputy PM Joins Monastery

Laos’s former deputy prime minister Somsavat Lengsavad has been ordained a Buddhist monk at Phonphao temple in his hometown Luang Prabang in the northern part of the country, sources told RFA.

Somsavat, an ethnic Chinese, entered the order on Sunday to study Theravada Buddhist teachings at the temple which sits on a hill southeast of the city across the Nam Khan River, they said.

Of the two main types of Buddhism, Theravada is more conservative than Mahayana Buddhism, and is practiced predominantly Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

“The reason he became an ordained monk is because he wants to attain mental tranquility for the rest of his life following his retirement from politics,” said a source in Luang Prabang who requested anonymity.

Somsavat originally decided that he would become a monk at the age of 71 in central Laos’ Savannakhet province after he failed to apply for membership in the country’s Politburo earlier this year during his third term of office, according to a source close to Somsavat’s former subordinates.

But Somsavat reconsidered and decided to pursue monkhood in his hometown, said the source who declined to be named.

“When he was a deputy prime minister, he was active in attending religious rites in temples and [financially] supported a monk in one temple,” said a retired soldier familiar with the country’s top politicians.

“Soon after he retired, I heard from a person close to him that he would be ordained,” he said.

The source in Luang Prabang told RFA that Somsavat would remain a monk at first for seven days, but would consider a longer time frame depending on the state of his health.

“If his health is OK, he will stay longer,” he said.

Removed from office

Somsavat became foreign minister in 1993 and served until June 8, 2006, when he was replaced by Thongloun Sisoulith, who became prime minister in April 2016.

Earlier this year, the country’s 10th Party Congress removed Somsavat from his position.

The congress also removed former president Choummaly Sayasone as general secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, replacing him with former vice president Bounnhang Vorachith.

Both Somsavat and Choummaly were involved in granting large economic concessions to Chinese companies, many of which are state-owned, during the past 10 years.

The concessions raised concerns among the country’s ruling elite and citizenry that the regime was tilting too far toward Beijing and away from neighboring Vietnam, with which Laos has a special relationship based on their shared wartime history and communist alignment.

Somsavat had been overseeing a U.S. $7 billion Lao-China railway project, which included a U.S. $480 million loan from China that Laos plans to back with five of its potash mines.

The railway forms part of a larger 3,000-kilometer regional rail link that will run from Kunming in southern China’s Yunnan province through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore. It will transport both goods and passengers through the region and is expected to give the underdeveloped, landlocked nation a much-needed economic boost.

“It is clear that after the regime of President Choumaly Sayasone and Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad there is no pro-Chinese group,” the retired Lao soldier with close ties to the Ministry of National Defense told RFA’s Lao Service in January.

Critics of the former leaders also blamed their regime for the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption, an official at a civil society organization told RFA in January after the congress got under way.

The country’s current leaders at the top of the secretive one-party state are all viewed to be pro-Hanoi.

It is not unusual for former leaders in predominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian countries to join a monastery after they step down from politics to gain merit or seek atonement for any wrongdoings.

Thein Sein, who served as Myanmar’s president for five years, also became a monk after he left office at the end of March.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source link

‘I Am Safer Behind Bars,’ Cambodian Opposition Lawmaker Says

While they remain unbowed by the execution-style slaying of government critic Kem Ley, opponents of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen say they could easily suffer the same fate as the popular activist.

Kem Ley was shot twice at point blank range on Sunday while sitting alone inside a Caltex gas station at the intersection of Monivong and Mao Zedong boulevards in Phnom Penh, where he liked to have coffee and talk with friends.

“Paradoxically, I am safer behind bars,” opposition party lawmaker Um Sam An told RFA’s Khmer Service. “If I were outside of the prison, I would have the same fate as that of Kem Ley, who was gunned down because he had the guts to criticize the government and the Hun family members based on the Global Witness report.”

Just days before he was killed, Kem Ley had appeared on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show to discuss a report by the London-based NGO Global Witness that documented how Hun Sen and his family have amassed a fortune in excess of $200 million. The Hun family has dismissed the report.

Um Sam An was jailed in April after Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone accusing the government of using “fake” maps to cede national territory to neighboring Vietnam. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker made his remarks as he was being led away from an appearance at the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh.

His arrest and charges came even though lawmakers are guaranteed immunity by Cambodia’s constitution unless two-thirds of the National Assembly vote to approve of the arrest. There is a loophole in the law, however, that allows lawmakers to be arrested if they are caught in the act of committing a crime.

His case has been widely seen as another instance of the persecution of the political opposition by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Border criticism

Um Sam An said Kem Ley had also criticized the government over the Vietnam border issue–seen as a weak spot for Hun Sen, who was installed by Hanoi three decades ago while Cambodia was embroiled in a civil war.

“He also dared to give his criticism on the border issues,” he said. “Those who allow our land to be seized remain at large while we who protest the loss of the land are jailed.”

While police have a suspect in custody, authorities first reported his name as Chuop Samlap, which means “Meet to Kill” in Khmer, but later said he was an ex-Buddhist monk named Oeuth Ang.

Authorities say the suspect told them he killed Kem Ley over a $3,000 debt, a story that has been challenged by the suspect’s wife and by family members and people who knew the slain researcher and leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer.

On Monday, 70 Cambodian civil society organizations condemned the murder and demanded “a prompt, independent and thorough investigation, including a forensic examination by an independent and expert pathologist, so that Kem Ley and his family can receive justice.”

‘The crime was orchestrated’

But Buntenh, head of the Buddhism for Peace Organization, told RFA’s Khmer Service he was convinced “the crime was orchestrated.”

He told RFA that he met Kem Ley just days before his death to discuss the challenges they faced, and the normally optimistic analyst told him: “Now the time has come. We will not be spared. They are going to kill us in the very near future.”

But Buntenh added: “The name of the suspect itself tells it all. Chuop Samlap means ‘meet to kill.’ Let’s not just prosecute him. Let’s cast a wider net to hold those who hired him accountable as well.”

After being questioned from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Kem Ley’s suspected killer, who has no legal representation, remains in police custody. Charges are expected to be filed on Wednesday, said Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Ly Sophanna.

Artificial killer?

While critics are questioning the government’s actions, a Ministry of Interior spokesman attempted to dissuade people from jumping to conclusions, saying authorities have retrieved security cameras from the crime scene.

“We have seized the cameras now. It’s not true that the memory in the cameras is blank,” said ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak. “Please try not to confuse the public with rumors. Otherwise people will think he is an artificial killer.”

“Artificial killer” is term used in Cambodia for a scapegoat in a high-profile killing. The term become popular after the death of Chea Vichea, another government critic who led the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia. He was gunned down in 2004 at a newsstand in Phnom Penh.

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

Source link

19 Trafficked Myanmar Migrants Rescued From Fishing Boat Off Thailand

Thai police and a Myanmar nongovernmental organization that helps migrant workers have rescued 19 trafficked Myanmar fishermen forced to work aboard a fishing boat in slave-like conditions, the director of the NGO said.

The Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT) and the Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTD) of the Royal Thai Police found the men on Sunday in a boat moored off the southern Thai city of Pattani, said MAT director Kyaw Thaung.

They range in age from 13 to 34 and are from southern Myanmar’s Mon and Tanintharyi region and from western Rakhine state, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“We found and saved the 19 Myanmar fishermen in the Pattani region near the Thailand-Malaysia border,” he said.

“They were locked inside an Indonesian fishing boat and couldn’t go anywhere,” Kyaw Thaung said.

“A police officer from Dawei [in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region] called me and gave me this information,” he said. “We asked the AHTD for help, and together we found the victims.”

The men will be sent to immigration camps in Thailand and return home after six months or a year, he said.

MAT has collaborated with the AHTD for several years to crack down on human trafficking.

Officials make arrests

Thai police have now arrested a Thai businessman and a Myanmar woman from Mon State who were accused of being directly involved in the trafficking, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

The woman had promised six of the men jobs that paid about U.S. $260 a month at a factory in Pattaya, a resort city on the Gulf of Thailand, but instead transported them to Pattani, the report said, citing MAT communications officer Sai Aye as the source.

The rescued fishermen testified at the nearby police station that about 80 other trafficked fishermen from Myanmar were also being held against their will at an unknown location in southern Thailand, the report said.

Thailand’s fishing industry relies heavily on trafficked and forced labor, especially from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, according to a 2014 report issued by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a U.K.-based nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting the environment and defending human rights.

Many of the estimated 200,000 migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries have been trafficked and forced to work in appalling conditions with no pay and subjected to brutal subjugation, the report said.

The EJF called on the Thai government to identify and prosecute criminals, corrupt officials and unscrupulous businesspeople and enforce measures to regulate the country’s fishing industry and recruitment practices.

Reported by Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source link

Slaying of Government Critic in Cambodia Raises Questions

Family members and local villagers are raising questions about the investigation into Sunday’s slaying of outspoken government critic Kem Ley as they cast doubt about the suspected killer’s identity and the motive alleged for the killing.

According to authorities, Kem Ley was shot while sitting alone inside the Caltex gas station at the intersection of Monivong and Mao Zedong boulevards in Phnom Penh, where he liked to have coffee and talk with friends. The 46-year-old was attacked execution-style, shot once behind his left ear and once under his left arm.

While Cambodian police have identified the suspected killer as Chuop Samlap, the alleged culprit’s family and Buddhist monks told RFA’s Khmer Service that the man is actually a former soldier and an ex-monk named Oeuth Ang.

Hoeum Horth, 45, who is married to the suspect, said she recognized him when she saw a Facebook post with his picture.

They had been married for only about two months when Oeuth Ang, 43, left the Norkor Pheas 2 village, in Siem Reap province’s Angkor Chum district on a trip after they had a falling out because he gambled away a new motorbike.

“He told me that he was going to Phnom Penh,” she told RFA. “I didn’t ask him much about his trip because I was angry with him. After we got married, I bought a new motorbike for him that he lost gambling. He had no money when he went to Phnom Penh.”

The suspect’s 64-year-old mother, Ek Tap, who lives in Tunle Sar village, which is about three miles from the village where Oeuth Ang lived, said she recognized a photo of the suspect she saw on TV as her eldest son.

Ek Tap told RFA that Chuop Samlap, which means “Meet to Kill” in Khmer, was likely an alias he gave police. Ek Tap said her son had a job as an environmental conservation worker for the government, but that he had been a soldier in his youth.

“He used to be a soldier in Angkor Chum district when he was very young,” she said. “I was shocked to see him like that as he was never involved in such bad activity. Yesterday I saw him on TV. I recognized him as Oeuth Ang.”

Ek Tap told RFA that her son had been a soldier from his early teens until 1998, but had done a lot of jobs after that, including working in Thailand.

Failed monk

Villagers and monastic leaders say Oeuth Young tried to become a Buddhist monk, but he wasn’t cut out for the monastic life.

Soeum Suon, the head monk at Prasath Thnung pagoda in Saom commune, told RFA he ordained Oeuth Ang as a Buddhist monk in 2012, but kicked him out after a year for his bad behavior.

“When I reprimanded him for his poor discipline, he threatened to shoot me,” the monk said. “When he was a monk he bragged about his work as a soldier. He is illiterate. I decided to kick him out of the pagoda in 2013.”

Saom Samorn of Angkor Chum district told RFA he’d also ordained Oeuth Ang, but that Oeuth Ang didn’t clean up his act.

“Oeuth Ang used to threaten that anyone who caused him trouble would be killed with a gun that he had purchased,” the monk said. “I assume that he has had that gun since back when he was a monk.”

Motive questioned

While villagers described Oeuth Ang as a cruel man who liked to drink heavily and chase women and was capable of carrying out the killing, they questioned his alleged motive.

Police have said that the murderer killed Kem Ley over a $3,000 debt, but that makes little sense, say the villagers and his wife.

Kem Ley’s wife Bo Rachana challenged the suspect’s confession, calling it an attempt to make the popular researcher and leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer look bad.

“He never borrowed from anyone, not even 100 riels (U.S. $ 0.03),” she told RFA. “He wouldn’t dare to ask people to lend him money. He even helped provide free consultation to some poor NGOs. He was very gentle, polite and kind person. He liked helping people.”

Oeuth Ang was brought to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday under heavy guard and was questioned for more than an hour. Reporters were kept away, but Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Ly Sophanna said he would be questioned again on July 12.

A call for transparency

Distrust with the police runs deep in Cambodia where they often are seen as adding and abetting the brutality that has marked Prime Minister Hun Sen’s more than 30 years heading the country.

Relatives and local people aren’t the only ones with questions. Eng Chhai Eang, a Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) senior official, said the authorities must show the public security footage in and around the Star Mart, where Kem Ley was killed.

“If the Cambodian authorities want to resolve public doubt and suspicion, they need to show the captured video footage to the public so that we are satisfied,” Eng Chhai Eang said. “Please try not to point your fingers at others. You have to be accountable and show your competency in prosecuting criminals.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ordered a thorough investigation into the killing and announced a large-scale campaign to strengthen security and social order in the aftermath of Kem Ley’s murder.

“This is a loss. It badly affects the reputation of the government,” he said. “Who will benefit from such a thing when the government is talking about peace and security?”

Kem Ley’s death comes at a time of political uncertainty for Cambodia with opposition CNRP leader Sam Rainsy in self-imposed exile and facing defamation charges.

Other opposition leaders have been tossed in jail and the acting head of the CNRP has been holed up in party headquarters since heavily armed police attempted to arrest him in connection with cases related to an alleged affair.

Political tension

Public killings of Hun Sen’s critics have regularly occurred during the first 15 years of his rule but the killings have diminished over the years. Political tension between Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and the CNRP has been intensifying this year, however, as the parties prepare to contest local elections in 2017 and a general election in 2018.

Just days before he was killed, Kem Ley had appeared on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show to discuss a report by the London-based NGO Global Witness documenting how Hun Sen and his family have amassed a $200 million fortune. The Hun family has dismissed the report.

The U.S. State Department expressed concern over the killing. RFA is funded by the U.S. government

“We are deeply saddened and concerned by reports of the tragic killing of prominent Cambodian political commentator Dr. Kem Ley. We offer our sincere and profound condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “We are following developments in this case closely, noting the Cambodian government’s call for an investigation, and urge that authorities ensure this process be thorough and impartial.”

Reported by Savyouth Hang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

Source link

Shooting Death of Popular Activist Roils Cambodia

Cambodian civil society expressed shock on Sunday at the shooting death of an activist and critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, a killing that came amid months of political tensions as the country faces elections next year.

Kem Ley, 46, researcher and leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer was shot two times in a store at a gas station in the capital Phnom Penh, police said a statement.

Reuters news agency quoted Eng Hy, a spokesman for the National Military Police, as saying “Kem Ley was shot dead” and the agency quoted a Cambodian Interior Ministry statement as saying a 38-year old suspect has been arrested, and has admitted to killing Kem Ley in a dispute over money.

Hun Sen took to social media to condemn the slaying and order an investigation.

“I pay my condolences over the death of Kem Ley, who was shot by a gunman,” Hun Sen said on his Facebook page. “I condemn this brutal act.

Ou Virak, founder of the NGO “Future Forum,” said Cambodia has lost “a hero in the hearts of all Khmer. “

“We lost a good human being who has participated in social and political activities to push Cambodia to move forward,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

An official of the domestic human rights group LICADHO, Am Sam Ath, told RFA that his and other watchdog groups demand that the government handle the investigation carefully.

“We of civil society insist that authorities investigate the motive of this shooting death properly to dispel suspicion that the killing of Kem Ley is political,” he said.

Official account doubted

The executive director of  the Cambodian Commission on Human Rights, Chak Sopheap, called on civil society to step up activism an not be cowed by the killing of Kem Ley.

“I hope that all the citizens will continue participating in social-political activities despite what has happened,” she said. “It is only our participation to ensure that Cambodia can develop human rights and democracy.”

Political tension between long-ruling strongman Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been intensifying this year as the parties prepare to contest local elections in 2017 and a general election in 2018.

Reuters quoted Kem Ley’s pregnant wife, Pou Rachana, as saying “I don’t know what happened, somebody just called me and said that he’s shot,” Pou Rachana told Reuters.

Thousands of supporters followed a procession taking Kem Ley’s body to a Buddhist pagoda in Phnom Penh, where his coffin was covered with flowers and fruit.

University student Kem Kim from Kampong Cham province told RFA he did not accept the police account of the killing.

“I want to find justice for him and find the real murderer.  I do not believe that he owed other people money.  I don’t believe it,” he said as he fought back tears.

A widely quoted analyst, Kem Ley has appeared on a RFA Khmer Service call-in show to discuss a report by the London-based NGO Global Witness documenting how Hun Sen and his family had amassed a $200 million fortune. The Hun family dismissed the report.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

Source link

Cambodia's Premier Says Media Can Ditch Samdech

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen reversed himself on Friday as he rescinded an order that required all news media to use his full title: Samdech Akeak Moha Sena Padey Techo.

The order for the media to use a term roughly translated as “Prime Minister and Supreme Military Commander” came in an edict from Hun Sen’s government issued in May.

The Ministry of Information threatened to enforce the edict last week, but Hun Sen announced the latest decision on his Facebook page.

“Regarding the use of the honorific title of a government leader, there is no need for media outlets to write exactly ‘the honorific title’ if journalists do not want to use it,” Hun Sen posted in Khmer.

Though Hun Sen lifted the edict, he also issued a warning.

“But the writing [of a news story] must respect the code of ethics and must have concrete sources avoiding the dissemination of an untrue story,” he posted.

English news outlets and independent radio stations had largely ignored the order, while most Khmer language outlets have long used the title.

The Information Ministry issued its earlier order during a nearly three-hour meeting at its Phnom Penh headquarters on May 12, telling journalists they must show respect for Cambodia’s highest leaders.

“We want you to state the full title of leaders in the story’s lead or first sentence,” Ouk Kimseng, undersecretary of state at the Information Ministry, said at the time.

During his more than 30 years in power, Hun Sen has exerted strong control over Cambodia’s media, and dissent is a risky proposition.

Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party have attacked dissenters with lawsuits, and the government has thrown opposition lawmakers in jail on what many see as questionable charges.

On Thursday, the London-based anti-corruption group Global Witness released a report accusing Hun Sen and his family of carving a business empire worth at least a $200 million out of the impoverished country’s economy to augment their political power.

The Cambodian government dismissed the report, but has yet to directly address the specific allegations detailed by researchers.

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

Source link