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Posts tagged ‘Kambuja Land of Cambodia’

Cambodian vote in elections testing strongman’s power

June 04, 2017

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodians voted in local elections Sunday that could shake longtime ruler Hun Sen’s grip on power. Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly warned of civil war if his Cambodian People’s Party loses the majority in city and village councils to the main opposition party that made major gains in the last general elections four years ago and claimed it was cheated out of outright victory. The polls could have a major impact on Cambodia’s political landscape ahead of 2018 national elections.

Hun Sen and his wife were among the early voters Sunday. His government has been accused of using violence against opponents, but in recent years has stalked its foes mostly in courts. After casting his vote, Kem Sokha, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said he expects to win more than 60 percent of the vote. In the last communal elections in 2012, Hun Sen’s party received 60 percent compared to the CNRP’s 30.6 percent.

On Friday, Hun Sen appealed to political parties to accept the outcome rather than make accusations of irregularities, saying courts can dissolve any party if it challenges the result of the vote. Hun Sen and some of his top ministers have frequently used strong rhetoric leading up to the vote, warning of dire consequences should the opposition win, in what has been seen as an attempt to intimidate voters into supporting him.

The ruling party could take some credit for bringing modest economic growth and stability in a country devastated by the communist Khmer Rouge’s regime in the 1970s. Hun Sen left the movement that was responsible for the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, disease and executions before it was toppled in 1979.

This week, Amnesty International accused Cambodia’s government of using its grip on the judiciary system to intimidate human rights defenders and political activists. It said in a report that since the 2013 general election, Hun Sen’s government has used the courts as a tool to imprison at least 27 prominent opposition officials, human rights defenders and land activists, as well as hundreds of others facing legal cases.

Also early this month, the State Department said the U.S. was urging Cambodia’s government to “guarantee a political space free from threats or intimidation” and respect freedom of expression for all its citizens.

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Cambodian court upholds life terms for 2 Khmer Rouge leaders

November 23, 2016

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A special Cambodian court on Wednesday upheld the life sentences for the two most senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people. The court said the massive scale of the crimes showed the two men’s complete lack of consideration for the lives of the Cambodians.

The Supreme Court Chamber said the 2014 verdict by a U.N.-assisted Khmer Rouge tribunal was “appropriate” given the gravity of the crimes and roles of the two — Khieu Samphan, the 85-year-old Khmer Rouge head of state, and Nuon Chea, the 90-year-old right-hand man to the communist group’s late leader Pol Pot.

“It is a historic day for Cambodia. For the first time in 41 years someone in the national leadership has been held criminally responsible for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime,” said tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen.

The two — who were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity including extermination, enforced disappearances and political persecution — sat impassively as the lengthy verdict was read out. They were detained in 2007 and started serving their sentences in 2014 inside the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s facility, where conditions are much better than ordinary Cambodian prison. They have access to radio and television.

About 1.7 million people are estimated to have died from starvation, disease and execution due to the extremist policies of the communist Khmer Rouge when they held power from 1975 to 1979. “The gravity of the crimes should be reflected in the sentence … the crimes were not isolated events but occurred over an extended period of time,” said Kong Srim, president of the Supreme Court Chamber.

Given the “significant role of the accused, the Supreme Court Chamber considers that the imposition of the life sentence for each of the accused is appropriate and therefore confirms the sentence imposed by the trial chamber,” he said, as he wrapped up a two-hour reading of the verdict.

He added that the “massive scale of the crimes” showed a complete lack of consideration for the “ultimate fate of the Cambodian population, especially the most vulnerable group.” Lawyers for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea filed lengthy appeals against their verdicts by the Khmer Rouge tribunal — formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was set up in 2006. They had alleged a slew of legal and factual errors, as well as biases by the judges.

They suggested that their clients were unfairly being singled out while the Cambodian government sought to block the tribunal from trying other suspects. “I waited for this moment for 40 years. It has now arrived,” said Seak Ny, a 64-year-old woman from the northwestern Pursat province whose husband died of starvation under the Khmer Rouge regime. She said the Khmer Rouge also killed her older brother and his five children when they found out he was a former soldier in the previous regime.

“Today I am happy because these people have received justice,” she said, adding she came to attend the tribunal to see the faces of the Khmer Rouge leaders. The two defendants are also on trial in a second case where they are facing charges of genocide against ethnic minorities and foreigners, and implementing policies of rape and forced marriages.

Originally all the charges were to have been part of one trial, but fears that they would die before proceedings could finish led to their case being broken into two parts, known as Case 002/01 and 002/02.

Their two co-defendants, Ieng Sary, the third-ranking Khmer Rouge leader and its foreign minister, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, died during the first phase of their trial. There have been charges made against other suspects in what are known as Cases 003 and 004, but they remain in limbo because of a lack of cooperation from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

Hun Sen has threatened to shut down the tribunal if further cases are pursued. He has repeatedly said that if the tribunal targets more defendants, it could incite former Khmer Rouge members to start a civil war. Few people share his belief, since the Khmer Rouge became a spent force almost two decades ago.

Hun Sen himself was a mid-level commander with the Khmer Rouge before defecting while the group was still in power, and several senior members of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party share similar backgrounds. He helped cement his political control by making alliances with other former Khmer Rouge commanders.

The tribunal’s operations have been complicated by its unusual hybrid nature, which pairs international and Cambodian jurists and works under complicated rules that have slowed progress.

Cambodia embraces China’s President Xi on state visit

Phnom Penh (AFP)

Oct 13, 2016

China’s President Xi Jinping promised Cambodia hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and loans on Thursday during a state visit to the nation, which is one Beijing’s staunchest regional allies.

Hundreds of students waving Cambodian and Chinese flags greeted Xi alongside officials at the airport before his motorcade sped into town for an audience with the royal family and later Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Cambodia has long been a strident supporter of Beijing’s communist rulers, who have lavished the poor country with cash.

On Thursday the two leaders signed 31 agreements that saw China give Cambodia $178 million in aid for economic cooperation, a $59 million loan, plus an additional $15 million in military aid.

Xi also forgave a $89 million debt, the leaders said in a joint announcement after a signing ceremony.

China is Cambodia’s top foreign investor and has given the country billions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans during Hun Sen’s 31-year rule.

In July it offered Cambodia nearly $550 million in aid, days after the kingdom was accused of undermining regional unity by backing Beijing in disputes over the South China Sea.

In recent years Cambodia has become a thorn in the side for neighboring nations hoping to present a unified front against China’s island building in the contested waters.

Several Southeast Asian nations have competing claims to parts of the sea and many in the region want to keep pressure on China over its efforts to militarize the sea.

But Cambodia’s unwavering support for China has scuppered regional efforts to jointly rebuke Beijing.

Ahead of Xi’s trip, a leading Cambodian newspaper published an article signed by Xi that praised the Southeast Asian nation for coming to its defense over the sea row.

“When China acted to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests and was devoted to resolving related disputes through peaceful negotiation, Cambodia did not hesitate to speak out to uphold justice,” the Chinese president wrote in the article published by Cambodia’s Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper.

He also described the two nations’ friendship as “beaming with new vitality” and enjoying “deep political trust and win-win economic cooperation”.

Large portraits of the Chinese leader and Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni were erected along the streets of the capital Phnom Penh ahead of the two-day visit, which is Xi’s first there as president.

Hun Sen regularly praises Beijing’s “no-strings-attached” aid, compared to help from the United States and European Union which is often accompanied by calls to address corruption and human rights abuses in his country.

“For Cambodia, China is the most important strategic and economic partner,” said Vannarith Chheang, who chairs the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, adding that Cambodia, in turn, is China’s “most reliable friend in Southeast Asia”.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Cambodia_embraces_Chinas_President_Xi_on_state_visit_999.html.

Defender of Cambodia’s dwindling forests wins Goldman Prize

April 18, 2016

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The latest crackdown on illegal logging in Cambodia is “just a game” and big timber traders are winning, says Ouch Leng, a former government official who has spent two decades helping poor villagers fight poaching of precious tropical forests.

Leng’s tenacious and perilous crusade to stop illegal logging and stop land concessions from forcing Cambodians out of their homes has won him a Goldman Environmental Prize, which honors grassroots environmental activism.

The award follows recent announcements that Cambodian authorities plan to expand protected areas of the Southeast Asian country’s forests by about a third. Long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen, whom many consider a backer of the biggest logging group, Try Pheap, recently said he had authorized rocket attacks on illegal loggers.

But Ouch Leng (ook leng) and other critics say reports of raids and other high-profile shows of force against illegal loggers belie the lack of arrests or prosecutions of those cutting and trading in illegal timber.

Asked if the crackdown is for real, he said, “It’s just a game.” “Nobody was arrested. The media was set up,” Leng said during an interview. “The Ministry of the Environment doesn’t care. They never go inside the jungle to patrol or arrest illegal loggers.”

Much of the timber trade is protected by military units that profit from deals with the loggers, and the stakes of fighting it can be deadly. At least five deaths in Cambodia have been linked to illegal logging since 2007, including that of Leng’s fellow environmentalist Chut Wutthy, who was fatally shot in 2012 while showing journalists a logging camp in the southwest’s Koh Kong province.

It’s a risk shared with other environmental crusaders defying powerful companies and government backers around the world. Honduran indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Caceres, a winner of a 2015 Goldman Prize, was killed by assailants who broke into her home last month. She had received death threats from police, soldiers and local landowners for her efforts to block construction of a dam.

Leng said he accepts the risks as part of his mission. “I don’t expect the government to allow me to live long,” he said. Leng wins $175,000 for this year’s Goldman Prize, as do five other winners: — Zuzana Caputova, a lawyer who led a campaign to shut down a toxic waste dump in Slovakia.

— Maxima Acuna, a Peruvian farmer fighting major mining companies’ efforts to take her land for a gold and copper mine. — Destiny Watford, a Baltimore, Maryland, student who helped prevent construction of a trash incinerator in her area.

— Edward Loure, a Tanzanian communal land rights leader. — Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, who campaigned to create a nature reserve in Puerto Rico to protect endangered leatherback sea turtles. Leng travels into the forest armed only with a camera and a GPS locator, tracking illegal loggers. At times he works undercover by cooking for loggers, hauling cargo on docks or posing as a tourist.

Showing determination early on, Leng excelled in his studies in mostly rural Takeo province. When his village chief denied him a permit to travel to Phnom Penh to take university exams, he says he hid on a sugar cane train to get to the city. After studying law, he was assigned to the Foreign Ministry, and later to the Ministry of Planning. Drawn into politics, he moved to a nongovernmental organization and began investigating illegal logging.

Marcus Hardtke, a German environmentalist who lives in Cambodia, says the prize is well-deserved. “Ouch Leng is one of a handful of people fighting to stop forest destruction in Cambodia,” Hardtke said. “It is up to activists like Leng and affected local communities to make a stand against the short-sighted, greed-driven policies of the Phnom Penh elite. They are doing just that, often at great personal risk.”

Lately, Leng’s attention has focused on a conflict between local villagers and a Chinese company that is developing a massive resort on a choice swath of coastland near the Thai border in Koh Kong province.

Residents complain they were forced off their land and lost their main livelihood of fishing when they were relocated inland after the government granted a 99-year land lease to China’s Tianjin Union Development Group Co., which has built a golf resort and plans a yacht club, casino, villas and other luxury facilities.

“Before, those people could earn $2,500 a year, or about $100 a night fishing. Now they cannot fish because the Chinese company grabbed everything. They have nothing to eat,” Leng said. The United Nations says land rights conflicts have become Cambodia’s No. 1 human rights issue. Land concessions have forced villagers to make way for plantations and other projects. Meant to promote development, such arrangements often have left communities worse off, critics say.

They’ve also accelerated the loss of precious, diverse forests of increasingly rare tropical timber, as loggers push ever deeper into protected areas and also clear-cut land of less valuable wood that is sometimes sold as fuel for factories.

Cambodia remained heavily forested until relatively recently, thanks in part to lingering battles with Khmer Rouge guerrillas and massive use of land mines during the Vietnam War. As the economy opened in the early 1990s, investment from China poured in. Forest cover dropped to 48 percent in 2014 from 57 percent in 2010 and 73 percent in 1990, a loss of nearly 3 million hectares of tropical forest. Rosewood, known as “hongmu” in Chinese, is especially prized, and loggers can get $5,000 for a cubic meter of the brightly-hued timber.

Leng, who chairs the Cambodia Human Rights Task Forces organization, says the Goldman Prize money will help support forest patrols and community-level efforts to combat illegal logging. Like many in Cambodia, he views the government’s record with skepticism.

“The poverty-reduction policy of the government seems to be just to kill the poor people,” Leng said. “Their ‘master plan’ to improve living standards is set up very well and looks very beautiful. To provide jobs with fair competition and construction of schools, roads, bridges. … To provide land for the people and conserve their houses,” he said. But he added that such talk is generally not put into practice by private companies or the government.

Still, Leng believes he is making headway in convincing the public to resist the loss of their livelihoods and homes. “Many political parties, government officials, students and monks are involved in forest issues,” Leng said. “The revolution will come from the land and from the forest.”

Cambodia’s Kampot pepper wins coveted EU protection

March 02, 2016

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s Kampot pepper, a go-to spice for chefs around the world, has joined an elite group of gourmet food items whose names are protected by the European Union, joining products such as Gruyere cheese from France and Parma ham from Italy.

The coveted designation, known as Protected Geographical Indication, or PGI, works like a trademark protection that certifies the origin of regional foods. It means that any product sold in EU countries calling itself “Kampot pepper” must come from a designated region in southern Cambodia that includes Kampot and neighboring Kep province.

The recognition was awarded to Kampot pepper on Feb. 18, making it the first Cambodian product to receive the label, the EU office in Cambodia said in a statement this week. The peppercorns, which come in white, red and black, are described by gourmet chefs as having a complex flavor with floral overtones. Cambodian farmers from the seaside region on the Gulf of Thailand say the area’s microclimate and mineral-rich soil give the pepper its unique taste.

Like so many industries in Cambodia, Kampot pepper’s production collapsed in the 1970s during the Khmer Rouge era, when an estimated 1.7 million people died at the hands of the brutal regime and the country’s farmland was largely replaced by rice paddies.

The pepper industry’s revival came in the 1990s, after peace was restored in Cambodia following the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 reign of terror and years of subsequent civil war. In 2010, Cambodia’s Commerce Ministry took a first step toward protecting Kampot pepper by giving it a domestically issued geographical indication status. The government applied to the EU in 2014 to expand the status to the European bloc.

“It is the first Cambodian product to receive this status in the EU, a single market of more than 500 million consumers and 28 countries,” Alain Vandersmissen, charge d’affaires of the EU’s delegation to Cambodia, said in an email.

“From now on, (Kampot pepper) will benefit from a very high level of protection on the EU market,” he said. The pepper is also known in Khmer as Mrech Kampot and in French as Poivre de Kampot. Nguon Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association, sees the PGI designation as a seal of quality that will boost sales of the spice, which is currently grown by 342 families on 184 hectares (455 acres) of land in Kampot and tiny Kep province.

In 2015, the region produced 60 tons of Kampot pepper, of which 70 percent was exported, mostly to the EU, the United States and Japan. “We are delighted that our production has finally been recognized by the world’s biggest market, the EU,” Nguon Lay said. “The status will help improve our living standard as more and more customers become impressed with our Kampot pepper.”

Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok contributed to this report.

UN’s Cambodian soldiers clear land mines in divided Cyprus

August 26, 2015

MAMMARI, Cyprus (AP) — Cambodian army Lt. Sovannara Leang says helping clear ethnically-divided Cyprus of land mines has hit home with him.

“This has affected my country as well,” said the 32-year-old officer who’s been in the army since 2002. “It’s a humanitarian issue. It affects people’s lives.” Land mines remain a scourge for Cambodia where millions of undetected mines left over from three decades of conflict continue to injure, maim and kill.

Leang and his 20-man team where seconded from Lebanon’s U.N. peacekeeping force to help clear a parcel of farmland inside a no-man’s land that separates breakaway Turkish Cypriots in the north from internationally recognized Greek Cypriots in the south.

U.N. Peacekeeping Force Commander Maj. Gen. Kristin Lund said the team disposed of two anti-tank mines and anti-personnel mine fragments that had shifted into the U.N.-controlled area from an adjacent Turkish Cypriot minefield during winter floods.

The 17,000 square meter (183,000 square foot) parcel will be released for cultivation and grazing. Lund said the U.N. has received a pledge from Turkish Cypriot authorities to clear their minefield in the coming months and eliminate the danger of mines shifting in the area once and for all.

The land mines, like the U.S.-made, World War II-era anti-tank mines the Cambodian team disposed of, are a vestige of defenses set up in the wake of the 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup that aimed to unite Cyprus with Greece.

U.N. led-demining work between 2004 and 2011 removed more than 27,000 mines from inside the 180 kilometer-long (120-mile) U.N.-controlled buffer zone. But Lund said no progress has been made in accessing the buffer zone’s remaining four minefields — three controlled by the Greek Cypriots and the other by Turkish forces.

Many more minefields lie on either side of the buffer zone, although all anti-personnel mines have been removed from Greek Cypriot minefields under the country’s international treaty obligations. Lund, who’s the U.N.’s first and only female peacekeeping force commander, said there’s now “real momentum” to move ahead with ridding Cyprus of all remaining minefields amid a positive climate in renewed talks to reunify the country.

Underscoring their commitment to peace, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have agreed to open new crossing points across the divide which Lund said has refocused attention on demining needs in those areas.

Earlier, Anastasiades provided Akinci with detailed information about 28 Greek Cypriot minefields in the north. Lund said 25 of those minefields were found to pose no mine risk at all. “I don’t think this beautiful island should have any mines at all and this will be to everyone’s benefit,” Lund said.

Cambodia deports fugitive Russian tycoon

May 17, 2015

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia deported a fugitive Russian tycoon Sunday who was living illegally in the Southeast Asian country after he was accused of embezzling $175 million in his homeland.

Accompanied by Russian authorities, Sergei Polonsky was put on a flight to Moscow via Vietnam early Sunday morning, said immigration official Ouk Hey Sela. Polonsky was arrested Friday in the southern Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville, where authorities said he had been living for two years with an expired visa.

The real estate tycoon was charged in Russia in June 2013 with embezzling more than 5.7 billion rubles ($175 million) from 80 property investors. Cambodian police had first arrested him in November 2013 after he was added to Interpol’s “red list” of top fugitives, but released him on bail a few months later based on a preliminary ruling against his extradition.

In April 2014, Cambodia’s highest court ruled that Polonsky could not be sent back to Russia because the two countries had no extradition treaty. After that ruling, he told reporters that he was innocent of the embezzlement charges and that the case against him was an attempt to gain control of his holdings.

Polonsky first came to public attention in Cambodia in 2012, when he allegedly attacked the crew of a boat after a dispute erupted during a New Year’s Eve outing. He was jailed for more than three months on assault charges before reaching an out-of-court settlement. He went to Israel and later returned to Cambodia.

Ouk Hey Sela said Polonksy would not be allowed to return to Cambodia.

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