Thursday, January 1, 2009

Retrospective on the news in Cambodia for 2008 (Part I)

By Ka-set in English
Click here to read the article in French
Click here to read the article in Khmer

Kambol, Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 4/02/2008. Nuon Chea, former Brother Nr 2 during the Khmer Rouge Regime, at his first appearance at the pre-trial chambers of the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers at the Courts of Cambodia) (Photo: John Vink / Magnum)

Legislative elections, listing of the Preah Vihear temple followed by an open conflict opposing Cambodia and Thailand, new decisive steps at the tribunal in charge of trying former Khmer Rouge leaders and criminals, food crisis, world financial meltdown... The year 2008 was for sure an eventful one, considering the size of the little Kingdom of Cambodia. Ka-set journalists applied themselves to report and analyse the richness of the news that happened from the beginning of the year 2008 and more particularly from March 27th, date of the public launching of the independent news website about Cambodia and Cambodians abroad and available in Khmer, French and English, On the occasion of the new year 2009, the independent media editorial team offers its readers the opportunity to go back, with a two-part publication, over the main facts of the year that passed.

JANUARY: The dengue fever, Mia Farrow and the FBI

4th : The dengue control Department at the Ministry of Health announces 407 dead following the epidemic outburst of dengue fever in 2007. The epidemic of haemorrhagic dengue fever was the deadliest in the country since 1998.

20th : The American actress Mia Farrow is denied the right by Cambodian authorities to organise a ceremony on behalf of the “Dream for Darfur” organisation, at the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide in Phnom Penh. The goal was to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis which has befallen that area of Sudan, and in the meantime condemn China, one of the main trade partners dealing with the African state. The Cambodian government refuses to see its Chinese ally targeted on the Cambodian territory.

22nd : Exactly four years before, popular trade union leader Chea Vichea was assassinated by strangers in broad daylight, in front of a news stand in the middle of Phnom Penh. One hundred or so union activists, Human rights defenders and representatives of the opposition gather on the anniversary day on the crime scene to pay homage to the key-figure of the union movement and urge once more the government for a re-opening of the investigation, for the liberation of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, sentenced to 20 years in jail for the murder of the union leader after a much criticised trial, and for Chea Vichea's true murderers to be arrested.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 22/01/2008. Sam Rainsy, head of the opposition Sam Rainsy party, during the 4th commemoration of the assassination of union leader Chea Vichea (Photo: John Vink / Magnum)

31st : The United States open a FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) office in Phnom Penh. The office is inaugurated by Robert Mueller, FBI director. The bureau is set to collaborate with the Cambodian authorities in the fight against terrorism and cross-border crime.

FEBRUARY: Khmers rouges and evictions

7th : The second Public Hearing of the tribunal (the ECCC) established to try former Khmer Rouge leaders sees civil parties taking part for the first time in the judicial proceedings, a real step forward in the history of international penal law.

15th : Sam Bith, former Khmer Rouge guerilla commander, dies at the age of 76. In December 2002, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for the July 26th 1994 attack of a train linking Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. The attack had claimed the lives of 16 passengers and had ended with the abduction and murder of three Western backpackers.

22nd : International and local organisations for the Defence of Human rights expressed their indignation facing new violence upsurges concerning land conflicts. In front of an escalation of repressive methods used against inhabitants, they called for an immediate moratorium on evictions until legal dispositions are finally adopted to protect victims of forced displacements. According to an astounding report published by Amnesty International on February 11th, more than 150,000 Cambodians throughout the country are exposed to the risk of losing their home.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 22/12/2007. Dey Krohom inhabitants resisting eviction by 7NG company employees Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 22/01/2008. (Photo: John Vink / Magnum)

26th-27th : During two days, the ECCC held on-site investigations at Choeung Ek, site of the mass graves and now a memorial, and at the former S-21 torture centre, now the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. Duch, the former director of Tuol Sleng, where more than 14,000 people suffered torture before being executed at Choeung Ek, was present for a reconstruction of events. The sessions were also attended by surviving prisoners.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 27/02/2008. Policeman, outside S-21 torture centre, during a reconstruction with its former director, Duch (Photo: John Vink / Magnum)

MARCH: The Killing Fields

30th : Death of Dith Pran. His friendship story with an American journalist in Cambodia in the 1970s and his ordeal through the Khmer Rouge regime were adapted into a film production in 1984 by Roland Joffé in The Killing Fields. Dith Pran died of cancer at the age of 65 in New Jersey (United States).

APRIL: Marriage, police and fried chicken

4th : The issuing of marriage certificates involving foreigners and Cambodian women is temporarily suspended by Cambodian authorities. The measure was taken with a view to fight human trafficking, the authorities explained. Since the beginning of the year, three south-Korean agencies in charge of organising marriages between Cambodian women and their would-be husbands have been shut down by the Ministry. The ban was lifted on November 17th.

22nd : Heng Pov, former Phnom Penh city police commissioner, is sentenced for the sixth time on Tuesday April 22nd, this time to 18 years of imprisonment. If one added up all of Heng Pov's sentences up to that day, the former commissioner would spend 58 years and 6 months in jail.

28th : Inauguration and opening with great pomp of the first KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) in Cambodia, located in Phnom Penh, on Monivong Boulevard.

MAY: Rice and corruption

5th : The creation of a community of rice-exporting countries fuels debates. Prime Minister Hun Sen sends a reassuring message to the Philippines, who takes a dim view of the establishment of an Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries (OREC) which would gather Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar together. The initiative appeared in a context of global inflation in rice prices.

Prey Nup, Kompong Som (Cambodia), 25/06/2004. Ploughing the rice fields in polder 1 (Photo: John Vink / Magnum)

16th : The Civil Society League, fighting corruption, organises a march towards the Cambodian National Assembly to hand in a report concerning the campaign they led in the country. The coalition, gathering about 40 local NGOs, collected between December and April more than a million fingerprints among citizens who were ready to denounce corruption. The anti-corruption law, demanded by donors, has been ready for ten years but left aside.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 16/05/2008. More than a million fingerprints against corruption...(Photo: John Vink / Magnum)

26th : Prime Minister Hun Sen lifts the ban on the exportations of Cambodian rice. The embargo had been decided two months earlier to curb the inflation of rice prices.

JUNE: Media and prostitutes

4th : About a hundred representatives of prostitutes denounce the new law against human trafficking in Cambodia, adopted in march 2008. According to them, it led to the shutting down of brothels and the often violent arrests of independent prostitutes by the police. The prostitutes were then sent to a so-called rehabilitation centre on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital.

11th : The organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounces the arrest of Dam Sith, editorial director for the daily newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience) affiliated to the Sam Rainsy Party and calls for his liberation. His arrest came “a few weeks only before the legislative elections.” The journalist, jailed after a complaint for defamation and relaying of false information was lodged against him by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong, was freed on June 15th after an intervention on the part of the head of government.

The second part of the retrospective on the news in Cambodia, from July to December 2008, as seen by the editorial team of Ka-set, will be published on Friday January 2nd.


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