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Six Vietnamese Charged Over Logging; Military Collusion Alleged

30 Mar

By: Aun Pheap , The Cambodia Daily, | March 30, 2015

The Mondolkiri Provincial Court on Friday charged six Vietnamese nationals with illegally logging in the province’s O’Reang district, where they were caught felling first-grade Sokrom trees after allegedly crossing into Cambodia with the help of a local military officer, officials said Sunday.

Officials from the Forestry Administration’s Mondolkiri cantonment arrested the six men in a forested section of Sre Khtum commune on Wednesday night as they were hard at work with chainsaws and a tractor, felling the trees and loading the valuable timber into three homemade trucks, according to Kong Putheara, the head of conservation and biodiversity for the administration in the district.

“The arrest came after a community forest patrol reported to us that some Vietnamese people entered the forests to cut down the trees,” Mr. Putheara said, adding that the men intended to transport the wood back to their home country.

“We questioned the six Vietnamese people and they told us that a provincial military official named Rith opened the [border] for them so they could enter Cambodia to log,” he said.

Provincial military commander Chhit Meng Sreng on Sunday confirmed that Sao Rith, 38, a second lieutenant, had been accused of aiding the Vietnamese loggers, but said only a court could determine his guilt or innocence.

“I already called this person back to the unit [headquarters] and I will send him to court…if they need him for questioning sometime,” Brigadier General Meng Sreng said.

“I always tell military officials not to do wrong because they will face the law, but they don’t listen to me,” he added.

Mondolkiri court prosecutor So Sovichea said he charged the six men with illegal logging on Friday and ordered them sent to the provincial prison to await trial.

“We already charged the suspects and we handed them to Investigating Judge Ya Natin to continue management [of their case],” he said.

Exile activists go to UN claiming US breaching human rights

30 Mar

By: Rebecca Moss, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 30, 2015

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Khan Hin, who was deported from the US five months ago, still holds out hope he can return to the only country he knows as home. Charlotte Pert

Tired of Washington’s indifference to their cause, Cambodian-American activists look overseas for help in fighting deportation

Naroen Chhin says he’s one of the lucky ones. With a felony drug conviction, the Philadelphia native might have joined hundreds of other Cambodian-Americans who have been deported to the Kingdom since 2002.

“I have friends and family who got deported back, but what was interesting is that I have the same criminal conviction … I committed the crime, I got convicted and I did my time, and I got to stay in the States,” the 31-year-old, who is now a community organiser with the immigration rights 1Love Movement, said in a phone interview from the US this week.

Unlike his deported friends and family, who only held permanent residency in the US, Chhin was a naturalised US citizen. That saved him from deportation, though Chhin said the deportees, most of whom came to the US as infants and have no memory of life elsewhere, ought to have the same second chance.

“It doesn’t make sense. They look like me, and they also came over as refugees and grew up in America,” he said.

Discouraged by political rhetoric and lack of action in Washington, Chhin and other Cambodian-American activists are looking for new strategies to fight the deportation of “exiled” Khmers after a decade of fruitless advocacy.

Under a treaty signed by Cambodia and the US in 2002, non-citizen Cambodians residing in America can be deported to the Kingdom and barred from re-entry for crimes ranging from drunk driving to murder. The Phnom Penh-based Returnee Integration Support Center puts the total number of deportees at 467. About 2,000 others back in the US, however, could be forced to repatriate.

While immigration reform is a hot topic in US politics – an executive order issued by President Barack Obama last November providing a path to legality for roughly 4 million undocumented immigrants was fiercely opposed by Republicans – the repatriation of convicted criminals is largely a non-issue for both major parties.

“There’s never been a place for there to be some understanding or policy related to people who have been deported for prior criminal convictions,” said Mia-la Kiernan, community organiser with the Southeast Asia Freedom Network (SEAFN) umbrella advocacy group, which also includes 1Love, in a phone interview from Philadelphia.

Crimes committed by newly arrived Cambodians, Kiernan added, resulted from the trauma of “US militarism” in Southeast Asia and the subsequent Khmer Rouge regime, as well as a lack of public support in the poor inner-city communities where the immigrants were resettled.

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Chanravy Proeung, Naroen Chhin and Chhaya Chhoum went to Geneva to petition the UN’s Human Rights Council. PHOTO SUPPLIED

“There’s such a polarisation between people who are considered the ‘good immigrants’ and people considered the ‘bad immigrants’,” she said.

American political scholars on both sides of the national immigration debate, which is largely fixated on Mexican and Central American migrants, agreed it would be difficult to garner support for convicted immigrants in either Congress or the White House.

“Immigration reform supporters have enough trouble making the case that otherwise law-abiding unlawful immigrants should stay, I don’t see much appetite for allowing convicted criminals who had green cards to return,” Alex Nowrasteh, immigration analyst at Washington-based libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, said in an email to Post Weekend, adding that deportation should be used more sparingly.

Jessica Vaughan, director of public studies at the Center of Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that argues for stricter immigration controls, said public opinion in the US was not on the activists’ side.

“Right now, all the political effort and momentum is in favour of changing US law to make it easier for the government to deport criminal aliens to countries like Cambodia,” she said, adding that deportation was a “reasonable consequence” for permanent residents guilty of serious crimes.

“Why should communities in America be exposed to their proven disregard for public safety and the law?” she said.

With no political solution in sight for the deportees, Chhin and two other advocates travelled to Switzerland this month to personally petition the United Nations, whose Human Rights Council is currently conducting a periodic review on human rights in the US, to address the issue.

“We went there specifically to advocate and hold the US accountable for the lack of clarity on that process, but also to really hold the US accountable for the punitive measures they take against the Cambodian-American refugee community,” Chanravy Proeung, a community organiser with SEAFN, said in a phone interview from Providence.

Proeung, Chhin and their colleague Chhaya Chhoum from New York met with officials from countries including France, China, Thailand and Vietnam. The idea, explained Chhin, was to reach out to countries that would be interested in challenging the US on human rights.

“They were very receptive – they were very surprised at what the US is doing in terms of human rights violations,” he said.

Khan Hin, a 30-year-old who was deported from California to Cambodia five months ago over a car theft conviction in 2004, said hearing of the trip to Geneva gave him hope.

Born in a Thai refugee camp without ever stepping foot in Cambodia, he came to the US as an infant, speaks almost no Khmer and knows of no surviving family left in the Kingdom. He didn’t even realise he wasn’t a US citizen, he said, until he was arrested at age 18.

“Living in the States all my life and getting exiled back here, and people over there doing all that stuff for us, it’s a blessing as I try to see a paved way to get back home,” he said.

One solution pitched by SEAFN members was to modify the US-Cambodia repatriation agreement along the lines of a similar deal made with Vietnam under which repatriation can only occur if the person arrived in the US after diplomatic relations were re-established in 1995.

“It is tailored in a very specific way so that people who were impacted by US militarism and refugee resettlement … aren’t impacted by repatriation,” said Proeung.

But any solution to the deportee problem, admitted Chhin, would be dependent on solving an entire array of issues affecting the Cambodian-American community, citing the “school to prison pipeline” as an example.

“I don’t doubt that it’s going to change in terms of immigration law, but there’s a whole lot of problems here, and for that to change it’s going to take quite some time,” he said.

Trial over Freedom Park brawl begins

30 Mar

By: Chhay Channyda, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 30, 2015

The trial of 11 opposition members and activists accused of “insurrection” over violent protests related to the disputed 2013 election began at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday.

The group appeared before Judge Lim Makaron to face charges stemming from the demonstration on July 15 last year in which Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers led supporters to demand access to the then barricaded Freedom Park.

The men, including CNRP’s head of information and dual Cambodian-American Meach Sovannara, are accused of instigating a brawl which left 39 security guards and at least six protesters injured. Five of the men remain in detention and all face between 20 and 30 years’ jail if found guilty in the case which has been labelled politically motived

The alleged weapons – pipes attached to CNRP and Cambodian flags – were displayed in the court.

Accused Oeur Narith, an assistant to Cambodian CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, told the court he was trying to help security guards being attacked amid the disorder.

“I had nothing in my hands except my bag,” he said. “I then saw a heavily built security guard being bashed at Seven Bright restaurant. I screamed not to use violence. I helped him.”

Narith said he followed lawmaker Mu Sochua to ask authorities to “release Freedom Park for people to use” and stated the orange cloths worn by protesters on the day were “a symbol of freedom”.

A second accused, Khin Chumreun, confirmed he attended a meeting on July 14 to plan the demonstration but said he had nothing to do with the violence. “As a youth leader, I only tell my youth help to monitor, not to let violence happen,” he said.

Cheng Peng Hab, a lawyer for the security guards, disputed their clams.

The hearing, which followed an unsuccessful bail application for two of the accused, was adjourned until April 20.

Disaster alert system begins

30 Mar

By: Rebecca Moss, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 30, 2015

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A woman sits on the roof of her house after flood waters inundated he property in Battambang’s Beung Tem village in Sangke district in 2013. Vireak Mai

Starting today, residents of Banteay Meanchey, Pursat and Kampong Thom provinces can enroll in a disaster-response calling service through their phones in anticipation of the impending rainy season.

“[In the past] the emergency comes before the information. The other channels we have used are very slow, so by the time the message gets to people, it is usually too late,” said Javier Sola, program director for Open Institute, who pioneered the technology in partnership with People in Need, a Czech-based emergency care organisation, and the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM).

Sola explained that television and radio are unreliable for emergency information because there is not a guaranteed audience. Internet dissemination is also not as widely available as mobile phones – which 90 per cent of Cambodians own – while text messaging is only available to 50 per cent of users and limited by literacy constraints.

“Voice is a much better way to communicate quickly in a way that [people] can understand,” said Sola. “The phone just rings.”

An instructional brochure distributed throughout the provinces depicts a woman, drawn in a noir-ish comic strip, who is able to use the service to get her family to safety before a flood. As women and children are the most vulnerable to death or injury during a natural disaster, featuring a female heroine – who is depicted acting on her own volition – is an important campaign element. Over the last 30 years, women accounted for 70 to 90 per cent of all disaster-related deaths in Southeast Asia, according to UN Women data.

To enroll, users dial 1294 and register their province and commune. A local official can then record a safety message, upload it to the system, and within 10 minutes thousands of people can hear the warning (the system makes 330 simultaneous calls per minute). The initiative comes on the heels of a successful 2013 test-run in five Pursat villages and is hoped to be available throughout Cambodia by 2017.

According to the UN Development Programme, the implementation of similar alerts in India in the last decade, allowed 1.2 million people to be evacuated, and only 21 lives lost, when Cyclone Phailin hit in 2013. In contrast, 10,000 people were killed during a 1999 cyclone that affected the same area.

“When villagers connect to the early warning system, they can prepare themselves, and rescue their animals – such as cows or buffalo – to a safe place,” said Seak Vichet, advisor to the NCDM. The government partnered with Cellcard and Smart for the program.

Details emerge of refugee meet

30 Mar

By:Daniel Pye, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 30, 2015

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A banner hangs on the fence of a refugee camp in Anibare district, Nauru, earlier this month where a Cambodian delegation was to meet with refugees. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Refugees who met with Cambodian immigration officials last week on the Pacific island of Nauru were told they would be given permanent visas and travel documents but would have to pay for English-language education and would lose all but emergency financial support after a year, a refugee said.

Two men attended the meeting where Cambodia explained how the resettlement program signed between Australia and Cambodia in September 2014 would work, but according to a refugee in the meeting, attendees only went out of curiosity and were not interested in moving to the Kingdom.

“We are traded like slaves between two corrupted governments. One wealthy but obsessed by the boats, the other one hungry enough to commit any crime [for] money”, the refugee, who cannot be named for security reasons, said.

“These two [countries] have created a great torture machine to reach their nasty political, economic purposes and are blessed enough to have the support of the all international organisations like [the] UN.

“Many people have died. Many children [have been] sexually abused. Many women [have been] raped … and everybody [is] calling for investigations instead of any real, practical help. We don’t need your investigation. We don’t need your sympathy. We don’t beg any fake respect. We just don’t want to be slaves anymore.”

According to the agreement signed by the two countries on September 26, Australia would cover all the costs of resettlement and later said it would also give Cambodia an additional $35 million in aid to sweeten the deal.

General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, and Kerm Sarin, director of the ministry’s Refugee Department, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The International Organisation for Migration, which has agreed to help facilitate the “voluntary” transfer of refugees from Nauru as long as a number of conditions are met, was also present at last week’s meeting, according to IOM’s Asia Pacific spokesman Joe Lowry.

“We would have had no talks with anyone unless they had expressed an interest in relocating. That hasn’t happened, to the best of my knowledge,” he said.

A spokesperson for Australia’s minister of immigration could not be reached yesterday.

The refugee on Nauru said the community felt criminalised, as other groups who arrived by boat at the same time had been allowed to move to Australia.

“Being [a] refugee is not [a] crime.… We are [neither] criminals nor slaves. We are ordinary people who are fighting for their right to live.”

Sesan dam gets new design

30 Mar

By: Daniel Pye and Khouth Sophak Chakrya, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 30, 2015

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Villagers living in the reservoir zone attend a community forum about the Lower Sesan II dam on Saturday in Stung Treng province. KIMBERLEY MCCOSKER

Cambodia’s largest hydropower project has been redesigned, leading to concerns from environmental groups, but a company official who confirmed the “design optimisation” over the weekend insisted that the Lower Sesan II dam will provide clean, safe energy and have few downstream impacts.

Ren Zhonghua, deputy director of the Hydro Power Lower Sesan II Company, also said critics of the dam needed to accept the reality of Cambodia’s electricity shortage and understand that the country would not develop without such projects.

The comments came after a delegation from the National Assembly’s environment commission led by Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Pol Ham visited the dam site over the weekend and met with affected communities living in the reservoir zone.

The controversial project, which will block the Sesan and Srepok rivers, is a joint venture between China’s Hydrolancang International and Cambodia’s Royal Group. It is expected to cost more than $800 million and go online in 2017. Experts have warned following extensive research into the projected impacts that it could lead to a food-security crisis in the Lower Mekong, affecting tens of thousands in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.

“We have authorised the design institute [an internal company body] to carry out design optimisation, rather than redesign. Compared with the original design, the total installed capacity remains unchanged after optimisation, with [a] safer dam, easier sediment flushing and flood discharging and more environmentally friendly,” Ren said.

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Machinery operates at the construction site for Lower Sesan II dam in Stung Treng province over the weekend. KIMBERLEY MCCOSKER

He added that the environmental impact assessment had been approved by the government, and measures to protect the environment were being put in place. As the Lower Sesan II reservoir was relatively small, he said, “the dam has little impact downstream”.

The reservoir was calculated to cover about 36,000 hectares, according to the original design – about half the size of Singapore.

Since the Post first visited the dam site in February 2014, about a month after the joint venture was formed and the early stages of construction began, a huge wall of rock has been erected across the Sesan River and several square kilometres on the northern bank have been clear-felled and burned.

Kol Samol, Stung Treng governor, told the visiting lawmakers during a meeting at Provincial Hall on Friday that environmental groups such as the indigenous-led 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN) were part of a foreign plot to undermine Cambodia’s move towards energy independence.

“They want to make sure Cambodia will continue to live off the milk from [Vietnam and Thailand], like a baby needs milk from its mother,” Samol said, referring to power-purchase agreements signed in the 1990s that require Cambodia to buy electricity from its neighbours.

However, 3SPN coordinator Meach Mean was quick to deny the accusation that opposition was foreign-led, and called for the dam to be halted so that a new impact assessment could be carried out following the “design optimisation”.

“The government should postpone this project temporarily to conduct an [assessment] again and provide people compensation properly,” he said.

But Ren of the Lower Sesan II Company said an effective compensation plan had already been put in place.

“In order to make the villagers willing and happy to move out, we increased the resettlement budget and standards, namely, all households to be resettled will have a house of 80 square metres and farmlands of 5 hectares, and their fruit trees and other properties will also be compensated accordingly,” he said.

The environment commission intends to submit a report to parliament in the coming days, and afterwards call Environment Minister Say Sam Al to answer questions about the project.

“I can’t promise all of you I can stop the project temporarily,” environment commission chair Pol Ham told villagers in Srekor on Saturday, “but I can promise to bring your concerns to the National Assembly leader [Heng Samrin] to raise the issues with the prime minister.”

However, that promise did little to mollify villagers like Phar Vy, who attended the public meeting with Ham.

“The government officials and company representatives want to move us from our ancient village where our ancestors’ coffins lay. We cannot do that,” Vy said, espousing a popular sentiment. “I will not move my ancestors’ remains. I’ll stay here until I die.”

Another Montagnard in Phnom Penh, UN Says

28 Mar

By: Colin Meyn , The Cambodia Daily, | March 28, 2015

Another Montagnard asylum-seeker has arrived in Phnom Penh, joining 10 others who are still in the capital after having their requests to have their refugee claims processed rejected, according to the U.N.

“This morning, a Montagnard asylum seeker sought the aid of our office in Phnom Penh,” Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the Office of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in an email. 

“Our staff brought him to the [Interior Ministry’s] Refugee Department for registration. He was refused, bringing to 11 the number of known asylum seekers in the city who have been denied registration.”

Ms. Lee said that the situation of 10 other Montagnards who arrived in Phnom Penh in recent months “remains unchanged; they remain unable to register.”

The government has been erratic in its handling of the asylum-seekers. Police deported 36 Montagn­ards attempting to make the trip from Ratanakkiri province to Phnom Penh in February.

However, just days later the government recognized the refugee status of 13 others escorted to Phnom Penh in December.

Doroshenko’s Lawyer Seeks Bail; Son Vows Legal Action

27 Mar

By: Khy Sovuthy , The Cambodia Daily, | March 27, 2015

A lawyer for Russian businessman Nikolai Doroshenko on Thursday requested bail for the 54-year-old, a day after he was arrested in Sihanoukville and imprisoned on fraud charges related to one of several disputes with fugitive developer Sergei Polonsky.

Military police arrested Mr. Doroshenko on Wednesday afternoon at his family’s Snake House restaurant and menagerie in Bei commune for failing to attend two court hearings last month about allegations that he forged signatures on fake documents to cheat Mr. Polonsky out of $10 million.

While Mr. Doroshenko remained behind bars at the Preah Sihanouk provincial prison Thursday, his lawyer, Chhun Chrea, sought his release.

“I submitted the bail complaint to the court this morning,” Mr. Chrea said, adding that his client was innocent of the fraud charges.

The charges—signature forgery, use of fake documents and breach of trust—are centered around the Sea Snake Investment Group, which both Mr. Doroshenko and Mr. Polonsky have a stake in.

Lawyers for Mr. Polonsky— who is wanted in Moscow on multimillion-dollar embezzlement charges—claim Mr. Doroshenko used the falsified documents to steal their client’s initial $10-million investment in the company. They are demanding the $10 million be returned and an additional $2 million in compensation.

Ros Saram, a deputy prosecutor at the Sihanoukville Provincial Court, said Thursday that there was a solid case against Mr. Doroshenko.

“I believe that we have some evidence that, based on the law, inculpates him,” he said.

Contacted Thursday, Mr. Doroshenko’s son Ostap, who is a captain in the provincial immigration police force, said his family would take legal action against Mr. Polonsky in response to his father’s incarceration. He said it had been Mr. Polonsky’s “mission to put him in prison.”

“Polonsky thinks he is right by the rules,” he said. “But we will see in the future who is right and who is wrong.”

Seven ‘Loggers’ Released Over Clearing State Land

27 Mar

By: Ben Sokhean , The Cambodia Daily, | March 27, 2015

The Stung Treng Provincial Court on Wednesday released seven men who were arrested for illegally logging in the province’s Sesan district, an official said.

The men were arrested on Monday for clearing state forest with machetes but released two days later after the court determined that they were not, in fact, loggers, according to prosecutor Pen Sarath.

“We decided to release them yesterday evening because they are not loggers,” Mr. Sarath said. “They are just workers who were middle-men, hired to clear that land,” he said.

“We are still investigating [to find] the leader in this case—the one who planned to clear the state land.”

Tith Vy, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Srekor-Kbal Romeas triage, who led Monday’s arrests, said his team followed the proper procedure in apprehending the seven.

“We arrested them because we received a report from the local commune officials about illegal logging,” Mr. Vy said.

“We received the report a day before [the arrests] about the logging, so we cooperated with commune police to arrest and question them.”

Khun Sear Land Dispute to Be Settled: Lawyer

26 Mar

By: BEN SOKHEAN , The Cambodia Daily, | March 26, 2015

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court again delayed the trial of a woman whose family is locked in a land dispute with tycoon Khun Sear on Wednesday, this time at the request of her lawyer, who is advising the family to give up their five-year battle and accept an apparent $160,000 compensation offer.

Ly Seav Minh, 23, and her family have been fighting Mr. Sear and his eponymous company over a plot of land in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district. She is facing charges of using violence against a property owner under the Land Law in relation to a 2013 scuffle with Mr. Sear’s security guards and has been in provisional detention since being arrested in November. Her father Ly Sreang Kheng is out on bail.

Choung Choungy, a lawyer representing the family, said during the hearing Wednesday that he was requesting a delay because he had filed a complaint to the Appeal Court over the municipal court’s refusal to grant Ms. Seav Minh bail.

Presiding Judge Svay Tonh granted the delay in the case, the second in two weeks.

However, after the hearing, Mr. Choungy claimed the family and a representative of Mr. Sear’s company had come to a verbal agreement last week that would see the company drop the case and pay the family $160,000 in return for them abandoning their home.

“The tycoon [Mr. Sear] wants the land…and the family accepted the compensation,” Mr. Choungy said. “So the company will drop the complaint. The family was forced to accept the deal because they want Seav Minh released from prison.”

Yet Touch Chhay, a lawyer for Mr. Sear’s company, said he knew nothing about the verbal agreement.

“I’m not sure about the negotiations, or any compensation,” he said. “I did not get any information from my client about this.”

Mr. Sreang Kheng and his wife, Mok Siv Hong, said after Wednesday’s hearing that they felt they had no choice but to give up their fight.

“I [will] accept the compensation because I want my daughter freed from prison,” Ms. Siv Hong said.

 

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