Tag Archives: Phnom Penh

More Montagnards pour in

28 May montagnards_hong-menea

The number of Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam awaiting processing in Phnom Penh has jumped dramatically, with 67 now stuck in limbo, according to the United Nations.

Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said that 22 more ethnic Jarai Montagnards from Vietnam’s Central Highlands have arrived in the capital in the past two weeks, having fled alleged religious and political persecution.

But the asylum seekers – some of whom arrived in January – have been left in limbo, with the Interior Ministry’s refugee department apparently refusing to process their claims.

“We have alerted the authorities on these arrivals and received no explanation on the delay in registration,” Tan said yesterday.

She added that UNHCR was unable to provide details about the new asylum seekers.

Khun Sambou, deputy head of the ministry’s General Department of Immigration, declined to comment yesterday.

Other government officials could not be reached.

Since October, well over 100 Christian Montagnards have travelled to Cambodia seeking refuge from alleged abuses.

Dozens have been arrested and deported, and, so far, just 13 have been granted provisional refugee status with the intention of resettling them in a third country.

In late April, 1,000 troops were stationed along the Vietnamese border in Ratanakkiri province to stop further arrivals.

But despite the risks, Rong Nay, executive director of the Montagnard Human Rights Organization, said the asylum seekers have no choice but to flee.

“The Vietnamese police make up stories and accuse them [of being] a criminal . . . and arrest them easily,” he said by email.

“The Montagnard Indigenous Peoples are the first occupants, the original peoples, and the rightful owners [of] the land of the Central Highlands. The land is the heart of the Montagnard people. If someone takes their land they will die. Today our land has been stolen and exploited by the government of Vietnam.”

An ethnic Jarai villager in Ratanakkiri, who has been assisting the asylum seekers, said more are waiting to cross.

“They are calling me, asking about the situation here and whether I can help them more or not. I said no, because soldiers are at the border. If I help them and it is successful, it is OK; but if it fails, I will be blamed,” he said.

The helper, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, added that, in addition to the 67 asylum seekers in Phnom Penh, more are still hiding out in the forest in Ratanakkiri.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said continued abuses in Vietnam mean “it’s entirely natural that the number of asylum seekers will continue to rise”.

“If Cambodia doesn’t want the Montagnards to come, then [Prime Minister] Hun Sen needs to go to Hanoi and persuade the leaders there to change the abusive way they are treating the Montagnards.”

Interior min says Assembly can’t summons governors

28 May
By Pech Sotheary, Thu, 28 May 2015, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/

A provincial and a district governor will not appear before two National Assembly committees probing possible corruption in land disputes, after Interior Minister Sar Kheng declared their summonsing a violation of protocol.

Earlier this month, the Assembly’s First and 10th committees sent formal letters to Kratie Governor Sar Chamrong and Bun Pheng, governor of Kandal’s Lvea Em district, respectively, asking that they appear to answer questions regarding corruption in local authorities’ handling of land disputes.

But neither body has the authority to do so, Sar Kheng said Tuesday in letters to each committee.

“As informed, municipal, provincial or district governors have no responsibility to appear before the National Assembly,” Kheng wrote, citing Article 121 of the constitution, which he said exempted provincial-level authorities from direct summonsing by parliament.

Kheng could not be reached yesterday.

Ongoing villager-business disputes in Kratie the committee hoped to examine include those in Chhlong and Snuol districts and Kratie town.

One of the firms, Casotim, operates in Pro Ma district, where government forces stormed a village in 2012, shooting a 14-year-old girl dead.

Eng Chhay Eang, chair of the First Committee yesterday said he agreed with Kheng’s legal interpretation, but that he would now ask the interior minister to appear in parliament to explain his reasoning.

State TV to Air Talks on LGBT Issues: Activist

26 May

Source: The CambodiaDaily   By Kuch Naren | May 26, 2015

After meeting with a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists Monday morning, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he promised to give them airtime on state broadcaster TVK for a roundtable discussion about the challenges they face.

“They suffer many misunderstanding from both family and press,” Mr. Kanharith said in a Facebook message when asked why he decided to set aside airtime for the activists on state television.

Srorn Srun, founder of the Cam ASEAN Youth advocacy group, who was among those at the meeting, said the group spoke to Mr. Kanharith about a range of issues.

“He seems to be supportive of people [attracted to the] same sex and he told his officials in the meeting to organize an LGBT roundtable to be broadcast on state-run TVK to give us a chance to speak about our challenges,” he said.

Mr. Srun said the activists plan to discuss the problems they face with their family, at work and at school, as well as advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

UN Continues Campaign Against Draft NGO Law

23 May

By Colin Meyn, cambodia daily | May 23, 2015

Following a meeting on Thursday in which Foreign Minister Hor Namhong scolded four U.N. representatives for their public criticism of the drafting process of a new NGO law, the U.N. released a statement Friday doubling down on its concern over the law, the last draft of which was released in 2011.

“It is ironic that the drafting of a law regulating civil society in Cambodia excludes civil society from the process,” Maina Kiai, U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, is quoted as saying in the statement. 

“Sidestepping the democratic process by leaving out civil society actors and their important contribution from the process, and avoiding international scrutiny of legislation, is not without precedent in Cambodia,” Mr. Kiai is quoted as saying, noting that recently passed laws on elections and the judiciary were passed with little or no public consultation.

Following his meeting with the U.N. representatives on Thursday, Mr. Namhong said he asked the group to respect the U.N. charter, which promises not to interfere in a country’s domestic affairs.

Namhong lays into US ambassador on NGOs

21 May

Surce: Phnom Penh Post,by Ethan Harfenist, Thu, 21 May 2015

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong has called out the US ambassador to Cambodia for the latter’s criticism of the Kingdom’s controversial draft law on NGOs.

Namhong wrote in a statement yesterday that his ministry was “dismayed” over an article written by Ambassador William Todd that criticised the proposed legislation.

“The words expressed by the foreign Ambassador to Cambodia are extremely insolent, even if he is a representative of a big country,” Namhong wrote.

He went on to cite the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, of which Cambodia and the US are signatories. “All members of the United Nations, big or small, shall respect each other in an equal manner, and abide by the above Convention and the international practice of courtesy in interstate relations,” the statement reads.

Todd’s piece, published on Sunday, took aim at the country’s draft law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. The ambassador wrote that the Kingdom’s “image is affected by the draft law” and warned that the “world is watching” its next moves.

Freedom Park Protesters Deny ‘Insurrection’

20 May ០១

By The Cambodia Daily Khy Sovuthy May 20, 2015

The trial of the 11 opposition activists charged with “joining an insurrection” for their presence at a July 15 protest demanding authorities reopen Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park continued in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday.

Seven opposition lawmakers and 11 activists were jailed after last year’s protest, which descended into a street brawl when the demonstrators fought back against notoriously violent government security guards who had for months terrorized their protests.


From left to right, opposition activists Ouk Pich Samnang, San Kimheng and San Seyhak sit on the stairs of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The lawmakers gained immunity from prosecution when they swore in to the National Assembly the following month, but the 11 activists had their first trial hearing last month.

Four of the 11 were questioned at the second session Tuesday, each telling the panel of three judges that they believed the brawl was sparked by the guards and denying the charges against them.

“I saw the people carrying national flags and I saw the security guards distributing wooden batons from the back of a Daun Penh district truck,” said Khin Chamroeun, chief of the CNRP’s youth wing in Phnom Penh.

“The people were not occupying the Naga Bridge area, they just went to demand that Freedom Park be freed.”

Another of the activists, Ke Khim, a tuk-tuk driver who often appears at protests in Phnom Penh but says he is not a member of the CNRP, denied he was taking part in an “insurrection” against the government on July 15.

“I didn’t know why the people went there but I heard information from the newspaper and radios, so I just joined there to use my freedom in a democratic society,” he said.

Yet Mr. Khim acknowledged that he had armed himself with a rock “for a short time” when the fighting broke out.

“When the situation had chaos, I carried a piece of stone to defend myself because I was scared someone would hit me, especially when I saw a few of the authorities’ spies walking and following me,” he said.

Ouk Pich Samnang, another of the arrested activists, said he believed plainclothes provocateurs had been employed by the state to start the fight.

“The police and military police do not dare to hit the people in public, because they are afraid to violate human rights, so they hire the third-hand group created by the state and the districts of Phnom Penh,” he said.

CNRP member San Seyhak, the last of the activists questioned Tuesday, said he did not join the fight.

“I received the voice of Khin Chamroeun through the walkie-talkie to ‘withdraw’ and that meant ‘do not join the violence,’” Mr. Seyhak said. “I was far away from the violent place, so I do not know who fought each other.”

Presiding Judge Lim Makaron said the trial will continue Tuesday.



Ninety-Five Chinese Construction Workers Protesting to Go Home

18 May
By, Cambodia Daily,  Ben Sokhean and Alex Consiglio | May 18, 2015

Ninety-five Chinese nationals working at a construction site on Koh Pich island protested outside the Chinese Embassy on Friday and then visited a commune office on Saturday to lodge a complaint against their employer for allegedly confiscating their passports.

Pea Horn, chief of Chamkar Mon district’s Olympic commune, said the workers visited his office after the protest at the embassy because they believe their boss resides in the commune.

“They came to my commune office because they want us to intervene to find their manager who stayed in a guesthouse in my location,” he said. “We went to check there, but he was gone.”

Mr. Horn said it was difficult to communicate with the workers, who only spoke Chinese, and that he did not know which company employed them.

“I just know they accused their manager of taking their passports, but I am not sure about more details because they cannot speak Khmer,” he said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Cheng Hong Bo declined to discuss the case.

“I don’t have any information right now,” he said.

At the construction site—operated by the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC)—workers on Sunday were eager to share information, but a translator at the site refused to help them.

One worker scribbled notes in a reporter’s notebook in Chinese.

“We want to go back to our country,” he wrote. “Restriction of personal freedom. No human rights.”

The translator, who would only identify himself as an office worker, called a superior on his mobile phone. Upon arriving, the man instructed workers to return to their temporary lodgings.

Refusing to identify himself, the supervisor sat down with a reporter and spoke through a translator.

He said that a CSCEC subcontractor had failed to pay the workers two months’ worth of wages. The man said that the workers’ passports were being processed by immigration authorities, then CSCEC would buy them plane tickets to return home.

But as the interview concluded, the man ordered a colleague to confiscate a reporter’s notes, refusing to return them unless press credentials were produced. Upon being presented with the credentials about 30 minutes later, CSCEC supervisors still refused to return the notes.

Another translator speaking for the supervisors, who identified herself as Mei, said reporters did not have permission to be at the construction site.

“To be honest, we sent your notes to our security office and it’s hard to get them back,” she said.

Nauru Volunteers Still Waiting for Gov’t OK

15 May
By, CambodiaDaily, | May 15, 2015

The head of the Interior Ministry’s refugee office said Thursday that he was still unaware of any government decision to accept or reject resettlement applications from a group of four refugees being held by Australia.

The four refugees, from Burma and Iran, are the first to volunteer to come to Cambodia from the South Pacific island of Nauru in a deal Canberra and Phnom Penh struck last year.

On Tuesday, Kerm Sarin said he had already sent his report on their applications up the chain of command for a final decision. “I have already sent the report to the upper level, so my job is over,” he said Thursday.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached.

On Wednesday, the Australian Associated Press reported that Australia had temporarily transferred the four to Darwin on Sunday, citing a spokesman for the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network.

Rights groups say the refugees were misled about conditions in Cambodia and induced to take the offer with promises of several thousand dollars each.

5 more Montagnards arrive; process lagging

14 May
By,Phnom Penh Post,Alice Cuddy and Phak Seangly, Thu, 14 May 2015

Ethnic Montagnards from Vietnam pose for a photo in Ratanakkiri province earlier this year after they fled to Cambodia to escape political persecution. ADHOC

As the government continues to flout its own refugee processing rules, five more Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam have entered the capital in recent days in the hope of having their claims registered, according to the United Nations.

Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said on Wednesday that five more Montagnards, a minority group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, had arrived in Phnom Penh, bringing the total number “currently awaiting registration” to 45.

“We’ve been urging the government to register them as soon as possible and not to refoule them,” she said.

Some of those waiting to be registered have been left in limbo in the capital for more than 100 days, despite the law saying they should be registered within a week.

According to rules stipulated in a 2009 sub-decree, refugee statuses should be determined within a maximum of 112 days of asylum seekers presenting themselves to the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Department.

Kerm Sarin, director of the Refugee Department, yesterday claimed that none of the asylum seekers had attempted to register their claims.

“I have not met them yet, [so] it is has nothing to do with the sub-decree,” he said.

But the UN and rights groups have said repeatedly that efforts have been made – and ignored by officials – to register the asylum seekers.

Since October, dozens of ethnic Jarai Montagnards have fled to Cambodia citing religious and political persecution.

Dozens have been deported, while 13 have so far been granted provisional refugee status after they were escorted to the capital by UN officials late last year.

UNHCR said yesterday that a third-country for resettlement has yet to be found.

Interior Ministry officials have previously threatened that, if this does not happen, they could be deported regardless of their refugee status.

As those in Cambodia look to an uncertain future, efforts are being ramped up to keep any more Montagnards out of the Kingdom.

The Post revealed earlier this month that almost 1,000 Cambodian soldiers have been stationed along the Vietnamese border in Ratanakkiri province in an effort to crack down on the asylum seekers.

One of the soldiers stationed inside the remote province’s sprawling border jungles claimed yesterday that the mission had not yet yielded any results.

“There has been no action,” he said.

Bittersweet End Nears for Embattled Land Dispute Family

12 May
By, Cambodiadaily,  Sek Odom and Simon Henderson | May 12, 2015

Mok Siv Hong packs away belongings at her family’s home in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

From his shack on the edge of a busy junction in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district Monday, 58-year-old Ly Sreang Kheng threw a rock at his feet and shook his head at the thought of a condominium stabbing the skyline on land he has spent years fighting for.

“I am very sad to lose my home, I have owned it for a long time. The others had no documents, as I have,” he said, referring to former neighbors who took compensation years ago and moved away.
Last month, with his daughter in prison over the land dispute with tycoon Khun Sear, Mr. Sreang Kheng and his family finally struck a deal to take compensation for the plot. But he said it was an agreement forced upon them.

“Yes we agreed to it,” he said. “But we should not have had to agree to it.”

Mr. Sreang Kheng claims to have lived on the plot of land since 1979. For years, local government and CPP offices loomed over his corrugated house, but the land was swapped with the Khun Sear Import Export Company in 2010.

In the five years since, the family endured a campaign of intimidation—waged by thugs allegedly hired by Mr. Sear’s eponymous company—for refusing to accept $15,000 compensation to move.

Under the country’s Land Law, Mr. Sreang Kheng was legally entitled to own the land, having occupied it for more than five years prior to 2001. His efforts to obtain the papers have been in vain, however, and the municipal court has sided with Mr. Sear as the dispute has dragged on.

In March, the family’s resistance was finally broken as they accepted a compensation offer to vacate the property. At the time, Mr. Sreang Kheng said he had conceded defeat, but not for the money. He said he hoped to secure the release of his daughter, 23-year-old Ly Seav Minh, who had been in prison since November after the company pressed charges following a scuffle with its security guards.

Choung Choungy, the family’s lawyer, said Monday that the final deal was agreed to after Ms. Seav Minh was released from prison, and that her jailing was not a factor in the family’s decision.

“They agreed to accept compensation because the mother and daughter had tried pursuing this through the courts and decided that prolonging the case would mean waiting longer, but still getting the same [result],” he said.

He added that a final settlement figure of $180,000 had been agreed to two weeks ago, with $50,000 paid upon signing and the remaining $130,000 to be paid on their departure from the property, planned for May 20.

Mr. Khun Sear could not be reached Monday. But his business partner, Yim Leang, confirmed the deal.

“Yes, we gave them compensation,” he said. “You should go ask the family how much money it was.”



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