Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The price of loyalty: is Cambodia’s ruling party losing
its traditional strongholds?
By: Colin Meyn - POSTED ON: May 9, 2017

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party dominated the last round of commune elections in 2012. But much has changed, and local polls in June will test whether the system that has kept Southeast Asia’s longest-serving leader in power is crumbling

Sin San had retired from teaching and taken up a life of religion, spending days at a local pagoda and nights at home with his family, when his old bosses came calling. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) wanted him to become a village chief, if only until the next local elections. His daughters talked him into taking the job.
“I saw the way the old village chief worked was not helpful to the people,” he said at his two-storey house on a main street in Donkeo City, the capital of Takeo province. His predecessor, in the role since 1979, was ill, he said, with his organs and eyesight failing. But the locals were also sick of him.
San said people lost land and businesses during his predecessor’s decades as village chief – the lowest rung of public office, which falls under elected commune chiefs and politically appointed district chiefs and provincial governors. Residents also had to pay for documents – death certificates, for example – that were supposed to be free, and those who didn’t support the CPP struggled to get his signature at all. “The way he treated the people was painful,” San said. 
Wearing an almost-matching grey outfit and occasionally rifling through a stack of administrative papers, San looked the part of a village chief, but the 68-year-old was not making much of an effort to help campaign for the country’s local elections, which are set for 4 June. “Right now the CPP is very busy asking members to hold more meetings to get people to vote,” San said. “I tell them I have to go to Poipet or the provinces to take care of some business.”
San, like many in this rural province now dotted with garment factories, blamed a culture of greed in provincial politics largely on Sok An, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s top deputy and head of the ruling party in Takeo, who amassed an unparalleled portfolio of government positions and a vast personal fortune before passing away in March.

“I don’t want to talk too much about politics or I will get myself killed,” San said.
Death has been a prevailing force in the province over the past year. Three of Takeo’s most famous sons – Kem Ley, a political analyst and subversive raconteur; Pen Sovann, the country’s first prime minister after the Khmer Rouge; and Sok An, who personified the centralisation of power under the CPP – have passed on. Pen Sovann and Sok An by way of age and illness; Kem Ley in a brazen daylight assassination.
With Hun Sen and his long-ruling party facing one of their toughest political tests ever in the national election set for 2018, the question is whether it’s all a bad omen; whether the CPP’s time has also passed.
An impossibly long wall lines the road on the way to Sok An’s farm in Takeo. This is not just a city slicker’s hobby garden. It’s an industrial outfit run by his son, where cows graze next to sprawling orchards of organic coconuts and mangoes that are sold under the Soma brand in Phnom Penh, less than two hours away. Sok An delighted in escaping to his rural estate and tending to his orchids, an aviary housing his collection of rare birds and, most famously, his prized fighting cocks.
His life’s work, however, was as a chief strategist and a top administrator of an empire headed by Hun Sen. With each passing decade in Cambodian politics, the network has expanded, adding new patrons and clients from the Khmer Rouge when it disarmed, from the royalist Funcinpec party as it crumbled, and anyone else useful in a system that critics say operates above the law and in the service of a powerful few. Sok An’s three sons either declined to be interviewed or could not be reached.
Cheang Nget lives on a road named after Sok An; no one in her community had a say in the matter. The 47-year-old’s son worked for a year on his farm making $80 a month, about half the salary of a garment factory worker. Nget wonders why a man with so much money didn’t try harder to help ordinary people like her.
“What has Sok An done for us?” she asked, sitting under her wooden house alongside Khaou Phat, a neighbour who is two years younger and shares the troubles of being an uneducated woman raising children in rural Cambodia.
“They have built roads and hospitals,” Phat said of the CPP leaders. “But when it comes to trying to survive, they have no idea.”
Nget and Phat were wary of talking openly or honestly about politics, but didn’t hide their inclinations. “I just don’t want to give my vote to this party any more,” Nget said.
Despite the CPP’s domination of local elections in 2012, when it won the vote in more than 97% of 1,633 communes, signs are pointing to significant losses this year, or even an all-out defeat, analysts say.

They see an electorate that is only getting younger and more removed from a political brand burnished decades ago, as well as an ever-increasing number of Khmer-language websites that now inform voters through cheap smartphones with cheap internet connections. The discontent expressed by voters four years ago, when the CPP narrowly won a disputed national ballot, has shown no sign of abating, and people are placing blame for social ills squarely on Hun Sen and his ageing comrades atop the ruling party, said Lao Mong Hay, a political analyst in Phnom Penh and former legal advisor to opposition leader Kem Sokha.
“The system is so centralised in terms of allocation of resources,” he said. The most powerful CPP officials head committees that supersede the government all the way down to the village level. “But they are not delivering services to the people,” he added. “They are digging canals and then not making any system to manage them.”
Just as worrying for the CPP are those inside the party who are also feeling neglected, stuck in place, or ready for a new boss, said Mong Hay: “With nepotism, corruption, the promotion of the son of this or that minister, it creates frustration, resentment.” Similarly, the system of favours that has brought people of varied political leanings under Hun Sen’s tent has, over time, left many well off and unbound from their patrons in the party. “They are less and less dependent on the whims and wishes of their bosses,” he said.
Since their eyes were supposedly opened by the last election result, CPP leaders have devoted most of their energy to destroying the opposition and silencing critics, rather than improving public services and tending to the people’s demands, said Cham Bunthet, a political analyst and university lecturer in Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen is not only ruling the country through fear – jailing dissidents and warning of civil war if his party loses – he is also deeply fearful, Bunthet said. The premier knows that corrupt and self-interested public officials are eating away at his party’s popularity but is too scared to stop them, he added.
“The problem is he has no one using their authority and power to get things done. He just says things but won’t act because he’s afraid those people will run away from him and join the opposition,” Bunthet said. “You can’t change in the face of fear.”
It’s been two decades since Hun Sen faced such an uncertain political future – when he crushed his royalist rivals in factional fighting on the streets of Phnom Penh in July 1997. It was in the days after that battle that Hav Pheak said he met Pen Sovann, Cambodia’s first post-Khmer Rouge prime minister. Pheak would become Sovann’s personal bodyguard and marry his adopted daughter.
After Sovann’s death in October, which brought thousands to the streets in mourning of the opposition lawmaker, Pheak has been looking after his house in Takeo, which sits across from the King Club, among the flashiest of a number of karaoke bars that line a main drag heading out of Donkeo City.
The ruling party is now in overdrive ahead of the election, travelling to all corners of the province, holding meetings and handing out gifts in exchange for voters’ support, or at the very least some of their time and outward appreciation, according to Pheak. “For the CNRP, the people pay their own money to come and listen,” he said of the political opposition.
Though the CPP knows about the problems people face, and its slipping popularity for failing to address them, the party is incapable of changing its ways, Pheak said. If lower level officials followed instructions from Hun Sen to change their corrupt practices and serve the people, they would be crippled in the very system that has made those in its upper echelon filthy rich, he added.
“People don’t follow what he says because they have to make money. And that money supports the party,” Pheak said. Some of that money is then used to fund campaigns heavy on handouts, he added, but that wasn’t winning votes any more. “They don’t give them what they want. They give them things they don’t want.”
A few minutes away, CPP officials were spending the morning in a meeting at the party’s provincial headquarters, setting out their election plans. Kin Net, whose business card reads “Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Permanent Committee of the CPP Takeo Provincial Committee”, invited Southeast Asia Globe into his spacious office after finishing lunch.
“I think we are going to win, and win by a lot,” he said, punctuating his remarks by rapping his hands on a hardwood conference table. Net said the notion that the CPP had failed the province over the past few decades was shared by an ungrateful few. He also rebuffed the most common complaints among locals: land insecurity, job scarcity, indebtedness and a broken justice system.
“Everything our group does is always what the people want. That is my opinion and the real situation as well,” he said. “People who say this and that – there are no jobs or that business is bad  – it’s because they don’t work to move up.”
If dogged determination is the only way up in Takeo, Kem Ley offered an inspiring example. He got top marks in high school, went to university in Phnom Penh, returned to Takeo as a medical doctor and eventually got a position at the Ministry of Health. But he was not content.
Kem Ley left the government to do social research, mostly for NGOs. He rose to national prominence after the disputed 2013 election as a steady voice of reason during volatile times. He appeared often on the radio to discuss politics and current events, posted enlightening stories and scathing satire on Facebook and started the Khmer for Khmer advocacy group, which launched the Grassroots Democracy Party.
His assassination in July at a gas station convenience store in Phnom Penh, carried out by a former soldier believed to be a hired gun, is widely assumed to have been orchestrated by the CPP, and to many epitomised the danger of speaking truth to power in Cambodia.
Kem Ley’s childhood home in Donkeo City has been turned into something of a pilgrimage site since his body was laid to rest there. A massive sign bearing his smiling face is planted along the road. His mother, Phok Se, spends her days next to her son’s grave, meeting with those who come to pay their respects.
She doesn’t look at the photographs lined up above her, showing eight different angles of the same scene: her son’s lifeless body lying in a pool of blood. “Some people around here said people should see his body to be reminded there is no justice,” she said.
Phok Sambo, a cousin who lives next door, said he didn’t realise Kem Ley was famous until he was shot dead. As the CPP village chief since 1993, he has found the situation particularly vexing.
“It’s hard for me to say what I feel and think,” Sambo said of working for a party widely blamed for murdering his own cousin. His wife and daughter sell coffee and simple lunches from their busy little roadside restaurant in front of their house, and his son-in law makes decent money moving dirt in his dump truck. Sambo wasn’t inclined to thank his bosses.
“Sok An has done nothing with this province; he just built schools with his name on them,” he said. Asked who he planned to vote for this year, he laughed, noting that he used to go around the village asking people the same question ahead of elections. “Others in the party are saying: ‘I guess you’re going to vote for the CNRP because you are Kem Ley’s cousin.’ I say: ‘Guess whatever you want if you want to start a fight.’”
“There will be change,” he added. “But what kind of change? It’s hard to say whether it’s going to be peaceful.”

Cambodia: Hun Sen uses forum session to lash out at media

CAMBODIA’s Prime Minister Hun Sen hijacked a press conference at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Asean in Phnom Penh on Thursday to attack two media outlets he accused of spewing anti-government rhetoric, say local reports.
In his tirade, the leader singled out The Cambodia Daily and Radio Free Asia (RFA) – both independent English-language dailies – labelling them “American outlets” as he ducked their business-related questions.
“You work for Radio Free Asia, which is a radio against the government. And you write for Cambodia Daily, which opposes me all the time,” he said, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
The Cambodia Daily said the journalists Hun Sen pointed to when making his remarks had asked the leader how the nation’s youth would be trained for jobs of the future. They also asked for details on Cambodia’s plans for participation in China’s “One Road, One Belt” economic policy.
Hun Sen told them to “write it properly because it is a live broadcast”, before adding if the journalists failed to do so, “then it will be seen that you, niece and nephew who are working for foreigners, are actually the servants of foreigners.”
“I don’t want to hear such a word,” he reportedly said.
According to The Phnom Penh Post, Hun Sen’s tirade didn’t end there. The prime minister also went on to link his achievements in eliminating the Khmer Rouge with the freedom the two journalists currently enjoy in working for “foreign” media outlets.
“Your grandparents and parents could survive, so that is why you can work for American radio and newspapers. Is this not a live example of what the Royal Government is doing for you?” he was quoted saying.
Quartz Asia bureau chief Tripti Lahiri said it was a surprising exchange as the questions posed to the prime minister were “reasonable.”
“The prime minister spent the bulk of his answer criticising the outlets the reporters worked for, instead of responding to two reasonable questions,” Lahiri was quoted telling The Cambodia Daily.
RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan said the incident was a clear demonstration of “what poor regard Cambodia’s government has for independent, free press.”
WEF head of public and social engagement Adrian Monck, when concluding the briefing, said critical news outlets were important for economic growth.
“I think one of the key findings from the forum’s Global Competitiveness Report is that healthy, critical media is an important part of any growing economy.”
“The World Economic Forum’s own global rankings show accountability and scrutiny help economies become more competitive. Media plays an important role as a stakeholder in that process,” he reportedly said in an email statement later.
Cambodian People’s Party Sok Eysan, however, said there was nothing wrong with Hun Sen’s outburst.
He said the leader was merely trying to point out had the Pol Pot-led regime stayed in power, many of the journalists currently operating in Cambodia would not be enjoying their current freedom.
Hun Sen’s over three-decade rule of Cambodia has long been marred by accusations of human rights abuses and corruption. He regularly lashes out at the media, often accusing those who centre their reports on human rights as attempting to stir anarchy.
Last year, the Cambodian government instructed all media outlets in the country to address Hun Sen as “Lord” Prime Minister, also warning failure to do so would result in punishment. However, it is believed the rule has never been enforced.

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Cambodia: New Asian tiger thrives amid autocracy
Hun Sen, Cambodia’s prime minister and Asia’s longest ruling leader is hosting the World Economic Forum on Asia and more than 700 delegates just weeks before an election. Manuela Kasper-Claridge reports from Phnom Penh.
"Cambodia is more capitalistic than the United States," says Tassilio Brinzer and enjoys how surprised his conversational partner is to hear that. Brinzer, a man in his late forties sits at a beautiful wooden table with a freshly brewed beer in front of him.
Behind him, some people are shooting pool. "Hops", as it is called, serves Cambodian and Asian dishes but also Bratwurst and Currywurst. It is located in the central part of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh. Outside, the traffic is roaring and Brinzer is visibly pleased with his pub. He even brought a master brewer in from Germany.
Brinzer has been living in Cambodia for many years. Aside from his pub, he owns a restaurant, an advertising publishing company and three magazines. "Fifteen years ago, there wasn't a single building here that was higher than 5 stories," he says. "Look around now!"
Cambodia's success stories and its tragic personal stories
There is a new building being constructed at almost every corner. Stylish apartments with balconies are going up, as are commercial buildings with several dozen floors. The construction boom is driven by Chinese money and an economic boom that is almost unparalleled.
During the past ten years, the Cambodian economy has grown by at least 7 percent year after year. That makes the South East Asian country one ofthe fastest growing economies in the world.
But there are no signs of widespread wealth. Many people continue to be desperately poor. Especially in rural areas farmers can barely live on what their harvest provides. The average income is $1,200 per year.
But it is important to remember that the state of the country had been catastrophic. It started with the reign of terror that the Khmer Rouge unleashed between 1975 and 1979 when they essentially tried to take the country back to the Stone Age. More than 2 million people were murdered or died of hunger and disease. What followed were years of civil war, which didn't really end completely until the mid-1990s.

The heart of ASEAN
Few remnants of the past are visible in the capital. There are modern street cafes, which serve baguettes or macarons, and you can find restaurants from US fast food chains throughout the city. Their offerings complement the many street food stands, which sell homemade Asian specialties at little plastic tables.
"It is much easier to set up a business in Cambodia than in Vietnam or Thailand," stresses Ratana Phurik-Callebaut, Executive Director of the European Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia. All that is required is a deposit of $2,000 at a bank as a security, then you can get started, she adds. And companies can be 100 percent foreign-owned. "We are well located, we are in the heart of ASEAN."
Education is the key
But there reasons why foreign companies aren't founding subsidiaries here in droves. Compared to neighboring Vietnam or Thailand, the country is relatively small. There are a little less than 16 million people here and many of them lack a decent education.
"After all, the Khmer Rouge killed all the teachers back then and then the doctors, the nurses, the accountants and many more," says Tassilo Brinzer, who is married to a Cambodian woman. "Almost every family lost several people. A quarter of the population - and especially the educated ones - were practically annihilated."
The repercussions of this genocide can still be felt today. On many buildings there are posters with job offers for well-trained people. It is difficult to fill positions, say entrepreneurs. What is easy, however, is to find unskilled labor and it will probably take at least one more generation until the level of education among the population is reasonably good.

The emergence of a middle class
Tassilo Brinzer is familiar with the complaints because he runs the working group "German business," which has 28 members including Porsche, Bayer and DHL. His colleague from the European Chamber of Commerce thinks that Cambodia mainly has an image problem.
"Foreign companies don't know much about Cambodia. They just think about the past but we see here even the emergence of a middle class," she emphasizes and goes on to mention several positive figures.
The fact that the World Economic Forum on Asia is convening in Phnom Penh from May 10 through 12 is generally viewed as the achievement of prime minister Hun Sen who has been ruling the country with an iron fist for 32 years.
 His liberal economic course has boosted growth but critics see no cause for celebration. They talk about human rights violations and growing corruption.
In June, Hun Sen is up for re-election. He continues to see his country as closely allied with China, both politically and economically. The WEF's Global Competitiveness Report criticizes Cambodia citing "poor governance und lack of transparency."
Regardless, there are big posters in central Phnom Penh: "Welcome to the Delegates of the World Economic Forum on Asia."

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Hun Sen threatens to wage 'war' on violent protesters
Hun Sen's threat of 'war' raises fears of unrest in next month's local election results are contested by the opposition.

10 May 2017

Cambodia's prime minister has warned the opposition that he will crack down on post-election protests should they turn violent.
The strong language has raised fears that unrest could grip the Southeast Asian country if next month's local-election results are contested by the opposition.
Hun Sen's warning on Wednesday referred to protests in 2013 when supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) destroyed at least two police cars following allegations of vote-rigging.
He told a gathering of former soldiers that protests of a similar nature would not be tolerated.
"Remember in 2017 and 2018 elections, if your group indulges in such activities again, armed forces will crack down on them immediately," Hun Sen said.
"If war happens, let it be."
Hun Sen's governing Cambodian People's party (CPR) won the national election in 2013 but with a reduced majority.
Since then, it has ignored opposition demands for an investigation into the election.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Virak Ou, a Cambodian human-rights activist, said Hun Sen is playing "mind games to create fear for a gain in the upcoming polls".
"It might work as Cambodians are still scarred by decades of war and violence. It won't work as well with the young people who were born after the war days," he said.
"There is too much at stake if any war or serious violence takes place. No one seems to want any of this."
Run-up to elections
Cambodians will be casting their votes in local elections on June 4 and a national election is scheduled for July next year.
Sam Rainsy, Cambodia's self-exiled opposition leader, resigned from the CNRP in 2015 in response to plans by Hun Sen to amend political party laws that bar convicted officials from running.
Sam Rainsy was convicted of defamation by a Phnom Penh court, a charge his supporters say was politically motivated.
Kem Sokha, his deputy, who has been serving as the acting leader is expected to guide the party for local communal elections in June. 
Hun Sen, a former army soldier took office in 1985, when Cambodia was emerging from the devastation of the Khmer Rouge. The regime was responsible for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians.
He has ruled the country for nearly 32 years, amassing extensive control over its judicial system, security forces and economy.
Under his rule, Cambodia has transformed into one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing economies but human rights violations persist.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Cambodia wants US deportation deal renegotiated

By AFP  Published: 15:11 BST, 25 April 2017 | Updated: 15:51 BST, 25 April 2017

Cambodia on Tuesday said it will renegotiate a deal with Washington where convicted criminals with Cambodian heritage are deported to the Southeast Asian nation, retracting an earlier statement that the deportations had been suspended.
For the last 15 years, the two nations have had a repatriation agreement allowing them to forcibly deport criminals with ties to the other country.
More than 500 felons with Cambodian heritage have been deported from the US, many with few ties to their ethnic homeland or even the ability to speak Khmer.
Earlier in the day Chum Sounry, a spokesman for Cambodia's foreign ministry, said news of the suspended agreement was delivered to W. Patrick Murphy, one of the State Department's most senior Asia diplomats who is currently visiting.
The deal, Chum Sounry said, had been "criticised by both Cambodians here and Cambodian communities in the US" as a form of "double punishment".
But in a later statement he clarified that the deal was still in place and that Phnom Penh wanted it "amended".
Earlier in the day he said any new deal should contain provisions ensuring repatriations are only voluntary and that deportees should have the right to visit family in the US.
The US embassy in Phnom Penh told AFP it had been informed of Cambodia's desire to renegotiate certain aspects of the agreement.
Relations between the United States and Cambodia have grown increasingly frosty in recent years.
Washington secretly bombed Cambodia during the Indochina wars but went on to be a major donor as the country emerged from the ashes of the Khmer Rouge genocide, pouring billions in aid into the country.
It also took in tens of thousands of Cambodian refugees over the decades.
But Cambodia's premier Hun Sen has become noticeably more critical of Washington in recent years, a period in which he has grown much closer to China.
China has lavished poverty-stricken Cambodia with billions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans over the past few decades.
Unlike aid from the US, Beijing's support comes without pressure on strongman Hun Sen to clean up his government's dismal human rights record.
Hun Sen's speeches routinely lambast Washington and earlier this year Cambodia cancelled annual military drills with the US military.
Officials at the time denied the decision was an effort to appease rival superpower China, with whom Cambodia had recently held drills.

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Cambodia, Vietnam open new bridge to boost trade
24 Apr 2017 at 16:33 WRITER: KYODO NEWS

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia and Vietnam on Monday opened a jointly built bridge across a river in the Mekong delta to improve trade and commerce between the two nations.
The 427-metre-long bridge cost US$36 million, with the expense split almost evenly between the two countries. The bridge commemorates the 50th anniversary this year of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Cambodia and Vietnam and took 27 months to complete.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the bridge will facilitate peace and improve living standards in both countries, especially in communities located along the Mekong River and in the delta region.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc echoed the same themes in his speech, saying the bridge will help boost trade and tourism between the two nations.
The bridge spans the Tonle Bassac, one of the major rivers dividing the two countries, and is anchored on the Cambodian side in Saang district, Kandal province, about 80 kilometres south of Phnom Penh, and on the Vietnamese side in An Giang province.
The countries estimate bilateral trade will increase to roughly $5 billion in 2017 from $3.4 billion the previous year due in large part to the bridge, while the Cambodian government expects annual national economic growth to remain around 7% thanks to the bridge.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

From hunter to hunted: Paedophiles head to Cambodia’s interiors
as cities wise up

APART from their unhealthy interest in children, Dutchman Sebastian Reuyl and Cambodian-American Tan Saravuth share something else in common – both were given safe passage into Cambodia despite their convict pasts.
When he was a sailing instructor in the Netherlands, Reuyl molested a 12-year-old boy and was jailed a year for the crime in 2004. He was banned from working with children but circumvented the setback by fleeing to Cambodia’s Siem Reap, where he ran an orphanage from 2009.
Saravuth has a similar tale – as a refugee in the US, he was jailed a month after being charged numerous times there with sexually abusing at least four young boys. He fled the country in 1997 and returned to Cambodia, where he allegedly spent the next 20 years preying on children in remote areas.
The two, 44-year-old Reuyl and 47-year-old Saravuth, and another Dutchman, 53-year-old Evrard-Nicolas Sarot represent Cambodia’s latest three cases of child sexual abuse involving foreigners – Reuyl was arrested last August and slapped a five-year prison term this year, while both Saravuth and Sarot were nabbed this month and are awaiting trial.
Their stories and the frequency of such cases are not uncommon in Cambodia, a country notoriously known as the favourite hunting ground of foreign paedophiles.
Blame is often placed on lax policing but local authorities say it isn’t easy distinguishing between a foreigner travelling to Cambodia for honest business and one armed with a shady objective.
Cooperation and information sharing with other countries have also in the past been limited, making it difficult for immigration officers and the police to stop convicted paedophiles from crossing into Cambodia’s borders.
But efforts in recent years seem to have resulted in more prosecutions of paedophiles and a promising decline in the number of children involved in the commercial sex trade. In 2015, a study by the International Justice Mission (IJM) revealed that Cambodia, once labelled “ground zero” for the commercial sexual exploitation of children, had seen much improvement.
It said thanks to international attention, investment and strong commitment by the government, the prevalence of minors in the trade dropped to 2.2 percent from up to 30 percent in the 2000s.
Still, as Reuyl, Sarayuth and Sarot’s cases have shown, many are likely still operating in the country. And it appears they have moved away from the cities and its commercial sex hotspots, choosing instead to focus on Cambodia’s rural interiors, targeting the children of impoverished families.
A Channel NewsAsia report quoted an investigator at Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) as confirming the fear.
“This change became noticeable in 2010. Previously, paedophiles would target tourist spots, orphanages and NGOs that work with children in big cities.
“Now, they go to rural areas, live with local communities and offer help by teaching kids English or doing some voluntary work,” said Phay Sopheak, an investigation supervisor at the NGO.
The report says the NGO has aided the police with investigations into child sexual abuse cases and exploitation in Cambodia since 2003. The work of APLE’s network of informants and investigators helped lead to the arrests of both Savrot and Savaruth.
Saravuth, who was nabbed on April 10, allegedly abused at least 11 victims – all boys aged between 11 and 15 years and all from remote villages in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district where he was residing.
APLE said the accused was popular among villagers, having dedicated time to build trust within the community by lending them money and paying for holiday trips. Having “groomed” them, he would take the boys to his residence and sexually abuse them.
“The nature of the grooming of perpetrator has shifted; most potential perpetrators target poor community where knowledge of sexual abuse and exploitation remains limited and institutions involving children like childcare NGOs, schools, homestays where they can gain direct access to children,” APLE said in a press release after Saravuth’s arrest.
Sarot too allegedly preyed on the poor, offering his victims between US$1 and US$4 to perform erotic poses for him after luring them into a quiet place. Like Sarayuth, he established close contact with some of the local families whose boys were among the victims found.
Investigators said preliminary searches drew up thousands of sexually explicit pictures of the boys from the man’s digital camera and iPad. Savrot, according APLE, was nabbed last Tuesday while he was photographing the boys by the lakeside in Aranh Sarkor village in Sangkat Siem Reap.
One reason why the predators target these communities is their lack of education, Sopheak said.
“Getting access to children is easier in rural areas because people there aren’t educated. They don’t know what child sexual abuse is or what activity is considered a crime.
“Even the local authorities don’t know much about this problem,” the APLE activist was quoted by Channel NewsAsia as saying.

But the authorities are putting in greater effort to stop these predators from gaining access to Cambodia’s children.
Maj Gen Phie They told the media outlet that police are cooperating with intelligence agencies and various governments in trying to identify offenders.
“Convicted paedophiles will be extradited and blacklisted from entering Cambodia. Immigration officers have also been instructed to double check visitors with a criminal record.
“We also educate the public about child sexual exploitation through various programmes and campaigns,” he said.
Police have also been working closely with APLE, a collaboration that has resulted many prosecutions in recent years. Last year, 17 offenders were booked and 21 victims rescued.
According to Channel NewsAsia, the NGO helped investigate 192 cases in 2015 and 98 in 2016. APLE’s network of informants has also now expanded to include an impressive 200 members.
APLE executive director Seila Samleang applauded police efforts, saying local authorities “have become incredibly responsible to child sex crimes”.
“APLE Cambodia who work alongside police to investigate into suspected sexual abuse and exploitation of children will provide appropriate support to the affected children to ensure that they can undergo emotional difficulties and receive meaningful justice,” a statement by the NGO last week said.

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