Tuesday, September 30, 2014




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(អត្ថបទចុះ​ផ្សាយ​នៅ​ថ្ងៃ   29-09-2014, 7:45 pm) |  ដោយ ថ្មីៗ


ក្មេងស្រី ​អាយុ ១៥ ឆ្នាំ​ម្នាក់ ដែលជា​ជនភៀសខ្លួន​កំពុង​ស្វែងរក​សិទ្ធិ​ជ្រកកោន កំពុងស្ថិត​នៅក្នុង​មជ្ឈមណ្ឌល​រក្សាទុក​ជន​ភៀសខ្លួន Nauru បាន​ព្យាយាម​អារ​ដៃ​ខ្លួនឯង​កាលពី​ថ្ងៃ​សៅរ៍ បន្ទាប់ពី​រដ្ឋាភិបាល​ក​ម្ពុ​ជា និង​អូស្ត្រាលី​ចុះ​កិច្ចព្រមព្រៀង ទទួលយក​និង​ផ្ទេរ​ជនភៀសខ្លួន​ពី​ប្រទេស​Nauru មកកាន់​ប្រទេស​កម្ពុជា កាលពី​ថ្ងៃ​សុក្រ​កន្លង​ទៅនោះ។ នេះ​បើ​យោងតាម​កាសែត The Sydney Morning Herald

ប្រភព​ដដែល​នេះ​បាន​ដកស្រង់​សំដី​អ្នកនាំពាក្យ ក្រសួងអន្តោប្រវេសន៍​និង​ការការពារ​ព្រំដែន​ម្នា​ក់ថា ក្មេងស្រី​អ្នកស្វែងរក​សិទ្ធិ​ជ្រកកោន​អាយុ ១៥ ឆ្នាំ​រូបនោះ បានទទួល​ការព្យាបាល​នៅក្នុង​ប្រទេស​អូស្ត្រាលី ដោយសារតែ​នាង​ត្រូវបាន​សាច់ញាតិ​បញ្ជូន​ចេញពី Nauru ទៅកាន់​ប្រទេស​អូស្ត្រាលី។
មន្ត្រី​រូបនោះ​បាន​បដិសេធ​មិន​ធ្វើ​អត្ថាធិប្បាយ ចំពោះ​ករណីនេះ​នោះទេ ដោយសារតែ​លោក​បាន​និយាយថា វា​គ្រាន់តែ​ជា​រឿង​បុគ្គល​ម្នាក់​ដែល​ចង់​អារ​ដៃ​ខ្លួនឯង​តែប៉ុណ្ណោះ។ ប៉ុន្តែ​ក្រុម​សកម្មជន​តស៊ូ​មតិ​ពី​បញ្ហា​ជនភៀសខ្លួន ដែលមាន​ឈ្មោះថា Refugee Action Coalition បាន​ឲ្យ​ដឹងថា ធ្លាប់មាន​ការតវ៉ា​នៅក្នុង​ប្រទេស​ដែន​កោះ សម្រាប់​រក្សាទុក​ជនភៀសខ្លួន​Nauru នេះ​ច្រើនដង​មកហើយ។ ក្រុម​នេះ​បាន​អះអាងថា​មនុស្ស​ពីរ​នាក់​បាន​ដេរ​បបូរមាត់​របស់​ពួកគេ​ រួមគ្នា​និង​មាន​បុរស​ម្នាក់ទៀត​បាន​កាត់​បំពង់ក​របស់គាត់៕

ប្រែ​សម្រួល​ដោយ បាន សំអាង


Cambodia may miss AEC date
Tue, 30 September 2014

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has cast fresh doubt over the region’s ability to meet the ASEAN Economic Community’s (AEC) self-imposed 2015 deadline.
According to the ADB’s 2014 Economic Update, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand have all effectively reduced tariff rates to almost zero and are now poised to introduce a one-stop shop to expedite customs clearance within ASEAN – called the ASEAN Single Window – by 2015.
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, however, are all lagging, the ADB’s September 25 update said.
“ASEAN members are progressing toward establishing an economic community. Yet many challenges must be overcome for the ASEAN Economic Community to become a reality as scheduled at the end of 2015,” the update said.
“While unlikely to meet the 2015 launch deadline, ASEAN will benefit from the steps taken.”
The ADB’s lead economist for the office of Regional Economic Integration, Jayant Menon, said that while Cambodia is lagging behind some of its more developed neighbours, it remains ahead of Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar in terms of overall preparedness.
“Cambodia needs to speed up its customs reform and to press ahead with automating processes in order to reduce trade costs and minimise the opportunities for corruption, and to be ready for live implementation of its National Single Window by 2015,” Menon told the Post.
“The other newer members are also lagging in this area, which is currently preventing the implementation of an ASEAN Single Window by the AEC deadline.”
The Single Window initiative aims to interconnect each country’s customs checkpoints and automatically share cargo-related data and information, including declarations and certificates of origin, in an effort to speed up cross-border trade.
The ADB’s scepticism at Cambodia meeting the December 2015 deadline comes after the National Assembly in May approved a draft law aimed at simplifying and modernising customs procedures in line with those of neighbouring nations. More recently, on September 9, the Ministry of Commerce announced that it would implement a simplified, automated Certificate of Origin service by March 2015.
Independent economist Srey Chanty echoed the ADB’s doubts, saying that Cambodia would need “at least” until 2017 to be fully prepared for AEC integration.
“I think they might be able to integrate only elements that are ready for integration at the 2015 deadline ... the ADB is right, Cambodia is not ready with regards to its customs processes,” Chanty said.
“They need to be focused on the customs procedures and making sure everything is automated and computerised, and also the development of infrastructure to boost logistics within Cambodia.”
Officials from the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Commerce declined to comment on the progress of implementing the draft law or Cambodia’s overall standing regarding the AEC 2015 deadline.
Meanwhile, global credit ratings agency Moody’s yesterday reaffirmed the Kingdom’s credit rating of B2. Moody’s said greater ASEAN integration in 2015 stands to be a major investment draw for Cambodia and could help sustain the country’s 7 per cent annual GDP growth rate.
The Moody’s report, however, stated that preparation measures allowing a freer flow of goods and services into the country and across the region, such as the Single Window initiative, remained incomplete in Cambodia.
“[The AEC’s] ongoing implementation would help diversify Cambodia’s export base and improve its business climate, encouraging investment. Cambodia stands to benefit from intra-ASEAN trade, which is much smaller than trade with countries outside the bloc,” the report said.
Moody’s also noted that increased foreign direct investment, particularly flows from China, would help support Cambodia’s development goals of increasing foreign investment to 25 per cent of GDP.
The rating agency cautioned that the rapid expansion of credit growth would need to be monitored and that an over-dollarised economy placed restrictions on the effective use of monetary policy to control inflation.

Contact author: Eddie Morton


សាច់សមសភ្លឹងដោយទឹកបរិសុទ្ធនៅប៉ារីស ពាក់វ៉ែនតាសមជាមនុស្សចេះដឹង!
មិនស្មានថាសមជាមនុស្សលាក់ពុតត្បុត
ហើយកុហកបោកប្រាសប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរដូចគ្នាទាល់តែសោះ!

សម្បថសមនៅមុខអង្គរនិងផ្តន្ទាសមឲ្យវិនាសអន្តរធានជាមិនខាន!


មានធនធានធម្មជាតិព្រៃឈើបររបូណ៌ តែរកផ្ទះឲ្យប្រជាពលរដ្ឋនៅមិនបាន!
យើងជាខ្មែរ យើងត្រូវតែបំបាត់ចោលនូវជនក្បត់ជាតិ និងជនក្បត់ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋទាំងអស់

ដើម្បីកសាងនូវសង្គមខ្មែរឲ្យបានថ្លៃថ្នូរ មានយុត្តិធម៌ និង សេរីភាព!




តើវា (ហ៊ុន-សែន-ស៊ីភីភី) យកមកសម្លាប់ខ្មែរ ឬ សម្លាប់យួន!
បើវា​(ហ៊ុន-សែន-ស៊ីភីភី) មិនក្បត់ជាតិខ្មែរ វាប្រាកដជាទុកបាញ់បណ្តេញយួនចេញពីស្រុកខ្មែរ!
តើបានលុយពីណា? ទៅបុលអ្នកណា? ចិន ឬ កូរេ ឬ យួន? ចំជាចោលម្សៀត! បានតែបង្ក្រាប គ្មានដម្នោះស្រាយ! គឺសុទ្ធតែជាពួកព្រៃ ឬ ប៉្រែត ដែលគ្រប់គ្រងប្រទេស! ព្រោះតែហេតុនេះហើយទើបស្រុករលាយ!

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Wanted: big trucks for a big crowd
Tue, 30 September 2014

With the spectre of potential garment-sector unrest on the horizon and emboldened communities protesting land disputes, the National Police is buying what appear to be the authorities’ first water-cannon trucks designed specifically to control demonstrations.
And despite widespread concerns over the use of excessive force by security forces over the past year, they are making no effort to hide it.
In advertisements in yesterday’s Post and Post Khmer newspapers, the Ministry of Interior announced public bidding for two top-of-the-line Tata Daweoo water-cannon trucks “to be used against demonstration”.
The DWC model trucks can carry up to 10,000 litres of water and can shoot at a range of 50 metres.
“The said trucks are manufactured in Korea in 2014, with 100% quality, to be provided to national police forces for use in security, safety and social order protection operation,” the notice continues.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith and Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for further details despite repeated calls.
Authorities have used water cannons a handful of times over the past 18 months, but they have been mounted on traditional fire trucks.
In May last year, a woman was knocked unconscious after a water cannon was used on land-rights protesters who had blocked Monivong Boulevard.
It was also deployed when political demonstrators clashed with police along the riverside in September last year and during a garment worker riot in Stung Meanchey in November that saw one woman killed after police opened fire.
Other procurement notices put out from the MOI yesterday request 25 Nissan pickup trucks for the same “social order” purposes. The ministry is also procuring more shields, electric batons and protective clothing for police.
An official at the MOI’s procurement office who would not give his name said that the water cannon would be used “against demonstrators who have incited” others.
“It’s an issue for police to protect security and keep public order for the nation.”
Phnom Penh deputy police chief Chuon Narin said the capital’s police had not specifically requested the new gear.
“In Phnom Penh, as of now, we have enough [equipment],” he said, adding, however, that he supported their purchase.
“I think even in a developed country, their governments must have this equipment. So why must a developing country like us not have it? It’s for public order.”
But Ramana Sorn, freedom of expression project coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the purchase of water cannon trucks represented a “concerning trend”.
Cambodia pledged before the UN Human Rights Council in January that it would “ensure that people could demonstrate safely without fear or intimidation” and accepted a number of recommendations on the right to freedom of assembly, she said in an email.
“This recent case is truly against the spirit of those recommendations,” she said. “Water cannons are dangerous and the authorities’ lack of control over the use of force by law enforcement makes water cannons even more dangerous.”
While CCHR believes water cannons should “never be used by law enforcement”, the group declined to discuss other methods of crowd control it would recommend in violent protest situations.
John Muller, managing director of Global Security Solutions, a Phnom Penh-based private security firm, said that despite their risks, water cannons were a far better option than firing even rubber bullets.
“Most other countries still feel water-cannon technology is most suitable in terms of achieving the desired results and minimising injury,” he said.
But Nay Vanda, deputy head of human rights and legal aid at watchdog Adhoc, said the purchase was “ridiculous”.
”It depends on how you use it, but I don’t think they demand two big cannons to spray the water weakly.”

Contact authors: Kevin Ponniah and Chhay Channyda



Councillor for CNRP arrested
Tue, 30 September 2014
An opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party district councillor in Phnom Penh was arrested yesterday in connection with a CNRP-led protest at Freedom Park on July 15 that turned violent.
At least 15 CNRP members or supporters have been charged in connection with the violence, which saw security guards attacked by mobs after they moved to crack down on previously peaceful protesters.
Chuon Narin, the Phnom Penh deputy police chief, said that Chbar Ampov district councillor Sum Puthy was arrested on a court warrant yesterday but did not specify the charges.
“He was sent to the police station and forwarded on to the court immediately since it was a court warrant,” he said.
According to Puthy’s wife, Mak Chan, he must have been arrested yesterday morning after dropping her off at a market and making his way to a council meeting. Colleagues sounded the alarm after he did not appear, she said.
A group of seven lawmakers and an activist were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the July protest.
They were hit with serious charges such as insurrection, but were set free after a political deal was reached between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on July 22 to end the nearly yearlong post-election political deadlock.
Three youth activists, including a fellow Chbar Ampov district councillor, were then arrested on similar charges but released on bail on August 22 after weeks behind bars.
A handful of other CNRP members have been summoned to court for questioning, but Narin, the deputy police chief, could not confirm yesterday whether any other arrest warrants had been issued.
Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday said the arrest was “political”.
“The 15 July event case is a political issue and both parties have to follow [the July 22 agreement] to end the bad political situation,” he said.

Contact author: Chhay Channyda





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Refugees in Nauru protest
Tue, 30 September 2014

Refugees on Nauru have said they will reject Australia’s offer of resettlement in Cambodia after a protest on the island was staged at the Australian Embassy yesterday amid reports of three more incidents of self-harm and attempted suicide.
An Iranian refugee, who cannot be named and who was speaking on behalf of residents of the “family camp” on the island, yesterday told the Post that the widely held perception of Cambodia as a poverty-stricken and violent country meant that nobody in the camp was currently willing to voluntarily accept the offer of resettlement.
“The people here think of a bad image of Cambodia in their mind, because it’s a very poor country. There is lots of crime, a history of killings and abuse,” he said. “Nobody here wants to go to Cambodia.”
Cambodian officials yesterday confirmed that a pilot phase of resettlement is scheduled to begin later this year.
“We have nothing to lose – there will be suicides if it carries on like this. They will only be able to send our dead bodies to Cambodia,” the refugee said.
During a protest of some 80 people yesterday morning outside the Australian High Commission in Nauru, the refugees called on Canberra to issue them temporary protection visas (TPVs) as officials have said they will do for refugees on Christmas Island, who arrived on the same boats as those on Nauru.
“[Australia is] trying to force people to go to Cambodia; we can’t tolerate this. It’s a really dirty game they’re playing,” the Iranian refugee said. “[Yesterday], there were three more suicide attempts and self-harm [in the detention centre].”
Another refugee, who reportedly slashed his throat upon hearing the news that he would not be offered a temporary visa to Australia, has not been heard from, but the man’s 14-year-old daughter has taken to leading protests against the deal and has refused to drink or eat for two days after sewing her lips shut, the Iranian refugee said.
Another girl, who swallowed washing powder, causing her to vomit blood, was recovering in a Sydney hospital yesterday after being airlifted from the island over the weekend.
Yesterday marked the fourth day of protests on the island against the resettlement plan, which have been marked by a number of suicide attempts and self-harm among children.
Australian officials from the embassy in Phnom Penh and the office of Minister of Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison did not respond to requests for comment.
Morrison, who is seen as a rising star in the administration of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, signed the agreement over glasses of champagne at Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior on Friday at about the same time that some of the asylum seekers apparently tried to kill themselves.
The signing followed seven months of secretive negotiations between the two countries since the possibility of sending refugees to Cambodia was first brought up in February at a meeting between Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Bishop told ABC television on Sunday that the agreement would benefit Cambodia.
“Cambodia is very keen to get people into their country who can help them grow their economy,” she said. “I don’t think it’s for you or me to tell Cambodia that they can’t offer themselves as a location for refugees.”
Cambodian officials yesterday defended the agreement, confirming earlier reports that the country would only take on a small number of refugees initially, after officials had visited Nauru.
In a speech to university students yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that there was a “clear roadmap” for accepting the refugees for resettlement.
“We will accept some refugees from Australia based on a voluntary principle; no one can force them to come to Cambodia,” he said. “We have a clear roadmap in accepting those refugees, and nobody will volunteer to come to Cambodia if they do not know what Cambodia is like.”
Long Visalo, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told reporters that a team of officials would be dispatched to Nauru to assess the refugees.
“We will send officials to Nauru in order to inform the refugees about Cambodia – things such as living conditions, cultural traditions and language,” he said.



He added that the number and timing of the arrival of refugees had not been decided, nor had the locations where they would be housed.
“Temporary resettlement and locations of the first arrivals will be in Phnom Penh, but we still don’t know the location,” he said. “Permanent resettlement and integration into the Cambodian community is still unknown, but it will be outside Phnom Penh.
“We don’t how many refugees will arrive, but there will be small numbers at first. If there are problems during the pilot project, the [agreement] will be amended,” he added.
Visalo said that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) would cooperate with the authorities; however, he added that they had yet to discuss this cooperation with the agency.
Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the UNHCR’s regional office in Bangkok, said in an email that if the scheme fails, it could put the refugees’ lives at risk once more.
Tan said that with Cambodia’s “embryonic asylum system”, potentially different levels of treatment for existing refugees and those relocated from Nauru, or refugees simply being unable to integrate into Cambodian society, mean “there’s a possibility that they may risk their lives yet again by moving to another country in search of safety and stability”.
The agency warned on Sunday that the continuing crisis in the Middle East following the 2011 uprisings and the advance of the Islamic State would see refugee applications to industrialised countries surge to a 20-year high, while Australia’s policies had caused a 20 per cent drop in applications compared to last year.
The vast majority of refugees fleeing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere end up in camps in neighbouring countries, such as Turkey and Jordan.
Asked why the refugees had left their native lands and made their way to Australia, the Iranian refugee on Nauru said they had all fled persecution.
“In Iran, the main problem is the government. I think all over the world there are good people and bad governments. Everyone here has a similar story of escape.”

Contact authors: Daniel Pye and Vong Sokheng


សូមជូនពរឲ្យបានប្រកបតែនូវសេចក្តីសុខសប្បាយ សុម្ភមង្គល

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Mending hearts


Cambodia’s garment factories are synonymous with hard work, long hours and low wages. But among the assembly lines and dusty backstreets, couples are falling in love

By Nathan A. Thompson Photography by Sam Jam


At SL Factory in Phnom Penh, young women sort through piles of blue jeans; their colourful clothes strike a contrast against the steel tables and grey walls. Down a corridor, geysers of steam erupt from massive steel washing machines. Pairs of young men wheel plastic carts of soggy garments, some eventually to be sold in Gap and H&M stores around the world, to the drying room. A man stares into the distance, his mind thick with imagination. Behind him, sheets of scalding water begin to leak from the metal hatch of his washing machine. He jumps and hits a button to release the pressure.
It was workers such as these who joined a nationwide strike that began last December 25 when the Cambodian government announced the minimum wage for garment factory workers would be raised to $95 per month – a figure well below the desired $160. On January 3, the day after workers rejected a further increase to $100, Veng Sreng Boulevard, a major factory area on the outskirts of the capital, was drenched in protest. The crowd was met by military police dressed in black exoskeletons of thick body armour. The mass of people moved like white-water rapids, bubbling and spitting beneath walls of smoke grenades. By the end of the day, four protesters had been shot dead by police.
Despite the violence and labour disputes, for many Cambodian school-leavers, joining the 400,000-strong factory workforce is their best option. They travel to urban centres to become part of an industry that accounts for 80% of Cambodia’s exports. Most garment workers are between the ages of 18 and 25 and are living away from home for the first time. For many, it is a coming-of-age; a time away from the formal strictures of traditional life in the provinces. For others, it is a time they meet and fall in love with their future partners.
Sokunthea and Onn met in 1996 while working in the factories. Back then their basic wage was $40 per month. They lived next door to each other in a warren of single-room accommodations – typical of the bustling manufacturing district that surrounds Veng Sreng Boulevard on the outskirts of the capital. Onn saw Sokunthea in the evenings and on Sundays returning from the market. He fell in love.
Full of nerves and barely able to construct a sentence, he asked her if she felt the same. She was unsure. He was eight years her junior. Onn was knocked back. His chances deteriorated even more when Sokunthea asked her parents. They declared Onn too poor and too young for her to marry.
Later that year, Sokunthea was returning home after a late shift. The sounds of children squealing  and barking dogs echoed in the dark alley. Then several men surrounded her. The sharp smell of alcohol emanated from their twisted, drunk faces. “You’re poor, you will have sex for just one dollar,” they jeered. Sokunthea tried to push past but they formed a wall of sweaty muscle. “Sex for one dollar,” they repeated. One man dangled a soiled note in front of her face. Then he was shoved to one side and Sokunthea felt the firm grip of a hand on hers. It was Onn. Glaring at the men, he escorted her home. That night, he slept outside her door.
As they grew closer, Onn began to present himself at Sokunthea’s family ceremonies and weddings, offering to serve drinks and food. After a few occasions, Sokunthea felt free enough to approach him. “Dance next to me,” she said. When her parents saw the affection that had grown between Onn and Sokunthea, they relented and the couple married in 2000.
When Sokunthea fell pregnant, the couple bought a small plot of land in a village in Takeo province with the help of a hefty bank loan. Onn invested in a rice-milling business, and he and Sokunthea now struggle to work the grains to pay off their loan at a rate of $200 per month. Over steaming bowls of homemade sour soup, they say they plan to open a restaurant when their loan is settled.
Preap and Mom also met while living in a crowded garment factory neighbourhood. It was 2009, and the minimum wage had been raised to $60 per month. Preap cut patterns from giant ribbons of cloth while Mom worked at the sewing machines. They met in an alley among chickens and toddlers.  Preap was rapt. “I thought she was lovely in every way,
I still do,” he says over lunch.
The couple began exchanging shy greetings when they passed each other in between shifts. After a little while, during a conversation on a day when the dry-season dust made everything sepia-tinted like photos of the Wild West, Preap asked for Mom’s number. She was worried about gossip spreading among neighbours and glanced over her shoulder as she recited the digits. For the sake of decorum, the couple avoided meeting in public. They cemented their relationship by talking every evening on the phone.
After a year of pillow talk in their separate apartments, the couple had their families meet. Soon both fathers were drinking rice wine in the shade of palm trees while the women chatted, passing toddlers and periodically lobbing dried rice at squabbling hens. The families consentedand the couple married in 2012. “He is a good man and we have similar interests,” Mom says. They plan to have children in 18 months, when they have saved enough money to move to the countryside.
It was working in a stockroom piled high with mountains of jeans and hoodies that That first spied his future spouse. He liked what he saw. A bit later, when he saw Pthy in the lunchtime crowds, he shoved his way towards her. It was a bold move to offer her his phone number in front of all their colleagues. Pthy looked at the scrap of paper and was horrified. Who was this man? Why would he embarrass her like this? She took the number so he wouldn’t lose face but hoped she would never see him again.
As the factory days wore on, repetitive as the motion of the needle on her sewing machine, Pthy’s thoughts found their way again and again to the man who had embarrassed her. As she walked home through the truck-churned dust of Veng Sreng Boulevard, Pthy asked her friends if any of them knew the man’s family. They told her his family had a shop nearby and a good reputation. Later that evening, Pthy dialled the number. That picked up. She told him that if he loved her then he had to meet her parents. Both families agreed to the match and the couple married within the year.
Sitting on the floor of That’s family’s shop, That says he “loves everything about her” while Pthy says she appreciates her husband’s character and how respectful he is. She tells me that many of her friends fall in love while working at the factory; they either partner up with men who work there or are introduced to the male relatives of their co-workers.
Yet life remains tough. Pthy says she pays $100 per month to buy milk for her two-month-old son. She can’t breastfeed him because she works such long hours. Her two-year-old daughter also needs $64 for food per month, which is more than half of the couple’s combined salary. Both children live with relatives in the provinces.
As the factory owners, union bosses and buyers exchange deals and threats trying to resolve the problems plaguing Cambodia’s garment industry, workers such as That and Pthy continue to live their lives in the cracks of time between shifts. As the song of the sewing machines drones on, they dream of returning to the life they left behind in the villages



សូមព្រះអង្គបានឈ្នះមារសត្រូវយួនឈ្លានពាន ជនក្បថជាតិខ្មែរ
និងពូជជនក្បថប្រជាពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរ
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Holy activism

“A bundle of sticks can’t be broken,” according to an old Cambodian proverb. It is a philosophy that underpins a network of media-savvy monks who defy the authorities by speaking out against social injustice

By Clothilde Le Coz and Daniel Besant    Photography by Nicolas Axelrod and Luc Forsyth
The smell of wood glue lingers heavily in the recently converted bedroom-cum-studio within the confines of Wat Sarawan – one of the oldest pagodas in Phnom Penh – where seven monks are squeezed together, uploading videos to Facebook. Aimed at revealing social injustice and promoting equality, the monks update the series, which they call Voice of Independent Monks, three times a day.

“We advocate when we see people suffering,” said But Buntenh, 35, the editor of the series and the leader of the Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice (IMNSJ). “Our survival will depend on the value of our work.”

The IMNSJ was born after the results of Cambodia’s 2013 national election were contested. The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has ruled since 1998, was declared victorious with 68 seats to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)’s 55.
In subsequent weeks, the CNRP led major protests calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen and reform of the electoral system. Although monks from the IMNSJ – who number 5,000 according to Buntenh – have been a constant feature of these protests, their leader is resolute they are independent of any political party.
“I want everything to stay informal and I do not want to register as an NGO under this government because it would mean I would accept Hun Sen’s law,” said Buntenh, although he has assured his team he would register the organisation if there were a change in government.

Some have frowned upon the arrival of these ‘multimedia monks’ on the political scene. In December last year during a speech at Wat Lanka, another important Phnom Penh pagoda, the city’s governor, Pa Socheatvong, said that measures would be put in place to closely monitor some 7,000 monks residing in about 140 pagodas across the city in order to “see whether each monk is genuine or not because there have been fake monks on the street”. For him, practitioners of Buddhism becoming involved in politics is “a dangerous problem”.
Pressure has also come from the top of Cambodia’s Buddhist leadership. The Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong has repeatedly warned monks about publicly discussing certain topics, such as social justice, and banned them from voting in the 2003 national election. In 2006, when the ban was lifted, he told monks “not to engage in political party solidarity leading to people power”.
In a US diplomatic cable from 2006, former US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli wrote: “We concur with sources who believe the CPP intends to keep firm control over potential political agitation within the main Buddhist religious order like all other important national institutions in Cambodia”.
An Vicheth, 23, joined the network after the elections. For him, there is no doubt the group must remain non-partisan. “There is no in-between. If we are trying to do something for the people, we are considered as opposition. If we are doing nothing, we are not observing our rules. We need to define what we call ‘political’. We only want to serve our society and are not doing it for any party,” he said.

In mid-February, when it was announced that the IMNSJ would go on air weekly to host an hour-long radio show, Kim Son, Phnom Penh’s chief monk, said these media-savvy monks were “breaking monk rules” and prohibited them from broadcasting. The radio show was broadcast once on the opposition radio station Mohanokor FM, but the IMNSJ decided to not participate again until equipment is upgraded and the show can be sure to have an audience.
Loun Sovath, 35, who has been cataloguing human rights violations for the past five years and was a forerunner for monks acting as media advocates in Cambodia, knows the dangers of being an activist. “I have been accused of being a fake monk. But there is no law coming from any institution in Cambodia [that can be used] to accuse me of this,” he said from his room in an unregistered pagoda in Stung Meanchey, an outlying district of Phnom Penh.
Although he was sitting at his computer with two phones constantly switched on, Sovath wasn’t always such a techie: Once upon a time he was a painter of temple murals. Originally from Siem Reap’s Chi Kraeng commune, in the north of the country, he started working with international NGOs to advocate for land rights in Cambodia after four farmers in his community – including two of his relatives – were shot and beaten when police removed them from disputed rice fields in May 2009.
His work gained a considerable following and upset monks with government sympathies. Eventually, he was barred from all of the country’s 4,676 registered pagodas. “I am followed when I go to the countryside. They say it is for my protection but, in fact, they are threatening me and the people around me,” Sovath said. “But I am not afraid. If they speak with me, I counter them with Buddhist principles, and domestic and international laws.”
Increased solidarity is helping the monks’ cause. “Before, I was the only one speaking about human rights and social justice and I was the only one [the government] could blame,” Sovath said. “But now, many monks are doing the same and [the government] cannot complain because everyone is standing up.”

A major turning point in crystallising the movement came when five monks were beaten at a Phnom Penh pagoda on election day, while some of their peers did nothing.
“We were appalled to see so many monks closing their eyes because of their fear,” said Buntenh. “Now we can resist, protest and stand alongside [ordinary] people who now have less fear. It is a revolution.”
These monks illustrate a shift in Cambodian society, where a traditionally cowed populace is beginning to find its voice. Nonetheless, conservative Buddhists continue to criticise the younger generation of monks for using modern accoutrements such as smartphones and laptops.
Sitting in the same pagoda as the IMNSJ video team, a 23-year-old named Sangha Ry was already clear where his life will lead after he leaves the monkhood: He hopes to become a journalist.
“I want to serve my country, not a party,” he said with a confident smile. “And I think independent media will allow me to do so.”