Monday, November 28, 2016

Cambodia sticks by tough stance on Australian surrogacies, likens practice to child trafficking
By South-East Asia correspondent Liam Cochrane Updated Fri Nov 25 06:35:24 EST 2016

The Cambodian official leading the country's crackdown on surrogacy wants prospective parents from Australia to come forward for DNA tests.
Key points:
  • Cambodia says Australians responsible for instigating the pregnancies should come forward
  • Officials liken the practice to human trafficking
  • Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles was arrested over the weekend
Representatives from the Australian embassy met with the Cambodian Government in Phnom Penh on Thursday, but made no comment as they left the meeting.
Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles was arrested last weekend, accused of running an illegal surrogacy agency and falsifying documents.
"Those responsible for the pregnancies should come forward," said Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Interior.
"He [the father] should come to apply and file documents that are acceptable to both parties [surrogate and client]," she said, using patriarchal language to refer to the intended parents.
But the message was mixed, with Ms Chou also referring to foreign surrogacy clients at times as "perpetrators" and equating the practice with human trafficking.
"What if the children are born disabled and the client won't take them or won't pay the full amount?" she asked reporters.
"This equates to child trafficking — if it's a good one it's expensive, a bad one is discounted, or maybe not taken at all — and who will be responsible if they're left behind?"
Women are being offered $13,500 to act as surrogates, the equivalent of around eight years' wages for a garment factory worker — the most common job for young Cambodian women.
The kingdom became a new frontier for low-cost surrogacy last year, when Thailand banned the trade.
'I don't want Cambodia to be taken advantage of'
The move was partly attributed to the case of Baby Gammy — a boy with Down syndrome who was left with his surrogate mother in Thailand by an Australian couple, who took his sister home.
Surrogacy under the spotlight
Ms Chou, who leads Cambodia's anti-human trafficking efforts, said the arrest of Ms Davis-Charles came after nearly a year of investigations.
"We tracked them in and out, watched their networking with clinics and doctors, and we saw the surrogate leave the clinic without the baby," she said.
"We have found more than 50 women selected to be surrogates and 23 already pregnant.
"I don't want Cambodia to be taken advantage of by this growing business, it violates the baby and child rights."
One former surrogate for an Australian couple told the ABC it was a chance to pay off debts and escape poverty.
But there are concerns about Cambodia's capacity to manage commercial surrogacy and the potential for exploitation of vulnerable women.
Posted Thu Nov 24 23:31:30 EST 2016

Cambodia verdict a warning to N Korea, IS and Philippines: UN
Agence France-Presse - Posted at Nov 23 2016 06:17 PM

PHNOM PENH - The life sentences given to two former leaders of the Khmer Rouge should serve as a warning to other rights abusers, including in North Korea, the Philippines and the Islamic State group, a United Nations envoy said Wednesday.

A UN-backed court in Cambodia dismissed an appeal against lifetime jail sentences meted out to Nuon Chea, 90, Khieu Samphan, 85.

The pair were senior leaders of a regime responsible for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979.

"The long arm of international justice ultimately can prevail," David Scheffer, the UN Secretary-General's envoy to the tribunal, told reporters after the verdict.

"Holding senior leaders accountable for the perpetration of atrocity crimes under their leadership, does happen, it does ultimately occur," he added.

He then mentioned a number of specific countries where leaders should "take note that what happened today".

The were the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Syria and North Korea. He also named the Islamic State group, which has committed widespread atrocities across swathes of Iraq and Syria.

"What happened today in this courtroom ultimately can reach their domain because international justice is not backing down," he added.

The Khmer Rouge regime dismantled modern society in Cambodia in their quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia, killing vast numbers and leaving a generational scar.

Some analysts have compared the Khmer Rouge to the Islamic State group, for their ruthless pursuit of revolution and sheer barbarity.

But while the court has brought a handful of senior Khmer Rouge leaders to book, the vast majority of perpetrators remain unpunished.

The movement's leader Pol Pot died in 1998, and the government of Cambodian strongman Hun Sen has become increasingly wary about prosecuting lower level cadres.

Cambodia's timber exports to Vietnam continue despite ban
21 Nov, 2016 Jack Davies
A man transports a trailer load of timber through Kratie province
toward the Cambodia-Vietnam border earlier this year. Pha Lina

Despite the establishment of a dedicated anti-logging taskforce and the implementation of a ban on the export of logs, Cambodia exported $121 million of wood to Vietnam in the first nine months of this year, according to Vietnamese customs data shared with the Post by NGO Forest Trends.
Observers say the data give lie to the government’s oft-repeated claims this year that large-scale logging and exports to Vietnam have been ended in Cambodia.
“Well-connected timber tycoons [are] running sawmills and sourcing indiscriminately,” conservationist Marcus Hardtke said in an email yesterday. “It is organized and systemic, undermining forest management efforts. This cannot be pushed under the carpet as ‘small-scale’.”
His sentiments were echoed by Goldman Prize-winning conservationist Ouch Leng, who wrote in an email: “I found that business is more [of a] priority than protection [of] the forest, what they think is how to make money with the timber.”
Julian Newman – campaigns director at London-based NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which has researched illicit timber trading in the Mekong region extensively – wrote in an email that it would not be possible for small-scale logging to generate $121 million of timber in nine months “unless it’s high value rosewood”.
Contacted yesterday even-ing, Environment Ministry spokesman Eang Sophalleth said that while he could not comment directly on the Vietnamese customs data without having the opportunity to verify it, the government’s official position is that all large-scale logging in Cambodia has finished.
“As far as we’re concerned, all the major logging has been ended with operations that have been carried out in the last couple of months by the anti-logging taskforce,” Sophalleth said.
Eng Hy, spokesman for the anti-logging taskforce established earlier this year with a mandate directly from Prime Minister Hun Sen to stamp out illegal logging, also declined to comment on the data yesterday.
The data cover January to September of this year. In that period, Vietnamese customs authorities registered 115,694 cubic metres of sawn wood valued at $105.9 million as having entered from Cambodia along with 59,128 cubic metres of logs, valued at $15.5 million.
Hardtke, the conservationist, noted that the export of logs from Cambodia is illegal, having been banned in mid-January.
“If we are looking at logs from natural forests, it is either done with the collusion of authorities in Cambodia, or the [Vietnamese] side is including smuggled timber into their databases,” Hardtke wrote.
EIA’s Newman said that Vietnam’s acceptance of Cambodian logs despite Phnom Penh’s outlawing their export meant Hanoi bore some responsibility for Cambodian logging: “It should respect the laws and regulations of neighbouring countries.”
Both he and Goldman Prize-winner Leng cautioned that the EU, too, risked becoming complicit in Cambodia’s timber trade if it was not careful.
“Vietnam is currently discussing a timber trade agreement with the EU,” Newman wrote. “EIA is pushing to ensure that under this agreement, Vietnam had to exclude illegal timber from its market.
“EU [has] to make sure to stop importing all kinds of timber products from Vietnam too,” Leng wrote. “If not, [the] EU [is] also [involved in] and responsible [for] deforestation in Cambodia.”
Imports spiked in April and May, totalling $27 million, almost a quarter of the nine months’ imports. Hardtke noted that this coincided with the peak of the anti-logging taskforce’s crackdown, which kicked off in mid-January.
“[It] could be timber confiscated during the crackdown in Eastern Cambodia already being moved across the border,” Hardtke wrote.

Vet helped wage the 'other' Vietnam War in Cambodia
By Lou Michel  Published November 21, 2016  Updated November 21, 2016

Robert Pempsell is proud of what he denied the North Vietnamese army -- weapons and other supplies -- when he and other American soldiers  invaded Cambodia in the spring of 1970.
President Nixon's order to enter Cambodia surprised Americans and made the  war, already unpopular back home, even more controversial.
For Pempsell and his comrades, domestic politics took a back seat to the task at hand -- staying alive and hindering the enemy.
“They would helicopter us to where they thought they saw enemy bunkers and supply depots. I would radio in artillery support, gunships and, if necessary,  airstrikes when we came in contact with the enemy,” Pempsell said.
Cambodia was supposed to be a neutral country in the war, but the North Vietnamese took advantage of the neutrality and built up vast supplies on the Cambodian side of the border with Vietnam.
“It was at the end of the Ho Chi Minh trail and they’d bring supplies down by trucks, bikes and on their backs from North Vietnam,” the 67-year-old veteran recalled.
Even with the artillery and air support, Pempsell said the work was extraordinarily dangerous.
“We had to walk through the jungle single file. The vegetation was so thick you couldn’t see 10 meters ahead of you. We wound up in three major ambushes during the 30 days I spent in Cambodia.”
The ambushes occurred when Pempsell’s unit, Delta Company, 5th/12th Battalion, stumbled upon enemy bunkers.
“We called them 'horseshoe' ambushes. The enemy would surround you on three sides, from the front and on the left and right.”
In the worst of the three ambushes, Pempsell said “hard core” North Vietnamese troops attempted to completely surround his platoon by throwing hand grenades behind them to cut off support from other units.
“The guys who were on point stumbled into the front of the ambush and then the enemy opened up from the left and the right. As soon as the shots went off, my instincts automatically put me on the ground.
“Someone opened up on me and missed my head by 10 or 12 inches. I could see sparks from the rounds hitting the ground in front of me. I started praying. I looked around and saw a silhouette to the right of me behind a bush and opened fire and the firing stopped from that area.”
The threat neutralized, Pempsell said he radioed in for artillery support. But the enemy had carried out a maneuver known as “hugging the belt,” he said, and was close enough to the patrol to avoid being struck by the exploding artillery shells.
“They knew to get close on account of us avoiding friendly fire. A round going off at 30 or 40 meters away could end up injuring us instead of the enemy,” Pempsell said. “So I had to call in the Cobra gunships. They shot their rockets at close range.”
While this was happening, Pempsell and the others managed to “crawl back out of the kill zone.”
Robert Pempsell, 67
Hometown: Buffalo
Residence: Lancaster for many years; currently, Bennington
Branch: Army
Rank: sergeant
War zone: Vietnam
Years of service: 1968-71
Most prominent honors: Bronze Star with valor, Army Commendation Medal.
Specialty: artillery
Incidents of this sort earned Delta Company an unenviable title, “Dying Delta.” Its members  entered Cambodia some 80 strong around May 25. When they crossed back into Vietnam on June 24, their ranks had been thinned to 50. Some  30 were killed, wounded or incapacitated by malaria and other jungle maladies.
Delta and other units in  the 5th/12th Battalion nevertheless punished the enemy, inflicting  many casualties and capturing food, weapons and ammunition. Consider these statistics on what was captured by the 5th/12th:
  • 320 tons of rice, enough to feed 20 enemy companies an entire year;
  • 449 small arms weapons;
  • 437,000 rounds of ammunition;
  • 676 rifle grenades; and
  • 4 K-62 radios.

But Pempsell's feeling of success in battling the enemy and surviving the war was tempered when he returned home to the United States in March 1971.
He had a new challenge: avoiding anti-war sentiments on the homefront.
“Me and a bunch of guys hopped in a taxi and rode to the airport in San Francisco. I went up to the counter and said I wanted a flight to Buffalo. They told me to run down the corridor. They had an extra seat.”
During the flight, he sank low in his seat, not wanting to get into an argument about the war.
“I had lost 10 buddies. and if anybody said anything to me, I was going to pop them in the face,” Pempsell said.
He says he made it unscathed back to Lancaster, where friends treated him well.
In time, Pempsell started a job at an East Side meat processing plant and worked there 37 years before retiring.
The father of a daughter and a grandfather four times over, he moved from Lancaster in 2008 to rural Wyoming County’s Town of Bennington, where he lives in a home perched on a hillside.
“I have a spectacular view of Tonawanda Valley,” Pempsell said.
He says he thinks about the horror of the war every single day.
“It just never goes away. It just gets easier with old age.”                              

Australian nurse arrested in Cambodian surrogacy crackdown
Last updated 18:38, November 20 2016
An Australian nurse and fertility specialist running a surrogacy clinic in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh has been detained by anti-human trafficking police.
The arrest of Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, comes weeks after Cambodia's government declared a ban on commercial surrogacy in the South-east Asian country which had attracted several dozen Australian couples seeking to become biological parents.
Davis-Charles, the mother of twin boys through surrogacy in Thailand, was being held in the office of anti-trafficking police on Sunday and will be brought before a court in Phnom Penh on Monday, where she will face questioning.

Police Colonel Keo Thea, head of the Anti-Human Trafficking Office, told Fairfax Media that Davis-Charles, who is from Melbourne, could face up to two years' jail if charged and convicted under Cambodia's penal code for allegedly engaging in surrogacy and allegedly falsifying documents.

"We found she has faked documents such as Cambodian birth certificates," he said.
Police have also detained a 28-year-old Cambodian nurse and 28-year-old male civil servant during a raid on a rented house in the western suburbs of Phnom Penh on Friday.
They seized two passports, money, mobile phones, a computer and documents.

Colonel Keo Thea said Davis-Charles has arranged for more than 20 Cambodian women to carry babies through her Fertility Solutions PGD clinic.
"So far five or six children have been born over more than one year in Cambodia," he said.

Colonel Keo Thea said Davis-Charles "contacted Cambodian girls for bearing pregnancies and she contacted her customers overseas to come here".
"Most were Australians but she also helped other nationalities. For one surrogacy operation she got paid  $US50,000. She has her own network," he said.
Cambodia's Health Ministry issued a proclamation on October 24 banning commercial surrogacy which was distributed to about 50 surrogacy providers and brokers operating in Phnom Penh.
Sam Everingham, global director of the Australian consultancy Families Through Surrogacy, said at the time that "scores of Australians will be forced to abandon their embryos in Cambodia, along with the dreams of a family".
Phnom Penh emerged as a new hub for surrogacy services in Asia after commercial surrogacy was banned in Thailand, Nepal and India.
Health officials said the ban would stay in place until the government drafts a law protecting Cambodian women giving birth to the children of other parents.
Cambodia's current law states "the child who is born out of the mother's uterus is her child".
The Australian government's travel advisory warns the act of commercial surrogacy, or commissioning of commercial surrogacy, is illegal in Cambodia, with penalties including imprisonment and fines.
Davis-Charles moved her surrogacy business from Thailand to Cambodia after Thailand's military government shut down surrogacy clinics in Bangkok in the wake of the Baby Gammy scandal in 2014.
Fertility Solutions PGD's website posted on November 4 that "there are a lot of rumours floating around at present about Cambodia closing down, even the local newspaper(s) are starting to report it. The government are reviewing laws. Honestly it could go either way."
The post added: "Please be warned do not sign up with anyone trying to push through!!!! As you will most likely be caught up in the end when the baby is born, which becomes a nightmare."
On May 27 the clinic posted: "We are able to help all families types … there is no discrimination. We have helped many and have 90 per cent plus success rate."
Among testimonials thanking Davis-Charles for her services in Bangkok and Phnom Penh were "Kate and David", who said she arranged for them and their egg donor to go to Cambodia for IVF treatment.
"All we knew of Cambodia was orphanages and land mines. What an experience we had in store … we thoroughly enjoyed our Cambodian experience and despite initial reservations, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend other families to have their fertility treatment" in Cambodia, the couple said.
Davis-Charles wrote on the website that she at first starting helping couples wanting surrogacy services while she was a full-time nurse and her husband Simon was a stay-at-home father, caring for their twins.
But she says surrogacy inquiries "started to take over our life, as so many couples needed help and guidance through their journey".
"So we decided to move to Thailand and start a surrogacy business full-time, so I can help people all day everyday," she said. "This is the most rewarding and fulfilling job I could ask for. I'm once again blessed ... dreams do come true."

 - Sydney Morning Herald

Cambodia's water festival returns with a bang
Gareth Bright | 16 Nov 2016 14:02 GMT | Cambodia, Asia, Arts & Culture
The annual event takes place in November for three nights during the full moon.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Bon Om Touk is an annual water festival in Cambodia, marking the end of the rainy season and the reversal of flow of the Tonle Sap river.
For three nights during November's full moon, villages send teams with their dragon boats to compete from around noon until sunset.
Pairs of boats race from the Japanese Friendship Bridge down the river to the finish line in front of the Royal Palace.
The history of the festival can be traced back to the 12th century when the naval forces of the Angkorian king Jayavarman VII defeated his Cham rivals.
In recent years, the festival has been through various ups and downs.
In 2010, a stampede on an overcrowded bridge resulted in the death of almost 350 people.
In 2011 and 2013, flooding caused the boat races to be cancelled.
In 2012, the races were cancelled owing to the death of King Norodom Sihanouk. 
Last year, the water levels were too low.
This year, however, the festival returned to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, with a bang. Despite what appeared to be a quiet turnout on the the first day, locals and tourists showed up en masse in the following days.
There were 259 boats racing during the festival this year, including 76 special racing boats, 170 paddle boats, 26 rowing boats and 63 international standard boats.

Chinese garment factory eyes Cambodia outlets
WRITER: KHMER TIMES 16 Nov 2016 at 20:17
After years of supplying garments to major brands in the West such as Nike, Puma and Gap, one Chinese garment factory is now turning its sights on Cambodia as a potential market for its goods.
President of the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) Jack Chen said the Hongdou Group, a Chinese company based in Jiangsu province, was doing research into Cambodian buying trends and was interested in opening its own store in Cambodia, the Khmer Times reported on Wednesday.
Because the majority of products made in the SSEZ either go to China or to the West, his group will also look into the Cambodian market to see how ready it is for what he called high-quality products.
“Our working group will pay a visit to Cambodia to study the Cambodian market, where to open our shop and what kind of products Cambodian people like,” he told journalists last week during a meeting in Wuxi, China.
The Hongdou Group, also known as Hodo, is mostly involved in the garment sector and in producing rubber materials such as tires.
“We need to collect all this information so we know when to start our project,” he said.
Edward Kingson, director of the brand culture department at the Hongdou Group, said the move represented a shift in their focus away from their main markets in China.
Their initial plan is to open stores in Phnom Penh and expand from there. For their Chinese markets, they produce clothes for women and men, including jackets and other products.
Kingson said most of the clothes in the stores will come from the SSEZ, but some may be imported from China depending on the cost and demand.
“The price would be low for Cambodian people and the products would be high quality,” he said.
Cambodia has more than 500 garment factories employing more than 800,000 workers. The SSEZ has 103 factories and about 160,000 workers.
Chen said he hoped the SSEZ would eventually house more than 300 factories providing jobs for 800,000 to one million workers.
The majority of factories at the SSEZ are from China, but others hail from Japan, the United States, France, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Ireland. Although many are primarily focused on garments and textiles, some are invested in producing machinery, plywood and home appliances.
Chen added that an unnamed Chinese company was preparing to sign a contract with the SSEZ to invest about $200 million in the steel industry. They are also trying to attract vehicle tire producers to the economic zone as well, he said.