Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cambodian opposition leader sentenced to five years in jail over Facebook post
Tue Dec 27, 2016 | 12:46 AM EST
Cambodia's exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia on Tuesday for posting a fake government pledge to dissolve the Southeast Asian country's border with Vietnam.
The sentence follows months of tension between Cambodia's two main political parties, the Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Hun Sen has been Cambodia's leader for three decades but his grip on power was shaken in a 2013 general election when the CNRP won 55 seats in the National Assembly, leaving the Cambodian People's Party with 68 seats in the 123-seat assembly.
Members of the opposition have complained of a crackdown by the government and its allies in a bid to intimidate critics before a general election in 2018.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Sam Rainsy and two members of his social media team, Ung Chung Leang and Sathya Sambath, guilty of citing the false 1979 border treaty.
The fake treaty, which they posted on Facebook, purported to show Vietnam and Cambodia agreeing to get rid of their mutual boundary.
Presiding Judge Leang Samnath sentenced Sam Rainsy to five years in prison and Ung Chung Leang and Sathya Sambath to three years, all in absentia.
"The court orders the arrests of Ung Chung Leang, Sathya Sambath and Sam Rainsy to serve these sentences," Judge Leang Samnath told the court.
Cambodia has fretted for centuries about its much bigger neighbors, Vietnam to the east and Thailand to the northwest, encroaching on its territory. The issue remains emotive and many Cambodians are suspicious of both countries.
Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest in a separate defamation case. He did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday but said on Twitter the case against him and the two others had been "fabricated" by a "kangaroo court".
The CNRP said it had no knowledge of the whereabouts of Ung Chung Leang and Sathya Sambath.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Paul Tait)

In Cambodia, India's 'Act East' is no match for China's 'One Belt-One Road' approach
Ajay Singh  Dec 26, 2016 10:25 IST

The moment you step out of the Phnom Penh airport, you instantly feel at home. Tuk-tuk services (motorcycle-driven carts) ply on the roads in plenty, the structures of the houses are quite similar to those prevalent in the capital cities of India's North Eastern states.
The historical imprimatur of India can be found any old monuments that the Kingdom of Cambodia so dearly treasures. But this tenuous link with history is hardly doing any good to India. For Cambodia has been building its modernity on the ruin of history. And there is no denying the fact that in its run for the development, India's "Act East" policy of engaging with Southeast Asian nations has been falling woefully short of China's aggressive "One Belt-One Road" push.
If you have any doubt, look around Phnom Penh, Cambodia's Capital and you will find evidence to China's dominance. With its growing economic clout, China has been investing hugely in real estate and infrastructure projects of the nation. Tall and modern buildings have come up in many parts along the mighty Mekong River that traversed many nations of the region and is rightly equated with the Ganga of India.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy run by an authoritarian regime headed by Hun Sen. Although the country goes to vote for elections of people's representatives, democracy is a mere camouflage to cover up well-regulated despotism. It preserves its natural resources and offers a business opportunity that allows not only tax-breaks but also full foreign ownership of business projects.
Businessmen from China, Japan and Indonesia have been exploiting these relaxed rules to the hilt and investing in the country. Indians are lagging far behind. "Why you guys are not open to us?” asked a top government functionary that betrayed his frustration over engaging India . "You probably look to Europe and the US, and tend to ignore the eastern part of Asia,” he lamented in frustration. In a series of interactions with officials and ministers of the Cambodian government, it became evident that India was expected to do a lot more than it has been doing .
But this frustration is equally discernible in the Indian diplomatic staff of Cambodia.
Take for instance the manner in which the government's "Act East" policy is being pursued. The Indian government came up with the idea of connecting India through roads via Myanmar and Cambodia. And there was a proposal to build a 60 kilometres of road to revive the connectivity. But the whole issue was lost in the files of approval and scrutiny. Obviously Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project of "Act East" has failed to cut the stranglehold of red tapes in India. "Chinese businessmen do not have this kind of problem and they quickly take decisions," said one of the Indian diplomats grappling with the situation.
By all indications, Cambodia is a unique place in Southeast Asia. Its hoary tryst with modern history stands in contrast to the proud legacy it has inherited from its medieval royal family that migrated from the southern part of India in the 12th Century. Only 10 kilometres away from heart of the city in Phnom Penh lies a monument known as the 'Killing Field'. Stacks of human skulls line the museum, dreadfully reminds visitors of a past with which Cambodia is condemned to live.
A Paris-educated dictator Pol Pot seized power in the country in 1975 and carried out whimsical experiments and mass-killings that killed nearly one-fourth of the nation's population. He called himself a revolutionary and made the State a killing machine that massacred people on the pretext of revolution.
The abiding faith of the Khmer Rouge, as the Pol Pot-led uprising is known, was "to spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss". As a result, people were killed randomly and through cheap methods as firing bullets would be expensive. Explaining the nature of probably the most gruesome crime against humanity, one of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge and brilliant filmmaker Rithy Panh aptly summarised it in his book Elimination by saying, "(B)ehind those crimes, there was a small handful of intellectuals, a powerful ideology, a rigorous organisation, an obsession with control and therefore with secrecy, total contempt for the individual, and status of death as an absolute recourse. Yes, there was a human project."
Contrast this monument with Angkor Vat and Ta Prohm temples in Siem Reap, a south western province of the country. The heritage is simply outstanding. The temples withstood the vicissitude of the time and turned into a Buddhist monastery and a Hindu temple many-a-times depending on religious proclivity of the royal family. Yet the basic structure remained. There are paintings on the wall that depict "sea-churning (samudra manthan)" between gods (dev) and demons (asuras). The vestiges of the Hindu religion and mythology are in abundance. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been doing a commendable job in restoring the temples and symbols of India's cultural past from the ruins.
Indeed the glorious past of an outgoing and seafaring India in these heritages is a reminder of the immense potential that Cambodia has for India. Cambodia clearly beckons India to use this opportunity. The question is: Will India do it?
History bereft of economics will be nothing more than luxury of nostalgia.
Disclosure: The author was in Indonesia as part of the Asean Media Exchange tour organised by the Ministry of External Affairs

Cambodia's explanation for killing of activist draws doubt
By DENIS D. GRAY December 24, 2016

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Kem Ley, a poor rice farmer's son turned champion of Cambodia's have-nots, was sipping his usual iced latte in the same chair he had occupied most mornings for years. Eyewitnesses say a former soldier walked into the Caltex gas station cafe, fired a semi-automatic Glock pistol into his chest and head and casually walked away.
Two weeks later, tens of thousands of mourners thronged Phnom Penh's streets to trail the glass casket bearing Kem Ley's body in the largest public rally Cambodia has witnessed in recent times. The funeral march reflected not only grief for the popular government critic, but also anger at a government that this year has decimated opponents through imprisonment, intimidation and, many believe, the still-unresolved killing of Kem Ley.
Many view the Southeast Asian country's harshest crackdown in years as an attempt by Prime Minister Hun Sen to sustain his more than 30-year-long grip on power in 2018 elections. The opposition came unexpectedly close to winning the last election, in 2013.
Cambodian authorities deny any involvement in Kem Ley's death in Phnom Penh, the capital. They arrested ex-soldier and migrant worker Oeut Ang from a distant province on allegations that he killed Kem Ley in July because the activist failed to repay a $3,000 loan. Hun Sen has promised a "vigorous investigation."
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophana told reporters the investigation is still underway. He did not say when it will be completed or the trial set.
"At the moment, the court is making an investigation into the case and the government can't comment while it is in the hands of the court," Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said.
Interviews with Oeut Ang's wife, Kem Lay's family and others raise doubts about the government's assertions that a loan was the motive, heightening suspicions that the killing may have been politically motivated.
Hoeum Huot said she and her husband "lived from hand to mouth" and that he could never have had $3,000 in his pocket to lend. She said her husband, whose nickname Chuob Samlap means "meet and kill," was prone to drunkenness, out of a job and sold his motorbike before the killing to pay off a gambling debt. She never heard him mention Kem Ley.
Kem Ley's mother, Pov Se, and sister Kem Thavy said the 45-year-old doctor-turned-activist lived simply and never incurred debts, and had never met Oeut Ang as far as they knew.
Shortly before his death, Kem Ley spoke on radio about a report issued by the London-based research and advocacy group Global Witness that alleged the prime minister and his family had accumulated massive wealth and retained power through corruption and brute force. Earlier he had crisscrossed the country to query villagers about their problems.
Since Kem Ley's death, his wife and five sons left in fear for Thailand, where they have applied for asylum in Australia.
"I have no idea why my brother was killed, but friends and neighbors often told me that he should not talk about Hun Sen and his family," Kem Thavy said. "I argued with him: 'You cannot hold up the earth all by yourself.'"
Keo Remy, president of the government's Cambodian Human Rights Committee, refused to be interviewed or answer written questions about Kem Ley and human rights.
Activists say the killing has come to symbolize the manifold ills of Cambodian society under Hun Sen's 31-year rule.
"The death of Kem Ley is the death of human rights in Cambodia. It is the silencing of civil society actors. They are now mute," said But Buntenh, a prominent Buddhist monk and friend of Kem Ley's who is among the few public figures still openly criticizing the regime. But he said the incident has also backfired on Hun Sen and his Cambodia People's Party, having sparked a strong, albeit incohesive, pro-democracy surge among large segments of the population.
Meanwhile, Kem Ley has been elevated to a legendary status, perhaps greater than his actual accomplishments.
"With his death we have gained a great deal," said But Buntenh. "It has been five months but people are still weeping."
Mourners come to his simple grave every day, including more than 100 who paid their respects on the November day his family was interviewed in Kem Ley's native village of Ang Takok, southwest of Phnom Penh.
"He was crucial to us because of the issues that he tackled. He was a great model for Cambodian people," said mourner Chan Sy.
Kem Thavy, often wiping away tears, described her brother as gentle but independent and unwilling to compromise his ideals.
"He told me that if someone offered him 1 or 2 million dollars he would not sell out, that if someone offered him a job with a big salary in order to stop talking about Cambodia he would not take it," she said.
Kem Ley dropped his medical practice to improve life for Cambodians, But Buntenh said. "As a doctor he could only cure one patient at a time, so he became a national doctor to treat Cambodia's many 'diseases' and help thousands," he said.
While denying any role in Kem Ley's death, the government has taken steps to silence other critics. According to cases that the human rights group LICADHO has tracked, 26 political prisoners, including politicians and environmental and land rights activists, are behind bars. Others face criminal defamation and charges related to their personal lives.
Hun Sen lodged a defamation suit in August against his chief political rival, the self-exiled Sam Rainsy, for saying "state terrorism" was to blame for the deaths of Kem Ley and other critics, including a prominent labor leader and several environmental activists. Hun Sen said the government had nothing to gain by killing Kem Ley: "Who gains to benefit from such a case which happened at the same time the government is talking about peace and safety for the people?"
The regime has even lashed out against the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, describing it last month as "not legitimate" and threatening to shut down its operations unless it agrees not to interfere in the country's internal affairs.
Ou Virak, who heads the Phnom Penh think tank Future Forum, said the regime's actions are a prelude to the 2018 elections.
The close 2013 election was "a huge wake-up call for Hun Sen and a huge blow to his ego," he said. "His party knows that time is not on their side."
Kem Ley apparently knew he had become a target. Three days before he was killed, he told But Buntenh that trusted sources informed him he would be killed in Phnom Penh.
The day before he died, Kem Ley posted on his Facebook page a political fable he titled "The Garden of Savage Animals," about tigers, cobras and other ferocious beasts trying to prevent meeker animals from entering their bountiful acreage.
Their answer: intimidation. "You kill one in order to scare a thousand."

Cambodia tweaks poorly enforced traffic laws
WRITER: ONLINE REPORTERS  24 Dec 2016 at 16:02

Authorities in Cambodia are preparing to revise traffic laws but critics say the changes are unlikely to bring down accident totals unless enforcement, which is highly inconsistent, is improved.
The changes being discussed reportedly include enforcement of a widely ignored rule that requires drivers of trucks transporting workers to and from factories to have licences. There are about 4,000 such drivers in 14 provinces. About 22% do not have the proper licences to operate large vehicles and accidents are frequent.
Meanwhile, there is confusion about whether regulations requiring seatbelt use, which were passed two years ago but remain loosely enforced, will continue in their present form. 
The current law requires all car passengers to wear seat belts in rural areas, because of the risk posed by speeding on the open roads, but not in the city where traffic moves more slowly. Helmets are also supposed to be mandatory for motorcyclists and passengers, and higher fines are supposed to take effect next month.
Prime Minister Hun Sen came under heavy fire from critics for some of the amendments that were leaked to the media last week, the Khmer Times reported.
They included the reported removal of the need for a licence for motorcycles under 125cc, and the scrapping of a requirement for car passengers to always wear seatbelts.
Parliament is scheduled to vote on Monday on nine amendments to the Traffic Law proposed by the Permanent Committee to the National Assembly (NA).
Sections expected to be changed include article 40, about the kinds of licences needed for certain vehicles; article 48 on the technical characteristics of vehicles; article 75 on vehicle arrests; article 77 on the use of fake documents; article 82 on unintentional murder; and article 90 on criminal lawsuits.
NA spokesman Peng Long did not explain how the articles would be changing or what they would be replaced with.
The government has said the changes are a response to a public outcry over the law after nearly one year of implementation. The focus will be on the “promotion of quality, efficiency and transparency in the management of traffic safety", according to Nin Saphon, a member of the public works, transport and telecoms working group.
Touch Chan Kosal, a secretary of state at the Public Works and Transport Ministry, said a lack of enforcement also prompted officials to scrap parts of the law.
The initial Traffic Law was passed in January, but the outcry over the new rules forced officials to push its effective date back to March and remove some stipulations.
Among the complaints, citizens said the prices for licences were too high. They also questioned whether enough was being done to preemptively stop corrupt traffic police officers from taking advantage of the new law.
Government officials say the law has helped to reduce road accident numbers this year. But a survey released late last month by Stakeholder Engagement and Support found that more than 60% of respondents either knew little about the new law or nothing at all.
The Transport Ministry has said it is trying to spread the message about the rules, but they are having little success without strict police enforcement to back it up.
Him Yan, the deputy National Police Commissioner, said last week that there were 3,338 reported traffic accidents in the first 11 months of this year, down 11% from 3,789 during the same period last year. Deaths and injuries alse decreased but he did not say by how many.
Despite its successes, parts of the law are still being routinely ignored.
The ban of truck drivers without licences from taking workers to and from factories is a prime example, said Public Works and Transport Minister Sun Chanthol.
Last month, 20 garment workers in Kampong Speu province were injured, eight severely, after the truck they were traveling in overturned. The month before, 61 garment workers in Svay Rieng province were injured in a similar accident.

LOS Angeles Review of book

DECEMBER 17, 2016
DAWN RISES over Kampot, full of clouds and kettle steam. At first glance, there isn’t much to the town. Honey-colored shophouses stand along the banks of a gentle river about to empty into the Gulf of Thailand, and quiet fishermen cast morning lines in the shadow of the Elephant Mountains. On a tree-lined boulevard behind the Old Market, tinny songs drift out from a music school near the end of the road. A dozen little cafes open out toward the street, easing back to life as yawning Khmer girls rinse the dusty tabletops, slowly preparing for the crowds to arrive when the day becomes heavy with rain. This is southernmost Cambodia, where a general air of patience and neglect idles over the muddy streets, and where the land is crisscrossed with many great and tragic stories.
Not long ago, Kampot was witness to the immeasurable atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime, and due to the town’s location at the foot of many fortress-like mountains, it became a strategic battleground in the Cambodian Civil War. Soon after the Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces seized the town from the government in 1974, they unleashed genocide, killing almost every resident who could read, write, or who exhibited any flourish of sophistication. By 1991, after the warring factions agreed to disarm and hold elections, the Khmer Rouge’s grip on Cambodia finally began to loosen. Nevertheless, large pockets of Khmer Rouge fighters still controlled the mountains surrounding Kampot, and in 1994, the American writer Thomas Beller traveled south to interview the general who maintained control of the town. Writing of Kampot, Beller said, “The town seemed like a kind of Shangri-La, dusty and quiet, filled with gorgeous, bullet-pocked, French Colonial architecture fronting a whispering river lined with benches.” A few years after Beller’s visit, the last remaining Kampot-based guerrillas were captured in the mountains.
When the reign of the Khmer Rouge had ceased, the Kingdom of Cambodia resembled a dark tableau of distress. A ghost of the former country had been passed down to the lost generation of Cambodians who came of age during the era of war, and it’s difficult to portray the magnitude of the Kingdom’s cultural devastation. After nearly two millennia, the whole edifice of Khmer culture had collapsed in a single decade, leaving the few surviving intellectuals no choice but to rebuild the arts atop the dire limitations of a nation ransacked by catastrophe. This is why, despite all of the Kingdom’s great stories, a recent canard says that Cambodian literature is dead.
As I walked along the town’s timeworn streets, getting caught up in the riparian appeal, it seemed improbable that a backwater such as Kampot should play host to Cambodia’s preeminent literary festival. And yet here it was, the first week of November, and the festival was streaming into town, trying its damnedest to reveal the country’s lively cultural heart. The music school on the boulevard had been adorned with an outdoor performance stage and an open-air cinema; boarded-up colonial-era buildings had been converted into pop-up art galleries; and the little cafes had been draped with banners bearing the festival’s name:
The Kampot Writers & Readers Festival

In the days before the festival, a collection of the region’s great talents crammed onto the backs of motorcycles and into caravans of speeding minibuses to transport their artistic pyrotechnics down to Kampot. There were stalwarts from the Cambodian literati, cult-classic Australian crime writers, Academy Awardwinning filmmakers, feminist Khmer rock bands, and cutting-edge spoken-word poets — all generating a significant buzz as they idled around town. The result was a total zeal for Kampot: a warmhearted weekend filled with panels, workshops, film premieres, and nonstop street parties. Western memoirists held book launches in deserted shophouses and visual artists painted portraits of literary icons on the sides of buildings and bridges. After each chaotic day, the writers and readers spent their nights hopping on fishing boats for river cruises at nightfall and jumping in tuk tuks headed for the darkening countryside, where local bands and Mondulkiri tribesman performed concerts at bungalow resorts along the sea.
The festival’s most appealing and paramount event was a panel conversation between the American writer Sharon May and nine Khmer writers — all young, well-regarded poets and novelists. The panel was called “New Cambodian Voices,” and it was held during the middle of the festival’s liveliest day. A modest crowd gathered on the ground floor of a revitalized French town house where a cafe was opened toward the afternoon heat, and I settled in near an airy courtyard to watch with great interest. May, who is the editor of In the Shadow of Angkor, the most comprehensive English-language anthology of Khmer literature to date, acted as the panel’s moderator, and she quickly relinquished the stage to the writers, allowing each panelist time to discuss their work and explain how their assorted lives in Cambodia have informed their literary careers.
Listening to the moving stories of the bright and inquisitive stars of Cambodia’s literary scene, it became apparent that the writers were united in a struggle to have their voices heard in a cultural world that consistently seems to conspire against their interests. The myriad concerns expressed by the panel included the fact that mainstream Khmer culture is by and large apathetic to Cambodian literature, that there is a lack of copyright protection and governmental support, and that despite a decades-long call for an improved publishing industry, the government willfully allows writers to fall by the wayside without guaranteeing basic freedoms of expression. The government also fails to promote writing in schools, and it fosters an environment conducive to selling pirated books in some of the country’s largest markets.
“Nobody in Cambodia gives us guidance or direction,” said Chath Piersath, a renowned Cambodian-American poet and painter who works on a family farm in the United States. Like Piersath, many of Cambodia’s most renowned contemporary writers are refugees who were raised in the United States. A few of the other notable Cambodian-American writers are the best-selling novelist Vaddey Ratner, the venerable Soth Polin, and the ascendant young poets Monica Sok and Sokunthary Svay, none of whom were at this year’s festival. Of his fellow writers, Piersath says, “Most of us came into the world alone. I was born in a refugee camp and was left without adult supervision until I was five. Growing up and meeting people was almost like a dream state. I grew up writing about this loneliness.” When Piersath had finished speaking, the room fell silent for a moment. The other Khmer writers nodded their heads, indicating how this was a common feeling among their ranks, and how the themes of displacement and exclusion formed the backdrop for the present state of Cambodian literature. As soon as the panel was over, the Khmer writers took a minibus to the nearby sea, where they sat on a pier overlooking the Gulf of Thailand and continued to share their stories.

The next day, a few of the Khmer writers recited poems from their collections at a peaceful cafe near the center of town. With the morning sun pouring in through the cafe’s open windows, the audience was treated to slender works of poetry that navigated love and fortune and the tragicomic life cycles of dragonflies. The performances gave rise to several rounds of applause, and when the ovations died down the writers left the cafe to mill about the boulevard. With their smattering of festival obligations concluded, a sense of ease and unburdening expanded over the writers, and also a sense of, “What on earth are we supposed to do now?”
After a casual deliberation, the Khmer writers decided to drive their minibus to an abandoned hill station at the top of Bokor Mountain, an hour or so outside of town. Although the festival was still staging events, I joined them as they explored the highlands. We roamed the countryside, searching the landscape for the ruins of a palatial French hotel, and our conversations touched upon such far-reaching concerns as car sickness, neck tattoos, and literary ambitions. I was also interested in hearing the writers’ thoughts on the “New Cambodian Voices” panel, and eventually I asked a few of them for their impressions of the event, along with the festival altogether. “I think the festival is not for Khmer writers, but for foreign writers,” said Suong Mak, an intuitive and fearless young novelist who wrote the first work of LGBT fiction to appear in the Khmer language. “If the festival wants to be more about Khmer literature, the workshops should have more Khmer writers and Khmer participants. … Or if there are any local students who are interested in writing, we could share our experiences to them and find a way for them to start writing.”
Mak’s fellow writers tended to agree. Kim Dyna, a novelist and news anchor for Cambodia’s Hang Meas television station, agreed that the festival hadn’t quite achieved its goal of reaching out to young, literary-minded Cambodians. “I really loved the festival, but I don’t think it had a huge impact in promoting reading and writing. No one discussed how [Khmer] writers could promote reading or inspire those who have never started writing to start writing.” Yeng Chheangly, a dignified poet and co-founder of the Khmer writers’ collective Slap Paka Khmer, was frustrated by the festival’s moderate promotion of Khmer literature compared to its more significant promotion of Western literature. Yeng made a point to mention the multitude of young voices that would savor the opportunity to spend the weekend in Kampot: “There are a lot of young Khmer writers who want to see the festival and have fun and listen to the conversations,” he said. “The organizers can make it easier for Cambodians to access the festival.”
In the days after the festival, the journalist Phan Soumy published an essay in The Cambodia Daily examining why many Cambodians tend to feel excluded from a literary festival assembled by Westerners. “Leisure reading is not something students ‘have the luxury’ of being exposed to in Cambodia,” wrote Phan. “Reading for pleasure is new to me. Growing up […] there were no school or community libraries, and reading for fun was never encouraged, or even suggested.” When Phan arrived at the festival in Kampot, one of her first impressions was how Cambodia’s general “lack of appreciation for literature was illustrated by the imbalance between the number of Cambodian and foreign participants and attendees.” Specifically, Phan noted that the “crowds were composed predominantly of foreigners, and the Cambodians [she] crossed paths with were most often part of the weekend’s lineup.” And yet, Phan believes the festival can still be an effective vehicle for confronting the literary “divide” between Cambodians and the more widely read Westerners. “While a focus on literature across the country will not develop overnight, the Kampot Festival could have a niche part in shifting Cambodia’s reading culture.”

Back on the mountain, the bus cruised around a handful of hairpin turns and we arrived at the faded remains of the Bokor Palace Hotel. Built in the 1920s as a lavish retreat for the French beau monde, the hotel’s dark narrative is a reminder of Cambodia’s postcolonial woe. As I followed the writers through the lights and shadows of the deserted rooms and corridors, relieved to be in the temperate mountain air, it was easy to imagine the many fated histories of the estate: it was a hospital during the First Indochina War, then a casino for Cambodian elites in the 1960s, and finally a citadel for the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, before slowly deteriorating into its current decay.
From the hotel’s rooftop terrace, the waters of the Gulf of Thailand could be seen through cracks in the ghostlike clouds, and I thought of the events I’d missed in Kampot in order to join the writers on the mountain: a Scottish expatriate was launching a small, independent publishing house called Saraswati Publishing with an aim to print books by both Western and Khmer writers; and a Mardi Grasstyle street party was kicking off in the afternoon swelter, intending to last deep into the night. Then I thought of how, despite all its perceived blemishes and shortcomings, the festival has been mightily loved by Cambodia’s crowd of expat artists who had yearned for a celebration at which they could celebrate their art and be surrounded by an artistic community. The reason for this love is that during the festival’s two-year run, it has announced an ambition to embrace boisterous parties and a certain shambolic charm that is missing from the more standard and straightforward literary festivals across the globe. Yet, it seems as though the festival can set its ambitions higher. It can push more boundaries and aspire to capture the rise of modern Khmer literature as Khmer writers look to progress and expand across a new frontier.
I wondered what the director of the festival thought of this, and, as it turned out, Julien Poulson, the Tasmanian who dreamed up the festival, shares my optimism. “The festival can certainly focus on providing a great platform for Khmer and Cambodian writers to present, develop, and connect to a wider audience. However,” he says, acknowledging the festival’s early flaws, “there’s some work to do.” In time, Poulson suggests, the criticism emphasized by many of the Khmer writers will unquestionably strengthen the festival. “The same sort of criticism was frequently leveled at the Ubud Festival in its early days,” he says, referring to the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Indonesia, which, along with the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, is a sister festival to the Kampot event. And following the initial criticism, Poulson pointed out, “Indonesian and emerging Balinese writers are now featured more than ever in Ubud and have an incredible window to the world of literature, books, publishing, contemporary art, and culture, that wasn’t there before.” Then he offered a hopeful conclusion. “The creative community in Cambodia is dynamic, diverse, young, smart, talented, and multiracial so there’s sure to be plenty of new ‘voices’ coming into the light over the coming years.”
Ultimately, I thought, the Kampot Writers & Readers Festival is a reminder of why we need literary festivals in the first place. It has inspired dialogue, delight, passion, and thought-provoking debate; and it has encouraged members of both the Khmer and expatriate literary communities to confront timely and important questions about inclusion. In its first two years the festival has demonstrated its vision and potential, but it is not yet the prodigious literary celebration that it can become.

Down the road from the Bokor Palace Hotel, at the temple of Wat Sampov Pram, a wind that was wet and cool came up from the valleys. Wandering around the temple grounds, I heard the shutter of a camera and watched as Yeng Chheangly pointed his lens at the other writers, capturing shots of Hang Achariya, a gregarious writer and Cambodian film actor; and then of Chin Meas, a former monk turned poet who sells noodles on the streets of Siem Reap; and finally of Sok Chanphal, Cambodia’s most esteemed and decorated young writer. Then, near a shrine with burning votives, I stood and talked to Teeda Butt Mam, a writer and translator who served as the inspiration for To Destroy You is No Loss, which tells the story of a teenage girl growing up in a Khmer Rouge labor camp. Mam said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the festival and her weekend in Kampot. As we walked along the edge of a plateau where the earth met the sky, a cloud of fog quietly passed us. “Many of the writers have never seen fog,” she told me. “Most have never been above the clouds.”
As the clouds grew on the horizon, a convoy of soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Army suddenly advanced upon the temple. Stepping out from the back of a military truck, the soldiers slung rifles across their backs while listening to orders from their commander. They appeared to pose no threat to the writers, but we withdrew from the temple nonetheless. On the road back down the mountain, a bank of clouds formed over the plateau and drifted down over the minibus, engulfing us in a blinding fog. In the midst of the cloud bank, the writers were silent — unaccustomed to the Khmer haze. It was hallucinatory, and a few moments later we were out of the fog and in the clear of the dusk. From the elevated slopes of the mountain the writers admired the new light ahead, marveling at the short, scattered days they had spent together in the town below the clouds.

Cambodia taps Pacquiao to help in traffic management
Published December 16, 2016, 12:05 AM

by Genalyn D. Kabiling
Phnom Penh – Philippine boxing icon Senator Manny Pacquiao has been tapped to help the Cambodian government in raising public awareness on traffic management and safety.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made the “personal request” to Pacquiao in the ASEAN country’s bid to reduce road traffic injuries in the country.
Pacquiao, widely popular among Cambodian boxing fans, is part of the President’s official delegation in his two-day state visit to Cambodia. He was among those present in the President’s expanded bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet ministers at the Peace Palace here.
“Part of the discussion is the personal request of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for Senator Manny Pacquiao to assist to the traffic information drive in Cambodia,” a statement from the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) read.
The PCO did not provide other details about Pacquiao’s role in the traffic information campaign here.
Road safety has become a public issue in Cambodia amid concerns of rising traffic accidents. Many drivers in Cambodia reportedly violate traffic laws while drunk driving is supposedly common.
Meantime, President Duterte and his Cambodian counterpart also discussed measures to enhance diplomatic, economic, and security relations between the two countries during their closed-door meeting at the Peace Palace.
The two leaders have agreed to increase trade volume between the Philippines and Cambodia, including the holding of a trade fair between the two countries.
Also discussed were technology transfer from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to improve rice seeds as well as the construction of 100 percentFilipino-owned rice warehouses in Cambodia.
The two nations also agreed to increase tourism exchange “with attention on direct flight from Manila to Siem Reap to increase tourism on both sides,” according to the PCO.
The two leaders also affirmed to intensify cooperation in fighting cross border crimes, including drug trafficking.
They also discussed “60 Philippine education scholarships for Cambodians, particularly in science and engineering courses, and defense cooperation.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

EU turns away toxic Vietnamese seafood
By Toan Dao   October 7, 2016 | 04:42 am GMT+7
11 shipments of Vietnamese seafood have been turned back.

Eleven shipments of Vietnamese seafood have been turned back by the European Union in the first nine months of the year due to high levels of heavy metals, according to a statement posted on Vietnam's National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Department's (Nafiqad) website.

The shipments were contaminated with mercury and cadmium, Nafiqad cited information from the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) as saying.

The quantity rejected by the E.U. from January to September was 2.2 times higher than the whole of 2015, Nafiqad said.

On August 15, Vietnamese authorities warned local aquaculture companies that they will not renew their export licenses unless the latter comply with safety standards following a warning from the E.U. after seafood shipments were found to contain excess levels of antibiotics.

The EU instructed member countries to increase inspections of seafood shipments from Vietnam to the bloc in May this year following the toxic spill caused by Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Group along the central coast in April.

Nafiqad has also asked exporters to follow instructions released on May 11 to monitor seafood from the four affected central provinces and test for heavy metals.

The European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feedwas established in 1979. It enables information to be shared efficiently between its members and provides a round-the-clock service to ensure that urgent notifications are sent, received and responded to collectively and efficiently.

Thanks to the RASFF, many food safety risks had been averted in Europe.

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