Cambodia: Protests Erupt in Phnom Penh

Another note to travelers ( see earlier posts). Know where you are traveling and to whom your money is going.

Clashes between security forces and Cambodian opposition supporters in Phnom Penh have left nearly 60 people injured.

The violence occurred early Tuesday when Mu Sochua, an elected member of parliament from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, led hundreds of supporters to Freedom Park, which has been closed to rallies since January.

A group of security guards moved to beat back the protesters when they tried to hang a banner on the razor wire barring entry to the park.

The protesters, however, fought back and about 40 security guards were injured in the ensuing violence. According to witnesses, some were stripped of their uniforms while others were beaten with flags.


Development in South East Asia: Altruism and Business Strategies

Interesting site called NextCity

 In Phnom Penh these days, cranes outnumber temple spires. Along with new apartment and office buildings, the city is in the thralls of a public-works construction boom. Rusted ferries are being replaced with modern bridges, the narrow, pothole-plagued highways that link the capital with Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok are being revamped, the city’s drainage system is being overhauled, the water supply is being extended to the furthest corners of the mushrooming metropolis, and a new fleet of public buses have taken to the motorbike-swarmed streets

But Cambodia’s famously kleptocratic government isn’t really leading the infrastructure charge. Rather, behind many of these projects stands the government of Japan, which is quietly reshaping rapidly urbanizing cities in Cambodia and across the developing world through theJapan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), that country’s answer to USAID…


Nowhere … is the economic incentive to provide aid as evident as it is in JICA’s involvement in the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Southeast Asian cities. Such industrial free-trade areas lie adjacent to Cambodian ports in Phnom Penh and the coastal city of Sihanoukville, while another is being constructed next to Myanmar’s Thilawa deep-sea port, some 25 kilometers south of Yangon.

The latter SEZ is turning into something of a flashpoint for JICA, with farmers being evicted from their land to make way for the 6,000-acre industrial complex.

See all

Cambodia, Misery Just below the Surface

With renewed understanding in the U.S. that one of the costs of war is enduring psychological damage not only to those who were in the theaters of war but to the families, first separated and then re-combined in combustible ways, one wonders about all those who have been so traumatized, not just Americans.

Cambodia Mental Illness

On a trip through Cambodia several years ago we were struck by the lack of everyday manifestation of war injuries.  It turns out, however, there is plenty — and as a poor country, not much help.

In 2012, in a first attempt to define the scope of Cambodia’s mental health crisis, the Royal University of Phnom Penh interviewed 2,600 people. More than 27 percent showed acute anxiety, and 16.7 percent suffered from depression.

The study estimated the suicide rate at 42.35 per 100,000 people. That would put Cambodia second only to Greenland in incidence of suicides.

Anxiety, depression, PTSD and suicide are estimated to be even higher among survivors of the Khmer Rouge — communist fanatics who took control over the country in 1975. More than 1.7 people, about one-fourth of the population, perished during their four-year rule.

The atrocities were appalling. Children saw their parents gutted, babies were smashed against trees and rice paddies became mass graves. Despite widespread hunger, simple suspicion of stealing food was punished by death.

While 2.7 percent of the overall population suffers from PTSD, the prevalence among survivors is 11.4 percent. Thirty percent of survivors suffer from depression and 36.8 from anxiety, according to a 2010 study by the Berlin Centre for the Treatment of Torture Victims. 

“When the participants were asked whether they seek help from professional mental health providers, 85.4 percent answered no,” the study found.

The country’s mental health burden also affects subsequent generations who did not have to live through the terror of the Khmer Rouge.

Studies found that children of mentally ill parents are more likely to develop syndromes as well.

Global Post and Asia Life

Cambodia: Garment Workers End Strike

The latest strike by Cambodian garment workers has ended with most workers going back to work after two weeks, and violent responses by police killed three during demonstrations. NY Times

It is only the latest in a string of protests by the severely underpaid workers.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) recorded 131 strikes last year, not counting December, when the recent national garment strike was declared. In 2011, the factory association logged 34 strikes for the entire year.

Although apparel manufacturing heavy weights such as Adidas, Levi Strauss and Puma have signed an open latter calling for negotiations to create a wage-review mechanism it is unclear if and how it will be answered.


Cambodian Workers on Strike

 Cambodia garment workers throw stones at riot police during a strike near a factory on the Stung Meanchey complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Jan. 3, 2014. At least three people were killed when police opened fire to break up a protest by striking garment workers demanding a doubling of the minimum wage, police and human rights workers said. Cambodia garment workers throw stones at riot police during a strike near a factory on the Stung Meanchey complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Jan. 3, 2014. At least three people were killed when police opened fire to break up a protest by striking garment workers demanding a doubling of the minimum wage, police and human rights workers said. (Heng Smith/Associated Press)

Cambodia garment workers throw stones at riot police during a strike near a factory on the Stung Meanchey complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Jan. 3, 2014. At least three people were killed when police opened fire to break up a protest by striking garment workers demanding a doubling of the minimum wage, police and human rights workers said. (Heng Smith/Associated Press)

Cambodians Get Oppositional

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Tens of thousands of antigovernment demonstrators marched through Phnom Penh on Sunday in one of the biggest acts of defiance against the nearly three decades of rule by Cambodia’s authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen.

The procession, which was peaceful and stretched for several miles through a commercial district of Phnom Penh, the capital, brought together protesters with a diverse list of grievances: Buddhist monks, garment workers, farmers and supporters of the main opposition party.


NY Times

Not Too Far From Angkor Wat

Scavengers in Siem Reap garbage dump

Scavengers in Siem Reap garbage dump

Not far from Cambodia’s  Angkor Wat temples, drawing millions of tourists a year, an enormous garbage dump serves as home and harvest ground for many.

See Omar Havana’s photo essay in The Diplomat.

Hun Sen’s Party Retains Power in Camobia — though a little bit less


“Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won 68 of 123 seats in the legislature, compared with 55 seats for the main opposition party, Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said, citing unofficial results. This is a significant decline from the 90 seats held by the ruling party since 2008, ending its two-thirds majority.

“The Cambodia National Rescue Party, a merger of several opposition parties led by former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy, scored points with voters with calls to increase youth employment, end land disputes and stem corruption.

“Rainsy returned to Cambodia a few days ago from four years of exile after he was granted a royal pardon on charges of racial incitement and destruction of property, charges the opposition said were politically motivated. Although his return may have energized the opposition, it was too late for him to run in the elections or even vote.

“Observers said this appeared to be Cambodia’s least-violent balloting since a 1991 cease-fire in the conflict-racked country ended decades of civil war and genocide. Voters have gone to the polls five times since 1993, when the United Nations organized landmark elections.

National Rescue Party picks up votes

Moderately good news for Cambodians. Now to see how it actually plays out, in the legislature and in the streets.  My sense is that young people are interested and able to enter more fully into national life — if the old guard don’t make a mess out of welcoming them.


South East Asia

Keeping a closer eye on South East Asia than I used to, after a fine 5 week trip through 5 countries in Feb/March this year.


Today marks Burma’s Martyrs’ Day, a holiday commemorating the anniversary of the assassination of anti-imperialist revolutionary Aung San, father of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and newest member of Burmese parliament Aung San Suu Kyi. Recognized as the architect of Burma’s independence from Britain, the young leader was gunned down in a government building on July 19, 1947 along with six of his cabinet ministers, just six months before his country would achieve independence. In Burma, today is a day of mourning, both of the leader and the principles that would have likely become manifest in Burmese society if his life had not been cut short. Tricycle


Officials announced this week that the controversial copper mine project worth $1 billion, which locals and activists have been protesting for months now  will resume operationQuartz



Prime Minister Hun Sen — who maintains a difficult-to-defeat political machine — faces what analysts describe as a formidable contest, tougher than the governing party is accustomed to and one that features starkly competing political priorities.

…The rallying cry of the young opposition supporters in Phnom Penh is “change.” They campaign throughout the city on motorcycles, emblems of greater mobility and incomes than their parents knew.

The opposition was galvanized by the return last Friday of Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister who fled Cambodia in 2009 rather than face charges in a highly politicized trial. Mr. Sam Rainsy, who was greeted by tens of thousands of supporters at the Phnom Penh airport… NY Times + photos


Marvelous photos by David Butow of Buddhist ceremony around the world.

A monk praying at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

A monk praying at Angkor Wat, Cambodia



4 decades after war ended, Agent Orange still ravaging Vietnamese

Ly is … very different from other children. Her head is severely misshapen. Her eyes are unnaturally far apart and permanently askew. She’s been hospitalized with numerous ailments since her birth.Her mother, 43-year-old Le Thi Thu, has similar deformities and health disorders. Neither of them has ever set foot on a battlefield, but they’re both casualties of war.Le and her daughter are second- and third-generation victims of dioxin exposure, the result of the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, when the U.S. Air Force sprayed more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over parts of southern Vietnam and along the borders of neighboring Laos and Cambodia


Bearing a copy of a letter from Ho Chi Minh to Harry S. Truman, the president of Vietnam met President Obama on Thursday and pledged to deepen trade and military ties with the United States even as they tangled over human rights.

Mr. Obama referred gently to the [alleged human rights] abuses, saying: “All of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly. And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain.”

Mr. Sang, sitting next to him in the Oval Office, mentioned the legacy of the Vietnam War and said that “we still have differences” concerning his country’s human rights record.

NY Times

Cambodia Opposition Leader Returns

To those of us who have kept our eyes on Cambodia since the baleful days of the 1974-79 civil war and genocide, every small sign of growing out of its macabre past is a sign of hope. Even Prime Minister Hun Sen’s long control of the country through dynamic political manipulation and gleeful self acquisition has been better than what preceded it.  Cambodian’s, when asked about his government, give a wry shrug of the shoulders: yes, he’s not so good, but then again, he’s not killing us. [Though Amnesty International in 1997 protested the summary executions of his opponents.]

Cambodia RainsySo, the return of a major opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, from four years of French exile after fleeing a conviction of racial incitement (anti-Vietnamese), is big news indeed — and not just to onlookers.  Cambodians have been lining up in droves to see and hear the rousing words of a man who has been involved in opposition politics since 1992.

Local NGO Licadho (Cambodian League for the Promotion of Defense of Human Rights) estimated about 100,000 people turned out and had shut down the main road to the airport as Rainsy and his entourage boarded a convoy of black four-wheel-drives and began the arduous task of inching their way into the city.

His return marked the end of a near four-year exile, self-imposed after the courts sentenced him to an 11-year jail term in absentia for crimes that included the uprooting of markers defining the Vietnamese border which he said were illegally placed on Cambodian soil. He maintains the charges were politically motivated.

Rainsy was clearly overwhelmed by the reception, telling The Diplomat it was difficult for him to speak amid the deafening cheers and chants of the crowd while being mobbed by well-wishers.

Cambodians of all ages and walks of life braved the heat and paraded through the streets in what was by far the biggest day of campaigning for the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). The Diplomat

There is little doubt that Sun Hen will retain control in the imminent elections.  Among many other things, his party controls almost all public media, rescinding a ban on foreign press coverage of the elections only after vigorous protests.

Even so, for the young, seeing  more normalized campaigning, the discussion of opposing points of view, behaving more like societies they have seen around the world, will have a healing and strengthening effect.  Our two young guides, of several months ago, educated and enthusiastic, though restrained, will surely find hope in what Rainsy is stirring, almost no matter the immediate outcome.