Influence of Christianity in Cambodia

By Sun Narin

About ninety percent of Cambodian people believe in Buddhism. Constitutional law states Buddhism is the state religion. It is noticeable that some religions have influenced in the country, especially Christianity. A number of Cambodians start to pick up the religion. This concerns Buddhism in Cambodia.

Meas Sivantha is 52 years old. She is sitting in the church with her kid. She is lying her both hands on the leg, closing her eyes and singing for god. Before, she believed in Buddhism, but she just changed to believe in Christianity for nearly 3 months. She says that when she goes to the church, she is taught and she tries to remember the bible.

“When I come to the church, the god will help me when I have trouble. I met a lot of difficulties, so I may follow that religion. It is not complicated. They allow us to come and study,” she said.

Two and a half percent of Cambodian people believe in Christianity. Thirteen Christian churches locate in Phnom Penh and some others in the several provinces.

Kong Sophoan is a director of Phnom Penh-based church in Chamkar Morn district. He has believed in Christianity for around 7 years. He says that all religions are good for people and they have rights to choose what they want.

“Actually Christianity is the same as Buddhism. Both of them are good. We do not invade Buddhism. We just spread it. If people believe us, we will accept them,” he said.

We can see that now there are a lot of Christian missionaries in Cambodia. They go to teach Cambodia’s people and want them to believe in god. This influence impacts our Buddhism in the future.

Venerable Chhuon Pov is a monk at Phnom Penh-based Langka pagoda. He says that the increasing of Christianity is overwhelmed. He explains that there are 3 reasons leading people to believe in Christianity including low education, poverty and materialism.

“This can makes people especially youths want to join the Christianity. People should understand their religion clearly,” he said, adding that the relevant authority should take actions to curb the influence of this religion.

Chhuon Samet is 65 years old and Buddhist believer. He is in the pagoda with his relatives to give monks the offerings. He is chanting in front of the monks. He says that believing religion is dependent on people themselves.

“I cannot say it affects Buddhism or people when it comes to our country. It’s up to people preference and believing. I they think it’s good, they can follow it. If not, they can stop it,” he said.

Khon Dara is the deputy director of religion affairs at the ministry of Cult and Religion. I think that this is not the problem at all and people can benefit from that.

“Actually Christianity helps Cambodia’s people a lot on mental, material and technique. It educates people to love and help each other. It teaches other knowledge, English, computer and administration to our youths,” he said.

He explains that the idea that Christianity is increasing is just the speech of some people who do not understand clearly about the religion and integrated world.

However, he says that the ministry of Cult and Religion is always working on the problem to refrain it from affecting Buddhism.

We have directives, rules and education to control the religion. I do not allow this religion to do whatever they want without making progress in Cambodia,” he said.

Commentary on Diamond Island Stampede: Should the authority be blamed for the stampede incident?

By Sun Narin and Dara Saoyuth

Diamond bridge stampede claimed some 350 people’s lives and injured hundreds last month, on the final day of water festival. Critics and a number of people have been complaining about the tragic incident. They put blame on the authorities for the reason that they have not managed the event well. However, some people have the ideas that no one should be blamed for the incident.

Sun Narin and Dara Saoyuth will express their point of view on the topic “Should the government be blamed for the incident?”

Sun Narin: I could not imagine how such incident happen on that day? People got jammed on the bridge and could not get out. Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen said that “Nobody will be punished for the incident.”

However, Sam Rainsy opposition party Son Chhay pushed the ruling government to identify the people responsible for “organizing the festival and handling the crowd” and wanted them to be fired from the position. This includes Phnom Penh governor, head of the police and interior ministry.

In my opinion, the government at least should take actions with those officials because they are irresponsible for their duty.

Phnom Penh municipality, relevant ministry and police did not perform their work responsibly and carefully. Why didn’t police facilitate the people’s crossing the bridge? There is not a lot of police force deploying at the incident place at that time.

Moreover, the bridge is for the exit only, why people were allowed to get in and out?  This is the reason causing the mass deaths. Why didn’t police deal with that problem?

Police could not help the victims urgently when the incident happened, keeping people stuck in the crowdedness more than 2 hours. This caused more people dead because of the suffocation in the stampede.

About 400 monks leading a blessing ceremony for the deceased at Koh Pich / by: Dara Saoyuth

Finally, the organizing people don’t plan the ceremony well. They are not well-prepared to be ready for the unplanned incident. Comparing to other countries, when there is the some special event like that the government must guarantee that the safety for people. They are very careless about this.

I think this is the  unprecedented mass deaths, so all these officials should be taken off from the position as the example for the other people.

Dara Saoyuth: Even though most Cambodians can think only who should be blamed when talking about tragedy on Koh Pich, to me, it is an opportunity to learn rather than focus on blame finding.

During the water festival, truck or big cars were not allowed to enter the city and even tuktuk couldn’t drive along riverside to avoid traffic jam and accident. I dared to say that Phnom Penh authorities were well-planned for the festival.

This year, people moved into the city more than the authority expectation, that in the evening of 22 November 2010, the accident happened. There are many reasons causing stampede including the lack of people morality that they push each other back and forth? Why should only authorities be blamed?

As we can see, immediately after the accident, the authorities were trying to help the victims in many ways.

The government ordered the Ministry of Health to pay much attention to the victims and also some officers to send dead people to their provinces with free of charge. The Phnom Penh Capital Hall also started reporting on the tragedy instantly and kept updating with new announcement related to the incident.

No one wants this to happen and also nothing can be changed. Now we should better find the solution instead of blaming.

One facebooker, Samsokrith Chhaly, urges the public to think of those who died during the Water Festival as heroes because they gave us priceless lesson for next year’s preparation. When development sides establish in Cambodia next time, I’m sure that they will think first about an effective risk management system.

If you want to share your ideas with us, feel free to send us an email: sun_narin@yahoo.com and dara_saoyuth@yahoo.com

Cambodia: Accessible Education Attracts Female Students Back to School

Cambodia’s Education Sector Support Project assists the government with its goal of expanding access to educational services by addressing constraints in supply, demand, quality and efficiency, and it has a special focus on poor and under-served communities.
* Women have particularly benefited: 67% of secondary school scholarships have been awarded to women. In primary school, almost 50% of the scholars are women.
* The project has helped build 247 lower secondary school buildings, with 650 more planned.

A dream of going back to school has come true for 23-year-old Van Sarem. Now she sits in the front row of her grade 8 class at a new secondary school in Sre Ang Krong commune by the Se San River in Ratanakiri province, excited and delighted to be back learning after a five-year absence since she finished primary school in 2004.

“My dream has come true now,” she says with a beautiful smile. “I am so happy that I have a chance to come back to school even though I am older. And my parents support my return to school.”

Sarem is from one of the poorest families in Sre Ang Krong village. When she finished studying at the local primary school, her family did not have the money to send her to the nearest secondary school, which was more than 20 km away. She dropped out of school for five years.

When Sarem saw a new school beginning to be built near her home, she began to hope that one day she would have a chance to be a pupil there when it opened. Whenever she walked by the building site, she willed the school to be finished sooner. Early last year she approached the new school’s principal and asked if she could register to be one of its first students.

The new secondary school in Sre Ang Krong is a product of two nationwide school building programs supported by the World Bank that are playing a crucial role in enabling young people, especially women, who have dropped out of school to resume their education.

The Education Sector Support Project (ESSP), which the World Bank supports, has built 247 lower secondary schools, and the Education Sector Support Scale-Up Action Program (ESSSUAP), supported by multiple donors and administered by the World Bank, plans to construct 650 school buildings throughout Cambodia.

The large number of schools being built around the country under the ESSP and ESSSUAP programs opens up the real possibility for young women like Sarem to go back to school and finish their education.

Of 205,151 scholarship students at secondary school, 67 percent are female. These are supported by the ESSP. Almost 50 percent out of 3,459 scholarship students at primary school are female and these are supported by ESSSUAP.

School construction has also helped women teachers to stay in their home areas as there is more local work than before. This means that many more female teachers can stay in the profession and thus have a greater opportunity to enhance their careers as well as be role models for girls.

“If girls are well educated, they will have the basic knowledge to support their families through a better understanding of health care and confidence in themselves which in turn can encourage siblings and their own children to attend school,” said H.E. Ou Eng, ESSP Project Manager. “This will have a cumulative effect over time and help to reduce poverty caused by poor understanding of basic health care, literacy and numeracy.

“One of the most important benefits is the fact that it gives a strong message to the community that the education of girls is a national priority,” he said. “This not only improves the educational opportunities for girls but also raises their status in the community.”

http://www.vadvert.co.uk/education/6426-cambodia-accessible-education-attracts-female-students-back-to-school.html

Laos Deported Uighu Asylum Seekers

Sunday, 19 December 2010 21:08 Adam Miller

Laotian authorities reportedly deported an ethnic Uighur asylum seeker and his family to China in March, three months after 20 of his compatriots were forcibly deported by Cambodian authorities.

The new information – contained in a recent media report – comes a year after Cambodia’s controversial deportation of the Uighurs, which triggered a firestorm of criticism from rights activists and foreign governments.

Last week, Radio Free Asia reported that Memet Eli Rozi, 34, his 28-year-old wife Gulbahar Sadiq and their five children were expelled from Laos in March.

Rozi was reportedly one of the 22 Uighurs who entered Cambodia in search of asylum in late 2009, after fleeing ethnic rioting in China’s Xinjiang province in July.

The report claims he was one of just two of the group who managed to escape before their deportation from Cambodia on December 19.

After his escape from Cambodia, Rozi  secretly entered Laos and later asked his family to join him from Guangzhou in southern China, according to an interview with Gulbahar Sadiq.

The family were apprehended by Laotian authorities upon arrival, she told RFA, and were deported to China where they were interrogated by Xinjiang officials for 32 days.

The article claims Memet Eli Rozi’s current location is unknown, while his wife and children have been released to their hometown in the west of the province.

The news falls close to the first anniversary of Cambodia’s deportation of the 20 Uighurs, a move which many rights groups have linked to Beijing’s approval of US$1.2 billion in loans and investment to Cambodia the same week.

In a statement on Friday, Human Rights Watch called Chinese officials to account for the whereabouts of the Uighurs, saying the government had “consistently refused” to provide information about their status and well-being.

“Uighurs deported to China are at clear risk of torture,” Sophie Richardson, HRW’s Asia advocacy director, said in the statement. “China’s failure to account for any of those asylum seekers a year after their forced return is extremely worrying.”

Cambodia’s land-grab ‘cancer’ keeps spreading

PHNOM PENH — Standing knee-deep in dirty water, 60-year-old Men Chhoeuy uses a crowbar to dismantle his small wooden house on the edge of a lake in the Cambodian capital.

He is the latest resident to give up the fight against a private company accused of spewing sand into lakeside homes as it fills in the 130-hectare (320-acre) site to make way for high-rise buildings and shopping centres.

“Many neighbours have already left,” said Men Chhoeuy as he continued his demolition work on the northern edge of Boeung Kak lake, one of the last large open spaces left in Phnom Penh and once home to about 4,000 families.

The sand-pumping has increased significantly in recent weeks and a number of homes were fully immersed in a matter of days, leaving only the tips of roofs sticking out as startled families scrambled to save what belongings they could.

“The message that is being sent to the remaining residents at the lake is that they should accept the compensation being offered to them or else their houses too will be buried in mud,” said David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, a non-governmental organisation.

The government leased the area three years ago to Shukaku Inc., a private developer headed by a ruling party politician, ignoring residents’ existing land claims.

Filling the lake with sand has caused water levels to rise, flooding local dwellings with slurry and creating unsanitary conditions, according to residents and rights groups.

“Shukaku Inc. is forcibly evicting lake residents by pumping sand and mud into their homes,” Rolando Modina, regional director of the international pressure group Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), told AFP.

Land disputes are a major problem in Cambodia.

The communist Khmer Rouge abolished land ownership during its 1975-1979 rule and many legal documents were lost during that time and in the years of civil war that followed.

Last year, the government approved a new law allowing it to seize private property for public development projects, to the dismay of activists.

“Land-grabbing is a cancer that is eating up Cambodia,” said Pred.

“Forced evictions are being driven by rapid speculative investment in the Cambodian real estate market, coupled with endemic corruption and the absence of rule of law,” he added.

“The urban poor are being driven from their homes in Phnom Penh, which is becoming an exclusive domain of the wealthy.”

The capital is undergoing heavy development after projects stalled during the global financial crisis.

In the countryside, meanwhile, farming land has been confiscated on numerous occasions and granted to large developers such as sugar and rubber companies.

In 2009 alone, at least 26 cases of mass evictions displaced approximately 27,000 people across the country, according to a UN report released in September.

“The manner in which land is managed and used by the government for various purposes continues to be a major problem. Land-grabbing by people in positions of power seems to be a common occurrence,” it said.

Shukaku has offered some lake dwellers, though not all, financial compensation of 1,500 to 8,500 US dollars for vacating the site, but critics say the money is not enough.

“I have to accept this money because my home is flooding,” Men Chhoeuy said of the 8,000 US dollars he will split with the three other families who shared his home. “I don’t know where to go now. With this money we can’t do anything.”

People are leaving the lake every day but Pred estimates there are still some 1,500 to 2,000 families remaining, many of whom are poor and have nowhere else to go.

Shukaku, which was granted a 99-year lease for the development project, declined to comment.

“Please talk to the government,” company spokesman Lao Vann told AFP. “We don’t know anything… We are allowed by the state to develop (the area).”

Sok Sambath, the governor of the city’s Daunh Penh district, which includes the lake, described the development as “a good thing” for the area and said residents were accepting compensation.

Many of the people living on and around the lake settled or returned there in the 1980s after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

Under Cambodian law, a person who has lived somewhere for five years or more without dispute has rights to that land, “but there have been problems in implementing this law properly,” said the UN report.

Lake dwellers have in recent months organised dozens of demonstrations but their protests fell on deaf ears and they were usually quickly dispersed by police.

It’s not just the residents who are complaining. Until recently, the eastern edge of Boeung Kak lake was a popular tourist stretch, with numerous guesthouses and bars lining the shore.

The lake now resembles a large sand dune and has lost its allure. Tourists are staying away and hotels are closing.

“Five months ago this was a bustling, thriving area. Now, it’s dead calm,” said Harry Bongers, who for the last seven years has been running the Simon’s II guesthouse.

“I’ve made my mind up already, I’m going to close in one month,” the 59-year-old Dutchman said. AFP

Cross-border calm brings opportunity

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia have thawed in recent months, but greater understanding is needed before there will be any real warmth

The path to a visa-free zone within Asean is getting closer for Thais, as last month Thailand and Cambodia bilaterally revoked the need for entry visas for citizens on cross-border trips. The visa exemption is a ”gift” for the peoples of both countries to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations, which is being celebrated today. Only Burma has yet to give Thai citizens a visa exemption.

But making travel more convenient doesn’t mean smooth integration and a peaceful borderless union within Southeast Asia, especially with the neighbour to the east with whom we share such weighty historical baggage.

Nearly eight years ago, an angry mob rioted in Pnomh Penh following unsubstantiated reports in the Cambodian media that Thai TV star Suvanan Kongying had claimed Angkor Wat was ”stolen” from Thailand.

More recently another ancient sacred site has been the cause of a serious spat, after Cambodia succeeded in unilaterally registering the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple on the disputed border as a Unesco world heritage site in July, 2008.

Tensions eased earlier this month and it seems both sides have retreated from the issue for now.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has sparked a nationalistic campaign against the Unesco listing of the Hindu temple as a Cambodian site. But the PAD has postponed until Jan 25 a rally to oppose reconvening the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Committee to discuss demining and demarcation priorities.

People in both countries are wondering how long the thaw will last and if it can be developed into a sustainable collaboration. For that to happen, deep-rooted conflicts _involving both superiority and inferiority complexes between the predominant ethnic groups in the two countries _ will have to be healed.

Ana Nov, 32, general manager of Ang Khmer Group, a translation, advertising and public relaetions company, said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s appearance in Phnom Penh last month to formalise the visa exemption for up to 14 days of travel, already in effect, was a good starting point for closer relations between citizens of both countries.

She said that ”bad manners” shown by Thai border authorities are standing in the way of a civil bilateral environment.

”Of the more than 10 countries I have visited, only in Thailand have immigration police been insulting. They repeatedly said mai sa-at [unclean] as they were stamping my passport.

”Even the less-service minded and poorly-trained Vietnamese and Lao border police don’t look down upon tourists or talk nonsense like those at the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border crossing,” said the young woman, who speaks fluent Thai , English, Vietnamese and Khmer.

She said notions and gestures of superiority remain obstacles to improving relations between the two countries. She stressed the need for Thai authorities to treat all tourists equally and be mindful of the human rights of the tens of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand.

More knowledge of the high points in historical relations would also be helpful on both sides of the border, she said.

”At least Thais should know that at one point we helped Ayutthaya during the war with Myanmar,” she said.

She said that the PAD protest over Preah Vihear has prompted young Cambodians to support politicians who have ties to powerful people in China and Vietnam and who are in favour of buying more weapons to make the country look stronger.

However, many Cambodians, young and old alike, have no problems with Thailand. They continue to buy Thai products and enjoy watching Thai movies, she said.

Thida Khus, 59, shared a similar view.

”It would be helpful for both Khmer and Thai people to remember that we came from the same roots and that we have a lot of common aspects in our cultures and art that should help us understand each other better,” said Thida Khus, the executive director of Silaka, a support agency for private and public agencies in Cambodia.

She moved back to Cambodia after living in the US to work on empowering women in the political arena in the early 1990s.

”Political manipulation from either side to motivate hatred among our two nations and peoples will not benefit anybody,” said Thida Khus.

Kim Vuth, 32, a peace activist who works with the American Friends Service Committee, said the relationship between former enemies Germany and France could serve as an inspiration for Thailand and Cambodia to coexist peacefully in the future.

”After World War II, Germany and France organised many people-to-people activities and exchanges. They also developed a common history book which was used in both school systems,” said Kim Vuth.

He emphasised that peace building was not the job of governments alone. A critical mass of peace lovers is needed in both nations, so that the people could not be easily provoked into supporting violence and armed solutions, he added.

”The cost of war is too high. We should have learned that from world history, said Kim Vuth.

Chea Vannath, on the board of directors of Star Kampuchea, a Cambodian non-profit organisation dedicated to strengthening democracy and civil society, said media outlets in both countries play an important role in shaping and projecting cross-border images and thus can help ease or aggravate the tensions.

”Cultural, soft diplomacy exchanges in artistic, spiritual, social, agricultural, academic, and medical areas will be very important,” said Chea Vannath, who was traumatised by the Khmer Rouge regime but was able to escape to Thailand then to the US. She cited a need to bring medical care to remote areas of Cambodia.

”When Thailand and Cambodia have strong civil society networks in place that advocate peaceful coexistence, then we can hope for a change,” said Chea Vannath.

Sokhany Prak, executive director of the Cambodian Civil Society Partnership, said the present generation needs to stop listening to the old myths and ”work towards removing hatred and anger from our mindsets so as to have peaceful minds to build a good relationship between our countries”.

Sokhany Prak’s organisation is a key partner in the Cambodian Working Group for Peace, which, together with the Thai Working Group for Peace, is trying to find solutions to the cross-border tensions.

”The government has also supported our collaboration and this is a good sign. We need to prevent events like the torching of the Thai embassy from happening again,” said the 53 year old.

The Thai-Cambodian Association for Cultural Cooperation, which was set up soon after that 2003 incident, has recently obtained status as a legal foundation, which enables it to receive financial support from the Thai Foreign Ministry.

Tej Bunnag, former president of the association, said it has initiated several sociocultural measures, for example the translation of important books such as Pongsawadarn Chabab Luang Praserrt (Historical Texts Luang Prasert Version) into Khmer.

Mr Tej, who is a historian and a former foreign minister, said that it is important that we reproduce such texts for Cambodians at all levels to compare notes.

This in turn would make it possible for Cambodian high school and university students to learn history in an objective manner and hopefully reduce ill-intended nationalism.

He said the purpose was not to rewrite history, but to provide facts which have been objectively verified.

Mr Tej said no one could guarantee that there won’t be more violent flare-ups between the two nations.

Problems could be stirred up by some movements in both countries, he said, but added that ”there are really good-hearted people on both sides of the border who want to see peace and friendship, and we should try to work earnestly toward this goal”. http://www.bangkokpost.com



Angelina Jolie Joins Fight for Cambodian AIDS Victims

Two superstars — one a world-famous actress and one a world-renowned scientist — have teamed up to bring aid to vulnerable children around the world. More Video 1 2 3 4 5 PreviousNext VIDEO: Innovative products help solve some of the world’s gravest health problems. Watch: Students Designing a Better World VIDEO: Duke University Medical Center’s Dr. Neil Spector explains future of treatment. Watch: FDA Withdraws Avastin for Breast Cancer VIDEO: Memorial Hermann’s security executive Joseph Bellino comments on her actions. Watch: Woman Endangers Self to Protect Colleagues Oscar winner Angelina Jolie and Harvard researcher Dr. Anne Goldfeld, who co-directs the Global Health Committee, turned a chance meeting into an opportunity to help Cambodian children stricken with HIV and tuberculosis live full, healthy lives.

The two women met while flying into Cambodia in 2004, where Jolie was filming the hit “Tomb Raider” sequel and Goldfeld was returning to provide medical aid to children in need. The conversation the two struck up led to Jolie lending her support and funding for a center to bolster Goldfeld’s efforts. “There, sitting next to me, was Angelina Jolie and Maddox, her son,” Goldfeld said of that fateful flight. “I think I was so jet-lagged that I had the temerity to say, ‘You’re Angelina Jolie, aren’t you?'” Once they arrived in Cambodia, Goldfeld ended up taking Jolie to the dilapidated hospital where she was treating adults and children wasting away from diseases like AIDS and its common co-infection, tuberculosis.

Goldfeld, a professor at Harvard’s Immune Disease Institute, also told Jolie that children with AIDS in Cambodia often don’t get the care they need to survive, and are often stigmatized and cast out. This story is part of ABC News’ “Be the Change: Save a Life” initiative, a year-long series of broadcast and digital coverage focusing on global health issues. For more onTB in Cambodia, watch “World News” Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Click here for complete coverage and information on how you can personally make a difference. According to current estimates, approximately 14,000 Cambodian children are infected with HIV, and mother-to-child transmission of AIDS is one of the major causes of new infections.

After her visit to the hospital, Jolie decided to partner with Goldfeld on a new project to bring relief to Cambodian children. The result is The Maddox Chivan Children’s Center, named for Jolie’s Cambodian-born adopted son. The daycare facility for children afflicted by and affected by HIV opened in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in February 2006.

Here, ostracized children who’ve been kept out of school due to illness or social stigma are cared for and brought up to grade level. Children who need drugs are taught — along with their parents — how to administer the drugs, which if taken consistently, can keep them alive indefinitely.

Jolie and her partner Brad Pitt are actively engaged in the project, and have visited. ABC News’ Dan Harris and a camera crew were also granted a tour of the facility recently with Goldfeld, who praised of the center’s superstar benefactors.

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“They’re very serious actors and they’re very serious humanitarians, they are role models for all of us” Goldfeld said.

So far, the Center, which has several major donors, has created some remarkable success stories. Yi How, a Cambodian boy, was on death’s door, suffering from AIDS and tuberculosis, when Goldfeld met him in 2006. His mother had recently died and he said he wanted to go to heaven to be with her.

Today, thanks to help from the Maddox Center, How is happy and healthy — and an aggressive soccer player.

“He got rid of his TB in six months, and now he’s completely stable. He’s 10, does great in school and he lives with his dad,” Goldfeld told ABC News. The center offers treatment, education, and hope to some of Cambodia’s most vulnerable children.

Joint concert held to mark 60th anniversary of Cambodia-Thailand diplomatic ties

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) — A free concert to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Cambodia-Thailand diplomatic ties was held on Saturday afternoon at Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Hall.

The Cambodia-Thailand cultural performance, featured musical and cultural shows by artists of the two countries, was also live telecast nationwide via the National Television of Cambodia and TV3 as well as to Thailand.

Khim Sarith, secretary of state of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the concern was to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between the two countries, which come on Sunday, and to exchange and strengthen the two nations’ cultural relations.

Nipit Intarasombut, Thailand culture minister, said during the opening ceremony that Thailand and Cambodia are close neighbors for ages and people of the two countries have good relations in culture, tradition and the same Buddhism.

“I believe that the art performance today will create the closer expansion of cooperation between the people of the two nations on all sectors and it is an event to reflect affection, solidarity, and mutual understanding between the people of the two countries,” he said.

This is the second joint concert between the two nations since the first one was held at the Indoor Stadium in Bangkok on Nov. 28.

Cambodia and Thailand have had border conflict just one week after Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Temple was registered as World Heritage Site in July 2008.

Since then the conflict started, military standoff has been on and off along the two countries’ border and several military clashes have already happened with recorded small causalities from both sides.

The border issue, however, has been eased as the top leaders of Cambodia and Thailand have held four meetings since September.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Dec. 6 at a graduation ceremony that the border situation between Cambodia and Thailand has now returned to the date before July 15, 2008.

Hun Sen also praised the joint Cambodia Thai concert on Nov. 28 at the Indoor Stadium in Bangkok, and live televised to Cambodia through the national television of Cambodia and TV3.

China asked to explain fate of Uighurs from Cambodia

BEIJING — Human Rights Watch has called on Beijing to explain the fate of 20 Uighurs deported from Cambodia a year ago who had sought asylum following deadly ethnic violence in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.

The Uighurs, members of a mainly Muslim minority group who have complained of oppression in Xinjiang, were handed over to China despite their application for UN refugee status, after Beijing had pressed Cambodia for their return.

China said they were wanted in connection with rioting that erupted in July 2009 in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi between Uighurs and China’s majority Han ethnic group that left nearly 200 people dead, according to official tolls. “Uighurs deported to China are at clear risk of torture,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director, Sophie Richardson, said in a statement released Friday in New York, where the group is based.

“China’s failure to account for any of those asylum seekers a year after their forced return is extremely worrying.” Cambodia’s decision to deport the Uighurs was quickly followed by a 1.2-billion-dollar aid and loan package from Beijing. China has rejected accusations of a link between the two. The Uighurs had expressed fears of persecution and torture if they were sent home to China, which implemented a massive security crackdown in Xinjiang following the violence. Phnom Penh said the group, which Beijing had labelled as “criminals”, was expelled in line with domestic law.

But the US, the European Union, the United Nations and rights groups deplored the move as an apparent breach of an international convention on refugees. “Both China and Cambodia should be held accountable for their flagrant disregard of their obligations under international law,” Richardson said. “This case is a stark reminder that no country should deport Uighur asylum seekers back to China.”

AFP….

CAMBODIA: Rights groups protest at order to close UN refugee site

PHNOM PENH, 17 December 2010 (IRIN) – The Cambodian government has ordered the closure of a UN site holding dozens of Montagnard refugees from Vietnam, in a move that rights groups say is politically motivated and potentially dangerous for those whose status has yet to be determined.

The facility houses 76 refugees and asylum-seekers from Vietnam who are members of that country’s highland ethnic minorities. Rights groups claim the Montagnards face ethnic and religious persecution by the Vietnamese government.

A majority – 62 – at the site have qualified for resettlement but the case of 14 others has yet to be determined.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia will repatriate to Vietnam the remaining Montagnards, including the new arrivals and those awaiting interview, on a date to be notified in due course,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

In a letter dated 29 November, but not obtained by the press until this week, the government wrote to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), ordering it to close the site on 1 January.

On 17 December, however, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong told reporters that the government would extend the deadline to 15 February as a “favour” to the UN.

“We’re still trying to verify this officially, but if this is true it would be very good news as this is exactly what we were asking the Cambodian government to do,” Kitty McKinsey, a UNHCR spokeswoman, told IRIN from Ho Chi Minh City.

Claims of persecution

Since 2001, some 2,000 Motagnards have fled to Cambodia following government crackdowns in Vietnam, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Many have resettled in third countries through Cambodia but others have been arrested and deported to Vietnam, the group says.

It has not yet been clarified by either the government or UN whether the cases of the 14 without resettlement countries were rejected or undecided.

If the latter, repatriating them would be a violation of Cambodia’s signed commitment to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, requiring it to protect refugees fleeing persecution.

Under the convention, “Cambodia has a clear obligation… to ensure that the 14 Montagnard asylum-seekers are permitted to enter a refugee screening determination process that is fair and based on international standards”, Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, a local rights group, maintained that the Cambodian government was sending a clear message: “Cambodia will not be a place to receive” political refugees.

His group tied the government’s demanded closure to a visit by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to Phnom Penh last month in which trade deals were emphasized.

The decision to close the refugee site “is further evidence that the treatment of political refugees in Cambodia is secondary to the [government’s] political and economic prerogative”, the group said in a letter released on 15 December.

Uighur deportation

Rights groups say the Montagnard case follows the pattern of the Cambodian government’s widely criticized move to forcibly repatriate 20 ethnic Uighur asylum-seekers to China on 19 December 2009 – immediately after the announcement of a US$1.2 billion aid package from Beijing.

“With the Uighurs, the Cambodian government blatantly disregarded its obligation under the Convention by failing to conduct a refugee screening determination, and it’s up to UNHCR and concerned governments like the US and EU and others to pressure the Cambodian government to ensure that Montagnards don’t suffer a repeat performance of what the Uighurs faced,” Robertson said.

News reports inside China stated that four of the Uighurs were executed and 14 jailed.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong has rejected claims that political pressure was the motivation for the UN site’s closure.

“No one has influence on Cambodia’s policy,” he told the Phnom Penh Post. “We decided to close it down on our own.”

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