Sunday, January 22, 2012

Better late than never - 2011

Phnom Penh Tower, Cambodia
Newly completed Phnom Penh Tower, the city's second highrise.
Running a couple of weeks late on this post. Stray thoughts of Cambodia last year.

2010 At the end of last year, the on-going conflict with Thailand over Preah Vihear was probably the most talked about issue of that moment and perhaps the year. A decades old dispute, the flare up of the last few years was largely the result of Thai political instability stemming from the 2006 coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. After months of deadly border skirmishes in 2010, political and military tensions had begun to ease in December, only to spike again with the arrest of a Thai politician and yellow-shirt activists on the Cambodian side of the border. And so began 2011.
Preah Vihear: the Thai-Cambodia temple dispute 
New developments in the Thai-Cambodia conflict (Dec 30, 2010)

Cambodia Daily, Cambodia
Cambodia Daily
Voluntourism The international press turned a long overdue critical light on Pity Industry tourism, including orphanage tourism and commercialized voluntourism. Prompted by a study of orphanage tourism in Africa, papers such as the Guardian and the Telegraph published critical pieces toward the end of 2010, sparking several other unfavorable articles, blog entries and internet debates throughout the year. In October 2011 the high-respected NGO Friends-International in Cambodia launched an important new campaign aimed at bringing an end to orphanage tourism.
Guardian: Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do
Telegraph: Volunteer holidays 'do more harm than good'
Inside the thriving industry of AIDS orphan tourism
Taking Aim at Voluntourism

The Independent: Cambodia's orphanages target the wallets of well-meaning tourists
When Children Become Tourist Attractions

Internet censorship Cambodia stumbled clumsily into the world of Internet censorship in February. After a ham-handed start in which all of BlogSpot was suddenly blocked and ISPs initially affirmed then denied knowledge of the blockage, the outage narrowed, leaving only the highly provocative KI Media and Khmerization permanently unavailable through some ISPs in Cambodia. Both the government and the ISP’s denied responsibility. The media squawked about it for a month or so, but the story has since been relegated to NGO reports. The blocked sites are still unavailable through many, perhaps most ISPs in Cambodia. That said, Cambodia still has some of the most unrestricted internet access in Southeast Asia, significantly better than its immediate neighbors.
The Curious Case of the Banning that Wasn't
LICADHO Condemns Censorship of Web Sites Critical of Government

Sam Rainsy Mid-March, Sam Rainsy was stripped of his seat in Parliament. It seemed much less of a story than it would have been in years past.
Cambodia opposition leader loses parliamentary seat

US Maintains Ban on Cambodian Adoptions  There has been a US imposed ban on the adoption of Cambodian children by Americans since 2001. After reconsidering the ban in March, the US ultimately declined to rescind it.
Cambodia Law Blog: Can expats adopt Cambodian children? Dispelling the myths

Unhappy Hippi In May Sihanoukville’s fabled Happy Hippi lost its smile.
K440: Happy Hippy smacked

The Cows of Spring On Royal Plowing Day in May the Royal Oxen ate beans and corn, eschewing the rice and other offerings.

Phsar Thmey, Central Market, Phnom Penh Cambodia
Phsar Thmey and wart
Central Market After more than two years of work, during which many vendors were displaced to temporary buildings next to the market, the renovation and refurbishment of Phsar Thmey was completed mid-2011, including a brand new bright yellow paint job. (And it grew a wart in the form of a new, completely out-of-place 7-story building on the market square.) What a fantastic building, even with wart.

Preah Vihear In July elections were held in Thailand. The Pheu Thai party won. Thaksin’s sister became PM, Thailand’s political turmoil eased a bit, the yellows quieted, and the Preah Vihear situation has been getting better ever since. Come the end of 2011, Thai activist Veera remains in Cambodian jail.
Cambodia congratulates Pheu Thai Party on election win
Yingluck's visit to improve relations: Cambodian deputy PM
Cambodian PM stresses good relations with Thailand

DVDs at Russian Market
Legend In July The Legend Theatre opened in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s first ‘international-standard’ cinema. Full size screen, proper theater seats, quality projection and sound and the first screen in Cambodia to (legally) show Hollywood first run movies, including 3D movies. As a result there has been a threatened crackdown on bootlegged DVDs of certain first run movies.
Cambodia Law Blog: New moves on pirated movies

Tonle Sap Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to make the health of the Tonle Sap a priority, apparently with significant success. Illegal reservoirs and fishing lots were ordered shut down and the orders were enforced. Initial reports indicate the annual total fish catch is way up.
Fishing licenses around Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake revoked
Hun Sen extends Tonle Sap fishing lot closure
AKP: Large Scale Crack-down of Illegal Fishing in Tonle Sap to Come

Former brothels, Street 63, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Former brothels on 63
Brothels closed on 63 Sometime in July, the long-running string of brothels on Street 63 was raided and closed. I posted about the bust of one in this group back in 2010. The place was back in operation a couple of weeks later, business as usual. Clearly well protected. But all of the brothels are gone now. To my knowledge those places on 63 were the last openly brothel-like businesses in central Phnom Penh. They have been there as long as I can remember and survived years after every other city center brothel had been shuttered. There must have been dozens of girls there. Closing them was probably one of the biggest brothel raid/ closures in the country this year. But to my knowledge the raid went unreported in the English press in Cambodia.

A Brief Tour of the Cambodian Sex Industry Best article on prostitution in Cambodia by an international journalist in recent memory. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but unlike many of the weepy, sensationalistic, pre-scripted reports in the international media of late, he drew his conclusions from the evidence rather than looking for evidence to support his conclusions.

Faintings There was a spate of mass faintings at several different garment factories and even a couple of schools in Cambodia. Many observers were understandably quick to cast a suspicious eye on factory conditions, but the cause is still a matter of investigation. The mass faintings began suddenly and have occurred over a relatively short span, the only obvious commonalities being most happened in the factories and were exclusively amongst the laborers. It would be an extraordinary coincidence for such a cluster to occur, yet not have some common cause or link between the incidents – e.g. some new chemical, pesticide or product in use, a new ventilation system, a illness of some sort being passed around, longer working hours or increased production requirements, some new practice common to all of the affected factories.

Different causes have been suggested by investigators and labor advocates. In fact, there have been almost as many possible causes cited as there have been fainting incidents – chemicals, smells, ventilation, long hours, hunger, food poisoning, dehydration, etc., but nothing definitive and nothing new and common to all of the affected facilities. Working conditions in the factories appear to be pretty much the same as they have been for years.

In lieu of evidence of a common cause I am inclined to agree with Time Magazine. The mass fainting are, for lack of a better term, ‘mass-hysteria,’ but by that I don't mean to diminish their significance. These factory workers are largely poor young women, often rural girls accustomed to rice farming and country living, now working in gray, stuffy, unpleasant conditions, feeling homesick, pressured by family (for money) and harsh supervisors, and doing mind-numbingly repetitive work for very little compensation (averaging $55-$61/month,) often for long hours. Though the factories are not 'sweat shops,' this is still the kind of work that is undesirable enough to drive some young women to choose prostitution in preference. In my opinion, for whatever reason that first mass fainting happened, it sparked a chain reaction of all the faintings that followed - it was the spark for a sort of involuntary protest by these young women against the unhappy and oppressive circumstances in which they find themselves.
Hundreds sick in mass fainting at Cambodian factory
Mass Fainting In Garment Factory
Mass faintings at H&M factory in Cambodia
What's Causing 'Mass Faintings' at Cambodian Factories?

Siem Reap, September 2011
Floods The wet season was too wet this year. Cambodia (and Thailand) saw some of the worst flooding in more than a decade. In Cambodia huge swathes of countryside along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers were submerged, hundreds of deaths, enormous crop loss and property damage. Government response was slow and inadequate. In an unprecedented but widely supported move, the government cancelled the Water Festival boat races in Phnom Penh. Just as the press was beginning to take note of the flooding in Cambodia, especially with the repeated flooding of Siem Reap town, Bangkok came under flood threat and story in the international press changed focus to Thailand and never really returned to Cambodia. Interestingly, even with the flood related crop loss, Cambodia managed to produce more rice in 2011 than the previous year.
Flood reports, photos and links
Cambodia's rice yield stable in 2011 despite flood devastation: PM

Most self-absorbed article of the year Amidst stories of captive Cambodian women jumping from upper floor windows to escape Malaysian recruitment agencies and of repeated allegations of abuse, torture and rape of Cambodian maids in Malaysia, the Cambodian government has banned its citizens from working as maids in Malaysia. Reporting on the ban in ‘this article’ the Malaysian press complained of a “dire maid shortage”in Malaysia and of how the ban will hurt their recruitment agencies. "Dire." Never mind the abuses suffered by these maids in Malaysia or captive women jumping from windows to escape these so called 'recruitment agencies' in Phnom Penh, it sounds like tough times in Malaysia. It's dire. They're having to make their own beds and there's nobody to do the dishes. 
“They Deceived Us at Every Step”
Recruiters Round Up Cambodians to Work in Malaysia

Rice wine deaths There were several mass poisonings attributable to bad batches of homemade rice wine. A regular motodup on my street died a couple of months ago after being poisoned. In one tragic case the better part of a village was wiped out. One poisoning incident:
12 Cambodians died of wine poisoning

Top Ten Tycoons The essential Who’s Who

Land Next to the floods, the rampant land-grabbing and mistreatment of evictees was the story of the year. So much has been written on the subject I am not sure what more is to be said. The problem continues and is growing. It is involving ever more people and confrontations between evictees and authorities are becoming more violent. In terms of politics, it is a gift from the ruling party government to the opposition. While I accept it is unrealistic to expect there will not be evictions as the city and country develops, I don’t understand from either a human or political POV why it is being handled so badly and the evictees treated with such callous inhumanity. It is sowing the seeds of dissent and future conflict in ever growing numbers. As one Kampong Speu evictee put it, "If there was still a Khmer Rouge hiding in the jungle, I'd join." In the long and even medium term, these pitiless evictions don't make moral or even Machiavellian sense.

NGO Law The government wants to regulate NGOs and has proffered a law. The NGOs are suspicious of the government’s intent but split between those who say the proposed law needs modification and those who say there should be no law at all. Much ink has been spilled on the subject with the highlight being an exchange between Elizabeth Becker and an anonymous commentator at AKP, the government media mouthpiece. The proposed law is currently in its fourth draft and the debate continues. The Prime Minister recently calmed the debate by saying that there was no rush, that they would work as long as necessary to craft a law acceptable to both sides. But, of course, this also takes the ‘no law’ option off the table.
Catalogue of artcles related to the NGO Law
Hun Sen Calls for More Talks on NGO Law

Elizabeth Becker/AKP exchange
Silencing Cambodia's Honest Brokers By ELIZABETH BECKER
AKP: Commentary: Elizabeth Becker and the Campaign to Put NGOs above the Law
Response To Anonymous Critique by Elizabeth Becker

The King, King Father and Queen Mother on the occasion of the 90/20 celebration.
90/20 King Father Sihanouk celebrated his 90th birthday and 20-year anniversary of returning to Cambodia. A truly historic occasion.
Birthday of King Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia

Mu Sochea proves to be a continuing force, making her mark (and political hay) taking a hands-on approach and focusing on issues that directly affect the poor and disadvantaged such as land grabbing and maid trafficking. Like I said last year, keep an eye on this lady, especially in the coming election year. She’s going places.

Kristof Tweets In November Nicholas Kristof parachuted in to Anlong Veng to tweet a brothel raid and promote his favorite anti-trafficking NGO in Cambodia. His dramatic tweeting of the raid probably did more to raise public awareness of his questionable ethics in the reporting of sex trafficking than anything he has done since purchasing two underage girls in Cambodia in 2005.
Nick Kristof to the rescue!
Nick Kristof Live Tweets a Raid on an Underage Brothel – And Not Everyone is Thrilled
Fighting back, one brothel raid at a time
A human trafficker defends Cambodian sweatshops
Be Aware: Nick Kristof’s Anti-Politics

Laos threatens to construct the first hydropower dam on the Lower Mekong.
Laos' Mekong Xayaburi dam plan delayed again

@Faineg Tweets KR trial The KR trials continue under a darkening cloud of criticism from disparate quarters. Growing feelings that the trials may be fundamentally flawed, talk of UN incompetence, accusations of government interference, a judge resigned, acrimony between the government and UN, and that's just the now of it. Case 002 is underway. Nuon Chea (Brother #2) has been on the stand and has put on quite a show, well-worth a hundred million, see-sawing between denying knowledge and blaming Vietnam. In an innovative and powerful use of Twitter, Faine Greenwood, aka @faineg, (and others more sporadically,) has been live tweeting the proceedings from the courtroom. This is journalism. ( Recently @KRT_Monitor has taken up the blow by blow.)

Plane to Sihanoukville Cambodia Angkor Air began regular flights between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville in December. If memory serves, this is the first regular air service to Sihanoukville since Royal Air Cambodge stopped flying to Sihanoukville in late 1997…except for PMT’s short-lived ill-fated venture on the same route a few years back. 

Tourism grows and grows At year’s end the government announced that tourist arrivals were up 14% over last year, Vietnamese leading the way. Tuk-tuk drivers in Siem Reap complain that the increasing numbers of Asian tourists, often on packages, is driving down local transport prices. Still, Siem Reap is booming and some of it is spilling off to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.
Cambodia's foreign tourist arrivals up 14% in 2011

Gold Tower 42, The Phnom Penh Tower and The OCIC Tower
Phnom Penh towers At the site of the old Ministry of Tourism, Phnom Penh's second highrise after the OCIC Tower (Canadia Tower,) the new Phnom Penh Tower on Monivong Blvd, was completed and opened for business. Stalled project Gold Tower 42 (aka Grey Tower 31, aka Bassac Thmey) has been idle now for 15 months.

The Riel The Cambodian Riel held its own against the US dollar throughout the year, varying only about +/-50 Riel over the course of the year, beginning 2011 at about 4055KHR = US$1 and finishing around 4075KHR = US$1.

New bridge to Koh Pos, Sihanoukville, 2/11. Construction is now complete.
Outrage In the final week of the year Cambodia publicly soiled itself and walked around stinking of shit in its pants all week after pardoning and releasing convicted Russian pedophile Alexander Trofimov. Alexi first arrived in Cambodia heading up a high-profile US$300,000,000 Koh Pos investment project before being caught diddling dozens of prepubescent girls in Sihanoukville in 2007. His subsequent handling by the Cambodian judiciary was riddled with irregularities and he had served only a fraction of his original sentence before being freed by royal pardon. Juice speaks. He has since disappeared into Cambodia somewhere, doing what...we can only imagine. After he was released all of the authorities that should have been in-the-know did a Sgt. Schultz style, "I know nothing...nothing!" all denying knowledge of how he got on the pardon list. His former company even denied knowing who he is. Yeah, right.  
Cambodia pardons Russian in paedophile case
Phnom Penh Post: Petition to deport pedophile Alexander Trofimov

Ten Cambodia Tweeps to Follow

Cambodia News and Info on Twitter

New Cambodia Blogs of Note
Faine Opinines
Nate Thayer

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