Thomico: A prince who is more royalist than the king himself

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thomico (Photo: Sovannara, RFI)

Thomico: I do not allow the fake Ruom Ritt to use the king’s name and the border problem to joke around

27 Feb 2010
By Jean Fran├žois Tain
Radio France Internationale
Translated from Khmer by Heng Soy

Answering to questions asked by RFI’s Jean Fran├žois Tain, Prince Thomico, the advisor to the office of the Beijing-bound king, provides clarification on the “fake Ruom Ritt” case. For the prince, the person posing as the childhood friend of King-Father Norodom Sihanouk wanted to attack King Sihamoni by accusing the latter of being lax when it comes to defending Cambodia’s territorial integrity.

Click here to listen to the interview in Khmer (MP3)
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[Thai] Troops face probe over [Burmese] child killings

SPRAYED: Bullet holes in the pick-up truck fired on by Thai soldiers on Thursday. Three Burmese, including two children, died in the incident.

Bangkok Post

Local media reported that police are sending a case of "manslaughter in the line of duty" to prosecutors to consider.

The five unharmed migrants and the two who were discharged from hospital, are being held at a police station in Ranong, and will be charged with illegal entry into Thailand.

NGO officials say the bodies are with the military and they have not been able to access the survivors.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk said it's important that a quick and transparent investigation be conducted into the incident. "We need to get a clear account of what the situation was," he said.

He said while the police have spoken of commitment to press charges, the situation needs to be monitored and the right steps taken.

"Clearly there was excessive use of violence in the incident and a violation of the UN's Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials resolution. The actions of the truck-driver or those inside it did not pose a large threat. You can't claim it's necessary to stop a civilian truck with an M16."

He also expressed concern for the safety of the survivors, saying they should be held in Thailand in a safe place out of military custody until any court hearing is finished.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a report "From the Tiger to the Crocodile," criticising Thailand for its poor treatment of migrants.

The report documented cases of migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos, who were subjected to extortion, arbitrary detention, forced labour, physical abuse, rape and murder, often at the hands of state officials operating with impunity.

On Monday, the bodies of four migrant workers who had been been shot were found near the coast of Ranong, and nine migrant workers were found executed in Mae Sot earlier this month. Both cases are still under investigation.
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Southeast asians prepare for [US] census count

Sunday, February 28, 2010
The Providence Journal (Rhodes Island)

The Southeast Asian Complete Count Committee held a kickoff event Saturday at the Socio-Economic Development Center for Southeast Asians, at 270 Elmwood Ave. in Providence. The pre-Census 2010 event featured a Cambodian blessing and Hmong dancing. The Cambodian performers in the Blessing Dance are, from left, Marina Men, 16, Likhet Or, 10 and Kanika Men, 9.
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Thai govt asked to stop migrants’ crackdown plan

Veronica Uy
Inquirer (Philippines)

MANILA, Philippines—The Thai Royal Government must stop its planned crackdown on more than 1.4 million migrant workers, mostly from Laos, Cambodia, and Burma, citing possible violations of international and regional conventions if it proceeds with the plan.

The International Migrants Alliance (IMA) made the appeal in a statement e-mailed to media outfits over the weekend.

The crackdown follows after the Thai government ruled that migrant workers need to submit to the national verification scheme which requires all migrant workers with a two-year work permit to complete a 13-step application process for visa extension.

While the scheme’s deadline was reportedly moved a month earlier (on March 31), the crackdown will still be immediately implemented thereafter, IMA said.

“Physical abuse, maltreatment, and subhuman conditions, these are but a few of bad things to come to migrant workers who will be arrested and detained once the Thai government pursues its crackdown,” said IMA chairperson Eni Lestari.

“The Thai government should rethink this plan as it does not only violate a number of regional and international conventions but tramples upon the basic rights of migrant workers.”

Lestari also lamented the possible threat the crackdown will have on the Burmese refugees, who make up 80 percent of the targeted migrants.

“Should the crackdown push through, Burmese refugees will not only be subjected to arrest and detention but forced back into a country where they fear for their lives—the very reason they left,” she said.

The crackdown, said Lestari, will violate the Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers which the Thai government recently signed.

“With a tarnished human rights record after its maltreatment of the Rohingyas in early 2009, the Thai government could never assure anyone that it shall protect migrant workers,” added Lestari.

The IMA also sounded the alarm over the apparently calibrated attack on migrant workers at a global scale. Thailand is the latest government to impose a crackdown on migrant workers following Australia (which recently imposed a crackdown on skilled migrants), Italy, and Malaysia.

“It is the most despicable display of hypocrisy on the part of governments who mouth promises to uphold migrants rights but do otherwise,” said Lestari, “Migrant workers, especially the undocumented, are being subjected to criminalization and outright denial of their fundamental rights in countries where more stringent immigration policies are being imposed and racial hatred being fanned.”

She retorted further that sending governments should ensure the protection of their citizens and push for agreements with receiving governments to uphold and promote the latter’s rights.

The IMA, a global alliance of grassroots migrant organizations and their advocates, calls on its more than 120 member-organizations, friends and the rest of the international community to actively build up the campaign against any crackdown on migrant workers.

“International human rights conventions and laws will remain meaningless in paper if they are not recognized, ratified, and actively championed. We call on all migrant workers and refugees to remain vigilant, organize themselves, and work with local organizations and movements in stopping this crackdown,” Lestari said.
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PROFILES IN COURAGE: Vignettes from Cambodian Life

First published in September 2008. Since mid-2009, the Center for Social Development (CSD) has been effectively non-functioning and run aground as staff who could not be absorbed by the Center for Justice & Reconciliation struggle to survive. Two years ago, CSD had some 80 local staff. Where is Madam Chea Vannath, now that she has succeeded in claiming her Board status via the court injunctive order? The last I heard, the some tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment were sold off or stored in a "laveng" on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Profiles in Courage is a tribute to the former CSD staff, wherever they are, who still believe and who still trust, despite...


Vignettes from Cambodian Life

In this Voice of Justice column, we write often of disposition and virtues which we believe to be first principles - foundational blocks for meaningful living - in the hope that these reminders will turn into clarion calls to action. We ourselves are very much aware of the precarious position we are in as a public purveyor of these messages and at the need for humility, that we ourselves should be actualizing these 'principles of first things' from empty, aspirational rhetoric into daily, growing habits. As we know, it is action which speaks louder than words.

Here, we focus on one of the virtues most needed in this culture of embedded fear: COURAGE. Courage, according to Merriam-Webster, is the ability to conquer fear or despair; valor; bravery.

It is interesting that courage is something that is simultaneously most needed and most shown often and brightly here in Cambodia.

Not despairing amidst trying circumstances

We Cambodians have an amazing ability of resilience amidst great odds, not to despair but hope in the face of hopelessness. This ability not to despair shines most brilliantly among rural Cambodians.

In my travels through the provinces - albeit for the CSD "Justice & National Reconciliation" public forums or Civil Party Orphans Class seminars, other meetings or for just pure pleasure - I am deeply moved oftentimes by the sheer determination not to despair (courage!) of Cambodians in the most trying, poverty-ridden, poverty-persisting living conditions as reflected in the smiles and laughter and warm, embracing welcome to visitors of faraway, foreign Phnom Penh.

Daily acts of bravery against abusive powers

I remember several elections ago smiling and at times being moved to tears when I see shack holding up an opposition sign when these signs were rare and potential dangerous attractions; this family was going to vote its conscience despite the odds and forgoing potential social/material benefits. Whatever is one's political persuasion, it is difficult not to admire this type of courageous convictions. During these most recent elections as well, in CSD's work of elections monitoring, we witnessed and heard firsthand acts of bravery and valor of common Cambodians, forgoing personal gains for the sake of their conscience and dignity.

I read with overwhelming pride of the two students who were the only ones who achieved all A's in their exams. What odds when one thinks of the culture of corruption in schools and the larger unfriendly environment of noise, tight living quarters, inadequate materials, for learning. But amidst these odds what great courageous accomplishments!

We see time and again the bravery of common Cambodians standing up, with only their conscience and moral compass, to abusive acts of power of authorities and the wealthy, whether relating to land or other fundamental rights. What valor!

Courage to stand up and be counted at the ECCC

One of my joys working with participants of CSD justice and reconciliation forums and with victims who'd like to become civil parties in the criminal proceedings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal is witnessing the courage and bravery of these individuals, who have already suffered so much, coming forward and sharing with each other their long-held stories and pains - with most of them, open to sharing their stories with the world, no matter how difficult it is for them to tell this story. In a culture where falsely we believe "men are diamonds and women are white cloth easily stained", imagine the courage of a woman who had been raped filing a complaint and going public with this?!

Courage of CSD Staff fighting for dignity and voice, for their present and future

During the almost three years I have been at the helm of CSD, I am repeatedly stunned anew by the people who work with me -their sheer refusal to succumb to despair and most difficult circumstances, and in the process shining like stars, balancing with great aplomb family life as father or mother (of one, two, three children), husband or wife, and the larger extended family relations who often-times depend on their financial support. And amidst it all, they produce excellent work for CSD, too regularly working overtime, unasked, with me oftentimes requesting that they go home early to their family or before it gets too dark to risk security in their long journey home. Then, there are the staff who make unimaginable sacrifices as they live and work separately from their spouse and/or newborn children in order that they may provide for their family. Given their pleasant demeanor and their valiant spirit, you'd never know of these sacrifices.

Many of them are known to you as a result of their solidarity and braved stance in response to personal acts of public destruction, speaking with one voice against abusive power, most recently when I was away for an August family wedding in California. The staff are not only advocating others to be courageous; they are living by example. It moves me to know that these are the courageous, high-quality individuals I am honored to work alongside.

Courage is the only response to fear

As with any other disposition, courage is only fixed in us through practice. As Aristotle notes in the Nicomachean Ethics almost 2.400 years ago, we become brave only by doing brave acts: "By being habituated to despise things that are terrible and to stand our ground against them we become brave, and it is when we have become so that we shall be most able to stand our ground against them."

Moreover, when we encounter obstacles, let us be reminded that they are only invitations to courage.

Theary C. SENG, a member of the New York Bar Association, former director of Center for Social Development (March 2006—July 2009), founder and Board of the Center for Justice & Reconciliation (, founding adviser of the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims (, is currently writing her second book, under a grant, amidst her speaking engagements. For additional information, please visit Theary's website at
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Cambodia: Making Heroin Addicts Use Herbal Remedy

Men get ready to inject heroin in a slum area February 6, 2010 in Phnom Penh

Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010
Time Magazine (USA)

About 100 people — mostly local drug addicts — gathered at a pagoda in Phnom Penh in mid-February. A few drug users had brought their families for support, and they sat together on woven mats before a Buddhist shrine. The crowd put their hands together, bowed their heads and prayed. In a country where many drug addicts report being beaten, electrocuted and forced into military-style camps, the group prayer was organized to raise public awareness of their plight. In one prayer, Cambodia's drug users and monks chanted together, "We pray for drug users to have access to proper, community-based, voluntary drug treatment."

It isn't a prayer that's likely to be answered soon. Though the Cambodian government says its 11 state drug treatment centers are all voluntary, a report released by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) last month says only 1-2% of drug users enter Cambodia's drug rehabilitation facilities by choice. A few days before the prayer ceremony, a 23-year-old heroin user, who had just fled from Cambodian police that morning, told TIME he feared being whisked away to one of the drug centers. Four months ago during a police sweep of a known drug hotspot, the drug user, who requested anonymity, watched a police officer accuse someone of hiding drugs in his cheeks. When the man opened his mouth, the policeman shoved an electric baton down his throat. "I thought it was flashlight at first, but it was shocker," the witness said. Later, when he was taken to the rehab center, he says he was separated from the others and hit repeatedly with a stick. If the police "look at you with a hateful look, they'll pull you aside, lock you up in a room and beat you," he says.

Cambodia would hardly be alone in forcing its drug users into camps where forced labor and exercise are considered treatment. Gordon Mortimore, a former consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS and the World Bank on drug treatment programs, says these drug boot camps are "very much a Southeast Asia phenomenon" and that the punitive approach to addiction is "part of a societal attitude where drug taking is seen as danger to the community." According to a 2009 World Health Organization report, some 50,000 to 60,000 people are held in 109 Vietnamese detention centers for drug treatment for two years at a time. Thousands more drug users in Thailand are forced into treatment centers run by Thai armed forces, and HRW estimates that about 350,000 Chinese nationals end up in compulsory detox camps in China.

But while detention, physical abuse and forced labor are common across the region, Joe Amon, director of the health and human rights division at HRW, says Cambodia's treatment of drug users stands out for its brutality. "We were shocked by the ubiquity and severity of the abuses in the Cambodian drug detention centers we investigated," says Amon. "People described being beaten, whipped with electrical cables, receiving electrical shocks or raped." Nearly 2,400 individuals passed through Cambodia's drug treatment centers in 2008, a 40% increase from 2007. Estimates as to how many total drug users there are in Cambodia vary wildly, but aid workers and politicians agree the problem has grown more pronounced in recent years. The expansion of the drug centers, according to the HRW report, appears to be tied to cooperation with Cambodia's regional partners, especially Vietnam. Cambodia's neighbor to the east has pledged technical assistance to support a new compulsory drug center that would house about 2,000 drug users, according to the daily Phnom Penh Post. "A lot of this influence is now about economics," says Mortimore. "It's a big business. The drug treatment industry is a huge untapped market."

In December, Cambodian authorities and Vietnamese experts ran a 10-day trial of at least 17 Cambodian heroin users of Bong Sen, an herbal detoxification remedy made in Vietnam. Cambodian authorities have stated the participants in the trial were volunteers, and that Bong Sen safely and effectively curbs the urge to use heroin. HRW, however, claims that participants were forced to take part in the trial. At an NGO that provides food and shelter for drug users, a 35-year-old HIV positive drug user also told TIME he was given no choice to join the Bong Sen trial after he was picked up in a police sweep. The heroin user took out a group photo taken after the trial's "graduation ceremony," showing smiling former heroin users flanked by Vietnamese experts in lab coats. Though he says he did not participate voluntarily, he says at the time he hoped the Vietnamese medication "would make us stop using." But as soon as he was back on the street, he returned to heroin. He pointed to two men nearby at the shelter, passed out after having shot up, and then to their two smiling faces in the photo. "All of them are using again."

The Bong Sen trial, however, had another worrying repercussion. In December, the Cambodian government asked Korsang, a local NGO that works with Cambodian drug users, to provide participants for the Bong Sen training program. The group refused to cooperate, citing lack of research ensuring the drug's safety. Two weeks later, the government refused to renew Korsang's license to run a needle exchange program, one of only two such programs in the country. In the weeks since their clean needle program stopped, drug users in Phnom Penh say it has become difficult to access sterile needles. The HIV positive drug user from the Bong Sen trial said he has been able to eke out money for new syringes, but he worries about others. "I see people pick up syringes off the ground and use them," he says.

Last year, Korsang gave out over 12,000 syringes, and if the group cannot resume handing them out, experts fear a fresh spike in Cambodia's dropping HIV rates. Cambodia is considered a fragile success story in the region, with HIV rates dropping from about 2% in 1997 to 0.8% a decade later. But ignoring one high risk group can derail even the best HIV plans. "When you don't have access to clean needles, you get a massive HIV epidemic," says Mortimore, the former WHO consultant, adding that in a drug using community when "HIV explodes, it jumps to the general population."

The relationship between voluntary drug rehab and lower HIV rates is already playing out elsewhere. In the last five years, Malaysia has shut down about half of its forced drug treatment centers. Though criminal law still penalizes drug use in Malaysia, according to Dr. Adeeba Kamarulzaman, the president of the Malaysian AIDS Council, more than 151 community-based drug centers have opened since 2006. While the 2009 WHO report found relapse rates of between 90-100% among drug users at detox centers in Cambodia and Vietnam, in Malaysia, these out-patient methadone clinics have over 70% retention rates. What makes this all the more important is that one in five Malaysian injection drug users is HIV positive, making it the core of Malaysia's HIV epidemic. Says Kamarulzaman: "The more people are on methadone, the less they will be injecting." The results? Malaysia saw the number of new HIV cases among injection drug users drop more than 40% drop in 2008, when compared to only four years earlier.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says it is working with the Cambodian government to develop a system of voluntary, community-based drug treatment centers. The program is only in its pilot phase, but Gary Lewis, the Southeast Asia regional representative for the UNODC, says the relatively small number of detainees here should make it easier for Cambodia to phase out its centers and adopt new approaches more quickly than its neighbors. The UNODC has been criticized by HRW for not being vocal enough in their condemnation of the government's centers, but the UNODC hopes that by engaging with the government it can steer treatment in a new direction, something closer to Malaysia's emerging community-based system than Vietnam's military one. "We need to not only to draw attention to the problem, but to also find a solution," Lewis says. "And we need to do this in a way which involves collaboration with the government."

It remains to be seen which direction the tug-of-war between Vietnam and the U.N. will take Cambodian drug policy, but right now, it's clear the current system is broken. One Cambodian drug user with HIV says he's been in and out of Cambodian treatment centers more than 10 times. Without better support, he knows he'll keep ending up back there. "I can never get help," says the gaunt drug user whose clavicle sticks out from his white v-neck t-shirt. "I want to stop; no one can ever help me out."
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