One Day After National Election

Today is Monday and I agreed with the UNDP driver to go on another ride thought the city to catch the mood. We went first to a computer shop close to Central Market. This was to find somebody who can fix the problems with my network card.

We are heading north on 51st street. This is about 9:30 am. The brownish facility straight ahead in the middle of the road is the security fence of the US Embassy. Their compound appears to be the most intensely secured in town, not only in election time.

Still on 51st street.

Streets appear to be a bit more crowded than yesterday.

Central Market

Significantly busier than yesterday.

Monivong Boulevard

Police men behind a tree with Funcinpec advertisement.

Straight ahead is the Monument of Independence

Sihanouk Boulevard, much different from yesterday.

Norodom Boulevard

There are a number of police men behind the Land Cruiser.

Straight ahead at the junction a good number of strong police motor bikes are waiting.

People told me those bikes belong to the “Flying Tigers” unit of the Military Police. There are two helmets on each. I did not see the police men, but I am sure they are not far.

This is Sothearos Boulevard and behind the Toyota Camry upfront a number of Military Police is waiting.

This is opposite from the National Assembly, where two police trucks are parked. The wall behind them is the fence of the Royal Palace.

This is the front side of the Royal Palace.

Another police truck is parked in the shadow of the tree.

Behind this pavilion is the Mekong River. In front of it is still another police truck waiting. Police men blend with the crowd in the pavilion.

This is the northern part of the Palace compound, where yet other police trucks are waiting.

Riverside. This is where most tourists are.

We are heading further north on Sisowath Quay.

Wat Phnom in the north of the city.

Still not very busy.

Not much action at the Hotel Le Royal.

And not at the governors residence either.

This is the French Embassy.

This is the road leading up the Japanese Bridge over the Mekong in the north of the city.

Funcinpec headquarters.

The French Embassy is neighboring Funcinpec headquarters.

This is the place where people go to buy spare parts for their car. This spot looked much different yesterday.

This street neighbors France Street, on which we are heading south.

People seem to be doing what they usually do.

Wat Phnom again.

Ministry of Public Works

Railway station.

Police station close to where Monivong and Russian Boulevard meet. There is a good number of police trucks parked inside.

In the background is Central Market

Charles de Gaulle Boulevard.

Wat Sampao Meas

This is the Olympic Stadium. It is closed right now. The fact that it is closed was subject to much election campaigning. Funcinpec and CPP leaders accuse each other of being responsible for the unfavorable deal with the company that is supposed to develop the area.

Monireth Boulevard, where many demonstrations took place in the past.

Hotel Intercontinental in the south west of the city.

Mao Tse Toung Boulevard

Vietnamese Embassy

Another Sokimex petrol station ready for riots.

This road leads up to the other major bridge over the Mekong River in the south of the city.

Mostly poor people live here.

This is the Ministry of Interior. Under its authority are most of the department concerned with police. My UNDP friend told me that he was here in the morning and saw many riot police officers waiting on standby behind the ministry. We did not try to take pictures.

This is the main entrance to the Ministry, guarded by several police men. Ironically, this is where I work. Usually there is not so much police around. Sometimes the police men guarding the compound ask me for money. I found this very disturbing and talked to my colleague. He explained to me that those police man earn only about 15 to 20 $ per month and cannot make it without support. Therefore, I should feel free to contribute.

This is the Thai Embassy. There where massive riots in January destroying the entire interior of this building and the Vietnamese Embassy as well. Maybe I talk on another occasion about how those riots where caused. However, the Cambodian government made clear it would not mind paying for the damage of about 30 Mill. $.

I really wonder how this mob was able to enter a building as secure as this one.

This is the Japanese Embassy

This is where the Senate and several central government agencies are located.

Sam Rainsy headquarters. From preliminary election results it looks like Sam Rainsy will be the strongest party in Phnom Penh. However, they have no chance to become the strongest party in this election. The interesting question is rather who is second strongest party behind CPP. Most people think this will be rather Funcinpec than Sam Rainsy.

This is again where Sihanouk and Sothearos Boulevard meet and where those police motor bikes are waiting at the junction. They have gotten company from another police truck.

This is close to where Hun Sen lives.

This is Sihanouk close to the Monument of Independence, where another police truck is standing in the shadow of the tree straight ahead.

Sihanouk Boulevard

Continue reading One Day After National Election

Election Day in the Afternoon

I called the UNDP driver in the afternoon to go on another ride through the city. I thought he is a good choice today not least because he has the UNDP radio which presumably delivers relevant and reliable information.

He had the following information: the office concerned with security at UNDP reported that two grenades where found at about 11 am. One of them actually exploded in front of Funcinpec headquarters but nobody died or was injured. The other grenade was found in the area of the Royal Palace and did not explode. UNDP sort of advised its employees to stay close to where they live.

We started at Norodom Boulevard. I have never seen this road as quite as this.

This is Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. The guys upfront are not members of the National Police, but of the Military Police.

This is Monivong Boulevard, one of the major veins of this city. Again, I have never seen this road as quite. To the right is the local station of the National Police, to which also the truck upfront belongs.

Also neighboring streets are not busy at all.

Monivong, extremely quite

This is one of the few places where expensive cars are sold located and is located at Monivong Boulevard. Looks like they made bad experiences.

This is around central market.

Usually this is one of the busiest places in town with mostly local people.

This is one of the voting stations. I figured that the easiest and least suspicious way to take pictures would be not to stop the moto.

This petrol station is run by the local company Sokimex, which is said to be associated with CPP. The same company collects the very significant entrance fees at the most important tourist side in the country, Angkor Wat, which is also at the heart of current Khmer national identity. Looks like they made bad experiences, too.

This is Norodom Boulevard, another major street in which beautiful houses are located.

This is in the afternoon close to Funcinpec headquarter at Monivong in the north of the city, were Monivong meets the Japanese bridge. I provided pictures of this place earlier. It is the traffic circle with odd revolver monument in the center.

The truck in the picture belongs to the national police. It has a number of banks on its backside and is capable of transporting many police men relatively fast and ready for action.

Neighboring streets are extremely quite.

This is Funcinpec headquarter, where supposedly one of the grenades exploded without hurting anybody. This was said to have happened at about 11 am. This photo was taken at about 4:30 pm.

Road 70 in the north of the city extremely quite.

Military Police at Conf. de la Russie Boulevard.

Those government buildings are located very close to each other. There is a clear presence of police at various places but not so much higher than usually.

Headquarter of the Armed Forces

Ministry of National Defense

Coucil of Ministers

Norodom Boulevard

Central Market

Wat Phnom. This is a major tourist attraction and usually very busy with tourists and locals on weekends.

This is where the elephant usually is. Some tourists like to go on a ride on his back. However, this fellow is not here today. There would not be much business anyway.

We stopped at a small stand to have some soft drinks. While we were sitting suddenly a convoy of about 20 strong motor bikes with men from the Military Policy with AK 47’s emerged and drove slowly around Wat Phnom. I was too slow (and too careful) to take a picture while they were passing very close to us. I found this a strong demonstration of police power. Given that this is Election Day I found this borders political intimidation.

However, the voting stations had closed at 3 pm already and this is maybe 5 pm. I mentioned earlier the statement of the head of the National Police to use force to prevent post-election protest demonstrations from happening. This might be meant as a signal of determination to execute this policy. However, those heavily armed soldiers do not belong to the National, but the Military Police.

Again, I did not take a picture when they passed close by. I took this one after they had circled Wat Phnom and went back on Norodom south, which is to say downtown. The guy on the moto is turning his head to follow the leaving convoy.

This is us. In between us is the helmet I bought about one week ago for about 17 dollars.

Surely, children are still playing in the street. This is while we are heading south on Sisowath Quay.

This is among the touristiest places in town and busier than other places I saw.

The front side of the Royal Palace where supposedly a grenade was found in the morning, which did not explode.

The National Assembly. This street has seen violent protests in the past and is likely to continue to do so during the next days.

Those folks sitting over there are members of the Military Police.

And so are those guys on Sothearos Boulevard.

And those people over there. This is close to the Monument of Independence and not far from where Prime Minister Hun Sen lives.

The temple in the background is Wat Lanka, one of the oldest pagodas in Phnom Penh and close to where I live. Today there is a polling station located on its compound.

I have never seen Sihanouk Boulevard so quite. This is where many shops located whose customers are mostly expatriates and rich locals.

Continue reading Election Day in the Afternoon

Election Day in the Morning

Today is Election Day. I went in the morning at about eight to have breakfast. Later I decided to get a moto, drive around in the city for some time and take photos.

This is the royal palace. There is not much activity today, but other than that it does not look so different from other days.

This is the Hotel Cambodia hot very far from the royal palace in the riverside area.

This is the opposite side of the street. Not much activity here as well.

This is the Buddhism Institute, if I got it right. I am not sure what this organization is actually doing.

This is the ‘park’ in front of the Institute. The signs says that this park is actually sponsored by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The Prime Minister does not live fare from here.

This is close by where very poor people live. This is where migrants from the province start their urban carreer.

My moto driver had to go back to pick up another customer at 10:30 am. So I decided to go back to my place as well. I shortly met the other customer. This apparently was one of the more freaked out travelers. He wanted to go to the shooting range. This place is about 10 km outside Phnom Penh and one can shoot all kind of weapons here, among them rockets for only 20$. I found it rather a perfidy to engage in this kind of activity on Election Day.
Continue reading Election Day in the Morning

One day prior to National Election

Yesterday in the late afternoon I decided to go on a moto ride through the city and take some pictures of what is going on. I had just taken off with the moto driver when it started raining badly.

This is the polling station closest to where I live.

A number of big cars was parked in front of it.

Initially I wanted to take pictures in various locations in the city in order to catch the mood one day prior to Election Day. It did not stop raining and we found shelter under the roof of a house close by. There was not much to do and I started a discussion with the moto driver.

This guy is 35 years old and ensured me he is really poor. We spend about one hour here I believe and I listened most of the time to his urgent report. His parents where killed under the Pol Pot regime when he was seven years old. They were forced out of their home province and had to work hard in the rice fields. They had to eat only what they found in the forest and sometimes rice with just uncultivated grass. He has two brothers and two sisters. He would like to marry but is too poor. Moreover he would like to marry his sisters to somebody but he is too poor. “Poor people don’t get married happy” he told me. He has been saving money for about seven years to become independent and marry. During these seven years he has accumulated 600 dollars. He tries to save one dollar every day and plans to marry once he reaches 1500 dollars. During the conversation he lowered this number to 1000 dollars.

He realized my interest in the election and told me extensively what he thinks about it. The richer get richer and the poor remain poor at best. The government only talks but does not do anything. He does not like the government. The main problem is corruption. Hun Sen is a bad man. Hun Sen is Khmer Rouge. Poor people do not like government. Government does nothing for them, only cheap talk. He wants a new government and will cast his vote for Sam Rainsy Party. Sam Rainsy will stop corruption. Sam Rainsy studied economics while Hun Sen did not.

He is afraid that there will be violence after election. In urgent gestures he explains how police and military shoot at angry protestors. He is very concerned this might be what happened once the election result is announced.

It did not stop raining but became dark. So I could not hope to take any more pictures and we went back to the guesthouse.

This encounter was maybe more informative than what I wanted to do initially to catch the spirit in the city. I felt very touched by this guys report about his life. It is hard to understand how people are able to stand the horrors he has seen. And I have no doubt that he is traumatized to a significant extent.
Continue reading One day prior to National Election

Cambodia Daily: Party Platforms

There is not much party program and not even ideology involved in the current election campaign in Cambodia. Typically, the campaigns try to promote their party leaders. In the case of the three big parties this is Prime Minister Hun Sen (CPP), Sam Rainsy (Sam Rainsy Party), and Prince Norodom Ranariddh (Funcinpec).

Once more I found the Cambodia Daily to be a reliable newspaper. They had contacted all parties and requested their profiles. Thy print the replies of about 20 parties, among them the three big parties.

I though it would be worth to provide those valuable pieces of party program here. Much could be said about those platforms and the high expectations they raise among the supporters of those parties. I think I may refer to it later. With regard to multiculturalism it is worth mentioning that both major opposition parties (Sam Rainsy and Funcinpec) play the nationalist card. “Illegal immigration” by Vietnamese people and issues of territorial integrity (with reference to both Vietnam and, to a lesser extend, Thailand) are high on the campaign agendas. Those platforms also reflect the different pressures which last on parties according to whether or not they participate in the current government (CPP and Funcinpec). Interestingly, the ruling party CPP’s platform is the only who mentions ‘hill tribe peoples’. However, the formulation ‘take care of the hill tribe peoples’ sounds rather paternalistic to me.

The following is quoted from the CAMBODIA DAILY, Saturday and Sunday, July 26-27, 2003-07-27


Implement the national policy of unity and reconciliation, strengthening peace and social stability, and seek justice for the people who suffered under the genocidal regime. Strengthen and promote democracy, the multi party liberal system, promoting free and fair elections, protecting the rights of liberty and freedom for the people according to the UN declaration on human rights. Respect Buddhism as the state religion and respect the rights of other religions, strengthening freedoms of the media and the rights of unions and vocational organizations. Strengthen the rule of law and law enforcement. Strengthen the commune councils and improve quality of public service at local level. Build up national defense by using Royal Cambodian Armed Forces as the core. Implement the free market economic policies. Ensure economic growth, encouraging internal and external investment. Increase employment rate. Increase salaries for civil servants, armed forces and workers according to growth of national economy. Foster private development and create new jobs. Develop agricultural sector and increase agricultural exports. Take care of the hill tribe peoples and increase services to vulnerable groups. Increase rights of women, the disabled and children. Combat trafficking of drugs and humans and stop domestic violence. Develop tourism to its potential. Continue to build pagodas, schools, health centers, roads, bridges, irrigation systems, electricity and water supply for the people. Develop peace and friendship with all countries based on principles of equality and respect for independence and territorial integrity. Improve cooperation with donor community and international institutions.


The Cambodians will enjoy a dignified living standard under a Sam Rainsy government that will immediately apply, and adhere to, the rule of law. The rule of law helps eliminate corruption that has artificially kept market prices high. For instance, without corruption, the price of petrol at the pump can be decreased to about 1.500 riel per liter, and prices of other utilities and products that use petrol directly and indirectly as production input will inevitably drop. The rule of law will also deliver justice in court for the people. Bribing judges to win a case is no longer a safe option for the rich. The people will also benefit from social justice. The party will tax the rich to pay for higher salaries for all teachers and public servants. The less-corrupt industries will deliver higher wages for factory workers. The retired, the handicapped and the poor will receive social security benefits that are funded by the tax revenues of the rich. Another major concern of the Cambodian people, the issue of territorial integrity, will be diligently addressed with peaceful and legal means. The national immigration law will be properly implemented for foreigners. Above all, the Sam Rainsy government would have a leadership team capable of, and fully committed to, making its policies work.


Ensure the sustainability of modern monarchy. Follow democracy and human rights properly. Strengthen peace and political stability under a framework of national reconciliation. Eliminate violence, robbery and crime by punishing criminals. Ensure a clean court system, neutrality and justice, and educate all levels of civil servants to understand their duties to serve people and avoid abusing power. Review any contracts contrary to the national interest such as border treaty upon Article 90 of the Constitution,, when Funcinpec has the majority in the National Assembly. Build the strategic roads along the borders and local development – pagodas, schools, hospitals and water supply. Follow the immigration law against illegal immigrants by cremating the new Ministry of Immigration. Strengthen the local administration in the framework of decentralization. Reform the public administration and structure of the Royal Cambodia Armed forces to be effective with good governance and transparency through the programs of capacity-building of civil servants, police and national forces to serve the nation neutrally and not under any political party’s influence. To strengthen the democratic regime and implementation of good governance and transparency, the party will hold a monthly public forum that requires members of Parliament and government members to tackle the people’s issues such as land abuse from powerful men and dishonest businessmen. Prepare questionnaires and debate between MPs and government members every fortnight. Parliament yearly assesses the achievements and government’s affairs before the national budget plan is adopted. Amend the Constitution to limit the prime minister’s term to no more than two mandates.”
Continue reading Cambodia Daily: Party Platforms

Kompong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, Banlung (Rattanakiri)

This time I went to Rattanakiri. I thought it would be a good idea to travel on the ground, particularly since I am here for only three month and cannot afford to spend so much time in the air. I divide this trip into more than one pieces and start off with our journey to reach Banlung.

This time I was traveling with the Administrative Assistant of our project. He was so kind to give me company and help me out with translation. I had arranged the ride to Kratie via minibus the other day. Kratie is about half the way to Banlung, which is the provincial capital of Rattanakiri. What we had to pay for the ride to Kratie was cheap 10 dollars per person. It was open how we would proceed from Kratie. Our expectation was that we would have to spend the night there and continue the journey the next day to Banlung via Stung Treng. Stung Treng is half way between Kratie and Banlung and the provincial capital of Stung Treng province.

We met at 6:15 am and went to the port by moto. We left at 7 am with the minibus. This is where we had food after we have been traveling for some hours and passed Kompong Cham already, which is the provincial capital of Kompong Cham province. The guy to the right is my co-traveler.

This is how it looks like when people cook

This is our quite comfortable means of transportation. The guy to the right is the driver.

This is how it looks like in Kompong Cham. There are many plantations of rubber and timber.

Those are the last cars of about 15 trucks accompanied by police cars. You don’t get to see police cars in the countryside very often and not in such high numbers. My co-traveler indicated this might have been Prime Minister Hun Sen himself.

This is how it looks like in our vehicle. The guy to the left in the very back is from Israel. We got to know him during this ride and met him later several times in and around Banlung.

We crossed a number of bridges which where mostly constructions similar to this one.

Those are pictures randomly taken with my camera out of side from the top of the car somewhere in Kratie Province. This ‘read soil road’ is not the main road but some sort of shortcut. Once in a while we pass a settlement of very simply shacks.

A truck had damaged the road and local people came to repair it.

We were able to pass after only a few minutes of waiting.

We arrived at the port of Kratie at about 11:30.

We learned that a speed boat to Stung Treng would leave at 12 and we managed to get tickets for 5$ (Khmer) respective 8$ (Foreigner), I believe. I was impressed to find this boat. It looked fast to me. Almost like an airplane. However, I was glad that this vehicle would not loose contact to the fluid ground.

Most seats in the boat were already occupied and I found it to be a privilege that we could travel on the roof.

Those are settlements along the river. There were a number of bigger ships as well, mostly wooden ones.

This picture shows a very specific weather phenomenon which I have not seen before. We are aiming at an area with very heavy and dense rain. This rain however is limited to a very small area and its boundaries can clearly be distinguished.

This is the cockpit of the boat.

I got myself a seat because I did not feel like having a shower. Moreover it became sort of stormy outside. Inside this boat is not so much different from an airplane.

This is the rain front from the other side. We hit a good number of them before we reached in Stung Treng. The boat is actually quite fast and reasonably comfortable. I heard this is particularly true when compared to the road, which is the other option for traveling from Kratie to Stung Treng.

After maybe one hour we reached this settlement, which I could not find on any map in my tourist guide.

The course of the boat was not steady and obviously the captain tried to avoid hitting the ground. I tried to figure out pattern in how he was steering the boat, but could not identify any. However, most of the time we were traveling very close to the main land.

It is about to rain again when we meet this boat. This happened a number of times to pick up passengers or discharge goods like chicken (more or less alive) or a spin for those long and slim boots.

Again, we travel most of the time close to one or the other bank. Frequently we pass side arms of the Mekong.

We pass those bigger wooden boats shortly before we arrive in Stung Treng. I have seen this sort of boat earlier close to Phnom Penh discharging wood. What seems to happen here is that they are loaded with something, most likely timber.

This is when we arrive in Stung Treng. A good number of people are waiting to promote guest houses and transportation or to sell snacks to travelers and carry cargo. Given this situation it does not generally appear to be a problem to find accommodation or a ride to the next destination.

It is still not even late in the afternoon. I was surprised how easy traveling to Rattanakiri actually turned out to be. It did not take us long to settle for a ride on the back of a pick up for 5 dollar per person. We have company of those people. The fellows on the ride hand are Frenchmen. The guy to the left is the guy form Israel I mentioned earlier. We had good conversations about the relationship between France and Cambodia today, about the United States and the war in Iraq.

This is how it looks like most of the time during the first part of the journey. Later on we traveled through partly dense and almost impenetrable jungle.

Another of those bridges. This exemplar is pretty long compared to most of the other bridges I saw.

This is when we have a break. At this point we are already pretty much in the forest. However, we passed numerous clearings apparently created by mankind involving fire. Most of the time there is a small house on those clearings, housing obviously pretty poor people. The house in the background is pretty much the wealthiest house I have seen on the way.

It is getting dark very quick.

At this point a number of short rains showers had already hit us. It is a bit colder around here and together with the wind caused by the speeding car it becomes kind of chilly.

The quality of the road was pretty poor and we had a hard time holding on to the car. I tried to take pictures of the road using a small stand on the of this pick up’s cabin. However, the flash is not strong enough.

However, shortly after this shot it started to rain very heavy and did not stop. This was about the strongest rain I ever encountered. This was an interesting experience particularly on the back of a truck. I was happy to have rain jacket. Together with my sunglasses I was even able to open my eyes. However, I did not see much. The jacket did not prevent me from getting wet. This was like going for a swim in a rain jacket hoping to remain dry. However, it helped me not to become cold.

It was still raining when we arrived in Banlung, which is the provincial capital of Rattanakiri. This was at about 8:30 pm. In general I was surprised that we made it here during only one day.
Continue reading Kompong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, Banlung (Rattanakiri)

back in phnom penh

I arrived today (Saturday) safely back from Rattanakiri. After consultation with colleagues I decided to go back to be in Phnom Penh when the election takes place. Tomorrow is Election Day. I expect to go back to Rattanakiri soon after the election.

Currently I cannot connect my computer to the internet for some reasons. Therefore I reduce my email communication a bit. Hence I am walking with my floppy disk into the internet café. It is kind of elaborate to do copy or write down all the addresses.

National election is an important and crucial point in time for this country. In Cambodia’s recent history there was no election that did not involve violence in some way or the other.

I was happy enough to get a copy of the Cambodia Daily’s weekend edition. Others told me they could not get one anymore. This issue is titled “A Nation Decides”. The title page is covered with a picture of an old man in the lower part and background of the photo. The man is holding (or sitting behind) a young boy who has creased his hands and looks seriously and unusually concerned for a boy of about 6 years.

However, the Cambodia Daily reports a pre-election joint statement by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections and the Neutral, Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections. According to those important organizations in the nearly eight months leading up to the election 31 political activists have been killed. I am not sure whether or not it is a good thing that the victims are distributed almost evenly over the three big parties.

Their reports says that “this year we have seen an overall reduction of politically motivated killings and serious cases of election related intimidation, however, the forms of intimidation have become more subtle and sophisticated”. Other organizations are cited later on in the article who question the judgment that violence has decreased compared to previous elections.

The director of the national police made very clear earlier this week that he would use force to suppress any post-election protests. I met some people who are really afraid and started to store water and food. However, most of the people I met expect that the election will go well.

Most shops will be closed tomorrow and many people travel to their home province to cast their ballot. I plan to carry out my private election observation for some time. I though it would be a good thing to cruise the city with a moto driver for some time and take some pictures. Other than that I will likely spend a number of hours in my room to catch up with the minutes of all the meetings in Rattanakiri. And to plan how to continue. And maybe to write some report about those very few days in Rattanakiri.
Continue reading back in phnom penh

Campaign remote from hill-tribe reality – Phnom Penh Post July 18-31, 2003, p. 7


Yan Tuel is feeling ignored. With just two weeks until Election Day, Tuel does not know who he will vote for. He cannot tell the difference between the logos of the parties running in his province, and like 80 percent of the people in remote Ratanakkiri, he is illiterate. But so far, no party has come to tell Tuel why he should support them.

“We do not really know who we will vote for, we will just tick any box because we cannot read or write,” he says. “The CPP came here but they did not show us what their picture was. We want to know the policies of the other parties, but they have not come here so how can we know?”

Tuel belongs to the Tumpuan tribe, one of eight ethnic groups indigenous to the highlands. Collectively known as chunchiet, they comprise over two-thirds of Ratanakkiri population.

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been firmly entrenched in the province since 1993, and the one seat up for grabs on July 27 looks likely to stay in its hands.
But Tuel has other concerns. .His wife is ill, and he cannot afford to take her to hospital. Instead he will pray to the gods for her recovery.

His Problem is not uncommon in Ratanakkiri, one of the poorest provinces. Decades of war and isolation have taken their toll: healthcare is basic, education limited, and people suffer at the hands of unscrupulous businessmen.

Sam Oeun, a student and volunteer at Ratanakkiri-based NGO Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP), says the chunchiet’s day-to-day concerns often outweigh political ones.

“Some of the just think whether or not they have enough to eat today and tomorrow,” he says.

Bringing voter education to the villagers is also a problem. The indigenous groups speak different languages, and this, combined with high illiteracy levels and low education, means information is best spread by word of mouth.

Meas Khlemsa of Comfrel, an election monitoring NGO, says the organization has been running training courses and distributing pamphlets detailing the policies of all 23 competing parties.

“Comfrel tries its best to tell the people it is their duty and their right to vote to make a change in the country,” he says.

But despite the best efforts of NGOs, information does not appear to have reached the length and breadth of the province. The political parties are not making much headway either.

“Only the CPP has come here,” says Jarai villager Cheu Ven, 45. “I also want to know about the other parties, but they have not come.”

The apparently lackluster campaigning could be due to the inaccessibility of the villages – roads turn to rivers in the rainy season. Perhaps before polling day there will be a flurry of countryside visits. Or, in what looks like a one horse race, are the other parties despondent?

“My assumption is that Funcinpec cannot get enough votes for the one seat,” says Hor Ang, Funcinpec’s security chief in Ratanakkiri. “The strength of the CPP at the local level means Funcinpec cannot penetrate.”

The CPP has long had an iron grip on the province. Deputy provincial chief Muong Pay says his party owes its continuing success to development and its role in defeating the Khmer Rouge.

“One hundred percent of people living in Ratanakkiri support the CPP,” he says. “There are many reasons. The government helped free the people from Pol Pot … There is no prejudice against the ethnic minorities and there is protection against the return of the Pol Pot regime.”

This popularity is visible along Road 19, which runs through the heart of the chunchiet areas up to the Vietnamese border. CPP signs are frequent, as is praise for the ruling party.

“The CPP has been helping us for 28 years,” says Bouy Cheng, of the Jarai tribe. “They dig wells, build schools, give us containers for crops … they have helped us to live in peace and they improve democracy and freedom. The other parties say they will help but they have not yet.”

All the villagers speak of gifts from the ruling party, but the competition is skeptical about the CPP’s handouts.

“I have never seen any help except handing gifts to the people,” says SRP candidate Kong Chan. “It is the money from the government, but they say it is from the party. Like building roads – that is money from the ADB or Japanese aid. The actual love from the heart of the people is not 100 percent true.”

Funcinpec’s Hor Ang insists the CPP’s popularity persists only because of this material support, and maintains its policies are actually harming livelihoods.

“On the surface it seems that the CPP is helping the people, but in fact the land and the forest are being destroyed by the CPP,” he says.

Ang is referring to illegal logging, which has plagued the heavily forested northern provinces for years. The indigenous people also found that land they had lived on for generations was claimed by outsiders. NTFP’s Sam Oeun describes one such case.

They were offered new motorbikes and gifts and persuaded to make their fingerprint agreeing to give away their land unwittingly,” he explains. “Minority people know very little about law. They think the axe and knife are powerful for them … They did not think their fingerprint would harm them.”

However Ang says such incidents do not damage the CPP’s vote.

“Most people don’t care about violations on land because they move away,” he says.

But opposition parties are not admitting defeat. The SRP recently gained popularity in the province when it won the only non-CPP commune chief position here in 2002. In a province with a large and porous border with Vietnam, the SRP’s hard stance on immigration and border encroachment could prove popular with the Khmer electorate.

However none of the chunchiet the Post spoke with said such issues worried them. Even near the border, villagers expressed no concern about their neighbor. Most chunchiet villagers say border squabbles are not a priority – they are still waiting for the basics.

“I would like to live like people in the rest of Cambodia,” says Jarai villager Cheu Ven. “Most Khmer people have education so they can improve their lives. This commune does not have a school. Even the well that was promised has not come yet.”

Tumpuan villager Tuel just wants to be able to make an informed choice at the polls and improve life for his family: “We want parties to understand us and our needs. We need everything.”
Continue reading Campaign remote from hill-tribe reality – Phnom Penh Post July 18-31, 2003, p. 7

Article about Rattanakiri in the Weekend Edition of the Cambodia Daily

Worlds Collide
Villagers Attempt to Ban Tourists From Cemetery In a Fight To Protect the Living From the Dead
By Kate Woodsome and Kay Kimsong
The Cambodia Daily

VEUN SAI DISTRICT, Rattanakiri province – Bou On knows change is coming. Her eyes, milky with age, have seen a jungle footpath swell into a full-sized road. They’ve squinted into a sun reflected from tin roofs that were once wood. And they’ve helplessly followed the footsteps of unwelcome visitors trading on sacred ground..

Caught between their past and their future, the Kachon Krom villagers of Kachno commune are angry and scared. An ancient burial ground resting in the hill tribe community has become a highly coveted tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world. But the development that should make them rich is instead making them poor.

“When the tourists come, the soul is awakened and the angry spirits demand a new home be built. Even the poorest family must sacrifice at least one cow, chicken and pig. We just cannot afford this,“ said 60-year-old Bou On, who is a mix of Laotian and Tampuen.

Standing no taller than a healthy 10-year-old girl, Bou On’s frame is slight but her stance firm. She is unwavering in her belief about the cemetery’s rules and the consequences of breading them.

“After the funeral ceremony, no one can visit the tomb. If a family member returns to the site, they will disturb the spirit,” she said. “I just saw a spirit consume the body of a man who revisited his family’s grave. He fell ill and had to give sacrifices to calm the spirit.”

A group of village elders recently wrote a letter to the provincial government requesting their support to prohibit tourists from disturbing the spirits. They even have appealed to Bou On’s brother, former CPP defense minister and deputy prime minister Bou Thong, for help.

Bout Thong, now a parliamentarian and the fifth-ranking member of the CPP’s elite Standing Committee, had donated buffalo and rice to appease the spirits but suggested no more than a protective fence to solve the problem, they said.

Bou Thong had declined to be interviewed. Now elders are relying on younger residents, like Om Mean, to find a solution. More mud than clothes cover Om Mean’s body as he balances a pile of warning notices on his bicycle handlebars. A young disciple preaching his elders’ words, the 26-year-old member of the village’s natural resource committee passes a paper to each person he meets.

“Tourists should not come, because this is a ghost world separate from the human world,” he said, standing on a new road that cuts the cemetery in half.

Small houses capped with pointed roofs and enclosed by thin wooden fences surround him. Totem poles roughly carved into the shape of men and women stand tall beside the houses, symbolizing the servants of the dead.

They bear wooden elephant tusks and riches, a wish for prosperity in the life to come. The wooden mobile phones and tin bras appearing on the latest totems testify to a recent merger between tradition and modernity.

Three warning signs printed in Khmer and English should be enough to keep visitors from touching the totems, but if tour groups insist of on breading the rules, “militant action’ must be taken, Om Mean said.

“We can use a knife, stick or hammer to drive them from the site or arrest them,” he said. “If a tourist breaks the regulations, we will charge them the cost of a ceremonial sacrifice or arrest them and bring them to provincial court.”

It would be a lonely battle, as provincial government officials are unwilling to take firm action no the matter. Ratanakkiri is Cambodia’s largest eco-tourism destination and fourth on the government’s list of tourism development priorities. The internationally renowned Lonely Planed travel book even advises travelers to make the trip to Kachon’s cemetery.

Plans for a new airport and improved roads throughout Cambodia-including one highway planned to got through neighboring Stung Treng province-could transform the province within the next couple of years. The last thing the government wants to do is dissuade visitors from coming, said Ratanakkiri Governor Khma Khoeun.

“We won’t support the fining of visitors. The villagers will have to handle it themselves,” he said. “We’ll just follow them for a while and tell tourists to visit other cemeteries.”

Economic constraints will likely alter villagers’ traditional belief systems, Kham Khoeun said, adding that in a few years the elders would realize their wrongs.

Their thinking is not so clear or modern,” he said. “There’s no way that visitors walking through that cemetery are affecting their culture.”

The seven ethnic minorities and the ethnic Khmer, Laotian and Vietnamese residents occupying Ratanakkiri have already laid the groundwork for a collision of cultures, which is not necessarily bad, according to Jan Noorlander, CARE’s Highland Children’ Education Project manager.

“A clash of cultures is natural and makes and area more economically viable. People thrive off it. But if they’re not the agents of their own change, people may suffer from it, rather than benefit,” he said.

Over the past five years, an influx of tourists and new residents has rapidly introducing new technology, clothing and languages to the province’s many hill tribes. Sixty-five percent oft the population is comprised of ethnic minorities, most of whom practice animism and speak distinct dialects. Their belief systems differ greatly from Khmer culture, and impel many hill tribes to appeal to spirits for a malaria cure or a good harvest.

The risk of rapid cultural integration or homogenization, Noorlander said, is creating a culture of shame.

“Some young indigenous people turn more Khmer than Khmers will ever be. They have a false sense of shame about their roots and their background,” he said. “This results in a rift between elder and younger generations.”

No major ideological divide separates older Kachon Krom villagers from their younger counterparts, they said. But the passage of time may mean the loss of history and a commitment to preserve the past for the future.

Maoeun Choeun, 18, dropped out of second grade years ago to till his family’s soil. He knows little about the spirituals. But he works and lives beside his elders and agrees with them because he respects them.

“I guess people could go along to the cemetery as long as they don’t touch it,” Maoeun Choeun said. “I don’t know why. That’s just what the elders say.”
Continue reading Article about Rattanakiri in the Weekend Edition of the Cambodia Daily

Phnom Penh One Week Prior to National Elections

After I have been traveling for previous weekends I though it would be a good idea to explore Phnom Penh for a change. After all, I live and work here and get to see the city mostly on my way to work or work related appointments. Moreover, it is seven days from today to national election and I thought it would be a good idea to catch the mood on the streets of the capitol.

I met a moto driver the other day who spoke quite good English and seemed to know the city pretty well. I planned to call him yesterday evening. Unfortunately I left all the name cards I collected so far in the office and his number was written on one of them.

So I went to one of the Khmer restaurants to have breakfast. And read the weekend issue of the newspapers. I kind of enjoy the luxury that there are only very few newspaper in English. So most of the time I manage to read through each issue. This is an easy way to know what all the other foreigners read. There was an article about Rattanakiri in the weekend editions of both the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post. I do not expect to find them online and might type them in case I find enough time.

It was almost noon when I decided to call the UNDP driver again. He had time and was willing to facilitate my plans. So we went to riverside first, which is maybe the touristiest place in Phnom Penh. Not least because this is where the royal palace is.

This is opposite from the royal palace, directly at the Mekong River.

Tourists as well as locals hang out here. The ship in the background is the Naga Casino. There is actually a 100 km ban for casinos around Phnom Penh. This was issued after 1995 when a massive casino boom occurred in Cambodia. However, most likely due to the breathtaking corruption this major casino is operating.

In the background to the left is the roof of the royal palace.

People come to this place to “pray for better business” as my guide noted ironically.

This is the compound of the royal palace.

Initially I wanted to travel part of the way to Rattanakiri by boat. So we went to the port to find out about it. We learned that there are no boats to Kratie (halfway to Rattanakiri) because there are too few tourists to make it profitable right now. So I decided to travel with a minibus to Kratie for about 10$ per person.

In the background is the important Japanese bridge.

This is Wat Phnom in the north of the city. This is what gave Phnom Penh its name and is located on a hill. Supposedly both the hill and the Wat has been created in 1372. Mr. Penh found four Buddha statues and erected this hill together with friends to provide an appropriate context for the statues.

My tourist guide notes that this place is integrated into the live of the population and many people come here particularly on weekends.

Supposedly there was a rock concert organized by the CPP attracting about 10.000 people on Saturday around here. This is what I read in the newspaper on Monday. However, I did not see any indication that there was such a major event only a few hours ago.

This is early afternoon and the place is not particularly busy. At this place people sell incense.

These guys were playing cards.

It seems nobody wants to ride on the elephant ride now.

Then we continued our journey. I thought it would be good to have some sort of before/after pictures. So we went to the headquarter of Funcinpec. There are only three big parties: CPP, Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy. Recent governments have always involved prime minister Hun Sen’s party CPP. Currently there is a coalition with Funcinpec. Those are the royalists. Recently they started to distance themselves from CPP.

In the background is Funcinpec’s headquarter. In front of it in the middle of this traffic circle is this obscure monument. This is a revolver with a knot in its barrel.

This is their gate. The Funcinpec logo involves the shape of an Angkor Wat like temple and the face of their leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The building in the right half of the picture is part of the generous compound of the French embassy. Reminder: Cambodia was a French colony. This is neighboring Funcinpec party’s headquarter.

This is the residence of the governor of Phnom Penh.

This is the Hotel de Royal, one of the oldest and finest hotels in town.

The group of moto drivers is a very characteristic sight image in Phnom Penh. This is the area of the central market. The yellow building down this road is part of the central market hall, which is an architectural highlight and landmark in Phnom Penh.

This is the railway station.

This is a gold smith on central market

The area offers strong contrasts.

This is inside the main hall in the central market building.

This is the main entrance.

This is the headquarter of Sam Rainsy Party. Sam Rainsy is the big opposition party and does not currently participate in the government. However, recently prime minister Hun Sen has moved in the direction of Sam Rainsy party and considers a coalition with this party a possibility. Their logo involves a candle and the head of their leader Sam Rainsy.

The society is extremely politicized along party lines. This is not so much a matter of programs but a matter of persons. Programs do not work well where the literacy and poverty rates are as high as in Cambodia.

This is the opposite side of the street.

This is again in front of the royal palace.

This is where the Cambodian Parliament meets. This is very close to the royal palace and rather modest in its size when compared to it. I read the next day on the front page of the Cambodian Daily that there was a political demonstration staged by CPP on the same day. Supposedly about 200 demonstrators shouted “Sam Rainsy is a failure” and burned t-shirts bearing the opposition party logo. According to the newspaper, one of the demonstrators asked whether he can keep his shirt.

This is one of the neighboring streets which appear to be very busy.

This is a square along Sothearos Boulevard.

This is on Sihanouk Boulevard close to where I live. There has been an accident involving the back of the huge American car to the right and the front of another 4 wheel vehicle in the backgrounds (not the silver Nissan). While the massive American car did not show much impact, both of the other car’s airbags were open and the entire car appeared to be significantly shorter than it is supposed to be. This is almost in front of where prime minister Hun Sen and other rich and powerful people live, close to the Monument of Independence. I do not think anybody got hurt.

Continue reading Phnom Penh One Week Prior to National Elections

Moto; Neak Luong and Kieng Svay

Today was Saturday. I felt tempted since quite some time to learn driving motor bikes. This day I agreed with the driver of an associated UNDP project that he would give me instructions.

We met in the morning to have breakfast in a close by Khmer restaurant. Later we went to “lucky lucky”, a motor cycle rental service run by Chinese people on Monivong Boulevard. We than went to riverside, which is less than one kilometer from where I live. There are several well maintained roads with hardly any traffic. The reason might be that there are huge constructions under way, apparently to provide space for offices.

The moto to the left is what I got at “lucky lucky” for only 6 $ a day. I though this is generally the appropriate tool to participate in the anarchy on the road. In particular I expected this means of transportation to facilitate dealing with both the potholes in as well as careless drivers on the road. In the background is one of so many small enterprises were one can buy petrol. They are spread all over both the city and the countryside. In the stand to the right from the moto are various bottles which contain petrol. If somebody wants to buy a liter the owner uses a funnel to channel the valuable liquid into the tank.

This is the UNDP driver showing me how to go about riding this bike. Of course both of us use helmets all the time.

Riding this bike was easier than I expected. I started slowly and practiced using the brakes and the clutch. Later I started driving on some neighboring roads and finally circled the monument of independence.

Since there did not appear to be much need to further instruction and because I rented this bike for the entire day, I agreed with my teacher that he would go home while I would drive on the national road number one with direction to Saigon.

I felt confident about my ability to ride this bike now. It is sort of stressful in the city but outside it gave me a lot of satisfaction. Of course I drove very carefully and slowly in the beginning. The street was well chosen for several reasons.

Initially I wanted to see Koki Beach (18 km from Phnom Penh) and Kieng Svay (15 km). Both are said to be popular destinations for the urban population to spend a day or two on the weekend. I realized that riding this bike on this road requires all my attention. Although this was fun, it was kind of unfortunate that I had not much opportunity to observe the environment in which I kept traveling.

This was one of the few spots were I actually stopped for some minutes to take a picture of this temple.

I kept driving but could not see the turn to get to Koki Beach. After about two hours of traveling I stopped at a kind of shop to ask. I learned that I drove way too far. From here it is only about 18 km to Neak Luong (Neak Loeang), which itself is 75 km from Phnom Penh.

This woman is 47 years old and the grandmother of this kid.

I had two coffees and a good conversation with the mother of this youngster, who spoke good English. She is 24. Her husband lives in Phnom Penh where he works as a driver for a company. She would like to live in Phnom Penh as well to study English, learn typing and so on. However, to live in Phnom Penh is too expensive for her. So she lives here and helps her mother to manage the business. Her father left her mother when she was one year old. She tried several times to meet him in Phnom Penh but he is not interested in any contact.

These kids are cousins. The older one is the youngest child of the older lady while the younger one is the second child of the 24 years old mother. And it was her who told them to pose for this picture. I am not sure but I think they were not very enthusiastic about it.

She told me that I should rather go and see the port in Neak Luong than to drive back to Koki Beach. So I drove until I reached at the ferry in Neak Luong. She did not tell me that most of this town as well as the port are on the opposite side of the river.

All those people are waiting with their cars to get on the ferry and cross the Mekong.

This is how the Mekong looks like at this point. It does not appear to be very wide right now. However, when stronger rains come later in the year this might change dramatically. I heard a road is planned to make it easier to cross the Mekong at this point. Again, this is the connection to Saigon. From here it is only about 40 km to the Vietnamese border.

This is how the crowd looks from the back.

This was a statue close by. I am entirely uncertain who that is supposed to represent. This character has eight arms and various rather modern tools in all his hands, like a pliers, a saw, a hammer and so on.

I found some sort of café at this square and ordered coffee with ice. I spend about 30 minutes observing the ferry arriving and numerous vehicles and people leaving it.

What those guys are playing is extremely popular all over the place and involves their sandals. Apparently they kick their sandals and who comes closest to a particular sandal wins. Or maybe I got it wrong. However, I see children playing this game virtually everywhere I go.

It was already about 3 pm. “lucky lucky” closes at 6 and I started to ride home. However, I though there would be enough time to spend at least some half an hour in Koki Beach. However, I could not find it.

On the way back I already felt familiar with the bike. I freely admit that I enjoyed its power and speed enormously. Again, to choose this particular road was a wise decision. There was not much traffic to begin with. Furthermore, there were many potholes in it. There were a number of cars but between on pothole and the next they could speed up only relatively slowly. Therefore they were traveling with a comparatively low average speed. However, I learned soon that potholes are not a big deal with this bike. So if there is one I do not even need to reduce the speed significantly. While the driver of the car is looking for the best way to pass these annoying obstacles they are not even an obstacle for me and I pass him. At this point I can overtake almost any car. Furthermore it is not even necessary to travel on the road with this bike. Very often there is some sort of unpaved dust road on both sides of the main road which is very enjoyable to ride on with the motor bike but probably not so with a car.

I stopped at this place initially to ask at the shop on the opposite side of the road about the way to Koki Beach. However, they did not speak English, had never heard the name of this place (or the way I pronounce it) and could not read the map. So I wanted to hang out for a few minutes and check my tourist guide again. However, this crowd of male youngsters was playing volleyball only 50 meters away and located me. I could not but take a picture. This was an encounter of mutual fascination. Those rural fellows appeared to be peaceful and kind. They did not know exactly where Koki Beach is but told me it might be about 10 km from here.

I missed Koki Beach again. However, this time I found Kieng Svay. There are all those huts spread over the banks and the water. People rent them to spend a day with their friends or family. It is possible to rent a boat as well. However, this place was quite empty. Although it was Saturday. I might have to do with the election on the next weekend that people stay home. Or maybe everybody already left to get home earlier. I observed that most people around here get up very early in the morning. I spend again half an hour and than left, because it was almost time to give back the motor bike.

I recognized an extremely high number of trucks loaded with people and equipped with sound systems and numerous flags. These were party people who spend the day campaigning to help their party succeed in the election coming up on the next weekend. Now they were traveling home.

This construction side is close to Phnom Penh and catched my attention already on the way here. This construction is certainly among the highest building I have seen so fare. Apparently this is going to be a pagoda. I think this is likely to be among the biggest Temples in the country, once it is finalized. However, I do not think somebody will manage to build something the size of Angkor Wat anytime soon.

Again I found the traffic in the city rather stressful. However at this point I felt I control this motorbike and I admit that I enjoyed speeding on Norodom Boulevard, where my workplace is. The road is very wide in this part of the road. Than I reached Sihanouk Boulevard, which is close to were I live and rather narrow. Finally I reached Monivong Boulevard and this is where it gets really hairy. I would have felt better with a smaller bike, because the street was extremely crowded and the big bike is sort of clumsy in this environment. Unfortunately “lucky lucky” is on the opposite side of the street.

Turing left on a main road is among the major challenges in this traffic. What people usually do is to just steer their vehicle into the traffic coming on the opposite side of the street about 50 meter before they reach the junction. This requires very good nerves. When I passed “lucky lucky” the first time I did not even realize it. So I continued driving on Monivong until I reached the railway station where it is easier to turn. Than I drove back down Monivong and was happy that I finally gave back the bike before they close.

By the time I arrived at home I was happy, tired and very dirty.

Continue reading Moto; Neak Luong and Kieng Svay


I should mention that I intend to travel to Rattanakiri next Tuesday. I do not know how often I will have the chance to access this log prior to my departure and therefore give some information in advance.

I do not intend to take my laptop with me. This is mostly because I did not manage to connect it to the network and therefore could not properly back up my computer. I do not want to risk my data. However, I take my camera with me and more than 400 mb of memory. This way I hope I can provide numerous pictures afterwards.

The “lonely planet” which I bough for 3 bucks in the market (4th edition 2002) does not have to say more than two pages about Rattanakiri. However, the German guide (“Reise Know How” 2003) offers extensive information. I quote the introduction:

“Rattanakiri ist die nordoestlichste Provinz Kambodschas und grenzt im Norden an Laos und im Osten an Vietnam. Das Kontoum- und das Chhlongplateau bilden die natuerlichen Grenzen zu seinen Nachbarn … Endlose Urwaelder, duchzogen von Huegeln, Suempfen und Wasserlaeufen, machen Rattanakiri in seiner Unwegsamkeit zu einem der am wenigsten erforschten Landstriche unserer Erde. Tiger, Leoparden, Rotwild, Elepfanten, Krokokile und das fast ausgestorbenen Kouprey leben hier noch im Schutz der dichten Tropenwaelder … Die hier lebenden Bergvoelker, die Khmer Loeu, die sich in 21 ethnische Gruppen mit unterschiedlicher Kultur und Sprache gliedern, siedeln bis in die unzugaegnlichsten Winkel der Provinz. Die bekanntesten Staemme sind die Charai, Kaco, Tampuan, Kreung und Brau. Unter den etwa 80.000 Einwohnern von Rattanakiri leben neben den Bergvoelkern, viele Laoten und vietnamesische Minderheiten. Die Khmer sind hier im eigenen Land in der Unterzahl.“

I mentioned earlier that I believe this situation makes Rattanakiri a challenge to both decentralization and democratization of the political system. I contacted various organizations which have operations in this province and I am confident that they will assist in my research. I will travel with another of our project translators. He is political scientist, CPP member and writes his master about political parties. Given that Sunday is election I cannot expect him to stay longer than until Friday.

However, if I find local organizations on the spot that make meaningful research possible without my co-traveler being present I tend to think that I stay longer. Even with regard to security concerns involving the upcoming election this would seem to be a rational decision, since political unrest caused by national election is not likely to have heavy impacts in such a remote province (which people told me is a different Cambodia).

The German tourist guide notes that “aus touristischer Sicht gehoert Rattanakiri zu den interessatesten Provinzen in Kambodscha. Ausserdem gibt es weder Minen, Strassenraeuber noch Rote Khmer. Lediglich die weit verbreitete Malaria kann die Abenteuerlust etwas trueben.“

Since I have my mosquito net as well as two sorts of mosquito repellent with me I think I am on the save side with regard to the only thing which limits the delight of traveling Rattanakiri.
Continue reading Rattanakiri

What is Behind Fancy Publications?

It might appear from this log that I predominantly travel. However, the opposite is the case and I spend Monday to Friday in the office digging in documents and trying to get appointments with people who help me understand the issues.

Certainly it is not my business to scrutinize what the World Bank is doing here. However, this institution is a major player in development policy in Cambodia not least because Cambodia happens to be a very poor country and because the World Bank is in some ways just that: a bank. At the same time the globalization of particularly financial markets gives this organization as well as its sister institution IWF enormous leverage to intervene in domestic politics of receiving countries. Although these organizations mandate is explicitly not political there can be no doubt that they exercise enormous political power in receiving countries. Since at the same time these organizations have no democratic legitimacy whatsoever in the country which’s policies they happen to shape, there has been quite some controversy even about whether or not the World Bank is of any help at all for any meaningful concept of development.

As a result of this crisis of legitimacy World Bank has struggled and enormously changed their rhetoric. Moreover, World Bank felt pressured to indeed make significant amounts of research results, policy literature and even project documentation online available. At the same time they adapted progressive mottos like ‘our dream is a world free of poverty’ or so. Moreover they claim to refocus their strategy on poverty reduction (as opposed to just economic growth) and keep talking about things that have always been alien to their operations like empowerment, participation, ecology. And indigenous rights. The reflection of the later is apparently Operational Directive 4.2 which defines the norm according to which projects are supposed to be financed and implemented. Or in case of failure to live up to this definition of the norm not financed and not implemented. I should point out that World Bank has not exactly voluntarily adopted either this or many other of recent changes but has done so because of significant political pressure. Interestingly, even right wing libertarian conservatives in the US Congress have in times contemplated to get rid of World Bank entirely. Therefore I am very interested to learn whether they changed their ways or just the way they talk about them. For this reason I feel kind of tempted to investigate what they are doing, which again, is not precisely what the focus of my research is.

I mentioned earlier that there are a number of high solution publications issued by WB and Asian Development Bank. Those organizations as well as the UN, International Labor Organization (ILO), EU and so on have established various instruments in international law to protect the rights of minority cultures, particularly indigenous peoples. At the same time there is an IDA commitment (that is: cheap WB money) of about 20 $mill US pending here in Cambodia. There are objections to this program particularly because it does not seem to live up to those (more or less binding) international norms. And again at the same time there has been a “Highland Peoples Development Plan” carefully drafted with substantial assistance and support by most of precisely those organizations. It is, as I mentioned, not in power because there are objections, particularly to Article 3.6. I typed that early and do not do it here again. However, it is very plausible that a policy that has been possible only with the support of those organizations reflect their policy on the rights of these vulnerable groups.

There are strong indications that the critical objection comes from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife in the Ministry of Agriculture. I heard on several occasions that this ministry does not cooperate and everybody recommends bypassing them. However, at the same time this ministry is among the most powerful, not least because the government perceives all the forest which is not privately owned, as their property. This department controls the concessions for the cutting of forest.

Already some weeks ago I called somebody relevant at the World Bank in Phnom Penh to ask whether they can provide me with their analytical work which apparently needs to be done to determine whether or not government programs actually meet WB’s policy on indigenous people. The person was very friendly but could not help me and gave me the number of somebody she told me would be able to help me. I called this person, he noted my email and told me he would send me electronic documents. However, I never received any.

Interestingly, I even talked to somebody relevant from Asian Development Bank and he quite frankly told me that his organization might have a similar policy on indigenous people similar to World Bank’s OP 4.2. but this does not mean they share their analytical work with his organization. Elsewhere I heard that the World Bank office in Cambodia would be similar to World Bank offices anywhere in that they would not like to share their assessments and documentations.

I should mention that from the newspaper and comments from all sorts of people it seems to me that there is a lot of illegal logging going on, with particular involvement by the military. I heard for example that a powerful military leader occupied a four digit number of hectare forest and declared it his property. There was some protest against it and Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to just buy the forest back from his private money (what ever the Prime ministers private money means in Cambodia).

However, there is this Department of Forestry and I managed to get an appointment with its head. But when I arrived he was busy. So I got to speak to his deputy.

Although it is precisely here were objections to the policy on “highland peoples” are coming from, this person really did not have many answers. He actually did not even seem to know what I was talking about. However, he was very kind and so was I. I was there with our translator. Since I cannot speak the official language of this country I am carefully trying not to act insensitive. However, he did not only give indirect answers to direct questions but no answer whatsoever except for commonplaces.

The most precise thing I learned is that there is a legal guarantee that all the people living near by the forest have free access to it and can freely slash. However, there is no special provision for indigenous or “highland” people. This apparently refers to the new forestry law which has been finalized few weeks ago. I learned that an English translation would not be available earlier then in two weeks.

I also mentioned earlier that, with regard to another project, the World Bank had determined that OD 4.2 applies with reference to “Highland Peoples” who maintain cultural and socioeconomic practices different than those practices by the Khmer national majority. Moreover, it appears to me that a forest law in the context of Cambodia is even more critical to the well-being of indigenous peoples than the project with regard to which the determination of “Highland Peoples” as subject to OP 4.2 has taken place.

So it is hard to imagine that anybody in the World Bank could consistently argue that in the case of one project this directive applies to “Highland People” but not in another project.

This would not have been something very surprising to me. However, what I found really scary is that on the name card he gave me I read later “Department of Forestry and Wildlife. World Bank Forest Concession Management & Control Pilot Project.”

I mentioned earlier that the final decision on the “Highland Peoples Development Plan” in the Council of Ministers (which is the government) was postponed because a precise law on both land and forestry was lacking. And I mentioned that those laws are in power today. This law is apparently one of them and it is hard to imagine that the deputy of the department presumably responsible for the drafting does not know that it was precisely the “Highland Peoples Development Plan” which made necessary the forestry law. I furthermore thing that somebody who works in a management position in any Department of Forestry can be expected to think about how a forestry law affects indigenous people living in and depending on the forest in the country. After all, even in Cambodia they happen to be citizens with certain rights.

What, however, is really outrageous is that the very same person’s name card says “World Bank Forest Concession Management & Control Pilot Project”. This is so for several reasons. First, there can be no doubt that “Forest Concession” policy is among the most critical for indigenous people, since whether a particular concession is issued or not determines whether their homeland remain in tact and allows for their cultural survival. Second, if this is a World Bank project, this person can not only be expected to know about the World Bank’s policy on indigenous people but needs to be required to know about it. His decisions are exactly what is required to live up to this policy before any project is confirmed. And third, as if this would not be enough, what he is doing is supposed to be a pilot project, which I take to mean it is supposed to provide good example and possibly best practices.

To wrap it up: If I understand this situation rights this really is a serious issue. With regard to the World Bank I continue for the time being to seriously question whether this institution’s decisions actually live up to or even consider their well worded policy on indigenous people. If anybody can help me to better understand what is going on here I would greatly appreciate it.

If what I wrote here really reflects what happens right now than I would like to see somebody doing something about it. I really wonder where all these organizations are who provided assistance to the “Highland Peoples Development Plan” in the first place and would like to learn what they are doing right now. It appears to me that an IDA commitment of more than 24 US $ Mio. Provides significant leverage to do something for the situation of indigenous people. Right now it appears that this really is not high on the agenda after the election.
Continue reading What is Behind Fancy Publications?

Kompong Chhnang, Pursat and Battambang

Only on Friday last week the chance came up to travel to Battambang, which is a province in the very west of Cambodia. I started to contact various Islamic organizations and our project translator was so kind to do the calls for me. One of the few Muslim organizations listed in the (more or less official) directory of NGOs with operations in Cambodia was the Islamic Local Development Organization (ILDO), which is based in Battambang. I make this here a more private and travel related text and write a separate note about the Islamic encounter.

As it happens, our project translator grew up most of the time in Battambang and he offered to drive there on the weekend with his brother and in his brother’s car. Originally I wanted to practice my moto capabilities on Saturday. However, only later I realized that it is more than 300 km to drive to Battambang and, given the uncertainty we faced about the quality of the road (which depends critically on whether or not it rains) and the certainty about the anarchic state of traffic affairs we decided to dedicate the entire weekend to this trip.

This is how we travel this time. This is … yes, a Toyota Camry. The person in the middle is our project translator. He is 34 I believe. The guy next to the car is his older brother, the driver of the car. Both have been working hard and with significant success. The older brother has attended a government educational institution with high prestige in Cambodia and has gotten a favorable position in the hierarchy of the current administration. The younger brother went to India for about six years of his live and got both a bachelor and a master degree in public administration and international relations at an institute with international reputation. The car has the steering wheel on the right side.

We started early and stopped in a village after about 40 km outside of Phnom Penh to have some breakfast. We were traveling on the national road 5 first to the north and than following its turn to the east which parallels the course of the river Tonle Sap. The place was well visited, with many children among the customers. There was a TV set in one of the front corners on which a Chinese movie was shown. This production was presented with Khmer dubbing and Chinese sub title. It was clearly fiction (with some cruel elements to it) and good fun. The population of this restaurant played close attention to the movie and everybody was laughing on many occasions. We had rice with various sorts of fruits and meat. The food was very good and really cheap.

I managed to get only about halve of the customer in this picture. This picture was taken shortly before we left and only after our translator had asked people for permission.

This is how it looks like outside the restaurant. On the opposite side of the street was a number of jeeps with a huge PA campaigning for I do not know which of the three big parties CPP, Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy. I could not understand it but what the person had to say was apparently taped, presented very loud and sounded rather aggressive to me. I did not want to catch these people’s attention and avoided taking pictures of them.

Our next stop was Kompong Chhnang, the provincial capitol of the province with the same name. 350.000 people are said to live in this province, which is located in the Tonle Sap basin. This is in some ways the heart of Cambodia, used to be part of the Chinese sea, and is extremely fertile. Only around here it is possible to harvest rice twice a year. In the rainy season the Tonle Sap Lake extends its surface seven times.

I read in my tourist guide that the port is a busy place and a good one to see. This is the water side. The mountains in the background are supposed to look like a woman who is resting on the ground. However, I did not manage to visualize her. Or she is incredibly pregnant, but I do not want to speculate about this.

People here have adapted to the changing conditions of their environment and live largely in floating houses with which they do not settle permanently.

This is about 2 km from the national road and we passed a number of busy places, among them spots were people where standing in the water, occupied with I do not know what but maybe fishing.

This is the house front along the river. There are so many white Toyota Camry that it is hard to avoid having them in the picture. This was about 9 or 10 am. I observed that this is about the time when the monks walk in groups or alone through the streets asking – actually begging – people to give. Down the street one can recognize a number begging monks coming.

Usually they stop at some point and wait in line for people to contribute. I heard on several occasions that monks are not supposed to eat after noon. Furthermore I learned that it is common for male Khmer to become a monk for some time, which is actually considered a requirement to become a real man. I do not have verification on this one. And I heard that in the countryside (which is pretty much what this country consists of) this is mostly done during the dry season when there is not too much to do in the field. This is a good chance for education, too.

This is the Stung Pursat, a river which flows into the Tonle Sap. This picture is taking from one of the bridges in Pursat, which is the provincial capital of the province with the same name.

Pursat does not seem to offer too many attractions for tourists. Under the heading “Sehenswertes” (worth visiting) there was only one item in my tourist guide. Marble statues are manufactured and sold in this museum which actually includes a library as well. However, we found both closed.

We stopped about 10 km before we reached Battambang, which is the provincial capitol of Battambang province. Battambang is with 300.000 inhabitants the second largest city in Cambodia. I heard this province is so fertile that it used to feed the entire nation. Accordingly, Pol Pot concentrated the implementation of his evil rural development strategy in this region.

This is where we had lunch. The arrangement is characteristic. In the front, were the lady is standing, there are about 12 to 15 pots with various delicious kinds of food. Interestingly, one pays in locations like this per person. So one can order and eat as much and as many sorts of food as one wishes to. This costs like 50 cent per person but I am not exactly sure.

Live appears to be rather laid back around here.

We went first to some family members of my co-travelers. Those people live in a house in the outskirt of Battambang City. Their house is built on stilts made of concrete. It is the better-off who can afford this kind of protection from flooding. Those people where very friendly and provided us with refreshments. Then we went to see the Islamic development people.

Afterwards we went to see this place were a private entrepreneur raises crocodiles. Nobody was able to tell me for what purpose or what markets. However, this is not associated with the Muslim community.

This is in the center of Battambang City, which is getting a new road.

This is one of the pagodas in Battambang and there were many colorful statues all over the compound which represent scenes in the life of Buddha. This is – obviously – when he is cutting his hair.

Later on we went to visit some other friends of my co-traveler’s family. These folks here live in very basic conditions. All of these women except for one are wage workers in very unstable work relationships. If they manage to get a job on a daily basis they get 5000 Riel (1.20 US$) per day for work on a construction side.

The male to the right is the father of the three women in the middle. He is working in unstable conditions as well but I did not manage to learn what he is actually doing. We spend a good part of the evening on the bamboo rack in front, were we ate several fruits as some sort of snack. I did not know that lotus flowers have actually fruits which are really tasty (the green stuff in the basket on the rack). Another fruit is very common around here and very delicious but I would have a hard time describing how they look or taste like(the red stuff in the basket).

Even those people are considered relatively well off, since they manage to live in the outskirt of the city. However, their land does not allow for significant agricultural endeavors and they depend on wage labor. This shack is very simple. The base is from laterite, the structure from wood and bamboo covered with mats of straw. Other walls are covered with paper taken from magazines. There is a TV set inside.

We spent a good part of the evening here and I felt really bad for not learning much Khmer so far.

We then went to visit other friends and/or relatives. Their families spent years together in the border region with Thailand in order not to be subjected to Pol Pot’s nasty policies. These people appeared to be poor as well but willing to share what they have. We had good and opulent food. Than there was a long discussion in Khmer which I did not understand. It really was a pity to sit with these people and rely on a translator.

We spend the night on some mats on the bamboo rack under this mosquito net. Unfortunately I blinded this friendly guy with my flash.

This is in the morning. The huge tank to the right is used to keep water which is being collected from the rain via the roof. I saw these containers all over the place.

Oddly, I had three issues yesterday which all involved these tanks in one way or the other. The first time was when we had lunch in this restaurant and I went out the backdoor to wash my hands. I found a number of these containers as well as soap and started to actually wash my hands in it. People around me became very nervous and I learned that I better use the bowl to rinse my hands outside the container. This was plausible to me but only afterwards.

The second time was when we visited the first family in the evening. I removed my shoes – like everybody – in order to sit on the rack. After I ate some of the fruits I felt I should wash my hands. After all, by now I knew how to properly take care of that. So I went barefoot to the container. After I washed my hands just perfectly (while my co-travelers were proliferating my earlier misfortune) I wanted to sit on the rack again. I realized only now that my feet were pretty dirty after this short walk. They were wondering how I would sit on the rack without my feet touching it and gave me a sheet. While I was politely listening to their jokes (which I could not understand) our translator indicated that I could dry my hands with the sheet now. This was a good thing because I was about to clean my feet with it.

The third time was in the late evening when people started to have a bath. Our driver tried to explain to me how to properly go about it. This involved a lot of towels. So later on I went to the container, which was not the one in the picture but another one behind the house almost in the forest. So when I was standing in front of the container and it was entirely dark in this forest I felt I better just remove my clothes and give myself a good number of showers with this bowl and then put on my fresh clothes. The driver was wondering later on how I got a bath with only one towel and I told him. He was shocked and indicated that it would have been quite inappropriate for me to meet somebody naked, regardless of both forest and darkness. Which fortunately did not and I think was not likely to happen.

In the picture he is having a bath the proper way. You get dressed in this sort of cloth which allows you to decently get rid of your underwear. Next thing is you take the bowl and start rinsing water over your body which he is (rather: pretends to be) doing in the picture. This can be accompanied by more or less enthusiastic endeavors to catch some water and actually wash your body with the hand not occupied with the bowl. When you think you are clean enough now you start to dry your skin with another towel before you start getting decently into your set of underwear while trying to manage to keep it dry to some degree. I saw people having a bath in a similar way standing in a river or lake or even pond which I believe is more effective than the next-to-the-container option.

After he finished he suggested I should have another bath. I though I better do not practice this in front of the house right now in the daylight.

This guy was causing the fruits of this tree to fall by beating at the branches with a stick.

This harvest got some attention from neighbors and passengers.

Those people have spent long and very difficult years together in what they refer to as “Thai border region”. This was when Pol Pot ruled the country and they lost many relatives and friends.

Shortly after this snap shot we left. We went to see the market but did not spend much time. Then we left to drive back to Phnom Penh. The elderly guy in the left of the picture had to travel back to the very east of Cambodia and we gave him a right to Phnom Penh.

This is how the street looks like in the morning. The vehicle upfront is a very common sight on any major road between the ‘urban’ centers that I have seen so far. This is just a cart attached to a moto cycle. Very often I saw up to 16 and more people sitting on such a cart and traveling with high speed. I believe this really is very dangerous and only on occasion see people traveling like this with a helmet on. In the background is the unavoidable Toyota Camry.

After we have been traveling for about 1 hour the engine stopped operating.

Although the starter was working the engine did not move the car a bit. We tried a couple of times to push the car to get it started but it did not work out. There was not much we could do about it and our translator hoped on a moto and went back to the next village to get a mechanic.

This took about one hour and gave us the chance to hang out in the sun for a bit. And I got the chance to sneak around and take some pictures. All sorts of people are traveling with various sorts of vehicles and very diverse speed levels.

This is a very characteristic image. The black car (a Toyota Camry) is overtaking a truck, which is itself traveling with quite high speed. I hope it can be recognized on this picture that the black car does not have a plate. However, the driver has set the winker. The white car behind the black car is another Toyota Camry. The driver of the white car is going to overtake the black car even before both reach our white Toyota, which is standing on the street. These cars are closer than it appears on this small picture and all involved cars except ours where traveling fast. So I took this picture and left the road to save myself.

In the absence of any enforceable speed limit the limit is set by the drivers’ level of carelessness and to a lesser extend by the quality of his cars’ shock absorbers. The absence of plates does make it difficult to enforce speed limits and would need to be addressed first. Another obstacle to the enforcement is that most of these speeding cars are Toyota Camry, most of those Toyota Camry’s are white and most of the rest is black. I saw a white Toyota Camry which was speeding like hell. It did not have a plate but at the plates’ rightful place a sign reading “Camry Sport”.

I really believe intelligent enforcement would provide the governments’ very limited budget with significant additional income. People who own cars and can afford to drive them can be considered very well-off. And what they are doing here is putting other citizens’ lives at risk. The core of the problem might well be that the people in charge of enforcement have no incentive because it is them who can afford cars.

Just like our car was similar to those ones we were traveling in the same spirit. I would have felt much better with a helmet but I could not even find a seat belt. “No use” is how my co-travelers commented on my failure to find a seatbelt. This is most likely true insofar the belt would not make much difference in a frontal crash with another speeding Toyota Camry. The road was – like this one – on many stretches of our journey good quality. On those parts of the road driver of cars speed up to the limit of their vehicles. This is like a national competition. So there are many vehicles on the road that we had to defeat. What really gave me a thrill is that with the steering wheel on the right each of those overtaking operations involved the other front seat passenger. This person had to give the signal on which the driver would turn blindly to the other side of the actually not very wide road.

96 normal

This is another notorious species. Those trucks are frequently loaded with incredible numbers of people who only occasionally wear helmets. However, I doubt this measure would make a big difference given the speed with which they travel and the vulnerability on the back of the truck. The fact that the picture is blurry despite the bright day light shows just how fast those people travel.

Most people did not mind me taking pictures of them.

Some time later the translator was back with two mechanics.

Those guys take their job serious. It is clear from the beginning who pays and who gets dirty hands here.

They found that some sort of transmission band was broken. This part as well as the necessary tools are not available in the village. We decided the best way to go about it was to have the car pulled to the next town, which was Pursat with about 16 km. So they went back to the village to get a truck.

This gave me more time to explore the environment. Rather robust technology is being employed to work this soil. The part which actually digs into the ground is made of steel. I saw peasants in Ethiopia using a very similar arrangement but a wooden shovel. I am a rather urban person and really do not know anything about agriculture. But I can easily imagine that the steel shovel does not use up as fast and might well dig deeper in the ground.

This is the cooling system.

I liked this one a lot.

Those folks were passing our car several times on the road and than turned and disappeared somewhere in the fields. I gave them a bright smile the first time and they returned every time they appeared again.

This is the garage where we finally found somebody who was willing to take care of the car. This was Sunday.

We went to a Khmer restaurant to have some food. Again there was a TV. A short movie was running which obviously was meant to make voting on election day (September 27) appealing to the population. This spot was about 20 minutes long and explained step by step how to cast a vote. Mainstream citizens were presented who – with Khmer pop music in the background – proudly went to the polling station to submit their vote. Afterwards the entire community – including policemen, moto driver, women and so on – goes ceremonially behind a cart on which the ballot box is moved to the authority to undergo the counting. I found this not to bad and learned in the end that this spot was produced with the assistance of GTZ.

By the time we got back to the garage there was still no significant progress and I pushed the translator to go on a moto tour to find out what’s going on in Pursat. The museum was still closed. We went to the river and met two boys who wanted to practice their English. They told us that there is an island in the river which might be worth visiting. This is the entrance to the “golden ship island”. It is called like this because it has the shape of a ship and supposedly emerged after a golden ship sank here.

There are at least three motives in this picture which are very prominent in the local architecture. This is the lion, the shell-like ornament behind it and the roof of this small stage in the back. Some variation of those can be found everywhere. Most temples carry a roof like the one in the back and even the Ministry of Interior’s main building has gotten a very similar one.

Vishnu is – behind Buddha – very often represented in statues.

In contrast, females are seldom immortalized in statues. So I am particularly happy that I can provide the following picture of at least halve a female which I though was a good thing for a change.

This is the northern tip of the island. There are a few bridges over this river but only one appears to be capable of carrying cars. At the banks on both sides of the river people are doing their laundry and going for a bath.

I did not see a single tourist in this town and do not expect this to be dramatically different on other days. So this island was not busy at all and we found only two boys in hammocks observing two cows grazing.

Then we went back to the garage, which was not very busy, too.

I beg this improvised truck is powered by a generator which returned from the death.

There was not much to do and we started exploring the surrounding. Behind the garage are a few cows. And the rail road track passes here. The train goes from Sihanoukville at the coast all the way up to Battambang and Sisophon. From Phnom Penh to Battambang alone (300 km) it takes this train 2 days I heard. In the center of the picture the roof of a pagoda sticks out behind the trees.

I do not know what those children were trying to catch because they did not catch anything. I felt sorry for them.

There are two huge buffalos in the background.

We went back and took the shortcut through some people’s property. On the way we passed this shanty. The translator said something to these youngsters and ensured me they would not mind me taking a picture. Maybe I should mention that he does not consider it very important to ask for permissions in the first place. I think these kids did not realize what happened until I actually took this picture and they had not much opportunity to move.

This picture is worth studying. This truly is a representation of Khmer gender roles at their best. All persons in the picture are female, except the guy in the hammock.

It is very uncommon (rather: indecent) for teenager to have a girl (boy) friend and if this happens (and is shown in public) this means a serious commitment, particularly by the guy.

So it was not very surprising that this Khmer guy did not like the situation too much. His accompaniment was eager to take more pictures while he displayed strong displeasure with the idea of being in the same pictures with them.

The girl to the right lives in the house to the left in the background while the other girl’s family lives in the house to the right.

Finally the car was ready again and we had to pay just 20 bucks. Given that this was Sunday and that the spare part was about 12 US$ this really appears to be a modest price.

Since we were behind schedule we had to speed even more afterwards. So I did not get the chance to take any more pictures. We arrived in Phnom Penh when it was about to get dark.
Continue reading Kompong Chhnang, Pursat and Battambang

Newspaper: Cambodia Daily and Phnom Penh Post

I found the following English newspaper particularly helpful: The Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post , which publishes biweekly. Recently, I found a number of articles that I found to be insightful with regard to cultural diversity.

Susan Font writes in an Phnom Penh Post (June 20 – July 3, page 6) article titled ‘Roll Call to teach nation’s youth’ about the government’s Education For All (EFA) program. One of the first paragraphs illuminates the relationship to current government strategy: “The twelve-year plan, which was launched on June 10, supports the government’s main poverty alleviation strategies: the Poverty Reduction Strategic Plan (PRSP) and the second Socio-Economic Development Plan (SEDPII). These two focus on the importance of completing nine years of basic education, reducing costs, and encouraging disadvantaged groups such as females and ethnic minorities.”

The author goes into more detail of the EFA strategy and mentions that “a national scholarship system for girls will be introduced, and ethnic minorities will have culturally-tailored curricula which aim to preserve their local knowledge and make education relevant to their culture”.

This appears to be a honorable endeavor and sounds very progressive to me. Particularly given the common hostile attitude against particular minorities. However I will try to get hold of somebody who is designing this policy to learn how they do this. This is especially interesting because their does not seem to be much knowledge even about what language those people actually speak. The formulation that the program aims at ‘making education relevant to their culture’ is odd and would not be out of context with aggressively assimilation policies.

In the same issue of the same newspaper Michael Coren writes in an essay titled “What’s in a word? More to yuon than sour soup” about the widespread use of the term yuon even among top politicians. This term apparently refers to sour soup as well as to Vietnamese people. It has several notions but is apparently meant and felt like a racist insult in most contexts.
Continue reading Newspaper: Cambodia Daily and Phnom Penh Post