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Cambodia: Major News Items, 1/1/95 to 2/28/95

Sihanouk Returns, Criticizes Government
King Sihanouk returned to Cambodia on January 4, having been in Beijing for treatment of cancer. Sihanouk stated that he would remain in Cambodia for three or four months before returning to Beijing for more medical checks. His cancer is said to be cured, but he is still suffering from poor circulation due to thickening arteries. (America Online, Reuter, 1/4/95, and 2/3/95.) In a gathering of diplomats and government officials on February 21, he remarked that with regard to the present government, "I do not admire very much this current regime, but I accept it." However, he denied any interest in seizing power for himself. "I cannot and I will not be willing... I'm not going to play such a game which is more dangerous than the present government." (America Online, Reuter, Mark Dodd, 2/21/95.)

Battlefield Update
Khmer Rouge guerrillas were accused of burning almost 2,000 hectares of rice fields in Battambang province in December and early January. Fighting in Battambang has displaced more than 3,000 families. The Khmer Rouge claimed in radio broadcasts to have laid hundreds of mines and thousands of punji sticks south of Battambang and around Sisophon. On January 3, the Khmer Rouge abandoned their base at Phnom Kulen, forty miles north of Siem Reap, as government soldiers advanced on the site. A second Khmer Roue base just west of the Preah Vihear temple was also captured in the second week of January. However, as government soldiers closed in on Preah Vihear, and the Khmer Rouge base at Anlong Veng as well, they have been hampered by logistical failures and plagued by booby traps, mines, and hit-and-run attacks.The heaviest casualties came from Preah Vihear, and according to the Red Cross, "hundreds" of government soldiers have been wounded. The commander of government forces in the northern zone, Nhek Bun Chhay, has said that the government will not attempt to capture Preah Vihear, but will instead try to secure villages in the area and cut off the guerrillas' supply lines, with aid from Thai soldiers across the border. (America Online, Reuter, 1/2/95, 1/3/95, 1/12/95, 1/17/95, 1/26/95, 2/8/95, 2/17/95, and 2/19/95.)

Khmer Rouge Attack Train
Eight people were killed and thirty others wounded when the Khmer Rouge attacked a train in central Kompong Chhnang on January 2. Seven of the dead were civilians. The guerrillas detonated mines laid under the rails, then opened fire with rockets. A government spokesman noted that the attackers deliberately targeted the passengers. "In the past they detonated mines or explosives just before the train arrived or just attacked the locomotive to stop the train. But this time they attacked the train cars where people were riding." (America Online, Reuter, 1/3/95, 1/4/95.)

American Woman Killed, Suspects Arrested
Susan Hadden, 50, of Texas, was killed in Siem Reap province on January 15 when the tour group she was with was attacked. Her Cambodian driver was also killed, and her husband was badly wounded. The group, on the way to the Banteay Serey temple, came under fire from automatic rifles and grenades. Authorities arrested ten Cambodians in association with the attack, all former Khmer Rouge. It is believed that only five or six of the suspects were involved in the attack. The others arrested were the wives of the primary suspects. The government at first suggested that the assault was planned as a robbery, but later suggested that the assailants may have had political motivations as well. The Khmer Rouge claimed responsibility for the attack, and in a radio broadcast claimed that Hadden was an "army expert." (America Online, Reuter, 1/16/95, 1/17/95, 1/27/95, and 1/31/95.)

Defections Continue
The final deadline for an amnesty program for Khmer Rouge defectors passed on January 15, but the Cambodian government has said that it will continue to accept defectors. About 5,000 guerrillas and an equal number of civilians surrendered to the government in 1994. The United States in January began shipping the first of 250,000 ready-to-eat meals to be donated to the defectors. (America Online, Reuter, 1/19/95 and 1/24/95.)

Press Crackdown
On January 17, the Cambodian government filed defamation suits against two newspapers, Samleng Yu Vachun (Voice of Khmer Youth) and Serei Pheap Thmei (New Liberty News) after the papers published satirical cartoons critical of the government. Chan Rotana, the editor of Samleng Yu Vachum, was subsequently sentenced to a year in prison and fined five million riels (about $2000) after a trial lasting only one hour. The judge in the case deliberated for only five minutes. The conviction was for publishing "false and defamatory" news. The newspaper had printed a cartoon of Norodom Ranariddh carrying a bag on money on his head, implying that he was corrupt, and an editorial describing Ranariddh as "three times more stupid" than Hun Sen. Human rights groups blasted the Cambodian government for the action, and U.S. ambassador Charles Twining told Reuter that he was "shocked. It will hurt their reputation as a defender of human rights." The previous editor of Samleng Yu Vachum was murdered in Phnom Penh last September. (America Online, Reuter, 1/17/95, 2/19/95, 2/27/95, and 2/28/95.) The Cambodian government also filed suit in France against two French newspapers which had reported on human rights abuses by the Cambodian military. (Indochina Digest, 2/3/95.) The action comes after intense debate over a recently drafted law which critics say will severely curtail press freedom in Cambodia. King Sihanouk and National Assembly chairman Chea Sim both called for the revision of the proposed law. (America Online, 1/23/95.)

Arms Cache Found In Thailand
On January 28, Thai army engineers working along the Thai-Cambodian border stumbled across an arms cache believed to have been buried by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. The weapons, found near the Thai village of Koh Maung, included about 50 mortar rounds and 65 rocket-propelled grenades, as well as fuses and gunpowder. (America Online, Reuter, 1/28/95.)

Tanks Arrive; US May Offer Lethal Aid
Forty tanks and several armored personnel carriers purchased from the former East Block arrived in Cambodia in February, and several more APCs from Poland are expected to arrive soon. It was also reported by the Phnom Penh Post that Israel had agreed to refurbish about a dozen MiG 21 fighter jets owned by the Cambodian air force. Also, six Mi-17 helicopters from Ukraine were slated for delivery some time in February. Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said in January that the U.S. may begin providing military hardware to Cambodia if the Cambodian military is satisfactorily reformed. (America Online, Maja Wallengren, Reuter, 2/11/95, and Reuter, 1/29/95.)

Thai Cooperation Praised
After a tour of the ThaiÐCambodian border in January, diplomats stationed in Bangkok commended Thailand for recent efforts to isolate the Khmer Rouge and sever Thai business dealings with the rebel faction. While completely eliminating all contacts between local officials and the Khmer Rouge will be difficult, Roland Eng, Cambodia's ambassador to Thailand, called recent Thai initiatives "...a turning point in the relationship between Thailand and the Khmer Rouge." (America Online, Robert Birsel, Reuter, 1/10/95.)

No Extradition For Sin Song
On January 10, the Thai cabinet announced that Sin Song, Cambodia's former Foreign Minister, would not be extradited to Cambodia. Song had been convicted in absentia for his role in last year's attempted coup. Thailand has no extradition treaty with Cambodia, and the Thais labelled Song's actions a political offense. He has been held by the Thai for entering the country illegally, and will be detained until he finds refuge in another country. (Indochina Digest, 1/13/95.)

Prison Conditions Criticized Again
After a November UN report cited improvements in CambodiaÕs prisons, a report by the UN Center for Human Rights issued a report citing shortcomings. The buildings are in disrepair, and "Medical care is often nonexistent, and disease and sickness are widespread." A spokesman for the group Physicians for Human Rights, commenting on the report, suggested that as many as 63% of prison inmates had been beaten or tortured. (Indochina Digest, 1/27/95.)

Cambodia Awarded Debt Write-Off
The Paris Club, an organization of 18 wealthy creditor nations, agreed in January to forgive 67% of CambodiaÕs foreign debt. According to the World Bank, CambodiaÕs debt at the end of 1993 stood at $383 million. (America Online, Alastair Macdonald, Reuter, 1/30/95.)

More US Humanitarian Aid
On February 2 the U.S. presented the Cambodian Red Cross with $600,000 worth of non-lethal military aid, including ambulances, an X-ray machine, and surgical supplies. It was also reported that U.S. food rations intended for Khmer Rouge defectors and displaced persons had never reached its intended recipients: it was instead sold on the open market in Phnom Penh. (Indochina Digest, 2/3/95.)

Temple To Be Restored
The Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient has announced that it will return to Cambodia to resume work on the 11th century Baphuon temple, in the Angkor Wat complex. The project had originally begun in the 1960s. The restoration is expected to cost about $5.6 million U.S.. (Indochina Digest, 2/23/95.)

Tuo Sleng Cremation Reconsidered
On January 19 it was announced that King Sihanouk had abandoned his plan to cremate the remains at the site of the former Tuol Sleng prison. The deputy director of the Tuol Sleng museum summed up the difficult decision: "If we keep the display of bones it goes against our Buddhist beliefs, but if we cremate them we will lose the evidence of the Khmer Rouge crimes." (Indochina Digest, 1/20/95.)

Logging Regulations Introduced
Dr. Tao Seng Hour, Cambodia's Minister of Agriculture, Forests, and Fisheries, announced on December 26 that the cutting of new timber would be banned as of January 1st. Logs already cut may still be exported until April. King Sihanouk warned in a speech in February that extensive logging was damaging the environment. In addition to illegal logging carried out in areas controlled by the Khmer Rouge (a major source of income for the guerrillas), Lao loggers have also been illegally harvesting timber within Cambodia, according to the Phnom Penh Post. (Indochina Digest, 12/30/94; America Online, Reuter, 2/20/95; Phnom Penh Post, 2/10 - 23/95.)

Taiwan To Open Representative Office
Taiwan will open an office to assist in organizing and regulating business and cultural relations between Taiwan and Cambodia. Although the two countries have no diplomatic relations, the office, which is expected to be open within two months, will perform the functions of a typical embassy. (America Online, Reuter, 2/9/95.)

Vietnamese Refugees Still Stranded
As of this writing the fate of some 4,000 ethnic Vietnamese who attempted to flee Cambodia during a series of violent attacks two years ago remains unresolved. On January 21, Michael Kirby, the UN special representative on human rights in Cambodia, announced that the refugees, who are currently living in a boat community on the Bassac River just inside Vietnam,will be allowed to return to their homes in Cambodia. All of the refugees are believed to hold valid residency papers for Cambodia, but their status became somewhat uncertain in the wake of debate in Cambodia concerning immigration and nationality laws. (Indochina Digest, 1/27/95, and Laura Summers, bit.listserv.seasia-1, 2/21/95.)

Census Reveals Corruption
A government census of Cambodia's civil service revealed nearly 3,500 ghost workers on the national payroll. In December, 146,311 people were paid, but only 142,824 were accounted for by an official census on February 7. Many officials are believed to report to work in the morning, then leave to work a second job in the private sector. (America Online, Reuter, 2/22/95.)

AIDS Update
The provincial field director for sexually transmitted diseases in Banteay Meanchey in January estimated that, based on blood testing, 92% of the prostitutes and 21% of the soldiers in the province are HIV-positive. He also said that 1.9% of blood donors at the main provincial hospital were HIV-positive, up from .06% in 1992. In a related report, the director of the child welfare group Krousar Thmey, in Phnom Penh, warned that Cambodia was becoming a regular stopping point for pedophiliacs and sex tourists. (Indochina Digest, 1/13/95, and America Online, Ruben Alabastro, Reuter, 1/19/95.)

Yale Gets Grant To Study Khmer Rouge
In January the U.S. State Department awarded Yale University a grant of nearly $500,000 to study the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The program will be headed by noted Cambodia scholar Ben Kiernan. Goals of the program will include the creation of a database to document human rights abuses during the period, to commission new research, and to train scholars, legal officers, and human rights workers. (America Online, Reuter, 1/18/95.)

New Currency Forthcoming
Cambodia's central bank in February unveiled new currency designed to eliminate the need for large bundles of bills for even small purchases. Presently, the largest bill in circulation is the 500 riel note, worth about 19 cents U.S.. New notes will range from 1,000 riel to 50,000 riel, and coins ranging in value from 50 to 500 riel. The new notes should go into circulation in April. (Indochina Digest, 2/17/93.)

Exchange Rate
As of February 10, the official exchange rate for Cambodian currency was 2,608 riel to the dollar. (Indochina Digest, 2/17/95.)

 

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