RFA’s Khmer Service
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 October 2011 02:01 Written by RFA15 Wednesday, 12 October 2011 08:31
Thank you for visiting RFA’s 15th Anniversary site where we’re featuring RFA’s Khmer Service, the leading international broadcaster in Cambodia.
Please scroll down to explore the unique features of RFA Khmer, including its popular call-in show, special programming, major news events, listener comments, and awards won by RFA Khmer journalists.
You can also view major news events and story highlights.
First Broadcast: September 29, 1997.
Coverage: Two hours per day, seven days a week.
Distribution: Radio (shortwave and FM), Internet and satellite. RFA Khmer can be heard on eight diversified shortwave frequencies and 10 local FM affiliates.
English Language Website: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia
Special Programming: In addition to news, RFA Khmer features informative programming on the country’s emerging legal system, women’s issues, economy and employment, health awareness, agriculture, and Cambodian heritage and identity, as well as political analysis, science and technology, and history. Every week, the service hosts a one-hour call-in show for listeners to discuss news-worthy issues and other topics with experts. In addition, listeners’ feedback is aired during a brief segment, which includes emails and letters read from listeners.
RFA Khmer’s first broadcast on Sept. 29, 1997 consisted of news, features and commentary on politics, economics, law and democracy, children, health, culture and the arts.
RFA’s then-President Dick Richter explained the mission of the Khmer service during the inaugural broadcast: “You have been listening to the first broadcast of Radio Free Asia to Cambodia. From now on we will be coming to you every day. We are a radio news network devoted to bringing objective reporting about Cambodia, its people and its neighbors to you, our listeners in Cambodia. Our goal is to inform not preach. We will report about all kinds of events, subjects, and people. And we intend to be interesting and sometimes even entertaining. We do not broadcast much world news, except if it is related to Cambodia and its people’s benefit. Radio Free Asia will also broadcast news about the United States. But it will cover important activities of Cambodians in the United States and overseas. Our mission is to distribute all subjects that the Cambodian people are interested in. We hope you will continue listen to Radio Free Asia. We pledge not to waste your valuable time.”
RFA Executive Editor Dan Southerland recalls hiring RFA’s first Cambodian stringers and helping to open a small office in Phnom Penh in the summer of 1997: “RFA started hiring stringers in Phnom Penh during a tense period.
“We had to evacuate our first two hires because of fighting in the streets of Phnom Penh in early July 1997. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s troops launched attacks against the military forces of his coalition partner, Prince Norodom Rannariddh. At least 100 people were killed.
“We feared for the safety of our stringers and brought them both to our Washington, D.C. headquarters. They had to hastily leave their homes in Phnom Penh carrying the bare necessities in a few suitcases. One of those first two hires, Hin Yanny, is still working for us in D.C.
“We were far from well established in Phnom Penh. Many Cambodians did not know who we were and were afraid to give us interviews. A pro-government newspaper denounced RFA as an anti-communist “reactionary” radio intent on overthrowing the Hun Sen regime.
“We decided to open a small, one-room office next to the Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) office, fearing that a larger office would draw too much attention. I chose To Serey, who was working with DPA at the time, to run the office. The office, located near the waterfront and the Foreign Correspondents Club, was actually an old kitchen, four meters by four meters in size. When he left the office on his motorbike, Serey was often followed by government informers.
“The office had a toilet and a desk but no air conditioning and no fan. Rain leaked through an open window. The office became extremely crowded after Serey was joined by two more reporters, Kim Peou Sotan, who had been working for a French-run television station, and Um Sarin, who had been working with UPI.
“In 1998, after we became better known and gained a significant number of listeners in Cambodia, we moved to a larger, riverfront office. Our current, even larger office in located near the center of city.”
Looking back on those early days, To Serey said: “We’re doing great now. People want their voices to be heard on RFA. They want the government to hear their stories. Many people – including farmers, business people, politicians, policemen, and government officials—call us almost every day to give us news. They also send us information by way of fax and email. When they can’t find justice in their lives, they turn to RFA.”
In 2002, the Khmer service was the only radio station in Cambodia to host election debates, providing equal airtime to all political parties participating in the country’s first commune council election. Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) declined to air any of the debates on government-run-television or radio.
The following year, the Khmer service increased their air time to four hours per day to continue covering the national election sending reporters all over the country, including remote areas and voting stations to file live reports. The coverage including the campaign, election day and the post-election with poll results. The service then hosted a series of political debates, again inviting all political parties to participate. The show was aired live while RFA staff moderated and provided listeners the opportunity to question candidates on their positions, agendas, and beliefs.
It has been 18 years since Cambodia held its first elections. Despite showing some economic growth, the country has made only tenuous progress in the development of democracy, rule of law, human rights, and freedom of the press. Serious concerns remain among organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, that the country’s legal system and violence are used to silence journalists and voices of opposition. Freedom House rates Cambodia “Not Free” and ranked it 134th of the 196 countries surveyed in its annual press freedom index. Human Rights Watch’s 2011 report states that “Journalists who criticize the government face biased legal action, imprisonment and violence. At least 10 opposition journalists have been killed in the past 15 years.”
U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights report describes the situation in Cambodia as grim: “Members of security forces committed arbitrary killings and acted with impunity. Detainees were abused, often to extract confessions, and prison conditions were harsh. Human rights monitors reported arbitrary arrests and prolonged pre-trial detention, underscoring a weak judiciary and denial of the right to a fair trial. Land disputes and forced evictions, sometimes violent, continued. The government restricted freedom of speech and of the press through defamation and disinformation lawsuits and at times interfered with freedom of assembly. Corruption was endemic.” All television and most radio stations are owned and operated by the government or those close to the government. Print media is usually run or dominated by one of the political parties, it’s not widely distributed outside Phnom Penh, and is too expensive for most Cambodians to purchase regularly.
RFA Journalists At Risk
Of RFA’s six target countries, Cambodia is the only one where RFA is allowed to have an office and in-country reporters. RFA opened its office in Phnom Penh on Aug. 15, 1998, which included two digital editing stations and a production studio used heavily by the Khmer, Lao and Vietnamese services. RFA has grown and developed the Phnom Penh office and has journalists reporting live from the scene. There are also half a dozen reporters assigned to different provinces so news doesn’t just come from the country’s capital and its surroundings, but from the far-flung and often remote provinces.
RFA reporters have had to be very courageous over the years as they have come under attack. A number of RFA reporters have faced death threats over the years and have had to leave the country temporarily for safety.
Also in 2010, shortly after RFA reporter To Serey was acquitted of baseless disinformation charges, a new prosecutor moved in and announced he was “appealing” the verdict. In 2007, RFA reporter Lem Pichpisey and his family had to flee the country permanently for asylum in Norway. In 2005, a military officer driving an illegal logging truck attempted to run down RFA reporter Sok Ratha, but he managed to escape with minor injuries. Authorities never charged the officer.
Impact and Service Highlights
Despite these intimidations, RFA Khmer has managed to establish its credibility and draw ever larger audiences for its breaking news and compelling, in-depth stories. Since RFA began broadcasting on FM radio through affiliates such as Beehive Radio and the Women’s Media Center, it has become the most popular international broadcaster in Cambodia with more than 22 percent of the available audience listening on a weekly basis.
With RFA’s only bureau located within a target country and reporters stationed throughout the provinces, the Khmer Service has a vast reach. The bureau not only supports the work of the Washington-based staff and Khmer reporters in the Phnom Penh office, but also journalists from RFA’s Lao and Vietnamese language services.
In December 2009, RFA Khmer extensively covered the plight of Uyghur refugees who had been handed over to China by the Cambodian government. When the refugees were put on a Chinese plane in the middle of the night, one of RFA’s Phnom Penh-based reporters was the first and only journalist on the scene at the airport to cover the story.
Beginning in 1998, RFA Khmer service has provided listeners with extensive coverage of five nationwide elections – three for national office and two for communal office. The service arranged live debates with candidates and special call-in programs on the political platforms of all parties. Following the polls, RFA reported results and reactions, including condemnation from international election monitors regarding severe voting irregularities.
Since its inception, RFA Khmer has covered Cambodia’s tormented history, especially its devastation under the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. Working with noted historian David Chandler, RFA produced an extensive series on the Khmer Rouge in preparation for the trial of key leaders in the ECCC, or the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia. These specialized programs include over 200 segments focusing on the period and its lasting legacy for Cambodians. When the Khmer Rouge tribunal began, the Khmer service provided exhaustive coverage of the proceedings both on the radio and via live webcasts. This included the eagerly anticipated testimony of Khmer Rouge prison chief, Kaing Gek Eav, known also as Duch.
In 2007, RFA Khmer was the first news source to broadcast the Global Witness Report, “Cambodia’s Family Trees,” which documented how a “kleptocratic elite” with ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family was stripping the country of its wealth by illegal logging in Cambodian provinces. RFA reporter Lem Pichpisey who went into the Prey Lang forest to gather audio interviews and photos of one of the illegal operations, later had to flee the country because of resulting death threats. Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and The Committee to Protect Journalists have documented this case extensively.
RFA Khmer Programming
RFA Khmer’s wide diversity of news and cultural programming has made it the radio network of choice for Cambodian listeners and even many government officials, especially in Phnom Penh. The service launched its pioneering Friday call-in program from its Phnom Penh office in June 1999, which since then has grown from a taped 15-minute segment to a 45-minute live format. Topics discussed, as well as those reported on by the news service on any given day, include:
- China’s influence on Cambodia’s environment and economy;
- Wildlife and environmental conservation efforts of local communities;
- Violent police crackdowns on villagers protesting the loss of their homes and land;
- Drought and environmental degradation of the Mekong River;
- Working conditions in garment factories;
- A man fighting for justice in the courts after a military official pushed him off a train causing him to lose both legs;
- Widows and children who make their living scavenging at the Phnom Penh dump;
- Outbreaks of bird flu and other diseases;
- Efforts to revive Khmer culture after the devastation of the Khmer Rouge; and
- Corruption on all levels of society and government.
Taking advantage of the growing popularity of smart phones in Cambodia, the Khmer Service developed a version of its website adapted for use on mobile devices. Users of the iPhone can read news without having to set up special Khmer fonts to read the site’s content. The Khmer Service also has set up a news program for Android users on www.rfa.org/khmer.
Since RFA Khmer enabled comments on the website, visitors post dozens of comments daily in response to the stories and other content.
Leading the specialized on-line coverage of five nationwide elections, RFA Khmer’s online coverage included everything from voter education to live candidate debates.
From March to November 2009, the service ran special live broadcasting on its website from the courtroom of Khmer Rouge tribunal, making the public hearings of Cambodia’s difficult past available to its online audience. The Khmer service will continue its live webcasts when the court begins its hearing on the five top Khmer Rouge suspects by in 2011.
In early 2009, the Khmer service has changed from Khmer Smart to Khmer Unicode, a new font created for universal and standardizing use in reading Khmer news.
“I like listening to breaking news on Radio Free Asia … I firmly believe that if people spend some time listening to the news… it would really help them improve their understanding of real society, and they will become responsible citizens.” – Male listener, Phnom Penh, March 2010
“I trust Khmer RFA. … Because Khmer RFA is working for the Cambodian people in order to know the truth.” – Male listener, Phnom Penh, June 2008.
“RFA is my favorite radio since it is the main source of national news. Obviously, it covers deforestation, corruption, and land violation news. These issues, which domestic radio stations are frightened to broadcast, are vital to both me and my country.” – Male, 35, Phnom Penh, 2009
“RFA obtains news from the field with interviews and they broadcast factual, reliable, and clear events, whereas other [stations] do not.” – Male listener, 40, Kampong Cham
“RFA serves as a key to a room, which contains many items inside. It opens the door to show the public. It is special in that respect. It is so revealing.” – Male listener, 48, Kampong Cham, Village Chief, 2004
“As of now, there are hardly any social problems reported on pro-government radio stations, only RFA covers all that; without RFA, we wouldn’t know anything.” – Male, 57, Rattanakiri, education administrator, 2004
“I trust RFA because RFA broadcasts news that is important to the Cambodian people. I listen to local radio stations, but I turn to RFA to get accurate news or to confirm what I heard on local stations.” – Male listener, 40, social worker, 2007
“RFA is recognized by everyone, even by the government, as the primary source of news that is neutral and impartial and provides information from almost everywhere.” – Male listener, 29, public relations officer, 2008
“All reports are unbiased and fair; for instance, in the case of the police officer in Vernsai district, the correspondent interviewed the victim, army and civil society officers, and did not accuse any side of being right or wrong …” – Male, 25, bachelor’s degree, business operator
“The selection of programs broadcast addresses the listeners’ needs because RFA is neutral and it is different from some other media that are under political pressure from the current powerful party. Those media let people know or receive only information from one party. So spending time listening to a neutral radio program like RFA is a good thing to do, and this radio program is very popular at the moment.” – Male listener, 26, 2010
Awards and Recognition
In 2006, Khmer Service reporter Sok Ratha won the Broadcasting Board of Governors David W. Burke Distinguished Journalism Award for his exceptional and courageous reporting on Montagnard refugees. Sok found the refugees sick and starving in the remote forests of northeastern Cambodia where they had fled from persecution in Vietnam.
Sok was recognized for his groundbreaking reports from outlying regions of Cambodia, often filed at great risk to his own safety. In presenting the award, then-BBG Governor Ted Kaufman described Sok Ratha as a “uniquely dedicated journalist who has worked tirelessly to report the truth, even and especially those truths that powerful Cambodian interests would most like to hide—his commitment to his work is truly unflinching.”
“While this award specifically recognizes Sok Ratha for his courageous reporting from the remote Cambodian province of Rattanakiri, Sok Ratha has tirelessly lived up to the highest standards of journalism—leading by example, often at great risk to his own safety and security,” RFA President Libby Liu said.
Sok began working for Radio Free Asia during Cambodia’s 2003 national elections, as a temporary stringer based in Rattanakiri. He subsequently discovered Montagnard refugees—ethnic minority people from Vietnam—hiding in the thick jungle forests of Rattanakiri and the neighboring province of Mondulkiri. He was the first reporter to expose their plight, eventually drawing intervention by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Sok Ratha returned repeatedly to the malaria-infested jungles where the Montagnards had made camp, documenting their plight in photos and recorded interviews that made their existence impossible even for the Cambodian authorities to deny or ignore. A year after he began reporting on the Montagnards, Sok Ratha was arrested along with another reporter as they documented the travels of a new group of 17 Montagnards attempting to reach safe haven.
In 2005, Sok Ratha turned to covering other pressing issues in Rattanakiri such as illegal logging, judicial corruption, and land grabs. Last September, as he attempted to report on illegal logging involving military authorities, he was run down by a truck driven by a military official.
He was dragged 100 meters but escaped serious injury. He has declined several offers from RFA to relocate in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, choosing to remain with his family in Rattanakiri.
He was the first reporter to expose the plight of refugees in northern Cambodia, helping to bring international attention to the situation. This led to the eventual involvement of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the U.S. government.
In September, 2006 Sok received the Human Rights Award from Cambodian Human Rights Action Community in Phnom Penh.
On June 24, 2011, Uon Chhin, a RFA Khmer videographer, received a certificate of merit from LICADHO, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, for his strong commitment to truthfulness.
The certificate was for the work Uon had done during his radio and video reports on a clash over land dispute in Prey Touch commune, Kompong Speu province on June 9, 2011 during which about 200 villagers had a clash with 300 police. Villagers tried to protect their 65 hectares of land against the implementation of court decision that ruled in favor of Meng Ket, a Taiwan company. Villagers armed with sticks, axes, knives, swords, and slingshots battled against police armed with guns, shields, and electric batons. At least seven villagers and two policemen were injured in a five-minute clash.
His video report on the clash had the most page views among Khmer service videos, with over 20,000 views in the first three weeks it aired.
Recent News Events and Exclusive Stories
Campaign Against NGO Law Intensifies
The Cambodian government is considering the third draft of a controversial law designed to regulate nongovernmental organizations that has been criticized by NGOs and some donors as an an attempt to restrict freedom of association and speech as well as the growth of civil society.
Activist Monk Banned from Pagodas
RFA interviewed Loun Sovath, a prominent Cambodian environmental activist monk, who has been barred from entering pagodas in his home province after participating in protests against rain-forest destruction. A U.N. official told RFA that Buddhist authorities in Siem Reap province had confirmed the ban and said that it would be lifted only if the monk agreed to end public support for protesters and “confess his wrongdoings” to the official Buddhist Sangha Council. Loun Sovath told RFA he had done nothing wrong.
Hundreds Faint in Garment Factory
Throughout the month of August, there were reported incidents of mass faintings in three different garment factories in Cambodia. Most workers in these factories blamed the fainting on chemical substances in the manufacturing process and high temperatures in the workplace.
Loans Halted over Land Dispute
The World Bank has stopped providing loans to Cambodia until the Cambodia government finds a favorable solution to the problem of residents of Beng Kak who were evicted to make way for a Chinese-owned development project. Two days after the World Bank announcement, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared that he would set aside some land for “qualified” residents. A week later, the government cancelled the annual donor countries’ meeting, with the excuse that donors were facing a world economic crisis. The opposition party said that the government had failed to respond to the donors’ recommendations on major reforms.
Khmer Rouge Hearing on Accuseds’ Health Ends Without Result
RFA reported that the Extraordinary Chamber in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) held a three-day physical and mental fitness hearing to determine whether two accused persons in the Khmer Rouge trials—Ieng Thirith, former Minister of Social Affairs, and Nuon Chea, President of the National Assembly of Democratic Kampuchea (DK)—are fit to stand trial. On the second day of the hearing, Dr. John Campbell testified that Ieng Thirith suffers from dementia. He said she needs a psychiatrist for a further assessment. Dr. Campbell also testified to the court that Nuon Chea has no mental or memory problem, but that he was physically weak and unable to sit for long periods of time.
Miner Encroaches on Ancestral Lands
Ethnic minority villagers in eastern Cambodia are protesting over the operations of a Chinese mining company they say have intruded on their ancestral lands while exploring for bauxite deposits in the region.
The Cambodian service covered the preliminary Khmer Rouge hearing, which began on June 27. Four former top leaders of the Khmer Rouge Regime are on trial – Nuon Chea, the chief ideologue of the Khmer Rouge; former President Khieu Samphon; former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary; and his wife Ieng Thearith, former Social Affairs Minister.
Clash Over Eviction Plan
Police in Cambodia’s capital beat and detain residents seeking government intervention. Cambodian police clashed with 100 people demonstrating in the capital against their eviction in a land deal, leaving four injured and detaining eight, according to a representative of the protesters.
Reeling From Drought
RFA Khmer reported that the Sesan River in northeastern Cambodia has dried up this year. The river is vital to the livelihood of thousands of people who depend on the river as their source of protein and for water for their farms. Locals and conservationists describe the drying of the river as a man-made disaster caused by the construction of Chinese hydroelectric dams in the upper part of the Mekong tributary.
Poverty Makes Students Drop Out of School
RFA’s Cambodian service did a feature story about children living in a floating village in Tonle Sap, who cannot attend school if they don’t know how to swim. The school principal said that the school does not have the resources to teach or transport the children to and from school. He added that the children must have the ability to save themselves in case of an emergency, such as a severe storm. RFA reported that many children in the village have to drop out of school due to poverty only after a few years of primary education.
World Bank Asks Government to Stop Evictions
The Cambodian government signed a 99-year contract and lease with a Chinese company, Shukaku, to develop the land around Beoung Kak in the outskirts of Phnom Penh into a modern city. Many residents have been evicted without proper compensation. The World Bank urged the government to stop the forced evictions, but the government continued moving forward with the redevelopment plans. RFA reported that around 2,000 families refused to move off the land and held demonstrations in protest. The struggle attracted international attention, with people from India and the Philippines writing letters to the Chinese embassy to work with displaced residents. A Buddhist monk, who is also a human rights activist, took part in the protest and was rescued from police arrest by a U.N. human rights monitor. The monk was placed under the protection of the U.N. Human Rights Office in Phnom Penh.
Two Killed in Border Battle
The Cambodian service continued its coverage of Thai and Cambodian military skirmishes. Both countries’ governments claimed that soldiers and civilians were killed during the fighting. Cambodia took the case to the U.N. Security Council, claiming that Thailand had intended to invade Cambodia, had damaged the Preah Vihear Temple, and had destroyed many civilian homes. Cambodia demanded that the U.N. dispatch peace-keeping troops to the disputed border to create a buffer zone.
Observers to Enter Temple Fray
Recent border clashes between Cambodia and Thailand over a disputed 10th century border temple were featured in an RFA Khmer report in which experts analyzed the two countries’ military strength and weighed the outcome if politicians in Phnom Penh and Bangkok decide to launch an all-out war.
Graft Arrest ‘A Good Start’
The Cambodian nongovernmental groups have welcomed the arrest of a high-profile official on alleged bribery charges by the country’s new anti-corruption task force. However, they warn that “big fish” should not be spared in the drive to root out graft in one of the world’s most corrupt governments. Om Yin Tieng, the head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, announced that Top Chansereyvuth, the head prosecutor of Cambodia’s western Pursat province, had been arrested on charges of accepting U.S. $8,000 in bribes from illegal loggers.
Most Cambodian Youth Dislike Skills Training
RFA Khmer reported that educational experts predict a serious shortage in skilled labor and professionals in technology in Cambodia if there is no change in educational policy between 2015 and 2020.
World Food Program Staff Held for 6 Months in Prison
A Phnom Penh court sentenced United Nations World Food Program employee Seng Kunakar to six months in prison and fined him a million riel (U.S. $250) for distributing a message calling top government leaders “national traitors” for selling Khmer territory to Vietnam.
Hundreds Dead in Stampede
In one of Cambodia’s worst tragedies in recent years, about 353 people were killed in a stamped on a crowded bridge in Phnom Penh during an annual water festival. Most died after being crushed or drowned as hundreds of people rushed across a narrow bridge leading to an island in Phnom Penh, where celebrations were held to mark the close of the festival.
Monk Wins Conservation Award
RFA’s Cambodian service reported that the Monks Community Forest (MCF) in Oddar Meanchey, headed by the Venerable Bun Saluth, was selected by the U.N. Development Programme as one of 25 winners of the Equator Prize. The award recognizes outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. More than 300 communities from 99 countries competed this year for the honor of being an Equator Prize winner. The MCF, an 18,261 hectare stretch of evergreen forest in northwest Cambodia, was founded by monks of the Samraong Pagoda, who were given legal protection of the forest. To meet that goal, they have established patrol teams, demarcated forest boundaries, and raised environmental awareness among local communities.Their involvement has significantly reduced illegal logging activities in the area.
Human and Sex Trafficking in Cambodia
RFA highlighted a new documentary, called Red Light, which investigates the child sex industry in Cambodia. Nearly half of Cambodia’s 100,000 prostitutes are under the age of 16.
Rohingya Seek Cambodian Asylum
Khmer reported that 32 Burmese of the ethnic minority Rohingya are seeking asylum in Cambodia, having fled persecution in Burma. According to the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh, all the asylum-seekers have been interviewed by the Cambodian government, but their status has not been determined. RFA has played a leading role over the past two years in covering the plight of the Rohingya.
Five Trucks of Luxurious Wood Cross Border to Vietnam
RFA Khmer eported that illegal logging continues throughout the province. A local human rights organization worker said the loggers hide wood from legal authorities and move the lumber at night. The worker told RFA that local authorities are ineffective, and that people are afraid to report the activity for fear of reprisal.
Interview with Acid Attack Victim Tat Marina
Tat Marina, a former karaoke star and acid attack victim from 1999, had strong reactions after she heard that the Cambodian court had dropped her case. She said in tears that the justice process in Cambodia was just a show not for real. She said other victims have no way to see the real perpetrators would be brought before court. “I have never seen the perpetrators including the accomplice who beaten me up and pour the acid all over my body have been brought to justice and compensated me. My whole body was completely destroy, made me look like not even neither ghost nor human. Kids always cry and ran away when they see me. They think that I am a ghost,” Marina said.
RFA’s Cambodian service reported that angry villagers in Snuol, Kratie province district, had complained about a delay in resolving a land dispute. They had appealed to the government for help, but developers in the area continued to build. The villagers have told local NGO workers that since peaceful means do not seem to have an effect, they feel they may have to resort to violence. Similar situations are occurring throughout the country.
24 Khmer Krom people were arrested in Thailand
RFA reported that more than 40 ethnic Khmer Krom fled their home villages in Vietnam to Thailand to look for asylum, following reports of persecution. They were arrested by Thai authorities and deported to Cambodia on July 6.
Hundred metric cubes of luxurious wood smuggled to Vietnam
Local sources confirmed to RFA’s Cambodian service that hundreds of cubic meters of precious timber left Ratanakiri for Vietnam during the month of November. Local government authorities and people admit that illegal logging of precious wood blatantly continues every day, despite government efforts to curtail it. One government authority, on condition of anonymity, told RFA that about 100 cubic meters of illegally obtained lumber was transported from Seang Pang district to the provincial capital of Stung Treng. Hundreds of cubic meters of timber were also discovered about one kilometer from the Vietnamese border. Cambodian local authorities deny the reports but experts say that many of the profits from the illegal logging go to relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen and military officials closely tied to him.
Ratanakiri Villagers Sign petition for the Release of an Activist
On Sept. 7, RFA’s report ‘Villagers Demand Return of Rights Activist’ gave details of more than 500 villagers from five districts thumb-printing a petition the previous day demanding the return of ADHOC activist Pen Bonnar to the province after he had been transferred to Phnom Penh following incitement charges against him.
A Cambodian Man Shot Dead by Thai Soldiers While Crossing Border
A Khmer villager was shot and killed by Thai soldiers, according to a Khmer military source. The villager from Oddor Meanchey province was mistakenly on the Thai side of the border, looking for timber, when he was shot. On the same day, RFA reported that about 100 indigenous villagers resorted to violence to prevent local authorities from enforcing a law designed to stop the illegal gathering of wood in the area to export to Vietnam.
Interview with UN Special Envoy on Human Rights in Cambodia
In his first visit to Cambodia, U.N. Special Rapportuer for Human Rights in Cambodia, Mr. Surya Subedi gave an exclusive interview to RFA Senior Editor Jeevita on June 24, 2009 about the situation of freedom of expression in Cambodia.
Duch Denies Murder Accusations
RFA began gavel-to-gavel webcasts of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal along with extended radio coverage. During the proceedings, the head of the S-21 torture center, Duch, told the court that S-21 did not have authority to make an arrest, but was only responsible for keeping, interrogating and killing prisoners.
Khmer Rouge Trials
Radio Free Asia was well prepared when the long-delayed, U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge war crimes trials opened just outside Phnom Penh at the end of March. RFA’s Khmer service assigned three broadcasters to work full time on the trials, covering court proceedings, providing analysis, and gathering reactions from the Cambodian people.
On the Web, RFA Khmer posted two real-time video streams in both Khmer and English. RFA also created Khmer Rouge trial pages for the Web in both languages. The pages offered ongoing coverage and background information in video, text, audio, and graphic formats. Readers were offered Khmer Rouge history, information on other war crimes tribunals, links to additional resource centers, and an opportunity to comment on the RFA blogs. In addition, the DayLife’s website picked up RFA stories daily on the trials, including RFA’s live tweets.
Working with a senior Cambodian editor who oversaw the entire operation, a small tech team led worked almost 24 hours a day for several days in a row to overcome technical challenges at the site of the court proceedings. The senior editor and tech team had to negotiate with court officials for rights to stream the trial. The greatest challenge for the tech team then became one of matching up disparate pieces of hardware in order to achieve high-quality, live streaming.
RFA’s comprehensive coverage met a real need in Cambodia. Nearly 40 percent of Cambodians had no knowledge of the war crimes trials just weeks before they started, according to a survey released just weeks before the first public hearing began. Until recently, the Cambodian government had omitted all but the most cursory information about the Khmer Rouge killings from school textbooks. Many Cambodian young people have only the vaguest idea about that period in the 1970s, when as many as 2 million Cambodians died from execution, overwork, starvation, and disease.
Generals Aim To End Firefights
Cambodian and Thai troops clashed at Preah Vihear Temple and several are killed after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen says he’s been insulted by the Thai Foreign Minister’s “gangster” remark.
Vietnam Allows Ven. Tim Sakhorn to Hold Buddhist ceremony in Cambodia
RFA reported that Tim Sakhan, the former Abbot of Wat Phnom Den, was allowed to visit relatives in Phnom Den, Takeo in April, after being in a Vietnam prison for nearly two years for allegedly “damaging the relationship” between Vietnam and Cambodia. The former abbot was re-ordained in Phnom Penh on April 11, 2009. Later that same day, he fled to Thailand.
Trees in Oral National Park Are Threatened
RFA continued to cover illegal logging, reporting that protected forests in the area between Kompong Chhnang and Kompong Speu provinces are shrinking because loggers, local authorities, and forest rangers are in collusion with one another in illegal logging.
Phnom Penh Municipality Reacts to Criticism of Dey Kraham Evictions
RFA’s Cambodian service provided ongoing coverage of evictions ordered by the Phnom Penh Municipality and 7NG Company, which drew serious criticism from local and international organizations, including UN agencies. Evictees of Dey Kraharm, an area about 100 meters from the Cambodia’s National Assembly, demanded compensation from the developer, but were denied, and the Phnom Penh Municipality refused to help them. The evictions destroyed more than 100 houses, injured a dozen residents, sent five to the hospital with serious injuries and left some 152 families homeless. A few days later, Phnom Penh Municipality issued a statement dismissing NGO and UN condemnations for its “brutal” eviction of Dey Kraham slum residents. City officials said they had no reason to mistreat their own citizens, and they justified the action as a last resort, after several attempts to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement.
Top Generals Sacked
Prime Minister Hun Sen removed two top generals – four-star general Keo Kim Yan, the country army’s chief of staff, and three-star general Chhin Chanpor, country Deputy Chief of military police. Both generals are known to be closely affiliated with Chea Sim of a rival CPP faction.
Land Protests in Siem Reap
Siem Reap Provincial Court released Chikreng commune’s two representatives and a journalist in a land dispute when hundreds of villagers from the commune refused to return home after protesting for more than two weeks in front of the provincial courthouse. The villagers said court officials have broken their promise to release the three detainees, who were illegally arrested and jailed.
Soldiers At The Frontline
RFA’s Cambodian service reported that families of soldiers of Brigade 11, based in Kampot province, complained that hundreds of soldiers have not been paid for several months. The families are in dire financial straits. Senior officials from Brigade 11 had no comment when contacted by RFA, but activists who protect the rights of public servants and teachers charged that the late payments are the result of corruption and cheating. The wife of a Brigade 11 soldier, who represented hundreds of soldiers’ families, told RFA, “Before the election, salaries were paid twice for other solders, but not for the soldiers of this brigade. Everyone complains about having nothing to eat and having no money. It is now September and almost October; only June’s salaries have been paid.” She said that the unpaid soldiers do not dare protest because they are concerned about their safety and employment. Within a week of RFA’s reporting that soldiers were not being paid, families told RFA that all salaries had been paid in full.
The continuing dispute between Thailand and Cambodia about border location and ownership of the Preah Vihear and Ta Moan Thom temples was illustrated by three slideshows of images from our reporters:
Cambodian Poll Called Flawed
Following surge broadcasting to fully cover the national elections in Cambodia, RFA Khmer continued to report on the reaction to election results, which the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party won nearly 60 percent of the vote, but international monitors say the process was not transparent, and voting was “rigged.” Some 130 European Union monitors said that the CPP exerted overwhelming control of the media and removed an estimated 50,000 voters’ names from registration lists. Martin Callanan, who led the EU observers, said, “Ultimately, it’s up to the Cambodian people to accept or reject the results.” All four Cambodian opposition parties rejected the outcome and accused the ruling party of fraud. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called for new elections. On July 30, some 400 people protested outside the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters in Phnom Penh.
Food Crisis Impacts Southeast Asia
RFA Khmer reported on the impact of the world food crisis on Southeast Asian countries struggling to curb food prices as energy costs climb. Many governments have banned rice exports to safeguard supplies, but economists say restrictions only drive world prices higher. Hunger is reported in Cambodia where the poor are facing a crisis; poor families spend 70 percent of their income on food according to a World Bank April report. One example is the halt of the rice supplies for 450,000 Cambodian school children in March with Thai B-grade rice increasing to $1,000 per ton.
Rock Explosion in Kampot Affects Villagers’ Livelihood
RFA reporter To Serey reported on June 2nd from Phnom Penh that RFA Khmer that Chinese Hydro Power was blasting rocks from a mountain in Kampot province every day, causing 30 families nearby to live in great fear and with damage to their houses’ roofs. They can no longer plant rice and have to stay inside their houses to avoid rocks flying from the explosions. After RFA aired a story about the peoples’ concerns, the Chinese company was asked to suspend their blasting for a couple days, while they made up a schedule, posting times for the rocks explosions. Villagers called the reporter to thank him and RFA for making a positive impact on situation.
Two Sons of Ex-general Shoot Guns in Land Dispute
RFA’s Phnom Penh office broke an exclusive story concerning the involvement of two sons of former General Sin Song in a shooting over land in Sihanoukville. Two men were injured when the illegal weapon was discharged. RFA reported the story, even while many newspapers were silenced and did not print it, because of the connection to a senior government official. After RFA broke the story, several newspapers followed up. The Phnom Penh courts and authorities moved to arrest the shooters and others involved.
Cambodia Diary 7: The Making of a Mass Murderer
As the Khmer Rouge Trials began, RFA Executive Editor Dan Southerland provided insight into one defendant. Kang Kech Eav, widely known as Duch, was the first Khmer Rouge official to go on trial in Cambodia for crimes against humanity.
Khmer Rouge History Series
On June 11, 2007, Radio Free Asia’s Cambodian Service began airing “The Road to the Death Fields: The History of the Khmer Rouge”. This multi-part series (more than 50 installments) ran four days a week for four months. The complete series was a documentary on the rise of the Khmer Rouge, their four-year reign of terror, and the awful legacy of the Khmer Rouge that lives on today in Cambodia. The series included interviews with survivors of the brutal regime, former Khmer Rouge soldiers, and the one extensive broadcast interview done with Khmer Rouge
leader Pol Pot. RFA broadcast the series in order to provide the Cambodian people with a deeper knowledge of the facts of the period. The series received very positive listener feedback, including requests for a published compendium of pieces.
RFA’s Special Coverage of the 2007 Communal Elections in Cambodia
RFA’s Khmer Service expanded its broadcast time from two to three original hours a day during the Communal Elections in April 2007, following a programming format similar to the one it used successfully for the 2002 Communal Elections and the 2003 National Elections. The expanded coverage allowed RFA to provide information on the twelve political parties and their platforms; analysis; panel discussion; elections history and laws, and civic education.
While much has changed at RFA since we began in 1996, our mission has remained the same: to advance the principles of the fundamental right to the free-flow of information and the right to seek, receive, and impart information.
Please take a moment to explore this webpage where you can revisit important milestones, accomplishments, and moments from RFA’s early days to the present.
—Libby Liu, President of RFA
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