pardons exiled dissidents
(6 February 2006)
miracle: Honest rural health care (8 January 2006)
can't say that here
(3 November 2005)
'suffering land crisis'
(2 September 2005)
court jails Cambodian MP
(9 August 2005)
pardons exiled dissidents (6 February
Rainsy, the Cambodian opposition leader,
said Monday that he would return from
exile this week after winning a royal
pardon that appeared to be aimed at ending
his political battle with the government.
opposition leader and one of his top party
officials, a lawmaker named Cheam Channy,
were pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni on
Sunday after a surprise request from Prime
Minister Hun Sen.
am grateful to the king for granting me
this pardon. I am happy that my talk with
the government, especially Prime Minister
Hun Sen, has given this outcome," Sam
Rainsy said by telephone from France,
where has lived for the past year.
was sentenced to 18 months in prison in
December for defaming the prime minister
with accusations that he had orchestrated
a grenade attack and other violence
against the opposition party.
for his verbal assaults on the prime
minister, Sam Rainsy took an
uncharacteristically conciliatory stance
Monday, saying he sought dialogue with Hun
Sen's Cambodian People's Party.
want to be an effective and vibrant
opposition and the first thing to do"
is to establish "a dialogue with the
ruling party," Sam Rainsy said.
"The opposition cannot function and
there can be no democracy in Cambodia
without a dialogue between all political
week Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy exchanged
letters, with the opposition leader saying
he "regretted having acted improperly
against the prime minister" and
vowing to build a better relationship with
the ruling party.
reply, Hun Sen thanked Sam Rainsy for
recognizing his mistakes and said he hoped
he could soon return to Cambodia.
Rainsy fled to France after being stripped
of his parliamentary immunity, along with
the lawmakers Chea Poch and Cheam Channy.
Channy was released from prison Monday
after serving just over a year of a
seven-year sentence for fraud and trying
to topple the government. His sentence had
been handed down in proceedings the
international community dismissed as a
would like to thank the king and thank Hun
Sen for asking the king to pardon
me," he said.
Sen said Sam Rainsy and Cheam Channy would
have their parliamentary immunity
pardons capped a dramatic week in which
government lawyers said they would drop
defamation complaints against seven
high-profile activists who had criticized
Hun Sen over a controversial border pact
of the critics were arrested in a
crackdown on dissent that sparked
condemnation from rights groups and
diplomats who accused Hun Sen of using the
courts to crush his opponents.
opposition party has welcomed the prime
minister's peace overtures as a way of
avoiding a standoff.
is a very important step, that Cambodian
leaders work hand-in-hand to serve the
nation and the people," said Kong
Korm, acting director for the Sam Rainsy
Party. International Herald Tribune
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miracle: Honest rural health care (8
Sna had been in labor all night long. By
the 16th hour of contractions, she was in
trouble. The baby, her first, was not
coming out. And she was so exhausted and
in such pain she could barely speak.
mind churned with fear. In the Khmer
language, this most treacherous passage in
a woman's life - childbirth - is called
crossing the river. Her aunt had died
giving birth to a first child, who
perished in the womb. Sna wondered if she
and her baby, too, would drown before
reaching the other shore.
long ago, Sna would have had little choice
but to give birth at home, like her aunt,
and risk both her life and her baby's. But
on this morning, Sna's terrified husband
hired a pony cart and was able to take his
wife over a deeply rutted dirt road to a
small, no-frills public hospital.
childbirth is a miracle of nature, then
the thriving, honestly run network of
clinics and hospitals here is a human
marvel, managed not by the government but
by one of the nonprofit groups it has
hired to run entire public health
approach is catching on in a growing
number of poor countries around the world,
in Bangladesh and Afghanistan, in Congo
and Rwanda, in Bolivia and Guatemala,
reaching tens of millions of people.
contracted services have allowed
international donors and concerned
governments to cut through dysfunctional
bureaucracies, or work around them, and to
improve health care and efficiency at
in Cambodia, the nonprofit groups, all of
them international, are instilling
discipline and clarity of purpose in a
health care system enfeebled by
corruption, absenteeism and decades of war
and upheaval. They have introduced
incentives to draw Cambodia's own doctors
and nurses back into the system. Patients,
especially the poorest ones, have followed
the evidence is that this worked very well
in a situation where nothing much else
worked very well," said Shyam Bajpai,
the representative here for the Asian
Development Bank, which financed the
health care system is still recovering
from the traumas of the murderous reign of
the Khmer Rouge, which in the 1970s
singled out the educated for slaughter,
decimating the ranks of medical
professionals. Decades of war that drew to
a close only in 1998 destroyed hospitals
and deepened poverty.
international donors provide about
two-thirds of the public spending on
health and over the years have financed
the construction of hundreds of hospitals
and clinics. But money and buildings alone
were not enough to overcome a bureaucratic
culture afflicted by favoritism and
Health Ministry began testing the use of
contractors in 1999. Then, the main
hospital in the Pearaing district was a
crumbling shell. It had fallen so far into
disuse that termite mounds rose on the
broken tile floors and farm animals rooted
in the yard, chewing on mangy bits of
saw more cows than patients," said
Sopha Sum, a nurse then assigned to the
years after turning it over to Health Net
International, based in the Netherlands,
Pearaing's hospitals and clinics now see
thousands of patients a week. In just the
first nine months of 2005, more than half
the district's 200,000 people sought care.
the government and donors are spending
only $4 a year per person on health care
in the district.
five nongovernmental organizations running
parts of the health system - Health Net
and Save the Children Australia, among
them - are paid based on their performance
in improving services, like childhood
immunizations and the proportion of women
getting prenatal care and delivering
babies in a health center. With additional
support from Britain and the World Bank,
the government recently expanded the
approach to cover 1 in 10 Cambodians.
managed by the nongovernmental
organizations have been much more
successful in improving health services
than districts run by the government, a
World Bank study found, though both have
made progress. The study randomly assigned
districts to be managed by nonprofits, or
by the government, then measured results
through household surveys conducted in
1997 and 2003.
were fantastic improvements," said
Michael Kremer, a Harvard economist.
changes did not happen overnight. For
years, Dr. Fred Griffiths, the 54-year old
Pakistani who runs the Pearaing district
for Health Net, said most of his operating
budget from the Cambodian government was
siphoned away as it made its way through
layers of bureaucracy.
Chhorn, who then monitored the contracted
districts for the Health Ministry, said
officials simply took the money through
various corrupt practices.
least 40 percent of the budget just
disappears," said Chhorn, who now
works for a management consulting firm.
"And this is the best situation. In
the worst situation, almost all of it
said he found himself in the worst of
situations. "We screamed at workshops
and conferences, wherever there was a
forum," he said.
year, to his relief, the government began
transferring the funds directly from the
national treasury to the contractors,
bypassing potential layers of graft.
he said his toughest job was motivating
the staff. Griffiths realized he would
never get the system functioning unless he
could improve the health workers'
government paid poverty wages: $20 a month
to a doctor, $15 for a nurse. The staff
pocketed the paltry government salaries
and spent almost all their time operating
hospital in Snay Pol, a three-hour ride
from the capital, Phnom Penh, was like a
stolen car stripped of its parts.
Griffiths said the equipment had simply
disappeared, probably into the staff
members' private practices.
stethoscopes, speculums, obstetrical
instruments - all were missing.
decided to use part of his contracting
budget to supplement his staff's pay.
Pearaing also introduced small fees,
charging 25 cents to see a doctor and 75
cents for a day's stay at the hospital.
Net used the revenue to bolster the
staff's incomes, paying incentives for
punctuality and reaching targets to
immunize children, and generally
instilling a culture of accountability.
Despite grumbling, most of the staff gave
up their side jobs to work full-time and
provide 24-hour coverage. Nurses now earn
$60 to $200 a month depending on their
qualifications and performance, while
doctors make $200 to $250.
the district's fees are much lower than
those charged by the drug sellers, quacks
and government doctors who used to operate
private practices, peasants have flocked
to the public clinics and hospitals.
Health Net covers the hospital costs of
the poor, about 40 percent of the
patients, out of its contracting budget.
hospital under Health Net's management has
gradually won people's trust. Not least,
the district's newfound credibility, as
well as the 24-hour availability of
qualified midwives and doctors, has
transformed childbirth habits across this
far back as anyone can remember, the women
here in the village of Reap have depended
only on traditional birth attendants -
village women with no formal medical
training - to bring babies into the world.
But now more than half the women in the
district give birth in a health center,
compared with less than 10 percent in
our parents delivered at home," said
Sna's husband, Veasna Van. "Now,
nobody does. We believe the health care
center can save lives if there is a
birth attendant, Min Heng, 50, agreed.
"I have only my empty hands,"
Heng assisting at the clinic, the midwife
began to worry that Sna's labor had
reached a standstill and decided she
should be taken to the hospital in Snay
Pol, where surgeons and better equipment
gently picked up his wife and placed her
in a cart. Her face crumpled when yet
another contraction seized her belly.
the cart jounced through the emerald green
paddy fields along a road cratered by the
monsoons, Sna moaned, her husband rubbed
her lower back and Heng rested her hand on
half-hour later, they trotted up to the
maternity ward at the hospital. Sorny Kong
hustled into the birthing room. She
started Sna on a sugar drip to give her a
bit of a lift, got out the vacuum
extractor - operated with a foot pedal -
and attached the suction cup to the crown
of the baby's head.
half hour later, a healthy boy emerged
into the world. International Herald
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can't say that here (3 November 2005)
SEN, Cambodia's prime minister of the past
20 years, is not the sort to follow
outsiders' advice slavishly. The donors
who fund half the country's budget are
constantly wringing their hands about his
unfulfilled pledges of reform. But the
prime minister has picked up at least one
foreign habit of late: suing opposition
politicians and democracy activists for
libelï¿½a political tactic pioneered in
Singapore and recently adopted in
Hun Sen, his Cambodian People's Party, and
his royalist allies FUNCINPEC
are all suing Sam Rainsy, the
leader of the only opposition party in the
National Assembly, for accusing them of
corruption and other misdeeds. Another
member of parliament for the Sam Rainsy
Party (its real name) is charged with
libelling Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the
leader of FUNCINPEC.
The head of the prime minister's bodyguard
has sued two more of the party's MPs,
including Mr Sam Rainsy's wife, for
defamation. A fifth MP
is already in jail, convicted of
fomenting a rebellion. Mr Sam Rainsy fled
the country in February, as his
parliamentary immunity was removed.
campaign against criticism is now
spreading beyond the National Assembly. In
October Mr Hun Sen accused the owner of
the only independent radio station, the
heads of three unions and a critical
member of the royal family of
misrepresenting a border treaty he
recently signed with Vietnam. ï¿½I have
been patient for too long,ï¿½ said the
prime minister, explaining his sudden
Cambodian politicians and pundits are
prone to intemperate declarations laced
with wild allegations. But the prime
minister himself is the chief offender: in
the same speech, he accused various royals
of betraying the nation, implied that the
army chief was insubordinate and announced
to anyone contemplating a coup, ï¿½You do
it, you die.ï¿½
of the current cases look quite flimsy,
yet the treatment of the suspects has been
harsh. The radio-station owner, for
example, is being sued not for anything he
himself said, but for allegations made by
someone he interviewed. Yet he is being
held without bail, and charged not under
the civil code or the press law, but under
the tougher criminal code. Samoura Tiulong,
Mr Sam Rainsy's wife, did nothing more
objectionable than translate into English
a witness's account of an assassination
attempt on her husband.
politicians argue that the courts are
biased in the government's favour. For no
apparent reason, a military rather than a
civilian court heard the case against
Cheam Channy, the MP accused
of rebellion, with predictable results.
Meanwhile, the opposition's various
lawsuits against different officials have
been brusquely dismissed. Local NGOs,
western diplomats and the United Nations'
point man on human rights in Cambodia
agree that there is little hope of a fair
trial in any of the libel suits.
wonder, then, that several of the accused
have fled the country. Mr Sam Rainsy is
refusing to return until his parliamentary
immunity is restored. In fact, after the
most recent round of arrests, several NGO
leaders who were not facing any
lawsuits also took flight, just in case.
That must suit the government fine: its
most persistent critics have gone to
argue that the crackdown follows a
pattern. During elections, when Cambodia
is briefly under international scrutiny,
the prime minister allows his critics to
speak their mind. Between polls, he
undermines civil liberties, prevents his
opponents from organising, and makes an
example of a few of the most outspoken.
Still, things could be worse. Some people
bleakly claim to see a shred of progress
in the lawsuit fad: at least mysterious
assailants seem to have stopped murdering
the government's critics. The Economist
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'suffering land crisis' (2 September 2005)
is a major land crisis in Cambodia, a
leading United Nations human rights
official has said.
special rapporteur on adequate housing,
Miloon Kothari, spent the past two weeks
travelling around Cambodia.
said that rich and powerful interests were
grabbing land, leaving thousands of people
the past year land deals have been an
increasing source of controversy, but this
is the first time they have gained
UN official has been to several disputed
sites. They include a village in Poipet
near the Thai border where five people
died during forced evictions, and a river
island in Phnom Penh, whose inhabitants
are under pressure to sell up to a
Kothari is particularly concerned about
the practice of land swaps. In recent
months, dozens of publicly owned
facilities have been given to private
companies for redevelopment without any
companies are supposed to build new public
facilities and housing in return, but Mr
Kothari said they were using poor land
which did not have access to electricity
or running water, and thousands of
families had been displaced. He is asking
for more transparency in the government's
is a frenzy now across the country by the
rich and powerful in Cambodia to acquire
land. I think the donor communities and
the UN agencies need to be much more
outspoken. What I find missing here is a
sense of outrage that should be
there," he said.
Prime Minister, Hun Sen, announced a
moratorium on land swaps at the beginning
of June, but deals are still coming to
week, the interior ministry announced that
part of Phnom Penh's royal palace had been
given to a property developer. BBC News
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court jails Cambodian MP (9 Aug 05)
military court in Cambodia has sentenced an
opposition MP to seven years in jail for
trying to form a group to overthrow the
Channy, a senior member of the Sam Rainsy
Party, had denied the charges against him.
was arrested in February after being
stripped of his parliamentary immunity.
other party members - leader Sam Rainsy and
MP Chea Poch - were also stripped of their
immunity in February and immediately left
rights activists have strongly criticised
Cheam Channy's trial, seeing it as a move by
the government to stifle political dissent.
Ney Thol announced on Tuesday that Cheam
Channy had been found guilty of "trying
to build up covert forces".
main objective was to collect military
intelligence and cause damage to the
existing government's military," the
Channy was also found guilty of soliciting
money in return for positions of authority
within the rebel group he is said to have
verdict is completely unfair to me,"
Cheam Channy is reported to have said as he
was led off to jail.
Piseth, another member of the Sam Rainsy
Party, was convicted in absentia and
sentenced to five years in jail.
New-York based group Human Rights Watch also
condemned the verdicts.
trial was a complete sham," said Brad
Adams, the group's Asia director. "Once
again, Cambodia's politicised judiciary has
been used as a tool to silence the
to the Associated Press before the verdict,
Sam Rainsy said the charges against Cheam
Channy were "politically
said they were being used by Prime Minister
Hun Sen's ruling party "to crack down -
through a corrupt and politicised court - on
its challenger at the next general
Rainsy himself faces three lawsuits charging
him of defamation and slander, which stem
from his claims that the government plotted
to kill its political rivals, and that
coalition partner Prince Ranariddh took
bribes to join the government.
fled to Paris earlier this year after he,
too, was stripped of parliamentary immunity.
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