Sounding on Cambodia, April 11, 2011

I’ve started a new practice here on Imagining the Real World.  I’ve always used the “Sounding” tag to indicate a group of links to other internet-materials that are associated with each other by a particular subject matter: Cambodia, Buddhism, The Academy, Religious Studies, etc., etc.

However, starting today, I’m going to assign specific days of the week to specific topics.  While some will come and go for the current period, Mondays will be my chance to Sound Off on links related to Cambodian Topics, Wednesday will look at Buddhism, and Friday will look at Religious Studies.

So, what’s on tap for the first thusly-organized Sounding on Cambodia?: Khmer Martial Arts (Bradal Serey), Expats and Global Apartheid, the online publication of sections of the Astrological Yearbook for the Khmer New Year (comin’ up, comin’ up!), a new website on Khmer Manuscripts (huzzah!), Border conflict with Thailand, Draft Laws on NGOs and Unions, and the implosion of the Sam Rainsy Party.

Continue reading


The Wet-Season Offensive at Preah Vihear?

I’ve written a fair bit on this blog about Preah Vihear, including perhaps especially this post here, which discusses a famous ritual performed at the site by Bun Rany Hun Sen, the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen. That ritual, the Krong Pali ritual, immediately brought accusations in Thailand that the Khmer were (typically) practicing ‘black magic’ against the Thais.

The dry season is over, so it’s out of season for the current hubbub over the ownership of Preah Vihear; these have thus far largely corresponded to the traditional military dry season offensives, which is an interesting aspect of the mobilizations themselves.  The current kerfuffle, rather, is based on a different calendar altogether, the calendar of opportunism within Thailand.

AFP PhotoHaving routed the Red Shirts, and with the Thai government hunting them down in ways that smack of Thaksin’s extrajudicial killings during his notorious ‘war on drugs,’ the Yellow Shirts (PAD and allies within the military and government) having again taken up the popular irredentist banner of nationalism. They definitively lost the last round, and Preah Vihear temple was properly listed as a World Heritage Site, under Cambodian authority.  This round is really about the administration plan for Preah Vihear, which the PAD insist be delayed until all land disputes on the border are resolved. Which, of course, they will never let happen.  Should disputes appear resolved, they’ll just head to the border again and cause more violence with the relatively amicable Thai and Khmer on the border, as they did last time. Continue reading


Chea Mony Receives Death Threats For Protest

I was public last week that I think independent unions should focus on economic issues and worker organization, rather than involving themselves in questions of national sovereignty. Regardless of how I feel about such strategic issues, this is disgusting: Chea Mony, President of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the FTUWKC, has started receiving death threats.

Death Threatening Email Toward Chea Mony

Free Trade Union President CHea Mony claimed to have received a death threat by e-mail on Monday after leading a small demonstration Sunday against the Thai troop presence in the dispute area near Preah Vihear temple.

The e-mail, which threatens Chea Mony with death unless he joins the ruling party, was sent from the address, and its anonymous author claimed to be a union activist as well as an employee of the Interior Ministry.

“If you join the CPP, you can find [assassination former FTU leader] Chea Vichea’s killers, but if you join the SRP, everything will be the same,” said the e-mail “I don’t advise you which way to walk, but you need to have some powerful people behind you to protect your security, otherwise [people] will follow to assassinate you.” Chea Mony said he isn’t putting too much stock in the e-mail. “I am not concerned about my security. I feel normal, “he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak questioned the letter’s authenticity and denied that any ministry officials were involved. “Chea Mony is not an important person. This is not a threat,” he said.

From the Cambodia Daily by Yun Samean, 21-08-2008

FTU President Chea Mony Received Death Threat E-Mail

FTU President Chea Mony received a death threat letter by email on Monday 18, August 2008 at 4:15 PM after riot police cracked down his rally on Sunday 17, August 2008 for a small peaceful demonstration against the Thai presence in the dispute area near Preah Vihear Temple and Ta Moan Thom Temple.

An anonymous e-mail accused Chea Mony joined with the Human Right Party who led by Kim Sokha and warned that the rally of both Rong Chhun and Chea Mony against Thai troop invasion was wrong.

The unknown author e-mail which was received on August 18, 2008 at 4:15 PM meaning both threatening and pity when the big political parties such as Sam Rainsy Party and Cambodian People Party have been functioning in the society, Chea Mony did not join with these two parties but Human Right Party which the e-mail claimed that this party has relationship to an opposition party in Thailand.

The e-mail also threaten that all documents or e-mails have been followed up and controlled and all his activities have been hunted by police.

Chea Mony rejected that he did not have any relation to any political party and he also did not file a complaint to authorities to the author of this threatening letter.

“I don’t involve in Kim Sokha’ s party at all. The author uses me to get something else done. I don’t involve in Kim Sokha, I don’t involve in People Party, I don’t involve in opposition party at all so I ignore all political parties but this is another politics of one who want to kill me, he just told me this party, that party to assassinate me then answer that this party murder that party”

Cambodian Independent Teacher Association President Rong Chhun who led with Chea Mony on Sunday rally said that”We know that at the end there is the threatening to Chea Mony’s insecurity…..all the points in the letter worry us via e-mail.”

Until today, Chea Mony does not file any complaint to the authorities because he loses confidence in the inefficient, corrupted and dependent judiciary system related to this anonymous author of this letter.

“I don’t file a complaint because none impartial investigation have been made or any suspects have been arrested in many high profile assassination over years including Ven. Som Bunthoeun, Funcinpec official Oam Rathsady, Apsara dancer Piset Pilika, FTU leader Chea Vichea, Ros Sovannret, Yim Ry, Hy Vuthy, popular singer Touch Sonich, Pov Pahnapich,Funcinpec Radio Journalist Chour Chetharith, Radio Ek Mongkul, opposition journalist Thun Bunly, Phnom Penh judge Soksetha Moni, as well as the recent murder of an opposition journalist Khem Sambo and his son who were shot in July ahead of national election, all have gone unsolved…they are death with injustice.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak told Kampuchea Thmey Daily that he didn’t receive any complaint from Mr. Chea Mony at all just to be aware of this information via journalist who interviewed him. He said that if Mr. Chea Mony files a complaint or not, it’s his right, no one force him and perhaps he thinks that he can responsible for himself.

“Chea Mony’ s accusation for another reason that I believe that this kind of accusation is an purpose that Chea Mony wants and let’s see this image….he might get escape to the third country or other place then claims that seeking threatening asylum “ added Khieu Sopheak “It just serves benefit Chea Mony wants…..don’t need to care at all.”

Labor Leader Receives Threat After Rally

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
21 August 2008

A labor leader received a threatening letter Wednesday, following demonstrations over the weekend by workers upset by the ongoing Preah Vihear standoff.

Chea Mony, who became the president of the Free Trade Union after the murder of his brother, Chea Vichea, in 2004, said he received a threatening letter by e-mail, asking to join the ruling Cambodian People’s Party or live in insecurity.

“They threatened me, wanting me to join the CPP and Human Rights Party,” Chea Mony said Wednesday.

Chea Mony led a demonstration of several hundred workers on Sunday to protest troop deployments at Preah Vihear temple, but authorities broke up the rally.

He had not filed a complaint with authorities, Chea Mony, said, because he had no faith in their ability to protect him.

Chea Vichea was gunned down in broad daylight, and two men widely believed to be innocent are serving 20-year sentences for the murder.

No suspects have ever been arrested in a number of high-profile murders over the years, including union leaders Ven Som Bunthoeun and Ros Sovannaret, Funcincpec official Oam Rathsady and film star Piseth Pilika.

The murder of an opposition journalist, Khim Sambor, who was shot in July ahead of national elections, has so far gone unsolved.

Ministry of Interior spokesman said it was Chea Vichea’s right whether to file a complaint, but he said the police have “tried our best” to arrest suspects in the murders.

Chan Saveth, a rights investigator for Adhoc, said the authorities should take the threat seriously.

“If it’s true, we are concerned about the safety of Mr. Chea Mony,” Chan Saveth said.


Ta Moan Thom (and Touch) – Which Side of the Border?

That’s not a serious question – they are both clearly on the Cambodian side of the border. But it is a question you can expect from the immensely silly Nation newspaper in Thailand, and other crazy nationalist folks. (See here for a nicely-worded rebuttal to a Nation editorial from Ambassador to Cambodia Julio Jeldres.)

In spite of news reports that all military personnel on both sides had withdrawn from the devastated Ta Moan Thom temple….”they’re ba-ack!” Thai troops have re-entered the temple compound, constructed gates, are refusing to allow entry to Cambodian troops, and are reportedly constructing new border markers which move the border onto the Cambodian side of the temple.

Cambodia, of course, rejects the Thai claims to ownership, but aren’t (probably can’t) propose anything more forceful.

At this point, it is very clear that neither side has a plan. They are making it up as they go along, wriggling for a slightly better position, like 14-year-old boys clinched in a sublimated homoerotic wrestling contest in the school’s playyard.

The difference is that these guys have guns. (Actually, if you live in the US as I do, that is very likely not a difference).


Ta Moan Thom, Touch, and of course, Preah Vihear – 8.8.08

Sheesh. The back and forth reporting makes me wish I could parachute in (like most but not all western journos do with Cambodia) and see what was actually happening, maybe talk to a few people.

We hear that troops have been withdrawn from Prasat Ta Moan Thom, that they haven’t, they they are taking turns, and that nothing has changed.

What is really happening?

Meanwhile, the Cambodian military has started digging trenches near the Preah Vihear site, a sign that they are planning on settling in for a longer stretch than anyone really wants.

Also? This photo rocks. [Ganked from the PPP site]


The Latest on Preah Vihear and Prasat Ta Moan Thom 1.2

The border conflict over the Preah Vihear temple has started to spread, like a cancer that is metastasizing. New nodes pop up, and those who wish to see the whole thing just go away are likely to be disappointed. Instead, border conflicts – the raison d’être and proof of the nation – state’s value in an era when domestic prosperity is declining or nowhere to be found – are likely to merely continue. Can I make a rash prediction? The cancer will go into remission sometime in the next 6 weeks, but will re-emerge within 3 years.

As I mentioned the other day, Cambodia has accused the Thai military of invading more Cambodian territory, this time at Prasat Ta Moan Thom, the name of which translates to The Larger Temple of Grandfather Chicken. (Plea for help – I am assuming that Ta Moan is a neak ta, but I’m not familiar with him – anyone want to enlighten us?) Vittorio Roveda’s astonishingly wonderful book on Angkorean temples, Images of the Gods, has this to say about the temple, but no explanation of the name:

Ta Muen Thom [Thai transliteration]
11th Century

The temple…was built along the ancient road passing through the Dangrek Range to unite Angkor with Phimai. It is some 35km south of Prakhorn Chai and a few metres from the present-day Thai-Cambodian border. The Khmer Rouge during the 1980s and heavy pillaging since have contributed to its almost total destruction. The main tower… was erected on a sandstone outcrop whose form was suggestive of a linga…. Little remains of the decorative elements. The best patterns at the base of the north side of the central sanctuary were probably carved during the second half of the 12th century, along with dvarapalas and devatas…. On one lintel, the figure sits on a kala with his hands in the yogasana position, perhaps a protective deity, although looking like a Buddha.

A number of sculptural elements, particularly lintels, have been moved to museums for safety and restoration. (p. 466)

It remains unclear to me exactly what is going on here. The temple is very clearly inside of Cambodian territory (check out an image from google maps here); I’m not confused about that. What I am confused about is which side is stirring the turd here, as my great aunt might have said. The Cambodian government claims that the Thai military has just now invaded the temple, while the Thai side claims that it has had military stationed there for many years. Either way, asking them to leave seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag has made what also seems to be a reasonable proposal – allow the military to negotiate withdrawal from the Preah Vihear temple. Why is this reasonable? Because the military is not the main provocateur here – the PAD is. The soldiers are getting along pretty well, considering that their jobs are to intimidate the hell out of each other until things get hot enough that they have to start shooting.

Meanwhile, AlisoninCambodia has posted a picture of the outside of the Thai Embassy in Cambodia, in which the sidewalk is covered with police and fire trucks. If the 2003 riots against Thai business interests were effected with the connivance of the government, that doesn’t appear to be in the cards this time.

Mongkol has posted about the cyber-nationalists whose conversations are, for the most part, either tedious or hilarious, depending on how altered you are when you read them. He gets quoted in the Phnom Penh Post (which has just gone daily. But no rss feed yet, which means I won’t follow it as closely as I’d like – get on that, folks!).

update: moments after posting this, word came across the wires (I suppose that should be intertubes) that Thai troops and Cambodian troops have all returned to their original positions, withdrawing from their near-engagement at the Larger and Smaller Grandfather Chicken temples (Prasat Ta Moan Thom and Prasat Ta Moan Touch). [AFP, via DAS]


Larger Grandfather Chicken Temple, Successful Black Magic, and other stupidities

It can be hard to follow the ongoing stupidities along the border. It can be even harder when you are committed to something you think of as ‘fairness,’ and one side of the conflict acts consistently stupider than the other – reporting on it accurately can give the impression of a lack of fairness, even when you struggle to be fair. But that is the situation we face when writing about the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia over temples and territory.

Basically, Thailand’s nationalist PAD groups, unopposed by the government (which has begun to scrape its forehead in obeisance and fear, and the knees of which must be chafing by now), keep screwing up. They have made absolute asses of themselves by complaining about the jurisdiction over Temple Preah Vihear, invaded the surrounding land in protest of the former situation, and are now in a different temple on the border.

That temple, Prasat Ta Moan Thom – whose name means The Larger Grandfather Chicken Temple – was ravaged by guerrilla forces – “Khmer Rouge” – during the civil wars, looted by the same (selling the artifacts to Thai dealers), and is now occupied by apparently about 70 Thai soldiers. Andy Brouwer has a nice introduction to the temple and its conflict, prior to this latest.

Meanwhile, the Thai – who are proving themselves possibly more superstitious than the Cambodians, if anything, are starting to worry that a Thai soldier’s ‘mysterious death’ is attributable to the “Black Magic Ritual” recently performed by Bun Rany Hun Sen at Preah Vihear recently. Lordy. Special to the Thai military: start digging trenches immediately upon occupying territory in the rainforest – mosquito-borne illness suck, man.

Come on, people! Get it together! It the meantime, here are some of the better links on the issues.

  • “Cambodia, Thailand, in standoff over second temple” [link]
  • “Thais accused over new temple row” [bbc]
  • “Thai troops ‘occupy second temple'” [al jazeera]
  • “Border dispute widens” [das]
  • “Thailand afraid of Bun Rany’s black magic” [das]
  • “Thai soldier dies mysteriously” [das]