Are the Khmer Rouge trials closer to becoming more than an joke with no punch line? Perhaps.

Thursday saw the beginning of a two-week meeting of the Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) … the official website is here … that is supposed to resolve all remaining disputes between Cambodian and International jurists on how the tribunal will be run.

Once the internal rules are settled, investigations can begin. Not to say that they WILL begin, but that it will then be possible. Investigators are to be sworn in on the 13th.

I, for one, will be amazed if they actually manage to accomplish anything … amazed, impressed and very happy to eat my cynicism. This being a UN gig, I so have my doubts about it being more than an exercise in keeping people employed.

And speaking of the UN …

UN special representative of the secretary-general, Yash Ghai, made a return trip to Cambodia this week, surprisingly.

Although he welcomed legal reforms in the country and expressed hope that there are more to come addressing unjust court actions and human rights violations, he criticized a recent decision of the Appeal Court to uphold convictions for the murder of a trade union leader, “despite strong exculpatory evidence and ‘fundamentally flawed’ proceedings.

“The upholding of these sentences is a grave injustice and the Special Representative reiterates his calls for a thorough, impartial and credible investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea, and for the prosecution of those responsible,” he said in a statement.

He was apparently pleased with the way the commune council elections were conducted, but voiced concern over continuing intimidation of worker’s movement leaders.

Only Deputy PM Sar Kheng would meet with him during the visit. No one else was ‘available’ to see him.

Cambodia’s Human Rights Committee Chairman has rejected Amnesty International’s Annual Report that alleges the Cambodian government doesn’t respect human rights, evicts residents from their land, won’t pass an anti-corruption law, and obstructs the process of the courts.

In a statement I can’t figure out at all, the Chairman said, “If they said we chased Cambodian people out of Phnom Penh and they love Cambodian nation, we as Cambodians love it a thousand times more than they do.”

Huh?

And the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development is announcing support for a $11.5 million project aimed at helping rural poor.

Saying this is the agencies first targeting of the poor, ethnic, rural population … really? … the “Rural Livelihoods Improvement Project” is supposed to do something … haven’t heard what yet … with 22,600 households in Kratie, Preah Vihear and Ratanakiri provinces.

Bringing is cash, the tourist trade saw a 20% jump in the first four months of this year over the same period in 2006. (2006 drew 1.7 million tourists, generating $10.5 million)

This bump in the biz is attributed in part to new routes between Cambodia, Viet Nam and Thailand, with a 70% increase in Vietnamese tourists.

Here’s a story I don’t get:

A recent survey by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) showed that a tobacco control policy will receive enormous support in Cambodia …

Hmmmm. A country that can’t manage much in the way of reform and where very close to anything goes is reported to be gung-ho about an “immediate ban” on cigarette advertising.

Please. Can’t we deal with adoption issues first?

And here’s something to keep an eye on; a group of South Korean companies is saying it will be spending somewhere around $2 billion to build a whole new city on 119 hectares on the northern edge of Phnom Penh.

Oh my.

Yes, folks, Cambodia is booming, and total bursting at the seams isn’t far off.

A side effect? Possibly evictions, as detailed by the NGO LICADHO.

Borei Keila, located opposite the Bak Tuok High School in central Phnom Penh in Veal Vong commune of 7 Makara district, covers 14.12 hectares of land and it is divided into 10 communities. It houses at least 1,776 families —including 515 families who are house renters and 86 families who reportedly have HIV/AIDS. Villagers first settled on the land, the site of a former police training facility, in 1992.

In early 2003, in the lead up to the July 2003 general election, a “land-sharing” arrangement was proposed for Borei Keila, which would allow a private company to develop part of the area for its own commercial purposes while providing alternative housing to the residents there. The idea was hailed because, rather than the villagers being evicted, they would be compensated for the loss of their land by being given apartments in new buildings to be constructed on part of the site.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, however. Read the story for a lot of details.

And China’s big-four steel companies are preparing to start operations in Cambodia at a comcession with 200,000,000 tons estimated as iron ore reserves.

And, of course, stories about new golf courses are become a regular feature of Cambodian news.

Under the plan, the golf course will cover an area of 120ha with half each to be located in Viet Nam and Cambodia. The golf course will consist of a park, 18 hole-course, hotels, restaurants, and tax free shops.

Progress? Schmogress!

The British government is handing out radios to members of the Khmer Cham, Cambodia’s Muslim community, in an effort to give them access to Cham-language programs.

The British Embassy in Phnom Penh claimed in a statement, “The program helps to engage the Muslim community throughout Cambodia and works to promote peace, democracy, human rights, and combat terrorism.”

Bernard Krisher, formerly of “Newsweek”, is raising money to build more than 300 small schools in rural Cambodia.

A school can be built for as little as $13,000 from a private donor, which is then matched by about $20,000 by one of the two international aid organizations. Schools built on land donated by a village include three to six classrooms, desks and chairs. Fully constructed schools are given to the village.

Follow the link for more info.

A tragic story of love and death, this article about a Cambodian widow and her young American husband who died in a fall while hiking, and about her struggle to be allowed to come to America, has a familiar theme.

Here’s a nice little piece about Cambodian classical dance and a group of dancers who fled the KR and kept Apsara alive.

A history like Cambodia does give the country an edge in somethings, and no shortage of contestants for wheelchair races could be one.

They’re preparing for competition next year in Beijing under banners that read: You don’t need legs to run like the wind.”

Sandra Hanks Benoiton writes on International Adoption and adopting as an Older Parent for Adoption.com, and on everything under the sun on Paradise Preoccupied from her sun-drenched veranda on the island of Mahé in the Indian Ocean.

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