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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 2004 year in review

2004 year in review

Scholars of Cambodian history ridicule an 'open letter to compatriots' written by

former Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan. While admitting that the revolution was

a disaster for the country, Samphan attempts to clear himself of any crimes committed

during the era.

Police evict 45 families from a slum community behind the Inter-Continental Hotel

on Jan 9. The day before, a fire broke out in the settlement after a violent clash

with police. Observers from the United Nations raise concerns that the forced eviction

violated human rights covenants to which Cambodia is a signatory.

Chea Vichea, outspoken trade unionist and Sam Rainsy Party supporter, is gunned down

while reading a newspaper near Wat Lanka in Phnom Penh on Jan 22. A week later, police

arrest two men in connection with the shooting, but in a dramatic press conference

the suspects claim they are innocent and were beaten by police to force their confession.

Cambodia's first reported case of avian flu virus in commercial chicken flocks is

confirmed Jan 23. As Ministry of Agriculture officials move to contain the outbreak,

representatives from ten Asian countries meet in Thailand and resolve to strengthen

collaboration measures to halt further spread of the virus.

British movie star Minnie Driver arrives in Cambodia on Jan 31 for an eight-day tour

promoting the rights of female garment factory workers. The tour is in support of

Oxfam International's Make Trade Fair Campaign. Driver says that after seeing the

conditions of factory workers in Cambodia, she now intends to remain closely involved

with the issue.

FEBRUARY

Government officials and telecommunications industry insiders accuse Mobitel of blocking

calls from competing carriers to create network congestion and drive customers away

from their competitors. Mobitel, Cambodia's largest mobile phone operator, denies

the claims, saying the problem is with the government owned transmission link which

connects calls between networks.

The details of a confidential agreement between Indochine Insurance and the Ministry

of the Economy and Finance are leaked and published Feb 10. The report states that

Indochine had been granted a six-month grace period to meet the terms of its commercial

licence, despite the company's failure to make a $550,000 annual payment toward a

$7 million capital investment deposit that acts as a guarantee of solvency. Indochine

says the details are inaccurate and that the leak highlights the unpredictable nature

of the Cambodian business environment.

The Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority proclaim the capital's treated tap water safe

to drink despite the widespread public perception that it is not. Officials say that

while the water is drinkable as it leaves the plant, pipes and household bulk storage

tanks can make it susceptible to bacterial contamination.

The National Police release figures showing that road deaths in Cambodia have almost

doubled in the last three years. Cambodia now has the highest rate of traffic casualties

of all ASEAN nations, with fatalities occurring in 12 percent of accidents. In 2003,

824 people were killed on the roads and 6,329 were injured.

The U.S. decides on Feb 27 to continue the use of "smart" antipersonnel

landmines, triggering an explosive reaction from human rights and anti-landmine groups

worldwide. The so-called "smart" landmines are designed to automatically

disarm after a set time. The US claims the policy finds a balance between minimizing

humanitarian risks from landmines and meeting the country's military defensive requirements.

MARCH

Prime Minister Hun Sen's nephew Nim Sophea, 22, is sent to prison for 18 months on

involuntary manslaughter charges. Sophea was involved in the shooting of three people

with an AK-47 assault rifle in central Phnom Penh in October 2003. His little-known

accomplice, Sam Doeun, is sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison.

Australian Federal Police seek the help of their Phnom Penh counterparts in the hunt

for James McCabe, an allegedly corrupt Australian policeman. McCabe worked in Cambodia

infiltrating Asian drug networks and is believed to be hiding out with a local girlfriend.

He is wanted for questioning by the Police Integrity Commission in Australia.

Cambodia's ACLEDA bank re-badges itself as a full commercial and retail banking operation.

The bank, which started out as a non-governmental organisation to provide microfinance

to the poor in 1993, says the transformation to a profit-seeking company resulted

from sustained healthy performance under good management.

APRIL

A team of mapping specialists headed by Chrouk Kim Veng discovers the remains of

an ancient highway crossing the upper part of what is now the Tonle Sap lake. The

exceptionally low level of water in the lake this year enabled the adventurers to

go in search of the 5,000-year-old road.

Cyclo riders battle against rough roads and searing heat to compete in the first

ever Great Cyclo Rally of Cambodia, from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. The four-day event

covered 340 kilometers and was sponsored by the World Health Organisation to promote

awareness of the health risks associated with smoking tobacco.

Chan Sarun, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, floats the idea

of arming forestry officials and allowing them to keep half of any money obtained

during crackdowns on illegal logging as a "reward". Tan Sokhum, the Forestry

Project Officer with NGO Forum describes the incentive-based plan as a "very,

very bad idea."

The Phnom Penh Municipal court convicts Matt Reed, Editor-In-Chief of the Cambodia

Daily of publishing defamatory and inaccurate information, April 8, imposing total

costs of 15 million riel ($3,750). The charge arose from a report which inaccurately

stated that Svay Sitha, an undersecretary of state to the Council of Ministers was

"a former advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen." The article concerned an

acid attack against Svay Sitha's alleged mistress, stating that Sitha's wife was

the chief suspect.

A four-ton Asiatic bull elephant that had been raiding villages and farms around

Sre Ambrel, Koh Kong province, is captured by conservation NGO WildAid on April 8.

Sambat, as the locals called the elephant, had already foiled numerous attempts to

catch him and was spared the wrath of angry villagers who were threatening to kill

it.

Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Safarullah Khan Jamali arrives in Phnom Pehn April 27

for a two-day visit to boost relations between the countries. Jamali signed off on

a $10 million loan to Cambodia and made agreements with Hun Sen to jointly combat

trans-national crime and terrorism and promote investment.

The Raffles Hotel sacks 97 striking workers in Phnom Penh in April and 190 workers

in Siem Reap in May. The hotel had failed to settle a lingering disagreement over

the payment of a ten percent service charge. A non-binding decision by the Arbitration

Council rules in favor of the workers being reinstated and receiving back pay, but

is rejected by the hotel, causing continued strike action.

MAY

French archaeologists unearth a 5,000-year-old human skeleton buried in the Western

Baray of Angkor Wat. Some experts say the discovery may confirm the existence of

a

major pre-Angkorian civilization. Christophe Pottier, the French archaeologist in

charge, believes the remains of an ancient city may be uncovered by further excavation.

French authorities announce they are willing to provide 4.5 million euros ($6 million)

to finance the renovation of Phnom Penh's Central Market - Psar Thmei - one of the

city's most famous landmarks. The faded but still iconic Central Market is said to

have been the biggest market in Asia at the time of its construction in 1936 by the

French.

Cambodian Muslims begin returning home from Thailand's troubled southern provinces

after what they say is a Bangkok-ordered crackdown on students seeking religious

education. The students claim Thai authorities have closed schools and raided mosques

in Yala and Pattani provinces in response to cross-border insurgencies by Islamic

militants from Malaysia.

Cambodian pop singer Meng Keopichda launches a court action against the Samey Thmey

magazine for publishing what she says is defamatory information. The article concerned

an alleged "love triangle" between Meng Keopichda, Deputy Municipal Police

Chief Moung Khim, and his wife.

Forestry activists slam the first quarterly report on illegal logging released by

Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS), the government's newly-appointed forest crime

auditor. Operating with a severely restrictive monitoring mandate, the SGS report

is criticized by Global Witness' Mike Davis for failing to expose the role of high-ranking

officials in illegal logging.

A blueprint to manage and develop the fishing sector of the Tonle Sap Lake is dismissed

as a "thinly veiled investment program" by a development analyst. The draft

five-year General Fisheries Plan was financed by the Asian Development Bank and proposed

building a commercial fishing harbor near Siem Reap.

Garment factory union leader Ros Sovannareth is shot dead on the afternoon of May

7 on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard while driving home on a motorbike. While police say

the motive for the assassination is unclear, international union leader Noriyuki

Suzuki says the killing is an "overt threat to the trade union movement."

JUNE

An agreement is reached between the Cambodian People's Party and Funcinpec to form

a new coalition government, breaking an 11-month political deadlock. The two parties

agree to expand the cabinet to 332 seats, making it one of the largest governments

in the world. The June 26 deal allows the necessary two-thirds majority to be formed

and spells the end for the Alliance of Democrats formed between Funcinpec and the

Sam Rainsy Party.

Cambodia's leading religious figure and head of the Mohanikay Buddhist order, Tep

Vong, orders at least 50 monks to leave Phnom Penh's Wat Ounalom and return to pagodas

in their home provinces. Vong was concerned about a repeat of the chaotic events

of 1998, in which monks protesting election irregularities became involved in violent

clashes with police.

For the first time, Cambodia joins the international community in observing the World

Day Against Child Labor on June 12. The small but symbolic breakthrough is seen as

bringing Cambodia a step closer to ratifying the 1999 UN Convention on the Worst

Forms of Child Labor.

JULY

Chea Sim, acting head of state, makes a dramatic exit from the country July 13, escorted

to the airport by National Police Chief Hok Lundy, after allegedly refusing to sign

off on the formation of the new coalition government. Nhiek Bun Chhay, former second

deputy president of the Senate signs the constitutional amendment allowing a show-of-hands

"package vote" to elect a new cabinet with Hun Sen as Prime Minister. Questions

are raised about the constitutionality of the process.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party boycotts the National Assembly's first sitting July

15. Hun Sen accuses 41 members of the opposition of forming a rebel militia aimed

at overthrowing him. Some of the SRP members confess, but Amnesty International casts

serious doubts over the legitimacy of the confessions.

Australian academic Milton Osbourne warns that 20 years of Chinese dam construction

for hydropower has greatly affected millions of families along the Mekong River's

shores. Fish stocks in the Tonle Sap and Lower Mekong Basin drop 50 percent from

last year. The Mekong River Commission announces the river's levels are among the

lowest in 20 years.

Former Khmer Rouge commander Tea Sarim dies after being struck by lightning in Kampot

province. Sarim led a 1994 attack on a train that resulted in the kidnapping and

execution of three western backpackers and 13 Cambodians.

The United Nations estimates 300 Montagnards are hiding in the remote jungle of Ratanakkiri

and Mondulkiri provinces, near the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. The ethnic hill tribes

fled their villages in the coffee-producing central highlands of Vietnam after violent

unrest erupted in April. Members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees

arrive in the northeast July 15 to assess asylum claims.

Prime Minister Hun Sen presents a Medal of Sahametrei (gold medal) to Hunter Weiler,

program director of Cambodia's Cat Action Treasury, for exceptional contributions

to wildlife conservation and forestry sector reform since 1998.

Six years ahead of schedule, Cambodia becomes the first country to reach the 2010

United Nations goal of treating 75 percent of school children for intestinal parasites.

AUGUST

The World Bank releases a 10-year review on the Cambodian economy, August 12. It

calls on the government to accelerate private sector investment, export-oriented

manufacturing and agro-business, or face continuing economic struggles.

Pressure mounts on the government to convene the Throne Council to allow King Norodom

Sihanouk to abdicate. Hun Sen objects to abdication as Article 7 of the constitution

states the role of head of state is for life.

Sixty Sam Rainsy Party members defect to Funcinpec. The royalist party leader Norodom

Ranariddh welcomes them on August 24. Concerns are raised on job availability, but

Ranariddh assures the defectors that 90 percent of them will find new positions,

mainly as secretaries or under-secretaries of state.

Mu Sokhua, former minister for Women's and Veteran's Affairs, defects from Funcinpec

to the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, August 25. She was left out of the coalition

lineup July 15, but says, rather than being dumped, she turned down her old position

due to growing disappointment with Funcinpec.

Radio Australia begins 24-hour English-language broadcast in Phnom Penh. Listeners

tune to 101.5 FM for news, current affairs and radio features.

Investigations uncover government involvement in a $2 million rice fraud. The United

Nations World

Food Program's Food For Work scheme was designed to provide rice to rural areas,

but between January 2003 and April 2004, an estimated 4,000 metric tons of rice was

intercepted and sold for cash.

The National Assembly approves Cambodia's accession to the World Trade Organisation

(WTO), August 31. Approved by the Senate a week later, a host of new laws are rushed

in to comply with international trading standards. Economists cite widespread reform

to the business environment as the greatest potential benefit from WTO membership.

SEPTEMBER

Prime Minister Hun Sen and Funcinpec leader Norodom Ranariddh visit King Sihanouk

in Beijing to present a law on the Throne Council, enabling King Sihanouk to abdicate

the throne. His successor will be chosen by majority vote of the council's nine members.

Seven North Korean asylum seekers are arrested September 5. The Cambodian government

is put under pressure to abide by international refugee laws. This conflicts with

their traditionally close relationship with North Korea. The government later sent

the asylum seekers to South Korea.

New international airports are marked for Siem Reap and Poipet. Increased tourist

numbers in Siem Reap, and Poipet's gambling trade have seen the growing demand for

international air traffic to the areas. An estimated $184 million in investment is

needed for the Siem Reap project. Two sites are being assessed, in Sot Nikum and

Chi Kheng districts.

Japan remains Cambodia's biggest foreign aid provider. Prime Minister Hun Sen and

Japanese Ambassador Takahashi Fumiaki raise champagne glasses September 9 to a $40

million loan, most of which is funding the expansion of Sihanoukville Port.

The Council of Ministers passes a draft conscription bill. If passed, Cambodian citizens

between 18 and 30 would complete a compulsory 18 months of military service. The

draft bill is passed on to the National Assembly to ratify.

Phnom Penh hosts the 25th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization meeting, September

16. A host of draft resolutions are passed. The price tag for the meeting came to

$1.2 million. Observers question the value of the AIPO meeting.

Prince Norodom Sihamoni leaves his job in Paris as Cambodia's cultural ambassador

and returns to Phnom Penh September 27. Sihamoni, a former ballet dancer, returns

on the request of his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, to assist with dance performances

set to the King's own compositions. Speculation increases that Sihamoni will succeed

his father as King.

OCTOBER

King Norordom Sihanouk sends a letter from Beijing to top religious and political

leaders announcing his retirement October 6. Confusion surrounds when he will return

to Phnom Penh. Prime Minister Hun Sen and Funcinpec president Norodom Ranariddh publicly

endorse Prince Norodom Sihamoni as the heir apparent.

Former King Norodom Sihanouk, Queen Norodom Monineath, and newly-appointed King Norodom

Sihamoni arrive in Phnom Penh from Beijing October 20. An estimated 100,000 people

line the nine-kilometer route from the airport to the Royal Palace to greet them.

Insurance company Indochine goes into liquidation October 22. Managing director Philippe

Lenain and his family take refuge in the French Embassy after threats from employees

who are waiting to be paid. Indochine was unable to meet a Ministry of Economy and

Finance demand for a $550,000 solvency guarantee.

King Norodom Sihamoni is crowned the new king in a spectacular three-day coronation

ceremony that ended October 29. During the ceremony, King Sihamoni is ritually bathed

by his parents and religious leaders and carried through the royal gardens atop a

golden palanquin. The new king promises to be a faithful and devoted servant to his

people.

United States Senate Appropriations Committee proposes to halt financial support

for the Khmer Rouge tribunal. They cite corruption and the absence of the rule of

law as the reasons for their fiscal restraint. Australia is the only country so far

to come forward with donations (US$2.2 million) for the tribunal.

New Minister of Tourism Lay Prohas introduces the concept of a night market for tourists

in Phnom Penh, run by NGOs. The revenue would be distributed through welfare and

rehabilitation programs for the disadvantaged.

NOVEMBER

Australian bank ANZ signs an agreement with Cambodia's Royal Group on November 1,

to open branches in Cambodia. The $18 million venture will open 20 offices, as well

as install 100 automatic teller machines (ATMs) and 1,000 debit machines over the

next five years. Business is set to begin mid-2005.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy attends court November 5 for questioning about defamation

charges filed against him by Funcinpec leader Norodom Ranariddh. Rainsy alleged Ranariddh

received a $30 million payoff from Prime Minister Hun Sen to form the coalition government

in July 2003.

Cambodia's HIV/AIDS infection rate drops from 2.6 percent of the population infected

in 2002, to 2 percent in 2003. The Ministry of Health says the significant decrease

results from growing public awareness.

The US District Court sentences former US adoption facilitator Lauryn Galindo to

18 months imprisonment November 19. She pleads guilty to visa fraud and money laundering

of approximately $8 million. Galindo matched a total of 700 Cambodian children to

adoptive US parents from January 1997 to December 2001.

The first Indian-ASEAN car rally begins in India November 22 and ends in Indonesia

December 11. The 8,000-kilometer rally course travels along 635 kilometers of Cambodian

roads from December 4 to 6. Three Cambodian teams compete.

Remnants from Typhoon Muifa cause challenging conditions for the annual Water Festival

boat races, November 25-27. More than 40 dragon boats sink, but no casualties are

reported. An estimated one million visitors come to Phnom Penh to enjoy the boat

races and fireworks.

DECEMBER

Freedom of expression reigns on December 6 when marchers take to the streets in the

first government-approved street demonstration since the anti-Thai riots of January

2003. Police watch carefully for 35 banned banners protesting previous cases of government

suppression. After intense negotiation with authorities the banners are briefly unfurled.

There are strong words of warning from international donors to the Cambodian government

at the annual Consultative Group meeting, December 6 to 7. The donors pledge $504

million in aid for 2005, but on the condition some concrete reforms are made. Areas

benchmarked include: anti-corruption legislation, prosecuting of key corruption cases,

passing penal and civil codes, passing domestic violence and anti-trafficking laws,

and an increased expenditure on education.

Police arrest seven suspected pimps and detain 83 female staff allegedto be sex workers

at the Chai Hour II Hotel in Phnom Penh, December 7. The women are housed in NGO

Afesip's shelter for the night, but are freed when a mob counter-raids the shelter

the next day. The government suspends Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection

Department General Un Sokunthea and her deputy December 13, causing international

criticism. Afesip calls for an independent investigation into the counter-raid.

Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly fires Hong Tha, the head of the Ministry of Finance's

Tax Department, at a seminar on good governance, December 14. Hun Sen asks Tha to

stand up, and in front of the nation's ministers and governors, fires him for his

inability to control his subordinates. The move is part of Hun Sen's "war on

corruption".

Cambodia's new television drama Taste of Life debuts December 16 on TV5. The BBC

project trained the all-Cambodian production team to bring the country its first

homegrown soap opera. It focuses on the lives of Kampuchea Nursing School students,

with strong messages of health-related issues, particularly HIV/AIDS.

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