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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The year in review - 2002

The year in review - 2002


Pha Thanchan, 65, one of only seven people believed to have survive the Khmer

Rouge's notorious genocide prison S-21, dies in a Phnom Penh hospital on December

29. His death leaves just two known victims of S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng, alive.


The government's self-imposed deadline of December 31, 2001 to solve the country's

border disputes comes and goes with no agreement reached. The Students' Movement

for Democracy claims Thai and Vietnamese soldiers shift border markers further into

Cambodia every few months.

The National Election Committee (NEC) comes under fire for vetoing the proposed

public telecast of the Kingdom's first candidate debates during the commune elections.

The NEC says the debates would have to be representative of the whole country to

be broadcast on television or radio.

After a year of controversy, the government, the private sector, the IMF and World

Bank reach a compromise on the details of an investment law on January 15. The agreement

paves the way for release of the $15 million structural adjustment credit.

Fisheries Office head Mom Seng warns that the fish harvest is only half of the

previous year, due to a combination of unusual weather conditions and illegal fishing

inside breeding zones. Fish accounts for around two-thirds of the population's protein


Commune election campaigning begins January 18, coinciding with a human rights

report urging the international community to pressure the government to stop political

killings and intimidation. HRW lists 15 political killings of candidates and activists

from the SRP and Funcinpec, as well as 250 cases of intimidation and threats.

Tourist numbers jump 25 percent over the previous year, to almost half a million.

The Ministry of Tourism says it is aiming for one million visitors to "keep

the industry focused".


February's local elections: 'Free and fair enough,' said Hun Sen.

The commune elections on February 3 are dubbed the country's first step towards

a grassroots democracy, despite widespread allegations of vote-buying. The ruling

Cambodian People's Party (CPP) hammers both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP),

winning all but a handful of the 1,621 commune chief seats on offer. Funcinpec enters

a period of introspection and insecurity that lasts the rest of the year.

The NEC criticizes eight news organizations for unbalanced reporting of the commune

elections. Comfrel disagreed with NEC findings, citing a major pro-CPP bias in the


One result of the commune elections is the low number of women appointed to commune

council positions, despite lofty promises by the three major parties. In May 2001

the parties said 30 percent would be women, but only half that number made it on

to the lists of candidates. Final figures reveal only 5 percent of council members

are women.

The government stops issuing adoption documentation to US families to prevent

a backlog of cases developing. The US ceased issuing visas to children adopted from

Cambodia in December after more than three months of controversy that saw seven people

charged with adoption-related trafficking offenses.

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts says vendors selling pirated video CDs will

be prosecuted as of May. Why? To stop the decline in Khmer culture caused by pirating,

and no less importantly, to ensure the country can join the World Trade Organization

(WTO). The result? Nothing much changes at the city's markets.

Five years of discussions between the United Nations and the government ends when

the UN announces February 8 that it has quit the proposed Khmer Rouge tribunal. The

UN's chief legal counsel, Hans Corell, says disagreement over whether Cambodian law

or the Memorandum of Understanding should take precedence meant the UN was at risk

of being sucked into a biased process. The government is disappointed.

Ke Pok, a senior KR commander implicated in the deaths of tens of thousands, dies

on February 15 on his way back from medical treatment in Thailand, and is buried

in Anlong Veng. Pok was believed by experts to be a prime candidate to stand trial

if and when a KR tribunal took place.

Ta Mok, a former senior KR military commander, has his pre-trial jail term extended

by another three years on February 22. Mok was in jail charged with genocide; his

extension is justified, the government says, by now charging him with crimes against

humanity. The same thing happens to Duch, the former head of S-21, two months later.

Demining celebrates its tenth anniversary on February 24 as NGOs and government

officials go to Battambang, the most heavily mined province. The government says

it will take at least another ten years before the mines are gone.

Investors use the February 28 government-private sector forum to push for lower

private sector taxation and an end to smuggling. That should help reverse ever-lower

levels of foreign direct investment, which dropped to $218 million in 2001, and further

still in 2002.


Tuol Sleng's skull map removed.

Human rights NGO Licadho labels as unfair the February 28 trial of 20 people accused

of belonging to the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters. Observers say defendants

lacked access to lawyers and adequate medical care. The trial breached the Constitution

and international conventions on the rights of suspects. Most went to jail for lengthy

terms anyway.

The Cambodian Institute of Human Rights is investigated for fraud and misuse of

funds by international auditors PwC. Senior staff accuse each other of theft, donors

are unimpressed, and the NGO later announces it will close.

Tuol Sleng's skull map is dismantled in a Buddhist ceremony on March 10. The map

was made of the skulls and bones of KR victims, which reportedly prompted King Norodom

Sihanouk to state that it was "like hanging people twice".

The UN tells foreign governments on March 12 to talk to Phnom Penh if they want

to see a KR tribunal. Kofi Annan says that Hun Sen "must change his position

and attitude". His comments come after foreign governments criticize the UN

for pulling out of the process.

A senior official at the aviation authority voices concerns over safety and finances

after two new carriers, Mekong Airlines and Cambodia Air, are granted operating licenses.

The official alleges "political interference from the top". If there was

any, it doesn't help Mekong - its inaugural flight is canceled after it fails to

get the proper paperwork in time. By the end of the year, neither operator has appeared

on the radar.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh mirrors his father's flair for film-making by sending

his own feature film Raja Borei, a love story laden with cultural overtones, to a

Malaysian film festival on March 20.

Funcinpec's co-Minister of Interior, You Hokry, is asked to quit and save face

at the party's annual congress on March 21. Many in the party turn against Hokry,

accusing him of nepotism, corruption, and ignoring the plight of the former resistance

fighters. The result is months of discord played out in the press, further damaging

the royalist party.

The United States formally requests on March 26 that 1,000 Vietnamese Montagnard

refugees in northeast Cambodia be allowed to resettle in the US. The refugees fled

Vietnam's Central Highlands after being pushed out by land-grabs and discrimination

February 2001. They are finally transported to Phnom Penh from their camps on April



A new $8 million bridge linking Koh Kong and Thailand is opened by Hun Sen on

April 4, and should lead to an increase in trade.

Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee offers the services of a judge to assist at a KR

trial if the UN remains outside the process. His visit on April 9 is the first by

an Indian premier since Nehru in 1954.

After the US government ceased issuing visas to children adopted from Cambodia

in December, a stream of adoptive parents and their infants flow through the US Embassy

on April 10 and 11.

Forty-five adoptions are approved after a joint effort ensures the children weren't


A study between the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the World Health Organization

finds 10 percent of drugs sold in-country are counterfeit. In response, traditional

healers extol the virtues and value of traditional medicines.

The world's second-largest tobacco company, British American Tobacco (BAT), comes

under fire for recommending a potent pesticide, Endosulfan, to contract tobacco growers,

but failing to offer protective gear. An Indian study on the pesticide, which is

banned in ten countries, linked aerial spraying to nervous system disorders, mental

disorders, cancers and genetic mutations. The company denies it is negligent.

A Bangkok Airways flight landing in Phnom Penh on April 22 narrowly avoids hitting

a pick-up truck that is chasing dogs next to the runway. The incident follows a warning

from an aviation expert just over a year earlier that the situation was "literally

one in which we are just waiting for an accident to happen".

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy announces he will sue in an overseas court the Canadian

company Cintec Group, whose subsidiary was awarded the capital's garbage collection

contract. Rainsy alleges corruption in the dealings of Cintri, which becomes the

third foreign company to be taken to overseas courts by Rainsy.


Two policemen identified as the killers of Funcinpec commune council candidate

Thon Phally on November 14, 2001, are acquitted on May 3. Three others are convicted,

two in absentia, by the Kampong Cham court. The UN says the decision sets a bad precedent

for the 2003 general election.

Buddhist monks are encouraged to give up smoking after it is revealed smoking-related

illnesses are the leading cause of death among Thai monks. At the International Workshop

on Buddhism and Tobacco Control held May 7-9, monks are told they will get good karma

if they lead by example in educating Buddhists to stop smoking.

The country's shipping registry, Cambodian Shipping Corporation (CSC), runs into

flak from international maritime bodies over its 'flag of convenience' (FOC) status.

The government later announces the Funcinpec-linked business will be taken over,

after a series of embarrassing incidents.

Micro-finance - the practice of lending small sums to the poorest - comes under fire

after a Senate hearing condemns the high interest rates involved. Several NGOs defend

their annual interest rates of up to 60 percent, a practice one observer describes

as 'criminal'.

Funcinpec's prospects for the general election take a further dip on May 20 as

Prince Norodom Chakrapong, half-brother of Funcinpec's leader Ranariddh, announces

the formation of a new party, the Chakrapong Khmer Spirit Party. He says former resistance

fighters will vote for him.

Two years after a warrant was issued, former KR commander Sam Bith is arrested

on May 22. He is accused of involvement in a train attack in 1994 during which 13

Cambodians were killed, and three Western backpackers were kidnapped and later murdered.

After months of trying to keep his job, co-Minister of Interior You Hokry announces

May 23 he will "step down" to avoid being fired from both his post and

Funcinpec. Stepping down, he says, is not the same as resigning. He ends up keeping

his job anyway.


A year of floods and drought - shoring up defenses in Kg Cham.

In a lightly-veiled warning to Funcinpec, Prime Minister Hun Sen warns political

parties on June 5 to refrain from using the armed forces to settle any internal disputes.

To do so, he says, would spark an "immediate reaction".


In a State Department report released June 5, Washington warns aid sanctions could

be imposed if Phnom Penh does not make progress in combating human trafficking by

June 2003. Cambodia got the lowest possible rating.

NGOs meet on June 11 to discuss lowering the cost of AIDS drugs. The Post determines

that anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) imported from Thailand and India are being sold

on the streets of Phnom Penh for up to eight times the amount they retail for in

their countries of manufacture.

The SRP says it will strengthen its structure at the grassroots level by establishing

more village councils. The party states at its June 15 meeting that it has enough

money to contest the 2003 election.

Logging firm GAT is thrown out on June 19 after it is caught illegally felling trees

in breach of a moratorium instituted in January.

Hun Sen urges donors June 20 to take a broad view of the country's progress at

the annual donor meeting. The Consultative Group (CG) hears from government and donor

representatives on issues including legal reform and governance. The government requests

$1.45 billion in development assistance over three years, and gets $635 million pledged

for 2003.

Fourteen trafficked Vietnamese girls, rescued by police in a raid on a city brothel

in May, are arrested for illegal immigration on June 20. One government minister

and several NGOs are outraged.

Agriculture officials say a genetically engineered variety of cotton is being

grown here. It was being tested in trials in Kampong Cham and is resistant to bollworm.

The government concludes that GMO controls must be enforced.

Around 200 monks follow the coffin of Wat Lanka's 86-year-old senior monk, Sin

Khim, through Phnom Penh two days before his cremation on June 30.


SRP lawmakers produce a draft law to regulate the Throne Council, the body that

will select the successor to the King. A senior palace insider says the King is worried

that the monarchy could be replaced with a republic if the law is not put in place.

The traditional doctors' association asks the MoH to crack down on people advertising

'miracle' cures for AIDS, lung cancer and liver disease. The new AIDS law approved

in June bans false ad claims.

A city orphanage removes wooden cages in which three disabled children and one adult

were being held. It follows a threat by the World Food Programme to suspend food

deliveries to the orphanage.

A French government agency study shows 70 percent of babies born to HIV-positive

mothers in Cambodia do not contract the HIV virus if both mother and newborn child

are given the drug nevirapine. Although mothers were then warned about the risks

of breast-feeding as a possible way of passing on the virus, 10 percent decide to

breastfeed anyway either for personal or financial reasons.

A July 2 workshop held to debate reform of the NEC runs into problems after the

CPP representative suggests that no political parties be represented on the body.

On July 12 Hun Sen tells the interior ministry to draft changes to the election law.

NEC board members will be selected from politically independent candidates, dignitaries

and popular people.

An Italian man is found guilty of pedophilia at the Phnom Penh municipal court

on July 16 and sentenced to ten years in jail. Alain Berruti,30, rejects the sentence,

but admits he had sexual relations with boys under 15.

The chairman of the Cambodian Shipping Corporation (CSC), Khek Sakara, is questioned

by the government on July 17 after a Cambodian-flagged ship is found laden with cocaine

off the west African coast in late June. The registry was accused of being one of

the world's worst Flag of Convenience (FOC) states.

A national census initiates the registration of immigrants. Human rights groups

express concern over the potential for abuse, as politicians have in the past used

racism against ethnic Vietnamese to win votes.

A preliminary investigation into the murky world of forestry royalties shows that

the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) allowed years of unpaid

royalties to be illegally 'offset' against expenditure incurred. At least $3 million

was involved.

Use of illegally imported pesticides nearly doubles over two years. Agriculture

officials and pesticides experts say they are worried at the trend, and warn that

new ways are needed to reduce damage to human health and the environment.

The National Assembly approves a new forestry law on July 30, despite strong criticisms

from some MPs and forestry observers.


Late rains don't do much to alleviate the country's drought situation, particularly

in the south and south-east. MAFF figures show rice planted is only 32 percent of

the norm. Conditions cause hundreds of farmers to seek food in Phnom Penh, and the

ministry warns up to one million people could suffer severe food shortages.

Education officials meet Sok An, Minister for the Council of Ministers, on August

1 to discuss a law to regulate a body that will accredit higher education institutions.

It comes after complaints that the sector is dangerously unaccountable.

Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara says he will "rescue poor people" by

removing all homeless families, drug addicts and street children from city streets

before ASEAN's summit in early November. He aims to send people to their home provinces

with transport and food, or give them land outside the city. The plan is abandoned

the following month after what he describes as "a bad reaction".

Funcinpec and the SRP call off their boycott of the National Assembly on August

14. The decision comes after their members paralyzed the legislative body over discontent

with NEC reforms.

Three people with UNHCR 'persons of concern' status are illegally deported. A

Vietnamese monk belonging to an outlawed Buddhist sect is handed back to Hanoi, and

a Chinese couple, practitioners of Falun Gong, are sent back to China.

The UN indicates on August 22 that it is ready to restart talks on the trial of

former KR leaders. Despite the apparent progress, differences between the UN and

the government remain. Hun Sen calls for other countries to become involved.

A leading economist warns on August 28 that outstanding debts to the World Bank

and Asian Development Bank (ADB) total over $500 million, and foreign debt could

become a dangerous burden if more care is not taken.


Eighteen people die and more than a million are affected by flooding along the

Mekong River.

Funcinpec members worry about the party's chances in the July 2003 election after

the National Assembly rejects the nomination of deputy army head Khan Savoeun to

replace You Hokry as co-Minister of Interior.

The MoH issues a prakas on September 2 authorizing health centers and hospitals

to perform abortions, five years after it was made legal.

Two former KR commanders receive life sentences for the abduction and killing

of three backpackers in 1994. The Supreme Court confirms on September 4 the life

term meted out to Nuon Paet. Chhouk Rin is sentenced by the Appeal Court two days

later, but lodges a further appeal.

Senior CPP officials say many members want the party to abandon its coalition

with Funcinpec if it wins a two-thirds majority in next year's general election.

An international prize for excellence in river management is awarded to the Mekong

River Commission. The move draws strong criticism from regional and international

NGOs which say the MRC is not managing the river effectively.

Results from a government survey on HIV show the AIDS epidemic has moved from

brothels to the home. More deaths and improved intervention meant the number infected

dropped to 157,000.


King Norodom Sihanouk reportedly threatens to abdicate while in Beijing receiving

medical attention. The move is apparently related to the impasse surrounding the

lack of a law to regulate the Throne Council. On his return to the country on October

11, the King neither confirms nor denies the reports.

Three opposition parties threaten demonstrations if the government does not reorganize

the NEC. The SRP and two new parties are critical of the selection process for the

five nominees. Three of the nominees are linked to the CPP, and two to Funcinpec.

Hun Sen tells the second national AIDS conference on October 2 that the country

needs anti-retroviral drugs, and says tackling the disease must become a national

priority. He predicts 230,000 people will die without access to the medicines.

More US families are allowed to adopt Cambodian children in a bid to assist those

who missed out with the US government's decision to ban adoptions. The ban was put

in place after mounting evidence of baby trafficking.

The head of the anti-smuggling office, Sar Theng, fears for his life after an

operation to seize smuggled luxury vehicles in September results in a stand-off between

police, customs officials and armed men guarding the cars.

A multi-billion dollar plan to make Kampong Chhnang a high-tech regional air cargo

hub is revived after discussions between the government and a Malaysian construction


The spokesman for 59 families involved in a land dispute with So Khun, the Minister

for Posts and Telecommunications, is arrested on charges of interfering with an investigation

on October 18.

Villagers accused the minister and his four associates of trying to force them

off their land.

The World Bank admits to a series of problems in the $42 million donor-driven demobilization

program. They include 'ghost' soldiers being flagged for demobilization, and genuine

soldiers paying their commanders to get on the list for the second phase. None of

those stood down in the first phase has received the reintegration packages.

Beat Richner, the founder of the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital in Phnom Penh,

threatens on October 20 to close, unless the MoH gives him more land to cure the

overcrowding problem. Richner warns 2,000 children a month could die, but says he

has no choice.

Relief agencies ready themselves to begin distributing substantial amounts of

food aid after debilitating droughts and flooding afflict much of the country.

Three local fishermen are shot dead by commercial fishermen in Koh Kong province

October 25, the latest in a long line of violent incidents over fishing rights. A

fisheries official says 20 people have been killed in Chroy Svay commune alone since


Forestry experts criticize the government for undermining its own conservation

laws after the Department of Forestry and Wildlife announces on October 29 it has

dropped a key provision contained in the reform process. Logging companies no longer

need to submit a five-year plan, which NGOs believe will reopen the door to unsustainable



After boasting of a gift "beyond our expectations", Hun Sen's announcement

on November 2 that the country's debts to China would be canceled turns out to be

less generous than first assumed. A report on a Chinese government website states

the offer only applies to debts that have fallen due, while some speculate that the

debt eradication applies only to loans to the KR, which would not have been paid


Cambodia hosts the 8th ASEAN Summit on November 4-5. Leaders converge on Phnom

Penh for the two-day conference and are wooed by economic heavyweights China, India

and Japan. The result: a triumph for both the country and Hun Sen as they take their

places on the world stage.

Religious tension mounts in Prey Veng province when a Buddhist group distributes

letters claiming that war with Christianity, which it refers to as the "second

Pol Pot", is imminent. Christian groups play down the letter, while the Buddhist

Institute doubts the letter's authenticity.

Human rights NGO Licadho reports that Thai border guards set a landmine trap the

previous month that killed five Cambodians and wounded six others pushing a stolen

pick-up truck through an illegal border crossing.

Ranariddh accuses the US-based International Republican Institute and former Funcinpec

senator Kem Sokha on November 13 of colluding to ruin his party by convincing royalist

officials to defect to the SRP.

The UN looks set to re-enter talks on a KR tribunal after a committee votes overwhelmingly

on November 20 in favor of a draft resolution. If passed by the General Assembly,

it will give Kofi Annan a new mandate to re-start talks.

A Cambodian-registered ship is used by gunmen to hijack a Russian fishing trawler

in the Sea of Japan on November 20. The government says its registration lapsed in

July, but the Kingdom's reputation as an FOC state takes another hit.



King Norodom Sihanouk grants a meeting on December 4 for villagers living in logging

concessions who are worried that the revised logging plans could leave them without

viable forests. Attendees say the King told them he would raise the matter with the

government. The following day, police reportedly armed with electric batons break

up a peaceful gathering outside DFW. A 29-year-old protestor dies later of a heart-attack.


The Third World Buddhist Conference is held in Phnom Penh from December 5 - 7.

More than 2,000 Buddhists gather for the summit with most delegates coming from Japan.

Buddhists also arrive from Sri Lanka, Australia, Russia, Mongolia and several other


A refocused military strategy is announced in response to the September 11 attacks

and the Bali bombings. A senior general warns the country is ill-prepared to deal

with international terrorism.

A research paper finds that urban youth are embracing IT. One important difference

to trends in the West is that sex sites are well down the list of priorities.



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