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‘Ghost Buildings’ Haunt the Coast, Tuk-Tuk Takes $4k Fare, Washington Warms to Hun Manet
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, September 29, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
POINT TAKEN: Cambodia banned Mother Nature, the environmental pressure group, and threw its leaders in jail. Like a weed, the group is back, winning a lucrative award and promising to be “a thorn in the side of the Hun regime.”
BLIGHT LINE: There are at least 400 empty buildings in Sihanoukville and an estimated $1 billion is needed to fix the unsightly crisis. Unfinished, abandoned or done in by the pandemic — the sad skyline has no remedy in sight.
SCREAM TIME: Horror flicks about Cambodia’s cyber-slave compounds and romance scams are all the rage in China, where multiple blockbusters are being screamed over. It's the Kingdom’s tourism sector that’s really terrified.
Cambodia can no longer ignore the giant cyber-scam gorilla on its back. The time for action is now and the responsibility seems to have rolled all the way to the top.
China and the U.N. are joining forces with ASEAN governments in an unprecedented campaign to crush the entire industry, which is deeply ingrained in the Kingdom and has flourished in a vast web of corruption and greed.
The regional initiative is a major black eye for Hun Manet, and puts his fledgling government in the crossfire between the Kingdom’s greatest political patron, Beijing, and the ruling party heavyweights who profit from the industry.
Pressure from China offers Hun Manet the perfect excuse to reign in outlaw tycoons and earn a name as a reformer. Alternatively, he could earn the crimelords’ loyalty and solidify his power by providing protection. The next move is his alone — but the world is watching.
The U.S. made a whiplash U-turn on its bold threats to hold Cambodia accountable for widespread human rights violations and democratic backsliding.
Washington reinstated $18 million in humanitarian aid that had been suspended and committed itself to improving diplomatic relations — all after a few meetings with Hun Manet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Washington offered no explanation for the reversal.
Critics called the backpedaling a “strategic blunder,” one likely to embolden Cambodia’s brazen jailing and silencing of political opponents, including some U.S. citizens, with impunity.
With Washington in retreat, activists fear the Kingdom’s few political freedoms and its respect for human rights will be further decimated.
The global green community fired another blistering shot at the Kingdom’s environmental officials.
Mother Nature Cambodia, the outlawed activist group, received the 2023 Right Livelihood Award for “fearless and engaging” efforts to protect the country’s natural resources. The honor is often promoted as an “Alternative Nobel Prize,” because the Nobel Committee does not give awards for environmental protection, and it comes with a substantial cash award.
The group’s founder was blunt: “[The money will be] used in a way that maximizes the chances of Mother Nature Cambodia being a thorn in the side of the Hun regime for many years to come.”
Sihanoukville needs at least $1 billion to fix the city’s “ghost building” crisis, and no one knows where the money will come from or when. Authorities fear the blighted landscape of abandoned skyscrapers, nearly 400 at last count, could haunt the city’s economy for decades.
Cambodians say free speech is less important than social harmony, according to a Pew Research survey. Participants had two options: “People should be allowed to speak their opinions publicly even if they upset other people,” or “Harmony with others is more important than the right to speak one’s opinion.” Nearly 70% went with harmony.
The government banned China’s record-grossing summer blockbuster “No More Bets,” saying the film damages the Kingdom’s reputation. News flash — it’s not the movie. The scams are so well-known they could be spawning a new genre of crime film: “Tainted Love,” a film about romance scams, hit Chinese theaters last week.
The National Council on Minimum Wage set next year’s base pay to $204 per month, a 2% increase over 2023. Labor representatives wanted $215. Workers struggle to survive on such low salaries, advocates say, and often rely on high-interest loans to make ends meet, continuing a cycle of poverty.
The Ministry of Culture is under fire over a supposed Angkor Wat replica in Thailand, leading to furious Khmer traditionalists. Photos of the temple on social media launched the hashtag #respectangkorwatunescocambodia, and outspoken users have scolded culture officials and demanded action. The ministry said it is investigating.
The Royal Academy of Cambodia released an updated version of the official “Khmer Dictionary” for the first time in 56 years. The new book, available in digital format for the first time, includes nearly 45,000 words, more than double the number in the previous edition from 1967. The academy now expects to release updated versions each year.
An unlucky tuk-tuk passenger confused riels for dollars and sent his driver $4,000 with a banking app. The absentminded customer took to social media to locate the driver. So far, no luck.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
September 26, 2003
Players at the Naga Floating Casino stepped over and around a team of movers emptying the ship of its contents Thursday, as the company prepares to settle into its new riverfront complex.
September 25, 2003
A Phnom Penh theater is showing a Thai movie for the first time since January’s anti-Thai riots. While advocates say it could help mend rifts suffered during the riots, elements of the presentation point to ongoing cultural and economic tensions between the countries.
September 23, 2003
Two Vietnamese Montagnards dropped off at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Ratanakkiri province in early August are now living with about 30 other Vietnamese Montagnards at a UNHCR safe house in Tuol Kok district. A source said they were flown to Phnom Penh about 10 days ago.
Fifteen years after a deal to control a fifth of Cambodia’s coastline, work has barely started.
Photos: “No More Bets,” Weibo. Sihanoukville, Cambodia Daily.
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