Hun Manet Feels the Heat, Viral Monks Entrance TikTok, Mother Nature Switches Sides
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, March 10, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
CUT DOWN: Stung Treng’s forests are riddled with a rapacious logging network that secretly trucks what remains of the Kingdom’s prime timber to Vietnam. Watchdogs are starting to see the forest for the thieves.
SCRIPT FLIPPED: An ex-Mother Nature activist sold out his old colleagues and accused them of trying to overthrow the government. Then, he joined the CPP. Insiders expect more public defections ahead of elections.
SAFFRON CODES: Buddhist monks are taking to TikTok, with some gathering hundreds of thousands of followers. Concerned clergy say monastic traditions are sacred — and there’s no online enlightenment.
Cracks are starting to show in the Strongman’s succession plan — and what was recently assumed to be a humdrum handover, is becoming more intense and intriguing by the minute.
China now has reservations over heir-apparent Hun Manet because of his West Point education, according to an unnamed diplomat. Beijing is using its considerable heft to build a “rival power base” through Tea Banh, the long-serving defense minister, whose brother is the Kingdom’s chief naval officer and controls the flow of Chinese funding at Ream Naval Base.
Both families view the impending transfer of leadership as a chance to consolidate power, insiders say, and the elites are starting to clash as they jockey for position.
The government praised its handling of the Kem Sokha trial, giving itself high marks for transparency and commitment to democracy as it blasted Western governments for condemning the verdict.
A Phnom Penh court sentenced the former opposition leader to 27 years of house arrest for conspiring to overthrow the government. The U.S. said it was “deeply troubled” by the decision. The U.N, U.K., E.U., Canada, France and Australia all expressed concern.
Kem Monovithya, the opposition leader’s daughter, reiterated calls for targeted sanctions, saying the international community’s “lip service” had failed her father.
Kem Sokha will appeal the verdict.
A former Mother Nature activist denounced his old colleagues and declared plans to relaunch the banned environmental group as a pro-government non-profit with a state-friendly message.
Meng Heng, once a coordinator for the conservation watchdog, accused his former co-workers of plotting to topple the government in a color revolution, echoing well-worn government paranoia. Then, he pledged allegiance to the CPP.
It was the fourth high-profile defection in recent days — a result, activists said, of a government campaign to silence critics. They expect many more ahead of national elections in July.
Security at the Metropolitan Museum of Art stopped a one-woman protest in Gallery 249, home to more than a dozen Khmer antiquities linked to Douglas Latchford, the disgraced art dealer. Sophaline Cheam Shapiro, the famed Khmer dancer and choreographer, was performing a solo apsara dance to denounce the museum’s refusal to return the sculptures.
A vast network of undercover logging operations stretches some 6,000 sq. km. through state-owned forests in Stung Treng province. Native timber is secretly trucked to Vietnam, where a cubic meter can fetch up to $500 — and it’s all happening with the tacit approval of officials at every level.
Hun Sen warned that higher interest rates and less-generous trade pacts would be the costs of Cambodia shedding its least-developed-country status. The Kingdom could be upgraded as early as 2027, while the government is working for middle-income status by 2030, and high income by 2050.
Tourism officials greeted the first China Eastern Airlines flight to Siem Reap since the pandemic with kramas and flowers. International flights are slowly returning to pre-Covid levels, and tourists from China represent 25% of the 4 million tourists expected this year.
Tech-savvy monks are finding celebrity appeal on TikTok, raising fresh questions about age-old monastic traditions. Dubbed “superstar monks,” a few have six-figure follower counts. Some question if they should be there at all.
NagaCorp, the Hong Kong-listed parent company of NagaWorld Casino, faces a ratings downgrade if it fails to refinance an outstanding $472-million bond due next year. Moody’s said the high cost of Naga3, a $3.5 billion expansion, would force the gaming giant to find outside funding to cover the payment.
Cambodia will submit the krama, the Kingdom’s ubiquitous checkered scarf, for inclusion on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage. To make its case, the Ministry of Culture spent more than a year documenting the history and uses of the krama. Cambodia now has six entries, including the Chapei Dang Veng, the stringed instrument, and Bokator, the martial art.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
King Says He’ll Abdicate If Asked
March 8, 2003
In reaction to suggestions that he is involving himself to much in politics, King Norodom Sihanouk said Friday that he has a duty to speak his conscience but would give up the throne if the legislature called for it.
Rockets Fired at Oddar Meanchey Gov’t Office
March 6, 2003
Two rockets were fired early Tuesday in an apparent attack on the offices of the governor of Oddar Meanchey province, police and provincial officials said Wednesday.
RCAF Sees Huge Border Gambling Problem
March 5, 2003
Vietnamese are crossing the border to Cambodia by the hundreds to engage in illegal gambling, a weekly RCAF report said on Monday.
When Transitional Justice Falls Short
The abrupt end of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia and the ongoing proceedings in Colombia show how the process doesn’t always serve the victims.
In Cambodia, climate change is already driving migration
Increasingly unreliable weather patterns are pushing farmers into the city in search of better livelihoods. Now is the time to adapt, writes Thong Sariputta.