Hun Sen Battles Overseas Critic, Violence Mars Upcoming Election, Art World Mourns Darryl Collins
Good morning, Cambodia. It’s Friday, April 28, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
LEGAL EAGLE: A senior environmental official arrested last year in New York made his first U.S. court appearance. His lawyer slammed the case, calling it a direct attack on Cambodian sovereignty.
COLOR GUARD: The Kingdom announced free nationwide screenings of the Southeast Asian Games. Millions are expected to watch in a groundswell of patriotism and home-team pride.
HARD STOP: The Strongman rescinded a February law banning gillnet fishing, saying the measure did little to protect Irrawaddy dolphins and instead hurt local fishermen. Other restrictions will remain.
A wave of brutal assaults has left the political opposition struggling to field candidates for the July 23 election.
The Candlelight Party has reported at least seven violent incidents in recent weeks. In one case, four men on motorbikes beat a veteran member with metal batons, sending him to the hospital. In another, attackers slashed a party activist across the face with a large metal blade. A party spokesperson said the frequency of attacks was increasing, and many supporters were afraid of campaigning.
Residents and officials played the blame game over the cause of a massive riverbank collapse that plunged 40 homes into the Bassac River.
Local officials pointed to shoddy construction and a receding river. They promised a full investigation and warned residents against speaking to the media. Many homeowners, however, blamed around-the-clock sand dredging.
The government insists the projects are safe. Environmental activists say the long-term impacts are not fully understood — and they are undoubtedly bad.
The lawyer for a top Cambodian wildlife official under arrest in Washington for monkey smuggling has blasted the U.S. court, calling the case against his client “a full-on assault on a foreign ministry.”
Masphal Kry, the former head of the Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity, was arrested in New York in November and charged for his alleged involvement in an international monkey trafficking ring. U.S. officials accused him of forging documents to show wild-caught macaques as captive-born, a violation of international law. His lawyer argued he should not be held responsible since he was acting in an official government capacity.
He faces 145 years in U.S. federal prison if convicted.
Cambodia’s anthem for the Southeast Asian Games has racked up nearly 60 million views in two weeks.
Hun Sen threatened to sack the local family members of a popular Paris-based dissident who routinely calls for his ouster. The critic’s father is an army colonel and his sister-in-law works for the Ministry of Interior. Rights groups have accused the prime minister of using intimidation and violence to silence opposing voices — and say it’s getting worse in the runup to elections.
Hun Manet appointed the leader of a notorious military unit as acting commander of the Royal Cambodian Army. Lieutenant General Mao Sophan, the longtime commander of Brigade 70 and a close Hun Sen ally, will lead the army once the prime minister’s son resigns from the military and runs for parliament.
The National Election Committee has asked Google to help prevent the spread of fake news and misinformation ahead of July elections. The government wants the tech giant to remove YouTube videos and other content it finds objectionable, raising a host of ethical issues. Google has yet to respond.
Taste Atlas named Cambodia’s bok l’hong the 26th best salad in the world. The Khmer version is made from shredded papaya, tamarind, galangal and prahok — a pungent fish paste — and often contains smoked fish or salted crabs.
The Kingdom will install large outdoor projectors in every province for public screenings of the Southeast Asian Games. Organizers cited overwhelming demand for the move. Football fans snapped up more than 14,000 tickets to Cambodia’s home opener in less than an hour. Events start Saturday (see full schedule).
The prime minister canceled a law passed in February to protect Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong. He said the law hurt local fishermen and dolphins continued to die despite the restrictions. Wildlife officials — who were celebrating the discovery of a newborn calf — said more work was needed to save the dolphins from extinction.
Darryl Collins, co-author of two groundbreaking books on Cambodian architecture, died in Siem Reap. He was 76. Collins published “Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970” with Helen Grant Ross in 2006, and “Cambodian Wooden Houses: 1,500 Years of Khmer Heritage” with Hok Sokol in 2022. He also did pioneering work with the National Museum collection.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
April 28, 2003
The US State Department blasted the Cambodian government Friday for firing the independent forestry monitor Global Witness last week, citing the failure of the government to live up to its earlier promises of forest reforms.
April 25, 2003
Violent death is no stranger in Cambodia, but the growing professionalism exhibited in the killings of several prominent Cambodians indicates that an increasing number of deadly hit men are for hire in Phnom Penh, police officials say.
April 22, 2003
In a surprise concession to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Ruom Ritt—the mysterious pen pal of King Norodom Sihanouk—has apologized for his years of strident criticism of the premier, blaming creeping old age and ignorance for what he called his “serious mistake.”
April 21, 2003
An illegal collection of floating zoos on the Tonle Sap lake near Siem Reap was raided and shut down by environmental officials after tourists and others complained that zoo animals—including rare leopard cats—were kept in appalling conditions and appeared to be malnourished.
Late in the summer of 1994, as the hot season was finally breaking in Cambodia, three scraggly men in flip-flops showed up at the Phnom Penh Post’s compound looking for American journalist Nate Thayer.
Photos: Sam Rainsy, Wikimedia.