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Kingdom Smashes SEA Games Medal Record, Nike Backs Union Leaders, Runner Wins Hearts in the Rain
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, May 12, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
STAR TREK: Cambodia’s gutsy competitor in the women’s 5,000 meters finished dead last, alone in the rain. Hun Sen rewarded her grit with $10,000 — and the Kingdom crowned a new heroine.
PAPER CUT: Election officials are scrutinizing the Candlelight Party’s registration, threatening to keep them out of the July poll. Officials have already barred Rong Chhun, the Candlelighter’s firebrand vice president, from running for prime minister.
SPY CAM: The U.S. case against a former government official charged with wildlife trafficking appears to be airtight. An undercover informant caught the suspect on video all but confessing to monkey smuggling.
Cambodia is killing it at the Southeast Asian Games.
The Kingdom smashed a 52-year-old record of 17 golds in just two days. It topped the medals table over the first week and as of Friday morning had won an astounding 56 gold, 44 silver and 55 bronze medals — with many unexpected victories in marquee events like cricket and basketball.
Chalk up the success to a perfect storm of factors: fiercely determined athletes, favorable scheduling, a smidgeon of imported talent and an undeniable home-field advantage.
The country easily crushed early predictions of 100 medals. How high can it go with five days left? The nation is watching.
The SEA Games Federation added Kun Khmer and Kun Lbokator to its official charter, marking a cultural victory for the Kingdom. The recognition means the two sports are eligible for inclusion in future games.
Bokator, as Kun Lbokator is colloquially known, nearly disappeared under French colonialism and the Khmer Rouge. The martial art was resurrected in the early 2000s by a former refugee who immigrated to the U.S. and returned.
Bokotor events finished Monday and Cambodia cleaned house: 8 gold, 7 silver and 3 bronze medals. The next hurdle is the 2025 SEA Games, when host Thailand may have a different take.
The National Election Committee barred Rong Chhun, the Candlelight Party vice president, from running for prime minister, citing his 2021 conviction for incitement. Chan Cheng, the party’s second-place contestant, will run in his place.
Twenty parties have registered for the July 23 national polls. The NEC has yet to approve applications from eight, including the Candlelighters. The vote’s outcome is mostly viewed as preordained, with the ruling CPP expected to win in a blowout.
Western nations have threatened sanctions if the poll does not include all parties. The NEC said a decision would be announced next week.
Bou Samnang, one of two Cambodian runners in the women’s 5,000 meters, won international acclaim for her never-say-die, last place finish. She completed the race in a heavy downpour, alone on the track, nearly 6 minutes behind the winner. Her determination impressed Hun Sen himself, who awarded her $10,000. Time Magazine called her a “global inspiration.”
U.S. prosecutors believe they have a slam-dunk case against a former environmental chief arrested last year in New York on wildlife smuggling charges. Their evidence includes hidden camera footage of Kry Masphal telling workers at a breeding facility to build a private entrance road, because it would be “more safe for your smuggling.” He faces 145 years in prison.
Human rights groups accused the government of ignoring the mistreatment of Cambodian migrant workers by Thai authorities. Photos on social media showed Cambodians chained together and detained in overcrowded spaces. Labor advocates decried the treatment as abuse — and possibly torture.
Under pressure from Nike, the global sportswear powerhouse, a Phnom Penh garment factory rehired eight union leaders. The about-face marks a rare instance of a major brand intervening in a local labor dispute — and sets a precedent union brass hope to repeat. Activists had accused the factory of illegally dismissing unionized workers.
The SEA Games are giving the domestic economy a much needed boost. Flights are packed, cafes are bustling, hotel occupancy rates in Phnom Penh are back at pre-Covid levels and local merchants are cashing in.
Blistering temperatures and persistent drought are putting the squeeze on Cambodia’s rice farmers. Many have delayed planting as they hold out for overdue monsoon rains, leading to a delay in harvest — and profits.
Not everyone is loving Cambodia’s gold-medal glory. News agencies in the Philippines and Malaysian have kicked up a stink over the Kingdom’s high number of naturalized athletes — as the underdog home teams have knocked off champions in basketball, billiards, cricket and the triathlon.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
May 10, 2003
He arrives an hour late for the interview. That’s probably not unusual for an actor who has just debuted in an $25-plus million Hollywood production, written and directed by cinema heavyweight Matt Dillon.
May 8, 2003
The judges who may one day sit on a panel prosecuting the Khmer Rouge will first need to survive to that day: One of the likely candidates was assassinated last month and another had a bullet fired into his office Monday night by unknown assailants.
May 8, 2003
Given Cambodia’s reputation for lawlessness and the perceived availability of firearms here, it’s no surprise that international arms dealers would think this a good place to do business. So thought Mick Ranger, a British arms broker who trades weapons between some of the world’s most violent, war-torn nations.
Photo: Margot Morakot Garabedian, AKP.
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