Kingdom’s Crown Jewels Returned, Bird Flu Fatality Reported, Phnom Penh ‘Super Port’ Planned
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, February 24, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
ON CAMERA: Satellite images showed “impressive” progress at the Chinese construction of Ream Naval Base. The U.S. wants more transparency on the site — which it says could be custom-made for military use.
VIRUS ALERT: Bird flu killed an 11-year-old girl in Prey Veng province, the first known fatality from the virus since 2014. Experts were investigating a nearby avian sanctuary, where a rash of dead birds was discovered.
FAMILY JEWELS: The welcome return of more than 75 royal Angkorean heirlooms stunned cultural experts, who were unaware many of the items even existed. More are still out there, and they want them back.
The Strongman fired back at critics of a Facebook celebrity who sparked a firestorm with insulting remarks about a female VOD journalist. Even the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, typically a staunch pro-government voice, had called the celebrity’s comments “misogynistic.”
The prime minister appeared to condone a torrent of abuse aimed at the VOD reporter just weeks ahead of International Women’s Day. The crossfire further widened a gap between Cambodia and Western governments, which are struggling to stop the government's democratic backsliding.
Only months ago, some hope existed that a reemerging opposition and upcoming national elections would return some legitimacy to Hun Sen’s autocratic rule.
Plans for a $300-million Phnom Penh “super port” will remake Cambodia’s capital into the Mekong region’s leading transport and logistics hub.
The port project, a Singaporean-Cambodian joint venture backed by the IFC, will anchor a proposed network of highways and high-speed rail lines spanning from Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok. It will also accelerate plans for a river link between Phnom Penh and the Gulf of Thailand.
Experts said the venture will attract money and manufacturers from around Asia, as trade routes shift and the government tries to lure foreign investors.
The discovery of priceless Angkorean heirlooms in a London warehouse stunned Cambodian officials, who said many of the 77 items were previously unknown.
The find — including crowns, belts and jewelry worn by Angkorean kings — represents the world’s leading collection of Cambodian gold, a commodity so rare its true value is unknown. Authorities believe at least 30 similar pieces still remain in private collections.
The artifacts were returned by the family of Douglas Latchford, the disgraced art dealer. Officials said they were preparing the collection for a public exhibit, although no dates have been announced.
Conservationists reunited a stone arm fragment with a larger-than-life sculpture of King Javavarman VII, filling in significant details in one of the Kingdom’s most enduring art puzzles. Researchers had hotly debated the statue’s full pose since it was discovered in the 1930s with missing arms.
An Australian minister accused Cambodia — along with China, Iran and Rwanda — of silencing overseas dissidents with threats and intimidation. Australia labeled the efforts a threat to democracy and promised to expose the Cambodian government’s activities. Exiled opposition leaders demanded “coordinated” asset freezes and targeted sanctions against those responsible.
Bird flu killed an 11-year-old girl from Prey Veng province, health officials confirmed, in the first known fatality from the virus since 2014. Local media reported at least four close contacts with flu-like symptoms. Experts were collecting samples from a nearby bird sanctuary, where an “irregular” number of dead birds were discovered.
Top officials from a dozen government institutions urged the courts to prosecute Sam Rainsy for comments viewed as “insulting” to the monarch. The exiled opposition leader had bluntly indicated that King Norodom Sihamoni lacked independence. “King Norodom Sihanouk thought of himself as the King of the Cambodian people,” Rainsy said, “and not just the King of the Cambodian People’s Party.”
Satellite images of Chinese-backed construction at Ream Naval Base show “impressive” progress, with about 50% of the installation’s total land area cleared in just six months. The U.S. has pressed for greater transparency on the project — including a nearby jungle airstrip — which Washington says could be custom-made for military use.
Chhim Sithar, the NagaWorld union chief, was accused of leading illegal protests and provoking social unrest on the first day of her trial, charges she denied. Demonstrations outside the billion-dollar Phnom Penh casino were not only peaceful, she said, they were constitutionally protected. Her next court date is scheduled for Feb 28.
Environmental officials want a plastic-for-rice exchange program expanded to more provinces. The Kingdom’s growing reliance on single-use plastics has drawn scrutiny of its health and environmental impacts, prompting the government to investigate inventive ways to tackle the problem.
Holiday revelers will attempt to set two Guinness World Records over Khmer New Year in April. The Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia will try to break its own record for the Largest Madison Dance, set in 2015 with 2,015 dancers. The second world record attempt will be a surprise, the youth group said. Stay tuned.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
US Suspect Testifies in CFF Trial’s Last Day
February 22, 2002
A Cambodian-American accused by authorities of being a Cambodian Freedom Fighter testified Thursday to working as a “computer expert” with self-confessed CFF leader Chhun Yasith, but denied plotting to overthrow the Cambodian government.
Teacher Recalls KR Education Crackdown
February 18, 2002
To this day teacher U Hoeur, 74, sees his old students in Tenlot Meloo village and waits for them to speak. Sometimes they taunt him for being a part of the old regime. Sometimes they thank him for his hard work. Few of them ever mention his five colleagues killed by the Khmer Rouge.
Ke Pauk Dies, Is Buried in Anlong Veng
February 18, 2002
Cambodia on Sunday saw the burial of the man who some observers say was not only a key figure in the massacre of millions of his people, but also a key piece of evidence for the now-endangered Khmer Rouge tribunal.
This 'Lost City' in Cambodia Is As Mesmerizing As Angkor Wat, With None of the Crowds
Not far from Angkor Wat, archaeologists have uncovered a network of ancient temples — and have opened a window into Cambodia's extraordinary history.
Photos: Blessing, Hun Many Facebook page. King Jayavarman VII, Embassy of France.
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