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Strongman Slams Tax Hikes, Monsoon Rains Pound Provinces, Third Bassac Bridge Planned
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, October 6, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
PAIN INDEX: The government’s own anti-torture office admitted that at least 21 detainees had been tortured to death and more than 1,500 seriously injured since 2018. Rights groups say the real numbers have been shamefully ignored.
LAWYER UP: Theary Seng, an activist and U.S. citizen, was moved from a rural jail to a Phnom Penh prison, bringing hope to her supporters. The transfer occurred the day after Washington resumed $18 million in aid to Cambodia.
RIGHT TRACK: A third bridge will be built across the Tonle Bassac River, from Prek Pra in Chbar Ampov district to National Road 2. City Hall has been bullish on the project, promising it will eradicate traffic problems in the area.
Fiscally minded Cambodians, many battered by a sputtering tourism sector, shrinking exports and an ice-cold real estate market, are now up in arms over proposed tax hikes.
Even the retired Strongman couldn’t keep quiet. Hun Sen, in trademark fiery tones, laced into ministers over the increases and ordered them to “look into it.”
The reprimand prompted Hun Manet to retreat on a looming capital gains tariff and offer a lengthy defense of the government’s record. He vowed tax rates would remain unchanged for now — while remaining noncommittal on the possibility of future increases.
Critics say reforming the notoriously corrupt tax department should be Job 1.
The global spotlight is no place for award-winning environmental defenders, according to a local court, which barred three Mother Nature Cambodia activists from traveling to Switzerland to receive the prestigious Right Livelihood Award.
The decision was seen as an attempt to shield the Kingdom’s environmental record from scrutiny — and it’s clear why. Forests inside the Prey Long Wildlife Sanctuary are disappearing at an unprecedented rate, and a mountain of evidence shows government authorities are involved.
Activists fear nothing will stop greedy officials from chopping down trees, devastating local communities, while fattening pockets already bursting at the seams.
Anti-trafficking officials rejected U.N. accusations that the Kingdom served as a safe haven for Chinese crime gangs and cyber-scammers, calling the charges baseless.
Research from the U.N. Drug and Crime office documents a vast criminal network based in Southeast Asia and spreading out across the world. Several Cambodian officials have been linked to the local cyber-scam industry, and the problem is now so bad the U.N. and China have joined forces to fight the menace.
Local experts are hopeful the U.N. report will draw Western attention to the matter, and that pressure from Brussels and Beijing may finally force the government into action.
Quid Pro No?
Theary Seng, the imprisoned Cambodian-American rights activist, was transferred from a remote provincial lockup to a prison near Phnom Penh. The relocation came the day after Washington reinstated $18 million in aid. Neither government said discussions for her freedom were underway, but supporters have interpreted the move as a positive sign.
Cambodian authorities tortured to death at least 21 individuals and seriously injured more than 1,500 since 2018, according to the National Committee Against Torture, which is tasked with eradicating the brutal practice. Human rights groups say the committee woefully undercounts cases.
The Health Ministry will begin vaccinating 9-year-old girls against cervical cancer as part of a national immunization program. The disease now kills nearly 800 Cambodian women each year. The vaccine, in addition to screening and treatment, is expected to reduce annual deaths to fewer than 50.
Phnom Penh will build a third bridge across the Tonle Bassac River, from Prek Pra in Chbar Ampov district to National Road 2. Construction is expected to begin as soon as demining teams clear the riverbed. City Hall optimistically predicts “no more traffic jams” in the area once the bridge is complete.
Summer monsoons are pounding rural areas, affecting more than 15,000 families across 11 provinces. Officials shut classrooms in Battambang and closed roads across the country, as construction crews worked overtime on repairs. Landmine experts warned that heavy rains can unearth long-buried ordnance.
A 300-kg giant stingray named Boramy was crowned the largest freshwater fish on the planet by Guinness World Records. The ray, which measures 2.2m wide and 4m long, was discovered in Stung Treng in June 2022. The behemoth was tagged and returned to the Mekong, where researchers can now track its movements.
A 58-year-old national record for the 1,500 meters was broken this week by Chhun Bunthon at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Bunthon beat the previous record of 4:01, set in December 1965, with a time of 3:59.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
October 4, 2003
Down a long dirt road lined with onlookers, Dom Doung rides his buffalo through the gates of the famed Wat Vihear Sour.
September 30, 2003
Two Funcinpec district officials were injured, one seriously, when a grenade rigged to a booby trap exploded at Banteay Meas district offices in Kampot province Monday.
September 30, 2003
Two weeks after the Kompong Cham Provincial Court released a village chief convicted of unintentionally killing a teenage girl, the victim’s father has vowed to file a complaint at the Appeals Court.
International efforts this year to repatriate artefacts has worked in tandem with local work to piece together the illicit supply chains of lost relics. The Globe followed one research team as they worked through the sprawling Koh Ker temple complex
As Angkorian relics return home to fanfare, a Cambodian and French team is painstakingly restoring a monumental statue smashed by looters at Koh Ker. Their quiet mission underlines broader efforts to reclaim a historical legacy broken through past decades of strife