Discover more from The Weekly Dispatch
Taxi Gripes Hit New Angkor Airport, China Vows Billions for Infrastructure, Lady Ballers Start Hot at Asian Para Games
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, October 20, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
PROGRESS REPORT: The 432 Cambodian students in Israel report that things are fine. They have returned to school, and there’s no need to evacuate to a government safe house 300 kilometers from Gaza.
CRAZY RICH: The 1,000-strong group of business tycoons known as oknhas are battling a decades-old reputation for outrageous antics and above-the-law attitudes. Skeptics predict new rules governing their conduct will do little to rein them in.
FIGHT STYLE: Hollywood is taking a shine to bokator, the Kingdom’s indigenous martial art. Actors are studying its moves for fight scenes in the next Power Rangers movie, which co-stars a master from Phnom Penh.
Hun Manet locked down billions in Chinese investment at the Third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, money that will supercharge infrastructure development while potentially adding huge numbers to the national debt.
The deals include funding for the Funan Techo Canal — a mega project linking the Mekong River to the Gulf of Thailand — expansion of the nation’s roads and railways and massive investments in solar and wind energy.
The terms are shrouded in secrecy, and critics warn of surging amounts owed to China, which holds more than 40% of the county’s $10 billion in public debt. They point to Laos and Sri Lanka as cautionary tales.
Cambodia insists it’s smarter than those other countries.
Candlelight Party Vice President Thach Setha was sentenced to three years in prison for social media comments about the ruling party’s ties to Vietnam and the Jan. 7 national holiday celebrating its 1979 overthrow of the Khmer Rouge.
The 70-year-old politician was sentenced four weeks ago to 18 months for writing bad checks. The convictions, widely decried as politically motivated, mark the first prosecution of an opposition leader under the Hun Manet government, which many had hoped would act less oppressively than its predecessor.
No such luck. Human Rights Watch described Hun Manet as “old wine in a new bottle,” and activists are looking over their shoulders in fear of more arrests to come.
Holidays in Cambodia
Nearly 2 million used the three-day break to visit the nation’s tourism hotspots, a 50% increase over last year. Tbong Khmum was the top destination, followed by Battambang and Kampong Chhnang.
The nation is now revving up for the Water Festival in late November. The Kingdom’s biggest party hasn’t been held since 2019, and the return this year promises to be a blowout.
Cambodian students in Israel turned down the prime minister’s offer for safe shelter far from the Gaza Strip. Authorities were prepared to transport, house and feed the 432 students at no cost. Things had returned to normal, the students said, and there was no need to move. The government continues to monitor the situation.
The $35 taxi ride from the new airport into downtown Siem Reap has many travelers feeling the squeeze. A minivan, which is more easily shareable, will set you back $40 — if you don’t mind riding with strangers. A public bus that runs four times per day is available for $8. Many are hoping for train service, but that’s years away at best.
Sambo, the Asian elephant that for years worked at Wat Phnom and dazzled tourists with her afternoon strolls along the riverside, passed away in Mondulkiri. She was 63.
The Khmer Slave Party is an unacceptable name for a political group, according to the Ministry of Interior, which denied the application from a group of 80 students and intellectuals. The Khmer Puppet Party, the group’s first submission, was also rejected. Their leader called the ruling “unconstitutional” and said he would demand a review.
The laws are apparently tightening for the Kingdom’s oknhas, who can now lose their title for acting unethically or breaking the law. Cambodia has more than 1,000 such figures, and members of the group regularly make headlines for scandalous behavior. Several, including the president of the Oknha Association, Senator Ly Yong Phat, have been linked to environmental crimes and human rights abuses. Few expect the new law to improve their standing.
The next Power Rangers movie will incorporate bokator moves in its fight scenes, putting Cambodia’s indigenous martial art on silver screens around the world. Actors are studying with Kim Sambo, a bokator practitioner from Phnom Penh, who plays the character of “Jett” in the movie. “Power Rangers: Origins,” is scheduled for release next year.
The Cambodian women’s wheelchair basketball team smashed Laos 65-35 to secure the Kingdom’s first victory at the 4th Asian Para Games in Hangzhou, China. Cambodia is competing in volleyball, women’s wheelchair basketball, swimming, athletics, table tennis and boccia. The women’s basketball team is expecting a podium finish. They play Japan today and China on Saturday.
The director of a Phnom Penh health clinic disappeared with nearly $1 million in hospital funds, leaving 18 patients stuck in India unable to receive life-saving kidney transplants. The government is investigating.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
October 20, 2003
Chuor Chetharith, 37, an editor and reporter with the pro-Funcinpec radio station Ta Prohm FM 90.5 was shot dead by gunmen on Saturday morning outside the station’s offices in the Chamkar Mon district of Phnom Penh.
October 14, 2003
A former Khmer Rouge ambassador to the UN was appointed deputy governor of Banteay Meanchey province’s Malai district on Monday, officials said.
October 14, 2003
Major General Dom Hak has been charged as an “accomplice” in the drug-trafficking ring that police have been unraveling over the past two weeks, Deputy Municipal Prosecutor Sok Rouen said Monday.
While a dwindling number of people continue to eke out a life fishing in Cambodia’s once bountiful Tonlé Sap lake, many more have been forced to leave for the sweatshops of nearby Phnom Penh or hard labour on plantations in Thailand.
Microfinance was meant to help the world’s poor, but in Cambodia, it’s plunging people deeper into debt
Microfinance was hailed as a way to change the lives of hundreds of millions of people without access to credit. It worked so well that Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus was awarded a Nobel Prize. But then, banks jumped in to get in on the profits. To manage high debt levels, Cambodians are migrating for work, eating less and even pulling their children out of school.
Photos: Hun Manet, Xinhua. Sambo, Charlie Steele, via Flickr.
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org