Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Wish you a happy and prosperous new year 2011.

Good Health and Success in Life.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pictures from Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center is about 1 hour drive from Orlando (international drive), on the Atlantic Coast.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Road trip from Virginia to Orlando, April 11, 2010

We left Virginia down south to Orlando at about 4PM. Virginia to Orlando is 14 hours drive or 860 miles (1 400 km). We have to follow highway I-95, passing through North Carolina,South Carolina, Georgia and then enter Florida state. Well, it is not too far to drive..

Just some 30 minutes after leaving, we got stuck in the traffic jam in the Virginia suburbs. It appears that it is always like that.

After Virginia, we enter North Carolina. Our initial idea was to drive until South Carolina. But kids started to get tired. We were so obliged to make a stop in one of the hotels along the highway at about 7PM. I entered in the best western hotel, and asked for the price. The lady at the reception announce 80USD + taxes. I told her that it is too expensive and negotiated the price. I was able to get a special price of 59 USD + taxes. It is not too bad!

We continued the road at 3 AM in the morning. Kids continued to sleep in the car. The highway was quiet. I crossed from time to time cars and trucks. The road is quite easy to drive: large, plenty of rest areas, gasoline and restaurant open 24/24. The speed limit is 65 miles/hour or 70 miles/hours depending on the portion of the road. Many people drive at 70m/h - 75m/h. I drove peacefully... at around 7AM, I saw a car with flash on and off lights behind me. The guy drove very fast. Shit! It is a highway police car. I slowed down the car and made a stop. The police of car stopped just behind my car. He came in our direction and I opened the car door. The officer said, I drove a little bit fast and advice me to drive slower. With a little panic, we said OK. He said, okay you can go. Thank you man! (I received no fine). Zaouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu, we continued our road with two small breaks for break-first and gasoline. We arrived at about noon at Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort Villas in Orlando where I have booked for 4 nights some days before.

The resort is nice with 3 big pools inside. Kids enjoyed it...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Road trip to New York, Washington DC/Virginia and Orlando (Florida)

I visited with my family to New York, Virginia/Washington DC and Orlando(Florida) from April 9 to 23.

Our plane, from Madrid, landed in John F. Kennedy Internal Airport (New York) on April 9 at 19h. The time to take the rental car and to bring kids to the restroom, we left to Virginia at 21h. We were a little bit behind the schedule as I told our friends in Virginia that we will arrive between 12h and 1h. I tried to speed up as much as possible but the traffic around New York/New Jersey on Friday night was terribly heavy and I had to stop regularly to pay high way toll. After about 2 hours drive, the traffic was stopped by the road construction. Everybody in the car slept deeply while I started to get more and more tired. I took about 10 minutes break.

After the break, we continued our road until Virginia. We arrived at Rith and Rathana's house at about 1h45. A little bit late for them.

View Larger Map

I woke up every early and discussed with Rith and Rathana. It was nice to meet them again after 14 years for Rith and 26 years for Rathana.

After breakfast we went to pick up our friend Marin and then went together to Cambodian Embassy in Washington DC where they did a reception for Khmer New Year.

After lunch, we came back to Rith & Ratana's house and then left for Florida at 4 PM.
Coming next: road trip to Florida where I was stopped by Highway police...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Prince Sirik Matak's letter to US Ambassador

Article excerpted from

Dear Readers, The following is a letter Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, a cousin of Prince Sihanouk, wrote to U.S Ambassador John Gunther Dean a few days before Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge on 17th April 1975. He refused to flee to the U.S but took refuge in the French Embassy when the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge forced the French Embassy to hand him over and he was executed shortly.
Dear Excellency and friend,

I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion.

As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky.

But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.

Please accept, Excellency, my dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.
Sirik Matak.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Neuk Ohn" by Maelle ... and friends in Virginia

During my recent visit to the US east coast, it was nice to meet some old friends again in Virginia/Washington DC after a long time of separation (26 years for some of them). I met Rith, Rathana, Sovanna, Marin, Rattana's family, Heang, ...

I will post some pictures... In the meantime you can appreciate the music by Rith's band which will certainly remind you the old time.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Land grabbing in Cambodia, the tragedy continues for poor Khmers

Below are some articles related to the land grabbing in Kompong Speu. They illustrate the current situation trends in Cambodia where rich people (Cambidans?, Chineses, Taiwaneses,...) can do whatever they want over the poor Khmers... with the benediction of the law of course.

In this particular situation, the land is claimed to be owned by a Taiwanese busniessman (who was granted a Cambodian citizen in 2001) but the 80 famillies living on the land said they haven't sold their farmland...

It hurts to see what happen to those poors....

----------- text and pictures excerpted from

Sun Bun Chhuon: Shoot me! Shoot me! I don't care about my life! I lost my rice field! I lost my home! Where will I live? You came to rob Cambodians to give our lands to the Chinese! It's so unfair!

Sun Bun Chhuon demanding justice

Cop seen using an AK-47 rifle to shoot at the villagers


Development at What Cost?

The above video clip of clashes between villagers in Kampong Speu and the authority is one of the repeating evidences long recorded and reported by all concerned human rights and civil society groups. Land evictions have driven large numbers of Cambodian families across the country, young and old into poverty and despair. Without immediate halt and without a change of government policy and attitude, plenty more Cambodians will face the same consequence with almost a certain future of long enduring hardships - a slavery like condition - for generations to come.

The Cambodian government could have conducted a more accommodated and yet humane investment policy. It should find for those evictees a new land with proper compensation of cash and shelter without resorting to forced eviction. If Cambodia can lease out so much land to foreigners, then it should be able to formulate a better inclusive investment policy than what it is doing now for its poor and its indigenous people. Speaking of indigenous people, their culture and life style will forever be altered, not for the better but for a whole lot worse than one can imagine.

The new round of assault on land eviction will reach farmers in remote areas, especially indigenous peoples who live far away from the eyes and ears of the main public. Since Cambodia is poised to focus more and more on developing its plantation economy, rubbers and acacia etc.., then we can expect to see a lot more events similar to the one in Kampong Speu taking place in the near future. Given that the government officials, judges and businessmen are not on the receiving end of the evictions, then its is hard to imagine anyone of them will ever understand the magnitude of the cold pain and daily apprehension of the evictees.

As I am writing this, it brought me back to my earlier years as I tried to explain to foreigners in the camp and in America of my personal experience during the Khmer Rouge, including a massacre on a village which I had witnessed a few days after the graves were freshly buried - the experience remains stuck with you given all the gruesome evidences of blood, hairs still attached to the skin. You can tell a story as good as it gets, but for a listener you can never feel the same or get the complete picture as what you were trying to describe. It would almost be the same to say that you can't really feel what the others are feeling since you are not in his/her shoes. In this case, the corrupt judges and all the big fat cats will never learn nor understand the pain of the land evictees.

Watch the video and take a moment to reflect as those people's lives as theirs are being reduced to practically NOTHING. Haven't we learn anything from the rise and fall of the past regimes for the last 50 years or so? It's all from MISTREATMENT of the people. In Cambodia today, it's on a grandiose scale again from not only political, but also from socio-economic standpoint. The gap is getting a lot wider now and it causes a lot of uncertainty and social distress across the land. People are not sure who will be next on the eviction list? Which companies will come in to evict their lands?

The government's own effort to stray away from democracy has continued to hinder meaningful development in all areas of the Cambodian society. At the rate of contracts signed under land concessions, the need to evict people out will be more frequent. It does not take a Ph.D. to see where the country is really heading to socially, politically and economically. Experiences can pretty much tell a person on the roads where he has walked on and where he will be led to. The government of Cambodia is relatively weak and inefficient. When a Prime Minister has to micro-manage every minor problems of the country, then that country is badly managed. All the institutions are useless. Corruption is like a cancer; it is a ticking time bomb and it continue to spread unmanageably. It corrupts the mind and the soul of everyone involved, rich and poor alike, Cambodian inside as well as those residing abroad.

When one look at a country's development such as ours, he/she needs to take into account the human component, real lives that are being negatively affected since it goes far beyond than just some number of tall buildings of 4-5 star-rated hotels, casinos, fancy restaurants, karaoke bars, massage parlors, and new SUV Landcruisers. There are real costs and many opportunities lost to the nation, especially when we look closely at the fabric of our society today compared to what it was prior to 1970.

While we somehow managed to increase the numbers of buildings, business investments (bad and good), cars, motorcycles, bicycles, perhaps a few more rich individuals than before, but let's also look at the cost of other things as well.

Let's look at the gap between the rich and the poor; the magnitude of corruption (size and scale); the irreversible cost of deforestation factored in the climate change effect; the number of Cambodian beggars and those large number of people who have to seek work outside the country at the mercy of our neighbors; the frequency of land evictions which resulted in large number of displaced persons with no future. The large percentage and still growing number of young women being driven into prostitution, something unheard of during the 60s and the 70s. Then, how many Cambodian women would take risky chance to marry foreigners just to get out of poverty and our of the country altogether? Some were reportedly and severely mistreated, sold and re-sold in South Korea, beating up in Malaysia so on and so forth. The number is staggering, something you have never heard of during the Sihanouk era - the way our Cambodian women are being denigrated is shameful at best. Any country has its low point, but Cambodian women and their dignity are being compromised to the maximum as a result of the Cambodian government's corrupt policies and practices.

There is a complete change in Cambodian mentality not for the better of course - one that I am not at all proud of when you are reaching a point where you cannot really trust anyone anymore, not your relatives, your friends, your physicians, your justice system and your government. Doctors that once trained to save lives have turned to extorting patients for cash. There is a very low sense of morality, pride, compassion and righteousness. Having said that, I am encouraged to see that there are still good Cambodians who have unselfishly taken risk to serve, to promote and advocate Cambodia's interests. Good for them and they deserve all the respect and supports in the world.

So, those are the costs which I think we all need to plug into our calculation in order to see if there is other way to encourage a better policy of development - one that is less harsh on the poor and the country as a whole given its long term implication outlook. Social imbalances, injustices, mistreatment of the needy will lead to some strange unwarranted consequences and history has always reminded all of us not to over indulge ourselves with what we should have learnt from our past. What the Khmer Rouge has taught me is to understand what boil underneath the mistreated people and to be attentive to their despair, as well as to be a bit more humane, fair and kind regardless how little you can be a part of.

Is it too late to change from wrongs to rights?

Cambodia can still advance together, but the government has to change its course of action, policy and direction. A complete halt to all land evictions across the country would be a good start to ensure that people could be moved properly or compensated fairly. The Prime Minister, if he is serious about stability and our people's welfare beings, needs to rid of corruption in its entirety, and the passage of corruption law will need to be modified to reflect that sincerity. The government needs to be more open to public scrutiny and criticism since it is natural that people aren't thinking the same. It needs to be more inclusive in political decision and process in order to secure long term stability and peace among all people. It won't solve all the problems but it will be a tremendous start in advancing the country and everyone involved forward to a more equitable state, poor and rich alike.

An article from the Phnon Penh post

Land disputes flare in Kampong Speu

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Kampong Speu Province
Photo by: Sovan Philong
Villagers armed with clubs and slingshots await the return of police after clashes over land in Kampong Speu province’s Oudong district on Thursday morning.
VIOLENCE erupted Thursday morning in two separate land disputes in Kampong Speu province – one in Oudong district and the other in Thpong district – resulting in the injury of more than 20 villagers and police, as well as the torching of a company’s offices.

An early-morning altercation between authorities and 88 families at Oudong district’s Phnom Touch commune broke out when the authorities tried to carry out a Supreme Court-ordered eviction of the families from a 65-hectare plot of land, villagers said Thursday. Twelve villagers and 14 local police were hurt in the brawl.

At about 6:45am police attempted to forcibly evict the residents so that they could bring in equipment to tear down their houses, but the eviction was thwarted by locals who attacked police with stones and bamboo clubs, and disrupted their advance with burning tyres, villagers said.

The police responded by beating them with batons and firing their weapons in the air and into trees where villagers had displayed photographs of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The land in Phnom Touch commune is claimed by the Meng Keth Company, owned by Taiwanese businessman Kuo Sheng. According to a copy of his citizenship request letter obtained by the Post, Kuo Sheng, 62, was granted Cambodian citizenship in 2001 after Hun Sen wrote to then-King Norodom Sihanouk recommending that he be naturalised due to his positive attitude and his role in developing Cambodia.

However, Sun Bun Chhoun, a village representative, insisted that the villagers haven’t sold their farmland to any businessman, and that they would give up their lives to protect it.

Describing the incident Thursday, Sun Bun Chhoun said, “The police did not explain; they just tried to tear down our houses”, adding that eight villagers were seriously hurt after being beaten by the police with batons.

According to another villager, San Mean, about 400 villagers and 150 police were involved in the incident.

“They shot at me, but the bullet just barely caught my ear … the police pushed a pregnant woman to the ground.... They did not care about villagers’ lives,” he said.

The altercation ended around 10:30am when the police withdrew to a nearby location with their equipment – including a fire engine and two excavators. Villagers, fearing the authorities would return, continued guarding their homes rather than take their injured to the hospital, he added.
“We have been here since 1979,” San Mean said, adding that he implored the authorities to stop trying to take over their land.

Ky Dara, a representative of the Meng Keth Company and a partner of Kuo Sheng, says his company bought 223 hectares of land between 1997 and 2000, and that they plan to plant acacia and coconut trees, and build a factory.

“If they say that they have lived there since 1979, please show us a copy of the land documents and we will provide them compensation, because since 1985 our government has released land documents to all Cambodian people,” he said.

“We have tried to avoid violence. We invited the villagers to negotiate, but they did not come, so now I have no idea what will happen to them,” he said, adding that one prosecutor was also injured in the altercation.

“We’ve decided to stop for a while and will find another way to settle this problem later,” he added.

Kampong Speu Governor Kang Heang said: “It’s a simple case: If the villagers beat the police, the police will beat them back.” He added that the authorities are looking to arrest several ring leaders they say are responsible for instigating the protest.

Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said that according to his organisation’s research, the Meng Keth Company did not have the proper legal documents, and simply was trying to use force to take over the land at Phnom Touch commune.

“The authorities should not be using violence to settle these problems,” he added. “They should find a peaceful way to settle the issue.”
Photo by: Uy Nousereimony
A villager in Kampong Speu province’s Oudong district holds a portrait of Prime Minister Hun Sen following clashes with police on Thursday morning. Locals say 14 police and 12 villagers were injured as authorities moved to evict 88 families.

Company office torched
In a separate incident Thursday, about 500 villagers from Omlaing commune in Kampong Speu’s Thpong district burned down an office belonging to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, after failing to come to resolve their dispute with the business.

The disputed land in Thpong district is part of a 9,000-hectare concession to the company. Meanwhile, Ly Yong Phat, who owns sugar plantations in Koh Kong and Oddar Meanchey provinces that were developed following evictions, has also confirmed he will participate in a controversial partnership between businesses and the Cambodian military that some observers say could see soldiers used to further the aims of the private sector.

Suon Ly, a villager who joined the protest outside the offices, said people from 11 villages came to speak with company representatives about the land dispute, but that when nobody emerged to talk with the group, they decided to torch the company’s office buildings.

Suon Ly added that this is the third time they have tried to speak with representatives of the company.

Governor Kang Heang earlier this month tried to reassure villagers that the concession would not affect their farmland.

Villagers say the company originally offered compensation of US$200 per hectare of rice farmland and $100 per hectare of plantation land, but that as a group they decided to keep their land because they need it to grow rice, which is essential for their livelihoods.

Adhoc’s Ouch Leng said that the villagers “burned down five office buildings” because the authorities and representatives of the company had failed to respond to their requests for negotiations.

Chhean Kimsuon, a representative of Phnom Penh Sugar Company, refused to comment on the incident, and Senator Ly Yong Phat said he had not yet heard about the fire.

Kang Heang could not be reached for comment on the Thpong district dispute.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A lesson of skii

Ski season 2010

The winter is unusually long this year and it is quite cold in the Grenoble area. Hopefuly the blue sky and the warm weather will be back soon!

Some pictures taken nearby my home:

A frozen lake ...

It snows as much as in the mountain...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Carnet de voyage: CAMBODGE Dans l’enfer vert des Cardamomes

Below is an interesting travelog about traversing Cardamom mountains from Pailin to Koh Kong. I hope to do it one day.

Unfortunately the arctcile is in French for you who read only English.


Frédéric Amat 19/06/2009

Les Cardamomes, la mythique chaîne montagneuse qui s’étire à la frontière entre le Cambodge et la Thaïlande de Païlin à Koh Kong, reste une région encore quasi inexplorée. Pistes de latérites, chemins de montagne, paysages à couper le souffle, chutes d’eau grandioses, mais également mines et insectes en tout genre. Carnet de route.
Siem Reap – Païlin : 280 kilomètres
La construction de la route qui relie Siem Reap, la cité des temples d’Angkor, à la ville frontalière de Poïpet, est achevée. Bitume, ponts tout neuf, le trajet se fait en moins de deux heures. Pas trop tôt diront certains. Cette route était jusqu’il y a peu le cauchemar des automobilistes. Sur cette piste défoncée de latérite poussiéreuse, le trajet prenait au minimum cinq heures et plus en saison de pluies.
Mais notre expédition moto n’ira pas jusqu’à Poïpet. Une vache dans le garde-boue plus tard, (heureusement plus de peur que de mal pour la vache comme pour le motard), et 35 kilomètres après Sisophon, bifurcation à gauche, au petit village de Kohn Damrei. Le bitume laisse place à une mauvaise piste de terre blanche parsemée de nids-de-poule qui file tout droit sur des kilomètres. De chaque côté de la route, des abris où vivent des familles d’anciens réfugiés, retournées au Cambodge il y a une quinzaine d’années, trop tard pour trouver une terre où s’installer. Ils vivent donc sur le bord des chemins, construisant leurs cahutes de chaume et de tôles à cheval sur un fossé. Les hommes louent leur force sur les chantiers dans les villes voisines ou comme portefaix à Poïpet pendant que les femmes gardent les nombreux enfants. Une quarantaine de kilomètres plus loin, adossé à la frontière thaïlandaise, se trouve la petite bourgade de Malaï. Cette région fut, avec Païlin, le premier bastion khmer rouge à tomber en 1996, annonçant la mort prochaine du mouvement. Ieng Sary, ancien ministre des Affaires étrangères du gouvernement de Pol Pot, aujourd’hui jugé pour crimes contre l’humanité au tribunal spécial de Phnom Penh, était le patron de cette zone clé de la guérilla khmère rouge. Son Sikoeun, lui, se trouvait à Malaï. Personnage hors du commun, Sikoeun ancien cadre du régime, a vécu toute la période khmère rouge avec sa femme, une jeune institutrice française, et ses enfants.
Laurence Picq parviendra à fuir en France à la fin du régime et décrira son calvaire dans un livre aujourd’hui célèbre : Au-delà du ciel, 5 ans chez les Khmers rouges. En 1996, lorsque Sikoeun rencontre pour la première fois des journalistes français dans ce minuscule village de Malaï, la première question fut pour sa femme et ses enfants. Quelque temps plus tard, il partait en France pour un court séjour, tenter de renouer ce qui pouvait l’être. Aujourd’hui, le village est devenu une grosse bourgade et personne ne connaît plus le nom de celui qui fut pourtant le maître des lieux.
La piste reprend vers le Sud. Elle longe des montagnes aux falaises abruptes. Les paysages sont superbes. La région est riche en cultures, manioc, jatropha curcas (plante destinée à réaliser le carburant vert), céréales et légumes. Les champs sont vastes, mais les quelques villages qui parsèment la route restent très pauvres. Premier vallon, premier col. La piste monte à flanc de montagne et surplombe les nombreux champs cultivés. La vue est imprenable. Le ravitaillement en Red Bull pour les pilotes et en essence pour les motos se fait régulièrement. Ici, le précieux liquide est vendu un peu partout au litre, dans des bouteilles de Coca. La propriétaire de l’échoppe est originaire de la province de Takéo. Elle a tout quitté pour venir s’installer ici, sur un bout de terre qu’elle a acheté 5000 dollars au milieu de nulle part. Sa fille, teenager habillée moderne, semble amèrement regretter le choix de ses parents…

Païlin – Veal Veng : 150 kilomètres
La nuit tombée, notre équipée sauvage rallie finalement l’ancien bastion khmer rouge. Païlin était jusqu’à ces dernières années la capitale cambodgienne du rubis et du saphir. Ces trésors géologiques ont en partie servi à alimenter les caisses de la rébellion khmère rouge. Exploitées à outrance par des mineurs thaïlandais, les réserves sont désormais vidées de leur richesse. Païlin est aujourd’hui devenue un immense nuage de poussière qui entoure un grand marché, de nombreux bordels et toute une faune d’aventuriers venus, ici aussi, trouver l’eldorado. La pagode de la ville est unique. Souvent appelée pagode des enfers (version bouddhique), elle est recouverte de fresques montrant les pêcheurs en train de griller, se faisant arracher la langue ou projetés vivant dans des chaudrons d’eau bouillante. Pour parfaire l’horreur, les habitants se sont payés un jardin dans lequel des personnages de ciment vivement colorés se torturent allègrement. Le parallèle avec les atrocités commises durant le règne Khmer rouge est immédiat. Mais cela n’a rien à voir nous dit un bonze. «C’est une pure coïncidence!»
On en oublierait presque que cette pagode de Phnom Yat a été nommée en hommage à une vieille ermite, la grand-mère Yat, qui vivait là en des temps légendaires. Comme l’explique le Petit Futé sur le Cambodge, « cette dame, un peu sorcière, n’aimait pas que l’on tue les animaux de la forêt. En échange de l’arrêt de la chasse, la vieille promit aux habitants qu’une récompense les attendrait dans un ruisseau sur la colline dominant le village. À leur arrivée, ceux-ci découvrirent une loutre (péh en khmer) qui jouait (légn) dans l’eau et s’approcha d’eux en ouvrant la gueule qu’elle avait pleine de pierres précieuses. Le village fut donc baptisé Péh Légn - la loutre qui joue - ce que les Siamois qui occupèrent la région au début du siècle transformèrent en Païlin. L’autel de la mère Yat, au sommet de la colline est maintenant devenu un lieu de pèlerinage pour tous les Khmers qui souhaitent s’enrichir ».
Les stigmates de décennies de guerre suivie d’une longue guérilla sont toujours présents dans cette région la plus minée du royaume. En haut de la colline, des démineurs s’affairaient le jour de notre passage à dégager un obus non explosé « de facture américaine » selon le démineur, datant du début des années 1970, époque où l’Oncle Sam, comme il sait si bien le faire, lâchait ses bombes un peu partout dans la région. Mais il est temps de reprendre la route. Direction le sud. Quelques villages s’étirent encore le long de la piste parsemée de petits panneaux rouges : « Danger Mines ». Au loin, la chaîne des Cardamomes émerge des brumes de chaleur. Il fait 38°C à l’ombre.
Puis viennent les premiers signes de la déforestation massive. À perte de vue se déroule ce spectacle affligeant. La fin de la piste marque l’entrée dans le district de Samlaut, le royaume d’Angelina Jolie. Quelques kilomètres après le passage d’un long pont de bambou, réservé à ceux qui ne connaissent pas le vertige, se trouve la propriété de la star d’Hollywood. L’entrée est gardée par un militaire peu bavard qui incite à poursuivre sa route. Samlaut est un district étonnant dont le paysage est taillé sur mesure pour les motos tout-terrains : passage de rivières à guets ou de petits ponts de bois, spectacles d’une vie rurale millénaire… Puis, après avoir passé le village du même nom que le district, la piste de latérite reprend un peu et se déroule encore durant de longs kilomètres.
La végétation s’y fait plus dense. La route se rétrécit et s’enfonce dans la forêt d’une des montagnes de la chaîne des Cardamomes. Veal Veng est au bout de ce chemin défoncé d’ornières, l’un des plus techniques depuis le départ de l’aventure. Condition physique et pratique assidue de la moto sont indispensables pour parvenir au bout… Les quarante derniers kilomètres se feront dans une forêt dense où le ciel est à peine visible derrière la haute cime des arbres, tout comme cette piste qui n’en finit pas de déboucher sur des culs de sacs et qui oblige à d’incessants retours en arrière. Pas âme qui vive et la nuit qui va bientôt tomber. Enfin, au bout d’un énième détour apparaissent quelques maisons de bois le long d’une piste en latérite. C’est la route qui relie la ville de Pursat au village de Veal Veng, à vingt kilomètres de là.

Veal Veng – frontière thaïlandaise – Veal Veng : 145 kilomètres
La bourgade de Veal Veng n’a en soi que très peu d’intérêt, sinon qu’elle symbolise à elle seule cet ancien far-west cambodgien, où les maisons sont alignées le long des axes routiers et où trône forcément un rond-point quelque part. La vie s’arrête à la nuit tombée et trouver un bol de riz à partir de 19 heures n’est pas très aisé. Heureusement, une boîte de cassoulet de Toulouse avait survécu au voyage, la seconde n’ayant pas supporté les trépidations de la piste a préféré rendre l’âme dans le sac… Le lendemain matin, excursion d’une journée à la frontière thaïlandaise, au village de Thmor Da distant de 67 kilomètres. La piste enchaîne deux cols dont le plus haut culmine à près de 1500 mètres. Là encore, la déforestation est une occupation à plein temps mais « légale » car opérée par des militaires en uniforme qui campent dans une clairière sur le bord des routes. Dans la villa qui nous accueille pour casser la croûte, une jeune fille garde son bébé. Elle revient de Phnom Penh où elle a été licenciée d’une usine de textile. Son mari est toujours là-bas, à des centaines de kilomètres de ce bout de terre accolé à la Thaïlande. Elle ne retournera pas à la capitale dit-elle. « La vie y est trop dure ».

Veal Veng – O Saom : 100 kilomètres
Le clou de l’aventure se trouve quelque part au cœur des Cardamomes à une cinquantaine de kilomètres de Veal Veng, non loin de la piste que tracent en pleine jungle une équipe d’ingénieurs Chinois. La future route, lorsqu’elle sera terminée, reliera Pursat à la presqu’île de Koh Kong. Elle traverse de part en part le massif montagneux. Les Chinois en profitent également pour construire une série de barrages hydroélectriques. Les baraquements de tôle ondulée se dressent sur la berge d’une rivière et les ouvriers s’affèrent sur des kilomètres. La chute d’eau la plus haute du Cambodge est là, non loin du campement. Pas facile à trouver le minuscule sentier qui, taillé à la machette dans l’entrelacs des bambous et autres plantes tropicales, quitte la piste pour s’enfoncer dans la jungle. Quelques centaines de mètres plus loin, un autre encore plus petit descend vers les chutes. Le panneau qui indique le lieu est écrit en chinois... Un tel site deviendra certainement, lorsque la route sera terminée, une attraction touristique prisée. Mais aujourd’hui, le spectacle se mérite.
Après une crevaison - la deuxième de l’expédition - et une douche rafraîchissante, direction O Saom, le point de départ pour tenter de se rendre Koh Kong en longeant un sentier de montagne. Ils sont une poignée au Cambodge à pouvoir se targuer d’avoir « fait » les Cardamones, c’est-à-dire, dans un sens ou dans l’autre, être parvenu à relier Koh Kong à O Saom. Le sentier est tout de même relativement fréquenté par les locaux et quelques téméraires qui, en moto ou même vélo, tentent le pari fou. Cinq heures de galère pour parcourir 22 kilomètres ! Et autant pour le retour. Parti le lendemain dès l’aube pour tenter l’aventure, notre groupe de six motards reviendra dix heures plus tard, épuisé, fourbu, au point de départ. Mais heureux de retrouver un semblant de civilisation !
La jungle est un enfer oppressant. Les sangsues entrent dans les bottes, les vêtements et se collent à la peau. Les guêpes sont partout au moindre arrêt à bourdonner autour du visage, la boue colle aux roues, supprimant toute adhérence, et la moiteur est insupportable. Par moment, il faut tirer les motos avec des cordes sur des pentes à 70 degrés. Embrayage cassé en cours de route pour une bécane. Impossibilité d’aller plus loin. Une rivière est infranchissable et les passeurs n’ont pas encore pris position sur chaque rive comme ils le feront dans quelques jours. Un enfer vert… mais pas pour tout le monde. Le lendemain, trois Cambodgiens sur deux petites mobylettes feront l’aller-retour et ramèneront la moto en panne en moins de quatre heures. Une humiliation pour les motards qui ne s’en remettront pas ! Et le comble : dans ce village de quelques âmes où l’électricité est un fantasme, le chef de la police dispose d’une Honda Baja du même modèle que celle en panne. Par chance, il vient juste de se faire livrer un embrayage de secours. Le prix de la précieuse pièce est non discutable. Mais qu’importe. L’aventure peut se poursuivre pour le retour qui se fera d’une traite via Pursat et Battambang.
Le visage du Cambodge se modifie rapidement et inexorablement. Le jour où la route reliera Pursat à Koh Kong, les Cardamomes perdront définitivement leur virginité et une bonne part de leur mythe. En attendant, l’aventure est à portée de roue pour une poignée de passionnés qui rêve de grands espaces et de liberté. À consommer sans modération car bientôt, oui, bientôt, il sera vraiment trop tard… Le monde rétrécit chaque jour un peu plus.
Nos autres photos

Rithy Sen Refugee Camp

I fell into this interesting article about a moth back and would like to share it with you guys who knew or lived in this camp at the Cambodian-Thai border in 1980s.

The writer seems to know very well the camp. Thanks for sharing it.

The original article is posted on Wikipedia here"


Nong Samet Refugee Camp

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Nong Samet Refugee Camp, also known as 007, Rithisen or Rithysen was one of the largest refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border and served as a power base for the KPNLF until its destruction by the Vietnamese military in late 1984.

Nong Samet Camp, section 2, May 1984



[edit] Establishment of the camp

Refugees began entering Thailand in large numbers after Vietnam invaded Kampuchea in December, 1978 and forced the Khmer Rouge out of power[1]. A refugee settlement was established near the Thai village of Ban Nong Samet sometime in May of 1979, and received its first shipment of food aid on October 11[2].

The camp was originally referred to as Chumrum Thmei (New Camp) to distinguish it from its neighbor and rival Mak Mun Camp, which was also known as Chumrum Chas (Old Camp). Nong Samet was later renamed 007 "because of its many intrigues[3]" and in August 1980 was christened Rithysen, after a Khmer folk hero "who survived when his brothers and sisters were devoured through the machinations of a cannibal ogress, and who then tricked the ogress’ daughter."[4]

[edit] Domination by Cambodian warlords

Market stalls in Nong Samet Refugee Camp, May 1984

Nong Samet Refugee Camp was located originally just inside the Thai border, about one kilometer northeast of Mak Mun and two kilometers northeast of Nong Chan. Almost immediately all three camps were dominated by autonomous warlords who, with several hundred undisciplined and badly-equipped guerrillas, controlled commercial activities and managed food distribution to the civilian population[5].

The camp's first leader was Long Rithia, a former infantry captain in the FANK 7th Division, who rallied several hundred soldiers from that unit and on October 5 established the Angkor National Liberation Movement (also referred to as Khmer Angkor)[6].

In December of 1979, In-Sakhan, another former officer from FANK who had been living on the border since 1975, declared himself leader of Nong Samet. He quickly realized that the size of the camp's civilian population would determine his power base, and encouraged a thriving border marketplace from which smugglers brought high-demand commodities into deprived Kampuchea[7]. Within a short time Nong Samet's market attracted thousands of traders and black marketers, and the guides and guards needed to transport goods and cash in this nearly lawless region. Gold and precious stones often substituted for currency on the border, and In-Sakhan's soldiers frequently served as security escorts.

In-Sakhan initially reported to ICRC that the camp's population was at least 200,000 and aid agencies provided food and water for 180,000 people until December 1979 when aid workers heard that much of the food was being hoarded by the warlord[8]. At this time the situation on the border was still too chaotic to do a proper census or to challenge In-Sakhan.

[edit] Rivalry with neighboring camps

Map of Thai Border Refugee Camps, with roads and nearby Thai communities, distributed to aid workers by the American Refugee Committee in May 1984

Rivalry with neighboring camps Nong Chan and Mak Mun led to frequent armed violence. In-Sakhan also had to defend the camp against the Khmer Rouge, who launched an attack on January 4, 1980 from nearby Phnom Chat[9]. The camp was evacuated but the refugees quickly returned.

In late January 1980, ICRC and UNICEF attempted to bypass In-Sakhan and distribute food directly to Nong Samet's population (which they now estimated at roughly 60,000), however without the warlord's cooperation this proved nearly impossible[10]. In addition, it appeared that many Nong Samet residents were forced to go to Nong Chan to receive food because their rations were being confiscated by In-Sakhan's troops.

Accordingly, in late February 1980 aid agencies stopped distributing food in Nong Samet altogether. Two weeks later, UNICEF conducted a nutrition survey and found widespread levels of malnutrition, stunting and hunger in the camp population[11]. ICRC decided to try direct distribution to locked warehouses inside the camp, and to allow section leaders to distribute rice to the population. A crude "hut census" of the camp was attempted, but an attack on Mak Mun Camp in late March forced several thousand refugees to flee to Nong Samet, invalidating the census.

Two days later, forces commanded by the Mak Mun warlord, Van Saren, attacked Nong Samet in retaliation. In a counterattack on March 22, Van Saren was killed, possibly by the Thai military, and Mak Mun was closed on April 11 by the Thai government in an attempt to consolidate the population, most of which had already relocated to Nong Chan and Nong Samet[12].

In late May 1980 Nong Samet was moved to a site adjacent to the Prasaht Sdok Kok Thom, in an area with poor drainage and landmines left over from a previous conflict[13].

[edit] Incorporation into the KPNLF

Map of Nong Samet Refugee Camp and the neighboring village of Ban Nong Samet, distributed to aid workers by the American Refugee Committee in 1984

On July 12, 1980, troops commanded by Ung Chan Don, In-Sakhan's former ally, attacked Nong Samet and drove In-Sakhan to Aranyaprathet, where "on a calm Sunday evening, In-Sakhan surrendered to the Thai Third Infantry Battalion[14]." He later joined Prince Norodom Sihanouk's Armée Nationale Sihanoukiste (ANS) forces[15]. In-Sakhan was replaced by Om Luot (also known as Ta Luot or Siem Sam On[16]) with Thou Thon acting as civilian administrator. Om Luot was theoretically loyal to the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), but tensions with General Dien Del and General Sak Sutsakhan eventually led to Om Luot's murder on October 11, 1982[17]. After this, Thou Thon became chief administrator of the camp. Nong Samet Camp soon became a primary recruiting location for KPNLAF troops[18].

The entire camp was moved again in January 1983 to somewhat higher ground just east of the village of Ban Nong Samet, on land considered to be on the Cambodian side of the border. This move was precipitated by accusations that Thailand was harboring anti-communist guerrillas on its territory, thereby aggravating the already complex political situation[19].

[edit] Camp population

Nong Samet's official population estimate in 1979 was over 100,000, a figure that William Shawcross[20] gives credence to, but Mason and Brown calculate that it probably fluctuated between 48,000[21] and 60,000[22]. The American Refugee Committee's 1983 Annual Report numbered the population at "between 45,000 and 70,000," based on food distribution statistics, immunization records, and birth and death tallies[23], however this did not include KPNLF troops, who were exempt from aid, and may have constituted an additional 8,000 men.

[edit] Vietnamese refugees at NW82

As of December 18, 1981, Nong Samet became home to about 700 Vietnamese refugees who were transferred from a special camp for "land refugees" who had crossed Cambodia from Vietnam and entered Thailand. They had been transferred from the nearby camp of NW9 and were housed in a separate section known as NW82 or ‘the platform’ because of a wooden platform built to keep the population off the swampy ground. By September of 1982 there were more than 1,800 refugees in the crowded and unsanitary camp. Initially Thailand prevented foreign embassies from interviewing these refugees, however after repeated requests by the ICRC, this policy was reversed. The Intergovernmental Committee for Migration conducted preliminary screening of the 1,804 NW82 Vietnamese and coordinated efforts of the 15 countries willing to offer resettlement to the refugees. By January 28, 1983, when the first round of processing was completed, 1,713 of the refugees had received resettlement offers. The United States accepted just over 60 percent[24].

On February 9, 1983, NW82 was closed, and the remaining 122 occupants without resettlement offers were transferred temporarily to the Khao-I-Dang Holding Center.

[edit] Camp services

The American Refugee Committee's Outpatient Dept. 1, Nong Samet, May 1984

Food distribution problems had been resolved by the aid agencies in 1980 and Nong Samet became a model camp for its organization and the quality of its health care services, which included a tuberculosis treatment program, established in spite of claims that the situation was still too unstable to permit long-term treatment[25]. A 100-bed hospital with pediatrics, maternity and surgical facilities and two outpatient clinics were operated by the American Refugee Committee, which trained 150 Khmer medics, midwives, pharmacists and nurses. ARC also operated a traditional medicine clinic[26].

Food and some water were provided by the World Food Program under the supervision of the United Nations Border Relief Operation (UNBRO). Deep wells also provided potable water for much of the camp.

Other services fluctuated over the years, but in September 1983 supplementary feeding was being handled by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), sanitation and maternal-child health by World Concern, physical rehabilitation by Handicap International, and security by UNBRO. CRS also operated a mobile dental team and the Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC) provided a weekly X-ray service[27].

[edit] Personal recollections from aid workers

The "Old Temple", Prasaht Sdok Kok Thom just outside Nong Samet Refugee Camp, where refugee monks provided religious services to camp residents (May 1984).

Several aid workers have described their experiences at Nong Samet Camp, including Dr. Louis Braile:

"There was really a palpable difference between Nong Samet and KID (Khao-I-Dang Holding Center). Perhaps it arose from the wilderness atmosphere. Perhaps it was the presence of the ancient ruins, or perhaps it was the fact that these people, unlike the KID residents, had little hope of expatriating[28]."

Dr. Steven H. Miles, Medical Director for the American Refugee Committee, wrote:

"Relief at the end of the Khmer Rouge has been replaced by fear of the present. There is a hard hopelessness here, much more so than in the past. Escape is not possible. Violence and corruption are pervasive. War is certain. Fear, a sense of extreme vulnerability, is the omnipresent emotion. My experience of Nong Samet in 1983 was overwhelmingly, searingly sad[29]."

Robert C. Porter Jr. of the US Embassy in Bangkok wrote:

"The Khmer camp at Nong Samet...always held the most exotic fascination and excitement for me...A tall forest provided welcome shade. The stone ruins of an old Angkor-style Buddhist temple gave it a particularly Khmer air. While its early military leadership was among the more corrupt, disruptive and despicable, the camp was unusually well organized and tightly run...It had an interesting population and a lively market. For a time in 1979 and 1980 it was the most populous Cambodian city on earth, far surpassing the then reawakening but still tiny Phnom Penh[30].

[edit] The Vietnamese dry-season offensive of 1984

In April 1984 the Vietnamese began preparing the K-5 border barrier[31] and launched an attack on Ampil Camp to the northeast of Nong Samet, however the KPNLAF held firm, bringing in reinforcements and inflicting heavy casualties. The Vietnamese even left 200 of their own men to bleed to death on the slopes around the camp[32]. Ampil Camp was destroyed in the fighting, forcing the KPNLF to relocate its headquarters. The Vietnamese assaulted Nong Chan Camp on November 21 and had occupied most of the deserted, burned-out camp by November 23. Sporadic fighting continued until the 30th when the KPNLAF withdrew most of its troops to Prey Chan (Site 6).

Nong Samet Camp was attacked and destroyed by the Vietnamese on Christmas Day, 1984. The attack began with shelling at 5:25 a.m., according to Soth Sour, the guard at the TB Clinic near section 2[33]. KPNLAF troops held portions of the camp for about a week after this, but in the end it was abandoned. News reports initially claimed that around 100 civilians had been killed, but this was later reduced to 85[34].

Kenneth Conboy surmises that the Vietnamese were anxious to make up for their embarrassing defeat at Ampil in early 1984[35], and that this led them to commit the entire 9th Division plus part of another: over 4,000 men, 18 artillery pieces and 27 T-54 tanks and armored personnel carriers participated in this assault[36].

Numerous KPNLF soldiers and officers, including General Dien Del, reported that during fighting at Nong Samet on December 27 the Vietnamese used a green-colored[37] "nonlethal but powerful battlefield gas[38]" which stunned its victims[39][40] and caused nausea and frothing at the mouth[41].

[edit] Camp relocation to Site Two

On the day of the attack, Nong Samet's population of 60,000 fled to the Red Hill evacuation site[42] and on January 20–22, 1985 was transported by bus to Site 7 (Bang Poo or Bang Phu, "Village of the Crab"), a new camp created next to Khao-I-Dang Holding Center[43]. On September 29, 1985 the population was transported to Site Two Refugee Camp near Ta Phraya.

In Site Two, Nong Samet's population maintained a separate section and its own identity, with many services and much of its administration unchanged[44].

[edit] References

  1. ^ Mason, Linda and Brown, Roger, Rice, Rivalry and Politics: Managing Cambodian Relief. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983, pp. 12-15.
  2. ^ Mason and Brown, p. 66.
  3. ^ Stone, S. C. S. and McGowan J. E., Wrapped in the Wind's Shawl: Refugees of Southeast Asia and the Western World, Presidio Press, San Rafael, California 1980, p. 21.
  4. ^ Carney, Timothy M. Kampuchea, Balance of Survival. Bangkok: Distributed in Asia by DD Books, 1981, p. 56.
  5. ^ Mason and Brown, p. 66.
  6. ^ Burgess, John, "Largest 'City' of Cambodians Shelters Refugees, Rebels," The Washington Post, Nov 4, 1979 p. A15.
  7. ^ Burgess, J. "Cambodian Trade Sparks Boom at Thai Border", Washington Post, August 17, 1979, p. A19.[1]
  8. ^ UNICEF Monitoring Report, 6 March 1980.
  9. ^ Durant, Thomas S., "Attack on 007 (Nong Samet), January 4, 1980," in Years of Horror, Days of Hope, B.S. Levy and D.C. Susott, eds., 1986, 137-40
  10. ^ Mason and Brown, p. 68.
  11. ^ UNICEF Monitoring Report, 6 March 1980.
  12. ^ Ibid, p. 57.
  13. ^ Blagden, P., "The Sdok Kok Thom Integrated Demining Project," Journal of Mine Action, Issue 8.1, June 2004; Mason and Brown also mention this on p. 73.[2]
  14. ^ Stone and McGowan, p. 22.
  15. ^ Corfield J. J. "A History of the Cambodian Non-Communist Resistance, 1975-1983." Clayton, Vic., Australia: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, 1991, p. 12.
  16. ^ Bekaert, J., "Kampuchea: The Year of the Nationalists?" Southeast Asian Affairs, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore (1983), pp. 169.
  17. ^ Ibid.
  18. ^ Radu M, Arnold A. The New Insurgencies: Anticommunist Guerrillas in the Third World. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1990, p. 31.
  19. ^ Robinson C. Terms of refuge: the Indochinese exodus & the international response. London ; New York, New York: Zed Books; Distributed in the USA exclusively by St. Martin's Press, 1998, p. 75.
  20. ^ Shawcross W. The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and Modern Conscience. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984, p. 241.
  21. ^ Mason and Brown, p. 89.
  22. ^ Ibid, p. 71.
  23. ^ Mastro, T., "Nong Samet 1983 Annual Report," American Refugee Committee, Minneapolis, 1984, p. 1.
  24. ^ "Problems In Processing Vietnamese Refugees From The Dong Rek Camp Cambodia," US General Accounting Office, GAOINSIAD-85-132, Aug 16,1986, p. 22.
  25. ^ Miles SH, Maat RB. "A Successful Supervised Outpatient Short-course Tuberculosis Treatment Program in an Open Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian Border." Am Rev Respir Dis 1984;130(5):827-30.[3]
  26. ^ ARC 1983 Annual Report, pp. 4-8.
  27. ^ Committee for the Coordination of Displaced Persons in Thailand. The CCSDPT handbook: Refugee Services in Thailand. Bangkok: Craftsman Press, 1983, p. 49.
  28. ^ Braile, L. E. (2005). We shared the peeled orange: the letters of "Papa Louis" from the Thai-Cambodian Border Refugee Camps, 1981-1993. Saint Paul, Syren Book Co. 2005, p. 25.
  29. ^ Miles, S.H., Samet Field Evaluation, American Refugee Committee, internal document, Minneapolis MN, 1983, p. 2.
  30. ^ Porter, R. C., "A Perspective on the Start of the Relief Operation", in Levy and Susott, pp. 19-20.
  31. ^ Slocomb M. The K5 Gamble: National Defence and Nation Building under the People's Republic of Kampuchea. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 2001;32(02):195-210.
  32. ^ Conboy KJ, Bowra K. The NVA and Viet Cong. London: Osprey, 1991, p. 29. [4]
  33. ^ Maat R.B. "The Major Disruption at Samet, Christmas, 1984." Occasional Paper No. 1. Washington, D.C.: Jesuit Refugee Service, 1985.[5]
  34. ^ "Vietnam Tries to Split Kampuchea Resistance," Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 28 1984 p. 1.
  35. ^ Conboy, p. 29.
  36. ^ "In Cambodia the Resistance Goes On," Letter to the Editor by Sichan Siv, The New York Times, January 18, 1985.
  37. ^ "Cambodian Rebels Await Major Push by Viet Troops", LA Times, January 7, 1985, p. 10.
  38. ^ "A Rebel Camp In Cambodia Awaits Attack", New York Times, January 6, 1985, p. 1.
  39. ^ "Cambodian Rebels Reported Under Heavy Viet Shelling", LA Times, January 4, 1985, p. 13.
  40. ^ "KPNLF says Vietnamese Using Suffocant Gas", Bangkok World, January 4, 1985, p. 1.
  41. ^ "Ampil's State of Siege", Newsweek, January 14, 1985.
  42. ^ Brown, Maribeth, "One by One: Extracts from a Diary at the Border," in Voices, Stories, Hopes: Cambodia and Thailand: Refugees and Volunteers, p. 56. Jesuit Refugee Service, 1993.
  43. ^ Maat, p. 7.
  44. ^ French, Lindsey Cole. "Enduring Holocaust, Surviving History: Displaced Cambodians on the Thai-Cambodian Border, 1989-1991." Harvard University, 1994. [6]

[edit] Further reading

  • Levy, B. S. and D. C. Susott (1987). Years of horror, days of hope: responding to the Cambodian refugee crisis. Millwood, N.Y., Associated Faculty Press. ISBN 978-0804693967[7]
  • Braile, L. E. (2005). We Shared the Peeled Orange: The Letters of "Papa Louis" from the Thai-Cambodian Border Refugee Camps, 1981-1993. Saint Paul, Syren Book Co. [8]
  • Allegra, D. T., Nieburg, P. and Grabe, M. (eds.) Emergency Refugee Health Care: A Chronicle of the Khmer Refugee Assistance Operation, 1979-1980. Atlanta, Ga.: Centers for Disease Control, 1984.[9]
  • Robinson C. Terms of Refuge: the Indochinese Exodus & the International Response. London ; New York, New York: Zed Books; Distributed in the USA by St. Martin's Press, 1998.[10]