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The hardest hitting news stories from 2017

Khmer Times Staff / Khmer Times Share:
A man paints over the opposition CNRP’s logo after the Supreme Court ruled in November to dissolve the party. AFP

Sam Rainsy resigns as CNRP president

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy resigned from his position as president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party on February 11 because of personal issues.

His resignation came soon after Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to amend the Law on Political Parties to bar members that had committed criminal offences.

“I would like to inform the permanent and steering committee of the CNRP about my decision. This decision will be valid from when I sign [the letter],” Mr Rainsy, who currently lives in self-imposed exile in France to avoid jail, said in a letter at the time.

Surrogacy case trio jailed

Three people were arrested in March related to surrogacy in Cambodia, a new form of human trafficking.

In August, Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles and two Cambodians were each jailed for 18 months for their roles in a surrogate baby business.

All were found guilty of being intermediaries between some adoptive parents and pregnant women, and of fraudulent requests for documents.

Ms Davis-Charles received $50,000 for each baby from parents living abroad. She paid $10,000 to each Cambodian woman for carrying a baby in addition to other expenses.

Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said that biological parents already involved with Cambodian surrogates would be able to take their children home without facing punishment, provided they fill out the relevant legal documents.

The government is currently preparing a draft law to make surrogacy legal, but it has yet to be approved.

56 kg of drugs confiscated

Three Laotian drug ringleaders were arrested in May and August for their involvement in trafficking more than 56 kilograms of ice and heroin worth more than $3 million from the Cambodian-Lao border in Stung Treng province.

Lieutenant General Loeuk Vannak, chief of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug police department, said the three men were Lao-Cambodian nationals and faced life sentences if convicted.

They were identified as tycoon Sy Laloy, 43, the owner of the Ratanak Sambath Hotel in Rattanakiri province, Luon Sopha, 30, and Thong Vang, 36.

Mr Laloy died from brain cancer and AIDS at the Khmer-Soviet Hospital on August 22 while Mr Sopha and Mr Vang are in pretrial detention at Prey Sar prison.

Commune council elections

Prime Minister Hun Sen votes in June’s commune poll. KT/Chor Sokunthea

On June 4, Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Kem Sokha cast their votes early for the day’s commune elections.

A total of 22,148 polling stations across the country opened their doors to registered voters at 7am. Some 7.8 million people registered to vote for commune chiefs and councillors in 1,646 communes, with close to 12 political parties fielding candidates.

The ruling CPP kept its majority grip on the country’s communes but a big voter turnout saw the opposition gain plenty of support.

The CPP came out on top in 1,163 communes and the CNRP won 482. The Khmer National United Party won one commune.

Five Adhoc members released from prison

The Adhoc five were released on bail in June following more than a year in pretrial detention on bribery charges.

Adhoc officials Nai Vongda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony and National Election Committee official Ny Chakrya, who was formerly with Adhoc, had been jailed since April 2016.

The five were accused of bribing a witness and conspiracy to bribe witnesses in relation to an alleged affair between opposition leader Kem Sokha and his hairdresser Khom Chandaraty.

They were released under court supervision after the investigating judge wound up a second investigation into the case. They cannot move house or travel abroad without court permission, and must check in with officials until the case is completely closed.

White Building residents move

In early June, residents of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building began moving their belongings to new locations after they agreed to sell to Japanese developer Arakawa for $1,400 per square metre.

The government decided the building needed to be demolished and granted the redevelopment contract to Arakawa, who are thought to have budgeted $70 to $80 million on the project.

Residents decided to sell after the government found out the building was severely deteriorated, and as cracks appeared in the foundation.

Demolition of the White Building began in mid-July after all 492 families had left.

The White Building was built in 1963, while the country was run by the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, or People’s Socialist Community, as a symbol of a modern, fast-growing Cambodia. Until 1979, the building was also a prominent residence of many civil servants.

Arakawa plans to make the building 21 floors, with three floors for parking, one floor for stores and five floors for accommodation – which they claim will be 10 percent larger.

Nhek Bunchhay arrested on drug charges

Nhek Bunchhay, president of the Khmer National United Party and a former RCAF commander, was arrested for alleged drug involvement dating back to 2007.

Mr Bunchhay left the royalist Funcinpec party last year to launch KNUP, which became the only party other than the CPP and CNRP to win a commune in the June ballots.

He was put in charge of the country’s military during the Funcinpec-CPP coalition government in 1993. He was later appointed to be deputy prime minister in 2004, but his title was altered to government adviser in 2013.

Cambodian maid repatriated from Saudi Arabia

A Khmer Muslim woman arrived back in Cambodia in August after allegedly being forced to work for no pay for a family in Saudi Arabia for 12 years.

Math Sanas, 28, was rescued after pleading for help in a Facebook video that went viral.

Ms Sanas, originally from Kampong Thom’s Baray district, said she had gone to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia when she was 16, through a company which had since changed its name.

She said her employer tore up her passport and did not allow her to contact anyone, forcing her to work without pay.

“One day, I had enough money to buy a phone and use Facebook to post a video seeking help,” she said.

The Foreign Ministry says it helped repatriate more than 450 Cambodian workers in the first six months of 2017.

PM meets factory workers

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in August he would make regular visits to staff in factories and their rental rooms, to see for himself what their work and home environment was like.

The plan was welcomed by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia and unions.

“We will ask factory managers to arrange visits for us, so I can go and talk to staff for a couple of hours,” he said. “We created jobs for them so we need to see them at work.”

He said he would talk to workers about their hopes, needs and roles in society, adding that factory staff will be given pensions when they retire, just as civil servants receive.

Later in August, Mr Hun Sen promised garment and footwear workers a range of services including free bus rides, a minimum wage hike and health insurance

In September, the Prime Minister announced that workers would receive new bonuses from the government starting in January 2018. Mothers who give birth to one child will receive $100, while mothers of twins will receive $200 and triplet mothers will get $300.

Government shuts down US NGO

The government in August shuttered the National Democratic Institute, a US-funded NGO, and expelled its foreign staff from the country. The organization had allegedly operated without being registered with the government.

The decision to shut down the NDI office, which had operated in Cambodia for more than 25 years, was made following information that the NDI had set an election plan and strategy for the CNRP, the main rival to the ruling CPP.

In September, the government also shuttered two other NGOs, Mother Nature and Equitable Cambodia. The US-funded Radio Free Asia, dozens of other radio stations and The Cambodia Daily newspaper were also forced to shut their doors.

CNRP president Kem Sokha arrested

Opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested and charged with treason by Phnom Penh Municipal Court in early September.

Conspiracy with a foreign power is defined as having a secret agreement with a foreign state or its agents with a view to fomenting hostilities or aggression against the Kingdom of Cambodia and the offence is punishable by 15 to 30 years in jail.

His arrest and detention was widely condemned by the international community, including the EU, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United States and Australia, but China offered its support to the government on the issue.

The case against Mr Sokha came after video footage from Australia-based CBN news was posted on Facebook, appearing to show Mr Sokha saying that the US government had been helping him push for regime change in Cambodia since 1993.

US chemical bombs unearthed in Svay Rieng

Experts took samples and confirmed the barrel bombs were chemical weapons. KT/Ven Rathavong

Experts from the National Authority for Chemical Weapons and the Cambodian Mine Action Centre identified 29 bomb sites in Svay Rieng province’s Korki commune, ten sites in Mondulkiri province and two locations in Tbong Khmum province in early October.

The government as well as Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the United States to respond and help to remove the bombs, which were dropped during the Vietnam War.

The US Embassy issued a statement over chemical bombs in the country, prompting outrage from Mr Hun Sen, who described it as an insult to Cambodian people.

Four chemical experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from The Hague came to inspect the bomb sites. The experts took samples from all of the sites and later confirmed the barrel bombs were chemical weapons.

The government this month began building a health centre in Korki commune where dozens of local villagers have been suffering from skin and respiratory complaints.

Minimum wage for workers to rise to $170

Starting in January 2018, the new minimum salary for textile and footwear industry workers will be $170 per month after the government’s Labour Advisory Committee came to a unanimous agreement on the issue in October.

The decision confirmed that contracted employees will receive $165, and when they change to being full-time staff, they will receive the full $170, excluding other benefits.

The minimum wage for the textile and footwear industries in Cambodia will be higher than in some countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Unions hailed the wage increase as a historical moment, saying the figure was appropriate for workers.

An official from the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodian said at the time that the new minimum wage was quite high and went beyond the affordability of some members and the competitive level of the country.

Supreme Court rules to dissolve CNRP

The Supreme Court ruled for the dissolution of the opposition CNRP on November 16 and banned 118 senior party members from politics for five years.

The decision was made following an Interior Ministry request that the CNRP be dissolved following complaints filed by Funcinpec and the Cambodian Youth Party in the wake of CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s arrest on treason charges.

The dissolution of the CNRP has been criticized by the international community, in particular the US and the European Union, who responded by imposing visa sanctions and suspending aid for next year’s general election.

Three members of the National Election Committee, who were nominated by the CNRP, resigned from their positions on November 20. Vice-chairman Kouy Bunroeun, Rong Chhun and Te Manirong said they could not continue to serve the NEC because it would mean betraying their own conscience.

Funcinpec and other parties take CNRP seats

New lawmakers from three minor political parties replaced 44 of 55 former CNRP parliamentarians in the National Assembly after the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November.

The 44 lawmakers from the royalist party Funcinpec, the Cambodian Nationality Party and the Khmer Economic Development Party took their oaths in front of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace.

Funcinpec received 41 seats, the CNP took two and the KEDP got one. Two other political parties, the League for Democracy Party and Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, were supposed to get the CNRP’s remaining 11 seats but they refused. Those seats were taken by the ruling CPP.

The CNRP’s commune seats were also divvied out to other parties who had joined the commune elections.

More than 2,700 members of the CNRP defected to the ruling CPP to save their positions while the rest lost their positions.

First maids head to Hong Kong

The maids make their way through the Phnom Penh International Airport to depart for Hong Kong. KT/Chor Sokunthea

At least 14 Cambodian maids left for Hong Kong on Wednesday for the first time since both countries signed an agreement earlier this year. Other maids are set to fly as soon as their names are confirmed.

Two companies, the Ung Rithy Group and Elite Manpower Agency, were given permission to send the maids, while a total of six have been approved.

Minister of Labour Ith Samheng confirmed that Hong Kong has guaranteed the women’s safety in these well-paying positions, with a $550 monthly salary, meals and free accommodation. The government is set to send some 1,000 maids according to the agreement.

Cambodia has sent maids to work in Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Singapore with many more migrant workers in Thailand.

More than 2,300 foreigners deported

The government’s clampdown on illegal immigrants has resulted in more than 2,300 being deported and permanently barred from the kingdom so far this year.

Officials arrested and deported 2,357 illegal immigrants, according to Lieutenant General Uk Heisela, director of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s general immigration department.

“These immigrants comprise 51 different nationalities. Of this total, 1,220 deportees were Vietnamese,” he said.

“We arrested those foreign nationals who had either overstayed their visas or crossed the border illegally and put them on a permanent no-entry list, which follows the regulations of the Ministry of Interior, before deporting them back to their original countries.”

More than 160,000 foreign nationals reside in Cambodia, with the vast majority of them being Vietnamese.

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