Japanese photographer arrested over photo festival images

Phnom Penh - Cambodian police have charged a Japanese photographer with pornography after they claimed he took pictures of sex workers in the tourist city of Siem Reap, local media reported Friday.

Go Takayama, a 28-year-old participant in a workshop at the Angkor Photo Festival, was arrested in late November and charged Thursday.

He faces up to one year in prison, said Siem Reap provincial prosecutor Ty Soveinthal.

'Making or publishing pornographic pictures is absolutely prohibited in Cambodia and is in violation of Cambodian law, so the court will make a decision on this next week,' Ty Soveinthal told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper.

The police said he had taken dozens of photographs of sex workers at a brothel in the city.

However Jessica Lim, who helped to coordinate the festival, said Takayama had not sought out sex workers, adding that the photographs depicted a married couple and contained no naked images.

She said Takayama was arrested immediately after leaving the building where the shoot of the couple had taken place.

'The couple, in some of the pictures, they're posing next to each other, as in a portrait shot, and in others they're standing there hugging each other,' she said.

'There's absolutely no nudity,' she said, adding that she had seen thumbnail shots of the images taken.

Takayama's photographs were taken as part of his involvement in a workshop at the week-long festival, which closed on November 27.

It remained unclear whether the charges could relate to different pictures Takayama may have shot at another time.

Asian political parties gather in Cambodia

The 6th International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP6) themed, “Asia’s Quest for a Better Tomorrow” has been held in the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh.

Participants in the three-day conference included representatives of 89 political parties from 36 countries, 150 observers and environmental experts from international organisations and the United Nations.

A Vietnamese delegation led by Hoang Binh Quan, Head of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee’s Commission for External Relations, attended the event.

In his opening speech on December 1, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen emphasised the need to improve mutual understanding and trust, promote cooperation through the unique role and channel of political parties, and create an environment for sustainable peace and shared prosperity in the region, he said.

Also under discussion are measures to achieve economic recovery from the global financial crisis and ensure energy security and environmental safety against the backdrop of climate change, the PM said.

Over the past two days, participants joined in drafting the “Phnom Penh Declaration” with a focus on main topics such as reaffirming ICAPP’s role as an open forum for Asian political parties, recognising the huge risk of environmental damage and poverty and the pressing need to increase trade relations in the region through lifting tax and non-tax barriers, coping with climate change, targeting production towards renewable resources and promoting the role of women and young people.

This is the first time Cambodia has hosted ICAPP, after it was organised in the Philippines, Thailand, China, the Republic of Korea and Kazakhstan.

Nearly 800 Cambodian garment workers fired over strike

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Sixteen Cambodian factories producing clothing for big brands such as Adidas AG and Gap Inc have dismissed nearly 800 employees for taking part in a nationwide strike, a union leader said on Friday.

Unions were preparing to issue demands to the factories to reinstate the 799 sacked workers by Dec. 15 or face legal action and possibly more strikes, which could further disrupt a sector that is a big currency earner for the impoverished country.

"We will take action in accordance with the law and we are trying to avoid a strike," Kong Athit, deputy president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), told Reuters.

"The government and the courts have already ordered that these workers be reinstated, so these dismissals are illegal," added Kong Athit, whose union represents 40,000 workers.

The union said the factories that dismissed the workers produced clothing for major Western companies including Marks and Spencer Group PLC , Tesco PLC , H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB , Puma , Next Plc and Inditex , the world's biggest clothing retailer and owner of Zara.

Those sacked were among the estimated 210,000 garment workers -- about two-thirds of the sector's workforce -- from 95 factories who took part in the September strike to demand better working conditions and a wage increase to $93 a month from $56.

The strike was halted after three days when the government agreed to hold more talks to avoid damage to the industry, which is Cambodia's third-largest foreign currency earner after agriculture and tourism.

Garments also provide a vital source of income for rural families, and the sector is credited with helping to reduce poverty in a country where about a third of the population live on less than $1 a day.

The country's garment exports rose 12 percent in the first half of 2010 from a year earlier, hitting $1.25 billion, according to the Economic Institute of Cambodia, an independent think tank.

Worker disputes this year in China, mostly at foreign-owned factories, have raised questions over whether other low-cost Asian manufacturing centres would also have to pay higher wages as their workers became more assertive. (Editing by Martin Petty) ((prak.chanthul@thomsonreuters.com; +855 23 99 2102; Reuters Messaging: prak.chanthul.reuters.com@reuters.net)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, e-mail to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com

Monks branch out into carbon market to protect forest

Ben Doherty, Cambodia
Sorng Rukavorn monks Sove Ui, Kea Mony Tapkea and Sou Mai in their community forest in Oddar Meanchey, northern Cambodia.

Sorng Rukavorn monks Sove Ui, Kea Mony Tapkea and Sou Mai in their community forest in Oddar Meanchey, northern Cambodia. Photo: Ben Doherty

A religious order aims to tap polluters to help a community.

THE forest surrounding the Sorng Rukavorn monks' pagoda in northern Cambodia has forever been ''theirs''.

They have always depended on the forest for food, for timber and for a living. They have long understood their forest's boundaries, its cycles of wet and dry, of fire and regeneration.

But they have never owned it. Until now. Having spent nearly two years winning legal control of 18,000 hectares of forest, they are now able to lock it away from logging interests and other encroachments, and rehabilitate areas previously cleared.

The carbon that saves, they hope, might soon be for sale. They want to be players on a global carbon market. ''Any revenue from the forest will be important for the people here, and for Cambodia,'' monk Lee Ragana says.

''When the revenue comes in, we can use the money to build infrastructure, to build schools … and to build better roads. And we can improve the management of the forests.

''We will use the money to educate farmers in better land practices and technical improvements. We will be able to supply patrols with trucks and equipment … do more fire suppression and replanting.''

The Sorng Rukavorn monks are on the cusp of entering what is still a voluntary carbon market, in preparation for a time industrialised countries legislate to force polluters into offsetting the carbon they produce.

They aim to be a UN-recognised REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation - project, in which governments and companies in industrialised nations that cannot reduce their own carbon emissions pay communities in poor countries to cut emissions on their behalf, usually by not cutting down trees.

Already, yellow-and-green signs mark the monks' land as a ''community forest'', and regular patrols are conducted by volunteers to see that trees aren't being felled illegally or land cleared for farming.

The monks' community forest is one of 13 such sites in Oddar Meanchey province, on Cambodia's northern border with Thailand. Combined, they preserve nearly 68,000 hectares of forest land and, maintained over 30 years, are expected to sequester 7.1 million tonnes of carbon. Within months they will seek a carbon buyer.

But even before a dollar has been paid to the monks, they feel they've won a victory in taking control of land that - informally at least - they have regarded as theirs for generations.

''Before we had the community forest, people from outside would … cut down trees illegally, clear land, and the people who depended on that forest had no right to stop them,'' Mr Lee says. ''Now we feel we own this land, we have control, and we can stop it being used badly.''

Kurt MacLeod, vice-president of Pact, a non-government organisation helping Oddar Meanchey's community forests bring their carbon to market, says REDD projects will bring enormous benefits and development to the poor communities running them.

''As soon as legislation is enacted [in major industrialised countries], there are going to be private sector companies looking for validated REDD projects,'' he says. ''The demand in five years will be much higher than supply.''

Industrialised countries see enormous value in paying poorer countries to preserve forests on their behalf. Germany, France, Norway, the US, Britain, Australia and Japan pledged $US4 billion towards REDD initiatives at the last round of climate talks in May. But just how much carbon will be worth on the market of the future is still unclear.

There is also the issue of measuring the carbon sequestered in forests, and how that might be affected by its growth, climatic change or unforseen events such as fire.

And there is concern at the sellers' end about how much of the money, in a country such as Cambodia, where a notoriously corrupt government has the sole right to ''sell'' the carbon, will ever reach those on the ground.

Cambodia has a poor record in forestry. It has experienced some of the most rampant deforestation. More than 7 million hectares of forest - 39 per cent of the country's land - was sold off for logging. In the four decades since 1970, primary forest cover in Cambodia was reduced from 70 per cent to just 3.1 per cent today.

Deforestation accounts for 20 per cent of all the world's greenhouse gas emissions - some 5.9 billion tonnes a year.

‘Pearl of Asia’ Falls to Modernization

Suy Se |

A guard looking at an old building near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said ancient edifices should give way to skyscrapers. A guard looking at an old building near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said ancient edifices should give way to skyscrapers.

Phnom Penh. When Cambodia tore down a century-old school in the capital this year, conservationists bemoaned the loss of yet another piece of history in former French Indochina in the rush to modernize.

French colonial architecture — with its shuttered windows, grand balconies and pitched tiled roofs — for decades defined the look of cities in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, even after the French pulled out of Indochina in 1954.

But now, hundreds of historic buildings across the region are being knocked down as governments capitalize on rising land prices and attempt to create eye-catching skylines.

“What I see in Phnom Penh is little — or at worst no — heritage protection of significant buildings. I see the disappearance of old French colonial buildings,” said Cambodia-based architectural historian Darryl Collins.

“It’s a great pity because I think in time it will be regretted that so many of these buildings have gone,” the Australian said.

Built in 1908, the Ecole Professionnelle — Cambodia’s oldest training school — was razed in February, the latest high-profile casualty in the impoverished country’s quest for modernity.

The Cambodian capital, or the “Pearl of Asia” as it was once known, used to be thought of as one of the loveliest cities in the region thanks to its French-style wide avenues, carefully-manicured gardens and picturesque stately homes.

Much of that charm, however, is disappearing at an alarming rate, say conservationists.

They estimate that as many as 30 percent of Phnom Penh’s colonial buildings — survivors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and decades of civil war — have been demolished in the past 15 years.

While many Cambodians in the capital prefer to live and work in modern buildings, it is not just historians who are upset by the transformation.

“We should not destroy the French buildings. We should renovate them so that they look nice again,” said Chheng Moeun, 76, who sells soft drinks outside a crumbling colonial villa near Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace.

The demolitions are being driven in part by the kingdom’s economic growth over the past decade and developers are just eager to build apartments and office blocks in the prime locations that many of the colonial buildings occupy.

Samraing Kamsan, a top official at Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture, said saving French design in Phnom Penh was complicated because of limited funding and a lack of interest from the buildings’ owners.

“We want to preserve those ancient buildings. Some people listen to us, but some do not,” the official said.

Across the border, fellow former French colonies Laos and Vietnam are also struggling to maintain their colonial dwellings, said Collins, who blames booming real estate prices.

“It’s a short-term pattern of thinking,” he said, the main consideration being “sheer profit.”

Hoang Dao Kinh, a specialist in the preservation of Hanoi’s cultural and historical heritage, said out of more than one thousand French villas in the Vietnamese capital, only a few hundred remain in the original colonial style.

And while the country has made efforts to safeguard old buildings, Kinh said the application of a 2001 law on the preservation of such sites “has met with many difficulties.”

But attempts to rescue some of France’s architectural leftovers have not been completely in vain, he added, pointing to Vietnam’s Da Lat city as a noteworthy example.

In neighboring Laos, the picturesque northern town of Luang Prabang with its well-kept colonial homes has proved a major tourist draw and the government is keen to replicate that success in the capital.

Buildings in Vientiane have been renovated and are in “very good” condition, said government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing.

“It’s good for tourists. When the tourists come to Vientiane, they are looking for those colonial homes,” he said.

Collins believes governments in all three countries should see the preservation of French-era structures not as a nuisance, but as a way to attract revenue from foreign visitors.

“Decisions have to be made about how important these buildings are to the cities,” he said.

But if recent remarks by the Cambodian prime minister are anything to go by, those in favor of conservation have to brace themselves for an uphill battle.

“They want to keep the old buildings. But when they collapse, who would be responsible?” Hun Sen said in September when he announced construction plans for a 555-meter tower in Phnom Penh.

“Don’t be too conservative. Skyscrapers are appearing. Let’s build high buildings,” he said.

Agence France-Presse

Cambodia faces poverty despite rising tourism revenue

Preethi Nallu, Press TV, Siem Reap
Cambodia with its rich architecture and scenic terrain is every photographer's delight. Tourists clicking photos of vibrant streets scene is a common occurrence. With its magnificent remains of the khmer empire, Siem Reap has become a popular tourist destination drawing visitors from all over the world. Over 2 million tourists will have visited cambodia in 2010 alone.
Whilst the remnants of cambodia's ancient history leave a lasting impression, it is difficult to overlook the large number of street children in urban centers as well as rural areas. It is estimated that Cambodia with a total population of about 13 million is home to 5 million children under the age of 15 and 60 percent of the population is currently under the age of 18. Consequently, the disproportionate number of minors in the country has become its economic backbone, often bearing the burden of providing for their families at the expense of their education, their development and ultimately their futures.

Despite increased revenue from tourism, Cambodia with an annual GDP of a mere 300 us dollars per capita has one of the worst social indicators in the region. In Siem Reap at least 60 percent of the local population lives below the poverty line.

The most vulnerable victims of lack of social services are of course children.

This six year old wanders the streets every night looking for tourists claiming that his baby brother needs milk. He is joined by thousands of others who are seen roaming the streets during the day and late into the night thereby becoming easy targets for organized begging rings and sex trafficking.

Local organizations such as Anjali house that provide refuge and education to underprivileged children explain that sustainable progress in Cambodia cannot be achieved without investment in education.

Some of the children as young as 15 already have a clear idea of how they could help improve their community.

At The end of the Pol Pot years, during which schools were abolished, only around 300 cambodians with a higher education remained in the country. Cambodia was faced with re- starting an educational system from scratch. Given the proliferation of education and child poverty related NGOs, experts say there is a dire need for the government at national and local levels to collaborate and contribute towards securing the futures of their youth.

Trouble brews on eastern front

Ultra-nationalist PAD plans rally to warn of Cambodian encroachment on Thai soil - Saudi response to Bangkok summit invitation will show whether relations with Thailand remain tense - Corrections Department chief assures red shirts that inmates are being treated well

The People's Alliance for Democracy is all set for yet another gathering on Jan 25 to alert the country to what it claims is an impending territorial invasion by Cambodia.

Suthep: Clashes with PAD

The ultra-nationalist alliance has turned on the government it holds culpable for what it has called the loss of Thailand's territory on the eastern front.

The PAD's friendly relations with the ruling Democrat Party soured after the party played along with its coalition partners' demands for a charter rewrite. The alliance slammed the proposed amendments as blatant self-interest.

Its ties with the Democrats took a turn for the worse when Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, speaking to Democrat supporters in the South, chided the PAD for attacking him.

Mr Suthep also went where he had never gone before: he insisted Sondhi Limthongkul, an influential co-leader of the PAD, was ''no lesser evil'' than ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

His remarks, however, took Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva aback. In a verbal warning, he said his deputy should learn to hold his tongue so as not to needlessly invite hostility.

The PAD has shaken off its Democrat-leaning image and is pressing ahead with its planned rally on Jan 25 in Bangkok. But the government has reminded the alliance that the emergency decree remains firmly in place in the capital and any threat to security will be met with swift prosecution.

The alliance originally planned to hold the rally on Dec 11. But its key figures figured that since December is a month of joyous occasions, most notably His Majesty the King's birthday tomorrow, the gathering should be deferred until Jan 25.

The PAD, nonetheless, has maintained it is fully justified in organising a gathering. It says the country must wake up to the expanding Cambodian occupation of border areas in Si Sa Ket province.

A reliable source in the alliance said Chamlong Srimuang, another PAD co-leader, is leading a band of disciples of the Santi Asoke Buddhist sect to the rally. The sect is headquartered in Kantharalak district of Si Sa Ket and its centre is only a stone's throw from the border.

Standing in the centre's backyard, one can see the enlarging settlement of Cam bodian villagers who allegedly encroach on Thai soil, the source said.

The 2nd Army, which has jurisdiction over the Northeast, has also claimed there are startling discoveries that support the alleged expanding territorial encroachment, the source added. However, no details were given.

A senior military officer belonging to the PAD said new evidence has come to light that reinforced the belief that Thailand has lost land to Cambodia.

''We need to rally to let people know how serious this problem is. We'll bring forth compelling evidence

[of alleged territorial loss] and demand the return of the land,'' the source said.

The border dispute, the source added, is a highly nationalistic issue that will attract a large rally turnout and provide impetus to the PAD gathering.

Uneasy silence in Middle East

The government is getting restless waiting for replies from leading Arab countries to say whether they will attend the third Asia-Middle East Dialogue meeting in Bangkok.

Saudi Arabia has yet to say whether it will attend the Dec 15-16 conference, which was launched by Singapore in 2005.

It would be a major embarrassment to Thailand if Saudi Arabia, which will host the next AMED meeting, stays away or decides to send junior representatives to the conference here.

Abhisit: Awaits Saudi response

Diplomacy aside, Riyadh's reaction or non-reaction to the invitation could reflect its mood toward Thailand, given the frosty state of bilateral relations.

Bangkok and Riyadh have not seen eye-to-eye since Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties.

This followed the murder of four members of its diplomatic staff in Bangkok in 1989 and 1990, plus the 1990 disappearance of Saudi Arabian businessman Mohammad al-Ruwaili following a notorious jewellery theft saga.

Not a single Thai government in the past two decades has come close to providing a satisfactory explanation or to bringing any culprits to justice.

Some progress was made in January this year with the indictment of Lt Gen Somkid Boonthanom and four other police in connection with the disappearance of Mr Ruwaili.

This year's AMED theme, ''Strengthening Cooperation towards Common Prosperity'', will also showcase how much clout Thailand has mustered in maintaining the right diplomatic balance in its ties with Arab countries.

This is especially important when problems concerning the southern insurgency have popped up at the Organisation of Islamic Conference.

Nineteen deputy ministers and ministers have confirmed they will attend out of 50 nations which have been invited.

Confirmed guests include Singapore's senior minister of state for foreign affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will preside over the opening ceremony on Dec 15 at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.

Issues to be discussed will cover a wide range of political, economic and social matters, including terrorism, piracy and maritime security, business opportunities and climate change.

The conference will boost the local economy, and could highlight Thailand's potential as Asia's bread basket, a hub for medical and health tourism and as a prime tourist destination for Muslim people, government sources say.

Representatives of the Palestinian Authority will also take part.

The AMED ministerial meeting is held biennially at venues alternating between Asia and the Middle East. Its inaugural session was organised in Singapore in 2005, while AMED II was held in Egypt in 2008.

Chartchai puts record straight

Corrections Department director-general Chartchai Suthiklom says he has never felt any pressure taking care of detained red shirt supporters at various prisons over the past six months.

Mr Chartchai insists the department has treated the red shirt detainees fairly. Their basic human rights have been protected and they still have a chance to meet their relatives, friends and supporters every weekday.

Chartchai: No abuse of red shirts

''We treat them like other [inmates]. We don't abuse them as feared by some red shirt supporters,'' Mr Chartchai said.

Since the government imposed the emergency decree six months ago, more than 400 red shirt protesters have been detained on charges of terrorism and sent to jails in several provinces.

Red shirt supporters have continued to demand their release and questioned the inmates' treatment by the Corrections Department.

Mr Chartchai explained he had reached an understanding with the red shirts about their treatment when the group rallied outside the Bangkok Special Remand Prison _ where 10 leaders of the red shirts are being detained _ and called for justice for the detainees.

Ten detained red shirt leaders are now being held separately in five detention areas inside the prison and they have to abide by prison regulations just like ordinary prisoners.

''My warders tell me that they are still healthy and strong,'' he said. ''They take good care of themselves.''

In the six months that have passed, about 200 red shirt detainees have been freed.

Mr Chartchai said authorities have stopped arresting red shirt supporters under the emergency decree and sending them to jail. Although the group occasionally conducts political activities, they are generally peaceful.

With most red shirt co-leaders behind bars, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) has installed Thida Thavornseth, the wife of detained red shirt co-leader Weng Tojirakarn, as its chairwoman.

She replaced former UDD chairman Veera Musikhapong, who has been given bail to fight the terrorism charge against him since he turned himself into authorities shortly before the crackdown on the red shirt protesters at Ratchaprasong intersection on May 19.

Ms Thida is widely known among the red shirts as a moderate political activist.

She has worked with the UDD since the movement was established four years ago following the ouster of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. She has taught red shirt supporters about democracy, justice and social equity.

Suriyan Thongnueiad, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, said he believed Ms Thida was not the real chairwoman of the UDD and her appointment was merely to shore up the movement's image.

''I don't know exactly how powerful and charismatic a leader she is ...We have to wait and see,'' Mr Suriyan said.

Next Friday, Ms Thida will lead a red shirt rally for the first time to Democracy Monument to demand justice for victims of the red shirt protest between March 12 and May 19 in which 92 people, including security personnel, were killed and more than 1,000 others injured.

Cambodian-Born Commander Visits His Homeland

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Devon Dow, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West Det. Japan

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia – Commanded by a man who was born in the rice fields of Cambodia, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) arrived in Sihanoukville, Cambodia for a port call Dec. 3.

Click for a closer look.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 29, 2010) - Cmdr. Michael V. Misiewicz, commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) addresses the crew following a frocking ceremony held aboard the ship. Mustin is currently conducting routine operations and training in the Pacific Ocean. Mustin is assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. (U.S.Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Devon Dow)

It has been over 37 years since Mustin’s Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Michael V. Misiewicz has returned to his homeland after being adopted by an American woman in 1973 after the Vietnam War spilled over into Cambodia.

“We are honored to be representatives and ambassadors of the U.S. Navy here today,” Misiewicz said. “Very significant progress has been made this year in terms of U.S. and Cambodia relations and my crew and I are hoping to contribute to that forward progress of strengthening this partnership.”

During the visit, Misiewicz and his crew of approximately 300 Sailors will engage in community service (COMSERV) projects and other goodwill activities. Mustin Sailors will interact and train with the Cambodian Navy, host a reception on board Mustin for distinguished guests and participate in an overnight COMSERV trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where Sailors will have the opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

For Misiewicz this visit reaches beyond fulfilling the Navy’s mission, it also brings him back to where his life started and a chance to reunite with family.

His personal life story has garnered international media attention.

As a young boy growing up in the countryside outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia during the Vietnam War, his family allowed him to be adopted by an American woman who was serving in the U.S. Army in Cambodia. Shortly following his immigration to the U.S., Cambodia fell into more turmoil when the Khmer Rouge regime came to power in 1975, causing millions of deaths in the country in what is known today as the “Killing Fields.”

While Misiewicz has been able to re-establish some communication with family members from Cambodia over the years, it will be a bitter sweet reunion when he is able to embrace and see his family and native country for the first time in almost four decades.

“I’ve been thinking about this visit a lot and thinking about all the emotions I will have to cope with about returning to the country I was born in and seeing relatives that have wanted to see me for so long,” he said. “It is important for me to be strong and to remember and honor the sacrifices that were made for me.”

Both Cambodians and Americans in my young life sacrificed life and happiness so I could have a better life. So now I am very happy and proud to lead a mission that serves to develop a positive and persistent relationship between the U.S. and Cambodia, laying the foundation for a long-lasting friendship between our two nations,” Misiewicz said.

Mustin joined a unique group of Navy ships to have the opportunity to visit the Asia-Pacific nation since the end of Vietnam War. In February 2007, the frigate USS Gary (FFG 51) made its historical port visit to Cambodia.

“This is my first time ever going to Cambodia and I am very excited about getting the chance to visit. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Machinery Repairman 2nd Class (SW) Mickie Kitchens from Roseland, La. “I am glad to see my captain be able to return to Cambodia to see his family and show them what he has become, I know he is making them proud. They will all see he is not a little boy anymore.”

While Misiewicz is humbled by the attention on his personal life, he said the unique opportunities the Navy and United States has provided him, made a story like his own achievable.

“Anything is possible. You can start anywhere, any place, if you’ve got freedom and you have opportunity like we have in the U.S., the sky is the limit,” he said. “When you look at the U.S., you see that we are a melting pot of people from almost every country in the world, and then if you look at the U.S. Navy, that diversity is magnified 100 times.”

If one was to look at my crew, they would be amazed at the different faces, cultures and backgrounds. Every member of Mustin has a unique story of why they joined the Navy, the hardships of their families and of themselves. I’m just one of those stories. I am glad that I’m able to share my story so we can show that the U.S. Navy is committed to diversity and willing to give opportunity to those who work hard and want to succeed,” Misiewicz added.

Misiewicz assumed command of Mustin in June 2009. The ship is one of seven destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, as part of the U.S. 7th Fleet.

U.S. warship arrives in Cambodia for goodwill visit

The missile destroyer USS Mustin docked in Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on Friday for a five-day goodwill visit in Cambodia, said a U.S. embassy official in Phnom Penh on Friday.

The missile destroyer USS Mustin is commanding by the Cambodia-born U.S. navy commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, with the more than 300 sailors under his charge.

Vanrith Chrea, Public Affairs Section, told Xinhua on Friday that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) docked at Sihanoukville Automomous Port on Friday morning for 5-day (Dec. 3-7) goodwill visit.

"In Cambodia, the naval crews will conduct community service projects, visiting orphanage, do humanism work in Bateay Meanchey province's Samlot district and meet with Cambodian Navy for military experience exchange," he said.

Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz was born and living at the outside of the capital Phnom Penh in the late 1960's until April, 1973, a young American woman, who worked at the U.S. Embassy, took him for adoption in the U.S.. It is his first time to return to his birth country in 37 years.

Raised by his adoptive mother Maryna Lee Misiewicz, Misiewicz enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in Lanark, Illinois.

He was selected for the Navy's Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) program and attended the U. S. Naval Academy, where he received his commission in 1992.

His service as a Navy Surface Warfare Officer ultimately brought him to command the guided missile destroyer USS Mustin, forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan.

37 years after escaping killing fields, a Cambodian returns as US Navy commander

US Navy Commander Michael Misiewicz docked the USS Mustin in Cambodia Friday. He last saw his homeland, and many of his relatives, as a boy fleeing the murderous Khmer Rouge.

By Clancy McGilligan, Contributor / December 3, 2010

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

US Navy Cmdr. Michael Misiewicz watched today as relatives prepared to board his destroyer, which was docked a few miles off the shore of Cambodia. He had not seen any of them since he left the Southeast Asian nation as a boy 37 years ago, escaping civil war and the murderous Khmer Rouge.

This photo released by the US embassy in Cambodia shows US Navy Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, who fled Cambodia 37 years ago to escape the Khmer Rouge. He returned to Cambodia with the USS Mustin on Friday.

The commander’s face was impassive at first, but it softened as more and more extended family members were helped onto the barge below him. Then he saw his aunt, now 72, who had helped him leave for the US so many years ago. Commander Misiewicz walked slowly down the metal stairs and they embraced, weeping.

“When I saw her this morning,” he later told reporters on the ship, “I just couldn’t hold back the tears, I was so happy that she was here. It’s been a very long time.”

The USS Mustin, which arrived in Cambodia Friday, is on a four-day goodwill mission that includes meetings with the Cambodian Navy and community service projects. Misiewicz made it clear that he places his duties as captain first, but also said that he had been “overwhelmed” by emotions upon his return.

Escaping the Khmer Rouge

Now 43, Misiewicz was born Vannak Khem in the rice fields outside Phnom Penh. As a child, he spent some days watching movies and playing games at the house of his future adoptive mother, Maryna Lee Misiewicz, a US embassy employee for whom his aunt worked as a maid. As the civil war between the Cambodian government and the Khmer Rouge worsened, his aunt and father arranged for her to adopt him, and they left for the US in 1973.

“I liked the person I worked for very much,” says the now-frail aunt, Samrith Mol, referring to Ms. Misiewicz. “That’s why I decided to send my nephew for adoption. And I had the feeling that I would send him first and then I would follow him later. But unfortunately the war happened, so I could not go with my nephew.”

Misiewicz, who describes himself as “happy go lucky” as a child, remembers the tearful goodbyes of his mother, and said he promised to buy her a “big white house.” He recalls being excited by the prospect of a trip to America, which to a 6-year-old boy meant watching movies and eating limitless popcorn there. When he arrived, the absence of his family set in.

"I cried a lot when I first came,” he told the Monitor in an interview on the ship. “It had hit me: This is not just a fun trip, this is separation that’s permanent from your family.”

Cambodian in the American Midwest

Misiewicz, who speaks English with a Midwestern accent (he doesn’t remember how to speak Khmer, the language of Cambodia), went to high school in Lanark, a town in northern Illinois with a population of about 1,500. He was the only non-Caucasian.

He says he decided to go into the Navy partly to spare his adoptive mother, a single parent, the expense of college. After enlisting in 1985, he received a commission in 1992, and says he has learned to love his career. Officers on board the USS Mustin, a 510-foot missile destroyer, spoke highly of their commander.

“Now the ultimate joy is being able to lead sailors who are like me, who just wanted to have an opportunity,” Misiewicz says.

Yet as he rose through the ranks of the US Navy, Misiewicz was haunted by memories of his family. The Khmer Rouge sealed off Cambodia to the outside world, and for 16 years after moving to the US Misiewicz did not know what had become of his parents and siblings.

Long awaited reunion

As it turned out, his mother and three siblings had survived the regime, under which an estimated 1.7 million people died of executions, starvation, disease, and overwork. They fled to refugee camps along the Thai border and in 1983 received asylum in America. They then moved to Texas, but it took another six years to find the boy they knew as Vannak Khem. The search included a lot of phonebooks and the aid of a graduate student in Southeast Asian studies at the University of Texas.

“We knew he was alive, but we just didn’t know where he was,” says his younger brother, Rithy Khem, who lives in Austin but traveled to Cambodia for his brother’s first return.

The 1989 phone call that reunited them was bittersweet: Misiewicz learned that his father and a younger sister had died in Cambodia's “killing fields.”

Misiewicz, who is now married with four children, stays in touch with his Cambodian mother and siblings, although he says the “Navy lifestyle” restricts visits. And he has bought his mom a house, although he said, “It wasn’t quite a big white house.”

“For years I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt because my whole family did go through the killing fields,” he says. “My father was executed, and so I feel very sad, but I think coming home will bring a little bit of closure. I don’t think it’s going to really heal any wounds that I feel about it, but it’s going to help me bring closure to the loss of my father.”


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