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Cablegate: Ambassador's Meeting with Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHPF #0663/01 2460957
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 030957Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1151
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS PHNOM PENH 000663

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL CASC KTIP CB
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S MEETING WITH SIEM REAP GOVERNOR SOU PHIRIN

REF: PHNOM PENH 379
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET DISSEMINATION.
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: During an August 21 meeting with Siem Reap
Governor Sou Phirin (joined by other government officials such as
the Siem Reap Prosecutor and Military Commander), the Ambassador
discussed H1N1 prevention methods, tourism and tourist safety,
trafficking in persons, and land issues. The Ambassador highlighted
a recent child sexual exploitation case involving an American
citizen as well as ongoing land disputes. END SUMMARY.
The State of Siem Reap
----------------------
2. (SBU) The Ambassador began the meeting by asking the governor
about the state of the economy in Siem Reap. Sou Phirin expressed
his thanks to the United States for allowing exports from Cambodia
and for their role in sustaining Cambodia's garment industry. On
tourism, the governor spotlighted its safety and affordability, and
noted that although Siem Reap has seen a decline in visitors
overall, there has been an increase in visitors from North America.
He expressed a desire for a full U.S. economic recovery, noting
Cambodia's dependence on the U.S. economy.
H1N1 and Tourist Safety
-----------------------
3. (SBU) The Ambassador asked Phirin about precautions to prevent
the spread of H1N1 among Siem Reap's visitors and its local
population. The governor responded that there were only seven
reported cases of H1N1 in Siem Reap, all of which involved visitors
from the United States, Pakistan, Thailand, Nigeria, and the
Philippines. He claimed that no Cambodians had been infected so
far. In an effort to prevent the spread of H1N1, passengers from
international flights are screened at the airport and prevention
information is provided daily via radio and television
announcements. The governor stated that officials would make every
effort to care for suspected H1N1 patients within Siem Reap but, if
necessary, they would be transferred to Phnom Penh for treatment.
Trafficking in Persons and Sex Tourism
--------------------------------------
4. (SBU) The Ambassador reaffirmed the United States' commitment to
pursuing legal action against Americans who commit sex crimes within
Cambodia. She expressed surprise that Jack Sporich, an American
citizen and convicted sex offender, was released on bail after six
months in pre-trial detention within Siem Reap province. (NOTE: To
the Embassy's knowledge, no other prisoner has been released on bail
after their initial six-month detention period.) The Prosecutor
stated that Sporich was facing charges for indecent acts -a
misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of three years in
prison. Persons charged with a misdemeanor cannot be held in
pre-trial detention for more than six months under Cambodian law.
As Sporich had already been detained for over six months, his lawyer
was able to argue successfully for his release. The Ambassador
appealed to the governor to consider the potential damage to
Cambodia's reputation if it is seen as a place where it is easy to
abuse children. She urged the governor to be vigilant in fighting
trafficking and abuses against women and children.
5. (SBU) The governor stated that he fully supported the
Ambassador's remarks and that he too wanted to enhance the rights of
women and children. Governor Sou Phirin added that while Sporich
was accused of indecent acts, he had not been accused of rape
because he was caught trying to persuade a young boy into his home,
not in the process of, or after the fact of rape. That was the
factual basis that made the difference between charges for "indecent
acts" and more serious felony charges. (NOTE: Sporich returned to
the United States in the custody of U.S. officials on August 30
under authority of the PROTECT ACT.) The Ambassador added that it
is the responsibility of government officials and development
partners to provide more education and job opportunities and improve
the health of the local population in order to discourage child sex
tourism.
Land Disputes
-------------
6. (SBU) Noting that the Embassy regularly receives information
related to land disputes from NGOs and individuals, the Ambassador
asked for the governor's perspective on land cases. Governor Phirin
stated that land disputes within Siem Reap stem from one of two
categories: the first involves the use of land that belongs to the
state; the second pertains to the succession of land ownership from
the former generation before 1975. Governor Phirin stated that most
land cases were not difficult to resolve as the parties involved
were inclined to settle them via commune council arbitration. He
stated that the commune councils also attempted to settle the
disputes involving the landless and poor.
7. (SBU) The Ambassador mentioned that she has heard of cases
involving violence and urged that they be resolved peacefully.
(NOTE: One of Siem Reap's most recent land dispute cases involving
violence was between the Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes.
Police officers entering the commune to issue an arrest warrant
fired shots and injured three people. See Reftel.) Governor Phirin
stated that the government wants to conciliate and mediate land
dispute problems, and expressed regret that provincial authorities
had used guns in the Chi Kraeng case.
COMMENT
-------
8. (SBU) The governor spoke openly during the meeting and seemed
particularly attentive to the strong economic ties between the U.S.
and Cambodia represented by tourism and foreign assistance. The
governor also seemed open to continued collaboration between
Cambodia and the U.S. in Siem Reap.
RODLEY

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