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Cambodian-American Diaspora in Massachusetts Split by Politics back Home

With the U.S. presidential election just weeks away, however, the rift has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans

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An elder walks pass the voting sign placed on the fence at one of the public schools in Lowell, Massachusetts, Thursday, September 8, 2016. VOA

For the 29 years that Pheng Ang has called Lowell home, he hasn’t seen the local Cambodian-American community, the second largest in the U.S., as politically fragmented as it is today.

With the U.S. presidential election just weeks away, however, the rift has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. It’s the roiling feud between political camps nearly 13,000 kilometers away that’s taking a toll on locals.

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“Before, there were some factions,” Pheng, a 71-year-old father of five, told VOA Khmer. “But when the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) came to indoctrinate people here, there was a severe fracture in the community, which rarely had unity, even among [Buddhist] monks.”

Supporters of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) shout slogans during a general election campaign in Kandal province, July 12, 2013. VOA
Supporters of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) shout slogans during a general election campaign in Kandal province, July 12, 2013. VOA

Pheng, who escaped the war-torn Southeast Asian country in 1987, has always been aware of the long shadow its domestic politics cast over life in Massachusetts. But ever since a visit earlier this year by Hun Manet, son of long-time Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, divisions have only deepened.

It was on that one day in April that Manet, a senior military figure and heir-apparent to a polarizing regime in Phnom Penh, was greeted by angry protesters accusing him of violating human rights and repressing the political will of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party raise joined hands for photographs at their party headquarters in Phnom Penh, May 27, 2016. VOA
Members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party raise joined hands for photographs at their party headquarters in Phnom Penh, May 27, 2016. VOA

Voting bloc disintegrated

In the 1980s, large numbers of Cambodian refugees began arriving in the northeastern state of Massachusetts — predominately in the city of Lowell — as war gripped the tiny kingdom, which was still shaking off atrocities of the genocidal Khmer Rouge.

Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian elected to Lowell’s nine-member city council, says the 30,000-strong Cambodian-American community was caring and unified when he arrived in the ’80s.

“In the past, we could talk to each other easily,” he told VOA Khmer. “But now there are the CPP, the CNRP, the existing Sam Rainsy Party and other smaller parties. We can still talk, of course, but it’s just hard because the other party said if they are associated with us, they would be in trouble.”

Imported political divisions have had consequences for municipal elections, he added, explaining that Lowell’s ethnic Cambodian voting bloc is so fragmented that its voice in city hall has been diluted. Currently, there are no Cambodian councilors. While Cambodian-American Veasna Nuon was elected to the city council in 2011, he held the position for only a single two-year term; he and three other Cambodian-American candidates were all unsuccessful in last year’s election.

Nine members of the city councilors are overseeing the City Hall of Lowell, Massachusetts. VOA
Nine members of the city councilors are overseeing the City Hall of Lowell, Massachusetts. VOA

Two other Cambodian-Americans, Kamara Kay and Dominik Hok Y Lay, ran unsuccessfully last year for seats on Lowell’s school committee.

“They don’t always vote as a bloc,” Lowell Mayor Edward Kennedy told VOA Khmer. “So maybe their voice at the polls is not as loud as it would be if they vote in unison.”

Passing storm

It wasn’t always this way.

The first generation of Cambodians who migrated to Lowell more than three decades ago focused on building better lives for themselves individually, so politics typically wasn’t high on the agenda.

But Cambodia’s domestic politics eventually followed them here, working its way into local religious institutions, triggering a political segregation of Buddhist temples, physical division of community centers, and the organization of local leadership roles according to homeland political allegiances.

Newly arriving Cambodian immigrants, residents say, continue to arrive with long-held political convictions intact. While some prominent Cambodian-Americans such as Sovann Ou, Phnom Penh’s honorary consul general in Lowell, declined to comment for this article, others openly speculated about how to heal the rift.

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“Most of the CPP members I know live here [and] also have families here, and they regard this city as their home, too,” said Tolayuth Ok, a representative of the ruling CPP’s youth movement in Lowell.

“There are no intentions to break the [Lowell] community,” he said of Hun Sen’s ruling party officials. “We all love our society and our nation, too.”

On the other side of the political divide, Sok Paul Pen, president of the U.S.-based CNRP youth movement, says it’s time for stakeholders in the Cambodian-American community, especially the non-political Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (CMAA), to take a leading role in reuniting the “fractured” diaspora.

Sok Paul Pen, president of the U.S.-based CNRP youth movement in Lowell, Massachusetts. VOA
Sok Paul Pen, president of the U.S.-based CNRP youth movement in Lowell, Massachusetts. VOA

“I would like to appeal to the CMAA that they have to think of [the issue] and step into the political sphere to solve this,” he said.

That, however, seems unlikely to happen. CMAA Executive Director Sovanna Pouv says his association’s mission was focused on Cambodians in Lowell, not politics in Cambodia or its local manifestation.

“If we focus a lot on what is happening in [Cambodia], which we have high respect for, and we respect everyone that is connected to the country, it pulls away from our true work here” in the U.S., he said.

Another community leader, Sidney Liang, compares Lowell’s politically charged environment to a passing storm.

Political division? Not so

“Outsiders may think that the people in Lowell must be divided when they saw a protest taking place here, but in fact that’s not true,” he said, echoing the opinion of Rady Mom, the Cambodian-born State Representative for the 18th Middlesex district in Massachusetts, who frequently downplays talk of a fragmented community.

“If we often mention the fracture or division, that’s not correct. We should get rid of that term,” said Rady, who is currently seeking a second term.

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“If you just look at our pagodas we built, those came from our unity,” he said, referring to the construction of two separate pagodas in Lowell. Their concurrent construction didn’t reflect a divided community, he said, but one that’s rapidly expanding.

Political parties and their respective support bases need to focus on mutually beneficial debates rather than destructive political diatribes, said Tararith Kho, a former Harvard fellow and current Khmer literature lecturer at Lowell Community College.

“I am aware of the division,” Tararith said. “But, I would just like to tell the Khmer community in this city that we should learn how to quarrel with each other in a constructive manner, and not in a way [that] furthers the fracture.” (VOA)

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Child Can not be Thrown Out of a Class on the “Whims and Fancies”: Delhi Court

A Delhi court has said that keeping students out of the classroom can put 'immense' pressure on their young, impressionist minds.

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A delhi court released an order saying schools can throw kids out of class
Following judgement on a 2012 case, a Delhi court says school authorities cannot keep students out of the class as it is mentally challenging for the kids.(representational image). Wikimedia
  • Delhi court says a child cannot be thrown out of class
  • Convicts face jail-term and fine for willfully neglecting student
  • The offense entails a maximum of six months in jail under the old law

New Delhi, July 27, 2017: The Director and Principal of a school were sentenced a two-month jail term by a Delhi court on July 26 for causing mental trauma to a seven-year-old student by keeping her out of the class.

The court has said that a child cannot be thrown out of class as per the “whims and fancies” of school authorities because this can cause “immense” trauma to the child. It also directed OPG World School director Kavitha Chandra and principal Rajwant Kaur to pay a compensation of Rs. 2.5 lakh each to the child, mentioned PTI report.

ALSO READ: How Children With Special Needs Found Place in Mumbai Classrooms

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ankur Jain held the accused guilty of deliberately neglecting the child, who was in class 3 at the time of the incident in 2012, causing her mental distress under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act.

However, the court has accepted the convicts’ plea to suspend their sentence for a month, granting them bail to enable them to file an appeal against the judgment before a superior court.

The offense entails a maximum of six months in jail under the old law, which after the amendment has been increased to three years.

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A FIR had been lodged in 2012 following a complaint by the father and an NGO claiming ill-treatment of the child by school management on April 4, 2012, after he had questioned it over an increase in fees and accessory charges. The complaint alleged that the child was incorrectly kept away from her classmates, and confined at places in the school devoid of any children, or activity.

The school authorities, however, claimed that the parents had requested for a transfer certificate (TC), which had been issued on April 23, 2012, and instead of collecting it, the child had been sent to school to attend classes. On claims of not feeling “comfortable”, and knowing her history of asthma, the child was sent to an infirmary to rest.

The court refused to accept this version of the school authorities. “The theory of the child being not well also cannot be believed as the attendant/nurse from the infirmary was never examined to prove the factum of the child not being well”, the court said, further adding that the child bared unnecessary mental suffering by not being allowed to sit in class.

Advocate Chandra Suman, who represented the child, believes this is a first of its kind judgment against school authorities for “mentally harassing a child.

– prepared by Soha Kala for NewsGram. Twitter @SohaKala


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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

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There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang