PHNOM PENH�The Cambodian Ministry of Information on Tuesday approved the first broadcast in the minority language of the Muslim Cham people, RFA�s Khmer service reports.

Responding to a March 4 request by Phnom Penh-based FM93.5 general manager Tan Bunpa to air the Cham programs, the Ministry of Information permitted the broadcasts early Tuesday after more than a week of deliberation. The new programming plan is a breakthrough for the minority Cham people living in Cambodia.

�We have three conditions attached to the airing of Cham broadcasts. � The Cham programming is not allowed to attack or insult any religion in Cambodia, it cannot incite race or religious discrimination, and it must be approved by the Ministry of Religion,� Ministry of Information Secretary Khieu Kanharith told RFA. He said any problems that arise will fall on the station manager and that there also must be a Khmer-language version of the Cham broadcasts for monitoring purposes.

�Any activity to promote news and information to a remote area and to promote democracy is very good,� Heide Bronke, the U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Phnom Penh, told RFA.

Of some 12 million people living in Cambodia today, an estimated 700,000 comprise the Cham population, whose ancestors once ruled much of Vietnam. When the kingdom of Champa was defeated in 1471, the Cham people fled to Cambodia to seek refuge and have lived there since. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the mid- to late-1970s, many Cham were singled out and killed, with many fleeing to Malaysia, Vietnam, and the U.S. to avoid persecution.

A March 4 document obtained by RFA details Tan Bunpa�s request for government permission to sell one hour per week of airtime for Cham programming to Ahmad Yahya, representative of the Cambodian Cham Development Association. The proposal, which was approved Tuesday, stated that Cham broadcasts will air every Friday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Another document declared a monthly broadcasting cost agreement at U.S.$200 for Cham programs.

Ahmad Yahya has been permitted by the Cambodian government to air a weekly Cham-language program beginning in mid-March �I am so happy my dream is now coming true,� Ahmad Yahya told RFA Tuesday. �I will not use the Cham programs as a political tool at all. � I want the Cham language to survive and grow,� he said. Ahmad Yahya himself fled Cambodia in the 1970s for Vietnam and later to the U.S., where he resided before returning to Cambodia in the early 1990s.

�I will use my own money to support the running of the program until I get support from the Cham in Cambodia or overseas. I submitted a request to the U.S. Embassy last week for funding but have yet to receive a reply,� Ahmad Yahya, who serves as an opposition Sam Rainsy MP and leader of the Cambodian Islamic Association.

Ahmad Yahya told RFA he plans to install seven Cham reporters in Phnom Penh, 16 reporters throughout 10 heavily populated Cham provinces, as well as reporters in Vietnam, the U.S., France, and Malaysia, where some of the ethnic Cham diaspora reside.


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