JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 25 November 2003
The Open Forum of Cambodia established the first connection to the internet from Cambodia in 1994 and has played a pioneering role in ICT in Cambodia ever since. They have developed tools to allow Cambodians to use their native Khmer script
which in unique in Asia in e-mail and mailing lists and to read Khmer-language web pages which automatically download the Khmer font for Cambodian readers.
The Open Forum was formed to provide, as the name suggests, an unrestricted space for communication amongst people of different backgrounds and opinions – not an easy task in a complex war-torn society. The general climate in Cambodian society is still heavily defined by past experiences. The traditional culture is structured by top-down loyalties. Politically
during the French colonial period until 1953, during the "Cambodian Socialist Sangkum Reastr Niyum" period until the military coup of 1970, followed by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, and the decade under Vietnamese tutelage it was always better not to speak up publicly, as the current (or future) authorities might remember and not like what they heard. This could often be fatal.
The Forum’s ICT services are truly notable. They are a connectivity provider for text-based services, they provide mailing-list hosting, and they are Cambodia’s principle provider and trainer of information to use the Khmer script in e-mail, mailing lists, and web pages. The Forum is the content collector and editor for the first Khmer language portal with national coverage (the output and input of content comes from Community Information Centres in all 20 provinces of Cambodia) and they run a Khmer language portal for Cambodian youth and student organisations.
APC has been associated with OFC since the mid-1990s and most recently around ICANN and the World Summit on the Information Society. "Maybe the Open Forum of Cambodia is not a great example of ‘progressive’ communication if one compares it internationally," commented Norbert Klein, who has worked with OFC since its founding. "However, given the cultural and political history of Cambodia, one can say that it has made a consistent effort to open up channels of communication – not only in terms of the technical instruments for this, but also using these technical instruments to foster social communication. It is our hope that becoming a member of the APC will help our future development along the lines of the APC mission." The Open Forum of Cambodia became a member of APC in October.