Cleveland, Tenn., is now sister city to... Phnom Penh?

photo In this file photo, a woman hangs laundry on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh as a passenger train passes by just feet away.


The regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians in that time. Under the group's leader, Pol Pot, the regime emptied the country's cities, determined to create a totally agrarian, communist society. In 1979, Vietnamese troops, tired of border skirmishes with the Khmer Rouge, invaded Cambodia and sent the Khmer Rouge back to the jungles. Pol Pot continued to lead the group as an insurgent movement until 1997, when he was arrested and sentenced to house arrest by his own followers after killing one of his closest advisers. He died in 1998 in a tiny jungle village, never having faced charges.Source: Time magazine

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The distance between Cleveland and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, shrank a little Monday.

The capital city of Cambodia and Cleveland -- 9,100 miles apart -- are now Sister Cities.

The City Council approved the Sister City resolution Monday.

"There is no cost to the city, and it creates good will," Mayor Tom Rowland said Monday.

The Cambodian tie to Southeast Tennessee is through an organization called People for Care and Learning, created by the Church of God. Founded in 2002 in Cleveland, the organization seeks to improve the lives of some of the world's poorest people in Southeast Asia.

Its goal in Cambodia is to build a village inside the city limits of Phnom Penh to house about 8,000 displaced people, said Fred Garmon, president of People for Care and Learning. The job will take about $2.5 million and three years, he said.

"Being a Sister City gives us more credibility with the Kingdom of Cambodia," Garmon said Monday in a telephone interview.

In 2006, Phnom Penh authorities moved about 1,500 families from a riverside dump area to make room for a new development. The people said they owned the land but could not prove it. According to People for Care and Learning's website, land ownership records were lost or destroyed during the 1975-79 rule of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

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The people were relocated to an open, flood-prone and swampy field, Garmon said. But the field became another slum as people made do with found material, such as cardboard, to build homes.

"We were already working with them so we just moved with them, too," he said.

Last February, the residents and People for Care started digging drainage and sewer systems and, with the Cambodian government's help, building homes for about $1,000 each. Next comes water and electricity service, a market place, a police station and a school, Garmon said.

People for Care and Learning developed its own subsidiary, Build-A-City, to coordinate the construction of a new set of homes for the Cambodian people. It named the development Andong Village.

People for Care and Learning is funded through private donations and its work is done by volunteers, said Fred Garmon, president of the group. The organization has worked in Cambodia for a decade as a humanitarian nongovernment organization, he said. Based on the model used by Habitat For Humanity, the plan in Phnom Penh could work in many other countries through other such organizations, Garmon said.

On Aug. 19, a Cambodian delegation of officials will be in Cleveland with Gov. Bill Haslam and will visit Bristol, Chattanooga and Nashville. When the Cambodian officials get here, Rowland said, it could lead to economic ties, too.

"I would like to see the sister city recognition on some of our city limits signs," he said.

Contact staff writer Randall Higgins at or 423-314-1029.