Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Cambodia King attends the first day of the Water Festival in front of the royal palace in Phnom Penh November 11, 2008.

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni greets boat racers as he attends the first day of the Water Festival in front of the royal palace in Phnom Penh November 11, 2008. About 29,000 oarsmen in more than 420 boats will compete in boat races during the three-day festival from November 11 to 13. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni (front R) greets officials as Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) and Senate President Chea Sim walk behind him upon his arrival on the first day of the Water Festival in front of the royal palace in Phnom Penh November 11, 2008 . About 29,000 oarsmen in more than 420 boats will compete in boat races during the three-day festival from November 11 to 13. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

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The power of pink

A Cambodian soldier shows his "magic" scarf at a front line along the Cambodia and Thailand border near the Preah Vihear temple(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)


Cambodian soldiers wear "magic scarves" that they say ward off bullets at a frontline outpost along the Cambodian-Thai border near Preah Vihear temple. A Cambodian infantryman admitted that Thai troops have better weapons, but said he's confident that the pink scarves will protect his comrades and him. (TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP/Getty Images)

Battleground superstitions

Photo by: AFP
A Cambodian soldier shows a magic scarf at a front line along the Cambodia and Thailand border near the Preah

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by AFP
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Facing a better-equipped opponent, Cambodian soldiers on the front lines at Preah Vihear turn to magical talismans to keep them safe from harm

ACOUPLE of weeks after their deadly border shootout, a Cambodian infantryman admits Thai troops have better weapons, but he's confident his pink "magic scarf" will ward off bullets.

"Thai soldiers have modern weapons, but I am not scared," says Chum Khla.

"I have magic charms to protect myself."

As well as the scarf that he ties around his head, the 28-year-old soldier wears a protective talisman belt and carries two small Buddhist figurines.

"I have had countless gunfights in the past with former Khmer Rouge fighters, but I have never been in any danger," he says, owing his safety to the amulets.

Outgunned in their border standoff that began in July, Chum Khla and his comrades carry on traditions of using mystical Buddhist objects and tattooing spells on their bodies to protect themselves.

The contrast between the Thai and Cambodian sides facing off in disputed territory near the ancient Preah Vihear temple is startling.

The Thai military is backed by state-of-the-art jets and heavy weapons, while many Cambodians wear flip-flops as they carry Cold War-era arms.

Days after October 15 clashes on disputed land left three Cambodians and one Thai dead, many Thai soldiers were fitted with body armour.

" I AM NOT SCARED.... I HAVE MAGIC CHARMS TO PROTECT MYSELF. "

Cambodian commanders, meanwhile, gave their troops colourful scarves with mystical symbols said to have been imbued with protective powers by a Buddhist monk.

Charms, talismans and superstitions are universal among soldiers around the world. But the tattooed Cambodians, battle-hardened by decades of civil war that ended in 1998, put more stock than most in magic symbols.

Cambodian and Thai leaders have agreed to prevent further clashes, but the troops at the border are not taking any chances - they continue to deck themselves out in all the charms they can get their hands on.

100 percent belief

"I believe 100 percent that these magic things can help spare my life in battle," says Cambodian soldier Koy San.

"I have both a magic scarf and a string of talismans around my hip. I wear them all the time," says the 35-year-old.

One grizzled 38-year-old soldier who declined to give his name says he is even more of a believer in magic after the October fighting, during which his commander was killed.

"He also had a talisman, but he took it off as he took a nap. And he did not have a chance to put it back on when the shootout suddenly happened... so his life was ended."

Khan Yorn, abbot of a pagoda in the disputed area, says he has made countless protective belts for soldiers there.

"A lot of soldiers have asked me for belts ... but I cannot say the amulets can prevent bullets," Khan Yorn says.

But he quickly notes something miraculous might have happened during last month's firefight.

"When the gunfire broke out, I was staying in the monk house, and the bullets were spraying around the pagoda like we spread rice husks," he says. "But they did not hit my monk house."

Phnom Penh braces for party of the year

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Heng Chivoan
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Kandal province native Rin, one of four million participants expected for Water Festival celebrations that kick off today, blesses his boat Monday amid preparations for the river races that are a highlight of the three-day blowout.
Full Strory

Getting ready for the Regatta

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A boat crew from Kandal province takes a break along the riverbank Monday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by SAM RITH
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Some 434 boats are expected to compete in this year's races, with crews arriving from all over the country ahead of today's opening ceremonies. In between training, rowers took time to relax
Photo by: Rick Valenzuala and Tracey Shelton
A boat crew paddles past the Japanese bridge Monday during practice for today's opening races

Phnom Penh is working itself into fever pitch ahead of today's opening of what organisers say will be the biggest-ever Water Festival, or Bon Om Tuk, with tens of thousands of Cambodians already streaming in from the countryside for three days of eating and drinking, buying and selling, walking and gawking, and, of course ,the boats races.

Officials will have their hands full ensuring public safety and have created seven national committees to coordinate the event.

Chea Kean, deputy director of the National and International Festival Committee, confirmed that the municipality would again set up an emergency rescue committee after five visiting Singaporean rowers drowned in the first day of last year's boat races.

The city was taking no chances after last year's tragedy, said Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun.

"An emergency rescue committee has been established every year for many years ... in order to make sure the Water Festival goes smoothly and happily," he said, adding that other committees would cope with the large influx of visitors from the provinces.

"Other committees [will] help ensure the safety of people who participate in the Water Festival in Phnom Penh," he said.

"We also have a group from the Health Ministry to educate people from the provinces on how to prevent HIV/Aids infections."

Photo by: Rick Valenzuala and Tracey Shelton
Rowers from Prey Veng province get a much-needed rest from the water in their camp on the riverside next to the NagaWorld casino.

Photo by: RICK VALENZUELA
Sim Sovannary sorts flip-flops Monday at a sales spot she staked out on the banks of the Tonle Sap on the Chruoy Changva peninsula as rowers practise for this week's dragonboat races. The Stung Meanchey woman said this is her first time selling goods at the Water Festival.


PAST YEARS Memorable moments

- 1993 King Norodom Sihanouk uses the start of Cambodia's Water Festival to appeal to his government not to arrest journalists who criticise him.

- 1994 In an historic moment of joy and ambiance shared by thousands of people, Siem Reap hosts its own boat races in front of the majesty of Angkor Wat for the first time in decades.

- 1999 Most popular song during this year's festival is the Venga Boys' Boom, Boom, Boom! I Want You In My Room, played at ear-splitting volume for three days.

- 2005 Organisers ban HIV/Aids awareness spots on radio and television, citing concerns about tourists' perception of the problem in Cambodia.

- 2007 The celebration is marred by the deaths of six people, including five Singaporeans whose boat capsizes during the races. A Cambodian also drowns in a separate boating accident.
_________________________
RIVER VIEWS...

Chan Ly

Visting from Banteay Meanchey

I came to Phnom Penh with my husband and my baby Tola and three-year-old son Makara. We will be staying here all together with the rest of the team by the riverside for four days. I come to watch our team race in the Water Festival. That’s our team practicing now. They are very good and worked hard to train. I hope they win. I am very excited to see the racing tomorrow.

Lee Srey Mao

Wat Phnom photographer
Every day I work at Wat Phnom taking photos for tourists. If I sell five photos I can make 10,000 riels. On a normal day I have just a few customers and some days none because there are a lot of photographers at Wat Phnom. But on days like the Om Tuk and Khmer New Year, many people come to Phnom Penh. It is very good for me. I have a great deal of customers. Maybe I can get about 15 customers each day.


Narin
Bar staff at White Horse Tavern

A lot of places close during the festival so it gets very busy in the bar. I don't really like the Water Festival. There are too many people and a lot of thieves. Most Khmer people from Phnom Penh go to the beach at this time but the people from the countryside like to come here. I don't care about the boat racing but I like to watch the people.

Police, CPP brass on top cop shortlist

Photo by: Photo Supplied
Investigators from Cambodia's Civil Aviation Secretariat inspect the wreckage of the helicopter that was carrying National Police Chief Hok Lundy when it crashed Sunday night.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

PM to announce Hok Lundy's replacement as police chief

OFFICIALS say they are unsure who will take the helm at the Kingdom's national police authority following Sunday's death of Police Chief Hok Lundy in a helicopter crash.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Hok Lundy's replacement would be chosen from among Cambodia's eight deputy police commissioners and the members of the CPP standing committee as a matter of urgency.

"The CPP regrets the loss of Hok Lundy, but at the same time we have to consider a successor as soon as possible to ensure stability," he said, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen would make the final decision on the appointment. "The body needs a new head."

Hok Lundy was killed Sunday night when his helicopter crashed in Svay Rieng province's Rumduol district, along with General Sok Saem and the craft's two pilots.

Deputy Commissioner Neth Savoeun, who is married to Hun Sen's niece, is expected to be first in line for the post and will serve as acting commissioner until a permanent appointment is made.

During his 14 years as National Police commissioner, Hok Lundy, whose daughter is married to Hun Sen's son Hun Manith, has been a controversial figure. International rights organisations have repeatedly accused him of involvement in drug trafficking and politically-motivated killings, allegedly committed during the factional fighting of July 1997.

In February 2006, the US State Department went so far as to deny Hok Lundy a visa to the United States on the basis of allegations he was involved in human trafficking.

But Human Rights Watch criticised the Federal Bureau of Investigation when it welcomed Hok Lundy to the US for counterterrorism talks in April last year, branding the police head "the absolute worst that Cambodia has to offer" and adding that "hardly anyone in Cambodia ... has shown more contempt for the rule of law".

Kek Galabru, president of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said it was too early to say whether respect for human rights in the police force would improve under a new national commissioner.

"It depends on the person who will replace him, but it's difficult to anticipate. We'll have to wait and see," she said.

But Ny Chakrya, head of the monitoring section at Adhoc, said the appointment would have little impact.

"It does not depend on the personality of the man in charge, it depends on the system," he said Monday. "A new commander will make no difference. When the police system supports and respects human rights, then people will have faith in the police."

Fire downed police chief's helicopter

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Mechanical failure likely caused blaze: officials

A FIRE, most likely the result of a mechanical malfunction, caused the helicopter crash that killed National Police Chief Hok Lundy and three others, investigators said Monday, a day after the death of Cambodia's controversial top cop who was a key ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"The investigation is completed already. It was a probably mechanical failure that caused the fire and the crash," Mao Havannall, secretary of state for Cambodia's Civil Aviation Secretariat, told the Post.

Hok Lundy was travelling to the border town of Bavet, in Svay Rieng province, when aviation officials lost contact with the helicopter he was in.

Officials said that the aircraft ran into bad weather.

"Weather is difficult to predict, and the helicopter was vulnerable to lightning," said Him Sarun, chief of Cabinet for the Civil Aviation Secretariat, which sent a four-man team to the accident site Sunday evening.

‘A flame appeared at the tail'

A villager in Svay Rieng's Romduol district, where the crash occurred, said that he spotted the chopper flying through heavy rain around 7:30pm.

"A flame appeared at the tail of the helicopter," the witness told the Post, asking not to be named.

"About five minutes later the fire had reached the middle of the helicopter, which crashed down into the ground with an explosion," he added.

He said that authorities reached the site about an hour after the crash, but did not know until the bodies had been brought to the Svay Rieng provincial hospital that Hok Lundy was one of those killed.

RCAF General Sok Saem and two pilots, identified only as Ratha and Sitha, also died in the crash.

"At first, no one recognised who they were until the doctors cleaned their faces, and then we recognised General Hok Lundy and General Sok Saem," the witness said.

Penh Chea, deputy governor of Svay Tiep district in Svay Rieng, said the four bodies had been badly damaged in the crash, which left a tangle of debris littered across rice fields.

"Only the faces can be recognised," he said Monday in Phnom Penh, where preparations were under way for the funerals of Hok Lundy and Sok Saem.

Svay Rieng Governor Chieng An also said that a fire brought the helicopter down.

"People saw a fire at the tail of the helicopter and then it crashed to the ground," he said.

"I am sad to lose him [Hok Lundy], as he did a lot for the province," said Chieng An.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY TITTHARA

Sounding out

Photo by: Tracey Shelton

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Children hold balloons Monday while enjoying a free music concert at Wat Phnom to raise awareness about child domestic workers. The balloons, printed with the slogan "I protect children. What about you?" were distributed during the event along with leaflets regarding child domestic labour by the concert organisers World Vision and Licadho.

Fresh talks on border begin in Siem Reap

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

CAMBODIAN and Thai officials began a fresh round of border talks Monday in Siem Reap, with Cambodian delegates saying that a "big step" had been made in hammering out an agenda to resolve the standoff over contested land that erupted in violence last month, killing four.

"We have moved forward with a big step in resolving the border issue," said Var Kimhong, head of Cambodia's border committee.

He added that the two countries would make it a priority to demarcate territory around the 11th-century temple as soon as it is cleared of land mines.

"We have also agreed to determine the location that needs to be measured in area around Preah Vihear temple," he said.

Koy Kuong, undersecretary of state at the Foreign Ministry, said earlier he was confident the talks would lead to a decision on the disputed border around the temple.

"The border issue will be resolved step-by-step," he said. The three-day talks will end Wednesday with a meeting between the two foreign ministers in the latest bid to resolve tensions that erupted after Unesco designated Preah Vihear a World Heritage site in July.

Resolve issue for good: RCAF

RCAF General Chea Saran, said Monday that while the situation was a lot more "normal" than before, leaders should try to reach a permanent solution.

"It is getting better now, but we hope the problem gets solved by top leaders," he said. "If they [Thai soldiers] withdraw ... things will return to normal for good."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

First trading course offered

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
University students in Phnom Penh. A local course aims to train more Cambodians in preparation for the stock exchange launch.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

With the stock market launch set for next year, Cambodians are being offered their first chance to obtain accreditation to trade currencies online

CAMBODIA'S first online currency trading course is being offered in preparation for next year's proposed stock market launch, a company representative told the Post.

The financial services firm Phnom Penh Trust Asset Management Company (PPTAM) is offering the course, which it says has already seen more than 300 Cambodians obtain certification.

Som Sovann, assistant to the general manager of PPTAM, said Cambodian and Chinese financial experts have led the course, which began last month.

"We opened a one-month course in the hopes that it would prepare Cambodians for the financial sector," Som Sovann said. "The financial knowledge base in Cambodia is still lower than in neighbouring countries, especially in online investing knowledge."

PPTAM was registered in Cambodia in 2007 after taking over the Seattle, Washington-based Capital Time Finance Ltd.

The US$7.6 billion company offers a full range of financial services, from investment banking to product research, Som Sovann said.

He said anyone interested in trading online must deposit $10,000 in any Cambodian bank and register with PPTAM to acquire an account in the US to trade on international markets.

" The financial knowledge base in Cambodia is still lower "

The company provides software to clients as well as investment documents for online trading and research.

Online platform

PPTAM serves only as a broker and charges $15 per online trade, the spokesman added.

After completing the company's online training course, graduates will be able to invest online independently and evaluate fluctuations in international currencies and assess risk, Som Sovann said.

The company has already recruited an additional 300 candidates interested in the investment program, Som Sovann said. Most of the candidates are from financial institutions and private companies.

Pheang Zhu, the owner of a private transportation company in Phnom Penh who took the course, said the school offered her first opportunity to learn about foreign currency exchange.

She said the rapid changes in foreign currency values allowed students to learn first-hand how international economies work.

"This course will be a bridge for Cambodians to understand the stock exchange when it comes next year," she said.

"If people don't understand how markets work, they will be afraid to try it."

Independent economist Sok Sina said the course offered a valuable service because most Cambodians had limited financial knowledge.

He said that the course could not prepare students completely for the complexities of a fully functioning stock market but would be an important step towards laying a foundation.

Cambodian elections unlike the United States's

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tong Soprach
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Dear editor,

Regarding the article in the November 6 edition of The Phnom Penh Post, "Time For Change" that Democrats living in Cambodia hailed Barack Obama's historic triumph in the US presidential election; this is the dawn of a new era.

However, the Democrats' success is very different from the results of the July 2008 elections in Cambodia, where the opposition SRP leader and his supporters also shouted: "It's time for change".

Unfortunately, the result disappointed the SRP's supporters, thousands of whom did not appear in the voter lists, some of whom were cheated by fraudulent 1018 forms, some of whom were threatened, and so on.

Those and other SRP supporters decried the election results, saying that the election was not free and fair, and that they could not exercise their right to choose the party that they strongly support.

I wish you to keep going with your slogan "It's time for change" during the next election and may your dream become true very soon. Meanwhile, I hope that National Election Committee will improve its organisation.

Tong Soprach
Phnom Penh
_________________________
Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com
or P.O. Box 1234, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.

Japanese beauty salon to open in PP

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by MOM KUNTHEAR
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

THE first high-class Japanese plastic surgery clinic and beauty treatment salon is due to open in Phnom Penh at the end of the year.

Jun Kikuchi, the chief executive officer of what will be the Degran Japan Beauty Salon, has worked as a plastic surgeon in both Japan and European countries such as England, France and Italy for the last 30 years.

He now says he wants to pass on his expertise to the people of Cambodia.

"I don't just want to earn money in Cambodia, but I want to train people here about modern techniques used in [foreign] beauty salons," Kikuchi said.

He added that the salon will offer services such as haircuts and massage, as well as plastic surgery.

A taste of Japan

The salon will be decorated in Japanese style to make the clients feel as if they were right in the centre of Tokyo.

"All equipment and products will come from Japan, and the workers will be dressed in Japanese attire to reflect our culture," he said.

Focusing on upmarket clientele, Kikuchi said that Degran Japan Beauty Salon will not compete with other salons in Phnom Penh. "There are many rich Cambodians who want to have plastic surgery and have to go to another country to do that," he said, adding that he will provide high-class services right in the city.

"The technology in Cambodia is not as modern as our technology in Japan as this is still a developing country, and that is why I want to share my expertise with Cambodian people," he said, adding, that he is planning to employ around 10 Japanese and 30 Cambodian staff in the new salon.

Kikuchi believes that the salon will be a huge success because many Cambodian people now have enough money to spend on luxuries such as plastic surgery and beauty treatments."In the future I plan to open a beauty school in Cambodia," he said.

"I want to contribute to the development of plastic surgery in Cambodia," he said.

"I have already had success in Japan, and now I will start another salon here," he said.

"In time I am planning to open salons both in Thailand and Vietnam."

Government aims to create first export-import bank

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A ship waits to be unloaded in Sihanoukville port. The government hopes to boost exports with an export-import bank.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by CHUN SOPHAL AND HOR HAB
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Under the plan, local exporters would have access to below-market credit to help with high-risk transactions, as government seeks to boost rice exports

CAMBODIA is looking to launch its first government-backed export-import bank to boost trade, officials said, with the UN Development Program being asked to help with the project.

Cambodia's ex-im bank would offer loans to companies exporting abroad, with a special focus on the rice industry. Officials hope to launch the bank in two years.

Export-import banks, such as the one in the United States, help exporters obtain credit in transactions that private lenders deem too risky.

"We are optimistic that this bank can be established soon," Mao Thora, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, said Monday. He said the government is waiting for a response from UNDP.

"I think it will help Cambodia increase exports and imports because the bank can provide additional loans to traders.

"He added that the necessary legal framework - particularly legislation covering trade insurance, was passed in 2007.

Authorities are still determining whether the new bank would be run privately, by the government, or as a private-public partnership.

David Van, a senior trade development adviser with the UNDP's Trade Project, told the Post that an export-import bank would boost trade in Cambodia.

"The bank will encourage exports and imports by providing low-interest loans to rice millers," he said.

"The establishment of the bank depends mainly on the Cambodian government, and we need at least one to two years to do it because ... we need time to raise awareness among the public and the government, and to advertise its importance," Van said.

He added that the UNDP would approach the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to secure grants to supplement Cambodian government funds.

Tal Nay Im, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia, said Monday that she had no information about the proposed bank.

" THE BANK WILL ENCOURAGE EXPORTS AND IMPORTS BY PROVIDING ... LOANS. "

"We can't really comment on the bank because we have not been informed about the plan," she said.

Sisowath Pheanuroth, project coordinator with the Cambodia Sector-Wide Silk Project and a member of the Trade Project development group in Cambodia, said the trade sector faces growing challenges because business people lack the necessary capital to fund exports.

"We welcome the establishment of this bank and hope that it will push rice exports," he said.

"It is an opportunity for local traders to compete with traders from neighbouring countries, who regularly come to buy husk rice from farmers in Cambodia," he said.

Song Hong, vice president of the Cambodian Rice Millers Association in Battambang, said that the industry was in need of below-market loans.

"We want to export more rice, but we have to make sure traders have credit throughout the year," he said.

He estimated that Cambodia needs US$200 million to $300 million to support the rice trade annually.

Preah Vihear: Siam's soldiers at frontline




Siam's soldiers frontline at Preah Vihear temple (Photo: by Samnang for Koh Santepheap Newspaper)

Day ONE of the boat races during the three-day festival from November 11 to 13

Boat rowers prepare for a race on the first day of the annual water festival on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh November 11, 2008. About 29,000 oarsmen in more than 420 boats will compete in boat races during the three-day festival from November 11 to 13.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA

A boat captain prays before the start of a race on the first day of the annual water festival on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh November 11, 2008. About 29,000 oarsmen in more than 420 boats will compete in boat races during the three-day festival from November 11 to 13.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

A Buddhist monk blesses boat rowers before the start of a race on the first day of the annual water festival on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh November 11, 2008. About 29,000 oarsmen in more than 420 boats will compete in boat races during the three-day festival from November 11 to 13.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia, Thailand begin fresh talks on border issue

People's Daily Online
November 11, 2008

Cambodian and Thai officials started a fresh round of border talks in Siem Reap to hammer out an agenda to resolve the standoff over disputed land, national media reported Tuesday.

"We have moved forward with a big step in resolving the border issue," Var Kimhong, head of Cambodia's border committee, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

He added that the two countries would make it a priority to demarcate territory around the 11th-century temple as soon as it is cleared of land mines.

"We have also agreed to determine the location that needs to be measured in area around Preah Vihear temple," he said.

The three-day talks will end Wednesday with a meeting between the two foreign ministers in the latest bid to resolve the border dispute.

In July, tensions at the Cambodian-Thai border ran high after Cambodia's ancient Preah Vihear Temple was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the site.

The tension later turned into a military stalemate, in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for several weeks.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice decided that the Preah Vihear Temple and its surrounding area belong to Cambodia.

Source:Xinhua

Remembrances: Hocker; What to do with a gift elephant?

John R. Hocker, in Cambodia, ponders what to do with Chamrocun, a bull elephant presented to Adm. John S. McCain ...


The Washington Times

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From July 1971 until August 1972, I was a member of the Military Equipment Delivery Team Cambodia (MEDTC), committed to the re-formation and building of the Cambodian national armed forces (Forces Armees Nationales Khmeres, or FANK).

How I arrived in Cambodia is a story unto itself. In 1963, my wife and I were at the Army Language School in Monterey, Calif., to study German for an Olmsted Scholarship at the University of Freiburg. Because I spoke German from my earlier days in Bamberg, I finished early and was permitted to monitor the French class for about 1 1/2 months.

As I was about to leave, I asked to take the French test to see how I had done. Upon opening the test, I found the pictures and questions were identical to those on the German test I had taken earlier, only in French. The instructor who graded my test was amazed at how well I had done after just 1 1/2 months and gave me a "fully fluent" mark that was forwarded to my records in Washington.

In 1971, I was on my way back to Vietnam for the second time. My family went on ahead to Thailand, where my wife, Barbara, had obtained a teaching position with the Bangkok International School. When I reported to the clerk at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., for the flight to Vietnam, he said my orders had been changed. Because I spoke French, I was being reassigned to an embassy someplace else in the world. Although he didn't know where, he said I should report in the following day and there would be more information. With my family on the way to Bangkok, I had visions of ending up in a French-speaking country in Africa.

When I returned to Travis, I was told I should catch a flight to Saigon, report to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) headquarters and find the office marked MEDTC. Thinking they had the wrong person, I said I was not a medical officer but an infantryman. Didn't make any difference, the clerk said, just go to Saigon.

John R. Hocker, in Cambodia, ponders what to do with Chamrocun, a bull elephant presented to Adm. John S. McCain by the Cambodian head of state, Marshal Lon Nol, in 1971.

Upon arrival at MACV headquarters in Saigon, I found the office marked MEDTC. Brig. Gen. Theodore C. Mataxis greeted and welcomed me as the "French speaker" of the team he was forming to raise, train and arm the new Cambodian armed forces. He immediately sent me to Phnom Penh to set up a team house for him, his chief of staff and me. Initially we were just authorized to have 16 military personnel in the country, but after I left, that grew to 62. The first months were spent getting organized, becoming acquainted with our Cambodian counterparts and finding out how to contact our support, e.g. Air America and others.

I had many, many "once in a lifetime" close encounters, combat skirmishes and narrow escapes during the year with the FANK, but the following stands out.

In September 1971, Adm. John S. McCain, commander in chief, Pacific Command, and father of then-POW Lt. Cmdr. John McCain, visited our team. Of course, being the boss of the entire theater, he paid a call on the leader of the country, Marshal Lon Nol, whom we had installed a few months earlier to replace Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

Lon Nol presented Adm. McCain a token of his appreciation - an elephant named Chamrocun, which means prosperity in the Khmer language. He was not fully grown, but he was quite large.
Now, what does an admiral do with such a gift in a far-off country with no means to take care of it and no way to refuse it? Naturally, he turned to the one-star general, who then turned to me and said, "John, handle it."

As I later learned from the admiral's staff, the zoo in Hawaii had no use for a bull elephant. However, the admiral was good friends with Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, and I learned that the Los Angeles Zoo could use another bull elephant. I arranged for a zoo manager and a veterinarian to travel to Phnom Penh and for their visit to coincide with the arrival of a C-141, loaded with 105 mm howitzers destined for the FANK artillery.

I had two huge steel containers welded together and had the interior lined with plywood with bumper pads all around at the elephant's shoulder height. At the base of the container, I had holes drilled for the elimination of fluid wastes. I had notified the Air Force what the return cargo would be, so the crew was prepared with a large rubber tarpaulin to cover the aircraft floor.
The day of Chamrocun's journey arrived, and I led the zoo representatives to the field behind our team house, which backed up to a FANK compound where Chamrocun was being kept. The extra-large container had been delivered on a low-slung truck.

After introductions, the zoo veterinarian took out his pellet gun and prepared to tranquilize the elephant for the journey. The FANK guard raised his AK-47 and aimed it at the veterinarian - it was a terrible sin to kill an elephant.

I quickly managed, in French mixed with broken Khmer, to convince the guard that this would not kill Chamrocun but only make him tranquil for the trip to the United States. When the guard lowered the rifle, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

After that, things proceeded as planned, and we bade farewell to the zoo representatives and to Chamrocun as they left Ponchetong airport bound for California.

Years later, I visited the Los Angeles Zoo and called on Chamrocun, but he didn't recognize me. Who said elephants have great memories?

JOHN R. HOCKER

DEVELOPMENT-CAMBODIA: Women Take to Fishing As Catches Decline

By Andrew Nette

PHNOM PENH, Nov 11 (IPS) - Cambodia’s fishing industry may still be viewed as a male bastion, but as household fish catches decline, putting pressure on food security, women are rising to the challenge and becoming involved in growing numbers.

Just as researchers and scientists do not agree on what is behind the decline in fish catches, there is uncertainty over the extent of women’s growing participation in the sector and whether this is a desirable trend.

"The reality is that women have been deeply involved in fisheries for a long time in this country, from catching, to processing, to cooking fish," said Mak Sithirith, executive director of Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), an organisation working with local communities on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake.

"Although I do not have the figures to back it up, I am certain that women are gradually becoming more and more involved in the fisheries sector," said Sithirith, whose organisation recently organised a day-long seminar in Phnom Penh on women in fisheries.

"For women it is a catch-22 situation. If they do not go with their husbands they cannot guarantee food security because the husband cannot catch enough fish. But if they do take part it increases the burden of labour on them."

The role being played by women in fisheries mirrors broader changes in Cambodian society, which have seen an increase in women’s involvement in all sectors of the economy, formal and non-formal.

According to figures released this year by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Cambodia’s female labor force participation rate is high by regional standards, at over 71 percent of the working age population over 15 years of age.

This is partly the result of a decade-long decline in household fish captures, a vital food security issue given that fish account for 75 percent of protein consumed in Cambodia -- 90 percent in fishing communities.

"Most people still think that fishing is done by men and that only men have the skills to use the equipment required. But as fish catches decline many more people are needed to catch the same amount," said Tep Chansothea, a researcher with the Community Based Natural Resource Management Learning Institute (CBNRM).

"More effort is required for the same output. Women are thus being called on to help in areas that they were not involved in many years ago."

"Household fish captures are definitely going down," according to Eric Baran, research scientist with the World Fish Centre in Phnom Penh. "This is not necessarily because the stock is collapsing."

"Put simply, there are more and more people sharing the catch, meaning a reduced catch per person,’’

The composition of the catch is also changing: less larger, high value fish and more small fish sensitive to annual variations, making for less predictable hauls.

Observers believe many factors are behind the decline in household fish captures, in addition to rising population levels. These include an increase in illegal fishing equipment, lax enforcement of fisheries regulations, clearing of flooded forest, and rising pollution levels.

The government has no figures for how many women are involved in the fishing industry in Cambodia. Women have always worked in the sector, although traditionally in so-called ‘post-harvest’ activities such as drying, processing and selling fish.

Over 102 different types of fishing gear have been identified as being used in Cambodia, according to Baran, and different equipment has traditionally been used by men and women.

"A possible change in the involvement of women in fisheries has yet to be assessed and remains an area where research is urgently needed," he said.

As fisheries decline and women do not have alternative livelihood strategies, they increasingly assist their husbands in new areas, whether it is classifying and organising the catch in the boat or actual fishing.

The results of a yet unreleased research project about the status of women in community fisheries in six Cambodian provinces, by CBNRM, World Fish Centre and the Fisheries Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, also point in this direction.

It found women play an important role in household fisheries activities and the management of community fisheries, particularly in inland or floodplains fisheries.

Just as there is no agreement as to the exact extent of women’s role in fisheries, there are different views as to whether it is a positive or negative development.

"There are certainly some clear benefits from women being more involved in community fisheries," agreed Yumiko Kura, Mekong programme coordinator for World Fish Centre and one of the study’s researchers.

"Women are generally seen as better at managing the money that is generated. They are better at information dissemination and education activities,’’ Kura said. "They play an important role in explaining to their husbands and others why they should not use illegal fishing gear and getting them to give this up. If men do this it often ends in violence."

There are also significant downsides of women being involved in what is widely viewed as a tough, dangerous and dirty industry.

"Their involvement in fisheries means that women have even more work," said Sithirith. "They are expected to take care of the family at the same time as helping the husband fish.’’

"Certainly there are negative impacts," said Chang Kim Hong, a fisher in a floating village in central Kompong Tom province who attended the FACT meeting.

"It has an impact on their health because women have to work even more. It can also be dangerous depending on the type of fishing. Because they often lack experience they cannot identify the onset of major storms or winds exposing them to even greater risks."

"The more time women spend fishing, the further they may have to travel," she said. "This means that older children must sometimes stay home to look after things when they should be at school."

At a broader level there is also debate about whether it is desirable for women to become more involved in fisheries, given the uncertain returns from the industry.

"At a global level moving away from fisheries is a major policy push on the part of many government and global institutions," said Baran. "Twenty years ago these same organisations were pushing for more people to get involved in fishing. Now it is the other way around because stocks are being progressively overfished."

"One of the major policy pushes is to find a way out of fisheries for the benefit of fishers and fish,’’ Baran added.

"Fishing is one of the few cash-making options for many families, so they are not going to give it up, particularly in heavily flooded areas were there are no other options to generate income for large parts of the year," countered Chansothea.

Given this, many organisations are beginning to look at what policy changes are needed to support women in fisheries sector. "At the policy level the role of women in fisheries is not clear," said FACT’s Sithirith.

"The government’s view is that men are still the key players, women have no voice. There is an urgent need to develop women’s networks in the fishing industry. By doing this, women can connect and speak collectively. Otherwise they will remain isolated,’’ Sithirith said.

Moving from poverty to prosperity – women show the smart way

Daily Mirror
By Christina Nelson, ILO

Seang Mom used to spend her days in the fields, trying to grow rice to feed her family in a province south of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. With six children the 50-year-old widow was only able to produce enough rice to feed them all for five or six months of each year.

But five years ago things changed. Ms Mom joined a local group that provides training in small business management, animal husbandry, agricultural techniques, handicraft making, and gender awareness. Now, she not only grows enough food for her family, but raises pigs and makes handicrafts too. Her income has risen by 80 per cent.

“My life has changed so much,” Ms Mom said. “I did not know how to make compost. Now I can make it and I use the compost to grow more rice than I could before.”

As well as feeding her family, Ms Mom’s extra money has allowed her to buy land and build a new house. Perhaps best of all it has also raised her status in her community. “I could not find a daughter-in-law for my son; now many families are interested in marrying off their daughter to my son,” she said.

The project that changed the future for Ms Mom was the Expansion of Employment Opportunities for Women (EEOW), run by the International Labour Organization (ILO) with funding from the Government of Japan. EEOW has been operating in Cambodia and Viet Nam since 2002 and specializes in training women on their rights and in techniques for increasing their income – including better agricultural methods, handicraft production, or managing their own businesses.

Ms Mom is not alone in seeing an improvement in her life. In Cambodia, 76 per cent of project participants increased their income after applying their newly-learned knowledge and skills. In Viet Nam the Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs reported that 133 of 188 participating households in one project site at La Hien commune, Thai Nguyen province had risen out of poverty (locally considered to be around VND200,000/US$12 per month). Poverty reduction was even greater in households headed by women – 78 per cent of these were lifted out of poverty.

After operating successfully in Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand, EEOW was introduced in Cambodia and Viet Nam in 2002. Pilot projects in both countries are now complete and the work is expanding to include more communities in additional provinces.

In addition to teaching women skills to boost their incomes, the project also addresses other factors that keep women in poverty by promoting gender equality and social justice, both in daily lives and at the level of local and national policy-making and implementation.

This has also brought benefits. One Cambodian woman told ILO project staff that after her husband attended gender awareness training he started helping her with the cooking. “When I arrive home, my husband cooks and I just eat,” she said.

In Viet Nam, village leaders noted that women seemed more confident not only in their work, but also in dealing with community affairs. One leader in La Hien commune said: “They contribute actively in our decisions, and some of our decisions were really made by women. We also pay more attention to the leadership role of women in villages as well as mass organizations including the veteran association, which was traditionally only for men”.

According to Aya Matsuura, a Gender Expert and Project Coordinator at ILO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, providing women with access to training programmes is important for women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation because they do a lot of agricultural and animal-husbandry work, Despite this, in the past Government vocational training programmes were attended mostly by men, who rarely passed on their new knowledge of agricultural techniques to their wives.

“Usually when they have a meeting, it’s the men that come to the meetings because they’re the heads of the household, but women actually do the work,” Ms Matsuura said. “So, training women is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.”

As in other countries, EEOW in Viet Nam and Cambodia operates in cooperation with national and local government agencies and NGOs. In Viet Nam EEOW has teamed up with the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, the Vietnam Women’s Union, the Vietnam Farmers’ Union, Vietnam Cooperative Alliance, Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour.

In Cambodia EEOW works with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Workers’ and Employers’ Organizations, Angkor Participatory Development Organization (Siem Reap), Association of Farmers Development (Takeo), People’s Association for Development (Kandal), and the Urban Sector’s Group (Phnom Penh).

Cambodia, Thailand begin fresh talks on border issue

www.chinaview.cn
2008-11-11

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 11 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian and Thai officials started a fresh round of border talks in Siem Reap to hammer out an agenda to resolve the standoff over disputed land, national media reported Tuesday.

"We have moved forward with a big step in resolving the border issue," Var Kimhong, head of Cambodia's border committee, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

He added that the two countries would make it a priority to demarcate territory around the 11th-century temple as soon as it is cleared of land mines.

"We have also agreed to determine the location that needs to be measured in area around Preah Vihear temple," he said.

The three-day talks will end Wednesday with a meeting between the two foreign ministers in the latest bid to resolve the border dispute.

In July, tensions at the Cambodian-Thai border ran high after Cambodia's ancient Preah Vihear Temple was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the site.

The tension later turned into a military stalemate, in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for several weeks.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice decided that the Preah Vihear Temple and its surrounding area belong to Cambodia.

Editor: Bi Mingxin

It's time to holiday in Cambodia

The Pavilion is a quiet retreat in a colonial mansion, in a city that has reinvented itself from haven for outlaws and sex tourists to the region's burgeoning luxury tourism hostspot

The Australian Business with The Wall Street Journal


Patrick Barta November 11, 2008 It's no longer easy to purchase AK-47 assault weapons here. Vendors have stopped selling marijuana in public markets, and fun-seekers can no longer lob live grenades behind the military compound outside of town.Once famous for being the most lawless city in Asia - a wild west frontier of ex-soldiers, drug addicts and criminals - Phnom Penh is rapidly becoming the latest Asian tourist playground of spas, handbag dealers and boutique hotels.

Many in the city's hardened expatriate community don't like the changes, saying they've eroded much of the sense of adventure the capital once had.

But for visitors and for some newly wealthy Cambodians, Phnom Penh has become a more inviting place, retaining its Buddhist temples, wide avenues and French villas even as it pushes seedier elements underground. Before, high-end tourists only went to Angkor Wat, Cambodia's renowned temple complex. Now, they're stopping off in Phnom Penh, too.

View The Wall Street Journal's Phnom Penh slideshow.

The transformation was long in coming. After Cambodia won independence from France in the 1950s, Phnom Penh was one of the most popular cities in Asia: a miniature Paris in Indochina, with cafés, ornate lampposts lining the riverfront and landmarks of the nation's rich history including the Royal Palace, a compound of extravagant yellow and white buildings that included a pagoda with a floor covered in silver tiles.

But the Vietnam War brought chaos to Cambodia. The Maoist Khmer Rouge rebels overran Phnom Penh, forcing all its residents into the countryside and turning the once-vibrant city into a ghost town. When Vietnamese soldiers ousted the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, Cambodia fell into years of chaos and civil war.

The city's rowdy reputation only grew after the 1998 publication of Amit Gilboa's Off the Rails in Phnom Penh, a Hunter S. Thompson-style tour of the city, which it called an "anarchic festival of cheap prostitutes, cheap drugs, and frequent violence." Gilboa described a public market selling AK-47s for $100 and Chinese land mines for $15.

As for tourism, aside from the posh Hotel Le Royal, established in the 1920s, many of the other hotels were seedy guesthouses. Recommended restaurants served Cambodian fare (which is similar to Thai cuisine) uninspiringly, with a focus on cheap, stringy meat.

Today, Phnom Penh still has plenty of rough edges and crime. At certain places, visitors can still order "happy pizza," or pizza with marijuana topping. But in other ways, it's a different city entirely.

The Government, which is tightly controlled by Khmer Rouge defector Hun Sen, has destroyed 200,000 or more firearms through a program in which citizens voluntarily lay down their guns. It has also shut down the military-hardware market and closed some of the most infamous brothels. (In June, aggrieved sex workers even gathered at a local temple to pray to Lord Buddha for relief from the crackdowns.)

Foreign cash is pouring in, with some investors calling Phnom Penh the new Ho Chi Minh City, after the city that's Vietnam's emerging center of consumption. Property values have soared and Phnom Penh is getting its first skyscrapers. One Cambodian developer even wants to dredge the Mekong River all the way to Vietnam, about 100km south, to create a deepwater megaport, and other financiers are planning a satellite city with offices and malls.

All that activity has brought more well-heeled visitors and more hotels. The Quay Hotel along the riverfront opened earlier this year, which calls itself Phnom Penh's first "carbon-friendly" hotel (it measures carbon emissions and then buys "offsets" through carbon-reduction programs) and features minimalist décor of the 2001: A Space Odyssey variety, spaces "infused with aromatherapy" and a rooftop wine bar. Other new hotels include the Pavilion, an elegant boutique property in a colonial mansion hidden behind the Royal Palace.

The palace itself remains the city's top draw. Besides the silver-floored pagoda, this compound for Cambodia's largely symbolic royal family includes a throne hall and collections of royal regalia and artifacts. A bigger artefact collection - the country's largest - is in the National Museum, one of the city's most impressive Cambodia-style buildings.

Phnom Penh tourism is quickly moving upscale. Of the two main sites commemorating the Khmer Rouge genocide, the Tuol Sleng museum is far more informative. It was a former school that became a prison and torture center and now includes powerful displays including photographs of people murdered by the Khmer Rouge. The Killing Fields, outside of town, is one of the many known mass graves for victims. (That site gave its name to Hollywood's grim 1984 Oscar-winning epic about the Cambodian massacres.)

A visit to one of these sober places makes a striking contrast with the vibrant life growing outside. One example: the small but growing shopping district centred on a road named Street 240, with a wine bar, a shop selling homemade chocolates and bonbons and boutiques selling $40 handbags and pillows. (Visitors to Spa Bliss can get a carrot-and-pineapple skin wrap.)

Another contrast to the past - new high-end eateries like the Quay Hotel's slick Asian fusion restaurant Chow, where the specials include fresh lotus-root salad with caramelised suckling pig, or soba noodles with marinated roasted snapper and crushed peanuts, all served with a backdrop of thumping club music. Van's, a French restaurant in a towering colonial mansion, serves fried beef wrapped in coffee and Cambodian pepper crumbs as well as stuffed pigeon.

But a backlash is brewing, especially among expatriates, many of whom came to Cambodia to escape such luxuries.

"I don't know if I would have stayed here if I came here now," says Pierre Yves Clais, a former soldier from France who worked with a United Nations-supervised force that operated in Cambodian conflict zones in the early 1990s. "Back then, it was an adventure," he says, with guns, wild bars and lots of dangerous characters. Now, he runs a provincial hotel and calls himself "bourgeois." At least "you can make more money" now, he says.

Residents have other complaints. Tuk-tuks, the ramshackle taxis used for short trips around town, now sometimes cost $2 instead of $1. Rents have soared. And precious little money is filtering down to everyday Cambodians, whose incomes remain among the lowest in Asia.

All the spending at new cafés and boutiques is "so strange," says San Sovannara, a 24-year-old Cambodian driver and boxer. At the Chow restaurant, he says, "people spend so much money for food - the same as my monthly salary!" Still, his earnings come mainly from the tourist trade. He hopes to run a hotel someday.

WHAT TO DO

Aside from the Royal Palace, National Museum and the institutions remembering the Khmer Rouge genocide, Phnom Penh has other major attractions:

Markets include Central Market, in an Art Deco building, and the Russian Market (named after the Russians that shopped there in the 1980s), known for its puppets and silk cloths.

Wat Phnom: A hilltop temple complex good for escaping traffic and for people-watching. Visitors can sometimes take an elephant ride at the base.

Boat Cruises: Guests can charter boats along the riverfront for a half-hour cruise up the Tonle Sap River and into the Mekong, with views of the city.

Shooting Range: A bit of wild Phnom Penh survives at the city's main shooting range, on a military base near the international airport. Employees say they've run out of the grenades once sold to eager tourists. While it's still possible to fire automatic weapons there (about $1 per bullet), the old pastime of shooting live rounds at cows and other animals is forbidden.

Pictures of the day

Prasat Preah Vihear (Preah Vihear, Cambodge), le 10 novembre 2008. A Cambodian soldier at the frontline sports a "magic" scarf. (photo by John Vink / Magnum, Ka-Set)

Phnom Penh (Cambodia) 09 November 2008. Parade of special forces in front of the Royal Palace during the 55th anniversary of Cambodia's Independence (Photo: Laurent Le Gouanvic, Ka-set)

Phnom Penh (Cambodge), le 26 juin 2008. Hok Lundy, chef de la Police, quittant son hélicoptere apres avoir visité le lieu de l'accident d'avion de la PMTAir dans la province de Kampot la veille © Archives - Stringer

Cambodia and Bangkok make big step in border talks, says negotiator

SIEM REAP, Cambodia: Cambodia and Thailand made a “big step” by agreeing to an agenda to resolve a long-running border dispute that erupted in deadly fighting last month, Cambodia’s lead negotiator said yesterday.

Officials from the two countries met in the Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap to begin three days of talks aimed at hammering out territorial claims and ending a four-month military stand-off that spilled into a deadly shootout near the ancient Preah Vihear temple last month.

“We have moved forward with a big step in resolving the border issue,” Va Kimhong, head of Cambodia’s border committee, told reporters at the end of a meeting in which the two sides agreed to an agenda for defusing tensions.

Va Kimhong added the two countries would make it a priority to demarcate territory around the 11th century Khmer temple as soon as it is cleared of landmines.

“We have also agreed to determine the location that needs to be measured in area around Preah Vihear temple,” he said.

In earlier opening remarks, Va Kimhong said only about 60% of the border between the two countries had been demarcated, despite an agreement to have lines properly drawn by the end of 2006. “It is so important that both our countries should have clear border lines in order to solve the problem and avoid incidents,” Va Kimhong said.

He called for both sides to co-operate in a friendly manner and “avoid using weapons and armed forces.”

The foreign ministers of both countries are scheduled to meet tomorrow, officials said.

Shortly after a round of talks failed last month, troops from the two countries clashed on October 15 on disputed land near the temple, killing one Thai soldier and three Cambodian troops.

Two rounds of emergency talks after the October clashes made little progress, with both sides only agreeing not to fire on each other again.

The Cambodian government has since announced that it plans to double its military budget next year to $500mn.

The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

The most recent tensions between the neighbours began in July when the temple was awarded UN World Heritage status, rekindling a long-running disagreement over ownership of the surrounding land. – AFP

Water Festival boat race on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh

Boat rowers practise for the annual Water Festival boat race on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh November 10, 2008. About 29,000 oarsmen in more than 420 boats will compete in the three-day race from November 11 to 13.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Boat rowers practise for the annual Water Festival boat race on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh November 10, 2008. About 29,000 oarsmen in more than 420 boats will compete in the three-day race from November 11 to 13.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Extreme eating

Phil Lee's quest for Cambodia's tastiest soup led to a white-knuckle motorbike ride.Photo: Supplied

Theage.com.au
THE AGE

November 11, 2008

The food warrior considers no dish too abstract, no taste too challenging and no geography too impassable, writes Sarina Lewis.

FOUR days spent steering a motorbike north from Chiang Mai along the Burmese border along dangerously snaking roads must have made food blogger Phil Lees challenge his actions. Surely, he questioned the madness of making a white-knuckle, eight-day return trip through bamboo-covered mountains to slurp one bowl of khao soi soup? In a word, no.

"I think, at some point, in the trip it just tipped over the edge," explains Lees, creator of Cambodia's first street food blog, http://phenomenon.com.

After three years in Asia, he recently returned to Melbourne and now writes a food blog, Mouthful, for SBS online. "Suddenly, we weren't going to see anything any more. We were just going to eat."

So when a Cambodian friend tipped him off that some of the tastiest khao soi came from a nondescript joint near the entrance to Mae Hong Son's market "a few lazy days on a motorcycle away", well, what choice did a culinary crusader have?

To this day, Lees says, that bowl of coconut creamy curry served over flat egg noodles and melting-off-the-bone-tender beef, with a tart complement of pickled cabbage, stands uncontested as the best bowl of noodle soup he's eaten.

Welcome to the world of the food warrior. No dish too abstract, no taste too challenging and no geography too impassable, these obsessives hunt out the best of the regional, the seasonal and the unusual in their journey to uncover the heart of foreign cuisines. Leave the guide books to the masses, they say, donning their metaphoric khakis - there's a whole world of food experience out there and we're going to hunt down every delicious bite.

Among them is Sundhya Pahuja, a Melbourne University associate professor who accepted a marriage proposal at innovative British restaurant the Fat Duck, travelled to Bruge to experience Michelin three-star brilliance, and drove the winding roads of Umbria for a few heady inhalations of hyper-fresh black truffles whose pungent scent she describes as "a combination of earth and sex". But it's street food that really kicks her inner GPS into action.

"On average, I'd say it would be nothing to travel 100 kilometres to eat something," Pahuja says of her international food forays, estimating she's clocked at least 40,000 kilometres on foreign roads and back streets hunting down regional specialties.

Like the live crab cooked in a basket of coals and served with a fresh-ground red chilli, lime and salt dipping paste hunted out on a south central Vietnamese beach. Or the unsigned Madrid cafe specialising in little-known varieties of wild mushrooms, found after trailing a group of overall-clad workers through the city's winding side streets.

But it was India's holy city of Varanasi, and her continual search for chaat, that resulted in some of her most memorable adventures. The best of the deep-fried flour and lentil puffs, topped with flaming hot spices and dolloped with sweet chutney, are to be found in the ancient city's higgledy-piggledy back streets, she says. And Pahuja has devoted hours to the hunt.

"The lanes are too tiny for anything other than foot traffic," she explains of the three-phase journey; a car through suicidal traffic to the temple district, a rickshaw to the interior and "finally you get out and walk - you dodge the cows and the sheep and the vendors and the temple-goers to Vishwanath gully."

In this "tiny, dirty lane behind the temples" Pahuja will gorge, knowing full well the bowel-shaking consequences. "We're really sick afterwards," she admits. "But it's totally intoxicating. It's an addiction."

Renowned Melbourne chef and author Greg Malouf has a compulsion all his own; uncovering the edible secrets of the Middle East spice route. Not that unearthing them hasn't resulted in a couple of Indiana-style adventures. The veteran traveller - "I've been chasing food for 30 years" - has been in the vicinity of exploding car bombs in Lebanon, endured lengthy - and unfriendly - border checks in Algeria and Syria, and narrowly escaped all-out war in Beirut when he turned down an invitation from food warrior poster-boy, Anthony Bourdain, to join him on a filming expedition. "He was filming a doco and asked if I'd go with him to be part of his journey. I couldn't," Malouf recounts, "and I think on day two of his trip war broke out."

For this culinary Columbus, however, any threat of danger is easily offset by the thrill of discovery. "When you're given six weeks or so we have to be pretty organised, but you can only plan so much of a trip and a lot is found off the beaten track," Malouf says. Like the early-morning kebab joint discovered on his recent trip to the Turkish-Syrian border town of Gaziantep, courtesy of a local food journo.

"She introduced us to his special, tiny little hole-in-the-wall kebab shop, open only 5am until 9am, specialising in liver," Malouf says of their guide. "It was pretty hard to find - driving through the little alleyways heaving with taxi drivers coming off their shifts." There in a little bustling square, he says, the kebab guy roasted skewers of fresh liver, kidney and heart spiced with chilli, sumac and cumin over a charcoal grill, its cradle freshly made Arabic bread from the adjoining bakery, and its blanket a topping of lettuce, sweet tomatoes, onion and a squeeze of lemon.

Eaten at dawn standing side-by-side with the local cabbies it was, says Malouf, "a truly memorable breakfast".

Of course, not every tale of culinary adventure has a happy ending.

How clearly I remember being trapped in a car with a maniacal Portuguese driver speeding for an hour along dark, unsigned roads in search of a regional dish described by locals as "world's best chicken". To find myself seated at a formica table chowing down on deep-fried, KFC-style bites - chased by unlimited plates of batatas fritas - was, to put it mildly, more than slightly disappointing.

Melbourne freelance business consultant Samantha Bell has also had her fair share of mishaps. Sand-filled sangas in Egypt aside, the dairy-intolerant backpacker who survived two weeks of choking down yoghurt curd in Mongolian yurts, with unsurprisingly unpleasant side effects, was nearly brought undone by her determination to take a real bite of Turkey.

Invited to the family lunch by a Turkish High Court judge she met following a harrowing local bus ride, Bell was about to endure an even greater ordeal.

"We ate lunch at his parents' house where they dished up this 'feast'," she explains, having eagerly accepted the proffered invitation and followed a guide through labyrinth-like side streets to the family home.

"Out of courtesy you eat what's put in front of you - local yoghurt drink, some meat, some bits and pieces . . ." Difficult-to-digest bits and pieces that she was to later find out included goat hooves. "I really didn't need to know that," she laughs now. "Sometimes ignorance is bliss."

Consumption of the peculiar is an occupational hazard. However, the true food warrior isn't necessarily seeking the weird and wacky. More important than the purely odd, says Lees, is the authentic.

"I think every food journalist goes to Cambodia and talks about eating spiders but they're a really marginal food," he says. "They're there for tourists."

Though, for the record, he has tried them: "They taste like fried twigs with garlic. It's nothing to write home about."

Freelance food photographer Tim James couldn't agree more. The 32-year-old former accountant experienced his epicurean epiphany as a 14-year-old on his first trip to Malaysia and has since eaten widely of the strange and sublime. These days, however, his journeys are geared to discovery of the molecular. "I don't like the idea of the gimmicky thing particularly," James says. For his next adventure, armed only with a camera and an appetite, he will try to negotiate entry to Spain's NASA-like food labs.

For every experience digested, another appears in its place. For all the money spent, time squandered in airport lounges, and kilograms lost during episodes of tummy troubles, it appears that - for these trailblazing gastronomes - too much is never enough. There's always a new experience waiting.

For his part, Malouf is hoping to head back to the Middle East and Iran in search of fesenjan, a sumptuous, confit-like dish of duck with pomegranates and walnut. Lees hears the call of Portugal and acorn-fed piglets cooked to crisp-skinned richness in a eucalypt-fuelled brick oven. And Pahuja, well, she'll be found near street snack stalls.

Ultimately, it's about chasing the food back to the source.

"When you eat something where it comes from, it's generally perfect," she says. "It's not about the diner choosing, it's about you eating what's there. And, in the end, I think that's the real experience."

Cambodian conservation project launched

International Animal Rescue

Mon 10 November 2008 UK — Asia

A conservation initiative has been launched in Eastern Cambodia which will help to prevent the destruction of wildlife in an area of 1.5 million acres, Contract Magazine has reported.

Humanscale, in partnership with the Cambodian government, will fund patrols in the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary, whose wildlife currently faces dangers from illegal poachers, loggers and squatters.

In addition, the scheme will establish a mobile enforcement unit to reduce the illegal trade in tiger and tiger prey in Mondulkiri province, which is an adjacent sanctuary home to leopards, Asian elephants, wild water buffalo and other species only indigenous to Eastern Cambodia.

Robert King, Humanscale's founder and chief executive, told Contract Magazine: "The truth is, having zero environmental impact isn't good enough anymore.

"Unless others take action soon, we may very well lose important eco-regions like those in Eastern Cambodia forever.

"Cambodia currently has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world and since 1970 its primary rainforest cover fell from over 70 per cent to just 3.1 per cent in 2007.

News brought to you by International Animal Rescue, leaders in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.

Russia could write off Cambodia's $1.5 bln debt

RIA Novosti
10/ 11/ 2008

MOSCOW, November 10 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is discussing with the Cambodian leadership the possibility of writing off most of Cambodia's debt, which stands at around $1.5 billion, a senior Russian lawmaker said on Monday.

"Russia and Cambodia are holding talks to write off Cambodia's debt of around $1.5 billion. The principal sum (about 70%) of the debt could be written off as part of Russia's participation in the Paris Club of Creditor Nations," said Valery Yazev, deputy speaker of the lower house of Russia's parliament, after a trip to Cambodia and Laos.

Yazev said the debt's outstanding part could be divided into two and settled at concessional interest rates.

The vice-speaker said the next round of negotiations on settling Cambodia's debt to Russia would be held early next year in Moscow.

Wake Held; Police Chief's Crash Investigated

Hok Lundy was a powerful official in the Cambodian People's Party who weathered myriad claims of human rights abuses.

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
10 November 2008

Hundreds of Cambodia's top officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, attended a wake for Hok Lundy Monday morning, following a deadly helicopter crash that is under investigation.

Hok Lundy, a close associate of Hun Sen and the nation's top police official, died when his helicopter crashed in Rumduol district, Svay Rieng province, late Sunday night.

Maligned by critics as a brutal police commander high among the ranks of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, Hok Lundy had been accused by rights groups of serious violations, including murder and torture, and in 2006 was denied US entry on suspicion of involvement of human trafficking. He rejected all charges made against him.

His lieutenant, police Lt. Gen. Neth Savoun, was named acting national police chief Monday.
A separate ceremony for Lt. Gen. Sok Sa Em, deputy commander of RCAF infantry, and two pilots, Tep Setha, 44, and Horn Ratha, 46, was held at Wat Lanka.

"I would like to express my deepest sympathy for the death of Gen. Hok Lundy," said Lt. Gen. Sok Phal, deputy national police chief. "We've lost a high-ranking official in the government…. Right now we've sent a team of investigators to the crash site."

He declined to speculate on the cause of the crash. Aviation officials have said poor weather was likely a factor.

Hok Lundy's personal driver for more than 20 years, Chan Pov, told VOA Khmer Monday that before the helicopter crash the general had dined with businessmen Kith Meng and Meng Sreang in Phnom Penh.

Chan Pov said his boss decided to visit Svay Rieng "at the last minute," for undisclosed reasons.
Chan Pov drove Hok Lundy to the military airbase adjacent to Phnom Penh International Airport, where he watched him board a Sokha Airlines helicopter.

Prior to takeoff, the pilots looked to the sky, where stars were visible, and said a flight to Svay Rieng would be no problem, Chan Pov said. Fifteen minutes after the helicopter took off, the driver received a call from Sokha Airlines's office warning of heavy rain over Svay Rieng. By then, Hok Lundy could not be reached by phone, Chan Pov said.

The driver was later able to reach one of the pilots, who told him they would arrive in Svay Rieng "in seven minutes." Five minutes later, around 7:40 pm, he could not reach the pilots either. Five minutes after that, Phnom Penh International's tower reported the helicopter had crashed.

Svay Rieng Governor Cheang Am said witnesses around the crash site reported hearing "roaring from the engine" over Doung Sar village, in Rumduol district. The helicopter crashed 15 kilometers outside the village.

Witnesses told the governor the helicopter glanced off a small hillside, as flames burned from its tail, before it crashed. Hok Lundy's body was found 5 meters from the wreckage, Cheang Am said.

Hok Lundy, who was born in 1950 in the same district where he died, rose to power through the 1980s and became a central committee member of the CPP in 1997, following his promotion to national police chief in 1994.

Human Rights Watch accused him of collaboration in the deadly 1997 grenade attack on opposition protesters, extrajudicial killings in the 1997 CPP putsch and the trafficking of drugs and prostitutes. He was awarded a medal by the FBI for counterterrorism in 2006 and visited top Bureau officials in Washington in 2007.

On Monday afternoon Hun Sen, who has so far withheld public comment on Hok Lundy's death, set a wreath of flowers next to general's body, which was lying in state, covered by a red cloth, on the floor of his Phnom Penh villa.

Hok Lundy is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, including Hok Chindavy, who is married to Hun Sen's son, Hun Manit. Hok Lundy will be buried on Saturday in his hometown.