Thursday, 18 December 2008

Akin to Killing Elvis? The sad song of Sin Sisamouth

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Sin Sisamouth may have died under the Khmer Rouge, but his music and image live on.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by D Allan Kerr
Thursday, 18 December 2008

An American discovers Cambodia's classic crooner and his tragic fate

Here we are again, celebrating the season of peace and thanksgiving, counting our blessings and spreading joy to the world. It's a time to reflect on - well, hell, you know how it goes by now.

This is that time of year when people tell us how lucky we are to live in the greatest, most freedom-loving country in the history of mankind.*

It's when we're encouraged to remember those less fortunate than us - the poor, the oppressed, the fearful and the damned. So in that spirit, here we go again:

I currently work with some fine outstanding American citizens who happen to be of Cambodian origin. The other day they brought in a CD of Cambodian music, mostly from previous decades. It was pretty catchy stuff, more modern than I had expected but also with what sounded like more traditional, native influences. I was struck by the stylings of one guy in particular. He would croon a heart-ripping ballad in one number and then deliver a rousing rocker in the next; as warm and familiar as your grandfather's sweater one moment, and then as fresh as last week's Top 40.

This man was the most famous singer of their old country, my co-workers said. Was he still around, I asked. No, they said - he had passed away. Then a bit later they elaborated - he had actually been exterminated by the Khmer Rouge back in the 1970s.

In fact, they said, the famous singer had been brought in by leaders of the Khmer Rouge and asked to compose a song celebrating their ascendancy. When he finished the song and then performed it, he was promptly executed.

In my homegrown American naivete, I was kind of stunned by this. I asked one of my younger colleagues what artist in the United States had a comparable status. Elvis Presley, he said. I think I blinked and did a kind of double-take.

"So if our government had executed Elvis, that would have had the same kind of impact here as when this guy was killed in Cambodia?" I asked.

"That's right."


The artist in question was Sin Sisamouth. I, of course, had never heard of him, but in Cambodian culture he is indeed considered a giant.

And as we continued listening to the CD, my co-workers pointed out that several of the other singers we heard had also been murdered by the Khmer Rouge. One of them, a female artist named Ros Sereysothea, performed many duets with Sin Sisamouth.

Knowing this totally changed the listening experience for me. The more melancholic songs were suddenly swathed in tragedy, while the rollicking up-tempo tunes took on an epic poignancy. It was almost unsettling, listening to the music of these doomed artists who at the time had no way of knowing what was to befall them. In essence, they were singing their own death song.

Sure, we have our Kurt Cobains and Janis Joplins and Jimi Hendrixes, but these foreign superstars were the first I knew of who had died because of the music they created. Our tragic artist-heroes tend to fall victim to their own excesses.

I've since researched Sin Sisamouth a bit. I learned that as a singer and song-writer he helped usher in a whole new modern culture for his country, developing an innovative style that combined rock'n'roll with the more traditional classics of his heritage. He wrote more than a thousand songs over his career and is perhaps most beloved for his odes to the ecstasies and agonies of love. Classic hits like "Champa Battambang" have become part of Cambodia's heritage. But to this day, there is no clear evidence as to how his life came to an end.

During the dark and bloody days of the Khmer Rouge, vanishings were not uncommon and the infamous Killing Fields were put to frequent use. Celebrities made easy targets. While the scenario described to me of Sin Sisamouth's death has been widely circulated, there are other reports that he was, in fact, tortured and that his famous tongue was cut out. By all accounts, it seems he had too sweet a soul to survive this brutal era. Sin was only 40 years old when he is believed to have died.

His old singing partner Ros Sereysothea also vanished during the regime.

Yeah, I know - not exactly a story in keeping with the holiday spirit. But Americans taking their liberty for granted is a well-worn cliche by now, and all too often it takes stories like these to sort of snap us into reality. We live in a country where singers, poets, artists, writers and moose hunters are free to express their thoughts and feelings through their talents and creativity without fear of imprisonment or torture. Think about how lucky we are.

The simple shock we experience when hearing tragic tales like the fate of Sin Sisamouth - and the songs haunting us afterward in a foreign tongue - remind us how alien such circumstances may be for most of us.


D Allan Kerr describes himself as a struggling novelist and former newspaper reporter based in the United States. He may contacted through
*This column first appeared in the Portsmouth Herald newspaper in New Hampshire
, USA.

Solar-powered glazing study produces partly cloudy results

Photo supplied
Jordan uses this device, made from mirors, to glaze ceramics.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Erica Goldberg
Thursday, 18 December 2008

ENGLISH expat Christopher Jordan perplexed ceramic experts at the National Centre for Khmer Ceramics Revival in Siem Reap last Friday when he attempted to demonstrate what he says is an ancient technique for glazing pottery using mirrors and sunlight.

But even he admits his demonstration was far from perfect and failed to fully prove his theory ... for now.

Jordan built a solar panel device in an attempt to explain how the ancient Khmer coated large statues in glass and glazing. He cited the example of the three-meter-high statue of Shiva from 870 AD in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

"There's really no way to create ceramics like the Shiva statue without this technology. No one has come up with a better solution," he said.

Jordan found his solution on the walls of a sanctuary in Egypt and now says the ancient Khmer similarly directed sunlight at several mirrors and used these mirrors as pens to "write" on the pottery".

People were sceptical about whether you could melt ceramics with mirrors," said Jordan. After Friday's demonstration, people are still sceptical.

On Friday, Jordan told the Post that his device reached 1,000 degrees Celsius in under a minute but needed to be 30 percent hotter to perform effectively. Instead, the mirrored sunlight created only a few splotches of glass on the pots.

Despite the fairly sunny afternoon, Jordan claimed that "the sun wasn't hot enough".

The centre's director, Serge Rega, said Jordan's approach was interesting but needed more research to develop the technology.

"He only made a few glazes with solar power," said Rega. "But this could be the beginning of something."

Siem Reap's mobile magician

Photo by: Jason Leahey
Princhor dives through circle of knives.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Shannon Dunlap
Thursday, 18 December 2008

MR Princhor, magician extraordinaire, looks surprisingly at ease for someone about to launch himself through a ring of sharpened knives. But this is business as usual for the prestidigitator, who has been entertaining audiences for three years with his special blend of acrobatics, sleights of hand and death-defying stunts.

He told the Post that the circle of knives, the most dangerous trick in his act, is not only a crowd pleaser but also his own favourite. "When the people are happy, I am happy, too," he said. "I don't worry about getting hurt anymore.

"It wasn't always so. A thick, raised scar runs across Princhor's right bicep, a painful reminder that his line of work is not for the faint of heart. "I cut it open during a show," he said, "trying to make the circle a little smaller, a little better."

His wife is anxious that he will injure himself again, but for Princhor, street performance is the only option.And that's one more option than he had when growing up in Battambang. "I was very poor. Like this," he said, pointing to a young fan trying to sell him a drink. "We fished, just tried to get by."

Then he enrolled with Phare Ponleu Selpak, an organisation that gives orphaned and poor kids skills to become successful working artists, including circus performers. Princhor discovered he had a particular affinity for magic, and a career was born, with the entire Siem Reap province now his arena.

During his show, Princhor's moves are full of staccato energy as he turns blank paper into a fistful of money, swallows ping-pong balls before pulling them out of children's pockets and produces women's lingerie out of thin air.

With the crackling strains of Macarena urging him onward, he leaps through the ring of knives no less than a dozen times. His wardrobe consists of nothing but a pair of sparkling black jeans, and his compact, muscled body works up a sweat as he works the crowd, making his tattoos glisten.

Many of the tattoos, he admits, are drawn on with marker before the show, but the one that covers most of his chest is permanent. "I believe in spirits," Princhor said, pointing to the large sword-swallowing figure just below his breastbone. "This one is to protect me."

Because of the danger, Princhor does want his young son to follow in his footsteps. But he has no intention of leaving magic behind. "There's only one job I want," he says "I could be on TV. I could perform for all of Cambodia."

Speculators the big losers as property market stalls

A house up for sale in Phnom Penh. Demand has fallen off as property prices decline across all segments.

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 18 December 2008

While some predict a turnaround in as few as two years, the fortunes of thousands are being wiped out as real estate values fall in the short term

SIX months ago, 38-year-old Hem Davuth was living large and earning tens of thousands of dollars buying and selling real estate in Cambodia's roaring property market.

Now, he says, most his profits have evaporated along with the values of his real estate holdings.

"I cannot earn money like I did in 2005 and 2007. At that time, I made at least US$4,000 per month. Now I don't earn anything," he said.

Hem Davuth's story shows how quickly fortunes have changed in Cambodia, as high-flying speculators are humbled by a hot property market gone sour.

Modern Cambodia's first-ever property boom lasted from about 2006 to mid-2008, and translated into new-found wealth for an emerging middle class, as well as thousands of construction jobs.

But the boom has come to a grinding halt as foreign investment dries up, bringing property values down an estimated 25 percent over six months, say industry players.

Now, experts estimate that thousands of speculators have been wiped out by the crunch, along with an unknown number of property-related jobs.

" the prices ... have been overinflated. Everyone jumped on the greed bandwagon. "

"About 5,000 land speculators have lost their fortunes after the property market downturn brought on by the global economic crisis," said Meas Tola, managing director of Angkor Real Estate of Cambodia.

He says his company's future is in question as commissions fall to almost nothing.

Sung Bonna, president and CEO of Bonna Realty and president of the National Valuers Association of Cambodia, said that the property recession will have broader implications for the economy.

"We are very worried about all of them [speculators] losing their income. Many businesses face crisis," he added.

The crisis will cut disposable income for many Cambodians, hitting everything from luxury car purchases to high-end restaurant sales, he said.

Kang Chandararot, president of the Cambodia Institute for Development Study, blamed the global economy rather than local conditions for the sliding market.

"Some who earned a lot of income from the real estate boom are going bust," he said.Local officials are optimistic that a turnaround could come as soon as next year, but one regional property expert said the market might take years to recover.

"The prices in Phnom Penh have been overinflated. Everyone has jumped on the greed bandwagon. ... Now we are seeing a lot of major construction projects being put on hold or cancelled," said Naim Khan-Turk, the director of research and consultancy with CB Richard Ellis in Ho Chi Minh City.

"Cambodia is going to have a reality check. Speculators have been borrowing to buy condos that aren't built and they are not going to be able to pay the banks; then the suppliers won't get paid and everyone is going to lose," he said.

"You aren't going to see as many local job losses as in places like Vietnam because most of the companies and suppliers are coming from abroad. That will insulate Cambodia to some extent," he said.

Educational toy sales up as sellers target niche market

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A toy store in Phnom Penh offering mostly imported goods.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Hor Hab
Thursday, 18 December 2008

Parents look to skills-based toys in an effort to provide their children with creative games they can learn from

PARENTS in Cambodia are turning in greater numbers to educational toys and baby products to help with development and learning, say sellers in the fast-growing niche market.

Sok Rattana, 27, said he spends as much as US$50 a week on toys for his son in the hope of improving his school performance.

"I buy toys that can make him clever, such as jigsaw puzzles, calculators and flash cards with words in English so that he can use his brain to play and think," he said, adding that he has already seen positive results.

"I think it is not a bad idea to spend money on toys for kids because there are so many kinds of educational toys, and I can decide which toys are useful for my kids," he said.

Chy Meng, managing director of BMG Corp, a wholesale distributor for baby product manufacturer Farlin, said the baby and child toy market has grown because parents are paying more attention to child development. He said the products can "shape the babies' minds".

Booming market

Phnom Penh has seen a boom in baby product and toy sales in the past four years. The number of stores has grown from virtually none to about 20 today - and international brands are finding their way to store shelves in Cambodia because parents are demanding better-quality products, Chy Meng said.

"The Cambodian market will no longer be a secondhand products market ... or a place to throw away unwanted products from overseas," Chy Meng said.

His company sells nine different brands of baby products imported from Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and it controls about 40 percent of the premium baby product market, with about 150 selling points in shops and markets nationwide.

Sok Piseth, general manager of Toys & Me, said that he jumped on the children's toy bandwagon last year because Cambodia did not yet have a shop that sold educational toys for children.

"My shop sells toys that can help develop children - educational toys that kids can learn from," he said.

"Toys can make Cambodian children smarter and more flexible in their minds because when they play with educational toys, it is good for their cognitive growth," he said.

Toy prices vary from a few dollars to a few thousand.

"Parents don't hesitate to buy, even though it is expensive, because they see that the quality of products is good and [they] are beneficial for their children," Sok Piseth said.

"They think that good quality toys are safer and better for their children than the cheap ones," he said.

Dr Hem Sok Han, a paediatrician at the National Pediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh, said that educational toys help improve children's ability to learn.

"It is true that the kids who like to play with toys are smarter than the kids who have never played with toys," he says.

But Chhour Y Meng, director of the National Pediatric Hospital, said no current studies support the view that toys make children smarter.

"We have many ways to make children smarter, such as proper diets and the ways in which parents participate in their children's education. It is not simply focused on toys," Chhour Y Meng said.

In Brief: Bird flu area quarantined

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A week after a 19-year-old boy was confirmed to have contracted the deadly H5N1 bird flu, the Cambodian government has quarantined a three-kilometre area around the center of the outbreak - which is near the Krangchek Cambodia-Indonesia Friendship Center in Damrus commune, Kandal Stung district, Kandal province - while investigations are ongoing. OnTuesday, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries issued a warning saying all poultry in the area will be destroyed and outlined a temporary suspension of the sale, purchase or transport of poultry, which is to be in effect for the next 30 days. "Anyone who violates these conditions will be punished in accordance to the law," the statement said. Kao Phal, director of the Animal Health and Production Department of the ministry, told the Post that local authorities had destroyed 326 birds in the outbreak area and sprayed the area on Wednesday. "It was difficult to destroy the birds because the birds are not caged," Kao Phal said. "However, we have had good cooperation from residents and all levels of local authorities."

In Brief: Police appointed to ministry

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The minister of interior appointed 11 national police commissioners to various ministry positions Thursday. Teng Savong, from the National Authority for Combating Drugs, was appointed a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, and Mok Dara, director of the anti-drug trafficking department, was appointed secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, an equivalent to secretary of state.

In Brief: Teenagers vow to fight child abuse

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Three teenagers who attended a conference against child sexual abuse in Brazil have returned, vowing to have their voices heard at home. Representatives Ol Sopheak, 18, Kol Kakda, 17, and Sovann Puthynarak, 17, attended the third Unicef-sponsored World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, in Rio de Janeiro in November. "I want to commit myself to fighting against the sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia. Even though we are young children, we still know our rights," Kol Kakda said.

In Brief: More visitors at genocide museums

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by SAM RITH
Thursday, 18 December 2008

Directors of Tuol Sleng and Chhoeung Ek museums say the number of tourists visiting the museums has increased this year. Chey Sopheara, director of Tuol Sleng, said the museum had 100 visitors on average per day, 60 percent of which were foreigners. "It has increased 10 percent compared with last year," he said.

In Brief: Pen sovann denies he will join cpp

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Human Rights Party President Pen Sovann rejected a report saying that he plans to join the Cambodian People's Party and reaffirmed on Tuesday that he did not tell a journalist he would do such a thing. He said he has never thought of reuniting with the CPP because he was jailed in Vietnam by Prime Minister Hun Sen for opposing Vietnam's activities in Cambodia.

Government presses local hotel owners to obtain quality rating

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Thursday, 18 December 2008

Tourism Ministry says the rating system will boost the quality of accommodation and attract more visitors to the Kingdom

THE government on Tuesday urged all of Cambodia's hotel owners to apply for a rating classification it says will improve the quality of services and attract more international travellers.

The rating system was first announced by a 2003 subdecree and awarded up to three stars based on the size and number of rooms, location, facilities, design, environmental impact, and food and service standards.

The system will now offer hotels the option of applying for up to five stars, based on the type of services they offer, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon told reporters Tuesday at a workshop on ecotourism.

"I believe that [hotel owners] will apply for classification because without it, they will lose customers."

Only 10 hotels currently hold classification rankings, but the ministry has taken steps to make the registration process as simple as possible, Thong Khon said.

To receive a ranking, hotels will need to submit an application that includes a description of the services they offer and the number of stars they want, Thong Khon said.

An internationally trained three-member evaluation task force from the ministry's Hotel Classification Committee then reviews the applicant and gives an aggregate score, which determines the number of stars assigned, he said.

"If a hotel gets a score of 800, the rating will be five stars. A lower score will receive a lower rating," he said.

Rankings will be valid for only two years, after which hotels must reapply, he said, adding that application costs run between US$300 and $500, depending on the number of stars assigned.

Philip Set Kao, general manager of the Borei Angkor Resort and Spa, said hotel grading was not the only way to attract business. "I think the classification of hotels is the right thing to do to make them more competitive. But I believe that many hotels will not do it because they have done well without it," he said.

Phnom Penh Restaurants: A Chinese delicacy in Phnom Penh

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
To Besyrana pulling noodles outside Phnom Penh’s Chinese Noodle Restaurant.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Melanie Brew and Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 18 December 2008

Chinese Noodle Restaurant and its sister establishment, Chinese Pulled Noodle, may be the only places in Phnom Penh to dine on hand-pulled noodles

ONE of the most popular Chinese noodle restaurants in Phnom Penh is called, simply enough, Chinese Noodle Restaurant, and most evenings the place is packed with ravenous punters.

La mien is the specialty of the house, la meaning pull and mien meaning noodle. Pulled noodles are a popular traditional Chinese dish, and judging by the clientele of the Chinese Noodle Restaurant, Khmer and foreigners like them too.

To get a better idea of what goes into these la mien dishes, we talked to a professional noodle puller, To Besyrana. The 20-year-old has been pulling noodles for seven years and learned the trade from his brother.

He says that while most of the technique take two or three months to learn, he learned the sweeping, nimble-fingered gestures in less than a week.

Healthy alternative
"Chinese noodles are different from all the other noodles because our noodles do not have chemicals or oil," he said. "We make the noodles by hand daily [in front of the restaurant] and they are always fresh. But the other noodles that you can buy in Cambodia contain chemicals and oil so that they keep for long time.

"Pulling noodles by hand looks like hard work and reminds one a little of throwing pizza dough. The puller has a ball of dough that he constantly flours to keep from sticking, and they quickly pull and spin it into 180 noodle threads. To Besyrana said the work makes him strong.

The noodles are made from eggs, salt, water and flour, and after they have been pulled, they are thrown into a pot of hot water to cook.

The most popular dishes at the restaurant are noodle soups, and starting at US$1.20 a bowl, they are a bargain. The soup arrives at the table steaming hot. A variety of accompaniments ranging from beef and mushroom to intestine or pig stomach can be ordered with the noodles. Vegetarian options are also available.

To Besyrana says that pulling noodles is not difficult, but that the Cambodian weather can have a significant impact on the final result. "If it is hot we use less water, and if it is cold we use more water with the flour."

" Chinese noodles are different from all other noodles ... our noodles do not have chemicals. "

Chinese Noodle Restaurant has been open in Phnom Penh for 20 years and it, along with its sister restaurant Chinese Pulled Noodle near Central Market, seem to be the only pulled noodle spots in town.

The food tastes good and fresh, however, fine dining it is not. But for a simple and healthy meal it is well worth the couple of bucks. The dumplings (US$1.20 for a dozen) are also good value and come either boiled or fried.

"I know well how to make Chinese noodles so that they taste delicious," To Besyrana said.Chinese Noodle Restaurant is located at 553 Monivong and is open from 9am to 2:30am daily.

Khmer music accompanies silent US film

Photo Supply
Image from the film Safety First.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay
Thursday, 18 December 2008

Cambodian musicians provide original score to 1923 silent film Safety Last

IN perhaps the most iconic sequence in the history of silent films, a bespectacled man played by Harold Lloyd dangles from a clock on the side of a skyscraper. Holding onto the clock hands for dear life, he tries desperately to climb up the building to reach the girl as the clock face begins to pop out from its moorings.

The 1923 American film, Safety Last, contains the most enduring image of its era, but no sound - that is, until 6:30pm this Friday.

The musicians from Battambang's Phare Ponleu Selpak, an organisation that trains a range of artists, from acrobats to cartoonists, will provide an original score inspired by traditional Khmer music at an outdoor showing of the film at Wat Botum in Phnom Penh.

Marie de Pibrac, the cultural coordinator at the French Cultural Centre who is putting on the show, has high hopes for the performance and thinks it will appeal to a broad audience.

"It's a very popular movie. It's burlesque, it's comic and the music will be very good," she said.The director of Phare Ponleu Selpak, Mao Kasol, said they have been working on the score for an entire year.

The fast-paced action of the movie provides a challenge for the musicians, but Mao Kasol is confident that his students will rise to the occasion.

"It's great that my students have the skill to show the traditional music to Cambodians and tourists, and to fit the traditional music with a foreign movie," he said.

The one thing Mao Kasol hopes the audience will take away from the performance is that they "hear the skill of the local students".

Having heard the group accompany a silent movie before, Pibrac is excited about hearing these musicians again.

"There is really an energy and a creativity with these musicians," she said.

Prior to the performance, Santa Claus will make an appearance - despite his busy pre-Christmas schedule - and hand out presents to the audience. The French Cultural Centre also said that children will be treated to tales and cartoons in both French and Khmer before the movie begins.

The event will take place this Friday at 6:30 pm at Wat Botum.

Migrant workers face squeeze amid global crisis: ILO chief

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The International Labour Organisation has appealed for governments to show restraint when considering layoffs of migrant workers

MANILA - Millions of migrant workers face layoffs and worsening conditions as the global financial crisis bites in the countries where they are employed, the International Labour Organisation said Wednesday.

“Past experience makes us painfully aware that migrant workers, especially women workers and those in irregular status, are among the hardest hit and most vulnerable during crisis situations,” ILO Director General Juan Somavia said.

The Geneva-based UN agency’s regional office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in Manila, released the statement on the eve of International Migrants Day, Wednesday.

“While the full impact of the crisis on migrant workers is yet to unfold, there are reports of direct layoffs, worsening working conditions including wage cuts, increasing returns and reductions in immigrant intakes,” he said.

Somavia appealed to governments in host countries to “assess their labour market needs before resorting to general layoffs of migrant workers. It is important that migrant workers do not become scapegoats for the current financial and economic crisis.”

Somavia said at least 100 million men and women have left home to find work in another part of the world.

In October Somavia had warned that the financial crisis could lead to record global unemployment, with 20 million more people out of work by the end of 2009.

" It is important that migrant workers do not become scapegoats . "

In the Philippines, one of the biggest labour-exporting countries in the world, the government has reported that several thousand of its nationals have lost their jobs abroad.

The downturn comes after a record year for remittances from Filipino workers abroad. According to figures from the Central Bank of the Philippines, these workers sent US$1.43 billion home in October, up 3.3 percent on a year earlier.

It was the second-largest amount in a single month since records began, behind the $1.45 billion remitted in June.

The eight million Filipinos working abroad remitted a total $13.71 billion in the 10 months to October, up 16 percent from 11.87 billion a year earlier.

Figures from Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour show more than 70,000 Cambodians work abroad. Remittances accounted for four percent of the country’s national income last year, according to the World Bank.

Government revokes five land concessions

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Thursday, 18 December 2008

Ministry cites companies’ failure to deliver on development projects and job creation

THE government has pulled licences for five agricultural concessions after companies failed to develop the land, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chan Sarun said Monday.

Officials would not release the names of the companies but said they held 99-year leases that were pulled in the second half of 2008.

"The government wants companies to develop the country for reducing poverty, but we confiscate licences if they do nothing for development or haven't created any jobs," said Chan Sarun.

As of last month, almost one million hectares of land had been granted to private companies, according to a report by the Agriculture Ministry.

"The total number of contracts has been increased to 65 companies, with a total land area of 912,275 hectares," the report stated.

Concessions are often granted for degraded forest that the government has opened to both local and foreign investment and are part of a government plan to boost the agricultural sector, according to the report.

But Son Chhay, Sam Rainsy Party spokesman, said the government's figure of nearly one million hectares is only half of the actual amount.

He estimated that an additional million hectares are owned by military leaders and powerful officials.

Son Chhay called on the government to stop offering economic land concessions and force licence holders to develop the land or face confiscation.

"Many economic-concession lands have not been developed. Some dishonest investors, mostly logging companies, got the land and just logged it," said Son Chhay.

"If those lands had been developed, a half-million to one million jobs could have been created."

Ream Sophon, executive director of Cambodia Farmer Economic Development, urged the government to stop providing economic land concessions, especially to foreign investors, and instead give concessions to the poor.

"Providing land concessions to private companies is a good opportunity for high-ranking officers and investors to commit corruption," said Ream Sophon.

Temple watch: Preah Khan museum

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Dave Perkes
Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Preah Khan Visitor Centre, a unique living heritage museum sponsored by the World Monuments Fund that opened last week, sheds light on the local culture and how village life revolved around this great temple complex over the centuries.

Large displays provide background on how the temple was constructed and show how the area affected residents. There is a specially commissioned map of the entire complex. An eight- metre-long black and white photographic panel shows the famous East Gopura with its spectacular tree formations.

An exhibition by the Cambodian photographer Mak Remissa documents life in the nearby village of Liang Dai. Villagers from here, and Buddhists from elsewhere, still use Preah Khan as a sacred place to make offerings at the central stupa.

The vast Preah Khan is the second-largest temple and one of the most complex in Angkor Park. An estimated 70,000 people lived and worker here in the twelfth century. Many local people have ancestors who lived here in the time of the great King Jayavarman VII, who dedicated this temple to his father.

The new visitor centre is on the site of the old visitor centre, just beyond the West Gopura, which is currently under renovation. There is no entry charge, but visitors will need an Angkor temple pass to gain access to the site.

Clergy in crisis? 17th monk congress starts

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Monks pray at the opening of the 17th annual monk congress on Wednesday.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Thursday, 18 December 2008

Lack of rules in the face of rapid expansion has left the robes of monkhood open to abuse by fraudsters and criminals: officials

A RAPIDLY expanding and largely unregulated Buddhist clergy is giving the Kingdom's religion a bad name, officials say, forcing elders to address embarrassing crimes at the opening Wednesday of the 17th annual monk congress in Phnom Penh.

Men of the orange cloth have been caught robbing, raping and murdering in unconnected incidents across the country. Most recently, a 17-year-old monk made international headlines in November after he was accused of raping a British tourist in Battambang.

The crimes are leading religious leaders to demand more scrutiny of monks and their conduct.

"Buddhism teaches monks to obey, but individuals still violate the principles of religion," said Nguon Nget, the chief monk in Cambodia.

He said he did not know how many cases had occurred this year but said that "offenses have happened throughout the country".

"Monks are accused of having mistresses," he said, adding that offenders would not be pardoned. "They must be defrocked."

Meas Nhel, deputy director of the Phnom Penh Department of Cults and Religions, blamed the offenses on "fake monks".

He said at least 11 criminal cases in 2008 involved fraudulent monks, including one case of murder, two cases of sexual abuse and eight cases of illegal fundraising.

"Many fake monks are seen to take Buddhism as a means to find money," he said. "Real Buddhist monks do not misbehave."

Meas Nhel said that some monks caught misbehaving had simply relocated from the provinces to Phnom Penh.

"To avoid such problems, we will ask each pagoda to inform an authority when there is a monk coming to stay in a pagoda," he said.

Min Khin, Minister of Cults and Religions, told reporters after the opening of the congress that the exponential increase in the number of monks was making regulation difficult and could lead to occasional instances of misconduct.

In 1979, there were seven Buddhist monks in Cambodia. Now, there are 55,583 in 4,307 pagodas across the country, he said.

He said there have been widespread reports of misdeeds, and while he agreed that "a monk is also a human who cannot avoid [committing offenses]", he emphasised that real monks are rarely involved in such incidents.

"Only some pretending to be monks" had committed wrongdoings, he said.

Economic Downturn Felt in Cambodian Stores

By Taing Sarada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
17 December 2008

As the global economy continues to worsen, vendors in Cambodia say their daily business has begun to suffer.

At the Red Moon restaurant, behind the Hotel Inter-Continental on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, owner Nhem Sothear lamented the fall in his guest numbers.

“I’ve seen a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction from the rate before,” he said recently. “Before, they used to spend $100; now they spend only $80 to $70, or $50. It’s not so negative, it’s still positive, but it’s only at a small level. We used to make a good income, but now it is not so much.”

Sot Visal, general manager for the Phnom Khmer restaurant, near Silep market, said the economic downturn was costing him 30 percent to 40 percent of his custom, while some restaurants have closed altogether or are reducing staff.

“When the world has a bad economic crisis like that, we lose a lot of our clients,” he said.

A woman named Angeli, at a clothing store called “I Love You,” said customers had started asking for cheap clothes, rather than worrying about high quality.

“Most of my clients are very reluctant with the price,” she said, noting that her store had just opened. “They want cheap clothes but of poor quality.”

The worsening consumer climate in Cambodia is echoing that in other countries, especially America, following the collapse of the housing and subprime lending markets.

Economist Sok Sina said the downturn was hurting Cambodia’s economic growth rate, dropping it from a high of 13 percent in 2006 to between a projected 4 percent and 6 percent in 2009.

“Cambodia’s economy mainly depends on industry, agriculture and service,” he said. “If the countries in the West, Europe and Asia meet an economic crisis, they will reduce their spending on food, clothes and tourism. These factors can hurt Cambodia’s economy.”

Top Police Officials Appointed Reporters

By VOA Khmer, Reporters
Original report from Washington
17 December 2008

Eleven veteran police officials were promoted to high positions within the Ministry of Interior Wednesday, in a reshuffle following the unexpected death of the national police chief in November.

“The promotions and appointments will reduce the violation of law and promote the respect of law,” Interior Minister Sar Kheng told a group of policy at a ceremony.

Police officials were appointed to posts as secretaries of state, a deputy chairman, the anti-drug authority, prisons and administration.

National police chief Hok Lundy died in a helicopter crash in Svay Rieng province in November and was replaced by Gen. Neth Savoeun.

Officials said Wednesday an investigation into the cause of the crash had found poor weather, including rain and lightning.

Officials Order Culling in Bird Flu Case

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
17 December 2008

Officials have confirmed the presence of the H5N1 “bird flu” virus in poultry in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district, following the infection of one man last month.

Officials said Wednesday they will have to disinfect the area destroy hundreds of birds in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, which experts fear could mutate into a more dangerous form for humans.

People will be forced to stop the sale and transport of chickens in a three-kilometer radius in the area, while a 30-day inspection ensues.

On Wednesday morning, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture inspected Kandal poultry farms.

The ministry decided to kill 326 chickens, said Kao Phal, director of the agriculture department, “and we will continue with more chickens and ducks in the area.”

Ly Sovann, deputy director of the disease outbreak department of the Ministry of Health confirmed Wednesday there were areas that had been affected by the disease, but it had not mutated into something more dangerous for humans.

Avian influenza has killed at least seven Cambodians since 2005, though the most recent case has not been fatal.

New Thai Prime Minister, How many more?

Thai protestors wave flags during a rally against Thailand's new prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the Democrat Party headquarters in Bangkok. Abhisit said Wednesday his cabinet would tackle the country's political and economic woes, and vowed to prevent a repeat of the recent crippling airport sieges.(AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, and his wife Pimpen listen as Secretary-General of the Parliament Vithoon Poomhiran (not pictured) reads Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej's command appointing Abhisit as the new Thai prime minister during a ceremony at the party's headquarters in Bangkok December 17, 2008. Abhisit said on Wednesday that reviving an economy hit by political unrest and a global slowdown would be his first priority, after he was royally endorsed as Thailand's 27th prime minister.REUTERS/Apichart Weerawong/Pool (THAILAND)

Abhisit Vejjajiva (L), leader of the Democrat Party, and his wife Pimpen (2nd L) listen as Secretary-General of the Parliament Vithoon Poomhiran (R) reads Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej's command appointing Abhisit as the new Thai prime minister during a ceremony at the party's headquarters in Bangkok December 17, 2008. Abhisit said on Wednesday that reviving an economy hit by political unrest and a global slowdown would be his first priority, after he was royally endorsed as Thailand's 27th prime minister.REUTERS/Apichart Weerawong/Pool (THAILAND)

Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, kneels down before a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he receives Bhumibol's command appointing him as the new Thai prime minister during a ceremony at the party's headquarters in Bangkok December 17, 2008.REUTERS/Apichart Weerawong/Pool

WHO Update Of Avian Influenza Situation In Cambodia

Medical News
17 Dec 2008

The Ministry of Health of Cambodia has announced a new confirmed case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus.

The 19-year-old male, from Kandal Province, developed symptoms on 28 November and initially sought medical attention at a local health centre on 30 November.

The presence of the H5N1 virus was confirmed by the National Influenza Centre, the Institut Pasteur in Cambodia, on 11 December. The patient is currently hospitalised and a team led by the Ministry of Health is conducting field investigations into the source of his infection. Contacts of the case are also being identified and provided with prophylaxis.

Of the 8 cases confirmed to date in Cambodia, 7 have been fatal.
World Health Organization (WHO)

Harju heads west, to Cambodia

Adam Harju
By Coco Zickos - The Garden Island
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The ‘ohana at The Garden Island is bidding farewell to its editor Adam Harju.

After three years of significantly improving coverage and bringing compelling material to the readers of Kaua‘i, Harju embarks on a new journey to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, early next week. In Phnom Penh Harju will share his talents with The Cambodia Daily, one of the country’s two English-language daily newspapers.

“Cambodia has a developing democracy and is still building on the idea of a free press,” he said, when asked why he chose to move there. “It was an intriguing opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Harju does not deny that there are many aspects of Kaua‘i he will miss, including the island’s beaches and unbeatable surf.

“I will miss the cohesive and spirited community of Kaua‘i and the strong personal and professional relationships I’ve built,” he said.

In Cambodia, Harju will work closely with the community, just as he has done on Kaua‘i, and will be an integral part of training journalists, as well as writing articles for the daily newspaper.

When asked what one of his most memorable moments was as editor of The Garden Island, he said witnessing the community’s reaction as the Hawaii Superferry made its appearance in August 2007.

“I was proud to see the community stand up for itself,” Harju said.

Mark Lewis, publisher of The Garden Island, said, “Adam has had a profound impact on the direction and quality of the paper over the past three years. It is with great disappointment that we see him go, but we wish him the best in his endeavors.”

When asked who will fill Harju’s shoes after his last day Friday, Lewis replied, “A new editor has not been named yet, though we are looking both externally and internally and are confident we will find someone in the near future who will carry on the good work.”

Chinese-language newspaper of Cambodian marks 15th anniversary

China Daily

PHNOM PENH -- The Commercial News, one of the three daily newspapers published in Chinese language in Cambodia, on Wednesday marked its 15th anniversary.

"In the past 15 years, the Commercial News has contributed a lot to highlighting the Cambodian government's policies and the development in various fields of the country," said Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith in his congratulation letter for the longest-running Chinese-language newspaper of the kingdom.

"The paper has also helped its readers know better about the peaceful and stable situation of the country and played its role in attracting capital and businesspeople to the kingdom," he added.

Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jinfeng wrote a congratulation letter to the paper, too, saying that its reporters and editors have paid much attention to the friendly cooperation and exchange between the two countries and peoples of China and Cambodia.

"It has served as a window for the Chinese people in Cambodia to understand the kingdom and become a bridge to connect the peoples and enterprises of both countries," she added.

The Commercial News currently prints 3,000 to 5,000 copies each day, purportedly with better profit than its two competitors, namely the Jian Hua Daily and the Sin Chew Daily, each with 8 years of publication history.

Chinese-language newspapers first hit the Khmer market in the 1950s and reached 7 to 8 varieties in their peak times.

However, war, chaos and financial shortage have forced most of them to stop circulation in tandem.

The current trio of survivors are widely thought enough to serve the 700,000 or so Chinese-language readers of the country.

Ken's for Cambodia

SX News
Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Gay men’s sauna Ken’s at Kensington presented Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) minister Reverend Greg Smith with a $1,170 donation on Monday, to benefit Cambodian HIV/AIDS charity Salvation Centre Cambodia.

Reverend Smith told SX that the money would go towards the education and welfare of 70 children at Salvation’s Phnom Penh centre. The former MCC Sydney pastor, now based in Phnom Penh, working for Salvation Centre Cambodia, said: “Our aim is that children whose parents have died of HIV/AIDS, or who have it themselves, do not have to leave their community for assistance, education and treatment ...

Without this help, many would end up on the street.” Ken’s manager Bruce Dallas said the donation was a testament to the sauna’s patrons, who donated the money via a donation box and towel hire.

Pictured left to right: Ken’s manager Bruce Dallas, Reverend Greg Smith, Ken’s staff member Chris Tobin.

Picture: Peter Hackney

Why do minority tongues really face a grim future?

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Stefan Ehrentraut
Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Dear Editor,

Your recent article "Minority tongues face grim future" in the December 9 edition of The Phnom Penh Post accurately highlights that the languages of Cambodia's indigenous minorities are threatened. But it is misleading and inaccurate in attributing the threats those languages are facing.

In its subheading, your article states that those languages "are being eroded by global forces beyond the control of government initiatives designed to revive them". But the forces of economic development and integration invoked in the article are in many important ways shaped by deliberate government decisions, though not exclusively. Furthermore, those statements imply that there are "government initiatives designed to revive" indigenous languages. But there are no such initiatives in Cambodia, and nothing in your article suggests otherwise. The initiatives under discussion are either not government initiatives or they are not designed to revive indigenous languages.

The article fails to elaborate on a wide range of government initiatives that contribute to the erosion of those languages.The article mentions the Department of Ethnic Minority Development, and the name of the department may suggest that developing indigenous languages is among its activities, but it is not and never was.

The real aim of bilingual education

The article also mentions that the Ministry of Education "was making efforts to introduce bilingual education in minority villages as a bridge to literacy and further education in the public school system". But bilingual education that phases out native languages over the course of three years is an integration program, not a language-revival program. It is neither intended nor designed to reverse the slide towards extinction of those languages, as your article seems to suggest. It is intended and designed as a temporary and transitional measure, a "bridge" to facilitate access to Khmer literacy and state schools that operate in Khmer language.

It is, of course, a good thing that the government wants to achieve education for all, that it facilitates indigenous people learning Khmer and that it utilises indigenous languages to this end. The government should also be applauded for having started to take more ownership of bilingual education, such as by replicating models developed by NGO/IO [groups] in a small but growing number of community schools and, starting this year, in six state schools in Ratanakkiri. But those efforts should not be mistaken for a minority language-revival program.

Your article states that "even once scripts are created and introduced into the education system ... whether the language flourishes depends largely on factors beyond the government's control". This is only partially correct. The following sentences accurately link the viability of minority languages to the viability of village institutions. But the viability of village institutions depends in important ways on factors that are clearly within government control.

Minorities and decentralisation

Take, for example, the government's decentralisation reform. None of the decentralisation laws makes any mention of indigenous languages, institutions or customary law. To the contrary, those laws require candidates for commune councilor to read and write Khmer language. Many indigenous people, women and traditional authorities in particular, do not speak, read or write Khmer language and are, thus, legally ineligible to represent and serve their own community. Local state institutions operate by default in a language that is foreign to most indigenous persons. They absorb local authority that in the past was exercised by village-based minority institutions. Those institutions contribute greatly to putting indigenous languages out of public use and to re-enforcing alienation and exclusion of indigenous communities. This kind of Khmer nation-building, the consolidation of a state with institutions that operate at all levels and in all places in Khmer language only, has been a feature of all Cambodian regimes since independence and has greatly contributed to the marginalised situation indigenous communities are in today.

Obligations under UN treaty

According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, those groups have rights to education in their own language, along with rights to self-determination, to their lands, natural resources and so on. The declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, with an overwhelming majority that included Cambodia's vote. The government should be praised for supporting such an important measure and encouraged to apply it. It should also be noted that various international organisations, notably the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, have safeguard policies that make their support to the government conditional on respecting indigenous rights.

Stefan Ehrentraut

Ethnicity and Local Governance
Cambodia (ELGC)

The ELGC is a research project aimed at analysing state-minority relations in Cambodia. The project analyses both the aspirations of various ethnic minorities (Cham, hill tribes, ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese) and state policies and practices towards them.

Cambodia opens 17th annual Congress of Religion

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia on Wednesday opened the two-day 17th annual Congress of Religion in Phnom Penh to monitor the improvement of morality and behavior in the religious field and its role for reducing poverty.

"The religion field has contributed strongly to the social and political stability of the country and helped the society improve its morality, environment and poverty reduction," said Senate President Chea Sim at the opening ceremony.

"From now on, there is a good chance for us that we all join together to keep the peace and harmony of the country and stick to non-violent way to advance the society," he added.

Meanwhile, Minister of Cults and Religious Affairs Min Khin said that Cambodia not only takes care of Buddhism which is the major religion of the country, but also other sects.

Cambodia has 4,307 Buddhist pagodas with 55,583 monks, 4 Buddhist universities and 12 Buddhist high schools, he said.

The kingdom also has 320,167 Muslims with 244 mosques and 333 Islamist schools, some 800,000 Christians and about 20,000 people with other religious believes, he added.

Editor: Chris

Cambodia confirms bird flu outbreak, starts culling

Dead ducks are hung at a farm in the outskirts of Phnom Penh December 17, 2008. Cambodia began culling poultry near its capital on Wednesday, officials said, five days after a young man from the area was confirmed with H5N1 bird flu by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the government. [Agencies]

China Daily
PHNOM PENH -- Cambodia began culling poultry near its capital on Wednesday, officials said, five days after a young man from the area was confirmed with H5N1 bird flu by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the government.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun told Reuters on Wednesday he had ordered a three-month ban on poultry transportation from the province of Kandal, 50 km (30 miles) south of Phnom Penh, after tests confirmed it was hit by the deadly virus.

The Health Ministry said in a statement last week the 19-year-old man, the eighth person in Cambodia to have contracted bird flu since its first case in 2005, was in stable condition in the capital's Calmette hospital.

The patient fell ill on November 28 but was only confirmed as having bird flu on Dec 11, a Health Ministry-WHO statement said.

All seven of Cambodia's previous human cases have died.

Chan Sarun said ministry officials were also investigating in the province of Kampong Speu, 60 km west of Kandal, after reports of dead chickens and ducks.

Since H5N1 resurfaced in Asia in 2003 it has killed more than 200 people in a dozen countries, according to the WHO.

Experts fear the constantly mutating H5N1 virus could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person and potentially kill millions worldwide.

Cambodia kills 320 fowl after bird flu outbreak

Taiwan News
Associated Press

Cambodian authorities killed some 320 ducks and chickens Wednesday southeast of the capital where a man last week became the country's eighth human case of the disease.

The Agriculture Ministry sent 30 veterinarians to kill the fowl after laboratory tests Tuesday showed that three ducks and one chicken had contracted the deadly H5N1 virus in the village where a man fell sick, said Kao Phal, the ministry's director of animal health and food production.

A 19-year-old man in Kandal province, 18 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Phnom Penh, tested positive for bird flu last Thursday. The man fell ill after touching a dead chicken, said Ly Sovann, a health ministry expert on bird flu.

The man remained hospitalized in the capital. The seven previous Cambodian victims of the disease died.

"His health is getting better day by day, but we need him to remain in the hospital for monitoring," Ly Sovann said.

Bird flu remains hard for people to catch, but health experts worry the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily among humans, sparking a pandemic. So far, most human cases have been linked to direct contact with infected birds.

At least 246 people have died worldwide from the virus since 2003, according to the World Health Organization.