Saturday, 28 February 2009
The Cambodian government is actively taking steps to allow foreigners to own property in Cambodia, Xinhua news agency said, citing the Cambodia Daily on February 20.
The Cambodian Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction is now drafting the legal framework to make the idea come true soon, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was cited as saying at the Banking Cambodia 2009 conference in Phnom Penh.
In a move that will increase the ease of doing business in Cambodia, foreigners will be allowed to have 100 per cent ownership of apartments and condominiums, he said, adding that land, however, will remain off limits to foreign buyers.
At present, foreigners can only gain a 99-year lease on apartments and condominiums.
Friday, February 27, 2009
A directive from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen demanded an end to gambling to "make social reform, strengthen public order, and improve social morality".
Keat Chhon, Minister of Finance, for the Kingdom, issued a declaration Wednesday terminating all previously valid licenses. An earlier government crackdown targeted all electronic gaming, slot machines and sports betting.
Cambo Six, a licenced operator, was shut down for "moral reasons" last Tuesday following the abrupt announcement. "We will punish, in accordance with the law, any business licensee who disrespects this declaration," Mr. Chhon stated.
Nancy Chau, Cambo Six's headquarters manager, said she was advised by Keat Chhon to send a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a compromise on the issue in a bid to save the considerable investment in the company, both foreign and domestic.
Sporting Live Group, an web based sports gambling chain established in 2006 has closed its operations, being the latest company to be hit by the government prohibition on online gambling.
"We agreed to close our business in accordance with the government's decision," said a Sporting Live Group spokesperson. Sporting Live Group along with Cambo Six has some foreign investment. Sporting Live Group said it employed over 200 people in the Phnom Penh capital as well as in it's provincial outlets.
Sok Sambath District Governor for Daun Penh said he has complied with the government's directive to cease the operations of licensed gaming venues.
"We have closed all seven Cambo Six branches, three Sporting Live Group branches and nine slot-machine venues in Daun Penh, the Governor stated.
In Preah Sihanouk province, Governor Sboang Sarath also closed a number of gambling venues.
These operations were to be licenced until January 31, 2011. A surprised Chau said "We told the prime minister we have an agreement; we cannot immediately end the agreement,"
Sporting Live and Cambo Six said that they had not been able to pay out all winnings owed to their participants due to the shut down, despite Keat Chhon's insistence that all wagers will be honoured.
The garment and textile industry is complex and its global structure means there are common interests. In fact there is a Global Union which is technically named the International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF). The purpose of the workers organisation is to monitor global labour practices and protect worker rights. As such the union keeps close track of changes in laws which impact working conditions.
Those t-shirts, dresses, and trousers you purchase are made around the world under varying conditions. Recently the Global Union has been tracking changes to Cambodian labour laws which will extend the use of short-term employee contracts. These laws increasing the use of temporary employment arrangements are seen by the Global Union as detrimental to worker rights.
The General Secretary of the ITGLWF is Neil Kearney. He was quoted as saying, “The widespread use of temporary contracts in Cambodia has had a very negative impact on worker rights in our sector. Such contracts represent a major obstacle to the right of freedom of association as they enable employers to get rid of trade union leaders with easy by simply failing to renew their temporary contracts. In addition, contracts of less than one year allow employers to avoid key obligations to workers, including maternity and sick leave.”
The Global Union has pointed out that Cambodia could hurt its competitive status by converting to temporary contracts. The use of temporary workers has been on the rise in other countries too as a cost cutting measure. But the ITGLW believes the use short-term contracted employees is socially irresponsible and deprives workers of their rights and of employment security.
Kearney said, “As the current worldwide recession continues to deepen and brands and retailers are forced to cut back their orders, many are looking to give priority to suppliers that perform the best, both on production criteria and on social compliance.”
INDONESIA: Indonesian Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on culture with Cambodian Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Him Chhem at the Discovery Kartika Plaza Hotel in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday.
The cooperation covers the research and development of culture, education and training, joint promotion of culture and arts, world heritage, dialogues on culture and arts, and cultural information exchanges
Both countries have arranged short- and middle-term programs, ranging from 2009-2011 and 2000-2014, respectively. Among the programs are a seminar on illicit trafficking of cultural properties, exchange of experts in cultural heritage management and training in the investment for the use of heritage, including filmmaking.
"Indonesia and Cambodia have had close relations for thousands of years. We hope the cooperation will boost the ties," Jero said.
Minister Him Chhem also expressed hope that Indonesia and Cambodia would boost cooperation in culture and tourism.
"Both countries have similar heritage. Cambodia has close ties with Indonesia and we hope to have beneficial cooperation," he said. --JP/Ni Komang Erviani
TVK and KBI Sign Memorandum of Understanding on International Production Operation - Thursday, 26.2.2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 601
“Representatives of National Television of Kampuchea (TVK) and of the Korean Broadcasting Institute (KBI) signed a memorandum of understanding on 24 February 2009 at the Ministry of Information about international co-production, with the Minister of Information, Mr. Khieu Kanharith, chairing,.
“The initiative of Korea for this co-production provides many benefits for Cambodia and for the broadcasting stations of Cambodia to show the national pride and culture of Cambodia, like the national heritage, the development of the economy, natural resources, the exchange of experiences where Cambodia can broadcast all qualified programs to both sides through other relevant broadcasting stations, based on co-production.
“The head of the delegation of the Royal Government of Cambodia, the TVK director Mr. Kem Kunavath, said, ‘This is the first signing between TVK and the Korean Broadcasting Institute [KBI], and this international involvement means that our producers, our cameramen, as well as our technicians get experiences under the leadership from the Republic of Korea, where all of these benefit. Another benefit is that we are from the same Asian continent, and we will have cultural exchanges between Southeast Asia with cultures of East Asia – by having cultural exchanges between the Republic of Korea and the Kingdom of Cambodia. This shows sympathy in relations and cooperation between these countries - we know already that the Republic of Korea is a country which provides support for the economy, support in implementations, and support to develop Cambodia’s infrastructure, economy, and many other sectors.
“He added, ‘We need to clarify the condition for such productions, which is the major initiative of KBI and of the National Television of Kampuchea, representing the nation. Both sides will discuss this production, because Korea is the leading country that wants to let Koreans know about Cambodia, and as for us, we also have the same intention. I think that after the signing, in April is our traditional New Year and everyone wants to know how it is celebrated, what Khmer citizens do during Khmer New Year, and what the meaning of the Khmer New Year is. Therefore their first team will come to observe things in March, to start producing in April, and according to the plan that we know, their production title is ‘New Blue Ocean.’ After finishing the production and the agreement, these programs have to be broadcast both in the Kingdom of Cambodia and in the Republic of Korea, but KBI keeps all rights of the co-production.’
“The KBI deputy director, Mr. Choi Young Ho [Kampuchea Thmey says it is Mr. Harrison Yu], said, ‘Since the beginning, Korea and Cambodia have exchanged many human resources and their cultures, and now we are strengthening the exchange of our cultures more deeply. Such co-production is an indication of our intention to foster cultural exchanges in the fields if ancient and current cultures between both countries.
“He went on to say, ‘I believe that we have gained enough trust through this cooperation, because KBI organized a committee for the cooperation with TVK of Cambodia, and I saw that also TVK has a committee to cooperate with KBI. Thus, both committees will cooperate to achieve development and success together. Through the initiative of KBI and TVK, we want the first production to be finished before June, and in June, we want to broadcast to both countries what we have produced in May, we have to discuss this also further with TVK, to broadcast soon in June.’
“It should be noted that Cambodia had started to cooperate with five countries doing co-productions, once in 2007, with countries like China, Indonesia, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Vietnam and this is the second time that Cambodia signed the memorandum of understanding of international co-production, now with KBI.”
Deum Ampil, Vol.3, #125, 26.2.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Thursday, 26 February 2009
After a half-hour meeting in Thailand's Hua Hin resort with his Thai counterpart, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told Kyodo News that the two countries agreed to use all existing mechanisms to solve the border problem peacefully.
The premier did not mention a time frame for finding a solution, but suggested he would meet again with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to discuss the matter.
It was the first time for Hun Sen to meet with Abhisit since the latter came to power last year. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the 14th ASEAN summit.
The territorial dispute between the two countries stems partly from the use of different border maps, and the military standoff began soon after Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in July last year.
The area near the temple was the scene of a tense standoff between Cambodian and Thai armed forces. The situation, however, has eased but the military presence remains.
The Cambodian government insists that Thai troops have deployed on Cambodian soil, while Thailand says its troops are only in a disputed zone.
Since the border issue erupted last year, many rounds of talks at different levels including defense and foreign ministerial levels have been held but a concrete agreement or solution has proved elusive.
Hun Sen said the two countries will use the memorandum of understanding made in 2000 as a basis for resolving the conflict.
Hun Sen is on a three-day official working visit to Thailand during which he is attending the 14th summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Sat, 28 Feb 2009
Author : DPA
Cha-am, Thailand - Efforts to set up a human rights body for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) got off to a bad start Saturday when Myanmar and Cambodia blocked civil society representatives from attending talks with the group's leaders. The 14th ASEAN Summit being held in Cha-am, 130 kilometres south-west of Bangkok, has been billed as the most "inclusive" meeting of the 42-year-old South-East Asian grouping to date.
The summit kicked off Saturday morning with a series of talks between ASEAN leaders and representatives of civil society, parliamentarians, youth organizations and the business community.
The more inclusive nature of the summit is in keeping with the ASEAN Charter, approved last year, which sets seeks to make ASEAN a more people-oriented organization and acknowledges the importance of protecting human rights in the region.
"Eventually, we want to be an inclusive ASEAN, an engaged ASEAN, a compassionate, sharing and caring ASEAN," ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said of the summit's goals.
But Myanmar's and Cambodia's decision that the civil society representatives for their countries, Khin Ohmar from Myanmar and Pen Somony from Cambodia, are to be excluded from the talks has undermined any spirit of inclusiveness he may have hoped to achieve.
"We were expecting the move from Myanmar but for the Cambodians to do this is very surprising," said Yuyun Wahguningrum, a civil society representative from the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen not only rejected the attendance of Pen Somony but suggested an alternative candidate in his place, who happened to be a political ally, Yunyun said.
"This is ridiculous. This is supposed to be a dialogue between civil society and the ASEAN leaders and instead they are dictating terms to us," she said. The meeting was scheduled for noon Saturday.
One of the main tasks of the summit is to draft the terms of reference for setting up an ASEAN human rights body, which will be finalized in July and start its work in October.
A draft was approved by the foreign ministers Friday, but it remains open to change.
The terms exclude the proposed body from investigating human rights abuses in ASEAN members if they are not welcomed by the host country, raising questions about it's effectiveness as a protective mechanism.
"There needs to be a balance between our two pillars of promotion and protection," said Sihasak Phuangketkeow, chairman of the ASEAN high level panel on the human rights body. "It has to be evolutionary."
Sihasak brushed off criticism that the body will just serve as a showboat for ASEAN, a region rife with human rights abuses.
"I don't think it is a PR exercise," Sihasak said. "We want to do things that can be done. The best way to prevent human rights abuses is to promote human rights awareness in the region."
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, 10 countries that are at very different levels of economic and political development.
HUA HIN, Thailand (AFP) – Southeast Asian leaders were embroiled in a fresh row over human rights on Saturday after Myanmar's junta and Cambodia blocked activists from attending rare face-to-face talks.
The spat erupted at the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin a day after ministers from the 10-member bloc discussed setting up a controversial rights body.
Human rights have been a perennial challenge for the grouping over its 42-year history. The bloc has repeatedly failed to press military-ruled Myanmar to introduce reforms and free political prisoners.
ASEAN leaders were due to hold talks with 10 civil society representatives on Saturday, but Myanmar premier Thein Sein and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen refused to take part if activists from their own countries were present.
"We heard that they were not happy with the possible attendance of these two activists and they threatened to not be present in today's meeting if the two attended," Yap Swee Seng, head of the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development, told AFP.
"We are really disappointed and regret such a decision taken by the two countries, because we are of the view that dialogue will help understanding between the two sides and forge cooperation to resolve issues together."
The barred activists were Khin Omar, a democracy campaigner and women's rights activist from Myanmar, and Pen Somony, a volunteer coordinator from Cambodia.
"This shows that the Burmese junta has no commitment to the charter that it has ratified," Khin Omar said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
A landmark charter setting ASEAN on the road to becoming an EU-style community by 2015 and calling for the establishment of the human rights body came into force in December.
"It is also very worrying for ASEAN as it moves towards forming a human rights body. So now it is up to ASEAN leaders to find a way to hold the Burmese regime accountable," Khin Omar told AFP.
She said that there would now be a 20-minute session of talks from which she and Pen Somony would be excluded and then a 10-minute session in which Thailand's premier and foreign minister would meet them outside.
ASEAN, a 10-member bloc which includes Myanmar and two communist states, has repeatedly been pressed to use its influence to improve the rights situation in Myanmar but to little avail.
A key problem has been the group's underlying policy of non-interference in domestic affairs, which has previously been used by nations like Myanmar to fend off criticism.
The policy has most recently been enshrined in a draft document seen by AFP on the proposed rights body, which will apparently lack investigative and prosecution powers.
The draft is also packed with provisions rejecting external interference and stressing the region's cultural diversity.
"I understand it is indeed toothless," said Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, a non-governmental organisation. Several activists from her organisation held a brief demonstration in central Hua Hin earlier Saturday.
The rights issue has dominated previous ASEAN summits but despite Saturday's row it is unlikely to shift the main focus of this year's meeting from efforts to shield the group from the global financial crisis.
ASEAN's export-driven economies have begun to feel the effects of the crunch, with Singapore facing its worst recession since independence and Thailand also facing difficulties.
The group with a combined population of nearly 600 million people signed a massive free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand on Friday.
ASEAN heads of state and government were due to open their formal summit later Saturday.
Asia Pacific News
28 February 2009
HUA HIN, Thailand: Myanmar and Cambodia blocked leading activists from attending talks with Southeast Asian leaders Saturday, campaigners said, embroiling the bloc in a fresh row over human rights.
Leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were set to hold rare talks with so-called civil society representatives on Saturday at the summit in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin.
But Thein Sein, the prime minister of Myanmar, and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen said they would not take part if activists from their own countries were present, a leading rights body said.
"We heard that they were not happy with the possible attendance of these two activists and they threatened to not be present in today's meeting if the two attended," Yap Swee Seng, executive director of the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development, told AFP.
"We are really disappointed and regret such a decision taken by the two countries, because we are of the view that dialogue will help understanding between the two sides and to forge cooperation to resolve issues together."
The row blew up just a day after ASEAN foreign ministers discussed a proposed regional rights body that is to be set up under the bloc's landmark new charter, which came into force in December.
The barred activists were Khin Omar, a democracy campaigner and women's rights activist from Myanmar, and Pen Somony, a volunteer coordinator from Cambodia.
Khin Omar said that there would now be a 20-minute session of talks from which she and Pen Somony would be excluded and then a 10-minute session in which Thailand's premier and foreign minister would meet them outside.
Human rights have been a recurring issue for ASEAN, which includes military-ruled Myanmar and two communist states. The group has repeatedly been pressed to use its influence to improve the rights situation in Myanmar.
Saturday February 28, 2009
A 12-year-old Cambodian girl has not been told that images of her being sexually abused were found on the computer of a Christchurch man whose home was raided in December 2007.
Staff at the foster home where she now lives say that telling her about the images would only add to her shame, embarrassment and insecurity five years after she was rescued from child prostitution.
She had been abused by a Canadian offender who travelled to her village north of Phnom Penh. He has since been caught and dealt with, but the photographs he took as he carried out the abuse are apparently still in circulation.
When the Christchurch man was sentenced today, he went to jail for one year nine months on a series of charges, Christchurch District Court Judge Colin Doherty got the approval of the crown and police for the release of the Cambodian girl's victim impact report to the NZPA reporter.
It was a rare case where child pornography investigators had been able to identify and trace one of the children in the images, he said.
The released version of the report has the names of the girl and her village blocked out, as well as the name of the detective who made the connection, who was working undercover for the International Justice Mission while he was on leave from the New Zealand Police.
In January 2003, the girl was one of more than 50 children in the village between five and 12 years old who were "sold on a daily basis to Western paedophiles for sexual exploitation", the report stated.
"The girl, then aged seven, worked in the brothels near her home for a year before she was rescued. During this time she was expected to perform sexual acts with the `guests' who visited every day. In return, her parents received small amounts of money. There were many times she was photographed by guests."
One guest was the Canadian whose crimes were described as brutal, violent, and degrading in the report. His young victims were verbally abused and repeatedly forced to perform oral sex while he videoed and photographed them.
He was arrested in 2004 and became the first Canadian to be convicted using extra-territorial legislation covering offences against children overseas.
The girl was rescued in 2003 and lived in a shelter before she moved two years later to another organisation, Hagar International, that provided long term care and rehabilitation.
"Following the rescue operation, those involved in debriefing (the girl) stated that they had never participated in a case involving such savagery against children so young," the report said.
The girl still finds it distressing to talk about the abuse. She described her time in the village as "a big, black hole and sometimes I am scared I will fall back into it". She experiences flashbacks to that time.
The report describes her as a quiet girl with few friends. Through her art work she has described feeling "broken-hearted and hopeless".
"Below the surface she is a hurt little girl afraid of the memories that still haunt her," the report says.
In court today, Judge Doherty described the report as "chilling".
The eighth session of the Vietnam-Cambodia joint technical subcommittee for land border demarcation and marker planting was held in Phnom Penh from Feb. 23-25.
The Vietnamese delegation was headed by Nguyen Hong Thao, Deputy Head of the Foreign Ministry’s National Border Committee and member of the Vietnam-Cambodia joint border committee, whilst the Cambodian delegation was led by Long Visalo, Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Head of the Joint Technical Committee for Land Border Demarcation and Marker Planting.
Based on the results of the border demarcation and marker planting activities undertaken by Vietnam and Cambodia as well as the current situation in each country, the two sides agreed to propose adjustments to the master plan governing the matter for the 2009-2012 period.
They also discussed preparations for the third session of the Vietnam-Cambodia Joint Committee for Border Demarcation and Marker Planting
HUA HIN, Thailand, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- The 14th ASEAN Summit will be held here on Feb. 28-March 1. The following are some basic facts about the 10-member regional organization.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on Aug. 8, 1967 in Bangkok by the five original Member Countries, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999.
As of 2006, the ASEAN region has a population of about 560 million, a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers, a combined gross domestic product of almost 1,100 billion U.S. dollars, and a total trade of about 1,400 billion U.S. dollars.
The ASEAN Declaration states that the aims and purposes of the Association are: (1) to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and (2) to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
In 2003, the ASEAN Leaders resolved that an ASEAN Community shall be established comprising three pillars, namely, ASEAN Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.
The highest decision-making organ of ASEAN is the Meeting of the ASEAN Heads of State and Government. The ASEAN Summit is convened every year.
Editor: Zhang Xiang
BellaOnline's Southeast Asia Editor
Lost deep in the jungles of Cambodia, Angkor Wat was long believed by foreigners to be a myth, a Khmer fairy tale. But like the Lost City of Z, El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth, explorers continued to search for it. In 1586 a Portuguese monk stumbled upon the beautiful grounds and raved about it upon his return. But Westerners remained ignorant of the reality of Angkor Wat until the mid-1800s when Henri Mouhot, a French explorer, made copious notes and spread the word.
Over the years, the Angkor Wat grounds have developed into an enormous tourist draw with nearly a million visitors a year. Located 300 kms northwest of Phnom Phen and just a few kilometers outside Siem Reap, the massive temple is still in use by Theravada Buddhist monks. Unlike many other temples, it has never been completely abandoned, in part due to the large moat that surrounds it and has kept the jungle from infringing far more than it has.
Angkor Wat took decades to complete, starting in the early 1100s. Several kings oversaw the work and innumerable craftsman were involved over that time. The vast temple is known for its unique building style and the astounding sculpturing skills of its builders, worker adept at using sandstone as construction material. The extensive decorations that line every wall is an astoundingly beautiful accomplishment. There are numerous large scenes of Hindu epics, including several battles, a procession o f the ancient king and the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu mythology. Some of the carvings are so small and intricate that at first glance they look simply like a nice pattern, but on closer inspection, one is awed to see the carvings of dancers. The bas-relief work is awe-inspiring for its delicacy and beauty.
As Angkor Wat draws more and more tourists, it is wearing down. Ropes and wooden steps have been added to protect the intricate sculptures and floors of the temples and libraries throughout the complex. Numerous organization from countries around the world have taken part in restoring Angkor Wat and preventing further decline. As a visitor is important to remember the impact that tourism has on both the complex, its surrounding lands, and the monks still reside and worship there.
The breathtaking splendor of Angkor Wat remains with visitors long after visiting; the grandeur of the buildings, sculptures and the encroaching jungle that surrounds it makes it easy to imagine the thriving culture that once had their capital there.
Original report from Washington
27 February 2009
A donor community that has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the Cambodian government is now showing a strong demand for the passage of anti-corruption legislation, which initially was drafted more than seven years ago.
Central to a counter-corruption law is the country’s penal code, which must be revised first, officials have said. Last month, a government task force review of the country’s penal code was concluded.
The World Bank’s Cambodia office says the bank and other donors recognize the importance of the anti-corruption law and have been pushing for its adoption.
“At the last Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum...I urged the government to submit the anti-corruption law as soon as possible and emphasized that passing the law will be an important signal, providing investors and development partners with confidence to make more long-term commitments in Cambodia,” the World Bank’s country manager for Cambodia, Qimiao Fan, wrote Tuesday in an email to VOA Khmer.
Japan, which pledged US$ 112 million to Cambodia at the last donor meeting, expressed a strong wish to see the passage of the law, despite a mechanism put in place to closely monitor every spending step in its development aid.
“The Japanese Government believes that the anti-corruption law would enhance the rule of law in Cambodia, and continues to support the early passage of the law,” the first secretary of the Japanese Embassy, Yasuhiko Kamada, said in an email response to VOA Khmer.
In a similar tone, the US Embassy emphasized that the law should be a priority for Cambodia.
“The embassy certainly does support and has supported in the past the passing of any corruption bill, and we expect and would hope that it will meet international standards,” John Johnson, US Embassy spokesperson, told VOA Khmer.
The long-awaited anti-corruption bill was sent to the National Assembly once in 2003, but was sent back, and since then the law remains with the executive branch. Officials say the penal code must be revised first, to ensure the two laws are concurrent.
Analysts say the lack of the law means corruption charges go unpunished and are difficult to investigate, such as kickback allegations at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, government officials implicated by a Global Witness report on illegal logging, and a corruption case allegedly committed by a prosecutor in Kampong Speu province.
The delay in passage of the law has caused some cancellation of development projects.
“In July 2006, UNDP prepared a multi-donor project designed to support the implementation of the anti-corruption law in Cambodia. Due to the delays in passing the law, the project did not reach approval stage,” UNDP said in an e-mail response to VOA Khmer.
“Addressing the issue of corruption in Cambodia is a high priority for UNDP, as it undermines sustainable development,” UNDP said.
However, some observers do not agree with the approaches adopted by the international community, saying donors have not been effective in pushing for the passage of the law.
Cambodia secured almost $1 billion in pledged aid at the last donor meeting, a boost of more than one-third the $689 million it received the year before.
“At every government-donor meeting, the donors should speak out louder,” Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc and an activist against corruption, told VOA Khmer. “Some of them have tended to get tired after failing to get what they wanted in the first place. They tried to push some laws, such as the anti-corruption law, but later withdrew and stopped completely. This is wrong.”
Cambodia ranks 166 on the 2008 index of Transparency International, the most corrupt country in Asia after Burma.
Original report from Phnom Penh
27 February 2009
A delegation of 20 young political leaders will join others from Mekong regional countries Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, in a visit to Japan next week.
The delegation, led by National Assembly lawmaker Ly Narun, will visit March 3 to March 12, in what Yone Zawa, first secretary of the Japanese Embassy, said was a first for young Cambodian parliamentarians.
“The purpose of this visit is to promote the exchange of views and experiences among young political leaders in Japan and Mekong countries for future cooperation,” Zawa said.
Pen Sangha, a lawmaker for the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which has three seats in the Assembly, said the purpose of the visit was to gain experience from Japanese for Cambodia’s younger parliamentarians.
Funcinpec lawmaker Heng Hak Lim said he was “proud” to visit Japan, to learn experiences “to correct my country’s politics.”
The program is based on a plan by Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister, and will eventually bring 6,000 young political leaders to Japan, from countries as far as Australia, India, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia.
Original report from Phnom Penh
27 February 2009
Sitting in front of his wooden house in Group 78 on the Tonle Bassac riverbank, Lem Sombo looks for new faces, in case a human rights official or a journalist comes to ask about the potential eviction of his community.
The 54-year-old coconut vendor said he ignores his business these days, as he is focusing on how to protect his community from a very likely eviction in a dispute with a local company.
“We don’t feel like we want to earn our living at present, as we fear that our houses can be smashed down at any time,” said the father of four children. “I myself stopped my business to find ways to make sure we would be appropriately compensated for our property.”
The Group 78 community, located near the National Assembly and the Naga World Casino, houses 146 families on 1,170 square metres. The residents have been a subject of eviction by the authorities since 2006.
The municipality has claimed that these people are living illegally on a private plot of land belonging to Sour Srun Enterprise, Co., Ltd.
Mann Chheoun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, addressed the community on his visit there last week, saying the municipality had no role to move people out of their homes, but was acting as an intermediary.
“The company owns the land and wants to file complaints against the people for illegally living on its property, but the municipality asks it not to do so,” he said. “We asked the company to take on a win-win solution.”
Each family is given by the municipality a 5-meter-by-12-meter plot of land, together with $1,000 as a compensation, for their leaving their homes.
However, Khuy Chhom, the brother of Sour Srun’s president, Sour Pheng, who is in charge of dealing with the issue, told VOA recently that the company has had nothing to do with the Group 78 community, and already granted the disputed land to the municipality in 2007.
An appraisal letter issued by the municipality to the Sour Srun company, dated Nov. 30, 2007, and signed by Phnom Penh Municipality Governor Kep Chuktema, says the company granted the municipality 13,341 square meters of land to build two lanes of road in the developed riverbank area, one of which runs across the Group 78 community.
Kep Chutkema has just said it may not be the time to think about the eviction yet.
“Probably, the city has to solve the problem, but I have not thought of the problem,” he said.
So far, approximately 60 families have voluntarily agreed to accept the offer for fear of getting nothing if they refuse. Among them, more than 10 families resettled on a plot of land provided in Trapeng Angchhagn village, Trapeng Krosaing commune, Dongkor district, more than 20 kilometers away from the city center.
The new location has no sewage system. Inadequate water and electricity supply is also a problem for the resettlers, although a new primary school, a health center and a makeshift market can be seen in the area.
Original report from Phnom Penh
27 February 2009
The Pre-Trial Chamber of the Khmer Rouge tribunal has postponed until April a hearing on jailed regime leader Ieng Sary, citing health concerns.
Chamber judges accepted an appeal by Ieng Sary’s attorneys to postpone a hearing until April 2, “due to the situation of health of the charged person,” judge Prak Kim San said at the end of an appeals hearing for the extension of provisional detention.
A doctor’s report on the health of Ieng Sary, 84, who was not present, had led to the conclusion, Prak Kim San said.
Ieng Sary’s American attorney, Michael Karnavas, said his client’s situation was “serious,” and he welcomed the postponement.
Ieng Sary is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as foreign minister of the regime.
His health remains the poorest among five jailed leaders, and he returned to detention for a two-day hospital visit Wednesday, following the discovery of blood in his urine.
27 February 2009
Cambodia has lost about 13 percent of its forest cover since the onset of the Khmer Rouge regime, with only about 60 percent of original forest remaining, a forestry official said Thursday.
“Based on a 2006 evaluation, there is 59 percent of the forest remaining, compared to 1970, when there was 73 percent,” said Chea Sam Ang, deputy director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s forestry administration, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”
The decline of the forest was from the growth of the population, he said, denying allegations of destruction of the forest and wildlife. Some wildlife thought extinct had even been found, he said.
Meanwhile, heavy fines and imprisonment of five to 10 years await illegal hunters and wildlife traffickers, he said. Preservation of wildlife needed the participation of the people, he said.
Chea Sam Ang applauded the government’s policy on forestry, despite worries from critics about deforestation.
“Hello VOA” callers said they had seen enough government preservation efforts in their areas, especially the provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Kratie and Ratanakkiri, where wildlife killed daily.
Abhisit said both countries had agreed to set up panels of technical experts to work on demarcation of the gas-rich area.
"Our understanding has been improved a lot recently and we are looking into possibilities to start our energy cooperation," Abhisit told reporters.
Cambodia's exploration area covers 37,000 square km (14,300 sq miles), while another 27,000 square km are disputed with Thailand.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said this month his government was preparing a framework to manage its energy revenues when offshore oil fields start producing from 2010.
In November last year, U.S. major Chevron Corp (CVX.N) and operator of Block A in the Gulf of Thailand, said Cambodia's first oil was unlikely to be onstream before 2010 at the earliest.
Chevron operates the block with a 55 percent interest, while Mitsui Oil Exploration, a unit of Mitsui & Co (8031.T), holds a 30 percent stake and South Korea's GS Caltex a 15 percent stake. Abhisit said he would expand cooperation with Cambodia to trade and tourism, aiming for a one-visa-two-country project for tourists who want to visit both countries at once.
Phnom Penh and Bangkok agreed earlier this month to withdraw the remaining troops on their disputed border to avoid a repeat of last year's armed clashes near a 900-year-old Hindu temple.
Hun Sen told reporters this month both countries would jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area where four soldiers died in a firefight last October.
The Preah Vihear temple, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand, sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two countries and has been a source of tension for generations.
The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of adjoining scrubland, leaving considerable scope for disagreement. (Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Valerie Lee)
Feb 28, 2009
Hard Choices edited by Donald K Emmerson
Reviewed by Michael Vatikiotis
In October 2008, I was sitting on a comfortable couch in the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, waiting to see Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, when I received a call on my mobile phone from a politician friend in Bangkok.
"Thai and Cambodian troops are firing at each other along the border, what can we do?" There were other calls, including one from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretary general Surin Pitsuwan, who swung into action with appeals for calm, and a flurry of contacts with ministerial colleagues around the region. For one brief moment, it seemed war was imminent.
Tragedy was averted, apart from the two Cambodian soldiers killed and seven Thai troops injured in the border skirmish. Within a matter of hours, local commanders saw sense and pulled back, agreeing to joint patrols of the contested land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.
Like so many potential regional flashpoints, the instinctive avoidance of conflict, which is deep-rooted in the region's cultural DNA, helped to defuse a potential crisis without the need for high-level diplomacy or mediation. Yet the incident served to remind of two crucial items.
First, the security of Southeast Asia cannot be taken for granted. Even with the greater ease with which ASEAN leaders can and often do contact one another, there remain a host of unresolved and potentially volatile issues of contested sovereignty across the region. Second, there is no formal, high-level mechanism in place for resolving such disputes should they spiral out of control, hence the frantic scattershot of phone calls and ad hoc initiatives that ensue whenever crisis looms.
Southeast Asia is a dynamic region that has managed a dramatic transformation in recent decades from a loosely connected collection of rice-growing, fish-consuming and superstitious communities into a dynamic, creative and relatively prosperous collection of 10 nation states comprising more than half a billion people.
The frustration for many is that they are still only loosely connected. Sovereignty issues run deep in a part of the world where no capital city is more than three hours away from any other by plane. The quest for community, for shared values and a sense of common identity is one that lies at the heart of the contemporary debate of where Southeast Asia may be headed in the 21st century.
Sadly, there is neither intellectual accord nor an institutional framework to help predict with confidence where that destination may be. Is ASEAN, one of the world's more enduring regional organizations, evolving into a community? Or will it remain little more than a confidence-building mechanism that steers clear of initiatives and measures that might infringe on member states' sense of sovereignty?
The debate has intensified as some of the region's political systems, though certainly not all, have become more open and democratic. Academics ask whether a more democratic ASEAN will evolve into a grouping in which universal norms and values of peaceful co-existence, human rights and basic freedoms will be advocated, applied and, more controversially, universally enforced.
Asian specialist and American academic Don Emmerson's skillfully conceived compilation of essays attempts and reasonably succeeds at addressing these issues. The book is aptly titled, for there are hard choices ahead for Southeast Asian governments of all stripes. The volume tackles several critical political issues confronting ASEAN in a refreshing way, involving a lively discussion of the issues by noted experts. It ends with an argument between proponents of radical transformation on the one hand, and more prudent, gradual change of the association on the other.
Emmerson correctly identifies Myanmar as the most contentious challenge to Southeast Asian regionalism. ASEAN's capacity to influence significant political change in Myanmar is most frequently and adversely judged by the international community, which often brands the organization as a powerless talk shop. Yet Emmerson is right to identify ASEAN's groundbreaking role in paving the way for international aid to reach the victims of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 as a tipping point for the grouping, one in which, as he puts it, "words led to deeds".
But apart from much deserved praise for the individual political skills of Surin, it is hard for any of the book's authors to see more than a minimal shift in ASEAN's bedrock principal of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in member states' internal affairs. "Southeast Asian regionalism in the evangelical service of liberal democracy," Emmerson argues, is "political science fiction".
Yet, even the small amount of liberal space created by the advance of political openness leaves significant room for change, as many of the authors suggest. The ASEAN charter is regarded as a vehicle for adapting rather than completely changing the twin ASEAN traditions of consultation and consensus.
Indonesian analyst Rizal Sukma argues that the long-held ASEAN principle of non-intervention "should be balanced with the fact of interdependence". Expatriate Burmese academic Kyaw Yin Hlaing suggests that a great deal more could be done for Myanmar in the practical mould of basic capacity-building in development, governance and human security.
However, more should have been said in this otherwise comprehensive collection of essays on the still glaring paucity of dispute-settlement mechanisms. Whilst it is no doubt interesting from an academic perspective to debate the role of democracy and security, and in this context consider the impact of modern notions of human security and the responsibility to protect, a lot of security issues actually require mundane and rather apolitical diplomacy.
Mediation is certainly provided for in the new ASEAN charter, but for the good offices of the ASEAN chair and secretary general to be deployed effectively, ASEAN's resource and institutional capacity needs strengthening. Is it really adequate that a regional organization comprising almost 600 million people is served by a secretariat with a mere 60 officers?
Mostly missing from the debate, with one singular exception, is the question of alternatives to the ASEAN regional framework. Michael Malley's interesting contribution on nuclear energy security points out how member states have bypassed ASEAN to find more effective ways to regulate their nuclear needs. But much more could have been said on the larger regional issue of ASEAN's still poorly developed ties with the United Nations, a topic nowhere considered in this volume.
Ultimately, this is a book for the times. For as ASEAN heads towards a half century of existence and with greater economic integration, the rigid rejection of intervention in the affairs of member states is becoming harder to justify. Pluralist politics has taken root in many countries and democracy is clearly not an alien import, as some once would have argued.
For when an Indonesian parliamentarian expresses concern about the detention of a Burmese colleague, it is about basic human values and decency. When human rights are abused in Thailand, it isn't any longer just the Western media but journalists in neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia who shine the spotlight and demand an official explanation.
As Surin writes in the book's foreword, "The days when domestic political controversies could not be discussed in regional settings are over." It is here, he writes, "in the cracks between sovereignties, the spaces between states," that hard ASEAN choices are already being made.
Hard Choices: Security, Democracy and Regionalism in Southeast Asia edited by Donald Emmerson. Walter H Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, June 2008. ISBN-13: 9781931368131. Price US$28.95, 320 pages.
Michael Vatikiotis is Asia Regional Director for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.
Friday, 27 February 2009
The Associated Press
Published: February 27, 2009
CHA-AM, Thailand: Southeast Asian nations signed a free trade pact with Australia and New Zealand on Friday, one of the few concrete economic measures to emerge from the region's annual summit as it grapples with the worst global slump in decades.
The free trade agreement between the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations could boost the combined gross domestic product of all 12 nations by more than $48 billion by 2020 but will do little to ease the current economic pain. The gross domestic product of all ASEAN countries combined is about $1.2 trillion.
The pact will "facilitate business activities at a time of global slump," said Malaysia's International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. "Regional integration is essential to buoy export-dependent economies in ASEAN."
Leaders and top officials from ASEAN — a region of more than 500 million people — are gathered in the Thai resort town of Cha-Am, 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of the capital Bangkok, for the grouping's 14th summit.
The meeting, usually dominated by human rights issues, is overshadowed this year by the global economic meltdown, which has already dragged the export-dependent region's most advanced economy — Singapore — into recession.
Thailand's economy shrank in the fourth quarter and others like Malaysia and Indonesia are facing rapidly slowing growth as exports crumble.
The summit has underlined that ASEAN — which groups one of Asia's richest countries with some of its poorest — has limited capacity to respond to the global economic crisis.
"There's no immediate salvation or magic bullet expected from the meeting. The problem they are facing is global," said David Cohen, head of Asian forecasting at Action Economics in Singapore. "The collapse in export demand is pinching all economies in the region."
Officials said talks about the economy have focused on sharing information about self-help mechanisms such as economic stimulus packages that various countries have announced to prop up their domestic economies.
Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu said the economic outlook remains highly uncertain. "We did agree that it's anybody's guess what is going to happen next. We have to keep a close watch," he told a press conference.
Foreign Ministers agreed informally that expanding a proposed emergency currency fund to $120 million from $80 billion was a "matter of urgency," said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat, but nothing was likely to be finalized at the three-day summit.
Top officials from Japan, South Korea and China — who will provide 80 percent of the fund — are not at the meeting after it was delayed for two months due to political unrest in Thailand.
Australia, whose $1 trillion economy almost equals ASEAN's combined GDP, and smaller neighbor New Zealand, called the free trade agreement a blow against the prospect of rising protectionism amid the economic slump.
"In these present economic conditions, to forge a free trade zone is a very strong affirmation from the countries concerned that their actions do speak louder than their words," New Zealand's Trade Minister Tim Groser told the Associated Press.
"This is a very big deal commercially but I also think it's a significant deal politically," he said. "We viewed Southeast Asia as a source of threat, instability and danger. To move from that to signing an agreement that sees Southeast Asia as a source of tremendous economic opportunity is a remarkable change over a 30-year period."
Australia said the agreement would cement existing low tariffs and over time eliminate tariffs covering 96 percent of the country's current exports to the region.
Its annual two-way trade with Southeast Asian countries totals about 80 billion Australian dollars ($52 billion).
New Zealand, which already has near zero tariffs on most imports, said 85 percent of ASEAN goods entering its borders will be duty free by 2010. But tariffs on New Zealand's exports will only be eliminated by 2020 and to only four countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam.
Countries such as Thailand have resisted lowering tariffs on mainstay New Zealand exports like milk powder and Australian manufactured vehicles. Thailand said the regional pact doesn't expand upon its bilateral agreement with New Zealand.
Pacts related to merchandise trade within ASEAN, and an investment agreement that aims to encourage the flow of capital within Southeast Asia, were signed Thursday. Ministers also signed agreements setting out arrangments for mutual recognition of each nation's dentists and doctors.
ASEAN's members are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Associated Press Writer Ambika Ahuja contributed to this story
Friday , Feb 27, 2009
A delegation of the Vietnam Writers’ Association (VWA), led by its president Huu Thinh, attended the 2nd Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia Writers’ Conference, which took place in Phnom Penh on February 19.
Among those attending were Sok An, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Chim Chhem, Cambodian Minister of Culture and Fine Arts.
The conference reviewed the work of writers from the three countries and the cooperation between them, in line with an agreement reached during the first conference held in Ha Noi, September 2007.
The participants also agreed on an action plan that aims to increase cooperation between writers from the three countries, including an exchange of delegations, helping writers to produce work depicting their countries, customs, the lives of their people and economic development.
Their work will contribute to intensifying the traditional friendship between the three neighbors.
On this occasion, the Mekong River Literature prizes were given to 12 writers, four were awarded to Vietnamese.
The recipients included the novelists Nguyen Tri Huan, for ‘Dong song cua Xo Net’ (The River of Xo Net), and Trinh Thanh Phong for ‘Canh Dong Chum’ (The Plain of Jars).
The others were the poets Nguyen Anh Ngoc for ‘Truong ca song Mekong bon mat’ (Epic of the Mekong River), and Pham Sy Sau for four collections of poetry, ‘Gui ban be lam xong nghia vu’ (To those who had fulfilled their duties), ‘Chia tay cua rung’ (Farewell at the entrance to the forest), and ‘Diem danh dong doi’ (Roll-call of companions-in-arms).
The Mekong River Literature Prize is an initiative by the Vietnamese Writers’ Association, aiming to inspire writers and poets from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to create works highlighting the friendship between the three countries.
The writers toured several local areas in Konpon Thom and Siem Reap provinces.
The third Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia Writers’ Conference will be held in Vientiane, Laos, in 2011.
Friday February 27 2009
HONG KONG, Feb 27 — The US State Department's annual report on human rights took a number of Asian countries to task over a broad range of issues in 2008.
Countries such as Myanmar, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia were sharply criticised, while Indonesia and Thailand received generally high marks.
The survey (www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/index.htm), a worldwide roundup required by Congress, is compiled from reports by US diplomats in each country.
MALAYSIA: The country's national elections in March were held in ''a generally transparent manner,'' the US report said, and the central government ''generally respected the human rights of its citizens.''
But the report also found worrisome and chronic problems, including ''credible allegations of immigration officials' involvement in the trafficking of Myanmar refugees'' as well as governmental preferences given to ethnic Malays. Malaysia also continued to restrict some basic freedoms, including press, speech and religion, the State Department said.
In practice, the report found, ''the country does not permit Muslims, born into Islam, to convert to another religion,'' and civil courts have not intervened in these apostasy cases that have come before courts enforcing Shariah, or Islamic law.
CAMBODIA: The State Department said the government's record ''remained poor'' during 2008, and it criticised extrajudicial killings by security forces, arbitrary arrests, prolonged pre-trial detentions, a weak judiciary and denials of the right to a fair trial.
Seizures of private land for government and commercial projects has caused extensive unrest in Cambodia, especially in the capital Phnom Penh, and the US report cited land issues as ''a continuing problem.''
''Corruption was endemic,'' the report said.
The commercial sex trade continued to ensnare women and children, the report found. Cambodia has long been a regional destination for child-sex tourists, and the report cited ''increasing reports that Asian men travelled to the country to have sex with underage virgin girls.''
INDONESIA: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton detoured through Indonesia last week during a trip to Asia — her first overseas mission for President Barack Obama — and she said the country had undergone ''a great transformation'' since the Asian financial crisis 10 years ago.
The State Department report, on balance, also was complimentary of Indonesia, referring to ''significant measures to advance human rights and consolidate democracy.''
''Indonesia deserves credit — really remarkable,'' said Zachary Abuza, a professor of political science at Simmons College in Boston and a widely recognised expert on Southeast Asia. ''The story of this year's election is that there is no story: parties are out doing things parties do, candidates are campaigning, and there is little political violence. Democracy, albeit imperfect, is taking root.''
But Abuza added that ''the usual suspects deserve their comeuppance'' in the report — the judiciary, well-connected business interests and the military.
MYANMAR: The report on Myanmar, which the State Department survey refers to as Burma, called the ruling junta ''highly authoritarian'' and said military officers ''wielded the ultimate authority at each level of government.''
The US criticisms were harsh and wide-ranging: extrajudicial killings; official rape, torture and disappearances; the abuse, harassment and detention of political activists; the delay of international aid to cyclone victims; use of children as soldiers and forced labourers for the military; the trafficking of women and girls; and restrictions on speech, assembly and worship.
''Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn't influenced the Burmese junta,'' Clinton said last week. ''Reaching out and trying to engage them hasn't worked either.''
NORTH KOREA: ''A dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong Il'' is how the State Department described the North Korean regime.
The report on 2008 reiterates the regime's many known abuses, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture of prisoners through the use of electric shocks, public nakedness and extreme stress positions. ''Pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions in some cases,'' the survey said, ''and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prisons.''
The regime's nearly absolute control of information meant Internet access was limited to high-ranking officials and select university students, the report stated, noting that web access was routed by phone lines through China and a local connection linked to a German server.
THAILAND: It was a fractious year for Thailand, with anti-government protests and court rulings leading to substantial political changes. Mass protests at one point shut down both the airports in Bangkok for eight days, causing a serious blow to the economy. The political street theatre calmed in December, with the selection of a new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The US report found that Thailand ''avoided unconstitutional disruptions in governance, and the government's respect for human rights remained unchanged.''
''In all, the State Department seems so pleased that Abhisit is in power and that there is the potential for political stability that it's willing to gloss over much of the undemocratic means that got him there,'' Abuza said.
''The report also glosses over the back-room machinations of the monarchy and the total politicisation of the judiciary,'' he added. ''It also generally ignores the fact that under the 2007 Constitution, half the senators are appointed, mainly by the crown.''
The report tied numerous human rights abuses to a separatist insurgency in southern Thailand.
VIETNAM: The summary of the State Department report on Vietnam was sharp and to the point: ''The government's human rights record remained unsatisfactory.''
''Political opposition movements were prohibited,'' the report stated. ''The government continued to crack down on dissent, arresting political activists and causing several dissidents to flee the country. Police sometimes abused suspects during arrest, detention, and interrogation. Corruption was a significant problem in the police force.''
State controls were found to have been tightened on the press and freedom of speech; foreign human rights groups were barred from the country; and human trafficking, violence against women and Internet firewalls (particularly against sites affiliated with the Catholic Church) remained areas of concern to the United States.
©John Vink/ Magnum
By Duong Sokha
They will be held on May 17th but there is already no doubt as to their outcome, three months before polling day: the elections of new councils for the capital, districts, provinces and municipalities of Cambodia will consecrate the members of the almighty Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), an important local organisation for the observation of elections, revealed on Wednesday February 25 its first estimations: a landslide victory for the ruling political formation which will only leave next to nothing for the three other parties sitting in the National Assembly. The chosen polling format, the indirect suffrage, does not leave much leeway and deprives citizens of any participation, a detail which could have changed the whole deal, COMFREL denounces, deploring in the meantime the average cost of those polls per voter, said to be fifty times more important than that of the July 2008 legislative elections.
A simple calculation
The organisation for the observation of elections in Cambodia Comfrel did not need to engage in knotty calculations to estimate the distribution of seats between the four parties represented at the commune level: given the fact that commune councillors only will be called to cast their vote on may 17th to elect the new councillors for the capital, provinces, municipalities and districts of Cambodia, it is easy to guess, whilst taking into account the affiliations of the electorate, who will end up voting for whom. COMFREL simply established a relation between the total number of seats for the future councillors, and that of the commune councillors, party by party.
Thus, out of the 21 seats reserved for the council of the capital, Phnom Penh, the party of prime Minister Hun Sen, the CPP, will obtain according to estimations made by COMFREL, 61.9% of the vote of the electorate, i.e. 13 seats, compared to 8 for the main opposition formation, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), while the two royalist brothers, FUNCINPEC and the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) will not have any elected representative.
The only uncertainty: the attitude of NRP and FUNCINPEC elected representatives
Out of the twenty-three provincial councils in the Kingdom, the CPP would supposedly take the lion’s share: 273 seats (77.34%) compared to 69 for the SRP, 7 for the NRP and 4 for FUNCINPEC. “If FUNCINPEC and the NRP cooperate, results might change, according to the authors of the COMFREL report. The CPP would win 272 seats and the SRP, 68. FUNCINPEC and the NRP might gather altogether 13 seats”. This eventuality seems to be emerging as the two warring brothers signed a “Royalist” Memorandum of Understanding on February 2nd2009, in preparation for the May 17th elections.
As for the 2,862 seats of the 193 councils of municipalities and districts of Cambodia, they will be distributed as follows, according to COMFREL: 2,150 seats for the ruling party (75.15%), 618 for the SRP, 53 for the NRP and 40 for the FUNCINPEC. Once again, a collaboration between the two royalist formations would slightly modify the deal to the detriment of the CPP (20 seats less, i.e. 2,130) and the SRP (5 less, i.e. 613) but at the benefit of FUNCINPEC-NRP union which could pride itself the election of 118 councillors.
All in all, at all local levels, the Cambodian People’s Party should consolidate its domination over the whole political stage, with a total of 2,436 seats compared to 695 for the formation led by Sam Rainsy (which would only have elected representatives within the councils of Phnom Penh, of 21 out of 23 provinces and 172 out of 193 municipalities and districts. Taking into account a potential union of the so-called Royalist formations, the difference would be minor: the CPP would still be well ahead with 2,415 seats, when the SRP would get 689 seats and the FUNCINPEC and the NRP would share together the remaining 131 seats in 9 provinces and 78 municipalities and districts.
Although it is represented within the National Assembly, the second opposition party - the Human Rights Party (HRP), led by Kem Sokha – will not have a single elected representative since its creation dates back to July 2007, i.e. after the last commune elections in April 2007. The party, as a consequence, does not have any electorate.
Costly elections, devoid of any matter at stake
Unless an unlikely political earthquake shakes the whole stage, those estimations should not be very far from reality. For COMFREL, who insists on saying that these are only “unofficial calculations”, the good of this study is therefore and above all to allow for a subsequent control of the official results but especially to encourage the reform of the election system for these councils for the future mandates.
The organisation for the observation of elections is indeed seizing this opportunity to repeat its criticism towards elections which will not interest citizens, because the polling mode is that of the indirect suffrage, which deprives them of any participation. According to COMFREL, the vote of commune councillors does not suggest any surprise: “There is no reason why they would not vote for their formation, since they benefit from the power and interests that their party enjoys, unless they receive money from other parties”, COMFREL reports.
Devoid of challenges at stake, those elections are also quite pricey. Even worse, COMFREL says: in proportion, expenses will be a lot higher than those spent for the July 2008 legislative elections. “They amounted to 16.76 million dollars for 8,125,529 voters back then, or an average cost of 2.6 dollars per voter. For the council elections, the National Election Committee (NEC) allowed 1.5million dollars for just 11353 voters [i.e. the total number of commune councilors who will be able to vote], i.e. an average cost of 132.12 dollars per voter”, the Cambodian organisation denounces, adding that it “does not take an interest in the process of elections:”, but however, is “ready to collaborate with the councils after the polls.
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian parliamentary committee has suspended the immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a move he condemned on Friday as unconstitutional and intended to silence criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The French-educated former finance minister, who leads a party named after himself, was stripped of his immunity for refusing to pay a $2,500 fine for defaming Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party during last year's election.
Rather than paying the fine to what he says is a systemically corrupt government, he had offered to give the same amount to a hospital.
Under Cambodia's constitution, only the full National Assembly, not its Permanent Committee, can strip a sitting Member of Parliament of immunity from prosecution.
"They are definitely taking a short-cut. They definitely violated the constitution, which means that they want to silence me," Sam Rainsy told Reuters.
When stripped of his immunity in the past, he has often fled Cambodia shortly afterwards, normally to France.
A former Khmer Rouge soldier who has been in charge for the last 23 years, Hun Sen won a landslide in July's election but remains vulnerable in Phnom Penh to Sam Rainsy, who commands support from the capital's increasingly educated youth.
Khieu Samphan stood in court on Friday and said Verges had not travelled from Paris to attend his appeal ahead of the trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"In order to make sure that the pre-trial chamber hears my comments fully according to the law, I would like to request that the pre-trial chamber adjourn this meeting to a later date," Khieu Samphan said.
Frenchman Verges, who has acted for some of the world's most infamous figures including Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Venezuelan terrorist "Carlos the Jackal," is known for attempting to sew confusion in the courtroom.
After a short recess, Judge Prak Kimsan said the appeal would be adjourned until April 3, noting that it was in Khieu Samphan's interest to deal with the matter as soon as possible.
During proceedings, co-defence lawyer Sa Sovan called the situation "unexpected" and said a relative of Verges had an emergency operation. But after the hearing he told reporters it was an important colleague in hospital.
"I actually think that Jacques Verges wanted to take part in proceedings," Sa Sovan said.
A fierce anti-colonialist, Verges, who was born in Thailand, reportedly befriended Khieu Samphan and other future Khmer Rouge leaders while at university in Paris in the 1950s.
Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation and overwork as the communist regime emptied Cambodia's cities, exiling the population to vast collective farms in its bid for a communist utopia.
The long-awaited first Khmer Rouge trial started last week when the regime's notorious prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, went before the court.
The appeal for release from detention for former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary was also delayed this week until early April after his lawyers said he was to ill to attend proceedings.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AFP)--The Cambodian government on Friday approved the establishment of a game park for well-heeled hunters in a remote, jungle-covered northern province, officials said.
The cabinet passed a sub-decree for the creation a more than 100,000-hectare reserve for game hunting in Ratanakkiri province, a government statement said.
The establishment of the reserve is for "investment, wildlife conservation and the sustainable development of wildlife hunting in order to serve the economy of the community," the statement said.
The reserve would help eradicate illegal wildlife poaching, it said.
The statement didn't say when the park would open or who would operate it, but Madrid-based NSOK Safaris expressed an interest in December 2007.
"First, we have to establish the area and the investment is the next step," said Chheang Dany, deputy director of the forestry administration's wildlife protection office.
"It could be NSOK or other companies. The government will examine and approve the investment project separately," he said.
Officials have previously said they are considering allowing 30 species to be hunted, including wild cattle, pigs, deer and gaur, but Chheang Dany said the number of species hadn't been finalized.
Government officials hope the project will help diversify Cambodia's tourism offerings beyond the famed Angkor Wat temple complex.
Impoverished Cambodia is trying to persuade tourists to stay longer and see sights other than the World Heritage-listed Angkor temples, tapping into a number of other areas such as eco-tourism.
Tourism is one of the few sources of foreign exchange for the kingdom.
PHNOM PENH, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday departed for 14th ASEAN Summit which will be held from Feb. 27 to March 1 in Thailand.
"We will focus on issues of food security, energy, disaster management, terrorism, oil and gasoline," Sry Thomarong, adviser to Hun Sen, told reporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport before the departure.
The summit at this time is very important to help solve the world economic crisis, he said.
"In addition, since the ASEAN Charter was ratified, we have to have other regulations to walk forward to create the ASEAN Community in 2015," he said.
Meanwhile, Cambodian and Thai prime ministers will meet at 04:30 p.m. local time (0930 GMT) on Friday to talk about the bilateral cooperation and which will focus on the trade, investment, economy, tourism and border conflicts near the Preah Vihear temple, according to what Hun Sen said earlier this week.
Editor: Zhang Xiang
An HIV-positive woman lies in her wooden house in central Phnom Penh. Despite impressive progress in reducing HIV rates in Cambodia, the Kingdom may still not meet its Millennium Development Goals for health.
The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet
Friday, 27 February 2009
Though the Kingdom has made progress since the health-related development goals were adopted, officials must now combat emergent trends as well as problems that persist WHEN Mony Pen discovered five years ago that she was HIV-positive, the list of things she did not know about the disease included how she got it, how she could treat it and how long she could live with it.
"People told me I was probably going to die very soon," said the 28-year-old Phnom Penh native, who learned of her status only when her husband, a policeman, died of full-blown Aids two years after they married.
These days, Mony Pen, now an adviser to the Cambodian Community of Women Living with HIV/Aids (CCW), knows all about transmission and treatment, and can discuss in detail everything from antiretroviral drugs to the threats posed by opportunistic infection.
She also knows this expertise sets her apart from the majority of Cambodian women, particularly those outside Phnom Penh. The 2005 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) found, for example, that 67 percent of women in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces believed HIV/Aids could be transmitted by a mosquito bite and 56 percent believed it could be spread "by supernatural means".
Mony Pen said she believes this lack of knowledge could fuel a resurgence of the disease that might erase the much-touted gains made against it in recent years.
This concern is not hers alone. UNAIDS Country Director Tony Lisle told the Post this week that several trends - in particular, the rise in so-called indirect sex work performed in beer halls and karaoke bars - could trigger an increase in new infections that might even "set the scene for a second-wave epidemic".
In this regard, Cambodia's fight against HIV/Aids resembles its broader effort to meet targets under the three health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
With some exceptions, notably in the area of maternal health, available data shows that Cambodia met or exceeded targets for 2005 and is likely to do the same in 2010 and 2015. But certain recent trends have muddied the picture, reinforcing the fact that progress is not inevitable.
Speaking in reference to HIV/Aids, Lisle captured a widely held view of the general health picture in the Kingdom, one articulated in recent interviews by doctors, NGO workers and government officials: "Yes, Cambodia, you've done a fabulous job," he said. "But it's not over."
Last year marked the midway point for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, benchmarks for developing countries established in 2000 that cover everything from poverty to environmental sustainability. Last year also marked the five-year anniversary of the adoption of Cambodia's Millennium Development Goals, the localised versions of the global goals. In a four-part series, the Post looks at the progress made and the challenges that remain in achieving targets set for 2010 and 2015, drawing on government data as well as interviews with officials, NGO workers and Cambodians who stand to benefit from the effort. Part Two looks at the goals for child mortality, maternal health and diseases such as HIV/Aids.
A recent survey assessing the impact of rising food prices on child health underscored the tenuous nature of progress made in pursuit of MDG No 4: to reduce child mortality.
The Cambodian Anthropometric Survey, findings of which were made public last week, found that the percentage of children classified as acutely malnourished - the number of which had fallen by half between 2000 and 2005 - increased from 8.4 percent in 2005 to 8.9 percent in 2008.
The strong link between child malnutrition and child mortality - noted, among other places, in the 2005 assessment of MDG targets published by the Ministry of Planning - suggests that, in light of the survey results, Cambodia might have trouble meeting its 2015 target mortality rate for children younger than five: 65 deaths per 1,000 live births.
The survey results run counter to Cambodia's recent performance in the area of child health. Between 1998 and 2005, the under-five child mortality rate fell from 124 per 1,000 live births to 82, far surpassing the target of 105.
Viorica Berdaga, chief of child survival at Unicef, said via email that this decline could be attributed to factors including better access to safe water and the promotion of breastfeeding, which provides children with disease-fighting antibodies.
But Berdaga also noted that the mortality decline was in part due to a lowered fertility rate, which calls into question Cambodia's ability to reduce child mortality even further.
In its 2005 assessment, the Ministry of Planning noted that fertility declines have had a similar effect on child mortality in other developing countries but that, in most cases, "the initial positive impact" was "not enough to sustain continued improvement in child mortality due to underlying causal factors". Berdaga said this assessment could be applied to Cambodia as well.
Asked to predict whether Cambodia would meet the 2015 child mortality target, Berdaga could say only that the Kingdom "has a chance".
If current trends continue, several experts said, Cambodia has little, if any, chance of achieving targets set under the fifth MDG: to improve maternal health.
The most recent reliable data shows that the maternal health situation has worsened as of late. The Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) found that the maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births had increased from 437 in 1997 to 472 in 2005. The interim target for that year was 343.
In a recent email interview, however, Pen Sophanara, a communications associate for the United Nations Population Fund, emphasised the "promising signs" she said could potentially reverse the trend, including higher rates of deliberate birth- spacing.
She echoed the conclusion presented in the 2005 Ministry of Planning assessment that officials could significantly lower the maternal mortality rate by providing more family planning resources, which allow women to allot sufficient time between pregnancies. Longer gaps between pregnancies tend to result in smoother pregnancies and healthier infants.
On top of limited family planning, Pen Sophanara said efforts to improve maternal health continued to be hindered by a shortage of midwives and skilled birth attendants.
She said the Ministry of Health was aiming to have one midwife stationed at each of the Kingdom's health centres by the end of the year. In addition to bolstering recruitment, she said, officials will need to distribute resources to rural health centres to ensure midwives can be effective.
Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho, said midwives should be able to take blood samples, conduct ultrasounds and screen for potential delivery complications.
She also stressed that midwives should be adequately paid so they do not collect informal fees, a practice that prevents very poor women from accessing health services.
Pen Sophanara said midwife recruitment and other efforts in place could potentially yield a drop in the maternal mortality rate, pushing it closer to the goal of 140 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015.
"Nobody wants to see women die giving lives," she said. "If these figures continue to be positive, maternal death will be lowered."
Photo by: ROBBIE COREY-BOULETMony Pen, whose late husband gave her HIV, works to give women access to HIV/Aids information.
The HIV/Aids fight
One target already surpassed is that pertaining to HIV/Aids infection, a leading indicator of progress made in achieving the sixth MDG: to combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases.
Meeting the target resulted in part because of a statistical error that caused the rate of infection in the late-1990s - which was used as a base in establishing benchmarks through 2015 - to be artificially inflated when the MDGs were adopted. Because of the adjustment that occurred when better data became available, current rates of infection are already lower than the targets.
For example, the estimated prevalence among Cambodian adults in 2006 was 0.9 percent, lower than the 2005 target (2.3 percent), the 2010 target (2 percent) and even the 2015 target (1.8 percent).
According to a 2008 UNAIDS report, however, Cambodia's prevalence rate is the second-highest among all countries in South and Southeast Asia (only Thailand's is higher). And, while acknowledging progress, Lisle and other experts cited a range of persistent problems.
Mony Pen said she has concluded from her own observations that discrimination against those infected with the disease remains high.
Sou Sina, 29, who is from Sihanoukville and now works at CCW in Phnom Penh, said she encountered this very obstacle when she tested positive at the age of 20.
"At the time, my family took care of me, but they were afraid," she said. "They didn't understand the disease. And that broke my heart."
Like Mony Pen, Sou Sina learned of her status only when her husband died. She also found out then that her son had been infected through mother-to-child transmission, but she did not know how to obtain treatment for him. He died two years later - at the age of four - of tuberculosis.
Lisle said it is common for women to become infected by their husbands unwittingly. In addition, he pointed to data suggesting that programs designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission have been ineffective.
Data from 2008 indicated a mother-to-child transmission rate for HIV-positive pregnant women of 35 percent.
Lisle said Cambodia has traditionally "led the region" in the fight against HIV/Aids, adding that he has every reason to believe this will continue. But a failure to respond to these emergent trends, he said, could quickly render the Kingdom's recent progress aberrational.
In Cambodia, Lisle cautioned, there exists the threat of "a second epidemic waiting right around the corner".
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR AND CHEANG SOKHA