Thursday, 19 February 2009

Party factionalism looms behind Ke Kim Yan sacking: observers

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Kem Sokha, right, and Sam Rainsy at a press conference Wednesday.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by SEBASTIAN STRANGIO and THET SAMBATH
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Analysts say allegations the deposed army chief was involved in shady land deals are being used to whitewash a purge of the military in line with decades-old internal party disputes

OVERWHELMING success in last year's national election set the stage for a reopening of long-standing factional disputes in the ruling Cambodian People's Party, culminating in the removal of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Commander-in-Chief General Ke Kim Yan last month, according to some political observers.

According to a leaked document from a January 29 meeting of the Council of Ministers, Ke Kim Yan's removal - which also saw the sacking of military police Deputy Commander General Chhin Chanpor - was "due to reforms in the military based on job performances" and "due to him using his military position to profit from land deals".

But political analysts and military sources say such pretexts are being used to paper over significant power shifts in the ruling party.

"None of these explanations can be taken at face value," said Carlyle A Thayer, a political science professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Sydney.

"The government says Ke Kim Yan's removal was a normal reshuffle, but this is belied by allegations he was involved in shady land deals and was not effective in support of [RCAF] troops during the border dispute with Thailand."

Cold War rivalries

Thayer said that internal disputes within the CPP - pitting one group loyal to Hun Sen against another loyal to party President Chea Sim - have plagued the party on and off for years, but that until recently the two factions had reached a stable modus vivendi.

However, with the defeat of its long-time foe Funcinpec at last year's national election, the party has begun to rearrange itself along the predominant factional fault lines.

"Hun Sen is set for another five years. He faces the problem of what to do with so many CPP deputies who have time on their hands, [which is] fertile ground for a revival of intense factionalism within the CPP," he said.

In the run-up to July's elections, historian David Chandler told the Post that an overwhelming victory of the CPP would be a double-edged sword for the ruling party, since it would "no longer [have] to look over its shoulder at opponents", and could be beset by "over-confidence".

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said it was possible that increased power had triggered fresh internal disputes but that it was "too early to say" how success would affect the CPP.

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FOR THE MOMENT, GENERAL POL SAROEUN IS HUN SEN’s STALKING HORSE, [but] GENERAL KUN KIM COULD PROVE TOMORROW’s man.
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But the trigger for the shake-up, according to Thayer, was the death of National Police chief Hok Lundy in a helicopter crash in November, which destabilised the status quo by diluting the power of the police force - a long-time bastion of support for Hun Sen.

"Hok Lundy's death removed one of Hun Sen's staunch loyalists. His passing means that the police may not be as strong a counterfoil to the military as it once was," he said.

"In this context, Hun Sen's move to capture the leadership of the military may be seen as an effort to gain control of another base of power within the political system."

Meanwhile, other observers said the emphasis on Ke Kim Yan's alleged land dealings was merely a way of detracting from the political motivations behind his removal.

Jacques Bakaert, a Belgian journalist who covered Cambodia during the 1990s, said the timing of the removal was a chance for the prime minister's faction to reassert control over the armed forces - previously dominated by Chea Sim loyalists - and that land was merely being used as an excuse.

"It was probably convenient, given the accusations against him, to get rid of him now when there are continuous questions about land grabbing," he said.

One RCAF general, who fought with the anti-Pol Pot resistance in the late 1970s but declined to give his name, told the Post that the removal of Ke Kim Yan for owning land was hypocritical, since "many" military commanders and government officials were involved in the land business.

"It is not right to accuse him alone of being involved in the land business. They have legal and illegal land ... [so] why are they still at the top?" the source said.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann agreed, saying that there were many - especially those "loyal to high-ranking officials" - who could potentially be charged with similar offences.

"This is an internal conflict in the CPP. When they are not happy with somebody in the party, they always accuse them of doing the wrong thing," he said. "The law should apply to everybody, not only those who oppose the ruling party."

Ke Kim Yan declined to comment when contacted Monday. Government officials, however, have consistently played down talks that the CPP is beset by factionalism.

Speaking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs February 6, Prime Minister Hun Sen denied opposition claims of a split in the CPP, saying that "it is the right of the premier to manage and control the military, police and other public administration".
Bun Seng, RCAF commander of Military Region 5, also told the Post that it was not up to him to judge the reasons behind Ke Kim Yan's removal.

"Right or wrong is up to the top leaders to decide," he said.

Purging the military

What is certain, however, is that the replacement of Ke Kim Yan and the appointment of seven new deputy commanders-in-chief, has consolidated the prime minister's control over the upper echelons of the armed forces.

General Pol Saroeun, the new army head, has been a staunch Hun Sen loyalist since he took part in the eastern zone-led revolt against Pol Pot in 1978.

In the mid-1980s, he was appointed party secretary of Takeo Province, where he became an early supporter of Hun Sen's economic reforms and supported the removal of Heng Samrin as party leader.

The other new appointees - including Generals Chea Dara, Mol Roeu, Meas Sophea, Hing Bun Heang, Kun Kim, Ung Samkhan and Sao Sokha - are also known for their loyalty to Hun Sen.

Kun Kim in particular has long stood in the wings, acting in Ke Kim Yan's absence and carrying out personal orders from the premier.

A Phnom Penh source who declined to be named said that the conflicts between Ke Kim Yan and the prime minister began in 1997, during that year's fighting between army factions loyal to the CPP and Funcinpec.

"At that time Hun Sen wanted to use the national military to [fight] Funcinpec, but Ke Kim Yan refused. He didn't think it was the right thing to do," said the source, adding that Ke Kim Yan was "marked" from that point on by his refusal to toe Hun Sen's line.

Kun Kim, on the other hand, played an active role in the suppression of the royalists.

Subsequently, when the prime minister appointed Kun Kim to the RCAF general staff in 1999, observers cast it as a move by the prime minister to tighten his grip on the army, and in an October 2005 speech, Hun Sen pledged to replace Ke Kim Yan with Kun Kim if he did not follow orders to repress a future coup attempt.

"I have been patient for too long.... The armed forces are in my hands," the premier said.
"If Ke Kim Yan does not do it, I will use Kun Kim. Ke Kim Yan has to do it. If not he will be removed."
But Thayer said that the military leadership had not been definitively settled and that more upheavals could yet be in store.

"For the moment General Pol Saroeun is Hun Sen's stalking horse, [but] General Kun Kim could prove tomorrow's man," he said. But he added that the appointment of Meas Sophea, another Hun Sen loyalist, indicates that the PM is "keeping his options open".

"Both men will have to demonstrate their continued loyalty to Hun Sen," he said.

In the meantime, RCAF sources say the removal of Ke Kim Yan - a genuinely popular figure amongst soldiers - was still rippling through the military, where many former colleagues feared removal from their own posts.

"We are sorry for him because we have fought together since the 1980s," the anonymous general said.

"Most of the soldiers today still support Ke Kim Yan in their hearts. But what can we do for him? No one dares to comment about him because they are worried of removal and demotion. One was our commander and one is still our prime minister, so we all have to shut up."

SRP, HRP call for rural relief

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Kem Sokha, right, and Sam Rainsy at a press conference Wednesday.

The Phnom Penh Post
Font size
Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Claims low prices are driving farmers to the brink of survival

THE country's two main opposition parties called Wednesday for immediate government action to help indebted farmers struggling with plummeting produce prices. More than 80 percent of Cambodians rely on farming for their livelihood.

In a joint press conference, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP) said the government must act to ensure banks do not confiscate land pledged by farmers as collateral for loans.

They also demanded the government introduce mechanisms to stabilise the prices paid to farmers for their crops.

SRP President Sam Rainsy said that other countries facing this type of situation would undertake similar actions to protect farmers' lands.

"First the debts must be suspended and interest on their loans must also be reduced while we wait on the situation to resolve itself," the two parties stated in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In the letter, made public at the press conference, they said crop prices had declined between 30 percent to 80 percent for crops such as paddy rice, corn, beans and cassava, plunging farmers into crisis.

Calls for relief

HRP President Khem Sokha said the parties - which have a combined 29 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly - could not keep silent.

Kem Sokha added that farmers in his constituency were borrowing sums of up two million riels at three percent interest and were worried about the coming months.

"We cannot sit and wait while people are suffering - we must act," he said.

"Even though we are the opposition and have no power to decide or to force the banks to act, we do have the right to call on the government to take action."

A recent IMF report noted that inflation in late 2007 through to mid-2008 saw food prices rise sharply - as high as 45 percent year on year in May 2008.

The cost of farming inputs such as fertiliser and diesel also rose, hitting farmers hard.

With thousands of farmers having borrowed to pay for the increased cost of inputs, their land was now at risk since falling produce prices could leave many unable to service loans.

But Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap dismissed the call as an opposition stunt to attract votes ahead of the upcoming council elections. He said the government had already taken steps to alleviate problems for farmers.

"[Prime Minister Hun Sen] has ordered the National Bank of Cambodia to tell banks to provide money to farmers and workers at low interest, and not to confiscate their land," he said.

"We have also ordered the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture to increase market prices for farmers."

Fresh defections hit HRP in run-up to May council elections

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Defectors claim they are better able to serve the people under the CPP’s umbrella, while HRP president Kem Sokha remains optimistic

SEVEN high-ranking Human Rights Party (HRP) officials have defected to the ruling Cambodian People's Party, claiming they have a better chance to serve the people in government than they do in opposition.

Touch Nilkiry, one of those who defected Tuesday, said fighting the CPP was useless since the party's win at last year's national election, which showed it has the support of the people.

"I have joined the CPP to serve the people," he said. "I have been in opposition for nearly 20 years."

Political analysts say the defection could weaken the HRP's recent alliance with the Sam Rainsy Party, saying both parties needed to work harder to prevent defections of senior leaders.

"To bar defection, the leaders of the parties must reform themselves," said Puthea Hang, executive director of election monitor NICFEC, adding the parties were being drained of valuable experience.

Meanwhile, Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha said national elections were far enough away that there was still enough time for the HRP to strengthen itself against further defections, but warned that departures in the run-up to election campaigns could be a propaganda boon for the ruling party.

No problem

But HRP President Kem Sokha told the Post the defections would not harm his party's popularity since the party's key leadership remained in place.

"While it gets newcomers, [the party] must also have defectors. CPP members have defected to the HRP and HRP have defected to the CPP," he said, but acknowledged that "if top leaders defect, we will have difficulties".

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that those who had defected did not seek positions, but departed because they are unhappy with the recent alliance between Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, which will see the two parties campaign under the banner of the Democratic Movement for Change in future polls.

"They defected because the HRP shook hands with Sam Rainsy," he said Tuesday.

Four released in land dispute case

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Accusations chief prosecutor was involved in Banteay Meanchey land dispute involving the men

THE Appeal Court has ordered Pursat provincial authorities to provisionally release four men detained since September 6 on charges of destroying public property in a land dispute that has been simmering in Banteay Meanchey province's O'Chrov district since January last year.

"I welcomed the Appeal Court's decision to order their release," said Kav Soupha, the four men's defence lawyer, Wednesday. "The four men ... have been unjustly held in custody for destroying one fence costing just $20." Kav Soupha added that the Appeal Court had also transferred the case to Banteay Meanchey provincial court to prevent duplication in the investigations.

Eng Chhun Han, a coordinator for local rights group Licadho, said that 30 people arrived at the court Wednesday in preparation for the release of Chea Sitha, Chhor Touch, Chum Chanthorn and Morm Sarun from custody.

Sum Nga and Phorn Leap, the wives of two of the accused, told the Post they were both "very happy" for the release of their husbands.

Conflict of interest

Eng Chhun Han was also satisified with the Appeal Court's decision to transfer the case to Banteay Meanchey, adding that the case was only transferred to Pursat because prosecutor Top Chansereyvudth had a "personal stake in the two-hectare land dispute involving the men".

Lawyer Kav Soupha also condemned Top Chansereyvudth for making a small problem a big problem by wrongly charging 20 people with destroying a fence without knowing clearly who was responsible for the action, adding that another 18 people were still hiding in fear of arrest.

Pursat prosecutor Top Chansereyvudth confirmed Wednesday that he had just received a letter from the Appeal Court ordering the men's release but declined to give further details about the case.

Racy magazine lifted from newsstands

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by MAY TITTHARA AND MOM KUNTHEAR
Thursday, 19 February 2009

A KHMER-language pop culture magazine was lifted Tuesday from newsstands in Phnom Penh, a day after Hun Sen's wife, Bun Rany, urged the government to stamp out the spread of racy images for their corrupting influence on youth.

Ek Sam At, editor-in-chief of the fortnightly Sameiy Thmei, or Modern Magazine, which includes lifted online images of nude women, said the street raid came without any notice.

"Officials from the Ministry of Information just went directly to collect my magazines from newsstands."
He said the ban was lifted the same day after he met with Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and agreed to clean his pages of any potentially offending images in the future.

Khieu Kanharith told the Post Tuesday that one magazine had continued to ignore his office's orders to reign in its "sexy" content, but made no reference at the time to the offending publication or an imminent move to ban it.

Trial's uneven justice

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Author and commentator on Cambodia since the 1980s, Belgian Raoul Jennar has closely tracked the court’s stilted progress

You had lamented that non-Cambodians who you said shared responsibility for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge by supporting the regime - officials from Thailand, the US, Britain and Singapore - will not be indicted. Is it viable for the court to hold foreign government officials accountable in this trial?

The attitude of the international community with respect to the Khmer Rouge between 1979 and 1993 - which consisted of rearming them, supporting them in the UN, and integrating them into the peace process - translated into an incredible fiasco, without even mentioning the moral obscenity that it represented. But when asking for UN assist for the trial, the Cambodian government, knowing that the UN Security Council would not accept a demand for a tribunal with an overview for a period longer than 1975-79, did not ask that all actors responsible for the tragedy which engulfed the country starting in 1970 be implicated.

The culpability of the countries cited above is manifest in this tragedy. But, in the absence of a ruling by an international court, there remains the judgement of history. From Henry Kissinger to Ehud Olmert, there are more war criminals walking free than in prison. The international justice system is still very much at an embryonic stage.

Would you apply "genocide" to the Khmer Rouge's rule, or should the term be limited to descrIbing the regime's targeting of ethnic groups, like the Chinese, Vietnamese and Muslims, in Cambodia during that time?

I am opposed to the tendency of applying the term genocide.... This term can maybe apply to the Cham (Muslims); I don't think that it could apply to the Chinese of Cambodia, who were targeted more for their economic role.

Given how strong the assumption of guilt is, would a truth and reconciliation committee - such as those set up in South Africa, Rwanda and Uganda - have been more effective than a court whose mandate is to be neutral and follow rigourous legal procedures?

The system of apartheid used segregation as a method of governing, while the Democratic Kampuchea used physical elimination as a method of governing. I therefore don't think reconciliation committees would be applicable in such extreme circumstances. In Rwanda, where there was genocide, it's the international court that was used.

As to the presumption of guilt, even if it is strong, as was the case in the trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo; it is the greatness of humanity to have generalised the principle that the worst criminal has the right to be defended and to explain himself.

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WHY DO WE ONLY PURSUE THE DIRECTOR OF S-21 WHEN THERE WERE 196 SECURITY CENTERS ACROSS CAMBODIA?
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You had written that the number and status of those who are prosecuted will be a major indication of the trial's credibility, and in an online editorial you identified current Finance Minister Keat Chhon as a Khmer Rouge leader. According to your interpretation of the court's mandate, should he and others be tried in a second submission of suspects?

Since I wrote what you bring up, certain people who should have been tried, according to the mandate of the ECCC, have passed away. I never identified Keat Chhon as a "Khmer rouge leader". His name appears on the organisational chart of the government Pol Pot presided over. We know this government was not effectively real, and that the permanent members of its central committee governed the country alone. In reality, we know from the memoirs of Laurence Picq that Keat Chhon essentially performed the duty of translator and, like many, feared for his life.

It seems to me historically rigourous to say that all those who adhered to communism in Cambodia before 1975 cannot be labelled as Khmer Rouge, with the horrible historical significance that this label has acquired. I submit as proof that even communist Cambodians were victims of Khmers Rouge.

The archives tell us that there were people, at the head of security centres, who ordered and supervised the massacre of hundreds and even thousands of Cambodians during the Democratic Kampuchea period. Some of these people live freely. Why do we only pursue the director of S- 21 when there were 196 security centres across Cambodia, certain ones of these which were the execution place of 20,000 to 100,000 people?

Justice is not choosing a few scapegoats to make an example of.

The court settled on a narrow mandate. Do you think it is a mistake that the prosecutors are not asking that the Khmer Rouge's administrative organisation, Angkar, in whose name the massacres were carried out, and Santebal, its political police, be declared criminal organisations, even if only as a symbolic gesture to indict the regime itself?

My personal opinion is that the prosecution should demand that the governing organisations of the Khmer Rouge and its security apparatus be described as criminal organisations, like the Nazi Party and the Gestapo were at Nuremberg. The tribunal would then be free to follow this demand or not. At Nuremberg, the tribunal refused this description for the government of the Third Reich, though the prosecution had demanded it.

Given questions about the competence and transparency of the Cambodian judiciary, as well as the involvement of all Cambodians in the events being scrutinised, should the tribunal have been set up under UN control only, instead of a hybrid system?
No one can contest that the Cambodian judges were also victims. No one can contest that the Cambodian judicial system was itself a victim of the Pol Potist barbarism and that, to reconstitute a state of law in a country where 95 percent of the lawyers were killed, or where the Law Faculty was not reopened until 19 years ago (which barely gives us four promotions of lawyers), is a considerable task and, without a doubt, one that is far from being achieved.

Does this mean that justice should be administered uniquely by foreigners, in a foreign language and in a foreign country? These were Cambodians who massacred Cambodians in Cambodia. A formula must be found that takes into account all these elements. Over the course of long negotiations, a formula was adopted and its application is now put to the test. We should refrain from judging too quickly.

Has the trial process has helped debunk any lies or myths about who was responsible for brutality endured during this time?

It is too early to answer this question. It's my greatest hope that at the outcome of the tribunal, the historical truth is established - that the victims know what happened, why and by whom. And that the youth can accept the past, but at the same time turn towards the future, clearing away the false information that can only complicate their future. History must be known in order for it not to be repeated. If Cambodians want to enter the modern world, they need truth to gain serenity.

Achieving fitness of mind and body

Photo by: Shannon Dunlap
Participants in the Angkor Pyong Yu aerobics class work up a sweat in Siem Reap. Exercise classes and gyms have become a growing trend in recent years as more Cambodians discover that fitness training can provide more than chiselled frame. Many patrons say that exercise, particularly for older people, can serve as an effective method for eliminating stress or more serious emotional burdens.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Shannon Dunlap
Thursday, 19 February 2009

The rise of exercise classes and gyms in Siem Reap has been fuelled both by a growing interest in healthy living and the emotional benefits afforded by a vigorous physical fithness regimen

Siem Reap

ARRIVE for the Angkor Pyong Yu aerobics class even half an hour early, before the loosely scheduled 4pm start time, and you might question if you're in the right place.

The expanses of concrete seem desolate, bits of trash blow through the high grass like tumbleweeds and the only other people in sight are the small clusters of foodsellers on the horizon.

But in a matter of minutes, earnest exercisers dramatically transform this landscape as they gather to transform their bodies.

The crowd of more than 70 people who come here each day to stretch, kick and bounce their way towards sunset are indicative of a growing trend in Siem Reap - the increasing desire to lead a healthier lifestyle.

For years, exercise was a low priority for most Cambodians, who had more pressing needs to fulfill.

"With the fighting, we could not think about it for a long time," Uch Somphoan, a weightlifter at Wat Bo Gym told the Post.

"But people in all countries want the same thing - we like our bodies. Want to take care of them."

Long Sreyno, one of the aerobics instructors at Pyong Yu, said exercise may be even more important for Cambodian people than it is for Westerners.

"Many people here are unhappy," she said.

"But after exercise, they are better."

Paul Sam, another patron at Wat Bo Gym, agreed that exercise had mental benefits in addition to the more obvious physical attributes.

"So many of the older people here, their brains are stuck in suffering, and exercise helps them release it," he said.

"I've seen a lot of sad, stressed Cambodian women. They do everything for their families. Coming here gives them a little bit of freedom."

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SO MANY OF THE OLDER PEOPLE HERE, THEIR BRAINS ARE STUCK IN SUFFERING, AND EXERCISE HELPS THEM RELEASE IT.
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Growing trend

That sentiment is apparent in the rapidly growing visibility of exercise classes and gyms in Siem Reap.

Wat Bo Gym is a product of the popularity of its sister gyms outside of town, and has quickly become the most crowded venue. Just six months ago, the classes at Pyong Yu didn't exist.

Somphoan said that Siem Reap residents once relied on the natural elements for exercise.
"We used to need only the river, but all those hotels - now it is too polluted to swim in."

The immense popularity of dance aerobics, which has spread to both genders and every age range, seems to have gone a long way towards filling the gap.

The instructors at Pyong Yu said that their blend of music has wide-ranging appeal.

"Khmer songs, English, Korean, Thai, Japanese," Sreyno said. "We play everything."

At just 1,000 riels (US$0.24) per day, classes like those at Pyong Yu also represent the first time that regular exercise has been economically feasible for many Cambodians.

Wat Bo Gym charges 1,500 riels for one day's use of the facilities.

"That's still a lot for Khmer people," Paul Sam said.

"But you're starting to see more and more people anyway."

Paul was taught by a friend to use the exercise equipment, and he likes to ensure that everyone gets his money's worth by spending much of his time at the gym passing on the knowledge to other Cambodian men free of charge.

Gyms reflect culture

The atmosphere of Cambodian gyms seems tailored to the culture as well.

Instead of the sleek austerity of Western gyms, the interior of the Wat Bo Gym aims toward comfort and familiarity.

Large Buddhist shrines nestle among the treadmills and weightlifting equipment.

Homemade blue curtains separate the women in the Wat Bo aerobics classes from any prying eyes on the street.

"It's true that Cambodian women are very shy, much more shy than Western women," said Morm Virith, a lanky 28-year-old who has been leading the aerobics classes at Wat Bo for five months.
"They never get less shy."

To make his students feel comfortable, Virith relies on the Cambodian affinity for pop music videos and bases his routines on the ones he sees on TV.

"Romantic songs are the most popular," he said.

Shy or not, greater numbers of people are pouring into the gym.

Paul said he often overhears enthusiastic responses as the men in the weight room finish their workouts.

"This is the first time I've seen this in Siem Reap province - people are saying ‘Every time I sweat, I feel good.'"

Then his serious face breaks into a grin.

"Now, when Westerners come by, we take our shirts off."

Tourism operators take on Apsara

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Peter Olszewski and Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Seek changes to multiday pass system that would allow nonconsecutive access to Angkor Wat

Siem Reap

SIEM Reap's tourism business proprietors are quietly building muscle to have a head-on with the Apsara Authority over its rigid ticketing system, which is seen as bad for business.

Apsara Authority, the body in charge of managing Angkor monuments, charges US$20 for a one-day pass and $40 for a three-day pass. But the three days must be consecutive - no exceptions.

After two days at the ruins, many "templed out" tourists don't return for the third day of their pass, thus cancelling the financial benefit of the deal anyway. But a slight modification to the pass that makes it valid for three nonconsecutive days could result in an upswing of temple visit, and persuade tourists to extend their stay.

No consecutive passes

Frustrated guesthouse owners, who say a nonconsecutive, multiday temple pass will boost the length of tourist bookings, are planning to petition Apsara. They point out that their complaint isn't about the price of tickets, just the rigidity of the three-day consecutive package.

One guesthouse owner told the Post: "To be honest, the ticket price is now very good value for money. I don't know how these prices have been in place, but I've been here since 1996 and the cost of the tickets was the same back then."

The business owners also want to lobby members of Cambodia's travel industry, the Tourism Working Group, who met with Minister of Tourism Thong Khon last Thursday to look at dropping travellers' charges in a bid to stimulate the flagging tourism sector.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Tourism Working Group and head of the Steering Committee of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, last Thursday told the Post it was time for the government to act to halt the tourism downturn.

"We [the private sector] cannot do this on our own, so the government has to cooperate with us ... to reduce the price of tourist visas, passenger service charges and entry fees at tourism sites," he said.

Tourists agree

Representatives from Apsara Authority were unable to comment, but the Post surveyed tourists to see what they thought of the issue, and they all welcomed the suggestion.

Patrick Ahern, from Sheffield, England, said he supported the idea of a nonconsecutive pass. "It's an excellent idea. I was there today, and I would have bought a three-day pass but I ended up getting a one-day pass because having to do the three days in a row is too tiring."

Chelsea Lotts, a Liverpudlian, agrees. "I think it's a really good idea because three days in a row can be overkill. It'd be good to take a day off in between to rest or do other things."

David Hammerton of the UK said, "It would be much better if the ticket was more flexible because then you have time to see other sights around Siem Reap. You get a bit templed out doing them all at once."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JESSIE BEARD

Night markets, and bars, bloom but day markets taking a hit

Photo by: Kyle Sherer
Lim Nam, director of Angkor Night Market.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 19 February 2009

FIRST, there was the battle of the night markets and now there's the battle of the night market bars.

The original Angkor Night Market has been surrounded by new markets, mainly the Noon-Night Market and more recently, the Crocodile Night Bazaar.

Each of the new markets has also opened a bar to rival the Angkor Night Market's legendary Island Bar - the Noon-Night Market has the Lunar Bar, and the Crocodile Night Bazaar has the Crocodile Bar.

This has prompted Lim Nam, the proprietor of the Angkor Night Market, to bring forward the planned opening of his second bar to complement his Island Bar.

The style of architecture of the new bar, to be called Brick House, is a fusion of Cambodian and colonial, set in garden surrounds.

The plan is to finish construction of this bar and have it open by the end of the month at the latest.
The bar will have a sports theme, featuring a large screen plasma TV, billiard table and dart boards for patrons.

Meanwhile, the Charming City Night Market, on the road to Angkor Wat, is setting up and it claims it will soon have several bars.

At the moment it only hosts a few shops, but the manager, Mr Vannak, told the Post that a Thai businessman has been discussing renting the entire market to turn it into a "walking street".

The businessman's decision is reportedly pending.

But this surge in night markets has taken a toll on existing day markets, especially the sprawling Phsar Kandal that has mostly been a financial dud.

Reports about closure of a large part of this market have been circulating for the last months, and now market shop owners facing Samdech Tep Vong Street have been told to vacate by February 25.

Toby Crowder, owner of Tutti Frutti jewellery shop, said he has no choice but to pack up and leave Siem Reap after the closure was confirmed by his landlord.

"I'm not happy about it," he said.

"I would at least like to be compensated, but it's not gonna happen. There's a woman a couple of shops up who just opened and now she's probably going to have to close too."

EIU forecasts 1pc growth

BLOOMBERG
A container ship is docked on the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh. Forecasters all say that Cambodia’s GDP growth will drop in 2009, with the EIU posting the lowest rate at just one


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Economist Intelligence Unit posts lowest 2009 growth prediction yet, saying the Kingdom’s economy is likely to feel long-term effects global downturn

CAMBODIA'S GDP will grow a minuscule one percent in 2009, its slowest pace in more than a decade, according to new Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) figures.

In the most pessimistic assessment of the Cambodian economy yet, EIU - a part of the Economist Group which includes The Economist magazine - said that the economic crisis will hit all of Cambodia's major growth sectors and impede GDP growth for the next decade.

That would put Cambodia behind even Thailand, which is expected to grow about 3.8 percent in 2009, according to the Bank of Thailand.

"Demand for Cambodia's exports, especially garments, will be hit by the downturn. Tourism, a major source of growth in recent years, will suffer too as consumers elsewhere in the world cut back on travel and holidays," said the statement.

The EIU, which hosted the Business Roundtable in Siem Reap this week, also predicted slower construction and real estate with "tightening credit conditions and the pull-back of foreign investors".

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The crisis could have lasting consequences for the country's growth.
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"The crisis could have lasting consequences for the country's growth," according Justin Wood a director of EIU's Corporate Network. "The next 10 years will be more challenging for Cambodia than the past decade, and economic growth is unlikely to be as strong."

Government disagrees

EIU's low forecast contrasts with that of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who on Monday gave a much more optimistic assessment of the economy, predicting six percent growth in 2009, and saying growth had hit seven percent in 2008.

"Indeed, growth is expected to slow down in 2009 due to the unfavourable conditions within the context of the current financial crisis and global economic downturn," Hun Sen said in a speech at the Business Roundtable in Siem Reap..

The premier said Cambodia had achieved an average 9.4 percent annual growth over the past decade, hitting 10.8 percent in 2006 and 10.2 percent in 2007. He said Cambodia had also accumulated up to US$2 billion in international currency reserves by 2008.

A senior Cambodian People's Party official reacted angrily to the Economist Group report on Wednesday, saying it could damage Cambodia's reputation. "Hun Sen's prediction of six percent growth is correct because we have not been impacted as badly [by the crisis] as other countries. Our four leading sectors have still not been seriously impacted," said CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap. "I do not agree that growth will be only one percent. We hope it will reach at least six or 6.5 percent."

He criticised the Word Bank and other international financial institutions for incorrectly predicting slow growth in 2005 when Cambodia grew 13.4 percent.

"I know they like to attack us on corruption, lack of transparency or weak tax collection, but in reality, we have achieved good results," he said.

Opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann of the Sam Rainsy Party said growth would reach four percent in 2009. "The four leading sectors are now falling. Tourism declined, many factories have closed, commodity prices have decreased and construction has crashed. How could growth hit six percent?" he said.

The World Bank predicted 4.9 percent growth in 2009, the Asian Development Bank 4.7 percent and the International Monetary Fund 4.8 percent, but the IMF says that its figure will be revised downwards.

Banking sector still stable: govt

Photo by: Tracey SHELTON
A branch of ANZ Bank in Phnom Penh. The government and banking sector stated that banks are stable in Cambodia.


Bank Deposits
The following figures show Cambodia's cumulative total deposits for the given period:

2008 - US$3.07 billion
2007 - US$2.25 billion
2006 - US$1.40 billion
2005 - US$0.95 billion
2004 - US$0.83 billion
2003 - US$0.66 billion
2002 - US$0.57 billion

Source: Ministry of Economy and Finance


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by NGUON SOVAN AND GEORGE MCLEOD
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Despite recent warnings about the state of the Kingdom’s banks, the state and private sector said Wednesday the sector remains robust even if growth is likely to slow this year

CAMBODIA'S banking is on a solid footing despite the economic crisis and reports of high risk, according to officials.

The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance said Wednesday that limited exposure to real estate, low nonperforming loans and rising deposits show that the sector is in good shape. Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general of the ministry, said Wednesday at a Trade and Investment Cambodia conference in Phnom Penh that bank deposits increased 36 percent last year and nonperforming loans are stable.

"Bank deposits increased to US$3 billion last year from $2.25 billion in 2007," he said.
"Domestic credit to the private sector increased 59 percent to $2.5 billion last year, from $1.5 billion in 2007."

He added that Cambodia's nonperforming loans were a low 2.6 percent in 2008, down from 3.4 percent in 2007 and 9.5 percent in 2006. The country's international reserves increased to $2 billion in 2008, up from $1 billion in 2007, said Hang Chuon Naron.

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We haven't seen any problems.… Cambodia is not exposed to the stock market.
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He said that with three banks occupying more than half of the total market share, "customers trust the banking sector".

The National Bank of Cambodia was also confident, dismissing reports that some banks could face liquidity problems due to the downturn.

"The national bank has increased our supervision of banks. If there was a problem, we would have seen it already," NBC Director General Tal Nay Im told the Post.

"We haven't seen any problems.... Cambodia is not exposed to the stock market, which is important."

The International Monetary Fund issued a report last week that raised warnings about the possible effects of the crisis on Cambodia. "The picture could be misleading ... banks' compliance with prudential regulations remains weak," said the report.

Tal Nay Im rejected suggestions that banks are overexposed to real estate loans. "Only some loans were to the real estate sector - it is not as bad as the United States," she said.

In Channy, president of ACLEDA Bank, agreed the situation was stable: "This year, as a banker, I think the effect of the crisis on the Cambodian banking sector has been slight, but it will reduce growth."

Copyright must be enforced, say officials

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by MAY KUNMAKARA AND HOR HAB
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Further legislation, education and action on copyright will help competitiveness: govt

MINISTER of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon on Tuesday urged the Kingdom to take action to strengthen copyright laws to help Cambodia operate effectively within the global economy.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2008 annual assembly at the Ministry of Commerce, Keat Chhon said that respect for international copyright law would mark an important step for the Kingdom, permitting the country to establish fair competition.

"I am really proud some products are making it to the intellectual property list," Keat Chhon said, referring to products including pepper in Kampot province.

But he added: "I think that the Ministry of Commerce does not have sufficient capacity to control copyright violations, so we have to prioritise some important sectors."

Cambodia established copyright laws in 2003, said Var Roth San, director of the Intellectual Property Department, with a maximum jail term of five years.

Cambodia still has to take important steps, Keat Chhon said, such as establishing a commercial court and raising capacity to ensure fair competition, transparency and accountability in the private sector.

The call was supported Wednesday by Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, specifying the need for further legislation - company law, insolvency law, law on commercial arbitration and stock market legislation - to meet World Trade Organisation requirements.

The government is working on draft legislation on competition, finance-leasing and establishing a commercial court, he said. This will be backed up by efforts to strengthen copyright law with departments and ministries as part of a government 2009-11 strategy, said Var Roth San.

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We cannot fully apply this law beCause the standard of living is still low.
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More governmental support would be needed, however, he said: "My department alone cannot complete the task - customs, import-export control departments and the courts have to work together to enforce the law successfully."

The first step, as a WTO member, was to prepare and study required legislation, the second stage is now implementation and enforcement, he said. Education, another important step, has already begun at university and court level, he added.

"No one country in the world can 100 percent eliminate copyright violations, even America or Japan," he said. "I cannot define how far we will successfully carry this out because it depends on an improvement in copyright law, people's knowledge and economic growth."

Chap Sotharith, an economist at the Cambodia Cooperation and Peace Institute, said that copyright enforcement would help the economy by boosting innovation, even if consumers would be unhappy as products become more expensive, a reason that the law isn't being enforced.

"We cannot fully apply this law because the standard of living is still low," said Chap Sotharith, adding that fake products were increasingly being confiscated and fines issued.

Phnom Penh South Korean style

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Kim Mart on Sihanouk Boulevard stocks a varied assortment of Korean food.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nora Lindstrom
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Although Phnom Penh's South Korean community may seem impenetrable, there are measures you can take to learn about this enigmatic culture

Although the global recession has put a dent in the number of South Koreans visiting and residing in Cambodia, their presence in Phnom Penh remains evident, and can offer interesting East Asian cultural experiences.

The South Korean embassy in Cambodia estimates that there are currently approximately 4,200 South Koreans living in Phnom Penh, with another 800 residing in Siem Reap.

While most South Korean nationals are involved in managing Phnom Penh's restaurants and construction developments, others arrive in Cambodia as missionaries or to work within the NGO sector.

Wooyun Suh, manager of popular Korean bar and restaurant O Deng on Sothearos Boulevard, says many South Koreans are drawn to Cambodia due to its relative affordability.

"Korea is very expensive, so people come here instead if they don't have a lot of money," he said.

And, as confirmed by the South Korean embassy, many Koreans end up in the restaurant business.
"I think there are probably around 30 or 40 Korean restaurants in Phnom Penh," Wooyun Suh said.

"There's a Korean restaurant called Bee Ryong on Monivong that makes amazing black noodles," said Korean native Yoonjung Garu Kim, who works for an international NGO in Phnom Penh. "Black noodles are for Koreans like pizza for Westerners, the place is always packed".

Another favourite eatery is Blue Cafe on Kampuchea Krom Street.

"They serve great Korean barbecue, it's very cheap and authentic, I go there at least once a week," Yoonjung Garu Kim said.

The NGO worker says that many of her compatriots in Phnom Penh are older men, but notes that some also come together with their families, and an increasing number of young Koreans come to volunteer in Cambodia.

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It may seem like we koreans live in a bit of a closed, unreceptive community...
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"A lot of Koreans here are Christians and organised through various churches, but there are also a lot of construction companies, as a large amount of Korean foreign aid is directed to Cambodia," Yoonjung Garu Kim said.

According to Koon Park, an active member of the Korean Church of Phnom Penh, many men initially come to Cambodia to establish business ties, and once they are settled send for their family. The churches become natural focal points for both worship and social life for new arrivals, as rather surprisingly many Koreans are devout Christians.

"After the church service, we all have lunch together. We also organise classical music recitals, some sports events and Korean language classes," Koon Park said.

"We come from a collective society," Yoonjung Garu Kim remarked. "Koreans generally like to do things together and therefore seek each other's company."

Weak language skills, both Khmer and English, also lead many to turn to their compatriots, while the number of services available in Korean, including two TV channels, make life in this country relatively easy.

A different world

Kim Mart on Sihanouk Boulevard stocks a varied assortment of Korean foodstuffs and other products. Here you can get a tub of freshly prepared kimchi as well as a bottle of traditional alcoholic beverage soju to wash it down with. The frozen foods section even includes Korean ice cream.

Hana Mart, located in Korea Business Centre on Monivong Boulevard, also sells Korean foods including traditional plum wine, while popular Son Ou Kong shop and restaurant, located almost opposite, sells Korean baked sweets as well as kimchi.

If you are interested in delving further into Phnom Penh's Korean culture, head for what at first sight seems like a regular internet cafe on the ground floor of the Korea Business Centre.

The back room is in fact a full-fledged library, stocking a multitude of Korean films and very wide assortment of manga books. With two comfortable sofas, this place is popular with Korean youngsters.

A Korean film festival is also organised annually in Phnom Penh and is generally held towards the end of the calendar year.

"It might seem like we Koreans live in a bit of closed, unreceptive community that's difficult to penetrate," said Yoonjung Garu Kim. "Once you get to know us though we are really warm and welcoming."

Low oil prices set to delay Chevron

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by NGUON SOVAN and CHUN SOPHAL
Thursday, 19 February 2009

FALLING oil prices are likely to delay Chevron's development of Block A, a finance official said Wednesday, adding that the oil company had already finished exploration of the offshore concession, but would not begin production until at least 2012.

Hang Chuon Naron, secretary eneral at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said in a forum on trade and investment Wednesday that Chevron was now playing a waiting game in Cambodia after seeing oil prices plummet in the past six months.

"At this stage, Chevron has finished exploration in Block A. If they decided to move on with development now ... [first] production would be in 2012," he said, a scenario he predicted would generate oil revenues of $200 million the same year.

However, Hang Chuon Naron predicted Chevron would wait longer to begin oil production from the Gulf of Thailand concession "because the oil price is in crisis".

"Therefore, production will be in 2014 or 2015 - that depends on the oil price," he added. "Everything depends on the price."

Hang Chuon Naron's assessment of Chevron's activities in Block A represent a further blow to the company's prospects of developing Block A in the near future. On February 5, Chevron's Asia Pacific spokesman Gareth Johnstone told the Post that the oil company was "working hard to find a solution to develop the complex reservoir".

He added: "We are in the process of evaluating several development options for the Block A resource to overcome this challenge."

Johnstone made no mention of world oil prices and the impact they were having on the development of Block A. The world crude price was just $34.92 a barrel at 2pm on Wednesday, down from July's record high of $145 a barrel.

"Chevron is not in a position to discuss startup dates until the evaluation process has been completed," Johnstone added in this month's statement. He refused to comment further on Wednesday.

Economic analyst Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodia Economic Association, said Wednesday that the oil price was unlikely to remain deflated for more than "one or two years". Chevron would likely begin production at this time, he suggested.

"I think that the law and environment is favourable for investors in this industry [in Cambodia], but now they may not be sure about the market," he said.

Having already established the existence of deposits in Block A, Chevron signed a Joint Study Agreement with the Cambodian government in July 2006 announcing plans to drill five wells in 2006 and five more in 2007 following an exploration campaign that ended in 2005 covering 2,428 square kilometres - a little over one-third of the area of the whole concession. Chevron owns 55 percent of Block A, while Moeco Cambodia Ltd owns 30 percent and GS Caltex Corp the remaining 15 percent.

Lives under the slum home

Young Cambodian girls play near their slum home Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. According to government sources an estimated 35 percent of Cambodians live under the poverty line while more than 30 percent of the population is under the age of 15.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

A young Cambodian woman rides a bicycle near slum homes Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. According to government sources an estimated 35 percent of Cambodians live under the poverty line.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

A Cambodian man displays a tattoo near his slum home Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. According to government sources an estimated 35 percent of Cambodians live under the poverty line.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

A Cambodian bathees near his slum home Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. According to government sources an estimated 35 percent of Cambodians live under the poverty line.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Young Cambodian boys play near their slum home Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. According to government sources an estimated 35 percent of Cambodians live under the poverty line. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge emptied the cities in an attempt to create an agrarian communist society killing off political opposition, Buddhist monks and the vast majority of the population's educated people. After four years the Khmer Rouge killed or worked to death an estimated 1.7 million people. Today more than 30 percent of the population is under the age of 15.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Cambodian children play a game of 'marbles' near their slum home Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. According to government sources an estimated 35 percent of Cambodians live under the poverty line. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge emptied the cities in an attempt to create an agrarian communist society killing off political opposition, Buddhist monks and the vast majority of the population's educated people. After four years the Khmer Rouge killed or worked to death an estimated 1.7 million people. Today more than 30 percent of the population is under the age of 15.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

An elderly Cambodian man pushes his bicycle near his slum dwelling Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. According to government figures less than four percent of Cambodia's 14 million people are over the age of 65. Many blame the low figure on the massacres committed by the Khmer Rouge which left more that 1.5 million Cambodians dead during their reign from 1975 to 1979. Today trials of the former leaders have officially begun.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Friends change lives, a school at a time

A Cambodian school constructs with funds raised by Todd Alexander and his wife, Kara Gelinas.Photos courtesy of Todd Alexander and Cajsa Collin

Martha's Vineyard Times, MA
By Janet Hefler
Published: February 19, 2009

Last March, Justin LaVigne returned from a trip he describes as "life changing" with his friend, Oak Bluffs harbormaster Todd Alexander. The two visited the Vineyard School in Cambodia, built by funds raised by Mr. Alexander and his wife, Kara Gelinas.

Mr. LaVigne came back to Oak Bluffs so inspired by the Cambodian children he met that he vowed to raise funds to build another school - and Mr. Alexander offered to help. On January 12, less than a year later, the two men attended a joyous opening ceremony at the new secondary school they helped build in Prek Koy, a rural village area.

"I think it's great, giving someone a school, because you're not imposing how people are supposed to be taught or what they're studying - you're just giving them an opportunity to learn," said Mr. LaVigne.

The school was built with their sponsorship through the American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC) Rural Schools Project, founded by veteran American journalist Bernie Krisher. Since 1999, AAfC has built 450 schools in rural Cambodia, with matching funds from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Mr. Krisher also is the publisher of the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

How to buy a school

It costs sponsors about $15,000 to build a basic AAfC school. Between responses from letters they sent to Islanders and people with Vineyard connections, donations from friends and family, and a casino night fundraiser at Nancy's, Mr. Alexander and Mr. LaVigne raised about $24,000.

"Checks were rolling in, much to my surprise," said Mr. LaVigne. "We really didn't start doing anything until last spring, and it really came together over the course of the summer. By August or September, everything was pretty much done."

About 80 people attended a casino night they held at Nancy's last fall, which raised $3,000. Mr. Alexander said Doug Abdelnour, the restaurant's co-owner, and the staff were a huge help in organizing the event.

"Several people gave very generous donations," Mr. Alexander said. "There was a lady in Florida whose daughter visited the Vineyard and brought her home a Martha's Vineyard Times. She read the article about our first school and sent a check for $10,000."

Opening day

Mr. Alexander took two framed plaques listing all the donors' names to present to the new school when he and Mr. LaVigne left for Cambodia on January 8. Four days later, they were welcomed along with other honored guests by students and villagers who lined up along the dirt road that led to the new school.

The two men received gifts of colorful hand-woven scarves, which they wore during the ceremonies. They, in turn, presented gold-foil wrapped presents to young monks dressed in saffron-colored robes, who chanted blessings for the new school.

Mr. Alexander said the opening ceremony included a lot of speeches, from the district and province governors, the local commune chief, and village leaders. Both he and Mr. LaVigne also gave speeches with the aid of an interpreter, a challenge since they weren't sure how fast to talk or when to pause. "It was hard to get on a roll," Mr. Alexander said with a laugh.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, everyone toured the almost-finished, three-classroom school building. Although most of the materials were brought down the river during the rainy season, construction was delayed by flooding, Mr. LaVigne said. The school is built up on stilts, to protect it from flooding during the rainy season and for air circulation during hot, dry weather, Mr. LaVigne explained.

Mr. LaVigne and Mr. Alexander gave notebooks, pencils, and rulers to the school's 109 students, and textbooks to the 11 teachers.

Mr. Alexander also presented a quilt to the school, made by students in Amy Reece's grade 5-6 class at the Charter School when Ms. Gelinas was their student teacher last spring. The students colored its 16 squares with items representing American culture, such as a Chuck All-Star shoe, an iPod, and a pizza.

With the additional funds they raised, Mr. Alexander and Mr. LaVigne donated $3,000 to the Cambodia Daily Rice Crisis Campaign. At the school opening, each of the 106 families with students in the school and the 11 teachers received a 110-pound bag of rice, enough to feed a family of four for a month, Mr. LaVigne said.

It takes a village - or four

The new Prek Koy School is named for the nearest village and also the river that runs through it. The villagers must use a wooden boat and rope system to ferry people and materials across the river to the school site, as the only bridge is half finished. The school is centrally located to serve four villages, about two and a half hours northeast of Phnom Penh, according to Cajsa Collins, a reporter for the Cambodia Daily News who provided information about the school ceremony to The Times by email.

"The school means a lot to the village," Ms. Collins wrote, especially for junior high and high school level students. "No longer do they have to travel a long way to school or squeeze in together with the primary school students."

Some of the older students have been attending the village's primary school, while others walk about 12 miles to a secondary school in another village - or quit going to school altogether.

The AAfC schools are built on land donated by a village or added to an existing school site. Once a school is built, it is given to the village. All of the schools are recognized by the Cambodian government as state schools and are staffed by official state teachers.

Ms. Collin said teachers earn an average of $28 to $53 a month, which the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association estimates is enough to support a small family for 10 days. Most supplement their income with other work.

The Cambodian government does not pay for maintenance or materials. Students do not pay to attend school, but must buy their own school supplies and uniforms.

Starting with one student at a time

Interest in Cambodia started for Mr. Alexander and his wife, Kara, with a trip there in 2003, when they met 14-year-old Roma Chhon outside Angkor Wat, the 12th-century temple. When they found out she had dropped out of school to work and help support her family, they offered to pay for her education - and still do. After learning about the Rural Schools Project, they raised money to build the Vineyard School in the Siem Reap region, which was added on as a wing to an existing school.

Photographer Alan Brigish of West Tisbury visited the Vineyard School while in Cambodia in mid-November on a trip that also included Burma, Laos, and Thailand. He is working on a book of photography that depicts how Buddhism affects day-to-day life in those four countries.

After touring the school and taking photos, Mr. Brigish told school officials he would like to teach a class. "They gave me a class of teens, and I gave them a lesson in geography for an hour, telling them about places I'd been to and what life was like in different parts of the world." The school has 1,316 students, ages 12 to 18, in 24 classes.

Mr. Alexander and Mr. LaVigne have been talking with Mr. Brigish about teaming up to build schools in Burma. In the meantime, they plan to put the remaining $6,000 they already raised towards building another school. AAfC will start a new school once a sponsor sends $5,000.

The two friends met about 10 years ago when Mr. LaVigne moved to the Vineyard. Mr. LaVigne, age 25, works at Mocha Mott's in Oak Bluffs in the winter and runs a landscaping, floral design and interior gardening business in the summer.

Although Mr. Alexander, 45, grew up in Connecticut, he was a summer Island kid and has been the Oak Bluffs harbormaster for 17 years. He and his wife Kara have a three and a half year old son, Sebastian.

Mather Presents Cambodian Photos Taken by Trinity Students

Trinity Tripod
Jacqueline Sparks '09
Issue date: 2/17/09

During the summer of 2008, 15 Trinity students went to Cambodia as part of the Cambodia in Context study abroad program. Nine of these students are featured in an exhibit in the Mather Art Gallery entitled, "Phnom Penh River Life". The goal of the exhibit is to "examine the central role that the Tonle Sap river system plays in the daily life of Phnom Penh, capital city of the Kingdom of Cambodia."

The show consists of about 20 untitled pictures; the photographs are only identified by the name of the photographer. This is a slight weakness; while there is something to be said for allowing the pictures to speak for themselves, someone unfamiliar with the scenes being depicted might be unclear about what is going on.

Perhaps the most eye-catching pictures were the ones with children in them. Allie Stein '11 took a picture showing a young girl holding a small bird on a stick. Positioned in the center of the back wall, it instantly draws the eye upon entering the space. Nathan Kirschbaum '09 has a picture displayed with a little girl taking a flower. The face of the little girl is the only one appearing in the picture, which makes exactly who she is taking the flower from nicely ambiguous. Another photograph by Stein shows children lounging on a dock over the river. One child was simply hanging, as though on monkey bars, over the river. It was unclear if he would actually swim or not.

Flowers were another common theme. Kirschbaum's photo of the young girl centers on a flower and the girl. Another picture along the same theme was senior Mark Rasmussen's photograph of several flower sellers. Contrasting with Kirschbaum's, the main subject was an older woman, instead of a young girl.

Another picture featuring a senior citizen was Weita Wu's '09 photograph of a man sweeping the sidewalk near a cafe. His traditional twig broom and the modern cafe show the contrast of contemporary life.

Most of the photographs felt very timeless; if people had had cameras, they could have been taken a thousand years ago instead of last summer. Perhaps the most notable exception to this is Wu's picture of two men sitting on a low wall, looking at their cell phones. While this does not give the same impression of changelessness that many of the other photographs do, it also helps anchor the show in the time of last summer. The other exception is senior Nora Becker's photograph, from behind, of a young man climbing into a car. For some reason, while other pictures also contain modern artifacts, these are the only ones that do not feel timeless.

Despite a description and a title that focuses on the Tonle Sap River, the river could only be directly seen in 11 of the 20 photographs. While it seems a safe assumption that much of the activity is occurring near the river, even if not directly seen, this is another place where captions or titles would have helped. The viewer was left to infer that the river was nearby.

Despite minor flaws, "Phnom Penh River Life" is an interesting student exhibit. It is a shame that few people know it is there, and when they do go to the second floor of Mather Hall, walk right by the pictures without noticing them.

"Phnom Penh River Life" runs in the Mather Art Gallery until Tuesday Feb. 24.

Signs of better times in Cambodia

John Thornton/DAILY NEWS STAFF
A Cambodian store sign brought to the U.S. by Joel Montague.

John Thornton/DAILY NEWS STAFF
A Cambodian store sign for a "coining" procedure, a massage with a coin, brought to the states by Joel Montague is on display at the Wellesley Free Library.

John Thornton/DAILY NEWS STAFF
Joel Montague with several Cambodian store signs on display at the Wellesley Free Library,


Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2009.

MetroWest Daily News, MA
By Chris Bergeron/DAILY NEWS STAFF

WELLESLEY — After decades of civil war, genocide and invasion wracked Cambodia, frequent expatriate Joel Montague first noticed life returning to normal in the humble signs merchants hung on their shops.

Working in rural health programs in the early 1990s, the world-traveling Wellesley resident saw handcrafted signs advertising haircuts and goat soup, pool tables and marriage arrangers sprouting like mushrooms throughout the troubled Southeast Asian nation.

"These are like the old tavern signs in America that have had their day and have become passe," said Montague. "First of all, it's advertising. But it's also an art form that shows us something about a country getting back on its feet."

Montague's fascinating signs of Cambodia's times can now be seen at the Wellesley Free Library.

Visitors can view 25 shop signs that cast a revealing light on the resurgence of Cambodian society in the 1990s. They are featured in "Cambodian Business Signs," an offbeat and engaging exhibit in the Wakelin Room through the end of the month.

Montague said ordinary shop signs virtually disappeared from Cambodia in the 1970s during the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge. Experts estimate the communist dictatorship led by Pol Pot killed about 1.5 million people or 20 percent of Cambodia's population from 1975 to 1979.

Angered by recurring border violations, neighboring Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, drove the Khmer Rouge into hiding and occupied the country through 1989.

"Under the Khmer Rouge, there was no private sector. So there were no individually owned shops that needed signs," said Montague. "When the Vietnamese occupied the country, they were into total socialization and government control."

But after the Vietnamese left, Montague said an entrepreneurial market began and people started putting up shop signs once again.

Working in Cambodia after the Vietnamese left, Montague observed "worker artists" who'd been apprentice painters and merchants creating generally two-sided signs in larger towns and cities to advertise basic consumer goods and services. He said shops in villages didn't need signs because everyone knew what was available without spending money on advertising.

Montague hopes visitors will see a sort of innocent charm in the signs which combine bright, bold images with direct advertising statements.

In an advertisement for patent medicine, a respected elder wearing yellow robes gives a potion to a healthy young couple. Montague believes potential buyers would know a snake, monkey and rabbit by the elder's feet are ingredients in the medicine.

An especially sophisticated sign uses Khmer, Chinese and English to advertise "Goat soup with Chinese ingredients for more than (strength)."

And Montague said the inclusion of foreign products, however simple, revealed a growing interest in imported consumer goods believed to be superior to local products.

Looking as if ripped from the pages of Vogue, an advertisement for a local spa shows a stylish woman chatting on an oversized cell phone while sitting in an outdated steam cabinet.

The artists who painted the signs on wood, tin, leather and canvas were far more interested in getting the message across than adhering to the laws of perspective or proportion.

Another spa advertisement shows a smiling lady with blue eyeshadow submerging her body in what resembles a bubble bath but fills a vessel no larger than a sink.

In a double-faced sign advertising health treatments, a woman uses a coin to scrape medicinal oil down the chest of a giant man twice her size.



Montague has spent much of his last 50 years living and working overseas, often in hot spots like Egypt, Iran, Cambodia and, recently, Afghanistan.

A New York native, he earned a degree in political science from Oberlin College and, after military service, earned a graduate degree from the School of Advanced International Studies of John Hopkins University.

Montague spent 10 years working for CARE in Egypt, Tunisia and Iran, where he met and married his wife, Shahnaz Montague, a doctor who practices internal medicine in Framingham. They have two adult children.

In recent decades, he has worked abroad as a family health adviser in Cambodia, Afghanistan and other exotic locales. Montague is presently board chairman of a Cambodian nonprofit agency founded by The Global Fund which promotes malaria education in Cambodian schools. Last year, a memoir of French Indochina, "The Colonial Good Life," co-authored by Montague and Michael Vann was published by White Lotus Press.

Nancy Hart, a portrait artist visiting from Belmont, described the signs as "just amazing."

"I love the idea that ordinary people can paint whether they've gone to art school or not," she said. "Here (in America) you're on your own or have to work in Starbucks."

Montague's signs offer the unadorned immediacy of the best folk art.

Viewers with just the faintest awareness of modern Cambodian history will recognize familiar human aspirations painted on these signs from the other side of the world.

Part history lesson, part art show, Montague's exhibit morphs into an informative travelogue through an exotic country with a tortured past.

Hardcore tourists always claim they want to "get off the beaten path" when traveling overseas.

Montague has brought the beaten path through Cambodian life into the library's Wakelin Room where you'll encounter everyday sights you'd never see in a tour group.

Low oil prices set to delay Chevron project in Cambodia

Philippine Star
February 19, 2009

PHNOM PENH (Xinhua) -- Falling oil prices are likely to delay US oil giant Chevron's development of Block A near southwestern Cambodia, English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh Post said on Thursday.

The company has already finished exploration of the off-shore concession, but won't begin production until at least 2012, said the paper.

Chevron was now playing a waiting game in Cambodia after seeing oil prices plummeted in the past 6 months, the paper quoted Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, as telling a trade and investment forum here on Wednesday.

"At this stage, Chevron has finished exploration in Block A. If they decide to move on with development now, (first) production will be in 2012," he said, predicting of $200 million of oil revenues for the same year.

However, Chevron was likely to wait longer to begin oil production from the concession, "because the oil prices are in crisis," he said.

"Therefore, production will be in 2014 or 2015. That depends on the oil prices. Everything depends on the oil prices," he added.

The oil and natural gas resources of Cambodia are found concentrated in its off-shore area near the southwestern tip of its territory.

This area has been divided into 6 blocks for a dozen of foreign companies to explore and develop. None of them starts production yet.

Gov't survey finds health, nutrition problems of Cambodian children

www.chinaview.cn
2009-02-19

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- A recent government survey has found that the rising cost of food has halted improvements in child health and nutrition in Cambodia, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily said on Thursday.

The percentage of children under 5 found to be "acutely malnourished" has grown in recent years, the paper quoted the Cambodian Anthropometrics Survey, which was issued this week by the government's National Institute of Statistics, as saying.

According to the findings, 8.4 percent of children under 5 were acutely malnourished in 2005, but the number rose to 8.9 percent last year.

The report also showed a jump since 2005 in the number of young children suffering from ailments such as diarrhea, fever and respiratory infections.

"If these numbers turn out to be true, this is a very serious situation and all stakeholders involved (in food security) should take action soon," the World Food Program's recently appointed Country Representative Jean-Pierre De Margerie said.

The inflation rate of Cambodia reached a 15-year high in July 2008 at 22 percent, but gradually declined to 13.46 percent at the year-end, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) issued by the government in January.

"Food prices are significantly higher than a year ago, but the trend is reversing," Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, was quoted by local media as saying then.

The CPI measures price fluctuations over a 12-month period of as elected basket of goods, from essentials such as food and gas to luxury items.

Editor: Yang Lina

JICA Helps Cambodia to Define Standards for Cambodian Hydro-Electricity Dams - Wednesday, 18.2.2009

Posted on 19 February 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 600

“Phnom Penh: The Japan International Cooperation Agency – JICA – cooperates with officials in charge of hydro-electricity of the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy of Cambodia, to construct hydro-electricity dams for Cambodia. JICA will support the funding for this development, and standards are expected to be respected by investors or companies which construct hydro-electricity dams in Cambodia.

“The deputy director of JICA, Mr. Kobayashi Yukiharu, said in the first plenary session about the studies to elaborate detailed conditions for the construction of hydro-electricity dams according to technical standard, in the morning of 17 February 2009 at the Phnom Penh Hotel, that development of hydro-electricity dams in Cambodia is being focused, facing the general situation of rapid growth of around 20% per year for the local demand of energy during the last five years. At present, many companies from foreign countries, such as China, Korea, and Vietnam, have already established hydro-electricity development projects and are constructing their projects gradually. Mr. Yukiharu added, however, there must be care taken when constructing hydro-electricity dams about possible impacts, because such constructions directly relate to safety and environmental conservation, since all hydro-electricity dam construction projects, big or small, are constructions of dams and water flow channels that can lead to severe devastations and impacts on the environment, if those projects do not focus on the observation of clear technical standards from the beginning.

“The Minister of Industry, Mines, and Energy, Mr. Suy Sem, considers electricity to be an important and necessary resource for the life of everyone. But what we want is not just to do whatever, so that there is access to electricity, but also to do whatever, so that the production, delivering, distribution, and the use of electricity are efficient and safe. To be efficient is not just to make the supply of electricity to happen with quality, stability, and low prices, but also to make the consumers, who are the clients, to accept the use happily, and to settle their accounts for the service received regularly and with transparency. The Minister added that to be safe is to avoid work accidents, electrical shocks, or electricity-related fires. The production, the delivering, the distribution, the use, as well as the use of all electrical tools, must be done according to proper standards - that means that we first must have the necessary standards.

“The Minister went on to say that the studies to elaborate detailed conditions for the definition of technical standards for hydro-electricity have the intention to mainly check, consider, and analyze different technical standards for hydro-electricity being used by different countries, such as Japan, Russia, Canada etc… and to screen and select them, and to create them to be in line with the conditions of Cambodia, so that Cambodia has technical standards for hydro-electricity, both for the civil engineering sector and for electrical technologies and mechanics, so that all different companies have to abide by these standards.

“The director of the Department of Hydro-Electricity of the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy, Mr. Bun Narith, said that JICA is helping Cambodia in this sector for a 12 months period, since October 2008, to September 2009, studying in detail, point by point, the small elements of the whole cluster of hydro-electricity. Mr. Bun Narith added that all those having received licenses to construct any hydro-electricity dam must follow these technical standards. The potential of Cambodian hydro-electricity is high, at around 10,000 megawatt. But Cambodia has so far developed only 13 megawatt.

“Mr. Suy Sem reminded the plenary session that even though Japan has studied the codes and formulas from its own and from different other countries, but we, in developing countries, cannot copy those technical standard models like a mold for the use in Cambodia. Cambodia must have standards in order to avoid impacts on is environment; however, hydro-electricity dam constructions cannot avoid affecting the environment. When one starts blocking the flow of water, some forests start already to be flooded.

“Therefore, we have to balance between losses and energy received - which one is more valuable? We should not create standards which are too strict or too weak. The Minister continued to say that so far, neither any hydro-electricity dams nor construction companies in Cambodia have standards. At presents there is a hydro-electricity dam in Ratanakiri’s Ou Chum with the power of 1 megawatt. In Mondolkiri, Japan constructed two small hydro-electricity dams, which are already operational. The Kirirom I hydro-electricity dam has 12 megawatt power. We are constructing hydro-electricity dams in Kamchay with 193 megawatt and in Ta Tai with 120 megawatt and there is a plan to build a hydro-electricity dam in Sre Pok with 400 megawatt, which is being studied by a Vietnamese company.”
Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4824, 19.2.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Military delegation visits Laos, Cambodia, Thailand

19/02/2009

VietNamNet Bridge – A military delegation led by Minister of Defence General Phung Quang Thanh on February 18 left Hanoi for official visits to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

The visits are made at the invitations of the Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant-General Duoangchay Pichit, the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Tea Banh and the Thai Defence Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan.

The delegation will attend the third ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM-3) which will be held in Pattaya, Thailand from February 25-27.

VietNamNet/VNA

Khmer Rouge Pretrial Ends After Clash Over Evidence

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch' (c), during first day of UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh, 17 Feb 2009

By VOA News
18 February 2009

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have clashed in Cambodia over evidence at a pretrial hearing for the man who once ran a notorious Khmer Rouge prison.

Defense lawyers for Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, argued Wednesday against using a film documenting torture as evidence before a genocide tribunal.

Prosecutors insisted on introducing the film shot by Vietnamese soldiers shortly after they drove the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979.

The pre-trial hearing has ended with an official trial date yet to be announced.

The United States on Wednesday expressed strong support for bringing to justice senior leaders responsible for the atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid, in a statement, urged the court to conduct a fair and transparent judicial process and address allegations of corruption.

Many Cambodians have criticized the 30-year wait for the trial. Tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis said many potential witnesses have died.

Duch is the the first of five ex-Khmer Rouge leaders to be tried under the joint United Nations-Cambodian genocide tribunal.

He is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and murder for his role in some 15,000 deaths that took place at the S-21 detention center in Phnom Penh between 1975 and 1979.

Duch has admitted to committing atrocities and expressed remorse for his actions.

At least 1.7 million Cambodians died during the four-year reign of the communist Khmer Rouge regime.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.