Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Report says global economic crisis led to factory closings

OUT WITH THE OLD...
The report presented Tuesday by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training also found that 236 new garment and footwear factories opened between 2004 and 2008, creating jobs for approximately 62,000 employees.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

MOST garment factories that shut down in 2008 did so because of the global economic crisis, which resulted in a rapid decrease in purchase orders from key markets, according to a report completed last week by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.

The report, presented Tuesday at a seminar in Phnom Penh, states that 207 "garment and footwear enterprises" employing 75,000 workers closed down between 2004 and 2008.

Although the report does not specify how many closed in 2008, it points to a sharp drop in purchase orders from the United States and the European Union as a principal factor that pushed factories into bankruptcy.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, told the Post Tuesday that 30 garment and footwear factories employing 27,000 workers closed in 2008.

Options for the unemployed

The report states that many of those who lost their jobs are "skilful employees" who have applied for new jobs at factories in Phnom Penh.
Others have opted to return to their home provinces, it states.

But Chea Mony said some unemployed workers were reluctant to leave the capital and had taken jobs in karaoke bars and beer halls.

Dr Vichet Lok, executive director of the NGO Cambodia Health Education Development, which works with garment factory workers in Phnom Penh, said a rising number of unemployed workers were considering indirect sex work, which would expose them to diseases including HIV/Aids.

Time of reckoning for Khmer Krom

Photo by: BRENDAN BRADY
At Wat Samaki Reangsay in Phnom Penh, abbot Young Sin stands at a memorial to a slain former student Eang Sok Thoeun.


EUROPE TAKES NOTICE AMID REPORTS OF ABUSES
In December 2008, two Italian parliamentarians - one representing the EU - visited the region to advocate for greater cultural and religious freedoms for Khmer Krom. They were prevented from boarding a flight from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City. The rebuff came from a Vietnamese state tour agency claiming the pair failed to supply sufficient itinerary information before their arrival, but to most local observers it seemed to be a thinly veiled attempt by some Vietnamese government officials to thwart any attempts at advocacy for ethnic Khmers in their country. Two months earlier the EU passed a resolution calling for increased pressure on human rights reforms in Vietnam, including a specific mention of "discrimination" and "persecution" against Khmer Krom, and, in one of its few references to individuals, singled out the case of Tim Sakhorn, an outspoken Khmer Krom monk who disappeared in Phnom Penh 2007, with some reports stating that he was crammed into a Toyota by unidentified assailants. He resurfaced in Vietnam, was charged with violating national unity, and after a year in prison, now reportedly lives under house arrest in Vietnam.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Khmer Krom monks in Phnom Penh prepare to mourn slain brethren, while Vietnam is called to defend treatment of ethnic Khmers amid fresh stream of criticism by rights groups.

IN February 2007, a young politically active monk was found dead at the Tronum Chhroeung pagoda in Kandal province: His throat had been slit.

The body of the monk, an ethnic Khmer born in Vietnam named Eang Sok Thoeun, was discovered the morning after he had taken part in a demonstration at the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh protesting the treatment of ethnic Khmers in southern Vietnam - a group known in Cambodia as Khmer Krom, or Southern Khmer.

Police declared his death to be suicide and disposed of his body without further investigation. Rights groups and Khmer Krom activists suspected his murder was politically motivated.

This Friday, Khmer Krom clergy will gather at Wat Samaki Reangsay, their spiritual base in Phnom Penh, to commemorate the second anniversary of Eang Sok Thoeurn's death.

The commemoration comes on the eve of a much larger forum to address what rights groups and Khmer Krom activists describe as a persistent and often violent campaign by the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments to stifle the rights and distinct identity of the ethnic group.

Pledge of action

Two centuries ago, what is now the southern delta of Vietnam was part of the Khmer Kingdom. Vietnam says one million ethnic Khmers still live there. Khmer Krom leaders put the number 10 times higher and claim a further 1.5 million Khmer Krom have migrated to Cambodia.

Abuses against Khmer Krom by the Vietnamese state will be raised at the United Nations Human Rights Council in May, according to local rights officials.

In meetings with the UN's special rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, and the UN refugee office in Bangkok last month, Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Phnom Penh-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation, was told the international body would call on Vietnamese officials to defend charges against its treatment of Khmer Krom and Montagnard hill tribes, as well as other indigenous groups.

"She said she would take action on the situation and that our case would be presented," he said, adding that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok had also agreed to revisit past reports of official violent suppression received from Khmer Krom seeking asylum in Thailand. He said the UNHCR had previously not been receptive to these reports.

The news has renewed hope for Khmer Krom activists. For Young Sin, president of the Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks Association and a former teacher of the slain monk, the United Nations may be able to exert leverage over Vietnam in a way that regional groups cannot.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The government should be trying to engage in peaceful dialogue with the Khmer Krom, rather than throwing them in jail.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"If the UN intervenes and puts pressure on the Vietnamese government, it wouldn't dare continue carrying out the kinds of repression it has inflicted on the Khmer Krom people," said Young Sin, who is also abbot of Wat Samaki Reangsay.

A history of violence

Just how politically sensitive the topic is can be judged from the responses from Cambodia and Vietnam to a comprehensive report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the subject. Released last month, the report stated that Khmer Krom monks in Vietnam seeking greater religious and personal freedoms had been unfairly threatened, defrocked and imprisoned. In Cambodia, the rights group said, activist Khmer Krom monks have been deported to Vietnam.

The report - "On the Margins: Rights Abuses of Ethnic Khmer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta" - tracked escalating tensions between Khmer Krom and the authorities on both sides of the border.

Hanoi's Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dzung rejected the report as a "total fabrication", and said freedom of speech and religion in Vietnam were constitutionally protected, the state-controlled Viet Nam News agency quoted him as saying. A spokesman for the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh also rejected the report, saying that his government did not discriminate against any of its 54 official ethnic groups.

HRW also accused the Cambodian government of abetting Vietnam, "a close ally", to suppress the voices of Khmer Krom who flee across the border to Cambodia and advocate for greater freedoms for their communities.

Citing eyewitness accounts and confidential internal documents prepared by Vietnamese security officials, HRW said Vietnamese agents have long operated inside Cambodia with help from the government to identify "cells of reactionary" Khmer Krom and devise "effective measures of interdiction and management".

Rights advocate Ang Chanrith corroborated the charge, saying the Cambodian government allows Vietnamese agents to operate locally: "We often see Vietnamese agents at our gatherings. They wear plainclothes and videotape us in order to identify the monks who attend demonstrations. They speak Vietnamese to each other, and our demonstrators see them often and can now recognise them."

Reaction from the Cambodian government to HRW's report was unsympathetic. Religious Affairs Minister Min Khin declined to comment, while Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith rejected the report's findings, saying "criticism by civil society groups of the [Cambodian and Vietnamese] governments does not help protect the Khmer Krom".

"They don't know anything. They work only for money," he added. "But the Cambodian government works peacefully with Vietnamese authorities for the prosperity of the Khmer Krom."

Reporting in the Cambodian press was mixed. The major newspapers affiliated with the ruling Cambodian People's Party, such as Rasmey Kampuchea and Kampuchea Thmey - did not mention the HRW report, saying they did not receive it. Opposition-affiliated papers did.

Um Sarin, president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, said fears of government disapproval drove some newspapers to ignore the scathing report.

International image

Activists say the consequences of official suppression are thoroughly debilitating.

"Khmer Krom live in poverty, and their identity and religious practices have been destroyed," said Thach Setha, head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community. "The Vietnamese government doesn't allow Khmer Krom to use the internet, to listen to Voice of America or Radio Free Asia on the radio, and has blocked our access to education."

But Ang Chanrith is confident international attention to the issue will force Vietnamese authorities to relax their treatment, if not agree to real concessions.

"We have to use international groups to put pressure on the Vietnamese government to allow Khmer Krom to exercise their rights," he said.

He recently returned from a trip to Stockholm, where he presented reports of abuses against Khmer Krom, including allegations of collusion between Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities to keep a tight grip on activists. He is banking on the UN, however, to bring results.

The human rights record of each UN member state is subjected to public scrutiny, or a Universal Periodic Review, every four years. This May, Vietnam's number is up, amid a fresh stream of criticism against its government's treatment of ethnic groups living within its borders.

Sara Colm, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that given the lack of independent oversight within the tightly controlled communist state, international organisations, including her own, submitted reports to the UN Human Rights Council detailing rights abuses in Vietnam, including the situation of the Khmer Krom. Vietnam is thought to have filed its own report to the UN over statements accusing it of rights abuses, although a spokesman for the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh said he was unaware of any such response.

Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said that although Vietnam has a bitter past with much of the West and remains a communist state, its integration into global markets means it needs to take international opinion into account.

"It's clear Vietnam cares about its international image, including its track record on human rights," he said. "In recent years, it has taken pride in its enhanced global standing through its admission into the World Trade Organization and its election to a two-year seat on the UN Security Council."

"The challenge now is to get the Vietnamese government to replace its rhetoric about human rights with actual progress on the ground. The government should be trying to engage in peaceful dialogue with the Khmer Krom, rather than throwing them in jail," Adams said.

Meanwhile, as the UN prepares for its review, the monks at Wat Samaki Reangsay rehearse the prayers they will chant for the soul of their slain brethren. Abbot Young Sin said threats will not deter his monks from practising their religion and fighting for others to do so. And he
rejected accusations that monks are overstepping their role as clergy.

"Buddhism is absolutely compatible with calling for peace," he said. "Advocating for the freedoms for lay people is our responsibility."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NETH PHEAKTRA

Raid closes factories set up to make oil used in Ecstasy

Photo by: RICK VALENZUELA
A Pursat wood carver works the wood of a m'reah prov tree, the roots of which are boiled to make the drug Ecstacy.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet and Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The facilities, in wildlife sanctuary in Pursat province, were not completed and oil had not yet been manufactured, NGO says.

TWO factories that had been set up to distill a raw ingredient used to produce the drug Ecstasy were shut down during a raid conducted in Pursat province last month by the environmental conservation group Flora and Fauna International (FFI), working in conjunction with rangers from the Ministry of Environment, an FFI official said.

The operation resulted in four arrests - two when the factories were discovered on January 3, and two more when the raid was conducted on January 29 and January 30, said Wood, an FFI field coordinator, who is based at Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in the Cardamom Mountains, where the factories were located.

Wood said FFI had passed along the names of about 10 people believed to be affiliated with the factories to Cambodian authorities, but he declined to provide any of the names, citing an ongoing investigation.

"All we know is that there were some Vietnamese nationals involved," he said.

An FFI press release distributed Tuesday morning said the factories were "run by Vietnamese syndicates".

The factories had been set up to distill sassafras oil, which is produced by boiling the roots of m'reah prov trees, according to the press release. Wood said construction of the factories had not been completed at the time of the raid and that production of the oil had not yet begun.

The oil can be used in the production of cosmetics or "as a precursor chemical in the altogether more sinister process of producing MDMA - more commonly known as Ecstasy", the release states. Wood said it was not clear what the owners of the factories had intended to do with the oil.

Environmental damage

Factories producing sassafras oil "have a very destructive impact on the fragile habitats and ecosystems in the sanctuary" in part because the production process requires "enormous quantities of fuel wood from other rainforest trees" and results in "significant pollution of the environment", the release states.

FFI staff estimated in 2006 that there were "at least 75" such factories in the western Cardamom Mountains.

Thuk Kroeun Vutha, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said Tuesday that the government began a crackdown on the factories five years ago and that the production of sassafras oil had decreased since then.

Govt planning $6m fish farm for coast's beleaguered fishermen

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Long-term aim is for fishermen to move to farming, not catching, fish and shellfish, and local community says they are in favour.

THE government last week announced it will spend US$6 million to build a fisheries farm in Preah Sihanouk province that it expects will boost exports of fish and shellfish amid rising global demand.

Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told the Post Thursday the farm would eventually double the country's annual seafood exports from its current official level of about 5,000 tonnes, adding that it would also increase food security along the country's coastline.

"We will spend more than $6 million to build the farm on two-and-a-half hectares of the Tumnop Tolok area in Preah Sihanouk province," he said.

Nao Thuok said experts from Japan were currently examining the environmental impact of the farm, adding that he would request them to help fund the project.

Nao Thuok said the government wanted local fishermen currently living in the area to get involved with the project, and ultimately change to farming fish and shellfish rather than catching them.

Sok Kao, chief of Koh Khyong village in the Prey Nop district of Preah Sihanouk province, said people in his community had made great efforts to replant mangroves and sea-grasses and to prevent overfishing, despite suffering at the hands of large-scale development projects.

"We will be happy if this project doesn't cut us off from our fishing grounds," Sok Kao told the Post.

Lor Chhean, chief of the Thnuat Fisheries Community, said one problem for the community was that boats from Vietnam and Thailand regularly fished in Cambodian waters using illegal methods.This, along with a rise in the number of fishermen and companies dumping sand into fishing areas, had contributed to a 40 percent drop in catches in just a few years, he said.

"A few years ago we caught an average of 25 kilograms of fish, shrimp and crabs each day, but now we are catching less than one-third that amount," Lor Chhean said. "We hope our lives will improve and that the sea life will be increased once this project is completed."

Asean seeks increased influence

Photo by: Sam Rith
Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary general of Asean, speaks to journalists at a ceremony in Jakarta.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

With the weekend summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, Asean hopes not only to address current regional problems but also to set the regional bloc on a course to greater world influence

SINGAPORE

DESPITE the global economic crisis and political woes in key member states, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has the potential to become an influential regional organisation, say analysts and officials, many of whom hope this weekend's 14th annual Asean summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, will provide the bloc with necessary direction to become a true global power.

Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School who has served twice as Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations, said, "The biggest advantage for Asean now is having made friendships with the United States, China, Japan, India, Russia and others."

"Asean is very good that it does not allow itself to become tied to anyone's power," he told journalists.
Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general for Asean, said 11 countries had already appointed ambassadors to Asean including the United States, Japan and China, and he expects all 27 EU countries to appoint ambassadors soon.

Many observers, like Scot Marciel, the US ambassador to Asean, said that the regional bloc was heading in the right direction, but Chia Siow Yue, senior research fellow for the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, urged the 41-year old Asean to move more quickly in strengthening the coalition.

"In my opinion, Asean should move faster and faster," she said. "Asean member countries still do not trust each other. They are still reluctant."

Kishore Mahbubani said the EU could consolidate quickly because the member countries shared a common Christian tradition, but Asean is a mix of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and others, which makes collaboration a slow process.

Asean chief Surin Pitsuwan agreed, saying, "The reason why Asean member countries are reluctant to agree on some difficult issues is because of the diversity among the member states ... We are not like the European Union."

Vitavas Shrivishok, the Asean director general of Thailand, hoped that next weekend's Asean summit in Hua Hin, would help transform Asean into a more unified bloc. He said the most important of the documents that will be inked is a seven-year plan that will act as a road map for a stronger Asean community.

"This document," he said, "contains the political, economic, social and cultural blueprints [of Asean's future]."

Closure to cost millions

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A Cambo Six branch in Phnom Penh. Prime Minister Hun Sen said the Kingdom’s sole legal bookmaker would close in 2011.


AGAMING LEGACY
Cambo Six had barely turned seven years old before Prime Minister Hun Sen called time on Cambodia’s only legal bookmakers. Started on February 2, 2002, the gaming entity had more than 20 outlets across the Kingdom.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by CHUN SOPHAL AND HOR HAB
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Prime Minister’s decision to call time on Cambodia’s only legal football gambling chain will be costly in terms of lost tax revenue and compensation

PRIME Minister Hun Sen's decision to close the Kingdom's only chain of legal bookmakers, Cambo Six, will cost the state millions of dollars in compensation and lost tax revenue, officials said.

Announcing the decision at the National Institute of Education on Tuesday, the prime minister acknowledged the likely financial fallout, saying the company would be closed no matter the extent of compensation offered. A figure has not been given yet as to how much Cambo Six will receive once its operating licence expires in 2011.

Hun Sen said that in the long term the decision would not affect the overall wealth of the nation: "The country cannot become rich because of gaming tax revenue," he said.

The prime minister said he has instructed Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema to meet Finance Minister Keat Chhon to discuss details of the termination of Cambo Six's licence.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The country cannot become rich because of gaming tax revenue.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"I think that Cambo Six's manager would understand and appreciate Cambodia's social problems, which have led to the company's closure," Hun Sen said.

Cambo Six could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Chea Peng Chheang, secretary of state at the Ministry of Finance, said Tuesday he had not yet received any information on ending Cambo Six's operating licence.

In 2008, tax revenue from the gaming industry - including Cambo Six and about 30 casinos along the Kingdom's borders - reached more than US$20 million. The government makes between $500,000 and $1 million in tax revenue each year from Cambo Six, the Ministry of Finance has said previously, although an exact figure for last year was not immediately available, said Mey Vann, director of the Department of Finance Industry.

The prime minister's decision has also affected other areas of Cambodia's lucrative gaming industry - Hun Sen on Tuesday repeated orders for slot machine gaming entities open to Cambodians to close voluntarily or face forced closure.

Further potential economic fallout was acknowledged by the prime minister and opposition parties. Hun Sen attempted to reassure business leaders by saying that the law would be respected so as not to "destroy" the investment climate.

Calling the decision long overdue, opposition Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay warned, however, that the Cambo Six affair could develop into a drawnout, expensive legal dispute.

"I think the company could sue the government if the licence is terminated," he said.

"But it may be possible to terminate if the government can find mistakes such as inaccurate tax records."

The company's closure would be "strongly supported" by the public, he added. The move is another blow to Cambodia's gaming industry after a difficult six months that has seen revenues plummet as the effects of the global financial crisis have been increasingly felt, a situation further compounded by tensions on the Thai border, where many of the Kingdom's casinos are situated.

Casino tycoon Phu Kok An said he has seen the number of gamers - mostly Thais - drop from about 1,000 a day in September to about 20 a day this month.

Kampot Cement to cut output in phases

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A Kampot Cement factory in Phnom Penh. The company said it would cut productiuon.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by MAY KUNMAKARA AND NGUON SOVAN
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Kingdom's largest cement company cites property downturn as demand and prices fall

CAMBODIA'S largest cement producer is set to cut production in two phases on falling demand from the construction industry, the company said.

Khaou Phallaboth, president of the firm's Cambodian minority stakeholder, told the Post on Tuesday that Kampot Cement has already cut production by 10 percent since January and plans another 10 percent cut for the year.

"It is dependent on the market - now the market has dropped due to the economic downturn, the credit crunch, falling land prices and lower property investment," he said.

"We are reducing our production to avoid oversupply, and we hope that by year's end the economy, will be recovering," he said adding that no layoffs were planned at the plant.

"We employ around 300 workers, and we do not plan to cut the workforce because we believe the crisis is temporary."

Kampot Cement launched in January 2008 under a US$127 million joint venture with Thailand's largest industrial conglomerate, Siam Cement Group (SCG). SCG controls a 90 percent share, and Cambodia's Khaou Chuly Group holds the remainder. The plant produces one million tonnes of cement, he said.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
We employ around 300 workers and we do not plan to cut the workforce.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Stock Exchange of Thailand-listed SCG reported a 2008 fourth-quarter loss of nearly $100 million in January, its first quarterly loss in 11 years.

Chhean Dara, manager of the $50-million Happiness City development in Phnom Penh, said cement consumption at his project has fallen.

"Early last year, we were using about 900 tonnes of cement per month but now, we have cut that to 200 to 300 tonnes a month," said Chhean Dara.

The managing director of building materials supplier Lay Mong Leng Construction said that lower cement prices have failed to stimulate demand.

"Now a 50-kilogram sack of cement is only $4, but early last year, it was up to $5," she said. "It is not only cement sales that have dropped - it is all construction materials."

Falling demand for real estate has taken a toll on new building startups, according to the CEO of Bonna Realty, adding that sales were down 90 percent.

"We forecast that the real estate market will return to normal in 2010 or later. But even then, it will not rise to the level it was at during its peak," said Sung Bonna.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD

Travel agencies obtain licences after cleanup

LICENCE Crackdown
- February 1 deadline for obtaining agency licence
- Deadline extended to April 1
- 200 percent fine, on top of fee cost, for travel agencies that register after revised deadline
- $5,000 must be deposited at National Bank of Cambodia


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by MAY KUNMAKARA AND NGUON SOVAN
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

TWENTY-seven percent of illegally operating travel agencies have been licensed by tourism authorities following a government crackdown announced in January, according to officials.

The crackdown follows a nationwide effort to clean up the tourism sector by tightening rules and boosting quality standards.
The Tourism Ministry said in January that 22 unlicensed agencies were operating countrywide, and gave them until February 1 to obtain permits. But the ministry said that some agencies have been evading authorities.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The government has a responsibility to ensure fair competition.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"After our announcement, only six travel agents have come to register for licences and another six unlicensed travel agents have closed already. The others don't have permanent offices and cannot be found," said Prak Chandara, director of the Tourism Ministry's Tourism Industry Department.

He said that about 300 travel agencies are licensed in Cambodia.

The government said that unregistered travel agents and agents with expired licences will have one month more to register or extend their licences, or face fines and penalties.

"From April 1, if any illegal agents or licensed agents come to register or extend their licenses, we will fine them 200 percent of the payment fee," he said. The fee is US$300.

"To get a licence for a travel agent, the law requires that the operator deposits US$5,000 at the National Bank of Cambodia, just in case something happens. It is for the benefit of guests. If they are not made to do this, the agents might abandon guests that have made reservations," Tourism Minister Thong Khon said last month.

He assured the agencies that the government will not steal the money held by the national bank. "The deposit still belongs to them, not us. It is to ensure that they have the funds available for their customers," said Thong Khon.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Tourism Working Group and head of the Steering Committee of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said there is a growing problem with illegal travel agencies in Siem Reap province.

"[Illegal tourism companies] are doing business without taking care of tourists after they buy tickets from the companies - they are only after their own profit," he said. "If they get registered legally, the government can earn a lot of profit from taxes. The government has a responsibility to ensure fair competition in the business."

He said that the tourism industry has pressed authorities to enforce licensing requirements, saying that rogue agencies are bad for the country's image. "On behalf of the co-chairman of the Tourism Working Group, we have tried to encourage those companies to follow the law," Ho Vandy said Tuesday.

Banking during economic decline

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins says that the Cambodian banking sector is in good shape to deal with the global financial crisis.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Cambodian banking sector has taken a lot of criticism in recent weeks, but the sector has undergone improvements that can help weather the slump, says ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund released reports on the Cambodian banking sector that warned of potentially serious problems with liquidity and nonperforming loans. What is your reaction to those reports?


Firstly, in terms of the banking sector, I think they were a little on the harsh side. Cambodian banks aren't as developed as in other parts of the world, but they compensate by maintaining strong capital ratios ... and they have to put 12 percent of their deposits on reserve with the National Bank of Cambodia....

I wouldn't be quite as pessimistic as the World Bank and IMF.

I think there is concern, however, about the economy as a whole - with demand falling and some of the country's key sectors in slowdown. One of Obama's advisers said recently that we are seeing the most serious economic contraction since the Great Depression, and the effects of the current slowdown have been even more rapid than the depression of the 1930s, it is inevitable that there will be quite an impact on Cambodia.

The two reports also said that transparency is an issue in Cambodian banks. Do you think the figures being provided by Cambodian banks are accurate?

Its hard for us to comment on other banks - ANZ Royal is certainly transparent, and other banks like ACLEDA are quite transparent....

If the banks are stable, then what is the most serious issue facing the economy today?

The general economic slowdown is the most serious issue ... if you go back one year, people were making a lot of money from property, allowing them to buy cars and other consumer goods. Now the property market has dropped and that has taken a toll on demand.

The Economist Group came out with an assessment of the Cambodian economy that said growth would slow to only one percent, and Thailand said recently that growth would be negative, so we are seeing the effects of the global economic crisis.

Do you expect nonperforming loans (NPLs) to increase?

NPLs will certainly increase in Cambodia as they are everywhere else in the world, as you would expect, but the big issue is that the Cambodian banks have large capital buffers ... and the NBC has been doing a good job monitoring the banking sector.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The big issue is that the Cambodian banks have large capital buffers.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What is your deposit ratio?

It is about 150 percent, well above the sector average, which is now 100 percent - the bank is in a strong position.

Are you prepared to extend loans to property developers?

Not really. It's a question of where you're going to lend to. You can develop a property at the moment, but the question is whether there are buyers there to buy, so it's too risky to lend right now.

Even with the economic downturn, Cambodia hasn't seen many foreclosures. Do you expect many this year?

There will be some ... but, in general, people in Cambodia don't have a lot of debt. This is not a heavily leveraged society, so I don't expect it to be too serious.

Last month, your partner company, Royal Group, was surrounded by police, causing rumours about internal disputes. Did this affect your relations with Royal Group?

This was an internal matter for Royal. It did cause a lot of rumours, but we have reassured customers that it hasn't anything to do with ANZ Royal. ANZ Royal is majority owned by ANZ and our management team is entirely from ANZ. So no, our relationship with Royal hasn't changed.

What about reports that there was a mini-run on ANZ Bank following the incident?

Actually, our deposits went up on that day, so any rumours were under control.

If local operations hit trouble, are your deposits backed by the parent company?

There is nothing legally forcing ANZ to back the deposits of ANZ Royal, but, of course, ANZ's name is on the bank, which is important.... That means the company's reputation is backing our clients.

Do you sense there is general nervousness about the banks?

There is a degree of nervousness, but it's general nervousness and it's appropriate, given the challenges in the global economy. There is an economic tsunami headed this way. Fortunately, the government and the NBC have been doing a good job in managing things, but there is still going to be an impact. Cambodia is fortunate that what is happening now didn't happen eight years ago when banking rules and monitoring weren't as strong as they are today.

Tight supply holds office rents firm against slump

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Soeun Say
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

But the far-fetched rentals landlords were hoping to charge at the height of Cambodia’s economic boom last year have been scaled back

A LONG-STANDING shortage of office space in Phnom Penh is helping maintain rental prices even as vacancies have increased due to overseas investors scaling back operations in the wake of the global financial downturn, real estate agents and landlords say.

However, the far-fetched rental prices many were asking - but not getting - at the height of Cambodia's economic boom in mid-2008 are now a thing of the past as landlords find themselves actually needing to find new tenants.

Vutha Oum, director of Angkor Khmer Real Estate, said many businesses - mainly from offshore - cancelled leases after being caught out in the fallout of the global financial crisis, but vacancies were being quickly snapped up by business people who previously had to make do with temporary offices in villas, apartments or hotels.

He said the average asking prices of $17 to $25 per square metre in mid-2008, which were up from $10 to $15 a year earlier, had shown no sign of decline in recent months.

Seng Chreang, a local businessman looking to find an office for his travel business, confirmed it was still a sellers' market. "I have looked at many places to rent an office but the prices are very expensive; $18 to $25 a square metre," he said.

Sear Chailin, director of Visal Real Estate, said that the number of businesses looking for office space had actually increased by around 35 percent in recent months as supply loosened, helping keep prices high. The majority of office seekers were still foreigners, he added, with Cambodians generally more happy to operate out of their apartments and villas.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I have looked at many places to rent an office but the prices are very expensive.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"If [foreigners] rent an office space to do business, they want a very comfortable and safe place with plenty of parking," he said. "If they are forced to rent office space in a villa or flat, they also have to pay a lot extra for security."

Rental relief

However, Sung Bonna, president and CEO of Bonna Realty Group and president of the National Valuers Association of Cambodia, said rentals had dropped by 10 percent in some areas.

Lay Ieng, the owner of the Phnom Penh Centre, is among those scaling back rental demands from a peak in mid-2008. But rentals were still high compared with 2007, she said.

"If we compare to then, rentals are still high and we have very little office space available for rent," she said.
She said rentals increased from around $9 per square metre in 2007 to $15 in June last year but had come off again to around $12 per square metre.

Phnom Penh has only about eight major office buildings available and near full occupancy rates in the middle of 2008 encouraged owners to increase rentals. However, with most tenants already under contract, the rates being bandied about - up to $25-plus per square metre for basic office facilities - were never tested by the market.

Sear Chailin said rentals were actually increasing in some cases - from $25 up to $30 or $35 - but those prices included utilities to attract tenants as high electricity prices in Cambodia are considered a major barrier to business.

Lann Sinnara, deputy director of Cambodia Estate Agent, said new supply slated to come onto the market could eventually lead to falling rental prices.

However, it is still uncertain just how much new supply will materialise.

Canadia Bank's 29-storey headquarters on the corner of Ang Duong Street and Monivong Boulevard is scheduled to top out in 2009, though uncertainty surrounds the proposed 45-storey Sun Wah Financial Centre and the 52-storey GS International Financial Centre.

Vattanac Bank's proposed headquarters, which at 38 storeys will dwarf the neigbouring Canadia Tower, is under construction but no date has been set for completion.

The Phnom Penh Post News In Brief

In Brief: Hun Sen says un as guilty as pol pot

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said that the United Nations and countries that supported Pol Pot at the United Nations from 1979 to 1991 should be tried by the Khmer Rouge tribunal. "[The UN] realised that Pol Pot killed people, but they still supported Pol Pot," Hun Sen said. "Supporters of Pol Pot should be punished more than members of Pol Pot's regime." But the law does not allow trying them because their crimes are too broad, he said. He added that UN delegates who came to Cambodia during early negotiations about the tribunal were the ones who supported Pol Pot.

In Brief: KRT lawyers call to Ban Ki-Moon

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Wednesday, 25 February 2009

International defence lawyers for detained Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea have written to Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, to request the UN's cooperation in investigating corruption at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Delivered via top legal officer Peter Taksoe-Jensen, who met with the government over the issue Monday, the letter urges the government to waive an immunity clause in order to confidentially disclose a report regarding the allegations of kickbacks at the court. "Any individual who has demanded and/or provided money in exchange for employment ... does not possess the requisite integrity to ensure the fairness of the Khmer Rouge trials. "We submit, therefore, that a failure to waive the UN's privileges and immunities at this juncture ‘would impede the course of justice'," the letter states. The lawyers filed an appeal to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after the court dismissed their request for a domestic investigation into the allegations.

ASEAN financial gloom to trump rights issues

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: February 25, 2009

BANGKOK: The prickly issue of human rights in Myanmar will take a back seat to the global financial meltdown as leaders of cash-strapped Southeast Asian countries meet this weekend for an annual summit.

Ducking the spotlight will be a relief for Myanmar's military junta, which has been busy locking up dissidents and has ignored U.N. demands to free its highest-profile political prisoner, the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

For the rest of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the financial crisis offers an opportunity to avoid the perennial dilemma of confronting its most troublesome member and other sensitive topics.

Thailand, which currently holds ASEAN's rotating chairmanship and is hosting the summit, bills the meeting as a turning point for the bloc that has long been criticized as a talk shop that forges agreements by consensus and steers away from confrontation.

It is the first time leaders will meet since the group signed a landmark charter in December. The document made ASEAN a legal entity and moves it a step closer toward the goal of establishing a single market by 2015 and becoming a European Union-like community.

"This summit will mark a new chapter for ASEAN," Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said recently. "We want to make ASEAN a more rule-based and effective organization according to the charter."

But the run-up to the summit has showcased some of the disarray in ASEAN, which groups more than 500 million people and includes fledgling democracies, a monarchy, a military dictatorship and two communist regimes.

Originally scheduled for December in Bangkok, the summit was postponed because of political upheaval in Thailand. Abhisit, who came to power that month on the back of protests, shifted the venue to the beach resort Hua Hin, 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of the capital, to escape lingering protests in Bangkok.

Senior officials start meeting Thursday ahead of the weekend leaders' summit. ASEAN's 10 members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

In recent years, ASEAN summits have been followed by the so-called East Asia Summit, which includes the leaders of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. But Beijing couldn't make the new February meeting, forcing Thailand to call a second summit in April.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has decried the back-to-back meetings as "a waste of time," saying the absence this weekend of China, Japan and South Korea means ASEAN can't lobby Asia's economic powers for financial aid. The sharp-tongued Hun Sen has been particularly critical of Thailand since a border dispute last year sparked deadly clashes and brief concerns of war between the neighbors.

Philippine diplomats also say their interest in the summit has "really waned" without the three East Asian powers attending.

Southeast Asian countries are struggling to revive their export-driven economies amid rising employment and fears of recession. The economies of Thailand and Singapore have already shrunk while Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are grappling with rapidly slowing growth.

Asian finance ministers agreed last weekend to form a $120 billion pool of foreign-exchange reserves to protect falling currencies. ASEAN members will provide 20 percent of funding, with 80 percent from China, Japan and South Korea.

Among the key documents to be signed at the meeting are a free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand and a roadmap for turning ASEAN into an EU-style bloc by 2015, as outlined by the new charter.

One of the charter's key pledges is to set up a regional human rights body, though critics doubt that members like Myanmar would allow it to have much clout.

Meanwhile, specific human rights issues — including the plight of the stateless Rohingya boat people who flee Myanmar and have recently washed up on the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia — will be discussed on the sidelines but not as part of the summit's formal agenda.

Myanmar has come under vocal criticism by the United Nations for jailing hundreds of dissidents ahead of general elections promised for 2010 — the first in 20 years. The junta holds more than 2,100 political detainees, including pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi. The 63-year-old Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 19 years in detention without trial.

But ASEAN has no intention of formally scolding Myanmar, Vitavas Srivihok, the director-general the Thai Foreign Ministry's ASEAN department told reporters earlier this week.

"We don't have any specific meetings regarding Myanmar because it is sensitive," he said, "and we don't want to single out any country."

___

Associated Press Writers Stephen Wright in Bangkok and Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

In Sihanouk's words: the Cambodian monarch's private archives

This file picture taken on Feb. 24, 1995 shows King Norodom Sihanouk praying during a Buddhist ceremony at Wat Mony Prasittivong outside Phnom Penh (AFP photo / files)
SAIGON

PARIS, Feb 25, 2009 (AFP) - In meticulously labelled boxes piled on shelves in an old Paris building lies the hidden story of Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk, his personal chronicle of 30 years of Khmer suffering and death.

After abdicating in 2004, the self-proclaimed "king-father" of the country, now aged 87, handed France his personal archives last January for safe-keeping at the National Archive.

"Rarely does a foreign head of state give archives to another country," said Olivier de Bernon, head researcher at the Far-East French Institute (EFEO) and the first to browse the "historically significant" papers.

"The archives were never in Cambodia, but came directly from Sihanouk's home in Beijing," said de Bernon.

It took him two years, with the help of two researchers and an archivist, to sift through the king's 10,000 photographs and one million documents. An inventory of the "Sihanouk Fund" is to be published this year.

Destroyed by later regimes, no personal records remain of Sihanouk's first reign, coronation or childhood. The Paris archives cover the later agitated times that followed Lon Nol's pro-American coup which overthrew Sihanouk on March 18, 1970.

Among the gems are a photograph of Sihanouk's resignation speech as head of state of the Khmer Rouge regime on April 2, 1976 and pictures of North Korea, where he was invited by the country's founder, the late Kim Il-Sung.

Head of state turned political prisoner, Sihanouk spent 1976-79 under house arrest in his Phnom Pen palace with Queen Monique.

A one-time sympathiser of the extremist Cambodian communist movement nicknamed "the red prince" during the Vietnam War, it was the king himself who came up with the name "Khmer Rouge" in 1960.

But de Bernon said Sihanouk was never a supporter of the extremists, with five of his children and 14 grandchildren killed under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, which left a total of two million Cambodians dead.

"The king was in Beijing from April to September 1975 and was only in power for a year under the Khmer Rouge before resigning. It was only in 1977, like many others, that he understood how the regime operated, and in fact high-ranking Chinese officials had to intervene to ensure he wasn't killed," said de Bernon.

Letters signed Zhou Enlai, Malraux, Arafat, Mandela or Reagan are among Sihanouk's letters.

One from actress Jane Fonda congratulates him for the Khmer Rouge victory and offers to take up their cause in the US.

"Sihanouk has a literary style that shines through in his letters, speeches and thousands of drafts," said de Bernon.

A workaholic with a wide variety of interests, Sihanouk wrote poems, songs and even recipes, and played the saxophone and piano. He could sing in a dozen languages, sometimes for four or five hours at a time, and shot dozens of films glorifying Cambodia.

Source: AFP

Thailand to return smuggled artifacts to Cambodia

Monsters and Critics.com
Asia-Pacific News
Feb 25, 2009

Bangkok - Thailand's government has decided to return to Cambodia seven artifacts smuggled into the kingdom almost 10 years ago, media reports said Wednesday.

The Thai cabinet approved the diplomatic gesture at its weekly meeting Tuesday, days before Thailand hosts the 14th Summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which will be attended by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

'The return of these artifacts will help strengthen relations between Thailand and Cambodia,' government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told the Bangkok Post newspaper.

The seven items, including busts of Cambodian gods and giants of the 12th or 13th century Bayon style, were part of a shipment of 43 smuggled artifacts intercepted by Thai custom officials at Samut Prakan port in May 2000.

Thailand's Fine Arts Department has verified the seven artifacts as being of Cambodian origin, but is still seeking more evidence to determine the place of origin of the remaining 36 items.

The artifacts will be on display at Bangkok's National Museum until they are returned to Cambodia, at a still unspecified date.

Thai-Cambodian relations have been tempestuous since July, last year, when the two neighbouring countries came to blows over a disputed area in the vicinity of the Pheah Vihear temple, an 11th-century Hindu temple.

Known as Phra Viharn in Thailand, the temple complex was named a World Heritage Site at a UNESCO meeting in Quebec in July despite Thai opposition on the grounds that the area surrounding the temple is still disputed by both nations.

The ancient Hindu temple, perched on a 525-metre-high cliff on the Dangrek Mountain range that defines the Thai-Cambodian border, has been the source of a sovereignty dispute for decades.

A row over the temple in 1958 led to a suspension of diplomatic relations in 1958 and eventually ended up in The Hague for an international settlement in 1962.

Cambodia won, but the Hague failed to pass judgement on the area adjacent to the temple.

Last year's renewed dispute led to clashes that claimed five lives and severely strained Thai-Cambodian diplomatic ties.

EDITORIAL Little closure for Cambodia

Bangkok Post
Published: 25/02/2009

When the judges and the defendant entered a Phnom Penh courtroom last week, the narrative told to the world was that the Khmer Rouge were about to face the criminal tribunal they surely deserved. Thirty years and a month after their short, bloody regime was toppled, the reality was something different.

The first and only prisoner in the dock was Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch. He was a particularly nasty actor at an especially gruesome centrepiece of the Pol Pot regime. The trial of the former political prison warden, however, only made it more likely that the men and women responsible for the deaths of millions of their citizens will never have to face justice.

It is not that Duch is a scapegoat, for he was involved in hundreds of heinous murders and worse. It is unlikely that his stated defence - that he only was following orders - will be accepted. Nor should it. Yet it is true he was merely a functionary in the Khmer Rouge violence machine. Claiming that the trial of Duch brings either Khmer or international justice to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime is at best an exaggeration.

Duch ran the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh for most of the time that the Khmer Rouge ran Cambodia, from April 1975 until the beginning of 1979. Some 17,000 to 20,000 people entered the prison, in the Tuol Sleng area of the city. Duch and his cadres at S-21 tortured, starved, beat or shot to death almost every prisoner. Just 17 survived, of whom four are alive today. Before their deaths, all prisoners confessed to their crimes, which were almost always alleged to be spying for the CIA, the Vietnamese or Thai governments - often all three. The area where Duch's warders tossed the dead prisoners into pits became known as Choeung Ek, the Killing Fields.

The crimes of Duch are highly documented. The torture chambers, concentration camps and meticulous record-keeping by Duch of each prisoner's interrogation and death prove terrible crimes. It is proper that Duch receive his day in court. The four known survivors and the families of the dead may feel some closure if the Duch trial ever is concluded.

The hideous crimes of Duch, however, were far surpassed by his superiors, including Pol Pot as head of the 10-person, inner circle of Angka, as the regime was known. The toll they took will never be known accurately. The accepted figure of Cambodians who died as a direct result of the inner circle's policies is 1.7 million. Many experts believe it was twice that.

Life and justice are often unfair, but it is misleading for the Cambodian government and its supporters to claim that the Khmer Rouge leadership is being brought to the tribunal. Top leader Pol Pot and his wife Khieu Ponnary died in 1998 and 2003, respectively; Son Sen and wife Yun Yat in 1997, Ke Pauk in 2002, and the brutal Ta Mok in 2006. "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Khieu Thirith, and Khmer Rouge ideologue Khieu Samphan are technically under arrest. None seems close to the courtroom steps. All are approaching the natural end of their lives. The reasons why they likely will escape justice are varied. Among them, long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen was himself a senior Khmer Rouge military officer who does not want to be mentioned in defence testimony.

One hopes that the surviving perpetrators of the brutal regime can be brought before the tribunal. But it is a pretence of justice to claim that the trial of Duch is an accounting for that regime.

Seven smuggled Khmer artifacts heading home

Some of the artifacts being returned to Cambodia.

Bangkok Post
By: ANUCHA CHAROENPO AND LAMPHAI INTATHEP
Published: 25/02/2009

Thailand will return to Cambodia seven Khmer artifacts seized by Thai authorities nearly 10 years ago.

The decision to return the objects was approved by the cabinet meeting in Cha-am district of Phetchaburi yesterday. It was in line with a Thai-Cambodian agreement to return all cultural properties to their country of origin.

The seven sandstone pieces are among 43 items thought to have been smuggled into Thailand. These seven objects are the only ones verified by the Fine Arts Department as being from Cambodia, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

The rest were being examined and would be returned if they were found to from Cambodia, he said.

All seven are part of the heads of ancient Khmer deities and giants made in the Bayon style.

"The return of these artifacts will help strengthen relations between Thailand and Cambodia," Mr Panitan said.

Fine Arts Department chief Kriengkrai Sampatchali echoed the view, saying: "It is a good step to improve ties between the two countries after the long dispute over the Preah Vihear temple."

The decision was made ahead of the summit this weekend of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Cambodia and Thailand among its members.

The cabinet has not yet scheduled the return date, only telling Foreign Ministry officials to contact their Cambodian counterparts about the return.

The 43 smuggled Khmer artifacts were intercepted by customs officials at a port in Samut Prakan in May 2000. They were handed over to the Fine Arts Department to determine their country of origin. Cambodia was then asked to verify the findings.

The two countries stepped up efforts on the verification process after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen asked then prime minister Samak Sundaravej to return the smuggled artifacts during his official visit to Cambodia last year.

People & Power - Cambodia's Trials - 24 Feb 09

Part 1



Part 2



AlJazeeraEnglish

People&Power looks at case of Comrade Duch a leader in the Khmer Rouge.

TIME Photos: The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Rouge (Part1)

AFP
Royal Seal of Approval
In 1965, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia's head of state, asserted the nation's opposition to the U.S.-backed government in South Vietnam by allowing North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases within Cambodia's borders. The North Vietnamese had an alliance with a Cambodian Marxist insurgency group, the Khmer Rouge, whose top brass Sihanouk is pictured here with in 1973.
Bettmann / Corbis
Losing Control
A Cambodian soldier holds a .45 to the head of a Khmer Rouge suspect in 1973. When Sihanouk was forced out of power in a coup, the new Prime Minister, General Lon Nol, sent the army to fight the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Fighting two enemies proved to be too much for Cambodia's army. As Civil War raged from 1970 to 1975, the army gradually lost territory as Khmer Rouge increased its control in the countryside.
Christine Spengler / Sygma / Corbis
Coming Apocalypse
Survivors sift through rubble after the Khmer Rouge bombed Phnom Penh, the capital city, on January 1, 1975. Four months later, the party took the city, on April 17, 1975, and began their mission of returning Cambodia to an agrarian society, emptying the cities and forcing their countrymen into agricultural labor.
Claude Juvenal / AFP / Getty Images
Day One, Year Zero
Khmer Rouge fighters celebrate as they enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. Prince Sihanouk, the party's early ally, resigned in 1976, paving the way for the now notorious Khmer Rouge founder and leader, Pol Pot, to become prime minister. The country was renamed Kampuchea, and it was the start Year Zero — the beginning of a new history for Cambodia written by Pol Pot.
Roland Neveu / OnAsia
Left Behind
Days before the occupation of the capital, thousands of Cambodians gather behind a school perimeter fence near the American embassy to watch the final evacuation of U.S. and foreign nationals.
GAMMA / Eyedea Presse
Death Sentence
A prisoner gets her mug shot taken. At prisons like Phnom Penh's infamous Tuol Sleng, prisoners were painstakingly documented before being sent to their deaths in mass graves later to be come known as the "killing fields." Hundreds of thousands of intellectuals were tortured and executed under the Khmer Rouge; others starved or died from disease or exhaustion. In total, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979.
AFP / Getty Images
Pol Pot's Utopia
An undated photograph shows forced laborers digging canals in Kampong Cham province, part of the massive agrarian infrastructure the Khmer Rouge planned for the country.
Bettmann / Corbis
A New Occupier
Fed up with cross-border raids by Khmer Rouge, Vietnam invaded Cambodia on Dec. 25, 1978. By Jan. 7, shown here, Vietnamese troops had occupied Phnom Penh. The Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia lasted for 10 years.

Kyodo News / AP
Fearless Leader
The Vietnamese overthrew Pol Pot, too, driving the leader to the Thai border where he continued to head the Khmer Rouge in the jungles.

John Bryson / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images
Purging the Western Curse
The Khmer Rouge sought to rid Cambodia of all Western influences that distracted its people from their agrarian calling. Cars, abandoned and forbidden, were stacked up alongside the road.

TIME Photos: The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Rouge (Part2)

David A. Harvey / National Geographic / Getty Images
A Bloody Landscape
An exhumed mass grave, pictured in 1981, in the Cambodian countryside reveals the skeletons of those executed and buried together under Pol Pot's regime.
Alex Bowie / Getty Images
The Resistance
Khmer Rouge guerrillas in the jungle of western Cambodia as they attempt to halt advancing Vietnamese forces on Feb. 15, 1981.

Alain Nogues / Corbis Sygma
Running for Cover
Cambodian refugees, pictured in January 1985, at a refugee camp, near the Thai-Cambodian Border. Some 60,000 people fled to the south as fighting increased between Khmer-Vietnamese troops and the FNLPK (Khmer People's National Liberation Front), one of the three groups making up the anti-communist resistance.


Jacques Langevin / Corbis Sygma
Out from Under the Iron Curtain
Without backing from the Soviet Union, Vietnam could no longer afford to keep its troops in a state of indefinite occupation in Cambodia. In September 1989, Vietnamese troops withdrew from Phnom Penh.

Michael Freeman / Corbis
A Tearful Reunion
A family greets each other in August 1989 after being separated during years of war and occupation.

Jacques Langevin / Corbis Sygma
Return the Old Guard
The 1991 Paris Peace Accord that followed Vietnam's withdrawal mandated democratic elections and a ceasefire, but was not fully respected by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. U.N. transitional authority shared power with representatives of various factions, and Prince Sihanouk, shown here at center making his way back the Royal Palace in November 1991, was reinstated as Head of State.
Romeo Cacad / AFP / Getty Images
Forgiven
U.N.-run elections in May 1993 resulted in a shaky coalition between Sihanouk's son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla pictured here at a political rally before the elections. The country was once again named the Kingdom of Cambodia. Hun Sen remains Prime Minister today.

Jason Bleibtreu / Corbis Sygma
The Banality of Evil
Pol Pot continued to lead the Khmer Rouge party from rural Cambodia until July 1997 when he was arrested. In a show trial, Pol Pot, known as Brother No. 1, was denounced by his own followers and sentenced to house arrest in his jungle home. The press gathered there when he died less than a year later at age 73 on April 15, 1998, never having faced charges.
Ou Neakiry / AP
A New Chapter
Finally agreeing to abandon their fight, the remaining Khmer Rouge soldiers fighters surrendered on Feb. 9, 1999, and donned new uniforms of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces during an integration ceremony in Anlong Veng near the Thai-Cambodian border.

David Hogsholt / Getty Images
Documenting the Aftermath
Contact sheets showing pictures of what is believed to be former prisoners of the S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, where over 15,000 people lost their lives. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was detained for his role as chief of the torture center in 1999.
John Vink / Magnum Photos
The World Watches, and Waits, for Justice
A long delayed U.N.-backed tribunal to bring the leaders of the genocide to justice began in 2009. On Feb. 17, Duch's trial began. He is the first of five defendants scheduled for trial.

Advanced Bank of Asia, Cambodia Goes Live on Oracle FLEXCUBE Universal Banking

Mumbai, India - February 24, 2009: Oracle Financial Services Software Ltd. today announced that Advanced Bank of Asia (ABA), Cambodia has gone live on OracleƂ® FLEXCUBE Universal Banking.

Oracle FLEXCUBE is providing the bank with a next-generation transaction-processing platform, enabling faster responses to customer needs and improving operational and cost efficiencies.

Completed in six months, the project at ABA is the first Oracle FLEXCUBE implementation in Cambodia.

ABA has implemented Oracle FLEXCUBE across its corporate and retail banking operations.

ABA selected Oracle FLEXCUBE Universal Banking for its ability to seamlessly adapt to local requirements.

Oracle FLEXCUBE is providing ABA with a flexible, scalable banking platform, enabling it to offer new products and services, served across multiple channels including ATM and Internet, in the shortest possible timeframe.

"The Cambodian banking industry is going through a transformation, and we are happy to note that our decision to implement Oracle FLEXCUBE and its successful, on-time implementation has given us a real competitive advantage. With the successful implementation of Oracle FLEXCUBE, we will now be able to bring new products to the market and rapidly scale to address the growing demand for banking services in Cambodia," said Elona Romanova, an official for Advanced Bank of Asia.

The stock was trading at Rs.685, up by Rs.12.10 or 1.80%. The stock hit an intraday high of Rs.694.75 and low of Rs.647.

The total traded quantity was 45667 compared to 2 week average of 65810.

Source: Equity Bulls

Posted On: 2/23/2009

Thailand to return seized Cambodian artefacts

By The Nation
Published on February 25, 2009

The Cabinet yesterday agreed to return seven artefacts to Cambodia in a yet to be scheduled handover ceremony.

Fine Arts Department director-general Kriangkrai Sampatchalit said yesterday that the other 36 items wanted by Cambodia could not yet be returned because more evidence was needed to prove their origin.

"Once more evidence is provided to us, the department will identify and verify these [36] items," he added.

The sandstone artefacts to be returned are an 86-centimetre bust of a goddess and six of demons varying in height from 60cm to 81cm. The busts date back to the 18th century and some are cracked or damaged.

Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch said the artefacts had been intercepted by customs in Samut Prakan province in May 2000, while they were being smuggled into Thailand in sea-freight cargo. They have since been in the custody of the Fine Arts Department pending completion of legal and customs procedures.

There are no details over whether anybody was arrested.

The items will be put on display at the National Museum from today before they are handed over. The Fine Arts Department's permanent secretary Weera Rojphojjanarat said it had not been decided if Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen would be invited to the handover ceremony.

The Culture and Foreign Ministries of both countries are working on diplomatic protocol to have the artefacts returned to Cambodia as soon as possible, reportedly as a sign of goodwill aimed at strengthening bilateral relations that have soured after the Phrea Vihear dispute.

Kriangkrai said the department was pursuing some 100 artefacts of Thai heritage that have reportedly surfaced in other countries.

Despite Rapid Premium Growth, Cambodia's Insurance Sector Has a Long Way to Go

TMCnet.com
February 24, 2009

(BestWire Services Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Cambodia's insurance industry has seen rapid premium growth in recent years, which largely outpaced the country's gross domestic product, yet the market has not seen marked development.

In the past year, Cambodia's insurance industry experienced 18% growth in premium income, in comparison with an estimated GPD growth of 6.8%. However, the insurance market size has only a total value of US$20.5 million. This makes it hard to attract new players, particularly foreign insurance companies, which could play a critical role in developing the market, said Youk Chamroeunrith, general manager and director at Forte Insurance, a leading local insurance company.

"We need to have more foreign investment first to drive premium growth," said Chamroeunrith in an interview. However, the global financial crisis has put pressure on insurance growth because of declining foreign investment. Chamroeunrith said premium growth already slowed down by about 2% in the past year.

Lack of a legislative framework and a low level of insurance awareness in the country are the biggest hurdles for insurance development in Cambodia, said Chamroeunrith. The country now only has nonlife insurance operators and product offerings are limited to commercial business lines for corporate clients.

Cambodia Plans to Collect 12.5% Tax from All Kinds of Gambling to Exceed the 2008 Tax - Tuesday 24.2.2009

Posted on 24 February 2009

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 601

“In 2009, Cambodia plans to collect a 12.5% tax to produce more tax income than that reported in 2008.

“According to a secretary of state of the Ministry of Economy and Finance and journalists, who interviewed him, regarding the collection of tax from gabling sites on 19 February 2009, Mr. Chea Meng Chhieng, tax income from all kinds of gambling increased to US$20 million in 2008, but the income will not increase further as the Cambodian government wants, because, according to this secretary of state, the number of tourists entering casinos declined due to the global financial crisis.

“Responding to the demand of tourists, Cambodia decided to legalize the creation of many different kinds of casinos, like some with slot machines, which are growing like mushrooms in Phnom Penh and in different provinces.

“This draws criticism from the opposition parties and from some non-government organizations against the presence of gambling which causes social instability.

“There are more than 20 casinos in Cambodia, but most of them are located at border crossing points.

“Mr. Chea Meng Chhieng stated the importance of legalizing the gambling industry, as doing so will facilitate the monitoring of gambling sites.

“During the Council of Ministers’ meeting on 19 December 2008, the Prime Minister of the forth-term Royal Government of Cambodia, Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen, ordered the Ministry of Economy and Finance to observe all hotels that have entertainment clubs and all types of electronic entertainment centers, which are required to prohibit Khmer citizens to enter to gamble.

“If there is any violation of the rules, like permitting Khmer citizens to enter, the Ministry of Economy and Finance must revoke their licenses and immediately stop their operation within 24 hours.

“Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen ordered the Director General of the National Police [Mr. Net Savoeun] and the Commander of National Military Police [Mr. Sao Sokha] to check the licenses of such places, and to stop their operation for not obeying the circular of the Royal Government issued on 4 December 2008.

“The Phnom Penh police chief, Mr. Touch Naruth, said that the Cambosix sites are legal gambling sites, and Naga World Casino is the only legal casino in Phnom Penh, but Naga World Casino does not allow Khmer citizens to enter, otherwise it would be closed and its license would be revoked immediately within 24 hours for disobeying the circular of the Cambodian government released on 4 December 2008.”

Khmer Aphivaot Sethakech, Vol. 7, #348, 24.2.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Khmer Rouge 'First Lady' curses genocide tribunal

Former Khmer Rouge social affairs minister Ieng Thirith Photo: EPA

The former 'First Lady' of the Khmer Rouge has told her accusers at Cambodia's genocide tribunal they would be 'cursed to the seventh circle of hell'.
Daily Telegraph
By Our Foreign Staff and Agencies in Phnom Penh
24 Feb 2009

Ieng Thirith, 76, who is facing trial for crimes against humanity under the communist regime, at first told the court that defence lawyers would speak on her behalf during her appeal against detention, saying: "I am too weak".

But she later erupted at the prosecution's suggestion that she was aware of atrocities at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison while she served as social affairs minister during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.

"Don't accuse me of being a murderer, otherwise you will cursed to the seventh circle of hell," she said during a 15-minute outburst.

"I don't know why a good person is accused of such crimes and I have suffered a great deal and I cannot really be patient because I have been wrongly accused."

Alternating between English and Khmer, she said that "everything was done by Nuon Chea", referring to the regime's top ideologue who is also among the five senior figures facing trial at the tribunal over the regime's atrocities.

Although Ieng Thirith regained enough strength for her vigorous denial, the health of the ageing suspects is an ongoing concern.

Ieng Thirith's husband, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, was admitted to hospital on Monday with a urinary condition.

It was the ninth time that Ieng Sary, 83, has been rushed to hospital since the pair were detained by the court in November 2007, a court spokesman said.

In documents read to the court, investigating judges argued it was necessary to keep Ieng Thirith in jail to protect her security, preserve public order and ensure she did not flee from trial.

But her lawyer, Phat Pouv Seang, demanded her immediate release, saying that the investigating judges failed to provide adequate evidence.

Female Khmer Rouge Defendant Blames Comrades in Genocide Trial

Feb. 24: Leng Thirith, right, a former Khmer Rouge social affairs minister, at the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009
FOXNews.com

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The sole female defendant charged by Cambodia's genocide tribunal blamed two Khmer Rouge colleagues Tuesday for the atrocities the group is accused of committing in the late 1970s.

Ieng Thirith, 77, told the court that she had been "charged with a crime that I never committed."

The social affairs minister in the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge administration, Ieng Thirith spoke at a hearing on her appeal to the U.N.-assisted tribunal for release from pre-trial detention. She is one of five former senior Khmer Rouge being held for crimes against humanity.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians are believed to have died under the communist movement's regime as a result of starvation, disease and execution.

Her lawyer asked that she be freed for health reasons, and the presiding judge said a decision would be announced later.

In an angry tone, Ieng Thirith told judges that two other defendants — prison chief Kaing Guek Eav and Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue — were responsible for killings by the regime.

"I have nothing to do with Nuon Chea, but I know he is the murderer, he killed people, killed my students ... don't link him with me," she told the hearing. Ieng Thirith had been a professor of English before the Khmer Rouge came to power.

She said anyone who tried to implicate her would be cursed to go to the seventh level of hell.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, will be the first defendant to be tried. The tribunal announced Tuesday that his full trial will begin March 30.

Duch's trial began last week with two days of hearings on procedural issues. He is the only defendant to express remorse over his actions, and his lawyer said he does not challenge the factual basis of the indictment against him.

Ieng Thirith said she did not know Duch or where the S-21 prison he commanded was. The prison was a torture center where about 16,000 men, women and children suspected of disloyalty to the Khmer Rouge were held before being taken away to be executed.

Although she appeared frail at the hearing — two female guards at times had to help keep her upright in her seat — she also let her temper flare.

Her lawyer, Phat Pouv Seang, said that lack of sleep contributed to her apparent anger. He said her health has been deteriorating for a long time, an apparent reference to mental stress she is said to suffer.

Her husband Ieng Sary, 83, the regime's foreign minister, is also detained on charges of crimes against humanity. He was taken to a hospital Monday with a urinary tract problem, said tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath.

Ieng Sary is due before the court Thursday to appeal for release from detention.