Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Hard work drives man from killing fields to success in U.S.

Post-Bulletin

By Sarah Shonyo
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Phala Nhean has a history perhaps unlike most local business owners.

Nhean, a Cambodian native and former war refugee, is the current owner of Wong's Cafe in Rochester. Nhean purchased the Chinese restaurant in 2007 from Dennis and Mike Wong, though Nhean's experience with the company began nearly 25 years prior, after a long journey to the United States that nearly killed him.

Nhean was born the third of six children in Battambang, Cambodia, in the late 1950s. His family was in the food business and operated a small stand until Pol Pot's reign of terror swept over the small country.

Pol Pot was the leader of a ruthless communist group called the Khmer Rouge. Like most Cambodian families, the Nheans were separated from one another, and Phala -- then an 18-year-old student -- was sent to work on a rice farm.

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, Nhean made the bold decision to escape to Thailand -- on foot. After a month-long journey, Nhean arrived at a Thailand refugee camp, where he later met his wife, Bunna.

Nhean and Bunna started their life together by moving to the U.S. in 1981, shortly before the birth of their first daughter, Phally, in Washington, D.C.

"We had no money," Nhean said. "When Phally was born, the doctors and nurses gave us baby clothes for her."

After working as a hotel dishwasher for two years in Washington, Nhean and his family moved to Rochester at the suggestion of a family they'd met in Thailand. With another child on the way, Nhean devoted his days to learning English and worked evenings as a dishwasher at Wong's Cafe.

With a wife and two young daughters to support, Nhean became fluent in English, earned his U.S. citizenship and moved up to cook, then head cook at Wong's.

"I worked very, very hard," Nhean said. "I had to work hard to reach my goals."

One of those goals, Nhean said, was to purchase the very restaurant that had given him a chance 25 years prior.

After Dennis and Mike Wong decided to close the restaurant in 2005, Nhean searched for a new location for the business.

Though the transition between ownership wasn't seamless -- Wong's was closed for 18 months between owners -- the result embodies one man's tireless pursuit of a dream.

Nhean and his family re-opened Wong's Cafe in 2007 at its new location in Hillcrest Shopping Center. Though he has plenty of help, including his wife and youngest daughter, Lannie, Nhean spends nearly 90 hours a week in the restaurant.

"I'm really proud of him," Lannie said of her father. "His background makes it pretty hard for me to complain about much."

Danish Professor Warns About Fake Medicine From Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

ScandAsia.com

By Charlotte Lund Dideriksen

Despite efforts from the authorities in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia the production and distribution of fake malaria medicine still a widespread problem in the region, according to Ib Christian Bygbjerg professor in Health Science from University of Copenhagen.

He estimates that around 15 percent of the world’s malaria medicines are unauthorized copies with no proven effect, but in some areas the amounts of ineffectual false medicine rank as high as 50 percent, which have catastrophically consequences in the Malaria-stroked areas. For that reason the professor advises Scandinavian tourist to buy their medicine in their home countries, even though it is more expensive.

“Medication in Denmark is expensive but 30-50 percent of unauthorized Southeast Asian malaria medicine, often bought over the internet, doesn’t work, by using it you put yourself in danger” he states.

In the last years the Southeast Asia has tried to fight the illegal production, but despite the efforts ineffective false malaria medicine is still a massive problem.

Created 2009-03-04

Property fall fails to stop evictions in Cambodia

Borei Sontapheap stands by his makeshift dwelling at a site near Phnom Penh, after being evicted from his home in the city centre. Jared Ferrie / The National

The National

Jared Ferrie, Foreign Correspondent
March 04. 2009

PHNOM PENH // A property boom in Cambodia’s capital has seen the houses of thousands of poor residents cleared to make way for upscale developments. Although the real estate bubble has burst, the evictions continue.

Advocacy groups say about 70,000 people are in danger of losing their homes since the government began selling off land and they accuse officials of violating a 2001 law that granted residents land ownership.

“The 2001 land law is good. The problem is lack of enforcement of the law and the complicity of the government,” said Naly Pilorge, who heads the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights.

Cambodia has seen massive population shifts over the past few decades, beginning in about 1970 when villagers fled to the capital to escape civil war. Then in 1975, the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh of its inhabitants and sent them to labour camps in the countryside. When the regime fell in 1979, displaced people converged on Phnom Penh and took up residence wherever they could.

In 2001, the government enacted a law that said those who had occupied the same plot of land for at least five years could own it.

Then came the property boom.

Cambodia remains South-east Asia’s poorest country after East Timor, but its economy has grown steadily since peace returned in the late 1990s. In the past five years, that growth has been “exceptional”, according to a February report by the International Monetary Fund, which measured GDP growth at 10 per cent in 2007.

Local and foreign developers, especially from South Korea and Vietnam, began to buy property. Land prices shot up as much as 100 per cent in 2007, according to the IMF. But they fell by one-quarter in the second half of 2008.

“One could predict that there would be demand for residential buildings, but there were dozens of suppliers and no co-ordination,” said Chan Sophall, the president of the Cambodia Economic Association. “The supply simply exceeded the demand.”

The global financial crisis has had an effect, too.

“A few major urban projects have been scaled back or cancelled outright as foreign investors [mainly from South Korea] reassess their commitments in the face of tighter funding conditions abroad,” the IMF said.

Despite the slowdown, the wave of evictions has not stopped.

One morning in January, Borei Sontapheap watched as bulldozers approached his community of Dey Krahorm. Military and riot police accompanied the heavy machinery, along with about 100 crowbar-carrying employees of the 7NG construction company. When the site was levelled, the company put about 80 families who had refused to leave on buses and dumped them off at a site 16km outside the city, according to the families and advocacy groups.

“I lost a house. I lost rice to feed the family and the money in the house,” said Mr Sontapheap, standing beside the makeshift shelter that is his family’s new home.

“If we knew in advance at least we could sell the wood from the house,” said Rani, another victim of eviction. “At least we would get a few hundred dollars back.”

Ms Rani has also lost her livelihood. She used to sell fruit in the market in Phnom Penh, but now she cannot afford the transportation back to the city. Nor can she afford to send her children to school.

The company has offered each family who owned a house in Dey Krahorm one of the apartments it is building at the new site. But residents say those flats, worth about US$5,000 (Dh18,400) each, are nowhere near the value of the homes they lost.

One square metre of land in central Phnom Penh is worth about $5,000 and the two-hectare Dey Krahorm site is valued at $44 million, according to Ms Pilorge, of the Cambodian human rights group, and other observers.

The company initially offered homeowners $20,000 in compensation, but many residents were convinced they had a legal right to keep the land and refused the offer. Now that it is clear that neither the government nor the courts will back their claims, they say they will accept the offer. But 7NG says it is too late.

“If the company gives them the money it will make the people who took the apartments unhappy,” said Chang Bunna, a company spokesman.

The deputy governor of Phnom Penh municipality, Mann Choeun, who is responsible for housing issues, did not respond to requests for comment. But he told a local newspaper that Dey Krahorm residents were squatting on public land.

International organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, condemned the eviction, as did the United Nations’ special rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik.

“Unfortunately this is by no means an isolated case and the increase in forced evictions throughout Cambodia is very alarming,” she said in a Jan 30 statement.

The controversy surrounding Dey Krahorm may prove to be minor compared to what the government has planned for Boeung Kak, a lake in central Phnom Penh. The government has signed a contract with a private company to fill in 90 per cent of the lake and create residential and commercial real estate. The development would displace as many as 30,000 people. Critics say the plan is illegal because it violates the land law and predict it will be an ecological disaster.

Already flooding has worsened since filling began and some homes are reported to have begun to sink as water seeps into what was once solid earth. In the meantime, many of the luxury apartments built at the height of the property boom stand empty, and work has ground to a halt on other developments.

“Why the urgency to evict people?” Ms Pilorge asked.

Changing Social and Cultural Norms in Cambodia Put Youth at Risk

Source: Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International

Nadia McGill

Website:
http://www.adra.org/

Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.

SILVER SPRING, Md.-Cambodian youth are facing increased danger to their wellbeing as a result of the rapidly changing social norms that have created a marked rise in risky sexual behavior, sexual abuse, prostitution, and sex trafficking, says the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

To address this growing crisis, ADRA recently launched "Turn Up the Volume: Youth Advocacy for Reproductive Health" (TUV), a project that is being implemented in 12 communes in central and northern Cambodia in partnership with Management Sciences for Health (MSH), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Cambodian Government.

"Our goal is to advocate for youth services that are sustainable and environmentally friendly which are supported by health center staff and the community," said Ann Stickle, associate director for ADRA Cambodia.

Launched in January 2009, this two-year project is designed to empower Cambodian youth to fight exploitation and reduce their risk to these issues by building their leadership and advocacy skills and improving the quality and availability of reproductive health services in the community.

The Leadership Development Program provides training in youth advocacy, focusing on skills that boost self-confidence. Also offered are activities that identify and reduce threats to their own reproductive health.

"Through these activities, youth will receive the tools and social support they need to overcome the challenges they face on a daily basis," said Stickle.

By the end of the project in 2011, more than 54,000 people will benefit from this program, including 208 young people from the districts of Chomkar Leu and Steung Trong, and 52 government officials from the Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA), and Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport (MOEYS).

ADRA's partnership with the Cambodian Ministry of Health will strengthen the promotion and utilization of youth-friendly reproductive health services through the various levels of government, ensuring that feedback gained from TUV's Youth Advocates is successfully integrated into the activities established by local Health Centers.

TUV has received funding totaling more than $358,000 from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), MSH, and ADRA International.

ADRA is a non-governmental organization present in 125 countries providing sustainable community development and disaster relief without regard to political or religious association, age, gender, race, or ethnicity.

For more information about ADRA, visit www.adra.org.

Author: Nadia McGill

Micro-lenders run reality check

Asia Times Online
Mar 5, 2009

By Stephen Kurczy

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's microfinance sector is one of the fastest growing in the world. There's just one snag: nobody knows if it actually helps the poor who receive the loans and whether its lending practices are sustainable.

While the percentage of Cambodians living below the poverty line dropped from 47% to 35% between 1996 and 2006, without an independent assessment of the causes behind rising incomes, microfinance outfits charged with alleviating poverty can't necessarily take the credit.

"We can't say for sure why people are better off [in Cambodia]," says Paul Luchtenberg, chief executive officer of Angkor Mikroheranhvatho Kampuchea (AMK), a microfinance institution

which over the past two years has tripled its number of borrowers to 188,000 and quadrupled its amount of outstanding loans to US$23 million.

"Is it because of microfinance or it is because GDP was increasing at more than 9% a year? We don't know. We can only say people are better off. We can't say it's because of us."

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) have recently proliferated in impoverished Cambodia, with 104 organizations, including 60 non-profit lenders, operating in the country. Since 2003, they have attracted about 100,000 new borrowers each year and currently an estimated 1 million Cambodians hold $440 million in outstanding micro loans, according to the Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA).

Yet none of Cambodia's MFIs have hard empirical data to show that their small loans actually help reduce poverty. It's important to know, Luchtenberg says, as microfinance grows in popularity and loan providers channel millions of dollars in interest-free loans into Cambodia's MFIs.

Floated by below-market interest rate loans from organizations such as Kiva.org, MFIs have the resources to provide small loans to sections of the poor that normal banks neglect. MFI customers often use the credits to buy motorbikes to transport their goods to market, purchase livestock to raise for slaughter, or mortgage a plot of land to grow rice. Repayment rates are extremely high in Cambodia, with delinquency rates of less than 1%.

Amid the mounting global economic crisis, some MFIs have reported rising default rates. That's putting the system under new strains. For instance, villagers from Kampot province in southern Cambodia complained this week to the National Assembly that a dozen microfinance companies took possession of their homes and farmland because they could not repay their loans.

Mu Sochua, the National Assembly parliamentarian representing the villagers, said they were taking out new loans to pay off old MFI debts, leading them to borrow from exploitative moneylenders. Defaults on microfinance loans will become more widespread, she says, as the global economy causes a decline in crop values and Cambodian farmers earn less from their harvests. "The economic crisis impacts differently, it's like a wave. Here, the wave is hitting the small entrepreneurs."

In Cambodia, non-profit and for-profit MFI's compete for the same market. AMK and Acleda Bank, two of the country's more prominent MFIs, exhibit the sector's shifting dynamics. Out of 652 MFIs surveyed worldwide, in 2008 the Washington-based Microfinance Information Xchange ranked AMK the 19th best in terms of transparency, efficiency and outreach, ahead of Acleda which came in at 70th.

Their philosophies differ starkly. Acleda Bank says it merely provides access to loans to Cambodians, whose responsibility it is to use the funds wisely. AMK says it strives to improve standards of living for the poor, the original mission of Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who in the 1970s first popularized microcredit in Bangladesh through his Grameen Bank.

However, the industry he popularized has shifted incentives. Most MFIs in the world today are for-profit entities with no obligation to uphold Yunus's vision. The Center for the Study of Financial Innovation found in a March 2008 report that MFIs worldwide rank "mission drift", or the divergence of MFIs from their original mission of poverty alleviation and financial inclusion, as one of the industry's biggest and fastest rising problems.

"We noticed this a decade ago, when it seemed that half the microfinanciers in the world really wanted to be full-service bankers," the study found. "Now many of them seem to be shifting from servicing the poor to flogging high interest rate consumer finance products. The profits may be more attractive, but the mission has changed - with a potentially adverse reputational impact."

MFIs "are increasingly recognizing that even with a sincere dedication to a social mission and a committed staff, they do not know whether they are achieving their desired social goals without having information or evidence," wrote Laura Foose and Amelia Greenberg in the Autumn 2008 MicroBanking Bulletin.

Mixed results
That's certainly the case in Cambodia, where experts say the industry has achieved mixed results. For-profit MFIs charge annual interest rates of anywhere between 24% and 36%, while the nation's non-profit microlenders, such as the Lutheran World Federation, charge as little as 5%. Poor Cambodians are often willing to pay the higher interest rates because non-profit microlenders have limited funds and outreach.

A year ago, most industry leaders boasted that their lending helped to reduce poverty and fuel grassroots micro-businesses. Those claims are now coming into question. "We need to know how we can change, how we can improve," Bun Mony, former Cambodian Microfinance Association president, said last month at the Cambodia Banking 2009 conference in Phnom Penh.

This assessment marked a reversal from his statements the previous year, when he told this correspondent that, "through unofficial observation, we accept that microfinance has been playing a very important role in poverty reduction." The CMA is now seeking funds to conduct a $100,000 impact study on the industry.

Some micro lenders baldly argue that it is not their responsibility to alleviate poverty. When asked if his bank has strayed from Muhammad Yunus's original vision of microfinance, In Channy, chief executive officer and president of Acleda Bank, says: "He's wrong ... It's wrong if you say microfinance is for poverty alleviation. Microfinance is for economic development. And economic development is a powerful tool for poverty alleviation."

Acleda Bank attracted 40,000 new micro- and small-loan borrowers in 2008 while doubling its profits to about $21 million. The bank has opened three international branches in neighboring underdeveloped Laos, with five more planned to open there in 2009. Acleda started as a non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO), but morphed into a full-fledged commercial bank in 2000 and now provides medium-sized and large loans to a wide range of customers.

To complete the non-profit to for-profit circle, Acleda plans an initial public offering on Cambodia's forthcoming stock exchange, scheduled to open at the end of this year. In Channy says Acleda will avoid activist criticism through a plan to pay out only 40% of the previous year's profits to shareholders. The remaining 60%, he says, will go back into the company to reduce interest rates, increase customer services and open more branches. "It's not mission drift. We can guarantee much more than if we were an NGO," he said.

AMK reports small profits - about $800,000 in 2007 and $926,000 in 2008 - all of which were reinvested into the company. "We shouldn't be about just making profits; that's straying from what the organization was set up to do," says AMK's Luchtenberg. "Microfinance is about reaching down to the poorest."

Such obligations are a matter of choice in Cambodia's unregulated context. The government does not mandate that MFIs help the poor, but regulates only whether the country's 18 licensed MFIs have adequate capital reserves. The 26 registered and 60 NGO-administered MFIs - which do not have minimum capital requirements and are exempt from profit taxes - are even less regulated. That differs from, say, neighboring Thailand, where the central bank has imposed interest rate caps on credit cards targeting subprime borrowers.

Charles Waterfield, a microfinance expert and professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, says that unregulated MFIs, including the ones in Cambodia, could act as exploitative as Mexican microfinance institution Banco Compartamos SA, which came under fire in March 2008 for skimming hundreds of millions of dollars in profits made from poor borrowers.

The Compartamos case, Waterfield says, is a cautionary tale for how easily MFIs can "raise interest rates, make large profits, and then follow a path that allows them to extract those profits into their own pockets". "I do see this as a warning call for the industry," Waterfield wrote to this correspondent in an e-mail message last year. Waterfield has organized a coalition of MFIs known as MicroFinance Transparency to police the industry and monitor annual interest rates and profits among the world's MFIs.

Grameen Bank, the original Bangladeshi MFI whose poverty-alleviating work was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, was one of 11 MFIs serving about 26 million people worldwide that initially signed onto the watchdog initiative. Alarmed by the direction of the industry, Yunus said at the initiative's launch last July: "I made this thing and they came in and abused it. What a way to discredit a whole idea!"

Costs and benefits
AMK has joined the MicroFinance Transparency initiative and has allocated some $42,000 to study whether its loans actually achieve Yunus' poverty-alleviating aims. The study, which started early last year and brought in leading academics in the field, is Page 2 of 2
Micro-lenders run reality check
By Stephen Kurczy

Grameen Bank, the original Bangladeshi MFI whose poverty-alleviating work was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, was one of 11 MFIs serving about 26 million people worldwide that initially signed onto the watchdog initiative. Alarmed by the direction of the industry, Yunus said at the initiative's launch last July: "I made this thing and they came in and abused it. What a way to discredit a whole idea!"

Costs and benefits
AMK has joined the MicroFinance Transparency initiative and has allocated some $42,000 to study whether its loans actually achieve Yunus' poverty-alleviating aims. The study, which started early last year and brought in leading academics in the field, is

tracking 1,400 existing clients over a two-year period while monitoring changes in income, assets and livelihood. "I've seen a lot of really sloppy studies," says AMK's Luchtenberg. "We don't want to be presumptive and assume that we are helping. A loan is a two-edged sword - it's a tool, but it's also a debt."

When his bank's study is completed in mid-year, it will be the first time a Cambodian MFI can point to concrete evidence that its micro-credit definitely aids the poor - if that is what the study shows. The study could also reveal that AMK, and perhaps the industry as a whole, has largely failed Cambodia's poor by saddling them with unsustainable debt. "I think we do have an obligation to know if we are fulfilling our mission," says Luchtenberg. "If we're not, then I think I've got to get out of this business."

Syed Hashami, a microfinance specialist with the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, a consortium of 33 public and private development agencies including the World Bank and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, argues that a more independent randomized control experiment would be unethical since it would involve trials that deliberately withhold services to people who have are in need. Studies of MFI borrowers in other countries already show that micro loans help alleviate poverty, Hashami says.

For instance a study in Ghana found that MFI clients' incomes were $36 compared to $18 for non-clients. In Indonesia, another comparative study found borrowers increased their incomes by 12.9% compared with 3% for the control group. A detailed impact assessment in Bangladesh found that members who stayed in the micro-credit program for more than four years increased household expenses by 28% and assets by 112%.

A number of the industry's proponents in Cambodia argue that anecdotal evidence shows that micro-loans have indeed helped Cambodia's poor. "Although we have not conducted comparative or impact studies in Cambodia ourselves, we have good evidence to believe that Cambodia's commercial microfinance industry is effective and well managed," says Margarete Biallas, a manager at the Mekong Private Sector Development Facility of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which helped to establish the Cambodian Microfinance Association in 2004 and owns a 12.5% stake in Acleda.

Adds Martin Holtman, head of the World Bank-affiliated IFC's department of Microfinance Global Financial Markets, says there is ample evidence of a positive link between access to money, growth, and reduction of poverty. "Microfinance has proven to be one of the more salient success stories in the development area," he says.

Before the advent of the MFI, capital-hungry Cambodians were limited to loans from moneylenders who charged annual interest rates often higher than 100%. Those usurious terms sent the average borrower over their heads in debt. Experts in Cambodia say the rapid expansion of microfinance has put most, though not all, of the old moneylenders out of business. Biallas cited Cambodian MFIs' high number of borrowers, low default rates and decline in average monthly interest rates from 5% in 1998 to 2.5% today as proof the industry has uplifted Cambodia's masses.

With Grameen Bank founder Yunus winning the 2006 Nobel Prize and Hollywood star Natalie Portman touting microloans as a surefire road out of poverty, it sometimes seemed as if a microfinance bank could be plopped in any village in the world and locals would suddenly become wealthy businessmen.

"It was a mistake everyone made [in the 1990s] to think that Grameen could be replicated, which never really worked," Luchtenberg says. Varying population densities, economies and cultures impact the most effective forms of microfinance. For instance, while Bangladeshi villagers perform well in solidarity groups, Cambodians dislike working in large groups and the Grameen model inevitably fell short here.

"It would be imprudent to issue a blanket statement that 'microfinance works', for the simple reason that there is no one microfinance to test," wrote Nathanael Goldberg in "Measuring the Impact of Microfinance", a 2005 study commissioned by Grameen. Different people respond differently to microfinance, Goldberg found, while different banks do microfinance differently. Microfinance has in certain circumstances been known to have negative impacts.

"The recent examples of subprime borrowers in the US show that people are often driven to take on more debt than they can handle in the long run. This, together with ambitious growth targets from MFIs' Board of Directors transmitted to loan officers, could be a recipe for a 'bubble'," wrote investment analyst Catalina Robledo in the most recent MicroBanking Bulletin.

David Mueller, Cambodia representative for the Lutheran World Federation, one of the country's 60 NGOs that provide microfinance, is an open critic of the claims boasted by commercial MFIs. Whereas MFIs give small loans and maybe send out a monitor to collect the interest, development agencies such as LWF provide training and support from a full-time LWF community worker at each of the bank's 200-odd sites.

"We don't believe that access to credit is the biggest contributing factor to reducing poverty. If they only have credit, but they don't have technical support, how will they do it?" Mueller said LWF village banks are more sustainable because a part of every loan comes directly from another villager's pocket.

Villagers then self-police among themselves, denying loans if they so choose to the town drunk or other deemed high-risk borrowers. Annual interest rates for LWF village banks are less than 5%, owing to the absence of overhead and labor costs. Mueller attacks the very premise that Cambodia's MFIs, some of whose average loan size is more than $1,000, are even servicing the poor. "We're filling a gap. If somebody else was servicing the absolute poor, we wouldn't even be there."

Stephen Kurczy is an Asia Times Online contributor based in Cambodia. He may be reached at kurczy@gmail.com.

Ex-chief of Cambodian military forces to become deputy PM

www.chinaview.cn
2009-03-04

PHNOM PENH, March 4 (Xinhua) -- The government has appointed former commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Ke Kim Yan as deputy prime minister, said English-language newspaper the Cambodia Daily on Wednesday.

"The government will send the request to the National Assembly. When the National Assembly approves it, you will know," Tea Banh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense, told the paper.

If approved, Ke Kim Yan will become the government's 10th deputy prime minister.

The general has been without a position since being removed as RCAF chief by a Royal Decree on Jan. 22.

Editor: Xiong Tong

U.S. provided $5.6 mln of aid to Cambodia in 2008

www.chinaview.cn
2009-03-04

PHNOM PENH, March 4 (Xinhua) -- U.S. altogether provided 5.6 million U.S. dollars of aid to Cambodia in 2008, Chinese-language newspaper the Jian Hua Daily on Wednesday quoted a senior official as saying.

The amount of U.S. aid for Cambodia in 2009 has been decided yet, but it is expected to be no less than that in 2008, said visiting U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Scott Marciel here on Tuesday, after meeting officials of the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

The U.S. aid will focus on the fields of economy, trade and health, he said.

U.S. attaches much importance to its cooperative ties with ASEAN and will keeping on giving aid to Cambodia, despite the current global financial crisis.

While trying to cope well with its own issues, U.S. will also help other countries in the world, including Cambodia, he added.

Editor: Xiong Tong

Construction Bidders: US$17 Million to Construct Health Buildings Is Stalled because of Foreign Advisors - Tuesday 3.2.2009

Posted on 3 March 2009

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 602

“Phnom Penh: A US$17 million loan from the World Bank to build referral hospitals at provinces as well as many health centers and posts has been stalled for two years, because of a lack of management competency of foreign advisors from LBG [unclear what LBG stands for in the original - maybe the quantity surveyor company LBG-NGT Corporation from Tuas/Singapore – but maybe not]. This was stated by construction bidders who attended biddings to implement this project.

“Construction bidders criticized that for two years, there has been no construction, but there were one or two biddings. Because of this slowness, the construction of up to 10 referral hospitals and many health centers and posts in most provinces, worth more than US$10 million, has been stalled until now.

“The same source added that though recruitment for the construction project was transferred to IPA [unclear what IPA stands for in the original – maybe the recruitment company Independence Procurement Agency – but maybe not] by the Ministry of Economy and Finance recently, this project still faces the possibility of failure. It is said that the trouble originates from the LBG advisors .

“The source blamed that the technical advisors of LBG are incompetent to do the managing, and furthermore, in the plans, there are no calculations based on standard formulas and on proper construction standards. This is a major obstacle for the construction bidders, and even though many companies had protested against the mistakes of the LBG technical advisors, there was no action taken by the Healthcare Services Specification Project of the Ministry of Health.

“According to the bidders, the project was put for bidding again for a second time at the end of 2008, but still there were not many bidders attending. There will be a third bidding, and this may be continue forever.

“Bidders know well that even if one or two more biddings are held, there still will be no bidders.

“Moreover, the rushed delivering of contracts for two projects, the Kampot and the Stung Treng referral hospitals, worth more than US$2 million, in mid February 2009 by IPA, leads to a loss of tens of thousands of dollars, because the price of the bidding for this project was 60% to 80% higher compared to the formerly calculated price.

“The source went on to say that the construction processes at most places have been stalled for years, which makes the expenses for technical advisors to increase by more than 20%, which is most highly problematic. Bidders criticized this and also requested that leaders of the Ministry of Health should check the contracts between the ministry and LBG advisors urgently. At the same time, they have to recheck the management system at the secretariat supporting the heath sector.

“Bidders still remember Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen’s former words, saying that substantial expenses for foreign advisor services were right. Bidders emphasize that this is not acceptable. Everyone knows that better health services in rural areas are desperately needed by citizens almost everywhere, and also in this priority sector of the Royal Government, which is to be strengthened. Thus, the above source calls on the Ministry of Health to thoroughly check and take action against any negative points, or any individual who wastes a lot of national resources, because all money to support the health sector comes from all Cambodian citizens who will have to repay the loan to the World Bank in the future.

“Regarding what is mentioned above, Rasmei Kampuchea tried to contact the secretariat of the Ministry of Health, and LBG, for explanations, but could not reach them.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4835, 3.3.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Leaks at the Khmer Rouge Court: co-Investigating judges call to order

Ka-set

By Stéphanie Gée
04-03-2009

Co-investigating judges at the Khmer Rouge court have issued on Tuesday March 3rd an Order on Breach of Confidentiality of the Judicial Investigation following the publication by a Defence team of official documents on their website. The accused are the Defence lawyers for top Khmer Rouge diplomat Ieng Sary: Michael Karnavas, registered with the American Alaska State Bar, and his Cambodian colleague Ang Udom, who did not respect a decision of the judges and violated the court’s Internal Rules “by failing to act in accordance with the standards and ethics of the legal profession”. This judicial decision occurs after other leaks were revealed concerning confidential requests made by the co-lawyers for Nuon Chea.

Investigation “not to be conducted in public”
In a press release, the co-Investigating judges explain they ordered that the Defence Lawyers immediately cease to publish any document relating to the judicial investigation, other than those already published on the [ECCC web site http://www.eccc.gov.kh/ Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (KR/EN/FR)], and remove any such documents from the Defence web site within 48 hours, or face sanctions for a new offence. At the same time the co-Investigating judges transmitted a copy of the order to the relevant professional associations and the ECCC Defence Support Section (DSS) for their consideration of appropriate action.

Magistrates remind that the decision was taken in accordance with Rule 56(1) of the Internal Rules of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which stipulates that“[i]n order to preserve the rights and interests of the parties, judicial investigations shall not be conducted in public. All persons participating in the judicial investigations shall maintain confidentiality”. The Internal Rules, they add, further stipulate that only the co-Investigating judges may “decide whether to disseminate information relating to a case under investigation or to authorise limited access to investigative acts to the media or third parties”.

Factual history
In their Order , judges You Bunleng and Marcel Lemonde report that on December 3rd 2008, they reminded Defence teams of their obligations regarding confidentiality, after the publication of a newspaper article stating confidential information about the Nuon Chea case. Some ten days later, Ieng Sary’s lawyers mentioned to the co-Investigating judges their intention to “establish a website to provide access to all public (sic) filings submitted by the Ieng Sary Defence team”.

They continue, without mincing their words: “The current practice by the Judicial Chambers and co-Investigating judges at the ECCC, of suppressing Defence filings which may be embarrassing or which call into question the legitimacy and judiciousness of acts and decisions of the judges, all under the fig leaf that these are necessary measures to protect the supposed confidentiality and integrity of the investigation or judicial decision-making process, must be discontinued without exception. Submissions which are solely the work of the Defence team and which do not relate to the substance of the ongoing judicial investigation but relate solely to legal issues, must be debated under the watchful eye of the public.” otherwise, they concluded, this would deprive their client “of a fair and public trial” and Cambodia of “a demonstration of how complex trials for the most serious crimes can be conducted openly and transparently”.

The co-Investigating judges then notified Defence teams again that the confidentiality of the case file concerned all filings, including those drafted by the parties. But despite this rejection by the co-Investigating judges, the Defence team continued asserting that they were free to distribute case file material “at will”, thus justifying what they see as their right, with practices at the International Criminal Tribunals for Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, when websites were used by the Defence Counsel to publicise their own filings. The co-Investigating judges detailed that on January 26th, the Defence proceeded to “post nine documents on their website, the publication of which had at no time been authorised by the judges”, consisting, among other documents, of a psychiatric examination of Ieng Sary. In their Order, the magistrates gave a pounding to the arguments of the Defence and stressed that the latter may not raise a lack of knowledge of the civil law system applicable before the ECCC, nor state its disagreement with the principle of confidentiality of the judicial investigation, in order to contest the force of perfectly clear provisions of the Internal Rules [...] or to be relieved of their professional obligations”. All the more so, they say, as the Defence could have requested that the co-Investigating judges publish a document, but they did not do so.

A promise to communicate more about activities
In their press release, the co-Investigating judges explain the “confidential” nature of the preparatory investigation stage, indispensable to the quality of the judicial process, particularly to guarantee the protection of privacy of those persons mentioned in the case file and the presumption of innocence, as well as to promote efficiency in investigations”. Noting that, in the Duch case, the investigation took less than a year - which, in view of the complexity of the case, cannot be seen as an excessive period” - they claim to be aware that confidential judicial investigations do not allow observers outside the tribunal “to be completely informed of the progress of the proceedings” and assure they will make every effort “to communicate more systematically about their activities in future, and will publish an increased number of documents with regard to the judicial investigation”.

A crackdown to stop leaks?

By way of this Order, it seems that the Investigating judges want to issue a public warning to those guilty of leaking information. At the beginning of the week, the two English-language daily newspapers, the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post revealed confidential material from the court, which was leaked to them via an unsigned e-mail... A way of doing that has rarely, if not never, been observed in other international criminal courts.

Those filings, both newspapers say, concern requests sent to the tribunal by the Defence team for Nuon Chea, alias “Brother Number Two”, that prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate president Chea Sim, National Assembly president Heng Samrin and the King Father Norodom Sihanouk be heard before the court, in order to help investigators document the structure of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy. The disclosure, some say, comes in a timely way to distract attention from other issues, as the court is struggling with allegations of corruption among the Cambodian staff at the ECCC, which led the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) to freeze the payment of funds to the Cambodian side of the tribunal in the middle of last year.

The corruption accusations are allegedly said to have been confirmed by Knut Rosandhaug, Coordinator of the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials (UNAKRT) and deputy director of the ECCC Office of Administration, who was appointed to this position on June 1st 2008. The Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid Committee of the German Parliament’s also said that it agreed with the serious concern shown by the UN representative, in a report posted on its Internet website in November 2008 and quoting him quite a lot. That document was presented as a report of the meeting, a month earlier, between the German parliamentary delegation and Knut Rosandhaug. After the disclosure of the existence of the publicly accessible online report, by the Cambodian Daily in its edition dated February 26th, the Bundestag withdrew it from the website without a word… This blunder, what ever the veracity of the words – which, according to the report, Knut Rosandhaug allegedly pronounced – may be, put the latter in a much uncomfortable situation.

What sanctions do lawyers risk?

Rule 38 of the ECCC Internal Rules, regarding the “misconduct of a lawyer”, specifies that “the co-Investigating judges or the Chambers may, after a warning, impose sanctions against or refuse audience to a lawyer if, in their opinion, his or her conduct is considered offensive or abusive, obstructs the proceedings, amounts to abuse of process, or is otherwise contrary to Article 21(3) of the Agreement” and also that : the co-Investigating judges or the Chambers may also refer such misconduct to the appropriate professional body”, i.e. the Bars to which lawyers are registered, as well as the ECCC Defence Support Section (DSS).

EC review raises KRT graft

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Members of the European Commission confer during a press conference on Tuesday evening.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Georgia Wilkins
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

The delegation also raised the issue of food security during annual review of bilateral cooperation.

DELEGATES from the European Commission met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong on Tuesday for an annual review of bilateral cooperation between the two bodies.

James Moran, director for Asia in the EC's Directorate-General for External Relations, told reporters at a press conference after the meeting that the EC would continue to support the Khmer Rouge tribunal so long as allegations are "sorted out".

"It's no secret ... everybody knows about these allegations.... We want to continue [funding], but we have to be accountable to our own taxpayers," he said.

"There needs to be a resolution as soon as possible [to the issue of corruption], and this must be sorted out," he added.

The delegation also discussed a new US$17 million "food facility" program, which will provide support to Cambodia to "strengthen food security and the livelihoods of the most vulnerable", a press release stated.

It congratulated Cambodia on securing "peace and political stability" and achieving significant economic growth.

"We will work with Cambodia to continue the progress in all aspects of the country's development through constructive dialogue and partnership," it added.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that human rights issues should be a higher priority for the body's ongoing work in the Kingdom.

"I think that the European Union must engage more with the government to have a frank dialogue rather than discussing topics with language that ignores the ongoing abuse of human rights in Cambodia," he said.

"I wish that the influence of the EU and other countries could help resolve the issue of human rights abuse by having a truthful dialogue with the government," he added.

Ieng Sary lawyers warned

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
A gate outside the courtroom at the ECCC. Critics say the court should strive for greater transparency, not hide behind closed doors.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Judges order website closed, or risk ‘legal consequences'

INVESTIGATING judges at Cambodia's war crimes tribunal have issued an order to shut down a website set up by defence lawyers for Ieng Sary, threatening them with sanctions and fuelling a debate over confidentiality at the UN-backed court.

A press release from the Office of Co-Investigating Judges (OCIJ) Tuesday stated that the website, set up in December, had been in clear breach of confidentiality rules at the court by allowing the public access to documents considered confidential.

It added that if content was not removed within 48 hours, the lawyers could face legal consequences.

"The co-investigating judges have ordered that the defence lawyers immediately cease to publish any documents relating to the judicial investigation, other than those already published on the ECCC website; and remove any such documents from the Defence website within 48 hours, or face sanctions for a new offence," it said.

The order claimed that a decision was made in accordance with the court's rules, which state that "[i]n order to preserve the rights and interests of the parties, judicial investigations shall not be conducted in public".

Lawyers from the Ieng Sary defence team Tuesday said they were willing to cooperate with the judges but would not shut the site down.

"We intend to cure whatever error or misunderstanding there may be, but we do not intend to shut down the website," co-lawyer Michael Karnavas told the Post by email.

"We are miffed that the OCIJ did not contact us last week when I was there. We would have welcomed an exchange of views," he added.

"In any event, we have no intention to act contemptuously, but we will also not refrain from making the process more responsive and transparent."

Cambodian co-lawyer Ang Udon told the Post Tuesday that his team had received no warning about a breach of confidentiality or possible sanctions, but said it was unable to comment further until he had spoken to his team.

The website was set up by the lawyers in reaction to what they saw as a deliberate suppression of defence filings that were embarrassing or "which called into question the legitimacy and judiciousness of acts and decisions of the judges", the site claims, citing a letter to the ECCC Deputy Director of Administration Knut Rosandhaug in December.

"...the current practice by the Judicial Chambers and Co-Investigating Judges at the ECCC, of suppressing Defence filings ... under the fig leaf that these are necessary measures to protect the supposed confidentiality and integrity of the investigation or judicial decision-making process, must be discontinued without exception," the letter, reproduced on the site's main page, states.

Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal adviser to the defence team for Brother No 2 Nuon Chea, said the issue was further evidence of a reluctance by judges at the court to make documents readily available.

"Despite the confidentiality of the investigation, the ECCC is a public institution. The OCIJ is clearly failing in its role to keep the public informed about developments in the investigation," he told the Post Tuesday.

He also said judges were upholding a double standard with regard to what they deemed public information.

"I'm not sure why the OCIJ has decided to single out the Ieng Sary defence team. I can tell you that other organs at the court - including the [pretrial chamber] and the OCIJ itself - have revealed certain pieces of information that could be classified as confidential under the OCIJ's current definition of the concept," he said.

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...The OCIJ isclearly failing in its role to keep the public informed.
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"In the case of the OCIJ, I'm thinking in particular of the distribution of the unredacted version of the closing order in case file 001 to certain NGOs. In the case of the [pretrial chamber], I have in mind the revelation in a public decision of portions of [detainee] Duch's presumably confidential statements to the OCIJ. Of course, this raises the issue of whether standards are being uniformly applied," he added.

Michelle Staggs Kelsall, a court monitor for the East-West Centre's Asian International Justice Initiative, said that, although it is the judges' right to uphold internal rules, the court risked setting a bad example if it did not also consider its broader role as an international institution.

"The threat of sanctions is an overly harsh determination, given that the defence lawyers were clearly acting in the interest of transparency.

Counsel should certainly have the right to reply before threats are given," she said.

"As an internationalised tribunal ... it is in the court's interest to, so far as possible, make documents available to the public. ... Given that a primary function of the court is to provide a model process for other Cambodian courts, the more transparent that process is, the better."

Co-investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde has previously recognised the educational value of releasing portions of confidential investigations in other forums.

Writing on the French judicial system for academic publication, he has noted that flagrant breaches of confidentiality by the French Ministry of Justice resulted, paradoxically, in "documents of real educational value" being open to the French public.

"Arguably, this [availability of documents] would be of even greater significance in the Cambodian context, given the country's legal system is in its embryonic stage of development," Staggs Kelsall said.

German nabbed on paedophile charges

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

A GERMAN national was arrested in Preah Sihanouk province Tuesday on charges of committing indecent acts with two boys, ages 11 and 14, and has remained in police custody for questioning before his case is sent to court, according to Suon Sophan, deputy chief of the province's Department of Anti-human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection.

Suon Sophan identified the suspect as a 46-year-old man named Walter Orson Novak, and said he was arrested at a guesthouse where he was renting a room.

Samleang Seila, country director of the anti-paedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said officials at his group became suspicious last week when they saw the suspect buying food for, and giving money to, a group of six boys.

He said he reported the man to police following conversations with APLE officials in which two of the boys said the man had taken them to the beach and given them US$5 to play with each other's genitals. He said police corroborated the incident after they interviewed the boys, although Suon Sophan would not comment on what specific actions police believed the man had committed.

The incident follows a spate of arrests of foreigners for sex crimes against minors. Preah Sihanouk's provincial court last Friday charged a French national with committing indecent acts with two girls, ages 10 and 13. Last Tuesday, an American man was arrested in Siem Reap on charges of purchasing sex with two boys, ages 13 and 14.

NGOs reject regional rights body

Photo by: SeBastian Strangio
Civic leaders discuss the proposed Asean rights body at a meeting Tuesday.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha And Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Local civil society leaders call for changes to a draft Asean human rights mechanism, saying the proposal gives member governments too much control over appointments to the body.

A COALITION of local human rights groups on Tuesday rejected the draft proposal for a regional human rights body adopted at last weekend's Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Thailand, citing "significant concerns" relating to the body's "independence, accountability and effectiveness".

A draft proposal for the Asean Human Rights Body (AHRB) was adopted by the foreign ministers of Asean's 10 member states Tuesday, in line with the Asean Charter adopted in November 2007.

But in a joint statement Tuesday, local NGOs criticised the adopted terms of reference (TOR), arguing that appointments to the body - to be made by Asean member governments - would directly compromise its independence.

"We are concerned that this body will not operate effectively because most human rights violation cases are committed by government officials or state institutions," the statement said.

"The AHRB should be accountable to the Asean peoples and to the victims of human rights violations instead of being accountable to the respective appointing governments only."

The statement argued that the proposed AHRB's role will be "purely consultative" if it is not also given a mandate to conduct fact-finding missions, publish findings and enforce its rulings.

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The AURB should be accountable to... victims of human rights violations.
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It also called on the High Level Panel on the Asean Human Rights Body to incorporate the civil society recommendations when the TOR are finalised at an Asean ministerial meeting in July.

"We see that the first draft mechanism is very weak," said Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, at a press conference Tuesday.

"Civil society groups want revisions to be made, not just by consulting with us on human rights issues but also to ensure protection against human rights abuses in the region."

However, a fully independent human rights body is likely to be a challenge in a regional grouping that contains Myanmar - a military dictatorship - and Vietnam and Laos, one-party communist states.

Conflicting priorities
Although Asean's charter pledges it to establish a regional rights body, the goal appears to clash with some of its core political precepts - including the "non-interference in member states' internal affairs" - raising fears that the body will lack the political will to enforce human rights standards.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Myanmar counterpart Thein Sein reportedly blocked Cambodian and Myanmar human rights activists from taking part in a rare face-to-face meeting with Asean leaders, drawing criticisms from international rights groups.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said Sunday that while the involvement of civil society in Asean proceedings may have ruffled some authoritarian feathers, several Asean countries had taken large steps to ensure NGO participation.

"If you look at Asean as a regional body, [civil society involvement] is not the norm. But if you look at individual governments, it is the norm.

The Philippines in particular is very good at setting up parallel meetings on the side of the official meetings," he said.

Koul Panha, executive director of local election watchdog Comfrel, likewise said he had "a lot of hope" for the AHRB, citing recent human rights reforms in other Asean member countries, including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"I hope that some major Asean countries will encourage the formation of a political and economic community, and that we can use [human rights] policies to pressure individual countries," he said.

Thun Saray said that he did not expect the AHRB would be as binding as similar bodies in Europe and the United States, but that civil society would take action to ensure "a maximum degree of protection" against rights abuses in the region.

He added that the High Level Panel had already incorporated some civil society recommendations into the draft TOR and was hopeful more would be included in the final document at July's meeting.

Hun Sen requests ousted general appointed deputy PM: official

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

NEARLY two months after his removal as commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, General Ke Kim Yan has been tipped to become a deputy prime minister, a government official said, although mystery surrounds the nature and timing of the new appointment.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith told the Post by phone Tuesday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had "requested the appointment of Ke Kim Yan as deputy prime minister" and was "awaiting the approval of the National Assembly".

He said also that he hoped the appointment would put to bed "speculations" about a rift between Hun Sen and Ke Kim Yan.

"What Ke Kim Yan said is that he never lost confidence in his boss, meaning Hun Sen," Khieu Kanharith clarified later via email.

Lack of information
But Ke Kim Yan, who has been jobless since losing his post back in January to his former deputy, General Pol Saroeun, in what officials have described as a military "reshuffle", told the Post that he had "not been informed" of the new appointment and could not confirm whether it was true.

Likewise, Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he had heard the news but could confirm only that it "might" be true.

Nguon Nhel, deputy president of the National Assembly, said similarly that he had not yet received a request from the government for Ke Kim Yan's promotion but that if and when the request came, the National Assembly's permanent committee members would hold a meeting to decide on the issue.

"If there is a request, the permanent committee members will have to hold an extraordinary session because parliamentarians are on vacation until the end of March," he said.

But an official at the Council of Ministers who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was preparing Ke Kim Yan's photos to put in a photo album of government leaders.

"We know he is being promoted to the post of deputy prime minister, so that's why we need to select his photos to put in the album," the official said.

Crime down in 2008: officials

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

CRIME nationwide dropped by 22 percent last year but has rebounded in the first two months of 2009 - posting an 11 percent rise over the same period last year, according to Mok Chito, chief of the Crime Department at the Interior Ministry.

He said reported cases in 2008 were down in all three of the "serious crime" categories, with armed robbery dropping 16 percent to 514 cases, murder dropping 20 percent to 325 cases and rape down 20 percent to 198 cases.

He attributed the jump in crime in early 2009 to a spate of robberies, especially of gold vendors.

Mok Chito acknowledged lapses in the application of legal procedure in arrests, saying at times suspects had been detained without being handed a formal charge.

This was not the only positive review by offcials of last year's crime rates. In early February, National Police spokesman Keat Chantharith reported a 23 percent drop in national crime in 2008 compared with the previous year, and Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naruth said crime in the capital had dropped even further, falling 29 percent in 2008.

Four parties approved for council polls

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

THE National Election Committee on Monday officially approved four political parties to contest the provincial, district and municipal council elections on May 17, amid renewed opposition criticisms that the indirect elections are undemocratic.

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said Monday the ruling Cambodian People's Party has listed candidates in all 24 provinces, with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Norodom Ranariddh Party and Funcinpec listing candidates in 23, seven and five provinces,respectively.

"[On Monday] we closed registrations for political parties and their candidates," he said, adding that there had been "no problems" in the registration process and that parties will have five days more to lodge complaints about irregularities in the process.

But SRP President Sam Rainsy said that the very process itself was flawed, and that May's "indirect" council elections - in which only the 11,353 existing commune councillors will be able to vote - would be a parody of democracy.

"I think that this is the worst kind of election system because it does not allow local people to have a direct vote," he said Monday.
He added that the election of the new councils similarly diverged from the government's policy of decentralising power and that control would remain concentrated in the hands of the chairmen of the councils - which he expected to be dominated by ruling party candidates.

"The CPP does not want people to have a direct vote in every election in Cambodia because it is still concerned about the democratic movement," he added.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said, however, that the opposition must work hard to build confidence among the people rather than resorting to criticisms of the ruling party.

"The CPP respects the laws and regulations of the NEC, and we see that the NEC has done a good job following the electoral law," he said.

"The NEC freely allows media to access all information related to the election."

SRP lodges checkpoint complaint

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Farmers drive loads of palm wood through a village in Kandal province last year.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

But provincial governors deny there is a problem with authorities extorting cash from farmers.

OPPOSITION Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Khim Laky, of Kandal province, has written to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting that he crack down on illegal provincial border crossings, following renewed complaints from cross-border traders.

The letter, issued Monday, states that illegal checkpoints in Kandal, Kampong Cham, Prey Veng, Takeo and Kampot provinces have forced small-time traders to bribe corrupt border officials to ensure the passage of goods.

"These checkpoints were created to take money from farmers transporting crops," the letter said.

Khim Laky said the illegal checkpoints operate under the guise of transportation tax collection points.

Kandal Governor Chhun Sirun, Kampong Cham Governor Hun Neng and Kampot Governor Khoy Khun Huor told the Post there were no such checkpoints in their provinces.

"I will oust [any] authorities that dare to put [up] illegal checkpoints," Hun Neng said, adding that he had eliminated some checkpoints already.

"If there were illegal checkpoints, the opposition party would be successful in the next election," Khoy Khun Huor told the Post.

Chhun Sirun said that the opposition party was only making this statement to get votes from the poor farmers.

An official of Cheuo Khmao commune in Kandal province who declined to be named told the Post Monday there are two checkpoints in his commune, but he did not know whether they were illegal or not.

Hun Sen has condemned the existence of illegal checkpoints in all provinces, saying that if any province allows corrupt officials to take bribes from struggling farmers, the governor will be ousted from his position.

Superstitions targeted in efforts to reduce rural livestock deaths

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Recent outbreaks have killed thousands of livestock in Pursat, but authorities are succeeding in educating locals about preventive care.

AUTHORITIES in Pursat province are calling on residents to abandon traditional superstitions about how to cure sick animals, saying that rising livestock deaths have been countered by educating residents about proper medical care and providing vaccines to protect them from transmitted diseases.

Kong Reatrey, chief of the Animal Health and Production Bureau at the Pursat Provincial Department of Agriculture, said that infectious diseases had killed around 250 cows and buffaloes since October.

But although recent outbreaks were worrying, he said bovine diseases had been stemmed by encouraging people to abandon superstitions about animal sickness and adopt up-to-date medical procedures to deal with sick livestock.

"They pray to ancestor forests, asking them to give good health to their animals," he said Tuesday.

"We educate people not to believe that superstition will treat sick animals.... They have to bring their animals to be vaccinated. We are not against their belief, but they must also follow our instructions."

Bovine curses
The most common diseases for cows and buffaloes - especially in the hot season, when diseases are more transmittable - are infectious diseases such as cowpox, foot-and-mouth disease and sepicemia haemorrhagic diseases, which can be prevented through vaccination.

He added that in Pursat, superstitions were most prevalent among ethnic minority peoples living in the forest or in remote mountainous areas.

Thim Ngok, chief of Chheu Tom commune in Krakor district, said that villagers in his area would indulge in superstitious practices when their animals fell sick.

"They believe that their animals will get better. We cannot get rid of their beliefs," he said.

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They believe their animals will get better. we cannot get rid of their beliefs.
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Chek Sath, a villager in Chheu Tom commune, said he did not bring his two buffaloes to get vaccinated because he has been busy in his rice fields and has no money to pay for vaccines, even though his animals fell sick when the weather became hot in January.

He said that he once tried to get vaccines from animal health officials, but that he had to pay them 1,000 riels (US$0.24).

"I do not want to pay for vaccines," he said. "I don't know why officials get money from poor people."

But Kong Reatrey said that vaccines are provided by the Ministry of Agriculture free of charge, but that local animal health officials charged people a small fee of 500 to 1,000 riels for their services, since they work as volunteers without salary from the government.

"They are also villagers who volunteer to educate people about animal diseases," he said.

Pursat authorities and health officials will hold a meeting today to discuss ways of educating people on how to treat their animals in line with current medical practice.

Lenders decline to discuss farmers' debt: SRP leader

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Opposition SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua speaks to reporters on Tuesday morning.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua accuses four microfinance institutions of bailing on meeting to discuss farmers' plight.

OPPOSITION parliamentarian Mu Sochua told reporters Tuesday that the heads of a number of microfinance institutions had rejected a request to meet at the National Assembly to discuss solutions to the plight of small farmers hit by spiralling debt problems.

Mu Sochua said 15 institutions were invited, and the representatives of four creditor institutions - ACLEDA, Tong Fang, Vision Fund and Prasac - had said they would attend, but all four cancelled on the morning of the meeting.

The Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker added that her request to hold the meeting at a National Assembly meeting room had been rejected Friday by the parliament's secretary general, Leng Penglong.

At the press conference Tuesday, Mu Sochua said the purpose of the meeting was to seek a resolution for creditor institutions and those in debt to them. Many farmers, she said, had been unable to repay what they had borrowed because crop prices had fallen sharply, and that meant they were unable to support their families.

"This problem must be discussed and addressed by government," she said.

Small farmers hurting
Mu Sochua said she recently visited eight districts in her constituency of Kampot and met with affected farmers. She said they had borrowed between US$100 and $200 for farming improvements, but falling crop prices meant they were unable to repay creditors their debt and interest.

Losing their land and their houses, she said, would mean they would lose their lives. For that reason, the SRP wanted to request that microfinance institutions suspend the confiscation of land and houses to provide time to resolve their debts.

Mu Sochua said Leng Penglong had refused the request for a meeting room for the creditor agencies to meet with her. The press conference took place in an alternative venue - an SRP lawmaker's office at the National Assembly.

Leng Penglong was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The Post tried without success to ask the various microfinance heads whether they had been pressured to cancel their attendance at the meeting. The head of ACLEDA, In Channy, could not be reached for comment. An official at Prasac, who would not give his name, said the confirmation letter for the meeting had arrived late, and the head could not spare the time. The chief of Tong Fang, who also refused to give her name, referred the question to the Cambodian Micro Finance Association (CMFA), an industry body, as did the head of Vision Fund, who gave her name as Phea.

The director general of the CMFA, Hout Eang Tong, said Tuesday his members had decided not to participate because they were involved in the association's meeting with donors.

US vows closer Asean relations

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Scot Marciel, the American ambassador to Asean, speaks to reporters following bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tuesday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Washington's envoy for regional bloc says last month's visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Asean Secretariat marks the start of a closer engagement in Southeast Asia.

THE United States will intensify its relationship with Cambodia and other Asean member states under the Obama administration, the US ambassador to the regional body said Tuesday.

Following bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Ambassador Scot Marciel said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta last month heralded a stronger Southeast Asia orientation in US foreign policy.

"She [visited]... to highlight the very strong attachment United States places on Asean and our relationship with Asean and all its member nations," he told reporters after the meeting.

Marciel said that the talks had focused on continuing US support to Cambodia during the current global economic downturn and American support for the goals of "promoting prosperity" and implementing good governance reforms.

While noting that there were "legitimate criticisms" to be made of Asean's progress on human rights, he also acknowledged the progress on the establishment of an Asean Human Rights Body, calling its inclusion in the Asean Charter a "big step" forward.

"Asean and all the Asean members have made it clear that they are striving to make this a stronger, more effective organisation that has greater international credibility," he said.

"Obviously, the stronger and more credible the human rights body is will reflect strongly on Asean."
Hor Namhong said that while Cambodia did not have a perfect record on human rights, recognition should be given to the government's attempts to improve in that area.

"We are living in an imperfect world, [and] no country is perfect on this matter" the foreign minister said.

"But what is important is the commitment of the Royal Government of Cambodia, with the assistance of all our friends, to help us to take specific measures [on human rights]."

New drug law to get tougher on traffickers

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

THE National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) will submit for approval a new draft law targeting drug traffickers by month's end, Moek Dara, the authority's secretary general, told the Post Monday.

The NACD held final discussions of the law at a consultation workshop on Monday and Tuesday with officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, who have served as advisers during the drafting process. Workshop participants also included representatives from government agencies, donor countries and NGOs.

Under the proposed law, those caught in possession of 80 grams of heroin would receive life imprisonment. Currently, life terms are only handed down to those in possession of at least 100 grams.

Lars Pederson, officer in charge and project coordinator for the UNODC in Cambodia, said during a speech at the workshop that the law would "uphold the distinction between illicit drug users on the one hand and dealers and traffickers on the other". He added that the specific provisions of the law were designed to discourage traffickers from bringing drugs into the Kingdom or setting up facilities to manufacture them.

Moek Dara said NACD officials would eagerly await decisions from the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly on whether to approve the law, adding that officials "need to use this law" to go after traffickers.

Military engagement in Sihanoukville port

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Michael Hayes
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Crewmen aboard the Japanese naval vessels JDS Setoyuki and JDS Kure lower the flags at sunset in Sihanoukville port. Three ships from the Japan Self-Defence Force including the JDS Shimakaze (not pictured), all based in Okinawa, made a five-day port call in an effort to develop relations between the JSDF and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. About 200 RCAF officers attended a reception aboard the JDS Setoyuki on Monday.

Govt to request nearly $3b on infrastructure projects

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
A building site in Phnom Penh. The government is planning to significantly increase spending on the construction of public infrastructure over the next three years.


Project 2010-2012
Next three years of investment spending set to increase on recent injection of capital:
- Double spending in 2009 compared with last year’s $500 million investment
- $2.8 billion planned for the next three years on transport, irrigation and other public works
- Government to invest half the total capital, the other half to come from backers Source: Ministry of Planning


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Investment planned from 2010 to 2012 represents sharp increase on money spent on development in previous years

OFFICIALS are seeking approval to spend US$2.8 billion on public investment between 2010 and 2012, Minister of Planning Chhay Than told the Post this week.

His comments came five days after Finance Minister Keat Chhon said the government would spend $1 billion on public investment in 2009, doubling the total spent in 2008. That money, Keat Chhon said, would be spent primarily on transportation, public infrastructure and irrigation projects.

Chhay Than said the money for 2010-12 would be allocated to similar projects, which he said would create a friendlier environment for small businesses.

"We have included 539 projects in our public investment program, and we hope that all projects can be carried out," Chhay Than said. Of those, he said, 60 percent are to be implemented in rural areas.

Chhay Than said he expected the spending plan to be approved by the Council of Ministers on March 5.

The year-by-year breakdown of the plan is as follows: $920 million for public investment in 2010, $930 million in 2011 and $950 million in 2012. Of the $2.8 billion total, about half will come from the government and half from development partners, Chhay Than said.

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It will not be a problem for the government to find $3b for three years.
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Theng Panhathun, a ministry official who works on public investment projects, said the government tends to spend less than it plans to because some projects cannot be carried out on schedule.

"From 2006 to 2008, the government had planned to spend a total amount of $1.95 billion on public investment, but the real expenditure was only $1.86 billion," Theng Panhathun said.

Keeping projects small
Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (Cedac), said the government should spend more money on small-scale development projects in rural communities than on the type of large-scale projects it has favoured in the past.

"The government must invest its capital in training farmers all over the country in techniques for growing rice and maintaining small-scale irrigation systems, which are the core of economic growth," Yang Saing Koma said.

"I think it will not be a problem for the government to find $3 billion for three years because it has a lot of development partners, and the international community supports it."

Projects will be finished: officials

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A building site at Camko City in Phnom Penh. The project is one of number of large construction initiatives that has been delayed in the capital by the financial crisis.

Building Phnom Penh's Mega-projects
- Camko City by World City company of South Korea Projected completion date: 2015 at the earliest
- Grand Phnom Penh International City by Cambodia’s YLP Group and Ciputra Group of Indonesia Projected completion date: 2015 at the earliest
- Koh Pich by Canadia Bank Projected completion date: 2016 at the earliest
- Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone by Attwood Import Export Co
Projected completion date: unknown

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by NGUON SOVAN AND SOEUN SAY
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Large-scale construction projects in the capital have been delayed by the global financial crisis but will be completed, behind schedule, property developers and city officials say

CAMBODIA'S large-scale construction projects are going ahead, but are behind schedule, said officials and developers at a recent conference.

"The development of suburban mega-projects - such as Camko City, Grand Phnom Penh International City, Koh Pich [Diamond Island] and Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone - is still under way, even with the real estate downturn," said Chhay Rithisen, director of Phnom Penh municipal Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. He made the comments Tuesday at the Phnom Penh Master Plan Development 2020 meeting in Phnom Penh.

Nhem Sothea, marketing manager of the Grand Phnom Penh International City, said the first phase of construction for the 510 residential units is forging ahead. The project began one year ago and completion has been moved back one-year due to the slowdown.

"So far, about 40 percent of the residential unit construction has been completed and we planned to finish in 2010, but due to the real estate downturn, it may take up to 2011 to complete," said Nhem Sothea. "We are not very concerned about the real estate downturn because our investment is long term and we expect the recovery will come soon."

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The development of suburban mega-projects ... is still under way .
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He said 200 out of the 510 units have been sold. "We recognise that our sales declined up to 40 percent since the start of the crisis, and now customers are buying homes for about US$80,000 to $100,000. They are not buying houses or businesses for higher prices."

Charles Vann, deputy general manager of Canadia Bank, which has a stake in Diamond Island City, said the development infrastructure is under way, despite the crisis.

"We are going to develop Diamond Island City. Now our project is under way; we have not stopped - even though the global financial crisis affected Cambodian property... Now we are building the infrastructure to prepare the riverbank," said Vann.

Kheng Ser, assistant to Camko City Vice President DK Kim, told the Post on Tuesday that building has progressed and the first phase of residential units will be ready next month.

"We have sold about 90 percent of the 1,009 residential units in the first phase - 120 families out of 160 families will move in April," he said.

However, he admitted that property sales have fallen. "About 90 percent of sales took place in 2007 and 2008 before the property crisis. Now it is very quiet, we cannot motivate clients to buy," he said.

3.5% population growth in the city per year

Phnom Penh will add 10,000 families per year to its population, meaning that by 2020 two million people will live within the confines of the capital

An expert on the municipal development plans said that the progress is positive, but they will not address Phnom Penh's urban planning issues.

"Those mega-projects reflect economic development, but they are affordable for are the rich. Ordinary people still have no place to live," he said.

"The city needs to deal with population growth - now the population is 1.3 million, and will grow 3.5 percent or 10,000 families per year, to reach up to two million in 2020," said Frederic Mauret, the city's French technical expert for the 2020 municipal master plan.

Protesters target SKorean company

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Sou Ching accused of colluding with police as 300 protesters demand right to own businesses

MORE than 300 tourist industry workers in Siem Reap Tuesday protested a Korean-owned company they claim has colluded with police to prevent them from selling tickets to tourists. The protesters - a mix of tourist boat owners, travel agents and tuk-tuk drivers - called on the Sou Ching company to negotiate with them.

The Sou Ching company has the concession to operate the upgraded Chong Khneas port at Siem Reap where tourist boats dock. In exchange, the boat owners pay the company one dollar per ticket sold to tourists.

Protester Roeun Thouen, who owns a travel agency in Siem Reap that sells tickets on behalf of one group of boat owners, said the protesters demanded the right to run their businesses.

"[The company] ordered police and security guards to prevent us from selling tickets to travellers, and to force travellers to buy their tickets from [a rival boat association] instead," he said. Roeun Thouen added that company representatives had not turned up for talks.

The local travel agents joined forces for the protest with the Tourism Boat Association (TBA) to make their case. TBA head Pum Lay said his grouping, which has 60 members, was authorised in 2002 by the Ministry of Interior.

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If the company doesn’t tackle this issue, hundreds of families ... will face financial problems.
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Pum Lay claimed that a former boat driver, Heng Mao, had colluded with the Korean company to set up a rival boat association in late January. Since then the tourist police were forcing tourists to buy tickets from Heng Mao's association, which has around 90 boats. The Post was unable to contact Heng Mao by press time.

"We can't sell any tickets to tourists any longer - the police and military police have disrupted our business," Pum Lay said, adding that the dispute was affecting 300 people working on the boats, transport and travel services. Each one had lost between US$16 to $20 a day over the past month.

However, management at the Sou Ching company rejected the allegations. Var Chuda said the problem was simply an internal dispute between the rival boat associations.

"We invested a large amount of money [upgrading the port], but we collect only one dollar per ticket," he said.

Var Chuda said his company had nothing to do with the split, and said it had taken place because the TBA boat owners had been unwilling to fix the prices of boat tickets for tourists. The new association had undercut the TBA with their ticket prices, and that was why they were angry, he added.

Ho Vandy, former president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said the company and the protesters should resolve their differences.

"If the company doesn't tackle this issue, hundreds of families in the community will face financial problems as they depend on this for their daily income," he said. "I don't agree with the impact of this sort of investment - it is against government policy, and that means it is not a proper investment."

Angkor Wat tickets to be extended: minister

Angkor Extension

The new Angkor ticket system:
One-week ticket - $40
One-month ticket - $60
Source: Ministry of Tourism


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

MINISTER of Tourism Thong Khon has agreed to a proposal by the private Tourism Working Group to extend Angkor Wat tickets in a bid to attract more tourists, he said on Monday.

Following a recent meeting with the Apsara Authority, the body responsible for Angkor Wat revenues, the minister said the decision had been made to extend the validity of tickets.

"I support the task force with this proposal ... [it's an] appropriate request," said Thong Khon, adding that the ministry had been thinking over the idea for some time.

Three-day tickets to visit the Unesco World Heritage site - costing US$40 - will now be valid for one week, and week-long tickets can be used at any time for one month at $60 each, the minister said, adding the system would start next week.
But Bun Narith, director general of the Apsara Authority, said he had not yet heard news of a final decision.

"We can offer ... only a one-month visit but not much more than that - [it would be] really hard to manage," he said.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Tourism Working Group, welcomed the decision Tuesday, a move he said was necessary to boost the flagging tourism industry - hotels, airlines and Angkor Wat have reported fewer travellers in recent months.

"If we don't take measures now, we will be too late this year to promote our tourism sector," said Ho Vandy.

President of the Cambodian Hotel Association, Luu Meng, said the initiative would afford tourists more time to visit Cambodia's most famous attraction, adding it would facilitate tour packages to the Kingdom.