Monday, 16 March 2009

Angkor Car Made In Cambodia By Mr Nhien

Local elections in Cambodia: undesirable foreigners during the election campaign

Ka-set

By Duong Sokha
13-03-2009

A month and a half before the kick-off of the election campaign for new councils in the capital, provinces, municipalities and districts of Cambodia, set to take place from May 1st to 15th 2009, the Cambodian National Election Committee (NEC) mentioned on the occasion of a press conference held on Friday March 13th a brand new rule which forbids foreigners to attend election campaigns in favour of political parties.

NEC secretary-general Tep Nitha explained that with the measure, the authorities intended to learn a lesson from the campaign of July 2008 legislative elections, when a “foreigner” took the floor at an election forum organized by the main opposition formation, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), in the province of Kampong Cham. The “foreigner”, according to the secretary-general, had entered Cambodia as an election observer.

"The Cambodian People’s Party [CPP, the ruling party] protested against the participation [of that foreigner]. Normally, foreigners are not authorized to take part in the parties’ election campaigns. If they work for a non-governmental organization, they commit to remain neutral”, Tep Nitha argued.

The Cambodian high-ranking representative reported that should there be any stubbornness, the concerned individuals and political parties would receive a warning before being fined.

In reaction to the new NEC rule, spokesperson for the SRP Yim Sovann retorted that during every election, his political formation received observers, foreign deputies or members of foreign political parties, who simply came to Cambodia to share their own election experiences with the main opposition party in the Kingdom. Nothing else.

Couple with local ties pushes Cambodia school project

Courtesy Photo MIKE AND NOELLE
Magluilo stand in front of one of sights in Cambodia where they are helping to build a school. Noelle Magluilo grew up and attended schools in Laconia says her educational experience was part of what inspired the couple to embrace this project.



The Citizen of Laconia

By JOHN KOZIOL

jkoziol@citizen.com

Monday, March 16, 2009

Inspired during a recent trip abroad by her educational experiences years earlier as a student in Laconia, Noelle Magluilo and her husband Mike are helping build a school in rural Cambodia.

The daughter of Mary and the late Peter Bourgault, Magluilo graduated from Laconia High School in 1991 and in 1995 obtained her bachelor's degree in Health Management and Policy from the University of New Hampshire.

For the past seven years, she and her husband have lived in London where Magluilo helped hospitals implement and manage software systems and her husband worked for a branch of an American bank.

The coupe traveled extensively and in 2008, they planned a trip to Asia. A neighbor of theirs in the Battersea neighborhood of London who was Thai suggested they visit his homeland but advised that if at all possible, they should also make a side journey to Cambodia.

That advice has transformed Magluilo's life and as she and her husband get ready to resettle in the U.S., Magluilo has devoted herself full time to a project she and Mike have named "Classrooms for Cambodia."

Working through an "on-the-ground" charity called American Assistance for Cambodia (AAfC), Classrooms for Cambodia is working to raise $19,000, which will be matched by the Asian Development Fund and the World Bank to cover the full $50,000 construction cost of a school for 140 students.

The Magluilos have raised $4,000 so far and hope to have the balance by the end of the year. They are motivated by two philosophies: teach a many how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime, and with knowledge, comes responsibility.

The former, said Magluilo, she learned in Laconia's public schools and her husband acquired through his own experiences in higher education. Mike Magluilo earned a scholarship to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he obtained his degree and had inculcated in him the values of hard work, team play and charity, said his wife.

The Magluilos learned the true meaning of the second philosophy following their January trip to Cambodia, when they visited the historic Angkor Wat temple complex but also got a behind-the-scenes look at how many Cambodians live.

"We were humbled to see firsthand the tragedy the country has suffered and the poverty that continues to hamper progress," said Magluilo, referring to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that between 1975 -1979 was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 20 percent of the population.

Intellectuals, especially teachers, were killed as the Khmer Rouge attempted to root out all foreign "capitalist" influences and to create a communist, agrarian society.

Thirty years later, Cambodia is still suffering from the policies of the Khmer Rouge, said Magluilo, but thanks to the efforts of the AAFC, 300 schools have been built and with Classrooms for Cambodia, at least one more is in the works.

"Despite all the poverty there, you have never seen people smile so much," Magluilo said of the Cambodian people. "They're very humble, very modest, very hard working and everything they do they do with a smile."

"It was very inspiring to us to be surrounded by these people who just had this great energy about them and I think in many places they don't understand the extent of the poverty themselves but they really just have a beautiful spirit and we were really touched by that. When we came back, we knew we wanted to help somehow and I knew it was within my means to help."

The Magluilos thought about starting their own charity to build schools but in researching the matter further, decided to work with the AAFC after learning that it already had years of experience building schools in Cambodia. The AAFC is also training many Khmer Rouge orphans to be teachers, added Magluilo, whose mother was a teacher in the Alton, Gilford and Plymouth school districts.

"The trip to Cambodia made me even more grateful for the education I had in Laconia. This is a way for me to pay that forward," said Magluilo, who was in Laconia last week and stopped by her alma mater where she made a point to say hello to Gary Liptak, who has taught chemistry and physics at LHS for 25 years.

"This is where a lot of it started for me. It was even more challenging than my university studies. I got a great education and had excellent teachers and in listening to Mr. Liptak it cemented for me the value of the education I received and of wanting other people to have an opportunity like I had."

Liptak remembered Magluilo as "an academic standout" and a "marvelous kid who came off as unafraid of challenges."

"It doesn't surprise me a bit that she ended up doing this sort of work in Cambodia," said Liptak, adding that "as an educator, I'm just thrilled when I see one of our kids do wonderful things in general but specifically great things in education."

When fundraising for Classrooms in Cambodia reaches the $5,000 mark, AAFC will announce exactly where in Cambodia the money will be used to build a new school.

"It's important to me and Mike that the impact of donations is transparent," said Magluilo, and as important to her and her husband is that the students who study there know that the money came from all over the world, including a far away place called Laconia, New Hampshire where an education is a cherished thing.

For more information about Classrooms for Cambodia or to make a tax-deductible contribution to it through American Assistance for Cambodia, visit www.classroomsforcambodia.com or call Noellef and Mike Magluilo at (970) 372-2209.

Crisis in the Cambodian garment sector: workers torn between concern and pragmatism

Chom Chao (Cambodia, Phnom Penh). 10/03/2009: A garment factory worker, based on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, has her brother bring her back to the village.
©John Vink/ Magnum


Ka-set

By Anne-Laure Porée and Ros Dina
16-03-2009

Tuesday, March 10th. It’s pay day today at the back of the Canadia market, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Along this never-ending road lined with yellow factories, gathered in small groups, workers are waiting for the gates of their factory to open and for the guards to call them out. Tum, a 22 year-old worker, steps forward without any enthusiasm. She comes back twenty minutes later, her fist clenched over a few bills and her payslip. She is determined to take a bus the next day to go back to her village, in her native province of Kampong Thom. Waiting for some hypothetical job far away from her relatives does not make her happy and on top of that, it is costly. It is now a month since the 43 girls in her shoe manufacturing group started clocking in every day to receive 50% of their initial salary, i.e. US$25. Not even enough to pay for the rent and food.

They heard that their factory would close down after payday. The rumour reached stall-keepers from the nearby market, already disheartened by the significant drop in sales since the Water Festival last year. False alarm. But for these workers, left high and dry, the shutdown of a factory of the suspension of its activity is equally bad: they will not work in March. Many say they won’t last for another month and they will have to go back to “work the ricefield”, an expression which signifies, without considering the rainy season, a return to family activities, land, growing and raising or little country jobs. For some observers of Cambodia’s economy, employers obviously count on that type of defections to reduce their number of employees.

No extra hours any more
To avoid the shutting down of the factory, other strategies are being thought up. In Takhmao, Vy and Hoar are taking a forced holiday. In Chom Chao, Socheata says that his employer, at the factory, made redundant 5% of those employed on a fixed-contract basis and replaced them with workers on a try-out period and whose duration of employment does not exceed a month or two. In that neighbourhood, the most general trend seems to be the end of extra hours, which considerably undermines workers’ wages. The governor of the Dangkor section, Kroch Phan, claims that out of 150 big registered factories and some 50 subcontractors, only 4 closed down. “Subcontractors are the first ones to suffer from the early effects of the drop in orders”, he says.

Chanhan, 23, sews trousers and shirts for an initial salary of $60, knowing that with her extra hours, she used to round up her wages to $80 or $90 every month. “Since the Water Festival, I finish my day at 3pm. There’s work here, but there are no extra hours any more like there used to be before, until 5 or 7pm.” Socheata, 19, used to love working on Sundays as it was better-paid: $3.85 – but this era is over. Bunthon, 19 years-old, has been gluing up shoe soles with her machine for more than a year. It is two months since she too, has stopped working extra hours. Necessarily, there is growing concern as to shrinking salaries. And this is without mentioning all the signs of a collapsing economy...

In workers’ dormitories in Chom Chao, in those 9m2 rooms in which 3 to 10 people are crammed into, the sound of a television or of a radio is non-existent. The news is not translated into words but into actions: a factory closes, workers move out, and rooms are emptied of their residents. “In the space of three months, I lost half of my tenants”, an owner in Chom Chao explains. “For those who lived together with 5 or 10 other people in one room and found themselves living with just one roommate overnight, the whole moving out process meant a heavy increase of the rent for them – as a consequence, those who stay go and live together to share the monthly $25 rent. Let’s hope that the factories won’t close down, otherwise it’s the end! Without any tenant, I won’t be able to pay off my debt.”

At the village too, news travels fast. it is thanks to her neighbours, who are workers, that she heard during the weekend that some factories were about to shut down. Sinuon gives an approving nod: “In the village, almost everyone is related to someone who works in the factory, except for the wealthier families.” Sometimes, it happens that several children also become part of this working-class labour force. Chanhan only has two sisters, who work in different factories than the one she works at, but the three of them manage to send between 60 and $90 every month to their parents.

“Ricefields, not quite the season”
If activity is suspended, they will start looking for a job in another factory or very quickly, they will return to their home village. They laugh because there is not even an inch of doubt, They do not have a choice. “They didn’t wait for the declarations of the prime Minister in Kampong Speu on March 9th. “Living nearby a factory means paying for you own rent, food... If I go back, I will not have to pay for these costs. But there is no work for us in the ricefields at the moment, it is not the right season”, Socheata explains. “And the situation is difficult. With 2,500 m2 of ricefields, my parents get rice for 6 months, but the remaining 6 months, mine and my sister’s wages – she is also a garment worker – pay for the rice.” If anyone is made redundant, Socheata thought about all the possible solutions: if she has no other choice but to go back to her former job – she used to be a rice cake seller - she will. Lina, however, says that she will not be able to stay for long at her parents’. “I will come back to Phnom Penh and look for a job in another factory”, she says.

What about those without land?
This option might well turn out to be complicated considering the escalation of bad figures announced the past few days : garment exportations have plummeted by half compared with the first two months of 2008: one worker out of 7 has been made redundant over the past six months, according to Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh. In addition, estimated figures for future economic growth keep being revised downwards. Interviewed about his own predictions, Roger Tan, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) hesitated before eventually saying: “Orders keep going down. After April, nobody knows what is going to happen.”

At the beginning of this week, prime Minister Hun Sen urged the population to play things down, and explained in brief that the current situation was after all more enviable than the situation under the Khmer Rouge regime... “The fields are awaiting the return of workers. [...] In foreign or industrial countries, workers find themselves in situations far more serious because they have no land any more”, he argued. That little sentence, Chan, now an old lady, contradicts it quite easily, while watching her two boisterous grandchildren playing around: “A month’s salary is spent straight away. If children get sick, we have nothing left to cure them. My son-in-law works on a building site, my daughter is at the factory and if the building site closes down, if the factory closes down, we have no land to go and cultivate...”

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Going off the track and starting afresh
In the context of the economic crisis, Sina, 22, is not unhappy with the choice she made a few months earlier, to leave the factory and put an end to two years of tedious work. With her savings and the support of her parents and sister, who continues working at the factory, she is paying for a training course with a dressmaker at the nearby market. “Working at the factory only brought me illnesses. The best is to learn a job by yourself, a job you can do everywhere.” Sina has set herself the goal of being able to create the wedding dresses for her future customers, the garment workers. That dream will depend on the fate of these factories, of course. “If they stay there, I will stay. Otherwise, I will go back to Prey Veng.” Her words and her smile do not betray any concern but rather carry some infallible determination.

Acid attacks in Cambodia: dangerous liaisons, punitive operations and overt impunity

Ka-set

By Stéphanie Gée
13-03-2009

Cambodia is amongst the countries where the highest numbers of acid attacks have been numbered. These aggressions, characterised by their unusual barbarity, mainly target young women, who are most of the time the victims of domestic violence or the vengeful anger of wives who will try to oust forever their youthful rival because they got themselves into a relationship with their husband. Generally speaking, the authors of such attacks are identified but most of them manage to dodge justice. The issue was brought out in the open in December 1999 with the story of Tat Marina, a rising star in the Cambodian showbiz discovered in karaoke films, who was in turn doused with acid by the wife of a member of the government. Her tragic story was internationally acknowledged and is still heard today as shown by the preview screening of a documentary about her story, presented on Wednesday March 11th at the International Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva.

"Finding Face"
As they were leading their own enquiry about acid attacks in Cambodia, the Americans Skye Fitzgerald and Patti Duncan took a particular interest in the case of Tat Marina, who now lives in exile in the United States where she obtained political asylum 2 months after having been reduced to a ghostly being. She is now living a life torn between fear and the exhausting healing of her scars. The authors of the documentary aimed at giving back a human face and dignity to the young woman, now unable to show any facial expression with her features despite the countless operations she went through. This explains the title of the documentary: "Finding Face " . For ten years, Marina has been silenced and justice has not been given to her.

Yesterday, the young and spruce teenager was featured in video-clips, all sweetness and light. Today, she says with certain sadness in her voice, that she “is not like others” and explains she wants to see the way forward and cling onto life for her son, born in America. To start with, the authors simply show a shadow, her outline, and eventually openly expose Marina’s disfigured face in front of the camera.

Tat Marina: from the nymphet to the ghost
Her story is unfortunately an ordinary one among many others. Born in a modest background, she sells shakes to help her family. All eyes are set on the pretty girl until that day when a man came to offer her a job in a karaoke bar intended for local jet-setters. She hesitates and finally accepts, convinced that she was going to be able to improve her family’s standard of living. It is in that same place that she got to know a Cambodian man who was a lot older than her and introduced himself as single and as a businessman from the States. Then aged 15 years-old, Marina believed him and was won over by his caring attentions and generous presents. But it was not long until she found out that her ever-so-perfect lover was but an under-secretary of State at the Cambodian government. On top of that, he was married, Marina’s sister recounts. She got scared and tried to escape from that relationship which had turned into a highly risky situation. But it was too late for her to back down. The man threatened to kill her or attack her family if she left him and showed her, by brute force, that she had no other choice but to remain his servile mistress.

In December 1999, as she was offering her nephew some lunch at the Olympic market in Phnom Penh, a mature woman suddenly grabbed her hair and pulled her. In a matter of seconds, Marina understood she was dealing with the wife of the lover she could not get rid of. The woman was furious and beat her up with the help of her nephews, until the final blow was struck: she doused a full bottle of acid on Marina’s head and chest. More than 43% of Marina’s body was burnt: her skin, her muscles and bones were ravaged. Miraculously, she survived her wounds and her brother, who lives in the United States, decided to take her with him and place her in a secure environment, for her to receive free quality treatment on American soil. Without any surprise, the under-secretary of State deterred Marina’s family from filing a complaint and indicated that such a decision might have terrible consequences, Marina’s brother says. The young woman’s family still lives in Cambodia.

Discredited victims
Marina openly shows her face but does not tell her story – or only by bits. Relatives, those who healed her and took care of her tell her story together with newspapers articles. Other Cambodian victims of acid attacks who stayed in the little Southeast Asian Kingdom tell their story in the documentary. “There is no rule of law here!”, one of them says. “Justice closed my case, why?”, another one says with anger.

Jason Barber, from the Cambodian NGO for the defence of Human rights LICADHO, explains that these girls, whose lives are forever shattered, do not get any sympathy from their fellow Cambodian citizens. This is why they prefer becoming invisible. “They do not think any good of us, even though we are victims. They think we necessarily did something wrong…”, an acid attack victim says. Another one urges victims to stand up for themselves and dare appearing in public “so that more people are aware of that… Then, the government might do something to put an end to these attacks”, she says.

Deputy and former Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua, from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, raises in front of the camera the issue of archaic mindsets in the Cambodian society where women are traditionally considered as inferior to men, even in Cambodian sayings. “Women and men are not treated equally in Cambodia”.

The documentary “Finding Face” ends with an image of Marina looking at the mirror reflection of the stranger she has become to herself.

Unprecedented media coverage of acid attacks
After the media covered the case, Marina’s uncle Kong Bin Chhoeun wrote her story in a book called “Marina’s Story”, published in July 2000 in Cambodia. A month later, the famous writer, then in his sixties, preferred fleeing Cambodia and obtained asylum in Norway in 2005 where he has been living since.

In December 2003, LICADHO denounced such violent acts in a report entitled "Living in the Shadows - Acid Attacks in Cambodia " . The organisation deems acid attacks “one of the worst crimes that a person can commit”. The NGO gave a voice to survivors and expressed their fear that without any prevention or repression, the phenomenon might develop even more. The authors of the report denounce the fact that too often, those who commit such crimes benefit from full impunity. They advocate stricter regulation regarding the sale of acid. The authorities did take a measure concerning that, but consequences remained unseen.

Fifteen teenagers and two teachers, for their part, created in the space of six weeks a remarkable graphic novel entitled "Shake Girl ", which is largely inspired by Tat Marina’s story and can be downloaded for free on the Internet. The book was elaborated in 2008 as part of the Graphic Novel Project initiated by the prestigious Stanford University (California). Consisting of 199 black and white pages, the piece surprises with its sensibility and the modesty of its young authors. Indeed, instead of drawing the devastated face of Marina following the acid attack, pages are covered with black colour, until an Apsara dancer appears, her face and chest blurred and veiled. The idea of illustrating this poignant story taken from a culture they knew nothing or very little about was suggested by Eric Pape, a journalist who interviewed Tat Marina and her brother in the United States back in 2001.

However, the media coverage of Marina’s case did not contribute to reversing the tendency, on the contrary. According to the authors of “Finding Face”, after her case, “we estimate that between 25 and 60 acid attacks are perpetrated every year in Cambodia”, when to this date, less than 15 persons have been prosecuted for such crimes in the country.

Festival and Forum on Human Rights
The documentary film “Finding Face” was screened as a world premiere on Wednesday March 11th as part of the International Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

Full Programme on the website of the International Federation for Human Rights

Not-so-happy community

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A resident of Phnom Penh's Rik Reay, or Happy Community, Hang Sochi Ao, 9, stands in the wreckage of his house on Sunday. Sixteen houses out of the original 219 in the community were torn down and zinc fences were put up around the area Sunday as the community is set for relocation by Bassac Garden City, which plans to develop the area.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda and May Titthara
Monday, 16 March 2009

Several villagers at Rik Reay commune forced to demolish homes to make way for fencing around development project, following protest at Canadia Bank.

HOUSES belonging to several residents at Phnom Penh's Rik Reay community along the Bassac River in Chamkarmon district Sunday were torn down and residents and journalists threatened with violence.

Villagers and journalists were barred from entering the area by police and staff of the developer, Bassac Garden City, which has - with the municipality's help - begun to fence off some land. Bassac Garden City has been linked in the past to Canadia Bank.

A villager representative, high school teacher Chan Bunthol, said he had received a death threat and could not risk going to work at Preah Sisowath High School in case the company tore down his house while he was away.

"This mistreatment is to force us to agree to their compensation package," he said. "I am now worried for my personal security because I heard a company staffer on the walkie-talkie saying they would kill me because I am a community leader. I want to tell you that if I die, it was not at the hands of anyone else but because I was murdered by the staff of Bassac Garden City."

Residents were forced to pull down 16 houses out of the 219 on the land. Bassac Garden City staff and police intimidated villagers and members of the press to prevent them entering the area and sprayed coloured dye on camera equipment.

Another representative, Heng Samphos, who has lived at Rik Reay since 1990, said the company had planned to develop the area since 2007.
He said some families had lived there since the 1980s. Sixty families have not agreed compensation.

"The company used violence as a negotiation tactic, and now they come to destroy our houses without warning," he said. "At 6:30 this morning, the chief of Tonle Bassac commune came and ordered us to demolish our houses so they could erect a fence. He said they have a government order but he didn't show us."

Last Thursday residents protested outside Canadia Bank's main office in Phnom Penh to demand the bank stop erecting fences around the community. But the bank denied it was involved and said it had simply provided the developer with a loan.

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Resident Khin Sreang, 40, in front of the fence. The Khmer text warns people that the fence is electrified and that it

"Canadia Bank provided a loan to Bassac Garden City, but we haven't built fences around the community. That is officials from the municipality and the commune, who are following the government's instruction," Pung Kheav Se said.

A government directive dated January 30 outlined two options for residents to leave what it referred to as their "temporary homes". The directive, which mentions Pung Kheav Se by name and refers to a January 24 letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen endorsing the development, was signed by Prak Sokhon, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, and was addressed to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema.

One offer is a house in Damnak Trayoeng village and US$10,000, of which the municipality will provide US$1,000 and the developer the rest.
The second option is "onsite housing", which the company will build on 16,200 square metres of land in the community in the "amount of US$5 to $6 million".

Heng Samphos said they were being offered a price well below market value: "Just US$20,000 for one house - and if we agree to that they will give us one flat and US$10,000. We just want the fair market price."

Resident Meas Vanna, 37, agreed to take $20,000 and demolish her own house.

"They gave me $5,000 deposit, and once I have torn it down I can get the rest of the money from Canadia Bank," she said. "The reason I agreed to sell is because their staff said if I don't agree they will tear down my house without compensation. So it is better to sell than be forced to move without being paid, even though I know this money is insufficient to buy a new house."

A monitor for a local housing NGO, the Housing Rights Task Force, decried the fence-building as intimidation: "Residents have legal rights," said Bun Rachana.

Budget shortage looms: SRP

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Monday, 16 March 2009

OPPOSITION lawmakers have called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to account for the large increase in the 2009 national budget, expressing concerns the country lacks the revenue to cover all its slated expenditures during the current global financial upheaval.

In a letter dated Friday, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians advised the prime minister to consider amending the 2009 Budget Law, approved by the National Assembly in December, citing a significant drop in customs tax revenue in the first two months of this year.

The Assembly approved US$1.75 billion in spending for 2009, a 28 percent jump on the $1.37 billion spent in 2008.

The letter claims that the Ministry of Finance's General Department of Customs and Excise collected just $64 million in customs tax revenues over January and February, compared with $86 million over the same period last year - a decrease of around 27 percent. Based on these figures, the letter said, tax receipts will fall well short of the $585 million expected in 2009.

"I think the figures show clearly that the government won't be able to collect the amount of customs tax it is planning," said SRP lawmaker Son Chhay.

"My question to the government is what sources of income the government will use for budget expenditures."

He said also that the slowdown in the global economy would likely lead to a further tightening of the state's coffers, estimating that the government would collect a mere 57 percent of its total planned expenditure for 2009.

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh and other local and international institutions have forecast that the Cambodian economy will be impacted by the financial crisis, especially in garments, tourism, agriculture and construction - the four pillars of the Kingdom's economy. Earlier this month, the IMF predicted Cambodia's GDP would shrink by 0.5 percent in 2009, a far cry from the government's prediction of a 6 percent rise.

Kun Nhem, deputy director of the General Department of Customs and Excise, agreed that import taxes had declined slightly this year, noting a sharp decline in car, motorbike and gasoline imports.

He said that the financial situation has taken the National Assembly by surprise, and that when it debated the Budget Law in December, no one had expected to face such a severe economic downturn.

He added that the department would review the situation in the first quarter of 2009 and set out a new revenue plan based on the current economic situation.

But National Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel said the opposition should not worry about the budget for this year.

"Be aware that the government has already known that this would happen before planning the budget. We do have a package of funds to spare once the financial crisis arrives," he said.

"It is not the right time to ask the government about budget expenditures before the law is implemented."

Unesco visits Preah Vihear

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Monday, 16 March 2009

Top official says other temples suitable for World Heritage status, govt says.

A HIGH-level Unesco delegation paid a visit to Preah Vihear temple Friday, its first since the Angkor-era temple was listed as a World Heritage site in July last year.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the delegation, led by Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, president of Unesco's executive council, travelled Friday to Preah Vihear, and that the delegation would also make trips to other temple sites and the Tonle Sap Lake as part of its March 10-17 visit.

Dim Sovannarom, media officer for the Council of Ministers, also said the delegation spent the remainder of the weekend visiting temples in Siem Reap province, raising the possibility more temples will be earmarked for recognition by Unesco.

"On March 14, Yai led the delegation to visit Beng Mealea, Koh Ke and other temples such as Damrei and Leung [Balang]" he said. "[Yai] has complimented the temples and said other temples in Cambodia are suitable for listing as World Heritage sites."

The group were to visit Banteay Srei temple before departing, he said.

He added that the trip would be followed by a technical team made up of experts from the US, France, Belgium and India, which is scheduled to visit the temple early next month.

Culture Ministry Secretary of State Som Sokun said Cambodia has long been preparing other temples throughout Cambodia - including Sambo Preykub and Banteay Chhmar - for nomination as Unesco sites. Over 3,000 ancient temples remain in Cambodia, but so far just two have been listed as World Heritage sites: Angkor Wat in 1992 and Preah Vihear temple in 2008, Som Sokun added.

Govt blasts US over human rights report

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Monday, 16 March 2009

Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims charges of local rights violations are ‘unsubstantiated'.

THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lashed out at the US State Department's annual human rights report, denying its main charges and accusing Washington of hypocrisy following recent revelations that torture techniques were employed by US intelligence agents at secret prisons inside Thailand.

In a strongly worded statement released Friday, the ministry rejected the conclusions of the 2008 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, released February 25, which said Cambodian security forces were involved in extrajudicial killings and registered continuing concerns about land disputes and unlawful forced evictions.

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WE ARE CONTINUALLY WORKING TO ensure we LIVE UP TO OUR VALUES AND IDEALS.
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"The [report] issued by the US State Department seems to be a routine that has nothing to do with human rights reality in Cambodia, and appears to be almost a carbon copy of the reports of previous years," the statement said.

"[It] contains a number of unsubstantiated assertions which appear to be relied upon misleading information supplied by certain organisations."

While the State Department's report acknowledged the government's passing of its anti-human trafficking law as a "positive" development, it also criticised the ruling party's domination of the three branches of government and its restrictions on freedom of the press, both of which were dismissed on Friday by the Ministry.

"It is very normal in democratic countries that a political party which wins a landslide victory in democratic elections has to lead the country," the statement said.

It added also that "there is simply never extrajudicial killing by security forces in Cambodia", describing such claims, based on research conducted by local rights group Adhoc, as "vulgar lie[s]".

No moral high ground
The statement also contained a veiled charge of hypocrisy, citing recent revelations US intelligence officials have tortured detainees during interrogations at US-operated jails in Thailand.

"If enforcing rules to maintain public order is construed as human rights violation, then what does one have to say in terms of human rights respect on the condition in the secret prisons of a certain country where torture of prisoners is practiced," the statement said.

The media reports referred to a New York District Court's March 2 release of documents showing US agents practised "enhanced interrogation techniques", including waterboarding, at its jails in Thailand.

But US embassy spokesman John Johnson denied the charges of hypocrisy, saying the Obama administration was taking action to "review" the practises of its predecessor.

"The three recent Executive Orders issued by President Obama regarding detention and interrogation policies and the closure of the Guantanamo detention facility indicate the seriousness with which the United States views our values," he said by email Sunday. Johnson also said the US strove to meet "high standards of accuracy and objectivity" in its reporting on human rights.

"We are continually working to ensure we live up to our values and ideals," he added.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said he could understand the government's strategy of highlighting America's own rights abuses, adding that such standards should apply to all countries in equal measure.

But he added that the charge did little to diminish the importance of local violations.

"I think [US abuses] are something we need to discuss, [but] the nature of these two problems is different," he said.

KR lawyers appeal site order

Photo by: ECCC/POOL
Former foreign affairs minister Ieng Sary in the dock at a tribunal hearing.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Monday, 16 March 2009

Lawyers for former leader Ieng Sary have appealed an order forcing them to remove documents from their website.

LAWYERS for former Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary have appealed an order by judges at Cambodia's war crimes court to remove case-related documents from their personal website, saying it drastically undermines the principle of transparency.

The lawyers began posting documents stamped "public" on the site last year in response to what they saw as a suppressing of defence filings that were "embarrassing" to the court.

However, judges claimed the website was a breach of confidentiality and forced the removal of documents by threatening lawyers with sanctions.

"The confidentiality order is clearly based on misconceptions, factual errors and flawed legal reasoning," the appeal stated.

"As a slight against the defence, it also acts as the sword of Damocles, continually hanging over the defence, chillingly threatening its ability and stifling its efforts to defend Mr Ieng Sary," it added.

The order sparked claims that the lawyers were being unreasonably gagged and led to a debate over how confidential an international court should be regardless of a court's internal rules.

"The public viewing of fair and transparent judicial proceedings - assuming that is in fact what transpires at the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia] - may be, after all, one of the most enduring legacies of this institution," the appeal said.

"The public at large can only benefit by observing issues of such great importance being transparently debated, especially when these issues are likely to impact the viability and credibility of the end results of the ECCC proceedings," it added.

Lawyers for the ageing former leader have also submitted an expedited request to appoint a UN medical officer at the International Criminal Court in The Hague as an expert witness to the case.

Ieng Sary, 83, has been hospitalised nine times during his time in the ECCC detention facility due to kidney-related problems.

"[Dr Paulus Falk] is uniquely qualified to assist the pretrial chamber to understand the various medical reports on Mr Ieng Sary," it stated.

Smoking laws welcomed

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Farmers and villagers prepare fresh tobacco leaves for sale in Kratie province in this file photograph.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Monday, 16 March 2009

Tobacco firm, official look ahead as report warns of health crisis.

Following a world conference on smoking, an official from major cigarette maker British American Tobacco (Cambodia) said he is in favour of "sensible and practical" laws that mitigate the damage tobacco does to public health, while ensuring that customers could make an informed choice.

"Due to the risky nature of tobacco products, it is important that the tobacco industry is adequately and sensibly regulated," said Kun Lim, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at British American Tobacco (BAT) Cambodia, which manufactures such brands as State Express 555, ARA and Liberation.

Sung Vinntak, the deputy director of the National Centre for Health Promotion (NCHP) at the Health Ministry said tobacco-related illnesses cost Cambodia US$70 million each year and contribute to the deaths of one-third of hospital patients.

"Tobacco not only kills those who use it, is also harms and kills people who live with smokers," said Sung Vinntak. "And the loss of income when a smoker dies devastates families and communities."

Last week, the 14th World Conference on Tobacco and Health held its meeting in India, where delegates were told tobacco will kill 6 million people next year and cause a $500 billion loss to the global economy.

The conference heard that tobacco production had tripled in low- and middle-income countries since 1960, but dropped more than half in rich nations. The two largest smoking nations in the world are China with 325 million smokers and India with 241 million.

"The tobacco industry has shifted its marketing and sales efforts to countries that have less effective public health policies and fewer resources," said Judith Mackay, a special adviser to the World Lung Foundation that prepared a report for the conference, quoted by Zee TV news network.

In the report, health professionals said the industry in Southeast Asia was working hard to prevent a global treaty to curb smoking being implemented. They also accused tobacco firms of trying to influence and even write tobacco control laws, and working to prevent laws being passed in countries such as the Philippines, Laos and Cambodia.

The report also said firms were using their corporate social responsibility programs to try to get around laws in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines. However, the NCHP's Sung Vinntak said Cambodia was moving ahead with its efforts to control smoking.

"Our government has now drafted the tobacco control law and has also created programs to combat smoking," he said.

In the meantime, Kun Lim said BAT, which he said holds 40 percent of the local market and sells more than 3 billion cigarettes annually, has curbed its own marketing.

"While Cambodia is yet to have a tobacco control law in place, we have implemented our self-imposed marketing standards since 2001. We stopped all our TV and radio commercial advertisements."

Kun Lim added that his company adds to the nation's agricultural sector.

He said contract farmers along the Bassac and Mekong rivers had benefitted by supplying BAT with leaf since 1996. The firm employs more than 300 people at its Phnom Penh factory and, he said, it contributes $19 million annually to the local economy. Its parent firm in the United Kingdom reported provisional revenues of £12.2 billion ($17 billion) last year, up 21 percent on 2007.

Living with lung disease
The damage done by smoking was made clear by Khov Gnuon, a 55-year-old ex-smoker from Snaur village in Takeo province. He told the Post Thursday that he contracted lung disease after smoking up to three packs of cigarettes daily.

"Because of my smoking, my family has had to pay $1,000 each year for treatment," Khov Gnuon explained. "I used to cough up blood and a few years ago I came close to suffering a stroke, but luckily the doctor treated me in time."

That was two years ago, and he immediately quit smoking. His health has now improved and his family is better off since he no longer spends money on cigarettes.

Manhunt for 2 more kidnap suspects

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Monday, 16 March 2009

AUTHORITIES in Siem Reap are hunting for two more suspected masterminds behind the March 6 kidnapping of the daughter of the province's Military Police chief, according to a court prosecutor involved in the case.

"We know their identities but cannot mention them because we are in the middle of our investigation," said provincial prosecutor Touch Chanphakdey. "We believe they are on the run."

Deputy provincial Military Police chief Prak Chantoeun confirmed his forces were searching for more suspects but would not elaborate on the exact number police had identified.

Provincial Governor Sou Phirin said a manhunt was ongoing and was confident police would prevail.

"The police are still looking to make more arrests for this kidnapping," he said. "The people behind it are a network of family members. They will be arrested and security will be restored."

Street-snatching
Morn Charkriya, the 16-year-old daughter of Siem Reap's Military Police chief Morn Samon, was kidnapped March 6 but released the next day after private negotiations between her parents and the kidnappers that were said to include a ransom payment.

Siem Reap's provincial court last Wednesday charged five men suspected of involvement in the kidnapping. Authorities say all of the suspects are related by blood.

Touch Chanphakdey said the men were charged with detaining a person to extort money and were awaiting trial. If convicted they face life imprisonment, he said.

Secondhand gold mining a toxic threat

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Monday, 16 March 2009

CASTING toxic chemicals into rice fields and water sources, a growing illegal mining practice in Preah Vihear, has come under the watch of authorities there, who blame a network of clandestine traders for promoting it.

Provoked by cash offers from shady traders, villagers in Rovieng district are collecting soil from state-owned mines that had previously been quarried for gold, said the director of the province's Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, Sam Leang Ny. The soil, he said, has value for a second round of extraction that uses abrasive chemicals to filter out remaining particles of gold.

He said a karong sack of soil, which holds 60 kilograms, fetches around five dollars.

"Villagers are storing the soil in sacks at their home and waiting for businessmen to take them," he said. He said officials there have observed one home in Romtom commune's Trapaing Totoeng village that has 150 sacks of the soil stored outside.

"We have not confiscated it from villagers because we are waiting to investigate the businessmen who tell people to do it, and we will arrest them," he said.

A provincial judge last month summoned three men to court after they were accused by Preah Vihear's Department of Industry, Mines and Energy of extracting soil from state-owned mines. Authorities also said the practice used filtering chemicals that were seeping into rice fields and water systems, causing health problems among local communities and their livestock.

Cheat Kontol, Rovieng district's deputy governor, said illegal mining has continued despite the probe by local authorities. "They are still digging," he said. "Even though we have tried to punish them, they can hide their work because they do it in the forest."

Deputy provincial Governor Long Sovan said authorities had succeeded in cracking down on the use of chemicals in large-mining operations, but said the practice has continued on a smaller scale in isolated pockets of the province.

Children's advocacy NGO gets well-timed pledge for funding

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Zoe Holman
Monday, 16 March 2009

The founder of the Cambodian Children's Advocacy Foundation says the gift will sustain its program for early childhood education.

THE Lincoln Crowne Foundation, an Australian charity, announced last week plans to give an unspecified amount of money to the Cambodian Children's Advocacy Foundation, an education and development NGO based in Phnom Penh that had recently found itself in a precarious financial position.

"At the beginning of 2009 we didn't know where our funding was coming from, and I have been working very hard for free to fundraise," said Hing Channarith, CCAF's CEO and founder. "So we are very, very happy about [the LCF's] support."

The Sydney-based investment bank Lincoln Crowne and Co announced the formation of LCF last month. Nicholas Assef, co-chair and founder of the foundation, described improving the lives of children as a "core part of this foundation's mission" in a March 10 press release announcing the impending gift.

LCF plans to review CCAF's operations in the coming months before deciding how much to give the NGO and how to best time the gift.

Hing Channarith declined to estimate how much the foundation stands to receive from LCF. But he said the pledge would make LCF the primary funding source for CCAF in 2009 and would sustain its early childhood education program, one of three main programs it operates.

The work of CCAF
Through the education program, CCAF provides preschool instruction, regular medical checkups and recreational activities for children in five villages in Kampot province. As a result of the funding, the program will expand to include six more villages in Kampot.

The NGO's community development program is designed "to assist vulnerable farmers who require technical support and basic necessities including seeds, agriculture tools, fertiliser and vocational training to improve their agriculture productivity".

Along with Frances Lambrick, who is based in the United Kingdom, Hing Channarith founded CCAF in 2006.

World Vision Peace Road book given to officials

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
World Vision's Peace Road for Children will soon be in classrooms in Cambodia.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Monday, 16 March 2009

Lessons on ‘basic life skills' are part of a curriculum that has been approved for primary and secondary schools.

THE Christian relief and development organisation World Vision distributed on Friday a book detailing its Peace Road for Children curriculum to provincial and municipal education officials.

World Vision took five years to produce the book, copies of which were also distributed to representatives from 30 local and international NGOs at an event held Friday at the organisation's Phnom Penh offices.

Ket Chanto, World Vision's education program manager, said the book was intended to be used as an educational tool to "strengthen children and youths as peacebuilders".

The book's topics include diversity, gender equity and "having fun without offending or harming anyone", Ket Chanto said.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has decided to allow the teaching of the Peace Road for Children curriculum in primary and secondary schools, Ket Chanto said, adding that the curriculum would help teachers cover "basic life skills".

"I believe that this book will help not only the students but also the society to reduce and stop domestic violence," said Ket Chanto, who added that it would also help students "live with good morality and forgive other people".

He said teachers should spend two to five hours each week covering the material.

Ton Sa Im, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, said the book would "help Cambodian students know more about themselves and their society because the chapters in the book tell about the real situation in our society".

She said officials must work with NGOs and development partners to improve the quality of education programs on offer in the Kingdom.

Crisis could lead to spike in exploitation, trafficking: UN

FUNDS FROM GERMANY
German diplomat Hans Heinrich Schumacher called human trafficking "an international scourge" that affects both rich and poor countries. "The smuggled migrants who endure unimaginable hardship ... must be better protected," he said.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet
Monday, 16 March 2009

German grant to fund development of a plan for Mekong region countries to protect vulnerable groups during the economic downturn.

THE United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) is planning an effort designed to prepare countries including Cambodia for "a predicted increase in exploitation and human trafficking" stemming from the global economic crisis, according to a press release distributed Sunday.

The effort, funded by a German grant worth €130,000 (US$168,070), will begin with an investigation into the effects of the crisis on child labour, exploitative conditions and migration.

The results of the investigation will be used to inform the development of "a regional action plan to reduce the negative impacts" of the crisis on vulnerable groups, including migrant workers and rural families, the release states.

"Historical evidence of increases in unsafe labour migration during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 sets a concerning precedent as current levels of employment drop," said Gwi-Yeop Son, a UN resident representative in Thailand.

The threat of the crisis
According to the press release, employers working "under the pressure of reduced profit margins" are far more likely to "exploit desperate families and communities", creating situations in which "the trade in human lives can flourish".

UNIAP Regional Project Manager Matt Friedman said the current economic situation warranted immediate action.

"To prevent exploitation from following the present global financial trend, we need to act now," he said.

Arguing to call it genocide

Photo by: ANNE-LAURE POREE
Anthropologist Richard Rechtman on a recent visit to Phnom Penh in February.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Poree
Monday, 16 March 2009

Richard Rechtman says that the radical dehumanisation under the Khmer Rouge regime constitutes genocidal intentions.

As a psychiatrist, you have worked with Cambodian refugees for more than 20 years. How did you come to think about the genocidal intentions of the Khmer Rouge?

The vital lead of my work was this impression, with the passing consultations, that patients were stuck in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when they were talking to me. They were talking about themselves and about their lost loved ones.

These dead were an intrusive presence, whether in the guise of ghosts or whether in the guise of people they were looking for. The patients were literally polluted by the deaths. In the case of these refugees, people did not speak about the life of their dead but only about their death.

There was another paradox: It was to hear them saying, "Pol Pot, it's over, we do not want to talk about it". It was a forbidden subject in the community while in consultations they only talked about that. If I wanted to understand, I had to understand what happened in the mind of the Khmer Rouge. I had to understand their intention.

Why did you define this intention as a genocidal intention?

Through the stories of the survivors, we detect that something aims to take out the human being from its human condition.

In the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, the dead are not used as a threat but as an identity with the living. Why did the Khmer Rouge hide the dead? Because erasing the traces of the dead - the corpses - amounted to melding the living and the dead.

Before the Khmer Rouge regime, ancestor worship was powerful and death was a very ritualised space. Under Pol Pot, this space exploded. It was a deep deterioration of a foundation of the culture.

Yet Cambodians who talk about their lives during this period say they felt death as a threat.

When you think, "It will happen to me", this is not a threat anymore. This is a destiny. You are in a hostile universe where you can't trust anyone and where death is not exhibited.

The Khmer Rouge did not work on the opposition of dead to living, which terrorises the living, but on the confusion in space and time. In the rice fields, disappearance is used to kill the population. It is not a matter of disappearance of close relations since the families had been separated. It is the disappearance of the others. And the dead are everywhere.

The concealment of the traces boils down to saying that they were nothing, which comes down to denying their existence. The dead have no place to rest. This is called a dehumanisation process, and therefore, a genocidal process.

Apart from the imposed confusion between the dead and the living, what convinced you that it was a genocide ?

The first thing is the creation of categories, which are far from something natural or empirical. Those who were not on the Khmer Rouge side before 1975 were categorized as New People - a new category, impermeable, equal to an ethnic category.

Going from the Ancient People to the New People was possible, but not the opposite. The Khmer Rouge thought up a radical otherness. The intellectuals who were asked to serve the country were executed. There were criteria for each category through language, the wearing of glasses, educational background.

The second point is related to the separation of families. The social links were dismantled, the human beings subjected to an invisible order, to a virtual threat. The descendants do not exist anymore, the genealogy is destroyed.

The Khmer Rouge arranged things so that Cambodians had no history, neither before nor after. For me, as an anthropologist, it is a genocide.

What is the role of the ECCC judges?

To make the perpetrators speak. Their work is to study the facts, to interview the defendants, to establish the responsibilities and to judge them.

We don't ask them to write history, we just ask them to do their job.

Are the perpetrators ordinary people ?

The more a man is dislocated, the less reserved a perpetrator will be to act. No need to be a monster, a bastard or a pervert.

Being a minor official who is doing his work is sufficient. So yes, the perpetrator is an ordinary man, deeply human, and that's the reason why he is sentenced. He is sentenced because when he should have said, "I won't do it", he did not say it. Every subject has to pay the price of his choices.

Under the Khmer Rouge, these choices may have been difficult but it is not true that there was no choice.

Many former Khmer Rouge say that they executed orders because they would otherwise have been killed.

Death is a choice as well. Why did they consider their individual lives to be more important than the lives of the hundreds or thousands of people they killed? They have to pay the price for this choice.

Interview by
Anne-Laure Poree

Garment orders plunge 40 percent

Photo by: AFP
Employees leave a garment factory in Phnom Penh on Thursday.


PRODUCTION DECLINE
- 40pc decline in garment production orders for the first two months of 2009
- Drop by more than two thirds in January exports, from $250m to $70m, said Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh
- More than 50,000 laid off since the downturn began last year
- About 70 factories closed since crisis began


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Monday, 16 March 2009

Industry says that falling overseas orders could lead to more factory closures and layoffs, but hope remains for second-quarter recovery.

GARMENT orders were down 40 percent in the first two months of 2009 compared to the same period last year, Van Sou Ieng said Sunday after re-election as president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia.

The latest figures suggest more layoffs and factory closures could be on the way for the already battered sector even if they paint a more positive figure than government data. Last week Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said exports had declined from US$250 million in January 2007 to just $70 million in the same period in 2008.

About 70 factories have shut their doors since the economic crisis started to hit Cambodia last August, and more than 51,000 workers have lost their jobs or seen their contracts suspended, say industry officials.

"We have received only 60 percent as many orders as last year, and that figure may continue to decrease without urgent measures," said Van Sou Ieng.

"I will encourage buyers to increase orders of textiles from Cambodia because they have already recognised the reputation of our country for respecting labour standards," he added.

He said local factories were improving their quality standards and were capable of competing with producers in Bangladesh and Vietnam.

GMAC, which represents the majority of the country's factories, said it plans to meet with buyers from Hong Kong on March 26 to press for orders.

"We must help garment factories to increase quality so that they are able to compete with other countries. That means improving transportation and reducing bureaucracy," he said.

The GMAC president said he hopes the industry will recover this year.

"I think in the second quarter we will be able to maintain orders at the current level if we make factories more competitive," he said.

The sector has been hit hard by the global economic slowdown and is heavily dependent on the crisis-hit American and European markets.

Garment makers have had limited success diversifying into the Middle East, Japan and Eastern Europe. The Commerce Ministry said export sales were down $60 million in February compared with last year, with $337 million in sales in 2009.

The monthly payroll for January and February was down $1.1 million from last year.

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In the second quarter, we will ... maintain orders at the current level.
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Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said he is optimistic that tourism and agriculture will stay strong, but added construction investment had fallen 40 percent.

From 2004 to 2008, total investment was $1.96 billion, with $1.17 billion in foreign investment and $7.880 million in local investment.

Mean Sophea, director of the Trade Preferences System Department of the Ministry of Commerce, said Sunday that the government has been encouraging more investment in the garment sector.

Union strikes
But a Commerce Ministry spokesman said worker unions and GMAC could help stimulate the sector.

"I think that GMAC can help make buyers feel confident in buying garments from Cambodia," Mean Sophea said.

Van Sou Ieng called Sunday for the country's 1,000 unions to limit their activities while the sector faces problems.

"Some union activities are leading to fewer orders and are leading to thousands of job losses, so [unions] must be careful with their actions," said Vann Sou Ieng. "I would like to publicly announce to the world that no matter what obstacles we face, Cambodia will not die. I will try to look for new markets and new buyers."

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Cambodia, rejected the GMAC accusation, saying that many of the factories closing down were simply avoiding taxes.

"This is just GMAC's accusation," he said. "GMAC cannot blame strikes - there have been no strikes in the first two months of 2009, but 70 factories closed."

Govt seeks electricity boost

Photo by: BLOOMBERG
A technician repairs power lines in Phnom Penh. The government hopes the private sector will help develop the national grid.

GRID development
- Lines to west of Cambodia by 2012 including Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey
- Backbone of national grid in place by 2015
- Vietnam supply agreement due within the next three to four months
- 220km lines from Thailand into Cambodia to go online soon


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nathan Green
Monday, 16 March 2009

State requests private investment for development of national grid as plans continue for increased electricity network coverage outside capital.

THE government is courting private investors for its proposed national electricity grid and is hoping to have the main backbone of the system in place by 2015, an official said last week.

Ty Norin, chairman of the Electricity Authority of Cambodia, told the 2009 Cambodia Outlook Conference in Phnom Penh on Thursday that private sector investment was needed to top-up donor and government funds already earmarked for the project to ensure maximum coverage. He did not name possible backers.

Under the government's 2013-18 Cambodia Power Development System plan, the proposed national grid will be controlled by the state-run Electricite du Cambodge, but Special Purpose Transmission Licences will be available to private companies to operate sections of the grid, he said. It is expected that these will mostly be used to supply large individual consumers as well as rural areas off the main grid.

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This is probably the biggest constraint that we hear about.
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Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, told the conference that affordable electricity prices and reliable access were critical for the future of the country's manufacturing sector.

"This is probably the biggest constraint that we hear about but one that will be fixed in the next year or two," he said.

Higgins noted that electricity cost from 18 US cents per kilowatt-hour in Cambodia compared to around 5.4 cents per kilowatt in Vietnam.

Ty Norin said the high cost of electricity was due to the country's almost total reliance on fuel imports due to an absence of indigenous resources.

The government also hoped to firm up fuel supply agreements with key trading partners to enhance energy security and would build a coal-run power plant near Sihanoukville port to feed into the grid.

"We are very confident in the near future our power supply will not be entirely dependent on foreign fuel," he said.

Ty Norin ruled out government subsidies or price controls to keep energy prices low, saying the national budget could not support subsidies and that price controls would make the market unattractive.

"We cannot force the tariff down by setting it lower because if the tariff is lower than the cost we will create an issue with sustainability of supply," he said. "The market will die."

However, major industries and Special Economic Zones within 10 kilometres of substations will be able to source electricity on a direct feed, which would give them a comparatively lower grid tariff by exempting them from network transmission charges. However, rural areas would likely face greater costs due to higher charges, said Ty Norin.

Phnom Penh, which accounts for 85 percent of Cambodia's electricity consumption, will be the central point of the proposed grid. Substations will be built in the capital, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampot and Sihanoukville by 2011, he added. The grid will be connected to western Cambodia by 2012 to supply electricity to Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey.

Look at the future

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Trevor Keidan
Monday, 16 March 2009

Reasons for optimism amidst the global doom and gloom.

LAST week saw Cambodian officials put on a brave face about the global financial crisis, therefore putting them in good company with the former President of the United States Bill Clinton.

After all, the former American leader said in a recent interview that we "will see some good economic news from the stimulus fairly soon".

He made the remarks on an American television news program in response to questions on President Barack Obama's performance in office and his handling of the economic crisis.

He said he agreed that President Obama should try to educate the American people but added that he just wanted "the American people to know that he's [President Obama] confident that we are going to get out of this and he feels good about the long run".

Cambodia's Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh - on the other hand - was speaking at the 2009 Outlook Conference at the Phnom Penh Hotel when he made his remarks.

He was quoted in The Phnom Penh Post last week as saying he believed the crisis would soon come to an end.

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‘Reasons to be cheerful' extend to the world beyond america as well - including cambodia.
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Both men conveyed a particularly upbeat assessment about the world's economy at a time when good news has been in very short supply.

On the bright side...
So, with these upbeat messages in mind I set out to find some examples of optimism (or some reasons to be cheerful) to justify putting a more positive spin on President Obama's message regarding the overall economy.

This is what I came up with - a number of reasons to be cheerful despite the economic doom and gloom almost everywhere at the moment:

· Gold is up. The price of gold has increased by about US$90-$100 per ounce (as of last Friday) since President Obama took office on January 20.

At that time gold was priced at about $840 per ounce - last week gold was selling at around the $920-$930. So if you are invested in gold or in a gold fund there is reason for optimism.

· Oil is down. This is bad news if you are invested in an oil company or the oil services sector.

However, this is great news if you are an oil consumer - as most of us are. After all the price of petrol at the pumps should be lower as should our electricity bills and air travel.

The price of oil hit a record high above $147 per barrel in July last year before falling back later in the year. Last week oil was trading in the $40 range.
· The good Macro Hedge Funds are up. These are funds that invest in all products on the major markets such as stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities.

The strategy of such hedge funds is to profit from the changes in global economies that might in turn affect the markets.

They are volatile, but can be a highly effective investment. And it just so happens that with the volatility of today's markets, the macro hedge fund strategies are up, too.

· Managed futures funds are up. Funds trading in futures contracts (based on the future prices of certain commodities) have also done well. Funds such as Man AHL Diversified Futures PLC have posted gains of 24.9 percent in 2008 and averaged 14.6 percent per year since 1998.

If you are an investor in futures funds you may also have good reason to be optimistic.
· And the final reason to be cheerful comes from former President Bill Clinton himself.

On the very same talk show in which he was quoted as saying: "I think you will see some good economic news from the stimulus fairly soon," he added that he thought:

"You'll start to see people express gratitude for getting the unemployment benefits, the tax cuts and the food stamps."

He also added that "you'll see the money flowing through the economy.

"Then I think you'll see every state be able to quantify how much better shape they're in because of the education and health money."

And although former President Bill Clinton was talking specifically about the United States, we can only hope that his reasons to be cheerful extend to the world beyond America as well - including Cambodia.

After all Your Money Matters too!

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Trevor Keidan is Managing Director of Infinity Financial Solutions. To contact him, please send an email to tkeidan@infinsolutions.com.Trevor welcomes comments and/or questions about his articles.

Microfinance recruitment slowing

Photo by: BLOOMBERG
An ACLEDA branch in Phnom Penh.


RECRUITMENT slows
5pc employment growth expected this year
Down from 20pc in recent years
Lending growth drop cited as reason behind recruiting slowdown


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguong Sovan
Monday, 16 March 2009

Economic downturn forces fast-expanding MFI sector to scale back employment plans.

THE rate of job creation in the microfinance sector will slow sharply this year as the sector's previously high levels of loan growth start to slow, the industry body has warned.

Bun Mony, chairman of lender Sathapana Limited and a board member of the Cambodian Microfinance Association (CMA), forecasts sector-wide employment growth could be as low as 5 percent this year, far lower than previous years.

He was speaking at a workshop for senior staff of the country's 18 microfinance institutions (MFIs), and he told journalists that 10,000 people currently work in the sector.

"New direct labour recruitment has risen 30 percent each year in the last few years, but due to the [global economic] crisis, new recruitment is forecast to grow only 5 to 10 percent this year," Bun Mony said.

Bun Mony said the sector had lent US$740 million to a million borrowers in 2008 - an increase of 61 percent on the previous year's loan
portfolio.

However, he expects growth in the industry's lending will slow sharply this year to 10 to 20 percent, because cash-strapped foreign investors - who account for 80 percent of capital inflow - will invest less. For that reason, he said, companies would need to hire fewer employees.

CMA Chairman Hout Ieng Tong predicted graduates would face tougher competition for posts at MFIs.

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Due to the crisis we have cut the number of new staff recruitments.
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"Normally when MFIs recruit staff, many university graduates apply for those posts," he said. "Due to the crisis we have cut the number of new staff recruitments. Sometimes we recruit only 20 employees but have thousands of applications."

Chea Phalarin, general manager of MFI Amret, agreed, saying that his company employs 810 employees - a rise of 50 percent on the previous year.

"However, the financial crisis means we plan to recruit only 30 percent new employees to expand our operations," Chea Phalarin said.

He added that Amret's loan book last year was up 80 percent, with $54 million lent to 230,000 customers. Yet Chea Phalarin predicted loan growth for his firm would slow to 40 percent this year.

The beauty industry is proving a popular path

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
Salon students at Friends International's Mith Samlanh tend to their customers last week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nora Lindstrom
Monday, 16 March 2009

A variety of schools, from expensive private courses to a free program offered by an NGO working with street children, offer a lucrative career choice.

From the roadside barber to the top-end salon, the beauty industry in Phnom Penh offers something for everyone, at very affordable prices. While the quality remains highly variable, recent market developments are likely to result in the offering of more professional services as more beauty therapist hopefuls seek formal training.

"We need to keep up with the market so our students can find good jobs," said Natalie Elverd, a technical adviser at the NGO Friends International, in reference to recent renovations at the beauty rooms and nail bar of the organisation's Mith Samlanh school.

"We did the upgrade because we need to follow changes in the local economy. There has been an increase in salons, so we wanted to improve placement opportunities for our young people by providing them with a better learning environment to gain increasingly better skills," she said, adding that the renovations were made possible thanks to aid from the Australian government.

The Mith Samlanh students, who were formerly street children, are given the opportunity to choose a career in hair and beauty care from a variety of other potential careers.

While the beauty rooms are open to the public only during the centre's monthly flea markets, the nail bar inside the Friends 'n' Stuff shop is open on a daily basis and allows students to gain experience in a real working environment. "The idea behind opening this business for the students is for them to have hands-on training with the public. It gives them the opportunity to gain confidence and improve their [future] placement opportunities," Elverd said. She added that the training at Mith Samlanh also encompasses personal hygiene, customer service skills, how to care for and sterilise tools and how to keep the workspace clean.

"The training is of good standard, as well as constantly improving. The students are very popular and in high demand in the employment market. We often have job opportunities waiting for them," said Elverd, who herself has 20 years of experience from the Australian beauty industry.

There are several other beauty schools around Phnom Penh as well, catering to vast amounts of beauty therapist hopefuls, mainly girls. While the training at Mith Samlanh is free, many private schools charge significant amounts of money for their training programs.

Christina's Beauty School on Sihanouk Boulevard has achieved a good reputation in the Cambodian beauty industry during its almost decade- long existence. Here, an eight- to 10-month full course costs $590 and covers a curriculum of 19 subjects, while shorter courses focussing on specific skills are also available. Owner Sun Heang said the school is attended by more than 300 students, with recent graduates usually earning between $50 and $100 per month, depending on skills. "Once they finish the course, we also offer them the opportunity to work here in my salon, or else we help them find employment somewhere else," she said, adding that there is constant interest in the courses she offers.

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THE TRAINING IS OF GOOD STANDARD, AS WELL AS CONSTANTLY IMPROVING.
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Socheat Beauty School offers training similar to Christina's, albeit at a slightly higher cost of $750 for a full course. Srei Oun, 23, has been studying there for approximately eight months along with some 100 other trainees. "I like it here. I have a lot of friends, also. My favourite thing is cutting hair," she said, though was slightly insecure about how much longer it would take for her to master all the skills necessary for a good job in the industry.

Srei Oun's sister Srei Neang, 27, has been a hairdresser for 15 years and in contrast to her sibling learned the trade through working her way up. "I started by working at Central Market when I was 12 doing manicures and pedicures, but have since worked at the salons of many top-end hotels," Srei Neang explained. "You can make a good living as a hairdresser," she added.

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
A recent renovation at Mith Samlanh will offer more varied training for the growing number of students in the beauty sector.

Srei Neang thinks it's better to learn while working, as opposed to going to school. "You can practise in reality straight away, and also you earn money," she said, noting that formal training can be too expensive for many people. Nevertheless, she does acknowledge that there are many salons in Phnom Penh where staff have no training whatsoever and that this is a problem. "They can open anywhere, but they don't know how to do [the services provided]" she said.

As the industry develops, services provided are likely to improve as more salons have professionally trained staff. A downside of this may be an increase in prices, yet for the time being hair and beauty treatments remain affordable to most, even if their quality is sometimes dubious.

The revamped Nail Bar at Friends 'n' Stuff will be open for business at the next Friends flea market, on Saturday, March 28.

The Phnom Penh Post News In Brief

In Brief: Two men convicted in child sex case

Written by AFP
Monday, 16 March 2009

Two French men accused of frequenting child prostitutes in Southeast Asia and recording their encounters were sentenced on Wednesday to the maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The court in the eastern French town of Colmar also issued fines for Robert Chung, 72, and Jean-Marc Malgarini, 51, of €70,000 and €50,000 (US$90,000 and $64,000) respectively. Both were accused of travelling to Cambodia regularly and filming their encounters with girls under 15.


In Brief: American faces child sex questions

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Monday, 16 March 2009

A 41-year-old American man was questioned Thursday by an investigating judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on suspicion of purchasing child sex. Bith Kimhong, the director of the Ministry of Interior's Anti-human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, said the man was arrested February 24 in Siem Reap. Bith Kimhong said the man was being investigated for paying two boys - aged 13 and 14 - for sex in Phnom Penh and was currently being held at Prey Sar prison in the capital. The suspect's lawyer denied the charge.


In Brief: Three websites offering fake visas

Written by Cheang Sokha
Monday, 16 March 2009

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently discovered three unauthorised websites offering electronic travel visas. In a press release issued March 13, the ministry identified the sites as: www.cambodiaonarrival.com, www.cambodiaevisa.com and www.welovecambodia.com. The ministry said in the press release that its own website "is the only authorized website for issuing [electronic visas] for travel to Cambodia".


In Brief: Foreigners barred from elections

Written by Vong Sokheng
Monday, 16 March 2009

The National Election Committee announced Saturday that foreigners will not be allowed to participate in campaigns for district, municipal and provincial council elections scheduled for May 17. "The regulation of the election campaign is not different from the previous election campaigns, but there is a new point that prohibits foreigners from participating," NEC member Klok Buddhi said in a press release. The release states that the campaign period will last from May 1 to May 15.


In Brief: NagaWorld meeting

Written by Kay Kimsong
Monday, 16 March 2009

FOURTEEN workers who were protesting their dismissal last month from NagaWorld Casino and Hotel plan to meet with management on Thursday, they said Sunday. The group of unionised workers says it rejects the hotel's offer of compensation and are demanding reinstatements, according to Sok Narith, head of the hotel union. He said he and his colleagues would return the compensation to Naga management. "We have maintained our stance, we need jobs rather than compensation," he said, adding they only accepted compensation because the companies threatened to withhold their final month's salary.

Spider at Skun, Kampong Cham province

A girl displays a spider as she waits for costumers at bus station at Skun, Kampong Cham province, east of Phnom Penh March 14 ,2009. It costs $2 for 10 deep-fried spiders, which come seasoned with garlic. The fist-sized arachnids are crunchy on the outside and taste like cold, gooey chicken on the inside. Picture taken March 14, 2009.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY FOOD DRINK)

A Cambodian girl demonstrates to travelers how to touch a live spider at the town of Skun, about 75 kilometers (46 miles) northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, March 14, 2009. The town is well-known for selling deep-fried spiders to travelers who stop by on their way to and from the country's northern and northeastern provinces.( AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian vendor waits for her costumers while selling her deep-fried spiders at the town of Skun, about 75 kilometers (46 miles) northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, March 14, 2009. The town is well-known for selling deep-fried spiders to travelers who stop by on their way to and from the country's northern and northeastern provinces.( AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A vendor selling deep-fried spiders poses with a spider as she waits for costumers at bus station at Skun, Kampong Cham province, east of Phnom Penh March 14 ,2009. It costs $2 for 10 deep-fried spiders, which come seasoned with garlic. The fist-sized arachnids are crunchy on the outside and taste like cold, gooey chicken on the inside. Picture taken March 14, 2009. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY FOOD DRINK IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE)

Vendors selling deep-fried spider wait for costumers at bus station at Skun in Kampong Cham province, east of Phnom Penh March 14 ,2009. It costs $2 for 10 deep-fried spiders, which come seasoned with garlic. The fist-sized arachnids are crunchy on the outside and taste like cold, gooey chicken on the inside. Picture taken March 14, 2009.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY FOOD DRINK)

Vendors selling deep-fried spider wait for costumers at bus station at Skun in Kampong Cham province, east of Phnom Penh March 14 ,2009. It costs $2 for 10 deep-fried spiders, which come seasoned with garlic. The fist-sized arachnids are crunchy on the outside and taste like cold, gooey chicken on the inside. Picture taken March 14, 2009.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY FOOD DRINK)

A vendor selling deep-fried spiders poses with a spider as she waits for costumers at bus station at Skun, Kampong Cham province, east of Phnom Penh March 14 ,2009. It costs $2 for 10 deep-fried spiders, which come seasoned with garlic. The fist-sized arachnids are crunchy on the outside and taste like cold, gooey chicken on the inside. Picture taken March 14, 2009.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY FOOD DRINK)