Thursday, 19 March 2009

Small decline in helmet use reported

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Nearly three months since helmet law came into effect, traffic cops say compliance is down.

THE chief of the capital's Traffic Police told the Post Wednesday that officers had recently noticed a slight decrease in the number of drivers complying with the helmet law, a trend he said was fuelled in part by students who "don't respect the law".

The law, which went into effect January 1, makes the wearing of protective headgear compulsory for motorbike drivers.

Tin Prasoer said that roughly 70 percent of motorbike drivers had complied with the law during the first few weeks of the year.

He said that number had since fallen to 60 percent.

"I have a seen a decrease in drivers wearing helmets because people respect the law only for a short time," he said.

"But that does not mean we will stop enforcing the law. We are still strongly enforcing the law and explaining to drivers the importance of wearing helmets."

For the most part, he noted, those motorbike drivers who originally complied with the law continued to do so.

"The decrease in helmet-wearing has been mainly with students who are not afraid of police and don't respect the law," he said.

An enforcement issue?
But Sam Socheata, road safety program manager at Handicap International Belgium, said there was another reason for the decrease: selective enforcement on the part of Traffic Police officers.

"The traffic police don't give out fines everywhere," she said.

"And drivers know now which roads they can drive on and not be in danger of receiving a fine."

Motorbike drivers caught without a helmet must pay a fine of 3,000 riels (US$0.73).

Though she said she believed traffic police officers were "working very hard", Sam Socheata called on them to "enforce the law on all the roads in Phnom Penh".

According to a Handicap International survey, the percentage of motorbike drivers wearing helmets increased from 24 percent to 52 percent between July 2008 and February 2009, a jump Sam Socheata said could be largely attributed to the helmet law.

Fostering a sense of heritage

Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, president of UNESCO's executive council, tours the Preah Vihear temple complex near the Cambodia-Thailand border on Friday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Porre
Thursday, 19 March 2009

UNESCO's Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai sees stubborn pursuit of peace as the key to healing the rift between clashing cultures.

What were your impressions of Preah Vihear temple?
I knew the site before because I was vice chairman of the World Heritage Committee when the file was submitted [to UNESCO]. So I knew the file and the controversy. On the spot, I was not surprised because it was chosen for the universal value of its heritage.

But I said to myself that we did not make a mistake and that we should have listed it as a World Heritage site a long time ago if history would have allowed us to do so. Concerning the recent events, I saw pieces of shrapnel, bullets and the Thai soldiers at the border.

As I said to the Cambodians, I encouraged them to be patient and to look stubbornly for peace and for dialogue. Both sides have to hold on to the rule of law and on what international law says. This is a conflict that will resolve itself with the time.

Does UNESCO play any role in the negotiations between Thailand and Cambodia to solve the conflict?
No, we don't.

Before choosing Preah Vihear, you were aware of the tensions between the two countries?
A country petitions for the World Heritage's list. The file was technical, not political. We delayed our decision in order to allow the states to agree. We are interested in the universal value of the site. We would have preferred that this border heritage unite [Cambodia and Thailand].

Cambodian newspapers interpret your visit as showing political support for Cambodia. How would you characterise the purpose of your visit?
Does Cambodia need political support? You know, I could have come before. I was invited for a very long time. If my visit reinforces Cambodia, this is not my intention -- but good! I am acting as the president of UNESCO's executive council.

I have come in order to see Cambodia's heritage and to encourage Cambodians to submit more sites for World Heritage status. A lot of them deserve it. At UNESCO, we are interested in the heritage because it does more for peace than politics.

In what ways does heritage serve the cause of peace more than politics?
When heritage is known and shared by people who are strangers to your culture, they have to put their own culture in perspective. The other day I was joking: ‘The French probably had to relativise Versailles when confronted by Angkor Wat!' When you look at Angkor Wat, you have to think about the history, the ideas and the philosophy that led to it. This thought is an ingredient of peace, with education of course. And that's how humanity will appropriate this heritage. Peace grows in people's minds.

After that, if a country wants to declare war and the heritage is threatened, there will be people to say, ‘Stop'!. This is the sowing of peace.

Among the sites you have visited (Banteay Chhmar, Sambo Preykub, Beng Mealea, Koh Ke, Damrei and Leung Balang), which one do you think deserves World Heritage status?
I did not visit a single site that does not deserve it, natural sites included. I've visited a sanctuary for birds on the Tonle Sap Lake [Prek Toal], which maybe could be part of a mixed natural and cultural heritage [site] because of the fishermen's lifestyle in the lakeside village. It is like in my country, in Benin.

The difference is that in Benin, the people who live this way were forced to leave their land because of raids by those who wanted to catch slaves. They were refugees. They built their houses on piles on the water and created a new lifestyle. In this nature reserve of the Tonle Sap Lake, I was told that there is a great variety of birds and a great biodiversity. I am sure there are also a lot of different reptile and plant species.

Why did the site of Koh Ker make such a strong impression on you?
It never occurred to me that there was a pyramid in Cambodia! I was amazed. The pyramid is a way to express oneself that people have in common. All these civilisations were not contemporaneous: Khmer, Inca, Aztec. It proves the uniqueness of the human spirit, its universality. But these are not stories that are written in the newspapers.

Why have you said that Cambodians are very discreet about their heritage?
Some countries that have a tenth of this heritage would make more noise about it.

What are the most important factors for implementing sustainable protections of cultural heritage?
Besides conservation efforts, the involvement of the local communities is very important, so that they appropriate this heritage and understand that it belongs to them.

It is necessary to educate people about heritage because you can never take this notion for granted.

Education is a long-term process. You need to train one generation before getting the dividends of this education while heritage is visible and alive at the present time.

INTERVIEW BY ANNE-LAURE PORRE

Siem Reap Scene 19 Mar 2009

Photo by: PETER OLSZEWSKI
Nest founder Joe Polito at the site


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 19 March 2009

NEST BEING BUILT
Siem Reap's flash new night spot, Nest Angkor cafe bar, is now scheduled to open on dusty Sivutha Boulevard on Monday, April 6. The driving force behind the project is former Hotel de la Paix general manager Joe Polito, who lives in Bali and runs the acclaimed Nest in Bangkok.

He told the Post on the weekend, "We are looking at April 6, and we're fairly confident that's going to happen. We did the same project in Bangkok and it was three months from design to opening, but this one has taken much longer."

The Bangkok Nest is on top of an existing building and did not require foundations to be laid. But Nest Angkor, an innovative open-air garden-style cafe constructed from PVC-canvas sails, needed a foundation and also required the construction of a two-storey building behind the bar as a back-of-house support area with toilets and washrooms.

The newly appointed Nest general manager is Ivan Comizzoli, an Italian national who arrived in Cambodia in January. He's had extensive international experience in cruise ship and hotel management, including a stint with Disney in the United States and some unusual African postings.

Director of Nest is Socheat Cheng, who oversees the Angkor Mondial restaurant near FCC Angkor.

KIDNAPPING MEMORIES
The March 6 kidnapping of the daughter of Siem Reap's military police chief rekindled expat memories of the dramatic school siege in Siem Reap on June 16, 2005, when gunmen held terrified students hostage.

This month's kidnapping, a bungled Oceans Eleven scenario, didn't garner international attention, but the 2005 drama, in which a child was killed, was a global news sensation, and CNN's coverage propelled photographer John McDermott into a new , albeit short-lived career path, as an international news correspondent. "Yeah, well, that was just one of those things, something that happened really fast, and the whole CNN thing came out like a fluke. They called me and the next thing I knew I was on. It was remarkable. It went all over the world," McDermott said.

CNN's Mark Colvin reported that McDermott "was a witness to what happened when armed security forces broke the siege".

McDermott then reported, "I'm inside the compound now, where the hostages were on the ground. Two of them, it appears, are dead. One is injured. It looks like they're trying to get information from him. The fourth hostage-taker, as I said, three hostage-takers on the ground - not hostages - three hostage-takers on the ground.

"The reports are that there was one young girl, possibly a Canadian girl, that was killed, but nobody knows who killed, whether it was friendly fire or whether it was a cold-blooded... there's no, I have no report on that whatsoever. I just ... one girl it appears has been killed."

Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Christian Izard, founder , the Suites and Sweet Resort.


MIRACLE ON HOTEL ROW
Whether Siem Reap's hotel row on National Road 6 needs another large hotel is open to debate, but several more are under construction and another newbie, Angkor Miracle Resort and Spa, has set its opening date for April 12, according to its front office manager, Chan Picheth.

Director of sales and marketing is Kelly Dara and the general manager, as previously reported in the Post, is Australian Darryl Hissey, the former GM of Prince D'Angkor hotel.

The hotel has 247 rooms and suites, and will feature a 270-seat a la carte restaurant, a balcony restaurant, a lobby coffee shop and executive lounge, mezzanine lounge and poolside bars.

Siem Reap is underserviced with conference and meeting faculties, and the Miracle hotel has targeted this shortfall with three theatre-style conference rooms seating 200, 240 and 300 people, respectively. The hotel also has a 20-seat boardroom and a business centre.

Another hotel, the Suites and Sweet Resort, scheduled to open on July 1, has a new take with its architecture, designed along the lines of a floating Cambodian village. Siem Reap architect Alain Hely drew up the plans and design work for furniture and decor was rendered Khmer-style by Theam Leam.

The boutique hotel, with 18 poolside suites, is the brainchild of founder, 52-year-old Christian Izard, a former human resources honcho who, in 1988, won Le Figaro and TMP/Hudson's HR Manager of the Year award. Izard arrived in Cambodia in January last year intent on starting a "second life" in a new field.

CENTRE MARKET REVAMPS
Part of Siem Reap's Centre Market has been revamped with new signage, banners and coloured lights.

But the southeast corner of the market has been emptied, leaving many stallholders disgruntled and out of pocket, as previously reported in the Post.

But now Leang Peou, assistant at Super Market Centre, has revealed that some stallholders were given the heave-ho to make way for larger food shops, as part of a strategy to diversify the market. Leang Peou said that construction work on the new shops started earlier this month and is scheduled to finish in May.

Leang Peou said the market's new stores are designed to compensate for the financial crisis, which has thrown cold water on the throng of souvenir shops selling identical wares at Centre Market.

Some stallholders said that the launch in recent weeks of three new night markets has also detracted from trade. The redesigned shops in the southeast corner are the first stage in a larger plan to expand the market, Leang Peou said, adding that future development will be influenced by the success or failure of the new food stores.

WATER WORKS, POWER ON
Siem Reap's public utilities dramas have abated ... seemingly.

The water supply is now almost back to normal. Most of the businesses that were without water for most of six weeks report that water supplies are now normal about 90 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, the sidewalk cafe seating saga has subdued with compromise being reached - cafes can still use half the sidewalks but walking space has also been freed up for pedestrians.

Angkorian extravaganza dazzles

Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Performers bring the ancient Angkorian courts to life at the Angkor Wat Night Festival.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Peter Olszewski
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Siem Reap
Nightly light and dance show hopes to bring more people to temple.

When the president of the Executive Council of UNESCO, Benin's Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, strolled across the causeway at Angkor Wat on Sunday evening, dressed in traditional African garb and accompanied by Cambodia's deputy prime minister and other high-level officials, he walked into a ferocious battle being fought by Angkorian warriors.

His walk on the wild side was a promenade into the past, represented by actors reliving the glory days of ancient Angkor during the reign of King Suryavaram II, as part of the Angkor Wat Night Festival, a cultural entertainment extravaganza that is now a nightly fixture within the hallowed precincts of the famous temple.

The show, staged by the Sou Ching Group in conjunction with Apsara and with the blessing of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, is massive - moving across the interior of Angkor Wat each night and culminating in a traditional dance show held on a stage with light gantries that have been permanently erected deep in the heart of the temple grounds.

About 250 employees now turn up each evening to stage the show, including more than 150 dancers and circus and martial arts performers, 45 night lighting technicians and engineers, and another 50 support staff.

The entire temple interior is lit up and wired for sound, with a dining area near the stage providing a five-course Khmer dinner for pre-booked guests.

On Sunday night, 85 VIP guests dined in the temple, including high-level officials from the government and UNESCO, in Siem Reap to investigate whether more temples should be earmarked for listing as World Heritage sites.

Unesco's presence at the function signals the organisation's green light to the nightly temple event. And, despite the fact that the show could be viewed as a commercial intrusion into the sacred temple that could make preservation purists balk, there has been no resistance to this development, organisers said.

"There has been no controversy over the show, absolutely none," said Jamie Rossiter, director of marketing for the Sou Ching Group Co Ltd.

Rossiter said Sou Ching launched the show, which had been in planning for more than six months, on February 9 amid a carnival atmosphere, with free admission for Cambodians for the first fortnight. Admission fees are now US$15 for foreigners and $3 for Cambodians.

"We had 600 to 700 people turning up when it was free. We were absolutely chocker around that stage area, and the people seemed to really enjoy it," Rossiter said.

"All the food vendors were turning up, which became a problem because at the end of the night there was food everywhere. Our lighting crew was spending an hour-and-a-half every night just cleaning up because it's a temple and we have to leave it in pristine condition. All the lights, all the equipment, gets packed away every night and then put out again. The stage is a permanent fixture, but everything else is taken away each night."

Collaborative effort
The show was scripted by Rossiter and a New York producer, Mark Rowley, and is loosely based on accounts written by Chinese ambassador Zhou Daguan after his visit to Angkor during the reign of its builder, King Suryavarman II, who ruled from AD 1113 to 1150.

"UNESCO approved the script and they suggested that stage area," Rossiter said.

The dancers' costumes were supplied by the Ministry of Culture.

"We worked together on designing the costumes, drawing on the reliefs around Angkor Wat, but of course they show no colour," Rossiter said.

"The ministry then made the costumes in colour on our behalf. Several choreographers came in and hired their own dancers over a six-month period."

Area residents were hired as warriors for the fighting scenes and trained by a circus performer and a Khmer martial arts Grand Master. "A performer from the circus in Battambang taught the men how to do things like back flips," Rossiter said.

Bokator Grand Master San Kim Sean was recruited to train the men. Bokator is an ancient Khmer martial art, the predecessor of pradal serey, which is now known as Muay Thai.

Rossiter said the creation of a nightly show at Angkor Wat is the result of encouragement the Sou Ching Company received about two years ago directly from Prime Minister Hun Sen's offices to ramp up visitor activity at the temple.

"Apsara, UNESCO and the government together said we need to use the temple more, we need visitors to be visiting more and enjoying it more, that there is more we can be doing with these temples.

"We were approached two years ago by the prime minister's office, and we then did the night lighting of Angkor Wat, which was successful. We then wanted to expand on that. We thought there is still more we can do. We can create another experience involving Angkor Wat," he said.

Sou Ching Electronic began advertising Night Lighting tours of Angkor last year, after a November 28, 2006, decree from the government granting the Siem Reap-based company the right to distribute electricity to several zones, including the temple zone.

This followed agreements between Eletricite du Cambodge and the Apsara Authority that came in 2006. The decree listed Va Chouda as one of three registered owners of the company. Va Chouda is now a director and CEO of Sou Ching, which is named after his daughter.

Rossiter said the extension of the original night light tour, the Angkor Wat Night Festival, is "essentially Va Chouda's project and he's overseen the whole thing".

"It was his personal connections that got the Grand Master involved, and with his connections to the Ministry of Culture, he's a driving force behind the show".

NGO seeks to bring critical thinking to the classroom

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Nearly two years after the government launched a training program for Cambodian teachers, schools in Siem Reap have shown few improvements, said Andrea Messmer, general manager of the NGO Schools for Children of Cambodia.

"One of the main reasons education is poor in Siem Reap is that there's still very little training for teachers," Messmer said.

The government training scheme has proved unsatisfactory because it only applies to new teachers, Messmer said, leaving most current teachers and their ineffective teaching practices unchanged.

Additionally, the training is watered down by a Chinese whispers-like teaching method, which involves the Ministry of Education training the Provincial Department of Education, which trains the District Office of Education, which trains a cluster school, which trains teachers at individual schools.

Finally, the teachers are being trained in what Messmer calls a rote-style system that discourages critical thinking.

"If you walk into the average classroom, you will see a teacher reading from a book and students repeating what was read," Messmer said.

"Students don't get a chance to learn from each other or interact."

To address the shortcomings of the Siem Reap education system, Schools for Children of Cambodia has recently trained 53 teachers, school directors and deputy directors from four area primary schools.

To make sure the program was effective, Messmer said the NGO partnered with the government-run Teacher Training College and sought insight from communities.

"We're big on community involvement and using their ideas, not our ideas. It might take a little longer, but it gets the community involved in education," she said.

The teachers and directors attended two weekend sessions in February and March, where they were taught in what Messmer said is a more participatory, engaged style of pedagogy that attempts to stimulate discussion among students.

The NGO will follow up the training program in May, sending classroom monitors to evaluate the new teaching methods and identify additional areas where support is needed.

In the long term, Messmer hopes that Schools for Children of Cambodia will change a negative attitude toward education that is common in rural Siem Reap.

"Many parents are undervaluing education," she said.

Francophone scavenger hunt to highlight French language

Photo by: Peter Olszewski
Rasmei Pech, manager of French Cultural Centre Siem Reap.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 19 March 2009

ENERGETIC Francophiles will be racing around Siem Reap on Saturday morning in a scavenger hunt call the Battle Royale, hosted by the French Cultural Centre of Cambodia.

The Rallye de la Francophonie 2009 will pit six teams of three people against each other, challenging them to run to eight different locations around town and solve puzzles that test their French language skills, with the winning team taking away a scholarship to the Paul Dubrule Hospitality School.

Rasmei Pech, manager of the Siem Reap French Cultural Centre, told the Post that the contest is open to anyone, but only Cambodian nationals have a shot at the three Paul Dubrule placements. The first non-Khmer team to complete the challenge will win a voucher for Bodia Spa.

Two participants from each team will roam around town, following clues that lead them to spots with connections to Siem Reap's French community, including restaurants, hotels and shops. The third team member will be stationed in the library and will help, via mobile phone, with the French challenges.

At each location, teams will collect a piece of a puzzle and solve a problem that will unlock their next destination.

While the actual questions and locations are a closely guarded secret, Rasmei Pech said a typical challenge could be providing the ingredients for a French dish while at a cafe, or identifying different types of French wood in a furniture store.

When the teams get back to the centre, with the finished puzzle as evidence of their completion, the competition becomes more cutthroat, turning former teammates against each other in a French dictation contest. The first three teams that return will compete against each other for a scholarship to the Paul Dubrule school, which goes to the team that writes the most accurate dictation.

Rasmei Pech said that knowledge of the French language is a big asset locally. "The French language should not be forgotten in Siem Reap.
There are so many French tourists here, and learning French is a big benefit for students entering the hospitality industry."

Rasmei Pech said that she doesn't know whether the rally will become a yearly event.

"That depends on how successful Saturday is. If a lot of people come up to me and say ‘That was really good', then I will do it again."

SKorea expands presence


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Hostesses at the new KOTRA office launch in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. South Korea said the new premises reflected its increasing business presence in Cambodia.


KOREAN economic ties
$235m total Cambodia-South Korea trade in 2008
$214m trade deficit for Cambodia, up from $177 million in 2007
$1.257b in South Korean investment in 2008, double the amount in 2007
Source: KOTRA

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 19 March 2009

New KOTRA office reflects increased economic relations with Cambodia, says South Korean official, as plans for presidential visit to Phnom Penh announced

SOUTH Korean President Lee Myung-bak is planning an official visit to Cambodia this year to boost trade and investment, and increase tourism between the two countries, the Korean Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said Wednesday.

The announcement was made at the launch of the new Korean Business Support Centre in Phnom Penh, which Minpha Hwang, KOTRA's senior executive vice president, said reflected the sharp increase in South Korean investment.

"We are expanding our office in Phnom Penh because trade volume and investment have increased," said Minpha Hwang, adding that Korean investment in 2008 had risen by 50 percent compared to 2007.

He said that the Korean government sees Cambodia as an important investment destination and that the Korean Business Support Centre would aim to facilitate commerce between the two countries.

He estimated that more than 1,000 Korean traders and investors are currently operating in Cambodia.

"Everyday, Koreans are coming to Cambodia on holiday and for business ... we can cooperate with each other in every sector to create a strong relationship in areas such as agriculture, industry and natural resources," Minpha Hwang said.

He added also that the Korean and Cambodian economies were in a good position to recover quickly from the global economic slowdown.

Recovery prospects
"Manufacturing-based economies are stronger than economies based on services, and I have not heard of any Korean investment projects in Cambodia that have been cancelled or suspended," he said.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
We can cooperate with each other ... to create a strong relationship.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh told Korean investors Wednesday that the planned visit by the South Korean president this year will pave the way for more trade and investment between the two nations.

Shin Sujoo, general manager of Korean Air, said he welcomed the planned Korea Business Support Centre in Phnom Penh and that he expects bilateral tourism to increase.

The Cambodia-South Korea Free Trade Agreement allows duty-free access for 11,261 categories of Cambodian goods, but Cambodia has yet to capitalise on its export potential.

Increasing deficit
According to Commerce Ministry figures, Cambodia ran a US$214 million trade deficit with South Korea in 2008, making it the sixth-largest exporter to Cambodia.

In 2007, South Korean exports totalled $177 million, which meant a trade deficit for Cambodia of $172 million.

Korean investment in Cambodia grew from $172 million in 2006 to $828 million in 2007 and $1.257 billion in 2008, said a KOTRA statement.

Cham Prasidh also said that Seoul had imposed restrictions on some agricultural goods like bananas, pineapples, rice, beef, pork and fish to protect South Korean prices.

The commerce minister was nonetheless complimentary of South Korea's economic policies over the past 65 years that he said had led from ruin to prosperity in a relatively short period of time.

"Cambodia should learn from Korea and its recovery after World War II to become a strong economy in the region," he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is also scheduled to visit South Korea from June 1 to 2.

Trade with US, Canada up

BLOOMBERG
A customer shops in a clothing store in Rosemont, Illinois. The United States is Cambodia’s biggest importer, primarily of garments, figures show
.


Selling to the West
The Kingdom's top five export destinations based on 2008 figures:
$2.04b - United States
$212m - Canada
$158.3m - United Kingdom
$152.8m - Germany
$150.1m - the Netherlands
Source: Ministry of Commerce

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Overall trade with North America climbed in 2008, but slowed in the final months of the year as the global crisis took hold, the Commerce Ministry says

CAMBODIA'S overall trade with the United States and Canada increased in 2008 on strong garment exports, while trade with the United Kingdom declined, according to the Commerce Ministry's annual report obtained late Tuesday.

The figures reflected higher trade for the entire year, but monthly tallies suggests exports decreased in the last quarter of 2008 - a decline that has continued into this year, government officials said, as the global financial crisis deepens.

The US was Cambodia's No 1 export market, with US$2.04 billion, followed by Canada at $212 million and the UK at $158 million.

Total trade was up 4 percent and 39.6 percent for the US and Canada respectively, with UK trade down 4.3 percent.

On the flip side, Vietnam was the No 1 exporter to Cambodia at $988 million, adding up to a trade deficit of about $904 million.

China was No 2 at $784 million, with the Kingdom recording a trade deficit of about $775 million, the figures showed.

Cambodia's total exports were $3.35 billion, with imports of $4.42 billion. Total trade was up 11.8 percent.

Garments the key export
Thon Virak, deputy director general of the Directorate General of International Trade at the Ministry of Commerce, said Wednesday that garments made up the bulk of exports to the top-three countries.

"We exported mostly garments and shoes, and some handicrafts to those countries," said Thon Virak.

"Even though those countries are faced with the crisis, exports to US and Canada increased [in 2008] because the quality and price of our products is strong.

"They are buying more low-cost Cambodian garments instead of more expensive ones from other countries," he said.

Despite the sharp decline in garment sales in January this year, Thon Virak said he was still optimistic that exports could recover later this year as the sector homes in on the budget overseas market.

But garment manufacturers and government officials say that garment exports are down as much as 50 percent so far this year, compared with the same period in 2008.

Falling rubber prices hit Cambodian plantations

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Profit margins slashed as rubber price nosedives on world markets

PLUMMETING prices are threatening Cambodia's once-booming rubber sector, with exporters reporting tight margins and declining international demand.

The General Directorate of Rubber Plantations said Wednesday that prices had dropped to US$1,378 per tonne in February this year, from highs of $2,681 per tonne last year - a drop of nearly 50 percent.

Ly Phalla, director general, told the Post Wednesday that he expects prices to stay low because of falling tyre demand.

"I think the rubber price will not recover any time soon because the automobile industry has reduced production," he said.

He said that he does not expect a return to last year's soaring prices, which saw rubber hit a 54-year high.

"I am very worried about the decline in rubber prices and the drop in purchase orders," he said, but added that even with falling prices, farmers still favoured rubber over growing corn and cassava.

"The government still has a policy of encouraging rubber plantations because our rubber production is still small," he said.

"I think rubber farmers are willing to plant more trees if the price stays between $1,000 to $1,500 per tonne."

From now until 2015, the government will expand rubber plantation land to about 150,000 hectares from the current 100,000 hectares, Ly Phalla said.

In 2008, Cambodia exported over 40,000 tones of dry rubber, and this year exports are expected to reach 50,000 tonnes, and Ly Phalla said he hoped Cambodia would eventually produce over 100,000 tonnes.

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The price of rubber will go up next year ... there are no other raw materials.
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Cambodia's rubber harvests are set to double by 2011, as recently planted trees mature. More than 30,000 Cambodians are employed in the rubber sector.

Men Siphan, the deputy director general in charge of rubber plantations at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that rubber prices are still high enough for local farmers to earn a profit.

"Rubber was $450 per tonne in 1998, but farmers were still earning a profit even then," he said. "I think the decline will not influence agricultural development in the country, so rubber development will not be a problem."

He added that although there has been a decline in purchase orders and rubber prices, it has not seriously affected Cambodia because it was comparable to a decline in oil prices and other raw materials.

"I believe the price of rubber will go up next year because there are no other raw materials to replace rubber," Men Siphan said.

Rubber prices got a boost this week when the Chinese government announced it would buy 10,000 tonnes of the commodity to support prices.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodia Economic Association, said the decline in rubber prices will hurt rural incomes but that farmers would be able to profit at current prices.

"I think that the decline in rubber prices won't kill rubber farmers," said Chan Sophal.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD

Police Blotter: 19 Mar 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Thursday, 19 March 2009

GANG TARGETS KANDAL SHOPS
Seven armed robbers stormed a series of phone and money exchange shops in Village Three, Kandal Province, on Monday. Sok Heang, 30, and his wife Chiv Singym, 28, had US$300 worth of phone cards, phones, a ring and 20 million riels (US$4,861.44) stolen, while Yun Aun, 28, lost about 20 cellphones. The perpetrators fired several shots and were wearing soldiers' uniforms.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

TWO MEN BUSTED FOR DEALING YAMA
Two men, Teuk Huor, 30, and Taing Try, 40, are being held by Phnom Penh Municipal Court for allegedly trafficking 2,000 yama methamphetamine pills. Taing Try of Mesar Chrey commune, Stung Trang district, confessed to police that he bought the pills on Saturday.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

DRUG SHIPMENT SEIZED
The Interior Ministry's anti-drug police arrested three men, carrying three packages of white powder and pills as they attempted to flee authorities by car on Tuesday. Police have not released any further details.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

MAN KILLS SELF OVER MOTORBIKE
Chen Pon, 24, fatally poisoned himself on Monday in Chamkarpor village, Kandieng district, Pursat province, after his brother refused to lend him his motorbike.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

GANG RAIDS HOUSE, STEALS MOTORBIKES
Reth Thoeun, 30, and Khin Kiech, 29, from Kampong.Cham province, had their two motorbikes stolen by four robbers on Monday. The two victims were drinking in their house when the four armed men stormed the property and fled with both bikes.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

HUSBAND ASSAULTS, INJURES WIFE
Chun Soy, 24, was seriously injured after a series of domestic disputes with her husband, Som Hean, 26. The couple had to be separated on two previous occasions, beginning on Sunday. Som Hean managed to escape authorities after the brutal attack.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

DRUNKEN SPEARMAN ARRESTED
Rat hunter Chhoeun Thida, 28, was arrested by police after allegedly getting drunk and using the spear he uses to hunt with to scare villagers in Kork Ponley village, Batambang province, on Friday.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

Sa Sa Gallery's 'Art Rebels' forge new creative paths

Photo by: ERIN GLEESON
Sa Sa Gallery co-founders say they want to teach up-and-coming artists to see their environment in a new way.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by ERIN GLEESON
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Young, hip and dedicated, the eight artists behind the collective have embraced an ensemble approach to bringing non-traditional perspectives to the masses

A COUPLE of months ago, I visited the peaceful grounds of the Khmer Arts Academy in Takhmao to meet with former Minister of Culture Chheng Pong. It was my third meeting that month with different retired cultural ministers - the goal being to have an open-ended discussion on contemporary visual arts in Cambodia.

Among many other approaches to the topic, I gave Chheng Pong a slideshow on my computer of artworks by more than a dozen contemporary Cambodian artists whose practices and themes are wide-ranging, from the oldest and now deceased self-taught painter-of-the-everyday Svay Ken, to a young artist from the Reyum Art School making large paper sculptures of mythical figures.

Chheng Pong was surprised to see the vitality and development, which deviated from the Royal University of Fine Art's beaux-arts approach of preserving idealised forms and passing the style on to future generations. He, like the other ministers, and like myself, contemplated the collective unawareness of these artists and their practices, and more broadly, why contemporary visual artists receive nearly no support from the Ministry of Culture.

An ensemble tradition
Along with other thoughtful formulas, Chheng Pong mentioned that because contemporary artists most often work individually, they are seen to communicate individual expression, which is contrary to the nature of the historical artisan practice: "The spirit of Khmer culture is an ensemble. It is not an individualistic culture. We see the whole. The individual worker is not part of the cultural participation unless working with the masses. Mass is considered the highest way of working."

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WE HAVE A CONSISTENT PLACE NOW, LIKE A HOME. THAT STABILITY ALLOWS US TO BE MORE CREATIVE TOGETHER.
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The five young artists and founders of Cambodia's first artist-run gallery Sa Sa feel the same, and they are determined to encourage their generation to better understand that individualistic expression is for the masses, too.

Vandy Rattana, photographer and current Sa Sa Gallery leader (a position that will rotate annually), was recently at the internationally praised Drik Photography Festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the On Photography Cambodia project. There, he encountered an active community of Bangladeshi artists and cultural workers engaged with an energetic and supportive Bangladeshi public. He wanted to bring this sense of engagement to Cambodia, a sentiment echoed by many other Cambodian artists thriving from opportunities to travel and exchange with other Asian art communities who have wider reception in their cultures.

Photographer and Sa Sa co-founder Lim Sokchan Lina believes he must engage with students to promote the gallery and artists' practices at Norton University, where he is currently a student. He believes this gesture will allow young Cambodians to gain new perspectives through art. "Non-traditional art is a new thing for them because they don't know about other galleries in Phnom Penh or outside Cambodia," Lim Sokchan Lina said. "The students know their memories, but they don't know photography. Through photography exhibitions at Sa Sa, we will show them the environment they encounter in a new way."

Sa Sa takes its name from the first syllables in the artist collective's full name - Stiev Selepak, or "Art Rebels". Founded in 2007, the collective's purpose is to "help each other achieve art projects by sharing knowledge and resources".

An accidental beginning
For the past two years, Sa Sa's eight members met informally in different spaces to discuss projects or invite speakers to share experiences. They collaborate on various projects based on their strengths or availability. Recently, three members designed the set for a new Cambodian play, Breaking the Silence.

After two years, why a gallery? "It was an accident," said Vandy Rattana. "I was eating at Bai Tong restaurant on street 360 and the co-owner (Community Legal Education Center's Ou Virak) walked up to me and asked if I could hang my photographs on the wall. By the end of the conversation, we decided to involve the Stiev Selepak group not only in the restaurant exhibitions but also in a small wing of the building that we call the Main Gallery."

The way forward
It made sense to Vandy Rattana that the way forward was to take on leadership roles in other areas of the field beyond making art - a healthy development in any emerging art scene.

The Sa Sa space will be both a commercial gallery and a meeting place, or, what co-founder Khvay Samnang calls a home. "We have a consistent place now, like a home. That stability allows us to be more creative together. It's motivating."

To begin with, Stiev Selepak members will jointly curate a balance between contemporary and traditional art exhibitions from Cambodians. The wall space throughout the two-level restaurant, which will act as a semi-permanent exhibition, and the separate Main Gallery will rotate exhibitions every two or three months. Co-founder Kong Vollak, who participated in a curatorial training program in 2008, would like to give opportunities to students from the Royal University of Fine Arts, where three Sa Sa members are alumni. In the future, they hope to host artists they have met throughout the region.

Although all founders have assisted with organising and installing many exhibitions in Cambodia, co-founder Heng Ravuth used a Khmer proverb about frogs venturing from their small pond to convey the challenge and excitement that comes with new responsibilities. They are thankful for friends who are students of management and accounting who can help with the business aspect of running a gallery.

With the Main Gallery measuring a mere 20 square metres, Sa Sa Gallery is poised to show the expanding Cambodian art community and the deflating economy that small is beautiful.

"INTRO", Sa Sa Gallery's inaugural exhibition, opens this Saturday from 6pm to 10pm at No 7, Street 360, Boeung Keng Kang, Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post News In Brief

In Brief: Trade body to launch

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 19 March 2009

THE Kingdom's Trade Development Support Program (TDSP), funded by US$12.6 million in donations from the European Commission, the Danish International Aid Agency and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, will be launched Monday, a statement said. The TDSP will help support implementation of the government's trade strategy, helping it cope with the challenges of the global economic downturn, the statement said Friday. "This is critical at this point, given the very challenging global economic environment," it said. KAY KIMSONG


In Brief: BKK Airways services

Written by George McLeod
Thursday, 19 March 2009

BANGKOK Airways is launching a business class service between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, and increasing its flight frequency from two per day to three on March 29, the airline said in a statement Wednesday. The new service includes the introduction of an Airbus 319, which offers both economy and business-class seating. The airline's expansion also includes a package holiday deal for Cambodia that includes flights and accommodation to Koh Samui, Thailand, said spokesman Ekkaphon Nanta O'sot.


In Brief: Robbers nab half-million in gold, cash

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Armed robbers targeted a shop at Phnom Penh's Olympic Market Sunday night and netted US$500,000 in gold, diamonds and cash, police said. A second heist took place late Monday evening in Svay Rolum, S'aang district, Kandal province, during which the thieves shot in the air several times before escaping. "We are hunting for five or six people....They got away with $10,000 of gold and mobile phones," Roeun Nara, Kandal's deputy police chief, said.


In Brief: Boeung kak residents speak

Written by Chhay Channyda
Thursday, 19 March 2009

City residents affected by Shukaku Inc's controversial Boeung Kak development will hold a press conference this morning to respond to a televised statement by the developer that most residents are in favour of the project. In a statement issued Wednesday, the residents said: "We, the Boeung Kak residents, wish to deny the news report of February 24 and 25 in which Mr Lao Van, a representative of Shukaku Inc, said that 70 percent of families agree with the development. It is not true - just 21 percent of families support the project."


In Brief: Vietnam renews security deal

Written by Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Cambodia and Vietnam signed an agreement Tuesday covering improved national security, social safety and training for the Kingdom's police force, said Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. He added that the deal was signed by Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and Vietnam's Minister for Public Security Le Hong Anh. Khieu Sopheak told the Post Wednesday: "This year Vietnam agreed to train around 400 Cambodian police on short-term and long-term courses." Le has been on an official visit to the Kingdom and leaves today.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center gives baby elephant new lease on life

Photo by: TOM HUNTER
Sun Vathana, Betelnut Tour guide, and a gibbon named Preah Vihear.

Photo by: TOM HUNTER
Lucky comes across a curious tour participant.

Photo by: TOM HUNTER
Betelnut Tour jeep.
Photo by: TOM HUNTER
Betelnut Tour participants enjoy a feast fit for a king.
Photo by: TOM HUNTER
Chhouk and his older play mate Lucky enjoy a swim.
Photo by: TOM HUNTER
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by TOM HUNTER
Thursday, 19 March 2009

Betelnut Tours, which conducts trips to the center, is hosting a quiz this Friday to raise money for the animals

Srepok Wilderness Area is nestled among the mountains of Mondulkiri in Cambodia's northeast. The area is home to banteng, gaur, tiger and some of the countries last remaining wild Asian elephants. It is remote and rugged with few roads and little infrastructure.

Mondulkiri's isolation provides the perfect cover for Cambodia's animal poachers. The area is littered with snares, animal traps designed to hold live animals until their captors release them into the nation's illegal wildlife trade.

In March 2007, a team of Wildlife Alliance rangers heard reports of a baby elephant wandering through the forest. Early reports had identified the young elephant as alone and distraught with his front left foot severely injured and infected.

It is thought that the elephant had his leg caught in a snare trap designed for a creature of lesser stature. While he was able to free himself from the trap, his leg was badly damaged and in need of immediate medical treatment.

Two years later, the elephant - named Chhouk - lives at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, home to seven other Asian elephants, one of the world's largest population of sun and moon bears, gibbons, endangered otters, an African lion and hundreds of rescued animals, freed from lives of captivity, cruelty and mistreatment.

The wildlife centre is located 45 kilometres south of Phnom Penh on 2,300 hectares of government-owned regenerated forest. The centre is home to Wildlife Alliance's Care for Rescued Wildlife program designed to care for animals that cannot be reintegrated back into the wild. The centre looks after 1,100 animals, which include 93 species of endangered and threatened animals.

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Chhouk was in a bad state, he had tore his own foot off to free himself from the snare.
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Phnom Penh's Betelnut jeep tours conduct informative guided day trips to the centre with a focus on the peril that Cambodia's wildlife faces and some unique close encounters with endangered animals.

My guide for the day was 22-year-old Sun Vathana who has been working at the park, through Betelnut Tours, for approximately six months.

An obvious animal enthusiast, Sun Vathana loves her new job - a world away from her previous workplace, a garment factory. "At my old job, I would do the same thing every day. I didn't like that ... it was so boring," she said. "At first I was scared of the animals and I didn't get too close, but it was very important for me to confront my fears so I could get closer to the animals that I love."

The park is home to an estimated 80 gibbons. Each animal has a personality, some more pleasant than others.

Sun Vathana warned me to stay away for the black gibbon - "very cheeky," she said. Sure enough, I was attacked twice throughout the day by two gibbons eager to steal my camera.

The gibbons are indicative of some of the animals in the park who have often been tormented by their captors.

One gibbon, aptly named Preah Vihear, after the conflict in the Cambodia/Thai border town where the monkey was found, is new to the park and the hair on her leg is noticeably missing. She was found in a private home by Wildlife Alliance, chained, malnourished and disturbed. When Preah Vihear was found, she was chained by her left foot, bleeding from her efforts to escape.

Preah Vihear is the only gibbon in the park that lives alone. Her injuries and volatile personality mean that she is unable to be paired with a companion. When we arrive at her enclosure, she seems eager for attention and lonely, a gentle creature reaching a bare arm out of the cage for attention. Sun Vathana tells me that on her last visit the gibbon bit her on the wrist.

According to a survey completed last year by World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 79 percent of primates in Southeast Asia are now facing extinction. "The wildlife trade is second only to the drug trade in terms of how much money it generates in Southeast Asia," David Emmett, regional director of the Indo-Burma program at Conservation International, said in an interview with the Post last October.

Nick Marx, Care for Rescued Wildlife project manager, is responsible for rescuing endangered animals destined for the illegal wildlife trade.

Marx leads a team of animal care specialists who found Chhouk the elephant in Mondulkiri province, and considering the severity of Chhouk's injuries and the fact that his mother had abandoned him, concluded that the best place for the elephant was the centre. "Chhouk was in a bad state. He had torn his own foot off to free himself from the snare, and the wound was badly infected with maggots," said Barb Braniff, Betelnut tour operator.

After ruling out a helicopter airlift due to cost and the remote location, Chhouk was transported - while heavily sedated - on the back of a truck cushioned with banana leaves and rice straw. The journey took 26 hours.

"I'm sure he's happy and doesn't feel disabled, but he is in desperate need of a prosthetic foot," Marx said. "His left leg is starting to bow out and he cannot walk long distances with the other elephants. If he is left like this it will eventually damage the rest of his body," said Marx.

A new invention
Elephant prostheses are a relatively new invention. Chhouk will be the third elephant ever to receive the treatment.

A Thai elephant named Motola first received the treatment in 2006, after having her leg injured by a land mine.

Chhouk's new leg, which is being made by the Cambodian School of Prosthesis and Orhtotics (CSPO), will cost an estimated US$30,000; however, it is hard to estimate the full cost of the projected as Chhouk will need a new prosthesis every year until he is fully grown.

CSPO is an educational center where students from the region can learn how to prescribe, manufacture and fit artificial limbs and orthopedic braces.

In their spare time they have generously volunteered their knowledge to make Chhouk's artificial foot.
Betelnut Tours, which operates out of the Lazy Geko Cafe is hosting a quiz night this Friday to raise much needed funds for Chhouk and PTWRC. Teams of 4 wishing to register for the event can do so by calling 012 619 924, subject to availability.

Betelnut Tours runs weekly guided trips to PTWRC. The all inclusive tours cost US$30 and can be arranged through www.betelnuttours.com.

Those wishing to donate to the park and Chhouk's new foot can do so through www.wildlifealliance.org

Childbirth death to be probed, neglect alleged

Animal Doctor left the woman suffer during given birth unless she pay the money
Picture by Samey (Koh Sontepheap)

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 19 March 2009

PAILIN'S Governor Y Chhien has promised an urgent investigation after a woman died giving birth Sunday at the public hospital in the provincial capital. Staff reportedly refused treatment unless her husband paid US$25, an allegation the hospital denies.

Y Chhien said if the obstetricians involved were found to be guilty of carelessness, they would be sacked or fined.

"Doctors and obstetricians mustn't allow patients to die by refusing them service," Y Chhien said. "This is a public hospital, and it must serve the poor and the wealthy. Regardless of who they are, they must pay attention to patients."

Widower Mith Rorn told the Post that he and his wife, Vorn Yoeub, 37, had gone to the Pailin Referral Hospital on Sunday night.

"Soon after we arrived, the obstetricians said we must pay $25 for their help or they wouldn't take care of my wife," Mith Rorn said. "I begged them to allow me to pay them the following morning after they had saved my wife and baby."

"My wife's stomach got very painful, and I woke up the two obstetricians three times," he continued. "But they ignored me and said it could wait until the morning. But by then it was too late - my wife died during the night."

However, the deputy director of the hospital, Ang Neang, refuted Mith Rorn's account.

"It isn't true that we forced him to pay," Ang Neang said.

"It's true that when patients come to the hospital, we usually ask them to pay to check their health, but we don't force them. We didn't take money from him, and we took good care of his wife even though they could not pay."

Ang Neang said the charge list in the hospital stated that a simple birth costs patients $12, while a complicated birth costs twice that.

Patients who were too poor to pay were never refused treatment.

He said he could not understand why the hospital was being blamed.

"His wife had an accident and slipped when she stood up from the toilet - that caused her to bleed," he said.

Group to probe doctors
The case is also being investigated by rights group Adhoc. Coordinator Chhuon Makara told the Post that the NGO was investigating two key points: whether the doctors involved had breached their professional code of practice, and whether their carelessness had caused Vorn Yoeub's death.

Chhuon Makara said Mith Rorn had arrived at his office in tears explaining the situation, and that he was now left to take care of seven children.

"This is a terrible and very sad story, and I am determined to do my best to help him by conducting my investigation because his family is very poor," Chhuon Makara said.

Mith Rorn told Adhoc that before going to the hospital he had visited the village midwife asking to help his wife at home, as she was in pain and had gone into labour. However, the midwife was unable to assist because there were complications, so she drove the couple to hospital.

There they were told to pay $25 for assistance.

"After finding out that this family of this pregnant woman, who was in pain, had no money to pay, it seems that the obstetricians kept her waiting until she died," he said.

Medical staff at the country's hospitals are very poorly paid, with obstetricians earning just $35 a month, said a staff member at the Pailin Referral Hospital.

"It is very hard for me to assess this case, but if it is found that staff were careless or asked for money, they will be punished, transferred or fired," Veng Thai, director for Phnom Penh's public hospitals said.

Finding Face documentary



kiletters

A new documentary exploring the impact of acid attacks premiered Wednesday, March 11, 2009, at a film festival and human rights forum in Geneva, raising questions of impunity that persist in Cambodia.

Finding Face investigates acid attacks through the story of victim Tat Marina, a karaoke star who was doused with a liter of nitric acid allegedly by the jealous wife of a senior government official.

Photo: critically endangered vulture saved from poisoning

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
March 19, 2009

Seven critically-endangered white-rumped vultures were found dead in Cambodia after feeding on the corpse of a poisoned buffalo. Two survivors however were also apart of the group. An adult and a juvenile that had fed on the poisoned buffalo were sick but alive. The pair was sent to a veterinary clinic in Phnom Penh to be cared for by staff from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB).

The adult responded quickly to treatment and after being tagged for later identification was rereleased into the wild. The juvenile vulture is still being treated.

WCS veterinarian Dr. Priscilla Joyner (right) and bird bander Helen Ward (left) examine one of the white-rumped vultures Photo credit: Allan Michaud.

WCS conservationist Angela Yang holds a rare-white rumped vulture, one of two birds that survived a poisoning incident in Cambodia’s Stung Treng province. Photo credit: Allan Michaud.

“Vulture populations across Asia have plummeted,” said Hugo Rainey, WCS Technical Advisor to the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project. “Every bird that we can save is important not only for vulture species, but for the ecosystems that rely on these birds as critical scavengers.”

Considered one of the most abundant birds of prey in the world at one time, the white-rumped vulture experienced precipitous declines beginning in the 1990s largely due to the anti-inflammatory cattle drug diclofenac. The drug proved effective in cattle but caused renal failure and mortality in any vulture that fed on the cow corpses which still retained the drug. Populations of white-rumped vultures dropped a staggering 95 percent and have yet to recover.

Cambodia is one of the last strongholds for the species. However, even here the white-rumped vulture is not without threats—for example feeding on a wild buffalo which had been poisoned by hunters. Fortunately the vulture is being monitored closely in Cambodia, which led to the rescue of at least one individual.

WCS is a member of the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, which was established the country by the government and several NGOS in 2004 to save the ailing species.

Rare Vulture Returns to Cambodian Skies

Insciences Organisation

NEW YORK (March 18, 2009)—After nearly dying from eating a poisoned animal carcass, a critically endangered white-rumped vulture was nursed back to health by wildlife veterinarians and conservationists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) and returned to the skies of Cambodia.

The story is a small victory in a region where vultures of several species in Asia have become endangered due to a variety of causes. “Vulture populations across Asia have plummeted,” said Hugo Rainey, WCS Technical Advisor to the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project. “Every bird that we can save is important not only for vulture species, but for the ecosystems that rely on these birds as critical scavengers.”

Researchers responded to the poisoning incident in the Stung Treng province of Cambodia, where vultures were feeding on a dead buffalo. Seven of the white-rumped vultures died, and local officials from the Forestry Administration and Ministry of Environment sent two sick birds—an adult and a juvenile— to WCS personnel in Phnom Penh for veterinary care. The birds were then sent to ACCB for rehabilitation. The use of poison for hunting and fishing is not unusual in the region.

The adult vulture recovered quickly and the two organizations prepared for its release by tagging both wings and banding one leg, enabling researchers to identify the bird at a distance. Once released, the adult flew into a nearby tree and was later seen feeding on a cattle carcass with other vultures.

“All of our observations indicate that this vulture has made a complete recovery and hopefully will help perpetuate the species,” said WCS veterinarian Dr. Priscilla Joyner.

The juvenile bird continues to be cared for by rehabilitators.

Cambodia has become one of the last strongholds for many vulture species in Asia, including the white-rumped vulture. In 2004, the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project was established by a consortium of governmental agencies and NGOs in order to save vultures from extinction in the country. Members of the project include WCS, Birdlife International, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, WWF, ACCB and the Cambodian Government including the Ministries of Environment (MoE) and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Forestry Administration (FA). Vultures in Cambodia are monitored regularly at “vulture restaurants” which have been set up across Cambodia. Each month food is provided at the restaurants and this supports conservation of vulture populations directly as well as allowing WCS to count the birds visiting the restaurants.

Pech Bunnat, Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project Manager said “Counting birds at restaurants allows us to assess if vulture populations are healthy. We count birds each month as well as holding a national census each year and protecting vulture nests. This is why the Cambodia vulture population is now increasing.”

In Southeast Asia, the causes of vulture decline are a decrease in food availability, the loss of nesting sites, and the use of poison for fishing and hunting. Yet in South Asia, the principle reason for the decline of vultures is the drug diclofenac, which was widely used as an anti-inflammatory agent for cattle in South Asia in the 1990s and is still used in some parts of the region. Vultures that feed on cattle carcasses also ingest the drug, which causes renal failure and death in the affected birds. As a result of the drug’s widespread use, the populations of many vulture species have declined by more than 95 percent on the Indian subcontinent, precipitating an ecological crisis. Populations elsewhere in Asia are so low that several species of vulture may go extinct unless vultures in Cambodia are saved.

With a range stretching from Pakistan to Vietnam, the white-rumped vulture was once considered one of the most abundant large birds of prey in the world. As a result of its precipitous population decline, the bird has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN’s Red List since 2000 along with three other vulture species.

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit
www.wcs.org.

Kisuka schooner flying Cambodia flag sinks at Kunashir

Itar-Tass
19.03.2009, 02.38

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, March 19 (Itar-Tass) - The Kisuka fishing schooner flying the Cambodian flag sank near the Kunashir Island of the Kurils chain overnight to Thursday. Two sailors - UIyen Shakiyev and Oleg Zagrizinov - of the ship’s crew of 4 members have been rescued. The schooner’s captain Boris Shafikov and chief mechanic Dmitry Mironenko have not been found in the shipwreck area, the search operation for them is underway, the Sakhalin fishing fleet supervision service reported.

The causes of the incident are unknown so far. According to rescuers, the two sailors picked up from the sea are “sluggish and cannot speak.” They are on the Olkhovatka fishing vessel that is carrying them to Kunashir.

The Sakhalin fishing vessels – the Mariya, the Danilovo, the Grinda and a border patrol vessel are conducting the search for the Kisuka captain and chief mechanic in the incident area. The citizenship of the crewmembers of the Kisuka schooner has not been established yet, but specialists believe that they are all Russians.

Rescuers said referring to border guards that the Kisuka schooner left the Japanese port of Abashiri on March 18 at 06:00, Moscow time and sank 1.3 miles northwest of the Kunashir Island at the point with the coordinates 44 degrees 06 minutes North Latitude and 146 degrees 00 minutes East Longitude.

Vietnam Rubber Set to Develop Cambodia, Laos Estates (Update1)

Bloomberg

By Feiwen Rong

March 19 (Bloomberg) -- Vietnam Rubber Group, the nation’s largest producer and exporter, plans to plant 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) of trees in neighboring Laos and Cambodia, betting on a rebound in global demand in the next decade.

“Our plan is to plant 100,000 hectares of trees in each country,” Dinh Van Tien, director of the import-export department at the state-owned company, said in an interview. About 10,000 hectares had been planted in Laos and between 3,000 and 4,000 in Cambodia, Tien said late yesterday in Guangzhou, China.

Rubber producers across Asia including Thailand, the biggest producer, are battling slumping demand and prices amid the global recession. Vietnam Rubber Group’s new overseas estates, with trees taking six to seven years to start yielding latex, may become productive after a recovery has restored sales.

“The news about Vietnam is adding to the cloudy long-term outlook,” said Navarat Kaewpratarn, a senior marketing official at Bangkok-based Future Agri Trade Ltd. Demand “has been thin because of concerns about car sales and the global recession.”

Rubber futures on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange, the regional benchmark, have slumped 51 percent in the past year on the recessions in Japan, the U.S. and Europe, and slowing growth in China. The most-active contract, for August delivery, dropped as much as 1.4 percent to 139.1 yen a kilogram ($1,448 a metric ton) today in Tokyo.

Lower Output

Natural rubber output in Vietnam may decline to 630,000 tons this year from 660,000 tons in 2008, said Tien, whose company accounts for about half of the nation’s output. Still, Vietnam Rubber Group is “optimistic” about demand in China, which accounted for 200,000 tons of exports last year from the nation’s total shipments of 650,000 tons, he said.

Commodity producers and importers have begun developing plantations and farms, especially for food products, in overseas nations to take advantage of idle or underused land, secure supplies and boost output.

Vietnam may lease Cambodian land to grow rice, Tuoi Tre reported on Feb. 23, while Kuwait was last year also assessing large-scale investments in rice in the country, a government official said in August. South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics Corp. has leased land in Madagascar to produce corn and palm oil.

Vietnam is encouraging overseas investment in industries that use natural rubber as a raw material, Tien said. Investors may receive lower taxes and other preferential policies, he said.

Fire near the Russian market in Phnom Penh

Fire fighters put out a fire on the roof of a building near the Russian market in Phnom Penh March 18, 2009. Twelve houses were destroyed in the blaze but no one was injured, police said. It is not known how the fire was started.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA DISASTER)

A resident puts out a fire on the roof of his house near the Russian market in Phnom Penh March 18, 2009. Twelve houses were destroyed in the blaze but no one was injured, police said. It is not known how the fire was started.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA DISASTER)

Fire fighters put out a fire on the roof of a building near the Russian market in Phnom Penh March 18, 2009. Twelve houses were destroyed in the blaze but no one was injured, police said. It is not known how the fire was started.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA DISASTER)

Residents throw water on a fire near the Russian market in Phnom Penh March 18, 2009. Twelve houses were destroyed in the blaze but no one was injured, police said. It is not known how the fire was started.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA DISASTER IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE)

Boosting border trade with Cambodia

(18-03-2009)

HA NOI — Viet Nam and Cambodia affirmed further consolidation of co-operative activities on border trade based on their traditional relations, friendly neighbourliness and mutual benefit.

At a conference dedicated to border trade co-operation between Viet Nam and Cambodia over the past two days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Viet Nam and the Ministry of Trade of Cambodia signed a memorandum of understanding on border trade co-operation.

The two sides agreed to continue the implementation of a project to build a model market on the border, and to set up a general plan for border trade between the two countries.

They agreed to report to both Governments about a study and discussion regarding an agreement on regulations to manage more significant markets at a number of border gates.

Both sides also agreed to hold the third conference on border trade co-operation by 2010 in Viet Nam.

Minister of Trade and Industry Vu Huy Hoang said economic and trade relations between Viet Nam and Cambodia had continued to develop, with bilateral trade turnover rising year on year. Turnover was US$180 million in 2000 and rose nine times to $1.6 billion last year.

Trade activities are conducted primarily at border gates in the southern provinces of An Giang and Tay Ninh.

According to the ministry, Cambodia’s import demands will continue to rise in the coming years. Total bilateral trade turnover will exceed $2 billion by 2010, and more than $6.5 billion by 2015. Cambodia uses many of Viet Nam’s consumer products, materials and fuel to serve their domestic production.

The two countries have set a target to increase export turnover by 27 per cent annually.

Viet Nam’s Ministry of Trade and Industry offers incentives for Cambodian enterprises and businesspeople to conduct business in border markets, trading centres and economic zones close to the border gates.

The Viet Nam – Cambodia border is 1,137km long, with nine international border gates, 10 national border gates, 34 sub-border gates, and 140 markets. However, because of geographic conditions, these border markets are still small and underdeveloped. — VNS

Cambodia's coming oil economy

Cambodian women on the Thai-Cambodian border Oct. 16, 2008. Cambodia's wealth of natural resources is attracting foreign investors. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Analysis: What might oil drilling do to a poor country, its people, and its government?


GlobalPost
By Patrick Winn- GlobalPost
Published: March 18, 2009

BANGKOK – Haunted by war, and wracked by poverty, Cambodia has had little opportunity to enjoy one its few blessings.

The nation of 14 million people, sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam, is flush with natural resources. Veins of iron and gold run beneath its soil. Natural forests offer a wealth of timber. Most promising of all are Cambodia’s deposits of oil and gas, believed to snake offshore all the way through the kingdom’s lush interior.

As Cambodia’s leaders begin to parlay these natural blessings into wealth, selling off drilling rights to firms across the globe, American oil companies are taking notice.
So, too, are the watchdogs.

Foreign aid, in large part from U.S. tax dollars, accounts for half of Cambodia’s national budget. Much of this is aimed at the more than one-third of Cambodians living on roughly 50 cents per day.

While Cambodia’s ruling party could use the coming resource wealth to wean the country off foreign aid — and potentially lift millions out of poverty — leaders already appear to be hording this money for themselves, watchdogs say.

According to Global Witness — the U.K.-based non-profit that helped expose the West African “blood diamonds” trade — the coming oil wealth will likely just entrench Cambodia’s ruling cabal in corruption.

“In a couple of years, the elites will be so wealthy it will be hard to rewind the tape,” said Global Witness Director Gavin Hayman during a business trip in Bangkok. The non-profit recently published an investigative report on Cambodia’s growing oil wealth.

(This map, prepared by U.K. nonprofit Global Witness, reveals the offshore Cambodian territory U.S. energy firm Chevron plans to drill for petroleum. Source: Global Witness)

According to International Monetary Fund forecasts, Cambodia’s annual oil revenue should begin at about $174 million in 2011 and climb to $1.7 billion by 2021 — and plunge thereafter as resources are sucked dry.

This oil future has grabbed the attention of the global oil industry.

Just this past weekend, U.S. oil industry representatives invited Cambodian energy leaders to observe drilling operations near the Gulf of Mexico, home to dozens of major offshore oil rigs.

“Cambodia is on the verge of an oil and minerals windfall,” said Eleanor Nichol, a Global Witness campaigner. “The stakes are very, very high.”

A global fuel chase has led many foreign firms to cut deals with Cambodia’s ruling party. They’ve since carved the nation into 20-odd oil-and-gas districts that will be developed.

Most firms with Cambodian oil concessions are Chinese, some with little experience in the energy sector. Various South Korean, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern companies round out the concession holders.

But the best-known energy firm with Cambodian drilling rights is the California-based Chevron Corporation.

Chevron is preparing as many as nine wells for what it calls a “complex reservoir” off Cambodia’s coast. The firm is now “working closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia to complete the fiscal and legal framework that will be required for the development of petroleum resources in Cambodia,” said Gareth Johnstone, Chevron’s Asia-Pacific media director.

Chevron is a high-profile member of the Extracative Industries Transparency Initiative — an anti-corruption movement devoted to “full publication and verification of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining.”

No allegations of corrupton have been made against the company, though the oil giant has come under pressure from watchdog groups to be more transparent in its dealings here.

Chevron will not reveal its payments to Cambodia nor its start-up drilling dates, said Johnstone, who is based in Singapore.

Cambodia is rated the world’s 18th most-corrupt country by Transparency International, which publishes the world’s leading corruption measure. Chevron also operates in Burma, run by an oppressive military junta.

When resource-rich areas are ready for excavation, Cambodia’s government is suspected of dispatching soldiers and police to forcibly remove residents. According to Human Rights Watch, armed government militants have torched homes and pushed out hundreds of families. Once excavation begins, soldiers are believed to stand watch over the sites as international firms do their work.

Global Witness’ work in Cambodia has brought death threats and a promise from one senior official to hit investigators “until their heads are broken,” Nichol said.

Repeated inquiries to the Cambodia’s National Petroleum Authority were ignored. With no explanation, some emails to the entity’s listed addresses were automatically routed to Petroleum Geo-Services, a Norwegian firm specializing in finding oil and gas reserves.

Cambodia’s U.K. ambassador, Hor Nambora, issued one of Cambodia’s more public rebuttals to corruption claims. “It is naive for Global Witness to imagine that Cambodia’s international donors are not fully aware of the way the Royal Cambodian Government’s (sic) conducts its affairs,” Nambora wrote in a release.

His response included an odd, mocking parody of a Global Witness document called “Rubbish Report by Global Witness.” It features an image of a comically upright baby sea lion saying, “I shall not tolerate such rubbish. Good day, sir.”

Last year, Cambodia absorbed roughly $1 billion in foreign aid. Even as major donors acknowledge Cambodia’s corruption, money continues to pour in.

In 2008, U.S. Agency for International Development offered $54,994,000 to Cambodia in various programs targeted at health, education, human rights and more. The agency, in a corruption assessment, expressed frustration that “donor resources are being wasted and diverted.”

Many Cambodian bureaucrats, the USAID report stated, are “masters of spin” and “… most reform efforts have had limited impact on a persistent, less-than-scrupulous opponent.”

Many donors decide that, even if aid is filtered through corrupt bureaucrats, pulling back funding will only deprive the poor, Hayman said. And further, Western powers and their donation arms now worry that strained relations will push Cambodia dangerously close to China.
Still, analysts say the Cambodian government craves something China can’t offer — legitimacy in the Western world. American aid, and ties to giant firms like Chevron, supply much of this esteem.

The Western world, however, can only use this leverage for so long. Once Cambodia’s rulers hit the oil-and-gas jackpot, Hayman said, they’ll be too rich to reign in.

“They’ll have so much money from oil and mining,” he said, “that they’ll be untouchable."

"Beauty Is A Burden," Tat Marina's Mother Says


Tat Marina, in a scene from the documentary, called "Finding Face".

By Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer
Video Editor: Manilene Ek
18 March 2009

WATCH VIDEO, click here.
A new documentary exploring the impact of acid attacks premiered Wednesday, March 11, 2009, at a film festival and human rights forum in Geneva, raising questions of impunity that persist in Cambodia.
“Finding Face” investigates acid attacks through the story of victim Tat Marina, a karaoke star who was doused with a liter of nitric acid allegedly by the jealous wife of a senior government official.
Tat Marina was attacked on December 5, 1999, while she was having porridge with her niece at a Phnom Penh market.
Nearly 10 years have passed, but her older brother, Tat Sequndo, continues to encourage his sister to seek justice for the attack.
Tat Marina performed in a Cambodian karaoke, before the acid attack.

“I asked her to come forward to find justice for herself, because she is the victim, not me. I always told her to find justice for the country, the people, and for herself," Tat Sequndo says in the documentary.

Tat Marina appears more calm and mature in the film, a contrast to the mischievous face she put on in her performances some 10 years ago. Despite several reconstructive surgeries, scars are visible on her face and chest. These are what she has to live with for the rest of her life.
In the documentary, Tat Marina’s family expressed disappointment when they saw video footage shown to them by Tat Sequndo. It is the first time they have seen her picture in the more than eight years since Tat Marina was given asylum and received treatment in the US.

The footage left her older sister, Srey Pou, speechless and in shock. Meanwhile, Tat Marina's mother believes that beauty is a curse.
"She's not beautiful as before," Tat Marina's mother says, weeping as she watches the video.

“She was a beautiful girl. She was too beautiful. It’s a burden. Mom feels so sorry for you, it’s breaking my heart,” she said.

Tat Marina says in the documentary she is coming to terms with what happened to her.“My family, I don't want anything to happen to them. Right now, I’m not scared no more, because she already got what she wanted,” she says.

The film features Tat Marina and her child at about four years of age, though the identity of the father is not revealed.

“If I could make it, we will have a family life. The mummy and the son together in a happy family. Everyone wish for (a) happy ending. I know that it is only a dream, but sometime dreams do come true,” she says.
Svey Sitha, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, could not be reached for comments.

The acid attack topic caught producer Skye Fitzgerald’s attention while he worked on another film in Cambodia. When he and his team started working on the movie, he saw a mixture of fear and reluctance. For instance, it took Tat Marina and her brother a while before they agreed to participate, fearing reprisal.

In the documentary, Tat Sequndo is heard telling family members to watch for their safety, and he gives them phone numbers of international organizations in case of possible threats.

“This is who we met with. When there is a problem, contact these places: UN Center for Human Rights, the US Embassy, the Cambodia Daily and LICADHO. When there is a problem with threats, because they may know what we are doing,” he says.
Tat Marina’s former lover, Svay Sitha, has now been promoted from the rank of undersecretary of state at the Council of Ministers. He could not be reached for comment on the film.

Tat Marina with her son, says he givers her courage to move on with her life.
His two telephone numbers were answered by two different females saying they did not know him; a third number went unanswered.Svay Sitha’s wife, Khun Sophal, identified by witnesses at the scene of the 1999 attack, remains at large, despite police affirmation that the case is not yet closed.

An investigating judge who once told reporters an arrest warrant had been issued for Khun Sophal now says he can’t remember whether he handled the case.

This documentary, "Finding Face", confronts us with injustice, despair, and sympathetic to Tat Marina's, who is now just beginning to pick up the broken pieces, while trying to leave her history behind, and moving forward into the future of her life with her son.