Monday, 23 March 2009

Bristol: Cambodian speakers to warn of climate change

BRISTOL - 23 March 2009

"Homes are being flooded, droughts are harsher and longer, crops are failing and people are struggling to feed their families. Poor people are seeing their livelihoods threatened. People are suffering now and unless we take direct action now we are facing a devastating future." These words from Sophea Lay who with Sarin Khim are Cambodian environmental experts helping to launch aid agency CAFOD's Climate Justice Campaign in Bristol on Wednesday 25 March.

CAFOD is campaigning along with an extensive global network of Catholic aid agencies bringing together hundreds of thousands of Catholics across the world to call on their governments to negotiate a just and equitable agreement at this years UN climate change talks in Copenhagen in December. CAFOD and its supporters are calling on the UK government to take the lead amongst EU countries in these talks.

Bishop Declan and CAFOD Director Chris Bain will join Sarin and Sophea at the Bristol launch at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 25 March at St Teresa's Social Centre, 71 Gloucester Road North, Filton, Bristol BS34 7PL.

Tony Vassallo Clifton Diocese CAFOD Manager said: "The campaign is launching in Bristol but will stretch across the world.

"People have a chance to be part of something huge and critical and to demand the Government takes action to ensure the UN agrees a fair and binding global deal that puts communities at its heart."

Changes in climate are already affecting people's lives across the world. In Cambodia, irregular rainfall is affecting rice cultivation and communities' access to clean and safe water due to shortages during the dry season, whilst increased flooding during the wet season is leading to environmental and social damage.

Changing weather conditions are making life increasingly difficult for people like Cambodian farmer Sop Kunny and his family. Kunny says: "The weather is different from before. Now, the rains fall irregularly, so it is hard to grow or harvest the crops. Sometimes there is unusually heavy rain and flooding, and sometimes there is no rain for many months. This year, the rains came early, but stopped. Now, there is no rain even though it is still the rainy season. I don't know what to do."

CAFOD Director Chris Bain said: "Developing countries bear the brunt of climate change and yet have done the least to cause it. By standing together and raising our voices we can have a real influence on whether governments choose to protect the most vulnerable people in the world. This campaign is vital for people's survival."

The campaign is calling for a deal that: helps people to flourish in developing countries by supporting their right to sustainable development; provides necessary support for developing countries - who are hit first and hardest by climate change - to adapt to the impacts of extreme weather; and tackles the root causes of the problem by cutting emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Cambodia: first Christian addiction assessment centre opens

Cambodia: first Christian addiction assessment centre opens

Inspire Magazine

As the risk of addiction fuelled Aids grows in Cambodia, Hosea Ministries and the Christian Response to Addictions in Cambodia (CRAC) project opened Hosea House on 20

February in Phnom Penh.

This first, inclusive, drug assessment centre to be opened in the country aims to reach out to both street kids and the growing numbers of rootless middle-class children caught in the drug trap.

Hosea House is working with children and families where drug or solvent abuse is a problem, including some of Cambodia’s estimated 20,000 street children. The children are contacted by outreach workers or simply turn up at the centre. They are then assessed as to the seriousness of their own, or their parent’s, drug or alcohol abuse and help options discussed.

A nurse is on hand to help any who are sick or malnourished and a full programme of rehabilitation activities and learning options are available. These are combined to help them rebuild their lives and embrace positive change.

The opening ceremony was attended by local community leaders, the Government’s Drugs Advisor and representatives of NGOs, missions, and city churches. The final cutting of the ribbon was performed by Patrick Prosser, Executive Director of Life For The World Trust (LFTW) who initiated the CRAC project in 2006.

Patrick commented: “As young people in Cambodia try to come to terms with their nation’s traumatic past, the poverty of many and divided broken families, they see drugs and glue as solutions to their problems. Sadly, drugs multiply their problems but now there is a programme which offers real hope that change and a new start in life are possible”.

The CRAC project, (a partner project of LFTW in the UK), has already trained more than 250 students on their Drug Foundation Course, including several pastors. Working under the umbrella of Hosea Ministries in Cambodia, in the future CRAC hopes to provide much needed ‘hands on’ drug training, using Hosea House as both a base and a model for good practice.

Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Norng Chanphal will not be Civil Party at Duch trial

Ka-set

By Stéphanie Gée

At the opening of the initial hearing of the trial of torturer Duch on February 17th, the Defence Team for Group 1 of Civil Parties pleaded in favour of the Civil Party application submitted by Norng Chanphal, who, as a child, was incarcerated at the Tuol Sleng detention and torture centre situated in the capital of Cambodia, shortly before the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. He submitted his dossier two days after the deadline set by the tribunal.

“Last Thursday”, Alain Werner said on the phone on March 19, “one of the lawyers for Group 1, the president of the Trial Chamber dismissed Norng Chanphal’s request as he estimated that granting a delay for that person and not for other candidates was not justified. Moreover, Norng Chanphal was unable to explain the reasons for the delay in submitting his application.” Conscious that appealing the decision would not change things, the lawyers chose to register their client on the additional list of witnesses whom they want the Court to hear, and handed in that document to the Court on Wednesday March 18th, which was the last date for such submission.

Besides, Alain Werner added that the film shot by Vietnamese protagonists at S-21 at the beginning of January 1979 when the Vietnamese troops arrived in Phnom Penh, showing children discovered in a centre emptied of its Khmer Rouge staff, was accepted by the Trial Chamber as evidence. Alain Werner is therefore confident that Norng Chanphal will be authorised to testify since that video, he says, “will allow to cross-check the story” of their client.

The Defence Team insisted on February 17th on the “rarity” of the testimony of this surviving child, but for his part, co-lawyer for Duch Francois Roux expressed his surprise about the sudden search for children who allegedly stayed at S-21 and were “miraculously found a few days before the trial!”

Cambodia, 4 Development Partners Launch 12 Mln USD Program

2009-03-23
Xinhua
Web Editor: Qin Mei

The Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, together with four development partners, on Monday launched the Trade Development Support Program (TDSP) worth 12.6 million U.S. dollars to assist Cambodia to expand its international trade, said a press release from the World Bank's ( WB) country office.

"The program focuses on legal reforms, trade facilitation and product standards, and is designed to empower the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to facilitate trade by improving regulations and internal processes," it said.

TDSP is part of the trade sector-wide approach, which unites all activities funded by development partners to assist the RGC to enhance its trade potential, it added.

"It is a strong commitment of the RGC to translate Aid for Trade into concrete actions that will contribute to a more robust private sector and overall income generation," Cambodian Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh told the launching ceremony.

Meanwhile, Qimiao Fan, WB's Country Manager, said that "with global trade expected to shrink in 2009 for the first time in 27 years and Cambodia's economy under real pressure, we need to find wider export markets and bigger investors for Cambodia."

"We aim to help government make business easy for local and foreign business people who want to contribute to Cambodia's growth," he added.

The program is financed by the European Commission, the Danish International Aid Agency (Danida) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and will be administered by WB, according to the press release.

Chemist remembered for compassion, devotion to Cambodia


March 22, 2009 by News Staff

By Blair Thomas and Jill Laster

Mickey and Wendi Sampson had two 18-month-old sons and two daughters, but a deep faith and a desire to help people drew them to Cambodia.

“He felt really deeply into their history, their years of civil war and suffering — they were oppressed for so long,” said James Sampson, Mickey’s brother. “He just wanted to help.”

Michael Lynn “Mickey” Sampson, 43, died Thursday of a heart attack, according to a news release from Resource Development International-Cambodia, a private, non-profit organization that Sampson founded and directed. Sampson died in Bangkok after being flown there from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to see a doctor for on-going health problems he had been experiencing, according to the news release.

Sampson, a Louisville native and graduate of the University of Louisville, moved with his family to Cambodia in 1998 to work on ways to improve the country’s drinking water and sanitation.

Sampson taught as an assistant professor of chemistry at Jefferson Community and Technical College, which is now a part of the Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges System, but once fell under the UK college system. He first saw the lack of clean water in Cambodia in the 1990s while teaching chemistry there on a sabbatical from his job in Kentucky, said Luther Williams, a friend who worked alongside Sampson on different missionary projects.

“His life was a life well lived in the humble service of others,” Williams said. “I’m humbled to have called him my friend for so many years.”

RDIC would not exist without Sampson’s vision, dedication and devotion, said Marc Hall, director of operations for the organization.

Under Sampson’s leadership, RDIC established a ceramic water filter manufacture and distribution system, produced a Cambodian television series for children to promote literacy and healthy living, and worked to alert Cambodians to the risks of drinking arsenic-laden groundwater, Hall said. RDIC also has developed and implemented agricultural, water, health and educational programs in villages throughout the country.

Sarahn Chhim DeLoach, a resident of a village in Cambodia that Sampson visited with RDIC, said in an e-mail to the Kernel that the work Sampson did to develop water purification systems changed the lives of countless people.

“His work made a difference in the lives of my own family,” DeLoach. “We took 10 clay pots that purify water to a remote village in Battambang and gave them to my relatives. They were drinking from a dirty cow pond until we shared Mickey’s clay pots with them.”

No matter what, though, Sampson always found time to spend with his wife and kids.

“That’s what’s breaking my heart right now,” James Sampson said. “He would hate to be separated from his family and his wife. That would break his heart.”

Mickey Sampson’s body will be returned to Cambodia for funeral arrangements, Williams said. He is survived by his parents, Jimmy and Diane Sampson, one brother, James Sampson, his wife, Wendi, and their four children.

Cambodia to get $50 mln for climate change project

www.chinaview.cn
2009-03-23

PHNOM PENH, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Development partners have promised to provide 50 million U.S. dollars for a climate change project in Cambodia, said a senior official of the World Bank (WB) here on Monday.

"Cambodia is selected as a pilot country in the pilot program for climate change with global fund which can be contributed by a number of development partners," said Qimiao Fan, WB's Country Manager.

The project will be managed by WB and the fund will be allocated in the next four years, with half as concession loan and half as grant aid, he added.


Editor: Xiong Tong

Cambodian PM rejects UK report of political unrest

www.chinaview.cn
2009-03-23

PHNOM PENH, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen here on Monday rejected a UK report that the kingdom is among the top 5 countries at high risk of political instability amid the global economic climate.

"We have political stability and live in peace now, but they still labeled us negatively," he told the opening ceremony of the annual work-review meeting of the Health Ministry, while mentioning the report issued by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a British think tank.

"We know that their assessment had other purposes inside," he said, adding that EIU was just afraid of assessing other neighboring countries in turmoil now.

Due to the current global financial crisis, the EIU report classified the risk of social upheaval and political unrest as high or very high in 95 countries, and ranked Cambodia the fourth in terms of such threat.

Editor: Xiong Tong

The Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association Reacts against Hun Sen’s Announcement that There Is No Money to Increase the Salaries of Teachers- Sat

Posted on 23 March 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 604

Apologies for the delays in publishing - due to my international travel. I try to catch up as soon as possible.

But I am now starting my return trip to Cambodia. According to schedule, I should be working again from Phonom Penh on Monday - first catching up with the delays, and then working again regularly.
Norbert Klein

“The Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association strongly criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen Friday, 20 March 2009, after the Khmer Prime Minister announced during a convention to consider the Ministry of Education’s task, that he cannot increase salaries for teachers even though he wants to do so.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen, voted into office in a package vote, announced during the closure of the convention, ‘I would like to tell all of those who are responsible for tasks of supervision, that I do want to increase the teachers’ salaries, but our national budget is limited. Thus, we cannot increase the salaries of teachers beyond what they are now.

“Hun Sen, who rules the country with fear that his power is overthrown, said irresponsibly, ‘Where can we find money to increase teachers’ salaries? Moreover, now, that the global economy is declining and citizens who had earned much income before lose their income.’ He added that when the salaries of teachers or of civil servants are increased, they must be increased in a stable way.

“Reacting to the announcement of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, Mr. Rong Chhun, said that if Prime Minister Hun Sen has the intention to increase teachers’ salaries, there will be no problem for the current government to do so. Mr. Rong Chhun believes that teachers’ salaries should be increased to between Riel 800,000 and Riel 1,000,000, corresponding to between US$200 and US$250, so that it is in line with their appropriate living standard.

“Mr. Rong Chhun added, ‘I think that the government has enough money to increase the teachers’ salaries, and it is possible if the Prime Minister wants to do it in order to improve the teachers’ daily livelihood.’ Mr. Rong Chhun went on to say that money to increase the salaries for teachers might be taken from taxation and from the elimination of corruption, and the simplest way is to stop spending money wastefully on delegations who always accompany Prime Minister to attend different forums.

“Mr. Rong Chhun continued to say, ‘As I know, a delegation member receives Riel 2,000,000 [approx. US$500] and additional expenses for gasoline when they accompany the prime minister to inaugurate different achievements, and for other missions. He said that there are more than 100,000 teachers in Cambodia nowadays, and 93% of them have another job besides teaching to seek additional income to support the family economy.

“According to the president of the Cambodian Teachers’ Association, at present, primary school teachers receive Riel 100,000 per month [approx. US$25] which is less than that of lower secondary school teachers who receive Riel 200,000 per month [approx. US$50] and high school teachers who receive Riel 250,000 [approx US$65] per month.

“According to a new report of the Education Partnership, 99% of teachers said that teachers’ salaries alone are not enough for them to live. The report stated that the budget of the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport for 2008 is twice more than that in 2000 - US$508,865,000 in 2008 compared to US$209,246,000 in 2000.

“In the same period, the initial salary of a [new] teacher has increased from US$20 to US$30 since 1999.

“The report said that at present, this amount of salaries cannot cover the daily needs of teachers, and teachers have no choice, besides trying to seek additional income by dong different jobs besides teaching.

“A Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian from Phnom Penh and the spokesperson of the party, Mr. Yim Sovann, said that if the Hun Sen government can prevent corruption, Hun Sen will not lack money to increase the salaries for teachers and for civil servants.

“Mr. Yim Sovann added that every year, millions of dollars from taxes are lost. Therefore, if Hun Sen could eliminate corruption in taxation, there will be no shortage of money to increase the salaries for teachers and for civil servants, such as police and soldiers.

“It should be noted that on 13 March 2009, the president of the biggest opposition party in Cambodia, Mr. Sam Rainsy, wrote a letter to ask the prime minister to clarify the efficiency of law enforcement about finances in the national budget management for 2009.

“In that request, Mr. Sam Rainsy and opposition party parliamentarians said that in 2008, the taxation and the Water Supply Department collected about 60% of the total tax income which was high in the region. But in 2009, the Taxation and Water Supply Department requires that around US$585 million from tax is to be collected, which is an impossible amount due to the economic downturn which happened for two months in the early part of this year. Tax income is only US$64 million, compared to the same period in 2008 when it was US$86 million.”

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.16, #3717, 21-22.3.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Saturday, 21 March 2009

Global downturn threatens Cambodian garment success

A Cambodian garment worker inspects checks children's clothing at a factory in Phnom Penh February 26, 2009. Many garment factories in Cambodia are closing as shoppers in the United States, Europe and elsewhere cut back on clothing purchases due to the global financial crisis. Picture taken February 26, 2009.
REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea


Sun Mar 22, 2009

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Mon Moeun, one of thousands of Cambodians pulled out of poverty by a job in the garment trade since foreign investors arrived in the 1990s, may be back rearing pigs soon after a collapse in demand from Western countries.

Many garment factories in Cambodia are closing as shoppers in the United States, Europe and elsewhere cut back on clothing purchases due to the global financial crisis.

Garments are Cambodia's biggest export earner and its economy may shrink this year due to the drop in demand.

Moeun and his wife have suffered a double blow. They used to earn $80 a month each as garment workers, sending half of it back to support their 8-year-old son living with Moeun's parents in the southern province of Takeo.

Then, three months ago, their factories shut without notice.

"We see hard times ahead when we get back to the countryside, raising pigs and planting vegetables to make a living," said Moeun, 39, chatting with friends under a tree near a shuttered factory on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.

More than 1,000 workers were owed pay when South Korean-owned Da Joo (Cambodia) Ltd. closed. It has become an all too familiar story.

At its peak, Cambodia's garment sector boasted almost 300 factories employing 340,000 workers, many of them women from the countryside.

Foreign companies started to move into the impoverished Southeast Asian country after U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993, fuelling an economic revival after 30 years of civil war and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge "killing fields" in the 1970s.

The monitoring of work conditions by the International Labor Organization helped lure brands such as Adidas, Nike and Gap, keen to avoid bad publicity from sweatshops. Cambodia's membership of the World Trade Organization from 2004 provided another boost.

Factories sprang up where once there were green rice fields around the capital and garments became Cambodia's biggest export earner. They brought in $2.78 billion in 2008, but that may drop about 30 percent this year, said Kaing Monika, spokesman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC).

Exports of garments to the U.S. market dropped nearly 40 percent in January compared with a year earlier. Some 70 percent of the clothes go to the United States, 25 percent to Europe and the rest mainly to South Korea and Japan.

So far about 20 out of 291 factories, owned mostly by Taiwanese, Chinese, South Koreans and Malaysians, have closed their doors, Monika said. Other factories, at best, were running at 70 percent of capacity now. Some had no orders at all.

Some 70,000 workers have been laid off since last year and another 100,000 jobs are under threat over the next two years, according to the country's leading labor union, Chea Mony.

Another laid-off worker, 28-year-old Sar Bunthoeun, said his mother would suffer now he can no longer send back $40 a month. "I'll return to my old job as a barber. It's my fate," he said.

ECONOMIC SLUMP

The sector represents about 16 percent of Cambodia's GDP, so the factory closures will hurt, with a ripple effect in the countryside as the money sent home by garment workers dries up.

The International Monetary Fund says the economy could shrink 0.5 percent in 2009 and the garment trade slump is a big factor.

But Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodian Institute of Development Study (CIDS), said even if the double-digit growth of recent years was out of reach, 4 or 5 percent may be possible thanks to a bountiful rice crop in 2008/09 and the record $950 million in aid pledged by international donors for 2009.

"Cambodia could use the aid of nearly $1 billon to invest in infrastructures to stimulate its economy," Chandararot said.

People surviving on less than $1 a day are deemed to be living in poverty. Garment workers earn on average $2.7 a day so the loss of these jobs will hurt.

"More people will be pushed into poverty," said Huot Chea of the World Bank in Cambodia.

Historical data is lacking in Cambodia, but the World Bank says 45 to 50 percent of the people lived in poverty in 1994. Prime Minister Hun Sen says that was cut to 30 percent by 2008 thanks to the garment sector, tourism and agriculture.

Analysts doubt the job losses will undermine the grip on power of Hun Sen, who has run the country for 23 years, but some are worried about social problems.

"The massive layoffs of workers could lead to social unrest, with more armed robberies or drug smuggling," Chandararot of the CIDS said.

And he foresaw land disputes as people returned to the countryside. "What is most likely is that they will fight over the land needed to make a living in the future," he said.

Hun Sen called on aid donors at a meeting on March 12 to join with the government to provide a social safety net to help workers who had been laid off. He also said the government would try to find new export markets in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has urged the government to make foreign-owned factories deposit funds with the Treasury so that workers can get what they are owed in the event of bankruptcy.

There have been reports of looting of machinery but, in some instances at least, it's more a question of workers and management trying to find ways to pay wages.

Chhen Mey, 30, was a supervisor at a factory of Malaysian-owned L.A (Cambodia) Garment Pte. Ltd, which closed in late 2008 with the loss of 2,180 jobs.

A Reuters reporter saw L.A workers carrying sewing machines onto trucks, heading for auction. "If we don't sell the machines, we'll have no money to pay the unpaid workers," Mey said.

Albert Teoh is the director of a Malaysian-based company with three factories that used to export goods worth over $160 million a year under the 'Target' brand and employed 12,000 workers.

He is worried that in the next few months most of the subcontractors for the factories will have folded.

"There's no way to make profits. How to survive the crisis is our main priority, really," Teoh said.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Alan Raybould and Megan Goldin)

"Cham Clichés" (7): The prayer rooms at Pochentong airport, Cambodia

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 09/01/2009. The arrow indicates the direction to Mecca in the Muslim prayer room at Pochentong Airport.
©Vandy Rattana


Ka-set

By Emiko Stock

The stress of last-minute preparations is palpable. Suitcases and passengers get all piled up with precipitation in a Toyota Camry heading towards Pochentong airport. Ahmat leaves Kilometre 9 in a bad mood: he did tell the women not to be long as he wanted to pray one last time before departing... “Once there [at the airport], there is nowhere to pray. When we depart for Hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca], there are so many other Muslims that we all end up praying in the car park, but now, I won’t do it on my own!”

This was more than a year ago. Ahmat was on the plane to Malaysia to visit his daughter, at the exact time when he had to observe one of the five daily salat (Muslim ritual prayer). Today, Ahmat will be boarding the same plane, to meet his newborn grandson... And something has changed at Pochentong airport: it now has two Musallas, or two places allowing Muslim travellers to find spiritual rest.

Two small white-painted rooms, almost devoid of any decoration, are simply filled with immense calm... The vacuity emerging from that space could almost remind one of the canons of Japanese zen, or even the inspiration of some very minimalist design. The only decorative detail is an arrow-shaped sign pointing towards the Qiblah, i.e. the direction of Mecca which determines the orientation of the prayer, and a screen indicating the flight schedule, thus linking the faithful to the realities of other skies...

The first Musalla is located near the arrival terminal and can accommodate around twenty-five people in a total of 36 square metres, when the smaller version – 20m2 – is located on the first floor among the boarding rooms and allows ten people to observe salat.


The contribution made by the Société Concessionnaire des Aéroports (SCA) did not leave Cambodian Muslims cold: “My fellow Muslims often come to thank me for having contributed to provide that place for meditation. In all countries, especially those where there is a small minority of Muslims, there is always a room allowing us to observe our prayers, it is so important in our religion. We had to build one in Cambodia, for Cambodians who are departing and for foreign transient travellers too”, says Ahmad Yahya, who was at that time an advisor to the prime Minister, in charge of Islamic World Affairs and of that dossier.

Ahmad Yahya played an essential part in this turning point which he calls “historical” for Cambodian Muslims. In February 2008, he drafted a request to the prime Minister and the latter answered 2 weeks later with enthusiasm. Everything went quickly from then on: in the space of a month, the different government entities discuss and the SCA was assigned to the task. Their reaction did not take long to come: “There was little space available in the airport, it seemed difficult to build new premises, so we made a selection of the rooms which could potentially be vacant, and we proposed that to the Muslims representatives we were in contact with. Then, we talked together about the specific aspects that the place would require, like the proximity of the toilets for ablutions, or making the Koran and prayer mats available and clearly indicating the direction of the Qiblah”, one of the SCA representatives explains.


According to some, the project allegedly took shape after the visit of a Kuwaiti delegation in Cambodia. However, Mufti Sos Kamry, the religious chief of the Cambodian Muslim community, refutes the statement: “The idea was mentioned a while before. I have heard of that project, initiated by the SCA, for several years already, even as they were in the middle of rebuilding the airport. This is why we are grateful to them and the government: we never asked for anything and they themselves had the idea of offering us this present”.

This present, unlike mosques and Suraos throughout the country, could do without the usual building consent of the Mufti and the Ministry of Religions and Cults: “The aim of the Musalla is totally different. Themosque must at least gather forty Muslims under the direction of the Imam, and it is used for the five daily salat and the Jumat, the most important prayer in the week, observed on Fridays at midday. As for the Surao, it is mostly needed in small villages with low demography where, contrary to more populated towns, the mosque is too far away: people can gather there every day except Fridays for the five salat, even only two people do it. And the Musalla, unlike the mosque, does not formalise the person’s prayer wish. A long time ago, it allowed people to meditate as well as rest after a long trip. There, people should be able to both observe the ritualised salat, at set times during the day, and make one last prayer before their departure towards the unknown”, the Mufti details. His consent was granted rather than necessary.

The opening ceremony was as quiet as these two rooms, but had its effect: some forty persons came to observe a first common prayer on Friday, May 16th 2008. Late 2008, their presence should have changed the face of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Pochentong. As families are usually many to come to accompany the candidates to Hajj who observe one last prayer in the airport car parks, Musallas should provide a few hundred pilgrims on the go better conditions for their ritual. Unfortunately, the Thai problems causing the blockade of Bangkok airport at the same time put an end to the dream of a lifetime of many a travelling family: “The number of pilgrims has kept increasing over the past few years, except for 2008 when in the end, only 150 people were able to do the trip to Mecca, when 400 people turned up in 2007”, the Mufti says. No doubt, however, that Musallas were then a special place for reunion, both for those who were lucky enough to go and those who had to return to their village.

The activity in each of the two rooms remains unknown, since anyone can go there if they want to, at any time when the airport is open. Access to the rooms is not monitored and the lack of statistics reveals this total freedom of access, which is the aim of a Musalla itself.

Still today, these special little rooms are empty, or simply filled with serenity. As Ahmat is about to fly to Kuala Lumpur, he finally says no to his last prayer, which he could have done at last: “It’s not the same when I’m on my own... If there had been several of us, it would have been better...”, Ahmat says, not without some mischief: “Anyway, I’ll be in Malaysia in three hours’ time and over there, they even have prayer rooms in markets, on the roads...! I’ll catch up there!”

Another nod for Somaly Mam

Photo by: AFP
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by AFP
Monday, 23 March 2009

Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg (right) poses with the 2009 global leadership award recipients Somaly Mam (centre) and Temituokpe Esisi of Nigeria after their news conference in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Somaly Mam, whose work with anti-trafficking NGO Afesip has earned her numerous accolades and awards, including the Glamour Woman of the Year award, was herself trafficked into sex work as a young girl.

Senate's decade angers critics

Photo by: Khem Rony John
CPP and Senate President Chea Sim speaks on Friday at the Senate building in Phnom Penh
.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Neth Pheaktra
Monday, 23 March 2009

IN the wake of official celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Kingdom's Senate, opposition members and civil society groups have called for the body's reform, saying it has failed to fulfil its constitutional obligations and is acting as a drain on national resources.

In a ceremony marking the Senate's first decade Friday, Senate President Chea Sim said the body had contributed strongly to the Kingdom's political stability and economic development since its establishment on March 25, 1999.

"During the 10 years of its existence, the Senate has walked an honourable path through activities that have aided the country's reconstruction and national development, and it has played an important role in integrating Cambodia with the region and the world in an era of globalisation," he said in a speech.

But while Article 112 of the Kingdom's Constitution states that the Senate has "duties to coordinate the work between the Assembly and the Government", government critics said the 61-member body performs no practical function.

"Over the last 10 years, [the Senate] has not proven to be useful in any way at all. It has only managed to spend large amounts of public funds for nothing," opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Sunday.

"It is a legitimate body because it is in the Constitution, but performing its role in a useful way is another story."

He added that for 2008, the body cost a total of nearly 29 billion riels (US$7.07 million) in salaries and upkeep.

Sam Rainsy also criticised the body's "non-universal" elections - open only to commune councillors and lawmakers - as undemocratic, calling for the introduction of direct universal elections.

"This current Senate was elected [in 2006] by commune councillors who were elected in 2002," he said. "But from 2002 to 2009, many things have changed."

Several of those contacted by the Post said that the body itself had a questionable origin, having been born out of political compromise in the aftermath of the 1998 election.

At that time, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh was awarded the post of National Assembly president as a reward for bringing his party into coalition with the CPP, leading to the creation of the Senate as a new power base for CPP President Chea Sim, who had occupied the post of Assembly head since 1993.

"Ten years ago, the Senate was created out of political expediency to create a position for Chea Sim," Sam Rainsy said.

"Everybody knew from the very beginning that it had no utility of any sort, and since then it has proven these first perceptions."

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, agreed that because of its origins, the Senate was an institutional contrivance that served no necessary function.

Although the body "reviewed" legislation passed by the National Assembly, checking laws to ensure their intended meanings were reflected in eventual legislation, its power to effect changes in the law was limited, he said. "They are the proofreaders of the Assembly," he said.

He added that in 10 years, the Senate sent just two laws back to the National Assembly for revision, and that they both concerned matters of semantics rather than substance.

Others said that the Senate, lacking the power to fulfill its purpose as a body of review, had become - like many Cambodian institutions - a vessel for political party power.

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Over the last 10 years, the senate has not proven ... useful in any way at all.
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Unlike in most democratic states, Cambodian Senators are elected as representatives of their political parties and are personally dependent upon party support.

"If you are dismissed from the party, or you resign your membership in the party, you also lose your seat in parliament or in the Senate," said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.

"In this situation, political parties control the National Assembly and the Senate."

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said the body played a potentially important role, but that without reforms it would continue to be compromised by political control. "The Senate demands a lot of money but provides very little for the national interest," he said.

The presence of 15 powerful businessmen in the Senate was another worrying trend, said Ou Virak, showing that economic interests were now benefiting from parliamentary immunity.

"This is an interesting turn and a significant one, because it indicates the business interests involved in obtaining a seat in the Senate," he said.

In a special March bulletin, the Senate claimed to have "actively fulfilled" its duties, making recommendations to the National Assembly on 205 laws, holding 155 meetings and 15 plenary sessions, and organising eight forums on the government's decentralisation reforms.

Injuries, arrests in SR land clash

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Monday, 23 March 2009

AT least four people were seriously hurt and 40 others arrested Sunday when a long-simmering land dispute between two neighbouring communes in Siem Reap boiled over into violence, according to radio reports and officials.

Radio Free Asia also reported that one man had been killed when military police and soldiers opened fire during an altercation between villagers from neighbouring Anlong Samnor and Chi Kraeng communes. The injured - all of whom were hospitalised - and the dead man were from Chi Kraeng commune, RFA said, although the death could not be confirmed by local officials.

The two communes have been embroiled in a dispute over a 92-hectare swath of farmland since December.

Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin ruled February 2 that Anlong Samnor residents could continue farming on the land.

RFA stated Sunday that violence broke out after residents from Anlong Samnor began harvesting crops they had planted on the land.

Sou Phirin told the Post Sunday that there had been four injuries, but he said that he had not heard of any deaths.

Sous Narin, a monitor for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc, told the Post that villagers also said there had been four injuries, but also could not confirm the reported death.

Police pay family of murdered SRP activist

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Monday, 23 March 2009

THE boss of a policeman wanted for the murder of an opposition party activist in Kampong Cham province earlier this month has paid compensation in a bid to have the case closed, said the victim's commune Chief Prak Vanny.

Prak Vanny said the family of the victim, 45-year-old Van Veth, had come to his office last week accompanied by Nhek Sony, the police chief of Battalion 617, to request that the commune chief sign to acknowledge the payment.

Van Veth, who was an activist with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in Choam commune, was shot dead on March 4 in broad daylight by In Pheang, a policeman in Battalion 617. In Pheang has since been on the run.

Prak Vanny said police chief Nhek Sony had paid the family 5.5 million riels (US$1,350). However, the commune chief said the payment was irrelevant since the killing was a criminal case and would have to go to court.

"Nhek Sony took five-and-a half million riels to pay the victim's family and tried to close the case. They asked me to sign it and acknowledge this deal, but I refused," the Sam Rainsy Party commune chief said. "On behalf of the authorities, I must follow the legal route. I cannot compromise and close the case."

The Post on Sunday was unable to reach Nhek Sony for comment. But the provincial police chief, Nuon Samin, claimed the cash payment was to cover the family's funeral expenses as the investigation is ongoing. "My police are seeking to arrest the perpetrator," he said.

Provincial head of investigations at the rights group Licadho, Bu Vireak, said compensation could not terminate a criminal case.

Textbook author, freed from jail, defends work

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Monday, 23 March 2009

MORE than two weeks after his release from Prey Sar prison, Tieng Narith, the former professor convicted of "printing false documents" in connection with a textbook he wrote criticising the government, said in an interview Sunday that he is recuperating from his time behind bars and pondering his next move.

"I am very happy to be freed," he said. "I now have to rest for at least one month to clear my mind."

The 32-year-old former professor, who taught subjects including political philosophy and political science at Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University in Phnom Penh for nearly four years, was convicted in September 2007 of printing false documents, an offense that carries a sentence of six months to three years. He was released March 6 after serving his full two-and-a-half year sentence.

He said the textbook "attacked" the government and accused the ruling Cambodian People's Party of corruption-related crimes. But he said the criticisms were general and did not target individual officials.

Article 62 of the criminal code outlaws "information which is false, fabricated, falsified or untruthfully attributed to a third person ... in bad faith and with malicious intent, provided that the publication, distribution or reproduction has disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace".

Miech Ponn, 75, a researcher at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, said Tieng Narith was guilty only of voicing his opposition to government policies. He echoed the professor's view that the criticism was largely harmless because it did not target individuals.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, called the textbook a "ridiculous verbal attack" that had little academic merit.

He added, though, that he did not think the professor should have been arrested or imprisoned.

Sihanouk to stay in Beijing for further cancer treatment

Photo by: AFP
King Father Sihanouk, shown here in a file photo, will not be back in Cambodia for another couple of months.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth pheaktra
Monday, 23 March 2009

Frail King Father sets no deadline for his return to Cambodia

KING Father Norodom Sihanouk has said he will remain in Beijing for several months more in order to continue receiving medical treatment. Sihanouk, who is 87, was last in Cambodia in August 2008 and has not fixed a return date.

In a statement issued Saturday from Beijing, he said the Chinese doctors were continuing to treat him for cancer.

"I have the great honour of presenting to my lovely compatriots the kindness [China's] eminent doctors are showing in curing my third cancer (lymphoma B)," he said in a handwritten statement, but added that he did not know when his cancer would be cured.

"Every month at the Beijing Central Hospital there is chemotherapy, injections and a drip (that lasts seven hours). This treatment, which is indispensable, will last four, five or six months," he wrote.

He said his condition was being monitored through the use of MRI and PET scans.

"If it is completely cured, they will provide two more drips (seven hours for each drip) to prevent the cancer coming back."

Sihanouk's statement came three days after the 39th anniversary of the March 1970 coup in which he was overthrown by General Lon Nol, who abolished the Cambodian monarchy and set up a republican regime.

On March 20, he sent a letter of gratitude to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who referred to the 1970 coup in an address on the anniversary.

Sihanouk wrote: "I would like to thank you very much for giving justice to me and our nation's history in your speech."

In his speech at the National Institute of Education's annual congress on March 18, Hun Sen blamed the coup for unleashing decades of civil war and the 1975 victory of Khmer Rouge.

"If there was no coup d'etat on March 18, 1970, dismissing [Sihanouk], the war would not have taken place and the Pol Pot regime would not have been created either," Hun Sen said.

"If they had let Sihanouk lead the country, Cambodia would have developed more and would have prevented millions of deaths."

Nuclear-free Kingdom

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha and Sam Rith
Monday, 23 March 2009

THE government has approved a draft law banning the production, possession and transportation of chemical, nuclear, biological and radioactive weapons in Cambodia.

The draft law, approved on Friday at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen, is now with Tea Banh, the minister of defence, and will then be sent to the National Assembly, said Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers.

Phay Siphan said Hun Sen was keen that Cambodia led the way in reducing other countries' concerns about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and that the draft law was in harmony with the Constitution, which already outlaws chemical and nuclear weapons.

Kirt Chantharith, a spokesman for the National Police, said the draft law was a basic instrument for implementation. He added that Cambodia had already ratified the international treaty on chemical and nuclear weapons.

"This shows the commitment of the government," he said. "We have never had such war with such weapons in our country."

Govt to study impact of NW road project

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Monday, 23 March 2009

A ROAD and bridge construction project in Battambang and Pailin provinces begun last year and expected to finish in 2011 is to see the displacement of an unspecified number of residents, provincial and government officials said last week.

They added, however, that Ministry of Finance is preparing to assess which of the displaced will qualify for compensation.

The project will see a US$40 million upgrade of the 102-kilometre National Road 57 connecting Battambang and Pailin provinces, and the building of a 92-metre bridge on the outskirts of Battambang town.

Funding is to come from a $600 million development loan pledged by China in April 2006.

"One house will be affected in the ongoing construction of the bridge, but local and government authorities are still assessing how many houses will be affected along National Road 57," Khan Mane, director of the Battambang Public Works and Transport Department, told the Post on Thursday.

He added that residents of four communes and two districts in Battambang town would bear some impact from the construction project.

Refurbishing National Road 57 is to affect residents of Pailin as well, Sieng Sotthong, deputy provincial governor of Battambang province, told the Post on Thursday.

He said people in both provinces who live along the road "should understand the development and pull down fences whenever the government wants them to".

"The Inter-Ministerial Resettlement Committee of the Ministry of Finance is finalising a compensation policy to pay those affected by the project," he added.

Khan Mane said total compensation would likely not exceed $1 million, adding that "the government will try to negotiate with people to reduce the cost".

According to Cambodian law, residents affected by government construction projects are entitled to compensation.

Article 44 of the Constitution states that legal private ownership is protected by law and that "the right to confiscate properties from any person shall be exercised only in the public interest as provided for under the law and shall require fair and just compensation in advance".

Resettlement policy needed
Sim Samnang, deputy director of the Resettlement Department of the Ministry of Finance, said earlier this year that government officials were preparing a national mechanism to guide compensation for those who lose land or housing to state development projects.

A draft expropriatory law is set to go before the National Assembly later this year, he said.

"Cambodia's laws and policies do not adequately address resettlement issues," he said in January.

"There is a need for a national resettlement policy," he added.

Cambodia Project looks to close rural education gap

Photo by: AFP
A Cambodian schoolboy pedals a bike with his friends along a street at Samlot district in Battambang province, some 291 kilometres northwest of Phnom Penh on Thursday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet
Monday, 23 March 2009

The project, based in New York, plans to use microfinance loans and for-profit businesses to expand access to education.

ON A TRIP to Southeast Asia in the summer of 2005, Jean-Michel Tijerina was invited by a friend to visit Cambodia and tour a girls' orphanage on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

But Tijerina, who had never before been to the Kingdom, was struck less by what was going on inside the orphanage than by what he saw out on the streets of the capital: scores of school-age children hawking souvenirs, many of whom said they were working to pay their tuition fees.

Tijerina, then a student at Columbia University in New York City, said he recognised on that trip a need for expanded access to affordable education in Cambodia, particularly beyond the primary level.

"I immediately saw a gap for secondary education specifically," he said in an interview last week in Phnom Penh.

With that observation, Tijerina picked up on one of the fundamental issues facing the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport as it works towards achieving targets under the Education Strategic Plan (2006-10) and the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) pertaining to education.

While Cambodia is within striking distance of meeting its primary enrolment targets, it is not on track to meet the lower secondary MDG enrolment target of 75 percent in 2010.

When he returned to the US, Tijerina set about starting a nonprofit, The Cambodia Project, that aims to open three secondary schools in rural areas over the next five years. In addition to providing health care for students and staff, and employing green construction methods, Tijerina said he hopes to create schools that are locally managed and financially sustainable.

Funding and operations
The Cambodia Project has been fully operational for about one year. Tijerina and other staffers visited Cambodia last week to meet with potential donors and scout out school sites, and they plan to open an office in Phnom Penh this summer.

The first school, to begin construction in Kampot province beginning in December, will seat 980 lower secondary students, said Teal Nipp, public relations manager for the project.

The project has received in-kind donations from American Express Philanthropy and Google, among other US-based outfits, as well as Raffles Hotels and Resorts. Grants have come from foundations including the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation and A Foundation for Kids.

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I think ... the basis is education. after that come jobs, which in turn develop an economy.
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Nipp declined to estimate how much each school would cost, saying only that "we will work accordingly with any money raised to ensure that the first school is ... handed back to the community by 2015". To accomplish this, she said, project leaders plan to set up for-profit businesses to support each school that would likely involve the sale of organic local products such as Kampot pepper. Tijerina said students "could contribute to the business in some way potentially", but he emphasised that business plans had yet to be fully developed.

Project leaders plan to employ local teachers, who would receive the same benefits - including access to health care and transportation - that are to be extended to students. Their salaries would be higher than those of teachers in public schools, Tijerina said, in part to discourage the collection of informal fees.

Nipp said the schools would be "private schools offering competitive rates", adding that they would be "very affordable for wealthy families".

For students from lower-income families, project leaders intend to use microfinance loans to help cover tuition costs.

The secondary situation
A report released last week by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport points to slow progress in expanding secondary education. Lower secondary school enrolment increased by less than 2 percent in the 2007-08 academic year, totaling 637,529 students, or 63.8 percent of the 2008 target of 1 million students. The net enrolment rate was 34.8 percent, less than half of the 2010 MDG target.

At the upper secondary level, the enrolment rate was 14.8 percent, short of the 2008 target of 18 percent. There are no MDG targets for upper secondary education, but Nipp said increasing enrolment at that level is crucial to developing the rural economy.

"I think in developing communities the basis is education," she said. "After that come jobs, which in turn develop an economy, an infrastructure, and hopefully there's a snowball effect."

Bio-sand filters provide clean water in SRieng

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Monday, 23 March 2009

A WATER-purification program by the Church World Service is providing clean water to thousands of rural Cambodians in Svay Rieng province using simple but effective technology, the group said.

The Church World Service says it has provided 1,200 filters for use by some 1,900 household, schools, pagodas and commune halls in 56 villages in Svay Rieng, and that the program has significantly reduced incidences of typhoid and diarrhoea by providing villagers sand-filter devices small enough to place in a home or office.

Produced at low costs - between US$15 and $20 - bio-sand filters are compact box devices usually built on a concrete base and containing a layer of gravel topped by a layer of sand.

Water poured through the top of the device is filtered by the sand and gravel. A shallow layer of water remaining on top of the sand forms a wet film that traps and consumes the micro-organisms and contaminants in the water.

The filtered water flows out through a pipe at the base of the device into a clean container for safe consumption.

Making merit

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Heng Chivoan
Monday, 23 March 2009

Ton Sovann serves a meal to his elderly parents as a sign of respect during a ceremony Sunday in the family home in Phnom Penh. The ceremony was to pray for good luck in the lead-up to Khmer New Year.

Financial crisis puts country at high risk of unrest: EIU

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Workers protest outside a Phnom Penh garment factory. Lack of trust in the government and a history of instability are among Cambodia’s weaknesses as it faces the fallout from the global financial crisis.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Michael Fox
Monday, 23 March 2009

A new report by the Economist Group says Cambodia is in among top five countries most at risk of instability from the worsening economic downturn

CAMBODIA is among the countries most at risk of suffering serious social unrest as the financial crisis threatens stability across the globe, a report has warned.

The report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) states that the economic upheaval and a "global pandemic of unrest" is set to disrupt economies and topple governments over the next two years.

The risk is classified as high or very high in 95 countries. \\\\

Cambodia was ranked fourth in terms of the threat posed, equal with Sudan and ahead of only Zimbabwe, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It was ranked worse than war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the report titled "Manning the Barricades", as people lose confidence in the ability of governments to restore stability, protests will become increasingly likely.

"A spate of incidents [across the globe] in recent months shows that the global economic downturn is already having political repercussions. This is being seen as a harbinger of worse to come."

The governments of Latvia and Iceland have already succumbed to the political fallout from the crisis.

The report's Political Instability Index was formulated using two indices: Underlying Vulnerability which took into account inequality, state strength and public trust in political institutions, while Economic Distress included levels of development, growth and unemployment.

Cambodia scored 7.9 out of 10 in Underlying Vulnerability and eight in Economic Distress, up from a total risk of six last year.

However, Cambodian economist Kang Chandararot said he was not as pessimistic about Cambodia's future as the EIU was, but acknowledged there would be an impact.

"They may engage in something illegal [due to] the increase in insecurity in our country, but not in the form of revolution or mass strikes.... I don't think that will happen," he said.

Kang Chandararot said the EIU did not know enough about the Cambodian economy. Unemployed people could return to the land if they are unable to find jobs in the main urban centres.

"Agriculture is the last resort of unemployed people ... we still have a lot of land for subsistence and agriculture," he said.

Public investment from foreign aid would help weather the crisis, provided the aid continued.

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The ... economic downturn is already having political reperussions.
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Kang Chandararot said observations of the Cambodian Institute for Development Study over the last four years showed that a dollar in public investment would lead to two dollars in private investment, contributing to continued growth.

He could not put a figure on the number of Cambodian's who might lose their jobs as a result of the crisis.

However, the report said the figure could be as high as 50 million globally.
The Cambodian garment industry has already shed tens of thousands of jobs in the past six months.

In spite of Kang Chandararot's confidence, the report said the social impact of the crisis was too serious to ignore.

"[T]he threat of unrest is grave and the risk of complacency far outweighs any risk of exaggerating the dangers," it said.

KOTRA and Korean Air look to boost flagging visitor numbers

BLOOMBERG
Korean Air has seen passenger numbers on its Cambodia routes decline.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Monday, 23 March 2009

New Korean trade and investment office in Phnom Penh to work out ways to halt the precipitous drop in South Korean travellers to the Kingdom

AIRLINE carrier Korean Air is teaming up with the Korean Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) to develop a strategy to arrest a dramatic decline in Korean tourist arrivals in Cambodia in recent months.

Tourism Ministry figures show arrivals from South Korea were down 38.24 percent year-on-year in January to 22,524. On the whole, arrivals from all countries in January fell just 2.19 percent from a year earlier to 218,691 in the wake of the financial crisis.

Vietnam shook the trend with arrivals in January up 27.06 percent year-on-year to 22,875. The surge meant the country overtook South Korea as the top market for tourist arrivals.

Sokhara Ted Tan, deputy general manager of the airline's sales office in Phnom Penh, said Korean Air had been hit hard on its twin routes to Cambodia as tourist arrivals dwindled in the wake of the global financial crisis.

"This year is a difficult one, but by 2010 we hope the economy will be recovering," he said. Korean Air runs seven flights a week between Cambodia and Incheon with routes from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Visiting China official talks rice mills: ministry

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Monday, 23 March 2009

VISITING Cambodia last week, the governor of China's Guangxi province, Ma Biao, said Chinese investors were eyeing Cambodia's undeveloped rice production sector, according to a Foreign Ministry official.

Koy Kuong, an undersecretary of state at the ministry, said the Chinese governor said he would encourage more Chinese companies to invest in rice mills in Cambodia.

Cambodia's agriculture industry has long-suffered from a shortage of mills to process and store its sizeable rice yields. With insufficient capital, many farmers are forced to sell raw paddy - earning little profit - or even let crops go to waste due to poor storage capacity.

The visiting official signed a memorandum of understanding to promote trade between his province and Cambodia, Koy Kuong said.

Yaing Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for the Study and Development of Agriculture, said Cambodia lacked the milling capacity it needs to cash in on exports. Insufficient capital to purchase raw paddy from farmers was another deficiency, he added.

GMAC plans training

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Monday, 23 March 2009

IN an effort to address Cambodia's lack of skilled labour in the garment sector, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) announced plans Sunday to invest US$2 million in a training centre, it said, pending the allocation of land from the Education Ministry.

Talking to member manufacturers, GMAC President Van Sou Ieng said a training centre would boost competitiveness.

"We hope the centre will produce 200 to 300 trained high-level workers and managers every year," he said. "Thousands of foreigners are working as designers in the garment sector in Cambodia because the factories cannot find skilled Cambodian workers."

He said that within the next five years, locals could replace this foreign work force.

Some 320,000 Cambodians work in the garment sector. According to the Labour Ministry, that number is supplemented by 8,000 foreigners filling skilled positions.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said improved training for locals could provide a boost to the Cambodian workers' incomes. France's state development agency will provide a loan to fund the project, he said.

PM vows to keep tax-free status for agricultural land

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
The prime minister said farmland won’t be taxed despite criticism over land disputes.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Monday, 23 March 2009

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has reiterated a commitment to exempt farmland from taxes in an effort to boost the agricultural sector - one of the few areas that is withstanding the economic downturn.

"The CPP [Cambodia People's Party] has guaranteed that we will not take tax on farmers' rice or farmland," he said during the official opening of an irrigation system on Saturday in Pursat province.

He said he had resisted calls by foreign governments and NGOs since the 1990s to tax land holdings.
"I have told [foreign ambassadors] that I will not tax farmland," he said.

"I have responded that Cambodian farmers require not only tax-free land, but also irrigation systems and roads," he said.

He warned that land taxes could be implemented by other political parties.

"[Other political parties] promise to raise salaries, but to raise the money they have to collect land tax and other taxes," he added.

Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said the Sam Rainsy Party supported the exemptions. He pressed the government to strengthen land titles.

"The Sam Rainsy Party supports not only keeping land tax-free, but we also encourages the government to keep citizens from having their land grabbed," he said Sunday.

He added that the government has not issued legal documents showing that land belongs to citizens.

However, the opposition and NGOs have urged the government to tax large land holdings.

Son Chhay said the government could earn about US$27 million per year if it charged $10 per hectare from the 2.7 million hectares that the government offered in concessions to wealthy foreign companies.

"I am not aware of any country where people are allowed to own such large land holdings without paying tax," he said.

"I think the [government] should limit how many hectares of rice-farming land can be owned tax-free and increase taxes for landowners that have confiscated land and left it unplanted."

Kek Galabru, president of the NGO Licadho, also agreed with the government's stance on land taxes for small-scale farmers, but said she favours taxing large land holdings.

"I think we should not take tax from people who have only a few hectares. If there is a tax, it should be small and largely symbolic," she said.

"For companies or others who have hundreds of thousands of hectares of land ... we should tax them like other countries do."

gay-friendlier Kingdom

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
Drag diva Deedee dances August 22, 2008, at Blue Chilli, a popular gay-friendly bar in Phnom Penh, in this file photo.

A livelier scene across the border

THE beaches of Patong and Pattaya in the Thai island haven of Phuket have attracted waves of gay travellers for years. The website gaypatong.com says Phuket is “one of the world’s most exciting Gay playgrounds” on par with the likes of Amsterdam, the Spanish resort town of Sitges and San Francisco. Phuket has been at the vanguard of an effort by tour operators to get their slice of the growing gay travel market, which Mintel International Group, a market-research company in Britain, said would grow by more than US$20 billion worldwide between 2006 and 2010. Travelocity, which has offered a database of gay-friendly hotels since 2005, includes hotels certified by the gay-tourism marketing company Community Marketing as enforcing non-discrimination policies.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Monday, 23 March 2009

Cambodia’s openness to homosexuality contributes to its growing reputation as a destination where gay tourists can travel without fear of prejudice

FROM tastefully decorated gay-owned restaurants where "the all-male staff are gorgeous and friendly" to spas frequented by gay expats that guarantee an "absolutely magic" massage from male masseurs, Utopia Asia tips gay travellers to Siem Reap.

While a far cry from Thailand's Phuket Island, where Speedo-clad beefcakes paint an exuberant scene, Cambodia is offering an increasing number of venues catering to gay travellers.

"People living here have a very open approach to gay people. That's been recognised, and so more gay travellers are coming here," said Dutch national Dirk Degraass, who designed and manages the aptly named Golden Banana guesthouse in Siem Reap.

He says the number of gay travellers in Siem Reap, the jump-off hub to tour the temples of Angkor Wat, has steadily risen over the three years he has lived in Cambodia. To keep pace with demand, the boutique guest house has expanded twice, mostly recently opening a third addition three months ago.

Even venues that have made no effort to attract gay customers seem to be benefiting from Cambodia's growing reputation as a destination where gay people can travel without experiencing prejudice.

La Veranda Resort in the coastal town of Kep receives a steady stream of gay tourists, according to its manager, Craig Pollard.

"You can come here and feel there's no problem; you can feel no one will look down on you," said the Australian.

Laurent Notin, with Indochina Research, which has offices in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, said Cambodia is well-suited to cultivating a niche tourism market to target specific demographics, as the country has yet to draw the numbers of a major tourism destination.

"Big companies are unlikely to come and push them out," he said, referring to the prospects of small hotels trying to attract gay travellers. "And niche markets are often lucrative - a small, but focussed, market can be very profitable."

A tough tourism year
In dismal economic times, any growth market may be worth jumping on. Tourism Ministry officials earlier this month announced that January tourist arrivals dropped by more than 2 percent compared with the same period last year - a sign that a key economic driver is flagging in the face of the global economic downturn.

Looking to keep people interested in travel even as their budgets shrink, a US-based travel company catering to gay travellers sees promise in Cambodia. Last month, it opened a new tour of Southeast Asia that includes Cambodia, along with Thailand and Laos.

Howie Holben, head of Spirit Journeys, bills his tours as "spiritually uplifting gay travel" and says he has found Cambodia to be a "very accepting environment".

The company is tapping into a destination that has largely gone under the radar, but that is already registering as a rising star. For Purple Dragon, Asia's longest-running travel company tailored to gay travellers - with routes to eight countries in the region - Cambodia is the second-most popular destination behind Thailand, according to Douglas Thompson, managing director of the company's headquarters in Bangkok.

Holben distinguished his tours from those of other gay travel companies. "Typically, there would be gay-oriented experiences like going out to gay nightclubs," he said. "But we're not going to experience gay life. We are just offering to the gay community the opportunity for a spiritual journey."

Spirit Journey's three-week trips, the first kicking off in November, focus on historical sites and include meditation exercises. The visit to Cambodia is dedicated to the Angkor temples around Siem Reap.

And for the time being, observers see Cambodia's "pink" tourism tailored more to ensuring accepting spaces than to providing lively spots for socialising.

Unprejudiced hospitality
Craig Duncan is on his fourth trip to Cambodia. For the 40-year-old from Australia, it is an "absolute priority" to search for the availability of gay-oriented venues before travelling somewhere - and Cambodia has fit the bill.

"Going online and finding gay-friendly places made a big difference. I was able to find out Cambodia would be a good place even before I got here," he said.

For Duncan, a gay-friendly hotel means "if you meet someone, you can take them back there, or if you're travelling with you're partner, they don't try to put you in different beds."

His impression has remained positive. He says he has not experienced an insult or any incidents of discrimination in the nearly five weeks he has spent in Cambodia as a tourist. In Southeast Asia, he observed, there is a sense of intimacy among people of the same sex that is comforting for gay visitors to see.

Duncan said the "services" for gay travellers have expanded along with the growing number of gay travellers to Cambodia. He has noticed a growth in the number of male prostitutes, or "money boys", in nightclubs in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

But the scene remains limited, he said, and he was eager to see Cambodia become livelier in its nightlife - bars and dance clubs - for gay visitors. Phnom Penh has a handful of gay bars, and Siem Reap offers a few gay-friendly watering holes, but it is a low-key scene compared with the globe's most storied gay destinations.

As Duncan put it, a gay destination in Thailand "would mean more".

And travel writer Nick Ray says it will likely stay that way for the near future.

Ray has authored Lonely Planet guides for Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and other countries in the region.

There has been a doubling of venues catering to gay visitors in Cambodia over the last three years, he's observed, but he thought the scene would remain subdued compared to that of some of its neighbour.

"It's following the Thai pattern more than the pattern of some of its conservative neighbours - like Vietnam, where it's considered a social evil - but I don't think it will reach the scale of Thailand."

Govt position unpredictable
Ray doubted there would be a public outcry if Cambodia's tourism scene for gay travellers became more pervasive and visible, but he said the possibility of a government backlash was difficult to predict.

"All it takes is one or two senior officials to decide they don't like it." But, at the moment, it's off the radar, he said.

With a former king, Norodom Sihanouk, who has been a vocal supporter of equal rights and same-sex partners, no history of homophobia among the public and no laws against homosexuality, local tourism operators have a supportive backdrop to carve out a space specifically for gay travellers.

But for the time being, Cambodia's official line, if there is one at all, oscillates.
Tourism Minister Thon Khong would only say he had not reflected on the prospect.

The Cambodian Association of Travel Agents would not consider promoting Cambodia as a gay-friendly tourism destination, said one of the group's top representatives, Ho Vandy. He was adamant, however, that hotels should not be allowed to turn away customers because of their sexual orientation.

He said tour operators were not opposed to gay visitors coming, but a campaign to woo them was out of question.

"We have a traditional culture, and we don't want foreigners promoting homosexuality [amongst Cambodians] in our country, but for gay foreigners who wish to visit Cambodia, that is OK."

Nick Ray saw it differently. He said the extent that Cambodia continues growing as a destination for gay travellers could largely depend on the attitudes of local people towards homosexuality.

"If more Cambodians come out, it will create a synergy that could have the industry take off."

Phnom Penh Aside: Where karaoke is king

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Andrew Steinhauer
Monday, 23 March 2009

THERE is love of karaoke and then there is Sihanoukville's love of karaoke, which is all-encompassing, ubiquitous and joyous. It's about camaraderie, community and contagious fun. We're not talking laid-back, ho-hum, casual amusement here; we're talking more about a cultural phenomenon.

In that thriving seaside community nestled spectacularly on the glistening waters of the Gulf of Thailand, the locals flock to the '70s- and '80s-style karaoke clubs, bars, restaurants and other assorted venues - there is even an outdoor karaoke speaker and TV/DVD combo setup on the potholed, dirt main drag adjacent to Mealy Chanda Guesthouse on Victory Hill.

The heart of karaoke is Street 333, which has in excess of two dozen karaoke clubs sitting cheek to jowl between the Golden Lions monument and the main drag (Ekareach Street) that connects Sihanoukville's three sections: Victory Hill, downtown and Ochheuteal Beach.

Even the expat entrepreneurs have muscled in on this Karaoke Row, with the Aussie/Brit-run venue called Lone Brothers MC, which opened last November.

Crossing boundaries
Karaoke crosses social and economic bounds - it's as popular among the silver-spoon elite as it is with the no-spoon proletariat.

Karaoke venues run the gamut from poshly designed and decorated nightspots like Blue Storm, X-Gold, Mocau Music and Lucky Night that cater to business people and the upper classes, to hole-in-the-wall neighbourhood hang-outs like Ho! Yes! and scores of nameless mom-and-pop joints with the seemingly mandatory Anchor beer sign cantilevered over the front door.

Whatever the size, location or level of swankiness, one characteristic remains the same - the patrons crowd the venues because karaoke is king.

When grabbing the microphone in a karaoke club, for a few charmed moments the patron becomes a superstar. Karaoke transforms mundane reality briefly into something joyous and life-affirming.

Back in the 1960s, pop artist and media sage Andy Warhol observed that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. His take was that the quest for celebrity-dom would captivate the world. His prophesy has certainly come to pass - reality TV, Divorce Court, Judge Judy, even the almighty Oprah's appeal is based on the notion of instantaneous celebrity.

A similar phenomenon occurs, though on a less flamboyant scale, when the patron at a karaoke club performs. For the three or four minutes of the tune they become a celebrity, a fleeting celebrity, but a celebrity nonetheless.

The vocals might not be up to the caliber of J.Lo, Beyonce or Celine Dion though that lack of polish doesn't seem to factor into the whole thrilling karaoke equation.

When warbling a well-known song in a club, the patron's voice - sophistication or lack there of - is immaterial. What matters is the physical act of letting go.

Karaoke in Sihanoukville is a tangible manifestation of psychologist Abraham Maslow's theory on self-actualization.

A situation is created in the karaoke milieu where the individual is able to feel good about himself or herself while acting out through mimicking vocals. In that context karaoke is truly the balm that soothes the emotional sores of life.

For those of you that haven't partaken in the karaoke feast, try it; the sense of camaraderie inside the venues is palpable - the pervasive ambiance is one of bonhomie. Hail to karaoke - the king of popular entertainment in southern Cambodia. May it reign forever.

Have an interesting Phnom Penh story to share? Let us know about it at:
lifestyle@phnompenhpost.com

Hok Sochetra speaks out about the beautiful game in cambodia

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Hok Sochetra claims that funding is desperately needed to help develop football in Cambodia.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Dan Riley and Robin Eberhardt
Monday, 23 March 2009

Hok Sochetra is one of Cambodia's most celebrated footballers. A national team player from 1995 to 2003, he has plied his trade for numerous clubs and has more recently turned his attention to coaching and youth training. His coaching career reads like a who's who of Cambodian teams with stints at Hello United and Phnom Penh FC (which later became Phnom Penh Empire and now Phnom Penh Crown) to name just a few.

In 2007, he began working for Samart Communications, which attempted to utilise his celebrity status to help promote its mobile phone networks. Despite having to quit the national team to concentrate on working for the private company, he also coached its football team based in Kratie province. However, a change in structure of the company inspired him to return to domestic competition and he teamed up with Post Tel Club for half a season last year as a coach before joining Preah Khan Reach as a player/coach.

"There are a lot of young players in this team," he said. "I give ideas and experience [to them]."
Hok Sochetra remembers his first coach fondly. "Mr Sarouen - the best player before", he said, also mentioning the support of Mr Salakan, now the coach of Ranger FC, and Joachim Frickert from Germany, who coached the national squad.

When asked about his favourite moment in his long and illustrious career, Hok Sochetra replied: "I won the best player in Southeast Asia in 1997 - the Golden Ball from Sanyo. At that time, I was playing in a World Cup qualifier. I scored the goal that got a 1-1 draw against Indonesia."

It was a game that helped push Cambodian football into the public spotlight.

The 35-year-old was also instrumental in helping Preah Khan Reach obtain third placing in this year's Samdech Hun Sen Cup. However, his deft touch, powerful and accurate striking, and ability to brush off defenders couldnt hide his lack of speed and stamina compared with the new breed of young players.

Hok Sochetra said he was "not sure" if Saturday's game would be his last competitive top-flight game. "I will try to keep playing," he said.

When asked about the future of football in Cambodia, Hok Sochetra lamented the severe lack of funding for development. "We dont have a national football academy," he said. "So many players are too old already - around 20 - before joining a football team. They dont play from a very young age and learn step by step. Sometimes the coaches have to look at players [in street games] and ask them to join a club."

The veteran footballer struggled in his own career to balance playing football with earning enough money for his family. "Cambodians cannot live on their [playing] salaries alone. It's not enough," he said, adding: "If the government improve [their contribution] to football, the players can live [by only playing football]. The best players only receive a salary of US$100 or $200 per month."

Hok Sochetra recognised that the good physical condition of many of the younger players but noted a lack of a good footballing brain. "They can pass, they can shoot, but they dont know how to [lose] the defender to create space to have a chance at goal. They don't know how to [outsmart] the goalkeeper," he said.

Of promising young national players such as Khim Borey and Kouch Sokumpheak, Hok Sochetra said: "They have skill and power already but need a good coach to show them how to use their heads to play [more intelligent] football. If we play football without our brains, we just run, run, run. It's not enough for football."

Police Blotter: 23 Mar 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Monday, 23 March 2009

TWO KILLED IN ROAD ACCIDENT NEAR PP
Uk Ly, 45, and her daughter Ly Tay, died Thursday in a motorbike accident on National Road 1, Ampil village, near Phnom Penh. The pair were struck by a van after the bike they were passengers on fell into its path, killing the two and seriously injuring the motorbike driver. The driver of the van, Men Sokharith, 40, was taken to the police station by authorities.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

1 KILLED, 4 WOUNDED AT WEDDING DANCE
A fight at a wedding party on Thursday ended with one person dead and four wounded in Svay Tieb village, Kampong Cham province. The dead man, Chhean Bora, 22, was stabbed six times by a gang of men who got angry when the wedding stopped playing music for them to dance to. They also wounded were Khim Sambath, 44, Sary Tola, 20, Phat Chanthou, 20, and Chm Ki, 21, who are all now in the provincial hospital. Police have made no arrests.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

WIFE KILLED FOR INTERRUPTING
Chuon Channa killed his wife on Thursday after she interrupted his drinking time to ask him to carry water to cook their dinner. The victim Leang Savon, 31, was stabbed three times with a blade in their house in Trapaing Ring village, Kampong Cham province. The attacker fled police, leaving six children behind.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

FORTUNE-TELLER SCAMS $300,000
Fortune-teller Maritas,42, was arrested by police on Wednesday after allegedly cheating Chan Noeun out of US$300,000 since 2005.The fortune-teller had told the woman that she would take her to a holy person and they would return with lots of money and be rich. The scam was reported to police by the victim's children.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

PHONE CALLER HAS BAG SNATCHED
Meas Sophany, 23, had her bag stolen by Chan Rum,18, after she stopped her motorbike to answer a mobile phone call on Friday. Phnom Penh police apprehended the suspect and the woman was reunited with her possessions.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

ABUSIVE FATHER KILLED BY SON
Sou Kong, 39, died Thursday after being beaten with a stick by his son Sou Ratha,19. The victim had been beating one of his two wives when his son retaliated by killing his father.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

The Phnom Penh Post News In Briefs

In Briefs: Housman halted

Written by RICHARD WEIR
Monday, 23 March 2009

American kickboxer Sean Housman (Angkor Boxing Club) suffered his first defeat Saturday to more experienced Ministry of Interior fighter Heng Bunloak at CTN TV station. The 62kg bout saw both participants sustain cuts and eight-counts in an energetic opening round with Heng Bunloak taking command in the second with kicks that closed down Housman’s punches. The Cambodian exhibited superiority in the clinch with powerful knees to the body that inflicted a further three eight-counts, leaving the referee no choice but to declare him the winner by stoppage halfway through the round due to the three-knockdown rule.


In Brief: Tourist attacked in Sihanoukville

Written by Cheang Sokha
Monday, 23 March 2009

Preah Sihanouk provincial police are investigating a group of men believed to have sexually assaulted an Irish woman visiting Cambodia on Wednesday, said Chor Heng, the province's deputy police chief, who added that doctors had examined the victim for evidence of rape. "We have examined the victim but the doctor has not revealed the result yet," he told the Post on Sunday. Som Chenda, director of Preah Sihanouk's tourism department, told the Post that he was not aware of the case and added that such crimes were very rare in his province.


In Brief: American convicted of child rape

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Chean Sokha
Monday, 23 March 2009

A US national has been sentenced to 13 years in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl. Judge Chan Madina also ordered Jason Todd Baumbach, 41, to pay 20 million riels (US$5,000) as compensation to the victim, who was living with him at the time the abuse occured. Baumbach's sentence, which was handed down Thursday, comes after his arrest in September and a closed-door hearing in February. His lawyers said they would appeal the decision.


In Brief: Japan supplies ECCC with US$200,000

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Monday, 23 March 2009

Japan has donated US$200,000 to the Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which announced last month it had no money to pay staff their March salaries. In a press release Friday, Japanese officials said the embassy had made an "urgent decision" based on funding requests by the Cambodian government. The court's budget is split between the national and international sides, and Japan is the only country to have donated money to the Cambodian side since allegations of corruption arose mid-last year.


In Brief: Royal Group limousines

Written by STEVE FINCH
Monday, 23 March 2009

ROYAL Group will today sign an exclusive agreement with the government to supply chauffeured limousines to dignitaries and visiting officials, it said Sunday. In a press statement, the company said the exclusive contract would be 15 years long, allowing for up to 100 vehicles. When not used by the government, the fleet would be used in the luxury travel industry, Royal Group business finance manager Jacob Montross said in the statement. The company is also due to be issued a licence to run metered taxis, which would make it the second company to do so after Global Taxi.


In Brief: Stock exchange signing

Written by Nathan Green
Monday, 23 March 2009

THE Korea Exchange (KRX) and the Cambodian government will sign an official joint-venture agreement on Cambodia's proposed stock exchange today, KRX project director Inpyo Lee said Sunday. The agreement will be signed by KRX chairman and CEO Lee Jung-hwan and Finance Minister Keat Chhon at the Ministry of Finance. The signing ceremony was originally scheduled for February 19 but was postponed when Lee Jung-hwan injured his back and was unable to travel.