Thursday, 18 June 2009

Mekong River dolphins at risk of extinction, WWF says

Irrawaddy dolphins as seen in Cambodia's Mekong River in November 2007

CNN -- Pollution in the Mekong River in Southeast Asia has pushed the local population of Irrawaddy dolphins to the brink of extinction, the World Wildlife Fund warned Wednesday.

The small freshwater dolphins, distinguished by their round heads and short dorsal fins, are already listed as a threatened species, the WWF said in a report.

But analysis of recent dolphin deaths shows their immune systems are suffering because of contaminants in the river, which flows through Cambodia and into southern Laos.

"These pollutants are widely distributed in the environment and so the source of this pollution may involve several countries through which the Mekong River flows," said Verne Dove, a veterinarian with WWF Cambodia who authored the report. "WWF Cambodia is currently investigating the source of the environmental contaminants."

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin population inhabits a 190-kilometer (118-mile) stretch of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Laos, the WWF said.

Since 2003, the population has suffered 88 deaths, more than 60 percent of which were calves less than 2 weeks old, the WWF said.

Only an estimated 64 to 76 dolphins are in the river, the group said.

"Necropsy analysis identified a bacterial disease as the cause of the calf deaths," Dove said. "This disease would not be fatal unless the dolphins' immune systems were suppressed, as they were in these cases, by environmental contaminants."

Researchers found toxic levels of pesticides such as DDT and environmental contaminants such as PCBs in the dead dolphin calves. The pollutants also might endanger people along the Mekong who consume the same fish and water as the dolphins, the group said.

Researchers also found high levels of mercury in some of the dead dolphins. Mercury weakens the immune system, making the animals more susceptible to disease. The mercury might come from gold mining, the WWF said.

The group called for a cross-border preventive health program to manage the diseased animals and reduce their deaths.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the Irrawaddy dolphin on its Red List of Threatened Species since 2004.

Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins are regarded as sacred by Khmer and Lao people and are an important source of income and jobs for communities involved in ecotourism.

More than 60 million people in the lower Mekong basin depend on the river system for food, transport and other economic activity. The river is one of the largest inland fisheries in the world, producing an estimated 2.5 million tons of fish per year, according to the WWF.

In some parts of Asia, the dolphins are seen as competitors because they eat the same fish as humans, according to the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology. The dolphins can also become entangled in fish nets and damage them.

But in other parts of Asia, Irrawaddy dolphins can help fishermen by driving fish into their nets, the university said.

The university cited a report of fishermen in Myanmar who attracted the dolphins by tapping the sides of their boats with oars. The dolphins then swam around the boats and forced fish into nets, the university said.

The fishermen shared their catch with the dolphins and considered them friends, the university said.

Unlike the more widely known bottlenose dolphins, the Irrawaddy dolphins have a large, round head with no beak. Their dorsal fin -- the fin on their back -- is smaller and more rounded than their better-known cousins.

Irrawaddy dolphins have large flippers, but they are not particularly active and do not leap as high as the bottlenose dolphins, the university said.

Mekong river dolphin 'nearly extinct'

File photo of a dolphin in the Mekong river, northeast of Phnom Penh. Pollution in southeast Asia's Mekong has pushed freshwater dolphins in Cambodia and Laos to the brink of extinction, a conservation report said Thursday, sparking a furious government denial.
(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

by Patrick Falby Patrick Falby

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Pollution in southeast Asia's Mekong River has pushed freshwater dolphins in Cambodia and Laos to the brink of extinction, a conservation report said Thursday, sparking a furious government denial.

The WWF said only 64 to 76 Irrawaddy dolphins remain in the Mekong after toxic levels of pesticides, mercury and other pollutants were found in more than 50 calves who have died since 2003.

"These pollutants are widely distributed in the environment and so the source of this pollution may involve several countries through which the Mekong River flows," said WWF veterinary surgeon Verne Dove in a press statement.

The organisation said it was investigating how environmental contaminants got into the Mekong, which flows through Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.

However, the Cambodian government official tasked with caring for the country's Irrawaddy dolphins said there remained "about 150 to 160" of them in the Mekong, and alleged the WWF's report used flawed research methodology.

"It's big trouble -- they (the WWF) should resign. They should leave Cambodia," Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-tourism, told AFP.

"They published this without consulting me, and I'm the authority here," he said, adding he did not believe the river contained the pollutants listed in the WWF's report.

The WWF said it suspected that high levels of mercury found in some dead dolphins came from gold mining activities.

It added that Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia and Laos urgently needed a health programme to counter the effects of pollution on their immune systems.

Inbreeding among the small population could have also contributed to weakened immune systems in the dead young dolphins, all of whom were under two weeks old.

"The Mekong River dolphins are isolated from other members of their species and they need our help," said WWF Cambodia country director Seng Teak, adding the mammals "can show remarkable resilience" if their habitat is protected.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin, which inhabits a 190-kilometre (118-mile) stretch in Cambodia and Laos, has been listed as critically endangered since 2004, the WWF said.

Thousands of Irrawaddy dolphins once swam in the Mekong. Although regarded as sacred in Cambodia and Laos, their numbers were cut by the use of illegal fishing nets and Cambodia's drawn-out civil conflict, in which dolphin blubber was used to lubricate machine parts and fuel lamps.

The Cambodian government, however, has been promoting dolphin-watching to attract eco-tourism and cracked down on the use of illegal nets which entangled them.

It hopes such measures and establishing protected areas will raise their numbers over the next few years.

The Mekong is one of only five freshwater habitats in the world for the Irrawaddy dolphin, and Cambodia is thought to support its largest remaining population.

With their pale grey skin and blunt beaks, Irrawaddy dolphins resemble porpoises more than their sea-going cousins, and congregate in a handful of the Mekong's natural deep-water pools.

The river is the world's largest inland fishery, producing some 2.5 million tonnes of fish per year valued at more than 2 billion dollars.

The Mekong also provides 80 percent of the animal protein for 60 million people who live along its lower basin.

Surf club's help lifeline to Cambodia

Tony ‘Bomber’ Bower-Miles is heading to Cambodia as part of a mine-clearing team, which has received financial assistance from the Mooloolaba Surf Life Saving Club. Photo:Warren Lynam/183259

The Daily Australia
http://www.thedaily.com.au/

18th June 2009
By Bill Hoffman

The trouble with land mines is that they do not know when the war is over, says clearance expert Tony “Bomber” Bower Miles.

Requiring at little as 5kg of pressure to set them off, the millions of mines left scattered across Cambodia by combatants of at least seven nationalities are still killing and maiming children 30 years after hostilities ceased.

Yesterday, the Mooloolaba Surf Life Saving Club supporters’ club chipped in $6000 to support the work of the Vietnam Veterans’ Mine Clearing Team Cambodia Inc, which has dedicated itself to removing as many of the mines as it can and supporting the work of Cambodian mine clearer Akira, who has put his life on the line for the past 30 years to help reduce the ongoing toll.

The work has become a passion for Bomber, the subject of an Australian Story segment that prompted former national serviceman and lifesaving great Hayden Kenny to approach the club for help.

Yesterday Bomber was on hand to accept the cheque from the club which will be used to buy landmine detection equipment.

He flies to Cambodia on July 1 for a two month stint clearing mines, one of two trips to the country he makes each year.

Hayden said the cause was more than deserving of the club’s goodwill and dollars.

“If we didn’t step in and help Bomber and his cause we would be lesser people,’’ he said.

Bomber, a 15 year regular army engineering veteran who served in Vietnam and across South east Asia, is still grieving the death of Akira’s wife, Hourt, who died two months ago in childbirth. Hourt ran an orphanage for dispossessed and maimed child victims.

Mooloolaba SLSC president Todd McKee said the club was delighted to assist.

“We spend money sending our kids overseas for competitions,’’ he said. “We just couldn’t say no to this.’’

Suwit to explain P.Vihear objection

http://www.bangkokpost.com

By: BangkokPost
Published: 18/06/2009

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti said on Thursday he will take his time to explain fully to all 21 members of the World Heritage Committee why Thailand wants a review of the decision to register Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site.

Mr Suwit, in his capacity as chairman of the Thai world heritage committee, will lead a Thai delegation to attend the 32nd WHC meeting beginning on Monday in Seville, Spain.

Maj-Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon, the Second Army deputy chief in charge of intelligence and operations, said he was not worried by a suggestion that Thailand's push for a review of the WHC resolution would cause confrontation between Thai and Cambodian troops in the disputed border areas.

The two sides understood each other well and he would ensure any problems were settled by negotiation if border conflict occurred.

Cambodian premier expresses 'regret' over Thai temple plan


Thu, 18 Jun 2009
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen Thursday expressed "deep regret" over suggestions by his Thai counterpart that an 11th-century Hindu temple ruin in a disputed border region be jointly administered by the neighboring countries. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Wednesday that he would ask UNESCO, which administers the Preah Vihear temple under Cambodian supervision, to launch a review into the administration of the World Heritage-listed site.

"I want to see the temple be a peaceful area so that the people of the two countries can jointly benefit from this site of high historical importance," the Bangkok Post quoted Abhisit as saying.

But Hun Sen said Abhisit's plan threatened to violate Cambodia's sovereignty and was not raised in a meeting between the two leaders on Friday in Phnom Penh.

"I deeply regret that he has raised this issue now because this was not part of our discussions last week," he told reporters at the Cambodian Foreign Ministry. "I doubt his plan will be successful."

Hun Sen and Abhisit on Friday pledged to prevent further armed conflict at the site, where two fatal skirmishes between the South-East Asian neighbors have erupted in the past year.

Two Cambodian soldiers were killed in clashes in July and another skirmish in April left two Thai soldiers dead and dozens injured on both sides.

Abhisit's visit to Phnom Penh was viewed as an attempt to soothe relations after the clashes at the temple, which has been at the centre of disputed claims between Thailand and Cambodia since the 1950s.

The temple was granted to Cambodia in a 1962 International Court of Justice ruling, but Thailand claims the land around the site.

UNESCO in July granted Preah Vihear World Heritage Site status, despite Thai objections.

Duch confesses he did not want to see or hear the horror implemented under his authority

Choeung Ek (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 16/01/ 2008: On Duch’s initiative, after being interrogated and tortured, S-21 detainees were no longer executed in the centre but in Choeung Ek, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The former Khmer Rouge claims he went there only once.
©John Vink / Magnum


Ka-set
http://cambodia.ka-set.info

By Stéphanie Gée
18-06-2009

During the hearing on Wednesday June 17th, the judges interrogated Duch on the implementation of the policy of smashing. On this issue, the accused claimed he had little first-hand information and confessed he was aware of the execution work but preferred to turn his back on it. He explained himself in a long tirade by the end of the day, without questioning his responsibility but instead putting it back in the context of the system then established under the Khmer Rouge and of the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s line, which he said transformed trained or educated people such as himself into criminals.

Duch avoided to attend the scenes of horror
The accused explained to judge Thou Mony that the decision to smash the detainees was not his own but originated from the high command. However, in accordance with the party line, prisoners must not be killed before they had finished making full confessions. His deputy Hor therefore presented him the names of those who had completed their confessions and Duch would take the decision to send them to their death. When the judge asked him if he provided his staff with a training to teach them how to kill, the accused recited a Cambodian saying: “Crocodile do not need to be taught how to swim. They already know how to swim.”

Asked for more details on the executions, Duch stated: “I tried to avoid attending those scenes. I did not watch them.” However, he was aware that a child had been killed - his head was smashed against a tree - and he conceded his case was likely not an exception. In December 1978, faced with a surge of new prisoners arriving in S-21, he reported that Uncle Nuon, also known as Brother Nr 2, gave the order not to interrogate them but to execute them directly to avoid prison overcrowding.

In S-21, six detainees - five artists and one dentist - and about fifteen people who were assigned tasks were spared: “I see Chum Mey [mechanic and civil party to the trial] here in the courtroom. He is one of them.” Duch added that they could have been sent to be executed at any time, should the superiors have ordered it. “Did you have the possibility to spare detainees?”, Thou Mony asked him. “In S-21, and probably in the other security centres too,” Duch replied, “the committees could take the decision to keep detainees for them to work in the centre. But we retained a right of life or death over them. Also, we had to justify to our superiors why we kept them.”

Bodies of children were buried in S-21 and its surroundings as well as in Choeung Ek, which he did not see with his own eyes, he claimed. As for the babies brought with their mothers, they were killed “silently.” There again, Duch repeated he had not witnessed such scenes and ignored the number of those killed. He explained that burying the bodies was the rule, except for those of Westerners, which were cremated, following an order given by Pol Pot and transmitted by Uncle Nuon. The latter had called them in front of Duch “long-nosed people.” Nothing must be left of their bodies.

The transfer of executions to Choeung Ek
Duch decided on his own initiative to move the executions from S-21 to the outskirts of Phnom Penh, in Choeung Ek. He simply informed his superiors about his initiative. He recognised there were many people executed within S-21 or the area surrounding the security centre. “I was afraid of epidemic. The execution and burial of bodies in S-21 started to become problematic because there were so many. The situation had reached such a level that it would have been impossible to avoid epidemic,” he explained. The decision was taken at a time when waves of mass detentions took place, in late December 1976-early January 1977, and it responded to health, food and security concerns.

To take the prisoners to Choeung Ek without raising their suspicions that would be their final destination, “they were usually told they were being transferred to a new house so that they were less agitated and made less noise.” “That being said, their hands were tied in their back and their eyes blindfolded, so they could not have escaped.” From what he knew, as yet again, he did not see anything. “I went only once to Choeung Ek. […] And I did not go close to the edge of the graves. My visit was very short.” He compared it to the equally express visit made to S-21 by his superior Son Sen. Duch also added he had not deemed useful to go back and therefore ignored how many graves were dug there. But he said he knew prisoners were executed one by one. He acknowledged he could have asked questions to the staff posted in Choeung Ek to find out more - or rather to his deputy Hor - but he never did.

Experienced executioners
Who operated in Choeung Ek? The accused explained that according to the communist terminology of the time, it was a “special unit” whose role was to be the executioners. “However, the unit itself was not responsible for those crimes. I was the father of that unit.” The members of the combatant unit had “good biographies.” They had been transferred to S-21 and were recognised for their experience in arrests – never leaving the chance for their victims to resist them – and for their predisposition to kill, Duch stressed. He added he had recruited some of them to complete his interrogators team. He also recognised that some of those who had been designated to carry out the dirty work were exempt from any sanction. Duch said he was not in contact with them, nor did he seek any, and did not deny he provoked fear in them.

The practice of photographing certain bodies
Except for those detainees subjected to medical experimentations or blood collection that resulted in their death, the execution method followed was to slit one’s throat before - in what represented a return to the practice in the former security centre led by Duch, M-13 - knocking out the enemies by hitting them in the back of their neck with a bamboo stick. In response to questions from judge Lavergne, the accused argued that although one could talk about methods, in the end, “we used any kind of method to kill someone. […] What mattered was that the person was actually dead.” To prove that some detainees deemed important had been executed, their bodies were photographed. Duch added the pictures sent to the superior echelon who demanded them. Some of those pictures showed that not only was their jugular vein slit, but they were also disembowelled, as in the case of Nath, the former director of S-21, or Von Vet, the former Khmer Rouge Minister of Industry, he noted. “I was very shocked [by these photographs] and so were my superiors.” Bodies of detainees of “little importance” were also photographed, this time on the initiative of S-21 staff members, keen to show their loyalty to the party by showing that prisoners under their responsibility had not escaped. A way for them to protect themselves as well. If Duch examined each of the photographs of detainees taken upon their arrival in S-21 - with an identification number pinned on their chest - before sending them to his superiors, he claimed he never looked at those of bodies.

When judge Lavergne read an excerpt from a testimony from the case file claiming that human ashes served as fertilizer, Duch said he did not believe that could have been the case, as few bodies were incinerated anyway, according to him.

The end of S-21
In the last days of S-21, early January 1979, Duch received the order from Nuon Chea to take all the prisoners to Choeung Ek. He only managed to spare four soldiers of the Y8 unit whom he wished to interrogate. “I was scared. I thought it was going to be my turn next. I was ill-at-ease and I did not manage to work. […] In fact, the order did not aim to make room for the arrival of other prisoners, as I had thought.” Indeed, he later understood that the regime leaders wanted to get rid of all the S-21 detainees because they seemed to believe in an imminent defeat before the Vietnamese. However, apparently surprised by the fast progress of the enemy troops, Nuon Chea and Pol Pot did not take any preparatory measure for withdrawal. Duch only received the order to execute the four members of the Y8 unit and to empty the premises. As they fled in a rush, he forgot the people he left behind him in S-21, in particular those he had kept to serve him as well as the five artists that Pol Pot had kept alive so they built a monument in his glory at the top of Wat Phnom, in Phnom Penh.

Self-protection by not looking at reality
Judge Lavergne summarised Duch’s position efficiently: “It emerges from your statements during the last days in this court that you had no desire to visit the places of detention, that you did not want to see or hear the prisoners, whether they be interrogated or tortured, nor the wish to see them be executed, to know the methods or places where they were executed, unless you were forced to do so by an order from your superiors…” “You have understood correctly,” the accused commented. “Was this unwillingness meant to protect yourself, to protect yourself from a reality that disturbed you or from an uncomfortable situation?” “All you have said is true.”

“The party line turned educated people into criminals”
When the judge then asked him if his work was reduced to a simple mathematical exercise and ensuring the quality of confessions, Duch launched into a long statement: “Yes, I was very involved in the work related to confessions. I tried to do my best, day and night, tirelessly. But during that period, I tried to avoid the places that could affect me emotionally. I knew that criminal actions were being perpetrated but I tried to comfort myself. This government [the Khmer Rouge] is responsible before history. As for me, I was a police agent and as such, I had to perform my task. I was scared, I was shocked, I was moved, but there was a profound feeling that kept me going. However, if I look at that past from today, after reading again the notes I wrote on the confessions, I can see that what I did was even more criminal than the actions perpetrated by the special unit that took the prisoners to Choeung Ek to be executed there on their superiors’ order. As for me, I made notes on the confessions with my own hand. I wrote and sent reports to my superiors. I tried to be very objective in these notes for my superiors who believed in them to the extent they led to further arrests. That is why I am responsible for the crimes committed in S-21 and I bear more responsibility than others […]. But the documents describing the party line I used to train the staff had an even more criminal nature than my annotations on the confessions. Why? Because the party line as it was circulated represented real pressure on the people with training or education and the party line was what turned these people into criminals or cruel people. In conclusion, if you look today at a picture of me from that period, I appeared proud of the work I did, which was firmly maintaining the class position. But in hindsight and after reflection, I would say I am ashamed. It is shocking and one can only feel shame at seeing oneself on such a picture, at being responsible for the death of over 10,000 people. […] I am emotionally responsible for the death of over one million people and I am responsible for the acts perpetrated. Until the end of my life.” Duch seemed overwhelmed by emotion and asked the president to stop at that point.

Unfortunately, president Nil Nonn did not consider it appropriate to adjourn the hearing on that note. He asked the accused a particular question whilst knowing the reply would involve Duch talking again about professor Phung Ton, something that had caused him to cry on the previous day. “If I had known that he [Phung Ton] was there [in S-21], I would have helped him even if he were to be smashed later. If I had known, I would have helped him,” he repeated, looking haggard, assuring that he had not betrayed the soul of his professor. Duch added that Phung Ton, whose widow and daughter applied as civil parties to his trial, “likely” died of hunger or sickness, that he “was not tortured”, and his body was “probably” buried within S-21. As if he was trying to offer a few comforting words to the two women.

As Thursday is a public holiday, the hearing will resume on Monday June 22nd. It will be the turn of the co-Prosecutors, followed by the civil party lawyers, to interrogate Duch on the functioning of S-21 and Choeung Ek.

Torture camp chief admits order to kill prisoners was from Pol Pot

Published Date: 18 June 2009
By Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

KHMER Rouge leader Pol Pot personally ordered the killing and burning of four Western prisoners who were captured while sailing in Cambodian waters, a former prison chief on trial for crimes against humanity testified yesterday.

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who commanded the communist group's S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, told the UN-run hearing the prisoners were a Briton, an Australian, a New Zealander and an American.

Duch testified that Pol Pot, who died in 199ADVERTISEMENT8, personally ordered that they be executed and then burned, and that the order was conveyed by Nuon Chea, the regime's No 2 leader and chief ideologue, who has also been charged by the tribunal.

"I received an order from my superiors that the four Westerners had to be smashed and burned to ashes. It was an absolute order from my superiors," Duch said. "Pol Pot, not Uncle Nuon, personally ordered to burn the bodies."

Duch denied reports that the four Westerners had been burned alive. He said their bodies had been burned near the prison after they were executed.

Several Americans and Australians are listed, but only one New Zealander, Kerry Hamill, and one Briton, John Dewhirst.

He also testified that several days before the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by invading Vietnamese troops in early 1979 he was ordered to kill all inmates at the prison.

"The purpose was to have no prisoners left at S-21" when Vietnam's troops arrived, he said.

As many as 16,000 men, women and children were tortured at S-21 before being sent to their deaths during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule.

Duch Explains Special Unit of ‘Killers’

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
17 June 2009

Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch told tribunal judges on Wednesday his facility had a special unit of “real killers” to kill prisoners.

More than 30 members of Unit 703 had a specific task “to bring prisoners to be destroyed,” he said.

“I myself was the father of this special unit, the father of those killers,” Duch said. “If someone [in the special unit] did not [do their job], I would report to the leaders and they would be smashed.”

Duch, 66, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, is on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and murder for his role as head of Tuol Sleng and Prey Sar prisons and the killing fields of Choeung Ek, a site of mass graves on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Govt trafficking rating slips


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Sex workers stand just inside the door of a Phnom Penh brothel on Tuesday night.

Written by CHRISTOPHER SHAY AND MAY TITTHARA
Thursday, 18 June 2009

THE US State Department downgraded Cambodia's anti-human trafficking rating on Tuesday from Tier 2 to Tier 2 Watch - the list's second-lowest rating - citing "a decline in efforts to combat trafficking in persons".

In 2008, the US raised Cambodia's status to Tier 2 for the first time in four years after the National Assembly passed anti-human trafficking legislation.

The US said at the time that the new law "provides law enforcement authorities the power to investigate all forms of trafficking and is a powerful tool in efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers".

But the State Department later determined that "not all government officials have appeared to distinguish the law's articles on trafficking offenses and non-trafficking crimes such as prostitution, pornography and child sex abuse".

Sara Bradford, a technical adviser to the Asian Pacific Network of Sex Workers, said that since Washington backed the controversial trafficking law, the US is partly to blame for Cambodia's failure to create an effective anti-trafficking campaign.

"The [Cambodian] government is combating trafficking with very few resources and little training," she said.

"I am one of many who feel that the US pushed this law upon Cambodia without proper guidance on how to implement it," Bradford added.

A press release from the sex workers network on Wednesday commended the State Department for acknowledging "a number of issues arising from the conflation of sex work and trafficking in Cambodia, as well as the misguided enforcement of the law".

US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said that, though the United States supported parts of the Cambodian trafficking law, it did not endorse it in its entirety.

"The US supports elements of the legislation that specifically address trafficking issues," he said.

He added that, as the law was being debated, "the embassy raised questions with the Royal Government regarding some elements of the draft that were unclear".

The chief at the Ministry of Interior's Anti-Human Trafficking office said that the State Department's claims of police corruption and a lack of effort were simply not true.

"Our police work hard to prevent human trafficking, and we have never cared whether we work during the night or day. Even on holidays, we work," Keo Sothea said, adding, "We have never let corruption hinder the protection of a victim."

The decline in prosecutions and convictions of trafficking crimes in 2008 was one of the major reasons for the drop. The report said the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted 11 trafficking offenders and prosecuted 22, down from 52 convictions in 2007.

But Lim Tith, the national project coordinator at the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, said that using the number of convictions as an indicator is a problem because "it can push law enforcement to make more arrests without proper evidence".

Lim Tith, who said Cambodia should have maintained its Tier 2 ranking, said that the sharp decline in convictions could be the result of a successful prevention campaign or poor data collection.

He did say, however, that Cambodia needed to do more to prevent cross-border trafficking, specifically with Thailand and Malaysia, which just fell to Tier 3 status.

The Tier 2 Watch listing means that Cambodia has not reached the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but that "it is making significant efforts to do so", the report said.

The US Embassy's Johnson pointed to Cambodia's national task force on trafficking and the government's cooperation with NGOs as examples of Cambodia's efforts to deal with the problem of human trafficking.

If Cambodia drops one more rating, it risks facing economic sanctions from the US.

PM lashes out at SRP lawmaker


Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 18 June 2009

Hun Sen warns Mu Sochua’s political career may be over

PRIME Minister Hun Sen warned that if the National Assembly votes to strip opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua of her parliamentary immunity, the loss could be permanent, telling a graduation ceremony Wednesday that her political career might be over.

"Lifting immunity is easy. Restoring it, in some cases, is not so easy," the prime minister told new graduates at the Royal School of Administration in Phnom Penh.

"So [Mu Sochua] will not be a parliamentarian forever; her party must replace her with a new person," he said.

Hun Sen made reference to the upcoming vote by the National Assembly on whether to lift the Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker's immunity, which will allow his defamation case against her to proceed. A decision is expected Friday.

"Immunity is lifted by two-thirds [of the Assembly]. It is restored by two-thirds. Lifting is possible, and restoring is - in some cases - impossible," Hun Sen said, adding that some lawmakers from his party had already said they would not vote to restore her immunity.

The ruling Cambodian People's Party holds more than enough Assembly seats to strip Mu Sochua of her legislative protection.

In response to threats issued Tuesday by union leaders, who said they would organise mass protests if Mu Sochua's immunity was lifted, Hun Sen mockingly encouraged the protests, saying pro-government groups would organise mass rallies in response.

He also warned outspoken NGOs to watch their step, saying that if they spoke too much "nonsense" he would file a complaint with the courts.

Mu Sochua, who sued Hun Sen for defamation, only to be countersued by the prime minister, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

But SRP lawmaker and spokesman, Yim Sovann told the Post that if the Assembly did lift her immunity, it would be an abuse of the Constitution. He vowed the party would not abandon the former minister of women's affairs.

"The Sam Rainsy Party will not find a new person," Yim Sovann said.

"If a Prime Minister has absolute power and does everything according to his emotions, there will be no democracy."

Lawsuits alarm media


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Participants at a Wednesday conference to promote professionalism and ethics in media.


Written by Khouth Sophakchakrya
Thursday, 18 June 2009

Cambodian journalists express concern at the spate of suits filed by government officials over allegations of disinformation

NEARLY 50 Khmer-language print and broadcast journalists voiced concern Wednesday about what they described as a sharp increase in criminal lawsuits filed by government lawyers alleging disinformation.

During a conference on the promotion of professionalism and ethics in media, held at the Imperial Garden Villa and Hotel, the journalists were divided into three groups and told to identify their single biggest professional challenge. All three groups settled on government lawsuits, and they urged Thach Phen, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, to bring their concerns to senior officials.

Puy Kea said on the sidelines of the conference that he knew of eight journalists who had been charged with spreading false information since January.

He pointed to the case of Hang Chakra, publisher of the pro-Sam Rainsy Party Khmer Machas Srok News, who faces criminal as well as civil charges in connection with three articles published in April that he said uncovered corruption on the part of officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

In a statement issued Monday, the UN cited the Hang Chakra case as one in a series of defamation and disinformation lawsuits that "undermine the constitutional freedom of opinion and expression which everyone in Cambodia is entitled to, and which is the cornerstone of the exercise of civil and political rights".

In response to that statement, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said, "Before they accuse [the government], they should learn more about Cambodia. We just carry out what the law requires".

In discussions Wednesday, attendees said journalists who produced stories on topics such as corruption and land concessions were particularly vulnerable to lawsuits.

"Now, the court officials always charge journalists with false information when they receive complaints from high-ranking officers or from powerful people," said Om Chandara, president of the National Press Council of Cambodia.

"We are very worried when we face the false information charge that the government will not be fair," he added.

Provincial prosecutor suspended


Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 18 June 2009

THE Ministry of Justice has temporarily suspended a Kampong Speu prosecutor after finding him guilty of corruption and breaching codes of judicial ethics.

The ministry issued a letter Monday suspending prosecutor Kong Seth for an unspecified amount of time on seven counts of misconduct, said Kim Sophorn, a court inspector in the ministry's General Department of Inspection.

"Five of the seven irregularities relate to his breaches of the moral code of the judicial profession under the code of criminal procedure, and the other two relate to his connections with illegal timber smugglers," he said.

He added that the investigation was initiated following complaints from local people, and officials at the province and district level and took place in December.

Kim Sophorn said the prosecutor repeatedly failed to fulfil his professional obligations by recently releasing three charged suspects on bail, something only those who are investigating charges are authorised to do.

Leading Phnom Penh Lawyer Kav Soupha said he welcomed the decision, but added that he was concerned Kong Seth might offend again if stricter measures were not taken.

"I am concerned if he is suspended just temporarily, he will be moved to another place in a similar or different position, which is unjust if he was found guilty of corruption or was releasing suspects unlawfully," he told the Post.

Kim Sophorn said he did not know whether Kong Seth would be allowed to resume his career elsewhere. Kong Seth could not be reached for comment.

Mass killings raised at ECCC


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
A man looks at the remains of Khmer Rouge victims at the Choeung Ek killing fields.


Written by Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 18 June 2009

Duch describes trying to escape the shame of sending thousands to their deaths

FORMER S-21 chief Kaing Guek Eav told Cambodia's war crimes court Wednesday that he would be "forever" responsible for signing off on the mass executions that occurred at Choeung Ek, although he claimed to have only visited the killing fields once.

The 66-year-old defendant, who has continually denied any physical involvement in murder or torture, described his "emotional" and criminal responsibility for not only the people who died at Choeung Ek, but for the "more than 1 million people that were killed" by the regime.

"This is the fact, that I am accountable for the crimes at S-21, and that I am responsible, even more responsible, for annotating documents of the prisoners who were smashed at Choeung Ek," Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, said.

Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne asked Duch whether he viewed the prisoners as "any sort of human reality" when sending them off to be killed, or whether they were simply "mathematical equations".

"I tried my best, day and night, without feeling exhausted ... [and] tried to avoid seeing places that would affect my emotions," he replied.

"I knew that they were criminal acts, but I had a feeling to comfort myself, that the government is accountable in the eyes of history. I was a police officer, and in my capacity as the police I had to obey orders," he said.

During testimony Wednesday the former schoolteacher reasserted his claim that throughout his entire time as chairman of Tuol Sleng, he never visited the parts of the prison where inmates were held, and only once witnessed an execution, on the request of supervisors, which occurred at 5am to the prison's east.

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I tried my best ... to avoid seeing places that would affect my emotions.
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He added Wednesday that his only visit to Choeung Ek was a superficial one, to greet central committee member Son Sen at the gates when he visited.

"I went to Choeung Ek once on the instruction from my superior," said Duch.

"I did not look at the pits; I did not go and look in the house where the prisoners were kept before they were taken and killed.... I only went there for a very short time," he said.

Despite saying he avoided executions, Duch described for the court the ways his staff killed prisoners.

"The method of stabbing the neck of the prisoners was later changed to clubbing," Duch said.

Duch said the executioners feared his rigid command, but when asked whether he taught them killing methods, he answered: "I did not have to teach the crocodiles how to swim, because crocodiles already know how to swim."

Earlier in Wednesday's session, Duch accepted the court's estimate that there were around 12,380 people imprisoned at S-21.

When he confessed that he had signed the papers that would lead to the massacre of almost all of his prisoners, Judge Sylvia Cartwright asked, "So in effect, you ordered the execution of 12,380 people?"

Duch responded, "I would not deny the killing and the responsibility, but in principle the line from the upper had to be implemented, so my response is, the implementation [of this] was done under my authority."

Duch said Wednesday he believed there were five mass killings carried out under his orders, the first which took place in 1977, estimating that his subordinates took around "six days to smash 100 people".

He said the massacres made him ashamed to look at photos of himself at the time. "If you look now to the picture taken of me during that time, it seems like I was rather proud for maintaining the class stance firmly," he said. "But if I look at it now, I would say it is shame.... I am responsible for this act forever."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

Hun Sen defends suit against KCF head


Written by Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 18 June 2009

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday defended the government's decision to file an incitement and disinformation lawsuit against the president of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation for claiming that a light installation project at Angkor Wat had damaged the temple.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the Royal University of Administration, Hun Sen said the decision to file the June 2 Municipal Court lawsuit against Moeung Sonn was necessary to "curb the situation".

"If we did not curb the situation on time, what would have happened? They have spread the disinformation via mobile phones, and it could have created a huge turmoil," he said.

Moeung Sonn told the Post late last month that workers installing new lights at the 12th-century temple had drilled holes deep into the structure's walls, a charge the Apsara Authority, the body in charge of managing the temple complex, flatly denied.

Moeung Sonn fled to France the same week the lawsuit against him was filed.

Government lawyer Pal Chan Dara said Wednesday that he did not know of any upcoming appearances or hearings related to the case.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Wednesday that Deputy Prime Minister Sok An would appear at the National Assembly on Friday to give a presentation on the light installation project.

He said that the appearance was prompted by a request from Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay.

Group 34 residents say City Hall is trying to renege on land deal


Written by SAM RITH AND CHRISTOPHER SHAY
Thursday, 18 June 2009

Municipality says it is still considering the community’s proposal, but will request that residents and NGOs help pay the cost of the relocation site

RESIDENTS of Group 34 say City Hall is backtracking on its promise to move the community to a plot of land close to Phnom Penh city in Dangkor district.

"People will not agree to move if the Phnom Penh Municipality does not agree to our request [to remain near the city]," said Group 34 representative, Touch Sophoan, who was among the more than 225 families who watched their homes destroyed by a suspected arson attack in May.

But Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said City Hall had not yet ruled out the plot that the community had requested.

"We are still having discussions with each other," he told the Post.

In late May, both municipal officials and the community said that an agreement had been reached to send the community about 10 kilometres away to a spot in Dangkor district owned by Thoang Chantha, who said he was happy to sell the land.

But now, the main obstacle is money, according to Mann Chhoeun.

He said he wants the community, the company developing the land and NGOs to help the government purchase the land.

"The people themselves also have to participate in [paying money to buy the land]," he said. "We know that if the Phnom Penh Municipality just offers them the land and house with no participation from people, they will sell their land and houses, and move back," he said.

"NGOs who are used to criticising should distribute money, and the company that would like to develop the road should help buy the land too," he added.

But community members say that after the fire, they simply do not have money to give to the government.

"If the municipality requires people to help buy the land, the people here will not be able to offer any, because they have no money left," Touch Sophan said.

Coalition raises dam worries


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
The Mekong River at Stung Treng. Environmentalists say a slew of large-scale hydropower projects planned for the river could decimate its freshwater fisheries.


Written by Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 18 June 2009

Group says Cambodian fisheries vulnerable to planned Mekong hydro dams

ELEVEN large-scale hydropower dams proposed for the Mekong River's lower mainstream will threaten regional food security and the livelihoods of millions of people, including thousands inside Cambodia, according a regional anti-dam coalition.

As part of a new campaign to be launched in Bangkok today, representatives from the Save the Mekong coalition, which includes NGOs, community groups and citizens, are to present Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva with a petition signed by 15,000 people calling for the halt of controversial dam developments.

The signatures were collected on postcards distributed by the group, many of which were returned with personal messages.

"What we're collecting is a diversity of opinions about what the river means to different people. Everyone has a lot of different perspectives," said Carl Middleton, Mekong program coordinator of International Rivers, a US-based advocacy group involved with the coalition.

"What everyone agrees on is that the Mekong is a valuable and shared resource that's worth protecting."

The petition will also be delivered to Prime Minister Hun Sen and to the leaders of Vietnam and Laos.

Vital arteries
Of the 11 proposed projects highlighted by Save the Mekong, just two are in Cambodia. But the country, heavily reliant on the freshwater fisheries of the Mekong and Tonle Sap, could also be vulnerable to the nine developments planned in Laos.

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IT's not a matter of being against the dams, it’s about being in favour of the river.
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At a workshop Tuesday, environmental scientists and government officials said the 240- to 360-megawatt Don Sahong dam, to be situated in Laos's Champassak province, could have particularly serious effects downstream in Cambodia.

"I think the main concern of Mekong mainstream dams in relation to Cambodia is related to changes to the Mekong and Tonle Sap, especially when looking at fisheries production," Premrudee Daoroung, co-director of the Bangkok-based Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance, said by email.

She added that 70 percent of the fish catches on the Tonle Sap Lake use the Mekong as a migration channel, which is likely to be blocked by dam developments, including Don Sahong.

Pich Dun, secretary general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said Cambodia would work through the Mekong River Commission - which also includes Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar - to discuss proposed developments on the river.

"My own opinion is that we need development, but we have to be careful about building dams along the Mekong River," he said, adding that the government had requested Vientiane forward on technical studies of the Don Sahong dam.

"We are waiting for the official notification from the Lao side ... in order to proceed with the negotiations and consultations."

Ultimately, Middleton said that such developments are risky, since the replacement value for lost fisheries stocks, which reach remote communities inaccessible to development workers, would be "unimaginable".

"This is a food source that spreads itself laterally through the whole region, and reaches the most remote communities," he said. "It's not a matter of being against the dams; it's about being in favour of the river and ... what the Mekong provides to the region."

Critics decry demonstration law


Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Police question protestors from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak community at a demonstration last year.


Written by Vong Sokheng
Thursday, 18 June 2009

The draft legislation, which could be approved next week, will limit freedom of expression, they say

A DRAFT law regulating peaceful demonstrations that opposition lawmakers and civil society groups say will infringe on people's freedom of expression could be adopted as early as next week, according to Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay.

The draft law would require demonstrations to take place between 6am and 6pm, and to be held in a designated zone or so-called "freedom park" if they have over 200 participants.

In addition, the law would make the organisers of demonstrations responsible for any damage of violence done by participants, Son Chhay said.

The president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Ou Virak, added that the draft law goes against the spirit of the Cambodia's Constitution and will heighten political repression and control.

"That version of the new law on demonstrations will allow the government to take legal action to control every demonstration and restrict the freedom of expression in order to keep the hot issue of land grabbing silent," he said.

"If people have the freedom to express their opinion about land grabbing it will bring trouble to the government," he added.

Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, which was prevented from staging a demonstration during the visit of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said that new law would move Cambodia closer to a single-party dictatorship.

"If the draft law is not revised, we will lose our freedom of expression," he said.

But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the government has never restricted freedom of expression so long as it does not affect national security, safety and public order.

"Freedom of expression is not as wonderful as in the United States, but it is acceptable for this society," he said. "Broadcast and print media, and public forums can exercise their freedom of expression - demonstrations, too. The organisers just need permission."

Thailand to lodge PV heritage complaint


Written by Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 18 June 2009

THAILAND will ask UNESCO to review its decision to list Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site when the world body meets in Spain next week, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Wednesday, according to Thai state media.

Abhisit has ordered the Thai World Heritage Committee representative Suwit Khunkitti to object to the 2008 listing of the Angkorian temple when the committee meets for its 33rd session in Seville, Spain, from Monday.

According to the report from the Thai News Agency, Thailand will protest on the grounds that the listing has brought about conflict and losses between the two countries - something that runs counter to UNESCO's aim in having international heritage sites.

"I personally want to see peace in the area and peoples of both countries receive benefit from the historical heritage site," Abhisit said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that with the11th-century temple already inscribed on UNESCO's list, the international community was unlikely to fall for Thailand's "uncivilised" ruse.

He added that he was unsurprised by Abhisit's announcement, saying the Thais had tried various means - including a troop buildup and public demonstrations - to block the listing of the temple prior to its official inscription as a World Heritage site in July 2008.

"They have been making challenges since the first-round inscription," Phay Siphan said.
"Since that time, the Thais have challenged [the listing] in the same way, using their own unilateral maps."

Tuk-tuk crackdown targets Wat Phnom


Written by LUCY KINDER
Thursday, 18 June 2009

FOURTEEN tuk-tuks have been confiscated by police near Wat Phnom in another apparent crackdown on operators of the popular tourist vehicles in the capital.

Chan Veasna, a 29-year-old tuk-tuk driver, said that he had taken tourists to visit Wat Phnom and was waiting outside to drive them home when police officials seized his vehicle.

"I didn't have a choice; I had to wait for the tourists because I need the money. The police told me that I was parked in a disorderly manner," he said, adding that police were demanding ownership documentation to release the tuk-tuk.

Municipal Traffic Police Chief Tin Prasoeur told the Post Wednesday that 14 tuk-tuks had been confiscated by Wat Phnom commune police, for disorderly parking and lacking proper registration.

"The tuk-tuks are being kept at the municipal police station located in Russey Keo district," he said.

"Police are waiting for the tuk-tuk drivers to present their identity cards and other documentation to prove ownership of the tuk-tuks" before they will be released, he said.

Four drivers, who all declined to be named, said they believed the latest crackdown followed a recent near collision between Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema's car and a tuk-tuk in the Wat Phnom area. Reports of the near-collision could not be confirmed with municipal officials Wednesday.

Saving the Mekong

http://www.phnompenhpost.com


Written by Arjun Thapan
Thursday, 18 June 2009

COMMENT

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Arjun Thapan

Why the Mekong basin countries need to improve cooperation to save ‘the region’s lifeblood’

ON the peninsula which takes its name, the Mekong River is its most evocative icon. Eons ago, before national boundaries snaked across the Mekong Basin, a multitude of ethnic groups formed a rich human tapestry across this ancient land. Over time, kingdoms arose.

Then, colonial powers arrived and, when they left, civil strife took hold in their wake. So it was that only 20 years ago, the region was still home to some conflict; it was considerably closed to the world beyond, and had a large proportion of its population mired in poverty.

As the "bamboo curtain" slowly lifted, it became clear that a new paradigm was needed, one rooted in greater trust, peaceful coexistence, new ways of doing business and shared prosperity.

In 1992, the six countries of the region - Cambodia, the People's Republic of China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam - entered into a joint program of economic cooperation for the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).

The after-effects of decades of conflict, together with lingering border tensions and antiquated economies, initially kept regional trade flows at a trickle.

Nevertheless, these countries' leap of faith was ultimately rewarded. Today world class roads and bridges crisscross the Mekong region, allowing for an ever-increasing flow of goods and people.

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...The region’s economic strength depends significantly on the efficiency of the Mekong’s water use.
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Since their initial agreement in 1992, GMS nations' exports have more than quadrupled, with foreign direct investment increasing seven-fold. Most importantly, millions of families have been freed from poverty, and more children than ever are enjoying good health, and a quality basic education.

Of course, this is cause for celebration. Nonetheless, issues remain. Extreme poverty continues to plague one in every five families in the Mekong Basin, and needless barriers to trade and development continue to constrain the region's competitiveness.

Today, despite the current crisis, the Mekong countries must take bold steps. They need to aim high. The region is ideally situated between the "dragon" and the ‘elephant' of the global economy - the People's Republic of China and India.

With the right set of policy initiatives, backed by strong political will, it is easy to envision the GMS as a single economic sub-region with integrated markets and dynamic production centres.

Speedy implementation of the landmark GMS Cross-Border Transport Agreement is a key jumping off point for the countries to build a single economic sub-region. The reduction of border crossing times, coupled with higher volume and value throughputs, and overall cost reductions, will significantly stimulate intra-regional trade and tourism.

Entrenched constituencies that retard the development of seamless trade and tourism flows must be disbanded, and national processes harmonised. In parallel, capacities to manage the systems must be built quickly.

Economic integration and development in the Mekong Basin has been accompanied by several challenges including rapid urbanisation, growing migration, and increased inequality.

The governments need to ensure that the least fortunate of the Mekong's 300-plus million people share in the bounty of the region's economic growth. A key measure in this regard is establishing - and properly funding - stronger social safety nets.

Higher environmental costs dictate the need for the countries to adopt a cleaner growth path. There are disproportionate risks from climate change, including falling rice and agricultural production, higher intensity storms, typhoons and natural disasters, and diminishing clean water supplies.

So, in addition to climate change adaptation measures, the countries need to consider increased investments in a new generation of carbon-neutral sub-regional infrastructure projects, such as railways, inland water transport, and clean energy - projects that will create jobs and stimulate growth, while protecting the environment.

A final word on the region's universally well recognised icon, the Mekong River. The countries have to find better ways of sharing the resources of this 4,800-kilometre-long waterway that is, in fact, the region's lifeblood.

Pursuing integrated water resources management at regional level will ensure that the river's management in both wet and dry seasons is done such that floods and low flows are both addressed optimally.

Without such explicit management, water for food, industry, energy, and domestic consumption will remain stressed on both allocation and usage accounts. The region's economic strength depends significantly on the efficiency of the Mekong's water use. Enhancing this efficiency should be high on the agenda of the region's governments.

After 17 years of increasingly shared effort, the countries of the Mekong Basin are beginning to see the fruits of regional cooperation.

Their unique initiative, however, needs deeper grounding through the aggressive implementation of cross-border projects and programs that enhance connectivity, build capacity to design, implement, and manage, and improve their competitive edge.

Such strategy is key for the GMS to take advantage of opportunities presented by a rapidly changing world.

Management rights sale affects 2 top Siem Reap hotels


Photo by: KYLE SHERER
Nick Downing, general manager of Hotel de la Paix.

Written by Peter Olszewski
Thursday, 18 June 2009

Hotel de la Paix and Shinta Mani are no longer sister establishments, following the buyout of their management company by Indian firm

MAJOR management changes will take place at two of Siem Reap's leading hotels following the acquisition last week by Indian company Nadathur Holdings of a major stake in Bangkok-based BMC Management, which operates a chain of boutique hotels and resorts.

The two establishments affected by this acquisition are "sister hotels" Hotel de la Paix and Shinta Mani, and the general manager of la Paix, Nick Downing, will be replaced later this year as he takes a more senior position in the new organisation that has sprung from the acquisition.

Nadathur, a US$500-million investment firm of Infosys co-founder NS Raghavan, acquired BMC Management through a newly created firm, Ativa Hospitality, which will focus on hotel development and management.

Downing told the Post, "BMC Management has been bought out by Indian company Nadathur Holdings with a view for the people at BMC to create a new deluxe hotel brand that will initially target the Indochina region".

"Under Nadathur, BMC will be renamed Ativa Hospitality, with William Black as managing director, whom I have reported to since I started with BMC," he said.

"So BMC becomes Ativa, which will still manage la Paix as an independent property with no change," Downing added.
"Ativa will now develop a deluxe hotel brand, which is still to be named, and other projects are in the pipeline.

"I will become director of operations with Ativa, working on the new brand, and, in the meantime, I will still be overseeing la Paix. I'm not leaving Siem Reap just yet, but in time a new general manager will be appointed."

The acquisition has been misreported in the Indian media with statements that there are plans to expand in Southeast Asian markets, "possibly under the Shinta Mani brand".

But following the acquisition, Shinta Mani no longer has any connection to the new company, Ativa, although Downing said, "We do consider it important that the hotels continue to work together strongly on our joint community activities led by Shinta Mani, even though the management companies have realigned".

The management company acquisition can on the surface be confusing, given that la Paix and Shinta Mani share common ownership, and until the acquisition also shared common management.

The owner of Shinta Mani, Sokoun Chanpreda, is also the minority owner of la Paix, but following the acquisition by Nadathur, he no longer has any management control over la Paix.

BMC Management over a year ago spun off from Bed, which runs the famous Bed Supperclub in Bangkok, among other things.

In that spinoff, Bed controlled clubs and restaurants and hotel management came under BMC, which managed la Paix and Shinta Mani.

Bed now remains a completely separate entity to BMC, which has become Ativa and will still manage la Paix.

Shinta Mani has been spun back to Bed, the original management company, and is now not connected to Nadathur's new company, Ativa.

BMC controls or manages a chain of properties and has a few projects under development in the Greater Mekong region, which comprises Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the Yunnan province of China.

Nadathur did not disclose the acquisition price, but Indian sources said that the transaction also involves ongoing investments into properties under development.

Ativa Hospitality director Sudhakar Mallya told The Economic Times in India that increased domestic and international travel capabilities are throwing up enormous opportunities in Asia's hospitality industry.

"The partnership with BMC will enable us to create compelling and niche offerings in the market," he said.

Pollution not harming temples, yet


Photo by: KYLE SHERER
Dr Shinji Tsukawaki, Japanese researcher studying air pollution.

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 18 June 2009

DR SHINJI Tsukawaki, the Japanese researcher who insists that air pollution in Siem Reap is worse than Bangkok, has backed away from his recent claim that the town's foul atmosphere poses a direct threat to the temples.

Before presenting his research at a session of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor two weeks ago, Tsukawaki told the Post that Siem Reap's polluted air "will cause some damage to the sandstone in the Angkor monuments".

But in a follow-up email last week, he acknowledged that the claim requires some heavy qualifications.

"I do not think that air pollution would cause direct damage to the temples at this moment," Tsukawaki said.

"However, in the case of acid rain, maybe in the near future, it will accelerate the weathering process of certain minerals in sandstone," he added.

Tsukawaki has not confirmed the presence of acid rain in Siem Reap.

For the past three years, Tsukawaki and the Environment Research Development Angkor Cambodia team have been taking monthly air samples in Siem Reap for analysis, where the levels of sulphur, nitrogen, carbon, particulate matter and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are measured.

Tsukawaki said his studies show that Siem Reap pollution is "a little higher" than Bangkok, but despite the dramatic nature of the claim, Tsukawaki said his research has generated little interest from his colleagues at the ICC,

"They are keen only on monuments. Three years ago I distributed our first report on pollution, but nobody read it," he said.

"I don't think they will be more interested now. Almost nobody came to our symposium in Siem Reap."

Tsukawaki blames the pollution on car exhausts, generators and the old tyres used on most vehicles, saying that it spikes with every tourist season.

Siem Reap Scene...

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/

Photo by: PETER OLSZEWSKI
Camille Plante, former coordinator of the Angkor Photography Festival.

Written by Seng Sovan
Thursday, 18 June 2009

ANGKOR PHOTO FEST
Details are now being finalised for the fifth annual Angkor Photography Festival to be held in Siem Reap this November. But one of the big changes in this year's event will be the absence of Paris-based festival coordinator Camille Plante, who winds up her involvement at the end of this month.

"I have to update the Web site and the transfer will be done," she told Scene.

Last week, in one of her final hurrahs, she announced that the festival's fifth Angkor Photo Workshop will run from November 22 to November 28 in Siem Reap.

The workshop coordinator will once again be the legendary Roland Neveu, and tutors who have been signed up to date include Antoine d'Agata of Magnum Paris; Patrick de Noirmont of AP Paris and OnAsia Bangkok; and Olivier Nilsson, the picture editor for OnAsia Bangkok.

The Angkor Photo Workshop is emerging as one of the key features of the festival, as increasingly more importance is placed on the learning aspect of the festival, rather than just the looking. The workshops allow a significant number of young Asian photographers to perfect their art and accords them a chance at firsthand training.

Festival organisers last year were disappointed by the lack of young Cambodian photographers, and it is hoped this year that the home-grown component will be boosted.

Details of how to register for the workshop will shortly be posted on the festival's Web site, wwwphotographyforchange.net.

FINAL FOOTY FINAL
An electrifying final saw Anjali House crowned winners of the Under 16s Football Tournament, held in Siem Reap on Sunday at the Provincial Teacher Training Centre.

The final was the culmination of the junior football tournament organised by Steve Longley, a teacher at ACE and coach for the Siem Reap International School. Longley is a FIFA-trained referee.

On Sunday, Anjali played the favourites, Sangkheum FC, for the trophy.

The teams went into half-time at one-all, but Anjali took the lead early in the second half, setting up for a nail-biting play off. Anjali were able to hold the score in their favour until the final whistle, but not without some serious threats to their lead.

At the prize-giving, the Golden Boot for most goals scored throughout the day went to Sangkheum FC's Sin Paine, scorer of five goals, and the winner's trophy was presented to Anjali by Steve Longley on behalf of the sponsor, Centre for Khmer Studies.

Race to awareness
The Children Committee, sponsored by the International Labour Organisation, held a footrace in Siem Reap on June 10 to promote awareness of female child labour in Cambodia.

Hundreds of children took part in the footrace, billed as "Providing the opportunity for female children to eliminate child labour".

Director of Children Committee So Kunthy said the footrace aimed to attract support to help stamp out child labour for girls and find support for their education.

Chief technical adviser of the ILO, MP Joseph, said, "We estimate that there are about 300,000 Cambodian children involved in the worst forms of labour, and 500,000 more are exploited in various forms of labour.

He added that during the past few years, the ILO had collected 18,000 children and sent them to school.

During the race celebrations, Rith Chan Mealea, a sixth-grade student at Wat Porbanteaychey School in Siem Reap, spoke on behalf of all the children when she appealed to the government, and national and international organisations to support the an international convention to protect children from smuggling and exploitation.

She said, "What concerns us is seeing children in difficulties, especially in worst work forms such as the brickmaking, fishing and rubber industries or in unsafe work places that will affect their health and mental outlook".

NEW BUSINESS SURGE
Amidst the gloom and doom, Siem Reap is experiencing a surge of new businesses.

Two months ago Laurent Baldani, after quitting his job as chef at the Day Inn Hotel, opened Villa Kiara guesthouse, and last week he went one step further, opening Siem Reap's first creperie, the Blackwheat Creperie.

Baldani said he opened the upmarket creperie because he thinks that with the market so low that the only way is up. Plus, he said, now is the time to buy "if you have a small amount of capital".

Raphael and Renee Guillien have also opened a second Bambou Company clothes and accessories outlet in Alley West, behind Pub Street.

This is the second Bambou retail outlet. The first was opened earlier this year in the Lucky Mall, but its range can be found in 15 hotel outlets.

Bambou also plans to open in Phnom Penh soon. The Guilliens will relocate to Phnom Penh when Raphael takes up his new job as group general manager of FCC.

Alex Sutherland, the entrepreneur with an ownership stake in Cafe Central, Angkor What? and El Camino, turned his Burgers Without Borders restaurant into The Grill earlier this month.

He said plans to change Burgers Without Borders into a dinner restaurant were months in the making, and that he decided to brave the transition despite the economic downturn.

Tricks of the temple kids


Written by Dave Perkes
Thursday, 18 June 2009

The cute kids selling stuff around the temples, asking where you come from, rattling out country facts like "England, capital London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown", and even attempts at Cockney rhyming slang can amuse. A Hungarian tourist said to a seller recently that if she could tell him the capital of Hungary, he would buy the book. The child confidently answered "Budapest", so a deal was done. Sometimes vendors rush up to people and interrupt their conversation with "You wanna buy flute, postcard, scarf, tablecloth". This irritating habit does them no favours, and I'd certainly not buy from them. Also beware of fake guidebooks. Tourists are sometimes offered shrink-wrapped guidebooks after being shown a pristine colour copy only to find that when they open the wrapping on the tour bus that they have a crude photocopy that falls apart within days. Of course, the children are not working in isolation, and they always have adults in the background. Their income supplements their family's income. These families are suffering badly with the lack of tourists, so if the kids are polite and say please and thank you, then do buy if you can. A little goes a long way here.

Elite research school eyes growth as dark clouds loom


Photo by: ELEANOR AINGE ROY
Studying in the public library of the Centre for Khmer Studies.


Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy
Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Centre for Khmer Studies is building a new research centre and library as part of a plan to raise its international profile and expand its resources

The Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) is situated on the lush grounds of Wat Damnak, in central Siem Reap.

At any time of the day students can be found nestled in the cool of its library, talking quietly beneath the shady trees, or taking walks around the peaceful gardens.

It is a setting perfectly suited to rigorous scholarship - which is exactly what the Centre for Khmer Studies is hoping to foster among Cambodia's postgraduate students.

More broadly, the centre aims to promote Cambodia and Southeast Asia as a destination for international scholars and academics.

But black clouds are gathering on the horizon for the centre, with three of their major grants expiring. CKS director Michael Sullivan thinks that with the economic crisis it is unlikely they will be renewed.

"We are going to stick with our model, as we believe it's a good one," said Sullivan. "We are taking a top-down approach, and the ultimate aim is to get these trained graduates back into Cambodian universities and build up a research culture in Cambodian universities, which is presently lacking."

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The ultimate aim is to get these trained graduates back into cambodian universities.
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CKS is a nongovernmental organisation founded in 1999 with support from the Rockefeller Centre, among other donors.

It has two bases in Cambodia, one in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap, as well as an office in New York and a support office in Paris.

"The centre is the only overseas American research centre in South East Asia, and it has two main goals," said Sullivan. "Firstly it promotes education and scholarly exchange in the social sciences and humanities in terms of Khmer studies and Southeast Asian studies, and it also sets out to build capacity in the higher education sector."

Foremost among its activities is the junior faculty training (JFT) programme, which runs twice a year for six months and develops international-standard research and study skills among an elite pool of Cambodian graduates.

"Entry to the course is competitive," says Sullivan. "A high standard of English is required and students must be very competent, as it is an intensive course, with thorough training from an international professor, usually from the West."

In the past five years the programme has trained 80 Cambodian graduates in the fully funded course which includes a small allowance for the participants. The current course is focused on political science.

Planning ahead
However, if the grants are not renewed, the centre will have to scale back the programme, although a planned library and research centre will go ahead.

While the centre already has the largest public library outside Phnom Penh, a larger library and research centre are being built.

The original library is a beautifully crafted space, with high ceilings, vibrant murals, and more than 5,000 monographs, books, journals and public computers.

"The existing library is just so popular, we are short of space for books and short of space for people," said Sullivan. "So the board decided that in spite of the financial crisis, we would dig deep to fund this new venture."

The new library and research center will be used primarily as a professional space for local, national, regional and international researchers.

Sullivan hopes to build CKS's collection of English, Khmer and French books up to 20,000, with a special focus on developing Khmer materials.

JFT students translate course materials and books, such as David Chandler's famous work A History of Cambodia.

On June 24 the centre will roll out its second translated history, Milton Osborne's South-East Asia: An Introductory History.

Sullivan is determined to see widespread distribution of the book and other texts.

"What we haven't done in the past is to make a consolidated effort to get all of these materials out, and we've also been poor at raising the profile of CKS," he said.

Hiring for high perfomance


Written by Susanna Coghlan
Thursday, 18 June 2009

WELL-DEFINED job roles are critical to creating high performing teams, and to reducing dysfunctional turnover. Clearly defining job roles, and the competencies required to successfully perform them, before you begin recruiting can save you time, expense, and a lot of headaches later on.

Robert Half, founder of global staffing and consulting services firm Robert Half International, puts forward the following approach in his book On Hiring.

First list all the duties and responsibilities the job requires. Try to be as specific as possible. For example, rather than saying "administrative duties", list the specific tasks that need to be performed. Then group each function into one of three categories: very important, important and not so important.

Next, answer the following questions to create a job opportunity that will attract and retain employees who add value to your organisation.

Do you need somebody new to handle this job?
A job vacancy can give you an opportunity to reflect on your overall needs and perhaps make changes in the job. With most companies facing tight budget restrictions this year, reducing payroll and staff expenses is a way to save substantial amounts of money.

Consider if the functions you have described might be efficiently incorporated into a job already filled by any of the competent or high performing people on your staff. It may be possible to assign lower-level functions to an employee at a lower salary, and higher level functions to somebody with suitable skills and experience.

Is this job doable?
If you are satisfied you need a new employee, ask yourself if the job is "doable", as you have structured it. Make sure that you are not creating a job that very few people could fill.

One factor to consider is the compatibility of the tasks described. Do the responsibilities of the job conflict with another? Or, are the attributes required to perform the tasks to a high level rarely found in the same person?

Keep in mind that even if some people in your organisation currently handle incompatible functions, they have probably learned this through on-the-job experience. A new hire may not have the same skills. Think about how much time on guidance and supervision you are planning, or willing, to invest.

Review the amount of time required to perform each of the tasks and functions in the job description. Then add up the total hours. You may find that to perform all the functions listed, the employee will need to work a 60-hour week.

Who can you reasonably expect to attract to the position?
The job, as you have structured it, may not be all that exciting to good candidates. You will need to perform an honest evaluation of all the elements of the job, and your organisation's appeal as an employer.

You should take into consideration the reputation of your organisation in the market place and what you have to offer potential employees. Compare salary and opportunities in your company with those being offered by other businesses in the same or comparable industries.

Investing time to create a well-defined description of a job, including skills and attributes required for exceptional performance, will bring rewards for you as a manager, and for your whole organisation.
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Susanna Coghlan is director of training at AAA Cambodia, a strategic human resources consulting firm operating in Cambodia and Southeast Asia. For more information, email susanna@aaacambodia.com