Saturday, 27 June 2009

UN Rights Office Denies Duch Allegations

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
26 June 2009

Christopher Peschoux, the head of the UN’s office of human rights in Cambodia, reiterated on Friday denials that he had attempted to help a Khmer Rouge leader out of the country.

Prime Minister Hun Sen raised the issue on the first visit of a new UN rights envoy, Surya Subedi, following testimony by jailed prison chief Duch that Peschoux offered to help him leave the country in 1999.

Peschoux, who was once a rights monitor, said Wednesday he was seeking to clarify the “misunderstanding” with Om Yentieng, the head of the government’s human rights committee and a senior adviser to Hun Sen. No meeting has yet been set.

Peschoux interviewed Duch in Battambang province over three days in May 1999.

“We met Mr. Duch. We made a long interview, which was completely free, like we did with other persons in general, and we did not have any intention to encourage him to leave the country,” Peschoux said.

Duch is under trial for the atrocity of at least 12,380 deaths. Peschoux said he was disappointed with the allegations made by Duch, but they were not surprising.

Prison Abuse ‘Covered Up’: Monitor

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Washington
26 June 2009

The abuse of inmates and suspects is difficult to investigate and report because police and other penal officers cover it up, a rights monitor said Thursday.

“Most cases happen in police posts and prisons, and [abuse] is covered up by police and prison officials,” said Ny Charya, a leading investigator for the rights group Adhoc, as guest on “Hello VOA” in Phnom Penh.

Some guards allow long-term prisoners to attack newcomers, in order to frighten them upon admittance, he said, adding that any form of physical or psychological torture committed by a public official was against international conventions signed by Cambodia.

Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said there were no orders for police to abuse detainees, which is illegal.

“If a case were true, there would be legal action against those who committed [the act],” he said.

Families of detainees can file charges, he said.

Ny Charya said abuse sometimes occurred because police needed to complete a case, but he noted such acts were counterproductive and unjust. Confessions under duress can be recanted, and police must know how to properly question suspects.

The abuse of inmates and suspects is difficult to investigate and report because police and other penal officers cover it up, a rights monitor said Thursday.

Opposition Editor Sentenced in Absentia

By Win Thida, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
26 June 2009

The editor-in-chief of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper received a one-year jail sentence and $2,250 fine Friday, following stories accusing a powerful minister of corruption.

Hang Chakra, who was tried in absentia, had reported on alleged corruption under Council Minister Sok An, whose position allows him to oversee important Cambodian projects, such as the Khmer Rouge tribunal and offshore oil exploration.

Monitor Urges ‘Clear Purpose’ for US Aid

By Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
26 June 2009

The US must show clear purposes behind its assistance to Cambodia and ensure that the aid is to champion a voice of all citizens, according to an Oxfam America report released on Wednesday in Washington.

The nine-page field report highlights mixed reactions from relevant parties interviewed in late 2008, including USAID, the Cambodian government, donors and non-governmental organizations.

“We found that the US needs to be very clear with their purposes behind the aid that they are doing that for a development reason and that is to help Cambodians help themselves out of poverty,” Archana Palaniappan, the report’s author, told VOA Khmer after the launch. “Cambodians are skeptical to some extent, but the US just needs to present clearly what exactly their motivations are and be more transparent about what their aims are in Cambodia.”

The report highlights some successes from US aid, citing for example the Community Legal Education Centre’s work in helping residents in a Phnom Penh neighborhood fight illegal attempts by local authorities to evict them.

The report also shows constraints that development agencies face. It quoted a USAID staff member complaining about the distance from the agency’s headquarters in the US Embassy to communities it was meant to help, as well as small staffs for growing budgets and projects.

“Civil society’s concerns related to shifts in foreign assistance could possibly be linked to the lack of strategic long-term planning,” the report quoted a USAID staff member saying. This made the Department of State’s efforts to integrate foreign assistance difficult to communicate.

US assistance to Cambodia focuses mainly on health, especially prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, the rule of law, human rights, good governance, military assistance, mine clearance and counterterrorism.

Between 2002 and 2007, the US provided an average $41.55 million per year to Cambodia.

No official from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh was available for comment on the report Thursday.

Palaniappan said that Oxfam believed in promoting “active states, active citizens and effective states.”

“The more information that the government and the people have about this money, the more they can own these processes,” she said.

The US is the fifth-largest donor to Cambodia after Japan, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the United Nations.

Hun Sen Warns Against Drug Use

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
26 June 2009

Cambodia is losing $50 million a year to drug abuse, the prime minister said Wednesday, warning of future damage to Cambodian society.

Hun Sen made his remarks to mark the National Day Against Drugs, in Phnom Penh. Cambodia is plagued with methamphetamine production and use, especially in the capital.

If each drug user spent $3 per day on drugs, $50 million per year is lost, Hun Sen said, adding that Cambodia could become “dangerous” if action isn’t taken.

“From now on, all relevant authorities, from village chiefs to provincial governors, should take action against drugs,” he said.

Ke Kim Yann, head of the government’s counter-drug authority, said drugs were a problem the world over.

Some drugs are locally produced; in 2007, police detained three men and seized three tons of drug-making equipment and supplies from a facility in Kampong Speu province.

More drugs are supplied out of the Golden Triangle region around Thailand, Burma and Laos, and are bought through Cambodia in Koh Kong province on the Thai border.

Cambodia has become a popular transit point for drugs, following a crackdown in Thailand in 2002.

Border tense ahead of Suthep visit

By The Nation
Published on June 27, 2009

The situation remains tense along the border near Preah Vihear after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's refusal to discuss the Hindu temple during Thai Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban's visit today.

Thai Second Army Region commander Lt-General Wiboonsak Neeparn said the situation along the border was very tense, with the two sides faced off against each other.

"Policy-makers in the two countries should quickly find a solution to the problem," he said.

If the situation escalates further, that could mean more violence, the commander said.

Wiboonsak said Thai troops in the area would not initiate a clash but would be prepared to retaliate if Cambodia opened fire first.

However, Thai Army chief General Anupong Paochinda said the situation was unlikely to result in a skirmish as long as commanders on both sides maintained contact with each other.

Tensions have been mounting along the border near the Hindu temple since last week, when the Thai government decided to maintain its objection to Preah Vihear's World Heritage inscription.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordered Natural Resource and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti to submit a complaint to the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Spain this week and asked Deputy PM Suthep to clear the stance with Cambodia.

Abhisit yesterday said in Beijing, where he was on an official visit, that Thailand's objection to the Preah Vihear inscription had nothing to do with Cambodia, but rather with the World Heritage Committee.

Pongpol Adireksarn, a former chairman of Thailand's own World Heritage Committee, said Thai complaints were useless, because they had come too late and would not be placed on the agenda.

The latest tensions stem from the government tying the inscription to the boundary issue, even though the two matters have no connection and linking them upsets Cambodia, he said.

Suthep yesterday insisted he would visit Cambodia today as planned to mend the rift, despite Hun Sen saying Preah Vihear would be off the table.

He said Hun Sen had to make such a statement to protect Cambodia's interests and that it was an internal affair.

"No problem. I won't intervene in Cambodia's internal affairs, but rather will go to make friends and reduce border tensions," Suthep told reporters.

The two neighbours can cooperate constructively for mutual benefit, he said.

"I won't discuss any issue that could lead to further disputes," Suthep added.

Hun Sen on Thursday said he would not discuss a Thai idea for joint nomination of the Hindu temple, but rather only a withdrawal of Thai troops from Cambodian territory.

Suthep said the Army could handle the situation on the ground at the border.

The ongoing dispute at the border near Preah Vihear has sparked two border skirmishes - one last October and the other in April - leaving seven soldiers on both sides dead.

It's matter between Thailand and Unesco : Thai PM


By The Nation

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva insisted Friday that Thailand's opposition to Unesco's listing of Preah Vihear Temple as World Heritage Site has nothing to do with Cambodia.

Speaking from Beijng, Abhisit said that the case is a matter between Thailand and Unesco.

The Thai premier was on his second day of his four-day visit to Beijing on Friday.

Abhisit has assigned his deputy; Suthep Thuangsuban to travel to Phnom Penh on Saturday to talk about the matter. Cambodia's premier Hun Sen said Thursday that Suthep's mission was not necessary if it focused on Unesco's listing of the temple.

"Thailand's opposition to the listing will not affect Thai and Cambodia relations," Abhisit said.

The Unesco agreed to register the temple as a World Heritage Site under the aegis of Cambodia in July last year.

Suthep Thaugsuban said Friday he would go to Cambodia on Saturday as planned on a mission to clarify to Khmer Premier Hun Sen Thailand's opposition to the listing of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site. Ads by

The deputy prime minister said his trip will not be postponed or cancelled as the visit would focus on the Preah Vihear temple issue as well as aim to strengthen bilateral ties between Thailand and Cambodia.

He said his trip was aimed at solving any misunderstanding between the countries. His visit would definitely not escalate the conflict between both countries.

Abhisit said earlier Thailand will ask Unesco to review its July 2008 decision to register Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site when the panel met earlier this week in Spain.

He would also propose that the temple be registered jointly as a World Heritage Site by Thailand and Cambodia, not unilaterally by Cambodia.

Thai gov't may declare state of emergency if anti-gov't rally turns violent: Deputy PM

www.chinaview.cn
2009-06-26

BANGKOK, June 26 (Xinhua) -- The government would declare a state of emergency if a mass anti-government rally led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) on Saturday turns violent, Thai media quoted Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban as saying here on Friday.

The anti-government protestors, who are led by the UDD group, or the red-shirted people, plan to stage the mass rally at Sanam Luang in the center of capital Bangkok from late Saturday afternoon.

"I have already drafted the declaration. It can be immediately announced if the red-shirted rally gets out of control," Suthep, who is in charge of security affairs, was quoted by the Bangkok Post's website as saying.

Suthep said he has authorized police chief Pol Ben Phatcharawat Wongsuwan to oversee the situation as he and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva have overseas visits.

Speaking from China's capital Beijing, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the UDD supporters have rights to protest, but they must stay within the law.

Abhisit, meanwhile, questioned reasons behind the planned rally, saying his government was democratically elected and had formed a committee comprising MPs from all political parties to scrutinize plans for political reform.

Abhisit is now on the second day of his four-day visit to China, while Suthep is to depart to Cambodia on Saturday to clarify to Cambodian Premier Hun Sen about Thailand's opposition to the UNESCO 's listing of the ancient temple -- Preah Vihear.

Suthep said he directs police to deal with the protestors with international standards, but the law must be strictly enforced.

Bangkok police chief Worapong Chiewpreecha said he believes the UDD-led protest will not turn violent since the group leaders have vowed to confine the protest at Sanam Luang.

As Pol Lt-Gen Worapong expects 25,000 to 50,000 red-shirted supporters would show up at the rally, he said police are ready if the protestors mobilize out of the rally site.

In a related development, army chief Gen. Anupong Paojinda said he is confident the anti-government rally would be peaceful since people do understand that the country is now facing the economic crisis and they would therefore refrain from worsening the situation.

However, Gen. Anupong said the military is ready to help ensure peace and order if requested by police, who are duty-bounded to control the rally situation.

Editor: Chris

Thai Official Vows To Avoid Temple Issue On Cambodia Trip

BANGKOK (AFP)--Thailand's deputy prime minister said Friday he would steer clear of a dispute over an ancient temple on the Cambodian border when he meets the neighboring country's leader this weekend.

Soldiers from both sides have built up on the frontier in recent days near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, where seven soldiers have died in clashes since tensions flared last year.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said he is sending his deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, to Phnom Penh on Saturday to explain Thailand's decision to ask world heritage body UNESCO to reconsider listing the temple.

However, following a warning by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that Thailand must respect his country's sovereignty, Suthep said he would now avoid the issue.

"I will not discuss any topic that could trigger conflict," Suthep told reporters in Bangkok.

"But do not jump to conclusions that my mission will not achieve anything. I am confident that bilateral talks will enhance a better understanding that Thailand will treat its neighbors cordially," he said.

Hun Sen vowed Thursday to take a hard stance on the dispute over the temple, the ownership of which was awarded to Cambodia by the World Court in 1962, sparking decades of tensions.

Unrest flared in July 2008 after UNESCO granted world heritage status to the ancient Khmer temple, with its crumbling stone staircases and elegant carvings.

Thai army chief Gen. Anupong Paojinda said Friday that soldiers from both sides wanted to avoid clashes, and were regularly speaking to each other to ease tensions.

"We will not be the first to start fighting," Anupong told reporters.

"The local commander told me the situation is still calm. Forces from both countries deployed at the temple are constantly in contact with each other, and there is no indication that it could lead to confrontation," he said.

The Thai government will protest the listing of Preah Vihear at a UNESCO meeting, which is continuing in Seville, Spain, until June 30.

Dow Jones Newswires
06-26-09

Cambodia Marks International Anti-Drug Day

2009-06-26
Xinhua
Web Editor: Xu Leiying

About 10,000 Cambodian students, drug victims, police and government officials gathered at Olympic Stadium in the heart center of Phnom Penh to mark the International Anti-Drug Day on Friday.

Cambodia is not a country producing drug but it has suffered from drug issues lately if comparing with other countries in the region because drug criminals are trying to use Cambodia as transmit place to deal drug to other countries, Prime Minister Hun Sen told the ceremony.

He said that in 2007 about 46,000 people were estimated to have used drugs illegally. "We lost about 50 million U.S. dollars each year for using drug illegally. That money was spent illegally and not necessary."

Drug users are facing with AIDS because they used the same needle to inject drug. "We are concerned of them, and we succeeded to reduce AIDS spreading from 3 per cent in 1997 to 0.9 percent in 2009," he said.

"We have to join together to take actions timely and prevent the spreading of drug using across the country, and we have to educate people more and conducts public campaign regularly to promote people to understand about difficulties from drug issues," the premier said.

Hun Sen warned, "If officials from law enforcement agencies involve with drug deal, we have to punish more serious than others. "

He also announced that the government will build a new rehabilitation center of drug addicted people in Kompong Speu province. "We have always considered drug users are victims. Our students should have to stay away from drug. Don't try it," Hun Sen said.

The premier also thanked donor countries, UN and other partners who have always assisted Cambodia's drug enforcement agency. According to a report from the anti-drug authority, the enforcement unit of the Interior Ministry cracked 1,714 cases of drug last year and arrested 3,514 criminals.

Tense but calm around Preah Vihear

By: Bangkok Post.com
Published: 26/06/2009

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban on Friday insisted on going to Cambodia to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen, even though the Cam,bodian leader has refused to discuss the Preah Vihear temple row.

Mr Suthep said his visit to Cambodia on Saturday was aimed at strengthening ties. He said he would not engage in any talks that would lead to conflict.

Although the temple row would not be on the table, the deputy prime minister said relations between Thailand and Cambodia would improve after the visit.

Mr Suthep was originally assigned by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to clarify Thailand's position against the enscription of the temple by the World Heritage Committee, on the application of Cambodia, which was later formally approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

But Mr Hun Sen has refused to discuss the ancient temple with Mr Suthep.

Both sides have sent reinforcements to the area.

Second Army commander Wibulsak Neepal admitted on Friday he was worried about the renewed potential for hosilities.

Lt Gen Wibulsak said troops were now confronting each other and this could boil over into a fight if the two governments do not find ways to calm the conflict.

However, the Thai-Cambodia border remained calm. Army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda said there had been no confrontation and the situation would not lead to violence.

He confirmed Thai troops have been reinforced following reports that extra Cambodian troops and artillery had been deployed to the area.

Gen Anupong said the two sides agree they do not want to fight.

Thai soldiers had been warned to be alert, but not to initiate a clash with Cambodian troops.

"We will not be the first to start fighting," Gen Anupong told reporters.

"The local commander told me the situation is still calm. Forces from both countries deployed at the temple are constantly in contact with each other and there is no indication that it could lead to confrontation," he said.

Tension along the border has risen since Thailand decided to petition against the listing of the ancient khmer temple by the World Heritage Committee, which approved the application by Phnom Penh. Thailand has repeatedly argued the old temple should be jointly registered as a world heritage site,m even though it is in Cambodian territory. Access to the temple is through Thailand.

Thailand, Cambodia to hold operational level talks in July

http://enews.mcot.net


NAKHON RATCHASIMA, June 26 (TNA) - Thailand and Cambodia will hold a regional border affairs meeting in Thailand’s northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima in July to discuss border problems, a senior Thai military official on Friday.

Lt-Gen. Viboonsak Neepan, Thailand's Second Army Region commander, overseeing the northeastern region which borders Cambodia, said he had fruitful talks with Lt-Gen. Chea Mon, Commander of Cambodia's 4th Military Region on Thursday.

Gen. Viboonsak said the parties agreed to hold their periodic Regional Border Meeting (RBC) in Nakhon Ratchasima to discuss unresolved border problems and troop deployments along the Thai-Cambodian border near the historic Preah Vihear temple, as it is feared that troop reinforcements of both countries may cause misunderstanding which may lead to clashes.

The Thai commander also insisted that despite the latest tensions at the border, both Thai and Cambodia's operational level officials can still meet regularly in order to understand each other to avoid confrontation.

Gen. Viboonsak added that he regularly reports any border difficulties to army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda.

Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia arose again and troop reinforcements from both countries took place near Preah Vihear after Thailand expressed its opposition to Cambodia's unilateral listing of the temple as a World Heritage Site to the World Heritage body and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

UNESCO agreed to register Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site under the aegis of Cambodia in July last year.

Thailand had proposed that the temple be registered jointly as a World Heritage Site by both countries, not unilaterally by Cambodia.

In 1962 the International Court of Justice ruled that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia, but the most accessible entrance begins at the foot of a mountain in Thailand, and both sides claim overlapping portions of the surrounding territory.

Armed clashes between the two countries’ military forces have occurred periodically since then, near the temple, especially in a 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area. (TNA)

Cambodian fund Leopard Capital makes two new investments

http://www.altassets.com

26 Jun 2009
Source: AltAssets

Leopard Capital, a Cambodian private equity firm, has completed its second and third deals from $27m debut vehicle Leopard Cambodia Fund.

The fund has committed $1m in equity financing to Greenside Holdings. Greenside is part of a consortium of investors that is refurbishing, designing, constructing and commissioning a rural power transmission and distribution system. Greenside will use the funds received from Leopard to help fund its share of the $4m project.

The transmission and distribution system is 120km in length and includes medium and low voltage networks. The system is expected to provide grid power to 7,700 residential customers and 375 commercial and industrial customers. The total population of the distribution area is approximately 425,000. The electrification rate in Cambodia is currently one of the lowest in Asia and there is an urgent need for more power generation and transmission.

Leopard has already received its first profit-share payment from Greenside and expects consistent annual returns of 20 per cent.

The Leopard Cambodia Fund has also set aside $1.8m to establish Cambodia Plantations, a Singapore-based company which will serve as an offshore finance vehicle for agricultural investments in central Cambodia. The drawdown will fund the establishment of a subsidiary that is in the process of obtaining a land concession in the province of Kompong Chhnang for rice cultivation – rice being a core product of Cambodia.

The Leopard Cambodia Fund was launched in March 2008 and is targeting sectors in the financial services, agriculture, food and beverage production, building materials, tourism, and property development in the south-east Asian country.

Former K.Rouge foreign minister denied release

Agence France-Presse - 6/26/2009

Judges on Friday rejected the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister's appeal for release from jail before his trial at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court.

Ieng Sary, 83, is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes but asked to be released into house arrest on the grounds that his life in jail at the tribunal is making him ill.

"The request for release or modification of conditions of detention is rejected," said pre-trial chamber judge Prak Kimsan in a formal reading of the decision.

Detention was necessary to protect the former leader's safety, keep him from fleeing Cambodia and to preserve public order, Prak Kimsan told the court.

Ieng Sary, who has been rushed to hospital at least nine times since he was detained by the court in November 2007, shuffled in and out of the courtroom with the help of a cane.

His trial is expected to begin sometime next year.

Ieng Sary is one of five top regime cadres detained by the joint Cambodia-UN tribunal that was established in 2006, after nearly a decade of haggling over how to deliver justice for one of the 20th century's bloodiest episodes.

The court's long-awaited first trial has seen Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, accept responsibility for overseeing the execution of more than 15,000 people at the main Khmer Rouge prison.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed, as the 1975-1979 regime emptied Cambodia's cities in its drive to create a communist utopia.

As the top Khmer Rouge diplomat, Ieng Sary was frequently the only point of contact between Cambodia's secretive communist rulers and the outside world.

He has denied any involvement in past atrocities but he was also one of the biggest public supporters of the regime's mass purges, researchers say.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998 before facing justice, and fears over the health of ageing suspects hang over the court.

Forget institutions, go solo


June 26, 2009
SATURDAY SPECIAL REPORT

By Sheere Ng , Elaine Ng and Faith Chen
EIGHT Cambodian children in traditional Khmer costumes nervously position themselves in the spacious, resort-style living room of a two-storey bungalow in Changi.

Their audience smiles in encouraging approval as they belt out: 'Hello my friends, I'm happy to be in Singapore. We are here as a big family. Let's be happy and join together.'

They have come a long way from the slums of Phnom Penh to be here and for that they can thank Ms Priscilla Teoh, 44, a trail-blazing proponent of the next big thing in charity - neo-philanthropy.

Read the full report in Saturday's edition of The Straits Times.

Cambodian newspaper editor sentenced to year after publishing stories alleging govt corruption

By: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
26/06/2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A Cambodian editor whose newspaper published stories alleging corruption in the office of a senior government official was found guilty Friday of circulating disinformation in a one-hour trial and sentenced to a year in jail.

Hang Chakra, editor-in-chief of the Cambodian language newspaper "Khmer Mchas Srok," which supports the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, published articles earlier this year accusing Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and his associates of corruption.

Sok An, who is the right-hand man of Prime Minister Hun Sen, responded by filing a complaint with the court alleging that the articles could affect political stability because they were written about government leaders.

On Friday, Din Sivuthy, a judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, handed down the verdict. Hang Chakra was also ordered to pay a fine of 9 million riel ($2,195). He did not attend the trial but was arrested afterward.

His defence lawyer, Choung Choungy said he will file an appeal. He said the country's leaders "use the court as their tool to shut the mouths of people who dare to criticize or publish uncomplimentary stories."

Soon after the verdict was issued, civil society groups condemned the court's action and called it another blow to freedom of expression in Cambodia.

Naly Pilorge, director of the local human rights group LICADHO, said the verdict was another example of how Cambodia's courts are used as a weapon to silence government critics.

"This verdict once more highlights the judiciary's subservience to the government," she said. "Without a truly independent judiciary, Cambodian democracy and the rights of citizens will never be assured."

On Monday, Cambodia's Parliament stripped immunity from two opposition legislators who face defamation lawsuits filed by the prime minister and senior military officers.

Swine flu fells school group


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Masked officials at the Phnom Penh International Airport inspect passengers using a thermal scanner


Written by Christopher Shay and Cheang Sokha
Friday, 26 June 2009

THE Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation reported three more confirmed cases of influenzu A(H1N1), or swine flu, in Cambodia on Thursday, raising the total number of cases to four. So far, all confirmed cases involve the same school group of about 40 Americans from Kansas who arrived in Cambodia on Friday.

All four people - three women and one man - are receiving treatment at Calmette Hospital, where they are being held in isolation, said Chheang Ra, the hospital's director. The patients are 16, 17, 18 and 20 years old.

Hun Sen announced the additional three cases of swine flu on Thursday morning at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education.

"We have four cases now in Cambodia, but we should not be surprised at the situation,"he said. "I appeal to all citizens to be careful."

At a press conference held by the Ministry of Health and the WHO, Michael O'Leary, the WHO's country representative for Cambodia, said, "It was only a matter of time before [swine flu] arrived in Cambodia."

Even though all proper precautions had been taken, he said, "It is difficult to stop completely."

Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said at the press conference that Cambodia had about 300,000 Tamiflu tablets.

But Nima Asgari, a WHO public health specialist, said that most patients would need only lots of liquids, rest and paracetamol.

O'Leary emphasised that there was no need to panic. The virus spreads easily, he said, because "no one in the world has resistance".

"This virus is acting very similarly to the influenza virus every year," he added. He advised people to take simple precautions against infection such as washing their hands with soap.

According to WHO's latest figures, there have been nearly 56,000 confirmed cases of H1N1 worldwide.

Exploration unearths Phnom Penh's hidden culinary gems


Photo by: STEPHANIE MEE
Saphorn Music Bar shows that making an effort to stray from the well-trodden path can lead to pleasant surprises.

The Asian-fusion decor inside Chinese House matches the palette of the regionally influenced menu. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Written by Stephanie Mee
Friday, 26 June 2009

Though there is no shortage of dining establishments in and around the city, the adventurous diner can sample some exotic fare in unusual settings by throwing out the guidebook and taking a few chances

Even with its profusion of eating and drinking establishments, it can be a daunting task to find a venue in Phnom Penh that offers something different from the standard fare of pizzas, pastas, steaks, hamburgers, or the typical Khmer offerings of loc lac, amok, and fried rice.

The 2009 edition of the Cambodian Yellow Pages lists 793 Khmer restaurants in Phnom Penh: 515 Western/international restaurants - of which 136 are French - 275 Chinese restaurants, 311 cafes and 302 bars and pubs.

Amidst this ever-growing culinary landscape there are a few hidden gems that stand out for their unique atmospheres, interesting locales, and culinary ingenuity, should the adventurous diner seek them out.

Take, for example, one of Phnom Penh's most distinctive restaurants, which can be found in one of the most unlikely spots for a popular café: behind a Sokimex fuel station in the Russey Keo district.

Café Promenade is the brainchild of the friendly Visdh Nou and his equally amiable daughter, Sotheavy Nou, and occupies a large swathe of land on a sandy bank of the Tonle Sap River.

As small children play football and do backflips in the sand, and groups of laughing locals lounge on cushy wicker chairs facing the river, Visdh Nou describes how popular the natural beach-like haven has become.

"I found this place by accident, and originally intended it to be a small café, but it has gotten busier and busier since we opened almost a year ago," he says.

Photo by: STEPHANIE MEE
Café Promenade, on the banks of the Tonle Sap, offers a relaxed, sandy, beach-like haven within the bustling city of Phnom Penh.

Photo by: STEPHANIE MEE
Enjoy the laid-back vibe of Sophorn Music Bar from a hammock.

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Dining in Phnom Penh doesn’t have to be an exercise in homogeneity or the mundane.
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Visdh Nou explains that although they offer an eclectic menu of tasty finger foods such as fresh mango salad, roti with Capa duck, spicy buffalo chicken wings, and the Cambodian favourite of phak luv (baguette with pate, cucumbers, lettuce and pickles), he wants to focus mainly on the atmosphere.

"When I decided to buy these large comfy chairs, people warned me that customers would order a drink and stay for hours. I thought, ‘so what?'" he says.

As the café is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there really is no reason for people to leave.

"During the day we usually get students and families who come to relax and enjoy the views," says Sotheavy Nou.

"At night we get many people who work night shifts, karaoke stars, employees from CTN who work late, and of course the occasional late-night drinkers who come from other parties or bars. It's actually a very lively and safe place to be at night."

Atmosphere can make or break a restaurant, and at Sophorn Music Bar in the Bak Kaing district along National Road 6, atmosphere is the main draw.

Here a series of stilted wooden walkways form paths high above a lotus-filled lake to breezy, thatched pavilions overlooking the calm river and lake, grassy fields and sugar palm trees.

Each pavilion is adorned with two to three rustic hemp hammocks and low-lying wooden tables.

"This spot is popular with all sorts of city dwellers because it is close to the city, but away from the pollution, dust and noise of the city centre," says owner Nong Chom. "People often spend hours relaxing here because of the beautiful views, fresh air, and the spectacular sunsets."

Popular dishes at Sophorn Music Bar include hearty seafood soup with lime, whole roasted chicken cooked with a choice of Coca-Cola sauce, lemongrass, honey, or tamarind.

The house speciality is bunh, thin sticky rice pancakes, fried until crispy on the outside, filled with shredded chicken, and served with sides of fresh vegetables and a sweet and spicy sauce made of peanuts, vinegar, chilli and palm sugar.

Non-Khmer speaking diners should note that the menu is written only in Khmer, although many of the staff can speak English fairly well.

For a bit of history with unique Asian fare and cocktails, Chinese House, an art gallery with a second-floor restaurant and bar, is an ideal spot to spend an evening of culture and cuisine.

Built in 1903 by a wealthy Chinese merchant, the house is an amalgamation of Chinese architecture and French colonial style, and retains all its original roofs, doors, pillars, facade and floor tiles.

Co-owner Alexis de Suremain says he almost turned the venue down.

"When someone suggested I open a restaurant here I originally thought that it was too far from the main drag," he says. "But then when I finally went to see it I thought, ‘wow'."

The enticing Asian fusion menu was formulated by the talented Rattana Gordon, and includes distinctive specialities such as spicy pork in soup with broad rice noodles, a dish that hails from the Yunnan region in Southwest China. And the coconut milk-based chicken curry topped with crispy rice noodles is an ethnic Chinese Muslim dish.

"You will never find these dishes anywhere else in Phnom Penh," said Gordon. "Most of the dishes are influenced by many different cultures, for example Malay, Chinese, Khmer and ethnic minority groups."

Chinese House also raises the bar with special events, which include live jazz bands, Chinese punk shows, movie nights with
an accompanying three-course vegetarian meal, and rotating art shows at the gallery on the first floor.

Clearly, as these three restaurants prove, dining in Phnom Penh doesn't have to be an exercise in homogeneity or the mundane.

Hopes for culinary longevity ride on monster subs, monastic stew


Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
Fatboy’s sub and sandwich ordering system avoids cross-cultural communications complexities.

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This is the most wholesome home-cooked food I've eaten in Phnom Penh.
______________________

Written by Michael Hayes
Friday, 26 June 2009

Two new restaurants are using different approaches to meet the city’s craving for hearty wholesome food, but both look likely to become permanent fixtures on the Phnom Penh scene

Amidst the swirl of hype, confusion and drama surrounding the Phnom Penh restaurant world, with rumours flying about which gourmet eatery will be forced to bite the dust first in this brave new world of economic miasma, two new establishments have recently opened that will warm the hearts of those who enjoy simple yet wholesome cuisine.

More than a handful of the capital's residents have been waiting for the Fatboy Sub and Sandwich Shop to open since the days of UNTAC.

Why it took so long remains a mystery, but the fact that this American-style sub shop is now up and running has been a cause for celebration in several quarters already.

With the motto "build it your way", Fatboy is the brainchild of Al Schaff. Drawing on the genius and efficiency of a General Motors assembly line (before GM lost the plot), Schaff has set up a sub and sandwich ordering system that avoids cross-cultural communications complexities.

There's no need for any menus with photos or cryptic entrée descriptions bearing seven unpronounceable adjectives in Esperanto.

Just stand at the counter and point. Which sub: basic, combo or hot? Which bread: Italian or multigrain? How big: 6-inch or footlong? Which cheese: four choices? Which veggies: eight choices? Which sauce: 12 choices?

Schaff, who hails from Dayton, Ohio, said that, so far, his roast beef sub was one of the top sellers and the Cajun chicken and meatball subs were moving nicely as well.


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Rumiana Ivanova offers a variety of heavenly Bulgarian dishes at the Victoria Pub and Restaurant on Street 172.


"We try to use the best ingredients we can find," he said, noting that Lanzi at Danmeats was the source of his imported turkey cold cuts and smoked ham.

The fact that Fatboy was only open from 11am to 6pm was a source of frustration for several sub junkies, but since June 10 that hurdle has been removed and closing time is now 11pm, Monday to Saturday.

There have been a few grumbles from customers, with one saying that Fatboy's potato salad has too much mayonnaise and another noting that the Malaysian chips were subpar.

But these are small trifles for what this totally biased reviewer hopes will be a permanent fixture in the capital from now on. Find it at 124 Street 130, near Sharky Bar.

Rumiana Ivanova, and her then three-year-old son Mitko, moved to Phnom Penh in 1981 when her husband was posted to the Bulgarian Embassy here.

Mitko has been here most of the time since and, having met and married Tong Samphos, looks set to be around for the long haul.

Together, the three of them have opened the Victoria Pub and Restaurant at 8 Street 172, between Street 51 and Norodom Boulevard.

It offers a variety of traditional Bulgarian dishes, some of which are heavenly.

"They have the best bean soup in the world," said Tom O'Connor, a restaurant aficionado who helped bring fame to the FCC and Metro cafe, and who is now working on another hush-hush eatery plan, the details of which he is reluctant to reveal.

Ivanova says she uses a variety of spices including dill and two "secret ingredients" she imports from Bulgaria.

Whatever they are, the taste of the pork stew monastery style, a special dish Christian monks eat after fasting during Lent, is superb.

Anybody who has ever tried Greek food will recognize the shopska salad, only you won't find cubes of feta cheese. Instead the cheese is shredded on top of the vegetables. "That makes all the difference," Mitko said. "It just tastes better."

The moussaka Bulgarian style is worth a go and the baklava will test anyone's resolve to try and count calories.

Overall, Tom O'Connor summed up what this reviewer felt as well when he said: "This is the most wholesome home-cooked food I've eaten in Phnom Penh."

Local KFC business is finger-licking good

Photo by: BENNETT MURRAY
KFC General manager Benjamin Jerome

Written by Bennett Murray
Friday, 26 June 2009

Operator aims to open at least three additional fast-food outlets in Phnom Penh in the next year

MORE than one year after its arrival as the first major international fast-food chain in Cambodia, KFC General Manager Benjamin Jerome says he's confident the restaurant is doing well in the local market.

The chain now has three restaurants in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap. "Through our market activities on the ground, slowly the locals are accepting the taste of the original recipe for chicken," Jerome said.

KFC is one of the largest fast-food chains in the world with 20,000 locations in 109 countries. Its Cambodia outlets are operated by Kampuchea Food Corporation Co, a joint venture of the Royal Group of Companies, Malaysia's QSR Brands and Hong Kong's Rightlink Corp.

In order to acquire the franchise rights, the company had to demonstrate the country had both the infrastructure and demand for American-style fried chicken.

Jerome said the presence of local fast-food joints like Lucky Burger and BB World convinced KFC there would be interest from consumers. With 90 percent of the chicken coming from within Cambodia, reducing the need for imports, the rights holder was also satisfied the infrastructure was in place.

Though KFC's fried chicken recipe is universal, Cambodian outlets also offer steamed rice instead of mashed potatoes.

Jermone said that KFC's experiment in Cambodia has been successful so far, and Kampuchea Food plans to open at least three more outlets in Phnom Penh in the next year, with one on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, one near the Olympic Stadium and one on Sisowath Quay.

"When we first opened, we could see that KFC is generally patronized by expats and tourists, who know the KFC brand," he said. However, he said, local interest increased over time. "We're in here. We're confident of the market."

Local meat not always a tough sell

Photo by: BENNETT MURRAY
Danmeats butcher Rolf Lanzinger stands by his meat oven.


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A problem with the local beef is that it’s slaughtered today and then eaten two hours later.
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Written by Bennett Murray
Friday, 26 June 2009

They have a reputation for toughness, but Cambodian cows can give a good cut cut of beef to someone who knows what he’s doing, butcher says, and the country’s chickens can’t be beat

Cambodian meat may not be the most reputable in the world, with beef particularly notorious for its toughness, but a little searching can yield tasty cuts of both domestic and imported products.

AK Wines has a wide selection of meat imported by AusKhmer, while Phnom Penh butcher Rolf Lanzinger, better known as Lanzi, said he strives to make the highest-quality cuts of meat possible from the local supply at Danmeats.

AusKhmer Managing Director Simon Roe said local slaughtering techniques and hygiene resulted in a lower-quality product. "A problem with the local beef is that it's slaughtered today and then eaten two hours later," he said.

Imported beef, on the other hand, uses better-bred cattle and superior methods of ageing and storage. "[Foreign suppliers] remove the air from the bag and vacuum seal it very tightly so you'll get a prolonged shelf life, and it'll age and you'll get a more tender, higher-quality animal," Roe said.

Genetics also presents a challenge, as Cambodian cows haven't been bred as thoroughly as Western cows to produce high-quality beef. Roe said. And importing foreign cattle isn't easy, as they have trouble adjusting to Cambodia's hot, humid climate.

Lanzinger said producing quality beef in Cambodia was a "nightmare". Though the beef can actually taste quite good, the animals' cells don't contain as much water as professionally raised cattle in the West. As a result, the beef gets tough very fast when it's cooked.

However, Lanzinger said there were ways to overcome this, with beef tenderloin being one of his most popular products. "The beef tenderloin is good,""he said. "You need to handle it correctly, age it correctly, hang it correctly: You cannot just put it somewhere in the fridge."

Natural meat tenderizers, such as bay leaf and papaya leaf, can help as well, he added.

The Cambodian cattle industry is still in its earliest stages, Lanzinger said, making it hard to guarantee a consistent quality of supply.

"Each farmer raises cows in different ways," he said. "Sometimes [the meat] is more dark, sometimes it's more light, sometimes its bigger, sometimes its smaller."

Home-grown joys
Danmeats is one of the few foreign-owned businesses to only use Cambodian beef, but it is quite common to find locally raised chicken and pork on Western-oriented restaurant menus and supermarket shelves. "Chicken and pork is very good quality locally," Roe said. "It's easy to raise, it's easy to handle and it travels better when it's processed."

Lanzinger believes the pork to be among the best in the world, and even better than the pork in his native Germany. "The pigs in Kampot are the best in my eyes," he said.

Even though Cambodia still imports many of its chicken and pigs from Thailand, Lanzinger said, the local supply is better. "The real Cambodian chickens are top," he said, explaining that they must be prepared differently from chickens in Western countries.

"If you cook them our way, you'll get a tough thing with some meat on it."

Cambodians in the provinces prepare the meat by placing a spiced chicken in a pot with salt and pine needles with just a little water. It is then steamed over a fire, producing a much tenderer chicken.

Lanzinger said he uses a machine to produce a similar effect. "I would always take a Cambodian chicken over a Thai chicken," he said, explaining that the redder color of Cambodian meat indicates higher quality.

Lanzinger admitted he was a bit of an idealist for almost exclusively selling Cambodian products and said he took great delight in promoting the local meat trade, especially to Cambodian customers.

"We're getting more of those Cambodians now, from the top and the middle classes," he said, adding they were often shocked when he told them his meats weren't imported.

"You see a huge, speechless face of surprise," said Lanzinger. "We can show to people that you don't need to look to Thailand, you don't need to look to Australia, or you don't need to look to Vietnam to get all those imported things.

"You can do it here, and you can do it in top quality."

High hopes for organics


Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
The Natural Agri-Product Marketing Project sells organic products from three stores in Phnom Penh.

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We are not officially organic ... We also have to use a small amount of pesticide to get rid of bugs.
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Written by Sam Rith and Lucy Kinder
Friday, 26 June 2009

Demand is growing for organic food in Cambodia, but supply is lagging and a certification system needs to be put in place

Demand for organic food is on the rise in Cambodia, or so says Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC).

"There is a lot of interest in organic food among people living in urban areas within Cambodia, but people in rural villages are also becoming concerned about the use of pesticides," he told the Post.

Unfortunately, Cambodian farmers are not growing organic food in big enough quantities to meet the growing demand.

"The market is too limited," Yang Saing Koma. "Farmers in Cambodia tend to grow rice rather than vegetables, and this is often seasonal, especially for those farmers who grow rice along the riverside."

Cambodian farmers also employ subsistence techniques for their farming, meaning they tend to produce enough rice to feed their family but rarely think about the wider needs of the market, or the opportunities to increase their income. The solution, according to Yang Saing Koma, is to invest more money into ensuring that farmers have the potential to grow produce which is free from pesticides, as well as changing the attitudes of the farmers so that they become accustomed to growing a wide range of products.

In addition to rice farmers, CEDAC works with growers of organic vegetables, fruits, palm sugar and pepper, with chicken and pig farmers, and with fish paste producers.

Mission impossible
Yet many farmers in Cambodia still think that it is impossible to grow food without using pesticides. The lack of official certification also means that consumers in rural areas that want to eat organic have to rely on the word of local farmers.

CEDAC is attempting to implement its own basic standard of certification. Most notably, it is collaborating with Oxfam on the Natural Agri-Product Marketing Project (NAP), which aims to ensure that farmers can get higher prices for their organic products, and that consumers can get easier access to organic food.

"We have introduced an internal system to control what is termed as organic," Yang Saing Koma said. "More and more people want to sell organic food so we are beginning to meet the demand. As well as fruit, vegetables and herbs, we also stock more unusual products such as forest honey."

The government is also interested in promoting organic products, he said.

Growing demand
NAP operates three stores in Phnom Penh. San Sok Len, a cashier at one of the stores, said she has noticed an increasing number of customers wanting to buy organic food.

'This year, each day I sell natural products to around 30 to 35 customers on average. Last year I had between 10 and 15 customers a day,"she said.

"Our prices are a bit more expensive than the market price, but we still have many customers coming to buy our products.

She added that Cambodians tended to be suspicious about whether organic food really had any intrinsic value, but after trying the products, many remarked on the good quality.

"Even though it is more expensive, it is delicious and good for me," said Sok Thea, 26, who has been buying organic rice from San Sok Len's shop for three months. He said that he pays $5 for 5 kilograms of organic rice, whereas ordinary rice would cost him about 1,700 riels (around $0.41) per kilogram.

Other organisations have also sprung up to improve the quality of Cambodian produce. The Peri-Urban Agriculture Centre (PUAC) works to improve the living conditions of Cambodian farmers through the production of high-value vegetables that are free from chemical residues.

Nake Tharenn, one of PUAC's directors, said it is difficult for farmers to completely cut out the use of pesticides.

"We are not officially organic because we have to import our seeds from Thailand or Vietnam, and we cannot be assured that they are pesticide-free,"he said. "We also have to use a small amount of pesticide to get rid of bugs. If we did not do this, the vegetables would not grow."

Small scale buyers
Although PUAC distributes to some of Phnom Penh's top hotels and restaurants, demand for pesticide-free produce has grown mostly amongst individual Cambodians, Nake Tharenn said.

"People who are cooking for themselves or their families are prepared to pay a bit more to buy goods that are pesticide free," he said. "Hotels and restaurants are often reluctant to buy organic products because they need large quantities of produce to cope with the demand for food. They also want food that has a nice appearance, and often the appearance of organic food cannot compete with shiny, chemically treated produce."

Srey Naren, the marketing manager at the Stung Sen Meanchey Organic Farmer Association, said 1,000 families consistently bought organic rice from the association's shop in Phnom Penh. Most were local with only a small minority of foreigners.

She said she only sold 5 tonnes of rice per month last year but this year was selling around 10 tonnes per month. "Our customers are increasing by the day,"she said. "They say that organic rice is nutritious, and as well as buying organic rice for themselves, they also buy it for their relatives and friends."

Like other organic vendors, the Stung Sen Meanchey Organic Farmer Association does not have enough produce to fully satisfy customer demand, especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables.

Kith Seng, the under secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that in response to the demand from consumers, his ministry urged farmers to grow organic crops as much as possible. "Year after a year we see an increase in farmers growing organic produce," he said.

But when even those in the "organic movement" admit to using small amounts of pesticides to kill bugs, until a proper accreditation system is in place, organic consumers will have to buy on faith.

Government reviews island projects after downturn delays

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 26 June 2009

THE government's investment arm is reviewing at least six island development projects in the light of the economic downturn. Youn Heng, the deputy director at the evaluation and incentive department in the Cambodian Investment Board (CIB), said delays by investors in their approved projects ought to be brief.

"My request to some investors is that if you delay your projects, you must not delay too long," he said. "I agree that projects might be affected by the global economic downturn, but it shouldn't have a huge impact."

Youn Heng said five companies signed agreements last year with CDC, but none has done so this year. The investments are generally long-term - some are 99-year leases. The Council for the Development of Cambodia, to which the CIB belongs, said most of the multi-million dollar projects are "moving on the right track".

CDC figures show five island development projects were approved in 2008 backed by firms with US$123 million of reported fixed assets.

"We are now reviewing the master plans for those islands and carefully studying the environmental impact," he said. "We will not allow them to cut too many trees on the islands - on some islands we want them to maintain the forests."

He said that the Kingdom's largest island resort investment - a $300 million Russian project for Koh Pous Island - was continuing.

Australia's Brocon Group, which has taken out a 99-year lease of Koh Oun and Koh Bong islands in a $3 million development, told the Post that its resort will cover 12 hectares when it is completed. Rory Hunter, the chairman of Sang Saa Island Resorts, which is Brocon Group's local operating company, said the resort would open its doors to guests by the end of 2010.

Sboang Sarath, the governor of Preah Sihanouk province, said tourism projects such as the island developments were one of three pillars of economic growth for the province. The others are heavy industry and port services. Combined, he said, they ought to provide an engine to lift the rest of the country.

Workshop discusses predatory pricing

Written by Nguon Sovan
Friday, 26 June 2009

THE US Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored an import anti-dumping workshop on Thursday in Phnom Penh as the government continues drafting legislation to address the issue, the American development agency said in a statement.

"These processes emphasise careful investigation and analysis, transparency, due process and the right to appeal, which protects the interests of importers into Cambodia as well as Cambodian businesses," the statement said.

The workshop kicked off a three-year program which aims to see the Ministry of Commerce complete legal measures for the Kingdom that would be designed to counter the negative effects of imported goods sold at lower than cost price, as well as those which directly damage Cambodian industries.

"The laws are a very important tool for the government to help the private sector - especially small-and-medium enterprises - counter dumping," Sok Sopheak, director general of the Ministry of Commerce, said Thursday.

"So far we haven't carried out investigations on anti-dumping, countervailing duties and safeguards because we haven't had the laws yet."

The legislation is a requirement of the World Trade Organisation which Cambodia joined in 2004.

"Currently there are no trade remedy laws, so this is a flaw in that foreign products can be dump sold here ... it damages local enterprises," he said.

Fighting corruption via accounting


Photo by: KAY KIMSONG
Chairman of Morison Kak & Associates Kak Key

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 26 June 2009

Kak Key, chairman of Morison Kak & Associates, an auditing, tax and accounting firm, says that strict auditing can clean up Cambodia’s business environment for everyone’s benefit

CEO TALK

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BY KAY KIMSONG

Do people understand the importance of your firm's role in creating a better business environment for society?
When Cambodia first got peace, accounting and auditing were not things people knew of. When I came here, I was surprised to see businesses didn't use accounting systems - instead they used a notebook to write down money in and out of their businesses.

Now compared with those days in the 1990s, people pay more attention to numbers, but it remains the case that most local businesses operate without proper accounting and auditing practices.

I think that's due to two reasons: firstly, businesses here are commonly built on nepotism, and secondly, the authorities aren't aware how important a tool accounting and auditing is. We need proper accounting to measure the economy, to collect taxes.

Some of my clients have asked why they should pay tax if the guy next door isn't. And it seems the authorities are not serious - in 2007 the Ministry of Economy and Finance urged 700 enterprises to get audited, but my firm, which is the third-largest in the country, didn't hear from a single company.

Does the government seem keen to see a single standard for accounting to match other countries in the region?
The answer is somewhat technical - when we set up the accounting system the two institutions created were the National Accounting Council, which is a government agency playing the role of government regulator and standards-setter, and the Kampuchea Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Auditors (KICPAA), an association of private and independent accountants and auditors.

To date, the government hasn't used this, but the proposed stock exchange will need a standardised accounting system with one accounting language which everyone can understand if it is to operate properly.

How hard will it be for government to urge private and public enterprises to accept international accounting standards if most don't commit to releasing financial data?
If this stays the same, Cambodia won't develop. The government is the only body that can enforce new policies, but I wonder whether they have the commitment - as things stand they can split the revenue.

I did a test at a Phnom Penh noodle shop recently and asked a waiter how much money he earns. He wouldn't tell me, saying that nobody can afford to tell the truth. Personally, I don't believe that rich officials and businesspeople are committed to operating in a proper way.

A recent news story on corruption claimed graft costs the government US$500 million. Does that sound accurate?
This is a perfect example. But the number can't be proven because we have no accounting or auditing systems in place. From my point of view, the government has not strengthened accountability and transparency.

To comment on that figure, you need accurate numbers. In this case, how can you judge who is wrong and who is right? If one side could produce evidence to prove its figures, the question wouldn't come up.

What methods does the Ministry of Finance use to collect taxes?
Hmmm. I can't answer this question, but I would also like to know. In France, where I have lived, all companies produce a declaration for the tax department every year-end.
The tax officials check and verify those figures, and any firm violating the rules is fully responsible under the law.

But Cambodia doesn't have a law to punish those who steal tax revenues, do we?
From my perspective, I don't see any law that requires the punishment of those who steal tax revenues.
You and I might know that corruption is happening on a large scale, but the issue will only improve once the government shows the willingness to produce the tools to fight corruption.

How much time would it take Cambodia to improve - to be as clean as say Singapore?
Education is necessary. Given that low-quality education leads to low-quality skilled staff such as doctors and accountants, I think we will need one more generation. Improving resources is important, but it takes time.

The only university for studying accounting is Vanda Accounting. How good is it, and are the country's youths interested in learning these skills?
I know Mr Heng Vanda well, and we have talked in the past about education. I am not in a position to comment on the quality of his institution. But as far as I can see, most universities are driven by the profit motive. My firm is always in need of quality accountants, because increasing numbers of banks and international NGOs sign up as clients.

Can you believe that to recruit one senior accountant I had to fly to Manila and Kuala Lumpur? I really wanted to pay that kind of fat salary to a Khmer kid, but I couldn't find any.

We've previously trained some good accountants, but they normally jump ship. If universities here were able to produce quality accountants, this sort of thing wouldn't happen.

How difficult was it to start your business when very few clients are interested in a professional accounting and auditing service?
It is definitely tough. The country has just four accounting and auditing firms: PriceWaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Morison Kak & Associates and Ernst & Young.

The four firms combined earn less than US$10 million revenue a year. In other countries, just one firm can earn millions.

I am calling on government to force local and foreign enterprises to use proper accounting tools - this will boost tax collection and benefit everyone.

Are you certain that using accounting and auditing standards are tools to reduce corruption and increase tax revenue?
Yes. It provides a tool for transparency in financial statements and is key for developing business. It produces a win-win situation for all.

Private sector debates Vietnam border deal


Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
Vietnamese vehicles crossing the border (above) are allowed to continue to Siem Reap


" If our jobs are taken by others, how can poverty be reduced? "

Written by Ros Dina
Friday, 26 June 2009

Members call for equal cross-border access among vehicles, saying that a level playing field would create revenue and jobs

THE Municipality Tourist Land Transportation Association has made a request to the government that Vietnamese tour buses be obligated to stop in Phnom Penh after crossing the border to allow local transportation companies to profit from ferrying tourists to other destinations in the country, particularly to Siem Reap.

In a closed public-private sector dialogue meeting Wednesday designed to set the private sector's agenda, Chheng Heak, president of the Municipality Tourist Land Transportation Association, argued that allowing Vietnamese tour buses to continue all the way to Siem Reap - as is currently permitted - meant his association was losing a chance to raise revenue.

"We would like the government to solve this problem to create more job opportunities for Khmer people," he said.

According to a bilateral agreement between the two neighbours, Cambodian vehicles can only travel as far as Ho Chi Minh City, whereas Vietnamese vehicles coming the other way are permitted to travel as far as Siem Reap, Cambodia's main tourist destination.

Chheng Heak pointed out that transportation companies have to spend at least US$1,000 per year on government taxes, and that therefore companies should be given further opportunities to cover such costs.

So Nguon, president of So Nguon Dry Port, said that Cambodia's bus capacity would not be able to meet demand.

"Such a measure would, I think, discourage tourists to come to Cambodia," he added.

His transportation working group and the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works had recently signed an agreement with a Vietnamese company operating in Battambang province permitting Vietnamese vehicles to travel to Siem Reap directly, he said.

Vietnam had requested to double the current quota of buses permitted to travel daily across the border to 300, So Nguon said. The quota was requested by the Cambodian side, which said that it has used fewer than its allotment thus far.

Ho Vandy, head of the tourism working group for the private sector and permanent head of the committee of the Cambodian Association for Travel Agents, said tourist transportation boundaries should be clearly demarcated.

"I agree with the transportation association because it is a potential source of income for us all," he said. "If our jobs are taken by others, how can poverty be reduced?"

So Mara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, told the Post by telephone that the transportation industry should concentrate on lifting the quality of its services first as part of a free, competitive market.

"I think it is equal [the agreement with Vietnam], but obviously, we lose because Vietnam has more tourists, and Cambodian tourists also like travelling on Vietnamese buses because they are new, good quality and cheaper."

Treatment, not torture


Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Women and children locked up in Koh Ker, a Ministry of Social Affairs-run rehabilitation center, last year

Written by Rebecca Schleifer
Friday, 26 June 2009

Across Asia, too many countries continue to use torture as a weapon in their war against drug abuse

Even in the UN's crowded calendar, June 26 is a big day. Many governments burn confiscated narcotics in bonfires to celebrate the "International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking". Meanwhile, across town, members of nongovernmental groups might organise a candlelight vigil or a film screening to mark "International Day in Support of Victims of Torture".

It would be nice to think that there's time enough in the 24 hours of June 26 to fight both drug abuse and torture. Truth be told, many countries use torture, pure and simple, in their war against drugs. This claim isn't entirely a rhetorical flourish: In the "treatment and rehabilitation" centers of many countries, physical and mental abuses - which in some cases amount to torture - are inflicted on drug users in break-them-down, boot camp-style discipline, to which the difficulty of withdrawal itself pales in comparison.

International health and drug-control agencies - including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation - all endorse comprehensive, evidence-based drug dependence treatment services, including medication-assisted therapy (for example, with methadone or buprenorphine), both inside and outside prisons to protect the health and human rights of people who use drugs.

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Truth be told, many countries use torture, pure and simple, in their war against drugs.
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In many places, though, people who use drugs are forced into "treatment and rehabilitation" centres without any form of due process or trial, sometimes for months or even years. Often run by military or public security officers and staffed by people with no medical training, these centres rarely provide treatment based on scientific evidence. Depending on the country, "treatment" consists of a regime of military drills, forced labour, psychological and moral re-education, shackling, caning and beating. People who voluntarily seek treatment in such centers are exposed to these forms of punishment, as are people who are (legally or otherwise) sent there by their parents or relatives.

A number of Asian countries have such programs. In Singapore, according to a government report distributed in March, people who use drugs can be arbitrarily detained for extended periods of time and caned if they relapse - even though relapse is a common symptom of recovery. (The scenario is cruelly ironic, given that Singapore has also banned buprenorphine, one of the most effective treatments for opioid dependency, and is now jailing people for using it.)

In Malaysia, detainees in compulsory drug treatment centers report that treatment involves extended periods of military-style discipline and abuse. Detainees are made to crawl through animal excrement or to "act like a whale" by drinking and spitting out dirty water, and are caned. In Cambodia, juvenile detainees in a government-run "Youth Rehabilitation Center" have told of being shocked with electric batons.

In China, as many as 350,000 people are interned in mandatory drug-detoxification and "re-education through labour" centers, where they can be held without due process for up to three years. Treatment consists of unpaid, forced labour and psychological and moral re-education - marching in formation, repetitive drills and rote repetition of slogans (such as "drug use is bad, I am bad"). The UN special rapporteur on torture has stated that this system "can also be considered as a form of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, if not mental torture".

Such torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is not restricted to drug rehabilitation centers. As UN human rights monitors have observed, it is a fundamental part of many countries' "war against drugs". According to a recent study from Indonesia, which involved interviews with more than 1,000 drug users, 62 percent of participants reported physical abuse at the hands of the police. These incidents ranged from beatings by officers with hands, fists or boots, to cigarette burns to electric shock. Those interviewed said the abuse was usually to coerce confessions or to extort bribes. The UN special rapporteur on torture described as routine the torture and ill-treatment of people who use drugs by Indonesian police.

So which is it, a day against drug abuse or a day against torture? Governments should create national drug policies that ensure access to evidence-based drug treatment. At the same time, they should protect everyone - including drug users - from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It is difficult to see how people who use drugs can get evidence-based drug treatment if they face torture from military or public security forces in drug "treatment and rehabilitation" centers. Unless countries take positive measures to end the use of boot camp-style discipline in the name of the fight against drug abuse, the celebration of June 26 will continue to be two-faced.

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Rebecca Schleifer is advocacy director for the Health and Human Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

No resolution in land fight


Photo by: Tom Hunter
Villagers injured in a March flare-up in Chi Kraeng district seek treatment at Siem Reap Provincial Hospital.


Written by CHRANN CHAMROEUN
Friday, 26 June 2009

Rights groups call on Siem Reap officials to resolve an ongoing land dispute that led to a violent clash with local and military police officers in March

THE government is not moving fast enough to resolve a land dispute in Siem Reap's Chi Kraeng district, which three months ago erupted in violence that injured four villagers and led to the detention of nine others, civil society groups said this week.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of NGOs, issued a statement Monday calling for an "independent and unbiased" investigation into the March 22 clash with local and military police officers.

Villagers from Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes have been fighting over a 92-hectare swath of farmland in Chi Kraeng district since 2005. Siem Reap Provincial Governor Sou Phirin ruled that the land belonged to villagers from Anlong Samnor, and in March offered the Chi Kraeng villagers a social land concession, an offer they rejected.

The violence on March 22 occurred when Chi Kraeng villagers attempted to harvest crops they had planted on the land, rights groups said. Officers opened fire on the demonstrators who refused to disperse, they said.

Hang Chhaya, director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, which is part of CHRAC, said in Monday's statement that Sou Phirin met with CHRAC representatives on April 30 and promised that officials "would speed up a resolution of the dispute and would reinvestigate" the outbreak of violence.

"But there has still not been a resolution to comfort us," he said.

Sou Phirin confirmed Wednesday that the April 30 meeting had occurred but declined to say whether he had vowed to facilitate a resolution to the dispute.

In an interview Wednesday, Hang Chhaya said, "We are sorry for the nine men who are still in pretrial detention. We requested in the [April 30] meeting to call for their release because the real offenders have been free from punishment."

No local or military police officers have been arrested in connection to the case, Hang Chhaya said.

Sou Phirin said Wednesday that the fate of the nine men currently detained was in the hands of the Siem Reap Provincial Court, adding that he could do nothing to influence its decision.

Am Sam Ath, a monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said Thursday that no hearing had been set for the men, who have been held on attempted robbery charges, with the prosecutor asserting that they attempted to steal rice from the land.

In the CHRAC statement issued Monday, Adhoc President Thun Saray said, "The people who are the victims of this land dispute were shot and arrested, while the offenders are free from punishment."

Maritime: Seamanship degrees on horizon

Written by Hor Hab
Friday, 26 June 2009

Maritime

The Cambodia Maritime Institute (CMI) is looking to launch the first programme offering associate's and bachelor's degrees in seamanship this year, officials said Wednesday. Hei Bavy, director general of the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP), said the institute will accept 40 students for the bachelor's degree track and 20 for the associate's degree track. Twelve slots will be reserved for PPAP officials, and the remainder will be open to students. "We will first train people to meet the actual demands of the [PPAP] because the number of ship arrivals to the port is increasing," Hei Bavy said. He added that the two programmes could be delayed until the following academic year if technical and financial support from donors cannot be secured on time. Officials have yet to decide whether participants will need to pay an admission fee, Hei Bavy said.

Hun Sen versus Mu Sochua and the state of democratic reforms


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this month.

Written by SEBASTIAN STRANGIO AND SAM RITH
Friday, 26 June 2009

Observers say the recent legal offensive against government critics raises questions about how far Cambodia has come on the road to democracy - and how far the nation has yet to go

THE National Assembly's decision to strip two opposition lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity on Monday has soured views on the status of democratic reform in Cambodia, with local and international observers saying the gap between the letter of the law and the country's daily reality remains substantial.

On paper, Cambodia has relatively progressive laws: The Kingdom's Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary, and other key pieces of legislation, including the 2001 Land Law, largely conform to international standards.

But with eight separate lawsuits filed against government critics in recent months, including one against Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua after she filed a defamation complaint against Prime Minister Hun Sen, some claim that nearly two decades of NGO- and donor-led reforms have left the bedrock of Cambodian People's Party power largely untouched.

"Things are going back to square one," said Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, a local legal aid group.

Yeng Virak drew a parallel to the 1980s, when he said a layer of "invisible law" held sway in Cambodia, informed by personal patronage and the selective application of formal law. In those days, he said, NGOs making legal arguments that ran counter to "invisible" prerogatives were quickly shut out.

He said those charged with enforcing the law would "refuse to listen" and "ignore the law" altogether.

"But the government is more sophisticated [now] - it is using the legal system," he said.

An authoritarian pattern
According to overseas observers, Cambodia's progress - from the outright violence of the inter-factional fighting of 1997 to the judicial intimidation of the present - is following a familiar path.

"This is a common pattern, evident especially throughout Asia, where autocratic leaders first rely on means of physical violence until they manage to consolidate power within state institutions, particularly the judiciary," said Sorpong Peou, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Now that military threats have subsided, she said, the regime is relying on a quasi-legal framework to stifle dissenting voices - a similar path to that taken by Singapore under Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

But as in Singapore, the government's response to international criticism is that foreign observers somehow do not understand "the realities" of the local culture.

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COMMUNISM... SUPPRESSED ALL NOTION OF THE RULE OF LAW. ... ITS LEGACY IS LIKE A VERY HEAVY IRON BALL TIED TO CAMBODIA's FOOT.
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Hun Sen's warning to foreign observers not to "interfere" in the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of Mu Sochua and Ho Vann matched recent government criticism of international watchdog Global Witness and US Ambassador Carol Rodley for airing corruption allegations.

But how much is Cambodian culture to blame for the stalled progress of legal reforms? Lao Mong Hay, a campaigner at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, said the communist political culture of the 1980s - rather than Cambodia's Buddhist tradition - was to blame for the present state of the rule of law.

The civil law system introduced by the French had planted a seed of judicial independence that was uprooted by the onset of CPP rule in 1979, he said.

"Communism, after the ousting of the Khmer Rouge, suppressed all notion of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary," he said.

"Its legacy is like a very heavy iron ball tied to Cambodia's foot."

Hollow institutions?
Professor Oliver Richmond, director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at University of St Andrews in the United Kingdom, said Cambodia's "misuse" of the law was hardly unique, describing it as "a normal part of a local negotiation with liberal international frameworks".

Although that "misuse" could frustrate reformers in the short term, he said, even unimplemented laws and hollow institutions could help pry apart the government's hold on power.

"I do think that even empty institutions are very influential ... and allow questioning to occur," he said by email.

"But this also provokes local cooption, resistance, fragmentation and misuse."

Meanwhile, judicial officials say they are optimistic that the country is moving in the right direction, despite a lack of resources.

Chiv Keng, head of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said a new Civil Code and the Council of Ministers' approval of the new Penal Code last Friday had put two critical pieces in place.

"When we have adopted the two codes, we can upgrade the courts," he said, though he added that a lack of human resources and funds would continue to hamper the court system.

"Right now, we have enough judges to satisfy about 50 percent of the country's current demand. The salary for clerks is still small, which impacts their attitudes towards work."

Suy Mong Leang, secretary-general of the General Secretariat for Legal and Judicial Reform in the Council of Ministers, said the reform process was necessarily slow but was moving along the right tracks.

"The goal of the program is to establish a legal and judicial framework that is credible, stable and foster[s] the principle of individual rights and freedoms," he told the Post.

To do so, the government has established seven strategic objectives, he said, including efforts to enhance rights awareness; educate judges, notaries and lawyers; and improve access to judicial and legal information and access to legal services.

He said that four model courts - in Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kampong Cham and Banteay Meanchey - would receive extra funding and would serve as centrepieces of the reform program.

The French government, which has provided assistance to bolster the government reform programme, believes that proper training will help close the gap between theory and practice.

"The main challenge for legal and judicial reform in Cambodia is capacity-building (familiarisation with legal texts, professional codes of ethics, etc) and deployment of this training throughout the country," said Fabyene Mansencal, first secretary at the French Embassy.

Opening too quickly
But Suy Mongleang said a major barrier to reform was the pace of the reforms themselves. In the early 1990s, the one-party Cambodian state was thrown into the liberal democratic deep end, he said, adding that many Cambodians were still struggling to find their feet.

"I see that some young people, when they violate the traffic lights, it seems that they're proud of [themselves]," he said.

"Vietnam opened the door to liberal reforms very slowly, but Cambodia [did it all at once]."

He said many reformers' emphasis on "rights" had instilled a sense of entitlement in Cambodia's youth, and that education must also focus on legal and civic duties.

"Usually, NGOs provide lessons and provide training to people about rights. But I tell them, ‘Don't talk just about rights; you have to talk to them about obligations too,'" he said.

Some NGOs remain optimistic that rights-based education will push the country in the right direction. Along with the deterioration in freedom of dissent, Yeng Virak said he has also seen an increased awareness of the law - and a willingness to argue in legal terms.

"[Due to] the level of awareness of rights and increasing public participation of the citizens, I hope that people will dare more to demand rulers and lawmakers to be accountable," he said.

Not everyone shared his optimism. With the courts again being used to narrow the democratic space, Sorpong Peou said foreign donors are unlikely to become a powerful agent of democratic change.

"Donors have no choice but to go along, hoping that the hegemonic power will not turn malignant," she said.

Observers say the recent legal offensive against government critics raises questions about how far Cambodia has come on the road to democracy - and how far the nation has yet to go.