Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Govt refuses to raise teachers’ pay


(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:03 Thet Sambath

THE Cambodian government has refused demands to boost teachers’ salaries, as educators across the country celebrated a tightly controlled World Teachers Day on Monday.

The Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA) called on the government to pay instructors a wage of 1 million riels (US$240) per month, a demand that government authorities said was “unrealistic”.

Ngo Hongly, secretary general of the council for administrative reform at the Council of Ministers, said that the government has already quadrupled teachers’ salaries from an average of approximately 81,000 riels in 2001 to 340,000 riels today.

Teachers also enjoy a 20 percent raise every year, Ngo Hongly said.

However, CITA president Rong Chhun said that only a few teachers make that kind of money. For most, salaries start at only 146,000 riels a month, leaving many educators struggling to survive.

“The government must accept the truth,” he said. “Do not try to hide the truth and the hardship of many teachers with the high salaries of a few.”

Rong Chhun said his estimates were based on surveys of teachers across the country.

The sparring over salaries came after the teachers were barred from staging a public rally on Monday to celebrate World Teachers Day.

Instead, some 100 teachers from 15 provinces marked the day at CITA’s central office in Phnom Penh, where 50 police officers outside kept a close watch on proceedings, the teachers said.

Hun Sen’s bodyguards get reshuffle



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
General Hing Bunheang, commander of RCAF Brigade 70, is set to head a new unit composed of Hun Sen’s personal bodyguards.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:03 Thet Sambath

Defence officials say sub-decree will separate PM’s guards into a distinct unit within RCAF.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has issued a sub-decree consolidating his personal bodyguard unit and giving it official recognition within the military, defence officials said on Monday.

Minister of Defence Tea Banh said the sub-decree, which will form a distinct Bodyguard Headquarters for the premier’s personal protection, is aimed at clearly separating these units from Brigade 70, which provides security for all politicians and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officials.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s guards will be clearly separated from their former Brigade 70 and formed into one legal institution,” Tea Banh said, but denied that the move constituted a consolidation of security forces under the prime minister.

“Every country has a bodyguard headquarters. It is not strange.”

Tea Banh refused to divulge the exact number of bodyguards that would make up the newly formed unit.

In addition to being responsible for Hun Sen’s personal security, the unit will participate in other military duties.

“The bodyguard headquarters have a duty to also help protect the prime minister’s security and to intervene in other places [such as] defence work at the border,” said Ros Chhorm, deputy director general of the Defence Ministry.

According to one bodyguard officer, who declined to be named, the plan to create a distinct bodyguard unit first came up when military reforms began at the start of this year. Under the new sub-decree, he said, Hun Sen’s bodyguards will carry out their own administration and exist as a separate institution under the orders of Hun Sen and his personal bodyguard commander, General Hing Bunheang.

Controversial past
The reshuffle follows a string of harsh criticisms from human rights activists, who have alleged Brigade 70’s involvement in “atrocious” human rights violations.

During a US Congressional rights commission hearing on September 10, Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the unit was involved in protecting those responsible for the 1997 grenade attack that killed at least 16 members of the political opposition.

Local rights workers, however, were divided on whether the reshuffle would clarify the status of Hun Sen’s personal guards.

Chan Soveth, an investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the formation of the unit would help regulate bodyguards and stop people from posing as the premier’s employees to further their own interests.

“This will help reduce the illegal action done by some people who have pretended to be one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguards in order to intimidate other people,” he said. “They shall work for the public, not for individuals.”

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at rights group Licadho, said, however, that unless the new unit exercises control over all the army’s bodyguard units, disorder will continue.

“If this bodyguard headquarters is created only for its own sake and does not govern every bodyguard ... the old problems will continue,” he said.

Promised B Meanchey schools still unbuilt


(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:03 Kim Yuthana

BANTEAY Meanchey residents claim that the construction of school buildings in their province has stalled since one of the school’s benefactors, Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan, was replaced as commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) earlier this year.

Ke Kim Yan was replaced in January by General Pol Saroeun. He now serves as a deputy prime minister and chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.

In June of 2008, Banteay Meanchey’s Thma Pouk district broke ground on eight new school buildings with the financial support of Ke Kim Yan.

Since January of this year, however, progress on the buildings has come to a standstill, Thma Pouk district councillor Yong Yeun said Monday.

“Some of the buildings were 60 percent finished, and others were 80 percent finished when construction suddenly stopped in January”, he said.

The district councillor added that though the stoppage coincided with Ke Kim Yan’s ouster as RCAF head, he and other local officials have yet to receive any official explanation for it.

“Ke Kim Yan promised to build these buildings,” said Treung Teoung, vice superintendent of Thma Pouk High School. “I don’t know why they’re still in this condition.”

Pok Saluy, a Banteay Meanchey provincial councillor, said he was aware that construction efforts had slowed, but that the delay resulted from a holdup in the renewal of funds necessary to continue the project. He added that Ke Kim Yan was just one among a number of donors supporting the construction.

Ke Kim Yan could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Villagers protest ‘tolls’



(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:02 Tep Nimol and Mom Kunthear

A STRING of illegal checkpoints manned by area police has become a serious problem for nearly 1,000 families in Banteay Meanchey province, said residents of Thmor Pouk district.

Local representative Van Savy said that seven illegal checkpoints were operating along the 15 kilometres of road passing through the district.

“Each checkpoint will demand five or six thousand riels from anyone transporting firewood or charcoal,” he said, adding that the “tolls” were especially tough on the area’s mostly poor residents.

Soum Chankea, a provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that the officers who ran the checkpoints were enriching themselves at the expense of the public good and that they should be fired.

“These men aren’t confiscating illegal goods or stopping crimes. They only extort from the people transporting what little they have to sell at the market in order to put money in their pockets,” he said.

Deputy district Governor Ham Sam Ang said that she was unaware of any illegal checkpoints in her district.

“As far as I know, there are only the two legal checkpoints in my district, but I will take measures to reassess the situation,” she said.

Adjusting to life in China’s shadow



Photo by: AFP
Chinese premier Mao Tse Tung and then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk survey a mass gathering in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square following Sihanouk’s overthrow in March 1970.

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CHINESE AID OFFERS AN ESCAPE HATCH FOR COUNTRIES UNDER PRESSURE FROM THE WEST...
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(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:02 Sebastian Strangio

As the government accepts millions of Chinese aid and investment dollars, observers remain divided on whether Beijing’s meteoric rise will help or hinder the country over the long term.

AT a September 14 ceremony marking the construction of the US$128 million Cambodia-China Prek Kdam Friendship Bridge in Kandal province, Prime Minister Hun Sen hailed the recent growth in aid and investment from China, saying it was helping to strengthen the country’s “political independence”.

“China respects the political decisions of Cambodia,” he told his audience. “They are quiet, but at the same time they build bridges and roads, and there are no complicated conditions.”

With a flourishing economy and a new-found international confidence, China is on the rise in Southeast Asia, and Cambodia – a small but important corner of Beijing’s regional backyard – has been one of the key beneficiaries.

Last month, officials announced they were looking to secure $600 million in Chinese funds for infrastructure projects, including two bridges and the rehabilitation of National Road 8 linking Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces.

The announcement came on top of the $880 million in loans and grants received since 2006, including the $280 million Kamchay Dam in Kampot and the recently-completed $30 million Council of Ministers building.

Chinese embassy spokesman Qian Hai said Chinese investments in the Kingdom totalled about $4.5 billion, a success built on a policy of respecting Cambodia’s right to deal with its own affairs.

“We do not interfere in the internal affairs of Cambodia,” he said, adding that Phnom Penh has reciprocated by recognising Beijing’s One-China Policy, which advocates peaceful reunification between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. “We always respect each other’s sovereignty.”

Southeast Asian push
As in countries across the developing world, China’s global sales pitch – millions of dollars in aid and investment decoupled from the issue of human rights or democratic reform – has won it many friends in Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen’s remarks about Chinese “non-interference”, however, have opened up a fresh debate about the long-term effect of Chinese aid and investment to Cambodia, with observers remaining divided on whether China’s rising tide will uplift the country or scuttle its progress on human rights and reforms.

International analysts say China’s policies in Cambodia are only one aspect of its engagement with the region as a whole – a strategy based on re-establishing its traditional role as the “Middle Kingdom” in the region.

Carl Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Sydney, said China’s strategy of “non-interference” had won the country increasing influence in Southeast Asia, where it is seen as a shield against pressure from the United States and other Western countries.

“Chinese aid offers an escape hatch for countries under pressure from the West [that] promote human rights and democratic reform,” Thayer said.

Rights and wrongs
Inevitably, the rising Chinese influence has prompted concerns that funds could wean the government off Western aid “burdened” with human-rights and good-governance conditions – rolling back democratic reforms implemented since the early 1990s.

Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and the author of Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World, said Chinese aid was likely to have a “corrosive” effect on good governance and human rights in Asia.

“Hun Sen knows how to play China off of the Western donor group, and China’s aid – even if not necessarily linked to any downgrading of human rights – could have the effect of a kind of race to the bottom on human rights,” he said.

Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at the US-based Human Rights Watch, agreed that unconditional Chinese aid to Cambodia could act as a “financial lifeline” that might otherwise be cut by Western donors.

She said, however, that Western nations often failed to work together effectively to set and enforce aid conditions in Cambodia, meaning that China’s growing presence was unlikely to have any long-term effect on human rights.

“The most important point – and key problem – is that the government in Phnom Penh ... seems determined to be extraordinarily abusive, regardless of whoever’s money is on offer,” she said by email.

The weight of history
Cambodia, like many Southeast Asian countries, has had a long and stormy relationship with Beijing.

Chinese leaders had a close friendship with then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk during the 1950s and 1960s, and offered Sihanouk asylum after he was overthrown by a republican coup in March 1970.

China’s staunch support for the Khmer Rouge regime soured the relationship for the remainder of the Cold War, leading Hun Sen to refer to China in a 1988 essay as “the root of everything that was evil” in Cambodia.

But as memories of Cambodia’s long civil war have faded, historical grievances have been replaced by more practical concerns.

After Hun Sen ousted then-first Prince Norodom Ranariddh in the factional fighting of July 1997, China was the first country to recognise his rule.

Balancing East and West
Despite a recent influx of Chinese yuan, there is no indication the government is ready to turn its back on the West.

Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst based in Phnom Penh, said that growing Chinese influence would likely be used to counterbalance the influence of Western countries – a vital strategy for a country of Cambodia’s size.

“I think that what the government is trying to do is to diversify its aid.... It is eager to strike a balance,” she said.

“As a sovereign government, Cambodia needs aid from both sources.”

Regarding the possibility that Chinese aid could erode human rights, Chea Vannath said global winds were blowing in the opposite direction, promoting pluralism and transparency through international groupings such as ASEAN and the World Trade Organisation. Cambodia is a member of both bodies.

Kurlantzick also cited the increasing openness of Beijing’s aid and investments in Cambodia, saying that donors were “less in the dark” about Chinese money than previously, thus increasing the potential for future cooperation.

Thayer agreed that rumours of a drop in Western influence were exaggerated and said countries had little to gain from throwing their lot in exclusively with one side or the other.

“All the countries of Southeast Asia, to varying extent, have long adjusted to China’s rise and political influence,” he said.

“They do not want to be put in a position of having to choose between China and the United States.”

Thayer noted that the US is still Cambodia’s largest export market, and that President Barack Obama had encouraged trade with Cambodia as a means of recouping American prestige amid a region in which it has a troubled recent past.

Ultimately, Chea Vannath said, Chinese influence – dating back to the 11th century – is a permanent reality for Cambodia but one that, in combination with contributions from the US and Europe, stands to deliver long-term benefits for the Kingdom.

“Culturally and historically, on and off, good and bad, we’ll always have China with us,” she said.

UN spotlights evictions for Habitat Day


(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:02 May Titthara

Government defends removal of ‘illegal’ families from capital.

THE UN on Monday urged the government to consider the effects of development on the urban poor, while city officials stood by policies that have led to the forced evictions of thousands of Phnom Penh families in recent years, during events held to mark World Habitat Day.

Somethearith Din, programme manager for UN Habitat in Cambodia, said the government should at the very least refrain from relocating evicted families far from the city centre – as it has done to communities such as Dey Krahorm and Group 78.

“The government should construct cheap housing for poor people in Phnom Penh or find companies to invest in communities like Borei Keila,” he said, referring to the HIV community that was evicted to the Tuol Sambo relocation site earlier this year.
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If we do not operate like this, they will sell their land to other people....
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In response, an official from the municipal Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said many of the relocated families had been living illegally in the capital, adding that the city had little choice given the influx of migrants from the provinces in recent years.

“The problem we are facing in this city is illegal residents because people are coming from the provinces hoping to find a job here,” said Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, the department’s deputy director.

He added that the families would ultimately profit from their evictions because they would be given land titles after five years.

Somethearith Din said he was aware that the city was facing an influx of migrants as a result of limited economic opportunities in the provinces, but added that City Hall needs to devise policies that respected the rights of families already settled in the capital.

Their comments came at a press conference in Phnom Penh held to mark World Habitat Day, which is observed by the UN every October.

In a statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that urban-planning schemes only work “where there is good governance and where the urban poor are brought into the decisions that affect their lives”.

Earlier in the day, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun, speaking at a separate event, defended the recent evictions, as well as the policy of making families wait five years to receive land titles.

“If we do not operate like this, they will sell their land to other people and come back to live illegally in the city again,” he said.

Karaoke club owner accused of forcing girls into prostitution


(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:02 Meas Sokchea

THE owner of a karaoke club in Siem Reap province was arrested by police on Monday following a raid that discovered 13 girls confined to the club’s premises.

During a raid on Hang Pich karaoke bar, in Siem Reap’s Thvay Dangkom commune, local police said they discovered the girls – some of whom were as young as 13 – who they believed were being forced into prostitution.

Siem Reap provincial deputy police Chief Um Amara said he believed the girls were confined to the club and were forced to provide sexual services to patrons.

Two of the 13 girls were around 13 years of age, he added, and had both been recently reported missing from their homes in Phnom Penh and Poipet town, in Banteay Meanchey province.

“Thirteen girls were detained and another three were released,” he said, adding that some of the girls remained in police custody for their own safety.

Um Amara said the case of the karaoke parlour owner, who is being held at Siem Reap provincial police headquarters, was being prepared and would be sent to the court shortly.

A Siem Reap deputy prosecutor declined to comment in detail, except to say that owner Kim Chhay was expected to be charged by the court within three days.

Possible caps on investment by foreigners concern telcos



Mobile-phone handsets are displayed at a Mobitel mobile-phone shop in Phnom Penh. Firms in the sector say they are concerned that a new telecoms law will limit foreign ownership. BLOOMBERG

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:01 Steve Finch

Companies describe parts of draft telecoms law, including relicensing issue, as vague in final meeting before formally submitting feedback to government

MOBILE phone executives were due to finalise a joint private-sector submission Monday afternoon on a forthcoming telecoms law that contains a provision that some have said appears to limit foreign ownership within the sector.

In a meeting with Australian law firm Allens Arthur Robinson, company heads from the Kingdom’s mobile providers were due to put the finishing touches to a response that is due to be passed on to the government.

Marae Ciantar, head of Allens Arthur Robinson in Cambodia and Thailand, said late last week that a provisional nine-page response earlier obtained by the Post could be revised during the meeting.

That document, which was collated from the private sector’s comments prior to Monday’s meeting, describes Article 34, which “permits the Minister [of Posts and Telecommunications] to impose limits on the level of ownership in the telecommunications sector” as “vague” in its current form.

It goes on to suggest that such a provision might contravene World Trade Organisation rules, which it says prevent Cambodia putting caps on foreign ownership in the sector from January 1 this year, except on land.

With a high level of foreign ownership in the sector, companies have said they remain worried about the government’s intentions.

“There is genuine concern over this point,” said Hello CEO Simon Perkins before the meeting Monday. “If a cap is imposed on foreign ownership, then the owners may have to sell part of their share-holding.”

Hello is majority owned by Kuala Lumpur-based Axiata.

“Putting a bar like this on existing licences is not fair and will definitely impact future investments by current investors,” Farouq Abu Saleh the chief operating officer of Cambodia Advance Communications Ltd (CADCOMMS), which operates the qb brand, said Monday.

Mobitel courts investors
Market leader Mobitel is being restructured as Luxembourg-based Millicom International sells its majority stake to Cambodian-based Royal Group, but the company is reported to have spoken to a number of foreign investors about the deal – tipped to be completed by the first quarter of 2010 – including France Telecom and NTT DoCoMo of Japan.

Royal Group’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Hanna was not available for comment Monday.

The telecoms law would establish a regulator for the sector and clarify rules on a number of issues, including pricing, interconnectivity, infrastructure sharing and a transition period following initiation of the legislation.

The transition period will require all companies to obtain new licences, which is “the private sector’s most significant concern”, according to the feedback in the Allens Arthur Robinson document seen by the Post.

Transitional period
The draft states that companies will be given 12 months to apply for a new licence “upon the receipt of the announcement by the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia”.

“There is no guarantee that the new licences will actually be issued or that, if issued, that they would recognise the existing rights of the applicable operators,” the private sector document says.

Monday afternoon’s meeting was not concluded by the time the Post went to press, but Marae Ciantar said earlier that the final draft of the feedback would be submitted to the government in the near future.

Smart Mobile CEO Thomas Hundt declined to comment on the specifics of the draft law or his company’s feedback Monday.

“Yes, we have some points we would like to clarify or discuss that should be adapted, and I think the majority of operators have given comments,” he said.

“Now it is a matter for the private-sector working group to come up with a common view.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NATHAN GREEN

Capital's freight rises again



Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Ships sit docked at Phnom Penh Autonomous Port. The capital has seen freight volumes rise for the past three months on the back of the new trade route to South Vietnam’s Cai Mep port.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:01 Chun Sophal

Phnom Penh Autonomous Port saw freight volumes increase last month, showing good Q3 results as Sihanoukville suffers

FREIGHT exports through the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port continued to increase in September after gains in both July and August followed year-on-year losses in the first six months of 2009.

Official figures obtained by the Post Monday show the port handled 4,484 outbound 20-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) in September, up 22.7 percent on the same month last year, when 3,654 TEUs were handled.

The increase follows a 22.65 percent rise in outbound cargo in August, which saw 5,063 TEUs shipped down the Mekong, compared with just 4,128 TEUs a year earlier. July exports through the port were up 0.84 percent year-on-year to 4,191 TEUs.

Falling exports in the first six months of the year mean outbound throughput volumes still fell 11 percent year-on-year across the first nine months of 2009 from 36,079 TEUs to 32,087 TEUs.

Port deputy director Eang Veng Sun said exports began to recover following the launch of the Cai Mep deepwater port in southern Vietnam’s Ba Ria Vung Tau province.

“Our shipment activity has increased a lot after the Vietnamese deepwater port Cai Mep launched its official operation in June this year,” he said.

Shipping goods down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh and then out through the port to the United States – a key export market for Cambodia – was much faster than through Sihanoukville International Port on Cambodia’s south coast, he said.

Sihanoukville suffers
Because Sihanoukville lacks a deepwater port, goods have to be transferred to Singapore, Taiwan or Hong Kong in smaller vessels before being loaded into a larger container ship for the journey across the Pacific.

Eang Veng Sun said the port had struggled in the first six months of the year as the global economic crisis began to devastate the country’s export sector.

Shipments of garments, by far the country’s main merchandise export, fell 18 percent in the first half of the year, according to government figures.

“Shipments began dropping at the beginning of the year, but it is not very serious as shipment activity at the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port is now recovering,” Eang Veng Sun said.

Hin Theany, a division general manager at Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), said the firm shipped 481 TEUs of goods from the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port to Vietnam Cai Mep Port and 460 TEUs in August.

She said the shipments through Phnom Penh Autonomous Port accounted for 65 percent of the firm’s shipments, with the remainder going through Sihanoukville International Port.

“Our shipments through the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port increased during August and September because of an increase in purchase orders of sweatshirts from abroad for winter,” she said.

Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, which is still Cambodia’s largest shipping facility, said last month that gross tonnage coming through the port fell by 10.5 percent over the first eight months of the year, while the number of containers handled fell by 23 percent.

South Korea to sign energy, mining deal



(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:00 Cheang Sokha

CAMBODIA is set to sign an agreement on energy and mining exploration with South Korea when the country’s President Lee Myung-bak makes a state visit to the Kingdom late this month, a government spokesman said Monday.

Shin Jae-hyun, South Korea’s visiting ambassador in charge of energy and natural resources cooperation, held a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday to discuss plans for joint study agreements in Cambodia, said Eang Sophalleth, the prime minister’s spokesman.

But further details of the proposed deal were not immediately available, including whether the energy deal would apply to offshore or onshore exploration.

Cambodia has a number of onshore concessions that remain unexplored, although the government is only accepting offshore bids for disputed Area IV in the Gulf of Thailand.

Eang Sophalleth said that Cambodia and South Korea signed a memorandum of understanding on energy and mining resources when Prime Minister Hun Sen visited Seoul in June.

Hun Sen expressed hope that, after the agreement is signed, South Korea and Cambodia will use the Kingdom’s energy and mining resources for its further development, said Eang Sophalleth.

“The two countries have established a joint study commission,” Eang Sophalleth quoted Shin Jae-hyun as saying.

Officials at the South Korean embassy in Phnom Penh declined Monday to give the date of the president’s visit, pending an official announcement, but press reports said it would be from October 22 to 23.


(Post by CAAI News media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:00 SOUEN SAY

THE Ministry of Finance is set to ink a long-awaited deal this month or next with South Korean developer World City to build a US$6 million, four-storey stock exchange in Phnom Penh.

Mey Vann, director of the ministry’s financial industry department, said no exact date had been set, but that “we want to do it this month”.

Kheng Ser, assistant to World City Vice President Duk-Kon Kim, the developer of the $2 billion Camko City satellite city to the north of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake, also said the signing was expected to take place this month, but he acknowledged that it could still be delayed until November.

“We don’t know the date yet,” he said. “Now we are waiting for answer from the Ministry of Finance to clarify the date, and that will depend on them,” he said.

Architectural plans for the building are still to be finalised after ministry officials sent the initial plans back for modifications in July for not being Khmer enough.

The revised plans were due to be signed by the end of September, but Mey Vann said the new plans are still being modified “a little bit”.

The building is expected to take eight months to complete once the green light is given. A further three months will then be needed to test electronic equipment on-site before the building can open, Duk-kon Kim previously told the Post.

The launch of the new bourse has been repeatedly pushed back, and officials are now reluctant to say when it will open. It was initially slated to launch September 9, but that was revised to “before the end of the year” as that date approached. It is now widely expected that the bourse will not be launched until late 2010.

Ministry warns telcos



Photo by: Sovan Philong

A Beeline promoter makes a call last month.

(Post by CAAI News media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:00 Steve Finch and Nathan Green

Letter on pricing and interconnectivity 'crisis' in mobile industry sent to prime minister's office

THE Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance have attempted to bring a dispute in the mobile-phone sector under control through an inter-ministerial circular released last week promising to crack down on “unfair competition”.

In the September 29 circular, a copy of which was sent to the prime minister’s office and all mobile-phone operators, MPTC Minister So Khun and Finance Minister Keat Chhon called on companies to “cease immediately any advertising, programmes and strategies for market competition, any blocking of interconnection between networks, which have caused the telecom crisis in Cambodia”.

Although the letter doesn’t specify the “crisis”, it is almost certainly referring to a feud between Mobitel and Beeline that led the former to launch legal action against its Russian-based rival in August over alleged price-dumping, an accusation most operators in Cambodia have backed. Meanwhile, Beeline says Mobitel has blocked interconnectivity, thereby undermining consumers’ interests, and has in turn been accused of using Mobitel’s prefixes to circumvent the blocks.

Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun, who is overseeing the case at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, declined to comment further on the case Monday.

Last week’s letter represents stronger wording on the issue by MPTC, which last month set up a task force under MPTC Secretary of State Sarak Khan to create a new sub-decree or prakas (edict) to address the problem.

The letter singles out “free of charge” call tariffs – that would appear to include Beeline’s “Super Zero” tariff launched last month, which charges only for the first minute of any call up to 15 minutes’ duration.

Beeline’s General Manager Gael Campan said Monday that the company “charged for every call”. He has previously said that Beeline’s pricing policies do not constitute price-dumping, as the company could be profitable on its overall service offering. “Right now we’re just going to keep feeding the government with information [on our pricing policies],” he said.

Mark Hanna, chief financial officer at Royal Group, which owns a stake in Mobitel, was unavailable for comment.

Although last week’s circular appears to address the Beeline and Mobitel conflict in particular, Smart Mobile also appears to have been dragged into the wider dispute over pricing.

Cyprus-registered Smart Mobile is the only operator other than Beeline to offer free minutes within network under its “Wow” plan, which offers 30 minutes of free calls daily within the network for those who top up with more than US$5 credit. Those who add less than $5 can get 20 minutes of free calling daily.

Smart Mobile CEO Thomas Hundt said Monday the company was still analysing the inter-ministerial circular and would not comment until it had determined a response.

In the circular, the ministers called on operators to abide by its provisions from September 29, but Hundt confirmed Smart Mobile had not altered its pricing plans or its advertising.

Tax problem raised
The circular also said that offering “free calls” within networks or calls across networks at a price “lower than the one fixed by the state” robbed the government of tax revenues by reducing company profits, adding that any firm that violated tax law would be subject to government legal action.

One tax expert, who asked not to be named, said Monday that special pricing plans did not violate tax laws and called the proposal “without precedent” for Cambodia.

“Even if a temporary market penetration strategy of the enterprise causes it to make no profits for a certain period, tax authorities will have to accept that under the letter of Cambodian tax law,” the expert said.

Government-private sector tax committee Co-chair Edwin Vanderbruggen acknowledged Monday that telecom operators “have been struggling with Cambodia’s tax laws and policy for some time now” but said the General Department of Taxation was consulting with the private sector on how “these issues can best be clarified”.

“There remain a number of uncertainties in applying tax laws to various types of telecommunication services, particularly in terms of Specific Tax, Withholding Tax and VAT,” he said.

Khmer brew: exploring the parviflora tea strain



Photo by: JOHAN SMITS
Cambodia's little-known tea heritage still secretly flowers in Kirirom National Park.

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There's no need to travel to the himalayas – a day trip to kirirom will do.”
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(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:00 JOHAN SMITS

In the first instalment of a three-part Tuesday teatime series, we trace the legacy of a royally ordained Cambodian tea plantation – plus a local strain of the popular plant

Does the plant name Camellia sinensis parviflora ring a bell? Probably not. Although you may not have heard of it, you probably have drunk it. It’s the Latin name for one of the world’s three main varieties of the Camellia sinensis, more commonly known as tea. Furthermore, sinensis parviflora is known as the “Cambodia plant” in English.

The two others are the China plant (sinensis sinensis) and the Assam, India, plant (sinensis assamica). Yet with the Cambodia plant’s being one of the three main varieties of tea on earth, how come Cambodia isn’t one of the world’s leading tea-producing countries?

Defining tea
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Cambodia variety is “a single-stem tree growing to about 5 metres in height, it is not cultivated but has been naturally crossed with other varieties”.

Botanist David Ashwell said there’s no real indication that the parviflora variety is native to Cambodia, as the plant is often referred to as a hybrid of the Chinese and Assam varieties.

It’s not known when the first tea was cultivated, but there is a general consensus that it was discovered in China. “It’s possible [parviflora was] hybridised in China and brought here. The hybridisation could have occurred in nature or in horticulture,” Ashwell said.

In the book Useful Plants of Cambodia by Dy Phon (2006), there’s mention of tea plants in Kirirom National Park and in Mondulkiri. Ashwell says he has no idea where in Mondulkiri the plant may be growing, but in Kirirom, overgrown remnants of an old tea plantation can still be found.

Royal reference
During the inauguration ceremony of Kirirom Park in 1995, Ashwell remembers how now-King Father Norodom Sihanouk referred to a former tea plantation in his speech.

Ambassador Julio Jeldres, Norodom Sihanouk’s official biographer, said via email that “the tea for the plantation was offered by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai of the People’s Republic of China.

“The land for the plantation belonged to the state and was made available by the King Father,” he said.

Chay Teuth, Director of Kirirom National Park, also said that the planting of tea started in 1962.

Today, many tea plants can still be found growing in the wild in Kirirom Park, where the old plantation used to be, not far from the King Father’s former summer residence. All teas – whether a grassy green, a buttery oolong or a hearty black – come from the same species of plant.

It’s the variety of the plant, soil conditions, altitude, rainfall and the processing that make the difference in the end result: the most-consumed beverage in the world after water.

But what happened to the tea plantation after the war?

A 1996 article in the Post recounts how 1,500 hectares of Kirirom were signed over to a private Cambodian investor, who planned to establish a tea plantation, despite the region’s being declared part of Cambodia’s system of national parks by Royal Decree in 1993. The old prewar tea plantation, which measured some 300 hectares, was part of it.

One year later, in 1997, the Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper reported that the investor had sold many hectares of the park, installed a sawmill and destroyed the plantation.

Local opportunism
Nowadays, it’s believed that some of the surviving tea plants are harvested opportunistically, on a small scale, by locals.

One of the park rangers, Thy, explained that a big fire destroyed a lot of the plants sometime around 1990.

He also mentioned that a French-Cambodian entrepreneur, who owned the plantation at one stage after the war, passed away and nobody took over from him.

It’s not clear whether this is the same investor who acquired the 1,500 hectares in 1996, but his passing resulted in the growth of many tea plants in the wild.

The tea plant is an evergreen tree that grows well at a certain altitude in tropical and subtropical regions with plenty of rainfall. Kirirom’s high-altitude plateau is ideal for it, and the tea plants there produce a beautiful white flower.

Beneficial
Along with the fact that fresh tea leaves contain about half of the amount of caffeine found in coffee, the natural antioxidant properties of tea have helped it to become one of the world’s most popular drinks.

The global acceptance of tea is attributed to Chinese Buddhist priests, who travelled to Japan and took their valuable commodity to Russia and Europe via the trade routes of the Silk Road.

That eventually resulted in the worldwide popularity of tea and opened the trade routes to America, Great Britain, India and Africa.

However, if you’re feeling down in Phnom Penh and fancy some fresh tea leaves for an uplifting brew, there’s no need to travel to the Indian foothills of the Himalayas anymore – a short day trip to Kirirom will do the trick.

Picking your own leaves may equate to one of the more labour-intensive ways of brewing a cuppa – but it would also surely make one of the most satisfying cups you’re ever likely to taste.

The second part of this tea series, to be published October 13, will delve into Phnom Penh’s only two premium tea shops.

Van Chanvey rises to second



Photo by: Robert Starkweather
Nuon Mony (left, blue shorts) earned his first win of the CTN lightweight tournament Sunday, edging past fellow training partner Bheut Bunthoeun

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:00 Robert Starkweather

VAN Chanvey stopped Song Saruth in the second round with low kicks, and Nuon Mony slipped past Bheut Bunthoeun for a points victory Sunday in lightweight tournament bouts at the CTN boxing arena.

Van Chanvey worked patiently for a round and a half, slowly chopping away at Song Saruth’s legs with low kicks. In the middle of the second round, Song Saruth tumbled to the canvas in agony, and Chan Dara, Song Saruth’s corner man, threw in the towel.

In the second bout, Bheut Bunthoeun could not find any answers for Nuon Mony’s slippery defense. Bheut Bunthoeun appeared the stronger fighter, but Nuon Mony kept him on the outside with jabs and kicks, and countered effectively as Bheut Bunthoeun tried to charge inside.

The victory gives Nuon Mony his first win of the tournament, while Bheut Bunthoeun has lost all six of his bouts to remain the only winless fighter.

The eight-man round-robin tournament began July 19.

After the round-robin schedule is complete, the top four finishers will advance to the semifinals, where first will face fourth and second fights third. The winners of those matches will advance to fight for the tournament title, while the losers will contest for third place.

First place will be granted a title shot against Lao Sinath, the 60-kilogram champion.

After Sunday’s bouts, the top four in order are Kao Roomchang, Van Chanvey, Long Sophy and Vung Noy.

The next fights are scheduled to start at 2:30pm at the CTN boxing arena this Sunday, with Kao Roomchang facing Naem Chanda and Long Sophy up against Vung Noy.

Police Blotter: 6 Oct 2009



(Post by CAAI News Media)

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:01 Chhay Channyda

MYSTIC MURDERED IN BANTEAY MEANCHEY
In Banteay Meanchey province, a man was arrested on Saturday for allegedly killing a fortune-teller on September 24. Preah Net Preah district police said the suspect confessed to killing his 44-year-old fellow resident of Smach village because he suspected that the mystic had cast a spell on his wife. The victim, a former soldier with both his legs amputated, was killed while asleep. He is survived by his wife and five children.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

KAMPOT DRUNKARD ASSAULTS IN-LAW
A man in Kampot who is suspected of attempting to rape his mother-in-law was arrested by police on Thursday. Police said the 28-year-old man, who was drunk at the time of the incident, went to his mother-in-law’s house looking for his wife. The man then allegedly tried to rape his mother-in-law after she insulted him for being a drunkard and having no money. The wife, who was in an adjacent room, heard the commotion and called the police.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

WINDOW BANDIT BUSTED BY POLICE
A man in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of property damage. The 28-year-old suspect was drinking with his friend when the pair decided to steal glass panels from area homes. The pair had stolen panels from several homes when the suspect was arrested by police after stopping to rest and consume alcohol. Police are now hunting for the second suspect in the case.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

DO-GOODER ATTRACKED WITH MEAT CLEAVER
A man in Banteay Meanchey province was apprehended by police last Tuesday on suspicion of assaulting a 41-year-old man with a cleaver. Preah Net Preah district police said the victim filed a complaint stating that the suspect threatened him with the knife. The victim was trying to intervene in a conflict between the suspect and another man when he was knocked unconscious.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

PURSAT MAN ACCUSED OF RAPE
A man was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of raping a 20-year-old woman in Kravanah district, Pursat province. Police said parents of the victim accused the man of raping a mentally ill woman on September 29 outside her home. The suspect denied the allegations, claiming that he had only approached her because he was concerned for her well-being.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief


(Post by CAAI News Media)

In Brief: Bourse prakas passed

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:00 Nguon Sovan

CAMBODIA’S securities regulator signed off on two prakas (edicts) Friday, one regulating securities firms and the other setting out rules for operators within the securities market, said a statement Friday by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia (SECC). The prakas are part of 30 being prepared by the SECC to run the bourse, it said. Among the minimum financial requirements set, securities firms wishing to underwrite offerings must have minimum capital of US$9.52 million, dealers $6 million, brokers $1.42 million and investment advisors $0.97 million, the prakas said.

In Brief: New taxi firm launches

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 15:00 Chun Sophal

CAMBODIA’S second taxi company began operations in the capital Monday with a fleet of 20 vehicles. South Korean-owned Trans Choice Cambodia Co has earmarked US$3 million to set up the company and has already spent $500,000 to buy its starting fleet and employ and train 60 drivers, company spokesman Din Radeth said. The company, which is operating under a 20-year licence from the government, will go head-to-head with Global Trade Development (Cambodia) of China, the Kingdom’s first metred taxi service – and the city's tuk-tuks and motodops – for passengers.

Chalerm attacked for video threat


By The Nation
Published on October 6, 2009

(Post by CAAI News media)


Chalerm

Veteran opposition politician Chalerm Yoobamrung came under fire yesterday for his threat to send to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen a video of Kasit Piromya - now the foreign minister - criticising him.

Kasit, formerly a senior diplomat, made critical remarks about Hun Sen when he participated in a protest by the People's Alliance for Democracy last year, shortly before he became foreign minister.

MR Priyanandhana Rangsit, an appointed senator who is deputy chair of the Senate committee on foreign affairs, said yesterday it would be improper for Chalerm to act in such a way.

"It is really improper to attack someone with a matter of the past. It's not a good idea for ties between the two countries and between Kasit and Samdech Hun Sen," she said, referring to the Cambodian leader by his Cambodian title.

She said Kasit's status had changed and he was now the Thai foreign affairs minister and no longer an activist affiliated with the PAD.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said it appeared Chalerm was trying every way possible to get his political camp back into power and acting for their benefit. "That could cause damage to the country," he said.

But Suthep said he had no concern that Chalerm's move might threaten ties with Phnom Penh, as he believed the Cambodian leader had a good grasp of Thai politics.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen is a senior politician with a good understanding of politics. I don't think I need to call him [to explain about the matter]. But if I have time, I will call on him again to talk about bilateral ties. We must keep good ties with our neighbours," he said.

Suthep visited Hun Sen a few months ago following a border dispute between the two countries.

Storm stalls off Philippines, drenches Taiwan


AP Photo - Residents go on their daily business amidst flooding at Santa Cruz township Sunday Oct. 4, 2009 in Laguna province south of Manila, Philippines. Tropical storm Ketsana brought the worst flooding in metropolitan Manila and neighboring provinces in more than 40 years. Landslide buried two families in the Philippines as they sheltered from Asia's latest deadly typhoon which killed at least 16 people and left more than a dozen flooded villages cut off Sunday.


AP Photo - Buildings are seen under in floodwaters following the passage of Typhoon Parma in Nabua township, Camarines Sur province, Philippines, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009. Landslides buried two families in the Philippines as they sheltered in their homes from Asia's latest deadly typhoon, which killed at least 16 people and left more than a dozen villages flooded Sunday.


AP Photo - A Child evacuee eats his meal as he and another remain housed at a covered court at an elementary school in San Pedro township, Laguna province south of Manila, Philippines, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009. Tropical storm Ketsana brought the worst flooding in metropolitan Manila and neighboring provinces in more than 40 years. Landslide buried two families in the Philippines as they sheltered from Asia's latest deadly typhoon which left more than a dozen flooded villages cut off Sunday.


By JIM GOMEZ; Associated Press Writer
Published: 10/05/09
(Post by CAAI News Media)

MANILA, Philippines -- Typhoon Parma weakened into a tropical storm but lingered off the northern Philippine coast Monday, causing widespread flooding and landslides that have killed 16 in the country and churning up rough seas that sank a cargo ship off neighboring Taiwan.

The Taiwanese coast guard said 10 crew members of a Panamanian cargo ship are missing after the vessel sank in the Taiwan Strait near the Bashi channel, which separates the island from the Philippines.

Chief Philippine government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said Parma headed northwest into the South China Sea after blowing across the country's north, which is still reeling from an earlier storm that killed almost 300 people. Parma was now almost still because Typhoon Melor, which blew into Philippine waters Monday from the west, was pulling it back toward the coast.

Parma can still roar back into the country and will continue to dump heavy rain, Cruz said. The storm was located 137 miles (220 kilometers) off northern Laoag city, packing winds of 65 mph (105 kph) and gusts of up to 84 mph (135 kph).

Typhoon Melor over the northern Pacific Ocean was pushing west, Cruz said. It was too far off the coast to affect the rain-soaked northern Philippines and was expected to blow toward southern Japan later this week, he said.

Parma hit the main island of Luzon on Saturday. Flooding and landslides over the weekend killed at least 16 people, but the capital, Manila - still awash in floodwaters from another storm barely a week earlier - was spared a new disaster.

In Taiwan, authorities had issued landslide and flash flooding warnings for eastern and southern areas in preparation, and evacuated 6,582 residents from vulnerable regions.

Officials at the Coast Guard Administration said three of 14 crew members onboard the Panamanian-registered Silver Sea are safe after the ship went down in heavy seas Sunday in the Taiwan Strait. It said one has been confirmed dead while 10 others are missing.

Parma spared Taiwan its full brunt Monday, veering off its southwestern coast.

Still, it brought very heavy rains. The Central Weather Bureau reported 29 inches (746 millimeters) of precipitation in the eastern county of Yilan since Sunday. That comes just weeks after a deadly typhoon hit southern Taiwan causing torrential rains and the island's worst flooding in decades.

Parma hit the Philippines just eight days after a Tropical Storm Ketsana inundated Manila and surrounding provinces, killing almost 300 people. Saturday's storm dropped more rain on the capital, slowing the cleanup and making conditions more miserable.

Still, classes in and around Manila were reopened Monday after a weeklong closure, except where schools were turned into evacuation centers.

At the Santa Elena High School in flood-hit Marikina city, east of Manila, muddied teachers and students turned up for class. They were still coming to terms with their ordeal.

"We were near tears because of the situation, especially over the past days when the students were texting us that they have lost their homes," said teacher Virma Mariano. "We have teachers who went through a near-death experience when they were being chased by the flood, they went from one roof to the other."

Army troops and firefighters shoveled mud off the school grounds. A sodden heap of damaged books lay outside the library, now a messy tangle of wooden furniture and soaked papers. Young students gazed as troops struggled to clean up their devastated school.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro toured flood-ruined farming regions in northern Bulacan province. He said it remained uncertain when the devastated regions can fully recover.

Last week, Ketsana killed at least 288 people and damaged the homes of 3 million in the Philippines before striking other Southeast Asian nations, killing 162 in Vietnam, 18 in Cambodia and at least 16 in Laos.

UN looks to long-term recovery plans after slew of disasters in Asia-Pacific



Filipinos go hand-in-hand to help each other who were caught in the flood

(Post by CAAI News Media)
5 October 2009 – United Nations agencies are mobilizing to provide longer-term recovery aid to a raft of countries in Asia and the Pacific, where a relentless barrage of tropical storms, earthquakes and tsunamis have hit millions of people in recent days.
“Within hours after the catastrophes hit, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began working in support of national authorities to respond to the immediate humanitarian needs in these countries,” said UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark in Bangkok, where she is holding meetings.

“UNDP is now preparing to support countries’ plans for longer-term recovery after waters recede and rubble is cleared,” she added, noting that with rapid support teams had already been sent to Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines, which have been inundated by typhoon-spawned flood waters, and Bhutan, Indonesia, Samoa and Tonga, which were hit by earthquakes and/or subsequent tsunamis.

In the Philippines, Typhoon Parma reached the far northern province of Cagayan over the weekend, a week after Typhoon Ketsana (also known as Ondoy) inundated Manila, the capital, and affected more than 3.1 million people. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, (OCHA) said nearly 870,000 people are in more than 720 evacuation shelters. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is mounting a three-month emergency operation.

In the Indonesian island of Sumatra the confirmed death toll from three earthquakes last week stands at 603 but is expected to rise significantly, since thousands are trapped and feared dead in the collapsed buildings in Padang, the provincial capital. A nine-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has been deployed there.

Nevertheless, nearly 70,000 children have returned to classes in Padang, according to local education authorities, as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) rushed school supplies to the region, rapidly erecting the first of 250 classroom tents, as part of its initial support to re-starting education, along with school materials and recreational equipment.

“This is an important sign that life will return to normal for children affected by this tragedy,” UNICEF Country Representative in Indonesia Angela Kearney said.

“Many children I have met amidst the shattered buildings of Padang expressed their fears for the future – they are worried about more shocks, about losing their homes, and about never going back to school again. Today, children can see that schools will re-open, and that they will be able to continue their learning. It’s a first step towards bringing the comfort and reassurance that these children so desperately need.”

Food, tents and emergency shelter, medical supplies, hygiene kits, petrol, generators, heavy equipment, water and sanitation assistance, education and post-traumatic counseling have been identified as priority needs in Sumatra.

In American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga’s northern island of Niuatoputapu, where more than 120 are now confirmed dead, and waves destroyed homes and public infrastructure including sea walls, hospitals, schools, roads and tourist resorts, UNDP has made available emergency grants to support coordination efforts, a needs assessment and an early recovery plan.

After wreaking havoc in the Philippines, Typhoon Ketsana moved into Viet Nam. But with warning of the impending storm, approximately 200,000 people were evacuated by national emergency services.

“Early warning saves lives,” Ms. Clark said. “With the increasing impact of climate change, this area of our work will need to grow in order to help those most vulnerable to disasters,” she added.

Unexpected floods also wrought havoc in South India. Even Bhutan was not spared from disaster when an earthquake in the east of the remote mountainous country killed 12 people, and damaged nearly 43,500 homes, 89 schools and more than 115 Government offices and 400 monasteries. A joint World Bank and UN damage assessment has begun in two affected districts.

Slum Dwellers are at the brunt of nature's wrath


By NOELEEN HEYZER
SPECIAL TO THE NATION
Published on October 6, 2009

(Post by CAAI News Media)

YESTERDAY I met with a group of nearly 2,000 slum dwellers from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Burma, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Thailand. They came to the United Nations Escap Building to present me with a petition demanding that their right to shelter be respected.

This group represents just some of the 500 million slum dwellers who live in Asia and the Pacific and comprise 40 per cent of all who live in our region's cities. If present trends continue in the next decade, another 230 million people will be forced to live in conditions that lack access to adequate shelter, sanitation services and clean water.

The poor also often have no choice but to live on marginal lands, prone to flooding and landslides, in flimsy shelters and overcrowded settlements that expose them to other hazards. Of the thousands being reported dead or missing following last week's series of disasters, it should come as no surprise that many will be the poor and vulnerable from these types of settlements.

It is almost unprecedented for any region to experience so many disasters over such a short period of time. From the Philippines - which was hit by the one-two punch of Typhoon Ketsana and Typhoon Parma - and the flooding in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, to the earthquakes that rocked Indonesia and The tsunami that struck the Samoas and Tonga, the resulting loss of lives, casualties and destruction to property is heartbreaking.

These disasters are a brutal reminder that climate change will only increase the magnitude and frequency of weather-related disasters. Just this year, India has been suffering its worst drought in nearly 40 years, while in August, Taiwan lost nearly 800 people to Typhoon Morakot. Asia and the Pacific overall has experienced over 80 per cent of the global casualties related to extreme weather events over the past seven years. We can only expect these types of disasters to get worse if meaningful action on climate change is not taken.

This connection between the plight of slum dwellers and the effects of climate change was readily apparent to another group yesterday. Just prior to the slum dwellers' march, hundreds of people concerned about climate change assembled in front of the United Nations Escap Building as negotiators continued to seek consensus on sealing a deal in Copenhagen that takes into account the concerns of developing countries. These marchers exchanged flags with members of the Four Regions Slum Network in a symbolic gesture meant to highlight the link between the two issues.

Watching these demonstrators only reinforced in me the urgency with which we need tackle these two inextricably linked challenges - overcoming poverty and combating climate change - facing most developing countries in Asia and the Pacific. Failure to tackle one will undermine the efforts to deal with the other. So while not all of the natural disasters of the last week can be linked to climate change, they do underscore the need for an agreement that is both environmentally friendly and development oriented.

The world is at a historical turning point and must respond appropriately. Firstly, we must not roll back the gains made in the fight against climate change and erode the progress achieved through the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Consensus.

Secondly, the recent spate of calamities reminds us that Asia and the Pacific is the world's disaster hot spot. A person living in the region is four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than someone living in Africa, and 25 times more likely than someone living in Europe or North America. We need to improve our region's disaster preparedness. Studies have shown that for every dollar invested in risks associated with disaster, four to seven dollars can be saved. Investing in disaster risk reduction and prevention measures is not only a moral imperative, it is financially smart.

The poor and vulnerable will always be the ones who suffer most in disasters. Only 1 in 5 people in our region have access to comprehensive healthcare coverage, posing an obstacle to recovery in the aftermath of such tragedies. But the poor are not just victims. They can also be agents of change if development is to be inclusive and sustainable. There are several wonderful examples in Asia and the Pacific that show when the poor are mobilised and given the opportunity and support, they can change not only their own destiny, but also our cities, towns, and indeed, our societies, to become more sustainable and resilient.

The climate-change talks must result in meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a range of adaptation measures that assist the poor and vulnerable. They must include provisions for disaster risk reduction and prevention measures that help reduce, and in some cases avoid, the tragic loss of life and property we are witnessing. Officials in Indonesia were quoted as saying they lacked the necessary heavy equipment to dig through the rubble and recover buried victims. As a result, the hopes of those missing loved ones diminishes with each passing day and the death toll rises.

It is clear that developing countries do not have the capacity or resources to respond to the challenges of climate change on their own. They will need access to new technologies, funding and skill development from the international community if they are to both mitigate and adapt to the challenges of climate change. Yet Mother Nature is not waiting for a bureaucratic resolution, and she does not accept compromises. We must set aside our differences if an agreement is to be reached this December in Copenhagen that protects the ecosystems upon which all our lives depend. The march of our region's slum dwellers is a vivid reminder of who will be the first to suffer if we do not act now.