Friday, 6 November 2009

Thailand Reviews Cambodia Ties on Thaksin Appointment (Update2)




By Anuchit Nguyen and Daniel Ten Kate

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand will review agreements and cooperation projects with Cambodia after the government in Phnom Penh named fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra an economic adviser, threatening to fan tensions that have triggered border clashes.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva recalled the nation’s ambassador from Cambodia yesterday, prompting counterpart Hun Sen to follow suit. The two leaders have no plan to meet today or tomorrow in Tokyo, where they are attending a regional summit with Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Abhisit said today.

Thaksin’s appointment is an “interference in Thailand’s domestic affairs and failure to respect Thailand’s judicial system,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The move “hurts the feelings of most Thais,” Abhisit said yesterday.

Hun Sen sparked a diplomatic row last month by comparing Thaksin to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s detained opposition leader. Hun Sen said he wouldn’t extradite Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup and living in exile after fleeing a two-year prison sentence for abuse of power.

Thaksin has engineered anti-government protests from abroad since he left the country, attacking Abhisit and preparing his allies for a fresh election. President Barack Obama, on his first trip to Asia, is scheduled to co-chair with Abhisit a Nov. 15 summit of Southeast Asian leaders that will include Hun Sen.

Thai-Cambodia Trade

Cambodia, Thailand’s 18th largest export market, imported more goods from its neighbor last year than any other country. Trade between the countries reached $2.13 billion in 2008, with Thai exports such as sugar, cement and oil accounting for 96 percent, according to Thailand’s Commerce Ministry. Two-way shipments this year have dropped 26 percent through September.

Siam Cement Pcl, Thailand’s biggest producer of the building material, imports raw materials for its cement plant in Cambodia. Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Pcl, Thailand’s biggest publicly traded miller, opened a plant in Cambodia this year.

Thai and Cambodian officials had set up committees to work on demarcating their 803-kilometer (499-mile) land and sea border. The two countries have yet to reconcile 10,422 square miles of disputed waters in the Gulf of Thailand that may contain oil and gas reserves.

‘Economic Skills’

Thaksin was appointed an adviser because of his “economic skills” and “close friendship” with Hun Sen, Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said by phone from Phnom Penh. Cambodia “fully complies” with the extradition treaty between the countries and won’t send Thaksin to Thailand because the charges are “political,” he said.

Hun Sen “does not want to provoke any adverse incident between the two countries,” Koy Kuong said. Cambodia would send its ambassador back to Bangkok provided Thailand reinstates its envoy first, he said.

A Twitter message posted on Thaksin’s Web site yesterday said the decision to recall the ambassador was “childish” and an “overreaction.” Thaksin lives in Dubai and travels frequently. His spokesman, Phongthep Thepkanjana, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.

Thailand last recalled its ambassador in 2003, when Cambodians burned down the embassy and attacked Thai businesses. Thaksin was Thailand’s prime minister at the time.

Deteriorating Relations

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since July 2008, when a Thai court ordered a pro-Thaksin government to withdraw support for Cambodia’s bid to list the Preah Vihear temple as a United Nations World Heritage site. The temple is near an area of land the two countries dispute. Gun battles near the site since then have killed at least six soldiers. The situation at the border now is “normal,” Koy Kuong said.

If Thaksin “were actually there and coordinating his people from a base, that would cause problems,” said Robert Broadfoot, managing director of Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. “I don’t think either Hun Sen or the Thais will allow this to spin out of control. Cambodia is just taking the opportunity to get back at what was really a Thai mistake” in objecting to the temple listing.

Thaksin or his allies have won Thailand’s past four elections since 2001. Since the coup, courts have disbanded two parties linked to him, including the winner of the 2007 election, a decision that allowed Abhisit to form a coalition government. The Thaksin-linked Puea Thai party remains the largest in parliament.

Thaksin, a billionaire-turned-politician, has claimed the judicial system is biased against him. His opponents say he’s corrupt and wants to upend Thailand’s monarchy.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok at anguyen@bloomberg.net; Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net.

Thailand, Cambodia Pull Envoys in Thaksin Row


Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 06 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Thailand and Cambodia recalled their respective ambassadors Thursday after Phnom Penh sparked a furious diplomatic row by naming fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shina-watra as its economic adviser.

The tit-for-tat withdrawals plunged relations between the neighbouring countries to a new low after they fought a series of deadly clashes during the past year over disputed land around an ancient temple on their border. The Cambodian government announced the appointment of Thak- sin on state television late Wednesday, riling Bangkok as it attempts to bring home the billionaire to face justice three years after he was ousted in a coup.

"We have recalled the ambassador as the first diplomatic retaliation measure to let the Cambodian government know the dissatisfaction of the Thai people," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters.

Aid projects and bilateral agreements with Cambodia would be reviewed, but checkpoints on the tense border would remain open, Abhisit added. Thai foreign ministry official Chavanond Intarakomalyasut told AFP that the appointment of Thaksin "is considered interfering in our internal politics because Thaksin is still actively involved in politics."

Cambodia hit back hours later, with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An saying that it was withdrawing its envoy from Bangkok as a "temporary measure" until Thailand sent its envoy back to Phnom Penh.

Sok An said the recalls would not affect trade or raise tensions along the border.

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An told reporters at press conference at the Council of Ministers that the diplomatic relation between Cambodia and Thailand is fragile after Thai government has recalled its amb- assador to Cambodia back home. The urgent press conference came after Bangkok government is angry with Cambodian government nominated former Thai PM Thakisin as Camb- odian PM Hun Sen´s economic advisor.

However, Sok An added that the despite the diplomatic relation between is worsening but the relation among the two people remain good.

"Cambodia has not responded officially to Thailand as they recall its ambassador returning to Bangkok, as we have not received any official letter from Bangkok government yet," Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the ministry, told DAP News Cambodia on Thursday.

Twice-elected Thaksin remains a hugely influential figure in Thailand, which has been rocked by years of protests by his red-clad supporters and yellow-clad opponents, including rallies that shut down Bangkok's airports last year.

The one-time policeman is currently living in exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption. Bangkok has confiscated his passport, meaning that he travels on documents from other countries, and has issued a warrant for his arrest.

The current saga began in October when outspoken Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen offered refuge to Thaksin, and then followed it up at an Asian summit two weeks ago by offering him a job as his finance adviser. Thaksin said in a Twitter posting that he thanked Hun Sen for the appointment but still wanted to work for Thailand's well-being.

"I thank His Excellency Hun Sen and I just received a copy which was signed by King Sihamoni. It's an honour. But it's not going to be fun like working to help Thai people out of poverty," Thaksin said.

Thailand has urged Cambodia to extradite Thaksin if he enters the neighbouring country, but Cambodia says it will not and that the charges against him were politically motivated.

Relations between the two predominantly Buddhist nations have been strained since July 2008 by the ongoing border conflict over land surrounding an 11th century Cambo- dian temple after it was granted UN World Heritage status.

The Cambodian military said the situation was calm on the border but that Hun Sen had ordered forces to remain on "high alert" around the disputed Preah Vihear temple, where the two countries last fought in April.

"Cambodia will not invade Thai territory, but if Thai troops enter our territory even one centimetre they will be destroyed," said Chea Dara, deputy commander-in-chief of Cam- bodia's armed forces.

The Thai and Cambodian prime ministers are both due to attend a mini-summit of leaders from Mekong Basin countries in the Japanese capital Tokyo on Friday and Saturday.

Visiting Israeli Nobel Laurate Prof. Aaron Ciechanover calls Cambodian and Thai government leaders to continue to resolve the border dispute peacefully. His comment was made at International Peace Foundation´s conference on Bridge Dialogues to Towards a Culture of Peace at the University of Cambodia yesterday

Cambodia Hopes for More Japanese Investors


Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 06 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Cambodia will be able to attract more Japanese investors following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s two-day visit to Tokyo November 6-7, according to a government official.

The premier Hun Sen led a delegation yesterday morning to Japan attending a two-day Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo.

“The summit will focus on broadening cooperation and relationship between Mekong River nations and Japan. The Japanese Government vows to help and strengthen infrastructure development along the south, west and north economic gates,” Sri Thamrong, the premier’s advisor, told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport on Thursday.

The summit will also center on exchanging human resources, goods, tourism area, cultures and the Japanese Government’s donor support to the nations along Mekong River, aiming to create ASEAN community by 2015, he said.

“The discussion in the summit is to talk about matters facing the people, such as disaster control, environmental control, human training, and to give scholarships to the country members,” Sri Thamrong added. The premier will talk with private Japanese companies to show the investment potential in Cambodia, he said.

“The premier also meets with high-ranking Japanese officials, and the premier will have bilateral discussions with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama,” Sri Thamrong added. So far, the Japanese Govern-ment has provided Cambodia with around US$1,700 billion.

Premier Hun Sen and his delegation will arrive in Cambodia on Sun- day afternoon, Sri Thamrong added.

KRT Case 002 Investigated


Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 06 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI news Media)

The prosecutors’ office of the Khmer Rough Tribunal (KRT) reported it has nearly finished an investigation into Case 002, paving the way for a trial.

The investigation will take in evidence from 19 provinces.

Reach Sambath, KRT spokesman, said that the investigations were made at the July 18, 2007 request of prosecutors. “The investigation of Case 002 will be end at the end of this year,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

The KRT has now adopted internal measures limiting the time permitted for filing complaints.

 According to the internal measure amendment, if anyone wishes to be as original filing complaints, such as Deum Bon Deung Roth Bavei Ny, must request by letter within 15 days after co-prosecutors finish their investigations. The co-prosecutors have filed charges against former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, and Ieng Thirith for crimes committed between April 17, 1975 and January 6, 1979.

“Even though the investigation is nearly finished, the trial date of Case 002 has not been confirmed yet,” Reach Sambath confirmed.

Three Girls Allegedly Raped by Father


Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 06 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Three Preah Sihanouk province Cambodian girls have been raped by their father, according local Preah Sihanouk police on Thursday.

The father was arrested after a complaint from the victims’ grandmother. Kol Tha, 42, a farmer living in Ou Chamnar village, Oknha Heng commune, Prey Nop district, was sent to Preah Sihanouk Provincial Office.

The first daughter was identified as Sok Sea, 13, the second as Sok Kun, 3, and the third as Sok Pisey, 2. All were said to have been raped by their father. The accused has 6 children, one son and five daughters. Three years ago, the children’s mother died, according to local police. The eldest daughter lives in another village.

One of the three victims said that “My father started to rape us before the Cambodian P’Chum Ben Festival. He raped whether it was day or night. He started with Sok Sea first.”

“My father sent us to live with my grandmother at Phnom Pech pagoda, but my grandmother was very busy with the festival, so she told my father to bring us back home.”

An injury to one of the girl’s genitals apparently piqued the grandmother’s superstitions so she alerted police.

Dengue Claims 34 in 2009


Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 06 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

At least 34 people have died and 1,886 Cambodians have been infected by dengue fever so far in 2009, accor- ding to an official from the Cambod- ian National Fighting Dengue Fever (CNFDF) on Thursday.

The officer reported that the number of cases decreased compared to 2007 and 2008.

Chief of the Health Ministry’s CNFDF Ngan Chantha claimed cases are down about 40 percent because Cambodians were eliminating mosquito breeding grounds.

“Please, all Cambodians, clean our environment and surroundings of houses because prevention is better than cure,” he said.

Assistance from the Asian Devel- opment Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB) has helped the fight against dengue, he said. He told DAP News Cambodia that children less than 15 years of age had fallen victim to the mosquito-born disease.

In 2008, 56 people died and 7,734 were infected. In 2007, there were 393 dengue deaths and 38,390 infections. The campaign to eliminate mosquitoes is said to be very important to Cambodians. Treated n ets are becoming ever more popular.

IDEAS Appeals for Number Plate Fine Delay


Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 06 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

After two hours of negotiations between Cambodian Independent Democratic Economic Association System (IDEAS) representatives and Phnom Penh Municipal officials on Thursday, no agreement was reached.

The negotiations came after over 200 IDEAS persons asked for a delay in punishment by the Cambodian traffic police until at least December 31.

Chief of IDEAS Von Pao sent a letter to the Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said asking for a halt on fines on non-valid vehicle number plates until December 31, 2009. The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation have so far provided only 200 number plates, compared to 1,500 requests. The delay was not agreed by the City. The IDEAS’s representative said that “Tomorrow, we will file to the Ministry of Interior about this, according to the Phnom Penh Municipality suggetsion.”

“It is very difficult for our members to get a real answer. For the next week, our members fear punishment by the police.”

If the Interior Ministry does not agree to the request, IDEAS will appeal to the Prime Minister.

Oddar Meanchey evictees flee officials



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Peering out from between bags of her family’s belongings, 10-year-old Vey Sreypov faces an uncertain future. She is just one of dozens of villagers from Oddar Meanchey’s Kounkriel commune who have fled to Phnom Penh, fearing arrest after their homes were burned to the ground by armed officials in an ongoing land dispute last month.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I DARE SAY THAT SOME KHMER CITIZENS ARE BAD CHARACTERS.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:05 Tep Nimol and May Titthara

MORE Oddar Meanchey villagers whose homes were razed by armed officials in a long-simmering land dispute have fled to the capital, accusing authorities of threatening them with arrests, residents said Thursday.

Roughly 70 people have now fled to a pagoda in Phnom Penh following the forced eviction of 214 families from Oddar Meanchey’s Kounkriel commune in early October, said Huoy Chhuoy, a representative of the families.

“We are still fleeing … because the authorities are still threatening to evict us from our land,” Huoy Chhuoy said.

The dispute centres on some 1,500 hectares of land claimed by both the villagers and the Angkor Sugar Company, which is owned by Lee Yongphat, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party senator. In early October, armed authorities descended on the land, bulldozing property and burning some houses to the ground.

The evicted residents say they have been offered small plots of land as a concession – but only after being warned they would be arrested if they refused to accept the deal.

Claims of violence
Villager So Sokhom, 39, fled to Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum pagoda after being threatened with violence.

“They took my finger to put my thumbprint on the paper to agree to get the land. If I disagreed, they would arrest me and put me in handcuffs,” So Sokhom said. “They beat one lady right in front of me.”

For others, the land offer of a single hectare of rice paddy is too small compared with the 5 hectares they would vacate.

“I have a big family,” said Roeun Haov, 34. “How can I support my family with a rice field of just 1 hectare?”

Provincial officials, however, deny the villagers’ claims.

“We did not force people to agree to our land policy,” said Oddar Meanchey Secretary General Vat Paranin. “Who can take people’s fingers to get their thumbprints?”

He said 22 families, who were “really poor people”, had already received land. Others, he contended, were “fake families” with no legitimate claim to the disputed area.

Allegations rejected
Angkor Sugar Company director Lee Yongphat says the land is rightfully his.

“I was granted by the government an economic land concession of about 10,000 hectares to grow sugarcane,” he said.

“But because some villagers interrupted our plan, we are not operating yet. I am a Khmer citizen, but I dare say that some Khmer citizens are bad characters.”

Officials have arrested three villagers – who have been detained since early October – on incitement charges, and arrest warrants remain active for three others.

Ambassadors withdrawn as Thaksin row escalates



Photo by: AFP
Thai Ambassador to Cambodia Prasas Prasavinitchai is escorted to Phnom Penh International Airport on Thursday night after being recalled as bilateral relations further soured.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:05 James O’toole and Vong Sokheng

Hun Sen’s appointment of the fugitive ex-premier as an adviser results in a diplomatic standoff that both sides insist won’t harm relations.

CAMBODIA recalled its ambassador to Thailand Thursday after Bangkok withdrew its top envoy to Phnom Penh as tensions rose over the appointment by Royal decree of Thailand’s fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as a Cambodian government adviser, a role he later appeared to decline in an online statement.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said in a press conference Thursday that the government would consider sending Ambassador You Ay back to Bangkok only after Thailand sent its envoy back to Phnom Penh, adding that the withdrawal of Ambassador Prasas Prasavinitchal came as no surprise.

“Thailand’s recall of its ambassador is not a shock for Cambodia because we have seen the Yellow Shirt protesters in front of the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok demanding that their government withdraw its diplomats from Cambodia,” Sok An said.

In a separate press conference Thursday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva voiced his government’s indignation over Thaksin’s appointment.

“We have recalled the ambassador as the first diplomatic retaliation measure to let the Cambodian government know the dissatisfaction of the Thai people,” Abhisit said. “Last night’s announcement by the Cambodian government harmed the Thai justice system and really affected Thai public sentiment.”

The Cambodian government on Wednesday released a decree dated October 27 and signed by King Norodom Sihamoni that named Thaksin an economic adviser to the government and personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In an accompanying statement, the government reiterated its unwillingness to comply with any extradition request, which Bangkok says it would pursue if Thaksin were to travel to Cambodia.

Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 coup and self-exiled last year to avoid prison after being convicted of corruption.

Abhisit added that aid to Cambodia would also be suspended, but that the border is to remain open.

In a post on his online Twitter feed, Thaksin thanked Hun Sen for the appointment but said he preferred Thai politics.

“I thank His Excellency Hun Sen, and I just received a copy which was signed by King Sihamoni. It’s an honour. But it’s not going to be fun like working to help Thai people out of poverty,” Thaksin wrote.

Chheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said he feared that the contentious border-demarcation process being conducted bilaterally through the Joint Border Commission will now be stalled indefinitely. He called on representatives from ASEAN to mediate the disagreement.

“It is time for ASEAN to take a big step forward in conflict resolution,” he said. “ASEAN’s well-known noninterference principle is being tested, and it possibly could be modified to meet new challenges.”

Thailand last recalled its ambassador to Phnom Penh in 2003, when rioters attacked the Thai embassy amid false reports that a Thai actress claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.

Sara Colm of Human Rights Watch said that as tensions now escalate, both Thailand and Cambodia must take care to prevent a repeat of 2003.

“It’s bad enough that there’s already the ongoing border dispute, and we don’t want to see the nationalist sentiment further whipped up on either side of this disagreement at the expense of people’s lives and security,” she said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH AND AFP

ECCC reveals Case 2 details


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:05 Robbie Corey Boulet

THE Khmer Rouge tribunal on Thursday distributed a list of 20 execution sites, security centres, cooperatives and work sites related to the ongoing investigation of five regime leaders, marking the first time information about the scope of the investigation has been made public.

The network includes 14 security centres and execution sites, along with six cooperatives and work sites spread across 16 provinces. They range from Trapaing Thmar dam in Banteay Meanchey, the regime’s largest irrigation project, to the notorious S-21 security office in Phnom Penh and less-known security centres in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri.

During a press conference at the tribunal, spokesmen Lars Olsen and Reach Sambath also referred generally to acts against specific groups that had been involved in the investigation, including the regime’s internal “purges” and mistreatment of Buddhists, Vietnamese and Cham Muslims. With the exception of displacement and forced marriage, however, they did not mention specific crimes.

Olsen emphasised that no decision had been made on whether the leaders would even be indicted, let alone on the specific crimes for which they might be tried.

“The information you will get today only reflects what is currently being investigated,” he said.

The five leaders are former S-21 commandant Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch; Brother No 2 Nuon Chea; head of state Khieu Samphan; foreign minister Ieng Sary; and social action minister Ieng Thirith.

Historian David Chandler said Thursday that he was not surprised at the wide range of sites listed. “It was a network of killing institutions you had during Democratic Kampuchea, and they want to implicate these big shots in that network,” he said.

He noted that, should the investigation lead to indictments, the cases against those leaders who have not yet been put on trial would pose much greater challenges for the prosecution than the case against Duch, who has issued numerous confessions and apologies during his trial for crimes committed at S- 21.

“S-21 was a closed circle, and it went on for a long time,” he said. “Duch said he did it, and the documents said he did it. These guys say: ‘We didn’t do it,’ and there are no documents, so it gets much trickier.”

The confidentiality question
Olsen said the tribunal had decided to release the information on Thursday for the benefit of prospective civil party applicants, who must submit applications no later than 15 days after the tribunal’s co-investigating judges announce that the investigation has been completed. The judges have said they would try to complete the investigation by the end of the year.

“Since the end of the investigation is approaching, the need to keep all information about what’s being investigated confidential is not as strong as it was in the beginning,” Olsen said.

Not everyone agreed with the move. Michael Karnavas, international co-lawyer for Ieng Sary, said he believed the tribunal “went overboard in disseminating confidential information”, adding that the naming of specific sites could have a “chilling effect” on witnesses who might be able to provide exculpatory evidence.

But Andrew Ianuzzi, legal consultant for Nuon Chea’s defence team, said he had no problem with the information that was presented.

“I think it’s probably self-evident to anyone who’s well-versed in what happened in Cambodia what particular crime scenes [the judges] might be looking at,” he said.

Sam Rainsy accuses VN of violating ’91 accords


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:05 Meas Sokchea

OPPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy has announced that he will file complaints with foreign institutions accusing neighbouring countries of violating international law by encroaching into Cambodian territory.

Sam Rainsy came under fire from Cambodian and Vietnamese officials for uprooting border posts in Svay Rieng province during a Buddhist ceremony on October 25. Villagers claimed the Vietnamese had illegally shifted the posts onto Cambodian soil.

Speaking from Paris, he said his personal act of defiance was meant to bring the alleged Vietnamese incursions to light.

“I have now collected enough documents and witnesses to show that neighbouring countries are violating Khmers’ land,” he said.

“So I will file complaints about this to international organisations.”

He did not say which organisations would receive his complaints, but added that the alleged Vietnamese acts were a violation of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, to which both countries are signatories.

According to local media reports, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung took the issue up in talks with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An in Vietnam on Tuesday, describing Sam Rainsy’s action as “subversive”.

Vietnamese embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam said on Thursday that Sam Rainsy was free to file a complaint with international bodies, but that this would not prove the Vietnamese had acted wrongly.

“We do not care about his complaint,” he said. “What he did was known to everyone. We have nothing to say.”

Govt defends military budget hike



Photo by: AFP
Soldiers ride atop their tanks during a parade at the Brigade 70 headquarters in Phnom Penh last month. Government plans to boost military spending in next year’s budget have come under fire.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:05 Cheang Sokha and Sebastian Strangio

OFFICIALS have dismissed criticisms of the government’s proposed hike in defence and security spending, saying that the funds will strengthen Cambodia’s capabilities and improve conditions in the military.

A draft budget approved by the Council of Ministers last week shows military spending increasing by 24.2 percent – from US$223 million this year to $277 million in 2010.

The draft has come under fire from critics who argue that military spending, which accounts for 14 percent of the US$1.97 billion proposed budget, dwarfs the amount spent on agriculture, rural development and water resources, which account for 5 percent.

Speaking to local media on Wednesday, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith dismissed concerns about the spending gap.

“Do they wish Cambodia’s soldiers to fight with Thailand using slingshots?” he said.

“When our soldiers wore flip-flops and used old guns, they said that the government did not pay attention, but when we turn to support the soldiers, they say these things.”

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said activists had the right to criticise the budget, but that they were ignorant of “the real situation” in the military.

“Based on the Constitution, the government has an obligation to defend its territorial integrity,” he said.

Phay Siphan said the money would also focus on creating a “social safety net” for military personnel and providing pensions for retired soldiers.

Critics agreed that action was needed in order to reform the military, but said the government should address the root problems rather than simply bumping up its budget.

“It’s good if the government has an intention of cleaning up the military, but this doesn’t have anything to do with [increasing] the budget,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

Despite being intended as a social safety net, he said, the extra money would more likely be used to shore up the patronage networks of powerful military officers.

“The government keeps granting benefits to the military in order to secure loyalty,” he said.

“The higher levels are trying to please the lower levels so that they get support.”

Ou Virak also noted the phenomenon of “ghost soldiers” – nonexistent enlistees that funnel salaries and other benefits into the pockets of their superiors – as a target for reform.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said a defence force was important for every country, but agreed the lack of oversight made military expenditures a concern.

“I am concerned about the expenditures of the military and how it will manage [them]. In a country like Cambodia, we should have a mechanism to check the expenditures of each institution,” he said.

He added that the government currently possesses the necessary auditing authorities, but that they had not yet been put to full use.

“If they use [these institutions] well, it could make the country more transparent.”

Prey Veng CITA chief sued for defamation


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:05 Chrann Chamroeun

PREY Veng provincial court has charged the provincial director of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA) with defamation after he accused a local schoolteacher of selling land owned by a school in Peamro district.

Chin Rithy, 41, a teacher at Neak Loeung secondary school, is accused of defaming the school’s principal, Yoeun Sovuthy, after writing letters to provincial and municipal officials accusing the administrator of selling a 6-by-21-metre plot belonging to the school, said CITA President Rong Chhun.

“The defamation charge against him is unjust and unacceptable because what he wrote to the provincial and municipal department of education was based on fact, with evidence that fences were built around school land,” Rong Chhun said.

Chin Rithy also described the case against him as “unjust”, adding that he was acting in the best interest of the school.

He argued “that the principal conspired with Pang Sameth, a high school teacher, to build a fence around [a plot] of land, but the prosecutor ... didn’t pay any attention to my confirmation,” he said.

Rong Chhun said he expected a verdict in the case on Wednesday. Yoeun Sovuthy and Pang Sameth could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Families due for final eviction



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Evicted villagers from Deumkor and Bie, in Russey Keo’s Chroy Changvar commune, sit outside their tent Thursday. They now face being forced from their temporary shelters as well, city officials have warned.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:05 Khouth Sophakchakrya

FAMILIES in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district whose homes were torn down in October say authorities will again force them to move – this time from the makeshift tents and street-vendor umbrellas under which they have since taken shelter.

Sok Kim Hor, who represents more than 20 evicted families from Chroy Changvar commune’s Deumkor and Bie villages, said authorities have ordered him and other families to pull down their tents and make way for a road-development project.

The villagers say they have nowhere else to go: Since the October 15 eviction, the families have remained on the land where their homes once stood.

“They ordered us to move … but until now, they have not provided us with new land,” Sok Kim Hor said.

After last month’s eviction, in which authorities showed up unannounced and used excavators to plow through 20 homes, displaced families were offered rentals of 4-metre-by-8-metre plots in the capital’s Meanchey district.

However, families rejected the offer when they realised that they would have to rent the land. Others have demanded larger, 6-metre-by-15-metre plots or market prices for their destroyed homes.

Their demands went unanswered as the city shut down for last weekend’s Water Festival.

Sau Sunly, a member of the Chroy Changvar commune council, said he has submitted the families’ demands to City Hall but is waiting for instructions before responding.

More than 20 families, he said, are demanding land concessions, and four have asked for market prices for their former homes. Two families, he said, have suggested that they live on land left over from the road development.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeurn diverted a request for comment to district officials, but he did say that the road project was necessary to reduce traffic congestion in the capital.

Kop Shleh, deputy governor of Russey Keo district, did not answer calls from the Post on Thursday.

In the meantime, families face another looming deadline to leave.“The Water Festival is over, but they still have not resolved the issue,” said Muy Chea, 48, whose family was among those evicted.

He said he had experienced evictions before – under the Pol Pot regime.

“I remember that Pol Pot evicted people from their houses in Phnom Penh to the countryside, but Pol Pot provided new shelters for those evictees,” Muy Chea said.

“However, I am still hopeful the leader of the current government will not allow me and other families to live on the street.”

Canadian gets 1-year sentence


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun

A CANADIAN national has been sentenced to one year in prison and fined 2 million riels for committing indecent acts against his two underage stepdaughters, court officials said Thursday.

The man, aged 68, has been detained since January when he was arrested at a bus station in Sihanoukville.

Speaking from Preah Sihanouk provincial court, Judge Kim Eng confirmed the sentence and said the fine was bound not for the victims, ages 10 and 12, but for state coffers.

“We convicted him to one year for indecent acts against two underage girls and fined him 2 million riels without ordering him to pay any compensation for the victims,” he said.

Samleang Seila, country director of Action Pours Les Enfant (APLE), said the case had proved complicated because the defendant was married to the victims’ mother. When the original complaint was filed, the girls’ mother did not ask for compensation “because she had a smooth relationship with the offender as his wife”, Samleang Seila said. The two girls are currently in the care of a local NGO.

Bar owners get HIV/AIDS training


(Posted by CAAI news Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:04 Kim Yuthana

ABOUT 200 entertainment venue owners and local officials throughout Phnom Penh participated in a meeting about HIV/AIDS prevention on Thursday.

Organised by Population Service International (PSI) and the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department, the meeting aimed to empower individuals in preventing an HIV/AIDS epidemic in their community.

Nuth Sokhom, director of the National AIDS Authority (NAA), urged bar and club owners to distribute condoms to customers at their venues.

“This meeting is very important because it could help reduce HIV/AIDS,” he said.

Nou Savann, a communications manager for PSI, said it was the first time that people from the entertainment industry had participated in such an event.

He estimated that about 99 percent of men who would like to have sex with women in entertainment venues use condoms, but that only 82 percent of them know how to use condoms properly.

PM jets off to Tokyo summit



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife pause to wave Thursday to attending dignitaries before departing Phnom Penh International Airport bound for the first Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:04 Cheang Sokha

PRIME Minister Hun Sen departed Thursday for the inaugural Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo, where he will urge the Japanese government to finance a new bridge project and solicit investment from Japanese firms, officials said.

The premier is to hold bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart Yukio Hatoyama on Saturday, seeking to secure funds for a second Mekong bridge project that would link Cambodia to the planned ASEAN highway and the Greater Mekong Subregion.

“The bridge will connect countries in the region and link up with National Road 1,” Sri Thamrong, an adviser to Hun Sen, told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport.

The Japanese government has agreed in principle to fund the construction of the US$70 million Neak Loeung Bridge, which would span the Mekong 60 kilometres east of Phnom Penh.

Japan has already funded the stretch of National Road 1 linking Phnom Penh with Neak Loeung.

Sri Thamrong said Japan is one of Cambodia’s biggest foreign aid donors, but that Japanese investment was still low.

“Hun Sen will also meet with Japanese investors in order to attract them to invest in Cambodia,” he said.

Villagers want canal reopened


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:04 Chhay Channyda

RESIDENTS in Prey Veng province’s Peam Chor district are urging authorities to unblock a local canal, claiming it has made it difficult for them to take their children to school.

Villagers are asking Koh Sampov commune authorities to help reopen the Prek Tachan canal, which has been closed for more than a month for unknown reasons.

Sorn Heap, 32, a villager from Ampil Prey village, said that more than 200 villagers from his village use boats on the canal to send their children to school.

“The place where it is blocked is a straight route to schools, so children only take 30 minutes to get to school. Now they have to use detour routes, which are far and shallow,” he said.

He added that roads are often bumpy and flooded, so most people have opted to keep their children at home.

Another villager said that the waterway is also used as a trade route in Koh Sampov commune.

“I want commune authorities to help open this canal for us because villagers have no way to travel when the village is flooded,” she said.

Koh Sampov commune chief Preap Hoeun could not be reached on Thursday. Huy Chim, deputy chief of Ampov Prey village, said he was aware of people’s complaints, but that “the alternate route is not as far as people say it is”.

He said he will discuss the issue with commune authorities to resolve the problem.

Fresh bid to protect forests


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:04 Jacob Gold

Cambodia has formally joined a UN programme that helps nations develop the capacity to reduce emissions from deforestation, the United Nations confirmed Thursday.

REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, operates on the principle that the world’s forests are the greatest single offset to human-generated carbon emissions, now widely accepted as the primary cause of climate change. By preserving these forests, developing countries earn credits (measured in metric tonnes of sequestered carbon) that can be sold on a global market.

Suwanna Gauntlett, president of Cambodian environmental NGO Wildlife Alliance, said that a sequestration-based carbon credit system was ideally suited to the Kingdom. “Cambodia is the country in Southeast Asia with the most forest left. When we arrived in 2000, 60 percent of Cambodia’s ground cover was forested.”

Wildlife Alliance focuses its work on the remote Cardamom Mountains of southwestern Cambodia, where vast tracts of forest still remain. There, Gauntlett says, commercial land development is a far more destructive and widespread cause of deforestation than logging.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
There are many, many approaches people take. they think it will go unnoticed.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Gauntlett described how a boom in land prices, stoked by the shrinking pool of private property on the market, drove Cambodian entrepreneurs to carve out illegal plots of government-owned forest, situated conveniently far away from the eyes, or cares, of the law.

“There are many, many approaches people take,” Gauntlett said. “They think it will go unnoticed … they have no permit, no paperwork.” Gauntlett recounts various stories from the field. One concerns a billboard at the entrance to the only stretch of national highway with rainforest on either side, which published a number to call for people who wanted to buy land in the Cardamoms. Wildlife Alliance intervened and had the sign replaced with a forest protection message. Soon enough, however, banners appeared in restaurants all over Koh Kong province with the same phone number.

The stubborn, elusive sources of forest degradation make the REDD programme especially attractive, since revenues from carbon credits can be poured back into forest sites in the form of additional rangers with better training.

Last month, the Seima Protected Forest in Mondulkiri – drawn with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society – became the first REDD-based wildlife preserve officially declared by the Council of Ministers. Pact Cambodia is due to launch its REDD project in Oddar Meanchey province some time in the coming months. Wildlife Alliance has also proposed a REDD forest area in the Southern Cardamoms.

While these and other such projects are at different stages in terms of assessing carbon stocks and connecting with carbon brokers, none have yet sold their credits on the current “voluntary” market.

A conference in Copenhagen this December will begin discussing a formalised “compliance” market expected to yield higher prices for carbon.

According to a statement issued by UN-REDD on Wednesday, however, the carbon credit market may “eventually generate up to $30 billion a year in financial flows from rich countries to poor nations to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions”.

The UN Development Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which co-sponsor the UN-REDD Programme, were unavailable for comment on Thursday.

Shinta Mani hotel prepares for a major Bill Bensley makeover



Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Students receive kitchen tips at Shinta Mani Hotel.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:02 Uong Ratana

Bill Bensley, the Thai-based architect and designer who Time magazine described as the “king of exotic luxury resorts”, will soon begin the much-vaunted makeover of Shinta Mani Hotel.

The boutique hotel will close in April-May next year for the remodel, and ultimately re-emerge as a hotel almost twice the size – the number of rooms increasing from 18 to 35.

Shinta Mani, imbued with a tradition of hip philanthropy, also doubles as an institute of hospitality, providing non-fee-paying hotel education to underprivileged Cambodians. This programme is funded by hotel profits, and next year students will also benefit from the revamp.

General manager Chitra Vincent said the students “will have a proper classroom, a library with books, and computers with training software, so that will be new for us.”

Training courses usually begin on January 1 each year, but because of the renovations, this will be moved forward to an as yet unspecified date, with selection of new students to finish by December 1.

Vincent said 28 training positions are available and around 200 application forms have been distributed.

The hotel targets five main disadvantaged groups: orphans, students from single parent families, low income families, large families, and students with disabilities who normally face difficulties getting a job.

Chitra Vincent said, “We had someone in the culinary class who was blind in one eye. We offer completely free training, give rice to the family once a week and give trainees a small allowance every month.”

The Bjork of shoes ready to stomp her mark on Siem Reap



Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Sirivan Shak-Dumas a.k.a. the “Bjork of shoemaking”.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:02 Post Staff

Former Parisian fashionista Sirivan Chak-Dumas was described by fashion magazine Nova as the “Bjork of shoemaking,” possibly because her unconventional high-fashion personal style has parallels with the equally unconventional Icelandic songstress.

Or it could be because she once crafted shoes from Icelandic salmon skin.

Either way, the news of the moment is that Chak-Dumas has set up home in Siem Reap with her French husband, Loic Dumas, and will be launching her new collection of clothes, accessories and interior decorations at Residence d’Angkor and the Angkor National Museum this month.

Her new collection, under her label, Baray Occidental, will be, according to her, “a mix of Khmer and Western style, but it’s less art craft and more fashion, using fabrics like silk, linen and cotton. For example I use apsara bracelets and belts as bag handles.”

She plans to open a shoe store in Siem Reap, but for now her priority is “rediscovering” her homeland and working on her collections.

Chak-Dumas migrated to Paris in 1982, and studied design at fashion school Atelier Chardon Savard. After graduating in 1996, she designed shoes and accessories for a small company, Facteur Celeste, but it was Parisian shoemaker extraordinaire Maurice Arnoult who developed her love for footwear during a two year apprenticeship.

Around the same time she opened a small shoe store cum workshop in Montmartre which gained international media attention.

She first came to Siem Reap for a holiday in 2002, met the art director of Artisans d’Angkor, and designed bags and clothing for the company for a year from Paris.

The Chak-Dumas family, including two youngsters, moved to Siem Reap on a permanent basis two months ago.

Swapping the Reef for the Reap



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:02 Uong Ratana

Siem Reap is becoming a haven for general managers escaping the confines of luxury island resorts in Australia’s tropical north.

Sokha Angkor Hotel’s general manager, Emmett McHenry was in charge of the Hayman Island Resort in the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland.

He’s now joined by another Aussie island refugee, Wendy Morris, the newly installed GM at Hotel de la Paix.

She came to Siem Reap via the ultra-exclusive Lizard Island Resort on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where she worked for a year.

She described life on the island as “an amazing experience.”

“It was very exclusive, very remote and very beautiful in a superb location, but managing it was very challenging, largely because of its remoteness.”

She said she felt like she was “living in a fishbowl” on the island.

“There was nothing else there. I had to maintain that line of authority so it was really socially isolating. Twelve months was more than enough.”

She said her former island job also prepared her well for emergencies following a particularly intense weekend.

“Within a 48 hour period we were on emergency cyclone watch, had a crocodile scare, and an unrelated fatality. It was very stressful. I had to deal with it.”

She said she had a good feeling about Siem Reap on her first and only visit, on September 17, for her final interview before accepting the position.

“I think I’m reasonably intuitive and I had a nice feeling when I came here for my interview. For a little place, it’s quite dynamic. I feel very optimistic about my time here.”

Man About Town: 6 Nov 2009


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:02 Peter Olszewski

LARGESSE GOES, LARGESSE COMES

Bad news for the Cambodian Open golf tournament in the lead up to this year’s tee-off on November 19-22.

Johnnie Walker has just dropped out as title sponsor for future tournaments, which also casts a shadow over the viability of the Cambodian leg of the Asia-wide tournament series.

The big question now is: Will there be a Cambodian Open in 2010?

If Siem Reap loses the tournament, it will also lose the largesse that comes with it. This could cost the city, but appease fervent climate changers who are opposed to golf courses.

Meanwhile, news of possible incoming largesse was revealed at the Ministry of Tourism’s launch of this year’s Cambodia Open.

The Minister of Tourism Thong Khon revealed that after a recent tourism study trip in Australia, four Cambodian provinces would be targeted for tourism training and development projects.

Siem Reap is one of the chosen provinces and apparently a hospitality training school will be built.

The minister said, “We will ask for land from the Apsara Authority to build a school in Siem Reap,” adding that this project will require “much money”.

Technical assistance from Australia is now needed to draw up a master plan before work can commence.

ANOTHER DOCTOR IN THE FAMILY
Siem Reap’s popular Dr Eugene Tragus, 75, a Texan pioneer of open heart surgery who volunteers at the Angkor Hospital for Children, no longer has to adhere to the maxim, “physician heal thyself.”

Now his wife Sokunthea Len, 30, can do the job for him because she’s become a qualified doctor, passing her medical exams in Phnom Penh on October 19.

Dr Len worked as a nurse during the week and commuted between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on weekends for a large part of her six years of studies.

She graduated from the Battambang Nursing School in 2001, and moved to Siem Reap to work at Angkor Hospital for Children until 2003, when she enrolled for medical school and worked in a private hospital in Phnom Penh.

In 2005 she married Dr Tragus, and returned to Siem Reap.

Proud husband Dr Gene says now that his wife’s workload has lessened considerably since her graduation it’s like a new marriage. “We’re getting to know each other in a different way. It’s exciting,” he claimed.

Instilling pride in the local ecology



Photo by: Jason Leahey
Eco kids at play. Teacher Ali Imron wears the green shirt.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The parents don’t care, but when they realise their kids are learning they’re supportive
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:01 Jason Leahey

It is a Wednesday morning, and 39 kids from the villages surrounding the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity are tied together, the strings wrapped around their waists joined at a central knot, below which hangs a nail. Ali Imron, ACCB’s environmental program coordinator, is leading a team-building exercise, and the students are competing to see which team can lower its nail into a glass bottle, set upright on the grass, first. There is much giggling involved; every kid is grinning. General manager Isadora Angarita watches from the porch of ACCB’s school house. “These are the kids we hope are going to teach the other students,” she says.

This is the inaugural session of ACCB’s new Eco Club. These are the kids, all between eight and 16-years-old, that Angarita, Imron, and Environmental Education Teacher Phok Samphos have earmarked as the future stewards of Siem Reap Province’s biodiversity.

Education has been at the forefront of ACCB’s mission since 2006. Located at the base of Kbal Spean, the centre works to protect Cambodia’s endangered wildlife and habitats. Educating local villages about the importance of biodiversity is integral to those efforts, and outreach ranges from ACCB lessons taught to a few dozen students to community shows that have attracted as many as 600 people and combine prizes and popular films with environmental lectures. At first, ACCB tried to train area teachers, but few stayed longer than a single year because salaries are so low.

So ACCB decided to provide special education to the most promising young people they work with. Imron and Phok selected from each school the 30 students who showed the most interest in environmental issues. They then taught a lesson on conservation, administered tests, and winnowed the students down to the Eco Club. ACCB consulted with the parents of each child and agreements were signed that commit the students to participating.

Ultimately, ACCB wants to instil in Eco Club students the understanding that their activities have larger implications, in terms of local wildlife, economics, and health. The club will meet weekly during the school year and combine activity learning with practical conservation education. This year’s club will design and build bird decoys used to lure endangered waterfowl into nets, where they can be tagged for tracking then released.

Students will also learn why certain local birds are important to Cambodia’s eco system, plus ways they can promote eco-tourism, and thus local economies.

“The students are very excited to be here,” Angarita says when the exercises are over. “The parents will say ‘Yeah’ and not really care, but when they realise the kids are actually learning, they are very supportive.”

Paddling upstream


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 06 November 2009 15:01 Shannon Dunlap

This week our sassy columnist discovers what it takes to be a Water Festival champion.

It all happened very quickly. One moment, I was sauntering idly by the Siem Reap river among the crowd of bystanders gathered to watch a few racing boats practice for the upcoming Water Festival. The next, I was being eagerly led through ankle-high mud by a smiling stranger who was urging me to take his place in the FCC’s sleek racer, the Hanuman .

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing this column, it’s that most of the time it’s better to just swim with the prevailing current. So I climbed in and accepted a paddle from one of my amused fellow rowers. Somnang, the man who had offered me his seat, waved happily from the bank, seemingly pleased with this unexpected cigarette break. We disembarked before I had much chance to contemplate my boyfriend’s nervous, shouted warnings about not throwing my back out.

The trip upstream to the bridge had the rhythmic tranquillity of a leisurely canoe ride. With a few sidelong glances at my boat mates, I gathered the correct way to grasp the slender paddle, and with our synchronised movements, the FCC Hanuman cut through the waves like a hot knife through butter. In a span of seconds, I felt like I was part of the team, united with strangers in the pursuit of a common goal, and I understood as never before why the racing boats are powerful symbols of historical Khmer naval victories.

But all that was just to get positioned at the starting line.

The actual practice run began when we steered the boat in a 180-degree turn and began to paddle frantically with the current. Later, Somnang’s brother Ra explained that I had secured a fairly easy position near the front of the boat where at least I could stay seated, unlike the muscled guys at the back who have to stand up and row mightily. But in the moment, my situation felt anything but comfortable. The water roiled around us, there were whistle blows and collective grunts that I couldn’t comprehend, and then suddenly my entire field of vision was taken up by the adrenaline-fuelled whirlwind of limbs and paddles surrounding me.

Timing my movements with the frenzied strokes of the man in front of me took fierce concentration, and I faltered clumsily. What’s worse, it took me some time to get the angle of the oar correct, and consequently, the current occasionally seized the edge of my paddle like some furious sea monster, dragging it under and sending great plumes of river water over me and anyone seated near me. Thankfully, the drenched man sitting behind me seemed to find my ineptitude funny rather than irritating, and when the boat finally slowed, he gave me a dripping thumbs-up.

We steered back to the shore, and suddenly I was back on the riverbank, soaked and still dazed by my whiplash turn as a racer. I think my amateurish flailing hindered our time rather than helped it, but Team FCC was gracious nonetheless, and Somnang, cigarette still dangling from his lower lip, insisted on a quick photograph before resuming his rightful place in the boat.

I stood by the river for a while and watched the real racers continue to practice. Despite the exhaustion dragging at my arms, there was a small part of me that wished I was still out there on the boat, riding the waves of Siem Reap.