Thursday, 25 February 2010

Cambodian military, business cosy up as premier calls for support


via CAAI News Media

Thu, 25 Feb 2010
By : dpa

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked business leaders to help fund the country's military, saying all citizens of the South-East Asian nation have a duty "to defend the nation," national media reported Thursday. "This is not a legal duty that you have to do - the support is voluntary according to your ability," the Cambodia Daily newspaper quoted him as saying.

Hun Sen's speech was followed by a get-together late Wednesday hosted by the prime minister where senior military officials were scheduled to meet 250 leading business people.

Government spokesman Prak Sokhon told the newspaper that the aim was to establish a strong relationship between business and the military.

"To sponsor a battalion - well, 'sponsor' is a big word, but the private companies will help as far as they can," Prak Sokhon said. "In the past they sent food and so on to the border - it will be this kind of relationship."

Earlier this month Hun Sen addressed troops near the Thai-Cambodian border and heaped praise on a number of businessmen for providing support to the army.

"[They] donated 7,000 wooden beds at a total cost of 210,000 dollars," Hun Sen said, before outlining further requirements. "I need 30,000 beds for the [army], military police and the police who are standing by at the Cambodian-Thai border."

Hun Sen also announced Wednesday that he would visit troops on the Cambodian-Thai border this weekend in the north-western province of Battambang.

However, he refuted any link with the imminent verdict in the case against Thailand's fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Thailand's Supreme Court is set to rule Friday on whether to seize 2.3 billion dollars of Thaksin's assets.

Thaksin was appointed as an adviser to the Cambodian government last year, a move that ramped up tensions between the two nations.

Cambodia's military has long been accused by human rights groups of involvement in illegal activities, including logging, mining, land grabs and human rights abuses.

China, Cambodia sign Consular Treaty to further strengthen cooperation ties

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February 25, 2010

China and Cambodia on Thursday signed here the Consular Treaty, aimed to further strengthen the cooperation relations between the two friendly countries.

Long Visalo, secretary of state of Cambodia's Foreign Ministry and Zhang Jinfeng, Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom, signed the treaty on behalf of their respective countries at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and other government officials presented at the signing ceremony.

"Along with all-round development of the friendship relations between our two countries, personnel exchanges between the two countries are also increasing," Long Visalo said, and expressed his believe that the Consular Treaty will effectively protect the legitimate interest of citizens of the two countries.

Zhang Jinfeng said that China and Cambodia are good neighbors and have a good cooperation on many fields including consular, such as jointly combat illegal immigrant and transnational crimes.

She said that the Consular Treaty has established the framework of consular cooperation between the two countries, provided a legal basis for solving the problems that may arise in the consular affairs and also defined the responsibilities and obligations of both sides. She believed that the treaty will help promote the further development of bilateral consular relations.

Zhang also hoped that the two sides will exchange instruments of ratification as soon as possible, so that the treaty could come into effect as soon as possible.

At present, Cambodia has established six Consulate Generals in China, including China's Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Kunming, Chongqing and Nanning, while China has not yet set up the consulate in Cambodia.

Source: Xinhua

Cambodian consul general awarded insignia


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02/25/2010

The Ho Chi Minh City Union of Friendship Organisations on February 24 presented an insignia “for Peace and Friendship among Nations” to Luon Kim Khuon, Cambodian Consul General.

The honour was bestowed in recognition of the diplomat’s great contribution to strengthening friendship and co-operative ties between Vietnam and Cambodia during his tenure in Ho Chi Minh City.

At the presentation ceremony, Mr Khuon expressed his admiration for Vietnam’s sustainable development and bright achievements. He noted that during his nine-year term in Ho Chi Minh City, he witnessed development, solidarity, and co-operation in all fields between the two countries. The ties of solidarity and friendship between Vietnam and Cambodia will never fade, he added.

Cambodia to join in drug control effort


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February, 25 2010

HA NOI — Viet Nam and Cambodia Customs will boost co-operation in information exchange and the prevention of smuggling, especially drugs, according to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed yesterday in Ha Noi.

The MoU was signed by Director General of the Viet Nam General Department of Customs Le Manh Hung and Pen Siman, member of the Cambodian Government, Delegate of the Royal Government of Cambodia in charge of the Customs and Excise Department.

The two sides agreed that regular meetings at provincial and border levels will be organised in order to develop favourable conditions for legal import-export and business activities at the border.

According to the MoU, each country will actively carry out strong measures to prevent smuggling, illegal transportation of goods and drugs, and other illegal activities that go against the economic, financial and security interests of the two countries.

Viet Nam and Cambodia customs began their co-operative relationship in 2007. The MoU is expected to represent a new step forward in the customs relationship between the two countries.

The two countries agreed to extend the scale of co-operation to include administrative support, simplification of customs procedures and support for mutual strengthening.

Nine of Viet Nam's provinces share border with Cambodia. In 2009, Viet Nam customs discovered and arrested 1,517 smugglers carrying goods valued at nearly US$1.7 million. – VNS

Drained and angry

Photo by: Pha Lina

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:04 May Titthara

A woman passes a home slated for demolition in Dangkor district’s Kakab commune, where some families have lost parts of their homes to make way for a new drainage system. Roughly 300 families have complained to the district governor that pipes have not been installed in newly dug trenches.

More than 70 feared dead in huge Indonesian landslide

Indonesian police identify people killed in a landslide in Pasir Jambu, West Java, on Wednesday. Rescuers said that hopes were fading for more than 60 people missing after the landslide struck south of Jakarta, killing at least 15 people.AFP

Buried houses following a landslide at the Dewata village in Pasir Jambu, West Java, on Wednesday. AFP

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:05 Bayu Ismoyo

Fifteen bodies have been found so far, and rescuers, digging with their bare hands, fear many more remain buried in mud

CIWIDEY, Indonesia

HOPES faded Wednesday for more than 60 people buried under a massive landslide that killed at least 15 in Indonesia, as rescuers used their bare hands to dig for survivors.

Stunned villagers stood by in silence as bodies were dug out of the sticky clay that crushed homes, offices and a processing plant at a tea plantation south of Jakarta on Tuesday.

Survivors said the earth crashed down with the sound of an explosion, giving plantation workers and their families almost no warning.

“We’ve found 15 bodies so far and estimate that there are up to 70 people still missing,” Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by blocked roads in the rugged terrain, officials said.

About 1,000 rescuers including police and soldiers are searching for victims buried on the once-picturesque plantation near Ciwidey village, about 35 kilometres southwest of Bandung city.

“It’s difficult to get heavy machinery into the site. The soil from the landslide is very thick and sticky. We’ve pulled out bodies using our bare hands,” West Java police spokesman Dade Ahmad said.

“The landslide is very deep. At this point, the chance of pulling out victims alive is slim,” he added.

Witnesses said the mud seemed to have flowed down from a nearby hill in a massive “S” shape after heavy rains overnight Monday.

Plantation worker Rosmana, 35, said the earth came down with what sounded like an explosion.

“It happened suddenly. I saw soil mixed with water coming down very fast towards my village. I panicked and worried about my two sons,” she said.

“I rushed to my house and found that my four aunties and a little nephew were buried. My oldest son managed to survive because he ran with other residents to higher ground. My youngest was safe at school.”

Sniffer dogs had been brought in to look for bodies, Ahmad said.

“We’re still trying to bring in the heavy earth-moving equipment. It’s difficult to get to the area, which is on a steep slope,” he added.

Tea plantation worker Maryati said her son was buried in their house beneath the mud.

“It was around eight o’clock in the morning when I heard a very loud explosion. I rushed to check what had happened and saw a large mass of soil had buried the houses,” she told state-run Antara news agency.

“I panicked because my five-year-old son was in our house. I tried to find him but it’s impossible. If he can’t survive, I pray to God that I can find his body.”

Indonesian Vice President Boediono and several ministers are expected to visit the disaster area later Wednesday.

Landslides and flooding are common in Indonesia during the rainy season, which hits a peak from December to February.

Many are blamed on rampant illegal logging and unchecked development in water catchment areas.

Bandung district has recently been hit with some of the worst flooding in eight years, displacing thousands of people.

Twenty five miners were killed in a landslide on Sulawesi island in October, 2008. In July, 2007 more than 130 people were killed in floods and landslides on the same island. AFP

NGO holds alleged link to terrorism


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:05 Sebastian Strangio and Khouth Sophak Chakrya

Kuwaiti charity’s local operations reignite concerns of extremism

A KUWAIT-based Islamic charity that met with National Assembly President Heng Samrin last week has appeared on a US government watch list for providing “financial and material support” to terrorist groups.

Delegates from the Kuwait-Cambodia Islamic Cultural Training Centre (ICTC) met with Heng Samrin on Thursday to discuss charitable donations for Cham communities, said Koam Kosal, Heng Samrin’s cabinet director.

Speaking to reporters outside the closed-door meeting, Koam Kosal added that the ICTC has constructed hundreds of schools, wells and sanitation systems for poor Muslims in rural areas since 1991.

It has also cared for more than 1,000 orphaned children through the Good Sources Cambodia Association.

However, a US treasury department statement issued in June 2008 identifies the ICTC, along with several other Cambodia-based organisations, as an international affiliate of the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS).

The US accuses RIHS of delivering “financial and material support” to al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliates such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), as well as “financial support for acts of terrorism”.

The statement notes that an RIHS employee provided logistical support to Indonesian Riduan Isamuddin – better known as Hambali – a head JI operative who hid in Phnom Penh during 2002 and early 2003.

In November 2002, the RIHS staff member allegedly helped “escort” him out of the capital to an “alternate location” while the eighth ASEAN Summit was under way in Phnom Penh.

Although overseas Islamic charities provide much-needed assistance to Cambodia’s Muslim minority, the ICTC’s visit dredges up past concerns that such funds could support efforts to replace the traditionally moderate form of Islam practiced by Chams with a more fundamentalist strain.

In June 2003, Sman Ismael, a Cambodian national, was arrested at a Kuwait-funded madrasa west of the city on suspicion of plotting terrorist acts as part of JI’s regional network. Two weeks earlier, an Egyptian and two Thais were detained on similar charges when the Saudi-funded Um Al-Qura madrasa north of Phnom Penh was raided by police.

In December 2004, the latter three were convicted involvement in a plot to attack a Western embassy in Phnom Penh. According to a report in Asia Times, a total of 47 foreigners from Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Thailand, Yemen and Egypt were also deported during the 2003 crackdown.

Rohan Gunaratna, a regional terrorism expert at the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism, said Cambodia was right to welcome the benefits of a close relationship with the Middle East, but that transparency should be a key concern. He said many Islamic charities lack transparency, and that up to 40 percent “have been used, misused and abused, with their money ending up in terrorists’ hands”.

“In most cases, when the money leaves Kuwait, for example, they do not know the end user, and there is no proper accountability. Because of that, money has gone into terrorists’ hands,” he said.

Although charities should not themselves be criminalised, Gunaratna said, the flow of money should be closely monitored by governments.

“We have seen ... charities operating in Southeast Asia whose money had gone to support terrorists,” he said. “They should follow every dollar that is spent.”

Ahmad Yahya, a Cham adviser to the government, said he did not know much about ICTC’s sources of funding, but that the close relationship between the government and Cham community leaders meant that any threats would quickly be defused.

“I don’t think that any of these schools are involved in extremism,” he said. “I know most of the teachers. No foreigners come to teach in those schools – only Cambodians.”

He added: “If they were [involved in terrorism], the government would close the schools.”

During his remarks to reporters on Thursday, Koam Kosal described an exchange between ICTC representative Jamal Hasas and Heng Samrin that explicitly dissociated Islam from those who commit violence in its name.

“Jamal Hasas said that in the Koran, the word ‘Islam’ means peace, and those who believe in the Koran love and work against terrorists throughout the world,” Koam Kosal said.

“Heng Samrin in turn told Jamal Hasas that Cambodia’s government extended its welcome to all people and religions who come to bring economic development and reduce poverty in Cambodia.”

Sos Mohammat, president of the Good Sources Cambodia Association, said that his association had received a total of about US$12 million in funding from the ICTC since 1996 in order to provide orphans with food, housing, sanitation and classroom materials. Like Koam Kosal, he emphasised Hasal’s humanitarian credentials.

US embassy spokesman John Johnson added that the US has sought to “build relationships” with Cambodia’s Islamic community with an eye to augmenting the efforts of the government, which has made “great progress in ensuring the integration of the Cambodian Islamic community”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JACOB GOLD

Indigenous rights ignored: activists

Photo by: Pha Lina
Khann Channy, an ethnic Phnong villager from Mondulkiri province, addresses a press conference on Wednesday.

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:05 Chhay Channyda and Sebastian Strangio

INDIGENOUS minority representatives and activists who attended a UN rights hearing in Geneva last week say that the Cambodian delegation failed to address their ongoing concerns, raising fresh questions about the government’s commitment to indigenous land rights.

Only Sun Suon, Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN, was sent to represent the government before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on Thursday and Friday, activists said, adding that a more specialised delegation should have been sent from Phnom Penh.

“Whatever was related to the cultural, educational and land issues of indigenous people was far from his competency to answer,” Pen Raingsey, a coordinator for the land and livelihoods programme at the NGO Forum, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“I noticed that the will of the committee was not satisfied with the answers from the Cambodian representative.”

Khann Channy, an ethnic Phnong villager from Mondulkiri province’s Bousraa commune who attended the meeting, said the government should have sent officials who were responsible for policies affecting indigenous minority populations.

“In Geneva, we raised questions for him about land titling registration for ethnic people, but the ambassador responded that no ethnic minorities face discrimination. The ambassador did not address the real situation of Cambodia, nor did he satisfy our desire for answers,” she said.

Suon Sareth, secretary general of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said Cambodia’s lacklustre participation in the CERD process showed that the country had “no willingness” to protect human rights in Cambodia.

The CERD hearings centred on concerns about indigenous land rights and the apparent lack of progress on the government’s land-titling programme for indigenous people.

A civil society submission to the CERD noted that traditional indigenous land-management systems were under “severe pressure” from a proliferation of agricultural and mining concessions granted to private companies.

“As a result of the increasing number of concessions allocated, the situation regarding land security of indigenous people has regressed,” the submission stated.

“Even if only a small proportion of these projects go ahead, it could contribute to overall environmental, social and economic instability in the country.”

The submission also stated that although the Kingdom’s 2001 Land Law provides for collective titling of indigenous lands, an enabling sub-decree was not adopted until last year. A framework for the Ministry of Interior’s official recognition of indigenous communities – another prerequisite to obtaining land titles – has also been subject to delays, leaving the recognition of indigenous communities to the discretion of state authorities. “No indigenous community has yet received their collective land title,” the submission said.

Indigenous rights activists said the government had taken the positive step of enacting laws, but that this meant little as long as implementation fell short.

“The concrete recognition of land rights, which is an issue of collective survival of indigenous communities, is not being implemented,” said Joan Carling, secretary general of the Chiang Mai-based Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, agreed that the process of collective land titling had been “very slow”.

Others said authorities at lower levels work in environments of legal impunity that allows them to all but ignore laws that are already on the books.

“The authorities at the provincial or district level – I’m not sure how well they understand the law. If they do something wrong, they never get punished,” said Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force. “How can the sub-decree work?”

Vann Samean, an ethnic Suoy villager from Kampong Speu province, said that a 9,985-hectare corn concession granted to the local HLH Group had ballooned out to nearly 30,000 hectares and had eaten into the farmland of five villages. With the company under the protection of the local military, she added, there was little villagers could do to stop the land-clearing that began in June last year.

“Armed forces are the ones who should be protecting people, but they are not. They protect only the company,” she said. “If the company continues to clear our land, our lives will come to an end as well as our ethnic culture.”

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Wednesday waved away criticisms that the government should have sent more officials to Geneva for the CERD hearings, saying Son Suon was tasked with representing the government.

“Our government may have a financial limit for sending officials,” he said.

Khieu Sopheak said that he did not have many details about the progress of land registration for indigenous minorities, but that such groups are treated equally under the law.

“Under Cambodian law, minorities have the same rights as ordinary people,” he said. “We do not discriminate against them. Land-titling registration is the same as with ordinary Cambodian people.”

Cambodia to appeal on behalf of loggers


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:04 Tep Nimol and Cheang Sokha

CAMBODIAN authorities plan to file an appeal on behalf of six Oddar Meanchey villagers convicted of illegal logging in Thailand, after a Thai lawyer informed them that the villagers’ trial had been conducted in accordance with Thai law, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said Wednesday.

The six villagers from O’Smach commune were arrested January 25 while collecting rattan along the contested border area. They were convicted last Friday and sentenced to 27 months in prison. Cambodian authorities were perturbed by this as they claimed they were given an inaccurate court date, preventing them from ensuring the group had legal representation.

The government sent a delegation to Surin province on Monday in the hope of enlisting a Thai lawyer to help with the filing of a complaint.

However, Koy Kuong, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Wednesday that a Thai lawyer had informed the delegation that the trial had been conducted legally, despite the confusion about the court date.

“We have found a Thai lawyer who understands Thai laws to help Cambodian people,” Koy Kuong said, adding that instead of filing a complaint, the government would file an appeal on the Cambodians’ behalf.

“The process of filing an appeal will be done soon,” he said.

Cambodia has long complained about what it sees as harsh treatment of its citizens by Thai soldiers along the border area near O’Smach. Local rights group Adhoc says that more than 20 Cambodian civilians, including a 6-year-old, have been shot and killed by Thai troops over the last two years.

PM says Sam Rainsy will miss 2013 polls

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A Sam Rainsy Party official makes adjustments ahead of the party head’s video address at SRP headquarters on Wednesday afternoon

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:04 Meas Sokchea

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday accused Sam Rainsy of falsifying documents related to the Cambodian-Vietnamese border and warned that the opposition leader will not be able to return for the next National Assembly election in 2013.

“This time, the court sentenced him to jail – no pardon this time. In the next election, there will be opposition parties, but this person will not be there,” Hun Sen said of Sam Rainsy during a graduation ceremony at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “You must be jailed first, if you are brave enough to come be jailed.”

Sam Rainsy is currently in Europe after being sentenced in absentia to two years in prison by Svay Rieng provincial court last month. He was convicted of destruction of property and racial incitement in connection with an October incident in which he led villagers in Svay Rieng’s Chantrea district in uprooting markers along the Cambodian-Vietnamese border to protest alleged Vietnamese encroachment.

On Monday, chief border negotiator Var Kimhong also threatened Sam Rainsy with charges of falsifying public documents in connection with the border. The opposition leader and his allies in the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) have presented maps in press conferences and on their Web site that they say vindicate the claim that the border markers were placed illegally.

In 2005, Sam Rainsy fled the Kingdom to avoid a jail term for defamation before returning after receiving a Royal pardon in 2006. Hun Sen said there would be no such pardon for Sam Rainsy in this case, however, accusing the SRP president of “national betrayal”.

“Please, foreigners, do not interfere” in Sam Rainsy’s case, Hun Sen said.

In a video press conference on Wednesday, Sam Rainsy defended the SRP’s use of border maps and challenged the government to produce contradictory information.

“What we have done does not depend simply on our own ideas – we rely on geography experts and history experts,” Sam Rainsy said, calling the government’s demarcation of the border with Vietnam a “national betrayal”.

Sam Rainsy added that he welcomed the prospect of an additional government complaint against him, saying that it would give him further opportunity to research evidence of border encroachment.

Cholera still spreading: doctor


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:04 Tep Nimol and Brooke Lewis

THE director of a Phnom Penh paediatric hospital on Wednesday said cholera cases were still on the rise nationwide and blasted public health officials for not doing enough to stop the spread of the disease.

In an open letter published in local newspapers, Dr Beat Richner, director of the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in Phnom Penh, said his hospital alone had treated 158 suspected cholera patients so far this month, 65 of whom had tested positive for the disease.

On February 10, Kantha Bopha reported 25 confirmed cholera cases for the month, meaning that 40 new cases have been identified in the last two weeks. Richner blamed the spread on inaction by public health authorities. “Up to now, the measures in public health were not efficient,” he said.

Ly Sovann, deputy director of the Health Ministry’s Communicable Diseases Control Department, said Wednesday that he was unable to provide updated figures for confirmed cholera cases nationally because he had just returned from a trip abroad.

After initially refusing to confirm that there had been any cases, the ministry earlier this month said there had been 128 cases of cholera since November 2009.

Ly Sovann disputed allegations that the ministry had not effectively tackled the problem, pointing to public education campaigns and the provision of sanitation toilets for more than 32,000 families.

“The level of understanding about clean water and toilets has changed, and [people] have changed habits that easily caused them to get infected,” he said.

NagaWorld to hold firm in labour dispute


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:04 Cheang Sokha

PHNOM Penh’s Naga-World Hotel and Casino says it will not adhere to a verdict issued this month by the Secretariat of the Arbitration Council ordering the reinstatement of four union members who were fired last year.

In a letter to the Ministry of Labour dated Tuesday, NagaWorld director of human resources, Gregory Goh, insisted that the secretariat lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the dispute.

“The Arbitration Council does not have the responsibility to resolve the complaint regarding the annulled contracts,” Goh wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Post. “The solution from the Arbitration Council is in complete contradiction of its duty.”

On February 16, the Arbitration Council issued a verdict instructing NagaWorld to allow union members to carry out their activities on company premises, and to reinstate four union members fired last February: Sok Narith, Leuk Phin, Pich Sovaty and Sophann Dara.

The four were part of a group of 14 dismissed from the company in February of last year. NagaWorld says the firings were the result of poor performance, though the workers say they were fired after a dispute over bonuses. The other 10 employees who were initially dismissed have since returned to work.

In July, Gregory Goh filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court accusing the 14 of defamation and incitement, though the court dismissed those charges in October.

In a letter to the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation (CTSWF) dated Tuesday, Bo Chan Veasna, chief of the Secretariat of Arbitration Council, said the council’s recommendations could not be implemented without the consent of both parties.

Sok Narith, who is also the vice president of the CTSWF, said he hoped the NagaWorld management would return to the negotiating table.

“We want them to reconsider because we don’t want to challenge each other,” he said. “We want to negotiate rather than holding a strike or a demonstration.”

PM to visit troops near Thailand

Photo by: Heng Chivaon
Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses graduates of the Royal University of Phnom Penh during a speech on Wednesday in which he discussed his upcoming visit to Battambang province.

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:04 Vong Sokheng

PRIME Minister Hun Sen announced Wednesday that he will visit troops near the Thai border in Battambang province this week, and he denied that the trip was linked to an impending verdict in Thailand on the seizure of fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s assets.

On Friday, Thailand’s supreme court will decide whether to seize more than 76 billion baht (US$2.3 billion) of Thaksin’s assets based on allegations that he abused his political power for business interests. Tensions are high as the antigovernment Red Shirts, with whom Thaksin is aligned, have vowed to stage massive protests in the aftermath of the decision, alleging “double standards” in the Thai judicial system.

Hun Sen used a visit to the border earlier this month as an opportunity to launch severe criticisms at the government of current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, but he insisted that his trip to Battambang on Saturday is unrelated to the goings-on in Thailand.

“It is a habitual and normal visit to the soldiers – do not try to link the problems in Bangkok on February 26 to my visit on February 27,” Hun Sen said, speaking at a ceremony for 1,000 new graduates at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

On March 5, Hun Sen added, soldiers in Kampong Chhnang province will conduct military exercises in which they will launch BM-21 rockets.

Though the rockets are capable of travelling 40 kilometres, Hun Sen said troops would be shooting them less than half that distance during the
exercises.

“We have kept them in the warehouse for too long, and it is time to use them,” Hun Sen said. “We are not flexing our muscles – this is work to strengthen the abilities of the military in national defence.”

Thai troops conducted similar military exercises near the border earlier this month, Cambodian military officials have said.

Crowding a problem in prisons, govt says


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 Khoun Leakhana

THE Kingdom needs new prisons to handle a growing inmate population, Interior Ministry officials said Wednesday.

The capacity of Cambodian prisons has already been exceeded by more than 5,000 people, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said during the first day of the ministry’s annual conference.

“Prisons all over the country can house only 8,000 prisoners, but there are 13,325 prisoners in total in 2009,” Khieu Sopheak said.

Meanwhile, the inmate population is increasing at a rate of 7.6 percent each year, he said.

The trend has led authorities to plan for renovations in two facilities and the building of three new prisons.

Am Sam Ath, technical superviser for rights group Licadho, said he supported the move, but urged authorities to pay more attention to upgrading sanitation and providing adequate food and water.

A 2009 report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted prisons in the Kingdom are “severely overcrowded”, and often lack access to water and basic sanitation.

Moving plan alarms city officials


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 May Titthara

OFFICIALS in three municipal departments are up in arms about a decision to relocate their offices to the capital’s outskirts, a move rights groups have alleged is a clear attempt by the government to profit from the sale of land close to the city centre.

The Council of Ministers issued a directive earlier this month stating that three departments – the Department of Economy and Finance, the Department of Culture and Fine Arts and the Department of Information – would be moved from their current location near the Council of Ministers building on Russian Federation Boulevard to Dangkor district.

Sok Chea, deputy director of the Information Department, said he was not sure when the relocation would take place, but expressed concern that it would create an undue burden on his staff.

“I heard my department will move to Prey Sar commune,” he said.

“My officers will face a lot of problems, as some of them don’t have motorbikes for riding to work because their houses were close to the office, so they could walk.”

He said he planned to ask the government for US$4,000 per staff member to help with the adjustment.

Nget Chendary, director of the Economy and Finance Department, said he had not yet seen the directive but was also worried about the move.

“We’ve just heard the rumours. If this news becomes true, it will make things more difficult for my staff because it is far from the city,” he said.

Chum Vutdy, deputy director of the Culture and Fine Arts Department, said the government should compensate his workers, too.

“Our culture officers are too poor. We don’t have enough money to pay for petrol to get to work,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Wednesday that he did not know anything about the directive.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said Wednesday that the government was likely moving the departments so it could sell the land.

“The government always said that the department [building] is too old, but the real reason is because the land there is too [valuable],” he said.

“The relocation to the outskirts [of Phnom Penh] will really affect officers because it is far from the town and they have to pay more money to go to work.”

New KRT budgets win approval


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 James O'Toole

INTERNATIONAL donors approved the 2010 and 2011 budgets for the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday night, UN court spokesman Lars Olsen said.

The donor countries, Olsen said, allocated US$42 million to the court for 2010 and $43 million for 2011, not including “contingencies”. The new figures mark an increase from the $36.4 million budgeted for 2009, as the court seeks to accommodate the increasing demands it may face in the coming months.

“The budget reflects the possibility that we will have in the near future maybe three different processes going on at the same time,” Olsen said.

These processes may include an appeal in the tribunal’s first case, that of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, as well as a trial of the regime leaders investigated in Case 002 and investigations of additional suspects not yet in custody.

The new figures, set to be released in full later this week, include $1.5 million in funding for outreach activities over the next two years. This is an increase by “four to five times” from previous budgets, Olsen said, calling the new funds “a breakthrough for the outreach efforts of the court”.

Hello records Q4 loss on costs, competition

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Workers at a Hello centre last year in Phnom Penh. The Kuala Lumpur-based mobile operator saw active users climb the most last quarter over any period in 2009, a financial report by parent firm Axiata showed Wednesday.

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 Steve Finch

Revenues and user numbers see robust growth, report shows

MOBILE-phone operator Hello recorded 6 percent revenue growth quarter on quarter as subscribers grew more than during any other period of 2009, according to financial results released Wednesday. But rising marketing costs and investment resulted in a loss, CEO Simon Perkins said.

Hello, a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur-based Axiata, saw its subscribers climb more than 12 percent in the last quarter to 770,000, the report showed, resulting in a 30 percent increase in active users for last year compared with 2008, just under the overall Axiata growth rate of 34 percent over the same period.

“We had a major surge in terms of active subs in Q4, and we did a lot of marketing programmes to achieve this, which had a cost implication,” Perkins told the Post by email Wednesday.

Earnings before tax plummeted 58 percent, compared with the third quarter last year, the report showed without disclosing the amount. That led to an overall loss for Axiata’s Cambodia subsidiary for the last quarter over the proceeding period, in which profits after tax soared 71 percent.

In the third quarter Hello said it had enacted a cost-cutting exercise in a bid to prop up profits hurt by excessive competition in the sector.

Perkins said that Hello had spent heavily on its 3G network in the last quarter. The firm last year became the first to launch 3G Blackberries in the Kingdom and is set to introduce new handset models next month.

Wednesday’s report showed that Hello represented 5 percent of overall capital expenditure at Axiata last year, compared with just 2 percent in 2008, albeit during a period in which the firm reduced capital expenditure 47 percent to 3.015 billion Malaysian ringgits (US$885.6 million) from 5.652 billion ringgits the previous year.

Axiata noted again that Cambodia’s mobile phone environment remained a difficult one in which to generate profits, with a total of nine companies vying for the roughly 14 million potential users in the Kingdom.

“Intense competition and heavy price cuts in the Cambodia market continue to impact revenue growth in TMIC,” Wednesday’s report said, referring to the local subsidiary name Telekom Malaysia International (Cambodia) Co Ltd.

Axiata, the best-performing stock this year on Kuala Lumpur’s benchmark index, posted a 55.3 million ringgit ($164 million) profit overall.

US to rethink its relationship


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 Sebastian Strangio

THE government’s deportation of 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China in December will likely force the United States to reconsider the nature of its relationship with Cambodia, a senior American official said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a daily press briefing in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs PJ Crowley said the US was still unhappy about the sudden deportation.

“We’re deeply disturbed that the Cambodian government, in violation of its international obligations, forcibly removed 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China in December without the benefit of a credible process for determining their refugee status,” he said.

“We have expressed our disappointment, and we will factor this into future decisions that we make about our relationship with Cambodia.”

In response to questions about what specific measures had been taken, Crowley did not comment, but added: “When we say there’s going to be [effects], we mean what we say.”

On December 19 last year, Cambodian authorities forcibly deported 20 Uighurs who had arrived in Cambodia the previous month in a bid to seek political asylum. Rights activists say the group, including two other Uighurs who escaped prior to the deportation, fled ethnic violence in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang province, last July.

Many observers linked the deportation to the arrival the next day of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who proceeded to sign an unprecedented US$1.2 billion worth of economic aid agreements with Cambodian officials.

When contacted on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong declined to comment on whether the government was concerned about any US reactions to the deportation.

He repeated the government’s earlier statement that in deporting the Uighurs, Cambodia was “only implementing its own immigration laws”.

CP to buy grain worth $30m for animal feed


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 Chun Sophal

CP Group Cambodia Co Ltd announced Wednesday it would buy US$30 million in grain as part of a plan to expand animal feed production by 20 percent on last year.

Wittaya Kreangkriwit, vice president of CP Group Cambodia Co Ltd, cited the rising price of unprocessed grains as another reason for the company’s increased expenditure, a significant rise on 2009 when the company spent US$19 million.

“This year, our expenses on agricultural products – which are the raw materials we use to produce animal feed – will increase by 57.89 percent compared to last year,” he said. “We hope that the company will be able to buy enough grain to fulfil its production demand.”

The company plans to purchase a total of 106,500 tonnes of grain, including 100,000 tonnes of red corn, 5,000 tonnes of cassava and 1,500 tonnes of soybeans between March and May this year, said Wittaya, and will source the grains from Kampong Cham and Pailin provinces.

The company estimated all three of the main raw materials used to produce animal feed would increase in price, he added, with red corn likely to rise by 33 percent to 1,100 riels per kilogram (US$0.27), cassava by 53 percent to 850 riels per kilogram and soybeans by 26.7 percent to 2,400 riels per kilogram.

In total, the company plans to raise production of animal feed this year to 144,000 tonnes, which would be 24,000 tonnes more than output in 2009.

Wittaya told the Post this month that CP plans to raise the price of its product more than 8 percent this year from $460 a tonne in 2009 to $500 to compensate for higher costs

The firm's revenue target is $72 million for 2010, he added.

Nutrition: Initiative to promote food security


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 Khouth Sophakchakrya

Nutrition

The Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) on Wednesday launched a new scheme aimed at improving nutrition levels and ensuring the consistent availability of food for families throughout the Kingdom. “In the past, Cambodia has been largely food self-sufficient and could produce surpluses for export. However, there continue to be regional disparities, and local food availability remains vulnerable to natural disasters, while rural poverty still hampers access to adequate food for many households,” Tao Seng Huor, vice chairman of CARD, said at the launch of the National Trainer Pool for Food Security and Nutrition. To combat the limited amount of awareness of food security and nutrition issues, the scheme, a joint venture between CARD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, will train people to assist policymakers in making decisions pertaining to both topics.

Police Blotter: 25 Feb 2010


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:02 Sen David

DRUNKEN DRIVER DIES CRASHING INTO SHOP
A 35-year-old man died after crashing his motorbike into a shop in Kandal province Tuesday. Police say the man was drunk when the crash occurred. Officers appealed to residents to not drive if they get drunk because they would be sorry if they saw someone dying in a traffic accident. Neighbours said they had often seen the man driving after drinking. The man’s wife reported that she last heard from her husband before a meeting with friends that lasted the entire day. Then she heard the news of his fatal crash.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

COP HANGS HIMSELF AFTER ROW WITH WIFE
A 41-year-old policeman hanged himself Thursday in Banteay Meanchey province after an angry confrontation with his wife, police said. The wife reported that her husband often drank with his colleagues. On Thursday, she confronted her husband, telling him: “Every day when you arrive home, you are always drunk. You are a policeman.” This appeared to anger the husband. He threatened to hang himself, but his wife did not believe him, she said. But when she awoke, she saw her husband had hanged himself from a tree behind their house.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

SIEM REAP OFFICIALS NET FISHY FIVESOME
Five people in Siem Reap province have been detained after authorities accused them of illegal fishing. Local police said they seized illegal fishing equipment. Authorities warned that illegal fishing jeopardises the precious fish resources in the lake and threatens future livelihoods. Police said it was the first time this group had been caught illegally fishing.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

VILLAGE FIRE LEAVES DAMAGED HOMES
Villagers in Battambang province are cleaning up after a fire swept through four houses and a treehouse in Svay Pak district Tuesday. Witnesses said they saw flames leaping from the treehouse and spreading to nearby residents’ homes. Nine fire trucks arrived and put an end to the blaze, but the firefighters’ actions didn’t prevent everything in the houses from being damaged. Police are now questioning the owner of the treehouse, who has reportedly fled.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

MORALITY LESSON FOR DAUN PENH CROOKS
Daun Penh district police detained eight “gangsters” accused of stealing and using drugs. Residents reported that the eight accused have tormented the neighbourhood, walking around while brandishing swords. Now the residents are calling on police to arrest every gangster. The eight in question have been sent to a local rights group to receive “an education”. Police warned that general social morality will slide with gangster-like behaviour.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

Bad weather assaults salt industry


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 Vong Sokheng

BAD weather in Kampot on Monday caused about US$700,000 in damage to salt farms, the director of the Kep Salt Production Association said in the latest in a series of recent setbacks for the industry.

Ly Seng told said Wednesday that between 10,000 and 15,000 tonnes of salt had been affected, and that this damage could escalate if the recent weather that caused severe flooding in the area does not improve soon.

“We have no means to protect the salt farms because we farm depending on the weather,” he said. “If there is rain in the next 10 days, more salt production will be lost.”

At least five salt farms were hit in Boeung Chhuok, Srekoh,

Boeung Ruong I and Boeung Ruong II, and Ses Sar in Chuok district, added Ly Seng.

This week’s setback comes after Ly Seng last month gave a positive outlook for the industry for this year despite a period of bad weather that affected 3,000 tonnes. Cambodia was targeting about 90,000 tonnes domestic production for this year, he said at the time, a figure he did not revise downwards Wednesday.

Last year the industry suffered because of unusually poor weather during the dry season – salt is harvested after evaporation from November to May when producers can usually expect minimal rain.

However, unseasonably heavy rains at the start of 2009 cut production to just 30,000 tonnes for the year, way below domestic annual consumption of as much as 120,000 tonnes, meaning the remainder had to be imported, mostly from China. At about US$120 per tonne Chinese imported salt is much more expensive than that produced domestically, which costs just $70 a tonne.

Cambodia has experienced domestic salt shortages since 2007. They increased in 2009, meaning the Kingdom had to import for the first time in recent years, according to the Kep Salt Production Association.

Charge in guard’s death

Photo by: Photo Supplied

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

Nuth Sophoan shortly after his arrest on Saturday. The 31-year-old was charged Wednesday with premeditated murder in the death of a female security guard who last Thursday was found naked, bound and gagged in a Russey Keo district sewer.

Complaint filed in case of domestic maid


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:02 Mom Kunthear

A MAN in Banteay Meanchey province has lodged a complaint with local rights groups and provincial authorities after being told that his daughter had been abused after she was sent abroad as a domestic worker.

In the complaint, Kean Keal accused the recruitment agency that sent his daughter abroad, Philimore Cambodia Company, of being slow to act on his concerns that she has been abused.

The man said he hasn’t heard from his 18-year-old daughter, Kuch Srey Thea, since she left home last year.

“I have never received any information about her,” he said.

Through a friend of Kuch Srey Thea in Malaysia, who he declined to name, Kean Keal said he has heard that his daughter has been subjected to abuse while working as a maid.

“She told me that my daughter was tortured by her landlord that she worked with,” he said.

When he asked the agency to return his daughter from Malaysia, agency staff demanded US$500, he said.

The company’s director, Lao Lyhock, could not be reached for comment.

Prak Sophima, monitor for the women’s programme at the rights group Adhoc in Banteay Meanchey, said the agency has refused to reveal Kuch Srey Thea’s address in Malaysia.

“The director of the company told me that he is flying to Malaysia to see whether [the allegations] are true or not,” she said.

The director of the province’s labour department also said he had been told the agency’s director planned to go to Malaysia.

“I told him to take action on this problem as soon as possible,” said Lim Sothet, who said he will urge the agency to meet with Kean Keal.

Thousands of Cambodian women go abroad each year to work as domestic servants. However, rights groups warn that some encounter abusive situations and arduous working conditions, and that in some places they are not covered by labour laws.

Advocates recommend prospective migrant workers go through one of more than 20 recruitment agencies licenced by the Ministry of Labour.

Philimore is one of the agencies licenced by the ministry.

Adhoc’s Prak Sophima said her organisation last year handled two cases in which Banteay Meanchey women working as domestic workers in Malaysia accused their employers of abuse.

HRP calls for govt help in Chi Kraeng land row


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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:02 Rann Reuy

Siem Reap Province

A HUMAN Rights Party lawmaker has called on Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to intervene in a land dispute in Siem Reap’s Chi Kraeng district that led to an armed clash between villagers and police last March.

On March 22, 2009, some 100 armed police opened fire on 80 residents of Chi Kraeng commune who were caught harvesting crops on land that Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin had ruled belongs to families in neighbouring Anlong Samnor. Nine villagers are currently behind bars because of their alleged involvement in the incident, but no police have been arrested or charged.

Ou Chanrith wrote his letter on January 17, and it was processed by National Assembly President Heng Samrin on February 22.

On Wednesday, the lawmaker noted that the Justice Ministry had previously called on local officials to investigate alleged police wrongdoing in the altercation, but he said this had not yielded results.

“I issued this letter to urge the Justice Minister to retake action, because I see no measures from local officials to implement their previous orders,” he said.

Siem Reap provincial court prosecutor Ty Soveinthal said Wednesday that the investigation was ongoing.

“If the HRP lawmaker knows the real gunfighter, he can come to be a witness,” he said.

Bunyay Narin, deputy chief of the cabinet at the Justice Ministry, said Wednesday that Ou Chanrith’s letter had not been received.

K-pop band donate $10,000 to Phnom Penh orphanage

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Members of South Korean pop band Shinee pose for photographs at a press conference in Phnom Penh on February 22.

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:01 Roth Meas

South Korean boy band Shinee performed a concert at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, wrapping up a six-day visit that included a donation of US$10,000 to the Cambodia Children’s Fund.

The band – formed in 2008 and consisting of members Lee Jinki, Kim Jonghyun, Kim Kibum, Choi Minho and Lee Taemin – has become popular among Cambodian teens through its music videos, particularly for the song “Ring Ding Dong”.

Shinee’s visit to the country was arranged by the Cambodia Television Network (CTN) and its sister network MYTV.

At a press conference on Monday band members said they were touring Asia and had very much wanted to perform in Cambodia.

“We also know that Cambodian people support Shinee,” the band said in statement.

Following the press conference, the group visited the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF), where they were greeted by about 100 orphaned children who live there. The children staged a performance for the visitors, after which the band donated $10,000 to the fund.

CCF is raising 135 Cambodian children, 7 to 18 years of age, most of whom are former scrap scavengers from the Stung Meanchey dump site. The fund provides English-language classes, jobs in restaurants, IT classes and other vocational training.

“I think we will use [Shinee’s] donation for our culture, music and dance. I love music and I like culture,” said CCF director Scott Neeson.

Meanwhile, Monday’s press conference was also a rallying point for Shinee fans, many of whom waited outside the conference room sporting blonde, metrosexual hairstyles and Korean-style clothing.

One fan, 19-year-old National University of Management student Leng Dalin, said she was there to see the band members but had not been allowed into the press conference.

“I’ve been a fan since first seeing them on MYTV last year. I like their clothes and the way they dance,” she said.

Leng Dalin said she had already bought a $5 ticket to see Shinee’s Tuesday concert, money she would not spend on performances by Cambodian singers whom she said she had already seen “too many times”.

According to the Cambodia Television Network, more than 4,000 tickets were sold for the Shinee concert, most of them to fans under 20 years old.

Dancing under the stars at Wat Botum Park

On Sunday, vendors and aerobics enthusiasts will share Wat Botum Park with more than 20 dancers. Centre Culteral Francaise

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Thursday, 25 February 2010 15:00 Sarah Outhwaite

CCF will conclude its Dansez Roam festival Sunday with evening performances at one of the city’s liveliest public spaces

Phnom Penh

AS Sunday’s sun goes down this weekend on Wat Botum Park, Cambodia’s most adventurous dancers will come out as the stars appear and perform on the pathways. A free dance event arrives at one of Phnom Penh’s busiest, noisiest and most public places.

February’s Dansez Roam festival concludes with La Rue au Wat Botum, a spectacle of movement featuring performers from all schools of dance now happening in Cambodia.

The French Cultural Centre (CCF) and Amrita Performing Arts have organised over 20 performers for this open-air event

Eight dance areas will be spaced throughout the park, lit and surrounded by cushions to sit on. Audience members can stay in a single spot or wander about, as dancers will visit each site performing five-minute compositions.

The artists range from Khmer classical court dancers to circus performers and traditional Lakhaon Khaol monkeys. B-Boy troupe Tiny Toones brings Cambodian hip-hop culture into the mix. Emerging choreographers will present their own culturally resonant forms of contemporary dance.

Amid the makeshift stages, a large projection screen will display photographic stills from past performances. The public can watch live events while reflecting on this archive of dance development over the past three years.

Photographer Anders Jiras recognises that this mosaic of brief individual performances differs from the collectivity of pure classical dance, but also allows artists to perform for themselves.

After dark, solo dancers and couples will be separated into separate lighted areas. But no outdoor show can stay isolated from its surroundings. Although Dansez Roam has official authorisation to use the venue, it must still contend with the vendors, light shows and aerobics groups that give Wat Botum Park its unique evening flavour.

CCF Director Alain Arnaudet confirms that multiple blasting sound systems may pose a challenge for performers. “As we don’t use all the venue, we suggest aerobics groups continue [to the] south [side of the park]; there’s enough places for everybody,” he said, but he admits the potential for a stereo showdown.

Experienced performer Phon Sopheap invites the intrusion of public energy into his usually pristine dance space. “I never performed on a street like this before,” he said with excitement.

To prepare his personal choreography, Phon Sopheap has embraced the environment. “I ride slowly on my moto and watch the people. I try to take the feeling from outside on the street and bring it in.”

Dancing on a bare surface poses a greater challenge for him.

Accustomed to barefoot leaps and monkey-like dives, he will temper his speed and energy on the unfamiliar pavement.

In contrast, street performance is home turf for the show’s hip-hop artists. More distinctive for them will be sharing the venue with so many different schools of performance, as the range of dancers performing in Cambodia increases in variety.

Arnaudet hopes that the intimacy of an outdoor venue will pull Phnom Penh’s public closer to the reality of Cambodia’s living dance scene: “It’s a chance to get close to the audience and say, ‘Look! We are more than just one or two dancers. We are many, and we all perform today’.”

La Rue au Wat Botum begins February 28 from 6:30 to 8:30pm at Wat Botum Park. The writer of this article will also participate.