Friday, 12 March 2010

Thailand rejects call to delay deportation


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:06 James O'Toole

THAI officials rejected calls from civil society groups to halt the planned deportation of migrant workers, including tens of thousands from Cambodia, during a meeting held this week before the Thai government’s National Human Rights Commission.

At a public meeting on Wednesday, officials from Thailand’s Ministry of Labour discussed their migrant policy and provided updated statistics on the number of migrant workers who registered on time to participate in the process of nationality verification through their home governments, which would allow them to secure renewed permits to work in Thailand.

Although the numbers have not yet been finalised by the Thai Ministry of Labour, statistics distributed at Wednesday’s meeting stated that 81,601 Cambodian workers, out of the 124,902 eligible for the programme in Thailand, had applied for nationality verification by the March 2 deadline.

“If they didn’t apply [by] that date, they cannot work,” said Supat Guukhun, deputy director general of the employment office at Thailand’s Ministry of Labour. Workers who are deported may reapply from their home countries to return to Thailand “through legal channels”, Supat added.

Among the attendees at Wednesday’s meeting was Andy Hall, director of the Migrant Justice Programme at the Human Rights and Development Foundation in Thailand, who said Thai officials had made it clear that workers who missed the deadline are now considered illegal migrants, and may thus be subject to “detention, arrest and deportation”.

To account for workers lost to deportation, Thailand has set a quota of 58,000 for the number of new Cambodian workers who may be granted work permits in addition to those who are currently registered, Supat said, with 17,000 new applications having been processed thus far.

Bruno Maltoni, project coordinator at the Phnom Penh office of the International Organisation for Migration, said Thursday that Thai plans to deport thousands of migrants from Cambodia and elsewhere were likely unrealistic.

“On the Cambodian side, obviously there are worries because there is the danger of a lot of deportations in the near future, but at the same time it’s difficult to say … that the Thai government has the human resources to put the deportations in place,” Maltoni said.

In 2006, Maltoni noted, Thailand announced similar plans to deport thousands of unregistered workers, though these plans were ultimately curtailed.

“I don’t think [deportations] would last very long, because they would really put a strain on the Thai police,” Maltoni said.

Hall agreed, saying it would be “very difficult” for Thai authorities to round up the more than 500,000 legal migrants who missed last week’s deadline, as well as the more than 1 million illegal migrants estimated to be living in Thailand.

Though Thai officials say the nationality verification process is meant to regularise migration and extend social services enjoyed by Thai citizens to migrant workers, Hall said a failure to extend the registration deadline and reopen the process would leave Thailand’s immigration system in disarray and many workers at greater risk of abuse.

“Workers are going to be subject to systematic exploitation,” Hall said. “They’re going to be arrested, their money’s going to be extorted from them, and they’re going be released.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said Cambodia had no objection to the deportations, adding that he hoped Cambodian workers deported from Thailand would stay and seek work within the Kingdom. “This is the internal affair of Thailand to implement their immigration law,” Koy Kuong said. “We will welcome [migrant workers] back if they are deported back to Cambodia.”

Anticorruption Law sails through

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A viewer watches a video feed of lawmakers debating the anti-graft law during a parliamentary session on Thursday.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:05 Meas Sokchea

THE National Assembly has passed, without amendment, the government’s Anticorruption Law more than 15 years after it was first proposed, prompting renewed concerns from opposition members that it will do little to reduce the Kingdom’s endemic graft.

In a three-and-a-half-hour session on Thursday morning, the 29-page bill was swiftly approved by a unanimous vote of the 82 parliamentarians present. Prior to the vote, 16 lawmakers from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party walked out in protest after the body rejected requests to modify 10 of the draft law’s 57 articles.

The SRP had called for the public declaration of assets by government officials, as well as a change to the composition of the new, 11-member National Anticorruption Commission.

According to the law, members of that body will be chosen by the King, Senate, National Assembly and eight other government institutions. A separate Anticorruption Unit, under the Council of Ministers, will be in charge of the day-to-day investigations into corruption in the public and private sectors.

After leaving the session, SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said he was deeply disappointed with the law, and that the Anticorruption Commission would be meaningless if government officials sat on it.

“Not even one of our points was amended,” Yim Sovann told reporters outside the assembly chamber.

“We are very disappointed, and I think that this Anticorruption Law will become a law defending corruption, because it lacks clear definitions.”

Yim Sovann also expressed concern about the Anticorruption Unit, saying its lack of an independent budget – Article 16 of the draft law puts it under the financial umbrella of the Council of Ministers – would hinder its effectiveness.

“The National Anticorruption Commission and the Anticorruption Unit will be governed almost completely by the government,” he said.

“I do not believe the Council of Ministers has the will to combat corruption because we know the corrupt people are the people who have the power to decide everything, and the people who decide everything are the officials in government.”

In a statement issued Thursday, the Human Rights Party (HRP), which also boycotted the debate, stated that the law was nothing but an attempt to impress foreign donors, who have pressed for an anti-graft law for years.

“The HRP has taken the Anticorruption Law to show voters at the grassroots and received the same answer: that the Anticorruption Law does not have enough meaning to punish corrupt officials,” the statement read.

During Thursday’s debate, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An defended the law, saying that it will play a significant role in strengthening efforts to curtail corrupt practices.

“When we have this law our [Anticorruption] Unit will become an effective tool to fulfill a serious duty for government and society,” he said. Sok An also mocked opposition members’ criticisms of the law, telling them to stop pressing their concerns.

“This opinion should not be raised any more – it is incorrect. This law is very important. We have created it to combat corruption from the big to the small,” he said.

However, critics continue to blast the fact that the law was formulated in secret and with little input from outside sources.

On Thursday, a coalition of more than 200 civil society organisations issued a statement criticising the rushed passing of the law and the government’s rejection of a request for an extra month for NGOs and opposition members to study it.

“We, representatives of the alliance of nongovernmental organisations, are deeply disappointed that we could not get the assembly to change its decision to delay the debate over this important [law],” the statement read.

YOUR SAY THE ANTICORRUPTION LAW

Phuong Chhunleang, 24, student

I have had experience with corruption since I was in high school [when] I gave money to the teachers to cheat on the exams. I think I would be crazy to be honest while others around me were corrupt. I am happy to see our country has a corruption law, but I don’t know if it will be efficient or not.


San Thy, 29, tuk-tuk driver

It is good to see the corruption law appear in my country, but it was very fast – I just heard the government will create the corruption law and now it is already done. I feel so surprised. What I am afraid of is that the lawmakers who created the law will step on the law, so that it is not effective.


Kum Sokun Bunnavath, 26, police officer

The corruption law will reduce corrupt actions in our society and more investors will come to invest in our country. I think to create the law faster is better. I congratulate this law, but I think that the corruption will still remain, just less than before.



Sam Saveoun, 48, fortune teller

I welcome the new law which the National Assembly just approved. I hope that this law will help me and that no police or authorities will come to ask for money where I work. Police used to come and eject me from the street, but when I gave them 1,000 to 2,000 riels I could continue.

Kampong Speu farmers warned over rallies

Photo by: May Titthara
Farmers gather outside Kampong Speu provincial court, where six villagers involved in a land dispute were questioned Thursday.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:05 May Titthara

Kampong Speu Province

SIX villagers in Kampong Speu province were questioned in provincial court on Thursday over allegations they incited 1,000 people to protest, prompting claims that authorities are trying to intimidate those involved in a land dispute with a well-known businessman.

The six were accused of inciting villagers during the protest late last month, which saw 1,000 Omlaing commune farmers express concerns that they could lose their rice fields to a sugar company owned by Ly Yong Phat, a senator with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Phal Vannak, an Omlaing commune villager who was among those questioned on Thursday, said court officials ordered him to agree not to incite further protests.

“They ordered us to give thumbprints and stop doing it,” Phal Vannak said through tears. “If I do it again, I will face arrest. They let us go, but I am still afraid.”

Like others involved in the protest, he said it had been peaceful.

“They accused me of using violence and persuading villagers to go against the company,” he said. “I told them that I did not do what they accused me of. I just joined with my villagers to protest.”

Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company has been awarded a 9,000-hectare concession that includes land on which the Omlaing farmers live.

Local authorities and company officials have said the farmers will not lose their land.

However, villagers point out that the company has sent a number of bulldozers and excavators to the area, and that military police are stationed on sections of it.

On Thursday, Kampong Speu Governor Kang Heang said the six villagers questioned in court had incited farmers during the February protest, and that about 100 protesters gathered in front of the courthouse did not actually live on the concession land.

“The villagers who came to protest in front of provincial court today, they are not real villagers in Omlaing commune. They are from outside,” he said.

He went on to say that the questioning was intended as a warning to the farmers.

“They did not arrest the six representatives. The court just warned them to stop persuading the villagers to protest. Then they released them,” he said.

Rights monitors, however, expressed alarm at the session.

“I would like to urge the provincial court to please stop accusing villagers,” said Chan Soveth, programme officer for the rights group Adhoc. “Even though they have only questioned them, the villagers are worried.”

He added that the standoff between farmers and officials could descend into violence.

“Please avoid violence to settle the problem, because villagers just want to get a settlement from authorities,” he said.

Ly Yong Phat could not be reached for comment Thursday. But in an interview last week, the senator said villagers had nothing to fear.

“The villagers don’t need to be worried about their farmland,” he said. “We will not take over their land.”

Ly Yong Phat owns three sugar companies operating throughout Cambodia. One of them, the Angkor Sugar Company, was at the centre of a separate dispute in Oddar Meanchey province that saw 100 families driven off their land in October.

Shooting: Police arrest soldier over forest death


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:05 Tep Nimol

Shooting

Asoldier accused of shooting a villager who was transporting timber in Oddar Meanchey’s Anlong Veng district was sent to court by district officials on Thursday to face a murder charge. The suspect was identified as Seng Ho, 53, a soldier belonging to Brigade 5 in Anlong Veng. It is alleged that he asked for 20,000 riels (about US$4.80) from the victim, Yath Yom, and opened fire when the man did not pay. The victim later died in a Siem Reap hospital. Nguon Rithy, Anlong Veng district military police chief, said the suspect was arrested on Wednesday in Trapaing Prasat district’s Pha’av commune. “We have arranged the documents and lawsuit already, and sent both along with the suspect to court on Thursday charged with intentional murder,” he said.

PM’s room to be rebuilt


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:05 Chhay Channyda

LOCAL officials announced plans Thursday to rebuild a dormitory near Tuol Kork district’s Neak Von pagoda where Prime Minister Hun Sen studied as a young man, after it and other dwellings were destroyed in a Monday fire.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema ordered authorities to begin reconstruction of the prime minister’s former dormitory, Dormitory 10, during a visit to the site of the fire, said Ngin Khim, the chief monk at the pagoda.

“Even if Dormitory 10 is not completely destroyed, the city still needs to repair it,” Ngin Khim said Thursday. “It should be preserved because it is where Prime Minister Hun Sen studied as a youth.”

A total of 178 homes and 31 dormitory rooms were destroyed after a fire ripped through a community in Tuol Kork’s Boeung Kak 2 commune on Monday evening.

Though the government has been providing relief supplies at the site, Ngin Khim said specific plans have not yet been made for the reconstruction of other buildings lost to Monday’s fire.

Court opens probe of new Sam Rainsy case


Photo by: Sovan Philong
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks at a press conference last year.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:05 Vong Sokheng

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court has opened investigations into criminal complaints filed against opposition leader Sam Rainsy by government lawyers last month over an ongoing dispute over the demarcation of the Cambodia-Vietnam border, court officials said Thursday.

Sok Roeun, the court’s deputy prosecutor, said that following the rejection on Tuesday of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) president’s bid to postpone his initial court hearing, the court began looking into the accusations.

“Since the cases are under investigation, the court needs both sides’ lawyers to submit more evidence for consideration, and then we can make a judgement,” he said.

He could not confirm that the two charges – falsifying public documents and spreading disinformation – would be upheld.

The complaints were filed after Sam Rainsy released maps that he said offered “unprecedented evidence” of Vietnamese incursions into Svay Rieng’s Chantrea district.

The SRP leader, who is currently overseas, has already been sentenced to two years in prison for uprooting temporary border markers in the area, which villagers said were planted in their rice fields by Vietnamese authorities. If convicted on the two new charges, Sam Rainsy could face an additional 18 years in prison.

Choung Chou Ngy, Sam Rainsy’s defence lawyer, said on Thursday that he would continue to keep a close watch over the court’s investigations of the complaints.

“I have no idea whether Sam Rainsy will face charges or not, but the most important thing is that so far there is still not enough evidence to charge my client,” he said.

Government lawyer Ky Tech, who filed the complaints against Sam Rainsy on February 26, said he has prepared more documents to back the claims against the Kingdom’s main opposition leader.

“I have already prepared more evidence and will submit it to the court on Thursday afternoon,” he said.

Police Blotter: 12 Mar 2010


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 Sen David

LONELY GRANDMA A VICTIM OF ROBBERY
Police arrested one man and are looking for another after the duo allegedly stole jewellery and US$2,000 in cash from their own grandmother. Police said the brazen robbery happened Wednesday in the capital’s Tuol Kork district as the men visited their elderly relative. The woman was reportedly thrilled that her two grandsons popped by because they hardly ever visited her. But while the grandmother was busy cooking a scrumptious meal, the pair abruptly declared that they could not eat rice and left the house in a hurry. That’s when the grandmother found her money and jewellery missing. Police caught the two men, but one escaped.
DEUM AMPIL

BIKE THIEF'S ARREST HEARTENS VICTIMS
Mobility-challenged residents of Siem Reap town rejoiced Wednesday after police arrested an accused serial motorbike thief. Cops busted in on the man’s home and found a suspicious stash of motorbike keys. Police say the suspect confessed to stealing more than 20 motorbikes. Coincidentally, that also happens to be the exact age of the man. He is so young, but he has allegedly stolen so many motorbikes, residents and police lamented. Police also reported finding an illegal gun stashed in the suspect’s home.
DEUM AMPIL

CONFUSION FOLLOWS DISCOVERY OF BODY
Police and villagers in Kandal province have been left puzzled after the body of a 27-year-old moto taxi driver was found in a field recently. The man’s body was found with multiple stab wounds. Police speculated that the motive for the crime might have been simple robbery, or it could have been rancour. But officers also said that if someone wanted to rob the man, he or she would not have stabbed him so viciously; if that person wanted to kill the man in anger, he or she would not have stolen his money and motorbike. The local police force’s top sleuths plan to continue deliberating.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

LOVESICK MAN KILLS SELF AT LUNCHTIME
A 32-year-old factory worker hanged himself after his would-be fiancĂ©e reportedly left him for another man. The man’s colleagues reported that he had complained his girlfriend had “a new boy” before he killed himself. The man and the woman’s families had agreed to let the couple marry, his relatives reported, but apparently the woman had other plans. She reportedly struck up a relationship with a new gentleman. Police said the man hanged himself while his co-workers were out to lunch.
DEUM AMPIL

Cafes raided in brothel crackdown


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:05 Chrann Chamroeun and Tep Nimol

DAUN Penh district authorities raided four cafes and massage parlours in Srak Chork commune on Wednesday, detaining nine alleged prostitutes in a crackdown that received praise from local residents.

“We led the operation with district and military police and raided these four houses on suspicion of procuring prostitution, but their pimps remain at large,” Daun Penh district Governor Sok Sambath said Thursday.

He added that the houses were destroyed in the raid and the land would be redeveloped.

“On Thursday morning we completely destroyed these houses in order to develop them into nice houses,” he said.

The nine detained women are being held temporarily at Daun Penh police station, Sok Sambath said, adding that no decision had been made on whether to send them to court, release them or send them for “education”.

Keo Ratanak, a 40-year-old resident of a house in close proximity to the raids, said he welcomed the crackdown.

“I was very happy for police to take serious measures to crack down on these places, which have been stationed here for several years,” he said.

“They impact on Khmer traditions, and my daughters who pass this road every day from school.”

He said previous complaints from residents had been ignored, adding that he believed some officials were accepting bribes from pimps to look the other way.

Fellow resident Meas Nary, 45, agreed that the raid was necessary, but warned that there was still more work to be done. “There are still several places of prostitution that I strongly urge police to raid,” she said.

Srak Chork commune police Chief Touch Sarin said further investigation into other illegal brothels, massage parlours, karaoke clubs and gambling halls would continue.

Meanwhile, Cambodian National Police Chief Net Savoeun has ordered local, provincial and national authorities to deepen their crackdown on illegal clubs of all types to improve security and social order.

“Authorities must take measures to crack down on these illegal places without waiting for permission from top-level authorities,” he said in a speech Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly lambasted high-ranking officials who he said were obstructing efforts to stamp out prostitution and illicit gambling, calling for increased efforts to eradicate illegal gambling halls, brothels, nightclubs and karaoke parlours.

Killer cream identified


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 Mom Kunthear

OFFICIALS have confirmed that the cream that killed a 23-year-old woman last week belonged to the Vietnam-based Bao Dam line of skin-whitening products, the director of the Banteay Meanchey health department office in Poipet town said Thursday.

Dr Le Nin also said officials had found the product being sold in one shop in Poipet, but he added that officials have not closed the shop.

Chhuon Sovann, 23, began vomiting after she started using the skin-whitening cream on March 2, and died on Sunday after she had fallen unconscious in a Thai hospital, her family members said.

The death of Chhuon Sovann came less than one week after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Health Ministry to strictly monitor the use of beauty protects containing toxic chemicals. The director of the provincial health department said earlier this week that officials were likely to temporarily close all shops selling skin-whitening creams.

The director, Chhum Sovannrith, said Thursday that he would send a report to the Ministry of Health before deciding whether to close the shop.

The Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday that Bao Dam products had previously been found to contain mercury and had been banned in Thailand.

Apsara to file suit in land row

Photo by: Rann Reuy
Villagers in Siem Reap’s Kokchak commune on Thursday gather near the remains of a house that was demolished by the Apsara Authority.

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 Rann Reuy

Siem Reap Province

THE Apsara Authority plans to file a complaint against villagers who tried to prevent the destruction of an illegally built home in Siem Reap’s Kokchak commune Wednesday, saying they threatened workers and damaged government property.

Prom Karona, acting director of the Order and Cooperation Department at the Apsara Authority, which protects and manages the Angkor temple complex, said a complaint would be filed against seven or eight villagers who incited others to violently attack the officials.

“Government forces defended themselves, because some villagers carried machetes and gasoline bottles to burn [officials’] cars,” he said.

The house was built inside a protected area without permission from the authorities, he added.

Soeut Sey, the 24-year-old pregnant woman who owned the house, said it was destroyed while she was away.

“I want them to rebuild my house and give back my belongings,” she said, adding that she lost US$300 and a water jar in the demolition.

Before building the house, she said, she was granted permission from the village and commune chiefs.

Say Sun, 26, said he was assaulted by authorities as they tried to demolish the dwelling. “I came to ask them not to destroy the house because she is pregnant and her husband is away, but they pushed me down, and when I stood up they slapped me,” he said.

Prom Karona dismissed accusations that the woman lost $300. “We saw only the house, the water jar and two beds,” he said. Bun Narith, director general of the Apsara Authority, could not be reached for comment.

Judge declines to set trial date for woman accused of burning Briton


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 Rann Reuy

Siem Reap Province

A FRIEND of a British national who was scalded with boiling oil during an apparent domestic dispute in January met on Wednesday with a Siem Reap provincial court judge, who said he did not know when the case could be brought to trial because the victim is in the UK.

On the night of January 10, after a series of domestic disputes with his Cambodian wife, David Thomas Old, a resident of Siem Reap, was attacked in his home, suffering first- and second-degree burns and losing his sight in one eye.

Police said the attack occurred after an argument between the 61-year-old and his wife, 40-year-old Sut Sina, who live in Sla Kram commune’s Banteay Chas village.

Sut Sina was charged with causing intentional injury and remains in pretrial detention, but her nephew, who is believed to have been involved in the attack, has not been apprehended.

Old travelled to Bangkok to receive treatment shortly after the attack, and he has since returned to the UK.

Nguon Nara, the Siem Reap provincial court judge who met Old’s friend, Vaughan Stephens, told him it would be difficult to bring the case to trial if Old did not appear at the court.

“I am a judge. I want an answer from the victim, but he has not yet come, and I cannot fly to London,” he told the Post after the meeting.

According to Stephens, the judge also said Sut Sina would have the right to ask for her release on bail, though he said the court would likely detain her for an additional four to six months.

Stephens said that he did not want Sut Sina to be released due to the serious nature of the injuries Old sustained, saying that 60 percent of Old’s body had been burned, and that he would be permanently blind in one eye as a result of the attack.

“Everyone has the right to request to go free, but because of this situation and how bad the crime is, hopefully the judge will understand that this person should not go free because she is a dangerous person,” Stephens said.

He added: “The expat community in Siem Reap is very worried, because a crime like this could happen against them, and they could get no justice.”

Tourism recovery begins

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Passengers disembark after a flight last year at Phnom Penh airport. Flight arrivals rose 4.75 percent year on year in January.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 May Kunmakara

Latest figures show total visitors and air arrivals rose in January

FIGURES released by the Ministry of Tourism Thursday suggested Cambodian tourism is starting to recover after a difficult 2009, as total visitors rose an annualised 6.36 percent in January, which included a nearly 5 percent increase in all-important air arrivals.

Data also showed a dramatic rise in tourists from Cambodia’s two main sources – South Korea and Vietnam – capping a steady upswing from a low base at the start of 2009, the period in which the Kingdom was hit hardest by the global economic crisis. Although overall arrivals climbed 1.7 percent in 2009, air arrivals dropped 10.3 percent, official figures showed.

“We have already received the impact from the crisis. And now it is over, so the sector is on the way to recovery,” Kong Sophearak, director of the Statistics and Tourism Information Department, said Thursday.

South Korean visitors led the spike in air arrivals, reclaiming the top spot with a 39 percent rise in travellers to the Kingdom over second-placed Vietnam, almost all of whose visitors come overland, with a 22 percent increase in arrivals.

South Korean Airlines Asiana, which suspended flights to Siem Reap from Incheon for nearly three months ahead of the tourism high season at the end of last year, saw full loads on its flights four times per week in January to Cambodia’s main tourism hub, Nhim Kimny, the airlines sales and marketing superviser, said Thursday.

Those full loads extended into February, she said, but the real test will once again be at the height of the low season come midyear – flights in January and February were similarly full last year, she added.

“It’s [South Koreans’] holiday period now,” Nhim Kimny said.

Most countries among the top 10 sources of visitors to the Kingdom saw more tourists travel in January compared with last year, including Japan (2.6 percent more), whose economy has struggled to recover from the crisis with just a 0.9 percent official rise in GDP in the last quarter. Australia sent 8 percent more tourists, and visitors from Taiwan increased by 41 percent.

The United States, the number three visitor to Cambodia, saw tourists drop 10 percent, while China saw an unexpected 20 percent fall in tourists to the Kingdom, a surprise given its booming economy and recent high demand for overseas travel as disposable incomes climb and restrictions on foreign holidays are eased.

Overall, however, analysts said the figures were positive, and that a firm recovery would likely take hold throughout the remainder of 2010.

“This year, we are confident of increasing tourism arrivals to Cambodia because the country has an advantageous relationship between quality and price, good customer service and a diversity of offers,” said Mohan Gunti, an adviser to the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents. “There is so much to see in Cambodia.”

Phnom Penh International Airport saw arrivals rise 7.56 percent in January year on year, Thursday’s figures showed, while Siem Reap arrivals climbed just 2.73 percent.

However, Sihanoukville Airport has still not confirmed any flights since renovation was finished at the end of last year.

Asian carriers are expected to post profit of US$900 million in 2010, reversing losses of US$2.7 billion in 2009, as the International Association of Travel Agents on Thursday halved its loss forecast for the global airline industry to $2.8 billion on the back of an Asian-led recovery, AFP reported.

In terms of a Cambodian forecast for the overall industry, Kong Sophearak said Thursday he expected 3-7 percent growth this year. “The sector is in a good position now,” he said.

Mohan said efforts to attract foreign tourists through attractive packages and affordable prices supported by accommodation partners and travel operators would form the strategy for the remainder of 2010.

“All these factors and more will definitely boost the growing tourism industry,” he told the Post.

Bavet casino workers claim unlawful firing


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 Mom Kunthear

NEARLY 300 former staff members of the Las Vegas Sun Casino and the Win Casino in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet town filed a complaint against the casino owners with provincial authorities on Thursday, saying that they were sacked without justification, a former worker said.

The complaint was sent to the Svay Rieng provincial labour department, the Ministry of Labour and the local rights group Adhoc, Phen Chan Ho said.

“There were 88 staff members of the Win Casino who the owners dismissed without reason,” he said. He added that workers were often forced to work on public holidays without pay and were never given bonuses.

“I will file our complaint with the National Assembly, the Senate and the prime minister if provincial labour officers cannot help us,” he said.

Khem Ponleu, one of around 200 people fired from Las Vegas Sun, said staff members were dismissed despite having signed contracts to work for the remainder of the year.

Ou Sokkheoun, deputy director of the provincial labour department, said he had not met with the staff members, but had received the complaint.

“I called their representatives to meet me on March 15 to ask them about their issues, and then I will call the casino,” he said.

So Chhun, the human resources manager at the Win Casino, said the company had its reasons for firing the employees but declined to elaborate on them.

Management at the Las Vegas Sun Casino could not be reached.

Sudanese interested in farming investment


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 Cheang Sokha

SUDAN has expressed an interest in investing in Cambodian agriculture, the spokesman for Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday.

Eang Sophalleth told reporters after a meeting between the Kingdom’s premier and the Sudanese Special Envoy and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Ahmet Karti Mohamed, that the African nation is interested in making investments in Cambodia.

“Sudan wants to boost cooperation between the two countries,” Eang Sophalleth quoted Ali Ahmet Karti Mohamed as saying.

In response, Hun Sen welcomed any kind of investment from Sudan, particularly in the agricultural sector, he added.

His spokesman added that Hun Sen told Sudan’s delegation that Cambodia used to export rice to Sudan and has sent military personnel there as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping programme.

Sudan is among a number of countries that have recently expressed their interest in investing in Cambodian agriculture.

Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), said the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar have all visited the Kingdom in recent months to discuss involvement in the sector.

According to a MAFF report, 912,275 hectares of economic land concessions have been given to 65 domestic and foreign private companies since August 2007.

The government has also voided deals with 37 companies involving 332,240 hectares of land because they did not follow agreements or a master implementation plan.

Residents protest Boeung Tumpun road delay

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Residents of Boeung Tumpun commune who are upset that a road they partially financed has not yet been constructed leave a meeting with the commune chief on Thursday morning.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 Chhay Channyda

ABOUT 20 residents of Boeung Tumpun commune met with the commune chief on Thursday to demand the speedy construction of a road they partially financed more than a year ago.

Khut Sokhet, 58, one of the residents of Sansam Kosal 3 village who attended the meeting with chief Suos Sarin, said she and other residents had given money for the road in August 2008.

“They collected money from us, but they have not done anything,” she said, adding that she had paid nearly US$200.

Suos Sarin told the residents that the amount of money received had been insufficient.

“You paid, but some families have not paid,” he said. “We do not have enough money to construct a new road. The delay is because of money.”

He said the road would be nearly 300 metres in length, and that it would cost around $20,000 – half of which would come from residents, and half from City Hall. He added that he had received only $5,800 from residents.

“Some families have to pay $150, but I have only received $15. Some have to pay $100, but we received $50,” he said.

Residents said they were particularly concerned that construction would not begin before the wet season, but Suos Sarin said that regardless of how much more money is received, he would try to initiate construction by March 20.

Businessmen back graft law but doubt it will be enforced


Riel notes sit stacked in a Phnom Penh gold shop. Cambodia is perceived as among the most corrupt nations in Asia by business managers. BLOOMBERG

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I don't think any businessperson in Phnom Penh thinks corruption is going to be immediately fixed."
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:04 Bejan Siavoshy

Legislation could improve business environment, analysts say

BUSINESS leaders expressed optimism regarding the potential effectiveness of Cambodia’s anticorruption law to stave off graft within the private sector, as the long-awaited legislation was passed Thursday.

Though there was little mention of business regulations in the law, which was 15 years in the making, Article 19 declares that a soon-to-be-formed Anticorruption Committee will have the power to command any public or private figure to disclose personal financial information.

Kith Meng, president of Phnom Penh’s Chamber of Commerce and CEO of the Royal Group, one of Cambodia’s most prominent conglomerates, said Wednesday that passing the bill is a sign that the government is dedicated to combating corruption in the Kingdom, which would produce positive results for the private sector.

“With more transparency, the private sector will become more open for foreign investors from all over the world. It will ultimately be a good thing for the private sector and a good thing for the country,” he said, adding that he was not concerned about the law’s lack of material regarding the business community.

Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal bank, added Wednesday: “Anything that improves transparency is a good thing for business.”

The Kingdom’s business leaders share an air of optimism about the new law, which they view as a promising sign of change; however, some believe that other concerns will need to be addressed for Cambodia’s economy to reach its full potential.

Khaou Phallaboth, president of Khaou Chuly Group, a conglomerate with holdings in Cambodia’s agricultural and construction sectors, said Thursday: “It is good news for all of Cambodia, but for businesses, corruption is not the most important point.

“The most important concerns are political stability and investment regulations, so [that] a business climate that provides incentives for all kinds of investors can exist.”

Marc Faber, a Hong Kong-based economic analyst and head of the investment advisory and fund-management firm Marc Faber Group, expressed mixed feelings on the new legislation in an email Thursday.

Faber said that the law is not likely to have an impact on the private sector because it will probably not be rigidly enforced.

However, he agreed that Cambodia is set for further economic development.

“I have no doubt that it will improve. I am very optimistic about the prospects of Cambodia,” he wrote.

Corruption ingrained
Earlier this week, a survey of business executives found that Cambodia was perceived as the second-most corrupt country among 16 nations in the wider Asia-Pacific region. The survey was carried out by the Political and Economical Risk Consultancy (PERC) and examined both domestic political and social risks.

Bob Broadfoot, managing director of the PERC, said Wednesday ahead of the law’s being finalised: Passing the law “is a step in the right direction, but I don’t think any businessperson in Phnom Penh thinks corruption is going to be immediately fixed.”

Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index for 2009, assigned Cambodia a score of two – with one being the most corrupt and 10 being the least – in a survey of 180 countries across the world.

Telecom denies exchange scheme


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:03 Ellie Dyer and Nguon Sovan

TELECOM Cambodia’s director general has rebutted accusations that the plan to give the state-run company a monopoly over Internet bandwidth provision has been concocted in part to bolster its company’s finances before its registration on the new Cambodian stock exchange.

Several sources within Cambodia’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said they believe the proposed creation of a TC-managed domestic Internet exchange (DIX) and international Internet exchange (IIX) – through which all of Cambodia’s Internet traffic would be routed – is designed to boost TC’s revenue and position in the market before its shares are traded on the Securities Exchange Commission of Cambodia, set to open later this year.

The centralisation plan would effectively make the state-run company the only body able to sell international Internet bandwidth to domestic providers.

However, TC representatives have said they would earn just US$30,000 to $50,000 from operating the Internet exchange.

Speaking on Wednesday, one ICT-sector source said: “Telecom Cambodia is one of three [state-run] companies pointed as being on the stock exchange. Of course, it doesn’t have enough value to [do this].

“Under the plan, TC will be in control of the sector. Basically, this amounts to stealing all the business from wholesalers and forcing them to buy access from TC. It is destroying the whole Internet market to sell it on the stock exchange for profit.”

This view was echoed by another industry source, who said: “We know it’s about money, but they can’t say it. TC is going to be one of the publicly traded businesses floated on the stock market when it opens.

“They will be in a very strong position to maximise profit if they have a monopoly – everybody would be forced to buy bandwidth from them. All Internet must come through TC, and they decide what price to charge competitors.”

Another anonymous source said Thursday: “There is absolutely nothing in Telecom Cambodia’s assets or the track record to suggest it might survive market competition, let alone grow its business. Its network equipment, management and standards of service are all known to be sub-par.

“Since it can’t win customers on its own merits, the only thing that might persuade investors to buy stock is the promise of favoritism and protection from the government.”

On Thursday, TC Director General Lao Saroeun strongly refuted these statements, countering that the Internet hub would stabilise an “anarchic” system, which he said is currently unable to control content such as pornography.

He added that TC is in a good enough financial position to float on the SECC.

According to Chhun Sambath, director of the securities issuance department at the SECC, speaking in December, a company needs minimum capital of 10 billion riels (US$2.44 million), a last annual minimum net profit of 1.5 billion riels ($365,853) and minimum net profits for the last three years of 3 billion riels ($721,707) to enter the exchange.

According to a TC report, in 2009 its revenues dropped 10 percent to $27 million from $30 million in 2008.

It earned a profit of $6 million last year — $1 million less than the profit generated in 2008.

Lao Saroeun attributed the drop to increased competition on the mobile phone market and a drop in international calls.

Revenues projected to rise
Though he declined to provide TC’s latest financial report, he predicted revenues would rise this year to $30 million. He described the market as “tough” but said TC does not owe anyone money.

When quizzed on the claims of industry sources, the director general said: “It’s not right. We expect very little revenue from the Internet hub, maybe $30,000 to $50,000 per year. This amount cannot be used to bolster TC to gain credit in the stock market. We will only control Internet content.”

He went on to say that ISPs will be charged cheap prices for wholesale international Internet bought from Vietnam.

“We will just charge a slightly higher amount than the price we subscribe to from Vietnam, in order to cover the operation of our equipment and staff. The Internet hub is just the transit point. Our main revenues are Internet and ADSL,” he said.

On Tuesday, representatives of TC and ISPs met with Finance Minister Keat Chhon to resolve widespread dissatisfaction with the government’s scheme – spearheaded by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. Private companies have said they believe the centralisation plan could damage the industry.

Keat Chhon ordered the MPTC and the private sector to resolve all issues pertaining to the centralisation plan prior to a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen scheduled for next month.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BROOKE LEWIS

B'bang girls make a day of it

Photo by: Rachel Sumner
SALT Academy founder Sam Schweingruber (blue sleeveless shirt) explains the setup of Monday’s U14 girls football festival to the hundreds of participants at the Institute of Technology field in Battambang.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:00 Rachel Sumner

U14 girls from Battambang province celebrated Women’s Day on the football field

International Women’s Day was celebrated all over Cambodia in many ways Monday, but in Battambang it was celebrated like never before.

Early morning, as the sun began to peek above the trees, around two hundred girls congregated at the Institute of Technology sports field in eager anticipation of a full day’s football. There were girls dressed in football kit – socks, boots and all – while some came in jeans or fancy shirts. Many were shoeless, and one little girl even sported a pastel pink dress.

The girls, all in the under 14 age category, hailed from across the province to join in the SALT Academy’s first-ever football festival for International Women’s Day. The SALT Academy had attracted the participants through its relationship with many local NGOs, who were excited to give their girls a chance to get out onto a field and perhaps discover some latent talent.

The day featured more than just a tournament, with organisers dividing one field into 16 sections in which they set up clinics, relays, passing and shooting drills, games of “keep-away,” and even a small 1-on-1 competition. The girls were then divided into 32 teams of six-a-side, which were sent either clockwise or anticlockwise around the field to allow them to continually face different opponents and skills sets.

Photo by: Rachel Sumner
G Girls team goalkeeper attempts to save a shot during their game against Tschrey.

As the morning wore on, the number of spectators multiplied along the sidelines and watched the bright-faced young women have a day set apart for females rather than the usual males.

Action stopped briefly mid-morning while the girls had a snack and sat around to listen to Al Soy from Battambang Mayoral Office, who came to encourage the girls and remind them of the rights they have as women.

Following the break, proceedings switched to a single elimination tournament, with each of the 32 teams needing to fight their way through 15-minute games. The games were particularly challenging for some of the less experienced players, but each team went to the field with high spirits and let the adrenaline of the day carry them when it seemed their feet could not.

Around half of the girls joining the festival play for teams that participate in the ongoing SALT league in Battambang, while the other half may have never even kicked a ball. There were a few unbalanced matchups, but the girls lacking footballing knowledge drew upon the joy of the special occasion to battle until the whistle blew.

In the afternoon, a grand final closed out the celebration, with the ASPECA girls team beating Komar Rearey 3-0 and taking home the trophy. While many of the Komar Rearey players have only recently started to take up football, ASPECA are currently playing in their third season of the SALT league, with Number 7 Huet Kimhong already a proven member of Cambodia’s national girls team that played in their first-ever international match in Laos last year.

The Cambodian Space Project come to town


via CAAI News Media

Siem Reap is celebrating a monumental live music experience this weekend with free performances at three venues by the au courant hot band, The Cambodian Space Project.

It’s also a monumental experience for the band because it’s their first Siem Reap performance.

And it’s an even more monumental occasion for the band’s Australian founder and singer Julien Poulson because, as he confesses, in all his time in the Kingdom he’s never seen the Angkor monuments and this will finally give him the opportunity.

“One of my embarrassments is that I have only spent one afternoon in Siem Reap and I haven’t seen Angkor Wat,” he told 7Days by phone while recording in the Cambodian Living Arts studio in Phnom Penh.

“I came to Siem Reap in 2007 with Cambodian Living Arts to look at some traditional music and have never been back because I’ve just been so busy.”

The Siem Reap performances are the result of collaboration between three local venue proprietors who will each host a night of free music.

The Cambodian Space Project was due to kick off its debut performance Thursday night at Silk Garden with an acoustic set featuring Poulson and the band’s female singer Srey Thy whose inspiration comes from Cambodian 60s and 70s songs and whose voice has been likened to the iconic Ros Sereysothea, a star of the short-lived pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodian rock’n’roll scene.

But the big nights will be Friday and Saturday night when the full powerhouse eight-piece band convenes, performs and pumps.

Friday’s performance at Abacus Restaurant kicks off around 9pm and saturday night’s farewell starts at X-Bar at 10pm.

There’s a strong push on to make sure that as many Khmer fans as possible get the message to come along and partake.

Following the Siem Reap performances, the band will travel to Hong Kong to perform during Film Festival week from March 23-28.

Pilgrims


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:00 Post Staff

The boom in tourism to Angkor Wat has surged to staggering heights this decade, but travellers have been coming to view the temples for yonks as part of what is known as pilgrim tours.

Aye Sapay Phyu, a journalist from The Myanmar Times newspaper who this year worked in the Phnom Penh Post’s Siem Reap bureau for a month as part of a Sasakawa Peace Foundation scholarship, uncovered evidence of pilgrimages from Myanmar at Angkor Wat.

She reported:
“One example of evidence I found was a Myanmar inscription in one of the pillars of a cruciform cloister, which connected with the outer gallery on the west side of the temple.”

The inscription was dated year 1288, but according to the Myanmar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar, so it was really only 83 years ago.

Some of the spelling is quite different from what is currently used and the inscription gave the date that the pilgrims visited, and the city where they had lived.

The names of six people were included in the inscription, as was the relationship between each of them such as wife, son, daughter and niece.

U Maung Maung Myo Thaung, who runs Mandalay Inn guest house near the Old Market in Siem Reap, said there are still many pilgrim tours between Cambodia and Myanmar.

He said that between 400-500 pilgrims from Myanmar stayed in his guest house in 2009. But he added that the pilgrimages are two-way trips.

“Some of my Cambodia friends also want to visit Myanmar as part of a pilgrim tour. I arrange for them to visit Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan, where many glorious pagodas exist, for a week. If they have holidays for 10 days, I also arrange for them to go to places like Kyaikhtiyo in Mon State.”

In November 2003 The Myanmar Times reported that during an Economic Summit in Bagan, authorities from the two countries wanted to establish Bagan and Siem Reap as sister cities by developing an air link and joint tourism promotions.

Shady spots for a sunny day


via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:00 Post Staff

When the going gets hot in Siem Reap, the hot get going to a pool to cool. Taking the plunge in Temple Town can be a luxurious aqua extravaganza thanks to the profusion of upscale hotels, and the rule of thumb that any hotel of three-star status or above must spawn a swimming pool.

While some of the more exclusive abodes limit pool use to guests only, many larger hotels give day rates for locals to dip a toe in the miracle cooling waters or loll indolently in surging spas.

I figured the best way to check out the best pools was to emulate the character Burt Lancaster played in the 1968 movie The Swimmer. In this bizarre film, a middle-aged man embarks on a trek of swimming in his neighbourhood friends’ pools – which form a consecutive chain leading back to his house – as a way of retracing his past and coming to terms with his purpose in life.

Lancaster’s character kept experiencing pool-induced grief: confronting a bitter ex-lover who felt used, or confronting shopkeepers to whom he owed money for grocery and restaurant tabs.

But my only confrontational experience occurred at my starting point at the centrally located Prince D’Angkor Hotel.

Here, two Japanese lifesavers wearing brief budgie smugglers* jumped into the water and play-acted lady boys drowning, effeminately waving limp wrists for rescue.

This is not normal pool behaviour at Prince D’Angkor, a popular hang for local NGOs because it offers one of the best day rates for pool use, at just $8.

It bills itself as Siem Reap’s largest saltwater pool and has essentially a classic lap-pool rectangular shape. It’s a very soothing pool surrounded by fantastic faux-tropical gardens, but the water quickly heats to a soup-like temperature.

Like almost all Khmer-owned hotels, the pool boasts a statue of the bird-man god, Garuda, who had to visit the Celestial Mountain to bring back immortal water to give to serpents so that they would release his mother.

Next stop is a quick zip up National Road 6 to Angkor Palace Resort and Spa, which also features a striking Garuda statue and lots of vegetation, albeit more manicured. It also features a waterfall, big fish swimming in the surrounding canals, and a poolside bar.

The pool is amoeba shaped: The adult pool, which is separated by little arching bridges from the kiddie pool, is for serious swimmers only as it’s deep from one end to the other and has several warning signs that no lifeguards are on duty. It’s also heavily chlorinated, so goggles are the go.

Then it’s a quick zip back down National Road 6 to the Sokha Angkor Resort and its stately, almost-square saltwater pool with waterfalls as its backdrop. This pool is the pride and joy of Sokha’s patrician general manger Emmett McHenry who promotes it vigorously. The fee here is $10 a day.

Around the corner from Sokha is the Angkor Century Hotel, which has quite a large pool. While this $10-a-day pool doesn’t feature astounding aesthetic highlights, it’s ultimately functional, with water that stays cool in the hottest of weather.

This hotel has a Khmer owner and, as with the Prince D’Angkor, homely touches have been incorporated in the pool’s surrounding luxurious garden, with an interesting collection of concrete kitsch including deer and a miniature Angkor Wat.

It is also popular with expats, particularly because the adjoining gym is well equipped and, like most of the major hotels, day use of the pool also has gym entitlements.

Next stop is the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort where the pool looks like it’s been transplanted straight from the pages of a glossy tourist magazine. At $20 a day, it’s a special-occasions-only dip but it’s worth at least one visit, simply to experience how the other half live, at least holiday. The spot has a poolside bar that allows imbibers to remain immersed in water, but the drinks too are budget-busters, coming at 5-star prices.

The final destination in my pool peregrination was a visit to Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. This pool has a Taj Mahal immensity, offset by an architecturally interesting bar pavilion, and the stateliness of the hotel building as a backdrop. This pool is one again designed for serious swimming in an atmosphere of post-Colonial grandeur. It’s a good deal, too, because the pool is free for anyone who buys food or beverages.

Unfortunately, unlike the Burt Lancaster character I was emulating, my pool odyssey did not result in any earth-shattering coming-to-terms-with-my-purpose-in-life. But I did confirm what I already knew – that on a steamy hot Siem Reap day, a worthy pursuit is to find a cool pool.

*Urban Dictionary: “Australian slang term for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear. The ‘lump in the front’ apparently resembles a budgie** when it is stuffed down the front of someone’s shorts.”

** Author’s note: Budgie is short for budgerigar, a small boring Australian outback parrot that is a favoured pet for lonely old British ladies.

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief


via CAAI News Media

Gold Tower to finish

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:00 Soeun Say

PHNOM Penh’s US$300 million Gold Tower 42 – what will be the Kingdom’s tallest structure – is set for completion by October 2011, its general manager said Thursday. So far, 15 storeys of the 42-storey tower have been finished. General Manager Nov Ratana said about 60 percent of the luxury apartments, 100 percent of office space and the mall have already been sold.

Over 40 firms 'illegal'

Friday, 12 March 2010 15:00 May Kunmakara

THE Ministry of Commerce issued a prakas Thursday declaring that 47 firms are operating illegally. Vann Theary, director of the registration bureau, said the companies concerned hadn’t followed rules to announce transactions. Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh approved the edict. If a firm doesn’t announce activities for three years, she said, it is illegal.

Marcel Theroux in Cambodia [guardian.co.uk]





Marcel Theroux paddles up Tonlé Sap lake in the heart of Cambodia and samples some famous (and infamous) street food in Siem Reap