Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Wasp hoped to save cassava crop

Photo by: Photo Supplied
Mealybugs (top) have already destroyed cassava crops in Thailand, but experts hope that the release of the Apoanagyrus lopezi wasp will reduce their impact in Cambodia.

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:03 Christy Choi and Thet Sambath

Paraguayan insect already saved Africa from mealybug disaster, expert says

THE government has approved the importation of a Paraguayan insect parasite that farmers in the northwest hope will combat a pesticide-resistant mealybug infestation that is threatening cassava crops, officials said this week.

Hean Vanhan, the deputy director of the Agriculture Directorate at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the parasite – named Apoanagyrus lopezi – was expected to arrive in early July, but that the insects would be bred in a controlled environment before their release. “The imports should arrive next week, and breeding should take 10 weeks,” Hean Vanhan said.

The Post reported in March that cassava mealybugs – small, white pests that destroy cassava – had been detected in multiple districts in Banteay Meanchey province. In Thailand, the presence of mealybugs is one factor expected to reduce cassava yields for 2009-10 to 23 million tonnes, down from an earlier projection of 29 million tonnes. The Bangkok Post reported in February that private-sector analysts had predicted that the yield could drop to as low as 20 million tonnes, a decline that could translate into the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to the 2009-10 annual report from the Agriculture Ministry, released in April, there are approximately 160,000 hectares of farmland devoted to cassava in Cambodia, and around 3.5 million tonnes of cassava are produced each year.

Rod Lefroy, regional coordinator for the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, estimated on Monday that the Cambodian cassava industry is worth US$300 million annually.

The Cambodian War Amputees Rehabilitation Society, which works with cassava farmers in the northwest, asked the government for permission to import Apoanagyrus lopezi on April 2, said John Macgregor, the NGO’s communications director.

He said the mealybugs posed a direct threat to the livelihoods of 3,000 cassava growers working with the NGO in Battambang province, and could potentially affect thousands of others in Battambang and elsewhere.

Unless they are controlled, Macgregor said, the mealybugs could result in the same type of damage that hit a group of 30 African countries that became infested with mealybugs in the 1980s.

“The 30 African countries that were hit by mealybug in the 1980s saw an average 80 percent destruction of their crops, some 100 percent. The same potential exists here,” he said.

He added, though, that Apoanagyrus lopezi had provided a successful solution.

“A lopezi was subsequently released in 30 countries across Africa, where it terminated a continent-wide mealybug infestation. This saved the African cassava industry from destruction, and prevented millions of people from starving to death – all while not harming anything else,” he said. “It was the most successful biological control intervention ever.”

Officials at the Agriculture Ministry could not provide statistics detailing how many hectares of Cambodian farmland have been affected by mealybugs so far, nor could officials at the Agriculture Department in Battambang. An official at the Agriculture Department in Banteay Meanchey, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the issue with a reporter, said 8,382 hectares of crops in that province had been affected.

Macgregor said the stocks of Apoanagyrus lopezi due to arrive next week are being provided by Thai entomologist Amporn Winothai, who could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Lefroy described the release of the parasite as “imminent”, but noted that it would need to be approved by the Thai government.

“Cambodia will not be able to release the parasites until the Thai government approves the release in Thailand – in other words, when exports are approved,” Lefroy said.

Officials at the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Macgregor said the onset of rains has curbed the spread of the mealybugs, but that officials are expecting the threat to surge again towards the end of the wet season in late October.

Hean Vanhan at the Agriculture Ministry said that even if the importation of the pests had not been approved, they would likely have migrated into Cambodia after being released in Thailand’s mealybug-affected areas.

“They will be in Cambodia soon anyways. It’s part of the natural movement. No one can stop them,” he said.

CPP marks 59th year with call for solidarity

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:03 Vong Sokheng

AROUND 5,000 supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) turned out at the party’s headquarters on Monday for a celebration marking the 59th anniversary of its founding.

Balloons were released and traditional dances performed before party president Chea Sim delivered a speech praising what he described as a long history of resisting colonialism and promoting peace in Cambodia.

“We celebrate this event in the spirit to offer deepest respect and gratitude to patriots of all generations, including a great number of cadres and soldiers who had fought with braveness and sacrificed their lives in all stages for the nation,” Chea Sim said.

The party traces its origins to the formation of the communist Khmer People’s Revolutionary Party in June 1951, four months after the Indochinese Communist Party was dissolved and replaced by parties for the Vietnamese, Khmer and Lao communist movements.

Chea Sim said the CPP deserved credit for triumphs over French colonialism as well as attempts by the United States to draw Cambodia into the war in neighbouring Vietnam.

“For the past 59 years, the CPP adheres strictly to its nature of being a party that is of the people, and for the people,” he added.

The current iteration of the party – known until 1991 as the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea – was not formed until 1981, after the Vietnamese-backed overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime two years earlier.

Call to arms
Chea Sim also encouraged the party’s officials to continue strengthening the CPP’s “internal solidarity and unity” and to “attain further successes in the construction and defence of the motherland within the spirit of self-reliance”.

“The CPP earnestly supports the Royal Government’s policies and measures in continuing to fight against corruption, forestry and fisheries offences, putting a stop to anarchic grabbing of state land, while maintaining sustainable environment and natural resources exploitation with conscience and responsibility,” he said.

But Chea Poch, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker, said Monday that issues such as land grabbing, illegal logging and corruption have been widespread across the country during the CPP’s rule.

“I think that the CPP’s political programmes are good on paper, but there is a lack of real political will to curb hot issues such as corruption, land grabbing and illegal logging,” he said. “There are many poor people that come out to protest almost every day about their farmland being grabbed by powerful individuals from the ruling CPP and the rich.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen did not attend Monday’s ceremony because of ill health, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said.

Monk questioned over peeping

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

A DEFROCKED monk who allegedly recorded videos of naked women in the public shower of a pagoda was questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday on charges of distributing pornography, court officials said.

Neth Kai, 35, was arrested on Saturday following a complaint from a woman who accused the monk of secretly recording a video of her while she was showering in a bathroom at Srah Chak pagoda in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune.

“After a few hours of interrogation, I decided not to charge the monk yet. There is a lot of evidence to go over such as a confiscated computer, memory cards, pornographic VCDS, a camera, mobile phones, etc,” Ek Chheng Huot, deputy prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said Monday.

He added that the man would again be held overnight at the Daun Penh district police station before being questioned further today.

A court clerk who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Neth Kai would be prosecuted under charges related to the production and distribution of pornography, a charge that carries with it a sentence of between one month and one year and a fine of between US$48 and $480.

A Daun Penh district police official who also declined to be named said on Monday that anyone caught viewing the pornographic videos recorded by Neth Kai could also face arrest.

On Saturday, the suspect allegedly admitted to recording videos of about 20 women using mobile-phone cameras hidden inside a wall and a pot of incense sticks.

Govt denies harbouring Thai activists

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:03 Cheang Sokha

GOVERNMENT officials have again accused the Thai government and media of levelling false accusations against Cambodia, after a local newspaper reported that two Red Shirt activists suspected of bombing the headquarters of a Thai political party fled to Cambodia last week.

On Monday, The Bangkok Post quoted Benjapol Rodsawas, identified as an immigration official in Sa Kaeo province, as saying that two men – Warisaya Boonsom, 42, and Kobchai Boonplod, 41 – crossed the border into Cambodia last Wednesday following the bombing of the headquarters of the Bhumjaithai Party in Bangkok the day before.

In a statement issued Monday, the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers said there was no evidence the men had entered Cambodia. The statement also called on the Thai government to end what it described as a “malicious campaign to fault Cambodia” and draw Cambodia into Thailand’s “unending internal squabbles”, which it said have brought Thailand close to “falling into the predicament of a failed state”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Monday that the allegations were “stupid”.

“Cambodia completely denies this kind of provocative information,” he said. “If Thai immigration police found them entering Cambodia, why didn’t they arrest them?”

The denial is the latest in a series of statements accusing the Thai media of making inaccurate reports and the Thai government of fuelling them.

On June 22, the government dismissed a story published by Thai newspaper The Nation that said senior Red Shirts “are reportedly hiding in Cambodia while allegedly plotting a third Red Shirt rally and even underground operations in the coming months”.

Thani Thongpakdi, deputy spokesman for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Ratanakkiri ‘vampire’ deaths dismissed by health officials

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:02 Mom Kunthear

FOUR ethnic minority men who died in Ratanakkiri province’s Voeun Sai district over the past month were not killed by vampires or spirits, despite reports to the contrary from local villagers, provincial health officials who visited the area over the weekend said Monday.

Rather, they were likely the victims of heart attacks and poisonings, the officials said.

Tha Bunthak, deputy director of the provincial health department, said five health officials visited Voeun Sai district on Sunday to investigate the deaths, and that doctors and health officials from across the province had attended a meeting on Monday to discuss the cases.

“After we spent a whole morning together, we can evaluate that they died because of poisoning and heart attack,” he said. “It is not because of a vampire or spirit as those villagers thought.”

District police chief Toeun Nou Thorng said Monday that two of the men had died in Korng Nork village, and the other two had died in Kok Lak village. He added that the four deaths took place between May 25 and June 24, and that marks on the necks of all four victims had led villagers to believe that they had been attacked by vampires.

Tha Bunthak said investigating health officials had settled on a more prosaic explanation for the neck wounds.

“Before they stopped breathing they felt difficulties, and they always pinch or scratch on their body,” he said.

He added that health officials suspected that some of the victims had been accidentally poisoned by food, water or alcohol, but said that the cause of death had not been formally determined for any of the four men.

Toeun Nou Thorng said it was common for ethnic minority villagers in the district to pray rather than seek medical help for illnesses. He said police officials had visited residents of both villages to encourage them “not to be afraid” of receiving medical help.

Tha Bunthak said health officials visiting the district on Sunday had also taken the opportunity to urge locals to seek medical help in case of illness.

“I explained and educated them not to believe in the spirit more than technology, and I urged them to go to health centres or hospitals when they are sick,” he said. “It is very difficult to change their belief or habit, but we try our best to help them and change them step by step.”

SRP reverses Sochua decision

Photo by: Pha Lina
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua leaves the Supreme Court following a hearing on June 2.

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:02 Meas Sokchea

THE opposition Sam Rainsy Party has apparently backed away from an earlier pledge to pay 16.5 million riels (around US$3,928) in fines and compensation on behalf of parliamentarian Mu Sochua, stating instead that she will have the final say in the matter.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court levied the fine and damages against Mu Sochua when it found her guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen in August last year, a ruling that was upheld by the Appeal Court in October and the Supreme Court on June 2.

The Kampot province parliamentarian has consistently stated she would rather go to jail than pay the fees, and SRP officials previously supported her stance.

On Sunday, acting SRP spokesman Kimsour Phirith said the party decided at a meeting on Thursday that it should pay the fines in order to prevent Mu Sochua’s fight with Hun Sen from affecting the SRP’s work.

Mu Sochua noted in an email, however, that she had not authorised the payment.

On Monday, Kimsour Phirith said the party would allow her make the final decision.

“SRP is leaving the final decision to Her Excellency Mu Sochua … since she is the victim of the lawsuit. If she has decided to face jail and absolutely not pay the fine, it is her business,” he said. “[We] must respect her rights as an individual.”

He added that the SRP raised the issue of the payment last week in an attempt to promote stability and demonstrate political maturity.

The defamation case arose after Mu Sochua filed her own lawsuit against Hun Sen, claiming he defamed her during a speech in Kampot in April.

Mu Sochua said on Sunday that she would be returning to Cambodia on July 5.

On June 17, National Treasury President Ker Bunleng issued a letter ordering Mu Sochua to pay a fine of 8.5 million riels to the treasury within two weeks, or by July 1.

The treasury did not set a deadline for the 8 million riels in compensation that make up the balance of money Mu Sochua owes.

Ker Bunleng could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Sok Roeun, deputy prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said that if Mu Sochua fails to pay the fine by the July 1 deadline, the treasury will notify the court, which will then take legal action to obtain the money after issuing a final 10-day ultimatum.

“If Mu Sochua refuses to pay, [we] will force her,” he said, and added that the lawmaker could ultimately end up in jail.

Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said Monday that the issue of whether the SRP or Mu Sochua agrees to make the payments or not is of little consequence to the government.

But he said Mu Sochua’s political life could be affected by the decision she makes.

“If Mu Sochua decides not to pay and agrees to jail, this will be her political life story,” he said, adding: “This is the SRP’s business.”

Frenchman gets a year in jail for indecent acts

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

KAMPOT provincial court sentenced a French man to one year in prison on Monday, finding him guilty of committing indecent acts against two underage boys after downgrading an initial charge of purchasing child prostitution.

Jean Marie Beranger, 61, was arrested last September in Sihanoukville on suspicion of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy. He was released on bail by Preah Sihanouk provincial court and was arrested in Kep province in December after being accused of sexually abusing two boys aged 12 and 16.

During Monday’s hearing, presiding judge Tak Kimsear ordered Beranger to pay each victim 1 million riels (US$238) in compensation on top of a fine of 2 million riels ($476).

Noun Panith, a lawyer provided to the victims by child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said afterwards that the decision to downgrade the charges had been “unacceptable”. Beranger faced two to five years in prison under the previous charge.

“There was enough evidence against the man ... and the two boys proved in the hearing that they had been sexually abused by the suspect,” he said.

He said Beranger had fled to Phnom Penh following his release on bail last year, and that APLE suspected he had abused several boys in the city before his arrest in Kep.

But defence lawyer Tan Meng Sroy said Monday that there had been insufficient evidence against his client.

“He didn’t commit the crime like the allegations claim, and he has denied it at all levels of investigation since his arrest,” he said.

Delayed again
Also Monday, Preah Sihanouk provincial court postponed for the fifth time a hearing against a French man charged with the unlawful removal with purpose and the unlawful removal for cross-border transfer of two underage boys and the sexual abuse of five underage boys.

The hearing was postponed because both the defendant and his lawyer were absent.

Roger Michel Blanchard, 44, was arrested in August 2008 for sexually abusing five Cambodian boys ages 11 to 16 in Sihanoukville. The other charges were brought in April this year in connection with allegations that he engaged in sexual acts with a 17-year-old boy, also in Sihanoukville.

Peng Maneth, a lawyer provided by APLE, said the case had become a “a waste of our time”.

“The defence lawyer has intentions of extending the court’s procedure by not informing court officials in advance of his absentia,” she said.

If found guilty, Blanchard faces 15 to 20 years for each charge, she said.

Reservoir destruction to continue: minister

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:02 Khouth Sophakchakrya

MINISTER of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor on Monday reiterated the government’s intention to remove all reservoirs surrounding the Tonle Sap lake, and said that six of them had recently been demolished in Kampong Thom province.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in April ordered the destruction of all reservoirs near the lake, saying they caused environmental damage, especially to the surrounding forest and fish stocks. Farmers have argued, however, that they need the reservoirs to boost crop yields.

In a meeting with a handful of reporters in Phnom Penh, Lim Kean Hor said officials had destroyed a total of six reservoirs in Kampong Thom since Friday, the date by which their owners had been told to have them removed.

A total of 30 reservoir owners were facing the Friday deadline, and the minister said Monday that the demolitions would continue.

“Most of the illegal reservoirs in Kampong Thom, Siem Reap and Battambang are at least 1.5 square kilometres in size,” he said.

“The owners paid between $80,000 and $100,000 to construct the reservoirs, which local farmers could not possibly afford to do.”

Um Meng, a representative of a fishing community in Kampong Thom, said he supported the government’s decision to remove the reservoirs around the lake, but added that he was concerned that the owners of the reservoirs would simply rebuild once the crackdown is complete.

“They built the reservoirs to cultivate rice during the dry season, but they devastated the forest, which is home to fish and prawns,” he said.

“We welcome and encourage the government to remove them and continue to crack down forever. If not, the reservoirs will be rebuilt.”

He also said that local officials had arrested only farmers who had been making use of the reservoirs, and that the reservoir owners had gone unpunished.

Lim Kean Hor said the ministry was preparing recommendations for local officials to begin carrying out the arrests of noncompliant owners under Article 98 of the Fisheries Law.

“They can face three to five years in prison,” the minister said.

Kraya evictees facing hunger

Photo by: May Titthara
Authorities transport the belongings of villagers in Kampong Thom province’s Kraya commune to a relocation site roughly 7 kilometres from their former homes in December.

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:02 May Titthara

Officials say distribution of new farmland could begin by the end of this month

KAMPONG Thom provincial authorities said Monday that the distribution of 1-hectare plots of farmland promised as compensation to around 600 families evicted from their land last December could commence by the end of the month.

“We will provide new farmland to those 602 families, and we will provide it to them on time, either during the rainy season or at the end of this month,” said Out Sam On, Kampong Thom deputy governor.

On December 15, the families were violently evicted from Kraya commune, located in Santuk district, to make way for a 8,100-hectare rubber plantation to be developed by Vietnam’s Tin Bien company.

The villagers, many of them military veterans, were shifted 7 kilometres away to Thmor Samleang village, where they have built homes but are still awaiting farmland promised to them in May.

Out Sam On said officials were waiting for the results of an “impact study” being carried out to ensure that the distribution of the farmland will not lead to future disputes.

“We do not want to delay distribution of land to the villagers any longer,” he said.

Pich Sophea, Santuk district governor, said provincial and district authorities had submitted a request to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries asking for permission to begin distributing replacement plots, but had not received a response.

“The local authorities have now decided that even though the [ministry] has been late to reply to us on this issue we will go ahead and provide the villagers with farmland because we want them to be able to plant their crops on time,” he said, and added that the ministry could sign off on the arrangement later.

The families, which have been prevented from planting crops on their old land, have frequently expressed concern that they will not be able to produce enough food if they are not given new farmland before the onset of the rainy season.

On March 7, three men were shot by police after a group of about 40 farmers tried to access their old farmland to plant cassava.

Om Saran, a villager living at the Thmor Samleang site, said the authorities should follow through on their promise.

“It is almost the end of June and the rainy season has already begun. We want to plant rice and cassava on time; the authorities should understand the difficulties we will face if we cannot plant our crops,” he said. “I would like to ask the authorities to please stop lying to us.”

Nuth Khim, another villager awaiting replacement land, said that because authorities lived lives of privilege, they had no way of understanding the plight of the poor.

“We are living in poor conditions but still they delay in providing us with farmland,” he said. “Villagers here do not have food to eat, and we cannot support our families anymore.”

Poe Oumoete, provincial monitor for local rights group Licadho, said authorities needed to make a better effort to communicate with the Kraya villagers.

“The raining season started recently, so the villagers are facing a lot of problems. They don’t have enough food, and they need farmland and answers from the authorities,” he said.

Court hears two cases of meth trafficking

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court on Monday heard two drug cases involving three people charged with trafficking crystal methamphetamine, or ice.

In one, a 20-year-old Vietnamese man was arrested last year after police found him carrying less than a gram of ice in a cigarette, and a 46-year-old Vietnamese woman was arrested during a raid of the man’s home.

The man, Ly Pi, told the court on Monday that he had merely been delivering a package of cigarettes on behalf of a man who worked with him at a construction site, and that he did not know it contained drugs. The woman, Vieng Tibay, said she barely knew Li Pi, having approached him just a few days before their arrest for help in securing a job at the construction site. But presiding judge Suos Sam Ath rejected their testimonies, calling them “liars”.

In the second case, a 26-year-old Cambodian woman confessed to having sold small packages of ice for 25,000 riels (about US$6) each, but requested that judges give her a lenient sentence, saying she needed to sell drugs to support her children.

No verdict date was set in either case.

Thai soldiers to conduct border patrols

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:01 Thet Sambath and Tep Nimol

THAI military officials stationed across the border from Oddar Meanchey province have informed their Cambodian counterparts that they intend to conduct patrols along the frontier for one month beginning July 1, a border official said Monday.

Touch Ra, deputy chief of the Thailand-Cambodia Relations Office at the Chom international border gate, said the patrol would stretch over 40 kilometres along the border between Anlong Veng and Trapaing Prasat districts.

“Thai military have informed us they will patrol for one month to look for illegal logging and crime in their territory along the border,” Touch Ra said.

“They have informed us in advance because they are worried the border troops might clash again due to misunderstandings.”

On June 8, Cambodian and Thai troops exchanged warning shots along the border in Trapaing Prasat district after a “misunderstanding” between the two sides, government and military officials said at the time.

The warning shots came less than two months after Thai and Cambodian soldiers traded fire in two brief skirmishes in Samraong district on the morning of April 19.

Chea Morn, commander of Military Region 4, said Monday that he had not been notified about the communication from the Thai military, but warned that Thai troops must stay out of Cambodian territory.

“We have no problem with a patrol if they do it inside their territory, but they must not walk in prohibited places along the border,” he said.

Also on Monday, a military official in Battambang province’s Samlot district said Thai soldiers had vowed to send back 10 Cambodian farmers and two Cambodian soldiers who were arrested in Trat province on Saturday while scavenging for food.

Tuy Bunly, deputy commander of Military Region 5, said he had been negotiating with Thai authorities since their arrest, and that he had been “promised that they will send them back on Tuesday”.

Oddar Meanchey evictees seek infrastructure for relocation site

Photo by: Pha Lina
A former resident of O’Ampil village in Oddar Meanchey province (left) discusses his community’s complaints with a representative of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet on Monday.

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:01 May Titthara

AROUND 50 families from Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district who were evicted from their homes last month protested in front of Wat Botum on Monday to petition Prime Minister Hun Sen about the lack of infrastructure at their relocation site.

On May 25, more than 100 homes in O’Ampil village in Anlong Veng commune were burned down by provincial authorities. Siem Reap provincial court had ordered that the homes be removed after a complaint was filed by Forestry Administration workers, who accused the families of living illegally on protected land.

Village representative Meas Socheat said the residents, who have since been relocated to O’Rumchek village in Anlong Veng commune, about 10 kilometres from O’Ampil, came to protest because they no longer have access to farmland.

“We are farmers who depend on planting rice to support our living. If they do not provide us with farmland, we will die,” he said. “Recently, we have been facing hunger. We want to ask the prime minister to help us to live legally on our old land.”

Chhaom Chhoeun, a 42-year-old farmer, said the villagers had been granted 20-by-40-metre plots of land in O’Rumchek, but that basic infrastructure was severely lacking.

“There is no clean water to use, no schools and no health centre. It is far from the market, and the authorities have only provided us land for a home. We don’t have farmland for planting rice,” he said.

But Anlong Veng district Governor Yim Phanna dismissed claims that the evictees have not been given sufficient plots. He also said they had inflated the number of families in the old village to maximise the amount of land granted.

“We tried to help them even though they used ‘ghost families’ to increase the numbers from 102 families to 173 families,” he said.

He said the authorities had cooperated with an unnamed NGO to dig wells for the community, and that the construction of more infrastructure would proceed “step by step”.

But rights groups said the use of violence against the O’Ampil villagers back in April had forced the farmers into appealing directly to Hun Sen.

“The local authorities used violence against them by burning down villagers’ homes without giving them the new replacement land first, and that put them in a difficult situation ... with the recent onset of the rainy season,” said Srey Naren, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc.

Lim Leang Se, deputy chief of Hun Sen’s cabinet, could not be reached Monday.

Banks' health is on the mend

Neav Chanthana, deputy governer of the National Bank of Cambodia, speaks at an event Monday at the Hotel Cambodiana marking the launch of a Cambodian branch of Vietnnam's Agribank. Heng Chivoan

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:01 Nguon Sovan

NBC official says at Agribank opening that assets and deposits are rising in ’10

HEALTHIER growth in assets, lending and deposits has been reported in Kingdom’s commercial banking sector so far this year, according to the deputy governor of the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), Neav Chanthana.

Although profits in Cambodia’s commercial banking sector fell nearly 50 percent in 2009, this year’s first quarter has shown the sector bouncing back with more confidence from local and foreign investors, Neav Chanthana said at the launch of Cambodia’s first Agribank branch Monday.

“It’s been healthier in terms of assets, lending and deposits,” she said, and cited statistics showing total asset growth in Cambodia’s banking system had increased 14 percent, lending rose by 9.8 percent and deposits surged by 15 percent between January and March this year.

A report released by NBC Friday showed that profits claimed by Cambodian banks declined to US$60.2 million in 2009, from $114.7 million in 2008, as non-performing loans increased and credit expansion dropped. By the end of 2009, the report noted, total assets in the banking system were $4.99 billion, around 48 percent of GDP. Loans to customers totalled $2.51 billion, and deposits were $3.3 billion.

Neav Chanthana’s comments came as Vietnam’s largest bank by assets, Agribank, became poised to cash in on Cambodia’s banking sector by officially opening its first outlet on Monivong Boulevard.

She said Agribank – Cambodia’s 28th commercial bank and Vietnam’s third to open in the Kingdom – would bring a variety of financial products and services to the banking system.

“Agribank’s presence reflects the confidence of foreign investors in Cambodia’s banking industry,” she said at the opening ceremony.

“I hope the bank complies well with the rules of the Central Bank in order to compete with other banks with quality and effectiveness.”

Nguyen Van Giau, governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, noted during a speech that Vietnamese businesses and investments in Cambodia have increased considerably in recent years.

“The bilateral trade volume between Cambodia and Vietnam has increased by an average of 30 percent year-on-year and expected to reach up to $2 billion in 2010,” he said.

“On the investment side, 63 Vietnamese investment projects have been carrying out business in Cambodia nowadays with a total investment value of nearly $900 million.”

Agribank first opened a representative office in Phnom Penh in 2005, focusing on facilitating cross-border payment for imports and exports, according to a press release Monday.

However, the establishment of a branch in the capital means the bank can now also service the Cambodian market.

According to the release, Agribank, also known as the Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, is the biggest financial institution in Vietnam, with assets of almost $26 billion and outstanding loans of $19 billion.

It employs 40,000 people and has more than 2,300 branches and transaction offices connected online, as well as relationships with more than 1,000 foreign banks in 96 countries.

“The branch opening marks the expansion and increase of the outreach of Agribank network abroad,” said Nguyen The Binh, the chairman of Agribank. “It would bridge the financial and banking markets between the two countries.”

Agribank is the third Vietnamese bank to fully operate in Cambodia after Sacombank and BIDC.

Property tax launch is set for launch in 2010

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:01 Soeun Say

Buyers of constructions worth more than $25,000 are set to pay new levy if Ministry schedule goes ahead as planned

THE government is set to launch a new property tax by the end of this year, officials at the Ministry of Economy and Finance said Monday, in a move which has reportedly sparked protest in Cambodia’s capital.

Under the Finance for Management Law, passed in November, purchasers of constructions worth more than 100 million riels (around US$25,000) will be required to pay an annual tax worth 0.1 percent of property value.

“We are preparing a prakas to establish a committee to evaluate property and we will start implementing tax collection in the end of this year, as the National Assembly requires,” Norng Piseth, chief of the Real Estate Division at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said Monday.

“It is very important for increasing national income,” he added.

Although the new levy is not expected to raise large amounts of additional funds, as Minister of Finance Keat Chhon has estimated tax revenue would be between $3 million and $9 million, the government has voiced its ambition to improve tax administration.

Hang Chuon Naron, secretary of state for the Finance Ministry, said at a meeting of government donors held earlier this month that in 2010 the government aims to improve customs and tax administration, to meet the increased expenditure of sub-national administration and introduce a tax on all land assets.

This view was reiterated by Keat Chhon at a discussion of real estate law late last year.

“We want to establish a tax culture which allows us to collect tax directly in the future,” he said.

About 180,000 houses that are under municipal and provincial administration would be covered under the new property tax, he added.

Some commentators are considering whether it is the right time for a new levy.

Sung Bonna, president and CEO of Bonna Realty Group and president of National Valuers’ Association of Cambodia, said Monday: “In my point of view, I think that government [is acting] too early to collect tax on property while country is facing the [impact of the] global economic crisis.”

He believes that local investment may be affected “a little bit” by the fee, but it is the “duty for everyone to comply”.

But property developers, who are set to pass on the tax to vendors, did not oppose the move.

Kheng Ser, assistant to World City’s Duk Kon Kim, the developer behind Camko City project development, said Monday: “I think that those who are obliged to pay tax are buyers.

“But if the law required to pay – we must to pay to the government. This is a duty.”

However, according to the Deum Ampil News, 100 people representing 490 families living at the Borey Tang Kasang housing development in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district protested against the tax on Friday. The report said that developer Borey Tang Kasang confirmed to protesters that they must pay the tax.

Police Blotter: 29 Jun 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:00 Phak Seangly and Sen David

A 25-year-old man in Kratie province has been arrested after he allegedly attacked his hated sister-in-law with an axe. Police said the man and the 48-year-old victim have never got on well with each other, mainly due to the fact that the victim is a “mean lady”. On Monday of last week, it is alleged that the man spied his sister-in-law chatting with his wife. He took up a secretive position to eavesdrop, where he overheard his nemesis speaking in ill tones about him. Enraged, he leaped from his hiding spot and allegedly struck his sister-in-law in the neck, causing her to pass out in a pool of blood. The victim was sent to hospital. The man was arrested.

Brilliant undercover work has led to the arrest of a 20-year-old man accused of stealing two water buffaloes in Preah Sihanouk province. Cops unravelled the mystery after a woman reported that her two buffaloes had gone missing earlier this month when she left them alone in a field. Last Monday, police received a key clue from a cattle buyer, who told investigators he had recently spoken with a suspicious vendor who was a little too keen to get rid of two water buffaloes. A police officer then disguised himself in the robes of a cattle purchaser and went sleuthing in the market area. He arrested the 20-year-old suspect and returned the missing water buffaloes to their rightful owner.

A would-be Good Samaritan has turned into a murder suspect after he allegedly beat a man to death while attempting to break up a fight. Prey Veng police said the 42-year-old man had stepped in to break up a drunken tussle. While he was trying to stop the argument, however, the victim allegedly pounced on him. That is when the suspect allegedly beat the victim repeatedly in the neck and in the head with a metal pole. The man said he did not realise the victim was dead until the next morning. He and two others were sent to court.

A 27-year-old man has died in Pursat province after he apparently took his cow out to the field during a lightning storm Sunday. The victim’s mother reported that her son took the cow out often so that it could eat grass. This day was different, she said, in that he was struck by a lightning bolt. Police said nine people have died this year due to lightning strikes in Pursat alone. They urged the public to stay indoors during heavy rain. “We cannot control the natural incidents, but we should defend ourselves,” the cops said.

PP firm joins equity fund from Qatar

via Khmer NZ News Media

Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:01 Catherine James

ASIA’S growing economic strength has attracted the attention of a Qatar-based equity fund, which has signed Phnom Penh-based financial services company Covenant International Management as exclusive distributor to regional investors.

The US$15 million fund operated by Qatar National Bank (QNB) has partnered with Covenant International Management as its exclusive Asia distributor, the company stated Monday.

Investing solely in Qatar’s Doha Securities Market, the QNB backed Al Watani II fund is being marketed to Asia’s investors.

Covenant chief executive officer Anthony Galliano said: “As Cambodia’s markets develop, geographic diversification will be important to [Cambodian] investors, and investment in various assets classes will be embraced as they begin to understand equities as an asset class.”

Al Watani II is one of two QNB-backed funds, together worth $38 million, investing in Qatar’s Doha Securities Market. The open-ended fund requires a minimum initial investment of $5,000.

QNB is 50 percent owned by the Persian Gulf nation’s Qatar Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund, and 50 percent by private investors.

Galliano said the Indonesian-registered and Phnom Penh-based Covenant would focus on marketing the fund to wholesale investors such as private banks, the growing pool of Asia’s high-net individuals, and the developing pension and mutual funds.

“Until now we have focused on the retail investment market, insurance and corporate finance,” he said.

Galliano established Covenant in 2005 and is the 99 percent shareholder, but only took the chief executive position in late 2009 after departing from his position as head of ANZ Royal’s corporate banking relationships. He said the contraction of the financial markets during 2009 provided an opportunity to grow the business. QNB was unavailable for comment.

Govt acts to improve SMEs as trade tariff reductions loom up

Photo by: Bejan Siavoshy
Silk scarves made in Cambodia adorn a display rack at Rajana, a Khmer gift store in Russian Market, Phnom Penh, on Monday.

via Khmer NZ News Media

Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:01 May Kunmakara

Course geared towards local producers aims to bolster competitivenes

THE Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME) has invited Cambodia’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to receive training to boost production and improve pricing, in preparation for increased foreign competition.

Officials said Monday that they plan to eventually charge for a service aimed at increasing productivity in the face of competition fostered by reduced trade tariffs set out by ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which came into force in January.

MIME’s Industry Director General Meng Saktheara said that some enterprises possessed sufficient capital, but didn’t have the skills required to improve production. He said that the ministry’s experts could identify these deficiencies.

“How can we produce good-quality products at cheap prices? We face a lack of raw materials for production and high electricity prices,” he said, and added that only a few sectors, such as silks and textiles, are well-positioned to compete on both foreign and local markets.

Ministry of Commerce (MoC) officials also say it is important to strengthen industrial competitiveness as the Kingdom begins lowering the vast majority of tariffs, which under the FTA must be reduced to zero by 2015, but appeared to question the benefits of the MIME plan when contacted Monday.

“Normally, all SMEs are clearly aware of their competencies. They know they have to try their best in improving themselves to produce a good-quality product, to sell cheaply both in the domestic market and for export,” MoC Secretary of State Chan Nora said.

But MIME’s Meng Saktheara said that less than 10 percent of Cambodia’s 30,000 legally registered SMEs produce good-quality products with competitive pricing that could stand up to foreign competition.

“If we continue down the same path, it will be very hard to compete with imports,” he said. “We cannot waste our time any more.”

MIME plans to conduct training courses for each of the Kingdom’s SMEs to evaluate ways to improve production, initially targeting food processing plants and light manufacturing, but eventually extending the service to the tourism and service sectors. The cost of the courses has not been disclosed.

Enterprises are asked to complete forms to enable MIME to define their business plans and offer them training.

Phnom Penh SME Association President Heng Heang said he support the government’s initiative, but added that it is important that the government enlists the right experts to aid businesses.

“It is the right time for the government to help strengthen local production,” he said.

A new generation of mobile

A Mobitel representative shows a phone connecting to its 3G network Monday at its main office on Sihanouk Boulevard. Pha Lina

via Khmer NZ News Media

Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:00 Jeremy Mullins

Industry expert says phone providers are demanding more 3G infrastructure

CAMBODIA’S telecos are set to expand on the use of third-generation (3G) phone technology, spreading coverage from cities to rural areas, according to the in-country managing director of mobile infrastructure firm Alcatel-Lucent.

Jiangho Li told the Post Wednesday that domestic firms are increasingly demanding 3G infrastructure, such as mobile-phone transmitters, in order to compete in the Kingdom’s crowded telecoms market.

“It’s a challenging market. Operators need to adapt,” said the Alcatel-Lucent director. He added that his company supplies over 70 percent of market-leader Mobitel’s infrastructure.

The 3G technology allows larger data bandwidth on mobiles, increasing the ability of users to surf the internet or share videos or pictures.

At least five telecoms players, including Hello, Mobitel and Viettel, provide 3G to varying degrees. But coverage is presently clustered around Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville.

Alcatel-Lucent’s Jiangho Li said he thinks 3G will eventually be used to spread internet access to rural areas in the absence of land lines.

“Cambodia is not like other countries. There’s not very much fixed-line penetration, so that’s why everyone will use 3G,” he said. “There’s 40,000 to 50,000 fixed lines compared to around 5 million mobile users in Cambodia.”

Leading telcos are clearly embracing what are known as “value-added” services, such as internet provision via phone.

At an event held at Phnom Penh’s Raffles Hotel Le Royal on Thursday, operator Hello launched packages promoting data technology.

However, Marketing Manager Gary Foo said Monday it was important to remain focused on the business of attracting customers.

“While technology and innovation plays a very important role, we believe what’s more important is how we use it to make life more convenient for our customers and ensuring [technology] is relevant to their needs,” he said in an email.

Smart Mobile added that although it is investigating 3G’s potential, there are other forms of technology able to provide a similar level of data access.

“Data internet is not widely used yet on the Cambodian market. As this picks up, we have alternatives,” said Smart Mobile CEO Thomas Hundt. He highlighted similar technologies such as WiMax internet access.

But the cost for 3G equipment is rapidly dropping, and in many countries increased demand is leading providers to no longer install 2G equipment at all, according to Alcatel-Lucents’s Jinghou Li.

“Customers are asking for 3G,” he said.

In 2006, Prime Minister Hun Sen briefly banned 3G, alluding to the potential for using the technology for sending pornographic video content.

“I say wait another 10 years until we strengthen social morality,” he said in a radio address at the time.

Metfone, the Kingdom’s second largest provider by subscriber numbers, had previously planned to install 1,500 3G stations during the first quarter of the year.

Owned by Vietnam-based Viettel, Metfone managing director Nguyen Duy Tho previously announced plans to extend 3G coverage to every district in the Kingdom.

Metfone did not return request for comment on Monday.

Cambodian women recognised for creativity

Doung Saree (left) receives the first-prize award for the You Khin Memorial Women’s Art Prize 2010 from US Ambassador Carol Rodley. Photo by Ou Mom

via Khmer NZ News Media

Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:00 Ou Mom

Phnom Penh

JAVA Café and Gallery is hosting an exhibition, until July 18, of artwork by participants in the You Khin Memorial Women’s Art Prize 2010.

The award ceremony was held at Java Café and Gallery on June 23, with more than 300 guests in attendance, including US Ambassador to Cambodia Carol Rodley, who distributed the awards to the winners.

The 12 awards included one first-place prize, one student prize and 10 honourable mentions.

First prize went to Doung Saree, 53, a painting teacher at the Royal University of Fine Arts and an internationally recognised artist. Her winning artwork, Woman Picking Water Lilies, is a painting in the traditional style characterised by natural colours and fine detail.

“The painting was inspired by my own memories of picking water lilies when I was a young girl,” Doung Saree said at the ceremony.

The student prize was awarded to 20-year-old Siem Reap resident Try Sophal for her photograph My Life and Dreams, which shows a young Cambodian dancer preparing for a performance.

The honourable mention prizes were awarded to Tith Kanitha, Noun Borina, Buth Chan Anochea, Hiem An Kannitha, Chhan Dina, Phin Sophorn, Tes Vanna, Khchao Touch, Ouer Sokuntevy and Two Sam Oun

According to press statement from Java Café and Gallery, the You Khin Memorial Women’s Art Prize was established as a collaboration between JavaArts and the US Embassy.

“The aim of the prize is to inspire and encourage Cambodian women in self expression, to recognise the power and importance of women in the arts and to build up their social value,” the statement said.

The award was named in honour of Cambodian impressionist painter You Khin, who passed away in 2009 and who had dedicated much of his life and art to highlighting the struggles of women.

Between the announcement for the competition at the end of March and the closing date for entries on May 23, 45 artworks from women artists in Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap were submitted.

Artwork was submitted in a variety of media, including drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and installation.

The pieces were judged according to a scoring system based on technique, composition, content and materials.

Ms Rodley said in her speech at the award ceremony that Cambodians of all ages were becoming increasingly involved in expressing themselves through artistic activities.

“I believe it is this work that will allow the world to appreciate that Cambodia is not only about the wonder of Angkor Wat but also about a wide range of contemporary of arts,” she said.

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief

via Khmer NZ News Media

Mfone promos tap into lifestyle

Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:00 Jeremy Mullins

MFONE launched two new promotions targeting specific societal groups Monday, in the latest illustration of its new sector-specific marketing strategy. The Mfone We scheme is aimed at teenagers who engage in “night time chit chat calls”, offering 4.5-cent calls within its network and 5.95-cent cross-network calls from 8pm to 6am. Its new Mfone Sabai promotion targets daytime callers.

Hello offers new blackberry plan

Tuesday, 29 June 2010 15:00 Jeremy Mullins

HELLO announced repackaged Blackberry plans at an event Thursday, offering the popular communication devices at US$25 a month postpaid. It has also begun offering new 3G broadband packages, beginning at $1 a day.

Unholy halls

via Khmer NZ News Media

Tuesday June 29, 2010

What is probably the grimmest secondary school building in the world lies in a leafy suburb of the sprawling city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

TUOL Svay Prey High School, now known as Tuol Sleng, is an average looking building that follows the model of many secondary schools in Asia: a three-storey block with a staircase at each end and covered balconies that students walk along to get from one classroom to the next.

In front of the L-shaped school buildings is an open area, now grassed, that would once have been filled with the voices of students taking their morning and afternoon breaks or doing PE or playing football or basketball.

But all that was before the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975 and turned it into the main torture centre for the people of Phnom Penh.

Grim reminders: Tourists taking a look at the two jars allegedly used to torture prisoners at a former Khmer Rouge prison in the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, in Phnom Penh. Operated by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, the museum is to be renovated, officials said.

Detailed records of the Khmer Rouge’s activities there emerged through the work of the Yale Genocide Project.

“Thousands of people – officials from the old government, those accused of being middle class and latterly mainly Khmer Rouge members suspected of disloyalty – were brought to the prison.

"Their presence in Tuol Sleng meant that they had already been condemned. Once inside, they were weighed and photographed. Then the questioning began. Prisoners were told to write detailed confessions setting out their disloyalty.

"They were told to admit they were spies and implicate friends and family. Refusing to confess was not an option, and those that tried were brutally tortured. Many were tortured anyway,” reported BBC news.

Estimates vary on how many Cambodians were killed by Pol Pot’s regime but 1.8 million seems conservative – almost a third of the country’s population at that time. Of those, 17,000 passed through Tuol Sleng on their way to the killing fields of Choeung Ek just outside the city.

Current and former foreign correspondents looking at photos of the victims of the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in Phnom Penh on April 23. Foreign correspondents covering Cambodia’s 1970-1975 war gathered together en masse in Cambodia for the first time in 35 years to attend a memorial ceremony for 37 foreign and local journalists who died covering the conflict.

When the Vietnamese liberated Phnom Penh in 1975, just seven people of those 17,000 were alive and they found 14 decaying corpses still lying on the floors and the iron bedsteads on which they had been tortured.

The Vietnamese buried them in the courtyard but wisely left other things as they were and these rooms, with their bedsteads in place and with grainy blow-ups of the corpses on the walls, are the first that visitors encounter.

Today, an unnerving peacefulness hangs over the buildings of Tuol Sleng. The fact that they were once a high school lends an added poignancy to the emotional distress that all visitors inevitably undergo.

These rooms, with their bloodstains ingrained in the floor and the shackles that once held prisoners’ legs still attached to the beds, were once classrooms.

Their familiarity means that you can almost still hear the excited chatter of students, the voice of the teacher and picture the rows of upturned faces.

It is a stark contrast to the screams of the tortured that must have echoed around these bare walls in the late 1970s.

In the next building, things get worse.

The Khmer Rouge documented their deeds extensively and with care.

Tuol Sleng had its own photographer whose job was to take mug shots of all the prisoners. These stark black-and-white pictures fill the next two classrooms in the adjacent school block. There are hundreds of them, attached to rows of display boards.

A Cambodian guide (right) at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, also known as S-21, speaking to past and present foreign correspondents

Inevitably, many are of children – the children that should perhaps have filled these classrooms with their laughter. The blank frightened stares chill and it is a hard heart that does not feel tears rising.

My eye was caught by one small boy, of eight or nine I should think, whose image would later haunt me as I visited the UN monument at Choeung Ek and looked at the heap of skulls carefully labelled by age.

Perhaps his was one of them; perhaps his was still lying in the mass burial pits that have been deliberately left undisturbed.

Unanswered questions

The director of Tuol Sleng was Kaing Guek Eav, born in the central province of Kampong Thom in the early 1940s, but he was more generally known as Comrade Duch.

After many years of laying low, during which he worked for the American Refugee Commit­tee, he was identified by photojournalist Nic Dunlop in April 1999. Dunlop handed him over to the authorities.

But having pursued him relentlessly and successfully, Dunlop was suddenly overcome with doubts.

Photos of child prisoners who were executed.

Was there any point in starting a process that would inevitably lead to a lengthy and tortuous trial? Duch was a man already in his seventies. Was he sincere in his remorse, his charity work and his conversion to Christianity? The ending of Dunlop’s book, The Lost Executioner, is full of unanswered questions.

Duch’s defence was always that he had no option but to carry out the orders of his superiors in the Khmer Rouge Central Committee.

“If I had tried to flee, they were holding my family hostage, and my family would have suffered the same fate as the other prisoners in Tuol Sleng. If I had fled or rebelled, it would not have helped anyone,” he told a British newspaper in 2007.

The Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal said on May 24 that the verdict will be delivered late next month.

But whatever Duch’s fate, a visit to Tuol Sleng is a gruelling experience and raises big questions.

I think it was the novelist John Fowles who once wrote that a major failure of our times was to come to terms with the fact that evil exists.

Tuol Sleng thrusts that reality into the face of every visitor, and to anyone with children or involved in education, it thrusts a follow-up question: what are you doing to prepare those children for a world in which the deeds of evil men and women can and do thrive?

How do you recognise evil, oppose it, deal with it, and even, like that little boy, suffer it? For me, Tuol Sleng’s silence was deep and heavy with reproach. The reasons for teaching history have no finer advocate.