Monday, 20 December 2010

AKP - Agent Kampuchea Press


via CAAI

NA President Meets Delegation of Japan-Cambodia Parliamentary Friendship Group

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- Cambodian National Assembly President Samdech Akka Moha Ponhea Chakrei Heng Samrin received here on Dec. 17 a visiting delegation of the Japan-Cambodia Parliamentary Friendship Group.

During the meeting, Mr. Suyoshi Saito, head of the delegation, praised Samdech Heng Samrin for his endeavors in serving the country.

He also expressed his condolences to the victims’ families of the tragic incident at Koh Pich last Nov. 22.

In reply, Samdech Heng Samrin warmly welcomed the Japanese delegation’s visit to the Kingdom, saying that this visit will help further strengthen and expand the ties of friendship and solidarity between the two peoples and countries.

He also praised Japan for its policy of maintaining peace and stability in the world. This policy has, he said, contributed an important part in the establishment of peace, stability and development in Cambodia.

In addition, he deeply thanked Japan for its assistance to Cambodia in all fields.

Following on the same day, Mr. Suyoshi Saito also met with H.E. Chheang Von, chairman of Cambodia-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group.

On the occasion, the Japanese side promised to further encourage more Japanese investors and tourists to come to Cambodia, and to promote the exchange between the two Assemblies. --AKP

Article in Khmer by PAL Song

Article in English by LIM Nary

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AKP/02

PM: It Is Time for Both Countries to Push the Implementation of Existing Mechanisms

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- “Now, it is an appropriate and just time for the two countries (Cambodia-Thailand) to push the implementation of all existing mechanisms, so as to boost their relations,” said Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen during a meeting here today with Thai foreign minister.

Visiting Thai Foreign Minister H.E. Kasit Piromya arrived here on Dec. 19 to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Cambodia-Thailand diplomatic relations.

In the meeting, H.E. Kasit Piromya told Samdech Techo Hun Sen of the result of his talks with his Cambodian counterpart H.E. Hor Namhong earlier this morning, Ieng Sophalet, assistant to the Cambodian prime minister told reporters after the meeting.

Both sides examined the relations between the two countries and they noted that after the four successive meetings between the two premiers, many activities have been organized such as art performances, meetings between both countries’ journalists, etc., which are the main factors to foster their relations, the Thai foreign minister said.

H.E. Kasit Piromya further expressed the Thai government’s current stance to expand and strengthen the cooperation with Cambodia for the interests of the two peoples and all activities done by the Thai side will be reported to Cambodia through the Embassy of Cambodia in Thailand and the Embassy of Thailand in Cambodia.

Samdech Techo Hun Sen conveyed best wishes to his Thai counterpart and thanked the Thai government for its condolence letter and assistance to the victims of the recent stampede tragedy at Koh Pich. --AKP

Article in Khmer by CHEY Phum Pul

Article in English by SOKMOM Nimul

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AKP/03

Japan Affirms Unchanged ODA for Cambodia

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- Japan has affirmed unchanged official development aid (ODA) to Cambodia despite the alteration in the country’s leadership, said Japanese lawmaker Naoto Sakaguchi.

H.E. Naoto Sakaguchi made the affirmation here on Dec. 18 when leading his delegation to meet with Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen at the Prime Minister’s Office – Peace Palace. The commitment makes Japan, the world’s third economy, remain a leading ODA provider to Cambodia.

The Japanese lawmaker brought along a greeting letter from Japanese Prime Minister to Samdech Techo Prime Minister for the 55th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

H.E. Naoto Sakaguchi, also chairman of Japan-Cambodia Friendship Association, said he will make the best he can to push faster the construction of Neak Loeung bridge that will link Cambodia on a highway with other Great Mekong Sub-region countries.

He will work as well on the establishment of either direct flight from Japan to Cambodia or Phnom Penh-Ho Chi Minh-Tokyo or Siem Reap-Ho Chi Minh-Tokyo, so as to increase both Japanese tourists and investment to Cambodia.

Samdech Techo Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation related to the friendship between Cambodia and Japan. He was very thankful for the unchanged stance of Japan in continuing providing development aid to Cambodia and for Japan’s commitment in the construction of Neak Loeung bridge and direct flight to Cambodia. --AKP

By MOM Chan Dara Soleil

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AKP/04

PM Hor Namhong: It Is Time for Closing Montagnards Refugee Camp

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, H.E. Hor Namhong, has said that it is time for closing the refugee camp of the Vietnamese ethnic minority Montagnards in Cambodia and this will take place in mid-February 2011.

FM Hor Namhong was speaking at a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport last Friday following the return from China of the Cambodian delegation led by Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

He said that Cambodia, Vietnam and UNHCR had cooperated well in the issues of Montagnards, and those who were certified as having refugee status and the third countries accepted to take them would be allowed to stay; and those of no refugee status would be sent back to Vietnam.

Now, it is time to close the camp as there is no war and no noticeable armed clash in Vietnam, so there must not be refugees to Cambodia, he said, adding, “Vietnam is having progressive economy with the growth rate of 9 percent to 11 percent, so there must not be refugee problem.”

The Royal Government of Cambodia has ordered, in a Nov. 29 letter, the closure of the UNHCR camp in Khan Sen Sok, Phnom Penh, on Jan. 1, 2011.

UNHCR has requested for the delay of deadline so that they are able to resettle the refugee-status Montagnards to the third countries. The delay was agreed by Prime Minister Techo Hun Sen to mid-February 2011.

At present, there are 76 Montagnard asylum seekers living in the camp, and 62 of them have been granted refugee status and waiting resettlement in the third country; while 14 are waiting for the judgment of their refugee status. --AKP

Article in Khmer by CHIM Nary

Article in English by Ravuth M.

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AKP/05

Cambodian Legislature Houses Asks for the Continuation of LEAP

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- Cambodian lower house and upper house have asked the donor countries, mainly the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), to continue their assistance to the Legislature Assistance Project (LEAP) of Cambodia.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the three-year LEAP held at the Senate in Phnom Penh on Dec. 16, H.E. Um Sarith, general secretary of the Senate hoped that UNDP will continue the support to and enhance closer cooperation with the two Cambodian both houses in building up the capacity of the Cambodian lawmakers following the closure of the project.

The project aimed to further enhance the capacity of parliamentary commissions to better exercise their legislative, oversight and repetitive functions. The project also works with the general secretariats of both houses to deliver effective services to the parliament, as well as providing technical and managerial advice to the technical coordination secretariat to implement the parliament’s strategic framework and action plan and to coordinate donor assistance.

The project includes other members of the development and donor communities involved in parliamentary capacity building to channel and coordinate external assistance to the Cambodian parliament, ensuring that resources and project activities do not overlap.

The first phase of LEAP was carried out from 2002 to 2007, while the second phase (three years) ended on Dec. 16.

First Vice President of the National Assembly H.E. Nguon Nhel, who participated in the ceremony, urged the development partners, mainly UNDP to provide the assistance, either technical or material, to the Cambodian parliaments to promote their capacity and to enable them to integrate into the regional and international legislature establishments in the future.

He also raised the negative issues caused by the opposition party with the parliamentary seats in being affected to the implementation of the project. --AKP

By THOU Peou

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AKP/06

Information Minister Meets Thai Media Delegation

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- Information Minister H.E. Khieu Kanharith met here on Dec. 18 with Thai media delegation led by Mr. Wisuth Komwatcharapong, president of Thai Broadcast Journalist Association.

During the meeting, the Thai delegation thanked Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen and the Ministry of Information for the promotion of the visit exchange between both countries’ journalists, aiming at exchanging experiences as well as to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In reply, the Cambodian minister welcomed the Thai media delegation to Cambodia and added that this visit will further deepen the bilateral relationship between the two countries. --AKP

Article in Khmer by CHIM Nary

Article in English by Théng

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AKP/07

Cambodia-Thailand’s Joint Performance and Concerts

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- Cambodia and Thailand jointly organized traditional dancing and performance at Chaktomuk Conference Hall in Phnom Penh capital of Cambodia on Dec. 18 in commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Representing Thailand, Culture Minister H.E. Nipit Intarasombut expressed his appreciation for the improving bond between the two neighboring Kingdoms, adding that good cultural and traditional relations as well as their development of Buddhism will bring the friendship tie of the two countries closer.

In his response, H.E. Khim Sarith, acting Cultural and Fine Arts Minister who represented Cambodia in the event said that Cambodia treasures the bettering diplomatic tie with Cambodia, wherein arts play key contributing role.

A group of Cambodian singers in late November jointly staged a concert with the Thai counterpart in Bangkok capital of Thailand. The two countries also planned to conduct a joint concert in Koh Kong province at the border. --AKP

By MOM Chan Dara Soleil

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AKP/08

Cambodia Hosts Asian University Presidents Forum

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- The 9th Asian University Presidents Forum was held in Cambodia on Dec. 16-18 under the presidency of H.E. Pit Chamnan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

The forum was hosted by Norton University and attended by 50 universities including 21 in Cambodia and the rest from 12 Asian countries, Mr. Chan Sok Kheang, rector of Norton University said.

It is a great honor and opportunities for all participants to discuss and share experiences as well as to cooperate with each other to improve the higher educational standard in the region, H.E. Pit Chamnan said on the occasion.

He added that in Cambodia, the number of universities has increased from 9 in 1997 to 80 in 2010, and the number of students has reached 161,516 this year, up from some 10,000 in 1997. --AKP

By KHAN Sophirom

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AKP/09

United Kingdom Contributes £ 215,000 to Cambodian Side of the ECCC

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- The British government has confirmed the contribution of £215,000 (approximately US$334,000) to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to bridge some of the needs of the national side of the court until other donor contributions come on stream, according to the ECCC.

In his letter to H.E. Tony Kranh, Acting Director of Administration of the ECCC, H.E. Ambassador Andrew Mace conveyed that the British Government is committed to support the work of the ECCC as it enters upon the next vital phase of its work.

The United Kingdom is one of the ECCC’s key donors and has been supporting the ECCC since the tribunal’s establishment in 2006. To date, the United Kingdom has provided financial contribution exceeding US$3.7 million to the ECCC.

Mr. Kranh, in his letter, expressed his “deepest gratitude” to the United Kingdom for the continued support to the ECCC in general and in particular the UK Embassy in Phnom Penh. --AKP

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AKP 10

France Gives 1,000 Books to National Library

Phnom Penh, December 20, 2010 AKP -- The Embassy of the Republic of France in Phnom Penh has given 1,000 books, a donation of ADIFLOR Association, to Cambodia’s National Library for young readers, especially students.

The handover ceremony was held last Thursday in Phnom Penh at the National Library under the presidency of H.E. Thai Noraksathya, adviser to Premier Samdech Techo Hun Sen and secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and French Ambassador to Cambodia H.E. Christian Connan.

These 1,000 books from France are very important for student to do research, said National Library’s Director Mrs. Khlot Vibola, adding that the National Library will send some of these books to 18 other affiliate libraries.

The French Embassy has always assisted the National Library in the past two decades, especially sending experts to train Cambodian librarians in keeping books, preserving books, cataloguing, scanning and reprinting old documents, and installing an electronic system for the book lending and reading. France is going to provide computers to the library and connecting these computers with internet connection and maintenance, she said.

For his part, H.E. Thai Noraksathya said the book donation is an invaluable contribution to support and improve the culture of reading and writing in Cambodia.

The library is a warehouse to store diversified documents and archives in various subjects, including literatures, history and new discovery information. The National Library is trying its best to collect more documents as much as they can to provide to the students, readers and researchers, he said.

On behalf of the Ministry of Culture and Fines Arts, he would like to express the profound thanks to the French Embassy for the book donation and considered it a great contribution to the process of the capacity building in Cambodia.

In reply, H.E. Christian Connan said the library is a source of knowledge and these 1,000 books will serve the culture of reading and writing in Cambodia. Cambodia’s National Library is an important partner with the French Embassy to boost the field of reading, a major factor to gain knowledge, he said. --AKP

By Noeu

Danish company to survey Vietnamese Cambodian border


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:01 Kim Yuthana

THE Cambodian and Vietnamese governments announced on Friday that BlomInfo A/S – a land surveying company from Denmark – has won a contract to produce a topographic map of the countries’ sensitive shared border.

BlomInfo A/S was selected over four other surveying firms, and will enter contractual negotiations with the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments on January 10.

“This is just a bidding stage at which point the bidder has met the technical criteria,” Var Kimhong, senior minister in charge of border affairs, told reporters on Friday.

“We won’t know whether the company will accept all of our requirements or not until after the negotiation,” he said. “But if there are positive outcomes from the negotiation, we will sign the agreement and let the company start its topographic mapping project.”

BlomInfo A/S would be tasked with updating current maps – which are nearly six decades old – using GPS technology. The mapping process will conclude in August 2012 and cost US$1.5 million.

Var Kimhong said the new maps would be in line with international standards, and help the two countries avoid any potential border conflicts.

Touchy subject
Cambodia and Vietnam’s shared border has recently come under fire from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and other critics, who allege that Cambodia has ceded territory at various points along the border.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said on Saturday that border mapping should not begin “until all demarcation posts are planted”. Var Kimhong said that more than 200 out of 375 border posts have so far been planted.

Last week, Son Chhay led a group of SRP officials to the border in Kampong Cham province, where he said a group of Vietnamese soldiers prevented his delegation from visiting border post 103. He claimed the soldiers crossed into Cambodian territory to intercept them.

Nguyen Hong Thao, deputy director of the border committee of Vietnam, said the topographic map was an important step in fully realising a border treaty signed by the two nations in 2005.

“Producing a border land map of both countries will help transform the borderlines to become cooperative, peaceful and friendly,” he said.

Media sector: Newspaper set for relaunch


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:01 Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

DEUM Ampil News will resume publishing its print edition today after a hiatus of more than five months, its lead newsman said yesterday.

“We hope ... it will be strongly supported by our readers and it will also help in developing and promoting the freedom of the press, opinion and democracy,” said Soy Sopheap, general director of the DAP Media Centre.

He said the new-look DAP News will come out with four pages in full colour three days a week – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday – and would have a circulation of 4,000. The paper will cover all political developments in the Kingdom, he said, giving coverage to opposition parties and civil society in addition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

DAP News suspended print operations on July 2 due to financial difficulties, but continued to produce content online.

“We want more newspapers to be published for our readers in Cambodia and I strongly welcome the re-publishing of DAP News,” said Yem Noy, director of the media centre at the Ministry of Information.

Soy Sopheap said advertisers had already shown interest in the new publication and expected it to be financially self-supporting soon. The DAP Media Centre was established four years ago yesterday.

Families told not to rebuild


A woman whose house at the Boeung Kak lakeside Village 1 was flooded by sand and water this weekend sits on a bed frame near the lake yesterday. Photo by: Will Baxter

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:01 Khouth Sophakchakrya

REPRESENTATIVES of 24 families living along a railway line in the Boeung Kak lakeside’s Village 1 said yesterday that Srah Chak commune officials had warned them against repairing their homes, more than two weeks after they were submerged by sand pumped into the area by a development company.

Chan Rithisak said commune authorities had told the families that their building materials would be confiscated if they attempted to repair their homes, and that they should instead “endure” their situation. He said such a suggestion was impossible.

“We can not endure now, we need to rebuild our homes to live in safety,” he said.

Ung Sothy, 63, said she was concerned that her grandchildren could be in danger from electric shocks or dengue fever due to the flooding.

“Currently, we seem to live in a prison, not in a home, because the commune authorities prevent us from rebuilding [our homes],” she said.

Deputy Commune Chief In Sophorn said she had told Shukaku Inc, the company that is developing the lakeside area, to help pump water away from the homes of families in Village 1.

“I think that tomorrow the water will be pumped from their homes,” she said.

She also said that the families – who say they have still not received US$8,500 in relocation compensation that Shukaku Inc had agreed to pay them in 2007 – “should continue to wait”. “I am waiting for a regulation from the Phnom Penh governor,” she said.

KRT lowers budget for next year


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:01 Thomas Miller

THE Khmer Rouge tribunal has lowered its multi-million dollar budget for next year, a court official said yesterday.

“Both sides – Cambodian and international – revised the budget for 2011 and they are going to submit this revised budget to the steering committee in New York next year,” court spokesman Reach Sambath said.

The 2011 budget will be submitted “very early next year” and will be “less” than the previously approved proposal of US$46.8 million, he said.

Court officials could not provide details of the budget total or what would be cut.

Under the currently approved budget, 2011 funding for the international side of the hybrid court falls short by about $30 million, and for the Cambodian side by $9 million.

News of the revised budget came on the heels of a $334,000 contribution by the British government, confirmed by the court on Friday, to cover December salaries of staff on the court’s national side, Reach Sambath said.

Staff pay at the hybrid tribunal, which has long been plagued by financial problems, has been repeatedly delayed since the court’s first trial began in early 2009.

Jungle hunt for rape suspect


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:01 Sen David

POLICE are searching for a man suspected of raping a 3-year-old girl in Stung Treng province’s Siem Bok district on the weekend.

Sen Vathana, district chief of the serious crime bureau, said the mother of the girl filed a complaint to police on Saturday, after she came home from a nearby market to find her daughter crying and bleeding between the legs.

He said the suspect had allegedly tricked the mother into leaving the girl home alone for a short time by giving her 1,000 riels to buy petrol at a market about 100 metres from their home.

Sen Vathana said the mother had confronted the suspect before going to police, giving him time to flee into the jungle.

“After the incident, the victim’s mother confronted the suspect at his house, which frightened him into running for the jungle,” he said. “The victim’s mother should have informed the police before confronting the suspect.”

He said police regretted that the suspect had evaded arrest, and would continue searching for him.

“We are searching for him in the jungle,” he said.

Hou Sam Ol, provincial investigating officer for Adhoc, said the rights group would also investigate the case.

“The victim is so young. She is just three years old,” he said. “I appeal to the authorities to find the suspect for sentencing.”

Six injured in illegal border crossing


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:01 Thet Sambath and Tep Nimol

SIX Cambodians were injured when Thai border troops fired on them for allegedly logging valuable hardwood in Thai territory close to the border with Oddar Meanchey province on Tuesday, officials said.

“Six Cambodians were shot at and injured by the Thai armed forces when they went into Thai territory to cut trees,” Dy Phen, chief of the Cambodia-Thailand Border Relations Office, said yesterday.

The injured men reportedly came to Trapaing Prasat district’s referral hospital for treatment on December 14, but they escaped from hospital before they could be questioned.

“They escaped from the hospital when authorities looked for them,” Dy Phen said.

Pok Sophal, Trapaing Prasat district’s military commander, reported differently yesterday, saying that only three people were shot and injured.

“They were hired by businessmen to cut luxury wood in Thai territory and more villagers went to cut trees,” he said.

Srey Naren, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that logging is still a serious problem on the Thai-Cambodian border.

“People still look for wood to cut in Thailand, and Cambodian authorities are having no effect in preventing them,” he said.

“Thai soldiers must not shoot at people. It is cruel to do this. Thais have always hidden this problem.”

Srey Naren said that there have been six separate shooting incidents this year involving Thai troops and Cambodians, including five where people were killed and one where a person disappeared.

Representatives from the Thai embassy could not be contacted yesterday.

Dy Phen says he has discussed and held meetings with various officials to educate people against crossing into Thailand illegally, while continuing to look for those that are behind the case.

“I have asked the relevant officials to cooperate and educate people not to cross the border illegally and to arrest persons who hire people to cut wood in Thailand,” he said.

Analysis: Inside perspective on Uighurs


Prime Minister Hun Sen toasts China’s Vice President Xi Jinping affter signing deals worth millions of dollars. Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 Sara Colm

WE are hardly alive now. Please help us out. Otherwise we are going to be killed.” I received this text message from a Uighur refugee in Cambodian police detention in December 2009, hours before he and 19 other Uighurs were forced onto a plane and deported to China.

On December 18 – a Friday evening – Cambodian police rounded up the 20 Uighurs, including two young children, at gunpoint from a Phnom Penh safe house jointly administered by the UN and the Cambodian government. Beating those who resisted, the police forced them into police vans and drove off.

An hour later, I received a frantic phone call from a refugee lawyer in Phnom Penh. “Sara – they’ve all been deported!” she blurted out, on the verge of tears. The head of the UN refugee office in Phnom Penh had just called the lawyer to report that the 20 asylum seekers – whose security we’d been very worried about – had been deported and were “already on a flight” headed back to China. That information turned out to be incorrect – but only by a matter of hours.

The 20 Uighurs were members of a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim minority group from Xinjiang province in western China. Most had fled a harsh government crackdown by Chinese authorities following protests in Xinjiang in July 2009 that turned into one of the worst episodes of ethnic violence in China in decades.

Chinese security forces detained hundreds of Uighurs for their alleged participation in the rioting. Several Uighurs were sentenced to death in trials that failed to meet international fair trial standards. Dozens of Uighur men disappeared after being taken away by security forces.

The Uighurs made their way overland to Cambodia, one of the few countries in Southeast Asia that has signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which obligate governments not to send people fleeing persecution back to countries where their lives or liberty could be at risk. Between May and October, traveling in small groups, they reached Phnom Penh, where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, issued them letters stating that they were “Persons of Concern” under the UNHCR’s protection, awaiting Cambodian government determination of their asylum claims.

In early December, the news broke in the international and Cambodian media that Uighur asylum seekers were in Cambodia. Several articles identified some of the Uighurs by name and cited from their asylum claims, including the fact that some had witnessed – and even photographed – security forces beating and killing Uighurs during the July protests. These press accounts also carried descriptions by some of the Uighurs detailing the persecution, torture and arbitrary detention they had experienced in China.

For these Uighurs – particularly those publicly identified – forced return to China meant not only re-arrest and torture, but the strong possibility of being sentenced to death and executed.

In response, China branded the Uighurs “criminals” and demanded publicly and in private interventions with the Cambodian government that they be returned. “I would like to stress that the international refugee protection system should not be a haven for criminals to evade legal sanctions,” a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

On December 16, the Uighurs were moved into a “safe house” jointly managed by UNHCR and the government. On December 17, though, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a refugee sub-decree that authorised the interior minister to deny, terminate or remove refugee status and protection granted by UNHCR or the Cambodian government at will and to forcibly return people who fear persecution without due process or cause. This paved the way for the tragic events that began to unfold with the arrest of the Uighurs the following evening.

Several hours after UNHCR reported that the Uighurs were on their way back to China, I received a mysterious text message on my cell phone: “Police caught 20 Uighur here in municipal security center,” it read.

“Thanks,” I texted back, “who is this?”

I was floored by the reply: “Yusup, from Cambodian jail.”

Yusup (a pseudonym) was one of the Uighur asylum seekers. I had met him in November, together with a refugee lawyer. He told us of being slapped, kicked in the head and stomach and beaten on the head with wooden clubs by guards in a detention center in Xinjiang before being sentenced to a year in a “re-education through labour” camp. He had been arrested after sending emails to Radio Free Asia about the government’s mistreatment of Uighurs.

He talked of the lingering after-effects of the torture – dizzy spells, persistent headaches and memory loss – and stressed his deep fears for his life if expelled to China.

I quickly rang Yusup back, recognising his voice as he murmured quietly, “Yes, we are in jail.” He abruptly stopped talking and it sounded like he was shoving the phone under his clothes. I could hear people chanting prayers in the background.

Through a series of text messages, I learned what had happened. At 5pm – only 30 minutes after the refugee lawyer left the safe house – more than 25 policemen with machine guns entered the compound.

“I was sleeping and the others were praying when the immigration police came,” Yusup said. “Their machine guns were pointing at us so we couldn’t protest.”

As the police led him downstairs, Yusup asked what was happening. They kicked him. A man with a pregnant wife and two young children was also beaten, Yusup said: “He wanted to protect his family. The police treated him very brutally.”

From Yusup’s description, it was clear that the group was then taken to a building at the National Police Headquarters.

That evening, Lt Tan Sok Vichea, the head of the newly formed Refugee Office, confiscated the Uighurs’ “persons of concern” letters. This was the first application of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sub-decree. Once the “persons of concern” status was terminated, the Interior Ministry could order them deported. Cambodian police, including a Chinese-speaking Cambodian in civilian clothes, questioned each of the adults, largely about how much money they had, which was confiscated. “His accent showed he was a Cambodian, from Cambodia, not a Chinese,” Yusup told me. “At first I thought he was a translator. After I talked with him he said he was police.”

Meanwhile, human rights monitors at the airport were watching for flights scheduled to depart for China. When it became clear that no Uighurs had been bundled onto the 8pm flight for Shanghai, monitors hunkered down for a long night, waiting until the last scheduled flight left at 2am.

Shortly after 6am the next morning, my first text message of the day came in. It was Yusup. “We’re still in jail,” he wrote, followed by: “When can we leave here?”

Over the next few hours, I periodically checked in with Yusup, who agreed to try to alert me if the group was moved and to delete all messages on his phone. He said the policemen who detained the group had a lion with a sword on their badges, indicating to me they were “Order Police”, who report directly to the national police chief.

Yusup’s growing frustration and fear was evident in the text he sent me after the group was given lunch: “We r here in the central department of security in the ministry of interior,” he wrote. “Please save r lives.”

I told him many people were working as hard as they could to help them.

His last message arrived almost 45 minutes later, shortly before 2pm: “Please save r lives.” A devastating silence followed.

At 5:50pm, an NGO worker sent a text to report that the UNHCR country representative had informed him that a chartered plane would be arriving at any minute to take the Uighurs back to China. “Unclear departure time, but the flight will land and leave quickly,” the NGO worker wrote. At 6pm, contacts at the airport reported that an urgent flight from China would land soon.

Around 7pm, a bus with its curtains drawn was seen leaving the National Police headquarters, escorted by a truckload of armed police. Shortly afterward, the vehicles were seen entering the road to the military airport at Pochentong Airbase.

A little bit before 8pm, an unscheduled flight from Beijing landed at the military airport, turned off its lights and parked in a darkened section of the runway. A diplomatic contact texted me: “Charter plane from China has just landed at airport.” At 9:03, human rights monitors saw the plane take off. Shortly afterward the diplomat texted me to say: “Departure confirmed.”

The next day, China’s vice president Xi Jinping arrived in Cambodia on an official visit. He expressly thanked the Cambodian government for deporting the Uighurs and signed 14 bilateral agreements confirming millions of dollars in Chinese aid, loans, business deals and export credits for Cambodia.

The return of the Uighurs on the “Plane of Shame”, as a UN rights official called it, was in flagrant violation of Cambodia’s obligations under international covenants it has signed and ratified, including the UN Refugee Convention and the Convention against Torture.

Despite considerable pressure from the UN and many governments – including a 4pm phone call from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – in the end Hun Sen complied with China’s demands and incentives, abandoning Cambodia’s international commitments to protect refugees and asylum seekers within its borders.

In January 2010, Human Rights Watch received unconfirmed reports that four of the deported Uighurs had been sentenced to death and that all of the others – except the woman and her children – were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five years to life.

The Chinese government neither confirmed nor denied these reports, nor has it provided any information about the fate of the group to UNHCR, concerned governments or international rights organisations. Access to Xinjiang is limited, and human rights monitoring is extremely difficult as residents fear punishment for speaking to outsiders. This, combined with China’s track record of executing Uighurs forcibly repatriated from neighbouring countries, makes it difficult to dismiss these reports.

It appears the Cambodian government may have learned the wrong lesson from last year’s tragic expulsion of the Uighurs. Officials have now announced they will soon close a safe house for Montagnard refugees and asylum seekers from Vietnam. Increasingly it is becoming the case that no refugee or asylum seeker is truly safe in Cambodia, particularly those from countries with whom Cambodia has close ties.

It’s up to donor governments, as well as UNHCR and the UN country team, to set matters straight. They should insist on accountability for those who ordered the Uighurs sent back to China and ensure that other asylum seekers and refugees do not suffer the same fate.

____________________________________________
Sara Colm is a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch and has been working in Cambodia since 1992.

Police Blotter: 20-12-2010


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 Phak Seangly

Car crashes into grocery store, killing woman
A 72-year-old woman was killed and her 30-year-old daughter seriously injured when a car ran off the road and crashed into their grocery shop in Prey Veng province’s Prey Veng district on Thursday afternoon. Police said they suspected that the driver, who was also seriously injured in the crash, may have been under the influence of alcohol. The car had been travelling at high speed when it crashed into the shop, police said. RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

Cement mixer driver arrested for negligence
A 28-year-old man accused of running over and killing a man with a cement mixer was arrested and sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday. Police said the 57-year-old victim was killed instantly when he was hit by the cement mixer in the capital’s Meanchey district on Tuesday, in what appeared to have been an accident caused by negligent driving. The driver has been temporarily detained and could face up to three years in prison if convicted, police said. RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

Man detained for post-karaoke cleaver attack
A 25-year-old man was arrested and sent to Takeo provincial court on Friday after he and four friends were accused of attacking and critically injuring a group of six men following a dispute in a karaoke bar in Prey Kabbas district. Police said the five men – four of whom have so far evaded arrest – are accused of chasing the six victims out of the karaoke bar and attacking them with cleavers. The six victims were sent to the provincial hospital for treatment. KOH SANTEPHEAP

Husband arrested after chasing wife with stick
A 53-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, after his wife accused him of chasing her and trying to beat her with a bamboo stick. Police said the man had become enraged when his wife demanded to know what he had done with 4 million riel (about US$988) that he had received for selling a piece of land owned by the couple. Instead of telling his wife what he had done with the money, the man grabbed a stick and chased her with it until a neighbour intervened. KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Boy hangs himself after argument with his sister
An 18-year-old boy has been found dead in his sister’s home in Battambang province’s Battambang town. Police said the boy hung himself on Tuesday night after an argument broke out when his sister rebuked him for coming home drunk from a party. KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Pharma firm to extend reach


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:01 Soeun Say

PHARMA Product Manufacturing is expanding its horizons to help bolster the Kingdom’s medicine manufacturing sector, which representatives say has suffered from a lack of consumer awareness in recent years.

The domestic pharmaceutical sector has so far seen limited development, according to a Business Monitor International report published in August, as “counterfeit drugs are a major constraint on legitimate drug market growth”.

Nearly 3 percent of pharmaceuticals sold in licensed outlets were found to be counterfeit, though a greater portion failed quality tests, according to an October study conducted by Ministry of Health officials and Japanese researchers.

As PPM inaugurated its new Phnom Penh factory, worth more than US$1 million on Saturday, company president Dr Hay Ly Eang highlighted the challenges facing the sector. He stated in a press release that since 1970, the number of domestic pharmaceutical manufacturers had halved from 14 to seven, as Cambodians now preferred to buy medicines made abroad.

Forty years ago, 60 percent of the market was made up of Cambodian-made medicines, he said, compared to just 10 percent today.

The firm aims to help restore the market by producing products that meet high quality standards. “We want to create the employment for Cambodia, to contribute to Cambodia pharmaceutical industry and to strive to provide motivation,” he said.

Founded in 1996, the firm's products include the painkiller Kinal, which is said to have been formulated in a Cambodian pharmacy 50 years ago.

And after recently expanding drug sales to Vietnam, PPM is now targeting growth within ASEAN to add to its current African export markets. The firm also plans to export an additional 50 brands of medicine abroad, on top of the 40 it currently ships.

“We are connecting with Indonesia, Philippine, India and others counties,” he added.

The PPM president also emphasised the importance of government in regulating the sector.

Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng, added: “We’re pushing all pharmacies to respect the law and ask permission to do business."

China and Cambodia agree on trade boost


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:01 Cheang Sokha

CAMBODIA and China have pledged to boost bilateral trade in order to reach a target of US$2.5 billion per annum by 2015.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in a press conference at Phnom Penh airport on Friday that the agreement was made during a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.

From January to October this year, he said, total trade between the two countries was worth $1.1 billion.

“China had also promised to import more agricultural products from Cambodia such as rice, cassava, corn, and beans. China is a huge market for Cambodia” he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and an accompanying delegation returned from Beijing late last week after brokering 12 projects during a five-day visit.

Hor Namhong said that China would also provide $300 million worth of loans and roughly $15 million in aid. He added that an agreement over a coal-powered Sihanoukville power plant had not been signed due to timeframe constraints, but a deal would be inked in Phnom Penh soon.

Airline shares suffer


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 Catherine James

AIRLINE industry group International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecast a drop in global earnings for airlines last week, putting pressure on the share prices of regional carriers which operate in the Kingdom.

Thai Airways shares fell 3.7 percent after the Tuesday announcement to 52.25 baht (US$1.73). It continued to decline with a 4.98 percent drop on Wednesday – its largest one day fall in six months – and closed the week 12 percent below its Monday open at 49.5 baht.

Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-listed parent of Dragon-Air, saw its share price fall 7.5 percent over the week to HK$22.2 (US$2.85) Friday. It posted its biggest slide for the week on Wednesday, falling up to 6.8 percent - the biggest intraday decline since January 22.

Singapore Airlines, the world’s second-biggest carrier by market value and parent of Silk Air, slid 2 percent on the city state’s national exchange Wednesday to S$15.46 (US$11.77). The fall continued over the week, closing on Friday at S$15.08.

China Airlines bucked the trend, climbing 2.3 percent in Taipei trading over the week, closing at NT$24.35 (US$0.81). While the share price fell 0.41 percent Tuesday following IATA’s release, it made up for the loss on Wednesday as its chairman resigned, and prices climbed further by Friday’s close.

IATA revised its industry outlook for 2011 to US$9.1 billion net profit, up from its September forecast of $5.3 billion. Nevertheless, shareholders reacted given the outlook is substantially below 2010’s expected $15.1 billion net profit.

IATA summed up the industry’s prospects with the headline of the release saying “Improved profitability but margins still pathetic”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BLOOMBERG

Time to rethink special economic zone policy


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 Steve Finch

WHEN China designated its latest special economic zone earlier this year in Yili, in the northwestern province of Xinjiang on the border with Kazakhstan, much of the necessary infrastructure was in place.

The area already has a container port which will be further developed and the government completed a new electric train line from the border to the provincial capital Urumqi last year, according to reports.

As the undisputed master of developing economic zones to drive the overall economy, China has focused on a low number of special economic zones in areas with good trade links and suitable infrastructure.

And in the case of Shenzhen, the mainland city bordering Hong Kong – considered the biggest SEZ success story in China, the state mobilised a significant chunk of the funds to kickstart the project which as a percentage of total investment was slowly reduced over time and replaced by capital from the private sector.

Cambodia’s SEZs mirror this hugely successful model mostly in name only.

Instead of focusing on a small number of large SEZs and building infrastructure around them, the government has handed out more than 20 SEZ licences, mostly to well-placed business people including Kith Meng, Mong Reththy and Lao Meng Khin.

Still around two-thirds are idle, some more than eight years after approval.

Whereas countries such as China have helped develop key infrastructure around SEZs to give them the best chance of success, those in Cambodia have required the developers themselves to foot the bill for even basic utilities such as electricity supply. And at 20 percent, the corporate tax rate offered in Cambodian SEZs is less attractive than the 15 percent offered in China at the start of its own SEZ experiment.

Having celebrated 30 years of Shenzhen in September, there is no doubt that China has had a great deal more time to develop its SEZ program and with far greater economic resources at its disposal, the Chinese government has been much better equipped to set up these areas than the Cambodian government.

But that suggests even more reason to keep the numbers small so the state and private developers can concentrate on channelling capital to a select number of sites.

There is no doubt that Cambodian SEZs can attract large companies.

Japanese food seasoning multinational Ajinomoto opened its first packing factory at the Phnom Penh SEZ in October and Hyundai is scheduled to begin assembling vehicles at the Neang Koh Kong SEZ in the coming months.

However, these sites are among the few that have attracted any companies at all, suggesting its time the government had a rethink of its SEZ policy. After all, as China has already demonstrated, a proactive and well-funded policy on SEZs can mean all the difference when it comes to accelerating economic development.

Baitong FC win festive tourney


Champions Baitong FC receive the trophy and cash from Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports official Nuy Samnang. Photo by: Sam Schweingruber

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 H S Manjunath

Battambang Province football team is on the verge of naming its squad for the 2011 Samdech Hun Sen Cup tournament which begins on January 7. A selection trial to pick the top players took the shape of the Christmas Adult Football League, which saw 14 teams from in and around Battambang compete last week.

In Saturday’s final, Baitong FC avenged their loss in a recent Futsal tournament to rivals Classic FC with a resounding 3-0 victory.

According to the organisers, the Adult League was designed to give fringe players a chance to prove their worthiness of inclusion in the provincial team ahead of the start of a fresh season. The participating teams were split into four groups and, after some intense pool rivalry, Battambang FC, Classic FC, Baitong FC and Socheat Watamin Construction claimed the top four places.

For Classic FC, the semifinal clash against Battambang proved easy pickings, the 3-0 scoreline a true reflection of their dominance.

Baitong were equally impressive, trouncing Socheat Watamin Constrution 4-0 to set up a grudge match against Classic.

There was never a dull moment in the final, with Classic giving a strong showing early on. However, Baitong took the lead in the 14th minute and then added two second half goals to complete a deserving 3-0 triumph.

A consolation for Classic came in the form of the golden boot award for 16-year-old striker Phirum. In the third place play-off, Battambang survived a second half blitz by Socheat to eke out a 2-1 win.

2011 Samdech Hun Sen Cup kicks off in provinces


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 H S Manjunath

Excitement is running high throughout the Kingdom as the new year welcomes the season opening fifth edition of the Samdech Hun Sen Cup from January 7. Cambodian premier domestic football competition serves as a symbol of supremacy for provincial sides worth their salt and affords a chance for less illustrious ones to rub shoulders with some of the best in the business.

The week-long preliminary phase runs involves 32 teams split into eight groups of four, each playing simultaneously at four provincial centres – Battambang, Kampong Thom, Prey Veng and Takeo.

The top two teams from each of the groups then progress to the knockout rounds beginning on January 22, with all games played at Olympic Stadium. The grand final is slated for February 26.

All the Metfone C-League teams - with the notable exception of Khemara Keila, who have pulled out due to financial difficulties - will be vying for honours. National Defence Ministry thrillingly prevailed 3-2 over Phnom Penh Crown in last year’s epic final which went into extra time.

Attractive cash prizes are on offer with the winning squad assured of 80 million riels (US$19,750), runners-up taking home 40 million riels and third place finishers banking 20 million riels. There are also individual cash bonuses for the top goal scorer, best goalkeeper, best referees team and a fairplay award for the best behaved team in the tournament.

The timing of the competition assumes crucial importance, with members of the Cambodian national team getting in some match practice ahead of their February 6 and February 16 home and away fixtures against Macau in the AFC Challenge Cup.

2011 Samdech Hun Sen Cup team Groupings

BATTAMBANG CENTRE
Group A - Prek Pra Keila, Kon Rithysen, Banteay Meanchey, Mekong Kampuchea University
Group B - Build Bright United, Battambang, Oddar Meanchey, Pailin

KAMPONG THOM CENTRE
Group C - Preah Khan Reach, Preah Vihear, Chhlam Samuth, Kratie
Group D - Phnom Penh Crown, Kampong Thom, Baksey Chamkrong, Neak Khiev

PREY VENG CENTRE
Group E – Chhma Khmao, Western University, Stung Treng, Kandal
Group F - National Defence, Prey Veng, Police Commissary, Life University

TAKEO CENTRE
Group G - Naga Corp, Takeo, Kep, Sihanouk Autonomous Port
Group H - Kirivong Sok Sen Chey, Kampong Speu, Kampot, Koh Kong

Malaysians hold on to make Suzuki Cup final


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 Dan Riley

Malaysia remain on course to claim their first Suzuki Cup title following their 0-0 draw against Vietnam. Malaysia had won the first leg of the semifinal 2-0 in Kuala Lumpur last Wednesday, and Saturday’s stalemate in Hanoi saw them progress to the final at the expense of the reigning champions. Vietnam also lost to Malaysia in the final of last year’s SEA Games tournament held in Vientiane.

Youth to lead efforts to double nation’s tigers


Kheang Seangly (left), and Chem Srey Oeun pose with Cambodian tiger paw prints at the International Tiger Conservation Summit in Russia.

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 Roth Meas

TWO young Cambodians are on a life-saving mission – to double the number of tigers in the nation by 2022.

“We want the government to help us with both budget and techniques so that the number of tigers will double by then, said Kheang Seangly, 24, a graduate in environmental studies at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

She and RUPP sociology student Chem Srey Oeun, 22, have been appointed by the World Wildlife Fund as Cambodia’s tiger ambassadors. That means they’ll be spreading their message through the internet to other youngsters to rally them to the cause while also talking to high school students around the country.

Both girls attended the International Tiger Conservation Summit last month in Vladivostok, Russia, discussing the animal’s prospects with other youngsters from 13 countries where about 3,200 tigers still remain. These countries include Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Russia.

Before they left, Kheang Seangly and Chem Srey Oeun spent time in the jungles of Mondulkiri province tracking tiger footprints and learning how tigers survive in the hills of Cambodia.

“I visited the conservation area in Mondulkiri and saw tiger spoor,” said Chem Srey Oeun. “I was pretty scared but I felt safer because we were walking with the conservation experts who carried rifles.”

The girls joined a trip to the Siberian wilds to see how rangers monitor the tiger population there.

“They didn’t carry any rifles there. They only used walkie-talkies to stay in touch, and they communicated with each other all the time,” she said.

“We walked with the rangers, and they told us how they count the number of tigers. They set camera traps with bait to attract the tigers. They also told us how to examine tiger footprints, so the main focus of the tour was on conservation techniques,” said Chem Srey Oeun.

However, the number of tigers remaining in Cambodia is still unknown, said WWF press officer Tep Asnarith. Conservationists were waiting for DNA analysis of scat samples from two tiger preservation areas in Mondulkiri province totalling 6,000 square kilometres, he said.

Race around wat raises funds for IT training group


Students of CIST and Lycée Descartes set off for their relay race.

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 Sarah Macklin

NEARLY 450 French and Cambodian students ran a relay race around Wat Phnom – running a total of 1,254.5 kilometres in 2,509 laps.

Their efforts were to raise sponsorship money and show solidarity for the NGO CIST (Centre for Information and System Training), Passerelles Numériques’ centre that trains about 200 poor students a year to find jobs in the IT sector.

CIST students ran the relay race recently alongside 226 students of French high school Lycée Français René Descartes, braving the heat as they ran for an hour in pairs around the base of the temple.

“It was very touching to see students from profoundly different social classes, religions and nationalities run together, sharing, meeting and cheering each other,” said event coordinator Fabrice Le Martret.

“More than a fundraising event, it also had an educational, social and sporting goal. The race was meant to increase students’ awareness of Cambodia’s situation and CIST’s mission, and unite them against the non-access to superior studies for disadvantaged students.”

Head of Lycée Descartes Marie Pruvot said: “I was really moved to see the enthusiasm and commitment by participants. I also hope that all this work will bring practical success, so that CIST students benefit from this new support.”

Sponsorship is still open until January 10, and people can pledge their support for the event at www.solidarity-race.wordpress.com.

The NGO school needed plenty of energy and abilities to offer free two-year training courses for its students, said CIST’s Le Martret.

Not only did the school provide intensive and practical training, it also helped them find a place to live and provide expenses for food, clothes and subsistence, he said.

“It’s virtually impossible for a young underprivileged Cambodian student who has just finished high school to have access to higher studies,” said Sopheak Chhun, one of the 44 staff members at CIST.

“Presently, 2.6 million Cambodians live on under 2200 riel (US$0.5) a day. They can’t afford more than US$3 a year for education, and yet it costs US$350 minimum to go to university or vocational school.

“The reason why most students drop out after primary school is obvious. Only six girls out of 100 will make it to high school. They wouldn’t even consider getting a higher education. This situation is alarming; yet access to a good quality education is a necessity to get the country out of misery.”

CIST was set up five years ago and now caters for 250 students each year, said Le Martet. Each student’s family is visited to ensure that those who most need it have access to the training courses they need.

“Besides, we’re glad to have 54 percent of girls in our new intake. Eighty percent of our students are from the countryside. During their two-year-long stay in Phnom Penh, we also support them during job-hunting,” he said. “Within four months after graduating, all our students found jobs.”

Dancing for diplomacy


Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 Heng Chivoan

Traditional dancers perform during a joint Thai-Cambodian concert held at Chaktomuk Theatre on Saturday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

The other side of the lake


Photo by: WILL BAXTER

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 15:00 WILL BAXTER

A woman who has been evicted from her home on the edge of Boeung Kak lake picks lice out of a friend’s hair on Saturday in Phnom Penh’s Srah Chak commune. The women, who were forced to demolish their homes to make way for a commercial and housing development project by Shukaku Inc, are now living under tarpaulins draped over the outer wall of a mosque as they have no money for new accommodation.

Fast food sector takes off


Photo by: Wesley Monts
Young diners enjoy food at Swensen's in Sorya Mall, Phnom Penh.

via CAAI

Sunday, 19 December 2010 18:39 Matthew Backhouse and Sen David

Competition is heating up in Cambodia’s growing fast-food sector, with international chains Pizza Hut and Burger King set to go head-to-head in the Kingdom.

But the industry’s rapid expansion is a cause for concern among street vendors and local restaurateurs, some of whom are feeling the pinch from increasing competition and changing customer expectations.

The market for fast food in Phnom Penh is estimated to be worth US$40 million a year, which accounts for 5.3 percent of the capital’s $744 million annual food expenditure, according to Tep Virak, general manager of Express Food Group – which runs Pizza Company and Swensen’s franchises in the Kingdom.

But while fast food still has a relatively small market share, competition within the sector has increased significantly in the past five years.

Tep Virak said business was becoming “tougher and tougher every day”.

That trend looks set to continue as Cambodia’s fast-food heavyweights expand their existing franchises and introduce new international brands.

Express Food Group is currently negotiating for the rights to run a franchise of American fast-food chain Burger King, while KFC’s investors are planning to open the Kingdom’s first Pizza Hut early next year.

“Competition is going to be tougher when more international brands come, but I believe that we can still be competitive,” Tep Virak said. “We are well-prepared. We’ve built a good foundation to step on.”

Express Food Group, a subsidiary of Thai company RMA Group, plans to build two new outlets of Swensen’s and Pizza Company next year, bringing the total number of each store to six and eight respectively. It also plans to expand its newest brand, Korean franchise BBQ Chicken, by three shops.

Tep Virak said the Burger King deal was moving forward, but the launch was still some time away.

“We are still discussing, negotiating. We are progressing but I cannot give any timeline,” he said.

He said the company was performing well and would seek to be listed on Cambodia’s planned stock exchange, but he declined to give revenue details.

Meanwhile, business at KFC is picking up following the economic crisis.

Benjamin Jerome, general manager of KFC franchisee Kampuchea Food Corporation, said revenue growth was expected to reach 5 percent per annum.

The company, a joint venture between Kith Meng’s Royal Group, Malaysian company QSR and Hong Kong firm Rightlink, has pumped $10 million into its KFC franchises since the first outlet opened in 2008. It plans to build three new stores next year, bringing the total to 13.

The company is also putting $3 million towards its Pizza Hut franchise, with the first outlet due to open on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard early next year. Ten more Pizza Hut stores are planned over the next five years.

Jerome said the sector had recovered well from the recession and was “still vibrant as before”.

“The recovery of the world economic situation, which impacted the domestic consumer spending, did help the recovery of the industry,” he said.

He said the fast-food sector was “a challenging environment”, but he welcomed further competition.

“More competition will improve the industry’s standards, which benefits consumer choice and satisfaction.”

But not everyone stands to benefit from greater consumer choice.

Street vendor Chan Thouen said the growing popularity of fast food had contributed to a decline in sales at the barbecue chicken stall that she and her mother have operated on Phnom Penh’s Sihanouk Boulevard for 10 years.

“Prior to five years ago, I sold 80 to 90 chickens per day. I sold very well,” she said. “Business has gone down. Right now I sell just 40 chickens per day.”

Tep Virak also concedes the fast- food industry has had an impact on local businesses, noting a decline in the number of local restaurants across Phnom Penh’s Japanese bridge in recent years.

But he said that was due to changing consumer expectations, rather than customers rejecting traditional Khmer food.

Fast-food restaurants offered better hygiene, faster service and a more modern dining experience than traditional restaurants, he said.

Customers were mostly Cambodians, and included middle-class professionals, young families with children, and educated youths who readily engaged with Western culture.

Norton University student Song Srey Kouch, 23, is among the young Cambodians who have embraced fast food.

“When I have free time after school, I like to eat chicken at KFC with friends. It is comfortable to eat [in], it has good service,” she said.

But her friend Toun Lomong, 23, a student at the Royal University of Law and Economics, said she preferred to eat traditional Cambodian chicken.

“I like to eat Khmer chicken because it is delicious and it is cheaper than the chicken at KFC,” she said.

That sentiment is good news for Khmer food vendors like Chan Thouen, who said she expected her barbecue chicken business to survive despite declining sales.

While Tep Virak agreed that the fast-food sector was unlikely to threaten the survival of traditional Khmer cuisine.

“I don’t think we are going to replace any Cambodian food any time soon. They eat the traditional food every day, so when they go out they want to try something new – that’s it,” he said.