Tuesday, 29 April 2008

CAAI will be off line for 3 days

Dear Value Readers !

Due to our network system and computers need to be upgrade, we would not be able to post any article for 3 days from 30 April 2008 to 2 May 2008. We would be back on line on the 3 May 2008.

We would like to apologize for this inconvenience and would like to see you all coming back to our blog again soon.

Kind Regards,

Samne Thmey (In Cambodian language)

Courtesy of Samne Thmey at http://www.mcdcambodia.com/

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School drop-outs in Cambodia

Children in Cambodia are dropping out of school as their families cannot afford to supplement the teachers' low wages. Guy Delauney reports. Click here to watch this BBC video.

Rice prices force WFP to halt Cambodian school breakfasts

A young student (L) passes a scavenger in Phnom Penh where price hikes have forced the UN to suspend a food programme

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Soaring rice prices have forced the UN World Food Programme to indefinitely suspend a programme supplying free breakfasts to 450,000 poor Cambodian schoolchildren, an agency official said Tuesday.

"The cost of rice" was the main reason behind the move, Thomas Keusters, WFP country director in Cambodia, told AFP.

Keusters said the agency had suspended the popular programme since last week until mid-July when students go on holiday. The move affects 450,000 children in 1,343 schools countrywide.

He said the programme was suspended because the WFP could not afford to pay the current high prices for rice, which accounts for 76 percent of the school breakfasts.

Better quality rice now sells for more than 700 dollars per tonne in Cambodia compared with 300 to 400 dollars last year, according to sellers.

Keusters said some schools were using their own rice stocks to feed the children but they would also run out in less than a month.

He said the free breakfasts programme was important to attract children to school and being fed helped them pay attention in their lessons.

WFP introduced free school breakfasts in Cambodia about eight years ago but Keusters said he did not know when or whether the programme would restart.

Cambodia, where more than 30 percent of its 14 million population lives in poverty, is one of 12 "hunger hot spot" countries, according to the 2006 Global Hunger Index of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Cambodia's inflation soared into double digits late last year, hovering around 11 percent, driving up the cost of food and other essentials.

Good-grade rice -- Cambodia's staple food -- now costs nearly 0.90 dollars per kilogram (41 cents per pound), deepening the poverty of the one-third of the population who live on less than 50 cents a day.

Aid agencies have warned that the growing food crisis could threaten tens of thousands of rural Cambodians with hunger in the coming year, as even food handouts have become significantly more expensive.

World grain prices have rocketed, a trend blamed variously on higher energy and fertiliser costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of farmland to biofuel plantations, industry and cities, and price speculation.

China Ascendant – Part I

Global Politician
Bertil Lintner - 4/29/2008

The Chinese are coming. If the plan holds, the small and sleepy capital of Laos, Vientiane, might look like Manhattan on the Mekong. More than architectural statement, the construction of the new Chinatown in Laos will mark the newest evidence of China’s rising influence in Indochina, once the playpen of Vietnam.

An artist’s impression in state-owned media shows the shape of new development that will turn marshland into a modern city, populated by an estimated 50,000 migrants from China. The Associated Press reports that a Chinese company leased the land.

China’s profile and influence in Laos have grown steadily over the past few years at the expense of the landlocked country’s longstanding friendship with Vietnam. Similar development has taken place in Cambodia, another close ally of China’s longtime rival in the region, Vietnam. China, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to as “the root of everything that was evil in Cambodia” in a 1988 essay, has emerged as a major donor to Cambodia and, unlike aid from the West, Chinese assistance comes with no strings attached for promoting democracy or good governance. China is also a major investor in Cambodia, mainly in the garment industry, but also in agriculture, mining, hotels and tourism.

This development has not gone unnoticed in Vietnam. In the case of Laos, to alleviate fears of a shift in foreign allegiances, the official media have over the past year protested a bit too much about the traditional friendship with Hanoi, repeatedly mentioning the 1977 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the two communist-ruled countries. Symbolically, a stylistic painting showing Lao and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians linking arms under national flags won first prize in a Vientiane art competition 19 September 2007, the 20th anniversary of the treaty’s signing. On Lao television, Lao and Vietnamese dignitaries meet and proclaim the “everlasting friendship” between the two countries.

But Laos’ allegiances have changed and that’s reflected in the history of three apartment blocks on the road to Vientiane’s Wattay Airport. Built in the early 1970s to accommodate operatives of the US Central Intelligence Agency and other American advisers, the buildings were taken over by Soviet technicians when the communist Pathet Lao took over in 1975. Today, the Mekong Hotel and Apartments cater to a mainly Chinese clientele, with one floor housing the Beijing Restaurant.

The number of Chinese working in Laos has increased in recent years. According to official statistics, about 30,000 Chinese now live in Laos, but the real figure could be 10 times greater. Thousands of Chinese work on the Asian Development Bank–funded Route 3 that runs from Boten, on the border with the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, through Luang Nam Tha in Laos, down to the Mekong River at the Houei Xay ferry crossing opposite Chiang Khong in Thailand, where a bridge is planned as well. When finished, the highway – and Laos – will be China’s main overland connection with Southeast Asia.

At the same time, China has become a major investor in Laos with 236 projects worth around US$876 million, a considerable increase from US$3 million worth of investment in 1996. The total Chinese direct investment approved by Laos’ Committee for Planning and Investment up to August 2007 amounts to US$1.1 billion, second only to Thailand’s projects worth US$1.3 billion. About a third of the Chinese investment is in hydropower, and the Laos government has granted Chinese companies concessions to mine gold, copper, iron, potassium and bauxite. Vast tracts of land have been farmed out to Chinese interests for rubber plantations.

China’s assistance to Laos since the late 1990s has reached nearly US$500 million in grants, interest-free loans and special loans. China has built a huge Culture Hall in Vientiane, ostensibly in traditional Lao style. In November 2004, China beautified the park around the Vientiane landmark Patouxay, the capital’s Arch of Triumph, and now constructs a stadium for the Southeast Asian Games, which Laos will host in 2009.

According to a June 2007 report in the English-language Vientiane Times, special loans from China helped establish the Lao Telecom Company and Lao Asia Telecom, and also funded a cement factory, the purchase of two MA 60 aircraft for Lao Airlines, as well as several government internet projects. The Chinese ambassador in Vientiane participates in donors’ meetings and plays an active role in the social life of Lao-based diplomats. Soon he’ll be joined by thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Chinese citizens in Vientiane’s new Chinatown, which, for reasons of sensitivity, is called a “New City Development Project.”

In Cambodia – where China once supported the dreaded Khmer Rouge regime both when it was in power and later as a resistance force against the regime that Vietnam installed in Phnom Penh in January 1979 – the political situation began to change when Hun Sen ousted his then coalition partner, royalist leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a June 1997 coup. Cambodia’s Western donors were not amused: The US and Germany suspended non-humanitarian aid until a free and fair election was held. Japan, Cambodia’s largest donor, said it would halt new projects.

But China came to Hun Sen’s rescue. Longtime Cambodia watcher Julio Jeldres notes that China was the first country to recognize the regime after the coup; in December that year, Beijing delivered 116 military cargo trucks and 70 jeeps valued at US$2.8 million. In February 1999, Hun Sen paid an official visit to China and obtained US$200 million in interest-free loans and US$18.3 million in foreign-assistance guarantees. The number of Chinese settlers in Cambodia is unknown, but estimated to be in the thousands.

The “new” Chinese, who for various reasons have settled in countries such as Cambodia and Laos, are more assertive than older Chinese communities in the region. According to Andrew Forbes, a Thailand-based China expert who spent more than 20 years studying China’s relations with Southeast Asia: “They’ve grown up in a country which is stronger and far more unified than before. There’s a new sense of being Chinese: the new migrants are patriotic and loyal to the motherland.”

This sense of national pride provokes tensions between new-generation migrants and older settlers, who fear the newcomers’ outward display of nationalism could rekindle longstanding suspicions towards ethnic Chinese communities in their adopted countries.

There have been incidents of anti-Chinese hostility that bear out those concerns. For example, in May 1999, 300 “new” Chinese massed outside the US embassy in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to protest the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. A smaller gathering of ethnic Chinese Cambodians, in the country for generations, held a counterdemonstration, heckling the protesters: “You’re not our brothers,” one yelled, referring to the suffering of Cambodia’s Chinese during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime. “Your people killed my people during Pol Pot’s time.”

But the Vietnamese have greater reason to fear China’s rising economic, political and demographic clout in the region. Vietnam, once a leading force in Indochina, is becoming isolated from traditional allies. It still retains some influence in Laos, and trade between the two countries is not insignificant. But once Vientiane’s new Chinatown is built, that may change and the people of Laos have to adjust to their country’s becoming an extension of Yunnan.

Bertil Lintner is a Swedish journalist based in Thailand, and the author of several works on Asia, including “Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia” and “Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea under the Kim Clan.” This article is part of a larger research project conducted under the auspices of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Reproduced from YaleGlobal with expressed consent.

A witty read on Cambodia

29 April 2008

I picked this book out of curiosity and to find out about the other side of life in Laos. Cambodia has often featured in the news for the wrong reasons.

A synopsis on the front cover describes it as “wonderfully witty”.

I loved every page of it. It is a gem.

The book begins in the aftermath of a communist revolution. An old campaigner, Dr Siri Paiboun is “volunteered” to be the country’s new coroner. Siri joined the struggle to be close to his wife, an ardent revolutionary.

He has looked after the health of the freedom fighters for more than 40 years, patching them up and sending them back to the frontline.

He barely remembers his pathology class lessons but dares not refuse the new assignment. He muddles along without a proper pathology theatre and instruments.

He has an English pathology textbook that he cannot read. He relies heavily on an idiotic savant who was trained by the last French pathologist before the war.

Siri decides to investigate several suspicious deaths simply because everyone looks down on him and he is told what his findings should be.

The Coroner’s Lunch is witty, a laugh-a-minute, and a good read.

China donates 600,000 USD for de-mining operation in eastern Cambodia

April 29, 2008

China has donated 600,000 U.S. dollars for Cambodia to clean the mines and unexploded ordnances (UXO) along National Road No. 7 from Kratie province to Stung Treng province in the country's eastern part bordering Laos, said government official here on Tuesday.

"The finance has helped the people avoid risking their lives," said Sun Chanthol, Minister of Public Works and Transportation, while attending the inauguration ceremony of the national road.

The de-mining work was also an necessity for the safe construction of the road, which now links Cambodia and Laos, he said.

The road can help improve the people's living conditions and expand the tourism areas in the eastern provinces, where much natural view of forestry, mountain range, lakes, waterfalls and tribal culture can be seen, he added.

National Road No. 7 runs 186.648 kilometers and is connected with National Road N. 13 of Laos.

The inauguration of National Road No. 7 is widely believed to be able to perfect the Asian road network and strengthen the economic relationship and development of the regional countries.

Source: Xinhua

Cambodian PM wishes Beijing Olympics success


Special report: 2008 Olympic Games

STUNG TRENG, Cambodia, April 29 (Xinhua) -- China will succeed in organizing the Beijing Olympic Games and Cambodia conveys its best wishes for China, Cambodian Prime minister Hun Sen said here on Tuesday while inaugurating National Road No. 7.

"We all will watch and follow the sport activities of the game event in China," he said.

As a measure of support, all the government officials will be banned from gambling over the Beijing Olympics, he added.

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni will attend the opening ceremony of the Games in Beijing in August and the government will also send a 10-member delegation to attend its activities.
Editor: Song Shutao

Chinese company completes restoration of Cambodia's National Road No. 7


STUNG TRENG, Cambodia, April 29 (Xinhua) -- National Road No. 7in northeastern Cambodia totally opened Tuesday, after an over-three-year restoration work by the Shanghai Construction Group of China.

The 186.648-km-long road, running through Kratie and Stung Treng provinces and directly leading to Laos, was refurbished brand new, thanks to the interest-free loan provided by the Chinese government and its construction team.

"It is the latest achievement during the 50 years of diplomatic relations between China and Cambodia," Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday at the end of the road bordering Laos.

The restoration of National Road No. 7 will help improve the economic development of northeastern provinces including Kratie, Stung Treng, Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, Hun Sen told the ceremony attended by hundreds of officials and local residents.

After it has enough infrastructures, the northeastern provinces of Cambodia will be a region of development from 2015 to 2020, he said, adding there are various mines here, which are a very important factor for investment.

It will also help advance the internal integration of the road network of the neighboring countries, especially the triangle are of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, he said

It is part of the road linkage for the ASEAN countries and also perfects Asian Highway No. 11, he added.

Also at the ceremony, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jinfeng said that the Cambodian-Chinese friendship bore another fruit, as the road is renovated to provide convenience for the local people, upgrade the regional road network and help materialize China's will to consolidate ties with its neighboring country and strive for common development with them.

Later at the ceremony, Hun Sen presented National Construction Medals to Zhang, some Chinese experts and Cambodian government officials.

The restoration of National Road No. 7 started on Nov. 8, 2004.It has 13 bridges, including the 1,057-meter-long Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge over the Sekong River near the border with Laos.

Currently, China is still helping Cambodia build National Road No. 8 and two bridges respectively over the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap River.

Editor: Amber Yao

Cambodian shoots at rain and hits drinking buddy

The Earth Times
Tue, 29 Apr 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Furious that it began raining when he was trying to drink, a Cambodian man shot at the offending rain cloud but missed, hitting his friend instead, local media reported Tuesday.

Dy Sovannara and his drinking partner Hiem Vuthy were enjoying beers Monday evening in Phnom Penh when rain spoiled their evening, the Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper reported.

Sovannara, who claimed he was a soldier, borrowed a pistol from a nearby guard and shot into the air to "scare the rain away," but the gun misfired and the bullet hit Vuthy in the knee.

Luckily, the pair was carousing outside the city's largest hospital, allowing Vuthy to receive immediate treatment, and he was in stable condition, the newspaper reported.

Police were still seeking Sovannara, who immediately fled the scene, the daily said. Witnesses said the rain continued unabated.

Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge rebels face malaria epidemic

The Earth Times
Tue, 29 Apr 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Impoverished former Khmer Rouge fighters in north-western Cambodia have reported a spike in malaria infections, raising fears of a new epidemic along the Thai border, police said Tuesday. A senior police officer in Samlot who declined to be named said by telephone that the Thai border area had recorded 92 new cases of the mosquito-borne disease last month and 93 this month.

"The cause is heavy rain, and we are trying to educate people to go to the hospital as soon as they detect fever and not believe the cause is just a bad spirit or ghost," he said.

Samlot's rebel fighters held out against the outside world until the late 1990s, and most of its almost 14,000-strong population now eke out a living as subsistence farmers.

In October, a World Health Organization report warned that drug-resistant strains of the disease were increasingly being detected along the Thai-Cambodia border.

Experts blamed such infections on inappropriate use of anti-malarial drugs and other factors, including a postwar population boom. Children are particularly vulnerable to malaria.

Cambodia reported around 60,000 cases of the endemic disease last year with 241 deaths.

Police said no malaria fatalities have been reported in Samlot so far but they feared it was only a matter of time if the number of new infections continued to rise with the peak of the monsoon season still months away.

Salt Fields in Kampot Province

These are the salt fields in Kampot province along the road 33 leading to Kep city

Floating villagers fishing for handouts

While perusing the Travel section of the San Francisco Chronicle, I came across this interesting blurb by Larry Habegger on the impact of tourism on the small fishing villages of Tonie Sap Lake in Cambodia

In a bizarre twist on the Chinese proverb “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” fishermen at the floating village of Chong Kneas have found panhandling is far more lucrative than casting nets as the odd community becomes increasingly popular with tourists.

Chong Kneas, a collection of houseboats and floating thatched huts on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake, is a popular side trip from Siem Reap, the jumping-off point for Angkor Wat. Its popularity, however, has had predictable consequences, with locals now swarming the tourist boats in motor vessels, rowboats and even bathtubs and plastic buckets. Authorities said they do not have the facilities to detain the flotilla of beggars.

The article really it home - when I was in Siem Reap a couple of years ago, I went on one of these “so called boat tours” of nearby Tonle Sap Lake. When my tour boat docked at shore to visit the crocodile farm, a couple of young girls from the nearby village came paddling up to the boat in small tubs to beg for money. Jai dee that I am, I gave them a dollar or two.

Unfortunately this tourism development has gone unregulated and the tour operators who conduct these tours make some very good money, the primary attraction being the quaint (but poor) fishing villages that surround the lake - most families in these transient communities live in ramshackle houseboats. To my knowledge, the Cambodian tour operators share none of the tourism revenues with these people; despised by Cambodians as a whole, they are immigrants from Vietnam and represent the poorest segment of the Cambodian population.

This is just another example of tourism gone awry – to be more blunt, it is simply exploitation. To eliminate the rampant panhandling that the author speaks of, there must be a better way to integrate these fishing villages into the tourism product.

Cambodia and Thailand pledge big rice exports

ABC News
Tuesday, 29/04/2008

Cambodia has announced plans to become one of the world's major rice exporters, and is hoping to reach an export target of some eight million tonnes.

Cambodia's ambitions to increase exports follows Sunday's announcement by Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej that his country won't cut down on rice exports.

The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines welcomed the initiatives by both governments, and says such moves could help quell the panic that's gripped the international rice market.

Samne Thmey News (In Khmer Language )

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Short Description: Opinion: Citizens should be offered with options during elections
Afghanistan: Fighting a losing battle against opium production

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The Preynokor News number 18

Party Registration Begins; Few Takers So Far

By Seng Ratana, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
28 April 2008

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The National Election Committee opened the registration process for political parties Monday, but only the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has so far signed up.

The 15-day registration period should see each party register its candidates for parliament, said NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha.

Only political parties that have been recognized by the Ministry of Interior can register, he said, and registration will require the filing of internal party rules and a deposit of 15 million riel in the national bank. The Ministry of Interior has said 45 political parties have been approved so far, up from 23 parties in the 2003 election.

The NEC estimates that only 20 parties will actually participate in this year’s election.

While the CPP has already sent its documents to the NEC, officials from the three other leading parties, Sam Rainsy, Human Rights, and Funcinpec, said they still had some documentation to complete.

Embassy Plans Wine Tasting for Mine Clearing

By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
28 April 2008

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On the evening of May 9, 2008, several Rotaract Clubs in Rotary International District 7620 will be hosting a Wine Tasting & Auction Event for Cambodian demining Efforts at the Royal Embassy of Cambodia in Washington, DC.

“I expect to have 250 people to join the event. I have offered the Embassy as the venue for the event, and I’ll also provide Cambodian food and Cambodian Classical dance,” said Ambassador Sereywath Ek.

The funds donated through the cost of admission, wine tasting and auction will go towards The Halo Trust Foundation to raise much-need funds to remove landmines from three villages in the Northwestern Region of Cambodia along the K-5 Mine Belt.

“Halo Trust is a non-political, non-religious NGO and is the world’s largest humanitarian landmine clearance organization, which specializes in the removal of the debris of war,” said Kurt Chesko of Halo Trust. “It was founded in Afghanistan in 1988 and moved to Cambodia in 1991 and first partnered with Rotary International to remove landmines from Cambodia in 2001 and the State Department in 2005.”

Halo has over 1,200 demining staff working in the province of Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey, Battambang, Preah Vihear and Pailin. Halo Cambodia is currently funded by the governments of Finland, Great Britain, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, and the USA.

“These are some of the poorest people in the world and literally they’re living in minefields, collecting firewood in minefields. They’re planting the field in minefields, children are walking through minefields to go to school, people are walking through minefields to get access to water, so it is an urgent situation in northwestern Cambodia; this is where most of the country’s accidents are happening, and it’s just crucial that Halo and other organizations get these mines out of the area quickly as possible,” Chesko added.

Approximately 18 Rotary Clubs are now involved in the mine removal effort in northwestern Cambodia.

The US State Department matched $1 for $1 for past efforts. Rotary International has more than 1.2 million members who volunteer their time and their talent to provide humanitarian service, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.

“People were living either right next to landmines or the houses were built on the top of landmines,” said Brendan Adams, Rotaract Executive Director for the District 7620 Rotary Project for Mine Action in Cambodia.we want to do something to make a world of difference and give these people opportunity to live on their lives,”

Over 63,000 mine and UXO casualties have been recorded since 1979. Cambodia has more than 25,000 amputees, the highest ratio per capita of any
country. Most of these casualties occurred around the villages of provinces bordering Thailand.

Hun Sen to Stop Use of the Word ‘Prince’

When I'm weak I have to bow you but when I'm strong I have to kick you out

War between Hun Sen and Nararidh

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
28 April 2008

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Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he will work to have the word “prince” removed from official government use.

“I’ve stopped using the word ‘prince’ even in the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly,” Hun Sen said Monday in a speech to 7,000 factory workers, the second time in a week he has attacked the use of the royal moniker.

In an April 22 speech he said he would suppress the use of the word in the National Assembly and the Senate.

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, with a long tradition of kings, but Hun Sen’s main political rival was once Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of former king Norodom Sihanouk.

Ranariddh is leading an eponymous party, from exile, for general parliamentary elections in July, contesting Funcinpec for the role of “royalist” party.

Funcinpec Minister of Rural Development Lu Laysreng said Monday the suppression of the word “prince” in government “is not inconvenient for our party.”

“If a person doesn’t want to use this word, there are others who use it,” he said.

Ny Chakrya, a leading investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said even if Hun Sen stops only himself from using the word, there will be an impact on royalists.

Several times in the past few years, Hun Sen has sought to have a law banning royal family members from engaging in politics, or, if they want to remain in politics, renounce their royal status.

Workers Eye Opposition: Survey

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
28 April 2008

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The Cambodian Center for Labor Rights organized a meeting Sunday, bringing together representatives of five construction worker unions and three garment factory unions in one restaurant.

The meeting, on “worker decisions on politics,” gathered the political expectations of more than 4,000 workers, many of whom say they would vote for the opposition if it were able to meet their needs.

The unions sent official letters last week to the four main political parties—the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, coalition partner Funcinpec, opposition Sam Rainsy Party and competing Human Rights Party.

The letter was a political questionnaire, asking how each party would approach worker issues, such us minimum monthly salaries for construction workers, who currently are paid day wages.
The unions informed party officials they would vote for the party that best met their needs.

So far, only the Sam Rainsy party has responded, said Rath Rothmony, president of the Cambodian Center for Labor Rights.

“We held a discussion yesterday, in which 54 of 56 leaders, representing more than 4,000 workers, voted for the Sam Rainsy Party in a secret ballot,” he said. “This is our survey in accordance with democracy.”

But with more than 400,000 workers in Cambodia, 4,000 is a small number, said Nguon Nhel, CPP first vice president of the National Assembly.

“Usually, the political rival is looking for many kinds of ways to degrade the reputation of the ruling party, or any political party, to bring its popularity up,” he said.

Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Chantha said the announcement of Sam Rainsy support affected the freedom and neutrality of unions.

Market Suffers Sanitation Problems in Rain

By Kong Soth, VOA Khmer
28 April 2008

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Residents have complained to their commune council to have sanitation problems at Domak Sadav Market in Battambang province’s Rattan Mondul district cleared up. Local authorities have failed to do anything about the mud and garbage, which piles high in the rainy season, in a market that sells produce, including for export, vendors say.

The stench is terrible, they say, while health workers are concerned the market could make people ill.

Hun Sadeng, a spice vendor at Domak Sadav, wears a mask to help keep the stink at bay.

“In Sadav Market, there’s no sanitation,” she said. “The smell of garbage affects my house, near here, and there is no place to dump garbage, and there has not been a drainage system since I came to live here five years ago.”

“I want to have clean sanitation, to avoid, when it rains, puddles of waters that have mosquitoes,” she said.

Garbage is never collected on time, vendors say, and they worry about their health. Representatives from the local Cambodian Youth Council, a civic group, have sent a petition with 600 thumbprints to the commune council to have the market fixed.

Commune Chief Puch Peng denied such conditions at the market and said he had not received the Youth Council petition.

The director of the market could not be reached for comment, but Puch Peng said market management was not to blame.

“They collect garbage everyday, and never leave it for four or five days,” he said. “There is nothing left over to make it smell. But the main problem is that there is no drainage system, because it is caused by people having a pig farm.”

Authorities Tear Up CPP Banner: Protestors

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
28 April 2008

At least five copies of Cambodian People’s Party pictures were torn up Monday morning in Battambang province, following a protest over land, witnesses said.

About 100 land-dispute protestors were holding banners depicting the CPP leadership—Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin—when police stopped them and ripped up the banners, witnesses said.

Long Som, governor of Moung Russey district, where the incident reportedly took place, denied authorities had ripped up the banners, but said instead they had confiscated them.

Villagers are protesting the arrest of six people, on charges related to the clear-cutting of land that Agriculture Ministry officials should belong to its fisheries department.

Villagers say they need the land, and fisheries officials said this week they were considering the needs of the people, but they were not judges and could not release the accused.

Ranariddh can stand for election: NEC

By Soun Sophalmony
The Mekong Times

Tep Nitha, Secretary General of the National Election Committee (NEC) said yesterday that Prince Norodom Ranariddh (pictured), president of the opposition Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), can still stand in the upcoming election despite a breach of trust appeal case pending at the Supreme Court.

“[An] individual who the court has decided upon has no right to register as a candidate. But if the decision hasn’t been released yet, he can register,” Tep Nitha said, adding that registration for premiership candidates starts today and ends May 12.

Prince Norodom Ranarariddh is currently in self-exile abroad following his conviction in March 2007 over the sale of the former Funcinpec headquarters. The prince was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and ordered to pay US$150,000. Ranariddh Anandayat, special advisor to Prince Ranariddh, agreed that the prince can register but was unsure if he would return for the Jul 27 election.

“If the [Supreme Court] releases a decision which convicts him with any punishment, Norodom Ranariddh will ask for a king’s pardon so that he can lead the NRP into the election,” Ranariddh Anandayat said.

Liv Sovanna, a defense lawyer for Prince Ranariddh, said that he was unsure when the Supreme Court will set a date for his hearing. “The absence of Prince Norodom Ranariddh causes concern that the election will not be free or fair. So, he should seek for resolution with the court,” said Hong Puthea, executive director of electoral NGO the Neutral and Impartial Committee on Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

“The government should allow all political parties to conduct equal levels of activities in order to gain support from all citizens,” he added.

School on an empty stomach

Thomas Fuller for the International Herald Tribune
Rice is plentiful in Cambodia, and the country has been a net exporter for the past decade. But it is becoming less and less affordable for the people who grow it. In a 2006 survey, well before the spike in food prices, 22 percent of Cambodians in rural areas could not meet their own basic food needs.
In Cambodia, the price of rice is now above $700 a ton. This is well above the $295 per ton that the World Food Program, the UN agency that feeds the world's poorest people, budgeted for this year.
Thomas Fuller for the International Herald Tribune
Yim Soeurn, the school principal, knows what will happen when the free food disappears: "Poor students will not come to school." When the breakfast program was briefly interrupted in January 2007, attendance dropped by 10 percent as students skipped class in search of food to take home to their families

Thomas Fuller for the International Herald Tribune
In a country where a recurrent paucity of food has taught Cambodians to survive on a bare minimum of nutrition, children in this village are unlikely to starve. But some may miss out on an education. "Most of the students come to school for the breakfast," said a teacher.

Thomas Fuller for the International Herald Tribune
But now, the World Food Program no longer has the cash to supply 450,000 Cambodian children with a daily meal of domestically grown rice supplemented by yellow split peas from the United States and tuna from Thailand.

Thomas Fuller for the International Herald Tribune
When the free breakfasts were introduced here eight years ago by the World Food Program, they were an instant hit. Students would bring their siblings, and attendance by girls, who for years had been kept home by their parents, increased sharply.

Free school breakfasts in Cambodia threatened by rising rice prices

By Thomas Fuller
Published: April 28, 2008
The International Herald Tribune (Paris, France)

PRAY VIEV, Cambodia: The Sun Sun primary school, two low-slung ochre-yellow buildings and a wooden shack, is surrounded by many acres of rice paddies that recently yielded what farmers say is the best harvest in memory. But that has not shielded schoolchildren here from the effects of the global food crisis.

A countdown has begun among administrators at the school and at 1,343 other schools across Cambodia: in 30 days or less the schools' rice stocks will run out and a popular program of free breakfasts will be suspended indefinitely because of soaring food prices.

Short of cash, the World Food Program, the United Nations agency that feeds the world's poorest people, can no longer supply 450,000 Cambodian children with a daily meal of domestically grown rice supplemented by yellow split peas from the United States and tuna from Thailand.

In a country where a recurrent paucity of food has taught Cambodians to survive on a bare minimum of nutrition, children in this village are unlikely to starve. But some may miss out on an education.

"Most of the students come to school for the breakfast," said Taoch Champa, a 31-year-old teacher. "They also come to learn."

The suspension of the breakfast program illustrates one of the many ways that the global food crisis is hurting the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. Only destitute schools were selected to participate in the school feeding program: Pray Viev, in particular, is one of the poorest villages in what is Cambodia's most impoverished province, Kampong Spueu.

When the free breakfasts were introduced here eight years ago by the World Food Program, they were an instant hit.

"Students brought their brothers and sisters, 2, 3 and 4 years old," said Yim Soeurn, the principal at Sun Sun. "It was very hard to control."

The breakfasts have been a magnet for students ever since - as well as the teachers' best friend. Well-fed students are more attentive, tardiness is no longer a problem (breakfast is served at 6:30 a.m., before classes begin) and attendance by girls, who for years had been kept home by their parents, has increased sharply.

Outside his office, amid the high-pitched squeals of excited children pouring out of their classrooms for recess, Yim says he knows what will happen when the free food disappears: "Poor students will not come to school."

When the breakfast program was interrupted in January 2007 because of budget problems unrelated to high food prices, attendance fell by 10 percent, Yim said. Menh Veasal, a 14-year-old at the top of his class, skipped school to collect frogs and crabs from a nearby river - his contribution to meals with his parents and seven siblings. Sim Sreywat, a shy 12-year-old, was ordered by her mother to trek to nearby mountains where she harvested tamarind buds and bamboo shoots.

The imminent suspension of rice supplies is particularly paradoxical for the children who each day walk or ride their bicycles through miles of neatly delineated rice paddies on their way to school. Rice is plentiful in Cambodia, and the country has been a net exporter for the past decade. But it is becoming less and less affordable for the very people who grow it. In a 2006 survey, well before the spike in food prices, 22 percent of Cambodians in rural areas could not meet their own basic food needs.

The most productive agricultural land in Cambodia is near the borders with Thailand and Vietnam, and much of what is harvested in those places is exported at world-market prices.

But the soil in Kampong Spueu province is sandy and parched, yielding less than 1 ton per hectare, or 2.5 acres. That's half the national average, and local families typically have plots that are too small to feed their families. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge government in 1979, each family here was given one hectare of land, a parcel that diminishes in size as children divide their inheritances.

Thomas Keusters, the country director of the World Food Program in Cambodia, said he did not know when or whether the school feeding program would re-start.

"Not before the next school year - October 2008 - at best," he said.

Worldwide, the UN food agency has initiated an appeal for $500 million in additional funding to cover the increase in food prices. In Cambodia, the price of rice is now above $700 a ton, according to Phe Lamine, who is charged with food procurement in the Cambodian office of the World Food Program. This is more than double the $295 per ton that the agency budgeted for this year.

There was cash remaining for the school lunch program, but Keusters said he had diverted it to cover overruns in the most essential programs, including providing food for HIV and tuberculosis patients as well as pregnant and lactating mothers and infants.

The breakfast program seemed to be running smoothly in February when the World Food Program awarded contracts to five Cambodian millers for 5,780 tons of rice, all at less than $400 a ton. But when rice prices headed skyward in March, four millers defaulted on their contracts and the fifth delivered only a fraction of what was promised.

One miller, Von Bun Heng, sent an apologetic letter to Keusters, citing "force majeure" for the cancellation of the contract.

In a country where people get well over half their calories from rice, the higher prices are engendering tension.

A half-hour from the World Food Program offices, amid the crowded cacophony of the Cambodian capital, You Sareun, a shopkeeper, said his customers were angry.

"They say, 'If rice gets more expensive, people are going to die,' " You said. "They tell me in a joking way, but they are also serious."Cheap eats in Singapore.

A Singapore newspaper reported Monday that the government was advertising food stalls that offer meals for 2 Singapore dollars, or about $1.50, in an effort to help people in Asia's second-richest country cope with rising prices, Reuters reported from Singapore.

The Straits Times newspaper said that Singapore's minister of state for trade and industry, Lee Yi Shyan, had introduced a Web site listing food stalls where the public "can find cheap, tasty food" at http://ekampong.com.sg/.

Official data show Singapore's annual inflation rate has rocketed to 6.7 percent - a 26-year high.

Cuts help fill Team Cambodia coffers

By Kevin Mertz
JUST A LITTLE OFF THE TOP — Tish Husdon of A Cut Above clips the hair of Brent Mosser, 9, of Milton, during a cut-a-thon, held Sunday afternoon in the Lewisburg salon. All proceeds from the day were donated to Team Cambodia, a Milton Area High School student-based organization raising funds to build a school in Cambodia.

By Kevin Mertz
Mon Apr 28, 2008

LEWISBURG — A Cut Above, Lewisburg, joined forces with the Milton Area High School’s Team Cambodia Sunday to sponsor a marathon of snips and trims.

Employees of the business clipped and styled customers hair all afternoon, with proceeds going to the club.

Team Cambodia is raising money to build a secondary school in the poverty-stricken nation. The school will be named The Milton School in Cambodia.

Georgette Kerstetter, A Cut Above owner, said all six of her hairstylists volunteered their time to participate in the fundraiser.

“We had been looking for something to get involved with; this was the right thing at the right time,” Kerstetter said.

She noted she was particularly struck after learning from project coordinator Mike Conn that some Cambodians don’t have a source of fresh water. One of the aims of the project is to drill a well at the school.

“Every carbon-based lifeform needs water,” Kerstetter said.

She added she’d like to do additional fundraisers with Team Cambodia in the future.

Conn said he was thrilled when Kerstetter decided to become involved with the project.

“Georgette is a very compassionate person,” he said.

In addition to people stopping by for a haircut, Conn noted a number of people came to the beauty shop Sunday just to make a donation.“I’m very proud of the whole Milton community, especially the Milton Area School District,” he said.Conn noted Team Cambodia hopes to raise at least $30,000 to build the school. He said the organization recently passed the $25,000 mark.Team Cambodia has several upcoming fundraisers which should push the effort closer to its goal.

Students will be at Wal-Mart collecting donations May 4 and May 18.

Team Cambodia is also sponsoring a concert, slated for Friday, May 9, at Milton Area High School’s Alumni Field.

Conn said he already has four bands scheduled to perform, headlined by the popular local group Milltown Blues.

Concert tickets are available for a $5 donation. For ticket information, e-mail Conn at mconn@miltonsd.org or call the school at 742-7611.

Travel alerts for Cambodia

April 27, 2008


A visit to the floating village of Chong Kneas is a popular side trip from Siem Reap, the jumping off point for Angkor Wat, but its popularity has created perhaps predictable consequences. Local fishermen have found begging to be more lucrative than fishing and they now swarm around the tourist boats in vessels with outboard motors, in rowboats, even in bathtubs and plastic buckets.

Wat's happening?

The Bangkok Post
Today's Top Stories

Cambodia and Thailand were in total agreement about a famous border temple on Monday: Both claimed they were puzzled why Unesco called off a meeting with their foreign ministers over Wat Preah Vihear.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation late on Sunday cancelled a meeting with Thailand and Cambodia over efforts to put the Preah Vihear temple on the Unesco World Heritage list.

In Bangkok, officials said they had no idea why Unesco called off the meeting, which was to have taken place on Friday and Saturday in Paris. Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama was prepared for the trip, when Unesco notified the ministry of the cancellation.

But in Phnom Penh, there was even more confusion.

"We received no invitation from the Unesco about talks, so we do not understand why they said talks are cancelled," said Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Cambodian cabinet, or Council of Ministers.

The Cambodians said there was no question about jurisdiction over the temple, and the only topic up for discussion is border jurisdiction.

The campaign to make Preah Vihear a Unesco site has turned into something of a nightmare.

Cambodia and Thailand must come to some agreement over putting the temple, known as Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, on the world heritage list.

The temple is at the top of a sheer cliff which the World Court ruled in 1962 is in Cambodia. However, the only easy access to the temple is through Thailand. If that weren't enough, the border in the region, except for the actual temple grounds, is unclear because of border disputes.

Cambodia said on Monday that no discussions mediated by the UN body had been mooted in past months and the issue was under control without the need of intervention by a third party.

But Thai officials said they had been informed that Unesco will now send its representative, Francesco Caruso, for separate talks with the Thai and Cambodian governments.

Mr Caruso has been appointed by Unesco as a special coordinator between Thailand and Cambodia on the issue and is due in Bangkok next month. (BangkokPost.com, dpa)

Doctors bring light to poor in Cambodia


PHNOM PENH — A delegation of doctors and nurses from HCM City and Can Tho City between April 24-26 performed 79 free eye operations for poor patients in Cambodia’s Kandal province.

The Vietnamese doctors also gave free check-ups to 161 other local people.

Since 2004, the programme has helped improve eyesight for 254 elderly people in the province.

From April 27-29, the delegation will continue providing eye surgery for cataract patients in Kampong Chhnang Province.


By From Mohd Iswandi Kasan Anuar
Bernama - Tuesday, April 29

PHNOM PENH, April 28 (Bernama) -- QSR Brands Bhd plans to invest US$1 million (US$1=RM3.15) to set up four Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) outlets in Cambodia before year-end, its chairman Tan Sri Muhammad Ali Hashim said today.

Muhammad Ali said the next three outlets would be rolled out in the city within this year before expanding to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.

"We also plan to set up at least four new stores annually in the country, mostly in other populous cities. "This is a long-term investment and the prospect is tremendous," he told reporters after the launch of its first outlet by Cambodia's Commerce Ministry Senior Minister, Dr Cham Prasidh, here today.

The 3,000 sq ft outlet, costing US$500,000, started operation on March 2. It can sit 126 diners at any one time and is located in a high shopping traffic area.

The operation of the new outlet is undertaken by the joint venture company, Kampuchea Food Corp Ltd. QSR holds a 55 percent stake and its partners, the Royal Group of Companies Ltd and Rightlink Corp Ltd, hold 35 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

The company obtained the franchise licence to operate KFC restaurants in Cambodia last year.

QSR manages more than 489 KFC restaurants, of which 410 outlets are in Malaysia and the rest are in Singapore and Brunei. It also operates more than 200 Pizza Hut restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore and Brunei.

"Currently, overseas operations contribute about 30 percent to the QSR's revenue," Muhammad Ali said.

Earlier, Dr Cham said the fast food industry in Cambodia would grow in tandem with the increase in demand from tourists.

He said the tourist arrivals were expected to grow by about 25-30 percent per year and hoped that QSR would bring its other fast food businesses such Pizza Hut and Ayamas to Cambodia.


A new political breeze in Cambodia

Asia Times
Southeast Asia
Apr 29, 2008

By Brian McCartan CHIANG MAI, Thailand - A gathering coalition of smaller parties could give Prime Minister Hun Sen's now dominant Cambodian People's Party (CPP) an unexpected run for its money at National Assembly elections scheduled for this July.

The CPP has ruled the country either alone or in tandem with rival parties since the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1993 and in recent years has strongly consolidated its grip on political power. With its comparatively strong grassroots network, firm control over the national media, and recent successful economic policies, the CPP is widely expected to win the most seats at this year's polls. But perhaps not by the landslide many analysts had until now predicted.

To be sure, Cambodia's other main political parties are still generally in disarray. The Funcinpec party has recently been undermined by internal divisions, leading party founder Prince Norodom Ranariddh to cut ties and start up a new small political party bearing his name. Meanwhile, the major opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) still lacks the numbers and resources to alone represent a real democratic challenge to the CPP. The SRP party has likewise in recent years been plagued by internal discord over strategy and leadership.

Now, faced by the near certainty of another CPP election victory, talks have begun among medium- and small-sized parties of forming a coalition to contest the elections on the same ticket. Some political analysts believe there is some hope of success for such a coalition considering that the CPP received less than half the popular vote during the last general election in 2003 and the more recent commune elections held in 2007.

The 2003 polls resulted in a political stalemate, as neither the CPP nor Funcinpec managed the two-thirds majority constitutionally required to form a government. After a full year of political wrangling and paralysis, both sides agreed to change the rules to an over 50% majority and a new coalition government was formed in July 2004, which the CPP now dominates.

An estimated 23 parties contested the general elections in 2003; as many as 57 different political parties could contest the next polls, around 20 of which are expected to officially announce their candidacy during the April 18 and May 12 registration process. The three main opposition parties now negotiating the formation of a possible coalition include the SRP, the Human Rights Party (HRP) and the Funcinpec breakaway Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP). A united opposition would increase the individual parties bargaining power vis-a-vis the CPP and in an electoral upset could together form the next government.

The HRP, formed in July 2007 by human rights activist Kem Sokha, founder of the once influential and foreign-funded Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), cuts a particularly compelling contrast to the CPP. Sokha was jailed for publicly criticizing Hun Sen's policies and has successfully ridden that controversy, along with the CCHR's strong grassroots network, into politics.

The party claims over 10,000 supporters attended its opening congress and several well known political figures have joined its ranks, including Pen Sovann, a former prime minister of the early 1980s communist government. Kem Sokha has a grassroots reputation for fighting corruption and human rights abuses earned as a lawmaker in the dissolved Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party and later as a senator for Funcinpec before he left to create the CCHR in 2002.

With those political forces coalescing, there are already signs of a CPP rearguard defensive. Several of the newly created parties are allegedly in league with the CPP and have been launched strategically as political Trojan horses to penetrate and disrupt a possible united opposition front.

Democratic dirty tricks

The CPP has a long history of running rough and tumble election campaigns and there are growing accusations that the party is again using intimidation and threats against opposition supporters in the run-up to the polls. Senate elections held in January 2006 were criticized by local election monitoring organizations as undemocratic and slanted in favor of CPP-affiliated candidates. For the upcoming elections, 7,000 local election observers and 40 international monitoring bodies have registered to observe the elections.

Ou Virak, the current president of CCHR, believes that while overall the election environment will be better than previous polls, by international standards they still will not be free and fair. He claims that in recent months opposition activists have received threats and that a few have even been killed under mysterious circumstances.

Although there is not yet any hard evidence to indicate any political motivation behind the murders, Ou Virak sees the upshot in killings as "worrisome", particularly considering one of the main opposition parties is running under a human rights banner.

There has also been growing pressure on opposition members to defect to the CPP, particularly among SRP candidates. Where that doesn't work threats have been made against certain SRP commune chiefs and at least one, Tout Saron from Kompong Thom province, was jailed on March 18 on the some say trumped up charges of allegedly preventing an SRT activist from defecting to the CPP. The arrest of two other SRP officials is also being sought in connection with the case.

The arrest and warrants are already drumming up bad publicity for the CPP. Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a March 23 statement, "Dubious arrests of opposition officials months ahead of an election should set alarm bells ringing. This divide-and-conquer strategy is a well-known tactic of Prime Minister Hun Sen to subdue his opponents."

In the same statement, the US-based rights advocacy group said it believes that the CPP is conducting a "concerted campaign to coerce SRP members to defect to the CPP and punish those who refuse to do so, with the intention to split and weaken the opposition party before the national elections".

Hun Sen's CPP has long harassed the SRP, according to rights groups. In 2005, SRP member of parliament Cheam Channy was convicted to seven years in prison for what many considered an unsubstantiated charge of creating a rebel army. He served one year and was released after receiving a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni. SRP leader Sam Rainsy, meanwhile, was convicted that same year for defamation of government leaders and fled the country. That intimidation follows on the bloody and still unresolved grenade attack against a Sam Rainsy rally in 1997 which killed 16 and injured 150 people. Human Rights Watch has alleged the attack was carried out by Hun Sen's own bodyguard unit, charges the premier has strongly denied.

Faced with such strong-arm tactics, few expect the opposition to actually win the July polls. Amendments to previous election laws mean that the CPP can form a government as long as it wins over 50% of the vote, rather than the previous constitutional requirement of a two-thirds majority. In 2003, inconclusive poll results meant that neither the CPP nor Funcinpec could form a government until several months later an agreement to amend the rules was reached.

With an opposition coalition in the offing, it's unclear if the CPP will need to reach out to one of the medium or several of the small parties to form the next government. After a major split and a number of defections, the CPP's current coalition partner, Funcinpec, is not expected to win as many seats at the upcoming polls as it managed in 2003. The party currently holds 20 of the National Assembly's 123 seats.

Due to their historical antagonistic relations with Hun Sen, it seems unlikely for now that the leaders of any of the other major opposition parties - including the SRP, HRP and NRP - would be keen without major concessions to join a CPP-dominated coalition government. Whether their party representatives, many as in the case of the SRP now in the opposition for over a decade, share those views after this July's polls will represent the success or failure of a united opposition.

Brian McCartan is a freelance journalist based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He may be reached at brianpm@comcast.net.

Cambodia claims confusion over Thai and UN temple debate

The Earth Times
Mon, 28 Apr 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodia said Monday it was puzzled over UN claims of cancelled joint talks with Thailand over a disputed temple, saying border demarcation and not jurisdiction over a sacred temple was the only topic ever under discussion. A spokesman for the powerful Cambodian Council of Ministers (CoM) said the dispute over ownership of the ancient Preah Vihear temple was finished after the International Court of Justice ruling on June 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, and no talks were needed.

Although the temple, perched on a cliff overlooking Cambodia, is under the management of the Cambodian government, the easiest access to the site for tourists is via Thailand and it is a sacred site for both sides.

The temple remains a sensitive diplomatic issue, with both sides accused of deploying troops to protect it.

However, Cambodia said no discussions mediated by the UN body had been mooted in past months and the issue was under control without the need of intervention by a third party.

"We received no invitation from the (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) about talks, so we do not understand why they said talks are cancelled," CoM spokesman Phay Siphan said.

"There is no linkage between the demarcation of the border and Preah Vihear temple. The governments agree on that," he said.

Land and especially sea border demarcation has been under negotiation between Cambodia and Thailand for some time, with potential mineral and oil reserves up for grabs depending on the results.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Cambodian tourism can combat poverty, says minister

Apr 28, 2008

Phnom Penh - Cambodian authorities will canvas beggars in popular tourism spots to determine why they beg and what it will take to stop them, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Monday.

One of the world's poorest countries with thousands of beggars, Cambodia is trying to turn tourism dollars into a means of fighting poverty and enhancing the tourism industry at the same time, Thong Khon said by telephone.

'We want to research beggars at the tourism areas and find out why they need to beg and how we can help them,' he said. 'If there are problems we can solve, such as providing education or jobs, tourism revenue will go towards that.'

Although rights groups have said they doubt the government's sincerity, the plan is already working at some popular tourist sites, according to the government, and it has encouraged support from private companies to continue the trend.

For instance, the Choueng Ek 'Killing Fields' museum, controversially leased to a little-known Japanese company in 2005, now offers scholarships for students in need and is training former beggars to grow and sell flowers for visitors.

'This is how tourism can cut down poverty,' Thong Khon said.

Cambodia expects more than 2 million foreign tourists in 2008, and tourism is a staple of the narrowly based Cambodian economy.

The minister's comments came out of a meeting earlier this month when tourism experts met in the northern tourism capital of Siem Reap to discuss ways to combat endemic begging in tourist areas which the government says is damaging the lucrative industry.

Davik fundraising dinner draws 350 people

Davik Teng gets a hug from Chantha Bob, who helped bring her to the U.S. from Cambodia, as she and her mother, Sin Chhon, thank pediatric cardiologist Dr. Mark Sklansky during a fundraiser for Hearts Without Boundaries in Long Beach. (Jeff Gritchen/Staff Photographer)

Press-Telegram, Long Beach
By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - A full house of 350 residents and supporters filled Hak Heang Restaurant in Long Beach for a fundraising dinner to celebrate Davik Teng, a 9-year-old girl from a remote village in Cambodia who is recovering from open-heart surgery.

An emotional Peter Chhun, who organized Friday's event and is the founder of the nonprofit that sponsored Davik's journey to the United States, thanked the community for the outpouring of support, which will go to the child's continued care.

"From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your hearts to help me give Davik a new heart," Chhun told the crowd.

"Two-and-a-half months ago I cried," Chhun said of his emotions when he first saw Davik's impoverished village. "Two-

and-a-half months later, I still cry."

Davik, who underwent the surgery a month ago, beamed as she circulated among tables in a traditional green Cambodian dress. Posing for pictures and steepling her fingers and bowing in the traditional Cambodian greeting, Davik showed no ill effects from the surgery that repaired a large hole in her heart known as a ventricular septal defect.

Dr. Mark Sklansky, the cardiologist from Childrens Hospital Los Angeles who has been treating Davik, was one of the guests in attendance and was presented with a plaque from Davik and Chhun. Previously Sklansky has said although Davik's recovery has gone very well, her heart still needs to become stronger.

As a result, Davik remains under a regimen of heart medications and is expected to remain in the United States until August, when her six-month visa expires.

In addition to dinner, guests were treated to dances presented by the Khmer Arts Academy. Alex Ouklore, Reachny Tan and Khannia Ok, performed a blessing dance and Nicky Ouklore did a monkey dance.

There was also a video presentation and music.

Among the guests were City Councilman Dee Andrews and Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal.
Lowenthal described the discovery and the saving of Davik as a miracle and said it provided a challenge to the community.

"The city's duty is to replicate the miracle," Lowenthal said. "We should think of ways to mend a heart and mend the world."

Laos opens secret wartime cave city to the world

Siphanh Vandouayang, director of the cave's visitors' centre

Laos students inside the main cave in Viengxay town

Students take inside a cave in Viengxay town

VIENGXAY, Laos (AFP) — Hidden deep inside the jungle-covered carst mountains of northern Laos lies a secret cave city where revolutionary leaders survived nearly a decade of US bombing during the Vietnam war.

Now, over 30 years since the conflict ended, the communist country has opened up the remote wartime hideaway to tourism, hoping to bring development to this explosives-littered and dirt-poor part of the country.

The network of almost 500 caves was home to 23,000 people and boasted all the facilities of a city, including not just bomb shelters but also shops, schools, a printing press and a hospital cave staffed by Cuban doctors.

Hundreds of troops and villagers could shelter in the cathedral-sized Elephant Cave, where propaganda movies were screened and visiting theatre troops from socialist countries performed to bolster battlefield morale.

Smaller caves connected by tunnels were the homes of Communist Party chief Kaysone Phomvihane and his politburo, set near an emergency shelter with a Russian oxygen generating machine in case of a gas attack, which never came.

"This is the birthplace of modern Laos," said Siphanh Vandouayang, who spent much of his childhood here and now runs the local visitors' centre.

"Most of the members of the revolutionary leadership lived and studied here."

The picturesque landscape of limestone peaks and rice fields between 1964 and 1973 became the most heavily bombed place on earth as US jets targeted Pathet Lao fighters and North Vietnamese supply lines, he recalled.

"Every eight to 10 minutes the American aircraft bombed, between 6am and 5pm," he said. "At 7pm they came back to fire rockets and for surveillance for the next day's bombing... People farmed only between 4am and 6am."

For decades after the war, which ended in communist victories in 1975 in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the area remained off limits to foreigners and the site of political re-education camps that are still shrouded in mystery.

As Laos has opened up since the 1990s, the occasional backpacker has strayed to Viengxay, two days' drive from the capital Vientiane, in northeastern Houapanh province, and 55 kilometres (34 miles) from the Vietnamese border.

Laos is hoping to change this and, with the help of foreign development groups, turn the historic site into a war-theme tourist stop, similar to the Cu Chi tunnels of southern Vietnam and Cambodia's horrific Killing Fields.

Laos has so far opened only seven caves, most of them the former homes of communist leaders, where busts of Lenin, kerosene lamps and weathered communist tracts are among the few historical artefacts on display.

But the mountains hide more secrets to be opened and discovered by outsiders as more funding and tourist dollars arrive, including an underground sewing factory, bank, bakery, fuel depot and a radio station.

"Not many foreign tourists have come to Viengxay over the years because it's so remote. We call it a hidden city," said Janet Pontin, a heritage expert with the UN World Tourism Organisation working here.

"What Viengxay needs is economic development because Houapanh is the poorest province in Laos. The great thing about what happens when tourists come to visit Viengxay is that their visit benefits local people."

As part of the project, run by Dutch development agency SNV, historians are now recording oral histories of people who survived the war years, such as garlic farmer Bounthong, who lives near the Cuban hospital cave.

"During the war, US planes flew intense bombing missions," said Bounthong, who like many Lao people has only one name. "Many soldiers and villagers died, 300 in my district alone. If not for the caves, many more would have died."

Despite the war's deadly legacy, he said he now welcomes foreign visitors.

"I am not angry with the foreigners who visit here because now our country is open," he said. "In the past I knew only foreigners who were armed to make war in Laos. My ideas have changed since the war ended."

Forced to skip Cambodia

Borneo Bulletin
April 27, 2008

Norhayati Abu Bakar and husband Harun have experienced numerous difficulties during the first 16 weeks of their "Bringing Brunei to the World" expedition.

Many of the difficulties have involved their vehicle Jambo - Jambo has been "imprisoned" overnight before being released and carried on the back of a transporter lorry. Last week, Jambo was again the focal point - but this time, the desired solution came too late.

The seemingly simple task of moving on from Laos and into Cambodia proved to be a step too far. Norhayati and Harun's visas were in order, but the vehicle documentation was not accepted by the Cambodian customs officials. Despite earlier assurances from the Cambodian Ambassador in Brunei, the local official could not be persuaded to change his mind.

A 500-kilometre return trip into Laos and onto the Thailand border was one immediate result of this bureaucratic hassle.

The purchase of two airline tickets from Bangkok to Phnom Penh to ensure that Cambodia could be visited on foot was a second costly implication.

I think we can all understand Norhayati's frustration when the Cambodian authorities later overturned their customs official's decision, by which time they had already purchased the flight tickets.

But, maybe within a 19-week expedition, one problem of this type is not too bad.

And the enforced schedule change did enable them to enjoy Thai hospitality sooner than expected. Brunei's Ambassador in Bangkok, Pengiran Dato Paduka Hj Sharifuddin Yusof, welcomed his adventurous compatriots with kueh and tea around the Embassy's Conference Room table, whilst Norhayati shared with His Excellency and his staff tales of their journey and experiences.

On the following day, the opportunity to explore bustling Bangkok could not be missed. One of the world's largest cities, with a population of 10 million, houses Central World, believed to be Asia's largest shopping mall with no less than one million square metres of retail space.

Absolutely everything from luxury goods to very cheap imports can be viewed or purchased, with the only requirement for visiting shoppers being plenty of baht in the purse or pocket and lots of stamina.

But shopping is not everything for the Thai people; they are also a very religious nation.

There are numerous beautiful, ornate temples and even at the side of many streets will be found exquisite statues devoted to, for example, Pinkanet, the elephant deity which is believed to bring luck and hope.

A passing schoolgirl had prayed for help before her recent successful entrance examination and was now returning to pay thanks. And nearby, Trimurati is a golden four-faced goddess, famed for bringing blessings for life and love.

Of course, past visitors to Bangkok will be familiar with Bangkok's other legacy, heavy traffic and the resulting snail's pace for cross-city journeys. At least this is improving slightly with the recent opening of an extended SkyTrain MRT rail network.

All of this hectic, fast-paced lifestyle experienced in Bangkok was very much in contrast to their final days in Laos.

One of the strangest and most remarkable sights to confront Norhayati and Harun on their whole trip appeared in the vicinity of Phonsavan. Here is the famous Plain of Jars.

Spread across a wide area in 12 separate groups are gigantic stone jars, each weighing more than 15 stones and standing up to two metres in height.

It is a matter of much debate to this day as to their origin.

One French archaeologist has suggested they are funeral monuments, each containing a number of bodies, but other experts believe they were used as containers for the possessions of the dead.
But, an unanswered question given that they date back two thousand years ago - before mechanisation in any form had been invented, how were these giant containers moved into place ?

There were also further examples of more modern and more lethal technology to add to those witnessed by Norhayati a few days earlier.

The bombs which rained down on Laos from American aircraft three decades ago left not only unexploded munitions, but also the human consequences of modern warfare.

She came across many men and women lacking one or more limbs who were unable to find the money to pay for prosthetic replacements.

One such man had been a young healthy farmer 30 years ago, but now a one-legged cripple, unable to undertake any real work since.

Alongside their memories of beautiful scenery, magnificent buildings and generous hospitality, these less happy images will still loom large.

Meanwhile, a warm Bruneian welcome is being planned for Norhayati and Harun at Sungai Tujoh in just two short weeks from now, on Sunday, May 11.

The Mekong Times : In Khmer and English Language

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Asian finance ministers to map out forex reserve pool

A cash transaction is performed at an unofficial market in HCMC

Thanhnien News
Monday, April 28, 2008

Vietnam and Japan will co-chair the meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Madrid next month to discuss the region’s inflation control and risks from the US economic woes.

Asian finance leaders will aim to upgrade a regional scheme to ward off any future financial crisis when they meet next month, boosting currency-swap deals in a new pooling arrangement and tightening economic surveillance, Japan’s top financial diplomat has said.

Finance ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member nations along with China, Japan and South Korea (ASEAN+3) will also discuss how to balance the need to control inflation and risks from a slowdown in the US when they meet in Madrid on May 4, Naoyuki Shinohara, vice finance minister for international affairs, said.

At their last meeting a year ago, they agreed to set up a self-managed reserve pooling mechanism governed by a legally binding single contract as a way to transform the existing web of bilateral currency swaps, called the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI), into a more powerful multilateral scheme.

Ministers agreed last year to set aside part of their US$3.4 trillion foreign reserves for emergencies, without deciding the size and when they would start the fund.

Shinohara told reporters that all the details for the reserve pooling scheme would not be finalized at this year’s meeting as there were “complicated” factors to negotiate, such as how to activate currency swaps while making sure borrowing countries would return the money after a crisis is over.

“We don’t want it to be a mechanism to give out easy money,” Shinohara said.

“The most important issue is how to strengthen surveillance,” he added.

Japan, along with Vietnam, will chair the meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Madrid and Shinohara said he wanted to maintain the momentum for creating a more powerful regional scheme to avoid a repeat of the 1997/98 financial crisis.

The existing bilateral swap arrangement network under the CMI totals $84 billion.

But that includes two-way pacts, under which both countries in the deal would come to each other’s aid to prevent a financial crisis.

Shinohara said, however, that if one side were in trouble, that country would not be able to provide the amount earmarked for the bilateral currency swap arrangement.

That means that in reality about $58 billion would be available under the current initiative, he said.

“We aimed to create the multilateral pooling arrangement to be bigger than $58 billion,” he said, adding that $80 billion was one figure to keep in mind.

None of these CMI credit lines has been tapped so far.

The pool will be between $80 billion and $100 billion, State Bank of Vietnam Deputy Governor Phung Khac Ke said earlier this month at the 4th ASEAN Governors Meeting in Vietnam’s Da Nang City.

Ke added members’ contributions would depend on the size of their economies and their ability to pay.

The basic idea is to replace the currency bilateral currency swap network with the new multilateral mechanism, but Shinohara said some countries could still have bilateral frameworks as needed.

Having a “self-managed” reserve pooling arrangement means member countries would still manage their funds at home, rather than having one place to pool their reserves.

The multilateral framework could be a stepping stone to a regional monetary fund, but it would take time before mapping up such ambitious goals, officials say.

Even if the ministers agree on the skeleton of the pooling mechanism next week, it would take at least another year to nail down details to make it as a single contractual agreement, a Japanese finance ministry official told Reuters.

The pooled reserves would still be counted as part of participating countries’ own foreign reserves, he added.

Other sticking points include how much funds from the new multilateral arrangement could be withdrawn without using the IMF-supported program or how to include countries with immature markets, such as Laos, and Cambodia in the scheme.

Source: Reuters, Bloomberg