Friday, 22 February 2008

World Bank boss farewells Cambodia with warning on future growth

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 03,
February 8 - 21, 2008

Indian born Nisha Agrawal arrived in Cambodia as country manager for the World Bank in April 2003 to find herself eventually thrust into the bank’s biggest ever confrontation with the government of Cambodia over corruption. The problems culminated in June 2006 in the dramatic ten month suspension of funds for three World Bank projects. The ban was lifted in February 2007, but the bank cancelled over $2.5 million in project funding and the government subsequently was asked to repay the World Bank $2.9 million. The bank has since hired Crown Agents, a British company, to handle procurement in their Cambodia projects. At the end of February, Agrawal will leave the World Bank after 18 years to go back to India and take the helm of a new NGO, Oxfam India. In an interview with the Post’s Susan Postlewaite on February 7, the director discussed the highs and lows of her five-year tenure at the Bank, which, with a budget of $50 million, is one of Cambodia’s most influential development partners.

What do you count as the accomplishments of your five years as country manager for Cambodia?

Four things. Firstly we have done a lot of research that has generated very useful knowledge about what is happening in the Cambodian economy. Before I came we really didn’t know whether the growth that Cambodia has seen in the last decade was having an impact on poverty or not. The Poverty Report was a very important piece of work by the World Bank to show that growth was actually benefiting poor people and that their lives were getting better off as a result.

Secondly, a very big thing is helping Cambodia agree on the priorities for reform and supporting the reforms that are happening.

Third, the way the development community works together has changed very dramatically and the World Bank has played a key role in bringing all the donors together around a common agenda. When I came here everybody had different priorities. We helped put in place a very elaborate architecture – 18 technical groups which meet and talk together with the government, with NGOs, with the development partners. We have quarterly meetings at senior levels of the government to discuss major policy issues.

Finally, the World Bank has built a very strong and large country office. When I came we were about five people and now we are 45 and most of these are Cambodian staff, and very high capacity staff.

What do you leave for your successor? What needs to be done?

During my five years, the economy has almost doubled in size, and government revenues have almost doubled in size. Foreign investment has taken off and is now larger than foreign aid for the first time. The challenge ahead is to ensure there’s also high quality development going on at the same time as a high growth rate. These would be the things my successor would focus on. Cambodia after ten years has been having an impact on poverty but only about one percent of the population is being lifted out of poverty per year. Vietnam is able to raise four percent of its population out of poverty each year. The difference is the emphasis that Vietnam has on agriculture.

The second challenge is how to make sure the growth is not coming at the cost of just cannibalizing your natural resources. One big choice the government faces is in the mining sector. How the government decides to do mining in the future will have a big impact on how sustainable it will be. These debates should happen very openly and transparently. Do Cambodians really want to be mining everywhere including in the national parks, or do they value their national parks?

A second choice is on how to manage the oil and gas revenues. That is a huge challenge. Suppose there are these large orders of magnitude that people are talking about. How they are managed would really make or break this country. If the government doesn’t use those revenues well, Cambodia could go down a very bad path where the revenues not only kill off other industry and employment, but corruption levels rise to such a level that everything else could fall apart.

The World Bank has come under heavy criticism – from The Wall Street Journal and others – for allowing corruption in its programs in Cambodia. Are you satisfied that you’ve corrected the problems?

We are making a huge effort to make sure that funds from our own projects don’t leak. Our projects are implemented by the government and supervised by us. The biggest problem was in the way procurement was done and who got the contracts. Because there were systematic problems in procurement, we are taking a two-track approach to deal with this issue: in the short-run, all procurement will be done by an independent procurement agent, while in the medium to long term, we will work with government to build and strengthen their systems.

Ultimately it should not be just about whether the World Bank money is leaking or not, but it should be about the country’s own spending. Our funds in this country are $50 million a year. What we would like to do is work with the government to improve their procurement and financial management system in the long run to make sure that the whole $1.2-billion budget is spent wisely.

In retrospect was your decision to suspend disbursement on three World Bank projects in 2006 and then to reinstate the funding ten months later the most effective way to handle the corruption problem?

It was the best way. It was tough on our relationship with the government because it’s a very drastic measure to take. But once we have evidence that our funds are leaking, we really have no other choice but to halt disbursement while we put in place measures to prevent those kinds of leakages in the future. We wanted to send a very strong signal in this country that we are not going to tolerate corruption in our projects and the suspension did that. Many people in Cambodia felt reassured that the Bank was taking this issue very seriously,

‘Jungle Girl’ settles into family life

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 03,
February 8 - 21, 2008

Rochom P’nhieng case highlights need for improved mental health services


No sooner had the battalions of Western press corps emblazoned long-lost Rochom P’nhieng onto the world’s consciousness, than they forgot her.

The days after a naked, emaciated P’nhieng wandered back into civilization on January 13 last year, having apparently spent 18 years living in the jungle, saw a blitzkrieg of foreign reporters and film crews descend on her village. Health professionals from across the world were quick to pontificate on how best to help Cambodia’s own “feral child.”

But a year on and the dusty village of Phsom in Ratanakkiri’s remote O’Yadao district is quiet.
P’nhieng has now spent a year living with the family that claimed her as their long-lost daughter – although no DNA tests have been conducted – and has been forgotten by the media and health care professionals who so eagerly offered their services when she first emerged from the jungle.
“Since she came back no one has paid any attention to her,” said her father, Sal Lou.

“No government or hospital officials have come to see how she is doing.”

One person who has been paying attention to P’nhieng is Hector Rifa, a professor of behavioral research methods who works with the Spanish NGO Psychologists without Borders (PSFA). For ethical reasons, Rifa declined to discuss the details of P’nhieng’s case.

But according to her family, P’nhieng is doing well, all things considered. When she emerged from the jungle last year she was naked, malnourished and mute. Socialization has been slow but steady, Sal said.

“She can wear clothes now and she doesn’t try to take them off,” he said. “She eats a lot of rice, she has a big plate of it with her meals, but still she doesn’t speak.”

In the first few months after she returned, P’nhieng would take off the clothes her family gave her and try and leave the house. She escaped successfully once, but wandered back into the village several days later.

Now, she is content to stay at the house and has settled back into family life. P’nhieng eats her meals with her family – she has learned to use cutlery, her father said – and then goes out to the garden.

“She sits in her spot under the cashew tree,” said Sal. “She sits on her own – laughing, waving, humming or singing bits of tune.”

P’nhieng may not be able to speak but she is no longer entirely silent. Her parents say she sometimes keeps them awake at night singing or laughing to herself.

P’nhieng was lost aged nine when herding cows near the edge of the jungle in 1989. Her father was in Mondulkiri when she vanished. After two or three days, the family gave up hope of her returning.

“She was very young and we really didn’t believe that she would have survived until she came back last year,” he said. “Normally, after a few days of disappearing in the jungle they die.”

On February 14, 2008, P’nhieng is in the family garden, wearing a blue sarong and an orange pajama top. Her hair has been bluntly cut into a ragged bob. She sits on the ground between a barbwire fence and a set of wooden shelves.

She is aware of those around her – she responds with seeming pleasure when her mother brings her a small bunch of bananas and her eyes follow new arrivals with focused intensity – but her continued silence is worrying her family.

“I still believe the jungle spirits are inside her and they harm her and stop her from speaking out,” said Sal.

He is trying to raise money to cover the cost of taking his daughter to a spirit healer in Mondulkiri province who could help exorcise the jungle spirits from his daughter. The trip will cost upwards of $1000, he estimates.

Rifa declined to comment on reasons why P'nhieng remains mute a year after her return from the jungle. Like many professional psychologists, Rifa dislikes the careless use of psychological labels or people “playing psychologist,” both of which, he said, can “destroy the life of anybody.”

He cautioned the Post against contributing to “the general audience think[ing] that anybody can make psychological diagnosis by themselves,” and forcefully discouraged working on the blind assumption that P’nhieng was suffering from mental health problems.

When asked about P’nhieng’s progress, he said that “we have to work always thinking that everything is possible.”

After a year of proper food, P’nhieng has gained a noticeable amount of weight and is, according to the director of the O’Yadao operational district, Tak Bunthak, in good physical health.

“She has no physical health problems as she came in for a check up at the health center and she was fine,” he told the Post in Banlung on February 15. “We gave her some vitamins but I don’t think her current problems relate to malnutrition.”

Bunthak said that, in his opinion, if P’nhieng had faced severe malnutrition over the whole 18 years she was gone, “she would not have grown up properly or been able to stand, but when my staff inspected her they said she was fine. She is normal physically but I believe she has some mental health problems.”

But determining whether P’nhieng has mental health problems is nearly impossible in O’Yadao district because the health centers there have “no capacity” to diagnose or deal with mental health problems, Bunthak said. In Ratanakkiri province there is only one doctor and one nurse – both of whom received three months of training in Phnom Penh on “psychological issues” – to deal with the population’s mental health problems.

“We lack the buildings, the staff, the medicine,” Bunthak said. “We suspect some of the cases we see at the hospital are people suffering from moderate mental health problems, they could be treated with medicine and a little care but we can’t help them as we have no capacity here, and their relatives don’t know how to care for them either.”

The director of Banlung provincial hospital, Hing Pan Sokunthea, agreed that a lack of capacity prevented the province providing adequate levels of mental health care.

Although there is no way of knowing exactly what happened to P’nhieng during the 18 years she spent away from her family nor whether she is currently afflicted with mental health problems, her case does draw attention to the lack of mental health care capacity in Cambodia’s provinces, particularly remote regions such as O’Yadao, about three hours’ drive from Banlung.

“Mental health is not a priority in developing countries,” said Rifa, the psychologist.

“There are many provinces in Cambodia that are not attended. The government of Cambodia, through the National Mental Health Program, is making a big and successful effort but not in the province of Ratanakkiri,” he said.

PSFA, in cooperation with the Spanish Agency of Cooperation for Development, is starting a new project titled the Promotion of the Psycho-social Wellbeing Among the Indigenous Women of Cambodia, starting in Ratanakkiri province.

“We expect a better situation [in terms of mental health care] in the very near future, working side by side with the Ministry of Health,” Rifa said.

In the meantime, the burden of care for P’nhieng has fallen upon her family. They are spending more on food and have lost one income as Sal, her father, no longer goes out to work so he can stay home and watch his daughter.

“I have to look after her as a bodyguard looks after a high ranking official. I follow her all the time and I am very worried that if I leave her she will wander off on her own and not return like before,” he said.

“Even though we are now in difficulties because of looking after her I cannot throw her away – she is my daughter. She got lost when she was nine and she lived in the jungle for 18 years in great difficulty. Now I have to look after her.”

Sharp-tongued soothsayer makes clients cringe

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 /03,
February 8 - 21, 2008

Private matters become public fodder as crowds flock to fortune teller


Siem Reap – Each morning at dawn, while sleepy tourists gather to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, in the nearby village of Bakong a different kind of a local crowd begins gathering at the doorstep of a humble village home.

At 9am the soothsayer Per Chouck So emerges from behind a thin curtain and sits on a cushion before a Buddhist shine. By this time a crowd of more than three dozen sits patiently watching, each with a number and a bowl of flowers and incense, as they wait their turn for the fortune teller.

Now age 39, Chouck So’s powers of foresight have been renowned throughout the Kingdom since she first began her career as a seven-year-old.

“People have always come to me for advice and healing since I was very young,” she says. “I can see the truth about people. The gods provide this knowledge.”

The first client on a recent February morning is a respectable looking middle-aged man who stands and lights his incense sticks. Immediately Chouck So begins to loudly describe the man’s girlfriends while the onlookers listen in, snickering at his embarrassment, and his wife listens intently.

Chouck So goes on to say the man is a hopeless gambler and will soon lose his wife if he does not change his ways. She hands his gift of money back to him, urging him to spend it wisely and warning that unless he shapes up there will not be a lot more cash coming his way. He leaves in shame, his wife in tow as the unfazed Chouck So resumes meditation in preparation for her next revelation.

The next client is a young woman with a troubled love life. Chouck So informs the conservative Khmer crowd that the woman has already had two husbands and is now carrying a baby of a third man. She goes on to say that despite some mistakes, she is a good and kind person and that the father of the child is a good man. Chouck So advises her that if they marry she will find happiness. The woman leaves smiling.

About 70 people a day come from around the country to have their fortunes told by this charismatic soothsayer who is famous not only for her insight, but for her public satire and an uncanny ability to describe hidden birthmarks and intimate body parts of her clients with accurate precision.

Part of her appeal is her insistence on only meeting clients in the open room where anyone present can listen in. “I want them to feel ashamed enough to change and do something good,” she explains. “They know what I say is true.”

Although she offers her advice for free to anyone, visitors often bring gifts of all sorts. One pleased client gave her a car now parked in the driveway of the home where she lives with her husband, five children, and extended family.

Chouck So says she can sense when people offer more than they can afford and when that happens she gives back the gifts. “Sometimes poor families borrow money and travel a long way to come here. If I accept their gift, how can they pay that money back to the lender?”

The walls of the home are decorated with photos of herself with clients. There are photos of various Cambodian officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen. But she has no interest in who the people are, she says. She takes people as they come, but says that sometimes officials show up late at night with dozens of bodyguards so no one is present to hear what is said. Most enquire about land or business, she says.

“Some people travel a long way to see me even though they don’t believe in fortune tellers – like that man,” she says, pointing at a man in the crowd named Som Pheap.

Pheap confesses that it’s true he doesn’t believe in fortune tellers but had traveled from Kompong Cham at the urging of his wife.

“She is the good one for sure,” says Kao Nimol, a young woman from Phnom Penh who came to visit Chouck So. She says Chouck So accurately described her family life and many personal issues including the details of a personal prayer to Buddha regarding her older sister.

Nimol says that Chouck So is unusual because she often refuses to accept money from clients. “Other fortune tellers say whatever they think will make you happy and then ask for your money, but they don’t really know anything,” she says. “If she feels something not good, she will say it. She doesn’t care what people think.”

Chouck So, who often spends ten hours a day with clients, says she tells fortunes because she wants to help people. She also believes that her powers of foresight will carry over into her next life.

But the work can be difficult. “I want people to be happy. But if I know something bad I have to tell them the truth,” she says. “The truth can help them prepare.”

Survivor of Cambodian killing fields speaks to Wellesley Rotary Club

Photo by Keith E. Jacobson
Kosal Suon, a survivor of the Cambodian killing fields, came to speak to the Rotary Club on Tuesday night. Suon, who arrived in the U.S. in 1992, now works with Cambodian refugees in Lowell, and is working towards a master's in social work at BU.

By Samantha Fields,
Townsman Staff
Thu Feb 21, 2008

Wellesley - When Kosal Suon returned to his native Cambodia three years ago, it was the first time he had been back since the Khmer Rouge tore apart his family, killing his brother, forcing his father to flee, and driving Suon, his mother and sisters from their home in the countryside into a Thai refugee camp.

“When I landed in Cambodia … it’s a country I was born in, but I don’t know a lot about it,” said Suon, who left Cambodia at the age of 6, and the refugee camp, which was his home for 10 years, at the age of 16. “It was a feeling that, you know it’s your place, but you don’t really know it in your heart.”

It was then, too, that he met his father for the first time, and was reunited with two older sisters who had stayed behind when Suon, his mother and two other sisters came to the United States in 1992.

“It is an overwhelming feeling, when you see your family coming out to greet you,” he said. He will return to Cambodia for the second time this summer.

A tall, articulate, soft-spoken man, Suon now lives in Lowell, the city with the second largest Cambodian population in the Unites States, and works with refugees through the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association and Adolescent Consultation Services.

After arriving in the U.S., Suon learned English (his fourth language), graduated from high school and earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UMass-Amherst. Now, in addition to holding down two part-time jobs, he is working towards a master’s degree in social work at Boston University.

Invited to address the Rotary Club Tuesday night at the Wellesley Community Center, along with Judith Dickerson-Nelson, the educational director of the CMMA, Suon shared his family’s story, and spoke of some of the struggles now facing Cambodian refugees in the U.S. For many of them, because of the trauma of what they went through in Cambodia, their lack of education and the language barrier, “it’s just so hard for them to live in this country,” said Suon, likening the experience to dropping an American down in the middle of a jungle.

Working with kids who have, for some reason or another, ended up in the court system, Suon acts as a liaison and an interpreter — of culture and experience, often, in addition to language — between the kids, their families and the courts. “I feel like it’s great that I’m there, because I can connect them to the court system, and tell the court system what we went through,” he said.
“It’s hard for anyone to imagine what we went through, without hearing stories.”

From 1975-1979, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime controlled Cambodia, and killed approximately 2 million people through forced labor, starvation, disease and execution. Suon’s older brother was one, lost to starvation. His mother lost all of her brothers and two sisters; his father lost all of his sisters, and most of his brothers.

His father fled when the Khmer Rouge came to power, forced to hide his identity as an educated man. Intellectuals — doctors, lawyers, teachers and former government officials — were the first ones targeted by the new regime. “It’s hard to control intellectuals,” said Suon, so they went first. Then came the upper class, often easily identifiable by their light skin and soft, uncalloused hands. Next were the elderly, expendable because they were unable to work for the regime: “To keep you is no gain, to lose you is no loss,” Suon said, paraphrasing a Khmer Rouge saying.

Also targeted were those who broke tools or failed to listen to what they were told; those who tried to flee to neighboring countries or escape the labor camps; those caught stealing or plotting against the regime; and those who dared show emotion over a family member or friend killed by the Khmer Rouge.

In 1979, after Vietnam invaded Cambodia and toppled the Khmer Rouge, Suon, his mother and sisters returned briefly to their village, only to be driven out again by civil wars that gripped the country. They spent the next 10 years in one of eight refugee camps set up along the Thai-Vietnamese borders, where food was scarce, and they were kept in by barbed wire and fear.

“I spent most of my childhood there in the refugee camp,” said Suon, describing the horror of life there, which in many ways was barely an improvement over life under the Khmer Rouge.

“Some people called it ‘beyond the killing fields’ because there was a lot of criminal activity at nighttime,” he said. “Nighttime was a nightmare for us.”

In 1992, Suon, his mother, his younger sister and an older sister were sponsored to come to the U.S. They spent several months in Columbus, Ohio, where his mother now lives, before moving to Lowell.

“Most of the Cambodians in Lowell survived all that,” he said. “Lots of us are survivors of the Khmer Rouge and of the camps.”

And it is largely because of those experiences that many of them are struggling here today.
There is the language barrier, which sometimes exists even within families, when parents speak little English, and their children, born here, speak little Cambodian. When children become the translators too, Suon said, that changes the dynamic and who has the control in families. Alcohol abuse is another major problem, particularly among older Cambodians who “self-medicate.” And many Cambodian families live below the poverty level, working long hours at low-paying factory jobs that prevent them from spending time at home with their children, who then often turn to street gangs, or wind up in trouble with the law.

“It’s so hard for them to communicate,” said Suon. “So often I see identity crisis among the younger generation. They look Cambodian, they speak a little Cambodian, but they don’t understand anything about Cambodia.”

Cambodia relics vulnerable to further ruin

A Cambodian worker collected soil samples from part of ancient Angkor's hydraulic reservoir near the town of Siem Reap. Scientists suspect the hydraulic system was too vast to manage.
By Ker Munthit
February 22, 2008

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) By destroying vast tracts of forest to enlarge their farmland, inhabit- ants of the wondrous city of Angkor ignited the fuse to an ecological time bomb that spelled doom for what was once the world's largest urban area.

So theorize archaeologists engaged in groundbreaking research into the ancient civilization of Angkor.

They are warning that history could repeat itself through reckless, headlong pursuit of dollars from tourists flocking to see Angkor's fabled monuments.

"It's just a weird cycle. It seems like Angkor is self-repeating itself," said Mitch Hendrickson, who recently led an excavation as part of research into Angkor as a human settlement.

Conservationists have long expressed concerns about the state of the monuments, especially the stress from the tourist invasion. They also say the uncontrolled pumping of underground water to meet rising demand of hotels, guesthouses and residents in the adjoining town of Siem Reap might be destabilizing the earth beneath the centuries-old temples so much that they might sink and collapse.

"There's just so much building going on without any concern about the long term. Things are moving so fast in Siem Reap today that it's going to chew itself up very quickly and become unsustainable," said Mr. Hendrickson, an archaeologist from the University of Sydney in Australia.

From their city, Angkorian kings ruled over most of Southeast Asia during their pinnacle between the ninth and 14th centuries, overseeing the stone constructions, including Angkor Wat, regarded as a marvel of religious architecture.

Although the 1431 invasion from what is now Thailand has long been regarded as a major cause of Angkor's fall, archaeologists from the Australian university's Greater Angkor Project suspect earlier ecological forces led to the city's demise.

Khmer Rouge court judges to inspect Cambodian genocide sites

Fri, 22 Feb 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Co-investigating judges for the tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders will inspect Cambodia's two most infamous mass murder sites next week, the court said in a statement Friday. "As part of the ongoing work of the office of the co-investigating Judges, on-site investigations are being held on Tuesday at Choeung Ek and on Wednesday at Tuol Sleng," the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) said.

Choeung Ek, which translates as "champions" in Khmer, is also known as the Killing Fields and is littered with the mass graves of Khmer Rouge victims.

Toul Sleng was a former high school which was converted into Pol Pot's private torture prison. Most of up to 16,000 inmates who did not die there under interrogation were transported to the Killing Fields and murdered there.

The ECCC said both popular tourist sites would be closed to the public during the judges' inspection as investigations remained confidential.

"Appropriate and strict security measures will be in place," the court said.

Five former Khmer Rouge leaders are currently in custody facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including former Toul Sleng commandant Duch.

Up to 2 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 Democratic Kampuchea regime. Former leader Pol Pot died at his home in 1998.

Cambodia - Annual report 2008

Area: 181,040 sq. km.
Population: 14,347,000.
Languages: Khmer, French, English.
Head of government: Hun Sen.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, can count on the support of the majority of the broadcast media. Only one radio station is critical of him and the highly-politicised written press struggles to maintain its role of challenging authority.

The publication, in May 2007, of a report on deforestation by the organisation Global Witness, provoked a raft of incidents in relation to the press, including the temporary closure of Cambodge Soir, harassment and death threats against three journalists who wrote about the issue. The report highlighted the responsibility of people close to the head of government in large-scale illegal logging. The press picked up the report, but on 8 June, the information minister, Khieu Kanharith, said that “the media had had a week to put out their reports” and that was “largely sufficient”. Newspapers could “make reference to it but not reproduce it”. Any infringement would result in “our taking necessary judicial steps” the minister specified. The brother of the head of government, Hun Neng, reportedly said that if anyone from Global Witness came to Cambodia, he would “hit him about the head until it broke”. Journalists on Radio Free Asia, one of the very few media to have seriously investigated deforestation, were threatened by an unknown interloper at their station’s studios in Phnom Penh.

At the same time, French journalist Soren Seelow of the French-Khmer paper Cambodge Soir was sacked without notice, on 10 June, after reprinting part of the Global Witness report. One of the managers of the paper, also a French adviser to the Cambodian agriculture ministry, and its editor decided to close the paper. Staff went on strike to defend the paper’s editorial independence, which was threatened by intervention on the part of some shareholders. It has an outspoken stance and despite recurring financial problems, Cambodge Soir has made its mark on the Cambodian media landscape, digging up news for the Khmer-language press. After several weeks of conflict, some of the journalists re-launched the title in a new format. Thanks to mediation by its funder, the International Francophone Organisation, its editorial independence was at least partly protected but around a dozen staff ended up losing their jobs.

Also in June, Lem Piseth, of Radio Free Asia, received a death threat after investigating deforestation in Kompong Thom province in central Cambodia. In his report, he said that he was followed by soldiers and police. Then he had a call on his mobile phone and the following conversation ensued: “Is that you, Lem Piseth? “Yes. Who are you? “You are insolent, do you want to die? “Why are you insulting me like this? “Because of the business of the forest and you should know that there will not be enough land to bury you”. The journalist fled to Thailand.

In August, it was the turn of Phon Phat, of the Khmer-language newspaper Chbas Ka, to be threatened for the same reasons. His house was set on fire after he had been threatened with reprisals. His reports had implicated businessman Meas Siphan in illegal deforestation.
Television under control.

Cambodia boasts 11 TV stations but not one of them is genuinely independent. The Aspara, group which owns one television and one radio station, is owned by Hun Sen’s daughter. Bayon Television is directly controlled by the party of the head of government while TV3 and TV5 are respectively controlled by the Phnom Penh municipality and the armed forces. Only Cambodian Television Network gives occasional airtime to opposition figures.

Radio Sombok Khmum (Beehive FM 105) plays an important role in the media landscape. It rents its aerial to the main Cambodian opposition parties and to Radio Free Asia (RFA), whose Khmer service readily broadcasts challenging news. The head of government in May accused the deputy editor of RFA’s Phnom Penh bureau, Um Sarim, of being “offensive” and working for an “aggressive” radio station. The prime minister ordered all TV channels to show the altercation to demonstrate to TV viewers the extent of the “insolence” of RFA. Um Sarim left the country for several days.

Ahead of legislative elections scheduled for July 2008, there are fears that the ruling party will tighten its grip still further on electronic media. Hun Sen has already said that he plans to stay in power for another 20 years.

ADB continues to fund Vietnam’s GMS projects


VietNamNet Bridge – Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda said ADB is likely to allocate up to 1.8 billion USD in the next few years to help Vietnam carry out the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)’s projects.

“The total volume of lending and associated grant assistance needed to realize these projects will be determined through detailed feasibility studies, and we envisage the level of our overall assistance to Vietnam in the next few years will be in the range of 1.3-1.8 billion USD or so,” said ADB President Kuroda, who ends three-day working visit to Vietnam on February 21.

GMS projects included in ADB’s indicative loan and grant programme for Vietnam for 2008-2010 focus on fields such as tourism, environment, health care, transportation and water supply and sanitation.

Last year, of the 34 ADB-assisted investment projects for the GMS, totaling 9.9 billion USD, Vietnam participated in nine projects totaling 2.2 billion USD. These include the Ho Chi Minh City-Phnom Penh Highway Improvement Project, the East-West Transport Corridor Project, the GMS Tourism Development Project, the GMS Communicable Disease Control in the Border Areas Project, and the GMS Southern Coastal Corridor Project.

The ADB President hailed Vietnam’s efforts and important role in the pursuit of the GMS strategy, saying Vietnam is a major proponent of the transformation of the GMS “transport” corridors into full-fledged “economic” corridors, including through the early implementation of trade and transport facilitation measures – steps that would greatly improve the subregion’s competitiveness.

Regional cooperation efforts have already been yielding concrete results, he said and took an average anual increase of 24 percent from 1992 to 2006 in Vietnam’s combined exports to the other countries in the Mekong Region, including Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand as an example for the results.

“During the same period, Vietnam’s real GDP grew by 7.7 percent on average, and its openness ratio, defined as the ratio of total trade to GDP, more than doubled from 50 percent to 135 percent, indicating the growing trade integration of the country with the region and the world,” he added.

(Source: VNA)

EmailPrintDispatch / Our Woman in Thailand -- in Cambodia

Just another day in paradise: Sophia gets a quick change before heading into Cambodia.
Friday February 22, 2008

Suzanne Pace of Polish Hill is on an travel adventure. She left Feb. 9 for two weeks in Thailand, with a side trip to Cambodia. She'll be backpacking, staying in hostels, meeting scruffy travelers, chugging cheap beer, hanging on the beach ...

And changing the diapers of her 8-month-old child, Sophia.

At least her husband, sculptor Tim Kaulen, tagged along to help.

Suzanne asked us: "Don't you think people will want to read the travel journal of a 40-year-old tattooed woman taking her infant daughter to walk around Cambodian ruins and attend a two-day Thai Buddhist wedding of my friend from college?"

We're inclined to think so. Updates will appear regularly in this space.

Suzanne, by the way, is a Pittsburgh native who returned to the city in 2000. She launched the American Shorts Reading Series in 2003 and now works at Social Innovation Accelerator, which bolsters nonprofit organizations.

K.Rouge genocide suspect to re-enact alleged crimes: judge
Feb 22, 2008

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - FORMER Khmer Rouge jailer Duch, who expected to face a UN-backed trial over Cambodia's 1970s genocide, will re-enact his alleged crimes as part of the investigation against him, a judge said on Friday.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, oversaw the regime's main torture centre of Tuol Sleng where some 16,000 men, women and children were brutalised before being executed during the Khmer Rouge's repeated purges of its ranks.

'The purpose is to re-organise the situation as it was at the time,' said Marcel Lemonde, one of the tribunal's co-investigating judges.

Walk through pastDuch, who has never denied his crimes but claims to have found God, will walk tribunal judges through the prison, describing his actions there before proceeding to the Choeung Ek killing fields outside Phnom Penh, where most of the Tuol Sleng inmates were killed.

Several people believed to be Tuol Sleng survivors will also be present and participate in a 'confrontation' interview afterwards, during which statements by Duch and the witnesses will be recorded.

'This is a normal investigative action, the aim of which is to clarify the declarations by each of the participants, using photos, audio-visual recordings and 3D reconstructions,' Mr Lemonde told reporters.

Duch, a 65-year-old former maths teacher, is charged with crimes against humanity and is one of five Khmer Rouge leaders detained by the UN-backed tribunal over atrocities committed by the communist Khmer Rouge during its 1975-79 rule.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed by the Khmer Rouge, which dismantled modern Cambodian society in its effort to forge a radical agrarian utopia.

Cities were emptied and their populations exiled to vast collective farms, while schools were closed, religion banned and the educated classes targeted for extermination.

The tribunal was convened in July 2006 after nearly a decade of often stalled talks between Cambodia and the United Nations over how to proceed with prosecuting regime leaders.

Spain's Queen Sofia tour at Angkor wat, Siemreap province

Queen Sofia of Spain poses for photographs with the background of famed Angkor Wat temple during her tour at Siem Reap province, northwestern of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Queen Sofia of Spain, right, watches Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Kong Sam Ol, left, demonstrate how to use a rural water pump during a tour of a local village in Siem Reap province northwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Spain's Queen Sofia fans herself while looking at Apsara statues at Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province, 320 km (199 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh, February 22, 2008, during the last day of her four-day state visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)
Queen Sofia of Spain, center, gestures at famed Angkor Wat temple during her tour at Siem Reap province, northwestern of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Spain's Queen Sofia watches schoolgirls perform at Wat Run primary school in Banthey Srey district, Siem Reap province, 320 km (199 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh, February 22, 2008, during the last day of her four-day state visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)
Queen Sofia of Spain and delegations pose for photographs with the background of famed Angkor Wat temple during her tours at Siem Reap province, northwestern of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Spain's Queen Sofia drinks palm juice as Thomas Keusters, country director of the World Food Program, holds a bamboo tube containing the juice at Wat Run primary school in Banthey Srey district, Siem Reap province, 320 km (199 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh, February 22, 2008, during the last day of her four-day state visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)
Spain's Queen Sofia smells a palm fruit at Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province, 320 km (199 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh, February 22, 2008, during the last day of her four-day state visit.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia : Amnesty International visiting Dey Krahom, a slum in Phnom Penh was evicted by Hun Sen

A Cambodian man sits in front of his shack in Dey Krahom village, a slum area in Phnom Penh. Amid the rotting trash and shards of bricks, small squares of tile flooring are the only evidence of the homes that once packed into the Dey Krahom neighbourhood, which is slated for demolition.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)
Cambodian children play near a shelter at Dey Krahom village, a slum area in Phnom Penh which is slated for demolition.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)
Rubbish is seen scattered across the grounds at Dey Krahom village, a slum in Phnom Penh. Amid the rotting trash and shards of bricks, small squares of tile flooring are the only evidence of the homes that once packed into the capital's Dey Krahom neighbourhood, which is slated for demolition.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)
A Cambodian girl walks through the Dey Krahom village, a slum in Phnom Penh. Amid the rotting trash and shards of bricks, small squares of tile flooring are the only evidence of the homes that once packed into the neighbourhood, which is slated for demolition.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)
Brittis Edman(L) of Amnesty International walks with leading villagers of Dey Krahom, a slum area in Phnom Penh. Amid the rotting trash and shards of bricks, small squares of tile flooring are the only evidence of the homes that once packed into the Dey Krahom neighbourhood, which is slated for demolition.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Sacravatoons: " The prohibited Site "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon :

sacravatoons: " Xmer Top Cop: Sexmaniac "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon :

Samak's Mekong plan could hurt trade ties

Jingjai: Vietnam and Cambodia at risk

Bangkok Post

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's ambitious plan to divert water from the Mekong River to feed the water-starved Northeast faces opposition from business leaders who warn that it might affect future trade and investment expansion in the region.

Jingjai Hanchanlash, chairman of the Greater Mekong Subregion Committee and an executive member of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, strongly disagrees with the plan since the Mekong is an international river.

Mr Jingjai, also the director of the trading company Loxley Plc, said Vietnam and Cambodia would definitely be the hardest hit if the scheme materialised as the two countries are downstream from Thailand.

The Mekong starts in China and flows through Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Water use for the lower basin, comprising Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, is regulated by the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

The newly appointed premier has floated the idea of building an underground pipeline to divert water from the Mekong River to reservoirs in the northeastern region. Water pipelines would then transport water to farmland.

Mr Samak's proposal is not new. The Irrigation Department had conducted a feasibility study for the Mekong water diversion project years ago, but it never materialised because it carried a high cost and was unlikely to be economically viable.

Mr Jingjai said the issue would likely be highlighted at a March 31 meeting between leaders of China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma and Laos. He said the leaders would also discuss how to expand trade and investment in the region, particularly in the sectors of communication, tourism, energy, environment, agro-industry and logistics.

The meeting would also focus on the joint development of cultural tourism destinations, including Luang Prabang in Laos, Bagan in Burma, Sukhothai in Thailand, Hue in Vietnam, Lijiang in China and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Thailand could play a key role as it has liberalised trade the most among the various countries, he said.

Loxley itself has been relatively active in investments in those countries, he added. Loxley Plc, the 69-year-old trading firm better known for its high-technology, communications and construction businesses, has invested in fibre-optic projects in Laos and agro-industry in Vietnam.

Mr Jingjai said the company was also interested in expanding into construction materials and consumer products, notably in Vietnam. Loxley has already had a strong network in Vietnam after exporting shrimp feed and fibre products there for almost five years. Sales hit 300 million baht last year.

This year Loxley planned to expand further in Vietnam as it has strong growth potential. Plans are also afoot to set up a shrimp feed manufacturing facility in Vietnam, Mr Jingjai said.

Apart from Vietnam, Loxley is also looking to expand into Laos, particularly in the cable TV business. The company is also looking for a sourcing business for chain stores in Burma.

NV Multi to build memorial park in Cambodia
By Yantoultra Ngui Yichen

KUALA LUMPUR: NV Multi Corporation Bhd’s unit NV Multi Resources Sdn Bhd has teamed up with an individual, Kau Kim Bac, to undertake the development, operation and management of a memorial park in Thloeuk Village, Angsnoul District in Cambodia.

The bereavement care services provider told Bursa Malaysia yesterday that the joint venture (JV) was in line with its objectives of expanding its business activities to other Asian countries.
It said the project would be funded by internal funds and external borrowings. NV Multi will hold a 49% stake in the JV company.

The project, which includes the acquisition of land measuring some 10ha, would involve the construction and eventual sale of a memorial park with columbarium, burial lots, temples, chapel, funeral parlour, crematorium, and leisure park with related infrastructure.

Japan grants $3 mil. for Cambodia's general election


PHNOM PENH, Feb. 21 (Kyodo) - Japan has granted Cambodia just under $3 million for the country's general election to be held July 27, according to the Japanese Embassy's press statement seen Thursday.

The fund will be used by the National Election Committee for ballots, walkie-talkies, an e-mail system, transportation and civic education among others, the statement said.

Khan Keomono, deputy director of public information department of the election commission, told Kyodo News about $17 million will be spent on the election, among which some $10 million from the government budget and the rest from foreign donors.

After several decades of civil war and political strife, Cambodia held its first general election in 1993 under U.N. supervision.Since, Cambodia has held general elections every five years.

Slum evictions highlight dark side of Cambodia's building boom

Rubbish is seen scattered across the grounds at Dey Krahom village, a slum in Phnom Penh. Amid the rotting trash and shards of bricks, small squares of tile flooring are the only evidence of the homes that once packed into the capital's Dey Krahom neighbourhood, which is slated for demolition.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

by Seth Meixner
Thu Feb 21, 2008

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Amid the rotting trash, shards of bricks and floor tiles are the only evidence of the homes that once packed into the Cambodian capital's Dey Krahom neighbourhood, which is slated for demolition.

But a few dozen families are refusing to leave this slum, located on a wedge of once worthless property that is now part of a multi-million-dollar development scheme.

Their standoff with authorities has put them on the front line of an increasingly violent conflict over land in Cambodia that has seen dozens killed and tens of thousands evicted from their homes over the past few years.

Impoverished Cambodia is in the midst of a building boom that has caused land prices to skyrocket across the country.

Realtors estimate that the cost of prime pieces of property in Phnom Penh can top 3,000 dollars a square metre (yard), a six-fold increase from eight years ago.

Even the vast swathes of wasteland, where the city's poorest have lived for years in squalid camps, are up for grabs.

It is here, rights groups say, that the human cost of this development is being counted in the loss of homes and jobs.

"There is this unprecedented development boom in Phnom Penh, but on the other hand there's more lawlessness, more landlessness," said an activist with a legal aid organisation that has worked extensively with the victims of landgrabbing.

"The people who are losing out are the poor people, despite the fact that they have certain rights," he said, not wanting to be named.

After years of complete breakdown, Cambodia's land titling system is in disarray and doubts over ownership -- in Dey Krahom and elsewhere -- are often at the heart of evictions.

While villagers often claim to have some legal title to their properties, developers and the government insist that most of these families are nothing more than squatters and say their removal is necessary as Cambodia lurches out of the chaos of the post-war years.

In their place, Cambodia's leaders -- trying to propel their battered country towards prosperity -- have envisioned vast complexes of modern office towers and luxury shopping, condominiums and public parks.

"There are absolutely no unlawful and forcible evictions in Cambodia," Cambodia's foreign ministry said in a statement released in mid-February, responding to accusations by the rights group Amnesty International that the government was pushing people from their land illegally.

"Cambodia in some cases has to re-establish public and social order, such as in the case of turning the streets into market places, living on the sidewalks and in the parks, and illegally occupying state land," the ministry said.

Although many families in Dey Krahom have voluntarily left, taking a payout of several thousand dollars each from developers, others are holding out for more money and refusing to abandon their homes.

"We just want to get a fair price," said Keo Navann, an articulate woman in her early 40s who has emerged as a de facto spokesperson for those threatened with eviction.

Around her Dey Krahom is gradually disappearing -- large, litter-filled gaps fill the spaces in between the remaining shacks, which stand like lonely sentinels against the developer's construction equipment parked nearby.

"Developers are offering some people 4,300 dollars for their land, but this amount is not acceptable when they can sell it for 3,000 dollars a square metre," said Keo Navann.

"We are Cambodian. Why do we not have the right to live in our city? They tell us, 'You live in a slum, you are dirty people'. So the poor people must leave the city," she said.

The standoff turned dangerous last year when villagers in Dey Krahom clashed several times with police and security guards working for developers.

In January, the violence escalated as security guards, escorting a bulldozer to Dey Krahom, began hurling rocks at residents trying to block their path to the village.

This strip of land fronting the Bassac River has been the scene of conflict in the past. Two years ago, authorities pushed thousands from slumland across the road from Dey Krahom.

The pre-dawn eviction to a remote resettlement site 22 kilometres (13 miles) away was one of the largest single forced moves from Phnom Penh since the communist Khmer Rouge evacuated the capital's population to the countryside after seizing power in 1975.

It was the start of a cycle of often violent landgrabs that has only worsened, rights groups say.

"Forced evictions are one of the biggest human rights violations that Cambodians are facing, both in the rural areas and the cities," said Brittis Edman of Amnesty International, who was in Dey Krahom recently to talk to residents.

"These people represent only a fraction of the 150,000 Cambodians who we are aware of who are facing eviction in Cambodia today," she said.

"This underscores the urgent need for these forced evictions to come to an end."

National Holiday: Meak Bochea Day

Posted on 22 February 2008.

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 548

Meak Bochea Day commemorates the spontaneous gathering of monks to listen to the Buddha’s preaching.

Is it a sheer coincidence that on 18 February 2008, a memorial tablet with the list of Seven Sins which destroy a society, composed by Mahatma Gandhi, was officially inaugurated in Phnom Penh?

The Seven Sins list states:

1- Politics without principle.
2- Wealth without work.
3- Pleasure without conscience.
4- Knowledge without character.
5- Commerce without morality.
6- Science without humanity.
7- Worship without sacrifice.

Are these words, put up for the public by the head of the Royal Government of Cambodia and the head of the administration of the Capital City of Phnom Penh, going to usher in a new era of social and personal ethics in Cambodia?

New General Manager appointments for Raffles in Beijing and Cambodia
Feb 22, 08

Raffles Hotels & Resorts has announced the portfolio exchange of two general managers within the group.

Mr. Riaz Mahmood, presently area general manager, Indo-China, has been appointed as general manager of Raffles Beijing Hotel starting February 18, 2008. Mr. Peter Wynne, who is currently general manager of Raffles Beijing Hotel, will undertake his new position as general manager of the Cambodia properties March 3, 2008, and oversee both Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh and Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, Siem Reap.

Mr. Mahmood has been a general manager with Raffles Hotels & Resorts for eight years and was appointed general manager of Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in 2003 before assuming the role of area general manager, Indo-China, in 2006. Under his leadership, both Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor and Raffles Hotel Le Royal have consistently enjoyed recognition from leading travel publications as Cambodia's best hotels. In 2007, both hotels were distinguished as the only hotels in Cambodia among Asia's Top 50 Hotels, as voted by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine. In addition, Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor was voted among the world's top 50 hotels in Condé Nast Traveler magazine's Best of the Best list, in its 2007 Reader's Choice Awards. Mr Mahmood's new appointment as general manager of Raffles Beijing Hotel will see him lead the hotel through the highly anticipated Summer Olympics where Raffles Beijing Hotel has been designated as one of the official hotels to house members of the Olympic family, such as delegates from the International Olympic Committee. This will be the second time Mr Mahmood will experience the boisterous energy of the Olympics as he was also significantly involved with preparing the group's hotel in Sydney for the Summer Olympics in 2000.

Mr. Wynne joined Raffles Hotels & Resorts as general manager of Raffles Beijing Hotel, where he led the hotel through its grand opening in 2006. Within the first year of Raffles Beijing's opening, the hotel has been conferred numerous awards and accolades from prestigious publications such as Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report Special Awards (Best New City Hotel 2007), both the US and UK editions of Condé Nast Traveler (Hot List 2007). Its elegant French restaurant, Jaan, has also been recognized as one of the best new restaurants in the world by Condé Nast Traveler (Hot Table 2007). Today, Raffles Beijing Hotel is popularly recognized as the residence of choice for discerning travelers to Beijing, having welcomed members of royalty, world-renowned artists and travelers from both the corporate and leisure segments.

Mending Singapore ties

Bangkok Post
By Thanida Tansubhapol

Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said on Thursday he is determined to mend diplomatic ties with Singapore.

First on the agenda is a plan to revive the Singapore-Thailand Civil Service Exchange Programme (CSEP), which was suspended when relations turned sour after the Shin Corporation-Temasek share deal.

The relationship with Singapore should be returned to a level similar to before the Sept 19, 2006 coup d'etat, he said.

"Thailand plans to host the CSEP soon," said Mr Noppadon, adding that Singapore will also host the Singapore-Thailand Enhanced Economic Relationship (Steer) meeting. This would help to increase the amount of trade between the two countries.

The minister said he also asked his counterpart, George Yeo, to take care of some 40,000 Thai labourers working in the island state.

In addition, Thailand will join Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, which send military personnel to patrol the Malacca Strait, he said.

He also paid a courtesy call on Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday before leaving for Laos for a two-day official visit which begins today,

On the agenda will be a bilateral meeting with Cambodia officials on the Preah Vihear temple.
Mr Noppadon said Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong had reaffirmed that registering the temple as a World Heritage site would not affect border negotiations between the two countries.

According to Mr Noppadon, Mr Hor Nam Hong said Cambodia was ready to issue a statement to confirm that the registration of Preah Vihear temple would not affect the border demarcation process.

"Thailand has no intention of intervening in the registration of Preah Vihear by the Cambodian side, but it must not affect the unsettled border area," said Mr Noppadon.

Phnom Penh is to send Prime Minister Hun Sen's legal adviser and head border negotiator Wa Kim Hong to Thailand soon to discuss the issue.

Thailand will also consider Cambodia's request for 1.4 billion baht in soft loans for road construction.

Faber Sees a Holiday in Cambodia for Investors

A visitor looks at the photos of Khmer Rouge victims displayed at the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) in Phnom Penh, Nov. 23, 2007. Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg News
An saffron-robed monk walks through Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Nov. 28, 2007. Photographer: Sima Dubey/Bloomberg News
Tourists examine a frieze at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Nov. 29, 2007. Photographer: Sima Dubey/Bloomberg News
A tourist surveys the site of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Nov. 29, 2007. Photographer: Sima Dubey/Bloomberg News

Commentary by William Pesek

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- If you want to learn about Cambodia's economy, you can peruse government data and a small mountain of aid-agency reports. Or you could go trekking in the jungle near Mount Kbal Spean.

There, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the temples of Angkor, you'll find a small nature preserve. The Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity is one of a handful of efforts to protect Cambodia's wildlife that sprang up during the last nine years of peace.

It's mostly a breeding facility for critically endangered animal species. There, you will come face to face with gibbons, lemurs, turtles, scores of local birds and even native bees. The scene may offer one of the best reasons for investors to pay more attention to Cambodia.

When most think of Cambodia, extreme poverty springs to mind. While stability since 1998 is raising living standards, a third of the nation's 14 million people live on less than 50 cents a day.
Much of the blame goes to lingering fallout from the mass killings by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.

There's a cruel irony to the fact that Cambodia's No. 2 tourist attraction is the infamous ``Killing Fields,'' one of the sites where an estimated 1.7 million died under dictator Pol Pot. Nearby, hawkers still sell Dead Kennedys T-shirts, a nod to their 1980 song ``Holiday in Cambodia.''
Bullish .

Yet waves of tourists are making their way to Cambodia, pumping up its $7 billion economy. Until recently, most made a beeline for Siem Reap, where Angkor's magnificent temples rise defiantly from dense forests. These days, more are exploring the nation's capital, Phnom Penh, and the fast-growing selection of beach resorts.

In 2007, tourist arrivals topped 2 million. For an economy that depends largely on the garment sector -- it accounts for 80 percent of exports -- increasing tourism is a big plus. It will help sustain the roughly 10 percent growth of the past four years.

Together with efforts by conservationists around the country, strong growth explains why investors such as Marc Faber are bullish on Cambodia. Both show that after decades of struggling to survive, Cambodians are getting serious about preserving their heritage and competing in the globalization age. Cambodia, in other words, is becoming a normal country.

``Cambodia offers an enormous potential for future capital gains,'' says Faber, the Hong Kong-based investor and publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report. ``It may take some time, as was the case for Vietnam and India, where stocks languished for a number of years before huge upward trends in asset prices developed. But patience was amply rewarded.''

Contrarian Bet

The Asian Development Bank continues to pump fresh aid into the economy. ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda was in Cambodia this week to christen a project to rebuild decades-old railway tracks to spread the benefits of growth.

More importantly, the government is stepping up efforts to attract foreign capital. It plans to set up a stock market in 2009 and officials are working to diversify the economy. Prime Minister Hun Sen recently visited India and appealed to technology firms to invest in Cambodia.

Of course, Cambodia is a contrarian investment with a capital ``C.'' For every positive trend cited in this column, one can find a reason, or two, to avoid the place.

While Cambodia has great promise, says Simon Ogus, chief executive of DSG Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong, it has a long, long way to go before many investors are willing even to consider putting money there. For one thing, he says, ``the monetary system is 95 percent dollarized'' and the country lacks a bond market.


Cambodia's challenges run deeper. Crushing poverty means all too many aren't being educated to compete globally. Good roads, bridges, and power systems are in short supply. The export-dependent economy is vulnerable to a U.S. slowdown and rising fuel costs.

Corruption means double-digit growth doesn't get very far anyway. In Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia ranked 162nd -- behind Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Tajikistan.

Cambodia also is sitting on a discovery that will either attract investors or have them aggressively avoiding the country: oil. While deposits are still being estimated, the potential of Cambodia's petroleum industry is attracting interest from BHP Billiton Ltd. and Chevron Corp.
Next BRICs

The question is what happens to billions of dollars of oil revenue. Corruption-prone governments have a poor track record of using such wealth wisely, too often suffering the ``oil curse.'' Since weak institutions oversee its underdeveloped economy, Cambodia's odds aren't great.

Then again, what if Cambodia surprises skeptics? That's a big ``if,'' given the prime minister's failure to eradicate corruption and crack down on illegal logging.

Yet investors are searching for the next generation of developing-market stars now that the ``BRIC'' economies -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- and Vietnam have been discovered. Watching neighboring Vietnam thrive also may inspire Cambodia's government.

If oil profits are used to improve education, reduce poverty and upgrade infrastructure, investors who took a chance on Cambodia will be, in Faber's words, amply rewarded.

UNDP: Government Won't Probe Tribunal Allegations

By Mean Veasna,
VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
21 February 2008

Mean Veasna reports in Khmer (1.20 MB) - Listen (MP3)

The government has declined a request from the UNDP to probe corruption allegations against the Khmer Rouge tribunal, a spokesman for the development program said Thursday.

The UNDP made a formal request in January to Deputy Prime Minister Sok An urging that the government to investigate allegations tribunal personnel paid for their positions.

"The government has underscored that the investigation is not appropriate at this time, if we take into consideration the progress of the tribunal," UNDP spokesman Men Kim Seng said.

"The UNDP maintains its support for the [tribunal], if the court completes its task of bringing to court those most responsible for crimes during the Democratic Kampuchea regime."The UNDP found in a 2007 audit high salary scales for tribunal staff, significant staff increases and staff that did not meet minimum requirements. The Open Society Justice Institute has reported allegations that Cambodian staff had to pay government officials in order to work at the tribunal.
"I regret [that the government won't investigate], but the main points are that I think we should consider the progress of the tribunal, and the tribunal must take action to prevent or stop what has happened, like to eradicate corruption," said Long Panhavuth, program officer for OSJI in Phnom Penh.

The corruption allegations could be exploited by lawyers of accused Khmer Rouge leaders and affect international funding contributions to the court, he said.

Tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis deferred questions to government spokesman Khieu Kanharith. Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Duch Investigation Could Last to April: Expert

By Sok Khemara,
VOA Khmer
21 February 2008

Sok Khemara reports in Khmer (895 KB) - Listen (MP3)
Sok Khemara related story (1.30 MB) - Listen (MP3)

The investigation leading to the trial of Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch could last through April, with trials starting thereafter, a tribunal expert said Tuesday.

That means Duch, whose real name is Kaing Khek Iev, 65, could see a trial in the second half of 2008, "if there are not political or other problems acting as obstacles," said Hisham Mousar, a tribunal monitor for the rights group Adhoc.

Duch oversaw the infamous Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, where as many as 16,000 Cambodians were tortured, later to be executed in the "killing fields" outside the capital.

His trial would be the first of five jailed Khmer Rouge leaders, who were ousted from power nearly 30 years ago.

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said the investigators were "expediting the investigation" and would wrap up their work by Khmer New Year, in mid-April.

Deportation of Threat Writer Up to US: Police

By Heng Reaksmey,
VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
21 February 2008

Heng Reaksmey reports in Khmer (796 KB) - Listen (MP3)

The government is awaiting an official response from the US Embassy on whether they should deport an American citizen following a threatening letter, police said Thursday.

National Police Chief Gen. Hok Lundy told VOA Khmer Thursday that Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng had sent an official request to the US Embassy asking whether police should deport Gerald Francis Forbes, 63, who is being held by immigration police.

Forbes was detained Wednesday after he confessed to writing a letter to the English-language Cambodia Daily outlining an alleged attack plan against the US Embassy, police said.

"Forbes will be deported three days from now if we receive a response from the US Embassy," Hok Lundy said.

Embassy officials could not be reached for comment Thursday, but officials have said they do not consider the letter a credible threat.

The Cambodia Daily published parts of the letter Thursday, signed by a "Francis Chow," who warned of a "rocket attack followed by an attempt to overrun the embassy grounds" by "local forces."

"I am a friend of the American government and just passing along what information was overheard in a local restaurant last night," the letter said, according to the Cambodia Daily.

Cambodia opposition laments country's slow progress

ABC, Radio Australia

Cambodia goes to the polls in July in an election that most observers expect will merely consolidate the power of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party.

One man who hopes that is not the case is the leader of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy, who is currently visiting Australia.

He has told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program that while there has been some progress in Cambodia, it has not been equitable.

"A group of people get richer and richer, whereas the majority of the people remain poor," he said.

Mr Rainsy says given the huge amount of international assistance the country has received, progress should be coming much faster to Cambodia.

He believes corruption is to blame.

"Corruption is rampant," he said.

"Corruption has caused so much destruction of the natural resources, and has allowed government officials to sell state assets and to grab land from poor farmers.

"Mr Rainsy says, despite the perceived power that Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party holds, he believes social, economic and technological trends will lead to change in Cambodia.

He says Cambodians, particularly the younger generation, are developing a sense of political awareness.

"Half of the Cambodian population is under 20 and two-thirds of the population are under 30, and those young people are relatively more educated, their expectations are higher, so therefore they will push for a change," he said.

"Over half of these young group of people cannot find jobs and living conditions and those of their parents are not improving, and they want to live in a more just society, so they will push for democratic change.

"Cambodia goes to the polls in July and Mr Rainsy is remaining optimistic.

David Oliveira Visits Santa Barbara, Return of the Laureate

Thursday, February 21, 2008
By Perie Longo

The Santa Barbara poetry community is thrilled to announce the visit of much-loved and respected poet David Oliveira. He will read from his first full-length book, A Little Travel Story (Harbor Mountain Press, January 2008), on Saturday, February 23, at 7 p.m. at SBCC’s Fé Bland Auditorium. David was one of Santa Barbara’s greatest poetry movers and shakers until 2002, when he moved to Phnom Penh, where he is now a professor of English at Pannasastra University of Cambodia.

Before his departure, Oliveira was the founder of the Santa Barbara Poetry Series, now in its 10th year; editor and cofounding publisher with Cynthia Anderson of Mille Grazie Press, which published a number of Santa Barbara poets; and one of the founding editors, along with Glenna Luschei, of SOLO, an award-winning journal of poetry. He also was named as Santa Barbara’s first Poet Laureate for the millennium celebrations.

Oliveira and I exchanged some emails before he left Cambodia for New York, where he appeared at the Associated Writing Programs conference. There, he participated on a panel discussing the importance and influences of the work of the poet Edward Field, one of the many major poets Oliveira featured in the Santa Barbara Poetry Series. Oliveira’s aim was to create a venue where area poets could read on an equal basis with “big-named folks, to regain a sense of community, of toiling together and sharing the wonder of what we do.” That wonder and camaraderie has persisted in our poetry community, in great part due to Oliveira’s efforts.

His previously published works are In the Presence of Snakes (Brandenburg Press, 2000), and A Near Country: Poems of Loss (Solo Press, 1999), co-authored with Glenna Luschei and Jackson Wheeler. He has appeared in numerous anthologies, journals, and magazines, and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Though Oliveira describes himself as shy, hearing him read has always been an immense pleasure for me; his words are strong, contemplative, and brave, pulsing with intensity. Below is an excerpt from one of his long poems, “Under the Mekong Sky.” In the section titled “An old man from the village,” he imagines the story a grandfather might tell about the river:

Each person who listens is reminded
of their own big trouble,
which they now toss into the current
to send to the far-away sea.
Soon the river is twisting in agitation.
One voice bumps into a second
and experiences a revelation.
A third joins in to state
the rulewhich a fourth counters
with limited powers of persuasion,
prompting a fifth to request
a committeeto study the matter further.
The arguments which ensue
become a chorus, wide and long,
which the people, empty of troubles,
hear as harmony and mistake
for the beautiful speech of water.

Later in the same poem in a section titled “Even night is never completely dark,” he writes:

All schemes inherently fall apart
for lack of precision.
Perhaps explanation is only possible
in the language of shimmer and current,
said to be difficult to learn.
Order is arbitrary,
in any case,
why else would nothing make sense?

One thing that does make sense to Oliveira is his “fortuitous” opportunity to study with poet Philip Levine at California State University Fresno, an experience he says is responsible for his “love of poetry to this day.” Levine is the featured poet for the March Poetry Conference sponsored by the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. More on that matter next month. For now, let’s all give a huge welcome to Oliveira on Saturday.

Poor Vietnamese in Cambodia receive gifts from HCM City
February 21, 2008

Poor Vietnamese living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on February 20 received 250 gift packages, each worth US $20, from Ho Chi Minh City’s Committee on Overseas Vietnamese.

The Vietnam News Agency reported that poor Vietnamese in Boribo district, Kampong Chhnang province, and Kampong Svay district, Kampong Thom province will also be given gifts during the delegation’s on-going visit.

Addressing the ceremony in Phnom Penh, head of the Ho Chi Minh City ’s delegation Nguyen Thi Tho made known that the committee will continue helping overseas Vietnamese in Cambodia to maintain their national cultural identities and improve living conditions.

Cambodia builds two statues for famous monk and musician

Samdach Choun Nath

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- The city government of Phnom Penh on Thursday held inauguration ceremony for the statues of a famous monk called Choun Nat and a musician called Krom Ngoy to honor their efforts and contributions to help the Cambodian society in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"We built their statues to respect and honor their efforts while they were alive in helping Cambodian society," Major Kep Chuktema said while addressing the ceremony.

The statues, which were made of copper and gold, were over two meters in height.

Choun Nat's statue is located in Hun Sen Park and Krom Ngoy's statue is in a Public Park in front of the Cambodiana Hotel.

Choun Nat (1883-1969), was former Buddhism Patriarch, or Chief of Cambodian monks. He is also linguist, poet, writer and literateur.

Choun Nat, who made great contribution in composing the Khmer language dictionary, is known as the most impressive literature and cultural promoter that Cambodia ever produced.

Krom Ngoy (1865-1936), was a musician for Tro-Ou, which is a kind of Khmer musical instrument.

He played Tro-Ou to educate people about everyday life and morality of Khmer people. His words became codes of morality of Cambodian people.

Editor: Gao Ying

Queenco in $10m Cambodia land grab
21st February 2008
By James Walker

Queenco Leisure International has announced the US$10m purchase of land in Sihanoukville, a coastal area in southern Cambodia, which the company intends to develop as a destination resort and casino.

Queenco, which operates and manages two of Greece's nine licensed casinos and the Casino Palace in Romania, has purchased nine hectares of beachfront land in Sihanoukville, an area that is currently experiencing a sharp rise in property prices following the Cambodian government's decision to expand the city's airport.

As part of the acquisition, Queenco has also secured exclusive rights for the stretch of beach immediately in front of the site. The casino will be the resort's main draw, but it will also include hotels, conference centres and other related non-gaming attractions.

In February 2007, Queenco acquired 48 hectares of land in Sihanoukville, and the company is now looking to further capitalise on the increasing number of Thai and Vietnamese tourist who visit the gambling facilities in area, due to the fact that gaming is not permitted in their home markets.

Commenting on the announcement, Dror Mizeretz, CEO of QLI, said: "I am delighted that QLI has been able to acquire such an ideal location for developing a new resort and casino complex.

"Along with the expansion of Sihanouk ville's airport, the area is being transformed as a tourist destination, with a growing local economy, as both foreign and domestic investors recognise the future potential of the area."

According to the Royal Government of Cambodia, more than 320,000 tourists visited Sihanoukville in 2006, up by 30 per cent from 2005.

Cambodia visit opens Ashley's eyes to hard truths

Ashley Hetherington (17), of Rahotu, with one of the souvenirs from her life-changing trip to Cambodia.
Friday, 22 February 2008

Working with impoverished children has always been Ashley Hetherington's dream - except for the brief period where she thought she would quite like to be a truck driver.

The 17-year-old Coastal Taranaki School student recently came back from a trip to Cambodia, where she was able to see if her dream stood up in reality.

"I want to work in an orphanage or teach in a poor country," Ashley said.

"It's something I've always wanted to do, ever since I can remember, except when I was little I wanted to be a truck driver."

She had never been on a plane before the 13-day trip and went with a group of 16 people she had never met before, but Ashley said the trip solidified her determination to work in a developing country.

"I want the kids to have better lives than what they have, and they can't get anywhere if they don't have an education," she said.

Ashley was sponsored to go on the Cambodia Volunteer & Development Trip, organised by Gecko Tours with Nayland College from Nelson.

Her mother Janine had found out about it on the Internet and when she rang the company was told Ashley could join the school.

The trip included visits to development organisations, time with students at primary and secondary schools, and periods of volunteer work. For Ashley the highlights - or perhaps lowlights - of the trip included going to a rubbish dump where children scavenged through piles of filth to earn a living.

"We got to take one of the kids from the rubbish dump out for the day," Ashley said.

They took the children to a water park, which Ashley said "was way better than our aquatic centre", and were allowed to buy them one thing to eat.

"Otherwise they'd be sick, they weren't used to the food," Ashley said and mimicked the wide eyes of the children who were allowed to choose the single treat.

Seeing how the people lived was something else that has stuck in Ashley's mind.

"It made me feel kind of bad, that we had so much," she said.

"It was a very big eye-opener. I learnt not to take things for granted."

Before she went to Cambodia, Ashley said she knew it was a poor country but wasn't aware of the country's political history and the violent Khmer Rouge regime.

"One day we went to a prison where the Khmer Rouge had held prisoners," Ashley said.

"That was hard, a few of us cried."

The trip was not only a test to see if her dream was realistic, but also a chance for her to appreciate her life and she said other kids should do it too.

"It would teach everyone a lesson ... everyone would learn something from it ..," Ashley said.

"I've changed a lot, it made me think differently. I'm not going to pack a tantrum because I can't get those wicked shoes."

Cambodia to deport U.S. veteran for false threat

Thu Feb 21, 2008

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia will deport a U.S. veteran who told journalists that militants were planning a rocket attack on the U.S embassy in Phnom Penh, deputy police chief Sok Phal said on Thursday.

Gerald Forbes, 63, of Hawaii, was arrested for sending e-mails to journalists asking them to spread the warning the embassy would be rocketed, then overrun, he said.

"He admitted he did it because he was angry with the slow reception of his pension. In fact there was no group to commit an act of terror," Sok Phal told Reuters without further explanation.
He said Forbes, in the country on a tourist visa, would be deported and never allowed to re-enter Cambodia.

"He has no money for a flight ticket, so we're arranging the ticket for him," Sok Phal said.

A U.S. spokesman said the embassy "never thought it a credible threat", but riot police were sent to guard the embassy on Monday night, when Forbes said the attack would take place.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Michael Battye and Jerry Norton)