Monday, 14 April 2008


Pattaya Daily News
April 14, 2008

The recent death of the 54 Burmese migrants in a container in Ranong, on April 10 represents, but the tip of the iceberg. Human rights lawyers and labour rights activists in Thailand say that violence against Burmese migrant workers is on the increase. They accuse Thai authorities of doing too little to protect Burmese working in Thailand.

The Migrant Worker Group, a coalition of NGOs, cited at least documented 10 cases in which more than 100 people had died being transported to Thailand in the past year. Since the beginning of 2008, scores of Rohingya Muslims from Burma have drowned in the Andaman Sea in an attempt to reach Southern Thailand, However, rather than help, Thai PM Samak Sundaravej has recently announced he will detain them on a deserted island to deter more arrivals.

"These preventable deaths are the tragic result of people fleeing repression and poverty in Burma, only to find abuse and exploitation in Thailand. Thai policies denying migrants basic rights contribute to such tragedies and urgently need to be revised or scrapped. These deaths put Thai authorities squarely on notice that reform cannot wait," said Elaine Pearson, Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Over 2 million Burmese migrants are estimated to be working in Thailand, less than 500,000 of them legally. Yet the numbers rise steadily—the lure of jobs and the hope of a better life outweighs all the uncertainty and threat of physical danger, murder and exploitation that these people suffer.

Nearly 20,000 registered Burmese migrant workers work in the Mae Sot area of Thailand's Tak border province with Myanmar, where cases of abuse are particularly high. Moe Swe, head of the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association in Mae Sot, said because migrant workers were reluctant to get involved with the police, many incidents go unreported. Unregistered migrants fear deportation if they complain to the authorities.

800 cases of abuse, including murder and rape, were reported to the Seafarers Union of Burma from mid-2006 to November 2007. Union member Ko Ko Aung maintained 30% of the reported cases involved murder. It appears some Thai employers resort to murder, rather than pay their migrant workers.

Adults are not the only victims of Burma's instability, children are also represented. Here estimates are vague, there being no official statistics, but NGOs cite 20,000 as a generally accepted figure. The economic crisis and instability in Burma is driving hordes of Burmese children into hard labour, begging and the sex trade, claims exiled Burmese rights groups. Paw Ray, the chairperson of the BMWEC, which operates nearly 50 schools for children of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot maintains "there's no security and no protection for migrant workers or their children. Neither the authorities nor employers can give them security."

With many Thais avoiding mundane, dirty and dangerous work in agriculture, fishing and construction, and Myanmar's generals refusing to improve their crippled economy, Thai officials say the influx of cheap, migrant labour will continue.

However, most Thais are unaware of the positive contributions that migrant workers make for Thailand. Estimates of their contributions amount to Bt370 billion, or about 6.2 per cent of Thailand's GDP and the average unskilled migrant earns between 50 and 80% of the average unskilled Thai. Yet it appears as if the Thai political leaders, captains of industry and ordinary citizens - who most benefit directly or indirectly from migrant labour - have conspired to suppress such information. Those who benefit most in the absence of any genuine attempt to regulate the inflow of migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos are unscrupulous Thai employers bent on exploiting labour to maximise profits.

And Thailand continues to treat these people with utter contempt and prejudice. In fact, it appears the more Thailand comes to depend on migrant workers for its economic and social well-being, the worse the Thai people treat them.

Successive governments, including the outgoing Surayud government, have been complicit in the systematic exploitation of migrants, for failure to secure borders, and lax enforcement of laws relating to immigrants and their employers.

Human Rights Watch maintains "If Thailand's labour laws were followed across the board, fewer migrants would resort to illegal crossings or be susceptible to trafficking, and could travel and work with basic rights under law." They continue.

"It's time for the Thai and Burmese governments to implement transparent measures that protect the lives and basic rights of migrant workers."

A decade after Pol Pot's death, some Cambodians ask the spirit of once feared despot for luck

ANLONG VENG, Cambodia (AP) - Ten years after the death of brutal Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, his grave has become a symbol of spiritual comfort to some in the village where he died.

Villagers pray at the site, asking for blessings of luck, happiness and even protection from malaria _ despite the mayhem he wrought upon their country. He died on April 15, 1998, apparently of heart failure.

«I know it is odd, but I just do as many people here do, asking for happiness from his spirit,» said Orn Pheap, a 37-year-old woman who lost a grandfather and two uncles during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror from 1975 to 1979.

«I don't know how long I can stay angry with him, since he is already dead,» she said. Her house sits 100 meters (yards) from the grave.

Officials in Anlong Veng, 305 kilometers (190 miles) north of the capital, Phnom Penh, say only a small minority of the area's 35,000 residents pray at Pol Pot's grave.

For most, Pol Pot is remembered as a murderous tyrant with fanatical communist beliefs. Under his leadership, the Khmer Rouge turned the country into a vast slave labor camp, causing the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, forced labor and execution.

Last week, the grave _ a pile of dirt covered by a knee-high corrugated zinc roof _ was cluttered with clay jars filled with half-burned incense sticks, a sign of prayer and worship.

Cambodians believe in the influence of spirits and superstitious forces on their daily lives and fortunes, which may be why some worship at the grave.

Many may still view their former tormentor as a powerful figure, said Philip Short, author of «Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare,» a biography of the former despot.«Evil or good is not the issue,» Short said in an e-mail interview. «He has imposed himself on Cambodians' imaginations, and in that sense he lives on» in the world of spirits.

Once a jungle war zone, Anlong Veng is now a sprawling border market town bustling with the kind of capitalist activities Pol Pot and his comrades sought to stamp out.

Ramshackle shops are filled with clothing, house wares, pirated DVDs and other goods from nearby Thailand.

Cambodian pop songs blare from a coffee shop near Pol Pot's grave, which has been designated a tourist attraction. It is among the few remnants of Khmer Rouge history, which the government is trying to preserve.

Some Cambodians have traveled to Anlong Veng to spit on Pol Pot's grave and curse him in anger, said 37-year-old Sat Narin, who owns a nearby clothing shop.

«Given his bad reputation, he should not be venerated,» he said. «But somehow he is popular with some people.

Among the worshippers who seek blessings from Pol Pot's ghost are ethnic Vietnamese who live in the community _ a sharp irony given Pol Pot's massacres of ethnic Vietnamese during his rule.

A 33-year-old Vietnamese resident, who goes by her adopted Cambodian name of Van Sothy, recalled a nightmare in which she saw a black-clad man sitting on a tree near her hut.

When she described the vision to her Cambodian neighbors, they advised her to bring offerings of fruit and boiled chicken to Pol Pot's grave to ask his spirit for protection.

«I have prayed at his grave ever since. I just want to show some respect to the spiritual master of the land,» she said.

If Pol Pot were alive, he would likely be facing war crimes charges along with five of his former comrades currently detained by Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal.

The long-delayed trials are expected to start later this year.

Nhem En, who was forced to work as the photographer at the Khmer Rouge's Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh, says he is setting up his own museum in Anlong Veng about the communist group _ not to glorify them but for educational purposes.

He too used to light incense and pray at Pol Pot's grave, he said, but «only for him not to butcher people again in his next life.

15 April 1998, Remembering the ten-year anniversary of the death of Pol Pot

A Khmer Rouge soldier stands near the body of leader Pol Pot in a small hut near the Thai-Cambodia border about a mile from Chong Sangam Pass, Thailand, Thursday, April 16, 1998, in this file photo. Pol Pot died on April 15, 1998, and this marks the ten-year anniversary of the death of Pol Pot, who as the leader of the Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of about 1.7 million of his countrymen.(AP Photo/David Longstreath, FILE)

The body of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot lies on a mattress in a small hut near the Thai-Cambodia border about a mile from Chong Sangam Pass, Thailand, Thursday, April 16, 1998, in this file photo. Pol Pot died on April 15, 1998, and this marks the ten-year anniversary of the death of Pol Pot, who as the leader of the Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of about 1.7 million of his countrymen.(AP Photo/David Longstreath, FILE)

Poem by Sarika :" Chhuong Sopheak Meinkol "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon at

Threats by Telephone and Six AK-47 Assault Rifle Cartridges at the Gate of Radio Free Asia Reporter

Posted on 14 April 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 555

Apologies for the late posting of the Saturday materials. - There are now frequent electricity cuts in Phnom Penh, and this resulted also in the delay in producing the Saturday materials in time. Later I was on international flights and could not finish this work earlier.
Because of the Khmer New Year holidays, we will resume normals production only on 17 April 2008.
But we will still post the weekly editorial, due yesterday, in a couple of hours.

Norbert Klein

“Battambang: At 7 o’clock on the morning of 10 April 2008, Radio Free Asia reporter Mr. Lem Piseth’s eleven-year-old daughter found six AK-47 assault rifle cartridges near the fence while she was sweeping the yard in Group 8, Wat Kor village, Battambang. After getting this information, Mr. Lem Piseth hurried to call and to report to the local police and to inform human rights organizations in Battambang immediately.

“Concerning this event, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights is concerned about Radio Free Asia reporter Mr. Lem Piseth’s safety, after finding the cartridges in front of his house on 10 April, because Mr. Lem Piseth had received threats by telephone twice. As a reporter, Mr. Lem Piseth has reported straightforwardly about corruption in the court system, about land disputes with powerful people, and about deforestation at Prey Lang [Kompong Thom], and he published a magazine with the title Free Newspaper.

“All this information may ruin the benefits of or affect the individuals involved. Already on 18 January and again on 15 February 2008, anonymous people had sent him messages by telephone, telling him to be careful, and they even told him to meet them in a hotel, but he did not go out of concern for his safety.

“The Cambodian Center for Human Rights stated that all threats might be related to his work as a reporter. Therefore, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights calls on the authorities to investigate this affair immediately in order to maintain safety for the reporter.

“Regarding the six the AK-47 cartridges, Sey Keokanitha, 11, Mr. Lem Piseth’s daughter, told the local police and district police that she found the six AK-47 cartridges at 7 o’clock in the morning of 10 April 2008, while she was sweeping the yard. As she swept at the gate, she found five AK-47 cartridges very well placed behind the gate, and another cartridge placed in front of the gate. Immediately after she had found the cartridges, she called a boy next door to come and see them. As he recognized that the items were cartridges, the boy told her to inform her father Lem Piseth who was watching television in the room.

“Mr. Lem Piseth said on the morning of 10 April 2008 that while he was watching a Cambodian Television Network channel, his daughter entered the room and told him that these cartridges were placed near the gate. So he went to the gate and saw five cartridges placed behind the gate and another cartridge placed in front of the gate, and then he reported this to the district police, so that they should come to check and make a report.

“The district police and the Wat Kor commune police confirmed that Mr. Lem Piseth, who had just come to live in Wat Kor village about three months ago, has never had any arguments with his neighbors. As for placing the six AK-47 cartridges and the threats by telephone, they considered them personal rancor and not political.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4565, 12-17.4.2008

Kelley: Dith Pran showed how to make world better

By Beverly Kelley
Monday, April 14, 2008

In the trailer for Roland Joffe's 1984 Academy Award-winning "The Killing Fields," Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), a New York Times reporter whose coverage of the Cambodian war would earn him a Pulitzer Prize, says: "It was there in the war-torn countryside amidst the fighting between government troops and the Khmer Rouge guerillas that I met my guide and interpreter Dith Pran — a man who was to change my life in a country that I grew to love and pity."

Dith Pran also changed my life when he visited my radio show March 13, 1995. He referred to himself only as a messenger but, oh, did he ever bring a powerful message.

Dith was, in his own words, "a one-person crusade who must speak for those who did not survive and for those who still suffer." Dith, who coined the term "killing fields" to describe the countless corpses he encountered on a daily basis, would continue to advocate for victims of the Cambodian holocaust until his own death from pancreatic cancer two weeks ago at a New Brunswick, N.J., hospital. He was only 65.

The Cambodians themselves certainly didn't expect the genocide instigated by a Paris-educated Communist named Saloth Sar, who went by the nom de guerre "Pol Pot." The subsequent bloodbath would claim the lives of nearly 2 million civilians (28 percent of the population) in a frenzy of anti-intellectual, anti-Western cleansing.

The Khmer Rouge attempted an overnight step-back-in-time as they carved Cambodia into farming cooperatives and demanded total devotion to the state. To dissent was to die.

Dith, a product of a middle-class family, grew up near the ruins of the ancient temple called Angkor Wat, where he picked up English from tourists — a talent that would equip him to serve as a guide and interpreter to Schanberg in 1972.

Three years later, two weeks before the fall of Saigon, Schanberg and Dith (after Dith's family was safely evacuated) decided to stay and report as the Khmer Rouge stormed the capital of Phnom Penh.

Only a few days would pass before Schanberg and two other journalists would be arrested. Dith managed to convince the authorities that the reporters were French and they ended up at the French Embassy. Since Dith held a Cambodian passport, he ended up in a forced labor camp.

To survive, as Dith told me in 1995, he reinvented himself as an illiterate taxi-driver who remained under the Khmer Rouge radar by keeping his mouth shut and praying without ceasing. Dith labored 14 hours a day in the fields. To supplement the inadequate meals supplied by his captors, Dith opted to add insects and vegetation, no matter how unappetizing, to his diet. Many of his fellow prisoners and 50 of his relatives would not fare as well.

Dith may have been small in stature but a winsome smile that seemed to transform his entire face and a generous spirit made him appear larger than life. Years of torture had already taken a toll on his body — lining his face, slumping his shoulders and halting his speech. He mentioned, only in passing, the post-traumatic stress disorder that plagued him for two decades.

Yet, it was his eyes that seemed to mesmerize me — they were deep brown pools, dazzling with hope. In fact, his whole demeanor sparkled with the credibility that seems to cloak a speaker of pure, unadulterated truth.

In addition, I was most impressed by his total lack of resentment or rancor at being abandoned by his closest friend. When Schanberg and Dith were finally reunited in a refugee camp nearly five years later, Schanberg asked with some hesitation, "You forgive me?" Dith, his face wreathed in his usual ear-to-ear grin, quickly responded, "Nothing to forgive, Sydney. Nothing."

Back in 1995, as a member of the Cambodia Documentation Commission, Dith continued to seek out and preserve evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities in preparation for the time when the perpetrators could be brought to justice before an international tribunal.

Not only did Dith serve as an eloquent spokesman for the victims of the Cambodian slaughter, but he also sought out funding to dismantle the approximately 10 million land mines that lay buried in the soil of his homeland.

"Like one of my heroes, Elie Wiesel, who alerts the world to the horrors of the Jewish holocaust," Dith told me 13 years ago, "I try to awaken the world to the holocaust of Cambodia, for all tragedies have universal implications."

No quotation seems more appropriate to end this piece than Wiesel's own words on the subject: "The killer killed his victims once, and there is nothing on Earth we can do about it. But if they are forgotten, they will be killed a second time, and this we can and must prevent."

Aren't those words that could change your life?

— Beverly Kelley, Ph.D., who writes every other Monday for The Star, is an author ("Reelpolitik" and "Reelpolitik II") and professor in the Communication Department at California
Lutheran University. Visit Her e-mail address is

The romance of Indo-China

Monday, 14 April 2008

Junk the usual summer international destinations like London and Paris and try a different kind of holiday. Fly to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, also known together as Indo-China

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are worth a visit this summer.

Junk the usual summer international destinations like London and Paris and try a different kind of holiday. Check out parts of Asia so far inaccessible for many. Fly to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, also known together as Indo-China. There are still no direct flights to get to these countries from India but there are flights that take you there via either Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand . Once you reach, you are transported to a completely different world. Before this old world and natural beauty is lost, plan a trip fast.

After decades of war, Vietnam is finally rebuilding itself and attracting tourists in a big way. The two major cities in the country — capital Hanoi and modern Ho Chi Minh City are a major contrast and a must visit for any tourist.

Throughout the thousand years of its eventful history, marked by destruction, wars and natural calamities, Hanoi still preserves many ancient architectural works including the Old Quarter and over 600 pagodas and temples, which are quite a sight to behold. Hanoi also has 18 beautiful lakes such as Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake, and Truc Bach Lake, which are the lungs of the city.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon in the Mekong Delta, on the other hand, is one of the most important cities in Vietnam after Hanoi, being its commercial centre. Ho Chi Minh Museum, formerly known as Dragon House Wharf, Cu Chi Tunnels, museums, theatres, cultural houses are some of the places to visit. And if you like architecture, don’t miss the city’s beautiful buildings.

The two main cities to visit in Cambodia are its capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Phnom Penh is located at the confluence of three rivers — the Mekong, the Bassac and Tonle Sap. The most attractive part of Cambodia are undoubtedly its unending list of temples. The temples at Angkor Wat, about six kilometres from Siem Reap, south of Angkor Thom, are the most famous.

The oldest and loveliest of Laos city’s, Luang Prabang, was founded between the sixth and the seventh centuries and is renowned for its serenity. Much of the town and its pagodas are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When in the city, don’t miss Wat Xieng Thong, a temple built in 1560 and which was used for royal ceremonies.

The other city, Vientiane was partially rebuilt during the colonial period, with French-style buildings and is small, and picturesque. It contains some pagodas, museums, wide boulevards and attractions like Patuxai and Vientiane’s Arc de Triumphed.

Source: Business Standard

Workshop on poverty-environment relationship

Kuensel Online
14 April, 2008

14 April, 2008 - Although Bhutan is still clean and intact, a growing population and the increasing development activities are putting the pressure on the fragile Himalayan environment. The majority of Bhutanese live in rural areas and rely on natural resources to earn income in sectors such as agriculture, fishing, and forestry. Natural resources also provide food and shelter for the poor.

Therefore, environment conditions account for a significant portion of health risks to poor people, who are more vulnerable to natural disasters, effects of climate change, and environment shocks that damage livelihood and undermine food security. Improving environmental management reduces vulnerability.

Representatives from different countries in the region met in Thimphu for a three-day workshop, that began on April 9, to discuss the link between poverty and environment and integrating environment management in poverty reduction and growth strategies. The workshop was jointly organized by the United Nations development programme and the United Nations environment programme.

A consultant from UNDP and UNEP, Prabu Buddha Thoki, said that they chose Bhutan for this workshop, because of its rich environment and environment-related policies and strategies. He said that the participants from other nations could learn from Bhutan and apply the knowledge to their own policies and strategies.

Pulakeshr Mondal, a representative from the ministry of environment, Bangladesh, said that the main problem in his country was flooding, water pollution and solid waste management.

“The government has stopped two-stroke engine vehicles and introduced compact natural gases (CNG) to reduce pollution and has involved marginal people to work at reducing solid waste,” he said.

Bounsamack Sayyaseng, the deputy director general, ministry of planning and investment, Lao PDR, said that major poverty-environment problems faced by Lao PDR include deforestation and degradation of agricultural land and biodiversity.

He said that the poor had inadequate understanding about poverty-environment linkage issues. The government had set up the national environment committee under the Prime Minister’s office, which coordinates, guides and monitors the government’s responses to emerging poverty-environment issues. The government had been successful in fashioning solutions for local populations to cope with the environment impacts of mega projects, like the Nam Teun 2 Dam project.

The director general for planning ministry in Cambodia, Tuon Thavrak, said that deforestation was a major problem for sustainable development in Cambodia. “This causes destruction of primitive forests, wetland habitat, fisheries and wildlife, leading to changes in the ecological system,” he said. “Most rural poor living in these areas rely on those resources for their daily living.”

Based on country experiences, it was concluded that there is a need for an enhanced understanding of the linkage between environment and poverty. It was further concluded that a cross-ministerial approach was necessary to ensure effective environment-poverty mainstreaming, and that the mainstreaming should be a result of joint efforts by the ministries of planning, finance and environment.

The participants recognized that the joint UNDP-UNEP poverty-environment initiative could have a catalytic role and be instrumental in developing partnerships between donor agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations to institutionalize poverty-environment mainstreaming at both national and regional levels.

A major outcome of the workshop was the development of a country-wise outline of priorities of planning, financial and environmental agencies; immediate capacity gaps, and areas of possible UN support for poverty-environment mainstreaming.

By Tandin Wangchuk

Former U.N. ambassador speaks at CSULB

Sichan Siv, who survived a rebellion in Cambodia, was awarded by President Alexander for the establishment of Cambodian communities.

Joanne Tucker
Daily 49er
Issue date: 4/14/08

Former U.S. Ambassador for the United Nations Sichan Siv spoke on Wednesday at Cal State Long Beach on his upcoming book "Golden Bones" that describes his survival of the communist Khmer Rouge rebel occupation of Cambodia.

Karen Quintiliani, assistant professor for the department of anthropology, commended Siv as "putting Long Beach on the map in a whole new way." She noted that he helped establish Cambodia Town in Long Beach, which is home to the largest Cambodian community outside Southeast Asia.

CSULB President F. King Alexander also presented a gift to Siv for his encouragement and hope for the Cambodian communities.

Siv described his book, which will be released July 1, as a memoir and history of the Khmer Rouge occupation.

"By the early '70s I began to see so much death and destruction," Siv said. "I saw a lot of markets where civilian lives were lost."

Siv was offered a flight out of the country by the American Embassy on April 12, 1975. He missed the opportunity but remained at the embassy with his mother, brother, sister and their families.

After only five days, all of them were kicked out and they ended up in a forced labor camp.

"I knew my background put everyone, my family, in danger," Siv said, who had worked for an American organization, CARE.

"My mother gave me her blessing," Siv said. He left his family to journey through Cambodia on a bicycle for three weeks before being captured by the Khmer Rouge.

In order to avoid persecution and death because of his education and background, he convinced the Khmer Rouge that he was a former truck driver.

Siv is the only survivor out of the 16 family members.

"Whenever I went to bed I never knew if I would be alive the next day," Siv said, adding his goal was to eventually travel to Thailand for refuge.

On Feb. 13, 1976, Siv found a chance to escape. For three days he traveled through the jungles of Cambodia without food and drink avoiding patrols of the Khmer Rouge. After finally reaching Thailand, he was jailed for illegal entry and put into a refugee camp.

Bac Lieu builds houses for poor Khmer ethnic households

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bac Lieu, Apr 13, 2008 (Asia Pulse Data Source via COMTEX) -- -- ? The southernmost province of Bac Lieu has built over 4,500 houses for poor Khmer households over the past three years under the Government?s programme 134 to support poor people.

Mass organisations and socio-economic establishments in the province also built an additional 1,700 houses for Khmer people, helping improve their living conditions.

During the annual Khmer New Year Festival, Chol Chnam Thmay, which falls on April 13-15, local officials has been paying visits and presented gifts to Khmer pagodas and people.

Bac Lieu province is home to over 65,000 Khmer people. They live mainly in Bac Lieu town, and Hoa Binh, Vinh Loi and Hong Dan districts.

MobilityOne signs deals in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia


London (ANTARA News/Thomson Financial) - Digital payment services provider MobilityOne Ltd. announced three deals in Asia as it continues its expansion in the region.

The company said it has secured its first contract in Cambodia through a deal with Telekom Malaysia International, expanded into Indonesia with a deal with Finnet, and has been appointed as a third-party acquirer for a payment scheme run by Malaysian Electronic Payment System.

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

He needs the money, but not this badly

Pretoria News & Independent Online
14 April 2008

Geneva - A doctor running hospitals in Cambodia said on Sunday he had refused a donation raised by selling a picture of France's first lady in the nude, because Cambodians disapproved of exploiting female flesh for money.

Swiss paediatrician Beat Richner, head of a children's medical care group, said he had turned down an offer of $91 000 (about R707 000) raised at a New York auction last week of the 1993 picture of Italian ex-model Carla Bruni, now married to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"My decision was taken out of respect for our patients and their mothers," he said in an interview with the weekly Le Matin Dimanche.

"Accepting money obtained from exploitation of the female body would be perceived as an insult.

"In Cambodia "use of nudity is not understood in the way it is in the West".

He did not wish his institution, the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital Association, "to be involved in the media exploitation of Madame Bruni."

"The idea behind this gift was to get publicity for the auction and the photographer," Richner was also quoted as saying. "It was a way of using us.

"Michel Comte, the Swiss photographer who took the full-frontal picture of Bruni posing naked, was quoted in the Swiss press last month as saying he had thousands more images of her, including some much more explicit.

Several British newspapers published the shot of the first lady as she and Sarkozy visited Britain last month.

Comte had persuaded the seller, German collector Gert Elfering, to offer the money through the sale to a humanitarian cause, said Le Matin Dimanche.

The money will now instead be donated to a Swiss research institute.

- Sapa-AFP

Woman claims she was defamed, held against will

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sopharie Leang was born into a royal family in Cambodia, and her husband Song was an ambassador to Austria before the Khmer Rouge regime ravaged their families in the 1970s.

But she is traumatized by a more recent event, according to her lawyer.

A former teacher at School 11 in Jersey City, Leang is in a legal battle with school officials, saying she was harassed, slandered and held against her will in a bizarre incident six years ago.

Leang was counting books along with students and aides in her classroom on June 24, 2002 - her last day of a year of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at the Bergen Avenue school - when she was approached by a fellow ESL teacher, Vladimir Ashworth.

Leang alleged in a 2003 lawsuit that Ashworth, who she said sexually harassed her throughout the year, then fabricated a threat by Leang.

When she commented that, because of work on her doctorate degree, she was under stress that "could have killed some people," Ashworth asked whether Leang wanted to kill everyone in the room, according to the lawsuit.

After Ashworth reported the supposed threat, Principal Angela Bruno held Leang in a nurse's office for several hours against her will, Leang claimed.

"Why not just send her home?" her Jersey City attorney, Daniel Sexton, said in a phone interview. "She wants to clear her name."

Leang, who claimed she was also roughed up by police in the incident, was then taken to Christ Hospital for psychiatric evaluation and released later that night.

Claiming false imprisonment, defamation and wrongful termination, she sought punitive damages from Ashworth, Bruno and the Jersey City Board of Education, as well as from the Jersey City Police Department and Jersey City Medical Center, whose employees removed her from the school.

Although Superior Court Judge Frances Antonin threw out the lawsuit in 2005, a state appeals court slammed the dismissal in a ruling April 2, saying that Antonin did not justify her decision and should be removed from the case. The appeals court said portions of the lawsuit should go forward.

Leang has settled her claims against the JCPD.

In addition, the appeals court dismissed a sexual harassment claim against Ashworth, who had defended himself by saying he is gay.

A spokesman for the Board of Education, Gerard Crisonino, said that Ashworth resigned in 2005 and Bruno retired last year. He said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Sexton said the remaining claims could go to trial in May or June.

Australia to give Cambodia fresh aid

Radio Australia

Australia has committed $A3.5 million dollars to Cambodia to help the kingdom reduce its high maternal mortality rate and improve reproductive and child health.

The Cambodian Health Ministry says that despite an increase in its budget, maternal mortality still remains the highest in the region.

The donation will go to the United Nations Population Fund, which says it will use the money to improve decentralised health service delivery services, and to implement a comprehensive assessment of neonatal care for 2008 -2009.

The UNFPA says just 44 percent of Cambodian mothers deliver their children with the help of a trained health professional.

Midwives are in short supply and distance and lack of money also mean many women go without pregnancy and childbirth services.

Cement company to set up Cambodian joint venture

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Ministry of Planning and Investment has issued an investment license to Can Tho Cement Company to establish a joint venture to mine laterite ore in Cambodia.

Can Tho Cement and Cambodian company Omsaura will form a joint venture with a total capital of US$900,000.

Can Tho Cement will contribute $459,000.

The planned joint venture will start construction next month and begin exploiting laterite, a high-iron clay, two months later.

The project, to expire in 49 years, will have an estimated output of 50,000 tons of ore per month.

It marks the first mineral exploitation cooperation project between the Mekong Delta’s Can Tho City and Cambodia.

Source: VNA

Conservation efforts helping endangered Cambodian bird recover

STOUNG, Cambodia (AP) - Conservationists in Cambodia think they may be turning the corner in their fight to save one of the world's rarest birds.

Since 2005, a rush to turn grasslands into large-scale rice farms has gobbled up one-third of the Bengal Florican's habitat in Cambodia, threatening the critically endangered bird with extinction.

Now, a land protection plan devised by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, along with British-based BirdLife International and Cambodian authorities, appears to be slowing this controversial real estate grab.

Most of the world's Bengal Floricans, believed to number less than 1,000, live in scattered pockets on the fringes of Cambodia's Great Lake. The rest are in India, Nepal and Vietnam.

The Cambodian program to protect Florican habitat bans development in five zones totaling 135 square miles (350 square kilometers).

Villages and farms within the zones can remain, preserving traditional ways of life. Police patrol by motorbike during the dry season and by boat when floods come.

Since the program was adopted, three planned developments have been canceled and another put on hold, says Tom Evans, a Wildlife Conservation Society technical adviser in Cambodia.

«Some prospective developers have been deterred at an earlier stage when they learned that the areas had a special designation,» he added.

More such zones, dubbed Integrated Farming and Biodiversity Areas, are planned. In mid-March, the height of the dry season, the grasslands near Great Lake are at their bleakest. They stretch to the horizon, brown and flat under the blazing sun, with barely a tree to break the monotony. Smoke curls into the air where farmers burn off scrub to rejuvenate pasture for their cattle. Ox carts trundle down deeply rutted tracks. An occasional motor vehicle kicks up clouds of dust.

But for the patient and the sharp-eyed, this landscape offers a sight to behold: the courtship display of the male Bengal Florican.

The bird, a black-and-white bustard that looks like a small ostrich, struts into a clearing, stretches its long neck and ruffles up its feathers. Then, it flits into the air before fluttering back to the ground in an undulating pattern, like a parachutist caught in a crosswind.

As it descends, it emits a deep humming sound that has earned it its Cambodian name, «the whispering bird.» The displays are usually carried out within sight of other males, in what amounts to an open dance competition to attract a mate.

«They're really unique,» says Lotty Packman, a 24-year-old researcher from the University of East Anglia in England. «They're very striking and very charismatic.

Packman was spending long days in the heat, netting Floricans and attaching tracking devices to learn more about them, especially the elusive female of which very little is known.

«You can't conserve it if you don't know its natural history,» Packman said after tagging and releasing a male with a solar-powered transmitter that will send back data every two days. «It's a race against time.

The species was rediscovered in Cambodia in 1999. Until then, the country's decades-long civil war had made detailed exploration of the countryside too dangerous.

But peace has proved to be a far greater threat.

Businessmen have snapped up thousands of acres (hectares) of land in often murky deals and built more than 100 strip dams, which turn the grassland into emerald-green rice paddies that can produce rice during the dry season.

Conservationists have worked hard to win the villagers' support, but despite the restrictions on development, a new plantation has been laid out in one zone and preparations have been made for another. Signs marking the protected areas have been knocked down _ it's not clear by whom.

Khmer New Year

The 16-strong troupe from the Cambodian Light Children's Association

One of the performers who collected money in a pouch on a long stick

The performers entering the Hanuman premises

One of the demons dressed in mask and blue costume

Courtesy of Andy's Cambodia:

The arrival of Khmer New Year has brought bad karma for some residents of Phnom Penh when a fire swept through the Russei Keo district of the capital and destroyed around 450 shanty homes in Boeng Chhouk village yesterday. The fire engines were again in action early this morning when another large fire took hold of a building at the Naga Casino complex near the riverside. I didn't go and see but I could hear the constant drone of the fire engine claxons and I could see the smoke billowing into the sky from a couple of kilometres away. Khmer friends told me, "its that time of year."

On a more positive note, Khmer New Year is enshrouded in ceremony and celebration. Over the last few nights the music and laughter has been ringing out til late at night in the streets surrounding my house with traditional games such as Angkunh, Leak Kanseng, Chhoung and Dandoeum Sloek Chhoeu being played by groups of boys and girls, who've also formed dance circles until midnight. At the Hanuman office today we enjoyed another special New Year's ceremony called Robam Trot, which originates from Stung Treng and involved youngsters from the Cambodian Light Children's Association orphanage. Dressed up in traditional costumes, they symbolized chasing away any bad spirits and bringing prosperity by re-creating the hunting of a deer.

What is Neak Ta?

A distinctive ancestral Neak Ta shrine at Wat Raksmei Chei Mongkol at Taing Krasaing

Courtesy of Andy's Cambodia:

In an effort to find an answer to the question, what is Neak Ta, by far the best source is Khmer scholar Ang Choulean who summed it up with this view; 'The Neak Ta is the most omnipresent figure of the divinities which populate the supernatural world of the Cambodian countryside...the Neak Ta is not just a kind of simple spirit but rather a phenomenon or energy force relating to a specific group such as a village community.'

Neak Ta shrines or huts contain small collections of natural or man-made objects - which can include old stones, termite hills, linga, wooden carvings, human-like figures - and these objects represent land (soil, nature) and spirit (mythic ancestor, being) elements. The size and type of objects found in these shrines varies greatly according to the village or pagoda, where these huts are often found, as in the example above.

The concept of Neak Ta is uniquely Cambodian as far as I'm aware and has its roots in the animist beliefs of the scared soil and sacred spirits that surround us. The energy force that Ang Choulean speaks of, unites the community with its earth and water and symbolizes the link between the people and the fertility of their land and their ancestors before them. Neak Ta is believed to belong to an 'outside realm' as it does not fall within the Buddhist precepts, though the two live side by side and the wat Neak Ta receives offerings from the pagoda faithful and is said to not tolerate unsuitable conduct within the grounds, such as urinating or speaking offensive words. You can often find a wat Neak Ta in the northeast corner of the grounds of a pagoda. Take time to look out for a Neak Ta shrine next time you are in a village or a pagoda and see what is represented inside as there's a wonderful variety that can spring a surprise or two.

Buddhism in stone

This face of Buddha is not quite the finished article at the village of Kakoh

Chisels and stone polishers were much in evidence on this pair of seated Buddhas at Kakoh

This enormous, unfinished Buddha dwarfed the nearby house

Be careful not to make a mistake - it could be costly!

The mason's wear face masks because of the dust and chips from the stone-working

Courtesy of Andy's Cambodia:

The village of Kakoh is primarily known as the access point to visit Phnom Santuk - a mountain about fifteen kilometres outside Kompong Thom city and famed for its gorgeous views, its collection of Buddha statues and its exhausting 980 steps to the top. However, the village is also home to a series of stonemason houses where at any time of the day, you can pause and see how the experts carve those beautiful statues from a rough block of stone, chip away with their chisels and then polish the stone to give it a lovely smooth finish. Some of the carvings are enormous and a couple dwarfed the nearby houses when I stopped to take a look last week. Sokhom told me that the best quality stone comes from Preah Vihear province these days. Its certainly worth a look next time you are on Route 6.

Poitiktoons : " The Seeds of Compassion "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon at

Sacravatoons : " The Year of the Rat,2008 "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon at

Qantas launches Jetstar in Vietnam

By: John Winters

Qantas Airways Limited (QAN) low-cost offshoot Jetstar has entered into a major strategic and commercial partnership with Vietnam’s Pacific Airlines. Qantas said Vietnam’s second largest carrier would transform to become Vietnam’s first low cost airline and will be renamed Jetstar Pacific.

Jetstar CEO Alan Joyce said the agreement placed the Vietnamese carrier in a strong position to leverage the successful Jetstar brand and business model.

“We have repositioned the airline as Vietnam’s first low cost carrier to enable its future sustainable expansion within Vietnam and into many international markets,” Mr Joyce said.

The agreement includes the renaming of Pacific Airlines, operating future flights within Vietnam and across Asia under the Jetstar brand, providing low fares and a standardized customer experience.

Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon said in joining Jetstar, the Vietnamese carrier would help form one of the largest and fastest growing airline brands in the region.

Qantas confirmed that the deal would see the placement of Qantas and Jetstar executives in key management roles within Jetstar Pacific.

The Aussie carrier will also be called upon to provide a range of aviation services to the new venture.

“Jetstar Pacific will be able to access and leverage the significant expertise and resources within the Qantas Group that will help enable its planned future growth,” Mr Dixon said.

Qantas said that the first A320 is proposed to enter Jetstar Pacific’s operations in August 2008.

The company intends to initially grow services within Vietnam, before undertaking future international expansion from late this year into markets likely to include Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia.

Cambodian charity refuses Bruni photo profits

Radio Australia

A doctor in charge of a children's medical care group in Cambodia has turned down a donation of $US91,000 because the money was raised from the sale of a nude photo of the French president's wife, Carla Bruni.

Swiss pediatrician Beat Richner, head of the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital Association, says he refused the money raised at the New York auction last week because Cambodians "disapprove of exploiting female flesh for money".

The photograph of Italian ex-model Carla Bruni was taken in 1993. She married French President Nicolas Sarkozy in February this year.

Dr Richner told French publication Le Matin Dimanche that his decision was made out of respect for his patients and their mothers, and said accepting the money would have been perceived as an insult.

He also criticised the photographer for using his hospitals to gain publicity.

The money will now instead be donated to a Swiss research institute developing the recycling of used water into fresh drinking water in poor countries.

Southern Gold predicts major discovery in Cambodia

Southern Gold operations

14 Apr 2008
Australia Mining

Asian equity market and resources investors have been told Adelaide-based explorer Southern Gold Ltd is on the verge of making a “major” gold discovery in Cambodia.

Addressing the peak Asia Mining Congress in Singapore, Southern Gold’s Managing Director, Mr Stephen Biggins, said recent investments in the Company’s Cambodian campaigns had enabled it to “significantly” step up exploration activities at three of its eight gold projects in the country’s northeast.

“We have now cemented our early mover advantage in Cambodia, and are on the verge of making a major gold discovery,” Mr Biggins told the mining and investment Congress.

Southern Gold is the sole or majority owner of eight Cambodian tenements, covering a total of 1,800 km2 in the highly prospective northeast region, where artisanal mining has long pointed to extensive high-grade gold and base metals mineralisation.

Exploration licences have been granted for three of Southern Gold’s wholly-owned tenements, with applications pending on a further four.

The Company’s first drilling at its Snoul concession, completed in December last year, intersected gold in three holes. Detailed geochemistry and geological programs are currently being undertaken.

“All eight tenements suggest the potential for high-grade gold finds, with widespread mineralised intrusive bodies and highly anomalous regional soils,” Mr Biggins said in Singapore.

“In some places, there is undrilled gold mineralisation literally protruding out of the ground and this continues to add to our confidence of an imminent large discovery.”

Last month, the Company’s exploration program received a fillip when the Japanese Government-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) agreed to invest US$4.5 million over three years in exploration at the Australian explorer’s Phnum Khtong, Preak Khlong and O’Kthung tenements.

Through the agreement, JOGMEC joined a list of major Southern Gold shareholders that includes Chinese resource investor, CITIC and Australia’s Macquarie Bank.

“The Joint Venture with JOGMEC has enabled us to significantly bring forward our exploration schedules – and potential discoveries – in Cambodia, which we regard as one of the world’s great mining frontiers,” said Mr Biggins.

“As well as enabling us to commit to much larger surveying and drilling budgets, these investments also provide substantial potential for us to acquire additional projects.”

The global food crisis and the Indian situation

Navhind Times
Monday, April 14, 2008

by D M Deshpande

Serious food shortage and galloping inflation are haunting the global economy. And as happens always under such conditions, the poor countries are the worst hit and the developing nations are not far behind. There are already reports of long queues and rioting in Bangladesh in the quest for food. The problem could easily spread to other poor nations.

Just how serious the food shortage problem is could be gauged from these facts. Global rice stocks have dwindled from 130 million tons to 72 million tons. India, China, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia have imposed export bans. Thailand is the world̢۪s largest rice exporter (1.2million tons) though it produces no more than 23 million tons of rice annually. Just as in India, the government there also, has stepped in to punish hoarders; action has been initiated against super markets trying to put restrictions on retail trade so that they can export more at higher prices. Since January, the price of rice in Thailand has gone up from $400 to $760 a ton and there are a lot of people who believe that it would touch the $1,000 mark soon. Globalisation, always under attack, is once again on trial and this time it appears to be a really testing time.

In comparison, the domestic rate of inflation of food items has been much slower. Whereas between January to March global WPI in respect of rice moved up by 55.4 per cent, in India the rise was just 7 per cent; in case of wheat, world prices went up by a massive 117 per cent, whereas the rate of increase in India was less than 1 per cent according to FAO and GOI sources. Edible oil prices have gone through the roof internationally, with sunflower oil rising by a whopping 160 per cent and other oils increasing with in the band of 60 to 80 per cent. However, the rise in oil prices in India has been less than 20 per cent.

This is not to suggest that the food price rise has not hurt Indians or the Indian economy. In fact, with one of the largest numbers of poor inhabiting the country, there is certainly a lot of pain and discomfort. It is widely believed that the inflation rate of over 7.5 per cent is grossly understated. In any case, in current market conditions the difference between consumer price index and the WPI (which is used to measure inflation index) is more than 2 per cent.

Amongst the causes for current shortage is the sheer neglect of agriculture for a very long period of time. Indian food grain prices are on an average much lower than the international prices.
Growers get only a small percentage of the final price paid by the consumers. They have never thought of exports to get better price realizations; and how could they do, in the absence of vital infrastructure of roads, godowns and regulated markets.

Rising population is putting pressure on food prices globally; drought in China and Australia has aggravated the problem. As incomes are rising in Asia - especially in India and China, there is a growing demand for food. There are also reports of large-scale transfer of land to animal husbandry. In the US high crude oil prices have encouraged diversion of land to grow more bio-fuel instead of food for humans. A classic case of car eating food! Change in food and dietary habits are also compounding the problem. About a 100 million rural migrants in China have switched over to rice from wheat as their incomes have swelled. Perhaps the reverse may be happening in India but is not balancing out the global trend.

The causes of food crisis are fairly well known; but the solutions are not straightforward. Panic and knee jerk reactions will not help; in fact, they do more harm than good. For example, price controls that more and more countries are resorting to, will not work. In the short run it will not give results and in medium to long run, such controls send wrong signals and distort allocation of resources.

There is huge scope for improving productivity across the board. Within the State, there are wide variations in acreage that need to be plugged. According to one estimate, productivity gains can give additional annual production of nearly 32 tons of wheat, which is nearly a 40 per cent rise in output. Similar efficiency gains are possible in respect of rice and other agricultural products. Targeted subsides and beefing up public distribution system to reach out to the vulnerable sections are effective measures to tackle the shortages.

Thailand must ratify the international criminal court now

Thailand must ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) without delay.

Published on April 14, 2008

All the past unsound arguments surrounding the monarchy related to the ICC have been proven false. Countries with similar institutions have ratified the ICC including Britain (2001), Japan (2007) and Cambodia (2002). Their consciences were clear and they realised that their monarchies would never engage in crimes against humanity, or issue a command for others to do so. It is that simple.

In 2000, former prime minister Chuan Leekpai acceded to the ICC. At that time, Thailand was an ideal nation, wanting to join the world's liberal community. Bangkok aspired to promote international peace and stability and adhered to UN norms and standards. Right after the Chuan government took power in 1997, Bangkok signed the landmark anti-landmine treaty in Ottawa.

Eight years have elapsed without any progress. Subsequent governments have pledged to ratify Thailand's accession to the ICC, but so far none has. Speculation is rife as to why they continue to drag their feet. The most quoted reasons relate to the government in power and questions surrounding the status of the royal institution.

The Foreign Ministry has said time and again that Thailand is ready to ratify the ICC, but unfortunately the current government is reticent to go ahead. The same attitude prevailed when the Thaksin government was in power and promised to ratify the ICC, including the UN Convention Against Torture. Even though the government spun the news with heavy publicity in 2005, it failed to carry through.

At the time the government feared that ratifying the ICC could lead to the indictments of senior Thai officials including Thaksin for human-rights violation in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, as well as the anti-drugs campaign. Under the provisions of the Rome Statute, the ICC has no authority to try previous crimes, especially those committed before July 2002.

Ironically, the coup-appointed government of General Surayud Chulanont had enough courage to ratify the convention outlawing all forms of torture inside Thailand. This augured well with his efforts to reform the Royal Thai Police, which continue to hold the country's worst record of human-rights violations. Unfortunately, the argument against ratifying the ICC still prevailed strongly within the Surayud government.

In years to come, domestic human-rights violations are likely to increase given the audacity of the government's pronouncements on policies related to the three southern provinces and its anti-drug campaign - both reruns of Thaksin-era policies. Ratifying the ICC now would counter such an inclination.

Thailand has developed more of a phobia concerning ratifying international treaties than we would like to admit. The country's judicial experience in 1962 at the World Court in the Hague over the fate of the Preah Vihear Temple, a ruling which favoured Cambodia, still haunts officials dealing with treaties and protocols.

On the ICC, concerned officials would like to maintain the status quo regardless of changes in global governance and thinking. For instance, successive Thai governments over five decades have stubbornly refused to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention because of the unfounded fear that it would encourage an influx of refugees from neighbouring countries. The Interior Ministry and security agencies continue to use this outdated argument without doing any soul-searching.

With its geographical location and level of economic development, an influx of migrant workers and refugees from conflicts elsewhere into Thailand is to be expected. Signing the Refugee Convention would help Thailand deal with the issue professionally and in a transparent manner - something which Thailand has refused to do.

Just take a close look at the porous Thai border and the pathetic way the government has handled the Hmong, Karen and other ethnic groups. It has seriously undermined the country's reputation and brought both humiliation and condemnation from the international community. This week the fate of Hmong refugees continues to be headlined news internationally.

Ratifying the refugee convention would provide Thailand with an international instrument with which it could reposition itself over such a vexing issue. At the moment, every measure or policy is subject to an ad-hoc arrangement or oversight by persons who have very narrow views of the world and do not appreciate the country's value as the host over 3 million refugees in the past.

In the case of ICC, Bangkok would be able to strengthen the international justice system, including the rejection of violence and show Thailand's respect for fundamental human rights, which are guaranteed by the Thai Constitution. Apart from the argument surrounding the monarchy, Thailand has yet to come clean on its own criminal justice system. Our national courts still lack standards and creditability.

To overcome the labyrinth of amendments to domestic laws that would be required for ICC ratification, a new legislature, focused exclusively on the ICC, should be enacted. This would enable Thailand to move on the fast track to join other countries that have ratified the ICC.

Kavi Chongkittavorn

The Nation

Laos faces thorny land issues in Asia's orchard

A Cambodian farmer works on her land near Mekong river bank in Kandal province, outskirts of Phnom Penh April 8, 2008.Photograph by : REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Darren Schuettler,
ReutersPublished: Thursday, April 10, 2008

VIENTIANE - After decades of isolation, Communist-led Laos is enjoying an economic boom fuelled in part by surging demand for its abundant commodity -- land.

From China to Japan and South Korea to Thailand, agri-business firms are flocking to the landlocked Southeast Asian nation to grow everything from rubber and pulp trees to organic vegetables and "green" crops for alternative fuels.

"Laos will be ASEAN's orchard in a couple of years," Thai embassy commercial officer Chalaempon Pongchabubnapa said of the 10-nation Southeast Asia grouping of which Laos is a member.

One of the poorest countries in Asia, with many of its citizens living on around $1 per day, Laos has gradually opened its tiny economy to foreign investment since the Pathet Lao Communists adopted market reforms in the mid-1980s.

In its 2008 outlook, the Asian Development Bank forecast nearly 8 percent growth led by mining and hydropower, but "an expansion of agriculture remains the key to raising incomes and employment".

However, the rapid investment in agriculture so far -- 39 projects worth $458 million were approved in 2006 compared to six valued at $14 million in 2002, according to the Ministry for Planning and Investment -- has not gone smoothly.

The system for granting concessions "is a mess", said a foreign advisor to the central government, which imposed a halt on new land grants last May that provinces have largely ignored.

Land conflicts are rising as plantations encroach on village fields and nearby forests, taking away traditional livelihoods with little or no compensation, activists say.

"Laos has one of the lowest population densities of any Southeast Asian nation by far," retired professor and Laos expert Martin Stuart-Fox said of its 5.8 million people living in an area half the size of France.

"There is land available and the government can very easily take it off the people and sign deals for plantation agriculture," he told Reuters.

SCRAMBLE FOR LANDWith commodity prices soaring and land scarce at home, plantation firms are going further abroad in search of good soil, favorable weather and investor-friendly policies.

In Africa, South Korea's AFinc has leased 100,000 hectares in the Democratic Republic of Congo to grow soybean and corn. Malaysia's Sime Darby is developing rubber and palm plantations in a relatively stable Liberia.

Rubber, palm oil, tapioca and sugar plantations are sprouting up in nearby Cambodia as it emerges from decades of civil war and the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields".

In Laos, some 150,000 hectares of land has been ceded to private investors for 30-50 years "at inconceivably low fee rates," according to the environmental group TERRA.

In the north, where a new paved highway to China's border opened last month, Beijing firms are heavily investing in rubber to feed their country's surging auto industry.

Yunnan Natural Rubber Industrial Co plans a 66,700 hectare plantation in Laos, aiming to double it to 133,300 hectares by 2010 and to 333,300 hectares by 2015.

Vietnam, one of Asia's fastest-growing economies, is carving out concessions in Cambodia and southern Laos for rubber trees and other cash crops.

Japanese, Indian and Scandinavian tree farms dot central Laos, while Thai tapioca growers are shifting their operations across the Mekong River into Laos to benefit from lower European import tariffs granted to poor nations.

Some argue the scale of the plantation sector is not really known because Laos has no land inventory, although it is working on one. Another issue is that multiple levels of government can grant concessions, leaving the door open to corruption.

"The national government has a hard time understanding what is going on. Even at the district level, concessions are given that the province does not know about," said the foreign advisor who would not be identified because he was not authorized to speak.

Other foreign experts and researchers asked for their names to be withheld due to concern the authorities might expel them or hamper their work if they spoke out of turn.


Last May, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh declared an indefinite moratorium on large land concessions for mining and agriculture "to address shortcomings of our previous strategy".

Some plantations had turned out to be illegal logging camps. In one case, a foreign investor who promised vast swathes of coconuts stripped the concession of its valuable timber and left.

Yet only a month into the moratorium, the governor of Vientiane province granted 705 hectares of land to a South Korean rubber project, according to state media reports.

"Plantations need land and local officials can deliver it. They go to a village and say 'this land is degraded and can be used for plantation development'," said a researcher with a foreign NGO.

In northern Laos, once home to swathes of opium-covered hills that formed part of the infamous Golden Triangle, farmers are now planting rubber trees under contract to Chinese firms.

"They are told they will become rich and own lots of Vigo pickup trucks," said a foreign academic who studied plantations in Oudomxay province. In reality, the farmers will have to tend their trees for seven years before any latex is tapped.

The government says plantations are fighting poverty by employing villagers, including ethnic minorities relocated from upland areas with promises of schools, healthcare and new land.

But critics say the policy has ensured a cheap source of labor for the plantations.

Tamang, 56, is still waiting for the parcel of rice paddy the government promised him two years ago when his family of eight moved to a village in central Laos where a large eucalyptus plantation is being developed.

The plantation owner, Japan's Oji Paper, has built a new school where some of his children attend.

Tamang works 3-7 days a month, earning 20,000 kip a day clearing fields for the slender trees. A nearby forest where villagers could gather mushrooms, bamboo shoots and other non-timber forest products to eat or sell was cleared.

"Two years ago it was easy to find food, now it's much harder," he said outside his family's ramshackle wooden home.

"We are waiting for the government to give us land but we have heard nothing yet".

Vietnamese company targets to plant 1,500 hectares of rubber in Cambodia

Planting rubber trees in Cambodia.

Nhan Dan – Phu Rieng –Kratie Rubber Joint Stock Company has set a target of planting 1,000 to 1,500 hectares of rubber in Kratie province of Cambodia this year.

The company was established last year with three founding shareholders: the Phu Rieng Rubber Company, the Vietnam Rubber Industrial Group and the Song Da Corporation with the aim of promoting a project to plant rubber trees in Cambodia.

Right in 2007, the company planted 200 hectares of rubber trees in Snoul district.

The province governor Kham Phoeun said he appreciated the project to plant rubber trees by Phu Rieng-Kratie Rubber JSC because though the company has been established for a short time, it has created jobs for 250 Cambodian workers, contributing to stablising their lives.

The company is building 150 houses for their workers and has donated US 27,000 to build a school for the locality and upgrade local pagodas.

Crowds hit the road to mark Cambodia’s New Year holiday

Taipei Times
Monday, Apr 14, 2008

Thousands of people crammed onto buses and cars, some clinging to roofs and spilling out of doors, as they headed out of Phnom Penh yesterday for the Buddhist New Year holiday.

The three-day holiday — also celebrated in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos — gives thousands of Cambodia’s transient workers a rare chance to spend time with family, leaving the normally busy capital unusually empty.

“This is the only chance I have to visit my parents, and I am so excited,” said 22-year-old Sun Srey Pov, who left her hometown in the east to work in a Phnom Penh garment factory.

“It is a pleasurable time, although it is hard to travel,” she said while trying to elbow some room in a 12-seat minibus, which was packed with 20 people inside and five hanging off the roof.

In Phnom Penh, elderly women dressed in traditional costume carried food to give to monks at pagodas.

The younger generation pursued different traditions — spraying each other with talcum powder, playing street games and dancing to loud music.

But the practice of throwing water and talcum powder on passing motorists has been discouraged by the government.

A truck with a megaphone patrolled the streets, warning that the practice could cause traffic accidents.

Nationalism and the West; Dangerous America?; Kissinger and Cambodia; Foreign policy credentials?

April 13, 2008

Nationalism and the West

In his op-ed column "Beware an angry China" (Views, April 9), Philip Bowring rightly points out that China-bashing may increase nationalism in China. But Bowring misses the point that the anxiety in the West over losing its superior position in global affairs has been fomenting nationalism in North America and Europe, which fuels a wave of China bashing.

The Olympic crisis is not about China: It is an expression of the West's sense of superiority. There is much anxiety in the West over losing this superior position, and this is exacerbated by economic insecurity in a globalized world.

It's a joke for the West to think it can use the Olympics to leverage China. Nothing can stop China. Even without the Olympics, people would still travel to China for business or pleasure.
Most Chinese are far less nationalist than many people in the West.

Shuaihua Cheng, Geneva

Dangerous America?

It is quite incredible to read a letter to the editor suggesting that NATO be disbanded and asserting that a majority of the people in Europe and Italy consider America to be the greatest danger to world peace (April 10).

If it were not for the U.S. Army in World War II, Italy might still be under a dictatorship fostered by Mussolini and Germany would be the fascist superpower of Europe.

I am a senior citizen, so I vividly remember that thousands of American soldiers, including several friends of mine, died on an Italian beach to free Italians from the yoke of Mussolini. To point to the United States as a danger to peace in the world is a grave insult. America saved Europe, and the American troops stationed in Germany and elsewhere in Europe are today a bulwark against any possible ideas Russia might have to use Russian oil as a weapon to control the future of NATO.

How quickly we forget.

Bernard Ilson, New York

Kissinger and Cambodia

I reside in a country that still lives with the disaster sown by Henry Kissinger ("The debate we need to have," Views, April 8) and the Nixon administration. His orders to the U.S. military a generation ago were to send anything that flies against anything that moves.

Those who witnessed the destruction in Cambodia say that it is impossible to describe. But it did provoke thousands of peasants to join a hitherto marginal force known as the Khmer Rouge. We are familiar with the result.

Even today, Cambodia remains more influenced by Communist Vietnam than by the West - hardly a strategic victory for the erstwhile secretary of state.

John Macgregor, Phnom Penh

Foreign policy credentials?

Regarding the article "Obama tries to bolster his credentials on foreign policy" (April 11): It is worrying, if not pathetic, that Senator Barack Obama and his advisers cite "his ties to relatives in poor villages in Kenya" and " a trip to Pakistan while he was a college student" as relevant foreign policy experience. That background would hardly qualify him for a job on a microfinance project in a developing country.

As the credentials of the two other U.S. presidential candidates are also rather thin, Obama could make a difference if he were supported by heavyweights in foreign policy and diplomacy among whom he might select his vice president.

Jens A. Jorgensen, Brussels

Vietnam, Cambodia discuss wildlife protection


VietNamNet Bridge - Vietnamese and Cambodian forestry law enforcement officers have completed a week-long study tour to Cambodia forests which provided an opportunity to discuss and share experiences of forest protection practices.

The Forest and Wildlife Law Enforcement Study Tour of Cambodia was jointly organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Vietnam and Cambodia’s Ministry of Forest and Fisheries and Ministry of the Environment.

During the tour, officials from the Vietnam's Forest Protection Department (FPD), Cambodian environment police officers and members of Wildlife Alliance’s PeunPa group visited Phnom Tamao wildlife conservation area, observed rangers training at Preah Monivong (Bokor) National Park and attended seminars focusing on wildlife and forest conservation, the WWF said on April 9 in a press release.

The study tour gave participants exposure to forest and wildlife law enforcement methods and will encourage inter-agency cooperation in suppressing nature crime, the release said.

WWF Technical Advisor in central Vietnam Mark E Grindley said massive forest logging in the Southeast Asia region brings fortune to only a limited number of people, but is stripping the region of irreplaceable natural heritage.

He highlighted the Vietnamese government’s efforts in forest protection conducted through the tight cooperation of competent agencies. "WWF is willing to support an exchange of ideas with Cambodia, where there are some highly successful models from which to learn," Grindley said.

(Source: VNA)

Cambodian royal astrologer says Year of Rat will bring angry wives

Sun, 13 Apr 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodia celebrated its New Year's Eve on Sunday, with the royal palace astrologer predicting a troubled Year of Rat ahead, including poor crops, inflation and angry wives.
Like neighbouring Thailand and Laos, Cambodia follows the Chinese horoscope, but celebrates its lunar New Year in April each year.

"This year's agriculture is not good, with half of the vegetable and fruit crop destroyed," royal palace astrologer Im Borin said by telephone.

"There will be many people killing each other, the good and kind will be looked down on by society ... the price of salt will increase, and wives of high ranking officials will be stewing in anger," he predicted.

Cambodia brought in a controversial monogamy law in 2006 which made adultery a criminal offence punishable by 18 months in jail. The law is believed by many have been devised under pressure from powerful and jealous wives of high-ranking officials.

However it has done little to curb the common practice of men who can afford to taking mistresses, or "second wives" and there has only been one successful prosecution so far.

One high ranking male official was even reported as endorsing adultery as a good way of relieving tension and spicing up a marriage in an interview with the English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper soon after the legislation was passed.

Cambodian wives have become internationally notorious for taking out the competition by hiring gunmen or dousing them with acid, making Year of Rat a year of living dangerously for many young Cambodian women if the astrologer is correct.