Friday, 2 May 2008

Corruption in education sector?

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Sam Rainsy Party lead a march with a group of factory workers on strike at City New Garment Factory in Phnom Penh

Heavy presence of anti-riot police forces blocking nearby streets

May 2, 2008 : MPs Sam Rainsy, Ho Vann, Nou Sovath and Son Chhay lead a march with a group of factory workers on strike at City New Garment Factory in Phnom Penh

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Senate confirms first U.S. envoy to ASEAN

WASHINGTON, May 1 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Senate has confirmed the appointment of Scot Marciel to become the first envoy to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), U.S. media reported Thursday.

The confirmation of Marciel "is an extraordinary milestone affirming the strong bipartisan commitment of American leaders and the American people to maintain and broaden our relationship with ASEAN," said Dick Lugar, a heavyweight Republican at the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.

Marciel has been a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State at the State Department.

The United States has been trying to cement ties with ASEAN, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

Cambodian PM urges textile sector unity to fight competition

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday called on the country's textile workers and manufacturers to unite as the industry faces increased competition from China and Vietnam.

"If a factory cannot operate, both sides are lost, but the workers will suffer the most," Hun Sen said in an address to workers in the southwestern beach town of Sihanoukville.

"If there are no investors, there will be no workers and no chance to ask for increased wages because there are no factories," he said.

Hun Sen also urged factory owners "to have good cooperation with unions and workers as well as to take care the welfare of the workers."

The premier appealed to the workers and manufacturers to respect labour law and settle any disagreement peacefully because they were in "the same boat."

Hun Sen also urged factory owners to consider a "maximum increase of wages" for their workers.

Garment manufacturers earlier this month agreed to raise the basic monthly wage of 50 dollars by six dollars after workers threatened to strike as inflation soared.

No protests were reported in the capital Phnom Penh on Thursday as about 300 workers rallied to mark May Day and demand manufacturers respect workers' rights.

They also urged the government to form a "labour court" to deal with their complaints.

"We will demand until our lives end," said Chea Mony, head of Cambodia's largest workers' group, the Cambodian Free Trade Union.

"Our work conditions are not yet good. We are threatened and discriminated against by employers," he added.

The garment industry grew only 8.0 percent last year after suffering a dismal fourth quarter that saw orders plummet by nearly half, according to the World Bank. It previously enjoyed growth of up to 20 percent.

The sector -- the country's largest source of foreign exchange -- faces increased competition from China and Vietnam, with further risks looming due to an economic downturn in the US, Cambodia's biggest market for textiles.

The garment industry employs an estimated 350,000 people in some 300 factories.

But the end of US restrictions against Chinese textile exports in 2009 and greater productivity in Vietnam are likely to erode Cambodia's position, industry officials have warned.

Deteriorating labour relations are also weakening the sector.

Cambodia: Durable solution to land grabbing lies with the due process of law

(Ch. Narendra)

Land grabbing has been plaguing Cambodia for many years. In early March 2007, a month prior to the commune election, Prime Minister Hun Sen loudly announced a "war against land grabbers", and almost immediately after this announcement several land grabbers were arrested or forced to give up the land they had grabbed.

This war lost almost all its thrust after the election was over and Hun Sen’s ruling party had secured the control of the overwhelming majority of communes across the country.

Hun Sen has not hinted at his war ever since although land grabbing has continued to gain ground, claiming no fewer victims than prior to its announcement. As the next general election, to be held in July of this year, is approaching, Hun Sen has became active again and taken a flurry of decisions in succession to address the issue.

On 24 March he went in person to a disputed land in the seaport town of Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand to meet with the 125 families whose 16 hectares of land had been taken by a company named Thai Bun Rong. While squatting among those victims, he offered them his apologies for the police action to evict them that caused injury to some and led to the arrest of three of them.

He blamed the police for allowing the company to build fence around the land, which led to protest by the victims. He then announced that he took the land from Thai Bun Rong company and returned it to those families. He also ordered the three arrested persons to be released and brought before him immediately. He offered them his apologies and also compensation for their arrest.

The next day, 25 March, in his address to a meeting organized by the Ministry of Land Management, Hun Sen ordered the governor of Banteay Meanchey province and his colleagues to resolve a dispute over a 20 hectare plot of land “within a weak” or they would be sacked.

In the same address he criticized the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes (NARLD) for its “sluggishness” in resolving land disputes and threatened to wind it up. He then noted that land grabbing had the “character of a hot issue” when disputes had not been speedily resolved.

He also noted that some plots of land had up to four different title deeds on each of them, and he warned the Ministry to avoid the issuing of such multiple titles. He threatened to send NARLD officials to jail if found to be dishonest.

Despite its name, NARLD is not a specialized court of justice or administrative tribunal for land disputes. It was created in early 2006 by an executive order and was composed of political appointees from different relevant government ministries.

According to a former member, Eng Chhay Eang, an MP, from the opposition party, who has recently resigned from it, NARLD has no power. It is more like a coordinating body entrusted with the tasks of receiving complaints and conducting investigation with the cooperation of relevant authorities. It mostly entrusts the task of settling the disputes to these authorities.

The creation of NARLD has undermined the jurisdictions of the cadastral commissions created under the 2001 land law for resolving disputes over unregistered land, and the courts of law for disputes over registered land.

However, Hun Sen has preferred, as he put it when meeting with those 125 families in Sihanoukville on 24 March, resolution of land disputes “outside the justice system”. In his address to the meeting of the Ministry of Land Management the next day, Hun Sen was reported to be “accusing courts of law of being corrupt.”

On 23 April, Hun Sen displayed in public his anger with the rulings of two courts of first instance. The first one was the court of Banteay Meanchey province which ruled in favour of a company in its dispute with the government over its construction on public land. The second was the court of Kandal province which ignored his “notification” to return a disputed land to its occupants and the findings of an investigation by the provincial authorities, when it ruled in favour of a company which had claimed to have bought the land from those occupants.

Hun Sen’s direct intervention and show of earnestness in addressing the land grabbing issue can serve as a safety valve to release the pressure of public resentment and protests that has been building up over the years. When made in the approach of the general election, it very much has an electioneering character.

However, these measures, however pleasing to their beneficiaries, are simply momentary political expediencies, not a durable solution to the many cases of land disputes Hun Sen himself has received, let alone the thousands more that NARLD has received and continues to receive.

Nor is NARLD of much help to resolve those disputes “out of the justice system”. Its “sluggishness”, as Hun Sen has acknowledged and criticized, shows it is also a political expediency, ineffective in resolving those disputes.

A durable solution lies with the institutions for the rule of law, that is, the courts of law and the cadastral commissions. These two institutions have respectively constitutional and legal jurisdictions over land disputes.

Accusing the courts of law of being corrupt, as Hun Sen has reportedly done, taking disputes from them to be adjudicated elsewhere, as he has preferred, or being angry with court rulings, as he has been, all this does not address the problem of corruption in courts.

It only undermines their role and further destroys further public confidence in them. It also further compels victims of land grabbing to resort, as they have been doing so far, to Hun Sen to find justice for them and get their land back, and will then create so overwhelming a problem for him to address.

It is high time the Cambodian government brought all land grabbing cases back to the justice system and the cadastral commissions, depending on the status of land involved, to be resolved according to the due process of law. It should enact the long overdue anti-corruption law and urge the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, the supreme judicial body responsible for the nomination and discipline of judges, to stamp out corruption in courts and win public confidence in them.

It should also provide both the courts of law and the cadastral commissions with adequate resources to do their work, and respect their rulings. If the government or anybody else is not happy with any ruling, it should appeal it at a higher court.

Margaret Ryan helps Cambodia’s young women become lawyers.

HEAD OF THE CLASS: Ryan awards scholarships based on girls’ academic ability, maturity and desire to help their rural communities.
Heng Chivoan

Lady Justice
BY Corinne Purtill

Phallikol Phok is a slender girl who looks far younger than her 19 years. She grew up in a one-room wooden stilt house in Cambodia’s Kompong Cham province with her parents and six siblings.

Unlike her parents, and theirs before them, Phok will not spend her adult life tilling the rice and tobacco fields near her home. She is a student at Cambodia’s premier law school, the Royal University of Law and Economics, thanks to her outstanding grades at the provincial school—and to Margaret Ryan, JD ’71.

Phok’s tuition, housing and spending money come from Girls RULE, a scholarship program for female students named for the university’s acronym. Ryan, 61, established the program in 2006, largely with donations from Stanford Law School classmates. Girls RULE awarded nine scholarships in its first two years and plans to grant at least five this fall.

Phok’s scholarship allows her to complete RULE’s undergraduate curriculum, which will enable her to practice law. “Then when I know a lot, I can give the knowledge that I have to all the people,” she says, in careful English.

Indeed, Ryan hopes Girls RULE beneficiaries will return to their roots, bridging the gap between rural communities and an often unfamiliar legal system. Running the scholarship program is the latest twist in a long career that has taken her from the courtrooms of San Francisco to the classrooms of a struggling Southeast Asian nation.

After receiving her law degree from Stanford, Ryan worked in San Francisco on family law, criminal defense, juvenile law and civil rights cases. She represented defendants in several high-profile cases, such as Black Panther Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt and those arrested in the White Night Riots that followed the sentencing of Dan White, who killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk.

By the mid-1990s, Ryan was burned out. Even after an 18-month stay on a horse farm in rural Ireland, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there must be more to life. Then, in 1995, a friend offered her a job with a USAID program to develop an English-language law curriculum in Cambodia.

Cambodia was—and still is—recovering from the Khmer Rouge, the brutal ultra-Maoist guerrillas who ruled the country from 1975 to 1979. Roughly 1.7 million Cambodians died during that time from execution, starvation and disease.

Education also was one of the regime’s casualties. The Khmer Rouge abolished schools and executed many professors and intellectuals. The Royal University of Law and Economics was shuttered, and its buildings stood empty until 1982. According to university archives, only six licensed attorneys remained alive in Cambodia at the end of the Khmer Rouge.

Ryan arrived in Phnom Penh for what she expected would be a temporary visit—she even left her car in long-term parking at San Francisco International, she recalls. But she found that she loved the students and her work. When the USAID program lost funding in 1997, she started teaching pro bono at RULE, working consulting jobs to supplement her income. “I thought it was really important to stay and work for basic legal education,” she says.

By that time, she realized she had found her home. She’d also found love, with a Khmer-American man named Ford Thai. Ryan runs the alternative-energy firm Khmer Solar with him, in addition to teaching at RULE.

The idea for Girls RULE came to Ryan on a 2006 field trip with students to rural provinces to study the effects of domestic violence laws. There was a problem: laws notwithstanding, women who wanted to press charges against or divorce their abusive husbands had no idea where to turn. Similarly, victims of illegal land-grabs, rampant in the countryside, did not know how to seek redress. Villagers “don’t even know someone who knows someone they can call for an explanation,” she says.

Ryan contacted her network of Stanford classmates, five of whom pledged $4,000 each. Tuition, housing and spending money for one year costs $1,000 per student. Each girl also gets a secondhand bicycle and helmet to get around Phnom Penh’s busy streets.

Cambodian education is “a very weak system” that often pushes girls aside, says American attorney Patricia Baars, who arrived in Cambodia in 1996 and now advises the government in addition to teaching law. “Getting some women educated is going to make a huge difference.” Ryan will encourage the students to seek further schooling abroad.

Girls RULE “is an amazing story of someone who just kept pushing to help this many young women who would otherwise have never seen a law school,” Baars says. “These kids are going to remember her for the rest of their lives.”

As world grasps for rice, Cambodia's success story

The rice-exporting country has seen a dramatic rebound thanks to years of agricultural research.

By David Montero Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
May 1, 2008 edition

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - For 30 years the rice fields at a commune on the outskirts of Phnom Penh lay mostly barren and unused, a legacy of the Khmer Rouge, the Communist regime that led almost 2 million Cambodians to their death, many from starvation.

But today Cambodia has a rice surplus. And these fields are incubating some of the most advanced rice technology in Cambodia, under the tutelage of the Cambodian Agricultural Research Institute (CARDI), which is at the center of Cambodia's largely unheralded "green" revolution.

As the global food crisis continues to spark riots and rationing, Cambodia's turnaround showcases the power – and the limits – of rice research, experts say. Few countries in modern history have engineered as dramatic an agricultural rebound as Cambodia.

In 10 years, beginning in 1987, by applying the tool suite of the Green Revolution – new rice varieties, improved irrigation, and better fertilizer – the country has risen to a peak of rice output, producing enough rice to be self-sufficient for the first time in 25 years.

"It has been a big achievement for [Cambodia]," says Men Sarom, CARDI's director. "And I think research contributed a lot to that."

The kernel of that research was first planted in the 1960s, when scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a pioneering agricultural institute based in the Philippines, developed higher-yield varieties of grain and introduced new systems of irrigation and fertilizer. Thus was born the Rice Revolution.

Of particular importance was IR8, a rice variety that had a yield double that of normal rice, was less susceptible to disease and more responsive to fertilizer. Dubbed the "miracle rice," it has been credited with averting massive famine in India, Africa, and throughout the developing world in the 1970s.

Cambodia is home to one of the Green Revolution's greatest successes. In 1969, Cambodia's annual rice production was 4 million tons a year, a healthy output. But by 1980, the 6 million people who had survived the Communist Khmer Rouge era, from 1975 to 1978, were on the brink of starvation. By 1997, however, Cambodia had been virtually reborn: its rice fields were producing nearly as much rice as they had in 1969, but on half the land, making the country rice self-sufficient once again.

The rebound was the result of a collaboration between the Cambodian government, the IRRI, and the Australia government, which together invested millions of dollars in irrigation, infrastructure, and fertilizer beginning in 1987. They also trained 1,300 scientists and support staff to revitalize the country's agricultural system. And the new high-yielding rice varieties allowed farmers to produce more on less land.

Today, experts say, Cambodia's yields have risen from 1.35 tons per hectare to 2.5 tons per hectare. It produces enough to export – more than a million tons this year – but recently imposed export controls to ensure it has enough for its own people.

Still, as Cambodia also illustrates, scientific advances will only take rice production so far.

Although Cambodia's yields have doubled in the last 30 years, they are only almost half that of Thailand and Laos (where better soil conditions, seed varieties, climate and management make for higher outputs). Meanwhile, weeds here still cause rice yield losses of up to 30 percent, and poor seed quality in some areas means that 160,000 tons of rice rot every year, according to a report by the IRRI.

"There are still many problems that need to be addressed – problems from climate change and market changes," say Mr. Sarom.

Scientists also warn that the amount of land being farmed – especially in the developing world – has not increased substantially in the last two decades. Urban sprawl and industrial development continue to compete for farmland.

"Even here in Thailand [the world's largest exporter of rice], even if they wanted to, they can't produce more rice. There isn't much more farmland, and the production level is also already pretty high," says Paul Risley, a spokesman for the World Food Program in Thailand.

The recent global food crisis has sharply underlined that, despite the Green Revolution's benefits, many countries are simply not able to produce enough food for their exploding populations.

But even if the biggest production advances have already been achieved, that doesn't mean scientists are giving up.

CARDI, continues to develop new varieties that can produce better quality rice and withstand inclement weather. Sarom says research is already pointing the way to higher rice yields. "In America and Australia, you have yields of six to eight tons of rice per hectare. Why not here? We still have the potential to increase productivity," he says.

That enthusiasm was echoed by the country's agriculture minister, Chan Sarun, Tuesday when he said he expects Cambodia to produce enough rice to export some 8 million tons a year by 2015. That would make it one of the world's top rice exporters.

And around the world, research still offers the promise of better yields. For example, hybrid rice, a blend of three kinds of rice, grows faster, is more disease resistant, and produces 20 percent higher yields. Hybrids are only just starting to catch on: 800,000 hectares were planted in Asia outside of China between 2001-02, but only 1,000 in Indonesia, for example, and only 20,000 in Bangladesh, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The expanded use of hybrids has particular promise for food security, the FAO adds.

The current food crisis may be creating an investment environment for a second Green Revolution, some analysts say. By averting massive famine, the first Green Revolution helped create an impression among world leaders that investments in agriculture were no longer as vital. Many countries stopped spending on agricultural development. That may be starting to change as Malaysia, the Philippines, and China have in recent weeks announced plans to boost investment in agriculture.

Cambodia seizes smuggled snakes, turtles

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian authorities have seized nearly half a tonne of live pythons and turtles that were being smuggled from Thailand to Vietnam, a wildlife conservationist group said on Thursday.

The animals, which included 11 reticulated pythons, 13 Burmese pythons and 257 turtles, were confiscated on Monday in Battambang province, about 300 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh, the Wildlife Alliance said.

Most of the animals had been "illegally collected (in Cambodia) and had been moved to a large-scale holding facility in Thailand before eventually being shipped to Vietnam through Cambodia," the group said in a statement.

Weighing 418.5 kilogrammes, the haul of creatures included Asian box turtles, Malayan snail-eating turtles, black marsh turtles, 12 threatened yellow-headed temple turtles, and two red-eared slider turtles.

Yellow-headed temple turtles, which are depicted on the walls of the famed Angkor temples, are of special cultural significance in Cambodian folklore and legend.

"They are depicted as divine creatures of royalty. Yet their numbers steadily decrease each year due to habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade," the group said.

The animals were confiscated from a Chevrolet pick-up truck with military licence plates, the group said, adding that a 32-year-old military lieutenant was being questioned.

Wildlife Alliance officials said most of the animals were released on Wednesday into their natural habitats, including in the kingdom's Tonle Sap lake.

The illegal wildlife trade flourishes in Cambodia, fuelled by corrupt authorities and weak legislation.

Most of the trafficked animals feed the regional demand for exotic pets or traditional medicines, although a growing number are ending up in small private zoos throughout Cambodia.

Conservationists rescue almost 300 Cambodian reptiles from wildlife smugglers

(photo: WN / Renzelle Mae Abasolo)


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Hundreds of reptiles including some endangered species were rescued from traffickers and released into their natural habitat in Cambodia, a conservation group said Thursday.

Twelve endangered yellow-headed temple turtles were among the nearly 300 reptiles - weighing a total of 420 kilograms - that authorities confiscated this week in Cambodia's northwestern Battambang province, the Washington, D.C.-based Wildlife Alliance said in a statement.

The group said the animals were freed Wednesday following their rescue Monday, when Wildlife Alliance members were with Cambodian forestry officials and police who stopped a pickup truck transporting the cargo on its way to Vietnam.

Co-operation between the Wildlife Alliance and various government conservation agencies is "making significant impacts on a multimillion dollar illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia as various trade routes and wildlife stockpile locations have been exposed," the statement said.

"We fairly often have quite large amounts of reptiles rescued from wildlife traders, but this was bigger," said Nick Marx, the group's animal husbandry specialist.

Two dozen reticulated and Burmese pythons were among the cargo, which was mostly made up of various turtle species including the yellow-headed temple turtles, which have cultural significance in Cambodian folklore and legends, the statement said.

"In stone carvings on the walls of Angkorian temples, they are depicted as divine creatures of royalty; yet their numbers steadily decrease each year due to habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade," the Wildlife Alliance said.

An army lieutenant has been held for questioning about the smuggling, the statement said. But it did not say if the man, identified as Hong Try, 32, was the driver of the truck - which bore military license plates - or what charge, if any, he might face.

The group said the animals had been illegally collected in three provinces in the country's northwest, and then moved to a large-scale holding facility in Thailand before eventually being shipped back through Cambodia on their way to Vietnam.

Sceptism growns over Cambodia's 'jungle' lady
May 02 2008

By Tang Chhin SothyThe mysterious woman sits for hours at a time, silently staring at the floor or at the villagers thronging to see her, fear occasionally flashing across her unsmiling face.

She emerged from the thick jungles of northeastern Cambodia more than a week ago, her past an enigma. The family caring for her say she is their daughter, who disappeared 19 years ago, but there are growing doubts over her identity.

Yet the family are adamant she is Rochom P'ngieng, whom they say vanished as a child while guarding water buffalo.

"I dare anyone to wager $10 000 if they think she is not my daughter," said Sal Lou, a policeman in isolated Oyadao village.

He said he recognised his child immediately by an old scar when she was brought from the jungle, naked and dirty, 10 days ago.

The woman had been caught nearby as she tried to steal food from a farmer. She was hunched over like a monkey, scavenging the ground for pieces of dried rice in the forests of Ratanakkiri province, some 600km northeast of the capital Phnom Penh.

The woman has tried three times to escape back into the jungle since being taken to Oyadao, tearing at the dirty white blouse and patterned skirt in which her would-be parents have dressed her.

"Over the weekend she acted crazy - she was scared of the crowds and the journalists trying to take pictures of her," said Rochom Ly, 27-year-old Rochom P'ngieng's younger brother.

Sal Lou said he wanted the woman to be taken to Phnom Penh for medical treatment and asked for the necessary funds.

But rights advocates say the woman has obviously suffered some sort of trauma, and possibly sexual abuse, and should not be taken away from those claiming to be her family.

A psychologist was to travel to the village today to examine the woman.

"After that (the father) will decide what to do," said Kek Galabru of the Cambodian rights group Licadho. "We were advised not to take her away from her family because it would cause new stress.

"We believe she is the victim of some kind of violence," she added.

Pen Bunna of the rights group Adhoc, who visited the woman on Saturday, said she may have experienced a traumatic event around the time she went missing.

"She may have faced a hard incident that caused her to wander from the house," he said, adding that Adhoc would help pay for medical treatment.

Since the weekend, though, the woman appears to have become more settled under the glare of curious villagers and journalists, who have made her an international story.

Scores of people have come to watch her, milling around Sal Lou's ramshackle house, staring silently at the woman as she sleeps, squats against the wall or is spoon-fed by Sal Lou's wife, Rochom Soy.

Many have begun to question Sal Lou's story. How, they ask, could a woman from the jungle have such smooth hands or soft feet? If she had been truly wild, why are her fingernails neatly trimmed and her hair not a matted tangle, they say.

Mysterious scars around her wrist appear to be the result of being bound for long periods of time, further adding to the questions many have over the woman's past.

"I am doubtful that she went missing 19 years ago. I came here to see what she looked like, and she looks normal like us," said Dub Thol, who travelled from a neighbouring district to see the woman.

The woman has offered up no clues as to how she spent the past nearly two decades - uttering unintelligible grunts or gurgles and communicating only her most basic needs with simple gestures.

Sal Lou said that despite her not speaking, she has begun to understand his hill tribe language of Phnong.

"When we talk to her she understands, but she cannot reply to us. This is because she has forgotten the language, she has not spoken it for a long time," he said.

"She follows what we tell her to do. When we tell her to sit, she sits. When we tell her to sleep, she sleeps and when we tell her to stand up, she stands up.

"So, sooner or later, she will know how to speak. From day to day, she has begun to understand."

The jungles of Ratanakkiri - some of the most isolated and wild in Cambodia - are known to have held hidden groups of hill tribes in the recent past.

In November 2004, 34 people from four hill tribe families emerged from the dense forest where they had fled in 1979 after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which they supported.

They had lived in the jungle in total isolation for a quarter of a century, limiting speech for fear of detection and moving at any sight of an unfamiliar footprint or a freshly-cut tree. - Sapa-AFP

HCMC-Siem Reap bus route to open this month

A group of young Vietnamese tourists pose for a photograph in Cambodia

Thanhnien News
Friday, May 2, 2008

Kumho Samco Express plans to open a bus route between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap Province in neighboring Cambodia this month, according to a company source.

The firm, a joint venture between the Kumho Construction & Engineering Company of South Korea’s Kumho Asiana Group and Vietnam’s Saigon Transportation Mechanical Corporation, plans to select the backpackers’ area in HCMC’s District 1 as the point of departure and arrival.

The service aims to transport passengers of Kumho’s Asiana Airlines who fly into either HCMC or Siem Reap between the two centers, given the current lack of offered flights by the airline between the destinations.

Kumho Samco Express, with a total investment of US$7.5 million, currently operates high-quality bus routes from HCMC to various domestic towns and cities including Nha Trang, Da Lat, Phan Thiet, Ca Mau and Can Tho.

Cambodia to join OPEC-style rice cartel to stabilize global food prices

PHNOM PENH, May 2 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia has an international obligation to participate in stabilizing global food prices, a senior official has declared, as the kingdom moves to join an OPEC-style rice cartel of five ASEAN Nations.

Food must remain affordable if Cambodia is to avoid a "price war" with neighboring countries, Khieu Kanharith, Cambodian Minister of Information and government spokesman, was quoted by the Mekong Times newspaper as saying on Friday.

Referring to recent reports about the formation of a so-called Organization of Rice Exporting Countries (OREC), a proposed price-fixing body similar to the OPEC, he said the issue would be discussed with rice producing nations.

"Because if we do not unite, the world would have a more serious rice market crisis," he added.

Media reported Thursday that Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had said that Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam need to band together and use their combined influence to exert more control over global rice prices.

Negotiations have not been scheduled so far between the countries but all five have tentatively agreed to join the rice cartel, Thon Virak, deputy director-general of the international trade department at the Cambodian Commerce Ministry, was quoted assaying in the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

The cartel could be expanded to include more ASEAN countries, he added.

The Cambodian government is preparing to conduct research on international rice prices and the possible functioning of the cartel, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, Hang Chuon Naron, deputy secretary-general of the Finance Ministry, said the rice cartel idea was not new.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had brought up the idea publicly last year, he said.

During a 2007 meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen suggested rice exporting countries such as Vietnam and Thailand should form an association to strengthen the position of rice exporters as prices skyrocket.

The cartel would share market information and give each other assistance in producing rice, Hang Chuon Naron said, noting that stabilizing rice prices will add more security to the Cambodian agriculture sector and spawn more investment and growth.

"It will have no negative effect on Cambodian farmers," said Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun, who referred recently to Cambodian rice as the country's "white gold".

On April 24, Chan Sarun declared that the country would be able to produce eight million tons of rice for export annually by 2015.

Economic Institute of Cambodia President Sok Hach said the cartel will raise Cambodia's profile as an exporter, opening up its rice to more markets.

Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand last year exported a total of 16million tons of rice: Cambodia 1.5 million tons; Vietnam five million tons; and Thailand 9.5 million tons.

Thailand and Vietnam alone control more than 40 percent of world rice exports, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Current rice price nearly doubled that of last year in Cambodia, with global prices up from 512 U.S dollars per ton in January 2007to 998 U.S dollars by April 30, 2008.

Editor: Song Shutao


Thursday, May 01, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, May 02, 2008 (AsiaPulse via COMTEX) -- -- Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) has approved OSK Holdings Berhad's (KLSE:5053) proposal to establish a wholly-owned unit in Cambodia to undertake commercial banking activities.

Malaysia's central bank gave its greenlight in a letter dated 23 April 2008 to OSK's wholly-owned subsidiary, OSK Investment Bank Berhad (OSKIB), OSK said in a statement to Bursa Malaysia on April 28.

OSK also said the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), in a letter dated 24 April 2008, granted its approval in principle for the incorporation of a commercial bank with the name of OSK Indochina Bank Limited (OSKIBL).

As part of the conditions, OSKIBL is required by Cambodia's central bank to commence operation by 31 October 2008, the statement said.

Cambodian farmers urged to seize opportunity

New Sabah Times
2nd May, 2008

PHNOM PENH: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday appealed to the country’s farmers to start growing rice and other crops, saying most of the population would benefit from the global food crisis. “The food crisis in the world, instead, offers an opportunity for Cambodian farmers although citizens complain about the soaring price of rice,” Hun Sen said during a ceremony some 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh.

“But in return, some 80 percent (of the population) who are farmers benefit from this. Now the opportunity for our Cambodian farmers has arrived,” he said. Hun Sen said rain had fallen over most of the country and appealed to farmers to rush to grow a variety of food crops, including rice. “Now the rainy season has started,” he said. “Now the world has a big crisis, so please, our farmers start growing the crops, including rice, corn and beans. All the crops have a market now,” the premier said.

Hun Sen banned rice exports in late March in a bid to halt soaring prices for the staple food. The price of the most commonly purchased grade of rice has hit 90 US cents a kilogramme (2.2 pounds), up from 50-60 cents two months ago, deepening the poverty of the one-third of the population living on less than 50 cents a day.

Hun Sen said on Wednesday, however, that the government was considering exporting rice to find markets for Cambodian farmers and to “fulfil our international obligation in helping other countries… to reduce the difficulty in the world”.

“Cambodia is a small country, but it can help hundreds of thousands of families if we can export the rice,” Hun Sen said. “We cannot survive alone,” he said, urging governments to find ways to ensure “the world has food security”. Officials have said that Cambodia has enough rice with more than two million tonnes stockpiled. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday urged countries to drop export restrictions and said the immediate priority must be to “feed the hungry” as he ordered a task force to tackle the global crisis.

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

Soaring rice prices have forced the UN World Food Programme to indefinitely suspend a programme supplying free breakfasts to 450,000 poor Cambodian schoolchildren.

Better quality rice now sells for more than 700 dollars per tonne in Cambodia compared with 300-400 dollars last year, according to sellers. Cambodia, where more than 30 percent of the population of 14 million lives in poverty, is one of 12 “hunger hot spot” countries, according to the 2006 Global Hunger Index of the International Food Policy Research Institute. – AFP

Cambodian PM urges garment industry unity

Radio Australia

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has urged the country's textile workers and manufacturers to unite in the face of increased competition from China and Vietnam.

Speaking to workers in Sihanoukville, he also called on factory owners to cooperate with unions and workers, and to consider what he called a "maximum increase" in wages.

He appealed for the rapid and peaceful resolution of any industrial disputes.Earlier this month, garment workers received a wage rise of six US dollars a month after threatening to go on strike.

Cambodia's clothing industry could be undermined by greater productivity from Vietnam, and the end to American restrictions against Chinese textile exports due next year.