Sunday, 1 June 2008

High hopes for hydropower

SEBASTIAN STRANGIO Employees of Sinohydro Corp. cross a bridge over the Kamchay River built by the Chinese firm to service a hydropower project it is developing on the river in Kampot province.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 29 May 2008

Kamchay project highlights risks and rewards of damming our rivers

KAMPOT - Chinese engineer Hu Nan gazes through a freshly hewn gap in the hillside toward the distant Kamchay River. Swollen by heavy rains, the river gushes over the rocks below while fully loaded earthmoving trucks rumble past, slowly carving a 110-meter-high auditorium out of the densely forested hills of Bokor National Park.

A recent engineering graduate from Beijing, Hu says he is proud to be involved in the construction of the $280-million Kamchay dam, Cambodia's largest hydropower project to date.

"This will be the Three Gorges Dam of Cambodia," he yells over the noise of a nearby generator.

The massive dam development in Kampot province broke ground last September and is the government's most recent effort to boost Cambodia's electricity output by harnessing one of the Kingdom's most abundant natural resources: its rivers.

With just 20 percent of Cambodian households enjoying reliable access to electricity, the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME) envisions large-scale hydroelectric projects as a solution to the country's chronic power shortages.

In its most recent Power Development Plan, covering the years 1999 to 2016, the ministry earmarked 14 potential sites for development by 2018.

Construction has started at two - including Kamchay - with another six now undergoing feasibility studies.

Kampot Governor Thach Khon says dams are an important way of providing cheaper electricity, which he says is crucial to Cambodia's economic and social development.

"Electricity is necessary for the development of business and industry. It means that we will be able to implement our policies for poverty reduction. If there is no electricity we cannot develop the country," he said.

Shu Jiang, deputy managing director of Sinohydro Corporation, the Chinese state firm that is constructing the dam, agrees that the completed project will be a boon for the local economy.

"The power station will provide cheap power for Cambodia ... and after the construction, I think many tourists will go there to play in the reservoir," he told the Post at the company's Phnom Penh office.

But as with the controversial Three Gorges project on China's Yangtze River - another Sinohydro project - local and international NGOs have expressed concern that large-scale dam developments could have negative impacts on the environment and local communities that far outweigh their benefits as a source of cheap power.

Sam Chanthy, environment project officer at the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said the Kamchay dam highlights what he sees as the unrestrained nature of Cambodia's hydropower development.

"The government expects this dam to generate more electricity. They think it will industrialize Kampot, bring in more investment, more factories," he said.

"But we can also see some of the downsides. About 2,000 hectares of protected forest will need to be cleared."

A January 2008 report prepared by the US-based watchdog International Rivers and the River Coalition in Cambodia (RCC) concludes that the Kamchay dam project "raises important questions regarding both [Sinohydro] and the Cambodian government's commitment to transparency, accountability, public participation, and the incorporation of adequate environmental and social safeguards."

Chanthy said that the initial Environmental Impact Assessment prepared by Sinohydro prior to construction lacked any significant public participation, as required by the 1996 Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Management.

"According to the law, [the project] is not legal at all," Chanthy said.

Central to environmental groups' fears is the risk that the Kamchay dam could create problems similar to those experienced downstream of the Yali Falls Dam, built in Vietnam's Central Highlands in 1996.

The RCC said in a report last year that toxic blue-green algae generated by the "nutrient-rich bottom water from the Yali reservoir" was flowing into Cambodia, creating a potential public health risk.

"People are already getting hurt by the [Kamchay] dam in terms of water quality," Chanthy said.

Vendors who work at Teuk Chhu resort, a popular riverside attraction downstream from the Kamchay dam, say they are worried pollution from the dam could cause visitor numbers to drop.

Muo Sim, 50, who sells food and drinks along the river's bank, said she supported the project but was concerned it would affect the livelihoods of the 500 or so vendors at Teuk Chhu.

"We support hydropower dams because we hope it means we will get cheaper electricity. But if there is poor management, it might make the water dirty and that could be the end of the famous resort here," she said.

Sinohydro representatives meanwhile have rejected accusations that the company ignored the environmental impacts of the project, arguing that the Kamchay dam is being built to the same standards as the company's other dams in China.

"During the construction period, some problems can't be avoided," said Li Tao, a Chinese engineer at the dam site. "But we have constructed many dams in China, and we will obey the Chinese laws regarding the environment."

Li said the company would do everything it could to prevent a decline in water quality over the long term.

"After we finish the dam, we will cut all the trees and clear all the surrounding areas. So don't worry about the water quality," he said.

Ith Praing, secretary of state at the MIME, also defended Sinohydro's environmental assessments, saying that "the process has been normal" and that the impacts of all large hydropower projects are investigated before construction is allowed to start.

Chanthy of the NGO Forum emphasized that pursuing hydropower did not mean making a choice between development and conservation.

"We're not against the dams," he said. "We are only pushing the government to abide by its own laws."

Getting a feel for power

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP A man prepares to refuel a motorbike with blackmarket petrol on a street in Phnom Penh. Cambodia expects to begin oil production in 2011, government officials have said amid warnings that new-found petroleum reserves did not guarantee instant prosperity for the country.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Susan Postlewaite
Thursday, 29 May 2008

Massive hydrocarbon reserves are believed to lie off the Cambodian coast, but just how much there is and when it may be tapped remain the subject of much debate, writes Susan Postlewaite

Record high oil prices of $135 a barrel have added a sense of urgency to Cambodia's efforts to tap into a potentially huge hydrocarbon bounty lying under the sea off the country's southern coast.

But uncertainty still clouds the nascent petroleum sector, dulling those first twinges of excitement felt more than three years ago when energy giant Chevron and its partners announced that they had struck oil in four test wells about 150 kilometers (93 miles) off the coast from Sihanoukville.

Since then, predictions over the size and value of Cambodia's oil and gas fields have varied amid increasingly cautious statements from government officials tasked with guiding the country's expected petroleum boom, while production appears to be at least a few years off.

While the clock ticks, the prospects for an oil bonanza may be fading slightly.

After the early discovery of oil in Block A - one of six offshore blocks where exploration licenses have been granted by the government - economists optimistically estimated revenues in the billions of dollars based on projected reserves of as much as two billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

But it appears now that there may be less oil under the sea than Chevron, the government and a host of other speculators had hoped.

In its last public statement on the issue, Chevron - which must come up with an approved development plan by early 2009 or renew its exploration license with the government - said that the undersea reservoir has a complex design and contains "small dispersed fields, rather than one core field," making recovery more difficult and costly.

Further dampening the mood, Te Duong Tara, director general of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority, told reporters at an oil and gas conference sponsored by the UN Development Program in March that the recovery rate for the estimated 500 million barrels of oil in Block A was "as low as 10 percent."

"We don't know yet [how much oil exists].... We have a schedule with Chevron. We still are working together," he said, adding that there is no data for the five other blocks.

"These reserve numbers will change," he said.

Adding yet another layer of concern over Cambodia's petroleum prospects, an independent geologist told the Post that undersea reservoirs in the Khmer trough are rife with fault lines that may have allowed oil and gas that was once there to escape, lowering estimated oil reserves to fewer than 50 million barrels.

To compare, Vietnam has 600 million barrels of proven oil reserves, while Thailand has 290 million, according to the US-based Energy Information Administration.

Activity continues in Cambodia's offshore blocks - nearly a dozen companies granted exploration licenses are shooting seismic surveys, and one, Petrotech of Hong Kong, says it hopes to drill its first well by the end of the year.

But industry analysts say all eyes are on Chevron, which appears to be preparing this year to begin developing an initial small-scale production plan as it further considers its prospects for profit in these untested fields.

One option, said an analyst who did not want to be named, would be to use the small military base on Poulo Wai island, near the maritime border with Vietnam, to construct the facilities for offshore drilling and production.

Another option would be to lease a floating production and storage vehicle - much like a converted tanker with a plant for separating oil and gas on deck - to be moored in the waters over the field in lieu of larger, more expensive traditional drilling platforms.

In another setting, analysts said, the relatively small pockets of oil discovered so far might not be enough to attract the interests of an energy giant like Chevron - which recently reported $65 billion in sales during the first quarter of 2008.

Administrative obstacles are also complicating the situation: Chevron and its partners Mitsui Oil Exploration (Moeco) and GS Caltex have yet to resolve how the government will tax their potentially substantial oil revenues in what one analyst called a "show stopper." Another analyst said a compromise is expected to be reached.

However, even without the participation of giants like Chevron, Cambodia's hydrocarbon fields might offer up enough promise to lure smaller producers keen to cash in on rising global oil prices, some observers said.

Under the current concession rules, oil companies have six years for exploration and industry experts say it would not be surprising to see some licenses being traded to new players in the field.

"They have the data from the 15 new wells and from the old wells in the 1990s," said one petroleum consultant. "As oil prices go up, more and more of these oil fields will be viable to produce."

Underpowered energy sector shifts up a gear

HENG CHIVOAN People paddle boats beneath power lines at Boeung Tum Pon lake in Phnom Penh. Cambodia will likely remain without a national grid until 2020 although offshore gas deposits and a series of hydropower projects are set to ramp up the country’s power production in coming years.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 29 May 2008

After suffering heavy damage during decades of civil strife, Cambodia's power supply facilities have been significantly improved since the war years, with support from international aid and foreign-funded private sector projects.

The country stands on the brink of a power-generation revolution, driven in part by the discovery of potentially vast undersea oil and gas fields and the start of a series of massive hydropower projects that it is hoped will bring electricity to much of the country.

However, until these come online, Cambodia remains largely in the dark and reliant on non-sustainable power sources like wood and charcoal.

Rolling blackouts plague the capital, casting whole neighbourhoods into darkness for hours at a stretch, while vast numbers of people in the countryside resort to car batteries for electricity or pay exorbitant fees for locally produced power.

Cambodia's failures so far at mass power generation - a patchwork of private electricity companies and an under-equipped national electric authority bring continuous power to only 17 percent of the population - have stunted the country's development, while high electricity costs have driven away potential foreign investment.

Cambodian power can cost as much as 2,000 riels more per kilowatt hour (kWh) than in neighboring countries, said Ith Praing, secretary of state with the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.

"We have no national grid yet," said Praing, adding that a countrywide power system would not likely exist until 2020.

Cambodia currently limps along on 24 fragmented power systems centered around provincial capitals and towns.

"There is no interconnection" between the far-flung power generation stations, Ith Praing told the Post on May 26.

The result is costly electricity.

"The electricity prices in Cambodia are the highest in the region, and some of the highest in the world, due partly to the large use of old small generators, reliance on fully imported diesel fuel, and large losses in low-quality, medium-voltage distribution systems," said the website for RECambodia, a renewable energy body under the authority of the government's Electricity Authority of Cambodia.

Electricity generated by Cambodia's hundreds of private power companies can cost as much as 3,000 riels a kWh, said Chea Sinhel, director of the electricity supply department at the state-run Electricite Du Cambodge (EdC), adding that these service about 100,000 people.

EdC power costs only 300 riels per kWh in the country's urban centers that it services, but the enterprise fails to reach a large number of people and still cannot generate enough power to light up Cambodia's capital, which alone needs 250 megawatts of power.

The EdC's total capacity in Phnom Penh remains only 190 megawatts, forcing it to buy the remainder from two private generation companies at higher prices.

"Electricity still costs a lot," Sinhel said.

In a bid to cut power costs, since 1999 Cambodia has bought electricity from its neighbors Vietnam and Thailand, allowing the EdC to lower costs by as much as 250 riels a kWh, according to the EdC.

The country has also begun to explore alternative energy sources such as biofuels, wind or hydropower.

While experts agree that the country could have limited success employing renewable energy - particularly in small-scale projects benefiting individual rural households or communities - the key to mass power production lies in the eight large dams government officials say can be built.

Since 2006, senior government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, have urged foreign investors, particularly Chinese companies, to back hydropower projects in the Kingdom and further diversify the power supply away from costly gasoline and diesel generation.

The largest project - the Kamchay dam in Kampot province - is already underway and hopes to provide 190 megawatts of electricity by 2010.

Two other large dams in Cambodia's northeast aim to produce a combined total of some 480 megawatts in coming years, according to government officials.

But Cambodia's electricity supply remains so undeveloped that even after the arrival of hydroelectric power and links with the Thai and Vietnamese electrical grids, the government envisages that by 2030 only 70 percent of households in the country will have power.

Compromise cools Preah Vihear dispute

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 30 May 2008

Cambodia has agreed to propose only the Preah Vihear temple as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and not the land around it, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said, ending a tug-of-war over the territory with Thailand that has stalled the temple’s listing. “Cambodia will list the ancient temple but the application will not address the [contested] territory,” Sok An told reporters on May 26 after returning from a meeting with Thai officials at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The World Court in 1962 determined that the 11th century Hindu temple, perched on an escarpment on the border with Thailand, belonged to Cambodia. Thailand, has claimed that the ruling did not decide who owned the surrounding land where the border was not settled. UNESCO’s World Heritage Unit is scheduled to approve the temple in July.

When destiny calls, young lovers split

HENG CHIVOAN A fortune teller gives a reading to two women on the Phnom Penh riverfront, May 22.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Brendan Brady
Friday, 30 May 2008

Romantic plans put on hold as clairvoyants warn of unholy matrimony

Sat Sovann's heart has been broken since 2003, when the woman he hoped to marry dumped him because of a fortune teller's gloomy prediction about their future together.

"My girlfriend believed the fortune teller when she said I would betray her if we married," said Sovann, a 25-year-old English teacher at the Asean International School in Phnom Penh.

"I cannot forget it because she was my first love and no one can replace her. I am still suffering."

Astrology's once powerful grip over the Kingdom has loosened considerably as Cambodians, particularly those belonging to the better-educated post-war generation, turn away from traditions that once dictated the decisions of their more superstitious elders.

But fortune tellers still exert considerable influence as informal relationship counselors and many unquestioningly heed their warnings, said Phan Chanpeou, a professor of psychology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

"The words of fortune tellers still have a strong impact on marriage in Cambodia," he said.

Take, for instance, Phat Samphy's bid to marry his sweetheart, which ended abruptly when a soothsayer predicted death for the couple if they married.

"The girl I love told me her parents asked a fortune teller about us and they said we couldn't marry because of our different astrological signs," said Samphy, 27, a student at Human Resource University.

However, while fortune tellers remain pivotal arbiters in matters of love, Chanpeou pointed out that some independent-minded Cambodians are less willing to swallow completely their often dire predictions.

"Before my girlfriend and I wed, we went to a fortune teller who said one of us would die if we married," said Yen Kunthea, 24, an employee at the FCC in Siem Reap.

"My parents tried to stop us from marrying but I went against them and now my wife and I live together happily," he said.
I cannot forget it because she was my first love and no one can replace her. I am still suffering.

"We should not believe in superstitions more than we believe in our own hearts.... In the end, we spend our lives with the person we love, not with fortune tellers."

Sok Pongsa Metry, a 25-year-old software developer, was also adamant with his girlfriend that they would not consult a fortune teller about their wedding plans, saying that the words of a stranger should not influence their decision.

But he said that while the younger generation is increasingly likely to shun fortune tellers, parents still use them because they find their prognostications about their children's future reassuring.

Even for some young people, the tradition of consulting a fortune teller is a hard one to break.

Ham Davy, a fortune teller who dispenses advice in front of Wat Onalom, said about five or six young people see her each day to ask about their future with their loved one.

"I'm not sure how I affect them," the 65-year-old said. "I know only my predictions."

Sam Vannak, 45, a fortune teller who operates in front of the Royal Palace, has no doubt about the value of his advice to couples planning to wed.

"It is very important for them to see a fortune teller before they get married because they need to know if they will be compatible," he said, adding that about ten young people came each day to consult him about their love lives.

"I know my predictions are true because I believe in myself," said Vannak, who has 40 years' experience in the business.

Cambodia opens wide for dental tourism

TRACEY SHELTON A man gets a checkup at the Roomchang Dental Clinic in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, May 21.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan and Kay Kimsong
Friday, 30 May 2008

It wasn't the Angkor temples, Mekong dolphins or white sand beaches that brought Australian Karen Albress to Cambodia.Instead, she came to Phnom Penh to get her teeth fixed - one of an increasing number of foreigners traveling to this tiny country to take advantage of cheap dental work.

Competitive fees and high professional standards are helping Cambodia develop a reputation among foreigners and overseas Khmer as a provider of quality dental care, say officials and dental surgeons.

"In Australia, the dental work would have cost anywhere from $9,000 to $15,000, depending on the dentist, while in Phnom Penh it cost me $900. Even adding to that a $1,200 flight and holiday expenses, I was miles in front," Albress said.

"I could never have afforded to have the work done at home," added the 35-year-old, calling the quality of care she received "outstanding."

"The surgery was immaculately clean, the staff were kind and friendly and there were more people taking care of me than I've ever had in an Australian dental surgery," she said.

Hem Chhin, the under secretary of state for the Ministry of Health, said an increasing number of foreigners and Khmer living abroad were traveling to Cambodia for dental care.

The biggest draws, he said, were the competence of Cambodian dentists - who undergo seven years of training - and their use of the latest equipment and techniques, as well as low fees compared to other regional countries.

"We are proud that foreigners are coming here for dental care," Chhin said, adding that "the number of dental clinics in Phnom Penh has mushroomed over the past five years, especially along main roads."

Phnom Penh has about 30 clinics, which are defined as having four or more dental chairs, and about 500 dental cabinets with fewer than three chairs, he said.

Dental clinic operators echoed Chhin's reasons for Cambodia's growing popularity as a provider of dental care to visitors from overseas.

"Cheap prices, standard techniques and equipment, as well as good hygiene are contributing factors for attracting foreigners," said German-trained Dr Tith Hong-yoeu, the director of the Roomchang Dental Clinic in Phnom Penh's Daun Penh district.

He said that while the cost of dental care was about the same as in Vietnam, Cambodian dentists were about 50 percent cheaper than those in Thailand and significantly less expensive than Western dentists.

Roomchang, which was established in 2000 and has seven dentists, treats between 20 and 30 patients a day, about half of whom are foreigners, Hong-yoeu told the Post.

"Our vision is to constantly upgrade techniques, quality and human resources," he said.

Hong-yoeu also welcomed a growing awareness among Cambodians, especially the younger generation, about the importance of oral health care."

More and more Cambodians begin to love their teeth; dentistry is on a positive track," he said.

The Sorya Dental Clinic, also in Daun Penh district, is popular among Cambodians who live overseas, according to its founder and director, Dr San Eang.

"Cambodian-born foreigners like to take the time to have their teeth done when they visit their homeland," said Eang.

He said the clinic, which opened in 2001, treated an average of 150 patients a month, most of whom were rich Cambodians or Khmers based overseas.

Eang said the clinic treats one or two foreigners a day, most of whom only want to have their teeth cleaned.

There was little difference between the quality of treatment in Cambodia and the West because the training needed to qualify as a dentist was similar, he added.

However, the cost of some procedures was up to eight times higher in developed countries.

Hubert Li, the general manager of the Pachem Dental Clinic group, is optimistic that Cambodia has the potential to become a major provider of dental care services in the region, competing against such countries as Singapore and Malaysia.

"This is because the dental treatment market within this region is becoming very competitive," he said.

The group, established ten years ago, has three clinics in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap, and Li said it planned to open another 24 throughout the country in the next five years.

Li said about 20 percent of the group's patients were foreigners.

Dr Someth Hong, who operates an eponymous clinic in Phnom Penh's Chamkarmon district, said foreigners accounted for about 30 percent of the 300 patients visiting his clinic each month.

Hak Sithan, the head of the Oral Health Office of the Ministry of Health, said about 20 clinics in Phnom Penh were of international standard.

The city has more than 300 dental clinics and cabinets, most of which are illegal, and about 500 dentists, with about 50 percent working in private clinics, he said.

(Additional reporting by Tracey Shelton)

Private equity fund eyes Cambodia stock exchange

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Susan Postlewaite
Friday, 30 May 2008

$450 million to be pumped into economy

Private equity investors are making their first foray into Cambodia’s unruly financial sector, with three foreign-managed funds hoping to raise a total of $450 million for projects in tourism, manufacturing, agri-business and other sectors.

Leopard Cambodia launched in April after raising a tenth of its targeted $100 million, and may be followed later this year by Emerald Fund and Frontier Investment & Development Partners into an economy that analysts say is hungry for investors to feed its nascent industrial sectors.

Leopard CEO Douglas Clayton said he expected the fund’s first investment – a real estate venture in the tourist hub of Siem Reap – to be finalized soon.

After a year of screening, the fund had also identified some other “transparent, well-managed companies” to invest in, he added.

Some of the projects, like the Siem Reap deal, will be start ups, he told the Post, adding that the fund will put $5 million to $15 million into six or seven different sectors.

“What we want to do is predict what the economy is going to look like in ten years. It’s a ten-year fund,” said Clayton, who is based in Phnom Penh, adding that Leopard was aiming for “medium to aggressive” returns of about 25 percent a year over the life of the fund.

“We work backwards and we say a Southeast Asian economy like Cambodia, with its location, population, natural resources, should have certain industries and many of them are missing today” like food processing and packaging, he said.

Clayton said Leopard’s strategy is to help companies prepare to list on Cambodia’s stock exchange, which is being developed with the help of the Korean Exchange and is under contract to start late next year.

In return, Leopard will take shares and a management role – such as a seat on the board of directors – in those companies it invests in, Clayton said.

“We are not passive investors,” he said.

Emerald Fund, which was started last November by Clayton’s former partner at Leopard, Peter Brimble, is also chasing $100 million. The fund hopes to launch later in the year and invest in tourism, infrastructure and financial services projects.
Europe is responding first. Investors there made a lot of money in Vietnam and they are looking for the next big story in Asia. – Douglas Clayton, Leopard Cambodia CEO

“We have strong confidence in the Cambodian economy and the future of the country,” said Emerald partner Brad Gordon, adding that the fund is committed to “a high level of ethics in the companies we invest in.”

The third player, Singaporean-managed Frontier Investment & Development Partners, has a target of $250 million and expects to launch by the end of June, according to its website.

Their entry into Cambodia comes at a time of rapid change, marked by political stability and a flourishing economy that between 2005 and 2007 averaged double-digit growth.

While economists predict a slowdown in Cambodia’s economy, it remains one of the region’s most robust and a prime opportunity for private equity funds to fuel growth industries like tourism, construction and agriculture, according to financial experts who, however, warned that investment in Cambodia still required a high degree of caution.

“Provided they take the right approach and invest in the right things, equity investors will be adding value, said Mai Nguyen, investment officer with International Finance Corporation, which has no stake in Cambodia.

“They will be pioneering a new investment product in Cambodia,” she said, adding, though, that the outcome depends largely on the fund managers’ expertise.

Leopard’s Clayton said that while raising funds has been hard going during the past year, investor interest had picked up and he expected to reach the fund’s $100-million mark in four months.

“Europe is responding first. Investors there made a lot of money in Vietnam and they are looking for the next big story in Asia,” he said.

Equity funds were largely successful in Vietnam, where strong growth during 2004-2005 coincided with gains in the country’s stock market.

Dragon Capital Ltd in Ho Chi Minh City successfully raised hundreds of millions from investors to put into banks, power plants and other industries.

But not every fund performed well and some pulled out, highlighting the uncertainties of pouring money into developing economies like Cambodia, where financial institutions remain weak and plagued by corruption.

The trade publication Hedgeworld noted that Cambodia is largely a rural country, marked by “the lack of double-tax treaties; expensive and unreliable communications, power and water systems; and a limited supply of local managers and professionals.”

Former Khmer Rouge hail Pailin SEZ

TRACEY SHELTON Pailin officials are hoping Thai investors will lead an economic revival at the dusty border town (above), though the special economic zone on which the plan hinges is yet to be approved.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Friday, 30 May 2008

'Hot battlefield' to become 2,000-hectare industrial zone

A massive special economic zone (SEZ) being carved out of jungle near Pailin on the Thai border will help create jobs for former Khmer Rouge soldiers living at the one-time rebel stronghold, local officials said.

A signboard went up in mid-May on the outskirts of the partially cleared Pailin SEZ, which at 2,000 hectares dwarfs similar zones designed to lure foreign investment in neighboring provinces.

Thai firms are eager to set up at the Pailin zone, about 15 kilometers inland from the border town in Steung Kach commune, Salakrao district, according to Pailin Municipality deputy governor Ich Sarou.

Sarou said he and other local officials have met several times in recent months with a group of about 50 Thai businessmen who are cooperating to open a biodiesel production plant as well as garment and electronics factories at the zone.

"They wanted to launch their operations two months ago by sending machinery in to clear land but we refused their request because it's a big investment worth more than $2 million, which means they have to get permission from the CDC (Council for the Development of Cambodia)," Sarou said.

Keut Sothea, another deputy governor of Pailin Municipality and a former Khmer Rouge commander, said the special economic zone will go a long way to improving the lives of the region's ex-rebels.

"It will encourage investors to open factories here and will provide work for our former Khmer Rouge soldiers and other people," Sothea said, adding that the jungle from which the zone is currently being created used to be "a hot battlefield for the Khmer Rouge, Vietnamese soldiers and government forces."

"Before, we used to shoot and shell each other there; now we are fighting to make business and a profit," he said.

"It is good news and it shows that Cambodia is completely peaceful.... We are forgetting the past and turning the land into a developed area for people's wellbeing," he added.

Sarou said the SEZ had been in the pipeline for several years and was part of a plan outlined by Prime Minister Hun Sen to establish five special economic zones in Pailin and Banteay Meanchey, Koh Kong, Kandal and Svay Rieng provinces. It is hoped the zones will lure foreign investors through tax breaks and the prospect of cheap Cambodian labor.

"We hope companies and factories will invest here next year," Sarou told the Post in Pailin. "We have a lot of land for their investments."

However, the deputy secretary general of the CDC's Special Economic Zone Board, Chea Vuthy, said on May 20 he had not received any requests from businesses seeking to start operations at the Pailin SEZ.

He also said that while the CDC welcomed foreign investment in the area, the council had not received a request for the Pailin zone to be formed.

"The special economic zone in Pailin has not been officially requested and registered. They (Pailin Municipality officials) should request approval for it from the CDC," he said, indicating that its approval was a mere formality.

Former Khmer Rouge soldiers in the area contacted by the Post welcomed news that work was progressing on the Pailin SEZ.

"I am very happy to hear this special economic zone is being created here. I hope it will help many Cambodian people find work and stop them from having to go to Thailand," said Soeun Say, a farmer who was previously a fighter for the hardline communist movement.

"We need investors to come here - we have a lot of land to produce crops for factories," he said.

Lath Nhoung, another former Khmer Rouge soldier, said the SEZ would benefit the agricultural sector as well as provide industrial jobs.

"When we have more factories we are encouraged to farm because it means we have a market for our crops," he said.

Sacravatoons : " The two Ganster-Monkeys "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon at

Scottish charity steps in to help rare otter

31 May 2008
By Jenny Haworth

ONE of the world's rarest otters is being helped out by donations from a Scottish-based charity.
Dara, a male hairy-nosed otter, had been kept as a fisherman's pet in Cambodia. He ended up in a small illegal zoo, which was closed down by the government.The otter, along with other animals, was donated to Phnom Tamau Zoo near Phnom Penh.

Now the International Otter Survival Fund on Skye has provided the Cambodian zoo with funding to help look after Dara. He is the only one of his species to be kept legally in captivity.

Grace Yoxon, of Isof, said the charity was also providing funds for the care of ten smooth-coated otters. "Dara is being built a new pen and now a regular fish supply is ensured," she said.

Hairy-nosed otters had previously been thought extinct. They were popular with fishermen in Cambodia, who hunted them for the fur trade.

Otters are listed on the database of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an agreement between governments aims to ensure trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Isof is backing a campaign to help end the illegal killing of rare otters in south-east Asia and the trade in their furs.


NEVER AGAINThe pontoon where the accident occurred.

NEVER AGAINSurvivors mourn the death of their teammates. --TNP File picture

The loss of 5 dragon boaters last year has taught us some painful lessons

By Ng Wan Ching
June 01, 2008

Panel: Conditions at river were the worst rowers had ever faced

NO one and no one thing was to blame for last November's tragic incident in Cambodia, where five young Singapore dragon boat rowers lost their lives.

However, the Safety Inquiry Report, released yesterday, went to some length about the Cambodian organisers' handling of the event.

'Many of the rowers stated that the conditions were the most difficult they had ever encountered,' said the 19-page report that was released by the seven-member inquiry panel, chaired by Brigadier-General Tan Kok Kiang.

The five who died were Mr Stephen Loh, 31, Mr Reuben Kee, 23, Mr Poh Boon San, 27, Mr Jeremy Goh, 24, and Mr Chee Wei Cheng, 20.

They were seated in the front of the dragon boat, which capsized as the team was docking and sank.

The 22 rowers were unaware that the river flow during the annual Water Festival, which is held every November, was at its strongest around that time of the year.


1. Late decision to take part in the race

It left rowers with just over a month to train for race day - 23 Nov. Due to various commitments, the team practised only three to five times a week, instead of six times a week like when they were preparing for the SEA Games.

2. Unfamiliarity with the race

The team was unsure of the race format as little information was made available to them.
Many independently tried to find out more from the Internet but failed to find any meaningful information, according to the report.

On 20 Nov, the team was told the race distance was to be 1.5km. At the race site, they found out it was actually 1.7km.

3. Equipment provided

The panel noted that the team did not take equipment with them as the Cambodians would be providing the paddles and life jackets. This was not unusual, said the panel.

But the rowers were not used to the boat and paddles provided by the Cambodians, which the panel said did not conform to the International Dragon Boat Federation standards.

4. No time to practice

The rowers had originally planned to be in Cambodia a day earlier, on 21Nov, for practice, but because notall members could leave then, theyarrived in Phnom Penh only on 22Nov. The panel noted that this was unusual.

5. Conditions in Tonle Sap river

The fact-finding team, which went to Phnom Penh in December, was told by the authorities that the current of the river on 23 Nov was about three knots. When measured by the Singapore Navy divers the next day, using technical equipment, it was eight knots.

Avoiding future tragedies: Recommendations & responses

Panel: Singapore Dragon Boat Association (SDBA) and its affiliates should only take part in races that comply with International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) guidelines for race organisation, conduct and safety.

SDBA: Rear-Admiral (Retired) Kwek Siew Jin, president of SDBA, fully agreed. He said the management committee of the association has decided not to send the national team to take part in races that do not comply with IDBF standards and specifications.

This means that the national team will not compete in 'traditional boat' races. If they are required to, for whatever reason, then SDBA will ensure that there is proper risk assessment and management.

Panel: SDBA and affiliates should ensure teams comply with IDBF's water safety policy and safety procedures while training.

SDBA: While SDBA agrees in principle, RADM Kwek said there are some policies which may not apply.

For example, the IDBF does not make wearing of life jackets compulsory. Since the start of dragon boat racing here in 1987, the association has made it compulsory.

'Should our national team be sent for foreign competitions in which the wearing of life jackets is not compulsory, it will be the responsibility of the team manager, in consultation with the team captain and team coach to decide,' said RADM Kwek.

SDBA has also introduced swimming tests for national team members.

Panel: SDBA and affiliates to put in place proper selection and training system to prepare for races and to set guidelnes for overseas events.

SDBA: Although there is already a proper selection system in place, SDBA has recently engaged the services of a part-time technical adviser from Canada who will advise the association on all matters of team selection, development and training.

A formal guideline and standard operating procedures for taking part in overseas events will also be developed.

Vietnam, Cambodia push for mapping of land borderline


VietNamNet Bridge - Vietnam and its neighbour, Cambodia , have vowed to complete the mapping of their shared land borderline within this year as set forth by the joint committee for land border demarcation.

The pledge was made at the sixth meeting of the two countries’ joint technical sub-committee for land border demarcation that took place in Phnom Penh from May 26 to 31.

Nguyen Hong Thao, Vice Chairman of Vietnam’s National Border Committee and standing member of the Vietnam-Cambodia Joint Committee for Border Demarcation headed the Vietnamese delegation to the meeting.

The Cambodian officials were led by Huon Savang, Deputy Head of the Secretariat of the national taskforce on border issues of the Ministers’ Council Office.

Vietnamese and Cambodian officials agreed on some important principles for the mapping of the shared borderline to serve the demarcation and planting of border marks at their border gates.

The officials agreed that the planting of border marks will be soon carried out at the Le Thanh-O Giadao border gates in Vietnam ’s Gia Lai province and Cambodia ’s Rattanakiri, and at the Tinh Bien-Phmon Don border gates shared by An Giang province and Ta Keo province.

They were unanimous that the joint teams for border demarcation and marker planting will continue doing their work at the borderline shared by Kien Giang and Kampot, An Giang and Kandal, Long An and Svay Rieng, and Tay Ninh and Kompong Cham and Svey Rieng provinces.

At the end of the meeting, Vietnamese and Cambodian officials signed a working minutes on the achieved outcomes.

While in Cambodia for the meeting, the Vietnamese officials were received by Senior Minister Var Kim Hong, president of Cambodia ’s national border committee and co-chair of the Cambodia-Vietnam Joint Committee for Border Demarcation.

(Source: VNA)

Hun Sen eyes extension of long-running rule in Cambodia with opposition divided

By: Ker Munthit

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Although 11 parties are geared to fight it out in Cambodia's upcoming national elections, the contest is all but certain to be a one-horse race.

No-one seems to have any doubt that Prime Minister Hun Sen, Asia's longest-serving head of government, will retain his stranglehold over the country's politics. Least of all himself.

"I wish to state it very clearly this way: No one can defeat Hun Sen.

Only Hun Sen alone can defeat Hun Sen," he said in a speech earlier this year.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party began almost three decades ago as a communist party that headed a single-party state.

But, as Cambodia changed into a multiparty democracy, so did the party evolve, and proved itself the master of the field.

Today Hun Sen - once a member of the ultra-leftist Khmer Rouge - is crowing that he'll bring the country boundless riches thanks to offshore oil discovered by an ultra-capitalist American oil company, Chevron.

In an hour-long speech at a recent development conference, he unequivocally told the audience he'll remain in power long enough to manage the expected windfall from the black gold, sometime in the next decade.

He spoke as if he had already won a new five-year term in office, though balloting won't be held until July 27.

More than eight million out of Cambodia's 14 million people are eligible to vote, according the elections committee.

An oil bonanza would further bolster Hun Sen's already unchallenged stature at the expense of the country's democratic freedoms, analysts say.

Once oil production starts, Hun Sen will find it easier to ignore the pressures to liberalize from foreign aid donors - on which the country is now still heavily reliant.

He will instead curb freedom of expression, assembly and the press, said Lao Mong Hay, a senior researcher at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

Elections have become a "veneer of democracy," he said, adding that Hun Sen's expected victory would further empower "the present oligarchy composed of people in power and tycoons."

Through guile and threat, Hun Sen has run Cambodia since 1985, when he became prime minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government.

A peasant's son, he has intimidated, out-smarted and co-opted his rivals, including those who have spent decades being versed in Western education and democracy.

For years, Cambodia was wracked by civil war between the government and the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, whose 1975-79 "killing fields" regime left some 1.7 million Cambodians dead.

A UN-sponsored peace process led to 1993 elections that Hun Sen's party lost - but he managed to muscle his way into the government anyway as co-prime minister.

Less than four years later, he ousted his coalition partner when their rivalry turned violent and his forces emerged victorious after a few days of bloody fighting in and around the capital.

His party easily won elections in 1998 over a divided opposition and hasn't lost a poll since. It now holds 73 of the 123 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Hun Sen has also presided over the fast growth of the economy, which remains small by international standards.

Having run the country for three decades, his party has built a firm grass-roots apparatus and can draw on financial wealth unmatched by its opponents.

Supporters include some of the country's wealthiest tycoons, who regularly dole out cash to finance rural projects such as schools and roads, often named after Hun Sen.

The party has just three credible rivals, one named after and led by opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The two other main parties are lead by Kem Sokha, a former human rights activist, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, whose former party booted him out for alleged incompetence - in part because of some political shenanigans orchestrated by Hun Sen's side.

But because the three parties lack a united strategy and instead pursue their own separate agendas for votes, they're unlikely to loosen the grip of Hun Sen's party, said Kuol Panha, director of Comfrel, an independent Cambodian election monitoring group.

Children suffering from dengue fever in Cambodia

Children suffering from dengue fever are held by their parents under a tree outside a hospital in Cambodia's Kandal province May 31, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Kim Theary, a two-year-old child suffering from dengue fever, is held by her mother under a tree outside a hospital in Cambodia's Kandal province May 31, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Children suffering from dengue fever are held by their parents under a tree outside a hospital in Cambodia's Kandal province May 31, 2008 .REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Rice planting season in Takeo

Farmers plant rice seedlings in a paddy field in Takeo province, 80 km (50 miles) south of Phnom Penh May 31, 2008. Cambodia on Monday lifted a ban on rice shipments that it imposed two months ago, the first major Asian exporter to roll back curbs that have been put in place to protect domestic supplies in the face of soaring international prices.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Farmers plant rice seedlings in a paddy field in Takeo province, 80 km (50 miles) south of Phnom Penh May 31, 2008. Cambodia on Monday lifted a ban on rice shipments that it imposed two months ago, the first major Asian exporter to roll back curbs that have been put in place to protect domestic supplies in the face of soaring international prices.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Farmers plant rice seedlings in a paddy field in Takeo province, 80 km (50 miles) south of Phnom Penh May 31, 2008. Cambodia on Monday lifted a ban on rice shipments that it imposed two months ago, the first major Asian exporter to roll back curbs that have been put in place to protect domestic supplies in the face of soaring international prices.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Re: Sacravatoons : " The Knife cuts it own Handle ",Kambiek Cheat Dorn Aeing

Click on picture to zoom in
Courtesy of Sacravatoon at

Ieng Thirith Appeals for Release

Ieng Thirith, a former Khmer Rouge government minister, facing charges of crimes against humanity before Cambodia's UN-assisted genocide tribunal, appealed for release from pre-trial detention in Phnom Penh on Wednesday May 21, 200.

Bring out the bloggers

Moments in time: I soak up the sun at Ta Keo, Angkor, in Cambodia


StarMetro takes a look into the wide, wonderful world of blogging with a new columBy travel blogger Nicole Tan. This week, she shares her personal experiences and provides some tips on how to start your own blog.

BLOGGING may not sound like a typical job, but it's what I do. I am a full-time blogger and traveller but I also have an eye out for my education and am also a soon-to-graduate part-time online Masters student.

While my friends and family may know me as Nicole Tan, to the blogging world, I am Nicolekiss and my travel blog - - has a stable traffic of about 3,000 unique visitors a day.

My greatest passion in life is travelling and my blog chronicles my journeys and will be part of my legacy as I attempt to be the first in my family to travel the world.

I began blogging about one-and-a-half years ago in the comfort of my own home while leading a dull life pursuing a part-time Masters course over the Internet. One of my earliest blog entries was a recording of me singing in front of a video camera.

However, as time passed, and with a little luck, I got to know some of the more prominent bloggers in Malaysia, some of whom may be featured in this column in the future. Thanks to them, especially links on their blogs, and features in newspapers and on TV, my own blog became better known and my traffic grew steadily.

That was when I got the opportunity to do what I enjoy, travelling, and earn an income for it. My love for travelling began when I was only 20 and decided to backpack around Europe for two months alone. It was reckless, dangerous, stupid and exciting but I was hooked!

One of my biggest challenges is travelling on a shoestring budget with my laptop. A recent attempt took me through Indo-China, to places like Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, all the while struggling to find an Internet connection to publish my entries online.

It wasn't an easy task finding a broadband connection in Laos but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love what I do and will continue doing it for a long time.

Starting your own blog

Blogs have become quite a fad in Malaysia.

It is no longer a space to express emotions alone and, with several thousands new blogs created every day, they have become platforms for creativity, news reporting, marketing and even money making.

Here are a few easy steps to creating a blog.

1. Choose a domain – The domain name is like the address of your blog. Choose wisely. The last thing you want is to choose a domain name like loveyousarah and break up a year later. Mine is Nicolekiss and many readers call me that instead of my real name Nicole.

2. Select a host – Many Internet web hosts offer free hosting services for blogs. Some of the more commonly used host sites are Blogger, Xanga and Wordpress. If you’re willing to splurge a bit, pay for your own domain name, so instead of you would get (or .net, whichever rocks your boat).

3. Pick a theme – This is optional, but important. Almost every blog has a theme or topic.
It can be about celebrity gossip, cars, travel (like mine), food (the most common), places of interest or even people.

Trust me when I say that I have seen blogs with the weirdest topics.

4. Start writing – It is that simple. Just type “hello world”, click “publish” and you have your very first entry! It’s up to you how impressive or simple you want your first entry to be, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure it will not be the last.

Great! Now you’re on your way to revealing all your dirty little secrets to some 6 billion readers out there.

Cambodian cattle moo for Pacific Angel staff

Lt. Col. Mary Brown, a U.S. Public Health Service veterinarian assigned to U.S. Northern Command, inoculates a dog for rabies May 28 in Kos Ta Phen, a rural village five kilometers off the paved road in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. A team of three U.S. veterinarians travel to a new location in the province each day of Operation Pacific Angel 01-08, a joint/combined 13th Air Force-led humanitarian assistance operation May 25 to 29. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski)

Villagers at Kos Ta Phen, a rural village five kilometers off the paved road in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia, wait patiently for their dogs to be vaccinated for rabies and treated for worms by the veterinary staff of Operation Pacific Angel 01-08. A team of three U.S. veterinarians travel to a new location in the province each day of the operation, a joint/combined 13th Air Force-led humanitarian assistance operation May 25 to 29. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski)

Lt. Col. Susan Miller, a veterinarian from Brooks City Base, Texas, inoculates a Brahman cow with a combination drug for Clostridium and Pasteruella disease May 28 in Kos Ta Phen, a rural village five kilometers off the paved road in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. A team of three U.S. veterinarians travel to a new location in the province each day of Operation Pacific Angel 01-08, a joint/combined 13th Air Force-led humanitarian assistance operation May 25 to 29. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski)

Local villagers herd their cattle into a staging area for vaccinations May 28 at Kos Ta Phen, a rural village five kilometers off the paved road in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. The breed of Asian Brahman cattle here are used mostly as working animals. A team of three U.S. veterinarians travel to a new location in the province each day of Operation Pacific Angel 01-08, a joint/combined 13th Air Force-led humanitarian assistance operation May 25 to 29. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski)

by Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski
Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

KAMPONG CHAM PROVINCE, Cambodia (AFPN) -- If asked, most people would guess that a humanitarian medical mission run by the U.S. Air Force is to give aid and assistance to people from third-world countries, or provide humanitarian relief to a place that has been hit by natural disaster or devastation. But one team on Operation Pacific Angel 01-08 was brought along specifically to help underprivileged animals.

A veterinary team of two Air Force officers and one Army officer traveled around Kampong Cham Province in Cambodia May 25 to 29. Their mission: to give care and vaccinations to the multitude of animals here.

The veterinary staff traveled to a new location in the province each day.

"What we are doing here for the local breed of Asian Brahman cattle is a combination inoculation treatment for prevention of Clostridium and Pasteruella," said Lt. Col. Susan Miller, a veterinarian assigned to Brooks City Base, Texas.

"The district veterinary health department only has Pasteruella treatments, so we are in effect doubling disease prevention. The cattle moo a lot and are scared when forced into the stocks where we treat them, but it's for their good."

The veterinarian staff administers vaccinations to the cattle, rabies vaccinations and worm treatments to dogs and treats other animals such as pigs and horses for general problems.

As part of Pacific Angel 01-08, a joint/combined 13th Air Force-led humanitarian assistance operation, the staff made contact with more than 1000 animals of all types throughout five days of operations.

"We have seen mostly the local Brahman cattle and a Asian breed of domestic dog, but we also treated a pig for pneumonia and examined the local breed of Cambodian horse, which is full grown but the size of a pony," said Colonel Miller. "Everything is going well and we have treated a lot of animals. The biggest danger here is the chance of getting kicked by the cattle so you always have to be aware of your surroundings."

The Asian Brahman cattle here are used mostly as working animals, but some are raised for beef consumption.

"We have been treating the cattle with a Cydecostin spray that will help kill parasites, internal and external," said Capt. Kathryn Belill, a U.S. Army veterinarian from the Central Pacific Veterinary Command at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. "The livestock is healthy for the most part but a little underweight and enemic from the blood-sucking parasites they come in contact with."

Operation Pacific Angel is a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of U.S. Pacific Command capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the active duty, Reserve and National Guard components of the Air Force, Army, Royal Thai Air Force and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

Japan reaffirms support for Mekong

"Stimulating growth in the Mekong region, a late starter within Asean, will be of direct benefit to Asean as a whole, and in turn will benefit Japan itself, given its strong ties with Asean in the political, economic and cultural spheres," says Mr Koumura.

Saturday May 31, 2008

Tokyo pledges help on many fronts to lift GDP in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. By Somporn Thapanachai in TokyoJapan has promised to continue investing effort and support to help three countries in the Mekong region - Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia - achieve US$1,000 per-capita GDP within the next decade, according to Masahiko Koumura, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Under the Japan-Mekong Region Partnership Programme, Tokyo said it would support the fundamental values of people in the region such as democracy and the rule of law, the integration of the regional economy, and fostering of collaboration, as well as the expansion of trade and investment between Japan and the Mekong region.

On the fundamental values front, Mr Koumura elaborated that Japan would like to help find ways to overcome poverty and address issues of infectious diseases and environmental problems.

He urged the private sector to work actively to promote trade and investment in these countries while the Japanese government would enhance the safety of investment activity through bilateral investment agreements with Cambodia and Laos. Japan aims to convey its own experience in areas such as cross-border transit and customs procedures.

Based on a regional fact sheet of world development indicators 2008 compiled by the World Bank, the gross national income per capita of Vietnam is estimated at $700, $500 in Laos and $490 in Cambodia.

"Stimulating growth in the Mekong region, a late starter within Asean, will be of direct benefit to Asean as a whole, and in turn will benefit Japan itself, given its strong ties with Asean in the political, economic and cultural spheres," Mr Koumura told the audience at the recent Future of Asia conference organised by Nikkei.

Greater inflows of goods, people and capital from Thailand in the south and from China in the north are possible to Laos and Cambodia as wages in the two countries are around one-fifth of the level in Thailand.

Flows are also being helped by the substantial scope of improvement in transport networks and know-how in cross-border transit.

"In my view, the day on which these countries attain the $1,000 level, led by Vietnam and followed by Laos and Cambodia, will come within 10 years through their own efforts and support from Japan and other countries outside the region, especially the support of Asean as a whole," Mr Koumura said.

Japan has already taken steps to strengthen its relationship with the region by hosting the first Japan-Mekong Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Tokyo in January, attended by ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and Thailand.

However, China already has a greater role in the region through its joint co-operation with Asian Development Bank and the Thai government for the investment to construct the road from Yunnan province to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. The Chinese government has also expressed its intention to support the north-south railway network from Kunming to Singapore.

Mr Koumura said these projects offered tremendous potential for infrastructure in the region to be transformed over the next 10 years. The Chinese investment is an example of a win-win situation as it would benefit people of the region and also everybody else.

Japan has also declared the goal of making the Mekong region a "region of hope and development" through its Official Development Assistance (ODA) for the completion of the second Mekong Friendship Bridge linking Thailand and Laos. The Japanese government plans to provide $20 million to facilitate goods distribution across this east-west corridor and another $20 million for a "development triangle" on the borders of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

In respect to the development of the Mekong region, Japanese and Chinese foreign-policy officials have opened a dialogue on the countries' policies for the Mekong to co-ordinate policies and share information on a regular basis.

PAD vows to continue protests But focus now shifts to ousting the Samak govt

Five core members of the People's Alliance for Democracy take the stage to announce the expansion of the group's rally. The rally against the charter amendment has been turned into an anti-Samak government campaign. — CHANAT KATANYU

Saturday May 31, 2008

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has announced it will continue its rallies, the focus of which has now turned to toppling the Samak Sundaravej administration, which it calls a puppet government, from office.

The PAD's declaration came despite the fact that the government's motion to amend the charter was dropped due to the withdrawal of lawmakers' support and PM's Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair announcing his resignation.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej will go on air on the National Broadcasting of Thailand (NBT) channel at 9am today to talk about measures to cope with the PAD demonstrations.

The People Power party (PPP) also declared yesterday it would propose that Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung be given power to deal with the PAD.

PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, along with other core leaders, went on stage yesterday evening and read out a statement attacking the PPP-led coalition government to the cheers of over 10,000 supporters of the alliance who gathered at Makawan Rangsan bridge.

In the statement, Mr Sondhi accused the government of acting as a puppet government under the direction of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Sondhi alleged that the Samak government had adopted the same corrupt practices as the ousted Thaksin government.

He criticised the government for its failure to tackle poverty and the soaring cost of living.

He slammed the government for attempting to block compulsory licensing, meddling with the judicial process and interfering with the media.

He said the government had proved inept at protecting national sovereignty, citing the dispute with Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple and the continuing southern unrest.

Mr Sondhi accused the Thaksin regime of being the brains behind the movement seeking change in the constitutional monarchy and allowing people with ''a dangerous attitude'' towards the royal institution to run the country.

Mr Sondhi heavily criticised the government for trying to get rid of the constitution endorsed by the public in the referendum last year.

Mr Samak and 22 cabinet ministers from the PPP yesterday had dinner together at party headquarters.

A source who was present at the dinner said the prime minister would try to ''take the street back'' from the protesters.

In a related development, other PAD leaders yesterday submitted a petition to Senate Speaker Prasobsuk Boondej signed by 31,881 people seeking the removal of MPs and senators who joined in a motion to rewrite the constitution.

Somsak Kosaisuk, one of the PAD leaders, said the PAD had the right to do so under Articles 122 and 270 of the constitution.

He said the PPP's charter amendment proposal was aimed at deleting several chapters and transitory provisions from the constitution and adopting the abrogated 1997 constitution to replace the existing one.

Mr Prasobsuk said the petition would be examined to see if it had any grounds for proceeding against those MPs and senators in question.

The Central Registration Bureau and the Election Commission will be asked to check the identities of the people who signed the petition.

The procedures are expected to be completed within 30 days.

Suriyasai Katasila, another PAD leader, confirmed that the PAD will continue to hold demonstrations and keep an eye on the movements of the PPP.

Some People Power MPs were set to renew their efforts to have the charter rewritten, even though the motion to rewrite the constitution had been shot down, Mr Suriyasai said.

He said the government must make it clear that it would put a stop to its plans to amend the charter.

Panya Sripanya, a People Power MP for Khon Kaen, said the party was concerned about the PAD street protests which could get out of hand and eventually bring the government down.

He was speaking after a meeting of MPs of the PPP yesterday.

At present, the new national police chief has yet to be appointed, leaving the police leaderless and inefficient in dealing with demonstrators, he said.

The meeting agreed that Mr Chalerm would be suited for the job.

''The PAD sees themselves as achieving a victory by making Mr Jakrapob resign. The government must choose the right man to do this job,'' Mr Panya said.

The proposal will be taken to the cabinet for consideration soon, he said.

Operation Pacific Angel leaves lasting impression

U.S. medical mission provides aid to Cambodians
Major Philip Clark (left), a dentist with the Washington Air National Guard's 194th Medical Group, and Sar Sarom (right), a Cambodian dental student, perform a surgical tooth extraction May 25 on a Cambodian woman at the provincial Friendship Clinic in Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia. The 13th Air Force-led medical team is in Cambodia during Operation Pacific Angel 01-08 May 25 to 29 to provide free medical care to the people of Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski)

U.S. medical mission provides aid to Cambodians
Major Philip Clark (left), a dentist with the Washington Air National Guard's 194th Medical Group, and Sar Sarom (right), a Cambodian dental student, perform a surgical tooth extraction May 25 on a Cambodian woman at the provincial Friendship Clinic in Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia. The 13th Air Force-led medical team is in Cambodia during Operation Pacific Angel 01-08 May 25 to 29 to provide free medical care to the people of Cambodia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski)

by Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski
Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

KAMPONG CHHNANG PROVINCE, Cambodia (AFPN) -- When temperatures approach 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity by 6 a.m. in the rural Cambodian province of Kampong Chhnang, excitement fills the air. News has spread far and wide by the Imam, a local religious leader, and by word of mouth. American medical people have returned to help the Cambodian people here.

The Friendship Clinic staff expects to make contact with at least 3,000 Cambodians here during its five days of Operation Pacific Angel 01-08, a joint/combined 13th Air Force-led humanitarian assistance operation taking place May 25 to 29.

"When we arrived to open our doors at 7 a.m., we were surprised to see more than 200 people waiting to be seen," said Master Sgt. Grace Devera, site coordinator with Pacific Air Forces International Health Alliance, or IHA.

"They came by every conveyance imaginable, but mostly on foot, and by 8 a.m. there were more than 500 people," said Sergeant Devera.

The Friendship Clinic operates four main clinics: primary care, dentistry, optometry and women's health. The Kampong Chhnang Friendship Clinic was built by a Marine Corps task force in 2005 and is one of two unilateral partnership clinics run in Cambodia.

"We are expecting to see up to 600 patients a day in our four clinics," said Sergeant Devera. "We have three primary-care doctors working with three Royal Cambodian Armed Forces primary-care doctors, three Cambodian dental students working with our dentists and 13 translators who are key to the language barriers."

Most often the villagers come because they have no money to be treated for minor problems at their local clinics, which are usually reserved for the most serious conditions, according to Sergeant Devera.

"At patient intake, we make contact with mostly women, children and older men. Their problems are as simple as headaches to a toothache, and the older folks come mostly for eye problems," she said. "After a height, weight and blood pressure check, they are given a number and wait to be seen by a clinic (staff member)."

In a country where dental care is almost non-existent to the population's majority, the Friendship Clinic's dentists are treating up to 100 people a day.

"We have three two-person teams with one Air Force dentist and one Cambodian dental student per team, plus one RCAF dentist," said Col. Mark Beehner, a dentist assigned to the 375th Dental Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

"So far, we have made contact with very few people who have ever had any type of dental care," he said. "In fact, there are so many teeth that have to be removed, we have to limit it to one fourth of the mouth."

Poor dental care is reflected in many of the Cambodian patients seen.

"What we had to do in the case of one woman who never had dental care was to perform a surgical extraction of a tooth that had severe decay and was abscessed," said Maj. Philip Clark, a dentist assigned to the Washington Air National Guard's 194th Medical Group at Camp Murray, Wash.

"I came here with a bad toothache and they fixed me," said Man Hasenus, a Cambodian patient. "I feel so happy now. I was scared at the beginning but the doctors calmed me."

On the first day of operations, it was not only the dentists who were busy, the doctors in primary care had their hands full too.

Generally, people were showing up with chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes that had gone a long time with no treatment, according Maj. Nisha Money, a preventive health physician from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Washington D.C.

"We are treating a lot of non-communicable intestinal and skin diseases and we are seeing some chronic conditions, which we are not equipped to handle," said Lt. Col. Chris Perez, a primary care doctor with the Guam Army National Guard. "What we do is give them some counseling on how to take care of those conditions."

For the people needing follow-up care and long-term monitoring, the IHA staff is working a referral program to provide sustainability and continuity.

"This mission is not a band-aid approach to treating people, but a capacity-building effort through building relationships between our U.S. medical forces, the RCAF, provincial health departments and local non-governmental organizations in order that follow up and continuity of care is sustained as a result of our medical mission, " said Major Money. "The ultimate goal is to empower the Cambodia medical corps with skills and resources, so they may be self-sustainable."

The Condition of Prisons in Cambodia Remains Difficult

Posted on 1 June 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 562

“Phnom Penh: Cambodia has twenty four provinces and municipalities, but there are twenty five prisons countrywide. According to observations and research conducted by the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights – LICADHO - on prisoners of eighteen prisons in 2008, prisoners in Cambodia still face many difficulties, and the prisons have not yet reached the standards set.

“The director of LICADHO, Ms. Pong Chiv Kek [Dr. Kek Galabru] told Khmer Sthapana that, according to their research, conducted four times a month on prisoners in eighteen prisons from among the 20 prisons, the conditions of prisons in Cambodia are still very difficult.

“Difficulties exist because prisons are very narrow and old, the roofs leak, such as in the prisons in Takeo and in Kompong Thom. The number of prisoners increased, but the prisons have not been increased, so that in some rooms up to thirty or forty prisoners are together, making each room very crowded and hot, and the electricity is often cut; this affects their health – if any of them has a disease, the others are infected, and sometimes there was violence among them.

“Another major problem is food; the state provided only Riel 1,000 [approx. US$0.26] per prisoner per day, which is now increased to Riel 1,500 [approx. US$0.39]. Still, this is not enough to cover the expenses, because the prices of all goods increased, and food is also expensive, making food supplies in prisons to be a problem.

“Another important issue is the shortage of medicines; sometimes there were not enough medicines and sometimes prisons lack medicines and doctors, because there is no money; and when a prisoner fell seriously ill and needed to be referred to a hospital, sometimes, there was no fuel to run the car. The basic problem is funding.

“According to the Prison Conditions in Cambodia 2007 report of LICADHO, observing eighteen prisons from 1999 to 2006, the number of prisoners continually increased. In 1999, there were 3,282 prisoners; in 2002 there were 5,302 prisoners; in 2003 there were 5,711 prisoners; in 2004, there were 6,296 prisoners; in 2005, there were 8,238 prisoners; and in 2006, there were 8,835 prisoners.

“Separately, by April 2008, the number of prisoners had climbed up to 9,315 in total, among them there were 579 minors – among them were fourteen little girls – and 8,736 adult prisoners, of whom 546 were women (this is the figure of the prisoners of the eighteen prisons observed and researched by LICADHO).

“Dr. Pong Chiv Kek continued that the numbers of prisoners steadily grows, but we do not know whether this is because the actions of the police become more efficient, or because the number of crimes increases. She said she does not have statistic about the prisoners who had been released and those who had entered the prisons, or of those who had been caught and then been released.

“However, some penalties are reduced three times per year, based on proposals by prison officials, after they have established that prisoners have corrected themselves. The first reduction of penalties is conducted on Khmer New Year, the second on Visakh Bochea Day, and the third at the Water Festival. On the other hand, according to Article 27 of the Constitution, the King has the right to grant amnesty.

“Regarding information that there were bribes paid by some prisoners’ families to prison officials in order that the officials include their children’s or relatives’ names into the list proposing to reduce heir penalty, Dr. Pong Chiv Kek said that LICADHO is not sure, because there is no concrete evidence. However, she acknowledged that she has heard such information, but there is no proof.

“A prison official said that the prison conditions are being improved and they are moving to more improvements, like now, a new prison is being constructed in Takhmao [Kandal]; though the government does not have enough funds, there are countries cooperating like Australia that helps repairing some buildings. Related to health care and the improvement of the prisons’ environment, prisoners are allowed to go out of their cells for one to two hours, and there is also education and short term skill training, such as sewing and reading books. Some prisons have been converted to become rehabilitation centers.

“Dr. Pong Chiv Kek supports the educational plans at the rehabilitation centers, for example, facilitating prisoners to go out of their cells to read books, to learn something in short training courses, or to sew something so that they do not feel bored, in order to improve their mental attitude to get rid of violence and other bad habits. She went on to say that the use of soft methods in guidance and education is better than using strong methods like hitting people, because violence will make them feel angry and they will want to take revenge after they are released, and will be worse than before.”

Khmer Sthapana, Vol.1, #24, 31-3.5-6.2008


Malaysian King Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin walks as Queen Nur Zahirah greets Cambodian officials upon their arrival at Phnom Penh international airport May 28, 2008. The Malaysian king is on a six-day state visit to Laos and Cambodia.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

By From Noor Shamsiah Mohamad Bernama - Sunday, June 1

SIEM REAP (Cambodia), May 31 (Bernama) -- Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Nur Zahirah departed for Kuala Terengganu tonight after concluding a six-day state visit to Laos and Cambodia.

The government executive jet carrying the royal couple took off from the Siem Reap Airport at 6pm to the Sultan Mahmud Airport in Kuala Terengganu.

Also on the plane was Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, who was the minister-in-attendance, Tengku Sri Bendahara Raja Tengku Mustafa Kamel and Tengku Sri Temenggong Raja Tengku Baharuddin.

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Chaufea Veang Kong Som Oi and Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin and Malaysian ambassador to Cambodia Datuk Adnan Othman were at the airport to see off their Majesties.

The visit to the two Asean countries had enhanced bilateral ties not only in the social, economic and political arena but also in the cultural aspect.

Tuanku Mizan's visit to Laos was historic as it was the first by a Malaysian Head of State in the history of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Tonight Tuanku Mizan will open the 12th Sukma Games in Kuala Terengganu.


Family funds mosque for village

With daughter Elyse Lightman and husband Alan Lightman behind her, Jean Lightman cuts the ceremonial ribbon.

Trays of cakes are ready as Cambodian Muslim members of the Imam-San sect prepare to inaugurate a new mosque, a gift from an American Jewish family, in a village 44 miles northwest of Phnom Penh.

KER MUNTHIT; The Associated Press
Published: May 31st

TRAMOUNG CHRUM, Cambodia – When residents of this poor, Cambodian village need something built, they call on the Lightmans.

The Jewish American family’s latest gift: a mosque.

“We never had such a beautiful mosque in our village,” said 81-year-old Leb Sen, a toothless, village elder with a wrinkled face. “The young people said to me that I am very lucky to live long enough to see one now.”

Flashing a broad grin, Leb Sen brought his palms together and bowed repeatedly in gratitude toward his American donors — Alan Lightman; his wife, Jean Greenblatt Lightman and their daughter, Elyse.

Alan Lightman, a 59-year-old humanities professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said building the mosque was not part of his family’s original plan to improve education in the village, about 44 miles northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.

“It’s too much to comprehend. We never imagined that we would build a mosque in a remote village in Cambodia,” said Lightman, author of the best-selling novel “Einstein’s Dreams.”

“It was so strange for us to be there,” he added, “… halfway across the planet, and it’s a religion that’s far from our religion.”

The Lightmans first learned about the village in 2003, when a friend introduced them to various rural education projects. Two years later, the Harpswell Foundation, an organization founded by Lightman to help children and young women in developing countries, built a four-room concrete school, the village’s first.

Some of the 600 villagers came to Lightman in 2006 asking him to fund a new health center, a popular choice among the women, and a mosque, which the men favored. He told the villagers they would have to choose one. In the male-dominated community, it was a mosque.

“The men have won again, but the mosque is also very important for preserving our culture and tradition,” said 50-year-old Sit Khong, one of the five women in the village who were part of a committee to pick the project. “We will never find enough money to build it ourselves anyway.”

The mosque, with the gold-colored inscription “Funded by Loving Gift of Lightman Family” above the front door, opened on May 9. It can accommodate about 200 people and replaces a tiny building on wood stilts that held only 30 worshippers.

The villagers follow Imam-San, a small Islamic sect that incorporates Buddhism, Hinduism and animism. The Imam-San makes up about 3 percent of Cambodia’s 700,000 Muslims, who themselves represent only 5 percent of Cambodia’s 14 million people, according the U.S. State Department annual report on religious freedom.

Besides mixing in elements of other religions, Imam-San followers pray only once a week, not the traditional five times a day. “In the view of the real teaching of Islam, they are not pure,” said Tin Faizine, a 24-year-old Muslim student who was interpreting for the Lightmans.

Elyse Lightman, who is writing a book about Imam-San culture and traditions, said she was happy to help a community that is not fully embraced by either mainstream Muslims or Buddhists, Cambodia’s majority religious group.

“You can see why Muslims don’t consider them to be their own,” she said. “And then Buddhists say, ‘Well, you pray to Allah.’ So, they’re caught in the middle.”

She noted that the Imam-San, like the Jews, have faced persecution over the centuries, most recently when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and abolished all religion.

“I think there is part of me that felt some sort of kinship in this,” she said.

About 500 followers of Imam-San from around the country came to this village of wooden houses and mango trees to celebrate the opening of the new mosque.

Sem Ahmad, 57, said he wanted the Lightman family to help build a mosque in his village in Battambang province in northwestern Cambodia. “It is beautiful. I’d love to have the same mosque because we do not have one like this in our village,” he said.

But Lightman said this would be his “first and last” mosque, because “I don’t think I have the resources or the time to build more mosques.”

The mosque was built with $20,000 from his family’s savings, not the foundation’s funds, he said.

In the future, he plans to focus on education for underprivileged Cambodians, which is his foundation’s main goal.