Sunday, 29 June 2008

Central banker keeps eye on the riel issues

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong and Brendan Brady
Friday, 27 June 2008

A bureaucratic pinch-hitter, Phan Ho, 56, began his career at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in 1972. After the KR years he joined the Ministry of Planning in 1982. For the past decade, he’s settled accounts in the Kingdom’s burgeoning financial sector as deputy director general of the National Bank of Cambodia and secretary general of the recently formed regulatory watchdog, the Financial Intelligence Unit. Ho gave his two cents worth on June 20 to the Post’s Brendan Brady and Kay Kimsong on balancing the Kingdom’s economic exuberance with responsible monetary policy.

What’s the role of the National Bank of Cambodia?

The National Bank of Cambodia is the country’s central bank, the supervisory authority of the banking system, so we license and regulate commercial banks. There are now 16 commercial banks.

What is the National Bank’s top priority?

The area that attracts most of our attention is the soundness and sustainability of the banking system, its ability to grow while maintaining compliance. It’s our job to create growth, and there’s been more sustainable growth during the last three or four years. But if the amount of money in circulation is not sustainable, the growth is not sustainable. Right now, the growth of loans and bank deposits is very rapid, with outstanding loans growing by 80 percent in the past year.

What’s a more comfortable growth rate?

Twenty or 30 percent.

Capital reserve requirements are slated to rise at the end of July. Why?

Our economy is growing a bit faster than normal, especially in terms of loans and deposits. We see that the banks have excess liquidity and that’s why we have raised the reserve requirement. We want to tighten up on credit because most loans are going to big real estate projects that don’t necessarily benefit the economy.

Is there a particular sector that’s of concern to the National Bank?

We are concerned about construction loans and housing loans. We understand the situation in the United States about subprime mortgages and the problem in which people lose their ability to pay off loans. That’s why we are taking action to prevent this, but achieving an impact will take some time.

Does the National Bank control the flow of capital through Cambodia’s borders?

Formal transfers between banks can be monitored, but we still have informal transfers that we cannot control. It’s difficult for the central bank to know about this money because some of it is kept in people’s pockets and some is related to other government institutions.

You can see all the big construction projects like Camko, the Gold 42 Towers, and the International Finance Complex. The costs of those projects are very high and we can’t control how much money they bring in from outside the country and how much they pay out to contractors. There are also informal transfers from expatriates in some land and housing sales, and there is also a lot of speculation in real estate by individual Cambodians. It is very difficult for us to know the extent of it.

What is the basis for Cambodia’s currency system?

It used to be gold-backed but now other countries don’t use the gold standard anymore so they can print what they need. Our currency is not transferable; it can only be used locally. So now we just pay the paper and printing costs. We have foreign reserves of about $2 billion and, normally, the amount of money in circulation should be proportionate to double GDP.

Does the dollarization of the Cambodian economy pose problems for consumers or enterprises?

It’s market-driven. It’s very difficult for the central bank to control. We promote the use of the riel by requiring all taxes and utilities be paid in riel, and we ask government agencies to pay salaries in riel. It all used to be paid in dollars, but now it’s paid in riel. That’s our policy since 2000. The larger denomination riel notes are in circulation but are not popular.

Will the government begin paying civil servants through direct, electronic deposit?

Some government agencies already have a deal with Canadia Bank for salary payment, and we’re expanding to all government agencies in two or three years. It’s safer than carrying money from Phnom Penh to the provinces. But everyday there are still trucks of money going to the provinces.

Will the stock market be established on schedule?

It will be on time. We are conducting local training and are also sending people to be trained in South Korea. A lot of companies don’t want to comply with disclosure requirements for listing, but this is not a regulatory matter for the central bank, it’s for the Ministry of Finance.

Some opposition parties and NGOs have raised concerns over money laundering in Cambodia through casinos and land speculation. Is the National Bank monitoring money laundering?

We are worried about this issue. That’s why we established the Financial Intelligence Unit to control the flow of money through the country’s borders. The FIU has already met and its members include the National Bank, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Council of Ministers. All the related ministries have received technical assistance from Japan, France, Australia, the IMF, and the World Bank. Training has taken place and some people have already been arrested.

What if someone carries a suitcase of cash to a casino in Poipet? How do you monitor this kind of activity?

This requires the Ministry of Finance to issue another sub-decree asking the gambling industry to report suspicious activity. This has not happened yet because we were just established in May of this year. The law has been issued, but we still need a sub-decree to enforce it.

Banks see credit cards as key to retail market

Vandy RattanaAutomatic teller machines (ATMs) and the planned launch of domestic credit cards mark a turning point for retail banking in Cambodia, as money becomes more readily available – and not necessarily in cash.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Cheang Sokha
Friday, 27 June 2008

On the back of rising personal wealth and economic growth, Cambodia’s small retail banking industry is taking off, fueled by rising trust, access and confidence in the stability of the Kingdom’s financial sector.

“The number of people coming into the Cambodian banking system far exceeds population growth,” said Steve Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal.

According to Higgins, the outlook for Cambodia’s retail financial sector is overwhelmingly positive, and he expects it to continue growing steadily in the coming years.

“If you look at the proportion of credit to GDP in Cambodia, it’s still far lower than other Asian markets, so there’s plenty of scope for natural growth,” he said.

“A hallmark of developing economies is that financial services increase far more rapidly than the general economy. It’s happened everywhere, and it’s happening in Cambodia.”

ANZ Royal, established in 2005 as a joint venture between Australia-based ANZ and the local Royal Group, has pioneered electronic and internet banking in Cambodia.

In addition to its suite of personal accounts, ANZ Royal was the first bank to install ATMs – it now has 120 across the country – and plans to soon launch its first Cambodian credit card.

Acleda Bank president and CEO In Channy has also witnessed a rapid expansion in retail banking since Acleda was first licensed in December 2003.

“We’ve built from being an NGO with five offices to having 213 offices across the country,” he said.

By April this year, Acleda was opening 770 new bank accounts per day, and the growth shows no signs of abating.

According to Channy, Acleda plans to double the number of ATMs from 30 to 60 in the coming year, and build on the 300 point-of-sale systems already present throughout the Kingdom.

Personal loans and credit cards are also seen as a strong potential growth area. Of the $438.8 million wrapped up in Acleda loans, only $10.5 million were personal, Channy said.

“This is a very small amount but in the future this [sector] will be part of our growth,” he said, adding that the bank also plans to introduce credit cards as its retail services expand.

“In Cambodia, there are few banks that issue real credit cards,” he added.

Paul Guymon, general manager of local market research firm Indochina Research, said that this growth has been underpinned by a sharp increase in the trust shown by Cambodians in the domestic banking sector.

“There is now a lot more trust in the banking system, and consumers are willing to put more of their money in banks,” he said. “Even just four years ago, there was an ingrained distrust of banks.”

According to Guymon, this confidence is reflected by the rise in the number of ATMs in Cambodia since the first ANZ Royal unit was installed in 2005.

“The key thing in terms of the use of banking and financial services is the increasing number of ATMs,” he said. “ATMs are a major spur to the use of retail banking [since] money is readily available, yet secure .”

One challenge to the further expansion of retail banking is the large proportion of the rural population either too poor to afford traditional banking services or who live too far from bank branches.

“Lower income groups are locked outside the banking industry, not only because of distrust, but also because their money is being spent on a day to day basis,” Guymon said.

Channy foresees the entire retail banking sector eventually embracing greater competition.

“We are trying to provide a convenient infrastructure to all of our customers,” he said. “Acleda and the other banks are each doing this, which will further improve the trust in the banking industry.”

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister to appeal pretrial detention

The Associated Press
Published: June 29, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The former foreign minister of the now-defunct Khmer Rouge movement plans to appeal to Cambodia's genocide tribunal for release from his pretrial detention, a court spokesman said Sunday.

The United Nations-assisted tribunal has charged Ieng Sary, 82, with crimes against humanity and war crimes. He will appear on Monday to press for his release, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said.

Ieng Sary is one of five defendants being held by the tribunal, which plans to begin its first trial later this year. His wife, 76-year-old Ieng Thirith, who served as the Khmer Rouge's social affairs minister, is also being held on charges of crimes against humanity.

The tribunal, jointly run by Cambodian and international personnel, is attempting to establish accountability for atrocities committed by the communist group when it ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

The group's radical policies resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

In their detention order in November, the investigating judges said Ieng Sary is being prosecuted for supporting Khmer Rouge policies that were "characterized by murder, extermination, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhuman acts such as forcible transfers of the population, enslavement and forced labor."

Ieng Sary has dismissed the charges as "unacceptable" and demanded evidence to support them, according to a copy of his detention order.

Ang Udom, Ieng Sary's lawyer, said he planned to challenge earlier assertions by the judges that his client would be a flight risk and a threat to witnesses if released.

"My client is too old. He cannot escape from Cambodia," Ang Udom said. "If he wanted, he could have done so long before his arrest."

Ieng Sary and his wife belonged to the inner circle of the Khmer Rouge and were in-laws of the movement's late leader, Pol Pot, who was married to Khieu Ponnary, Ieng Thirith's sister. Ieng Thirith took her husband's surname after they got married.

In 1996, Ieng Sary received a royal pardon from former King Norodom Sihanouk as a reward for breaking away from Pol Pot and leading his followers to join the government. The mutiny foreshadowed the Khmer Rouge's collapse three years later in 1999.

But the pardon had no bearing on the Cambodia-U.N. tribunal pact. Similar appeals by other defendants have failed.

The three other suspects in custody awaiting trial are Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, Nuon Chea, the former chief ideologist, and Kaing Guek Eav — also known as Duch — who headed the Khmer Rouge's S-21 torture center.

The tribunal has said it plans to start Duch's trial in September.

Siem Reap Cambodia: Step forwards the foremost tourism destination in South East Asia

Bayon Temple in Siem Reap

Currently, Siem Reap is the most famous destination in Cambodia. By the year 2020, Siem Reap will become the foremost jewel of South East Asia tourism. It is the cultural magnet, attracting tourists from the world- not just to the famous temple complex but to the beautiful city, where a thriving population conducts business in harmony with the environment.

This is

the feel-good vision described in a final draft report of the Siem Reap Master Plan conducted by JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) in cooperation with Siem Reap officials and the APSARA Authority that has role in protecting the monuments of Angkor and providing technical support for urban development.The report optimize that by 2020, Siem Reap will have become a "beautiful and unique tourist city based on a harmony of history, arts and Khmer culture," the report states in its strategic vision. "It will have learnt from the implications of Angkorian wisdom for sustainable development and cultural diversity in the 21st century'.

The plan was designed to develop the economy, construct necessary infrastructure and maintain the quality of tourism resource and environment in the town. This last concern has also responded to the climate change, the hot global issue, which tourism. It is our commitment that 'Tourism will be at the leading edge of the global response to climate change.' Not only in Cambodia but also in other countries, good environment has vitally played role in thriving the tourism sector.

By CHHEM Samnang

Banking sector emerges from financial wilderness

Tracey Shelton
Acleda Bank’s sparkling headquarters in Phnom Penh reflects the rapid growth of financial services in Cambodia, where 24 commercial banks now compete to fund the Kingdom’s development and provide a safe haven for personal wealth away from the traditional hoarding of gold and jewelry.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 27 June 2008

After decades in the wilderness, Cambodia’s financial sector is finally starting to make inroads into the country’s vast, largely unregulated cash-based economy. But despite recent progress, there is still a long way to go in reform and transparency if growth is to be maintained long-term, say economic analysts and industry experts.

Over the past few years, the country’s double-digit annual growth rates have led to a rapid expansion in retail and commercial banking, with outstanding personal and business loans rising from a total of $471.6 million in 2004 to $893.6 million two years later, according to figures from the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

In its latest annual Asian Banking Outlook report, global credit rating firm Moody’s has painted an optimistic picture of the Kingdom’s business sector, predicting economic growth of 7.2 percent in 2008 and financial stability over the next 12-18 months despite the recent global credit crunch.

“In Cambodia, public confidence in the banking system is recovering,” said the report, a development it put down to sustained economic growth, increasing personal wealth and a stable regulatory environment.

Since the restoration of private property rights in 1989, the National Bank of Cambodia has been leading the government effort to reform and develop the financial sector.

Acleda Bank president and CEO In Channy credited the sector’s increasing stability to the passing of the 1999 Laws on Banking and Financial Institutions, which created the transparency and predictability necessary to build trust in the financial sector.

“The level of trust in the banking industry has increased because of this law,” he said. “The public trusts banks more now because banks have to issue detailed financial statements.”

Channy said that this increase in trust was demonstrated by the rapid growth in Acleda’s domestic deposits, which climbed from $800 million in 2004 to $2.5 billion in April this year.

“More competition is coming. Investors now feel comfortable coming to Cambodia,” he added.

Cleaning house

In November 2000, a bank restructuring initiative by the National Bank led to the de-licensing and liquidation of 12 banks that had failed meet a new requirement that they increase their base capital from $5 million to $13 million.

According to the Asian Development Bank’s 2001-10 Financial Sector Blueprint from December 2001, the initiative underscored the government’s awareness of “improving the soundness and reliability of the banking system, which is crucial for confidence building.”

But Cambodia’s chaotic recent history, coupled with the country’s grinding poverty and chronic corruption, have inspired anything but financial confidence.

After marching into Phnom Penh in April 1975, the Maoist Khmer Rouge dynamited Cambodia’s then-new National Bank building, sending worthless banknotes blowing through the streets of the deserted capital. For the three-and-a-half years of Pol Pot’s rule, the use of money was outlawed and the economy crumbled.

The Vietnamese-backed government that toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979 was then faced with the challenge of building a functioning financial system from the ground up, a development that is still, in many ways, a work-in-progress.
The banking sector is now growing very fast. Confidence and trust have been gained from the public. That’s our greatest achievement.
–Phan Ho, National Bank deputy director general

But National Bank deputy director general Phan Ho said that the government’s reforms have proven very successful in establishing a baseline of consumer and business confidence upon which future reforms can build.

“The banking sector is now growing very fast,” said Ho. “Confidence and trust have been gained from the public. That’s our greatest achievement.”

But despite steady growth and a more stable regulatory framework, Cambodia’s banking and financial sector remains a small part of an overwhelmingly cash-based economy, with bank deposits constituting just 18 percent of GDP in 2007, and even then concentrated mostly in the capital and larger provincial towns.

According to the Financial Sector Diagnostic report released by the IFC in June 2007, “a well-developed public infrastructure has not been established, [including] relevant business laws, an efficient and independent judiciary, regulation and supervision of other financial markets, and a secure and efficient payment and clearing system.”

Still, ADB economics and financial sector officer Vanndy Hem said that Cambodia has made great strides.

“If we look back from where the sector started, the achievements we see today are solid and fundamental to the future development of Cambodia. Key among those are the restored confidence of the public in the system [and] the steady shift from the informal to formal usage of the system,” he said.

“Cambodia should be applauded for its achievements in introducing some fundamental laws and regulations, [but] the real challenge is how we can ensure that they are carried out,” he said.

Raising standards

As Cambodia’s 24 commercial banks fiercely compete for increasingly savvy customers, they are raising standards of transparency beyond minimum government requirements.

According to Acleda Bank vice chairman John Brinsden, the arrival of foreign-owned banks in Cambodia has raised the bar beyond the formal regulatory framework.

“In Cambodia the four largest foreign banks (Canadia Bank, Acleda, ANZ Royal and Campu Bank) dominate, then there’s a large gap before you come to the rest,” said Brinsden.

Although foreign-owned banks have been allowed to operate in Cambodia since the UNTAC period of the early 1990s, it’s only in the past five years that the arrival of large, consumer-oriented banks such as ANZ Royal has pushed up the standards of smaller local and regional institutions.

ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins said that his bank has held itself to the same high standard in Cambodia as it does in Australia and New Zealand.

“We’ve brought some innovative banking practices here: the branches, the ATMs,” he said. “ANZ Royal was an international quality bank, coming into a country that was very much in need of it.”

Brinsden of Acleda agrees. “ANZ has really shaken things up here and has forced other banks to put in ATM networks,” he said. “In terms of customer service and transparency, they’ve caused some of the local banks to raise their game a little.”

Equity funds find a new frontier

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cat Barton
Friday, 27 June 2008

As international interest in emerging markets surges, Cambodia’s profile is rising as a key frontier for private equity, with three major funds looking to pour upwards of $450 million into the Kingdom’s economy.

Cambodia stands out as a rare safe haven from the global credit crunch, due to it un-leveraged economy and bountiful natural resources, said Douglas Clayton, a managing partner of Leopard Cambodia, which is raising $100 million for its Cambodia fund.

“Cambodia offers the best reward to risk profile in the region now, as competition is still low and the country has such vast potential,” he said.

Leopard Cambodia was the first fund to launch in April after raising around a tenth of its targeted $100 million. It is looking for investments of between $5 million and $15 million and its first project is a tourism property development in the Angkor temple town of Siem Reap.

“We are very bullish on tourism growth there, and expect a robust return on this project,” said Clayton.

Leopard was followed into Cambodia’s investment-hungry economy by Frontier Investment & Development Partners (FIDP), a $250 million fund that launched three weeks ago and has so far had strong interest from investors, said its CFA Marvin Yeo.

“Cambodia has untapped oil and gas reserves, large amounts of fertile agricultural land, low labor costs, a stable democratic political system and a dollarized economy with no capital controls where companies can be 100 percent foreign owned,” he said, explaining why so many investors are now flocking to the Kingdom.

“The highest growth levels are found in resource rich frontier economies,” he added.

Yeo said he could not disclose the exact amount of money raised until the fund had achieved its first close. The fund sets a $10 million minimum investment per institution.

“I’m absolutely in no doubt that it [raising the necessary capital] will happen over the next few months,” he said, citing the fund’s investment platform and deals already in the pipeline as key factors in its future success.

The Kingdom’s other major new fund, Cambodia Emerald Limited Partnership, which is looking to raise $100 million to invest in a range of sectors, most importantly agri-business, tourism and real estate, closed its seed round of financing in late April when two investors agreed to back the fund and provide an unspecified amount of capital. The company is now set up and operating and actively looking to do deals.

“We are not in a position at this time to discuss our first projects or targeted returns,” said Peter Brimble, managing director of Cambodia Emerald. “In general, we expect our returns to be consistent with international investors’ expectations for a market like Cambodia.”

Both Leopard and FIDP are expecting returns of least 25 percent on each investment they make.

High rates of return coupled with a business-friendly environment and emerging political stability help explain the record levels of attendance at the Cambodia Investment, Trade and Infrastructure 2007 last November as well as a conference in Siem Reap last month – organized by Leopard Capital – at which 22 mainly US fund managers met assess future opportunities.

“The double-digit economic growth rates of the past few years and indications of relatively high economic growth in the future suggests strong potential for capital gains in Cambodia,” said Brimble.

The recent flurry of high finance activity belies the fact that Malaysian interests have been active in the Kingdom for years and South Koreans have long been investing in banking and property, with a $2 billion satellite city on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and a city-center skyscraper now under construction.

Much to the chagrin of the longstanding expatriate business community in Cambodia, the Kingdom still suffers from something of an image problem – another legacy of the devastation wrought by the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime and the ensuing years of civil strife.

Moreover, rampant corruption – the Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Cambodia the 14th most corrupt out of 179 nations in its 2007 study – and a weak legislative framework have served as a deterrent to large-scale FDI for years.

Despite all the media discussion of these issues in Cambodia, most foreign investors who have been here a while are seeking to expand their Cambodia businesses, not sell them, said Leopard’s Clayton.

“I think that says a lot,” he said. “We expect the emergence of a stock exchange in Cambodia will increase business transparency here, as has been the pattern throughout Southeast Asia.”

For Emerald’s Brimble, there has been a “significant misunderstanding of the Cambodian situation.”

Major improvements in the regulatory and legal environment for business have been quietly inspiring substantial increases in FDI in recent years, he said.

“Ongoing improvements in levels of corruption and the business environment will enable FDI to grow and to thrive,” he said.

Finding enough suitable opportunities to absorb hundreds of millions of dollars of private-equity capital may be another issue for the fund pioneers to grapple with in the not too distant future.

FIDP’s Yeo is confident that it is possible due to the potential of key sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, oil & gas and real estate which are largely private sector driven.

“Cambodia needs very conservatively at least $5 billion of investment over the next three years,” he said.

“Given that the domestic debt markets are still in their infancy (and that the international debt markets have been largely closed off to Cambodia) and the lack of any domestic public capital market to raise funds, private equity funds and direct investments ... are pretty much the only ways for projects to get funded.”
A Cambodian flag flutters near an entrance gate to Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodian-Thai- border in Preah Vihear province, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, on June 21, 2008. High on a Cambodian cliff, the Preah Vihear temple has weathered war and territorial disputes. Now it's at the center of a political tug-of-war in neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

As the Khmer empire, which once encompassed parts of Thailand and Vietnam, shrank to the size of present-day Cambodia and the country was plunged into civil war, the Preah Vihear temple fell into disrepair. Steps, walls and pillars have collapsed.HENG SINITH PHOTOS: ASSOCIATED PRESS

By KER MUNTHITAssociated Press

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — High on a Cambodian cliff, the Preah Vihear temple has weathered war and territorial disputes. Now it's at the center of a political tug-of-war in neighboring Thailand.

As it has over the centuries, the ancient temple is fueling nationalist sentiment on both sides of the border, and opposition supporters in the Thai parliament are raising it as a reason for why the prime minister should step down.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej recently endorsed Cambodia's bid to register the temple as a UNESCO World Heritage site — enraging opposition lawmakers who say he is yielding national sovereignty to Cambodia.

Never mind that the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it stands on to Cambodia in 1962 — it remains an issue in both countries.

"The Preah Vihear temple is part of a wounded history of Thailand and Cambodia," said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "It was used to stir up a nationalist movement during World War II, and again during the Cold War ... and is now threatening to inflame politics again."

Protests on the border

The crumbling stone temple, which is a few hundred feet from Thailand's eastern border with Cambodia, is the centerpiece of a no-confidence motion against Samak. The opposition accuses the prime minister of policy mistakes and of being a proxy for deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

The dispute comes shortly before the World Heritage Committee starts its annual meeting Wednesday to consider bids for special status, which helps attract funds for preservation of a site as well as raising its tourism profile.

Thai senators sent a petition to UNESCO this week asking that consideration of Cambodia's request be deferred until both countries file a joint nomination for World Heritage status. UNESCO has not responded.

Anger is simmering on both sides of the border, particularly in Thailand.

"The Temple of Gloom," ran one banner headline in The Nation newspaper, under a photo taken in March of Samak shaking hands with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Samak insists his endorsement of Cambodia's bid has no effect on Thai sovereignty, saying the temple belongs to Cambodia and the Cambodians are entitled to seek its listing as a World Heritage site. A stretch of disputed territory around the temple was not included in the request to UNESCO, Samak told lawmakers.

Thai protesters have gathered near the hilltop site since Sunday, singing patriotic songs and shouting that the temple belongs to Thailand, said Hang Soth, director-general of Cambodia's Preah Vihear Authority.

As a result, Cambodia closed the border gate that leads from Thailand to the temple.

A myth among some Thais'

Preah Vihear, a Hindu-themed temple that reflects the beliefs of the kings who ruled what was then the Angkorean empire, is located on the top of a 1,722-foot cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, about 150 miles north of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. Reaching it by road is easiest from the Thai side of the border.

"We are the owners of the temple, and it has nothing to do with Thailand," said Moeung Son, a Cambodian tour group operator and founder of the Khmer Civilization Foundation.

Last week, his group held a rally in Phnom Penh to support Cambodia's UNESCO bid and dispel what he called the "myth among some Thais who say that Preah Vihear temple is theirs.

"Built between the ninth and 11th centuries, it is revered partly for having one of the most stunning locations of all the temples constructed during the Khmer empire — the most famous of which is Angkor Wat.

As it has fallen into disrepair, Hun Sen has pledged "a serious commitment" to building a road to the temple "whatever the cost.

The Gods in the JUNGLE

Indian Express
Lindsay Pereira
Sunday, June 29, 2008

12,000 people called it home, and 80,000 worked towards its upkeep. Today, the roots of trees are all that keep the Cambodian temple of Ta Prohm from oblivion n lindsay pereira

The music grew louder with every step. Accompanying it was the sucking sound made by wet earth, as I walked beneath massive trees on my way to the temple of Ta Prohm. As I turned a corner, the source of the music appeared through the mild drizzle. It was a group of ragged locals, sitting under a tent and creating a rhythmic, hypnotic rhythm.

Some were blind; others held percussive instruments between stubs that were once feet. Victims of a 25-year old civil war, they were survivors. And, for a world that had forgotten them, they were creating music.

It was, with hindsight, the perfect setting for my first glimpse of Ta Prohm, a name derived from a dedication to Lord Brahma. Like a dirge, the music created a backdrop against which the crumbling walls of the temple appeared. It was a view that had stayed the same for decades, the stone held firmly in place by the massive roots of silk cottonwood and strangler fig trees. It was a strange state of limbo for what in the late 12th century was born Rajavihara, the ‘royal temple’, built by the Khmer king Jayavarman VII.

Begun in 1186 AD, this was to be a Buddhist monastery and university. Family was clearly important to the king, considering the temple’s main image was allegedly modelled on his mother, while smaller temples within the enclosure were dedicated to his elder brother and his teacher. Those calm faces staring down for centuries, at visitors from foreign shores, were all that remained of what was once a powerful kingdom.

As I stepped into an enclosure of fallen columns and sunlight-dappled ground, it was hard to imagine what life here was like eight centuries ago. According to the guidebook The Monuments of the Angkor Group, first published in 1944 by Maurice Glaize, this was once home to over 12,000 people, including 18 high priests and more than 600 dancers. Some 80,000 people living in villages nearby offered services and supplies. A full temple treasury enabled the complex to expand until the end of the 13th century.

And then, in the 15th century, the Khmer empire collapsed. Temples was abandoned everywhere, and the forest slowly closed in. While the world outside struggled with mundane issues like war and the clash of civilisations, Ta Prohm slept undisturbed. When it was eventually re-discovered early in the 20th century, an unusual decision was made to leave it as it was. Glaize says this was done only to Ta Prohm because it was the one temple that had ‘best merged with the jungle, but not yet to the point of becoming part of it.’

It was easy to see why Ta Prohm was among the most popular temples in the massive archaeological park that held Angkor Wat. It was all thanks to the trees. An ironic situation, considering they now held the temple in a vice-like grip that could no longer be broken. Maurice Glaize described, almost lovingly, their ‘long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants.’ The effect was eerie. It’s why Hollywood wanted it as a backdrop, and got it for the Angelina Jolie-starrer Tomb Raider. Apart from the stunning architecture, what gave the ruins of Angkor Wat much of its character was its mysterious past. When King Suryavarman—the predecessor of Jayavarman VII—died, work on Angkor stopped abruptly. The temples were sacked by enemies of the Khmer people, the Chams, and restored by Jayavarman VII.

Now, as tourists lined up beneath the strangling roots for photographs to send home, I thought about how this calm still seemed illusory. Not many countries could boast a history as bloody as Cambodia’s. After the 19th century came to a close, the 20th saw the rise of the infamous Khmer Rouge. There was little damage to temple structures during that bloody reign, but a large number of statues were stolen or destroyed. The passage of time still refused to guarantee peace. Riots erupted in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh as late as 2003, after a false rumour spread, of a Thai soap star claiming Angkor belonged to Thailand.

I walked through crumbling halls that must undoubtedly have once been grand, thinking about how the Vietnam War had left Cambodia with over six million landmines. One in every 236 Cambodians had lost a limb due to a mine explosion. The music outside, barely discernable, was a reminder no one paid heed to. It was now a souvenir, available on CD for $10.

As I continued on my way out, the devtas on temple walls turned eyes of stone towards me and smiled calm, placid smiles. The world outside had changed irrevocably since they were carved into being. For them, however, our history was just a moment in time. As I stepped into the sunlight, the music played on.

Cambodian political parties gear up for July election

Cambodia's political parties are continuing to campaign this weekend, ahead of next month's general election.

It is hoped the nation's fourth democratic election will be free of violence, but already, the ruling Cambodian People's Party has been accused of intimidation by the Opposition.

Sen Lam reports from Phnom Penh that campaigning Cambodian-style is a colourful affair.

In the capital, small lorries cruise the city streets in convoys, with loud music and political slogans, as party members pile into the back of the trucks.

Human rights groups and election observers have voiced concern in recent weeks over perceived intimidation, in particular, the arrest and release of a newspaper editor, and the closure of a provincial radio station.

The station had sold air time to opposition parties without government permission.

For the moment, the campaigning climate is better than in previous elections, although threats against activists at grassroots level, are reported to continue.

Produced by Radio Australia and Australia Network

Three foreigners arrested in Cambodia on drug charges

The Sunday Times
June 29, 2008 Sunday

PHNOM PENH - THREE foreigners - a Briton, a Pakistani and a Taiwanese-American - have been arrested in Cambodia for trying to smuggle 750 grammes of drugs out of the country, police said on Sunday.

Steven Bushel, Sha Hihan and Victor Chhan were arrested at midnight Friday in a hotel room where they were discovered with 450 grammes of crystal amphetamines known as 'ice' and 300 grammes of a white powder used to produce the drug, anti-drug police investigator Chea Leng told reporters.

'We have monitored them for almost three months and we knew that they were trying to smuggle the drug out of Cambodia,' he said.

Police were still trying to learn where the suspects were smuggling the drugs, he said.

The three men were being held at the Interior Ministry's anti-drug unit to await trial, he added.

Ice can be produced in rudimentary laboratories from a range of chemicals and resembles clear, chunky crystals that can be smoked, snorted or injected.

Although drug arrests have risen, Cambodia is becoming an increasingly popular trafficking point for methamphetamines and heroin, particularly since neighbouring Thailand toughened its stance on illegal drugs in 2002.

-- AFP

Chinese-funded hydro-dams bring hope and fear to Cambodia

Cambodian children eat rice by candle-light during an electricity outage in Phnom Penh

A worker, in Cambodia's neighbouring state of Laos, overlooks a hydro-power dam under construction

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Hydropower is held up as the beacon of hope for millions of electricity-starved Cambodians, with ten planned hydro-dams set to power up their homes for the first time.

But flicking the switch comes at a price as critics say the controversial deals made with mostly Chinese companies to build the dams will create further hardship for Cambodia's poor and ruin the environment.

For window-maker Dorn Seanghor, however, the prospect of working without being plunged into darkness is appealing. In the midst of Cambodia's building boom his business should be thriving, but he is constantly frustrated.

"There's usually a blackout for six to eight hours almost every day -- one time in the morning and again in the evening," he said at his shop in the capital, Phnom Penh.

"It disturbs my business. I use a generator when the power is cut, but the price of gasoline is very high now."

Still, Dorn Seanghor is one of the luckier ones. Four-fifths of Cambodians do not have access to any electricity.

Ten dams are set to begin churning between 2010 and 2019, and once they are all operational the government says they will generate 2,045 megawatts of power, serving all Cambodia's provinces.

Government officials say six of the dams will be funded by Chinese companies, but the US-based International Rivers Network warned in a January report that these Chinese investments could threaten some of Cambodia's most precious eco-systems.

"Poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage (natural) resources," the report warned.

Groups have been particularly concerned about the looming affects of Kamchay Dam, under construction by Sinohydro Corporation in Bokor National Park and expected to flood 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres) of protected forest.

And now environmental groups say two more projects agreed in mid-June at a cost of more than one billion dollars -- Stung Tatay by China National Heavy Machinery Corporation and Russey Chrum Krom by Michelle Corporation -- have not been properly scrutinised.

Both will be located in the country's southwestern Cardamom Protected Forest, and about 1,600 hectares (3,953 acres) of woodland would have to be flooded or cleared to make way for the dams, the government has said.

This could destroy key animal habitats and upset the delicate eco-system.

"Cardamom is the last hot spot of conservation in Indochina," said Sam Chanthy, an environmental officer with advocacy group Forum on Cambodia.

Qian Hai, third secretary of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, denied his country's companies would damage the environment.

"We just help Cambodia. All these projects are approved by the parliament and the government," he said.

Ith Praing, Cambodia's energy secretary, insisted the government conducted careful environmental studies for all the dams.

"Outsiders always raise environmental issues, but we need electricity. We must develop our country. We must use our resources rather than buying oil," he said.

Cambodia has begun to climb back from decades of civil unrest to emerge as one of the region's fastest-growing economies.

Economic growth has averaged 11 percent over the past three years, although 30 percent of the 14 million people still earn less than a dollar per day.

The government fears rocketing energy prices will scare away foreign direct investment.

"Every sector needs electric power. When we have electricity at a reasonable price, development will come along," said Ith Praing, adding the government forecasts that by 2030, 70 percent of Cambodian families will have electricity.

Opposition member of parliament Son Chhay, however, said the debate is not simply a case of economic development versus the environment.

Poor people could be forced from their land to make way for the mega-projects, crops could be destroyed, while the environment the rural poor depend upon may be wiped out, he told AFP.

"The government just closes its eyes and lets Chinese companies do things that will cause a lot of problems in the future," Son Chhay said.

"It will not resolve poverty in Cambodia. Cambodia will lose a lot without taking into consideration the environmental consequences."

Cambodia stays cool

The Bangkok Post

By Prasit Saengrungruang in Aranyaprathet

Despite concerns about a political backlash similar to the ransacking of the Thai Embassy in 2003, the Cambodian public and media are reacting calmly to the raging Thailand controversy over Preah Vihear temple.

Read more on the Preah Vihear issue in Sunday Perspective - Click here)

"Cambodia has the right to seek a World Heritage status for Preah Vihear temple, and Thai people also have the right to protest against it," said Mr Sou Chamroeun, deputy director of Bayon television station in Phnom Penh .

"The Cambodian government and its people understand the issues raised by Thai politicians and they believe bilateral relations will not be harmed," Mr Sou said in a telephone interview with Perspective last Thursday.

The interview was conducted at the same time as the no-confidence debate in the Thai parliament, where the opposition Democrat party accused Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama of acting beyond his authority by signing a joint communique with Cambodia to have the ancient temple listed as a World Heritage site.

"The World Court has ruled that the temple belongs to Cambodia and everyone must respect its ruling," said Mr Sou, who is also a deputy chairman of the Cambodian Writers Association.

He dismissed fears about adverse reactions against the Thai people and businessmen living in Cambodia. "It is unlikely that there will be a repeat of the 2003 events," he said.

In January 2003, a Cambodian newspaper article falsely alleged that a Thai actress claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand. Other Cambodian print and radio media picked up the report and furthered the nationalistic sentiment which resulted in riots in Phnom Penh on January 29. The Thai Embassy was burned and properties of Thai businesses were vandalised.

Mr Sou's views are shared by Mr Khieu Kanharith, the minister of information of Cambodia, who said any problems concerning the temple's boundaries should be settled by the joint Thai-Cambodian committee, which holds regular meetings.

In his opinion, both Thailand and Cambodia will benefit from tourism and related businesses if Preah Vihear temple is listed as a World Heritage Site. In fact, he noted, Thailand would gain more than Cambodia because most of the tourists would have to pass through Thailand in order to visit the ancient temple.

During the censure debate, the Democrats insisted the Thai government's support for Cambodia's unilateral listing of Preah Vihear would remove Thailand's right to have ownership of the temple reviewed. Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the Cambodian map that Foreign Minister Noppadon had acknowledged could put Thailand at a disadvantage in talks to settle the borderline with Cambodia .

The Thai media have demanded to know why a number of Cambodians have moved into a disputed area near the temple. If these Cambodians stay there permanently, it might cause Thailand to lose part of the area in dispute.

On this issue, Mr Hourt Song Hak, a reporter for the Cambodian daily Koh Santipap, agreed that the Cambodian settlers must be moved out of the area. Other than that, it is the Cambodian government's right to seek the listing of Preah Vihear, which belongs to Cambodia, as a World Heritage Site, he told Perspective.

Interestingly, the Cambodian reactions to the controversy are typically in stark contrast to the nationalistic mood of Thai politicians, media and academics.

Thai historian Thepmontri Limpaphayom has suggested that if the Cambodian request is put on the agenda of the World Heritage Committee in Quebec early next month, Thailand's World Heritage Committee should resign to pressure other member states of the World Heritage Committee to postpone considering the issue.

Meanwhile, Supreme Commander Gen Boonsang Niampradit said the Royal Thai Air Force had already put its transport planes on standby in case it was necessary to evacuate Thais from Cambodia if the issue gets out of hand.

During the height of violence in Phnom Penh on Jan 29, 2003 - when rioters attacked the Thai Embassy and the premises of Thai-owned businesses, including Shin Corp, then owned by the family of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - the Thai government sent military aircraft to Phnom Penh to evacuate Thai nationals, while angry Thai protesters demonstrated outside the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen attributed the government's failure to prevent the attacks to incompetence, and noted that the riots were stirred up by extremists. The then chairman of the National Assembly, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, claimed that opposition leader Sam Rainsy had directed the attacks. Rainsy, instead, said he had tried to prevent the violence.

Sacravatoons : " The Lawsuits "

Click on image to zoom in
Courtesy of Sacravatoon at

Sacravatoons :" A Pointball pen & a Gun "

Click on image to zoom in
Courtesy of Sacravatoon at

Who's that nibbling at the world's landmarks?

Microorganisms and fungi are eating away the stone of treasured monuments, causing irreversible damage.

June 28, 2008

At Angkor Wat, the dancers' feet are crumbling.

The palatial 12th-century Hindu temple, shrouded in the jungles of Cambodia, has played host to a thriving community of cyanobacteria ever since unsightly lichens were cleaned off its walls nearly 20 years ago. The microbes have not been good guests.

These bacteria (Gloeocapsa) not only stain the stone black, but they also increase the water absorbed by the shale in morning monsoon rains and the heat absorbed when the sun comes out. The result, says Thomas Warscheid, a geomicrobiologist based in Germany, is a daily expansion and contraction cycle that cracks the temple's facade and its internal structure. Warscheid, who has studied the deterioration of Angkor Wat for more than a decade, said in an interview that these pendulum swings have broken away parts of celestial dancer sculptures on the temple walls.

"It is getting worse -- up to 60 or 70 percent of the temple is black," he added.

Once chalked up to weathering, the damage at Angkor Wat is now seen as the result of a much more complex dynamic: the interaction of microorganisms with the chemical and physical properties of the temple.

In various places around the world, from Easter Island to the Acropolis, microscopic organisms are accelerating the deterioration of monuments and historic landmarks. Scientists and conservators have only recently begun to understand the role that common bacteria and fungi play in destroying cultural sites and how -- if at all -- they can be stopped. This growing recognition is inspiring new techniques to combat microbial damage.

"Our heritage is disappearing," said Ralph Mitchell, a biology professor at Harvard. "Whether it's Angkor Wat or the Mayan sites in Mexico or the Native American archaeological sites in the West of this country, they are all under threat. And the question is, can we preserve them?"

From bacteria that feed on hydrocarbons to endolithic fungi that eke out an existence within porous rock, monument-damaging microbes thrive because they survive in environments inhospitable to other flora and fauna.

"One of the recent discoveries that is of concern is that increased air pollution can sometimes increase biodeterioration," said Eric Doehne, a scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute. Some bacteria feed on chemicals found in pollutants, excreting an acid that eats away at stone, metal and paint.

Microbes pose a serious risk to the monuments at the Acropolis in Athens, including the golden-proportioned Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike, said Sophia Papida, conservator for the Acropolis Restoration Service.

Bacteria penetrate the veins of the marble, attract water and expand, cracking the monuments' faces and pillars, Papida said. Lichens burrow circular holes in the marble, a phenomenon known as honeycomb weathering, and exfoliate sculptural friezes that tell the stories of gods and goddesses.

Microbes also thwart painstaking efforts to restore the monuments. Acropolis stones can crumble into thousands of tiny pieces, leaving a near-inscrutable jigsaw puzzle. "Our work is attacked by microorganisms, and we have to go back, remove the microorganisms and put it back together," Papida said. "The bacteria which are there, they are having a good time, actually."

For decades, researchers struggled to grow laboratory cultures of bacteria that thrive on monuments. Today, genetic techniques allow scientists to better identify microorganisms, but that does not always mean they can reverse the damage.

"We can use DNA analysis to identify who's there, but it doesn't mean that they cause the problem," said Robert Koestler, director of the Museum Conservation Institute at the Smithsonian.

Some efforts to preserve monuments become the very cause of the problem. Biodegradable polymers used to consolidate the stones of Mayan ruins in Mexico, for example, created conditions ripe for damaging microbes.

An added complication is that the organisms sometimes protect monuments, such as the volcanic rock formations known as the Cappadocian "fairy chimneys" of southeastern Turkey. Just as lichens once kept Angkor Wat from absorbing too much water and heat, scientists discovered that lichens on the chimneys prevent them from taking in too much water, keeping them intact longer.

"It's not always a bad-news story," Doehne said. He is optimistic about scientists' ability to manage microbial attacks. "We are seeing a burst of knowledge coming to the fore, really in the last 20 years."

At Angkor Wat, Warscheid developed a biocide called "melange d'Angkor" that will be used to whiten certain areas of the temple. The chemical solution changes the ability of the cyanobacteria to produce their black-staining byproduct. There is no point, he says, in applying the biocide to the whole temple: After 10 years, the bacteria will adapt to it. "In certain places, where there are carved stone scriptures, you can provide the manpower to do this cleaning on a regular basis."

At the Acropolis, University of Athens researchers are working with Papida to test a biocide, a quaternary ammonium compound that she hopes will get the restoration back on track.

Fighting off microbes is a matter of "vigilant and routine maintenance," said Mark Weber of the World Monuments Fund. People often deal with "stone-eating organisms," as if they are singular events, he added, rather than as adaptive beings.

Another emerging solution is to starve the microbes. Conservators did this to kill off cotton-candy-like fungi on flooded African artifacts housed in a university building in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, Koestler said. The fungi thrive on oxygen; they created an anoxic environment by flushing the objects with argon.

The method is easier, of course, indoors. Outdoors, combating microbes can mean cutting off their water source. "You want to catch it early -- just like you diagnose a disease," said Mitchell of Harvard. Once a biofilm, a community of bacteria like the slimy coating that forms on your teeth, develops, any effort may be futile.

In Warscheid's view, protecting monuments, while important, is delaying the inevitable. "We have to accept that at some moment they will disappear," he said. "But we know a lot about how to conserve them for the next 20, 30 years."

Children exploited in Cambodian building boom - 28 Jun 08


Cambodia is one of southeast Asia's poorest countries, and that poverty has forced many parents to take their children out of school and send them to work.

But the country is experiencing something of a construction boom.And that means many children are ending up on building sites or in factories, where the work is dirty and dangerous.

Fauziah Ibrahim reports from Battambang province, where hundreds of children are now risking their health and their lives, working in brick kilns.

Cambodian genocide court to decide on detention of ex-Khmer Rouge official

Saturday, June 28, 2008
Steve Czajkowski
[JURIST] Former Cambodian Foreign Minister Ieng Sary [Trial Watch profile; JURIST news archive] is set to appeal his provisional detention in a June 30 open hearing to be broadcast on radio and TV stations, according to documents [scheduling order, PDF; Hearing invitation, PDF] released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive]. Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who served as minister for social affairs, were arrested [PDF press release; JURIST report] in November 2007 and charged [JURIST report] with crimes against humanity and war crimes for breaches of the Geneva Convention [text] based on their role in the Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive] communist regime of the 1970s. Sary and his wife have cited health concerns in their appeals against detention orders. Sary has been hospitalized twice [JURIST report] so far this year.
Sary was pardoned in 1996 [NY Times report] by King Norodom Sihanouk, but in a response [PDF text] to the hearing by the civil party in the case, the pardon was said to violate international law, and is non-binding on the ECCC, which was established by in 2001 to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials. According to published proceedings [PDF, text], Sary is punishable under articles 5, 6, 29, and 39 of the Law on the Establishment of the ECCC [text]. The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. To date, no top Khmer Rouge officials have faced trial. Sary and Thirith are two of five former Khmer Rouge leaders in the custody of the court.

Temple row may cause rift between countries

The Bangkok Post
Saturday June 28, 2008

Cambodia issues Preah Vihear warning

Flaring nationalist sentiment in Thailand over the Preah Vihear temple issue threatens to harm ties between the neighbours, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong warned yesterday.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said the government is ready to reverse its decision to accept a revised border map if Thai people disagree.

The two countries have reached a deal, setting the map around the Preah Vihear temple, so Cambodia can apply to Unesco for a World Heritage listing.

But Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama has come under fire for agreeing to the deal, which became a key issue in the censure debate that ended on Thursday with the seven targetted ministers and Mr Samak winning votes of confidence.

''Politicians in Thailand should not exploit the Preah Vihear temple issue in their domestic struggles,'' Hor Namhong told reporters in Phnom Penh.

''This could damage the cooperation and friendship that exists between the two countries.''

Cambodia this week closed the temple after about 100 Thais, mostly from Si Sa Ket province, marched to the site to protest against the deal, which they say resulted in Thailand losing territory.

But Hor Namhong insisted: ''The drawing of the Preah Vihear map for listing as a World Heritage site does not affect the border at all. Thailand will not lose even one centimetre of land.''

Both countries have historically laid claim to the site, which sits on Cambodian soil but can only be easily accessed from Thailand.

He also denied an accusation by the anti-Thai government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that Thailand's backing of Cambodia's World Heritage bid is in return for business concessions for ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

''This has nothing to do with that. These people used it as a pretext for their own political exploitation,'' the Cambodian foreign minister said.

Mr Samak appeared to have softened his stance on the issue following the censure debate.

He said the contents of the joint communique between Thailand and Cambodia could be reviewed if the Thai public disagreed with it.

In a bid to ease pressure over the temple issue, the Thai Foreign Ministry will issue a 61-page white paper, available at, to clarify Thailand's role.

Krit Kraichitti, director-general of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department, Anuson Chinvanno, director-general of the East Asia Affairs Department, and ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat yesterday held a press briefing.

They insisted the signing of the joint communique did not obligate Thailand and did not violate the constitution.

The Foreign Ministry also promised to do its best to protect the country's sovereignty and bilateral relations.

According to Mr Tharit, security was being stepped up at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, but the situation there otherwise remained normal.

A researcher yesterday submitted a petition to the Prime Minister's Office to oppose Cambodia's application.

The petition, signed by 33,000 people, was lodged by historian M.L. Walwipa Charoonroj, of Thammasat University's Thai Studies Institute.

M.L. Walwipa said the signatories objected to Phnom Penh's bid to list the ruins and rejected any obligations Thailand had made with Cambodia.

She said the objection was raised because border disputes between the two countries were not yet settled.

The petition was accepted by Jul layuth Hiranyawasit, permanent secretary of the PM's Office.

The Administrative Court yesterday finished examining the PAD's petition seeking suspension of the joint communique.

The court is expected to decide whether to accept the petition for a hearing on Monday.

The PAD has asked the court to nullify the cabinet resolution on June 17 to endorse Cambodia's map of the temple, which was feared to be used by Phnom Penh to contest Thailand's sovereignty over the contentious overlapping areas.

In Si Sa Ket, former charter drafter Sawet Tinkul yesterday filed a complaint with police against some 500 Cambodian villagers for alleged illegal entry and encroachment.

The Cambodian villagers were accused of building houses, shops and other structures in Phra Viharn (Preah Vihear) National Park's compound.

Police investigators accepted the complaint for review while noting the matter was sensitive and would be handled carefully. _ Agencies and Bangkok Post.

Thai court blocks support for Cambodia temple bid

June 28, 2008

BANGKOK - A TOP Thai court imposed an injunction on Saturday against Bangkok's support for a bid by Cambodia to register a disputed 900-year-old Hindu temple on their border as a World Heritage Site.

The Administrative Court's decision came after a legal request by the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has whipped up a nationalist frenzy over the Preah Vihear temple, which many Thais believe belongs to Thailand.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the ruins were part of Cambodia, a decision that has rankled with most Thais ever since. Cambodia's move this year to have Preah Vihear accorded World Heritage status has reopened the wound.

The PAD, whose supporters have been camped outside Government House for more than a week, says Bangkok is backing Phnom Penh's bid in return for business concessions in Cambodia for ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Thaksin and both the Thai and Cambodian governments deny the claims by the PAD, a motley collection of businessmen, academics and royalists united in their hatred for the telecoms billionaire ousted in a 2006 coup.

It is not known how the injunction will affect the heritage push by Cambodia, which has warned of consequences for its relations with its larger neighbour. The Court said the temporary injunction would be in place until it had come to a full decision.

Fears of a major diplomatic reaction, or worse, over the temple are not overblown, especially since Cambodian politicians are in campaign mode for a July 27 general election.

In 2003, a nationalist mob torched the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh after a newspaper erroneously reported comments from a Thai soap opera star saying the famed Angkor Wat temples belonged to Thailand.


Stop Abuse of Cambodian Brides; Khmer Ambassador to South Korea: Cambodian Women Are Not Goods

28 June 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 566

“Phnom Penh: In recent years, Cambodian women had married foreign men and they were often abused in many different ways, such as through trafficking and exploitation. After many women had married to Taiwan, Cambodian women started to marry to South Korea, and some are being mistreated by their husbands and families. That is why the Cambodian Ambassador to South Korea reacted strongly that Cambodian women are not goods, and he asked to stop the abuse of Cambodian brides.

“Mr. Lim Samkol, Cambodian ambassador to South Korea, spoke to the Korean Times - and his words were published early this month - asking South Korean citizens to accept Cambodian brides as new members of their families, and he asked them to try to understand and forgive them for some expressions of culture shock.

“He said that Cambodian women are not goods. He said so, because most Cambodian women who got married to live in South Korea were married after Korean men had spent money to arrange these marriages.

“Previously Mr. Han Kuk-Yom, the president of the Women Migrant Human Rights Center, had told the New York Times that that government does not guarantee to protect the rights of the Korean men’ wives who are immigrants or to protect them from mistreatment. He said that Korean men believe that they are allowed to mistreat their wives, because they had spent much money to the tourist companies or for the marriage arrangement; and they always look down on women from poor countries.

“Mr. Han Kuk-Yom said, ‘Three years ago, women were taught before they were sent to Korea, but now they did not get much education, so they need to spend much time to grow accustomed to their lives in Korea, such as learning Korean and other traditions.

“According to the International Organization for Migration, Mr. John McGeoghan said that Korean men seek wives in foreign countries, because they cannot find wives in their country.

Most of them are farmers or fisherman, or they have families in rural areas. He added that most men got married through marriage agencies or matchmakers, or by their own arrangements, and they get married with women who are Chinese, Japanese, Philippinas, or Thai; and the weddings are often celebrated in Christian churches. At present, most international marriages are with women from developing countries in the region, such as China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Mongolia, Thailand, and Cambodia.

“Mr. John McGeoghan told Khmer Sthapana that the state of being victimized is easily caused by the unbalance of the economic situations that can lead to the exploitation to foreign women by treating them unequally, including discrimination, violence, and the abuse of women’s rights.

According to a report of the Ministry of Health and Welfare of Korea, 37% of international immigrant women got fake information about their husbands, including about mental health, 28% got fake information about the income of their partners, 21% lied that they are wealthy, and 20% got cheated by giving fake job information about their future husbands.

“Mr. John McGeoghan said last month in the World Vision organization in Phnom Penh that, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare of Korea, 31% were verbally abused, 26.5% were physically abused, 23.1% were sexually abused, and 18.4% were abused by threats.

“According to the index of the International Organization for Migration, the number of brides marrying Korean men increased dramatically: in 1990 there were only 619 foreign brides counted, and in 2005 there were 31,180. According to the Korea Times, there are 2,564 Cambodian women married to Korean men.

“Late March 2008, the Cambodian government stopped temporarily all marriages between Cambodian women with foreign men after many irregularities were found.

“In May, in a meeting of a working group against human trafficking at the World Vision organization, the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ms. You Ay, said, ‘Cambodian girls are not goods,’ but previously, marriages to foreign countries had shown irregularities, because they were made not according to the marriage law, and they did not respect Khmer traditions; and the ways in which the matchmakers choose women shows extreme exploitation – Korean men gave them US$15,000 to US$20,000, but the brides got only US$300 to US$1,000.

“Ms. You Ay added ‘I want marriages based both on love and on the hearth, but not that marriages happen for money.’

“Khmer Sthapana has contacted victimized women married to Korea and was told that most of the Khmer women marrying Korean men received only US$300 to US$1,000, while the Korean men spent US$15,000 to US$20,000. If women were beautiful, they received US$700 to US$1,000. These women thought that their marriages are like winning a lucky draw and expected that they would be able to send some money home to improve their families’ livelihood.

“However Ms. K.S.A. aged 19, in Svay Teab, Chamkar Leu, Kompong Cham, said that her expectation dissolved like water; she was mistreated by her mother-in-law and finally she had decided to return to her country like a widow with a four-month-old child.

“As for Ms. V., aged, 23, she told Khmer Sthapana last week that she and her sister live in Rolea B’ier, Kompong Chhnang, and married Korean men last year. Now, she got divorced from her Korean husband, because he has epilepsy and his mother mistreated her. Before the matchmaker had told her that everything was alright.

“Cambodia and Korea have cooperated since 1997. Since 2004, the number of Korean tourists visiting Cambodia ranked first. Now there are Cambodian people working and staying in Korea, and the number of Cambodian brides is approximately 2,500.

“Mr. Lim Samkol, 60, who is the Cambodian ambassador to Korea since 2004, finally said, ‘I expect that more and more Koreans can come to visit Cambodia.’”

Khmer Sthapana, Vol.1, #35, 28.6.2008