Sunday, 13 July 2008

SRP Kampot province protests decision of provincial election committee

President of Kampot PEC accepts SRP Statement

Mu Sochua and Oung Cheng wait for permision to enter PEC office

SRP activists march to office of PEC

Mu Sochua and Oung Cheng hold the SRP statement

Comment: Same ol' dark arts of democracy

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Porter Barron and Thet Sambath
Friday, 11 July 2008

Like the legless, levitating vampires who haunt the countryside with fangs bared and green viscera trailing, legions of bogeymen have haunted Cambodia’s political landscape since its competing leaders accepted their bids to the democracy dance in 1991.

But more so than the bloodsucking aps, who spawned an indigenous subgenre of horror films and left behind such irrefutable evidence as bite marks similar to those of paddy rats, the movements of the phantom armies often defy earthly laws of time and space, as well as belief.

Like much fiction, these tales of shadowy menace might be grounded in fact – the Khmer Rouge did once exist – but the narrators of this disjointed serial exhaust their audiences with repetition and brazen disconnects.

Always an outlaw rebel/terrorist group – Khmer Rouge, Khmer Serei, Cambodian Freedom Fighters, Sam Rainsy Party’s Committee 14. Always linked to a political opponent of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Always a narrative that doesn’t quite add up.

With Cambodia’s fourth national elections around the corner, the plot is again being recycled. Last month, at the behest of Hun Sen, the military launched another investigation into Sam Rainsy’s alleged involvement in the Cambodian Freedom Fighters and other terrorist activities.

The productions frequently include a finger-pointing face man, seemingly plucked from obscurity. Take July 26, 2004, when SRP defector Long Serey orchestrated taped “confessions” of alleged militants at state-run TVK’s studio.

Serey had earlier accused opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy of recruiting an illegal paramilitary branch of the opposition party. To support his charge, he directed filmed testimonies of men who did not know what they were supposed to say.

Frustrated, Serey reminded his visibly confused fellow rebels of the accusations and exhortations to levy and then had a technician splice in their additional hand-held, half-hearted testimony.

The alleged rebel group turned out to be Committee 14, a department of the opposition party’s watchdog shadow government – pencil pushers reporting on crimes carried out by the government’s security forces.

As for Cheam Channy, after much domestic and international outcry and the issuance of a royal pardon, he emerged from more than a year of military lock-up, no longer an outspoken critic of the Hun Sen administration.

And Serey has resurfaced as head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association for Comfort and Development.

“We consider him a spy,” Ang Chanrith, director of the better known Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization, said on July 9.

“He doesn’t help the Khmer Krom. He stays quiet and collects information from the Khmer Kampuchea Krom advocacy groups.”

Going back to the most recent allegations of terrorism leveled at Sam Rainsy – again, the accuser is an SRP defector, Leuk Bunhean. He is known to have fled to Bangkok after being arrested, allegedly for opposition party activism, in Oddar Meanchey province in 2001. In Bangkok, he sought political asylum through the UNHCR, but was denied.

According to a Cambodian national who knew Bunhean in Bangkok at the time, “He was not normal like other political asylum seekers…. He went back and forth from Cambodia to Thailand,” an uncommon practice among those fleeing persecution at home.

Among Bunhean’s accusations, aired last month by TVK, is the claim that Sam Rainsy, in alliance with Funcinpec, launched a 1997 coup against the CPP. Again, Leuk Bunhean: “On July 5 and 6, 1997, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party made a coup against the CPP.”

The most casual observer of Cambodian politics remembers that the bloody coup and ensuing executions of 1997 were carried out by Hun Sen’s faction of the CPP against then-first prime minister and Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Which begs the question: Why, when Hun Sen is expected to thoroughly dominate the July 27 polls, flagrantly practice the dark of art of political intimidation?

Several ruling party insiders nervously commented to the Post on condition of anonymity.

“To scare the voters, the same as ghosts. You make them a little scared and you use the voters,” explained one official.

“This is just making noises. Nothing will happen…. Hun Sen is going to gain more respect and recognition in the international community five years from now, when he has the oil revenue. Then Hun Sen will do good things, and the people will forget about the past.”

Others, CPP officials in the security forces, described Hun Sen’s tactics as the survival instincts of a strongman.

“Hun Sen can do anything he wants. If he wants to split any party or make accusations, he can do it. If another politician wants to accuse Hun Sen of anything, Hun Sen will put him in jail. The strongman is always right,” an official said.

And another official: “Hun Sen always has the strategy to split other parties and make them weaker. The politician always tries to make himself stronger. If you want to be a politician, you must dare to do everything. For the simple people, they don’t do anything to harm anyone, but, for the politician, we must do it.”

Apparently, the more one gets away with, the more muscle one exhibits.

Fears multiply.

OMD Expands into Cambodia, Laos

Sunday, 13 July 2008
By Anonymous

PHNOM PENH Omnicom media network OMD has expanded its footprint into Cambodia and Laos through a joint venture with local full- service agency Red Dot. OMD launches to service key international clients with a presence in the fast-growing Southeast Asian economies, such as Visa International, which is also a Red Dot client.

Omnicom Media Group's regional MD, Southeast Asia, Jim Goh, said: "Establishing our presence in new markets is very important from a global network perspective."

Red Dot opened in Cambodia in 2000 with three staff.

The agency now has 50 staff. Red Dot's MD John Seow said: "With OMD's resources behind us, we will be able to offer our clients a whole new level of brand building and communications capabilities. After decades of turbulence, Cambodia is enjoying political stability showered by an escalating economic boom."

Bittersweet Odyssey

Davik Teng, 9, walks through the Tom Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles International (LAX) Airport. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

Davik Teng, 9, left, her mother, Sin Chhon, and Peter Chhun are somber as they prepare to board their China Airlines flight to Phonm Penh via Taipei at the Tom Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles International (LAX) Airport before the flight home late Wednesday. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

Davik Teng, 9, poses with Jennifer Sovannara, 4, as Socheath Sovannara, 8, snaps a picture of them before heading to Los Angeles International (LAX) Airport.

Davik Teng indulges in an American treat --- a See's lollipop --- on her last day at the Long Beach home where she recovered from her heart surgery. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

Davik Teng, 9, hugs Tina Prum as her mother, Sin Chhon, phones friends to say goodbye on Wednesday. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)
By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES - The Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport hums with urgency at 9 on a weekday night.

It buzzes with comings and goings. Happy families unite; others depart in sadness.

Amid the whir, it would be easy to miss the small group of Cambodians, even with their entourage of friends and several journalists.

They cart their five boxes and six suitcases to the Transportation Safety Administration X-ray machine. They check and double-check passports and their tickets for China Airlines flight 007.

The airline will take them to Taipei, Republic of China, and then on to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Peter Chhun, the de facto patriarch, is an experienced traveler. This is rote to him. But on this day there is an undercurrent, a gnaw at his gut about what he must do to two members of his group.

rows 56 and 58 on Normally for Chhun, the prospects of a return to his homeland are happy. Today, he sets his jaw and continues with his duty. His responsibility. This is the part of saving lives he hadn't counted on.

He must return a mother and child to poverty. Six months after the girl, Davik Teng, was given a new lease on life with life-altering open heart surgery unavailable to her in Cambodia, she and her mom, Sin Chhon, have used up most of their six-month visa and must return home.

Home: a barren patch of land in a place that time and technology have forgotten. Home: Svay Chrom.

"Briefly (they were) away from hell," Chhun says of the two. "Now (they) have to go back. It's a tough one. It's tough for her. It's tough for everyone."

Chhun could be accused of being overly dramatic, except that he grew up in nearly identical surroundings and circumstances before he got lucky and hooked on with NBC News as a cameraman during the Cambodian civil war and was able to escape.

A one-room hut

You won't find Svay Chrom on a map. The family compound for Davik and Sin consists of about 20 residents, plus several dogs and an assortment of chickens. It sits off an unnamed dirt road outside the city of Battambang.

It has no electricity, no running water, no toilet facilities. When the mother and daughter left five months ago, the ground was cracked and dusty. When they return it will be slick and sticky with mud after the onset of rainy season.

Sin and Davik will return to a one-room bamboo hut they share with Davik's older sister and a grand-aunt. Sin will go back to riding her bicycle to her $1 a day job as a construction worker.

When the two left their village, their worldly possessions consisted of their clothes, some photographs, cooking utensils and the bicycle. When they return with the clothes, toys and mementos they have gathered in the United States, their possessions will have more than doubled.

Early on the day she had to leave, Sin was shaken to near incoherence when she learned she might have to leave some of the clothes and toys behind because of luggage space and weight restrictions.

She couldn't bear the thought of leaving any of it behind. Each pair of hand-me-down jeans was a treasure, each "Hello Kitty" bauble a jewel. It was paralyzing. How to pick and choose from a bounty you know you'll never see again.

Eventually, Lucky Chhuon, a Long Beach travel agent who arranged the trip home, brokered a deal with the airline to allow Davik and Sin an extra box.

As Sin sits on the floor of the Tom Bradley terminal waiting for the last bags to clear the X-ray machine, she is silent, resigned. Throughout the day, her mood has been broken only by jags of weeping. The sadness has been building in recent days. You could see it around her eyes.
"I'm not happy, I can tell you that," Sin says through translation. "I don't want to go. I really couldn't believe the time would come so fast."

As she stares around the vast terminal, the tears well up once again.

"I never dreamed I'd come to America. I had heard a lot about it, but I never thought I'd come. Now I know what it's like. I tasted and it was all good."

Nearby, Davik is taking it all in stride. She plays with a couple of friends she made during her time in the United States. She carries the hopefulness and optimism that children share. To her, although there is a sense of endings and occasional tears, there is also excitement at the prospect of her airplane ride. She is eager to reunite with her cousins, to play and tell of her adventures among the "barang," as Cambodians call Western foreigners.

Through translation she says she'll miss the friends she made, the lights, the buildings and Chi, referring to Chi Nguyen, a Vietnamese girl and fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary who became her friend.

Davik recalls the last time she saw Chi a few days earlier at a going-away party.

"We played and then it was time to go and we didn't want to leave," Davik says in translation.
"I miss you, I love you," she adds in English.

When passengers are called to begin boarding, Davik adds another phrase in English, "Let's go. Woo."

When the wheels lift off shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday morning, it marks the last act of a rather remarkable journey.

In the beginning

The odyssey began with the discovery of a wheezing young girl who seemed destined to disappear into the backdrop of despair that is poverty in rural Cambodia. It bloomed with the determination of a small group of Cambodians to do whatever was necessary to save this child.
After hope, failure, renewal, setback and, finally, success. Davik was allowed to travel to the United States.

Her ailment, a ventricular septal defect, or hole in the heart, would typically have been repaired in the first year or two of life in the United States. In Cambodia, it was a lingering death sentence that promised a lifetime of depressed activity, a succession of days and nights when the lungs and body screamed for oxygen. It meant stunted growth, gradual decline and likely death by the mid-30s.

Until she met several Cambodian-Americans.

Davik was discovered in her tiny village by aid workers who were family members of Chantha Bob, a Cambodian waiter in Long Beach. Her story reached Chhun, who had recently created a nonprofit group with good intentions but little actual direction or purpose.

In Davik, Chhun and Hearts Without Boundaries found their purpose. In saving Davik, Chhun saw the arc of the rest of his life.

"Since Davik came into my life, I know I'll continue to save poor and sick children," Chhun says. "It was something I hadn't thought of before."

After several failed attempts to get Davik the treatment she needed in Cambodia, Chhun, with the help of Dr. Mark Sklansky, was able to broker a deal with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, to provide the cardiac team with renowned heart surgeon Dr. Vaughn Starnes and facilities to close the quarter-size hole in Davik's heart.

During surgery, Starnes marked the Dacron patch that would seal the hole with a "smiley face" and sewed it in.

That was in late March.

High times

The intervening months were a whirlwind of activity. Davik and her mom rode as guests in Long Beach's annual Cambodian New Year Parade and attended the Cambodian New Year festivities at El Dorado Park. Davik was introduced to civic groups in the Cambodian community and donors at Childrens Hospital. Several fundraising dinners were held for her.

Lincoln Elementary, spurred by Nguyen, a cancer survivor who learned of Davik's ailment and donated $50 in New Year's money and cash she made doing extra chores, raised more than $1,800 for Davik and honored her at a school assembly.

Davik and her mom visited sites in Long Beach, including the aquarium, and even made a trip to the ultimate Southern California attraction, Disneyland.

Davik appeared on stage with Dengue Fever, an American rock band whose Cambodian lead singer, Nimol Chhun, is a star in her native land.

Everywhere she went, Davik would steeple her fingers and bow in the traditional Cambodian greeting. Everywhere she went people seemed to unite.

At Sophy's Restaurant, where Davik was a regular during her stay in Long Beach, a couple of bystanders were chatting in a back room as Davik was about to depart for the last time.
"This brings us all together. We need that in this community," one said.

One of Davik's last appearances was one of her most intimate. Chhun brought Davik to a nursing home in Norwalk to meet Helen Madison and her two friends, Barbara and Susie. The three elderly women had read about Davik in the newspaper and became entranced with the little girl and her story.

Now came the hard part.

Chhun doesn't do a good job of being stern. He tends to tear up easily. So explaining to Sin that she and Davik can't stay in the United States and why she can't stay has been difficult.

"I have been crying in my room," Chhun says. "I just don't show it. I just don't show it."

He knows he will never save another child quite like Davik. She is his first and will always be special.

"I feel like what I give her is a new heart," Chhun says. "What she gives me in return is a lot of strength and courage to help more sick children. She gives me a plan to save the next child."
Similarly Bob has kept his emotions in check.

"It hasn't hit me yet," he says of the prospect of leaving Davik behind in Cambodia.

Bob has said he has always wanted children of his own and Davik is as close as he's come.

"I never thought I'd be this much involved emotionally," he says, his breath catching.
"Everything is so real, yet I find it so hard to explain."

Bob remembers how easily he fell in love with Davik and how heartbroken he will be.

"I just thought this little girl needs help," Bob recalls. "I figured that's just something anyone would do. And yet it's been so beautiful. I wouldn't trade any of it. It's priceless."

Closing the circle

Wanting to stay

Sin heard the whispers from members of the community.

"Just don't go back. You can stay here," they told her.

She could work off the books. Disappear into the American fabric just like the multitudes of illegal aliens who flock to the United States.

Certainly Sin knows that even the meanest existence in the United States, the basest poverty is relative luxury compared with what she is returning to.

But she also knows why she is here and that staying was never part of the deal. She knows she has been given a gift beyond value - a longer, healthier life for her child.

If Sin and Davik were to stay, it would jeopardize Chhun's ability to bring other children to the United States for life-saving surgeries.

She knows all that and acknowledges as much.

"So many people were telling me `Why not just don't go back,"' Sin says. "But in my heart I couldn't do it. I couldn't give Hearts Without Boundaries a bad name, because you've done so much. This isn't the way I pay back."

Sin and Davik experienced affluence they never knew. Even if that luxury was sharing a room in a crowded apartment on Lemon Avenue in the Central Area. It's one thing to experience the excesses of America. It's another to know they will disappear forever.

Thomas Wolfe wrote "You can't go home again," but Sin and Davik have no choice, because they can't stay.

Now, it occurs to Sin that in some ways her American experience was never real, but just a kind of dream interlude.

As she thinks about the future, the emotion wells once again.

"I don't think I'll ever come back (to the United States,)" Sin says. "But depending on the fate of my daughter, maybe my daughter can bring me back."

If Chhun has any say, Davik will succeed. He and several Long Beach Cambodians have vowed to help sponsor Davik's education.

But Chhun says he has little money. Although he raised $12,000 for Davik while she was here, he was also paying $500 monthly in rent for her. He bought the round-trip flights to Cambodia for Davik and her mom and paid for their food. And then there was an emergency room bill, when Sin suffered a panic attack.

Chhun said he had to go into his personal finances to pay the last month of rent for Sin and Davik.

Hopes for the future

A Long Beach nonprofit that sponsors English language schools in Cambodia is considering building a school in Davik's village.

But it's a long, tough road. At 9 years old, Davik has had little formal education. Before her surgery, she had been too ill to regularly attend school, so she has a lot of catching up to do.

If pluck and personality have anything to do with it, Davik will be in good stead.

When asked about her dreams, Davik says she would like to become a doctor and help children like her.

Since the surgery, Davik is a different child. She runs and plays with abandon and sometimes it seems without stopping.

In the past, her bursts of energy were short-lived. She has gained weight and, while still thin, is much sturdier.

Also fortified is her confidence. When she sees friends, she often greets them with flying bear hugs. She splices her Khmer with phrases in English. When she gestures for someone to follow her, it's with an emphatic "Come here. Let's go."

At a going-away party, the girl who once talked in whispers around strangers boldly walks up to the stage area at the Golden Villa Restaurant on Anaheim Street.

All sass and attitude and smiles, she grabs a live microphone and begins singing an a cappella rendition of a Cambodian song, "Boeu Chea Kou."

After several minutes, she belts out the final notes. Translated, the last line of the song says "don't forget me."

Widow urges arrest of killers of Cambodian opposition journalist

Wife of killed veteran journalist Khim Sambo cries during a mourning ceremony at Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, July 12, 2008. Sambo and his son were shot dead Friday on the street of Phnom Penh. He used to contribute articles under a pseudonym to the Khmer Conscience News, a Cambodian-language newspaper affiliated with major opposition party. (Xinhua/Xia Lin)

The Associated Press
Published: July 13, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The widow of a slain Cambodian opposition journalist urged officials Sunday to find his killers as she cremated his body and that of her son.

Khem Sambo, 47, and his 21-year-old son died after they were gunned down in a drive-by shooting Friday.

Khem Sambo reported on corruption and other social ills under the rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen for the opposition newspaper Moneaseka Khmer.

"Please, catch those murderers and find justice for my husband and son," Lay Heang said, her eyes filled with tears as she attended the cremation at a Buddhist temple in Phnom Penh.

Lay Heang, 46, said she had no idea at first that her son, Khat Sarin Pheata, was also hit.

"He called his younger brother to say 'father was shot,'" Lay Heang said.

After the call was disconnected, "I tried to call him back but I could not get through. It did not come to my mind that my son was also hit," she said. "I was hoping to see him have a bright future."

The victims were riding a motorcycle when they were each shot twice by a man riding on the back of another motorcycle, police said.

Yim Simony, police chief for the Phnom Penh district where the killings occurred, said Sunday that police have no suspects in the case.

Moneaseka Khmer editor Dam Sith called the attack "the gravest threat" to his newspaper, which is affiliated with Cambodia's main opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

A party statement said the assassination shows what happens to someone "who dares to write or argue against those with absolute power."

Human rights groups expressed concern that the killing — the first of a Cambodian journalist in five years — threatens the climate for campaigning ahead of July 27 national elections.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 private groups, said in a statement it suspected the attack was linked to the many articles Khem Sambo wrote about issues such as illegal logging, illegal fishing deals and land grabbing that involved powerful government officials.

The France-based journalist group Reporters Without Borders urged Cambodian authorities to produce "quick results" in investigating the case, saying "allowing this murder to go unpunished would have a considerable impact" on the elections.

Cambodian garment workers worry about future prospects

Cambodian garment workers eating in a room they share in Phnom Penh

Cambodian textile workers sit in the room where they live in Phnom Penh

Cambodian garment workers at a factory in Phnom Penh
PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Sath Vanny sits anxiously at the door to her tiny one-room hut in the factory district of Cambodia's capital.

She left her hometown in the southern province of Takeo seven years ago to work at a women's shirt factory, sending most of her earnings back to help the family farm.

But a slowdown in orders has the 25-year-old worried about her job. Overtime work has fallen off as Cambodia's textile sector, the country's biggest industrial employer, struggles against stiffer global competition and slowing demand.

More than 10 Chinese-owned factories have moved to cheaper markets, leaving hundreds of thousands of garment workers -- mostly young women like Vanny who support their impoverished families -- facing destitution.

"I was told that we didn't have as many orders as we used to, but with the basic wage I don't have money to send to my parents," says Vanny, who now earns less than 60 dollars per month.

"I can't imagine living without a factory job. I am so worried about my family," she adds, wiping away tears.

The garment industry earns 80 percent of Cambodia's foreign exchange earnings and employs an estimated 350,000 people in more than 300 factories.

The industry thrived after a unique labour-friendly deal with the United States in the 1990s.

Under the deal, Cambodia passed new labour laws, encouraged labour unions and allowed the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to inspect factories and publish its findings.

In turn, the United States cut tariffs on Cambodian garment exports, buying 70 percent of all of the country's textiles.

Cambodia maintained its higher working conditions after the deal expired in 2005, and garment-making has made the economy one of the fastest growing in the region. But it does not look built to last.

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

Apparel exports have declined since October, mainly due to the US economic slowdown, according to Cambodia's commerce ministry.

Exports to the United States slipped 1.44 percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period last year, to some 500 million dollars, it added.

Meanwhile factory owners are looking abroad for greater productivity and lower costs, says Cambodia's Free Trade Union (FTU).

Sok Vannak, who has been working at a factory for almost 10 years, says her Chinese bosses often threaten to move the factory to Vietnam, where costs are cheaper.

"They warn us all the time. I'm afraid that it could come true," says the 27-year-old.

"I have no land to farm. Without the factory we will have a hard time surviving," Vannak says.

Garments are a shifting industry, says Kaing Monika, manager at the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia. Many manufacturers could move to Vietnam, Bangladesh or India, he adds.

"Production costs -- oil and power -- are high in Cambodia, and the demand for higher wages also put the country's garment industry in danger," he says.

Factory owners complain about a proliferation of labour unions and illegal strikes, but workers say they merely want proper wages.

About 27,000 garment workers have quit in the last year in search of higher pay, according the FTU.

Some have gone to look for work in rural areas where the cost of living is lower, while others have found work at karaoke parlours where they're in danger of falling into prostitution, says FTU president Chea Mony.

Next year will bring even more competition when US restrictions on Chinese textile exports are scheduled to end.

"China and Vietnam are still our direct competitors, and so far we have nothing special to offer buyers. That is why we're very concerned," says Oum Mean, of Cambodia's labour ministry.

"To counter this competition, we must increase productivity, quality and extend our reputation as having high labour standards," he says.

Rice growers hindered by lack of bank credit

AFP Photo, A farmer works in Takeo province. Rice growers and millers are losing out to foreign speculators due to a lack of access to financing.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady and Hor Hab
Friday, 11 July 2008

The inability of rice farmers to access bank credit could be causing them to sell short to foreign speculators, say industry observers, who warn that this practice is slowing development of the Kingdom’s agricultural industry.

“Thai and Vietnamese traders buy considerable stocks of Cambodian paddy and transport it over the border to be processed and stored,” said Yaing Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for the Study and Development of Agriculture.

Cambodian farmers have been selling out right after harvest, when supplies were plentiful and prices low, confirmed the Cambodia Agriculture Sector Diagnostic, an AusAid-funded report.

Profitable production and ensuring long-term supplies required sufficient working capital to grow, harvest and store paddy, and eventually mill it when market demand and prices were higher, the report stated.

Better-financed Vietnamese speculators were enjoying a tremendous advantage, buying up large amounts of Cambodian paddy and storing it until prices were higher.

“Drastic price increases during recent months have made it clear that, due to these informal exports, the country was forgoing an opportunity to add value to its paddy and consequently losing income and job opportunities,” said Saing Koma.

Commercial banks will provide credit … only if we have enough hard collateral like land and machines.

Farmers have looked to banks to help finance them through this post-harvest period of waiting on higher prices, but to no avail.

While Cambodia’s commercial banks have been lending freely on real estate mega-projects, with soaring office towers and enormous suburban housing projects capturing the imaginations of both investors and bank loan officers, financing for rice production – Cambodia’s leading cash crop – has remained out of reach.

“What farmers have doesn’t fit well with bank criteria,” said National Bank of Cambodia deputy director general Phan Ho. “That’s why loans to agriculture are only 4 or 5 percent of total loans.”

The Kingdom’s banks lack both credit formulae and personnel expert in agricultural commodities and production. Their generic lending models have proven to be an ill-fit for farmers, as they view crops as a temporary or “soft” asset which doesn’t offer sufficient security for a loan.

There was no law prohibiting loans against soft collateral, Phan Ho said, but commercial banks chose not to extend them. Other countries in the region, however, allowed farmers to use crops as collateral, he noted.

“We can’t impose any regulations requiring banks to make these loans because the central bank can’t interfere with the internal operations of commercial banks,” he added.

Millers are also struggling to qualify for bank loans. Pheng Kong, vice president of the National Cambodian Rice Millers Association, which has a constituency of 300 in nine provinces, said some of its members have managed to receive limited financing from the Rural Development Bank but otherwise have had to get by on their own funds.

“Commercial banks will provide credit … only if we have enough hard collateral like land and machines,” he said, adding that Cambodia’s agricultural credit market paled in comparison to that of other countries in the region.

Rural Development Bank general director Sun Kunthor said his group’s $20 million in working capital could do little for the market as a whole.

“We’re trying to encourage credit from other sources. Farmers need to be able to borrow money from commercial banks,” he said.

“You can’t work with the farmers only. If the millers have limited capacity, how can they turn out the farmers’ produce on the international market?” said Sam Bona, field operations manager for the Cambodian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Project.

“Rice millers play a major role in advancing the market. You have to work with the entire supply chain… and a typical commercial miller will work with 200 or 300 farmers,” said Bona.

Tourism to Cambodia has increased more than 14 percent


( - Tourism to Cambodia has increased more than 14 percent in the year to May from the same period in 2007.

The Ministry of Tourism said Cambodia was on track to attract 2.3 million visitors this year, adding that political stability and infrastructure improvements had increased the number of tourist arrivals to the country. Some $1.64 billion is expected to be generated in 2008 from tourism alone.

Visitor numbers had already grown to 2 million in 2006, and rose a further 20 percent in 2007. This sustained and aggressive growth in the tourist sector, as well as booming construction, property and garment manufacturing sectors is helping the country’s economy to enjoy near double-digit growth.

The real estate sector, in particular, is growing at a phenomenal rate and no more so than in the capital Phnom Penh where land doubled last year to $3,000 per square metre, up from just $500 in 2000. Add to this the growth in the tourism sector and rental yields in the city are also expected to grow.Once known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’, Phnom Penh is a significant global and domestic tourist destination for Cambodia. The city is the wealthiest and most populous in the country, is its commercial, political and cultural hub and is home to more than two million people.

French villas along tree-lined boulevards remind the visitor of its colonist heritage, yet its oldest structure is the Wat Phnom from the founding days of the city, constructed in 1373. The French however, certainly left their mark and parts of the city are filled with colonial villas, French churches, boulevards, and famous landmarks such as the Art deco market Phsar Thom Thmei and the Hotel Le Royal.

Overseas specialists David Stanley Redfern Ltd are currently selling apartments in the chic riverside French quarter from as little as £49,000. Their authentic French colonial period buildings have been completely refurbished and modernised and are expected to appreciate by 15-20 percent per year. Due to demand, the developer is also offering a rental guarantee of 9 percent net for the first two years, making this a safe investment in an aggressively growing market.

Find out more about Cambodian property.

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David Stanley Redfern Ltd is one of the U.K.'s leading overseas property investment specialists. The reasons for this are an incomparable range of international properties spanning 40 destinations worldwide, and unrivalled customer care, which lasts long after the purchase has been completed. Experienced, professional staff and membership to the overseas property market's regulatory body: the Association for International Property Professionals, as well as their stringent due diligence procedures gives buyers the confidence that any purchase with David Stanley Redfern is a safe one.

Cambodia opposition calls killing 'political threat'

Relatives of killed journalist Khim Sambo arrange portrait during mourning ceremony at pagoda in Phnom Penh, 12 Jul 2008

Radio Australia

Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party has issued a statement calling the killing of a newspaper journalist and his son on Friday an ''assassination'' and ''a political threat''.

The journalist, Khim Sambor, worked for a newspaper allied with the party.

He was attacked, along with his 21-year-old son, by a pair of motorbike-riding assailants on Friday.

Police sources and witnesses say the 47-year-old was shot in the back as he was riding on a motorbike driven by his son.

A gunman riding pillion on the assailants' motorcycle then shot the son in the chest as he was going to the aid of his father and telephoning for help.

The Sam Rainsy Party expressed doubt that his killers would be apprehended.

The killing comes amid the month-long official campaign season for the July 27 general election.

48 hours in Siem Reap

TAKING IT IN: Tourists visit the golden temple at sunset in a section of the Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province.
Reuters Sunday, 13 July 2008
Got 48 hours to explore the ruins of the ancient Angkor empire? Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors make the most of the temples and Siem Reap, the tourist town booming in the shadow of Angkor Wat.


6pm - Relax on rattan armchairs in the pleasant garden of the Singing Tree Cafe just down the street from the Siem Reap river. It's a nice place for an evening drink or a healthy meal or for those seeking to unwind completely, there's an evening yoga class in the wooden, traditional Khmer house.

8pm - Every year, more than two million tourists visit Angkor Wat, the 12th century Hindu-Buddhist temple which is synonomous with Cambodia. By day, flag-waving guides herd package tourists through the world heritage site. But if you go to the night viewing, you can gaze at the reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology and the intricately carved apsaras, or celestial nymphs, in solitude and immerse yourself in the grandeur of the ancient architecture while other tourists eat dinner.


7am - After a quick breakfast, head for the temples. Drive around the Angkor Wat moat to Angkor Thom, the last and capital of the Khmer empire. The Bayon temple, with its 200 enormous faces smiling down on visitors from stone towers is a must-see. The Terrace of the Elephants, the platform from where King Jayavarman VII viewed public ceremonies, is well preserved compared to some of the surrounding temples which need a bit of imagination to appreciate.

11am - Go back to Siem Reap to avoid the midday sun. On the way, take a detour on the airport road to the National Centre for Khmer Ceramics Revival, a workshop which seeks to recreate ancient Khmer pottery using clay from the nearby hills, fired in a giant kiln built based on information found by archaeologists researching similar ancient sites. Watch the potters create giant jars like the ones that are found at archaeolgical digs or try throwing a pot yourself on the primitive potters' wheel the women use and take home a special souvenir.

12.30pm - Siem Reap's food choices have expanded dramatically in recent years. Go to Amok Restaurant, named after the Khmer curry which is made by steaming the coconut-based dish in a banana leaf for a typical Cambodian lunch. Besides the fish amok, the banana flower salad and the green papaya salad -- which is similar to the Thai version but without the chillis -- are also nice.

1.30pm - A good time to wander around the airconditioned shops selling silks and trinkets. Angkor Candles stocks a selection of handcarved candles in the shape of guardian lions, faces of Bayon and other local motifs. Rajana is a fair trade shop which sells handmade silver jewellery, cushion covers and other knick-knacks. For cotton "krama" or gingham check scarves worn by Khmer Rouge fighters, head to the Old Market where they are sold in every color combination imaginable.

3.30pm - For a quick and unusual snack, try the fried crickets and other creepy crawlies sold on the bridge spanning the Siem Reap River. Or, for those less adventurous, you can go to the Blue Pumpkin for a banana ginger tart and iced coffee before journeying back to the temples.

4 pm - If the Angkor temples had not been restored, they would all look like Ta Prohm, located about 1km from Angkor Thom. Trees with enormous roots threaten to swallow the moss-covered walls of this temple and return the monument to the jungle that surrounds it. It's a familiar sight for "Tomb Raider" fans. Proceed on to Pre Rup, a 10th century Shiva temple whose sandstone and brick walls glow orange in the late afternoon light. Then, climb up Phnom Bakheng, a temple mountain also dedicated to Shiva, to watch the sun set over what remains of the Angkor empire.

7pm - To catch the latest gossip on archaelogical finds, have a drink with the experts. The French team will be at the Laundry Bar in the center of town. The Japanese, who are the second largest contingent of achaeologists after the French, are usually at Cafe Moi Moi on the road back to town from the temples.

8pm - Keeping with the Angkor theme, dine at Le Malraux, a bistrot named after writer and statesman Andre Malraux who embarked on an exploratory mission into the Cambodian jungle in the early 1900s and was arrested by French colonial authorites for trying to steal bas-reliefs from one of the Angkor temples. Confit de canard and other things French will help you enjoy the atmosphere of Indochina of bygone years.

10pm - Night comes early to Siem Reap. But if you follow the neon lights and noise emanating from places like the Sok San Palace and Sokha Entertainment Club, you'll find yourself amid young Cambodians singing, dancing and trying their luck on the slot machines.


7.30am - From dawn, the Old Market is a hive of activity as housewives rush to buy fresh vegetables, meat and fish to feed their families. That is also when the food stalls offer the most choices. Rice porridge, duck noodles and sticky rice steamed in banana leaf packets make an interesting Khmer breakfast.

8am - Drive out to Kbal Spean or the Valley of the 1,000 Lingas. Wear sturdy shoes as it is a bit of a hike to the myriad of stone lingas carved into the riverbed and boulders on the banks. The Angkoreans believed the water passing over the symbols of Shiva would fertilize their rice fields and ensure a bumper crop. There are also carvings of various Hindu motifs depicting gods and sacred animals which have been watching over the water since the 11th century.

1.30pm - Despite the Hindu overtones, there's no Kama Sutra at Kbal Spean. But there is in Siem Reap. The Indian restaurant is one of the classier ones in town and serves both north and south Indian favourites. Try their dosas - very thin and crispy.

2.30pm - Cambodia's weaving masters at the Institute of Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) will be back from siesta and at their looms creating silk in intricate ikat designs. You can watch them spin, dye and weave at their workshop on the edge of town. If you are a textile fanatic, journey to their farm to see silk worms being raised and dyes of different hues being created from tree bark, leaves and other natural sources. The organization is trying to revive the country's silk traditions which were lost during decades of conflict.

4pm - Follow the road to the right of IKTT, past the crocodile farm and basket shops, and you will soon be in Roluos, an area that is home to a clutch of 9th century temples. Ancient architecture buffs can study the structural differences between the Bakong and Preah Ko temples and Angkor Wat, which was built centuries later. Ordinary tourists will enjoy the journey which takes you through villages, rice paddies and herds of water buffalo wallowing in the mud.

6pm - Paved roads are increasing in Cambodia, but many are still spine-jarring dirt tracks. Go to Chai Massage near the road to Angkor Wat and let the masseuse knead the knots away and work out the kinks.

7pm - Tourism exceeds journalism by far in Siem Reap, but there is still an FCC - Foreign Correspondents Club. It's near the river and the garden is the perfect place for a last gin and tonic before the journey home.

Democrats call for Cambodia talks on temple

The Bangkok Post

The government should meet with Cambodian officials to settle a territorial dispute over the Preah Vihear temple, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Saturday.

The Democrat party leader said officials from the two countries should meet to ensure a fair resolution to the boundary dispute, the Thai News Agency reported.

Cambodia has claimed ownership of the land around the temple, which was designated a World Heritage Site this week by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Mr Abhisit said Thai officials should ensure any agreement regarding the dispute includes guidelines concerning any potential support facilities for the temple. The opposition leader said such facilities could potentially infringe on Thai territory.

The opposition leader met with the president of Thailand's World Heritage Committee on Saturday. Following that meeting he told the news agency he was concerned Cambodian officials would be solely responsible for determining zone boundaries at the temple as well, even though Thailand is equally entitled to the disputed land surrounding the Cambodian temple.

Concern mounts for missing monk

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 11 July 2008

Cambodia urged to clear path for return of Khmer Krom activist Tim Sakhorn

The Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks’ Association and US-based Human Rights Watch have called on the Vietnamese authorities to lift any restrictions on the liberty of a monk who disappeared after being released from prison in Vietnam late last month.

Tim Sakhorn, 40, a member of the Khmer Krom minority that lives in southern Vietnam and Cambodia, was released from prison on June 28 after serving nearly nine months of a year-long sentence for “undermining national unity.”

Sakhorn had allegedly distributed bulletins about Khmer Krom history and politics and sheltered monks fleeing from Vietnam.

He was sentenced by a criminal court in An Giang province on November 8 last year, more than four months after being arrested and defrocked by the authorities in Cambodia, where he had been a monk at a Takeo province monastery for 17 years, and sent to Vietnam.

Following his release from prison, Sakhorn was taken by Vietnamese officials to his home village in An Giang province, where residents said he was presented with a plot of land and a big house in what was seen as an attempt to persuade him to remain in Vietnam. But after only a few hours at the village, residents said he was taken away and has not been seen since.
I don’t believe any news from Vietnam saying that Tim Sakhorn has been released; I think it was a trick...

“I don’t believe any news from Vietnam saying that Tim Sakhorn has been released; I think it was a trick by the Vietnamese authorities,” the head of the Phnom Penh-based Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks’ Association, the Venerable Yoeun Sin, told the Post on July 9.

“It makes no sense that the Vietnamese authorities released a prisoner and then took him on a tour of Hanoi,” said Youen Sin, referring to reports that Sakhorn had been seen being escorted around the Vietnamese capital by officials.

In a statement released from its New York headquarters on July 3, Human Rights Watch said Sakhorn should be free to travel without restrictions “but it is not clear that he is able to do so.”

“While his release from prison is welcome ... Tim Sakhorn should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” Brad Adams, the Asia director of HRW, said in the statement, which called on the Vietnamese government to “fully restore” the monk’s freedom.

“And the Cambodian government should publicly confirm that he is free to return to Cambodia, where he is a citizen,” Adams said.

The HRW statement said the “politically motivated” prosecution of Sakhorn by the Vietnamese court was a thinly veiled attempt by the Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities to stop peaceful dissent by the Khmer Krom minority in both countries.

Khmer Krom monks protesting outside the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh clashed violently with police several times last year, drawing criticism from international rights groups who accused Cambodian authorities of using electric batons and clubs to beat the monks and dissuade future demonstrations.

Vietnamese embassy spokesperson Trinh Ba Cam, who told the Post on July 9 that he had no information on Sakhorn, said NGOs that released statements about his case did not understand the real situation in Vietnam.

Murder of veteran reporter condemned in Cambodia

Wife of killed veteran journalist Khim Sambo cries during a mourning ceremony at Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, July 12, 2008. Sambo and his son were shot dead Friday on the street of Phnom Penh. He used to contribute articles under a pseudonym to the Khmer Conscience News, a Cambodian-language newspaper affiliated with major opposition party. (Xinhua/Xia Lin)

Wife of killed veteran journalist Khim Sambo cries during a mourning ceremony at Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, July 12, 2008. Sambo and his son were shot dead Friday on the street of Phnom Penh. He used to contribute articles under a pseudonym to the Khmer Conscience News, a Cambodian-language newspaper affiliated with major opposition party. (Xinhua/Xia Lin)

A man prepares the portrait of veteran journalist Khim Sambo during a mourning ceremony at Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, July 12, 2008. Sambo and his son were shot dead Friday on the street of Phnom Penh. He used to contribute articles under a pseudonym to the Khmer Conscience News, a Cambodian-language newspaper affiliated with major opposition party. (Xinhua/Xia Lin)

Bodies of veteran journalist Khim Sambo and his son are seen during a mourning ceremony at Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, July 12, 2008. Sambo and his son were shot dead Friday on the street of Phnom Penh. He used to contribute articles under a pseudonym to the Khmer Conscience News, a Cambodian-language newspaper affiliated with major opposition party. (Xinhua/Xia Lin)

Family members contribute flowers in front of the body of veteran journalist Khim Sambo during a mourning ceremony at Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, July 12, 2008. Sambo and his son were shot dead Friday on the street of Phnom Penh. He used to contribute articles under a pseudonym to the Khmer Conscience News, a Cambodian-language newspaper affiliated with major opposition party. (Xinhua/Xia Lin)

Mother (1st R) of killed veteran journalist Khim Sambo cries beside his body during a mourning ceremony at Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, July 12, 2008. Sambo and his son were shot dead Friday on the street of Phnom Penh. He used to contribute articles under a pseudonym to the Khmer Conscience News, a Cambodian-language newspaper affiliated with major opposition party. (Xinhua/Xia Lin)

PHNOM PENH, July 12 (Xinhua) -- Major opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Cambodia Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) here Saturday condemned the murder of 47-year-old veteran reporter Khim Sambo and his son.

"When one who dares to write or argue against those with absolute power is assassinated, the perpetrators behind the killing are never found or tried according to the law," said a SRP statement, adding that killers of opposition politicians in the past were never arrested.

CAPJ said in its statement that the killing of a Cambodian journalist during the campaign period was a threat to dissemination of information and created a fearful atmosphere for journalists.

Sambo was a part-time reporter of Cambodian-language newspaper the Khmer Conscience News. He and his 22-year-old son were gunned down here Friday and later died at hospital.

Sambo used to write articles about corruption of senior officials at the Cambodian government.

The murder has been the worst crime so far during Cambodia's general election month, which started in June and will end on July 27.  

Editor: An Lu

Opposition, guild hit Cambodia journalist killing

Reuters Saturday, July 12, 2008

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's top opposition Sam Rainsy Party and the country's major journalist guild condemned on Saturday the killings of a journalist and his son, calling it a political threat ahead of a general election later this month.

The country's biggest opposition party, named after the French-educated former finance minister who is its leader, urged the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose Cambodian People's Party looks set to win the July 27 poll, to find the killers.

"When one who dares to write or argue against those with absolute power is assassinated, the perpetrators behind the killing are never found or tried according to the law," the opposition party said in a statement.

"This clearly demonstrates the nature of those in power," it said, adding killers of opposition politicians in the past were never arrested.

Khim Sam Bo, 47, was shot twice and his 19-year-old son was seriously wounded in the chest and died at the hospital, police chief G. Touch Naruth said.

Police said the motive remained unknown for the killing, in which a gunman on a motorcycle shot five times at the victims as they were leaving a sports stadium on a motorcycle on Friday.

Khim Sam Bo worked for more than 10 years for the Khmer Conscience (Moneaseka Khmer) newspaper, whose editor Dam Seth was recently accused of defaming Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

The charges were later dropped.

Colleagues said he had written stories exposing corruption by senior government officials in the Hun Sen government.

The Cambodia Association for Protection of Journalists also condemned the attacks.

The killing of a Cambodian journalist during the campaign period was a threat to dissemination of information and creates a fearful atmosphere for journalists, the Association said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Nopporn Wong-Anan)

Down for the count?

Heng Chivoan Human Rights Party supporters hit the campaign trail in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea and Cat Barton
Friday, 11 July 2008

For many observers the question posed by Cambodia’s upcoming election is not whether any party can snatch victory from the incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) but whether the Kingdom’s beleaguered opposition parties can hold their own come polling day.

The fear is that the opposition, down to just ten parties from last election’s 22, could – as the sheer volume of high profile defections suggest – be practically obliterated at the polls, with devastating effect on Cambodian democracy.

“If there is no opposition party, the party in power has their hands free. It means that they can do everything they want,” said Hang Puthea, executive director of the election monitor Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (NICFEC).

“The number of opposition parties is not important, but their continued existence and their strength of will [to win elections and] develop the country is what really matters,” he said, adding that while he wouldn’t name names for fear of influencing the result, he could “easily predict” who was going to win big on July 27.

Despite the presence of multiple opposition parties on the political landscape, post-coup, landslide CPP victories at the ballot box have become the norm. This month, following a constitutional amendment that allows government to be formed on the basis of a simple rather than a two-thirds majority, it appears the monolith CPP will finally, as Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed, “govern alone.”

“I will never form a coalition with [Sam] Rainsy as he is only the opposition, let him play his role of opposition leader forever,” the Prime Minister said shortly before he entered a self-imposed month-long period of pre-election silence.

The demise of the always-unstable coalition deal with the royalist Funcinpec, in place since Cambodia’s first multi-party election in 1993, and the possibility of the first outright CPP victory raise a key question: is this the end of Cambodian multiparty democracy?

Although the well-known SRP have for years won big in Phnom Penh on polling day, a string of highly publicized defections, which the ruling party is broadcasting nightly on state-run TV, may hurt their chances this polling day.

The absence of a united royalist party also does not bode well. Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who after his ouster from Funcinpec set up the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), will be contesting the election from exile in Malaysia.

The handful of new players – such as the Khmer Republican Party (KRP) headed by former dictator Lon Nol’s US-educated son Lon Rith, the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAAP) and the Social Justice Party (SJP) – seem mired in internal bickering and indecision. A last-minute vote swapping scheme was announced with great fanfare as a merger of the KRP, KAAP and SJP only to be retracted by the KRP days later.

“Merging the opposition parties could be good for the nation but I have not decided yet,” said Lon Rith on July 7 – just 20 days before the election.

Other minor parties, such as the Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party (HDDMP), seem not to mind their irrelevance in the face of the dominant CPP.

“Even though my party doesn’t get votes we will not be disappointed,” said Seng Sokheng, secretary general of the HDDMP.

He said the party should be judged on its eminent history – he claims it was “involved in the Paris Peace agreement and advocated to have Vietnamese troops withdrawn from Cambodia” – rather than its manifest lack of success in attracting supporters.

The presence of such lackluster parties on the ballot paper means that for many, such as Sok Touch, a professor of political science, there is not much in the way of competition.

The CPP’s clear party platform, formidable war chest, countrywide grassroots political machine, as well as near-complete control of the print and broadcast media and staunch support from the booming private sector means the results are “easy to predict,” he said.

Moreover, the possibility of a change of government – for example, the election of Sam Rainsy who has vowed to take back “corrupt” land concessions allocated by the CPP and redistribute them to the poor – is clearly not scaring the business community.

Cambodia is “the most politically stable country in the region,” said one foreign investor who declined to be named.

So is Cambodia poised on the brink of becoming a dominant-party system – a party system where only one political party can realistically become the government?

“We’ve got to wait and see,” cautioned John Willis, resident country director of the International Republican Institute (IRI). “[The election results are] certainly not a foregone conclusion.”

Willis conceded that in terms of access to the media, the ruling CPP had wiped the floor.

Although the street parades of various parties give the impression – in Phnom Penh at least – of a thriving competition, “this is one of the ways parties are able to communicate with voters – there are other ways that are not available to all parties equally, namely the media,” Willis said.

The CPP “absolutely” dominates the airwaves and print media outside of the campaign period, and in the most recent IRI poll – done in February 2008 – some 72 percent of Cambodians said the opposition should have equal access to the media “and they certainly don’t receive that outside of the campaign period,” said Willis.

The degree of access for political parties and candidates to the media, in particular the state media is one of the key factors that Graham Elson, deputy chief observer of the European Union Election Observer Mission (EOM), and the EU team of some 130 observers will take into account before making their report on the July 27 ballot.

“The importance of multiparty democracy for Cambodia cannot be understated,” he said. “Democracy is perhaps imperfect, but it is the best guarantee we know for long term peace, stability, economic growth and the protection of human rights.”

Skyscrapers to rise above inflation, say developers

vandy rattana, Construction prices are on the rise but the developers of some of Phnom Penh’s biggest building projects insist higher costs will not prevent a dramatic shift to high-rise living in the capital.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Friday, 11 July 2008

Property developers are trumpeting the impending transformation of Phnom Penh’s skyline, despite fears the sharp rise in the price of construction materials could bring the capital’s skyward march up short.

Huy Sophanna, construction site supervisor for the Ieng Group, a local contractor, said the prices of building materials have increased across the board since last year, with the price of scaffolding ballooning from around $400 per ton to $1,035 per ton, and bricks stabilizing at $600 per 100,000 after reaching a high of $1,200 earlier in the year.

“In previous years, our flats sold well after construction, but now we are not selling as many,” he said. “Some construction companies postponed their construction when the price of construction materials jumped up, but the number of buyers is still lower.”

The costs of oil, electricity and specialty metals are also on the rise.

However, spokesmen for the 42-story Gold Tower 42 residential high-rise claimed the project would proceed as planned, dismissing rumors that construction has been halted at its site on Monivong Boulevard.

“This is a worldwide tendency at the moment, not just in Cambodia. Contractors are suffering from high prices,” said Kim Kyo-Won, project director of Hanil Engineering & Construction, the Korean contractor that is building Gold Tower 42 and the Camko City satellite city project.

“No alterations shall be made, and the projects will go ahead as planned.”

Michael Kim, chief consultant for Yon Woo Cambodia Co., Ltd, the project’s developer, said costs were still within manageable levels and would not have much effect on the construction.

“We are losing some of our profit margin, [but] we’re fixing the price right now, even though the cost of all the materials is rising, so it’s a real benefit for customers,” Kim said.

Sixty percent of Gold Tower 42’s condominiums, 70 percent of its office space and all its commercial space have already been sold off the plan, indicating sustained demand for space in the building.

Kim said Gold Tower 42’s symbolic status as the country’s first skyscraper would ensure it was completed on schedule, whatever the challenges.

“This is a very important project for Cambodia, and if it doesn’t succeed it will cause a lot of problems for a whole lot of other projects,” he said.

Kuoy Aphireach, site engineer of GS Engineering & Construction, which last month broke ground on its 52-story International Finance Complex (IFC) development, said the IFC project would not be impacted by rising costs, although smaller operations would feel the pinch.

“High inflation of construction materials will have an impact on small local companies and some other foreign companies are cutting costs, but not our company. We have planned ahead to avoid the problem,” he said.

“We are not worried about the shortage of buyers or renters, because our projects have been successful in many places, including Kuwait and Vietnam,” he said, adding that apartments and office space in the IFC would go on sale once the project was 30-50 percent completed.

Bonna Realty Group CEO Sung Bonna said rising costs would likely result in delays or cancellation of construction projects across Phnom Penh, but was unsure whether or not the capital’s skyscraper projects would be affected.

Cambodia may hold key to malaria cure

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Chann Chamroeun
Friday, 11 July 2008

Cambodia has the potential to emerge as a regional center for anti-malarial research, say scientists and traditional medicine researchers, adding that the continuing but low-level prevalence of the disease in the Kingdom gives them an ideal testing ground for new drugs and preventative measures.

“Cambodia is a good place to conduct malaria-related studies, in terms of new or conventional drugs, because we still have plenty of cases,” said Leang Rithea, head of the Health Unit at the government-funded National Malaria Research Center (NMRC).

Although a preventable disease, up to 500 million people in developing countries contract malaria each year, leading to more than a million deaths, says the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a major funder of malaria research.

In Cambodia, the disease is most prevalent in the east and northeast and in the forested regions along the Thai border, which has some of the world’s most drug-resistant strains of malaria.

The NMRC, which receives funding from the WHO, aims to eventually eradicate the disease in Cambodia, through targeted research into new drugs and the creation of rural malaria containment areas – techniques which could be extended to other malaria-affected countries.

“By and large, the general trend of malaria infections has decreased based on the baseline of last year, or even three years ago,” said Rithea.

Ministry of Health figures show a sharp decline in malaria cases, from 100,943 in 2006 to 59,848 in 2007, with the rate of infection falling to 4.2 per 1,000 people, down from 7.2 a year earlier.

But Laura Martelli, resident coordinator of NOMAD RSI, a French research group working with the Bunong (Ph’nong) ethnic minority in Mondulkiri province, said the disease remains a serious problem.

“Malaria is still one of the leading cases of mortality amongst children, old people and pregnant women,” said Martelli.

NOMAD is documenting the drugs traditionally used to treat and prevent malaria among the Bunong, for whom traditional medicines are often the only defense against the disease.

“We are implementing research about natural resilience [and] collecting plants that are used for malaria and fevers,” she said.

Hieng Ponley, director of the National Centre for Traditional Medicine (NCTM), said the sheer variety of traditional anti-malarial treatments makes Cambodia an ideal location for new studies.

“Cambodia is a good place for doing research into anti-malarial drugs, since it has an abundance of herbs and plants used in traditional medicine,” he said.

In 2006, French and Cambodian researchers at the University of Marseille tested eight species of wild plants – four for the first time – and found several that showed strong anti-plasmodial (anti-malarial) properties.

A paper published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in October 2006 said the French results were “in agreement with statements of healers on traditional uses of these plants for the treatment of malaria and/or fever.”

“Poor people still use traditional medicines to treat malaria, and the rich use modern medicines,” said Cheng Sunkaing, chairman of research at the University of Health and Science. “But often these drugs use ingredients from natural herbs and plants.”

The NCTM is building a hospital and research facility in Phnom Penh under a plan to expand research into the properties of traditional medicinal plants, in cooperation with researchers from Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. The new facility is expected to be completed by November.

Acleda makes move on Laos market

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 11 July 2008

Acleda Bank Plc became the first Cambodian commercial bank to operate in a foreign country when it established operations in Laos on July 8. Acleda president and CEO In Channy said on July 7 before leaving for Vientiane for the opening of Acleda Bank (Lao) Ltd that the move had the full support of the Lao government. Channy said $10 million had been invested in Acleda Bank (Lao), which has its headquarters in Vientiane and branches in the southern cities of Savannakhet and Pakse. The bank employs ten Cambodians and about 80 Lao, many of whom received training at Acleda’s Phnom Penh headquarters in preparation for the opening. Acleda vice president Vann Tho said it was studying the possibility of making China the target of its next overseas venture, followed by Vietnam.

“Our aim to reach people everywhere who need financing,” said Tho. Acleda’s venture in Laos has the support of the National Bank of Cambodia, vice governor Neav Chanthana said on July 7. The NBC had encouraged Cambodian banks to establish operations overseas and Acleda was the first to do so, she said.

Preah Vihear card in play following UNESCO listing

VANDY RATTANA, Monks in Phnom Penh celebrate Preah Vihear’s inscription as a World Heritage Site, July 9.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong and Thet Sambath
Friday, 11 July 2008

Since Monday’s decision by UNESCO to list Preah Vihear temple as a Cambodian World Heritage Site, the Kingdom’s nationalist rapture has subsided just enough to allow for more pragmatic thoughts of the pay-off.

Senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said July 10 that he expected the listing of the 11th-century Hindu temple, which had long been hotly disputed by Thailand, to result in a major boon for the ruling party in the July 27 general election.

“I am at Prey Veng near the Vietnam border right now. We told the voters of the success of Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he told the Post.

Yeap said Hun Sen deserved credit for the world body’s decision because he had sent a letter to UNESCO requesting the designation six years ago.

“There is no doubt that Samdech Hun Sen is a CPP leader,” he boasted.

Yeap said Prey Veng residents, particularly farmers, were showing their support for the CPP and were elated and proud of their premier, as was he.

“I cried in front of my wife once I heard UNESCO had made a decision on the temple.”

Khmer-language newspapers this week featured numerous advertisements placed by CPP officials, congratulating Hun Sen, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and CPP President Chea Sim on the world body’s decision.

However, Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, a Cambodian election monitor, questioned any exclusive claim to ownership of the temple victory and discouraged politicization of the site.

“I think all political parties can use Preah Vihear as a means of attracting voters, but no one party or group should get the credit alone,” he said.

“I think Preah Vihear temple is the pride of all Cambodians, as well as the political parties…. If only one party makes political gains off of Preah Vihear temple, I am afraid there will be an internal dispute that will lead to different attitudes about the temple.”

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay downplayed the ruling party’s hand in resolving the dispute with Thailand over ownership of the territory surrounding the temple, which for years had been the most significant obstacle to its listing.

“It is the normal obligation of a government to do this. It was not the special job of the CPP,” Chhay said.

Cambodia’s tourism sector, on the other hand, is less concerned with political points.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said on July 8 that 162 tour operators have begun promotion plans for package tours of Cambodia’s expanding heritage corridor. They will advertise in about 100 countries.

Vandy said the proposed package includes stops at Angkor Wat, Koh Ker temple in western Preah Vihear province, Preah Vihear temple, and Wat Phu, another Khmer temple in Laos.

But the immediate concern, Vandy said, should be developing Cambodia’s overland routes to Preah Vihear, which at present are rutted and jarring, making the temple far more accessible from the nearby Thai border.

Then restaurants, hotels and shops will follow, he said.

Minster of Tourism Thong Khon agreed, saying that there eventually will be four roads leading to the temple and at least one key artery will be completed by next year.

“I already sent a letter to the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation to push for the road construction,” he said.

The first sign of things to come actually preceded UNESCO’s decision; in May the newly formed Preah Vihear National Authority, or PVNA, deployed 22 heritage police.

Hang Soth, director of the PVNA, a commission under the Council of Ministers, said the heritage police are charged with protecting the site from looting and vandalism.

He also said that the Thai border crossing at Preah Vihear will remain closed until Thai nationalist fervor simmers down, a worry he blamed on opposition activists in Bangkok.

“We respect our neighbor and the neighboring nation respects us,” he said.

But in Thailand, bruised nationalism remains unappeased, and the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is suffering from the fallout.

On July 10, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama stepped down after the Constitutional Court ruled that he had acted illegally in signing an agreement supporting Cambodia’s bid to have Preah Vihear temple listed as a World Heritage Site without the permission of parliament.

His move had been approved by Samak’s cabinet, which the court also decided had violated the Thai Constitution in acting without parliamentary consent, a verdict that observers said could lead to a major cabinet reshuffle.

In his emotional resignation speech, Noppadon maintained he had acted in good faith in signing the agreement with Cambodia.

“I insist I have done nothing wrong. I have not sold the country out. I love Thailand, and would not cause any damage to the country.”

Former King Norodom Sihanouk has responded to Thai critics of the deal, saying that those claiming parts of the temple are in Thailand, including the main entrance, ignore “historic facts” and were bent on sabotaging Cambodian-Thai relations.

Meanwhile in Preah Vihear province, the party rages on.

“We have danced for three nights and we will continue,” Ley Eang, proprietress of a coffee shop near the temple site, said.

“We are excited with the temple’s registration. We expect it to bring more tourists and investors who will improve people’s living conditions here.”

Preap Tan, provincial governor of Preah Vihear, said he had overseen a massive celebratory ceremony the morning of July 10 that drew upwards of 5,000 people to T’beng Meanchey, the provincial capital.

“People have danced every night and held ceremonies everyday. No one told them to. They do it themselves,” he said.

“We will have fireworks for the next three nights and cheer the temple.”

Cambodia to export workers to Qatar

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 11 July 2008

Cambodia will export guest workers to Qatar under a memorandum of understanding currently being negotiated, a senior official at the Ministry of Labor told the Post on July 8. The negotiations commenced following the visit of a Qatari delegation in early April led by Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani to set up diplomatic relation between the two nations. The ministry official said he was unsure of the numbers of Cambodian workers that would be authorized, but said they would need to acquire additional skills to work outside of Cambodia. He called on Cambodians to stop working illegally in Thailand. To be safe, he said, workers should apply for jobs abroad via a lawful employment agency. Cambodia has already sent as many as 20,000 guest workers to Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand.

Cambodian Journalist Shot Dead

Relatives of killed journalist Khim Sambo arrange portrait during mourning ceremony at pagoda in Phnom Penh, 12 Jul 2008

By Rory Byrne
Phnom Penh
12 July 2008

Byrne report - Download (MP3)
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A prominent Cambodian journalist who worked for a pro-opposition newspaper was shot dead Friday along with his son in the capital Phnom Penh. Human rights groups say that the attack is meant to intimidate journalists and the public ahead of Cambodia's upcoming general elections while the government has condemned the killing and pledged to catch the killers. Rory Byrne has this report for VOA from Phnom Penh.

Khem Sambo and his 21-year-old son were riding a motorcycle Friday afternoon when they were each shot twice by a man on another motorcycle. They both died later in hospital.

Sambo, 47, reported on corruption, land grabbing and other social issues in Cambodia for the opposition newspaper Moneaseka Khmer.

Human rights advocate Theary Seng says that the killings have all the hallmarks of a political assassination.

"He's a well known journalist with an opposition voice who has been very critical of the government. It was intentional because there were at least five bullets sprayed on this man so it has all the indications of a political assassination," said Seng.

The killings of Sambo and his son follow at least half a dozen other killings in recent months that are thought to be politically motivated. They come just two weeks before Cambodia's national elections and are intended to send a message to voters, says Seng.

"There is a pattern of killings," he said. "The killings are concentrated a few months before the elections. The other pattern is that it's done in broad daylight, its done in a public space, so that the public can get the message which is: be careful if you go to a voting booth on the 27th.

"Human rights groups say that Sambo is the 12th journalist to have been killed for his work since 1992. None of the killers have been found. Speaking to reporters in Phnom Penh Saturday Cambodian information Minister Khieu Kanharith condemned the killings and said that the "culprits cannot be forgiven and must be found."

Truck manufacturer shifts gears

vandy rattana, RM Asia is working with a Ford plant to convert light trucks into Red Cross/Red Crescent ambulances for use in the Middle East.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady and Kay Kimsong
Friday, 11 July 2008

Sihanoukville truck maker finds a new export market by outfitting ambulances

A factory at Sihanoukville is making custom-built ambulances for use by the US Army, adding a high-tech niche product to an export sector dominated by the garment industry.

The Cambodian subsidiary of multinational products and services company RM Asia is working under contract with Ford to convert its four-wheel-drive light trucks into ambulances for use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

RM Asia began modifying the vehicles late last year at its 200,000-square-meter factory at Sihanoukville port, said the company’s country manager in Cambodia, Jean-Boris Roux.

The factory duplicates on a smaller scale RM Asia’s plant in Thailand where it has been modifying vehicles for five years.

Roux said the factory has a contract for 400 ambulances, of which 87 have been completed, each with a price tag of $27,000.

The trucks are delivered from Ford’s plants in Thailand and modified for use as ambulances by 25 Cambodians who were trained in Thailand, Roux told the Post on July 2.

The comprehensive modification process involves fitting equipment ranging from air-conditioners and heaters to GPS systems and inverters to operate medical equipment. The completed ambulances are designed to carry up to five people: two patients and a nurse in the back and a driver and nurse in the cabin.

Roux said four ambulances can be produced a day and that while the modification work was not complicated, the US Army was a demanding customer.

“Every time we have a shipment prepared, we have a visit from a US Army inspector who comes to check the quality and compliance with their specifications. The standards are very high, so it’s a big job in terms of quality control,” Roux said.

He said the factors which influenced the company’s decision to establish the vehicle plant were its involvement in Cambodia since 1990 and its success in obtaining a prime site within Sihanoukville port.

Roux said RM Asia planned to begin producing vehicles for the Cambodian market next year after obtaining the necessary approval from the authorities.

“The objective in Cambodia would not be to duplicate this model for local customers. It would be more to find out what kind of modifications we can make for customers here,” he said.

Roux said that while the custom-built ambulances were for the US Army, they were not designed for combat zones.

“They are not bullet-proof vehicles, but they are four by fours. Where and how exactly they’ll be used is information I don’t have.”

He said that in Thailand, RM Asia produced armored vehicles for use by the US and British armed forces and the Singaporean police.

“Bullet-proofing cars is a very specific job and is a difficult technology and requires special materials. I don’t see this happening in Cambodia in the near future, but other types of vehicles, yes.”

Roux said RM Asia had developed its expertise in vehicle modifications over many years.

He said it was one of a few companies outside the US to be designated by Ford as a “qualified vehicle modifier”, which allows RM Asia to modify Ford vehicles and sell them under the US automotive giant’s name.

Roux said establishing a specialized vehicle production operation in Cambodia was good for its economic development because it was helping to diversify the economy and build human capacity.

“It’s important to be able to widen the base of the industry here… You talk about garments and that’s basically it. We are training people to learn new skills.”

The factory’s manager, Virote Sawangchange, said RM Asia would also like to make standard vehicles, as well as fire trucks and armored cars for transporting cash.

“Our plant in Thailand produces many kinds of bullet-proof vehicles,” said Virote. “In Thailand, if someone wants to order a bullet-proof vehicle, they are required to seek approval from the Ministry of Defence; they need a lot of documents,” he said.

Sihanoukville deputy governor Sboang Sarath welcomed RM Asia’s venture there and expressed hope it would be followed by other players in the automotive industry.

“We have prepared 50 hectares of land right at the port for any carmaker that wishes to set up operations in Sihanoukville,” he said.