Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Casino show gets mixed response

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab and Chun Sophal
Monday, 29 September 2008

New gaming and casino technology went on display for the first time in Phnom Penh last week

A CASINO gaming exhibition held in Phnom Penh last week produced mixed reactions from the government and opposition over the future of gaming in the Kingdom.

The event, hosted by Macau-based Well Entertainment Ltd to showcase new gaming and casino technology, was the first of its kind in Cambodia.

"We can see a potential market in Cambodia because the gaming industry here is improving," Antonio Fong, managing director for Well Entertainment, told the Post Thursday.

"We are targeting the Southeast Asian sector, and in particular the Indochina region. Cambodia stands at the centre of markets in Singapore, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand," Fong said.

The company aims to bring its products, which are designed in the United States and manufactured in China, to Cambodia to meet the growing demands of the gaming industry in the Kingdom, Fong said.

Phu Kok An, a Cambodian People's Party senator with substantial holdings in the Kingdom's burgeoning gaming industry, said the local sale of Well Entertainment's products would generate much needed tax revenue for the government,

"Generally, we need governmental approval for the import of casino equipment, and we usually buy from the United State or Australia, accounting for hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said.

"I think the casino industry [in Cambodia] shows every sign of strengthening in the future," Phu Kok An said, adding that he expects to earn nearly US$1 million from his interests in the gaming sector in 2008.

"I expect to get even more profits in the future," he said. "[Many] people are crossing the Thai border into Cambodia to visit casinos, even though tensions have been high on the border."

Chhea Peng Chheang, secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said he was not aware of the exhibition but acknowledged that the gaming industry in Cambodia has boosted national revenues.

"The government expects to earn $18 million in national income in 2008. This is up from $16 million in 2007," Chea Peng Chheang told the Post last week.

"Cambodia currently has about 29 casinos, mostly along our borders with Thailand and Vietnam, which employ more than 15,000 people," said Chea Peng Chheang. "We expect more casinos in the future, particularly near the Vietnamese border."

Opposition parliamentarians criticized the industry's growth, saying the social costs outweigh the economic benefits. "I want Cambodia to be famous for its rich culture and traditions," Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann told the Post Thursday. "I would feel sorry if we were to become well-known only for our casinos."

Cambodia's gaming industry has seen strong growth with Naga Corp, the country's largest gaming company, reporting 68.5 percent revenue growth for the first half of 2008.

Dong Thap develops border zones


HCM CITY — Over the past two years, the development of border gate economic zones in Dong Thap Province has boosted trade between Viet Nam and Cambodia.

Provincial authorities sank VND33 billion (US$2 million) in developing the infrastructure of Thuong Phuoc Border Gate Economic Zone in Hong Ngu District to lure foreign and domestic investment.

Officials also allocated VND32 billion (US$1.9 million) of the province’s budget to expedite construction of a marketplace and shopping centres in Dinh Ba Border Gate Economic Zone in Tan Hong District to step up trade in the areas bordering Cambodia.

Other infrastructure projects designed to develop border gate economic zones were also given priority investment. Officials at State and provincial levels joined forces to speed up road and marketplace construction and ferry landing upgrades to facilitate travel to the zones.

Incentive policies on land, tax and licensing procedures were developed by provincial authorities to get domestic and overseas investors to set up shop at both Thuong Phuoc and Dinh Ba border economic zones.

Land clearance and compensation were expedited to make room for public utility projects like animal quarantine check posts to prevent outbreaks of bird flu or blue ear pig disease as well as marketplaces and health clinics.

Dong Thap provincial authorities requested the Central Government upgrade So Thuong and Thong Binh secondary border gates into primary border gates to boost cargo-handling capabilities and expand the local border gate economic zones by 194 sq km to a total area of 315.5 sq. km.

To this end, the Central Government greenlit the construction of a 28km-long road linking the Dinh Ba Border Gate Economic Zone with the Trans-Asia (Cambodia) Highway. The project is ongoing and scheduled for completion in 2010.

Meanwhile, Dong Thap provincial authorities established the Hong Ngu Economic Zone to stimulate the border economy in Viet Nam’s southwest and the entire Mekong Delta region.
Local officials there are directing investments towards building the infrastructure of two border economic zones, opening border markets and improving entry-exit procedures to facilitate the flow of people and cargo across the border. — VNS

Nordic telecom firm buys Applifone

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady AND George Mcleod
Tuesday, 30 September 2008

CAMBODIA'S fourth-largest mobile phone operator, Applifone, has been taken over by Scandinavian telecoms giant TeliaSonera. The company is also buying 80 percent of Nepal's Spice Nepal in a $488 million deal.

"One of our top priorities is to grow our business in [Asia]...Nepal and Cambodia have a combined population of 43 million, low mobile penetration and growing economies," said Lars Nyberg, president and CEO of TeliaSonera, in a statement.

Applifone has more than 97,000 subscribers, a 3 percent market share as of August 2008.

TeliaSonera has expanded into developing markets in recent years, in part due to slow growth at home. The company is embroiled in a dispute with Russian-controlled Altimo over control of Turkish operator Turkcell.

While fixed-line penetration has remained largely static since 1995, mobile phone use has exploded, with an estimated 2.5 million subscribers now using one or more of the five mobile providers in Cambodia and the hand phone an essential accessory for urban dwellers.

As Cambodia's mobile subscriber base is expected to rapidly expand, competition is heating up, and some experts predict an industry shakeout ahead, particularly as the new international entrants into the market take aim at industry leader Mobitel.

Mobitel, which provides the 012, 092 and 017 exchanges, controls the largest share of the market, with more than 1.5 million subscribers today.

Justice a tool of the rich: AI

Tracey Shelton; Minority groups from throughout Rattanakkiri join together in Banlung to protest land grabbing and illegal logging of ancestral lands, in this fiile photo taken earlier this year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay
Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Two rights groups last week identified a worsening pattern of intimidation against activists in which the justice system is used as a tool of persecution

CHHEA Ny was arrested without warrant, held in isolation and shackled in chains normally used to restrain elephants in a dark Phnom Penh prison cell. His crime? He had confronted local officials in Battambang province over a land rights dispute.

An intensifying pattern of intimidation among local human rights activists, in which the criminal justice system is used as a tool for the rich and powerful to threaten any who oppose them, was identified by two independent briefing papers released last week by local and international rights groups.

The government is failing to protect its citizens from such attacks despite the fact that in frequency and strength, the persecution is getting worse, both reports say.

In an attempt to draw attention to the mounting crisis, local rights group Licadho, in its report "Attacks and Threats Against Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia 2007", highlights some of the worst abuses against rights defenders.

They describe the plight of Khmer Krom monks, and in particular that of Tim Sokhorn, whose efforts to protest an ambiguous citizenship status at home and support of his ethnic counterparts in Vietnam led to his arrest and deportation to Vietnam where he remains under house arrest.

Not quite citizens

Jason Barber, an advocacy consultant at Licadho, told the Post: "Cambodia considers them [Khmer Krom] Cambodian citizens ... but they would certainly dispute they're treated the same as other Cambodian citizens.

"Amnesty International's (AI) report "Cambodia: A Risky Business - Defending the Right to Housing" documents a growing trend in which the Kingdom's rich and the powerful are "increasingly using their leverage to silence their adversaries through the criminal justice system".


Nowhere is this more evident, according to AI, than in the issue of land rights, where some 150,000 Cambodians are currently at risk of forced eviction.

According to research from the local rights group Adhoc, arrests of land activists have almost doubled from 78 in 2006 to 149 in 2007.

"The rapid increase in the number of peaceful land activists in prison is a serious concern in its own right. But every imprisoned human rights defender becomes a tool for intimidation of other activists," Brittis Edman, AI's Cambodia researcher, said in a statement on Friday.

Rights organisations argue that cases like Chhea Ny's harsh imprisonment and Tim Sakhorn's deportation have an impact beyond the individuals and communities immediately involved.

Chhea Ny's wife, Oeun Sarim, told AI: "The case against Chhea Ny was an attack against the minds of people in all 21 provinces who share the same problems, to scare them. Arresting one man is to threaten hundreds of thousands of people, scaring them from struggling and advocating.... I see this as an injustice for the Cambodian people."

Just how ready to fight are the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces?

HENG CHIVOAN Cambodian soldiers sit in a hut near Preah Vihear temple with their somewhat rusty AK-47 weapons in July this year. Military experts say the RCAF is woefully unprepared to fight.

Tanks T-55 tanks and PT-79 light amphibious tanks from Russia, Type 50 tanks and Type 62/63 light tanks from China, and AMX-13 light tanks from France. Aircraft No fighters, no ground attack aircraft, a few former Eastern block transport helicopters, around a dozen MI-17s and MI-8 planes. Light arms Howitzers from Russia and the US, shoulder-fired SAM-7 rockets. Lacks medium and long range offensive support weapons (artillery).

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady and Thet Sambath
Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The recent border standoff over Preah Vihear temple threw a spotlight on RCAF by beaming around the world images of flip-flop-wearing Cambodian soldiers with rusty guns

WITH coverage of the Preah Vihear dispute beaming images of soldiers with rusted AK-47s and rubber-band-bound grenades worldwide, questions are being raised about just how prepared the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) would be if called upon to fight.

"[RCAF is] woefully unprepared [and] poorly equipped across the board," one military analyst, who declined to be named as he still works with RCAF, told the Post.

No recent figures were available, but a 2002 report put defence spending at more than half of the national budget.

Yet most of RCAF's equipment is outdated kit left over from the Cold War. Soldiers are poorly trained, and discipline is low, with many troops simply refusing to show up for duty.

Analysts say the country needs a well-equiped and organised military to protect national sovereignty and participate in peacekeeping.

"We want to develop and modernise as a state, and defence is part of that," said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan. "But [our military will develop] with an orientation towards ... peacekeeping work since we have an obligation to help others achieve peace."

Cleaning off the rust Cambodia's military leadership claims the battlehardy RCAF troops more than make up for their rusting weaponry.

"Don't worry about their weapons, the Cambodian soldiers' strength is their experience as they've been in wars for decades," said Dien Den, a former military general who served under Lon Nol from 1970 to 1975.

But observers wonder how much of these proclamations on the prowess of Cambodian troops is hot air to compensate for poor organisation and low morale.

Due to the imminent possiblilty of combat, soldiers have only now started turning up to work, said Uth Sakada, a military engineer officer based along the border with Thailand in Battambang.

Before the border standoff emerged in July, "less than a third of us were at our base at any given time".

Now, the base's personnel are all present, on permanent standby, he said.

Moreover, things that should be routine - such as cleaning weapons - have only been carried out after the Preah Vihear skirmish broke out, said Ros Bun Hem, an artillery commander also stationed in Battambang.

The border standoff has focused attention on the condition of weapons, he said, with soldiers now prepping their instruments "to make sure they would fire well".


HENG CHIVOAN Cambodian soldiers in a trench with a rusty artillery piece in Preah Vihear earlier this year. RCAF lacks medium- and long-range offensive support weapons.

How well equipped?

RCAF is not short of manpower or light arms but as the military analyst said, "small arms are small arms".

Up-to-date estimates of RCAF troop figures were not available but the government in 2001 estimated it has some 140,000 soldiers.

"It would be in the area of offensive support weapons (artillery) and air support that the Thais would completely outclass RCAF," he said.

The air force's "fleet" stationed in the capital amounts to about a dozen Russian-made MIGs whose flat tyres and dented panels can be seen when landing at the commercial airport.

It might also have several planes at air bases in Battambang and Sisophon.

But things may be changing. According to a high-ranking military official based in Phnom Penh who declined to be named, Cambodia will receive shortly a shipment of "modern fighter planes".

He would not specify the number or type of planes, or where they were coming from. "We currently have peace but when our country faces a threat, new and modern aircraft fighters are needed for national defense," he said.

Another senior army official based in the capital claimed a large shipment of "modern equipment" - including guns and artillery - would be received at the end of October.

"We are not competing with other countries for weapons, but without them we could become a victim," he said.


The bulk of Cambodia's current military stocks come from China and Russia, with a few also coming from the United States and France.

An estimated several hundred post-WWII-issue tanks compose Cambodia's limited ground arsenal, of which only about half are believed to be functional.

Cambodia's artillery is compromises an array of old howitzers from Russia and the US, while shoulder-fired SAM-7 rockets are its most formidable anti-aircraft defence.

And the handful of serviceable helicopters from France are only enough for shuttling around generals.

Just 15 years ago the beneficiary of what was at the time the UN's largest peace keeping commission, Cambodia has begun to offer limited military services abroad, providing deminers in peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"[We] are especially pleased to see them participating in peacekeeping missions when just a few short years ago they were beneficiaries of such forces," said US embassy spokesman John Johnson.

China has stepped up its military assistance to Cambodia in recent years, most notably providing the Kingdom's nearly non-existent navy with five warships in 2005 and nine patrol boats in November 2007.

The development has increased questions about how superpowers will compete for influence.

Just earlier this month, the US treated Cambodian government and military officials to a rare tour of one of its aircraft carriers when it sailed through the region on its way home from Iraq.

The first tour by Cambodian officials of a US aircraft carrier, the Cambodian officials were dazzled by what they had seen previously only on television. The US embassy called the junket "another step in the growing military-to-military relationship" between the two countries.

Shopping around

While Western countries, notably Australia, have expanded aid to Cambodian law enforcement for combating the trafficking of people and narcotics as well as for monitoring potential terrorist activity, they have been hesitant to supply lethal materiel.

Last year the US lifted a ban on military aid to Cambodia, but has only provided non-lethal assistance.

Asked about the future of military-to-military ties between the US and Cambodia during his visit earlier this month to Phnom Penh, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte mentioned only non-combat related cooperation.

Even if boosted by a couple new shipments of materiel, what CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yeap described as "the many guerrilla strategies of Cambodia's troops who have fought in many battles" may be insufficient to compensate for poor resources.

"These are modern times, most countries use computers and advanced systems," said SRP parliamentarian and former chairman of the National Assembly's defense committee Yim Sovann, who said corruption over military spending plagued an already rag-tag group.

"Yes, Cambodian troops have experience, but without resources, without salaries they can survive on, they can't do much. This is not an army for modern times."

Cambodia wants to discuss temple dispute at next meeting: Thai FM

BANGKOK, Sept 30 (TNA) - Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat on Tuesday revealed that Cambodia wants to raise a border demarcation dispute over Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temple ruins for discussion with Thailand at the next Foreign Ministers' meeting.

Interviewed on the telephone after chairing the Informal ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in New York, Mr. Sompong said that he had reported to the Meeting the results of the two rounds of talks between the Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers on resolving the border tension between the two neighbouring countries.

Participants were informed that progress was made in the talks as both countries have agreed to reduce their respective military forces stationed in the disputed areas to 30 each and are working towards a further cut in forces.

He said Cambodian officials informed the meeting of their desire to raise the border dispute over Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temples for discussion with Thailand.

It is expected the issue would be brought up for discussion when Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat visits Cambodia on October 13 at the invitation of his Cambodian counterpart Somdej Hun Sen.

"ASEAN members were satisfied when we told them that both countries understood each other and saw a need to adhere to the bilateral talks to solve the border dispute.

"The United Nations Secretary-General told the ASEAN Meeting that he had been informed of the progress in the Thai-Cambodian talks on the dispute.

"The UN chief also expressed a desire to see both countries attempt to settle the dispute through bilateral talks, not the UN Security Council," he said.

Mr. Sompong said no ASEAN members questioned Thailand's readiness to serve as ASEAN chair.

The Minister said he decided to join the meeting in New York to assure ASEAN colleagues of Thailand's readiness to organise the ASEAN Summit in December.

He added that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had agreed to visit Thailand on December 18 to attend the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok. (TNA)

Norodom Ranariddh returns to the land of his ancestors

Cambodge Soir


Pardoned by the King a few days ago, the Prince ended his exile in order to return to Cambodia on the day of Pchum Ben.

Sunday 28 September around 10.30am, Norodom Ranariddh expressed his gratitude towards the Buddhas at one of Siem Reap’s most popular places, visited by believers who want their wishes to become true.

Two hours after his return, on the day of the Festival of the Death, the Prince’s gesture has a high symbolic value after his return from voluntary exile. Norodom Ranariddh’s procession stopped at the Preah in front of the Royal Residence of Siem Reap. The Prince was with his wife and son and prayed for a moment before distributing offerings to monks and mingling with the people around him. Several of his family members, of which the former governor of Chap Nhalyvoud town, and some supporters came for the occasion. The Prince was surrounded by a few private bodyguards, while some policemen were in charge of security.

Interviewed by Cambodge Soir Hebdo on his return to the city of Angkor instead of the capital, the Prince answered: “I came to Siem Reap in the fist place because this is the land of my ancestors”. Norodom Ranariddh doesn’t have a precise schedule for the following days, he just specified: “Next Thursday I’ll go to Phnom Penh to visit my brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, before meeting with my party committee”. On Sunday afternoon he plans to pray before other Buddhas next to Angkor Wat.

Coming from Kuala Lumpur on an Air Asia flight, he was welcomed by a small delegation of relatives and friends, before continuing to his house in Siem Reap a few kilometres out of town.

Hun Sen critical towards NGO’s

Cambodge Soir


The Prime Minister brought up the imminent adoption of a civil society law, believing that “terrorists” might try to settle in Cambodia under the disguise of non-governmental organisations.

During his speech about general politics, the Prime Minister highly criticised the NGO workers who are against the adoption of a law on NGO’s in Cambodia.

Friday morning, 26 September, during a five-hour speech, Hun Sen declared that: “The NGO workers are trying to teach us a lesson by asking us to respect the law, but they refuse the adoption of a law on NGO’s. It’s unfair”.

According to him, Cambodia is a legally constituted State and it’s thus necessary to know “the origin, the resources and the activities of those NGO’s”. In support of his remarks, Hun Sen brings up a quite surprising argument because he fears that “terrorists might settle in the Kingdom under the disguise of NGO’s”.

And while he was at it, he brushed away the accusations from the civic society, which he believes are directed to him. “The NGO’s are forced to insult the government in order to obtain funding. I told Kofi Annan, former General Secretary of the United Nations, that I lost the hope of reading positive reports concerning Cambodia when they’re written by the specialised human rights organisation or by local human rights NGO’s”, said the Government leader.

After attacking the NGO’s, in the best of form, he then accused the oil company which was asking the government for subsidies during the first three years of activities. “The long noses” aren’t always smart. They’re giving us advice on how to use the oil money, but this is of no interest to us. What is important is how to make our resources profitable”, continued Hun Sen.

In order to challenge his opponents, he then brought up the accusations of corruption around the management of these natural resources. “When five companies are competing, it’s unavoidable to be criticised by the four companies which lost out. The United States are careful not to attack us concerning this case because the American company Chevron will manage the Cambodian oil resources”, declared Cambodia’s strongman.

Finally, Hun Sen asked the CPP elected representatives to be aware of their responsibility: “During this new mandate, you won’t be able to blame Funcinpec when the time comes to make an assessment”, he warned.

The Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs wants to meet his Thai counterpart

Cambodge Soir


On Thursday 25 September, the Cambodian Minister, Hor Namhong, wrote to Sompong Amornivat, in order to talk about the problem of Preah Vihear.

While the Thai Minister is currently in New York, Hor Namhong is asking him to meet him in Cambodia, if possible between 13 and 17 October. According to the words of the Cambodian Minister, the objective of this meeting is to find an “amicable and peaceful” solution, and above all “fair” concerning this border dispute.

Star-Cell bought by a European company

©Jean Loncle

Cambodge Soir


The Nordic TeliaSonera has bought the fourth largest Cambodian mobile phone operator, continuing its development strategy in emerging countries.

On Friday 26 September, TeliaSonera announced in a communiqué having taken over two mobile phone operators, one in Cambodia, Applifone (Star-Cell) and the other one in Nepal, Spice Nepal Private, for a total amount of 484 million dollars.

The Asian branch of TeliaSonera, a Swedish-Finnish operator, has acquired 80% of the Nepalese company and 100% of the Cambodian one, which respectively occupy the second and fourth places on their market.

This year in Cambodia, QB Cube, a new operator, appeared on a market shared until then between five companies with high and vague rates and a questionable service quality. The Kingdom counts about 2.5 million mobile phone users.

Vann Molyvann campaigns for a different urbanisation policy

Vann Molyvann

Cambodge Soir


On Thursday 25 September, during a press conference at the French Cultural Centre, the architect presented his achievements dating from the periods between 1957 and 1970. He also called for the respect of structured city planning laws in the Kingdom.

After the visit on Sunday 21 September, Vann Molyvann once again attracted a large audience at the FCC’s cinema on Thursday evening. He opened the session by offering the French Ambassador a copy of the thesis he recently defended in Paris. Using this thesis as an example, as well as his book “Lessons from the Past”, Vann Molyvann retraced 13 years of construction, based on the wish to develop an authentic Khmer architecture. Describing his choices concerning the Chatomuk theatre, the “grey building”, or also the Olympic Stadium, he put the emphasis on natural ventilation at the heart of his works. He also talked in length about the social aspect of his works, mentioning examples like “the white building” and the garden city concept.

The Q&A session was the occasion for the architect to evoke the present and the future of Phnom Penh’s architecture. Reminding the existence of very strict laws, which he established himself as Minister of State in charge of the urbanisation during the 1990’s, he denounced the absence of political will to apply them. “It’s impossible to act as if such laws don’t exist in Cambodia”, he said, while emphasising that it’s no problem to build a tower as long as the law is respected.

Concerning Boeung Kak, he reminded the existence of a project established in cooperation with the town hall of Paris. This project intended to use the lake as a natural space and to preserve the housing of the lakeside residents.

Finally, he defended a urbanisation plan for the capital, as well as for the whole country, which would, according to him, make it possible to fight against the real-estate speculation and to develop the country in a harmonious way.

Ranariddh returns, vows loyalty to govt

HENG CHIVOAN; Prince Norodom Ranariddh meets supporters after touching down at Siem Reap airport on Sunday after more than a year in self-imposed exile in Malaysia. He told reporters that he is ready to serve the nation.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Monday, 29 September 2008

Prince Ranariddh has returned from 18 months of self-imposed exile in Malaysia, dodging his 2007 prison sentence for fraud

AFTER 18 months in self-imposed exile, Norodom Ranariddh set foot on Cambodian soil Sunday, just days after a royal amnesty from King Norodom Sihamoni overturned the Prince's fraud conviction.

The Prince touched down at Siem Reap airport Sunday morning accompanied by his female companion Ouk Phalla, his son Norodom Sotheariddh and a group of close advisers.

"I'm happy to return to my homeland after 18 months of exile," the Prince told the Post at his royal residence in Siem Reap. "I wish to express my deep thanks to the King and Prime Minister Hun Sen for allowing my return."

Prince Ranariddh has been living in Malaysia since March 2007, when he was sentenced to 18 months in jail for embezzling funds from the sale of property belonging to his former party, Funcinpec. The King issued a royal amnesty for the Prince on Thursday on the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, formerly Ranariddh's main political rival.

Despite past tensions between the two politicians, Prince Ranariddh struck a conciliatory note on Sunday, pledging his party's support for Hun Sen's new government. "I have served my nation for almost 25 years. But after the July election, the Norodom Ranariddh Party [NRP] is not an opposition party like other parties, and we are ready, on any occasion, to serve our nation," he said.

NRP spokesman Suth Dina told the Post that Prince Ranariddh spoke with Prime Minister Hun Sen on the telephone shortly after his arrival in Siem Reap and that they exchanged words of reconciliation. "They told each other that they were like brothers," he said.

Suth Dina added that while Ranariddh was not retiring from political life altogether, he had no immediate plans for a political comeback. "Upon his return, he wishes only to spend time with his family, friends and colleagues and participate in the P'Chum Ben festival. He has no immediate political agenda," he said, adding that the Prince plans to formally address the Cambodian press on October 2.

Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Sunday that the Prince's return was a symbol of national reconciliation.

"When Prince Ranariddh arrives back and asks the CPP leaders to meet, the Prince will be welcomed. The CPP doesn't care about Ranariddh's politics, whether he continues to be involved in politics or not," he said.

New law aims to wipe out disability discrimination

KHOUN LEAKHANA; An NGO representative celebrates International Day for the Deaf at Wat Botum Park last Tuesday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khoun Leakhana
Monday, 29 September 2008

A new law awaiting approval by the government will protect individuals with disabilities against workplace discrimination

A NEW law is being pushed through Parliament to crack down on what advocacy groups call widespread workplace and social discrimination against the disabled.

The law, which was proposed in 1996, would fine companies and individuals found guilty of discrimination.

"The proposed law stipulates that discrimination against an individual because of their disability will be punished," Ith Sam Heang, minister of Social Affairs, told the Post last Monday.

"If a company fails to employ a handicapped person because of their disability, they will be fined." The law was approved by the Council of Ministers in 2007 and must now be passed by the National Assembly.

"We are urging the government to accept this bill that will defend the rights of handicapped people," said Ith Sam Heang.

"We believe that handicapped people should be recognised socially, publicly and by the global community."

According to a recently released report by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation, Cambodia has ten vocational training centres.

Nearly 15,000 disabled people have been trained at the centres and about 8,850 have found permanent jobs.

Eang Chandara, 27, who lost his legs in an accident when he was a child, says discrimination is lessening as the public becomes aware of the challenges disabled people face.

"A few years ago it was very difficult to find a job, because all vacancies called for applicants to be in ‘good physical condition'," he said.

" We are urging the government to accept this bill that will defend [our] rights. "

"Even though our mental abilities may be the same, previously we have been judged only on our physical condition."

"Nowadays, I observe that people are not looking down on us quite so much, and they are more understanding about our feelings and our needs. Handicapped people can now get good jobs because our government is supporting and encouraging us. I hope the government will sign the law to defend our rights soon."

In another recent landmark for disability rights in the Kingdom, the International Day for the Deaf was celebrated at Wat Batom Park on Tuesday.

The celebration provided an opportunity for people within the deaf community to meet and share information.

Program leader Ly Bolika said, "We are very happy that International Deaf Day is being celebrated in this way because it has shown the public that we have the right to join in all social activities. We really hope that this law will be approved."

Women in power support ban on beauty competition

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Monday, 29 September 2008

PM renews his ban on the Miss Cambodia contest - and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs agrees the money could be better spent

A RENEWED ban on beauty pageants by Prime Minister Hun Sen has received support from the Ministry of Women's Affairs, who claim that the money could be spent on things other than a contest that undermines women.

The prime minister renewed the ban Friday, which he claimed brought bad luck to the Kingdom after the capital's Tonle Bassac Theatre burned down a year after it hosted the contest in 1993.

"Don't spend money and don't hold a Miss Beauty contest," Hun Sen told officials during the first meeting of his government's new Cabinet on September 26.

San Arun, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, supported the ban, saying the contest was superficial. "I strongly support the ban.

"The prime minister wants to promote women based on their work, knowledge and intelligence, not on their beauty," she said.

Development before beauty

The prime minister has used the nation's poverty, as well as superstition, as a reason behind the ban. In 2006, he cancelled the pageant because he claimed it was a waste of funds that were better spent on farming.

Chea Vannath, former director of the Center for Social Development, believed this was still an issue.

"At this time we have to think about the development of our country," she said.

"We should spend our time, money and power trying to solve the country's many problems rather than on a contest that judges women on their looks," she said.

Convicted murderer hangs himself

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy and Chrann Chamroeun
Monday, 29 September 2008

CONVICTED murderer Grant Helling committed suicide at Phnom Penh's Monivong Hospital on Saturday.

Thea Nen, a doctor at Monivong Hospital, said the 46-year-old American hung himself with his clothing between 10am and noon Saturday.

"Helling's lawyers, court prosecutors as well as US and prison officials came to inspect the body," he said.

Helling, former policeman, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing a 20-year-old Vietnamese prostitute in February this year.

The court held that Helling strangled the prostitute with a coathanger and hid her body beneath his mattress for three days. When he then set the mattress alight, his landlord called the police, and Helling jumped from a first-floor window in an attempt to evade arrest, seriously injuring his leg.

Throughout the court case Helling maintained the death was unintentional.

"It was just like I was driving my car home from work and hit someone and threw the body in a ditch. It was an accident. I've never hurt anyone in my life," he told the Post in March.

Mong Kim Heng, head of administration at Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh, said Helling was transferred to Monivong Hospital in August for further treatment to his injured leg.

Comment: Our city is not for sale

TRACEY SHELTON; Children ride their bike through the flooded Boeung Kak area last week

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meng Bunnarith
Monday, 29 September 2008


By Meng Bunnarith

Balance commercial concerns with the needs of residents

The news about Boeung Kak lake development is hot. It has appeared in newspapers every day since Phnom Penh's City Hall granted a 99-year lease to the developer Shukaku Inc.

Of course, the city needs development. If the development goes in the right direction, it could drive economic growth. However, if development goes in the wrong direction, it will adversely affect both the natural and built environments.

Any development projects that are likely to cause the loss of scarce natural resources, such as Boeung Kak lake, should consult with stakeholders and encourage involvement from the grassroots all the way up to professionals and top leaders.

Since the development plan has not yet been finalised, I wish that City Hall does its best to plan in such a way that all the negative impacts of development are minimised, specifically the social and environmental impacts. City Hall, as well as the company, should be ready for constructive criticism and then plan for the most appropriate development processes.

The design of the Boeung Kak development plan, the so-called "Pearl Plan", which was awarded "First Prize" by the international jury in 2003, was an ambitious piece of work, in which I was involved. In fact, the plan was a result of an urban design and planning competition workshop organised jointly by the City Hall and its French partners, with the assistance of many international experts.

The Pearl Plan contains good components that could be integrated into the upcoming development. What was unique about the Pearl Plan was its ambitious vision to revitalise the Boeung Kak area. The Plan aimed to capitalise on the green and blue networks in the city.

It tried to advocate a development that benefits all generations through a trade-off planning advocacy, in which City Hall arranges for an acceptable resettlement program and residents agree to move there for the sake of the development of the city landscape.

To put it simply, in contemporary leadership vocabulary, it is a "win-win" solution.

Envisioning our city's future helps shape the direction of our city's growth. Such a vision would provide more scope for development to take into account urban population growth while stimulating the city's economy.

The lake water is becoming more polluted due to lack of care by both the municipal authorities and the residents around the lake. However, that does not mean the lake needs to be filled. Filling the lake would lead to unpredictable disasters caused by flooding, since there are not enough water catchment areas in the city.

This is not to mention disasters that are and will continue to be caused by the filling of other lakes to the north of the city. This is evidenced by the flooding of a few villages in Phnom Penh Thmei.

More to the point, the Boeung Kak development will need to take into account both short-term and long-term consequences.

In the short term, the project designers will need to be aware of social issues pertaining to the residents in the development area, and the flooding that will be caused by filling the lake.

Specifically, a social and environmental impact assessment needs to be carried out properly so that it can mitigate any problems arising from the development.

In the long term, as the development takes place, the area around Boeung Kak lake will obviously become more congested with traffic due to the increased density of development.

Without appropriately planning to cope with such a growth in traffic, Phnom Penh will become a place where outdoor pollution is increasingly a concern. The Pearl Plan was well-aware of these issues. It integrated the interaction between land use, transportation and environmental planning into the existing elements of the city, hoping that Phnom Penh would become more livable. We wanted to make sure that the development of Phnom Penh today would not compromise the city for the generation of tomorrow.

In a nutshell, any decision on city development rests with the municipal authorities. The ongoing debate about how our city should be developed is, at present, surely being dominated by this authority. However, we cannot develop our city based solely on market forces. We must develop based on our conscience. The city is not for sale on the market. The city is for all of us to live in.


Meng Bunnarith is deputy director of the department of urban planning at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. He currently is a PhD candidate in urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He was the Cambodian designer on the award-winning design team that created the Pearl Plan.

Gifts for ghosts

Tracey Shelton

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton
Friday, 26 September 2008

Believers pay homage to their deceased relatives, offering food, water and prayers for their quick release from purgatory and re-entry into the circle of rebirth at Phnom Penh's Wat Botum at 4am Thursday. Celebrations for P'Chum Ben - or the festival of the dead - began September 15 and will culminate early next week with many Cambodians travelling back to their home provinces to celebrate with family members.

Rights defenders under fire

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 26 September 2008

RIGHTS defenders continue to come under fire in Cambodia, the prominent human rights group Licadho said Thursday in a report detailing dozens of attacks against social activists and labour leaders.

"Cambodia is a dangerous place for human rights defenders," the group said. "Throughout 2007, the patterns of threats and attacks ... observed in previous years have continued and intensified."

The group said that, in particular, lawyers acting on behalf of victims of rights abuses had been undermined, with many "justifiably afraid to conduct their legitimate activities".

Licadho also highlighted what it called last year's two worst cases of intimidation or violence: the killing of union leader Hy Vuthy and the alleged kidnapping and deportation of Kampuchea Krom monk Tim Sakhorn. "The cases ... are typical of the impunity which is granted to those who attack human rights defenders," said Licadho director Naly Pilorge.

When asked about Hy Vuthy's murder, Phnom Penh's Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth told the Post Thursday, "We know the identity of the suspects, and our police are always on the alert." But Licadho claims that police never seriously pursued the case. "We have been told that the court has not issued any arrest warrants," said Naly Pilorge.

King pardons exiled prince

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Friday, 26 September 2008

KING Norodom Sihamoni has issued a royal amnesty for Prince Norodom Ranariddh, after receiving a letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting that the monarch's half-brother be allowed to return to Cambodia from self-imposed exile abroad.

Ranariddh fled the country in 2007 after a Phnom Penh court found him guilty of embezzling funds from the sale of land belonging to Funcinpec, his former party, and sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

The amnesty, issued Thursday, came after the Prince wrote to Hun Sen following Wednesday's National Assembly inauguration, praising the efforts of the premier and requesting he write the King on Ranariddh's behalf.

In a second letter to the King on Thursday, the Prince thanked him for granting him "full freedom to join in the development of the nation".

Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Suth Dina said that the Prince will arrive Sunday in Siem Reap, but said he does not plan to become actively involved in politics, allowing the new CPP-dominated government the opportunity to maintain political stability.

"The Prince wants to keep quiet at first because he does not want there to be irregularities of information," he said.


Comment from UNOHCHR

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christophe Peschoux
Friday, 26 September 2008

The resolution, supported by the Cambodian government, was adopted Wednesday by the Council for Human Rights. It requests the Council continue to monitor the human rights situation in Cambodia via the appointment, for one year, of a Special Rapporteur, tasked to assess progress, outline areas of priority and foster dialogue and cooperation with the government, civil society and all actors involved in the reconstruction of a state of the rule of the law in Cambodia. We welcome very much this outcome and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the Special Rapporteur, the government and civil society in a spirit of partnership, mutual respect, and effective cooperation. By this I mean working together to look for solutions and address some of the real human rights issues: land grabbing and forced evictions by powerful interests - and when we say land grabbing, what we mean here is theft, a crime under the law; the devastating effects of food prices rising which undermines efforts to reduce poverty; the improvement of the administration of justice to restore public confidence in a court system largely perceived as corrupt, ineffective and abusive (and in particular, the difficult issue of impunity); the improvement of the dire conditions in which over 11,000 prisoners currently live; and cooperation between authorities and a solid, independent civil society in the search for practical, legal, peaceful and just solutions to these burning questions. There has been a lot of progress since 1993, and Cambodia today is far from where it was then. We hope that efforts will continue in order to consolidate positive advances and correct continued abuses....This is a call for an effective dialogue and cooperation.

National youth policy to be embedded in law

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport’s national youth policy relates to ten main areas including education, employment, public health, environment and morality. This ten sector policy is to be reflected in the upcoming draft law, officials say

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Monday, 29 September 2008

A two-year-old national youth policy will form the basis for a new law that experts hope will prevent a slide in young people's morality

A DRAFT law aiming to formalise youth protection and increase government services to youths is set for passage in 2009. Crucially, the bill would define ‘‘a youth'' as a person between the ages of 15 and 30, which would include about 60 percent of the population.

The draft is based on the youth policy devised by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in 2006, a secretary of state told the Post Sunday.

Chey Chap, secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), said that the Ministry is determined to have the law adopted next year but warned there was a long way to go.

"The final draft of the law has yet to be written and will have to be approved by experts from abroad as well as NGOs and government departments that work with youth in Cambodia," he said.

Yong Kim Eng, executive director of People Development and Peace Center (PDP-Center), welcomed the government's determination to have the law adopted as soon as possible.

"I am hopeful that the fourth mandate government will have this law adopted as it promised during the election campaign," he said.

"The MoEYS [received technical assistance] to draft this law in 2006 and now this draft is in the hands of the government and they are looking at it again," said Yong Kim Eng.

" the government really needs to respond to young people’s needs. "

Young people are the future

"[Young people are] important to Cambodia's development and the government is now responding to this," said Yong Kim Eng. "The government really needs to respond to young people's needs. It needs to create entertainment clubs for young people, including sports clubs...so they have places to go to other than bars and night clubs," said Yong Kim Eng.

Mak Samnang, an official from the Kampong Cham provincial Department of Education, Youth and Sports, said it is essential that the government embeds the national youth policy into law to aid Cambodia's overall development.

"Youth is a pillar of this nation and youth morality is slipping. Many young people get hair high-lighted, drink alcohol, take drugs and become gangsters," he said."Three main factors in the education of youth are parents, teachers and society," said Mak Samnang.

"If all three factors fail to educate young people, youth morality will decline and the society will be harmed through their bad conduct. The government needs to address this."

Industry applauds tourism campaign

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab
Monday, 29 September 2008

TOURISM industry leaders have applauded the launch of the "Cambodia: World of Wonder" advertising campaign to promote the country.

"This is a good time for the sector. With the formation of the new government, and the new slogan, we believe the world will get the message about all that Cambodia has to offer," said Luu Meng, president of the Cambodian Hotel Association.

While tourism has grown by more than 11 percent in the first quarter of 2008 over the same period last year, the country has lacked a branding strategy.

The government and industry hope the new slogan, which includes a six-month advertising program on CNN, will sell the country along the lines of the "Malaysia: Truly Asia" and "Amazing Thailand" campaigns.

Tourism remains a top priority in a national strategy to bolster economic growth, said So Mara, secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism.

"We're targeting people from all walks of life by promoting safety, political and economic stability, and international-standard services," So Mara said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen emphasised the link between tourism and development in a letter commemorating the 29th World Tourism Day on Saturday. "I hope this special occasion will encourage the involvement of tourism to support and contribute to environmental protection, poverty reduction and social and economical development," Hun Sen wrote.


Artist uses nature for canvas

MOM KUNTHEAR; Artist Kim Hak carefully paints on banyan leaves, which he collects from pagodas, in villages and when he travels overseas.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Monday, 29 September 2008

Kim Hak says his drawings on banyan leaves require a little more preparation but the results are more than worth the time and trouble

KIM Hak, 27, never formally studied art, but he has drawn and painted since childhood.

For much of his life, his approach was similar to many other aspiring artists - pen or paint on paper.

However, a chance meeting with a friend led him to a more unconventional medium-banyan leaves.

"I started drawing my pictures on banyan leaves in 2003 when I lived in Siem Reap," he said. "One day I went for a walk with a friend and I picked up a banyan leaf. He told me about Buddha and the banyan tree, and I thought that I could draw a Buddha picture on the leaf."

His first attempts were challenging as he got adjusted to drawing on such an unusual material.

"When I first tried it, I saw that it could be very nice. I started working step by step and then I was able to do it," he said.

As a child, Kim Hak spent much of his free time trying to draw pictures of the people and things around him, such as birds, flowers and monks.

"I wasn't able to draw real pictures, so I began inventing things," he said.

Now years later, he still tries to incorporate themes of daily life into his banyan leaf art.

"Now, I've made more than 100 pictures on banyan leaves," he said. "In one of them, I compare a lotus flower with Cambodian children. The petals enclose the flower just as parents protect their children. When the flower blooms, the petals are free, just as children become independent when they can support themselves."

Drawing on banyan leaves requires a little more preparation than other forms of art, Kim Hak explained.

"It is different than drawing on paper because I have to be careful not to break the leaves," he said. "The break very easily, and each leaf is different."

" I've made more than 100 pictures on banyan leaves. "

He said he collects the leaves at pagodas and in villages.

"When I gather them fresh, I have to keep them in books or newspapers to remove the moisture. This can take up to 10 or 15 days," he said.

He even collects them when he travels in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and Laos."Before I started, I didn't know that there were any other artists using banyan leaves," he said. "Now I know that some artists are using them in other countries, but I am the first person in Cambodia to do this.

"The public's response to his banyan art is promising, Kim Hak said. "My first exhibition was in early 2008 in Battambang province. I held a second one at the Reyum Institute in Phnom Penh, and many people expressed interest in my pictures."Kim Hak expects to open a new exhibit in Siem Reap at the end of the year or in early 2009.

MOM KUNTHEAR; An example of Kim Hak's banyan-leaf art.

"The name of the exhibit will be ‘Take a Break', which refers to the time I spend drawing the pictures," he said.

Kim Hak enjoys his art but hasn't let it go to his head.

"I'm proud of what I've accomplished and happy that I am the one person doing this in Cambodia, but I don't want to boast. Others can do this, maybe even better than I can. I always want to learn from other artists.

"With the initial success of his banyan art, Kim Hak is looking to branch out with drawings on other kinds of leaves in coming years and hopes that people outside Cambodia will start taking notice.

In the meantime, he says he will continue his art in the spare moments he gets after work at a tourism company.

"I really hope my pictures will eventually show overseas," he said. "I would like to promote my works to everyone. I've struggled to gain attention with my art, and I believe strongly in my abilities."

Govt makes efforts to attract foreign investors

Fibre 2 Fashion
September 30, 2008

The Cambodian garment sector is going through rough phase due to shut down of various enterprises. As a result, the Government is making efforts to attract foreign investors to put money in the country in order to stabilize the unsteady economy.

Even the slowdown in US has made its impact felt in Cambodia. Country's garment export has reduced due to lack of demand from US. The strong competition from China and Vietnam is also making it difficult for the nation to earn profits.

Recently, a delegation of 18 eminent Hong Kong businessmen visited Cambodia to look for new trade opportunities in the country. The group of representatives was headed by Neville Shroff, Vice Chairman, Hong Kong chamber's Asia-Africa committee that held meeting with Vice President of the Cambodia chamber of commerce.

The Hong Kong based entrepreneurs have shown keen interest in making investments in the textile and garment sector. It is assumed that the purpose of visit was to look for local partners who can collaborate and help these overseas traders expand their business here.

It is believed that the delegation arrived in Cambodia after eying investment opportunities in Laos.

Human rights activist says assailant threatened his life

TRACEY SHELTON; Heang Rithy, who was threatened by an unidentified assailant last week, in his office in Phnom Penh on Sunday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Monday, 29 September 2008

Heang Rithy says his criticism of government policies and senior leaders could have led to the incident last week in Phnom Penh

A CAMBODIAN human rights activist has filed a formal complaint with the government that an unidentified assailant threatened to kill him and his adviser while they were driving to their offices last week.

Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organization and the Committee for Strict Law Enforcement for Human Rights in Cambodia, said the incident happened while he was driving to his office on September 25 at about 10:20pm.

"A man drove his car against the traffic and pulled in front of my car. He told me to get out and then said he would shoot me and my adviser," Heang Ritthy told the Post Sunday.

In a formal complaint filed with Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, Heang Rithy said the unidentified man drove a black Toyota Hilux Vigo with Royal Cambodian Air Force tags and the plate number 2-9916.

The incident occurred on Street 488 in Phsa Deumthov commune in Phnom Penh, according to the complaint.

Heang Rithy said he called the chief of the municipal military police for assistance during the incident. Ten minutes later, the commander of military police arrived with two other armed soldiers.

The assailant fled as soon as police arrived, the complaint states, and he remains at large.

Heang Rithy said he has never received such threats before and that the incident may be the result of criticisms he has made against government activities or specific high-ranking officials.

"I criticise the government when they fail to meet the needs of the people. I draw attention to injustice in society. I've even complained about Tep Vong, the head of Cambodia's monks, for his involvement in the 2003 elections, and Sam Rainsy, who I called ignorant," he said.

"I criticise because I want a better society that seeks justice for all people," he said.

Ya Kim I, commander of Phnom Penh's municipal military police, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Touch Naroth, chief of municipal police, told the Post he did not know the details of the incident and had not yet received Heang Rithy's complaint.

Hong Kong eyes garments

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Monday, 29 September 2008

Trade delegation meets with officials

A DELEGATION consisting of 18 representatives of large companies from the Hong Kong general chamber of commerce met with Hann Khieng, vice president of the Cambodia chamber of commerce, to eye investment opportunities in Cambodia.

The meeting took place on Friday and the delegation was headed by Neville Shroff, vice chairman of the Hong Kong chamber's Asia/Africa committee.

"Those business people are interested in investing in the garment and textile sectors in Cambodia. Their visit was meant to look for local partners for their investment," said Nguon Meng Tech, director general of the Cambodia chamber of commerce, on Sunday.

"Those investors look firmly and eagerly to invest in the sectors. We hope they will put their investment here soon."

"This is a good sign for the start of the new government, showing confidence among foreign investors," he said.

The delegation arrived in Cambodia after eying investment opportunities in Laos.

Kong Sang, vice president of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he welcomes new investment in garments and textiles.

However, Kong Sang said that competition from Vietnam and China has meant that many of the trade delegations end up investing outside of the country.

"They just came and looked, but didn't make a firm decision," he said.

Garment sector growth has slowed this year, mainly due to declining US demand.

Yoga tour helps neglected kids

Bucks County Courier Times

It is hot and humid — the stench of Steung Meanchey's notorious garbage dump in Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh is intolerable yet unavoidable. Many children have no choice but to forage through the waste for recyclables that earn them 25 cents to 75 cents a day — just enough for a bowl of rice.

The children's stories have tugged at the heartstrings of Brittany Policastro, a yoga teacher at the Center Club in Newtown. Now she's doing something to help them.

Policastro has committed to The Off the Mat into the World Cambodia Seva Challenge by creating the “One World Many Hearts Yoga Tour.” The tour will give Philadelphia area yoga studios the chance to put their good energy to use Oct. 4 and 5. That's when each participating yoga studio will offer a 75-minute class for a minimum $10 donation with all of the funds going to the Cambodia Children's Fund. There also will be goodie bags for each participant as well as raffles in several of the studios.

But more than the goodies and exercise, participants will be helping the exploited and downtrodden.

“The Seva Challenge was created to inspire others to tap into their creativity and raise $20,000 for the Cambodia Children's Fund. This organization provides shelter, education, health care and nourishment to some of the most impoverished children that live in a place with one of the highest rates for child prostitution and domestic violence,” said Policastro.

“Initially, I felt so drawn to this cause and I didn't even know why,” she said. “But now, just from the passion I have put into creating this project and all of the amazing connections I have made, my life has already changed significantly. All of those participating in the challenge that raise $20,000 will travel to Cambodia for two weeks to work with these children. ... I can't wait to connect with these children.”

Dispatches: Anlong Veng

The main courtroom at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, in Phnom Penh, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Photograph by Elena Lesley.

September 29, 2008

by Elena Lesley
Granta Magazine, UK

Chit Leang does not know his real name or his age or who his parents were. He was a small child in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia, he tells me, and his memories from that time come back as disjointed images. We talk outside his modest restaurant, our faces damp from the mid-day sun, and Chit describes, in vivid detail, the gunshots that called him to lunch each day and the flat plates on which his Khmer Rouge comrades spooned out watery rice porridge. What happened to his entire family, Chit does not know. Like so many other Cambodians, they disappeared.

Today Chit’s open-air restaurant sits along a new, paved road in Anlong Veng, a border town in Cambodia’s north that remained a Khmer Rouge stronghold into the late 1990s. Chit moved here two years ago, for purely business reasons. Friends had told him that a planned border checkpoint in the area would see an influx of tourists from Thailand, en route to the Angkor Wat temple complex, and Chit set up shop, selling noodle soup and Angkor beer to the growing packs of travellers. Along Veng, which just a few years ago was a jungle strewn with landmines, is undergoing a building boom.

Pol Pot’s grave is a short walk from Chit’s restaurant. The site is unmarked from the main road and it was Chit who showed me where to find the narrow path that leads to the grave, a mound of dirt covered by a rusty corrugated metal roof. Flowers and sun-faded glass bottles frame the place where Pol Pot was supposedly cremated in 1998, on a heap of rubbish and old tyres. An old man in poor health, he died in his sleep.

It was a quiet end for a man responsible for the destruction of his country. Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge killed a quarter of Cambodia’s population – roughly two million people – through overwork, starvation and execution. Chit’s family were among the victims. Yet Chit remains friendly with his next-door neighbour, the grandson of an infamous Khmer Rouge military leader nicknamed ‘the Butcher’. And he politely serves customers who come to pay their respects at Pol Pot’s grave, those faithful Khmer Rouge holdouts who light incense and carry offerings of fruit and chicken. ‘They have their understanding and I have mine,’ Chit says.

After suffering through the nightmare of Khmer Rouge rule and a decade of civil conflict, most Cambodians have adopted a similar survival strategy – try to feed your family and refrain from becoming actively involved in politics. Although none of those responsible for Khmer Rouge atrocities had been punished for their crimes, the people of Cambodia understood they had to move on. Their momentum pushed the country forward, but crookedly, like a broken bone that heals without a cast. They opened shops and restaurants amid rubble and landmines. They struggled to raise children – roughly sixty percent of Cambodians were born after 1979 – who don’t learn about the Khmer Rouge in school and have trouble believing their parents’ and grandparents’ stories. Much of the population just tried to forget, to ‘dig a hole and bury the past and look to the future,’ as Prime Minister Hun Sen told them to do in 1998, after a series of senior leaders defected from what was left of the Khmer Rouge movement.

In this climate of pragmatism, some Cambodians believe that spending millions of dollars to put on trial a handful of elderly former leaders is absurd. It has been nearly thirty years since the Vietnamese ousted the Khmers Rouge from power. But domestic and international political interests have prevented the trials from happening until now.

Pol Pot’s grave in Anlong Veng, near the Thai border. The site is maintained by the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism. Photograph by Elena Lesley.

Throughout the 1980s Cold War era, China and much of the free world continued to support a re-packaged Khmer Rouge coalition force as a means of weakening Vietnam and its ally, the Soviet Union. It wasn’t until 1997 that Hun Sen requested UN assistance in creating a Khmer Rouge tribunal, some say to delegitimize the country’s ongoing Khmer Rouge insurgency.

When the guerilla movement essentially died the following year, along with Pol Pot, Hun Sen began to insist that putting former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial would jeopardize the country’s fragile peace. The international community continued to push for a court and, after years of negotiations, the tribunal began its work in earnest around two years ago. Since then, five former leaders have been taken into custody and the first trials are expected to start in late September. Still, given that most of the defendants are in their seventies and eighties, any justice meted out by the court will be largely symbolic.

That doesn’t bother the tribunal’s supporters, who believe a verdict on the Khmer Rouge period must be rendered before Cambodia can truly advance. For years, former Khmers Rouge have lived freely in the country, often side by side with those they persecuted. The country’s lack of historical accountability has created a lawless society, where rampant land grabbing forces the poor off of their newly valuable property and justice always has a price tag.

When I first came to Cambodia as a journalist in 2004, I saw the Khmer Rouge’s insidious legacy everywhere. In the twisted faces of beggars who had been permanently disfigured through contract acid attacks. Amid the ‘broken girls’ who turned tricks on Phnom Penh’s crumbling boulevards and the street children who huffed glue from dirty plastic bags. When a bright young student I knew was killed over a romantic dispute, I tried to find a way to write about it for my newspaper. The twenty-two-year-old had been gunned down in front of a popular nightclub, surrounded by witnesses, but because the triggerman was the son of a powerful official no one was ever arrested. After struggling with several potential angles for a story, I finally had to accept the fact that in Cambodia, the student’s death was not newsworthy. He was just another casualty of what scholars have come to call the country’s ‘culture of impunity’.

I returned to Cambodia this spring to write about the Khmer Rouge tribunal. While the society’s dark undercurrents continued to haunt me, even after I left the country, the warmth and resilience of its people had an equally profound impact. Through improving coverage of the tribunal, I hoped to play a small role in the country’s recovery, to help Cambodians confront and exorcise the demons of their recent history.

After a three-year hiatus, I found the country greatly changed, at least superficially. Cambodia’s first suburban developments (cookie-cutter mansions with reflective glass and neocolonial flourishes) are under construction outside of Phnom Penh. Several skyscrapers, including a gleaming gold-coloured tower, are planned for the downtown area. Yet the country’s feeble infrastructure can’t accommodate this scale of development, and the huge strain of such vanity projects frequently plunges much of the city into blackouts.

As Cambodia’s growth accelerates, so too does the disparity between the tiny elite and the impoverished masses. Impunity is endemic. Weeks before July’s national elections, an opposition-aligned newspaper journalist and his adult son were shot to death in the middle of a busy Phnom Penh street. Witnesses said the gunmen, who rode on a motorbike, made no effort to conceal their identities and even circled back to make sure they had hit their target. It was a brazen act. Yet there are no suspects in custody and little hope among Phnom Penh’s beleaguered journalists that the killers will ever be punished.

A statue of Khmer guardian spirit Lokta Dambang Dek (Lord of the Iron Staff) stands outside the Khmer Rouge tribunal. In legends, the spirit is an all-seeing and all-knowing witness, an administrator of justice. Photograph by Elena Lesley.
Change is not on the horizon. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won a landslide victory in the national elections, amid accusations of voter fraud and observer assessments that the polls ‘failed to meet international standards’. Most Cambodians have never experienced a truly democratic society and cannot imagine government institutions free of rampant corruption. Khmer Rouge survivors like Youk Chhang, who has devoted much of his life to cataloguing the regime’s crimes as head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, believe the tribunal can be a turning point for the entire country, setting a new precedent for the notoriously corrupt judiciary and ultimately creating a more accountable society.

‘I want justice for the future, not for us,’ says Chhang. In his Phnom Penh office, surrounded by boxes of books, newspapers and archived documents, he describes how the Khmer Rouge cut open his sister’s stomach after she was accused of eating stolen rice and, thus, trying to sabotage the revolution. The survivors ‘are too broken and divided,’ Chhang says, ‘no one can compensate what the victims lost. But we need to leave a legacy for the country’.

That can only be achieved if those in custody actually face trial. And given their frail health and the glacial pace of the law, many Cambodians worry the defendants may yet elude justice.

‘The court moves too slowly. It needs to move fast, before the defendants die,’ Chit Leang tells me, lowering his voice and glancing nervously toward his neighbour’s house. ‘There are no words to say how angry I am. I want to know why they killed their own people. I want answers.’ Chit wishes he could travel to see the court himself, but the daylong trip to Phnom Penh isn’t practical. He has a restaurant to run.

If he could go, I am not sure how worthwhile he would find the experience. Although a tribunal lacking outreach and education will be meaningless, sometimes I think that the process underway is too abstract, too disconnected from everyday life in today’s Cambodia. A sleek, new complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, populated by international lawyers and judges who seem plucked from their homelands – robes, wigs and all – and deposited on this strange judicial island, the tribunal could not be more foreign to people like Chit. It was not designed to be accessible, physically or conceptually, to average Cambodians.

And yet, they come.

From the tribunal’s dusty parking lot, I watch survivors arrive for the pre-trial hearing of Ieng Sary, whose Foreign Ministry underwent a series of radical purges during the Khmer Rouge period. Organized and transported by various NGOs, the old men and women stream out of their buses. Most are peasants, with rough hands and wide feet, and they’ve dressed as if they were going to the pagoda – probably the only opportunity for formal wear in their home villages. The men seem a little uncomfortable in their button-down shirts, slacks and flip-flops; women are wrapped in long traditional skirts paired with sparkly, handmade tops.

Once they pass through parking lot security, they shuffle along a covered walkway that leads to the central court building. To the left, across a small field and past the wall looped with razor wire, they can see the yellow villa where the five defendants are kept. The court itself is impressive, but sterile.

The survivors settle into their seats. They watch as a man enters the courtroom from a side door, bowed over a cane, his free hand gripping a security guard for support. Thick spectacles, a hairline receded to the back of his head, Ieng Sary is the very picture of infirmity. He stares straight ahead, expressionless.

The scene unfolds in what looks like a giant fishbowl. A long, curved glass panel separates actual courtroom actors – Sary, the lawyers and judges – from those observing the process. In the front rows of the audience section are court staff and students. With their stylish haircuts and smart professional attire, they remind me of the young men and women I often see after work at the new Lucky Seven fast food restaurant, members of the country’s burgeoning middle class sharing gossip and study tips over gelato.

Just a few rows behind them, the Khmer Rouge survivors seem to occupy a different space and time. Men and women with deeply grooved faces, their eyes betray an expression I have seen too often in Cambodia. It’s a look I saw in Chit Leang, a glassy and disconnected gaze so unsettling it makes me want to turn away.

When the court breaks for lunch, observers discuss their plans for the afternoon. Having found the morning’s proceedings hard to follow, many confess they won’t be returning for a similarly tedious afternoon session; I worry that their time at the court had little impact. Until an overheard exchange gives me hope.

‘Are you going to come back for the rest of Sary’s hearing?’ an aid worker asks one of the departing men.

He pauses to think. ‘I’ve seen his face,’ he answers triumphantly. ‘That’s enough.’

Ladies, discover Cambodia in luxury

Travel Blackboard
Monday, 29 September 2008

Luxury Travel Company has launched two new “ladies” packages to celebrate the opening of their new office in Ho Chi Minh City this October.

The package is exclusive to ladies only and comprises of a 10-day tour-package from Saigon to Siem Riep and a four-day package to Angkor Temple.

Included in the package is twin-share accommodation in a state room, daily breakfast, tea break, candlelit dinner, spa package, excursions and activities, shopping, museum guided visit and a private chartered boat cruise on Tonle Sap Lake.

This offer will be available until 30 November 2008 with prices starting from USD$999 for the 4-day Angkor Temple escape, and from USD$1999 for the 10-day Saigon to Sien Riep.

And for those that have a good memory, Luxury Travel will offer 10% discount on all day trip and excursions from Saigon for those that cite the company secret code “lux4lux”.

UN chief comments Thai-Cambodian conflict

Tue, September 30, 2008
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation
New York

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggested that the border disputes between Thailand and Cambodia should be settled bilaterally, Foreign Minister Sompong Amornwiwat said Monday.

The UN chief told ministers of both sides while they together with other colleagues from the Asean met with him on the sideline of the UN General Assembly here.

Thailand-Cambodia border conflict was among the issues including the Burma's rehabilitation after Cyclone Nargis discussed between the Asean ministers and Secretary General Ban.

The border conflict came into the UN attention as Phnom Penh wanted to bring the issue to the UN Security Council since July. It was put on hold since both sides have many bilateral mechanisms to handle such conflict.

Prior to the meeting with Ban, Sompong and Cambodian deputy foreign minister Ouch Borith also briefed an informal Asean ministerial meeting on the progress of border dispute settlement.

They needed to report Asean since Cambodia put the conflict into the group during the ministerial meeting in Singapore in July. The Asean also told them to solve the problem bilaterally.

The two neighbors have been in conflict since Cambodia managed to list the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear as a world heritage site and angry Thai protesters forced the military to deploy troops to stand off with Cambodia since July.

Previous government negotiated to redeploy troops in the areas to only ten each of both sides in the dispute areas and remained some 20 each nearby.

Sompong said the UN chief and Asean ministers agreed the bilateral mechanisms could end the conflict although it would take time.

"We told the Asean ministers that there is no longer confrontation since previous negotiations manage to reduce number of troops," he said.

The minister said he would visit Cambodia shortly after the parliament session for policy announcement which due October 7-8.

"I intend to visit Phnom Penh around the same time with Laos to pave the way for Prime Minister's visit in coming weeks," Sompong told reporters.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat would visit Cambodia on October 13 to discuss the border dispute.

Sompong said his Cambodia colleagues wanted to bring other disputed areas near Ta Muen Thom temple in Oddar Meanchey and Surin provinces into the next discussion. Both sides claimed sovereignty in the border areas where the Khmer sanctuary was situated.

Cambodia has already piled up the third Hindu sanctuary of Ta Kwai into the pipe line but Thailand has not yet put into the agenda for discussion.

Water buffalo races end Cambodia festival

Thousands of Cambodians have converged on a northeastern village for an annual water buffalo race

VIHEAR SUOR, Cambodia (AFP) — Thousands of Cambodians converged on a village northeast of the capital Monday for annual water buffalo races which bring the country's festival for the dead to a close.

The races mark the last day of Pchum Ben, a three-day festival in which Cambodians believe their dead ancestors emerge to walk the earth. Prayers at Buddhist pagodas and offerings are made to ease the suffering of the spirits.

"I've been joining this race since I was 15 years old. I enjoy the thrill of riding the buffalo in front of so many people like this," said Chorn Khein, a 30-year-old farmer.

The 35 contestants took part to commemorate the Neakta Preah Srok pagoda spirit, said San Sem, 55, a farmer and one of three race judges.

"We want Neakta to look after our village and take care of our cattle so they don't get ill," San Sem said.

"Another reason for the celebration is that the villagers want to show off their own buffaloes," he said.

Vihear Sour village about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Phnom Penh began holding the race more than 70 years ago. It is followed by a traditional wrestling match.

Cambodia looks to nuclear power

ABC Radio Australia
September 30, 2008

Cambodia's government says the kingdom may develop its first nuclear power plant as early as 2020.

It says with hydropower and coal capacity expected to peak in the next decade, nuclear energy is the best option for the country.

A secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, Sat Samy says Cambodia's nuclear plans are in line with efforts by ASEAN to promote atomic energy among member states.

Asean energy ministers reached a joint agreement last year in Bangkok to pursue new sources of power for the region's growing electricity needs.

Cambodia golf courses aim to hit tourists

The Baqngkok Post

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia's efforts to attract high-end tourists by developing a world class golfing scene in the space of just a few years appears to have paid off, with a major regional golf tour company preparing to showcase the courses in Europe.

Golfasian, which is based in Thailand, said it would promote Cambodia alongside neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam at the International Golf Travel Market in Marbella, Spain from November 11-14.

Cambodia will be marketed as an exciting new regional golf destination at the event, billed as the world's premier golf travel expo and credited with making or breaking emerging hot destinations, it said.

At last year's event, neighbouring Vietnam won the International Association of Golf Tour Operators' World's Best Up-and-Coming Golf Destination award and has since reaped plenty in golfing tourism dollars. Cambodia is in the midst of a tourism boom and is keen to earn similar recognition in the lucrative golf tourism market.

"Golf holidays in Cambodia are a new introduction, yet pioneering golfers are finding it a fascinating country in which to play a few rounds," Golfasian says on its website.

"Cambodia doubled its number of luxury golf courses last year to four and hopes to have eight by 2010 in a bid to lure more high-end tourism from the fast-growing sport in Asia."

Golfing legend Nick Faldo's company designed a PGA-standard course in Siem Reap, the country's tourist hub about 300 kilometres north of the capital, where golfers are offered the chance to tour the world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex between rounds.

And Arnold Palmer Design Company, named after its famous founder, is currently building a 36-hole course for a new billion-dollar five-star resort in Bokor, 200 kilometres south of the capital.

This Year, Costly Rice for Hungry Ghosts

In more than 5,000 pagodas, Cambodians offer tons of rice to wandering ghosts in early morning ceremonies.

By Pin Sisovann, VOA Khmer
Original report from Battambang province
29 September 2008

In the provincial darkness of an early morning last week, the traditional "Song of Crying Souls" blared from a loudspeaker lashed to a coconut tree. The song was a call to the "pret," ghosts condemned to hell who cannot walk the earth by day, to Russey pagoda, in Battambang province, to receive offerings of rice and sugarcane.

This time of year, during the Pchum Ben festival, relatives of the dead amass at pagodas like this one to throw rice to hungry ghosts. And this year, more than others, that ceremony is getting expensive. In the face of high prices and an estimated 25 percent inflation rate this year, devotees seem undeterred, throwing an immeasurable amount of rice in the dirt.

Around 300 people travel to Russey pagoda—one of more than 5,000 in Cambodia—each night during Pchum Ben, a 15-day Buddhist ceremony that culminates Monday and Tuesday.

Venerable Ratanak Pho, a senior monk at Russey pagoda, explained that the souls of criminals who have robbed or killed, or those who maltreated their parents or eaten monk's food before monks, will become pret. (An even worse hell is reserved for the souls of those who kill their parents, incite violence among monks, or, traditionally, shed the blood of the Buddha.)
At Russey pagoda, Battambang province, rice if offered to thousands of departed ancestors killed by the Khmer Rouge.

These souls cannot eat from traditional alms plates, but must eat rice offerings from the ground, he said.

"We don't put the rice on plates to offer them because those whose souls are born as pret cannot eat food from plates or any clean material," Ratanak Pho said. This process is called "bayben."

Bayben is signaled to the pret by the sounds of drums, and at Russey pagoda, the howls of dogs accompanied pre-dawn drumming. People began to throw their rice-ball offerings on the ground, along with sugarcane and cakes.

Behind them walked five young boys, the hungry living. What the boys didn't get, the neighborhood dogs snatched.

One of those who offered rice was Ung Reaksmey, from a nearby village, who said he would spend seven mornings at the pagoda, making offerings to his grandparents, uncles and aunts, who all died nearby under the Khmer Rouge.

"We cook one can of rice to share among four or five or us," he said.

Across Cambodia, millions will follow this pattern, at a time when the price of rice has steadily risen, costing up to 3,500 riel, or $0.87, per kilogram, a rise that prompted an export ban by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year.

Yang Sang Koma, director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, warned that people should reduce some of their bayben offerings this year.

"I think we should save rice from the ceremony, because we should feel sorry for the loss of rice," he said. "The production of rice is getting harder than before. Cambodian tradition holds that everyone should go to at least seven pagodas, but I think once is enough for the ceremony. It appears extravagant to go so many times."

If only 4 million of Cambodia's 14 million people threw bayben just once over the ceremony, it would amount to 250 tons or rice for ghosts.

"Everyone thinks it's a little, but if we add it together and multiply by many days, it would be too much," Yang Sang Koma said. "We should realize that at present, there are many people who starve and cannot buy rice to eat."

Such conservation might be a tough sell. During Pchum Ben, Cambodians make offerings of bayben because they are unsure if their loved ones have become pret. They throw rice just in case, and if their ancestors are not pret, at least some pret will eat.
Hundreds of people come to Russey pagoda each night during the 15-day Pchum Ben ceremony, which culminates Monday and Tuesday.

The area around Russey pagoda, in Battambang's Morng Russey district, is full of ghosts. It was the regional security headquarters for the Khmer Rouge, making it an enormous prison. Thousands of Cambodians, evicted from their homes, were brought here for interrogation. Some were murdered by cadre of the regime; others starved to death.

"They were brought here for questioning at the temple," said Yurk Pheung, chief of Russey pagoda, who had just finished early-morning bayben chanting. "They went missing after questioning. We don't know where they were sent, or went to. Wives and children could only wait. Some lost fathers. Others lost mothers."

The Khmer Rouge of nearby Boeung Bei village were notoriously cruel, he said, killing hundreds of families, perhaps as many as 20,000 people.

"Some were smashed to death," the monk said. "Others were not, but died of starvation. Some died from overwork and lie down in the rice fields. In 1979, I came to look for gold buried with the dead. I saw skulls here and there."

Before dawn scattered the souls of the departed, Chhay Chan Theany, who lost her mother, four siblings, a grandfather, grandmother, and four uncles and aunts, placed her own rice in the grass, to keep the dirt off.

"Well," she said simply, "they died of starvation at Boeung Bei village."

It was her first bayben ceremony this year, she said, adding, "If I have a chance, I will come again."