Thursday, 9 October 2008

New gear offers boost to under-equipped firefighters

PHOTO SUPPLIED; A donation of equipment has helped Cambodia's fire fighters.


Written by Christopher Shay
Thursday, 09 October 2008

With only one fire station in the capital and not enough hoses to deal with the city's blazes, the donation is much needed

PHNOM Penh has just one fire station, and if it were not for one ex-firefighter from the US state of Colorado, Phnom Penh's bravest would likely be putting out the capital's fires in T-shirts and flip-flops.

American Doug Mendel has been donating firefighting equipment to Cambodia since 2003. This time - his 12th philanthropic trip - Mendel donated 420 kilograms of fire-retardant pants, gloves, coats, helmets and boots to six fire stations in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Ratanakkiri and Sihanoukville.

And with each province having only one fire station, Mendel's donations have improved almost a quarter of Cambodia's firehouses.

"It feels good, because now [Cambodian firefighters] are fighting fires more safely and effectively," Mendel said.

Over the past five years, Mendel has raised more than US$70,000 in donations by buying Cambodian arts and crafts and selling them in the US, and from a restaurant in Colorado that periodically donates proceeds to his charity.

He has also given away two firetrucks - one donated from Breckinridge, Colorado, and another that Mendel himself built in Phnom Penh.

Sok Vanra, the captain of Phnom Penh's only fire station, said before Mendel's donations the station was not sufficiently equipped to deal with major fires. "The station still needs more fire hoses, but Mendel's work has made a real difference.

"It is very difficult, because Phnom Penh is wide open, and there are so many buildings, but the [donated] equipment makes our work easier and safer," he said.

Mendel is planning to spend 2009 fundraising, and when he returns in 2010, he hopes to have more firetrucks built and to help open more fire stations in the capital.

Beware of globalisation


Written by Sophan Seng
Thursday, 09 October 2008

Dear Editor,

It's just the same song with different melodies. The change of world politics from barbarianism, to colonialism and to contemporary neo-liberal globalism lie on the same latitude: the strong exploit the weak. The change is just moving from explicit exploitation to implicit exploitation.

Civil society has become institutionalised; many rich countries have created their aid agencies to support other poorer countries.

Some aid has strings attached, some does not; but both are for the benefits of the donors primarily.

Aid is good for Cambodia. It is also good for donors because they can earn respect and business profits.

Japan's aid to build bridges or pave roads is good for Cambodian people to commute easily, and it is also good for Japanese automobile companies to increase their sales of vehicles.

China has become the number one aid provider to Cambodia, and they have no strings attached, but China can win most major concessions to invest in Cambodia. And empirically, many Chinese companies have brought in their own labour force, possibly to take that money back to their country.

In the international political arena, the measure of a nation's decision-making is that they will maximise their benefit first. For instance, the UN has proposed Cambodia and Thailand settle their border dispute by themselves.

It is clearly understandable that the US, who predominantly influences the UN, doesn't want to lose its benefits with Thailand.

Of course, finding a bilateral solution with Thailand is not good for Cambodia.If Cambodia expects to solve the problem with Thailand through bilateral efforts, it may only manage to prevent the Thai military from increasing its border trespass - the locations they have trespassed on already may be maintained.

Cambodia should learn to be long-sighted and review all possible impacts of globalisation.Sophan SengPhD candidate University of Hawaii

Govt backs down on development deposits

TracEy Shelton; The Korean-owned International Financial Centre building site in Phnom Penh.


Thursday, 09 October 2008

The government has stalled a new prakas that would tighten rules on property projects after encountering stiff oposition from Korean developers

THE Ministry of Economy and Finance has backtracked on controversial new housing development rules requiring additional licences and hefty deposits following an outcry from Korean developers behind some of the city's largest projects.

Mao Pov, deputy chief of the ministry's real estate division, said implementation of the rules, originally slated to take effect from September 30, has been postponed and that the real estate sector has until Monday to submit their concerns.

The ministry would invite developers and investors to a forum after that date to discuss changes, which Mao Pov said would make it easier for developers to invest in the country.

"The regulation is aimed to protect developers and buyers and we don't want to do anything besides this," he said. The ministry plans to reintroduce the regulations in January, he added.

"We hope that they will be satisfied with our new prakas because we will correct some regulations and rules to facilitate them in doing business here."

Ros Monin, managing partner at Sewha-Cambodia Law Group, whose clients include several South Korean developers, said at least two companies had already cancelled projects worth US$200 million to $300 million due to concerns over the prakas. He declined to name the companies or the projects.

" If we don't take action ... the developers say they will move out. "

Sung Bonna, president of the newly formed Cambodian National Valuation Association, said that rumours Korean developers would pull out over the legal changes could depress the market.

"I cannot keep quiet, I have to take some action," he said. "If we don't take action, they will use this prakas and if the government implements the prakas, the developers say they will move out. So I have called all the developers together to get an idea of what we want and we will submit that to the ministry."

Developers met informally Tuesday to discuss a joint response.

Tighter rules

The rules, which were first circulated by the finance ministry in June, required all developers to obtain licences from an Inter-Ministerial Task Force, purchase construction site insurance and deposit at least two percent of total project costs in a ministry account at the central bank.

It also changed the rules concerning developers' access to housing accounts, through which buyers deposit down payments on units before construction is completed.

Sung Bonna agreed with the need for tighter regulation of the sector but said it was this rule change that most concerned developers.

Under current rules, developers may dip into the housing accounts to meet construction costs, he said.

Under the new rules, they will first need permission from the National Bank of Cambodia, raising concerns they would not be able to access the funds.

The account would also need to be under the name of the Finance Ministry, which has alarmed developers.

Ministry audits

Sung Bonna added that developers were concerned over wording in the prakas that gave ministry staff the right to audit the accounts of developers at any time they want.

He said officials at the ministry assured him the right to audit accounts only applied to the housing development accounts, but he wants the ministry to tighten up the wording of the prakas.

"In this afternoon's meeting we want things to be clear," he said Tuesday. "We don't want them to say like this but do like that."

Ly Sok, chairman of Whale Event Management, the company behind Cambodia's first real estate expo to be held in late November, said the sector needs regulation but this needs to be introduced following careful consultation with the private sector.

"The main concern is that if the ministry implements the prakas [as it stands], Korean companies will not invest in Cambodia. They will take their money and invest in other countries.

"He added that Cambodia was not strong enough economically for such a prakas.

"It is not the right time for Cambodia. Cambodia needs to attract investors first. If real estate investment does not come, everything in the economy will collapse."

Cheng Kheng, managing director of Cambodia Properties Ltd, said the prakas came out without any consultation with the private sector.

"The new prakas comes, and they [South Korean investors] are so worried.

With the global crisis, the real estate market is down around the world. The government has added more difficulty [with the prakas] and now they are thinking deeply about where they will invest. This is not a good time for the new prakas."


Lawyers offer free representation to the poor

Erica Goldberg; Legal Aid of Cambodia investigator Yuos Samrong consults the list of cases for the year.


Thursday, 09 October 2008

From land-grab cases to criminal defence, NGO-funded lawyers seek justice for the indigent

HUY Vannara is a scarce resource in Siem Reap. He's a lawyer. Not only that, he's a lawyer for the poor.

He works for an NGO, in the local office of the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Defenders Project. Along with another lawyer, a receptionist, and two interns, he provides free legal services to indigent clients in Siem Reap.

This small office has over 130 open cases, which concerns Huy Vannara because his colleague is leaving at the end of the year, and he speculates it's because of the low salary.

There are three main organisations providing free legal services in Siem Reap: Cambodian Defenders Project, Legal Aid of Cambodia, and Avocats Sans Frontiers (Lawyers Without Borders). They each maintain a small staff, provide funding for both civil and criminal cases, and are finding it increasingly difficult to manage the growing need for lawyers for Siem Reap's poor.

In Siem Reap province, criminal cases and land disputes occupy the largest percentage of cases seen by pro bono lawyers.

"Many people have land disputes with those who have a lot of power," said Chum Sopha, a legal assistant at Legal Aid Cambodia. "They cannot pay their own lawyers, and so they come to us."

Land disputes often arise when upper-class individuals claim to own the actual title to land occupied by others and then sell that land, forcing its inhabitants to move.

"People steal land and then claim to be the real owner, but of course they are not," said Bunphann Phou.

m, a lawyer who contracts with the French organisation Avocats Sans Frontiers to represent indigent clients. "Representing the poor in land disputes is very difficult."

Unlike the penal code, which waives court fees for poor defendants, the civil code in Cambodia requires poor citizens to pay $15 in court fees and taxes in order to defend their land.

"Often they cannot pay these fees, and we have no funds to pay for that," said Bunphann Phoum. He also noted that the courts in Siem Reap have so many pending cases that they may set aside for long periods of time those that judges do not deem important. More money is sometimes required to expedite the process and resolve these cases.

In addition to Bunphann Phoum, Avocats Sans Frontiers employs one other lawyer in Siem Reap province who handles mainly criminal matters. "The Cambodian penal code guarantees a lawyer to all defendants, even if they cannot pay," said Bunphann Phoum. The lawyer handles about 40 cases each year, including rape, robbery and murder trials. Domestic violence is a significant problem in Siem Reap, especially for those who live in isolated rural areas.

"Those who live far away from others find it easy to commit crimes and keep them secret," Bunphann Phoum said, noting that he had recently handled a case in which a father had raped his own daughter.

Legal Aid of Cambodia runs a Women's Justice Program in Siem Reap to represent women in cases of rape, domestic violence and trafficking. Legal Aid of Cambodia, the Siem Reap office of which has two lawyers, two legal assistants, and an investigator, is mandated to represent indigent clients in 45 cases each year, with 20 cases related to its Women's Justice Program and 25 general cases.

"We take cases from all poor people, both offender and victim, depending on who comes into our office first," said Chum Sopha. This year, the Siem Reap office has handled 38 general cases, many on referrals from other NGOs. "We're already over the policy ceiling, but we cannot turn people away."

Although highly motivated, Siem Reap's public interest lawyers handle an overwhelming case load. According to Bunphann Phoum, one solution, besides the additional lawyers that he has requested from Avocats Sans Frontiers, is education. "We need to educate people about crime and its consequences," he said, "in order to reduce crime and the need for court-appointed lawyers."

Witnesses to Cambodia, past and present

Nancy Carbonaro (right) with her photos of Cambodia at the Wellesley bakery run by siblings Sambo Rattanavong (left) and Mara Nuon; their family's story includes fleeing the Khmer Rouge. (Mark Wilson/Globe Staff)

Boston Globe, United States

By Rachel Lebeaux
Globe Correspondent / October 9, 2008

Regular customers of the Wellesley Bakery & Café on Washington Street know that the business is a family affair.

The Nuon family's cookies, soups, sandwiches and croissants - as well as their smiling faces behind the register - have attracted many admirers over the past 14 years. Yet many of their customers are unaware of how the family came to America - a story both horrifying in the struggles that Cambodians have faced, and inspiring as a testament to the strength of family bonds, human perseverance and a continued devotion to one's homeland.

Started in 1994 by Phoumara "Mara" Nuon, the bakery in Wellesley has served as a second home for Nuon's siblings - there are eight in all - and cousins, many of whom grew up behind the counter and put themselves through school, in part, thanks to their earnings there.

"If you're a family member, you come here and work, and it helps pay for your tuition and books," said one of his sisters, Sambo Rattanavong, 32.

Nuon, 38, who worked in a number of bakeries while studying chemistry at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said that promoting education through baked goods was his plan from the start.

"My sisters didn't have jobs, so I thought, 'Why not find a place that my sisters could work?' " Nuon said. "When you're the oldest in the family, you say, 'I have a good degree, and I want [my siblings] to have an education and good families.' That's how it's supposed to be . . . you bring up the next generation of good human beings."

Photographer Nancy Carbonaro was one of those customers who knew little about her local bakers.

"I'd been coming here for years and years and had no idea of their nationality - I just knew that they had great food and a warm, welcoming atmosphere," said Carbonaro, a West Newton resident who has a portrait studio in Wellesley.

But in the past few years, her photography has taken her far from Wellesley. In 2005, she traveled to Cuba to study with photojournalist Ernesto Bazan.

"When I went to Cuba, it was an eye-opening experience," she said. "It was during this trip that I was able to understand that my camera was not a technical piece of equipment, but a way in which I could connect and communicate with others."

In March 2007, Carbonaro took a 12-day trip to Cambodia, where she used her camera to document the dire conditions she witnessed: families living in abandoned warehouses, children barely subsisting in an orphanage, girls working on old, manual spinning wheels at a sewing school.

Carbonaro returned to Wellesley determined to share her images and increase awareness regarding conditions in Cambodia. When she realized that one of the paintings adorning the walls of the bakery depicted Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple, she asked Nuon if he would be interested in displaying some of her photographs, and in the process began to learn more about his family's harrowing journey.

Nuon's family lived in Cambodia in the time of the Khmer Rouge, the communist party that ruled the country from 1975 to 1979. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the regime was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million people, or roughly one-fifth of the country's population, through torture, execution and starvation in its campaign to remake Cambodia into a radical agrarian society.

His father, Kheun Nuon, was a director of the country's transportation system, placing him squarely on the Khmer Rouge's elimination list. Fortunately, a year prior to the Khmer Rouge takeover, he was transferred from the capital, where the eradication of the country's leadership began, to Battambang, on the Thailand border.

But the Khmer Rouge campaign eventually reached the remote province, and the Nuons fled, moving their pack of children from place to place across the country, often in the middle of the night.

"We went through the whole thing - you remember everything," Mara Nuon said. "It was years ago, but it feels like yesterday. If you were to ask a Holocaust survivor, they would say the same thing."

Nuon remembers scrounging for food - fish, rats, bugs, anything that he and his siblings could find - in order to survive. Three of his siblings died, unable to withstand the harsh conditions. "Everyone has some close family members that didn't make it," he said.

The family's surviving members eventually made their way to a refugee camp in the Philippines, then came to the United States in November 1982, thanks to the sponsorship of a Stoughton family who let the Nuons live in their guesthouse. The Nuons later moved to apartments in Brighton, then Allston, then a house in Roslindale. Their father died in 1987; their mother now splits her time among her children's homes in Bellingham and Hyde Park.

With the bakery thriving, Nuon said, the business has already served its primary purpose. "My family members all graduated from school. My mission is accomplished," he said.

Now, Nuon is shifting his focus toward bringing that same generosity to his homeland - a mission in which Carbonaro's photographs are playing a role.

Since hanging her photographs in the bakery, Carbonaro has sold three and donated the proceeds - about $500 - to the Sharing Foundation, which operates an orphanage in Cambodia that she visited, and to which Nuon has donated as well. The images will remain on display until the end of the month.

"They catch a lot of people's attention and give them some sense of self-reflection," said another sister, Pisey, 27. "They're thought-provoking."

"That was my mission," Carbonaro said, "to get people thinking about all of the wealth we have in this country, especially this neighborhood."

Each January, Nuon travels to Cambodia, bringing with him money for family members and a suitcase filled with over-the-counter medications. It is not an easy trip.

"The first time I went, four years ago, I was not prepared mentally or emotionally. I stayed in my room for a day and a half. I thought things were getting better, and I was shocked . . . and depressed," he said. "It was so emotional to see people living like they were, and the government does nothing."

With his family in America, safe and financially secure, "my hope now is to play a part in Cambodia," Nuon said. "When you've been there, you're not going to say, 'I've made it, the hell with you.' I'm looking for an organization where I can go and be effective, and do whatever I can do to make a difference."

2.7 million dollars to avoid disasters

Cambodge Soir


The European Commission, which is supporting a risk reduction program in South-East Asia, will spend 2 million euros over two years in the most vulnerable provinces of Cambodia.

The Dipecho European funding program for the prevention of natural disasters received a budget of 10 million euros (13.6 million dollars) to lead risk reduction actions in South-East Asia, particularly in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, East-Timor and Vietnam, indicated the European Commission delegation in Phnom Penh, in a communiqué of Wednesday 8 October.

Between 2008 and 2010 the European Commission will be spending 2 million euros (2.7 million dollars) in the vulnerable provinces of Cambodia.

“Due to its geographical situation, Cambodia is particularly affected by floods and drought, reminds the Commission. It is imperative to take prevention measures and this is the reason why the Dipecho projects are organised around the local needs.”

The projects which emphasise the education of the people are focused on the youth, through trainings dedicated to risk reduction, and games and advice offered to school children.

On Thursday 9 October, the international risk reduction day, marking the anniversary of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, will put the emphasis on “the disaster free hospitals”.

Food shortage: 40 million dollars released in Cambodia

Cambodge Soir


Almost half a million Cambodians are facing malnourishment in the provinces of the Tonle Sap region and in Phnom Penh.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will pay 35 million dollars and the Cambodian government 5 million in order to help the people affected by the crisis, was said on Wednesday 8 October.

The 500,000 beneficiaries of this aid live mostly in the provinces of Tonle Sap (Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pursat, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom and Kampong Chhnang, Oddor Meanchey) and in the poor neighbourhoods of Phnom Penh.

Food shortage results from a brutal increase of basic food products: the price of peeled rice has doubled, the one of meat and fish increased with 30 to 50%. The food situation of the farmers is also weakened by the price of fertilisers which tripled.

“The Cambodian families spend approximately 60% of their revenue to buy food”, indicated Arjun Goswami, ADB director in Cambodia, during a press conference organised on Wednesday 8 October.

The children from primary schools are particularly vulnerable. One Cambodian child out of three is already affected by malnourishment. “The ADB has to protect these children because malnourishment can influence their physical and mental development”, announced Arjun Goswami, adding that the real needs of the Tonle Sap region in order to face this crisis would reach about 80 million dollars.

35% of the 13.4 million Cambodians are living below the poverty threshold.

The HRP to take oath with the CPP on 9 October

Khem Sokha, HRP President

Cambodge Soir


The first parliamentary session which opened on 24 September stood out by the absence of the Human Rights Party (HRP) representative in the hemicycle. They are from now on ready to participate in the next session.

The three HRP deputies will take the oath at the Royal Palace on Thursday 9 October, in the presence of seventeen members of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The latter are replacing the CPP deputies who were elected in the new government. Khem Sokha, President of the HRP and elected in Kampong Cham, Ou Chanrith, elected in Kandal, and Yem Ponhearith, General Secretary of the party, elected in Prey Veng, are the three appointed deputies from last July’s elections. Yem Ponearith referred to the position of his party. “Our party is independent. We don’t follow the same line as the opposition and if the CPP is doing good work, we’ll congratulate them”, he specified.

Some work groups were set up in order to prepare the next National Assembly session. However, the interior regulation of the lower chamber stipulates that, in order to take the floor during a session, the deputy has to represent at least ten elected representatives. This eliminates the parties with less than ten deputies, more precisely Funcinpec (2seats), the Norodom Ranariddh Party (2 seats) and the HRP (3 seats).

Two weeks ago, the Assembly’s secretariat contacted the HRP to ask if they would like to join a joint work group. The HRP answered positively, accepting any group, but under one condition. “The HRP wishes to preside over the group with which it will work”, announced its Secretary General. The answer to that request was negative.

Wednesday 8 October, according to Yem Ponhearith, the SRP and HRP have the intention to ask, in a joint letter, the National Assembly to amend the interior regulation in favour of parties with at least ten deputies, in order to allow them to form a group in each party. This demand is based on the respect of the freedom of expression.

Tourist entries from Thailand plummet amid political turmoil


Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 09 October 2008

As anti-government mobs wreak havoc on Bangkok, tourists are turning to Vietnam as an entry point to Cambodia, officials say

POLITICAL instability in Thailand has led fewer tourists to use the country as an entry point to Cambodia, with foreigners now choosing to instead go through Vietnam, tourism officials say.

"Since the former Thai prime minister put Bangkok under emergency rule, foreigners have been cancelling trips to Bangkok. Many are re-routing to Malaysia and Vietnam before flying to Siem Reap," said Kousoum Saroeuth, secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism.

He said the number of flights and road arrivals from Vietnam has increased since fighting between Thai police and the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) broke out earlier this week.

He added that more Western tourists are visiting Cambodia, but that tourism in Thailand had fallen by 30 percent.

Kousoum Saroeuth also said the Ministry of Tourism has reassured Western and Asian tourists that Cambodia and Thailand will not go to war over the Preah Vihear temple dispute, which began in July.

"We have run advertisements on CNN, and world travellers know that Cambodia is a safe place to visit," he said.

He added that Cambodia aims to see 2.3 millions visitors by late 2008 - an increase of 13 percent over last year.

Visitors drop in September

The Tourism Ministry's statistics officer, Kong Sophearak, said in August some 30,000 travellers arrived in Cambodia via Bangkok. But that number fell below 30,000 in September as tensions flared between the Thai government and anti-government protestors.

By contrast, travellers entering Cambodia from Vietnam rose to 32,000 during September."Since Bangkok issued travel warnings, the number of tourist coming to Cambodia by road declined, while those from Vietnam rose," Kong Sophearak said.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said direct flights from Vietnam to Siem Reap increased from just a few flights per day last year to eight flights per day in recent months.

He said a new road leading to the Preah Vihear temple, proposed by the government in August, should be completed quickly in order to facilitate access to the World Heritage Site, and urged Asian travellers to consider direct flights to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh instead of transiting through Bangkok.

"Thailand seems to be creating unnecessary problems for travellers attempting to enter Cambodia through the international checkpoint at Poipet," Ho Vandy said. "Thai immigration police are asking tourists for several unnecessary documents. Entering from Vietnam is much more convenient."

Temple watch: The trip to Banteay Chhmar


Written by Dave Perkes
Thursday, 09 October 2008

The remote temple site of Banteay Chhmar is one of the greatest little-known wonders of northern Cambodia. Its scale is huge, and it originally covered an area twice that of Angkor Wat. Little remains of its original walls, but the central sanctuary within the moat has some remaining Bayon face-style towers. There are also impressive bas reliefs on the inner sanctuary walls.

This vast site is quite overgrown, and it's a wonderful place to visit in the rainy season. It's situated 70 kilometres north of Svay, also known by the Thai name Sisophon, and it's very close to the Thai border. It is unaffected by the border tensions at Preah Vihear and is jealously guarded by the Cambodian military which has a large camp nearby.

There is work in progress to restore the eastern walls and plans to restore parts of the interior of the temple. The supervisor of the work told me that the trees will eventually be removed and new ones planted outside.

Road conditions on my last visit in late September were very bad after heavy rain. It took over two-and-a-half hours by 4WD to get there from Siem Reap, but the return journey in dry conditions took less than half that time. Conditions won't improve until Route 6 is paved. Admission remains $5, and records show on average only one visitor signs in each day. So Banteay Chhmar is one of the best large temple sites to really get far away from the madding crowd.

Cambodian livestock smuggling - a daily affair in Long An

Long An border guards with cows smuggled from Cambodia. Smuggling cows is on the rise as people seek to take advantage of higher cow prices in Vietnam.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Border guards in the Mekong Delta province of Long An have their hands full dealing with a rush of livestock smuggling from across the Cambodian border.

Long An border guards said they had seized more than 130 cows and buffalo being smuggled into the province from Cambodia since July.

Smugglers can sell the animals in Vietnam for double what they paid in Cambodia.

“Smugglers often hire people to take livestock across the border and they often flee after dropping off the animals,” said Le Hong Truong, an official from the provincial border guard.

Last Wednesday, Border Post 865 guards seized nine allegedly-smuggled buffalos in Duc Hue District’s My Quy Tay Commune.

But the suspected smugglers escaped.

Truong said some smugglers in Cambodia report their livestock missing and ask for them to be returned when confiscated by Vietnamese authorities.

On September 23, officials from Long An’s Border Post 893 seized 29 cows in Tan Hung District.

Sann Sa Ra from Kampong Trabaek District in Cambodia’s Prey Veng Province, then tried to reclaim 17 of the cows, saying they had accidentally followed some of his other cattle being sold legally to a local in Tan Hung District.

On September 18, guards at Border Post 885 seized 48 cows being smuggled by three people in Vinh Hung District.

The two arrestees, Tran Van Quang and Truong Van Cong from Vinh Hung’s Thai Binh Trung Commune, said they had been hired by Tran Van Chien to smuggle the animals for VND100,000 (US$6) per person.

A subsequent investigation revealed Chien had been hired to smuggle the cows by a Cambodian named Nguon Penh. Chien confessed to smuggling nearly 200 cows into Vietnam for Penh in a one-month period.

Border guards also found fake veterinary certifications of 49 cows being carried through Long An’s Binh Hiep Border Gate on July 8.

Investigators said the cows had been carried from Thailand into Cambodia before reaching Vietnam.

Reported by Tan Tu

Work safety worsens as Cambodian construction booms

Cambodian workers are seen at a construction site

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The race is on to build Phnom Penh's first skyscraper but as the fast-modernising city famous for its graceful colonial skyline transforms, safety standards appear to be stuck in the past.

The construction business in Cambodia is booming, attracting investments of 3.2 billion dollars in the first six months of this year and luring some 40,000 seasonal construction workers from impoverished provinces.

But, as construction worker Chan Vuthy can attest, work safety has deteriorated as buildings spring up.

The day a blade from a malfunctioning saw cut deep into his knee, the 23-year-old was wearing flip-flops, a cloth hat and no protective equipment.

When he stumbled to the bottom of the site, his boss scolded him for recklessness.

He was then fired, and had to spend his savings on a month of hospital treatment.

"Every time other workers and I have accidents, they say we are careless," Chan Vuthy says.

Cambodian construction workers risk their lives for an average wage of two and a half dollars a day, says Sok Sovandeith, president of the Cambodia National Federation of Building and Wood Workers.

There are no laws to force construction enterprises to pay adequate wages so many workers must live on building sites.

Few of them have any training and companies have little incentive to take measures to avoid accidents or use equipment such as hard helmets, work boots or safety harnesses.

"We're very worried about poor working conditions which have not been improved or guaranteed by law," Sok Sovandeith said, adding that construction work is the most dangerous kind of labour in the country.

"We are not happy when workers are not safely equipped. After some inspections, we found a lot of building sites and companies do not give out safety materials."

Many construction companies lay the blame for poor safety on workers who do not protect themselves.

So far the government has sided with businesses, taking no action to ensure better work conditions amid the building boom which has attracted investment from South Korea and China and helped fuel double-digit economic growth.

"The whole country acknowledges that construction is the third gem besides the agriculture and garment sectors to boost the domestic economy," says Im Chamrong, head of Cambodia's General Department of Construction.

"Some construction companies can't afford the safety equipment. We cannot force them to buy it," Im Chamrong says.

With few zoning regulations, new construction projects tower over traditional Khmer homes and the old French villas built in the colonial era.

In June, a South Korean company broke ground on a 52-storey tower slated to be the country's tallest skyscraper when it is completed in 2012, while all across the capital tall buildings are going up.

Once-sleepy boulevards are already crammed with expensive cars driven by the country's growing elite.

But the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, with about 35 percent of the country's 14 million people living on less than 50 US cents a day.

These are the men and women who end up migrating to the capital and risking their lives on building sites for a couple of dollars a day.

There are no statistics for accidents in Cambodia's construction industry, but there are many anecdotes about deaths and injuries to workers.

"There have been a lot of people being killed accidentally, but some companies try to hide the figure of the dead and victims," Sok Sovandeth says, adding the country needs better labour laws to save lives.

"Because workers take what they are offered, no better work conditions are given to them," he adds.

Japan may slash funds for clearing land mines in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian Mine Action Center(CMAC) has expressed concern over a proposed 50 percent cut from Japan's annual aid contribution to clear land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) in Cambodia, national media reported Thursday.

The proposed cut would take effect in 2009, English-language newspaper the Phnom Penh Post said.

Khem Sophoan, director general of CMAC told the Post that the Japanese contribution is 1.2 million U.S. dollars, adding that 350deminers would lose their jobs if the funds are slashed, leaving 300 hectares of land in northwestern Cambodia uncleared.

"No decision has yet been made. The donor has given us time to lobby before the embassy marks the red line to cut off half of their aid to us," Heng Ratana, deputy director general of CMAC, was quoted as saying.

He added that negotiations were intensive and the stakes high.

"If the aid is halved, it will drastically affect the activities of CMAC," he said.

Editor: Sun Yunlong

Military denies it laid mines


Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 08 October 2008

Preah Vihear Province

Cambodian officers deny they planted explosives on border
CAMBODIAN military commanders in Preah Vihear province, where Thai soldiers lost limbs to land mines on Monday, have denied laying new mines on the disputed border, countering claims by Thai troops that they are planting explosives.

"I completely deny the accusation by Thai soldiers that Cambodian troops are putting down new mines," said Yim Phim, commander of RCAF Brigade 43, which is stationed in the area near Preah Vihear temple. "All of these mines were laid during the war in the 1980s and 1990s," he added Tuesday.

The border area in northwest Cambodia remains one of the most heavily-mined regions in the world, the result of fierce fighting during the Kingdom's protracted civil war.

A senior provincial official in Thailand's northeastern Si Sa Ket province said Monday that the two wounded Thai troops "stepped on a land mine that was most likely planted by Cambodian troops before they left that area".

The mine incident followed last Friday's firefight between Cambodian and Thai troops that slightly wounded three soldiers and was the first armed clash to erupt on the border since a standoff over disputed territory began in July.

After an apparent detente that saw hundreds of troops from both sides deployed away from the border following a series of crisis talks between Cambodian and Thai officials, the violence has cast a cloud of uncertainty over the future of the negotiations on land that both countries claim.

The de facto front line remained tense Tuesday, with Cambodian troops stockpiling ammunition, saying they were worried about a Thai assault.

Villagers living in the area also said they feared fighting. "The situation looks worse and worse every day," said restaurant owner Sieng Leng. "The soldiers sometimes tell me to leave.... The situation is still very confused and people are worried about security."

Bangkok continues to maintain that last week's shootout was started when Cambodian troops crossed into Thailand and that Thai rangers had only fired back in self-defence. But on Tuesday Thailand softened its tone towards the incident, which it had previously called a "brutal and aggressive act".

"The whole incident may have resulted from a misunderstanding," the Thai foreign ministry said on its website, adding that the land mines that wounded the Thai troopers "were likely placed there some time ago, though this had to be verified".

Khem Sophoan, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, the country's main demining agency, said he knew of no new plan to lay land mines. "Even if there was a plan, [RCAF] could not do it because it's illegal," he said.

Both sides have expressed cautious optimism that the border dispute will come closer to resolution when the prime ministers from the two countries meet Monday. "If the meeting is fruitful, it will help things, but we don't know what will happen," RCAF's Yim Phin said.


Prince's retirement has divided royalists looking for future rebirth

HENG CHIVOAN; Prince Ranariddh at a dinner on Thursday night during which he announced his resignation from active politics.


Written by Sebastian Strangio and Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 08 October 2008

Prince Ranariddh's withdrawal from politics casts a fresh shadow over the Kingdom's divided royalist parties, but analysts say it will have little impact on the rest of the political landscape

PRINCE Norodom Ranariddh's retirement from active politics and reconciliation with the new government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has closed the curtain on one of Cambodia's enduring personal rivalries.

But analysts say it will have little impact on a political landscape long dominated by the ruling Cambodian People's Party and increasingly isolated from the upheavals of the Kingdom's divided royalists, who now face a future on the political periphery.Ranariddh's resignation came just days after a royal amnesty overturned his 2007 fraud conviction and allowed him to return to Cambodia from 18-months of self-imposed exile in Malaysia. Shortly after his arrival September 28, Ranariddh said he was walking away from active politics.

"I met the King this morning and I told him that I have quit politics," the 64-year-old Prince told journalists at a dinner last Thursday night. "I am no longer an opposition party. But I have come back to Cambodia and I want to serve my nation."

A Norodom Ranariddh Party statement released Saturday said the Prince has handed control of the party to Vice President Chhim Siek Leng, whose appointment as president is likely to be confirmed at the next party congress.

Ranariddh's resignation caps a long decline in the fortunes of Cambodia's royalist movement. Since Funcinpec's victory in the UN-brokered elections of 1993 - a high-water mark of royalism that saw Prince Ranariddh lead the party to win 58 seats in the National Assembly - the party has lost ground at every poll, dropping from 43 seats in 1998 to 26 seats in 2003.

In July's national election, the party lost 24 of its remaining seats, winning just five percent of the national vote. The breakaway NRP, led by Ranariddh from his Malaysian exile, won another two seats.

Business as usual

Despite the symbolism of Prince Ranariddh's resignation, sources close to the Prince say it will have little affect on the day-to-day running of the country.

"Cambodian politics will just continue along as usual," said the Prince's adviser, Naranariddh Ayandanath. "Prince Ranariddh has served the people for the past 25 years and I believe he has done his duty as a royal and as a Cambodian. He thinks that is enough."

Other sources said that the Prince still had a strong public profile and would likely exercise the same moderate influence in retirement as he did while in exile.

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, told the Post that the resignation of the Prince and the expected appointment of his deputy as NRP president merely formalised the situation that has existed since Ranariddh fled the country in March 2007. "While Ranariddh was away, Chhim Siek Leng was the acting president, so it's not a big change," he said.

Son Soubert, who sits on the Constitutional Council as a Human Rights Party delegate, agreed politics would be business as usual in the Prince's absence. "I don't think this [resignation] will affect anything because the Prince's personality is still known amongst the people," he said, adding that though it was a symbolic end of an era, the Prince could still draw on reserves of political capital. "He has a lot of credibility of his own," he added.

Despite his resignation, the NRP has announced it will retain Prince Ranariddh's name and image going into the next mandate, a move Naranariddh Ayandanath said was vital for the party in the long term.

"People enjoy hearing his name," he said. "He has served this country from very difficult periods to where we are now, and his name bears a lot of responsibility. That's why we are honoured to use his name."

Koul Panha said this was an indication the Prince might yet have some political cards to play. "He still puts his name on the party, so he will make sure his name keeps strong in [Cambodian] politics," he said.

Royalist rebirth?

But analysts say Cambodia's divided royalists will need more than name recognition to regain the trust of an electorate that all but abandoned them in this year's national election.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that the involvement of royal figureheads in Cambodian politics had tainted the monarchy's reputation, and that Ranariddh's resignation would be a good thing for the royal family. "Let normal people walk in politics," he said. "In election campaigns, politicians are always impacted by criticisms, and this impacts the reputation of the royal family. The Prince's resignation is good for the monarchy.

"Son Soubert agreed, saying the tendency to fall back on evocative symbolism rather than concrete policies had harmed the royalists in the past. "They all use the image of King Father [Norodom Sihanouk]. It hurts the image of the King. If royalist parties want to build their base, they should not call themselves royalist," he said.

Funcinpec public affairs officer Ok Socheat said there was still strong faith in the institution of the monarchy, adding that royalist parties faced a grim future if they could not heal the divisions in their ranks.

"People did not vote for the royalists because divisions occurred ... and they turned to vote for other parties," he said. "They still love the King because they think the King is the roof covering the people."

Lu Laysreng, first deputy president of Funcinpec, agreed: "If royalists do not love royalists, how will the people love royalists?" he said.

On September 8, Prince Sisowath Thomico, who founded the now-defunct Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party in 2006 after being ousted from Funcinpec, announced plans for a new party to unite the scattered royalist vote in the wake of the 2008 national elections.

"We are waiting to see if a new government will regard royalism as a way of pointing the country in the right direction," he told the Post at the time. "If so, we will cooperate with them. If they don't, I will not allow royalism to lose votes."

Prince Thomico was abroad and not available for comment, but Son Soubert said the proposed establishment of a new royalist party was unlikely to gain much support. "If you take into account all the damage done to the image of the royalist parties, I don't think it would work. What sort of political platform would they have? It cannot be based on the image of the King Father. It needs to respond in some way to the needs of the people," he said.

However, Koul Panha warned against writing the royalists off altogether. "Maybe the next mandate will show that this was the breaking point for the royalists," he said. "But most of the royal family are politicians, so in the next five years things could change."

Inflation puts strain on nation's fishermen


Written by Chhay Channyda
Wednesday, 08 October 2008

SOARING food and fuel prices are eating away at the always-slim profit margins of Cambodia's fishermen, prompting fishing communities across the Kingdom to address the issue at a workshop Tuesday.

More than 200 fishing communities along the Mekong River, the Tonle Sap and coastal areas were represented at the two-day workshop, organised by the nongovernmental organisation Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT).

Catches have declined to about 5kg or less per day, which is not enough to support a family, Oum Meng, a representative from Kampong Thom province, told the Post.

He said the price of goods has risen sharply but the prices fishermen are getting for their hauls are not increasing commensurately. He added that high petrol prices were making it harder for fishermen to earn a living.

"The price of gasoline should be reduced to 3,800 riels or 4,000 riels," he said, adding that as the price of gas globally had dropped, the price at the pump in Cambodia should fall.

Ly Vuthy, chief of the community fishery development office at the Fishery Administration, acknowledged the concerns of the nation's fishing communities.

"It is a problem to be addressed," he said, adding the government is looking into the case and will act soon.

PM calls for greater ethical standards in health care sector

Heng Taykry, secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said the government plans a thorough investigation of private ambulances. "They do not have proper equipment ... wounded people arrive at state hospitals in worse condition," he said.


Written by Cheang Sokha
Wednesday, 08 October 2008

Hun Sen warns that a lack of confidence in the Kingdom's health care providers is driving Cambodians abroad for medical treatment

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has warned doctors to improve ethical standards in order to restore trust from patients during the opening of a five-day international health conference earlier this week.

"The loss of trust means that more people travel abroad seeking medical treatment. This is not a good sign for the development of the health sector in Cambodia," Hun Sen said Monday.

"Doctors should not discriminate between the rich and the poor," he added.

Hun Sen also addressed the gap between the number of doctors practicing in urban areas and those working in rural areas. About 75 percent of doctors serve a quarter of the population in Phnom Penh, while 25 percent of rural doctors serve 75 percent of the population, he said.

"We have to narrow the gap [of doctors] between urban and country areas," he said. "We have to change this issue within the five years of the [new] government mandate."

Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department, acknowledged that some doctors at Phnom Penh hospitals have low ethical standards.

"It is not in general, but there are a small number of them," Veng Thai said. "This [tarnishes] the reputation of other doctors who are professionals."


He added that patients who come to hospitals for treatment often feel afraid that they will not receive proper treatment if they do not pay a lot of money to the doctor.

Heng Taykry, secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said Hun Sen's speech referred to some individual doctors who did not respect the physicians' code of ethics.

"If [doctors] do not have good morality, they should be punished," he told the Post Monday. "But we have a lot of patients and limited services. While rich people seek private clinics, all the poor people go to state hospitals."

During the speech, Hun Sen also ordered the Ministry of Health to monitor ambulances belonging to private clinics, which were, he said, causing "anarchy like taxi cars".

He said private ambulances lacked proper doctors and equipment and acted like a taxi service to get traffic accident victims to their private clinics. "It will lead to people dying before they arrive at state hospitals," he said.

Drug use and HIV/Aids

VICENTE SALAS; Dirty needles collected by harm-reduction NGO Korsang.


Written by Vicente Salas
Wednesday, 08 October 2008

Drug users could keep fuelling Cambodia’s Aids epidemic


By Vicente Salas

It's just a 10-minute walk from the affluent Boeung Keng Kang area and just a few streets off from the impressive-looking government offices along Norodom Boulevard. Yet here the squalor and poverty hits you in the guts. Along a concrete wall, lightly shaded, sits Sophal, who at 19 looks a decade older - thin, in tattered clothes, looking like he hasn't had a bath for a week. He looks slightly dazed and passive, with eyes that are half-open, as if in a nap, and some spittle trails out of the corner of his mouth. His arm is slightly extended and just out of the crook of his elbow, amidst a few bruises, a syringe dangles, its tip still embedded just beneath the skin.

Heroin addiction is now acknowledged as growing problem in Cambodia, and while there are limitations in estimates of the numbers of people who inject drugs, the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) estimates that in 2007 there were between 600 to 1,000 injectors. The trends are disturbing, with a local NGO, Mith Samlanh, reporting that in some vulnerable populations, the prevalence of injecting drug use has risen from less than one percent of the drug-using population, to 10 percent in 2004.

There have been no official estimates of HIV prevalence rates among injecting drug users, however, small-scale surveys and routine surveillance indicate prevalence rates between 14 and 31 percent in IDUs, and up to 18 percent in non-injecting DUs. Either way, the HIV rates among these populations are skyrocketing way, way, beyond the national prevalence rates of 0.9 percent.

While sexual transmission of HIV remains the major mode of transmission in the country, the high prevalence in injectors, the "overlap" with sex work will continue to provide fuel to the HIV epidemic in Cambodia over the coming years. This could potentially keep the HIV epidemic burning like a slow fire, ready to burst once again into flames should prevention efforts taper off. And there are challenges to ARV treatment among people with a history of unsafe injecting - it means many of them will have other associated blood borne infections, such as Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Such conditions complicate routine antiretroviral treatment. One study presented at last month's national AIDS conference showed that 10 percent of those on ARV treatment also had Hepatitis C.

Drug use per se, or even injecting drug use, does not need to be associated with HIV. It is the re-use of needles and syringes, as well as the sharing of unclean injecting equipment, that leads to the transmission of HIV. Of course the problem is that a large majority of people who have HIV do not know of their status.

Respond now to prevent crisis
Yet Cambodia is more advanced than other countries in the region in its response to the growing threat of HIV associated with IDU. There have been small-scale services provided by two NGOs, for the past three years, and the NACD has authorised them to provide clean needles and syringes and needle-disposal projects. They reach about 20 percent of IDU in Phnom Penh. On some days you will see volunteers from the NGO Korsang scurrying around "injection street"wearing rubber gloves, thick-soled shoes, plastic pail, sorting through the piles of rubbish and deftly picking out the syringes and needles with a pair of tongs.

However, a comprehensive approach to reducing HIV and drug-related harm goes beyond needle provision - there should be education and information efforts for both the drug users and the community where they reside, there should be equal access to health care services, as well as access to drug treatment and rehabilitation services. Several strategies proven effective also need to be adopted more widely, such as the use of peer workers, outreach sites, as well as drop-in centres. Psychological support is key, as well as behavioural modification.

Involvement of law enforcement and public security officials is crucial - they are partners, but in many instances, the projects designed to prevent HIV come in conflict with the policies on use and abuse of illegal drugs. Therefore common ground is needed for collaboration to ensure that both law enforcers and health workers agree on the shorter term goals of HIV prevention, and stigma reduction for people who inject as well as people who are HIV infected.

And this is where a recently published National Strategic Plan for Illicit Drug Use related to HIV (NSP HIV & IDU 2008-2010) comes into play. This plan, developed by the National AIDS Authority and NACD, is the culmination of a series of consultations with all sectors and tries to address the major policy issues and aims to develop a comprehensive approach to prevent HIV transmission associated with illicit drug use and to provide treatment, care and support for drug users at risk of infection and living with HIV.

The NSP is bold in that it proposes several interventions that have not been tried in Cambodia before. However, resources are still being sought to implement the three year plan, which is projected to cost a little over US$9,000,000. The NSP for IDU and HIV was presented by Teng Kunthy, secretary general of the National Aids Authority, at a multi-country Coordination and Consultation Forum last October 6. [The second such forum is currently under way in Phnom Penh.]

So the rhetoric and the plans are in place - the next challenge comes, the political will to provide resources, and implement plans as intended. The road ahead will be rocky, but this is one initiative that demands the support of all sectors, and all donors. The price of failure will be much too high, as countries like China, India, Myanmar/Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam, with their drug-used fuelled HIV epidemics, are now belatedly learning.
Vicente Salas is a public health and HIV consultant based in Phnom Penh.

MFIs fear cash drought

PHOTO SUPPLIED; A couple in Kandal province signs a loan with a representative with one of Cambodia’s microfinance institutions.


Written by Hor Hab
Wednesday, 08 October 2008

Officials say the international financial crisis may be hitting local microfinance institutions, forcing them to re-evaluate program expansion

CAMBODIA'S micro-finance institutions (MFIs) say lower foreign investments in the wake of a global financial meltdown will affect their ability to meet lending targets.

"We will not ... reach our target number of customers, but we hope to meet more than 80 percent of customers' [credit] needs," Hout Ieng Tong, chairman of the Cambodia Microfinance Association, told the Post Tuesday.

He said steady loan repayments should limit the impact of market turbulence in the United States and the European Union by partially funding new loans.

Delayed or suspended credit contracts could also hit liquidity, he said, but added that direct losses by Cambodian institutions were unlikely because of low exposure to foreign stocks.

Chea Phalarin, general manager of Amret Ltd, said a drop in cheap credit would also affect the expansion of lending services.

"Currently, we are lending US$3 million per month to 200,000 customers in 14 provinces," with average total loans of $600, he said.

"We plan to expand services to four additional provinces in the next three years and countrywide in six years, but we need about $20 million per year to do this," Chea Phalarin said.

Sim Senacheert, general manager of Prasac Microfinance Institution, said foreign lenders are less able to extend credit abroad.

"We are having a hard time finding cheap sources of financing because lenders cannot find enough money," he said.

He said only long-term, high-interest loans remain available.

"I think we can only reach about 80 percent of our 60 percent target growth rate this year," he said.

Bun Mony, general manager of Cambodian Entrepreneur Building (CEB), said all MFIs in Cambodia face similar credit problems, as foreign banks are increasingly refusing to extend long-term credit to one another.

He added that CEB is now looking for more local investments to bridge the gap.

"We need about $20 million in credit from overseas [this year], but that amount could drop to $15 million by 2009," he said.

Kang Chandararot, president of the Cambodia Institute for Development Study, said foreign-funded development projects in the Kingdom could further insulate the country from turbulence abroad.

"Cambodia would face less of an impact if it were able to keep big development projects throughout the country to preserve the economic circuit," he said. But he added that lending shortfalls could put additional strain on the local economy as consumers struggle to cope with rising inflation rates.

Son Koun Thor, president of the Rural Development Bank, said greater confidence in lending institutions could encourage consumers save more.

"If we have more savings, we will have greater sources for financing, as long as consumer confidence holds for our banks and microfinance institutions," he said.

Economic Bailout Plan

Singapore's Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaks during a news conference at the end of the 5th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Finance Ministers Investor Seminar in Dubai October 8, 2008. Economic growth in Asia will suffer from the global financial crisis but banks are not at risk and no region-wide measures are necessary to stave off any systemic threats, Southeast Asian finance ministers said on Wednesday. From L-R: Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Shanmugaratnam, Cambodia's Minister of Economy and Finance Kong Vibol, Thailand's Finance Secretary Suparut Kawatkul and Vietnam's Vice Minister of Finance Tran Xuan Ha.REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah (UNITED Arab EMIRATES)

PM calls for more health care investment


Written by Kay Kimsong
Wednesday, 08 October 2008

PRIME Minister Hun Sen called on investors to bolster health services, including emergency helicopter evacuation service, for tourists during a health conference at the University of Health Sciences on Monday.

"I encourage anyone to provide helicopter service for the transfer of patients needing emergency relief. I will approve increasing this kind of service," he told the conference.

He said improvements in emergency care would target wealthier patients and tourists who fall ill or are injured during their visits to Cambodia.

He added that helicopter services would not only benefit local residents and foreign tourists, but visiting dignitaries from abroad.

Cambodia attracts two million tourists each year and they need reliable health care services, Hun Sen said.

"They will know that in our country they will have access to reliable health care. This is a necessary improvement that we need to make in the healthcare sector," he said.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said Cambodia has only a few clinics that offer health care services specifically to tourists, such as the International SOS and Naga clinics in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

He said Cambodia expects to see as many as 2.3 million tourists arriving by the end of 2008 and that the country needs to be able to provide reliable health care services for short- or long-term illness or injury.

Thong Khon said state hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap should be equipped to meet the needs of Cambodia's foreign tourists.

Heng Pouv, general manager of the Naga Clinic emergency room, said most of the patients are foreign tourists.

Uneasy calm after clashes leave two dead

Worst street fighting in Thailand since 1992 … anti-Government protesters rest yesterday.Photo: AP

The Sydney Morning Herald.

October 9, 2008

BANGKOK: Soldiers stood guard on street corners yesterday as an uneasy calm returned to Bangkok a day after fierce clashes between anti-Government protesters and police left at least two killed and more than 400 injured.

The Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, sought to reassure foreign diplomats about the country's deepening political crisis, saying "my Government is still able to run the country".

He justified the use of tear gas against protesters as the "international standard" for restoring civil order.

There was no sign of renewed street clashes yesterday between police and urban protesters who want sweeping electoral changes to prevent what they say are corrupt politicians exploiting the rural majority to take power. But Thailand's heated political crisis was far from over.

Troops armed with batons and helmets were stationed at the Bangkok police headquarters near Parliament. A day earlier, anti-Government protesters barricaded the building and trapped MPs inside for several hours as police outside fired volleys of tear gas trying to clear the area.

"We will continue to fight until Somchai resigns," one of the protest leaders, Pipop Thongchai, said. "He has lost the credibility to run the country, he has to take responsibility for the dead and injured."

Hundreds of workers swept the streets around Parliament that were littered with burnt-out cars and debris from the rioting that degenerated into Thailand's worst political violence in more than 16 years.

At least five major confrontations with police left 423 protesters and 20 police injured, medical authorities said.

Both sides accuse the other of having used vicious tactics in Tuesday's clashes. Somsak Kosaisuk, a protest leader, accused the Government of using "weapons of war" against peaceful protesters.
Questions have arisen over whether tear gas canisters could blow off limbs and toes and feet, some of the more gruesome injuries suffered by protesters.

Demonstrators accused police of using grenades; authorities denied it and say they only used tear gas on the crowd.

An Associated Press photographer, David Longstreath, said that despite the police denial he saw stun grenades being thrown into the crowds.

Protesters, meanwhile, say their gathering was peaceful, but many used iron rods, slingshots, firecrackers and bottles to attack police. Though many protesters were unarmed, one reporter saw at least three protesters carrying guns. Authorities say some protesters also had explosives.
Another reporter saw two police inside the parliamentary compound who had been shot by unknown assailants.

Mr Somchai visited the Police General Hospital yesterday morning to meet people injured in the clashes the day before.

The street fighting was the worst in Thailand since 1992, when the army killed dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators seeking the ouster of a military-backed government.

It was the latest twist in six weeks of political tumult that has spooked investors and scared off tourists to Thailand.

Mr Somchai, who was sworn in last month, was targeted by protesters who surrounded Parliament trying to prevent him from delivering his maiden policy speech and from leaving. He escaped the building by climbing over a side fence, Thai media reported.

Associated Press

Cambodia still on for bilateral border talks despite Thai troubles


Wed, 08 Oct 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodia still hoped to hold bilateral talks next week to defuse tensions over an ongoing border dispute despite continued political turmoil in Thailand, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday. "We have prepared and we remain ready for the scheduled bilateral talks with Thailand," Kanharith said by telephone.

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat meanwhile sought to reassure the diplomatic corps in Bangkok in the wake of a bloodbath that claimed two lives and injured 437 and forced the premier to flee.

The tensions over disputed territory surrounding several ancient temples on Cambodia's northern and north-western border with Thailand began in June but intensified over the weekend, with shots exchanged and soldiers on both sides wounded.

The border dispute has become a focus of anti-government Thai protesters and Cambodian nationalists alike, and both governments have said they are keen to defuse the situation by bilateral diplomatic means if possible and prevent any escalation.

Cambodia, watching events unfold across its border, is keen not to become embroiled in its neighbour's political turmoil.

"We have received no word that the talks may be postponed," a high ranking Foreign Ministry source said on condition of anonymity. "It is a highly sensitive issue and obviously we want to go ahead with talks as soon as possible."

But despite both sides acknowledging the urgency of the matter, both have said they are determined not to back down over the ancient spat which has the potential to cause major political repercussions for both governments, and talks, even before Tuesday's violence in Thailand, have so far yielded few results.

Opposition Party and Civil Society Criticize that Hun Sen Provokes Discrimination against the United Nations

Posted on 9 October 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 581

“Opposition party officials and civil society strongly criticized the not well thought through speech by Hun Sen, which provokes discrimination against election systems organized by the United Nations, which Hun Sen described to be not trustworthy.


To remember the origins, the purpose, and the character of the international cooperation which has taken form as the United Nations, we quote here the Preamble to its Charter, describing this platform of cooperation among the peoples of its 192 member states. The Charter of the United Nations Organization was signed on 26 June 1945 and came into force on 24 October 1945. Cambodia is a member since 14 December 1955.



- to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

- to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

- to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

- to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


- to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and

- to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and

- to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and

- to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

“Ms. Mu Sochua, the Sam Rainsy Party deputy secretary general, recognized the election system of the UN as the fairest and the best election system, but Hun Sen, the vice-president of the Cambodian People’s Party, criticized it, because the Cambodian People’s Party lost during that period [of elections of 1993].

“The comment by the Sam Rainsy Party deputy secretary general and newly elected parliamentarian from Kampot was made right after the rough appeal from the power-addicting Prime Minister Hun Sen, encouraging some countries around the world that have internal conflicts to reject the role of the United Nations as arbiter. Hun Sen said that the election processes organized by the UN were not trustworthy.

“What Hun Sen considered to be not trustworthy was represented during a ceremony at a medical school on Monday early this week, saying that the ink for dyeing the forefinger at the elections organized by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia – UNTAC – could be cleaned immediately after dyeing the finger, which is different from the ink chosen by the National Election Committee that still has not faded away, although already three months have passed since the elections. This is the reason that Hun Sen used as a pretext to call on some countries worldwide which are facing problems, not to choose the UN to be the arbiter of elections. Hun Sen wanted to explain that they should choose local arbiters coming originally from the same nationality of those countries holding elections, like the National Election Committee, nominated by the government of the Cambodian People’s Party for the elections this time.

“However, the elections which were organized by the UN are still recognized as fair elections, and it remains most important for any country that has problems to select the UN as election arbiter. That is, only Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia reacted against elections organized by the UN; other countries recognize the role of the UN in seeking justice and in ending a crisis, and building democracy for those countries.

“In the meantime, observers assume that the reason that led Hun Sen to look down on the role of the UN in organizing elections is because Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party could not conduct fraudulent balloting during the elections organized by UNTAC in 1993.

“During the 1993 elections, the Cambodian People’s Party, which had been originally installed by the Hanoi government, was embarrassed to have lost the vote. This annoyed Hun Sen so much that he dared to create an illegal region of secession east of the Mekong River. But because of the efforts towards unity by the former King, Hun Sen agreed to take the position of Second Prime Minister, together with Prince Ranariddh as First Prime Minister.

“This is what is assumed as the reason, motivating Hun Sen to express his bitterness and to harass the UN, even using provoking words without hesitation towards other [UN member] countries facing problems, to consider the role of the UN with discrimination and rather turn to organize national elections like he did. Then we have to ask: how much efficiency, fairness, and credibility did the National Election Committee – NEC – created by the Cambodian People’s Party, guarantee?

“The Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, which are in alliance, still retain their position to absolutely reject the election results announced by the National Election Committee, because there was no fairness, and they did not reflect the real will of the Khmer citizens.

“The alliance of the two parties discovered that more than one million Khmer citizens had lost the right to vote. It was a loss, resulting from complicated procedures set up with bad intentions by the National Election Committee. Some Khmer citizens, who are still alive and have an established residence, were removed from the voter lists, taking the right to vote away from them. Also, trough the Form 1018, created by the National Election Committee, the village and commune chiefs, who are mostly from the Cambodian People’s Party, got the opportunity to include many underage youth, especially Yuon [Vietnamese] nationals, to get the right to impudently vote to define the fate for the Khmers.

“Therefore, Hun Sen always praises the ways of organizing the elections by the National Election Committee with Im Suorsdey as president and Tep Nitha as secretary general, to create tricks for fraudulent vote with which the Cambodian People’s Party won the elections, things that did not exist during the UNTAC period.”

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.15, #3582, 8.10.2008
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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Poor To Receive Emergency Aid Package

The Asian Development Bank assistance would provide free rice to certain families living in poverty, as well as seeds and fertilizer to farmers.

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
08 October 2008

Khmer audio aired 08 October 2008 (999 KB) - Download (MP3)
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The Asia Development Bank said Wednesday it would provide $35 million in emergency food aid to counter rising food and fuel prices gripping the country.

The aid would go to families living in seven provinces around the Tonle Sap lake and in the slums of Phnom Penh, the ADB said in a statement.

Half the aid package would be a grant and the other half would be a loan, with the government putting $5 million into the projects, the ADB said.

"There will be funding for food distribution and food for work, and capacity-building for emergency response to the food crisis," Arjun Goswami, ADB's Cambodia director, told reporters Wednesday.

Poor families will be offered free rice and other food subsidies, while schoolchildren will receive food as well. The aid will also be used to foster employment through "food-for-work programs" as well as donations of seed and fertilizer.

"The project will prepare the system to respond to a food crisis," said Vong Sandap, secretary-general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance and director of Cambodia's emergency food assistance project.

A typical Cambodian household spends 60 percent of its income on food, the ADB said, adding that many impoverished families "are selling their household assets and taking out high interest loans in order to purchase food, fueling a downward spiral of poverty."

Thais Turned Back Near Ta Moan Temples

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
08 October 2008

Khmer audio aired 08 October 2008 (968 KB) - Download (MP3)
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Cambodian soldiers turned back 20 Thai soldiers who had crossed into Cambodian territory in Oddar Meanchey province Wednesday, a military official said.

The Thai soldiers were found near a waterfall about 1.5 kilometers from the Ta Moan temple complex, which has become a second point of contention in an ongoing border dispute, said Col. Nak Vong, deputy commander of Regiment 42, which is stationed in the area.

The soldiers encountered each other at around 10 am, and no shots were fired. The encounter occurred following a brief gunfight at Preah Vihear temple on Friday and the injuries by landmine of two Thai soldiers on Phnom Trop, near Preah Vihear temple, on Monday.

Oddar Meanchey Governor Pich Sokhen said the encounter was a "simple problem," and many similar incidents had occurred since a build-up of troops began July 15.

Cambodia and Thailand have been unable to solve a military build-up that began following Preah Vihear temple's inscription on a Unesco World Heritage protection list July 7.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat are still expected to meet Oct. 13, despite a Thai political crisis that devolved into violence in Bangkok Tuesday.

NEC Begins Voter Update for Next Election

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
08 October 2008

The National Election Committee made a public call on Wednesday for Cambodian voters to register and update their information with commune leaders.

Those eligible to vote have until Oct. 20 to update their local voter lists in order to participate in future elections.

The next nationwide election will be held in 2012, when voters elect commune council members. The NEC updates voter registration lists every year.

"It is very important that people participate in the election," said Tep Nitha, secretary-general of the NEC. "They must go check their names on voting lists to avoid the problem of a lost name in the coming election. And the young generation who will be 18-years-old by the end of 2008 must go ask to be registered on the voter list of the commune."

The NEC took two months following July's election to update its lists, and Tep Nitha said Wednesday between 250,000 to 350,000 youths will be of voting age this year.

Opposition leaders and election monitors said following July's election the voter registries were inaccurate, making it difficult for some to vote and displaying some names twice.

Problems with registration have caused apathy in some of the voting public, said Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

"We see the announcement of the NEC in commune headquarters," he said, "but it seems that people are less interested after the general election and people are not well informed."

Developments Require Foresight: Expert

Din Somethearith, UN World Habitat program manager in Cambodia

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
08 October 2008

Development of any site should be well organized in advance and include the participation of local people, a UN expert said Monday, which was World Habitat Day.

Cambodia has seen a huge influx of development projects, leading to the displacement of thousands of people, many of them unwillingly.

In some cases, those who are moved from an urban site have been living there illegally.

But Din Somethearith, the UN's World Habitat program manager in Cambodia, said Monday people should be considered during the plans of development, whether they occupy a space legally or not.

"There should be a good understanding, if you want to development a place, whether it will be in the interest of the people or the economy, whether people are living there illegally or legally, whether those people are supplemental for the growth of the economy or not," he said, as a guest on "Hello VOA."

Officials should not dismiss illegal residents out of hand, he said, as they also support the economy. Many people wish to live in urban areas because it provides a place for business, but by moving them out of town, a common practice across Phnom Penh development projects, a city loses their support.

Meanwhile, residents of a proposed development should be warned five years in advance, with opportunity for long discussions and problem-solving well ahead of time, Din Somethearith said.

The UN World Habitat project promotes higher living standards in Cambodia through partnership with the national government and local authorities.

POLITICS-THAILAND: Tired of Instability - But More Ahead

Analysis by Johanna Son

BANGKOK, Oct 8 (IPS) - In the wake of Tuesday’s violent clashes with anti-government protesters that saw the Thai prime minister clambering over Parliament’s walls to safety, Noi, a Thai employee, says: "This is like a horror movie with no ending."

Like her, many Thais say they are increasingly tired of the political turmoil stemming from the drawn-out tussle between the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protestors and the Thai government.

In their latest action this week, PAD protestors encircled, blocked and then cut off electricity to Parliament to try to prevent Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from reading out its policies as mandated by law.

Two people were killed and more than 300 injured in the dispersal carried out by the police around Parliament and nearby areas. Television and other media reports showed bloodied protestors and mayhem as authorities used teargas to break up the crowds, as well as some protestors carrying weapons against the police.

"I’m so tired of this PAD group, also when they began blocking government offices (to force the government out)," said Rose, a court staffer. "I used to think it was okay for people to express their ideas and thoughts and come out to protest. But this is way too much."

Ying, who works in the non-government sector, argues that PAD’s actions have crossed the line of democratic protests. "I wouldn’t call this a democratic form of protest because PAD is not representative of all Thai people. It’s just one group that is against [former prime minister] Thaksin [Shinawatra, who supports the current government]," she said in an interview.

One writer in a Thai discussion forum asked: "It is peaceful assembly when you prevent the government from carrying out its duties, when you use barbed wire and armed youth to block roads?"

Speculation abounds as to whether the violence could lead to a dissolution of the House or force the resignation of Somchai -- but he has so far rejected both. "I will try my best to carry out my duty," he was quoted as saying. He also told diplomats that the country would sort out its domestic problems through "democratic means".

Tuesday’s blockade was a variation on PAD’s kind of protest, one that some in this divided society call "undemocratic" and "thuggery", but others find it legitimate.

There is also heated debate about whether the police dispersal went overboard -- PAD leaders now call the government a "killer" one and will continue their protests-- but others say the state has the duty to function and clear protestors who want to hold the nation hostage. In the web discussion on, there were reports that some doctors refused to treat police who were injured in the dispersal, and that it had even become risky for some policemen to be seen in their uniforms.

The dispersal outside Parliament comes six weeks after PAD sent thousands of protestors to occupy Government House on Aug. 26 -- and where they remain camped out until now. Earlier in May, they occupied the Makhawan bridge near the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok, and are still there.

On Wednesday, media reports said the army has been tasked to help the police in maintaining security, although there were no reports of new violence.

Some 5,000 protestors had gathered around the Parliament compound in old Bangkok late Monday, weeks after Somchai took over the prime ministership from Samak Sundaravej, whom the PAD-led protestors had also wanted out. He quit after a Constitutional Court ruling in September.

PAD, whose leaders include tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul and former Bangkok governor Maj. Gen. Chamlong Srimuang, wants Somchai out of power for the same reasons they opposed Samak.

They say that Somchai, a brother-in-law of Thaksin and also a member of the People Power Party of Samak, is only a proxy for Thaksin and, therefore, heads an "illegitimate" government. They are demanding that the PPP quit the government because it won the most number of seats in the last election because many poor voters, who did not know better, supported it and that Thaksin was behind it.

News reports said Somchai was escorted over the fence of the Parliament compound into neighbouring Vimanmek Palace near the close of session. Other members of Parliament were stuck inside for some seven hours.

The dispersal and the violence this week comes at a politically charged time, when talks were ongoing for a political truce between the Somchai government and PAD. Likewise, Chamlong, PAD founder, was arrested on Oct. 5 and before that, another group leader was picked up. Last week, nine PAD leaders were charged with insurrection and trying to overthrow the government through the seizure of Government House in August.

PAD also says that the elections have not led to good results for Thailand and proposes a system where there are more appointed members than elected to seats in Parliament.

But there is much less discussion of the PAD’s conservative policies compared to the focus in media on the personalities involved -- Samak in the past and Somchai today -- as well as the shadow of Thaksin, who along with his wife Pojaman is now seeking political asylum in Britain.

The larger tussle behind the continuing conflict between PAD and the current government remains one between elites who refuse to respect the wishes of the electoral majority, argues Giles Ungpakorn of Chulalongkorn University.

"The PAD’s claim that the government is somehow ‘illegitimate’ is based on the fanatical belief that the poor do not deserve the right to vote because they are ‘too stupid’," he argued, adding that the political opposition subscribes to this as well. "(But) this support from the poor is not surprising, since the party was the first elite party in 30 years to offer a universal health care scheme and public funds to develop the rural economy."

Others with similar views say that while the Thaksin government was far from the example of clean government, it nevertheless shrewdly courted populist support, which was carried over when the PPP, the successor of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party, ran for the December 2007 national elections.

Through yet another episode in an unfinished political plot, many wonder what lies ahead.

"Brink of anarchy" and "Bloodshed", yelled the front pages of the English-language daily ‘Bangkok Post’ on Wednesday. "Don’t let the injuries and deaths be questions without answers," said the editorial of the alternative news site

Ying, the NGO worker, says Thai politics is regressing, with the PAD protests aimed at reversing, in effect, the results of the last election. "Thai politics is taking a step back, or this may be democracy in our context? But I really look forward to new national elections soonest."

But Rose says she does not think Somchai should step down. "I’m not saying that because I like him. If we have another election, we have to spend more and that comes out of our taxes."

Others point out that the political instability does not help at a time when people are worried about the impact of the U.S. financial crisis now spreading to other countries, and when Thailand and Cambodia just had border skirmishes over the contested Preah Vihear temple.