Thursday, 30 October 2008

Suvit resigns as Puea Pandin party leader

Thursday October 30, 2008

( - Suvit Khunkitti decided Thursday to step down as leader of Puea Pandin party and party member.

Mr Suvit submitted his resignation letter to party's secretary-general. The resignation is effective immediately.

According to the letter, Mr Suvit said he disagrees with the use of force to disperse anti-government protesters on Oct 7, which left two people dead and more than 400 injured. He also said he does not support the government's move to amend the charter as it cannot state which articles must be altered and for whom they would benefit.

He also said in the letter that he does not agree with the government's move on Preah Vihear matter.

He then thanked party members for their support, and said that his resignation would pave the way for executive members to select new party leader.

A Thai TV was warned about its coverage of the Khmer-Thai conflict

By Khim Sarorng
Radio Free Asia
29th October, 2008

Translated from Khmer by Khmerization

Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday has warned a state-owned television (NBT) about its unreliable sources which said that Vietnam has sent its troops to Cambodia to fight against the Thai soldiers along the Khmer-Thai borders.

In its statement released on the 28th of October, the Ministry of Foreign affairs stated that it is seeking co-operation from NBT by requesting it to be cautious in its usage of unreliable sources before going to air.

The reactions of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs happened after Vietnam last week officially denied that it has sent any troops to Cambodia as claimed by NBT.

In its broadcasting on the 16th of October, NBT quoted an unnamed source which said that Vietnam has sent its troops to support Cambodian troops in fighting against the Thai troops along the disputed borders.

In the middle of October, PM Hun Sen has said that the claims from within Thailand that Vietnam has sent troops to assist Khmer troops to fight against the Thai troops was an insult to the ability of the Khmer troops. He said: "Cambodia does not need any troops from any country. What people have seen in the fighting was the real ability of the Cambodian troops. The fighting was very insignificant, if we compared it to the battles that our soldiers have fought in the past. This war is what we called an armed clash by accident. And for me, who has fought in many battles in the frontline in the past, I don't call this a war yet. This is just an armed clash of small proportion. But they still accuse some neighbouring countries, like Laos or Vietnam, of supporting Cambodia from behind? This is an insult to the ability of the Cambodian army."

Khmer soldiers on high alert after mine explosion at Prolean Entry

A Khmer soldier patrolling at Phnom Trop on 19th, October.

By Sav Yuth
29th October, 2008
Radio Free Asia

Translated from Khmer by Khmerization

There are reports that there is a mine explosion on Tuesday night at the areas where fighting between Khmer and Thai troops took place on the 15th of October which caused the Khmer soldiers to take up positions.

Many Khmer soldiers at Prolean Entry, Phnom Trop and at the frontline areas near Preah Vihear temple took up positions from Tuesday night until Wednesday morning when they heard a mine explosion 250 metres from their positions at Prolean Entry.

Deputy Commander of Division 43, Col. Bun Thean, said that at 11 PM on Tuesday night there was a mine explosion 250 metres from the frontline, but till Wednesday morning they still didn't know what exactly caused the mine to explode. He added that maybe the animals stepped on it or maybe the Thai soldiers stepped on it because the Cambodian soldiers dared not go to ckeck the area because it was laden with landmines left from a long time ago.

Col. Bun Thean said: "We heard the explosion at 11 o'clock and 10 minutes last night. But when I asked our soldiers to check they didn't find anything. We did not dare to go deep into that area."

On Wednesday, the Thai military cannot be contacted for the information about whether there were any Thai soldiers who were injured from the explosion.

But a Khmer military official from Division 12 said that at around 8 AM on Wednesday, they saw a Thai helicopter landed near the explosion site but they are sure if the helicopter came to pick up the wounded soldiers or came for other purposes. He said: "This morning we saw a helicopter landed there but we are not sure if it came to pick up the wounded soldiers or for other purposes."

Sources from the Cambodian soldiers said that after they heard the explosion, both the Cambodian and Thai soldiers jumped into their trenches and stayed there until the next morning.

In relation to mine clearing, Chairman of Cambodian Border Committee, Mr. Var Kim, said that on Tuesday morning he when to the disputed zone at Preah Vihear to investigate the sites for mine clearing for future border demarcations, if the Thai agrees to do the same thing.

Democracy Inaction

Thai police officers secure the British embassy entrance gates as anti-government protesters demand the extradition of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from Great Britain during a demonstration in Bangkok.(AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

October 30, 2008: The stand-off between the elected government, and urban elitists continues. The urban coalition, which includes the commanders of the armed forces, monarchists, academics and business leaders, hasn't got the votes to get elected to run the country, and resents the populist politicians who have. The urbanite mobs continue to hold large demonstrations in the capital, but the military is reluctant to stage another coup. The military is, however, asking the current prime minister to resign, and to allow the military a say in who the next prime minister (chosen from the majority party) will be.

In the Moslem south, a policeman and two Islamic terrorists were killed after police surrounded a terrorist hideout. Peace negotiations with Moslem leaders continue, but the Islamic terrorists have their own agenda, which includes an Islamic state in the Moslem southern part of the country (about three percent of the population).

October 29, 2008: Violence between the minority elitist political parties (mainly the PAD, or People's Alliance for Democracy), and the majority parties is escalating. Today a bomb was tossed into the camp of elitist activists, injuring ten. A grenade was thrown at the home of a judge, and a man was found shot dead near the site of frequent elitist demonstrations.

October 27, 2008: The government is spending $15 million on software to block access to websites that insult the Thai monarchy. The king and his family is very (but not universally) popular within Thailand.

October 21, 2008: In the Moslem south, five people were killed, either by gangsters or Islamic terrorists.

October 18, 2008: In the Moslem south, three people were shot and killed, including an Islamic cleric.

October 17, 2008: Noting its clear military inferiority to neighboring Thailand, Cambodia is doubling its annual military budget to $500 million. Thailand spends more than six times that, and has done so for decades. Thailand has 300,000 troops, Cambodia only 100,000. The recent military confrontations on the border made it clear to the Cambodians that they would likely lose any war with Thailand. Doubling the defense budget won't change that, and peace talks to settle the matter continue.

Arrests quash land dissent

Boeung Kak resident Nhoem Ray at a protest against eviction in Phnom Penh on Monday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Human rights advocates say the arrests of nine community organisers in the past week is an attempt to silence dissent on the issue of rural land-grabbing

LOCAL rights groups are becoming increasingly concerned over the recent spate of arrests of community organisers, with the leaders of nine land-grabbing resistance groups arrested across the Kingdom in the last week.

"Community representatives continue to be arrested, charged and imprisoned because of their efforts to assist fellow villagers to protect their land," said Kek Galabru, president of the human rights group Licadho.

"Frequently there is no evidence whatsoever for the charges against them - the law is simply misused as a weapon to try to intimidate their communities into giving up land."

The recent arrest cases are unsettling as two of the charges against six of the arrested have been discovered to be unfounded and inaccurate, according to a Licadho investigation.

Six people arrested in Kampong Thom province on October 22 were the representatives of 1,300 families who are facing a land dispute with a Vietnamese company, Tin Bean Co. All six have been released, although only three have been formally charged.

In Svay Rieng province on October 23, two community organisers - Sum Oeung and Tia Khun - representing thirteen families, were arrested and have been charged with damaging private property. They are in detention.

A further four community organisers representing forty families were arrested in Siem Reap province Friday, and have been sent to pre-trial detention. The men in this case were charged with using violence, but according to Licadho's investigation, the accusations are incorrect.

International human rights group Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission have added their voices to the escalating concerns about the detention of community organisers.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Son Chhay said detention is commonly used as a scare tactic to frighten potential protestors.

"Such action is pre-meditative. It is used to scare other provinces from rising up and protesting," he said.

Son Chhay said such acts would continue as long as the justice system remained dependent and always supported those in positions of power and authority.

Chinese sailors to visit, give equipment

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Thursday, 30 October 2008

A Chinese warship will make a port call at Sihanoukville on November 5 and an assortment of equipment, including a number of ambulances, will be donated to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), officials say.

"China is going to give us 10 minibuses and 31 ambulances next month because they see RCAF currently has no capacity to transport sick soldiers," Pang Savan, director of the International Relations Department at the Ministry of Defence.

"Their visit to Cambodia is to strengthen their relationship with the Cambodian navy and friendship between both countries," Pang Savan said.

New govt appointees given positions but no responsibility

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 30 October 2008

The government is larger than ever with about 50 more senior positions than last time round but some are asking: what are they all doing?

A RAPID post-election increase in the number of government positions has left many newly appointed officials with little to do despite the fact they are now on the payroll.

"Most of the secretaries of state at the Council of Ministers have nothing to do," said a senior official from the Council of Ministers who declined to be named.

"What work have they got to do? They are new officials in new posts. Some of them just do some work for other Cambodian Peoples' Party secretaries of state," he told the Post Tuesday.

In the fourth mandate of Prime Minister Hun Sen's CPP government the size of the executive has increased from 200 secretary of state, minister, senior minister and deputy prime minister positions to 247.

"They have seats but they have nothing to do," the CoM official said.

"Until now, all the work has not been divided us and shared out with them."

The problem has arisen as more official positions have been created and filled, but the original officials are still in their positions and still doing their jobs, he said.

The problem extends from ministerial positions down through under-secretaries of state to deputy provincial governors, he added.

He said that in the CoM there are sixteen secretaries of state some of whom who have no work to do.

"We have a huge number of members of government and some of them must be free. They have seats but they sit and do nothing," said Puthea Hang, the executive director of monitoring organisation, Nicfec.

Too many cooks

"There are a huge number of officials who not only do nothing but are also an obstacle for the Kingdom's ongoing development because of the corruption issues," opposition Sam Rainsy Party law maker Yim Sovann said Tuesday.

"I have never seen any country the same as Cambodia, this is a very strange country," he added.

According to secretary of state and spokesman for the Council of Ministers, Phay Siphan, all secretaries of stateshould be busy working as they have positions with specific duties attached to them.

"If any secretary of state said that he has no work to do, it means that he is not a secretary of state," Phay Siphan told the Post Tuesday.

He said that duties were being arranged for new positions but acknowledged that some of the new positions have not yet had work responsibilities assigned to them. This had resulted in some ministers being short on day-to-day work - a problem the government is trying to rectify, he said.

Phay Siphan said every effort was made to ensure that the individual strengths and experiences of newly appointed secretaries of state were used as best they could be for the benefit of the country as a whole.

Ethnic minorities most vulnerable to land grabs, rights groups say

Kong Yu residents relax after a long day tilling their communal farmland in Ratanakkiri, which Keat Kolney claims to have purchased in 2004.

Thor Saron, vice president of the Ratanakkiri provincial court, approved an injunction Tuesday forcing Keat Kolney's Progressive Farmers Association to stop clearing of the remaining 170 hectares of farmland that residents of Kong Yu village claim belongs to them. The company started clearing the land October 23, in apparent contravention of a 2007 legal agreement that work would be suspended until the court handed down its verdict. "I have issued an injunction to ask the company of Keat Kolney to postpone clearing the disputed land until the case is completely solved through legal means," Thor Saron said Wednesday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 30 October 2008

An agricultural boom has spurred the approval of illegal land concessions in Ratanakkiri province, which local advocates say are threatening the livelihoods of indigenous minorities

RATANAKKIRI PROVINCETHE Toyota Landcruiser arrives in the village just as the morning sun breaks through the trees, casting long shadows across the rust-coloured earth. After exchanging a few quiet words with the driver, half a dozen young villagers - no more than teenagers - get into the vehicle, which pauses for a moment and then roars away, trailing clouds of dust.

According to residents of this small Jarai community in Ratanakkiri's O'Yadao district, young people are picked up each day and taken to pick beans on a nearby rubber plantation - a change to traditional farming practices that is a worrying sign for the community.

Although the Jarai of Kong Yu village appear to have successfully absorbed the more visible signs of modernisation - from motorbikes and baseball caps to artesian wells and laundry soap - indigenous rights activists say an epidemic of land-grabbing threatens the livelihood of the community, and others across the country.

Kong Yu representative Sev Twel said that since losing ancestral farmland to a controversial land deal in 2004, many villagers have been forced into day labour in order to survive.

"Most of the people in my community right now have enough crops for just half of the year," he said. "Then they have to work for others in order to support their families for the rest of the year."

The Kong Yu villagers have been fighting for their land since August 2004, when Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, claimed to have purchased 450 hectares of land from the villagers. But Kong Yu residents say they only agreed to the sale after commune authorities told them the land was needed for disabled army veterans.

Villagers subsequently signed documents approving the sale, but maintain they only agreed to sign away 50 hectares of land, rather than the 450 claimed by Keat Kolney's Progressive Farmers Association, which has since planted rubber trees on 270 hectares of the land.

In 2007, lawyers for the Kong Yu villagers filed legal complaints, but following inaction by the presiding judges, some Kong Yu residents despaired that they would never regain their land.

Kong Yu village chief Romass Neath said he is now tired of fighting because his attempt to petition the courts has borne little fruit. "We would speak one word, and [the judges] replied with 10 words," he said. "They have more power and rights than us."

Disputes increasing

Tim Sinath, director of the provincial Land Management Department, said Ratanakkiri had experienced few cases of land-grabbing compared to other provinces. "Since 2004, we have received only 47 land dispute cases throughout the province and those cases are very small," he said.

But local officials and rights groups say that land disputes have risen in Ratanakkiri, driven by a frenzy of land speculation that has seen the value of nutrient-rich ancestral lands spiral upwards.

Thor Saron, the presiding judge in the Kong Yu case, said he has seen a marked increase in the number of land dispute cases brought before the court in the past year.

"Land dispute cases have increased because the land prices in Ratanakkiri ... increased tenfold in a one-year period," he said. "In short, when the land price increases, land disputes also increase."

In May 2008, Oryung Construction Co, a South Korean rubber firm, started clearing a 100-hectare plot of land in Ratanakkiri's Andong Meas district following a 2006 agreement with the government handing Oryung a 6,866-hectare economic land concession abutting the Se San River.

Lawyers from the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) say that the residents of four Jarai villages affected by the clearing were not informed about the development.

CLEC sources are also concerned about government plans for the development of Yeak Loam, a volcanic lake near Banlung. Tin Luong, chief of Yeak Loam commune, said provincial authorities had invited him in June to discuss the development potential of the lake, which is maintained by the string of minority Tumpuon communities that ring its shores.

The community representatives did not agree with the development because they are concerned about losing the natural state of the lake and the right of the community to control it," he said. "I do support the idea of development because only development can make my commune progress and give people jobs."

A vulnerable minority

Around 1.5 percent of Cambodia's population - around 220,000 people - are indigenous minorities, according to the government's Department of Ethnic Minority Development. But while minorities form the biggest population in Ratanakkiri, rights groups said that they are vulnerable to land-grabbing because of linguistic and cultural differences.

For instance, Dam Chanthy, director of the Highland Association, noted that the idea of individual ownership did not dovetail well with the communal land use practised by minority groups, and that land-grabbers were using this to their advantage.

"Usually, the dispute happens on the community's land because someone in the community sells the land without informing the other members," she said.

Ngy San, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum, agreed that the isolation of such communities made them more vulnerable to exploitation.

"Most indigenous minorities do not get much information from the outside world, about land prices or the contents of the Land Law. It is easier for outsiders to manipulate the situation," he said.

Legal protections

The land of ethnic minorities is nominally granted protection under Cambodia's 2001 Land Law, which states that "no authority outside the community may acquire any rights to immovable properties belonging to an indigenous community".

The law also states that the community "does not have the right to dispose of any collective ownership that is state public property to any person or group" - a point that CLEC lawyers claim invalidates the Kong Yu purchase.

"The law says that community land is state land before it is registered, but there is a condition that this state land cannot be sold because it is controlled by indigenous people," said Ly Ping, a CLEC lawyer working on the Kong Yu case.

However, the subdecree necessary to enable the registration and delineation of indigenous lands is yet to be drafted.

Chhan Saphan, secretary of state in the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, told a gathering of donors in March that a sub decree had been drafted and circulated to stakeholders for consultation.

Tim Sinath added that he had been involved with land registration pilot projects in two local villages, the lessons of which would be incorporated into the draft subdecree, which he expected to be passed and approved in 2009.

But Ngy San said that the lack of an enabling subdecree permitted a highly selective implementation of the Land Law.

"Many articles of this law require subdecrees," he said.

"It is a problem with many laws in Cambodia. Until there is a subdecree, the law cannot be implemented in detail. What I know for sure is that the Land Law is not enough," he said.Others have expressed concern about protection for indigenous lands in the interim.

"We are concerned that if the drafting and implementation of the subdecree drags on for too long ... indigenous communities will continue to lose their lands to economic land concessions," Christophe Peschoux of the UN's human rights office, said Monday in his opening address to the National Forum on Indigenous People.

"Interim protective measures are needed to protect lands against abuse."

A royal performance


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton
Thursday, 30 October 2008

A maid looks up at her princess in a performance of Sovanna Houng at the Chenla Theatre on Tuesday night. The ballet, choreographed and presented by Princess Bopha Devi, was attended by many of Phnom Penh's elite. The dancers were trained at the Royal University of Fine Arts.

South Koreans sign loan worth $60m for roads, water projects

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Thursday, 30 October 2008

One of Cambodia's largest foreign investors continues to pump money into the Kingdom's ailing infrastructure amid corruption concerns

THE government has signed a loan agreement worth US$60 million with South Korea for road renovation and drainage projects, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport said this week.

Some $30 million will go towards upgrading national roads 31, 33 and 117 in Kampot province, said Kem Borey, head of the ministry's Road and Infrastructure Department.

The remaining $30 million will go towards new water-purification and drainage systems in Siem Reap, he added.

"We worked together with our partners on a preliminary study over the last four months before reaching the deal. We expect to receive the concession loan in December," he said.

He said the South Korean government would start public bidding on the projects after a second detailed study is completed.

"South Korea has given us several loans for development projects," Kem Borey said, adding that the loan can be paid back over a 40-year period at 0.01 percent interest.

Corruption fears

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay warned against graft-prone development projects that are funded with foreign money, saying that the government needed to verify construction fees to prevent skimming.

"Sometimes donors' staff cooperate with officials to cheat projects out of funding, which causes infrastructure quality to drop," he said.

He added that many infrastructure projects in Cambodia have not been completed in accordance with proper quality standards and that large sums of project money are unaccounted for by donors or lenders.

"We have to think carefully about foreign borrowing, which has been used ineffectively in the past," Son Chhay told the Post.

"The government should re-evaluate these private loan agreements and make sure that they are accepting them under strict controls and with a clear management plan," he added.

" We have the ability to repay our foreign debt because our economy is growing. "

Cambodia owes foreign debts of about $3 billion as of the end of 2007 - excluding what is owed the former Soviet Union, which amounts to an additional $2 billion or more, according to Son Chhay.

But Vong Seyvisoth, deputy secretary general at the Ministry of Finance, said that Cambodia's debt levels are manageable.

"We have the ability to repay our foreign debt because our economy is growing and the country is developing more every year," he said.

"Our country can borrow some $200 million per year for national development," he said.

"In addition, there are many countries lending us more than this amount, but we must not get more than this because we could risk impacting our macroeconomic climate," Vong Seyvisoth added.

Petrol price drops 400 riels in one day on falling crude

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Motorists filling up at a Tela petrol station in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab and Chun Sophal
Thursday, 30 October 2008

Pump prices show steep declines after months of lower world oil costs, but pressure mounts for further reductions

THE price of petrol in Phnom Penh dropped 400 riels per liter on Wednesday following steep declines in global crude costs.Oil prices struck record highs above US$147 per barrel in July before plunging this week to about $64 on falling demand.

Before noon on Wednesday, the price of premium Tela petrol fell to 4,200 riels ($1.05) from 4,600 riels.

Chhun Oun, managing director of Tela Cambodia, could not be reached for comment.

Sokimex premium petrol fell 100 riels to 4,400 riels, with Caltex premium off by 50 riels, dropping to 4,550 riels also on Wednesday morning.

Heu Heng, deputy director general of Sokimex, said Sokimex petrol dropped further to 4,100 riels by Wednesday afternoon. "We want people to have cheap petrol and we will continue to lower the price if the international market remains as it is today," Heu Heng told the Post.

"We won't let our price be higher than other companies," he said.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon recently said the government plans to keep its cap on taxes on fuel imports in a bid to stabilise the oil price - a move officials say cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost tax revenue.

In the first nine months of 2008, the government says it has forgone about $263 million in import tax revenues under the plan.

Petrol demand in Cambodia rose to about 150,000 tonnes in the first half of 2008, compared with 116,300 tonnes for the same period last year, according to Customs and Excise Department figures.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, urged further price cuts to benefit low-wage workers.

"I really appreciate that Tela Cambodia has dropped its price by 400 riels. Other companies should consider dropping the price to align with international markets too," he said, adding that the price of petrol should be 3,000 riels per litre."

The Ministry of Economy and Finance should have a better measurement scheme and order companies to lower their prices," he said.

"[The government] has shares in petrol companies - that is why companies can increase and drop the price as they like."

Phnom Penh resident Met Vanna said the price of petrol is still too high, even with the drops.

"I don't know why the price of Tela petrol dropped so quickly, while Caltex dropped so slowly," he said.

Met Vanna said that commodity prices should also drop with the lower petrol prices.

"I think the price of commodity goods should be cheaper than today," said Met Vanna.

Korean firm to build power transformers

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Thursday, 30 October 2008

A KOREAN company plans to spend US$1 million to build Cambodia's first electrical transformer plant, officials said Wednesday.

The company said it hopes the equipment will cut imported electricity costs and reduce the number of power blackouts in the capital. "We have imported the raw materials and machines from Korea, with workers trained by our own specialists," said Jung Moon-soo, general manager of Camko First Transformer Co.

The new transformer plant will be built in Kantok Cheung village in Kandal province by a Cambodian-Korean developer.

Jung said Cambodia's expanding economy has made power shortages a vital issue."We need one more year to finish the plant and assemble qualified workers," Jung said.

Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said the new plant would help to significantly cut imported energy costs.

"Transformers are crucial for changing electricity from high to low current for residential or commercial use," he said.

But he added that Cambodia needs more foreign investors to modernise its power sector to keep pace with rising electricity needs.

Cambodian Economic Association President Chan Sophal said the country's electricity fees are high compared with regional neighbours, deterring investors. "When we have more companies investing in transformers, electricity costs will drop and supplies will increase," he said.

Poverty-reduction goals to be hit by global crisis

Children at Phnom Penh's notorious Stung Meanchey dump sit on top of a pile of smouldering rubbish.

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 30 October 2008

World financial turmoil has pushed more Cambodians below the poverty line, commerce minister says, as experts predict rising unemployment

GLOBAL financial turmoil and rising domestic inflation likely will keep Cambodia from reaching its poverty-reduction target this year, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh has said, adding that a worsening economy has pushed more Cambodians below the poverty line.

"Every year we have been able to lower poverty by one percent, but the global financial crisis could affect this," Cham Prasidh said.

While Cambodia continues to post impressive economic growth estimated at around 6.5 percent, roughly a third of the population are still living on less than US$1 a day.

Cham Prasidh, speaking Tuesday at a gathering of industry and trade officials, said that one percent of Cambodians - around 140,000 people - have fallen below the poverty line this year.

However, the Asian Development Bank, in an update of its 2008 economic outlook assessment released in September, presented a dramatically higher figure, saying, "preliminary evidence suggests that as many as two million people may have slipped below the poverty line, in addition to 4.5 million already in poverty".

Some officials fear the global market turmoil could impact the ability of donors to continue doling out massive aid packages to poor nations like Cambodia, which depends on international funds for a significant percentage of its national budget.

Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said government officials and donor-nation representatives are expected to hold meetings on the aid issue in early December.

"Cambodia faces an indirect impact [on donor aid] because of the crisis," he said.
Sok Sina, an independent economist, said fluctuations in global markets, along with inflation of around 25 percent, have had one definite impact on poverty in Cambodia.

"It is hard to say what the exact percentages are, but we know that people are making less money than they did before," he said.

Cambodia's largest export markets - the United States and European Union members - are among the nations most affected by the crisis.

This means income streams might dry up as exports slow, leading to a rise in unemployment, Sok Sina said.

Cluster munitions in the spotlight as groups seek ban on bombs

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 30 October 2008

‘Ban Bus' travelled the provinces seeking signatures for petition against deadly cluster bombs, millions of which still litter the country

AN international effort against cluster bombs has made its way to Cambodia, with donors and aid groups travelling through the eastern part of the country this week collecting signatures from villagers in support of a global ban on the deadly munitions.

The "Ban Bus", an effort organised by various groups, including the Cambodian Red Cross, Norwegian People's Aid, Religions for Peace and the UN Development Program, toured Kampong Cham and Kratie provinces Monday and Tuesday before returning to the capital where today it will try to raise awareness of cluster munitions, millions of which are still littered across large swathes of Cambodia.


During their trip through the provinces, organisers said they collected some 400 signatures, in addition to the 16,000 already given so far in Cambodia, and recorded the personal histories of cluster bomb victims.

The signatures will be part of a petition presented this December in Norway at the signing of an international ban on cluster bombs in Norway."

A huge part of the [Ban Bus] is to raise awareness for international donors and to show that this is still affecting Cambodia. We'll be able to say, ‘Look, thousands of Cambodians have signed this treaty' and to share the stories of the victims with the donors," said Alex Hiniker, a communications and advocacy officer at UNDP.

Between 1969 and 1973, the US dropped about 80,000 cluster bombs on Cambodia during its secret bombing campaigns, scattering more than 26 million submunitions, according to Handicap International.

About one third of these submunitions failed to explode.

Cluster munitions ban

The cluster munitions ban would prohibit the production, sale and transfer of these weapons, as well as require signature countries to meet victim assistance standards and clearance regulations.

To date, more than 107 countries have agreed to sign the treaty, but the world's largest producers of cluster bombs are conspicuously absent.

The US, Russia and China have given no indication that they will sign the ban.

Cambodia was the first country that pledged to sign the ban and has taken a leading role in trying to convince other countries to follow suit.

But Cambodia will need donor support to live up to its promises of assisting victims and clearing land of the submunitions, officials say.

Penh Vibol, a Buddhist monk who is a member of Religions for Peace, said, "This country has been victimised by cluster bombs. Cambodia is tired of war and bombs. The legacies war like cluster bombs should be eliminated."

Local business leaders say foreign capital running dry

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A container ship waits to be unloaded in Sihanoukville port.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal and Nguon Sovan
Thursday, 30 October 2008

The international economic crisis may be starting to hit local business leaders as foreign partners fail to deliver on promised investment funds

BUSINESS leaders say the global economic crisis is starting to affect local operations as foreign capital dries up. But the government maintains that Cambodia is still insulated from the financial meltdown.

Khaou Phallaboth, president of Khaou Chuly Group, which has operations across several different business sectors, told the Post on Wednesday that his latest venture - a US$11 million ready-mix concrete plant - has been delayed due to the global financial crisis.

"Our investment project for the concrete plant has been delayed due to the crisis. It affects our foreign partners. Now we are re-examining our investment strategy," he said.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, agreed that the crisis has slowed foreign investment in the country, saying that local companies with foreign business partners will be affected more seriously.

"I think that foreign countries affected by the crisis such as South Korea will hesitate or stop their investment plans in Cambodia due to the crisis," said Chan Sophal.

"The crisis has severely affected local companies with foreign partners because foreign companies face financial constraints," he added.

Several South Korean developments projects have already been struck by global market pressure - slowing or suspending their building operations in Cambodia.

" If businessmen say that they are affected by the storm, it is probably to avoid tax. "

But Chan Sophal said Cambodia could weather the fiscal storm by relying more on other, less exposed sectors.

"Our banking system is still stable, and Cambodia has a lot of potential in many sectors such as mining, oil and gas, and agriculture."

Mong Reththy, president of Mong Reththy Group, which has invested heavily in the agricultural sector, said his business has not been untouched by global market turmoil, losing US$1.5 million in his palm oil ventures this year following lower purchase orders.

"We are seriously affected by the crisis, however, we are exploring ways to overcome the downturn and avoid layoffs," he said. "Even though there is a loss, we will continue to expand further on our 8,400 hectares of land."

"As a company, we have to face these issues.... We need to use saved profits to prevent a slowdown in operations."

Sok Chenda, secretary general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, insisted Wednesday that Cambodia is not facing a severe economic downturn, but he acknowledged that the government is monitoring the situation.

"We have not seen an impact on foreign registrations with the government," Sok Chenda said. "I think that the storm is still distant.

"If business people say that they are affected by the storm, it is probably to avoid paying taxes."

Hang Chuon Narong, secretary general at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, also said Wednesday that Cambodia's relative isolation from world markets has kept it protected from the global financial crisis.

MC Lisha breaks musical and gender boundaries

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
MC Lisha records at Klap Ya Handz studio in Phnom Penh.

In hip-hop culture, the term MC, or Master of Ceremonies, has come to define the role of rappers. An MC uses rhymes to introduce or praise the DJ, to get the crowd on its feet, to demand respect for his or her status or to comment on society. "That's how rappers used to call themselves in the late '70s and early '80s. MCs used to host live shows, concerts and street parties, and rap to the crowd to excite them, with the help of the DJ. I think the word rapper already existed at that time but wasn't really used. A rapper is simply a person who raps," Cream said. The MC-as-rhymer originated in the dance halls of Jamaica. At such gatherings, an MC would introduce musical acts by giving a toast in rhyme directed at the audience or the performers." But people used to rap even before the birth of hip-hop," Cream said. "Black people from Africa, or look at the famous Cambodian cha pei masters such as Kong Nai or Prachoun," Cream said. "They don't sing, they rap. They tell stories but they don't sing. They just try to follow a particular beat or groove."

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anita Surewicz
Thursday, 30 October 2008

With a new album to be released just in time for the Water Festival, MC Lisha is bringing Cambodia's underground hip-hop scene into the light

Hip-hop in Cambodia has only recently begun to take root, but the genre now has a solid foundation as exposure to it increases and the handful of creative performers and producers in the Kingdom break new ground by pushing traditional boundaries.

Fuelling the Khmer hip-hop surge is one of its pioneers, Sok "Cream" Visal, a co-founder of the collective production company Kap Ya Handz, which opens doors for talented up-and-comers to showcase their skills through recording and live performances.

MC Lisha in the game

MC Lisha is one of only a few female Cambodian rappers and a protege of Klap ya Handz. The 26-year-old has been on the scene since the '90s and could be considered a veteran of the genre in her own right.

Her new album will drop in time for the Water Festival in November with the help of Cream and Klap Ya Handz, which mentored the young MC and produced her tracks on the 2003 compilation Phnom Penh Bad Boyz.

MC Lisha says the 12 tracks on her new album are "100 percent original". She began work on the record in June and wrote all the lyrics, with Cream and Klap Ya Handz taking production credits.

"MC Lisha has been in the game since the end of the '90s, and she's ready to tell that to the new generation, which sometimes claims that they were the ones who started this whole hip-hop thing," said Cream.

The mother of two young boys, Lisha usually writes her lyrics in the evenings after her sons settle down for the night.

"I like to write about things that connect to society," she said.

"I use my lyrics to educate young people. I like to give hope to those working hard - especially women who come to work in Phnom Penh from the countryside. I want to tell them not to give up," she said.

"Sometimes I come home tired, but everything becomes all right when I see my babies' smiling faces," she said.

"I want my music to empower other women, whether they are housewives or working hard to make a living."


Lisha's life has taken many twists and turns, but music has remained a permanent fixture. She has a strong connection to a variety of modern and traditional styles.

"I studied traditional Khmer dance at university, and then I used to be a pop singer from the age of 17 to 20. I also used to work at a bar and sing every night," she said.

"I also play the piano and I can play the drums a little," she added. "When I worked in bars, sometimes when the musicians would go to the rest-room I would take over for a bit," she said, adding that she first got interested in hip-hop while working at a radio station.

" The light is ahead ... I sense that people are looking for alternative music. "

Lisha's forthcoming album will combine her trademark rhymes with traditional Khmer music.

"We mix traditional Khmer music with hip-hop. While older Cambodian people want to keep their music original, I would like to tell them to try to understand that we are doing this because young people generally don't pay attention to traditional Khmer music," she said. "If we mix it in with hip-hop, then at some level they will hear it."

Veteran performer and producer Cream is hopeful and believes in Lisha's success.

"Lisha doesn't have that ‘Freshie Girl 2008' look, but her whole persona, plus fresh attitude, plus experience, plus lyrics, plus message are embodied in her charisma," he said.

"We live in a culture that respects elders and education. And Lisha's old enough to get the attention of the younger generation because of her life experience and because of the things she's saying," Cream said. "I hope that I am not wrong, but I think Cambodian women will listen to Lisha."

Lisha is also an experienced performer, with previous gigs at the Riverhouse Lounge and the Plaza Hotel, among others.

"The last gig I did was about a month ago at a theatre. It was a promotion for a new kind of car that will be imported to Cambodia," she said.

"I rapped a song about the treasures of Cambodia, including Angkor Wat and our beautiful countryside, and everything connected to the land," she said, adding that while she was born in Phnom Penh, she remains a country girl at heart.

Hip-hop in Cambodia

Cambodia's burgeoning hip-hop scene has yet to break into the mainstream.

"I think the scene is a little bit loose. It's made of struggling artists and producers," Cream said.Klap Ya Handz has played a vital role in encouraging young artists and promoting the art form.

"Klap Ya Handz is doing its best with the means that we have. I've struggled for seven years before deciding that it was time to get to the next level, and the time is now," he said.

"Still, we don't have a big structure. It's just me doing everything and my brother Vises ‘Bong Touch' at the recording studio, and the artists.

"The Khmer hip-hop scene is filled with kids who see the ‘coolness' of being in the game, or they only see money and fame," he said. "The new generation is listening to hip-hop, but they don't get enough to get hooked on. Klap Ya Handz and its artists, including Lisha, Pou Khlaing, Kdep, Yungsterz, Aping and Da Krop will try to give that to the new generation."

Cream acknowledges that female rappers in Cambodia face obstacles to earning respect and appreciation, but he hopes the message of artists such as Lisha will empower more Cambodian women.

"The light is ahead ... I sense that people are looking for alternative music, something different, something more original than remakes of foreign songs," he said.

Lisha also feels confident that more young people will embrace hip-hop and find meaning in creativity.

Once the new album is complete, she will support it with gigs at clubs and bars around the capital."There will be a compilation CD released soon to be given to DJs around Phnom Penh, a few sponsored concerts and maybe a major concert at the end of the year.

"She expects the next few months to be busy. "Cream told me to be prepared."

Thailand Protests: Keep going Siam, you done a good job !

Anti-government protesters hold posters showing ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a protest outside the British Embassy in Bangkok on October 30, 2008. Anti-government protesters gathered outside the British embassy to pressure London to extradite former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to Thailand.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Cambodian Prime Minister to visit Vietnam

HANOI, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will pay a two-day official visit to Vietnam from Nov. 4, reported by the local newspaper Thanh Nien on Thursday.

The visit is at the invitation of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, the newspaper quoted the Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying.

The Prime Minister will hold talks with Vietnamese officials to discuss measures for promoting bilateral cooperation in all fields in the future, especially in the sectors of economy, trade and investment.

The two sides will also hold discussions on how to speed up the implementation land demarcation and strengthen cooperation between the two countries in the regional and multi-lateral forums.

Editor: Wang Hongjiang

Khmer youth drop out to join Cambodian army against SIAM

We always remember and We Salute Our Fallen Khmer Patriots!

Thanks you for protecting our country from the intruders,thanks for dying for our country may your souls rest in peace

i salute and khmer world wide nation proud of our soldiers.....they're archive of what they doing to proetct the khmer nation land and i sure their soul proud of country they're standing for and who we in peace my 2 brother khmers... buddha bless your soul and your familys..... We khmer will never given up hope and we away be the winner...We're unity together to proof of our strength and glory to our nation

I Salute!

Anonymous said...
Thank you so much to all of our khmer people protecting of our lovely country to against Siem. We are lived in oversea say thank you to our khmer people lived in our country.May buddha blessing to our troops have a great time and great healthy.

Latest pictures: Cambodia has doubled its 2009 military budget to $500 million

A Cambodian guard stands in front of a statue of a lion at Preah Vihear temple. Thailand's foreign ministry on Monday denied Cambodian claims that Thai soldiers had damaged the ancient Preah Vihear temple with rocket fire during a border shoot-out earlier this month.(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

A soldier is placed on a drip at Engel field, near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh on October 18, 2008. Impoverished Cambodia has doubled its 2009 military budget to $500 million following this month's border clash with Thailand, officials said on Wednesday, an increase that is likely to anger its donors. Picture taken October 18, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian troops stand guard at Engel field, near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh, October 18, 2008 . Impoverished Cambodia has doubled its 2009 military budget to $500 million following this month's border clash with Thailand, officials said on Wednesday, an increase that is likely to anger its donors. Picture taken October 18, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian troops patrol Engel field at Phnom Trop, near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, 543 km north of Phnom Penh in this October 14, 2008 file photo.REUTERS/Stringer

Cambodian troops rest near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh, October 18, 2008 . Impoverished Cambodia has doubled its 2009 military budget to $500 million following this month's border clash with Thailand, officials said on Wednesday, an increase that is likely to anger its donors. Picture taken October 18, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian troops patrol the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh, October 18, 2008 . Impoverished Cambodia has doubled its 2009 military budget to $500 million following this month's border clash with Thailand, officials said on Wednesday, an increase that is likely to anger its donors. Picture taken October 18, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian troops sit on the military vehicle at Sraem village as they drive to the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, 543 km (337 miles) north of Phnom Penh, October 18, 2008 . Impoverished Cambodia has doubled its 2009 military budget to $500 million following this month's border clash with Thailand, officials said on Wednesday, an increase that is likely to anger its donors. Picture taken October 18, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia, one of Asia's poorest countries, doubles military spending

It's about 25% of the new budget. The intention is to match up better against Thailand in the dispute over the temple of Preah Vihear, a World Heritage site. Meanwhile, recent fighting has caused damage to the 900-year-old sculptures.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Cambodia is doubling its military spending to 500 million dollars, after the recent conflict on the border with Thailand, over the temple of Preah Vihear. Most of the country's population lives beneath the poverty level (less than a dollar a day) and needs international aid. Meanwhile, a joint visit to the temple is scheduled for November 7, with Cambodian and the United Nations authorities, to check the damage caused by the armed conflict.

Cheam Yeap, head of the finance commission of the national Cambodian assembly, says that next week voting will be held on the new state budget, with military spending at 25% of the total. "This incident has awoken us to the need for our soldiers to be better equipped. We cannot sit and watch Thai troops encroach on our border," Yeap says. "Our army needs to be more organised, better trained, with newer bases and well-fed troops."

Since August, the two armies have been squaring off near the 900-year-old temple of Preah Vihear, which UNESCO designated as a World Heritage site in July. Both countries claim ownership of the temple, although in 1962 the International Court of Justice ruled that it belongs to Cambodia. In recent fighting, the sculpture of a Hindu goddess was damaged by shrapnel, and both sides are blaming each other.

It is estimated that there are 100,000 soldiers in the Cambodian army, which makes it about a third the size of the Thai army, but it is a substantial force for one of the poorest countries in Asia. For years, international donors have been asking Cambodia to demobilize thousands of veterans, including many former guerrillas of the Khmer Rouge, in order to free up funds for health and education. Instead, over the past two weeks another 3,000 men have been enlisted, although Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterates that he wants to seek a negotiated solution with Bangkok.

Tense, but quiet, near disputed border temple

A barber in front of a temple wall at the disputed Preah Vihear temple. (Seth Mydans/International Herald Tribune)

International Herald Tribune

By Seth Mydans
Published: October 29, 2008

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia: Brightly colored lines of washing hang by the gray stone walls. A vendor offers sunglasses, shampoo and cigarettes from a plastic sheet under a tree. A man with a Polaroid camera sells souvenir photos to the Cambodian soldiers camped on the temple grounds.
At the main gate, where an hourlong firefight with Thai troops broke out nearly two weeks ago, the commander of a Cambodian border police unit is playing cards with his men.

It is a sleepy time here at Preah Vihear temple, on the Thai-Cambodian border, where a dispute over sovereignty has become the first international flash point in Indochina in 20 years.

Cambodian troops occupy the swooping clifftop temple, which is in Cambodia but is most easily reached from the high ground on the Thai side. The Thais, who claim parts of the territory around the temple, are mostly out of sight in the hills or in camps nearby in Thailand.

But the Cambodian government seems to be digging in for a long siege. A new budget expected to be approved next week would double its military budget to $500 million - or 25 percent of all government spending.

"We cannot sit and watch Thai troops encroach on our border," Cheam Yeap, deputy head of the national assembly's finance commission, told Reuters. "Our army needs to be more organized, better trained, with newer bases and well-fed troops."

The encampment here has the village feel of Cambodian deployments throughout conflicts in recent decades.

A small market has opened under red and blue tarpaulins; a barber has put out his chair by a temple wall; a satellite dish brings in both Thai and Cambodian soap operas for the officers to watch.

Soldiers calling their families wander the cliff's edge searching for a cellphone signal, which switches between Thai and Cambodian carriers as they walk.

At the bottom of the great stone causeway, giant loops of silver razor wire close off the main entrance, which is guarded by armed men wearing sandals; the 900-year-old temple, with its sagging walls and tumbling columns, is empty of tourists.

The commander of the forces here, General Chea Dara, claimed a great victory in the little skirmish that took place on Oct. 15.

"They left with their hands in the air!" he said of a group of 10 Thai soldiers whom the Cambodians captured and returned. He raised his arms and shook them, adding, "They were trembling! They thought we would kill them."

Other tales are told on the Thai side, and the origins and outcome of the clash remain unclear. Soldiers here say that three Cambodian soldiers died, two by gunfire and one from a heart attack. The Thais admit to one death and several wounded.

Tiny marks of shrapnel fleck the great stone staircase that rises from the Thai side to the temple, along with two stone dragons that flank the steps. But nothing seems to have been gained or lost in the fighting.

The dispute flared in July, when Unesco, the cultural agency of the United Nations, declared the temple a World Heritage site based on a Cambodian government proposal. Domestic politics in Thailand fueled a nationalist backlash, and troops, artillery and tanks were moved into position.

The confrontation echoes with the history of the rise and retreat of empires over the centuries, and old fears and hatreds still burn between Cambodia and its more powerful neighbors, Vietnam and Thailand.

The dispute also draws together the tangled strands of more recent conflicts, with roots in the Vietnam war and the brutal decades of massacre and civil war involving the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia.

One Chinese-made 85-millimeter artillery piece at the lip of the precipice was brought to Cambodia by invading Vietnamese soldiers in 1980, and it may have been used against U.S. troops a few years before that. Since then, both Khmer Rouge and government soldiers have fired it as control of Preah Vihear changed hands.

After that civil war ended a decade ago, the Khmer Rouge were integrated into the government army, and the combined force is facing off now against Thailand.

The Thais, armed and equipped mostly with American weaponry, have the advantage in firepower as well as air cover from fighter jets. Their 300,000-strong military is three times the size of the Cambodian armed forces.

But the Cambodians, with their more tormented history, are more hardened soldiers. Some of them have fought on one side or another - or on more than one - since they were boys in the 1960s.

"They wanted to test us, to see if Cambodian troops are easy to intimidate," said Colonel Meas Yoeun, 48, a ranking commander in Preah Vihear Province.

"They curse us and mock us and look down on us," he said of the Thai soldiers. "They say we have old weapons and ask us if they really fire."

According to the Cambodian soldiers camped here, the Oct. 15 battle began with taunts as Thai troops across a small stream shouted at them, "Come on, let's fight!"

Touch Socheat, 39, a captain in the border police, said he had come to know some of the Thai soldiers by name over the weeks as they called back and forth, and he felt betrayed when they started shooting.

"One guy got hit right over here as he was taking a bath," he said, pointing to an open pump. "I'm not going to trust them any more."

Srum Mao, 45, a deputy post commander for the border police, said the two sides watch each other quietly now, waiting for some new surprise.

"We watch what they do," he said. "When they carry ammunition, we carry ammunition. When they dig a bunker, we dig a bunker. When they put down their weapons, we put down our weapons. We are watching each other."

Business drop-off hits 'Silk Island'

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A Koh Dach villager weaves silk. Hardly any customers have come to the island for months.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Silk weavers on Koh Dach, whose products are renowned among dealers and tourists alike, say they are baffled by the sudden disappearance of customers and fear for their livelihoods

THOUSANDS of silk weavers on Cambodia's Silk Island, or Koh Dach, say their businesses are in danger due to a dramatic fall-off in customers that has many in this formerly profitable community baffled.

"For two months there have not been any dealers or customers coming to buy our silk products," said 58-year-old Pok Savmav, a silk weaver in the island's Ronas village.

"My family and the other villagers here now have almost nothing to eat because our silk products have not sold," Pok Savmav told the Post by phone on Tuesday.

The few customers who do visit the village are offering lower prices than before.Previously, a set of handwoven silk products that takes some three days to produce fetched US$12.

But now villagers are only able to sell for around $8.

"If I sell at this price, I will get no profit," Pok Savmav said.

"And this does not include labour that I spent on weaving," she added.

Up to 70 percent of the 2,887 families living in the Koh Dach commune rely on silk weaving as their primary source of income, said Tat El, Koh Dach commune chief.

The remaining families rely on other handicrafts - making pots for example - or small-scale farming to survive.

Tat El said that the situation had gotten substantially worse since October 15, when Thai and Cambodian troops clashed on the border in Preah Vihear.


Since then, only a small number of customers have come to buy silk and have been offering lower prices for products than before.

Tat El said he was trying to find other markets for silk products in order to keep this traditional way of life going.

Worried about the future

Another Koh Dach resident, Chheun Chhoun, 60, who makes her living from silk, says she is increasingly worried about her family's livelihood.

"I have earned nothing for the last two months," Chheun Chhoun said. "I am worried that over the next couple of months my family will have no money to buy food - I have used up all my savings already, so what will happen to us?"

For Chheun Chhoun, silk is her entire life. She has no other skills and says she cannot imagine earning her living any other way. Many other villagers are in a similar predicament, she said.

In Koh Dach's Ronas village,the majority of the 400-plus families who reside there earn their living from weaving silk, said village chief Kouk Sokhun.

Two months ago, many local middlemen, customers and exporters used to visit the village to buy silk products, but that traffic has fallen off recently. Most of the village's trade was done with local middlemen who were buying silk products to resell to tourists in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Sometimes, rarely, tourists used to visit the village directly and buy from local weavers.

"Villagers love their silk weaving, and they pass on their skills to their children. Many families have been weaving silk for generations," he said, adding that he was now worried about the future of the whole village.

Kouk Sokhun said if this problem lasted a few more months, the livelihood of people in his village as well as other villages throughout Koh Dach commune would become miserable.

"I learned to weave silk when I was 15 when my mother taught me, and I have taught my own daughters how to weave," Chheun Chhoun said.

Twenty-two-year-old Kouk Vicheka, who is Pok Savmav's daughter, said she also learned to weave silk from her mother. She is now married - to another silk weaver - but says life is getting harder.

"Nowadays, my husband, son and I go to have food at my mother's house because at my home we have no food," she said, adding that she has not earned any money from her silk products for months now.

Koh Dach, located around 15 kilometres northeast of Phnom Penh, has a long-standing reputation for the high quality of its silk.

PVihear fundraising continues apace

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Monks and soldiers walk through Preah Vihear temple earlier this year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Cambodia's Supreme Patriarch leads the way by donating nearly $18,000 for a new tarmac road

SUPREME Patriarch Nun Ngeth has raised 68.85 million riels (US$17,732) in donations to support the Bayon TV Foundation's campaign to pave the road leading up to Preah Vihear temple, but officials say more work needs to be done to bring the road up to a navigable standard.

Tith Thavrith, executive director of Bayon TV, said Tuesday the construction will be finished in early 2009, later than planned due to heavy rain and a shortage of funds.

"We didn't look over the master plan for the road renovation, we just started to work immediately," Tith Thavrith said, adding that the operation was about 60 percent completed.

"We have estimated on spending $1 million ... now the money [raised] has exceeded our target", but more is needed, he said.

Road needed fast

"We needed to have a paved road immediately. When renovations end, the road is expected to become easier to travel, which is good as it is the only way to get along the mountain to the temple," Tith Thavrith said.

Bun Vanna, deputy chief of staff of Brigade 43 stationed at Preah Vihear, said the road up the mountain was difficult to traverse during heavy rain, and that only trucks could pass. Every day, dozens of military trucks drove up and down the road, transporting supplies to soldiers stationed at the temple.

"We want the road constructed quickly," Bun Vanna said. "They have bulldozed up to the temple already."

The need for mountain access was highlighted after clashes between Cambodian and Thai soldiers earlier this month killed three Cambodian soldiers and one Thai soldier.

Thailand, Cambodia to officially confer on border conflict Nov. 10-14

BANGKOK, Oct 29 (TNA) - Thailand and its neighbour Cambodia will officially confer to discuss ways to avoid armed confrontation along their disputed border areas between November 10-14 at a meeting to be held in Cambodia, a senior Thai foreign ministry official said Wednesday.

Director-General Virachai Plasai of Treaties and Legal Affairs Department said the upcoming meeting will discuss solutions to both immediate and long-term problems.

The meeting was organised after a joint session of Thailand's House of Representatives and Senate late Tuesday gave the green light to the proposed framework and approved a clear mandate for the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) to negotiate with Cambodia on talks to settle the disruptive border dispute between the two countries.

Discussions dealing with the short-term problem will focus on avoiding confrontation between soldiers of the two countries at disputed borde areas, especially in the vicinity of the ancient Preah Vihear temple which was the scene of the latest clash on October 15.

Officials attending the upcoming meeting are also expected to confer on a border survey and demarcation based on the 2000 memorandum of understanding and set up a temporary coordination working group to consider the disputed border areas. Results from their assessment will be forwarded to a session of the Joint Border Commission.

A joint survey and land demarcation will be discussed under the long-term solution plan, based on the convention between Siam and France in 1907 and on Siamese and Cambodian-held Indochina maps, he said.

Cambodia uses a French colonial map demarcating the border, which Thailand says favours Cambodia. Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with US technical assistance.

Mr. Virachai said Thailand will also inform official delegates attending the Ottawa Convention banning landmine usage by signatory members during a meeting in Switzerland November 24-28 that Thai soldiers had found landmines inside Thai territory near the border between the two countries.

Also, Thai officials plan to inform the delegates concerning the October 15 clash in which Thailand charged that Cambodian soldiers based at Preah Vihear temple in firing at Thai soldiers.

Relations between the two countries flared up in July when Preah Vihear, which belongs to Cambodia, was awarded a World Heritage site status by UNESCO. (TNA)

Property market should revive in 2-3 years: official

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Ministry of Economy and Finance official Hang Chuon Naron says that Cambodia's weakened real estate market is likely to be back on track within two or three years.

"I hope the real estate market in Cambodia will return to normal within the next three years," Hang Chuon Naron told Prime Location on the sidelines of a recent conference on initial public offerings in Phnom Penh.

He also said that the global financial crisis and the recent slowdown in construction in Cambodia were the causes of the sluggish market.

"I think we will face a long-term standstill in the Cambodian real estate market. However, it won't affect the economy because government limits bank lending" for real estate projects, said Hang Chuon Naron.

Currently, Cambodian commercial banks have a total of US$2.5 billion a year to allocate to real estate lending.

Sung Bonna, president of National Valuation Association of Cambodia, said the Cambodian real estate market was down by about 20 percent this year and growth could come to a standstill in the coming months.

But, he said, "I think the real estate market will shoot up next year because the global financial crisis will have gradually been solved," said Sung Bonna.

The real estate market in Cambodia started to decline in July this year as national elections approached.

National Assembly member Son Chhay, a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the decline in the real estate market was due to slowed foreign investment, particularly from Korean investors and overseas Khmer.

"I suspect that Cambodian economic growth might drop to only five percent if the real estate market sees a long-term slowdown. The analysis of government officials that real estate does not affect the country's economy is wrong," said Son Chhay.

"I think government limitation of bank loans to the real estate sector is insignificant, but if the decline of real estate market continues, it could make bank depositors lose confidence and withdraw their money. Then there might be serious consequences," Son Chhay said.

Croc farms, environmentalists form uneasy alliance

Crocodiles sit in and on the edge of water at the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo

Thailand's crocodile exports

BANGKOK (AFP) — As deforestation and a loss of natural prey threatens Siamese crocodiles with extinction, the farms that once helped endanger the species are now helping save it, conservationists say.

There are fewer than 50 Siamese crocodiles left in the wild in Thailand and about 200 in the entire Mekong river region, but thousands live on commercial farms designed to transform them into belts, shoes and handbags, or meat for export.

"(People) hunt the young to sell to the crocodile farms. For the big ones, they hunt for the skin, the hide," says Chavalit Vidthayanon, a freshwater specialist with conservation group WWF.

"Crocodile farming may induce hunting also," Chavalit says. "That is a negative side. But on the positive side it means the crocodile farm can retain the genetics of the crocodile for a longer time."

Thailand's crocodile farming has over the past six years expanded into a booming multi-billion-dollar industry, with tens of thousands of crocodile skins and live crocodiles, as well as the reptile's meat, sold worldwide each year.

Much of the skins end up as handbags, wallets or shoes on chic consumers in Asia and the West.
The dark green, three-metre (10-foot) long Siamese crocodile begins life at one of the dozens of farms along the Mekong river.

The conservation group Fauna and Flora International says the farms are to blame for the extinction of the Siamese species from 99 percent of its natural habitat.

But now the industry is helping preserve the rare reptile and deter smuggling, says Wuthiphong Thaolar, a Thai customs inspector and member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Wildlife Enforcement Network.

There are 22 farms in Thailand that are legal and approved under the CITES global treaty on trade in endangered animals.

This makes smuggling wild crocodiles into Thailand from neighbouring countries such as Cambodia a less attractive proposition, says Wuthiphong.

Poaching of wild Siamese crocodiles appears to be more of a problem in Cambodia, where Fauna and Flora International say there are thousands of unregulated, illegal farms, and just a handful of legal ones.

Cambodian farmers will almost 2,000 dollars for a mature wild female, the group says, which represents around half a year's income for many Cambodians.

Efforts to re-introduce the animal to the wild in the region have been "quite far from successful," says WWF's Chavalit.

Water pollution has killed the fish the young Siamese crocodiles eat in the wild, while deforestation and hunting have reduced populations of monkeys and deer that the mature reptiles favour.

Many farms are inter-breeding the Siamese crocodile with the saltwater crocodile for a higher-quality hide and superior growth rate, but this makes the animals useless for re-introduction to the wild, conservation groups say.

U.N. Ambassador Recalls Cambodian Past

Columbia Spectator Online Edition

By Claire Shapiro


The typical American biography does not begin in Cambodia—but then again, Sichan Siv is not the typical American.

The Cambodian immigrant and former United States ambassador to the United Nations shared excerpts from his life story at a reading and book-signing event in Teachers College’s Milbank Chapel hosted by the college and the Cambodia Project Tuesday evening. Siv, SIPA ’81, described his autobiography Golden Bones as “an American story, an American dream.” The event was organized as part of Siv’s current book tour, and a major event for the Cambodia Project, which is linked to Columbia.

Just a few years before sitting in a classroom as a student at the School of International and Public Affairs, Siv was on the ground in Cambodia in 1975 when the communist Khmer Rouge took power. Working for relief and development organization CARE, Siv faced a dilemma as his educated status put his family at risk. So, with his mother’s advice to “never give up hope, no matter what happens,” Siv left them, and headed toward Thailand.

Siv recounted his harrowing journey through the Cambodian jungle, and spoke of his luck in finally reaching the border. From Thailand, he traveled to the U.S., arriving just before the bicentennial. While watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, Siv had a realization.

“I said to myself, ‘this is a beautiful country,’” he said. Siv worked his way through a series of jobs, and then attended SIPA on a full scholarship. He described his experience at SIPA as one of the most “productive investments” of his life.

Interested in American politics, Siv volunteered in George H. W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, ascending to deputy assistant to the president for public liaison and ultimately attaining the post of deputy assistant for South Asian affairs in the state department. When George W. Bush took office, he nominated Siv to be ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council. From 2001 to 2006, Siv represented the U.S. in the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Siv’s visit to the University reflects the relationship between the school and the Cambodia Project. Established by General Studies graduate Jean-Michel Tijerina in 2006, the organization includes Columbia graduates, and undergraduates may also become involved.

Nettra Pan, CC ’12 and vice president of the Columbia chapter of the Cambodia Project, said that many members of the club are interested in not-for-profit work, and in Cambodian issues. “One of my greatest passions is helping Cambodia,” Pan said.

Despite his many achievements, Siv spoke frankly with audience members.

“I didn’t want to visit a painful past,” he said, explaining his reluctance to write an autobiography. He found the experience to be “liberating” and “therapeutic” all the same.

Along with other events, the Cambodia Project is spearheading a program to aid education in Cambodia. Construction of its first school is slated to begin this winter, and plans for another two schools are in the works.

Cambodia ignoring its Constitution

By Lao Mong Hay
Column: Rule by Fear

Hong Kong, China — As the Cold War drew to a close, 18 countries, including the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, assembled in Paris in October 1991 to end the protracted war in Cambodia. They laid down in a peace agreement a set of basic principles to be incorporated in the Constitution of Cambodia to serve as its governing principles.

Cambodia’s own Constitution, adopted two years later in 1993, enshrined all these basic principles. Besides, it further specified the separation of powers, the organization and functioning of state institutions, and the election, appointment and status of officers to run them.

However, 17 years on, constitutionalism has not yet taken root in Cambodian soil. In fact, several new developments have taken place to counter it.

Last July, the Cambodian People’s Party won the parliamentary election, again, with an overwhelming majority of seats – 90 out of 123 – in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament. On Sept. 24, the new Parliament was sworn in.

According to the 1993 Constitution, the election of the president or speaker and vice-chairmen of the National Assembly should have followed. Unfortunately, that did not happen. The chairman of the National Assembly in consultation with the vice-chairman should have nominated a leader of the majority party for the king to appoint as prime minister. The latter should then have formed a government and submitted it to the National Assembly for a vote of confidence. The election and the vote of confidence should have been conducted by secret ballot. However, constitutional rules were ignored.

The winning party applied rules stipulated in the Additional Constitutional Law of 2004 to organize a bloc vote by a show of hands for the election of the parliamentary leadership and the vote of confidence. This law allows for such election and vote of confidence as a “necessity” when the application of the rules of the 1993 Constitution obstructs the smooth functioning of state institutions.

This bloc vote violated the Constitution on two counts. First, the constitutionality of the additional law itself was very dubious right from the start. The CPP, which won the 2003 election, forced the new Parliament to adopt it prior to the election of its leadership.

This party had not been able to form a government on its own, and a deal with a coalition partner was made to secure a two-thirds majority vote of confidence as required by the 1993 Constitution. But the leader of the stronger faction, Prime Minister Hun Sen, nominated many of his supporters in the government, as he was not sure of securing sufficient votes from its weaker coalition partner in Parliament.

The CPP feared that following the rules of the 1993 Constitution and holding an open debate would allow dissent and could thwart the planned composition of the leadership of the National Assembly, the government and the premiership of Hun Sen. The additional law allowing a bloc vote by a show of hands was introduced to silence such dissent.

Secondly, in this year’s election, the same party won more than the absolute majority required for the election of the leadership of the National Assembly and the vote of confidence in the government. But the rules of the 1993 Constitution were not applied first, according to the Additional Constitutional Law, to see whether they would have led to any particular obstacles that warranted the short cut with the bloc vote.

The new government has further violated the Constitution. After the vote of confidence, Hun did not make a policy address to the National Assembly, which he should have done to announce the political program of his government and seek the Assembly’s approval. Instead, the next day he made a policy address to his Cabinet at its first meeting, announcing that his government would continue to implement the political program of his previous government.

Such implementation is in beach of the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Government (1994) whereby it implements policies and plans that received prior approval by the National Assembly.

The third and most serious violation was the ultimatum Hun gave to Thailand on Oct. 14, to withdraw its troops by the next day from the disputed territory near a temple called Preah Vihear on the Thai-Cambodian border. The area was occupied by Thai troops since July 15, 2008. Hun told reporters that the visiting Thai foreign minister and Cambodian army leaders including commandos at the frontline were instructed, “This place is a life-and-death battlefield.”

Hun’s warning to Thailand and instructions to Cambodian army commanders amounted to nothing short of a declaration of war. On Oct.15, Cambodian and Thai troops engaged in a brief battle, which caused death and injuries on both sides.

Hun’s action violated the Cambodian Constitution, according to which only the king of Cambodia, the supreme commander of the Cambodian armed forces, can make a declaration of war after both Houses of Parliament approve it. Hun Sen usurped the king’s power.

Constitutionalism in Cambodia exists only on paper given its past and present violations. The signatories to the Paris Peace Agreement should work with the Cambodian government to implement it the way they set out to do when they signed it in 1991.

(Lao Mong Hay is currently a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. He was previously director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a visiting professor at the University of Toronto in 2003. In 1997, he received an award from Human Rights Watch and the Nansen Medal in 2000 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)