Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Moto-library brings books to all

Nom Soklot reads to children from the Hun Sen Chunloeung school in Kandal province.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Poree
Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Thanks to the efforts of Kandal's rice-farmer-turned-librarian Nom Soklot, thousands of villagers have access to a travelling library and are getting increasingly into books

FOR six months, Nom Soklot has been riding around Kandal province's Rokhar Chunloeung commune on a small motorbike with a box of books strapped on the back.

In a desperately impoverished province, the 33-year-old is the only access to reading material many residents have.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of her small moto-library, the 5,400 inhabitants of the five villages in her area have had access to books and magazines - which they can read at their houses or borrow until the moto-library returns the next time.

"They really like to read a lot in this area," said Nom Soklot, laughing.

"They love everything related to cattle breeding and to farming. They also enjoy a lot of magazines.

"Despite the fact the commune she serves is one of the poorest in the district, it is filled with curious people hungry for knowledge.

Many villagers - adults and children alike - visit the nearby library, which is run by one of Nom Soklot's colleagues, Ngoy Phat, who supplies her with books.

A big event for a village

Villagers know when Nom Soklot's moto-library is coming because she lets the local authorities know three days in advance.

When she arrives, it is something of an event: She stops outside the village chief's house and unstraps the box of books from her bike.

" I regret that my motorbike cannot carry more... I would bring more books. "

Word gets out and villagers start to gather. Children come running back from nearby fields and crowd around to read. "

If the time of Nom Soklot's visit does not suit villagers, they can go to the Education for All centre which was created - at the community's request - by the NGO Sipar in order to offer information and training to villagers.

The activities of this centre focus on the library, which was established in a nearby school.

Ngoy Phat plans Nom Soklot's tours of the area in response to demand.

"I regret that my motorbike cannot carry more weight; I would bring more books," Nom Soklot said.

She added that she had to be careful about the tiny scooter breaking down on one of the small, muddy tracks she must cross daily.

The motorbike was donated by Sipar, which builds libraries in Cambodian schools and publishes books in the Khmer language aimed at young people. "
The perfect librarian

Last Thursday, Nom Soklot's moto-library was due at Hun Sen Chunloeung school, which has been open for three years in its new premises but still lacks a library.

At around 7:30am, she arrived and unfolded mats under the covered part of the school playground, where about 200 children soon joined her.

In this under-the-sky library, reading came as a welcome break for the children, who were laughing, talking and sitting with friends as they devoured the moto-library's offerings.

Some exchanged magazines, some answered puzzles, while others listened attentively as Nom Soklot told them a story - concentrating so hard her cheeks turned red from the effort.

Her audience did not miss a single word.

"I've just finished a librarian training in Prey Veng. I feel that I have learned a lot. I have become more clever and more qualified," said Nom Soklot.

"Now I understand how to code books, I know how to make an inventory and I tell the stories much better. Before the course I read too fast without taking time to show the illustrations in the books to the children.

"Nom Soklot is a wonderful example for the young pupils whom she visits.

She smiled when she heard someone call her teacher, or neak krou, as she only went to school through third grade when her mother's illness forced her to drop out.

Until the age of 31, this rice-farmer's daughter worked in the fields.

When the Education for All centre opened in 2006, she went there regularly to borrow books to read to family and friends in the shade of a tree in front of her house.

As her audience wanted more and more stories, she went to the library more often. When one of the librarians resigned, the director of the centre though it a good idea to ask this ardent reader to replace him.

"I was so panicked with this idea," she remembered.

"It made me sick. I did not think I was able to take this kind of job with these responsibilities."

After consulting with her family, she finally accepted the offer. The director trained her step-by-step.
"I have made a lot of effort; I have read plenty of very interesting books," she said.

"After that, I did not want at all to go back to work in the rice fields," she added.

Being a native of the area, Nom Soklot knows everyone and has an incredible power to pass on her enthusiasm for books.

She picks books according to her audience, and the moto-library has become its own success story, with more than 50 books a week now being loaned out to villagers in the area.

The only thing Nom Soklot could wish for is more books.

Working for Cambodia's future

Cambodian students at Phnom Penh's Wat Ounalum.

The Phnom Penh Post

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Why education is the only answer to Cambodia's problems

LIFE is calling. Cambodia is calling. Being back home makes me think in a different perspective. I feel as an outsider stepping into, and an insider stepping out of, the same country. I look forward to contributing to the educational wealth of my beloved country through teaching. I am at the stage of my life where my primary goal is to help develop the younger generation to lead useful lives for the benefit of human kind.

I feel my work has just begun.

As any patriotic Cambodian, I am proud of my heritage and my tradition. After many wars, our country and our people suffered enormously and faced many setbacks, such as deep-rooted mistrust, Khmer killing Khmer, grinding poverty, injustice, greed, corruption, land grabbing, nepotism, a culture of impunity, oppression of thoughts and actions, fear, destruction of our natural resources, safety, security, education, lack of respect of the rules of laws, etc.

Poverty is rampant all over the world, but there is nothing like being poor in Cambodia. It is very fashionable to talk about the poor so the top leaders can get more foreign aid. Unfortunately, it is not fashionable to talk with the poor to find out the reality of their sufferings. The environment most Cambodians are living in now is hurting the next generation. We have lost many traditional values.

The reality is Cambodia is still a very poor country, plagued by uncertainties and a mess of contradictions. I don't have all the answers to the complex problems. I am far from perfect, but as a teacher I learned early that I can't fix everything but can help most things. I know I cannot offer material goods or gifts to the children but I always can offer pieces of my love through teaching and learning.

I cannot erase all the dark sides of the current government, but I can change the way I deal with it. I can rise above it and stay strong and true to myself by applying the teachings of Buddha: "abstain from all unwholesome deeds or do not engage in any harmful actions; always perform only wholesome ones, those that are good, subdue and purify your own mind". By practicing Sila (morality) and following the five precepts (refrain from killing, stealing, telling lies, all intoxicants and immoral sexual activity) I can inspire others to think and act with integrity and vision for a sustainable and just society.

I just want to bring hope to hopeless people, knowing that sometimes the joy of doing good for my country may be the only reward I receive. To me, it is better to suffer for doing good than doing evil. Once again, may all Khmer people see the truth of what really happened so we can still have a place to call home.

A land torn apart

Cambodia and her people are torn apart in the hands of a regime practicing dictatorship, nepotism, extreme corruption, deforestation and many unimaginable acts of destruction to the social fabric, while silencing opposition. Disparities exist across the country. Inequalities increase dramatically among the rich and the poor, the powerful and the vulnerable, the strong and the weak.

I witness all of these disparities and inequalities myself in my daily life in Cambodia. Denying this real problem in Cambodia will only contribute more and more to the decline. It is only when we don't understand things deeply that we create problems, more problems for our next generation to solve.

The majority of Cambodian people continue to suffer because of shortsighted decisions made by the current and ineffective, yet very powerful and too cohesive regime. Once again, Cambodia has been mismanaged by greed and extreme corruption. According to the latest annual Transparency International index, Cambodia ranked 166th out of 180 countries. It has gotten worse from last year, the year before last, and so on. Yet the top government officials dismissed the findings as well as any well-documented findings. The poor are poorer.

The rich are richer by extracting the wealth from their own people and the natural resources that belong to all of us. The "Money Is Everything" doctrine can be seen and felt in Cambodia. This inequality of wealth distribution creates a very unbalanced society. The thinking that "what powerful people say will always be right, and what small people say will always be wrong" must be also changed. The corrupted and powerful leaders fail to see the consequences of their own actions.

Education means a future

I want to do something to help the new Khmer generation. "If your plan is for one year, plant rice; if your plan is for 10 years, plant trees; if your plan is for 100 years, educate children," said Confucius. When all Cambodians have a good education, they can think and make good rational decisions based on morality, national interest and patriotism, instead of "self-interest" and nepotism. Then they will become more aware of the situation, begin asking questions, have debates, offer dialogues, seek answers, find common solutions and act conscientiously.

In this context, education is not a matter of always seeing new things. Education means seeing the same things in a new light. Education is liberation. It frees people from their pasts and inequalities, so they learn to live in the present and have hope for the future. It frees them from obstacles, oppression and a lot of other things that can set them back. Once achieved, education can never be bought, bartered, sold or even stolen.

Quality education for all is the answer to breaking the cycle of poverty and destruction. Don't fight darkness. Just bring the light in and darkness will disappear. These are my feelings about Cambodia.

Sovachana Pou is a volunteer teacher at Wat Ounalum in Phnom Penh, and former Funcinpec minister of industry, mines and energy.

Funky ‘rice’ bags help Khmer lives

The Gisborne Herald (New Zealand)
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
By Darnelle Timbs

Khmer Life is a vocational training project in Cambodia that provides poor people with training and employment in handicraft production. Darnelle Timbs discovered Khmer Life while living and working in rural Cambodia. Inspired by the project, she has brought the products home with her to Gisborne.

“No way! There are those colourful, groovy-looking bags I saw in that fancy shop in England,” I thought to myself as I passed by a store on my old hired bicycle.

I was in the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia on my way to see the Angkor temples (one of the wonders of the world) when I got side-tracked. The delightful shop assistant explained how the women who make these bags work in decent conditions so the products are not at sweatshop prices.

My ears pricked up. I had heard countless stories about the horrendous working conditions of the garment workers of Cambodia. Cheap labour for garment production is a big industry in the country, so I was interested to hear of a company that was fighting the trend.

The shop assistant continued to explain that the material used for the bags was recycled rice sacks.I’m a sucker for a good cause, so something combining recycled materials with social responsibility was ideal.

“Right,” I asked, “where is this workshop? I might like to sell some of these in my home country.”

I made friends with the assistant and she gave me her details, explaining that the workshop was in the capital city Phnom Penh, near the Genocide Museum.

Three weeks later on my next break from work I headed to Phnom Penh to extend my travel visa.

After seeing the horrors of the Genocide Museum, also known as S-21 — the high school that became a torture centre during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, from 1975-79 — I visited the neighbouring Khmer Life outlet shop.

I got chatting to the manager and I told him about my interest in his product. In line with Cambodian hospitality, he offered to take me on his motorbike to visit the workshop.

It was an awesome experience. He introduced me to all the workers and explained their disadvantaged backgrounds.

The profits of their work are used to pay for the employees to live at the workshop, eat there and attend university.

A tag on the bags reads: “The profit we make is ploughed back into the project, helping us to extend the opportunities we provide to disadvantaged people.”

I loved the philosophy.

I had already maxed out my overdraft to stay in Cambodia to volunteer for a rural development organisation, so I went ahead and maxed out my credit card on a box of bags.

It was a complete gamble, but I have a tendency to trust my gut feeling above logic.

Alongside my belief in the philosophy of the company; I lived in the rural areas of Cambodia for months and these rice sacks featured in my daily life — my family used one to store the charcoal for our cooking fire, the farmers would use them for housing materials, they were always in the markets, strapped on to bicycles, used to build dams and loaded on to trucks: everywhere, every day.

Besides being a good cause, these products are fun, bright, funky and perfect for a Gisborne summer.

The Khmer Life manager explained how they have taken off in the UK, USA and Australia, so I think he was pleasantly surprised to have a random New Zealander track him down and want to meet his workers.

If you want to support Khmer Life, the bags are for sale at Retro in the Ballance Street Village.

WORLDHOTELS Angkor Palace Resort & Spa launches new website promoting 'responsible tourism'

e-Travel Blackboard
Wednesday, 19 November 2008

WORLDHOTELS Angkor Palace Resort & Spa in Siem Reap has launched a new website, promoting its vision for 'responsible tourism' at the World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The website introduces a new 'communities' connection program to proactively involve guests in a campaign to minimize the negative economic, environmental and social impacts of tourism.

The new website is user friendly and incorporates an efficient booking engine as well as attractive features including videos and a facility for guests to book directly on the site.

“The 5-star Angkor Palace Resort & Spa is just 15 minutes from the legendary temples of Angkor, which attract thousands of tourists a day but struggle to contain the impact of littering,” said Weng Aow, General Manager of Angkor Palace Resort & Spa.

"Our aim is to provide more meaningful experiences for guests by promoting connections with the local population and giving them a greater understanding of the culture, as well as educating them on social and environmental issues," he said.

The first luxury resort style hotel in Siem Reap, Angkor Palace Resort & Spa is an affiliate hotel of WORLDHOTELS' exclusive Deluxe Collection. It is set amidst 11 hectares of exotic tropical gardens combining traditional Khmer architecture with modern facilities.

“Since joining WORLDHOTELS, Angkor Palace Resort & Spa has recorded a 200% increase in e-commerce revenue”, noted Roland Jegge, Vice President, Asia Pacific, WORLDHOTELS.

"It contributes to 40% of the hotel's revenue now," he said. "This underlines the value of online distribution, and the benefits of a well-planned web strategy for independent hotels and resorts like Angkor Palace Resort & Spa."

With 500 outstanding hotels in 300 destinations, across 70 countries, WORLDHOTELS is the most established Europe-based global marketing and distribution network for independent hotels and regional hotel brands, with a strong emphasis on properties with character and distinction. WORLDHOTELS was recently voted 'Best Independent Hospitality Organization' in the TravelWeekly (Asia) 2008 Awards.

Ex-Khmer Rouge admirer says sorry

Almost two million people died under Pol Pot's regime

By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh

Gunnar Bergstrom has the slightly bemused air of a man who has just realised the joke is on him.

Finding himself back in a much changed Phnom Penh after a 30 year absence probably has a lot to do with it.

But repeatedly explaining how his younger self was conned must surely have had an impact as well.

This former Khmer Rouge supporter is here on a mission of redemption and reconciliation.
In just two days he has already visited genocide memorials and former torture centres, faced a grilling on Cambodian television, and a seminar audience full of survivors of the Pol Pot era.

Over the next two weeks, he will take a similar message of contrition to the provinces.


It might not be possible to turn back the clock, but Mr Bergstrom is at least going to try to explain why he and his colleagues in the Swedish Cambodian Friendship Association not only sympathised with the Khmer Rouge, but enjoyed the organisation's hospitality on a two-week visit in 1978 - even dining at the same table as leader Pol Pot.
" We didn't want to believe that the liberators had become oppressors "

"I was at that time a member of a friendship association which was a remnant of the anti-Vietnam/Cambodia War movement in Sweden, which was very strong in the Western world," Mr Bergstrom told the BBC.

"Of course we didn't want to believe that the liberators had become oppressors."

The Swedish group were far from unique in their long-distance support of communist groups in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.

And they were not the only ones who were reluctant to accept that the supposed "good guys" who had fought against US-backed forces might possess serious flaws of their own.

The poet and foreign correspondent James Fenton faced a similar dilemma when he arrived in Cambodia shortly before the shambolic Lon Nol regime fell to the merciless, black-clad Khmer Rouge.

Serious flaws

"I admired the Vietcong and, by extension, the Khmer Rouge," he writes in All The Wrong Places. "The theory was, and is, that where a genuine movement of national liberation was fighting against imperialism, it received our unconditional support."

With first-hand experience of the situation, the reporter soon came to fear the Khmer Rouge in the same way most Cambodians would.

But once Pol Pot and his men were in power, they closed the country to foreign journalists, so long-distance admirers like Mr Bergstrom knew little of the true picture.
Gunnar Bergstrom accepted a rare invitation to tour Cambodia in 1978

"We thought that the movement, the revolution here, was an example to the third world," he says now.

"They didn't take foreign aid, they relied on their own forces, no money, egalitarian… 'The atrocity stories cannot be true totally anyway; probably just slander.' That maybe was the picture in 1978."

So the Swedish group were happy to accept a rare invitation to tour Cambodia.

Their movements were closely controlled, and sightseeing opportunities put forward only the best face of the revolution.

Modern rubber factories, efficient collective farms and smiling workers were all presented for the delegation's edification.

Mr Bergstrom says that even then he knew that everything could not be as it appeared, that all the refugee stories about atrocities could not be lies, but he admits to suppressing his doubts.

"I was crazy enough to support the Khmer Rouge when I came home, and I quieted that voice," he sighs.

Full horror

Within months of his visit, Vietnamese-backed forces ousted the Khmer Rouge, and the full horror of the Pol Pot era finally became public knowledge.

Mr Bergstrom's support of the revolution came to an abrupt halt.

Now the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which has been gathering evidence for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, has arranged for the former Swedish solidarity group member to return.
" People say, 'Now he's apologised, we accept it.' It's important for many people to hear such things "

The centre's director, Youk Chhang, hopes that Mr Bergstrom's latest tour will help the reconciliation process.

"People say, 'We were right - foreigners were here to help the Khmer Rouge and now he's apologised, we accept it.' It's important for many people to hear such things."

It is important for Mr Bergstrom to say it as well.

He has donated his photos from the 1978 trip to the centre, and they will be displayed permanently at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum.

Each snap - smiling women, deserted bus stations, a riverboat party - has two contrasting captions, labelled "Thoughts from 1978" and "Thoughts Now".

Some have a third caption: "Forbidden Thought at the Time".

The "quieted voice" is no longer silent.

Cambodia not to boycott ASEAN Summit in Thailand

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- The bilateral armed clash at the border area in October will not stop Cambodia from attending the upcoming ASEAN Summit in Thailand, Chinese-language newspaper the Jian Hua Daily on Wednesday quoted an official as saying.

"We will not boycott the summit in December, even as we have border dispute," Phay Siphan, secretary of state of the Cambodian Council of Ministers told a seminar here on Tuesday.

The clash in October killed two Cambodian soldiers and wounded two others, after Thai troops entered the disputed area over sovereignty claim.

"We want to keep the friendship and cooperative ties with our neighbor countries," said Phay Siphan.

The official said both Cambodia and Thailand currently need to realize their border demarcation in accordance with the conventionally recognized maps 100 years ago by the French colonialist.

The map was made with the agreement of the Thai authority then, he added.

There are now 73 demarcation posts along the 805-km border between Cambodia and Thailand, 50 percent of which are recognized by the Thai side. Cambodia still plans to plant hundreds more posts there in order to specify the border line.

Editor: Jiang Yuxia

Cambodia stresses security, education in 2009 budget

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- A draft of the 2009 national budget indicates that the Cambodian government intends to increase funding for the country's defense and education sectors, English-language newspaper the Cambodia Daily said on Wednesday.

The 2009 national budget totals 1.8 billion U.S. dollars, 19 percent of which, or 223 million dollars, will be reserved for national defense and internal security, the paper quoted official source as saying.

Most of the money will go toward salary increase for military and police officers and marks a 64 percent increase on such spending compared to the 2008 budget law, it said.

The increased defense budget will be used to reform Cambodia's defense sector and implement a conscription law, parliamentarian Cheam Yeap told the paper.

"We can't reduce the budget. Even during a time of peace, we must prepare for war," he added.

The improvement of military budget was widely reported during the last couple of months, right after an armed clash in October at the border area with Thai troops killed two Cambodian soldiers and wounded two others.

Due to the Thai side's massive military presence, the confrontation immediately stirred up arguments about the Cambodian troops' true power and equipment situation.

Meanwhile, the 2009 budget also allocates 34 percent of the total, or 399 million U.S. dollars, to the ministries of health and education, a 22 percent rise over last year.

The National Assembly is set to discuss the draft budget law with non-governmental organizations on Thursday in preparation for its final approval at unspecified date.

Editor: Jiang Yuxia

Three former Khmer Rouge leaders to remain in custody: court

Photo: AFP

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Former Khmer Rouge head of state and two other regime ministers will remain in custody of Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court for at least another year, a court official said Tuesday.

Investigating judge You Bunleng said they had on Tuesday decided to renew former head of state Khieu Samphan's detention -- due to expire Wednesday -- as they feared he may flee or that the 77-year-old's safety may be in jeopardy.

Khieu Samphan's lawyer Sa Sovan said he would appeal the decision against his client, who is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role during the regime's brutal 1975-1979 rule.

Judges had already decided to continue to hold the regime's former foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, the ex-Khmer Rouge social affairs minister, according to documents dated November 10 and placed on the tribunal's website late Monday.

Ieng Sary, 83, is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes while Ieng Thirith, 76 -- also known as the "first lady" of the brutal regime -- is charged with crimes against humanity.

Investigating judges Marcel Lemonde and You Bunleng said both suspects had refused to speak to judicial investigators, which is their right, but the judges warned that "it is not conducive to speedy proceedings".

They said the pair's detention "cannot be considered excessive in the view of the scope of the investigation".

Since they were placed in the tribunal's detention last year, "the co-investigating judges have collected a large body of evidence", the judges said.

Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan are among five senior Khmer Rouge leaders, mostly in their 70s and 80s, in detention awaiting trial for their alleged roles in the atrocities.

Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork or were executed under the Khmer Rouge, which dismantled modern Cambodian society in its effort to forge a radical agrarian utopia.

Established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN, the long-stalled tribunal seeks to prosecute crimes committed 30 years ago by senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

The first public trials are expected to begin early next year.

World's poorest economies meet to talk trade issues

Sify Business
Tuesday, 18 November , 2008

Phnom Penh: The Trade and Industry Ministers from the poorest countries have arrived in Siem Reap to explore ways and means of integrating their economies into the global trading system, said a press release here on Tuesday.

The Ministers will be joined in the coming two days by donors and development agencies active in trade at the regional and global levels, said the release from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

This year's Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Ministerial Conference is organised jointly by UNIDO and WTO and hosted by the Government of Cambodia from November 19-20.

Falling Crop Prices Threaten Boom In Small Farms, KS

BANLUNG, Cambodia -- A few years ago, this dusty frontier town was little more than a junction of dirt tracks in the jungle, with a handful of wooden buildings and beat-up old cars. Then global crop prices shot up, and Banlung became a boomtown.

Farmers swarmed in and cleared land to plant rubber, soybeans and other cash crops. In similar ways, small farmers in many other countries, such as Bangladesh, Russia, Ukraine and Nigeria, ramped up production to profit from the dramatic rise in the prices of agricultural products in recent years.

Now, however, the future of the expansion in Banlung and elsewhere is in doubt as grain prices have plummeted because of the global economic slowdown. With investors pulling money out of commodities and growth slowing across the world, corn prices are down about 50% since the end of June, while wheat is down about 30%.

A slowdown in new farmland development could hinder efforts to ease the global food shortage. Earlier this year, those shortages triggered riots from Haiti to Egypt to Pakistan and raised fears of permanently higher prices for basic foodstuffs. Some agricultural analysts worry that when the world economy recovers, the food crisis will return in full force.

New plantings in places like Banlung remain a tiny part of global output, which is dominated by agricultural production in big countries including the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Australia and China. But they helped make this year likely the highest ever for grain production globally.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warned in a report this month that "troubles loom ahead" as farmers cut back on production to gird against lower prices, potentially leaving the world short when demand springs back.

Dan Basse at AgResource Co., a research firm in Chicago, forecasts drops in global output of some key crops next year as farmers grow more cautious. Mr. Basse sees a nearly 3% decline in corn production and a decline of more than 4% in wheat output.

Already there are signs the momentum in Banlung is fading. Although many Cambodian farmers haven't yet decided how much to grow next year, land transactions in the area have slowed considerably, suggesting a decline in demand for property to create more farms and the land speculation that went with it.

"You used to sit in the breakfast shop and just see the deals happening," says Jan Noorlander, a local representative for CARE, the international aid agency, in Banlung. "Now people are sitting back," he says. "People are pretty wary right now."

That's a sharp reversal from the gold-rush like boom that hit Banlung a few years ago. It wasn't pretty: The new investment in agriculture brought allegations of land theft and illegal forest-clearing. Indigenous hill tribes that once practiced subsistence farming sold off communal land to buy cars, stereos and conveniences.

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh and other parts of Asia, farmers added a second or third rice crop beyond what they would normally grow. In Russia, farmers added an additional 2.6 million hectares of grains, while other countries that previously produced well below their potential, including Ukraine, Nigeria, and parts of Eastern Europe, also boosted agricultural output.

In all, global cereals production is expected to hit a record high of roughly 2.2 billion metric tons this year, an increase of more than 5% from a year earlier, the FAO says. That was mostly from traditional agricultural powerhouses like the U.S. but some newer frontiers helped.

For Cambodia, agricultural investment promised a return to its glory days 40 years earlier as an important regional producer of rice, rubber and other crops. Then the Southeast Asian nation descended into decades of civil war, including a period in the late 1970s when it was controlled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge group.

Cambodia has since stabilized. Private traders have expanded their reach into the remotest parts of the country to encourage small farmers to plant more, and foreign investment has followed. Kuwait recently agreed to give Cambodia more than $500 million in loans to boost farm production and improve roads to transport crops, among other things.

As a result, Cambodia has emerged as a notable exporter of rice for the first time since the 1960s. This year it is expected to produce 6.7 million tons or more of rice, compared to 4 million or less a decade ago, giving it a surplus of about 2.5 million tons. Government ministers have started referring to rice as "white gold."

"I never thought I'd have the money to buy a piece of land," says Mey Pov, 44 years old. He moved to Banlung from a nearby province a few years ago and got a job managing a new 50-acre farm with rubber trees and soybeans for an outside investor. He then took his income and bought his own five-acre farm, with hopes of becoming an even bigger agricultural producer someday.

Farmers are disappointed by falling prices, says Yang Saing Koma, a Cambodian agronomist who runs CEDAC, an agricultural development organization that works in villages teaching farmers how to boost yields. However, in the long run, "I still think there's potential" to produce more crops in Cambodia, he adds.

Cambodia is using about three million hectares for farming, less than half its estimated 6.5 million hectares of fertile land. It has made minimal investments in irrigation, grain storage and market training for farmers. Analysts think that with more work -- and sustained investment -- Cambodia can double its rice production.

Banlung is among the most promising new farming areas of the country. Bombed heavily by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, Banlung was largely cut off from the world by bad roads and thick malarial jungle. Most of the residents -- a mixture of ethnic hill tribes that spoke their own dialects and rarely handled money -- eked out a living farming small plots and gathering nuts and wild fruits in the forest.

That began to change this decade as roads improved and global prices for soybeans, rubber, rice and other crops skyrocketed. Demand in Vietnam, a 70 kilometer trek away, accelerated. The amount of land in the area around Banlung devoted to cash crops shot up around 50% in the past several years, local officials say, and the area's population, which includes people living in communities in the forest outside the town, swelled to more than 133,000, from roughly 90,000 a decade ago.

The town market -- where vendors still sell cat skins for use in tribal medicines -- became jammed with traders. At the Acleda Bank, where customers come and go in bare feet, managers say they recently had as much as $3 million on deposit, mainly from land sales and farming activities over the past two years.

Now that crop prices are falling, economists say some farmers will have no choice but to curtail expansion. And the motorbikes, televisions and other consumer goods they spent money on won't help feed them in tougher times.

Fake drugs worth 6.6 million dlrs seized in Asia: Interpol

Chinese health enforcement officers unload a truckload of fake and unsafe drugs and medical equipment

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Police across Southeast Asia have arrested 27 people and seized 6.6 million dollars worth of counterfeit anti-HIV drugs, antibiotics, and other medicines, Interpol said Tuesday.

The global police organisation said 16 million fake pills, also including anti-malaria and anti-tuberculosis drugs, were netted in Operation Storm, a five-month sting that ended in September.

Nearly 200 raids were carried out in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam with the support of Interpol and the World Health Organisation, it said in a statement.

The crackdown targeted individuals and groups involved in the manufacture and distribution of four classes of counterfeit medicines identified as posing "a significant public health risk," Paris-based Interpol said.

The operation "will provide a blueprint for future actions in targeting this type of criminal activity which affects every corner of the globe," Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said in the statement.

The results of the operation were released Monday at the start of an international law enforcement training seminar on combating counterfeit drugs in Cambodia, Interpol said.

Global HIV Testing Campaign Launched in Cambodia, Uganda
Nov 18, 2008

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Cambodia last week launched the first phase of a program that aims to test 10,000 people in the country for HIV, the Phnom Penh Post reports. The campaign is part of an AHF program to test one million people worldwide for HIV by World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. Mam Sophal, president of the HIV/AIDS program at the Municipal Health Department in the capital of Phnom Penh, said that 579 people have been tested so far. Chhim Sarath, country program manager for AHF Cambodia, said HIV testing is "very important," and that people who test positive are provided with counseling, prevention education and care services. Sophal said that positive responses from people being tested eased his initial concerns that the campaign would not be successful. "I thought people would be afraid of the results and would not join the program, but when it started, people came to the test with smiles on their faces," he said.

Sarath said that the campaign is an "opportunity to reach people and teach them about HIV/AIDS," adding that an estimated 1,000 people daily were educated through the campaign during a recent festival. The testing campaign also will expand to eight provinces in Cambodia. Government statistics show that HIV prevalence in the country among people ages 15 to 49 has decreased from 1.9% in 2003 to 0.9% in 2007, the Post reports. AHF officials say that HIV/AIDS has spread from high-risk groups such as injection drug users and commercial sex workers to the general population (Shay/Chakrya, Phnom Penh Post, 11/14).

Uganda To Participate in Testing Campaign

In related news, the AHF campaign recently was launched in Uganda and plans to test at least 10,000 people for HIV by Dec. 1, Uganda's Daily Monitor reports. Emmanuel Ziraba, the event's coordinator, announced last week that testing centers would be established at strategic sites throughout the capital of Kampala. Event coordinators also are working with stakeholders in Kampala who have "agreed to intensify their daily work to capture more people during the week," Ziraba said. He added that people who test HIV-positive will be put in contact with care providers and given information on living with the virus. Ziraba added that people who test negative for HIV "will be equipped with knowledge on keeping away from infection."

According to the Monitor, estimates show that about one million Ugandans are living with HIV/AIDS but less than 20% are aware of their status (Kirunda, Daily Monitor, 11/15).

Former Rebels Could Confront Each Other

Prison chief Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch, could confront Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, in a hearing this weekend.

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
18 November 2008

Khmer audio aired 18 November 2008 - Download (MP3) Khmer audio aired 18 November 2008 - Listen (MP3)

Investigating judges of the Khmer Rouge tribunal hope to hold a nonpublic hearing wherein two former regime leaders will confront each other, a judge said.

Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Kek Iev will confront the senior-most surviving leader, Nuon Chea, investigating judge You Bunleng said.

The two will need to give concurrent testimony over accusations made by Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Duch, that Nuon Chea masterminded the killings of Tuol Sleng, where at least 12,000 people were interned before being executed, sources said.

“We need to make it transparent, as one has accused the other,” You Bunleng said. He would not confirm the nature of the accusations or the date of the inquiry.

Sources said the hearing could be held this weekend.

Duch defense lawyer Ka Savuth confirmed a hearing was planned, but he declined to give any details.

Nuon Chea’s defender, Son Arun, said he was consulting with this international counterpart and client about the judges’ plan, but he declined to elaborate.

If either defendant refuses a confrontation, “I could not force them,” You Bunleng said.

Duch, who faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is expected to be the first of five leaders to face trial, early in 2009. He was the direct subordinate of Son Sen, the Khmer Rouge’s minister of defense, who died in Anlong Veng in 1997 and reported to Nuon Chea.

Nuon Chea was Pol Pot’s lieutenant, and went by the name “Brother No. 2.”

Three Hospitalized in Kampot Crackdown

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
18 November 2008

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Security forces, including police and military, continued forced evictions in Kampot province for a second day Tuesday, following the injuries of at least three villagers Monday.

The authorities destroyed an estimated 230 small homes in Ta Ken commune, Chhouk district, in two days of operations to oust residents from a national park, officials said.

Soldiers and police on Monday beat seven people, striking them with rifle butts and sending three to the Kampong Speu provincial hospital, villagers said.

Touch Sambath, a doctor at the hospital, confirmed the arrival of three patients Monday night, one of them seriously hurt with strikes to his eyebrow and head. All three patients remained in the hospital Tuesday, he said.

"The villagers attacked the armed forces first" with axes and machetes, said Kampot Governor Nam Set. None of the armed forces were injured, he said.

A land dispute between the villagers in the commune and provincial environment officials has continued since September, with authorities claiming that 306 families are occupying protected land.

Villagers say many of them have lived on the land since 2000, and they suspect the land is now being re-distributed to a private company for residential development.

Khmer Rouge Reenactment Filming Begins

A new documentary will ask Khmer Rouge survivors to reenact their memories of the regime.

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
18 November 2008

Khmer audio aired 18 November 2008 - Download (MP3) Khmer audio aired 18 November 2008 - Listen (MP3)

A film crew of eight Cambodians and two Germans left Tuesday for Kirivong district, Takeo province, to spend 10 days filming a documentary near the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Phnom Vor.

The crew will film former victims of the Khmer Rouge reenacting, through improvisation, their own memories of experiences under the regime.

The film will allow former victims to express their experiences under the Khmer Rouge and will be related to the upcoming trials for jailed leaders under the Khmer Rouge tribunal, said Chhaya Hong, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy.

The institute has been promoting outreach of information on the tribunal. The film will be dedicated to appeasing the anger of Cambodian victims of the Khmer Rouge in general, he said.

“The film will discuss justice and reconciliation,” Chhaya Hong said. “We want victims to reenact what they’ve experienced. They will speak out about their pasts during the Khmer Rouge, painful problems. But no real actors will appear in the film.”

Once the film is made, it will be used during the institute’s outreach, across nine provinces, to help people vent anger ahead of tribunal proceedings against five jailed leaders of the regime.

The film comes at the hybrid tribunal proceeds, with all of its wards detained for more than one year. Judges said Tuesday they had extended the detention of Khieu Samphan, former figurehead of the regime, another year.

The courts are also set to try the first of the five, Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Kek Iev, also known as Duch, early next year.

Chhaya Hong called the trial of Duch “crucial.”

“We have to prevent [violence],” he said. “In order that the victims will not explode in anger and not take vengeance. We don’t want to see such kinds of things happen.”

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath welcomed the initiative for its “reconciliation.”

“We think this is a help for the country in the future,” he said.

The film will be finished by the end of December, and after 10 days of filming in Takeo, the crew will travel to Kratie province.

A Rejection of Photos, Not the Photographer

Gunnar Bergstrom on Monday toured the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where his "Gunnar in the Living Hell" exhibit will be on permanent display in December.

By Pich Samnang, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
18 November 2008

Khmer audio aired 18 November 2008 - Download (MP3) Khmer audio aired 18 November 2008 - Listen (MP3)

Photographer Gunnar Bergstrom, who toured the country under the Khmer Rouge in 1978 as part of a group of Swedish sympathizers, began a series of seminars and photo exhibitions Tuesday in an effort to come to grips with the past and explain to Cambodians how he was denied the truth.

The 93-photograph exhibit, “Gunnar in the Living Hell,” features never-seen photographs from Bergstrom’s personal archive. Cambodians in Phnom Penh, where the exhibit opened Tuesday, expressed discontent with the photographs, but not with the man who took them.

Photos that show people carrying earth in shoulder-pole baskets, smiling and eating together, do not reflect the reality of the regime, said Prum Net, a 66-year-old farmer from Takeo province, who was invited to the exhibition by the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

“In fact, people looked really upset under the Pol Pot regime. They were forced to work, not smiling,” he said.

Phnom Penh resident Keo Sovann, who was examining the photograph of a boy undertaking math at a black board, said that during the time of the Khmer Rouge no such thing existed.

“This is just a fake photograph that the Khmer Rouge set up to show the world that the regime looked good, that they were educated people, but in fact, there was none,” he said.

As part of the Swedish Cambodian Friendship Association, Bergstrom spent 14 days in Cambodia in August 1978, where he was given an idealized tour of factories and fields by top leaders of the regime, including Pol Pot and Ieng Sary.

Pol Pot died in 1998 without seeing trial. Ieng Sary is now in a Khmer Rouge tribunal detention facility, facing atrocity crimes along with four other jailed leaders of the ultra-Maoist regime.
Reach Sambath, spokesman for the tribunal, said at the opening Tuesday that the photos may not be acceptable to some survivors of the regime.

“They were just propaganda photos, rather than reality,” he said.

Still, Reach Sambath praised the efforts of the photographer for his “courage” in showing the exhibition and accepting that he had been duped by the Khmer Rouge.

Som Pov, a 63-year-old commune chief from Takeo, said that even if the photos did not reflect reality, Bergstrom had simply captured images of subjects organized for him.

“Even now, when an inspector comes to inspect, there must be an arrangement beforehand,” she said. “So Gunnar was just taking the already arranged photographs.”

The exhibit will now move to other provinces, including Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Battambang and Takeo. The exhibit will go on permanent display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in December.

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge executioner

Duch insists he could not help inmates at Tuol Sleng prison

By Philippa Fogarty
BBC News

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

In early 1999, in a village in northwest Cambodia, an elderly man introduced himself to a journalist.

He was Hong Pen, he said, a former teacher from the capital, Phnom Penh. He spoke good English and was wearing the T-shirt of an American aid organisation.

But the journalist recognised his face - it matched a photograph he had carried with him for several months.

The picture was of Comrade Duch, the former head of Tuol Sleng prison.

There, during the four years of Khmer Rouge rule, 17,000 men, women and children were interrogated and tortured. Then they were killed, their bodies tossed into mass graves.
The chance meeting with the journalist led to Duch's detention.

Tomorrow he becomes the first of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders to go on trial at Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court.

He has argued that he was obeying orders from above and that he would have been killed if he had defied his superiors.

But that is unlikely to earn him forgiveness in a country where what happened at Tuol Sleng has become the most powerful and prominent symbol of the atrocities that took place under the Khmer Rouge regime.

School teacher

Duch was born Kaing Guek Eav in the central province of Kampong Thom in the early 1940s.
He excelled at mathematics and so won places at top schools.

After graduation he studied for his teaching certificate in Phnom Penh. It was there that he met students from China and became drawn to communist ideology.

Later he became a high school teacher, earning a reputation as a tough and exacting instructor. But his leftist activism had attracted the attention of the police and in the late 1960s he was detained for several months.

By then conflict was spreading through the country. US and South Vietnamese forces had invaded Cambodia in search of communists from north Vietnam. They bombed swathes of eastern Cambodia, driving villagers into the arms of leftist rebels fighting the unpopular US-backed government.

Duch joined the rebels, who were calling themselves the Khmer Rouge. He served as a sector security chief and, in 1971, spent three months interrogating captured French anthropologist Francois Bizot.

Mr Bizot described him as a "truth seeker", someone "looking for the absolutes in life". He later learned that his release came about because Duch was convinced of his innocence and had appealed on his behalf.

It was a rare act of mercy from Duch, who was soon to be promoted.

Killing fields

On 17 April 1975, after years of fighting, Khmer Rouge guerrillas took Phnom Penh. It was the start of nearly four years of horror for Cambodia.

Currency was abolished and city dwellers sent to work in the fields, where hundreds of thousands starved to death. Enemies of the regime - a designation that was interpreted broadly - were eliminated with chilling efficiency.

Tuol Sleng, of which Duch became the director, was a key part of that killing machine. The regime's most prominent jail, also known as S21, was housed in a former high school in the centre of the city.

Thousands of people - officials from the old government, those accused of being middle class and latterly Khmer Rouge officials suspected of disloyalty - were brought to the prison.

Their presence in Tuol Sleng meant that they had already been condemned. Once inside, they were weighed and photographed. Then the questioning began.

Prisoners were told to write detailed confessions setting out their disloyalty. They were told to admit they were spies and implicate friends and family. Refusing to confess was not an option, and those that tried were brutally tortured. Many were tortured anyway.

Top-ranking prisoners were kept alive for months to ensure that their confessions - often methodically checked and annotated by Duch - were complete. Less important inmates were processed in a shorter time. Either way, the final journey was the same.

Prisoners were taken to the "killing fields" at Choeung Ek, a few kilometres outside Phnom Penh. There they were killed, sometimes after digging their own graves.

Children of the condemned were not spared. Today a sign stands next to a tree at Choeung Ek. It reads: "Killing tree against which executioners beat children".

Less than a dozen prisoners are known to have survived incarceration at Tuol Sleng. When a Vietnamese invasion forced the Khmer Rouge from power in January 1979, a photographer found inmates' corpses rotting in the otherwise deserted building.

'Couldn't help'

The Khmer Rouge retreated to strongholds in the northwest, and Duch went with them.

He spent years living on the border with Thailand. He learned to speak English and at several points worked for aid organisations. He also returned to teaching and, in the mid-1990s, converted to Christianity.

When photojournalist Nic Dunlop identified him in April 1999, he had settled with his children near Battambang.

In a subsequent interview with Mr Dunlop and another journalist, Nate Thayer, he talked of his role at Tuol Sleng. He had done very bad things, he said, but the orders came from the Khmer Rouge's central committee.

"Whoever was arrested must die. It was the rule of our party," he said. "S21 had no right to arrest anybody. We had the responsibility to interrogate and give the confession to the central committee of the party."

Almost eight years later, in an interview with The Independent, he said he could not have changed anything.

"If I had tried to flee, they were holding my family hostage, and my family would have suffered the same fate as the other prisoners in Tuol Sleng. If I had fled or rebelled it would not have helped anyone," he said.

Duch has spent much of the last decade in detention. In July last year he was charged with crimes against humanity by the genocide tribunal.

In the coming months, the court will decide whether a man who presided over an estimated 17,000 executions can really claim to have been powerless.

Ministry wants end to Preah Vihear resolutions

Tue, November 18, 2008
By The Nation

The Foreign Ministry will ask the Cabinet on Wednesday to revoke the three resolutions issued in May and June supporting Cambodia's proposal to have Preah Vihear temple listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The move aims to clear the Cabinet's docket, since the resolutions allowing former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama to sign a joint communiqu้ supporting Cambodia were already nullified.

Also, Phnom Penh did not use the joint communiqu้ when applying for the listing.

The ministry hopes that the termination of the resolutions might encourage the Administrative Court to drop the case, especially since the subject no longer exists, an official said.

The Administrative Court issued a contemporary injunction barring the Cabinet from using the resolution to support Cambodia, but it still has to issue a final decision on the subject.

Karl’s Snus Factory In Sihanoukville

Karl´s snus is now for sale in two swedish restaurant and in a shop in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

ScandAsia Cambodia

A young Swedish guy, 23, was doing fine in Sihanoukville. Wonderful people, the weather was great, the girl he felled in love with, is number one in the entire world. Perfect. And as a real Swedish man, he used snus.

(Snus is a moist powder tobacco product that is consumed by placing it under the upper lip for extended periods of time.)

Ok. Karl Jansson, who originates from Engelholm, used snus until the last can was empty.

“I was terrible to stomach. I could hardly get trough the days. I even started to smoke cigarettes”, admit the young man, who also had the habit to talk with other Swedes. About life. And not to forget, about the lack of snus in Cambodia.

“One day I heard someone talking about finding information’s on the Internet. Google, I thought, maybe I can find a recipe on”, the young man is explaining.

And he got it. The recipe.

All the needed ingredience were available in Sihanoukville. Even a mincer, was waiting to be used by a person with some new ideas. And not lest. Trough several channels he got his hands on some bags full of empty snus boxes.

“I followed the recipe from the Internet. And then I made my own additions. And it worked. I liked it. My friends liked it. And rumours about my snus went around in the region. As you can understand, is has been a fantastic experience. Above all expectations”.

A friend of Karl reminds the snus manufacturer about that rainy afternoon, when a stranger jump out from a Tuk Tuk, and started yielding:

“Do you have snus on stock”?

And Karl continues:

“After a couple of minutes, the man was sitting in his chair, enjoying his snus with his face smiling all over. The man had been living without snus for more that two months”, says Karl, who proudly tells, that his snus now is sold in two Swedish restaurant and In a shop down town.

Restaurants with a view offer an escape from busy capital

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Chow's rooftop offers picturesque views of the river as well as excellent cuisine and refreshing beverages.

The Phnom Penh Post

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Take advantage of Phnom Penh's scenic rooftop bars and restaurants before massive high-rise development projects forever change the city's skyline

DEVELOPMENT is booming in Phnom Penh, and with numerous multi-storey skyscrapers slated to be finished within a few years, the current skyline will soon be radically transformed.

Fortunately, there are still a few spots around the city that offer unfettered views of Cambodia's capital as it is for the time being, as well as refreshing food and drinks, and a relaxing atmosphere away from the chaos and cacophony that are the inevitable accompaniment to a building boom on this scale.

Vantage point

The most well-known city vantage point is Sorya Shopping Centre's fifth floor, which houses an open-air observation deck, arcade games and an indoor roller blading rink.

Inside Master Grill, and up a flight of winding stairs on the sixth floor is the Sorya branch of Master Suki Soup. Housed in the upper dome that tops Sorya, the circular-shaped restaurant offers 10 plush booths that ring the massive floor.

Each table has its own built-in, gas-fuelled burner where diners can create their own gourmet feasts, from soups to a hearty barbecue of meat and veggies.

The menu is made up of small, reasonably priced dishes of vegetables, sliced meat and seafood for guests to pick and choose from. US$10 is sufficient for a huge spread for two, including drinks.

But it is the views here that are priceless. From the vast wall of windows, the whole of Central Market is visible, spread out like a futuristic spaceship, with ant-like vendors and shoppers doing brisk trade amongst the throngs of motorbikes far below.

To the left is Boeung Kak Lake, with its drifting patterns of water lilies, and to the right, the mighty Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, and the majestic spires of the Royal Palace glinting in the sunlight. Just off in the distance is the white-tipped stupa of Wat Phnom, jutting out above a cluster of lush, green trees.

Lakeside splendour

Not quite as tall, but with equally beatific views, is the Grand View Guesthouse and Restaurant on Boeung Kak lake. Despite the average-looking exterior and run-of-the-mill backpacker bar and internet cafe below, the Grand View has an incredibly scenic rooftop restaurant high above on the sixth floor.

The menu here is standard basic traveller fare: pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and regional Khmer and Thai dishes. But the large, open windows bring in fresh breezes, and the height allows for unobstructed views of the entire lakeside area, including the glittering dome of the local mosque.

Riverside elegance

A relatively new addition to the riverside resto-bar scene is the posh and elegant Chow, which offers up picturesque scenery as well as excellent cuisine and beverages from its rooftop bar and patio, overlooking the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers.

Located atop the swank, yet eco-friendly boutique hotel The Quay, this is the perfect venue to watch the slow-moving fishing boats and barges drift lazily along the water.

The stylish, open-air terrace includes a private bar, jacuzzi and wooden sun deck. Customers can relax far above the busy traffic below, while indulging in such treats as lychee martinis, fresh fruit juices, savoury Southeast Asian-inspired dishes and creamy Cambodian desserts.

Prices here reflect the upscale atmosphere, with cocktails starting at the $5 mark and main dishes ranging from $9 up to $40.

Across the river

Another place that deserves a mention for its captivating scenery is Maxine's Pub, otherwise known as Snow's bar.

This waterfront haunt has long been an expat staple in Phnom Penh and is one of the most atmospheric places to watch the sun set.

Located on the opposite side of the Mekong, over the Japanese bridge, Maxine's is housed in an old, traditional wooden home leaning, somewhat precariously, over the river's edge.

Inside, the dusky blue walls are decorated with brightly painted masks of Hindu and Buddhist gods, colourful tile mosaics and tiny cowbells from the countryside.

Best of all is the long wooden deck overlooking the river where visitors can sit back and watch the sun dip down over the bridge, as fishing boats glide by and distant lights begin to twinkle around the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom.

Amidst this pictorial, laid back locale, it is easy to forget that one day in the not so distant future views like these might be a thing of the past.

Petrol drops on PM's appeal

Photo by: AFP
A petrol station in Phnom Penh. Prices at the pump have dropped significantly following government pressure.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha and May Kunmakara
Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Cambodia's leading fuel companies lower their prices, heeding Hun Sen's call for a ‘gift to the people' amid further falls in global petroleum costs

TWO local petroleum giants dropped their prices Monday after repeated appeals from Prime Minister Hun Sen to reduce the cost of fuel.

"I beg two companies, Sokimex and Tela, to try their best to drop the price," Hun Sen said during the launch of a Korean ethanol plant in Kandal province.

While oil prices have plummeted on international markets, pump prices have remained stubbornly high in Cambodia, leading to criticism from the government and consumers.

"Please drop the price and I guarantee the quality," Hun Sen said.

In the same speech, Hun Sen announced that Sokimex cut prices by 200 riels and Tela by 150 riels for regular, premium and diesel fuel.

Oil prices on the international market, which peaked at $147 per barrel in July, have dropped to US$54 per barrel, putting further pressure on Cambodian fuel suppliers to cut pump prices.

'Gift to the people'

Hun Sen also took aim at Cambodia's other main fuel companies, Caltex and Total, saying: "Giving a gift to the prime minister means giving a gift to the people."

"I appeal to all petroleum companies to continue to drop the price of gasoline," he said. "I know they [Caltex and Total] had fuel reserves remaining in stock but now they should drop."

Prices at Sokimex and Tela stand at 3,800 riels for gold, 3,700 riels for silver and 3,600 for diesel.


Heu Heng, deputy director of Sokimex petroleum stations in Phnom Penh, said that his company already cut prices before the prime minister's appeal.

"Early this morning, my company cut petroleum prices by 100 riels."

But he added that news of Hun Sen's speech prompted him to make further cuts.

"When I got news, I cut 100 riel more to make sure that we reflect global petroleum prices. The new decrease will not impact my income," he said.

Tela heeds the call

Ngoun Leng, Tela petroleum company's deputy director of marketing, said: "My stations have cut the price of gasoline because the global oil market has fallen".

"Today, to comply with the recommendation of the prime minister, my stations decreased prices to just 3,800 riels for gold gasoline, 3,700 riels for silver gasoline and 3,600 riels for diesel."

Ngoun Leng also said the price cuts would have no effect on his revenues because they were in line with recent drops in oil prices on the world market.

Nhean Sothy, who operates a taxi service between Phnom Penh and Svay Rieng, welcomed news of Hun Sen's appeal and the petrol companies' compliance, saying he could now adjust his fares to reflect the change in fuel costs.

"I'm very happy and will start using local petroleum stations when the new prices begin," he said. "While the price of petrol was high, I used fuel smuggled across the border from Vietnam because it was cheaper."
Photo by: Traccy Shelton
Vegetables and fruit are displayed for sale at Phsar Kap Ko in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal and Nguon Sovan
Tuesday, 18 November 2008

International commodity costs are plummeting and some local staple food prices have dropped, but not as much, or as fast, as govt officials would like

CAMBODIAN consumers should be paying less for food and other staple goods as lower international commodity prices spill over into local markets. But analysts say that the costs of a wide range of products still remain artificially high.

"Many types of goods and commodities have dropped in price, but they are not down as sharply as we would want," said Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Petrol and clothing prices had also fallen sharply, he said, adding that inflationary spikes occur more quickly than price declines.

The government says it is committed to meeting its target of nine percent inflation by next year, down from 17 percent this month, Hang Chuon Naron told the Post on Sunday.

Petrol was down 32 percent on Monday to 3,800 riels (US$0.95) per litre, compared with a peak in August of 5,700 riels per litre.

Meanwhile, high-quality jasmine rice has dropped nearly seven percent from $90 to $84 per 100 kilograms. Mid-grade rice declined eight percent from $76 to $70 for 100kg, and low-quality rice fell nearly 26 percent from $55 to $41 for 100kg.

But prices of meat and poultry have remained high, despite drops for other foodstuffs.

Vai Khen, 54, a chicken vendor at O'Russei market, said prices have stayed firm at 20,000 riels per kilogram.

"I have not dropped my price," she said.

"Chicken is not relevant to the drop in oil prices. It depends on my suppliers. They have not changed their prices, so I have not changed mine."

The cost of fish has dropped slightly, from 15,000 riels to 13,000 riels per kilogram, but not because of fluctuations in oil prices, said Neang Navy, 59, a fish vendor at O'Russei market.

"Lower fish prices are because of greater supply. It is the fish-catching season, so there are plenty of fish," she said.

But with prices falling erratically, some officials said the oscillations have more to do with individual vendors than national economic trends.

Profit taking

Cheam Yeap, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People's Party, said vendors often raise their prices when they see oil or rice costs spike, but refuse to drop them when prices stabilise or decline.

"We think it is necessary for the government to examine this issue in order to make vendors drop their prices," he said.

But Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said analysts were less concerned with the inflationary impact of stable meat and poultry prices.

"I think the stability of chicken and fish prices is good for farmers. They will be able to continue supplying the market because the price of oil and rice, which are key economic indicators, has fallen," he said.

Chan Sophal warned lower inflation does not mean that more people have achieved a decent standard of living, only that middle- and lower-income consumers may be more inclined to spend the money they have, while upper-income earners would be largely unaffected.

"We think that all goods will decline in price soon if oil and rice prices remain stable at current rates," he said.

Chea Samon, a clothing vendor at Central Market, said his sales were more affected by fluctuations in the value of the Thai baht and the US dollar, not by shifts in oil or rice costs.

"Prices for clothing have dropped about three percent, but we have not been able to go lower because the foreign currency we trade in has remained stable," Chea Samon said.

Inflation spiked this year at about 25 percent, according to the Asian Development Bank, which said the spiralling cost of living may have pushed as many as two million Cambodians below the poverty line.