Friday, 19 December 2008

Kasit to speed up Asean summit preparations

Ex-envoy Kasit Pirom said Friday that he would speed up preparations for hosting the 14th Asean summit after he becomes foreign minister.

He said he would also restore bilateral ties with Cambodia, Burma and Malaysia after his appointment.

He said he is qualified to be the foreign minister because he worked in the Foreign Ministry for 37 years and had no tainted record.

The Nation
December 19, 2008

Prospective foreign minister will rebuild good relations with neighbours

MCOT English News

BANGKOK, Dec 19 (TNA) - Kasit Bhiromya, tipped to be Thailand's foreign minister in the Democrat-led coalition said on Friday he would promptly revive and strengthen Thailand's relationships with its neighbours and host the delayed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the kingdom if he becomes foreign minister.

Mr. Kasit, a former career diplomat, said he will quickly revive and strengthen diplomatic relationships with Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia.

With Cambodia in particular, Thailand will resume talks on border demarcations and common maritime interests in the Gulf of Thailand, among other matters.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was among several world leaders who had recently sent messages of congratulations and optimisms for their Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Democrat Party-led coalition government, he said.

Mr. Kasit also said the ASEAN summit, earlier set to be held in Chiang Mai, would be held in Bangkok sooner than the earlier postponement until March.

Meanwhile, Mr Kasit added that convicted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra should return home to proceed with his corruption charges and commented that foreign governments around the globe should not allow the deposed premier to use their countries as a launchpad for criticisms of the Thai government.

Mr Thaksin has been in self-exile and was convicted of corruption charges in absentia following a military coup which ousted him from power over two years ago. (TNA)

Borei Keila: Cambodia's Social Housing Project Five Years On

Residents at Borei Kila are still waiting for their apartments to be built


Published on December 19, 2008

The Borei Keila social land concession: the Government's commitment to housing Phnom Penh's urban poor - new apartments for families in exchange for land given to commercial developers. Borei Keila was the first of four social land concessions in Phnom Penh and was meant to be the model alternative to the eviction and off-site relocation of the city's urban poor. Now over 5 years later, only 3 out of 10 apartment buildings have been completed and only 30% of families have received their promised apartments while the remaining families continue to live in squalid conditions awaiting the construction and allocation of their apartments.

A brief history

Borei Keila is located opposite Bak Tuok High School in Veal Vong commune, 7 Makara district, central Phnom Penh. It housed approximately 1,776 families, including 515 families who rented and 86 families affected by HIV/AIDS. Villagers first settled on the land, which was the site of a police training facility, in 1992.

In early 2003, a "land-sharing" arrangement was proposed for Borei Keila, which allowed a private company to develop part of the area for commercial purposes while providing alternative housing to the residents on the remaining land. The idea was hailed because rather than being evicted, villagers would receive compensation for their land in the form of apartments in newly-constructed buildings.

In June 2003, Prime Minister Hun Sen authorized a social land concession for approximately 4.6 hectares of Borei Keila (30% of the total 14.12 hectares of land). Construction giant Phanimex company was contracted by the government to construct 10 apartment buildings on 2 hectares of land for the villagers, in return for obtaining ownership of an additional 2.6 hectares for commercial development.

Municipal and district authorities conducted a survey of the area, and as a result, 1,776 families were identified to receive apartments on the site. In addition to home owners, renters were also eligible for apartments if they had lived in Borei Keila for at least three years.

By May 2007, the Phnom Penh municipality had allocated apartments to only 335 families, including 14 HIV/AIDS-affected families. More than 100 other families, their houses demolished to clear space for new apartment buildings, were left living under tarpaulins in squalid conditions.

Apartment Allocation

ProcessNow, more than five years since the social land concession was given, 1,254 families are still awaiting apartments. Only 522 families have received apartments from the Phnom Penh municipality; these are located in Buildings A, B and C.

Seven additional buildings are presently under construction with buildings D, E and F nearly complete. There is ample space to provide housing for all families according to the original concession; however allegations of corruption and irregularities in the allocation process have plagued Borei Keilas' residents. There have been reports that some families now living in new apartments had never been residents of Borei Keila at all.

Completed building C next to building D and E still under contruction

Residents who are eligible for apartments have so far been denied them, including 25 families who have been waiting since March 2007. The 25 were among a total of 28 families identified as being eligible through a transparent screening process conducted then by the Phnom Penh Municipality and local organizations including LICADHO. However, municipality subsequently reneged on this agreement, and gave apartments to only three families, refusing to give them to the remainder.

Currently there are approximately 120 families waiting for apartments who are living in temporary shelters erected next to the construction site of the buildings.

HIV/AIDS-affected families under threat of imminent eviction

Of particular concern is the authorities' plan to evict about 47 families, the majority of them affected by HIV/AIDS, in the near future in order to clear space for the construction of a new Ministry of Tourism building.

In early 2008, the government approved the ministry to build its new premises at the Borei Keila site and Borei Keilia's developer, Phanimex, received a contract to construct the new ministry building, to be completed in 2011.

The 47 families are living on the building's construction site in a temporary shelter known as the "green shed". They were moved there by the authorities when their houses were demolished in March 2007 to make way for the construction of the new apartments. Of the 47 families living in the green shed, about 32 are HIV/AIDS affected. Throughout the whole development of Borei Keila the HIV/AIDS affected families have been largely excluded from the screening and allocation process for apartments. At least some of them are known to be eligible for apartments, but have so far been deprived of them.
The green shed at Borei Kila

The municipality is now planning to relocate the HIV/AIDS families from the green shed to Toul Sambo, a site 20 km from Phnom Penh where sanitation and health services for them are extremely deficient. The relocation site cannot provide adequate living conditions for individuals living with HIV-AIDS, or even for perfectly healthy individuals. The families will face serious public health dangers at the site and, because of the distance from Phnom Penh, will have limited access to vital medical services they are currently getting. Most of these families, who are barely surviving now, will also lose prospects for income generation and become more desperate.

Additionally, the plan has been criticized because it would essentially create an "AIDS ghetto" with a large number of HIV-affected families segregated together in one place at Toul Sambo. Such a segregation, as well as refusal of housing to those qualified for apartments in Borei Keila discriminates against the families based on their HIV/AIDS status violates Cambodia's Law on Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS.

LICADHO reiterates its call for a transparent and fair apartment allocation process. Those families who meet the criteria for apartments should receive them without delay, including the 25 families who have been waiting since March 2007 for them. An investigation should be held into alleged corruption which has allegedly seen people who are not eligible for apartments being granted them. No-one should be evicted from the green shed, or elsewhere at Borei Keila, until they have been properly screened for eligibility for apartments. Lastly, adequate solutions must be found for special humanitarian cases (such as any families with HIV or other serious health problems who are not qualified for apartments), which ensure that their medical, livelihood and other essential needs are met.

APSARA NAKED, Does it affect to the Khmer culture?

Pictures from

Bad Buddhists behave: PM

Photo by: Kem Sovannara
Prime Minister Hun Sen prays Thursday at the closing ceremony of the 17th annual Sangha congress in Phnom

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 19 December 2008

Hun Sen urges wayward monks to follow Buddha's rules

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Thursday appealed to the Kingdom's Buddhist clergy to behave, saying monks' misdeeds are causing citizens to lose respect for religion and thereby hastening a decline in religious belief.

"If monks cause social problems, it is very difficult for me," Hun Sen said during the closing ceremony of the 17th monk congress Thursday in Phnom Penh.

"If monks behave disreputably, I will not help. I will run away, and those monks will have no one but themselves to blame when people lose confidence in Buddhist monks," he said.

Hun Sen urged the Sangha - or community of monks - to respect the Vinaya - the rules by which monks must live. He said he had been shocked when he saw Buddhist monks dancing in a recording on one of his children's mobile phones, and mentioned an unidentified temple where the chief monk had collected money from ceremonies to buy himself a car.

However, he said this did not reflect on the overall spiritual health of the nation.

"These are individual monks making problems. Citizens should not consider it an issue of the whole religion, but equally, we must not be careless over the issue," Hun Sen said.

Chea Vannath, an independent social analyst, said that disputes between monks, or between monks and laypeople, were increasing.

"With a growing culture of globalisation and materialism, both monks and officials are seeking their personal happiness and have stopped concentrating on the rules of Buddha," she said.

But others welcomed monks increasingly moving into the secular sphere, with Min Khin, minister of cults and religions, using his speech at the closing ceremony to highlight the contribution some 20,000 monks who voted in the July national election made to the victory of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

"Monks have played an important role in the development of the nation and in the recent election," Min Khin said.

Gangs go for gold in PPenh

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Thomas Gam Nielsen
Friday, 19 December 2008

With a new police chief, are criminals taking advantage?

THIS week, heavily armed, seemingly well-trained gangs stole an estimated US$400,000 worth of gold from jewellery shops across the capital in three carefully coordinated daytime hits, which observers say belies a marked deterioration in the capital's security following the sudden death last month of National Police commissioner Hok Lundy.

"The perpetrators might believe that the police are demoralised and are busy restructuring themselves," said lawyer Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project. He could not provide any statistics on crime trends.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that an observed increase in serious crime was not connected to the recent reshuffle at the National Police.

"Overall, crime is decreasing, and the fact that we have seen more serious crime recently is not connected to the death of Hok Lundy," he said, adding that he also did not have exact figures on crime rates in the capital.

Khieu Sopheak said the police are hunting for the perpetrators of this week's gold robberies, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday, but said that to bring crime down "prevention is better than investigating after the crimes have happened".

US embassy spokesman John Johnson said, "[We] have noticed a slight increase in purse-snatching and similar crimes against American citizens and other expatriates this year." But he added that the embassy did not anticipate the change in police leadership to significanly affect crime rates.

"The embassy has a solid and cooperative relationship with the Cambodian National Police, and we expect that to continue under the leadership of Neth Savoeun," he said.

The new National Police commissioner, Neth Savoeun, was not a available for comment Thursday.

Sam Rainsy lawmaker Mu Sochua said that more severe crime was not a result of Hok Lundy's death but an inevitable by-product of the Kingdom's ongoing culture of impunity.

"Justice is for sale in our country for those who can pay," she said.

Escape from hell on the high sea: nine trafficked men return home

Crewmen unload their ship in Indonesia.

Dec 18 – International Migration Day
Thursday was International Migration Day, a celebration that marks the UN’s adoption of the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Family Members. A joint statement by Cambodian civil society organisations used the anniversary to call upon governments receiving Cambodian migrants to uphold their rights. Many Cambodian migrants are exploited, arrested or murdered, particularly when they cross over to Thailand, the statement said. Oum Mean, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said there are over 60,000 illegal Cambodian workers in Thailand. “If they do not have a legal letter, they will face a lot of problems with the authorities,” he said.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay And May Titthara
Friday, 19 December 2008

Men lured onto Thai fishing vessels face horrendous conditions, receive little or no pay and have nowhere to run. After months as virtual slaves, 17 men are finding their way back

NINE Cambodians were repatriated from Malaysia Thursday, with eight more arriving on Monday. Duped by unscrupulous human traffickers, they were beaten and forced to suffer months, sometimes years, of bonded labour on a Thai fishing vessel before a chance to jump ship presented itself. But the plight of trafficked men like these hardly ever gets a media mention. Why?

"Men don't make as good TV," said John McGeoghan of the International Organisation for Migration.

The repatriated men from nine provinces represent only a fraction of the Cambodians who have been lured onto Thai ships illegally, but their horrendous stories - out of sight from the general population - have not received the same limelight as Cambodia's female flesh trade.

"They are the tip of the iceberg. People are not being told about trafficking onto Thai fishing fleets," said Manfred Hornung, a monitoring consultant at Licadho.

Chhorn Khaov, 29, a former victim of male trafficking, has a story similar to the men who returned Thursday.

"My family was very poor. A broker told me I could earn a lot of money to support my family [working in Thailand]," he said.

McGeoghan said stories like these are common, and often Cambodian men are able to send money home. But he warned: "Without a contract, the employer has the power, so there is always a risk element.

"Once on the fishing boat, Chhorn Khaov was only given one or two hours of rest a day. The crew drugged him and the rest of the trafficked men to keep them awake and dependent of the boat's drug supply.

"They forced us to use drugs so we would have the power to work," he said.

But like the men who returned this week, Chhorn Khaov jumped ship in Malaysia, escaping the harsh conditions on the boat.

The common pattern, according to Hornung, is that men cross over the Thai border on foot at night with the help of a local broker. Once across, a Cambodian on the Thai side picks up the men and drives them to Pak Nam in Samat Prakarn province.

In Pak Nam, they are "locked up in guesthouses - from one day to one week - until they are handed over to a boat captain. Most people, once they're locked up, they know they're in trouble," Hornung said.

Typically, the Thai fishing vessels trawl the South China Sea, according to Hornung, and the boats appear to avoid docking as much as possible.

"We've heard that the vessels are approached by bigger ships that take the catch and bring it to port. We've had cases of people who never saw land for almost three years," Hornung said.

But few ships can remain at sea indefinitely. The 17 returning men escaped when their boats docked in Sarawak, Malaysia, at different times from different Thai boats, but all of them - afraid to contact local authorities - ended up on plantations, being exploited as illegal migrants.

A few of the men were able to contact their families in Cambodia, who then contacted Licadho.

Working together with the Malaysian NGO Tenaganita, the International Organisation for Migration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cambodian embassy in Malaysia, they were able to secure their return to Cambodia.

The complex repatriation process took months, but Hornung was pleased with the process and cooperation between the Cambodian and Malaysian governments.

Bith Kimhong, director of the Anti-human Trafficking Department at the Ministry of Interior, said: "Whenever we hear news of trafficking, we always help as quickly as we can. The two countries are cooperating in terms of anti-human trafficking.

"Though reliable statistics on the trafficking of men onto Thai fishing vessels do not exist, anecdotal evidence suggests the problem is serious and growing.

Vichuta Ly, at the Legal Support for Children and Women, said her organisation interviewed 193 migrant returnees from Thailand from 2007 to 2008, and of these people, nearly 40 percent had been trafficked onto Thai fishing vessels.

The National Project Coordinator at the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), Lim Tith, said he believes the global financial crisis could make Cambodian men more vulnerable to trafficking, as more may be forced to seek employment in Thailand as economic conditions worsen at home.

Terri Ly, executive director at the Healthcare Centre for Children (HCC), which runs one of the few male transit shelters in Cambodia, said the HCC had seven male clients from Thai fishing vessels in the last 10 months of 2007, but in the first 11 months of 2008, that number had jumped to 22 clients.

"Information from the Cambodian border police to HCC is that ... the numbers of male Cambodians working in the Thai fishing industry is increasing," Ly said.

There is no panacea for this situation, according to Hornung, but more information and attention will help.

"Migration is about seeking opportunities. It's about information. Cambodians need to know about Pak Nam and the Thai fishing fleet. You're less vulnerable the more information you have," he said.

Trouble ahoy at shipping registry

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A Cambodian-flagged ship sits in the Phnom Penh Port.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cornelius Rahn and Chrann Chamroeun
Friday, 19 December 2008

The recent seizure of Cambodian-flagged ships caught poaching crabs off Russia's Pacific Coast again throws light on the lax requirements of the Kingdom's shipping registry

THE recent seizures of Cambodian-flagged fishing trawlers caught poaching crabs off Russia's eastern coast further tarnishes the already battered reputation of the Kingdom's shipping registry, foreign officials say.

"We are worried because it is a common occurrence for Cambodian vessels to violate the law," a Russian embassy spokesman Wednesday.

Four fishing vessels flying the Cambodian flag - but manned by Russian nationals - were seized by the Russian coast guard earlier this week off Russia's Pacific coast, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said.

The spokesman said the embassy was unhappy with the recent transgressions, adding that lax requirements for registering a ship under the Cambodian flag most likely accounted for the large number of such vessels caught poaching in Russian fishing grounds.

In a case of violations like this, he said it was "common practice" to issue a notice of complaint to the Cambodian government. "We leave it up to them to revoke the license [of these ships]," he explained.

Seng Lim Neou, head of the Ship Registration Committee in the Council of Ministers, said the incidents would not affect Cambodia's reputation and that he had not received any serious complaints in years.

While there were clear registration requirements, he said "in practice, it is normal that there are mistakes", adding that "it is the responsibility of the ship owner" to ensure ships are not in violation of local maritime laws.

He said as long as there was no smuggling of drugs or arms under the Cambodian flag, there was no reason for concern, and he would not take any further steps.

For years, the Cambodian flag was a popular flag of convenience until, under pressure from US officials, the Cambodian government vowed to clean up the registration process. In 2003, it empowered the International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC) in Busan, Korea, to turn the Cambodian flag into the "foremost flag in the world", as its website puts it.

Registration, including a declaration that ship owners will not fish illegally, is processed through ISROC headquarters in Busan, with revenues going into the government's coffers.

An easy registration process and low fees are the chief advantages of registering a ship under the Cambodian flag, said William Lui, deputy registrar for ISROC in China and Hong Kong. He added that Cambodian-flagged ships can enter any port worldwide.

Olga Birovarova from ISROC's Deputy Registrar's Office in the Russian port city of Nakhodka said Thursday by phone registration took only two days and cost US$3,700 for a ship weighing 2,000 gross registered tonnes, but added that she did not know where the reported crab poachers had registered their vessels.

A Vietnam-based foreign maritime expert said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the Russian ship owners had "connections to the highest levels of government and could get anything registered".

Int'l body slams government's record on human rights

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Friday, 19 December 2008

In vitriolic report, international body says Cambodia's record on human rights is the worst it's been in more than a decade

AN international human rights body has condemned the government for what it called another year of gross human rights violations, saying the Kingdom is now sinking into a condition "much worse" than that of the years after Untac.

According to the Asian Human Rights Commission's annual Human Rights Report for 2008, which evaluates eleven countries in the region, Cambodia's human rights record has taken a turn for the worse following the consolidation of the ruling party's power.

"Hun Sen's ruling party ... has had control over the institutions for parliamentary democracy and for the rule of law and the media since the communist days. It has been able to effectively squeeze out the rival parties [and] marginalise the opposition that has remained," it said.

" hope is lost among the people ... there are no avenues in which things will improve. "

Speaking to the Post Thursday, Basil Fernando, director of the commission, said Cambodia's human rights record was as dire as Myanmar's.

"Cambodia has one of the worst human rights records in Asia, for the simple reason that none of its systems of protection are working," he said.

"The judicial system is primitive and rudimentary, and the police system is completely subservient to the existing regime," he said. "There is no way for ordinary people to make complaints, and the result is that they take everything lying down. People have no energy to pursue their rights. It is a type of social control, and it is getting worse," he added.

The commission's report cited the proposed introduction of a new law to monitor NGOs, the downgrading of the UN mandate and a failed legal system as the key factors behind the back-sliding rights record.

Hope is lost

Fernando said Cambodia's human rights record had returned to a state worse than the years following the UN elections in 1993.

"Hope is lost among the people, as there are no avenues in which things will improve," he said.

He said the reduction of the UN mandate following the resignation of Special Rapporteur Yash Ghai was further isolating Cambodia from standards promoted by international monitoring.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights, said the most concerning marker on Cambodia's 2008 record was the introduction of the NGO law.

"Democratic space is now more limited, and it is obvious the government wants to control this space even more with the introduction of the NGO law," he said. "Things will definitely get worse in 2009 if the NGO law as it stands is passed."

He also agreed with the report's assertion that the consolidation of power by the ruling party would be a nail in the coffin of the country's fragile democracy.

Cambodia rebuffs claim that it laid mines along border

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Friday, 19 December 2008

Cambodian officials again deny that new land mines have been planted on the border, killing one Thai soldier and maiming two others

DESPITE accusations by Thai delegates at last month's Geneva conference on mines and cluster munitions that the Cambodian military planted new mines near Preah Vihear temple, Cambodian representatives maintain that not a shred of evidence has been produced to support the allegations.

"Thai delegates asked the president of the conference to write [in the protocol] that Cambodia has planted fresh mines along the border that wounded two Thai soldiers, but [they] did not produce any evidence," said Sam Sotha, secretary general of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, during a roundtable discussion on land mines and the Preah Vihear region on Thursday.

Three-party talks

The Thai representatives "asked the conference to agree to three-party talks that included Thailand, Cambodia and a representative of the conference to continue discussing the issue", Sam Sotha said.

But the Cambodian delegates also rebuffed the proposal to bring in a third party to help find a solution, according to Heng Ratana, deputy director general of Cambodian Mine Action Centre.

At least one Thai soldier was killed and two others were seriously wounded in land mine incidents during the ongoing standoff at the border.

Common knowledge

"Everyone in the world knows that Cambodia has millions of land mines in its soil," Sam Sotha said. "Those Thai soldiers came into a part of Cambodia where there are a lot of land mines."

Heng Ratana said more than 100 soldiers trespassed more than a kilometre into Cambodian territory when the incidents happened. He said the Thai delegates had claimed that "the mines looked new and sounded loud", but he said this was normal because mines do not degrade rapidly.

Border demarcation and demining of the contested area was originally planned to start in mid-December but was delayed due to the political turmoil in Bangkok. A new date has not been set.

Transport worker groups to join international union

Photo by: Thomas Gam Nielsen
Participants at the ITF conference at the Phnom Penh Hotel on Wednesday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith And Thomas Gam Nielsen
Friday, 19 December 2008

After a two-day seminar with the International Transport Workers' Federation, many local unions decide to join

SEVERAL Cambodian transport worker unions have announced plans to join the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF).

During a two-day seminar that ended Thursday, representatives from 11 different trade unions, along with government officials, discussed the possibility of future cooperation with the ITF on how best to secure transport workers' rights.

"The big international companies work globally, and we need to unionise globally as well," said Shigeru Wada, the ITF's regional secretary for the Asia-Pacific region, on Wednesday, adding that when global transport companies like DHL enter a new country, the ITF tries to ensure minimum wages and conditions.

Neou Dina, a member of the Association de Sauvetage, an association of railway workers, said he wanted his union to join the ITF.

"I hope that we will get a lot of experience and knowledge [from membership]," he said.

Transport unions were also present, and a tuk-tuk driver representative spoke about their problems with authorities.

"Nowadays, most tuk-tuk drivers have problems with the police. We do not have proper parking places, and tuk-tuk drivers are often fined by police when they park along roads," said Heng Sam Orn, general secretary of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Associations.

His association expects to use the ITF to communicate their needs and problems to others around the world.

"It would be very important for us to be members of ITF in the future. When we have activities, the ITF can help us communicate [globally]," he said.

The ITF has 654 member unions representing 4.5 million transport workers in 148 countries, but currently the CPP-affiliated Trade Union of Sihanoukville Port is the only Cambodian member of the ITF. It's president, Nhim Vuth, said he was "glad with the cooperation that they have had during the last eight years".

ITF's Shigeru Wada said the transport workers were well-organised in many countries, but in Cambodia they still needed more cooperation.

"Unions might be too fractured in political tendencies, [but] we try to find a more common base," he said.

The lady behind B'bang brandy

Photo by: Eleanor Ainge
Roy Chan Thay Chhoeung in her vineyard in Battambang, where she makes red wine and brandy.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy and May Titthara
Friday, 19 December 2008


Chan Thay Chhoeung's neighbours thought she was insane when she began growing grapes on her farm, but she's certainly had the last laugh as tourists flock to her vineyard

WHEN Chan Thay Chhoeung, 41, first began growing grapes, her neighbours thought she was unusual, as Chhoeuteal commune, Banan district - some 12 kilometres outside of Battambang town - is known for its oranges and mangoes.

When she began making red wine and brandy, they thought she was crazy, as it seems she was - and is - the first and only person in Cambodia to attempt it.

In a climate barely even suited to the production of white wine, and into a local market where the vast majority of people have no experience with the pricy and pungent foreign tipple, her plan was a tremendous risk.

But Chan Thay Chhoeung and her husband were determined and from their first eight grape vines in 2004, they now have 8,000. She has even begun contracting her formerly sceptical neighbours to produce grapes on their farms.

To learn the art of viticulture, she and her husband bought some English winemaking books and, with the help of a dictionary, laboriously translated them into Khmer.

They tasted wines mainly from France and Australia, and Chhoeng says it took time for her to become accustomed to the strong taste.

"My first taste was very hard because I didn't know how to drink it. The wine tasted very bitter, and I couldn't accept the smell. Now I do like it, but I don't drink much."

Her products, Banan Red Wine and Brandy, sells for between US$6 and $15 a bottle, and she produces between 8,000 and 10,000 bottles a year, but demand still outstrips supply.

Her wine, made from Shiraz and "black queen" grapes, is light and fruity to taste, with a thin colour (like a faded deep purple rather than red), a strong smell of oranges and a hint of cranberries. It is sweet and very drinkable, and the many foreigners who visit her vineyard are shocked she is able to produce such a quality drink from the arid landscape on offer.

She also produces brandy, a strong topaz-coloured drink that tastes five years old rather than actually being so.

She now has three hectares of land under grape cultivation and harvests two to three times a year. The Ministry of Culture recently approached her to sponsor 50 percent of her costs, as her vineyard is becoming a profitable tourist attraction for Battambang province, but Chan Thay Chhoeung declined their assistance. She has plans of her own. Next year, she would like to open a restaurant beside her grapevines and in five years begin exporting internationally. Chan Thay Chhoeng - of humble origins and only educated to the fifth grade - has an entrepreneur's spirit.

"When people taste my wine, they do not believe that I could have made it. It can be a bit rude, actually, but I don't mind. I like to surprise them."

Lies, damn lies and environment statistics

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Stan Kahn
Friday, 19 December 2008

Dear Editor,

I was disappointed to see Bjorn Lomborg's climate scepticism in the Post December 15. He deftly uses "facts" to belittle concern over global warming.

He is correct that the inundation of New Orleans had primarily to do with government negligence and incompetence but fails to note that 2005 saw the most named storms in history and the most Category-5 storms. Katrina itself was a huge storm covering a very large area. Moreover, its 10-metre storm surge caused extensive damage without even including New Orleans.

He points out that storm intensity has receded since 2005 as if that proves anything. Did he expect every year to be a record? That would be nonsense: All natural systems are cyclical. What is important is long-term trends. The 10 hottest years on record have happened since 1996.

The year 2007 was somewhat cooler but would have been the all-time record if it had happened only 16 years ago in 1992.

He points to an annual increase in Bangladesh's land area of 20 square kilometres through sedimentation but seems unconcerned that a thousand times that area is likely to be inundated by rising seas. Some small Pacific island states are making plans to abandon their nations because rising seas are already beginning to engulf their low-lying lands, and everything I've heard points to an acceleration of rising sea levels.

Furthermore, the increased melting of Himalayan glaciers that feed the great rivers of South Asia is exacerbating annual flooding in Bangladesh and the wider area and, worse yet, when they have melted away, dry season flows will go down to a trickle, causing calamity for the hundreds of millions of people dependent on that water.

Some of his claims are almost too absurd to respond to: World food production doubling by 2080? When most of that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels that will certainly be gone in half that time? The mere idea that food production could double any time in the future - let alone in 75 years - and that global warming would have almost no effect seems like pure fantasy. What hat did he pluck those numbers from?

When one considers that there are 1,000 climate scientists warning of the dire, earth-wrenching impacts of climate change for every sceptic like Lomborg, I would suggest that, to achieve balance, the Post owes its readers 1,000 articles covering the awful consequences of not tackling this greatest of all human challenges.

Stan Kahn
Phnom Penh


Send letters to: or P.O. Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.

Scrumptious Santa

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shalton
Friday, 19 December 2008

A fresh batch of Christmas chocolates ready for the festive rush at the Chocolate Shop on Street 240. Although Cambodians do not traditionally celebrate Christmas, Phnom Penh's expat population is preparing for the holidays with many shops, bars and resturants offering festive menus and obliging their staff to don Santa hats.

Rebuilding Cambodia: Cultivating a New Generation of Women Leaders

In the 1970s, essentially all of the educated population of Cambodia were murdered in the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia today, despite its rich culture and stunning temples, remains a devastated country, suffering from poverty, lack of education, and corruption. The best hope for Cambodia lies in improved education and new leadership. To that end, Lightman and Smead have been working to empower a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia. (Studies by the U.N. and World Bank have repeatedly shown that the most effective method of helping third world countries is through education of its women.) The critical obstacle to higher education for women in Cambodia , remarkably enough, is housing. Universities in Cambodia do not provide housing for their students. Male students can live in the Buddhist temples but not females. Seizing upon this weak link in the chain, in 2006, Lightman and Smead's nonprofit organization built the first dormitory for female college students in the country. The Harpswell Foundation Dormitory and Leadership Center for College Women in Phnom Penh not only provides free room and board and medical coverage to its 36, carefully selected residents. The facility also gives them English and computer classes, leadership training, and critical discussions of national and international events. After two years of operations, these young women are at the tops of their classes at the 7 different universities they attend and are committed to leading their country into a new era of hope and transformation. In another two years, a new crop of 36 outstanding young women will enter the mentorship and cultivation of the Harpswell facility, and in ten years, we will have a powerful force of over a hundred women dedicated to revolutionizing their country. This is a story of how a small, highly-targeted nonprofit organization can potentially change an entire country.

In this illustrated lecture, Chenda Smead, who escaped Cambodia in 1979 at the age of 18, will describe her family's experience living under the Khmer Rouge. Alan Lightman, founding director of the Harpswell Foundation, will discuss the work of the Foundation, the strategy of leadership training and maximum social impact for minimum investment, and the challenges facing modern Cambodia.

Speaker: Alan LightmanA physicist and novelist, graduated from Princeton University and received a PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology. Lightman has served on the faculties of Harvard and MIT, where he was the first person to receive a joint appointment in the sciences and the humanities. Lightmans novel Einsteins Dreams was an international bestseller, and his novel The Diagnosis was a finalist for the National Book Award. After a life-changing trip to Cambodia in 2003, Lightman founded the nonprofit organization The Harpswell Foundation, which has been working to empower a new generation of leaders in Cambodia.

Speaker: Chenda SmeadChenda Smead is a Khmer Rouge genocide survivor who escaped Cambodia in 1979 as a refugee to the U.S. and later graduated from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln with degrees in computer science and mathematics.

She has helped build a school in Siem Reap and a Learning Center near Phnom Penh, as well as contributed significantly to the Harpswell Foundation Dormitory and Leadership Center for College Women in Phnom Penh. Ms. Smead is on the Board of Advisors of the Harpswell Foundation.

Cambodian Gov't Calls for Cooperation to Fulfill Sanitation Goals


Alarming statistics on the state of rural sanitation have led the Cambodian government to call for cooperation at all levels, national media reported Friday.

Only 16 percent of people in Cambodia's rural areas have access to toilets, Chea Sophara, Minister of Rural Development, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

"Cambodian people's understanding of living in a hygienic environment is still low compared to neighboring countries," Chea Sophara said.

He said that the ministry's goal was to ensure that at least 20 percent of the population in the countryside have access to toilets by the year 2010, and 30 percent by 2015, to reach the millennium development goal.

But this would be tough without full cooperation at all levels of government, he added.

"If officials from all departments do not cooperate well with villagers when they are on duty, it will be useless and the development situation will stay the same," he said.

Cambodian PM urges wayward monks to follow Buddha's rules

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen has appealed to the Kingdom's Buddhist clergy to behave, saying that monk's misdeeds are causing citizens to lose respect for religion, national media reported Friday.

"If monks causing social problems, it is very difficult for me," Hun Sen said during the closing ceremony of the 17th monk congress, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

Hun Sen urged the community of monks to respect the rules by which monks must live, the Post said.

He said he had been shocked when he saw Buddhist monks dancing in a recording on one of his children's mobile phones, and mentioned an unidentified temple where the chief monk had collected money from ceremonies to buy himself a car.

However, he said this did not reflect on the overall spiritual health of the nation.

"These are individual monks making problems. Citizens should not consider it an issue of the whole religion, but equally, we must not be careless over the issue," Hun Sen said.

Editor: Mo Hong'e

New foreign minister hailed airport closures

Bangkok Post
Friday December 19, 2008

By Post Reporters

The Democrat-led government is under criticism from its members over its plan to appoint former career diplomat Kasit Piromya as foreign minister because of his support for the actions of the PAD.

Democrat MPs have raised concern about Mr Kasit's suitability to serve in the Abhisit cabinet, a senior party source said.

Given his close affiliation with the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the former diplomat could be more of a liability than an asset, the source said.

The source said the Democrats would be compelled to answer questions about Mr Kasit's role in the PAD street protests.

Despite opposition within the party, Democrat leader and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva favours Mr Kasit. He told party members he needed a foreign minister who could start work immediately he takes office.

Mr Kasit appeared as a regular guest speaker at PAD rallies which demanded the removal of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

More worrying for some Democrats was his recent speech about the PAD's takeover of Suvarnabhumi airport.

Mr Kasit hailed the shutdown of the capital's city's international airport, which left over 200,000 passengers stranded, as a "new innovation for public protests".

Foreign Ministry officials also disagreed with Mr Kasit holding the portfolio. They warned his hardline political stance could damage the prime minister's efforts to heal the nation.

They were also upset by Mr Kasit's criticism of the ministry's handling of the Preah Vihear issue.

He joined other PAD speakers in accusing the ministry of helping Cambodia get the ancient Hindu temple listed as a World Heritage site.

The ministry said it tried to protect Thai interests by making sure the listing would not affect Thai territory.

Another potential cabinet member facing criticism is Vithoon Nambutr, who is being touted for the social development and human security portfolio.

The cabinet lineup under the Democrat quota has been approved by the party's executives and a meeting of its members.

But a party source said any cabinet hopefuls opposed by the public could still be changed.
Cabinet seats for all coalition parties were settled but for those allocated to the Puea Pandin party, which was still negotiating with the Democrats for another seat, the source added.

Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban said a complete cabinet list was expected to be submitted for royal endorsement today.

The Democrats have decided to give cabinet seats to two outsiders.

One is former army chief Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who is tipped to be defence minister.

Senior Democrat members visited Gen Prawit at his home to ask him to join the new government.

Gen Prawit said he needed some time to consider the offer, but noted that he was impressed by the speech Mr Abhisit made after receiving his royal appointment as prime minister.

He denied that army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda was behind his nomination for the defence job.
"I make my own decisions. I am considering if I should work with the Democrat-led government," he said.

According to the source, Mr Abhisit has given the party's cabinet members three to six months to prove themselves.

Today the prime minister will go to Government House to take part in a merit-making ceremony and observe the progress of the clean-up.

Government House staff are continuing to tidy the premises, which were occupied by PAD demonstrators for several months.

Meanwhile, the Puea Thai party is considering Chalerm Yubamrung for the job of opposition leader, Nakhon Ratchasima MP Somchai Petprasert said.

The party's leader, Yongyuth Wichaidith, is not an MP.

He said the party had agreed the opposition leader must be a seasoned politician and Mr Chalerm, a list-MP, is a potential candidate. Mr Somchai said the party will give the government a three-month breathing space before filing a no-confidence motion.

PM welcomes Cambodian bank governor

VOV News

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has praised the cooperation between the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) and the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), particularly an agreement signed during the NBC governor’s current working visit to Vietnam.

While receiving an NBC delegation led by its governor Chea Chanto in Hanoi on December 18, PM Dung said that the Vietnamese government and people will do their utmost to boost the friendly, cooperative and neighbourly relations between Vietnam and Cambodia in the interests of their people.

He welcomed Cambodia’s recent decision to license two Vietnamese banks to open their branches in the country, which he said will help increase the two countries’ trade value to US$2 billion by 2010 and encourage Vietnamese businesses to invest in Cambodia.

Governor Chanto said during his visit the two central banks exchanged views on the economic situation in their respective countries and on their activities in the areas of monetary policy, inspections and operation of credit organisations. They also signed a memorandum of understanding on the exchange of information regarding banking inspections to create a legal foundation for stricter management, more safety and security for their commercial banks.

He affirmed that Cambodia will create favourable conditions for Agribank and Sacombank, as well as other Vietnamese banks to open branches in his country.

China tops list of investing countries in Cambodia

People's Daily Online
December 19, 2008

China topped the list of foreign investing countries in Cambodia in the past 14 years, with total amount reaching 5.707 billion U.S. dollars, national media on Friday quoted official source as saying.

South Korea trailed China with 2.749 billion U.S. dollars, followed by Malaysia with 2.199 billion U.S. dollars, officials of the Cambodian Investment Committee told Chinese-language newspaper the Jian Hua Daily at a commercial seminar held here on Thursday.

From 1994 to October 2008, Cambodia has attracted 24.768 billion U.S. dollars of foreign investment in all, with 24 percent of the investment used for service sector, 22 percent for industry,5 percent for agriculture and the rest for construction and others, the paper said.

Source: Xinhua

Green-blooded, blue-boned frog discovered in Cambodia

The green-blooded turquoise-boned Samkos bush frog (or Chiromantis samkosensis) is one of four new frog species discovered by Fauna & Flora International in Cambodia. Credit Jeremy Holden
December, 18, 2008

Researchers have discovered a previously unknown species of frog in Cambodia. The amphibian is unusual in that is has green blood and turquoise-colored bones, a result of its transparent skin and a pigment that may make the species unpalatable to predators, according to Fauna & Flora International (FFI).

The Samkos bush frog (Chiromantis samkosensis) was discovered along with three other undescribed species of frog — the Cardamom bush frog (Philautus cardamonus), Smith's frog (Rana faber), and the Aural horned frog (Megophrys auralensis) — during surveys of the Cardamom Mountains, a remote range in Cambodia. The research turned up more than 40 amphibian species not previously known to occur in Cambodia.

FFI says the Samkos bush frog stands out among the new discoveries for its "strange" bone and blood color, thought to be the result of biliverdin, a metabolic waste product usually processed in the liver.

"In this species, the biliverdin is passed back into the blood giving it a green colour; a phenomenon also seen in some lizards," explained FFI in a news release. "The green biliverdin is visible through the frog’s thin, translucent skin, making it even better camouflaged and possibly even causing it to taste unpalatable to predators."

FFI says the species is apparently very rare, living in a niche habitat of evergreen forest at an elevation of around 500 meters. Little is known about its ecology other than it appears to breed in temporary rain pools.

FFI made the announcement to coincide with the publication of Cambodia’s first field guide to amphibians. The 130 page field guide, authored by Jeremy Holden and Cambodian herpetologist Neang Thy, contains photographs of each of the country's 63 known amphibian species and "represents the culmination of eight years of field research by FFI in the country".

Cambodia Upbeat After AFF Exit

Cambodia came back from the preliminary round of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2008 with a sense of broken promise but not shattered dreams as they look to the future for their salvation.

The Cambodian national football team lost all three of their group matches which was played in Indonesia, including a 5-0 drubbing by defending champions Singapore.

According to the Phnom Penh Post, team spirits remain high, however, with the Royals taking many positives from their experiences in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) organised competition.

Cambodia head coach Prak Sovannara said that the players showed good determination and had struggled hard to be competitive – as they look to improve on their previous performances in a tournament in Indonesia three months ago.

“Before, we lost to Myanmar 7-1, but this time we only lost 3-2,” said Sovannara.

“Our defence is getting stronger, but we are still not flexible enough. In the future, we will have to work on adapting to changes in play.

“Singapore altered their technique against us, playing the long ball and hitting short passes, so they beat us easily.”

In the meantime, striker Kouch Sokumpheak was delighted to record his second-ever goal for his country in their match against Myanmar, after nearly four years of playing for the national team.

“I was trying very hard to get a goal,” said the 22-year-old.His only other goal for Cambodia came at last year's SEA Games which was held in Thailand.Kouch said the conditions for the tournament were good, with similar playing surfaces to that of Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium and fair, consistent refereeing for all teams.

“There were many spectators clapping and cheering for Cambodia, especially for our game against Singapore,” he said.

“My favourite match was against Indonesia because they had a lot of local support, and that gave me a strong desire to compete.”

The striker predicted Singapore would win the tournament because of their many foreign-born players, whose size advantage can prove decisive.

“We found it hard to play against them because they were big and strong and had good technique,” said Kouch of the naturalised players.

“I hope one day Cambodia will win the AFF Cup, but that will only happen if we get more support and motivation.”

The national team will now focus their attention to the 2009 SEA Games, which will be in Laos next December.

There Are Economic Police Officers Who Tell Merchants along National Roads to Pay Money to the New Leader

Posted on 19 December 2008

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 591

“While the Ministry of Interior is replacing economic police officer by appointing the deputy director of the economic police, Mr. Seang Bunleang, to replace Mr. Run Rath Veasna, some officers who want to please their new leader tell merchants along national roads to hurry to bring things to please Mr. Seang Bunleang.

“At the Ministry of Interior yesterday evening, there were announcements to replace many high ranking officials of this ministry, especially anti-drug officials. But what was interesting was the replacement of the position of the director of the Anti-Economic Crimes Police Department of the Ministry of Interior, which is described as a lucrative position. Mr. Seang Bunleang is said to be a brother-in-law of Prime Minister Hun Sen. But the assignment is not made by the Prime Minister. It is an assignment by the Ministry of Interior.

“It should be noted that the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Sar Kheng, had issued an order for economic police officers working along all national roads to immediately return to their places of work. It is known that many police officers of the Ministry of Interior returned, but there are some provincial economic police officers that took the opportunity to seek money along national roads. Only after there was an order from the Deputy Prime Minister, economic police officers returned back to the Ministry of Interior and stopped setting up check points along national roads.

“However, when the director of the Anti-Economic Crimes Police Department was replaced yesterday, a lower level economic police officer, who is known to know many illegal merchants along national roads, started to contact those illegal merchants to tell them to hurry to pay some money regularly and monthly to the new leader. This source said that although they were recalled from posts along national roads, some economic police officers still have some influence to demand money from merchants who smuggle goods along the roads.

“The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Sar Kheng, seems to be unaware of this announcement of officers to find benefit for the new leader. But it is not believed that those officers received orders from Mr. Seang Bunleang who was recently nominated. Sometimes, an individual takes the opportunity to seek benefit, using the influential name of their new leader, when there seems to be a chance. Nevertheless, one day all benefits will end up in the pockets of the leader.

“Therefore Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng should take definite action to recall those economic police officers. Police officers do not need to spend time to set up check points like before. It is expected that the Deputy Prime Minister will take strong action against economic police officers at the Anti-Economic Crimes Police Department who tell merchants to hurry to please their new leader.

“It should be noted that presiding over the ceremony to replace high ranking officials of the Ministry of Interior yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng still continues to blame the economic police. But it is not expected that this situation will change, because immediately after that, there were those instructing the merchants. Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng should send expert officers to investigate this case thoroughly to stop them to commit such activities, otherwise the Deputy Prime Minister’s recommendations are useless.

“The economic police and illegal smugglers are like the tongue and the teeth which are related to each other for mutual benefit, like customs officers and smugglers. Leaders of this institution all know the lower level officers’ tricks. However, leaders always receive also some benefit from their lower level officers. Actually, an economic police officer had told merchants smuggling goods along national roads these days to find benefits to please the newly nominated leader.

“Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng still considers cracking down on smuggling as an important challenge. But they have to wait to see whether Mr. Seang Bunleang has the ability to enforce the order of Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng or not. Some commit inappropriate activities by demanding money from merchants, and it is suspected that those lower level officers might be able to keep the leader quiet. But wait to see what will happen soon at the Anti-Economic Crimes Police Department.”

Samleng Yuvachun Khmer, Vol.15, #3642, 18.12.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Thursday, 18 December 2008

Thep Viet Steel to build USD 70 million steel plant in Cambodia

Thursday, 18 Dec, 2008

Kampuchea Thmey reported that Thep Viet Steel Corporation is set to invest USD 70 million in a steel plant in Cambodia.

Mr Tran Totu chairman of Thep Viet Steel said that "We want the steel factory to begin production in two or three years.

"Thep Viet Steel exports 5,000 tonnes of steel per month to Cambodia. Cambodia is reported to have large iron deposits, and Vietnamese companies have been granted concessions to explore for the mineral, a major feedstock for steel production.

Mr Trinh Ba Cam spokesman for the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh said that Vietnamese companies could play a major role in future development in Cambodia.

He added that "Vietnamese investment will help fill a need in Cambodian markets because the country is badly in need of steel.

"Mr Tann Kin Vin secretary of state for the ministry of industry, mines & energy, said that he had no information about the plant. He added that "We know nothing about the plan, but we think it could not be implemented that quickly because no evaluation study on the availability of iron ore has been conducted. If they do their research, they will be able obtain ore and earn a lot of profit."

Cambodian PM tells Buddhist monks to clean up their act

AsiaOne News

Thu, Dec 18, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Dec 18, 2008 (AFP) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday said the country's monks should "respect the rule of Buddha" after a series of crimes involving men in orange robes.

"The Buddhist monks have to respect the rule of Buddha and they should not make the religion decline," said Hun Sen in a speech during closing ceremonies for the country's annual Buddhist monk congress.

"If a monk makes a dispute I will not help and I will run away, and the monk should not blame citizens when they lose confidence in Buddhist monks," he added.

Elders at the congress, which began on Wednesday, were concerned that the mostly unregulated clergy was bringing Buddhism into disrepute after a number of monks were charged with robbery, rape and murder during the past year.

Many blamed the problem on "fake monks" who dressed in orange robes to commit crimes.

Minister of cults and religions Min Kihn told reporters a rapid increase in the number of monks was making it difficult to regulate the Buddhist clergy.

Although Buddhism is Cambodia's national religion, only seven Buddhist monks remained in the country in 1979, at the end of the Khmer Rouge regime which outlawed religion and killed some 1.7 million people.

There are now over 55,000 Buddhist monks across the country at some 4,300 pagodas, Min Kihn said.

Vietnam, Cambodia promote banking cooperation

VOV News

The central banks of Vietnam and Cambodia have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the exchange of information related to banking services supervision.

The MoU, signed on Dec. 17 during a week-long working visit to Vietnam by a delegation from the National Bank of Cambodia, is regarded as a legal basis for tighter management to help commercial banks operate more effectively and safely during their process of international integration.

The same day, the Cambodian delegation, led by Governor Chea Chanto, held a working session with officials from the State Bank of Vietnam led by Governor Nguyen Van Giau.

They compared notes on the economic situation in their respective countries, and the two banks’ current operations.

The Cambodian delegation is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. They will then pay a visit to several Vietnamese banks, including the Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Agribank), the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV), and the Sai Gon Thuong Tin Commercial Joint-stock Bank.

Following the signing of an agreement on cooperation the two sides have regularly exchanged information and experiences, particularly since Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2006.

Apsara 'porn' site to be shut

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Thursday, 18 December 2008


The Ministry of Women's Affairs is preparing to shut down a website showing naked Cambodian Apsara paintings by a group of Cambodian-American artists. "Now we are preparing to shut down the website," said Ing Kantha Pavi, minister of women affairs, citing its negative effect on Cambodian cultural values. Vann Sophath, deputy director of communication and advocacy at Licadho, said the website should be shut down because it appealed too much to young Cambodians. He said the paintings were modeled on a traditional Apsara but depicted human bodies. Chuch Phoeung, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said his ministry had no reaction to the paintings. "It is the freedom of painters to draw pictures of the body of human being," he said. "If you go to museums in European countries, most have these kinds of paintings."

Opposition sparks more merger rumours

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 18 December 2008

SRP, HRP officials now say they may consider merging under one name, but remain vague on timing or details

OFFICIALS with the opposition Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties say they will explore the possibility of uniting under one name to contest future national elections.

HRP Secretary General Yem Ponharith told the Post Wednesday that leaders from both parties have begun discussions of a merger but were afraid of attempts by other political parties to block the plan.

"Our goal is to combine as one party to compete for the next election mandate, [but] we know they do not want us to unite. They want to separate us," Yem Ponharith said.

Yem Ponharith said party officials are not concerned about leadership positions within a united party but with their ability to get approval for the coalition.

"We will combine as one party, and we have not put a time limit on this. But the sooner we do this, the better," he said.

HRP President Kem Sokha could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but he told the radio program Voice of America last week that the parties, led by Sam Rainsy, must unite for future elections.

"We have already decided this. We must join with the SRP, which will be led by Sam Rainsy," he told Voice of America radio, adding that details remained to be worked out but that both parties would be in full agreement as long as they were both committed to working for the Cambodian people and not for individuals.

Unified democratic force

Ke Sovannaroth, acting SRP secretary general, told the Post Wednesday that democrats must join together for the benefit of the Cambodian people.

"But the timing and the details of the merger must be right. We do not want people to be disappointed by a coalition that is established by uncertain democrats. We need a unified democratic force," she said.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but Anti-corruption Unit chief Om Yentieng said the ruling Cambodian People's Party would welcome the new coalition.

"It is good for opposition groups to have a one-party coalition. They are weak invidivually, so a united party is better for them. We are not concerned by it," he said.

"They were so proud before the [July] election but when they saw the results, they knew for themselves how weak they were. No one will try to stop them. They are free to unite," he said.

Lawmakers from the newly formed HRP were silenced during the National Assembly's first session earlier this month for refusing to team themselves with either the ruling Cambodian People's Party or the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, despite knowing they would lose their right to speak.

Cambodia to seek support until 2010 for land mine clearing+

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 18 (AP) - (Kyodo)—Cambodia said Thursday it will seek international support to extend its land mine-clearing operations until 2020.

In a roundtable discussion organized by the Club of Cambodian Journalists, Som Sotha, secretary general of the Mine Action Authority, said that due to the number of mined fields remaining in the country an extension is a must.

He said Cambodia began to clear landmines in 1992 and since then more than 800,000 land mines and 1.5 million pieces of unexploded ordnance strewn across 500 million square meters have been cleared.

According to the Ottawa Convention, of which Cambodia is a signatory, Cambodia was supposed to clear its land mines and the unexploded ordnance by January 2010, 10 years after it signed the convention.

But with mines and other explosives still in more than 2,000 square kilometers, Cambodia will need at least until to 2020, he said.

Millions of land mines have been planted in Cambodia since 1967 and accidents caused by land mines and unexploded ordnance are still common, killing or maiming about 400 people every year.

Still, about 50 percent of the land covered by land mines and unexploded ordnance has been cleared and many Cambodians have become among of the world's most experienced demining experts.

School of enduring lessons

The West Australian
18th December 2008

I walk away from the two rows of tents and the blue tarpaulin where people tired from a big day’s work are sprawled after a traditional Cambodian dinner.

Away from the single light, looking for a little solitude, I walk up the dirt road towards the Buddhist pagoda next door and hear chanting in the dark.

A man under a tree, not far to my left, is going through a series of incantations with gusto. Then, there is a high voice off to my right and a quick splash of torchlight on me.

I hold up a hand, open-palmed, in greeting, the torch goes off and the chanting resumes.

A dark figure walks briskly towards me, from straight ahead, his plainsong in time with his gait.

There are some 70 monks at the pagoda in the small Cambodian village of Balang, less than an hour from Siem Reap, and the dark night is thick with belief, under a hazy crescent moon and Venus rising.

It is half as hot in the night as it was all day when we were shifting soil in stretchers made from a sack nailed on to two bamboo poles. Hot? A searing, humid heat. But no one on the World Expeditions Balang Community Project trip gave up.

John McPhee, 66, of Victoria, towel tucked up under his cap to stop his ears and neck burning, trudged on stoically, as did all the others.

Hot? God, yes it was hot. Every piece of clothing was soaked through. But by 5pm, there was a bed of earth all around the village’s rectangular school, so that its concrete pathway could be completed.

And this is a holiday, which people have paid $1790, plus their airfares, to be on.

Chris Watson, of New South Wales, who emerged from the school blackened by a day of scraping walls ready for painting, explains: “I’m a city slicker through and through. I’m well outside my comfort zone with this type of work. But we thought that if we were going to go away, we might as well leave somewhere a little bit better than when we arrived.”

It is a recurring theme throughout the group of 14. No one here wants to go away for two weeks and lie by a pool.

That is precisely why World Expeditions came up with the series of Community Project holidays, from this work on a village school near Siem Reap in Cambodia to projects in Nepal, India, Vietnam, China, Peru, Venezuela, Tanzania, and two in Australia.

They vary from helping to provide clean water to work on a medical centre.

The Cambodia trip incorporates the four days at the school with two days of temple tours at Siem Reap, including Angkor Wat, a river trip on to Battambang and then a stay in Phnom Penh.

I had expected that we would leave some small, physical mark — in this case, the building painted and kitchen construction under way. I had even expected a sense of appeasement — something to set against our lucky Western largesse.

I had expected the sense of attachment which so many on the World Expeditions Community Project holidays feel.

But I thought that, in many ways, the biggest effect was just being there, feeling some traction in a complex country with a difficult immediate past, starting to understand the complexities, exchanging glances and a laugh with locals.

There are 50 children at the primary school in a country desperate for education and the plan is to step it up to take secondary students.

The work here by World Expeditions trippers backs in to the work of the Cambodian Orphan Fund and is supported by Footprints, an offshoot of World Nomads, a travel insurance company.

After years of work in social and community work in the UK, Nick Griffin came to Cambodia in 2006 to see what he could set up to help the children here.

“It was evident even before I got here that there was a high level of poverty and need,” he says.
After being handed a leaflet by children outside a temple, he visited an orphanage and knew that was what he had to do.

“I started an orphanage and it has expanded to over 70 children and two sites,” he says.
“There is a plan to build facilities for 200 children.”

He set up the Cambodian Orphan Fund as a non-government organisation and the day before I speak to him, in November, he signed a lease for a new building for an orphanage.

And it has all happened in 18 months.

Mr Griffin is also busy co-ordinating up to 40 volunteers a month who come, predominantly, to teach English language and play development.

“Most of the children here are extremely bright but don’t get the opportunity of education,” he says.

The overall Balang village project has also included US charity Human Interpretation taking five years to build a reservoir so that the farmers can produce a second, or even third, rice crop a year, outside the rainy season. It also was opened early in November.

The Americans were also told by people in the eight villages in the reservoir’s area that what they wanted was education.

“What they asked for most was to learn English,” Mr Griffin says.

And so it was that the Balang school came into being. World Expeditions adopted it as one of its Community Projects holidays and four days’ work here is the centrepiece of a 12-day Cambodia trip.

Footprints stepped in to fund specific World Expeditions community projects, including this.

Footprints was set up by World Nomads, which has travel insurance to cover every individual traveller’s demands, to fund community projects.

Travellers buying their insurance can donate between $2 and $10 to the projects. Well over 90 per cent do so and have contributed to the $600,000 which has already funded more than 30 projects.
On this particular November trip, the task is to get the school ready to open in four days' time.

Mr Griffin outlines to the people the concreting, window fixing, cleaning and painting that lies ahead. But he adds that the school is next to a Buddhist pagoda and its monks and near an Angkor temple.

“You will be almost the only tourists in there and you will also be helping to set up a really exciting future for them," he says.

He suggests that the visitors see the word “orphans” in the Cambodian context.

“I sometimes explain them as boarding schools.” But Mr Griffin says, “The poverty here is terrible and they have no chance of breaking the poverty cycle. Our primary aim is to break that cycle.

“The children can’t just go to school because they can’t afford to. They can’t afford the uniform and they can’t even afford to be fed.

“This is also a socialisation exercise. Most of the future work in Cambodia is in tourism. They have to be able to deal with us strange foreigners — it’s as if we have landed from another planet. And we have to do that without destroying Khmer culture.”

He says that in 18 months of work, children who came to the school without a word of English surprise people with how well they can communicate in this new language.

“It’s amazing because they are so keen to learn. When you open an orphanage, you have to close the gates because there is a queue,” he says.

“They are desperate for what we are doing out here — and what you are going to be doing this week.”

It is fair to say that some of the World Expeditioners themselves have their vaguely desperate moments. By the second morning, there are already aches and pains. But the volunteers worked on relentlessly, alongside paid Khmer carpenters, in difficult and uncomfortable conditions and with less than comfortable camping facilities.

It is all driven by 25-year-old construction co-ordinator Yinh Ya, known to all as Chai, who is a single-handed inspiration.

A local boy, he had no choice but to fight for the Khmer Rouge, to keep his family safe. When he got away from the guerillas, he had to fight for the government forces.

“It’s not an obligation but you have no choice, to protect your family,” he says.

Then he worked and studied hard and graduated from secondary school, learning English and improving it by working his way through a small dictionary, picking up discarded newspapers and getting help from tourists.

It took him a year to save enough to buy a second-hand moped. He then worked and studied to become an accredited cultural guide. When he was guiding, he saved enough to get to engineering school.

Chai says simply that his life has been a “struggle” and that he is always looking for the future, an optimism set against the shadow of constant reminders like the landmine field behind the village’s ruined Angkor temple, where work still goes on today to clear the terrible blight.

Chai knows the value of education and this more opportune time for his country.

“Now we have the sound of children in school instead of bombs and shouting and screaming for sadness,” he says.

We might all have been soaked in sweat day and night to the point of nappy rash, but it’s not much to bear. We might crave the simple comfort of a camp chair and a cup of tea in the afternoons but that seems less consequential now, too.

Three things were being worked for. First there are the school’s children, then a personal ethic. And finally this disparate group of travellers, which included a real estate agent, two prison teachers, a pharmaceutical sales person, a movie script translator, a computer nerd and a truss builder, but who quickly become a team and then some-sort-of-family, drawn together from as far as England and Canada but mainly Australia.

Working for the likes of the tireless 26-year-old Carla Howe, from NSW, and Tracey Edwards, also of NSW, who modestly declared herself not practical but quickly earned the title “hinge girl” for her adeptness with a screwdriver on the window fittings, and maintained a luminous smile throughout.

For the “Dirt Boys” who dug and shifted tonnes of the stuff to make concreting foundations.

For the sake of being with decent, engaged people with the right motivations.

“I have really enjoyed doing something for somebody else,” says John McPhee, whose business is in real estate.

“When we were digging, the little girls would just take up the ‘Cambodian wheelbarrow’ and join us. They have shown us that basic things can be uplifting. It has been great to see everybody pitching in transforming the building.

“There are so many people in Australia that would get so much enjoyment out of this and contribute something. It makes you feel pretty good.”

Chris Noble, general manager of World Nomads and co-founder of Footprints, is here with director Trent O’Connell making a documentary on the project for their Positive Footprints series. It shows on 25 airlines and the National Geographic Adventure channel. He emerges a little bleary after a night’s rain, and says: “I don’t do camping. I don’t do hard ground.”

But do it he does, and work like a navvy, too.

And rain it does. Lightning enough to fill the tent, thunder rolling in. And then the first few heavy drops, which build to a drubbing.

I know the nylon tent wouldn’t keep much out. But then I hear the guides covering our tents with an extra flysheet. It comes in hard, pummelling the tent, but I lie back feeling the ground and enjoying the elements . . . I drift off to sleep again.

Then there is chanting. It is 4.30am and the monks repeat their lines meditatively, over and over and over, until I am buzzy with the chanting in the night.

The Mirror of the Cambodian Economy in 2009

Posted on 18 December 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 591

“Cambodia made remarkable achievements in terms of macro-economic stability, but there are many concerns which create an increasingly unclear situation for the future of the economy. The growth of the GPD was on average 11.1% since 2004, and 10.2% in 2007, and the annual inflation rate was 5.1%.

“The demands for garment export from foreign countries are lower, the profits from the construction sector are diminishing, and the number of tourists drops, so that it is estimated that the GDP growth drops to 6.7% in 2008 and 4.9 in 2009. This drop is estimated to occur, despite expanding taxation. As for the expenses, the negative figures of net exports will increase in 2008 and in 2009, and investments will also decline much.

“There are many challenges affecting four important fields of possible growth. First, the rising price of rice seems to provide many opportunities for Cambodia, a rice exporting country, although the size of response by strong supplies is still unclear, because of the recent drop of price and of agricultural investments, which are still limited.

“Second, the garment sector is affected by the meltdown of the economy in the United States of America, which is a big export target country for Cambodia (though many companies are partly protected, because they serve the low end market with cheap prices); in 2009, the restrictive protection measures by the United State of America and by the European Union towards China come to an end, which is a big challenge, because this country has big garment export capacities.

“Third, the construction sector is declining by 17%, compared to the first six months of last year.

“Fourth, tourism is also affected by the global economy which is weaker than before, and by the border disputes with Thailand. The increase in the number of tourists visiting Cambodia declined from 20% last year to only 13% in the first six months of 2008.

“Commercial recession will further drop in 2009, because the export of garments to foreign countries will decline more. The growth of exports declined from 18% last year to 4% in the first six months of 2008. On the contrary, the growth of imports is strong, reflecting the increase of local demand and higher prices for the import of fuel early in this year. Consequently, the current account deficit is estimated to grow from 8.4% of the GDP in 2007 to 12.3% in 2008.

“Although there is a plunge in exports, the cost of the import of fuel which is now lower than before, and the diminishing local demand seem to make the current account deficit decline to around 8% of the GDP in 2009. Foreign investment is forecast to drop from a high level of 10% of the GDP in 2007 to only 5.2% in 2009, because foreign investors become more careful to invest in different developing countries.

“The pressure of inflation starts to drop. Inflation of the consumers’ price for twelve months went up to the highest rate at 25.7% in May 2008, an increase to the double compared to late 2007, before it declined to 18.1% in October 2008. Food prices have contributed much to the inflation to grow to the high current level, as food accounts for a big share of more than half of the consumers’ price index.

“The increase of local demand is also a factor when banks increased credit in circulation, out of the amount of money held in banks and also related to the flow of foreign capital. The effect of the rising price of fuel imports was decreased by administrative intervention in the price. Even though there is a considerable drop of the price of food and of importing energy, the inflation in twelve months is estimated to decline from 16% last year to only 10% in late 2009.

“The central bank’s restrictive currency policy helps to reduce inflation and financial hazards. The central bank increased the requirement of capital held by the banks in July 2008 to the double amount, setting a ceiling for loans to the real estate sector, increased the required capital holding rate in September 2008 for the third time, and limited the withdrawal of cash from the central bank in October 2008.

“As a results of those measures, the increase in credit taken out by the private sector during twelve months declined from 103% in June 2008 to 82% in September, and it is estimated that it will drop to 42% in December 2008. The stable currency exchange rate, on average Riel 4020 per US$1 in the first six months of 2008, dropped little since the middle of the year, motivating the central bank to stop interventions in the currency exchange market.

“Recent concerns show the difficult balancing of taxation policy. At first, the government responded to the effects of high food and fuel prices by implementing a stricter taxation policy to ease the inflation pressure on the economy which uses the dollar as a measure of reference.

“However, in the meantime in view of some positive aspect of the growth rate and the declining inflation pressure for whatever reasons, the government is changing to new ways, and it is making plans to increase expenses. The taxation recession is estimated to change little at 2.2% of the GDP in 2008 (before considering aid), and the government estimated that it will increase to 3.5% in 2009.

“The government continues its different reform efforts, although there was some decline during the elections. The improvement of the legal framework (especially the adoption of a law about the handling of assistance which makes it easier for companies to use their real estate as collateral for borrowing money), helped to move Cambodia up in an investment report for 2009 (from 150th to 135th, among 181 countries).

“Another important new reform was the institution of an automated system for customs data at the Sihanoukville port in May 2008. In September 2008, the government began to implement the second stage of its Rectangular Strategy by focusing on good governance and rural development again.”

Samleng Yuvachun Khmer,
Vol.15, #3456, 16.12.2008

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 16 December 2008