Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Pilot program to test use of scientific calculators in schools

Roughly 200 students will be allowed to participate in the pilot program - 50 at four different institutions - all of which are located in Phnom Penh. The pilot program will last for an estimated one term before officials attempt to gauge its success.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Some professors question wisdom of using calculators, arguing that over-reliance on machines among students doesn't add up.

EDUCATION officials plan to train students at four Phnom Penh schools in how to use scientific calculators in February or March as part of a pilot program to assess whether the use of scientific calculators should be widespread in high schools and universities.

In each of the four institutions - the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the National Institute of Education, Sisowath High School and another school yet to be selected - 50 students will be allowed to use scientific calculators for one semester, Chan Roath, director of the Department of Scientific Research at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, said in a Tuesday interview with the Post.

" It could help... but it could also reduce the quality of education . "

Chan Roath said a Japanese technology company would provide the calculators and train students in how to use them.

Currently, Cambodia is one of three Asean countries - along with Myanmar and Laos - that do not allow the use of scientific calculators in schools, Chan Roath said.

Some officials are reluctant to introduce scientific calculators on a large scale because they fear their use will detract from students' mathematical knowledge.

"It could help students calculate quickly, but it could also reduce the quality of education because everyone might think they do not need to study and could instead just turn to their calculators," he said.

The ministry will hold a conference at the end of the pilot program to assess what effect the calculators had on student learning.

If scientific calculators were to be widely distributed, education officials would also need to train instructors - who currently do not incorporate them into their lessons - in how to use them, Chan Roath said.

Lav Chhiv Eav, a rector and math professor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said he had his doubts about the program, in part because the calculators cost about US$20 each, meaning some students would not be able to afford one.

He also said the program would be unnecessary at the Royal University, which, though it does not allow the general use of scientific calculators, does teach maths students how to use them for basic operations.

He also said calculator use would hinder student learning. "We want them to use their brains," he said.

A man of principle stands up

Photo by: Anne Laure Poree
Sa Sovan (right) and his co-lawyer Jacque Verges at the Extraordinary Chambers last year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Lawyer Sa Sovan says he's fighting to strengthen Cambodia's judiciary in defending former KR head of state Khieu Samphan.

FRENCH-educated lawyer Sa Sovan, 68, lost "around 50" relatives, including his father, at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime. As the Cambodian co-lawyer for former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, he has been at odds with other victims, notably when he engaged in a shouting match following a December 4 hearing with victims angered by the request that every document in his client's case file be translated into French. In an interview with the Post, Sa Sovan discusses his decision to join the defence team and what the Khmer Rouge tribunal means for the country's judicial system.

Why did you decide to defend Khieu Samphan?

I lost around 50 relatives to the Khmer Rouge regime, but I decided to defend Khieu Samphan nonetheless because I want to defend the justice system. Khieu Samphan proposed I defend him after his former Cambodian co-lawyer, Say Bory, resigned because of health problems [in June 2008]. If I had not accepted Khieu Samphan's proposition, he might not have received good representation. I could not reject his request because he was a lawmaker at Sa-Ang district, Kandal province, my home district, during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime of then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk. I knew Khieu Samphan. I knew that he was a just person.

I make a clear separation between the personal losses I sustained and the legal merits of the case. I already lost my dad. I do not want to lose respect for the rule of law in my country. If the tribunal cannot find sufficient evidence against him, Khieu Samphan should be released. Similarly, if the tribunal finds that Khieu Samphan is guilty, the court should sentence him. I will not protest.

Currently, there is a cloud of uncertainty; we don't know who is guilty for the crimes of the regime. I want to find justice.

You say Khieu Samphan is a just person. Do you think you can make this case convincingly in light of the prosecution's allegations?

In defending him, I plan to note that he served the nation in joining the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime and, later, in criticising officials in that regime. People in the regime attacked him, but he continued in politics, joining the opposition movement. I think the Khmer Rouge pushed him into a high position before he knew about the killings and the torture. He found out about the killings in 1979, after the Khmer Rouge fell from power. The Cambodian people know this.

We want to answer the question: Why didn't Khieu Samphan know what was going on? The defence team and the tribunal are exploring this question.

Have you found defending Khieu Samphan to be difficult?

With my skills in private and criminal law, I don't have any problem defending Khieu Samphan. Also, I have known [Khieu Sampan's French co-lawyer] Jacques Verges since I was in France. I know his name and how famous he is, and I am familiar with his thinking. So we find it easy to work together.

Your client's case has been stalled by the translation issue, with you and Verges insisting all documents be translated into French. Has the tribunal replied to your request?

Not yet. According to the agreement between the Cambodian government and United Nations, documents should be translated into the three official languages used by the tribunal: Khmer, French and English. Khieu Samphan has a Khmer lawyer and a French lawyer. There are many documents that have not been translated from Khmer and English into French. If the tribunal doesn't translate them, the French co-lawyer cannot defend Khieu Samphan because he won't be able to fully understand the accusations.

Given that many victims of the Khmer Rouge are holding onto a lot of anger, do you worry about your personal security?

I decided to defend Khieu Samphan because I would like to search for real justice for all parties, including both the victims and those who are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. I am not worried about my security. But the state should teach people about the law so we can avoid the type of situation we had [on December 4].

What is your reaction to accusations of corruption at the tribunal?

I have heard that the tribunal has been accused of corruption, but I don't have time to investigate this because I am too busy defending Khieu Samphan, teaching law students and writing a book. I will let other people investigate these accusations. I heard the rumours before I worked there.

What do you expect the KRT will accomplish for the Cambodian judicial system?

I think that the tribunal is very important and will be a good example for the Cambodian judicial system. I am proud of it. The Cambodian participants are learning a lot from the international participants. I hope they will use this knowledge in the future, even if they don't use it in the current situation.

Interview by Neth Pheaktra

The guardian of wooden houses

Photo by: Peter Olszewski
This traditional wooden house was built new by Siem Reap designer

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Wednesday, 21 January 2009


A Siem Reap architect is waging a battle for wood as concrete takes over as building material of choice.

SIEM Reap designer and architectural researcher Hok Sokal has had a passion for old wooden Cambodian homes for almost nine years. He has studied them, documented them, filed them as case studies ... and seen many of them destroyed in favour of bland concrete buildings.

This motivated him to create a development company of his own - one that not only preserved old buildings, but also constructed new old buildings.

His firm, HHH Co, builds traditional Khmer wooden houses using the same designs and materials used in Cambodia for centuries.

As widespread urban development continues to change Siem Reap at a furious pace, Hok Sokal hopes his initiative will ensure that the emerging city maintains its personality of authentic Khmer culture.

Hok Sokal told Prime Location that wooden houses are "more impressive, more remarkable than concrete structures. They are an important part of Siem Reap's character that we cannot afford to lose".

Siem Reap is home to two of his new wooden houses, built in 2004 and 2008 near the Rolous temples on the outskirts of Siem Reap.

He also moved a 90-year-old wooden house from Kampong Cham province to a new location 300 metres south of Wat Damnak, with modifications to the bathroom and kitchen.

To build a new old wooden house, Hok Sokal explains he needs to synergise three elusive elements. "We need to find the right carpenter, the right wood and the right client," he said.

Hok Sokol's background in academia ensures that his houses are extremely authentic - from the layout of the rooms to the type of lumber used. "We use the same wood that was used in construction of the traditional houses," he said. "When I start a new project, I spend a great deal of effort locating the right wood. I use up to six types of wood in a house, including sokrom, kokoh, koki, sroloas and beng."

The meticulous sourcing of traditional timber isn't merely pedantic - it gives the houses a strength and durability that Hok Sokal says could rival their concrete competitors.

"It is remarkable that houses built in this style are still in good condition up to 100 years after their construction," he said.

Not for everyone

Even with a stock of the correct materials, Hok Sokal is still faced with finding the right client. "We need people who really love and understand wooden architecture," he said. "Most of my clients are well-educated, with a high degree of knowledge about Khmer art and culture. Some are Cambodians who have been educated outside the country, some are foreigners who have studied Khmer culture."

Photo by: Peter Olszewski

Architecture historian Hok Sokol

One trait that is necessarily shared by Hok Sokol's clients is patience - the construction of a single wooden house takes an entire year. However, construction is an area where modernity is definitely an ally. "With modern technology, carpentry and equipment we can build wooden houses in half the time it took our ancestors," he said.

HHH Co's team consists of two architects, an engineer, a plumber, an electrician, five carpenters and 10 workmen. Other work, like tiling and concreting, is subcontracted, and the construction methods used vary from house to house.

"Depending on the project, we use a combination of traditional and modern methods. One hundred years ago, our ancestors could not build houses in certain areas - but with electricity and modern equipment we are not as restricted."

Hok Sokal says Siem Reap has great potential for traditional wooden-house development. In particular, he indicates the banks of the Siem Reap River as an example of where wooden restoration and construction work could be achieved with great effect.

However, he is unsure of whether his efforts are enough to ensure the continuity of the wooden house style. "It is hard for wooden houses to compete with concrete houses when there is less and less wood available, and more and more concrete. People are attracted to wooden houses, but sometimes will use the concrete style for convenience.

" We need people who really love and understand wooden architecture."

"There are 100 concrete houses for every wooden house, and concrete houses are simpler to build. But the design and quality of wooden houses are better."

'Authentic' charm gives security to Phnom Penh's boutique hotels

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Alexis de Suremain sits in front of The Pavilion in this photo from last year. He also owns the Kabiki and Blue Lime boutique hotels.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Poree
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

It has been a tough few months for Cambodia's tourism sector, but the unique characteristics of the capital's boutique hotels have helped them weather the storm.

WHY is it sometimes so difficult to book a room in a boutique hotel in Phnom Penh? Because they are usually full, with quite exceptional occupancy rates.

One well-known Phnom Penh boutique, Villa Langka, named for nearby Wat Lanka, is usually 90 percent full according to its manager, Didier Thorel. "We have had this rate from the second month after the opening, one year and three months ago," he said.

Nelly Orgiazzi, the manager of tourism agency Bons Voyages, said the competitive advantage enjoyed by boutique hotels was their ability to keep prices reasonable yet offer a charming place to stay in the centre of the city.

For Orgiazzi, a reasonable price means a room between US$40 and $85 per night.

The seemingly never-ending demand for affordable rooms in a warm and cosy setting with a personal touch encouraged Alexis de Suremain to open a suite of boutique hotels in Phnom Penh. His first project was the Pavilion in 2006, followed by Kabiki, which is dedicated to families, in 2007, and the Blue Lime in 2008. "We rent rooms as cheap as possible for a place very close to the Royal Palace," he said.

He added that it was impossible in Cambodia to provide the level of service that would justify a price tag of $100 or more. "We bet on the quality of the setting and on our equipment. Our most expensive rooms, for example, have a private Jacuzzi and a terrace," he said.

"But we are not a four-star hotel. We assert our guesthouse status. We do not want our customers to complain about any discrepancy between their expectations and the reality."

Niche operators

A great atmosphere and good value for money are not the only keys to success for boutique hotels. They benefit from a niche: Their customers, who tend to be in Phnom Penh for tourism or for business, want a place that is different. Those who are used to travelling the world tend to be fed up with the big hotels where they find everything they need but do not feel at home. At the other end of the travel spectrum, many of those who are not experienced travellers may want a cosy and friendly place that they will remember.

What they have in common is they refuse standardisation and attach importance to the aesthetic. To accommodate this desire, boutique hotels tend to provide a unique style and design in each room.

Although boutique hotels are often priced lower than their big name counterparts, cost is usually not a key consideration for the majority of guests, Orgiazzi said. "If I suggest to my customers to stay at a place $10 above their budget per night in a boutique hotel they do not hesitate," he said. "They increase their budget as soon as they see the photos, particularly if they stay a short time." Indeed, the average stay is only three nights, although business customers can stay much longer, sometimes keeping a room for several weeks.

Certainty in uncertain times

These business travellers also mean Phnom Penh's boutique hotels don't experience the ups and downs of the tourist seasons like hotels in Siem Reap. Because guests tend to arrive individually rather than as part of big groups, they have escaped the cancellations that have recently hit some of the bigger hotels in Cambodia as a result of the global financial crisis and the political turmoil in Thailand. The ongoing dispute eventually led to the blockade of Bangkok's international airport late last year, closing off a key access point to Cambodia and drastically reducing tourist arrivals.

" Phnom Penh draws its charm from its colonial past and its traditions. That's what the customers are looking for."

Based on the strictest definition of boutique hotel - an old renovated house with a garden and swimming pool in the middle of the city - the number of "real" boutique hotels in Phnom Penh can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

But as more-and-more hotels try to climb on the boutique-hotel bandwagon, the very definition of what constitutes a boutique hotel is becoming unclear. The travel agency Exotissimo, which specialises in travel around the Mekong region, lists the Amanjaya Pancam Hotel, Villa Langka, the Bougainvillier, the FCC Hotel Phnom Penh, the Pavilion and Raffles Hotel Le Royal as boutique hotels.

Fousing Sem, a senior travel consultant at the agency, said larger brand-name hotels with many rooms should be barred from using the name for fear of eroding the value of the label. "Phnom Penh draws its charm from its colonial past and its traditions", he said. "That's what the customers are looking for in Cambodia. For the modern and new places, they go to Bangkok or Singapore where it is cheaper than here."

De Suremain agrees. "They want the old things," he said. "This is not different from what they are looking for in Venice for instance. That's what the marketers have named ‘the authentic'."

Bad service, no problem

Luigi Savarino, the manager of the Italian restaurant Le Duo, is building seven rooms beside his restaurant to capitalise on the surfeit of demand for a warm and inviting place to stay and receive perfect service.

But even imperfect service is unlikely to put most off if comments on the Trip Advisor website, a popular online travel guide, are anything to go by. Even when many are criticising the service or the staff, they still tend to praise the overall experience.

Contrary to expectations, the relatively small size of a boutique hotel does not make them easier to manage. Economies of scale mean the break-even occupancy rate tends to be much higher than for a larger hotel, while employees tend to have to multitask more, putting them under greater pressure.

Reservation mistakes can also be much harder to rectify. In the event of a double booking - which can be common in Cambodia given human-resource limitations - there are often no free rooms to shunt the guest into.

Many of Phnom Penh's boutique hotel managers spoken to by Prime Location spoke of the difficulty in finding qualified and motivated staff. They looked longingly towards the Ecole Paul Dubrule, a well-known hospitality, tourism and cooking school in Siem Reap where the future stars of Cambodia's tourism industry are trained.

They are unlikely to find succour there - graduates of the school are greedily snapped up by the hospitality sector in Siem Reap. Few make their way south to work in a Phnom Penh hotel.

The boutique operators will be left to battle on, but their unique charm will ensure they will survive the odd slip here and there, be it from one of their staff, Thailand's new prime minister or the guys in suits mishandling Wall Street.

Rogue tour operators face govt crackdown

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A travel agent in Phnom Penh. The government hopes to clean up the tourism industry by shutting down unregistered operators.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Ngoun Sovan
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The minister of tourism says that unlicensed travel agencies have until the end of January to register with the government and pay up or face closure.

TOURISM officials are set to launch a crackdown on unlicensed travel agents after issuing repeated calls for tighter regulation of the sector, said the tourism minister.

The ruling could see 12 percent of the Kingdom's 200 travel agencies shut down the end of the month, according to ministry figures.

"Twenty-two of Cambodia's 200 travel companies are operating without licences," Thong Khon, minister of tourism, told the Post Tuesday.

The Ministry has been working to upgrade the country's hotels and travel agencies by introducing industry standards. The minister said the ministry sent warning letters on January 12 saying that companies have until January 31 to register or face legal action.

"After the deadline at month's end, we will invite them one by one to license their companies," said Thong Khon.

"If they still fail to apply for a licence, we will shut them down."

Last warning

The minister said that the offending travel agencies have already been warned to register.

"To get a licence for a travel agent, the law requires that the operator deposits US$5,000 at the National Bank of Cambodia, just in case something happens. It is for the benefit of guests. If they are not made to do this, the agents might abandon guests that have made reservations," he said.

He assured the agencies that the government will not steal the money held by the national bank.

"The deposit still belongs to them, not us. It is to ensure that they have the funds available for their customers," said Thong Khon.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA), told the Post Tuesday that its 171 members back the ministry action.

He said that CATA has complained to the tourism ministry for several years regarding legal action against unlicensed tour operators.

"There is no transparency in the market. We have licences, we comply with the law and pay the tax. [Unlicensed agencies] are not following the rules, so they do not pay tax - it is unfair competition," he said.

One owner of an unlicensed travel agency in Daun Penh district said that the government's reserve requirement is too high. "If I have to pay the money, I will go out of business. I am already losing every month, and sometimes there is often no money to pay the staff. I cannot afford to deposit $5,000 for the licence," said Chhoeun Marany, the owner of Rany Travel Agency.

She said that she plans to shut down at the end of the month when the ruling comes into force.

What's New: ANZ launch

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) launched a new mobile banking service, which company representatives say will open up new avenues into Cambodia's traditional cash economy. Known as WING, the service will allow customers to make person-to-person payments and transfers from their mobile phones. "WING will help improve people's livelihoods and reduce poverty by increasing their access to banking services," ANZ CEO Mike Smith said during WING's launch Tuesday. Mobile banking - also known as M-Banking or SMS Banking - has already taken root across the developing world, and Citibank introduced a similar system in the United States in mid-2007.

Insuring Cambodia's Future

Photo by: Nguon Sovan
David W Carter, CEO of Infinity Insurance, considers Cambodia's emerging insurance market, which he says is expected to grow despite economic woes.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

David W Carter, chief executive officer of Infinity Insurance, talks about the opportunities and challenges of building a new insurance industry in Cambodia.

What do you think about the perceptions of Cambodians towards buying insurance?

Generally speaking, I would say that there is not much awareness of insurance among the population as a way to manage risk. There is also a certain level of scepticism about how insurance works, but I would say that this situation is changing very quickly, as shown by the increasing number of customers who are buying insurance. The market can be broken up into the business consumers and personal consumers. Businesses are more accustomed to using insurance versus personal consumers.

How strong is the insurance sector in Cambodia?

Currently, the insurance industry is very small, with the insurers' main activities being undertaken in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk. In other provinces, average monthly incomes are still low, most of them being less then US$50 per month, so this is one of the challenges to the developing insurance industry in Cambodia.

Could you estimate how many Cambodian people can afford to buy insurance?

The population of Cambodia is approximately 14 million. I can estimate that between one and two percent of the population, most of them businesses and urban residents, can afford to buy insurance, this being mainly for their businesses, cars, motorcycles and houses.

Could you estimate how much the insurance sector earns each year in Cambodia?

And what is the revenue of Infinity Insurance? We estimate the total market premiums were around $20 million in 2008, up from about $17.5 million in 2007, as reported by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Cambodia has five insurance companies: Infinity Insurance, Forte Insurance, CAMINCO, Asia Insurance and Campubank Lonpac. There are no brokers, and there is one registered agent. There is one reinsurance company supporting the market, and so the reality is that this is a very small market, but it is growing quickly. As we saw, from 2006 to 2007, premium income increased by 40 percent. In terms of market position, Infinity ranks about third place in the market of five.

Is Cambodia's insurance market affected by the global financial crisis? Why?

" We expect that the insurance market will outpace Cambodia's GDP growth for the next year. "

Firstly, we are affected by customers who experience downturns in their business or in some cases even cease operations. We have seen this in the garment industry and also construction, where some projects have been put on hold. There is, therefore, a direct impact on the insurance market as a client may choose to reduce purchasing levels or cease buying insurance altogether. Secondly, there is the phenomenon experienced around the world during times such as this where we see recession-related losses. This is where customers reduce their expenditure on risk management to lower expenses. This can directly impact on the level of losses experienced by insurers.

What is your growth projection for the insurance industry in Cambodia for the next few years?

We expect the insurance market to outpace Cambodia's GDP growth over the next year. So, if GDP grows by five percent, we expect the insurance market premium will increase by 10 percent minimum. This is mainly due to the rise in demand for insurance as more awareness towards the advantages of buying insurance grows. This projection can change dramatically if we have a substantial development such as an oil- and gas-discovery off the coast.

What is your assessment of the economy in general?

Well, I think that the crisis is going to slow the growth in the country. Of course, it is going to decline in the garment and real estate sectors, but other sectors such as agriculture and tourism still rise, and businesses are still going on, but not at the same pace as in the past.

Who are the potential customers for insurance?

We are targeting people who have assets that they wish to protect and [who have] the ability to pay a premium from their household or business income. Insurance is seen by many in Cambodia as a luxury, whereas in more developed countries it is viewed as an essential purchase. Insurance is simply a contract to "promise to pay" in the event of certain happenings. The potential customers are those that understand this concept and have trust in our commitment to honour the contract. Typically, business customers are more familiar with insurance than customers.

You said the insurance industry in Cambodia is small. Do you think five companies are too many?

I think that the number of insurers for such a small market is probably adequate for the moment. I think that the products and services offered by the market as a whole needs to be improved to keep pace with rapid change. I am talking about the increasing demand for more sophisticated solutions for clients. In years to come, I would expect there will be more market participants, and we believe that there will be two potentially new entrants this year. I would expect that in the next two or three years, we would see more insurance companies, and perhaps a broker, to start operations in Cambodia.

Is there fair competition in the insurance industry?

Infinity Insurance launched in Cambodia in July 2007, so we are a relatively young company. I can tell you that our approaches to clients have been very well received. ... Clients are always looking for choice and an alternative view. Infinity is now in the position where we believe that we have about 15 percent of the insurance premium market share in 2008, and we expect to reach 17.5 percent this year. I think that clients now enjoy a fair level of competition in the market.

Could you compare Cambodia's insurance industry to those in neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Laos and Thailand?

The industry here and in Laos is very small and developing. ... Vietnam and Thailand are much larger ... serving customers who are more aware of insurance. We look at these countries to see what the future holds for the Cambodia market.
Interview by Nguon Sovan

Trade show promotes Mekong

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Businesses from the Greater Mekong Sub-region meet to promote regional trade.

BUSINESSES from the six-member Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) met Monday in Phnom Penh to discuss ways to boost export competitiveness in global markets, improve regional trade policy and promote an international business identification system, officials at the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce told the Post.

The workshop - attended by more than 20 local and international business representatives - was sponsored by the India-based Centre for SME Growth and Development Finance (CESMED) in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce along with US-based commercial analysts Dun and Bradstreet (D&B).

"I am proud of the fact that this workshop is promoting a new vision of trade for the region and new ways to facilitate business partnerships and exchange," Nguon Meng Tech, director general of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said.

Global listing

The conference hoped to enlist local businesses to apply for D&B's Data Universal Numbering System, or DUNS number, an international identification system used by more than 50 million companies in 190 countries.

"The DUNS number allows businesses to better promote their products and services to international consumers by confirming quality and respectability," Nguon Meng Tech said.

He added that no Cambodian businesses have a DUNS number.

"We will need more time to review application procedures and requirements, but we hope that if a local company does get the number, they will be able to lead the way for others to follow," he said.

Vinod Paratkarm, a CESMED adviser, said the workshop was crucial for raising awareness of global challenges to exports from GMS member-states, particularly among small- and medium-sized enterprises.

The six-member trade bloc includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China's Yunnan province.

"We are facing many difficult issues at the moment including how best to manage trade risks with partners we don't know very well," Vinod Paratkarm said.

Global decline

The issue of risk has become a greater concern as caution becomes the order of the day, a trend some members of the workshop hope to reverse.

Shiendra Narian, chairman of the CESMED, said the workshop was useful for identifying strengths and weaknesses among GMS exporters and also as a chance to promote the bloc's significance.

"We want to send a message to the world. We are not sleeping lions. We must stand together as members of the international trade community and further improve our competitiveness in world markets," Shiendra Narian said.

Bears get a second chance at Phnom Tamao Zoo

Photo by: Photo Supplied
Harry is one of several vulnerable Sun Bears that fall prey each year to poachers or wealthy families looking to acquire an exotic pet.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Stephanie Mee
Wednesday, 21 January 2009

With countless animals in Cambodia falling victim to illegal wildlife trade, one organisation offers a safe and healthy environment for rescued bears.

THE timid, brown Sun Bear peered suspiciously out of his cage in the quarantine area of the Phnom Tamao Zoo, nervously growling if anybody came near him. He was extremely sick when he arrived at the zoo and had to have daily injections of antibiotics. Hence, his aversion to humans. His name is Harry, and he was recently rescued from the fourth floor of a wealthy Phnom Penh family home.

Harry was purchased from a dealer in Ratanakkiri by his previous owners when he was three weeks old and taken to Phnom Penh as a family pet. Not knowing how to properly care for a wild bear, the family fed him a diet of tap water mixed with sweetened condensed milk and kept him in a small cage, barely big enough for a dog. By the time he was rescued a year later, he was weak, emaciated and had lost large patches of fur that had rubbed off when he paced against the metal bars of the cage.

"I had to carry him in my arms down four flights of stairs, as the transport cage could not fit up the narrow passageways," said head bear keeper at the zoo, Chuon Vuthy.

The keeper works for an organisation called Free the Bears Fund Inc, which runs a centre at the Phnom Tamao Zoological Gardens and Wildlife Rescue Centre, 40 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. The Australian NGO was created in 1995 in response to the terrible treatment of illegally poached bears, many of which are cruelly imprisoned and sold for their body parts and bile, often used in Chinese medicines.

Free the Bears operates centres in five countries across Asia. They work together with local authorities to combat the illegal wildlife trade, and provide care and rehabilitation to hundreds of bears.

The Cambodian operation

The centre in Cambodia has been open since 1997.

"We get some of the bears from the illegal wildlife trade and some have been donated by wealthy people," Chuon Vuthy explained.

"Sometimes, we go to people's homes where bears are being kept as pets, and we explain to them that it's illegal to keep wild animals as pets or property. We tell them that they can donate the bears to the zoo, where we can care for them properly. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't."

Photo by: Photo Supplied
One of the caregivers at the center with Nutkins .

In October, the centre took on three new bear cubs, two of which had been donated to the zoo, and one of which had been taken from a poacher in Pursat province.

Holly, a small but friendly Sun Bear, had caught her leg in a poacher's snare and lost her hind paw as a result. She is also missing three of her front claws, which the poacher offered no explanation for. At the centre, she is receiving the medical care she needs, as well as a safe and healthy environment in which to grow.

A large family

Free the Bears currently houses 102 bears at the Phnom Tamao Zoo in 16 outdoor enclosures with a wealth of trees and wooden walkway.

The bear species are made up of Asiatic Black Bears and Sun Bears, both of which are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Bears at the zoo are closely monitored to ensure that they are healthy and happy, and there is an onsite veterinarian for any medical problems that may arise.

"As of now, none of the bears are released back into the wild, as much of their natural habitat has been lost, and they have become too accustomed to people, but I'm hoping that will change in the future," said Chuon Vuthy.

Phnom Tamao Zoo and the Free the Bears Fund Inc are currently building two new wooded enclosures where the bears can forage and play, and a new indoor holding pen for up to 20 bears. This new space will house the bears at the zoo, as well as future arrivals.

Volunteer opportunities

Volunteers are welcome at the centre. At present, they can sign on for one to six weeks to help feed and clean the bears. Volunteer packages include accommodation at a house near the sanctuary, transportation to the centre as well as breakfast and dinner. Interested parties have the opportunity to learn from veteran bear keeper of 12 years, Chuon Vuthy, and his highly trained and knowledgeable colleagues.

" We get some of the bears from the illegal wildlife trade and some have been donated by wealthy people."

"The first day the volunteers are here, we teach them the rules - what they can and can't do so nobody gets hurt," said Chuon Vuthy. "Then, we teach them how to clean the cages, feed the bears and take general observations. Volunteers learn a lot, and they seem to really enjoy the time they spend here."

Matt Hunt, the Southeast Asia program manager and CEO, said: "It's great for people to come in and meet the bears, meet their personalities and learn about the program. For example, I can go tell people in Australia what we're doing here in about 30 minutes, but it doesn't really give them a clear idea about the centre or the bears themselves."

Each week the centre accepts no more than six volunteers, ensuring that the number of visitor caregivers never exceeds the number of onsite bear keepers.

Free the Bears Fund Inc is also in the process of opening a new centre for bears three hours away from Phnom Tamao on the South coast of Vietnam, where they plan to create small eco-lodges where volunteers can stay onsite and take part in caring for and learning about rescued bears in the region. The first bears will move there this month, and the centre should be open to volunteers in 2010.

Cambodia Expecting Phone Growth in a Weakening Economy


­Cambodian phone companies expect to continue to expand their business, despite the general economic downturn. The expansion plans continue despite increasing competition in the market, where penetration levels are low, but the number of operators is high.

"Our expansion plans are on track," Adam Cabot, CEO of Star-Cell told the Phnom Penh Post.

The company announced last year it was going to expand services to all of Cambodia's provinces for its 100,000 subscribers. "Yes, [the crisis] will have an effect, but it is hard to say how much. We are still maintaining our position and doing well," he added.

So Khun, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, told the Post last Tuesday that the ministry welcomes new competitors in the phone market and that more companies will lead to cheaper services."I think the telecom business still has a lot of room to grow. There are still many Cambodians who do not have phone services, which is a big opportunity for new companies."

Figures from the Mobile World notes that the country ended last September with an estimated 3.5 million mobile phone users - representing a population penetration level of 24%. The country has five active networks - but eight firms hold licenses.

Cantering ahead as low pay and oil prospects raise Khmer hopes


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CAMBODIA LETTER : The opening of a country club shows there is money in this fast-growing economy, writes Mark Godfrey

NARET BOBS up and down on the Cambodian pony, a stocky slim-boned breed with a flowery mane. His trainer, Ray Fisher from Kildare, sees a lot of potential in the 14-year-old, named in a local newspaper as Cambodia’s best young rider.

Fisher is the chief trainer at the Cambodian Country Club on Toeuk Thla Street.

Naret rides every day, but he’d like better gear. He’d gladly swap his rubber Wellington boots for leather boots. “Someone gave him a pair of breeches – now he’s looking for boots,” says Fisher, who relies on the wiry, T-shirted youngster to exercise the animals in his stable of a dozen horses, among them retired racehorses trucked over from Thailand.

Fisher, a white giant next to his dark-skinned Khmer protege, has taken his horsemanship from the Curragh to the hot, dusty suburbs of Phnom Penh. He teaches dozens of local riders to trot, canter and jump in this spacious outdoor sand arena in Russey Keo, the district that sprawls out to the city airport.

The club’s recent opening shows there’s money in a fast-growing Cambodia.

Naret is an unlikely poster boy for the local equestrian scene. He’d never be able to afford the $25 (€19.33) fee for an hour-long lesson at the club – nor the helmets and leather boots of the Europeans and wealthy locals who ride here.

Naret used to sift refuse on the city’s Stung Mean Chey tip until the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation brought him to the Country Club. The foundation was set up by Hollywood actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in the name of their adopted son, to help his fellow Cambodians out of poverty.

Six months into his new equestrian life, Naret’s passion for horses is clear from the way he puts his stocky pony through his paces in the afternoon sun. Bosses from the local garment factories like to entertain in an open air bar-restaurant which, like the swimming pool, rings the arena. Cambodians aren’t yet horse crazy: most of Fisher’s students are the children of staff at French companies and NGOs based in Cambodia.

Some Cambodian children have, however, been able to discover their passions, thanks to western NGOs. Diplomats and executives frequent the Lotus Blanc, a restaurant trying out the skills of students at a school run by the French-run Un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE). Since its establishment in 1996 to educate children scavenging in the rubbish tip in the suburbs of the capital, the school has become a model for Cambodia. “Companies come here for staff because skills in book-keeping, gardening and cooking are more practical,” explains a student prefect who acts as a guide for visitors. She’s training to be a nurse.

Cambodia is a member of the World Trade Organisation, but skills like accounting are sorely lacking. There are jobs for skilled Cambodians as the country releases potential after decades of war, extreme Maoism and more war. The local economy grew by 6.5 per cent in 2008 and even with the global doldrums the Asian Development Bank predicts 5.9 per cent growth for 2009.

Now the country has corruption with stability under prime minister Hun Sen, a man who fought for, then deposed, the Khmer Rouge. Hun is a kind of Vladimir Putin figure: fond of hanging onto power and telling the people that Cambodia can only have its prosperity and pride restored through benevolently authoritarian (his) leadership.

Hun’s closeness to Vietnam (which put him in power when it knocked out the Khmer Rouge in 1979) and Cambodia’s proximity to Thailand have helped the country get the low-wage processing and manufacturing jobs that its neighbours, and China, hand it.

Low Cambodian wages beat everyone else’s, and the country is situated close by.

Chinese firms are known by their walled compounds and their curious initialled names: firms like WD Cambodia Textiles have sprung up as gated compounds in anonymous tin-roofed neighbourhoods on the edge of Phnom Penh. Signs in Chinese and Khmer offer massages for 5,000 Riel (€0.93), next to shops selling mobile phones and water heaters imported from China.

Koreans have also come, with bricks and mortar. Trucks roll downtown from KRC Concrete near the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields in Dankoar district, to Seoul-owned real estate projects, the most ambitious of which is the Gold Towers 42 – twin office towers with glass of a gold hue.

More lately, wealthy desert kingdoms like Kuwait and Qatar have come seeking land in return for loans and technology. They’ll use the land to grow food – and some holidaying. The Middle Eastern link is even more intriguing if you consider that Cambodia has found oil under its territorial waters – and will need Arab knowhow to access it.

Even though its garments trade has been hit, Cambodia’s young economy looks like it will weather the economic crisis – particularly if it gets that oil.

Fisher says he’s kept busy. But getting gear is hard: a blacksmith has to be flown in every couple of months from Thailand. Saddles and bridles have to be imported. “We’re starting from scratch here.”

As Naret’s mount speeds to a canter, a smile lights up the dark features he shares with most Khmers. With his country on the mend he hopefully has a bright future. “He’ll definitely have a job in coaching Cambodia’s future riders,” says Fisher.

Tobique Valley students help Cambodia kids

Wednesday January 21st, 2009

By Corinne Fitzherbert

A yearbook is full of memories and for the students of Tobique Valley Middle High School, the 2009 edition will evoke images of how they helped less fortunate children thousands of miles away. The students have raised $650 for school children in Cambodia and on Friday, Jan. 16, they added their signatures to a school banner that has already been signed by the Asian youngsters.

"We decided this year that we wanted to do something a little more meaningful than dedicating our yearbook to an individual," Dylan Mahaney, yearbook editor, said of their decision to dedicate it to the project. "This was something we thought was worthwhile."

Teacher Bridget Nugent Rideout is yearbook advisor and she suggested the Cambodian project to the students. Her dad Professor Bill Nugent and his childhood friend Gary Keenan of K-Line Construction in Woodstock are working to help the Pinocchio School for Poor Children in Sihanoukville, coastal Cambodia, and travelled there over the Christmas holidays to deliver $4,000 raised by a variety of supporters mostly in New Brunswick. The money will be used to buy school uniforms, shoes, school desks and other supplies.

On Jan. 16, the Tobique Valley middle school students watched a presentation that featured photographs of the children taken during the Cambodian visit. Dylan Mahaney along with Sabrina St. Pierre, junior editor, and Kelsey Witherly, yearbook member, explained Prof. Nugent and Keenan not only delivered much-needed money but also book bags and other school supplies that delighted the youngsters.

"They bought a lot of flip-flops," Mahaney added, noting the lightweight footwear is ideal there. "These children really don't have very much."

As students saw photographs of sparse living conditions, Mahaney noted the hammocks in the pictures serve as beds, couches and chairs. Families that number as many as 26 people live in one small home. In another photograph, the Tobique Valley students saw their school banner being signed by the Cambodian children.

"Their alphabet doesn't look like ours so some of their names don't look like words," Nugent Rideout explained. "This is the same banner that you are going to sign and then it will be on display in our school."

The majority of the funds raised by Tobique Valley Middle High School came from the 24-hour famine held by high school students recently. The middle school classrooms had donation collection jars that also brought in dollars.

Anyone who wants to help the children in Cambodia is also welcome to get involved. Paul Nugent is currently working as a professor in the English department at Yeungnam University in Korea and Gary Keenan is back in Woodstock but both men have committed to continuing to help the children.

"Paul is planning to return within the year to personally deliver any donations or items that in been donated in Woodstock or Korea," Nugent Rideout explained. "The two Monquarters will bear the costs of shipping or delivering any items that are donated."

Although Professor Nugent and Keenan have been involved in a variety of humanitarian projects, their discovery of the Sihanoukville school happened almost by accident. The men had been delivering aid in Vietnam and were spending two weeks touring Cambodia when they met the founder of an orphanage and school for the poor who was in the guest house where they stayed. Cees Chamuleau, originally from Holland, had gone to Cambodia to visit an old friend when he became aware of child labour being used to run a small stone quarry in the community.

Appalled by what he saw, he brought the story to the attention of the United Nations and then decided he wanted to open a school there to give the youngsters an alternative to labouring.
Despite a lot of opposition, Cees eventually opened a school for 250 students, many of them residents of the orphanage he also established nearby.

"Children do not have to pay to attend the school as most families in the area have little or no money," Nugent Rideout stated.

"Cees and his associates give the children uniforms and shoes, a midday meal and look after their medical needs, some of which are very serious."

The visit to the school was described as "heart warming" by Nugent and Keenan who said the children were delighted to have visitors. The pupils received Canada pins and flags, a large New Brunswick and Canadian flag, as well as some candy. The children will receive some of Prof. Nugent's recently published storybooks as well as Scotiabank rulers donated by Tom and Bridget Brennan. The supporters also provided a Christmas feast of suckling pig that was enjoyed during the December visit.

"There are some Christians there and they do have Christmas but it isn't like here. They don't have all the presents. It's just a day they observe," Mahaney explained.

Items still being collected include new clothes like t-shirts, caps, school supplies, calculators and donations. A donation of $25 can buy five school uniforms, a desk or flip-flops for 50 children.
More information is available by contacting Gary Keenan at 328-9848.

When the students at Tobique Valley look back on their school year, they will have the satisfaction of knowing they did something that made a difference in the world. The photographs of Cambodian children with big, bright grins make the Tobique Valley students smile.

"You can see how excited these children are," Mahaney noted

Obama's Inaugural Speech

Obama's Inaugural Speech: Part I

Obama's Inaugural Speech: Part II

Obama's Inaugural Speech: Part III

Obama's Inaugural Speech: Part IV

Obama's Inaugural Speech, Part V

Barack Obama has become the nation's 44th president. Watch the first part of President Obama's inaugural address. (Jan. 20)

Inauguration: Barack Obama Sworn in As 44th President


Barack Obama took the presidential oath becoming the 44th U.S. president Tuesday, shattering racial barriers as the first black leader of a country gripped by profound economic troubles and at war in two distant lands. (Jan. 20)

Video Essay: 'The Moment' of Presidency


The Associated Press gives a look at how people are reacting the moment power of the Presidency is exchanged from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. (Jan. 20)

Barack Obama becomes United States' 44th President

Barack Obama making his inauguration speech at today's ceremony

TV3 New Zealand
Wed, 21 Jan 2009

Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated as the United States' 44th president - and first African-American chief executive - early this morning.

Obama took the Presendential oath - with only a slight stumble in finding the words - and made his inauguration speech. He thanked outgoing President George W. Bush for his service to the nation. Obama stressed the "unity of purpose" for Americans to stand together against the common struggles that they face.

Even before he took the oath of office, Obama assumed the country's highest office by mandate of the US Constitution.

The 20th Amendment specifies that the terms of office of the president and vice president "shall end at noon on the 20th day of January ... and the terms of their successors shall then begin."

And so, the transfer of power was complete when the clock struck noon.

Stepping into history, Barack Hussein Obama grasped the reins of power as America's first black president on Tuesday, saying the nation must choose "hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord" to overcome the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In frigid temperatures, an exuberant crowd of more than a million packed the National Mall and parade route to celebrate Obama's inauguration in a high-noon ceremony.

They filled the National Mall, stretching from the inaugural platform at the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.

With 11 million Americans out of work and trillions of dollars lost in the stock market's tumble, Obama emphasized that his biggest challenge is to repair the tattered economy left behind by outgoing President George W. Bush.

"Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed," Obama said in an undisguised shot at Bush administration policies. "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America."

The dawn of the new Democratic era - with Obama allies in charge of both houses of Congress - ends eight years of Republican control of the White House by Bush, who leaves Washington as one of the nation's most unpopular and divisive presidents, the architect of two unfinished wars and the man in charge at a time of economic calamity that swept away many Americans' jobs, savings and homes.

Obama's election was cheered around the world as a sign that America will be more embracing, more open to change. "To the Muslim world," Obama said, "we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

Still, he bluntly warned, "To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Two years after beginning his improbable quest as a little-known, first-term Illinois senator with a foreign-sounding name, Obama moved into the Oval Office as the nation's fourth youngest president, at 47, and the first African-American, a barrier-breaking achievement believed impossible by generations of minorities.

He said it was a moment to recall "that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

Obama called for a political truce in Washington to end "the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

He said that all Americans have roles in rebuilding the nation by renewing the traditions of hard work, honesty and fair play, tolerance, loyalty and patriotism.

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."

With the economy in a long and deepening recession, Obama said it was time for swift and bold action to create new jobs and lay a foundation for growth. Congressional Democrats have readied an US$825 billion stimulus plan of tax cuts and spending for roads, bridges, schools, electric grids and other projects.

"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works," the new president said.

A mighty chorus of cheers erupted as Obama stepped to the inaugural platform, a midday sun warming the crowd that had waited for hours in the cold. There were some boos when Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney came onto the platform.

In his remarks, Obama took stock of the nation's sobering problems.

"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood," he said.

"Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age," Obama said. "Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet."

It was the first change of administrations since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Crowds filled the Mall for a distant glimpse of the proceedings or just, in the words of many, simply "to be here." Washington's subway system was jammed and two downtown stations were closed when a woman was struck by a subway train.

Bush - following tradition - left a note for Obama in the top drawer of his desk in the Oval Office.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the theme of the message - which Bush wrote on Monday - was similar to what he has said since election night: that Obama is about to begin a "fabulous new chapter" in the United States, and that he wishes him well.

The unfinished business of the Bush administration thrusts an enormous burden onto the new administration, though polls show Americans are confident Obama is on track to succeed. He has cautioned that improvements will take time and that things will get worse before they get better.

Culminating four days of celebration, the nation's 56th inauguration day began for Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden with a traditional morning worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House. Bells pealed from the historic church's tower as Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrived five minutes behind schedule.

The festivities won't end until well after midnight, with dancing and partying at 10 inaugural balls.

By custom, Obama and his wife, and Biden and his wife, Jill, went directly from church to the White House for coffee with Bush and his wife, Laura. Michelle Obama brought a gift for the outgoing first lady in a white box decorated with a red ribbon.

Shortly before 11 am, Obama and Bush climbed into a heavily armoured Cadillac limousine to share a ride to the Capitol for the transfer of power, an event flashed around the world in television and radio broadcasts, podcasts and Internet streaming.

On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney pulled a muscle in his back, leaving him in a wheelchair for the inauguration.

Just after noon, Obama stepped forward on the West Front of the Capitol to lay his left hand on the same Bible that President Abraham Lincoln used at his first inauguration in 1861. The 35-word oath of office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, has been uttered by every president since George Washington. Obama was one of 22 Democratic senators to vote against Roberts' confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2005.

The son of a white, Kansas-born mother and a black, Kenya-born father, Obama decided to use his full name in the swearing-in ceremony.

To the dismay of liberals, Obama invited conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren - an opponent of gay rights - to give the inaugural invocation.

About a dozen members of Obama's Cabinet and top appointees were ready for Senate confirmation Tuesday, provided no objections were raised. But Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas indicated he would block a move to immediately confirm Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Still, she is expected to be approved in a roll call vote Wednesday.

More than 10,000 people from all 50 states - including bands and military units - were assembled to follow Obama and Biden from the Capitol on the 1.5-mile inaugural parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, concluding at a bulletproof reviewing stand in front of the White House. Security was unprecedented. Most bridges into Washington and about 3.5 square miles of downtown were closed.

Among the VIPs at the Capitol was pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the hero of last week's US Airways crash into the Hudson River.

Obama's inauguration represents a time of renewal and optimism for a nation gripped by fear and anxiety. Stark numbers tell the story of an economic debacle unrivaled since the 1930s:

-Eleven million people have lost their jobs, pushing the unemployment rate to 7.2 percent, a 16-year high.

-One in 10 US homeowners is delinquent on mortgage payments or in arrears.

-The Dow Jones industrial average fell by 33.8 percent in 2008, the worst decline since 1931, and stocks lost US10 trillion in value between October 2007 and November 2008.

Obama and congressional Democrats are working on an US$825 billion economic recovery bill that would provide an enormous infusion of public spending and tax cuts. Obama also will have at his disposal the remaining US$350 billion in the federal financial bailout fund. His goal is to save or create 3 million jobs and put banks back in the job of lending to customers.

In an appeal for bipartisanship, Obama honored defeated Republican presidential rival John McCain at a dinner Monday night. "There are few Americans who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain," Obama said.

Young and untested, Obama is a man of enormous confidence and electrifying oratorical skills. Hopes for Obama are extremely high, suggesting that Americans are willing to give him a long honeymoon to strengthen the economy and lift the financial gloom.

On Wednesday, his first working day in office, Obama is expected to redeem his campaign promise to begin the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq under a 16-month timetable. Aides said he would summon the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Oval Office and order that the pullout commence.

3 News and AP

Cambodian NA chairman concludes Vietnam visit


Cambodian National Assembly (NA) Chairman Heng Samrin and his wife left Hanoi on January 20, concluding their official visit to Vietnam at the invitation of NA Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong.

During their six-day stay in Vietnam, Heng Samrin held talks with Vietnam’s NA Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong and visited Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, State President Nguyen Minh Triet and former State President Le Duc Anh.

He also met with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee, Huynh Dam.

During their talks, the two parties expressed their delight at the development of Vietnam and Cambodia’s friendship and comprehensive cooperation and pledged to try their best to promote the two countries’ relationship for the sake of people’s interests, peace, cooperation and development across the region and the world.

They also agreed to increase the exchange of information and experiences between the two National Assemblies.

On this occasion, the Cambodian NA Chairman laid wreaths at President Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and visited the northern province of Ninh Binh.


Where Guns Fall From the Sky

Sander Francken Film
A weapons collection in Cambodia in a scene from “Dealing and Wheeling in Small Arms.”

The New York Times
Published: January 21, 2009
“I’d rather lose one son than my gun, because with a gun I can save my family,” declares a frightened Congolese villager in “Dealing and Wheeling in Small Arms,” a depressing, scattershot survey of the spread of weaponry around the world, especially in Africa.

This Dutch film, directed by Sander Francken, shifts abruptly back and forth between a ground-level view of how small arms have affected poor countries and a throw-up-your-hands analysis of the inability of any international agency, including the United Nations, to curtail the prolific, and profitable, small-arms trade. Although the film visits Cambodia, Uganda and Bosnia, it focuses mostly on Congo, where imported guns have plunged the country into perpetual civil war.

The Congolese strife suggests a rural African equivalent of gang warfare in American urban neighborhoods, and the documentary includes more than one scene of gun-toting children wreaking havoc. Angry Congolese villagers emphasize that the guns were not made there; they were manufactured outside the country. They find their way to Congo by plane, boat and car through shadowy networks that are almost impossible to trace because the route involves so many way stations, with payoffs at each.

It is not surprising that some Congolese view the spread of small arms as a conspiracy of the haves to keep the country at war while stripping it of its natural resources. One man tells of guns’ being dropped from airplanes and of villagers’ being lined up, handed free weapons, and told to go fight one another.

Accurate statistics about the spread of small arms are hard to come by and are, at best, rough estimates. In the last 15 years, Vanessa Redgrave says in a voice-over, 100 million small arms were manufactured and sold, with Western Europe the largest supplier. Attempts to reduce the supply are pitiful.

The movie wastes precious time following the director around as he interviews gun dealers and marksmen on firing ranges about the differences between this and that automatic weapon; these scenes smack of gun fetishism, and to those who don’t share what might be called the gun gene, they are boring and creepy.

Gun love, the film suggests, is in our blood, and the manufacture and distribution of arms a rampant social pathology that is not about to end anytime soon.


Opens on Wednesday in

Produced and directed by Sander Francken; written by Joost Schrickx, Josh Lacey and Mr. Francken; narrated by Vanessa Redgrave; directors of photography, Sander Snoep, Pieter Groeneveld, Edwin Donders, Jan-Dries Groenendijk, Maarten Kramer and Mr. Francken; edited by Gys Zevenbergen; music by Rainer Michel. At the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, at Second Street, East Village. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. This film is not rated.

The Number of Tourists Is Not Expected to Increase This Year - Tuesday, 20.1.2009

Posted on 21 January 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 596

“In 2009, tourism companies do not expect that the number of tourists will increase due to the global economic crisis and the confrontation between the Cambodian and the Thai military. Although there is no new destruction and the situation is quiet, the number of tourists will not increase this year.

“The president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, Mr. Ho Vandy, said that there are four major issues preventing Cambodian tourism to grow, and these are: the prices of flights and of transportation services in Cambodia are expensive compared to neighboring countries; Cambodia does not have a national airline; tourism advertisements are still limited; and Cambodia lacks a policy to attract local tourists, because services in Cambodia are expensive, so that the number of tourists does not grow.

“Expenses for transportation are high. First transportation by air, and then transportation by land have to be considered, and then other expenses, especially for accommodation, have to be added. There are additional expenses, including visa fees and airport taxes. Mr. Ho Vandy compared the expenses for traveling in Cambodia to costs in Thailand and Vietnam, and concluded that Cambodia is more expensive. Comparing air transportation, just considering a flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is enough. Mr. Ho Vandy added, ‘A flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap [approx. 230 km] costs between US$150 and US$160, but local air transpiration from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, which takes one hour and a half over a distance of between 700 km and 800 km [actually, by air, approx. 570 km], costs just between US$120 to US$130 for a return ticket.

“He went on to say, ‘From Hanoi, the price of a plane ticket is under US$150. People ask why are our costs so high,when our distance to travel is lower? That is a point where broad cooperation is necessary to find improvements.’ It should be noted that according to a report of the Ministry of Tourism, the number of tourists to Cambodia in 2008 was around 2,150,000.

“The Minster of Tourism, Mr. Thong Khon, said that tourists visiting Cambodia came mainly from the following five important countries South Korea, Japan, the United States of America, China, and Vietnam.

“Recently, the Khmer government signed an agreement with Kuwait from the Middle East for direct flights to Cambodia.

“Mr. Ho Vandy said that foreign tourists stayed in Cambodia from four to five day on average.

“At present, the major tourism sites of Cambodia are Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap, which has many temples.

“Recently, Cambodia also tried to attract tourists to visit the Preah Vihear Temple region, but this effort failed after there were border disputes with Thailand that have not yet been solved.

“Tourists might stay in Cambodia longer when Cambodia will develop more tourism centers and regions, where in some tourism regions there are villages and communes, and some potential institutions have not yet organized themselves. But before foreign tourists should visit those places, it is necessary to first attract local tourists to see those attractions first and visit those places, then foreign tourists will follow.

“To encourage local tourists is also an important starting point to increase foreign tourism and community based tourism.

“This is what can be considered to be a deficit, because communes, and their village and commune chiefs, must understand how to attract tourists. For example, decorating a village or a commune with flowers, or painting fences, or organizing things neatly, are attractions which can lead to some villages being called Model Villages or beautiful villages. Tourists stay longer as long as we have things to attract them. When they stay longer, they will spend more.”

Khmer Aphivoath Sethakech, Vol.7, #326, 20.1.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Sam Rainsy Summoned Over Election Fine

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
20 January 2009

Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a summons letter to opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who faces a fine of 10 million riel, or about $2,500, to the National Election Committee for remarks made during the campaign period of July’s national election.

The summons, which Sam Rainsy received Tuesday, requires the leader to appear in court on Feb. 27.

Officials of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party accused Sam Rainsy of breaking the election law by calling them corrupt and accusing them of illegal logging during speeches made in the campaign. The NEC then fined Sam Rainsy 10 million riel, and the Constitutional Council denied an appeal by Sam Rainsy.

The NEC filed a suit against Sam Rainsy in Phnom Penh court in December.

Sam Rainsy told VOA Khmer Tuesday he might not appear in court, which he accused as biased against him and incapable of finding a solution of his own complaints against NEC abuse of election laws.

“I did not lash out at leaders of the CPP,” he said. “What I said during the electoral campaign was a direct quote from Global Witness. If the courts want to summon me, why don’t they summon Global Witness.”

The environmental monitor Global Witness issued a report in 2007 linking many high-ranking officials to illegal logging and to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family.

The report, “Cambodia’s Family Trees,” was subsequently banned in Cambodia.

NEC Sectretary-General Tep Nitha said Tuesday that seven other people who had been fined during the campaign had paid already. Sam Rainsy, the only other person fined during the campaign, is the only one who has not paid, Tep Nitha said.

“I gave him several months to pay the 10 million riel fine from NEC, but now I cannot wait anymore,” he said. “The NEC had to send this case to Phnom Penh court to find justice.”

"Phnom Penh prosecutor Ouk Savuth said Tuesday that if Sam Rainsy does not appear in court, “we will take legal action.”

Former Taiwan Worker Warns of Exploitation

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer `
Washington D.C
20 January 2009

A rights worker and a victim of fraudulent marriage, who traveled to Taiwan and was exposed to danger and hardship, warned other young Cambodian women not to take the risk or fall for promises of lucrative work abroad.

“Do not fall into a trick when people say they will give you a lot of money to work abroad,” said one young woman, as a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday.

The woman, who asked that her identity remain anonymous, said she was forced to work constantly, without rest, and escape was impossible. She was told she would have to pay back all of the money she owed in expenses for her travel, or she would have to call and ask her parents to pay.

“I was afraid they would kidnap my parents for money,” the woman said. “That’s why I continued to work until I was rescued.”

Women who find themselves in trouble in Taiwan have an extra problem, said Ya Navuth executive director of the rights group Caram, because Cambodia’s one-China policy, which does not recognize the island, hampers retrieval efforts.

“But we have our network over there in Taiwan to help us,” he said.

Caram rescued four women in 2008, he said, and he warned Cambodian women not to be fooled into promises of riches for work in Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and elsewhere.

If a woman feels she is being exploited, she should call the organization’s hotline, he said. The numbers: +855 12 949 914, or +855 12 961 427.

Safety in Recent Culling, But Big Losses Too

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
20 January 2009

The slaughter of chickens and ducks suspected of carrying avian influenza late last month may have helped control the spread of the disease, but for Mil Vattana, who sat forlorn before an empty chicken pen one recent morning, the loss was huge.

Around 300 of his chickens and ducks were culled Dec. 17 near his Kraing Chek village, Kandal province, following the discovery of bird flu in the area’s poultry. More than half of those were prized fighting cocks, worth up to $350 apiece.

“One hundred and sixty-eight fighting cocks cost more than $40,000, and the more than 100 normal chickens and ducks cost around $500,” Mil Vattana, 47, a former soldier and military trainer, said.

Health and agricultural officials ordered the Kandal province culling of more than 450 after one man fell ill with the disease in December and more of the virus was found in birds. The man survived, but his illness renewed concerns of the spread of the virus.

The slaughter affected all aspects of his business, Mil Vattana said, but he added that it was “a good way to prevent the bird flu, because human life is more important than those birds.”

“If I oppose the order to slaughter, I’m afraid the bird flu would affect my wife and my young child, who stay close to the chicken pen,” he said.

The area surrounding Mil Vattana’s commune is filled with underbrush and natural ponds and lakes, which make good habitat for many types of wild birds, which can also carry the virus. At the end of the year, during December, the wild birds often stop near the commune, making them potential vectors for bird flu from local poultry, according to commune veterinarian Dy Soeum.

The H5N1 virus, known as bird flu or avian influenza, is transferred from bird to bird and from bird to human. Health experts are worried that the virus could mutate and begin spreading from human to human, potentially creating a global pandemic.

Near Mil Vattana’s village, officials say around $100,000 has been spent culling birds and distributing a poultry vaccine. People will not be allowed to raise chickens or ducks in the area for six months, in hopes of containing the spread of the disease.

Roth Thida, 73, said her 50 chickens were also killed in the process.

“It is a key way to resolve the whole problem of bird flu, to free the people of my village from the deadly danger,” she said. “I agreed with the veterinarian to kill my chickens, for the protection of the people around my home.”

“My family had good luck,” said Din Rithy, a 29-year-old whose chicken pen was destroyed and 80 chickens killed in the culling. “We lost our money for raising the chickens, but [the culling] provided safety to my family and community.”

Din Rithy said he would continue to raise chickens to support his family after the six month ban. The local veterinarian had sprayed a vaccine around his house and village, he said, “so I think the virus has died.”

Tribunal Calls for More Victims to File

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
20 January 2009

Khmer Rouge tribunal officials on Tuesday called for more people to come forward to file complaints against jailed Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch.

The call, from the tribunals Victims Unit, comes as Duch, also known as Kaing Kek Iev, prepares for the initial hearing of his trial on Feb. 17.

Trial Chamber judges on Monday decided victims would be able to continue to file complaints to the Victims Unit in Duch’s case up until Feb. 2.

In order to encourage more complaints the Victims Unit said her unit would work during weekends, the unit’s director, Keat Bophal, said.

“We will have a team working Saturday and Sunday to provide a facility to victims who want assistance in the process,” she said.

The filing of complaints at this stage is important for people who want make a claim for compensation and participate in the procedures of the court, Keat Bophal said.

As Duch’s initial hearing approaches, the Victims Unit has so far received more than 100 complaints, more than 70 of which are from civil parties.

More than 20 are simple complaints from people who have signed on as a civil party. (Civil parties have lawyers and participate in the entire process of the tribunal.)

Hong Kim Suon, a lawyer for civil parties, said Tuesday the preparation of the Victims Unit was good, but its outreach was still lacking.

People can only file complaints if they understand the procedure, he said.

“Participation in the civil party proceedings is not only for justice, but also to remind victims who have died already that we are struggling for their justice,” he said.

Elephant Walk a worthwhile venture

Media Credit: Max Breistein Matza
The Elephant Walk's decor is characterized by warm, welcoming lighting, simple decor and cozy settings.

The Justice

by Njideka Orjiako

Cambodian-French cuisine. If this combination sounds like heaven to you, then welcome to my world. The chance to savor two completely different cultural dishes in one meal had my taste buds zinging before I, a lover of ethnic food, even sat down. The destination for this meal? That would be The Elephant Walk, a Cambodian-French restaurant on Main Street in Waltham that would be a welcome change for students who are bold, bored or both and are looking to deviate from the usual Moody Street eateries. The warmly lit restaurant is cozy and casually elegant, with a simple decor that is more Western than Cambodian. But although the restaurant is not fancy, the food is; while the eclectic pairing of Asian and European food under one roof might seem surprising or odd without prior knowledge of Cambodia's French colonial past, it makes for a very interesting meal.

The Elephant Walk's menu is divided into sections, with separate areas devoted to original French (dishes prepared according to their chef's interpretation of French cuisine), traditional Cambodian (authentic recipes) and original Cambodian food (dishes inspired by Cambodian traditions)-the restaurant strives for authenticity in its recipes. I sampled both cuisines, first starting with the Crêpe de Canard aux Poires appetizer, a French dish consisting of a savory crêpe filled with braised duck, diced pears and scallions, with crème fraiche and a balsamic vinegar reduction as sauces. The presentation was so good it made my dinner dates jealous. Then, I ordered an original Cambodian dish called crevettes amrita for my entrée, which was a dish of sautéed shrimp with a colorful array of vegetables in a Cambodian satay sauce, served with white rice.

Although the dishes were skillfully prepared, some subtleties in flavor were lost in the shuffle. For instance, the pear in the crepe dish was diced very finely and did not really add much to the dish, as its flavor was masked by the sauces. Also, the shrimp entrée claimed to contain up to eight spices, including cumin, cardamom, galangal and star anise. However, the sugary satay sauce took center stage over the exotic spices I had looked forward to tasting. Moreover, while I like to think my dishes were such outstanding choices to have won my friends' attention, it could also just have been that their choice of saucisse grillée et ragout d'edamame was underwhelming, being a drab, brown dish of pork, rice and edamame that left them the small satisfaction of tasting better than it looked. Another friend ordered a calamari dish that she enjoyed, though, so in general, I think the dishes scored well.

Overall, my experience at The Elephant Walk was very pleasant. I enjoyed the food, the warm atmosphere and the full and lively crowd of Saturday night diners (I recommend booking a reservation to avoid the wait). Our waiter was friendly and polite, leaving my table eager to tip him well. I recommend The Elephant Walk highly-it makes an excellent choice for when you want to feel a little high-class. On the other hand, the prices encourage the high-class feeling, because although items generally don't cost more than $20 each, cheap, delicious food is available close by. Whatever the cost, the food is good, and the menu offers gluten-free and vegetarian options as well. I wish there were more actual Cambodian-French fusion dishes on the menu, though; the proprietors try to keep the two culinary genres separate so as to preserve traditional recipes. For this reason, they don't make food concessions for customers outside of changing the cut of your poultry and meat.

So, if you've never been to this locale, then consider The Elephant Walk for your next restaurant venture. Given a chance, this once-unexplored Waltham eatery could make your list of go-to, familiar favorites, and the food heaven you've been searching for could be waiting in the form of a tasty, East-meets-West meal.