Monday, 2 February 2009

Safe-sex program launched

Participants at the SMARTgirl conference on Friday at the Hotel Cambodiana.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sarah Whyte
Monday, 02 February 2009

US-funded NGO aims SMARTgirl campaign at regaining ground in HIV/Aids prevention after legislation last year pushed sex work underground.

A NEW US-funded HIV-prevention program is set to target safe-sex practises and reduce the transmission of HIV through its new campaign, SMARTgirl.

Launched on Friday, the program comes in the wake of last February's new anti-trafficking legislation, which led to large-scale police crackdowns on brothels nationwide - forcing sex workers either onto the streets or into the informal sex industry, such as beer gardens or karaoke parlours.

The NGO Family Health Internatiional (FHI) has adapted a new strategy for HIV prevention, no longer explicitly targeting sex workers but using a more "innocent tone" to empower women working in the informal sex industry to demand safe sex from their partners.

"SMARTgirl is aimed at repositioning how people talk about HIV," said Caroline Francis, deputy director of FHI.

The program will provide HIV testing, legal services and drug testing. It will also aim to further clarify the new anti- trafficking law, which can give police the right to arrest women in nightclubs if they are carrying condoms, as they see it as evidence of sex work.

"We hope to update the current 100 percent condom use policy, working with many partners on an advocacy level, including the United Nations," Francis said.

The Kingdom's 100 percent use policy, once touted as a regional success story, was abandoned following passage of the new anti-trafficking legislation, which made soliciting sex illegal for the first time, experts say.

Some 500 people packed a conference room in the Hotel Cambodiana for the SMARTgirl launch on Friday including Mam Bun Heng, minister of health, and Carol Rodley, the United States ambassador to Cambodia.

"In order to help women address their high-risk sexual behaviour and curb the spread of HIV/Aids, the program must move to entertainment venues like karaoke bars and massage parlours," Rodley said.

The new anti-trafficking legislation is part of the US's so-called "model legislation" approach, which activists say sees all sex work as inherently degrading, all sex workers as victims of trafficking and, therefore, seeks to make prostitution illegal.


30,000 police on guard for May poll

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brett Worthington and Cheang Sokha
Monday, 02 February 2009

NEARLY 30,000 police officers will be deployed to districts, provinces and municipalities ahead of May's council elections, spokesman for the National Police Keat Chantharith told the Post Sunday.

"Nearly 30,000 police officers will be used across the country to ensure security for the forthcoming council elections," he said. The exact number is expected to be 27,133 on the day itself, May 17, he said.

Sam Rainsy Party Deputy Secretary General Mu Sochua responded to the plan saying it was "a total waste of the national budget which could be used to help stimulate our economy, which is in crisis".

Funcinpec defections continue unabated, as six more jump ship

Sun Chanthol defected from Funcinpec to the ruling CPP last week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Monday, 02 February 2009

Last week's defection of six senior Funcinpec officials to the ruling CPP points towards the party's total dissolution: analyst.

A RECENT string of high-level defections from Funcinpec to the ruling Cambodian People's Party could be the final nail in the coffin for the flagging royalist party, says one political observer.

"The latest series of Funcinpec political elites to join the CPP would be a concerning issue [for the party]," said Mar Sophal, an independent political analyst.

"I think that the defection of members of the Funcinpec elite - such as Sun Chanthol and Serey Kosal - could lead to the dissolving of the party."

In last July's national elections, Funcinpec won just two of the 123 seats in the National Assembly and has since held a tenuous position in a coalition government, losing ministerial posts to a government reshuffle.

And more senior Funcinpec officials are reportedly preparing to defect to the ruling party in the hope that their defection will help them retain posts in the current government.

Kampuchea Thmei reported last week that a further six Funcinpec members had announced their defections, with Sun Chanthol, former minister of transport and public works, the highest-ranking official named.

The list also included a former undersecretary and secretary of state, and a lawmaker from a Kampong Cham constituency.

Not dead yet

Funcinpec Deputy President Prince Sisowath Sirirath saidSunday that Sun Chanthol, the only defecting member of the standing committee of the party, had submitted his resignation to the party last week.

But he said that Funcinpec is a democratic entity that has never interfered with its members' rights of political expression, and that Sun Chanthol's departure would not deal it a fatal blow.

"I think that those defectors who have gone over to the CPP have no faith and defected to the CPP purely out of personal interest," he said.

"Funcinpec is still a key political party, and we will not surrender to personal interest."

Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, told the Post last week that the door of the ruling party was open for all politicians and political parties.

"The CPP remains open for any politicians who are faithful and respect the party's rules and work for the unity of the nation," he said.

The CPP has reiterated its commitment to keeping Funcinpec as its partner in the current coalition government, with shared positions in the government.

Sun Chanthol declined to comment Sunday.

Informing media opinion

Former journalist and current Minister of Information and spokesman for the Cambodian People's Party, Khieu Kanharith, in his office at the ministry late last year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Roger Mitton
Monday, 02 February 2009

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on the CPP's press strategy, the state of Cambodia's media and plans to translate John Grisham into Khmer.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith, 57, is one of Prime Minister Hun Sen's closest confidants. The two have been close for almost 30 years and have experienced hardship and success together. As the official "voice" of Cambodia for the past seven years, Khieu Kanharith has become something of a rarity - a government leader who is both respected and liked by the journalism community, perhaps not surprising given he's a former journalist himself and therefore knows what it's like to be on both sides of an interview. An affable, hard-working polyglot, he remains a family man who still enjoys an occasional night out with journalist friends.

How do you rate the media in Cambodia these days?
You know, I became a newspaper editor when I was only 28 years old, and I stayed in the job more than 20 years. I still write occasional articles and news items, and I've been at the ministry more than 15 years, so I know the official side of things as well.... I read all the newspapers every day and watch all the TV channels, so I think I'm a reasonable judge. And I can say without a doubt there has been a tremendous improvement. We now have a young, educated and motivated media or journalism community. It includes more than 400 newspapers and magazines, and 18 journalists' associations. Of course, we have bad journalists as well as good ones, but overall I am satisfied.

Do you get upset at journalists who are inaccurate or who criticise you unfairly?
No, I don't. I think it's better to let them write whatever they like. If they are wrong, talk to them afterwards and explain that they have made a mistake - that's better than suing them. Personally, if I see something wrong, I contact one of the journalists' associations and let them speak to the reporter. I never contact the journalist directly because I don't want to seem to be interfering and I want to maintain my rapport with them. It doesn't matter if they are from an opposition or a pro-government newspaper; they know they can come and see me and feel relaxed. They call me "Bong" and from time to time we have a social get-together. I tell them that out of office hours, I am not a minister. I'm just like them. I'm a friend of the press.

Not all of your fellow ministers are so friendly.
Sure, I agree. That's because we've never had a free press in Cambodia until quite recently, So they're not used to being criticised in print. But they're getting better. If you look at the bigger picture, Cambodia has only recently embraced a free-market system and is integrating with the international community. A free press is an important part of that process because without it you cannot fight against large-scale corruption and abuse of power.To achieve true democracy, we need a civil society, a multiparty system and a strong and free press. I think we're getting there faster than many people expected.

Be honest, it's still not so free. You restrict information if it's to your advantage. Before last year's elections, you stopped releasing the figures for inflation - which was over 30 percent - so that the government would not look so bad.

" The weak point of some members of this government is that they feel uneasy with journalists."

Yes, sure. But that was not my decision. Every political party must have some tricks. Myself, I prefer to keep journalists fully informed. The weak point of some members of this government is that they feel uneasy with journalists and don't know whether to trust them. I tell them it's their job to give out correct information, but of course journalists are human beings and they can make mistakes even when they get the right information.

Former US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli said the media were biased in favour of the CPP in last year's elections and that the opposition did not get a fair share of coverage.
He's wrong. The anti-government viewpoint always gets plenty of coverage in the press. The local radio stations don't cover politics much, but Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America are very critical. As for the television stations, yes, I agree, they are mostly pro-government. But even then, the state broadcasting stations are not allowed to talk about political parties. If Hun Sen attends a party meeting, we are not allowed to cover it on national TV. Of course, if he goes as prime minister, we cover it. But if people are wearing the party logo, we cannot show that. So I think we are pretty balanced. We broadcast the National Assembly debates where the opposition speaks out and we never cut them. I think the US ambassador got it wrong because he did not read the Khmer-language newspapers or listen to Khmer radio.

Why are you so tolerant, when your Asean neighbours like Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Brunei and Myanmar rigourously censor and prosecute that kind of reporting?
They view the press with great caution and control it very tightly. When I met a Singapore delegation, they told me how their ministers, even the prime minister, sue the newspapers. They said I'm too soft with journalists. But in Cambodia, we take a much more relaxed and democratic attitude. Even a foreigner can own a newspaper here. You don't even need a Cambodian partner. That's not possible in most Asian countries, even those that claim to have a free press. One of the reasons we did it is because foreigners help our own journalists develop their technical and professional abilities. And it helps foster the openness of Cambodian society because people now feel they can say things they used to think were forbidden.

But, did you have problems saying "forbidden" things when you were an editor?
In fact, I did. I was once demoted because I criticised Hun Sen and called for a multiparty system in Cambodia, which I've always believed in. But in 1990 not many others openly said that and people in the party said we cannot do it. I insisted that it was unavoidable, so the party took action against me. Luckily, I was only demoted - others were jailed. Actually, at the time, I was pretty sure I was also going to be jailed. And when I was called in by [the National Assembly President] Chea Sim's office, I thought: ‘Ok, now it's my turn.' So I took two big books with me. One was Shogun and the other was The Black Ninja. I chose them because they were very thick and I figured they'd last me in jail. But Chea Sim just talked to me for about three hours and then said I was going to be ok and there was no need to be scared. After that chapter of my life, I decided to translate Shogun into Khmer, and it took me about five years because I didn't have time to do it full time and I just spent one or two hours on it at a time. I'd like to do more translation, perhaps a book by John Grisham, a mystery story.

How does Hun Sen react to press criticism these days?
Oh, he doesn't get upset. He's used to it now. Out of every 10 stories about him, you can be sure half are full of mistakes and he could sue for defamation. But he takes it calmly and regards it as part of being a leader in a democratic society. Of course, it irritates him. That's why, after breakfast, he only reads two or three newspapers now. At midday, he'll read translated articles from the international press.

He's been PM more than 20 years. Surely that's not healthy in a democracy?
If he makes mistakes he could be removed, but right now he's still a good leader for us. If you look at people in the opposition like [Prince Norodom] Ranariddh and [Sam] Rainsy, it's clear he is the best. That's why we never listens to the others. But Hun Sen never lords it over us. When we consider future plans, he always listens to what everyone has to say. And he never shows favouritism. I am very close to him, but he never asks me alone for my views. He always asks two or three others to get some balance before he makes a decision. And he can be very bold, like when he realised we had to negotiate with Sihanouk if we wanted to end the war. He did that, despite many people in the party being opposed to it.

You still hang out with him a lot?

Not really; that's because I don't play golf. If you play golf, you have to go with him all the time, and I don't like it. He plays golf with many of my secretaries of state and many of my friends. Not me, I like archery. I'm the president of the Cambodian Archery Federation.

Cambodia is developing well, it has a free press, multiparty elections and so on, yet there is still an impression in the outside world that it is a backward, lawless, dictatorial place. Is the media to blame for that image?
Yes, partly it is. Many journalists come here with preformed ideas and they try to find things that support those ideas. One international journalist said to me: ‘If I don't get to meet this minister, I will write a negative article about Cambodia.' I said nothing. They come here for two or three days and try to preach to us about everything. That's not nice and not professional. They always say ‘impoverished' when they refer to Cambodia, but we are not impoverished anymore. We are not like many African countries or North Korea. In fact, when I go to Manila and some other places in the region, I notice they are much worse than Cambodia.

Which papers do you read?
I start at 4am when I read the foreign press online. I read The Washington Post, the AP news service, Newsweek and some others like The Nation and The Bangkok Post from Thailand. And I check the Sam Rainsy Party's website. At 6 am, I watch the French news channel. And then I read all the local press. I'm lucky that I just need four hours sleep at night. interview by Roger Mitton

Top hot and budget-friendly 2009 destinations

Covering nearly one-square mile, the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is one of the most haunting reilgious edifices in the world and it is one of this year's hot travel destinations.
Photograph by: Mark Stachiew/Canwest News Service, Canwest News Service


SYDNEY - Looking for somewhere new to visit this year that is not going to break the bank?
Frommers has released its list of top destinations for 2009, focusing on places that are affordable and interesting:

1. Washington, D.C., USA
There’s the influx of new blood and governing energy from Jan. 21 when Barack Obama is inaugurated as U.S. president, but the city is also one of the world’s great budget cities as almost every major attraction Washington has to offer --from the Smithsonian Museums to the National Monuments -- is free. New for 2009? the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.

2. Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Located in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, Waiheke Island is located about 17.7 km (about 35 minutes by ferry) from Auckland. At the forefront of New Zealand’s massive wine and olive industry, Waiheke Island still retains a lot of the summer holiday, beach-quality Europeans and creative types come to expect, but there are plenty of deals to be found.

3. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA
Located 180 miles north of Sacramento, California, Lassen National Park is filled with hot springs, heat vents, sulfur ponds and dormant volcanoes. Open year-round, there’s only one place to stay within the park that’s not a campsite, of which there are 8, and everything from B&Bs to chain motels surround the park, all reasonably priced.

4. Istanbul, Turkey
Representing Istanbul’s up-and-coming and thriving arts scene, the European City of Culture 2010 has already started its build-up with street theatre, art and music galore. You can throw off that old image of a kebab-laden diet, with sushi bars that would do Tokyo proud and cocktails perfect for chic rooftop bars.

5. Civil Rights Trail, USA (Selma to Montgomery, Alabama)
The Civil Rights Trail both captures a moment in history through it’s many small museums -- both in Selma and Montgomery -- and in the journey visitors take to travel from place to place. For families, it’s a well-marked trail that offers changing views, numerous stops, and generational discussions.

6. Cartagena, Colombia
After years of violence owing to the drug cartel wars, Colombia has begun to emerge as a safe and vibrant travel destination. Cartagena has a highly developed tourist infrastructure and is only a 2- hour flight from Miami. With gorgeous 17th century colonial architecture, beautiful beaches, and an emerging foodie scene, there are activities for everyone.

7. Cape Town, South Africa
A city situated on the water where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, Cape Town will host the 2010 World Cup and promises to have one of the grandest venues for the event. Visit the African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach, along False Bay, or Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.

8. Berlin, Germany
Whether you’re after nights filled with dance parties or sipping decadent cocktails in the born-again area of Kreuzberg, Berlin seems to offer something for almost anyone.Visit the vast Tiergarten park with lakes, canals, palaces and the eco-aware zoo that is home to superstar polar bear Knut. Tour Karl-Marx-Allee in an authentic Trabant car and walk the remaining stretch of the Wall at the East Side Gallery.

9. Belfast, Northern Ireland
In little more than a decade, Belfast has been transformed from feared city into hot destination. The army check points that once encircled the city center are a thing of the past and you can amble along the Golden Mile for relaxed drinks or enjoy Irish music in Cathedral Quarter bars. Try the Laganside for orchestral concerts at the riverfront Waterfront Hall and international cuisine from teppanyaki at Harbour View to seafood at Tedfords.

10. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Most people who go to Cambodia do so to visit to Angkor Wat, the famed ruins in the jungle, but cast a net beyond the limits of Angkor Wat and see a bit more of the country. Among the highlights are boat trips up the Mekong River and through the jungle to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins or spend some time in vibrant, energized Phnom Penh.

11. Waterton National Park, Alberta, Canada
Waterton is the least-travelled of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Parks and positively otherworldly, with its abrupt shift from prairie to mountain terrain, as well as its icy-blue lake that fills an ancient gully surrounded by mountains and glaciers. It’s one of the only places in the Canadian Rockies where you can feel apart from the modern world, and its relatively sparse traffic means most things are as much as 30 percent cheaper than Banff.

Lao power plant plans to list on Thai bourse

Monsters and
Feb 2, 2009

Bangkok - Southeast Asia Energy Ltd, a Thai-owned hydropower project in Laos, is preparing to list on the Stock Exchange of Thailand later this year, media reports said Monday.

Ch Karnchang, a Thai construction firm that owns the plant, is seeking a financial adviser for helping with the listing, which would become the first such cross-border listing of a company from Indochina on the Thai bourse, The Nation newspaper reported.

The company needs funding to complete the Nam Ngum II hydropower plant. The plant on the Nam Ngum River, a major tributary of the Mekong, is to generate 615 megawatts of electricity to be sold to Thailand.

The Bangkok bourse has a target to attract at least 40 firms from Indochina - Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Cambodia and Laos are in the process of setting up their own stock markets. Vietnam already has one.

Cambodia-Boost to pork industry

Farming UK

CAMBODIA - Local pork producers and agriculture officials are pressing ahead with plans to boost the local industry by improving processing facilities, cutting feed prices and cracking down on smuggling.

This year, the government set up additional border inspection points to stem the illegal flow of animals entering the country and is providing free veterinary services to farmers, reports The Phnom Penh Post.

"We don’t charge for veterinary services for locally bred animals, but we charge 100 riels (2.42 cents) per kilo for imported ones," said Kao Phal, director of the Animal Health and Production Department at the Ministry of Agriculture.

"We are trying to attract more investment in animal food production ... to keep the price low for farmers and create jobs," said Kao Phal.

Officials are also cracking down on smuggling and have installed new inspection points at the border and inside the country.

Each day 800 pigs are imported from Thailand and Vietnam with many more smuggled. Kao Phal said that three smugglers have been caught this year and fined.

Mong Reththy, head of Mong Reththy Group, said his company is spearheading an effort to improve sanitary standards and reduce processing costs.

The company is building a US$1 million processing factory capable of producing 10 tonnes of pork per hour.

The facility will export local pork and pork products within five years, he said.

"We can sell pork abroad at $10 per kilo, but only $5 locally, so we need to encourage exports. Firstly, we need to improve our sanitary standards otherwise nobody will buy local pork," said Mong Reththy. "I think we can export some of the pork and leave local farmers to supply the Cambodian market."

He said that his company will not undercut local farmers, but will raise the standards of the industry.

The facility would source its feed locally, he said, which would allow farmers to sell low-quality grains in-country.

The company hopes to take advantage of Cambodia’s free trade agreements by targeting China and Japan as export markets.

In the long term, the company would make dried pork and sausages for export at a $1.8 million facility, said Mong Reththy.

Srun Pov, the first deputy president of the country’s biggest pork association, the Cambodian Pig Raisers Association, said that farmers earn nearly double if they process pork locally.

"We are asking the government to encourage local processing to boost the Cambodian pork industry," he said.

He urged the government to focus on cutting feed prices ,which can account for 70 per cent of farmers’ costs.

Cambodia's private sector exports of milled rice expected to rise 10 folds in 2009

Special Report: Global Financial Crisis

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia may see a 10-fold increase in private sector milled rice exports this year, up to 200,000 tons from 20,000 tons in 2008, due to greater milling capacity and emergence of new markets, national media said on Monday.

The rise would come despite higher government stock requirement, English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh quoted the Federation of Cambodian Rice Miller Associations (FCRMA), as saying.

The private sector is required to maintain minimum stocks of 500,000 tons in 2009, up from 400,000 tons in 2008, it said.

About 300,000 tons have already been collected from the latest harvest, and the industry is using 15 million U.S. dollars of low-interest bank loans to enhance the capacity and quality of milling through upgrading infrastructure, said FCRMA president Phou Puy.

The industry has also expanded the overseas market and plans to export over 200,000 tons of rice to Germany, Malaysia, Brunei and Saudi Arabia, he added.

Among the countries beside the Mekong River, where rice plantation is popular, Cambodia only lags behind Thailand and Vietnam in the fields of rice exports.

Editor: Lu Yanan

Fifth suspect arrested in link with foiled bomb plot in Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- A fifth suspect was arrested last week in Banteay Meanchey province and charged in connection with the foiled bomb plot on Jan. 2 in Phnom Penh, national media said on Monday.

Fifty-seven-year-old vendor Pov Sovannara "is the fifth person arrested in link with the Tiger Head Movement, which planted explosives in the city on Jan. 2," National Police spokesman Kieth Chanthearith was quoted by English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily as saying.

Pov Sovannara was charged on Sunday with "conscripting and training terrorist forces and planting explosives in public places" and more suspects will be named later, according to Kieth Chanthearith.

In January, four other Tiger Head Movement members were arrested for the same plot and also faced the same charges.

Three small explosive devices were found near the Defense Ministry and the state-run Television Station No. 3 and later safely detonated by de-mining experts on Jan. 2. The government claimed that the anti-government Tiger Head Movement was behind the foiled plot.
Editor: Bi Mingxin

Foreign-owned banks intensify competition in domestic market


VietNamNet Bridge - Competition in the banking industry is heating up, with an increased presence this year of foreign bank branches and five new foreign-owned banks, each subsidiaries of such foreign banking giants as ANZ Bank, HSBC, and Standard Chartered.

ANZ Bank this week announced plans to open six new transaction offices in HCM City and Ha Noi, after completing registration of its new wholly foreign-owned bank in October of last year.
The new bank is expected to officially open in April.

"Local incorporation gives ANZ a broader foundation and network to meet the needs of Vietnamese customers and companies," said ANZ Viet Nam CEO Thuy Dam.

HSBC’s subsidiary bank became the first of these new foreign-owned banks to begin operations in HCM City this month, saying the local presence would enable them to improve banking services and cover a broader customer network.

The local subsidiary of Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank is expected to commence operations in Viet Nam by the end of this year.

At a recent meeting of foreign credit institutions, State Bank of Viet Nam Governor Nguyen Van Giau said that foreign credit institutions would be treated equally to local banks, with the right to accept deposits, make loans, and offer payment and foreign exchange services like Vietnamese banks, with unlimited numbers of branch offices.

But Vietnamese banks remain disadvantaged in terms of capital, compared with foreign banks. Leading domestic banks like Agribank, Vietcombank and Vietinbank have charter capital in the range of VND11-13 trillion (US$629-743 million). Of 38 joint-stock commercial banks, those with capital in excess of VND3.4 trillion ($194.28 million) are countable on one hand.

The State Bank has regulated that commercial banks will have to maintain charter capital of VND3 trillion by the end of 2010. By the end of last year, nine smaller banks were struggling to meet the 2009 requirement that they be capitalised by at least VND1 trillion ($57 million).

By comparison, HSBC Viet Nam, with strong support from its parent bank, starts work with VND3 trillion ($171.4 million) in charter capital.

And with foreign banks’ superior business experience and governance capacity, combined with the local belief that foreign anything is better than the domestic product or service, many observers believe that the competition from foreign banks will become overwhelming.

These banks offer a full range of international and integrated banking products and solutions across institutional and corporate banking, financial markets, trade finance, SME banking and retail banking. They also offer individual customers the convenience of ATMs and mobile-banker facilities.

Standard Chartered Bank customer Thanh Mai said, "I think foreign banks have better risk management for our money because they have been in the banking business for ages."

"I like their services and their products," said ANZ Bank customer Nguyen Thi Thu Trang.
"Competition with foreign banks is unavoidable," said Nguyen Thanh Toai, deputy general director of Asia Commercial Bank. "This year, both local and foreign banks will have to compete in very fierce conditions, but foreign banks may not be able to take advantage this year due to impacts from economic downturn globally and domestically."

But, he cautioned: "That doesn’t mean local banks can relax."

Putting it more succinctly, Orient Commercial Bank general director Vo Van Chau said: "Foreign banks are not tigers, and local banks are not young rabbits."

Vietnamese banks are likely to strengthen gradually, and some will join force to hold onto market share.

Many commercial banks have already connected their ATM networks to increase convenience and keep customers, as well as expanding their branch networks and linking hands with corporate partners.

Asia Commercial Bank now maintains 186 branch offices nationwide, while Sacombank has an even more impressive 244, as well as offices in Laos and Cambodia and a representative office in China.

Some experts also believed that domestic banks would have no trouble surviving because foreign banks tended to market to a higher-income segment of the market. There were nine million bank accounts opened nationwide, most in urban areas, so the industry still had a huge potential for growth.

Former central bank governor Cao Si Kiem also noted that foreign banks were not yet familiar with the local market or with Vietnamese laws and customs, giving domestic banks some time to improve their positions.


Khmer Rouge leaders finally face trial for 1970s atrocities

The Lowell Sun


By Denis D. Gray
Associated Press Writer

KOMPONG SPEU, Cambodia -- Im Savoeun remembers how they clung to each other for the last time, sobbing, as life drained from her husband after a savage beating by the Khmer Rouge. The starving man's crime was stealing a potato.

"I could not help him. There was no medicine. The only thing I could give him were my tears," says Savoeun, 64, who like countless Cambodians, has spent half a lifetime grieving and waiting for justice.

In 2009, after years of political sabotage, judicial bickering, corruption allegations and funding shortages, the Khmer Rouge is likely to begin facing retribution for the crimes of its 1970s reign of terror.

A U.N.-backed tribunal announced last week it would put the first of five former Khmer Rouge leaders before a panel of Cambodian and international judges Feb. 17 on charges of crimes against humanity. The trials of the other four, all old and ailing, are unlikely to begin until 2010.

Stepping first into the 504-seat courtroom will be 65-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, who headed the Khmer Rouge's largest torture center. The others are Khieu Samphan, the group's former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs; and Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue. They face a maximum of life imprisonment.

The trials will place Cambodia among a half dozen countries that have been caught up in international criminal trials for crimes against humanity in the past 15 years. But the Cambodian process has had a particularly stormy history, and it faces skepticism about its fairness and scope, and suspicions that some pretext or other will halt it altogether.

"Even if we condemn five or 10 at the tribunal there will be no balance because they killed millions," says Im Savoeun, who lost four other family members. "My husband and son can never come back to me but at least they will have received some justice."

Inflamed by an ultra-communist vision, the Khmer Rouge sought to eradicate traditional Cambodian society and begin again from "year zero." They turned the country into a vast slave labor camp, abolishing all freedoms. At least 1.7 million, some say more than 2 million, died of starvation, disease and executions during this primitive experiment in human engineering.

Despite the scale of atrocities, the Cambodian side at the tribunal, called the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, has sought to strictly limit the court's reach. It recently refused a proposal by Robert Petit, the Canadian international co-prosecutor, to cast the net wider and try up to five more former Khmer Rouge figures.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's government is full of former Khmer Rouge higher-ups, himself included, and has little to gain from the trials. Already in 1998, he declared that Cambodians "should dig a hole and bury the past."

In an open admission that the trial has more to do with internal politics than standards of international justice, Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang recently argued that putting more than five figures on trial could endanger national stability.

While Japan's contribution this month of $21 million has at least temporarily allayed fears the court might run out of funding, an investigation into alleged corruption -- including the buying of positions on the court -- has still to be concluded.

Petit isn't giving up. "There is still a fair chance that the tribunal will realize a limited measure of justice. It will help set the historical record once and for all and will help people understand and believe what happened here," he said in an interview.

But he added that "anything can always happen; money can run out, the government can ask us to go home or the internationals may decide to leave."

Despite their long wait and the death of many victims and their tormentors, nationwide surveys having show that more than 80 percent of Cambodians back the trials.

Those victims who had tried to put the horror behind them began reliving it when the prospect of trials arose, and to abort the process would cause huge frustration, says Pung Chhiv Kek, a human rights campaigner.

Im Savoeun has gone from being poor farmer's daughter to member of Parliament, and has never forgotten, even though her husband's killers won't be on trial and may already have died a peaceful death.

"Thirty years of waiting was long for me," she said, sobbing. "But finally we are starting the trial now, so at least the young generation will learn and understand."

Cambodian fishing boats

Cambodian fishing boats are at anchor in the middle of the Mekong River after catching fishes on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009 on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

'Unpolished Gem' poignant tale of family, cultural ties

By Jessica Harrison

Deseret News
Published: Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009

"UNPOLISHED GEM: My Mother, My Grandmother, and Me," by Alice Pung, Plume, 304 pages, $15, softcover

In 1974, the Khmer Rouge army headed by the dictator Pol Pot took over Cambodia, ruthlessly initiating a communist program that forced the entire population to work as laborers on collective farms.

The regime persecuted or eliminated anyone in opposition, as well as professionals and intellectuals. Minority groups — ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese, Cham Muslims, Christians and Buddhists — were the demographic targets of persecution.

As ethnic Chinese, writer Alice Pung's family was among thousands who fled the killing fields of Cambodia.

After walking from Cambodia, across Vietnam to Thailand, the Pungs were placed in refugee camp. A year later, they were relocated to Australia, where Alice was born shortly after their arrival.

In "Unpolished Gem," Alice shares her family's trials and triumphs as they try to build a new life in a strange and fascinating new country.

When the Pungs arrive in Australia, they are amazed at the outpouring of generosity.

Not only are they given clothes and a place to live, but they get a check each month from the government, too.

And what luxuries the country offers. Who knew that pushing a black squishy button could make cars stop for pedestrians?

Water coming clean from the tap is unheard of, and the novelty of an escalator keeps them entertained for hours.

Shopping at a grocery store is a huge transition. The aisles and aisles of food in colorful packages leave Alice's mother in awe. Overwhelmed by the experience, the family can't believe their luck, buying cans of meat that are inexpensive and tasty.

It's only when they see a commercial on TV that they realize the meat is not for humans. Such wonders that dogs in Australia should eat so well, they can't help but think.

As the years pass by and the family puts down roots, Alice finds herself straddling two worlds — East and West.

Her family wants her to take advantage of the education offered and assimilate into society.

At the same time she is expected to carry out traditions of her parents' homeland, preparing herself for the day when she marries an Asian doctor who they may or may not choose for her.

"Unpolished Gem" is poignant tale of potential and heartbreak. Pung's natural storytelling abilities shine through as she focuses on the fragile relationships between three generations of women — Alice, her mother and paternal grandmother.

Though set in Australia, Pung's memoir is one American readers will easily identify with.

In fact, if it weren't for different uses of words like "trolley" or "jumper," "Unpolished Gem" could have taken place in anywhere U.S.

Pung's sophisticated and humorous prose is mature beyond her years. Enveloping the reader from the start, this comfortable, intelligent and inviting writing style captures the magic of her childhood imagination, anxieties of adolescence and the hope of young adulthood.

Tender and insightful, "Unpolished Gem" is well worth a read.

Mending Lucky's heart

A happy Ratha Pang carries her son, Soksamnang Vy, out of Rady Children s Hospital in San Diego, where Dr. Paul Grossfeld, left, just gave the young Cambodian a clean bill of health. (Jeff Gritchen/Staff Photographer)

Press-Telegram Long Beach

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/31/2009

SAN DIEGO - Her hands were pressed together in the classic Cambodian gesture of respect. Her head bowed up and down, up and down, and the tears streamed.

Ratha Pang had just been told by a cardiologist that open-heart surgery less than two months ago on her 1-year-old son, Soksamnang Vy, had been a "100-percent success."

"He should have a normal life," said Dr. Paul Grossfeld, a cardiologist at Children's Specialists of San Diego. "He just has a scar to show off to his girlfriends when he gets older."

Vy had a dime-sized hole in his heart, known as a ventricular septal defect, repaired at Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas in December.

Vy, whose first name translates to "Lucky Friday," comes from an impoverished village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

He was diagnosed with the ailment in Cambodia and brought to the United States by Long Beach nonprofit Hearts Without Boundaries, which arranged and paid for his travel and lodging. He is the second Cambodian child the nonprofit has rescued from a slow death.

The first child, Davik Teng, is back in her home village in Cambodia and doing well.

Grossfeld said Vy's heart function was great, there was no fluid or leakage around the hole and only a trace of seepage in the heart valve.

"Everything looks perfect, spectacular," Grossfeld said.

Pang, proclaimed it a "special day" in Khmer as she thanked the doctor and exchanged hugs.

Susan Grossfeld, who brokered the deal in Las Vegas after her husband's home hospital declined, was also on hand.

"Next year, we want to see Lucky running around and happy," she said to Pang.

The Grossfelds are among a group from University of California, San Diego that annually visits Angkor Hospital for Children in Cambodia to perform simple heart procedures.

However, more serious heart defects, such as the one that Vy had, require use of a heart-lung machine in treatments not readily available in Cambodia.

In the case of Vy, some Cambodian doctors had suggested valve replacement, a far riskier and in his case needless procedure that would have required multiple operations and the use of blood thinners for life.

Luckily for Lucky, Dr. Lyda Luy, a cardiologist in Siem Reap, recommended the more conservative choice and Grossfeld concurred.

Although Vy has been pronounced healthy and fit to travel, he will likely remain in the United States until March before returning to Cambodia.

While traveling to the appointment with Grossfeld, Pang playfully poked at her son's cheeks and pantomimed how they have filled out since he has been in the U.S.

Peter Chhun, the founder of Hearts Without Boundaries, explained that Vy has grown particularly fond of milk, which is hard to find and expensive in Cambodia.

Pang works as a cleaner in Cambodia for $60 per month.

The boy and his mom have also been introduced to a variety of Western foods.

Pang says she and her son are partial to pizza, hamburger, fried chicken and french fries.
Pang said Lucky is noticeably healthier since the surgery.

"He's much stronger. He's more playful and he moves faster than he used to," Pang says through translation as she pantomimes her son's movement.

"It's tougher for me to run after him," she adds with a smile., 562-499-1291


Write: Hearts Without Boundaries
744 Redondo Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90804
Call: 818-640-6191
E-mail: PeterChhun@

On the Web:

Sounds of the new abolitionists

Ten Shekel Shirt will perform at the concert, which will benefit a nonprofit founded by lead singer Lamont Hiebert, second from left.

Lancaster Online
Feb 01, 2009

Concert Friday at LBC is fundraiser in fight to end child slavery

By Helen Colwell Adams, Staff Writer

After her first trip to Cambodia, Michelle Kime had to ask herself a question: "How do I live here now?"

She had seen grinding poverty, poor sanitation, filthy water. Most horrifying: She had seen the results of the global child trafficking trade.

"We met kids in the orphanage as young as 5 to 12 who had been rescued from trafficking," said Kime, who lives in Lancaster.

Kime concluded the only way she could live with herself, in her privileged country, was by raising awareness and money to combat trafficking.

The result is a benefit concert Friday, Feb. 6, at Lancaster Bible College, featuring the nationally known Christian band Ten Shekel Shirt. All proceeds go to LOVE146, a nonprofit founded by lead singer Lamont Hiebert, a self-described abolitionist, dedicated to ending child slavery and exploitation.

Trafficking is a stunningly big, profitable trade; an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year."You think you can wrap your mind around it," Kime said, "but you can't."

Seeing too much

Kime's eyes were opened when she traveled to Cambodia last March with Aiyana Ehrman, a co-founder of Who Cares (, which has established projects in Cambodia, Zanzibar and Ethiopia to help "the poor, exploited and vulnerable."

Ehrman, formerly of Lancaster County, is married to Jim Ehrman, executive director of the new World Christianity Project at Yale University. Before Yale, Jim Ehrman headed the Evangelical Congregational Church Global Ministries Office; Kime's husband Joel, senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Congregational Church on Old Philadelphia Pike, served on the EC office's board.

A year ago, Aiyana Ehrman invited Michelle Kime to accompany her on an oversight mission to Cambodia.

The women partnered with the Cambodian Hope Organization (, a faith-based nonprofit in Poipet, Cambodia.

The nation is still reeling from the devastation of Khmer Rouge rule, which resulted in the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians in the 1970s.

"I saw poverty like I had never seen before," Kime said.

She visited one village of about 200 people that had no well for water. When Kime returned, she told the story at Faith EC, and two members came forward to underwrite the cost of a well.

By the time Kime, 34, went back in December, the well had been drilled, and she celebrated with a drink of fresh water.

What Kime, the mother of four children ages 11, 10, 5 and 3, learned about child trafficking was even more eye-opening than the poverty she saw.

LOVE146 ( estimates that 27 million people are enslaved worldwide, more than double the number of Africans forced into slavery during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The reason: It's a lucrative trade, worth an estimated $32 billion.

The United Nations puts the annual number of children who are trafficked at 1.2 million. Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, is one of the regions that supplies most of the trafficked children.

Trafficking involves forcing, coercing or deceiving another person into work or sexual exploitation. Children are kidnapped or sold into slavery by their families — sometimes with promises that the child will have a good job. But trafficked children end up in sweatshops, in brothels or serving as child soldiers.

"I never realized the extent of it," Kime said. Or that the demand for child prostitutes in southeast Asia is fueled by Western sex tourists.

In Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, "everywhere you went you saw middle-aged Western men and young Cambodians," Kime said.

She spent her last two days in Cambodia at a debriefing session at the famed Angkor Wat temples.

"I clearly remember thinking, 'What do I do?' With new knowledge comes new responsibility, and I had much new knowledge."

She decided that she had to continue to educate herself on the problem, and to "share the education I was given."

New awareness

One way she's educating is through the concert.

Kime found the LOVE146 Web site in the course of researching child trafficking. It turned out that the Ehrmans are friends with Ten Shekel Shirt's Hiebert, who had put his musical career on hold for several years to launch LOVE146. The band released a new CD, "Jubilee," in 2008.

"In my mind, rock music, faith and social justice are meant to go together, so agreeing to this benefit concert was a no brainer," Hiebert said by e-mail.

The concert "will prevent child abductions and will help care for survivors of modern-day slavery and exploitation. Lancaster County has a rich history in the abolition of slavery. It's time to revive that passion.

"The band cut its fees so sponsors could underwrite the concert. Lancaster Bible College agreed to donate the venue, and Faith EC's missions committee also is a partner. Sponsors include Highland Car Wash, Nancy's Van Service and Martin's Flooring, plus an anonymous donor.

Now Kime is getting another kind of education: riders, contracts and all the details of concert promotion. "I didn't know what I was doing," she said.

But she's doing it for a purpose: to eradicate child trafficking."It's unimaginable for us in America," she said.

Ten Shekel Shirt performs at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6, at Lancaster Bible College, 901 Eden Road. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. To order, call 393-5345 or e-mail All proceeds and an offering will benefit

From the archive: Dodging Khmer Rouge bullets on a Mekong run

From The Sunday Times
February 1, 2009

March 10, 1974: The world’s most dangerous boat trip, to Phnom Penh

Jon Swain

I JOINED Convoy TT173 at Saigon and selected a freighter called Bonanza Three: her wheelhouse, our refuge during the attack, was protected by a thick wall of sandbags and her skipper, Captain Herri Pentoh, was a “real crackerjack”, according to a US aid official on the Phnom Penh run.

Captain Pentoh, a wiry 27-year-old Indonesian with long, greasy hair, stood in the wheelhouse gazing awkwardly at the river bank through binoculars, partly because the solid wall of sandbags restricted his vision, but mostly because, like Nelson, he had only one good eye. The other, made of glass, gave a wild, staring accent to his face.

Bonanza Three, anchored in the oily waters of Saigon harbour, seemed an ugly, rusty old tub, fit for the scrapyard, and that was the reason why she had been chosen for the Mekong River run: her owner thought her expendable. Happily for him, the American government is committed to Phnom Penh’s survival and, so far at least, it has always made it worth his while to gamble the ship and the lives of his crew for a quick return.

“The risks are high, but generally so are the profits,” explained Johnny Khoo, manager of the Singapore-based shipping company that runs her. It is understood that profits fluctuate around £17,000 a trip.

The big joke aboard Bonanza Three was the loo. Apart from making privacy a farce, fist-sized shrapnel holes in the door and wall made it all too obvious that the consequences of using it at the wrong moment could prove disastrous. Happily, the Khmer Rouge gunners, notoriously bad shots, have never caught anyone with their pants down.

The ship’s radio officer, I was told, was “absent”. Only later did I discover that the poor fellow had been killed two months before, blasted in his cabin by a rocket. Members of the crew had scooped up the pieces in a plastic bag and are still trying to erase this from their memories.

The convoy passed the first big danger point almost unchallenged. At Peam Chor, 15 miles beyond the frontier, the Mekong suddenly curves and narrows to a 500-yard channel – an ideal and frequent ambush spot. Conspicuous to our straining eyes were the hulks of two ammunition barges sunk 10 days before, during the last run. All that remained were pieces of rusty machinery poking from the sluggish water.

With the sleepy little town of Neak Leung just a fading smudge to stern, the danger seemed over. Even Captain Pentoh relaxed, unzipping his flak jacket and pulling off his helmet, for he knew that no convoy had been hit on the home run for nearly a year.

The ambush came quickly, with a rocket attack on the lead ship, the Monte Cristo, as she steamed past the Dey Do plywood factory only 12 miles from Phnom Penh.

From the wheelhouse on Bonanza Three, two ships astern, it was impossible to assess the damage, but flames and a feather of black smoke on the Wing Pengh, the ship 300 yards from our bows, denoted that she, too, had been hit.

Machinegun bullets clanged and rattled off the hull. In the wheelhouse, the little Cambodian pilot carried on with his instructions, his voice as steady as a rock, his fear betrayed only by his delicate fingers tightly wrapped round a small ivory Buddha.

The words “starboard easy” had just left his lips when the rocket burst aft. The explosion felt like a heavy blow in the back. Nobody moved or said anything, except the captain, who said, “Bloody hell, we’ve been hit”, then looked around embarrassed.

Nobody bothered to leave the wheelhouse and inspect the damage until we were safely tied up at Phnom Penh’s dirty brown waterfront an hour or so later. The rocket had missed the steering column by a fraction of an inch; had it hit, Bonanza Three would have been sent circling out of control. A winch was badly damaged and there were a lot of holes, but she had survived yet another Mekong River run.

Pinned to a blackboard in the press briefing centre in Phnom Penh that evening, the Cambodian high command’s communiqué tersely read: “A convoy of five cargo ships, two petrol tankers and three ammunition barges has anchored at the port of Phnom Penh after passing up the Mekong without incident.”

The Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in 1975. Millions of Cambodians died in the “killing fields” massacres that followed