Thursday, 5 February 2009

Cambodia from the back of a scooter

Illawara Mercury, Australia


Until a few weeks ago, I had never really given Cambodia much thought. I was not familiar with its culture, I had no idea what food they ate there (I assumed it was similar to Vietnamese) and I had dismissed its history as insignificant compared to that of its neighbour, Vietnam.

But after attending a wedding in Thailand and finding myself in Bangkok with six weeks before the last leg of my round-the-world ticket would take me home to Sydney, no friends in the region that I could visit and not enough money to fly to another country, I hopped on a bus and crossed into the neighbouring kingdom of Cambodia.

I was relying on a few tips from friends I met in Peru who had recently travelled the area and the Lonely Planet guidebook. I made my first stop Battambang, the second largest city, two hours from the Thai border. Taking the book’s first pick of accommodation, I accepted the last room at the Royal Hotel. I could not believe that US$3 could buy me a private, clean room with two beds and a fan. Even in South America, where I had been staying in hostels for months, the lowest I ever paid was US$5, and that was for a dorm. The share bathroom facilities were meagre, but I was impressed there was a ceramic toilet, even if it was lacking a flush button.

That just added to the Cambodian experience, as did the shower process of pouring a bucket of water over your head. But the hotel did have a rooftop restaurant with gorgeous views of the city.

Battambang itself does not offer much for the tourist. It is a dusty city intersected by the dirty brown Sangker River. But attractions on the outskirts of the city are helping to make it one of the top four tourist destinations in the country, behind the capital Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, the jumping off point for visits to Angkor Wat, and Sihanoukville on the south coast. My problem was that I was travelling on my own and with no organised tours, the only way to get to these out-of-the-way sites was on the back of a motorbike.

So the next day, I found myself hanging on to the waist of a young Cambodian guy named Ko, as we started a day tour that ended with a friendship I think will last for years. I felt exhilarated as we rode through rice fields and past Khmers (the name for Cambodians village people) working with their crops, riding bicycles or lazing in hammocks. It was the Cambodia I had started to imagine as I researched my trip. Just a few hours into the country and I was already falling in love.

Our first stop was Phnom Sampeau, atop a limestone “hill”, the locals say represents a sail boat. It is where the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 10,000 people, mostly through torture or throwing them into one of the three “killing caves”. Ko showed me the detention centre - a bare, cement room, where he said prisoners were kept and tortured. After the fall of the regime, thousands of human bones and skulls were found in the area. They were so scattered that no one knows exactly how many people were killed and none of the bodies have been identified. Instead, they have been piled into display cages. The Buddha shrines that existed before the regime turned the area into a bloodbath have been re-erected and families can come and make offerings.

I convinced Ko to take me to the bottom of one of the caves. It was only 40 or 50m deep, but it was incredibly eerie as we looked up towards to light shining through the hole from where terrified Khmers were pushed through, landing where we now stood.

At the third cave, a huge gold reclining Buddha lay near a recently added memorial dedicated to the victims. In an attempt to reclaim the sanctity of the area, another huge Buddha has been erected further down the hill and there is a shrine overlooking the surrounding plains. Today was the second day of Chinese New Year, so there were scores more tourists than normal, according to Ko. They were almost all Cambodian or Chinese and appeared to be there for both personal interest and religious purposes. When I sat down to take in the view from the shrine, a large group of Cambodians asked to take a photo with me. Suddenly, the white, blonde-haired Australian girl had become the attraction. Not unused to such requests after nine months in South America, I held my smile for a long minute while they took turns to sit next to me.

At the bottom of the mountain, we stopped for lunch – fried rice with vegetables and chicken –before jumping back on the bike and scooting to Phnom Banan, where Banan Temple sits atop a huge mountain. Ko was not keen to climb the 358 steps that lead to the temple, so I left him swinging in a hammock. Children were sitting on the balustrade of the stone steps, hoping to suck in tourists to give them a dollar for a tour – if you let them follow you for more than a minute, they expect you to pay. I chatted to some of them, who could surprisingly speak reasonable English (they have caught on quickly that speaking English is a clever way to the tourist dollar). The temple’s layout of five towers - one each at the cardinal points and another in the middle – is the same as the magnificent Angkor Wat, which I will visit in a few days.

However, Banan Temple was built before Angkor Wat, by King Udayadityavarman II in the 11th Century, leading some locals to claim it was the inspiration for the larger temple. It is still well preserved with only a few fallen stones strewn at the base of the towers.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw a group of monks dressed in their bright orange saffrons in the dry foliage behind the temple. They were posing for photos and one was even smoking a cigarette. I have long admired photos of monks, their bright clothing and serenity seeming to exude from the picture, and took a few snaps myself. However, I was surprised by the cigarette smoking monk and again later when I saw another talking on his mobile phone.

When I found Ko, he was still playing what he said was known as the Cambodian sport – hammocking – if there is such a word. When we had passed mango trees earlier, Ko had told me that Cambodians eat the mango with salt and chilli and I was keen to try it myself so we ordered some. The still green mangos are cut into slices and dipped into the mixed spices. It is an odd combination of sweet, sour (because the mango is not yet ripe), salty and spicy. In the end, I decided I preferred fresh, juicy mangos.

Back on the bike, we travelled to the starting point of one of the most bizarre train rides in the world. The Battambang bamboo train services locals who need to transport goods along the 3.7km track, but has also become a tourist attraction. Each “train”, about 3m wide, is made from wood and bamboo and is powered by a small engine. Being a single track, the idea is that when trains are coming from different directions, one can be easily disassembled to allow the other to pass. It took just a minute for our train to be set-up. Ko’s bike was lifted on and we sat cross-legged on cushions facing the direction of the track. The train click-clacked down the uneven track at a pace of just 15km/h. It was certainly not the most comfortable, nor the most scenic train journey I have taken, but it was definitely the most unique.

From O Dambong, where we disembarked, we started to make our way back to Battambang through the maze of dirt roads that skirted more rice fields and scattered huts. But there was one more place Ko wanted to show me – his home. Ko’s family lives in Phnom Penh, but he moved to Battambang to live with his uncle five years ago. I got the impression he may have been a troubled adolescent, as he failed high school three times, only graduating last year at the age of 23. As the eldest of five children, he is helping to support his family back in the capital. His uncle is one of the most senior tourism officers in Battambang and is training Ko to follow in his footsteps. He got him a job as a moto driver at the Royal Hotel five months ago and Ko also attends evening English classes five days a week.

His uncle’s house is typical of many rural Cambodian homes – a wooden structure on top of stilts. There are no fancy furnishings, no wallpaper or paint and no stainless steel kitchen sink or flushing toilet. It is the same simple living that I grew to admire while living in Peru for nine months.

When we arrived, Ko’s family, including the aunt and cousins he lives with and other relatives who had dropped by as you do in Cambodia, were relaxing under the house in hammocks watching a boxing match on a tiny TV. His baby cousin was being swung in a hammock, just like mothers often do in a rocking chair in Australia. I was immediately taken by another child, two-year-old Mia, who had gorgeous dark brown eyes but refused to smile at me. A couple of his other uncles cut down a coconut from a towering tree next to their house and Ko cut it open for me to drink. It was splendid to sit back in a swinging chair, sipping from a freshly cut coconut in the middle of the Cambodian countryside.

Ko gave me a tour of their orchid, full of a variety of fruit trees, though none was ripe at this time of year, and happily explained the typical features of a Cambodian home including the wooden fire used to cook and the drainage system that helps store water from the rainy season for the dry, similar to water tanks in Australia. We relaxed for an hour or so and bid farewell.

Ko’s house is near Wat Kor village, which features some of the last remaining examples of Khmer heritage housing. We stopped at one and an elderly man gave me a tour. His grandfather had built the home 102 years ago. Its main identifying features include large, side-opening windows and high ceilings to allow for better ventilation in the steamy climate and several antique machines and furniture. I was amazed that the 11 small holes in the middle of the living room floor were the house’s toilet – residents would use it to relieve themselves or if they were sick. I was assured that that custom no longer existed.

I hopped off Ko’s bike at my hotel, tired but extremely happy after an incredible first day in Cambodia. I had had a fantastic introduction to the country’s strong religious customs, its dark history under the Khmer Rouge, delicious food and its very fascinating countryside and rural life. On top of that, I’d ridden on the back of a motorbike and made a great friend.

Sokimex in line for black rewards

Asia Times Online
Feb 6, 2009

By Geoffrey Cain

PHNOM PENH - If Cambodia's much touted oil and gas finds in the past few years comes to fruition, Sokimex Group, the country's largest business conglomerate, is expected to be one of the bigger local winners. With top level political connections and a firm grip on local oil and gas distribution, the historically opaque and often controversial company will also face more pressure to publicly disclose its accounts and practices.

The World Bank earlier estimated the fuel find, made and managed by US oil giant Chevron, could entail 2 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Chevron has remained tightlipped about its in-house estimates and plans, and some industry analysts have deflated earlier high-end estimates, contending the fuel actually lies in hard-to-reach and scattered pockets rather than in one concentrated area.

Exploitation is nonetheless expected to commence in either 2010 or 2011, though a recent tax dispute between the government and Chevron could delay drilling indefinitely, one analyst says. It's also unclear how the collapse in global oil prices - from a high of US$147 per barrel in July last year to its current level of around $41 - might have impacted on the project's economics and projected profitability.

None of that has so far dampened Sokimex's outlook. One Sokimex representative, who spoke with Asia Times Online and requested anonymity, said the company expects to benefit from a proposed scheme to export and re-import oil from the find. He said Sokimex also had plans to build an oil refinery to process the fuel. The representative would not divulge any further details about those plans and its not clear if the government is pressuring Chevron to process the fuel in Cambodia rather than at established modern refineries in Thailand or Singapore.

Yet the lack of disclosure is par for Sokimex's course: the company, which spans businesses as diverse as energy, tourism, aviation and property development, does not publicly release annual profit and loss statements. The homegrown company was founded in 1990 by rubber baron and ethnic Chinese entrepreneur Sok Kong, coinciding with the country's transition towards a free-market economy in line with the United Nations-sponsored Paris Peace Accords.

Sok Kong laid the foundations for the company in 1980s, when he supplied rubber tires to the Vietnamese army after Hanoi seized power over the country. He also exported the product throughout that era. Yet the domestic deals have sparked allegations the company remains close to perceived Vietnamese allies in the government, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Sokimex entered the petroleum business in May 1996 through its purchase of state-owned oil company, Compagnie Kampuchea des Carburants, which was then tasked with the import, storage and distribution of petroleum in Cambodia. The deal was part of the government's market-oriented privatization program, but raised further speculation of Sok Kong's close ties to Hun Sen's now dominant Cambodian People's Party.

According to the company's website, Sokimex is Cambodia's largest petroleum company with a market share of 40%. It boasts a US$15 million oil jetty with the capacity to handle oil carriers of up to 46,000 tons, five storage terminals, 184 petrol stations and a complex petroleum transport system that serves as the country's power "lifeline".

The site also says that "the main success venture that propelled Sokimex ... is petroleum" and that "Sok Kong's visionary mind coupled with his optimistic courage led him to dive into the petroleum industry without much hesitation." The site, however, fails to disclose Sokimex's recent profits, losses or average return on investments nor those of its various subsidiaries.

Privileged position

With its money-spinning oil assets and top government contacts, Sokimex has reached into a wide range of businesses, including garments, hotels, property development and even an exclusive contract to supply the Cambodian military with clothing and fuel. Sokimex is among Cambodia's big five oil and gas distributors, alongside international oil giants Total, Shell, and Caltex, as well as the country's other main local distributor, Tela Petroleum Group.

Industry analysts note that Sokimex has a proven knack for securing lucrative government contracts and believe that based on that track record the company could receive special treatment if and when the spoils of the Chevron oil find are realized.

Critics point in particular to the murky circumstances surrounding the concession Sokimex won to manage ticket sales to Angkor Wat, one of the preeminent tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, and its comparative ease in starting new businesses while foreign investors often have their new ventures ensnared in bureaucratic tape. The company also won government permission in 2006 to launch a domestic airline, Sarika Air.

Sokimex's lack of transparency, some contend, could ground future fund raising, particularly if the conglomerate does not substantially change its practices before listing shares on the country's new stock exchange, which is scheduled to commence trading in December despite the global economic downturn. Cambodia's economy is losing steam after years of breakneck growth, with gross domestic product projected to expand just 4.75% this year, the lowest level since 1998.

Sokimex representatives declined to provide this correspondent with basic revenue and profit figures for its oil and gas operations. Company executives who previously agreed to meet requested later that questions be sent via e-mail but failed to respond to queries. Follow-up inquiries made by telephone were met with one-word "yes", "no", or "I don't know" replies.

Cambodia's general lack of disclosure has raised concerns the country could go the way of Venezuela, Nigeria and Iraq, where major fuel resources have been squandered and pilfered by corrupt governments. The World Bank recently ranked Cambodia in the bottom 15% of countries on commitment to the rule of law and the bottom 10% for overall control of corruption. Transparency International downgraded Cambodia further in its 2008 Corruption Perception Index, ranking it the 14th most corrupt.

It's unclear, analysts say, if the government is trying to convince Chevron to process all or part of the fuel find in-country to help build up Sokimex's capabilities. The same analysts question Sokimex's ability to handle an energy bonanza, given that it has never run a refinery, lacks a pool of home-grown energy experts, and has no prior experience working with a find of this magnitude.

"The crude will probably be shipped to Singapore to be refined," said Michael McWalter, the Asian Development Bank's oil and gas adviser to the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority. "Any attempt to build pipelines, a refinery, or sell the oil in Cambodia will probably mean local companies will gouge prices."

Ou Virak, an economist by training and activist by profession, said: "They say they're planning to build a refinery in Cambodia, but they lack all expertise to do so unless they can hire expensive foreign advisors. It's political connections that keep them afloat, as they've demonstrated in their previous contracts that have operated without regard for the market."

Others see signs that Hun Sen's government, particularly after it consolidated power at last year's general elections, has started to put more pressure on Cambodian companies, including Sokimex, to operate with more transparency. They point in particular to Hun Sen's recent call to Sokimex and other oil distributors to sharply lower their prices in line with global trends or be summoned to a personal meeting at his offices.

Those concerns are widely shared. The United Nations Development Program held a petroleum conference last year to address how the government should best manage expected future oil and gas revenues. Delegates from the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority, Supreme National Economic Council, and Norwegian Petroleum Directorate discussed the possibility of establishing a sovereign fund to manage future oil revenues ethically and transparently for the national interest.

They also discussed the possibility of creating a professional, market-oriented national oil company, potentially modeled after Malaysia's Petronas. One year later, with questions and criticisms still swirling about the company's accounts and technical capabilities, it's not clear to most that Sokimex will emerge any time soon as an outward-looking and modern regional energy player.

Geoffrey Cain is based in Phnom Penh and a contributor to the Far Eastern Economic Review and Integrated Regional Information Networks, a United Nations-run news wire service. He may be reached at

Cambodian waste flowing into Vietnam via border

Waste from Cambodia to An Giang province through Vinh Te canal.


VietNamNet Bridge – A huge volume of rubbish from Cambodia is running into Vietnam through border gates in southwestern provinces.

Most of the waste is coming into the country via the provinces of An Giang and Dong Thap. In these localities, dozens of tonnes of waste are transported by water and land each day.

At the Tinh Bien international border gate in An Giang province, we saw lines of trucks with Cambodian registration numbers carrying waste parked near the border-gate check point of Vietnam. Waste mainly comes from Phnom Penh and Ta Keo, goes along National Highway 2 of Cambodia to the border gate.

Vietnamese waste traders receive the waste at the border gate. They even pay in advance to Cambodian partners to collect waste, which includes banned things in Vietnam.

A Vietnamese-Cambodian said that in Thamau, Ta Keo province, Cambodia there is a spacious ground for waste, comprising used electronic products. This kind of waste is transported from Ta Keo to Chau Doc town, An Giang and then is distributed everywhere in Vietnam.

The chief of the An Giang provincial Customs Agency, Nguyen Thanh Tam, said: “Vietnam permits the import of some types of waste. Waste is checked at border gates and only waste that is allowed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment can pass.”

A customs officer at the Tinh Bien border gate said on average dozens of tonnes of waste goes through this border gate.

Yet, waste not only comes into Vietnam through the border gate, but on boats, which authorities can’t control. In An Giang, waste is transported from Cambodia to Vietnam along the Vinh Te canal and in Dong Thap province, waste boats run from Prey Veng to So Thuong, Hong Ngu, Tan Hong to HCM City. Some other boats continue to run down the Tien River to other locations.

According to Tien Phong daily, waste from Cambodia includes steel scrap, waste paper, nylon, plastic, glass bottles, used batteries, electronic waste, and pesticide containers, etc.


PM: Cambodian economy in good shape despite global financial crisis

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian economy is in good shape, though it has been affected by the global financial crisis, Prime Minister Hun Sen told the Third Cambodia Economic Forum hereon Thursday.

"We have succeeded in securing peace, political stability, security and social order, while promoting macro-economic stability and international integration. We have been successful in developing our infrastructures as well as improving governance structure," he said.

The economic growth has been robust, averaging at 9.4 percent during the last decade and 10.2 percent in 2007, he said, adding that this helped reduce poverty by one percent per annum from 47 percent in 1994 to 30 percent in 2007.

"Despite the global economic downturn, the Cambodian economy is estimated to grow by seven percent in 2008 and the government will try to maintain a six percent growth in 2009," he said.

Cambodia's banking system remains strong in general, well capitalized and highly liquid, he said, adding that bank loans and deposits continued to grow in 2008, reflecting public confidence in the banking system.

"Our international reserves position has been favorable and was doubled during the last two and half years, from one billion U.S. dollars years ago to two billion U.S. dollars in 2008," he said.

Meanwhile, the progress in agriculture has been historically impressive and "we managed to increase rice yield up to 2.65 tons per hectare in 2008", from 2.5 tons per hectare in 2005, he said.

"There is still room for yields improvement by making investment in physical infrastructures, especially irrigation system, increasing agriculture productivity, and promoting agricultural diversification," he added.

In addition, the garment sector is now in good standing to compete in the world market, with its improved labor standards, he said.

"By further strengthening this competitiveness together with the government's on-going measures to implement trade facilitation and promote investment, we will be able to further enhance the attractiveness and competitive advantage of Cambodia in term of promoting and diversifying exports," he added.

Also, tourism is a great potential for development and remains generally strong, he said.

Hence the building of more physical infrastructure, improving legal framework and institutions capacity, developing human resources, tourism market diversification as well as the promotion of attractive tourism package based on the need to maintain strong political stability, safety, peace and social order will open more opportunities for this sector, he added.

The Third Cambodia Economic Forum was organized by the Supreme National Economic Council (SNEC) with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to focus on competitiveness enhancement and poverty reduction in face of the current global economic crisis.

Editor: Bi Mingxin

NGO: Cambodian leaders have squandered rich natural resources

Monsters and Critics

Asia-Pacific News
Feb 5, 2009

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's political elites have put the country's economic future at risk by squandering its rich natural resources, an international environmental and anti-corruption group said Thursday.

A report released by London-based Global Witness said international donors had turned a blind eye to the widespread corruption, mismanagement and nepotism that has positioned political elites as the only beneficiaries of Cambodia's oil, gas and coal reserves.

The report accused Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People's Party of allocating contracts 'behind closed doors' to members of the political elite and their families.

'The Cambodian government does not have a process for allocating resources outside of patronage,' Global Witness campaigns director Gavin Hayman said in a statement.

'The same political elite that pillaged the country's timber resources has now gained control of its mineral and petroleum wealth,' Hayman said. 'Unless this is changed, there is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered.'

The report called on the government to enforce a moratorium on further mineral and petroleum contracts and launch a review into the environmental, financial and technical credentials of existing contractors.

More than 75 companies, including multinationals Chevron Corp and BHP Billiton PLC, are currently working in Cambodia's resources sector, and according to the report, some have already made undisclosed, upfront payments to the government.

'Companies need to come clean on what they have paid to the government to secure access to these natural resources or risk becoming complicit in a corrupt system,' Hayman said.

The report also called on international donors - which in December last year pledged a combined 1 billion US dollars of aid - to use their funding as leverage to 'demand new governance measures for the industries.'

It argued Cambodia's mineral reserves could be the key to the country's economic future and help end its reliance on foreign aid.

The group said its findings were based on fieldwork and interviews with industry insiders.

Global Witness representatives were expelled from Cambodia in 2005, and in 2007, the government banned the publication of one of its reports that accused a 'kleptocratic elite' of illegal logging and corruption.

Government spokesmen were unavailable for comment Thursday, but Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem was quoted in The Cambodia Daily newspaper as saying that mineral-exploration licenses were subject to competitive bidding and open to all companies.

'There is no principle to charge any companies money before exploitation,' he said. 'The company won't pay before they find minerals.'

Although still in its infancy, Cambodia's resources sector has flourished since 2003 when investors from Australia, Thailand, China, South Korea and the United States were lured by the country's rich mineral, oil and natural gas reserves.

Cambodia holds economic forum to tackle menace of global financial crisis

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia on Thursday held its third economic forum to focus on competitiveness enhancement and poverty reduction in face of the current global economic crisis.

"The government is taking systematic and sequencing measures to mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis on Cambodia's financial and economic structure, protect our hard-earned achievements and sustain growth at an appropriate level according to our existing capacity and potential," Prime Minister Hun Sen told the forum.

It is clear that if the government fails to take timely and appropriate protective measures to manage the crisis, the affects of the crisis and the economic slowdown will become a real cause for Cambodia's financial system and economy to fall into danger, he said.

"We have to grab this opportunity to reinforce our reform efforts in order to sharpen our national competitiveness, thus creating more attractions for investments that target an increasingly expanding and strengthened economic base," he said.

The Third Cambodia Economic Forum was organized by the Supreme National Economic Council (SNEC) with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

According to local reports here on Thursday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will likely lower Cambodia's forecast economic growth rate for 2009 to below 4.8 percent as the global economy continues to collapse, while the World Bank has forecast 4.9 percent GDP growth for Cambodia this year.

Editor: Fang Yang

Elite 'selling Cambodia's future'

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world with 40 per cent of the population in poverty [EPA]

"There is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered"
Gavin Hayman, Global Witness

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cambodia's economic future is being jeopardised by high-level corruption, with officials siphoning millions of dollars earned from the country's oil and mineral reserves, a report by a British-based nongovernmental group has claimed.

The report by Global Witness, released on Thursday, said rights to exploit the country's resources had been allocated behind closed doors by a "corrupt elite" of powerbrokers close to the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen.

Speaking to Al Jazeera Gavin Hayman, the group's campaign director, said Cambodia's mining and oil industries were just beginning to take off, but already tens of millions of dollars in earnings were not accounted for.

That money, he said, was a vital national asset that should be directed towards national development needs.

"We aren't in a disaster yet, but we're on the brink of one," he said.

Cambodia is one of the world's poorest countries, with average incomes less than $300 a year and more than 40 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.

Missing millions

The Global Witness report, entitled Country for Sale, said researchers had found millions of dollars paid by oil and mining companies are missing from national accounts – money that, the group said, could eventually help Cambodia become independent of foreign development aid.

"The same political elite that pillaged the country's timber resources has now gained control of its mineral and petroleum wealth," Hayman said.

"Unless this is changed, there is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered."

The group said foreign aid donors should make further assistance conditional on Cambodia implementing new governance measures for key industries.

The report cites Australian mining giant BHP Billiton as confirming it paid one million dollars to the Cambodian government, but Global Witness says the funds have not been declared in the 2006 or 2007 government revenue reports.

It also alleges that $7.5 million paid to the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority by an Indonesian energy firm also did not reach the national treasury.


The allegations were denied by Suy Sem, the minister of Industry, Mines and Energy, who said Global Witness "always defames the government".

"Regarding the exploration for oil and gas, we operate under procedures that are very fair and transparent and based on the rule of law," he told The Associated Press news agency in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

In 2007 a Global Witness report Cambodia's Family Trees accused relatives of Hun Sen as well as close friends and senior government and military officials of stripping what remains of the Cambodia's forests for their own profit.

The government banned copies of the report from being distributed in Cambodia, although it can easily be downloaded from the internet.

Cambodia's officials at the time dismissed that report as "totally groundless, unacceptable rubbish", accusing Global Witness of engaging in a "political campaign" against the government.

UN wants accelerated farm aid to support Cambodia

Source: Reuters

PHNOM PENH, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The United Nations asked donors on Thursday to speed up farm aid to help Cambodia increase rice exports, at a time when its important garment sector and tourism are suffering because of the global financial crisis.

Douglas Broderick, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told an economic forum that Cambodia had great potential in terms of its location in Southeast Asia but required financial support.

"A fertile agricultural sector produces white gold to set Cambodia apart and propel its economic growth," Broderick told the forum, referring to rice.

Cambodian officials said the government had lent private millers $30 million to buy rice from farmers to ensure domestic supplies but was seeking another $300 million to increase capacity for collecting, stocking and processing the crop.

Aid donors including the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have pledged around $950 million in aid this year, and Prime Minister Hun Sen urged them to accelerate disbursements to help agriculture, on which 85 percent of Cambodia's 14 million people depend.

"Agriculture is important for sustaining growth and reducing poverty," Hun Sen told the forum.
Cambodia's total rice production is put at 7 million tonnes in 2008/09 (June/Feb) after 6.7 million tonnes in the previous harvest, and Deputy Agriculture Minister Chan Tong Eves told Reuters there was a surplus of 2 million tonnes for export.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the country shipped 450,000 tonnes of rice in 2007, when it was the ninth-biggest exporter in the world.

The UNDP is facilitating Cambodia's rice exports to a few countries in Africa, including Senegal and Guinea.

Hun Sen said the garment sector, Cambodia's biggest export earner, and tourism had been hit by the global slowdown, and that economic growth could slip to 6 percent this year from an estimated 7 percent in 2008.

Cambodia received 2 million tourists last year and garment exports totalled about $2.78 billion, with a drop of up to 10 percent expected for 2009, industry officials said.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Hong Kong Casino Operator NagaCorp Ltd (HKG:3918) Sees Opportunity in Cambodia

Asia Business News
Thursday February

Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Feb 5, 2009 - (ABN Newswire) - NagaCorp Ltd.'s (HKG:3918)(PINK:NGCRF) NagaWorld Casino Resort in Cambodia might see its opportunity after the declining gaming revenue and diminishing gaming crowd in Macau, which is being hammered by a slower Chinese economy, the credit crunch and China's visa restriction.

"Unlike Macau, which eyes the VIP market, Cambodia's casinos will likely tap the masses domestically and in mainland China. NagaCorp's conservative gaming policy pays in today uncertainty: no gearing, maximum table limit of USD50K, regional mid size players and top competitive services", said the CEO of NagaCorp, Tan Sri Dr. Chen Lip Keong (TSCLK).

The company is well positioned with no major capital expenditure, low investments costs on NagaWorld, which means competitive complementary hotel, food and beverage and entertainment facilities for players coming in from China and South East Asia.

NagaWorld is planning to increase its marketing pressure on the Indo-China catchment areas with strategies attracting more home coming Cambodians and speeding up its Vietnam Ground Program.Meanwhile the low tax rate continues to allow NagaWorld to devise strategic competitive STG programs.

TSCLK also unveiled the company is in talks with operators and other casinos in the regions for potential joint ventures.


Standard & Poor last year affirmed a stable outlook for Cambodia and praised the country's economic strategies, pragmatic market friendly directions, and fiscal policy with credit strength. S&P also forecasted Cambodia would maintain real GDP growth of 7% in 2009 (latest Cambodian MOEF forecast is 5%) during the downturn.

Although not spared, the world financial turmoil has relatively less impact on a basic agricultural economy like Cambodia, which is receiving continued assistance from China with less dependence on the depressed economies of the US and Japan.

Cambodians returning to their home country continues unabated as a result of political stability at home and unfavorable conditions in the West.

"NagaCorp has seen and experienced hardships before, like SARs and the Asia Financial Crisis in 1997. Hopefully 2009 will see a stable outlook for NagaCorp," says TSCLK.


Tan Sri Dr. Chen Lip Keong (TSCLK)

Doctor-turned entrepreneur, Malaysian TSCLK, aged 60, has various business interests covering Property, Manufacturing, Gaming & Hotels, Oil & Gas in South East Asia. Founder and Controlling shareholder, TSCLK is currently the chief executive of NagaCorp. Besides having served as a chief executive of Malaysian government -owned aerospace company, TSCLK also has upstream oil & gas assets in Cambodia & Thailand with Thai government-controlled PTTEP and Singapore Petroleum Corp.

In recognition of his various economic services in Malaysia, TSCLK has been conferred with various titles including the titles of "Dato" and "Tan Sri". Since June 2001 till to-date, TSCLK serves as an economic advisor to Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Cambodian Government.

About Nagacorp Ltd:

Established in 1995, NagaCorp manages and operates the only licensed casino in Phnom Penh, the capital city of the Kingdom of Cambodia. It owns a casino license valid for 70 years from 1995 up to 2065, and exclusive gaming operational rights within a 200km radius of Phnom Penh (save Cambodia-Vietnam border area, Bokor, Kirirom Mountains and Sihanoukville) for a period of around 41 years between 1995 and 2035. Its flagship project, NagaWorld is an international hotel-casino complex, a first-of-its-kind in Phnom Penh, containing 8-storey entertainment wing and a 14-storey hotel wing with a total built up area of approximately 110,768 sq.m.

Duch's trial: Khmer Rouge Court received 94 civil party applications

By Ka-set

The Khmer Rouge court Victims Unit has received 94 applications for the civil party status as part of Case File 1 concerning Duch, the former head of the S-21 detention centre, located in the capital of Cambodia.

The deadline to submit applications was February 2nd. Among these 94 requests, 28 have already been recognised during the investigative phase and were transferred to the Trial Chamber. Other applications came on top of those afterwards thanks to outreach information campaigns led throughout the country to explain to victims how they could possibly take part in the procedure, and are currently being processed.

In a press statement released on February 4th, the Victims Unit of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) reminded that “all complaints could be used as evidence during the trials and the complainants could be called as witnesses by the co-Prosecutors”.

As of February 2nd 2009, the Victims Unit received a total of 28 complaints in relation to Case 1. However, the Unit adds that there is no deadline for the submission of complaints and those who still wish to file a lawsuit in that case can still do so.

The initial hearing for Duch's trial will start at 9am on February 17th at the ECCC.

Thailand-Vietnam-Cambodia Golf Trail Launched

e-Travel Blackboard
Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Thailand-Vietnam-Cambodia Golf Trail is fast becoming the worlds most talked about golf tour. Announced just 6 weeks ago by Indochina’s largest specialist golf travel operator, Golfasian, the golf trail makes it now possible for golf enthusiasts from around the world to play the premier courses in three of the fastest growing Asian Tiger countries.

Mark Siegel, Managing Director of Golfasian said, “The Thailand-Vietnam-Cambodia golf trail is especially popular in these credit crunch times. Not only is it now possible to golf at the best golf courses in 3 countries, but the trail costs are much more economical than other similar quality golf tours around the world.” Siegel went on to day, “Golfers can now enjoy premium golfing at a fraction of the costs they have been accustomed to in the past.”

Participating golf courses on the trail include Thai Country Club in Bangkok, venue for Tiger Woods’ PGA win in 1997, the Montgomerie links Vietnam, Colin Montgomerie’s only golf course in Asia, and the Angkor Golf resort, a challenging Nick Faldo layout that has already received acclaim as the best golf course in Cambodia. In additional to golfing, the Thailand-Vietnam-Cambodia Golf Trail affords visitors the opportunity to visit several world heritage sights including, Ayutthaya in Thailand, Hoi An in Vietnam, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Each destination is unique in it’s culture, architecture, and history, all dating to the 10th century. Over the course if the next year the trail will be even further enhances with the opening of several new golf courses

Golf is the perfect activity to base a holiday around and this can be seen in the rapidly expanding and successful business of Golfasian. Golfers who demand more from their holiday than just excellent golf should consider this one-of-a-kind and affordable golf trail.

Thaksin's family to lead party

Youngest sister Yingluck will lead the central region and Bangkok.

Brother Payap Shinawatra will lead party members in the north-east.

Thaksin's sister Yaowapa Wongsawat will lead the Puea Thai in the north


Feb 5, 2009

A sibling will lead each of three regions as a symbol of party's connections with ousted PM

BANGKOK: Thailand's opposition Puea Thai party has embarked on a new strategy to strengthen internal solidarity, appointing members of the Shinawatra family to lead members in each of the three regions where the party has influence.

An executive from the party told the Bangkok Post that the party wanted a Shinawatra family member to lead each of the three regions as a symbol of the party's close connections with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin's sister, Ms Yaowapa Wongsawat, who is also the wife of former premier Somchai Wongsawat, will lead Puea Thai members in the north. Brother Payap Shinawatra will lead the north-east, while Thaksin's youngest sister, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, will lead the central region and Bangkok.

The presence of the Shinawatra siblings in itself will be a message to the constituents that the party has a clear goal to 'bring Thaksin back home', the party executive said. However, the three will not replace the party's existing regional presidents. They will only oversee the party's overall policies as well as support the party's activities in each region.

Puea Thai MP for Nong Khai province, Mr Pongpan Sunthornchai, speaking at the party's seminar on Sunday, said that Mr Payap's appointment would enable north-eastern MPs to relay their views and decisions straight to the 'big boss'. In the past, north-eastern MPs did not have access to core leaders to express their opinions privately.

Mr Pongpan said north-eastern Puea Thai MPs have also agreed to merge their factions to reduce faction-related problems.

Thaksin reportedly spoke to his supporters by phone in Thailand's poor and rural north-east, where he remains immensely popular, on Monday via a phone-in from an undisclosed location abroad.

'I want to tell you now that I am ready to return to the political arena once again,' he was quoted as saying in the Bangkok Post. 'I will fight on, no matter what happens. I'm ready to be prime minister again if people support me.'

Mr Pormpong Noparit, spokesman for Puea Thai, which organised Monday's phone-in, said Thaksin's remarks had been intended to boost the morale of his political allies.

'He said he's ready to come back. He cannot come back openly, but he wants to slip into the north-east so he can die in his homeland,' Mr Pormpong said.

Despite being toppled in a coup in 2006, Thaksin remains an influential but divisive figure in Thai politics - and one who has cast a long shadow over every subsequent government.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban accused Thaksin of trying to stoke tensions in the kingdom with his latest comments.

He said the government found the situation 'very difficult', adding that Thaksin will be dealt with under Thai law and must serve his prison term.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has given his assurance that Thaksin would be treated fairly if he returned. 'I hope that Thaksin will have the national interests as his first priority, although I understand his situation. The government will give him justice, but only if he re-enters the judicial system,' he told reporters.

Thaksin was toppled in a September 2006 coup, with the military claiming that corruption and abuse of power under his two terms as premier had damaged the country. They also questioned his loyalty to the revered Thai monarchy.


Thai opposition party members plan to meet Thaksin in Cambodia

BANGKOK, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- A group of 30 Pheu Thai Party's MPs are planning to meet ousted Premier Thaksin Shinawatra in the coming weeks, possibly in the border town of Koh Kong in Cambodia, local media reported Thursday.

The opposition Puea Thai Party is the incarnation of the People Power Party (PPP), which was established by supporters of Thaksin, after the PPP was dissolved by the Constitution Court in early December last year on election fraud charges.

"Thaksin's brother Payap is in charge of organizing the meeting," The website by The Nation newspaper quoted MP Sakda Kongphet as saying.

Fellow lawmakers wanted to meet Thaksin to exchange views on the political situation and Thaksin was likely to travel to a neighboring country such as Cambodia or Laos, said Sakda on Wednesday

He said Thaksin's phone-in to a party seminar on Monday had been successful in rallying MPs to support his political aspirations, including a planned comeback for the position of prime minister in two years.

The Pheu Thai Party was ready to help Thaksin grab power again, added Sakda.

It was the time for an all-out war, Saksda said, voicing optimism of a political victory guided by Thaksin and his family members such as his siblings Yaowapha, Payap, Yaowaret and Yingluck.

Opposition chief whip Withaya Buranasiri said Pheu Thai would launch 200 party branches nationwide next Sunday.

Thaksin was ousted by Thai Military leaders in September 2006, accusing him of corruption, keeping him in exile and controlling the country for an interim period until new elections in December 2007 did bring Thaksin's allies back into power.

Thaksin returned to Thailand in February 2008 to face corruption charges, but he later fled into exile again and was convicted in absentia.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

The German Government Announces to Suspend Aid for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal - Wednesday, 4.2.2009

Posted on 5 February 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 598

“A delegation from Germany announced on Monday, 2 February 2009, that the government of Germany suspends all its aid for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal until corruption allegations at the international tribunal are solved, and the Berlin government encourages the fourth-term government of power holder Prime Minister Hun Sen, established by a combined vote, to provide a role also to oppositions parties in Cambodia, following democratic principles.

“Mr. Wolfgang Thierse, the vice-president of the German parliament, visiting Cambodia, said on Monday that the government of Germany halts funding for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal as long as the corruption allegations at this tribunal are not solved. Wolfgang Thierse said, ‘We will continue supporting the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, provided corruption allegations are cleared up, but all funding to be provided is now suspended.’

“On Monday morning, the delegation from Germany met with parliamentarians of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party [CPP], its partner Funcinpec, and the Norodom Ranariddh Party which is facing an internal fractional split. As for the alliance of the Democratic Movement for Change, comprising the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, they refused to join the meeting with the three parties mentioned above at the National Assembly, claiming that the oppositions parties do not hold positions in the nine commissions of the fourth-term National Assembly. However, on Monday evening, the opposition parties met with the delegation from Germany at a place outside of the National Assembly; to meet outside like this was regarded by the vice-president of the parliament of Germany as ‘correct,’ because the ruling party controls all positions of chairing all commissions of the National Assembly.

“A Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian from Kampot, Ms. Mu Sochua, said that the National Assembly is not a proper meeting place for the Sam Rainsy Party with Mr. Wolfgang Thierse. She went on to say, ‘We are not part of the commissions of the National Assembly. Therefore, we will not attend this meeting.’

“The Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, which form an alliance, announced that the CPP had invited also the opposition parties to attend the meeting at the National Assembly, but the opposition parties held a meeting with the delegation from Germany separately from the ruling party, which controls both the government and the National Assembly, which is in contrast to democratic principles, and the CPP wants to eliminate the voice of the opposition parties, both in the government and in the National Assembly. Mr. Sam Rainsy said, ‘There is nothing to discuss. The government and the opposition parties should have separate meetings.’
“Mr. Wolfgang Thierse raised, during his meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday, the importance of opposition parties in democracy, especially the role of opposition parties in the National Assembly, referring to an example in the parliament of Germany, where opposition parties control important commissions of the parliament, and all political parties having seats in the parliament have to cooperate in this legislative institution.

“The delegation from Germany will stay in Cambodia five days, and yesterday, Tuesday, the delegation from Germany boarded an airplane to Siem Reap, to meet members of the German Angkor Conservation Project, who are doing restoration work at the Angkor Wat temples.

“According to information from a group joining the visit of the delegation from Germany to Cambodia, this visit is also a response to concerns raised by the opposition parties, demanding that the European Parliament of the European Union intervenes, related to the control of all commissions of the National Assembly by the ruling CPP of Prime Minister Hun Sen, without involving the main opposition party which has 26 seats in the National Assembly.

“During a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday, Mr. Wolfgang Thierse encouraged strongman Hun Sen to clearly accept the opposition party’s role, both in the National Assembly and in the government, following democratic policies, if Hun Sen really accepts the free multi-party politics according to the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991. He emphasized that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party controls the government and the National Assembly, which makes democracy in Cambodia moving backwards, as it shuts up the voice of opposition parties [in parliamentary activities] in Cambodia.

“Regarding corruption at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Mr. Wolfgang Thierse clearly specified that the government of Germany has to stop all aid to this hybrid tribunal, suffering allegations of serious corruption. Because officials and judges of this tribunal are said to have paid kickbacks every month to three officials of the administration: to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An, to the director of the Office of Administration of the tribunal Sean Visoth, and to the tribunal’s personnel section director Keo Thyvuth, for letting them work at this international tribunal.

“Mr. Wolfgang encouraged also to conduct a clear investigation about the complaint of [former Khmer Rouge leader] Nuon Chea’s defense lawyers, filed at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, requesting this civil court to take action by investigating allegations of a corruption scandal, rumored since a long time at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. If an investigation is not conducted properly, and the corruption allegation at this tribunal is not solved, the government of Germany will stop providing aid to this tribunal forever.

“According to information from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, the director of administration of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Sean Visoth, accused of having received kickbacks from tribunal officials, has not shown up for work for nearly one month, since international lawyers defending Nuon Chea lodged a complaint against him and against two other persons at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 9 January 2009. The Municipal Court is investigating this lawsuit, but the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, notorious for corruption, probably cannot discover corruption in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

“Legal observers in Cambodia said that they have little trust in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to probe and bring officials of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, involved in corruption, for prosecution according to the law, because some officials of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal are also working at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, such as Yet Chakriya, who is the deputy co-prosecutor of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and he is also the newly nominated chief prosecutor of the Municipal Court. Therefore, Yet Chakriya cannot do anything against orders of higher officials, because he is afraid of being removed from his positions either at the Municipal Court or at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.”

Moneaksekar or Khmer, Vol.16, #3678, 4.2.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Cambodian Oil, Mineral Wealth Sold To Corrupt Elites-Watchdog

BANGKOK (AFP)--Cambodia's political elite has captured the country's oil and mineral wealth, putting its economic future at risk while international donors turn a blind eye, an environmental watchdog said Thursday.

London-based Global Witness said impoverished Cambodia has enough natural wealth to wean itself off foreign aid but international donors must do more to ensure the assets are properly managed.

In its new report entitled: "Country for Sale," the group said earnings from oil, gas and minerals were being "jeopardized by high-level corruption, nepotism and patronage" in allocating and managing the assets.

"The same political elite that pillaged the country's timber resources has now gained control of its mineral and petroleum wealth," said Global Witness Campaigns Director, Gavin Hayman.

"Unless this is changed, there is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered," he added.

The Cambodian government banned a previous damning report published by Global Witness on Cambodia's forests in June 2007, which claimed the same elites were illegally logging the nation's forests.

In its new report the group said oil, gas and mineral assets had been parceled out by a small number of powerbrokers surrounding Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials.

It also suggested that millions of dollars paid by oil and mining companies to secure access to the resources might be missing from national accounts.

"Companies need to come clean on what they have paid to the government to secure access to these natural resources, or risk becoming complicit in a corrupt system," Hayman said.

So far more than 75 companies are working in Cambodia's extractive sectors, the report said, including some internationally known operators such as Chevron Corp. (CVX) and BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP).

Last month international donors pledged nearly $1 billion in development aid to Cambodia, their most generous aid package ever to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

But Global Witness said the agreements didn't go far enough in securing new governance measures for natural resources.

Cambodia expects to begin oil production of its offshore fields in 2011, following the discovery of oil in 2005 by Chevron.

The kingdom is sitting on an estimated hundreds of millions of barrels of crude - and three times as much natural gas - but it remains unclear how much of the black gold can actually be recovered.

Sides fail to agree on troop cut

Bangkok Post

By: Thanida Tansubhapol and Wassana Nanuam
Published: 5/02/2009

Attempts to reduce the number of troops in the disputed area around Preah Vihear temple made no progress on Wednesday, says the lead Thai negotiator.

Joint Boundary Commission chairman Vasin Teeravechyan said the troop reduction issue failed to move forward as Thai and Cambodian officials could not settle on the name of the joint committee to be used in the documents.

Thailand proposed "the military monitoring group" be used for joint operations in the 4.6-square-kilometre area claimed by the two countries, but this was opposed by Cambodia, Mr Vasin said.

The Cambodian officials insisted on using the name "the temporary coordinating team".

The disputed area overlaps Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket and the Cambodian province of Preah Vihear.

The two sides also could not settle on the name of the temple for inclusion in documents.

Thailand wanted to refer to it as "the Temple of Phra Viharn-Preah Vihear" but Cambodia again objected.

Mr Vasin said any change in the names of the temple and the joint military patrol panel needed parliamentary approval in Thailand. The Thai side had to stick strictly to the names endorsed by parliament, he said.

The deadlock meant the minutes were not signed at the end of the two-day meeting yesterday.

The two sides only agreed in principle on technical issues, including the setting up of a team to survey the border from Nam Yuen district in Ubon Ratchathani and Phu Sing district in Si Sa Ket.

However, Cambodian Senior Minister Var Kim Hong expressed hope that the two countries would find a way to solve the problems over the disputed border region.

"We need to discuss and clarify some points and [I] hope that the next meeting will find a suitable solution," he said.

The next round of talks is scheduled for April.

Thailand and Cambodia pledged at a meeting in November last year to slash troop levels in the areas claimed by the two countries.

Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said he would not raise the Preah Vihear issue in talks with his Cambodian counterpart Gen Tea Banh and other top military leaders when he visits Cambodia tomorrow.

Gen Prawit said his agenda was only to introduce himself as the new defence minister.

China top investor in Cambodia in 2008

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- China was No. 1 foreign investor in Cambodia last year in terms of approved projects in Cambodia, nearly four times the capital of second-placed South Korea, national media on Thursday quoted official figures as saying.

China invested 4.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2008 in Cambodia, or 40.14 percent of the total, and South Korea 1.2 billion U.S. dollars, or 11.39 percent of the total, said the 2008 report issued by the Cambodian Investment Board.

The Chinese projects were in a wide range of sectors, including garments, hydropower, agribusiness and bodiless, while the largest Chinese investor was Tong Min Group Engineering with 3.8 billion U.S. dollars for a coastal development project in Kampot province, it added.

"The Chinese leadership encourages investors to come to Cambodia... (and) the Chinese government is pushing investors to come here," Sok Chanda, secretary general of the Council for Development of Cambodia, was quoted by English-language newspaper the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

In addition, China expert Michael Sullivan said that close ties between the private sector and the government gave Chinese firms an advantage.

"This is all occurring within the context of emerging bilateral ties between China and Cambodia," said Sullivan, who is conducting a research for the Association of Southeast Asian Studies under UK sponsorship.

In 2007, the Cambodian Investment Board put Malaysia as the foreign investment champion, with China and South Korea trailing behind.

Cambodian rice prices to rise as supplies down


PHNOM PENH (Xinhua): Rice prices will continue to rise in Cambodia over the next few months as supplies decrease following the yearend harvest, national media on Thursday quoted an expert as saying.

Retail prices for high-quality rice currently float between 2, 400 riels (about 0.59 U.S. dollar) to 2,800 riels (about 0.69 U.S. dollar) per kg and lower-quality rice goes for around 2,000 riels (about 0.49 U.S. dollar) per kg, Yang Saing Koma, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), told local newspaper the Cambodia Daily.

That is about the same as early February last year, he said.

Prices of these two types of rice could rise by 30 to 40 percent respectively by April, as supplies run low in the months after the yearend harvest, he said.

Last year, rice prices almost doubled, going from around 2,000 riels (about 0.49 U.S. dollar) per kg in December 2007 to 4,000 riels (about 0.98 U.S. dollar) per kg in April 2008, he said.

"It can't be like it was last year, because on the one hand the production in some countries has improved" and on the other hand the speculators trying to cash in on the rising prices last year ended up further driving up those prices, he added.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry, unmixed rice is expected to top 7 million tonnes for the 2008 and 2009 harvest in Cambodia and exports could reach 3 million tonnes in 2009.

PM ignores ex-PM visit to Cambodia

Bangkok Post

Published: 5/02/2009

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Thursday discounted the news about exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's plan to visit Cambodia to meet the opposition Puea Thai party MPs.

According to Mr Abhisit, Mr Thaksin had been travelling frequently, adding he can come back to Thailand and no one will stop him. He said the government also wants him to return.

In addition, the premier said he was informed that Japan will not allow Mr Thaksin to enter because he is a convict.

During Mr Abhisit's visit to Japan from Thursday to Saturday, he will enter talks with Japanese leaders and businessmen to restore their confidence to Thailand and to promote tourism and investment after the political situation has improved.

Day in pictures

Troy Suville (C) and Toby Eastue (R), ecologists from World Wildlife Fund, try to capture a crocodile for a blood test with the help of Adam Starr, project manager of Fauna and Flora International (L) at Phnom Tamao wildlife center in Takoe province, 45 km (28 miles) south of Phnom Penh, February 4, 2009. Fauna and Flora International Cambodia is running a DNA analysis on the crocodile population at the Phnom Tamao wildlife rescue center aimed at finding purebred Siamese Crocodiles among the population of over 70 kept in the sanctuary. The Siamese Crocodile is a greatly endangered animal that used to be common in the wetlands of Southeast Asia. Environmentalists calculate there are less than 250 of this reptile in the wild.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Adam Starr, project manager of Fauna and Flora International (L), looks on as Dr. Nhim Thy extracts a blood sample from a crocodile at Phnom Tamao wildlife center in Takoe province, 45 km (28 miles) south of Phnom Penh February 4, 2009. Fauna and Flora International Cambodia is running a DNA analysis over the crocodile population at the Phnom Tamao wildlife rescue center aimed to find purebred Siamese Crocodiles among the population of over 70 kept in the sanctuary. The Siamese Crocodile is one of the most endangered animals that used to be common in the wetlands of Southeast Asia. Estimations calculate less than 250 adults survive in the wild.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Zoo keepers immobilize a crocodile for a blood test at Phnom Tamao wildlife center in Takoe province, 45 km (28 miles) south of Phnom Penh, February 4, 2009. Fauna and Flora International Cambodia is running a DNA analysis on the crocodile population at the Phnom Tamao wildlife rescue center aimed at finding purebred Siamese Crocodiles among the population of over 70 kept in the sanctuary. The Siamese Crocodile is a greatly endangered animal that used to be common in the wetlands of Southeast Asia. Environmentalists calculate there are less than 250 of this reptile in the wild.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Zoo keepers lasso a crocodile for a blood test in a cage at Phnom Tamao wildlife center in Takoe province, 45 km (28 miles) south of Phnom Penh, February 4, 2009. Fauna and Flora International Cambodia is running a DNA analysis on the crocodile population at the Phnom Tamao wildlife rescue center aimed at finding purebred Siamese Crocodiles among the population of over 70 kept in the sanctuary. The Siamese Crocodile is a greatly endangered animal that used to be common in the wetlands of Southeast Asia. Estimations calculate less than 250 adults survive in the wild.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Adam Starr, project manager of Fauna and Flora International (R), looks on as Dr. Nhim Thy (L) takes a blood sample from a crocodile at Phnom Tamao wildlife center in Takoe province, 45 km (28 miles) south of Phnom Penh, February 4, 2009. Fauna and Flora International Cambodia is running a DNA analysis on the crocodile population at the Phnom Tamao wildlife rescue center aimed at finding purebred Siamese Crocodiles among the population of over 70 kept in the sanctuary. The Siamese Crocodile is a greatly endangered animal that used to be common in the wetlands of Southeast Asia. Estimations calculate less than 250 adults survive in the wild.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Toby Eastue, ecologist from WWF (2nd L), Adam Starr, project manager of Fauna and Flora International (L) and zoo keepers carry a crocodile for a blood test at Phnom Tamao wildlife center in Takoe province, 45 km (28 miles) south of Phnom Penh, February 4, 2009. Fauna and Flora International Cambodia is running a DNA analysis on the crocodile population at the Phnom Tamao wildlife rescue center aimed at finding purebred Siamese Crocodiles among the population of over 70 kept in the sanctuary. The Siamese Crocodile is a greatly endangered animal that used to be common in the wetlands of Southeast Asia. Estimations calculate less than 250 adults survive in the wild.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian family members carry their mother as she sits on the bed before receiving the holly water from a Buddhist monk during her birthday celebration at Kampong Speu province about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

German Alexander Moritz Watrin, 38, stands by the side door of Appeals Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2009. The Cambodian court has reduced the prison term of Watrin convicted of sexually abusing four Cambodian boys agaed 7 to 15.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Life of the poor Cambodian slums !

US start Military maneuver in Thailand

Bangkok, Feb 4 (Prensa Latina) The annual military maneuver Cobra Gold, organized and financed by the United States (US), started today in the Thai northern province of Chiang Mai, according to the Washington embassy in this capital.

In the exercise participate 11 637 soldiers of the Pentagon, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.

As observers are invited in this twenty-eighth series, Australia, Brunei, France, Italy, Great Britain, Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Cambodia, China, Canada, Germany, South Korea, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam and Mongolia.

US sources indicated to the Bangkok press that the joint maneuvers will prepare the present armies in missions of support, reconstruction and combat tactics.

According to the American Deputy Chief of Mission, James F. Entwistle, there is no comparison with Cobra Gold in the preparation of their militaries for the priorities of support to stability and reconstruction, combat operations and humanitarian assistance.

This maneuver, ending in February 17th, will consist in a commando exercise simulated by computer, field training and humanitarian and civil assistance projects.

Investing for Comrades, 101

Joel Bowman, still wandering around Asia's Great Southeast, reports...

"To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." – Popular motto of the Khmer Rouge .

You would hardly expect it listening to the nightly economic news, but in some places in the world, communism is still a dirty word. Mostly, it's the countries that have lived through "red eras" that despise the concept the most. Those that fought most vehemently against it are now left to carry the hammer and sickle.

Last week your editor journeyed to the Choung Ek Killing Fields, about a 20 minute tuk-tuk ride outside Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh.

Between the years 1975-79, this tiny Southeast Asian country fell under the control of one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century, the Khmer Rouge. Led by the infamous Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge is responsible for the death of an estimated 1.5-2 million people. As a percentage of the national population (>20%) Pot's genocide count outranks even Hitler's.

In the center of Choung Ek stands a 17-story glass stupa, which houses 8,000 human skulls exhumed from the surrounding mass graves. They are the remains of anyone suspected of involvement in free-market capitalism, the sworn enemy of the Maoist-leaning Khmer Rouge.

Barely a generation has passed since the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Even today an estimated one third of the population is under the age of 15.

As the fallout of the global recession hits these shores, the IMF expects economic growth in Cambodia to decline to 4.75% in 2009, the slowest rate in 11 years. The second-poorest nation in the region, Cambodia already relies on foreign aid for about a quarter of its national budget.

Tourism, construction and garment manufacturing make up more than 60% of the total economic output there, and all face serious threats to growth.

Hang Chuon Naron, secretary-general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, warns the number of foreign visitors may fall by 20% in the coming year as westerners tighten their travel budgets. Construction is also likely to slow and garment exports, 70% of which are bound for U.S. shores, are expected to continue their decline.

But despite the country's precarious economic position, the government has resisted calls from the opposition to implement a $500 million stimulus package, similar to those recently implemented by neighboring Thailand and Viet Nam.

"We cannot distribute cash to the people," Hang Chuon Naron was recently quoted as saying. "What we can do is give targeted tax cuts to garment factories and spend more on infrastructure so we can prepare for economic development in the future."

For one thing, the struggling country just doesn't have the money to bailout shrinking industries, although that's certainly not stopping those in the west from digging into the pockets of future generations to pump up their economies. But more than that, Cambodians are acutely aware of what surrender of their private property represents and of where that slippery slope can lead.

In addition to outlawing all religions and freedoms of expression, the Khmer Rouge also instigated a strict form of national protectionism, abolished the banking and finance sectors, confiscated all privately owned property and destroyed the nation's currency. Once bitten...

For those of us in the west who have yet to learn the very, very hard way, let's take a look at how best to trade the deteriorating situation. Even in the face of ever-expanding government intervention into the markets, there are many opportunities to improve one's own lot. Dan Amoss offers some ideas on what to do next in today's column, below...

Investing for Comrades, 101

By Dan Amoss

As the U.S. government spirals toward Soviet-style economic practices, the American capitalism we once knew and loved is becoming as endangered as a bald eagle…or a GM car dealership. We don't have to like the changes underway, but we do have to respond to them intelligently if we hope to preserve and increase our wealth. The time has come for us "free market" aficionados to dry our tears and try to figure out what to do next.

The federal government's attempts to reshape the U.S. economy will provide numerous profit opportunities. Take, for instance, the inevitable move toward taxing carbon emissions. Attaching a price to carbon dioxide would, obviously, increase utility bills (and the price of anything made with electricity). As a result, consumers of energy would try to avoid this taxation by utilizing cleaner sources of energy.

Right now, many natural gas-fired power plants are brought online only at times of peak demand, while coal is considered a "base load" fuel since it's cheaper. But a carbon tax would raise the price of coal (and the extra carbon it emits) closer to the price of natural gas. So it's seems likely that carbon taxes or any other "climate change" legislation that comes from the Obama Administration will favor natural gas-fired electricity at the expense of coal.

Assuming the political popularity of natural gas will keep growing, and that solar and wind power production cannot increase fast enough to be meaningful (even with heavy subsidies), it makes sense that natural gas-focused exploration and production (E&P) companies and their critical suppliers like National-Oilwell Varco (NYSE: NOV) will enjoy years of attractive growth opportunities. NOV has an attractive business selling brand-new, highly efficient rigs built for shale gas drilling.

At the moment, a glut of natural gas has produced a drop in number of drilling rigs operating in the U.S. This drop was already discounted by the crash in the oil service stocks last fall. But the faster the rig count falls, the faster the gas glut will dissipate as 2009 wears on. If demand for natural gas rebounds later in 2009, while supply is falling, then prices could move much higher in a short period of time. I'm going to keep monitoring the supply situation closely because I think it will yield several good trading opportunities this year. And the best way to get a handle on supply is to follow where and how the smartest companies are investing.

I recently tuned in to several Webcast presentations made at the BMO Capital Markets North American Unconventional Gas Conference. The larger presenters included Talisman Energy, Comstock Resources, Southwestern Energy, Ultra Petroleum, and Range Resources -- several of the visionary early movers into shale gas drilling.

These companies employ cutting-edge technology in the natural gas industry. As a group, they delivered much of the production growth the U.S. has enjoyed in recent years. We can't do without this shale growth. Keep in mind that virtually all new electric power plants brought online in recent years have been gas-fired plants.

Most of the premier shale gas plays (Barnett, Marcellus, Fayetteville, Haynesville, etc.) can be booked into reserves and brought online at cash costs between $2-4 per million cubic feet of gas.

With natural gas prices currently at $5.50, the economics of adding to shale gas reserves and production makes sense. Even if they don't immediately hook up newly drilled wells to gathering pipelines, most of these exploration-and-production companies will still want to drill at a fairly rapid clip to book new proved reserves in 2009.

The E&P industry, like most others, contains the "haves" and "have-nots." The haves tend to be public companies with premium valuations that reflect their huge inventories of low-cost drilling opportunities. The have-nots tend to be private highly leveraged companies that hit the accelerator on any resource that looked economic in the high-price environment. Many of them are releasing low-end rigs and will not survive this downturn.

Ultra Petroleum is certainly at the top of the "haves" list. It controls tons of acreage in the obscenely profitable Jonah and Pinedale fields in Wyoming. Because its acreage is so cheap to develop, it can keep expending production very quickly, and incremental returns on invested capital are enormous.

The same goes for Range Resources. Range is a first mover and considered an expert in developing the Marcellus Shale. It looks to have locked up most of the highest-quality acreage in the Marcellus. The Marcellus is definitely promising, but it has different characteristics across its wide geography. Range has the most profitable gas wells because it has the most experience, expertise, and proprietary seismic data. At the BMO conference, Range estimated that its Marcellus wells have the potential to earn 20% internal rates of return at $4 natural gas.

The good news if you're exposed to E&P or service stocks exposed to shale gas: The stocks have already crashed in anticipation of an ugly environment for natural gas pricing, production, and drilling in 2009 and 2010. If conditions stabilize, rather than continue collapsing, many of the stocks exposed to growth in shale gas drilling -- including NOV -- should regain plenty of lost ground.

The big concern with NOV recently was J.P. Morgan's downgrade. I read J.P. Morgan's report and agree with many of its points. But I disagree with its method of getting to a $31 price target for NOV (I think $31 is much too conservative). It gets to $31 through a discounted cash flow model in which it assumes 2009-2011 returns on invested capital will average 8%. This is down dramatically from the 2005-2008 average of 16% and equal to the 2002-2004 average of 8%. I have two issues with this:

1) Hardly any company was investing in rig equipment during 2002-2004. The upturn in day rates didn't really gain traction until 2004. On the next up cycle, most of the world's drilling fleet will be approaching 30 years of age. So many of the oldest rigs will be scrapped and there could be a shortage of newer, more productive rigs that NOV helps create.

2) J.P. Morgan gives no consideration to NOV's greatly strengthened negotiating position relative to its customers, since it scooped up several competitors. It is a one-stop shop for equipment and consumables for every E&P and drilling company worldwide. It can afford to take advantage of this down cycle with more cheap acquisitions. Such moves won't dilute shareholder value -- thanks to its strong balance sheet and cash flow.

3) J.P. Morgan gives no credit to NOV for its excellent integration of Grant Prideco -- a company with very attractive growth prospects (considering that its product lines are levered to the strongest trends in oil and gas production, including stronger drill bits and better drill pipe).
So J.P. Morgan reflects the bear case on NOV, yet it still gets to a $31 price target.

J.P. Morgan's target implies that NOV should trade at 3 times its estimated 2009 EBITDA, in line with the offshore drillers. In my view, NOV deserves to trade at more than twice the EBITDA multiple of the drillers, since it's a far less capital-intensive business model. NOV will not be generating losses during this downturn, nor will it be forced to spend a lot on maintenance capital expenditures (as drillers must, depending on the age and shape of their fleet).

I expect the market to come around to this view when NOV reports earnings in early February. Sure, the segments of NOV's business that are the most sensitive to the rig count will slow in 2009, but the stock market excessively discounted this slowdown when it hammered the NOV share price from its crash from $92 last July to $18 in November.

At the current quote of $25.62, NOV is a very cheap stock that could easily rebound to the mid-$30s in the coming months. I think the trend for NOV will be up over the next month or two as the market anticipates that 2009 and 2010 earnings will not be as bad as previously expected.

Joel's Note: Here at the Rude Awakening, we're been stressing a cautious approach to investing for the past few months. Instead of trying to call the bottom, we've favored the "toe-dipping" approach. That's why Dan's analysis excites us more than most. As the editor of the hugely successful Strategic Short Report, Dan is better positioned than just about anyone in the game when it comes to sorting the good from the bad and, of course, avoiding at all costs the downright ugly.

At the end of this report, detailing his Ultimate bear Markets Strategy, Dan invites you to join him for the next round of profit taking. To learn how to get on board with our best 2008 trader,
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Pheu Thai MPs to meet Thaksin next few weeks

A group of 30 Pheu Thai MPs from the Northeast Wednesday revealed their plan to meet ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra within the next few weeks tentatively to take place at Koh Kong, Cambodia.

"Thaksin's brother Payap is in charge of organising the meeting,", MP Sakda Kongphet said.

Sakda said his fellow lawmakers wanted to meet Thaksin in order to exchange views on the political situation. Thaksin will likely travel to one of the neighbouring countries like Cambodia or Laos, he added.

He said Thaksin's phone-in at the party seminar on Monday had been successful in rallying the MPs to support his political aspirations, including a planned comeback for the position of prime minister in two years.

The Nation
February 5, 2009

No breakthrough at Thai, Cambodia talks

Agence France-Presse 02/04/2009

BANGKOK - Thai and Cambodian negotiators said Wednesday they had made little headway during fresh talks aimed at ending a border stand-off which erupted into a deadly military clash last year.

Senior government and military officials from the two nations, meeting in Bangkok, had hoped to make progress on border demarcation and reducing troop numbers in disputed land around Cambodia's ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Tensions over the long-disputed territory flared in July last year after Preah Vihear was granted United Nations world heritage status, and soldiers clashed there in October leaving four troops dead.

But as talks opened on Tuesday, the two sides locked horns over what spelling to use for Preah Vihear in documents. Although the World Court has recognised the temple as belonging to Cambodia, Thais call it Phra Viharn.

Speaking Wednesday after the latest talks ended, officials from the neighbours said they had agreed only to set up a working committee to look at the legal border issues and to begin mapping and surveying the disputed zones.

"We tried hard to find solutions in the interests of the two countries. We don't agree on some points which need to be discussed and clarified," chief Cambodian negotiator Var Kimhong told reporters.

Vasin Teeravechyan, head of the Thai delegation, said: "There are still some points that cannot be solved right away. We hope to find (solutions) in the next meeting, which will be held in the second week of April in Cambodia."

"One point is the name of the temple," he added.

The last meeting, in Cambodia's tourist hub Siem Reap in November, ended with officials agreeing in principle to reduce troop numbers at the border and form a task force, but there has been no concrete progress since then.

Thailand's defence minister is expected to visit Cambodia on Friday to discuss withdrawing troops from territory around the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which sits on Cambodian land just on the border.

The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.