Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as the notorious "Security Prison 21" (S-21), in the centre of Phnom Penh

A Cambodian man tries on shackles used on prisoners inside the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as the notorious "Security Prison 21" (S-21), in the centre of Phnom Penh February 10, 2009. An estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and killed in S-21, once a high school turned into an interrogation centre from 1975 to1979, under the Khmer Rouge regime. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A tourist walks past hundreds of photographs of prisoners showcased in the classrooms of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as the notorious "Security Prison 21" (S-21), once a high school turned into an interrogation centre, in the centre of Phnom Penh February 10, 2009. An estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and killed at S-21 during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A tourist walks between the hallways of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as the notorious "Security Prison 21", (S-21), once a high school turned into an interrogation centre, in the centre of Phnom Penh February 10, 2009. An estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and killed in S-21 under the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Tourists walk past hundreds of photographs of prisoners showcased in the classrooms of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as the notorious "Security Prison 21" (S-21), once a high school turned into an interrogation centre, in the centre of Phnom Penh February 10, 2009. An estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and killed in S-21 during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A tourist is reflected in a showcase housing hundreds of photographs of prisoners as he enters the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as the notorious "Security Prison 21" (S-21) in the centre of Phnom Penh February 10, 2009. An estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and killed at S-21, once a high school turned into an interrogation centre, between 1975 and 1979 under the Khmer Rouge regime. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Scrap from Cambodia pours in through southern border


HCM CITY — Hundreds of tonnes of scrap, much of it toxic, has been pouring into Viet Nam from Cambodia through the southwestern border with few authorities monitoring it.

Trucks loaded with used bottles, nylon bags, old paper, even plastic barrels containing chemicals arrive at the Tinh Bien Border Gate, headed for An Giang and Dong Thap provinces.

A boat owner said: "I deliver 25 tonnes of batteries four times a month."

Many other boats, each with a capacity of 25 to 40 tonnes delivered 1,000 tonnes of iron and steel and other scrap every month, Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Sai Gon) newspaper reported.

Drivers said the scrap was collected from around Cambodia because there were few recycling facilities there.

In Viet Nam, which has more and more such facilities, especially for metal scrap, demand for them was huge.

In Tan Quoi Commune, Dong Thap Province, there are 29 household businesses that recycle nylon.

"At first there were only a few households but then more and more joined and imported scrap mainly from Cambodia," Tan Quoi chairman Nguyen Van Dung said.

A Vietnamese-Cambodian said: "Thamau in Ta Keo Province on the Cambodian side is full of old electronic goods that will be sorted and transported to Chau Doc Town [in Viet Nam]."

Poor monitoring

Some customs officials at the Tinh Bien Border Gate said dozens of tonnes of scrap passed through the gate daily.

In the past few years many cases of illegal import of banned scrap materials have been discovered.

The An Giang Market Management Department has seized 7,785kg of scrap in packages and 4,570kg of nylon bags.

Tran Bui Tai, an An Giang Province customs official, said officials at the Vinh Xuong Border Gate confiscated 200 tonnes of old tyres.

But all this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

"Checking at the border gates is merely for the sake of formality," a person who transports scrap said. — VNS

Heir Nak Ta celebrations


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The celebration of the annual three-day Heir Nak Ta festival kicked off Sunday in Phnom Penh. Marked by ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese Cambodians, participants dress up in colourful traditional clothing and pray to the deity Nak Ta, asking the gods to bring good fortune to believers. The post-Chinese New Year ritual often features participants going into a trance and cutting their tongues with swords.

Govt seeks help for shipwreck

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Sunken ship found off Koh Kong languishes on sea bed

THE government is seeking foreign partners to excavate the centuries-old shipwreck discovered in 2006 off the coast of Koh Kong province, officials say.

"We do not have the budget, we lack the technical expertise and we do not have trained [divers]," Khim Sarith, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and chairman of the commission for preserving the sunken ship, told the Post on Monday.

He added that the government wishes to remove the shipwreck's remaining pottery from the seabed at Koh Kong to preserve it, but was hampered by a lack of resources.

"The pottery is being kept in a warehouse in Koh Kong province," he said, adding that the government had plans to build a museum to display the find.

Initially working with a Russian dive team, the government broke off cooperation in 2007 and began negotiating with Beijing about possible recovery efforts. The negotiations were unsuccessful - hence, the new appeal for partners, Khim Sarith said.

The shipwreck, which is believed to be a 14th- or 15thcentury Chinese trading junk laden with ancient oriental pottery and artifacts, was found in February 2006 about 20 kilometres off the coast of Koh Sdech, after a local fishing fleet reported that looters were plundering the site with makeshift diving equipment.

Two Russian-led dives yielded some 900 pieces of pottery. Koh Kong casino tycoon Ly Yong Phat funded one of the dives.

Bin Sam Ol, deputy governor of Koh Kong province, said that, in a bid to prevent looting, the navy is guarding the area near the shipwreck around the clock and the local fishermen are prohibited from fishing in the area.

Hab Touch, director of the National Museum, said that they have sent two museum officials to train in underwater archeology in Australia. "It is not easy to take something from under water like it is to excavate something from the ground," Hab Touch said. "It is very important for us and a new start for Cambodia."

Fires deadliest in Australia's history

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by AFP
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

WHITTLESEA, Australia - Troops and firefighters battled raging Australian wildfires Monday that have left at least 131 people dead amid a landscape of charred homes, bodies and devastated communities.

The wildfires have become the deadliest in Australia's history, destroying entire towns and wiping out families, and Australian officials have warned the death toll will likely rise further.

Amid the heartache, there was also anger as police revealed they suspected some of the fires were started by arsonists, whom Prime Minister Kevin Rudd accused of "mass murder".

"This is of a level of horror that few of us anticipated," he said, later choking up with emotion as he recounted the messages of support that have arrived from around the world.

Parliament suspended normal business to mark what Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard called "one of the darkest days in Australia's peacetime history".

Fires still burning

Thirty-one fires were still burning in the southeastern state of Victoria, where all the deaths occurred, and nervous communities were on alert as the flames burned everything in their path at the whim of the winds.

They have swept through some 3,000 square kilometres, fed by tinderbox conditions after a prolonged heatwave.

A number of the smouldering ruins are now surrounded by crime scene tape as police probe whether arsonists were to blame.
"What do you say about anyone like that? There are no words to describe it other than mass murder," Rudd said. AFP

Villagers curse stolen land

Land dispute victims in Siem Reap during a traditional ceremony put a curse on the person who stole their land.

Local rights group Adhoc, in their 2008 year-end review, reported a more than threefold jump over the previous year, from 40 to 125, in land disputes in which members of the armed forces were implicated in illegal conduct.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A new pattern of superstition has emerged as a last resort for victims of land grabs, as government inaction sends people to new levels of desperation

HUNDREDS of villagers from Lor Peang village in Banteay Meanchey province gathered together last week to perform a traditional ceremony in which they put a curse on the people who stole their land.

"We prayed and burned incense and cursed whoever stole our land to perish," villager Sgnuon Nhoeun told the Post Sunday. She said that using old-fashioned superstitious techniques had been the last choice for the villagers, who felt betrayed by the inaction of government and legal officials.

"The reason that we have this ceremony is because we feel helpless in the face of local authorities and the judicial system," she said.

"One person who stole our land died in a traffic accident last year after we made a similar curse," she said, adding that villagers had also planted small trees on the stolen land.

"Those who stole our land will fade like the leaves we plant on it," she said.

According to Sgnuon Nhoeun, Lor Peang villagers had sold around half of their land to development group KDC. Instead of taking half of the land, however, the company had taken the lot. The dispute resulted in the imprisonment last Novemeber of two of the village's representatives who had protested against the company.

"The villagers have conducted ceremonies like this because they believe it is their last choice. They have no hope in the local authorities or court officials to find justice for them," Sam Chankea, a coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, told the Post Sunday.

Old-fashioned curses reborn

Miech Ponn, a researcher at the Buddhist Institute and an adviser to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said that villagers had not conducted superstitious ceremonies like this in a long time.

"People feel no hope and have no belief in the judicial system, so they have decided to mark the occasion by cursing corrupt court officials to comfort their feelings," the 75-year-old said.

"It is not part of Buddhism, but there is nothing wrong with it. People have the right to their beliefs according to constitutional and penal law," he added.


Those who stole our land will fade like the leaves we plant on IT.


Chan Soveth, another Adhoc monitor, said Sunday that superstition ceremonies have also been practised in Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Siem Reap, Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri, Kratie and Kampot as a last vessel of hope for victims of land disputes.

"For the last few months, people have been very angry and anxious with the justice system for arresting protesters of land disputes. The law is to protect people's interests, but the court has wrongly put these people in custody to protect business interests in recent months," Chan Soveth said.

He said villagers felt the justice system only helps the rich.

"That's why people are now turning to superstition as their last choice because they have no hope in the justice system. They have a strong belief that the spirits will judge people and harm anyone who violates their land," he said.

"The court should consider providing justice for all people before arresting protesters, so as to guarantee the court's independence and neutrality. If protesters are arrested as they have been over the last two months, it severely impacts the court's reputation and shows the weakness of the judicial system to corruption," he added.

But the Buddhist Institute's Miech Ponn said it was a sad indictment of today's society

"Not only does it impact the judicial system, but it shows the weakness of this age to let rich and powerful men always win in the case over weak people."

Banteay Meanchey's Ta Ches commune chief Dy Doeun said he was still unable to help the villagers, despite their desperate plea to the heavens.

"I cannot solve the land dispute because it is in the hands of the court, but I don't mind the villagers celebrating a superstition ceremony - it is their right of belief."

NGO lashes out at govt censorship

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Web blocking, religious controls in the firing line

RIGHTS activists have called on the government to respect freedom of expression, citing a "concerning" drift towards censorship on political and religious grounds.

In a statement released Monday, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) criticised AngkorNet, a local internet service provider, for blocking the website of UK-based corruption watchdog Global Witness, apparently in response to its release of a highly critical report on the country's oil and mining sectors last week.

The group also expressed concerns about Prime Minister Hun Sen's announcement Sunday that all works of art featuring Buddhism would be vetted by religious authorities, following a monks' outcry over rock opera When Elephants Weep.

"[We] urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to tolerate creativity and freedom of expression," the statement said.

CCHR President Ou Virak said both cases were examples of the government's "natural tendency" towards censorship, citing its ban of a Global Witness report on illegal logging in 2007.

Although officials have denied knowledge of the blocking of the Global Witness site, he said the political climate encouraged individuals to take pre-emptive action to please senior officials.

He also said Hun Sen's call for the review of art featuring Buddhism would "create a lot of bureaucratic red tape" and impose "restrictions" on creative activity.

"What it creates is a ripple effect, which makes it known ... that this is the normal reaction from the government and that it is best to play it safe," he said. "That's the message."

NRP rift deepens, faction seeks to oust lawmakers

NRP acting president Chhim Seak Leng shown here in a file photo.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Pre-empting his election as president of the NRP, Suth Dina makes public moves to oust You Hockry and Sao Rany

THE rift between the two factions of the beleagured Norodom Ranariddh Party deepened Monday, with one faction announcing an extraordinary congress to be held mid-February to elect a new president and change the name of the party to the Khmer National Front, officials said Monday.

"We are changing the name following the request of Prince Norodom Ranariddh not to use his photo and his name for the party. After the congress, we will send a list of candidates who will replace You Hockry and Sao Rany," Suth Dina, former spokesman of NRP, told the Post.

"We have already informed the National Election Committee and National Assembly about the end of You Hockry and Sao Rany as representatives," he said.

But You Hockry, secretary general of NRP, said that Suth Dina did not have the authority to end his time as a lawmaker.

"Who is the president of the party? It is Chhim Seak Leng. The Ministry of Interior recognises his legislation, and he is the legal representative of the NRP after Norodom Ranariddh resigned," he said.

"I have been informed that a group [led by Suth Dina] will organise a congress to chase us out of the party. But it will be illegal because only Chhim Seak Leng is the legal president.... I will send a letter to the Ministry of Interior to take measures against these illegal activities," he added.

Tep Nytha, NEC secretary general, said the commission was currently studying the legality of a letter requesting the removal of You Hockry and Sao Rany as lawmakers.

"According to the Ministry of Interior, only Chhim Seak Leng has the legal right to sign any document on behalf of the NRP. I have not received any changes from the Ministry of Interior," he said.

Villagers, troops vie for farmland near border conflict zone

A report released last week by international corruption watchdog Global Witness noted the increasing involvement of RCAF soldiers in the “misappropriation of public assets”, claiming a heavy army presence at five of six mining sites surveyed by the group.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Troops set up camp on farmland they claim is owned by the military, which local residents say has deprived them of their livelihood

More than a hundred families in Banteay Meanchey province fear for the loss of 55 hectares of farmland in a dispute with border troops who have set up camp on the land, claiming that it is collectively owned by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), residents said.

"They have cleared the land and destroyed our crops and rice field, and several soldiers have placed shelters on the land," said Yem Kimlor, a representative of Banteay Meanchey's Preah Netr Preah community. "Now, people are frightened to enter the farmland."

One officer who spoke to the Post claimed that RCAF granted the land to local residents following the end of the civil war in 1998, but that recent tensions on the border had necessitated its reoccupation in December.

"It is not right that we took the land from the people, but it is former collective land, for which we have had legal titles and recognition from the government since 1979," said Son Shea, who declined to give his rank.


We have had legal titles and recognition from the government since 1979.


"We allowed the people to farm on the empty land when it was not needed, but now we need the land for deploying troops to protect the border's integrity."

He said the land would be used for a troop encampment, tanks and artillery, and he challenged villagers to present legal titles to the land.

Preah Netr Preah commune chief Hong Huoy admitted villagers were never given titles by district authorities. He said he had summoned both parties to a meeting Monday to discuss the issue.

Seeking a compromise

Although no troops came to the meeting, which was attended by around 40 villagers, Hong Huoy said he was still determined to find out whether the military deployment was genuine and to find a way to let the villagers continue farming the land.

"I have seen a letter from the general commander redeploying mobile troops from Battambang to Banteay Meanchey during the border dispute with Thailand in 2008," he said, but added that he had would try to prevent the land from being sold because it "belongs to the people".

But Soam Chankea, a coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that "a troop camp shouldn't be built near the people's village, since it will threaten people's safety", insisting that the camp not obstruct residents' farming activities.

"[The villagers] have no other place to live and they depend on the land to feed themselves," he said.

Govt 'prepared' to reopen border gate

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

THE government says it is prepared to reopen the border gate at the contested Preah Vihear temple if the situation continues to normalise, official said Monday.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that Cambodia will reopen the gate for foreign visitors travelling from Thailand to Cambodia if the conflict officially ends, but there would likely be minor security changes at some administrative points.

"We are already prepared to reopen the gate, but we demanded that the situation be good," Phay Siphan told the Post. "There will be changes at some points if we reopen."

The border gate at the temple was closed mid-July last year when tension between Cambodia and Thailand erupted after Unesco listed the 11th-century ruins as a World Heritage site.

According to a Thai newspaper published Monday, Seni Jitkasem, the governor of Si Sa Ket province that borders Preah Vihear province, said that they would open their national park on the Thai side on Tuesday to welcome visitors ahead of Valentine's Day, which falls on Saturday.

Loss of income

Phay Siphan said the idea of reopening the park was made after vendors in the area complained about the loss of income from a fall-off in tourism while the area was blocked and guarded by troops.

"This suggests that they want to turn a military base into a tourism resort," he said.

Bangkok exiles fear renewed hunt

Police hold up a photograph of a suspected Tiger Head movement member at a press conference in Phnom Penh last month.

Terrorism suspects denied Counsel
Rights groups have called for the release of more details surrounding the arrest, interrogation and trial of the five terrorism suspects, saying they have not been allowed access to legal council. Monitors from the UN as well as Cambodian rights groups Licadho and Adhoc have been prevented from speaking with the suspects. Chan Saveth, a legal counselor with Adhoc, said he was told by authorities he would not be allowed to even contact any of the suspects, who are being held in Phnom Penh's PJ Prison, until the investigation was over - a condition he described as "definitely not normal".

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Brendan brady
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

In hiding since being charged in 2005 with participating in an illegal paramilitary wing of the opposition party, former SRP activists fear further implication in ‘Tiger Head' group.

PASSING in and out of pagodas on the outskirts of Bangkok, Khut Kong Kea, a self-exiled Cambodian, thought he had faded from the spotlight, even if not seamlessly. But he fears the recent foiled bomb plot in Phnom Penh could return attention to him from authorities in his homeland, which he fled in 2005 for fear of being arrested as a dissident.

In an interview by phone with the Post, the 53-year-old said he fled to Bangkok after he discovered his name was on a "blacklist" of people authorities intended to round up after their arrest of Cheam Channy.

Sam Rainsy parliamentarian Cheam Channy was arrested in 2005 and detained in a military prison in Phnom Penh on charges of organised crime, fraud and raising a rebel army for the opposition party.

He served one year before pressure from civil society groups and, eventually, a pardon from the King, secured an early end to his seven-year sentence.

But whether or not the government's hunt for the alleged "shadow army" foot soldiers is over, the men it implicated who took flight to the backstreets of Bangkok fear authorities will connect them to the most recent incident of suspected terrorist activity to challenge their rule.

Of those who have sought refuge in Bangkok since 2005, Khut Kong Kea said six other men and their families remain, living and receiving food as alms in pagodas in the metropolis's outer environs - and none have received asylum.

"Some others were arrested by Thai police and sent back with other illegal immigrants," he said.
"And now, since we heard the news that the government has arrested Som Ek, we constantly change where we stay since we heard he admitted some other people outside the country were involved in his group."

'Tiger Head'

Four people, including a former provincial deputy police chief and a suspected opposition party defector, were charged January 12 under Cambodia's antiterrorism law over an alleged bomb plot on state facilities. The charges stem from three small bombs discovered January 2 outside the Defence Ministry and the state-run television station, TV3.

On January 31, authorities said they arrested a fifth man, whom they would not identify, on the same charges in connection with the bombs and on suspicion of recruiting and training terrorists.
Included among the accused are Reach Samnang, Mondulkiri province's former deputy police chief, and Lek Bunnhean, a one-time Sam Rainsy Party member who, according to multiple sources, defected to the ruling Cambodian People's Party and last year publicly accused the opposition leader of involvement in the 1998 rocket attack allegedly targeting Prime Minister Hun Sen in Siem Reap. Two former resistance fighters, Phy Savong and Som Ek, the alleged plot mastermind, also stand accused.

Police say Som Ek has confessed to organising both the most recent bombing attempt and an earlier bomb plot to blow up the Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship Monument in July 2007.

The government has alleged an anti-government organisation called the Tiger Head Movement masterminded the failed bomb plot with the support of international backers.

Thai reunions

Like his fellow accused former Sam Rainsy Party activist, 41-year-old Kong Samnang fled Cambodia in 2005 along with his wife and children.

"I escaped after being sentenced to 10 years when the court and government conspired to punish me, and I escaped from being killed by Hun Sen's bodyguards," he told the Post by telephone.

"I've been very concerned since I heard Som Ek and Lek Bunnhean were arrested. They are saying people outside the country are involved in their group. We will not escape from being accused because either one might have our names on a list of people they spoke with in Thailand."

That government officials have been tight-lipped about their investigations has not helped Kong Samnang's anxiety. National police spokesman Kieth Chantarith would only say police were still investigating the case and more arrests were expected, without elaborating due to the sensitivity of the case.

Meanwhile, the former wanted activists in Bangkok are laying as low as they can.

Chea Socheab had been incarcerated in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison in 2003 for several months for joining in an anti-government song at a public rally. The 35-year-old said he was not prepared to go behind bars again and saw refuge across the border as his only option in 2005.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok has twice dropped his application for political asylum, he said.

"I'm stuck here and can't do anything. It's like being stuck out at sea," he lamented.

The UNHCR said it was not familiar with the cases of the men interviewed by the Post.

Chea Socheab said that when he first arrived in Bangkok, he would regularly meet Lek Bunnhean and Som Ek. They were drawn to each other's company because of their shared background in the isolation of a foreign country, but never discussed dissident activities, he insisted.

"I did not know they had started this Tiger Head Movement," he said.

Khut Kong Kea said he met Som Ek in Thailand in 2006 and 2007. "Cambodian refugees outside the country, like those in Thailand, just became friends with Som Ek," he said.

Mobilising an armed resistance to the Cambodian government was far off the radar of the self-imposed exiles who have been bogged down trying to eke out a living and dodge local authorities, he said.

"There was no involvement between people outside the country and Som Ek and Lek Bunnhean. They did this for their ambition only," he said.

"But I am very concerned they will take our names to the government for us to be arrested."

He rejected the original charges against him and denied the opposition party had raised an army to advance its political agenda. "It was the structure each party needed for its safety," he said.

Khut Kong Kea entered politics in 1995, first as a member of the Khmer Nation Party and then, when it folded in 1998, he joined the Sam Rainsy Party.

He said he sought asylum through the UNHCR, but his case was dropped when, after Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia, they saw the security threat against alleged opposition party dissidents as limited. Khut Kong Kea figured the same protection afforded the high-profile opposition party leader would not be extended to him and decided against a return.

Meanwhile, life for him and his wife and eight children has bottomed out. "We survive by eating food that remains at the pagoda. I used to struggle for the nation, but I've become nothing."

Koh Kong dam to impact wildlife

Another dam – the Kamchay hydroelectric dam – under construction in Kampot province two weeks ago.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Chhay Channyda
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Over 350 species, in addition to local residents, inhabit the proposed Kirirom III dam's flood zone, raising fears about the lasting social and environmental effects of the project

WITH construction slated to begin this month on the 18-megawatt Kirirom III hydropower dam in Koh Kong province, environmentalists and NGOs continue to voice concerns about the potential effects of the project on residents and wildlife near the project site.

The China Electric Power Technology Import and Export Corp (CETIC) will be in charge of building the US$40 million project, which is expected to take two-and-a-half years, according to an initial environmental and social impact assessment produced by the company last year.

The impact assessment states that the project will generate jobs for approximately 500 Cambodian and Chinese workers. But environmentalists and rights activists are concerned by the report's claims that 352 species of wildlife, in addition to 10 local families, will need to be resettled during its construction.

Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International, said his organisation is worried whether the animals in question will be able to survive the construction of the dam.

"They will have to move to live in another place," he said. "Some animals cannot move because they need special shelters."

Tonn Kunthel, Mekong community rights project officer at the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said construction of the dam would harm the biodiversity of the Stung Pongrul River.

He also pointed to the potential effect on nearby residents, noting that roads built to the construction site could displace more than the 10 families mentioned in the impact assessment and that the project would limit villagers' access to the river.

Villager Mao Phorn, who lives near the projected dam site, said his livelihood depends on his ability to catch fish from the river.

"I believe that people are more concerned than happy about the scheme, with villagers fearing impacts on fish stocks and their land," he said.

Tonn Kunthel pointed to a November 2008 report published by the Rivers Coalition of Cambodia and the American Friends Service Committee that found the dam would cause deterioration in water quality, soil erosion and flooding.

The Before the Dam report predicted that the project would lead to "deterioration of the local environment systems that currently supply a range of natural resources to the local community" as well as a general "decline in the local quality of life".

The director of CETIC declined to answer questions about the dam.

Thuk Kroeun Vutha, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said officials are aware of the environmental and other threats the project poses.

"We are working on this problem because we see there are some points that will strongly impact the environment," he told the Post last week.

"If we see that it will impact the area too much, I don't know if we will stop it or not because we need to discuss with other ministries about how to resolve the issue."

Police task force to crack down on counterfeit drugs

The Cambodian Chamber of Commerce announced in December that an Indian investment group wanted to build a new pharmaceuticals plant that would reduce Cambodia’s dependence on foreign drugs, many of which are counterfeit.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sarah Whyte and Neth Pheaktra
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Ministry of Health will train task force members to identify and confiscate fake and expired medicine in unregistered pharmacies

The task force, composed of police officers and called the Police of Justice for the Ministry of Health, will operate in all of the Kingdom's 24 provinces and municipalities, Chou Yinsim, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, told the Post Monday.

"The Police of Justice for the Health Ministry will regularly be patrolling pharmacies," Chou Yinsim said. Members will be trained in identifying and confiscating fake drugs. They will also look for pharmacies selling expired drugs, he said.

"The Police of Justice will have more power to confiscate and vanquish the fake drugs and pharmacies that do not comply with the medical health standards," he said.

Counterfeit dangers

Counterfeit drugs can pose serious health risks and have been linked to deaths in rural areas, Chou Yinsim said.


The [task force] will have more power to... vanquish the fake drugs.


Both Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Health Department, and Dy Bunchem, director of the Siem Reap Health Department, said they welcomed the crackdown.

Veng Thai said there are 500 pharmacies in Phnom Penh, of which a few are unregistered.

Yim Yann, president of the Pharmacists Association of Cambodia, told the Post in December that there are 1,000 registered pharmacies in Cambodia and around 1,000 pharmacies operating illegally.

In conjunction with the launch of the task force, the Ministry of Health will invite pharmacy representatives to a forum emphasising the dangers and health risks related to selling fake drugs, Chou Yinsim said.

The World Health Organisation launched a campaign in 2005 to "harness the power of the internet" to reduce the sale of counterfeit drugs, prompted by studies showing their use was on the rise, including one that found 99 of 188 samples of an antimalarial drug were counterfeit.

The problem of counterfeit medicine - which accounts for 6 to 10 percent of all medicine on the global market, with sales figures estimated at US$35 billion each year - is most acute in the Mekong region of Southeast Asia, according to the WHO release announcing the beginning of the campaign.

Play Penh


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Children enjoy the playground at Phnom Penh's Wat Phnom this weekend. The area is one of the capital's few public play parks and consequently attracts a sizable crowd most days - especially in the cooler hours of the early evening.

Flight traffic down 3pc

Airplanes wait on the tarmac at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, a major regional hub. Analysts say Cambodia must also develop longer-distance air travel to expand.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Air traffic in 2008 drops by 110,000 passengers with Siem Reap taking biggest hit from downturn, terminal operator SCA says in annual report

CAMBODIAN airport traffic dropped more than three percent last year compared with 2007, while the Kingdom has seen traffic grow by 135 percent in the past four years, said the French company that operates the country's air terminals, Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports (SCA), in its annual report.

While traffic through Phnom Penh International Airport increased slightly from 1.6 million passengers in 2007 to 1.69 million in 2008, representing 5.6 percent growth, numbers to Siem Reap International Airport fell from 1.73 million to 1.53 million over the same period, a decrease of 11.6 percent. Overall this meant air traffic dropped by 110,000 passengers in 2008 over the previous 12 months, said the report, while Phnom Penh air traffic overtook that through Siem Reap.

Air cargo tonnage also fell 13 percent last year, said SCA's communications and marketing manager, Khek Norida, to 23,000 tonnes.

The figures point to a decline in tourism numbers, a trend backed up by recent reports from hoteliers who have said occupancy rates have dropped about 30 percent. Passengers into Phnom Penh climbed one percent in October 2008 over the same month in 2007, but fell sharply at the beginning of the winter tourist season - traffic was down seven percent in November 2008 over November the previous year and fell 10 percent in December 2008 over the same month in 2007.

Siem Reap saw an even sharper drop in numbers at the end of 2008 - traffic fell 15 percent in October, 22 percent in November and 26 percent in December over the same months in 2007.

"Passenger traffic is susceptible to decline if our airports remain small," said Eng Sour Sdey, undersecretary of state for the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, adding that Cambodia needed to expand its airports for intercontinental flights.

"If we can see flights directly from Berlin, Switzerland and other European destinations [such as] ... Germany or London, [passenger numbers] will automatically increase, as long as our airports are big enough for landing and takeoff," he said.

As for the potential to become a regional hub, the country's two international airports would need to handle long-distance aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus 380-330, Eng Sour Sdey added, calling on the SCA to add the required infrastructure. Currently all Cambodian flights go through other hubs, particularly Bangkok.


Passenger traffic is susceptible to decline if our airports remain small


Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Tourism Working Group, said the government should give a green light to SCA to work closely with the aviation authority to devise a strategy to increase air traffic through Cambodia, adding that the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents and Hotel and Restaurant Association should work alongside airlines to help the tourism industry tackle the current downturn.

Cambodia has yet to open its international airport on the southern coast, which would add more capacity, but Ho Vandy noted: "I was told that Kang Keng [Sihanoukville International] Airport had been planned as the Kingdom's largest airport, but I have no clue what is going on now."

However, figures suggested that Cambodia is failing to utilise capacity. Total flights fell two percent in 2008 over 2007 which included a 13 percent dip in domestic traffic. Again, Siem Reap saw the biggest decline - a nine-percent drop in total flights last year.

Telecoms regulations still required

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A mobile phone user in Phnom Penh. Analysts say that the Cambodian telecoms network has developed quickly in recent years but still lacks adequate regulation and cooperation among networks that have left consumers short changed.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

ICT development rapid but rules lacking: World Bank

CAMBODIA has made important gains in the information and technology sector over the past 10 years, but a lack of rules and regulations remain a major obstacle, according to a World Bank report issued at the end of last week.

More than 2.6 million Cambodians have access to mobile phones, with coverage reaching across the country, according to the report titled "Sustaining Growth in a Challenging Environment". The report says that internet penetration has grown in recent years, but total usage remains low. Only 44,000 Cambodians had internet access in 2007, up from 6,000 in 2000, said Internet World Stats.

Without a comprehensive fibre-optic system, Cambodia's broadband services rely on satellites to supply a small market of only 8,000 users. Costs can run at a pricey US$89 per month for a 256-kilobits-per-second connection, in contrast to $17 in Vietnam, says the report. Service is due to improve with two fibre-optic cable systems in the works: one from Laos through Thailand and a second from Vietnam to Thailand.

But even with strong growth in the sector, the lack of a telecommunications law and government oversight leaves Cambodian telecoms dominated by three large players that don't always offer reliable service, say critics. Consumers complain they are getting cut off mid-conversation when calling competing networks, and some businesses say they can't discount value-added tax.

The industry currently falls under a prakas, or edict, and is administered directly by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications - critics say that the lack of an autonomous authority to license and regulate operators and interconnection leaves the industry open to politicisation, and ultimately hurts consumers.

"In telecommunications, there is a lot of dirty business ... some companies are blocking access to one another's networks or cutting off international calls," said opposition lawmaker Son Chhay.

Last week's World Bank report, and a 2006 report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said that a telecommunications law will mean better services and more competition in the telecoms industry.

The ADB started a program in 2006 to improve regulation, but no law has been passed yet. But one industry source said Cambodia already has rules governing the sector.

Adam Cabot, chief operating officer of Star Cell, said: "My experience is that operators follow this prakas [on the telecoms industry]," he said. "Too much regulation is not good, but too little regulation is not good either."

In Brief: Brick kilns close

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Twelve brick kilns have closed leaving just a dozen operational, building sources said Monday. "If I travel on National Highway 6A and National Highway 5, many of the brick kilns have closed," said Sok Sovandeith, president of the Cambodia Federation of Builders and Woodworkers. A drop in demand saw prices fall from 500 riels (US$0.12) to 50 riels per brick last month. Angkor Brick and Tiles Co Ltd has survived, its owner Praing Ol said, but production is down 80 percent. Kim Long, owner of Kim Long Construction Material Shop, said that hundreds of workers had been laid off.

In Brief: Arbitration plans

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A Commercial Arbitration Centre will open this year after more than a year's delay, said Cambodia Chamber of Commerce Director General Nguon Meng Tech. The centre, which is to cost US$2 million, will specialise in business disputes, said Lim Chhiv Ho, president of Attwood Import and Export Co. The Asian Development Bank has pledged $500,000 to the centre, and employee training will take place in Singapore, said Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce. About 50 to 60 people will be trained, he said, adding that military and police officers will be barred.

Capital's SpotMap provides direction

Childsafe Network
Phnom Penh's ChildSafe Network, managed by Friends International, involves key members of society and travellers in actively protecting urban children and youth from abuse by training them to recognise and respond to dangerous situations.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by TOM HUNTER
Tuesday, 10 February 2009

ANZ Royal Bank, The ChildSafe Network and Java Arts on Monday launched the new SpotMap at the ChildSafe Center.

Phnom Penh is becoming known for both its heritage and progressive culture, and the new SpotMap pinpoints the city's increasing number of galleries, performance spaces, studios and architectural icons in an effort to boost the Kingdom's cultural and tourism sectors.

Points of interest

Architectural points of interest marked on the map have been provided by Stephanie Irmer, from the Khmer Architecture Tours.

While Irmer's tours focus on post-1953 Independence architecture in Cambodia, described as New Khmer Architecture, the map pinpoints both modern and postmodern architectural sites.

The SpotMap, which aims to be a one-stop information resource, also includes a key and map reference of participating partners including ANZ Royal Bank ATMs, ChildSafe businesses and various art venues.

The new map is designed to fold easily into tourists' pockets and will be freely available from local restaurants, shops and galleries.

The map's cover has been designed by young Cambodian artists Kong Vollak, 25, and Khvay Samnang, 26, both graduates of the Royal University of Fine Arts. Both artists have become renowned for their unique style and use of colour.

The cover, a collaboration of two different yet complimentary styles, sees Kong Vollak's use of strong black linear lines and structural elements combined with Khvay Samnang's dynamic use of colour to paint a striking image of the city.

Both artists have exhibited at the Royal University of Fine Arts. Kong Vollak's work can be viewed online at www.flickr.com/photos/vollak.

Slow food movement begins to take root in Cambodia

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Phnom Penh's Nature & Sea prides itself on using organic and quality produce.

The Phnom Penh Post

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A growing number of people in the Kingdom are determined to promote organic produce and celebrate taste and the senses over expedience

Founded in Italy in 1986, the slow food movement has grown in response to the rise of fast food and fast living. In two decades, the movement has blossomed into a global network of people, organisations, businesses and whole cities supporting the concept of eco-gastronomy - the recognition of the strong connection between the plate and the planet.

Starting at the table, the movement promotes an unhurried way of life founded on the idea that everyone has a right to culinary pleasure but that everyone must also take responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make this celebration of the senses possible.

"The idea of slow food is very challenging in many ways," said Manuel J Garcia, owner and manager of the chain of Boddhi Tree restaurants and guesthouses in Phnom Penh. "It tests our rigid concept of how we approach things, of living in the fast lane."

Some six months ago, Boddhi Tree, with its three establishments, became one of the first businesses in Cambodia to join the slow food movement.

"Ever since its beginning, the Boddhi Tree restaurant has been very much into the healthy side of cooking. We are concerned about how we get our produce, and how that is linked to development more generally," Garcia said. "It's about looking at the whole picture of why we're in the hospitality industry, why we provide food for customers and where that food comes from. I think most of our customers understand and appreciate the values associated with slow food."


The idea of slow food ... tests our rigid concept of how we approach things, of living in the fast lane.


While Garcia suspects Boddhi Tree is the only member of the movement in Cambodia, he is keen to create an expanding network of businesses that use organic produce.

"The organic market here is unstructured, so the idea is for us to be the centrepoint for others who are entering the business. We are now working on building links between suppliers and buyers," Garcia said.

Going organic

Garcia explained how there has been talk - even at the government level - of taking advantage of Cambodia's relatively clean soil and jumping into organic agriculture.

"They found that the land in Cambodia hasn't been exposed to chemicals or pesticides, mainly due to 30 years of war," he said. "And really, the quality of the produce in Cambodia is just exquisite - much higher than in the rest of the region."
The level of organic production in the Kingdom is, however, still difficult to measure.

According to Garcia, Phnom Penh has a few stable suppliers, such as the Farmers Association, along with several small household producers who grow fruit and vegetables organically but do not necessarily know how to promote their crops.

"At Boddhi Tree, we currently get deliveries twice or three times a week from the Farmers Association, but if we could identify the independent producers, we could also buy directly from them," Garcia said.

Nature & Sea, another Phnom Penh restaurant that markets itself as encouraging healthy food and promoting consumer consciousness, also buys its organic foodstuffs from the Farmers' Association.

"If [the association doesn't] have what we need, though, we will buy it from the supermarket," manager Seng Phalla said. "Key for us is that we serve quality, clean food to our customers."

Consumer choice

At the moment, most customers of both the Boddhi Tree and Nature & Sea are either foreign tourists or expats.
"We sometimes have Khmer customers, but many Khmers don't understand about organic produce," Seng Phalla said. "Foreigners, on the other hand, have already come to value organic."

Garcia similarly admitted that nearly all of Boddhi Tree's patrons are from overseas, though he surmised that there might be a small group of wealthier middle-class Cambodians ready to embrace the concept of slow food.

Chamroen Ouch and Dara Dy, who were enjoying lunch at locally run Khmer Village Restaurant that serves organic and local produce, seem to belong to that group.

"In my family, we are very conscious of what we eat. Organic food is good for the health and tastes better," Chamroen Ouch said. "I think there is an increased understanding of the benefits of organic food among Cambodians."

While many young Cambodians living in the capital are eagerly embracing the concept of fast food, often regarded as espousing values quite opposite to eco-gastronomy, Garcia is nevertheless conciliatory.

"I don't think the rise of fast food in Cambodia is a threat at all. There is space in the market for all kinds of business enterprises. It's great to have fast food around one corner and slow food around the other. I have nothing against it."

More information on the slow food movement is available at www.slowfood.com

Cambodian refugee serves fellow immigrants at San Bernardino's Asian-American Resource Center

Rodrigo Peña / The Press-Enterprise
Rasmey Sam founded the San Bernardino center in 1995 because there was no place for Inland Asian immigrants to turn for help in their own languages, and in the context of their own cultures, he said.

San Bernardino County

Monday, February 9, 2009
The Press-Enterprise

Thirty years ago, Rasmey Sam was a young Khmer Rouge follower who had been brainwashed with the ideology that led the Cambodian government to murder an estimated 1.7 million of its citizens. He was taught to hate his parents and others with "contaminated" ideas.

Today, Sam leads the Asian-American Resource Center, the Inland area's only comprehensive organization for Asian immigrants. He devotes his life to helping immigrants instead of learning why to despise fellow Cambodians.

The Inland area's Asian-American population increased by 60 percent between 2000 and a 2005-07 Census estimate, to more than 217,000, or almost 6 percent.

But the Asian population here is not as concentrated as in parts of Orange and Los Angeles counties, where some cities are half or two-thirds Asian. That can make it more difficult to reach potential clients, Sam said.

Sam founded the San Bernardino center in 1995 because there was no place for Inland Asian immigrants to turn for help in their own languages, and in the context of their own cultures.

Employees speak Vietnamese, Korean, Cambodian, Mandarin and Cantonese. One speaks Spanish. Many of the more than 5,000 clients are Latin American immigrants.

Clients take English and citizenship classes, get documents translated, learn how to use computers, and receive information on low-income utility programs. Seniors enjoy Vietnamese lunches and learn about nutrition, and young people get help with their homework.

The group opened a satellite office in Rubidoux in 2003.

Sam earned a degree in business administration from Cal State San Bernardino in 1995 and quickly began researching how to start a nonprofit organization. One of his marketing professors, Victoria Seitz, helped him.

"He's really, really smart," Seitz said. "He could have used his knowledge to make a lot of money. Instead, he's using it to help his community. He wants to do the right thing."

Richard Chong, president of the Khmer Buddhist Society of San Bernardino, said the resource center is indispensable in helping Asian immigrants adjust to life in the United States.

The center started in a one-room office in downtown San Bernardino. It now sits in a 3,800-square-foot building south of downtown.

Sam was a young child when the communist Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975. They murdered politicians, intellectuals and others who they saw as part of a dangerous educated elite. They ordered residents of cities to move to the country in a plan to turn Cambodian into a fully peasant-oriented economy.

Sam's father and grandfather were early victims of the genocide. His dad was chief of police for the capital, Phnom Penh, and his grandfather was a one-star general, and thus immediately seen as enemies of the new regime, Sam said.

He, his mother, two brothers and two sisters were forced into the countryside to attend "re-education camps." His mother was seen as a lost cause, because she was older and seen as hopelessly corrupted. She spent her days doing backbreaking work in the rice fields.

The Khmer Rouge concentrated on children like Sam, whose minds were still malleable.

"They did a good job on me," Sam said. "If they had given me a gun, I probably would have shot people."

Yet even the vaunted children had to scrounge for food. Sam sometimes ate insects. One sister starved to death.

After Vietnamese troops toppled the Khmer Rouge in late 1978, Sam returned to Phnom Penh before escaping to a Thai refugee camp because of continuing instability.

He arrived as a refugee in Monterey Park in 1982. The second family he lived with moved to Rialto in 1986, and he graduated from Eisenhower High School there.

Sam is officially 36 years old, but believes he's probably 38 or 39. Workers at the Thai refugee camp he stayed at often put back children's ages so they would receive more education to make up for time lost in the camps, he said.

Sam barely knew his father, but he thinks of him often. His memory helps guide and inspire Sam.

"I was 5 when my dad was taken away," Sam said. "But he's my role model. I feel obligated to represent my family and do good for the people."

Reach David Olson at 951-368-9462 or dolson@PE.com

Cambodian internet provider blocks anti-corruption website

Australia Network News

A leading Cambodian internet provider, AngkorNet, has reportedly blocked public access to the website of the anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness.

The action, reported in the Phnom Penh Post, comes after the British-based agency released a highly critical report on Cambodia's oil and minining industries on January 5.

The newspaper says the Global Witness website can still be accessed online via two other Cambodian internet providers, Online and Citylink.

AngkorNet's block went into place at the weekend, and Cambodia Mirror editor Norbert Klein told the Phnom Penh Post that it must have been imposed deliberately.

"This doesn't happen automatically. Somebody somewhere must have done something," he told the newspaper.

There has been no comment from AngkorNet.

Donors provide 7.75 mln USD to Cambodia?s agriculture

MCOT English News

PHNOM PENH, Feb 10 (VNA) – The European Union (EU) and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have announced a combined assistance of 7.75 million USD to back up the rural economy in Cambodia this year.

Cambodian Secretary of State for Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Chan Tong Yves on Feb. 7 said his ministry has received a non-refundable aid of 2.25 million USD from FAO.

The fund was aimed at promoting the agricultural production for food security ensurance and increasing rice output for exports, he added.

Meanwhile, Rafael Dochao Moreno, EU representative in Cambodia, announced on Feb. 6 that the EU will provide 5.5 million USD to Cambodia to help develop economic activities at local levels in order to speed up the poverty reduction and hunger elimination programme.

The aid will be focused on community development, health and education projects.

The rate of poverty-stricken households in Cambodia remains high, at 31 percent and donors believe that boosting farm produce exports will be one of the solutions to bring the rate down.

In recent years, Cambodia’s farm produce exports have experienced stable growth. In 2008, it exported 3 million tonnes of rice, a rise of 0.8 million tonnes as compared to 2007. (VNA)

Thailand reopens national park near disputed temple


by Sahil Nagpal
Tue, 02/10/2009

Bangkok - Provincial authorities on Tuesday reopened Phra Viharn National Park that has been closed for the past seven months because of a border spat with Cambodia over an ancient Hindu temple adjacent to the area.

"It's an arrangement at the local level," Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said. "We're letting the local people try it to see how smoothly it goes."

Phra Vihran National Park in Kantharalak district of Si Sa Ket province, 350 kilometres north-east of Bangkok, has been closed to the public since July 14, 2008.

Provincial authorities won permission from the Thai army to reopen the park last week, in an effort to bring back tourism to the area.

But park visitors will not be permitted to cross the border into Cambodia to see Preah Vihear temple, a 11th-century Hindu monument that has been the cause of a sovereignty dispute between the two neighbouring countries for decades.

Preah Vihear, perched on a 525-metre-high cliff on the Dongrak mountain range that defines the Thai-Cambodian border, sparked a short border clash last July after UNESCO's listing of the temple as a World Heritage Site on July 9.

Cambodia's detention of three Thai nationals who refused to leave the temple to protest the listing prompted some 150 Thai paramilitary troops to cross into the disputed area and some 800 troops to be dispatched to the area in a show of force.

Cambodia responded by dispatching hundreds of its own troops as well, leading to a several border clashes that left two Cambodian soldiers dead and several Thais wounded.

Despite numerous bilateral talks since the flare-up, Thailand and Cambodia continue to keep troops posted in the temple's vicinity.

Thailand insists that the territory around the temple is still disputed.

Ownership of the 11th-century temple has been a bone of contention between the two countries for decades.

The temple was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court in The Hague, but the surrounding border area is still disputed.

Many Thais were angered by UNESCO's decision to list the temple as a World Heritage Site before the dispute over the adjacent area was settled. (dpa)

Russian border guards detain foreign vessel for alleged poaching

RIA Novosti
09/ 02/ 2009

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, February 9 (RIA Novosti) - A foreign vessel flying a Cambodian flag has been detained on suspicion of poaching of crab in the Pacific Ocean, near Russia's largest island of Sakhalin, a regional coast guard spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The vessel with 10 Russian and five Indonesian crew members had some 900 kilograms of live crab on board when it was stopped in the Tatar Strait, a channel dividing mainland Russia and Sakhalin Island.

"There were no documents permitting fishing in the territorial waters of Russia. The detained vessel is being escorted to the port of Nevelsk for further investigation," the spokeswoman said.
Last year, Russia launched a crackdown on the illegal export of crab and other seafood. At least 20 boats, including several foreign vessels, were detained by Russia last year.

Day in picture of Young Cambodian gather on a board-walk near the banks of the Tonle Sap river during sunset in Phnom Penh

Young Cambodian couples gather on a board-walk near the banks of the Tonle Sap river during sunset in Phnom Penh February 9, 2009. Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal has set February 17 as the start date for the trial of the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Construction workers make camp near-by the development of new property along the banks of the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh February 9 2009.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Couples take rest near advertising for new property hanging along the banks of the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh February 9, 2009.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

The moon is seen at sunset as locals gather near the bank of the banks of the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh February 9, 2009.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

The human skulls and bones of Cambodian who die under Khmer Rouge regime

A Memorial Stupa located on the grounds of the Choeung Ek extermination camp is silhouetted at sunset in the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 9, 2009. The remains of nearly 9,000 people were exhumed in the 1980s from mass graves in this one-time orchard, also known as one of the 'The Killing Fields.' Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal has set February 17 as the start date for the trial of the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A Cambodian man giving foreigners a tour points his finger towards a skull struck by bamboo, as it sits amongst more than 8,000 skulls inside a Memorial Stupa located on the grounds of the Choeung Ek extermination camp in the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 9 2009. The remains of nearly 9,000 people were exhumed in the 1980s from mass graves in this one-time orchard, also known as one of the 'The Killing Fields.' Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal has set February 17 as the start date for the trial of the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A Cambodian man giving foreigners a tour grabs a skull as it sits amongst more than 8,000 inside a Memorial Stupa located on the grounds of the Choeung Ek extermination camp in the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 9 2009. The remains of nearly 9,000 people were exhumed in the 1980s from mass graves in this one-time orchard, also known as one of the 'The Killing Fields.' Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal has set February 17 as the start date for the trial of the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

The human skulls and bones of Cambodian who die under Khmer Rouge regime are displayed in a stupa at Udong mountain in Kandal Province about 45 kilometers (27 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Feb. 9, 2009. The U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal is scheduled to conduct an initial hearing of Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, on Feb. 17, 2009 a former chief of Khmer Rouge largest torture facility (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Annual Meak Bochea ceremony in the ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong

Cambodian Buddhist monks pray during the annual Meak Bochea ceremony in the ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong, 45 km (28 miles) north of Phnom Penh, February 9, 2009. Buddhists in Cambodia celebrated Meak Bochea Day on Monday to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

People pray during the annual Meak Bochea ceremony in the ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong, 45 km (28 miles) north of Phnom Penh, February 9, 2009. Buddhists in Cambodia celebrated Meak Bochea Day on Monday to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

People hold lotus flowers as they pray during the annual Meak Bochea ceremony in the ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong, 45 km (28 miles) north of Phnom Penh, February 9, 2009. Buddhists in Cambodia celebrated Meak Bochea Day on Monday to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

A Cambodian Buddhist monk is offered food during the annual Meak Bochea ceremony in the ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong, 45 km (28 miles) north of Phnom Penh, February 9, 2009. Buddhists in Cambodia celebrated Meak Bochea Day on Monday to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago .REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian Buddhist nuns pray during the annual Meak Bochea ceremony in the ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong, 45 km (28 miles) north of Phnom Penh, February 9, 2009. Buddhists in Cambodia celebrated Meak Bochea Day on Monday to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Vietnamese “Lamp Genii” get int’l fame

Engineer Do Quoc Khanh moved this 3,000 tonne house.


VietNamNet Bridge – The reputation of Vietnamese “Lamp Genii,” who are able to move houses weighing hundreds of tonnes, has reached the world.

“Lamb Genie” Nguyen Van Cu is very busy with several projects to move houses, prevent houses from leaning, or lift houses up in many provinces in Vietnam. Recently, a client from Cambodia came to Vietnam to invite Cu to help recover a hotel near the Vietnam-Cambodia border.

This hotel has three storeys, weighing 4,200 tonnes. The hotel was leaning so the owner planned to destroy it to build a new one. Hearing the fame of Cu, they invited him to help resume the hotel and raise its ground by 50cm.

Cu went to Cambodia five times to survey and finalized the design. He is about to go to Cambodia again to recover the hotel in mid-February.

Another “Lam Genie,” engineer Do Quoc Khanh, went to the USA on February 6 to attend an international workshop on moving houses. He is the only Southeast Asian candidate for the “World’s Heaviest House Moved in 2008” title. In 2008, he moved a 3,000-tonne house in the Phu Cat Hi-tech Zone in Hanoi.

Khanh’s company has kept over 500 construction works from sinking, around 200 houses from leaning, and has moved many houses.


Burma 'must stop Rohingya abuse'

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma

Monday, 9 February 2009

The US has called on Burma to stop persecuting its Rohingya Muslim minority, who have fled the country in their hundreds of thousands.

On a visit to neighbouring Bangladesh, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said the Rohingya's treatment was "a matter of concern" to the US.

Hundreds of Rohingya recently fled to Thailand in boats, but were cast adrift by the Thai authorities and many died.

Burma's military rulers do not recognise the Rohingya as Burmese.

And refugees who have been arriving in Thailand and Indonesia have told how the military authorities there have beaten and abused them.

Many have shown scars on their bodies they claimed were caused by Burmese soldiers whipping them as a warning not to return to Burma.

"The US was aware of the fleeing of Rohingyas from Myanmar [Burma] for persecution and economic reasons," Mr Boucher told a news conference in Dhaka.

"It's a matter of concern and the US wants that Myanmar stops the persecution of Rohingyas."

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) some 230,000 Rohingya now live in Bangladesh, having fled decades of abuse by Burma's military rulers.

Chevron silent on bribery allegations

Asia Times Online
Feb 10, 2009

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK - US energy giant Chevron is under fire for failing to disclose the amount of money it paid to secure rights to drill for offshore oil in corruption-ridden Cambodia.

''It is yet to respond to our detailed questions in a letter written to the company in October 2008,'' said Gavin Hayman, campaigns director for Global Witness (GW), a London-based anti-corruption watchdog. ''It is not in favor of supplying information about what it pays foreign governments to secure rights for oil exploration.''

Chevron's attitude towards disclosure ''will be telling'', he said in an interview, since revelations could help measure the scale of ''under-the-table payments'' involved in a country where a small and powerful elite has ''captured the country's emerging oil and mineral sectors'' for personal gain.

But disclosure about money paid to access the resource is only one part of the transparency and accountability equation. Global Witness activists insists that the oil companies should also disclose what they will pay Cambodia once the revenue starts flowing.

Hayman made the comments following a launch here this week of a report by Global Witness that warns of a corruption disaster as Cambodia ''appears to be on the verge of an oil, gas and minerals windfall".

''Cambodia today is a country for sale,'' says the 68-page report. ''Having made their fortune from logging much of the country's forests resources, Cambodia's elite have diversified their commercial interests to encompass other forms of state assets.''

The report, "Country for Sale", claims that "financial bonuses paid to secure concessions [for oil and mining] - totaling millions of dollars - do not show up, as far as GW can see, in the 2006 and 2007 revenue reports from the Ministry of Economy and Finance. ... Oil company contracts and information on concession allocations are a closely guarded secret within the CNPA [Cambodian National Petroleum Authority].''

Yet what is better known is the presence of Chevron among the companies from Australia, China, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States that have been competing to secure rights to explore oil in the six blocks off Cambodia's western coast.

''With the exception of Chevron, the government of Cambodia has not publicly announced the names of those companies to whom it has awarded oil and gas exploration rights,'' states the report. ''Block A was awarded to US oil company Chevron in 2002. Chevron's activities in Block A are the most advanced of all oil companies currently operating in Cambodia.''

Global Witness estimates that oil will start flowing in 2011 and peak in 2021. Proceeds range from US$174 million in the first year to $1.7 billion when extraction peaks.

Global Witness doubts whether such income from Cambodia's natural resources will flow to those who need it most - the country's millions still mired in poverty following nearly two decades of bloody conflict and a brutal rule by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

Currently, more than one-third of Cambodia's 13.3 million people live in dire conditions on less than one dollar a day. United Nations reports have revealed that life expectancy is 58 years, while nearly a third of children under five years are malnourished.

Yet for a small cabal of political, military and economic elite, the period since the 1991 peace accords has been a journey on the road to immense - and ill-gotten - wealth. In 2007, for instance, Global Witness revealed in a report that illegal logging in Cambodia by the elite raked in over $13 million.

Such greed by the elite has raised fears that Cambodia is on the verge of becoming a kleptocracy; the country is already rated as among the world's most corrupt. In 2007, the global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Cambodia 162nd among 179 countries surveyed for corruption, making it the most corrupt country in Asia after Myanmar.

The ease with which the powerful few have filled their personal coffers stems from a lack of independent bodies backed by strong laws and resources to curb corruption. ''Any state that has weak anti-corruption institutions is not going to have proper level of oversight,'' says Donald Bowser, head of the Cambodia office of the Mainstreaming Anti-corruption for Equity Project, funded by the development arm of the US government.

''There are local concerns about the misuse of the country's extractive industry for personal gain,'' Bowser said during a telephone interview from Phnom Penh. ''A civil society coalition has been formed to campaign against this form of corruption.''

But such campaigns face a daunting challenge. The Cambodian government, under the grip of an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minster Hun Sen, has yet to implement strong anti-corruption measures that have been called for by the country's foreign donors, who fund nearly half the national budget.

Activists like Hayman of Global Witness also point fingers at international financial institutions, including the World Bank, for being complicit in the corrupt culture of Cambodia's rising kleptocrats. ''The World Bank is particularly bad,'' he charges. ''They have a bad track record of forgetting civil society to monitor all steps of programmes in Cambodia to ensure accountability.''

However, the bank thinks otherwise. ''The World Bank shares many of the concerns NGOs [non-governmental organizations] have raised about the government's management of extractive industry in Cambodia,'' it said in a statement released to IPS from its Phnom Penh office.

''Although the Bank has not been directly involved in extractive industries in Cambodia, our dialogue with the government includes discussion of policy reforms that will help to ensure that any revenue generated through extractive industries benefit the people of Cambodia,'' it said.

Inter Press Service

NGO website barred in Cambodia for releasing scathing report

China Daily


PHNOM PENH -- The website of UK-based corruption watchdog the Global Witness has been blocked for some local web users following its release of a scathing report on Cambodia's nascent oil and mining industries last week, national media said on Monday.

AngkorNet, one of the kingdom's leading internet service providers (ISP), had blocked the site over the weekend in a manner consistent with a deliberate attempt to prevent access, English- language newspaper the Phnom Penh Post quoted Norbert Klein, editor of the online Cambodia Mirror, as saying.

"This doesn't happen automatically. Somebody somewhere must have done something," he said, adding that the block could either have originated with the ISP itself, or "somewhere further upstream."

AngkorNet representatives confirmed the Global Witness site was barred to its customers, but could not provide further details into the reasons for the restricted access.

The 70-page "Country for Sale" report accused corrupt ruling elites of monopolizing the kingdom's mining and oil industries, aided by a "total lack" of transparency.

The report has drawn fierce criticism from Cambodian government officials since its release on January 5.

Motorboat flying Cambodian flag detained off Sakhalin

From itar-tass.com

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, February 9 (Itar-Tass) - The SV-11 motorboat flying the Cambodian flag was detained on Moneron Island off Sakhalin on suspicion of poaching.

The vessel is registered at the port of Phnom Penh. The crew includes ten Russians and five Indonesians.

According to the press service of the Sakhalin coastal department, the motorboat was detained on Sunday by a patrol ship. Coatsal guards found 900 kilograms of live blue crab onboard, no fishing permit was provided.

The captain of the vessel is a citizen of Russia who is suspected of contraband, poaching of rare aquatic animals and plants and illegal crossing of the Russian border.

The vessel was tugged to the port of Nevelsk for further investigation.

Cambodia shares the pain

Asia Times Online
Feb 10, 2009

By Stephen Kurczy PHNOM PENH - After months of official denials and upbeat forecasts, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said for the first time last week that the country's economy is not immune to the rising global financial and economic crisis. As key business sectors, including garments, tourism and construction, all show signs of weakness, the premier finally said the government must do more to stave off a crisis.

"It is clear that if the [government fails] to take timely and appropriate measures to manage the crisis, the effects of the global financial crisis and economic downturn will become a real cause for Cambodia's financial system and economy to fall into a dangerous crisis," Hun Sen said during an address to the Cambodian Economic Forum. He also took the occasion to lower the government's 2009 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast to 6% from 7% previously.

Although still higher than most outside projections - including the International Monetary Fund's 4.75% growth forecast - economists say the premier's disclosure represents a significant policy shift. The day before the February 5 forum, Cheam Yeap, a lawmaker from Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party and the chairman of the National Assembly's Finance Commission, said the global financial crisis would have "no impact" on Cambodia.

Those denials, however, had become statistically difficult to defend. The Economic Institute of Cambodia, an independent think tank, showed that exports in the first half of 2008 grew by only 6.7%, or about half the 12.6% rate recorded over the same period the previous year. That included a severe downturn in the crucial garment export sector: at least 22 garment factories were closed by the end of last year, shedding over 20,000 jobs in the process.

Tourism also saw declining growth in the second half of 2008, with arrivals dampened by an armed border dispute with neighboring Thailand and the closure of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, through which many tourists transit to Cambodia. Tourism arrivals were up a mere 5.5% year on year, the first time annual growth was below 18% since the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) scare of that year. It was also the first year since then that visits to Angkor Wat dropped, with visitor numbers down about 50,000 visitors to 1.05 million overall.

The booming construction sector, which had been driven largely by South Korea investors, has also been hit by the global turmoil. Douglas Clayton, chief executive of Cambodia's first investment fund, Leopard Cambodia, warned last September that local land values would fall as Korean investors pulled out of ventures because of sub-prime loan related problems back home.

By November, South Korean developer GS Engineering & Construction announced it was halting for at least one year construction on its US$1 billion, seven-skyscraper complex, and that it would scale back its original plan to only three buildings. With the economy slowing and South Korean investors heading for the exits, it's increasingly unclear from where the high-spending expatriates will arise to fill the high-end, high-rent complex.

Economically linked

Some analysts and commentators had earlier suggested that small, financially undeveloped Asian economies like Cambodia, which lacked exposure to toxic subprime products and had diversified their past reliance on exports to US and European markets, might "decouple" from deteriorating financial conditions in the West and maintain strong growth momentum.

But recent statistics show that "we can't say anymore that Cambodia is decoupled" from the wider global turbulence, said Stephane Guimbert, country economist for the World Bank. "Since we prepared [our 4.9%] projection [for Cambodian 2009 growth] in November 2008, most of the developments in the global economy have pointed to a deeper crisis than expected at that time," he said.

In part that's because Chinese demand for the region's products, many of them intermediate goods destined finally for Western markets, is not holding up as strongly as some had hoped. The IMF recently halved its 2009 growth forecast for Asia to 2.7%. During a February 2 teleconference announcing the Asia revision, IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn referred to the previous decoupling theory as "a funny story". "We have always been arguing here that there was not such a thing [as decoupling]," Strauss-Kahn said.

John Nelmes, the IMF's local resident representative, predicts Cambodian GDP growth will likely fall below 4.8% in 2009 and only recover to 5% to 6% next year if larger global economies implement well coordinated fiscal and monetary policies. If accurate, Cambodia's growth is expected to fall by half of recent trends; between 2004 and 2007, GDP growth averaged 11.1% annually.

"Looking forward to the near term, the global crisis is likely to take a heavy toll on Cambodia," Nelmes told Asia Times Online.

Until now, integration with global markets had buoyed the Cambodian economy. With the implementation of more market-oriented reforms, including measures to lure foreign investment, average per capita annual income more than doubled to $593 in 2007 from $285 in 1997. Now many fear a reversal of fortunes that could drive more Cambodians, already estimated at 35% of the population, back under the poverty line. Cambodia's poor were already hard hit by last year's spike in inflation, which soared to 25% last May before moderating to an overall annual rate of 13.5%.

Guimbert and others say Hun Sen's government should move to stimulate the economy through fiscal outlays towards agriculture, infrastructure and social safety nets. The World Bank also recommends more structural reforms so that Cambodia will be better-positioned to benefit when the global economy rebounds. Those suggestions include streamlining export processes and the establishment of a national arbitration center to allow foreign investors to bypass the country's notoriously corrupt courts for business disputes.

The World Bank ranked Cambodia 135 out of 185 countries surveyed for their overall business climate and in mid-2008 ranked it below every other Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) nation except Myanmar in three main categories: control of corruption, government effectiveness and rule of law.

That assessment was echoed last week by the United Kingdom-based environmental watchdog Global Witness in a new investigative report that accused Hun Sen's government of cornering and "pillaging" the country's growing mineral and petroleum industries. [See accompanying story]

Hun Sen says such assessments represent a double standard in light of the recent incompetence and corruption witnessed in the Western financial industry. "Rich countries are only blaming poor countries for corruption - they never blame one another," Hun Sen was quoted saying in the local media. "Powerful nations no longer have the right to advise small countries."

Stephen Kurczy is a Cambodia-based journalist.