Thursday, 12 March 2009

Two French men sentenced over child sex in Asia

File photo shows police officers in Cambodia
STRASBOURG (AFP) — Two French men accused of frequenting child prostitutes in southeast Asia and recording their encounters have been sentenced to the maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

The court in the eastern French town of Colmar on Wednesday also issued fines for Robert Chung, 72, and Jean-Marc Malgarini, 51, of 70,000 and 50,000 euros (90,000 and 64,000 dollars) respectively.

Both were accused of traveling to Cambodia regularly and filming their encounters with girls under 15.

They were prosecuted for having "solicited, accepted or obtained" sexual relations with prostitutes under 15, as well as for importing and possessing child pornography.

Malgarini told the court he regretted his visits to Cambodia and Thailand -- around 30, according to visas found in his passport -- but argued that girls there would "jump" on him.

"You don't realise," he said. "When you go there, you suddenly have five or six girls who jump on you."

Questioned about some 20 films seized as well as dozens of photos on his mobile phone showing the suspects with young girls, Chung claimed to have recorded the encounters for "aesthetic" reasons.

Chung, a former doctor now stripped of his licence, said he was a lover of artistic images.

Malgarini was arrested in 2007 in connection with a probe linked to an Italian paedophile website. Chung was arrested shortly after at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

French authorities were able to intervene in the case due to universal jurisdiction for sex tourism allegations, a measure aimed at protecting children.

The two men are also to pay 12,600 euros to children's rights associations.

2 bombs found during sewage system restoration work in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, March 12 (Xinhua) -- At least 2 heavy bombs were found underground, when the sewage system was recently restored in a crowded area of Preah Sihanouk county of Preah Sihanouk province, said a police officer here on Thursday.

"The bombs should have been dropped from planes during the civil war period (in the 1970s and 1990s)," said Yen Bunnath, senior police officer of Preah Sihanouk province.

"There could be other bombs nearby," he said, adding that mine clearance experts from the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) had kept them at their place for detonation.

About 256 people were killed or wounded by mines, bombs and unexploded ordnances (UXO) in 2008, according to the CMAC.

From 1992 to 2008, the CMAC had cleared hundreds of square kilometers of mine or UXO fields, and detonated some 2,415,906 pieces of landmines and UXOs nationwide.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

Foreign researcher criticised Thai PM's planned speech at Oxford U

By The Nation

Lee Jones chaired a forum where Giles Ji Ungpakorn criticised Thai army and monarch in London last month. (Read Johns' letter )

Lee Jones, a foreign researcher in International relations of the Oxford University has expressed "deep concern" on Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's plan to give a speech at the St John's College.

Abhisit is scheduled to visit the St John college where he was graduated to deliver speech on democracy and Thailand's situation on March 14.

In his letter to dean of the college, Lee Johns said he was very deep concern about the reports that St John's has invited Abhisit to speak at the college.

"Although it is understandable given his education at St John's, I do not believe it is appropriate to ask someone like him to address the Oxford community on the subject of 'democracy'.

As you may be aware, the Abhisit administration has only come to power in Thailand following a period of naked manipulation of Thai politics by cynical political elites, including the leadership of Abhisit's own 'Democrat' Party."

He also alleged that Thai courts were used to dismantle the democratically elected government by forcing ministers, including Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, to resign, to create a lethal confrontation with Cambodia over Preah Vihear temple for purely domestic political reasons, and to disband the People's Power Party, the party of the legitimately elected government.

Jones chaired Giles Ji Ungpakorn's talk at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, in February 2009. Giles who is facing lese majesty charges had spoken in the forum, criticising Thai government and the monarch.

New report warns of Boeung Kak flooding

A young boy plays in the abandoned, partially submerged house of his former neighbour in one of the Boeung Kak communities worst affected by the filling-in of the lake. Since local developer Shukaku Inc began pumping sand into the lake late last year, hundreds of families have been forced to abandon their homes.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Group calls for municipality to take action to mitigate coming loss of natural catchment areas caused by lake's filling.

THE reclamation of Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak lake will increase the level and frequency of wet season flooding in areas in the city's north, according to a technical report released Wednesday.

The Boeung Kak Area Drainage and Flooding Assessment report, prepared by a team of Australian drainage and flooding engineers in 2008, found the filling of the lake for a 133-hectare commercial and housing project would eliminate a major rain catchment area, leading to
"significant impacts on property" in areas adjacent to the lake.

"While the lake is a closed system with little catchment contribution beyond the lake itself, the proposed development area is large enough to generate large volumes of run-off," the report stated.

"The anticipated increase in peak flood levels and flood frequency that would result without mitigation is considered unacceptable."

The team of engineers, commissioned by local housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), conducted hydraulic modelling of the Boeung Kak area, concluding that the rain runoff from the proposed development would overwhelm the current poor drainage infrastructure in Russey Keo district to the north.

"The areas of greatest impact are immediately to the north of the Boeung Kak area on both the east and west sides of the railway embankment, and approximately 1.5 kilometres to the north," the report said, adding that significant increases could also stretch as far afield as the proposed Camko City development in Russey Keo.

‘Vague' assessments
The drainage assessment report claims the August 2008 Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) completed by project developer Shukaku Inc "did not appear to be based on sound engineering", and that it included only "vague" plans for the construction of a 20-square-metre canal to mitigate the increased runoff.

It also states that City Hall's 2020 Phnom Penh Master Plan had not conducted the detailed hydraulic modelling needed to predict the drainage impacts of the city's expansion.

A young Boeung Kak resident plays with tin cans in the submerged foundations of his neighbour's former home at the lakeside. Around 4,000 families are expected to make way for the project.

STT adviser Hallam Goad said the results were unsurprising to anyone who witnessed the chronic flooding in Russey Keo during last year's wet season.

"This report confirms what many have suspected - that the development at Boeung Kak is being undertaken without full regard to the environmental impacts," he said in a statement Wednesday.

Lao Meng Khin, the president of Shukaku Inc, could no be reached for comment Wednesday, but Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun rejected criticisms that the municipality's approach to the issue was insufficient.

He described the ESIA as an "inter-ministry" effort, which included input from the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, among others.

"The Boeung Kak development plan will not have any impacts such as flooding," he told the Post Wednesday.

But Be Pharom, 56, a representative from Boeung Kak's Village 22, agreed with the study, saying that more and more villagers were losing their homes as the lake's reclamation continued to drive up water levels.

"The study is right. Other observers have also said that pumping sand to fill in the lake has created floods," she said.

"And during the rainy season, it not only floods around the lake, but also in other areas such as Phnom Penh Thmey, Russey Keo [and] Tuol Sangke."

Goad said he hoped the conclusions of the report - technically more detailed than anything released by the municipality - would force decision-makers to take action to mitigate the effects of flooding resulting from the Boeung Kak project.

"My impression is that the municipality is just not open for business when it comes to Boeung Kak," he said by phone.

"But if the report creates some discussion, they might have to do something about it."

Cambo Six seeks $12m from govt

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Bookie says it wants govt to pay compensation for its forced closure

SPORTS betting centre Cambo Six suffered more than US$12 million in losses due to lost infrastructure investment from its sudden forced closure by the government and will ask the amount be compensated by the state, according to the company's head office manager Nancy Chau.

"We are hoping for compensation because we have suffered substantial losses from the closure," she said, saying the company has invested heavily in store space and human resources to operate all 20 of its stores.

Another victim of the recent closures, the Sporting Live Group, is also asking for government compensation for the premature end to its licence, according to an employee of the company who requested anonymity as the information had not been made public.

The government had promised to help the internet-based sports gambling chain recoup its losses, but had not specified the amount it would give, he said.

Chea Peng Chheang, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said there were ongoing negotiations for compensation, but he did not know which establishments were eligible.

The news came Wednesday, the same day Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission issued a statement calling on the government to bear the brunt of the costs to workers caused by its decision.

At the end of last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen abruptly ordered the closure of all sports-betting outlets and slot-machine parlours across the country, claiming they had been responsible for moral decline in the Kingdom.

Unlike the larger companies affected by the ban, the estimated 6,000 to 8,000 workers who lost their jobs have no clout to demand compensation, the statement said.

"They can do nothing other than to resign themselves to accepting the government's arbitrating decision," the group said.

It said the move was especially harsh as job prospects are grim in the face of local contractions stemming from the global economic downturn.

The group argued that, as the government was responsible for ending the workers' employment, it must provide them compensation.

Under the 1997 Labour Law, workers with contracts of undetermined length must be compensated when, with no serious performance fault on their part, their contracts are abruptly cancelled.

Employers are required to give a notification of work contract severance seven days to three months in advance, depending on the length of the time the employee has been with the company. Failing to give such prior notification, employers must pay workers' salaries over the required notification period.

Beyond this severance pay, workers are entitled to breach-of-contract damages under the law.

The group also said the government should be forced to pay compensation to the companies whose licences it cancelled prematurely.

"The granting of licences was the government's doing. It has realised it was a mistake and it suddenly revoked those licences. It must, therefore, pay compensation to both the licencees and all their workers for its mistake."

The employee of Sporting Live Group also said the company had paid all of its 200 workers their February salaries. Chau said Cambo Six paid all of its employees - a figure she put at 1,500 people - their salaries for February, but said the workers were entitled to severance and damages payouts, and that those should come from the state.

"They are poor, and it will be difficult for them to find work," she said.

Capital residents for the ban
A majority of Phnom Penh residents see the government ban on licensed gambling establishments as positive, saying the move would benefit a number of facets of the social fabric of society, according to a survey by the local Indochina Research group.

Some 88 percent of people interviewed approved of the move. The number increased slightly, to 91 percent, among women.

Some 55 percent said the ban would reduce robbery and 42 percent said it would reduce crime and violence. About a quarter said it would combat school dropout rates.

Among the small group of dissenters - just 11 percent of those interviewed - nearly three-quarters said the shuttering of gambling establishments was wrong because it put people out of work. Otherwise, there was not a statistically significant category of opposition to the government move.

Indochina Research collected responses from 158 residents of Phnom Penh, balanced evenly between men and women, and people aged 18 to 30 and over 30.

Laurent Notin, the group's research director who oversaw the survey, said the limited sample size meant the numbers provide a "strong reflection" but not a definitive look at the opinions of the capital's residents. He also said the group would not assume the responses of rural Cambodians, who did not have as much access to gambling establishments, would be the same.


Assembly to name 10 officials to newgovernment posts

10 new appointees
Ke Kim Yan - Deputy Prime Minister
Serei Kosal - Senior Minister in Charge of Special Envoys
Suon Rachna - Secretary of State, Ministry of Public Works and Transport
Sam Rang Kamsan - Secretary of State, Ministry of Culture and Fine Art
Hing Thoraksy, Tekrath Samrach, Keo Remy and Sam Sotha - Secretaries of State; Council of Ministers
Chhuon Dara - Secretary of State, Ministry of Commerce
Ahmad Yahya - Secretary of State, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Thursday, 12 March 2009

The move follows the restoration of lawmaker Sam Rainsy's parliamentary immunity by the National Assembly's Permanent Committee.

FORMER army commander-in-chief Ke Kim Yan is among 10 government officials expected to be appointed to new posts today during an extraordinary session of the National Assembly, which will also be officially informed that opposition lawmaker Sam Rainsy's parliamentay immunity was restored.

Ke Kim Yan, who was abruptly terminated from his post in January, is to become a deputy prime minister.

Former Funcinpec official Serei Kosal, who defected to the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) last year, is to be appointed senior minister in charge of special envoys.

The other eight appointees are to be appointed secretaries of state at various ministries.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the Assembly would meet today at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

We... hope that the lawmakers will vote to support the new appointees.

"We decided to hold an extraordinary session according to the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen and hope that the lawmakers will vote to support the new appointees," he told the Post Tuesday.

Immunity restored
Cheam Yeap said Assembly members would also be informed that the parliamentary immunity of lawmaker Sam Rainsy, president of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, had been restored.

Sam Rainsy has been without his immunity since February 26, when the committee voted to suspend it to force him to pay a 10 million riel (US$2,500) fine to the National Election Committee (NEC), imposed for comments made during last year's national election campaign.

Sam Rainsy paid the fine after losing his immunity, a move that prompted the NEC to withdraw its complaint against him.

Ke Sovannroth, secretary-general of the SRP and an MP, said it was time for Sam Rainsy's immunity to be restored.

"I think that the parliamentarians must restore his immunity because his comments were nothing but a demonstration of his freedom of expression," Ke Sovannroth said.

She said Tuesday that Rainsy was in France to meet party officials and was scheduled to return to Phnom Penh on Sunday.

Judges should focus on current KR suspects: govt

Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra and Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 12 March 2009

A SPOKESMAN for the Cambodian government on Wednesday lashed out at foreign judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, saying that instead of "dragging their feet" over issues like detaining more suspects, they should think about accelerating the trials of the five suspects they already have in jail.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith told the Post after speaking on a local radio station Wednesday that the tribunal should "just go ahead with the first few [trials] to show that [the court] is working".

"Because [foreign judges] have a lot of money, they can afford to drag their feet.... The longer they drag their feet, the more money they get," he said.

"Every day it's another issue. It's unacceptable.... The most important thing is just to start.... We cannot please them all the time," he added.

International co-prosecutor Robert Petit has announced that he wants to bring more former Khmer Rouge leaders to court, but Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang disagrees, citing a perceived threat to national stability. The issue is now in the hands of judges at the pretrial chamber, who have no deadline to make a decision.

Petit told the Post that he was unconcerned about the comments.

"He's allowed to have his opinion, just like any other Cambodian," he said.

Co-investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde said he did not want to be involved in any dispute between the government and the court.

"We do not want to comment on the Cambodian government official's declaration. We would not want to create a polemic over this issue," he told the Post.

Judges announced last week that the Cambodian side of the court would go bankrupt this month without more infusions of donor funds.

In the earlier radio interview, Khieu Kanharith suggested that the Cambodian government would have enough money to cover costs alone if UN or donor funds did not come through, given that they would not have to pay the large salaries of foreign judges.

But Helen Jarvis, public affairs officer at the court, said it was "not up to the government" to give more money.

"I think most donors are aware we are out of funds, so we are hopeful."

Unesco official calls for more border talks

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Thursday, 12 March 2009

THE chairman of UNESCO's executive board expressed support Wednesday for further discussions between the Cambodian and Thai governments related to the dispute over Preah Vihear temple.

In a move Thailand opposed, UNESCO listed the temple as a World Heritage site last July, triggering a troop buildup on both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border.

During a meeting at the Council of Ministers, Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai, who is visiting Cambodia for one week, commended Cambodian officials for their "patience" in ongoing border talks and encouraged them to continue to work towards a peaceful resolution to the dispute, which led to clashes that claimed four lives last October.

Because of the temple's designation as a World Heritage site, he said, the talks concern not only Cambodians but people the world over.

Deputy Prime Minsiter Sok An said during the meeting that the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces would defend the temple and the border. He also said Cambodian officials would strive to keep negotiations productive and amicable and to strengthen ties with the Thai government.

"We are never violent and we never invade other countries," Sok An said.

In addition to visiting Preah Vihear, the UNESCO official said he would visit Siem Reap and other provinces during his visit to the Kingdom, which ends on Tuesday next week. He said he was excited to visit many of the Kingdom's "wonderful" temples.

PP election a two-cart race

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 12 March 2009

AMONG the four parties approved to compete in the upcoming May 17 council elections, just two parties - the ruling Cambodian People's Party and opposition Sam Rainsy Party - will compete for seats on Phnom Penh's municipal council, according to party ballot draws conducted by the Provincial Election Committee (PEC) Tuesday.

Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which lack significant numbers of commune councillors in the capital, will be unable to participate in the municipal council poll, which is only open to Cambodia's 11,353 sitting commune councillors.

Tach Setha, the first of the SRP's eight candidates, said that although the municipal elections would be a foregone conclusion, he was optimistic the party's policies would encourage CPP councillors to cast their ballot for the opposition.

"We hope the SRP will have enough votes, and in addition we hope the CPP's commune councillors will see that the SRP acts in the people's interest and will vote for our candidates," he said at SRP headquarters Wednesday.

The ruling party confirmed it would run 45 candidates in the elections, although it had not yet finalised its candidate lists. But party representative Nuth Chea dismissed the idea that ruling party councillors would cast their vote for the opposition.

"Why will CPP members vote for the SRP? What did the SRP do for the people that will make the CPP vote for [them]? This is just inflating rhetoric from the SRP," he said.

Not worth it
NRP spokesman Suth Dina said Wednesday that although his party held four of Phnom Penh's 664 commune council positions, the party's small representation in the capital meant it was not worth taking part in the elections.

Puthea Hang, executive director of local election monitor Nicfec, said that even though the SRP had decent commune representation in Phnom Penh, the poll would reflect the numbers, which show the CPP holding 394 commune council seats to the opposition's 266.

"We do not think votes will be bought from the SRP, but the CPP will still dominate this poll," he said.

In Tuesday's ballot draw, the SRP was drawn to appear ahead of the CPP on municipal council ballots.

SRP worried by councillor delays

CPP supporters during the July election. The SRP claims political discrimination is impeding voter registration for the May poll.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Party says discrimination slowing approval of commune officials, who have a vote in May poll.

A SPOKESMAN for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Wednesday expressed concern that the party would not be able to fill all of its commune councillor positions in time for municipal, district and provincial council elections scheduled for May, citing a high number of current vacancies and a slow approval process.

Yim Sovann, the spokesman, told the Post Wednesday "at least 50 percent" of the party's estimated 200 commune councillor seats were empty because of defections, resignations or deaths.

The elections - which involve the Cambodian People's Party, the SRP, the Norodom Ranariddh Party and Funcinpec - will see 11,353 commune councillors vote to determine representation of their respective parties at the higher-level district councils and the municipal and provincial councils.

In order the fill a councillor seat, party officials must submit an application and wait for it to be approved by district and provincial officials, the Ministry of Interior, and finally the National Election Committee.

The NEC reported in February that it would accept applications up to March 10. Reached on Wednesday, however, NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said the body was still accepting applications and would hold off on releasing a preliminary voter list until March 24. He said he knew of 50 applications that had yet to be approved by the Ministry of Interior.

Yim Sovann said he had appealed to district and provincial officials to expedite the approval of applications by processing forms more quickly.

He said the SRP made a similar request in a letter sent last month to the Ministry of Interior and the NEC.

"Political discrimination remains a major concern" in getting applications approved, he said.

Capital to have conference centre

Chea Vanthoo, 58, works on the new Council of Ministers building next to where the PM wants a conference hall to be built.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Hun Sen announces plans to build state-owned conference hall to host foreign audiences.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday announced plans to build an "international-standard" conference hall to host diplomatic events with foreign audiences.

"I will use only 15 months to complete it," Hun Sen told a crowd of some 600 students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh during a graduation ceremony.

"Before, we relied on hotels for international events, and it is always difficult to find a place, and sometimes we are forced to hold meetings in Siem Reap."

He said the conference hall would be constructed with government funds next to the new Council of Ministers building. Local architects would be tapped to design it, he said, citing the success of local architects in constructing the National Assembly.

He said the decision was prompted by plans for Cambodia to host a series of regional conferences in the coming years, including three regional meetings next year and two Asean summits in 2012.

The opening of the Chinese-funded Council of Ministers building, scheduled for April 4, would be postponed until the conference hall is complete, he said.

Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Finance and Banking Commission of the National Assembly, said the prime minister had called on a group of local architects and Phnom Penh developer Ly Chhoung Construction - which built the National Assembly - to construct the facility.

"It is necessary for a country to have this sort of place," he said.

"We want to have an appropriate conference hall belonging to the state."

Cheam Yeap would not put a price tag on the new facility but said it would cost less than the US$30 million spent to build the National Assembly.

Municipality prepares to move cremations outside the capital

The soon-to-be-defunct crematorium at Wat Preah Puth was still operating on Wednesday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Plan to shut the capital's crematoria for air quality and traffic control reasons will be implemented on a voluntary basis, official says.

THE Phnom Penh Municipality has decided to shut the capital's crematoria and move cremations outside the city, citing air quality and traffic-control reasons. Mann Chhoeun, the city's deputy governor, said the plan had been in the making for several years, but the authorities had decided to implement it step by step and on a voluntary basis.

"Now our plans are in place, but we aren't yet forcing people to comply. We would rather wait until they understand the effect cremations have on their environment," he said. "So in the longer term, they will understand the effects and move their cremations outside the city."

He added: "When they cremate a body at Tuol Tumpong pagoda, for example, black smoke drifts into the classrooms and market."

The authorities originally announced in 2004 that they had decided to close the city's cremation facilities. They have since installed four 28-tonne electric cremation ovens costing more than US$100,000 each at Wat Russei Saagn in Dangkor district. The ovens will be operational in the next few months.

Phou Chhiv Neath, the secretary for Non Nget, supreme patriarch of the Mohanikaya Buddhist order, said monks understood the environmental reasons and supported the move.

"In the past we were able to cremate in the city because there weren't many people and we didn't have high-rise buildings as we do today," Phou Chhiv Neath explained. "But now there are many more people and much taller buildings, and some of the crematoria are not modern, so it does have an effect on the environment."

Plan long in the making
Deab Sinoeun, an elder at Wat Ounalom, said he had heard of the Municipality's plan some years ago but was not aware that a deadline had been set.

"So we are still cremating people at our pagoda, but we will respect the authorities if we receive an order to close," he said. "Having cremation facilities in the city makes it easier and quicker for people to take part in the ceremony."

"People trying to attend cremations outside the city will have to endure traffic jams, and it will cost them more, too, since the site will be far from where people live," Deab Sinoeun said.

Siem Reap's elephant man

Gavin Bourchier, elephant manager, with Chitoeun, one of the elephants at at Compagnie des Elephants d'Angkor.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Siem Reap

Far from the tourist centres, Compagnie des Elephants d'Angkor's Gavin Bourchier stands as guardian of Angkor's dwindling population of pachyderms.

SIEM Reap is home to only 17 elephants, but that small number comprises almost a fifth of Cambodia's total number of domestic pachyderms, the second-largest provincial population after Mondulkiri.

Unlike Phnom Penh's legendary elephant Sambo, who every day meanders down the Riverside strip entertaining tourists, Siem Reap's elephants' stomping ground does not include its bustling tourist centre; and Gavin Bourchier, elephant manager at Compagnie des Elephants d'Angkor, wants to keep it that way.

"I've had phone calls," Bourchier told the Post. "‘Can we borrow a baby elephant and put a comical hat on it and make it do tricks?' I have a low opinion of the human race anyway, but I think people who like harmonica playing, hula hoop-spinning elephants ... well, it says a lot about the person."

Bourchier oversees all of Siem Reap's remaining elephants, and under his regime the only interaction they have with tourists is giving rides near the temples, a "necessary evil" that provides funding.

He acknowledges that Sambo "seems to have a fair deal", but doesn't want to do the same thing in Siem Reap because he's worried about escalation.

"You start having elephants walk the street, you're one step away from the problems in Bangkok. It's best not to encourage it."

Elephant exploitation for a quick tourist buck is just one of Bourchier's worries. Cambodian pachyderms are threatened by habitat loss, an aging population, poaching and, he said, the elephant in the room: a lack of trust and coordination between various NGOs and the Cambodian government.

Unless that hurdle is cleared soon, Bourchier said, domestic elephants could vanish from the country altogether.

"In 10 or 20 years, the number of domestic elephants will absolutely crash. Not decline, but plummet," he said.

Aging problems
His view is shared by Matt Maltby, project adviser at Fauna and Flora International who has recently put together a Cambodian domestic elephant census - the first nationwide survey conducted by one body.

The results show that there are 102 domestic elephants left in the Kingdom, down from 160 five years ago. "Following current trends and an aging domestic population, there are likely to be none remaining in 10 or 15 years," he said.

The reason for the decline is demographics. "There are 17 elephants in Siem Reap," Gavin said. "And their general condition is ‘aging'. Most elephants are getting old. If everything goes well, an elephant can live to around 70. ... The average age of an elephant in Cambodia is 46 to 48."

Further, Bourchier said, "Reaching mid- to late-30s for females really knocks them on the head as far as breeding goes".

Even when elephants become pregnant, there are still the formidable challenges in bringing them to birth and helping them raise offspring.

Maternal behaviour in elephants is learned, not instinctive, and many domestic elephants do not have the experience to rear their young.

Bourchier said one course of action that could rehabilitate the withering pachyderm population is by making a stud book compiling the age, gender and location of all domestic elephants in Cambodia, so that a comprehensive breeding program can be started.

But he claims that his first attempt at compiling the list ended in failure. "It didn't come to fruition. That was four years ago."

While the low domestic population of elephants makes the stud book a simple task on paper, the scattered populations of elephants, and the logistical difficulty involved in banding together disparate owners and NGOs, makes doing so highly intimidating.

"It does require a great deal of cooperation to turn things around," Bourchier said. "But sorting out a stud book is realistic, as long as the cooperation is there."

Maltby maintains the decline of domestic elephants isn't a death sentence for the species in Cambodia. But Bourchier believes the futures of both domestic and wild elephants are linked, and NGOs need to join forces to make a stud book before the domestic elephant disappears.

Court won't seize assets of villagers

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Thursday, 12 March 2009

THE provincial court in Prey Veng ruled Wednesday against enforcing a deadline over debts claimed by a suspected human trafficker against six families. The families say they were tricked by the man, who had promised four years ago to find them work in Thailand.

The six families said the man, Leng Oun, had insisted that in exchange for his help, they mortgage their houses or motorbikes in his favour. Instead, they ended up in jail for four days in Thailand before being deported.

Prosecutor Yam Yet said Wednesday no action had been taken to seize the assets of the villagers in Sramor village, Me Sang district, after the court had received a request from the villagers to look into their claims.

"The court wants to seize these properties from them because they are in debt," Yam Yet said. "Before this, I hadn't heard that this case involves human trafficking."

Nget Nara, a monitor for the human rights group Adhoc, said 43 families in Sramor village had thumb-printed a letter on March 5 appealing to the court prosecutor to have sympathy on the plight of the six families and not seize their houses and motorbikes. They also sent the letter to the district governor and the provincial governor.

"They are poor. They have been cheated," said Nget Nara.

But Yam Yet said four of the families were mistaken in thinking the court had issued a warrant to seize their houses.

"I have not issued a warrant to seize land or houses," Yam Yet said.

However, he conceded that court letters had been sent to two families with motorbikes who owed money to Leng Oun. "They are in debt," he explained.

The six families said their problems began when Leng Oun promised he would find them work in Thailand and advance them 400,000 riels (US$97) in exchange for a mortgage over their assets. However, they did not receive any money.

The Post was unable to reach Leng Oun for comment.

Teacher training to aid poor communes

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 12 March 2009

AFTER four months of community meetings, the Temple Garden Foundation will start a teacher-training program this month for eight villages in Siem Reap's Chi Kraeng district, program officials have said.

The foundation, established in February last year, has overseen infrastructure projects in Pongro Kraum, Spean Tnaut and Pongro Leu communes.

But program director Will Haynes-Morrow said development can be difficult in rural Siem Reap.

"When the Khmer Rouge acted as ‘community organiser,' they created a fear of community cooperation that persists to this day," Haynes-Morrow said.

And he believes the stigma against village unity is also being inadvertently supported by some NGOs.

"There's a counterproductive influence from a lot of NGOs with not-great strategies. I really have to say that the vast majority of NGOs have good intentions, and a large number are doing a good job. But it only takes a few to influence the community in a bad way."

Haynes-Morrow said that while NGO projects can benefit individuals, they can harm the community by diminishing its capacity to manage itself.

"If a village has the capacity to take on 30 percent of a project, but the NGO comes in and provides 100 percent, then there's disrespect for the villagers' ability to do something and ability starts to diminish."

The foundation challenges villagers to nominate their own project, create a schedule, write a budget and manage it. "We can see that people have a capacity to help on a project, but they've been influenced by other NGOs to the point where they say, ‘I'm poor and I can't do anything.'

"We're trying to get people to realise they have a lot of ability as a community, if they just come together."

The teacher training project will involve workshops for 34 area teachers, who have no formal credentials. The foundation is paying for the licensed instructor, but the villagers are contributing to the teacher's travel and lodging expenses.

"The idea is to connect them through their donations to the reality that, if they contribute, their children will have better education."

Children gear up for annual puppet festival

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 12 March 2009

TEN giant puppets, up to 15 feet tall, are taking shape in a Siem Reap workshop, where they will be hidden from public view until the third annual Giant Puppet Project hits the streets on March 28.

Almost 500 children are crafting the puppets for the carnival, which was started in 2007 by London-based Jig Cochrane, and local expats Stuart Cochlin and Sasha Constable.

This year, the festival has partnered with 14 NGOs, including Green Gecko, Friends International and Handicap International, to involve a record number of disadvantaged children. Under the direction of Cochrane, the children are building puppets that express messages about health, safety and Khmer culture.

"The children are given a platform to teach the rest of the town through the carnival. That's the main aim of the project. That, and to have fun," Cochrane said.

This year, the carnival will have puppets built around the themes of endangered species, health and hygiene, road safety, and the universe and planets.

While many of the models are still under construction, Cochrane reported that a team from the Green Gecko orphanage has this week completed a puppet of the endangered Greater Adjutant bird, which boasts a monstrous wingspan of eight metres.

Cochrane said that the children will also build a giant puppet out of plastic bottles, as part of a campaign to encourage recycling.

The puppets are based on traditional Eastern lantern puppets. "At night we have music floats and everything lights up," Cochrane said.

"All the puppets have lights inside. It's quite a spectacle."

Cochlin, the project's director, said that in the long-term he hopes to hand over management of the Giant Puppet Project to Cambodian organisers, a plan that will involve "sharing the knowledge of how to make these puppets, training the local Khmers how to teach and raising the funding to keep it going".

"The only way it can be sustainable is if it's completely Khmer-run," he said.

Young entrepreneur to breathe new life into old Honolulu Cafe

Photo by: Shannon Dunlap
Selantra proprietor Khoy Dara in Siem Reap.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Shannon Dunlap
Thursday, 12 March 2009

THE Honolulu Cafe on Wat Bo Road is about to be reborn as the Selantra Restaurant, a Khmer-language twist on the Italian word cilantro, otherwise known as coriander.

The revamped Selantra is twice the size of the former Honolulu Cafe, has been trendily redesigned and will double as art gallery.

The restaurant will hold a launch party on Monday, and the debut art exhibition will feature the charcoal works of Phnom Penh's Em Riem.

Later, other emerging Khmer artists will be featured.

The proprietor, 24-year-old Khoy Dara, has also revamped the menu and teamed with experienced chef Chamroeun, who has worked at several Siem Reap hotels, including the Day Inn Angkor Resort.

The duo has collaborated to design signature salads and original sauces and, according to Khoy Dara, a highlight of the new menu is the special pepper sauce served up with sirloin steaks.

Khoy Dara himself is one of the success stories of Siem Reap's tourism sector.

When he was nine years old, Khoy Dara was taken in by the Sunrise Angkor Children's Village orphanage and, as a teenager, he worked as a waiter in hotels and became the assistant restaurant manager at the Cafe de la Paix.

He's still working in this position, but in 2007 he doubled up his workload by setting up the Honolulu Cafe and has now reinvested capital to reopen as the Selantra.

He admits that he is taking a big risk and that he worries about the economic crisis and the sharp drop in tourist numbers.

"Everything is more money. A really good coffee machine can be US$8,000," he said.

But Khoy Dara has ample motivation to succeed - at 24 he is the head of a large household.

He adopted four orphans, now aged seven to14, from the Cambodian-Thai border when he was little more than a child himself.

"No one to take care of them, no one to give money, no one to give food - so I bring them to live with me."

Now he also has a wife and two very young biological children, which, together with his two jobs, makes for a very busy life.

Yet he has no complaints. "It is almost 24 hours a day," he said, "but I love my business."

Garment industry fails to find new markets

A garment factory in Phnom Penh. The garment industry remains unable to find new markets.

Letter of the LAW
SEVEN American clothing companies have written to senior members of the government urging them to abandon proposed changes to Cambodia’s labour law they claim would jeopardise workers rights. In a statement issued via San Francisco-based Business for Social Responsibility, Gap, Levi Strauss, Wal-Mart – among others – said that the amendments would threaten workers’ job security and right to join unions.

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 12 March 2009

After suffering a huge drop in demand from its main markets the US and EU, the garment industry is struggling to diversify its customer base

CAMBODIA has made little progress in its drive to diversify garment exports to new markets, with the industry blaming poor quality goods and a worsening global downturn.

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) sent a delegation to Japan last October and announced that Cambodia hopes to export 10,000 jackets and 100,000 pairs of shoes to Japan at the beginning of 2009. But GMAC said sinking demand and failure to meet Japan's quality requirements has prevented market access.

"So far, we haven't exported any clothes to Japan because the country has very strict quality standards for garments," said Kaing Monika, external affairs manager of GMAC.

"We need to do more to build confidence with Japanese buyers if this is going to become a future market," he said.

Van Sou Ieng, president of GMAC, said last year he met 150 Japanese buyers and that two had agreed to buy clothes and shoes from Cambodia. But those deals fell through due to quality concerns and sinking Japanese demand.

We [Cambodia] need to do more to build confidence with Japanese buyers.

The Japanese market has been especially badly hit by the global economic slowdown, and retail sales have fallen sharply this year. One industry report said some retail store sales were down 9.4 percent in December compared with the same period a year earlier, with clothing sales falling more sharply at 13.4 percent. A separate industry report said sales at Japan's top five department stores fell 12 to 15 percent in February.

An effort to access Japan is part of an industry drive to broaden Cambodia's garment export markets beyond the United States and Europe after declining demand saw export revenues crash to US$70 million in January compared with $250 million for the same period last year, the Ministry of Commerce said Tuesday.

Sixty-two percent of garment revenue comes from the US market and 20 percent from the European Union. GMAC says it is also examining Russia as a potential target for Cambodian clothing and apparel.

"There are discussions among the GMAC board members about Russia, but nothing has happened yet because there is no relationship," said Kaing Monika.

However, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said Tuesday that Japan still has potential and that exports could grow despite the recession. "Garment exports to Japan hit about $30 million a few months ago," he said. Currently, Japan buys about 90 percent of its garments from China.

A manager at one of Cambodia's largest garment factories, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the industry is having trouble broadening outside of the traditional markets. "Japan gets most of its garments from China because their quality standards are higher. The Middle East is also being looked at, but their main source is Bangladesh," he said.

He added that garment makers are in talks with the Japanese chain UNIQLO and that several factories are considering a roadshow to the Middle East and Russia.

'Slow' development of island resorts to be completed by 2015: official

Royal Group CEO Kith Meng at the Hotel Cambodiana in Phnom Penh in August last year. Royal Group – one of the many companies to build on Cambodia’s islands – is developing a resort on Koh Rong.

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Numerous island development projects have been stalled due to checks on environmental impact, but all will be finished within six years, says CDC

COMPANIES granted development licences for Cambodia's many islands will complete their resorts by 2015, an official said Tuesday.

Cham Prasidh, commerce minister and vice chairman of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), told the Post that once plans to minimise environmental impact are completed, the process will speed up.

"The development process is moving forward gradually. Some are slow to begin because we are discussing master plans to prevent any impact on the environment," he said.

He explained that each island development takes about two to three years to finish, but if each master plan does not comply with environmental standards, the government will not allow construction.

"We want to make Cambodia's coastal areas the most famous areas of the country and the most attractive coastline in Asia," he said, adding that illegal land possession could also slow things down.

We are discussing master plans to prevent any impact on the environment.

"Island development will be fast if we can avoid problems over illegal land possession.... As there are people who possess land [on the islands], we will have to address this problem first," he said.

Yun Heng, director of the evaluation and incentives department of the Cambodia Investment Board (CIB), said on Wednesday that the government has granted 20 licences to companies to develop islands in Preah Sihanouk, Koh Kong and Kampot provinces, but so far only the master plans for three projects have been successfully completed.

He said that CDC has rejected the master plan for Koh Ses island off the coast of Kampot due to environmental concerns, asking them to redesign their plans.

"Some islands granted licences must maintain their original environment, and some are allowed to make changes," he said.

He added that island development would cost around US$2 billion for initial investment, most of which was coming from foreign companies.

"It is better to work slowly, but accurately and highly efficiently," said Yun Heng.

Koh Kong Governor Yuth Phouthang said that although he had not yet received any information about the development projects, he was confident they would have a positive impact on the local economy.

"We want to develop these islands because it will bring more tourists and income to the province as well as our people," he said.

Meas Morin, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment in charge of island environmental impact evaluation, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

According to Yun Heng, CIB has inspected the investment capital of each development group. Developers of Cambodia's islands include Royal Group, which is building on Koh Rong, and Brocon Group of Australia, which plans to open resorts on Koh Oun and Koh Bong.

Vietnam's investment falls in 2008 to $21m

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Thursday, 12 March 2009

VIETNAMESE investment in Cambodia declined last year to US$21 million from US$139 million in 2007, the Cambodian Investment Board, a government body, said this week.

The bulk of the decline was due to a US$100 million investment by telecoms operator Viettel in 2007, which bloated the figures.

Youn Heng, the director at the CIB's evaluation and incentive department, said Vietnam had invested mainly in agriculture and telecoms.

"Since the government posted border markers and offered land concessions to Vietnamese investors, these types of investments have increased," Youn Heng said, referring to the practice of allocating land concessions only in border areas where international boundaries had been agreed.

Youn Heng said inward investment by Vietnam was still low compared with that from China, South Korea and the United States - the three largest investors that last year approved projects worth US$6.3 billion.

The commercial counsellor at the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh, Le Bien Cuong, said more than 100 Vietnamese companies are operating in Cambodia, many in agriculture and hydroelectricity.

"The number of Vietnamese investors has increased, but I can't compare the number to China and South Korea because it is still relatively low," he said. He said he hoped that the number of Vietnamese investors would increase in 2009 as Cambodia developed further.

Vietnamese investors ... increased, but ... [THE NUMBER] is still relatively low.

Vietnamese embassy spokesperson Trinh Ba Cam told the Post last week that around 10,000 hectares of concession land located near the Vietnamese border is being used by Vietnamese investors to grow rubber and cassava.

"I hope that our good political and business relationship means Vietnamese investment in Cambodia will keep growing, and I encourage them to continue investing," he said.

Trinh Ba Cam said that since the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding for investment that focused mainly on land, Vietnamese investments had targeted the agricultural sector.

Ly Phalla, general director of the rubber plantation department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said Cambodia has 108,000 hectares of rubber plantations, of which 34,000 hectares are mature. The main markets for Cambodian rubber are Vietnam, Malaysia and China, he added.

Martial art of Khmer chess a big cafe draw

Photo by: Stephanie Mee
Chess players at Cafe Truc Ly on Street 143 in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Stephanie Mee
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Players test their patience and skill in a game that has its roots in Cambodia’s ancient Angkorian kingdoms

On any given day and at any given time across Phnom Penh, there is likely to be raucous games of Khmer chess, or ouk, taking place in cafes and on street corners across the city.

Ouk has long been a popular pastime for Cambodians, and records of the game in the Kingdom date back to at least Angkorian times, as is evidenced by bas reliefs on the walls of Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the Preah Khan temple.

Often heard before seen, the game takes its name from the sound that the wooden game pieces make when they are slammed onto the game board, a key aspect of putting one's opponent in check. Ouk also means "check" in Khmer.

Played mainly by men, the rules of Khmer chess are very similar to the rules of chess in the West, aside from a few essential differences.

Both games are played on a wooden board with 64 squares, although Khmer chessboards do not have the familiar checked pattern.

There are 32 "chessmen", or pieces, 16 for each player as in Western chess, but the names and shapes of the "men" in Khmer chess are distinctly Cambodian.

The small, flat pieces are called fish. Often interchangeable with bottle caps, fish correspond to pawns in the Western version of the game.

The bishop is the general, and is shaped like a two-tiered stupa, knights are horses and retain the horse-head shape; rooks are called boats, and are fat and round; the queen, or neang, is short and rounded with a pointy top; and the king, or sdaach, is the tallest of them all, and is in the shape of a three-tiered stupa.

chess is a battle. each player's men are like an army protecting the king.

Each game piece has a set of rules as to which direction they can move, many of which closely match the movements of their Western counterparts.

As in Western chess, the object of the game is to capture the opponent's king. When the opponent's king is in check (or in the line of fire) the player attacking the king must say ouk (check). If the king cannot move out of danger, the attacker wins the game.

"You have to be very clever to play chess," said Vang Vuth, who has been playing chess for about two years now.

Vang Vuth learned how to play the game when he started frequenting Cafe Truc Ly on Street 143.

The cafe supplies patrons with wooden chessboards and chessmen, and is often packed with enthusiastic chess players.

"At first I would just come here and watch people play," said Vang Vuth. "Then I slowly began to pick the game up day by day. Now I come here to play ouk everyday. I usually play about five games a day."

Battle of wits
Vang Vuth explains that no matter what time of the day he goes to the cafe, there are always people there playing round after round of the game, or looking for another challenger.

"Sometimes the loser might give up his spot to another player, but more often than not they keep playing because the loser always wants to take revenge," said Vang Vuth.

Sok Keng, a Phnom Penh taxi driver and an ardent chess player since 1993, plays chess on a weekly basis, depending on his time schedule.

"I like to play chess because it is a battle. Each player's men are like an army protecting the king. Even the king is involved in the battle," he said.

Although most chess players in Cambodia do not play the game for money but rather as a way of exercising their mind, the annual chess tournament presents a lucrative opportunity.

The first Khmer Chess Tournament was held in May 2008, and was organised by the Cambodian Chess Association and the Olympic Committee of Cambodia in an effort to standardise the rules of chess in Cambodia, as well as showcase the Kingdom's top players.

Players spent three days vying for the title of champion chess master, and the grand prize of US$1,000 was awarded to 28-year old Chhoy Vira of Phnom Penh. Second and third place winners took home $700 and $500 respectively.

While most players appear excited about the prospect of one day competing for the big prize, for now they are quite happy to play the game as a form of entertainment.

"Really in the end, it's all about having fun," said Sok Keng.

Short Story: Countries combine for charity golf

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Thursday, 12 March 2009

Two hundred Cambodian, Vietnamese and Laotian golfers will participate in the first Friendship Charity Golf Tournament on March 28 at Long Thanh Golf Resort, Vietnam. Cham Prasidh, chairman of the Cambodian Organising Committee for the tournament, said the event will raise funds for the Mutual Foundation, which offers free eyecare and heart operations to homeless people, orphans and victims of natural disasters, as well as providing education scholarships for impoverished students. The chairman called for charitable members of the public to sponsor and support the tournament, with March 15 the deadline for registration. Prime ministers and high-ranking officials of the three countries will also participate in the tournament along with approximately 50 to 70 professional and amateur golfers from each country. Cham Prasidh noted that similar golf tournaments in Vietnam each generated up to US$8 million in 2008 and $6 million in 2007. "We expect to raise more money than these tournaments by allowing golfers from all three countries," he said. Thong Khon, vice chairman of the organising committee, said that players will compete over 36 holes - one round on the hill course and one on the lake course.

The winner's will receive 18 damlung of gold ($18,900), which is to be auctioned to the public. The winning bid will be transferred to the Mutual Foundation, which will distribute it to the three countries, said Thong Khon. Cham Prasidh said that the prime ministers of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos will decide on the share of the fund. "This year [the Friendship tournament] is held in Vietnam, and if it is successful we want to hold it in Cambodia next year," he said.

Two French men sentenced over child sex in Asia

STRASBOURG, FRANCE, March 11, 2009 (AFP) - Two French men accused of frequenting child prostitutes in southeast Asia and recording their encounters were sentenced on Wednesday to the maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

The court in the eastern French town of Colmar also issued fines for Robert Chung, 72, and Jean-Marc Malgarini, 51, of 70,000 and 50,000 euros (90,000 and 64,000 dollars) respectively.

Both were accused of traveling to Cambodia regularly and filming their encounters with girls under 15.

They were prosecuted for having 'solicited, accepted or obtained' sexual relations with prostitutes under 15, as well as for importing and possessing child pornography.

Malgarini told the court he regretted his visits to Cambodia and Thailand - around 30, according to visas found in his passport - but argued that girls there would 'jump' on him.

'You don't realise,' he said. 'When you go there, you suddenly have five or six girls who jump on you.' Questioned about some 20 films seized as well as dozens of photos on his mobile phone showing the suspects with young girls, Chung claimed to have recorded the encounters for 'aesthetic' reasons.

Chung, a former doctor now stripped of his licence, said he was a lover of artistic images.

Malgarini was arrested in 2007 in connection with a probe linked to an Italian paedophile website. Chung was arrested shortly after at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

French authorities were able to intervene in the case due to universal jurisdiction for sex tourism allegations, a measure aimed at protecting children.

The two men are also to pay 12,600 euros to children's rights associations.

Barun Roy: Tale of two Asias

Business Standard

Unlike Cambodia and China, the sub-continent hasn't managed to rise above its old conflicts

Barun Roy / New Delhi March 12, 2009

Unlike countries like Cambodia and China, the sub-continent hasn't managed to rise above its old conflicts.

The beginning, last month, in Cambodia, of a process to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to trial for their role in a reign of genocide in the 1970s that left at least 1.7 million people dead, is meant to formally close a chapter of Cambodian history that nobody wants to remember.

Cambodia has outlived its fractious past and is moving convincingly towards a future of common economic well-being with the rest of Southeast Asia. Vietnam, once a hated intruder, is no longer an enemy, and friendly relations with Thailand, Laos, and China have produced a surge in investments, tourism, and trade. Growth averaged 9.4 per cent annually through the last decade and per capita GDP doubled between 1998 and 2007.

Two things have made Cambodia’s current economic success possible: Peace and political stability. Just the two things that are behind Vietnam’s success, too, whose political tolerance and economic realism, setting aside decades of bloody ideological enmities, have surprised the entire world and paved the way for the emergence of Asia’s next China.

In fact, peace and political stability have marked the recent history of a part of Asia — north, northeast, and southeast — that also happens to be its wealthiest. There’s a connection and it shouldn’t be forgotten. Malaysia hasn’t let May 1969 return to haunt it again. Ominous clouds of civil war no longer hang over the Philippines, where Muslim Mindanao has found a way to live within a mainly Christian nation. China, born again in 1979 when it opened out to the world and much wiser after the misadventures of the Cultural Revolution, has steadfastly refused to let social and political upheavals come in its way. Tienanmen Square and Tibet were but over-publicised local disturbances that were in no position to topple the Chinese applecart.

Preserving conditions for peaceful, undisturbed economic growth has been so uppermost in China’s mind, that it has done everything to avoid a physical confrontation with Taiwan, despite all kinds of provocations from across the straits. Hong Kong and Macau have been annexed but not swallowed. India has been left alone and spared even of threats and postures. Closer links have been forged with Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam to create a credible climate of confidence and goodwill. One can no longer deny that China, with its policy of positive accommodation with its neighbours, has played a key role in the continuance of economic prosperity in a large part of the Asian region.

On the other hand, look at South Asia, a sub-region ridden with deep conflicts and, not surprisingly, deep poverty. Bangladesh began as a killing field and remains so after 40 years. Nepal, having ousted its king, is struggling to find its political feet and a Constitution good enough to overcome all local dissensions. Pakistan is on the verge of ruin brought on by its own misguided politics. Sri Lanka is trapped in a deadly, long-running civil war that has left at least 70,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands more homeless, and even if it ends after the government’s last-ditch, almost genocidal, push against pro-independence Tamil rebels, will Sri Lanka have the peace and stability to grow?

India is not in any better shape either. Its political stability is more apparent than real, and now that it has begun to appear on terrorists’ radar screens, it can lose its peace, too. The only reason India is still able to absorb the shocks and maintain a healthy rate of growth is its vast size. Because of it, even major disturbances look, in popular perception, like isolated local events. But the way discontent is spreading across the country and politics, stripped of basic decencies and broad ideals, is getting fractured around narrow groups, vested interests, petty loyalties, and local dissatisfaction, that won’t be the case anymore. Intolerance keeps growing and mutinies multiply. Fires are rising one after another and one can already feel the heat.

In a situation like this, attention is bound to be distracted from development, and development is bound to lose its focus. India has done very little since independence to find the causes of its many domestic mutinies and douse them. It has done even less to build bridges to its neighbours or remove the causes of their apprehensions. The result is we still have vast segments of our society trapped in the deprivation they’ve always known, in angers and frustrations they increasingly feel. We’ve Kandhamals and Mangalores and Godhras and Guwahatis that make us wonder if our nation is indeed one. And we’ve neighbours with whom we only have a relationship of mutual distrust.

We had no reason to become a target of terrorism. We could have been a China to South Asia, leading its climb to success. Instead, we’re victims ourselves, being helplessly sucked into the vortex of our own failures.

Cambodian garment exports fall 27 per cent

Monsters and Critics
Business News
Mar 12, 2009
Bangkok - The value of Cambodia's garment exports in January was 27 per cent lower than in the same period last year as demand in the United States and Europe slumped, national media reported Thursday.

Garment exports were worth about 246 million US dollars in January 2008 but had dropped to about 177 million in the first month of this year, according to figures released by the Ministry of Commerce.
Exports to the United States dropped by about 35 per cent while exports to Europe were down by about 10 per cent.
Garment manufacturing, Cambodia's only significant export industry, has been the hardest hit sector in the developing country's economy during the global financial downturn, with more than 30 factories closing so far this year.
More than 30,000 garment factory workers lost their jobs in the past 12 months, according to a World Bank report released Sunday.

Cambodian politician has immunity restored

The China Post

Thursday, March 12, 2009

PHNOM PENH -- A Cambodian parliamentary committee has restored the immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy after he paid a fine of US$2,500 for defaming ruling party leaders, lawmakers said on Wednesday.

Although members of parliament have general immunity against prosecution, the National Election Committee (NEC) can fine candidates who violate rules during election campaigns, and it had found that Rainsy defamed leaders of the Cambodian People's Party, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.

When his immunity was removed in late February, Rainsy denounced it as a move to silence his criticism of Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who has been in charge for the last 23 years.

Rainsy, leader of the opposition party that carries his name, has been the main challenger to the prime minister's dominance during those years. He served as finance minister under joint Prime Ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen after elections sponsored by the United Nations in 1993.

Hun Sen won a landslide victory in an election last July but remains vulnerable in Phnom Penh to Rainsy, who commands support from the capital's educated youth.

Cheam Yeap, a ruling party lawmaker, said the permanent committee would not have restored Rainsy's immunity on Tuesday in a closed-door vote if he had not paid the fine.

“He could have faced up to a year in jail if he had not paid,” he said.

Vietnam, Cambodia friendship associations strengthen ties

VOV News

The Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Association (VCFA) and the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Association (CVFA) met in Phnom Penh on March 11 to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral ties in the future.

During the working session, the two sides spoke highly of their bilateral cooperation in the past and agreed to speed up the establishment of friendship association chapters between the border areas of the two neighbouring countries.

They also agreed to organise biennial meetings between the two associations in the future.

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and CVFA President Men Sam An said that Cambodia always treasures its traditional friendship and cooperation with Vietnam.

On the same day, the VCFA delegation, headed by its President, Vu Mao, was received by the President of the Cambodian Senate, Samdech Chea Sim, and the Chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly, Heng Samrin.

President Chea Sim welcomed the delegation’s visit, saying that it is an important milestone in consolidating the traditional friendship between the two countries.

He affirmed that the Vietnam-Cambodia neighbourly friendship will undoubtedly flourish in the future.

During its stay in Phnom Penh, the VCFA delegation called at the Vietnamese Association to present gifts to its members.

The delegation is also scheduled to visit several Cambodian localities, including Svay Rieng and Siem Reap provinces.


Cambodian PM: Phnom Penh to have conference center

PHNOM PENH, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia will build a conference hall of international standard in Phnom Penh to host diplomatic events with foreign audiences, national media said on Thursday.

"I will use only 15 months to complete it," Chinese-language daily newspaper the Commercial News quoted Prime Minister Hun Sen as telling a graduation ceremony of the Royal University of Phnom Penh here on Wednesday.

"Before, we relied on hotels for international events, and it is always difficult to find a place, and sometimes we are forced to hold meetings in Siem Reap," he said.

The conference hall would be constructed with government funds next to the new Council of Ministers building, he said, adding that local architects would be tapped to design it.

The decision was prompted by plans for Cambodia to host a series of regional conferences in the coming years, including three regional meetings next year and two ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summits in 2012, according to the premier.

Editor: Wang Guanqun

Why we must learn to love the ICC

Prospect Magazine
March 2009

The ICC's indictment of Sudan's president for war crimes may have done nothing other than ruin his holiday plans. But at least that's a start

Polly Botsford

War crimes trials are all the rage at the moment. When Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 4th March 2009, his name added to the growing list of those accused of war crimes. In February, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia started hearing the case against the infamous Khmer Rouge commander Comrade Duch. Meanwhile, the trials of the Bosnian Serb-leader-turned-bearded guru, Radovan Karadzic, as well as numerous of African leaders, are ongoing in the Hague. In fact, there have been more trials of this kind in the past fifteen years than at any time since the Nazi trials after the second world war.

The ICC, created in July 2002, and the various ad-hoc UN tribunals (such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) are the only courts of law where dictators, presidents and generals can be directly called to account for heinous crimes. These are, evidently, matters of huge import. The Balkan leaders amassed over 100,000 deaths, Pol Pot around 2m, and now Bashir is held responsible for around 300,000 deaths.

But do these trials mean there’s now more justice in the world? They can often be counterproductive. For instance, Bashir's response to the ICC indictment was to order thirteen of the biggest aid agencies out of Sudan, leaving millions in risk of starvation or death by disease. (The African Union has already asked the court to delay the charges for 12 months in order to prevent further destabilising the region.) These trials may also entrench leaders in situ rather than encouraging them to a negotiated peace. Gareth Evans, president of International Crisis Group, has argued that the situation in Zimbabwe was made worse by the arrest of former Liberian President Charles Taylor almost on its doorstep in 2006; fearing international prosecution if he stood down peacefully, Robert Mugabe was loath to do so.

And by supporting the prosecution of rogue leaders, countries may be trying to get out of actually having to intervene in troubled parts of the world themselves. Take Bashir again. In July 2008, when he was first indicted, genocide was on the list of charges. Yet this had been dropped by the time the arrest warrant was issued in March. This may be because if genocide is established, the convention on genocide compels signatories, which include the US and major European nations, to act, potentially militarily—something they do not want to do.

There is a trickier problem than all of these, however: the glaring inconsistency with which indictments are meted out. From the ICC's actions, it appears that some conflicts and atrocities are more worthy of prosecution than others. Problems that affect the interests of a member of the UN Security Council (for example Russia and Chechnya, the US or Britain and Iraq, the US in respect of Israel and Gaza) are notably missing from the agenda.

In fact, all the ICC’s ongoing trials are of African leaders: those from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, Uganda and, next up, Sudan. (See Paul Moorcraft's criticism of the ICC's awful timing in the Bashir indictment). They are all even from the same region of Africa. Courtney Griffiths QC, the lawyer representing Charles Taylor, claims that his client is a "victim of a new form of neo-colonialism… the use of the law to delegitimise and outlaw certain kinds of struggles against western interests." There is, he adds, a joke at the Hague that the ICC is known as the "African criminal court." Clive Stafford-Smith, director of Reprieve, prefers to call it hypocrisy, something which "breeds hatred around the world."

Yet there are signs that public opinion is beginning to demand greater consistency—witness George Monbiot’s "citizen’s arrest" for war crimes of former US ambassador John Bolton when he came to speak at the Hay Festival in 2008, or the Spanish courts continuing to press for the prosecution of Israeli officials for the bombing of Gaza back in 2002. Unrealistic, yes; gimmicky even—but also maybe evidence of growing recognition that the system needs rebalancing. Indeed even the existing prosecutions, despite their selectivity, are still establishing a crucial principle: that leaders are accountable for their crimes.

Perhaps, then, instead of criticising its obvious imperfections, we should be trying to improve the system of international justice. For a start, the US needs to sign up to the ICC: without it, as Stafford-Smith says, the court is "fatally undermined." We must hope that President Obama will have the audacity to make this change. To date, his comments are encouraging. "Earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions," he said in his inauguration speech. "Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort—even greater cooperation and understanding between nations." He has also acknowledged that the court has pursued charges only in cases of the most serious and systemic crimes and that "it is in America’s interests that these most heinous of criminals, like the perpetrators of the genocide in Darfur, are held accountable. These actions are a credit to the cause of justice and deserve full American support and cooperation."

For its part, the ICC could for now concentrate its efforts on securing its first conviction, rather than issuing more warrants. Thomas Lubanga, a rebel leader from the DRC, is a good candidate—his trial opened on 26th January, and he is charged with "individual criminal responsibility for the war crime of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate in hostilities." Such a conviction would give the ICC greater credibility and legitimacy, enabling it to be a real and present threat to rogue leaders.

As Richard Dowden pointed out in Prospect in May 2007, there is often a difficult choice to be made between justice and peace. Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Argentinian chief prosecutor at the ICC, is vocal about this dilemma and reminds us that his job can only be to secure the former, not the latter. But it's not impossible for both to be achieved. In northern Uganda, indictments in October 2005 against the Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders did, at least in the short term, help alleviate the intensity of the conflict (a truce was announced the following year).

The reality is that prosecution by the ICC is one of the few credible threats faced by leaders of warring parties responsible for atrocities. If cases are consistently deferred (as has been suggested for Sudan) for the sake of a peace processes, its value as a deterrent will be compromised. It may be true that, at the moment, all these indictments can do is stop guilty leaders from travelling to countries empowered to and prepared to arrest them. If so, all we’ve done so far is ruined their holiday plans. But that’s a start.

Give the poor choices: report

Business Mirror

Written by Cai U. Ordinario / Reporter
Thursday, 12 March 2009

IN order to achieve mass-poverty reduction globally, a new study released by the World Bank underscored the need not only for initiative and good work ethics on the part of the poor, but also ample economic opportunities for the poor created by governments.

The World Bank study, titled “Moving out of Poverty: Success from the Bottom Up,” was conducted in 15 countries—the Philippines and its neighbors Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand, as well as Malawi, Morocco, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Colombia and Mexico.

Among the key findings of the study: the poor and the rich have the
same or at least similar aspirations in life, particularly on family and work ethic, and the myths surrounding the poor have resulted in counterproductive government policies through the years.

The study also cited a need to shift the focus of governments and other institutions to the local level to better understand how to expand opportunity sets for poor people and help facilitate their own initiatives to improve their lives.

“Myths about poor people and about the causes of poverty have led to policy choices that have not helped those in poverty. Our research reveals the wretched opportunities that confront poor people in contrast to the gilded choices that the rich enjoy. To break out of poverty, poor people need the same opportunity sets as the rich. This requires fresh thinking and new mindsets about poor people and the scale of poverty,” the study stated.

“Poverty is not an affliction of the few but a condition of the many. In almost half the countries in our study, 50 percent of the population is poor. These hundreds of millions of people cannot all be drunken, lazy, criminal or unable to imagine and plan a future for themselves and their children,” the study added.

The World Bank conducted 21 studies that focused on specific communities, resulting in studies that are not nationally representative. In the Philippines, for instance, two study regions were identified, such as in Bukidnon and conflict areas in Mindanao.

The Bukidnon study built on a panel data set to examine the role that physical assets, human capital and governance play in mobility. In Mindanao, however, the focus was on local-level conflicts to investigate how conflict in different growth contexts affected people’s ability to move out of poverty.

Among the findings of the study are that large fractions of the nonpoor are falling into poverty in other parts of Africa and in the conflict regions studied. In study regions that sampled households affected by conflict, nearly a third of nonpoor households fell into poverty due to conflict.

“It is interesting that in the conflict-affected region of the Philippines, 38 percent of the nonpoor fell into poverty, but only 5 percent did in the nonconflict Bukidnon region of that country,” the study stated.

The study also said another reason that poor people remain poor is the poor’s lack of “clout in the marketplace,” mainly due to the small size of their transactions. This forces the poor to buy at high costs and sell their products at low costs.

In the Philippines, some farmers in Mindanao who were interviewed for the study even said there are times when they ask their buyers what the prevailing price of their product is in the market, which places them at a huge disadvantage when trading.

“The problem is us, not [the] poor people. We have to change. If only we can make the world look like what poor people think it really is—a place where hard work pays off, where there is equality of opportunity—we will see mass-poverty reduction in our time. Imagine a world in which we listen to poor women, men and young people, and fix what they think isn’t right,” the study stated.

In order to improve the poor’s plight, the World Bank study said there is a need to improve economic opportunities in rural areas by providing quasi-public goods like permanent roads, physical market spaces, irrigation waterways, telephone networks, electricity and cheap, reliable transport.

It is also important, the World Bank said, that opening up procurement chains and markets, increasing local grain-storage capacity, and improving access to information on prices are some measures that can usher in better returns to poor people in rural communities.

The study said economic organization of poor people could play a critical role in helping them move out of poverty. It stressed that the initiative to bring about change can come from any institution—government, civil society, or the private sector.

There is also a need to provide poor people larger loans, new and innovative financing arrangements for small enterprises and support in making the best use of credit. The bank said this is important since the poor cannot access formal credit facilities or do not have the collateral to obtain loans.

The World Bank also said there is a need for strong local democracies that ensure property rights; and that a positive business environment is critical for ensuring that the benefits of opening up markets are more equally shared.

However, the study said land titling, business licensing and other economic policies adopted by local democracies often help only the socially dominant, wealthier class.

“People in poverty want economic opportunity. When opportunity sets expand in a dynamic local economy, people can take initiative and move up or out of poverty. All too often, however, people find channels of upward movement blocked and their initiatives thwarted,” the study stated.

The publication is the latest and most comprehensive study on attitudes about poverty since its predecessor, Voices of the Poor, was released in 2000. The study included interviews with more than 60,000 people.

Documentary Film to Premiere at Human Rights Festival in Geneva

PORTLAND, Ore. th Oregon State University faculty member and Portland resident Patti Duncan, along with co-producer Skye Fitzgerald, will premiere their documentary film, "Finding Face," at The International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, which takes place March 6-15 in Geneva. "Finding Face" screens on March 11 and 14.

( - PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon State University faculty member and Portland resident Patti Duncan, along with co-producer Skye Fitzgerald, will premiere their documentary film, “Finding Face,” at The International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, which takes place March 6-15 in Geneva. “Finding Face” screens on March 11 and 14.

The film, directed and produced by Fitzgerald and Duncan, investigates the phenomenon of acid attacks in Cambodia, the deliberate throwing of acid usually into the faces of young women.

Framing acid attacks as a gendered form of violence and a human rights violation, “Finding Face” follows the story of a young woman named Tat Marina who was granted asylum to enter the United States following her well-publicized 1999 attack by the wife of a highly-ranked government official in Phnom Penh.

When she was 16, Marina was a rising star in Cambodia’s emerging karaoke scene. After being coerced into an abusive relationship with a government official, Marina was attacked with acid by the official’s wife in front of hundreds of witnesses. “Finding Face” documents the fracturing of Marina’s family across national borders, as well as her family members’ disparate responses.

Due to the central crime detailed in the film and the threat of retaliation against victims if they choose to go public with their story, the filmmakers have notified an array of organizations regarding the vulnerability of subjects and collaborators involved in the film. These organizations include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights-Cambodia, and others.

“Skye Fitzgerald and I decided to make this film three years ago, after encountering survivors of acid violence in Cambodia while working on his previous film, ‘Bombhunters,’” Duncan said. “We were both struck by how normalized it seemed, as well as how stigmatized the victims seem to be within society.”

The film took more than two years to make and involved multiple trips to Cambodia and to the Boston area, where Marina now lives.

Duncan, an associate professor in the Department of Women Studies at OSU, wrote the script for the film. Fitzgerald, founder of Spin Film and producer and director of “Bombhunters,” ( 2006 ) co-produced the film and is the principal cinematographer.

Others involved include:

-- Patrick Weishampel, editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting and multimedia designer at Portland Center Stage, edited the film.

-- William Campbell, assistant professor of music at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, composed the original score. Additional music was provided by the Los Angeles-based band Dengue Fever, and Academy Award-winner Marketa Irglova.

-- Narration was provided by Dmae Roberts, two-time Peabody-award winning independent radio artist and writer.

-- Sophorn Cheang, vice-president of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon, served as the Portland-based translator for the film, and other members of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon contributed to the project with voice-over work, subtitling, and additional translation.

The International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights was inaugurated in 2003. The event coincides with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s main session, and will take place at the Maison Des Arts Du Grutli in Geneva, the “human rights’ international capital.”

For more information about Finding Face, see or