Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Bird flu prevention starts in villages: PM

A poultry dealer loads live chickens into a truck at Phnom Penh's O'Russei Market on Tuesday. A conference opened the same day to address coming challenges for Cambodia, as it does its part in the global fight against the disease.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A three-year project funded by the World Bank includes efforts to aid responses to suspected cases of the virus.

COMMUNE councillors and village-level agents from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are at the forefront of the fight to prevent a bird flu outbreak in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday in a speech marking the launch of the Cambodia Avian and Human Influenza Control and Preparedness Emergency Project.

The three-year project, funded by a World Bank grant worth US$11 million, is part of a global effort to direct resources to countries that require assistance in dealing with the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus, which Stephane Guimbert, acting Cambodia country manager at the World Bank, said continued to pose a threat "to the health of the population and to the livelihoods of many small farmers in the region".

Of the $11 million, $5.8 million will go to the Agriculture Ministry to promote animal health, $3.5 million will go to the Ministry of Health and $1.7 million will go to the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) to devise inter-ministerial responses to potential outbreaks, said Nhim Vanda, the NCDM's first vice president.

In his remarks Tuesday, Hun Sen called on officials in border provinces to share information about suspected bird flu cases with neighbouring countries. He highlighted the government's effort to provide SIM cards to village-level animal health agents, which he said would permit them to quickly provide information about such cases to higher-level officials.

"We have given SIM cards to animal health agents in the villages, and when there is a suspected case of bird flu they can report to us," Hun Sen said. "This mechanism is fast, and we can take action to prevent the spread instantly."

Assessing the threat
The conference Tuesday, attended by 600 government officials, NGO members and development partners, included updates on the H5N1 virus and regional efforts to combat it.

Poultry traders load live chickens onto a truck at Phnom Penh's O'Russei Market.

Sorn San, who runs the Agriculture Ministry's bird flu project, said the virus has appeared in 23 different locations in eight provinces: Takeo, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kampong Cham, Kampot, Kampong Speu and Prey Veng. There have been eight recorded human cases, resulting in seven fatalities. He said 18,566 heads of poultry had died of the disease, while 9,862 had been culled.

Guimbert said more poultry cases could occur and that "cross-species infection from poultry to humans is likely to recur".

He cited China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh as countries in which the H5N1 avian influenza virus remains "entrenched" and called on Cambodia to prepare for a potential human pandemic.

Though he acknowledged recent progress in preventing the spread of the disease, he said the Kingdom's efforts had "also highlighted a number of gaps that remain to be filled, including issues related to the capacity of veterinary services".

Police Blotter

The Phnom Penh Post

Police Blotter: 18 Mar 2009
Written by Lim Phalla
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Em Sopheap, 61, had his jewellry store, the largest in Olympic Market, broken into on Monday. Thieves broke into the store via a hole in the roof and, according to the owner, stole USD$500,000 worth of jewels. Police say they are skeptical about the alleged loss.

Suon Canthy, 20, was fatally bashed with sticks on Monday while returning home from a local dance in Kampong Os village, Kandal Province. The suspect, Chham Chhaet, 28, managed to escape authorities after beating the man with a stick and leaving him in the river.

Royal Gendarmes in Siem Reap province said one of four alleged robbers fatally shot himself in the head on Saturday while plotting a burglary attempt on a phone shop in Phnom Srok district, Banteay Meanchey province. The men, known to local authorities after a string of robberies, were besieged by 50 police officers in a forest in Siem Reap's Beng village. Police arrested Sae Da, 28, and Chhot Ban, 31, and also confiscated a motorbike and two guns. They identified the dead suspect as Kong, 30.

Five robbers evaded authorities after stealing 50 damlung of gold and platinum on Monday from a gold shop in Samaki village, Phnom Penh. No one was injured in the heist, but shop owner Keo Chanthou, 31, fainted in the presence of the five armed men.

Three armed robbers escaped on Saturday with an estimated US$500 in cash, jewelry and cell phones after a house robbery in Rasmey Rumdoh village, Kampong Thom province. The victims, Horm Chan,38, Pau Sokhnear, 31 and Prum Kaing, 36, could not identify the men because they were too frightened to look at them.

Yoeun Voeun, 30, was arrested by Preah Net Preah district Police after allegedly raping his 7-year-old niece on Thursday. Relatives told police the suspect raped the girl some 50 metres behind their house in Kampong Krasaing village, Banteay Meanchey province.

Govt effort boosts exercise in capital's public spaces

Early morning exercisers in Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium last week.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Higher traffic at Olympic Stadium just one indicator of Phnom Penh residents' penchant for daily outdoor workouts.

AS deputy chief of the security team at Olympic Stadium, Kim Vin has seen firsthand the effects of a government-led push to get more Phnom Penh residents exercising in the capital's public spaces.

"I started to work as a security guard here three years ago," he said. "Not so many came to exercise here then - only about 60 to 70 percent of what is here now."

These days, he said, roughly 3,000 city residents exercise at the stadium daily.

The increase is in part the result of the government effort, which has included the beautification of a number of public parks, said Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Health Department.

"There are now more places where people can come to get fresh air and pleasant scenery," he said.

The need for exercise

The negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle are well-known, Veng Thai said. Lack of exercise can lead to arthritis, high cholesterol, heart disease and high blood pressure, among other conditions, he said.

"We know that Phnom Penh residents do not have as much opportunity to use their body strength as those who live outside Phnom Penh, which means they store more toxins in their bodies," he said.

Veng Thai said the promotion of exercise in urban public spaces was in part modeled after a similar effort in China, a country with one of the highest spending totals for publicly accessible exercise venues and equipment.

This spending enables citizens to work out without having to pay for a gym membership, he explained.

There are now more places where people can come to get fresh air.

"Cambodia is not yet able to provide as many facilities in public places, due to the costs and difficulty in ensuring they are properly maintained," Veng Thai said.

Khuon Tann, 62, said he did not understand the importance of daily exercise until his doctor diagnosed him with diabetes four years ago.

Since then, the Angkor Beer Company employee has joined a sports club, though he said he had recently begun using urban public spaces with greater frequency.

"I usually exercise on the riverside, at home and occasionally at Olympic Stadium," he said.

Long Sivan, manager of the Phnom Penh Sports Club, said the promotion of exercise in public spaces might lighten the traffic at his gym, which receives between 200 and 300 visitors each day.

But he said this might not necessarily be a bad thing.

"We do not know how many more customers we can accept," he said.

PM warns of riverbank collapse

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha and Sebastian STrangio
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

AS the 2009 wet season approaches, Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that authorities in Kandal province should advise riverside residents to remove their homes in anticipation of the seasonal collapse of riverbanks, prompting the opposition to claim the government is shielding licensed sand-dredging operations which are, it says, exacerbating the problem.

"It is better to inform villagers in advance," Hun Sen said Tuesday, during the launch of an avian and human influenza control and preparedness project.

"It is no good to offer them some gifts once their houses have already collapsed. The sadness of people is our concern."

Kandal Governor Chhun Sirun said that the river collapses were not only a concern in Kien Svay, but were also a frequent occurrence in Muk Kampol and Ksach Kandal districts.

"It looks like there is a tradition of riverbank collapse in those areas," he said Tuesday, adding that villagers were well aware of the risks. "We have permanently informed them and they are aware of the danger."

Ly Thuch, second deputy president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said similarly that people living along the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers were routinely informed by local authorities prior to collapses.

"It does happen in some places but not an a big scale. Local authorities are taking care of this issue," he said.

But although such collapses are an annual occurrence on the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers, opposition lawmakers say the premier should instead crack down on sand-dredging operations it claims are worsening the problem.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said riverbank collapses had become more severe recently as a result of legal and illegal sand-dredging operations in rivers across the country.

"This is the fault of the government because it grants the licences to companies without considering the consequences," he told the Post.

"The local authorities know, but they can't do anything because powerful people are behind the sand-dredging."

Conservation International could not comment about the specifics of river dredging operations, but said that the removal of sand - even of small amounts by local villagers - could force riverbanks to collapse.

"I have heard before that some people were taking sand from the riverbeds, which causes the isobars in the river to change," he said. "If someone takes sand from one place, sand from another place has to move in to fill the hole."

But Yim Sovann said that it was not enough to issue warnings to villagers while allowing sand-dredging operations to continue, and called on the PM to take more direct responsibility for those displaced by collapses.

"Who benefits? Just the companies and the officials. And who suffers? The people. The PM has to take full responsibility for the people."

In August last year, Veng Sakhon, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Water Resources, told the Post that officials would investigate dozens of potentially illegal sand-dredgers operating on the Mekong.

In the same month, local developer Brothers Investment Group (BIG) was also granted permission to dredge the river as part of a $300 million project to make the waterway navigable by larger vessels. At the time, environmentalists criticised the deal, which they said lacked the proper public consultation due for a project of its size.

But Mao Hak, director of the Department of Hydrology and River Works at the ministry, said that it was also working hard to prevent the unexpected landslides along the edges of rivers.

"We are looking at many ways to reduce riverbank collapses," he said, adding that both known causes - natural erosion and sand dredging - were being monitored.

"We will not allow sand dredging if we find that [operating in] the place will cause damage in the future."

KR dam restoration prompts complaint

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dam land has been used to grow rice since 1979.

About 180 farming families have filed a complaint with authorities in Battambang province asking that they be given land in compensation for a plan to rehabilitate a Khmer Rouge-era dam.

The farmers said they had used the vast collapsed Chork dam as rice fields for decades and said the proposed US$2 million plan to rebuild the dam would rob them of their livelihoods.

Long Phal Khun, an official at the provincial Department of Water Resources and Meteorology, said the rebuilding project is being funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). He said the project would begin in November and would irrigate 8,000 hectares of land.

Rath Mom, a representative for the farmers, said the Khmer Rouge had built the dam and that families had farmed the 500-hectare site since the regime was driven out in 1979.

"We are asking the authorities to provide us with new land on which to farm," Rath Mom said.

"We need to be compensated for land. We don't need money. We are farmers, so we need land to grow rice."

The dam lies between Chork Touch and Chork Thom villages, which are in Kor Koh commune, Moung Russey district.

District Governor Lom Som told the Post that the affected area is state land and does not belong to the farmers. He said the farmers had been told in the 1980s that they could use the land but would not be allowed to own it.

Lom Som said the refurbished dam would provide essential irrigation to thousands of farmers in the area and would allow them to harvest two crops annually.

"The rice fields belong to the state, so there is no need to compensate them," he said. "I told them earlier this year they could still plant rice in the dry season when the water levels drop. Some [other] people have instigated this complaint."

ADB involvement

An ADB spokesperson confirmed that the bank is funding three dam reconstruction projects - Daun Av, Canal Number One, and Chork - in the province as part of its $20 million Northwest Irrigation Project.

When asked about compensation, the ADB spokesperson said: "For any projects funded by the ADB, which have a social or economic impact, the ADB will ensure that the bank's resettlement policy is adequately applied before the start of the project."

Uo Vorn, a member of Kor Koh's commune council, said the collapse of the dam wall had meant the water level was now no more than 1 or 2 metres deep. Officials from the provincial ministry had surveyed the land to assess its potential.

"After it has been repaired, it will help the farmers in times of drought and will allow them to harvest rice twice a year," Uo Vorn said.

The farmers have also filed a complaint with human rights groups AdhocC and Licadho. Heng Say Hong, an investigator with Licadho in the province, confirmed that his office had received the complaint. He said they would ask the local authority to try to deal with the issue.

"They should resolve this problem with the people," Heng Say Hong said.

"They should look to provide them with paddy fields in other areas or to provide compensation because these families have been on the land since 1979, and they have no other way to feed their families."

Eight K Thom men charged with extortion, impersonating police

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A group of men, including six with press passes, have been arrested after they allegedly dressed up as military police and robbed local residents.

EIGHT men from Stong district, Kampong Thom province, have been charged with extortion and forgery after they posed as police officers and extorted money out of people, officials told the Post Tuesday.

The eight accused, six of whom police claim were carrying press cards, were arrested Sunday following a complaint filed by fishermen last Thursday.

The fishermen said the group procured 1,610,000 riels (US$400) from them by threatening to fine them for illegal fishing.

"After receiving a complaint on March 12, I alerted the court prosecutor who gave arrest warrants to eight people. On Sunday, we seized military police uniforms and press cards," Stong district police Chief Huot Sarin said Tuesday.

"We have sent the accused to court for further investigation, but we don't know the exact amount of money they earned from extortion," he added.

Court prosecutor Pen Sarat said Tuesday they face a lengthy jail term if convicted.

"I charged the men with extortion and impersonating police officers, and they are now serving time in pretrial detention," he said. "If they are found guilty, they will face five- to 10-year jail sentences."

According to Pen Sarat, the investigating judge was still searching for an AK-47 assault rifle and a pair of handcuffs police claimed the accused used.

Ek Sophea, a monitor for the rights group Licadho who met with the suspects in prison, said they claimed not to have taken as much money as the fishermen alleged.

He confirmed that six of the men had press passes but was not sure whether these were real or fake.

"We will keep investigating to find out the truth because we didn't find a gun as the police alleged," said Ek Sophea.

Pen Samithy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said Tuesday that he didn't believe six of the men were really journalists.

"Not all people who have press cards are journalists."

Dams to hurt Mekong food stocks

A dam under construction in Kampot province.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady and Kouth Sophak Chakrya
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Environmentalists warn major hydro projects would threaten Cambodia's vital food sources and biodiversity, while the government insists the benefits clearly outweight any costs.

A SLEW of hydroelectric dams slated for construction on the Mekong River threaten migratory fish stocks and the millions of people who rely on them for food and income, as well as one of the world's richest sources of aquatic wildlife, warns a new campaign launched by environmentalists.

Eleven dams on the main channel of the Mekong are currently being planned by the governments of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

"If built, the dams would block major fish migrations and disrupt this vitally important river, placing at risk millions of people who depend upon the Mekong for their food security and income," said a statement from Save the Mekong, an international coalition of NGOs that launched this month.

Two of the dams are planned for Cambodia. Foreign developers have contracts to build a dam in Stung Treng province near the border with Laos and in the Sambor district of Kratie province. The remaining nine dam sites are in Laos, including two shared projects with Thailand.

The projects could also prove perilous for the Mekong's aquatic biodiversity. The group says the mainstream dams would push endangered species found in Cambodia, including the Irrawaddy Dolphin and Giant Catfish, to the brink of extinction.

"By changing a river's hydrology and water quality, blocking fish migration and obstructing sediment movements, dams destroy a river's existing ecology," explained Carl Middleton, a Mekong specialist with the US-based NGO International Rivers, which helped launch the coalition.

Chit Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said the Mekong's food value is too critical to be jeopardised.

"The Mekong River is an invaluable source of food security and livelihoods for millions of Cambodians," he said.

The Mekong River Commission estimates the river's wild capture fisheries to be worth at least US$3 billion annually.

NGO Forum is joined by the local NGOs Culture and Environment Preservation Organization, the Sesan-Srepok-Sekong (3S) Protection Network and the Fisheries Action Coalition Team in being local members of the Save the Mekong coalition.

Kim Sangha, with the 3S Protection Network in Ratanakkiri province, said Vietnam's Yali Falls dam on the Sesan River illustrates the destructive effects that even dams outside the country can have on communities within Cambodia.

"It continues to cause changes downstream - villagers complain of water fluctuations, and they say they are struggling to find fish," he said.

Government approved

Chang Tong Yves, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said people needed to have faith in the government's ability to weigh the trade-offs of such development projects.

"If the government decides to make a dam, then environmental assessments have been done, so you can know it will not have a destructive effect on the environment or people who live along the river," he said.

Thuk Kroeun Vutha, an undersecretary of state at the Environment Ministry, said his office had completed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the two dams and believed the power produced outweighed the environmental damage caused. No non-governmental group contacted by the Post had been able to access a copy of the government's EIA.

"There will be a little bit of environmental impact, but the dam will provide a lot of power to support the country," Thuk Kroeun Vutha said.

Middleton recommended Cambodia leap-frog the "big-hydro" power policies that held sway in many developed countries in the 1950s.

"Current electricity planning in the Mekong region still retains last century's mindset that ‘bigger is better'. There is, however, a growing call for reform of the power planning process by civil society groups throughout the region towards modern planning practices," Middleton said.

Having yet to pour funds into a national power grid, Cambodia is well-positioned to advance with decentralized renewable power technologies such as solar and biogas, he said. Power production assessments should "take into account the full cost to society of each electricity option - including social and environmental costs - rather than simply the lowest commercial cost to investors."

Ministry bans 'obscene' songs to save traditions

Minister of Women's Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi, is in support of the new ban on obscene songs.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Claiming the ban will help save the Kingdom's traditionals, the Ministry of Culture has outlawed four songs in a pre-New Year sweep.

THE Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has outlawed all songs with rude or obscene meanings. The proclamation, which immediately bans five popular Khmer songs, was made Friday and signed by Culture Minister Him Chhem.

Under the country's latest ban, all music vendors, artists, singers, comedians, pop musicians and band members must cease selling, producing, playing or singing any songs that could seriously damage the country's traditions, customs, culture or honour. The ban also applies to business people who lease loudspeakers through which music is played.

Five songs have been immediately outlawed: Somchbab Mekhum Yoak Srov Tao Bok ("Ask the Commune Chief to Take the Rice to be Pounded"), Krapoeur Mintean Thom ("The Crocodile Has Not Yet Grown"), which contains a word play about a young woman's virginity, and Khloy Ta Chean, Khloy Bang Chach and Khloy Chang. The last three song titles are word plays on having sex.

"We have banned these songs because their titles and meanings are very obscene," said Sim Sarak, administration and finance general director at the ministry. He added that the government had acted now to ensure the songs were not played during Khmer New Year, which begins next month.

Sim Sarak said the ban also applied to any other songs that were considered offensive.

The Minister of Women's Affairs, Ing Kantha Phavi, applauded the announcement and said it could help to reduce the number of rapes and other sex crimes in the Kingdom. She said a cross-ministerial committee had been set up to look at songs and videos to encourage traditional cultural values and the promotion of women.

"[Sex movies and obscene songs] seriously affect Cambodian society, as they are the cause of many rapes of underage girls," she said. "If you read the Khmer papers, you see rape cases almost every day. When the perpetrators are arrested and questioned, they often reply that they committed the crime after watching sex movies."

Sim Sarak said the ban was not meant to prohibit singers, comedians and others from composing songs or comedy sketches.

"We encourage them to compose as many songs as possible that can educate the younger generation and the nation's people," he said. "We are banning just those songs whose meaning downgrades the country's traditional customs and culture."

The president of the Khmer Arts Association, Ieng Sithul, said he encouraged singers and artists to compose songs by using polite language: "Even though they are good at expressing their feelings to their audiences, they must consider the words they use in order to avoid denigrating our culture."

Hanoi Road residents plead for PM's help

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda and May Titthara
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

‘Compensation was promised, not delivered'

Residents of Hanoi Road whose houses were partially or completely demolished by the authorities this week for a street-widening program, protested Tuesday outside Prime Minister Hun Sen's Phnom Penh home.

They are seeking intervention by the prime minister in their dispute with the municipality, which they say refuses to compensate most of them for their lost homes. Residents said 27 homes in Sen Sok district have been bulldozed.

The only person said to have been offered compensation was 53-year-old Oeum Roeun, whose house was completely demolished Monday. However, she refused the empty plot in Thnot Chrum the municipality had offered.

"They demolished my house, which means they have killed my family. We have no way to make a living, and we are now staying in front of another villager's house on the pavement," she said. "I don't know where my plates and iron pots went. And how can I go to the new plot? I haven't any money to construct a house."

Chin Tonn, 60, said the commune chief had promised that if they allowed their houses to be demolished, they would be compensated.

"But now that they have demolished our houses, they say we aren't entitled to any compensation because we still have three metres of our homes left," Chin Tonn said. "We went to complain at the municipality and in Sen Sok district because the demolition letters came from both of those authorities."

Officials at City Hall would not discuss compensation. Phnom Penh Deputy governor Mann Chhoeun refused to comment and referred questions to Chreang Sophan, the deputy governor in charge of road construction. Chreang Sophan said the city had delegated authority to speak with local people to district Governor Khoung Sreng.

Khoung Sreng told the Post the 4-kilometre-long project affected 64 houses. He said many families had agreed to remove fences ahead of the demolition and claimed that residents had no right to compensation.

"Those affected families should know that they were living on pavement land, and according to the Land Law this has to be returned to the government when it wants to develop the area," he said. "City Hall has no compensation policy for partly-affected residents who built on the pavement."

Rise in HIV testing signals greater public awareness

Photo by: AFP
Cambodian workers leave a garment factory in Phnom Penh last week. The factories, dominated by women, have become a target group for health organisations and government departments promoting reproductive health and HIV/AIDS testing.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

NGOs want better access to garment factories, onsite testing to help HIV-positive workers who may be unaware of status.

MORE Cambodian women are seeking blood tests to screen for HIV/AIDS, a report released Monday said, giving promise to the strength of recent awareness campaigns.

The report, compiled by the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), said 40,587 women had received an HIV/AIDS blood test in 2008, compared with 38,660 in 2007.

"Blood tests are important because they reduce the chance of the virus spreading and the chance of the virus becoming deadly," said Dr Chak Chenda, clinic manager of RHAC.

"We are now planning to publish a guide book and leaflets on reproductive health to be distributed in communities, and also organising a peer group education program in which a trained volunteer will work in communities to give people information," she said.

The organisation claimed the increase was due to an increasing number of awareness campaigns about reproductive health.

Mean Chivoan, director of the National Centre for HIV and AIDS, Dermatology and STD, told the Post that distribution of information about blood tests has been carried out by the government since 2001, when it began handing out information to community groups and garment factories.

As I am aware, many factory workers have aids, but they keep it a secret.

"We will promote blood tests amongst women because we believe that it is important. Without a blood test, women cannot be sure if they have HIV/AIDS, and this is particularly important for pregnant women," he added.

The blood test is free and available at state and referral hospitals across the country.

Factories join the cause
Cheat Khemara, senior labour official of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, told the Post the numbers reflect the recent partnering of health organisations and garment factories, where around 300,000 Cambodian women work.

"We have incorporated a health program into garment factories in cooperation with NGO CARE so that it is easier for workers to get their blood tested," he said.

"We know that some women working in factories in Cambodia are carrying the HIV/AIDS virus, and that life-prolonging medicines are often given to them secretly.... We would like to appeal to all workers that if they have any doubt about their health, they should get a blood test," he added.

"We would also like to call on all factories to help provide health facilities and services for their employees so that they are able to have their blood tested. All companies and factories should provide care to employees who have HIV/AIDS so that they have the mental strength to continue their work."

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Cambodia, told the Post that most garment factory workers are still forced to have their health checked at the Labour Health Centre, which he says requires individuals to pay large amounts of money in bribes.

"Usually women who work for factories do not understand the importance of having blood tests. They only go if they are helped or guided by NGO workers" he said.

"It is good to encourage factory workers to go for a blood test. As I'm aware, many factory workers have AIDS, but they keep it a secret."

MP petitions Thai FM for prisoner release

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

OPPOSITION Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang of Battambang petitioned Thai Foreign Minister Hor Namhong by letter Tuesday to intervene in the imprisonment of six Cambodians in Bangkok.

The six detainees were arrested by Thai authorities in January while attempting to immigrate illegally to Thailand in search of work, according to the letter.

"The six people have being imprisoned in Suon Blue prison in Bangkok," the letter said.

"I would like [Hor Namhong] to take action to intervene and have Thai authorities release them."

La Phat, an official from Chakkrey commune, the home town of the arrested group, told the Post they were arrested by Thai police while passing through an illegal border crossing corridor.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he could not comment on the prospects of a resolution, as he had not seen a copy of the letter with the MP's requests.

Textile imports reach $1b

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Cambodia's garment industry spent $1 billion on textile imports - $200 million more than in 2007 - mainly from China, but also from South Korea and Taiwan, which means the Kingdom is not taking advantage of EU trade preferences for the Asean region, sector analysts said.

$1 billion in textiles imported from China, South Korea and Taiwan in 2008
$200 million increase on 2007 raw material imports for the industry
Nearly 40pc of garment export revenue in 2008 absorbed by cost of imported textiles

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

$1 billion bill for textile imports in 2008 raises questions on spending in the industry as critics suggest Cambodia should produce raw materials at home.

CAMBODIA'S garment industry imported US$1 billion in raw materials last year, according to the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, leading to calls for more local production to cut costs and improve access to Western markets.

"Cambodia imports a lot of materials for the garment sector compared to other countries in the region," said Van Sou Ieng. "Importing too many raw materials reduces our competitiveness and tax revenues," he added.

Kaing Monika, external affairs manager at GMAC, said on Tuesday that 66 percent of garment components were imported from China, with the remainder from Taiwan and South Korea.

He said that importing all of the components raises the price for Cambodian products and affects Cambodia's country-of-origin status.

"In our meetings to discuss trade, some countries that import garments from Cambodia demanded that we import cloth from Asean countries in exchange for tax favours," said Kaing Monika.

GMAC said in 2007 that Cambodia spent $800 million importing cloth, $531 million of which was from China.

"The EU gives Cambodia trade preferences on the condition that we use cloth imported from Asean, so we are at a disadvantage importing from China," said Kaing Monika.

"If Cambodia is allowed to import cloth from China, it means that the trade agreement is not helping the country, it is helping China," Kaing Monika said.

He said that high start-up costs are a barrier to new investment and that government assistance should be the catalyst for new projects.

"GMAC hopes to see more local cloth production, but the government has not been supporting us to attract investment to the country," Kaing Monika said.

"I think the plan to produce cloth locally cannot happen soon because building a cloth plant costs as much as $15 million, and investors must be very confident," Kaing Monika said.

"I believe that we will earn a lot of profit if we can produce cloth in Cambodia and do not need to import from other countries," Kaing Monika said.

But Mao Thora, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, said on Tuesday that imported raw materials made up a small percentage of costs for locally produced garments.

"I think our imports are still low compared to the $2.6 billion of garments we export," he said.

"We are trying to persuade investors from China and Korea to build a factory to produce cloth in our country," he added.

"Cambodia also needs to improve the quality of local garments, and that means producing high quality cloth," said Mao Thora.

Cambodia has one cloth factory in Kampong Cham province owned by Chinese investors, but it only produces fabric for the medical industry, he added.

Natural development

Kang Chandararot, director of the Institute for Development and Study, said that reliance on imported materials is natural for a country of Cambodia's low stage of development.

"Cambodia must balance the producing of materials by itself and importing of raw materials. I think we must not absolutely use our own materials for everything," Kang Chandararot said.

Movie industry facing ruin as crisis adds to piracy threat

Pirated DVDs are among the main problems in the movie industry, which has found itself close to collapse following the economic slowdown.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong and George McLeod
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Producers and directors of media companies lament failure to tackle piracy with many filmmakers saying they now face oblivion in face of downturn.

CAMBODIA'S struggling movie and music industry faces collapse as the economic slowdown adds to problems of rampant piracy, local producers told the Post Tuesday.

One of the country's leading media companies, Chlang Den Production, said business is being suspended after trying for years to compete in a country with lax copyright laws.

"We are dead ... almost all of the companies are dead because we cannot compete with fake products," said director Kim Leng.

He said his company had paid large sums to the police and the courts to crack down on piracy, but that the problem had only gotten worse.

Hundreds of DVD and CD pressing machines are at work in the country illegally copying movies and music, making survival nearly impossible, he said.

"If you look at theatres in Phnom Penh, they have already closed. Cambodian people have killed this industry," he said, adding that original DVDs cost about US$4, but that copied products sell for only 1,500 riels ($0.40).

Lax law enforcement and abundant high-quality copies almost indistinguishable from authentic goods have led to a thriving local trade in everything pirated, from movies and music to pharmaceuticals and liquor.

The US government has repeatedly raised the issue of piracy with Cambodian authorities, and the US-based Intellectual Property Alliance says about 100 percent of local music and movie sales are illegal. The IPA is funded largely by the recording and movie industry and is not considered independent.

Government response
Kim Leng called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to assist CD, VCD and DVD producers to help authors, singers, actors, actresses and other industry professionals find work in other sectors.

Commerce Ministry Secretary of State Mao Thora suggested an inter-ministerial committee lead by Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh to protect the industry from collapse.

"The department of intellectual property has been training people in copyright laws, but more needs to be done," he said. He urged ministry officials to enforce the law and encouraged producers to file lawsuits to compensate for lost profits. "We need to be strong willed to stop this problem," he said. "Those who violate copyright laws should be jailed," said Mao Thora.

Economist Kang Chandararot said poor enforcement of intellectual property laws is a key obstacle to Cambodia's economic growth.

"Whenever new products or ideas are available to steal freely, people won't be able to develop new ideas or create new products," said Kang Chandararot. "We are waiting for legal reform, but it now is just the beginning."

Ly Bun Yim, a filmmaker and owner of Flash Diamond Movie Production, said that local media companies should focus on foreign markets where intellectual property laws are stronger.

"If we want Cambodian movies and karaoke to stay alive, we need to make high-quality products," he said.

His company recently finished the $500,000 movie Divinity Court, which he expected to earn $1 million. "I would like to see the government encouraging us," said Ly Bun Yim.

Further challenges
But Matthew Robinson, the managing director of local movie production company Khmer Mekong Films (KMF), said that piracy is not the biggest challenge facing the industry, and that the economic downturn and a lack of high-quality venues have been far greater obstacles.

"The problem is not so much piracy, although [production companies] will claim that. Why should people pay to go to an uncomfortable cinema when they can go to the market and buy a [foreign-made] pirated movie for cheaper?" he said, adding that KMF had successfully fended off piracy through tight security measures.

"When we made our first movie, we were careful to guard all of the copies and make sure they weren't showing up at the markets. I haven't seen any problems [with piracy], but you have to be careful," he said.

Markets considered on Vietnam border

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

COMMERCE Minister Cham Prasidh has urged Cambodia and Vietnam to begin planning for a model market on the border, which officials from both countries say will help facilitate crossborder trade and improve prosperity in border provinces.

"I am calling on the committee to study two potential locations: Peam Chor district in Prey Veng province and Thari Economic Zone near the checkpoint in Kampong Cham's Memot district," Cham Prasidh said at the second meeting on the development of border trade cooperation Monday. "After the study is completed, I will confirm with our Vietnamese counterparts immediately during ... April," he said.

Cham Prasidh also proposed that both sides hold discussions on market infrastructure management, trade payment mechanisms and the principle of cross-border trade settlement in order to continue developing cross-border trade.

Keo Soknay, a secretary of state at the ministry, said that although it had not yet sent an in-depth plan to Vietnam, both sides had already toured the sites. Prey Veng would encompass 37,595 square metres, he added.

Vu Huy Hoang, Vietnam's minister of industry and trade, said such initiatives were important for the two neighbours to develop their economies and improve standards of living.

Cham Prasidh said that the Kingdom is confident the trade gap with Vietnam would be "reduced soon". He said that Cambodia exported an estimated US$200 million in goods to Vietnam in 2008, while importing over $1 billion.

From a banking boom to financial hardship

Executive Director of Vattanac Bank Chan Kok Choy says the Cambodian banking sector is now more cautious.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Chan Kok Choy, executive director of Vattanac Bank, speaks to the Post about the onset of the financial crisis, the general outlook for 2009 and how his bank plans to respond.

Has the crisis slowed Vattanac Bank's progress? Do you plan to lay off staff or reduce recruitment to cut costs?

The economic crisis has created a challenging environment for banks in Cambodia, as it is important to maintain good asset quality and satisfactory liquidity.

Our bank has a satisfactory liquidity position, so there are opportunities for the bank to develop further.

As of December 2008, Vattanac Bank had a staff force of 119.

Today, that stands at 133 and we are looking to hire more staff for our credit card business and to support expansion plans.

How many loans did the bank issue in 2008 and what was the change from 2007? With the crisis affecting Cambodia, what are your growth expectations for 2009?

Loans increased by US$21.9 million in 2008, up 27 percent compared to 2007.

For the same period, deposits increased $50 million, up 49 percent. For the challenging economic environment in 2009, we will emphasise maintaining the quality of our loans.

How many customers does the bank have so far, and what is the change from last year?

Up to the end of December 2008, we had 11,137 customers compared to 7,920 in 2007.

We have been encouraged by the strong support we have received from the public.

Late last year, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) tripled the registered capital requirement for commercial banks from $13 million to $37.5 million. As a banker, what do you think about this decision?

As of December 2008, our shareholders' funds stood at $32.06 million and we are committed to meeting the new capital requirement as required by the NBC.

The economic crisis has created a challenging environment for banks in Cambodia.

We are supportive of the NBC's decision, as we recognise the importance of higher capital to support the bank's business expansion.

Cambodia has 24 commercial banks. Do you think the number is too high?

Every bank has its own focus and business direction. If the bank is well-capitalised and able to develop its own niche market, it has good prospects.... I feel that the NBC is in good hands under the capable leadership of Chea Chanto and its many senior officials.
The NBC recently took the positive step of easing liquidity by reducing the statutory reserve requirement to 12 percent.

What is your vision regarding the banking industry this year given the financial crisis?

Due to the vicious nature of the economic crisis, many economic sectors in Cambodia will be considerably weakened.

As such, I expect this year will be challenging for the banking industry.


A helping hand needed

Prime Minister Hun Sen opens the 2009 Cambodia Outlook conference. Realtors say the future of Cambodia’s property market is in his hands.

The Phnom Penh Post

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A senior official says government is doing all it can after local agents urge Prime Minister Hun Sen to step in and help the troubled industry

A spokesman for local real estate agents is asking for a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen to make a case for government intervention in the property market in the hope of reversing a decline in sales and investment.

But the undersecretary of state for the Finance Ministry says such a meeting is unlikely.

Sung Bonna, the president of the National Valuers Association of Cambodia, made the public call for a half-day meeting between the prime minister and key industry figures at a meeting of business people Friday night at the Almond Hotel. He warned the country faced bankruptcies and mass layoffs if the government did not take steps to ease investor and buyer concerns.

"We hope the construction and real estate sector will receive a boost if the Cambodian government joins us to discuss possible solutions to the slump in the sector," Sung Bonna said. "If not, the slowdown will only worsen."

Between 100,000 and 150,000 people were at risk of losing their jobs if the slump continued, Sung Bonna said. Job losses would not only hit realtors and construction workers but spread throughout the sector's value chain, hitting architects, furniture suppliers, lawyers and people in the building materials sector.

The request for a meeting came a day after Sung Bonna called for more government involvement in the sector at last week's 2009 Cambodia Outlook Conference.

Sung Bonna told the conference that strengthening laws on land titles and property was the key to boosting confidence in the sector.

"People are scared of Cambodia because we have no laws," he said.

"This is a period where we need to compete with neighbouring countries. Any law that will make more headaches for investors we should temporarily withdraw and reconsider."

He was referring to the controversial housing development prakas temporarily shelved last year following an outcry from developers.

Korean developers in particular said they would be unable to progress with development plans should the rules take effect.

However the government has repeatedly pledged it will be pushed through in some form.

Meeting unlikely

Ngy Tayi, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Finance and chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Task Force, told Prime Location on Monday he would pass on the request for a meeting to the prime minister's office but that a meeting with Hun Sen was unlikely.

"This is the time for [lower-level] government officials and experts in the real estate and related fields to discuss the property sector downturn," he said. "It is not the time to discuss with the Cambodian prime minister."

At his opening speech at the Cambodia Outlook Conference, Hun Sen acknowledged the extent of the economic problems facing Cambodia as a result of the global economic crisis and called on the private sector to diversify and expand into sectors other than tourism, garments and agriculture.

However, he was criticised for not setting out any concrete steps to boost the real estate sector.
"The government has concentrated on tourism, agriculture and the extractive industries but we have received no encouragement," Sung Bonna said.

Chhean Dara, project manager of the $50 million Happiness City complex on Phnom Penh's Chroy Changvar peninsula, also called for government intervention. He said the company was offering 20 percent discounts on houses and villas to no avail and warned it would be forced to stop construction within three months if no new buyers materialised.

"I think that if the government cannot find any solutions to help turn around the real estate sector downturn, it will slow Cambodia's economic growth," he said.

The request for a meeting comes after sales activity in the Cambodian property sector dropped to almost zero after hitting a peak around the middle of last year, buoyed by an influx of foreign investment.

Asking prices had dropped between 30 and 40 percent from the June peak as speculators tried to offload holdings in a market with no buyers, Sung Bonna said.

He said a failure to act would not only increase social instability through rising unemployment but that the dual decline in sales and property values would erode government revenues from stamp duties on land transfers and VAT taxes on the sale of apartments, villas and houses.

The government charges 10 percent VAT on the sale of properties and four percent transfer tax on the sale of land.

Land Management Minister Im Chhun Lim told the Post last month that the government collected $21.35 million in property transfer taxes in 2007, up from $1.47 million in 2003 due to better revenue collection and improved relations with the larger estate agents.

In a departure from his prepared presentation, Ngy Tayi answered Sung Bonna point-by-point at the conference. While acknowledging Cambodia's legislative framework needed to be strengthened, he reminded the audience that the sector had been hit hard by the global financial crisis, with foreign investors scaling back major developments. Real estate prices had also been badly inflated in recent years and that the market needed a correction, he said.

The government had also worked closely with the sector, he said, in large part through the Inter-Ministerial Task Force it established last year to liaise on policy development.

It had also played a key role in setting up the National Valuers Association, of which Sung Bonna is president, implemented rules governing certification of estate agents and was working through industry concerns over the prakas on housing development accounts in consultation with stakeholders.

The government was also continuing to develop its legal framework, he added, as well as creating standards on valuations and real estate transactions fees, drafting a code of conduct for real estate developers, setting up an institute for professional real estate trading, and establishing a housing development association.

It was also working towards integrating the National Valuers Association of Cambodia into the ASEAN Valuers Association, Ngy Tayi said.

New construction technology now in Cambodia

Canadia Tower is one of the new developments using innovative building techniques to tackle Phnom Penh’s floodwaters.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Maity
Wednesday, 18 March 2009 '



Cambodia may be a developing country, but in terms of land use and construction it has developed remarkably well over the past five years.

Companies involved in the sector have been improving their designs and using the most recent technologies, materials, methods and machinery in an effort to boost consumer trust and confidence in their buildings still under construction.

Developers are also investing in the areas where they build to mitigate some of the infrastructural problems that still plague Cambodia, including narrow roads, traffic congestion, a lack of inner-city parking spaces, and an underdeveloped sewage and drainage system that often results in flooding during rainy season.

With much of the land in Phnom Penh shaped by river and floodwater ecology, preparing foundations before building poses a unique challenge. Korean company Hanil Engineering and Construction, which is building CamKo City on behalf of developer World City, has used rc pile machines to ensure a solid foundation on which to construct.

Canadia Tower, being built by the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corp to serve as headquarters for the related Canadia Bank, used a bore-piling technique to dig through unstable strata and lay foundation pillars up to 12 metres below the building in solid bedrock. Once the foundations were set, construction began at the lowest basement level, proceeding upwards through the three basement floors to the ground floor. The technique ensures that the three underground levels in the building remain debris- and water-free and that the foundation is solid enough to support the 30 storeys above.

The 32-storey De Castle Royal condominium tower in the Boeung Keng Kang I area of Phnom Penh's Chamkamorn district, which has three storeys underground, uses a different construction technique again, and one that is new to the country.

Using the barrette piling system and slurry wall technique, a pit 45 metres deep was dug and the walls sprayed with bentonite powder to prevent soil collapsing into the hole. Each foundation pillar was set in place using an H-beam core before concrete was poured to cement it in place.

The so-called top-down method of construction was used to build the high-rise superstructure and its sub-basement simultaneously, speeding up the development process. A similar method is being used in the Gold Tower 42 project.

As Cambodia continues to develop and new buildings are erected, the country will continue to benefit from these new construction techniques, machinery and materials introduced by private developers. These latest innovations in construction will ensure buildings go up faster, stronger and safer. They will also ensure that lower levels remain water free, despite Phnom Penh's floodplain ecology.
Sam Maity is the construction team manager at Run and Walks Co Ltd, a project management firm representing South Korean developer DeCastle.

Ads rebound as slump continues

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Soeun Say
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Advertising related to the property sector has started to bounce back from a slow end of the year as developers and real estate agents look to offload properties in Cambodia's sluggish property market, publishers and realtors say.

Home and Life Managing Director Sen Nit told Prime Location that the magazine had come out the other side of a tough half-year in which advertising revenues declined in line with a tanking property market.

"This month I have already confirmed five to six pages of ads from developers and real estate agents and I are in still in negotiations with others," he said.

Sour Khieng, the sales and marketing coordinator at Rasmei Kampuchea, Cambodia's biggest-circulation daily newspaper, also said revenues from real estate-related advertising began to recover at the start of the year after collapsing along with the property market in the middle of last year.

He refused to disclose revenues but said the last few months had been better than at any time since June 2008.

Developers and realtors have been hit hard in recent months by a loss of confidence among buyers, with many saying sales have dropped practically to zero.

The downturn followed a prosperous few years for the sector. Sales activity and land values soared as speculators flipped properties to make quick profits in a market buoyed by an influx of foreign investment.

The run-up to last year's national election led to a natural slowdown, which most expected to be short-lived. But despite the rapid formation of a new government, ongoing political uncertainty with Thailand over ownership of the Preah Vihear temple complex extended the slump; and then the global financial crisis kicked in, eroding what confidence remained.

National Valuers Association of Cambodia President Sung Bonna said prices for land had dropped 30 to 40 percent since its June peak as land and property owners tried to offload holdings in a market with no buyers.

Phnom Penh Monument City sales and marketing manager Sim Phalla said the ongoing sales slump in Cambodia made it more critical to adopt an aggressive marketing campaign.

She started advertising houses and villas for sale in Khmer-language newspapers at the beginning of the year.

"I have had ads about my development in the Koh Santepheap and Kampuchea Thmei newspapers since the beginning of 2009 even though the world financial crisis has hit Cambodia's property sector," she said. To sweeten the deal, she was also offering a 10-percent discount to the first 10 buyers.

Sean Sony, 48, who runs a stall at Phnom Penh's Olympic Market, said he was using advertisements in local newspapers to find a house or a flat for his daughter. While the number of properties advertised had increased, prices had not yet fallen far enough, he said.

"I read the newspaper every day looking for a flat for my daughter, who just got married, but the prices are still too expensive so I will keep reading," he said.

Turning trash into treasure

Photo Supplied
A necklace created by Christine Gauthier and featuring turquoise from Tibet, as well as copper reclaimed from car

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Zoe Holman
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Jewellery handcrafted from recyclable refuse will be auctioned tonight in support of the Centre for Children’s Happiness, which assists children abandoned or neglected by society

There is a lot in your average rubbish dump that can be reused. From scrap metal to plastic bags and old soft drink bottles, most things can be given a new life of some form or another. The hidden value in things society has deemed worthless is to be highlighted by a fundraising auction tonight at Gasolina, organised by Baansoc, the fundraising arm of the Centre for Children's Happiness (CCH).

Approximately a dozen pieces of jewellery, including necklaces, bracelets and pendants, all handcrafted from donated and recycled materials by local designer Christine Gauthier of Water Lily, will be publicly auctioned to benefit CCH. Highlighted by the recent SMILE photo project, CCH was founded in 2002 by Mech Sokha, a Khmer Rouge survivor, to assist orphaned, abandoned or neglected children, most of whom previously worked as garbage pickers at the Stung Meanchey landfill in southern Phnom Penh. The landfill spans some 6 hectares and is home to about 2,000 people, almost 40 percent of them children. Residents build makeshift huts on private property at the dump's outskirts, paying exorbitant rent to the landowners for the privilege and making a living from the sale of recyclable rubbish. The average daily income of workers totals 4,000 to 6,000 riels (US$0.97 to $1.45), or about half that for children and, the combined labour of a whole family, often amounts to more than could be earned in their rural home villages.

Unfortunately, however, a large number of Stung Meanchey's child labourers do not have the luxury of family. Many have lost parents to land mines, AIDS, drugs or prostitution, or have themselves been trafficked or abused. Others have been sent to the dump to pay their way or assist the household income, which rarely allows for schooling or even basic health care. It became Mech Sokha's mission to address this personal and physical neglect by providing a safe, stable and caring home, as well as educational and vocational or university training, to enable financial independence.

Photo Supply Burmese Jade is the centrepiece of this necklace, one of several up for auction tonight at Gasolina in Phnom Penh.

A fresh start

Across its three orphanages, CCH houses and supports 140 children between the ages of 5 and 18, whose stories are a testament to Sokha's success. "Children who three years ago were picking up rubbish in a dump," explained Baansok representative Michelle Harrisson-James, "are now studying at universities in Canada and Singapore". The organiser for the forthcoming auction, Harrison-James, has been involved with CCH for a year, in which time she says the progress she has witnessed has been "amazing". "There's one nine-year-old girl who came to the orphanage from the dump about a year ago, after having been abandoned, and we think sexually abused," she said. "Then, she wouldn't talk, didn't recognise people and had the conduct of about a two-year-old. Now she recognises me and is communicating with people - it's quite remarkable!"

Reclaiming the discarded

Like CCH's proteges, Gauthier's auction jewellery has been fashioned from discarded materials.

Gauthier has worked extensively with scrap metal, including copper from old car batteries, a material that she describes as "versatile" and malleable. The semi-precious stones that inspired the project, meanwhile, have there own stories.

Including turquoise, jade and lapis, the collection was donated by Englishwoman Jane Redgrove, who gathered the gemstones in her world travels for a jewellery designer friend, with a brief of returning with "nothing boring".

Sadly, when she returned to the UK, Redgrove discovered her friend had passed away. Wanting to put the stones to good use in her friend's honour, Redgrove travelled to Cambodia, where she had collected some of them, and was inspired by CCH's work through Project SMILE.

The collection of large, exotic stones presented a design challenge to Gauthier when Redgrove approached her.

"These are not the sort of stones I would normally use," Gauthier said, "so it took time to come up with the ideas".

The outcome, however, was anything but boring. While the gems originate from lands as diverse as Afghanistan, Myanmar, Taiwan, South Africa and Tibet, the pieces are also uniquely Cambodian.

"I always try to reproduce Cambodian nature in my work," Gauthier said. A necklace crafted with Myanmar Jade, for example, was inspired by the rice paddies outside Phnom Penh. "When you're far away, you see only green, like the jade," she explained, "but when you come closer, you see many other things, people and animals, and more colours, like these beads."

Other pieces imitate different forms in the Cambodian landscape - an intricate copper bracelet represents a bird's nest and a Bamboo Coral necklace the spindly branches and crested parrots of the Eritrea tree.

Appreciating the pre-loved

Although Gauthier originally worked in advertising, her family background in antiques has given her an appreciation for the pre-loved. "I love hunting about for interesting and unusual treasure," she said, "and Cambodia is great for this".

Gauthier is not the only one who has been busy crafting recyclables for the auction. Her pieces will be displayed on a mystery sculpture by Cambodian artist Khan Sophors, involving 50 kilograms of plastic bags. CCH children, meanwhile, have created their own interactive sculpture to highlight the value of 1 kilogram of waste plastic or two tin cans, which in their former work amounted to a profit of 100 riels. "We've tried to be creative with fundraising," said Harrisson-James. And between child-auctioneers, plastic-bag art and car-battery high fashion, today's auction promises to be just that.

The auction will take place tonight at Gasolina on Street 57, beginning at 6pm.

Tiny Toones' hip-hop breaks

Tiny Toones students practice some of their moves at the centre.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy and Mom Kunthear
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

TINY Toones Youth Drop-in Centre is the only house in Phnom Penh's Tuol Tumpong district pumping out hip-hop music on sleepy weekday afternoons, and the only place where children flock to slam their young bodies on a lightly padded concrete floor.

The centre, Cambodia's first break dancing and hip hop school, was established in 2005 by Khmer-born US immigrant Sobil Tuy, or 'KK', who was born in a Thai Refugee camp in 1977 and emigrated to the United States with his family when he was still an infant.

His parents failed to complete the appropriate citizenship procedures, and when KK was eighteen he discovered he was an illegal immigrant, after being arrested for armed robbery.

Against his will, KK was deported to his homeland of Cambodia, a country where he had never been to live amongst people whose language he didn't speak.

KK found a job counselling drug addicts and HIV sufferers in Phnom Penh, but with his distinctive American street dress and numerous tattoos he soon drew the attention of the neighbours, and curious street kids asked him about his life back in the United States.

In Long Beach, California, KK had been involved in the infamous Crips gang, and was also once a successful break-dancer. When the children in his neighbourhood discovered this, they began bugging him for lessons, even though it had been ten years since he had seriously danced.

KK opened up his home to teach the children some moves; and when the group began to grow in popularity, he rented a house in Tuol Tumpong and opened the drop in center, extending Tiny Toones activities to include rapping, DJing, graffiti, English, Khmer and painting lessons.

Today KK and the other instructors teach up to 400 kids, mostly from poor and disadvantaged families, as well as street children.

KK believes break dancing is a positive way to keep kids away from drug and alcohol abuse, and the center gives them a safe place to come whenever things at home get too much.

Most of the kids who attend the break-dancing classes are boys, and they mimic the instructors dress with baggy jeans, oversized shirts and brightly coloured woollen beanies.

Pov Chanra, 15, has been coming to classes at Tiny Toones for two years, and spends an average of three hours a day at the centre.

He says if the center wasn't open he would have to spend his time outside of school selling vegetables at the market with his family.

"The Centre is much more fun than home, and its great to come here to dance. When I grow up, I would like to be a professional break-dancer and earn enough money to support my family," he said.

Above the central dance ring a large collage of photographs of the children has been put on prominent display, and in marker pen the children have written their hopes and dreams on the surrounding walls.

Above a smiling picture of KK is written in a neat, straight hand: "I want to be the best role model ever." And beside that, in a messy, childish hand: "I want to be break-dancing teacher."

Diamond's hip-hop dreams pay off big

Diamond at Tiny Toones.

Break dancing makes history

HIP-HOP dancing first appeared in the South Bronx of New York City in the early 1970s in the black and Hispanic communities. The style is primarily of an improvisational nature and quickly drew many fans with its unpredictable, spontaneous movements. In the 1980s, it began to go mainstream with the growing popularity of hip-hop music, and the style evolved to include more upright, light footed dancing. Break-dancing is a form of old-school hip-hop that reigned from the late 1960s to early 1970s and is distinct from the new school (1980s onwards) which is classified by its upright and more aggressive nature. Break-dancing is usually ground based, and danced to hip-hop, funk or pop music (or a combination of all three) with the "breaks" lengthened and the melody dropped. Break-dancing is still very much male-dominated, though female b-girl support groups (b-girl is a break-dancing girl) are starting to emerge to encourage more female involvement in the art. Hip-hop and break-dancing classes are now widely on offer throughout the Western world, and the form is an instantly recognisable symbol of American popular street culture. ELEANOR AINGE ROY

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy and Mom Kunthear
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

BY the age of eight, Keo Sreyleak, or Diamond as she is better known, knew that all she wanted to be in life was a professional hip-hop dancer. Her dream has come true, and today she is the only woman among 30 or 40 hip-hop dancers in Phnom Penh.

To learn the art she used to watch the hip-hop and pop dancers on television and mimic the moves of her heroes, and to practice she would go to the Royal Palace and join the groups dancing on the streets. Diamond says dancing with others was the best way to improve her dancing skills.

Today, the 23-year-old is dressed in baggy three quarter trousers, flat sneakers and a large T-shirt and cap, and has a strong air of self-reliance. It has taken time, but she has now accepted that her life and dreams are very different from most Cambodian women.

"It is not difficult to dance like this; even though I am a woman, I can do the same as a man. However, there are many people that said I should not dance in this style because among 30-40 hip-hop dancers in Phnom Penh, I am the only woman. However, if I listened to them I would not be where I am today."

But as an adolescent dancing hip-hop full time in Cambodia did not seem to be on the cards for Diamond, and after leaving school at grade four, she worked long hours as a waitress and a security guard at a garage.

However, she quickly grew dissatisfied with this life, and when she was 19 began venturing out to clubs where her dream of dancing hip-hop for a living once again came to the fore. After training for two years with Tiny Toones Director KK, she was offered a job with the charity that teaches poor and disadvantaged children in Phnom Penh to break-dance as a way to get them off the streets.

At the centre Diamond teaches hip-hop, pop and break-dancing to between 300 and 400 students - only 10 of whom are female.

"I don't care what people say. I think both men and women have the right to do what they want," she said.
Diamond does not have any plans for the future. All she knows for sure is that she has no doubts about her chosen profession.

Next month, Diamond will be leading a group of Tiny Toones dancers to the United States to perform for three weeks.

"There are lots of people that still look down on me, but I don't listen to them anymore. I think everyone has different minds, so I will do what I want despite their opinions."

The Phnom Penh Post News In Brief

In Brief: Road accidents up in December '08

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The number of road accidents in Phnom Penh rose 4 percent in December 2008, compared with the same period in 2007, the Cambodia Road Traffic Accident and Victim Information System (RTAVIS) said in its most recent report. The data, which is collected from participating hospitals, health centres, private clinics and traffic police departments, found that 570 accidents, resulting in 13 deaths, were reported. Countywide, 129 people died in a total of 1,872 accidents, while 546 others were severely injured.

In Brief: PM cancels trip to pursat

Written by Cheang Sokha
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Prime Minister Hun Sen has canceled a trip to Pursat scheduled for Tuesday due to bad weather. The PM had planned to open a water irrigation plant, but was warned by the Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology to postpone his trip because the area has experienced rain and electrical storms, which have destroyed homes in Pailin and other provinces. Hun Sen said he will reschedule the trip to Pursat province for Saturday.

In Brief: Thai 'incursion' meeting postponed

Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A meeting between Thai and Cambodian military commanders planned for Tuesday was cancelled after RCAF commanders were called to an urgent meeting in Siem Reap province. "The meeting planned was cancelled because [the RCAF commanders] had an urgent duty to work," Srey Doek, Commander of Division 3, told the Post Tuesday. "I don't know yet when the meeting will be rescheduled, but I hope officials will arrange it in the near future," he added. The meeting had been scheduled to address recent incursions made by Thai troops into Cambodian territory, including erecting fences, officials said Sunday.

Four temples to be proposed as Cambodia heritages sites

The China Post

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodia will ask the United Nations to register four temples — one dating back some 1,400 years — as World Heritage Sites, a government official said Tuesday.

Listings by UNESCO, the world body's cultural agency, normally get international assistance to preserve the sites, and inevitably attract a larger number of tourists.

Kum Polin, a senior official at the Ministry of Culture, said the highest priority will be given to the 7th century Sambor Prei Kuk temple, located at what was once the country's capital some 80 miles (128 kilometers) north of the current capital Phnom Penh.

A master plan for development and conservation of the temple is now being drawn up and the submission to UNESCO is expected within three years, he said.

The country will also nominate the Bantey Chhmar temple, built in the 12th and 13th centuries in northwestern Cambodia; the 13th century Nokor Bachey temple east of Phnom Penh; and Oudong, the country's capital in the 17th and 18th centuries, 27 miles (45 kilometers) north of Phnom Penh.

The ancient temples of Angkor, the country's top tourist attraction, were declared a World Heritage Site in 1992, while the 11th century Preah Vihear temple was added to the list last year.

Vietnamese and Cambodia police sign cooperation accord

VOV News

Vietnam and Cambodia signed a protocol in Phnom Penh on March 17 to strengthen cooperation between their police forces.

Signatories were Cambodian Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng and Vietnamese Minister of Public Security Le Hong Anh who is in Phnom Penh on an official visit from March 16-19.

The two ministers agreed to promote cooperation by increasing the exchange of their delegations and personnel training.

They reviewed the result of their ministries’ cooperation programmes and shared experiences in the fight against the trafficking of women, children, drugs and other crimes to maintain political security and social stability along their shared border.

During his stay, Mr Anh met with Prime Minister Hun Sen, laid a wreath at the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument and visited some police units.

Concerns about the Future of Phnom Penh Continue - Monday, 16.3.2009

Posted on 18 March 2009

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 604

“Phnom Penh: After the leaders of the Phnom Penh Municipality were awarded a World Leadership Award in London in 2005, Phnom Penh continues to encounter many problems like in 2008, when the [north] western area of the city was flooded for several months. So far, the Boeng Kak Lake filling still continues, and therefore various concerns continue.


Different from – for example – the awarding of a World Heritage Site status by an official institution like UNESCO, there is a variety of different “World Awards” which are awarded by private business enterprises, where certain direct fees or indirect fees are involved. The following information is how the Word Leadership Award is celebrated: with an expensive Gala Dinner. The price to participate in the World Leadership Award Gala Dinner, and for having the name of the winners announced to the public, from the podium, and in a printed announcement - “full-page ad” and “prominent listing” - in the journal of the World Leadership Award, are given as follows:

World Leadership Awards Gala

Tables (Includes 10 tickets)

$25,000 Platinum Leadership Table

Premium placement and recognition from the podium
Prominent listing in Journal and a full-page ad
Signage at the event
Featured article in Counterpart newsletter and website
$15,000 Benefactor Table

First-class placement
Prominent listing in Journal and a full-page ad
Signage at the event
$10,000 Patron Table

Fine placement
Prominent listing in Journal and a full-page ad
$5,000 Friends Table

Prominent listing in Journal and a full-page ad

$500 Individual ($335 tax deductible)
$1,000 Couple ($670 tax deductible)

“According to a report organized by an independent research group, the continuous filling of the natural Boeng Kak lake in the center of the city will continually cause serious flooding at the suburbs and also, there is strong disagreement with this plan, since such filling will lead to deeper and more frequent flooding.

“According to The Cambodia Daily published on 12 March 2009, the director of a Cambodian country program for housing rights, Mr. David Pred [director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, a small non-profit group, committed to social justice and defending the rights of the poor], said that the study was conducted by Australian independent researchers who were asked by a number of organizations in Cambodia to investigate the effects of the filling of the lake.

“Mr. Pred wrote in his email on Wednesday 11 March 2009, ‘The report confirms what many people have long suspected - that the filling of Phnom Penh’s largest natural lake will worsen the city flooding problem that has already become intolerable during the rainy season.’

“Mr. David Pred added, ‘The filling of the lake should be halted until those plans are made public and the people living north of the lake are reasonably assured that this project will not leave them under water every rainy season.’

“However, a deputy municipal governor, Mr. Pa Socheatevong, said that the City Hall had worked with French experts, addressing the issues related to filling the lake, adding, ‘We have already compiled the master plan correctly.’ [The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), required by law, has not been published in full; it was made without public bidding.]

“The director of the hydrology resources and meteorology department, Mr. Mao Hak, [Director of the Department of Hydrology and Water Works, or Director of Hydrology and River Works, or Director of the Hydrology Department, according to different sources on the Internet] said that the Ministry [Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology – the website announced on the government website for this Ministry - - did not work at the time of this writing] had recommended to the municipality to build a 10-square-meter pipe to remove excess water. Now the municipality is working to solve the issue, and to prepare a water drainage system.

“Previously, the governor of the Russey Keo district, Mr. Kleang Huot, had said that the municipality has also restored the master channel at the Kob Srov dam. The Minister of Environment, Dr. Mok Mareth, said that flooding in Phnom Penh cannot be prevented unless pumping machines with a 25-cubic-meter per second capacity are set up, and an open master channel is constructed like in Boeng Trabaek, so that water can be brought to the Kob Srov dam, as the present long channel cannot remove the water in time, and there are not enough pumping machines at the Svay Pak dam.

“On 2 March 2009, the Phnom Penh municipal governor, Mr. Kep Chuktema, vowed to solve five major problems, and he also recognized that rain flooding in the north, which had caused serious destruction on public infrastructure and citizens’ houses, has not yet been solved.

“Residents in Russey Keo’s Tuol Sangkae commune blame the Shukaku company, which is dredging sand to fill the Boeng Kak lake and is pumping water to the Tuol Sangkae commune, as the cause of previous flooding. Therefore they are concerned. Also, residents of the Kiloumaetr Lekh Prammuoy Muoy and of the Khmuonh Communes ask the Phnom Penh municipal governor to plan carefully, so that they will not suffer from long lasting flooding like in the previous year.”

Amnach Reas, Vol.2, #44, 16-22.3.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 16 March 2009

Cambodia gets its eighth mobile operator

Mar 18, 2009
By Telecom Asia Staff

Fledgling mobile operator Smart Mobile has become the latest entrant to Cambodia’s crowded cellular market.

The company, the
eighth mobile operator into the country, is offering double SIM card packages for the price of one and tariff plans offering 1 cent within-network SMSs and 4.4 cent per minute within-network calls (8.8 cents if calling other networks).

The plan also includes up to 10 free within-network minutes, 10 free SMSs and 1000kb of free GPRS traffic every day.

Smart is offering prepaid recharge cards in $2, $5, $10, $20 and $50 denominations.

The company has opened a flagship Smart Store in Phnom Penh, to accompany its distributor network in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Smart is owned by Latelz, a subsidiary of Timeturns Holdings, which is
believed to be controlled by Russian investors. Another Timeturns subsidiary, Lacell SU, will soon launch services in Burundi.

Cambodia’s Garment Exports Fall as Demand Drops in U.S., Europe


By Daniel Ten Kate and Carole Zimmer

March 18 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia’s garment exports are declining as a global recession crimps demand in the U.S. and Europe, cutting into an industry that supports a 10th of the Southeast Asian country’s population.

In January, garment exports plunged 25 percent from a year earlier to $185 million, said Mean Sophea, who heads the Commerce Ministry’s Trade Preferences System Department. Over the past decade, they grew at an average pace of 28 percent per year, according to the World Bank.

“I’ve never seen garment exports drop this much,” Mean Sophea said by phone from Phnom Penh, the capital. “The government is trying to reduce expenses for exporters, but we have seen a lack of demand from the U.S. and Europe.”

The U.S. and Europe take more than 90 percent of clothes made in Cambodia. Southeast Asia’s second-smallest economy may shrink 0.5 percent in 2009, the International Monetary Fund said March 6, revising down its 4.8 percent growth projection made a month earlier.

The proportion of garment shipments to total exports is higher in Cambodia than any country except Bangladesh and Haiti, according to World Trade Organization data. Some 70 percent of the country’s clothes were shipped to the U.S., where it was the eighth-largest supplier in 2007, the World Bank has said.

Lost Jobs

About 30,000 Cambodian garment workers, or a 10th of the total, lost their jobs in the past year as factories closed, the World Bank said in a March 8 report. The industry accounted for 17 percent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product in 2007.

The garment industry took off 10 years ago after Cambodia signed a trade deal with the U.S. that linked market access with improved labor standards in its factories. Exports went from almost nothing in 1994 to $2.7 billion two years ago.

The money earned every month by those who sew and stitch jeans and T-shirts for retailers such as Gap Inc. and Stockholm- based Hennes & Mauritz AB supports as many as 1.5 million Cambodians, said Douglas Broderick, resident representative of the United Nations Development Fund in Phnom Penh.

“There’s a whole community around the garment sector, little vendors, landlords, food stalls,” he said. “All those people will get hit.”

Sary Muong, a Cambodian garment worker earning less than $2 per day, has struggled to provide her family basic goods like food and clothing. The 34-year-old single mother makes a monthly salary of $55 that supports her parents and 8-year-old daughter.

“Just look at the factories,” Sary Muong said from a one- room shack with no running water or toilet in Phnom Penh where she lives with her sister. “They’re closing. The living standards get worse and worse.”

Labor Standards

Cambodia’s garment industry has built a reputation for good labor standards over the past decade that the Commerce Ministry says contributed to its growth. In 2001, the government, garment factories, labor unions and the International Labor Organization, a UN agency, agreed to set up a monitoring agency called Better Factories Cambodia.

It files semi-annual reports on working conditions in factories that go to buyers like Nike Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Adidas AG. Still, the higher labor standards haven’t stopped retailers from demanding ever lower prices, said Roger Tan, a factory manager and secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association of Cambodia.

“Every factory is cutting costs now whether they like it or not,” he said. “The whole world is in deep trouble. Nothing should surprise anyone now.”

The government, reliant on overseas aid to finance a quarter of the national budget, has said it will extend tax breaks for clothing manufacturers to help reduce costs. Even so, Cambodia remains “increasingly affected” by the global slowdown, the IMF said, adding that its 2009 growth forecast may be revised again.

The world economy will shrink this year in a slump that is the worst “in most of our lifetimes,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF’s managing director, said March 10. The World Bank, which also expects a contraction, said two days earlier that global trade would decline by the most in 80 years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at; Carole Zimmer in New York at