Thursday, 26 March 2009

Riverside man heads to Cambodia to monitor Khmer Rouge trial

Greenwich Time

By Lisa ChamoffStaff Writer
Posted: 03/25/2009

Over the past few decades, Albert Repicci has found ways to witness history.

In 1963, when he was a 24-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania's dental school, he hopped a train to Washington, the night before President John F. Kennedy's state funeral. In 1998, he contacted then-U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and was able to secure passes to watch the House debate whether to impeach President Bill Clinton.

Today, Repicci, a 68-year-old Greenwich orthodontist and Riverside resident, will travel to Cambodia to watch as a leader of the Southeast Asian nation's infamous Khmer Rouge is tried for his crimes. The radical Communist regime was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 2 million Cambodians through execution, torture and starvation between 1975-79, in an effort to create an agrarian utopia.

Repicci will attend the trial as an unaffiliated observer.

Repicci, who has traveled to remote parts of the world performing volunteer dental work since 1980, started working in Cambodia 10 years ago.

"I have always been a student of history, and each of these places I've gone to, I've known the political turmoil that prevailed," Repicci said.

During many of his travels, Repicci said he has identified needs and helped where he could, funding an immunization program in Kenya and a well-building project in Peru.

Before heading to Cambodia for the first time, Repicci read about the growing problem of human trafficking and women being forced into prostitution. He formed a nonprofit foundation called Stop the Tears, based in Greenwich, to help exploited women and children, and helped open a sewing school in Cambodia for women to help them avoid exploitation.

His charitable work has given him a connection to the country and its violent past, which was immortalized in the 1984 movie "The Killing Fields," named for the sites where thousands were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge.

"Being at this trial is a long-awaited venture," Repicci said.

Repicci's foundation works with the national organization Catholic Relief Services to run his charitable projects in Cambodia, and he called the director there to secure an invitation to the public sessions.

When Repicci arrives he expects to see the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, nicknamed Duch, the commander of the Tuol Sleng prison, where an estimated 20,000 people were tortured and killed. Duch is the first of five leaders slated to face the United Nations-backed tribunal.

Duch's trial is expected to begin Monday.

Last year, Repicci went to Cambodia hoping to attend pretrial hearings, but said the lawyers for the accused were so adept at getting deferrals that he never got to see them. He's kept up with the process through Cambodian English-language newspapers, and was able to visit the trial documentation center while in Cambodia. One afternoon there last year, he ended up speaking with the center's director for three hours.

Years of devastation in Cambodia are evident, Repicci said. There are many amputees, the result of land mines laid by the Khmer Rouge that still litter the countryside.

Repicci feels that by attending the trial, he is "establishing an American presence," though he won't be the only local resident in Phnom Penh next week. Benny Widyono of Stamford, a former United Nations diplomat who served in a peacekeeping mission in Cambodia in 1992, is already there.

Repicci will be accompanied by his daughter, Kelly Repicci. The 32-year-old is a licensed mental health counselor who works for a substance-abuse program in Stratford and has a private practice in Greenwich.

Kelly Repicci started traveling with her father when she was young, helping him with a project in Antigua as a first-grader. When Repicci watched the House impeachment debates, he brought his daughter, who at the time was a student at American University in Washington.

The two have both read "The Lost Executioner" by photojournalist Nic Dunlop, who confronted Duch in 1999 and got him to confess his role in the violent regime.

"I have no idea what to expect, but I've done as much research on this matter that I possibly could for the last three years," Repicci's daughter said.

Repicci remembers the chills that went down his spine during the Clinton impeachment debates, as he watched former Republican Rep. Bob Livingston announce he was resigning from Congress after his own marital infidelity was revealed. He imagines the upcoming trial will affect him even more.

"To me, it's one of these watershed events that I want to establish a presence in," Repicci said. "It's one of these rare occasions where a group of despots who had such a horrific impact on humanity are finally being brought to justice."

-- Staff Writer Lisa Chamoff can be reached at or 625-4439.

Thai-Cambodia border calm after temple stand-off

PHNOM PENH, March 26 (Reuters) - A brief stand-off between Thai and Cambodian troops near a 900-year-old Hindu temple has ended peacefully after the Thais withdrew to their side of the disputed border, a Cambodian official said on Thursday.

Tensions rose on Wednesday after 100 armed Thai soldiers entered a disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple, where a firefight last year triggered a military build-up on both sides of the border.

"Everything is back to normal on the border after the Thais returned to their territory," Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said.

Thai officials said their troop movements were not hostile but part of a routine rotation on the border.

The area had been quiet for months after the Southeast Asian neighbours agreed to jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area, where one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers died in last October's exchange of rifle and rocket fire.

Siphan said the joint border committee would meet in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, in the first week of April.

Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand, sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two countries and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 square km) of scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

Since last year's clashes, both sides have agreed to develop the area for tourism.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Trouble on the Thai-Cambodian border

Beijing News.Net

Thursday 26th March, 2009

Thai and Cambodian troops have stood down near a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Cambodian officials have said Thai soldiers withdrew peacefully after a dispute arose near the Preah Vihear temple.

100 armed Thai soldiers entered a disputed area on Wednesday, for what they said was a routine troop movement on the border.

While Thai officials have assured the other side their border rotation was not a hostile act, the Cambodian military has been on alert since a fire-fight last year triggered a military build-up on both sides of the border.

One Thai and three Cambodian soldiers were killed in last year’s exchange of rifle fire

Preah Vihear sits on the natural border between the two countries and has been a source of tension for many years.

Cambodia itching to work out: sport is gaining ground in the country

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 10/03/2009. A muscle and fitness centre recently opened in the Boeung Keng Kang area. There are about thirty gyms in Phnom Penh.
©Vandy Rattana


By Corinne Callebaut

Teenagers, women, men or elderly persons... For more than two years now, greens and stadiums in Cambodia have been invaded by the population, who decided to take up sport practice. However, the initiative is limited due to the lack of grounds for exercising and the poor availability of sport equipment. The direct consequence is that gym clubs are jam-packed with people and keep springing up like mushroom, not only in the Cambodian capital but also in provincial town centres. This popular and dynamic enthusiasm for sport contrasts with the apparent passivity of the Cambodian State Secretariat for Sports, more keen on observing the phenomenon rather than really taking part in it.

4.50am, Phnom Penh railway station park. Nineteen year-old Chew Huei prepares his sound system on the esplanade running alongside the Naga Bridge, a stone’s throw from Wat Phnom on Norodom Boulevard. After a few limbering up exercises, he turns his music on. All at once, a dozen women dressed in a sporty outfit run up to him. As if they were in front of a mirror, naturally and without any fuss, the ladies start imitating their instructor’s gestures and moving following the dynamic rhythm of Khmer and Thai hits. Ten minutes later, another set of legs ready for the challenge join them. “I settled here four months ago”, Chew says, and it worked out instantly for me. I used to work at the Olympic Stadium, but there are far too many people there and spaces are expensive. I didn’t want to fight for something if in the end, the only space I can use is just 10 square metres. Here, there’s room for me.”

The young man of Chinese descent studies at the Phnom Penh Sport School and still looks astounded about his success. “I wasn’t confident when I got here and settled but eventually, it works out very well, my group is getting bigger every day. I also teach aerobics in gym clubs. I don’t have any problem finding a job, sports teachers here have recently started to be very popular.” And indeed, there is no denying that about two years ago, Cambodians have begun to... move their body.

General passion gaining ground
There is no single green in town which is not invaded or used by fellows longing for some sport. Every morning and evening, the Olympic Stadium is filled with a crowd of Phnompenhers in for a jog and an aerobics session with young teachers who will provide lessons for 1,500 to 4,000 riels per person for an hour of exercise. Also, when the sun just appears in the morningor disappears, at nightfall, when temperatures are still cool, the avenues surrounding the Independence Monument, the train station or the Ministry of Defence are slowly filled with “joggers” and elderly persons who go there to practise soft gymnastics movements. And at weekends, they enjoy the company of youngsters who play badminton next to them.

Ma Tok-Susdai, now 83 years-old, comes to the railway green every morning accompanied by a few friends in order to “relax her old bones”, in her own words. “My doctor advised me to practise a few movements. At the beginning, I didn’t feel really comfortable but I noticed that my back has been hurting less since I started...” To encourage her, her family bought her a pair of trainers: “I had never worn any before, they’re very comfortable!” Young or old ones, women and men, everyone seems to be seized by the sports craze. “It is mostly women in their thirties who attend my lessons, I haven’t seen any men yet!”, Chew explains. “They prefer running and following more dynamic gym courses, and they are mostly in their thirties too, or above. There are young ones too, but they are more into team sports like volley-ball or football, especially as there are no grounds or courts available at their university.”

Shortage of available space
Precisely, “available grounds” in Phnom Penh are almost non-existent, which does not facilitate the creation of new activities. The capital only has two stadiums – the Olympic Stadium and the Old Stadium – but their equipment, as it goes, is outdated. Many fear that sport areas might be devoured by property developers. “Look at what is going on around the Olympic Stadium: houses are being built everywhere”, Kao Yann, a 65 year-old physical education teacher for children who works for the NGO PSE (Pour un Sourire d'Enfant). “When I was part of the national volley-ball team, in the 1960s, many people practised sports and there was more room. There used to be a sports complex where the American embassy stands today, and it was very popular among Phnompenhers.” However, the lack of grounds doesn’t make outdoor sports amateurs happy. On the contrary, it is a delight for gym club owners: they abound in Phnom Penh...

The success of sports clubs
From a few gymnasiums scattered across the city at the beginning of the 2000 decade, the number of sports clubs has now gone onto forty places in the capital, including hotels with equipment for public use. Before, only expatriates and rich Cambodians could afford such services but today, as new gymnasiums open, prices become more affordable, at least to the growing Phnom Penh middle-class who are the first ones to rush on the treadmill.

In Phnom Penh, those new trendy places open here and there, from prestigious ones, like The Place, which opened in September 2008 on Sihanouk Boulevard and offers, for a US$750 annual membership, personal training with a diet suited to the customer’s needs, to popular ones like the Piseth Gymnastic Club, a small and basic gymnasium on Street 310 where for a monthly 10-dollar subscription, people can exercise on machines. It opened early 2008 and has about 90 members, all Cambodian.

“Demand is incredible”, says Charles Chea, the French-Khmer manager of The Place, where there are an alleged 800 members, out of whom 30 to 40% are Cambodian. “There is enough room for all the clubs that wish to open here. Before, they were only accessible to a small number of people but now, with the emergence of the middle class, more and more Cambodians subscribe. Here, we mostly see people from the government who want to lose weight and get toned up, but there are also many women in their thirties who look after their body. Youngsters also come here; they are influenced by cinema and foreign video-clips and want to look like their favourite star. Before, the physical model for Khmer people was to be chubby, because it proved that you ate well and that you were rich, but today, the trend has been reversed.”

In provinces too…
A similar scenario happened in Kampong Som, where Piere Lechauguette-Morera opened a sports centre three years ago. “More than 90% of my 150 members are Cambodian and that figure keeps going up. This is why we are currently moving to other premises to welcome more people. I notice that doctors encourage more and more their patients to exercise. And no wonder, they become more and more sedentary, they drink a lot of beer and have diabetes problems, and as a consequence, they put a lot of weight on. The fact that they are encouraged to become more active is good news, since there is no education on sports practice in Cambodia.”

Little promotion on physical activity
Cambodians are currently experiencing a true awakening regarding sport, yet these initiatives remain personal and individual. The State Secretariat for Sports has not answered our questions despite repetitive calls, and does not seem to be very active at the moment when it comes to the promotion of physical exercise. For instance, school curricula make room for an hour of physical education every week, but few schools actually stick to it. “We are not trained at all”, says Preya Nahim, a retired primary school teacher who now works in orphanages. “Which moves should we show children?” “The war had us impoverished and the government doesn’t have a budget to develop sports”, PSE teacher Kao Yann adds. “Besides, we only have one State Secretariat for Sports, not a Ministry and so we must manage by ourselves. But I am proud to see that youngsters take up sports spontaneously. In provincial areas, there are more and more volley-ball courts; this sport only requires little equipment.”

Others are more reproving towards the state. The former sport selector for the Cambodian basketball team remembers: “I had to choose players out in the street and organise games and competitions on my own. Once, I asked for a referee, and they sent me an electrician... The problem is that very few people at the State Secretariat for Sports are true sportsmen or have been, and as a consequence, they find it hard to understand the good of sport.”


Sports teachers’ popularity growing
Sports teachers are more and more popular due to the increase in sport activity. But with just 120 qualified teachers every year coming out of the Phnom Penh Sports School, supply does not meet demand. “Most teachers coming from the school become coaches for national teams, but there are not enough of them and their competences are insufficient. This is why foreign coaches are chosen as well”, Kao Yann, a sports teacher for the NGO PSE, explains. Sports clubs are also forced to call upon the skills of foreigners: “There are very few qualified teachers”, says Charles Chea, manager of The Place, in Phnom Penh. “Due to that, we even have to share them between several clubs.” For instance, Ros Chettra, a 21 year-old Filipino who now manages the VIP - a gym club not far from the Norodom Boulevard - used to work as a teacher at The Place. “Sports teachers don’t have any trouble finding a job here, and this is even less the case when they have studied another speciality, like food science, as demand is big concerning weight loss.”

Govt to probe SR shootings

Chi Kraeng villagers requested Wednesday in Phnom Penh an investigation by rights group Adhoc into military gunfire in a land dispute.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 26 March 2009

MINISTRY of Interior officials travelled Wednesday to Siem Reap to conduct investigations into an outbreak of violence between police and villagers, as villagers themselves journeyed to Phnom Penh to request an independent investigation by rights groups.

On Sunday, a long-simmering land dispute over a 92-hectare plot of farmland by rival communes in Chi Kraeng district erupted into violence, with security forces firing on villagers.

Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told the Post it had sent experts to the disputed area to determine whether there was a justification for the military police crackdown, in which four villagers were shot.

"We don't yet know the reasons for Sunday's violence and will conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether [it] was a violation of the police, who were carrying out a court order, or the villagers' mistake," Khieu Sopheak said, adding that if the police were found to be at fault, they would be held to account.

Some 90 armed security personnel, sent by local authorities, opened fire on a crowd of about 300 villagers from Chi Kraeng commune when they prevented the arrest of a community representative who was wanted in connection with the dispute between villagers from Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes, military and rights officials said.

Chan Saveth, a monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said about 40 Chi Kraeng villagers came to his office to request an investigation into the shootings.

"The land dispute between the rival communes has reached an explosive level and is serious enough that the government and all levels of authorities should take action," he said. "[They] should stop accusing the people of robbery or stubbornness, but try to solve the issue peacefully and without bias."

He added that the villagers also requested the release of nine Chi Kraeng men still in police custody who were charged with robbery following their arrest during the confrontation, and planned to request the personal intervention of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On Tuesday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights held a three-hour meeting with Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin, who said he promised to resolve the dispute fairly.

Standoff ends at Veal Antri

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Thai soldiers withdraw from disputed territory: RCAF.

DOZENS of Thai soldiers withdrew Wednesday evening from disputed border territory in Veal Antri following an hours-long standoff with Cambodian soldiers, a military official told the Post.

"They withdrew at 5pm after they had a confrontation with our soldiers for more than eight hours," said Khim Eung, military officer for Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Brigade 8. "Thai soldiers came into [the territory] this morning, and Cambodian soldiers were sent in after Thai soldiers arrived there first."

Veal Antri was the site of fighting that killed three Cambodian soldiers in October during last year's dispute with Thailand over territory around Preah Vihear temple.

Khim Eung said soldiers from both countries had until Wednesday abided by an agreement reached last October not to enter the contested land.

"Now they have come to the banned place," he said of the Thai soldiers.

Khim Eung said Thai soldiers claimed they entered the territory because they were concerned that Cambodians were cutting down trees there, but added that he doubted the claim's veracity.

"This is their trick," he said. "They actually had a willingness to stay in it, but we forced them to go back."

Khim Eung said dozens of Thai soldiers entered the disputed territory, but he could not provide a specific number. An RCAF official who spoke on condition of anonymity said 60 Thai soldiers entered and that more were stationed in a nearby forest.

RCAF Brigade 8 Commander Yim Phim said Wednesday that he had not heard of the incident, adding that he was "travelling to his base to check".

Minister of Defence Tea Banh and Srey Doek, commander of RCAF Division 3 at Preah Vihear temple, also said they had not received any information about the incident.

An RCAF official based at Preah Vihear temple who spoke on condition of anonymity said RCAF soldiers would have been "ready to fight" had the Thai soldiers not withdrawn.

The Thai military denied troops had crossed the border en masse, AFP reported.

Teacher pay too low: survey

CITA President Rong Chhun speaks at a press conference releasing CITA teacher survey results on Wednesday at the organisation's Phnom Penh headquarters.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Robbie Corey-Boulet
Thursday, 26 March 2009

A Cambodian Independent Teachers Association poll finds that more than 50 percent of educators seek outside income to supplement low salaries.

MORE than 50 percent of primary and secondary school teachers said in a recent survey that they were unable to stick to a regular teaching schedule because their salaries were too low.

Of 460 teachers who participated in the survey, released Wednesday by the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), 53.9 percent said they were unable to go to school every day because they needed to supplement their salaries with income earned outside the classroom.

The survey found that primary teachers make 172,000 riels (US$42) per month, lower secondary teachers 235,610 riels and high school teachers 339,380 riels.

CITA President Rong Chhun said low salaries cause teachers to "lose their honour and dignity" because they are unable to pay basic living expenses such as water and electric bills.

The release of the report comes on the heels of Prime Minister Hun Sen's claim, made last week during remarks at the National Education Congress, that the government wanted to raise teachers' salaries but was unable to do so.

"I would like to inform you ... those who are in charge of education ... I really want to raise your salaries but our budget is limited," Hun Sen said.

In response, Rong Chhun said last week that "the government has enough money to raise teachers' salaries and would do so if the prime minister wanted to". He called for salaries of between 800,000 and 1 million riels per month.

Calls for higher pay
A December 2008 survey released by NGO Education Partnership (NEP) found that teachers earn on average between $30 and $60 per month "depending on qualifications, years of experience and number of shifts worked".

We are seriously concerned about the education sector in our country.

The NEP noted in the report that it was unable to obtain salary information from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Reached by phone Wednesday, Nath Bunroeun, an undersecretary of state at the ministry, told a reporter he could not provide salary information without first receiving a written request.

The NEP survey, based on interviews with 144 primary and secondary school teachers in five provinces, cited a "general agreement" among district-level education officials that teachers' salaries should be between $100 and $150 per month, with Phnom Penh school directors calling for double that.

Only 2.6 percent of teachers participating in the CITA survey said Cambodian schools provided a high-quality education, with 52.4 percent saying the education students received was average and 45 percent saying it was poor.

"We are seriously concerned about the education sector in our country when 45 percent of teachers say the focus is on quantity of students and not quality," Rong Chhun said.

Kampot residents fear new eviction

Anlong Krom villagers flee following an eviction last year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang sokha and Sebastian strangio
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Villagers violently dispossessed in November fear further crackdown ahead of PM's visit.

RESIDENTS of a besieged community in Kampot province's Taken commune say they fear a final eviction from their land ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Hun Sen to the province next month.

During a pagoda inauguration in Kampong Speu province on March 9, Hun Sen confirmed that on April 4 - also his birthday - he and his wife Bun Rany would attend the opening of the Koh Sla Health Centre in Kbal Damrey village.

"On my birthday, I always try to visit disabled soldiers," he said.

The facility sits at the centre of a social land concession granted by the government to disabled former soldiers in 2007.

But residents in the neighbouring village of Anlong Krom, which lies less than a kilometre from the concession, say they fear the community's remaining families will be swept out ahead of the premier's arrival.

Around 300 homes were razed in Anlong Krom in November, allegedly by troops belonging to RCAF Brigade 31, but most have remained in the area, eking out a temporary existence on the land.

The evictions came following similar actions the previous July, with officials claiming the people were illegally squatting on land belonging to nearby Bokor National Park.

But Hong Chantha, a representative of Anlong Krom's Anlong Chas hamlet, said that six military officials from Brigade 31 arrived in the village Wednesday morning and started to dismantle one villager's hut before being chased off by around 30 local families.

Ominous warning
He said the community, which has rebuilt itself since November's events, lived in constant fear of another violent crackdown.

"So far, we have been able to live on the land, but we still fear that sometime soon the authorities will come to oust us again," he said, adding that the village had plans to request Hun Sen's personal intervention when he visits next month.

"We will try to meet [Hun Sen] and request that he provide us with a social land concession ... so that we will be able to live and continue farming here."

In conversations with villagers earlier in the month, Hallam Goad, an adviser for housing rights advocacy group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, also reported they were feeling "genuinely intimidated" by the authorities, and expressed fears they would be evicted prior to Hun Sen's visit.

But Sun Sothea, secretary general of Kampot province, said all the Anlong Krom residents living illegally inside the bounds of Bokor National Park had been forced into nearby areas surrounding the handicap concession zone, and that now more evictions would be forthcoming.

He added that authorities had provided 30-metre-by-50- metre and 50-metre-by-100-metre plots of land for 1,630 landless families displaced by the evictions.

Taken commune Chief Tom Phuong confirmed that of the 3,000 families living in the commune, most were "demobilised military and handicapped soldiers" who had migrated to the area from other parts of the country.

DC-Cam requests public holiday for the first day of Duch trial

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Though Hun Sen said in 2004 the first day of the trials would be declared a holiday, it is unclear whether he will honour his promise.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen was called upon Wednesday to uphold a promise he made five years ago to declare the first day of trials at the Khmer Rouge tribunal a public holiday.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, told the Post Wednesday that he had sent a request to the prime minister's office, the third since 2004, to make next Monday, March 30 - and every March 30 after that - a day of reflection and remembrance.

"The first day of the [Duch] trial is an important time to get people together.... It's a milestone. It marks the start of a long process to justice," he said.

"I asked him in 2004 and wrote to him again in 2007.... I have [now] sent him a third request," he added.

In 2004, the prime minister said the first day could be declared a day off work to allow people to watch the proceedings on TV. Though the trial ceremonially began February 17, testimonies begin Monday.

However, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters at an unrelated press conference Tuesday that a holiday would be pointless, as the day would not be historic.

"If the prime minister makes such a decision, it is up to him. But we cannot consider that day as a historical day because we already have January 7 [Victory Day]," he added.

Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but said Tuesday he could not yet confirm whether or not Monday would be a holiday.


Cambodian, Thai officials to meet for border talks in April

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha and Brendan Brady
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Maritime boundary disputes will not be on the agenda at Siem Reap meetings, say officials.

CAMBODIAN and Thai officials are to resume formal talks to negotiate the demarcation of their shared land border in early April, officials from both countries said Wednesday.

Representatives from both sides of the Joint Border Commission (JBC) are to meet in Siem Reap from April 5-7, said Var Kimhong, Cambodia's top border negotiator.

The schedule was confirmed by the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry's Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs Boundary Division.

Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated their 805-kilometre shared border, although the JBC has agreed upon the location of 48 border markers out of the 73 that lie along the border.

Both sources rejected media reports that the two sides would also discuss maritime areas claimed by both sides.

The Thai State News Agency had earlier cited Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya as saying the sea border would be on the agenda.

"We have not yet fixed the date for that meeting," said Var Kimhong.

Maritime dispute
Tentative plans to demarcate the sea border had been raised when Kasit met with Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong in January, he said.

Cambodia and Thailand both claim some 27,000 square kilometres of disputed maritime territory in the Gulf of Thailand, which is believed to contain significant oil and natural gas reserves.

The expanse of water known as the Overlapping Claims Area, or OCA, has been the source of a contentious, decades-old dispute with Thailand that has gained a new imperative following the outbreak of last year's border dispute.

Oil experts say Cambodia is likely to resist simply splitting the area down the middle because the Thai half could hold far better prospects.

A former Thai vice admiral was cited in Thai media last July as cautioning that the recognition of Cambodian land claims would pave the way for Cambodia to assert more control over the contested waters and their anticipated riches.

Hanoi Road residents ask City Hall for compensation

House breakers take down houses that were in the way of a City Hall road widening project for Russey Keo's Hanoi Road.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Thursday, 26 March 2009

As officials chip away at houses, residents are demanding better compensation than a plot of land at the relocation site.

RESIDENTS of the Phnom Penh Thmey commune, situated along Russey Keo's Hanoi Road, have applied for compensation of both cash and land ahead of the demolition of further homes as the city's road-widening project gets under way.

City officials began demolishing homes, fences and stalls at Teuk Thla commune this month as work began to widen the road to 30 metres along four kilometres of its length.

Phnom Penh Thmey commune resident Tey Narim said although they had been offered replacement land in Thnot Chrum village, which stands on a flood plain, the sites had no water or electricity.

"District Governor Khoung Sreng told people that the authorities would issue a notice informing people when they will start working in our area, so people need to be aware and decide on how to deal with the resettlement policy," he said.

Meanwhile Im Roeun, the resident at Teuk Thla whose house was entirely demolished, has filed a lawsuit against Khoung Sreng. Im Roeun refused the authorities' offer of a 32-square-metre plot at Thnot Chrum and wants compensation of 7 million riels (US$1,700) and a replacement house near where her old home stood.

Residents without water
The lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, was filed at the municipal court last Thursday.

"Nowadays, I am sleeping on the ground under the shelter of the neighbours' houses," Im Roeun wrote in her three-page deposition. "I have no water, no toilet and no kitchen supplies."

Governor Khoung Sreng said he was unaware of the lawsuit but said it was her right to complain. He added that the authorities' policy was only to compensate those whose houses were entirely demolished, but that those residents of the other 10 homes at Teuk Thla who had lost up to 90 percent of their houses could negotiate to accept land in Thnot Chrum.

"Thnot Chrum relocation site is a good choice because it has water and electricity," he said.

"People who build on the pavements are on public land, which must be handed back when it is needed for development," he added.

Act on rights abuses: group

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Regional body says officials changing subject after report.

THE Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has called on the government to address documented rights abuses, arguing that attacks on groups researching human rights are being used to detract attention from its own lack of compliance with international human rights obligations.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government should be reminded that Cambodia is bound by its international human rights obligations under the agreements concluded in Paris in 1991 to end the war in their country," the Hong Kong-based rights group said in a statement Wednesday.

The US State Department's annual human rights report for Cambodia, released in February, detailed a list of rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, forced land evictions, arbitrary arrests and restrictions on the freedom of the press.

The report drew a harsh rebuke from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which released a statement March 13 questioning the political motivations of the report and accusing the US of hypocrisy over its alleged torture of detainees at secret jails inside Thailand.

But the AHRC said the ministry's response, and comments made the following week by Hun Sen, who said NGOs were "working only for salaries" and "fabricat[ing] stories", posed a serious threat to human rights NGOs and their freedom to operate in the Kingdom.

"Criticism based on the discovery of what is wrong is simply an exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and this right is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed and protected by the [Constitution]," the statement said.

Thun Saray, president of Cambodian rights group Adhoc, agreed the government should "recognise the truth" about human rights violations and address the issues highlighted in the US government report.

"Not every report is perfect," he said. "But I think if the government denies every report issued, the people will not have a lot of confidence in the seriousness of the government to tackle human rights violations."

Ambassador to Britain says EIU report on instability is 'perverse'

Photo by: AFP
Children sleep outdoors in Phnom Penh. A recent report says economic hard times may lead to instability.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Michael Fox
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Dismisses claims as based on ‘sketchy and unconvincing' evidence.

CAMBODIA'S ambassador to Britain, Hor Nambora, added to official outrage over a report that labelled the nation as potentially one of the world's least stable due to the economic crisis.

The report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranks Cambodia behind Zimbabwe, Chad and DR Congo, and equal to Sudan in the potential risk of social unrest if measures to stimulate the global economy fail.

In a letter to the EIU, Hor Nambora said the report was "insulting", "perverse", and misleading.

"Your scaremongering allegations are highly dangerous, as they could be construed as actively inciting unrest," said Hor Nambora, who is the son of Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. "They also happen to be a gross distortion and misrepresentation of Cambodia's true position, and there can be no justification for these claims."

Hor Nambora said the EIU had ignored solid evidence including recent sustained economic growth due to political stability and improved macro-economic management.

He said it "arrogantly dismissed" Prime Minister Hun Sen's declaration that Cambodia would seek to maintain its economic growth this year.

And he complained that the country's oil and gas reserves and growing reputation as a tourist destination and "centre of enterprise and investment" were disregarded: "You seem to have ignored this reassurance from the highest possible level, preferring to rely on your own evidence, which would appear to be both sketchy and unconvincing," he wrote.

Licadho condemns court over SRP verdict

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 26 March 2009

LOCAL rights group Licadho condemned a provincial court's decision to send an opposition activist to jail last week, calling it groundless and politically motivated.

Tuot Saron, who was arrested in March 2008, was sentenced last Friday to three years' imprisonment by the Kampong Thom provincial court for kidnapping and illegal confinement of an SRP member, Tim Norn, who was being wooed to defect to the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Three other provincial SRP officials, who have all fled and are in hiding, were convicted in absentia of the same charge.

"Last week's show trial was a travesty of justice that once again shows how the ruling party manipulates the courts to maintain its stranglehold on power and eliminate its opponents," said Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho.

"This case will have long-lasting consequences for democracy in Cambodia. The imprisonment of an opposition party commune chief on false criminal charges sends a chilling message to the opposition and to voters throughout the country."

Covering Cambodia's wars

Jacques Bekaert, a former journalist who first came to Cambodia in 1983, in Phnom Penh last week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Former war correspondent Jacques Bekaert spoke to th Post about reporting from Cold War-era Cambodia, and his new work as a diplomat with the Military Order of Malta.

How did you first end up in Cambodia?
When I was a child I once read in a magazine an article about Angkor Wat, and I was quite fascinated by it. It was the most magical place, and I thought one day I might go and see it. In the 1960s and 1970s I was covering mostly American politics, and Vietnam and Cambodia were a very important part of what was happening in the States. At the end of 1978, I had the opportunity to come to Thailand for a few weeks. I arrived after New Year, and by then Vietnam had occupied Cambodia and nobody knew exactly what was going to happen. Then the editor of the paper in Bangkok, The Nation, suggested I move to Thailand and cover the new war. I asked the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok for permission to enter Cambodia, and finally, four years later, I got a visa - in 1983. The reason that there was an official withdrawal of Vietnamese troops, and they decided to invite journalists.

I spent the first few days at Le Wat Phnom, which used to be the residence of the French governor. There were a lot of constraints: you couldn't really go where you wanted and somebody was always following you. We followed the Vietnamese troops to the border, and returned for another week to the Monorom Hotel, which at that time was the hotel for "capitalist" guests. Then I started working for the BBC and was going a lot to Vietnam. Finally I was able to come back, due partly to the fact that there were some changes in the politics of Vietnam, the doi moi opening, and the pressure of what was happening in the Soviet Union. Then in 1992 I was asked by the Order of Malta to ask King Sihanouk, who had just come back to Cambodia, to allow it to open an Embassy here, because they needed somebody who knew the country to help out with their leprosy programs.

What do you recall about Prince Sihanouk?
I first met him in 1981, and he was at that time living in the south of France in a small villa called Villa Kantha Bopha. I remember at my first meeting with him, he told me that Cambodians were not going to solve this situation for themselves: only the international community could do it. At that time, very few people paid much attention to him. And then there were years where nothing much moved. There were several meetings between Hun Sen and Sihanouk in France, and it took four years before the Paris Peace Agreements were signed at the end of 1991.

The UN came, and its first mission was to provide the conditions for a free and fair election. It was very naïve: you don't implement Western-style democracy in a country where it has never existed and is not part of the culture. But one very positive point of the UN presence here is that it left a civil society, several Cambodian NGOs in the field of human rights were established at that time and are playing an important role. It also established a freer press.

Did you ever get the impression Sihanouk felt uncomfortable being a part of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, which included the Khmer Rouge?
From the very beginning. Actually, he didn't want to enter the alliance but there was so much pressure from the West and from his own party.

Sihanouk never believed that the resistance could beat the Vietnamese: he was realistic enough to know that the Vietnamese army was very strong and that all it could do is apply a bit of pressure. At the end, the peace process would be only possible if China and Vietnam agreed that they had to stop the war - and that's exactly what happened. No, he didn't believe in the war, and as he said many times that you will never change the geography of the region: Cambodia will always be next to Vietnam and Thailand. They are much more powerful neighbours so we have to take that into account.

How do you think history will judge Sihanouk?
When he was appointed by the French in 1941 he was 18 years old and he had never thought he would be King. It was a difficult period, during WWII, and he had to learn a few things. [In 1953], he managed to gain independence [and] I believe the 15 years that followed were probably the best years in Cambodia in a long time. The country developed, and in 1969 Cambodia was the biggest exporter of rice in Southeast Asia. The country was not perfect, but I think most people were happy. If you were a teacher, you could live quite well on your salary. And Sihanouk gave back to Cambodia some sense of pride in being Cambodian, which otherwise existed only in the dreams of Angkor.

As for the alliance of the Khmer Rouge, he probably didn't have much choice. He otherwise could have retired from politics, and gone into retirement in France, but that would have been very difficult for Sihanouk. By and large, I think his role has been more positive than negative.

In comparison to that period, how do you view the current trajectory of development in Cambodia?
It's certainly not easy, with the global economic crisis coming. There are a lot of things that are undeniable: there is corruption, there is traditional culture. But no country stays motionless: if you talk about somebody like Hun Sen, he was definitely the politician who was the smartest. That became very clear in the 1980s. He understood things much more quickly than others that people did not want communism - so the Constitution was changed. He understood that people wanted peace more than anything. The danger for is that once you are in power for so long, people around you tend to tell you what you want to hear.

When you were working on the border, did you ever go into the Khmer Rouge zones? What was your impression?
It was a totally different atmosphere to the Sihanoukist or KPNLF zones. It was very strict, we were constantly being watched and we never knew whether people were telling us what they thought or what they were told to say. The Chinese told them that they should change and be more flexible, and apparently food distribution was quite equal. Of the people that escaped the Khmer Rouge zones and reached the other camps some went back. They thought it was tough but there was a fair distribution. The Khmer Rouge had the support of hundreds of thousands of people, and some peasants clearly would have benefited from them. [The KR] had this old Khmer attitude that was very, very strong, the idea that Cambodia can do anything and doesn't need any help to do it. One of their ideas was that Cambodia could realise communism in three or four years, much faster than anyone else on earth, and that communism was the best mechanism to have full autonomy and not rely on anybody.

What is your view on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal?
I hope it is useful, but it comes very late. Will it reveal something we don't know? I doubt it: we know much of what happened. It may let us hear the leaders explain what they were trying to do. And there's the question of whether they should limit the trial to five people. Good justice will require more than five and there is strong evidence [to indict other suspects], but I don't think it will happen. For most Cambodians today, the main concern is how to live on a day to day basis, and with the economic crash, thousands of jobs have been lost already. Probably the greatest value of the tribunal will be in education: showing what a professional trial is.

Hearing Duch speak could also yield some insights.
The problem is, Duch is speaking because he has converted to Christianity and he has a sense of guilt. But the others will never admit it. Nuon Chea said he does not remember. Khieu Samphan said he did nothing wrong, and that he was just a marginal character. And Ieng Sary will play on the fact that while he was certainly not the best, he was not the worst in the regime.

Can you tell me a little more about the work you are doing over here with the Order of Malta?
Firstly, you have to distinguish between Malta and the Order of Malta. There is the Republic of Malta, where for centuries the Knights of Malta were in charge. They were kicked out of Malta by Napoleon at the end of the eighteenth century and when the British were going to give it back to the Knights they decided that they would keep it for themselves. The Order of Malta lost its territory but the Italians gave us a micro-state in Rome. It's a unique case. [The Order] is the smallest country in the world: it has its own stamps, its own money. There is only one full citizen, who is the head of state. And the rest are Knights of Malta - there are about 13,000 or 14,000 - although I am not one of them.

Why was it established here?
The reason the Order of Malta was established here is that ... it formed a fairly large program for the eradication of leprosy. The work we do here is useful because leprosy is not very glamorous and not many people are interested in it. We have a hospital and a rehabilitation centre, just north of the Japanese Bridge. In Kampong Cham there is also a leper village, which dates from the 1950s, but there is no medical reason to isolate lepers. Once they have received the proper medicine that has been put together by the World Health Organisation, after two days they are no longer contagious. That is why they should be treated as soon as possible. Many people - not just in Cambodia - still think that there is something dangerous about lepers.

Interview by Sebastian Strangio

Sustainable beekeeping the goal of Siem Reap trio of honey hunters

Photo by: Kyle Sherer
Pieng Chhoin, one of Tbng Lech's honey hunters, carves up a bee colony last week. He is one of three partners in Bees Unlimited, which is working to bring sustainable honey collecting to Siem Reap.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Group hopes to change traditional ‘slash and burn' techniques that kill colonies.

WHEN Daniel Jump came to Siem Reap in 2004 to see the indigenous beekeeping trade in Tbng commune, he was "devastated" by the slash-and-burn tactics taught by residents there.

Jump has travelled the world since 1990 as a "beekeeping extensionist", a job that involves helping beekeepers in different cultures to maximise their honey and wax production. But the destructive honey harvesting practises in Siem Reap compelled him to stay in Cambodia and mount a campaign to change the traditions that had been taught in the Kingdom for centuries.

Tbng apiarists have adopted what is called "rafter keeping", a rare type of beekeeping practiced mainly in Siem Reap. The keepers prop up beams, or rafters, in forested areas, which attract colonies of bees in the dry season. In March and April, they harvest the honey, seizing the entire hive and consuming the bee larvae. The take-all approach, which wipes out the entire colony, has worked in the past due to a high bee population. But in a modern, deforested Cambodia, it might push the species towards extinction.

Pieng Chhoin is a 53-year-old rafter keeper in Tbng Lech village who has been honey-harvesting since the age of 15. He said that in the 1980s, honey hunters in the Tbng area were overwhelmed with so many colonies it was impossible to harvest them all. Now, said Jump, "People will put 100 rafters up and there's not 100 percent occupancy. It's like a hotel in the low season, there's only 20 percent to 30 percent occupancy. Because of this wholesale slaughter of bee larvae every season, there's actually a drop in population. So those numbers will keep going down".

"The fact that they were actually destroying the entire colony to get a little bit of honey was just ridiculous. They were basically cutting off the hand that feeds them. So I was really interested in teaching them to do it sustainably right from the get go. I made it my mission," Jump said.

He explained that with a minor adjustment, honey harvesting could be turned into a job with long-term viability. He called his approach "sustainable honey-harvesting", and described it as "basically common sense".

"I didn't want to see them killing the bees, and thought there had to be a better way of doing this, of leaving the brood alone and taking the honey. The colonies are such that you can slice off the honey head and leave the rest. It's very easy to harvest sustainably."

The honey head is the area of the hive that stores a large concentration of honey and no bee larvae. Carving off the honey head doesn't damage the colony, which means the same rafter can be harvested repeatedly as the bees work to restore the missing section. When a sustainable honey harvest is completed, the bee population grows.

But even though Jump's approach presents possibly the only path to survival for honey harvesters, it's a tough sell to many who are disturbed at the thought of deviating from the routine, he said.

"It hasn't been easy to persuade them to adopt it," Jump said. "Traditions die hard. You can't convince a person overnight to completely abandon what he's learned from his father and what he's practised all his life. But they're taking it on. I'm probably not going to be alive the day sustainable honey hunting becomes a part of the tradition, but I hope that's what eventually happens."

Jump's first convert was Pieng Chhoin, his current business partner in Bees Unlimited, a Siem Reap-based three-man team that provides beekeeping training throughout Cambodia. Pieng Chhoin is now promoting sustainable honey harvesting to the 35 keepers in Tbng Lech village, but Jump said he also took a lot of persuading.

"Chhoin waited about a year to adopt it. In 2004, the first year we worked together, he just wouldn't do it. He felt that he was going to lose everything. He was afraid that by cutting off just the honey head he would get some honey, but the bees would fly off and the colony would be gone, robbing him of the rest. So he wasn't willing to try it.

"But the following season I convinced him to try it on just one of his numerous rafter colonies. We did it together. And the second time he harvested the colony he got more than the first time - and that convinced him that it works. And he's been trying to promote it among his fellow villagers ever since."

Chhoin and Jump, together with Soeun Bun Som, also promote sustainable honey-harvesting through Bees Unlimited, which they launched in February last year. "When Bees Unlimited does bee-keeping training, we train how to transfer a wild colony into a box, how to manage it, how to put up rafters, sustainable harvesting, honey processing, honey filtering, and wax processing," Jump said.

"We work in areas with a honey hunting tradition. They're not afraid of bees, they can harvest. But what's lacking is sustainability, control and quality."

School project under way in Ta Trav

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Peter Olszewski
Thursday, 26 March 2009

New school to replace aging, unsafe building.

PROGRESS is under way on the construction of an additional six-room primary school in Ta Trav village, Angkor Thom district, following the February groundbreaking.

The formal inauguration and ribbon cutting ceremony is tentatively planned for November, and the hope is that the new school building will be ready for the next academic year.

There is a functioning school on the site, but Angkor Thom district has an annual process by which a priority needs assessment is undertaken. The new school at Ta Trav is necessary to replace the existing wooden school, which has extensive termite damage that will render it increasingly unsafe, officials said.

Trailblazer Foundation is the principal NGO managing the construction of the new school. The British School of Beijing and the Cambodian Land Mine Museum Relief Fund are providing financial support.

The current school building has been housing 340 students, but this recently swelled to 478 after construction work closed the school in neighbouring Bos Ta Trav village. The new Ta Trav school building will be able to accommodate the maximum number of students permitted by the government, which is 40 students per classroom for two sessions per day.

This will allow for 480 pupils at the school, which teaches levels 1 through 6. Seven teachers, supported by the Siem Reap Provincial Department of Education, Youth and Sport, will work at the school.

Meanwhile, problems have surfaced at a 100-plus pupil school in Veal village run by Supporting Orphans and Indigent People of Cambodia for Development. The school is built on the grounds of a pagoda, and following a dispute with monks, the NGO has been evicted and is desperate to find nearby land to build a new school.

Swiss sculptor hopes to better health care, education in SR

Photo by: Kong Vandat
Him Sotea, general manager of the Chi Kraeng Healthcare Centre.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer and Kong Vandat
Thursday, 26 March 2009

THE opening of the Chi Kraeng Health Centre last Friday marked the latest in a series of projects by Swiss sculptor Sala Enrico to raise the living standards in Siem Reap. Enrico first visited the province in 1994 and, while the town has changed dramatically since then, many villagers in rural areas still lack access to basic health care.

Him Sotea, general manager of the health centre, told the Post that the centre would "welcome all people, not just people who live in the district".

Enrico gathered the funding for the construction of the hospital and hopes in the future to add a pool to ensure the hospital has a supply of fresh water.

Since 1994, Enrico has helped to build 915 water pits, 18 schools, two libraries, two health centres, and has distributed several tonnes of rice to poor villagers.

Enrico was motivated to build hospitals in Cambodia after seeing the Po Pale region of Siem Reap. "We decided to build the first health care centre in Dam Nak Slangn, if we could collect sufficient funds," he said.

"About 10,000 people from 10 villages would be referred to this centre. When I came back to Ticino in May 2005, I had in my pocket a project and the relative budget for its realisation," he said.

"The project included three hospital blocks: a main block, a block for tuberculosis patients and a block with rooms for the health care professionals, plus four toilets."

Now that Chi Kraeng hospital is complete, Enrico wants to construct a school called Por Raksmey Sangkum.

Providing rural schools with adequate infrastructure is another of Enrico's longstanding desires, resulting from a visit to a rather rudimentary school.

"We went one morning to the village of Kork Bang to inspect a region where we were planning to build around 20 water pits. Suddenly, in the centre of the village, I found myself in front of a school class in the middle of a lesson," he said .

"The school had no building. The children were under the trees with their desks, blackboard and the photo of the King and the Queen in the background. I said to myself, ‘How nice!' but then thought ‘What happens when it rains?'"

"Without hesitation I asked the village chief, who was standing in front of me, to write an official authorisation to build a real school. He did not hesitate for one second and I had the document in my hands."

Opposition calls for tariffs as economic crisis mounts

Photo by: AFP
A woman works on a field growing morning glories in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.The opposition Sam Rainsy Party has called for protectionist measures to be implemented.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara and Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 26 March 2009

As farming incomes plummet, the opposition says higher tariffs and more subsidies are needed, but government says WTO rules must be respected.

OPPOSITION lawmakers are calling on the government to raise trade barriers and boost agricultural subsidies to mitigate the effects of the global economic slowdown.

The move marks the first time parliamentarians have urged a protectionist response to the crisis.

"Look at Thailand - they are subsidising their farmers and protecting them by preventing Cambodian traders from exporting corn or cassava to Thailand - this is how we should be protecting our farmers," said Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay.

He urged the government to increase tariffs on imported goods to cut the trade deficit with neighbouring countries, citing the US$1.35 billion combined shortfall with Thailand and Vietnam.

"Even as a member of the World Trade Organisation, we still have five or six years to increase tax barriers for imported goods," he said.

The local protectionist pressures come on the back of what the World Bank is calling a global swing away from free trade.

Leaders at the Group of 20 meeting in November 2008 committed to promote free trade, but a World Bank report released last week said that protectionism was spreading.

The report said 17 of the G20 countries had issued 47 measures to regulate trade.

The protectionist calls have become ever louder as farmers on the Thai border are subject to tougher restrictions.

Tep Khunnal, governor of Malai district in Banteay Meanchey province, said farmers in his district need more government assistance.

"Thai farmers are growing fresh cassava. They [the Thais] are not allowing in Cambodian cassava unless it is dried. They are buying Cambodian dry cassava and exporting it to China," said Tep Khunnal.

We are not sleeping - we are trying hard to address this crisis.

He said that farm incomes have dropped 40 percent in the past year in line with the falling prices of agriculture goods.

Government response
Minister of Finance Keat Chhon rejected the opposition demands, saying that the government is improving tax collection and investing in vocational training.

He added that Cambodia's membership to the WTO prevents it from raising trade restrictions.

"We are not sleeping - we are trying hard to address this crisis," Keat Chhon told the Post Wednesday.

He said the government has enough resources to mitigate the effects of the economic downturn, but acknowledged that tax revenue fell slightly in the first two months of 2009.

"I am also a bit concerned about falling revenues, but we are trying to improve our tax-collection methods," he said.

"The Ministry of Finance is working with the Ministry of Labour to retrain laidoff workers to help them find other jobs," he said.

"We are working hard to collect revenue for public finances, and we're moving to a second phase of public finance management reform, which means that the accountability of all institutions and ministries will be improved," he said.

"It can be done only when we build on the achievements we made in the first phase. The credibility of the budget means the flow of income will remain strong.

"We have some worries, but we are trying to spend as scheduled for the budget law of 2009," Keat Chhon added.

Responding to questions raised by Son Chhay, Keat Chhon wrote in a letter dated February 11 that the Cambodian economy is affected by the global economic downturn, but that foreign reserves in 2008 stood at $2.1 billion and were guaranteed for 3.8 months.

In 2009 the government decided to increase salaries by 20 percent, or by $30 million per month, Keat Chhon's letter said.

He wrote that the government spent $300 million subsidising electricity prices by freezing rates when oil prices surged 90.4 percent compared to July 2007.

Keat Chhon also said the government provided $450 million in subsidies to boost the fibre industry to reduce costs for garment producers.

He estimated that government intervention would account for about $500 million from the country's GDP.

Silk industry hit by downturn

Photo by: Sovann Philong
A worker weaves silk at a factory in Takeo province. The industry says it has seen a downturn.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Soeun Say
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Export- and tourist-dependent industry sees demand plummet, with vendors worrying about bankruptcy as tourism decline leads to fewer sales.

SILK producers and vendors say they face bankruptcy with sales down as much as 80 percent over the past few months in the face of the global economic slowdown.

The luxury product has enjoyed good growth in recent years - particularly due to the boom in the tourist market.

Som Chenda, the public relations officer for the Artisans Angkor outlet in Siem Reap, told the Post on Sunday that business at his store in the country's tourism capital was down one-fifth on last year.

He said the first hit was due to fighting between Cambodian and Thai troops last year, which was followed by the slump in the world economy. He said all silk shops in Siem Reap were reliant on tourists.

"All of us focus almost entirely on orders from outside the country - and if tourists stop coming, we will lose business," Som Chenda said. "Our business depends heavily on the international market and tourists, so I am very concerned that many Khmer people at my firm could lose their jobs."

All of us focus almost entirely on orders from outside the country.

He said that clients from the United States, France, Germany, Korea, Taiwan and Japan had stopped buying, and the Singapore outlet of Artisans Angkor recently went bust.

Men Sinoeun is the executive director of the Artisans Association of Cambodia, a training and trade body with 2,000 members that last year generated US$2.7 million revenue. His organisation represents 80 percent of the country's silk weavers.

"Silk sales dropped between 20-40 percent in the second half of last year because there were simply no new customers - and the old customers stopped buying because of the global crisis," he said.

Vendor Mam Ros Chamroeun, owner of the Asian Silk Souvenir Shop in Phnom Penh, has felt that even more sharply. He said monthly sales had plunged from $2,000 to $2,500 in mid-2008 to just $400 to $500 last month.

"My businesses can be kept alive by orders that I get from customers living abroad, and especially from tourists," he said. "But if the global economic crisis remains bad ... and tourist arrivals continue to drop, our businesses will go bankrupt."

Another vendor Chin Sophy, who has a stall at the capital's Russian Market, agreed a key problem was fewer tourists.

"If tourism doesn't recover fast my business could go bust," she said, adding that revenues were down 40 percent.

Kong Vantha, 43, is a small manufacturer weaving silk in Koh Dach village, Kandal Province. He is worried that bankruptcy could hit him and his fellow villagers.

"It's really hard to sell silk as the price has gone down. Some silk producers in my village have gone bust, and the rest are trying their best to keep going," Kong Vantha said.

He estimated that the global crisis had cost him 30 to 40 percent of turnover.

The bleak assessment was shared by Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, who felt the unstable property market had to shoulder some blame. He said the economy still faced problems: "Businesses will close or perhaps delay making products if this bad economic situation continues."

NBC sets up $100m emergency credit line

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Thursday, 26 March 2009

THE Cambodian government has approved a $100 million emergency line of credit for banks in need of temporary liquidity shortfalls, a senior official told the Post Wednesday.

Officials stressed that the banking sector remains solid and that no banks have applied for emergency funds.

"The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) is being careful with this issue - the NBC is keeping a close eye on the sector," said Minister of Finance Keat Chhon.

The fund is administered by the NBC, but only Finance Ministry officials would comment on the fund. "The money is available for banks that need it," said Keat Chhon.

Acleda Bank CEO In Channy told the Post Wednesday that his bank remains stable, despite the downturn. "I don't need this money. Our deposits increased to US$533.5 million from $492.5 million - an eight percent increase compared to the same period last year," he said.

ANZ CEO Stephen Higgins said Wednesday his bank is also in no danger of a liquidity crunch.

The circus is back in town

Photo by: Photos Supplied
This year’s Tini Tinou will feature high-flying trapeze acts, tight-rope walkers and an assortment of clowns and contortionists.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anita Surewicz
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Tini Tinou will bring its unique blend of local and international talent to the big top beginning Friday, with preview performances in Phnom Penh and a 4-day festival in April in Battambang.

Feats of acrobatics, trapeze acts, tightrope displays, contortionists and the antics of clowns are set to dazzle and amuse at the upcoming Tini Tinou circus festival.

In its sixth year in Cambodia, Tini Tinou, meaning "here and there", will kick off in Phnom Penh on Friday before moving on to Battambang for a four-day extravaganza.

Attracting a bevy of performers from around the globe, this year's festival, organized by the Battambang NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), will feature 150 artists from 10 countries, giving the event a truly international flavour.

Renowned international performers from Canada, France, Australia, Germany and Japan descended on Cambodia this month to share their knowledge with young circus performers during two weeks of interactive workshops that took place prior to the commencement of this year's event.

"A big part of the 2009 festival is the training exchange between artists," said PPS artistic director Khoun Det.

While the majority of young artists who took part in the workshops were Cambodian, students from Laos, Romania and Japan also participated.

"There were approximately 50 students from PPS and around 10 from Phnom Penh's National Circus School, and around 30 students from overseas," said Dorothee Alemany, the organiser and coordinator of this year's Tini Tinou festival.

Angkorian roots
Performance art has a long history in Cambodia stretching back to Angkorian times, as evidenced by the 12th century bas-reliefs at the Bayon temple at Angkor Wat, which pay tribute to acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, musicians and animal handlers.

"Traditional circus has roots in 11th-century Cambodia. While the Asian circus is to some extent similar to the European circus, the main difference between the two is the accompanying music, which here is traditional Khmer music," said Khoun Det.

PPS took over organising the festival in 2007 from the French Cultural Centre, which launched the event in 2004, and opened it up to more international performers.

"The goal of the festival is to promote Asian circus arts and to share knowledge," said Alemany.

PPS, which literally means "Light from Arts", has its roots in the refugee camps on the Thai border, initially starting in 1986 as a project utilising visual arts as a means of encouraging creativity in young people to help them overcome the trauma associated with the Khmer Rouge regime and years of civil war.

Healing through creativity
"The idea was to give children in the camps something to do so that they wouldn't get bored and have something to think about other than war," said Alemany.

The project continued after its co-founders returned to Battambang following the 1991 Peace Accords. The project was formalised in 1994 when its organisers decided to create PPS.

The circus branch of the school began in 1998 with support from the National Circus School of the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh and today has approximately 130 students, said Alemany.

Today the mission of the PPS school is to renew the circus by taking traditional Cambodian circus roots and mixing them with new international elements.

"Traditional Cambodian circus is very technical in nature. It is a chain of separate performances that follow one another. At PPS, we try to incorporate other elements such as stage management and artistic management into traditional circus performances - we bring music, stage and a more technical environment," Khoun Det said. "Contemporary circus is more about building one whole story with stage management."


And to facilitate this stage management, training has been incorporated into the school's curriculum.

"Our new project is the training of technicians, which has been organised through Performing Philippines Educational Theater Association. A trainer from the Philippines came to Cambodia to train technicians from Battambang, PPS and the Performing Arts Department from Phnom Penh. He taught technicians how to prepare a show - lights, materials and sounds," Khoun Det said.

The focus of this year's Tini Tinou festival includes clowns and aerial acrobatics such as flying trapeze and tightrope displays.

Clowns from different countries will perform to display each country's unique jesters. In fact, the whole festival will be presented by two very different clowns - one Cambodian and one French, said Alemany.

"The Cambodian clown is more about speaking and making people laugh rather than about mime and gestures," said Khoun Det. "They wear sleeveless shirts and kramas, usually hang out in a fishing hut and spend their time trying to pick up girls."

"We are trying to make the traditional Khmer clown more international - we want them to do more than just speak," Khuon Det said, adding that PPS trains women to be clowns, an element that breaks with Cambodian tradition.

Another unique feature of this year's festival will be its guest of honour, the PA-RA-DA Foundation from Romania.

"We decided from last year to have a guest of honour at the festival, and we try to choose an organization that has a similar social mission to PPS, and PA-RA-DA seemed appropriate," said Alemany.

The foundation was created in 1996 by a French clown, Miloud Oukili, who started teaching workshops for children living on the streets after he arrived in Bucharest in 1992.

Uncertain future
But Tini Tinou is now in danger of extinction due to insufficient funding, and organisers say it may not return next year. This is the first time in the event's six-year history that a cover charge had to be introduced, creating the very real danger that the festival may not attract the usual numbers this year.

"There may be less people this year due to the cover charge. It is a risk that the NGO is taking, but because the circus is well-known now, it is a risk worth taking," said Khoun Det.

However, Alemany is quick to point out that the Khmer communities around the NGO in Battambang will be able to attend the performances for free.

"We will have different prices for Cambodians and the international community, but local communities will still have free access to the festival because we feel that they are our first audience," said Alemany.

Even though the festival is supported by a number of local and international organisations, Alemany says the current level of funding is not sufficient and that this year the circus will go over its allocated budget.

The Tini Tinou festival kicks off Friday with a show at the French Cultural Centre in Phnom Penh and continues Saturday with a parade beginning on Street 13 (in front of Friends), continuing to the National Museum, down Sisowath Quay and culminating with a stage show at Wat Botum.

In Battambang, the four-day festival running from April 2 to April 5 will comprise of three shows nightly and smaller performances by pre-professionals.

The cover charge for Friday's show at the French Cultural Centre in Phnom Penh is US$8 for general admission and $4 for students. In Battambang the cost of a one-night pass is 3,500 riel for Cambodians and $10 for foreign nationals. A three-day pass will cost $3 for Cambodians and $20 for foreign nationals. Children will be able to enter at the discount price of $4 for a one-day pass and $8 for a three-day pass.

Police Blotter: 26 Mar 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Chea Phein, 25, from Boeung Krotib village, Prey Veng province, poisoned herself on Sunday after a minor dispute with her husband, police said. The husband had left the couple's home following the confrontation and returned in the afternoon to find his wife dead with a small bottle of pesticide beside her.

A 9-year-old girl, Roeung Sinath, was killed after being struck by lightning while she was fishing in the rain with other children in Anlung Chamnar village, Kampong Speu province, on Monday.

A man and a woman were arrested in the Ho Wah Genting Hotel and Casino on Tuesday for allegedly dealing drugs. Poipet police said they had arrested Sithanak Somaly, a 27-year-old Vietnamese woman from Thailand, and a 25-year-old man, Tao Bunhan, and had found over 76.6 grams of white powder on them.

A man was severely beaten after he witnessed a gang brawl in Trapaing Chhouk village, Sen Sok district, Phnom Penh on Monday night. Police said Meas Roeun, 28, who lived near where the brawl erupted, was taken to Preah Kosamak Hospital with severe injuries. They arrested Kong Leang, 21, Chea Sophorn, 24, Moeun Ra, 22, and Pov Phally, 19, in connection with the fight. All four are believed to be gang members. Police said they were targeting both gangs in the brawl over drug offences.

A 22-year-old woman was decapitated by an anonymous assailant while she was picking cashew nuts on a farm in Thma Da village, Kampong Cham province, on Sunday. Police said Cham Sophal from Chheu Bak village was also robbed of a necklace and ring. Her body was found by children walking through the farm. Her killer has not been found.

Police arrested 28-year-old Yin Phat from Prey Vang province after he allegedly strangled a taxi driver with a hammock rope and attempted to rob him on Tuesday. Police said Yin Phat had taken a sum of money after choking Chea Meng, 64. However, he was caught by villagers who witnessed the robbery in Angkor village, Battambang town and province. Chea Meng survived the attack.

The Phnom Penh Post News In Briefs

In Brief: Bank calls for two crops

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Rural Development Bank (RDB) has called on farmers in the countryside to focus on planting two crops per year to increase productivity, support food security and for export. The call echoes that of the Prime Minister Hun Sen, he said, which aims to reduce dependency on imports and the need for migrants to work illegally abroad. The call, he added, forms part of the One Village, One Product" promotion. A cash injection of up to US$200 million was required in rural areas, he said.

In Brief: Mobile use set to double

Written by Nguong Sovan
Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Managing Director of Mobitel, Jeffrey Noble, predicts the number of mobile users will double to cover half of the 14 million population by the end of 2011, he said Wednesday at a signing ceremony in Phnom Penh in which the company received a US$100 million loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Mobitel Chairman Kith Meng said expanding network coverage would help improve the lives of people living in rural areas. IFC Country Manager Sin Foong Wong said the loan would help stimulate telecoms development.

In Brief: Pioneer against poverty dies

Written by Jess Bernhart
Thursday, 26 March 2009

Michael Lynn Sampson died, aged 43, on March 19 after suffering a heart attack while in Bangkok. A resident of Cambodia since 1998, he established Resource Development International Cambodia, an organisation that introduced education and filtration programs to provide clean drinking water and improved sanitation standards for thousands of Cambodians. Jess Bernhart .

In Brief: Bird flu workshop begins in siem reap

Written by Jess Bernhart
Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' Department of Animal Health and Production has invited 40 commercial poultry farmers to a workshop in Siem Reap. The workshop, held today, aims to encourage farmers to adopt simple and practical bio-security measures to prevent the spread of avian influenza. Dr Teresa Cereno, technical adviser to the FAO Avian Influenza Control and Prevention Program said, "Improving widespread adoption of good bio-security practices remains a crucial challenge in prevention of avian influenza in poultry and humans."

In Brief: Illegal nightclub owners sentenced

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday sentenced the owner of the Mikado Club to seven years in prison and its manager to eight years, for aggravated procurement of prostitution. Sor Sarivoan, also known as Jacki, 60, and his manager Pov Thoeun, known as David, 38, were arrested in March 2008 in a police raid. Chou Bun Eng, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, told the Post: "I welcome the conviction, but I am still concerned about their website, which shows naked Cambodian girls. It impacts women's morality and must be banned."

Cambodian Phone Network Gets Funding for Rural Coverage


­IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, has organized a US $100 million investment in Cambodian mobile network operator, CamGSM to help strengthen the telecommunications sector and expand access to affordable mobile services in rural areas. IFC is providing up to $40 million from its own account and has mobilized an additional $60 million from ABN AMRO, Cordiant Capital, DnB NOR, and Nordea.

CamGSM plans to expand and improve existing network coverage and services, particularly in rural areas where the majority of Cambodians live and poverty rates are highest.

“IFC is providing long-term financing, which is not readily accessible in frontier markets like Cambodia,” said Jeffrey Noble, CamGSM’s interim CEO. “This is a wonderful vote of confidence in Cambodia at a time when the impact of the global recession has started to affect the economy.

IFC’s reputation has also brought in other international banks, which should attract more such important financing to the country.”

IFC’s investment is also designed to support the government’s goal of stimulating competition in the telecommunications sector. As part of the initiative, CamGSM aims to add an additional 2 million subscribers by 2010, and to help businesses grow by providing them with better mobile internet coverage.

“Expanding availability of affordable cell phones will be of great benefit to poorer people,” said Sin Foong Wong, IFC Country Manager for Cambodia. “This will allow distant family members to stay in touch, village health workers to get expert advice in emergencies, and farmers to keep up with market prices.” He also noted that cell-phone banking is another benefit that will allow people to pay bills and transfer money safely.

CamGSM, which is branded in the market as Mobitel, is owned jointly by Millicom International (61.5%) and Royal Group (38.5%). Since Millicom launched in the 1990s, IFC has made nine investments in the company’s operations in Asia and Central and South America.

According to data from the Mobile World analysts, the country ended last September with an estimated 3.5 million mobile phone users - representing a population penetration level of just 24%. CamGSM is by far the largest of the six networks in the country with around 2.1 million customers.

Posted to the site on 25th March 2009

Cambodia welcomes the world of women's football

Wednesday 25 March 2009

History was made today in Cambodia when the first pilot course for Com-Unity Women's Football Seminar opened in Phnom Penh, bringing the women's game to the football community of Cambodia.

The Opening Ceremony attended by Cambodia Football Federation President, Lt. Gen. Sao Sohka and the Secretary of State from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Dr. Phoeng Sakona, provided a strong start to the three-day course.

A positive tone was set right from the opening speech, with Lt. Gen Sao Sohka underlining the Cambodia Football Federation's dedication to promoting and developing women's football. He continued: "I look forward to the declaration at the end of the course to pledge our will to FIFA and our football community to develop women's football. We do not only want to help by giving moral support, but also the practical implementation of projects and activities."

FIFA representatives gave the audience a lively introduction to the world of women's football, before inviting Dr. Pheong Sakona to officially open the Cambodia Women's Football Com-Unity.

Dr. Pheong commented: "More women and girls are playing football in Cambodia and I support the idea that it is becoming more popular in this country." She continued: "Sport is very important to help reduce the social problems in Cambodia."

Also in attendance was the General Secretary of the National Olympic Council of Cambodia, Mr. Meas Sarin, in addition to a healthy turnout from NGOs based in Phnom Penh including UNICEF, Spirit of Soccer and the Indochina Starfish Foundation.

The FIFA delegation includes Michelle Cox (New Zealand), Mayrilian Cruz Blanco and David Borja (both FIFA), Windsor John (Malaysia, Development Officer Kuala Lumpur), Clare Kenny Tipton (Rep. of Ireland), Dato Yap Nyim Keong (Malaysia) and Belinda Wilson (Australia).

The next two days will be devoted to the Communications and Marketing of Women's Football. A friendly football match between the FIFA representatives and the Football Federation of Cambodia will take place at 1800hrs at the Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh on Tuesday 24 March 2009.

Directly following the Cambodia Women's Com-Unity, a practical FIFA Coaching Course will take place from 26 to 30 March 2009 to train Cambodian women's football coaches.