Friday, 3 April 2009

WOMEN who live near Wat Phnom are refusing to leave their houses at night for fear of being arrested and detained as sex workers, according to women w

Chom Chao, Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 06/09/2009. Unemployed person living in cheap accommodation for garment workers, located in the vicinity of his workplace©John Vink/ Magnum


By Ros Dina

In November 2008, employers in the sector of garment manufacturing in Cambodia sounded the alarm. 2009 did not promise to be a good year due to the sudden bankruptcy of their main foreign clients and the major drop in orders. Their fear was unfortunately relevant as this pillar of Cambodia’s economic growth was badly hit by the global financial and economic downturn, even more so than the three other key-sectors in Cambodia, namely tourism, agriculture and construction. During the first two months in 2009, textile exportations plummeted and several dozens of factories had to close down due to a lack of orders, thus leaving more than 50,000 workers jobless. The situation led Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the national association of employers in that sector, to ask workers to avoid engaging into any social movement in order to prevent the situation from worsening.

Exports facing risk of further decline
Van Sou Ieng, the leading figure among big corporates of the garment manufacturing industry in Cambodia, was re-elected chair of GMAC (Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia) mid-March and says he is going through the most difficult times since his first mandate back in 1996. “I am in a very delicate situation today, because I don’t know how to manage that. There are no jobs for our workers any more. Hopes for foreign investment in Cambodia appear scarcer and scarcer with every passing day. Besides, as the global economy suffered a massive downturn, investors are not going to come here in the near future…”, Van Sou Ieng recently deplored, in a much unusual manner. He therefore decided to urge workers to remain calm and asserted that disorderly social movements might have disastrous consequences: “I am asking all workers not to make illegal claims in these difficult times, otherwise they will lose everything, together with the closing down of factories”, he said, protesting against the excessive number of trade unions – more than a thousand for some 300 active factories.

According to the GMAC chairman, textile exports suffered a 30% decline in January compared to the same period of time the previous year. And the decrease is but escalating: it could reach 40% during the next quarter, compared with exports registered at the same time in 2008. As around a hundred factories closed down since late 2008, according to GMAC, 10% to 20% of those still active are at risk of being condemned to the same fate by May or June this year, Van Sou Ieng reckons.

Order books in need of filling in
In the first quarter of 2009, orders from abroad were scarce according to figures provided by the garment manufacturers association. Orders only reach 60% of figures collected in the first quarter of 2008. “According to what was reported to me, factories are only running at 60% capacity compared with the first quarter of 2008. These figures should remain stable during the next quarter, provided new difficulties like strikes and demonstrations are not started off”, Van Sou Ieng warned, insisting on the utter need to respect lead time, otherwise clients from the United States and the European Union will turn without hesitating to other countries in direct competition with Cambodia.

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh paints for his part a much darker picture: in January and February, the total amount of textile exportations is said to only have fluctuated between 60 and 70 million dollars per month, compared to 200 million dollars per month over the same months the year before. Yet, 2008 was not a particularly auspicious year, as garment exports only progressed by 0.7% compared with 2007. According to the 2008 annual report released by the Ministry of Commerce, annual exportations in that sector amounted to 2.249 billion dollars in 2008, when they reached 2.23 billion in 2007.

And prime Minister Hun Sen too, after having expressed his optimism, acknowledged that the sector of garment manufacturing in Cambodia was suffering a worrying decline in activity due to the global economic context. On the occasion of a graduation ceremony held on Tuesday March 24 in Phnom Penh, the head of government explained that Cambodian factories were directly affected by a drop in consumption on American and European markets due to unemployment. Inevitably, if clothes – generally speaking and those made in Cambodia in particular – do not sell well, orders in the next few months will go down, he explained in front of a student audience.

Flexible figures
The scope thus appears much grimmer than what representatives of GMAC stated back in November 2008 at the 14th Government-Private Sector Forum (G-PSF). But according to sources, figures that are supposed to provide overall input about the extent of the damage seem to differ. Indeed, Su Sem, the Minister of Industry Mines and Energy, declared on March 17th at a meeting with Minister of Industry and Commerce of Vietnam Vu Huy Hoang, that 82 garment factories closed down in Cambodia in 2008, thus depriving 52,000 Cambodian workers of their job. The garment industry, which used to represent 7% of the Kingdom’s GDP, is said to have only brought in a 2% share, according to him.

Unemployment: not a big deal?
At the Ministry of Labour, 73 factory closedowns were registered in 2008, on top of which come another 20 temporary suspensions of activity. But, as stated by the Ministry, 64 new garment manufacturing companies opened in Cambodia in the meantime. From January to mid-March 2009, the same services registered 22 closedowns, 27 suspensions and… 15 openings. Secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour Om Lean therefore reckons that an important part of the workers who were made redundant, mainly women, are likely to find jobs in the newly-opened factories. “Those workers are all experienced. They can leave factories that went bankrupt and go to those recently established. A lot of information goes around about workers who lose their job when paradoxically, new factories are lacking labour force!”, the high-ranking civil servant says, while deploring in the meantime the role of some intermediary protagonists who claim commissions for the recruitment of workers.

Om Mean’s words then tend to minimise the impact of the crisis on the fate of workers, just like prime Minister Hun Sen’s statements in a speech he pronounced as he was away in the province of Kampong Speu on March 9th. Indeed, the head of government estimated that the closedown of factories would have less tragic consequences in Cambodia than the currently ongoing dismissals in developed and industrial countries. His main argument was that in Cambodia, unemployed workers could always return to the countryside, to their parents’ place, and go back to rice cultivation, a possibility which workers in industrial countries do not have as there is not bridging with the agricultural world there.

Unions say Labour Law is being trampled on
Besides the fact that many workers come from very poor families who do not necessarily have ricefields to look after, the comparison between Cambodia and developed countries allows above all to remind that Cambodian workers, unlike workers in some Western countries, do not benefit from any unemployment benefit system and, as denounced by trade unions, they rarely receive any compensations, even though those are duly mentioned in the Labour Law.

Chea Mony, the president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), also estimates for his part that about 50,000 workers lost employment after the closedown of their factory late 2008. Some are still looking for a job in other factories in the capital. Others, indeed, have decided to go back to their village, he says, but rather because of their great disappointment and the trust they lost in employers after promises were made and broken. The majority of those unemployed workers received no compensation whatsoever after more than ten years of work for the same company, in some cases. The Labour Law stipulates that employers, unless a case of force majeure arises (such as death, disaster or closedown upon decision of the authorities) must, if workers employed on a non-fixed term contract are made redundant, grant them fifteen days’ worth of wages for every year of service, the maximum being six months of wages. Some employees, the FTUWKC president denounces, have not even been given their last salary, since their employer ran away and left hundreds of workers high and dry.

“Generally speaking, the blame is always put on poor people. We are told that workers’ strikes and demonstrations are the reasons for the closedown of factories. But from what I observed from January to March, there has not been a single strike and yet, fourteen factories closed down”, Chea Mony points out. “Besides, we are publicly asked not to gather up workers for strikes and demonstrations. But if employers did abide the law and, in the event of a factory closedown, paid out legal compensations to workers, nobody would want to go on strike or demonstrate!” Apart from two international factories, Way and Seng Yong, none has ever granted workers the full compensations they are entitled to, according to the Labour Law, he added.

Little appeal against fleeing employers
In front of the few unscrupulous employers who abandon their factory and their odd hundred workers to escape from their duties, workers as well as the authorities claim to be at loose ends. An inspector – who wishes to remain anonymous – from the Ministry of Labour’s Department in charge of solving conflicts, admitted that the situation can sometimes be very complicated. The law, he explains, says that workers can lodge a complaint at the Municipal or Provincial Court, which will then decide to set up a commission in charge of selling at auction the seized company’s property in order to pay back unpaid salaries and compensations to workers. “But this is not easy to do”, the Labour inspector adds. “We can see that with the case of the Phnom Penh Garment factory, whose manager ran away two years ago: workers still haven’t received any compensation.”

For secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour Om Mean, the difficulty mainly comes from the fact that some employers do not own the premises and material inside the factory and it is therefore difficult to claim compensation or seize the owner’s property when the employer has vanished. “On that type of case, we must cooperate with both investors [the owner of the premises and the employer] so that eventually, they can give some money to solve the problem with workers”, he says.

As for the failure to comply with what the Labour Law stipulates regarding compensations, Om Mean points out that a law on the collapse of factories was recently adopted and allows companies, in the event of bankruptcy, to only pay the equivalent of the last monthly salary, i.e. compensations which are a lot less important than those stated in the Labour Law. The measure, for that matter, did not generate any strike or demonstration.

Residents fear vice patrols

Sex workers walk the street near Wat Phnom, a well-known area for prostitution.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Chhay Channyda
Friday, 03 April 2009

Women report being detained as sex workers if they go near Wat Phnom at night.

WOMEN who live near Wat Phnom are refusing to leave their houses at night for fear of being arrested and detained as sex workers, according to women who live in the neighbourhood. But municipal police deny there is a crackdown on "normal girls" and the commune chief says police are not holding women in detention centres, merely "educating and releasing them".

Ho Socheata, 21, says she was arrested at 10pm while picking up milk for her two children last month.

"I left home to buy milk for my children at night near Wat Phnom, and I met my friend. We were talking to each other, and then I saw police come to arrest us, but my friend ran away," Ho Socheata said.

When she did not have the US$50 needed to pay for her freedom, the police locked her up for a night at the Daun Penh station, she said.

Ho Van, a Sam Rainsy Party member of parliament who helped ensure Ho Socheata's release, said, "The police should be careful about the women they arrest because it is easy to arrest the wrong person."

Women who live in the area are now staying clear of Wat Phnom after sundown.

"I don't go out at night to Wat Phnom now because I am afraid the police will arrest me if they think I am a sex worker," Sok Chan, 24, said.

A coconut vendor near Wat Phnom confirmed that she regularly saw police raids of the area between 10pm and 1am.

"Sometimes I see sex workers and beggars arrested and put in police cars. They have to live in the probation centre for over two weeks.... I know because the sex workers come to buy my coconuts, and they complain about the problem," Yem Chantha, 43, said.

But Touch Naruth, Phnom Penh's municipal police chief, said Tuesday there was "no crackdown on normal girls" and said the reports to the contrary were just hearsay.

"They just spread rumours. There is no report to us from local authorities there. If women [who are not sex workers] were arrested, then they would complain to us," he said.

The crackdown, he said, was only on sex workers who corrupted the morals of the city and caused disorder. But he did caution against women walking alone in Phnom Penh late at night.

"My suggestion is if you are a normal girl, you have to be careful going out late at night. You must go out with many people, not alone," he said.

Touch Naruth was confident his police only arrested sex workers, saying: "Police cannot just arrest girls without determining who is a real sex worker and who is not."

But Ho Van said it was not always that easy to determine which women are sex workers.

"[Sex workers] mix easily with others in order not to be recognised," he said.

The Srah Chak commune chief, Chhay Thirith, said commune police were on duty every night around Wat Phnom but that police only educated sex workers about the dangers of prostitution and did not detain women for long periods.

Though he said only sex workers had been arrested, he warned women against going places at night.

"Police target sex workers after 9pm, so those girls who travel at night must be careful ... because travelling at night is dangerous. They will be considered bad."

No matter what police and politicians say about only arresting sex workers, Ho Socheata refuses to go out at night, worried that she could be thrown into a detention centre again.

"I am very scared of the police. I don't know why they do this," she said.

KRT judges suppress corruption questions

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary at the ECCC during a public bail hearing Thursday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Friday, 03 April 2009

Defence queries relating to persistent kickback allegations dismissed by court's judges during Ieng Sary bail hearings.

LAWYERS at the Khmer Rouge tribunal addressed the issue of corruption for the first time inside courtroom walls Thursday, prompting a gaglike response from judges over what has been referred to as a black cloud hanging over the court.

Merely days after the substantial beginning of the historic trial of the Khmer Rouge's most notorious prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, lawyers for another detainee, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, confronted judges directly about the issue, which has been consistently dodged by the court, the UN and the government since allegations that staff were kicking back some of their salary to their bosses arose last year.

Speaking at a bail hearing scheduled for lawyers to argue the release of their client on the basis of health, Michael Karnavas, Ieng Sary's international co-lawyer, argued that comments from Prime Minister Hun Sen two days ago regarding the ill health of the court now meant there were new issues at stake.

"We don't know whether in six months' or a year's time this investigation will be still here," said Karnavas.

"The court needs to investigate what, if any, part of the investigative process has been tainted," he added.

Making reference to a German delegation report leaked to the media in February, in which the head of administration, Sean Visoth, was named as being "found guilty of corruption", Karnavas argued that due diligence could not be upheld if the court was about to collapse on the weight of the allegations, which preceded a drop in donations to the Cambodian side of the court.

"It is part and parcel of the issue of due dilligence; if this institution will not be in place in six months' or a year's time, my client [should be released]," said Karnavas.

The unexpected comments prompted an immediate response from judges and prosecutors, who said the issue was not on the written submission and therefore could not be discussed.

"The lawyers' 19-page appeal does not mention corruption once.... In accordance to [the internal rules of the court] lawyers are prevented from raising additional matters of fact to the appeal," co-prosecutor Anees Ahmed said.

But lawyers argued that as the comments were made only two days ago, they could not have included it in the appeal.

After interrupting lawyers several times on the basis of "repetiton", judges ruled that the topic was inappropriate.

"There will be no discussion of the issues of budget or the issues of corruption," Judge Rowan Downing said.

Unreleased review
Allegations of graft at the court among Cambodian staffers arose last year, prompting a review of the court by a UN oversight body. A report of this review was sent to the government, which never made it public. No further inquiries has since been undertaken.

However, suspicion has only grown out of the silence surrounding the court's two sides, with lawyers now coalescing to have the issue finally resolved.

Three out of five defence teams support a request made by former regime leader Nuon Chea's team last week that the court examine the corruption allegations in the interests of a fair trial, with civil party lawyers hinting that they will also get on board.

Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for Nuon Chea's defence team, said that given such momentum inside the court, the judges' response on the issue Thursday was disappointing.

"From the moment corruption became an issue, it has been covered up. Public affairs has minimised it, the UN has avoided it, the government has ignored it. But you don't expect to see the judges doing the same thing," he said.

"When the issue was brought up today, you could see the Cambodian judges exchange looks. After comments like that by the prime minister, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cambodian judges were told to keep quiet and dodge the issue."

Government officials told the Post Thursday that allegations of corruption were politically motivated.

"This accusation of corruption is political. Some NGOs have a political agenda with Khmer Rouge issues," Minister for Information Khieu Kanharith said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, added, "The corruption allegations at the Khmer Rouge tribunal administration are only a strategy to delay the judicial process, provoked by some people."

However, in a press conference after the proceedings, Karnavas told reporters it was up to the UN to meet its own international standards if the issue was to be resolved.

"If the UN can go around the world lecturing about transparency, then they have the responsibility to provide the [oversight] report to the court," he said. "If they came here to do it the right way, then do it the right way."

Judges are yet to decide whether to release Ieng Sary on bail because of his age and poor health.

Govt to regulate new year parties

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Friday, 03 April 2009

IN order to prevent any disruptive Khmer New Year celebrations, the government has called for 24-hour security at public locations and ordered the Culture Ministry to hold a variety of wholesome and educational activities during the celebrations that run from April 14 to 16.

All municipalities and provinces have been asked to arrange concerts in public places and provide traditional games that would not cause public disorder during the Khmer New Year, according to the secretary general of the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals, which also ordered the ministries of Interior and Defence on March 5 to "increase and tighten security to ensure order during the Khmer New Year".

The instructions, signed by the body's chief, Kong Sam Ol, demanded that the Culture Ministry hold performances and encourage people to play traditional games.

"These activities are to educate and show the young generation to be aware of and preserve such tradition," they said.

Games that involve gambling or violate Khmer traditions were also banned.

Sbong Sarath, governor of Preah Sihanouk province, said Wednesday that his province, after receiving the new instructions, would specifically target the locations where local and foreign tourists typically congregate during the New Year with a 24-hour security presence.

"Our authorities will work 24 hours during the three days at 12 main tourist destinations. Ten police officers will be deployed at each target.

We will especially tighten security along the beach," he said.

Along with increased security, the government will also work to ensure that the natural beauty of the beach is maintained and that visitors remain safe.

"Along the beaches, we will inform vendors and visitors to keep the environment clean as well as put up warning signs at dangerous swimming areas to prevent people from drowning," he said, adding that he expects about 3,000 people to visit his province every day of the Khmer New Year.

Security in the capital
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema also announced that the capital's eight districts would also increase their security.

"From now on, all levels of police have to be on duty 24 hours," he said Monday during a monthly meeting, saying that during the last few months, "armed robberies, bag-snatching and other crimes had made people live in fear", and he did not want such things happening during the holiday.

"This would cause people to be unhappy during the New Year celebrations, and so the authorities will strengthen security," he said.

Fire warning
The festival committee also cautioned people to be careful with burning materials during the holiday.

"People must be highly cautious with incense sticks, candles or ovens because they could cause a major fire," the new instructions said.

Ministers' offices delayed

The new Chinese-funded Council of Ministers building in Phnom Penh. Hun Sen wants a Khmer-style building next door.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Michael Hayes and Vong Sokheng
Friday, 03 April 2009

PM feels Chinese-funded Council of Ministers building requires a Khmer twin.

THEY are hardly Byzantine in their complexity, but events surrounding the sleek new Council of Ministers building, generously paid for by China, have managed to keep political tongues wagging in Phnom Penh.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, confirmed Thursday that the inauguration of the Chinese-funded stone and glass edifice, which stands on Russian Boulevard, has been delayed until November 2010.

The inauguration was reportedly meant to take place this Saturday - the fourth day of the fourth month of the year. Phay Siphan denied that the reason for the delay was to assuage Chinese jitters over the unluckiness of the number four, which in Chinese sounds the same as the word for "death".

Phay Siphan also confirmed that Prime Minister Hun Sen wants a second building - designed by Khmers and built in a Khmer style - to be constructed next door to the muscular Chinese-built structure, and in which he will have his new office.

"Hun Sen wants this to be a Khmer-style building," Phay Siphan said. "There's more work to be done."

The man tasked with delivering the building to Hun Sen's satisfaction is council Secretary of State Prak Sokhon. Phay Siphan told the Post the reason for the extra building was because Hun Sen felt the Chinese-built structure lacked the space to host international conferences.

He added that both buildings would be inaugurated on November 8, 2010.

Khmer design sought
One government source, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Post that the prime minister was in fact not happy with several aspects of the Chinese-designed building, which was why the second building was required.

The source said the land had been bought from a well-known and wealthy Cambodian businesswoman with close connections to senior leaders of the ruling Cambodian People's Party. The previous building, which had housed a pharmaceuticals company, was hastily demolished.

Hun Sen had reportedly pulled out an architectural drawing at a recent Council of Ministers meeting and showed it to the council members, the source said. He emphasised that the new building had been designed by a Khmer architect and would be built by Cambodians.

The source also suggested that Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, who is also minister for the National Assembly and Senate relations, would be allocated the seventh-floor office in the council building. That floor was originally slated for Hun Sen. Deputy Prime Minister Sok An is reportedly taking the sixth floor.

All of this has helped fuel speculation of a rift between Hun Sen and Sok An - particularly in light of the jocular statements made by Hun Sen on Tuesday when he declared, with a smile, that if Sok An did not close the cockfighting matches held at his house in Takeo, troops would be sent in to surround them. It is not known whether Sok An has yet complied with the order.

"Hun Sen is a very careful speaker, and he never says anything that is not thought out or that does not have a purpose," said one long-time observer of Cambodian politics concerning the remarks directed at Sok An. A separate source, who also requested anonymity, said it appeared that the original design for the Chinese-funded building may not have been personally approved by Hun Sen.

Shootout: Police say man shot bystander

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Friday, 03 April 2009


Aman identified as Nuo Chanta, a lawyer and former chief investigation judge for the Military Police, is suspected of shooting a Phnom Penh bystander after a hit-and-run that led to a shootout with police. Meanchey district Police Chief Hing Narith said Nuo Chanta, a lawyer registered with the Cambodian Bar Association, fled police after crashing into a tuk-tuk taxi carriage. In the ensuing chase, police tried to disable the suspect's car by shooting out its tyres, prompting the suspect to return fire with a handgun, he said. The victim, a 27-year-old store clerk named Mein Piseth, told the Post by phone from Calmette Hospital that he was shot in the stomach while riding a bicycle home from work. "I heard the shooting going on in front of me but I kept going. I saw the car's tyres were flat and the owner was shooting back at police. Suddenly, I was shot," he said. He added that he did not know who shot him.

Community in shadow of KR dam

Nan Vey outside his small store near a KR-era dam that is set for an ADB-funded renovation.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Friday, 03 April 2009

Battambang province

Built by ‘April 17 people' - former city dwellers - the Battambang dam in Chork Thom village is set for an ADB-funded rehabilitation, but residents want compensation before relocating.

NAN Vey's house is solidly built of zinc sheets with a thatched roof and stocked with groceries. It sits on the site of a former Khmer Rouge-era dam, which collapsed in the late 1970s and has been used as rice fields for 30 years.

But now there is no water in the fields near his house, and his annual rice crop, while reliable, is modest - the only water for irrigation is in a nearby canal, whose depth varies between 1 and 3 metres.

To make ends meet, Nan Vey, 28, opened his small grocery store a few months ago in his house on the dam in Chork Thom village, Battambang province. He sells cakes, candy, sugar, oranges and spicy foods to families who farm the land that was once the dam's basin.

The 500-hectare Chork dam is one of three in Battambang province that are set to be rehabilitated with funding provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as part of a much-needed plan to improve the country's irrigation systems.

But local authorities have rejected the idea of compensating the 180 families farming on the former dam, saying they were living on state land and were not entitled to it. The ADB then said a compromise must be reached to allow it to approve the funds. Negotiations between local authorities and residents are ongoing.

It should be repaired because it was created by ... the people in 1977.

Nan Vey has a 2-hectare rice paddy on the dam. While carrying water from the dam home so his son could help to wash the groceries, Nan Vey told the Post that he is aware of the rehabilitation program.

"When they start the rehabilitation, I will have to move my house and grocery store, and I will build a new house somewhere else," he said.

"The government must give us a new rice field or compensation once the dam is repaired. They said we can continue to farm on it, but how can we? It will flood the fields."

Another local villager, Noy Nath, 43, was part of the forced labour gang that built a canal for fish farming next to the dam in 1977. He said that, when he looks at the dam, he feels sad because it reminds him of how they had just rice gruel to eat while building it.

Despite the bad memories, Noy Nath supports the rehabilitation of the historic dam. But he remains worried that its repair will leave people like him - who farm inside the collapsed dam's basin - hungry again.

"It is a good idea to repair the dam for the farmers, but people whose land is affected will end up with no rice to eat if they have no land to cultivate," he said.

"If one gets benefit and another gets no benefit, then we will see more disputes. Already with this dam the farmers argue about water - on one side they need water, but the other side won't release water because that will dry out their fields."

And when the rains come, he said, one side wants to release water, but the other side doesn't want it because their fields will flood.

Another villager, Chum La, 38, insists that the families be given alternative land in return.

"The government wants to develop this so people can have irrigation and grow two rice crops a year, but hundreds of us will have nothing to eat if we lose our rice fields," Chum La said.

"So if this development is going to lead to some people going hungry or starving, they must provide compensation and new land somewhere else."

Ex-KR also in support
A former Khmer Rouge cadre who was part of the team overseeing the construction of the Chork dam is in favour of the government rehabilitation plan. The man, who requested anonymity, said prisoners and "April 17 people" - former city-dwellers - were used to construct it.

"I am happy that the government and the ADB are interested in rehabilitating this dam," he said. "Even though life was hard and people died digging it, it will be useful for the next generation to use. It should be repaired because it was created by the force of the people in 1977."

'Happy' community rejects temporary govt housing

The development that pushed the community out is seen through a fence
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Friday, 03 April 2009

RESIDENTS of Phnom Penh's Rik Reay ("Happy") community say they will not accept temporary relocation pending the construction of onsite housing by local developer Bassac Garden City.

The residents have agreed to accept a compensation package offered by the company in exchange for their land in Tonle Bassac commune, which it has plans to develop into housing.

"We do not agree with the idea to move us from our homes," said community representative Heng Samphors.

"We have agreed to the company's onsite housing policy but suggest we should live on the same land until the company finishes the construction and we can move into the new buildings."

The reaction came after Tonle Bassac commune Chief Khat Narith met with the community's 50 remaining families Thursday morning, informing them of the company's plan to relocate people temporarily to a nearby location.

"I told people we will find somewhere to build temporary homes because City Hall wants to upgrade the riverbanks where people are living," Khat Narith told the Post Thursday.

A government directive dated January 30 outlined two options for Rik Reay's residents: to accept housing in Dangkor district's Damnak Trayoeng village and $10,000 cash, or to take onsite housing, which the company pledged to build on a 16,200-square metre plot in the community.

"The remaining families agreed with the second option because it is the best idea - people do not want to live far from the city," Heng Samphors said.

Rath Kumnith, a legal adviser for Canadia Bank, which is providing a loan to Bassac Garden City for the development, said the company would also keep open a third option: a $20,000 cash package in place of replacement housing - until the Khmer New Year holiday.

He added that about 200 families from Rik Reay had already accepted the offer.

"We have just agreed to onsite housing in principle," he said Thursday.

"We are not closing the door.... If people want $20,000 for moving out, they can come to meet Bassac Garden City representatives before the New Year."

Rath Kumnith did not specify when construction on on-site housing would begin but said company representatives would work with commune officials to assess how many people remain in the area.

Thai soldier loses leg, triggers gunfight after stepping on mine

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Friday, 03 April 2009

A THAI soldier stationed near Preah Vihear temple stepped on a land mine Thursday, losing a leg and triggering an exchange of gunfire between Thai and Cambodian troops patrolling near the contested area, according to Cambodian military officials there.

"The Thai soldier at 8:20am had his right leg blown off when he stepped on a mine," said Khim Eung, an officer with Brigade 8 based around the 11th-century temple, which is perched on an escarpment dividing the two countries.

"Thai soldiers fired several shots at Cambodian soldiers after the explosion, and Cambodian soldiers reacted with a few AK-47 shots."

The gunfire, he said, came from confusion about the source of the explosion and ended quickly.

Khim Eung said the incident occurred at Veal Antri, a tract of forest around a kilometre from the temple that was the site of the only armed flare-ups of the nearly eight-month-old border standoff.

Heavy fighting erupted there October 15, killing three Cambodian soldiers and wounding others, with several Thai troops sustaining injuries. Two weeks earlier, Veal Antri was the site of a brief firefight that left three troops wounded.

Khim Eung said the wounded solider was evacuated by helicopter within an hour after Thai military commanders asked permission to retrieve him.

Deputy Thai army spokesman Colonel Sirichan Ngathong said the solider had been on patrol and confirmed the soldier had lost a leg.

Tense detente
Khim Eung said 50 Thai soldiers remained at Veal Antri. Although he described the morning's tension as having mostly subsided, he said Cambodian troops in the area remained on high alert.

Yim Phim, commander of Brigade 8, said the Cambodian troops "don't dare walk" in the area where the Thai soldier was wounded.

"Mines were laid there during the fighting in the 1980s and 1990s," he said, referring to clashes between government troops and resistance fighters.

The incident came two days after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Thailand that it would face fighting if its troops crossed their disputed frontier, and a week after an alleged trespass by about 100 soldiers.


PM accepts apology for 'gangster' remark made by Thai minister


The Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry claimed Wednesday that Minister Kasit Piromya referred to Hun Sen as jai nek leng (‘sportsmanlike', ‘big-hearted'), rather than the term nek leng, which translates into English as ‘gangster', or one who ‘ignores the rules'.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Friday, 03 April 2009

But top envoy Kasit Piromya maintains his meaning was lost in translation, and that his intent was to praise Hun Sen as ‘lion-hearted'.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has accepted a written apology by the Thai foreign minister over a remark made in Bangkok's parliament that some say referred to the premier as a "gangster".

In a letter dated Thursday obtained by the Post, Hun Sen said "the Cambodian people, who supported and voted for me to lead the country, as well as myself, were definitely calmed by the sight of your apology".

The foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, wrote Wednesday to Hun Sen expressing his "deep apology" for what he described as an "unintentional cause of misunderstanding", according to a copy of the letter.

On Tuesday, during the inauguration of Samdech Hun Sen Quay in Preah Sihanouk province, Hun Sen lashed out at Kasit for allegedly branding him a "gentleman with the mind of a gangster".

But echoing similar comments from the Thai Foreign Minsitry, Kasit said his comments - made in a parliamentary debate last month - were misconstrued by the prime minister.

"In the Thai language, the work nak leng that I used during the debate means a person who is lion-hearted, a courageous and magnanimous gentleman," he wrote.

"This is how I referred to you as an expression of my appreciation of and respect for Your Excellency."

Hun Sen is scheduled to attend the April 10-12 ASEAN summit in Thailand, which will also include representatives from Japan, China and South Korea. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is also slated to visit Cambodia on April 18.

A personal grasp of poverty

Qimiao Fan: Cambodia has seen tremendous growth in the past decade - the government must now protect those gains.


I was born, grew up and was educated in a poor village in central-south China, so I have seen first-hand the impact of poverty on people. But I have also seen how people can get out of poverty and what kinds of public policy can help people get out of poverty. So for me, poverty reduction is not just something nice to do - poverty is something I have lived with in my early childhood and I am very passionate about. The mission of the World Bank to reduce poverty is critically important. And in many ways, that is why I have chosen to come to Cambodia, particularly as this is a post-conflict country and still one of the poorest in the region.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Friday, 03 April 2009

World Bank representative Qimiao Fan talks to the Post's Robert Carmichael.

You have visited 14 provinces around the country to see conditions on the ground. What stands out?

Cambodia has only had peace and stability in the last 10 years, and as a post-conflict country it has made tremendous progress in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction.

I spent time visiting villages, schools, health clinics, and also went to rice millers and talked to people along the roadside. You are seeing quite a lot of new houses being built in the countryside, and other people are expanding and improving their houses.

What is also striking having lived in China as a child in the '60s and '70s is the amount of goods available in the markets - be they locally produced vegetables or imported electronic goods. Everything is available here.

You also see new schools being built, and almost every commune now has a health clinic. I have also seen a lot more roads. These roads may not look that great, but if you talk to a farmer they help to reduce the time and cost it takes to get his vegetables and his pig to the market. And more importantly, when his children get sick he can take them very quickly to the health clinic.

These visits confirm the progress one can see through the statistics. Cambodia has been growing since 1998 to 2007 by an average of about 9.8 percent of GDP. That is a huge achievement and would rank Cambodia number six or seven in the world for the decade. For a post-conflict country to be able to sustain growth at that level for a decade is remarkable.

With that growth, you see the associated reduction in poverty. In 2004, the rate was 35 percent, and by 2007 that was reduced to 30.1 percent. That is almost a 5 percent reduction in three years. And if you look at mortality rates and primary enrolment rates, and the gap between girls and boys in primary enrolment rates, [they have all improved].

The second thing is that there are enormous challenges. You still have more than 4 million people living under the poverty line, and even more just above the poverty line. So if there are major shocks - illness, drought, flooding, a slowdown in the economy - they could be pushed back below the poverty line.

Access to public services has improved tremendously, but the quality of public services is still a problem and will take many years to improve.

Most parts of the countryside don't have electricity and clean drinking water or sewerage. Some villages don't have access roads, and if they do, the quality is pretty bad.

The third point is that these challenges are made much more difficult by the global economic crisis. The key is for the government to make sure that the gains made in the past decade are protected.

What was most encouraging?
For me it is seeing how local governance has improved. Coming from China and having worked in Africa, this is the most striking thing. In all my trips, I talk to the commune councils - this is democracy at the grassroots level.

All parties are sitting there, and they are not speaking with one voice - naturally - but they are working together as the local elected body to make decisions as to whether to build an access road or an irrigation canal or a school building. That participatory approach is the most encouraging thing for me to see.

The second thing that is a great hope is that anyone you talk to wants a better life for themselves and, more importantly, for their children.

The desire for people to educate their kids is very encouraging.

The third thing is the impact infrastructure has on people's lives. When infrastructure is done right, it can help improve lives tremendously.


And the most troubling?
There is widespread poverty, but agriculture and rural development are going to be the key sectors for further poverty reduction - they have to be because, with 85 percent of people [living in rural areas], that's where most of the poor live. We need to do a lot more.

The government recognises that agriculture is a top priority, but I think a lot more can be done in terms of agricultural development - investing in rural infrastructure, particularly irrigation, rural electrification, clean water and rural roads.

And the other thing to reduce poverty is better rural services, particularly health. It is not enough to have access. The quality of the service [is important]. Investments in rural infrastructure are extremely important, and in the short term can provide jobs to the poorest people.

And these sorts of infrastructure will position Cambodia much better when the economy globally rebounds. So I think it is extremely important for the government to invest a lot more - and I do mean a lot more - in rural infrastructure.

The bank's country economist Stephane Guimbert wrote about the unsustainable use of natural resources - a key issue for more than 10 years. What are your thoughts?

We don't know much yet about the potential for extractive industries [minerals, oil, gas]. But we do know Cambodia has abundant resources. These are very important assets for the Cambodian people.

There are good examples of how some natural resources can be better managed - for example, land. The World Bank and other partners have been supporting government with the land titling project, where close to 1 million land titles were issued in the last few years. Land security is such an important thing for the poor.

For the extractive industries, we share the concerns of many observers. The government needs to put in place a transparent and reasonably good legal and regulatory framework for natural resources. We don't have that.

Second is the issue of capacity. When you don't know how to design and negotiate production-sharing agreements, it is very difficult to manage natural resources like oil and gas effectively and transparently.

The third thing the government should start to do is build their own capacity and put systems in place to allow them to use these revenues in a transparent way - for example, by adopting the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [EITI].

Which the government initially said it would sign, and now refuses to.

I don't think they have rejected it. They are making progress and have just set up a working group that is now doing an action plan to help them build the capacity to do it.

Isn't this just a delaying tactic by the government? If it followed the EITI's prescriptions, the people of Cambodia, whose resources these are, would get a fairer deal.

We would all like the government to sign on to the EITI. Signing on to it is easy. But whether it will be useful depends on whether the government has the capacity to abide by those principles.

We have been involved with the government with a very ambitious public financial management system. Cambodia is used to having pretty much no budget, but now they have a reasonably credible budget and budget process. But that also requires officials to have the capacity to do those things, and you don't have a lot within every ministry.

How long will that take, and why has it taken so long?

It is a gradual and continuous process and will take a few years to put in place.

I agree that to do these things you need strong commitment and leadership in government. Second, you have to remember that this is a country that in terms of government institutions was almost rebuilt from scratch 10 years ago.

There is capacity needed in all sectors. If you have political commitment from all parties, it can be done quickly. But I also recognise that in all these - particularly in the extractive industries - we have competing and vested interests that would resist the implementation and establishment of a transparent legal and regulatory framework.

The global economic crisis is a good opportunity for them to say that we have a couple of years to put these things in place. It can be done.

Is the government doing enough to reduce poverty?

Everyone would like to see any government in the world do a better job in reducing poverty. But in every country, poverty reduction competes with other priorities. You have to give the government credit for stellar growth over the past decade, and that has translated into poverty reduction.

We have seen many post-conflict countries slip back into conflict. The fact that Cambodia was able to sustain rapid growth and significant poverty reduction has helped it to stay in peace and have stability - that is extremely important. The challenge now is for the government to protect the gains.

The government needs to put in a social safety net to protect the poor and the unemployed. Some will go back to rural areas, and that's why it needs to invest in rural areas. In the short term, they need to ensure these people have enough food to eat, a place to sleep and - to the extent they can - to provide training so they can find other jobs.

Has the bank revised its estimates since February?

We are in the process of revising our forecast. It is clear 2009 is going to be very challenging.

Whether or not it is minus half a percent is not that important - that misses the point of the impact. [Whatever the reduction] it is a huge deceleration in growth with a tremendous impact on employment and therefore income level.

When you had growth of 10 percent, the country was able to absorb a lot of the new job entrants into the garment, tourism and construction sectors. Today we are seeing over 50,000 net job losses in the garment sector, and maybe the same in the construction sector.

The other side is this is a very young population - you will have another quarter-million people entering the labour market in the next year.

Put that together, and you will have maybe half-a-million people needing jobs. And when the economy is not growing, you are not going to see job growth.

That is why it is so important that the government focuses on these issues and puts in place a social safety net - and they are doing that. But a lot more can be done.

Salt production falls as rains hit industry in first quarter

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A salt miner in Kampot province transports baskets of salt.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Friday, 03 April 2009

Unexpected rains are taking their toll on Cambodia’s salt fields, with Kampot salt miners left unable to meet the country’s growing demand

CAMBODIA's salt production has dropped sharply this year due to rainfall damage, officials and salt producers said Thursday.

"We expected to produce 100,000 tonnes of salt this year to meet market needs nationwide, but so far we have only been able to mine about 10,000 tonnes," said Chhun Hinn, director of Kampot's department of Industry, Mines and Energy.

He said that salt can only be mined between December and April when the weather is dry, and that the yield for April was unlikely to make up the shortfall.

"Even if we leave one month more for our salt production and the weather is good, we still won't be able to produce this amount of salt," he said. "I think this month we can produce only between 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes."

Chhun Hinn said also that the ministry had been expecting that salt production would rise in the 2008-09 season, following the improvement of local salt fields. But the fear of rain had led salt farmers to bring in their harvests prematurely, he added.

"Salt farmers are trying to collect salt that has not reached maturity due to their fears the rain will destroy yields," he said. He added that weather was an important variable for the local salt industry - with good weather the country could produce as much as 200,000 tonnes annually. "Salt production relies on the weather," he said.

But bad weather in early 2009 has cast a pall over the local salt industry, according to local producers and wholesalers. Kampot salt farmer Noun Phala said constant rain had ruined his harvest for the year, which was likely to fall well below the 2,000 tonnes he produced in 2007-08. "I don't know clearly how much salt I will get this season," he said. "I have one month more to produce salt, but I don't think that I can produce what I got last season. We do our business according to the weather."

Chhay Sochanny, a salt broker in Kampot, said that as well as a shortage of supply from bad weather, there had also been a drop off in demand following a flood of salt imports from Thailand. She said that imports had risen to counter the drop off in local production. "The imported salt will threaten my sales because it is whiter and cheaper than ours. Our salt is a bit dark this year because of the effects of the rain," she said, adding that she had suspended purchases of new stocks for the rest of the harvest season for fears she would not be able to sell them on to her clients in Phnom Penh, Stung Treng and Kandal.

We are worried ... and are trying to contact neighbouring countries.

Short supply has been reflected in the price of salt which has risen 20 percent since the beginning of the year to 1,440 (US$0.35) riels per kilogram.

Chhun Hinn said the year's shortages had forced the ministry to release its 10,000-tonne stocks built up over the last few years, which has already been depleted by high demand. "We are worried about this shortage and are now trying to contact neighbouring countries to import salt and help fulfill the demand," he said. "We have enough capital [to purchase] imports, but presently we are negotiating the price, which is a bit high."

He added that Kampot province is the sole location for salt production in Cambodia, and has over 3,000 hectares of salt production lands with over 700 farmers working on the sector, he said.

$7m fund announced

Photo by: Sovann Philong
A woman looks at a job board in Phnom Penh. Jobless numbers are swelling as factories close.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal and Hor Hab
Friday, 03 April 2009

With the economic downturn leaving more Cambodians jobless, the government says it is providing free training

THE government announced Wednesday that over 31 billion riels (US$7.6 million) would be spent to train workers laid off during the economic downturn.

Keat Chhon, deputy prime minister and minister of economy and finance, said at the National Assembly that the money would go towards training and other assistance.

The government also stressed increasing productivity, which he said is lagging compared with neighbouring countries.

"We are trying to enhance the ability of workers and entrepreneurs to improve productivity," he said.

"Cambodian workers need to be more productive to capitalise on their comparative advantages and compete in the international market," said Keat Chhon. A report by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy stated that 82 factories closed in 2008, costing 52,000 jobs.

Heng Sour, director general of administration and finance at the Ministry of Labour said Thursday that the government had prepared a funding package to train workers facing job losses.

He said that candidates could qualify if they gave evidence of past employment, and demonstrated they were dismissed for cost-cutting reasons.

"Workers can attend the four-month training course free of charge and receive $40 for accommodation and food," said Heng Sour.

"We have three main categories: service, crafts and agriculture; and they will teach new skills for workers, so they can have different options for their careers," he said, adding that 9,420 workers will attend the course.

"We have not started the training courses yet because we are waiting to receive the government's special funding package. We hope we can use this money after the Khmer New Year," he said.

Kaing Monika, external affairs manager of the Garment and Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, applauded the government plan, saying it would help mitigate the effects of the economic downturn.

"The government can train workers in new skills or upgrade their current skills to increase productivity because the garment sector can absorb these people when the economic crisis recovers," said Kaing Monika.

"It's good economic policy to absorb the unemployed."

This year to March, 13 GMAC-member factories closed, resulting in more than 6,000 jobs losses, said Kaing Monika.

EC rejects Cambodia projection by EIU

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Friday, 03 April 2009

Siem Reap

EUROPEAN Commission delegates to Cambodia on Thursday said that while the global financial crisis will have grim consequences for rural Cambodians, the situation is not as bad as a recent Economist Intelligence Unit report suggests.

Chanthou Hem, the program officer for food security at the European Commission, said at a meeting in Siem Reap: "I think the EIU report is a little pessimistic," but added that the economic downturn would inevitably create some social tension.

The EC delegation today finishes a two-day conference titled "Repercussions of the economic downturn in rural Cambodia" at the Ree Hotel in Siem Reap.

In a presentation on the impact of the downturn on the rural poor, Chanthou Hem said that the downturns in garment, tourism and construction sectors, combined with the lingering effects of the 2008 food price crisis, will increase the trafficking and prostitution of rural women and force families to live on small quantities of low-quality food.

The Vagina Monologues to open at Khmer Surin theatre

Photo Supplied
The cast of The Vagina Monologues.

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 03 April 2009

Eve Ensler’s acclaimed play opens tonight, with a cast of 10 international women who aim to make the controversial work accessible to local audiences

Starting this Friday the performance company The Cambodian Monologues - a cast of 10 women from around the world - will perform Eve Ensler's groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues at Phnom Penh's Khmer Surin performance centre.

Originally performed by Ensler as a one-woman play in 1996, The Vagina Monologues has since enjoyed success worldwide as an award-winning performance, an HBO special and a vehicle for feminist discussion.

Ensler stumbled onto the idea of writing the play after a conversation with a woman about menopause.

"She was a really smart feminist woman, and she started saying things about her vagina that really surprised me. I started thinking, ‘My God, I have no idea what women think about their vaginas, and I don't think it's what I think they think'," Ensler told the New Sun Newspaper in a 2000 interview.

Ensler then interviewed 200 women across the spectrum of race, class and sexual identity about their vaginas and compiled a number of different stories ranging from birth and orgasms to rape and menstruation.

These stories became The Vagina Monologues and have since been transformed, developed and expounded upon - slight changes have been made in the script for the upcoming performance in Phnom Penh that add local flavour.

Discussion workshops
In preparation for the play, a number of workshops were set up in order to discuss vaginas in Cambodia.

"We wanted to ... have some sort of Cambodian element," said producer Nora Lindstrom. "So we started having workshops with Cambodian women. A lot of people came, and it was really quite encouraging."

"We talked about women's position in society, we talked about sex during marriage, sex before marriage.... We talked about divorce. Women would speak up about their experiences of being abused by husbands or about simply not feeling sexually fulfilled," she said.

The workshops were a part of a larger campaign started by Ensler in the late 1990s known as V-Day.

"The V-Day movement is about ending violence against women and girls," said Lindstrom. "Only by speaking up about women's experiences, whether they be positive or negative, can we give value to women's bodies, sexuality and femininity.... Unless you can speak up about the fact that you were raped, women won't - and there will be no statistic, no knowledge and no measures to stop it. I think The Vagina Monologues help women to speak up. It shows that you're not alone and that there is a loving community there for you if you do speak up."

Theatre has often been used as a tool for communicating sensitive issues. In Cambodia there have been theatre campaigns on such topics as AIDS, family and education.

"[Theatre] is a really entertaining, non-confrontational way of legitimising the words, [the] fact that you can talk about this," said director Isabelle Skaburskis. "There's something empowering and legitimising about seeing people on stage using these words and talking about these experiences freely."

In addition to The Vagina Monologues performance, the women's singing group The Messengers will also perform before each play.

"A lot of [The Messengers'] songs have to do with women's rights, they have to do with sex workers, they have to do with garment factory workers, they have to do with land rights - they have to do with what it means to be a woman in Cambodia," said Lindstrom.

The group consists of five singers who have all worked in the garment factory industry. They sing original songs to traditional melodies about topics that affect daily life for many Cambodian women.

The Vagina Monologues will be showing Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and again on Sunday at 2:30pm at Khmer Surin, No 9 Street 57. For more info visit

The Phnom Penh Post News In Briefs

In Brief: Govt targets TB

Written by Khuon Leakhana
Friday, 03 April 2009

The Health Ministry pledged to cure more than 85 percent of tuberculosis cases in Cambodia as part of its 2008-15 plan to eradicate the deadly disease. Speaking Tuesday at an event dedicated to tuberculosis prevention, Eng Huort, a secretary of state for the ministry, said: "We're very concerned that tuberculosis kills so many in Cambodia even though it's a curable disease."

In Brief: Siem reap schools go smoke-free

Written by May Titthara
Friday, 03 April 2009

Eight Siem Reap schools have been declared non-smoking zones by their teachers, according to the province's deputy chief of the Education, Youth and Sport Department, Nam Thong Sy. "We did not force them to stop. Teachers there volunteered because they want the school to have a fresh environment," he said.

In Brief: UN visits P Vihear

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 03 April 2009

A high-level UNESCO delegation paid a visit to Preah Vihear temple Wednesday, its second since the Angkor-era temple was listed as a World Heritage site last July. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the delegation of seven technical experts would spend four days evaluating the area around the temple and the costs of conserving it. Cambodia has been preparing other temples - including Sambo Preykub and Banteay Chhmar - for nomination as UNESCO sites. So far, just two of its 3,000 temples have been listed as World Heritage sites. Angkor Wat was listed in 1992.

In Brief: 747 rerouted to capital

Written by George McLeod
Friday, 03 April 2009

A Boeing 747-400 made an emergency landing at Phnom Penh International Airport airport on Tuesday, showing the airport's enhanced capacity to handle large aircraft and to respond to emergencies, said the airport authority in a statement. The cargo aircraft was operated by Cargolux Airline and was travelling from Syria to Ho Chi Minh City when it was rerouted to Phnom Penh due to congestion at the Vietnamese airport. The statement added that it is building new runways to accommodate 747s on a regular basis.

In Brief: Govt salary boost

Written by Nguon Sovan
Friday, 03 April 2009

Salary expenses for civil servants and the armed forces increased 58.4 percent since late last year, said the Finance Ministry. "Salary expenses increased to US$30.9 million per month in the first quarter ... from $19.5 million per month at the end of last year," Minister Keat Chhon told the National Assembly on Wednesday. He added that higher tax revenues have allowed the government to increase total spending on salaries by 20 percent per year. Pich Bunthin, secretary of state for the State Secretariat of Public Functions, said Thursday that Cambodia has 170,000 public servants excluding soldiers and police. Government salaries average $35 per month in the Kingdom.

Day in pictures (Khmer Rouge Trial)

Khieu Samphan, a former Khmer Rouge head of state, looks on during a hearing at the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 3, 2009. Khieu Samphan is charged with war crime and crime against humanity.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith, Pool)

Former Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan sits in the dock before Cambodia's genocide tribunal rules on an appeal against his third pre-trial detention, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh April 3, 2009. Khieu Samphan is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.REUTERS/Heng Sinith/Pool (CAMBODIA POLITICS CONFLICT SOCIETY)

Former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary stands in the dock for his pre-trial public hearing on the outskirts of Phnom Penh April 2, 2009. Cambodia's "Killing Fields" court charged Ieng Sary with crimes against humanity three decades after the end of a regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS CONFLICT SOCIETY)

Former Khmer Rouge deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ieng Sary (C) stands in a dock in the courtroom during a public hearing at the Extraodinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Sary asked Thursday to be released from detention ahead of his trial at Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court, on the grounds that he is old and sick.(AFP/POOL/Chor Sokounthea)

Former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary sits in the dock for his pre-trial public hearing on the outskirts of Phnom Penh April 2, 2009. Cambodia's "Killing Fields" court charged Ieng Sary with crimes against humanity three decades after the end of a regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA POLITICS CONFLICT SOCIETY)

I Am Sorry, Duch Tells S-21 Victims


The former commandant of Khmer Rouge's main torture facility on Tuesday told a UN-backed tribunal that he took responsibility for the crimes committed there, and agreed to accept all the 260 crimes charged against him.

Cambodian, Thai soldiers exchange fire at border

Earth Times

Fri, 03 Apr 2009
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodian and Thai soldiers exchanged gunfire Friday morning at a disputed border area where a fatal skirmish between the South-East Asian neighbours erupted last year, a government spokesman in Phnom Penh said. No casualties were reported in the clash at the ninth-century Preah Vihear temple, government spokesman Phay Siphan said.

He said about a dozen Thai troops crossed the border about 7.15 am (0015 GMT) and were immediately confronted by Cambodian soldiers.

The firefight came a day after a Thai soldier was badly injured by a landmine at the site, which both countries claim falls within their territory.

Both countries amassed troops at border in July after the temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"Nak Leng" means lion-hearted gentleman : Hun Sen told

The Nation
Fri, April 3, 2009

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has apologized to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for the misunderstanding of the word he used to describe the premier during recent censure debate, according to his letter received here on Thursday.

Do kindly accept my deep apology for such an unfortunate incident and the unintentional cause of misunderstanding," said the foreign minister in the official letter dated April 1 for the prime minister.

"I have the honor to refer to the recent news reports that Your Excellency is concerned with the terms that I used to describe Your Excellency during the parliamentarian debate session in Thailand," he wrote in the letter.

"In the Thai language, the word 'Nak Leng' which I used during the debate means a person who is lion-hearted, a courageous and magnanimous gentleman, and this is what I referred to you as an expression of my appreciation of and respect for Your Excellency," he added.

On Tuesday, Hun Sen lashed out against Kasit Piromya, for he recently called the premier a "gangster."

"I am neither a gangster nor a gentleman, but a real man," the official Agence Kampuchea Presse quoted the prime minister as telling a road inauguration ceremony in Sihanouk province.

Hun Sen asked the Thai foreign minister to correct the comments that he made.

"To correct or not, it is your right. But, I wish that you choose good words because we are neighbors. We need mutual respect," he added.

According to the prime minister, Kasit Piromya called him a "gangster," because he was angry with the premier for having issued an ultimatum to Thailand to pull its troops out of the Cambodian border area of Veal Intry last October.

Thai troops had armed clash with the Cambodian ones there in October last year, causing death and casualties on both sides.

Cambodian cuisine comes to the sandwich

Courtesy of Peter Pioppo
NYU Washington Square News

Thomas Garry
Thursday, April 2, 2009

When I first got word that a Cambodian sandwich shop was setting up shop on 21 E. 12th St., I had a feeling there was going to be a problem.

It wasn’t because I had a problem with Cambodian cuisine; on the contrary, when Num Pang opened two weeks ago, it doubled the number of the city’s Cambodian dining options. It’s not that I have a problem with sandwiches; in fact, I love the city’s increasing number of diverse gourmet sandwich options. No, it’s because I have to walk past the incredibly enticing smells of Num Pang every day on my way to the WSN office.

Num Pang is the brainchild of Ratha Chau and Ben Daitz, the owner of the city’s only other Cambodian restaurant, Kampuchea, a more traditional restaurant located in the Lower East Side. The sandwiches are inspired by the cooking of Chau’s mother, and the name comes from the Cambodian term for bread or sandwich. Having been open for just under two weeks, the place is already a hit, with lunch lines 20 people deep stretching down the street.

But don’t let the long line scare you. It moves relatively fast, and you’ll get your food not too long after you order.

The store fits well in the trend of Asian sandwiches, including 45th Street’s Chinese-inspired Xie Xie (thank you in Mandarin), and the forthcoming Vietnamese banh mi shop Baoguette on Saint Marks Place, which will replace the now-shuttered automat Bamn. Although the sandwiches at Num Pang are similar to banh mi, the sandwiches here are a bit pricier (the prices range from $6.75 to $9.25, compared to Baoguette’s $5 sandwiches).

The store offers six types of sandwiches, from a vegetarian sandwich to the exotic peppercorn catfish. Each sandwich is served on a roughly six-inch baguette from the city’s Parisi Bakery. The bread is lightly toasted on the griddle and has a wonderfully soft texture. Each sandwich is topped with cucumbers, pickled carrots, cilantro and chili mayo. The chili mayo can be a bit messy as it oozes out the sides of the bread, but it gives the sandwich just the right kick. The cilantro can be a bit much and takes away from the sandwich. However, a strict no-substitutions policy means you’ll be picking cilantro out yourself.

Of the three sandwiches I tried, the coconut tiger shrimp is easily the best. The shrimps are large, plump and juicy, and the coconut flakes that top of them add the perfect yin to the chili mayo’s yang. The pulled pork is also a treat, although you can’t really taste the spiced honey the menu advertises. But the veal meatball is disappointing. Made with hoisin sauce, basil and stewed tomato, the flavors don’t mix well together, and the meatball makes the bread too soggy. While the sandwiches are mostly harmonious, they are hardly filling.

The grilled corn, which is slathered with chili mayo, chili powder and coconut flakes, is reminiscent of Cuban corn, which uses cotija cheese instead of the coconut flakes. The cob was juicy and perfectly grilled, and the toppings flavorful and messy. I can’t wait until the summer when corn is in season.

The house-made blood orange lemonade is a real standout here. This drink, mixed to order, is tart-yet-tasty. The sourness can be a bit overwhelming for those looking for a sweet drink to wash down that chili mayo, but it’s an interesting combination worth trying at least once to see if it’s your thing.

Num Pang, with its fresh ingredients and innovative sandwiches, certainly isn’t Subway, and while these sandwiches will make your taste buds tingle, they’ll probably leave your stomach craving more. Then again, with food this good, I’d be returning anyway.

Thomas Garry is dining editor. E-mail him at

Cambodia expects to nail HIV/AIDS infection rate down to 0.6% in 2010

PHNOM PENH, April 3 (Xinhua) -- The infection rate of HIV/AIDS among the Cambodians is expected to decrease to 0.6 percent in 2010, over 0.7 percent in 2008 and 0.9 percent in 2006, the Chinese-language newspaper the Jian Hua Daily said on Friday.

In order to ensure the goal to be realized, the government has managed to allocate 45 million to 50 million U.S. dollars per year to help counter the disease, the newspaper quoted government figures as saying.

Due to the government and the non-governmental organizations' efforts, over 90 percent of sex workers, gays or lesbians and drug addicts have known about HIV/AIDS, and at least 90 percent of sex workers use condoms when they do their business, said the figures.

Meanwhile, 93 percent of HIV/AIDS patients in Cambodia have received medical aid, 70 percent of HIV/AIDS orphans of the kingdom have been sponsored by the government, and the education campaign has trickled into rural and border areas, according to the figures.

In 1998, the infection rate of HIV/AIDS in Cambodia was 2.8 percent and at least 100,000 people have died of the disease so far, according to official statistics.

Editor: An

I didn't mean it: Kasit

Kasit Piromya (left) said that comments that he made about Mr Hun Sen in a parliamentary debate had been incorrectly translated. -- PHOTO: AFP

The Straits Times

BANGKOK - THAILAND'S foreign minister has apologised for a 'misunderstanding' after being accused by Cambodian premier Hun Sen of calling him a gangster, officials said on Thursday.

Cambodian officials released a scanned copy of a letter from Kasit Piromya, the Thai minister, saying that comments that he made about Mr Hun Sen in a parliamentary debate had been incorrectly translated.

A furious Mr Hun Sen blasted Mr Kasit on Tuesday as he made a speech on tensions between the two countries, saying that the top Thai diplomat had insulted him and adding: 'He has called me a gangster.'

Mr Kasit's letter, dated April 1, said that 'Nak Laeng' - the Thai word he used to refer to Hun Sen - 'means a person who is lionhearted, a courageous and magnanimous gentleman'.

'Do kindly accept my deep apology for such an unfortunate incident and the unintentional cause of misunderstanding,' the letter continued.

A Thai foreign ministry confirmed that Mr Kasit had sent a letter to Mr Hun Sen.

A leading Thai dictionary shows that the word 'Nak Laeng' can have both of the meanings implied by Mr Hun Sen and Mr Kasit.

Mr Hun Sen launched the broadside against Mr Kasit shortly after warning Thailand to be prepared to fight if its troops crossed the disputed border between the two countries, where a deadly gunbattle erupted last year.

A Thai soldier lost a leg in a mine blast in the disputed region on Thursday. -- AFP

Thai, Cambodia troops clash near disputed temple

PHNOM PENH, April 3 (Reuters) - Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged rifle and rocket fire on their disputed border near an ancient Hindu temple on Friday, but there were no reports of casualties, officials from both countries said.

"The armed clash began when Thai soldiers entered Cambodian territory. We fired rockets at the Thai soldiers," Cambodia's government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters.

In Bangkok, Thai Major General Kanok NetraKaveysana confirmed there had been a brief firefight early in the morning, but he had no reports of wounded or dead.

"It was a misunderstanding and it has been resolved," he said, without explaining further.

The fighting erupted a day after a Thai soldier was badly wounded when he stepped on a landmine near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, where both sides have stationed troops since armed clashes in the area last year.

Tensions rose last month when 100 Thai troops crossed into a disputed area near the temple and were stopped by Cambodian soldiers, but no fighting occurred. The border had been quiet for months while the Southeast Asian neighbours sought to jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area where one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers died in last year's exchange of rifle and rocket fire.

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 sq km) of scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

Thai, Cambodian troops exchange gunfire at border area

Thai and Cambodian troops exchange a brief gunfire Friday morning near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple at the border area. (Xinhua Photo)

PHNOM PENH, April 3 (Xinhua) -- Thai and Cambodian troops had a brief exchange of gunfire Friday morning near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple at the border area, said a government spokesman.

The crossfire occurred around 07:15 local time (0015GMT), after a number of Thai soldiers trespassed on the Eagle Field, a piece of Cambodian soil, said Phay Siphan, spokesman of the Council of Ministers.

So far, there has been no reports of casualties, he added.

On Thursday, one Thai soldier lost his leg over a mine explosion in the same area.

Some 40 Thai soldiers intruded into the Cambodian territory at 08:20 local time (0120 GMT) and one of them, who was identified as Chalong Mody, stepped on a previously-planted mine, said a press release from the Council of Ministers.

There were "a few rounds of Thai firing (into the air) to cover their troops" and rescue the injured soldier, but the Cambodian soldiers just "firmly" held themselves up, without "striking back at this moment," it added.

Since July 2008, troops from both sides have stationed near the Preah Vihear temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and two armed clashes last year sparked brief concerns of war.

Editor: An

Cambodian army occupies villagers' farmland with tanks

Two of the seven tanks currently occupying people's farming land

April 2, 2009

In November 2008, villagers in Preah Neth Preah commune lost farmland which they had used for 30 years when armed soldiers and tanks occupied the land. What was once peaceful fertile farmland is now home to military tanks, which has frightened and impoverished the local people.

Personnel from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Small Battalion Tank Unit #65 seized 98 hectares of land across three villages - Poi Samrong, Poi Kdoeng and Boh Bash - in the commune, which is in Preah Neth Preah district of Bantey Meanchey province. Claiming that they needed the land to build a headquarters for the Tank Unit, the soldiers restricted villagers' access to the land and destroyed their crops.

Following the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime in 1979, the Vietnamese army occupied Preah Neth Preah commune and had a military base there, but local villagers were still permitted to grow crops and farm the surrounding land. Around 1988, the military base was returned to RCAF by the Vietnamese army, while farmers kept growing crops. After the civil war ended, from 1991 to 1993 RCAF gradually withdrew from the site and, afterwards, the villagers began expanding their farming activities to include the former military area.

Outbreak of the land dispute
On November 27, 2008 RCAF Deputy Commander and Army Commander Meas Sophea issued a letter ordering Tank Unit #65 to occupy and build a headquarters on an area that had previously been used by the RCAF (in reference to documents dated prior to 1993). As a result, the unit's personnel settled on the 98 hectares and restricted access to 133 families who had used the land for farming.

In February and March 2009 - in an apparent attempt to erase any evidence of long-term farming - soldiers destroyed and burned mango, bamboo and palm trees and potatoes plantations on the disputed land that belonged to the villagers. On March 2, several gunshots were fired into the air to threaten three villagers who wandered too close to the disputed land.

The affected villagers submitted letters to the district and provincial authorities asking for help to resolve the land dispute. The authorities met with the villagers on March 17 and 19, with both district and provincial officials proposing that the Tank Unit should only occupy 26 hectares of the land - the original size of the old Vietnamese military base. Villagers, however, disagreed with this proposal. The provincial authorities agreed to send a letter to the RCAF headquarters to seek a resolution to the dispute.

Authorities in Banteay Meanchey have however expressed concerns to LICADHO that the dispute might not be resolved, because it involves powerful national military officials. In the meantime, villagers are still not allowed to farm on the land, further jeopardizing families' livelihood.

LICADHO urges RCAF and national and provincial government authorities to ensure that the dispute is quickly and fairly resolved, and that villagers are able to continue to grow crops on farmland which they have used for years.

In addition, LICADHO once more calls for RCAF to ensure that soldiers are never mobilized or used against unarmed civilians in land disputes. The use of armed soldiers in land conflicts is an illegal misuse of power and increases the risk of violence, quite possibly with deadly consequences, against villagers.

Cambodia expects to learn oil-exploring experience from Kuwait

PHNOM PENH, Apr. 2, 2009 (Xinhua News Agency) -- The Cambodian National Assembly (NA) has just approved a draft agreement with Kuwait, which can facilitate the kingdom to draw oil-exploring experience from this Arabic country, national media said on Thursday.

By approving the draft version of the Cambodian-Kuwaiti Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement, NA allows the Cambodian government to have one more partner to participate in the exploration and development of the oil and natural gas resources of the kingdom, Chinese-language daily newspaper the Commercial News quoted parliamentarian Cheam Yeap as telling reporters at NA here on Wednesday.

"This is the goal that the government has pursued for years," he said.

Cambodia can copy and fully tap the experience of Kuwait, who, as one of the oil-producing giants in the world, has a long and successful history in the field of petroleum and natural gas exploration, management and development, he said.

"It will hugely benefit our future work in this sector," he added.

Details of the draft agreement have not been disclosed.

The off-coast area at the southwestern tip of Cambodia is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.

Over 10 foreign developers have been exploring the resources there, but none of them starts production yet.

(Source: iStockAnalyst )