Thursday, 9 April 2009

Cops curb computer gaming

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tom Hunter And Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Police targeting violent video games

POLICE are attempting to quash an emerging cyber subculture in Phnom Penh, claiming that violent video games threaten to unravel the delicate social fabric of the city, even though there is no legal ban.

"Violent games are not good for people and the society, because when youths play them, they beat each other and become violent when they lose," Touch Naruth, Phnom Penh Municipal Police chief, told the Post Wednesday.

"We have to shut down all kinds of violent games in our country," he said, adding that gaming centres near schools have already been targeted and that others would be dealt with "step-by-step".

Phnom Penh's gaming community emerged in 2006, following the release of Justice X War 2 by CDIC Information Technology's subsidiary gaming company, Sabay.

Since the game's introduction, more than 100,000 players have registered accounts to play online at the Enter Cyber Cafe, said Chan Borith, Sabay's marketing manager.

Online gaming is relatively new in Cambodia. However, as internet speeds become faster, the country's youth are being sucked into a pastime also criticised by Western researchers for its addictive qualities.

"Violent computer games really affect students' education, because when they become addicted to the game they forget their studies," Touch Naruth said. Cambodian law forbids internet video gaming outlets from opening within 200 metres of schools, a law that Chan Borith says he has always abided by when opening new outlets.

Sixty arrested in raid on B'Bang karaoke parlour: local police


Since the government's new anti-trafficking law came into force in February 2008, police have mounted increasing numbers of raids on brothels, prompting criticisms from rights groups that they are simply driving sex workers onto the streets.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara and Chhay Channyda
Thursday, 09 April 2009

The Cobra III karaoke bar and guesthouse concealed a lucrative brothel operation and possible drug trafficking, local police say.

SIXTY people have been arrested as part of a police raid on the Cobra III karaoke parlor and guesthouse in Battambang province, which law enforcement officers claim concealed a high-end brothel.

Owners, managers and women employed as sex workers at the well-known establishment were arrested Monday, said Born Vannara, deputy chief of the Anti-human Trafficking Police in Battambang.

"We have been investigating the establishment for around six months," he said Wednesday.

"Our investigation indicated that there might be both sex and drug trafficking through the Cobra III."

Of the 60 people arrested during the sweep, under a warrant issued by the Battambang court, about nine are believed to be the masterminds of the operation - owners or managers - with the rest believed to be sex workers, whose clients paid between US$20 and $70 for their services.

Three kinds of women were arrested during the raid, Born Vannara said: "special" high-class prostitutes who were physically attractive and wore sexy dresses, "normal girls", or karaoke girls, who were indirect sex workers, and regular waitresses.

He added said that during the raid, police also found drugs on the premises - in a room he said belonged to Cobra III owner Khan Socheat.

At 2pm Wednesday, police sent the nine key suspects - who police have proposed should be charged with facilitating prostitution and drug trafficking - to Battambang provincial court, police said.

Four of the accused sex workers have been kept at the police station to testify, and the others were made to sign a contract with police agreeing to abstain from prostitution in the future.

Before being returned to their homes in the provinces, the accused sex workers were obliged to undergo "re-education" by officials from the provincial Deparment of Social Affairs, police said.

Re-education includes encouragement to stop working as a prostitute, advice on finding a new job and the health and safety risks of prostitution and drug use.

The guesthouse was shut down in Tuesday's raid, but the karaoke bar has remained open, with Born Vannara calling it a "clean and legal establishment".

Cobra Karaoke also have branches in Preah Sihanouk and Kandal provinces. Tak Vanntha, Sihanoukville chief of police, said he was investigating the local branch but had so far found no evidence of illegal activity.

"Right now, we are strengthening security for Khmer New Year, so we are investigating Cobra Karaoke, but other clubs and karaoke bars also," he said.

Arsenic threatens 100,000 in Kandal

Chorn Sovannary and her family in Kean Svay village, Kandal province, rely on two wells – one that is clean and one that is contaminated.

The late Mickey Sampson and RDIC

Research Development International Cambodia (RDIC), founded by the late Mickey Sampson, is the most active group educating and providing Cambodians with clean, safe water. Sampson combined his chemistry knowledge - he has a PhD - with practical wisdom to achieve real results. Sampson's work involved testing wells throughout Cambodia, educating villagers about the dangers of contaminated water and then working to provide families with an alternative source of safe water. RDIC developed a cheap surface water filtration system, using clay and finely ground rice hulls. The filters can be made cheaply and sold for US$10 a unit. "If you look at what Mickey Sampson did for Cambodia, it's such a loss. In terms of replacing Mickey you know with his innovation, ideas and full on approach to life it's going to be impossible," Jan Rosenboom said. Sampson died unexpectedly of a heart attack on March 19 this year. A memorial to commemorate Mickey Sampson's life and work was held at an RDIC site 20 kilometres south of Phnom Penh in Kandal province on March 28.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tom Huner
Thursday, 09 April 2009


CAMBODIA is beginning to feel the effects of what the World Health Organisation describes as the "largest mass poisoning in history", and if more is not done soon, then over 100,000 people in Kandal province alone could be at risk.

It has been nine years since arsenic was found to be contaminating the nation's groundwater, and knowledge of the chemical element's dangers is still not widespread.

"The problem in Cambodia is only starting to manifest itself," Scott Fendorf, chair of the Stanford University Environmental Earth System Science Department, told the Post last week. "It's a sleeping giant."

Drinking contaminated water with arsenic levels at 500 parts per billion - similar to levels in Kandal province - has the same ability to cause cancer as smoking one packet of cigarettes per day, said Allan Smith, professor of epidemiology at the University of California Berkeley.

The potential threat of arsenic poisoning from groundwater first came to the world's attention in the 1990s when Bangladesh and India started to see the medical repercussions of drinking contaminated water.

The effects of prolonged exposure to arsenic - arsenocosis - are irreversible and can cause melanomas, skin lesions, gangrene, black foot disease and cardiovascular disease. In Bangladesh alone, the WHO estimates that up to 80 million people suffer from arsenocosis.

Smith says Cambodia should expect a rise in instances of cancer and heart disease as the effects of prolonged arsenic exposure begin to trickle into the Kingdom's already overstretched health system.

World experts in Siem Reap
The world's leading scientists gathered in Siem Reap last week at the "AGU Chapman Conference on Arsenic in Groundwater of Southern Asia" to share their knowledge of arsenic, how it works and what to do about it.

Arsenic originates high in the Himalayan mountain ranges as sulphide minerals, which over time become exposed, causing the arsenic to switch into iron oxide particles that easily bind to soil sediments.

The sediments then begin to wash down the big river basins, where they are then transported to the headwaters of the Mekong and eventually make their way into the low-lying regions of the Mekong Delta near Phnom Penh.

The warm tropical environment combined with the right anaerobic conditions cause the arsenic to dissolve into the water system.

"The problem has been here all the time, but the reason people are starting to get poisoned is that they have started to drink the groundwater ... that's where the problem lies," Fendorf said.

WHO has set its acceptable arsenic water levels at 10 parts per billion (ppb), and in Cambodia the acceptable level set by the Ministry of Rural Development is 50 ppb.

Seven of Cambodia's provinces contain contaminated groundwater, but Kandal province is the worst, suffering from "uniformed contamination of the aquifer ... and consistent levels between 300 and 1,000 ppb," Fendorf said.

In Prekrussey village, Kandal province, RDIC scientists found wells with levels at 3,000 ppb.

RDIC scientists said that people in Prekrussey village, are developing signs of rapid arsenicosis in only the first three years after exposure.

In a 2008 UNICEF arsenic evaluation report, 38 percent of tube wells in the seven arsenic-affected provinces were found to be contaminated with arsenic levels above 50 ppb, impacting 136,000 Cambodians.

...chronic exposure takes minimum of 8-10 years, maybe 15.... it's a sleeping giant. it sneaks up on people.

But RDIC scientists say this figure is grossly underestimated.

An independent study conducted by RDIC and Dartmouth College last year determined that there were 100,000 Cambodians at risk in Kandal province alone, saying that the total at risk could be as high as 2 million people in 10 provinces.

Dr Mao Saray, director of the secretariat for arsenic at the Ministry of Rural Development, said the ministry's policy is to provide safe water to all villagers by 2025.

But Jan Willem Rosenboom, Cambodian team leader of the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program, said that the task of providing clean water to Cambodians by 2025 would be "a very difficult challenge".

"There are two main constraints that will make providing clean water difficult: a lack of national strategy and a lack of funds," said Hilda Winarta, project officer for water and environmental sanitation at UNICEF.

Compared to Bangladesh, though, Cambodia is quite well-situated to deal with the arsenic threat.

Bangladesh moved to ground water a lot earlier than Cambodia, and UNICEF estimates that there are 11 million wells in Bangladesh compared to Cambodia's 16,000.

In Bangladesh, 97 percent of the population drink from groundwater, while in Cambodia the preference is still surface water.

"Our family gathers water from the lake and boils it.... We use the well water for cooking and cleaning. It tastes sour and you don't feel well," said Chorn Sovannary, a resident of Kean Svay village in Kandal province.

"We know that if you drink the arsenic water you will get sick," he said.

But Stanford's Fendorf sees room for hope.

"Cambodia is in a place where they can really benefit ... they can say, ‘We know what the problem is, we've seen what happened in Bangladesh and let's not go that way'. We have that option in Cambodia," Fendorf said.

Fendorf says that because the health consequences have advanced much further in Bangladesh, they are taking it very seriously.

"Part of the problem is the chronic exposure takes a minimum of eight to 10 years, maybe 15.... It's a sleeping giant. It sneaks up on people," Fendorf said.

For Cambodia, scientists agree that on the surface the solution seems simple. The problem stems from ground water, so stop drinking ground water, they say.

"Absolutely, if you have a well that is infected with arsenic, your strategy of choice would be avoidance rather than treatment ... source substitution rather than source treatment," Rosenboom said.

"There is, however, still a focus within places like Oxfam and UNICEF, on using ground water," Rosenboom said.

Marc Hall agreed that the prior mandates of organisations such as UNICEF have compounded the problem.

"Traditionally, well water was considered OK, the water looks fine and can provide for a whole village," Marc Hall said.

"What we've seen is that in the last 10 years in Cambodia, arsenic has been quite well documented in the literature. It has just not been perceived at a well drilling level.... If you go out and ask the local well driller, they will have no idea about the problem," Fendorf said.

City cars under fire

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Chhay Chhannyda
Thursday, 09 April 2009

PHNOM Penh pedestrians may soon be a step closer to safer streets with the introduction on May 1 of speed cameras and Breathalysers to prevent speeding and drunk driving.

As part of a South Korean-backed project, speed cameras will be installed at key intersections across the city, Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema told the Post Tuesday.

"The project is in the early stages, and City Hall still needs to determine which intersections and boulevards to install them on," he said.

Key areas already identified for cameras are the intersection of Russian Boulevard near the Royal University of Phnom Penh, at the Japanese-Cambodian Bridge, the Stung Meanchey Bridge, the intersection of Monivong and Sihanouk boulevards, and the intersection of Monivong and Mao Tse-tung boulevards.

"Speed cameras are very important because they can photograph the offender, the place, time, the speed, the number plate and the vehicle colour," said the country's Deputy National Police Chief Ouk Kimlek on Tuesday.

"And the alcohol test will measure the level of driver intoxication by recording the alcohol content in the driver's blood," Ouk Kimlek, who is also the deputy of the National Road Safety Committee, added.

He said this was the first time Cambodia had access to such instruments, and he hoped it would cut road accidents.

Kep Chuktema said the project required training police officials on the use of such cameras.

"Our future plan is to have not just speed cameras, but also an authority to control the traffic," he said. "We will use cameras to monitor the security of the city and its traffic 24 hours a day, as they do in developed countries."

Hearing for former Phnom Penh top cop postponed: lawyer

Heng Pov speaks to the Post at the Appeal Court on Wednesday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Heng Pov says he is unable to pay lawyer's bills, while his defence lawyer says the postponement could facilitate an intervention by Hun Sen.

THE Appeal Court on Wednesday agreed to postpone the hearing of Heng Pov, Phnom Penh's former police chief, who is being tried for possession of counterfeit dollar bills, because Heng Pov cannot access the money needed to pay his lawyer, his defence lawyer Kav Soupha said.

A new hearing date has not yet been determined.

The presiding judge denied Heng Pov's request to access money from his bank account, citing that the decision to unfreeze the account remains with the Municipal Court, not the Appeal Court.

Heng Pov said he sent a letter to Chev Keng, president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and to Hun Sen requesting access to a Canadia Bank account containing nearly US$1 million.

"Please allow me to have a lawyer that I like and allow me to withdraw my money to pay for my lawyer's services. I have been already sentenced to almost 100 years for several crimes without a lawyer I like," Heng Pov told the Post, adding that in "every case the court seems to infringe on my freedom of speech ... and does not allow me to have a lawyer I like for my legal battles".

Kav Soupha requested the suspension because he hoped that Hun Sen would step in.

"I am waiting for an intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen to help Heng Pov withdraw his money to pay for his lawyer's services, his illness and his children to be able to go to school and to allow him to have a lawyer he likes," he said.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Heng Chivoan
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Workers place a giant, smiling cow ridden by the angel Reaksadevi above a Happy Khmer New Year sign on Sihanouk Boulevard on Wednesday. This year, the Year of the Ox, is predicted to bring difficult times to Cambodia, particularly in the farming sectors.

Spreading dharma to the masses

Photo by: Peter OlszewskiMonk
Vong Savuth seen in his studio at 106.25 FM, where he offers up daily life lessons to the masses.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Shannon Dunlap
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Vong Savuth's radio program makes Buddhist teaching more accessible to local communities.

THE recording studio of Wat Bo's official radio station, 106.25 FM, is air-conditioned, sound-insulated and full of gadgetry.

And manning the microphone is the Venerable Vong Savuth who, despite his traditional saffron robes, is comfortable in this cocoon of modern technology, from where he spreads dharma on the airwaves.

As he readies the bank of cell phones to receive incoming calls, his tone is as smooth as the most polished professional broadcaster.

"If generous laymen and women, Buddhists and monks want to join this program," he said in Khmer, "you can make a phone call. Our topic today is ‘Youth Addicted to Drugs'.

While the content can vary widely, from discussions of climate change to observations on what makes a good spouse, Vong Savuth's shows have a singular aim: to examine common Cambodian problems through the lens of Buddha's teachings and to make those lessons accessible to young people.

"Some parts of the dharma are so difficult," Vong Savuth told the Post.

"In Cambodia, 99 percent respect Buddhism, but most of them don't understand dharma - even me. Sometimes, I don't understand. But it is for everyone."

To illuminate obtuse Buddhist concepts, Vong Savuth has learned to make the most of a simple, plain-spoken teaching style and a very useful medium.

"Many people cannot read," he said, explaining the appeal of radio, which widens his potential audience from those able to read articles or make frequent trips to the pagoda to anyone with a radio.

This more egalitarian approach of passing on Buddhist wisdom is particularly important to Vong Savuth, given how difficult it was for him to obtain an education.

Raised on a pineapple farm in rural Stung Treng province, Vong Savuth had to travel 8 kilometres to school every day, fording several streams along the way.

At 17, he entered the monastery, as it was the only viable way to pursue higher learning.

These days, Vong Savuth has become a bonafide DJ, going live on the air every day from 11:45am to 12:30pm. The show was initially a project of Buddhism for Development, a local NGO, and Vong Savuth broadcast during rented time at a public station.

But the show became so popular that the abbot of the monastery, Pin-Sem, began a campaign to build the monastery's own radio station, which would be able to reserve the most coveted time slots for the broadcast of dharma rather than the news or government policy of the public stations.

Appeals for donations during Vong Savuth's show brought in enough funds to start construction on 106.25.

Angkor Butterfly Ctr set to launch

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Peter Olszewski
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Tentative opening scheduled for October, say organisers.

A NEW tourist attraction, the Angkor Butterfly Centre, is being built on the outskirts of Siem Reap and will double as a poverty alleviation project, with rural families trained to breed butterflies and harvest pupae, organisers say.

The privately funded centre is an offshoot of a similar venture in Tanzania, the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre, which opened to the public in January 2008. The Angkor centre, in Sanday village, about 25 kilometres from Siem Reap, is run by some former staff from Zanzibar and is headed by director Ben Hayes, a founder of the Zanzibar centre.

Also from Zanzibar is Project Manager Alistair Mould, and representing Cambodian interests is Tek-Sakana Savuth, executive director of local NGO Angkor Participatory Development Organisation. Involved in an advisory capacity is WWF stalwart Mike Baltzer, but Ben Hayes emphasised that there is no funding from the conservation group.

Work on the project began in Siem Reap over a year ago, with ground-breaking and site development commencing last November. The launch date is loosely scheduled for early October.

Mould arrived in Cambodia three weeks ago, after handing over the Zanzibar project to Tanzanian management. He told the Post: "The Zanzibar and Cambodian models are very similar, but in Siem Reap we are hoping to involve more villagers on a much larger scale.

"In Zanzibar, we are working with just one village, but here we want to work with more, especially in areas that as yet don't have any income from tourism."

Director Hayes said: "Initially, we'll work with 10 families spread out over a number of areas including Phnom Kulen and here in this village. But we hope to expand that. Plus, we'll do farming of pupae within the exhibition and on site."

Like Zanzibar, revenue for the Siem Reap centre will initially be generated by tourism admissions, but in time income will also come from the sale of butterflies and butterfly pupae to collectors, zoos and other centres mainly in Europe and the United States.

Hayes said there were several reasons why Siem Reap was chosen for the new centre, including the tourism potential, communities to work with and the richness of butterfly fauna

"The butterfly fauna of Cambodia is not as well-studied as that of Thailand and Vietnam, but it's very high in diversity; and for the project, we will probably deal with 20 to 30 species. Those species are local to the Siem Reap region."

Police Blotter: 9 Apr 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Mong Russey police have paid the family of Korn La 5 million riels (about US$1,220) in compensation after they accused authorities of torturing the man to death following his arrest on April 2. The 45-year-old victim's wife said she had seen two policeman hitting her husband when they arrested him following a domestic dispute. Police said that the victim died of illness after falling from a motorbike, and that the payment was a "compromise" with the family. The human rights group Licado has said it will investigate the case.

Four robbers armed with rifles stormed a residence in Mesang district, Prey Veng province on Sunday, escaping with a small quantity of gold, US$100, 600,000 riels and three cell phones. Resident Nein Sa said that the robbers fired many shots in the house, but that no one in the building at the time was injured.

Batheay district police arrested Ith Udom, 19, after he allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl returning home from a dance on Monday. Both the victim and suspect live in Baek Peang village, Chealea commune, Batheay district, Kampong Cham province.

Nun Phors, 28, was arrested by the Ministry of Interior's police unit three years after he escaped from Prey Sar prison. Nun Phors was found in Batheay district, Kampong Cham province, while attending a wedding party on Monday. He was originally put in jail for cheating by dressing like a monk and asking for donations from a village. He was sentenced to one year in jail but escaped after eight months.

Railway upgrade deal close to completion

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
The agreement with Toll Holdings would see Cambodia’s rail network upgraded.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Australia’s Toll Holdings finalising rail agreement to refurbish lines as part of regional network, says broker

THE Cambodian government and Toll Holdings of Australia are close to signing an agreement on outsourcing the management of the state railway, said an official close to the negotiations on Wednesday.

"By the end of the [Khmer] New Year, we should have an agreement," said Paul Power, team leader at the Railway Restructuring Project for Canarail, who is brokering the deal.

Under the US$73 million proposal, 594 kilometres of Cambodia's neglected rail system would be repaired and refurbished with new sleepers and railcars and 48 kilometres of destroyed track would be replaced. The project is seen as a major step in upgrading the country's ailing freight and logistics system.

Toll Holdings would be given the concession to manage the system and collect revenues for 30 years, with payments to the government commencing in the sixth year of operation. The Cambodian government would retain ownership of the tracks after the upgrade.

Sources close to the discussions say the parties are still finalising details of risk and cost sharing.

"This deal is extremely important to this country because, until now, there has been only one mode of land transport and that's road. I think everyone appreciates the problems with congestion on Cambodia's roads," said Power.

This is part of a wider project to link Cambodia to the region.

Cambodia's rail network was built in 1929 and saw its last upgrade in the 1960s. Protracted war and conflict destroyed or damaged parts of the system from the 1970s until the 1990s.

Of the $73 million budget, $12 million would come from a 32-year Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan at 1 percent interest for the first eight years and 1.5 percent for the remainder. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would provide $13 million, and the Malaysian government would supply $2.8 million in used rails. The Cambodian government would pitch in $15.2 million, according to the ADB.

Renovations are planned for the Sihanoukville-Phnom Penh stretch, which would be capable of carrying 20 tonnes of freight at a top speed of 40-50 kph, up from 15 tonnes currently. The Phnom Penh-Battambang line would also be refurbished and would carry 15 tonnes, followed by the Sisophan-Poipet stretch, which needs to be completely rebuilt.

A line would also run to the Sihanoukville Port, which businesses said would reduce cargo transport costs.

Crews started replacing the sleepers in March 2008, and the system upgrade is set to be completed in early 2011.

The ADB's external relations coordinator Chantha Kim said the railway upgrade will benefit Cambodia's rural economy and link the country to a regional rail network.

"It will allow better transport and allow products to be transported from rural areas to the cities at a much cheaper price," he said. "This is part of a wider project to link Cambodia to the region through the Singapore to Kunming rail project," he said.

The Singapore-Kunming network will link up Asia's railways in a system stretching from Singapore to southern China, the ADB said.

Nation third most corrupt

Corruption Index

- Singapore - 1.07
- Hong Kong - 1.89
- Australia - 2.40
- United States - 2.89
- Japan - 3.99
- South Korea - 4.64
- Macau - 5.84
- China - 6.16
- Taiwan - 6.47
- Malaysia - 6.70
- Philippines - 7.0
- Vietnam - 7.11
- India - 7.21
- Cambodia - 7.25
- Thailand - 7.63
- Indonesia - 8.32

Source: Political and Economic Risk Consultancy

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Thursday, 09 April 2009

CAMBODIA was ranked less corrupt than Thailand on Wednesday by a Hong Kong-based organisation, counter to the findings of other recent graft surveys, but still came in third from bottom.

The report by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) scores 16 Asian countries based on interviews with 1,700 expatriate business leaders.

It ranked Singapore and Hong Kong as the Asian region's least corrupt countries, with Indonesia and Thailand at the bottom, below Cambodia.

The organisation was not available for comment Wednesday.

Local business leaders welcomed the report's findings, saying it corresponded to the oft-overlooked reality on the ground.

"I have always maintained that Cambodia isn't as bad as it is made out to be," said John Brinsden, vice chairman for ACLEDA Bank and a spokesman for the International Business Club of Cambodia.

"I've been to a number of countries where I've seen corruption at a worse scale than in Cambodia. It's nice to see Cambodia isn't at the bottom of this report," he told the Post Wednesday.

He cautioned that corruption remains an issue for businesses in Cambodia, but said other problems were more serious.

"Probably the biggest problem in Cambodia, from a business perspective, is [the lack of] availability of cheap electricity and poor enforcement of laws, as well as infrastructure. Corruption is not the top of the list," he said.

[corruption] is an issue that many investors seem to find a way to work around.

According to the head of Cambodia's largest investment fund, corruption has not prevented Cambodia from being a favourable environment to do business.

"[Corruption] is an issue that many investors seem to find a way to work around," said Douglas Clayton, managing partner of Leopard Capital.

"And when we compare the expenditure on the airport in Thailand and the airport in Cambodia versus the final product delivered, you can draw your own conclusions," he said.

Conflicting reports
Despite such consensus within the private sector, other surveys suggest that corruption is the No 1 concern of businesses in Cambodia.

The World Bank annual report released in January said that more than 50 percent of businesses cited corruption as a top complaint, followed by macroeconomic stability and anticompetitive informal practices.

"Corruption remains widespread, in its many forms.... The perception of corruption is high, even compared to countries at the same level of development," said the report.

The report also said that poor governance in Cambodia is a major problem.

"There are multiple facets of corruption: (i) at the service delivery (ii) in public procurement (both small and large contracts); and (iii) in gaining favour for policy decisions," the report states.

Corruption watchdog Transparency International also issued a harsh assessment of Cambodia's level of corruption, putting the country at 166 out of 181 countries.

Thailand was ranked 80 and Indonesia 126 by the same organisation in its report last year.

"It depends on how they measure [corruption]," said Kevin Britten, managing director of The Secretary.

"I have always been disappointed in my business dealings with Thailand.

"But I think I am quite typical in saying that I have had good experiences in Cambodia."

The PERC system rated countries from zero to 10, with zero as the least corrupt and 10 as the most corrupt. Indonesia earned a score of 8.32, Thailand 7.63 and Cambodia 7.25.


Canadia raised NPL provisions

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robert Carmichael
Thursday, 09 April 2009

CANADIA Bank reported improved results for the year-ended 2008, and also posted a substantial rise in provisions for nonperforming loans (NPLs) in its annual results published this week.

After-tax net profits rose almost 10 percent to US$22 million. Provisions for NPLs rose more than eightfold from $1.1 million to $9.2 million.

Vice President Dieter Billmeier said the stronger results were due to the bank broadening the sectors to which it lends - such as agriculture and services - and lending less to the construction industry.

"We are more prudent with that," he said of the bank's reduced exposure to the country's property sector. "Overall, we have put some reserves into nonperforming loans to be a safe haven for 2009."

Billmeier said the rise in NPLs - from less than half a percent of the company's loan book in 2007 to 2.35 percent last year - had come after discussions Canadia had with external auditors and on the advice of the National Bank of Cambodia, the country's central bank.

"We still feel very comfortable with that because we know where these loans are, and we are very confident that we will recover all of them," he said.

He confirmed that the portion of the loan book that was underperforming was construction and housing.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had noted in a review of the country's financial system earlier this year that some of the Kingdom's banks were under-reporting NPLs. The IMF called on the central bank to take a more proactive role in assessing NPLs.

Cambodian economists reject recent GDP forecasts

Disputes have surfaced over the extent to which the financial crisis is projected to force additional Cambodians into

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Opposition says reports on poverty and negative growth remain valid, critics say projections don’t reflect situation on the ground

CAMBODIAN economists and analysts on Tuesday dismissed predictions by international institutions that projected negative growth in Cambodia in 2009, such as Tuesday's World Bank report, while the opposition has agreed with such forecasts.

The director general of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, Nguon Meng Tech, disagreed with the World Bank's forecast Tuesday that Cambodia faced negative growth this year, but called for the Ministry of Labour to quickly take action to create jobs or face the risk of increased social problems such as crime. The middle class would likely see income fall but would unlikely drop below the poverty line, he added. "In this era, no one faces starvation," he said.

Sam Rainsy lawmaker Yim Sovann said he agreed with the World Bank, ADB and Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that the crisis would cause social problems.

"Our economy is getting worse ... the government doesn't have any reasonable plan to help the economy," he said. The worst-case scenario was a rural poverty level of 85 percent, he said, with the four key pillars of the economy all at risk - many factories have closed, agricultural commodities have few markets, tourist numbers have decreased and the construction sector is struggling.

Yim Sovann said that during years of double-digit growth, the government had only reduced poverty by 1 percent annually - a figure that equals the aims of the UN Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction.

"If GDP growth falls to -1 percent ... poverty could increase to 40 percent," he said.

Chap Sotharith, senior fellow economist for the Cambodia Institute of Cooperation and Peace (CICP), said he disagreed with the projections released by international organisations on Cambodia's productivity. "For me, Cambodia's risk of a downturn would not mean negative growth," said Chap Sotharith, who said a forecast of 5-6 percent growth was more likely given Cambodia's dependence on agriculture.

Export revenue made up just 20 percent of the economy, he added. "We are facing some problems but not a huge problem; there is no need to worry about a recession. Look, we had good rain earlier this year, so it is a sign that the agricultural yield will be huge," he said.

People had been used to saving money for a long time, he said, adding that there was no clear definition of poverty in Cambodia.

The World Bank on Tuesday defined the poverty line across the region as living on less than US$1.25 a day, which would result in 200,000 additional Cambodians falling below the mark this year, the most in Southeast Asia, it said.

The Cambodian government in the past has set $0.60 a day as the poverty line, a figure that the World Bank has also previously used.

Caminco to run border insurance

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Thursday, 09 April 2009

Toursim Ministry asks Caminco to set up at borders to handle all insurance for vehicles crossing into Cambodia once stricter driving regulations come into effect

The Tourism Ministry has asked the partly privatised insurance company Caminco to set up facilities to sell motor-vehicle insurance to all vehicles entering Cambodia by road at international crossings, it said.

"I recently put this idea to the state-private insurer Caminco, but we have no result as of yet," said Minister of Tourism Thong Khon on Wednesday.

The minister said the Kingdom's neighbours already cooperate in providing insurance to vehicles entering their territory, and it was time for Cambodia to do the same: Laos and Thailand sell vehicle insurance at their border posts valid for one day, three days or a week, as does Vietnam.

"When our vehicles enter their countries, they sell insurance to us - so why don't we sell insurance to them when they enter Cambodia?" He asked. "I want this implemented soon because the global economic crisis means we have to attract more tourists from neighbouring countries to compensate for the loss of tourists from rich countries."

Making travel simpler for tourists from neighbouring countries would help, he said, adding that there are currently four border crossings on Cambodia's border with Vietnam through which vehicles can pass. The countries have an agreement allowing a daily limit of 150 vehicles.

Ho Vandy, a board member of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said vehicles were not officially allowed to cross Cambodia's border from Thailand or Laos, but said border guards regularly allowed them through.

Duong Vibol, managing director of Caminco, confirmed the tourism ministry had asked his company to establish offices at all international border checkpoints. He said Caminco, whose key income is derived from vehicle insurance, was considering the plan. He said building the infrastructure at each crossing would require an undetermined investment.

Duong Vibol said the Finance Ministry would pass a law this year requiring all vehicles entering Cambodia to have insurance.

"Cambodia currently has no regulation requiring foreign vehicles that enter the country through international checkpoints to buy insurance," he said. "On the other hand some of the more distant checkpoints have neither water nor electricity, and they see hardly any cross-border vehicle traffic, so it might not be cost-effective for us to establish offices in those places."

Duong Vibol said the implementation date was not set since much work remained, including negotiations to establish partnerships with insurers in neighbouring countries. He said the reason Caminco - and not private insurers - had been invited was because the government retained a one-quarter stake in the firm.

The government sold 75 percent of Caminco last year in an unannounced privatisation deal.

Processed rice set for export to France

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Thursday, 09 April 2009

THE National Rice Millers Association (NRMA) announced Wednesday that it exported its first 3,460 tonnes of milled rice to France in the first quarter of 2009, which officials said marked an important step in the expansion of rice exports.

"We expect that the NRMA will be able to export 12,000 tonnes of milled rice to France this year," NRMA President Tes Ethda said.

But he said many challenges remained to increasing rice exports - not least, competition from Vietnam, which sells milled rice for between US$325 and $360 per tonne. The rice sent to France cost an average of $450.

"I think that European markets need both quality and quantity, and there are many more ways that Cambodia needs to reform in order to compete," he said.

Last year the NRMA set aside 20,000 tonnes of unhusked paddy rice, which they plan to mill and export.

Thon Virak, deputy director general of the Ministry of Commerce's General Department of Foreign Trade, confirmed the NRMA's export of rice to France, saying "200 or 300 tonnes" of rice were being exported each week. On Sunday, Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said that in 2009 Cambodia still had over 2 million tonnes of rice in stock that would be used to bolster its exports.

"The government is trying to look for markets to export rice abroad, as exporting more rice is a way of encouraging farmers to increase rice productivity," he said.

Fundraiser to help kids from the dump

Children from the Stung Meanchey dump in a science class

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 09 April 2009

French NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant is holding a charity event to raise funds that will allow more than 200 children who work at the Stung Meanchey dump site to continue their education after they are relocated in June

POUR un Sourire d'Enfant (PSE) is holding a blow-out charity fundraising event this Friday to raise money for displaced students from the Stung Meanchey dump site. Over 200 students will be forced to leave their homes when the dumpsite is relocated in June, and PSE is raising money to house them.

The Stung Meanchey district is launching a "waste management" initiative that will see the 6.5-hectare dumpsite - the largest dumpsite in Phnom Penh - moved to Boueng Chng'ai.

Currently, countless families live in and around the dumpsite, many of them making their livelihood by sifting through tonnes of waste that arrive at the dump each day.

PSE provides food, shelter, education, vocational training and health care to approximately 6,600 students living on the site.

Approximately 200 students who are currently attending either public schools, "catch-up schools" or vocational training classes will be uprooted and forced to leave their education behind when the Stung Meanchey dump site is moved.

"They don't have anywhere to go.... Some parents go to the provinces and leave the children here. That's why we have to find the best way to help them finish their education ... when the government moves the dump site," said La Vibol, director of vocation training at PSE and organiser of Friday's charity fundraiser.

"We have to build a house for them, or rent someplace. We have to find a way to help them until the end of the academic year in August," La Vibol said.

PSE aims to raise US$10,000 at Friday night's charity fundraiser. They hope this will be enough to see the displaced children through until August.

At the conclusion of the school year, PSE will reassess its annual budget and hopes to work with the international NGO Habitat for Humanity to create more permanent housing for the children.

Various local groups have offered their services free of charge for the event.

"They have a big heart, that's all I can say," said La Vibol.

The fundraiser will be held at the Stung Meanchey school and offers dinner, a concert, traditional Khmer dancing, a raffle and a fashion show. Everyone is welcome. Tickets will be sold at the door.

Duch trial: François Bizot testifies about both the man and the criminal he got to know

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 08/04/2009: 6th day of Kaing Guek Eav trial at the ECCC - Notebook of François Bizot, the author of Le Portail (The Gate), which he wrote when he was detained by Duch at the M13 detention camp ©John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

As he was based in Cambodia as a researcher from the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient (French School for East Asian studies, EFEO, in Paris), François Bizot found himself detained for two months and a half by the Khmer Rouge, and more particularly in a camp supervised by Duch, whose trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) opened on March 30th in Phnom Penh. The ordeal he went through left a deep imprint on his life, so much so that he wrote it down in a book, The Gate, “a literary approach based on a reconstruction, on an impression”, he stresses. As he was called to the bar by the Trial Chamber to testify on Wednesday April 8th, he spoke in a rather discriminative way and went back over the duality of Duch, the nice and convinced revolutionary young man he got to know and the great criminal he was.

During the previous days, before being reminded of the rule according to which names of witnesses who have not appeared yet before the court cannot be quoted during the hearing, the former S-21 director mentioned the name of Bizot and called him “my Bizot”. He explained that he told his superior after the Frenchman’s arrest by the Khmer Rouge, that he was not a CIA agent like they accused him of being, but a researcher. After three months, he managed to have him released.

Detention and a much uncertain outcome
Before the court, François Bizot, now 69 and living in Thailand, goes back over his arrest by patrolling members of the militia on October 10th 1971 as he was on his way to a pagoda in Udong, located some twenty miles away from Phnom Penh, with two Cambodian collaborators. The excursion was part of the work he led on the Cambodian Buddhist ritual. As the first witness to appear at Duch’s trial, he recounts that back then, he was called before a “popular tribunal” and that his interrogator asserted with confidence that he knew him, saw him in Saigon and claimed he was serving the cause of American imperialism. He denied such claims and invited the unconvincing court to immediately kill him if they thought he was a spy. The comment generated a burst of applause on the part of some fifty villagers who attended the indictment. In the evening, in the house where he was being detained with his feet shackled to wood beams alongside other prisoners, clamouring voices rose, saying “What are you waiting for? Undress him!”. His shackles were undone and, blindfolded, he was brought towards what he thought was certain death. Was it a sham or was there failure in the execution? He still doesn’t know, but one this is for sure: nothing happened. The next day, he was transferred to the M-13 detention centre which Duch supervised and where his two friends were also sent. He was welcomed by a cynical and aggressive official before finding out that the true master of the place was in fact Duch, a gentle young man.

Daily interrogations followed, conducted by Duch himself in an “ever polite way”, “with a certain kindness”, and without ever being beaten up. He now says that Duch’s reputation was that of a “tireless man who spoke little and put a lot of himself into his responsibilities as a camp leader”. He managed to obtain from the Khmer Rouge cadre a pen and a notebook in which he wrote down, apart from his memories and a few poems, a persuasive argumentation to prove that he was indeed a researcher. He never parted with it, never read it again, and now presents it at Duch’s trial.

When Duch broke the news about his imminent release, François Bizot, now going bald and sporting a shirt and tie, did not believe it. “One must be aware, Sir [talking to one of the judges], that nothing was being said. Lies were the oxygen we used to breathe and expire with our lungs. Lies were present... When they took someone to their death, it was denied until the very last moment...” The eve of the big day, i.e. Christmas day, as he regained freedom to move around, he spent his last evening with Duch, sat by a wood fire.

Discovering the monster and his human and disturbing nature
On two occasions, the researcher, as he recounts it, guessed that acts of violence were perpetrated on prisoners to make them talk. He opened up in front of Duch on that last evening and asked “who hit”. “Duch did not hesitate to reply that he occasionally hit prisoners when they lied or when their testimonies were contradictory, that he could not stand lies and that this work made him sick but it was what Angkar [the organisation behind which the Communist Party of Kampuchea hid] expected from him... I was afraid. And I think that this event, which was fundamental for me, is at the origin of a long process I went through. I must say that until then, I considered myself as being on the good side of humanity and that there were other monsters I would never resemble, thank God for that. I thought that there was difference in the story, in the sensibility and that it was a state of nature...” On that Christmas day, he opened up. He was expecting to find a monster after such a reply but discovered a man in front of him, “a Communist-Marxist ready to lose his life if necessary for his country and for the revolution [...] and that the final goal of his commitment was the good of Cambodia and fighting injustice...” He continues: “The end that justified the means was the independence of Cambodia, the country’s right to auto-determination and putting an end to injustice. Cambodians were not the first ones in History who killed for dreams”, he concluded with a dreary voice, worried about choosing the right words.

Meeting Duch shook his way of thinking
When Duch resurfaced as journalists found him and the Cambodian authorities arrested him shortly after in 1999, François Bizot thought it was “a good thing to have people know that these were not the deeds of the odd monster out but that they came from a man who resembled others. And I realised that I also had to discern what man does with who he is, but also that being guilty of what we do must not interfere with who we are. I am also afraid I understood that the situation he was in did not allow him to go backwards”.

“My encounter with Duch marked my destiny and all my thinking, everything I am today, for a simple and tragic reason: I must find a way by myself to deal with what is inside of me concerning dual data; on the one hand, that of a man [Duch] who was the vector and the executive of nationalised killings – and I cannot imagine that I could today put myself in his place with, inside of me, so many horrors committed – and on the other hand, the memories I have of a young man who made a commitment with his life, his existence, for a cause and towards a goal which relied on the thought that not only crime was legitimate but it was also meritorious. I do not know what to do with that, Sir. My existence led me to live closely near both of these characters and I cannot get rid of the idea that what was perpetrated by Duch could have been done by someone else and when I try to understand it, this is absolutely not about minimising the impact, depth and abomination of his crime...And in order to measure that abomination, it was definitely not by presenting Duch as the odd one out, the monster, but by acknowledging the humanity that is his own and which was obviously not an obstacle to the killings he perpetrated. It is this same realisation about the characteristics of the ambiguity of this humanity which causes my tragedy today, Sir.”

Heated exchange between a Civil Party lawyer and Duch
Earlier during the day, Duch was once again questioned by Civil Party lawyers. His international lawyer, Mr. Roux, urged the court to ask Ms. Studzinsky to “talk to the accused more respectfully”. The German lawyer for Group 2 of Civil Parties pestered the former head of S-21 and was annoyed at him for not answering her questions. “Do you understand my question?” “You know, I am fine with answering but maybe you do not understand my answers!” Duch retorts, keeping his self-control and ceremonious politeness and apologising every time his memory fails him. “You did not understand the situation [...] This is what I told the Chamber yesterday...” Tenacious, he does not yield: “I have already answered your question…” When the turn for a Cambodian lawyer came to ask him questions, Duch could not help saying: “It is easier to make myself understood in Khmer!”

“Neither speak nor know, neither see nor hear”
He then uses the same leitmotiv as he did during previous hearings: he did not kill with his own hands but he gave the orders, which nevertheless makes his liable. “If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have done it instead”, he adds. When asked by his French lawyer about the taste for secrecy within the Communist Party, he quotes a Khmer Rouge saying – The longer you maintain confidentiality, the longer you live” – and then enumerates the four golden rules which prevailed among revolutionary ranks: “neither speak nor know, neither see nor hear”. He nods at Mr. Roux when the latter says: yes, from the top to the bottom of the ladder, everyone kept the secret because everyone knew that if they violated the secret, their life would immediately be at risk.

And when his lawyer reports that he used to be described as an “authoritarian and tough” leader, he does not deny anything. He admits that his “direction was filled with authority”, that he did not speak freely, as his superiors taught him to do, and that he operated “smoothly but strictly”. Mr. Roux tries to prove that the system established by the Khmer Rouge even before they seized power “worked with secrecy, the absolute obedience of orders from superiors and the breakdown of individual personality”. Later, the accused explains that obeying orders from the party was a necessity, a duty, when “today, we see all those acts considered as crimes” and those who were considered as enemies yesterday as today’s victims.

Duch recalls he helped about ten persons escape certain death and adds altogether that he does not consider this as a “particularly valorous” act. “This is a drop in the ocean of crimes I committed!”

Cambodia growing poorer as crisis deepens, World Bank says

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 06/01/2008: Squatters sleeping in a market. ©John Vink/ Magnum


Cambodia is one of the Asian countries most at risk of suffering from the global economic crisis, according to the World Bank’s latest report on the East Asia and Pacific region. The international institution, which initially forecast a 4.9% growth rate for the Cambodian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and was one of the last ones to be uneager to revise predictions downwards, is now announcing recession. GDP should go down by 1% compared to 2008, a year already marked by general slowdown in the Kingdom’s economic activity.

This new prediction is even more negative than those announced by the Economist Intelligence Unit (+1%) and the International Monetary Fund (-0.5%), seen as alarmist by the Cambodian government who officially remains confident about a 6% growth rate.

The World Bank report, which mentions the same causes and effects already emphasised by the IMF (strong dependence on the declining American and European economies, plummeting in garment exports and important drop in foreign investments...), points out, above all, that this recession, if it lasts, will have a direct impact on the poverty of Cambodians. Indeed, the year 2009 might “undo some of the progress Cambodia made towards its Millennium Development Goals, including in reducing poverty”, the World Bank report states.

Cambodia thus appears as one of the Asian countries where the global economic crisis will affect population the most, together with Thailand (-2.7%) and Malaysia (-1%), two other Southeast-Asian countries for which the World Bank forecasts worsening of poverty. Cambodia’s two other neighbours, however, keep a positive growth rate: 5% for Laos and 5.5% for Vietnam.

Yet the World Bank strikes a positive and hopeful note: Cambodia does have “safety nets”, especially concerning food, thanks to its dynamic farming sector. The latter is the only one out of the four pillars of Cambodian economy (together with garment manufacturing, construction and tourism) which should continue with an increasing growth rate... unless a major climate disaster occurs.

Siem Reap Scene: 9 Apr 2009

Renaud Fichet, co-proprietor of Abacus, which is set to become a circus this Saturday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 09 April 2009

A mini version of the Tini Tinou circus festival is coming to Siem Reap's Abacus Garden Restaurant this Saturday night, courtesy of proprietor Renaud Fichet.

The festival opened in Phnom Penh in late March and has just finished a four-day stretch in Battambang.

Obviously in a restaurant setting and a one-night restriction, Fichet can only host a snapshot version of the festival and has chosen three acts from Romania's Pa-Ra-Da foundation, the National Circus of Laos and Battambang-based Phare Ponleu Selpak.

The show will unfold in different areas of the restaurant complex while customers dine at Abacus, and the highlight will be a 35-minute trampoline performance by the Laotian circus performers.

The show kicks off at 8pm, and the fee for the circus itself will be $5.

Renaud told the Post he is hosting the night in order "to try to make something happen in Siem Reap and to support the whole circus festival project".

The Tini Tinou festival is an endangered event due to insufficient funding, and organisers say it may not return next year.

This is the sixth circus extravaganza that Renaud Fichet has hosted at Abacus, and he says this is simply because "I like circuses".

Fichet said that as a boy he didn't run away to join a circus but confessed that in the prime of his youth he was a Club Med entertainer, which in itself gives him some circus cred.

It's a big call to make, but Meng Thavy, communication manager at Artisans D'Angkor, has made it.

During a presentations night at the Angkor Century Hotel, she told visiting graduate students from the tourism destination management course at NHTV University in the Netherlands that Artisans D'Angkor is now the second-most visited tourist destination in Siem Reap after Angkor Wat.

She said that despite the fall in tourism, visitor numbers for Artisans D'Angkor have risen in the past few months due to its cooperation with the Tour Guides Association.

And to thank the tour guides, the company held a special party for them on April 2.

Angkor Artisan's Silk Farm at Pouk, which employs 340 silk artisans, has been quite a hit with tourists. Meng Thavy claims that while tourism suffered a 20 percent decease in arrivals in the last six months, the number of visitors to the Angkor Silk Farm increased by 97 percent over the same period, which represents a daily average of 200 visitors.

Part of the recent success of the silk farm has been the revamping of the demonstration workshop to "make it more attractive and pedagogic".

Meng Thavy said that the growth of interest in the silk farm "has contributed to the development of high-quality silk production - an important sector of handicraft for the future in Cambodia".

Artisans D'Angkor is also constructing a new workshop for soapstone products, which is scheduled to open in July.

Sam Nang Mean, assistant manager of the newly reopened Martini nightclub.

Martini nightclub, the notorious saloon located in the former Khmer Rouge headquarters off Old Market bridge, reopened on Saturday after a six-month closure. There have been various rumours swirling around Siem Reap as to the nightclub's long closure, but assistant manager Sam Nang Mean said the club was simply closed for building restoration, which finished two months ago.

Sam Nang Mean said the club will attract a Khmer crowd but stressed that it would not be like Sok San Palace, Siem Reap's den of PG-rated iniquity. One stark difference is that instead of a catwalk, the scantily clad women in Martini are situated on the dancefloor.

A bat signal-style spotlight rig has been set up, visible all over town, with the intention of attracting clubbers like moths, and the bar's DJ cranks out mainly hip-hop, R&B and disco tunes.

The "no guns, no knives, no explosives" sign out front, the slightly unhinged bargirls and the bar's reputation mean that Martini is a good place for barangs to get stirred and leave shaken.

When former UNTAC Siem Reap shadow governor in the early 1990s, professor Benny Widyono, was in Siem Reap in January, he took time out to visit the Martini's site.

He said that, apart from a few garish nightclub refurbishments, the building is the same as when he was governor and visited frequently because two Khmer Rouge generals operated out of the premises.

There is a sense of irony in that the highly moralistic KR generals' former lair is now a girlie bar, and Widyono pointed out that at least two KR assaults on Siem Reap were prompted by outrage over UNTAC soldiers corrupting local women.

The buzz in Siem Reap business circles is that another local entrepreneur is planning to launch a hovercraft service on the Tonle Sap river. In addition to being faster and more fuel-efficient than boats, hovercrafts also create less wake, making them less disturbing to floating villages.

But despite their many advantages and various business proposals over the years, Siem Reap travel agents are unlikely to know what a hovercraft is, let alone know if any companies are providing trips on them.

About two years ago, media reports said a company called Spirit of Cambodia planned to start a daily hovercraft shuttle between Siem Reap and Battambang, with additional services to Phnom Penh and floating villages.

Last year, the owner of Cambodian restaurant Kangaroo Kitchen was seeking investors for a hovercraft service off the coast of Sihanoukville.

"I am hoping to be in service around the end of the year, servicing the many islands of the coast," he said in an open posting to potential investors on small business website Start Up Nation.

This reignited hovercraft interest in Siem Reap, but none of the plans seem to have come to fruition.

Temple Watch: Sacred Phnom Kulen

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Deve Perkes
Thursday, 09 April 2009

The hill temples of Phnom Kulen are the most sacred of all the Khmer Pilgrimage sites. Phnom Kulen is about one-and-a-half hours' drive from Siem Reap, and the mountain approach road gives some of the best views in the area. Chief among the interesting sights at Phnom Kulen are the series of Hindu lingas on the riverbed above the falls. These are similar to those seen at Kbal Spean. The main Reclining Buddha is situated in a building on a rock pinnacle, and below this are many shrines, pagodas and statues. Above the shrines are temples and carved animal figures. More figures can be found several kilometres from the main batch, but a motorbike is needed to access these. Recent improvements to access have been made and the site has been tidied up for visitors. Access to the spectacular falls is down rebuilt wooden steps, but getting near the falls in the rainy season involves wading through fast flowing water riddled with slippery rocks. In the dry season, it is a lot easier and with the recent rain, there will be a decent water flow. The road is open one way only until noon and there is no access after this. The cost of admission is US$20 for foreigners, so there are not too many tourists there.

Bronze on display

Photo Supplied
A bronze artefact from National Museum.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tom Hunter
Thursday, 09 April 2009

National Museum’s collection of bronze sculptures to be shown in Washington

OVER 38 bronze sculptures from the National Museum of Cambodia are to be displayed in Washington, DC, next year, an opportunity for the world to witness the mystery and wonder of Cambodia's ancient relics.

The exhibition "Bronzes from the National Museum" follows the story of Cambodian bronze casting from the prehistoric period through the distinct Angkorian style of the 12th century.

The Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M Sackler Gallery will host the exhibition from May 2010 through early 2011 to promote Asian art in America.

In 2005, the Freer and Sackler galleries collaborated with the Cambodian National Museum to train three Khmer staff in the art of bronze restoration

Under the guidance of Paul Jett, head of the galleries' conservation department, metal conservator Sean Charette spent 18 months training the staff of the National Museum in modern restorative techniques.

The task involved shipping material from the US to construct the Kingdom's first metal conservation laboratory and to improve storage facilities that previously were prone to flooding.

Six of the works to be shown in Washington, DC, have been restored entirely by the efforts of Cambodia's National Museum staff.

"The exhibition is an opportunity to raise much-needed funding for the conservation workshops, which will enable more Cambodians to receive conservation training," said Hab Touch, director of the National Museum of Cambodia.

"The bronze pieces need a lot of special care. It's an important part of conserving Khmer culture," Hab Touch said.

The conservation workshops employ five full-time staff. Trained in contemporary restoration techniques, they work tirelessly to document and restore the museum's 6,800 bronze artefacts.

The National Museum of Cambodia features one of the world's largest collections of Khmer artefacts, with a rotating display of 600 bronze objects constantly on display.

Temple villagers tell of loss

Photo by: AFP
Cambodian soldiers walk through the site of a burned market in front of Preah Vihear temple on Saturday. Local residents fled the area when fighting broke out on Friday. Many have begun to return to the site to salvage whatever they can from the rubble.


ACambodian government official described as “panicky” the Thai foreign minister’s warning that former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was being allowed to launch political attacks from Cambodia. Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Post Wednesday that Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s comment was made out of fear of Thaksin and were without foundation. “I wonder why [Kasit] says this again and again – we have already informed Thailand that Thaksin is not in Cambodia,” Koy Kuong said. Despite the outburst, Koy Kuong said relations between the two countries were good.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Michael Fox
Thursday, 09 April 2009

PreahVihearThree villagers tell how they hid in a trench with Cambodian soldiers while machine-gun fire and shells tore through the Preah Vihear market last Friday.

ON Monday, Siv Sophally came back to the remains of his house near the burned-out market at the base of Preah Vihear temple to see what was left. The market was rocketed by Thai forces during a firefight on Friday that left three Thai soldiers dead.

There wasn't much left. Among the burned remains he found a ruined generator, his son's bicycle and bottles of perfume. Everything had turned to ashes, he said.

"Along with the burned generator and bottles of perfume, my other possessions such as clothes, tables, chairs, pots and dishes were in ashes," he said. "I came back to find what was left, but there isn't anything - just the well."

Siv Sophally, 38, was looking for his well to give water to the soldiers. The fact that it was underground meant it was safe, but he worried the piping was damaged. He estimates that the loss of his cafe, shop, souvenirs, perfume and stock has cost him USD$20,000.

"I have lost everything - all of my property. It was destroyed by the fire from the Thai rockets. This had value and it's now just ashes," he said. "I am finished. My mother has cried every day since."

He said that a number of villagers want to file a claim against the Thai army for compensation and will ask Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene. He said 20 men who lost their properties now want to join the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and go to the front line.

"We will be grateful if Prime Minister Hun Sen rebuilds our houses. Everything we have built up for 10 years is gone," he said.

Siv Sophally's wife, children, parents and relatives are staying temporarily in flats at Sa Em village, which lies 25 kilometres from Preah Vihear.

CRC donates food, utensils
Long Sovann, deputy governor of Preah Vihear, said the Cambodian Red Cross had donated supplies to each of the more than 500 families that were moved from the market area. Among the goods they received were 25 kilograms of rice, canned fish, utensils and pots.

He said 277 families had lived around the market, and 183 houses were destroyed.


"We are looking for land for them to build their houses on at Sa Em village," Long Sovann said. "They can live in the new village and go to sell

their goods at the market once it is rebuilt."

‘I couldn't run anywhere'
During Friday's clash between Thai and Cambodian soldiers, three villagers who had decided to remain in the area were hiding in trenches with RCAF troops. Prak Sam El, Try Pisith and Yim Pov were caught in the fighting with just the clothes they were wearing.

Yim Pov said his wife and children had been evacuated before the fighting to Sa Em village. Other villagers were sent to Ko Muoy behind a hill near the temple. He had remained behind to keep an eye on his house.

All three men said they were unable to leave the scene and save their property because machine-gun fire was coming through the rain and hitting their homes and the temple.

"I was stuck at the front line," said Yim Pov, a pork vendor. "I hid in the trench near the market with Cambodian soldiers. It was like being in the army at the front line, but I had no gun to shoot with."

"I couldn't run anywhere because of the bullets and shells. I wasn't afraid of the shooting, but I was sorry to see our properties burned," he continued. "The soldiers told me not to move or I might get shot."

Fellow villager Try Pisith also lost everything. RCAF soldiers gave him clothes and rice to eat. While explaining that he has no spare clothes, an RCAF officer told him he can go to the army store and pick up some military fatigues.

The third man, Prak Sam El, sold groceries at the market and ran a cafe. His house, grocery store and cafe were destroyed. He calculated his losses at $3,000 but said it could have been worse: Soldiers had helped him to save 3 million riels' worth of goods.

"Now I have reopened my cafe and am selling to soldiers and tourists coming here. But none of the villagers have returned - it's just us three," Prak Sam El said. "I wanted to leave the trench, but there were so many machine-gun bullets flying around near me. So I just watched the fire, crying as it destroyed my property."

Vietnamese eye surgeons leave trail of goodwill in Cambodia

Vietnamese doctors who went on a charity mission in Cambodia perform an eye surgery on a poor patient (Photo: SGGP)

Doctors from the Ho Chi Minh City Eye Hospital and 175 Military Hospital and employees of Alcon healthcare company have completed a five-day charity mission to Cambodia, the director of the eye hospital, Dr. Tran Thi Phuong Thu, said on April 8.

They provided free treatment and medicines to 300 people and performed cataract surgeries on 207 others at Preahketmealea hospital in Phnom Penh.

The mission cost over VND130 million (US$7,300).Previously, the city Eye Hospital also carried out free treatment and examination in Cambodia and Laos.

By T.Ngoc - Translated by Uyen Phuong

Cambodia reborn as tourist destination

Wed, April 08 2009

In Cambodia, where a decade-long tourism boom has been driven almost entirely by safe and easy access to the ancient Angkor Wat temples, the rebirth of a seaside resort town is helping lure visitors to the country’s long-neglected coastline.

The sleepy town of Kep on the southeast coast has been earmarked as Cambodia’s first boutique tourism destination, but for now it bears few of the characteristics of the countless backpacker Meccas and resorts scattered throughout Southeast Asia.

Tourist numbers have surged in recent years, but this town of just a few thousand people has maintained its unhurried, pastoral character. Unlike Sihanoukville, a lively huddle of guesthouses, bars and nightclubs on the central coast, Kep seems to be taking a relaxed path towards developing its tourism sector.

But with its lush rainforests, crystalline waters and bountiful seafood, Kep is finding that the tourists don’t need much encouragement. A three-hour drive from the capital Phnom Penh, Kep has become a favorite weekend retreat for expatriates and Cambodia’s burgeoning middle class.

The town is only 20 minutes from a recently opened Vietnamese border crossing, making it a perfect place to say hello or goodbye to Cambodia.

"They told us to expect fewer tourists in Cambodia this year," a local taxi driver says. "But more and more come here every week, to see the mountains and the caves, and of course, to eat."

Kep’s famous crabs were among the many treasures that helped the town become a playground for Cambodia’s French rulers in the early 20th century. Along with former king and independence leader Norodom Sihanouk, the French elite built dozens of mansions in the hills along the coastline and sailed their yachts in the protected waters in the Gulf of Thailand.

But like many regions in Cambodia, Kep was ravaged by the United States’ secret bombing campaign during the Indochinese War, and was forcibly evacuated during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-1979 rule. The ultra-communist group considered the town a symbol of bourgeois hedonism and colonial oppression, and destroyed most of its infrastructure.

Kep lay dormant for more than a decade, and the scars of its troubled past are still visible among the poor local population and neglected amenities. The seaside villas left standing have become overgrown with vines and tree trunks, and now only the smallest of fishing boats dock in the once-bustling port.

But Kep’s striking beauty has not paled despite years of conflict, neglect and civil war. Guesthouses and hotels catering to all budgets have been built along the coast, including the exclusive Knai Banh Chatt hotel, which boasts views of the imposing Bokor Mountain from its infinity pool.

While the town has no beach and is separated from the sea by a strip of coarse red stones, a cheap 30 minute boat ride to Koh Thonsay — known as Rabbit Island — reveals one of Cambodia’s pristine beaches. Budget accommodation is compulsory, as the island’s only available beds are housed in palm-wood bungalows, which can be rented for between $7 and $10 per night.

The bungalows’ power generators are switched off at 10 p.m., and as the fluorescent lights along the beach fade, a spectacular night sky is revealed.

But Kep’s greatest attraction may well be the variety of seafood on offer in the restaurants and stalls downtown. Crabs cooked with local pepper sell for between $3 and $10, and grilled fish on skewers cost less than $5. For the more adventurous, or less eco-conscious, grilled seahorse is also available.

Driving past the various building sites, road workers and bulldozers on the road out of town, one gets the impression that the place is on the verge of a tourism storm. So as travellers look for cheaper tropical escapes in South-East Asia, now might be the time to experience Kep and beat the rush.


Uncovering Mines In Cambodia


Wednesday April 8, 2009 Staff

CityNews' Gord Martineau helping Global Medic and local workers to uncover mines in Cambodia.

Cambodian lesbian film a hit

The Straits Times

April 9, 2009

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIA'S first-ever movie featuring a taboo lesbian love story has been a surprising hit during its first week in theatres, the film's writer said on Thursday.

Phoan Phuong Bopha said the two-hour 'Who Am I?' about a Cambodian-American woman infatuated with a famous Cambodian actress has so far attracted some 4,000 viewers - a blockbuster for the country's tiny movie industry.

'This film have been successful beyond our expectations while the film industry has declined. This film draws great attention,' Phoan Phuong Bopha said.

The movie tells the tale of two women falling in love over a series of long-distance telephone conversations, with the Cambodian-American travelling to Cambodia to meet the star, she said.

But the feature ends in tragedy when the man the actress's parents want her to marry tracks the pair down.

'It is a true story of some movie stars,' said Phoan Phuong Bopha, adding that she wrote the film to raise awareness of discrimination against lesbians.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2007 publicly announced that he was disowning his adopted daughter because she was a lesbian.

Cambodia's film industry has been battered by declining audiences, forcing many theatres to close over the past few years. -- AFP

Indonesia,Thailand: Asia's most corrupt

Bangkok Post

SINGAPORE / Indonesia and Thailand are perceived as Asia's most corrupt economies, with last year's cellar-dweller the Philippines making a marked improvement, an annual survey of foreign business executives shows.

Singapore and Hong Kong retained their rankings as the region's least corrupt economies, although there are concerns about private-sector fraud, according to the survey by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (Perc).

Despite the negative perception of Indonesia, Perc noted ``there has been a real headway in fighting the problem'' under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is seeking re-election in July's presidential polls.

``The absolute scores show corruption in the public and private sectors is still very high,'' Perc said.

``But our latest survey shows that residents in Indonesia are more favourably impressed with the determined way the KPK (anti-corruption commission) has been fighting corruption than any of the other countries graded poorly for corruption.''

It said the major question its respondents are asking in Indonesia is whether the anti-corruption efforts can be sustained.

The March results are based on more than 1,700 responses from 14 Asian economies plus Australia and the United States, which were included for comparison purposes. In a grading system with zero as the best possible score and 10 the worst, Indonesia got 8.32.

Thailand was seen as the second most corrupt country with a grade of 7.63, but Perc said foreign investors were more concerned about political stability.

``Very few expatriate executives find that corruption makes the country a less attractive place to live and do business,'' it said.

Cambodia was third-worst at 7.25, followed by India with 7.21 and Vietnam with 7.11.

A grade above 7.0 indicates that a ``serious'' corruption problem exists, Perc said. A score between 4.0 and 7.0 indicates a ``moderate'' level of corruption.

Perceived as Asia's most corrupt country in the 2008 survey, the Philippines had a score of 7.0 to rank sixth from the bottom this year.

The Philippine customs and tax agencies, police and politicians have the meanest reputation for corruption in the country, the consultancy said.

But while ``there is very little confidence in the government's seriousness about fighting the problem,'' Perc also said that ``the actual level of corruption is not as bad as it is often portrayed''.

Singapore again topped the survey as Asia's least corrupt country with a score of 1.07, followed by Hong Kong with 1.89.

Australia scored 2.40 to rank in third place followed by the United States with a score of 2.89.

The recession's impact on regional financial centres Singapore and Hong Kong would increase public-sector corruption there, Perc said.

Captor was a 'monster'

Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his alias, Duch - commanded Phnom Penh's S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured before being executed. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The Straits Times

April 9, 2009
Khmer Rouge Trial

PHNOM PENH (Cambodia) - A FRENCH scholar who was imprisoned by a Khmer Rouge official now on trial for crimes against humanity said on Wednesday that his captor was a 'monster' but did not mistreat him.

Francois Bizot testified before Cambodia's UN-assisted genocide tribunal in its second week of trying Kaing Guek Eav, the main jailer for the Khmer Rouge during their 1975-79 regime.

Kaing Guek Eav (pronounced Gang Geck EE-UU) - better known by his alias, Duch - commanded Phnom Penh's S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured before being executed.

In addition to crimes against humanity, 66-year-old Duch (pronounced Doik) is charged with war crimes as well as murder and torture.

The Khmer Rouge seized Mr Bizot in Cambodia's countryside while he was doing research on Buddhism in 1971, during the civil war that led to the group's seizure of power. He was accused of being a foreign spy and held in Khmer Rouge territory for three months before he was cleared and released on Christmas Day, though he said he had expected to be executed.

Duch has already given the tribunal his account of his activities up to the Khmer Rouge seizure of power, but Mr Bizot was the first witness to take the stand. He has written a book about his experiences.

Mr Bizot said he was testifying in memory of his fellow inmates at Duch's M-13 jungle prison. But he also acknowledged a certain sympathy for contending aspects of Duch's personality.

'I must come to terms with what's in me with relation to a double reality, the reality of a man who was the force of a state institutional massive killing, and I cannot imagine being in his shoes today with so much horror left behind,' Mr Bizot declared.

'On the other hand, the recollection I have today of a young man who committed his life to a cause and to a purpose that was based on the idea that it was not only legitimate, it was deserved,' he said, referring to the idealistic social impulses that drove Duch to join the communist revolutionaries. -- AP

Preventing Child Sex Exploitation

April 9, 2009

A Federal Official that has ties to Kearney and was involved in several high-profile child sex
slave rings, talked to UNK students about child sex exploitation.

It's hard to think about, but certainly a reality overseas and perhaps more and more closer to home. Now one man is telling about his experiences trying to stop adults from having sex with kids.

"He would tie them, gag them, blindfold them, sometimes smother them with a pillow and rape them," Said Gary Phillips.

Phillips talks about his role taking down former US Marine Corps Captain, Michael Pepe. Pepe was convicted of raping seven kids in Cambodia.

"He would perform oral sex to them and have them do it to him and even have them do it to each other...That was one of the worst cases I've ever worked," Phillips said.

Phillips is now giving presentations on his experiences as an undercover agent working for Homeland Security in South East Asia. He caught Americans who traveled to Asia to have sex with kids.

"I was amazed at the amount of Americans that do this in plain sight, to have sex with these kids, some as young as seven," said Phillips.

He says child sex exploitation is hard to stop because of poverty. Parents often sell their
kids to Americans to have sex.

"It's brought on by despair, poverty, pain, suffering. This is the only way they can make money, I don't condone it at all, but this is the reality," he said.

Students listened intently, shocked at some of the graphic pictures, and nature of the issue.

"I liked it, I think it's important for people like Gary to share these experiences with us so we know what's going on in the world," said UNK Senior Jena Lynch.

Not only is this a problem globally, but in America one in four girls and one in six boys will be a victim of sexual abuse. Phillips says that can be prevented.

"Keeping that line of communication open is so important. Talk to your kids about sex. That's the only way you can prevent something like this from happening to your child," he said.

It was quite by accident Phillips gave a presentation at UNK, he ran into a Kearney Professor on a plane during his global travels. He's now in the process of getting his Masters of Biology at online at UNK.