Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Route To Politics Via New Zealand For Cambodian

Wednesday, 22 April 2009 - 3:41pm


From Wellington taxi driver to government minister in Cambodia, Veng Sereyvuth tells MAGGIE TAIT of NZPA about life under and after the Pol Pot regime.

Wellington, April 22 NZPA - Veng Sereyvuth once drove the streets of Wellington in his cab, now when he visits the city the Cambodian government minister can relax in the backseat.

Mr Veng and his family started a new life in Wellington after surviving the Pol Pot regime -- unlike 1.7 million others who died of disease, overwork and starvation.

The family were among the 4661 Cambodian refugees whom New Zealand accepted between the end of the Pol Pot regime in 1979 and 1992.

Aged 50, Mr Veng is now divorced with a 12-year-old son. He lives a good life, is quick to laugh and is proud of his ministerial roles -- a Senior Minister of the Prime Minister's Office, he had previously served as tourism and culture minister.

Sitting in the comfort of a five-star hotel in Phnom Penh, Mr Veng recalls flying into New Zealand in 1980.

It was paradise after the hell of the Khmer Rouge.

"I will remember for the rest of my life when I got out of the plane I saw the green, the hills. Whoa. The word that came to mind was heaven.

"We survived, we reached the western world, a civilised country ... (we felt) so much hope."

The family had fled before. Mr Veng's parents and their eight children left Khmer Rouge ruled countryside in 1971 when he was aged 12 to move to the capital where it was still possible to get an education.

But the reprieve was short lived and in 1975 the regime took over the Phnom Penh and forced its evacuation. The city or "new people" were sent to the provinces to work the fields with other peasants in the ultra-communist country.

"It was primitive, you committed your whole life, your whole soul for Angkar (the organisation). There's no faith, there's nothing there."

Individuals could not have belongings or money, they were limited in what they could say and had little or no freedom. Family members were separated.

New people were moved to wherever workers were needed, and the work was gruelling and hours absurdly long.

"We were not thin we were, how do I say it? I have seen documentary (footage) of the Jewish people in concentration camps, that is what we all were. Bones, thin is not good enough."

Every day there were two or three re-education meetings.

"In the morning before you go to work Angkar would educate you, before you eat Angkar would educate you. You were so tired your mind was shut already."

Starvation turned humans into food hunting machines -- a tactic Mr Veng said killed thoughts of rebellion.

He ate raw rice and swallowed any small creature that crossed his path.

Disease and sickness were rampant, Mr Veng was only cured of malaria while living in New Zealand.

Sometime he did not think he would survive.

"Hope is there somewhere, blurry sometimes, sometimes clear. But it was at the back of my mind."

That hope came from his Buddhist faith but also from disbelief such a cruel regime could be sustainable.

"It enslaved its own people ... We knew they would not be strong forever."

Mr Veng says throughout all his family kept their humour -- a brother one night snuck over to near where he was sleeping and pretended to be a Khmer Rouge planning to disappear him overnight.

"Under Khmer Rouge they did that, they killed people at night ... I almost died (of shock)."

Coming to Wellington in 1980, following about a year in a refugee camp, Mr Veng suffered nightmares but otherwise put those troubled times out of his mind.

He studied to achieve school qualifications before obtaining a bachelor of arts majoring in politics from Victoria University.

Driving his cab, number 123, Mr Veng worked long hours.

He laughingly recalls dropping one passenger off at night and picking the same man up the next morning to his amazement.

Other jobs included orderly work at Wellington Hospital and a role in a printing shop.

One sister, Visoth, married and still lives in Wellington, another sister lives in Australia but other members returned to Cambodia.

Mr Veng was the first to head back. "In my mind at the time .... (I thought) New Zealand may not need me but I may be able to contribute to those in need at the border or in Cambodia."

He returned in 1988 and worked as a translator at the same refugee camp he lived in before coming to New Zealand. At the camp he was approached by a political party and never looked back.

* Maggie Tait travelled to Cambodia with the assistance of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR: Talbot students travel the globe at event

Herald News
Members of the Durfee High School Asian Club perform a "coconut dance" at an International Night event held at Talbot Middle School last Thursday. Photo by jack foley.

By Herald News Staff
Tue Apr 21, 2009

Fall River - Talbot Middle School celebrated world culture last week at its International Night.

Weeks of planning went into the event long before the doors opened, with students and teachers making colorful displays, studying other cultures and reading about current events from around the world.

All of the hard work culminated at International Night last Thursday, where students greeted people and handed out programs as they walked through a hallway decorated with flags made by the sixth-grade students.

At the end of the hallway, the Talbot orchestra played cultural songs above the commons area. A group of tables invited people to “visit” each of the 13 represented countries/regions: Portugal, Spain, Lebanon, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Azores, Greece, Africa, China, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The tables were decorated with information and pictures about the country/region, as well as some artifacts and foods.

Shortly into the event, visitors and students made their way into the gymnasium where a “World Cup soccer tournament” was held by the physical education teachers and students.

After the soccer event, music and dance performances were held in the auditorium. First, the jazz band played a few numbers, including “Vida La Vida.” Next, the Cambodian dance group from the Asian Club at Durfee High School took the stage and performed the “Coconut Dance.”

To end the night, Azorean folk dancers performed some dances traditional to the Azorean islands.

M-13 still feared by the living

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Mak Moeun, who lives near the site of M-13 prison, points out the pond where prisoners were taken to bathe.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by heng chivoan
Wednesday, 22 April 2009


A scene of horror - now hidden by jungle - is recalled by villagers.

A MUDDY pond and a deep pit in the ground, its dirt walls reclaimed by jungle undergrowth, are the only reminders left of what would have likely been just one of many now-forgotten Khmer Rouge prisons had it not been commandeered by the man who is at the centre of Cambodia's efforts to reconcile with its brutal past.

Kaing Guek Eav is standing trial in the Kingdom's Khmer Rouge tribunal for atrocities that he admits he committed while director of Tuol Sleng prison, or S-21, the regime's chief torture centre.

But before Tuol Sleng, there was M-13, a crude holding pen for human beings marked for slaughter that Kaing Guek Eav, who is better known by his revolutionary name Duch, ran with the same cold efficiency that would define his later tenure at Tuol Sleng.

From 1971 to 1975, Duch conducted interrogations, made reports and sent an unknown number of people to their deaths at M-13, a precursor to the S-21 killing machine that judges at Cambodia's war crimes court say offers insight into the mind of the man who would become the regime's top jailer.

"Every four or five days, between 10 and 20 prisoners, their hands tied behind their backs, would be taken away to be killed," said Mak Moeun, a farmer who has lived near this site, some 70 kilometres from Phnom Penh, since 1971.

"I knew clearly who Duch was, but I never spoke to him. I never went to see what was happening there [at M-13] because I was too afraid," he said Tuesday as he picked his way through the vegetation that has overtaken the former prison.

With a sweep of his arm he defined where there once was a corral that at any given time enclosed 50 or 60 bound, near-naked prisoners.

"They continued to add more as they took others away to be killed," said Mak Moeun, who at the time was working on a nearby farm.

"I saw Duch order his guards to take the prisoners to be killed. I never saw the killing, I only heard the screams and cries."

The passage of years has softened Mak Moeun's anger towards Duch, a man he said he would have killed but whose fate he says is now in the hands of the war crimes court.

"But if the law would allow for him to be executed, I would like to see him executed and put an end to this story," the 67-year-old said.

Old ghosts
Cows graze on scrubland and farmers tend their rice fields nearby, but Lim Peth said that in the immediate aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime, few villagers dared go near M-13, and even today are reluctant to approach the site.

"They were afraid of the ghosts of those killed," he said.

At the height of operations at M-13, Lim Peth, then a 13-year-old boy tasked with tending cattle on the same cooperative farm where Mak Moeun grew rice, remembered seeing guards taking prisoners to a pond about 100 metres from the corral to be bathed.

This was one of the few gestures of humanity offered by Duch to the inmates, who Lim Peth said were otherwise cruelly abused - a statement that has been backed up by former prison guards testifying at Duch's trial who said their boss appeared to take pleasure in his ability to exert absolute control over those in his grasp.

If the law would allow for him to be executed, i would like to see him executed.

"The prison was controlled by Duch and his wife - all aspects of management, all the orders were given by Duch," Lim Peth said.

Inhuman conditions
"I saw Duch torture the prisoners, who had been detained from all over the area and collected [at M-13]," he added.

Inmates were often left bound and exposed to the insects and elements in a deep pit dug into the earth.

The men frequently wore nothing but tattered shorts, while the women were clad in rough black dresses, Lim Peth said.

It was in this same pit that shackled inmates were left to drown during the monsoon season, one former prison guard told the tribunal earlier this week.

But like Mak Moeun, Lim Peth said he never saw the prisoners being killed.

"I was too young and too afraid to try to see this," said the 51-year-old charcoal maker, who returned to nearby Thmar Kup village after the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

But more than three decades on, Lim Peth said he cannot control his anger towards Duch, who he insists ordered the killing of his family members unfortunate enough to be seized by the regime and sent to M-13.

"Speaking about Duch, I feel only pain," he said.

"At that time I know that my relatives were killed by guards acting on the orders of Duch."

Lim Peth said he wants nothing now "except for the tribunal to judge Duch".

"In my heart, I want to kill him - I am that angry - but I know I cannot do that," he said.

PVihear damages estimated

A vendor picks through the debris of Preah Vihear market, destroyed in in a firefight with Thai soldiers earlier this

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Residents around the market at Preah Vihear temple say they want compensation from Thailand for what they estimate is about US$9 million in damages.

RESIDENTS near the Preah Vhear temple complex where a market was destroyed by Thai rocket fire in early April have calculated damages in excess of US$9 million, a representative announced Tuesday.

Some 260 property owners have submitted thumbprints to documents requesting compensation from the Thai government for losses incurred when Thai soldiers opened fire on the market April 3.

"We've calculated the value of properties destroyed by Thai soldiers at $1.2 million", president of the Khmer CiviliSation Foundation, Moeung Sonn, reported Tuesday. "However, we've submitted a claim for $9.2 million to the Thai government to compensate people's properties, businesses and mental health," he explained.

Moeung Soun said many victims of property damage have also suffered serious mental health repercussions. "One of the victims has been out of control since her property was burned down by Thai soldiers' rockets," he said. "She's now seriously ill and is being treated in Battambang hospital. Other victims are also experiencing mental health problems."

Moeung Sonn said the complaint will be sent to the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and copies are to be sent to King Norodom Sihamoni, the King Father Norodom Sihanouk, Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Thai embassy.

He added, however, that compensation will ultimately be determined by the Cambodian government's willingness to confront Thai authorities.

"Our government has evidence of Thai rocket debris and has a duty to serve Cambodians and resolve the problem for them," he said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Post Tuesday that the ministry had not yet received the complaint and would meet to determine measures after its receipt.

Meanwhile, commune officials are working to independently calculate property damages and address losses.

"Our officials have registered people's property damages, but totals have not yet been calculated", Kao Long, governor of Choam Ksan district, said Tuesday.

PM warns against strikes

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Says further disruptions could lead to employment losses.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday urged 3,500 garment workers to resolve labour issues through peaceful means including legal arbitration, warning that strikes and demonstrations could lead to further job losses in the troubled garment sector, which has contracted substantially since the onset of the global economic downturn.

In a speech at a meeting hall in Kandal province's Takhmao district, Hun Sen also said he had instructed the Ministry of Labour to organise training courses for garment factory workers who had lost their jobs and were looking to transition to other careers, said union officials who attended the speech.

Some 50,000 Cambodian garment workers have lost their jobs since June 2008, according to figures provided by Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC). Ath Thorn estimated that 60 to 70 percent of those workers had returned to their home provinces after being laid off, while 10 to 20 percent had found new garment factory jobs or other jobs. The remaining workers had started their own businesses, he said.

Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, told the Post last month that 70 garment factories had closed since last August and that 51,000 garment workers had lost their jobs or seen their contracts suspended.

Sem Sokha, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said Tuesday's gathering of 28 unions was convened to mark International Labour Day, which is observed on May 1.

Ath Thorn, who did not attend, criticised the government for allegedly inviting only pro-government unions, a charge to which Sem Sokha declined to respond.

Ath Thorn said the six CLC unions along with the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association would attend an alternate gathering in front of Wat Botum on May 1.

"We plan to have 2,500 workers, including garment, tourism, construction and other workers, coming from the provinces and cities throughout Cambodia to meet on International Labour Day," he said.

He said the demonstration's organisers planned to submit a petition enumerating several requests, including for the establishment of a labour court as well as a requirement that garment factories give severance pay to their employees when they close.


Ath Thorn said the workers will gather in front of Wat Botum at 8:30am on the morning of May 1, at which time the petition will be read by union leaders. They will then proceed to the Council of Ministers to file the petition, then walk to the site near Wat Lanka where trade unionist Chea Vichea was assassinated in 2004. Then they will walk to the National Assembly building to file the petition there as well.

Bargaining position
Ath Thorn said there was some concern on the part of union leaders that the economic downturn had weakened their bargaining position with factory owners.

"As a result of the global economic crisis, we will have more difficulty in making demands in the interest of workers, including higher salaries and improved working conditions," he said. "Companies have been more likely to ignore our demands."

But he said this would not discourage them from demonstrating because "there are big problems in Cambodia" and "the government has to solve them".

Rik Reay residents protest company

Written by May titthara
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

ABOUT 30 residents of the Rik Reay community burned car tyres Tuesday to protest the development company Bassac Garden City, a resident told the Post.

Chheun Buntheun, the community representative, said, "We are protesting against the company for trying to fill our land with six residential houses."

He said the community would continue its protest at Bassac Garden City today.

Phnom Phen Governor Kep Chuktema said the residents could choose either US$10,000 and a house in Dangkor district or stay in onsite housing when they are forced out of their current shelters.

'Humanity smashed' at secret prison, Duch tells tribunal

Photo by: AFP
Kaing Guek Eav in a file photo from a court appearance in December.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The former cadre admits the M-13 prison that he headed before Tuol Sleng was "beyond being harsh", amid delays in his trial.

FORMER Tuol Sleng prison head "Duch" told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Tuesday that M-13, a detention centre he ran during the early 1970s, was not just cruel but "a place where humanity was smashed".

"[M-13] was not a school, it was a Khmer Rouge prison," the former commandent - whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav - told civil party lawyers, responding to questions about 2-metre-deep pits in which prisoners were detained.

"It was not just harsh but cruel and heinous. It was the place where humanity was smashed. It was beyond being harsh," he said, adding however that it was "not his original intention" to create a cruel environment at M-13 prison. It was merely a consequence of the regime being what it was.

"If people [in pits] were exposed to horrendous conditions, it was a consequence, not my original intention."

Speaking at the third week of proceedings against him, Duch was again called upon to respond to witness testimonies regarding the M-13 prison he headed before Tuol Sleng.

However, difficulties with translation, witness recollections and even the weather got in the way of proceedings, with a short rainstorm temporarily imparing court headsets.

Chan Khorn, 53, a former prison guard at M-13, admitted he had trouble remembering the details of conversations with researchers six years ago, though he recalled the way in which people feared Duch during his command of the Kampong Speu facility in the 1970s.

"No one would dare criticise [Duch]. He was the most important chairperson in the place. Who would dare criticise him?" he asked.

Hopes for funds dashed
On top of technical woes, hopes for an infusion of cash into the near-bankrupt Cambodian side of the court have also been dashed.
In a statement emailed Monday to the Post, the UN Development Program said it has denied a request to release US$400,000 of Australian government funds to the court, which it froze following allegations of graft last year.

"UNDP's position has been that there must be a resolution of the allegations. After careful internal review of the latest developments, and in accordance with the accountability framework that governs UNDP/[Cambodian government] projects, UNDP is not in a position to release funds at this time," it said.

March salaries for staff on the Cambodian side were paid for by an emergency donation by Japan, and court officials had hoped to use Australian money for April wages.

The perils of pregnancy in Pursat

Sok Lin writhes in pain as she awaits the birth of her child last month, while her mother-in-law Cheam Kav looks on.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet and Sam Rith
Wednesday, 22 April 2009


As officials turn their attention to the maternal mortality rate, experts in Pursat say the maternal health situation there can shed light on challenges faced across the Kingdom.

AT 9:27 on the morning of March 30, nearly 18 hours after she checked into Pursat's Sampov Meas Referral Hospital to give birth to her first child, Sok Lin's grimaces and groans gave way to tears as the pain of her contractions intensified.

"This child wants to come out," she said as she writhed on a wooden cot, clutching and twisting the blankets and diaper rags she had brought from her home in nearby O'Kamboa village.

Cheam Kav, 48, Sok Lin's mother-in-law, massaged her back and sprinkled water on her face. When not doing that, she leaned against a wall and peered into the adjacent office in which four midwives sorted medical records.

The experience of a hospital birth was a new one for Cheam Kav, who delivered all 12 of her children at home with the aid of a traditional midwife.

"Some villagers still use those midwives, but I don't feel safe with them anymore," she said, adding that her view had changed after she watched television ads promoting hospital births and heard doctors stress the importance of emergency obstetric care, particularly for difficult deliveries.

Though Sok Lin, 21, was not expected to face any complications, Cheam Kav said she was comforted by the fact that emergency care would be available should anything go awry.

But she said she wished the midwives would pay a bit more attention to her daughter-in-law, whose cries were growing louder and more anguished by the minute.

"I want to give birth very soon," Sok Lin said between clenched teeth. "But the midwives, they just tell me to wait."

A top priority
Increasing the number of births attended by skilled health care personnel is at the heart of the effort to reduce Cambodia's maternal mortality rate, a problem that has long confounded health officials. The 2005 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS), the source of the most recent reliable maternal health data, reported a nationwide rate of 472 deaths per 100,000 live births - the third-highest rate in the region behind Laos and East Timor.

If recent comments by government officials and development partner representatives are any indication, the effort to reduce the rate has assumed a leading role on the national health agenda.

During various speaking appearances last month, the issue was specifically addressed by Minister of Health Mam Bunheng, UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

To be sure, improving maternal health involves more than merely keeping women alive.

In a 2005 report, USAID found that for "every woman or girl who dies as a result of pregnancy-related causes, between 20 and 30 more will develop short- and long-term disabilities", including uterine ruptures and pelvic inflammatory disease. Citing "best estimates", the report went on to say that 42,000 Cambodian women sustain injuries or disabilities caused by pregnancy-related complications each year, compared with the estimated 2,100 who die.

Data on these conditions ranges from biased to nonexistent, but the most recent National Health Statistics (NHS) report from the Ministry of Health and recent interviews with maternal health experts indicate that the most common pregnancy-related complications in Cambodia include postpartum haemorrhages, uterine ruptures and infections.

A handful of such conditions can have long-term effects. Infections, for instance, can lead to infertility. And uterine tears that are left untreated or treated improperly can cause, among other things, incontinence and uterine prolapse, in which the uterus descends from its position in the pelvis down into the vagina.

Pregnant in Pursat
Dr Niklas Danielsson, a medical officer for child and adolescent health at the World Health Organisation's Cambodia office, said these conditions are consistently underreported because of the "shame" that tends to come with them, which discourages afflicted women from accessing medical care.

In 1997, the Reproductive and Child Health Alliance (RACHA) opened its Pursat office, largely because the province had one of the highest maternal mortality rates at the time, said Executive Director Chan Theary.

Since then, for a range of reasons, Pursat's maternal mortality rate has fallen and is now roughly on par with the national rate, Chan Theary said, adding that she believes the maternal health situation in Pursat is something of a microcosm of the situation nationwide - a view echoed by Provincial Health Department Director Khlem Sokun.

The CDHS did not report provincial maternal mortality rates. Dr Sieng Kimseng, director of Sampov Meas operational district, could not provide data on pregnancy-related injuries and disabilities, saying he had asked the Ministry of Health "many times" for the equipment necessary to track this data but had not received it.

Khlem Sokun said half of all births in Pursat are attended by skilled health personnel. But he added that some midwives are poorly trained and not always sensitive to the needs of their patients.

Other problems include the lack of equipment at some health centres and the fact that health officials can visit the province's remote areas only once a month, making it difficult to promote antenatal care, he said.

Speaking generally, Khlem Sokun said the maternal health situation in the province had improved considerably over the last decade, in large part because of the presence of organisations such as RACHA, which works to train midwives and ensure that health centres have the equipment required for emergency obstetric care.

But Chan Theary stressed that negative pregnancy outcomes persisted.

"In Europe or in the US, when you get pregnant you're happy, you're blessed. And also for the rich women in Cambodia, it's a happy thing," she said.

"But for poor women in Pursat, it's just another worry, another problem."

No access to care
On the same day Sok Lin went into labor, Orm Lin, 43, sat under the house he shares with his brother-in-law in nearby Chamcar Chek village and reflected on the changes wrought by the March 2008 death of his wife, who was stricken with eclampsia during her sixth pregnancy.

Eclampsia is a condition in which a pregnant woman develops dangerously high blood pressure and sometimes suffers kidney failure, seizures and heart failure. The NHS indicates that eclampsia is among the most common pregnancy complications in Cambodia.

Orm Lin said his wife, Vorn Serey, 41, complained of a severe headache and numbness in her legs one day eight months into her pregnancy.

When she visited the hospital, she received an intravenous drip - Orm Lin does not know what it contained - and was sent home. Shortly after the visit, her legs began to twitch and then convulse. She was admitted to the hospital at 4pm on March 12 and died shortly after noon the next day.

Because he could not understand the doctors, Orm Lin at first did not know what killed his wife. Only when a RACHA doctor visited his house did he learn that his wife's symptoms pointed to eclampsia.

He also learned from the RACHA doctor that his wife had been encouraged, during an antenatal care visit at Sampov Meas Referral Hospital, to check into the hospital as she neared the end of her third trimester. Doctors evidently were concerned about the pregnancy, both because it was her sixth and because she was over 40, as older women and women who have had many children are at greater risk for complications.

Orm Lin said he believed his wife chose not to tell him about the doctor's warning because she knew he would not be able to afford a hospital stay - he makes 200,000 riels (US$49) per month as a guard at Pursat prison.

"I still regret that I didn't know in advance," he said. "My relatives, they blame me for letting my wife get sick like that. I just tell them I didn't know."

At 9:47 on the morning of March 30, one of the midwives at Sampov Meas Referral Hospital told Sok Lin that the time for delivery had arrived. She stood up from the cot where she had spent the past 18 hours and a midwife escorted her into the delivery room, which was closed to everyone but the midwife team, Sok Lin and one family member. Because her husband, a fisherman, was on a boat 110 kilometres away from Pursat, her mother-in-law, Cheam Kav, stood at her side during the delivery.

At 9:53, one of the midwives returned to the cot to grab a handful of the cloth diapers Sok Lin brought with her to the hospital. Four minutes later, Tan Mealiny, the head of the midwife team, emerged from the delivery room and removed her motorbike from a locked closet. She was late for a wedding party, she said before driving off.

The other midwives continued on without her, and at 10:20, Sok Lin's son, Nhim Rovid, was born. The delivery was smooth, the midwives said, and the baby was healthy.

Though she had earlier expressed concern about the level of attention the midwives were giving her daughter-in-law, Cheam Kav offered a rosy assessment of the hospital birth process once it was over.

"We're happy with the service and that they took care of our daughter," she said.

As she breastfed Nhim Rovid for the first time, Sok Lin said, "I was very worried about the delivery process before. But now I am happy. The child looks just like my husband."

Police get training on Cham issues

Cham Muslims at their prayers in a mosque on Oudong mountain in Kampong Speu province in this file photo.

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A series of seminars sponsored by the US embassy hopes to bring Muslim communities and law enforcement officials into closer contact as they work to combat Islamic extremism.

CAMBODIAN police in three provinces are to attend seminars this week as part of a US effort to promote a closer relationship between Cham communities and Cambodian law enforcement officials as they attempt to keep Islamic extremism at bay in the Kingdom.

In a speech Monday at the opening of the first seminar in Phnom Penh, US Ambassador Carol Rodley said the case of convicted Bali bomber Hambali, who took refuge in Cambodia in 2003, showed that no Muslim communities were immune from malignant outside influences.

"Muslim leaders in Cambodia have been forthright and united in their condemnation of terrorism, pointing out that Islam is a religion of peace," she told the audience.

"Through your dialogue and mutual understanding, networks and bonds can be created which will go a long way towards the prevention of any type of threat - be it terrorist, criminal or social."

US embassy spokesman John Johnson said the seminars, which will be held Tuesday in Kampong Cham and Thursday in Kampot, would focus on ensuring that effective local police efforts involved participation from local Cham communities.

He added that 150 police were expected to take part in the seminars, which are to feature a speaker from the US and two law enforcement experts from Indonesia with firsthand experience of policing in Muslim minority areas.

Rodley added that the knowledge gained in the seminars would help Chams build "stable communit[ies]" and "prevent future Hambalis from taking refuge on Cambodian soil".

Cham representatives and law enforcement officials said they were glad to support the US initiative and called on authorities to work more closely with Cambodia's estimated 400,000 Cham Muslims.

"I am happy to support the US embassy in providing training courses on law enforcement to the authorities who are working with Muslim communities in Cambodia," said Othsman Hassan, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour who is also Cham.

"I hope police authorities will make an effort to do their professional duty and cooperate with Khmer Muslim communities for their peaceful social development."

While he had not heard of the seminar, Phnom Penh police Chief Touch Naruth said he hoped law enforcement officials who attended the course would gain experience in working with Cham communities, adding that police who know the law well enjoy "the support and encouragement of the people".

Ahmad Yahya, a Cham government adviser, also said he knew little about the forums but offered his support to all US efforts to prevent extremism from becoming embedded in local Cham communities.

But when asked whether close policing of Cham communities could create problems, he responded that the obligation to prevent Islamic extremism went both ways.

"I don't think [this is a problem]. It is the duty of the police to watch everything," he said Tuesday.

"As Muslim community leaders, we must also watch and see who comes to Cambodia, and for what."

Monk gets relief during wait on asylum bid

Written by Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

KHMER Krom activist Tim Sakhorn met Tuesday with representatives of a relief organisation in Bangkok, a day after he met with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials to apply for refugee status in the United States.

The 41-year-old said the relief group promised to provide him food and financial support for three months as he awaits a decision from UNHCR on the status of his refugee application, expected on June 20.

"[The organisation] will provide me with finances and some food ... until I can seek refugee status in another country," he said, adding that he was moving locations in Bangkok regularly out of fears for his security.

"I am scared of the Vietnamese, even in Cambodia and Thailand. In Thailand I am less scared, but I still have to be careful," he added.

Tim Sakhorn spent two years in Vietnam in jail and under house arrest on charges of subverting the country's friendship with Cambodia. On April 11, he fled to Thailand after he was was allowed to visit family in Takeo province.

A representative from the refugee-support group confirmed by phone from Bangkok that it was providing Tim Sakhorn with finances, food and hygiene supplies, but said they did not want the organisation's name mentioned in this report.


Retailer confidence rock bottom, new survey finds

A shopper pays at a Lucky Supermarket checkout in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. The majority of retailers in Cambodia have seen declining fortunes in the past six months, a new survey said.

Written by Nathan Green
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Indochina Research survey finds that 87 percent of retailers think economy has worsened in past six months, but 59 percent expect improvements

CAMBODIAN retailers have been hit hard by the global economic crisis, but more than half expected conditions to improve over the next six months, a survey of retailer confidence released today by Indochina Research shows.

The company's second-quarter I-TRAK survey questioned 600 retailers in Phnom Penh, the Lao capital Vientiane, and Vietnam's two major cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It covered convenience and grocery stores, other retail stores, and the hospitality, restaurant and catering sectors.

Eighty-seven percent of Cambodian respondents said economic conditions were worse in March compared with six months earlier. Only 2 percent said economic conditions had improved, and 11 percent said they had stayed the same.

Most retailers in Cambodia had suffered financially with falling customer numbers and decreasing spend-per-customer eating into profit margins, the survey showed. The decline came despite many dropping prices to boost sales.

But IndoChina Research General Manager Laurent Notin said the survey also contained good news for the sector. Of the Cambodian respondents, 59 percent said the worst was behind them and that the retail situation would stabilise or improve over the next six months.

"Yes, [retailers] are affected by the economic slowdown; yes, they have fewer customers and lower profits - but they do think the economic situation in the next six months will get better," Notin said.

"As the midpoint between manufacturers and customers, retailers are the centre of everything. They are closely connected to the economy and their confidence is a good sign for future growth."

Lam Sopheap, general manger at Sorya Shopping Centre in Phnom Penh, said April was even worse than March for retailers, with the New Year period unusually slow. "This Khmer New Year, everywhere was quiet because nobody wanted to spend money," he said.

Sales at Sorya have been down 30 to 40 percent in April compared with a year earlier, he added, but he said he expected the retail situation to improve by the middle of 2010.

Confidence among retailers in Vietnam was stronger than in Cambodia, but 68 percent of respondents still said economic conditions were worse in March than six months earlier. A further 12 percent said the economic situation had improved for retailers and 20 percent said it had remained unchanged.

Laos bucked the trend with 52 percent of respondents saying conditions had improved for retailers, compared with just 22 percent that said conditions had worsened.

Unlike in Cambodia and Vietnam where retailers lowered prices to attract customers, prices for retail goods in Laos were higher in March compared to six months earlier.

The second-quarter I-TRAK report followed a consumer confidence survey in late February that showed that 39 percent of Cambodian consumers thought economic conditions had worsened, compared with 37 percent that thought they had improved.

"By definition, retailers are always less confident than consumers so I am not surprised to see lower confidence levels than consumers," Notin said.

The retail confidence survey confirmed a Phnom Penh Post report in March that found sales had dropped by up to a half at four of Phnom Penh's main supermarkets in the first quarter of 2009. Sales at Pencil Shopping Centre had dropped by around 20 percent, Sorya Shopping Centre reported a 25 percent sales decline, Sydney Shopping Centre 30 percent and Sovanna Supermarket 50 percent, the Post found.

Chhoy Chhunly, owner of the Lovely clothing shop in Pencil on Sothearos Boulevard, also reported a sales decline in recent months, but said economic conditions were not behind the slump. Rather, Hun Sen's decision in February to outlaw sports and electronic gambling had led to a marked decline in the number of women buying clothes for work in the sector.

"Before, one girl would buy two, three or even four dresses at a time," she said. "Now they say they have no money so they maybe buy one dress or none at all."

Notin said retailers that looked to the future and understood their market would come out the slump the strongest.

"The main message is to do your homework even more than before," he said. "We know the economy is slowing down globally so take that into account, but don't be afraid to invest. It's about long-term thinking."

Thai travel lull hits Kingdom

Travellers look at a departure schedule, which shows that most flights are cancelled, at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok last December.

Written by Michael Fox
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Officials say measures taken by the government should ease fallout from protests in Thailand and the global economic downturn as tourism suffers

TOURISM officials said that Cambodia could avoid a protracted tourism slump as a result of civil unrest in Thailand, despite the loss of millions of dollars following protests last year and signs that the latest turmoil has hit domestic travel numbers.

Official estimates put the Kingdom's financial fallout at between US$350,000 and $490,000 lost each day during Thai protests in November and December, which included the closure of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Government-Private Sector Tourism Working Group, said Cambodia had experienced a drop in tourist numbers from the latest fallout in Thailand as travel agents had sold trips to both countries as a package.

"This affects Cambodia when those tourists cancel their visits to Thailand," he said, adding that each tourist spends on average $700 during a stay in the Kingdom.

Of the 2.13 visitors to Cambodia last year, just over a third - 34.65 percent - arrived via Thailand and 33.36 percent arrived via Vietnam. Of this number, 16.5 percent came by air from Thailand and 16.4 percent from Vietnam.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said that Vietnam had since taken over from Thailand as the main entry point for tourists into Cambodia, something which the government has encouraged.

"Now, we cannot rely solely on Thailand - we have one more significant tourism gate, which is Vietnam," he said. "Currently, more foreign tourists come from Vietnam."

Tourism Ministry figures reflect this with the number of visitors coming from Vietnam by land or sea increasing by 51.39 percent last year compared with a 18.3 percent increase for Thailand.

New Zealander Marika Hill is indicative of the trend. She said she planned to visit Cambodia in June via Singapore instead of Bangkok, having been stranded in Thailand for two weeks during last year's protests.

"Ultimately, we can't afford to risk losing time, money and work leave if we become stranded in Bangkok again," she said, adding that the latest unrest had prompted her to avoid Thailand this time.

The impact of the protests on tourist numbers was visible during her last visit to Bangkok, she said, with empty hotels and few foreigners on the streets.

Ho Vandy said the flip side was that people could extend their time in Cambodia as they did not want to go to Thailand.

He said the private sector had urged the government to cut visa prices and fares to Angkor Wat.

In the midst of the global recession and the coming low season, Thong Khon said that the government was looking for ways to promote Cambodia as a destination.

"We have worked to curb the effects of declining tourist numbers by promoting our tourism industry - especially ecotourism - to get tourists from within the region, like from China, where the economy has not been as badly affected by the financial crisis," he said.

The government had taken measures to ease passage at border crossings and promote cheaper travel packages, he said.

Ho Vandy said Cambodia would need to establish a national carrier to boost tourism.

Crococdile farms expecting soaring prices

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan and Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

High demand and dwindling supplies mean baby croc prices are set to spike, industry says

THE price of baby crocodiles is set to rise as many farmers have sold their breeding females after many years of falling prices, crocodile farmers said Tuesday.

"Now, a crocodile baby costs US$14 ... $2 more than last year," said Khoeu Chhin, who has been breeding crocodiles since 1987 .

According to Khoeu Chhin, Vietnamese have been on a buying spree of baby crocodiles, but many farms had already sold many of their breeding females, leaving them unable to meet a subsequent rise in demand due to a lack of breeding capacity.

Khoeu Chhin says his farm makes between $20,000 and $30,000 per year, but that this year should be an especially good year as a result of high demand and shrinking supply elsewhere in Cambodia.

Baby crocodile prices had been dropping for nearly a decade, but even in 2003, prices could be as high as $40 for a newborn.

Prices continued to drop, falling as low as $12 in 2008. This year's price jump could be the first sign of the industry's recovery, sources told the Post.

Kaing Sarin, who breeds crocodiles in Kandal province, said the price increase can be attributed to crocodile farmers giving up on the industry, but his farm had done the opposite, increasing the number of baby crocodiles from 7,000 to 10,000 this year.

This year baby crocodile prices will be higher than last year.

Sam Nuov, deputy director general of the Fisheries Administration, gave creedence to the crocodile farmers' optimism.

"Last year, some farmers felt downhearted because of cheap prices so they sold their breeding females or closed their farms.

"As a result, this year baby crocodile prices will be higher than last year," said Sam Nuov.

Heng Sovannara, the chief of the crocodile development division of the Fisheries Administration, said that Cambodia had more than 1,000 crocodile farms in 2003, but since then many farms had closed.

Since most of Cambodia's crocodile farms are unlicensed, Heng Sovannara said gathering accurate statistics about the industry had proven to be difficult in the past.

"If farmers don't register, we cannot calculate the real figures in regards to the numbers of crocodile farms or the numbers of crocodiles exported from Cambodia each year," he said.

But according to estimates in the 2008 annual report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the number of farm-raised crocodiles in Cambodia increased from 128,945 in 2007 to 156,500 a year later.

Vietnamese crocodile buyers usually take the young animals across the border where they are then raised on farms for their skins, which are used to manufacture clothes and fashion accessories.

Workers in Thailand not under threat: Govt

Written by May Kunmakara
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

GOVERNMENT officials said Tuesday that unrest and an economic slowdown in Thailand would not impact working conditions for legal migrant labourers there, despite warnings to avoid Bangkok.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said: "We are not so worried about that [Thai unrest].... However, I am not sure about illegal migrants, if they have problems or not."

Koy Kuong, spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the government had encouraged people in need of help in Thailand to come to the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok but that they had not heard of labourers in need of aid, adding that some migrant workers might not seek help from the embassy and would instead likely try to contact family members.

The president of the Cambodian Recruitment Agency (CRA), An Bun Hak, said that Cambodia agreed to send labourers to Thailand in 2003 and had started doing so in 2005.

There are 8,231 legal Cambodian migrants in Thailand, said An Bun Hak, a figure dwarfed by the number of illegal migrants estimated at between 60,000 and 200,000.

Despite government assurances, one migrant recruitment agency in Cambodia said Thailand had become unsafe.

Sok Chanpheakdey, president of Philimore Cambodia Company, said he no longer sends Cambodians to work in Thailand.

"They [migrant workers in Thailand] receive low pay and have poor working conditions," he added.

Warehouse space galore as manufacturers hit the wall

A factory lies empty in Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.
The Phnom Penh Post

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Prime industrial sites are coming onto the market as garment factory owners look to strip machinery and convert their buildings to other uses

Cambodia's unravelling garment sector is leaving factory landlords out of pocket and causing the postponement of some new factory developments.

Factory landlords were also now looking to strip their buildings of machines and rent them out as warehouses in order to generate an income, Bonna Realty Group General Manager Charles Villar told Prime Location Tuesday.

"Others even have their properties converted into anything that meets their clients needs so they can be rented out," he said.

Villar said data gathered by the firm's listing team showed a 20 to 35 percent increase in factories available to rent from the end of last year.

Rental prices had decreased as a result of garment factory closures, he said, dropping from around US$2.50 per square metre last year to anywhere from $1 to $1.70 per square metre now.

"There is not much demand for factories nowadays, but we are still very optimistic about this because Cambodia is one of the most open markets in Southeast Asia today," he said.

About 70 garment factories shut their doors between August last year as orders declined, industry officials told the Post last month.

Chea You Se, the president of Seng Phioa Garment Factory, is just one factory owner facing this predicament. His factory had sub-contracted to a larger garment manufacturer from 2005 until this year, when the larger factory went bust.

He is now looking to rent the 1000-square-metre factory, which includes 80 textile machines, for between $1.50 and $2 per square metre.

"If I cannot rent the factory to a manufacturer, I will be forced to look for more orders myself," he said.
As a last resort he said he would sell his textile machines and convert the warehouse to another use.

"Its prime location near Phnom Penh International Airport would make it ideal for a small business, or it could be easily converted into a school," he said.

Developments postponed
Cambodian Priority Property Investment Co helps manufacturers rent factory space.

General Manager Kong Vansophy said while the company's factories still had tenants, its services as a letting agent had all but dried up, and they had shelved plans to build new factory space.

"I have not attracted any new clients to rent factory space since the world economic crisis," he said.

"If they need a factory for rent I will build more for them, but nowadays it is so quiet I cannot build."

Lity Yap, marketing director at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone, said the second phase of the planned 360-hectare development had been put on hold due to the number of factory closures.

"We were supposed to launch phase two this year, but instead we will wait and see how it goes," she said.

"Everybody is taking a wait-and-see approach." But not all new factory developments have been suspended. Development of the 100-hectare Phnom Den Special Economic Zone is ongoing, said Duong Tech, general manager of Duong Chhiv Group, the zone's developer.

Slated for completion in 2015, the zone would cater to agricultural processing companies rather than garment manufacturers, he said.

Chea Vuthy, deputy secretary general of the Cambodia Special Economic Zone Board under the Council for the Development of Cambodia said three special economic zones in Preah Sihanouk province were also currently under construction.

"Among the three SEZs under construction, one has a garment factory in operation and one has a garment factory under construction and 50 percent completed," he said.

Korean centre invests in closer relations

A new Korean-Cambodian trade and cultural centre in Phnom Penh is on track for a July launch.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Soeun Say
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A new centre to promote trade and cultural relations between Cambodia and Korea is on track for a July launch, project manager Hee Chan Park said Monday.

The $9-million Cambodia-Korea Phnom Penh Gyeongbuk Culture, Tourism and Trade Promotion Centre (PGCT Centre), being built by Korean company DKC&C Co, will also contain office and retail space for rent. Park said the rental price had not been set but that it would likely be around $25 per square metre.

The centre is being funded by the Korean government and jointly managed by officials from the South Korean province of Gyeongbuk and Phnom Penh Municipality.

Park said the 4,189-square-metre site on the corner of Sothearos and Sihanouk boulevards, next to the Phnom Penh Centre, was granted on a 30-year lease. Ground was broken on the development in August last year and construction began in September. The three-storey building, with underground parking for 71 cars, has a gross floor area of 8,553 square metres, 3,181 square metres of which were designated public space.

The building comes after several projects funded from South Korea were abandoned or delayed over the last year.

According to figures from the Korean Embassy, Korean investment in Cambodia fell from $629.49 million in 2007 to $472.89 million in 2008 despite an increase in planned investment from $828.4 million in 2007 to $1.257 billion in 2008.

Park said he expected investment from Korea to rebound. "Cambodia is a good opportunity for businesspersons looking for investments, so Cambodia has good opportunities for the future," he said, adding DKC&C was looking for a second project in Cambodia following completion of the PGCT Centre.

Taking the plunge in Cambodia

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Discovering the Kingdom’s underwater world may be easier than you think

Perhaps Cambodia's best-kept secret is the underwater world around Sihanoukville. Whether you are an experienced diver eager to clock in additional dives or a beginner interested in checking the sport out, the Kingdom has a number of dive shops to help you organise your date with diving.

Most of the dive operators in Cambodia have set up shop in Sihanoukville because of its proximity to dive sites, which are about two to five hours away by boat from the port of Sihanoukville depending on the weather and water conditions.

Koh Rong Samloem (two hours from Sihanoukville) offers visibility of 7 to 10 metres, while Koh Tang (five hours away from Sihanoukville) offers visibility of up to 10 to 15 metres on a good day.

Scuba Nation, which opened its doors in 2002 with offices in both Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, is the pioneer of Cambodia's diving industry.

Partners Vicky Leah and Gerard Leenan have 32 years of diving experience between them and, after surveying what Cambodia has to offer, decided to open their own dive shop in Sihanoukville.

"We came to Cambodia on holiday and saw there was no organised diving. We spent six months checking out the reefs before deciding to open Scuba Nation," said Leah.

New kid on the block The Dive Shop Cambodia opened in Sihanoukville in December 2007.

The Dive Shop is owned by two Germans, Rudy Schmittlein and Irfan Arndt, who have dived in numerous exotic locations around the world before stumbling upon Cambodia. Taken by the beauty of the country, they both decided to settle down in Sihanoukville and capitalise on the surrounding islands' virtually untouched dive sites.

Eco-Sea Dive and a smaller operator Frogman Dive Center also operate out of Sihanoukville.

Both Scuba Nation and The Dive Shop Cambodia have been accredited by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and have been awarded National Geographic Dive Centre status.

Those interested in diving in Cambodia's southwestern-most province close to the Thai-Cambodian border can venture out to Koh Kong.

Initially operating out of a small dive centre in Koh Tao, Thailand, Alan Andrew and Robert Rhemrev opened Impian Divers in Koh Kong in December 2008. Both have certifications from PADI.

As Cambodia's diving industry is not even a decade old, many dive operators face numerous challenges.

Leah admits her frustration over the lack of skilled personnel but is hopeful that with training and encouragement this will change.

The crew of Scuba Nation's two dive boats are local, and the operation's owner Leenan is quite pleased with their performance.

The Dive Shop Cambodia is proud to have trained Cambodia's first dive instructor.

Schmittlein and Arndt encouraged a local from Koh Rong Samloem to take advanced courses in diving to enable him to move from the dive master level to the dive instructor level. They now hope that this will inspire more locals to pursue the sport and realise what career opportunities diving can offer.

Proper conservation and responsible diving are two causes that bigger operators such as Scuba Nation and The Dive Shop Cambodia are trying to champion by being Go-Eco Operators and active members of Project Aware, an environmental project of PADI.

"In everything we do, we always look for the environmentally friendly option," said Leah.

After research trips to Indonesia and Malaysia to study methods of reef restoration, Scuba Nation has recently anchored the first trial artificial reef close to the islands off the southwestern coast of Cambodia.

"Although the reefs in Cambodia are generally healthy, there is some cause for concern due to rising sea temperatures, pollution and the residual effects of dynamite fishing. Our trial artificial reefs are situated in different areas and depths and use supports of different heights to ascertain the optimum height, current and depth for growth of coral," Leah said, estimating that in three months the trial should provide her with enough data to successfully create larger permanent artificial reefs.

One of the projects initiated by Schmittlein and Arndt from The Dive Shop include beach and marine clean-up days.

They are also raising funds for a school near Koh Rong Samloem, the area where they do most of their diving.

The Dive Shop Cambodia hopes to establish a long-term relationship with the school so the students develop an appreciation for the unique environment they are in and learn about sustainable livelihood.

"We hope to be able to demonstrate to local people and to the government the benefits that tourism can bring, and encourage them to fish in ways that will help retain as much of Cambodia's wonderful marine life as possible," said Schmittlein.

Cambodia's jungle refuge a hit with ecotourists

Rainbow lodge bungalows provides a peaceful sanctuary.

Written by Stephanie Mee
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Koh Kong is becoming a magnet for travellers seeking something a little off the beaten track


Cambodia's southwestern province of Koh Kong is fast becoming a magnet for intrepid ecotourists eager to explore the region's vast array of flora and fauna in a remote part of the Kingdom once bypassed by the majority of travellers.

Koh Kong, a region often seen as merely a passageway to the Thai border, is home to lush virgin rainforests, waterfalls, mountains, crystal-clear rivers and kilometre upon kilometre of undeveloped coastline and islands.

The region has enjoyed relative sanctuary from poachers and loggers. This is no accident as the local communities have been working together with various NGOs and government agencies to preserve one of Cambodia's most pristine regions.

Located 7 kilometres from Koh Kong city, Pream Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary is a 25,897-hectare protected zone established in 1993 to conserve one of the world's last intact coastal mangrove forests.

The local community of Boeung Kayak, in partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Cambodian government, has endeavoured to make the mangrove forest an environmentally friendly and sustainable tourist site.

Everything you see here was built by local villagers and is maintained by local people.

For a nominal fee of 5,000 riels (US$1.22) for foreign nationals or 3,000 riels for Cambodians, visitors can meander through the mangroves on a shady 1-kilometre stretch of locally built, Robinson Crusoe-like walkways and viewing platforms.

The intricate network of pathways traverses lush mangroves using elevated walkways and suspension bridges.

At one point, a 15-metre viewing platform emerges, uncovering a stunning view of faraway mountains, while below the platform local fisherman harvest green mussels in the shallow waterways of an estuary.

The same fishermen offer boat rides, which provide an entirely new perspective of Pream Krasop's mangrove system from a small canoe-like wooden vessel.

A chartered boat costs $25 and usually includes a trip to an old fishing village deep in the forest where fresh local seafood and vegetables can be purchased and prepared, or a trip along the coastline to search for various types of sea birds, fish and even dolphins.

"Everything you see here was built by local villagers and is maintained by local people. We sell the crabs to some of the restaurants in town, and catch fish and small squid to sell or to make kapei," said a local fisherman known simply as Chea.

Kapei is Koh Kong's unique version of prahok - a thick, pungent, plum-coloured fish paste, which can be eaten with rice, vegetables or sour fruit.

Tatai waterfall. STEPHANIE MEE

Jimmy the dog on the Tatai river. STEPHANIE MEE

Tatai waterfall
Tatai waterfall is another protected area 20 kilometres east of Koh Kong city. The turnoff to the fall passes a police checkpoint where officers act as both law enforcement officials and part-time park rangers.

Depending on the amount of recent rainfall, visitors can clamber over massive rock shelves, take picnics next to the falls or simply cool off under the thundering cascades of clear mountain water, streaming fresh from the Cardamon mountains.

Rainbow Lodge is Koh Kong's only eco-lodge, one of only two in Cambodia, the second of which is located in Ratanakkiri.

Owned by the friendly and down-to-earth barrister-turned-green business owner, Janet Newman, the lodge is located on a quiet, verdant patch of jungle overlooking the Tatai river.

The lodge can only be reached by boat and was built in 2008 using local labour - and whenever possible, local materials. It is powered almost entirely by solar panels and staffed by locals from the Tatai region.

"When I was researching how to build an eco-lodge, I learned that the most environmentally damaging structure is one that is built in a straight line, which forces people to make multiple paths directly to the building," Newman said.

"This is why the bungalows here are laid out in a rainbow formation, this way each bungalow has a great view of the forest and the river," she added.

For $50 a night, guests receive three meals a day, including a three-course dinner in the evening with different options for starters, mains and dessert.

Local involvement
"I buy all the food here locally at the markets," Newman said, adding that this way she can provide the freshest food for guests while still supporting the local community.

During the day, Rainbow Lodge guests can swim in the peaceful, slow-moving Tatai river, take boats and kayaks out on the river or take small nature walks around the property to enjoy the greenery and the ever-present and brightly coloured butterflies and birds.

The lodge also offers day trips to the Tatai waterfalls, guided treks and boat trips to a set of rapids one hour up stream from the bungalows.

There is also the option of spending the night deep in the forest, and while this may seem daunting to some, the opportunity to dine on local produce under the stars is one not to be missed.

The rapids offer a perfect example of the serenity and pristine nature of Koh Kong.

Virtually deserted, the rapids are made up of a jumble of huge boulders in the river that cause the water to pool and form a small lake before tumbling over the rocks and down the river.

Visitors can picnic on the small beach nearby, sunbathe on the large rocks or swim in the pure, natural pools with only the sounds of running water and chirping birds to be heard.

"I think I give visitors a lot of independence. People can do pretty much whatever they want during the day. However, the only thing I'm pretty adamant about is that people do not attempt to go trekking in the forest without a guide," Newman said, adding that people sometimes underestimate the fact that they're in a jungle and it's just way too easy to get lost or hurt.

The road to Koh Kong is now in good condition and can be accessed from Phnom Penh by bus with the Virak Bunthan bus company, or by share taxis, both of which take about five to six hours.

Alternatively, travellers can also reach Koh Kong from Sihanoukville by bus (five hours) or boat (four hours).
To contact Koh Kong's Rainbow Lodge, call 099 744 321, or check out its website at

Wat Kuk's macabre images invoke Buddhist hell

Torture awaiting those who sin in this lifetime.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Stephanie Mee
Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Just outside Koh Kong city towards the Cambodian-Thai border stands Wat Mondul Seyma, a seemingly pleasant place of worship that harbours a macabre lesson to all those who stray off the Buddhist path.

Wat Mondul Seyma, or Wat Kuk for short, lies among shady trees and fluttering prayer flags, a peaceful setting to gaze over the bright frescoes illustrating the life and teachings of Buddha.

Behind the temple there is a short, unmarked path that leads down to the sea and is open to all visitors. It is beyond this path where one cannot help but feel disconnected from the peaceful surrounds of Wat Kuk.

At first glance, the path opens up onto giant grey boulders, with the blue-grey ocean in the background, and what looks like a lively scene of stone and concrete statues emanating from the cliff's edge.

But on further inspection, this is no ordinary scene. This is a macabre, Dante-esque vision of what will happen to those unfortunate souls who commit sins in this life and are reborn in Buddhist hell.

The first scene at the bottom of the path is of a group of three terrified and naked people scrambling up a tree, while a maniacally grinning demon and his barking dog wait at the bottom, as if knowing that the others have no chance of escape, just waiting for them to fall.

Little chance of escape.

To the right of this scene are three figures on a rock, two white-skinned demons kneeling and using a large lumberjack saw to hew a grimacing naked man in half, while an eagle sits behind the unfortunate man's head, gnawing on his severed hand.

A helpful sign in Khmer explains that this is what happens to those who steal other people's husbands or wives, or in other words, those that commit adultery.

Further on down the path is a bizarre cluster of figures on the giant rocks looking out onto the sea. These figures include a few white-skinned demons and a handful of half-human, half-animal figures. A demon gleefully guts a man with a human body and a pig's head, while another slits the throat of a half-man, half-duck. Meanwhile, a half-man, half-chicken watches on somberly, as if stoically awaiting his fate. Other strange stone figures also look on, blood dripping down their anxious faces and bodies.

On a rock jutting out over the sea, an emaciated man lifts his head up to the sky, his tongue lolling out of his mouth, and his expression pained, while what looks like a female figure with arms and legs missing lies motionless on the stone beside him.

Another figure in the background kneels on all fours with a giant circular saw erupting out of his back and blood dripping down his face.

The sign nearby explains that all those who take the life of another living being will surely have these horrors to endure in their next life.

Looping back to the entrance of this bizarre theme park, there is a large granite cliff with rock shelves jutting out from the wall of stone. On one of these shelves sit two female figures, arms tied behind their backs, with petrified faces looking down on the scenes of torture.

Two men wearily hold up a section of the rock face, blood streaming down from the places where the giant cliff rests on their shoulders. This is the torture that inevitably must be endured for stealing land or property in this life.

Holding up boulders for aeons awaits those who steal land or property in this life.

While these scenes may be grisly and morbid, they are actually common images in the Cambodian Buddhist tradition. Just like Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and many other organised religions, Buddhism in Cambodia makes use of scenes such as these to warn people against the dangers of straying from the precepts of what is morally right in society.

Most visual representations of hell in Cambodia are painted on the walls of temples across the country, but it seems that the artisans who created these images over 30 years ago wanted to be sure that viewers would walk away with a much more realistic representation of the dangers of sinning.

KRouge prison chief (DUCH)killed and tortured prisoners

Skulls of victims are piled up on display at the Choeung Ek memorial where the Khmer Rouge regime's executed thousands of people between 1975 and 1979. A former Khmer Rouge jailer told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court Tuesday a jungle camp where starving prisoners were tortured was "a place where humanity was smashed".(AFP/File/Nicolas Asfouri)

Cambodian Lim Phet reacts when he saw the venue where the Khmer Rouge set up M13 prison in early 1970s in the jungle at Trapang Chrap, Kampong Chhnang province, a bout 80 kilometers (49 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, April 21, 2009. The prison's former commander Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, 66, accused of overseeing the torture and execution of thousands of men, women and children said Tuesday that his underlings were taught class hatred that allowed them to kill their enemies.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Lim Phet shows the venue where the Khmer Rouge set up M13 prison in early 1970s in the jungle at Trapang Chrap, Kampong Chhnang province, a bout 80 kilometers (49 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, April 21, 2009. The prison's former commander Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, 66, accused of overseeing the torture and execution of thousands of men, women and children said Tuesday that his underlings were taught class hatred that allowed them to kill their

Cambodian Lim Phet, left, and Mark Oeun show the venue where the Khmer Rouge set up M13 prison in early 1970s in the jungle at Trapang Chrap, Kampong Chhnang province, a bout 80 kilometers (49 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, April 21, 2009. The prison's former commander Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, 66, accused of overseeing the torture and execution of thousands of men, women and children said Tuesday that his underlings were taught class hatred that allowed them to kill their enemies.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian photographer, left, takes a photo of former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, on a screen at a court press center during the U.N.-backed tribunal Monday, April 20, 2009, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodia's genocide tribunal reopens its historic trial of the accused Khmer Rouge chief on Monday. Duch is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as homicide and torture.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A tourist videos victims' portraits at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in Phnom Penh on April 20, 2009. A former Khmer Rouge jailer told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court Tuesday a jungle camp where starving prisoners were tortured was "a place where humanity was smashed".(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

People line up to enter a court where former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, is standing trial in Phnom Penh. A former Khmer Rouge jailer told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court Tuesday a jungle camp where starving prisoners were tortured was "a place where humanity was smashed".(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

A Cambodian boy looks at skulls and bones inside a memorial for the two million victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. A witness at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court wept openly as he testified that former Khmer Rouge prison chief executed his uncle at a secret jungle camp.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Discover your inner Indiana Jones with adventures in Angkor

beyond the ruins: After playing amateur archeologist, relax amid the restaurants, street stalls and night markets of Siem Reap.

By Elaine O'Connor, Canwest News Service

April 21, 2009

I'm two hours into a back-road motorcycle ride through the Cambodian countryside - wind cutting the baking 34-degree heat, dust flying up from the road - and as I ride I'm treated to a parade of rural Khmer life.

Two women bicycle by in peaked straw hats, a farmer passes with a load of hay strapped to his scooter, another hauls a slaughtered hog, kids ride three to a bike, parents with toddlers sit four to a scooter.

We weave around each other, trying to avoid the worst of the road's ruts. With every teeth-rattling, spine-shattering swerve, I remember my airport taxi driver's ominous warning after I landed in Siem Reap. Three tourists die every month trying to see the wats (temples) from the back of a scooter, he said. I thought he was just trying to land a gig as my chauffeur.

Now, I'm not so sure.

But the effort to uncover Angkor's Beng Malea - a remote 12th-century forest shrine more than 60 kilometres from the heart of the ancient city of Angkor, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site - proves well worth my bruised tailbone.

Angkor, Cambodia's star attraction, is considered the seventh wonder of the world, and its archeological mysteries lure four million visitors a year.

The temples of Angkor ("holy city" in Khmer) were built between the 9th and 13th centuries when the kingdom was at its height, with a million people.

It was the seat of the Khmer empire, whose influence extended into Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and it was the region's most sophisticated city for over 500 years. Archeologists believe it was the largest pre-industrial city in the world.

In the 13th century, faced with incursions from the Thais, the kingdom fell under attack and by 1432 the king moved the capital to Phnom Penh. Over time, the region's stunning wats, or temples, (the best known being Angkor Wat) with their gorgeous lotus-shaped towers, vine-twisted monuments, moats and stone- carved murals, were abandoned to the jungle.

But they were not forgotten. They were rediscovered by French naturalist Henri Mouhot in the 1860s after he wrote breathlessly of his visit to the ancient temples.

It's that sense of new discovery that comes over me as I lurch off the scooter and stumble through the as-of-yet barely touristed jungle temple early one morning and step into another world.

Beng Malea is a massive, kilometre-square crumbling monument strewn with tumbled rocks the size of small cars set quietly in the jungle. It was built by King Suryavarman II, who also built Angkor Wat. But in contrast to Angkor Wat's tourist throngs and iconic status, Beng Malea seems forsaken, lost and abandoned.

Cambodia itself has profoundly struggled, and tourism to its ruins is just beginning to help it rebuild.

The nation of 14 million was bombed during the U.S. war in Vietnam to flush out Viet Cong, creating two million refugees. A famine followed in 1975 and that same year the rebel Khmer Rouge took power. Pol Pot's Communist Party renamed the country Kampuchea and tried to return it to its agrarian roots, forcing educated Cambodians to work on farms, killing doctors and teachers and outlawing anything Western.

One to three million people were tortured, slaughtered or died from lack of food or medicine. A Vietnamese invasion in the late 1970s ousted the regime, but the Khmer Rouge rebels continued to fight in pockets throughout the countryside: 1999 was the first full year of peace in 30 years.

There are reminders of war everywhere. On the streets, it's rare to see a man over 40. At one wat-side stall, a young girl with a stack of plastic- wrapped books offered a slim volume, reading off its title: Children of Cambodian Killing Fields.

The development and dollars that accompany tourists to Angkor Wat - arguably the country's top renewable resource - seem to be having a positive impact.

Angkor Wat itself, the world's largest religious building, makes a profound impact.

The temple was begun in 1112 by King Suryavarman II to honour the god Vishnu and serve as his crypt. Today most tourists see it by sunrise or sunset, watching the light pick out details in the 65-metre high stone prasats (towers) and staying to examine the intricate bas-reliefs of devas and asuras (gods and demons) and 2,000 apsaras (divine nymphs) that decorate the palace.

Nearby lie more remarkable ruins. The gates of Angkor Thom, a three square- kilometre city built by King Jayavarman VII starting in 1181, are flanked with giant, Buddha-like statues - passing through can feel like entering another world. The otherworldly Bayon temple lies on the other side.

The Bayon, with its 37 towers chiselled with dozens of enigmatic, all-seeing Buddha faces (some say they resemble the king himself) offers an eerie introduction to Angkor's wonders. Eyes seem to follow you as you explore the temple, climbing over ruins, ducking under lintels, running fingers over the ancient bas-reliefs, and clambering up stone steps. The mysterious Bayon is one of Angkor's most affecting temples.

For those put off by the two-hour trek to Beng Malea, the temple of Ta Prohm is a fine substitute.

Ta Prohm is perhaps one of the most atmospheric of the inner temples, overgrown with thick vines with slabs of rock smothered in snaking tree roots. No wonder it was used in scenes from Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. The 12th- century temple has been left as it was found - and has become beautifully meshed with the jungle.

It can be exhausting playing amateur archeologist all day in the 30-degree heat but, thankfully, Siem Reap has lots to offer in the way of rejuvenation. The city comes to life after sunset and though Siem Reap is a small town, restaurants, night markets and street stalls in the tourist-centric core remain lively well after midnight.

Start the evening with a leisurely dinner in the air-conditioned Angkor Palm restaurant near the Psar Chaa (Old Market) and admire the delicate silk wall hangings before tucking in to a Khmer feast featuring the Cambodian national dish, fish amoc. The creamy coconut-milk fish curry is served with jasmine rice, and the restaurant offers a host of other Asian bites, from pumpkin soup to a spicy papaya salad called bok l'hong and a peppery beef dish called lok lak.

For a communal dining experience share a Khmer-style hot pot (yao hon) with a friend, dipping beef, shrimp, cabbage, rice noodles and mushrooms to cook in bubbling broth. Or try a meal at Cambodian BBQ, where guests sizzle exotic meats - crocodile, snake and ostrich are available - on their personal phnom pleung or grill.

French colonial roots run deep in Cambodia, so good bread here is almost as common as rice, and vendors balance baguettes on their heads on their morning rounds.

For a taste of colonial cuisine try Le Malraux (named for French adventurer Andre Malraux, arrested for stealing temple bas-reliefs in the 1920s), for salade Parisienne, salmon rillettes and cream puffs amid Art Nouveau interior.

Stop for dessert at the Blue Pumpkin cafe, which offers exotic ice cream flavours like banana galangal, green lemon and Kaffir lime, and ginger and black sesame.

After dinner, take care of wat-wandering tensions with streetside foot massages. They're a dime a dozen (actually, about $3 US for half an hour). Or enjoy an affordable body massage ($10) or pedicure ($7). Several shops also offer massages by the blind; at Seeing Hands Massage on Sivatha Road, part of the proceeds go back into training Cambodia's vision-impaired citizens in the trade.

But for a more refined experience step into Bodia Spa, a cool, inviting retreat across from the Old Market. A chilled ginger tea and cold herb-infused facecloth greet clients as they enter the white, high-design minimalist space en route to their oil body massages and herbal compresses.

Once refreshed, practise your bargaining skills at the Night Market off Sivatha Road - where endless rows of silk scarves beckon - or shop for social good at several local stores that support non-profit ventures. Rehab Craft near the Old Market sells handmade carvings, wallets and silks made by disabled employees and Artisan's D'Angkor trains poor youth in carving.

Top off the evening with a drink or two on the terrasse of the Red Piano, a restored French Colonial home with a sweeping corner balcony. Raise a glass of Angkor or Chang brand beers or sip a "Tomb Raider" cocktail (the restaurant was known as the place Jolie and crew hung out during filming) and toast to the spirit of Cambodia, to the beauty of Angkor, and to the adventurer in you.

Vancouver Province

SIDEBAR: If you go

- Passes to Angkor are sold at the gate of the archeological park for $20 US for one day, $40 for three days and $60 for a week. A three-day pass will give you time to see the central temples and to explore the countryside to see more remote treasures. There are as many ways to get to the ruins as there are ruins. You can hire a motorcycle, motorcycle-pulled trailer, car, mini-bus or bicycle. Feeling adventurous? Try an elephant, hot-air balloon or helicopter.

- Prepare for extreme heat - high SPF sunblock, wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves, sun glasses and litres of bottled water are crucial. It's easy to get sunburned and dehydrated staring with awe at yet another astonishing apsara. After 10 a.m. the heat is unbearable. Hydrate early and often. Huge young coconuts, cracked open and strawed, offer refreshingly cold, sweet coconut water.

- Don't bother stocking up on Cambodian currency (the Riel; about 3,300 Riels to $1 Cdn) before your trip. Most prices are stated in U.S. dollars and ATMs dispense cash in U.S. dollars. Locals prefer dollars, though they will accept riels.

- Like Cambodian cuisine? Learn to cook it at local restaurant-led cooking schools. Le Tigre de Papier offers a morning or afternoon two-hour, two dish course for about $12. You can eat your mistakes and they'll offer dessert. The Angkor Palm restaurant also offers lessons.

- Luxury hotels have moved into Siem Reap with a vengeance. Tourists can stay at five-star resorts for three-star prices. Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor, Hotel de la Paix, and the Amansara are popular choices. There are plenty of reasonable guest-house options for the budget traveller that still offer air- conditioned rooms. Shadow of Angkor, Popular Guesthouse and Sala Bai Hotel are reliable options.

If you do splash out, make sure your hotel has a pool - it can help ease the effects of the 44-degree summer heat.

- Learn more at Tourism Cambodia: