Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Countryside seen as key to expansion

A mobile-phone user makes a call in rural Kandal province on Monday. Only 29 percent of Cambodia’s population use mobile phones, with the vast majority of users living in cities, service operators said.

The Phnom Penh Post

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cambodia’s mobile-phone networks say that with cities reaching saturation level, rural areas will be targeted in future in the fight to generate greater share of the overall market

WITH mobile phone saturation still low in the countryside, Cambodia's telecoms companies say the future landscape of the highly competitive market will be determined by gaining rural users.

Only 29 percent of Cambodians owned mobile phones at the end of last year, private sector figures showed, but the majority of Cambodia's roughly 4 million mobile users live in the country's cities, particularly Phnom Penh.

"The urban areas are already highly penetrated, and approximately 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas," Mark Hanna, chief financial officer of Royal Group, which owns a 31.5 percent stake in Cellcard Mobitel, said Monday. "The rural market is where the majority of the growth in subscribers will be."

With most Cambodian mobile companies having established networks in the Kingdom's major cities first - Camshin, for example, launched in April 1998 just in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville - in a bid to gain a permanent foothold in the market, most mobile companies in the Kingdom are looking to the countryside.

The market will only be accessible once coverage ... is comprehensive.

"I think more and more rural people will use mobile phones because they are getting cheaper and there are many competitors in the market," said Sok Vichet, product manager of Hello.

With the addition of Smart Mobile last month, there are already eight mobile phone companies in Cambodia. Mobitel remains the market leader, according to a 2008 annual report by its primary stakeholder Millicom International, with 55 percent share, followed by Camshin with 18 percent and TMIC with 15 percent.

Viettel already had half a million users by the time it officially launched in February after an aggressive expansion campaign that saw the company offer free SIM cards.

Viettel - which is owned by the Vietnamese military - was unavailable to discuss its plans for rural expansion on Monday.

The market leader Mobitel has specifically targeted Cambodia's countryside in a bid to maintain its dominant position, finalising a US$100 million loan this year from the International Finance Corporation and private international lenders ABN Amro, Cortdiant Capital, DnB NOR and Nordea.

The money will be spent on developing rural mobile communications, the IFC said in a press release last month.

"CamGSM [Cellcard Mobitel] plans to expand and improve existing network coverage and services, particularly in rural areas where the majority of Cambodians live and poverty rates are highest," the press release stated.

Infrastructure required
As Mobitel acknowledges, part of the challenge of accessing rural areas is building the necessary infrastructure. Currently, Mobitel's coverage does not extend to 30 percent of the country.

"The market will only be accessible once coverage footprint is comprehensive throughout the country," Hanna said, adding that a large part of Mobitel's investment in the short-term will be on developing rural infrastructure.

Following a model first developed in Cambodia's cities, Hello has in the past year established a system whereby it has put Hello mobile phone stalls in the provinces, 1,000 of which are already operational. Owners pay US$68 to set up the stalls with Hello merchandising including an umbrella and handset with SIM card.

"We will try to increase our sales to more rural areas," said Sok Vichet, adding that rural expansion had been slow this year due to increased competition.

Despite high poverty levels in rural Cambodia, mobile phone prices would not be a problem as competition had forced handset retail prices and tariffs down, he said.

WING, which is wholly owned by ANZ, is dependent on expansion into rural areas to develop its mobile payment service.

"The rural market for WING is important because WING is a payments service that allows customers to send and receive money via their mobile phone wherever they may be," Brad Jones, WING managing director, said Monday.

WING has already established more than 80 Cash Express outlets in rural areas that allow the changing of real cash into WING credit, and plans to add more, Jones said.

Unlike many other sectors in Cambodia, the telecoms market has been unaffected by the economic slowdown - meaning investment in rural areas is accelerating rather than slowing down, as might be expected in such a climate, industry sources said.

"The financial crisis will not have that much impact on rural rollout," Hanna said. "With the level of competition, the focus will be on growing the overall market and this will drive coverage improvements by the serious players."

Hun Sen to support calls for labour court in May 1 speech

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Workers protesting outside a garment factory in Takhmao. Labour unions say about 3,000 workers will show up for a May 1 demonstration at the National Assembly.

Written by Kay Kimsong and Sam Rith
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Prime Minister Hun Sen is set to announce he supports demands by unions to establish court as protests planned for Intl Labour Day

PRIME Minister Hun Sen said the government would be willing to cooperate with union workers and NGOs to establish a labour court, a demand that unions have been making for years, according to a transcript of a message that is to be read aloud on television station TVK on Friday, International Labour Day.

"A labour court should be created by all relevant parties, including the government, unions and relevant NGOs," the message reads.

The message, dated April 20, does not specify a deadline by which Hun Sen wants a labour court to be established. It does include a call for a working group that would bring together "relevant parties" to reach an agreement on the make-up and jurisdiction of such a court.

The establishment of a labour court is one of the demands that union leaders plan to list in a petition to be filed at both the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly during a demonstration on May 1.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTU), told the Post on Monday that he expected 3,000 garment and construction workers to attend the demonstration, adding that he had no plans to ask the government for permission to convene it.

But Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said City Hall would not allow the gathering to take place unless union representatives obtain approval.

We have no objection to the meeting or to a parade of workers.

"Workers who want to express their ideas in public on [May 1] need to do so in accordance with the law, meaning they need to get permission from the Phnom Penh Municipality in advance," he said.

He added, "We have no objection to the meeting or to a parade of workers in public on International Labour Day, but they have to ask for permission first."

Sok Sovandeith, president of the Cambodia National Federation of Building and Wood Workers, said he would participate in Friday's demonstration in order to push for the establishment of a labour court and to encourage the government to provide assistance to workers who have lost their jobs.

He said the establishment of a labour court was of particular importance for construction workers.

"Being construction workers, we always lose when we challenge employers in civil court," he said.

He said some 30,000 out of 100,000 construction workers nationwide had lost their jobs since the onset of the downturn.

Chea Mony said he also planned to speak about the effects of the downturn, and how it had exposed workers to unfair treatment at the hands of employers. He said he would also address the proposed amendments to Articles 67 and 73 of the 1997 Labour Law, which govern contract durations.

Union leaders have repeatedly spoken out against the amendments, which they say would allow for the indefinite extension of temporary employment contracts.

Other unions expected to participate in the demonstration include the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association and the Cambodian Labour Confederation.

Demonstrators said they will gather at Wat Botum at 8:30am that morning and - in addition to the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly - will visit the site near Wat Lanka where labour leader Chea Vichea was assassinated in 2004.

Also on May 1, the pro-government Cambodian Union Federation will lead a group of 3,200 garment workers to Universal Apparel, a garment factory in Dangkor district. Chuon Mom Thol, the head of the union, said the purpose of the gathering was twofold: to discourage workers from striking and to make sure they have a "fun time".

Early rains


Written by Sovann Philong
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Motorists attempt to navigate the flooded streets on Sihanouk Boulevard near Olympic Stadium on Friday. Heavy rains flooded streets throughout the capital causing traffic jams.

Charcoal stoves prompt concern

Charcoal produced by a charcoal stove in Kampong Speu province last week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Officials in Kampong Speu say there has been an increase in the use of charcoal stoves for commercial purposes - a trend conservation advocates fear could lead to further deforestation.

CONSERVATION advocates and government officials have expressed concern about a reported increase in charcoal stoves being used for commercial purposes in Kampong Speu province, a trend they say could accelerate deforestation there.

Kampong Speu Governor Kang Heang said the production of charcoal has long been a second source of income - after farming - for many families in the province, but he said there recently had been an increase in the number of families illegally selling their charcoal rather than using it themselves or trading it locally.

He could not provide data on the number of commercial charcoal stoves in the province.

Lim Phart, 51, who lives in Kampong Speu's Thpong district, estimated that the number of charcoal stoves increased from "just over 100" to 500 stoves in the district in the last year.

The typical charcoal stove operator uses 280 trees each year, he said.

Chea Samang, deputy director of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said officials had cracked down on charcoal producers who were selling their charcoal last year. He said they had stopped charcoal production at "hundreds" of stoves in six provinces - Kratie, Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu - and "educated" the owners "to stop cutting down trees".

He said officials were considering conducting a similar operation at some point this year.

We need to produce charcoal for the sake of our livelihood.

"We will fine them if they are still producing charcoal as a business because we warned them to stop," he said.

A threat to forests
Seng Teak, country director for the global conservation group WWF, said deforestation resulting from increased charcoal production could threaten wildlife habitats in the province.

"I think that the natural forestry resources will be destroyed by the charcoal producers if the number of them is increasing," he said.

He called on Cambodians to reduce their dependence on charcoal and to use biogas and solar energy products. But Lim Phart said these alternative energy sources were too expensive for many people in the province.

He said the increase in charcoal producers in Kampong Speu had driven down the price of charcoal but that he planned to continue operating his stove, the earnings from which he said had helped him pay tuition fees for his four children.

"We have a small farmland, and our harvest is never enough to eat, so we need to produce charcoal for the sake of our livelihood," he said.

"We can earn about 5 million riels (US$1,213) from charcoal each year."

Group 78 residents ask PM for help

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

FORTY Group 78 residents protested Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema's eviction notice in front of Hun Sen's house on Monday, villagers said, and they said they are planning to continue protests today at the Municipal Court.

Lim Sambo, a Group 78 representative, said, "We gathered in front of the prime minister's house to ask him to revoke the Phnom Penh eviction letter that ... forces us to move out within 15 days of the release date."

Dated last Monday, the letter gives the community until May 5 to vacate their homes. Sixty-six of 86 families have refused City Hall's offers of compensation, according to Tam Hemny, a 29-year-old Group 78 resident.

"They accuse us of living on Suor Srun company land and on a public road, but we have been here since 1983, and the company just started investing in 2006," Lim Sambo said.

Tam Hemny said he welcomed a chance to sit down with the company and reach an agreement but that City Hall was preventing that from happening.

"We want to negotiate with the company owner. We don't want to meet with City Hall officers," he said.

But Huot Chhor, an assistant to Suor Srun Enterprises owner Suor Pheng, said it had given their share of the land to City Hall in 2007.

The April 20 eviction letter, however, implicated both the state and Suor Srun Enterprises: "City Hall is pleased to inform all residents who are living on the Suor Srun company land and on the public road that all levels of government have repeatedly requested they accept the compensation."

The letter continued: "Once again, and for the last time, City Hall requests that the remaining residents of these 66 houses accept our offer within 15 days. We ... disavow responsibility for any damage to the residents' properties."

Bunn Rachana, a monitor for the Housing Rights Task Force, said, "We want them [Group 78 residents] to have just negotiations, not only to be invited to City Hall but to be listened to."

Fugitive fish vendor tried to stab officer on arrest, police say

Ly Pu, chief of Tuol Svay Prey I commune, expressed frustration with the vendors who had yet to relocate. "We tried to educate them because we want them to stop selling there, but there are a few stubborn people," he said.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Only 10 vendors remain at the fish market behind Olympic Market, which authorities have been trying to clear since February.

POLICE on Monday said that one of 10 holdout vendors at a fish market located behind Olympic Market tried to stab a police officer following an altercation in which they accused the vendors of setting up their stalls illegally and selling drugs.

Some 50 police officers went to the market Monday to arrest the representative, May Kim Seak, on suspicion that she and the other vendors were selling drugs. During the arrest attempt, she tried to stab an officer with a vegetable knife, said Ouch Sokhon, police chief for Chamkarmon district.

May Kim Seak denied the stabbing allegation, saying she was carrying a knife used for cutting vegetables and that she accidentally sliced an officer's pant leg during the confrontation with him.

"When I was carrying a knife, I slid down to touch the police's trouser leg, but they accused me of trying to stab him," he said.

May Kim Seak said she managed to run away from the officers and avoid arrest. Ouch Sokhon said Monday afternoon that police planned to ask the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to issue a warrant for her arrest by the end of the day.

Ongoing dispute
The altercation on Monday marked a continuation of hostilities between the vendors and police. The vast majority of the 766 vendors who formerly worked at the market have left following an eviction notice issued in February. The notice stated that the vendors had illegally set up stalls in the street and ordered them to relocate in the area from Street 310 to Street 167.

Hun Sen trades barbs with SRP over length of tenure

Hun Sen speaking at a new water supply station launch Tuesday in Chroy Changvar.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Chides the opposition for its long support of their party leader and says a winning team does not change its roster.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday chastised the opposition Sam Rainsy Party for its criticism of the ruling Cambodian People's Party for keeping the same man in power for 30 years.

The SRP was reacting to a Sunday announcement from Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith, who is also the CPP spokesman, that the party had again reaffirmed Hun Sen as its candidate for prime minister.

But Hun Sen on Tuesday pointed out that the Sam Rainsy Party leaders had also remained the same for many years.

"You guys [SRP] don't come harass me while you're also still with the same person." Hun Sen said.

One day after a closed-door annual congress of the CPP, Hun Sen reiterated his committment to holding the premier position for as long as his party kept winning general elections.

"The football team THAT wins competitions never changes their roster," Hun Sen told about 500 people at the launch of a new supply water station in Chroy Changvar district on Tuesday.

Koul Panha, executive director of the local election monitoring NGO Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), said the attacks between the CPP and SRP were just business as usual and that it's unlikely new leaders will emerge soon.

"When the voters do not fully understand the political infrastructure and remain in love with personal leaders, the individual parties will not think about changing their leadership," Panha said.

Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, said the party believes that more than 8,000 commune councilors out of a total of 11,353 will support the CPP.

The council election campaign is to officially kick off Saturday.

1 dead, many ill after eating poisonous frogs

Written by Peter Olszewski
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Siem Reap

ONE child has died, another is critically ill in hospital, two others were hospitalised and released, and three adults were treated by doctors after eating poisonous frogs in one of Siem Reap's poorest villages, Mondul 3.

At 8am Sunday, four boys ate brown frogs they'd caught after the rains, and by 10:30 Sov Soparath, the son of a soldier home on leave from Preah Vihear temple, was dead. His brother is still critically ill in Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital.

Two other boys were rushed to hospital but recovered and were allowed home late on Sunday. Three men who also ate the frogs were treated at Siem Reap Provincial Hospital and given injections.

Kem Sour, managing director of the New Hope Community Centre in the village, said the poisoning was the result of the people in Mondul 3 village being so poor they had no alternative but to forage for wild food. He said the flesh of the brown frogs that villagers ate is not toxic, but that the guts are, and this is heightened when female frogs are pregnant after heavy rains.

The centre's director, Kerry Huntly, said this is not the first time villagers have been poisoned after eating frogs. "About three months ago, two little army girls, one 3-year-old and one 5-year-old, caught a frog ... grilled it, ate it and were severely sick. At one stage, the younger girl was not expected to survive, but she pulled through," she said.

"This is what happens when you have poverty like this. This lot here don't have a choice when it comes to food, and they'll eat anything. They also eat ants that sometimes make them sick."

Too poor for a coffin
On Sunday afternoon the body of Sov Soparath was placed in a small makeshift coffin made from a wooden table, fitted with a gold aluminium foil lid and paraded by procession on a cart through villages in the area as a warning about eating poisonous frogs.

The boy's family could not afford to pay US$250 for a funeral, but New Hope gave the family the money, and then embarked on an email fundraiser that instantly netted over $1,000. "We'll use the extra money to improve the family house, which is desperately in need of repair," Huntly said, adding that the organisation would also pay for the education of Sov Soparath's younger brothers.

The boy's father was due to return to Preah Vihear early this week, but the village chief has given him permission to remain at home for another week.

Groups call for land safeguards

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Land rights activists urge donor pressure.

A COALITION of local and international rights groups has called on the government to implement indigenous land protections contained in law, claiming benchmark indicators set by international donors have been consistently ignored.

"[T]here has been a total failure by the Royal Government of Cambodia to fulfil its commitments to protect indigenous community land rights since 2002," the four organisations said in a statement Monday.

Although the 2001 Land Law contains provisions for the registration of indigenous communal property, they claim "not a single square metre" of land has been registered.

"The [government] has failed to stop private commercial interests from defrauding indigenous communities of their land for plantations such as rubber," the statement added.

Indigenous representatives from across the country, including 40 residents from Kong Yu village in Ratanakkiri's O'Yadav district, also gathered ahead of Tuesday's Government Donor Consultative Committee (GDCC) meeting in Phnom Penh, to request donors pressure the government on land issues.

"I would like to request that the donors who offered money to the government request that the government help indigenous minority people with this money," Vean Sami, an ethnic Koy representative from Kampong Speu's Oral district, said at a press conference Monday.

The groups also claim a subdecree on the registration of communal land, passed Friday by the Council of Ministers, also falls short of the benchmark standards set in 2002.

Duch: I had to follow orders

Photo by: AFP
Visitors walk through rooms of photos of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh on Monday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra and Georgia Wilkins
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Former S-21 chief says he tried to distance himself from the torture prison but ran into resistance from his superiors.

FORMER S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Monday that he would have been beheaded had he not strictly followed the orders of his superiors as he appeared to try to remove himself from the more murderous aspects of the detention centre.

As part of continued questioning about his role as head of the security complex, the 66-year-old former cadre, known as Duch, used documents from his case file to maintain that he had tried to "distance" himself from the prison, but had little success.

"I [wanted to] distance myself from S-21. I did not want the police work.... I asked if I could be transferred to the industrial section, but Son Sen did not agree. He asked me ... Why do I not take this position?" Duch told the court.

"Comrade Nuon [Chea] threatened me. He said don't forget the chief of S-21 is me ... and then I could not distance myself," he said.

Showing prisoner confessions that had been annotated by himself and superiors, including Brother No 2 Nuon Chea, Duch said he had no choice but to keep such meticulous records.

Though Duch has acknowledged and apologised for his crimes, he has also maintained that he was the victim of an ideological machine that allowed for little individual choice.

However, during Monday's proceedings, Duch admitted that he had contributed to the purging of his staff for minor mistakes.

"The purges went on and only a few people were left.... When the husband was smashed, the wife would also be smashed [killed]," he said.

"The staff of S-21 was arrested by S-21. S-21 detained them, S-21 interrogated them with torture and finally they were smashed by S-21," he said, adding that he had turned two truckloads of "gentle" teenagers brought to S-21 from Kampong Chhnang into killers through re-education programs and relied on discretion when it came to the executions at Choeung Ek.

"The guards who were stationed at Choeung Ek ... they were responsible for digging the pits and burying the corpses," he said.

"They were living with the corpses.... They were careful to make sure people could not see where the bodies were buried."

Duch insisted, however, that the 10 ruthless rules that were supposedly upheld at the prison - and are still on display at the genocide museum today - were fabricated by the Vietnamese after the 1979 fall of the regime, a claim that Him Huy, a surviving guard from the prison, disputed.

"During the KR regime, all guards were obliged to know all disciplines, and the 10 disciplines at S-21 were written by Duch," Him Huy said.

Trial judges announced Monday that the deadline for a ruling on a request by Duch's lawyers that he be released for the duration of his trial would be extended until June 15, citing delays in translating court documents.

Govt takes measures against flu

Written by Kay Kimsong
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Thermal scanners to guard for incoming cases of illness.

AUTHORITIES at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap international airports will install thermal scanners today to detect possible cases of fever among arriving passengers in a bid to keep swine flu from the Kingdom, Sona Soth, the director of Phnom Penh International Airport, said Monday.

Four Ministry of Health flu experts went to Cambodia's two international airports Sunday to check their thermal imaging equipment, which originally had been brought in to combat H5N1 avian influenza cases.

After some minors repairs, the machines would be reinstalled, Sona Soth said, as Cambodia joins its regional neighbours in ramping up vigilance against the virus.

Airport authorities will also meet with officials from the ministries of Health, Agriculture and Commerce on Friday in Kampong Cham to discuss further measures to prevent diseases like bird and swine flu from crossing the border into Cambodia, he told the Post.

"We are thinking about handing leaflets to all tourists who pass through the airport," Sona Soth said.

Kao Phal, director of the Animal Health and Production Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the ministry was working together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and veterinary officials in both rural and urban areas to educate people about swine flu.

"We are working to spread awareness among the public and to all cross-border checkpoint officials about the new flu outbreak," Kao Phal said.

He also pointed out that the public-awareness campaigns and other response systems created to protect Cambodia from bird flu would help fight swine flu as well.

Cambodia already has the capacity to do flu testing and has trained 8,000 village health workers in 184 districts, said Dr Lotfi Allal, the chief technical adviser for the FAO.

Other health care experts, while acknowledging that information about swine flu was limited, said the outbreak was not a major concern.

Still, Kao Phal also urged officials to monitor conditions at all pig farms in Cambodia for any suspicious pig deaths.

ASEAN 'prepared' for flu fight

Photo by: AFP
A quarantine officer monitors travellers with a thermal scanner at an arrival gate at Suvarnabhumi International Airport on Monday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by AFP
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

JAKARTA - Regional cooperation to deal with SARS and avian influenza has left Southeast Asia in a stronger position to tackle an outbreak of swine flu, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said Monday.

"ASEAN member states are now intensifying surveillance, coordinating and collaborating in the sharing of pertinent information, raising public awareness and taking necessary precautionary public health measures," ASEAN said in a statement.

"ASEAN member states are better prepared now following the experience from recent SARS and avian influenza outbreaks. ASEAN has the existing mechanisms and networks for strengthening preparedness and response to a possible pandemic."

Existing stockpiles of around 1 million doses of antiviral drugs could be used to deal with swine flu, it said.

"ASEAN has 500,000 courses of antivirals stockpiled in Singapore, and an additional 500,000 courses have been distributed to ASEAN member states."

Probable swine flu deaths in Mexico, the source of the outbreak, have reached 103, with about 400 people in hospital and 1,614 under observation.

The only other confirmed cases in the world have been in the United States, where 20 people have the disease; Canada, where there are six; and Spain, where one man is infected.

But the outbreak has still sparked worldwide concern.

Airport checks across the region have been stepped up, several regional countries have banned pork imports and medical facilities have been put on high alert for any patients showing flu-like symptoms.

Many of the measures being activated were set up during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, which killed some 800 people, mainly in Hong Kong and China.

The epidemic gave Asia "a badly needed lesson for surveillance and the right infection control mechanisms", Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the WHO's Western Pacific office in Manila, told AFP.

"Asia is better prepared and in a better position than others (as a result)," he said.

Despite the improvements, Cordingley warned against complacency: "Every country in the world is at risk."

Other experts warned that biosecurity black spots remained in the region.

Khmer Rouge prison chief says he tried to quit

The Khmer Rouge regime killed up to two million people between 1975-79

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The former Khmer Rouge prison chief told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court he hated overseeing torture and executions, and had requested his superiors give him another job.

Duch -- whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav -- apologised last month at the start of his trial, accepting blame for overseeing the extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the regime's Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21.

He said Tuesday that in May 1975, the month after the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, he asked for a transfer to work in the country's industrial sector.

"At that time I really wanted to be away from the security office. I wanted to be in industry," Duch said.

However, he said, defence minister Son Sen told him he would have to work at S-21.

"That was the end of it. That's what the superior said, and I dared not to protest. I honestly wanted to run away and go to industry," Duch said.

Asked by English prosecutor Alex Bates whether he told his superiors he detested his job, Duch said: "I did not particularly say that I hated security work, I only told them that I wanted to do industry work."

"In Khmer language there is a proverb: is it necessary to kill the crab to show the shit of the crab?" he said.

"Whan I talked to my superiors, I did not dare to open the crab and show the shit inside the crab"

Although Duch says he oversaw the brutal prison for most of the 1975 to 1979 regime, he has maintained he never personally executed anyone and has only ever admitted to abusing two people.

The former mathematics teacher has also denied prosecutors' claims that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule and maintains that he and his family would have been executed if he had not followed orders.

He faces life in jail from the court, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, and many believe the UN-sponsored tribunal is the last chance to find justice for victims of the regime, which killed up to two million people.

The tribunal was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the United Nations and Cambodian government, and is scheduled to try four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

But the court has been marred by corruption claims and talks between UN and Cambodian officials ended earlier this month without agreement on anti-graft measures.

Gov't, WHO Confirms No Swine Flu Case in Cambodia

Web Editor: Xu Leiying

There have been no reports of swine influenza cases, both pig and human, so far in Cambodia, said an official statement received in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

"As suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO), the ( Cambodian) Ministry of Health (MoH) has issued temporary advice to enhance surveillance," said the joint statement from MoH and WHO.

"Medical clinics are asked to immediately report any unusual influenza like illness cases to MoH. WHO Western Pacific Regional Office is closely monitoring the situation in the region and has activated its outbreak and emergency management protocols," it said.

In addition, "Cambodia has increased its surveillance for unusual respiratory illness in hospitals, health centers and airport," it said.

"While there is no vaccine against this type of influenza, there are a range of possible treatments although it is not yet clear which will be most appropriate," it said.

"Cambodia has prepared stockpiles of various resources, including medication to treat viral illness, and has access to additional regional supplies if required," it added.

Meanwhile, according to Sok Touch, director of the Anti- communicable Disease Department of MoH, scanners will be equipped on Tuesday at the Phnom Penh and the Siem Reap international airports to check travelers' body temperature against possible entry of swine flu.

MoH will use the existing equipment and system for combating bird flu to monitor pig flu, he said.

The ministry will cooperate with the World Health Organization to take actions on the pig-farming industry if necessary, but the very next step will focus on travelers from the infected areas, he added.

Cambodia on alert for swine flu


PHNOM PENH, April 28 (Xinhua) -- The Health Ministry of Cambodia on Tuesday will equip scanners at the Phnom Penh and the Siem Reap international airports to check travelers' body temperature against possible entry of swine flu, said an official.

"We will equip scanners to target people who have temperature and breath problems related with the deadly swine flu," said Sok Touch, director of the Anti-communicable Disease Department of the ministry.

"We also observe all the people who once traveled to the infected areas of this outbreak," he added.

In addition, "we appeal to the people who catch (traditional) flu to go to hospital for diagnosis and treatment," he said.

Cambodia has noted that swine flu is danger for all of us, as it can be transmitted from human being to human being now, he said.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry of Cambodia will use the existing equipment and system for combating bird flu to monitor swine flu, he said.

The ministry will cooperate with the World Health Organization to take actions on the pig-farming industry if necessary, but the very next step will focus on travelers from the infected areas, he said.

So far, there has been no sign of swine flu contamination on human and pigs in the kingdom, he added.

Editor: Sun

Buddhist novice numbers fall in Cambodia

Buddhist leaders hope to teach young people about family duties, religious history, culture and morals. [ABC]

Australia Network News

Tue, 28 Apr 2009 09:22:00 +1000

Nearly 300 young Cambodian men and women have travelled to Muk Kampul district in Kandal province to be ordained as monks and nuns at a 10-day course on Buddhist teachings.

However, organisers say the numbers are far fewer than expected.

Kandal province surrounds, but does not include, the national capital of Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian Student Association says the novices will be taught how to be grateful to their parents, about the history of the Buddha, the value of Cambodian culture and social morals.

The Phnom Penh Post quotes the association as saying only about 40 women are attending.

Chhunn Noem, chief of the Cambodian Student Association based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said the total number who made the trip, around 270, was far lower than the 500 he had anticipated.

"We only had a short time to promote this ceremony," he said.

Thais to seek reduction in soldiers at Preah Vihear


Newspaper section: NewsThailand will propose a further cut in troop numbers in the disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple in talks starting today with Cambodian military leaders.

Second Army chief Wibulsak Neepal said the move was needed to reduce the risk of clashes between Thai and Cambodian soldiers in the 4.6 sq km area claimed by the two countries.

"The reduction should be done step by step, starting at Wat Kaew Khiri Sikha Sawara before expanding to other areas in the overlapping zone," Lt Gen Wibulsak said.

Thailand will ask Cambodia to stop the building of a road to the 11th century temple as it passes through land where sovereignty has not been settled.

An army source said Thailand had about 2,000 soldiers in the disputed area and Cambodia had up to 4,000 troops. Thailand claims the area is part of Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket and Cambodia insists it belongs to Preah Vihear province.

The issue will be discussed at the two-day General Border Committee (GBC) meeting in Siem Reap. The Thai side is led by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh leads the Cambodian delegation. All Thai armed forces leaders and the supreme commander will accompany Gen Prawit to the meeting.

Thailand will seek cooperation from Cambodia in keeping an eye out for convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra after reports he had been staying in Koh Kong and Phnom Penh.

Thai intelligence reports claim Thaksin flew in his private jet to Phnom Penh and stayed at the home of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The former premier also led Arab businessmen to explore business opportunities in Koh Kong.

The GBC meeting was earlier postponed due to border clashes and the need for parliament's approval on the framework for the military leaders to hold discussions with their Cambodian counterparts.

The MPs and senators yesterday approved the framework for negotiations with 295 parliament members supporting it and two opposing.

A parliamentary source said the framework covered three main areas: border demarcation, security cooperation along the border with Cambodia and other collaboration such as tourism, trade and health.

The source said the meeting was concerned about the delay in settling the disputed area and overlapping waters in the Gulf of Thailand because they were linked to political problems in Thailand.

Torture memos


Secret memos from the Bush Administration were released this week detailing the harsh interrogation methods used on detainees in the War on Terror.'

Crackdown in Siem Reap


Written by Vincent MacIsaac
Monday, 27 April 2009

The rule of law goes by the board for Cambodia's land sharks

Video footage of an allegedly unprovoked attack by police on unarmed farmers in Siem Reap last month has sparked outrage in Cambodia because of what it showed and because the reaction from the national government sent another strong signal that state officials and those connected to them can violate laws with impunity, human rights groups say.

"Unless action is taken to defuse the tense land situation in the country, sadly there will likely be more shootings such as occurred in Chi Kreng [district, Siem Reap]," said Kek Galabru, president of to the Cambodian League for the Promotion of Human Rights (Licadho).

"Real action must be taken to address Cambodia's land crisis and to ensure that authorities do use violence against innocent villagers who are merely trying hold on their land," she said.

According to the monitoring department of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc) the number of forced evictions in Cambodia is rising and land disputes are becoming more violent despite the free fall in land prices that began in the middle of last year and more frequent and fiery warnings from Prime Minister Hun Sen that any state officials involved in illegal land deals, no matter how high their rank, will be severely punished.

Moreover, the border conflict with Thailand and the subsequent build up of troops on the Cambodian side has increased land grabbing by the military as well as illegal logging in protected forests along the border, environmentalists and human rights investigators warn.

The Siem Reap farmers are the victims of both land grabbing and state-sanctioned violence, human rights groups say. At the root of the incident is a five-year dispute that escalated last December when two community leaders and one journalist were arrested following a court complaint from two businessmen who the farmers allege illegally obtained and then resold titles to 92 hectares of land they had been farming since, in some cases, 1982. In January farmers surrounded the provincial courthouse for 17 days to demand the release of the three.

It escalated further last month when a joint task force of about 100 police and military personnel opened fire on the farmers. The video of the crackdown almost never made it out of the rural pagoda where it was first shown, according to Buddhist monk Sovath Loun, who transmitted it to human rights groups in Phnom Penh via cell phone.

Sovath Loun, whose older brother and nephew were shot and wounded during the March 22 crackdown, said that at one point during his negotiations with district police over the incident, he was warned that if he didn't turn over his videos and photographs, the military might storm his pagoda in Chi Kreng district to seize them. The pagoda is located about 30 kilometers from Angkor Wat, the country's top tourist destination.

One video, which the monk obtained from a farmer who hid his video-equipped cellphone under his hat, suggests that the signal to begin shooting came from the deputy district police chief, and clearly identifies another officer who allegedly wounded two farmers after he opened fire with his AK47, according to the Cambodian League for the Promotion of Human Rights (Licadho). www.licadho-cambodia.org

The footage contradicts government claims that the police were acting in self defense, the league says, and it is calling for the prosecution of those who shot four farmers as well as the release of nine others subsequently jailed on charges of assault and attempted theft (of the rice they had planted).

"This was extremely serious violence against villagers committed by government armed forces, and it demands a strong response by the government. The police and other officials who committed this violence must be punished," Licadho said.

The province's governor, Mr. Sou Phirin, pledged to personally resolve the dispute following the protest at the provincial court, but his attempt at reconciliation aggravated it. He proposed that the businessmen be given the rice and farmers who had planted it be compensated by being paid for their seeds, according to the Adhoc report, which also said the governor's attempt at reconciling the two sides was marred by open hostility towards the farmers and their lawyer, whom he cursed at during the negotiations.

When the farmers declined the governor's solution, the police and military were called in to enforce it, human rights investigators say. The video from the farmer shows a stand-off in which the farmers refuse to leave the land, despite the presence of about 100 police and soldiers. The shooting started at about 9.30am, according to farmers who later fled to Phnom Penh.

Sovath Loun's videos and scores of photographs include the aftermath as well as extremely graphic footage and photos from the hospital, including close ups of gaping wounds and doctors trying to treat them, as well as bleeding farmers beaten unconscious and tied together in rows. His videos and photos provide an extremely rare and detailed look into what many have been warning for years is, among other things, a grave threat to stability in Cambodia: the government's alleged complicity in allowing, and in some cases assisting, those in positions of power to steal land from the poor.

The 30-year-old monk first showed the videos to about 20 monks, nuns and laypersons at Vat Sleng Pagoda a week after the crackdown. The day after the first of several police officers paid a visit. The low-ranking officer had been instructed by the district chief of police to find out how many VCDs had been made and to take them, Sovath Loun said. "I asked the officer, ‘what law did I break?"

He broke the silence that ensued by enquiring further, "Do you want to borrow it or do you want to take it?"

"If you want to borrow it you can, but if you want to take it you can't," he continued. If the officer was devout he would be aware it would be a severe transgression to lie to a monk, while if he was merely superstitious he could be frightened into believing that a lie to a venerable monk in pagoda might be an invitation to bad luck for him and his family, he said.

The officer opted to relay the choice to his superiors. Over the next few days more officers and district officials visited him at the pagoda and the hospital where he was tending his brother and nephew. They told him to stop taking photos, turn over his VCD and sign a letter pledging not to disseminate the images, Sovath Loun said. He replied by telling them they could have the VCD if they signed a letter promising to resolve the land dispute and bring those who shot the farmers to justice.

During a second visit by police to his pagoda an officer warned him that if he kept the VCD he might have to deal with the military. Sovath Loun quoted the officer as saying: "The military might attack the pagoda to seize it."

On the third visit the monk turned over his VCD, but by this time he had already distributed about 100 copies throughout surrounding villages and widely transmitted the video of the crackdown taken by the farmer via his cell phone. This video ended up at human rights organizations based in Phnom Penh and on the internet (http://hub.witness.org/en/upload/shooting-chi-kreng-siem-reap-v2).

On April 2, Sovath Loun left his pagoda for Phnom Penh. "My heart was too heavy to remain in Siem Reap. I came here to try to regain my peace of mind," he explained at Ounalum Pagoda. The pagoda, which was founded in 1443, is the headquarters of the Cambodian Buddhism and has been experiencing a steady rebirth following its desecration by the Khmer Rouge.

Sovath Loun said his attempt to regain his peace of mind at the pagoda became more difficult after an advisor to the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia's Buddhists, a layman and official from the Ministry of Cults and Religion, arrived at the pagoda on April 10 in a silver Lexus and told him to order the about 100 farmers from his district who had sought refuge with him to return to Siem Reap on April 10.

He described the ultimatum as being inspired by politics rather than the teachings of Buddha. "The order came from the government," he said.

During their 30 minute conversation, he tried to explain to the advisor that his claim that the farmers were "disturbing the pagoda" was illusory. "I kept telling him that no monks had complained while the farmers stayed at the pagoda. Instead, we gave them food and blessings. We felt great sorrow for them."

The government advisor, whom the monk described as "aggressive", could not be swayed, and after he drove off in his silver Lexus Sovath Loun had to tell the panicked farmers to leave the pagoda and return to Siem Reap. By midafternoon all but four had left. Monks paid for those who could not afford tickets, he said.

The four who remain in Phnom Penh, identified by Siem Reap police as leaders of the group, are in hiding at a "safe house". They fear they will either be shot or arrested if they return to their villages, one said by telephone. Police are searching house to house in their villages for them, Chan Soveth, an investigator with Adhoc said. The disputed farmland is now under guard by armed police and soldiers, he added.

"There is no truth in [state-run] media," Sovath Loun said, explaining his motivation for compiling and disseminating the videos. "Soldiers and police have guns for protecting people not shooting them," he added before beginning his evening meditation on April 12.

Within a week, however, he had also left the pagoda, according to venerable monk Thaich Chhorn, who kept a written diary of the protests by the Siem Reap farmers in Phnom Penh . Thaich Chhorn said Sovath Loun, who is also a painter, left the pagoda to paint murals on the inner walls of another one in the countryside.

Coalition of NGOs issues recommendations about situation of Human rights in Cambodia

By Ka-set

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) announced on April 22 the drafting by a coalition of NGOs – coordinated by the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia (AFEC) and assisted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) of a joint submission on freedom of expression and assembly in Cambodia to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, for inclusion for the purposes of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cambodia’s Human Rights record. Those organisations wish their recommendations to be included in the document’s summary concerning the situation of Human rights in Cambodia.

The submission, summed up in a communiqué released by the AHRC, shows that the last four years have seen freedom of expression and assembly in Cambodia “seriously undermined”, with opinion restricted, parliamentarians silenced, the media controlled, access to information blocked, and assembly and public demonstration prevented, the organisation details.

Those NGOs elaborated a series of recommendations in their submission: inviting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression to visit and assess the situation in Cambodia, working with other ASEAN member states to create an ASEAN Human Rights body in 2009, and decriminalise disinformation in the course of reforming the Criminal Law.

Public health reform in Cambodia: hospitals gain autonomy

Svay Rieng (Cambodia). 16/08/2007: Public hospitals in Phnom Penh will become Referral hospitals. For hospitals in the provinces, like the Svay Rieng ‘referral hospital’ above, the reform will have to wait ©John Vink/ Magnum

By Ros Dina

A small revolution is on its way in the Cambodian public health system. Indeed, by the end of this year, no less than four public hospitals in Phnom Penh will become autonomous. The law, which has already been adopted and enforced for several years at Calmette hospital will progressively be extended by the Ministry of Health to the National Paediatric Hospital, the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, Kossamak Hospital and the National Maternal and Child Health Centre. Consequences for those institutions are that they will be able to manage their budget themselves in a much more flexible and reactive way, but they will also be in charge of more responsibilities. Here is a little explanation, by the main protagonists in this major change.

Autonomy already enforced
Things are all set, says Sok Panha, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Health Information (DPHI) and in charge of the Ministry of Health’s Equity Fund project: four new Cambodian public hospital institutions are ready to acquire full autonomy in the next few months. It is already the case of Calmette Hospital, which became autonomous a few years ago, and of the Pasteur National Public Health Institute in Tuol Kork, which switched over last year, but the four main health centres in the Cambodian capital will progressively have to manage their resources and expenses themselves, with a view to improve quality and efficiency.

“We are currently turning the medicine-control laboratory into an autonomous body – their task is to ensure the quality of pharmaceutical products”, says the deputy director, who also initiated the process and took the necessary steps with those four public hospitals. According to her, the reform is synonymous with development and efficiency and should allow the strengthening of the quality of health services. As the state provided and managed hospitals’ budgets until now, the institutions lacked flexibility and resources to adapt quickly to the needs of patients, even when they generated important income.

Autonomy does not mean privatisation
“Being autonomous does not mean being privatised”, says Sok Panha, who insists on the notion of public service. “We will give them the responsibility of managing the way they function themselves. Today, the Ministry [of Health] is still in charge of the daily management, indirectly. By continuing to work like this, hospitals are not given any responsibilities and their services are poor quality because they fully depend on the Ministry when it comes to solving issues. If we leave them to take action themselves, I believe they will know perfectly how to save energy, water or take care of public building conservation in the best possible way, for instance.”

A quicker implementation of decisions
For Chhour Y Meng, head of the National Paediatric Hospital, being autonomous means that hospitals have at last the right to solve problems themselves and straight away, and therefore to save time, a particularly precious notion when patient’s lives are at stake. At the moment, when his hospital needs equipment or certain investments, Chhour Y Meng must apply at the appropriate service at the Ministry. Applications go from one office to the next and several months usually pass before requests are eventually given the green light.

“In the current system, drugs are supposed to be provided to hospitals once every six months. Before being able to effectively use the medicine ordered, we must wait eight to nine months… This does not respond to emergency situations in any way”, the director says. For equipment orders, we also have to be very patient… to the detriment of patients. He gives an example: “The hospital needed a machine for the testing of [blood] platelets as there was an important dengue fever epidemic going on. The application was finally validated, long after the epidemic. So, what is this machine useful for, several months later? Of course, we can still keep it somewhere until next year!”, he deplores.

Coordinated objectives
For the director of the paediatric hospital, this new status will be a real breath of fresh air and will at last allow the health sector to develop in Cambodia. Better reactivity facing sanitary problems, quicker and improved services, modern equipment, drugs that are appropriate, better-trained human resources: those are the many improvements that Chhour Y Meng wishes to fund thanks to a budget managed in an autonomous way, as close as possible to the daily reality of his institution.

However, risks might appear due to an excess of autonomy. Indeed, hospitals operate in jumbled order as they set their own priorities themselves, without any global perspective or goals for public health. “We will work along the government policy”, the director says. Besides, he prefers talking about “semi-autonomy”. “Unlike the current situation where management and decision-making are scattered in several places, we will have, thanks to the reform, a governing board in charge of the direct management of the hospital project. When we have to comply with obligations enacted by the government, we will organise a meeting between a committee and the governing board. The latter will be able to make a decision and have it implemented as soon as possible”, he explains.

Public services: serving the interest of the public?
Director of the Khmer-Soviet friendship hospital Say Seng Ly shares the enthusiasm of his colleague Chhour Y Meng and brushes aside rumours about the reduction of health budgets and disengagement on the part of the state. “We refuse to hear rumours saying that what belongs to the state is shrinking. I insist on pointing out that, on the contrary, this reform allows the state to broaden its scope of action. The fact that we are given more autonomy, especially financially-speaking, will help us modernise human resources and equipment in public hospitals”, the director suggests.

What about care provided to the most destitute ones?
As they will remain public institutions, those autonomous hospitals will charge themselves healthcare brought to patients. But according to Say Seng Ly, this will change nothing for the poorest ones, who cannot afford to pay for hospital bills. The only difference, he claims, is that from then on, they benefit - on top of theoretical gratuity of care - from quality services. “Making a public institution autonomous is not meant to kill the poor, but on the contrary to help them. When the hospital generates money, the poor will also benefit from quality services, wards will be clean… Because we will take money from the wealthy ones to give it to the poor”, Say Seng Ly says, convinced.

The Equity Fund as a backup
Facts are that directors of these public hospital will not need to act like this at all. Public hospitals will be able to charge for healthcare given to the poor, as they do not come for free, but the rich will not have to pay for the bill… Instead, the Equity Fund, created in 2000 by the government in collaboration with foreign partners and managed by the Ministry of Health, will serve as a backup. According to Sok Panha, who is in charge of this fund, the state injects between 500,000 and 600,000 dollars every year into it, and in addition to that, donor countries and institutions grant an extra million dollars. “The money from the fund is already used in six hospitals in Phnom Penh – Calmette, Kossamak, the Paediatric Hospital, the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, Angduong and the National Maternal and Child Health Centre – and also helps some ten provincial hospitals and some district institutions and health centres throughout the country”, she stresses.

Three out of four poor people will be exempt from paying fees
According to data provided by Sok Panha, the Equity Fund has already taken care of the fees of almost three million poor people, i.e. 68% of Cambodians living below the poverty line (4 millions, or 35% of the total population). Destitute patients will not need to pay for anything, at least in theory. “The person in charge of the concerned hospital institution must issue a report presenting the number of poor people who benefited from health services in their hospital without having to pay. Then, the Equity Fund pays back the amount due”, Sok Panha explains.

Public hospitals: hospitals for the poor?
Will the resources of these autonomous public hospitals actually come from rich patients who can afford access to healthcare? The director of the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital acknowledges that at the moment, the greater majority of patients is poor or belongs to the emerging middle class. As for the wealthiest, they rarely go to public hospitals but prefer private clinics in the capital or hospitals abroad in neighbouring countries. Say Seng Ly believes that if public institutions manage to improve, be more modern and buy high-technology equipment thanks to the independent management of resources, wealthy people will think twice and might turn again to the public sector, less costly and more accessible than healthcare abroad. “I think that after two years of autonomy, we will manage to attract all categories of patients, and especially the wealthier, who will turn to our services with complete confidence”, the director says.

Before fully enjoying their autonomy, directors of public hospitals in Phnom Penh will still have to personally plead for their own cause before high-ranking civil servants and the government. Professor Teng Seung, director of the Kossamak Hospital, is hopeful about his application, even though he has already presented it several times to the Ministry of Economy and Finances and the Ministry of Health. He was recently called by the Council of Ministers to answer the final questions raised by the reform, the ultimate stage before the Council approves it and prime Minister Hun Sen signs it. The director, like his peers, is waiting to be given the go-ahead by the government to be able to make his own way.

Cambodian foreign minister recovering after almost collapsing in US

Monster and Critics
Asia-Pacific News
Apr 27, 2009

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's foreign minister was recovering in hospital after almost collapsing Sunday during an opening ceremony for a new consulate in the United States, a government spokesman said Monday.

Hor Namhong was rushed to hospital after he almost fainted while giving a speech at the new Cambodian consulate in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said.

'The doctors in the emergency department said he was suffering from fatigue and was recovering well,' Koy Kuong said.

Lowell is home to about 30,000 Cambodians, many of whom fled the South-East Asian country during the 1975-1979 rule of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime and the subsequent two decades of civil war.

Cambodia has an embassy in Washington DC and consulates in Seattle, New York and Los Angeles. Read more:

After SARS and bird flu, Asia wary of new virus

By Tan Ee Lyn – Mon Apr 27

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Asia battled SARS and H5N1 bird flu in 2003 and has improved its health infrastructure but there is a wide gulf in how prepared countries in the region are to fight swine flu.

Countries around the world have moved to contain the spread of a possible pandemic after a new swine flu outbreak killed 103 people in Mexico. Twenty cases have been identified in the United States and six in Canada, with no deaths reported.

Possible cases are being checked as far afield as New Zealand.

"With SARS and H5N1, there was a lot of impetus to improve preparedness in many countries in Asia, but there is still a huge variation in preparedness," said Malik Peiris, a virologist and professor at the University of Hong Kong.

Densely populated cities in developing countries such as China or India would encounter major problems, said Guan Yi, a Chinese virologist at the University of Hong Kong who helped fight SARS and bird flu and trace their sources in the past.

"If it goes to China or India, where populations are very dense and infrastructure is not enough, there will be many problems," Guan said. "We are counting down to a pandemic."

Health experts are also worried about impoverished countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, which have rudimentary public health systems, meaning a delay in reporting cases and risking the spread of outbreaks.

Since SARS and H5N1 swept through Asia in 2003, governments around the region have beefed up disease surveillance systems, built hospital isolation units and maintained stockpiles of Tamiflu, a drug that appears effective against the new virus.

However there are still big discrepancies between countries.

While many dead birds found in Hong Kong are routinely tested for diseases like H5N1, that would be hardly be possible in sprawling countries like China or India.


Sophisticated laboratories have been set up in Hong Kong and even Indonesia, which has four such facilities. In Thailand, there are flu monitoring systems in place in the countryside, a legacy from battling H5N1.

However, experts are jittery because such facilities are scarce and there are many questions surrounding the new virus.

"Indonesia has prepared a system in case of a flu pandemic. But there is something I am not certain of, the early warning, reporting and action system," said I Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, a virologist at Udayana University in Indonesia.

"The laboratories and government research institute are of course ready, but the question is, do the rest (in the country) have the early diagnostic (systems) already?"

"I am trying to find out about the H1N1 that spread in Mexico and California, why is it new? How is it connected to swine?"

Thailand strengthened its pandemic preparedness after an initial slow response to bird flu in 2003, and health experts say it now has a "robust" surveillance system, improved laboratory facilities and better training.

Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai said 14 medical centers were capable of tackling an outbreak of swine flu. Another six mobile units were on standby to handle remote outbreaks.

"It will take us four hours to verify suspected cases," Witthaya said, adding Thailand had enough Tamiflu stockpiled in the country to treat 300,000 patients, and the government drug maker can produce more if necessary.

(Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu and Telly Nathalia in Jakarta, Darren Schuettler in Bangkok; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dean Yates)

Hun Sen, Opposition Lawmaker in Court Battle


By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
27 April 2009

Prime Minister Hun Sen and an opposition lawmaker exchanged defamation lawsuits in Phnom Penh court Monday, each side claiming damaged reputations from the other.

National Assembly lawmaker Mu Sochua, a representative of the opposition Sam Rainy Party in Kampot province, claims Hun Sen defamed her during a speech in the 2008 national election campaign.

Hun Sen claims a press conference held by Mu Sochua last week, accusing him of defamation, was also defaming.

“This morning I filed a lawsuit at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for defamation, following Article 63, based on what Prime Minister Hun Sen said in public on April 4, 2008, in Kampot,” Kong Som An, lawyer for Mu Sochua, said Monday.

The lawsuit alleges that Hun Sen’s remarks about a “strong-lady” in Kampot province, “making trouble,” were directed at Mu Sochua, and subsequent remarks about a conflict between the lady and an unnamed official, which led to a torn blouse, were defamation.

Ky Tech, a lawyer for the government, said he too had filed a complaint in the municipal court. He declined to give detailed information from the complaint. “We’ll let the court process the case,” he told VOA Khmer.

As a member of the National Assembly, Mu Sochua enjoys parliamentary immunity, but officials say it can be suspended if she is called to court. Hun Sen, as a representative of Kandal province, also has immunity that could potentially be stripped.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Mu Sochua was spreading misinformation that had led to criticism from the international community, which the countersuit seeks to mitigate.

Phnom Penh court officials could not be reached for comment.

Seng Theary, executive director of the Center for Social Development, appealed to both side to drop the lawsuits.

“Both sides suing each other gains nothing,” she said.

Expert Warns Against Dam Projects

By Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
27 April 2009

International environmental experts warned this week that hydropower dams to be built on the Mekong River will have serious and long-term impacts on the environment and livelihoods of millions of people living along the river, especially those at its lower reaches in Laos and Cambodia.

They urged these countries to carefully consider impacts that have already been experienced in some of the developed world.

“The problem is not really about development and rights to development but it is about what kind of development, a short-term goal versus long-term cost,” Richard Cronin, director of the Southeast Asia Program of Henry L. Stimson Centre, told an auditorium organized by East-West Centre in Washington.

The use of hydropower and large dams as a source of energy “is extremely controversial, and particularly one of the most controversial things about it is old thinking,” he said. “We are now in this country trying to undo a lot of the damage that we did to rivers, especially in fisheries, from these big dams that we put up in 1930s.”

There are currently 11 hydropower dams planned for Laos and Cambodia. Two are in Cambodia. China, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are main developers, with China playing a major role by taking four projects.

According to environmental experts, dam construction could affect water levels and cause erosion. This will subsequently have serious impacts on fish populations and people who rely on fisheries. It will also block the flow of fertile soil, which is important for agriculture.

“It actually creates a physical block to fish migration, and there are many species of fish that migrate from the Tonle Sap and some other parts of the flooded zone up into the Mekong mainstream,” said Blake Ratner, the regional director of the World Fish Center, an international organization based in Phnom Penh.

“They migrate up into tributaries in the upland within Cambodia, but also through the mainstream to Laos and even to northern Laos,” he told VOA Khmer by phone. “So to put a dam that blocks this fish migration means that it puts at risk a great majority of the piece that is important to the commercial catch.”

Out of many hydropower dams planned, Laos’s Don Sahong dam, located near the Cambodian border, has caused a lot of controversy and debate. It is feared that the impacts it has are vast, compared to the 300-some megawatts of power it is expected to generate.

“The Don Sahong dam will seriously affect fish populations, and we are discussing this with Laos since we are in the Mekong River family,” Sin Niny, vice chairman of Cambodia National Mekong Committee, told VOA in a phone interview. “Laos said that once they have finished their study, they will share the findings with us in a stakeholder forum for inputs.”

Even as it worries about developments upriver, Cambodia is looking at the possibility of developing a hydropower dam called Sambo in the northern province of Kratie, under an investment from China. The study for that dam is due to finish in 2010.

“The oil crises that happened in the past make us realize that we cannot leave aside resources that we can use to produce a cheap electrical supply,” Sin Niny said. “It is sustainable. We don’t need to buy others’ oil.”

The Sambo dam could provide 2,600 megawatts of electricity, and through other hydro-development schemes, the country is expected to be energy self-sufficient by 2012 and able to export power four years after that.

However, Cronin suggested that a regional power supply was a better choice. A hydropower dam should be built in the upper Mekong, where it would do no harm to fish migration, the Don Sahong and Sambo dams abandoned, he said.

“You could consider building a dam where the cost benefit is the best and then sharing that power in the region,” he said. “Of course you can build the dam in northern Laos, where it would not have anywhere near the impacts on fishery that these two other Mekong dams would have.”
The Mekong River flows for 4,880 kilometres from its headwaters in Tibet, then through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, one of the largest sources of freshwater fish in the world.

Corruption Impasse Worries Tribunal Observers

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
27 April 2009

With a controversial agreement over corruption complaints in place between the UN and Cambodian Khmer Rouge tribunal negotiators, worries remain over the future of the hybrid court.

The two sides are at loggerheads over anonymity for complainants, leading to a failure in talks earlier this month. For now, complaints to the Cambodian side of the UN-backed tribunal are to go through Cambodian channels, while the UN will handle complaints from its own side.

John Hall, an associate professor of the Chapman University of Law, in California, who has written on corruption at the tribunal, believes the UN could pull out if such a procedure is deemed insufficient.

“If the UN believes that the current situation is unacceptable, if it threatens the credibility of the court, it should say so, and it should withdraw its technical support for the court,” Hall said.

The lingering questions over corruption and mismanagement come as the tribunal’s first trial, of prison chief Duch, is underway. Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, has been facing tribunal trial judges since March 30, addressing atrocity crimes charges for his role as the director of the regime’s Tuol Sleng prison, its main torture center, in Phnom Penh.

Even with Duch in court, the Cambodian side of the tribunal has struggled. It was only able to pay the March salaries of its staff through emergency bilateral funding from Japan.

If such money dries up completely, the tribunal could collapse, Hall said.

“The best hope of going forward is that the donors and UN finally take a firm stand and make it clear that allegations of corruption within the tribunal must be thoroughly investigated,” he said. “We talk about seeking a tribunal that meets international standards, but what does that mean if we continue to turn a blind eye to corruption?”

UN officials and other observers say increased pressure from donors could break the impasse, or a solution might be found between the secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“You would have to have a political decision at the level of the secretary-general, and you would have to have the donors on-side,” said David Tolbert, a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace and a former special adviser to the tribunal. “I don’t foresee at the moment the UN pulling out, but I am not privy to the internal discussions at this stage. So I think that’s speculative.”

The tribunal is unlikely to collapse, said Scott Worden, an expert on the rule of law at the USIP. The Cambodian government has proven effective at testing the limits of the donor community and finding political support for its aims, and besides, he said, donors still have obligations to help Cambodia.

“With a positive story like Duch’s trial, which is progressing, it’s hard for the international community to say, ‘We are going to cancel it,’” he said. “The Cambodian government knows that. So you have this bargain.”

Observers in Cambodia say that if the UN walks out, countries like China and some Cambodian officials will be pleased.

“It appears increasingly as though the Cambodian government would prefer to see the tribunal fail than to agree to a credible investigation of the corruption allegations leveled against Cambodian officials,” Hall said. “How shameful. The Cambodian people deserve better than that.”

The continued allegations have caused some foreign donors to withhold funding from the Cambodian side of the court. The Australian government has said it wants to release $456 million in funding, but the UNDP, which administers the money, has said it will not release it until current allegations, that staff have paid kickbacks for their positions on the Cambodian side, are addressed.

"The United Nations made the right decision in refusing to sign onto a sub-standard anti-corruption proposal," said James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which monitors the tribunal. “It’s disappointing to see donors such as Australia undermine the UN’s resolve by releasing their funds to the court without an adequate anti-corruption mechanism in place.”

“The United Nations, Cambodian government and donors must now set a deadline for agreeing to an acceptable solution, which must include the right for [tribunal] employees to report wrongdoing to either international or national ethics monitors, as well as adequate protection for whistleblowers, including confidentiality guarantees,” he said. “Only after such an agreement is reached should donors feel confident to release their funds, and only on the condition that the mechanism will be closely watched and audited for performance.”

Weight gain predictive of survival in Cambodians and Kenyans taking antiretroviral therapy


Kelly Safreed-Harmon
Monday, April 27, 2009

A study published in the April 27th issue of AIDS indicates that weight gain may be a reliable predictor of survival in underweight men and women starting antiretroviral therapy. The finding has broad implications because resource limitations in many developing countries preclude the use of laboratory monitoring to assess treatment effectiveness. If health care providers have some other means of identifying which patients are responding poorly to antiretroviral regimens, they may be able to intervene before those patients become dangerously ill.

The cohort study analysed mortality rates six and twelve months after the initiation of antiretroviral therapy. Study participants were being treated in Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) programs in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Homa Bay, Kenya. The most striking finding was that people who had an initial body mass index (BMI) score of 18.5 kg/m2 or less and experienced weight gains of 10% or less during the first three months of antiretroviral therapy were far more likely to die within the next three months than people who had comparable initial BMI scores but experienced greater weight gains.

The study population was comprised of 2451 Cambodian adults and 2618 Kenyan adults. MSF followed World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for initiating antiretroviral therapy: people offered antiretrovirals had either a WHO stage 4 condition, a WHO stage 3 condition with a CD4 cell count of less than 350 cells/mm3, or a CD4 cell count of less than 200 cells/mm3.

All antiretroviral regimens consisted of two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) and one non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI). In Cambodia, 51% of study participants received 3TC (lamivudine, Epivir), d4T (stavudine, Zerit), and nevirapine (Viramune), while 47% received 3TC, d4T, and efavirenz (Sustiva). In Kenya, 86% of people received the nevirapine-containing regimen, and 9% received the efavirenz-containing regimen.

The study evaluated the prognostic value of weight gain using four categories of initial BMI scores: ≤17 kg/m2; >17 to ≤18.5 kg/m2; >18.5 to ≤20 kg/m2; and >20 kg/m2. Individuals in the first two categories are considered underweight by international standards. Mortality was analysed in relation to three levels of BMI increase at three months and six months: ≤5%; >5% to ≤10%; and >10%. Weight gain was found to be predictive of survival for study participants with initial BMI scores in the lower two quartiles, i.e, those who were underweight. People with an initial BMI score of ≤18.5 kg/m2 and weight gain of ≤5% had a mortality rate ratio (MRR) of 6.3 when compared to those in the same initial BMI category with weight gain of >10% (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.0 – 13.1).

The MRR for people with an initial BMI score of ≤18.5 kg/m2 and weight gain of >5% to ≤10% was 3.4 when compared to those in the same initial BMI category with weight gain of >10% (95% CI, 1.4 – 8.3).

When the researchers compared the prognostic value of weight gain in men and women, they found no significant differences. Nor were there differences between Kenyans and Cambodians; between people who started antiretroviral therapy at different disease stages or CD4 count levels; or between people using different antiretroviral regimens. All of this indicates that tracking weight over time can be an effective strategy in a wide range of antiretroviral recipients.

Weight gain was not predictive of survival for people whose initial BMI score was higher than 18.5 kg/m2. This somewhat lessens the value of weight monitoring as a clinical management tool. However, given that many people in resource-limited settings do not begin treatment until relatively late in the course of HIV disease, low BMI scores at treatment initiation are not uncommon. Forty-six percent of Cambodian study participants and almost forty percent of Kenyan study participants had BMI scores of 18.5 kg/m2 or less.

“Weight gain can be of great use in resource-limited settings, especially when decentralization of HIV care is required and access to well-trained physicians is limited,” the authors conclude. They go on to note that three possible reasons for an HIV-positive person’s failure to put on weight after initiating antiretroviral therapy are poor medication adherence, opportunistic infections, and insufficient nutritional intake. They advise assessing adherence and providing adherence counseling as warranted.

The authors express particular concern about the importance of screening for tuberculosis (TB) in antiretroviral non-responders, noting, “The experience from MSF in five countries showed a high incidence of TB under [antiretroviral therapy], and TB remains a leading cause of death in resource-limited settings.”

The authors stress that identifying antiretroviral non-responders by tracking weight should only be regarded as an interim solution. “Our results should not be interpreted as advocacy for minimal care and monitoring of patients taking ART in developing countries,” they write. “CD4 cell count and viral load remain the gold standards for patient monitoring, and everything should be done to make these tests available in resource-limited settings.”


Madec Y et al. Weight gain at three months of antiretroviral therapy is strongly associated with survival: evidence from two developing countries. AIDS 23: 853–861, 2009.

Draft law may help foreign ownership in Cambodia

Globespan Media
Source: www.homesoverseas.co.uk

27 April 2009
The government of Cambodia has drafted new legislation that could pave the way for foreigners to own property in Cambodia.

Overseas nationals are currently not permitted to own Cambodian land or homes, in order to avoid speculation and price volatility.

However, the proposed alterations would permit foreigners to own houses, apartments and condominiums from the second floor up for resale. Foreigners would also be able to inherit property.

Im Chhun Lim, the Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, in Cambodia, told the Phnom Penh Post that the proposed legislation has already been submitted to the private sector for feedback.