Friday, 8 May 2009

Celebration of Vesak Day (Buddha's birthday) in Oudong

Cambodian Buddhist monks celebrate Vesak Day in Oudong, north Cambodia, May 8, 2009. Vesak Day is held to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Cambodian nuns hold lotus flowers and incense as they pray during Vesak Day in Oudong, north Cambodia, May 8, 2009. Vesak Day is held to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION)

Cambodians light incense as they pray during Vesak Day in Oudong, north Cambodia, May 8, 2009. Vesak Day is held to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION)

Cambodians offer food to Buddhist monks during Vesak Day in Oudong, north Cambodia, May 8, 2009. Vesak Day is held to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION)

Cambodians march during Vesak Day in Oudong, north Cambodia, May 8, 2009. Vesak Day is held to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION)

Cambodian Buddhist monks march as they hold their national flags to celebrate Vesak Day in Oudong, north Cambodia, May 8, 2009. Vesak Day is held to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION)

Cambodian Buddhist monks march as they hold their national flags to celebrate Vesak Day in Oudong, north Cambodia, May 8, 2009. Vesak Day is held to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Cambodian Buddhist monks march as they hold their national flags to celebrate Vesak Day in Oudong, north Cambodia, May 8, 2009. Vesak Day is held to honour the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha more than 2,000 years ago.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA SOCIETY RELIGION)

Lotus flowers are on display at a crowded place during the Buddha's enlightenment day at Udong, in Kandal province, north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, May 8, 2009. Hundreds of Buddhist monks and lay people gathered on the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar to marks the birth, and death of the Buddha.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Tight security at flu meet

Police and soldiers armed with batons and plastic shields were in the area hours before ASEAN delegates were due to arrive for the start of the two-day meeting. -- PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

May 7, 2009

BANGKOK - THAI authorities threw tight security around the venue of a regional conference on the H1N1 flu virus on Thursday to prevent any recurrence of the violence that forced an Asian leaders' summit to be cancelled in April.

Bangkok Metropolitan Police Lieutenant General Vachirapong Chiewprecha told reporters more than 1,000 riot police and soldiers would maintain security around the Dusit Thani Hotel near Bangkok's Silom financial district.

The meeting is the first Asean event to be hosted by Thailand since the summit at the seaside resort of Pattaya had to be called off when thousands of red-shirted, anti-government protesters broke through security barriers and invaded the venue, forcing some Asian leaders to flee by helicopter.

There was no sign of any rally by these supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra by 8.30am (9.30am Singapore time).

Police and soldiers armed with batons and plastic shields were in the area hours before delegates from the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) were due to arrive for the start of the two-day meeting.

Police ordered security to be stepped up as a precautionary measure after an overnight clash lasting several hours between dozens of plain-clothed police officers and street hawkers about two blocks from the hotel, in which at least 10 people were wounded.

Television showed police and hawkers, armed with wooden clubs, steel pipes and bottles, clashing near the tourist strip of Patpong after officials moved in to seize pirated goods.

Several warning shots were fired into the air, angering the hawkers, who threatened to march to the hotel in protest. -- REUTERS

Swede held for child sex crimes in Cambodia

The Local
Sweden's News in English

8 May 09

A Swedish man in his sixties has been arrested in Cambodia on suspicions of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy.

Foster parents 'hung boys from hooks' (6 May 09)
Swedish national library reported for child porn (6 Apr 09)
Cop fined for outing child sex offender (26 Mar 09)

The man, who resides in the Stockholm area, was arrested Wednesday night local time, but denies committing any crime.

According to the newspaper, the Swede was the target of an investigation into other child sex crimes, and was a figure in another investigation into child sex crimes in Cambodia which was abandoned in September last year.

Interpol’s division for child pornography crimes learned of the arrest on Wednesday.

“We’ve received information about it, but haven’t been directly involved in the arrest,” said Interpol’s Anders Persson from Lyon, France.

Varg Gyllander, a spokesperson with the Swedish police’s National Investigation Department (Rikskriminalen), confirmed that a Swedish man had been arrested in Cambodia and that they had received information that he was taken to a detention centre in the capital city Phnom Penh.

“What we’re doing now is making sure that the Cambodian police receive the help they need from us. We’ll help them out as best we can,” he said.

Police don’t know of the exact charges against the Swede, but it has something to do with the sexual assault of a child.

“All we can say is that he’s known for similar crimes from before,” said Gyllander to the TT news agency.

Local organizations which against paedeophiles in Cambodia are said to have had the man under surveillance for some time.

He is reported to have been in the country since 2007 and been in contact with small boys, according to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

Tracing Truong Son base in Cambodia

An SGGP reporter asks Mr. Seo Go about the section of the Truong Son trail running through O Yadao.


Friday ,May 08,2009

A team of SGGP reporters recently made a trip to Cambodia to find traces of a Truong Son troop base in Yadao District, Ratanakiri Province.

We followed the trail ‘14C’ running along Po Ko River to Le Thanh International border gate to Cambodia. From the gate, we traveled some ten kilometers to get to Nu Village of Ia Khai Commune, Gia Lai Province.

In the village, there still exist two wharfs. During the war, a boatman named A Sanh (his real name Puih San) would use his boat to transport North Vietnamese troops across the river to Cambodia.

We went across the river and began to follow the western Truong Son trail (also known as the Ho Chi Minh trail) running along the river to head to O Yadao District.

We were walking on a section of the trail where, between 2000 and 2005, the Kon Tum and Gia Lai Provincial Army Section unearthed more than 100 remains of North Vietnamese soldiers.

On our way to the destination, wild sunflowers were blooming yellow on both the sides of the trail under the brilliant sun. We at last arrived at the place formerly used as a safe base for Truong Son troops 40 years ago. The site is just some ten kilometers from the Vietnamese border and 74 kilometers from the center of Ratanakiri.

We went to border post 721 nearby and asked Commander Phan Dinh Thanh, commanding officer, to ask if he had any idea about the accurate location of the base.

Cdr. Thanh replied, “In 1984, in a patrol, jointly organized by the soldiers of military post 721 and those of Cambodian military post 623, we found a section of the trail and a station for Truong Son troops located at the border landmark of 271 on Cambodian land (or 272 on Vietnamese land). The trail paralleled with the twin stream, which flows into Pako River.”

He added, “On the trail, we still found the chains of tanks, oil pipelines, house frames and cooking stoves. We guessed that such things had belonged to a commo-liaison of the 559 Army Corps.”

We went with first lieutenant Huynh Van Sy of border post 721, who led us to the area where the base was said to have existed. Things have changed with time. Many forests around the site have now been transformed into green paddy fields, but the old Khmer villagers who lived through the war in the region still remembered the base and the North Vietnamese soldiers.

Lt. Sy led us to a house on stilts made from precious wood standing in the center of the village to meet Seo Go, a 65- year old local man. In the 1970’s, he was head of the village.

Seo Go said, “During the war, the troops were garrisoned in the forest, a kilometer from the village to the east. They usually came to the village to give help to the people. Sometimes, they also gave us food. There was also a large hospital for Truong Son soldiers in the forest, about a two day walk from the village.”

What Seo Go said helped us locate the site of Truong Son troops’ base in O Yadao District. We said goodbye to him and followed his directions to the site.

At the site, we could not find any trace of the trail because grass, bushes and trees had grown wildly. We could do nothing, but stand silently to remember thousands of soldiers who had fallen on the western Truong Son road for the cause of independence and freedom.

We left, pondering about the changing fortunes of life. Truong Son Mountain, the roof of Indochina, still emerges from the forests, the Poko River still flows from Cambodia into Vietnam, but the many historical sites on Truong Son Trail, if not found and restored in time, will be forever taken back by the forests from which it was born.

By staff writers – Translated by Phuong Lan

Cambodia unveils plan for conservation, development of Preah Vihear temple

People's daily Online

May 08, 2009

The Cambodia government here on Thursday released a master plan for conservation, management and development of the zone surrounding the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple.

The plan aims to develop the belt around temple into an eco-tourism zone, said Suos Yara, undersecretary of state of the Council of Ministers.

The area within a radius of 10 km of the temple will be under governmental conservation control, or it can be called "the green zone" for the Preah Vihear temple, he added.

A museum will be built in the zone to highlight the history of the Preah Vihear temple and house relevant artifacts, according to the plan.

It also demands relocation of the 792 families of Kor Muy and Prasat villages to a land of over 4,500 hectares some 10 km away from their current sites, said Suos Yara.

The relocation will make way for the temple zone development and schools, hospitals, markets other infrastructure for the relocated people will be built in their new living area, he said.

The Preah Vihear temple became a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in July 2008.


A community participative documentary not to forget the Pol Pot era

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 07/05/2009: Nou Va, co-director of the movie “We want (u) to know” ©John Vink/ Magnum

By Stéphanie Gée

“We want (u) to know” is yet another documentary that gives a voice to survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, but its instigators wanted it to be different from anything already produced on the subject. Their approach is not meant to be historical, legal (for instance, how to file a complaint with the court), or even educational, but “participative”, the Italian film-maker Ella Pugliese explains. From the script to the shooting, including the acting and the sound recording, an important part of the steps of making the movie were entrusted to villagers, who received technical guidance from the Italian and psychological support from German Judith Strasser, adviser on this project for the German Development Service (DED).

“We want (u) to know”
The film's title has a double meaning: we want you – and the young generation in the first place – to know what happened, but we also want to know what happened. This double intention is illustrated by a discussion between a blind grandmother, who lost all her relatives under the Khmer Rouge, and an innocent 12-year-old boy. Holding a microphone in his hand, the child, barely a teenager, freely asks questions to the elderly woman, on a chattering tone and under the eye of the camera.

“Say, grandma, I was wondering what the 'Pol Pots' looked like?” “They looked like any of us, but they behaved differently.” “And where are they today?” “They left, I don't know where to. After the fall of the regime, the leaders left and left their subalterns behind them. They were villagers like us, but they became 'Pol Pots'.” “Grandma, I was wondering why they killed Khmer people?” “I don't know... Grandma doesn't know why they did that. They followed their rule. And their rule was to kill...”

The movie features testimonies, reconstruction of scenes taken from the lives of the villagers of Thnol Lok, Kirirom district, Takeo province, through actions, but also drawings sketched on the very floor of their pagoda which walls still bear the blood-red stigma of the genocidal regime, or preparation scenes showing one of the local chiefs adjusting the red and white chequered scarf of a young man in black pyjamas, portraying a soldier of the Angkar, while grumbling “You don't know how to tie your krama around your neck!”, or a survivor pointing at a former mass grave... The improvised team is made of people of all ages, as is the crowd that came every night to watch the day's footage, their faces suddenly grave before the snippets of a suddenly reappeared past. The exploration of memory and present concludes with the images of the opening, on March 30th 2009, of the trial of Duch, the former director of S-21, at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (EEEC).

A community participative approach
The idea for this project was born a year ago during a working group on mental health disorders suffered by survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Funds were provided by German agency DED, production was taken care of by the Khmer Institute for Democracy (KID) and the International Centre for Conciliation, and networks established by legal aid NGOs working with Khmer Rouge victims were mobilized.

Between visits to places of memory, known or unsuspected, in Phnom Penh and in the provinces of Siem Reap, Takeo and Kratie, the challenge was to rally villagers around this adventure. “We were curious to see how this approach would be received: coming to villages with cameras, authoring tools, and asking residents if they wanted to use them to talk about the past,” remembers Ella Pugliese, still surprised to observe how much history is still present in their lives. Judith Strasser concedes that the concept was first foreign to them. “What to do with memory?” After long discussions, villagers accepted rather spontaneously to re-establish ties with the painful period, and following a pot luck principle, each came with his or her story and ideas for the shooting. “Some villagers suggested to re-enact scenes of killings. At first, we were sceptical about it. Then, they started acting these scenes, with a lot of authenticity. It was troubling. We followed them but chose, after long debates, not to show executions and only suggest them,” the Italian reports.

A quest for truth with safeguards
The inter-generational dimension was very important for Ella and Judith, who heard the villagers' desire to see the story anchored in collective memory so that it does not vanish and be relegated to a popular legend. “Cambodians are really looking for justice and put great trust in the [Khmer Rouge] tribunal. And if some of them are burdened with hatred for their former torturers, they have no desire for vengeance,” Judith could observe on the field.
Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 06/05/2009: Judith Strasser, psychologist working with TPO, Ella Pugliese, co-director, and Shanti Sattler, all three creators and producers of the movie “We want (u) to know”©John Vink/Magnum
The imperative during the shooting, which unfolded over several months, was not to come and disturb, or break, the balance in the villages by trying to stir the past too much, or alternatively, to ensure that it is restored before putting the cameras away. That is why the team took a lot of precautions, bringing with them psychologists from the NGO TPO. “They explained to the villagers the symptoms that may manifest themselves, the reactions that may occur. TPO's hotline was also communicated to them so that they can continue consulting with them if needed.”

A step towards healing
It makes Judith, specialist of clinical psychology, cringe when she hears an enduring cliché claiming that reliving a trauma revives it. According to her, it is important to unearth one's pain, “to get it out of the private sphere of the house”. “If you know how to strike a balance between relief and burden, chances are the former will prevail. Facing the trauma is a way to face one's past and find the path to healing. One of the protagonists told us at the end of the shooting that she was breathing again, she was able to forget and felt happy again, because her mind was no longer as haunted by these horrible stories. And you hear her explain that in the movie. Retreating into silence and repressing painful memories is one of the main symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. What people need is precisely help to confront their past and find relief.”

“Filming, drawing and so on in a group setting, this offers a safe environment as well as distance, which are conducive to help people speak freely and share their stories,” the Italian film-maker insists , echoing her colleague. In some way, a kind of collective therapy, or at least its beginning, specify the two young women, who would like to go further still with the adventure.


Schedule of showings in Cambodia
“We want (u) to know” (90mns) will be shown Friday May 8th at the Bophana Centre (No 64, Street 200) at 7pm, Saturday May 9th at the Living Room Café (No 9, Street 306) at 7pm, and Saturday May 10th at Meta House (No 6, Street 264) at 7pm. The authors of the documentary dream of seeing the documentary continue its life by hitting the roads of the Kingdom, through a travelling cinema, and facilitate dialogue wherever it goes... Moreover, the movie will be used and broadcast by organisations like TPO, an NGO providing psychological support.

Leaders are always right

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sithen Sum
Friday, 08 May 2009

Dear Editor,

I'm writing in response to Dr Naranhkiri Tith's May 4 letter. I'm not a doctor, nor a monarchist, nor a person smart enough to answer the doctor's provocative question. However, my reply is based on my experience as a motivational trainer.

If one accepts Sihanouk as a leader, it should be considered that he has a vision of his own. And I'd say virtually all leaders will claim they are right all the time. Why? Simply because of their vision. The vision is intact, yet their strategies to realise that may vary from time to time.

Let me take the example of Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. Whatever he did was big picture and for the nation's sake.

The same holds true with Sihanouk. Although he was not right to change his position to support the KR, the change was necessary then to make Cambodian people independent from the US. What he expected of the KR was not the genocide but an independent Cambodia, as he testified to with our independence gained from France back in 1953. If he's been an ally to Hun Sen, it's probably because it's the only way to stabilise the country politically, and eventually, economically.

In a nutshell, it's not who is right, but what is right that matters.

Sithen Sum
Phnom Penh

Exonerate King Sihanouk

Written by Va Makara
Friday, 08 May 2009

Dear Editor,

I write regarding the letter [May 4] by Dr Naranhkiri Tith.

The King had his vision of protection, preservation and development of the nation. He led the movement because he needed his country out of wars.

However, he was not smart enough to know what would result from his movements.
Furthermore, many pressures also pressed on him. But we can understand about his real visions on leading the movement is to protect Cambodia.

Va Makara
Phnom Penh

World Thalassaemia Day

Photo by: Tracey Shelton

Written by Tracey Shelton
Friday, 08 May 2009

Meng Leng, 18 months, who has severe Thalassaemia – an inherited condition that inhibits the body’s ability to produce normal red blood cells – receives blood at the National Paediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Today is World Thalassaemia Day, and a new campaign has been launched to find donors willing to contribute blood once or twice a year for a particular Thalassaemia patient.

See the full story
Click Here

Defamation suits heard in PP court

Written by Meas Sokchea and Robbie Corey-Boulet
Friday, 08 May 2009

Public row between PM and SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua goes to judge’s chambers

Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard arguments Thursday from the lawyers for opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua and Prime Minister Hun Sen, as it opened the first hearings in a very public defamation row that has drawn increasing attention from Cambodian and international observers.

Mu Sochua said Thursday evening that her lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, presented prosecutor Hing Bun Chea with evidence detailing every aspect of her case, which she argues stems from an April 4 speech in Kampot during which Hun Sen called her a cheung klang, or "strong leg", a term viewed by some as particularly offensive to women.

She said the evidence included a transcript of the speech, as well as all documents pertaining to an altercation that occurred during last year's election in which she claimed an army general tore a button from her blouse and exposed her bra.

During the speech, Hun Sen referred to a "strong female MP from the opposition party in Kampot" who lost a button on her shirt while running around embracing people. He did not name Mu Sochua.

Hun Sen has repeatedly denied that the April 4 comments referred to Mu Sochua.

On the same day that Mu Sochua filed her suit, April 27, he filed a countersuit claiming that Mu Sochua had defamed him by saying the comments he made referred to her.

In an interview after the hearing, Ky Tech, Hun Sen's lawyer, declined to comment in detail about the evidence he presented to the prosecutors.

"This is the first step," he said. "They asked me what reason I had for pressing the case and I explained."

The duelling defamation cases continued to draw international attention this week, with Human Rights Watch issuing a statement Tuesday criticising Hun Sen's threat to have Mu Sochua's parliamentary immunity lifted.

Om Yentieng, one of Hun Sen's advisers and president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, told Cambodian media April 24 that ruling party MPs might meet to discuss suspending her parliamentary immunity.

Hun Sen said in an April 29 speech that lifting Mu Sochua's immunity would be "easier than peeling a banana".

"This is yet another blatant attempt to silence the political opposition," said HRW Asia director Brad Adams. "By threatening to prosecute opposition members of parliament on bogus charges, Hun Sen shows once again that his goal is elective dictatorship, not a genuinely pluralistic democracy."

The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) issued a statement Thursday that also decried threats made to lift Mu Sochua's parliamentary immunity.

"CALD upholds respect for the rule of law and urges that Mr Hun Sen and the majority bloc in the parliament refrain from lifting any member of parliament's immunity unless there is compelling evidence cited for damages," the statement reads.

Kong Sam Onn said after the hearings Thursday that he had requested the court ask the National Assembly to hold a vote on whether to lift Prime Minister Hun Sen's parliamentary immunity.

Mu Sochua described this move as an attempt to "make the process equal", saying, "If immunity is being lifted, it should be done on an equal basis."

Looking ahead
Reached Thursday evening, Hing Bun Chea said he did not know when the next meetings related to the case would be held.

Sok Roeun, the prosecutor in the case filed by Hun Sen, declined on Thursday to comment about the hearings and future proceedings.

Villagers near Preah Vihear protest

Written by Thet Sambath
Friday, 08 May 2009

NEAR the disputed Preah Vihear temple complex, 20 people who said they were residents of Ko Muoy village protested their eviction, demanding more compensation and greater government transparency, local villagers said.

But at a press conference on Wednesday, officials at the Council of Ministers said that many of the angry villagers were not actually residents of Ko Muoy, a village that was largely destroyed by Thai rocket fire in April.

"The real problem was caused by those who are not really villagers who live near Preah Vihear temple," said Sous Yara, an undersecretary at the Council of Ministers, adding: "The government won't provide land to those kinds of villagers."

Ros Heng, the deputy governor of Preah Vihear's Chom Ksan district, said the land is controlled by the Preah Vihear Temple Authority and will become a "nature area".

Kong Sorphon, the director of Preah Vihear provinces's Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said the 473 families being moved to Sa Em will receive ample compensation in the form of 2 million riels (US$482), a plot of land 50 metres by 100 metres and a new house.

But a police officer from Ko Muoy who says he is being detained at a provincial police station with a colleague for inciting the protests, disagrees. "We actually do not want to leave this place because this place helps make our lives better."

On Monday, more than 100 villagers came to Phnom Penh and delivered a complaint with 209 thumbprints to Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cabinet of Ministers, the National Assembly and the Senate.


Few aware of blood disorder

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Yun Kimti, 4, waits for treatment for Thalassaemia at the National Paediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh last week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton
Friday, 08 May 2009

To mark World Thalassaemia Day, a blood drive is to be launched to aid patients dependent on transfusions

AT the National Paediatric Hospital (NPH) Wednesday, doctors prepared 18-month-old Thalassaemia patient Meng Leng for her monthly blood transfusion.

As they held her down and tried - for the 13th time - to locate a vein in her tiny limbs, she screamed in anticipation of the pain that was sure to follow. Having been diagnosed two months earlier with severe Thalassaemia - an inherited condition that inhibits the body's ability to produce normal red blood cells - Meng Leng will need transfusions every month for the rest of her life.

A 2003 study completed at the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) in Siem Reap, the only completed study of Thalassaemia in Cambodia to date, revealed that 48 percent of subjects were carriers of the hereditary blood disorder.

Particularly prevalent among Mediterranean and Asian nationalities, Thalassaemia can cause severe anaemia, stunted physical growth, weakened bones, expanded bone marrow, inhibited sexual development and premature death, according to the Thalassaemia International Federation.

Children with parents who are both carriers face a 25 percent chance of developing severe Thalassaemia and a 50 percent chance of becoming carriers themselves.

Without treatment, the life expectancy for a patient with Thalassaemia ranges between two and 20 years, depending on the disease's severity, said medical laboratory scientist Robyn Devenish.

I was shocked to find... that there was almost no awareness.

Devenish began researching the disease in 2003 after noticing that a large percentage of anaemic patients assumed to be iron-deficient presented with Thalassaemia symptoms. The blood samples of 300 patients were sent to Thailand for testing.

"The results came back with 68 percent having at least one form of Thalassaemia," she said. "These were all anaemia patients, so the results were quite high. So I conducted a study across the board of 300 outpatients and found 48 percent were either carriers or had severe Thalassaemia."

Two studies currently under way are expected to yield similar results, suggesting that 140,000 Cambodians - most of them undiagnosed - suffer from Thalassaemia, while millions more could potentially pass the disorder on to their children.

No cure exists, but patients can live a full life with regular blood transfusions. In very severe cases, transfusions need to be given monthly, particular during childhood, so that the body can develop normally.

NPH hematologist Dr Chean Sophal, who treats around 100 Thalassaemia patients, said frequent transfusions can lead to complications.

"In Cambodia, there is no facility for filtering the red cells from the white, so whole blood must be given to a patient," he said. "It is these white cells that carry diseases such as hepatitis B and C and HIV."

Multiple transfusions also cause an iron overload in the body, which Chean Sophal said damages vital organs. The treatment, an iron-chelating agent, is currently only available in one location in Phnom Penh and costs patients with severe cases of the disease between US$12 and $15 per day.

"Nearly all [my patients] need this but cannot afford it," Chean Sophal said, adding that many are already experiencing organ complications.

Ieng Auntouch, chairman of the Cambodian Thalassaemia Association (CTA) and the father of two boys with severe Thalassaemia, said he can afford the treatment his children require but noted that many Cambodians cannot. He said the Ministry of Health does not allocate funds to promote awareness of the disease and training in how to treat it because it is not considered a priority disease.

"When my first son was diagnosed, I was shocked to find that in a country with such high prevalence there is almost no awareness," he said.

Lack of blood
A shortage of blood donors is one obstacle to treating patients.

Dr Hok Kim Cheng, deputy director of the National Blood Transfusion Centre, said the government provides blood free when available. He said only 25 percent of the centre's blood supply comes from voluntary donors, meaning relatives are often called on to donate.

"Currently, we cannot fill all requests," he said.

The blood must be fresh to be effective. To fill the need, Devenish said, a new campaign is to be launched today, on World Thalassaemia Day, to find donors willing to contribute blood once or twice a year for a particular patient. This way, blood could be donated and transfused within days when the child needs it, increasing its effectiveness, she said.

"If a donor was willing to spend just one hour twice a year donating blood," Devenish said, "they could allow one child who would otherwise be without hope to live a normal life and take a huge burden off the parents who are always under tremendous pressure to find a donor."

For information regarding the Thalassaemia blood donor program or CTA, contact Robyn Devenish at

Residents vow to fight eviction

Raos Chiem, 70, in her temporary shelter on the former site of the Tomnup Toek commune in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Friday, 08 May 2009

Tomnup Toek commune villagers in Phnom Penh say proposed relocation site in Kandal province has no facilities and is too far away, leaving them no chance to earn a living

SEVERAL residents of Tomnup Toek commune in Phnom Penh have threatened violence if authorities try to evict them by force to Kandal province after an early morning fire on April 16 claimed the life of a 4-year-old girl and left 288 families homeless.

Resident representative Sao Rithy Kosal said the commune chief had told them their temporary shelters would be destroyed and they would be removed to Phnom Bat commune unless they left on Thursday.

"We won't allow the authorities to demolish our shelters, and we will fight back with stones," he said. "I want them to relocate us to the city's outskirts like Dangkor district, not far away like Phnom Bat. It is 50 kilometres away. How can we do business there? I would rather die here than move there."

Almost 150 houses were destroyed in the blaze. Police said they suspect it was set by Ros Sophan, 29, who was angry that his family would not give him 1,000 riels (US$0.25).

Kandal relocation
But commune Chief Chor Heng denied telling residents there was a Thursday deadline.

"The 288 families will be relocated to Kandal province, and each will get an empty plot of land measuring 4 metres by 6 metres. This is by order of City Hall," he told the Post. "But we don't know for certain when we will relocate them, and it is their right to turn down the relocation."

Chor Heng said the new site was better than any other. "It is close to a tourist area, and they can earn a living that way. Right now they are living in anarchy on the road. We are giving them land and it is good enough for them."

Resident Ouch Pov told the Post the authorities said residents had no choice.

"That's why we are here together. We didn't go to work today. Many of us are afraid they will demolish our shelters while we are away," he said.

Another resident representative, Horm Neun, said authorities had refused to show them the eviction letter.

"So how can we believe them? We want the governor to send us to the outskirts of the capital so we can still earn a living," he said. "We've seen the land on offer. It is in a flood area and there is no chance of running a business there. So if they use violence against us to demolish our shelters, we will do the same back to them."

Ouch Leng, a monitor with the rights group Adhoc, said authorities had shown an uncaring attitude.

"They must pay compensation before evicting people and shouldn't send them to a place far from health centres or schools, or somewhere they can't run a business," he said. "I doubt they will force them to leave on deadline. They will wait a week because they want people to keep quiet."

Neither the city's deputy governor, Mann Chhoeun, nor the governor of Chamkarmon district, Lo Yuy, were available for comment Thursday.

Union umbrella group calls for changes to draft demonstration law

Written by Khouth Sophakchakrya
Friday, 08 May 2009

Two articles of the government's draft law place 'unfair restrictions' on people's rights to demonstrate, according union, NGO officials

THE Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) has asked the National Assembly to delete two parts of the draft Law on Peaceful Demonstrations before MPs meet to approve it.

CCU President Rong Chhun told the Post Thursday he sent a letter to the National Assembly making the request.

Clause 1 and Clause 2 of Article 14 of the proposed law define a peaceful protest as a gathering of no more than 200 people. But many demonstrations have more than 200 people, and limiting the number would be an unfair restriction on people's rights, said Rong Chhun, who is also the head of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association.

He said Article 28 of the law states that public demonstrations can be held at just a single venue in each province, which the authorities would be obliged to build within six months of the bill becoming law.

Demonstrators would not be allowed to take their protest outside the venue, which he said was unjust, adding that scrapping this provision would also save the authorities money.

But the secretary of the National Assembly's Commission on the Protection of Human Rights, CPP member Nhem Thavy, said the number of demonstrators was not important - it was their message that counts.

The government should not limit the number of demonstrators...

"Article 14 and Article 28 are not meant to reduce freedom of expression in Cambodia," said Nhem Thavy, adding that he agreed with the provisions in Article 28.

Ensuring peaceful protests
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Rong Chhun's letter would be considered by the parliament's special commission. But he added that Cambodia needs venues where people can assemble to demonstrate peacefully, claiming that previous marches had ended violently.

"We need to construct these centres for demonstrations to protect social security and public and private property," he said.

"In the past some peaceful demonstrations have resulted in protesters using violence and destroying public and private property."

The law has raised alarm in some circles. Moeun Chhean Nariddh, the director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said the draft legislation would conflict with the country's obligations as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 19 of that document states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Article 20 states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh said, "The government should not limit the number of demonstrators or insist on a particular place to demonstrate. Instead it should increase the options."

AIDS education to rely on police

Sex workers at a brothel in Phnom Penh last week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 08 May 2009

Police officers are to assume a central role in an effort to promote 100-percent condom use in Banteay Meanchey, which some observers say will render the effort ineffective

THE MINISTRY of Interior plans to retrain and deploy thousands of police officers as part of its upcoming campaign to promote 100-percent condom use in Banteay Meanchey province, the vice chairman of the National AIDS Authority told the Post Wednesday.

"What we have to do is to transform our officers to become ... educators who can teach others about HIV/AIDS," Tia Phalla said, pointing out that 50,000 police officers nationwide had received some form of education about the program.

The success of the effort, however, could be derailed by a major obstacle: Article 24 of the Law on the Suppression of Human

Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, passed in February 2008, which criminalises sex work and has forced the Kingdom's sex workers away from brothels and into karaoke bars and beer gardens.

As Tia Phalla described it, brothels figure prominently in the proposed education campaign in Banteay Meanchey.

"To reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, we have demanded that all brothel owners who have more than eight prostitutes arrange for HIV/AIDS education," he said.

But Ing Sothirun, deputy director of the Banteay Meanchey provincial Health Department, said brothels there had been shut down as a result of Article 24.

"Previously, there were more than 100 brothels in Banteay Meanchey province, but they were all closed down after the Anti-human Trafficking Law was introduced," he said.

In this respect, the case of Banteay Meanchey could serve as an example of what Sou Sotheavy, director of the Men's and Women's Network for Development, termed the "contradiction between the Anti-human Trafficking Law and the policies to protect people from being infected" with HIV/AIDS.

"We cannot make changes if the law is not amended," he said. "Sex workers will still be scared when the police enforce this law."

Sara Bradford, technical adviser for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in Cambodia, said the plan would be flawed even if brothels still existed in the province.

"First of all, it's completely unethical," she said, referring to the use of law enforcement officers as HIV/AIDS educators. "They go in, round up the girls, and people who round up the girls can't be the ones to go in and educate them."

In defence of the program
Dr Hy Someth, head of the Ministry of Interior's HIV/AIDS program, defended the education plan in an interview with the Post on Wednesday.

"What the ministry wants is to succeed in both condom use and anti-human trafficking law enforcement," he said.

"This campaign will not create any contradiction between brothel-based education and the Anti-human Trafficking Law," he said, adding that he believed law enforcement officials and NGO representatives should meet to resolve any disagreements about the proposed plan.

"I think we need to sit together and talk to find out common ways that we can work together because both sides want to succeed in their jobs," he said.

He added that he did not believe all of the brothels in the province were closed.

The fight against HIV/AIDS in Cambodia has been a fragile success story. The estimated prevalence among Cambodian adults in 2006 was 0.9 percent. But a 2008 UNAIDS report indicated that Cambodia's prevalence rate remained the second-highest among all countries in South and Southeast Asia (only Thailand's was higher).

More education and prevention work needs to be done, particularly in Banteay Meanchey, a border province with "seven or eight" casinos and many unregistered gaming entities that attract people from all over Cambodia, Ing Sothirun said. He said the large transient population had made it something of a "hot zone", plagued by problems related to drugs, human trafficking and sex work. He said 1,000 sex workers were in the province in 2007.

He said these challenges made the province a logical proving ground for the 100-percent condom use program, approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1999.

"It will be easy for us to apply our work to other places in the country if we are successful in Banteay Meanchey," he said.

Royal mugging raises fears

Exposed wallets can make tourists likely to fall prey to muggers in Phnom Penh.

Friday, 08 May 2009

Officials have expressed concern that coverage of attempted mugging of Princess Eugenie’s friend could affect tourism; others say crimes on rise

THE reported mugging of Princess Eugenie of York's friend thrust Cambodia into the international spotlight this week - not exactly the kind of publicity the government wants for the so-called Kingdom of Wonder, particularly as officials work to repair a tourism sector battered by the economic crisis.

The high-profile attack on Britain's sixth-in-line to the throne reignited a longstanding debate: Is Phnom Penh seeing a rise in aggravated theft, as anecdotal evidence suggests, or is crime in the capital down, as police statistics indicate?

The government tried to paint Eugenie's incident as anomalous even as it vowed to improve policing at popular tourist destinations.

"We are deeply sorry for what happened to Princess Eugenie and her friends and hope very much that the group will soon be able to put the incident, if there was any ... behind them and remember Cambodia for its many attractions," wrote Hor Nambora, Cambodia's ambassador to Britain, in a press release issued Wednesday.

The release, from the Cambodian embassy in London, sought to "reassure that Cambodian police and security services have always stepped up patrols in areas most popular with foreigners in Phnom Penh" as well as near "the stunning Angkor Wat temple complex" and in Sihanoukville.

We are deeply sorry for what happened to princess eugenie.

A high-ranking official at the Ministry of Tourism, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he and his colleagues "were upset when we heard about the case", adding that they had approached officials at the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and elsewhere to ask them "to prevent this from happening in the future".

But Kong Sophearak, director of statistics at the ministry, downplayed reports of concern among officials there, saying, "This will not have much impact on the tourism sector."

Elizabeth Evans, deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Phnom Penh, said the incident would not affect travel advisories distributed to British nationals.

She said via email that the embassy - which tracks crimes reported by British citizens and others for whom the embassy has consular responsibility - did not have "substantive evidence of a significant increase that would justify a change to the travel advice" it produces.

Bag-snatching increase?
Yet others who track crime in Phnom Penh said the incident involving Princess Eugenie could be part of a broader, underreported increase in such attacks.

"We've certainly had an uptick in crime in the past couple of weeks," said John Johnson, spokesman for the US embassy, which tracks crimes committed against US nationals and other foreigners.

Others said the increase had been more prolonged. Am Sam Ath, senior monitor for the rights group Licadho, said he had observed an increase in bag-snatching throughout the first few months of the year, adding that he believed joblessness and drug use were at the root of the problem. Theary Seng, executive director of the Centre for Social Development, also said the trend had been building for months, adding that she believed it would continue "due to the global financial crisis".

Chris Chipp, an independent security consultant based in the capital, also cited economic turmoil as a contributor to what he described as an ongoing increase.

For his part, Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth disputed claims that there had been a recent increase in bag-snatching.

"We are actually reducing the number of bag-snatching cases a lot," he said, adding that officers were "continuing to strengthen" the police presence in "targeted areas", notably at busy intersections.

But Chipp, who does not work with government law enforcement agencies, said most bag-snatchings go unreported because victims do not expect any tangible benefits to result from bringing their cases to the police.

Expatriates are reluctant to report crimes, he said, "because they know in the back of their minds that nothing is going to be done". Cambodians often elect not to report them, he said, "because they're going to have to pay the cops off" to get them to take any action.

Chipp, former country manager of the UK-based G4S Security Services, said he believed Phnom Penh's streets had become less safe during his two years here, a trend he attributed largely to the limited police presence, particularly at night.

"You take a look at night after 5 o'clock - tell me where there's a cop," he said. "You need to call them. And nine out of 10 times after you call them, you need to pay them."

He said the typical bag-snatching involves "young Cambodian guys on a moto" who either target people riding in tuk-tuks or "cruise up and down a street looking for someone walking alone in a darker area".

This description rings true for Jessica Crowe, 24, an Australian tourist who was the victim of a bag-snatching on Saturday night. Walking with two friends near the intersection of Street 178 and Street 19, she said, she "felt something tugging" on her bag, which was slung over her shoulder.

The strap broke, she said, and the man who had been pulling on her bag - which contained an iPod, mobile phone and US$350 - then grabbed it and jumped on a motorbike driven by an accomplice. As they drove away, she said, the man pulled out a "dark gun-shaped object" and pointed it in their direction.

"I wasn't expecting it," Crowe said. "We were just walking between two bars that were quite close." She said the incident occurred on an "empty block" that was "not well-lit", adding, "There didn't seem to be much of a police presence out."

Envoy to UK calls for end to GW funding

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 08 May 2009

THE Cambodian ambassador to the United Kingdom has called for global corruption watchdog Global Witness to be disbanded, accusing the group of engaging in "virulent and malicious campaigns" against the government.

In a statement released Wednesday, Ambassador Hor Nambora called for Global Witness's financial backers to cut off funds to the group.

The ambassador's comments followed the release of a statement Tuesday by Global Witness, claiming international donors are failing to act in the face of "overwhelming" evidence of government corruption in Cambodia's extractive resources sector, allegations detailed in its "Country for Sale" report released in February.

"There is now a large body of evidence which shows that corruption undermines efforts to promote development - and our recent report shows that corruption in Cambodia is rife," Global Witness campaigner Eleanor Nichol said in the statement. "Donors must do more to use their influence to help improve governance."

But Hor Nambora said donor indifference was a sign of more than a failure to act.

"The reason that several donor countries including France, China and Japan have declined to meet representatives from their organisation to discuss possible sanctions against Cambodia is presumably because they are unconvinced by the evidence presented," he said.

Cambodia receives international aid from 13 countries, the European Commission, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Khmer Krom to mark loss of homeland

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 08 May 2009

THOUSANDS of members of Cambodia's Khmer Krom community are expected to participate in a ceremony set for June 4 to mark the 60th anniversary of the loss of their territory to Vietnam.

"We celebrated the loss every year, starting in 2000, and the King has always sent his representative to preside over the ceremony," Thach Setha, former senator of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community told the Post Thursday.

The ceremony, which will be held in front of Wat Botumvadei, is open to all Cambodians, organisers said. Thach Setha said the group had been granted permission every year for their ceremony. However, he said he had submitted a letter requesting permission to the Phnom Penh Municipality on April 30 this year and had yet to hear back.

Kep Chuktema, Phnom Penh municipal governor, could not be reached for comment on Thursday to confirm whether this year's ceremony would be allowed.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he doubted the ceremony would affect Vietnamese government policy towards the Khmer Krom.

The Vietnamese government is to appear before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva for its five-yearly rights review Friday, with local rights activists hoping it will force Hanoi to account for its treatment of the Khmer Krom remaining in Vietnam.

Battambang villagers stand firm in land dispute with local officials


Local housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut estimates that more than 120,000 Phnom Penh residents have been the victims of forced evictions from their homes, the counterpart to a recent spate of land disputes in rural areas of the Kingdom.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Friday, 08 May 2009

VILLAGE representatives in Battambang province's Kdol Tahen commune held a meeting Thursday to discuss a long-standing dispute over 200 hectares of land, which they claim has been stolen and cleared by commune and district officials.

"Neither the village or commune chief are on the people's side," Keo Choeun, a Kdol Tahen commune councillor and people's representative, said Thursday.

He said that last month commune officials "conspired" with the governor of Bavel district to seize land belonging to the villagers, using tractors to clear villagers' rice fields and making threats towards villagers to prevent them from entering their fields.

"The main purpose of today's meeting with the people was to unite as a community and strengthen ourselves to be brave enough to farm in our rice fields," he said, adding that 48 families had been affected by the dispute.

"Five hectares was distributed to each family in 1998, [a transfer] that was authorised by local officials at the time."

Keo Choeun said that since complaints had been lodged with authorities in Phnom Penh and local rights group Adhoc, the clearing had been suspended.

But he said only a few villagers were brave enough to farm the land and that many feared for their "personal security".

"These people are not greedy.... They just rely on the land for their livelihood, and they have dared to devote themselves to protecting their rice fields despite personal threats," he said.

Confusion over land grants
Bavel district Governor Tim Dareth told the Post Thursday that the villagers were mistaken about the transfer of land in 1998.

"I deny the allegations made by the people, accusing us of stealing their land. It was they who are guilty of stealing the land," he said. He indicated that the rice fields, originally controlled by the Khmer Rouge, were distributed once the Khmer Rouge had dissolved in 1998 - but that it was district authorities who received the land.

Heng Say Hong, a provincial investigator for local rights group Adhoc, said he had received a complaint from the villagers and that he would investigate it shortly.

"I haven't yet conducted an investigation into the case, as there are a lot of other land dispute cases [in the province]," he said.

Hor Namhong returns


Written by Heng Chivoan
Friday, 08 May 2009

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong at Phnom Penh International Airport arrives home Thursday after from a two-week visit to America and France. "His health is pretty much strong," said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, referring to a health scare that afflicted the 72-year-old minister while in the US.

South Korea's largest bank launches in Cambodia

Kookmin Bank's new branch launches Thursday in Phnom Penh.


STAR Motors has gained an exclusive licence to distribute South Korean-made Kia cars, said the company manager. The company has imported 12 vehicles since March, priced US$29,900 -$37,500. “We have not made any sales yet, but a lot of people are interested in buying,” said manager Heng Channa. “We expect in the next two years we will be a leader in the branded car market.” He said the company is offering a five-year payment plan where buyers only need to pay 20 percent of the cost up front. Star Motors is selling the vehicles at its Hyundai showroom on Phnom Penh’s Russian Boulevard, which opened in March.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Friday, 08 May 2009

Kookmin Bank, the biggest lender in South Korea, opens first outlet in Phnom Penh to boost regional presence

Another South Korean bank launched operations in the capital Thursday, despite the global financial crisis and a local construction sector slowdown that forced many Korean firms to leave the Kingdom.

"Kookmin Bank Cambodia is the fifth commercial bank from South Korea [in Cambodia], whose total share capital is 100 percent held by Korean shareholders," said Chea Chanto, governor of the National Bank of Cambodia, at the launch on Thursday.

He added that Kookmin's entrance reflects returning confidence in Cambodia's banking sector among Korean investors.

"I hope the bank will bring more cross-border experience, new innovation and impeccable financial products to meet the demand of customers," said the governor.

He said that as the supervisory authority for the banking industry, the central bank supports free and fair competition to ensure loans with reasonable interest rates.

"The National Bank of Cambodia needs bankers with entrepreneurial spirit and professional skills to contribute to the development of the industry, not just simple creditors who offer loans," Chea Chanto said.

Sohn Young Hwan, senior executive vice president of Kookmin Bank, said Thursday that Cambodia's financial sector is attracting interest in South Korea. "We are the lender in Korea, and we plan to extend the unit's customer base from local companies to Cambodian investors by introducing private banking and other retail services," he said. "We'll focus our loans on small and medium enterprises."

Launching Kookmin Bank Cambodia brings the number of commercial banks in the Kingdom to 25.

"There are a lot of commercial banks in Cambodia, but it is not too late for Kookmin to invest here because Cambodia is a developing country; Cambodia has just started to grow its financial industry," Woo Chi-koo, general manager of Kookmin Bank's global business department, told the Post.

"Thanks to our strong know-how and leadership, we believe that our business will expand."

He said that Kookmin Bank Cambodia is a joint-venture between Kookmin Bank Korea and Khmer Union Bank of Cambodia, with Kookmin holding a 51-percent stake. The venture was set up in July last year and changed its name to Kookmin Bank Cambodia. The rest of the shares are held by South Korean manufacturers including KTC Kyung An Cable, Taihan Electric Wire and Posco Engineering and Construction.

Kookmin Bank Cambodia is located on Samdech Pan Street in Daun Penh district, opposite the Korean embassy.

According to central bank rules, launching a commercial bank requires registered capital of US$13 million. All commercial banks will be required to triple capital to $37.5 million by the end of 2010.

More Koreans are ready to invest in Cambodia, but "the economic crisis and the strength of the US dollar caused many Korean investors to take a ‘wait and see' approach. Many of them are waiting for the won's value to increase," the South Korean embassy's Second Secretary Uhm Won-jae said Thursday.


Assembly to OK $18m for farming

Written by Chun Sophal
Friday, 08 May 2009

THE National Assembly is set to approve an US$18 million agriculture lending fund requested by the government to boost farmer productivity, an official said.

Cheam Yeap, head of the National Assembly's Economy, Banking, Finance and Audit Committee, told the Post the loan package was being considered and would soon be approved, though he declined to give a timetable.

"We will examine and approve this request from the government because agriculture is the first-priority economic target for the country as it is accountable for about 30 percent of GDP," Cheam Yeap said.

The money will almost double funding earmarked by the government for agriculture this year. In December, the National Assembly set aside just $19 million for the sector in its $1.8 billion national budget package, largely for the training of ministry officials and farmers, and for research into cultivation techniques.

In a statement sent to the National Assembly on April 18, Hun Sen called for an agriculture fund to be established to help farmers maximise productivity and boost output.

Cheam Yeap said the approved money would be deposited at the Rural Development Bank to be lent to farmers to finance small-scale irrigation systems and to pay for livestock and crops.

Rural Development Bank Chairman Sun Kunthor said Wednesday that the bank would start lending money to communities and entrepreneurs as soon as the National Assembly officially approves the package.

Banking on an economic crisis

Photo by: Sovann philong
Money changers offer foreign currency Thursday in Phnom Penh. Dollarisation of the Cambodian economy means the central bank has been limited in its ability to control money supply in response to the economic crisis.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Steve Finch
Friday, 08 May 2009

While Cambodia was not directly hit by the domino effect that caused financial institutions like Lehman Brothers to crumble, a domestic crisis has exposed the undeveloped banking sector

EXACTLY one year after the subprime mortgage crisis first hit in the United States in July 2007, Cambodia's central bank took measures to reduce liquidity in its undeveloped financial system by doubling reserve requirements from 8 percent to 16 percent.

This move showed Phnom Penh was clearly out of sync with the world's major financial centres and impervious to the credit crunch that had forced New York, London, Paris and Tokyo into unprecedented crisis.

In a clear sign of Cambodia's lack of integration into the global financial community, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) was taking measures to rein in a rapidly increasing money supply even as much of the developed world was trying desperately to increase liquidity.

Although Cambodia's financial sector had escaped direct impact from the financial crisis - which hurt developed Asian economies such as South Korea - it was exposed to threats.

"Cambodia's banks are not exposed directly to the fallout from the build-up of toxic assets in Western banks," said the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its April outlook for Cambodia. "But they are vulnerable to domestic problems, including the recent bursting of the property bubble and the general downturn in the economy owing to the global slowdown."

It was not the first time vulnerabilities had been pointed out. Following IMF consultations with Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon and National Bank of Cambodia Governor Chea Chanto in Phnom Penh from late October to early November last year, the International Monetary Fund noted that the global crisis "has exposed vulnerabilities among Cambodia's banks and is beginning to affect their financial soundness".

THE lack of openness is clearly worrying.

When the financial crisis began to spread across the globe, Cambodian banks had continued to operate in their own world.

As lending continued to increase, in large part driven by heady returns in a booming property market, loans began to catch up with the strong deposit growth of recent years.

Lending overstretched
The IMF warned that the loan-to-deposit ratio had reached 100 percent in October, up from just 68 percent a year earlier with "a move toward more risky lending activities".

Suddenly, South Korean construction companies, scared off by the worsening economic situation, withdrew their money and left, the IMF said, even as mortgage lending and consumer loans were expanding.

Non-performing loans (NPLs) were also being under reported: "Mid-year audits by the National Bank of Cambodia revealed NPLs [as a share of loans] higher by two percentage points than previously reported by banks," the IMF said in February.

At the end of 2008, the EIU noted that outstanding stock of credit to the private sector had increased 54 percent over the year to 9.9 trillion riels (US$2.4 billion).

It has awarded Cambodia's banking sector a CCC credit rating, which Fitch Ratings classifies as "a current perceived possibility of default". At this level of risk Cambodia's banking sector is considered to have a high level of outstanding credit given that other CCC-rated countries saw a median increase in credit over the year of just 23.8 percent, or less than half the rate of growth in Cambodia, the EIU said.

In its February report outlining these underlying problems, the World Bank noted that "two large banks" were threatened by NPLs while the IMF went further shortly afterwards, noting that "several large [banks] could face a large deterioration in credit quality and a need for recapitalisation".

Both organisations have repeatedly refused to identify the banks in question, with International Monetary Fund resident representative John Nelmes reiterating that the IMF "does not discuss or speculate about individual banks".

What is certain is that borrowing growth has fallen and NPL rates are up. Canadia Bank saw NPLs rise to 2.35 percent last year from less than half a percent the year before, according to bank data. The microfinance sector at the end of the first quarter said bad loans would rise to more than 1 percent this year.

"According to official data, the ratio of NPLs to total outstanding loans edged up slightly in 2008, to stand at 3.7 percent at the end of year," the EIU said last month. "Non-performing loans will rise in 2009-10, although official data may not reveal the true extent of the problem."

Cambodia's high exposure coupled with a perceived lack of openness meant the financial system was beginning to attract negative attention, adding to underlying weaknesses.

"Confidence is obviously a key issue, and banks will be reluctant to reveal the true extent of non-performing loans if the situation is bad/worse than previously thought," the EIU's Cambodia analyst Danny Richards said in an email Wednesday. "However, an opaque banking system is also a breeding ground for rumour and negative speculation."

The EIU has slowly increased its risk rating for Cambodia, from 68 out of 100 in December to 69 in January and up to 70 last month, the highest level in the past two quarters.

With loan-to-deposit ratios narrowing, banks are now looking to increase deposits, offering high rates to attract customers - the fixed deposit 12-month rate on dollars at Advanced Bank of Asia was 8 percent this week, ACLEDA was offering 7 percent, and May Bank, the lowest on the market, was offering 3.75 percent.

"The kicker is, higher deposit rates ultimately lead to high loan rates, which become a ‘tax' on businesses and consumers," James Lowry, ANZ Royal Bank's head of corporate and institutional banking, said Thursday. "If borrowers' capacity to service loans is impinged by higher interest rates, then people tend to borrow less or be restricted in how much banks will lend them, thus impacting lending activity."

Cambodia found itself caught between a rock and a hard place. At the same time as banks faced narrowing loan-to-deposit ratios and mounting exposure to bad loans, domestic firms, and developers in particular, were crying out for financing as the economy teetered on the edge of recession. Where banks were willing to lend at all, money was not going cheap.

Many other countries have seen interest rates plummet - the US benchmark rate has been lowered to below 0.25 percent, Thailand's rate has been slashed four times since December, and the Eurozone rate was predicted to be lowered to 1 percent this week, AFP reported.

In Cambodia, this has not been possible. Where other countries had been able to adjust interest rates to calibrate a response to the unprecedented failings of the global financial system, Cambodia's dollarised economy meant that the NBC did not have the same tools at its disposal.

"The NBC lacks most of the conventional monetary instruments that other central banks have. Currently they use reserve requirements and intervention as their main monetary policy tools," Nelmes told the Post in March.

Central bank response
As it became clear that Cambodia's economic growth was beginning to decline, the NBC reacted in January by widening money supply, lowering the reserve requirement by 4 percentage points to 12 percent to boost liquidity. This time, it also introduced measures to improve oversight of loan quality, drawing praise from the IMF for its handling of the complex problems facing the financial sector.

A decrease in the reserve rate, a new temporary overdraft facility for banks suffering from dangerously low liquidity, increased supervision and improvements to the lending provisions system mean the central bank "deserves to be commended for strengthened efforts at managing the risks", Nelmes said Thursday.

"A next step will be to introduce reforms that help to build an inter-bank market, so that banks can more easily trade liquidity among themselves to manage their liquidity needs."

The question remains whether these measures will be sufficient to stave off the worst of the impact of the crisis on the domestic banking system.

A spate of balance sheets for 2008 released last month by Cambodia's private banks showed nothing untoward, but it may not be until 2009's results are released next year that we see the true impact of the crisis given the largely hidden nature of the underlying problems thus far.

"The lack of openness is clearly worrying - potentially storing up greater problems in the future in terms of taking action to clean up balance sheets," said Richards.


The future is uncertain for Cambodia’s financial institutions. Their health depends more on what happens in the real domestic economy than the global financial sector. The third and final part of this series next Friday will look at what Cambodia needs to do to broaden its economy to ensure better protection.


December 2008
At the end of the year, non-performing loans (NPLs) in Cambodia increase slightly on the previous year, up to 3.7 percent, official data shows. Some analysts voice concerns that the true rate of NPLs could be higher after the banking sector was found to have under-reported the extent of bad loans by two percentage points following a midyear audit by the National Bank of Cambodia, as reported by the International Monetary Fund. Still, NPLs had decreased compared to a rate of nearly 10 percent in 2002.

January 2009
The National Bank of Cambodia lowers the reserve requirement for private banks from 16 percent to 12 percent in a bid to free up liquidity in the economy in place of interest-rate adjustment, as seen in non-dollarised economies. The move comes after the central bank had doubled the reserve requirement from 8 percent to 16 percent in July on the back of a drastic increase in lending and money supply that threatened to overheat Cambodia’s surging economy, which had posted repeatedly high levels of GDP growth.

February 2009
Concern mounts that the Cambodian financial system has come under increasing strain and banks may be under threat when the World Bank, followed by the International Monetary Fund, release reports saying that private banks are at risk from bad debt and a subsequent lack of liquidity. Neither organisation is prepared to identify the banks in question as rumours spread as to the identities of the “two large banks” mentioned by the World Bank as being at greatest risk from the ensuing crisis.

March 2009
With the warning signs increasing across the Cambodian financial sector, microfinance organisations report that NPLs are on the rise. Having recorded an NPL rate of just 0.67 percent in 2008, the sector predicts that the rate will move above 1 percent in 2009, the Post reports. The Cambodian Microfinance Association says that total lending was set to increase this year as people look to borrow from decreasing supplies of available credit, prompting fears of a rise in the seizure of property used as collateral.

April 2009
The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit [EIU] raises its banking sector risk score to 70 out of 100, the highest level since the economic crisis hits Cambodia. The rating – equal to CCC, or a “current perceived possibility of default” – has climbed steadily from 68 percent in October to 69 percent in January. “Some banks have been experiencing liquidity shortages in recent months, forcing them to draw on their excess reserves,” the EIU says in its monthly economic outlook for Cambodia released in April.

Healing the rifts with music

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Bruce More (left) and Arne Sahlen at keyboard) lead choir rehearsals on Thursday.

Written by Zoe Holman
Friday, 08 May 2009

The historic Canadian-Cambodian collaboration is part of a broader agenda to promote long-term musical partnerships and positive cultural engagements

Phnom Penh's Chaktomuk Theatre may normally be the domain of TV celebrities, elite CEOs and pop stars, but this Saturday the venue is to be opened for free to poor, disabled and orphaned Cambodians. The spectacle they are invited to observe is the tribute concert of the Cambodia-Canada Choir, an unprecedented assembly of singers, composers, conductors and musicians that the organisers describe as "history-making".

Comprising members of Canada's Prima Chamber Singers Choir and students and graduates from Phnom Penh's Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), the group was first conceived of in January 2008 by its Canadian conductor Bruce More and Arne Sahlen, founder of Canadian charity Cambodia Support Group (CSG).

"Bruce approached me to propose some kind of collaboration, and once the idea of the choir had been formed, it was like there was no going back," said Sahlen.

While the historic project may have been assiduously planned for more than a year, the majority of the participants only met for the first time last Wednesday.

Since the arrival of the Canadian singers, many of whom have never previously left their home continent, the members have been engaged in a flurry of touristic, musical and interpersonal activities. From surf-and-seafood in Kep to visits to the Stung Meanchey dump, the varied cultural program is an exercise in "friendship-building" with long-term implications.

"I want everyone to really know each other as people before they appear together on stage," Sahlen said. "We've all had our first experience abroad, and if it's a positive one, we will be more inclined to repeat it and adopt a kind of global perspective. In this sense, we are living history."

Cambodians want to raise their culture and belong in the world music scene.

Unlike his Canadian fellow artists, however, Sahlen is no cultural novice in Cambodia. Through sponsoring young Cambodians to study in Canada since 1981, he has become fluent in Khmer and is visiting the country for the 18th time.

Observing the respective isolation of both Khmer and Western cultural events in Cambodia, Sahlen plans to use the proceeds from the concerts to fund a long-term musical partnership organisation between Cambodia and the West.

"Music in Cambodia is like a chair with four legs: classical, modern, foreign and Khmer, and Cambodians want to raise their culture and belong in the world music scene," he said.

The concert program encompasses all these elements, from compositions by King Father Sihanouk to 18th-century choral music and a solo performance of Broadway classic "My Way" by RUFA protegee, Hy Chanthavouth.

The recipient of a CSG scholarship to study music in the United States in 2008, Hy Chanthavouth, who will give his own concert in a fortnight's time, is well-aware of the significance of the project for his homeland.

"It's history-making because it's the first time a Cambodian and Canadian choir will appear together on stage. It's marvellous," he said. "And now I'm giving my own solo concert. It's like I'm dreaming, I can't imagine how lucky I've been."

Despite its promising future, realising the project has been far from easy for the organisers.

"It's been like a gecko giving birth to an elephant. I never would have thought it would be so difficult," he said.

It may not have been an easy birth, but as he explains, music is only one component of what he sees as an important long-term investment.

"Many foreigners criticise Cambodia without realising that many of the problems were brought here by the West, but to build partnerships takes generations. Our support has to be unconditional," Hy Chanthavouth said.

Sahlen sees ongoing positive engagement as crucial.

"We must build ideals and constantly seek to demonstrate them in our own conduct through constantly showing and seeking understanding and forgiveness," Sahlen said. "To leave the project here would be like having a child and not caring for it."

The Cambodia-Canada Choir will perform at Chaktomok Theatre at 6:30pm tonight (admission by donation) with a Tribute Concert at 3pm on Saturday (free entry for poor, disabled or orphaned people and their carers.)

Police Blotter: 08 May 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Friday, 08 May 2009

A taxi driver was shot by four robbers on National Road 5 in Kob commune, Banteay Meanchey province, on Wednesday. The victim, Roeun Bunthoeun, 30, from Banteay Meanchey province, was in serious condition and was taken to hospital by the police. The police are searching for the gunmen, who failed to steal the victim's property as they were seen by a big group of people driving past on a truck on the way back from a wedding party.

Three armed men robbed Chamreoun Ro, 60, Tuesday while he was at his house in Ta Sal commune, Kampong Speu province. Police said the victim was robbed of jewellry and a cellphone. One of the suspects, Soeun Uong, 46, was arrested by police. The other two managed to escape.

A Vietnamese construction contractor, Chan Thin Hong, 38, from Kandal province took another Vietnamese man, Din Yang Dong, 23, to Meanchey district police station Tuesday for allegedly stealing his construction equipment. When they were at the police station, both men talked to each other only in Vietnamese, which caused a lot of confusion for the police officers.

Two gangs erupted in a sword fight near Sampov Meas pagoda in Prampi Makara, Phnom Penh. Tann Savy, 18, had three fingers cut off and was taken to hospital. Some other members on his side were also wounded.

One of two suspected thieves was arrested by Tuol Kork police on Monday for snatching a necklace from Chea Sokngim, 18, while she was walking from her home to Chein La Park. The detained, Lin Kimsok, 27, is from Meanchey district, Phnom Penh, and the necklace was found and returned to the victim.

43-year-old Nob Kim was arrested on Tuesday after his wife reported him to the police. Aek Luon, 43, was severely beaten by her husband at their house in Kandal province. Nob Kim was drunk at the time of his arrest.