Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Navigation buoys will boost Mekong river trade says Cambodian government

Press release from: Mekong River Commission

(openPR) - Improving river transport infrastructure will boost trade, cut transport costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions says the government and Mekong River Commission (MRC), as a programme to improve river navigation between Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham started last week.

“Improving the safety of navigation on this river is vital for the economic development of our country, said Tram Iv Tek, Minister of Public Works and Transport at a recent ceremony to launch the first of 57 buoys and other navigation aids along the 100 km stretch of Cambodian river between the two port cities.

The MRC, which helps Mekong Basin countries manage their water resources, says that currently the river is difficult to navigate. Changes in sedimentation, river depth, water flow and seasonal variations, mean that the river claims dozens of lives per year and reduces the potential river traffic, hitting commerce hard.

“It is essential that we improve the quality of our waterborne transport. By using rivers in a more efficient manner, export potential can improve and this will, in turn, help Cambodia achieve its poverty alleviation goals,” said Hiek Phirun, Navigation Programme Coordinator at the MRC. “Properly marked navigation channels in priority stretches of the river will help make Mekong travel less precarious. In the long-term, this will make the use of the river more efficient and help boost trade for Cambodia.”

The MRC says that river transport is more efficient than moving goods by road or rail, as well as much more environmentally friendly. For example, on average one litre of fuel can move one ton of cargo 182 km by river, compared to 71 km by rail and 21 km by road. Similarly, river freight produces on average about one fifth of the greenhouse gas CO2 per ton per km that is produced by trucking goods on the road.

The buoys and navigation aids are part of a broader package of activities, funded by the Belgian and Australian Governments, to improve commerce on the Mekong. A system to electronically keep track of shipping, locate and direct vessels in emergencies will also help increase the volume of trade being transported by making boat passage safer and more efficient.

River transport in Cambodia has been hit by the recent downturn in the global economy, falling by approximately 22 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to 2008. This is a temporary situation and the MRC says that there is still significant potential for increased growth, with the development of new deep sea terminals in Cai Mep, near Ho Chi Minh City that will increase the tonnage being shipped between Phnom Penh and Cai Mep. Using this route, exports from Phnom Penh to the United States or European ports will have only one trans-shipment, at Cai Mep Port.

Cambodia's floating villages


Tonle Sap largest freshwater lake in Asia

By Michael McCarthy
Vancouver Courier

One of the great wonders of the world is the vast temple complex of Angkor Wat, spread through the jungles of northern Cambodia. Aside from the gigantic size of the complex --it was the largest city in the world in the Middle Ages before the jungle consumed it after its unexplained abandonment--one wonders why the Khmer empire was located here in the middle of nowhere, with no rivers or trading routes to support the city and its huge population. However, another great wonder of the world can be found a few miles away.

Tonle Sap is Cambodia's Great Lake and the most prominent feature on the map of Cambodia, a huge body of water stretching across the northwest section of the country. In the wet season, the Tonle Sap Lake becomes the largest freshwater lake in Asia, swelling to an expansive 12,000 square miles, and the largest freshwater floodplain in the world. More than three million people live on the floodplain around the Tonle Sap but what's interesting are the 170 floating villages found on the lake itself.

In the rainy season, a unique hydrologic phenomenon causes the Mekong River to reverse direction, filling the lake up instead of draining it. The inflow expands the surface area of lake more than five-fold, inundating the surrounding forested floodplain and supporting an extraordinarily rich and diverse eco-system. More than 100 varieties of waterbirds and over 200 species of fish, as well as crocodiles, turtles, macaques, otter and other wildlife inhabit the inundated mangrove forests. The Tonle Sap provides more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia.

Sitting on the edge of the lake are these distinctive floating villages, many sitting on towering stilts, with their economy and way of life deeply intertwined with the lake, the fish, the wildlife and the cycles of rising and falling waters. Visiting them is not easy unless you happen to travel with your own motorboat, but not far from Angkor Wat you'll find the tiny port of Chong Khneas, where a fast ferry departs daily for the capital of Phnom Penh, a five-hour journey across the great waters. Here the Khmer and Vietnamese boat people live in their floating homes and a guided two-hour boat trip through the floating village costs $6 U.S. and is an experience worth the time and effort.

Drifting through these drowned villages on a boat is the weirdest thing. In the dry season the houses stand eerily atop stilts in a sea of mud. At the height of the rainy season, the tops of trees poke through the surface of the water in a drowned landscape. Depending on the time of the year and the depth of the lake--it can be as little as a foot deep at times--trucks and cars look like they are being driven on top of the water and villagers appear as if they are walking on the surface. Huge fish traps are placed everywhere. Some of the houses float, others are on stilts, and yet others are boats on which entire families live.

Being so close to a major tourist site like Angkor Wat, this floating village gets plenty of visitors, and the villagers have devised interesting tourist attractions like the crocodile farm, where you can get face to face with some nasty creatures who are, thankfully, kept in a pit. Just don't fall in. Then there are the snake girls, who live on barges and run up to visiting boats thrusting giant water snakes into people's faces. Certainly you can take a photo, but be prepared to pay a fee. There are even floating bars and restaurants, markets, a clinic and a school. Watching kids play basketball in the middle of a vast lake is something different. If you don't want to descend from your boat to explore, villagers will paddle out to meet you, offering excellent ice-cold Cambodian beer and snacks.

Other more remote floating villages can be visited at more time and expense, and bird watchers will go crazy floating through the giant mangrove swamps spotting the 100 different species of waterbirds. But make sure you don't fall out of the boat, because a floating clinic 200 miles away from the nearest hospital likely won't be able to patch up any crocodile attacks.

Sex slaves' crusader battles pimps, credit crisis

By Candida Ng Candida Ng – Tue May 26 2009

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) – Somaly Mam has been held at gunpoint, her daughter has been kidnapped and her house burned down. Now, the Cambodian former sex worker turned activist is battling the global financial crisis.

One of the most pressing concerns Mam, who crusades against forced prostitution, is facing is scarce funding for the shelter she helped start for women and girls who are abused and coerced into the sex trade in Cambodia and neighboring countries.

The current credit crunch also has had a effect on the number of women and children turning to prostitution to survive and the ability of Mam to care for her more than 200 charges in shelters.

"Since we opened the shelter, I always face this problem. Like the last five months, no rice, we cannot feed the children," Mam, of Agir pour les Femmes En Situation Precaire (AFESIP or Acting for Women in Distressing Situations), told Reuters.

AFESIP, a largely Spanish-funded grass-roots group, requires about $1.5 million annually to fund its efforts in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, Mam said. She also travels around the world to raise money for the Somaly Mam Foundation that puts a spotlight on forced prostitution.

Earlier this month, Cambodia said it expects an increase in prostitution and human trafficking as the unemployment rate climbs during the economic downturn.

The poor Southeast Asian nation has been trying hard in recent years to rid itself of its reputation as a haven for perverts and pedophiles, but with limited success.

Mam, in Singapore to raise funds for the group, said it was culturally acceptable to keep a girl for a week and rape her to improve one's health and luck in Cambodia, or to cure HIV. Some of the victims she has seen are only a few months old.

The U.N. estimates that out of the two million women and children trafficked every year, 30 percent are in Asia.

At the AFESIP shelters, the women and girls, some as young as four, receive medical and psychological treatment. They are also taught English, French and vocational skills such as weaving and hairdressing so they can fit back into society.

One batch is heading to a university in the United States this year.

"The children in the shelter, they keep me going. They are my everything, my light, my love - they are my heroes," said Mam, who traced her dramatic journey from sex slave to crusader against prostitution in a memoir, "The Road of Lost Innocence."

The Cambodian activist also faces threats, occasionally veiled but always frightening, from pimps and organized crime syndicates on a daily basis in her struggle to eradicate sexual slavery and human trafficking.

"If they want to kill, they kill," Mam said. "Organized crime, they are all very organized. But the people who are against organized crime, no one is well organized. So now they have to stop talking and start working."

(Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Miral Fahmy)

KRouge leader Pol Pot 'not a Cambodian patriot'

A photo of a television screen showing former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch in court on May 18, 2009. Duch told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial on Tuesday that the regime leader Pol Pot "had blood on his hands" as he pitted his country against neighbouring Vietnam.(AFP/File/Suy Se)

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The former Khmer Rouge prison chief told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial on Tuesday that the regime leader Pol Pot "had blood on his hands" as he pitted his country against neighbouring Vietnam.

"I did not think of Pol Pot as a patriot. He had blood on his hands. Pol Pot used the slogan that if we wanted to defeat the Vietnamese we had to be clean in our ranks and clean in ourselves," Duch told the court.

Duch is accused of overseeing the torture and extermination of some 15,000 people who passed through the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21, during the late 1970s regime.

"In that conflict Pol Pot was a murderer, and more than one million people were killed under the hand of Pol Pot. At S-21, my hand is stained with the blood of people killed there," said Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav.

Duch was responding to testimony by Nayan Chanda, former editor of the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review, who spoke of how the Khmer Rouge's 1975 communist revolution descended into a bloody territorial conflict with Vietnam.

Duch said that Chanda had mis-named his book about infighting between Asia's communists, "Brother Enemy," because Cambodia regarded Vietnam as a rival.

"The title of your book is 'Brother Enemy'. If you talked about Korea, then I would support it. They have a joint history, they have a joint territory and they have a joint language," Duch said.

"As for us and Vietnam, we never had any joint territory."

Duch, who faces life in jail for alleged crimes against humanity, apologised at the start of his trial in late March for his role in the regime, but maintains he never personally executed anyone.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, and many believe the 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 the Cambodian government, and is scheduled to try four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

Cambodia to create national committee for maritime security soon: PM Hun Sen

People's Daily Online

May 26, 2009

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen Tuesday announced that the country will have the national committee for maritime security in next three months.

The committee will be led by Tea Banh, deputy prime minister and minister of national defense and It will contribute to fight against terrorism, kidnappers, pirates, human trafficking, crimes crossing border, and drug trafficking, the Prime Minister said at the second workshop of maritime security.

"It is time for us to create this committee to strengthen maritime security," he said, adding that "we need to provide the safety security for oil and gas exploration ships and containers cargo ships."

"We have been heavily cracking down the crimes regularly on land, we also have to consider criminals matters at sea. The criminals will be able to enter into Cambodia as fishermen and tourists," the premier said.

Cambodian sea water will not be shelter for terrorists or other criminals and the country is not the shelter for pirates, Hun Sen said. Even Cambodia has a small area of sea water, we have to strengthen capacity of maritime security, he stressed.

At the same time, he called on the countries in the world to cooperate each other to combat with terrorists and pirates, but he pointed out that it is not a time for us to compete armed forces for maritime to conquer the islands in the sea.


Cambodia may open Angkor Wat at night for visits

Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, May 26

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia is considering opening the famed Angkor Wat temples at night to draw more tourists to the impoverished country, an official at the archaeological site said Tuesday.

Similar night tourism efforts have been introduced at other sites in Southeast Asia.

Cambodia already has installed some lights at the network of centuries-old temples, said Bun Narith, who leads the agency responsible for managing the Angkor park.

Tourism is a major foreign currency earner for cash-strapped Cambodia. More than a million foreign tourists are expected to visit this year, with most from South Korea, Japan and the United States. More than half of tourists visit the Angkor temples, by far the country's biggest draw.

Visitors are now ushered out of Angkor at sunset, but authorities are considering extending visiting hours to as late as 8:30 p.m. local time.

"We want tourists to see all views of the temple, even in the dark places where they may have not have seen some of the sculptures and statues," Bun Narith said.

But conservationists have long expressed concerns about tourism's impact on Angkor. They say the uncontrolled pumping of underground water to meet the rising demand of hotels and residents in the nearby town of Siem Reap may be destabilizing the earth beneath the temples.

Angkor is about 143 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.

Robbie Neils Berry faces extradition from Cambodia

The Daily Telegraph

May 26, 2009

AN Australian man is awaiting extradition in a Cambodian prison after he was arrested on a warrant issued by the Federal Court for child pornography offences he allegedly committed in Queensland.

Police arrested Robbie Neils Berry, 53, in the capital Phnom Penh yesterday after the Australian Government issued an urgent provisional arrest request to the Cambodian Government, an Attorney-General's Department statement said.

"Mr Berry is wanted for prosecution in Australia for child pornography offences," the statement said.

"Australia will now finalise a full extradition request to Cambodia and as this is now a matter for Cambodian authorities, it is not appropriate to comment further."

Sok Phal, Cambodian Deputy National Police Chief, said Mr Berry appeared before Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday but was not charged with any offences in Cambodia.

"This arrest was made on the request of the Australian Government and so far we have not found any evidence that he committed crimes in Cambodia," he said.

"But we have begun an investigation and will charge him if we find evidence of wrongdoing in Cambodia."

Sok Kalyan, Cambodian Deputy Chief Prosecutor, said the charges related to child pornography offences allegedly committed in Queensland.

"We do not know when these offences occurred and we do not know for certain when Mr Berry arrived in Cambodia," he said.

Sok Kalyan said Berry would be detained in a police prison in the capital until the extradition procedures were completed.

Japan, Cambodia sign museum agreement

PHNOM PENH, May 26 (AP) - (Kyodo)—Japan on Tuesday signed a deal with Cambodia to help Cambodia develop skills to better manage and operate a peace museum.

Chuch Pheung, secretary of state of the Cambodian Culture and Fine Arts Ministry, said the project will help Cambodia to better manage, store and utilize materials left over at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

The museum was used as a torture center by the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled from 1975 to 1979, during which time some 14,000 prisoners were executed there.

"The documentation and archives remaining at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum are important as they show the serious and barbarous culture of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, and thus proper management and storage need to be conducted," he said, adding that through the cooperation agreement, Japan will help train three Cambodians a year.

According to the minutes of the meeting between the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the ministry, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum will offer direct training in Japan to Cambodian staff from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

The minutes said the cooperation will run for three years starting from May this year.

Duch's trial looks at the armed conflict between enemy brothers Cambodia and Vietnam

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 25/05/2009: Judge Silvia Cartwright and Nayan Chanda, journalist and author of “Brother Enemy”, and witness, on day 20 of Duch's trial©John Vink/ Magnum (composite picture)


By Stéphanie Gée

Nayan Chanda, author of Brother Enemy: The War After the War (1986) and long-time Indochina correspondent for the prestigious Far Eastern Economic Review, started his testimony on Monday May 25th at Duch's trial to discuss the armed conflict pitting Democratic Kampuchea against Vietnam. The journalist, currently director of publications at a research institute of U.S. university Yale, had access to officials of the Indochina peninsula, although he was unable to go to Democratic Kampuchea, and was able to understand the political, diplomatic and military issues for the enemy brothers. His testimony, based upon his book Brother Enemy, shed new light on the argument often used by former Khmer Rouge officials to justify their past actions, that is the existence of real expansionist intentions from the Vietnamese neighbour.

From border clashes to open conflict
Vietnamese and Cambodian communist forces have experienced a long history of conflicts, which climaxed in the period from 1975 to 1979. 1975 saw the start of operations to take over islands located in the Gulf of Thailand and claimed by both camps. These were followed by border clashes, initiated by the Khmer Rouge and, according to the latter, a failed attempt by Vietnam to favour a coup against the government of Democratic Kampuchea. In 1977, the Khmer Rouge intensified their attacks, to which the Vietnamese responded with limited forays into Cambodian territory. On December 25th of the same year, Cambodians made public the international conflict opposing them to their neighbours, by severing diplomatic relations with Vietnam “until the forces of the aggressor withdraw from Khmer territory.” Border clashes resumed with renewed vigour in 1978, before the Socialist Republic of Vietnam launched a final major attack, late 1978, which resulted in the fall of Phnom Penh on January 7th 1979.

Although, when they came to power, the Khmer Rouge claimed they would not tolerate any foreign military base on their soil, expert Nayan Chanda was sceptical that after their victory in Vietnam, the communists were able to maintain bases within Cambodia as they faced an important flow of refugees expelled from Cambodia – ethnic Vietnamese they had to take care of.

If he claimed his memory failed him as the facts were more than 30 years old, Nayan Chanda presented a clear account of the situation as an informed expert. He recalled the village, seen during a visit for the press organised by the Vietnamese authorities in March 1978, which appeared to him as if “devastated after being hit by a storm” after a Khmer Rouge attack. “In all my career as a reporter, I have never seen so many bodies of civilians killed in the most brutal manner and abandoned on the spot.” In October, the Vietnamese army responded by launching a military operation on Khmer soil. “In fact, it was a false attack with a fake withdrawal of their troops aimed to make the Khmer Rouge come out of their hiding places. But it did not have the dissuasive effect hoped for...”, he explained.

The many warnings of the Vietnamese
Late 1977-early 1978, the Vietnamese army deployed heavy artillery for offensives carried out on Cambodian soil. Despite the scope of the attack, “Hanoi did not want to start a full-scale war, but send a message to the Khmer Rouge if they persisted in their attacks.” The distinguished Indian journalist observed this also failed to have any effect. On the Democratic Kampuchea side, people living along the frontier considered as guilty of harbouring pro-Vietnamese feelings or being collaborators were targeted by mass purges from late 1977. Later, Nayan Chanda added: “From what I could observe and read, the Vietnamese were very careful to avoid provoking Khmer Rouge, except in the case of their occupation of two islands, until mid-1977. The first sign of the end of Vietnam's tolerance for the constant Cambodian harassment along their frontier occurred in July 1977, when their minister for Defence, Giap, was sent to inspect the frontier between the two countries. The visit, which could have been kept secret, was duly reported by the Vietnamese media, as a warning directed at Cambodians so they knew 'we were not going to tolerate this forever'.”

Vietnam was taken by surprise when it was attacked by the Khmer Rouge on April 30th 1977, day of the anniversary of the capture of Saigon by the communist forces and thereby day of celebration, when security was lighter. So was it by the attack of September 22nd, on a Saturday, Vietnamese officers' day of rest. “Added to information they received that Chinese military aid had started arriving in Cambodia, the two attacks led the Vietnamese to believe that Cambodian attacks on villages in the frontier zone were not simply a slightly irrational activity on their part. They thought that there may be a larger plan in which China may have had a hand. That was the context in which [Vietnamese minister for Defence] Giap's visit occurred...”, the Indian expert reported.

For the former correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic review, Vietnam's approach was “marked with caution towards the Khmer Rouge,” as the Socialist Republic hoped that some of the moderate elements within the Khmer Rouge ranks would be able to avoid going into an open conflict with their Vietnamese neighbour.

The obsessive fear of becoming a Vietnamese satellite
Nayan Chanda reported that “the Khmer Rouge's biggest concern was Vietnamese expansionism and that was the rationale which led to the conflict with Vietnam. […] The Vietnamese concept of 'special relationships' between the countries in the Indochina peninsula [referred to by Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge minister for Foreign Affairs, whom he met], coined during the fight against colonialism, was an element aimed to ensure the development and security of the three countries [Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos]. The Khmer Rouge disagreed completely with the approach, because they considered the 'special relationships' as a disguised attempt by Vietnam to take power in Cambodia and get hold of Cambodian territory.” To cheer up its troops on the front line, Democratic Kampuchea had spread a slogan in late May 1978: “a Khmer Rouge soldier is worth 30 Vietnamese soldiers”, which followed mass purges of Vietnamese sympathisers and ethnic Vietnamese in the Eastern zone. Yet, “for those who knew the situation, the Vietnamese were far superior,” he stressed.

A context of territorial disputes
Echoing the conclusions he drew in his book Brother Enemy, Nayan Chanda explained that Democratic Kampuchea's rationale in this conflict was found in a “hereditary animosity between Cambodia and Vietnam” and a fight for the control of islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Democratic Kampuchea therefore carried out a military action to prevent that its territory be “swallowed” by Vietnam. On the other side, Vietnam's action aimed to avoid domination by the country supporting Democratic Kampuchea, in other words China. Going further, the journalist recalled that “the framework for the Geneva conference in 1954 was the starting point for the development of Khmer Rouge ideology, which perceived Vietnam as a threat. And if you go back further still, back to the empire of Angkor, it covered a great part of the Indochina peninsula, which was since occupied here and there by Cambodia's historical neighbours, Vietnam and Thailand. […] At the Geneva conference, […] Vietnam obtained Northern and Southern Vietnam, and Laos took control of two provinces, while the Khmer did not any seat at the negotiation table. And 2,000 Khmer cadres were authorised to live in Hanoi and in Northern Cambodia. Here, there was indeed a Vietnamese intent to control the Indochina peninsula and expand that control through that special relationship demanded by Vietnam. That was the source of Cambodian concern. On the Vietnamese side, they had a long history of conflicts with China, and for nearly 2,000 years, they had tried to push back Chinese expansionist attempts. So, here, the Chinese were using Cambodia to harass the Vietnamese in their Southern part, in addition to carrying out actions in the North of Vietnam. These territorial disputes fuelled this fight. There were long-standing concerns regarding the fate of these countries and their territorial control.”

Khmer Rouge racism against Vietnamese
Nayan Chanda then called “fascinating” the “black book” published by the Khmer Rouge ruling authorities in September 1978 – a “mix of facts and fiction” according to him – as it gave “an idea of the nature of its authors' thinking.” He explained: “It is the way things are said that is interesting: at the beginning, there is an openly racist stance towards Vietnamese, which I think represented a fundamental motive behind all the massacres and atrocities. Because the black book described the Vietnamese as aggressive by nature […] and from then on, anyone with sympathy for or links with Vietnam are therefore Democratic Kampuchea enemies.” Shortly before, on May 10th 1978, Democratic Kampuchea broadcast a radio call to kill the Vietnamese, which amounted to a pogrom order against this nationality.

Defence denounces a “double procedural abuse”
When international co-Prosecutor Alex Bates launched into an endless series of questions aimed to verify the credibility of the sources used by Nayan Chanda for the writing of Brother Enemy, he was interrupted by François Roux, international co-lawyer for Duch, who said he was “losing patience.” The lawyer denounced a “double procedural abuse”: on the one hand, he recalled that the examination and cross-examination practice characteristic of the common law system has no place in civil law, especially since the Chamber already submitted the expert to a detailed examination. “If we continue to spend hours verifying the sources of each expert, we will still be in hearings next year. I again recall that there was over a year of investigation. The co-Prosecutors must return to that procedure, otherwise, it didn't serve any purpose, in which case it should be said so publicly!” On the other hand, Roux continued, “I understand through the questions asked by the co-Prosecutors that they are building evidence for case file 2 [that of former Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea]. That is not correct to try and record evidence against people who are not here...”

Alex Bates, making no secret of his irritation at the multiple objections of the defence, responded that Nayan Chanda had not been heard as witness during the investigation phase. Furthermore, he argued, the accused does not want to take a stance on those issues before 1977. Civil party lawyers all supported the co-Prosecutor and the Chamber followed suit, by stating that the objection raised by the defence lacked clarity, was ungrounded and therefore dismissed. However, the president invited the co-Prosecutors not to repeat questions already asked by the judges.

The examination resumed. The expert continued on Vietnam's reluctance to go for an open conflict with its neighbour, which would unavoidably involve other countries. He reported that the Vietnamese held a long-standing belief in a resolution of the conflict by expecting “either that Pol Pot became reasonable, or that more moderate elements within his party removed him from power.” The hearing was suspended. Nayan Chanda's examination will finish tomorrow. No one knows if U.S. expert Craig Etcheson will take his seat on Wednesday to continue his testimony

Bangladeshi Envoy Calls On His Cambodian Counterpart

By Ben Ng

Bandar Seri Begawan - The Bangladeshi High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam made a courtesy call on the Cambodian High Commissioner to Brunei yesterday to reinforce their common bilateral ties.

Recently appointed as the new Bangladeshi High Commissioner, Mr. M Shameen visited the temporary, Cambodian High Commission in Beribi yesterday morning, as part of a courtesy call on Mr. Nan Sy, the Ambassador of Cambodia, who has been serving in the Sultanate for three years.
"In the diplomatic community, it is our common courtesy and custom to meet all our colleagues who have been here before us," Mr. Shameen explained to reporters.

"And His Excellency Nan Sy has been in Brunei for the last three years so I wanted to visit him."

Both envoys exchanged information about their

respective countries and Brunei in general. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Cambodian casino bankrupts Mekong Delta residents

The entrance to the Grand Dragon Resort in Cambodia.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Kiem, a Mekong Delta water-lily dealer, just lost all her money at the Grand Dragon Resort casino across the border in Cambodia.

She earns a living buying the plants at the border to resell in An Giang Province and the city of Can Tho. She was waiting to collect her goods at the border when some friends convinced her to visit the casino “just to try it.”

“But I left the casino without any money to continue my business,” she says. “It was terrible.”
The refrain is not uncommon among Vietnamese visitors to the casino just across the river from An Giang’s An Phu District.

Just ask any of the hotel owners or xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers near the Long Binh Border Gate, which leads to Cambodia’s Kandal Province.

A hotel owner in An Phu District says most gamblers come from Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho. She says they all leave bitterly after losing.

Gamblers crowd the roulette tables at a casino in the Grand Dragon Resort in Cambodia

She says she’s used to rich guests driving up in luxury cars only to leave with their heads down and less luggage.

“A woman from a nearby commune committed suicide recently after her husband piled up billions of dong in gambling debts,” she says.

Gamblers with passports can cross the border legally after a few simple procedures at the border gate, while it is also easy to cross the river-border illegally in small boats for just VND3,000 (US$0.17).

The casino at the Grand Dragon Resort is just a few meters from the riverbank while a number of xe om drivers are always ready to take gamblers to a cock-fighting ring two kilometers away.

Nguyen Van Son, a Vietnamese xe om driver operating near the casino, says his customers are always excited when the day begins, and universally disappointed when they return home.

He says five of his colleagues have lost their motorbikes – and thereby their livelihood – to gambling at the casino.

He points to a hawker peddling Vietnamese pancakes on the street. She used to be a rich woman before she lost it all to the casino, he says.

From losing to losing
Many Vietnamese inside and outside the casino appear to be doing nothing but hanging around after losing all their money.

Lap, a fish dealer from Vietnam, is reluctant to leave. She says she wants to watch other people play after losing more than VND1 million ($56.20) earlier in the day.

She says she knows the right time to stop and usually wins several million dong on visits to the casino.

So, what’s she doing now with no money?

She admits that she’s become addicted and that she lost more than she won on this particular day.

Outside the casino, pawnbrokers lay in wait, always willing to grant loans to gamblers who want to bet their luck on their belongings after losing all their money.

Vietnamese law prohibits Vietnamese citizens from gambling but allows hotels rated four-stars and above to operate casinos for people holding foreign passports.

Reported by Tien Trinh

Cambodia's entertainment industry falls sharply


Cambodia's entertainment industry has fallen sharply due to piracy and the economic crisis, local media reported on Tuesday.

The number of Cambodian companies producing films and karaoke albums has fallen more than 75 percent since mid-2008, a trend that officials and company owners attributed to increasingly widespread piracy and the economic crisis, the Phnom Penh Post quoted the new data collected by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts as saying.

There were 67 film and karaoke production companies registered in Cambodia last year, according to the figures cited by Sin Chanchhaya, director of the Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department.

The most recent survey revealed that only 15 companies remained -- 11 karaoke production companies and four film companies, Sin Chanchhaya said.

"Our film industry is on its last breath," Sin said. "Most producers have been forced to shut down, and cinemas almost no longer exist."

He said that in addition to rampant piracy and the economic downturn, low-quality products and steep prices for Cambodian films had contributed to "the collapse of the industry".

Sin Chanchhaya said law enforcement officials had improved anti- piracy efforts toward the end of 2008 but that progress had not lasted.

In some cases, even those companies who have been able to continue production said they have been forced to adjust to harsh new conditions.

(Xinhua News Agency May 26, 2009)

Cambodia's dump dwellers face eviction

Cambodian child at rubbish dump

26 May 2009

PHNOM PENH : Scavenging for bits of plastic, metal and glass that earn them an average 10 dollars a month, the children of Phnom Penh's municipal rubbish dump are among Cambodia's poorest.

Hundreds of families live on and around the 100-acre (40.5-hectare) site, making their meagre living from the materials they collect on the steaming rubbish heap, replenished daily with 900 tonnes of the capital's refuse.

"We don't go to school. I'd like to but I need to pick the litter and earn money. I have nine siblings and they all work the same job as me," said 13-year-old Mek.

Dump trucks rumble in and out of Stung Meanchey landfill site throughout the day, while the toxic waste that covers sink holes burns in the sun.

"I really worry about the children working on the dump especially because of the rubbish trucks that sometimes hit the children, because it's hard to see them up there," said 26-year-old father-of-two Chan Samon.

His fears are not unfounded -- in February a 16-year-old girl was killed when a bin fell on her head. There have been numerous victims like her since the site opened more than 45 years ago.

Chan Samon told AFP he earns a pittance selling mostly bottles and cans to Vietnamese buyers. Middlemen come to nine storage depots at the dump's entrance, before selling it on to recycling companies for profit.

One kilogramme (2.2 pounds) of plastic fetches 10 cents, while one kilogramme of iron or a glass bottle goes for 2.5 cents.

But these slim pickings are all these families have. Many of them arrived in Phnom Penh from the rural provinces in the hope of finding better work, only to discover their only option was to join those foraging for rubbish.

Now Cambodia's authorities are closing down the site and moving the dump several miles outside the capital.

None of the residents are clear who is evicting them, only that they have been told to expect to move at any time.

"I heard something about the dump moving but I don't know what's going to happen," said Mek, who has worked at the site since he was three years old.

The move has been discussed locally since 2003, residents said, but a recent letter sent out by municipal authorities to all Phnom Penh residents confirmed the closure would take place in the "second quarter" of the year.

It said rubbish collection prices would need to rise because of the move, which it said was necessary because of the "environmental impact" of the site, citing the noise, smell, smoke and poor underground water quality.

Until the proposed eviction a few lucky children had escaped the grimy work thanks to about a dozen charities set up around the landfill site.

The organisations pay parents for lost income while they provide their offspring with schooling, clothes, food and a clean place to sleep.

"When I was up on the dump I met (charity outreach worker) Theary and he was interested in helping me and he brought me here," said 10-year-old Srey Neat, one of 96 children being looked after by Theary, who goes by only one name, and the charity "A New Day Cambodia".

The centre pays parents 10 dollars a month to keep their children away from the scavenging work.

But with the dump's closure, that helping hand may not be able to stretch far enough if the dump dwellers move further afield.

"We have some concern about whether some of the parents will need to move away and would like to take their children with them," said the centre's director Annette Jensen.

The landfill site is expected to be rebuilt next to Cambodia's infamous Killing Fields, where thousands of people were killed and buried by the communist Khmer Rouge regime during its 1975-1979 rule.

Chan Samon said he will have no choice but to take his wife and two children and move over to the new site.

"If the dump moves we will have to move with it. I have no choice because I don't have any other job," he said.

Out of hock

Photo by: Sovann Philong

Written by Sovann Philong
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A tuk-tuk driver whose vehicle was one of approximately three dozen confiscated Sunday night waits to show police ownership papers outside the Daun Penh district offices Monday. Police say the roundup was part of a campaign to clear the streets of drivers who sleep in their tuk-tuks. The bust follows a similar crackdown on beggars and homeless families ahead of this week's ASEAN-EU summit.

Business climate gets low marks

Written by Nathan green
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

CAMBODIA was ranked behind most other Southeast Asian nations in a UN survey of global economic competitiveness released Monday, which found that more investment was needed in skills training for the Kingdom's workforce.

The report coincided with two other joint studies from the World Bank, Asia Foundation and International Finance Corporation (IFC), which concluded that Cambodia needed to improve its business climate.

"Increasing Cambodia's competitiveness is a necessity, not a choice, if the country is to sustain economic growth, reduce poverty and keep pace with its ASEAN neighbours," the report by the UN Development Programme said.

Phnom Penh was ranked behind all 23 provincial capitals in the Provincial Business Environment Scorecard, which was produced by the Asia Foundation and IFC. Kampong Cham was ranked at the top for ease of doing business.

"There are some excuses, but it is crucial that Phnom Penh does see some improvements in the business environment," said Veronique Salze-Lozac'h, regional director of economic programs for The Asia Foundation. The World Bank study found corruption to top the list of obstacles to business.

Two tested for swine flu in Siem Reap

Written by Vong Dara and Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Officials downplay risk that tourists will test positive.

A DAY after tests of three Cambodian-Americans believed to have been exposed to influenza A(H1N1) came back negative, authorities in Siem Reap were awaiting results for two Japanese tourists who landed at Siem Reap International Airport with high fevers after a flight from Ho Chi Minh City, health officials said Monday.

The tourists - who had temperature readings of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) - were taken Sunday night to Siem Reap Provincial Hospital and released on Monday, said Iem Pon, the hospital's deputy director.

Iem Pon said Monday that the tourists, a married couple, had not exhibited any other symptoms of the influenza virus, commonly known as swine flu. He said he could not provide their names or ages.

He said blood tests had been sent via taxi on Monday to the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh. Dr Sok Touch, director of the Health Ministry's Communicable Diseases Control Department, said Monday evening that officials were still waiting on the results.

Iem Pon said he believed the odds of the tests coming back positive were low.

"I have observed that their health condition is no significant matter," he said.

Iem Pon said the husband had a fever before travelling to Vietnam. He received medical treatment for five days, during which, Iem Pon said, the wife "got diarrhoea because she ate the wrong food".

"When she got diarrhoea, this likely caused her temperature to rise," he said. "But there is no sign of the flu because there is no cough."

I have observed that their health condition is no significant matter.

Japan has confirmed 342 cases of swine flu, according to the government health ministry, AFP reported. There have been no reported fatalities in Japan and the government has said the spread of infections appears to be easing. Media reports on Monday indicated that Vietnam had not seen any cases of the virus.

Past suspected cases
The three people believed to have been exposed to AH1N1 flew from Seattle to Seoul on a flight with a woman who later tested positive for the virus, before flying to Cambodia.

But so far, Cambodia has reported no cases of the virus. Sok Touch said Sunday that increased monitoring at points of entry had allowed officials to prevent introduction of the virus into the Kingdom. All passengers on international flights have been required since last month to fill out a health declaration form upon arrival.

The WHO said Monday the global tally of recorded swine flu cases had risen to 12,515, including 91 deaths, AFP reported.

Govt responds angrily to reports of planned Preah Vihear replica

Cambodian soldiers at the Preah Vihear temple complex earlier this month.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Thai media say a copy of the famed temple is on the horizon, while Cambodian officials threaten to complain to UNESCO.

CAMBODIAN officials have reacted strongly to Thai media reports that the country plans to build a replica of Preah Vihear temple along the border, saying it could violate international law.

Chuch Phoeun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said that Preah Vihear's status as a UNESCO World Heritage site prohibited the construction of any building surrounding the temple site.

"It is impossible to replicate the temple without permission from the country that owns it," said Chuch Phoeun. "This is an intentional attempt by the Thais to stir up Cambodia because they are jealous of [us]." Chuch Phoeun added that if Bangkok violates the law, Cambodia will report it to UNESCO.

Thai media on Monday reported that Thailand planned to build a copy of the disputed 11th-century temple as a tourist attraction, and that local authorities had been ordered to undertake a feasibility study before the project begins.

It is impossible to replicate the temple without permission from [the govt]

The rumoured Thai plans are the latest shot fired in a border dispute that has been simmering since UNESCO listed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site in July last year.

ASEAN urged to act
Ahead of the 17th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting, which kicks off Wednesday in Phnom Penh, the Cambodia Watchdog Council (CWC), a local civil society group, called on ASEAN and EU officials to address the ongoing border standoff.

In a statement Monday, the CWC claims that since July 15 last year, Thai soldiers have continually violated Cambodian territory, but that numerous bilateral negotiations have failed.

"The ASEAN and EU members present for this two-day meeting have to raise the issue of Thai incursions into Cambodia," the statement said.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the Thai-Cambodia border standoff was not on the agenda for the meeting.

"We're not going to stop civil society from expressing their concern on this issue, but the government's principle is to resolve the conflict peacefully and bilaterally," he said.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is scheduled to visit Cambodia on June 12-13, when he is expected to hold border talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

No show by Bar panel members stalls probe into opposition lawyer

Written by Meas Sokchea
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Inspector says he wants no part in review of SRP lawyer Kong Sam Onn, who is fighting charges he breached Bar ethics in lawsuit against PM.

SAM Rainsy Party lawyer Kong Sam Onn appeared before an inspection team at the Cambodian Bar Association for the first time Monday as part of an investigation into accusations that he breached the Bar's professional code of ethics.

Kong Sam Onn, who is representing opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua in her defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen, was himself accused of defamation by Hun Sen's lawyers following comments he made at a press conference on April 23.


But the hearing at the Bar Association's Phnom Penh office was postponed when two of the five-member inspection team failed to show up, with one absent lawyer saying he did not want to participate in the investigation.

Lawyer Hem Socheat, a member of the inspection team who was absent, told the Post that Kong Sam Onn had done nothing wrong, and that he did not want to sit on the review panel.

"I tried to escape getting involved with the investigation into his case two or three times but they still tried to call me," he said.

"If Kong Sam Onn is punished, my stance must be to defend him on behalf of other lawyers."

During the aborted meeting, at which he was to answer questions relating to the case, Kong Sam Onn said he hoped the Bar would judge him fairly and that Hun Sen's involvement would have no impact on the case.

"I think that the Bar will decide my case legally if there's no pressure from politicians. I didn't do anything illegal, and the Bar will rule properly if there is no pressure," he said.

Once the inspection team finishes its work, it will send its report to the 19-member Bar Council to make a final ruling on the case. If found guilty of misconduct, Kong Sam Onn faces dismissal from the Bar.

Battle in the courts
Mu Sochua is suing Hun Sen for comments he made during a speech in Kampot province on April 4.

The opposition party leader says Hun Sen referred to her as cheung klang - a term meaning "strong legs" in Khmer, but which she says is derogatory when used to describe women.

In response, Hun Sen is countersuing for defamation, saying his remarks did not refer to Mu Sochua.

The SRP lawmaker and her lawyer have since received support from abroad in their clash with Hun Sen.

In a letter to Bar President Chiv Song Hak dated Thursday, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, a Vancouver-based NGO, said: "We wish to offer our moral support to the Bar Association ... in fulfilling its function to uphold and defend the independence of the legal profession."

"We sincerely and respectfully hope that the [Bar Association] and its Disciplinary Council will not be used inappropriately."

Bar spokesman Ly Tay Seng could not be reached for comment Monday.

No Anti-corruption Law before end of year: CPP

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap at a press conference in this file photo.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Senior CPP lawmaker says draft is ‘nearly complete', a claim met with scepticism from NGOs and opposition leaders.

A SENIOR Cambodian People's Party lawmaker said Monday that the long-awaited Anti-corruption Law and Criminal Code would not be submitted to the National Assembly before the end of the year.

Cheam Yeap told the Post he had recently been in touch with Som Kimsour, the government official in charge of preparing legislation for the National Assembly, who told him that drafts of both laws were "nearly complete".

"I hope that the Council of Ministers will be able to submit them to the National Assembly by the end of the year," he said. "It is not only NGOs and the international community who are waiting for the laws. Lawmakers want to adopt the laws, too."

Civil society and opposition leaders have been advocating on behalf of both laws for years, most recently at an event last week marking the one-year anniversary of a campaign that collected more than 1 million thumbprints and signatures demanding their passage.

Yim Sovann, lawmaker and spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the party had been pushing for passage of the Anti-corruption Law since 1994 and continued to "pray that the government will speed up the process".

Yang Kim Eng, president of the People's Centre for Development and Peace, a member of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations Against Corruption, said Monday that he had no confidence that the draft laws would be submitted to the National Assembly by the end of the year.

He said the government has made similar promises in the past and has failed to live up to them.

"However, we still hope to see the laws passed," he said.

Group 78 takes land case to Appeal Court

Written by Chhrann Chamroeun
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

LAWYERS for Phnom Penh's besieged Group 78 community filed an appeal Monday against the Municpal Court's rejection earlier this month of a request for an injunction against their client's eviction by City Hall.

Community members, situated on a tiny strip of land in Phnom Penh's Tonle Bassac neighbourhood, have been struggling to keep their homes in what land rights advocates say is a textbook case of development interests trodding over property rights.

On May 18, Municipal Court ruled against the injunction request, saying that an eviction order by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema could go forward.

"I appealed ... against Phnom Penh Municipal Court's [decision] to reject an injunction request filed by the residents of Group 78," said lawyer Yin Savath.

In the eviction order dated April 20, Kep Chuktema told residents they were living on land belonging to the city and developer Sour Srun Enterprises.

The community was given 15 days to vacate the land and accept the government's compensation package of either land or cash.

Community representative Lim Sambo said he had little doubt the Court of Appeal would rule any differently from the lower court.

"We have very little hope for our appeal to the court," he told the Post.

"The lower court rejected our complaint already, so the Appeals Court will do the same," he said.

Evictees to remain in capital

Two residents of Group 34 walk in the rain in Phnom Penh on Monday after having heard they will be staying in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

City Hall has agreed to the Group 34 community's request to be moved to Dangkor district, saying it has adopted a new policy to deal with displaced people.

NEARLY all of the 258 families from a Phnom Penh slum displaced by fire earlier this year will be allowed to remain in the capital rather than face relocation to a site some 50 kilometres from their homes, community residents and municipal officials said after a deal was struck with City Hall.

The agreement is being touted by city officials as a "participatory approach" to the development that critics say is encouraging mass evictions.

"The people need to join the government in the city's development. It is a participatory approach," Mann Chhoeun, the deputy governor of Phnom Penh said on Sunday.

"I joined many workshops in the international community where they championed just such a development strategy."

The families, from Group 34 near Sovanna Market, have agreed in principle to the plan, which will see 238 of them move to a site in Phnom Penh's Dangkor district, community representatives said Monday.

But as part of the deal, families will need to pay a small fee of between 10,000 riels (US$2.50) and 20,000 riels to the municipality - a requirement that has some grumbling.

"If I have enough for food and medical care, then I can help the government buy the land. But now, I don't have enough," said Kaut Sokhorn, 51.

After a suspicious fire during the Khmer New Year destroyed about 150 houses, authorites told the families they would be moved to a site near Udong mountain in Kandal province.

People will come back to phnom Penh if we move them out to other provinces.

But on May 11, community representatives sent a request to the municipality and the Senate asking to be moved to Prey Khla village in Dangkor district, only about 10 kilometres from their current homes.

"When City Hall agreed to our offer to move us to Dangkor, I was very happy," said resident Sansrey Mom, 42. "I will be able to ride an old bicycle to the construction sites."

Mann Chhoeun said that the municipality had changed its decision after people who were forcibly evicted in the past kept returning to Phnom Penh.

"The people will come back to Phnom Penh if we move them out to other provinces, because they think that we have abandoned them," he said, adding that "this new government policy will mean that people who are from Phnom Penh can be moved to other places in Phnom Penh, but not to other provinces".

Mathieu Pellerin, a monitoring consultant for rights group Licadho, said that even many relocation sites in the Phnom Penh Municipality are still too far from the city centre, but added: "For once in my life, I agree with Mann Chhoeun ... [Evictions to other provinces] are forcing families to come home to Phnom Penh, and some of these families are sleeping in the street."

Mann Chhoeun listed another reason that the Group 34 community would not be be moved outside of Phnom Penh: Kandal province Governor Chhun Sirun did not want them.

"I heard that 30 percent are gangsters who smoke yaba, so I was not happy," Chhun Sirun said.

Row erupts over new KR expert

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Defence attorneys say court is wasting time.

LAWYERS for former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav threatened to walk out of a hearing at Cambodia's war crimes court Monday after accusing prosecutors of again wasting the court's time with irrelevant questions.

Former war correspondent Nayan Chanda was called on by judges to provide a historical account of armed conflict between Cambodia and Vietnam at the time of the Khmer Rouge regime.

But lawyers accused prosecutors of asking questions that had little to do with their client's trial.

"We are here because Duch is charged with crimes pertaining to S-21. I have not heard S-21 mentioned today," co-lawyer Francois Roux said, referring to his client by his revolutionary name.

"If we are to continue at this rate we will be here until next year. If that's what you want, then say so and we'll leave," Roux added.

Judges, however, rejected the claim, saying it was groundless.

Chanda tells of massacres
Chanda, the former Indochina correspondent for the Far East Economic Review, earlier described to judges the carnage he had witnessed in small Vietnamese border villages that had been the work of the Khmer Rouge.

"I had never seen in my reporting career as many bodies of civilians killed most brutality and just left there.... I wondered what these people had done to deserve such a fate," Chanda said. "I saw a sign in Khmer which was translated for me. It said, ‘This is our land'. ... This was the only explanation I could get," he added.

Govt to probe film star complaints

Cambodian actress Doung Zorida, photographed in March this year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Investigation probes karaoke parlours that used actresses's pictures to advertise escort services.

THE Ministry of Interior has opened investigations into Phnom Penh karaoke parlours that used the image of film stars to advertise escort services and attract patrons, following complaints from two high-profile starlets.

Ten Borany, deputy director of the ministry's Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, said authorities would conduct investigations to determine whether the club owners had committed a criminal offence.

"I don't know if we'll have to punish the offenders because we don't know what kind of crime they have committed," he said.

"We are trying our best in order to find justice for the movie stars ... and I hope we can solve the problem for them."

No permission
Film stars Doung Zorida and Veng Sreyno complained to police last month when they found that their images - with price tags attached - were gracing the walls of local VIP clubs and brothels.

Doung Zorida, whose picture was shown in photo albums at some VIP clubs in Phnom Penh with a price of between US$4,000 and $8,000 attached, said that she had given Ministry of Interior officials additional information to help them in their investigations.

"I believe in the ability of the police and I think that the police know which clubs or madams of prostitution are doing these things, but they need to find evidence before they can arrest them," she said.

She added that legal action was important for clearing her name, and that if she didn't take action, people would think she was involved in prostitution.

"I don't need any money from them. What I need is an apology and a public statement that I and the other movie stars did not sell our bodies," she told the Post.

Ieng Sithul, director of the Khmer Actress Association, said that he was satisfied that police officials were trying to find justice for the two film stars, adding that it would help protect them against the dishonour of being associated with escort clubs.

"I hope that the police will do their best so that the actresses can maintain their honour," he said.

"[These people] are looking down on themselves and their nation because they are the same nationality [as the actresses]. They are destroying their own culture and tradition.

"All people who have power and money should use their money in the right way, to suit their honour and that of their society," he added.

ECCC journalists get warning from govt

Written by Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A SENIOR government official has criticised the media for recent coverage of corruption allegations at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, saying journalists have to be more professional in their reporting of the UN-backed court.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, speaking before the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) last week, warned that critical reporting of the tribunal "could cause justice to escape the Cambodian people".

"A few foreign newspapers in Cambodia should be more professional in publishing articles related to corruption allegations at the [tribunal]," Phay Siphan said.

"We are not pressuring the media, but we want to see journalists be more professional," he added. "Journalists must realise how to use their words."

Graft allegations at the court have been a regular feature of tribunal coverage since accusations emerged in 2007 that Cambodian staff members were being forced to kick back a percentage of their salaries to senior court officials.

CCJ President Pen Samitthy, who is also editor-in-chief of Cambodia's largest Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea, insisted that the profession was improving.

"I don't think that any publication of information about corruption that causes the UN to withdraw from this hybrid court is the responsibility of the journalist," Pen Samitthy said. "We have the saying: If there is smoke, there is fire."

South Korean investment is down but not out in tough times

Construction workers at the Korean-owned Camko City site in Phnom Penh. Developers say the project is going ahead and will be complete by next year.



- Cambodia is becoming a major tourism destination for Koreans. Last year, 266,525 South Koreans visited Cambodia. But the low Korean won and the economic crisis meant arrivals were 12.5 percent below 2007. With the Korean won recovering, authorities hope that Cambodia will see more Korean visitors in 2009.


- Some of the Kingdom's most high-profile construction megaprojects have been from South Korea. They include the US$2 billion Camko City Satellite City in Phnom Penh, the $240 million Gold Tower 42, and the $1 billion International Finance Complex. The developers say the projects are going ahead, despite the economic slowdown and falling property demand.


- The global financial meltdown has not stopped some of Korea's largest banks from expanding into the Kingdom. There are now a total of 6 Korean banks with operations here, most recently South Korea's largest bank, Kookmin Bank. The banks say that high lending rates in Cambodia and low borrowing rates in South Korea are one of the draws to setting up shop in Cambodia.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Even with investment slowing down and the economy in the grips of a downturn, investors say rumours of the death of South Korean investment in Cambodia have been greatly exaggerated.

From construction megaprojects to garments and banks, South Korea is one of Cambodia's biggest economic players, contributing more than US$1.2 billion in investment dollars last year.

Asia's fourth-largest economy, Korea is behind some of the Kingdom's largest and most high-profile projects, including Camko City, Gold Tower 42 and the International Financial Complex. South Koreans visit Cambodia more than any other nationality, with 266,525 arrivals in 2008 making up 12.5 percent of total foreign visitors.

But the economic crisis put Korea's economic might in question - its currency, the won, fell from an average 917 to the US dollar in November 2007 to a low of 1,570 in March 2009. Leveraged Korean banks were on shaky ground, and falling Korean exports were leading to mass layoffs.

The Korean slowdown took its toll on Cambodia, and in the second half of 2008, Korean investment slowed, tourism fell and the Korean-backed Cambodian Stock Exchange faced an increasingly uncertain future. Some questioned whether the large-scale construction projects would be abandoned altogether.

But with relations between ASEAN and Korea approaching its 20th year, and with some signs of economic recovery, Korean officials and investors say they are still very much in the game and that more investment may be on its way.

"Investment slowed down in the last part of 2008, but the economy is starting to look a bit better now, and I expect that Cambodia will see some new Korean projects in the second half of the year," said a South Korean embassy spokesman.

Final frontier
Korean investors say Cambodia is one of the region's last unexploited markets where land and labour are still inexpensive, and the high-end real estate and tourism markets remain largely untapped.

The $2 billion Camko City satellite city, backed by World City Company, says the project is moving ahead on schedule, despite the property slowdown. During a visit to the development in Phnom Penh, workers were busy putting the finishing touches on houses, fountains and roads in a mini-city that resembles an American suburb. Some units already had stoves, counters, electricity and running water, and appeared months away from completion.

"Nearly 80 percent of the units have been sold out. We are strongly confident that our first-phase units will be supported by clients," wrote DK Kim, vice president of World City, in an email.

"Cambodia really has a lot of potential for not only real estate, but also other types of investments. Real estate is not the only objective that we have in Cambodia," he said.

The project is set to be completed by early 2010 and is to feature condominiums, a shopping centre, fitness facilities and public gardens.

Another major Korean investment is Kookmin Bank, Korea's largest bank by assets, with US$195 billion in assets as of December 2008. The bank's Cambodia president, Ki Sung-jang, says the financial crisis has not affected plans to expand into what he says is an untapped market.

The bank opened its doors in Phnom Penh in early May, and Ki says Cambodia's emerging wealthy class is a major opportunity.

We see Cambodia as a high-potential market, similar to Vietnam 15 years ago.

"We are mainly targeting wealthy individuals, people who have a lot of money, but are not confident to put it in local banks. We want people to know that we are a safe place to put their money," he said from the bank's new offices in Phnom Penh.

"Last year, we had a problem with the US dollar being too high, but now we are fully covered. The margins have gone from deficit to profit," he said. "Korea's banks are restructuring and we expect them to fully recover."

Local interest rates are considerably higher than in other Asian countries, which is good for banks that can borrow abroad. "Cambodia's interest margins are also very attractive compared to other countries," Ki Sung-jang said.

"We came to Cambodia because we want to be here early. We see Cambodia as a high-potential market, similar to Vietnam 15 years ago ... We still don't have many of the big players like HSBC, so we want to be established here beforehand."

Closer relations
Diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Korea began in 1997, and from 1994-2004, Korean investment averaged less than $2 million per year. The turning point came around 2006 when the economy was nearing the height of its recent bubble.

The managing partner of one of Cambodia's largest investment funds says Korea was one of the major drivers behind the country's property boom from 2006-08. "The first wave of Korean investment was mainly because of large-scale property projects rather than manufacturing that creates jobs," said Douglas Clayton of Leopard Fund.

"In the memory of the Korean government, they saw South Korea go from being a frontier market to a developed economy. So they know it is possible for historical reasons. They also don't want to put all of their eggs in the China basket. Cambodia is an alternative base for production and investment," Clayton said.

But with the economic recovery still in question, experts say Korean investment in Cambodia depends on conditions in Korea itself.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's most recent report on Korea revised upwards its 2009 GDP growth projections from negative 10.1 percent to negative 6 percent; and upped the 2010 projection from 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent. Exports, the main driver of growth, would fall 13.1 percent in 2009 and grow 2.1 percent in 2010, the EIU said.

Korea's government for its part has taken action to boost growth. Since September 2008, sweeping stimulus measures have included tax cuts, increased spending and looser monetary policy.

Cautious optimism at Korean-owned Injae garment factory

Photo by: George Mcleod
A worker at the Injae garment factory.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

EVEN with news of a punishing slowdown in the garment sector, the Korean-owned Injae garment factory is buzzing with activity.

Orders from the US clothing giant JC Penney and Aeropostale are keeping the sewing lines working overtime, and manager Kang Nam-shik says he is cautiously optimistic about the coming months.

"Our orders are strong right now, but we are still waiting for a turnaround.... If things pick up, Cambodia could see more garment factories open up," said Kang, who also heads Korean Chamber of Commerce.

Injae is one of Korea's 25 factories in Cambodia and employs more than 1,000 workers.

Like other garment factories, Korean ones are reliant on the US market and have been hit hard by the slowdown.

Kang said falling foreign demand has lead 25 percent of Korean garment factories to shut their doors.

He said US demand is down 10-15 percent from last year, and that new markets can't make up for the shortfall.

"There is strong demand in other markets, but it is not enough. The average for a US order is more than 100,000 pieces per style.

For Europe, it is only about 2,000 pieces. There is a big difference between producing 1,000 and 1 million pieces," he said.

"We have been approached by a lot of interested European buyers, but we can't meet their prices," he said.

The manager says doing business in Cambodia has its good and its bad points, but that in general, the sector is well-positioned compared to its neighbours.

"Garment makers are coming to Cambodia not necessarily because it is a good business climate, but because other countries like China are not looking as good as they used to."

He said that competition from heavy industries like shipbuilding and auto manufacturing have driven up the cost of labour in China, making Laos and Cambodia good alternative production bases.

The main challenges for garment producers in Cambodia, he says, are low worker productivity, slow customs procedures, and costly energy.

"Productivity is 10-15 percent lower than Vietnam and China, but that can be improved with more training."

He said that a low-tech customs service means that export containers take longer than expected to reach suppliers.

"Containers can be held up to 2-weeks at customs, which costs us a lot."

When containers are delayed, factories have to fly the garments to suppliers, which costs more than double. He said he expects a modest recovery in 2009. "We need to see what happens over the next 5-6 months ...Things are good here, but not for all factories."

Economic crisis won't spell end to Korean investment: ambassador

Photo by: Tracey shelton
Construction at the Camko City satellite city in Phnom Penh - a high-profile South Korean development project.

Mr Lee Kyung-soo, the Republic of Korea's ambassador to Cambodia

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George Mcleod
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

In his first interview in Cambodia, South Korea's new ambassador Lee Kyung-soo talks to the Post about the economic crisis, North Korea and growing ties with Cambodia.

You took up the post of ambassador to Cambodia in March. What are your initial impressions of Cambodia?

It has been about two months since my arrival in Phnom Penh on March 27.

As director general of the South Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I visited most Asian countries, but I never made it to Cambodia....

I'm very proud to be working as ambassador to Cambodia, a beautiful country with time-honoured culture and tradition. I was very impressed with the appearance of Cambodian people working and developing this city with towers and cranes in every corner. I'm also deeply touched by the warm hearts of Cambodians.

How are political links with Cambodia and ASEAN evolving, and why is South Korea becoming such a big economic and political player in the region?

Cambodia is a very important partner to Korea not only in the context of bilateral cooperation but in the framework of regional cooperation.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Cambodia's membership of ASEAN. For the past 10 years, Cambodia has played a leading role in the development and integration of ASEAN.

I'm confident that Cambodia will, with its valuable contribution, lead ASEAN to further development in the future. I hope that Korea will continue to collaborate with Cambodia for the prosperity and peace of our region.

I hope that North Korea goes its way towards openness and cooperation following the example of Cambodia.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of ASEAN-ROK [Republic of Korea] Dialogue Partnership. Over the past 20 years, Korea-ASEAN relations have continued to develop in a wide range of areas.... Korea's trade volume with the ASEAN countries was US$90.2 billion in 2008, making the region Korea's third-largest trade partner after China and the European Union. Korea's investment in ASEAN was $5.9 billion in 2008, making the region Korea's second-largest investment destination following the United States.

About 3.5 million Korean people visit ASEAN countries every year. In March this year, the ASEAN-ROK Centre was established in Seoul as an international organisation for promoting ASEAN culture and tourism in Korea.

In addition, the ASEAN-Korea FTA Agreement on Investment will be signed during the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit to be held on Jeju Island from June 1-2 in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ASEAN-ROK Dialogue Partnership.

Together with the already effective ASEAN-Korea Free Trade Agreement Framework Agreement and Agreements on Trade in Goods and Services, the Agreement on Investment will complete the entire set of the ASEAN-Korea FTAs. With this, trade and investment between ASEAN and Korea will be greatly increased....

The Korean government is pursuing in earnest the "New Asia Initiative". It focuses on strengthening mutual cooperation to achieve prosperity in the Asian region. In this vein, ASEAN is the most important partner for the initiative.

Korean investment in Cambodia fell to $472.89 million in 2008 from $629.49 million in 2007. You reportedly told Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong that Korea will try to attract more investment to Cambodia, especially in construction, tourism and garments. Can you explain how you will do this?

I'm very proud to tell you that many Korean enterprises have actively worked in the key industrial sectors of Cambodia.... The figures you quoted are statistical data based on the actually transferred amount.

According to the statistical figures of investment registered with the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), Korea's investment to Cambodia has shown an 8.4-fold increase to $1.24 billion in 2008 from $148.1 million in 2007.

It is true that Korea's investment in Cambodia has been temporarily affected by the global economic downturn.

However ... I have high hopes that Korea's investment will rise again if the Cambodian government continues to introduce active and transparent policies to attract foreign direct investment and improve the investment environment in Cambodia.

Basically, it is business judgment on the market and its future prospect that makes a decision on where and what to invest.

My embassy will make every effort to forward information to the Korean business community on the investment environment and promising sectors for investment in Cambodia.

Cambodia has had strong historical links with North Korea. Has this negatively affected diplomatic relations with South Korea?

The Korean government hopes North Korea will undertake its responsibility as a member of the international community.

I hope that North Korea goes its way towards openness and cooperation following the example of Cambodia, which is pursuing development on the foundation of market economy and democracy.

I'm happy to note that since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1997, the friendly relations between Korea and Cambodia have been satisfactorily developed. Prime Minister Hun Sen's visit to Korea this time will further strengthen our bilateral relations.

When the financial crisis hit, the won dropped 30 percent against the dollar, raising building costs. The developer behind the proposed Phaeros Mekong Towers is now gone, for instance, and the IFC developers are redrawing their plans. Camko City is also slowing development. How optimistic are you that Korean developers will renew their commitment to Cambodia?

The reason why Korean developers rushed to Cambodia is that they have confidence in the future of the country.

Some large-scale construction projects were affected by the global economic crisis, but I think it is a passing phenomenon. If international business recovers, Korea's investment to Cambodia will come back.

Korean developers were also outspoken against a controversial prakas on housing development financing. What correspondence have you had with developers and the Cambodian government on this issue, and are you confident agreement will be reached?

Not only Korean developers but also Cambodian local developers recognise that some provisions of the Cambodian government's prakas on housing development do not appropriately reflect what is happening in the construction market.

I know that the Cambodian government is now examining the cases of other countries including Korea.

I expect that the Cambodian government will find a suitable solution that can accommodate the intent of the prakas, which is "protection for buyers", and the policy goal of inducing more foreign investment.

Korea exported $294.4 million worth of goods to Cambodia in 2008, including $117.5 in textiles, $54.8 million in car machinery and $43.2 million in textile goods. It imported $14.3 million in goods, including $8.8 million in textile goods, $2.4 million in non-ferrous metals and $1.6 million in agricultural food. What is being done to correct the trade imbalance?

Such trade imbalance between Korea and Cambodia is structural and due to Cambodia's imports of Korean goods as inputs for Cambodia's products such as garments. But such Cambodian products contribute to Cambodia's exports.

I expect the trade between the two countries will become balanced with the growth of the Cambodian economy in the long run.

It should be also taken into account that the influx of Korean investment into Cambodia greatly contributes to Cambodia's economy.

Last year, the Korean government urged companies to sell assets abroad to cover any shortfalls at home. How has that policy affected Cambodia?

It is up to businesses whether they sell their assets abroad to secure liquidity in preparing for unforeseen shortages of funds.

Interview by George Mcleod

Cambodia urged to improve business environment

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
The UNDP said Monday that Cambodia needs to widen its skills base beyond labour-intensive industries such as textiles.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nathan Green AND Chun Sophal
Tuesday, 26 May 2009

UNDP, World Bank and International Finance Corporation reports call on Kingdom to address underlying weaknesses in economy to fight downturn.

CAMBODIA urgently needs to improve its business environment and reform its education system to boost its competitiveness and sustain economic growth, said three reports released Monday.

Qimiao Fan, country manager for the World Bank, which released an assessment of Cambodia's investment climate with the International Financial Corporation (IFC), said the global economic crisis had increased pressure on Cambodia to address "chronic" problems in its business environment.

"When the economy was growing at almost 10 percent per year between 1998 and 2007, business environment problems did not seem as serious as they do now", he said. "But now with the global economic crisis significantly impacting Cambodia, continued problems in the business environment may force firms to go out of business and investors may choose to postpone investment or move to more business-friendly countries."

The World Bank's second Investment Climate Assessment showed that corruption was the most pressing concern among 500 entrepreneurs in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Battambang and Kampong Cham provinces, as it was for a similar survey released in 2003.

Macroeconomic uncertainty ranked as the second-biggest concern, higher than in 2003 because of deteriorating conditions in the global economy.

Anti-competitive practices were the next most pressing issue, followed by economic and regulatory uncertainty.

The report offered five key lessons for improving the business environment. Firstly, it said reforms succeeded when driven by government leaders, international commitments and private sector demand.

Secondly, reforms needed to be tested as pilots, monitored and evaluated, and - if successful - scaled up.

Thirdly, reforms required careful planning, deadlines, coordination and evaluation.

Next, reform of the civil service, which has proven successful in small pilots, should be scaled up. Finally, through the Government-Private Sector Forum, the private sector can play a major role in identifying needed reforms.

The IFC also released its second Provincial Business Environment Scorecard (PBES), published in conjunction with The Asia Foundation, which surveyed business owners in Phnom Penh, the capital cities of Cambodia's 23 provinces and other selected urban areas.

The report showed Kampong Cham province had the best business environment, as was the case in the first PBES survey in 2006, while Phnom Penh ranked last. Sihanoukville and Siem Reap moved from near the bottom in 2006 to the near top in 2009 by making significant advances in the time and cost to start a business, property rights, transparency of regulations and crime prevention.

"Overall, PBES 2009 results show that firms are more likely to expand their businesses if provincial administrators reduce informal charges, prevent crime more effectively, make it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses and also make it easier for business owners to pay their taxes," said Julia Brickell, IFC's resident representative in Cambodia.

Speaking at the launch of the reports, Finance Minister Cham Prasidh acknowledged that the global economic crisis had increased the importance of providing better access to finance, information on regulations and procedures, export opportunities, reliable dispute resolution procedures, and efficient and transparent government services. "We need to build a conducive environment for business so that businesses can compete in international markets," he said.

It is now imperative for these changes to be made; it is not a choice.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) also focused on Cambodia's competitiveness in a report released Monday that ranked the country near the bottom among southeast Asian countries.

More skills required
Brooks Evans, an economist in UNDP's Insights for Action Initiative (IFA), which authored the report, said one of the recurring themes was the need for an urgent overhaul of Cambodia's human-resource policy.

"The lack of skills or a highly trained workforce is one of the most commonly cited constraints by businesses," he said. "In terms of higher education and training, Cambodia is the biggest laggard in ASEAN. It has a serious lack of highly trained workers and this is something that requires urgent prioritisation."

While the global economic crisis had not affected the policy changes required, it had increased the stakes, he added.

"The focus of the study is on the medium- to long-term policy options Cambodia needs to provide for economic and human development growth, but the economic crisis means the country needs to act now," he said. "It is now imperative for these changes to be made; it is not a choice."