Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Cambodian officers burn nearly three tones of various drug making substances

Cambodian officers burn nearly three tones of various drug making substances, which were seized in raids earlier this year in eastern and southern Cambodia, on the outskirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, June 2, 2009. Cambodian authorities on Tuesday torched the herbs used to produce 'herbal ecstasy' as part of a campaign to wipe out synthetic drugs recently uncovered in the country.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian officer, right, pours fuel on to some three tons of various drugs, which were seized in raids earlier this year in eastern and southern Cambodia, on the outskirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, June 2, 2009. Cambodian authorities on Tuesday torched the herbs used to produce 'herbal ecstasy' as part of a campaign to wipe out synthetic drugs recently uncovered in the country.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

In a ceremony on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh, drug authorities burned more than 2.8 tonnes of ephedra herbs and nearly one tonne of other chemical substances. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

The Mekong River Committee Asks to Be Careful about the Impact on Development by Hydro-Electric Dams – Monday, 1.6.2009

Posted on 2 June 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 615

“The Mekong River Committee asks all developers to pay attention to many possible environmental impacts which can result from the plans to build hydro-electric dams along the Lower Mekong River.

“This is the first public reaction by the Mekong River Committee since member countries had announced many hydro-electric dam investment projects along the Lower Mekong River from Laos to Vietnam.

“The executive director of the Mekong River Committee, Mr. Jeremy Bird, said on 28 May 2009, ‘The Mekong River system is an area rich in priceless production opportunities. But at the same time, it is also a delicate resource.’

“Because of concerns over environmental impacts on the Mekong River system, member countries of the Mekong River Committee, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, had agreed to jointly study the developments in the Mekong River Basin.

“Regarding this issue, Mr. Jeremy said – as the Mekong River Committee released a strategic assessment report about the development programs along the Mekong River in Cambodia, Laos, and at the Thai and Laotian borders – that before any decisions are made for the construction of hydro-electric dams in the Lower Mekong Basin, all member countries had agreed to cooperate to follow science-based knowledge about the impact from the development, and to clearly establish whether private requests for the construction of new dams meet sustainable economic, environmental, and social principles or not.

“Officials of civil society organizations working on development and environmental conservation, welcomed what the Mekong River Committee stated and they ask some of the regional institutions to encourage member countries of this committee to carefully consider the situation of people who might be affected by various development projects along the river related to overall developments.

“An official of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association – a partner organization of the NGO Forum – Mr. Tek Vannara, said that there have been concerns voiced by many experts regarding the requests for the development of hydro-electric dams along the Mekong River. Therefore, what the committee has stated is a positive sign, but in the meantime, this committee should do whatever is possible so that the people in general can broadly participate in the conception of such projects.

“According to Mr. Vannara, there is concern that various development projects for hydro-electric dams along the Lower Mekong River strongly affect the environment of the river, as well as the society and the everyday lives of the people living along the river.

“He added that there is concern that those projects can damage the eco-system of the river, the movement of fish, and the settlements of people.

“So far, there are 6 hydro-electric dam projects along the Lower Mekong River proposed by Laos and Vietnam. Out of which 4 are proposed by Laos, and two are to be implemented bilaterally with Thailand. There are 2 in Cambodia at Sambor and at Stung Treng. Among the 6 plans, only 2 are probably to be realized: the Don Sahong dam of Laos, which is being studied by a Malaysian company, and another one at Sambor in Cambodia, being studied by a Chinese company.

“A non-governmental organization official, who asked not to be named, said that if it were not because of the global economic crisis, the number hydro-electric dams to be implemented along the Lower Mekong River would not be just two. They think that the price of the electricity produced will be cheap. He added that his crisis offers the governments of each country enough time to study the impacts [of the construction of hydro-electric dams].

“The Mekong River Committee also agrees with this idea. The Mekong River Committee said in its statement that the impact from the global financial crisis in Southeast Asia offers a breathing opportunity for its member countries to seek projects that benefits all people in all regions of the Mekong River.

“This committee went on to state that according to its study, those hydro-electric dams can have both negative and positive impacts. The dams can keep water at the upper regions of the river, retaining the water for the dry season, so that it does not flow down quickly, and thus maximize the flood water as an advantage for the consumers of water, but at the same time, the change of the flow of water will affect fish. Moreover, big development projects will lead to the displacement of some people’s living spaces, affect fish breeding patterns and movement, and may cause landslides.

“So far, the Mekong River, which is one of the eight biggest rivers of the world, can support approximately 60 million people, and it is a source of fish worth up to US$2 billion per year.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4908, 31-1.6.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 1 June 2009

Indochinese countries seek audit co-operation

June 2, 2009

Leaders of state audit agencies of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam gathered in Hanoi on June 1 to discuss measures to strengthen bilateral co-operation and build a long-term trilateral co-operation mechanism.

At the talk, Vietnam’s State Auditor General Vuong Dinh Hue suggested joint auditing activities among the three countries in several areas such as tourism and environment. This may be the setting up of joint audit delegations, Hue said.

The audit leaders agreed to propose their governments to include audit co-operation into the inter-governmental co-operation programme.

They also agreed to organise an annual rotating meeting to strengthen and raise the effectiveness of co-operative activities.

The next talk is expected to take place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2010. (VNA)

Coaxing a Khmer Temple From the Jungle’s Embrace

The New York Times

Published: June 2, 2009

To reach the temple of Banteay Chhmar from the Cambodian town of Sisophon in the dry season involves a two-hour drive through parched forests coated with brown dust. The temple is breathtaking. Bas-reliefs depict naval battles between ancient Khmers and their Cham rivals in remarkable detail. Giant sandstone faces loom over thick vegetation strewn with collapsed lintels and broken naga heads.

Visitors to Angkor Wat will have seen something like this. But the glory of Banteay Chhmar is its raw, unadulterated state. Sitting 100 kilometers, or about 60 miles, northwest of Siem Reap, this is Cambodia’s “forgotten” temple. You will probably find yourself alone, able to rekindle the experience of colonial French explorers as they first stumbled upon Khmer antiquity.

But the same isolation was not lost on those who vandalized Banteay Chhmar in the late 1990s. The Cambodian military not only mined the complex but made off with large sections of bas-relief destined for private homes in Bangkok and beyond. Local guides like Seng Samnang remembers the oxcarts loaded with artifacts being wheeled out of the temple. “There was nothing we could do,” he said. “If we had challenged these men we would have been killed.”

About 115 pieces, a truckload, have been recovered and they are sitting in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Of the rest — there is allegedly much more — reports of Buddha heads appearing in Thai generals’ gardens have done little to ease longstanding tensions over Thai claims to Cambodia’s patrimony, an issue that resurfaced last year, and remains unresolved, at the northern temple of Preah Vihear.

Banteay Chhmar is returning to the spotlight, but now the news is good. In 2008 the Culture Ministry handed control of the temple to Global Heritage Fund, an organization in California that tries to safeguard the world’s most endangered sites. Established in 2002, the fund has a budget of $6 million and 44 employees to rehabilitate the temple, the eventual aim being its inclusion on Unesco’s World Heritage List.

John Sanday is leading the project. He is a British architect who first set foot in Cambodia in 1992 to work on the 12th-century Preah Khan, a temple famous for its outer wall of garudas, the mythic birds of Hindu legend. To help attract financing, the savvy Mr. Sanday, a former employee of the World Monument Fund, managed to persuade a number of private individuals to “adopt” a garuda for $30,000.

Like Preah Khan, Banteay Chhmar was built as a monastic complex by Jayavarman VII, the king who converted Cambodia to Buddhism. But the paucity of surviving inscriptions make it unclear exactly when and why. Writing in 1949, the historian Lawrence Palmer Briggs claimed the temple “rivaled Angkor Wat in size and magnificence.” It has four enclosures surrounded by a moat, a vast artificial lake, or baray, and could sustain a population of at least 100,000.

Romantic it may be, but much of Banteay Chhmar today consists of piles of lichen-stained rubble. Of 400 meters (1,300 feet) of bas-relief wall, only 25 percent still stands. Faced with collapsed or collapsing structure, Mr. Sanday and his team must decide what should be rebuilt or merely stabilized. Whether to replace the missing stones with newly quarried or recycled stone is another question.

A simple paradox lies at the heart of the restoration process: The less you notice, the better the job. Mr. Sanday sees overzealous rebuilding as compromising of a monument’s natural history, and much of its beauty. On the other hand, donors to projects such as these usually want to see tangible results, if not the revelation of some architectural marvel.

Mr. Sanday’s solution is to opt for a “presentation” of key areas of the temple, which in the future can serve as a model. Visitors will enter — as did the ancients —past the eastern gopura, along a causeway largely destroyed by 600 hundreds years of monsoons. Once that is rebuilt, they will advance toward the southeastern gallery of bas-reliefs and access the temple’s central areas along suspended wooden boards.

Under Predrag Gavrilovich, a Macedonian architect and colleague of Mr. Sanday’s, the fund is working on the southeastern gallery. Mr. Gavrilovich was responsible for rebuilding Preah Khan’s beautiful Dharamsala and Hall of Dancers almost entirely from scratch. His achievement was to completely disguise that fact by presenting something that seems utterly natural in its decay.

Can he do the same with Banteay Chhmar? His team has already reassembled the gallery’s square pillars and corbel vaulting. But the foundations need reinforcing before those parts can be lifted to their original position. “The building was not well constructed,” Mr. Gavrilovich said. “Maybe it was built in a hurry.”

For the “face towers,” Mr. Gavrilovich will have the benefit of new software developed by Hans Georg Bock at Heidelberg University in Germany. By scanning all the rubble and carefully analyzing each stone, it is possible to create a 3-D database for a virtual reconstruction of the entire monument.

The temple is only one part of Mr. Sanday’s project. His greater challenge is to turn a heavily mined former war zone with “finite” water supplies and massive scars on the landscape into a fertile and “zoned” area for responsible development as well as tourism.

So water has to come from somewhere. The reservoir the ancient Khmers built just north of the temple is heavily silted. Damming by villagers of the temple’s ornamental moat has resulted in flooding and wastage at monsoon time. With no evidence of an underground water table or any deep interventions, Mr. Sanday has invited James Goodman, a hydrologist in Geneva to research and map the course of the old waterways. Mr. Goodman has been looking both at images taken by the colonial École Française d’Extrême-Orient in 1945 and aerial photos used by the United States during the Indochinese war. The idea would be to rationalize water supplies and to create a well-drilling program.

For the project to work requires the support of the 12,000 or so villagers who might wonder what’s in it for them. Community Based Tourism, a French-inspired organization, aims at rewarding local people with 100 percent of tourist revenue. In 2007 and 2008, 512 visitors showed up. For $7 a night they were offered a tour, a room in a house with hot water and several hours of electricity.

Mr. Sanday is determined to prevent the kind of commercial pressures on temple sites that has dogged Angkor over many years. He said he thinks the authorities are behind him. “The ministry has set out clear zoning rules which dictate the position and size of new building and plans to create a new road that bypasses the temple,” he said.

The Culture Ministry’s heritage police will soon take charge of security. Only then might the return of the original bas-reliefs be possible under an agreement between the culture minister, the Global Heritage Fund and Unesco. That agency’s Teruo Jinnai, for one, welcomed the idea, provided “the security situation meets international requirements.”

It should happen. The return of these priceless bas-reliefs would demonstrate a new spirit of cooperation among those concerned with safeguarding Cambodian heritage. It could also send a clear message to those of ill intent to keep their hands off Banteay Chhmar.

Worsening Corruption Hampers Businesses: Studies

By Reporters, VOA Khmer
Original report Phnom Penh

High corruption, worsening “informal” charges, low transparency and crime remain concerns for business and investment expansion in Cambodia, especially in the downturn, two recent studies conclude.

A World Bank survey of 500 companies in the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and the provinces of Preah Sihanouk and Kampong Cham show that even with good performance in the economy, corruption remained their top concern. The second-highest worry was macroeconomic uncertainty due to deteriorating conditions in the global economy. The third-highest was anti-competitive practices.

“If business owners have concerns about the business environment, it reduces their willingness to take production risks and constrains growth,” the World Bank found.

A study by the International Finance Corporation and the Asia Foundation, meanwhile, found that informal charges have worsened, with 75 percent of more than 1,200 business owners surveyed claiming bribery was regularly required to win government contracts.

Furthermore, transparency of business documentation declined, the study found, as fewer firms have access to basic business documentation.

“Transparency is critical for small business,” the study said. “Without such information, firms avoid expansion for fear of experiencing unanticipated problems due to change in laws and other factors that impact the business climate.”

When Cambodia’s economy was growing, as it has for a number of years, such problems didn’t seem as serious as now, said Qimiao Fan, the World Bank’s Cambodia representative. But the global downturn has had a significant impact on Cambodia, so continued problems in the business environment could force some companies out of business, while potential investors look to other countries.

“I urge you all to take an active part to prepare Cambodia to a new level of initiative investment climate,” he said. “So that we can ensure Cambodia’s businesses are very competitive, not just in the country, not just in the region, but across the world.”

Commerce Minister Cham Prashidh agreed, promising to push local authorities to build up a better investment climate.

“The global financial crisis has made Cambodia’s economy worse,” he said. “At this time we have to make a better investment climate, such as transparency, and reduce corruption as much as possible.”

“Despite continued rapid growth, Cambodia is still regarded as a country where doing business is difficult,” the World Bank said its study.

Cambodia was ranked 135 out of 181 countries in the World Bank’s “Doing Business Rankings” and scored 110 out of 131 on a world competitiveness index.

The two studies found Cambodia lacking in large-scale investment, while small businesses increased dramatically.

Foreign direct Investment to Cambodia fell from $886.5 million in 2007 to $786.5 million in 2008, according to National Bank figures.

The studies did show some progress in Cambodia’s business climate, including lower entry cost, lower time cost for regulatory compliances, and an improvement in tax administration.

Cambodia considers night hours for Angkor Wat

Associated Press

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.

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.

4,000kg ingredients burnt

In a ceremony on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh, drug authorities burned more than 2.8 tonnes of ephedra herbs and nearly one tonne of other chemical substances. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

The Straits Times

June 2, 2009

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIAN authorities on Tuesday burned nearly four tonnes (4,000kg) of substances that could have been used to produce millions of metamphetamine pills, officials said.
In a ceremony on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh, drug authorities burned more than 2.8 tonnes of ephedra herbs and nearly one tonne of other chemical substances.

The material, confiscated in a crackdown on drug labs earlier this year, could have produced 'millions of methamphetamine pills,' said General Moek Dara, secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.

He said if illegal drug manufacturers had successfully produced the pills, they would have been trafficked to countries around the world.

'But we cracked down on time,' he told AFP, adding that some equipment used to make metamphetamines was also burned.

Impoverished Cambodia has become a popular trafficking point for narcotics, particularly metamphetamines and heroin, after neighbouring Thailand toughened its stance on illegal drugs in 2002. -- AFP

Teen puts college on hold for a year to volunteer in Asia

Chris Thelen/Staff
Augusta Prep graduate Jennifer Hicks is taking a year off between high school and college to do mission work in Cambodia and Tanzania. She leaves for Cambodia in September.


By Sarah Day Owen Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 02, 2009

While her friends are sitting in college classrooms this fall, Jennifer Hicks will be in a classroom in Cambodia, working with orphans as a volunteer with a relief agency.

Jennifer is taking a gap year between graduating from Augusta Preparatory Day School and attending college at the University of Georgia.

She's volunteering through United Planet, an international nonprofit. She also will serve in Tanzania.

She'll leave for Cambodia on Sept. 7.

"I've never been exposed to Asian culture," she said.

On Dec. 7, she'll return home, much like a winter break she would get from school, then leave Jan. 15 for volunteer work in Tanzania.

She'll return to the United States on June 1 so she can start her freshman year of college.

She is considering course-work in a medical field.

She'd also like to join the Peace Corps "and have something more than just enthusiasm to offer them," she said.

"I feel like I've seen the same thing every day for 18 years," Jennifer said. "I'm looking for culture shock."

Jennifer loves helping others. She recently returned from Mobile, Ala., where she helped build a house with Habitat for Humanity.

"I just want to be a part of a big movement to help others," she said.

A gap year makes sense to Jennifer. She's in no rush to get to college right after high school, and she thinks the time helping others will be well spent. Plus, this is a time in her life when she has few responsibilities.

"I feel like this is a good time to go," Jennifer said.

Jennifer, who attends the Unitarian Universalist Church on Walton Way Extension in Augusta, says the experience will also help her learn more about herself.

"I'm also going over there to widen my religious views," she said. "I'm looking to teach while learning."

Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or sarah.owen@augustachronicle.com.

Lightning strikes kill 93 in Cambodia this year

The Hindu

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

PHNOM PENH (Xinhua): Lightning strikes have killed 93 people in Cambodia at the end of May this year, local media reported on Tuesday.

According to a report of the Cambodia Daily, Ly Thuch, second vice president of the National Committee for disaster Management, said the death toll so far has amounted to the total number of last year. He said the actual death toll of this year was likely higher than the official tally.

With nearly six months of rainy season still ahead, this year promises to be far more deadly for lightning strikes.

Last week alone, at least five people were struck dead throughout the country. Kem Gunawadh, director general of state broadcaster TVK (TV of Kampuchea), said his station had begun airing messages in the evening, warning the public not to shelter under trees and to avoid metal objects during inclement weather.

Mu Sochua: One of Cambodia's precious gems

Photo by Lucia De Giovanni

Sara Veal, Contributor

Tue, 06/02/2009

When Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly insulted an unspecified female politician recently, he got more than he bargained for: His implied target turned around and sued him.

The prime minister’s insult might be considered typical in a country with continuing gender inequality, but that didn’t mean Mu Sochua was going to take it lying down.

For 20 years, Mu Sochua has been a voice for exploited Cambodians. As the Vietnam War spread to Cambodia in 1972, the then 18-year-old was exiled, with no chance to say goodbye to her parents, who later vanished under the Khmer Rouge regime. She spent 18 years overseas, studying and working in Paris, the US and Italy and in refugee camps along the Thai–Cambodian border.

Since her return in 1989, she has been hands-on in rebuilding her homeland, first as an activist and now as a politician, focusing on women’s and children’s issues.

“I had the choice of being part of the reconstruction of Cambodia and I took that choice,” said Sochua, a member of parliament for the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), the leading opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

In 1991, Sochua formed the first Khmer women’s organization, Khemara, and joined the FUNCINPEC political party, winning a national assembly seat representing Battambang in 1998. She soon became the first female minister for women’s and veterans’ affairs.

“What prepared me for the job was my early return, before the country was even officially open to the Western world, which put an embargo on it during 1975 to 1990.”

Her first ministerial act was to launch a national campaign for gender equality, Neary Rattanak (Women Are Precious Gems), which transformed an old Khmer proverb, “A man is gold; a woman is a white piece of cloth” into “Men are gold; women are precious gems.”

The rewritten proverb argues that women are as valuable as men; if “dirtied”, they can shine again like gems, rather than be stained forever like a muddied cloth.

However, in July 2004, she resigned, claiming corruption hindered her work. She joined the SRP, becoming the party’s first female secretary-general in 2006.

Her struggle has been recognized by several nominations and awards, including a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nomination and the 2005 Vital Voices Human Rights Global Leadership Award, presented by then US senator Hillary Clinton.

Sochua, who is fluent in English, French and Khmer, and holds degrees in psychology and social work from US universities, says her international background enhances her work, but only to a point.

“The Western education allows me to know what the international standards are for human rights, for gender equality and for quality of life, and it allows me to set these standards for the women of Cambodia, but in a modified way in order to keep in balance values and culture.

“I am very clear about what can work in Cambodia and what is totally from the West.”

She believes the key to positive change lies in giving people the right to participate in national development without discrimination.

“[Development] must be based on the preservation of the country’s resources, which are plentiful but so badly managed because of corruption and lack of rule of law.”

Sochua’s three daughters have all followed in her humanitarian footsteps. Although she says Asian people look at her with “sorry eyes” when they hear she has no sons, she is fiercely proud of her girls, saying they inspire her to fight even harder for equal access to education and healthcare and for gender equality.

“[Each time] I go to the police station and work with survivors of gender-based violence, I imagine myself a victim and that my daughters are caught in this cycle of violence.”

Her struggle led to her decision to sue Hun Sen for defamation, after he allegedly called her “cheung klang” (strong leg), an offensive term for women, during a speech in her Kampot constituency. He immediately responded with a countersuit, a threat to remove her parliamentary immunity and a request that the Cambodian Bar Association investigate her lawyer, Kong Sam Onn.

Without immunity, Sochua faces imprisonment and her lawyer faces disbarment. However, she is determined to proceed with the case.

“If no action was taken against [his] words, the people will never want to seek assistance from me again,” she says, adding his comments violated her rights and generally devalued women.

While she believes she has little chance of a fair trial, with the courts said to be under the influence of the executive, she hopes her case will publicize the weaknesses of the judiciary and demonstrate that no one is above the law.

Whatever the outcome, Sochua continues to look to the future. She hopes Cambodia can eventually be economically independent and a key player in ASEAN, citing Indonesia as a model to follow.

“For that we need to be accountable to our people first and be credible in the eyes of the ASEAN community,” she says. “That is the long-term investment I am working on and why I intend to remain in politics: To give what it takes to bring new leadership for Cambodia and to give our youth of today a chance to have what youth in neighboring nations are enjoying.”

This determination shows she cannot be stained by any dirty words, no matter who throws them.

Children's Day at Prey Sar

A young inmate at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison looks at a prison guard during International Children’s Day celebrations.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

THE RIGHTS group Licadho distributed gifts to 408 minor inmates and 17 children incarcerated with their mothers at Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison Monday to mark International Children's Day.

The inmates were entertained by the popular comedians Tuy and To during an event held Monday morning. Of the 408 incarcerated minors, most of whom are males, 369 were arrested on robbery charges, said prison Chief Chat Sineang.

"It is a shame we have to celebrate International Children's Day in prison, but we must," he said. "These prisoners have done harm to their society, and they must pay for what they have done."

Tham Keng, chief of the Interior Ministry's Prison Correctional Department, said he hoped the presentation of gifts to the inmates would allow them to feel like valued members of society.

"By bringing gifts to the prisoners, Licadho is proving that they do not discrimate against anyone, and that they believe the prisoners can change their bad attitudes," he said.

Licadho representative Ham Sunrit said International Children's Day was being celebrated in 14 of Cambodia's 26 prisons, adding that the celebrations allowed the rights group to highlight concerns about the treatment of minors living behind bars. As of February 2008, there were a total of 50 children living with their mothers in 18 of the prisons that Licadho monitors.

According to its 2007 report, "Prison Conditions in Cambodia: The Story of a Mother and Child", the group's chief concerns include limited access to food and clean water, cell overcrowding, "routine denial of quality medical services" and violence on the part of prison officials and other inmates.

The gift packs distributed Monday included raisins, soy milk, toothpaste, toothbrushes, antibacterial soap, combs, bottled water, bread, fruit and toys.

Sam Sokna, 24, a prisoner at Prey Sar who is serving a six-year sentence for pimping, said she was encouraged by the NGO's visit to the prison.

"This is not the first time they have come," she said. "They always come to give us gifts on Women's Day and for P'chum Ben. These occasions make me feel warm and not hopeless."

7 suspects grilled over Tuol Kork slayings

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

SEVEN men arrested on suspicion of being part of a gang that committed an armed robbery could also be responsible for the brutal torture and killing of three children in Tuol Kork last month, officials said Monday.

"Our district police are now interrogating the men to search for more suspects from this group," said Kuoch Chamroeun, governor of Phnom Penh's Meanchey district.

"We also suspect their group might be involved in the savage murder of the president of the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions Tep Darong's [children] last month," he added, but said the men had all denied involvement in the Tuol Kork killings.

The seven suspects were arrested after police received a number of complaints about the group, Mao Saroeun, police chief of Stung Meanchey commune, told the Post.

He added that upon arrest, the group admitted to have conducted armed robberies in the past and showed police five AK-47 rifles they had concealed in a nearby forest in Prey Sor commune.

Possible links
The group denied allegations by police that they had links to a number of other recent armed robberies in Phnom Penh and other provinces.

"The men are now being detained temporarily at Meanchey district police station for interrogation over activities in the past," Kuoch Chamroeun said, adding that he could not elaborate further.

The seven men were arrested in a joint operation between Meanchey district and Stung Meanchey commune police officials.

Court seen as tool to stop critics

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua announces her lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen at party headquarters on April 23.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea and Sebastian Strangio
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

But observers divided on legality of all political speech

THREE Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers are now on the receiving end of defamation lawsuits filed by officials from the ruling Cambodian People's Party, drawing criticism from rights groups who say that the government is increasingly using the courts to silence political opponents.

"The defamation lawsuit against the SRP lawmakers shows an inclination to shut down the rights and freedoms of this party," the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said in a statement Monday.

In recent weeks, SRP President Sam Rainsy has been sued for defamation by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema over comments that city officials bought votes during the May 17 council elections. Lawmaker Mu Sochua is to appear in court Wednesday to answer questions relating to a defamation suit by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Lawmaker Ho Vann, who is accused of defaming 22 RCAF officials by questioning the validity of degrees awarded to them by a Vietnamese military academy on April 20, is also set to appear in court Friday.

But opinions are divided on the extent to which the right to political freedom of speech should trump other freedoms and rights.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said lawmakers should be able to talk freely on any issue - a right symbolised by their immunity from prosecution - but that the SRP's recent successes at the May 17 provincial, district and municipal council election had put it in the CPP's firing line.

The judicial system, which he said is "100 percent" under the control of the ruling party, was now being brought to bear on outspoken politicians.

"The CPP is aware that we are stronger and stronger. So now there's another trick in the process of intimidation, [which is to] use the courts and the judicial system to threaten SRP members," he said.

"We are not afraid of that because we have been used to it since the establishment of the party."

Deliberate or not, other observers said that officials had the right to file defamation lawsuits if they felt their reputation was subject to unfair attack.

"Article 39 of the Constitution states that someone can sue whomever defames him... if it affects [that person's] honour," said Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation.

Everyone has freedom of expression, but that freedom... cannot affect someone else's rights.

"It is an individual's right. We cannot prohibit lawsuits."

He added that while international covenants and local laws guaranteed freedom of speech, the freedom was not absolute.

"Article 19 of the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights states that everyone has freedom of expression, but that freedom of expression cannot affect someone else's rights," Heang Rithy said.

Then there is the issue of judicial independence, said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project. While he said he could not comment in detail on what has prompted these three recent cases, he said the fairness of the process was a concern.

"The problem is the independence of the judiciary. If the judiciary is independent, we hope that it could solve the cases fairly," he said, but added that good laws were of no use in a system where political interests held all the cards.

"Even the government recognises that the judiciary needs to be reformed. If it was independent and strong [already], there would be no need for reform."

On with the case
Meanwhile, SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who was countersued by the prime minister after she sued him, saying that he had made defamatory comments about her in an April speech, told the Post she was ready to face the charges Wednesday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

"I will appear at the court with my lawyer Kong Sam Onn. We are not scared of answering the court's questions," she said Sunday.

"I did not defame Samdech Hun Sen. What I said followed [his] comments."

Kong Sam Onn, who also faces an investigation by the Cambodian Bar Association after Hun Sen's lawyer Ky Tech accused him of violating professional codes of ethics by speaking publicly about the Mu Sochua case, appeared before a Bar inspection team for the second time Monday.

But the meeting was suspended for the second time after Kong Sam Onn requested that the Bar replace one of the inspection panel members - lawyer Hem Voun - who he claims is closely involved with Ky Tech.

"[Hem Voun] is a member of Ky Tech's lawyer club. For Ky Tech to accuse me and then to investigate my case is not right," he said.

"As a lawyer, I must defend myself as well."

A similar Bar inspection hearing last Monday was also postponed after the meeting failed to achieve a quorum.

Bar Association President Chiv Songhak said he supported Kong Sam Onn's request but did not say who will replace Hem Voun on the inspection team.

Hem Voun said that, as a professional lawyer, he understood the request and "did not oppose" it.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith and senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap could not be reached for comment Monday.

Ban imposed on commercial fishing to replenish stocks

Women collect fish in Kampot province earlier this year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Officials say they are optimistic that the ban in selected provinces will improve Kingdom’s fish stocks next year

THE Fisheries Administration has announced the end of the fishing season and a four-month ban on commercial fishing to allow fish stocks time to replenish.

"The closure takes place because from [Monday] onwards, about 90 percent of fish start breeding," Nao Thouk, director of the Fisheries Administration, told the Post on Monday.

"We will end large-scale fishing and we will only allow small-scale subsistence fishing so that families are able to eat."

The fishing season ends Monday for provinces located north of Chaktomuk river, including Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang, Preah Vihear, Kratie and Stung Treng. Provinces located south of Chaktomuk, including Kandal and Takeo, will have to stop commercial fishing from July 1.

Tat El, chief of Koh Dach commune in Kandal province, said in his commune fishing has already been scaled back due to a lack of fish this season.

However, Nao Thouk anticipated an increase in fish yield - possibly up to 400,000 tonnes, from 370,000 last year - when fishing restarted after the ban, saying that he had observed early fish breeding and an apparent increase in the number of baby fish. He attributed the increase to a zealous crackdown on illegal fishing last year, which saw his administration take action against some 1,000 instances of abuse.

Last year, the Kingdom exported approximately 30,000-40,000 tonnes of fish, according to government data.

"This year, even though we expect that there will be an increase in fish yield, we plan to export only about 20,000 tonnes of fish," he said, adding this would allow stocks to replenish long term.

Nao Thouk said there are about 165 breeding grounds across Cambodia.

TV commentator sued for defamation after Preah Vihear remark

Written by Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Khmer Civilisation Foundation president, Moeung Sonn, says suit against Soy Sopheap made over on-air comment that damaged his reputation

PRESIDENT of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation (KCF), Moeung Sonn, on Monday filed suit against a Cambodian Television Network commentator for defamation and provocation in remarks that appeared in print and on air.

Moeung Sonn said his lawyer had sent a complaint to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday against commentator Soy Sopheap for a statement that was made on television and subsequently published in the newspaper Deum Ampil that he said damaged his reputation.

"I asked the court to proceed with the case in accordance with the law," Moeung Sonn said. "And I asked for 400 riels [US$0.10] in damage compensation."

KCF represents residents near Preah Vihear seeking restitution from Thai authorities for the destruction of a market by Thai forces during a border skirmish in April.

The lawsuit stems from a comment Soy Sopheap made suggesting that government officials were displeased with restitution efforts on behalf of the Preah Vihear residents.

More than 300 families were left homeless in the aftermath of the clash that resulted in the market's destruction.

"I just want justice done," Moeung Sonn said.

Soy Sopheap said his comment did not specify any particular name and that his newspaper had already published a clarification letter from Moeung Sonn last week.

"I welcome the lawsuit," Soy Sopheap said.

In late April, KCF set the cost of damgages to the Preah Vihear market at $1.2 million.

However, the group submitted a request for restitution of $9.2 million, in compensation for the loss of property and businesses, as well as for mental health issues.

Last week, Thailand's foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, confirmed that the Thai government was in the process of reviewing the compensation request.

"I have already received the diplomatic notice from Cambodia and ordered involved institutions to investigate on this issue," he told reporters Thursday.

Day labourers with no permits allowed in Thailand: officials

A ccording to a report by the Association for Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, legal labourers in Thailand receive an average payment of between US$180 and $400 per month, while illegal migrants receive much less and risk being cheated by their employers.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Border officials say informal agreement allows Cambodians to cross border for work as long as they do not spend the night

THOUSANDS of Cambodians are entering Thailand illegally as day labourers as part of an informal agreement between Thai businesses and Thai local authorities that allows short-term work for Cambodians without proper permits, Cambodian officials told the Post.

"For a day labourer, they are promised by their employers and the authorities that they can work if they do not stay overnight," said Chea Sophat, head of the Phnom Dey border gate in Sampov Loun district of Battambang.

He said that about 400 villagers from his district work in Thailand during the day but return to Cambodia at night without being hassled by Thai border police, even though they have no work permits.

"They only work in Thailand during the day. Their workplace is close to the border, and Thai police do not allow them to stay long days," he said.

At the major checkpoints, said Sao Bunrith, the immigration police chief at the Poipet international border gate, Cambodian workers are still not being allowed through without permits, but at the smaller "corridor gates", more Cambodians are crossing back and forth on a daily basis.

Hem Bunny, the director of the Employee and Manpower Department, said that Cambodian workers are going to Thailand because, as a result of economic crisis, Thai employers are increasingly employing illegal Cambodian migrants for lower wages than local workers.

Without proper work permits, Cambodians do not fall under the Thai Labour Law, which guarantees protections such as equal pay for Cambodians when compared with Thai workers.

Haemophiliacs seek recognition

Children with haemophilia during the commemoration of International Haemophilia Day at the National Paediatric Hospital.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Doctors and sufferers of the blood disorder haemophilia used World Haemophilia Day to call for greater recognition of the condition, which often goes undiagnosed in Cambodia

MEDICAL professionals, haemophilia patients and families gathered at the National Paediatric Hospital (NPH) Monday in a joint celebration of both International Child Day and World Haemophilia Day.

This was the first meeting organised by the recently formed Cambodian Haemophilia Association (CHA), created to give support to those suffering from the blood disorder that limits a patient's ability to produce the essential blood-clotting protein known as factor 8.

"Our mission is for families to band together to convince the government and Ministry of Health to establish a national guideline for the treatment of haemophilia and provide the medicine patients require," said Dr Chean Sophal, pediatrician for NPH and medical adviser for CHA.

Without regular injections of the protein factor 8, Sophal said, patients become handicapped due to recurrent bleeding in the joints that damages the muscles. Without proper knowledge and health management, many patients die from blood loss, as without this protein their bodies are unable to stop bleeding.

Haemophilia affects one in every 5,000 men worldwide, according to medical laboratory scientist Robyn Devenish, who diagnosed the first case of haemophilia in Cambodia in 2001.

"Everyone said setting up a testing system here was a waste of time," she said. "But within three months, the first cases were turning up. The problem was no one knew what to do, so we had to teach the doctors how to treat it."

Dependent on donations
There are currently 45 registered haemophilia patients in Cambodia being treated at either NPH or Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap. In the developed world, treatment is provided free and is readily available, Devenish said, but in Cambodia factor 8 is donated from abroad in limited amounts.

Twelve-year-old Say Usaphea has lived with swollen limbs, bleeding gums and other complications since he was 7 months old.

Diagnosed only three years ago, Say Usaphea has received enough treatment to improve his condition, but his left knee is still about twice the size of the right.

But despite ongoing complications, Say Usaphea proudly boasted that even with the limited donations of factor 8 he has received, "I can now ride my bike to school".

Newly elected CHA Chairman Noun Vorleak, whose 2-year-old son also suffers from the blood disorder, said: "We hope to hold future events like this to push us to stand together in raising awareness and finding sponsorship both locally and internationally."

Graphic warnings on cigarette packs ready to be implemented

Written by Khoun Leakhana
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

A decree making it necessary for cigarette companies to display photographic health warning on packets awaits final approval

GRAPHIC health warnings about the dangers of cigarettes will soon be obligatory on every cigarette pack sold in Cambodia to ensure that the Kingdom meets its obligations under a World Health Organisation treaty, government officials and local NGOs said Monday.

Lim Thai Pheang, director of the National Centre for Health Promotion at the Ministry of Health, said an official decree was ready to be implemented, but needed to be officially approved by the minister of health.

"The decree will decide on how the warnings will be placed on cigarette boxes, how much of the box the warning will take, where on the box the warning will go and what photos and words should be used," he said, adding that he did not know when the decree would be finished.

The graphic warnings will inform consumers that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, lung swelling, stroke, heart disease and tooth decay, the Ministry of Health said.

Placing warnings on cigarette boxes is required under the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Cambodia signed in November 2005.

"The health warnings on cigarette boxes are of great importance to remind smokers of all the different kinds of diseases that can be caused by smoking," said Mom Kong, executive director of local NGO the Cambodian Movement for Health.

WHO recommendations
The WHO said that the warning should follow four recommendations in order to be effective in deterring smoking.

First, the warnings should show suffering, great pain or other ill-effects of smoking.

Second, the warnings should be placed at the front or the back of cigarette boxes and not on the "unimportant" sides' and third, the warnings should cover about 50 percent of the front or back of the box.

Finally, the warnings must be "active", meaning they should be updated at least every three years.

In the past, Dr Yel Daravuth, the national officer for the WHO tobacco initiative, has applauded the government for its commitment to the treaty, even though Cambodia missed the deadline for implementation earlier this year.

According to a 2004 Tobacco survey by the National Institute of Statistics at the Ministry of Planning, 54 percent of Cambodian men 20 years and older smoke, compared with 6 percent of women 20 years and over.

Lush rice fields aren't the only green these 'smiling' farmers like to grow

A farmer in Battambang's Tatok 2 village smokes marijuana in a traditional bamboo pipe.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

A group of farmers living on the outskirts of Battambang say a tradition of growing and smoking marijuana together is the perfect start to grueling days in the fields

Mong Russei, Battambang

IN Tatok 2 village, a sleepy backwater some 50 kilometres outside Battambang town, a group of rice farmers sit in a circle underneath a wooden stilt house. With their kramas and their work-worn hands, they look like salt-of-the-earth paddy workers, but the thick, smoky haze hovering above them betrays their illicit secret.

"I cannot stop smoking [marijuana]. If I don't smoke, I won't have the energy to farm," said Soun Sopheak, 28, who claimed he learned to smoke when he was just 12 years old.

Soun Sopheak and all the farmers interviewed for this story requested that their names be changed.

In Tatok 2, a small group of men meet twice a day to smoke marijuana, a much-loved collective ritual that all of them say makes life more enjoyable. Using a traditional long bamboo pipe, a small cuttingboard and a knife, the men get high before heading off to their paddy fields to plant rice.

But in 1996, Cambodia made growing, selling and smoking marijuana illegal. In Tatok 2, however, growers say the police have turned a blind eye to small-scale cultivation of marijuana, as long as the weed is only grown for personal use.

"We do not plant it in order to sell. We keep it for ourselves, so the authorities close their eyes and allow us this crop," said Soun Sopheak, adding that most houses in the area have between 20 and 30 marijuana plants.

If I don't smoke [marijuana], I won't have the energy to farm.

"We know the authorities have made it illegal, but we smoke it secretly, and we plant it behind our houses and put up a bamboo fence to hide it from prying eyes," Soun Sopheak said.

Khuon Samnang, 52, who said he maintains between 50 and 60 plants, said that periodically people will visit the village and try to purchase the drug, but that despite their poverty, they refuse to sell it.

"Sometimes, a few people from Battambang town come to buy from us, and they offer to give us US$25 for 1 kilogram, but we do not sell for them because ... I am afraid the police will arrest me."

In Tatok 2, smoking marijuana has become a secret bonding activity for the men.

"I could not smoke alone. I must have partners because we need partners to talk with. In the morning and at night at about 7pm, we get together to smoke, and we share with our friends if they do not have marijuana," Soun Sopheak added.

The community has even developed a code so they can communicate to each other in public without arousing too much suspicion.

"We have a phrase for inviting our friends to smoke marijuana with us: ‘Let's go to see the cloud eddies in the sky.' If they hear this, we will go meet at a friend's house together," Khuon Samnang said.

Pot better than booze
The men are hardly rebels, but they say that despite knowing the drug is illegal, they have no desire to quit.

"Smoking marijuana makes me happy. When I get high, I always smile ... but I still feel like I have power," said Chhoum Chouk, 58.

Khuon Samnang agreed, adding he felt that getting stoned was better for Cambodian society than getting drunk.

"Smoking marijuana is better than drinking wine, which can sometimes cause violence. But smoking only causes smiling and sleeping," he said.

The police, he said, used to warn the villagers that they could face a 5 million riel (US$1,200) fine and a one-year prison term, and during that time, the men had to smoke in secret "like thieves".

Even then, he said despite the dangers, the men could not stop smoking.

"We wanted to stop, but we could not. When the time that we normally smoked arrived, it caused a feeling in me that said I must go smoke," he said.

Health risks
Gnou Sothy, head of the provincial health department, said that for many people who smoke marijuana regularly, stopping can be very difficult. Though he said marijuana was safer than some other illegal drugs, he warned that long-term use posed serious threats.

"Smoking marijuana brings on mental health problems. If people smoke habitually for a long time, it can impact people's lungs and nerves," he said.

The Mong Russei district police chief, Kith Hean, said that large-scale cultivation and use of marijuana in his district had been eradicated through a policy of burning marijuana fields.

"Before they planted a lot, but we went directly to their fields and burned them," he said.

Long Som, governor of Mong Russie district, credited an extensive education campaign for stamping out marijuana use in his district.

"We have been educating our people for a long time.... Now in my district, nobody is smoking," he said.

Thai military encroaching on hill at Preah Vihear, RCAF warns

Photo by: Tracey shelton
A Cambodian soldier carries a rocket-propelled grenade at Preah Vihear earlier this year.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Military commanders say they are monitoring construction of a new road on Thai side of border

THE commander of an RCAF brigade at Preah Vihear said Monday that they were closely monitoring a road construction project undertaken by Thailand that they said was approaching Phnom Trop, located two kilometres from the temple.

"The Thais are constructing a road in their territory about one kilometre from Phnom Trop, where our soldiers are standing," said Yim Phim, commander of RCAF Brigade 8.

"They see that we have a road near here, so they are building one on their land. They can build it in their territory but not in the disputed area," he added.

He said he first noticed that the road was approaching Phnom Trop last week.

Also Monday, Sao Socheat, deputy commander of RCAF Military Region 4, said 15 Thai soldiers had established a base last month at Chak Chreng, known as Hill 600, a disputed knoll located near Phnom Trop.

"Before this place had no one on it," he said.

"Soldiers from both sides were patrolling along it and then going back to their bases. But 15 Thai soldiers are now based on the hill and are not returning to their original base every day as they had done before."

He said RCAF officials were pressing Thai military officials to get the soldiers away from Chak Chreng, adding: "We will not allow them to settle there."

Kamrob Palawatwichai, first secretary for the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The news channel Thai ASEAN News Network reported on Monday that Wibulsak Neepal, a Thai army commander, said soldiers had been patrolling the area "as usual" and were "well within the parameters of the agreement regarding border conflicts".

Neepal said the claims of Thai soldiers based on Chak Chreng were likely the result of a misunderstanding on the part of Cambodian journalists, according to the report.

Students at Buddhist centre get KR textbook

Written by Mom Kunthear
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

DC-Cam’s distribution reaches disadvantaged

THE Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) on Thursday handed out Khmer Rouge history textbooks to 100 disadvantaged students at the Buddhism Education for Peace centre at Wat Ounalum in Phnom Penh as part of its nationwide distribution of the text.

"My students are too poor to afford the book. So I requested the Documentation Centre to donate the books in order for them to know about Khmer Rouge history," said Pou Sovachana, an adviser and volunteer teacher at the centre.
"I am happy to know that they have the book in their hands," he said.

The textbook is the first to be given out to individual students at schools and will be introduced into the school curriculum following distribution of a teachers' guide on how best to engage students on the subject.

"I have never read a Khmer Rouge history book, but I used to hear the older people talk about this. Now I have this book in my hand, so I will read it to know more clearly about Khmer Rouge history," said Luch Bunchhoeun, a student at the centre.

The centre will continue its distribution this week, travelling to Kandal, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces to hand out 60,000 books, DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang said Monday.

Final days at Group 78


Written by Sovann Philong
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

A boy sits next to his family's possessions Monday at Group 78 as they prepare to leave their home to make way for road construction. Many families in the community claim title to the land but have been living under threat of eviction for years. City Hall says the houses are build on state public land. Many other communities in the area, including Dey Krahorm and Sambok Chab, were evicted as land prices in the area soared.

PM calls for South Koreans to increase investment

Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses the ASEAN-Korea CEO Summit Sunday in Seogwipo on South Korea’s Jeju Island where he called on South Korean investors to increase investment in the Kingdom. AFP

ASKOrea to double FUNDING to SEAN

SOUTH Korea said it plans to double its development-assistance funding to ASEAN to US$400 million by 2015, President Lee Myung-bak told leaders of the 10 countries Monday. South Korea is trying to build ties and trade with ASEAN countries to help avoid a recession. Lee said Sunday that South Korea and ASEAN will seek to bolster annual trade to $150 billion by 2015 from $90 billion last year. South Korea will also increase its ASEAN cooperative fund for cultural and personnel exchanges to $5 million from $3 million by 2010, Lee said in a speech at the opening ceremony of a two-day ASEAN summit on Jeju island, South Korea.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Hun Sen encourages influx of South Korean capital during ASEAN-Korea meeting on Jeju island, pushing for investors in all major economic sectors

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has appealed to Korean investors and ASEAN members to invest in natural resources, tourism and agriculture in Cambodia at a high-level summit in South Korea.

"I want to encourage Koreans to invest in Cambodia - especially in agriculture, tourism, oil and gas," the premier said Sunday evening at the ASEAN-Korea CEO Forum in Seogwipo on South Korea's Jeju island.

Hun Sen said Cambodia hoped to cooperate with ASEAN and South Korea in other sectors such as bio-mass and bio-gas, renewable energy and hydropower.

"I hope to see investment capital flow from [South] Korea to Cambodia ... for investment in property, banking and finance," said Hun Sen.

South Korea has been one of Cambodia's largest investors recently, particularly in construction. South Korea invested US$472.89 million last year, according to figures released by the country's embassy in Phnom Penh. That was down on an all-time high of $629.5 million in 2007. There are 475 South Korean companies registered in Cambodia, 173 of which were new last year.

Hun Sen said the government views agriculture as a key sector for the national economy that has protected the Kingdom from the full impact of the global economic crisis.

I hope to see investment capital flow from [South] Korea to Cambodia.

He added that the government has provided land to the private sector for large-scale agricultural projects to create rural employment. The private sector is encouraging Korean investment in agro-industry and food processing for export, rather than just the farming sector, according to Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC).

"It is good if Koreans come here to build processing capacity for domestic trade and export - we are still very weak in terms of processing capacity," he said.

He expressed concern over land disputes because of the confusion created over demarcation of state and private land. "It will help farmers if we can be sure that land concession won't come from grabbing farmers' land," said Yang Saing Koma.

But Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Government-Private Sector Working Group, said Koreans have not yet expressed interest in tourism projects such as resorts or islands.

"I think to profit from tourism, it needs 10 to 20 years, and Cambodian investors should quickly take this opportunity," he said.

South Korea is a major source of tourism for Cambodia with 266,525 arrivals in 2008, or 12.5 percent of total foreign visitor numbers.

Cambodia was due to sign an Memorandum of Understanding with South Korea on mineral exploration in the Kingdom during the summit.

Govt requests tourism price drop for recovery

Tourists wait outside the Royal Palace Sunday in Phnom Penh. The tourism sector has suffered from the global economic crisis.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by ROS DINA
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Ministry of Tourism calls on companies in Siem Reap to slash prices by 20pc in attempt to revive flagging visitor numbers

MINISTRY of Tourism officials plan to ask private sector tourism service providers in Siem Reap province to lower the price of individual services and package tours in a bid to bolster tourism during the low season, which runs through September.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said Monday that the request was in response to new ministry data indicating a 14 percent decline in foreign tourists to the province during the first four months of 2009.

Figures from the Apsara Authority, which manages Angkor Wat, point to a decrease of 22.38 percent during that same period. Nationwide, foreign tourism declined by only 2 percent.

Officials will broach the idea during a meeting with hotel and guesthouse operators, restaurant owners and transportation providers during a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Thong Khon said.

Thong Khon said he believed the prices of package tours in particular should be significantly reduced.

"I think we can at least cut the price by 20 percent, and then we will try to advertise the lowered prices in order to attract more tourists," he said.

Thorng Khon called for print and electronic media companies - including television and radio stations - to offer discounts on advertisements placed by tourism service providers.

Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Government Private Working Group on Tourism, said the request to lower prices by 20 percent could be acceptable as long as service providers received assistance from the ministry.

"In line with the discount, we need support from the government, and we want to know how the government can help the private sector," he said.

As an example of potential support, Ho Vandy said the government should consider lowering electricity rates for tourism service providers, as "electricity is very necessary for tourists while they are in Cambodia".

He said; "If the electricity price stays the same, how can we lower prices by this much? Price reductions should start from the government and then carry over into the private sector."

Several tourism service providers said they would not be averse to the price reduction.

Price reductions should start from the government and then carry over.

Lach Lei, an independent French-language tour guide, said he would lower his rates if all tour guides agreed to do so.

Panha, owner of Do Do Guesthouse in Siem Reap, said she had already lowered her prices by 20 percent in May because of the decrease in tourists.

Pok Samnang, president of the Khmer Angkor Tour Guides Association in Siem Reap, said the association had not had time to consider the request but noted that tour guides' rates were often negotiated with hotels.

"Sometimes, they agree to US$10 to $15 per day, but usually English-language tour guides are paid $20 per day," he said.

Crisis causes closures
Ho Vandy said this year's tourism decline, which he attributed to the global economic downturn, had already forced several hotels to close and several others to reduce their employees' hours.

He said "thousands" of hotel and restaurant employees had lost their jobs since the downturn began.

According to April 2009 ministry figures, Cambodia saw 622,288 tourists in the first quarter of the year, a decline of 3.4 percent. The number of tourists in April increased by 2.3 percent compared to April 2008.

Tax holiday on farming, industry extended

Written by Chun Sophal
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

FINANCE Ministry officials say they are adding three years to the tax holiday on agriculture and industry investments, Minister of Finance Keat Chhon announced to the National Assembly at the weekend.

"We will not collect profit tax for an additional three years from this year on," said Keat Chhon.

According to Cambodia's law on taxation, all companies are required to pay a 20 percent profit tax after a six-year exemption. The new rules would raise that to nine years.

Khaou Phallaboth, president of Khaou Chuly Group, which invested in 10,000 hectares of rubber plantations in Stung Treng province, said Monday he welcomed the new tax break, adding that it would give the sector a much-needed boost.

"This is a good way of getting us out of financial difficulties," he said.

He said since 2008 companies had been under pressure because of lower rubber prices.

Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for the Study and Development of Agriculture (CEDAC), said the tax breaks would only help large companies.

"I think that the government should consider helping poor farmers and their communities because [farmers] are important for food security and they provide jobs," said Yang Saing Koma.

Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture, said the tax break would help small and large companies and would encourage food processing.

"We think that all investors in agriculture will welcome these moves by the government,' Yves said.
The government could not confirm how much tax revenue would be lost as a result.

Ethanol orders unchanged despite price fall

Written by Nguon Sovan
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Cambodia’s first bio-ethanol factory in Kandal province says it has not benefitted from low costs as sales remain flat

THE recent decline in ethanol prices has not resulted in an increase in orders placed with Cambodia's first bio-ethanol plant, which opened in November, the head of the Korean company that operates the facility told the Post Monday.

Lee Dong Jun, Cambodia director of MH Bio-Energy Group, said ethanol prices had dropped from US$700 per tonne in November to $600 per tonne in May, but that the plant's export volume had not been affected.

"So far we have exported 20,000 tonnes of bio-ethanol fuel to European markets, and we expect to export an additional 20,000 tonnes by the end of the year," he said.

Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said Monday that the decline in ethanol prices could be attributed to the decline in the price of oil on international markets, which fell markedly after reaching record highs last summer before falling steadily ahead of a recent rally - oil prices increased by nearly 30 percent last month.

Ith Praing argued that the fall in oil prices had hit other fuels.

"Bio-ethanol is a kind of renewable energy, an environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline, so bio-ethanol and oils are linked," he said. "So when the oil price goes up, the price of bio-ethanol also goes up, and when oil prices go down, bio-ethanol also goes down in price."

Sar Peov, head of the administration unit at the factory, which is located in Kandal province, said the price of cassava had begun to recover slightly with the concurrent increase in the price of oil, though he could not provide figures supporting this claim.

Lee Dong Jun said the decline in the price of ethanol since November had also coincided with the decline in the price of dry cassava chips, a raw material used in ethanol production, meaning that the company had not experienced much change in revenue.

Cassava prices had also become depressed due to a Thai blockade on Cambodian exports designed to protect prices across the border. Sources in Pailin have recently told the Post that cassava is now getting through to Thailand.

"Now it is roughly $110 or $112 for a tonne of dry chips of cassava, which is down from between $130 to $180 per tonne last year," he said.

He added that the plant requires 100,000 tonnes of dry cassava chips per year, which it receives mainly from Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Kampong Cham provinces.

Lee Dong Jun expressed optimism regarding the plant's prospects, saying he expected international demand for ethanol to increase, which would lead to an increase in the amount of cassava the plant would need to operate.

"We will need more when we increase our production volume," he said.

Law on telecoms stalled at Council of Ministers: official

The long-awaited telecoms law will aim to address deliberately blocked signals between rival companies, the government said.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications says Council has held up draft since it was received two months ago, as private sector bemoans lack of consultation

AKEY law on telecommunications has stalled at the Council of Ministers, said Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun.

The minister said that the draft law was completed two months ago, but has been held up for no apparent reason.

"I don't know why the process is so slow ... it depends on the Council of Ministers," said So Khun. "But I don't think it should take long because it went through a National Assembly commission once already. It just needs some small changes.

"Once we have the telecoms law in place, the situation will be better than it is now," said So Khun.

The minister added that the law is meant in part to address interconnection problems across networks.

"We hope we can use this law to call for all operators to discuss and cooperate with each other to share equipment and antennas because there are too many in the country now," said So Khun.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said it had not intentionally held up the law, but was consulting with relevant ministries.

We are really disappointed about the slow pace of this law.

"The Council's duty is to consult on all kinds of laws sent from ministries and to coordinate inter-ministry meetings to make sure the law is in harmony with all ministries involved," he said.

He added that the council would also hold a plenary meeting, but that the law would not be halted.

A UN Development Programme discussion paper released last month said that the ICT sector had no clear legal framework and that mobile providers had been blocking incoming calls from competing networks.

Ken Chanthan, president of the Information and Communication Technology Association of Cambodia, said the country is open to newcomers, and that regulation had to be tightened to ensure more competition.

"If we don't have an IT and telecoms law and a clear policy, we won't be able to develop the sector," Ken Chanthan said. "This law is really important because it can pave the way for future development by encouraging more investment, ensuring transparency and promoting fair competition."

"We have been drafting the IT and telecoms law for many years," said Ken Chanthan. "We are really disappointed about the slow pace of this law - especially because we have not been updated with the latest information."

Networks Hello and qb were unavailable for comment Monday.

Minister So Khun said the new law would not result in higher government revenues because a sufficient number of companies were already in the market.

The UNDP discussion paper said that the ICT sector had been growing rapidly at more than 32 percent per year over the past five years.

There has been little transparency in ICT licensing, according to a private sector working group. The country has more than 4.3 million mobile-phone users and about 18,000 internet users.

ICT group heads to GMS meet

Written by Hor Hab
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

A DELEGATION of six Cambodians will join the Greater Mekong Subregion E-commerce workshop from Wednesday to Saturday to be held in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, said the Information and Communication Technology Association of Cambodia on Monday.

Ken Chanthan, president of the association, said he would lead the group and give a speech on the development of ICT and e-commerce in the Kingdom.

The event is designed to exchange experiences within the sector, promote trade and investment links within the region while also addressing key issues within ICT following the onset of the global financial crisis, he said.

Family portrait aims at more collective historical truths


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robbie Corey Boulet
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

But at the heart of Sambath Meas’s narrative is a personal journey of survival

Sambath Meas's The Immortal Seeds is not a memoir in the strict sense. The author, a 35-year-old Khmer-American paralegal who lives in Illinois, was not alive during most of the time period covered by her first book, which traces her family's history from the 1800s through the Vietnam War and beyond.

Even her treatment of the Khmer Rouge years, which dominates the book's concluding chapters, relies heavily on interviews with family members and scholars, as the author was too young to remember much of the period.

Yet throughout the book, regardless of the decade she is depicting, the author imbues her reconstructions of past events with the immediacy of someone who lived through them herself.

Moreover, with regard to content, The Immortal Seeds exhibits a memoir's emphasis on highly personalised, if not fully contextualized, experiences.

For instance, the book lacks a detailed examination of Khmer Rouge leaders' flawed plans to remake Cambodia as an agricultural utopia, but includes vivid descriptions of how mismanagement of the Battambang land to which Sambath Meas's family was relocated led to chronic food shortages.

And it lacks a general account of the challenges facing survivors, but includes a vivid portrayal of her father's attempt to travel to the Thai border to sell the family's remaining gemstones in exchange for food.

This approach suggests the manner in which Sambath Meas wanted her book to differ from much of what has been written about those years - in particular, how she wanted to tell her family's story, not the country's.

"Most books are written from the perspectives of outsiders," she said, adding that the nuanced stories of individual families are missing from "other accounts of the period".

And Sambath Meas hopes her effort to record her family's history might inspire other young Cambodians to do the same.
"I wish there were more young people of Cambodian descent who cared about what happened," she said.

Collective voice
Much of the The Immortal Seeds stems from interviews and research, and this sometimes raises questions about the various voices the author assumes during the course of the book, particularly in passages that reflect a point of view that could be disputed.

Several lines in the book point to a disdain for "snooty city people", depicting an elitist population that was by default contemptuous - even malicious - towards rural farmers and peasants.

For instance, when her father moved to the capital in 1963, Sambath Meas writes: "He couldn't help but wonder if there was something in Phnom Penh's water, because most of its residents seemed to suffer from sense and sensibility deficiencies.... They acted all high and mighty, as if they were dignified and sanctified beings just because they had indoor plumbing."

Who exactly is speaking here - the author or her father? The answer turns out to be neither. Rather, Sambath Meas said, the voice she strives for in such passages is collective.

"My understanding is that city people treated peasants with contempt and disrespect, and possessed a superiority complex," she said. "When such a group of people mistreats another group of people, the latter collectively remember and mistrust them. This is a view from my father, his father and others. It is also based on movies and songs from the past."

Sambath Meas later includes several less-than-flattering descriptions of the Vietnamese, both before and after their toppling of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, that can also be viewed as an attempt to tap into collective opinion.

Family history
But the vast majority of the book is concerned with Sambath Meas's own family members, especially her parents.
Her father comes across in the introduction as a chain-smoking, melancholy old man who, despite having spent decades grappling with violent memories of the 1970s, remains unable to move past them.

Sambath Meas describes the writing process as an attempt to shoulder part of his burden, one that led to an improvement in their "arduous relationship".

"When he started to open up, he began to feel better because he had suppressed his memories and pain for such a long time," she said.

The extent to which she focuses on her parents leads Sambath Meas to at times include information that will be of little interest to the typical reader, but she should be commended for the broader goal of trying to record her family's history before her relatives are no longer around to reflect on it.

"I hope that my book will inspire others to research their own history and background," she said.
Published in April, The Immortal Seeds is available through: www.wheatmark.com and www.amazon.com.

Right stuff from Sen Bunthen

Photo by: Virginie Noel
Sen Bunthen (right, blue shorts) throws a high kick at the face of May Sopheap during their non-title bout at TV5 boxing arena Sunday.

Written by Robert Starkweather
Tuesday, 02 June 2009

Sen Bunthen escaped a second-round brush with trouble and used his big right hand to punch his way past May Sopheap on Sunday at TV5 boxing arena

AFTER getting kicked in the head early in the second round, Sen Bunthen regained his composure and largely outclassed welterweight champion May Sopheap to win by decision Sunday at TV5 boxing arena.

Even before losing Sunday's non-title fight, May Sopheap was largely viewed as a champion on the wane with the 25-year-old veteran from Battambang losing three of his last four fights.

In comparison, Sen Bunthen has not lost a fight in nearly a year since winning and then losing a controversial pair of bouts for the welterweight title against May Sopheap.

Declared the winner in the first bout, Sen Bunthen was immediately stripped of the decision by Cambodian Amateur Boxing Federation president Om Yourann, who accused Sen Bunthen's corner of applying balm to his gloves and deliberately rubbing them in May Sopheap's eyes.

In the final round, May Sopheap stopped fighting briefly, turned away and rubbed intently at his left eye. Sen Bunthen drilled him with a right hard to score an 8-count.

May Sopheap outpointed Sen Bunthen in an extremely close rematch to claim the 67-kilogram title. Before every round, referee Chey Bunchoeu sniffed the gloves of both fighters, smelling for signs of dubious sportsmanship.

In the months since those fights, Sen Bunthen has beaten May Sopheap convincingly, as well as legends of the sport Outh Phoutang and Chey Kosal.

If there was a danger in facing May Sopheap on Sunday, it lurked in taking him too lightly. With his hands low in the opening seconds of the second round, 27-year-old Sen Bunthen slipped a right-left punch combination from the Battambang southpaw, but a trailing left roundhouse caught him on the jaw.

The kick stunned him for a second, but claimed he was not in any real danger after the fight. "I was little dizzy," he said. "No problem."

With his opponent leaning against the ropes and blinking hard, the veteran May Sopheap needed no cues. He followed the kick with another combination then lunged into the clinch with a knee. Sen Bunthen crumbled under the weight.
Photo by: Virginie Noel
Sen Bunthen binds his hands in preparation for his non-title fight against May Sopheap at TV5 arena Sunday.

Referee Chaum Chaury pulled the fighters to their feet and appeared to wave May Sopheap to the neutral corner, but when Sen Bunthen stood up, Chaum Chaury said nothing and waved the fighters on.

May Sopheap charged forward with another right-left kick combination, sending Kampong Cham's Sen Bunthen careening back into the ropes. May Sopheap shot in for the clinch and thundered away at the body with knees. Sen Bunthen, still starry-eyed, could do little but hang on.

Chaum Chaury broke the fighters and restarted them at center ring. May Sopheap came straight forward with a right-left kick combination which Sen Bunthen slipped and connected with a right hand to the chin, knocking May Sopheap back a step.

Sen Bunthen raised his eyebrows and smiled. Until that moment, he had mostly fought a lacklustre fight. The kick to his face had not only wobbled him, but appeared to wake him up.

Fifteen seconds later, Sen Bunthen landed another hard right that buckled May Sopheap, then half a dozen more after that. From there on out, it was all Sen Bunthen.

In the third round and beyond, Kampong Cham native Sen Bunthen hammered away at May Sopheap with big right hands.
Sen Bunthen caught May Sopheap with the right as the champ shot in for the clinch and, on a few occasions, just stepped away and let the southpaw barrel into the ropes alone.

As the fight slipped away, May Sopheap got careless and Sen Bunthen started loading up and picking his shots. He rocked May Sopheap with punches in both the fourth and fifth rounds, and it looked as if the Battambang fighter might fall.

In the dressing room afterwards, Vorn Viva, ISKA world middleweight champion and a fixture in May Sopheap's corner, gave the defeated fighter his analysis. "You lost it on hands," he said. "He was catching you with the right hand." Others in the room murmured in agreement. May Sopheap cleared his throat hard and shook his head, but said nothing.