Monday, 8 June 2009

Khmer Rouge prison chief: babies were 'smashed'

A handout photo shows former Khmer Rouge prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav better known as Duch (right) with his defence lawyer. Duch told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial Monday that his staff had murdered babies by smashing them against trees at a "killing field"

Mon Jun 8

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The former jail chief of the Khmer Rouge regime told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial Monday that his staff had murdered babies by smashing them against trees at a "killing field".

Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his nom de guerre Duch, is on trial for overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the hardline communist movement's notorious Tuol Sleng prison.

"The horrendous images of those (babies) smashed against trees, yes, that was done my subordinates," Duch said, referring to paintings depicting the atrocities committed by members of the 1975 to 1979 Khmer Rouge regime.

"I myself do not blame my subordinates, because they worked under me. I am criminally responsible," the 66-year-old added.

The former maths teacher, wearing a grey short-sleeved shirt, was responding to prosecution questions about the regime's policies at Tuol Sleng, where prisoners were often accompanied by their children.

Duch apologised at his trial late March, saying he accepted blame for the extermination of thousands of people at the prison, which served as the centre of the 1975-1979 regime's security apparatus.

But he has denied prosecutors' claims that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule, and maintains he only tortured two people himself and never personally executed anyone.

Duch faces life in jail if convicted by the court, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

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

The tribunal was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the United Nations and the Cambodian government, and is expected to next year to begin the trial of four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders also in detention.

Contrary Cambodia

8th June 2009

Cambodia is a country of contradictions, and tourists can find themselves marvelling at the ancient beauty of the temples of Angkor one day before being horrified by a memorial containing thousands of human skulls at the Khmer Rouge killing fields, on another.

The calm of the countryside is in stark contrast to the intense activity of the capital city Phnom Penh where the lively nightlife hides the country’s flourishing prostitution trade.

Bewildering? Yes. Boring? No. As first-time visitors to this increasingly popular South-East Asian tourist location, we started our journey in Siem Reap, a city which bases its livelihood on its proximity to the glorious temples of Angkor. Our limited time meant we had only two days to explore the 12th century temples, which stretch over a deceptively large area of which the famous Angkor Wat is only one part.

Starting our journey at the walled kingdom of Angkor Thom, our first stop was the Bayon, the King’s state temple. Our childish sense of adventure was delighted by its hidden passages, steep stairways and endless ornate doorways. Next was Ta Prohm, a temple so overgrown by giant tree roots it captures the prehistoric imagination of all who visit, including the Hollywood producers who filmed Lara Croft: Tomb Raider here.

The constant presence of beggars following us was a reminder of the crushing poverty of this country in which four-year-olds ask you to take their photo then demand money; and victims of landmines, less forceful but no less visible, play music outside temples in the hope westerners will donate. It was in that context we arrived at Angkor Wat, the national symbol of Cambodia and the creation of King Suryavarman II. While impressed by its splendour and size, I could not help feeling the glories of the past could not compensate for the problems of the present.

Our second day was filled with temples further afield and shopping at the Psar Chaa markets in the city centre. The markets are a haven of jewellery, silks and wooden ornaments that would never be allowed through Australian customs.

The next day was a six-hour boat ride south down the Tonle Sap river to Phnom Penh. We were unprepared for the circus that greeted us as our boat docked in the capital city. Tuk tuk drivers grabbed our bags without warning and tried to herd us towards their vehicles, promising cheap rooms if we followed. Refusing all offers of assistance did not make us any friends but it enabled us time to breathe and find our own accommodation in the riverfront area of Phnom Penh. Dumping our bags on the top floor of a guesthouse with no lifts, we set out to explore the city.

The Tuol Sleng torture museum was known as the S-21 prison during the reign of the genocidal Pol Pot. A former high school, the museum now houses graphic photos of torture victims, found when it was liberated in 1979, and a series of mug shots of the sad faces of each prisoner who passed through its barbed-wire gates. A 15-minute tuk tuk ride out of the city then took us to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where most of the 17,000 detainees held at S-21 were executed. A glass tower containing 8000 human skulls and their clothes is overwhelming in itself. But walking through the killing fields, treading on human bones and clothing poking through the ground after years of erosion, was more disturbing.

The story of the Cambodian genocide is unavoidable in Phnom Penh. The city was emptied by Khmer Rouge soldiers in 1975, remaining uninhabited until the Vietnamese invaded in 1979. The Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 1.7 million of their fellow countrymen through execution, starvation and disease. The impact was devastating but no one has ever been held to account for the tragedy. The former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch is currently on trial for war crimes, while the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is a former Khmer Rouge commander.

The recovery of the country has been slow, with poverty endemic in most areas. We came face to face with an extreme example of this deprivation with a visit to the Stung Meanchey rubbish dump on the outskirts of the city. Here, hundreds of people live in nauseating squalor, making a measly living from collecting recyclable rubbish.

Our guide was David Fletcher, an English expatriate who runs a not-for-profit organisation that does food runs to the dump two or three times a week with the help of donations from young travellers. He also owns a local bar, mostly patronised by older Western men and young Cambodian women. After seeing our donations go directly into buying fresh food from the markets, we then helped out at the dump by attempting to keep order in the queues while bread rolls and fresh fruit were distributed. The scene was chaotic but our momentary contribution worthwhile.

A visit to neighbouring Laos was also on our itinerary and it couldn’t have been a more different experience. With a short history as a nation-state and a far less violent past, Laos, once a French colony, is known as a place to relax on the often chaotic South-East Asian backpacking route. The capital city Vientiane, has a population of just 300,000. We also visited Pha That Luang, a beautiful temple symbolising the country’s Buddhist influences and its fight for sovereignty.

Our next stop was a town called Vang Vieng, a 3 1 /2-hour bus ride north of Vientiane. Described by Lonely Planet as “soulless”, the whole town seemed to be on permanent school leavers’ week, with restaurants frequented by hung-over tourists playing Friends and Family Guy on a loop.

The main attraction of the town was the infamous tube ride down the Nam Song River. People have apparently died on the trip so it was with trepidation we hired our tyre tubes and jumped on a tuk tuk that drove us to the river bank. There we were greeted by pumping music, bars along the river serving $US3 ($3.60) buckets of cocktails, flying foxes and water slides. The recommended two-hour trip down the river took us six hours and, needless to say, was memorable.

A more cultural experience was awaiting us at our next stopover. Luang Prabang, a hairy eighthour bus trip north of Vang Vieng, is the former royal capital of Laos. A nature lover’s paradise, it is Unesco World Heritage-listed and attracts many eco-tourists.

Our adventures in this beautiful town and its surrounds included a visit to the stunning Tat Kuang Si waterfall and a kayaking trip to the Pak Ou Caves which contain thousands of Buddha images.

The future of this mainly undeveloped country rests heavily on its rapidly increasing share of the tourist trade. But its emphasis on eco-tourism will hopefully prevent the destruction of its largely untouched wilderness and unique national spirit.


Khmer Rouge bashed babies against trees

Sopheng Cheang
June 8, 2009

The Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s killed babies and toddlers - sometimes by holding their legs and smashing their heads against trees - so they would not seek revenge later in life, the group's former chief jailer said on Monday.

Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, commanded the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured before being sent to their deaths.

Duch, 66, is being tried by a UN-assisted genocide tribunal for crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died under the 1975-79 communist Khmer Rouge regime from forced labour, starvation, medical neglect and executions.

"I am criminally responsible for killing babies, young children and teenagers," Duch told the tribunal, never mentioning if he had personally carried out such killings.

He referred to photographs he was shown by the tribunal of a technique executioners used to kill child victims by bashing their heads against tree trunks.

"The horrendous images of the babies being smashed against the trees, I didn't recognise it at first. But after seeing the photographs I recalled that it had happened," Duch said.

"It was done by my subordinates. I do not blame them because this was under my responsibility."

Duch was shown the pictures in February 2008 when he was taken on a pretrial tour of S-21 and one of the country's notorious "killing fields" as part of an investigative process that involved taking the accused to the crime scene.

Duch recounted a Khmer Rouge policy on detained children: "There is no gain to keep them, and they might take revenge on you," which he said was told to him by the regime's former defence minister, Son Sen.

It is not known how many young children were killed at S-21, since photographs were not routinely taken of babies and young prisoners.

Photographers kept meticulous records of adult prisoners, which now line the walls of S-21, which was converted into a genocide museum.

Duch denied one of the grisly allegations in the prosecutor's indictment, that children of S-21 prisoners were taken from their parents and dropped from third floor windows to break their necks.

Duch told the tribunal that hurling children from windows would have panicked other prisoners, which would have run contrary to his orders. He said that prisoners were supposed to be kept in the dark of their destiny to be killed.

Duch is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions.

Senior leaders Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Ieng Sary's wife, Ieng Thirith, are all detained and are likely to face trial in the next year or two.

© 2009 AP

Thai premier reschedules visit to Cambodia this week

PHNOM PENH, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has rescheduled his visit to Cambodia this Friday, a Cambodian government official said Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told Xinhua that Abhisit will make a one-day official visit on Friday, and during which a handover of 7 pieces of Cambodian artifacts stolen by illegal smugglers will be officiated.

The Thai premier had earlier scheduled to visit Cambodia on April 18, but he cancelled it after the abrupt internal political problems.

According to Koy Kuong, Abhisit's visit to Cambodia will strengthen bilateral relations and the two countries' border issues that have turned into violence for nearly a year will be touched.

If the visit to Cambodia by Abhisit Vejjajiva is to be materialized as planned it will be his first ever official visit to this country since he came to office late last year.

It is a normal visit to be paid by any newly elected head of state or government to its neighboring countries, especially for those from among the 10 member states of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN comprises of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

Attacks on Jarvis multiply

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Helen Jarvis.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet
Monday, 08 June 2009

ECCC's head of Victims' Unit under fire from defence teams.

THE DEFENCE team for Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary on Thursday registered concerns about the recent appointment of former tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis as head of the court's Victims' Unit, arguing in a letter dated June 4 that her new duties conflicted with her outreach responsibilities.

The letter, addressed to the court's Deputy Director of Administration Knut Rosandhaug, also calls for an administrative inquiry into allegations that Jarvis's expressed political views could compromise her work at the court. In addition, it points to a book Jarvis co-authored in 2004 that the defence team said "strongly implies that Dr Jarvis has preconceptions about the alleged crimes", namely that they constituted genocide.

The bulk of the letter, though, concerns the conflict that will allegedly arise when Jarvis, who became head of the Victims' Unit last Monday, combines the responsibilities of that role with her outreach work.

"We are firmly of the view that amalgamating outreach activities of the entire court together with the interests of the Victims' Unit creates an inescapable conflict of interest for Dr Jarvis through no fault of her own," the letter states.

In an interview Sunday, co-lawyer Ang Udom said the switch from court spokespwoman to Victims' Unit chief amounted to a switch from an objective administrator to active party, making it impossible for her to impartially perform outreach duties.

"Jarvis used to work just with the administration," Ang Udom said. "But when she becomes chief of the Victims' Unit ... she becomes very active in the court process. She is a party in the court."

Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for Nuon Chea's defence team, said he "absolutely" agreed with the position articulated by Ang Udom and Michael Karnavas, Ieng Sary's international co-lawyer.

"The trouble is, I think that the court has done a pretty bad job of explaining what her outreach roles will encompass," Ianuzzi said.

Court spokesman Reach Sambath said Sunday that court officials had, before making the appointment, concluded that they could avoid a conflict by limiting Jarvis's involvement in outreach to what he termed "micro-outreach".

"We divided this very clearly, because public affairs will continue to focus on macro-outreach," he said. "And the Victims' Unit will minimise their outreach to micro-outreach. That means all the important work related to outreach activities will still be in the Public Affairs Section, and the Victims' Unit will focus on outreach for the victims."

But the May 18 press release announcing the appointment states: "Dr Helen Jarvis will continue to have oversight of [outreach] work."

Ianuzzi said the distinction between "macro-outreach" and "micro-outreach" was not made at the time of the announcement, adding that he had never heard of it before.

He said he had no problem with Jarvis performing outreach duties that were restricted to her role as head of the Victims' Unit.

Jarvis declined to comment Sunday, saying she had not seen the June 4 letter.

The defence teams for former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former social minister Ieng Thirith have yet to weigh in on the appointment. Sa Sovan, Khieu Samphan's co-lawyer, and Phat Pov Seang, Ieng Thirith's co-lawyer, both declined to comment Sunday.

Past writings
Concerns about Jarvis's political views were raised last week by Nuon Chea's defence team, which singled out a 2006 open letter signed by members of the Democratic Socialist Perspective's Leninist Party Faction, including Jarvis.

The letter states: "Against the bourgeoisie and their state agencies we don't respect their laws and their fake moral principles."

Karnavas said via email: "If she has made those comments and if she is an unrepentant Marxist-Leninist with views that are antithetical to the founding laws and principles of the Cambodian Judicial System, then, at a minimum, the inevitable perception that will arise whenever she is called upon to make an important or difficult decision is that she is promoting her revolutionary agenda."

Ianuzzi said the idea of an administrative inquiry was "probably not a bad idea".

Reach Sambath declined to say whether an administrative inquiry was underway.

The June 4 letter also singles out a book Jarvis co-authored in 2004 with the British journalist Tom Fawthrop titled Getting Away with Genocide: Cambodia's Long Struggle Against the Khmer Rouge.

The Ieng Sary defence team argues in the letter that the use of the word "genocide" calls into question Jarvis's "absolute impartiality", a requirement for spokespersons, which the letter argues has been established at other tribunals.

Karnavas said the book indicates that Jarvis "holds some strong opinions which ... call into question her objectivity".

Ianuzzi, who said he had not read the book, seconded that charge, saying, "Certainly it sounds like she has made up her mind about the fact of a genocide."


Govt addresses trafficked men's plight

Photo by: Christopher Shay
Mat Isa holds his new fishing net on Sunday. He received the equipment as part of a new Ministry of Social Affairs effort to help male trafficking victims.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay
Monday, 08 June 2009

THE Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation handed over a used wooden boat with some fishing equipment to Mat Isa, a male victim of human trafficking, on Sunday morning.

The handover was important for only one family, but the event in Phnom Penh also signalled a major shift in the government's treatment of trafficked males.

"Before, the government focused on women and children, but today, we change our strategy to also focus on men," said Kong Chhan, the deputy director general of technical affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs, as he handed over the boat.

Mat Isa, 28, was lured onto a Thai fishing vessel in January 2008 with promises of a steady wage at a Thai garment factory. But instead of earning money for his family, he says he was forced to work "day and night" without pay, living in constant fear of "the men with guns".

He says he watched his friend and fellow trafficking victim beaten to death in Thailand, and in Malaysia, he said he saw a stranger die in the grass in front of him, later hearing that a boat owner had killed him for refusing to work.

In his previous interviews with rights groups, Mat Isa denied having seen anyone murdered, but on Sunday, he said he had been "too happy" to be back on Cambodian soil to talk about the violence when he first arrived.

After enduring horrendous conditions at sea, he says he still feels lucky to have survived and been able to return home.

"Not everybody could escape from the boat," he said, adding that there were between 30 and 40 other labourers onboard, but that he knew only two other Cambodians who had returned.

Mat Isa was one of 17 Cambodians who were repatriated in December after jumping from fishing vessels in Malaysia. The Cambodian government - with US$12,000 from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) - has targeted these men for Cambodia's first male reintegration project.

"We do not have a lot of help for trafficked men at the moment, but we hope to focus on trafficked men in the future," said Kim Sovandy at the Ministry of Social Affairs' Anti-Trafficking and Reintegration Office.

The support for these men will match their specific needs, John McGeoghan from the IOM said. While Mat Isa received a fishing boat, other trafficking victims will receive phone repair training, piglets, ducklings or a moto, McGeoghan said.

Trafficking experts say that unemployment can push men back into the same risky situations that got them trafficked in the first place.

"When men go home, they mostly need work.... Without any reintegration program, men are more likely to be re-trafficked," said Lim Tith, the national project coordinator at the UN Inter-Agency Project (UNIAP) on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region.

If I didn't have a boat we would face a lot of problems. My family has no work.

Pheara Lek, the assistant to the director at the Healthcare Centre for Children (HCC), said it can be difficult for men to return home empty-handed.

"Their families expect that they will come back with money, but unfortunately, they often return with no money, and then they have to face their family," Pheara Lek said.

In Mat Isa's case, after returning home with nothing, he will finally be able to support his family.

"The boat will be used every day - not only by me, but also by my father. It will help my whole family," he said. "If I didn't have a boat, we would face a lot of problems. My family has no work."

Reliable statistics about the extent of male trafficking are unavailable, but many fear that the economic crisis could exacerbate an already serious problem.

"It's making people more vulnerable to taking risks. Less money coming into the family means more pressure to do what they wouldn't normally do. This can be taken advantage of by traffickers," McGeoghan said, adding, "unless you can give people an opportunity to feed their families or generate an income, you're not going to solve the problem".

McGeoghan stressed that though the IOM had supplied financial support, the goal was to make the authorities aware of the needs of men and expand the government approach to the trafficking to include men.

"We'd like to see the Ministry of Social Affairs sensitised to the fact that trafficking affects both men and women," he said. "It's all about getting responsibility to the government."

After having heard Mat Isa's story, the deputy director general of technical affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Kong Chhan, said he would propose changes to the Poipet Transfer Centre that would allow it to house men as well children.

Right now, Cambodia has only two shelters for male trafficking victims, one in Phnom Penh run by Legal Support for Children and Women and one in Koh Kong run by the HCC, according to Lim Tith.

The Phnom Penh Post News In Briefs

In Brief: Sok An to address revenue concerns

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Monday, 08 June 2009

Deputy Prime Minster and Chairman of Apsara Authority Sok An will appear in the National Assembly next week to address concerns about the revenue gathered from admissions to Angkor Wat, according to an official. "[Sok An] will be appearing in the National Assembly to answer all the concerns of parliamentarians," Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Sunday. "It's a good chance to put the opposition party's doubts and criticism against the government to rest." Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay sent a letter to Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly, on Thursday, calling on Sok An to answer questions relating to Angkor Wat tourist revenues, in addition to the issues of night lighting and temple conservation.

In Brief: SRP lawmaker appears in court

Written by Meas Sokchea
Monday, 08 June 2009

Prosecutors questioned Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ho Vann at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday, in relation to a defamation lawsuit brought by 22 military officers who have accused him of denigrating the quality of the degrees awarded to them by a Vietnamese military academy. Ho Vann denies making the assertion, claiming that the news outlet that initially reported the alleged statement had issued a correction that could help to resolve the dispute. "If the prosecutor understands my explanation, the plaintiffs will understand as well," he said. The court's deputy prosecutor, Sok Roeun, declined comment Sunday, saying that he could not discuss the court's decision beforehand.

In Brief: Hunt for Canadian H1N1 suspect ends

Written by Sam Rith
Monday, 08 June 2009

Cambodian health officials on Sunday called an end to their search for a Canadian national who was possibly exposed to the influenza A (H1N1) swine flu virus after failing to find the man. Sok Touch, director of the Communicable Diseases Control Department at the Ministry of Health, said that since the man had reported no symptoms after a week, he was unlikely to have been infected by the disease. He said the Canadian arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport on May 31 and that health officials have been on his trail because of fears he may have contracted the virus from an infected 8-year-old Taiwanese boy who sat next to him on the flight.

Phouchung make their point

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Build Bright United’s Nigerian midfielder Adeseye Ogunsanwo (centre) attempts a volley towards the Phouchung Neak goal during the first half of their CPL game Saturday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Dan Riley
Monday, 08 June 2009

Navy side Phouchung Neak grabbed their first CPL point of the season with a 1-1 draw against Build Bright United Saturday but were in no mood to celebrate

SATURDAY'S only Cambodian Premier League game at Olympic Stadium between navy-affiliated side Phouchung Neak and Super Four hopefuls Build Bright United, ended in an entertaining 1-1 draw to grant bottom-placing Phouchung their first points of the season.

Build Bright United kicked off with the greater intensity, forcing Phouchung keeper Sar Sophea to make a double save from the headed effort and rebound by Adeseye "Seye" Ogunsanwo in the opening minutes.

Despite a lack of conviction in the midfield, the navy side showed attacking potential, and a ferocious strike by Peter Onuhejike from 35 yards thumped off the crossbar to give BBU keeper Chea Zena a scare.

BBU's Nhem Sovannara went in the book after twenty minutes for an overzealous midair challenge into the back of Phouchung's Ouk Thon, with the navy man staying down for several minutes before rising from the turf scratching his head.

With Phouchung gaining momentum through the centre park, a move pushed wide to the right saw Chham Bunchhay collect just outside the area. His scooped attempt at a cross had everyone stumped as it ricocheted off bar and post to bounce unluckily off the keeper's legs to nestle in the net. For a team sitting firmly at the foot of the table, Phouchung were in need of a bit of luck and seem inspired by the fluke goal.

However, BBU were not without fighting spirit, and a powerful drive to the byline by playmaker Seye allowed him the time to look up and find teammate Un Viputh free in the box with a pullback. As the target opened up invitingly, the Cambodian opted for power over precision and skied his kick well over the bar.

With just three minutes to go in the half, a stern shot from Phouchung's Sim Dara was deflected wide by Chea Zena after a clever back heel by Joseph Olatubosn had opened up the space in front of goal.

Then, in injury time in the first half, Ogunsanwo latched onto a delicate flick over the defensive line by Prum Puthsethy, but the BBU player's volley fell straight into the hands of the navy keeper.

BBU came out after the interval with renewed determination. Kang Sopheak exhibited a dazzling piece of individual skill to beat his man, but the attack was quickly broken down. A breakthrough seemed inevitable with continued pressure of the Phouchung defence, who were cut to shreds when BBU's Cliff Goodluck slid a delightful through ball to In Puthearithy on the right. With Sar Sophea racing out to close down the attack, the BBU winger showed a cool head to step around the navy keeper and chip in a cross for the omnipresent Seye to walk it into an empty net and level the score.

Both teams were still in with a sniff of victory and chances at either end saw a goalyard scramble have shots by Onuhejike and Heng Sokly absorbed by a tightly packed BBU box whereas a free kick from distance by BBU's Chhum Sothearath spun off the top of the wall, only to land safe in the keeper's arms.

With the game's final seconds ticking away, Ouk Thon was put clean through by a terrific long pass from Tuy Sam, but the navy forward leaned back too much and fired over to squander any last-gasp heroics.

The final whistle blew leaving the sides locked at a goal apiece, but despite Phouchung's finally obtaining a point in the league, players walked off wondering why they couldn't have grabbed two more.

Display encourages students to stop using plastic bags

Written by Holly Pham
Monday, 08 June 2009

AS of last Friday, students from Phnom Penh's Russey Keo High School can no longer ignore the issue of environmental damage caused by the use of plastic bags. A photo display erected by Phnom Penh resident Paul Gibbings, just down the road from the school, aims to educate young people about the effects of plastic bags on our surroundings.

"The street-sellers sell all the goods in small plastic bags. The problem is, kids don't hold on to them. They just drop the bags everywhere, and here on this street there's no waste bin at all," Gibbings said. "I hope through the exhibit they can see what we're doing to the world."

The photos, collected from various publications, illustrate the effects of plastic bags on flora and fauna, with one showing the digestive tract of a bird choked with pieces of plastic.

According to teacher Chheaiki Hem who helped to explain the photos' message to his students, "most of them reacted to the posters with surprise".

Many never knew that plastic is non-biodegradable and has such long-term effect on the environment, he said.

Interestingly enough, Chheaiki Hem said, some even misinterpreted the relationship between plastic consumption and economic development.

"They thought that since plastic bags make life easier, we should be proud that we have plastic bags to use today."

Gibbings now wants to integrate this information into the school's curriculum.

"We would like to talk to the headmaster about raising environmental awareness on campus," he said.

Fundraising event at Topaz lends support to Khmer performing arts

Photo by: Joel Rozen
Bosba Panh sings “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Joel Rozen
Monday, 08 June 2009

Phnom Penh’s rising star Bosba Panh pays tribute to former Ramayana dancer Em Theay

SEVERAL rising young talents graced Phnom Penh's Topaz restaurant during a benefit for one of the country's national treasures Friday night. The two-act show "La Vie en Rose" featured the diverse vocals of 12-year-old soprano Bosba Panh, who took the stage with her younger brother, flautist Panh Lauv, and a 10-piece orchestra.

Organisers cited "supporting the Khmer arts" as the fundraiser's chief aim. However, part of the proceeds from the sold-out concert will also go to 75-year-old Em Theay, a former Ramayana dancer.

One of only a few royal court dancers to survive the Khmer Rouge regime, the renowned performer and her family lost their home, costumes and musical instruments in a fire earlier this year.

Owners of Topaz, a French restaurant on Sihanouk Boulevard, sensed a chance for some intergenerational aid.

"Bosba Panh is a talented young girl who represents a bright future for Cambodia," said Maylis Darc, managing director of the Topaz restaurant chain Thalias.

In March, Darc and local restaurateur Luu Meng co-founded the Khmer Foundation for the Arts to help artists in need, and "La Vie en Rose" marks its first fundraising initiative.

To Darc and Luu Meng, Bosba Panh seemed the right performer to pay tribute. Her family, like Em Theay's, is gradually becoming one of Cambodia's pre-eminent artistic dynasties - her uncle is the celebrated Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh - and she has been performing popular and classical standards since the age of eight.

Dressed in crimson silk, the trilingual chanteuse proved impressive throughout the difficult 13-song program. Her medley, which followed themes of love and beauty, included songs by King Norodom Sihanouk and 1960s pop balladeer Sin

Sisamouth, as well as more traditional arias by 18th-century composers. The highlight of the evening, though, was its title song "La Vie en Rose", as Bosba Panh treated an audience of 96 to her rendition of Edith Piaf's famous ode to a life in pink.

Bosba Panh has never been to France, she admitted after the show. But for this teenage student at the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes, singing about Paris was, as she put it, "pas de probleme", or "no problem".

Cambodian comic book challenge

Photo by: HOLLY PHAM
ComicKaze at Phnom Penh’s Living Room Cafe.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Holly Pham
Monday, 08 June 2009

Phnom Penh’s up-and-coming cartoonists create a 24-page comic book within 12 hours, from concept to final production, as part of the international ComicKaze project

Our Books, a local NGO that focuses on the development of comic art in Cambodia, organised what some said was the Kingdom's second comic drawing event last Saturday. The idea behind the initiative, referred to as ComicKaze, was to create a 24-page comic book within 12 hours, from concept to the final product.

A collaborative effort with, an Australian online comic community, ComicKaze took place from 8am to 8pm at Cafe Living Room.

The artists said they were trying to create comic profiles of themselves, detailing their daily lives to introduce themselves to their PulpFiction contemporaries.

The event attracted more than 50 participants, including 10 local artists and about 40 students from the Aziza Foundation, an NGO that works with poor Cambodian children.

Preserving tradition
The mission of Our Books, which was founded in 2006, is to preserve Cambodia's comic arts.

Though comics have been around in Cambodia since the mid-1960s, war interrupted the growth of this industry until the early 1980s, when comic books made an explosive comeback as an effective media tool.

Comic art hit its peak in Cambodia in the early 1990s, but since then the local market has declined tremendously.

The spread of television and a lack of training in Cambodia could partially explain this decline, organisers say.

John Weeks, managing editor of Our Books, said that many Cambodian comic book artists today view themselves as illustrators rather than just cartoonists.

"In the West, you have the options to slot yourself into one particular role. Here, people just have to take up what's available," he said.

Almost all the artists who participated in ComicKaze have multiple jobs.

Chan Pisey, a comic artist, said that she has four freelance jobs, and on top of that she is currently working on her own comic.

Moeu Diyadaravuth, staff member at Our Books and an artist, said he stays up to 2am almost every night to complete his freelance projects and his English homework and to work on his own comic project.

Global competition
In addition to that, the local comic market also fears global competition.

"It's cheaper to translate comics [into Khmer] legally than to produce local work," Weeks said.To counter these obstacles, Our Books strives to keep the prices low, especially those of Khmer-language comics. In doing so, they minimise the threat of comics being bootlegged.

Khmer comics are subsidised by the profits made from the sale of English and French versions, organisers said.

Despite the constraints, participants in this year's ComicKaze project are optimistic about the future of Cambodia's comic industry.

"I love what I do. I want to share my work with as many people as I can. That's why I joined this event," Moeu Diyadaravuth said, adding that in the next 5 to 10 years he hopes to establish a comic association to help young artists to meet other like-minded people.

"[The role of Our Books] is to facilitate, not to direct," Weeks said.

"Ultimately [the local artists] are the ones who determine what emerges through the drawing sessions. We provide the opportunities, and the artists take one step further to give us ideas to move forward in developing Khmer comics."

This year, the 24-Hour Comic challenge will be celebrated globally October 3. In the past, the event has attracted more than 1,200 participants at official event locations in 17 countries around the world.

"We will have a full 24 hours of comic drawing this time," said Weeks. The comic art produced during ComicKaze will be on display at Living Room Cafe until next month.

Sacombank to open branch

A teller serves a customer at Sacombank in Ho Chi Minh City. The bank will this month become the 27th in Cambodia.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Monday, 08 June 2009

Vietnamese lender to launch in Cambodia this month amid growing concerns that the sector is becoming overcrowded

SACOMBANK, Vietnam's sixth-largest lender by assets, said it will open its first Cambodian branch in Phnom Penh on June 26, which would make it the third foreign bank to launch in the Kingdom since the beginning of May.

A bank official who requested anonymity told the Post at the end of last week that branch would open on Norodom Boulevard with a ceremony to be attended by National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) Governor Chea Chanto.

Tal Nay Im, director general of the NBC, said that yet another entrant to Cambodia's banking sector - Sacombank will become the 27th bank to operate here - spelled confidence in the country's financial sector.

"I think it's because investors trust us ... that's why they come to invest here," she said.

Last week the bank announced profits of 660 billion dong (US$37.1 million) for the first five months of the year, with total deposits of 69.1 trillion dong and outstanding loans of 44.8 trillion dong, a statement on the bank's We site said.

Alex Ng, general manager of US-owned Angkor Capital Bank, which launched here in November, said he thought the banking sector was becoming too saturated.

"There are too many banks for a market with a population of about 14 million people," he said, adding that he believed a total of 15 banks would be more suitable.

Yum Sui Sang, CEO of Union Commercial Bank, agreed that competition was increasing.

"There are many banks - it is a little in excess of what we need," he said. "After talking to other banks, they are also concerned about there being too many ... in Cambodia."

South Korea's biggest lender, Kookmin Bank, and State Bank of India have each opened their first Cambodian branches within the past month.

SRP attorney sceptical of Bar Association's neutrality

Lawyer Kong Sam Onn speaks to reporters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after a recent defamation suit hearing.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Monday, 08 June 2009

Mu Sochua's lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, says association panel is under govt pressure and can't make independent decision.

THE lawyer representing Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua in her defamation suit against Prime Minister Hun Sen said Sunday he had no confidence that a Bar Association panel investigating a complaint against him could reach an independent decision.

Kong Sam Onn appeared for questioning before the panel on Friday. The meeting went ahead as scheduled, despite the fact that only three panelists showed.

Hem Voun had been removed last week after Kong Sam Onn noted that he worked for the same law firm as Hun Sen's lawyer, and Lean Chenda failed to appear on Friday citing health reasons.

Two previous attempts to question Kong Sam Onn regarding claims that he violated the Bar Association's ethics code were unsuccessful. The lawyer could be suspended or disbarred if found guilty of breaking association rules.

Panelist Hem Socheat said Sunday that there was no required number of panelists, adding that the questioning went ahead on Friday because panelists did not want to re-schedule for a fourth time.

Kong Sam Onn said the panelists accused him of defaming Hun Sen, citing an April 23 press conference held before his client filed a defamation lawsuit against the prime minister.

"They accused me of insulting Samdech Hun Sen and calling him a coward," he said.

"I said the word ‘coward', but I was not referring to any individual," he added.

"I only said that the speech was cowardly if the speech referred to Mu Sochua."

That suit stems from an April 4 speech by Hun Sen in which, Mu Sochua said, he made derogatory comments about her.

Hun Sen quickly filed a countersuit, saying that Mu Sochua had defamed him by asserting that his comments referred to her.

Kong Sam Onn said he believed Bar Association President Chiv Songhak had been pressured by the government to rule against him. Chiv Songhak declined to comment on Sunday.

Panelist Put Theavy said Ky Tech, Hun Sen's lawyer, would appear before the panel on Tuesday.

London embassy goes on offensive over US ambassador's remarks

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Monday, 08 June 2009

Ambassador Hor Nambora adds to criticisms of Carol Rodley, warning foreign embassies not to meddle in Cambodia's internal affairs.

CAMBODIA'S ambassador to Great Britain has joined the chorus of government officials calling for US Ambassador Carol Rodley to clarify recent comments that Cambodia loses US$500 million a year to corruption.

In a letter dated Thursday, Ambassador Hor Nambora said Rodley's comments, made during the Clean Hands anti-corruption concert in Phnom Penh on May 30, contradicted the "new approach" to US foreign policy ushered in by the Obama administration.

"While you are of course entitled to your personal opinions, the danger of expressing them publicly is that they can be interpreted as being politically motivated, which immediately compromises your reputation as an impartial observer of Cambodia and [an] honoured guest," he said in the letter.

"I hope that you will now reconsider your remarks, which appear to have been based on misinformation, and take urgent steps to clarify your position."

The US Embassy has so far declined to comment.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Sunday that the ambassador's point of view undermined the existing good relationship between Phnom Penh and Washington.

"Our diplomat's letter was just a warning not to take strong action to interfere in the internal affairs of the Cambodian government," he said. "[It] was also a message to other embassies in Phnom Penh."

Four members of PACT Cambodia and the People's Centre for Development and Peace, which organised the concert, were questioned at City Hall on Thursday, but would not comment when contacted Sunday.

President of KCF flees to France

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Monday, 08 June 2009

THE Khmer Civilisation Foundation president, Moeung Sonn, has fled to France to avoid arrest, he said, after the Cambodian government sued him for incitement and disinformation over his public accusations that the installation of new lights at Angkor Wat had damaged the temple.

"If I had not left Cambodia shortly after Thursday night, I would have been arrested and detained with a court warrant because the government was terribly angry with me," Moeung Sonn told the Post Saturday from France.

"I want to return to my country because I love my country forever," he added.

Last week, Moeung Sonn blamed local media for spreading the information before he made his accusations.

Lawyer Pal Chan Dara confirmed that on behalf of the Cambodian government, he had sued Moeung Sonn on June 2, and that he had been summoned by the Municipal Court for questioning.

"I will go to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 9 as scheduled to be questioned about my complaint against the president of KCF, Moeung Sonn," Pal Chan Dara told the Post.

Moeung Sonn accused the government of drilling holes into the temple walls to install light fixtures, a charge the government and the Apsara Authority deny, saying the recesses were already there.

Police Blotter: 8 Jun 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Monday, 08 June 2009

Meas Sophorn, 29, a truck driver, was sent to Pursat provincial court on Thursday, charged with raping a girl twice. Police said that they arrested the man after they received a complaint from the mother of a 16-year-old girl who said that he had raped her daughter two times in the back of a truck last Monday night. Meas Sophorn told police that he did have sex with the girl twice, but denied that he had raped her as the sex was consensual.

Three robbers beat to death a gold seller at his home in Kam Rieng district, Battambang province, on Wednesday. Police said the robbers pointed an AK-47 riffle at Him Kimheung's wife and asked for gold. At the same time Him Kimheung was attempting to fight off the robbers, but they beat him with the gun until he died. Police said the robbers took a mobile phone and a car remote control before firing into the air and threatening neighbours. They then escaped through a cassava farm.

Chan Bunheng of Sambor district, Kratie province, was arrested on Tuesday after allegedly beating his wife to death on May 29. Police said Chan Bunheng was drinking wine with a neighbour when his wife, Khieu Pov, 41, asked him to stop. When he continued, his wife started cursing him. Chan Bunheng then struck his wife on the chest with his knee, and also cracked her head on the ground, police said. She died in hospital.

Two men were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly selling fake gold. Police at Banteay Meanchey province's Thmar Puok district said Hay Kimhong, 25, and Yem Veasna, 30, from Prey Veng province, were arrested after they received a complaint from Taing Kea, 50. She said that she was cheated into buying from the men a necklace made of fake gold that cost 1,096,000 riels (US$274).

Three people were hurt and 46 houses collapsed during a rainstorm in Takeo province on Wednesday. Local authorities said that heavy rain and storms caused the villagers' houses to collapse. There were no fatalities.

Women lost ground in May polls

A female commune councilor casts her vote in this year's district and provincial council elections in Phnom Penh.

women in politics

- General election 2003 Female candidates 27 percent
- General election 2008 Female candidates 14.8 percent
- Commune elections 2002 Female candidates 14 percent (1,161 candidates top 3 on list)
- Commune elections 2007 Female candidates 27 percent (2,328 candidates top 3 on list)
- District council elections 2009 13.8 percent (1,177 of 8,506 candidates)
Provincial council elections 2009 9.89 percent (37 out of 374 candidates)

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana and Mom Kunthear
Monday, 08 June 2009

Number of female candidates down, NEC stats indicate.

DESPITE decades of efforts to encourage more women to enter politics, the number of female candidates in May's local elections was nearly halved from an all-time high in 2007, National Election Committee (NEC) statistics show.

"There are very few women getting involved in politics, especially in the general election," NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said.

In 1955, Cambodian women were granted the right to vote and allowed to stand for election. Three years later, the Kingdom's first female parliamentarian, Tong Siv Eng, was elected to the National Assembly. But real political equality has proved elusive - and recently, things have taken a turn for the worse.

"Women [politicians] still feel that they are abandoned because there are only men around them," said Nop Mareth, the only woman to be elected to the new district and provincial councils in Ratanakkiri province.

In last July's general election, only 14.8 percent of the political candidates were female, down from 27 percent in the 2003 national election, Tep Nytha said.

"Unlike in other countries, Cambodia does not have legally stipulated quotas for female candidates, so we need political parties to step up and work to encourage female candidates," he said. "We should also pass a law saying how many women candidates need to be selected."

Numbers were getting stronger at the local level, and with the country's first commune-level elections in 2002, 1,161 female candidates were ranked in the top three places on party lists. In 2007, that number leapt to 2,328, which represented about 27 percent of total candidates, Tep Nytha said.

Commune elections run on a party-list system. A voter selects a party, not a candidate. The election winners are the top-listed party members from the party with the most votes.

Local level losses
In the recent district council elections - which use an indirect party list system, so only elected commune officials could vote - only 1,177 of the 8,506 candidates, or about 13.8 percent, were female. In the provincial council elections, which used the same electoral system, 374 candidates were elected, only 37 of whom were women.

"We need at least 30 percent [of those elected] to be female in order for women to have the chance to work for their country," said Koul Panha, executive director of the election monitor Comfrel. "We know that women face many problems in society. So we think that if there are many women candidates, they can help solve these problems," he said.

According to Ros Sopheap, executive director of the NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, chauvinism remains a problem.

"Women still don't have a proper chance to participate in politics," she said, citing a male-dominated environment in which women can feel intimated or ignored.

"Even men who want to work for women don't know much about women's problems," she said.

Despite the difficulties facing female candidates, Ratanakkiri's Nop Mareth says she is not discouraged.

"This is the first time that I have participated in the political scene," she said. "I used to work in simple places - but I am not afraid and will do my best with this new job."

Deputy governor faults land-grabbing report as biased, un-Cambodian

Written by Georgia Wilkins and Mom Kunthear
Monday, 08 June 2009

Licadho says government can't continue to hide evictions beneath the banner of development.

PHNOM Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun has criticised a recent land rights report by the advocacy group Licadho, calling it biased and un-Cambodian.

"I think that NGO is not Khmer, and I want to tell them that no one loves Khmer [more] than Khmer," he told the Post.

"You come from outside, so you don't understand Khmer people, and when we didn't have food to eat, you were not with us. So you should look at our achievements and what we have done," he said.

In the report "Land Grabbing and Poverty in Cambodia: The Myth of Development", released Saturday, Licadho accuses the government of using development as a way of legitimising forced evictions.

The evictions, the group said, were really just an "orgy of land-grabbing by powerful individuals".

"Evictions and land-grabbing are not helping to develop Cambodia - they are simply causing more poverty and hardship," Licadho President Kek Galabru said in a press statement.

"A few rich and powerful individuals and companies benefit by becoming richer and stronger, while the health and welfare of countless Cambodians becomes weaker and weaker," she added.

Policy of denial
Land evictees have become the latest target in a government campaign to either deny evictions or to absolve those responsible, with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong reportedly telling an audience in Lowell, Massachusetts, in April that evictees were "professional squatters".

But, Licadho warned that the government was ignoring criticisms "at its peril".

"The Cambodian authorities seem chronically unable - or unwilling - to respect their own laws.... Such willful disregard of the problems facing the country does no favours to the Cambodian people and, in the long run, will do no favours to the Cambodian authorities."

Nevertheless, Mann Chhoeun on Sunday reasserted his commitment to development in response to the report.

"Our country is more developed, and investors and other people come to see and admire our city very much," he said. "If we were bad, we would not see our city develop like today."

Preah Vihear: New steel stairway for Phnom Trop

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Monday, 08 June 2009


RCAF soldiers have finished building a steel stairway up Preah Vihear province's Trop mountain, signalling the end of a project entirely funded by one army officer. "Construction of the stairs has finished, and some people have already climbed them to the top of the mountain," Yim Phim, commander of Brigade 8, said Sunday. He said that the construction of the 310-metre-long stairway was funded entirely by RCAF General Keo Pong and cost US$20,000. "It is interesting to climb this mountain because you can view the area surrounding [Preah Vihear] temple. I believe more people will visit the mountain when armed confrontation between Cambodian and Thai soldiers stops and security is assured for them," Yim Phim said. Trop mountain is located about 2 kilometres from Preah Vihear temple. Phorn Eung, military officer in Brigade 8, said Sunday that soldiers at the border were facing harsher conditions since the wet season began. "The situation is normal at the front line, but soldiers are facing malaria right now because it is the rainy season," Phorn Eung said.

Villagers, activists criticise Sesan hydropower project

Villagers in Phlouk village, in Ratanakkiri’s Sesan district, shoot a video documenting community concerns about the Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam, slated for construction on the Sesan River.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Monday, 08 June 2009

The Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam is to begin construction in 2010, but a new report and community video highlight its potentially deleterious effects on local communities.

GROUND has not yet been broken on the Lower Sesan 2 dam - Cambodia's largest planned hydropower project - but already the dam is casting a shadow upstream and downstream from the proposed site, with villagers claiming they will face social and environmental upheaval as a result of the project.

The 480-megawatt dam, slated for construction on the Sesan River in Stung Treng province's Sesan district, has prompted five communities in Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri to produce a 20-minute video outlining their concerns about the US$662 million project, expected to begin construction next year.

"We absolutely oppose the planned dam because there are likely to be a lot of negatives for us, including increased flooding, the loss of farmland, houses, schools [and] pagodas, and decreased fish yields," said Beang Teang, 53, who represents 325 families in Sesan district's Sre Kor village.

Beang Teang, one of five local representatives who delivered copies of the video to government ministries and the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday, said he hoped it would effectively express the simmering opposition to the project.

Daniel Lanctot, a community media trainer who provided support during the video's production, said the project, which consists of three- or four-minute statements from each village, would allow them to speak more directly about the likely effects of the dam.

"The main reason for making the video was to provide an outlet for the communities' concerns to be made more public and to be something that they would feel empowered by," he said Friday.

Chhoeum Sokea, 39, from Stung Treng's Kbal Romeas village, added that seeing the people voice their concerns directly might prompt the government to "consider the impacts" of the project and take action to alleviate them.

Thousands affected
The villagers' concerns are reflected in a new report from the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia, which claims the dam's proposed location - 1.5 kilometres from the confluence of the Srepok and Sesan rivers - will create "serious negative environmental impacts" on two of the largest rivers in the Mekong River Basin, impacting river ecosystems as far afield as the Tonle Sap Lake and Vietnam's Mekong Delta.

The report, which is yet to be released, estimates that 78,000 villagers upstream and downstream from the dam site will lose access to migratory fish, and that "tens of thousands" will be vulnerable to changes in hydrology and water quality resulting from the project.

"The Cambodian government should carefully consider whether the project should be built, or if the costs to local people, biodiversity and the country more generally are so high as to make the dam economically, environmentally and socially unattractive," states the report.

Tep Bunnarith, executive director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association, added that the reservoir of the dam, which is being built by the Vietnamese state-owned Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), would flood as much as 394 square kilometres of forest, forcing the relocation of between five and seven villages.

A worrying precedent
The RCC report also cites the 720-megawatt Yali Falls dam on the Sesan River in Vietnam's Gia Lai province - also built by EVN - as a "vivid example" of the side effects of major hydropower projects.

Huon Kalib, 55, a people's representative for four districts in Ratanakkiri, said that in the past few years three relatives and one neighbour of his have drowned in flooding caused by water releases from the dam, and that community farmland has been submerged by floods since February this year.

"Each year, we have lost farmland, people, cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals due to the floods causing by the Yali Falls dam," he said.

Carl Middleton, Mekong Program Coordinator of International Rivers, a US-based advocacy group, said that the high-risk nature of hydropower dams necessitates a close working relationship with the communities likely to be affected.

"The experience to date on the Sesan River, in the wider Mekong region and around the world is that dams destroy rivers and the lives of those depending upon them," he said by email.

He added that the current project, in addition to the dams already existing on the Sesan, would make local fisheries-based livelihoods "almost impossible", and that most of those affected by the dam developments would remain worse off than before.

"It is now widely recognised that for development to be equitable and sustainable there must be public acceptance of key decisions, especially for high-impact and high-risk infrastructure projects such as hydropower dams," he added.

EVN Vice President Lam Du Son could not be reached for comment Sunday, but Pich Dun, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, said Sunday that due to its size, both his organisation and the Cambodian government had requested that the Vietnamese company to "thoroughly and clearly" study the impacts of the project.

Bun Narith, deputy general director of the Department of Energy at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said that Vietnam's Power Engineering Consulting Joint-Stock Company 1 was handling the feasibility study for EVN, but did not comment further.

But the RCC report claims that in the course of the feasibility study, researchers have visited only a "small number" of the villages likely to be impacted by the dam, and that the Environmental Management Plan included in the study, which has yet to be finalised, would likely be hampered by "a lack" of public consultation.

Chhoeum Sokea agreed, saying that although government and EVN officials have met with residents twice to discuss their removal from the area, villagers were still being kept in the dark about the project.

"So far we have not yet received clear information relating to compensation from the government and the project owner," he said.

"If the government still wants to build the dam, it's up to them, but we request fair compensation."

Skid lids for kids


Written by Heng Chivoan
Monday, 08 June 2009

The Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, the Ministry of Interior and the Make Roads Safe Campaign gave 880 helmets to students from four different schools at the Wat Botumwatey School on Friday.The project, known as Helmets for Kids, is part of a decade of action for road safety.

Garment exports fall 26pc in first quarter, new data show

Photo by: George Mcleod
Cambodia’s garment exports have fallen for each of the last five months, according to Commerce Ministry data.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nathan Green
Monday, 08 June 2009

Ministry of Commerce figures show fifth consecutive month of decline in March as exports fall 38pc, a sharper fall year-on-year than in February

GARMENT sector representatives are attending a regional trade fair in China this week in an effort to drum up orders and attract new investors as Commerce Ministry figures released Friday showed exports declined for the fifth straight month in March.

Exports were down 38 percent year-on-year to US$164.3 million in March, the latest month for which reliable figures are available, dragging exports for the first quarter down 26.4 percent to $534.6 million, according to the ministry's Trade Preferences Systems Department.

The department records all exports under the generalised system of preferences (GSP) and most favoured nation (MFN) schemes, through which Cambodia exports almost all its garments, textiles and shoes. The schemes allow the world's least-developed nations to avoid quotas imposed by richer countries on exports from developing countries.

Roger Tan, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), said the official figures were not surprising. "Everybody expected a decline," he said. "It was just a question of how much."

He said he hoped delegates attending the China Kunming Import and Export Commodities Fair would return with fresh buyers and new investors after preaching the benefits of sourcing from Cambodia.

"We are there to expose our products to potential buyers and make people aware of Cambodia," he said. "We need to diversify our markets, but buyers also need to diversify their sources of garments and we need to show that we can compete for those orders."

About $25 billion in trade and investment contracts are signed each year in Kunming. The government and private sector delegation was led by Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh and GMAC President Van Sou Ieng.

The March decline comes after garment exports fell 18.6 percent to $189.21 million in February, 20.89 percent in January to $181.09 million, 13.64 percent in December to $222.1 million and 0.89 percent in November to $218.3 million. Garment exports also fell in July and September last year.

The figures show that the United States is still the main destination for Cambodian garments, but its share fell from 72.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to 64.9 percent in the same period this year after exports fell 34.17 percent year-on-year to $347.2 million.

Europe's share of total exports increased from 17.3 percent to 20.3 percent over the same period after exports fell a more modest 15.2 percent year-on-year to $136.3 million.

Garment exports to Japan grew 91.51 percent in the quarter to $5.4 million, and Cambodia also continued to make gains in other markets with exports up 35.9 percent to $30.4 million to all areas other than the US, EU, Canada and Japan.

Shoe exports to these other countries, which include Russia and the Middle East, grew 513 percent to $6.5 million, while shoe exports to all countries climbed 28.3 percent year-on-year to $27.5 million.

The majority of shoe exports still went to the EU, which imported 3.8 million pairs of shoes worth $14 million over the first three months, though this was down 4.1 percent on the first quarter of 2008.

Textile exports were down 39.25 percent to $6.18 million compared to the first quarter of 2008.

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh could not be reached in Kunming for comment over the weekend, but he told the Post last month that export orders over May and June would provide a strong indicator of the sector's prospects for the rest of the year as these coincided with the start of the "hot season" in the US and Europe.

However, official export figures for May will not be available until the end of July when the majority of garment exporters will have lodged certificate of origin applications with the ministry.

Mean Sophea, the director of the Commerce Ministry's Trade Preferences System Department, said early release of data can negatively skew the figures. This happened last month when the Post reported a 35 percent decline in garment exports for the quarter based on incomplete Commerce Ministry data supplied by GMAC that showed a 60 percent decline in March exports.

Hun Sen asks SKorea for further $380m in loans

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Monday, 08 June 2009

Call comes during official visit to Seoul after Koreans promised $60m in lending Thursday

PRIME Minister Hun Sen is seeking a further US$380 million loan from South Korea for infrastructure projects, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said at a press briefing Friday upon his return to Phnom Penh International Airport following an official visit to Seoul.

"The Korean Government is considering Hun Sen's proposals for a loan package," Hor Namhong said after landing in Phnom Penh.

"I would like to stress that the country is continuing to grow, despite the economic crisis," he added.

The $380-million loan proposal includes $100 million for a new bridge across the Bassac River from Takhmao and a further $100 million for a Phnom Penh ring road.

The remainder would go towards an irrigation project in Kandal province and a Pursat River reparation project.

Yang Saing Koma, director of the agricultural research body CEDAC, applauded the investment requested for the agriculture sector, adding that better infrastructure would help the country recover from the current economic downturn.

"The government is making agriculture a priority in the country, which is a positive thing," said Yang Saing Koma. "The sector still has huge potential."

He said that the state needs to invest heavily in irrigation, and that only 7 percent of the country's 2,000 irrigation systems are functioning properly.

Opposition concerns
In response to the news, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay warned that government mismanagement could leave the country saddled with large foreign debts.

The Korean Government is considering Hun Sen's proposals.

"Loans are a problem ... they are not grants or aid. We have obtained loans for some projects and seen no benefit - that leaves us with a lot of debt," he said.

The quality of irrigation, roads and other infrastructure is poor, he added, citing the example of National Road 3 that was funded by a South Korean loan.

"Road 3 is very poor quality and cost us $30 million," said Son Chhay. "We owe a lot of money for a project that wasn't properly managed."

He said Cambodia is not sufficiently wealthy to repay the debt. "We must not owe more money that we cannot afford to repay," he said. "I am very concerned about spending loans without proper accountability."

News that the prime minister is seeking a further loan from South Korea comes after Seoul announced on Thursday it would lend the Kingdom $60 million for roads and sewerage, AFP reported.

The two countries held discussions on future loans from South Korea as part of talks in Seoul last week between Hun Sen and his counterpart President Lee Myung-bak held prior to the prime minister's return Friday to Phnom Penh.

Lee asked for permission for South Korean companies to build an industrial park near Sihanoukville during talks, although Cambodia has yet to respond.

North must be allowed to decide economic

*Strengthen provincial councils, set up independent commissions

By Devan Daniel

An economist based in Jaffna said the people of the peninsular, emerging from a bloody war that lasted almost three decades, will have to do some soul searching about the political strategy that needs to be adopted for medium and long term sustainable economic growth.

"It is up to the people of the North, also of the East, to decide and chart the way forward. There will be a need for advice and finances from the central government and other external sources but by and large, the people will have to decide for themselves," said Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development.

He was addressing a public seminar on Economic Revival of North of Sri Lanka organised by the Pathfinder Foundation which also brought together a former public official and a businessman both of whom like Dr. Sarvananthan are based in Jaffna.

"There has been too much emphasis on issues such as language and land but little attention is given to economic growth and this is something that we need to grapple with," Dr. Sarvananthan said.

The economies of Japan and Germany recovered by leaps and bounds after WWII and Dr. Sarvananthan believes the North is poised on a similar threshold.

"We need to do a lot of soul searching, change and adjust our attitudes if we are going to replicate the kind of economic growth Japan and Germany managed to achieve in a remarkably short time soon after the Second World War," he said.

He said democracy was necessary in order to empower the people to decide for themselves and while the immediate expectations of the displaced civilians receive the government’s attention he said the government should not try to impose its will on the people.

"I am not in favour of any political point of view. What needs to be done is to foster the thinking of the people and not push the way of thinking of anyone else," he said.

"When Cambodia came out of its violent internal conflict there was a lot of expectations that the country would emerge as a model democracy, unfortunately the opportunity was not taken and the country is still grappling with many problems," Dr. Sarvananthan said.

He said strengthening Provincial Councils to take on greater responsibilities and finance its own development needs, without having to rely too heavily on the central government, would be key in fostering the kind development envisioned by the people and the government.

"The Provincial councils of the North and East will have a lot of catching up to do but on the positive side they will be relatively new so there will be new thinking and the bureaucratic baggage plaguing other councils in the rest of the island would not be visible," Dr. Sarvananthan said.

But bureaucratic red-tape has emerged as a major obstacle in the East.

The size of the government and public expenditure patterns are areas that will need all the attention of the government because they have been and will be potential road blocks to sustainable development.

Dr. Sarvananthan said legal structures, financial systems, labour markets and an enabling business environment with little government intervention will have to be created in the North. Implementing independent commissions at provincial level will also be crucial to the development of the province.

"There has to be strengthening of regulations but the most important factor would be public-private sector partnerships," he said.

"The IMF is being delayed and the country’s economy is going through some tough times. It will be even more difficult for the government to carry out its plans. We will need more foreign aid. But if the North and East are to stand on their own feet, the provincial councils should be enabled to take on a greater responsibility in managing the capital and current account expenditures of the provinces," Dr. Sarvananthan said.

Dr. Sirimal Abeyratne, Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Colombo who also took part in the seminar said the government will have to move away from the political-economic path governments have traversed on for decades, where bad budgets have been the norm.

"Why is this necessary? It is good economics. But good economics is not always good politics and now is the time government will have to engage the public to make difficult decisions for the sake of the future," he said. (See Island Financial Review of Saturday, June 6th).

Human development and fairness

Much work needs to be done to develop the human capital of the North and East and it all starts with reforms to the education system, which suffers from irregularities and fosters disparities country-wide despite over 60 years of independence.

Dr. Sarvananthan said opportunities, especially in the area of university education, must be based on merit rather than a quota system.

"This would help the two provinces of the North and East become more competitive. A quota system is, ethically, an area that creates distortions. Selections must be based on merit and will go along way to address the problem of brain drain the whole country is faced with," he said.

He said the government should take a proactive role to bring about reforms to the education system and encouraging investments to tertiary education was as equally important as breaking the state’s monopoly on education as it would mold a competitive work force from among the youth.

The Institute of Policy Studies and the Government Peace Secretariat have both identified and highlighted the disparities in the country’s education system.

Dr. Sarvananthan received a special award for economic research from the Sri Lanka Economic Association last year for a study he published titled ‘Children of War’ were he showed that the youth of the war-torn regions longed for more opportunities and held aspirations to join the public sector work force.


The Government will offer an opportunity for immigrant workers to register before bringing them into the labor system, so that they will be able to continue to work in Thailand.

According to Labor Minister Phaithoon Kaewthong, immigrant workers in Thailand are divided into two groups. The first group comprises 400,000 to 500,000 workers, who have been granted work permits to work here. The second group consists of 400,000 workers, who are now working underground.

Minister Phaithoon said that Cabinet approval for the registration of immigrant workers would be given about two or three weeks from now. After that, it would take another three weeks for the Ministry of Interior to issue an announcement for the registration. Immigrant workers would have one month to register at district offices, municipalities, or village head offices. This would be the last registration for immigrant workers here, and the registration would be valid until 28 February 2010.

Regarding those who entered illegally into Thailand, Mr. Phaithoon said that they would be subject to nationality verification first, before temporary passports would be issued for them. Then work permits would be granted, so that they would be allowed to work here for not more than two years each time. They would be allowed to renew their work permits only twice. This regulation is intended to bring immigrant workers into the labor system and prevent illegal entry into Thailand. Moreover, it will ease the problem of immigrant laborers working underground in Thailand. After being registered, the immigrant workers would receive living allowances and welfare.

Immigrant workers are allowed to engage in such activities as agricultural production, mining, livestock-related industries, paper manufacturing, and the garment trade.

Thailand has managed the employment of illegal immigrant laborers since 1996 to cope with an influx of illegal workers from neighboring countries, particularly from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Its economic stability has attracted these workers to come for a better income. Because several business sectors in Thailand have faced labor shortages, it proved unfeasible to deport alien workers and permanently exclude them from the country’s labor market.

The high demand for inexpensive labor has been undermining all efforts, on the part of the authorities, to stop the inflow of illegal immigrants. Businesses requiring even more labor, especially of the unskilled kind, include mining, transportation, fishery, rubber tapping, horticulture, cash crop farming, construction, and industrial manufacturing; also high in demand are domestic workers.

Facing this problem, the Government has offered opportunities for illegal immigrant workers to register for work permits. It also sees the need to rearrange the management of immigrant workers to reduce illegal immigration.

News Type : Thailand news
Story : Methawee

'Land-grabbing' impoverishes Cambodians

Sun, Jun 07, 2009

PHNOM PENH - Widespread land-grabbing in Cambodia by individuals and companies in the name of development is fuelling poverty and has affected more than 250,000 people, a rights group said in a report Sunday.

The report by the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO) was released to mark the third anniversary of the 2006 final eviction of 13,000 people from a riverside slum in the capital Phnom Penh.

"Evictions and land-grabbing are not helping to develop Cambodia - they are simply causing more poverty and hardship," said Pung Chiev Gek, the president of the rights group.

"A few rich and powerful individuals and companies benefit by becoming richer and stronger, while the health and welfare of countless Cambodians becomes weaker and weaker," Pung Chiev Gek said.

The report said that more than a quarter of a million Cambodians had been affected by such moves between 2003 and 2008 in the 13 provinces and municipalities where the group has offices.

The report also addresses the unexpected eviction of another Phnom Penh slum in late January 2009, which was condemned by the United Nations.

The Cambodian government has faced mounting criticism for forced evictions throughout the country at the hands of army and police. Evictions have increased as land prices have risen over the past few years.