Friday, 19 June 2009

Cambodia's 'Killing Fields' Sprout New Purpose

Cambodia's "killing fields" are the site of mass graves where the Khmer Rouge regime executed and buried people suspected of having ties with the former government in the 1970s. Now, the fields are used for rice production to help feed Cambodia's poor.
The Khmer Rouge, which held power in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, executed thousands of people it said supported the country's former government or other foreign governments. Here, the memorial at Choeung Ek marks one of the country's mass grave sites.
Photo Credit: NewsHour producer Nikki See

Human Skulls
Tourists visit the memorial at Choeung Ek, marked with a Buddhist stupa that displays about 5,000 human skulls. Bone fragments still litter the site.
Photo Credit: TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images

'Anger Day' Performance
Cambodian students perform in the rain during "Anger Day" on May 20, 2006. The annual ceremony honors those executed during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Photo Credit: TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images

Photos of Victims
The Khmer Rouge photographed their victims before killing them, and now those photographs are on display at the Toul Sleng Prison Museum in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
Photo Credit: NewsHour producer Nikki See

Lighting Incense
Visitors light incense at the victims' memorial. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, one in three Cambodians lives below the poverty line and 90 percent of the poorest live in rural areas.
Photo Credit: TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images

Plowing Fields
A farmer plows the former "killing fields," which are now used to grow rice. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, some parts of Cambodia have been affected more than others by the general rise in food prices and by droughts.
Photo Credit: Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro

Food Program
Although Cambodia currently grows a surplus of rice, a lack of mills to process the rice, not enough storage sites and poor roads have remained problems. In order to help with the country's nutrition deficiencies, the U.N. World Food Program administers free school breakfast programs, like the one pictured here.
Photo Credit: Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro

Cambodia: IOM maps vulnerability of indigenous people

ReliefWeb (press release)

International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Date: 19 Jun 2009

IOM this week presented the findings of a six-month assessment conducted in the remote provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri bordering Viet Nam and the Lao PDR.

Most of the population in the two provinces is composed of ethnic minority groups, who have traditionally relied on the forests and natural resources to meet their food and livelihood needs.

But rapid economic change now poses a threat to their traditional livelihoods and is making them increasingly vulnerable to natural hazards.

Large areas have been logged, weakening the ecological balance and removing their control over land and access to natural resources.

The assessment carried out by IOM in partnership with the Cambodia National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), shows that both provinces are prone to natural disasters including floods, drought and insect infestation.

These risks have increased due to deforestation, logging concessions to large businesses, plantations, climate change and environmental degradation.

The two provinces are also vulnerable to flooding, drought or changes in water quality caused by dams across the border in neighbouring Vietnam.

The findings of the assessment were presented at a workshop chaired by NCDM Secretary General Peou Samy, who welcomed the assessment as a breakthrough.

"We now have for the first time tangible data relating to the risk of natural disasters in these two provinces and we will include them into our national disaster preparedness national action plan," he said.

Two short documentaries commissioned by IOM - "The Lizard's Tail and The Trech's Nest" - illustrating the findings and showing how the indigenous communities perceive the threats to their traditional way of life were also shown at the launch. The films will be available for wider dissemination in July.

The assessment was funded by Finland and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation.

For more information, please contact Giuseppe Crocetti at IOM Cambodia, Tel: +85512900224, Email:

CAMBODIA Ensuring deaf people have equal access to opportunities

Deaf students in a class at the Deaf Development Program center

Union of Catholic Asian News

June 18, 2009

PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- Before he started attending a special center for young deaf people in Phnom Penh, Vong Chhoeun could not read nor do sums.

Now not only can the 28-year-old do all that, he is also a class monitor at the Basic Education Project for the Deaf Development Program (DDP), run by the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, also known as Maryknoll.

"Since I started studying here, I've gained more knowledge and can read and do mathematics," he said in sign language.

Another student, a 19-year-old girl, said she has also made many friends at the center. She adds that she is focusing on gaining a general basic education before choosing to train in a specific skill.

The education project, first set up in 2004 for young deaf adults, has three centers in Cambodia -- Phnom Penh, Kompot and Kompong Chhang provinces.

Of the present 77 students enrolled, 35 are in Phnom Penh and are aged 16-35. To enroll in the DDP program, students must be at least 16 years old.

The two-year program is for young deaf people who have never been to school. It teaches sign language, Khmer literacy, simple math, and basic life skills.

"We want to give deaf people the opportunity to live as equals in society," said Maryknoll Father Dittmeier, 65, project director. "This is not the case at the moment. We see them living lives separate from able-bodied people. They live together but do not interact."

Father Dittmeier stressed that "it's important that the deaf have equal rights."

"They must have a good education, health care, legal protection and be able to avail themselves of all services," he said.

Keat Sokly, program manager, agrees, saying the biggest challenge is changing the attitude of parents of the deaf, who believe their children are only good for doing housework or farming. If these children have access to education, Sokly insists, they stand a much better chance of getting a good job and enjoying a good quality of life, just like other people.

Din Piseth, 37, who teaches Chhoeun and Monita believes this too. He said he has to be patient when teaching the deaf as they need more encouragement than others. But the former public school teacher perseveres because he feels the deaf have the right to an education and occupation.

Although the Basic Education Project is only for two years, Father Dittmeier said that after graduating, students can go on to Maryknoll partner organizations and local NGOs to acquire more specific skills, such as in hair-dressing, motor mechanics, sewing and sculpting.

Furthermore the DDP also trains teachers as translators for the deaf, and conducts research into sign language and social services for deaf people. There are currently 33 people working at DDP offices.

In Cambodia, there are an estimated 5,100 deaf people. The Maryknoll's DPP program has so far educated 300 of them.

Trial hears how Pol Pot ordered NZer's death

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot personally ordered the killing and burning of four Western prisoners, including a New Zealander. Photos / Getty Images

New Zealand Herald

Thursday Jun 18, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot personally ordered the killing and burning of four Western prisoners, including a New Zealander, who were captured while sailing in Cambodian waters, a former prison chief on trial for crimes against humanity has testified.

Zealander Kerry Hamill, brother of rower Rob Hamill, ended up at S21 prison in in Phnom Penh when the yacht he and friends were sailing strayed into Cambodian waters in August 1978.

One crewman, Canadian Stuart Glass, was shot while Mr Hamill and Briton John Dewhirst were taken for interrogation.

Mr Hamill wrote a 4000 word confession about involvement with the CIA, a typical story for many of the thousands incarcerated then executed.

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who commanded the communist group's S-21 prison, said the prisoners were an American, an Australian, a New Zealander and a Briton.

He also testified that several days before the Khmer Rouge were ousted by invading Vietnamese troops in early 1979 he was ordered to kill all inmates at the prison.

"The purpose was to have no prisoners left at S-21" when Vietnam's troops arrived, he said.

As many as 16,000 men, women and children were tortured at S-21 before being sent to their deaths during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule.

Duch is being tried by a U.N.-assisted tribunal for crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture. About 1.7 million Cambodians died from forced labor, starvation, medical neglect and executions under the radical regime.

Duch (pronounced Doik) testified that Pol Pot, who died in 1998, personally ordered that the four Westerners be executed and then burned, and that the order was conveyed by Nuon Chea, the regime's No. 2 leader and chief ideologue, who has also been charged by the tribunal.

"I received an order from my superiors that the four Westerners had to be smashed and burned to ashes. It was an absolute order from my superiors," Duch said. "Pol Pot, not Uncle Nuon, personally ordered to burn the bodies."

In response to questioning from New Zealand judge Dame Silvia Cartwright, Duch denied reports that the four Westerners were burned alive. He said their bodies were burned near the prison after they were executed.

He testified that only four Westerners were detained while he commanded S-21, but prison records suggest there may have been as many as 11.

Several Americans and Australians are listed, but only one New Zealander, Hamill, and one Briton, John Dewhirst.

Mekong River dolphins on verge of extinction, report says

PHNOM PENH, June 19 (Xinhua) -- The international conservation watchdog has released its report warning that pollution in the Mekong River has pushed the local population of Irrawaddy dolphins to the brink of extinction.

The report released Thursday said researchers had found toxic levels of pesticides such as DDT and environmental contaminants such as PCBs during the analysis of the dead dolphin calves.

"These pollutants are widely distributed in the environment and so the source of this pollution may involve several countries through which the Mekong River flows," the World Wide Fund for Nature said.

Since 2003, the population has suffered 88 deaths of which more than 60 percent were calves under two weeks old. The latest population is estimated between 64 and 76 members living in habitats along a 190-kilometer stretch of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Laos, the report said.

Vern Dove, an author of the report and veterinarian with WWF Cambodia said "Necropsy analysis identified a bacterial disease as the cause of the calf deaths. This disease would not be fatal unless the dolphin's immune systems were suppressed, as they were in these cases, by environmental contaminants."

But, Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission for Conversation and Development of the Mekong River Dolphins Eco-tourism Zone, said the "report was all lies," citing it was aimed at discrediting Cambodia and alerting donors to give more aid to the WWF.

He said no such pollutions have been found or he and other 10,000 families living along the stretch have died or become sick because of the water consumption on a daily basis.

He, however, acknowledged the deaths of the dolphins, but because of illegal fishing in early 2000, not because of pollutants as claimed by the WWF's report.

He estimated dolphins numbered at about 150 to 160 today, while there were only about 120 in 2000.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin has been listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2004.

Editor: Sun

Cambodia: Families living with HIV/AIDS evicted

Amnesty International USA

June, 18 2009

Amnesty International has condemned the Phnom Penh authorities for evicting 20 families living with HIV/AIDS from their homes in Borei Keila this morning. They have been moved outside of the city to a resettlement site, Tuol Sambo, where there is no clean water or electricity and limited access to medical services.

“Tuol Sambo is grossly inadequate and the authorities are well aware of this,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International’s Cambodia researcher. “It is often referred to as ‘the AIDS village’ and the inhabitants live with no access to clean water, electricity or proper sanitation.”

“The site’s long distance from the city hampers access to health services and jobs, adding to the risks. The families have urgent humanitarian needs, including clean water, larger living space, access to medical services and food supplies. There is a real risk that the health of the evicted families will deteriorate there.”

Tuol Sambo is in a semi-rural area where the housing is built from green metal sheets. When Amnesty International visited the site in April 2009, it was perceived by villagers in the vicinity as a centre for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The affected families have expressed fears that they will face further discrimination and stigmatization because of their HIV status if forced to live in this separate, distinct enclave. Prejudice against these families may be exacerbated by their poverty and lack of job opportunities.

When evicted, the families were compensated with inadequate re-housing in Tuol Sambo and 50 kilograms of rice, soy sauce, fish sauce, water jars and 250 USD from the Municipality of Phnom Penh and the Ministry of Tourism. Last Friday they were coerced into the move and told that anyone who disagreed would not receive compensation.

“It's unacceptable that the authorities didn’t explore other alternatives before deciding to evict these 20 vulnerable families,” said Brittis Edman. “Tuol Sambo shouldn’t have been an option.”

Borei Keila is a large poor urban community which the government designated as a social land concession for residential development in 2003. The Borei Keila concession was intended to be a land-sharing arrangement between a private developer, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and residents. The agreement gave the developer 2.6 hectares of land for commercial development, in exchange for constructing new housing for the original residents on two hectares of the land. The remainder, consisting of 10 hectares, was to be returned to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

In March 2007 the Municipality of Phnom Penh resettled the families who lived in Borei Keila against their will and reportedly with force, in temporary shelters built mostly out of corrugated metal sheets. The authorities told them that they would stay there for a few months only, to pave way for the construction of a number of residential multi-storey houses. -

President Obama Makes Loans Available for Investment in Cambodia

Posted on 19 June 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 61

akm”Phnom Penh: There is not always bad news about the relations between Cambodia and the USA. Now, the good news is that America decided to make loans available for American investment in Cambodia. It is expected that this decision by President Obama will encourage investments of both countries – Cambodia and America.

“Barack Obama’s decision will open the way for American companies to ask for loans to invest in Cambodia. According to a news report from Washington D.C. on 13 June 2009, President Obama made such a decision, because Cambodia is no longer a communist country.

“The Minister of Information and spokesperson of the government, Mr. Khieu Kanharith, welcomed this decision and considers it as encouraging more commercial investment from America to Cambodia, since America is a major partner of Cambodia.

“Mr. Khieu Kanharith added that even though aid from America to Cambodia is small, the United States of America has assisted Cambodia a lot in different international institutions. Moreover, the decision of the American president is another step which will increase investments from America in Cambodia, though the American economy is facing the global crisis.

“A parliamentarian, the chairperson of the Commission of Foreign Affairs of the National Assembly, Mr. Chheang Von, said that the decision of America is a big encouragement for the Royal Government of Cambodia and a facilitation for trade and investment related to international cooperation between Cambodia and other countries, especially the United States of America, which is, in economic terms, the most powerful country of the world.

“Mr. Chheang Von, a former Cambodian ambassador at the World Trade Organization, explained that American investors can come to make a lot of investment in Cambodia through this decision. It is a new encouraging force to bring investors to Cambodia and brings pride to Cambodia under the reign of Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen, which ensures trust to attract major countries and last but not least the United States of America to invest in Cambodia.

“The United Sates of America exported goods to Cambodia last year worth US$154 million while the export of garments and industrial products by Cambodia to the United States of America was more than US$2.4 billion.

“So far, the United States of America still does not offer commercial loans for investment in six communist [?] countries, such as Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4920, 14-15.6.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 15 June 2009

Road improvements to facilitate trade in Greater Mekong Subregion

By Channel NewsAsia's IndoChina Correspondent Anasuya Sanyal
Posted: 19 June 2009

BANGKOK: Transport ministers from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos met on Friday in Hua Hin, following a successful launch of sections of highways that will facilitate trade in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).

The Asian Development Bank has worked with officials from these countries along the Mekong River to upgrade two crucial highway systems: The East-West economic corridor, which is a 1,500-kilometre route passing through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand to Myanmar, and the Southern corridor from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.

Road improvements have slashed travel times for exporters, but it is not the only thing that is being done.

Arjun Goswami, country director, Asian Development Bank, Cambodia, said: "Like every sort of teenager, which is what GMS is today, it's now moving to the next phase of development and looking at its soft infrastructure, building on those hard infrastructure sinews and going forward to brainpower, trade and trade facilitation."

The Cross-Border Transport Agreement is an important regional trade milestone as streamlining customs and immigration at border checkpoints in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam will save both time and money.

Multiple documents, red tape and loading and unloading of trucks at the borders are fast becoming a thing of the past, making life easier for everyone.

Phassawit Saeng-in, Thailand's regional customs director, said: "Now we have a cross-border general agreement under the GMS. It means all countries will use one form, and each country official will check and then let the trucks go. It will save a lot of customs time in each country. It saves money and time for the private sector."

Improving economic cooperation among these countries could not come at a better time as strengthening regional trading ties could be a buffer for future global economic shocks.

PM believes he can soothe Hun Sen

Published: 19/06/2009

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva believes he will be able to explain to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen Thailand's intention to oppose Cambodia's unilateral listing of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site at next week's meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain.

He was responding to Hun Sen's expression of "deep regret" over Mr Abhisit's suggestion the two countries should jointly administer the temple.

The prime minister said he tries to be careful every time he gives an interview on this matter, to avoid spaking another clash of troops in disputed areas of the border around Preah Vihear.

The Thai government wants the two countries to cooperate in this and many other areas, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban reiterated that the issue is between Thailand and the World Heritage Committee, which under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), and not between Thailand and Cambodia.

He said Thailand and Cambodia are neighbours, and the Thai government tries to prevent new conflicts arising.

Mr Suthep said he also would find time to meet Hun Sen to explain this matter.

On Thursday, Hun Sen said Thailand's plan to approach Unesco afresh on the matter threatened to violate Cambodia's sovereignty.

"I deeply regret that he has raised this issue now because this was not part of our decisions last week," he said at the Cambodian Foreign Ministry. "I doubt his plan will be successful."

Mr Abhisit met Hun Sen in Phnom Penh for talks last week.

The temple was granted to Cambodia in a 1962 under an International Court of Justice ruling. Thailand and Cambodia both claim the land around the site.

In July last year, the World Heritage Committe gave Preah Vihear temple World Heritage site status at the request of Cambodai, despite Thail objections.

HIV/AIDS residents removed

Photo by: ............

Written by Christopher Shay and Chrann Chamroeun
Friday, 19 June 2009

20 families from Borei Keila are relocated to ‘HIV colony'.

THE long-expected eviction of the HIV-positive families from Phnom Penh's Borei Keila community began Thursday, with 20 families taken to Tuol Sambo, some 20 kilometres outside the capital.

Despite municipal officials claiming that residents left voluntarily and will be better off at the new site, which has been condemned by local and international rights groups as being unsuitable for human habitation, residents said they were unhappy with the move.

"We were happy here [in Borei Keila], because it's larger and better for business than Tuol Sambo," said Heng Sreyneang, 30, while packing up her belongings.

Access to medical services is a matter of life and death for many in the community, but in the early hours of Thursday morning in a meeting at Prampi Makara district offices, the families were informed they had a matter of hours to pack up and leave.

The government says it needs the land to plant a garden in front of the Ministry of Tourism building, which is still under construction.

Under the supervision of district authorities, families quickly loaded everything they owned in the back of government-supplied trucks.

Waiting for the families in Tuol Sambo, according to residents, were their new homes and US$275 per family from the Tourism Ministry and City Hall.

But for many, such as Koy Tem, 65, who sent her HIV-positive daughter to the hospital on Thursday morning only to be forced from her home a few hours later, what government is giving them is not enough.

"It is very far from the city, and I am too old," she said.

"We accept the governor's and City Hall's relocation policy, but we just want to say the place is too small."

In addition to its location, which is significantly further from medical care, the housing itself at Toul Sambo is below standard, villagers said.

There are five people in Heng Sreyneang's family, and she says the new space will be too small.

"I am not satisfied with the new place. It is not big enough for my five family members.... Five family members sleeping together - boys and girls - is not good," she said.

Heng Sreyneang's family will share a 4.8-metre-by-3.5-metre room in a green sheet-metal shelter in Tuol Sambo, giving each person less than 3.4 square metres, well below the UN's minimum standards of 4.5 square metres per person for emergency refugee camps.

Christophe Peschoux, the country representative at the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Tuol Sambo "is not appropriate to receive families that have members with HIV".

"What has been prepared so far is a warehouse-type shelter without running water or electricity", he said, adding that the site would create an "HIV colony, where they would be subject to stigma".

Peschoux said that UN submitted an alternative plan to City Hall on Wednesday that would integrate the HIV-affected families into the rest of the Tuol Sambo community.

"But that would require investing in infrastructure. ... We proposed more time to help the municipality provide proper infrastructure," he said.

So Mara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, said the government had helped the community with all its available resources, and that no matter what the government did, the community would still have demanded more.

"When you ask them they always say, it's not enough. Even if you build a villa for them, it's not enough. It's never enough," he said.

Som Sovann, a Prampi Makara district official, said that the district had greatly improved the lives of those in the community. "First, they were just renters. They owned nothing. This is our generosity to give them houses," he said.

PM and Abhisit in temple smackdown

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 19 June 2009

PRIME Minister Hun Sen claims Thailand has "infringed" on Cambodia's sovereignty by announcing it will challenge the UNESCO World Heritage listing of Preah Vihear temple when the body meets later this month.

On Wednesday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand aims to request a review of the July 2008 inscription of Preah Vihear temple, saying the listing has fostered conflict.

"I think that as a prime minister of one country, his words infringed on the sovereignty of [Cambodia]," Hun Sen said, adding that during his visit last week to Phnom Penh, Abhisit failed to raise the issue in talks with the government.

"I hope that his aim will not be successful, and I hope that UNESCO will not be stupid enough to go along with his gambit."

Thai state media reported Abhisit as saying that he has ordered Thai World Heritage Committee representative Suwit Khunkkitti to lodge objections to the listing of the disputed temple when the committee meets for its 33rd Session in Seville, Spain, next week.

Hun Sen added that the Thai ploy was unlikely to succeed because of the International Court of Justice's 1962 ruling that handed Preah Vihear temple and some of the surrounding area to Cambodia, and the fact that UNESCO had already listed the temple as a World Heritage site.

Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that the Thai leader clearly has no knowledge of history.

The latest crisis over the temple and its surrounding land began last July, when the government says Thai troops entered Cambodian territory, sparking a massive military standoff.

New rail station planned

Photo by: Sam Rith
The railway tracks that run through Dangkor district are set to be replaced by 2012.

Written by Sam Rith
Friday, 19 June 2009

Terminal in Dangkor district would displace an estimated 200 families who say they have not been offered compensation.

ARAILWAY station redevelopment expected to displace 200 families in Dangkor district should be completed by 2012, said officials who attended an inter-ministerial meeting held this week to discuss ways to mitigate the effects of the project.

The meeting came as villagers who live near the 98-hectare site slated to house the revamped Samroang railway station maintained that they had not received any compensation offers.

The railway terminal will be Cambodia's largest devoted solely to the shipment of goods and cargo, said Yit Bunna, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Sokha Ouk, a programme officer for social safeguards at the Asian Development Bank, which is funding the project, said consultants who surveyed the site earlier this month determined that 200 families would need to be relocated.

Tep Siheang, 45, who has lived near the site in Samroang village, Samroang Krom commune, since 1993, said Thursday that she and her neighbours would not object to the development project, as long as they were compensated.

"We would like to be compensated through the purchase of our land at market prices," she said.

Ouch Seakmean, 48, who has lived in Samroang village since 1979, also said she had not yet heard of any compensation offers, adding that she learned about the development project when government workers and consultants visited the site two weeks ago to measure her land and that of her neighbours.

Mitigating impacts
Yit Bunna said the inter-ministerial committee is currently "assessing the impacts of the development project" and has not yet determined appropriate compensation for affected families.

We would like to be compensated through the purchase of... land.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Chreang Sophan, who said he attended the Tuesday meeting at City Hall, said he believes the committee would develop a compensation plan by the end of the year.

Samroang village currently houses a now-defunct railway station consisting of two one-storey brick buildings. Yit Bunna said he believed the station had been built in the 1960s, but had discontinued service with the overthrow of Norodom Sihanouk by Lon Nol in 1970.

Yit Bunna said the new station would be funded by a US$20 million loan from the ADB.

Chantha Kim, ADB's external relations coordinator, said he did not know the specific terms of the loan.

Yit Bunna said TSO, a French railway development company, had secured the contract to develop the site last Friday.

But he said officials were still reviewing "whether it has enough ability to complete the development project as planned or not".

Om Proeung, a Cambodian employee for TSO, on Thursday declined to comment beyond saying that the company was studying the project.

After arrests, Khmer Krom activist waits on asylum bid

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Friday, 19 June 2009

BUDDHIST monk Tim Sakhorn met with officials from the Bangkok office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday, following roundups of Khmer Krom refugees by Thai authorities last week.

Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Krom Human Rights Association, said that due to the UNHCR's special protection protocols, tightened after the arrests of 61 Khmer Krom in Bangkok last Saturday, it was not possible to reach Tim Sakhorn for comment Thursday.

But he said the Khmer Krom activist, who fled from Cambodia in April, expects his application for political asylum in the US to be finalised on Saturday.

Ang Chanrith added he was working with Thai authorities to prevent the deportation of the arrested Khmer Krom, who had been either recognised as refugees by UNHCR were under consideration or otherwise receiving support from the office.

"We have requested the Thai authorities not to send the Khmer Krom back to either Cambodia or Vietnam.... We are working with [the Thai government] to make sure these ethnic Khmer are safe while waiting for their asylum to be processed," he said.

"With the protection of the UNHCR and the Thai authorities, they wouldn't face the threat of deportation, even if they are arrested."

A report issued by Human Rights Watch in January 2009 documented human rights abuses and the "severe and often shrouded" methods used to stifle dissent amongst the ethnic Khmer minority in southern Vietnam.

New UN rights envoy must explain attempts to try Duch abroad: PM

The UN's Surya Subedi (right) and Christophe Peschoux leave the Foreign Ministry Thursday.

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 19 June 2009

Hun Sen asks why a UN official wanted to ‘take Duch out of the country'.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has asked Surya Subedi, the new UN human rights envoy to Cambodia, for an "explanation" as to why a UN representative 10 years ago wanted to try former Khmer Rouge jailer Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, at an international court outside the country.

Speaking at their first meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, the prime minister asked Subedi to work with the head of the government's human rights committee, Om Yentieng, to find out why Christophe Peschoux, the country representative of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, had tried to "take Duch out of the country", Eang Sophalleth, Hun Sen's spokesman, said.

Peschoux had interviewed Duch in 1999, during which the former Khmer Rouge leader claimed in his trial earlier this year the UN official told him he would go to prison in Belgium.

Before Cambodia's UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal was established, Peschoux and others had suggested he be tried internationally for fear of a lengthy pretrial detention.

"Why was there an attempt to take Duch out of Cambodia while the government and the UN were in negotiations to establish the tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders?" Eang Sophalleth said.

"We want to know the reason and will send documents related to Peschoux to the UN human rights body in Geneva."

Subedi and Peschoux would not comment following the meeting.

Subedi began his first visit to Cambodia on Monday.

SRP attorney found guilty of bar breach

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Friday, 19 June 2009

Lawyer for Mu Sochua has until July to defend self over defamation claim.

THE lawyer of opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua has been found in violation of Bar Association rules after he declared in April that the prime minister had defamed his client, a bar official told the Post Thursday.

Kong Sam Onn has represented Mu Sochua in two defamation lawsuits - one filed by Mu Sochua, and a countersuit filed by Prime Minister Hun Sen - stemming from an April 4 speech by the premier in which the opposition leader said Hun Sen made derogatory comments about her.

Hun Sen's lawyer, Ky Tech, alleged last week that Kong Sam Onn violated Cambodian Bar Association rules by asserting during a press conference held April 23 - three days before Mu Sochua's suit was filed - that Hun Sen had defamed her.

"The [bar disciplinary] council has decided that attorney Kong Sam Onn violated Articles 4, 6 and 15 of the bar rules," said Suon Visal, secretary general and spokesman for the association.

According to Suon Visal, the 19 council members ruled on Kong Sam Onn's case based on reports from an inspection team and asked Kong Sam Onn to plead his case himself or request a lawyer to do so.

According to bar rules, Kong Sam Onn has 15 days to plead his case to the council, after which it will decide on his punishment.

Suon Visal said Kong Sam Onn could be temporarily suspended from his job or expelled from the bar.

But he said he could also be let off with a warning.

"We don't know yet whether Kong Sam Onn will be sanctioned or not, but we'll see in the near future," he said.

Kong Sam Onn could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

KR victims question Jarvis's politics

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Friday, 19 June 2009

VICTIMS representing themselves at Cambodia's war crimes tribunal have sent a letter to Helen Jarvis, head of the court's Victims' Unit asking her to explain "how she can lead" victims of a Leninist regime when she is currently a member of a Leninist party herself.

Defence lawyers were first to voice concern over the recent appointment of Jarvis, who before changing portfolios at the start of the month was the court's chief of public affairs.

Lawyers for former leaders Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary said that an open letter signed by Jarvis declaring, "We too are Marxists and believe that ‘the ends justify the means'," made her radically at odds with the job's requirements.

"We, civil parties, would like your response to the following ... How can you lead us, victims of Leninist theory and ideology?" a copy of the letter obtained by the Post stated.

Jarvis said Thursday she had received the letter and was in contact with the civil parties.

Court Deputy Director of Administration Knut Rosandhaug said last week he "fully supports" Jarvis's right to her own political opinion.

Khmer Krom survivors find relief in visit to Khmer Rouge tribunal

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal, where former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav is currently on trial.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Though efforts have increased, outreach to Khmer Krom minority remains limited: experts.

WHEN Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav began to cry Tuesday morning while testifying about torture methods used at the detention centre, Uth Em, a farmer who lost both parents, five siblings and 20 other relatives to the Khmer Rouge felt something he was not expecting: pity.

"I pitied him. It made me feel a bit of a release and reduced my anger," Uth Em, 53, said in an interview on the grounds of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which he was visiting for the first time.

As a member of the Khmer Krom community, Uth Em belongs to a minority group that some historians have argued was singled out for abuses by the regime. This week, he travelled from his home in Pursat to Phnom Penh as part of a group of 20 Khmer Krom, the largest such group yet to have visited the court, said several people involved in outreach efforts.

Terith Chy, head of the Victims Participation Project at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), said the number of Khmer Krom who have watched court proceedings in person was "still quite low" compared with other minority groups, particularly Cham Muslims.

Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association (KKKHRA), which works with Khmer Krom in five provinces, said outreach efforts had been limited, adding that even those Khmer Krom who wanted to visit the tribunal required financial assistance to do so.

"They are poor," he said. "They don't have the ability to visit."

Mahdev Mohan, a lawyer who provides pro bono legal representation to civil parties at the tribunal, said via email: "To the best of my knowledge, there are few ethnic Khmer Krom survivors who have attended the hearings so far, and only a handful have applied to directly participate in the proceedings" as complainants, witnesses or civil parties.

Court spokesman Reach Sambath said the court does not track how many minorities have registered as civil parties.

Ang Chanrith said that, for the Duch trial, only one Khmer Krom applying with the help of the KKKHRA had been recognised by the court as a civil party.

It's probably safe to say that the khmer krom were among the groups that suffered a particularly high proportion of killing.

The number of Khmer Krom who perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge is difficult to determine, experts said.

Mohan said some Khmer Krom survivors "believe that hundreds of thousands were singled out and killed, particularly along the Vietnamese border" in Takeo, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces.

However, as DC-Cam senior legal adviser John Ciorciari noted in an email, "The fact that many [Khmer Krom] have Khmer names makes it tough to distinguish them on many documents and petitions".

Ciorciari added: "It's probably safe to say that the Khmer Krom were among the groups that suffered a particularly high proportion of killing, but I'm not sure whether anyone has a good estimate."

'Contentious' case
The Khmer Krom occupied an ambiguous position during the Khmer Rouge years, viewed warily by both the Vietnamese and the Cambodians, Ciorciari wrote in a 2008 article titled "The Khmer Krom and the Khmer Rouge Trials".

On one hand, the US trained "significant numbers" of Khmer Krom to fight against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, and the Khmer Krom leader Son Ngoc Thanh tried to "repel Cambodian communist advances", Ciorciari wrote.

On the other, some Khmer Rouge leaders such as foreign minister Ieng Sary were Khmer Krom.

Ciorciari said in an email that "most Khmer Krom would treat people like Ieng Sary as ‘traitors' of a sort, and do not consider themselves to have been robust participants on the Khmer Rouge side of the conflict".

But when the Khmer Rouge were in power, he wrote in the article, Vietnamese as well as Khmer Rouge leaders "viewed the Khmer Krom community with distrust".

A different kind of ambiguity complicates efforts to describe what the Khmer Krom endured.

Ciorciari wrote that if the Khmer Krom were viewed as "a group that had to be watched carefully for political reasons", then Khmer Rouge leaders could be convicted on crimes against humanity charges for abuses perpetrated against it.

But if the Khmer Krom were viewed "as an ethnic group or part of a Vietnamese national group that had to be destroyed", then Khmer Rouge leaders could be convicted of genocide if that charge is ever brought at the court.

"The case of the Khmer Krom may prove to be contentious because it sits close to the border of what might be considered ethnically motivated genocide or politically driven crimes against humanity," Ciorciari wrote.

He added: "On the definition of crimes, I've had a tough time gauging the extent to which Khmer Krom are focused on the issue. My impression ... is that most Khmer Krom feel that they were singled out for special abuse and believe they suffered ‘genocide', but are not aware of how that crime's definition differs from the definition of crimes against humanity."

For Meas Chanthan, head of the Pursat branch of the KKKHRA, the purpose of the visit this week had less to do with parsing the particulars of Khmer Rouge crimes than it did with seeing whether the tribunal could operate free of government influence.

Many of the visitors, he said, have "negative perceptions of the Cambodian court system", which they believe is subject to abuses by the powerful.

"They take a very cautious position to come here," he said of the visitors.

Uth Em, meanwhile, described the experience of seeing Duch in the dock as somewhat cathartic.

"I was told to come here to see those who were responsible for the killing of my relatives," he said. "I feel relieved when I see the trial and when I realise that Duch will suffer punishment."

Report citing pollutants' threat to dolphins draws furious govt rebuke

Photo by: AFP
A new report asserts that pollution has pushed the Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins ''to the brink of extinction''.

Written by Sam Rith
Friday, 19 June 2009

A NEW report that pollution in the Mekong River was in part responsible for the deaths of 88 Irrawaddy dolphins since 2003 prompted a harsh rebuttal from a government official, who on Thursday dismissed the findings as "all lies".

The report, released Thursday by the international conservation group WWF, found that pollution in the Mekong River had pushed local Irrawaddy dolphins "to the brink of extinction".

It said 60 percent of the dead dolphins were calves under two weeks old that had died of a bacterial disease.

"This disease would not be fatal unless the dolphin's immune systems were suppressed, as they were in these cases, by environmental contaminants," said Dr Verne Dove, the author of the report and a veterinarian at WWF Cambodia, in a press release.

The reported said the population of the Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin, which has been listed as a critically endangered species since 2004, totals between 64 and 76 members.

Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-Tourism, said, however, that the report was false.

"What they said was all lies," he said. "It's big trouble - they [the WWF] should resign. They should leave Cambodia."

Touch Seang Tana said the dolphin population had increased between 2000 and 2007, a period during which, he said, 120 dolphins died and 160 were born.

He dismissed as incorrect the report's assertion that researchers had discovered "toxic levels" of pesticides and environmental contaminants while analysing the dead dolphin calves. The pollutants, the report said, "could pose a health risk to human populations living along the Mekong that consume the same fish and water as the dolphins".


Villagers curse Mondulkiri plantation

Photo by: Bill Herod
A Phnong woman attends a traditional ceremony Tuesday in Mondulkiri's Pouteut village to appease their ancestors and protect their land from a local rubber plantation.

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 19 June 2009

Ethnic Phnong community resorts to tradition in dispute with Franco-Cambodian rubber venture.

ETHNIC Phnong villagers in Mondulkiri's Bou Sra commune held traditional ceremonies Tuesday to appease ancestral spirits and curse a joint French-Cambodian rubber plantation they say has robbed them of large tracts of communal farmland, participants said.

The ceremony took place in Pouteut village, which lies inside a 10,000-hectare rubber concession granted to the Khaou Chuly Co and French rubber giant Socfin, they said.

"Residents sacrificed a buffalo, dedicating it to the spirits of our ancestors and the neak ta spirits who look after the forests, to help protect our remaining land," said a Phnong community representative who did not want to be named.

"According to our traditional beliefs, if the company continues clearing the land [it] will meet problems."

Bill Herod, an adviser for Village Focus Cambodia who works with Phnong youth, said the ceremony, which took place next to a large rubber company excavator, began with the beating of traditional gongs before the buffalo was sacrificed and its head placed on an altar.

After village elders drank ceremonial rice wine from earthen jars, the villagers then cooked and ate the meat, he added, sharing it with local police.

Pouteut village is one of seven villages in Bou Sra commune that claim to have been affected by the rubber companies, which were granted their first 2,500-hectare concession in late 2007 and began clearing forest early last year.

Tensions came to a head in December, when angry villagers, claiming the destruction of spirit forests and rotational farmland, torched and smashed machinery belonging to Khaou Chuly Co in the commune's Bou Sra village.

If the company continues clearing the land [it] will have problems.

So far, the community representative said, Socfin has cleared about 200 hectares of rotational farmland in the vicinity of Pouteut village.

"We want to keep the farmland and forests not only for human beings, but also for wild animals.... We do not want to allow any company, whether Khaou Chuly or the French company, to clear the land and forest any further," he said.

Saving the situation
When contacted Wednesday, Socfin General Manager Philippe Monnin declined to comment on the situation.

But in an interview at Bou Sra in April, he told the Post the company was trying to enlist the support of international development agencies - including the French government's French Development Agency - to offset the negative impacts on local communities.

Mondulkiri Deputy Governor Yim Lux said Socfin was offering compensation to people who had lost farmland, but added that villagers were making confusing claims.

"We have already measured the land that belongs to them, but they are claiming more forest land that does not belong to them. For this, they have to adhere to the law," he said.

But Herod said that despite the relaxed atmosphere Tuesday, locals were still uncertain about the rubber plantation and what its long-term impact would be.

"[The Phnong] didn't know which way to turn. They are still unclear about exactly what's happening ... or where they're supposed to farm," he said.

"From the perspective of the [Phnong], the giant machines ploughing their forests, rice fields, gardens, graves and other spiritual sites are weapons of mass destruction."

PM turns off tap of patronage for F'pec

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 19 June 2009

PRIME Minister Hun Sen announced Wednesday that the government will no longer award other parties - including Funcinpec, its junior coalition partner - an automatic share of seats in the civil service and armed forces.

"From now on, political parties, particularly Funcinpec, must not request the appointment of their party members ... as civil servants, police and soldiers," he said in a speech at the Royal School of Administration.

"If the system of nepotism and partisanship continues and [the government] is not able to make reforms, there is a 99 percent chance we will perish."

Following the May council elections, Funcinpec Secretary General Nhek Bun Chhay said he asked Hun Sen to maintain at least 190 current Funcinpec officials in their positions at the province and district level.

"We have supported the plan of reform to neutralise the civil service and armed forces," he said Wednesday, adding that all Funcinpec officials would remain neutral, in line with the reform program.

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said that the existing laws already required civil servants and the armed forces to be politically neutral.

"The issue is that ... individual civil servants and soldiers are still doing activities to strengthen their own party, especially close to elections," he said.

Finding justice for Myanmar

Photo by: AFP
A Myanmar activist holds a portrait of detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during protest outside Myanmar's embassy in Bangkok on June 11.

Written by Gordon Brown
Friday, 19 June 2009

International community's growing sense of outrage must be translated into action, the British prime minister declares.

TODAY is the 64th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi. The fact that she remains under arrest is tragic for Burma [Myanmar's former name] and for all those throughout the world who believe in democracy and the rule of law. The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is an absurd mockery of justice. The real injustice was not that someone broke into her compound, but that she was imprisoned in the first place.

Aung San Suu Kyi has now been imprisoned for 13 of the last 19 years since the party she led won the last elections in her country. More than 2,000 others are imprisoned across Burma for sharing her commitment to a better and brighter future for the long-suffering population. Even in the face of such injustice, Aung San Suu Kyi has always supported the path of peace and reconciliation. But the regime has consistently spurned her offer of dialogue and reconciliation. They want to isolate her from the people of Burma, for whom she has long been a symbol of hope and defiance.

Her refusal to buckle in the face of tyranny is an inspiration. But words of support are not enough. The region, the EU and the UN are all urging the junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi. So far all requests for moderation have been spurned. In the face of such obstinacy the world must now act. I believe there are three things we must do.

...Long-promised elections in 2010 will remain a charade while political prisoners are being tortured.

Firstly, we need support the countries of the region as they step up efforts to secure democracy and reconciliation. I have been struck by how Burma's neighbours have led the world community in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's release. We need to translate this outrage into ongoing political pressure for change.

Secondly, we need the UN Security Council to reinforce its calls for Aung San Suu Kyi's release and to support the secretary-general's efforts to bring about political progress through an early visit to Burma.

Thirdly, we should impose a new set of tough sanctions that target the regime's economic interests. We will be pushing for stronger European Union action in this regard. Such a step would hit the business interests of the generals and their cronies. I also believe we should identify and target those judges complicit in the recent political show trials.

The growing sense of outrage and the unity of the international community behind this message should mark a turning point. The regime is at a crossroads. Long-promised elections in 2010 will remain a charade while political prisoners are being tortured, ethnic minorities are persecuted, the media muzzled, freedom of speech and assembly are non-existent, and Aung San Suu Kyi is silenced. The regime can choose to ignore the clamour for change. But this will only condemn the country to deeper isolation, poverty, conflict and despair.

Or it can choose the path of reform as the region has urged. Burma is rich in natural and human resources, at the heart of a dynamic continent. Democratic reform would unleash the country's enormous potential. Britain and the international community would be ready to extend the hand of friendship. If the Burmese generals rethink their ways, we will be ready to recognise and embrace any genuine reforms they make.

Some may question why Burma warrants so much attention. There are other countries where human rights are ignored or people live in poverty. But the Burmese junta stands virtually alone in the scale of its misrule and the sheer indifference to the suffering of its 50 million people. How we respond to this injustice will send a message about our resolution to tackle similar injustices across the globe. To those that stand for human rights, freedom and democracy, our message remains clear - you are not alone.

Gordon Brown is the prime minister of Britain.

Better borders critical to regional trade: ADB

Streamlining trade processes at border crossings like this one linking Cambodian and Vietnam is critical to boosting intraregional trade, the ADB will tell Mekong region commerce ministers today.

Written by Nathan Green
Friday, 19 June 2009

Development bank urges more haste on long-running efforts to boost transport infrastructure and smooth customs flows

COMMERCE ministers from the Mekong region will be warned today at a major conference that countries must boost trade and transport sector reforms if they hope to boost intraregional trade and reduce reliance on ailing external trade partners.

Arjun Thapan, director general of the Southeast Asia department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which is organising the 15th Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Ministerial Conference in Cha-Am, Thailand, said the economic crisis had highlighted the importance of intraregional trade in the wake of falling demand from major trade partners.

"The current economic downturn has probably put growth back at least a couple of years," he told the Post Thursday from Thailand. "The whole question of creating domestic demand - not in complete substitution of external demand but at least in partial substitution - [is now critical]."

In Cambodia garment exports, which make up around 98 percent of Cambodia's total merchandise exports, fell 26 percent in the first quarter of the year, based on Commerce Ministry figures.

The US takes 64.9 percent of the country's total garment exports and the European Union 20.3 percent.

According to the World Bank, intra-GMS trade involving Cambodia is almost nonexistent, with even the garment sector sourcing the bulk of its fabric from outside the region due to trade barriers.

GMS member countries inked a Cross-border Transport Agreement (CBTA) in 1999 in an effort to ease the customs burden by fast-tracking procedures at border-crossings by allowing some goods shipments to be certified as "low risk". The agreement was part of a much-wider program to invest in the region's transport infrastructure, but Thapan said it was "very much" delayed.

"We want the ministers to understand that it is behind schedule, and we want them to take note of the fact that their prime ministers have been demanding that at every summit they make progress on implementing the CBTA," he said.

Sjaak de Klein, country manager for transport company TNT, which added Cambodia into an Asia-wide express services road network in May, said experience showed that removing barriers to trade had a positive impact on trade volumes.

"We have seen it in Laos where better connectivity for the country has led to an increase in trade," he said, referring to a new highway linking the country to Vietnam.

That has been accompanied by a CBTA inked last week after 10 years of negotiations allowing trucks from Vietnam and Thailand to transit through Laos without having to be unloaded and re-loaded.

Thapan said work was progressing at half-a-dozen pilot border crossing sites under the transport agreement, but none were fully operational and it was still taking around four hours, and up to 10 in some cases, to clear shipments.

"This is not helping trade and it is not helping investment because of the high costs involved," he said. "We think it's time for the countries to take an integrated view of both transport and trade facilitation."

Talks held on plan for new Thai crossing

Written by Thet Sambath
Friday, 19 June 2009

CAMBODIAN and Thai officials met this week on a proposal to open a new border crossing in Banteay Meanchey's O'Chrouv district, although Thai officials still need to obtain formal approval from officials in Bangkok, the governor of Banteay Meanchey told the Post Wednesday.

"Officials on both sides have agreed to a proposal to form another local checkpoint in O'Beichon commune, but the Thai authorities of Sa Keo province still need to go to their Ministry of Foreign Affairs," Ung Oeun said.

He said the checkpoint would facilitate the legal transfer of goods between the two countries, adding that authorities would be able to "crack down on smuggling and collect more taxes for the state".

During the Monday meeting, held at the provincial governor's office, Cambodian officials also raised concerns about reports that Cambodian crops had been barred from entering Thai markets, said Om Chantha, a cabinet official in Battambang province.

Farmers in Koh Kong, Pursat, Battambang, Pailin, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces said earlier this year that they had been barred from sending goods across the border out of concern that they would drive prices down.

Kamrob Palawatwichai, first secretary for the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, said Wednesday that he was not familiar with the proposed checkpoint but said it would be "good for travellers and for the transportation of goods".

ADB gives $59.4m to fight crisis

Written by Nathan Green
Friday, 19 June 2009

CAMBODIA has qualified for US$59.4 million in Asian Development Bank (ADB) concessional loans and grants to help it respond to the global economic crisis.

The money has been made available through the bank's Asian Development Fund (ADF), which received a $400 million boost Tuesday as part of a much broader $3.4 billion fiscal spending package approved by the bank's directors.

The ADF resources are intended to finance key development investments in those low-income countries that are among the most fiscally constrained in responding to the crisis.

ADB Country Director for Cambodia Arjun Goswami said the Cambodian government was currently determining which sectors most needed the additional economic stimulus to offset the impact of the economic crunch. "We haven't gone through the list yet to nail down exactly which ones," he said by telephone from Thailand where he is attending a regional conference.

He said half would be in the form of an ADF grant and half a concessional loan.

Gem industry looks to better practices as exhibition opens

Attendants at the 2009 Gems and Jewellery Exhibition look at rings Thursday at the event held at the Hotel InterContinental.

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 19 June 2009

Industry insiders say that better management is required to make the most of the Kingdom’s precious stones on first day of jewellery exhibition in the capital

AS Cambodia seeks to export natural gems and jewellery to international markets, vendors warn that the nation will not be able to profit from the industry if it remains poorly managed on the ground, trade officials told the Post at the 2009 Gems and Jewellery Exhibition in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

The exhibition, co-organised by the Ministry of Commerce's Promotions Department and Chheng Hak Stone Diamond Shop, ends Saturday and has 30 gem stalls.

"We are willing to produce and export our gem products for an international market," Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Commerce Ministry said. "We are thinking about how to promote and trade with foreign countries with our gems and jewellry products."

However Kuy Makrinda, director of Angkor Thom Thmei Co, said without better resource management on the ground, profits produced from the gem trade will disappear into government officials' own wallets.

"Authorities in the provinces are not well-monitored; I have seen people digging here and there in a way that looks unprofessional," he said, adding that he was concerned about management, particularly in Pailin and Ratanakkiri province, where there were many informal mines and excavating with insufficient controls.

"Gems are a special product of Cambodia, even our temples are decorated with gems and jewellery accessories. I think once we begin to control their movement properly, national income will increase," he said.

Kuy Makrinda called on authorities to manage natural resources that belong to the nation. "I understand that if all natural resources are properly managed, it will change the lives of people and reduce poverty via tax collection, instead of going into government officials' pockets," he said.

Near Sodany, owner of Sok Nay Jewellery Shop, said she wanted the world to recognise Cambodia was home to unique and valuable gem products, and agreed that better on-the-ground management would help reach this goal.

"We want to see Cambodian gems become a big player in the gem trade ... and I hope to create a jewellry trade association soon," he said.

Cambodia's main gem-producing provinces are Pailin, Ratanakkiri, Takeo and Kampong Thom.

Entrepreneur sees boom from fire-sale furniture

Written by ROS DINA
Friday, 19 June 2009

Former real estate agent turns economic malaise into lucrative business in second hand furniture – and now is looking to expand beyond the city

ALTHOUGH the economic crisis may have hurt the majority of businesses, one entrepreneur has thrived, buying second hand furniture at basement prices that he sells on for a profit at prices below market value.

After losing his job as a real estate agent following the recent property downturn, Kao Vannarin in February opened a shop in his home on Street 199 selling used furniture.

"At first we bought old furniture for family and friends," says the French-Cambodian entrepreneur. "Then we had a lot of people come over and they supported our business.... Particularly with the economic crisis.

"So I profited from this situation without thinking about it beforehand."

Kao Vannarin, who returned to the Kingdom in 1993, says that he obtains 50 percent of stock through intermediaries who collect from the provinces - Kampong Cham, Kampot, Kampong Chhnang - who bring back antique tables, wardrobes and kda ngeur, a traditional Khmer-style book made of very thin pieces of wood. He also picks up objects that have been left in the rain or abandoned in derelict houses.

"In inquiring among rural locals about some of their possessions, we find out they are heirlooms, but the grand majority of them do not recognise the value of these objects," he says.

The grand majority ... do not recognise the value of these objects.

"When these people sell us objects and receive their money, they have chosen new purchases to replace them which represents a real progression of society," says Kao Vannarin, citing an example in which he bought a broken Charillion Romanet 4 Airs clock made in the 19th century for as little as US$25.

The rest of his stock comes from businesses - such as restaurants - that have succumbed to the economic crisis.

He says he receives at least 20 customers coming to his store each week to seek out items, the majority of whom have seen the same pieces in print - Kao Vannarin publishes a weekly pamphlet called Adweekly featuring stock photos and prices.

Suon Veasna bought a $70 wardrobe last month from the shop. She said that the current economic climate meant that she was making every effort to economise while still being able to purchase antique pieces.

"My antique wardrobe is half the market price. What's more, that wardrobe is of a good quality, and I'd already looked at a number of other places to check whether they had anything I was looking for," she said.

Meng Srun, who runs an IT store in Phnom Penh, bought a traditional bed from the shop on Street 199 costing just $150.

"If I had bought it in a shop, it would have been more than $300," he says.

Kao Vannarin says that he sells his products at roughly 60 percent of their market value having been careful to limit purchases to no more than 50 percent of the market price so as to make a profit.

He says he has plans to sell his wares outside of Phnom Penh on a grander scale, he says, a further suggestion that the economic low experienced by the majority has proved to be a boom for Kao Vannarin.

"I'm currently negotiating to rent a 3-hectare piece of land. If we can agree on price, I will seek permission to open a [furniture and antiques] market," he says.

The seductive style of Sapor

Sapor Yon Rendall launches her debut fashion collection this Saturday. Photo Supplied

Written by JOEL QUENBY
Friday, 19 June 2009

Sapor Yon Rendall tempts Cambodia’s clothing industry with her new fashion collection, a range of designs for slinky cocktail dresses

Owner of Cambodia's first modelling agency and training school, 37-year-old Sapor Yon Rendall is one of Cambodia's best-known women.

However, her story is hardly the stuff fairy tales are made of. When Sapor was 10, her father died and she was adopted by her rich, business-savvy Sino-Cambodian neighbours.

She voyaged to Australia with her new foster family - the boat almost sunk on the way there - and, upon her return to Cambodia in 1995, Sapor, endowed with newfound confidence, started her own modelling agency.

Since then, she's been the first lady of Khmer fashion, grooming local beauties for the catwalk.

This weekend Sapor launches her debut fashion collection, tempting the Kingdom's clothing boutiques with a range of designs for slinky cocktail dresses.

Tell us a little bit about your forthcoming fashion show.
It is called Sapor's Collection. Back in 2000, I started a very small collection but had to postpone it because my modelling agency was so busy. Now I've got it back on track, after two years of planning.

I've been working on the designs for the last six months.

Saturday's show is to raise awareness of my designs, which are elegant and sexy. It will mainly be casual cocktail and evening gowns.

Will your designs be stocked locally?
I'm talking to shops in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh but nothing's finalised yet.

If shops take my designs on, they benefit from the extra publicity I generate through magazines and newspapers; also, my models are on TV every Sunday.

Saturday's show is to raise awareness of my designs, which are elegant and sexy.

They have nothing to lose: They can take my tailor-made designs on a consignment basis and test the market.

If not, I'll just start up my own shop and do it myself.

Do you think the local fashion scene is ready for your sexy designs?
My dresses are quite revealing, which goes with my personality: I like to dress sexy.

I think that nowadays people dress better in Cambodia; There's more fashion awareness, more confidence - it feels like a good time to do this.

I favour European cuts, which are nothing like most domestic Cambodian styles. Many people are doing modern traditional long silk gowns already; I want to do something different.

Has modelling become a profitable profession for Khmers?
I think so, although modelling is just a part-time occupation for them.

We don't have enough work for full-time modelling, partly because of the economy.

The more professional models on our books can earn US$200 to $300 a month; it depends how many events they are assigned to. Although from that, they need to support their families and their education.

Last year we had models working on a big project earning full-time wages on a short-term basis, so they earned $400 a month, which is great.

What physical attributes are most prized by the average Khmer?
Traditional Cambodians think that a chubby, round face with big eyes and a nice broad nose is pretty.

That doesn't really work for my agency; I prefer sharper features, high cheekbones - a more international look. But then if a model is good at everything and happens to have a round face, we'll still put her on the catwalk.

Do you have a personal style icon?
Oh, so many! I like Angelina Jolie. In fact, I know her; we met about five years ago in Siem Reap. She's very beautiful, both inside and out, and her style is very casual and down to earth.

I also admire Jennifer Lopez. As a model, Kate Moss is petite but she's great. And Tyra Banks, of course ... Victoria Beckham. I've even been told I look like Halle Berry once or twice.

What are your favourite shopping, dining and nightlife venues in Phnom Penh?
I go to Sovanna pretty often. If I buy clothes in Cambodia, I just buy casual stuff - usually I design and make garments by myself.

I also buy directly from Khmer designers like Ambre and Jasmine.

I'm not fussy about restaurants; I can go anywhere. For Western food, I like Metro.

And bars? If I want to dance to hip-hop music, I like the Riverhouse Lounge or Pontoon. I also like a local club called Spark, as well as one called Rock.

What do you love and hate about Phnom Penh?
Phnom Penh feels like my own town in my own country.

I'm well-known here, which makes me feel really comfortable.

What I don't like is that, nowadays, there's too many young kids leaving home, doing drugs, driving fast on motorbikes and having accidents. They don't really go to school.

I want them to help their families, have a good education so they can have good jobs in the future.

Who's been the greatest influence on your life?
Does it sound stupid if I say my mum? She gave birth to me and I've gotten this far because of her.

Also, my foster mum, who adopted me when I was 12 years old. I'm very thankful to her for giving me confidence.

I love them both and I will never forget them.

Relegation fears spur action

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Khemara Keila’s Sophal Odom (left) skips past a challenge from Post Tel’s Pin Pheara (right) during their game June 7.

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Phouchung Neak’s Heng Sokly (right) fires a weak effort easily saved by Kirivong Sok Sen Chey keeper Kem Makara (centre) during their CPL match at Olympic Stadium June 13.

Written by Ken Gadaffi
Friday, 19 June 2009

Cambodian Premier League teams Post Tel Club and Phouchung Neak are dug deep in the relegation zone although both sides are moving to break out

Yem Vannak looks to recruit well
As the mid season approaches, Post Tel Club coach Yem Vannak is looking to bolster his squad with new strikers and midfielders to help lift his team out of the drop zone. Post Tel have only won one game and lost five in the Cambodian Premier League (CPL).

"I am looking for players ahead of the midseason transfer [window]," Yem Vannak stated, referring to the month-long period starting July 7 in which CPL teams are allowed to sign a maximum of three players, and only one from abroad, as specified by the football federation.

"I need to change some players," the coach remarked. "My [current] players have not been good enough, and we are going to work on that by the mid-season."

Yem Vannak rued the chances missed by his players to finish off teams and also lamented his defenders' poor showings in some games played so far. "We always create chances, but my attackers fail to take them, and we get punished for that," he noted. "Our defenders, too, have not been on top of their games. They fail to clear their lines when we are under pressure, and this has cost us games."

The coach confirmed that he has already targeted individuals to beef up his side for the second half of the season, but declined to disclose names in fear of other teams competing for the signatures.

Solomon mines out navy talent
Cambodian navy side Phouchung Neak have enlisted the help of coach Solomon Demagudu to rescue them from relegation. The Nigerian-born coach and former Post Tel defender was called up by team manager Chay Sichouen to provide technical and tactical support for the team. It is hoped coach Demagudu's installation will help to improve the abysmal form of the side, who have obtained just a single point from seven CPL matches and remain rooted to the bottom of the 10-team league.

"We need to improve our game to survive the drop," affirmed Chay Sichouen. "We have asked coach Solomon to come and help us out, as our local coach Chay Sangha cannot handle the team alone."

Meanwhile Demagudu, who lost his first game in charge 2-1 to the high-flying Kirivong Sok Sen Chey, is confident that he will be able to face the challenge. "I am not under pressure to deliver," said the former coach of Cambodian sides Camafric and Samnang Development FC.

"I hope to take the team to a mid-table finish," stated Demagudu. "We are in a difficult position, no doubt, but I am optimistic of changing the fortune of the team by the end of the season." Demagudu has identified a problem in the attitude of the players. "The main problem is discipline," he claimed. "I have observed that the players don't train enough. In fact they don't come to training [at all] and only report on match day.

"The players dictate what to do to the coaches and management, which is wrong, and I am going to try to change that."

AFG helps develop Cambodian youths
Asia Football Group (AFG) based in Singapore are organizing a soccer camp for children aged between 4 and 16, to be held at Northbridge International school July 23-24.

AFG Director Jimmy Beh visited Cambodia Monday to inspect facilities.

"We want to promote sports in Cambodia, especially soccer," Jimmy Beh said. "We have seen that the people of Cambodia like football and so we want to improve their skills. We will be training the kids [using an] international soccer method, which is famous worldwide as the best method in soccer skill development."

The director, who was accompanied by AFG marketing manager Ray Yee Pin, also visited some schools and held talks with Cambodian officials for possible investment in sport in Cambodia. "We hope that our coming to Cambodia will open new doors for future initiatives," enthused Ray Yee Pin. "Cambodia has a high potential and the talents here are amazing, which we hope to develop."