Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Tuol Sleng victim recalls abuse

Photo by: AFP
S-21 torture survivor Chum Mey shows the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Trial Chamber the scars that resulted from a torture session in which his toenails were pulled off with pliers

Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

'I am like a mentally ill patient,' says first S-21 torture survivor to testify.

CHUM Mey, a former mechanic, spent the first years of the Khmer Rouge regime repairing boats and sewing the black pajamas worn by cadre of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK).

In 1978, he was asked, along with two others, to take on a different assignment: to travel to Vietnam to "repair vehicles" in preparation for a CPK-led military assault.

"The three of us did not object, and we volunteered to go," Chum Mey, 79, told Cambodia's war crimes court Tuesday. "However, we were told that we did not need to bring the tools."

The assignment turned out to be a ruse: Instead of Vietnam, the group was taken to Tuol Sleng prison, where Chum Mey was photographed, handcuffed, blindfolded and ultimately subjected to 12 days of "hot" torture methods, during which his toenails were pulled off with pliers.

"The nail was completely detached from my toe. They twisted the nail with the pliers, and because the nail did not come out they pulled it out," said Chum Mey, the first Tuol Sleng torture victim to testify in the trial of prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.

"It took one month before I recovered and could walk properly," Chum Mey said.

He said guards on two occasions placed a wire "attached to the very fresh current" into his ear, shocking him unconscious. They also beat him with sticks, he said, adding that his fingers were broken during one beating when he put up his hands to defend himself.

Duch previously testified that interrogators were divided into three groups: the "hot" group, which applied torture; the "cold" group, which did not; and the "chewing" group, which subjected prisoners to long-term torture.

But Chum Mey said all of his interrogation sessions involved torture of some kind. "When I was sent inside, there was no cool method," he said.

During interrogation sessions, Tuol Sleng staff accused Chum Mey of spying for the CIA and the KGB, organisations he said he had heard of but knew nothing about.

"I did not know the roles of those people," he said Tuesday. "Even until now I am still longing for the reason why I was accused of being CIA and KGB because I have never known anything about them."

Prompted by his lawyer, Chum Mey was allowed to ask Duch directly about the CIA charge.

In response, Duch said, "CIA here were not people who received a salary organised by the Americans. It was meant to refer to people who opposed the CPK."

He added, "They only identified you as someone opposing them. That's why you were identified as CIA."

After 12 days of torture, Chum Mey said, "They stopped interrogating me because I confessed that I joined the CIA and the KGB. It was due to my confession."

Escape from Tuol Sleng
After he confessed, Chum Mey was sent to a workshop in the Tuol Sleng compound, where he repaired typewriters, sewing machines and water pumps.

He told the court how he left Tuol Sleng when the CPK was toppled in January 1979. He was reunited with his wife, who was detained in Prey Sar prison and who gave birth to their fourth child while Chum Mey was at Tuol Sleng. They fled together but came under fire from Vietnamese soldiers and were separated, Chum Mey said. His wife and newborn both died.

Chum Mey, who also described losing three other children during the Khmer Rouge years, said attending Duch's trial, which he does frequently, had been emotionally taxing.

"Every time I hear people talk about the Khmer Rouge, it reminds me of my wife and kids," he said as he batted away tears with a tissue.

"I am like a mentally ill person now," he said.

He acknowledged, though, that Duch was not among the men who tortured him.

"Duch did not beat me personally," he said. "Otherwise he would not have seen the light of day. I would just like to be frank."

Hun Sen warns Thais against air incursions near disputed temple

Written by vong Sokheng and Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

PM also says that in the event of war, Thailand will need up to 50,000 troops to subdue 10,000 of the Kingdom's own battle-hardened soldiers.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen sounded a belligerent note during informal talks with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Saturday, warning that if Thailand violates Cambodian airspace along the border Cambodia has the right to shoot down Thai aircraft, the premier said Tuesday.

"I told the Thai deputy prime minister and minister of defence frankly to be careful about not flying across the border into Cambodian territory," Hun Sen told an audience of new graduates at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

"I am afraid that I won't be able to control the shooting if the ground soldiers lose patience."

Hun Sen said he also told Suthep and Prawit that, if full-blown hostilities break out between the two countries, Bangkok would need to mobilise between 30,000 and 50,000 soldiers to match 10,000 of the battle-hardened troops stationed at the disputed Preah Vihear temple. He said that Cambodia did not want confrontation, but that Thailand must not violate the the country's territorial sovereignty.

"We are waiting to shoot because we are not invading [Thailand]. Cambodia is not showing muscle, but to defend the nation we will play it until the end," Hun Sen said.

Meanwhile, the situation on the border remains tense, with officers of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) saying they are ready to counter any Thai incursions.

"The situation at the front line is increasingly tense since I learned that Thai soldiers are scheduled for military exercises along the Thai-Cambodia border near Koh Kong province to Anses of Preah Vihear Temple on July 3," said Seoun San, an RCAF captain based at Veal Sambokhmum.

"If the rockets launched from the military exercises fall into Cambodian territory, we will open the fight without discussions."

Officials at the Thai embassy could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mixed bag for country in report on 'failed states'

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

CAMBODIA continues to be "in danger" of a failure of state institutions, according to a new report by the US-based political magazine Foreign Policy, which said the country was marked by "endemic corruption" and a loss of confidence in state institutions last year.

The 2009 Failed States Index, released last month, rated Cambodia as the 49th least-functional of the 177 states surveyed between May and December 2008, rising slightly from 48th in last year's ranking.

But while the Kingdom's ranking improved, its aggregate score fell slightly. Twelve categories were used to formulate the "failed state" ranking, with Cambodia rating highest in "delegitimisation of the state", which the magazine defines as "massive and endemic corruption or profiteering by ruling elites", resistance of rulers to transparency and accountability and the "widespread" loss of confidence in official institutions.

Cambodia received the best ratings for its relative lack of refugee populations and benign security apparatus.

Foreign Policy noted that the rankings were only a general guide to a country's progress, saying that "the pace and direction of change, either positive or negative, varies".

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Tuesday that it was Foreign Policy's right to compile lists, but made it clear the government was making efforts to improve the situation in Cambodia.

"It is their right to make rankings based on their research," he said.

"We are making efforts for our people to have [everything] that other countries have, including a strong democracy and respect for human rights."

Meeting axed for Group 78

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Young Oeu Khut poses for the camera last week as his mother and fellow residents of embattled Group 78 in Phnom Penh prepare for their day's work selling shells in the capital

Written by May Titthara
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

City's alleged cancelling of talks stirs suspicions of village chief

ACCORDING to a resident of Group 78, City Hall cancelled a meeting to settle on relocation terms with residents of Group 78, members of the community said Tuesday.

"We got an official letter from City Hall around 8am [Tuesday] inviting us to negotiate about moving to a new location at 3pm. However, by noon, the chief of the village told us that the meeting was cancelled," said Lim Sambo, a Group 78 representative.

The unexplained cancellation, he added, has stirred up existing mistrust among residents of Group 78.

"I don't trust the village chief. He only notified us in person without any official documentation, so this afternoon we went there anyway to make sure they did not play any tricks on us," Lim Sambo said.

Suspicions were also fuelled by the obscure content of the invitation letter, which included reference to irrelevant parties such as police and the military.

"The letter mentioned the heads of the Phnom Penh police and the district police, the Phnom Penh Military Police chief, the district chief and the head of the transportation department. This appears to be a threat. We're really worried," said Soroth, another Group 78 representative.

Group 78 residents say the hardship they are currently experiencing is in part rooted in the government's misperception that they belong to Sambok Chab community - one that previously illegally took government land - and now want to return to the area.

I don't trust the village chief. he only notified us in person.

"We want to ask City Hall to stop reporting to the prime minister that we are from Sambok Chab. We are people of Group 78," said Lim Sambo.

While residents were waiting outside City Hall, two security guards told them that Mann Chhoeun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, was too busy to resolve their problem.

Mann Chhoeun could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and Tonle Bassac commune Chief Khat Narith said he was "busy in a meeting" and could not comment.

Yin Savat, a lawyer with the Community for Legal Education Centre, said Tuesday that "City Hall did not perform their duties", and that this was not the proper way for government to communicate with its people.

Official government communications about meetings should be sent out no less than three or four days in advance, Yin Savat added.

Water plan launched

Written by Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

THE Ministry of Rural Development announced on Tuesday that it would launch the Clean Water and Sanitation Project in 13 provinces at the end of this year.

"We will carry out the project by providing wells and toilets to people in the countryside of the 13 provinces during this coming dry season," said Sao Chivorn, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided US$18 million in funding for the two-year project, Sao Chivorn said.

In 2006, Cambodia used an $18 million loan from the Asian Development Bank to launch a similar project in Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang and Siem Reap, the five provinces in the Tonle Sap basin.

"We carry out these two programs so that 50 percent of people in the countryside will have access to clean water and 30 percent will have access to toilets by 2015," he said.

Only 42 percent of Cambodia's rural population has access to clean water, and only 19percent access to toilet, according to ministry reports.

Vendors close stores to protest

Written by May Titthara
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

ABOUT 200 Sovanna Shopping Centre vendors closed their stores and protested inside the shopping mall on Tuesday, demanding that the owner lower their rent during the economic crisis.

"It is hard to do business now with the economic crisis, so we want the owner to reduce the rental price for a while," said Phea, owner of Fashion Clothes, who did not want to reveal his full name, adding that recently he has been able to sell only one or two items of clothing per day.

Opening in March 2008 and spanning about 50,000 square metres, Sovanna Shopping Centre is Phnom Penh's newest and largest mall.

The owner of the mall's Super Star clothing shop, who declined to give his name, said that vendors paid US$700 to $800 a month to rent
space for one store.

"But if we have no customers, how can we pay it.... We cannot run a business well right now," she said. The owner added that the protestors were demanding that rent temporarily drop by 30 percent.

According to market vendors, the owner of the Sovanna Shopping Mall said he would be willing to compromise on Monday by lowering their rent by 15 percent.

"But we are still demanding that he reduce rent as we request," said Da, a clothing vendor who declined to reveal her surname. "He said he could not reduce the price anymore because he will lose his profits."

Despite the owner's willingness to lower rent, Da said that the vendors would continue their protests indefinitely.

The general manager of Sovanna Shopping Centre was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Fish die-off in Battambang worries locals

Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

HUNDREDS of kilograms of dead fish and shrimp were found floating along a 400-metre stretch of small river in Battambang's Sampov Loun district near the Thai-Cambodian border on Monday morning, according to local officials and villagers.

"We do not know the reason why so many fish and small shrimp have been killed," said Kieng Sothy, the deputy police chief for Sampov Loun district.

The cause of the die-off is still unknown, but health officials are warning villagers not to eat the dead aquatic life.

"We told them not to eat these fish and small shrimp because it might make them sick," said Teap Sython, the director of Operational District Health in Sampov Loun.

Many locals, however, have not been heeding the advice of local health officials.

In Kilo Dobey village, Kieng Sothy said that villagers gathered the dead fish and shrimp and cooked them up for meals.

"They ate them, but they did not get poisoned or sick by eating them," he said.

Kieng Sothy suspects that chemical fertilisers running off from nearby farms may be to blame.

"We suspect they were killed by chemicals from peoples' farms because it rained a lot that night," he said. "We are investigating it but we have no information about it."

The dead aquatic life worries local villagers because, though they do not drink directly from the river, they bathe and clean their kitchen utensils in the river water, according to Bun Thy, a local resident who rushed to the river when he first heard the news.

Teap Sython said he collected fish and water samples and sent them to a laboratory in Phnom Penh, and that Thai officials were also investigating the deaths.

"We sent fish and water to a laboratory in Phnom Penh, but I have not yet gotten the results. I was told they need a few more days to check it," Teap Sython said. "We are anxious to know so we can take measures to protect for people's health and the lives of animals."

Imprisoned opposition publisher suffers diminishing health: lawyer

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Opposition editor Hang Chakra with SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier this month.

Written by Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Hang Chakra, sentenced last week to one year in prison for defamation, says he hasn't been able to sleep or eat since he was incarcerated

THE lawyer for jailed opposition newspaper publisher Hang Chakra said Tuesday that his client has gone without sleep or food since he was imprisoned last Friday, and that he would write a formal complaint about his health to the court.

"I went to visit my client on Monday at Prey Sar prison. He told me he could not eat or sleep," lawyer Choung Chou Ngy told the Post Tuesday.

"This could make him sick, so I am now preparing two letters to the court to have him released from prison and one more letter to the Appeal Court," he said.

Hang Chakra, who publishes the Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, was sentenced to one year in prison for after a judge last week found him guilty of publishing false information pertaining to a high-ranking government official and his staff.

No justice
Choung Chou Ngy claims his client, who was arrested and sentenced the same day, wasn't given a chance to defend himself, and that his health problems were likely a result of shock.

"The court did not let my client defend himself. Even I, his lawyer, was not given the chance to defend him," Choung Chou Ngy said. "Their aim is to imprison my client rather than seek justice."

Family expresses concern
Hang Chakra's family has also expressed concern over his health.

"I worry so much about my father's health because he has got multiple illnesses," Hang Chakra's daughter Hang Nethra, 20, said Tuesday.

Hang Nethra said that she wrote a letter through human rights organisations on Monday to get permission to visit her father.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for rights group Licadho, said Tuesday his organisation had sent the letter but had not yet received a response.

"We wrote to the general department of the prison on Monday to allow his daughter and Licadho doctors see him because his health is not so good," Am Sam Ath said.

Heng Hak, general director at the prison, said Tuesday that he had not yet received the letter, adding: "If the court provides permission, they will be permitted to visit [Hang Chakra] in prison."

Dengue fever cases double in 2009

Crowds march down Sihanouk Boulevard on Tuesday to draw awareness to the dangers of dengue fever

Written by Khuon Leakhana
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Health officials say the dengue numbers are a return to normal but remain a serious problem.

THE Ministry of Health hosted its annual meeting on dengue fever Tuesday morning in front of Wat Botum in Phnom Penh, where it released new statistics and launched an advertising campaign to fight the disease.

Compared with recent years, the presentations at the meeting described 2009 as a fairly typical dengue season after a mild year in 2008 and a particularly severe one in 2007.

Dengue fever is rarely fatal in adults, but children are more susceptible to hemorrhagic dengue, which can kill, according to the Ministry of Health.

So far this year, 3,333 children have been treated for dengue at public hospitals in Cambodia, a sharp increase from last year, when there were only 1,811 child cases but not nearly as bad as the first six months of 2007 when 12,858 people were treated.

"Dengue fever is not increasing or decreasing, but it still causes a lot of concern for us because it is a big public health problem in Cambodia," said Ngan Chantha, director of the Anti-Dengue Programme at the Ministry of Health.

Each year the Anti-Dengue Programme reinvents the advertising campaign and introduces it at the meeting, Ngan Chantha said, adding that this year's slogan is "fight dengue fever to protect yourself and your family".

Duong Socheat, director of the National Malaria Centre, which deals with dengue, said the worst weeks for dengue fever are in August, and that families need to learn about the disease and make sure that young children with dengue are treated by doctors.

"Parents have to pay more attention to the care of their children and prevent them from being infected by this disease," he said.

Asleep at the wheel

Photo by: Mark Roy

Written by Mark Roy
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

A worker succumbs to sleep aboard an excavator at a construction site on Street 178 near the National Museum in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Advertising to begin on Kingdom's GI products

A farmer checks his pepper crop in Kampot last week. Kampot pepper is among the first two of the Kingdom’s products to be advertised as part of the process towards Georgraphical Indicator status.

Written by Ros Dina
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

New marketing campaign for Kampong Speu palm sugar and Kampot pepper to launch within the next two months

CAMBODIAN consumers will soon find themselves targeted in a campaign to promote two of the Kingdom's most distinctive locally-grown products - Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar.

The move is linked to an initiative by the Commerce Ministry and the French devlopment agency AFD, on behalf of the European Commission, to have the status of Geographical Indicator, or GI, awarded to the two foods.

GI provides consumers with a way to differentiate competing products, with foodstuffs grown outside the defined geographic area forbidden from carrying the same name. The most common example is that of Champagne, which can only be so labelled if is from the Champagne region of France.

Jean Marie Brun, an agriculture and rural development specialist from GRET, an aid group, said the project to advertise Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar would start within two months.

"We need time to do the job because we have to go through different stages," he told the Post. "We have to arrange logos for each product properly. We will try our first ad campaign at the end of next month."

Brun talked to the Post at a workshop Tuesday at the Ministry of Commerce. The workshop, which was attended by 30 representatives of the Kampot Pepper Association and the Kampong Speu Sugar Association, was held to discuss strategies to promote local knowledge both of the concept of GI and of these two foodstuffs.

Rachael Lowe, a consultant at Agricultural Department International, a consulting company, told attendees that many people assumed well-packaged products were always more expensive. That could encourage them to look at cheaper alternatives.

However her study found that 4 million of the Kingdom's 13.4 million people aged between 15 and 64 could afford these two products if they gave priority to their health rather than basing their decision solely on price.

Her conclusion was that producers should educate consumers that Kampot pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar are high quality, safe, natural and healthy, and should be part of their daily lives.

Sam Saroeun, the president of the Cambodian Sugar Association, which has 142 members in two districts of Kampong Speu, said he was confident that high-quality and properly produced foodstuffs would find favour with consumers.

"If we can produce sugar of a high quality and with good hygiene, we may even find that demand from local markets - especially Phnom Penh - could be too large for us to supply," he said.

Jerome Benezech, general director of FarmLink, which works with Kampot pepper farmers, said Cambodians generally know about Kampot pepper.

"So what they have to do next is to direct their advertisements to medium and well-off consumers explaining to them the difference between Kampot pepper and pepper imported from Vietnam," he told the Post.

"The Cambodian markets are good and help to encourage producers and distributors a lot," he said. "And in my opinion, selling pepper in Cambodia is better than in other countries."

FarmLink last year sold 2 tonnes of pepper - half in-country and the rest to France.

Pig breeder calls for microloans for industry

Written by Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

THE Mong Reththy Group, a diversified company that recently moved into the pig-rearing trade, has called on microfinance institutions (MFIs) to lend money to farmers so they can buy its piglets.

Company President Mong Reththy said the Kingdom would benefit by importing fewer pigs from neighbouring states. He said 800 pigs are imported to the capital daily, and that the country spends US$100 million annually on pork imports.

"Our breeding program won't be able to increase Cambodian pig production if farmers lack money to buy piglets to raise," he said.

Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries show the country consumed almost 225,000 tonnes of pork last year.

The Mong Reththy Group recently spent $5 million importing 600 breeding pigs from Britain. It plans to breed 7,000 piglets for sale by next March, each of which will sell for around $50.

Mong Reththy predicted that pig imports could cease entirely if MFIs loaned cash for piglet purchases. But he said most MFIs were more interested in housing loans than in supporting livestock purchases.

However Chea Phallarin, director of MFI Amret, welcomed the request. He warned that to succeed, farmers would need experience raising pigs.

Chea Phallarin said it was not clear whether Mong Reththy's imported pigs would cope with the local climate and diseases.

"But we are ready to lend to farmers at a rate of just 2.25-3 percent per month," he said.

Kampot Cement sees sales drop one-third up to May

Workers operate machinery last week at the Kampot Cement factory in Kampot. The Kingdom’s largest cement maker has seen sales drop by almost one-third this year until May.

Written by May Kunmakara
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Cambodia’s largest cement maker cites worldwide economic crisis and lower prices from overseas competitors as main reason for recent sales slump


SALES volumes at the Kingdom's largest cement producer fell by almost a third in the first five months of 2009, as the construction slump continues to hurt demand within the industry.

Praksosery Wathana, the head of business correspondence at Kampot Cement, said the drop had hit all producers, and admitted the firm was unlikely to meet its sales target of 3 million tonnes by the end of the year.

He said Kampot Cement has cut production in response to lower sales. The firm produced 1 million tonnes of cement in 2008.

"This is affecting not only my company but other cement companies, too, and that's why we've cut production to avoid oversupply," he said.

"We are already competing very hard with imported cement sold at a cheaper price."

He said that despite the cuts, Kampot Cement would not lay off any of its 300 workers.

Kampot Cement was set up in January 2008 in a joint venture with Thailand's largest industrial conglomerate, Siam Cement Group, which owns 90 percent of the company. The remainder is owned by local firm Khaou Chuly Group.

"We don't want to cut production - so to deal with the current downturn we need to cut operating expenses," he said, adding that planned cuts did not include staff.

Mary Kann, the director of Land Gold Cambodia, a construction company, said that since construction costs have dropped by a fifth since December 2008, a number of smaller buildings and office spaces were being built.

"Our construction sector has not been very severely impacted - it is still good," she said. "But it is not too big as it was before."

A leading property expert, Sung Bonna, who is the head of Bonna Realty Group and president of the National Valuers' Association, said activity in the construction sector has increased slightly since May, but the rise is due to offices and houses rather than development projects.

Falling demand
Khaou Phallaboth, the president of Khaou Chuly Group, told the Post late last year that the depressed construction market would need 3 million tonnes of cement annually worth US$270 million.

However, he said that when the market recovered, demand would be twice that.

Malaysian lender to open in Cambodia

Written by Nguon Sovan
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

THE Kingdom is to welcome its 28th commercial bank when Malaysia's Hwang-DBS (Malaysia) Bhd starts operations at the end of July.

The news was contained in a June 29 filing to the Malaysian stock exchange, which stated that the parent company had been approved for a licence by the National Bank of Cambodia, the nation's central bank and regulator.

"Further to the announcement made on 15 January 2009, the Board of Hwang-DBS (Malaysia) Berhad wishes to announce that the Minister of Commerce of Cambodia had on 26 June 2009 issued a certificate of incorporation of Hwang-DBS Commercial Bank Plc HDCB, which is effective from 19 June 2009," the filing stated.

HDCB will start operating by July 31, subject to its final licence being issued by the NBC.

Minister of Commerce ... on 26 June ... issued a certificate of incorporation.

The group's communications director at Hwang-DBS Investment Management, Lynn Guha Thakurta, told the Post in an email the bank would make a full announcement by the end of July and would not comment further at this time.

The filing to the Malaysian bourse stated that HDCB is a wholly owned subsidiary and will operate as a commercial bank in Cambodia.

HDCB currently has issued and paid up capital of US$2, being two ordinary shares of $1 each.

The issued and paid-up capital of HDCB will be increased to US$20 million comprising 20 million ordinary shares of $1 each. They will be issued to the parent company before HDCB begins operating.

Neav Chanthana, the NBC's deputy governor, said Tuesday she was not certain about the presence of the prospective new bank since it was not part of her portfolio.

"But more foreign banks will bring more investors," she said. "Also the rising number of foreign banks reflects their confidence in our banking system, and especially in government policy, or they won't come here."

Tal Nay Im, the NBC's director general, was in South Korea on Tuesday and was not available for comment.

Inside Business: Looking to coffee to brew success

Photo by: SOUEN SAY
A vendor displays Angkor coffee beans at Phnom Penh’s night market.

Written by Soeun Say
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Phnom Phnom investor backs domestic coffee beans in bid to build home-grown business

LY Thirith learned from his father his coffee-roasting skills when aged just 18. Twenty years on, Ly Thirith is the general manager for the Angkor Coffee Processing and Packaging factory, a business he started three years ago with a capital investment of US$60,000.

He told the Post that he started his Phnom Penh-based processing factory after realising that coffee had excellent potential in the Cambodian market.

"I wanted a Khmer product operating in the Cambodian market," he said. "So I decided to use everthing that I had learned about coffee from my father."

ACPP can produce up to 2 tonnes of roasted coffee per month, and sells the finished product for $5 to $10 a kilogram. That means gross sales of up to $20,000 a month - provided the orders are there.

"We don't make coffee and store it," he explained. "We just roast it when our clients place an order."

Ly Thirith said that ACPP gets through 15-20 tonnes of coffee beans a year. He brings most of it to the capital from Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Stung Treng, Kampong Cham and Pailin.

His clients - a selection of local supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, clubs and shops - are spread across the Kingdom, although his key sales areas remain Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Ly Thirith said ACPP currently lacks the technical skills to make high-quality standard coffee for export, which is why it struggles to compete with imported coffees from Vietnam, Thailand and China.

"It is difficult to make standard coffee because we lack the skills in key areas such as quality control, packaging and marketing," he said. "[The imported] products are good quality and well-priced - and that means we have room to improve."

Ly Thirith said staff are undergoing training to improve the quality of coffee produced. He will also ramp up production volumes and sharpen product packaging, as well as offering his clients a wider variety of blends.

And as with any business, the competition's pricing remains a problem.

"Many coffee shops are selling more imported coffees, and [my competitors] also sell in the local markets at a low price - this is my major concern," he said.

Ly Thirith is not just focusing on the local market. Last year he went to a trade show in Japan - one of the few Khmer companies exhibiting products there. He said ACPP's products generated some interest, although in the end the volumes requested by the two Japanese businesses were too low to be commercially viable.

"I was so happy to hear that the Japanese wanted to order my coffee, but their orders were just too small," he said, explaining why he rejected them.

But with his plans for the future, Ly Thirith hopes to begin international sales in the coming year.

In the meantime, he would like the government to lower some of his input costs - electricity and petrol - and also called for a lower tax rate.

Paradise in the making

Song Saa Island Resort Chairman Rory Hunter with a brochure showing the planned development.

This has been great for both the environment and the community.

Written by Kay Kimsong
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Sales are already under way for villas being built on a pair of pristine islands in the Koh Rong archipelago that will be developed into a high-end resort

An Australian company that advertises the islands off Sihanoukville as "undeveloped" as a selling point in its high-end villa development has already sold its first villa.

In its brochure for a multimillion-dollar island development - which is to include 15 villas and bungalows, a restaurant, bar, gymnasium, spa and pool - the Brocon Group urges investors to secure a piece of "unspoiled paradise".

"Unlike the islands of Thailand, which have seen rapid development over the past decade, Cambodia's islands remain largely undeveloped," the Brocon Group's Song Saa Island Resort company said in a June press release.

"Many are deserted, offering stunning scenery, abundant marine life and secluded white, sandy beaches."

Rory Hunter, chairman of Song Saa Island Resort, told the Post Thursday the first villa was sold off the plan last week to a foreigner married to a Cambodian woman.

He said he could not disclose how much the resort would cost to build, citing commercial confidentiality, but the Post understands the investment is approximately US$2.9 million.

"All I can say is that the multi-million dollars is for five stars, and its equivalence in quality is what you would expect," Hunter said.

The resort, due for completion in 2010, will be located on Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, two islands off the coast of Sihanoukville in the pristine Koh Rong archipelago.

Together known as Song Saa, or "the Sweethearts", the islands lie side-by-side and will be connected by a walkway.

Hunter said the company's business strategy was to build a five-star paradise resort, with five two-bedroom villas, 10 bungalows, a large restaurant, bar, gym, spa and other entertainments to attract high-end visitors.

"We call it the only paradise resort in Cambodia, and this is the only exclusive private resort with two islands connected by a bridge," he said.

He said he expected Sihanoukville Airport would cater to international flights from Hong Kong and Singapore.

However, the Post has been unable to confirm that any airlines will offer flights to the renovated Sihanoukville Airport, formerly known as Kang Keng Airport. Though authorities remain tight-lipped, it is understood that the airport is due to be reopened later this month.

Mohan Gunti, Advisor to Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said island resort investments were always aimed at "VIP tourism".

VIPs like to see a pristine island, a virgin, uncrowded place, he said.

Mohan Gunti said the development company had to ensure the resort maintained its natural resources.

"To protect a sustainable environment, you need guidelines and good management with the relevant ministries," Mohan Gunti said.

Hunter said the company had already established a protected marine reserve, working with the commune, district and military of Koh Rong.

"We are stopping people fishing there and training them to do something else," he said.

"We have cleaned up the reef because it was very dirty. We cleaned up rubbish in the water. We began a coral programme because it is a very important reserve for marine life.

"We have a responsibility to set right standard."

In its press release, Brocon said it had privately funded a marine protected area around the islands' reefs. The resort had also employed a full-time marine biologist to monitor the reefs and help teach local communities more sustainable fishing methods, it said.

"This has been great for both the environment and the community but also provides the added attraction of having an expert on hand to take guests and villa owners out diving or snorkelling on the resort's own reef," Hunter said.

"The knowledge that the waters around the island are protected from fishing adds to the magic of this unique location. Guests and villa owners have their own thriving reef to explore literally right on their doorstep."

The company is looking to sell villas locally, and investors can buy into the project on a 99-year-lease.

The project is not necessary being built for foreigners, Hunter said.

The first villa sold is expected to be built within the next three months, with the resort due for launch at the end of 2010.

Hunter said villa owners could earn revenue from their investments by booking them out when not in personal use.

"What you get is revenue from that villa - the holiday home is a business," he said.

Though the model has been done before in Thailand, it has not yet been done in Cambodia, he said.

"If you buy a villa, you have the resort's management to look after of your villa when you are not there," he said.

"In that way, people don't have to worry about maintenance. The resort will look after everything."

The market is aimed at visitors who can afford to pay $300 to $400 a night, particularly foreigners living in Singapore or Hong Kong who are looking for new and exciting destinations for their holidays.

Campu building begins to shape up

Written by Soeun Say
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

The $25 million Campu Bank Tower is expected to be completed by September for a December opening, country head of Cambodian Public Bank Phan Ying Tong told the Post Tuesday.

The planned 12.5-storey building is now 85 percent complete, he said.

"One hundred percent of the capital investment came from Public Bank of Malaysia," said Phan Ying Tong.

Construction started late 2007 on about 2,000 square metres of land in Daun Penh district.

Phan Ying Tong said that although Cambodia's property market is still struggling, he is looking for improvement.

"Now, Cambodia's property is bad, and I hope that it will get better in about six months," he said.

The building project for the Cambodian Public Bank was not affected by world's financial crisis because it was being built with bank funds, Phan Ying Tong said.

The new office will include a training centre, IT department, credit card centre and Campu Bank Lampac Insurance.

The building is being developed by Venture Cambodia Private Ltd and designed by the Malaysian architectural firm NW KA Architect. Two-and -a-half floors of the building will house a basement car lot with room for more than 100 cars.

Im Chamrong, director general of the construction department at the Ministry of Land Management, said it was good for Cambodia to have buildings of such high quality and design.

"I think that it is good for our country to have many public place building services. I think it can strengthen and attract investors to come and invest in our country," said Im Chamrong.

He said the ministry had inspected the construction site and found it going smoothly, and that he expected it to finish.

"The construction of the building is looking good in its design and quality, and they are following the rules the ministry permit requires," Im Chamrong said.

Tempting monkey mutiny

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Innocent monkeys or glue-sniffing gangsters? Wat Phnom's macaques get frisky.

The agitated simians seemed to be considering a confrontation

Written by Joel Quenby
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Phnom Penh's roaming monkeys are no strangers to mischief – but might they be heading for a Planet of the Apes-style showdown with humans?

THE saying "He's got a monkey on his back" almost rang true for a moto driver on Street 104 last Wednesday, after he kidnapped a baby monkey from its tribe, enraging its elders.

The mischievous driver lured the infant macaque from a rooftop using food as bait. He then snatched the youngster, drawing a furious reaction from the dozen-strong group, which assembled on the leading edge of the terraced roofs like a squadron preparing for battle.

A boisterous crowd of onlookers congregated on the pub-packed riverside lane. As the human contingent laughed, jeered and gesticulated, it seemed the agitated simians were considering a confrontation.

"He [the driver] just wanted to know what would happen with its parents; he didn't really want to keep the monkey," said witness Mary Ngim, 23, who works on the street.

However, the driver hung on to the infant macaque for around 30 minutes - a long time in monkey years - before finally releasing it. The animal shot across the street, up a porch scaffold and back to its troop.

Edvin Engeland, the 44-year-old Norwegian owner of the street's Velkommen Inn, agreed that the impromptu monkey-napping was "just for fun". But he also cautioned that "the monkeys might remember the person who took the baby".

Indeed, macaques are favoured by animal testing facilities for their psychological and physical similarity to humans. Bearing testament to their power of recall, Mary Ngim says that recently, "a dog bit a monkey that fell down from the roof.

"Then the next day another monkey jumped on top of the same dog and held it to the ground so that the dog could not move."

The roaming tribe, which visits Street 104 every day, is presumed to hail from Wat Phnom, the nearby Buddhist pagoda and popular tourist attraction overrun by simians.

In 2007, deputy district governor Pich Socheata put three large macaques on a police hit list after the trio repeatedly bit tourists, plundered laundry and uprooted internet cables.

"There are more than 200 monkeys there, but only three that behave badly... like gang leaders," said Pich Socheata at the time.

"The other monkeys are afraid of people. But these monkeys are not - they are scaring tourists."

Authorities initially attempted to drug the unruly faction with eggs laced with sleeping pills but were always outsmarted, she said. After several failed attempts, the governor eventually put a $US250 bounty on the troublemakers' heads.

Officials ramped up their efforts after a woman out jogging received a serious head injury after being set upon by a pair of rogue monkeys near Street 106. Marksmen eliminated a 20-kilo suspect up a tree in Wat Phnom park soon afterwards.

The undesirables seem to like Street 104. Around a year ago all the buildings on the terraced street had to be re-roofed with sheet metal, after their mischievous visitors kept dislodging the roof tiles and throwing them onto the street below.

Post section editor Nathan Green says the pests stole a camera worth $1,000 from his room at the street's Pickled Parrott - "they were seen playing with it," he claims - although admits he had been feeding them through the window beforehand.

And one day Edvin Engeland was in bed with his wife Tilda when she noticed a monkey sitting on their balcony eating her freshly sliced mango. "He must have walked past us on the way through," Edvin marvelled, noting that the creature had ventured a considerable distance into the guesthouse to reach the fruit.

"They know how to open a tap," he cautions, recalling how he once ventured onto the roof to check his water tank and found a monkey lying beneath a faucet and guzzling away.

Thank heavens for small mercies. "Last year there were up to 25 of them coming here," says Edvin.

"This year there's not so many."

Hook, line - and rising fast

Fishing for inspiration: Stuart McDonald, the man responsible for Travelfish. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Tee travelfish take on tourism in cambodia

Angkor is a disaster-in-waiting. Steps need to be taken to get development under control and better manage visitors. With temples reportedly sinking into their foundations due to drained underground aquifers, perhaps it will take a Bayon headpiece collapsing onto a government official to see any action. Likewise the loss of historic buildings in Phnom Penh is tragic. Improving roads and infrastructure, especially the buses, are making it easier to travel. While the lack of a reliable and safe domestic carrier is hampering development in Sen Monorom and Ban Lung, seeing the debacle in Siem Reap this is probably a good thing. For the intrepid, destinations like Virachay National Park, the Cardamons, Anlong Veng and parts of Ko Kong are all very rewarding – and there is tremendous potential to develop these in an environmentally switched-on fashion. Unfortunately, this rests in the hands of the administration, which going on past developments, isn’t very reassuring.

Screening quality travel content: Travelfish has engendered an active online community. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Written by Joel Quenby
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Meet the creator of, one of the most refreshing and innovative guides to travelling Southeast Asia to emerge since the online revolution

FROM today the Phnom Penh Post will be bringing you travel content from Travelfish, a well-regarded online guide to travel in Southeast Asia.

The site is the brainchild of Australian Stuart McDonald, who has lived and travelled extensively throughout the region, including two years in Phnom Penh.

He also wrote and self-published guidebooks to Vietnam and Thailand before looking after The Nation junior's online newspaper in Thailand.

"The Nation put me in a position where I was willing to try just about anything to get out," says McDonald. "And that was Travelfish."

Founded in 2003, the site now boasts a flourishing online community plus a team of freelancers who do a lot of the on-the-ground research.

Travelfish also innovated the concept of PDF formatted eBooks on specific destinations available for instant download - thus relieving backpackers of the need to lug bulky, dog-eared, quickly outdated guidebooks.

When and how did the inspiration for Travelfish strike?
Samantha (my partner) and I settled on the framework on a weekend break on Ko Maak island, Thailand. With my past experience doing guidebooks, some idea of how to make Web sites and Sam's writing and editing ability, it all just fell together.

We started off just covering a few of our favourite spots in Thailand, but the site now covers over 300 destinations in six countries.

Has the emergence of e-book readers, like Amazon's Kindle, helped sales of your Travelfish Guides at all?
We sold our first Travelfish Guide in October 2006 - about a month before the Kindle was released. At the time, the intention was for the guides to be printed off and used in that manner.

Today the focus is more on other mobile devices like Apple's iPhone, and while I'm sure all these gizmos have helped our sales along, I believe most people just print them off.

Do you think printed travel guides have effectively had their day?
No. Despite a seemingly never-ending barrage of over-funded travel start-ups, they aren't bringing much new to the table.

It doesn't matter how funky your multi-million-dollar Web site looks - if you haven't been there, you haven't been there.

We have; as have most of the "old school" travel guides, or so they claim.

While crowd-sourced content like TripAdvisor has its place, I still believe that independent paid research has a very important role to play - and guidebooks is where you find most of it.

And anyway who wants to throw their iPhone or laptop at the rat scurrying across the floor? That's what Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is for.

Which comment about Travel-fish has pleased you most?
I get a lot of pleasure out of helping people on the Travelfish forum, and I get a lot of personal emails thanking me for assistance - that's always good.

On a larger scale, Travelfish has been described on a number of occasions as "the most consistently updated Web site for independent travellers to Southeast Asia" - that was nice.

And most despondent?
The ongoing uncertainties in Thailand are a source of frustration. Sometimes it seems like they're intent on decimating their tourist industry with an almost human-made tsunami. The airport shutdowns last year, in peak season, were disastrous, the red shirt/yellow shirt protests over Songkran not much better.

Today it has a lame duck government presiding over a flatlining domestic economy. The result: a tightening of visa regulations. It's madness and makes Indonesia look positively progressive.

What copyright problems have you experienced with the site?
Dealing with other Web sites ripping off our content is an ongoing and rapidly growing problem. Unlike many travel Web sites, all our researchers are paid, meaning that putting together meaningful content on over 3,500 places to stay in over 300 destinations across six countries is a substantial outlay.

We work hard to protect this investment. While there are relatively straightforward means to have content removed (or at least removed from the search engines), it is frustrating and time consuming. Vietnamese travel agents have been particularly problematic.

What are your thoughts on the tourism scene in Cambodia?
Consolidation. We're in the process of adding more depth to our content - giving our readers more of a historical context to what they're reading, and we're also working on the first full translation of the site into a European language. We're just starting to leverage the power of Google Maps to give our readers more flexible content. Our map of Phnom Penh is a fine example of this.

Down the line, we'll be looking at tailoring content for phones and whatnot, but for now we're really concentrating on doing what we already do better.

How to save tourism from ruining itself

Trampling all over the local culture? Tourists in Siem Reap. AFP

It's about balance. places need to be developed with more consideration for local sensibilities

Written by Travelfish
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Both developers and tourists should be more responsible to help the regional industry

The newspaper USA To-day ran a story recently lamenting some of Southeast Asia's better-known "must sees".

The story picked out Luang Prabang, Pai and Siem Reap as cases in point, but there are many others to choose from - Vang Vieng, Hoi An, Sapa or just about any island in Thailand.

Unfortunately, the author couldn't get much past his own treasured memories of Luang Prabang back in '74, but one doesn't need to have been travelling back then to have noticed huge changes in Asian backpacking destinations - why?

It's a common, and a selfish, refrain: "It was so much better before everyone else found out about it." It seems many want to experience what Gray describes as "a cohesive, authentic, living community" but they certainly don't want to share it - certainly not with 50 tour buses a day. But who is to blame?

Whipping boy
The author brings out one popular whipping boy, ex-Lonely Planet author Joe Cummings, for particular treatment - dreaming of condemning Joe "to eating nothing but banana pancakes and lugging a 500-pound backpack through all eternity". But, really, Joe was just the messenger.

Who he should be lambasting are the authorities who stand by while the transformation takes place. Be it foreigners buying or leasing the traditional buildings, turfing out local charm for lattes and WiFi, or high-impact Asian mass tourism with their tour buses and cookie-cutter hotels along Siem Reap's Airport Road.

The story quotes former UNESCO expert Francis Engelmann as saying: "We have saved Luang Prabang's buildings, but we have lost its soul." While this is probably very true, he nevertheless still lives there.

New locals
Without the interest of the heritage community, more of Luang Prabang's lovely buildings may have seen the wrecking ball, but that shouldn't mean the vast majority of local residences become shops, cafes and restaurants, that locals choose not to live in town anymore and that temples close because the new "locals" don't support the monastery in the same way.

National Geographic travel-guide writer Carl Parkes says: "It's the author of this article who should examine his attitude and opinions, and not the travel writers, who didn't ‘spoil' these untouched paradises, and don't regret that once impoverished regions are now enjoying the benefits of cash flow and tourism."

The issue is that while these "impoverished regions" are undeniably enjoying benefits, much of the money often ends up elsewhere.

Another group could be admonished besides the government and regulatory officials - the tourists. Everyone has a story of ugly tourism. For me it was spotting a female tourist wearing only a g-string as she walked through a Muslim fishing village on Ko Jum. I'm sure you've heard or seen worse.

Joe Cummings repeatedly harped on about how important it is for tourists to conduct themselves in a sensitive manner - yet a significant portion of his readership seemed never to have got the memo. Way too many readers slavishly followed their guide's advice on where to stay, eat and drink, but never bother with the fine print. Is it any surprise that the locals pack up and move out when their streetside breakfast becomes a constant photo shoot?

Responsive industry
Unfortunately tourism is a responsive, rather than a responsible, business, and those who do best are generally the ones who give the punters what they want - be it Internet access on Ko Lipe or iPod downloads in Siem Reap.

These businesses are often the most jarring to the locals' sensibilities, but it's too often where the punters float. Success leads to imitation and before you know it, Pai has been transformed from a charming small Thai town to a melange of bars, travel agents, cafes and, yes, chocolate banana pancake outfits - something I'd never heard of until I got to Thailand.

It's about balance. Places need to be developed with more consideration for local sensibilities. And, as the mistakes in Luang Prabang illustrate, it helps if the locals can be enticed to remain living where they have for generations. This could be greatly assisted by tourists behaving better, reading the small print in their guidebooks - and trying to tread lightly.

Shaping the future of Cambodian football

Photo by: Andy Brouwer
Van Piseth will assist Cambodia head coach O’Donell in preparation for the SEA Games

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Cambodia head coach Scott O’Donell (right) scouts for national talent with Bouy Dary during the Cambodian Premier League game between Naga Corp and Phouchung Neak May 31 at Olympic Stadium

Written by Andy Brouwer
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Former national players Van Piseth and Bouy Dary have joined national team coach O’Donell to develop Cambodian talent

RECENTLY appointed Cambodian national football coach Scott O'Donell has selected the men he wants to help shape the future of Cambodia's national team. Van Piseth and Bouy Dary are no strangers to the international setup, as both worked with O'Donell in 2007, the last year of his previous stint in charge of the national team.

All three have been running their experienced collective eyes over the ten teams in the Cambodian Premier League (CPL) for the first half of the current campaign in order to identify the cream of the country's young talent.

O'Donell is very happy with his choices. "Both Piseth and Dary were with me before," he said. "I trust and respect them. Both were national team players and have a good knowledge of the game, and we already have a mutual understanding of what we want to achieve."

Van Piseth, 47, was a national player for Cambodia for three years during the mid-1980s, playing most of his football for the Army team before beginning his coaching career at Khemara FC. He is due to take his AFC C-Licence coaching certificate next month.

Bouy Dary, 23, was assistant to the last national coach, Prak Sovannara, and is one of the younger generation of coaches in Cambodia, currently plying his trade with Phnom Penh Crown. He played under O'Donell in the SEA Games in 2005 whilst with the Royal Navy team, and already has his C-Licence. A third appointment is Prak Sovanny as the goalkeeping coach, a role he had under the previous national setup.

"The next stage is to get a squad together, with the SEA Games in Laos in December as the next major challenge," stated O'Donell. "I want to put on a series of trials for around 40 players in the last three weeks of July at the Olympic Stadium, with a view to whittling that down to a squad of 25.

"Then I'd like to get the squad with me a couple of times a week during August and September, which is why I met with the CPL coaches a couple of weeks ago, as I need their cooperation. I'd be concentrating on their technical and tactical awareness rather than their stamina until the end of the current season."

The 42-year-old Australian is also looking to cement his squad's preparation for the Under-23 Southeast Asian tournament with a couple of friendly international matches and two training camps away in Korea and Vietnam.

Last week, O'Donell, the former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Director of Coach Education, went back to Kuala Lumpur to help conduct a joint AFC and FIFA course aimed at developing quality regional coach instructors throughout Asia. Also attending the course was Prak Sovannara, who is now employed as technical coach to CPL leaders Preah Khan Reach. Pral Sovannara will head a two-week AFC C-Licence course in Cambodia, starting July 7, for thirty prospective home-grown coaches.

Meanwhile, Scott O'Donell has just flown to the Cayman Islands for a six-day FIFA coaching course he will instruct, a booking that was arranged before taking on his new role as the Cambodian coach.

PM to meet Sarkozy on France visit

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Prime Minister Hun Sen is set to visit France later this month, where he is to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy and attend Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, he said during a speech at the National Institute of Education Tuesday. "I will meet with French President on the evening of July 13, and on the morning of July 14 I am invited to attend a French military parade," Hun Sen said.

SRP asks france for KKrom documents

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) parliamentarians have written to Bernard Accoyer, president of the French National Assembly, asking him to release documents relating to the 1949 agreement handing Cambodia's southern territories - also known as Kampuchea Krom - to Vietnam. "Since Vietnam has colonised the Kampuchea Krom territories, the Vietnamese government has ... abused the human rights and religious freedoms of Khmer Kampuchea Krom citizens, who are the owners of the territory," the SRP said in the June 25 letter.

Six-figure interest for Pol Pot's shoes

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 01 July 2009

Former Khmer Rouge photographer Nhem En said Tuesday that he has received an expression of interest for some of his Khmer Rouge-era possessions. Nhem En said a rich Asian buyer had contacted him looking to buy what the cadre says are shoes of the former Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, and two of the cameras that Nhem En said he used to photograph victims at Tuol Sleng prison. "We are now in the process of bargaining ... for the two cameras and a pair of Pol Pot's shoes. The customer offered me just US$100,000 to $200,000," he said, adding that he would not sell for less than $500,000. Nhem En's original starting price was $1 million.

Khmer Rouge jail survivor weeps over lost wife

Bou Meng was the third survivor to testify this week at the UN-backed court

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — A distraught survivor of the Khmer Rouge's main prison told Cambodia's war crimes court how he lost his wife and torturers beat him bloody in an attempt to make him confess to being a CIA spy.

Bou Meng, 68, one of only a handful of people to live through the communist regime's Tuol Sleng jail, stopped several times to compose himself as he told the UN-backed tribunal that blood from his many lashes flowed to the floor.

"(My torturer) asked me to count the lashes. And when I got to 10 lashes he said, 'How can you get to 10 lashes? You've only had one lash,'" Bou Meng said, taking out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes.

Bou Meng, who escaped death when put to work painting Khmer Rouge propaganda, is the third survivor to testify at the trial of Tuol Sleng chief Duch, accused of overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people.

"Everytime they beat me up, they asked me questions. When did I join the CIA and who introduced me to the CIA network?... I did not know what a CIA agent or network was, so how could I respond?" he added.

Bou Meng said under the regime he had worked at a technical school, was forced to the limit of his physical abilities building dams and canals, and finally planted vegetables before he and his wife were taken in 1977 to Tuol Sleng.

"My wife and I put our hands behind our backs, and then they cut our hands. Then my wife cried and said, 'What did we do wrong? We are both orphans,'" Bou Meng told the court.

The couple were then blindfolded with black cloth, Bou Meng said, and he realised they were being sent to prison as they were taken to be photographed.

"That (Tuol Sleng photo) is the only photograph I have of my wife with me today," Bou Meng said.

Earlier in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the 66-year-old Duch begged forgiveness from the victims after accepting responsibility for his role in governing the jail.

But he has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he had a central role in the Khmer Rouge's rule and says he never personally executed anyone.

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

Cambodia gets more time to submit Preah Vihear plans

By The Nation
Published on July 1, 2009

Cambodia has until February next year to submit its plan for safeguarding and developing the Preah Vihear temple, Natural Resource and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti said yesterday.

The World Heritage Committee's decision initially obligated Cambodia to submit its plan by February this year, following the temple's heritage inscription last July.

However, Phnom Penh has not been able to submit many details of the plan, including a map of buffer zones around the site, owing to its boundary conflict with Thailand.

Fortunately, the delay has given Thailand a chance to campaign for a joint nomination of the Hindu temple with Cambodia, Suwit said.

The controversial Preah Vihear attracted renewed international attention after Thailand maintained its objection to the temple's inscription, which resulted in an angry outburst from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and tension at the border.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva did not discuss the campaign for a joint nomination. However, he did say that since Cambodia has more time to submit its plan, it would have an opportunity to follow the World Heritage Committee's decisions and clear up any difficulties along the border.

"We have expressed our concerns to the World Heritage Committee over several sensitive issues because we don't want to have problems or any tension with Cambodia," Abhisit said.

However, acting government spokesman Panitan Watanayagorn interpreted the delay as a victory for Thailand, following Suwit's heavy campaign during the committee's meeting in Spain from June 23 to 30.

He said the delay would give Thailand a chance to seek better understanding from members of the World Heritage Committee.

"The government hoped the World Heritage Committee would allow the two countries to jointly run the temple," Panitan told reporters.

Army chief General Anupong Paochinda said he would redeploy troops to border areas adjacent to the Hindu temple in accordance with the government's policy to pave the way for a peaceful solution.

"We don't have a timeframe, but it depends on the satisfaction of both countries. We have a common intention not to use force," he said.

Cambodians Take Back the Lens

Published: June 30, 2009

PHNOM PENH — While Pol Pot was still alive and civil war raged, it was a great time to be a photographer in Cambodia. That’s unless you happened to be Cambodian.

At the first scent of blood the testosterone-fueled pack, largely routine invaders from the safe haven of Bangkok, would assemble, all too appropriately at Phnom Penh’s Foreign Correspondents Club, a Mekong-side colonial watering hole straight out of a Marguerite Duras novel. They had tripods strapped to their backs and phallic zoom lenses at the ready.

Meanwhile the few Cambodians lucky enough to have access to a camera could be found snapping tourists emerging from the Royal Palace nearby or in Siem Reap, positioning honeymoon couples on the causeway of Angkor Wat. As one of Cambodia’s leading photographers, Mak Remissa recalled, “The foreign media didn’t really trust us to take pictures, but we needed to eat.”

That changed when the dictator died in 1998. With the Khmer Rouge vanquished, Cambodia was no longer a “hot” destination. The foreigners departed, leaving the handful of Cambodians with a modicum of technical competence to fill the vacuum. For Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post, they represented a useful supply of cheap labor; for the Cambodians, it was a rare opportunity to learn on the job.

Cambodia is, of course, one of the world’s most photogenic places. Its abundance of ancient monuments, rambunctious street life and saffron-robed monks habitually silhouetted by crimson sunsets stirs even the most disinterested tourists to fiddle with their apertures.

Though it’s perhaps taken too long for Cambodians to stake their rightful claim on some of this imagery, a handful of recent events confirmed what many have long suspected: that given a chance, Cambodians have very personal stories to tell, both in artwork and photojournalism.

The opening in March of the Sa Sa Gallery on Street 360 in Phnom Penh trumpeted the first photographers’ collective to be run entirely by Cambodians for Cambodians. Six young professionals — Kong Vollak, Heng Ravuth, Khvay Samnang, Lim Sokchan Lina, Vuth Lyno and Vandy Rattana — aim to create a buzz around this new space by mounting monthly shows of work by both artists and photographers. “The gallery is open to any Cambodian with a serious body of work,” said Mr. Vandy.

Significantly, Sa Sa is an abbreviation of Stiev Salapak, or “Art Rebels.” The gallery takes its name from a group founded in 2007 by Mr. Vandy, a passionate 27-year old who is trying to defend photographers’ interests in an increasingly competitive and still foreign-dominated environment. Currently employed by the Phnom Penh Post, Mr. Vandy is perhaps unique for having criticized foreigners living in Cambodia for not providing enough technical and moral support to Cambodian photographers.

Yet he would be the first to acknowledge a debt to more experienced colleagues from abroad. Since 2000 the Magnum photographer John Vink has been quietly rebuilding capacity in Cambodia by setting up workshops and mentoring several members of the first generation of post-conflict Cambodian photographers.

When the French photographer Stéphane Janin opened his Popil Gallery in Phnom Penh in October 2005, members of the younger generation of Cambodian photographers began to glimpse a future in the medium. Using the gallery as a forum, Mr. Janin encouraged his students to examine the history and content of photography, as well as its sociological impact.

His star pupil was Mr. Vandy, whose 2006 “Looking in my Office” series used the milieu of a telecommunications company to throw light on corporate behavior during the country’s short-lived boom. “I doubt if any professional foreign photographer in Cambodia could have come up with something as timely and insightful as these images turned out to be,” said Mr. Janin, who is currently living in Washington but still exerts considerable influence in the country.

The other significant change has been the advent of photo festivals. Following the Angkor Photography Festival in Siem Reap, now in its fourth year, PhotoPhnomPenh was inaugurated in November 2008. The curator was Christian Caujolle, the creator of the Vu agency and gallery and the first picture editor of the French daily Libération. Mr. Caujolle will reprise the festival in November.

“Cambodian work is technically unsophisticated but it is driven from personal necessity, and there is no question in my mind that some of it meets international standards,” said Mr. Caujolle. Looking back into history, local photographers, he said, were functionaries in King Sihanouk’s newly independent Cambodia and took part in national propaganda campaigns during the 1960s. Many died under the Khmer Rouge, who rather than exploit their talents sent their own novices to learn the craft in China, whose Cultural Revolution influenced Pol Pot’s regime.

A highlight of the Phnom Penh festival was “Bodega,” an event in which the recently created agency Melon Rouge showcased 15 photographers in a dilapidated colonial building one block from the Mekong. The results revealed both the variety of approaches to diverse subject matter and a paradox at the heart of the national psyche: the combination of pride and profound unease.

Melon Rouge’s founders, Nicolas Havette and Thierry Marre, want Cambodians to realize their own projects without pressure. Images of rubber harvesting in Kompong Cham by three “resident” photographers sponsored by the French Agency for Development were hung cheek-by-jowl with “Cinderella,” a study of the evanescence of identity by Chan Moniroth, the only female photographer in the show.

But Cambodian photographers also need to learn to “present pictures to editors, create narratives, photo essays and generally manage images,” according to Mr. Havette. Reasons often cited for their apparent lack of professionalism are the high cost of materials and weak computer skills. Yet perhaps the most evocative example of Cambodia’s contribution to photography could not have been more low tech.

Thaing Chhea Chhinn’s pinhole shots of the architect Vann Molyvann’s White Building, a riverside dilapidated architectural gem built to house athletes and civil servants in the 1960s, were taken with nothing but a shoe box and negative paper, yet for Mr. Caujolle they conveyed “a total awareness of a major issue in Phnom Penh, namely architectural heritage being sacrificed for personal profit. While meaningless on the international circuit, for Cambodians these pictures resonate.”

“The Building,” an ongoing project involving 25 emerging Cambodian photographers, explores landlessness, poverty and social exclusion from the perspective of the squatter community of thousands of families living in and around the White Building. It is being exhibited through Saturday at the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre in Phnom Penh. Among other revelations, the project illustrates how Cambodia’s urban poor share resources and in some cases flourish.

Some photographers working on “The Building” have come to the medium through another visual art: painting. At the same time, a number of Cambodians trained as photojournalists see themselves primarily as artists. Mr. Mak’s solo shows at Phnom Penh’s Java Café and the McDermott Gallery in Siem Reap, for example, featured close-ups of colonies of ants carrying fish. According to an old Khmer proverb, “when the water rises, the fish eat the ants; when the water recedes the ants eat the fish.”

“I love these fluctuations,” said Mr. Mak. “In this case, which species dominates the other depends on the changing situation of nature.”

Mr. Mak, who has won multiple awards, dreams of setting up his own school to train independent photographers. He complains of government indifference and little progress since the era when photography was used largely as a propaganda tool. At the Phnom Penh festival the Ministry of Culture went so far as to ban Mr. Vink’s images for Magnum of the funeral for the murdered union activist Kem Sambo, an act that could hardly have helped assuage suspicions of the government’s involvement.

Sensitivities over subject matter are not confined to the state. “It’s easy to find suffering in Cambodia and even easier to photograph it,” said Maria Stott, the founder of On Photography Cambodia, the organization behind “The Building.” Visiting photographers’ voyeuristic images of monks, sex workers, amputees and AIDS sufferers don’t always tell the truth or contribute to the debate, she said.

Many foreigners have set up shop in Cambodia at a time when many locals wish they would stay away. The difficulties of a small market and struggling media outlets has made the scene increasingly competitive. “Exposure to other people’s work can be challenging and motivating,” said Ms. Stott, a Polish photographer and curator. “The first Phnom Penh festival demonstrated that photography really functions in Cambodia and has been a valuable educational tool, but the medium can also be discriminatory, disrespectful and dangerous.”

Rocket Truck Explodes Near Hun Sen’s Home

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
30 June 2009

A truck full of rockets exploded at a military facility near the home of Prime Minister Hun Sen Sunday, injuring at least two of the premier’s bodyguards, officials said.

The office of the prime minister issued a statement saying a driver of the truck and an assistant had been hurt in a series of blasts near the residence, in Kandal district outside Phnom Penh, and an investigation into its cause was underway.

Gen. Hing Bunheang, chief of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, told VOA Khmer Monday mechanic had accidentally lit a fire, which ignited the rockets and damaged a total of five vehicles.

Om Yentieng, a senior adviser to Hun Sen, confirmed the explosion had occurred and said the cause of the blast came from within the compound.

The explosion, which occurred around 7:30 pm, frightened nearby residents.

One woman who asked not to be named said she heard the blast and thought at first it had come from a truck tire, but then subsequent explosions continued for 20 minutes. Her father warned her they were rocket explosions.

“Some people brought their motorcycles and cars inside their homes and closed the doors, because they were afraid of the rockets,” said the woman, who lives 3 kilometers from the facility.

At that distance, military police and police blocked National Road 21, allowing only emergency vehicles to pass. An ambulance, fire trucks and a demining truck from the Cambodian Mine Action Committee were seen driving toward the site.

Prison Survivor Lashes Out at Duch

By Pich Samnang, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
30 June 2009

Chum Mey, who survived a notorious Khmer Rouge prison, confronted his jailer Tuesday, exchanging sharp words in a tribunal courtroom over the regime’s use of the “CIA” excuse to arrest people and describing severe, prolonged torture during his incarceration.

Chum Mey was one of the few people to live through Tuol Sleng, a prison where confessions were exacted under torture and where prosecutors say 12,380 people were sent to their deaths. Scholars say as many as 16,000 were killed there.

The former administrator, Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Duch, joined Chum Mey in court. Duch is facing a battery of atrocity crimes charges for his role as prison chief.

Chum Mey mocked the Khmer Rouge’s use of the “CIA” in its arrests during its nearly four-year rule, as cadre became increasingly paranoid their ranks had been infiltrated. Many of the accused found themselves in Tuol Sleng, suffering water-boarding, electric shock and other torture methods to have confessions forced from them.

“As an alleged CIA agent, I want to ask you, Duch, if there are any more CIA agents now?” Chum Mey asked in court Tuesday. “Already 16,000 [killed], so I just want to ask whether there are now no more CIA agents, or still a million more?”

In response, Duch addressed his former prisoner as “Brother,” saying, “the term CIA was used to arrest those against the Organization.”

“They were not really CIA agents employed and appointed by the US,” he said. “The CIA established by the communist party of Kampuchea was just to arrest people like you who were against it.”

Chum Mey is the second former prisoner to testify before the court, following the painter Vann Nath’s testimony Monday.

Now 79, Chum Mey said he was tortured for 12 consecutive days and nights after being sent to the prison in late 1978. Three of Duch’s interrogators beat him with sticks, pulled out his toenails and electrocuted him, he told the court.

His life was spared because he could repair sewing machines for the Angkar, or Organization.

“This experience of suffering has caused me such uncontained anger,” Chum Mey said. “I tell you frankly, Mr. Duch: You are lucky you did not fight me during that time. If you had, you would not now see the sunlight.”