Friday, 3 July 2009

Pictures from Preah Vihear

Wat Keosekha Kirysvarak is in the middle of war zone (Cambodia-Thai) Preah Vihear. Pictures by Koh Santapheap

RCAF continue to guard along Preah Vihear, Khmer Thai border

Mushroom-Growing in Cambodia


This is a short doccumentary produced in 2009 by Mr. Sor Chandra, the third year student in the Department of Media and Communication at Royal University of Phnom Penh. This doccumentary was awarded the first prize in the Filming course by Professor from Germany.


Vietnam - MFA - Vietnam, Cambodia strengthen mutual understanding

Vietnam and Cambodia will hold cultural exchanges for their young people in order to help them understand about the lives, customs and cultural traditions of each other’s country as well as strengthen solidarity and mutual assistance.

This was part of the action plan agreed upon at the fourth meeting of the southern chapter of the Vietnam-Cambodian Friendship Association (VCFA), held in Ho Chi Minh City on July 2.

VCFA Chairman Vu Mao asked the association’s members to pay more attention to boosting economic cooperation between cities, towns, and villages in the two countries.

The Vietnam-Cambodia Business Club, set up by the VCFA in 2008, now has over 60 members, including the military-run mobile phone company Viettel, the Vietnam Rubber Corp. and the Me Linh Group, which have productively invested in Cambodia .

The club plans to open a Vietnamese representative office and build a trade centre in Phnom Penh , Mao said.

In the past, Vietnamese provinces sharing borders with Cambodia have organised a series of cultural and sports activities, free medical check-ups and built schools and clinics for their neighbours.

Cambodia rebuts Thai claim over Preah Vihear decision

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation

Cambodian authorities on Friday dismissed claims by Thai Natural Resource and Environment minister Suwit Khunkitti that Cambodia failed to submit its plan for safeguarding and developing the Preah Vihear temple.

Hang Soth, General Director of the Preah Vihear National Authority said Cambodia has already submitted conservation plans to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) since April 4, this year.

Suwit who attended a meeting of World Heritage Committee in Spain said earlier that the committee has delayed its decision to list the Preah Vihear inscription since Cambodia has not yet completed its management plan.

"We don't understand why Thai leaders have said Cambodia has until next year to submit the plan," Hang Soth was quoted as saying by Phnom Penh Post as seen Friday on its website.

"We have already submitted our projects…Cambodians made the temple. Why can't we conserve it?," he said.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry's spokesman Koy Kuoung said the Thai statements were meant to cover up their failure at the Unesco meeting in Spain, where they were unable to get their challenge to the Preah Vihear listing on the agenda.

"The Thai leaders' comments are just to hide their failure to review the listing," he said.

The World Heritage Committee meeting in Spain on June 23-30 issued its decision 33COM 7B.74 as seen by The Nation has indeed mentioned that Cambodia has submitted its report for safeguard and development for the temple since April and the committee reviewed the report on April 24.

The committee made the request to the State Party (Cambodia) to submit to the World Heritage Center by February 1, 2010, a report on the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations by the committee in its decision 32COM 8B.102, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session in 2010.

In fact there is no extended scheduled as the time frame of February 2010 was mentioned in the previous decision in the 32nd session in Quebec paragraph 16 saying "further requests the State Party of Cambodia to submit to the World Heritage Centre by February 2010, for submission to the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session in 2010 a full management plan for the inscribed property, including a finalized map."

Thailand and Cambodia order troops to be on alert


BANGKOK (AP): Both Thailand and Cambodia ordered their soldiers Thursday to be on alert in case fighting erupts at their disputed border, despite conciliatory remarks by the Thai prime minister.

Thailand last week asked the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, to reconsider its decision to formally list a temple on the border as a World Heritage site under Cambodia's domain. That move irritated Cambodia and the two sides have traded angry words ever since, raising concerns tension may escalate.

Old tensions over the issue were reawakened a year ago when UNESCO approved Cambodia's bid to have the centuries-old Preah Vihear temple named a World Heritage Site, more than four decades after the World Court awarded possession of it to Phnom Penh.

Thailand protested the move, claiming that it undermined its claim to a small amount of adjacent land.

Several gunbattles have killed at least seven Thai and Cambodian soldiers since then, and both sides have refused to back away from their positions, each saying it has the rightful claim to the land.

Thailand's commander for the area, Lt. Gen. Viboonsak Neepan, said Thursday that Thai troops are ready "to promptly retaliate" if attacked but said the situation remained stable.

"Apart from the anxiety among troops caused by the talk, rumors and press coverage in the capitals, the situation on the ground has not changed," he said.

On the Cambodian side, Capt. Thim Thuy, who heads the Cambodian army company stationed at the temple, said his troops received orders four days ago to be ready to fight since Thai soldiers reportedly have mobilized troops and heavy weapons to the front line.

"It's very hard to avoid any armed conflict... if the Thai soldiers keep moving in their forces," he said. "We have received an order to be ready for fighting at any time."

Both sides have claimed the other is massing troops but declined to cite numbers.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has sought to reduce the pressure by emphasizing peaceful solutions, saying that officials on the ground have good mutual understanding despite provocative statements made by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"Both countries have to come to an understanding that there is no victory for anyone in a war. There will only be losses on both sides," he told reporters, dismissing strong statements by Hun Sen as matters of "domestic politics."

Abhisit acknowledged, however, that both sides were likely to remain cautious as "everyone fears they will be at a disadvantage, militarily."

Cambodia and Thailand share a 800-kilometer (500-mile) land border, part of which has never been clearly demarcated because each country relies on different maps. (The Associated Press)

Troop reductions near Preah Vihear

Published: 3/07/2009

Thailand and Cambodia on Friday began to cut down on the numbers of their troops along the border near Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Suthep said this should help ease the tension along the sensitive frontier.

He and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had agreed during talks last weekend that the border dispute should be settled by peaceful means.

The deputy prime minister will tomorrow leave for Phnom Penh for another meeting with Mr Hun Sen.

In a related development, local administrative officials and the Second Army on Friday decided to call off a planned evacuation drill and the annual refreshment training for village defence units along the Thai-Cambodian for fear that they might be seen by Cambodia as preparations for a combat situation.

The planned evacuation drill and refreshment training were to involve troops of the Suranaree Task Force and the 23rd Rangers Task Force in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district.

According to Col Thanya Kiatsarn, commander of the 23rd Rangers Task Force, the drill was originally to be carried out under a scenario that the enemy's four artillery rounds had landed on Phum Sarol village, causing four villagers wounded, two of them seriously. The village headman, therefore, told the villagers to collect their necessities and get ready to evacuate from the village immediately to a reception area 11km away.

Col Thanya said some local media mistook the evacuation drill as having been actually ordered by the district chief after the situation around Preah Vihear became tense. It was a case of wrong communication. Therefore, the drill was called off to prevent misunderstanding on the part of Cambodia, he said.

Thailand, Cambodia to reduce border military presence

People's daily Online

July 03, 2009

Thailand and Cambodia will on Friday begin reducing troop levels along the disputed border area, Deputy Prime Minister for security affairs Suthep Thaugsuban said.

The move should help ease the tension along the sensitive frontier, Suthep on Friday was quoted by the website of the Bangkok Post as saying.

Suthep and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had agreed during talks last weekend that the border dispute should be settled by peaceful means.

The area around Preah Vihear Temple, which was inscribed as a World Heritage Site on July 7 last year, has been the scene of a tense standoff between the Cambodian and Thai armed forces. The Cambodian government insists Thai troops have deployed on Cambodian soil, while Thailand says its troops are only in the disputed zone.

In mid-June, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit said that the government would ask UNESCO to review last year's decision to register Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site during a meeting this week in Spain.

On Cambodian side, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that his country was ready for any situation which might follow the reinforcement of troops on the Thai side of the border.

Tensions have escalated at the Thai-Cambodian border, with Thailand's Second Army Area commander Lt General Wiboonsak Neeparn recently rotated troops at Preah Vihear so that they are fresh and ready for a possible attack from Cambodia.

Cambodia has already boosted its presence in the border area.

The Thai deputy prime minister will leave for Phnom Penh on Saturday for another meeting with Hun Sen.

Source: Xinhua

The testimony of S-21 child survivor Norng Chanphal sinks into confusion

Ta Long, Kampong Speu (Cambodia). 24/02/2009: Norng Chanphal, one of the four S-21child survivors
©Vandy Rattana


By Stéphanie Gée

Norng Chanphal, who came to testify Thursday July 2nd at Duch’s trial, had stepped into the media spotlight at the beginning of the year, shortly before the initial hearing opened. Presented as one of the “children from S-21” and discovered in January 1979 in the gloomy Phnom Penh security centre by the Vietnamese troops, the now 39-year-old man tried to join as a civil party. But since his application was submitted after the deadline, he was allowed to come and testify as a witness only. Nervous in the box, the bulldozer driver only retained very few memories of his short stay in S-21, during its last days of existence. His hearing took the whole day – instead of the half-day announced on the eve – like the survivors who came to the stand before him.

The co-Prosecutors and the S-21 footage shot by the Vietnamese
From the outset, international co-Prosecutor William Smith intervened to request the addition to the case file of a testimony of Norn Chanphal, interviewed last February 13th by the NGO Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), as well as two videos shot in early 1979 by the Vietnamese and entrusted by their government to DC-Cam in late 2008 – but the nature of which is contested by the defence –, in order to allow the witness to comment on their authenticity. The Trial Chamber decided to recess for 45 minutes to make their decision. “This has nothing to do with the witness’ character and I hope he will understand,” the president apologised.

On their return, the judges announced they denied the prosecution’s first request, on the grounds that the document was filed too late as it was done so on that very day. As for the second request, unresolved since the initial hearing on February 17th and 18th, the Chamber said they had not reached a decision yet. The office of the co-Prosecutors deemed the footage to be relevant as far as it corroborated the statements of several witnesses – who reported that children of cadres were also arrested and taken to S-21 – and it presented detainees in ill-health, which illustrated the inhumane detention conditions that prevailed in the interrogation centre directed by Duch, judge Cartwright recapitulated. William Smith added it was the best contemporary footage available on the facts being judged.

A witness overwhelmed by emotion
Centre stage for Norng Chanphal. From the first questions, he conceded he no longer remembered things very well due to his young age – eight years – at the time of the facts. Something he would repeat all throughout his examination. His father, a Khmer Rouge cadre assigned to a millwork working for the railroads, disappeared. They were then told he was sent to Phnom Penh. A few months later, his mother, one of his younger brothers and himself were then taken away. His five other brothers and sisters were spared. The witness recounted their arrival at S-21: “My mother was forced to get out of the jeep. She was not in good health. They shouted at her and threatened her. I was terrified.” He continued his story but soon broke into tears. “Mr. Chanphal, are you able to pull yourself together and calm down?”, president Nil Nonn asked him. “[…] I invite you to be strong and to control your emotions.” Alain Werner, co-lawyer for civil party group 1, which would have included the witness if his application had been accepted, suggested to ask the witness if he needed five minutes to compose himself.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 02/07/2009: Norng Chanphal burst into tears repeatedly during a difficult testimony
© Stéphanie Gée

Holding a handkerchief in his hand, Norng Chanphal said he wanted to continue. The day following their arrival at S-21, he and his brother were separated from their mother and sent to the back of the building, to a workshop “close to the pig pen.” Did he see his mother again? “During the last day, I was playing outside. I saw her on the second floor. Her hands were holding the window bars and she looked at me. She did not say one word in our direction…” He fiddled with his handkerchief feverishly, while the tears came back. The president drummed the same song. “We remind you to be strong and calm down. […] If you cannot control your emotions and are unable to express your sufferings and describe what you went through, you will not be able to talk about it before the Chamber. […] We hope that after you have spoken, you will feel relieved.” The witness pulled himself together. He said they used to be served a bad gruel that sometimes gave him stomach aches. He and four other children had been entrusted to the care of an “old woman,” who had ordered them not to stray from the workshop. Norng Chanphal explained he was the oldest in the group of children.

Saved by the Vietnamese
When the S-21 staff fled as the Vietnamese troops approached, at the very start of January 1979, the witness saw two soldiers in Vietnamese uniform, one of whom spoke Khmer. He reported the latter asked him who his father was. “I hesitated and then, I wanted to run away. I told them I wasn’t the son of Pol Pot, that I had my own father and mother.” It was a shame that Nil Nonn did not return to this statement to confirm with Norng Chanphal whether the child he was then really knew the existence of Brother No. 1. The witness added that the emaciated state of the children prompted the soldiers to prepare them a meal before leaving hastily. Then, the Vietnamese troops arrived and took them directly to the hospital. A baby in the group was not part of the trip as he had died in the meantime. “Ants were coming out of his mouth and ears…”

Looking for his mother
If Norng Chanphal did not flee as soon as S-21 became deserted, he explained that it was out of fear of not finding his mother again. The children found shelter behind a pile of clothes, unaware they were those taken away from the prisoners when they arrived at the centre. The tale took its toll. The president decided a ten-minute suspension to allow the witness to compose himself. On his return, Norng Chanphal confided he had to eat leftovers of a rotten gruel on the days the children were left to their own devices. Before leaving the premises, he scoured some of the buildings in the compound, looking for his mother, and saw corpses on the floor. “There was blood. It scared me. I kept running and crying while looking for my mother. I also got really frightened when I saw someone chained to a bed.” Shortly after the fall of the regime, he was placed in the care of a widow, before being sent to an orphanage in the capital.

Are you sure it was S-21?
“Are you able to say that back then, you knew it was the Tuol Sleng prison?”, Silvia Cartwright asked him. He did not know it, but as he passed in the S-21 neighbourhood shortly afterwards, he recognised the railings and later on, he was told the name of the prison. In response to the judge, he said he was unable to say whether photographs or videos were made in S-21 by the Vietnamese when they arrived. All of the five judges asked questions to Norng Chanphal, which had not been the case, for instance, for a key witness such as Vann Nath, on Monday June 29th.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 02/07/2009: Duch sits down again after declaring he did not believe Norng Chanphal’s mother was killed in S-21
© Stéphanie Gée

To the Cambodian co-Prosecutor, Tan Senarong, the witness said he could no longer remember when he first heard about the existence of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). In addition, it was only recently, through DC-Cam, that he became aware of a video shot in S-21 after Pol Pot’s regime fell. Yes, he said, he recognised himself in the video and he also recognised his brother and the other children, thus authenticating the document.

Later, interrogated by Alain Werner, he claimed he had not met any prisoners while he lived in the workshop under the responsibility of the old woman.

For Duch, Chanphal’s mother did not die in S-21
The accused was called to provide details on the survivor’s statement. “This testimony reflects adequately the sufferings and ordeals inflicted upon Mr. Norng Chanphal,” Duch declared first. He recognised he had doubted that the witness’ father ended up in S-21, but had then discovered his biography, which proved he had actually been imprisoned there. However, he argued, there was no document relating to the stay in S-21 of the mother. He also recalled that no children were spared in S-21. During the hearing on June 25th, the accused had explained that the children of the “enemies” were smashed for fear they may seek revenge. Finally, he believed he could conclude that Norng Chanphal’s mother had died “somewhere else,” in another security centre, maybe in S-24, he later mentioned. His Cambodian co-lawyer, Kar Savuth, echoed his client by pointing out that while the witness claimed his mother was photographed with a prison number in S-21, the picture was not recovered. He said that in addition, her name did not appear on the lists of the detainees eliminated in S-21.

The defence rejects the hypothesis that the witness was incarcerated in S-21
Judge Cartwright wondered: did the statement of the accused imply that Norng Chanphal was or was not a child detainee in S-21? Kar Savuth, the Cambodian co-lawyer for Duch, dispelled any ambiguity: his client did not acknowledge Norng Chanphal as a Tuol Sleng survivor “because there were very strict rules in S-21, in particular, one order dating from January 2nd or 3rd 1979, given by Nuon Chea himself, that all detainees in S-21, whether man or woman, child or adult, be eliminated. And no living person was left behind in S-21, except for the four soldiers who had killed the US journalist and whose confessions had not been obtained yet. […] The accused confirmed to me that nobody would have dared to object to orders received from the top.”

“It seems that the position of the accused and the defence changes according to the elements that are produced,” the international co-Prosecutor commented in response. “In the end, this is about the ability to prove these elements beyond any reasonable doubt. The witness declared today that he had seen the Vietnamese footage and he had recognised himself in the video. To clarify the question, it would therefore be necessary to watch the video excerpt in order to ask the witness if he was actually there, in S-21.” Floor to Kar Savuth, who indicated he had no objections to the elements of evidence. “There is enough evidence to prove that more than 12,000 detainees went through S-21. My client acknowledges it […] and I do not think it would be any problem to ad the name of one more person to the list. However, we would like to see the truth emerge. We do not want false evidence or exaggerations of the truth.”

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 02/07/2009: The ECCC screens show a still image from a video shot by Vietnamese soldiers in Tuol Sleng, on which Norng Chanphal says he recognises himself and his brother
© Stéphanie Gée

Finally, a still image taken from the video being debated was shown on the screens. One could see Chanphal as a child, next to his younger brother, according to the description made by the witness, who claimed he did not know back then he was being filmed when the Vietnamese interrogated him.

“The witness was interrogated and objections were raised, in particular regarding his presence at the S-21 centre in late 1978. The Chamber has enough information to make their mind.” The president then declared the witness’ examination was over.

An unsatisfying end of the hearing
Why did nobody ask Norng Chanpahl if he was the “Phal” of the 1979 trial (against the “Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique” by the new regime installed by Vietnam), as there is little doubt and as it is adequate in any such procedure? It would have been appropriate to ask him if he had already testified on the same facts before another jurisdiction. And, if he were the same man, what was the reason for the existence of so many different details, and not the least, between his testimony in 1979 and what he described thirty years later? The young Phal said in 1979 that the children were beaten by the “Polpotists” and declared he had seen the latter kill a boy slightly older than himself or inflict horrible torture to the S-21 prisoners.

In the end, after a whole day spent on a boy who was only eight at the time of the facts, the court adjourned in the greatest confusion and leaving largely intact the false “mystery” of his “discovery” by DC-Cam in January 2009.

(translated from French by Ji-Sook Lee)

District police stymie mall protest at Hun Sen's house

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Sovanna Shopping Centre vendors protest near Hun Sen's house in Takhmao Thursday

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by May Titthara
Friday, 03 July 2009

AROUND 200 Sovanna Shopping Centre vendors were threatened by district police and prevented from boarding buses set to take them to Prime Minister Hun Sen's Kandal province residence on Thursday, where they had planned to protest high rents at the mall.

"This morning we rented two buses, but district police came to warn the drivers that if they took us to the prime minister's house they would have a problem," said Thea Neapy, a shoe seller at Sovanna.

"A lot of district police with guns banned us from getting into the bus ... and said we have no right to go to the PM's house."

Thea Neapy accused the police of having been paid off by the market owner, who "knows that if we go to Hun Sen's house he will help us".

Driver Thy Na said police told him not to allow market vendors into his vehicle and told him to "go back home" if he didn't want "problems".

Yem Dany, a cloth vendor at the market, said she was kicked by police outside the mall as the buses left the scene.

"They have no right to kick me like this. If they are so strong, they should go to Preah Vihear and fight with the Thais instead," she said.

Vendors from the mall, located in Chamkarmon district, managed to meet with representatives of the prime minister after making their way to Takhmao in tuk-tuks and private cars.

Two tuk-tuks full of protesters were stopped and detained by police near Takhmao Bridge, one vendor said, but were released after the police received a phone call from Hun Sen's staff.

They were then invited to speak with Nouv Ra, the prime minister's Cabinet chief, who said he would forward their concerns to City Hall.

"We told him we would like to reduce the price by 30 percent because of the economic crisis," said the vendor, who declined to be named.

"We will close our shops until we get a resolution."

Chesda Metrey, the head of Sovanna Shopping Centre, said the mall had "a lot of problems", and that he would not reduce the rental price for vendors.

"The vendors should already know our policy. We reduce the price by 13 percent for vendors who are under a 10-year lease, and 10 percent for a two-year lease," he said.

Chamkarmon district police Chief Ouch Sokhon declined to comment when contacted Thursday.

WWF wants to talk dolphins

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Sam Rith
Friday, 03 July 2009

THE conservation group WWF has agreed to meet with the Council of Ministers to discuss a controversial report on the Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin population that a government official said earlier this week could lead to charges of publishing false information.

The June 18 report claimed that the Mekong's Irrawaddy dolphin population had been decimated by environmental contaminants. It said 88 dolphins had died since 2003 and that pollution in the river had pushed the dolphins "to the brink of extinction".

Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-Tourism, criticised the report on Monday, saying his office should have been consulted before it was published.

He added that WWF could be charged with publishing false information if it did not revise the report.

Tep Asnarith, senior media and communications officer for WWF, said Thursday that the conservation group had sent a letter to Touch Seang Tana on Monday requesting an opportunity to meet with the Council of Ministers on Tuesday to explain the report's findings as well as researchers' methods.

"We are OK to have a meeting," Tep Asnarith said Thursday.

"WWF is very happy to show the results of the report and answer all questions."

He said WWF was awaiting a reply from Touch Seang Tana.

Touch Seang Tana said Thursday that he had not yet received the letter, but he said officials will not be able to meet Tuesday because they will be busy celebrating the one-year anniversary of Preah Vihear temple's listing as a World Heritage site.

He said WWF's suggestion that the meeting take place that day was indicative of its reluctance to meet with officials.

"They [the WWF] know ... that high-ranking officials will be very busy on that day, but they still chose that day," he said.

"This shows that they do not intend to answer for their report. We do not have time to listen to their lies."

He said he would send a letter to WWF Country Director Teak Seng on Friday in which he would ask for a written explanation of the report.

Upon receiving the explanation, he said, officials will decide whether it is satisfactory. If not, he said, WWF will face disinformation charges.

S-21 child survivor testifies

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Georgia Wilkins
Friday, 03 July 2009

Duch challenges testimony, saying no children survived.

AFORMER child detainee at Tuol Sleng prison told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday how he passed lifeless bodies as he ran through the prison looking for his mother in the final days of the regime.

Norng Chan Phal, who was only 8 or 9 when he arrived at the secret detention facility with his mother and brother, cried as he told judges how the boys were separated from their mother and forced to sleep near a pig pen.

Describing the last time he saw his mother, he said, "I could see her in the second floor holding the bars and looking at us. She did not say a single word."

But the prison's former chief, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, attempted to rebut Norng Chun Phal's testimony, saying there was not enough evidence to suggest the survivor was ever sent to the prison.

"Yes, children were detained there, but none of them survived," Duch said. "This is just my clarification."

He added: "If we can find the S-21 biography of his mother, then I would accept his full testimony.... But probably his mother suffered at a different security centre."

Researchers from the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) in February identified Norng Chan Phal and his brother Norng Chan Ny as two of the five children who appear in recently obtained video footage shot by Vietnamese soldiers when they arrived at the prison in 1979.

Though judges rejected a request by prosecutors to show the video footage in full, they showed a still image of the two boys from the film after Norng Chan Phal's testimony was challenged.

"The older boy with his shirt off, it's me," Norng Chan Phal, now 39, said.

Prior to Duch's remarks, Norng Chan Phal described how the children hid under a pile of clothes as the last remaining prisoners were slaughtered.

One of the five children, an infant who needed to be breastfed, died from hunger.

Norng Chan Phal missed the tribunal's deadline to become a civil party and applied to be a witness instead. His younger brother still lives in Cambodia but has not applied to be a witness.

Israel hails growing Asia ties

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Children celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, marking the 61st anniversary of Israel's founding, at the Krousar Thmey Centre on Wednesday

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Sebastian Strangio and Sam Rith
Friday, 03 July 2009

DIPLOMATS, government officials and other guests gathered in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to celebrate the independence of Israel, a country that is currently expanding its political and economic links with Cambodia and the wider Asian region.

To celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, which marks the 61st anniversary of Israel's founding, the country's ambassador to Thailand opened a new playground for street children at the Krousar Thmey centre in Phnom Penh.

"I thought it would be the best way to celebrate Israeli independence day, not just to have another reception, [but] to do something meaningful for street children," Ambassador Yael Rubinstein said in an interview Wednesday.

"It will also acknowledge the fact that Israel is also a young country that wants to do something meaningful for Cambodia."

Rubinstein said the celebration - the fourth to be held in Phnom Penh - symbolised the country's increasing economic and political engagement with Cambodia and the Asia-Pacific region.

"Israel is a part of Asia. We belong to Asia and we look to Asia as our home," she said, adding that the country has just opened a new consulate in Guangzhou - its fourth in China - and re-opened its embassy in New Zealand.

High-tech farming
Rubinstein added that Cambodia's agricultural potential makes it a good destination for Israeli investment and a willing recipient of its sophisticated water-management and desalination technologies.

"Israel's main aim has always been to work with countries, especially friendly countries. We'd like to share our know-how."

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Cambodia and Israel have enjoyed good relations since they re-established diplomatic relations in 1993.

So far, Cambodian exports to Israel have been confined to shoes and garments, totaling between US$80,000 and $90,000 per year, but he said the commercial relationship has strong potential for expansion.

"We still have a lot of empty agricultural land that could be planted with crops other than rice, such as corn, animal feed and so forth," he said.

He said Israel has provided scholarships to 55 officials between 1994 and 2007, mostly in the field of agriculture.

Pan Sorasak, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce who held talks with an Israeli trade delegation in March, also welcomed the growing links, which he said were a result of the government's attempt to attract foreign investment.

"A lot can be gained for us," he said.

Middle-Eastern moves
Israel's push into Asia comes at the same time as other Middle Eastern countries - including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Iran - are also investing in agriculture and other sectors. But though the simmering Palestinian conflict looms large in Israeli politics, Rubinstein said it has played little role in the country's push into East Asia.

Likewise, Cambodia's own opposition to Tel Aviv's occupation of the West Bank territories has been no impediment to establishing a strong relationship.

"Of course, we would very much like Cambodia to change the way it votes on many issues in the UN, but it's not a condition," she said.

"I think Cambodia should be able to accept good relations with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia [and] Israel, and I welcome that. I think it could help Cambodia, it could help us, and maybe help the world."

Trio caught on animal preserve

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Chrann chamroeun
Friday, 03 July 2009

Villagers surprised to learn land is protected.

THREE villagers from Banteay Meanchey's Malai district have been arrested for entering a prohibited area designated as an animal preserve, according to a local rights group.

Late last month, 23 villagers walked into the prohibited area to farm but were shot at by seven officials from the Ministry of Environment wielding AK-47s, said Soum Chankea, Adhoc's Banteay Meanchey coordinator.

"No one was injured in the attack, but three men were arrested," he said Thursday, adding that the officials might have been trying to scare the villagers away from the prohibited area.

Soum Chankea said the villagers had broken the law. But he said the villagers had considered that area part of their village since 2001, when they cleared the forest to farm. A royal decree declared the site to be an animal shelter in 1993, but local residents were not made aware of this until 2003, Soum Chankea said.

"In 2001, while they were clearing the land, there were no authorities or environmental officials to stop their activity, so those people treat that place as their village," he said.

Malay district police Chief Mi Samorn said Thursday that the officials were only doing their jobs when they arrested the three men.

"Entering the prohibited area is against the law. That's why they were arrested," he said.

Officials at the Ministry of Environment could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Malai district Governor Tep Khunal said his district had 4,500 hectares of animal shelters, but that 3,500 hectares had been cleared for farmland.

Publisher's lawyer challenges jailing

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Meas Sokchea
Friday, 03 July 2009

THE LAWYER for jailed opposition publisher Hang Chakra has sent a letter to Phnom Penh Municipal Court asking for his client to be released for health reasons, though he said Thursday that he had not yet received a response.

Hang Chakra's family has said that the 55-year-old publisher suffers from "multiple illnesses", though his lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, declined to elaborate on them Thursday.

Choung Chou Ngy told the Post that he also planned to ask the court to return items taken from Hang Chakra when he was arrested last Friday, including more than US$200 and three mobile phones.

"These items were seized by the court when my client was brought to the court," Choung Chou Ngy said. "So far they have not been returned."

Phnom Penh Municipal Court President Chiv Keng declined to comment on whether the request for Hang Chakra's release would be considered.

Chiv Keng said Hang Chakra's personal effects would be returned to him if the court deemed them irrelevant to the case against him.

Hang Chakra, who publishes the Khmer Machas Srok News, was sentenced to one year in prison after a judge last week found him guilty of publishing false information pertaining to Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and his staff.

Sourng Sophea, a lawyer for the Community Legal Education Centre, said the court was obligated to return Hang Chakra's belongings if they were unrelated to his offences.

Replacement land readied in M'kiri plantation dispute

A tractor belonging to Socfin KCD in Bou Sraa commune.

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Sam Rith
Friday, 03 July 2009

AUTHORITIES in Mondulkiri's Bou Sraa commune have begun measuring the land of local Phnong minorities displaced by a French-Cambodian rubber plantation in order to establish compensation claims, but local villagers remain sceptical that they will receive allotments equivalent to what they lost.

Mondulkiri Deputy Governor Yim Lux said Thursday that authorities had so far measured the land of 37 affected families in Pouteut village and would offer them the same amount as they lost to the 10,000-hectare rubber concession.

"It is up to them - they can either receive cash compensation or accept land," he said, adding that his authorities and the Socfin KCD rubber company had already provided compensation to 172 impacted families in six villages in Bou Sraa commune.

He said some families agreed to accept financial compensation, whereas others accepted a plot of land.

History of distrust
Though they say they have been promised sufficient land, villagers remain unsure whether the pledges will be honoured.

"The authorities have just made promises, but in reality I have heard some people complain that they had 5 hectares of land, but that the authorities have only offered them 2 hectares," said a community representative who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The representative added that villagers were waiting to see whether the authorities would be able to put an end to the long-running dispute, which started when the company began clearing land in late 2007 and came to a head in December, when villagers torched and smashed company machinery in Bou Sraa village.

"We will not agree to other compensation. We only want the same amount of land that we used to have," the representative said.

Kul Midy, a community trainer with the local rights group Adhoc, said authorities should take into account the cultural and economic significance of the forested land lost to the rubber plantation.

"The authorities should organise an area separate from the plantation, allowing the community to live and conduct rotational farming according to their traditions," he said.

New AIDS minister

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by May Titthara
Friday, 03 July 2009

PRIME Minister Hun Sen said this week that one of Cambodia's nine deputy prime ministers would soon be tasked with working to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Speaking at a June 29 meeting at the foreign affairs ministry, Hun Sen also called on government institutions, NGOs and donors to join together to contain HIV/AIDS, adding that the National AIDS Authority (NAA) should strengthen its 100-percent condom use program.

HIV/AIDS spread rapidly when it arrived in Cambodia in the early 1990s. By 1997, adult prevalence was recorded at 3 percent, according to the NAA. By 2006, the prevalence rate for adults had dropped to 0.9 percent.

According to a report from the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (NCHADS), 400,000 people took HIV/AIDS tests in 2008, up from just 30,000 in 2007. Of those who opted for the test, 5 percent were found to be HIV-positive, compared with 7 percent in 2007, the report said.

In 2006, about 71,100 Cambodian children were infected with HIV, according to a report from the NAA.

Uptick in road accidents recorded

Vehicles wrecked in road accidents lay broken in a field behind Municipal Police headquarters in Phnom Penh on Thursday

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by May Titthara
Friday, 03 July 2009

Monthly increase comes after Ministry of Interior announces delay in traffic law enforcement

TRAFFIC officials are blaming an increase in drunken driving for a jump in the number of traffic accidents in Phnom Penh last month.

According to Pen Khun, deputy chief of Phnom Penh's Traffic Police, there were 52 traffic accidents in June compared with 43 in May. These accidents resulted in 11 deaths and 59 serious injuries.

"Most of the traffic accidents are caused because people got drunk and sped," he said.

The news of an increase in accidents comes as police say they have once again pushed back the date they will begin ramping up traffic enforcement efforts.

According to a new directive signed by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Traffic Police will start enforcing the 2007 traffic law on August 1, including the provision that prohibits drunken driving.

Chev Hak, deputy chief of the Traffic Police, said any driver with a breath analysis reading of more than 0.39 milligrams of alcohol per liter of air would go to court.

The 2007 law stipulates that a drunk driver can be sent to prison for between six days and six months and fined between 25,000 and 1 million riels (US$238). The punishment for refusing a breath test is a jail term of between six days and one month and fine of between 25,000 and 200,000 riels.

Pen Khun said his police are working hard to inform people about the dangers of drunken driving, but he said people often ignore traffic laws at night, when there are few police officers out on the roads.

"Even though we have breath analysis machines, the number of accidents still increases," he said. "At night time, people think there are no police to fine them, so they don't think about their safety."

Staff at Cintri sanitation set for strike

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Khuon Leakhana
Friday, 03 July 2009

WORKERS for the garbage collection company Cintri are prepared to go on strike next week unless the company agrees to their demands, the trade union representing the workers said Thursday.

"We plan to go on strike if the results of the negotiations do not result in the company meeting our requests," said Mom Sarorn, president of trade union Tufikel, which threatened a similar strike last week.

Mom Sarorn said the strike threat was sparked when Cintri transferred two workers to Kampong Som because they criticised the company. The two men are returning to Phnom Penh next week, even though they have been told to stay at their new post.

"We plan to go on strike when the two activists return from Kampong Som [next week]," Mom Sarorn said. "On their arrival, if the company suddenly decides to fire them, then we will immediately go on strike."

Many workers were dissatisfied long before the incident with the two workers, Mom Sarorn said, adding that Cintri does not provide safe working conditions or fair wages.

"The company must properly equip all labourers with face masks, long neck boots, raincoats, and it needs to pay 30 percent more to night-shift workers instead of just 10 percent at the moment," he said.

Tufikel officials warned last Friday that Cintri workers were prepared to strike, but City Hall requested to act as a mediator between the company and the union, and the strike plans were cancelled.

But because the two sides could not reach an agreement, Tufikel has said that a strike is back on the table.

"City Hall and their committee of mediators has decided that the company is right, so I have nothing to negotiate with them about," Seng Chamroeun, Cintri's deputy director, told the Post Thursday.

Cintri employs between 1,300 and 1,400 people, Seng Chamroeun said.

RCAF tells Thai soldiers to leave pagoda near Preah Vihear temple

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
At the hilltop near Preah Vihear temple in May, a Cambodian machine gun is aimed towards the Thai border

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Thet Sambath
Friday, 03 July 2009

Thai military commanders say they need time to ask their superiors if they can abandon the pagoda, according to Cambodian general

HIGH-RANKING Cambodian commanders told their Thai counterparts to withdraw their troops from a pagoda near Preah Vihear temple at a meeting Wednesday night between Thai and Cambodian military officials, according to a Cambodian general who attended the meeting.

"We asked Thai military commanders to withdraw their soldiers at the pagoda and near the pagoda. Cambodia will not allow them there anymore," said the general, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The Thai commanders said they needed to ask their superiors about the request and asked for three more days," he said.

Phorng Eung, a Cambodian officer stationed at Preah Vihear who was not in attendance, told the Post that his superiors had told him the same thing.

"This is a strong message to the Thai side," he said.

A Post reporter witnessed hundreds of Thai soldiers occuppying the pagoda near Preah Vihear temple on July 15 last year.

But after negotiations among officers, the Thai commanders agreed to withdraw most of their troops and only keep 10 unarmed Thai soldiers at the pagoda and 30 armed soldiers about 30 to 40 metres away.

The general predicted that tension on the border would rise after July 4 or 5 if the Thai soldiers did not withdraw from the pagoda and vowed to use force if necessary.

"But this is Cambodia's last choice to take action in this way," he said.

Som Kem, a Cambodian officer at the border, said he had heard that the Thai military had asked to stay in the pagoda until July 5.

"[Cambodian] commanders asked the Thai military not to come to the pagoda starting Thursday, but they still came and stayed there. They asked to stay in it until Sunday," he said.

The deputy commander of Military Region 4, Pov Heng, confirmed that a meeting between Thai and Cambodian commanders occurred on Wednesday night at the O'Smach Resort Casino.

Som Kem said the situation on the border was normal but that all the soldiers were on alert.

Officials at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh were unavailable for comment Thursday.

Decline will continue, local analysts predict

A builder works on a high-rise construction site in Phnom Penh. The sector has been among the worst hit by the downturn.

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Chun Sophal
Friday, 03 July 2009

Cambodian Economic Association tells lawmakers the crisis will worsen through the end of 2009 before recovery sets in

THE president of the Cambodian Economic Association, a group that promotes economic research, said the Kingdom's economy will continue to decline up until the end of the year.

In a presentation on the global economic crisis to 100 parliament members and senators, the CEA's Chan Sophal said the first five months of the year had been difficult on the economy.

And he warned that the damage inflicted on both the garment sector and tourism meant the situation was likely to worsen.

"I believe the decline in Cambodia's economy will get more and more serious by the end of the year, because garment exports declined by up to 27 percent in the first five months as against a predicted 5 percent drop," he said.

"At the same time, tourism declined 2.23 percent after it was expected to remain unchanged."

Chan Sophal said rural residents would face food shortages between July and October, because they would have no income from jobs and would be afflicted by seasonal drought.

Earlier this year the International Monetary Fund predicted that Cambodia's economy would grow 0.5 percent, while the Economist Intelligence Unit last month projected GDP growth of minus 3 percent.

Cambodia's economy is very vulnerable to the world economic crisis.

The government said that it expects growth of 2 percent, while the World Bank said the economy would shrink by 1 percent in its latest forecast.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously said that the economy could achieve 6 percent GDP growth this year.

Douglas Broderick, the UN Development Program's representative, said the impact of the global economic crisis would further afflict Cambodia before the situation improved.

He advised the government to focus its efforts on developing human resources and increasing competition.

"I think the basis of Cambodia's economy is very vulnerable to the world economic crisis because the markets in the US and European countries have cut imports of textiles and garments produced in Cambodia," Broderick said.

He added that numerous garment factories had closed and tourist numbers continued to decline.
Even the construction sector, he said, was feeling the negative effects.

Broderick said the government ought to invest more in education, particularly training farmers to improve farming methods.

CPP plays down impact
Cheam Yeap, a ruling party MP and head of the National Assembly's finance, banking and audit committee, acknowledged the slowdown in the economy, but said the country would not be seriously affected.

He said the economy was still small, and that agriculture had excellent potential to safeguard against the crisis.

And he said that even though the Kingdom has suffered from the crisis, it has many opportunities to recover, including agriculture, oil and gas.

"Cambodia will put efforts to find strategies and solutions to save its economy from the world economic crisis and alleviate poverty to meet the [Millennium Development Goals] in 2015," he said.

Police Blotter: June 3, 2009

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Lim Phalla
Friday, 03 July 2009

Victim pricked in S'Ville mugging
Sihanoukville police arrested Kuy Teang, 22; Teas Roby, 20; Por Ravy, 18; and Choun Sovanna, 22, on Sunday for allegedly stealing a necklace, a cellphone and some money from 24-year-old Seng Mom living in Sihanoukville's Veal Reng district. The victim was stabbed in the neck with a knife.

Garment worker robbed by bandits
Sen Sok district police sent three suspected robbers to Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday on suspicion of stealing US$20, two cellphones and a bangle from a garment worker Sunday night in the district's Borey Muyroy Knorng commune, Phnom Penh. The suspects were Sean Kun San, 21; Chao Tith Mati, 17; and Mao Veasna, 22, all living in Sen Sok district. Police returned the items to the victim, who was not identified.

Robbers in uniform raid restaurant
Mlub Seda restaurant was robbed by four armed men in military uniforms on Tuesday night in the Tbaung Khmum district of Kampong Cham province. Police said the men fired seven shots during the robbery and wounded three people including Nuon Seang Bo, 67; his 32-year-old son, Noun Piseth; and his 12-year-old grandson, Chan Chara; who were all taken to hospital in Phnom Penh for treatment. The victims lost US$250 and some gold during the robbery, and the assailants escaped safely.

Man arrested in rape of 12-year-old
A 24-year-old man was arrested by police on Wednesday on suspicion of raping a 12-year-old girl three times. Police said the girl accused the detained of raping her once in May and twice in June, while her parents were not at home. The rapes occurred in the Kompong Seima commune of Battambang province, police said. The man was arrested after the victim's mother reported him to the police. The victim said the suspect had given her money each time he assaulted her to keep her from reporting him to police.

Royal Group in HBO rights agreement

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 03 July 2009

THE Royal Group's Cambodia Entertainment Production Co Ltd (CEPCO) said Thursday it had obtained the exclusive rights to distribute American cable network HBO channels to nearly 100 cable operators in Cambodia.

Ouk Vora, general manager of CEPCO, said that there were 1.5 million potential viewers of HBO programming, but that the lack of law enforcement meant that many cable operators were illegally redirecting network signals from neighbouring countries.

"We are [HBO's] exclusive distributor in Cambodia. I would like to call for all operators to obtain licences for all HBO content from now on," Ouk Vora told the Post in an interview Thursday.

Cambodia currently has no legal access to the five channels operated by HBO, and the cost of accessing the channel - and any potential future channels - is likely to be passed onto the consumer, Ouk Vora said. He added that cable operators would have to upgrade to digital technology before they could start charging customers for separate channel packages - the cost of HBO's channels, based on experiences elsewhere, would set users back between US$7 and $10 per month.

Chhum Socheath, Ministry of Information Cabinet chief, confirmed Wednesday that the Royal Group of Companies had purchased the licence to distribute HBO to hotel and cable TV operators in Cambodia. "[Royal Group Chairman] Kith Meng has an exclusive right to distribute," he said.

Rock grinders hit hard times

Rock grinders in Kampot province are facing the possibility of that their companies could hit the wall

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by May Kunmakara
Friday, 03 July 2009


CHANGING consumer tastes mean the rock-grinding industry in Beanteay Meas district, Kampot province, is struggling with declining demand, as are the province's makers of traditional furniture that use this kind of granite in their products.

Som Parat, the owner of a small-scale rock-grinding company that has been operating for 20 years, said his machines are now running just two days a week.

"We're really struggling to find a market for granite because our clients in Phnom Penh aren't buying. I have a lot of granite in stock now," he said.

Som Parat said there were two other rock-grinding businesses in his village.
All three provide granite to businesses that make traditional chairs, benches and tables.

Hak Hort owns Hak Hort Industry, a small business in Phnom Penh that buys granite from Kampot distributors and turns it into furniture for direct sale to the end user.

Just one or two customers are visiting his store each week.
"My business is not doing well - I have had hardly any customers for months, which is why I have many tables, chairs and benches in stock," he said. "Right now I don't need any raw material because I have nowhere to keep it."

Before the decline began, his store sold 10 chairs and tables a week, with a set of four chairs and a table costing up to US$150.

"Maybe people don't have as much money as before, or maybe their money is tied up in property, or perhaps it is because they prefer the modern, metal style of furniture," he said.

Ung Nareth, a home designer at the Design & Planning Group, a consultancy, said the country's development means consumers benefit from modern imports.

"Our people these days can earn a lot of money, so they need something new to run parallel with the new world," he said.

"That's why we are seeing that our old-style, locally made tables and chairs are less popular. This is a more modern generation. Everybody wants modern things in their houses - that's normal."

Facing possible closure
Changing consumer tastes mean Som Parat will soon have to decide whether to shut his business temporarily.

When times were good, he was grinding 10 tonnes of rock a week.

His retail price was $2.50 per 50-kilogram sack, and he paid villagers $1 per 100 kilograms of raw rock brought from the mountain quarry nearby.

"Although this is only a small business, it has helped my family and the villagers substantially.

"It allowed my children to pursue their university studies in Phnom Penh," he said. "But now I don't know what to do - things are so quiet."

Tourists at Preah Vihear drop 59pc from 2008

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Ngoun Sovan
Friday, 03 July 2009

THE number of tourists visiting Preah Vihear province dropped 59 percent in the first half of the year compared with the first six months of 2008, the provincial tourism chief said on Thursday as tensions continued to hurt tourism.

Kong Vibol blamed the long-running dispute with Thailand over the ownership of land around the cliff-top temple - the province's key attraction - for the slide in overall tourist numbers from 85,000 to 34,500.

The decline in foreign tourist numbers was even worse - down 83 percent to just 5,050 visitors from 30,000 in the same period last year.

Kong Vibol said fewer Cambodians had visited, and that the closure of the border on the Thai side had cut off Thai and other foreign tourists. He said the global financial crisis had also had an impact.

"Despite the fact that both sides are on high alert and the temple remains open, both foreign and local tourists are concerned about their safety," he said.

"Every tour company running excursions to Preah Vihear temple asks if it is safe to visit before they leave."

Kong Vibol said the decline in numbers had hurt the livelihoods of local people who rely on the temple for a living, but added that the damage was not too severe.

And he predicted that if the situation stabilises, tourists will return along newly improved access roads.

Safety concerns
Ho Vandy, the co-chairman of the government-private working group on tourism and the managing director of World Express Tours and Travel, said on Thursday that the dispute between the two countries had made tourists fearful of further shootouts.

"Confrontations between the two countries' armed forces mean visitors are worried for their safety," he said. "My company won't run tours to the temple at this time because we can't risk the safety of our guests."

Ho Vandy said numbers would continue to slide if there were further clashes.

The World Court awarded Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been properly established.

Tensions flared last July when UNESCO, the UN's cultural agency, approved Cambodia's bid to have the temple named as a World Heritage Site.

Troops have since built up on the frontier around the 11th-century temple.

Two previous clashes between Thai and Cambodian soldiers resulted in deaths on October 15 last year and April 3 this year.

Lending to those with little capital

Hattha Kaksekar Limited General Manager Hout Ieng Tong.

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Kay Kimsong Friday, 03 July 2009 14:00

Hout Ieng Tong, general manager of Hattha Kaksekar Limited, a microfinance institution, says the economic downturn has hit rural incomes, and that lending has declined in turn


What is the major obstacle operating a microfinance institution in these tough economic times?
Since the financial crisis began until now, we at HKL haven't seen any major problems.
Some clients are paying later compared against previous years, but we have well-trained staff and a good accounting system.

Because of this transparency, our overseas funders continue to trust us. We have sufficient capital.

If the downturn drags on for another three or four years, what effect will that have?
If it takes years to recover, then there will be a serious effect on the MFI sector.

We've seen that people's incomes have declined, so they borrow less, and we are unable to expand our lending.

We need to assess people's ability to repay, and if the number of nonperforming loans rises, we lend less.

Tell us what services you provide.

We offer loans and money transfers within our branch network.

We also have several types of loans, including commercial loans and agricultural loans, and there are different ways of repaying.

Which loan product is most popular among your clients?
The commercial loan, because many people want to grow their small businesses, and we also focus on that market.

They tend to repay faster, too, which means we can recycle those payments into new loans, which helps to boost national economic growth.

Do your staff provide business advice to clients once they have received a loan?
Generally not - we encourage clients to create their own business ideas. We give them some idea of different business methods, but it would be too high a risk if we were to tell clients how to run their businesses.

We've seen people's income has declined, so they borrow less.

What types of small business should poor people in remote areas look to set up with loans from MFIs?
I think that the most resilient are businesses that supply food products. On the other hand, those wanting to run a business and spend the money on equipment rather than stock won't be able to earn a profit.

And those looking to import will also face challenges.

You may already be aware that prices of agriculture products are low because of lower market demand. Are farmers cutting their borrowing in response?
Farmers continue to borrow from MFIs, but they have reduced the amounts loaned to ensure they are earning enough to meet repayments.

Those who are smart already know how to work out what they need to repay their debt. Our clients are clever in terms of working out the size of loan needed and the repayments involved.

How do you compete with other MFIs?
As far as I am concerned, the more competition, the better. That's because I want to see economic growth, and people can't borrow at high interest rates.

The more competition there is, the lower rates must go.

Have you laid off staff?
No, and in fact we are planning to recruit more.

In late 2008 we had 450 staff, and earlier this year we recruited another 200. We budgeted for lower profits by the year-end, but we will have helped a lot of people.

I understand that the CMA wanted to borrow money from local commercial banks rather than having to attract funding from outside. How has that developed?
It hasn't developed - we continue to borrow from abroad at high interest rates, which means we have to lend locally with high interest rates.

Local banks have piles of savings, but they aren't yet allowed to lend to us. The government and the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) should look at this.

Do any MFIs have a licence to attract savings?
Two MFIs have licences from the NBC: Amret and Sathapana.

I hope that another three or four will get licences, too. At my firm we wanted to walk one step behind the other two.

People don't yet fully trust commercial banks and aren't willing to place their savings with MFIs. So we need to improve the trust among the public.

Are you planning to switch HKL's status from an MFI to a specialised bank?
We have plans for that, but in the distant future. HKL's portfolio is US$27 million, and even in these hard times we are growing by 30 percent.

Some critics say MFIs enrich their owners by keeping the borrowers poor. Presumably you have a different point of view.

Yes I do, and you can see the changes in the remote areas.

In the 1990s, most people lived in small huts, but since MFIs started loaning money for rural development, 80 percent of people have seen their living conditions improve.
You have to look at the forest, not just one tree.

Have any of your clients lost land or cows or other property?
We should praise people who are willing to repay debts - we don't want to see clients avoiding paying by running away.

We must thank those who are willing to take responsibility for their debt. They are good people.

We wanted to see people behave highly responsibly - they might lose their property, but not their reputations.

How many clients do you have?
We have 50,000 clients. In terms of assets we are ranked fourth, and in terms of number of clients we are ranked fifth.

You may have seen that some people want to use their homes or land as collateral for loans from MFIs or commercial banks. However land titles are still an issue. What are your thoughts?
This will help the sector if the government can resolve this.

I see our government is working very hard to issue land titles in provinces such as Kampong Thom, Kampot and Battambang. A land title is important as collateral.

Photographers focused on Cambodia's changing times

Images from ‘The Boat Goes, The Pontoon Stays’.
by Eric De Vries

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Mark Roy Friday, 03 July 2009


SINCE starting the Asia Motion photographers' agency in December last year, Isabelle Lesser has looked to photographers who can tell a story, not just capture one-off images.

Asia Motion is not an image bank, she explains.

"We are concentrating on building stories - quality stories," Lesser said.

It was while freelancing as a photographer for AFP that Lesser realised what magazine editors wanted was depth.

"Today everyone is a photographer," she said. "But you need to have a personal style. For me, you need to have a meaning in the photograph, and an aesthetic. If you can build a story between six and 30 images, you are a good photographer."

She said that while Asia Motion has all kinds of photographers on its books - fashion, advertising, art, social, reportage, even a video artist - what they focus on is bringing Asian stories and features to the rest of the world.

"All our photographers are professionals working full time," she said. "We have photographers not living in Cambodia - Srikanth Solari is from India, while Stephane Janin is from Washington, DC - and we have one Cambodian, [Mak Remissa] who we chose not because he is Cambodian but because he is a great photographer."

She said because the photographers are working full time they do not have the chance to put together exhibitions, and that this was one of the things the agency can do for them. At Java Cafe and Gallery on Friday, Asia Motion will launch its second exhibition, one that portrays the theme of "change".

The title of the exhibition comes from the Khmer proverb Touk toew, kampong noew, which translates as "The boat goes, the pontoon stays". The photographs in the exhibition, like the proverb, illustrate how some things evolve but others never change.

"Asia is embracing fast and sweeping development," Lesser said. "Asia Motion photographers set out to document the changes and consistencies that Asia is undergoing during these times of change."

She said the photographers were free to explore their own interpretation the theme.

"They have the option to do whatever they want; it is very personal," she said.

Ryan Plummer, a Canadian photographer based in Cambodia, said that the exhibition had given him the chance to both branch out and get back to the roots of his photographic practice, fine art and fashion.

"Mainly in Cambodia I have been shooting editorial work," Plummer said.

"For this project I have been working with transgendered people - not only sex workers - throughout Cambodia. It is a small part of a larger project which will contribute to my body of work."

Plummer said he chose to shoot the project in black and white. "It's an aesthetic choice, a very grainy, very gritty style of imagery," he said.

For French photographer Jeff Perigois, Phnom Penh offers a world of contrasts, which he accentuates using a technique that combines black and white with colour.

His three images from his project "Witness in a World of Waves" contrast Cambodia's traditional mores with its more modern, global trends.

"The young generation would like to have the same things as other people in the world," Perigois said.

"But the pictures also tell stories about the roots in Cambodia."

Lesser, too, looks to the Cambodian roots - quite literally.

Her project "Feeding a Nation" focuses on rice production.
"Rice for me is like the roots of a nation," she said.

"The rice is symbolic. Khmer New Year is at the end of the rice-planting season; it is part of the rhythm of life here."

The exhibition opens at Java Cafe and Gallery tonight from 6-9pm and will also include a video projection from video artist Carlos Franklin..

The horror of a 'sudden death' news flash

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Charlie Brooker Friday, 03 July 2009 14:00

I was at Glastonbury when Jacko died. That's not a factual statement, but a T-shirt slogan.

The day after his death, souvenir tops with "I was at Glasto 09 when Jacko died" printed on them were already on sale around the site.

Many festival-goers apparently discovered the news when on-site DJs began playing Michael Jackson records simultaneously.

Music combined with word of mouth. That's a nice way to find out.

I learned it via a harsh electric beep, bringing my attention to a text message that simply proclaimed "Jackson's dead" in stark pixelated lettering.

Clearly it's the sort of information you have to mindlessly share with the rest of the herd the moment you hear it.

Clearly it's the sort of information you have to mindlessly share with the rest of the herd the moment you hear it. But first I needed confirmation. I occasionally text people to say there's been a massive nuclear explosion in Canada, or David Cameron's gone mad and launched his own breakfast cereal shaped like little swastikas or whatever, in the hope they'll pass it on without checking.

I didn't want to fall for my own jape. I switched on the TV. Jackson was still alive on BBC News 24, where they seemed to be reporting he was in hospital following a heart attack. That wasn't good enough, so I flicked over to Sky News, which tends to blab stuff out while the Beeb drags its feet, tediously checking the facts.

He was bound to be dead on Sky.

But he wasn't; he was possibly in a coma. In desperation, I turned to Fox. They would already be attempting to communicate with him via the spirit realm, surely.

But they weren't. If anything, they were being more cautious than the Beeb. Boo. Back to Sky, which was now reporting that a Web site was announcing his death.

That'd do for now. I beamed a few texts out: "Michael Jackson apparently dead."
"Piss off" came the reply.

It was my own fault. I'd texted a few weeks earlier to say BBC anchor Huw Edwards had just vomited live on the news.

Confirmation of his death gradually spread across the news networks, but the main terrestrial channels were still obliviously broadcasting their scheduled programmes.

ITV won the news-flash race. Alastair Stewart abruptly shouted "MICHAEL JACKSON HAS DIED" down the lens like a man standing on the shoreline trying to get the attention of someone on the deck of a passing ferry during gale-force winds. Fair enough.

Whenever I hear the phrase, "And now a special news report", I automatically start scanning the room for blunt objects to club myself to death with in case they're about to announce nuclear war. Since this wasn't the apocalypse, but an unexpected celebrity death - sad, but not worth killing yourself with a paperweight over - Stewart was right to blurt it out as fast as he could.

After watching the news long enough to assess that, yes, he was dead, and the circumstances all seemed rather tragic, long enough for them to play a bit of "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" and " Smooth Criminal" and "Blame it on the Boogie" and so on, reminding me that he was a bona fide musical genius, I went to bed.

The next day he was still dead, but somehow deader than the day before.

He was all over the radio and papers. The TV had clips of "Thriller" on heavy rotation, which seemed a tad inappropriate, what with him playing a decomposing corpse in it.

If Bruce Willis died falling from a skyscraper, I doubt they'd illustrate his life story by repeatedly showing that bit from Die Hard where he ties a firehose round his waist and jumps off the building.

Across all the networks, a million talking heads shared their thoughts and feelings on his death.

At 3pm, his death was still "BREAKING NEWS" according to Sky, which has to be some kind of record. Even 9/11 didn't "break" that long.

Next day, the news was apparently still sinking in around the globe.

The BBC went live to Emily Maitlis as she stood on Hollywood Boulevard (at 1am local time) waiting for two young Latinos to perform a breakdance tribute to the King of Pop.

Something went wrong with the iPod hooked up to their speakers so she had to stand there for a full two minutes, awkwardly filling in while they fiddled with the settings. Sky had flown Kay Burley out to LA, too, to hear the fans' pain and pull concerned faces. This continued into the following day. It's probably still going on now.

But the news is not the place to "celebrate" Jackson's music. The Glastonbury stage, the pub, the club, the office stereo, the arts documentary: That's the place.

The news should report his death, then piss off out of the way, leaving people to moonwalk and raise a toast in peace.

If I was God, here's what I'd do now. I'd force all the rolling networks to cover nothing but the death of Michael Jackson, 24 hours a day, for the next seven years.

Glue up the studio doors and keep everyone inside, endlessly "reporting" it, until they start going mad and developing their own language - not just verbal, but visual.

And I'd encourage viewers to place bets on which anchor would be the first to physically end it all live on air.

And while that was happening, I'd create some other stations that covered other stuff. Current affairs type stuff.

I think I'd call them "news channels". They might catch on.

US Begins Justice Ministry Tech Training

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
02 July 2009

The US began training Justice Ministry officials this week in the use of new information systems aimed at improving efficiency, transparency and accountability for Cambodia’s legal system.

“I am excited about the potential of these systems to strengthen many aspects of legal and judicial reform,” US Ambassador Carol Rodley said.

“The ministry will have the ability to more quickly and accurately identify areas where judicial reform is succeeding, and where it needs greater attention.”

The US-funded information systems will track ministry documents, establishing a database, an office intranet for file-sharing and a Web site to publicize court information, such as caseloads and clearance rates.

The four-month course, funded by the United States through USAID, will train between 75 and 90 ministry staff.

Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana said that the ministry will increase public awareness of the work done in Cambodian courts.

Judicial reform is dependant on citizens fully understanding their legal rights and responsibilities, and the systems will help create a more informed populace, he said.

UN Prosecutor’s Departure Worries Observers

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original from Washington
02 July 2009

The resignation of UN prosecutor Robert Petit from the Khmer Rouge tribunal will reverberate through the court’s proceedings, leaving an absence of leadership and the likelihood of more delays, local and international observers say.

Petit will leave the tribunal Sept. 1, as the UN-backed tribunal is in the midst of its first trial, for jailed Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch. Petit announced in June he was leaving for personal reasons. He had pushed for at least six more indictments at the court, to add to the five former leaders already on trial, and he had steered the UN prosecution throughout the initial arrests and charges of five former leaders of the regime.

“Petit’s departure creates an urgent need for leadership in the Co-Prosecutor’s Office,” James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which has a court monitoring project, told VOA Khmer. “The next case, of four accused involving multiple crimes, is complex. Concerns are already arising about the length of time the investigation is taking.”

That case, No. 002, will try the four senior-most leaders of the regime, its chief ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, social affairs minister Ieng Thirith.

“A high-caliber leader in the prosecutor’s office is essential to ensure that this case is prepared for trial as soon as possible,” Goldston said.

Not only could that case be delayed, but the trial of Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Duch, who is facing multiple atrocity crimes charges for his role as head of Tuol Sleng prison, could also slow.

“If he’d left when the Duch trial was finished, there probably would not be a problem,” said Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, which provides free legal services to Cambodians. “But when Duch’s case has not yet been completed, that can lead to problems for the next prosecutor.”

However, Petit is not leaving an empty office behind him, and some observers contend that the groundwork he laid will help his incoming replacement.

David Tolbert, a former special adviser to the tribunal and now at the US Institute for Peace, said Petit had served well in a challenging environment and was leaving behind an office that was well prepared for Duch’s trial and the trials ahead.

“On the international side, major strategic decisions have largely been made and can be implemented by the current team and the new co-prosecutor,” he said.

Caitlin Reiger, deputy director of the International Center for Transitional Justice, another tribunal monitor, noted that Petit’s departure won’t hurt the process, as long as it keeps moving and the UN and the government quickly appoint a replacement.

“What is most important is to have someone who is experienced with these types of cases, has a strong reputation for independence and understands the challenges facing the [tribunal],” Reiger said.

The next prosecutor should continue outreach for victims and ensure the court leaves “a positive legacy for the rule of law,” she said.

The tribunal has been dogged by allegations of corruption and mismanagement, and wrangling between the UN and Cambodian judges and prosecutors, even before a single suspect was arrested.

Cambodian staff have complained they pay kickbacks to high-ranking officials, and Petit’s counterpart, judge Chea Leang, has faced criticism for making what appear to be politically motivated decisions, following her rejection of Petit’s proposal to indict more suspects.

Chea Leang has said more indictments would destabilize the country, echoing remarks of Prime Minister Hun Sen that critics say are not grounded in legal criteria.

With Petit leaving, national judges may not work independently, said Kek Galabru, founder of the rights group Licadho.

“The resignation of an international co-prosecutor affects the reputation of the court,” she said, “and raises a lot of questions.”

US troop withdrawals bring joy, more violence

Photo by: AFP
An Iraqi policewoman demonstrates her training during a parade Tuesday to mark the withdrawal of US troops from cities and towns across the nation.

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 02 July 2009 22:06

Domestic police and soldiers assume control following US troop pullback, as deadly car bombing in Kirkuk draws attention to the challenge ahead.

BAGHDAD - Iraqi forces were in control of towns and cities nationwide on Wednesday after the pullout of US troops six years after the invasion, but a bloody car bombing underscored the tough challenge ahead.

US President Barack Obama, who opposed the 2003 war ordered by his predecessor George W Bush, hailed the US withdrawal as an "important milestone" but warned of difficult days of bloodshed and violence ahead.

The landmark handover was marred on Tuesday by a car bomb attack on a popular market in Kirkuk, an oil hub which has long been riven by ethnic tensions.

Thirty-three people were killed and 92 wounded including women and children, according to local authorities.

"The explosion occurred at a very busy time. I only saw fire and my stall was thrown over. I saw traders on fire in their shops and there were dead and wounded people on the ground," said Aras Omar Ghaffour, a 28-year-old vegetable stallholder.

Iraq marked the American pullback with a national holiday six years after the invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein but sparked an insurgency and sectarian bloodshed that left tens of thousands dead.

Iraq's 500,000 police and 250,000 soldiers are now in charge of security for urban areas while most of the 133,000 US troops remaining in the country will be based outside towns and cities.

The Americans will largely play a training and support role ahead of a complete pullout ordered by Obama by the end of 2011.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki took on critics of Iraq's local security forces, saying they were up to the task of taking over from the Americans.

"It is an offence to the Iraqis. The people who said that the foreign troops would never withdraw and would keep permanent bases in our country were giving a green light to the terrorists to kill civilians," he said.

The US military said four soldiers died from combat-related injuries on Monday, taking to 4,321 the number of American troops killed since the invasion.

"Make no mistake, there will be difficult days ahead. We know that the violence in Iraq will continue; we see that already in the senseless bombing in Kirkuk earlier today," Obama said at the White House.

"This is an important step forward, as a sovereign and united Iraq continues to take control of its own destiny," he said, adding that Iraqi leaders now had to make "hard choices" to resolve political issues and bolster security.

"Today's transition is further proof that those who have tried to pull Iraq into the abyss of disunion and civil war are on the wrong side of history."

Obama has asked Vice President Joe Biden to oversee the US departure from Iraq and Washington's effort to promote internal political reconciliation.

Maliki had warned earlier this month that insurgent groups and militias were likely to step up attacks in the run-up to June 30 in a bid to undermine confidence in Iraq's own security forces, despite an overall fall in violence.

The deadliest attack this year occurred near Kirkuk on June 20 when 72 people were killed.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday he expects "sporadic attacks" as al-Qaeda fighters "increase the level of violence to try to pretend that they forced us out of the cities" and show weakness in the Iraqi forces.

The top US commander General Ray Odierno told US reporters in a video briefing from Baghdad that he believed Iraq was now better off "not having a dictator such as Saddam Hussein.

"They are now going to be able to see that they can move ahead, and the people of Iraq will have a say in their government."

But he declined to say how many US troops would be left in urban centres, saying that figure "will be different every single day", adding that the remaining US troops would be acting as trainers and advisers.