Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Visit of Cambodian Prime Minister would undermine Labour’s anti-corruption pledges, warns Global Witness

Press Release – 15/07/2009

The government should revoke the visa for Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen who is set to visit the UK this week, said campaign group Global Witness today. Failure to do so would signify a failure by the Labour government to live up to its commitments to fight corruption and promote development, said Global Witness.

According to reports, Hun Sen is due to visit Bristol tomorrow (Thursday 16 July) to attend his son's PhD graduation ceremony. The news comes at a time of mounting international criticism over increasing levels of institutionalised corruption, repression and human rights abuse in Cambodia.

"Cambodia today is a country for sale," said Global Witness campaigner, Eleanor Nichol. "Hun Sen's regime has presided over a process of grand corruption which has seriously undermined poverty alleviation in Cambodia, but Europe and the UK continue to welcome him and his entourage. Meanwhile, gaps in Cambodia's state services are covered by the UK taxpayer through overseas aid."

The visit comes just as the UK government pushes ahead with the introduction of an anti-bribery bill geared towards bringing the UK in line with its international obligations on tackling graft in other countries.

"The anticipated anti-bribery bill is welcome, but the government should not neglect other obvious steps which can be taken within its own borders to cut down on overseas corruption and incentivise development," said Nichol.

At last week's G8 meeting and in a recently published DFID White Paper, the UK Government recommitted to increasing its overseas aid to the level of 0.7% of GDP. This is a pledge that the Conservative Party also stands by.

"Keeping aid promises is welcome and important, but with additional aid comes responsibility to ensure effectiveness. Throwing money at countries with poor governance could do more harm than good," said Nichol. "The UK and others must create tough disincentives for developmentally damaging, institutionalised corruption of the sort that we see in Cambodia. They should start by denying safe haven to the leaders of such regimes."


Contact: +44 (0)7872600870

Global Witness exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, to drive campaigns that end impunity, resource-linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses. Global Witness was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its leading work on ‘conflict diamonds' and awarded the 2007 Commitment to Development Ideas in Action Award, sponsored jointly by Washington DC based Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy magazine.

Cambodia: End Assault on Opposition, Critics

14 Jul 2009
Source: Human Rights Watch

Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.

(New York) - The Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen should end its campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action aimed at consolidating its rule by silencing the political opposition and peaceful critics, Human Rights Watch said today.

In recent months, senior Cambodian government leaders and military officials have filed at least nine politically motivated criminal defamation and disinformation cases against journalists, opposition members of parliament, lawyers, and government critics.

"The Cambodian government is imposing its most serious crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Once again, Hun Sen is showing his true stripes by harassing and threatening to imprison peaceful critics of his increasingly authoritarian government."
Government attempts to muzzle free expression have intensified in recent weeks:

- On June 22, 2009, the National Assembly voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of two of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party's (SRP) most active members, Mu Sochua and Ho Vann, paving the way to try them on criminal charges of defamation against Hun Sen and 22 military officials, respectively.

- On June 26, a Phnom Penh court sentenced Hang Chakra, owner of the opposition newspaper Khmer Machas Srok (Khmer Landowner), to one year in prison on charges of disinformation after the newspaper published articles on government corruption.

- On July 7, Kong Sam Onn, one of the few private lawyers who had been brave enough to represent opposition SRP members in court, "defected" to the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and dropped his representation of Mu Sochua and Ho Vann after he was sued for defamation by Hun Sen and threatened with disbarment by the Cambodian Bar Association for representing Mu Sochua against criminal defamation charges.

- On July 10, Dam Sith, the owner of Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience), one of Cambodia's oldest and most influential opposition papers, closed the newspaper to avoid criminal prosecution for criticism of government officials.

- On July 14, Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilization Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on charges of disinformation after he raised concerns about the effect of installation of lights on the Angkor monuments.

With the resignation of their lawyer, opposition lawmakers Ho Vann and Mu Sochua have not been able to find other lawyers willing to represent them in their upcoming trials, scheduled for July 17 and July 24, respectively.

"If Ho Vann and Mu Sochua are convicted, there's a real chance that two of the most active opposition voices will permanently lose their seats in the National Assembly," said Adams. "Key issues are at stake here - multi-party democracy, rule of law, independence of lawyers, and freedom of expression."

Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the coerced closure of Moneaksekar Khmer on July 10, prompted by a battery of defamation, disinformation, and incitement suits filed by the government against the newspaper's editor, Dam Sith, a member of the board of directors of the Sam Rainsy Party. After Sith pledged to close the paper in a letter of apology to Hun Sen on July 8, the charges were reportedly dropped.

Since it began publication in Phnom Penh in 1993, Moneaksekar Khmer has experienced regular threats, intimidation, and even the killing of one of its staff. Khim Sambo, a reporter for the paper, was killed just weeks before national elections in July 2008 and shortly after the one-week detention, in June, of Dam Sith on disinformation charges filed by the foreign minister.

The two other main newspapers formerly affiliated with the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) have also been targeted. In late June 2009, Hang Chakra, owner of Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, was sentenced to a year in prison on disinformation charges, for articles concerning corruption in the office of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

In 2008, the popular pro-SRP newspaper Sralang Khmer (Love Khmer) suddenly re-aligned toward the ruling party after its editor, Thach Ket, a board member of the SRP, was pressured to defect, during a period when the ruling party was being accused of using threats and inducements to obtain coerced defections of opposition leaders.

Perhaps the most outrageous misuse of criminal defamation charges has been in the conviction in early June of SRP youth activist Soung Sophorn, after he wrote slogans criticizing the government on the outside walls of his own house, which was slated for forced eviction for a new development on land owned by a ruling-party senator.

The recent lawsuits have all been filed under the broadly worded articles 62 (Disinformation; distribution of false information "likely to disturb the public peace") and 63 (Defamation and Libel) of the temporary penal code promulgated in 1992 by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia. While imprisonment was removed as a penalty for defamation in 2006, it remains a criminal offense, and prison sentences of up to three years still apply for disinformation. Human Rights Watch said that criminal defamation laws violate the internationally protected right to freedom of expression and have a chilling effect on government critics and the media.

The string of lawsuits has effectively muzzled opposition voices, with an SRP member of parliament, Son Chhay, commenting in a Radio Australia interview on July 9: "We have no alternative. I think we will quiet down for a while. We are not going to raise the issue of corruption. We are not going to speak about land-grabbing. We are not going to talk about the corrupt court system."

Human Rights Watch urged Cambodia's international donors, especially those funding programs promoting the rule of law, judicial reform, human rights, and good governance, to insist that the Cambodian government cease its harassment and abusive legal actions against opposition members.

"The space for opposition media and peaceful dissent is rapidly shrinking in Cambodia, especially now with the closure of one of Cambodia's last remaining opposition newspapers," said Adams. "Cambodia's laws criminalizing peaceful speech should be repealed so that Hun Sen and other officials can no longer threaten journalists with jail for practicing their profession."

"Through violence, threats and money politics, Hun Sen already controls almost every aspect of Cambodia's politics," said Adams. "Yet his efforts to silence dissent seem endless. Why does he seem to wake up every day looking for enemies to persecute? Will this ever end?"

KRouge jail deputy denies downplaying crimes

People take photos of witness Mam Nai, the former deputy of Khmer Rouge prison S-21 or Tuol Sleng, on a television screen during the trial of Comrade Duch in Phnom Penh on July 13. The former deputy head of the notorious detention centre has denied he was minimizing his role in the late 1970s regime during testimony at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court.
(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Wed Jul 15, 2009

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The former deputy head of the notorious main Khmer Rouge jail has denied he was minimizing his role in the late 1970s regime during testimony at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court.

Mam Nai, 76, was giving evidence at the trial of his former boss Duch, who has admitted responsibility for overseeing the torture and execution of around 15,000 people held at Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21.

Confronted by prosecutors Wednesday with his own prison log book, which contained numerous references to torture, the witness -- who was also a senior interrogator at the jail -- denied any knowledge that inmates were abused.

"Personally, I was never instructed on how torture was used," said Mam Nai, whose Khmer Rouge nom de guerre was Chan. "And I have no idea what other kinds of practices were applied by other interrogators."

When prosecutor William Smith asked whether he was seeking to block from his mind the "horrible criminality" of his past actions, Mam Nai answered: "I have never had such (an) idea. I am testifying based on the activities I have done."

The witness, wearing purple fingerless gloves and a traditional checkered Khmer scarf, repeatedly fended off questions about conditions at Tuol Sleng, saying he could not remember or wished to remain silent.

Mam Nai told the court that Duch removed him from the interrogation detail and he became afraid he would be arrested after a prisoner alleged he was an enemy of the hardline communist regime.

"After he (Duch) told me that an enemy implicated me in his confession, he stopped me from being an interrogator and I was scared," Mam Nai said.

The 66-year-old Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, has accepted responsibility for his role governing the jail and begged forgiveness near the start of his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But he has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he held a central leadership role in the Khmer Rouge, and maintains he never personally killed anyone.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a bid to forge a communist utopia. Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork, torture and execution during the 1975-79 regime.

Cambodia, France to strengthen relations, cooperation

People's Daily Online

July 15, 2009

Cambodia and France have pledged to strengthen their both diplomatic relations and commercial cooperation between the two countries, according to a press statement released Wednesday by the Cabinet of the Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The statement said Bernard Kouchner, foreign minister of France during his talks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, has vowed to strengthen the two countries' relations by proposing a set up as soon as possible a Cambodia-France Joint Committee so as to consolidate the relations and cooperation.

And in addition to consideration on additional financial assistance to Cambodia, France had also pledged to grant more graduate scholarships to Cambodian students, it added.

Hun Sen was on a five-day official visit to France during which he had held a series of meetings and talks including Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Prime Minister Francois Fillon and President Nicolas Sarkozy.

While meetings with those French leaders, Hun Sen said Cambodia had granted French oil company Total to exploit oil exploration in Block III, one of its potential oil and gas resources in the Gulf of Thailand with which France welcomed it and expressed its satisfaction.

Hun Sen left the country on July 9 for an official visit to France and Britain where he will attend his son's graduation ceremony and he is expected to return home on Sunday.

Source: Xinhua

Cambodia, China complete phase 1 of GMS Information Highway Project

People's Daily Online

July 15, 2009

A signing ceremony for the completion of Phase 1 of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Information Highway Project in Cambodia was held in Phnom Penh on Wednesday by China's Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. ("Huawei") in collaboration with Telecom Cambodia.

Both parties provided a brief overview and arrangement of the work of Phase I of the GMS Information Highway Project - a project funded by the government of China - and voiced their support for the promotion and development of Phase 2 of the Project.

The event was graced by the presence of the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon, Minister of Posts and Telecommunication So Khun, diplomats from Chinese Embassy and representatives of other technical experts.

"The project will help strengthening and foster the relationships between our people and nations in the GMS region, as well as to promote stronger Cambodia's and regional economies," said Keat Chhon, adding that "in particular, this project would play an important role in strengthening the relationship between China and Cambodia in developing tele-communication sector."

The GMS Information Highway Project Phase l - started from Dec.2007 and completed in June 25, 2009 - involved the task of laying an optical fiber cable over a total distance of 649.9 km and equipment upgrades for the 11 stations as well as the construction of 15 new stations along the route within the Kingdom of Cambodia.

The completion of the GMS Information Highway Project Phase l has brought about, within the Kingdom of Cambodia, the coverage of an optical transmission system in the Mekong Basin with a high capacity backbone in addition to interconnection with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, promoting to a great extent the construction level of basic communication networks of Cambodia, building a solid foundation for further development in the Cambodian communications industry.

In the mean time, interaction between all countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion has been strengthened, making it a crucial contribution to the joint development of all nations in the subregion.

"I strongly believe that the development of telecommunication sector, GMS-IS, in Cambodia will strengthen the long-lasting cooperation between Cambodia and China as well as the cooperation in the Greater Mekong Subregion for sustainable economic growth and prosperity of all countries in the region," Keat Chhon said.


Cambodia must stop harassing critics: rights group

A Cambodian girl stands amid a crowd of people during an event to mark the 60th Anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights in Phnom Penh. An international rights group has demanded Cambodia's rulers end a spate of legal action against critics, which it called the government's "harshest crackdown in years" on free speech.
(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Wed Jul 15, 2007

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – An international rights group has demanded Cambodia's rulers end a spate of legal action against critics, which it called the government's "harshest crackdown in years" on free speech.

New York-based Human Rights Watch alleged premier Hun Sen's government aimed to silence political opposition and critics with a recent "campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action."

"The Cambodian government is imposing its most serious crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years," said the group's Asia director, Brad Adams, in a statement.

Cambodian authorities have lodged at least nine criminal defamation and disinformation complaints against journalists, members of parliament, lawyers and critics of the government since April.

Criminal defamation cases against two opposition lawmakers are expected to proceed over the next weeks, and opposition newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer closed operations Friday to avoid prosecution for criticising government officials.

"The space of opposition media and peaceful dissent is rapidly shrinking in Cambodia, especially now with the closure of one of Cambodia's last remaining opposition newspapers," Adams said.

Cambodian government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The UN's human rights office in Cambodia also issued a report last month warning the spate of lawsuits against critics could nurture "fear, frustration and anger, with the risk of leading to further conflict and violence".

Khmer Rouge interrogator says "no regrets" about thousands of deaths at prison camp

Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a "Killing Fields" memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province, 125 km (78 miles) east of Phnom Penh, March 28, 2009. Former Khmer Rouge torturer Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, will face his second trial for crimes against humanity on Monday. At least
Photograph by: REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea, REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

By Ek Madra, Reuters
July 14, 2009

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A former interrogator at the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison on Tuesday expressed no remorse for the deaths of thousands of Cambodians who he said had all committed crimes.

Appearing as a prosecution witness in the trial of Duch, Pol Pot's head jailor, Mam Nay, also known as Chan, denied any part in torture or killings of prisoners and blamed the United States and Vietnam for undermining his country.

An estimated 1.7 million people died during the Khmer Rouge's four-year "killing fields" reign of terror, which ended when Vietnamese forces invaded in 1979.

Asked by the judge if he regretted what happened at the Tuol Sleng prison, where more than 14,000 men, women and children were killed, Chan showed no remorse.

"My only regret was our country was invaded," he told the joint Cambodian-U.N. tribunal. "Frankly speaking, the Americans invaded us then Vietnam invaded us. That is my regret."

During his five hours of questioning, Nay, a former teacher, said he remembered very little about the S-21 interrogation center, a former school and now a museum to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.

He was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony but was reluctant to speak against Duch, the first of the five indicted former Khmer Rouge cadres to face trial.

"I was assigned by Duch to interrogate detainees," said Chan, who wore sunglasses and a traditional Cambodian scarf. "I did not use torture in my interrogation. I believed I would not get a true confession."

Asked about the deaths of innocent people, Nay, 76, said: "None of them was innocent -- those people committed offences, either minor or serious.

"This was the reason for their arrest. How serious or how minor, I don't know."

With no death penalty in Cambodia, Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and murder.

Also indicted are Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea, former President Khieu Samphan and ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, all of whom have denied knowledge of the atrocities.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who was known by the regime as "Brother Number One," died in 1998 near the Thai-Cambodia border.

Khmer Rouge interrogator feared for his life

Part of the the Khmer script sign behind skulls is seen in a small shrine at Phnom Batheay village, Kampong Cham province, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, July 15, 2009. The the Khmer script reads 'about 8,500 human skulls are displayed as alleged victims of the Khmer Rouge.' Up to 16,000 people were tortured under the command by Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, who headed the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, and later taken away to be killed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule. Only a handful survived.
Jul 15, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (Map, News) -
A senior interrogator at the most notorious Khmer Rouge prison told a genocide tribunal Wednesday that even he feared the regime would one day turn on him and order his execution.

He testified at the trial of Kaing Guek Eav - better known as Duch - who headed the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. Up to 16,000 people were tortured under Duch's command and later taken away to be killed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule. Only a handful survived.

The interrogator, 76-year-old Mam Nai, told the U.N.-backed court that he was overcome by fear when Duch (pronounced DOIK) stripped him of his main duties after prisoners said he had visited their homes - socializing prohibited by the regime.

Mam Nai said that regardless of their loyalty or high-rank, Khmer Rouge officials could be arrested and executed on suspicion of being traitors. Mam Nai himself was allegedly responsible for interrogating and torturing high-ranking members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea accused of plotting against the regime.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died of hunger, disease or were executed during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in the mid-1970s. The regime was toppled by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979.

"When Duch told me I was implicated and later removed me from my interrogation task, I was so worried that probably Duch no longer trusted me and he would find some kind of pretext to arrest me," Mam Nai said.

In testimony Tuesday, he denied using torture to extract confessions from S-21 prisoners - a stark contrast to Duch's earlier recitation of the grisly techniques routinely used.

Duch, 66, is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. He is charged with crimes against humanity.

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

Mam Nai said while at S-21 prison even his wife never knew of his work because the regime demanded that its members maintain total secrecy.

Borei Keila families face eviction

Five young Borei Keila residents play on a log last month. District officials say 24 HIV-affected families in Borei Keila are to be moved more than 20 kilometres to Tuol Sambo today, joining other families with HIV-positive members who were evicted last month.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
May Titthara

HIV-affected families to move to Tuol Sambo today, says district official.

TWENTY-four Borei Keila families, all of which have at least one HIV-positive member, are set to be evicted today, a district official told the Post.

"We have got City Hall approval ... and we will help them with transportation," said Sok Ath, the chief of the district's development programme.

These HIV-affected families said they did not live in the green shelters with the HIV community, but were spread throughout Borei Keila.

And unlike the HIV community that was forcibly removed in June, many of these families say they want to be moved to Tuol Sambo, a relocation site more than 20 kilometres away.

"When people don't want to go, they force them, but when they want to go, they delay. I don't really understand the government policy," said Borei Keila resident Sok Srey Paov.

Another resident, Pheak Kdey Neary, said the families want to leave Borei Keila because people have stopped renting apartments to them.

When people don't want to go they force them, but when they want to go, they delay.

According to Sao Vanna, the chief of the HIV community, the 24 families each will receive 100,000 riels (US$24) and some food in addition to 3.5-by-4.8-metre rooms in Tuol Sambo.

But some observers say these families only want to go to Tuol Sambo because they have been left with no other alternatives.

"It is very telling that despite the poor conditions ... some of the people are apparently saying that they actually wish to go there," said Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho. "This shows how little choice they feel they have, and that they consider anything to be better than ... being thrown in the street with nowhere to go at all."

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun admitted that the Tuol Sambo relocation site, described by Amnesty International as "grossly inadequate", had problems, but he said the site was improving.

"Now, they have a health centre ... because we have provided a room for the [Centre of] Hope, who have helped the people with their health since they lived in Borei Keila," he said, adding, "We are also thinking about installing a clean water system because right now the water can be used to wash clothes but not to cook."

Rebuild Preah Vihear market: PM

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has given Preah Vihear provincial authorities until the end of the week to construct a new market to replace the one near Preah Vihear temple that was destroyed during a clash between Cambodian and Thai soldiers in early April, despite the fact that Thailand has yet to respond to Cambodian demands for compensation.

Hang Soth, general director of the Preah Vihear National Authority (PVNA), said Hun Sen issued the order from France, where he is on a state visit with Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong.

Though he described the one-week deadline as unrealistic, Hang Soth said work on the market had already begun Tuesday afternoon.

"I have sent my officials to the market site this morning to prepare for the construction," he said.

"The new market will be a market for tourists."

During an exchange of gunfire between Cambodian and Thai soldiers on April 3, Thai rocket fire destroyed all 264 stands, leaving roughly 319 families who lived and worked at the market homeless, according to accounts from Cambodian military officials.

The Cambodian government in May demanded US$2.1 million from the Thai government to pay for the damages.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said during a visit to Phnom Penh in late May that Thai authorities would investigate the cause of the damage to the temple before responding to the request.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Tuesday that the government had decided to go ahead with the building of a new market despite having received no response from Thailand regarding compensation.

Officials from the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and the Thai Foreign Ministry in Bangkok could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

PM's orders
Hang Soth said the PVNA would be responsible for settling on a location for the new market, though he said vendors would need to pay for the construction of individual market stalls themselves.

He said that vendors who were displaced would "be given priority" for stalls.

"We planned to rebuild about 319 shops, but after studying the site now we think we will build about 150 shops," he said, adding that individual stalls would cost between $3,000 and $7,000, depending on size.

Sar Thavy, a deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, said Tuesday that the location of the new market had been selected and that construction materials had already been taken to the site.

"It's been raining for three days, so it's been difficult to transport the materials up the mountain," he said.

"But they have to obey the premier's order."

Also Tuesday, an RCAF official said that a meeting scheduled for Monday between Thai and Cambodian military officials had been cancelled because the Thai officials had been unable to secure approval from government officials in Bangkok.

Chea Morn, commander of RCAF Military Region 4, said that the meeting had been proposed to reduce tension along the border.

Jail time, fines for KCF head

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Chrann Chamroeun

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court Judge Chhay Kong on Tuesday sentenced the head of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation to two years in prison, fined him 7 million riels (US$1,671) and ordered him to pay an additional 8 million riels in compensation to the Apsara Authority for suggesting in interviews that the heat from lights at Angkor Wat could damage the 11th-century temple.

The judge ordered the Ministry of Interior to arrest and imprison Moeung Sonn, who fled to France in June when he was charged with incitement and spreading false information, if he returns to Cambodian soil.

"We find that the accused damaged the government's reputation and caused anarchy and disorder in society. There are enough elements to convict him," Chhay Kong said.

Moeung Sonn told the Post from France the verdict was unjust, describing it as a blow to free speech in Cambodia.

"I am appealing the conviction and calling on all local NGOs, international communities, observers and the respected King Sihamoni to seek intervention to bring justice to me," he said, adding that his attempts to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is also in France, had been unsuccessful.

Moeung Sonn's defence lawyer, Sam Sokong, said his client had become concerned about the lights only after the public did.

"My client didn't intend to damage or degrade the government's reputation, especially not the Apsara Authority," he said, referring to the body that manages the temple complex.

After the verdict was read, Sam Sokong told the Post that the court had clearly ignored the defence's case.

"The court didn't even consider the evidence and documents that I presented," he said.

Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, called the conviction a "grave injustice" and said there were "not enough pieces of evidence or witnesses to convict him".

But prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot and government lawyer Pal Chan Dara said Moeung Sonn had purposefully undermined the credibility of the government.

"Moeung Sonn really knew what he did, and he kept distributing his disinformation to reporters to print the stories and also to broadcast on local radio. This caused confusion to millions of Cambodian people who love Angkor Wat," Pal Chan Dara said.

Ek Chheng Huot said the case against Moeung Sonn was necessary to avoid a violent outburst from a misinformed public.

"If we didn't stop Moeung Sonn's activities ... there would have been a big demonstration similar to the riots that burned the Thai Embassy in 2003," he said.

Ek Chheng Huot said Moeung Sonn continued to stoke fears about the lights even after officials said in a press conference that they would have no effect on the temple.

S-21 deputy denies torture

Photo by: AFP
Journalists record former Tuol Sleng deputy Mam Nai as he testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Monday. His testimony continued Tuesday

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Georgia Wilkins

Amid concerns about self-incrimination, a senior interrogator at Tuol Sleng says he did not understand how the prison worked.

AFORMER deputy chief at Tuol Sleng prison downplayed his role at the notorious detention facility Tuesday, telling Cambodia's war crimes court that he never tortured prisoners, prompting judges to accuse him of having "no fear".

Mam Nai, 76, said he had "no knowledge" at the time of the fate that awaited prisoners at Tuol Sleng, a stance he maintained even after being read grisly testimony from his former boss and shown forced confessions that he had apparently signed.

"I was just a plain and simple interrogating cadre," Mam Nai, wearing fingerless gloves and a krama, told judges.

"I only interrogated prisoners without applying torture. It was my belief that applying torture would lead to untrue confessions," he said.

Mam Nai told the court he had worked with his former boss, prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, at the M-13 detention centre in Kampong Speu, where the ex-jailer first taught him how to interrogate.

He said he had "no knowledge" of Tuol Sleng's organisational structure because he worked in an interrogation house separate from the prison.

His repeated denials prompted judges to question, at various points in his testimony, whether he suffered from memory, vision and hearing problems.

Mam Nai said he had fallen from his house once, which he said had affected his memory.

After reading out an extensive list of Mam Nai's academic achievements, Judge Sylvia Cartwright asked why one of the most intelligent people at Tuol Sleng was not aware of how the prison worked.

"In principle ... I was only mindful about my duties," Mam Nai said. He said he had not known that all Tuol Sleng prisoners were presumed guilty, and he told Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne that his only regret was "that [Cambodia] was invaded" by America and Vietnam.

Lavergne then asked if he knew what the words "no fear" meant in English, and Mam Nai responded that he did not.

"In that case, I have no further questions," Lavergne replied.

Witness receives lawyer
Mam Nai's testimony came amid an ongoing row at the court over self-incrimination.

After Duch's defence lawyers argued Monday that Mam Nai could be prosecuted if a legal doctrine being pushed by the prosecution were applied, lawyer Kong Sam Onn was assigned to act as his legal adviser. But the lawyer admitted Tuesday that he was unclear of his role.

Kong Sam Onn defected to the ruling Cambodian People's Party earlier this month after facing disciplinary action by the Bar Association for his representation of SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua.

Co-counsel Francois Roux again urged the prosecution to question whether it was necessary to push for a legal amendment, known as joint criminal enterprise, that he said would make it more likely for subordinates such as Mam Nai to be prosecuted.

Incomes fall for urban poor

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A woman in Phnom Penh sleeps on her cart. A new survey reports that poor urban women have seen their incomes fall of late.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Christopher Shay

A survey from Indochina Research finds that income declines in 74 percent of sampled households have negatively affected nutrition in the past year.

ROUGHLY three-quarters of urban women in households making less than US$300 per month reported that their household incomes had declined in the last year, leaving their families unable to afford healthy food, according to a survey released this week by Indochina Research.

The survey questioned 200 women aged 25 and older in Phnom Penh. Respondents were stopped outside of four markets and asked about their employment, incomes and expenditures over the last year.

Seventy-four percent of respondents said they had seen their household incomes decline from June 2008 to June 2009.

The survey also found that small businesses in Phnom Penh had been hit hard by the economic crisis. Nearly 80 percent of respondents who had family members with a small business - including informal enterprises such as motorbike repair shops, hair salons and food stalls - said their incomes had decreased.

Kent Helmers, the social research director at Indochina Research, said via email: "While the plight of poorer urban and rural workers laid off from garment factories has been highlighted in the media ... we also need to highlight the struggle under way for poorer urban families depending on small business."

Poor diet
Because of their reduced earnings, many poor urban families are now unable to afford nutritious meals, the survey said.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said chicken - an important source of protein - had become less affordable over the last year, while 73 percent of women said they could not afford enough chicken for their families.

In addition, 17 percent of women said they were unable even to purchase enough rice, according to the survey.

"The concern is that these poorer families may not be able to buy sufficient protein in these hard times," Helmers said.

The 2008 National Anthropometric Nutrition Survey showed an increase in acute malnutrition in children, evidence of the unhealthy coping measures of families run by underemployed women, UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick said via email Tuesday.

"Informal coping measures all have implications for long-term human development- stalling health, nutrition and literacy," Broderick said.

"Deterioration in these areas not only sets back the country today, but also long into the future."

The decline in urban incomes does not just affect urban areas, Broderick said. According to the United Nations, about 1.5 million rural Cambodians depend on remittances from urban migrants, mostly women, as their major source of income.

In contrast to Cambodia, Indochina Research's survey showed that the urban poor in Laos had benefited from continued economic growth despite the economic crisis, with only 25 percent of women saying their household income had decreased, whereas 43 percent said it had increased.

Indochina Research concluded that to buffer the impacts of the global economic crisis, improvements to the small business environment should be made to help the urban poor.

Police Blotter: 15 Jul 2009

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Kong Sokun

An 18-year-old notorious for rocking his village with uncontrollable hostility was punched to death by a group of gangsters on July 12 in Kandal's Sa'ang district. The victim was identified as Ter Pros, residing in the district's Ta Lon commune. Police caught eight suspects aged from 15 to 19, residing in the same district as the victim. No official motive for the murder was disclosed, but certain villagers said that the slaying stemmed from "old" rancour.

Four spoiled teenagers were arrested on July 11 for extorting US$5 from a garment worker identified as Chan Dara in Russey Keo district's Tuol Sangke commune. Police identified the muggers as Vor Sal, 18, Yun Neath, 22, Thai Sophal, 20, and Tong Ro,16. After the arrest, the perpetrators confessed to police that they had not had any intention to perpetrate the act, but that their superior, named Toch, had coerced them to earn money for him or face punishment. Police are hunting for the fifth suspect.

A 53-year-old woman died on July 8 after being bitten by an unidentified poisonous snake. Phal, who resided in Pursat's Rokat commune, died 20 minutes after the incident, after she was rushed to a hospital. Police said a son of the victim claimed that the reptile bit his mother on the leg, although a medical practitioner claimed the woman was bitten in the wrist.

A group of seven self-appointed government "officials" were apprehended by Ratanakkiri provincial police on July 12 in the province's Angdong Meas district for wearing unauthorised military police uniforms and possessing illegal weapons and an illegal stamp bearing the name of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Police said the suspects, whose names and addresses were not disclosed, had appointed a woman as leader, but the details of the unlawful activities perpetrated by the seven have not been revealed.

A 18-year-old man was arrested Sunday for molesting his 11-year-old cousin twice on July 8, police said. Police identified the rapist as residing in Svay Rieng's Bavet district along with the victim. The perpetrator said that while he was sleeping next to his cousin he dreamt about having sex, which forced him to rape her. The man was sent to provincial court on Sunday.

Preah Vihear: Provincial governor on life support

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Thet Sambath

Preah Vihear

The assistant for Preah Vihear Provincial Governor Preap Tan said Tuesday that the executive's family had decided to keep the 58-year-old on life support despite a bleak prognosis offered by doctors. Preap Tan was taken to a Ho Chi Minh City hospital after suffering a stroke last Wednesday. "We were told by Vietnamese doctors that there is no hope to save his life," said Bun Tharom, the assistant. "It is sad news for all of us. He has worked very hard for years for the nation." Preah Vihear Deputy Governor Long Sovann said Kuoy Bunthan, another deputy governor, was serving as acting provincial governor. He said officials were thinking about a permanent successor but had yet to name one out of respect for Preap Tan. Bun Tharom said officials from the Ministry of Interior had formed a committee to plan a funeral for the governor, to be held at his Phnom Penh residence.

Thailand turf video taken down

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Sam Rith and Joel Quenby

Controversial Web clip led to diplomatic note.

A THAI government Web site that had drawn the ire of Cambodian officials appeared to have been shut down at least temporarily Tuesday, one day after the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok delivered a diplomatic note to Thai officials accusing the site of spreading "false and misleading information about the loss of Thailand's territory to Cambodia".

The site,, included a video titled "Lost Territory", depicting the shrinking of the Siamese empire under various Thai rulers. Lost sections of the empire included parts of Siem Reap and Battambang provinces as well as the land on which Preah Vihear temple sits, according to the video.

Cambodian government officials and others criticised the video as misrepresenting history, which Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Tuesday had prompted officials to issue the note asking for the video to be removed.

Unclear origins
Because private citizens could register with the site and post their own content to it, he said, it was unclear whether the video had been posted by a Thai government official.

Officials at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

History an obstacle to SRP, HRP merger

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Sebastian Strangio and VONG SOKHENG

Analysts say there's a lot to be gained from joining forces, but personality clashes could sink plans.

NEW talks of an opposition merger have again inspired hopes of a grand democratic alliance to balance the power of the Cambodian People's Party, but observers say that recent aborted merger attempts call into question whether the parties will learn from the past or end up repeating it.

The Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party signed an agreement to align under the banner of the Democratic Movement for Change in January, following the ruling party's landslide win in last year's national election.

Yem Ponhearith, secretary general of the HRP, said that during the party's national convention on Sunday, delegates will vote on whether to merge fully with the SRP ahead of the 2012 commune council elections.

He said the recent string of suits against government critics had made the need for unity more urgent than ever.

"We need more dialogue in order to achieve our aim to merge into a single democratic party before 2012," he said.

"We hope that our plan of merging the parties will not meet any obstacles. We want a democratic party that will balance the power of the CPP."

SRP lawmaker Chan Cheng said that the Kingdom's democrats must be united if they want to challenge the CPP in the future, adding that the merger idea was a popular one.

"Voter feedback is very important for democratic parties to consider," he said.

"If we are not united, it will kill our political careers."

Legacy of division
The track record of previous merger attempts reveals an opposition in disarray.

An attempt to merge prior to last year's national election was foiled after Sam Rainsy made comments in May referring to the "weak points" of his HRP and Norodom Ranariddh Party coalition partners.

An attempt by Norodom Ranariddh to broker a three-way merger in late 2007 was also rebuffed by the SRP and the HRP, which claimed they would not need royalist support in the 2008 elections.

But Hang Puthea, executive director of election monitoring group Nicfec, said last year's election, which delivered 90 seats to the CPP, 26 to the SRP and just three to the HRP, was a reality check for the opposition.

"Before the last election, there were some promising ideas about a coalition. They could not cooperate together, but they have dragged [the idea] back since they learned of the results," he said.

Complicating the proposed merger are the three requests Yem Ponhearith said the HRP will make to the SRP: that the new party not bear an individual's name, that there be a two-term limit for the party president, and that all party decisions be made collectively.

Some analysts said that removing Sam Rainsy's name from the title of a new opposition party would bring benefits, but that the proposal went to the heart of a conflict of personalities that has stymied past merger attempts.

"I think it will be an effort for Sam Rainsy himself, in terms of his personal ego, to give up his name," Chea Vannath, an independent analyst, said, adding that it could prove the new party is "serious" about forging a new political consensus.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that though personalities are important in Cambodian politics, a party based on a single individual could alienate potential supporters.

He said, "If [a] good politician wanted an opportunity, why would they want to join a self-named party? My suggestion is that there should be a balance between personalities and structure."

Though Sam Rainsy and HRP President Kem Sokha appeared to work well together in public, he said, they do not appear to cooperate at a "concrete, organisational level".

But union leader Rong Chhun said the spectre of a political landscape dominated by the ruling CPP had raised the stakes for the opposition.

"Both politicians and leaders in the two parties are very proud of their achievements, and they have never been tolerant enough to merge into a single party," Rong Chhun said.

"The most important point is that they tolerate each other and put the interest of the nation at the forefront of their work rather than individual interests."

Xing Tai garment workers protest factory conditions

Workers from the Xing Tai garment factory protest outside the factory’s gates, calling attention to poor working conditions and the dismissal of the factory’s union representative.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009

AROUND 350 garment factory workers gathered at the Xing Tai garment factory in Sen Sok district for the second day running Tuesday, protesting poor working conditions at the factory, which they claim include inadequate toilets and hot, windowless workspaces.

Tuesday's protest followed similar demonstrations Monday, which attracted more than 800 workers.

"We have no place to go to the toilet because the drainage system in this factory does not work," Sok Say Eam, 37, said outside the factory Monday.

She added that due to cramped working conditions in the factory, many workers were fainting during their shifts.

Heng Son, 31, who claims she was injured when a fan fell from the ceiling of the factory, said management had been "unaccountable" for the conditions.

She also said the owners had asked staff to work overtime and had fired any worker who refused to work extra hours.

One aim of the protest, she said, was to call for the reinstatement of Va Sophon, the deputy chief of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.

Va Sophon, whose organisation represents some Xing Tai workers, said Tuesday that Horm Hav, the factory's chief of administration, had fired him late last year in an attempt to silence worker protests.

"He forced me to replace two administrators who had resigned, but I clearly could not do it. I was dismissed three days later," he said.

He added that the Arbitration Council, an independent mediation body, had ruled in February for the company to reinstate him, but that the company did not accept this agreement and threatened to fire any workers who supported him.

Horm Hav denied the charges, saying that Xing Tai had appealed the February ruling, and that Va Sophon was fired for poor performance.

"We dismissed him because he was not accountable in his role - not because of discrimination against union workers," he said, adding that sanitation at the factory had improved since July 9.

In hearings Monday and Tuesday, the Ministry of Labour's Labour Conflict Resolution Bureau heard the complaints of the Xing Tai workers. But Um Visal, a coalition labour dispute resolution officer, said the company rejected workers' demands.

"I don't think that the company was willing to negotiate and solve the problem with us," he said. "We will call on international union workers to contact the buyers and put pressure on the company if they won't find a solution."

Prum Veasna, a labour conflict official at the bureau, said the dispute would be sent to the Arbitration Council.


Group 78 lashes out at radio comments

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Group 78 residents await the result of a Court of Appeal ruling Monday

The Phnom Penh post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
May Titthara

Residents say Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun lied about government efforts to clear the site.

RESIDENTS from Group 78 who face imminent eviction from their homes in central Phnom Penh told the Post Tuesday that Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun lied on a local radio station when he said government officials were not coercing residents into accepting compensation.

"They forced and threatened us to take their compensation, but when [Mann Chhoeun] talked to the radio, he said that we volunteered," Lim Sambo, a Group 78 representative, said about the deputy governor's statements on Voice of America radio.

"[Powerful people] can say what they want. They threaten us to accept their compensation, and when people become afraid of their threats, they tell everybody we volunteered," Lim Sambo said.

Amnesty International issued a press release Monday saying that city authorities were "trying to force the families to accept compensation", adding that more than 20 families fled Group 78 in 2007 to a resettlement site far from Phnom Penh when they were harassed by local authorities.

Another Group 78 representative, Kheng Soroth, said Tuesday that Mann Chhoeun can say whatever he wants because he wields political power.

"Because he has power, what he says is never wrong, and what he says is designed just to make people afraid," he said.

Mann Chhoeun, however, denied trying to scare residents and said he was "praying" for more members of the Group 78 community to accept the government's terms.

"I am praying to the Buddha spirit to make people's minds calm and accept our compensation," he said. "We don't want to use administrative measures ... but sometimes we reserve our right [to use them]."

Because the community is near the NagaWorld Hotel and Casino and the National Assembly, he said, removing the poor community would make the capital more attractive to tourists.

"I need to develop the area [to improve] the city's face," he said.

The Amnesty International statement said that government officials have had no genuine consultation with members of Group 78, and that they have failed to explore "feasible alternatives to the proposed eviction, including proposals submitted by Group 78 residents themselves".

THAI BORDER: Govt to look into reports of shootings

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009


Cambodian consular officials in Thailand will investigate reports that two Cambodian soldiers were shot by Thai border troops on Saturday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Tuesday. Thai media reported this week that the two soldiers were shot and killed after illegally crossing into Thailand's Sisaket province, about 1 kilometre from the Cambodian border, to cut wood. "We don't have any accurate information at the moment because we have only received information through the Thai newspapers. Our consulate in Thailand has begun investigating the incident," he said, adding that about 30 Cambodian soldiers had tried to claim the soldiers' bodies but were blocked by Thai troops. If two soldiers have in fact been killed, he said, "We will continue to work to take the bodies back so relatives can organise a funeral".

Journalists group allowed to visit imprisoned newspaper publisher

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009

After visit bringing him money and food, Club of Cambodian Journalists issues release asking Court of Appeals to fast-track Hang Chakra's case.

FOUR board members of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) were allowed to visit jailed publisher Hang Chakra in Prey Sar prison on Monday, where they said they found him to be in good health.

Khieu Kola, one of the visitors, said the CCJ board members were allowed to speak with Hang Chakra, publisher of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, for about 40 minutes, adding that they also brought him US$60 and some food.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month found Hang Chakra, 55, guilty of disinformation under the UNTAC Criminal Code in connection with a series of articles he published in April and May accusing officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An of corruption. He was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 9 million riels ($2,156).

Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers and other supporters said earlier this month that they had been prevented from visiting Hang Chakra, though Sam Ny, director of operations at the Ministry of Interior's prisons department, said requests to visit Hang Chakra were being processed in the same manner as requests to visit any prisoner.

After the visit, Khieu Kola said, "Chakra told me that his reporter wrote the articles, but that as publisher he had to take responsibility for them."

State of the appeal
Chuong Chou Ngy, Hang Chakra's lawyer, said Tuesday that his client's case had been sent from the Municipal Court to the Court of Appeal on Monday, though he said he had not yet received word of a hearing date.

A CCJ press release issued Tuesday evening called on the Court of Appeal to expedite the case

Total awarded energy concession, says govt

Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) shakes hands Monday with French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris. AFP

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Kay Kimsong

Announcement during Hun Sen’s official government visit follows years of negotiations with French oil company

CAMBODIA has awarded French oil giant Total the rights to a contested drilling area in the Gulf of Thailand.

The announcement was contained in a press release dated July 14 - Bastille Day - from Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cabinet during his official visit to France.

The statement was confirmed to the Post by Prak Sokhon, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, who is in France with Hun Sen.

Both Thailand and Cambodia claim a 27,000 square kilometre swath of the seabed, which is thought to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

The area in the press statement that has been awarded to Total is referred to as Block III.

In the statement, Hun Sen said the decision to award the concession was made after proper overview of bidding documents, adding that he welcomed the presence of any French companies wishing to invest in Cambodia, a former French colony.

The news was a surprise to Total's leading upstream executive in Cambodia, Jean-Pierre Labbe.

Last week he told the Post that Total had been negotiating with Phnom Penh for several years and in 2008 submitted an official request for concessions.

Contacted by phone on Tuesday, Labbe said he had not heard an official response from the government on the bid.

"I don't know. We knew the Cambodian Prime Minister [Hun Sen] is visiting France, but we have no feedback from Paris," he said.

A source at the Council of Ministers, who asked not to be named, said it was likely that Total's bid had come up in discussions in Paris, but was unable to provide detailed information and referred all questions to the prime minister's Cabinet.

Hun Sen is accompanied on his trip by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

The director general of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA), Te Duong Tara, hung up when called about the issue, saying he was too busy to comment.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner reportedly welcomed the announcement.

Multiple concessions
Stephane Dion, managing director of Total Cambodge, told the Post during an interview last week that the firm was in ongoing discussions with Phnom Penh on offshore and onshore concessions for oil and gas exploration.

"[There are] at two different projects that we are interested in," he said at the time.

Minister Hun Sen left on Thursday for a five-day visit to France at the invitation of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The trip was aimed at boosting ties between the two countries. "This visit is to strengthen cooperation between Cambodia and France," said Koy Kuong, a spokesman for Cambodia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Southern Gold finds 'significant' deposits

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009

AUSTRALIAN mining company Southern Gold announced on Tuesday it had hit a "significant" quantity of gold deposits at its Snuol concession in southern Kratie province.

The Adelaide-based miner said in a statement that it had found gold mineralisation close to the surface following shallow drilling at its wholly owned, 100-square-kilometre Anchor prospect, which lies within the larger Snuol concession.

Southern Gold said the find also showed "high levels of other metals ... associated with the gold mineralisation" including silver, copper and zinc.

"I am delighted with the results of this first-pass drill programme," said Southern Gold managing director Stephen Biggins in the statement, "and look forward to aggressively following up these results with further drilling to better understand the potential of this area for a significant mineral discovery".

Southern Gold's shares (SAU: ASX) rose 5 percent in Sydney Tuesday to 10.5 Australian cents on the news.

Southern Gold announced last month it would raise up to A$1.6 million (US$1.26 million) with an offering of 16 million ordinary shares, partly to fund ita Cambodia operations.

The company said on Tuesday it would drill deeper at the Anchor prospect during the next phase, which is expected to begin in November.

Southern Gold owns seven mining concessions in Cambodia - in Kratie, Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces. Three are joint ventures with Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp.

Govt approves $1.2b in FDI in first half, down 73 percent

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Ros Dina

Investment Decline

$1.2b in FDI approved in first half, a 73pc decline on same period last year
$4.43b approved in first half of 2008, but $3.8b for just one project - Chinese Union Development project in Koh Kong
Economic crisis cited by government as cause of decline
Source: CDC

Economic crisis blamed for major drop from $4.43 billion in first half of 2008 amid assurances Cambodia remains attractive for foreign direct investment

THE Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has approved 53 investment projects in the first half of the year, worth a total of US$1.2 billion, according to statistics released Monday.

The figures represent a sharp drop from the first half of 2008, when the CDC approved $4.43 billion in investments, including a $3.8 billion tourist development in Koh Kong by Chinese Union Development Group.

A CDC official, who declined to be named, said investment had taken a hit from the global financial downturn, but that in relative terms the Kingdom remained an attractive destination for investors.

"Today's economic crisis has caused direct influxes of capital around the world to decline by 50 percent in the first half of 2008, and cross-border investment to decrease 77 percent," the official said.

Of the investments approved, $354 million went to the tourism sector, $323 million to agriculture, $303 to industry and $241 million to other private-sector developments.

Our FDI is still in a favourable condition despite the world economic crisis.

The CDC official added that Cambodia's pre-existing investment projects had boosted the current economic activity in the country and would continue to propel private-sector development.

He noted, "If no companies came to invest, many other sectors would be sure to grind to a halt. But as long as factories are built, workers are needed.... This will create job opportunities for transportation service providers and other services. What is more, they will pay taxes to the government."

Sok Sina, an independent economic analyst, agreed that most CDC-approved investment projects are now being carried out since the authority had started vetting them more strictly.

"Generally speaking, we are happy to see that many requested investment projects are in operation. It is a good sign for Cambodia's economy, and our FDI is still in a favourable condition despite the world economic crisis."

According to the CDC, ASEAN countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia, were the leading sources of investment money in the first half, with $389 million in investments. Second to ASEAN were other Asian investors - including from China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong, which have invested a total of $367 million.

Road tax collection to begin today: govt

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Nguon Sovan

THE Ministry of Economy and Finance has announced that the annual collection of road taxes begins today and will run for the next three months.

"The finance ministry announces for all vehicle owners that the tax collection on the means of transportation for all kinds of vehicles will begin on July 15 and run to October 15," stated the announcement, which was signed by Minister Keat Chhon.

Cheap Davuth, the deputy director general at the general department of taxation, said the tax applies to any and all means of motorised transport, be they motorcycles, cars or even ships.

"If the owners fail to pay the tax during the set period they will be fined. That fine is double the amount of the applicable road tax fee for their vehicle," he said.

The announcement also lists a number of exclusions from the tax.

These include ambulances and fire trucks; vehicles belonging to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, the military police and the police; any vehicles used for national defence or security; and diplomatic or consular vehicles.

Vehicles of international organisations and those belonging to the government's technical cooperation agencies are also excluded.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport estimated in a report last year that there are 197,800 registered cars and 671,000 registered motorcycles in the Kingdom.

Garment exports drop 20pc in first 5 months

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Chun Sophal

Government says Cambodia’s largest export generated $909m up to the end of May this year while predicting that the industry will see a 5 percent fall overall for 2009, a projection that other sector analysts say is overly optimistic

THE government announced garment exports dropped 20 percent in the first five months to US$909 million compared with the same period last year.

Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said the decrease should not seriously damage the Kingdom's economy, as the decline will prove temporary and ought to end later this year.

"We expect garment exports will decline only 5 percent for the year overall," he said. "We hope garment exports will climb to $2.8 billion later this year as the United States' economy is showing a higher demand for garments."

Cambodia exported $3.1 billion worth of garments last year. Most went to the US and the European Union.

Hang Chuon Naron was talking at a forum on Tuesday on the effects of the global economic crisis and strategies to overcome the challenges. The forum was attended by 300 people from government, NGOs and the private sector.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodia Economic Association (CEA), said it is not clear that local garment manufacturers will benefit from the expected boost to the US economy since other garment-exporting nations have moved ahead.

Chan Sophal blamed the closure of garment factories locally on a lack of competitiveness as well as the economic crisis.

"The US ... can buy from other countries which are more competitive, such as Bangladesh," he said. "The prediction that Cambodia's garment exports will decline only 5 percent ... is too optimistic."

Kaing Monika, external affairs manager for the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, a trade association, said garment exports would likely end the year 10 percent down, citing competition from high-volume producers Vietnam and Bangladesh.

"GMAC would welcome it if exports decreased in line with the government's prediction, but I don't think that will be easily achieved," he said. "Today's export markets are still narrow."

development hits financial wall, seeks foreign investor

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
May Kunmakara

The developer behind a $50 million mixed-use retail, residential and leisure complex near the Happiness City housing development on Phnom Penh's Chroy Changvar peninsula is seeking foreign capital to complete the project.

Young's Commercial Centre and Resort administration manager Ngin Pok said the global credit crunch and the related bottoming-out of the local real estate market had hit the development hard.

"Recently we are working hard to find foreign partners who are interested to cooperate with us on this huge capital investment project because we are struggling with financial issues," Ngin Pok said. "We aren't choosy about our partners; if someone wants to cooperate with us, we welcome them."

We aren't choosy about our partners; if someone wants to cooperate with us, we welcome them.

The first phase of the two-phase development was originally due to be completed in April 2010 but has only been 40-percent completed, Ngin Pok said. Construction began in January 2008.

"Although we haven't found a partner, I am optimistic that we still try our best to complete the first phase of construction," he said.

"We are gathering other financial resources for this first phase, and we plan to sell other property to support the project as well. If we don't meet the deadline, we will feel the wrath of customers who have signed a rental contract."

He said that around 60 customers had already signed a contract to rent retail space in the development.

Young's Commercial Centre and Resort has a multilevel design featuring 123 four-storey shophouses arranged in a horseshoe shape at its base. A further 26 five-storey shophouses provide a frontage to the complex.

A three-storey shopping mall ànd two two-storey arcade malls will be built immediately on top of the shophouses, containing 45,000 square metres of retail space.

The resort, which will be located on the roof of the shopping mall, features 30 stand-alone motel units scattered throughout a landscaped terrace garden.

It was designed by Vietnam-based firm Real Architecture.

It is the final phase of development in the Happiness City site, which was built on reclaimed swampland 600 metres along National Road 6A from the Cambodia-Japanese Friendship Bridge.

Saturation point
Phnom Penh already has a large number of "one-stop" shopping destinations, including the city's first major mall, Sorya Shopping Centre, which opened for business in 2002, Sydney Mall, Paragon Cambodia, Sovanna and BS Department Store.

BS marketing office assistant Men Phirom said he was concerned about more shopping centres being built in an already highly competitive city. "I think that when there are new city malls, sales will be affected because the customers will have more choices to buy products at other shopping centers," he said. "However, we will improve our services and products and create something new to impress those customers."

Sorya Shopping Centre General Manager Lam Ratana said the economic crisis had hit the shopping habits of Cambodians, but that the retail sector would survive. "Purchasing power has dropped, but that does not means customers have stopped coming to my shopping centre; they cut down their expenses since the crisis occurred, but the number of buyers is still the same."

He said he was upgrading products, services and the building itself to compete with other new shopping centers. He planned to also introduce a flower shop, bar, 24-hour coffee shops and new parking lots to attract customers. "My new services and products will be launched this year to compete with new city malls," he said.

No silver lining yet as crisis bites handicraft maker

Photo by: SOUEN SAY
Silverware on display at Sothea Khmer Silver Crafts.

I planned to expand this year, but I can’t because I would have lost money.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Soeun Say

SILVERSMITH Ros Chanthou learned his craft as a youngster from his father. But it was in 1990, once he had married, that he decided to set up his own business: Sothea Khmer Silver Crafts.

In the early days, he had four craftsmen who made almost all the products by hand on the premises in Phnom Penh's Daun Penh district. Now he employs 10 artisans, who earn US$80-$100 a month depending on their skill.

Ros Chanthou would not be drawn on his business's revenue, saying only that custom began well and kept improving through the years. But like many businesses, Sothea Khmer Silver Crafts has recently been affected by the global economic crisis.

"My business ran very well in 2007 and 2008, but when the crisis started to bite, my business dropped about 70 percent," he said.

The decline in business is easily seen in his reduced orders for the raw material. Until a year ago he bought 100 to 120 kilograms of silver a month. Now he needs between 10 and 30 kilograms.

The only bright spot in the current economic gloom is that the price of silver, which he sources from Malaysia, China and Singapore, is lower. Ros Chanthou said that it costs him $450 per kilogram today, down from $600 per kilogram last year.

"Because the raw material is cheap, this ought to be a good opportunity for business," he says. "But how can we if we cannot sell the end product?"

He says conditions mean some of his competitors are facing bankruptcy.

"Bankruptcy is not something I am concerned with since we have built good relationships with our clients - they know our quality, and they trust our products," he says.

So who are his clients? They vary, says Ros Chanthou. Local purchasers include foreign embassy staff, government officials and NGO workers. And until the drop in tourism hit home, tour groups were a good earner, too.

"Some senior government officials have bought my silver products to use at home, such as spoons, glasses and plates. And some buy them to display at home," he says.

Sothea Khmer Silver Crafts has also sent work overseas and competes with producers in Thailand and Vietnam. But in the past year, the economic problems mean the Thai market has dried up.

And although he maintains that Cambodian silverwork can compete with that done in Thailand, China and Vietnam, he acknowledges that imports from those countries are proving stiff competition here.

"Many market vendors are displaying goods sourced from outside Cambodia, including from countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and China. We do find it hard to compete with all of them," he says.

When asked about the future, he says the global crisis means he has had to put on hold his plans to boost overseas sales.

"I planned to expand this year, but I can't because I would have lost money," he says.

In the meantime Ros Chanthou says the government ought to do more to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) such as his. He wants lower tax rates and says the government could help businesses learn how to export their products.

"The other thing is interest rates. I borrowed money from the bank to invest in my business, but rates are too high," he says. "I would like the government to help bring down those rates to give SMEs a chance to stay in business."

Televising history at the trials

Co-presenters Neth Pheaktra and Ung Chan Sophea get down to the serious business of reporting the Khmer Rouge tribunal. PHOTO SUPPLIED

The film reminded me of what pol pot did. my brothers and sisters all died.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Joel Quenby

An award-winning British TV producer is helping Cambodians stay abreast of developments at the Khmer Rouge tribunal by airing a weekly programme featuring highlights and analysis

Horrendous images of the babies being smashed against the trees: "I didn't recognise it at first," says Pol Pot's former chief torturer from the witness dock.

The television camera cuts to a shot of the dual row of Cambodian and foreign judges. Some frown; others remain impassive.

The footage then flips back to the accused, capturing the reptilian pride emanating from 66-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch", as he continues in a measured tone: "It was done by my subordinates. I do not blame them because this was under my responsibility."

We cut back to a well-lit TV studio, where a pair of handsome, businesslike co-presenters promptly begins quizzing a Cambodian legal expert on intricacies of the case.

Male presenter: "Some of Duch's evidence seems carefully calculated rather than spontaneous. Is that a fair statement?"

"The way he answers each question cautiously may make the judges and observers sceptical about what he says..." begins the guest in response.

Hoping for closure
The aforementioned represents a sample minute of the 24 minutes allotted weekly (excepting repeats) to covering the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia - the long-awaited Khmer Rouge genocide trials - by Cambodian Television Network (CTN).

It is hoped that the trials will bring closure to survivors' grief, and that the process will also educate young Cambodians about an era they know little about.

The show, Duch On Trial, summarises the weekly developments with a deft blend of courtroom 'action', explanation and analysis. It's slicker than typical local media output - though a company called Khmer Mekong Films (KMF) is credited with the production.

It turns out that a 64-year-old Cambridge-educated BAFTA-winning former BBC producer, who helped shape primetime pop culture for millions of British telly addicts for three decades, is the man behind KMF.

KMF founder Matthew Robinson in directorial mode. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Having won awards for his contribution to iconic British television shows such as Eastenders (he cast characters like 'Dirty Den' and Nick Cotton) and Crossroads, and founded the kids' soap opera Byker Grove in the process, Matthew Robinson came to Cambodia six years ago on a contract from BBC World Service Trust to make a health-promoting drama.

"A hundred episodes; that's finished," he says, briskly.
Robinson founded the film and television production company in 2006 - and has run it from Phnom Penh ever since.

The company's involvement in the landmark tribunals started when it won a bid to produce some pre-trial short films, funded by the British government.

"It was part of their funding for developing countries," says Robinson, who came up with a semi-dramatized treatment to explain a complex, convoluted trial system - that has had international legal experts scratching their heads - "in simple terms to ordinary, uneducated Cambodians".

The resulting series of six films, titled Time For Justice, was screened to thousands of villagers as part of a nationwide outreach programme. This jolted horrific memories in its older viewers, evident from the filmed post-screening debates.

"This film reminded me of what Pol Pot did," exclaims an old, bespectacled man. "It was the same as in the story. My brothers and sisters all died."

Another day, another hearing: The KMF team, with guest legal expert Sok Sam Oeun on the far right, prepare for the studio cameras to start rolling. Photo Supplied

Painful generation gap
He begins to cry. "I cannot speak because I am overcome," he eventually sobs.

His testimony stands in sharp contrast to that of the jeans-clad teenage girl who subsequently says: "Now I believe that this regime really did exist. It's shocking to hear older people talk about what happened to their families.

"When I was first told that so many people were killed, I didn't believe it."

Such footage exposes the painful generation gap between those who survived the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and their children and grandchildren, who are often left in the dark when it comes to their country's recent history.

Despite the education campaign, a pre-trial survey found 85 percent of respondents "had little or no knowledge" of the tribunal, although court officials disputed its findings.

A subsequent study conducted by the Human Rights Centre at the University of California in the fall of 2008 found that as much as 70 percent of cent of Cambodia's population is under the age of 30 - and four out of five members of this generation know little of the Khmer Rouge years.

"It is a problem," acknowledges Robinson. "That was why we commissioned an initial focus group to find out whether those beliefs are really true. And partly they were, though I don't think the intelligent [younger] generation thinks it's all fictional.

"In terms of 'bang for buck', outreach really doesn't compare with television," he continues.

"You have to have an awful lot of motorbikes and projection equipment, and a lot of people going into a lot of villages to get anywhere near even 10 percent of one showing on television."

When the British Embassy won additional government funding to produce a television show to cover the Khmer Rouge tribunals, KMF was invited to advise.

"I suggested a weekly sum-up of the weekly highlights presented in bite-sized chunks - again aiming at rural Cambodians," says Robinson.

"It was never intended for the legal community or more highly educated Cambodians; you'd start off with a different approach for that target audience."

Impressive results
The results have still impressed. After initially expressing doubts about the programme, CTN now schedules regular repeats of key episodes in addition to the regular Monday lunchtime slot.

And, whereas the funding initially only covered the first eight weeks of the courtroom developments, the show's success has prompted further funds that should extend to covering the closing of Duch's trial - and hopes that additional donations could see it become a permanent fixture on the TV schedule while the tribunals are running.

Meanwhile, the wisdom and experience Robinson brings to the editing suite are setting new standards for local production values.

"Cambodian people have never seen a show like this. We include so much information, so many details, in the 24 minutes; we cannot afford to waste any time," says male co-presenter, 29-year-old Neth Pheaktra, who is also deputy chief of staff at the Post.

"My friends tell me that as presenters, Ung Chan Sophea and I seem very professional," says Neth Pheaktra, who says he sometimes gets recognised by viewers. They ask him why he never smiles on TV.

"Cambodian people have never seen this presenting style before. Lots of TV presenters - they talk a lot, and they're always joking, but they never say anything.

"I cannot joke about such a serious subject."

His co-presenter, 26-year-old Ung Chan Sophea, a reporter for French newspaper Cambodge Soir Hebdo and Radio France International, says before the show aired "some of my friends and other people around me told me 'It's useless doing a trial programme' - but after they'd watched it, they changed.

"Suddenly it was 'Oh! It's a worthwhile, interesting programme'."

National calling
Both presenters feel duty-bound to contribute to this moment in Cambodian history, a bittersweet note of progress in an impoverished nation still struggling to rehabilitate its crippled economic and human resources.

Moreover, "if we don't have this programme, some victims will not know the outcome of the trials", believes the show's resident legal expert, Sok Sam Oeun.

"We want all victims to be released from their suffering. And the best way of doing that is by giving them the right to follow this trial."

Greater outreach
And the best medium for doing so happens to be television.

As Matthew Robinson notes: "Although the outreach people did a very good job and probably got [Voices For Justice] shown to 50,000-100,000 people, one showing on CTN is going to get at least 800,000, if not a million people."


How does one get from Siem Reap to Thailand's Ko Chang island?

From the splendour of Angkor (left) to the tropical beach surrounds of Thailand's popular tourist isle Ko Chang.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The historic and cultural sites at Angkor are magnificent, but most travelers get templed out eventually, so for those seeking an island escape in Thailand, here is a suggested itinerary

So you're done with the temples, and it's time for some serious beach time. Where better to head than the glorious islands in Thailand's Trat province?

After all, the pier at Laem Ngop is just a share taxi, tuk-tuk, bus, another bus and a songtheaw ride away. Then from there you just need to settle on which island - Ko Chang, Ko Maak, Ko Kut, Ko Wai - oh decisions, decisions. Read on for the inside line on how to get between the two - and yes, it is possible to leave Siem Reap after breakfast (not brunch!) and be on the island in time for a before-dinner dip.

Siem Reap to the border
There are three main ways to get between Siem Reap and Poipet (the border town between Cambodia and Thailand and an absolute armpit of a town) - tourist minibus, share taxi and pickup truck.

The tourist minibus should be avoided at all costs, as it will inevitably transform into a scam-bus not long after leaving Siem Reap and you'll have precious time wasted as they waste your time. Take our word for it - do not take a tourist mini bus service to Poipet - they are all scams.

The pickup truck is only an option if you're trying to prove yourself to your travelling partner as being a hard-as-nails, down and dirty budget traveller. You'll certainly be dirty by the end, in fact you'll be absolutely filthy. You'll also lose time in Sisophon (where you'll need to change from one heap of junk to another), and you won't get to Ko Chang in the same day. You will save a few dollars though. If you still want to do it by pick-up, be a bit of a softie and opt for a seat inside the cabin.

A share taxi is the way to go - either hire the entire car yourself or buy a seat (or two) in one. This is, by far, the fastest way to get to the border. Expect to pay US$25-35 for an entire car.

The route map as seen on Google Maps. PHOTO SUPPLIED

The border
The Poipet border can be a bit time consuming at times, depending on crowds and how hard the officials feel like working. The most important piece of advice is to ignore all touts - ALL of them. You're best to get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds.

Once you're through both sides of immigration, continue on to the market and take a tuk-tuk to the government bus station in Aranyprathet (6 kilometres away).

A crossing can take as little as ten minutes or as long as three hours - this can be a real wild card when it comes to doing the ruins to beach run in a day.

Aranyprathet bus station
Aranyprathet bus station has buses to both Bangkok and Chanthaburi, but there are no direct buses to Trat. Instead, you need to catch a bus to Chanthaburi and then change buses there. The bus to Chanthaburi should take around three hours.

There's no need to leave the bus station, as buses to Trat leave from the same terminal you'll be dropped at coming from Aranyprathet. The bus to Trat should take between an hour and a half and two hours.

Once you are in Trat, you need to get a songtheaw to one of the three piers that serve the Ko Chang island group. All three piers are around an hour from Trat by songtheaw.

Laem Ngop to Ko Chang
There are three piers that send boats to Ko Chang. The main Laem Ngop pier, Centrepoint Pier, 4km north and Thammachart Pier some 9km from Laem Ngop.

The latter two double as car ferries and while Thammachart drops you at Ao Sapparot on Ko Chang, the other two, Laem Ngop and Centrepoint, will drop you at Dan Kao, which is a little further from all the main beaches.

Ferry cross the Andaman
Ferries leave Laem Ngop six times a day between 7am and 5pm, take an hour and cost 100 baht. From Thammachart, ferries leave nine times daily between 7am and 7pm and take just 30 minutes, costing 100 baht. From Centrepoint departures are similar to Laem Ngop - six times daily between 7am and 5pm, take around 45 minutes and cost 100 baht.

All of the ferries are met on Ko Chang by songtheaws, which will transport you to your beach of choice.

Laem Ngop to Ko Wai, Ko Maak and Ko Kham
There is one slow boat a day from Laem Ngop pier to Ko Wai, Ko Maak and Ko Kham, leaving Laem Ngop at 3pm, taking around three hours and costing 300 baht. Speedboats services are also available.

Laem Ngop to Ko Kut
Boats leave Laem Ngop every Friday, Saturday and Tuesday for Ko Kut, but they leave at 9am so you'll need to overnight in Trat to get these. They pass by both Ko Wai and Ko Maak.