Thursday, 1 October 2009

Cambodia hopes U.S. to shift 1970s debt as development aid

(Post by CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian foreign Minister Hor Namhong said on Thursday that his country expressed the hope that the U.S. to shift Cambodia's debt as development aid for the country.

"While I was in the U.S., I held the bilateral talk with Madam Hillary Clinton and I told her that Cambodia hopes U.S. to cancel debts owned by then Lon Nol administration in 1970s, if not possible, Cambodia hopes the U.S. to shift that debt as development aid for our country," Hor told reporters upon arrival from U.S. where he joined the U.N. General Assembly.

Hor said "that development aid will focus on building infrastructure for the country," adding that "Madam Hillary told me that she will pay attention on this debt and take care of that issue."

Cambodia has owed the United State in a total of over 300 million U.S. dollars by Lon Nol regime. Hor Namhong, at the same time, also highlighted the progress of the bilateral military cooperation between two countries. "We are optimistic in improving and moving forward the bilateral cooperation between the two countries," he added.

Asia readies for next storm as death toll rises

Residents negotiate knee-deep mud at a remote village in Rodriguez, Rizal province, Philippines on Thursday Oct. 1, 2009. Flood victims from Typhoon Ketsana trudged through sludge in the Philippines as death toll rose from water that submerged the homes of nearly 2 million people. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Pham Thi Thu Suong, 7, rides a boa past Hoi An's landmark Japanese Bridge in flooded water in Hoi An, Vietnam, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009 after Typhoon Ketsana passed the area. Ketsana prompted the worst flooding in the northern Philippines in 40 years when it struck Saturday, and then continued its deadly path across Southeast Asia, blowing down wooden villages in Cambodia and crushing Vietnamese houses under mudslides on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Cambodian villagers carry coffins loaded with bodies of villagers who died during Typhoon Ketsana in Teuk Mileang village, Sandan district, Kampong Thom province, about 250 kilometers (155 miles), north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009. Typhoon Ketsana swept into central Cambodia and toppled dozens of rickety homes, killing at least 11 people and injuring some 29 others, disaster officials said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

(Post by CAAi News media)

MANILA, Philippines — Asia had little respite Thursday from an already brutal storm season, with warnings the next tempest was en route to the Philippines while three nations counted their dead from the previous typhoon, with the toll reaching 383.

Officials were preparing compulsory evacuation plans for tens of thousands of people in the Philippines as they watched Typhoon Parma track toward the country with winds gusting up to 130 mph (210 kph).

A decision on the evacuations would be made in the next day or so, Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said.

Parma could be more powerful than Ketsana, which left the Philippines' capital awash Saturday and then cut a destructive path across Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

"We are dealing with a very strong typhoon (and) there is a big possibility that this typhoon will gather more strength," Nathaniel Cruz, the Philippines' chief weather forecaster, said of Parma. "Let us all pray."

Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region struggled to recover from two major earthquakes. The death toll from Tuesday's quake-triggered tsunami in the South Pacific rose above 140, and Indonesia said the toll from a 7.6-magnitude quake there Wednesday was above 460.

Steady rain fell in Manila on Thursday after several days of clear skies, making conditions miserable for more than 2 million people whose homes were lined with slushy mud by the worst flooding in four decades.

The idea of another storm brought fresh trauma to survivors.

"I hope the typhoon will hit another place," said Glen Juban, whose family was washed from the roof of their shanty by floodwaters last Saturday. Juban, his wife and 13-year-old son survived but his 4-year-old daughter drowned.

"We've been hit so hard. The situation now is just so difficult and I don't know if we can take some more, another calamity."

In Cambodia and central Vietnam, rescuers picked through the remains of houses that were blown down or buried in landslides, and villages remained cut off by mud-blocked roads and the worst floods in decades.

A Vietnamese military helicopter dropped packets of instant noodles to cutoff villages in central Kon Tum province while authorities in Quang Ngai province used speed boats to rush noodles and bottled water to victims in two isolated mountain districts, provincial officials said.

In Cambodia, rain poured down on towns in Siem Reap province already awash in three feet (half a meter) of floodwaters. Schools, markets and other businesses were closed, deputy police chief Kan Sambath said.

Four large trees at the famed Angkor Thom temple complex were felled by the storm but did not cause any damage, he said.

The Laotian state news agency KPL reported flooding and damage to roads, bridges and telecommunications in the country's southern provinces. It said homes and rice fields were damaged when the storm hit Wednesday morning, but there was no information about casualties.

Officials in Vietnam raised the death toll there to 92 on Thursday. Cambodia's rose to 14. The storm was deadliest in the Philippines, with 277 killed.

Parma was 404 miles (650 kilometers) off the Philippines on Thursday morning, heading for the coast north of where Ketsana hit. It was expected to hit on Saturday, but was already bringing rain to eastern provinces.

Cruz said Parma could strengthen into a "super typhoon," a designation given to storms with sustained winds exceeding 124 mph (200 kph). It was carrying less rain than Ketsana, but the stronger winds could be very destructive, he said.

However, the storm could still change course and miss the Philippines, he said.

Typhoons occur year-round in the northeastern Pacific, usually blowing in from the east and tracking a path threatening Southeast Asia and southern China to Japan in the north. They are most common and usually most powerful from August to November.

Ketsana followed on the heels of Typhoon Morakot, which slammed into Taiwan in early August, causing mudslides and the worst flooding on the island in 50 years. Morakot also killed 22 people in the Philippines and eight in China.

Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano and Jim Gomez in Manila, Minh Van Tran in Hanoi, Vietnam, Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia, and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.

A hundred flowers blooming

Photo by: Photo Supplied

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:02 Post Staff

Interior Minister Sar Kheng (in suit, left), National Assembly President Heng Samrin (centre) and Zhang Jinfeng, China’s ambassador to Cambodia, pose for photos with a dance troupe Monday during a reception marking the 60th anniversary of the Beijing regime. Zhang hailed the growing links between the two countries, saying Cambodia and China will “always be good neighbours in peace with each other, good friends of sincerity and creditability, good brothers sharing weal and woes, and good partners in cooperation”.

Ketsana leaves trail of dead in north, central provinces

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Officials hoist coffins containing the bodies of several victims in Kampong Thom, which felt the full force of Typhoon Ketsana when it hit Tuesday night.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:03 May Titthara and Irwin Loy

Kampong Thom Province

TYPHOON Ketsana slammed into Cambodia with devastating force Tuesday night, killing at least 11 people and leaving thousands more injured or homeless as 145km/h winds and heavy rain lashed the Kingdom.

The tail end of the storm, which has killed hundreds of people since it smashed into the Philippines on Saturday, was the most severe ever to lash Cambodia, experts said.

“This is the first time that we have seen such a storm,” said Seth Vannareth, director of the Department of Meteorology at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.

Disaster officials confirmed on Wednesday that nine were killed and 35 injured in central Cambodia, while two died in the northeast. The death toll is expected to rise, with reports of more fatalities continuing to emerge across the country last night.

Kampong Thom province bore the brunt of the disaster. At least nine people were crushed to death when their homes collapsed on Tuesday night, said Chea Cheat, chief of the local Red Cross office.

In one incident, five members of one family – spanning three generations – died in Teak Mileang, a village in the Sandan district of Kampong Thom province. A 39-year-old woman, her mother, 15-year-old daughter, 14-year-old son and a baby were killed almost instantly when the roof of their house caved in. Only the husband, who was hunting in the forest when the storm struck, survived.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan, Peter Olszewski and AFP
Hundreds of homes were destroyed when Typhoon Ketsana slammed into Cambodia on Tuesday night, killing at least 11 people. Kampong Thom was hardest-hit (above and inset), while heavy rains swelled the river in Siem Reap.

“The family died because they were in the house to shelter themselves from the rain,” said Sin Chea, a relative, who said he barely escaped with his own life. “I was sitting under my house when the storm hit. When the storm came, I ran away. That’s why I survived. Fifteen minutes later, my house was destroyed.”

A neighbour who witnessed the tragedy compared it to the horrors of Cambodia’s bloody civil war. Meas Sophea, 38, said: “My neighbours are all dead and our houses have been destroyed, just as they were during the civil war.” After seeing the storm destroy her neighbours’ home, she fled to the pagoda but suffered a broken leg when it, too, collapsed. “When I saw [my neighbours’] bloodstains on the ground, I ran out of my house to the pagoda, but then the pagoda also fell down,” she said.

Pang Phot, a police officer, said the storm struck quickly. “It was raining heavily and people could not flee their homes because the wind hit immediately,” he said. “I have never seen such a strong wind in my life. It punched the village immediately. It shocked us. Many wooden houses were immediately blown away and many others collapsed to the ground.”

In addition to the official death toll, three more people were reported dead in Siem Reap province, deputy Governor Bun Tharith said. One man was killed in Angkor Thom district when his house collapsed while he slept. Another died when he fell from his fishing boat in Chikrei district. Details of the third death could not be confirmed last night. Severe flooding was also reported in Siem Reap, where the river reached dangerous levels.

By Wednesday, the typhoon was downgraded to a tropical storm. Although the worst of Ketsana is now over, the final death toll is yet to come, officials say.

“We have still not had reports from some districts,” said Ly Samreth, chief of cabinet for Siem Reap province, noting that many people in his province were caught out by the storm depite repeated warnings – including one from Prime Minister Hun Sen – last week. “Cambodian people weren’t prepared for Ketsana despite the forecast,” he said.

A Cambodia Red Cross (CRC) official confirmed that the storm had taken some villages by surprise. “We already informed the local villagers to be careful, but they seemed not to pay much attention on the issue, and when the storm occurred, it damaged a lot of properties,” said Neth Sophanna, the CRC’s vice director of disaster management.

“We have not yet counted the number of families affected. We are still investigating further to evaluate the scope of the damages.”

The full measure of Ketsana’s wrath

Photo by: NASA
A satellite image of the storm taken Monday.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:03 Irwin Loy

Typhoon Ketsana has cut a devastating swathe through Southeast Asia, leaving hundreds dead and millions more injured, homeless or lacking basic resources.

The trail of destruction began in the Philippines, which bore the brunt of the storm Saturday when a month’s worth of rain fell in just nine hours.

Described as the heaviest rainfall to hit the country in 40 years, Ketsana plunged 80 percent of the capital Manila under water. At least 246 people were killed, with a further 2.2 million directly affected. At least 375,000 people have been forced into evacuation camps, stretching the country’s emergency relief capabilities to their limits. By Sunday, wind speeds had reached 180 km/h and 48 centimetres of rain was recorded in a 24-hour period.

On Tuesday, Ketsana landed in Vietnam. More than 55 people died and a further 11 are still missing. Six coastal provinces were evacuated, an operation involving almost 170,000 people. The city of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage site, remained under 3 metres of water Wednesday. Local officials compared it with a disaster that killed hundreds along the country’s central coast a decade ago.

World Vision reported that 5,800 houses had collapsed, with another 163,000 stripped of their roofs. Some 20,000 hectares of agricultural land have been flooded, according to government officials.

On Tuesday evening, the storm collided with Cambodia, killing at least 11 people and forcing thousands of families to flee their homes to escape the rising floodwaters.

By Wednesday, the typhoon had lost some of its strength and was downgraded to a tropical storm as it continued to push on into Laos. No deaths had been reported as of last night, but flooding had left some areas along the Sekong River awash in up to a metre of water. Two villages in Sekong province were completely submerged.

P Vihear ruling disregarded

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A boy leans against the ruins of the Preah Vihear temple.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:03 Thet Sambath and Robbie Corey-Boulet

Thai panel’s condemnation of support for Heritage listing insignificant, Cambodia says.

CAMBODIAN officials have dismissed as insignificant a ruling from a Thai anticorruption body finding former premier Samak Sundaravej and former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama guilty of illegally backing the World Heritage site application for Preah Vihear temple.

The Thai National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) ruled on Tuesday that the officials should have obtained parliamentary approval before seeking a cabinet resolution that allowed Noppadon to sign a June 2008 communique expressing support for the application.

“The NCCC has ruled that [Samak and Noppadon] violated the law and the constitution,” said Klanarong Chantik, the body’s spokesman.

He also said the body would send its decision to the Thai senate and the supreme court’s criminal division for persons holding political positions, meaning the officials could face prosecution.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the ruling would have no impact on the ongoing row over disputed border territory near the ruins.

“Preah Vihear belongs solely to the Kingdom of Cambodia, so what happened in Thailand about the charges against the former prime minister is the internal affair of Thailand,” he said.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, declined to comment on the ruling, saying it was Thailand’s “internal affair”.

But Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said the ruling was another example of Thai officials trying to use the Preah Vihear dispute for domestic political gain.

“Thai leaders always have used Preah Vihear temple for their propaganda to get popularity,” he said.

He said the communique had played no role in the application’s approval.

“The decision to list the temple as a World Heritage site was made by Cambodian leaders, not by Thai leaders,” he said.

Chuch Phoeung, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said support from the Thai officials had been inconsistent.

“Actually, Samak and Noppadon did not assist Cambodians in the listing of Preah Vihear temple. They started to curse us and UNESCO officials in Quebec,” he said, referring to the July 2008 meeting at which the application was approved.

For his part, Noppadon blasted the ruling as unfair and based on evidence provided by his political opponents, The Bangkok Post reported Wednesday.

He said the communique did not need to be cleared by parliament because it was not an international treaty.


Police Blotter: 1 Oct 2009

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:01 Cheang Sokha

Sean Ratha, 20, was arrested by Pursat provincial police on Monday after he and two other accomplices stole a motorbike from a karaoke parlor in Prey Nhi commune. The victim, Sean Sokhom, 34, told police that on Monday night at about 9pm he drove two karaoke girls to Ponleu Chan Karaoke when three drunk people appeared and hurt him. Police identified the two fugitives as Vat, 22, and Lov, 20.

Svay Ngim, 58, the chief of Kaheng village in Kampong Speu province’s Sampoang Tong district, was found hanging from a mango tree behind his house on Monday. His wife Ou Samot, 54, told police that her husband had told her a few days before his hanging that he had a headache and was feeling scared of something. On the day of the incident, he woke up at 5:30am and walked behind the house, but she did not pay attention to his behaviour.
Koh Santepheap

Chhorn Phal, 48, was sentenced to 15 years in jail by Kampong Speu provincial court on Tuesday on charges of raping his daughter five times and causing her to become pregnant. Police said that Chhorn Phal, living in Chumpo Prek village, in Oudong district, was arrested on February 2 after police received complaints from the victim. At the hearing, the suspect told the court that he did not force his daughter, but that she agreed to have sex with him, but the claim was denied by the victim.

Military Police in Banteay Meanchey province arrested three people last week on suspicion of the premeditated murder of a 43-year-old market vendor. Men Phearom, provincial deputy commander of the Military Police, said the arrests were made after the suspects used samarai swords to chop vendor Sok Chhaily on April 30, causing him severe injuries. Men Phearom said a sword was confiscated, and that the three suspects have been sent to the provincial court for punishment.

Fishy Anglers: Fishing ban nets multiple offenders

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:03 Khouth Sophakchakrya


Authorities confiscated more than a million metres of illegal fishnets, 5,000 electrodes used for electrofishing and 4,000 illegal fish traps between June and the start of October, according to Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration in the Ministry of Agriculture. This year’s commercial fishing season is set to open across the country today after a three-month ban, which allows for the renewal of fish stocks. Fishing in Kandal, Takeo and Kampong Speu provinces will be delayed until early November because of later spawning times. Sixty people were also sent to court on illegal fishing charges during the 2009 off-season, Nao Thuok said.

Trigger-happy driver sentenced 18 months

Photo by DAP

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

A woman who fired a handgun into the air during a traffic dispute that escalated into a four-hour standoff with police was sentenced on Wednesday to 18 months in prison on charges of reckless endangerment and illegal possession of a weapon.

Khay Dara, 22, will serve her time in Prey Sar prison, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Presiding Judge Chang Sinat also ordered her to pay a 1 million riel (US$239) fine.

On Monday night, Khay Dara was driving down Street 271 in Meanchey district when a Honda CR-V sport utility vehicle cut across her lane of traffic in the wrong direction to make a turn, the court heard.

When the Honda pulled over, the court was told, Khay Dara got out of her vehicle and approached the other driver, holding a gun in her hand.

After firing the weapon in the air four times, Khay Dara launched into an abusive tirade, the court was told, prompting residents to summon police.

Witness Tuon Makara said that Khay Dara appeared drunk as she taunted police and onlookers.

In an attempt to avoid arrest, Khay Dara falsely said she was an adviser to Assembly President Heng Samrin, the niece of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and an acquaintance of National Police Chief Neth Savoeun, the court was told.

Meanchey district Governor Kuoch Chamroeun said he received specific orders from city Governor Kep Chuktema to ensure the woman was prosecuted, “ignoring interventions from top-level authorities”.

Muslims, police clash

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

MILITARY police clashed Wednesday with a group of about 40 Cambodian Cham Muslims outside the Takeo Provincial Court after a judge ordered the arrest of a Muslim community leader on disinformation charges.

Supporters of the suspect, Ny San, blocked police from entering the courthouse for two hours before finally being dispersed. Ny San was then taken to prison.

Ny San and Suth Sen, two prominent members of Borei Cholsa district’s Muslim community, were questioned by investigating judge Tit Sothy in connection with a complaint brought against them by Ry Mab, the formally recognised head of the Borei Cholsa Muslims.

Ry Mab’s lawsuit against the men stems from a failed 2008 attempt within the community to elect a new representative, Chheng Sophos, a senior investigator for the rights group Licadho, said.

Two Radio Free Asia reporters and two Cambodian Centre for Human Rights activists were also named in the case and were due for questioning today, but the arrest of Ny San has put the appearance of the four in doubt.

Chheng Sophos said, “I am so upset with [the judge’s] decision to hold the man in prison. This is a misdemeanor crime and not a felony crime.”

Licadho is now considering whether to provide Ny San and Suth Sen with lawyers, he added.

Local news blog a haven for dissent

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A Cambodian woman visits, the Web site of the Cambodian news blog KI-Media. The site posts news, opinion and political cartoons from local and international sources.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:02 James O'toole and Khouth Sophak Chakrya

The anonymous authors of KI-Media are forging an independent place in the political sphere.

ON September 16, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a press conference in which it attempted to dispel a report that Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua had participated in an “official” meeting in Washington with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“The US ambassador met with me yesterday and said that what was published on KI-Media was not true,” a secretary of state for the ministry, Ouch Borith, said. “It is an exaggeration and a lie.”

The meeting between Clinton and Mu Sochua did in fact take place, but debate continues over whether it was strictly official or not. Whatever one makes of this controversy, however, Ouch Borith’s comments signal the rising stature of KI-Media, an English-language news aggregation blog founded several years ago by a group of like-minded Cambodians who met on a series of Internet discussion forums.

Their first post appeared on July 27, 2005, featuring a controversial video interview with Chhay Vee, a man who claimed involvement in the 1997 grenade attack in front of the old National Assembly building that killed 16 people.

“Looking back,” wrote Socheata, one of the administrators of the site, “posting that video essentially defined one of our goals that we have maintained since: disseminating information that is not easily available through the traditional media, or that has been suppressed/banned/censored by the Phnom Penh regime”.

Like the other contributors interviewed, Socheata insisted on confining correspondence to email and requested that he be identified only by his Internet handle, citing concerns about “safety and security”.

In the four years since the Chhay Vee video, the KI-Media team has stepped up its output, culling from local and international news outlets to produce a mix of news articles, political cartoons and editorials that numbers in the double digits on a daily basis. For the week of September 14, Socheata said, the site tallied 73,400 page views from almost 32,000 unique users.

KI-Media’s dozen or so regular contributors include four Cambodian residents, with others in Europe, Australia and North America. Though Socheata said the site is “not aligned with any political party”, another contributor, Khmerization, acknowledged that it “tends to be opposition-oriented”.

This assessment is borne out by the blog’s design. Passages of articles that include condemnations of the government are often enlarged and printed in red font, and contributors do not hesitate to editorialise. “15% garment sector decline, double digits drop in air arrivals, construction slowdown, but… all is fine in Hun Xen’s Cambodia!” read the site’s heading for a press release from the International Monetary Fund posted last week, the premier’s name spelled Vietnamese-style, with an “X”, in a jibe at his ties with the neighbouring country.

KI-Media’s site,, has garnered attention across Cambodia’s political spectrum. Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said he checks it several times a day, and that many other members of government are also regular readers.

Despite their frequent attacks on the government, Khieu Kanharith said that those who post on the site need not fear government prosecution.

“People have the right to comment about whatever they want without fear of defamation or disinformation lawsuits,” the information minister said.

“But if journalists take comments from the blog and publish them in newspapers or on radio and TV to incite violence or defame someone, they will face a complaint.”

Others do not see the distinction between traditional news outlets and Web sites like KI-Media in such a cut-and-dried manner.

Soy Sopheap, publisher of the Deum Ampil newspaper, said he was one of many local and international journalists who regularly check KI-Media. He expressed frustration at the blog’s aggregating style, however, saying its contributors are siphoning revenue from professional journalists.

“I pay US$1,000 per month to my staff to report the news, and they steal from us,” he said. “It’s not fair to my media company.”

Heng Soy, another KI-Media blogger, dismissed this allegation. Though the site does post and translate articles from other news outlets, he said, this is done only with proper attribution to the original source. As for theft of revenue, Heng Soy noted that he and other contributors refuse paid advertisements “to avoid criticisms that we are trying to make a profit from this blog”.

Pa Nguon Teang, director of the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media, agreed that KI-Media properly sources the news it takes from other outlets, and said that he supports online debate. He worried, however, about the anonymous Web site’s lack of accountability.

“If they want to continue with this kind of work, they should identify themselves,” he said. “They are a media outlet, and they need to show their professionalism.”

Though contributors exchange only limited personal information with one another, most, Socheata said, appear to be students. He and others noted several events on which KI-Media helped drive coverage by traditional outlets, including the 2005 arrest of Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha and the controversial “ilovethailand” Web site that drew the ire of the Cambodian government this July after claiming parts of Cambodia as lost Thai territory.

Rather than competing with the mainstream media, however, Socheata said the goal of KI-Media is simply to encourage dialogue on the part of its readers.

“What we would like to foster is a healthy political debate on all issues that affect Cambodians,” he said.

France Telecom, Royal talk Mobitel

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:02 Nathan Green

CAMBODIA’S Royal Group met Wednesday with representatives of France Telecom in Phnom Penh in what sources say are advanced negotiations on terms for a joint purchase of Millicom International’s 58 percent stake in mobile-phone operator Mobitel.

A source with knowledge of the situation said France Telecom, which operates under the Orange brand, was meeting with the Cambodian holding group to do “due diligence” on the deal.

The Royal Group holds the remaining stake in Cambodia’s leading domestic operator by users, which operates under the Cellcard brand.

Millicom International Cellular SA announced in August it had reached an agreement to sell its Cambodian partner its stake for US$346 million in cash.

The money was to be payable on completion of the deal, which was expected to take place before the end of the year, subject to financing and regulatory approvals.

Sources within the industry say the price, which values Mobitel at $605 million, is a good deal, but the announcement immediately raised questions as to where the Royal Group would find the necessary capital given tight credit lines in the wake of the global economic downturn.

Royal Group Chief Financial Officer Mark Hanna refused to comment on the reported meeting Wednesday. He said only that the group was talking to “lots of interested parties” about the Mobitel purchase.

“We are having a number of discussions,” he said. “Everybody wants to talk to us. There’s a lot of interest.”

Mobitel CEO Jeffrey Noble also refused to comment Wednesday, saying he was “not interested in talking to the press today” before hanging up the phone.

Royal Group representatives also declined to comment when approached at the Hotel Cambodiana on Wednesday as the two groups adjourned for lunch.

A spokesman for France Telecom said by phone from Paris that the group “could not comment on market rumours or confirm that any specific meetings are being held in Cambodia.

“However, as part of our published mergers and acquisitions policy, France Telecom regularly looks for strategic investments in growth markets,”
he said. In this context, the Group hold regular reviews and discussions with potential partners in Southeast Asian countries.”

The company has a “fairly minor” presence in Vietnam, he added.

Giles Vernet, a French embassy economic counsellor who, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, is set to meet the delegation today, initially denied the company was in Cambodia.

When told representatives had been seen at the Hotel Cambodiana with the Royal Group, he refused to comment and directed questions to Laurence Bernardi, the press attache at the French embassy.

She said the embassy did not comment on commercial matters.

Royal Group has also been linked to talks with Axiata Group Berhad, the Malaysian owner of Cambodian mobile phone operator Hello, on a joint purchase of the stake, according to a source close to the situation. It is understood that the Royal Group offered the company a majority stake in Mobitel after its initial offer of a minority holding was declined.

CEO Simon Perkins declined Wednesday to confirm or deny specifics as to the discussions between the two groups, though he confirmed the parties were in communication.

“We keep the dialogue open with the Royal Group, so any options are always going to be evaluated and looked at,” he said.

He also did not rule out Axiata making a second bid for the operator in the event that the Royal Group was unable to raise the money needed to complete the sale.

“Our interest hasn’t waned from the first time we got in the process. We weren’t a successful bidder for whatever reason, so that process is over for us. But if it comes back on, then for sure, we’ll be there. I would never say never, but it just depends on the price point.”

An Axiata spokesperson said by email from Malaysia that the company did “not comment on rumours or stories which are speculative in nature”.

He had previously confirmed the group had bid for the stake when it was first put up for sale, but declined to confirm a July 7 Bloomberg report that it offered $500 million.

Royal Group has also been linked to talks with NTT DoCoMo of Japan. Media reports have confirmed that DoCoMo are interested as they look to overseas markets for expansion. However, the outcome of these discussions – and whether they are still taking place at all – is not known.

Royal Group’s Hanna travelled to China last month, though it was not clear whether it was related to the Mobitel sale.

The Royal Group also met last month with fund managers from Jersey, a tax haven in the British Channel Islands, to raise capital for the acquisition, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The source said the group was seeking to raise $270 million but could not come to an agreement on the terms of any investment. Investors from Hong Kong were also at the meeting, the source said.

The Mobitel sale is being organised through Goldman Sachs. A spokesperson for the investment bank in Hong Kong declined to say when the deadline was for The Royal Group to deliver the cash to complete the purchase, directing all enquiries to the companies concerned, although Hanna said the group had until the end of the year.


Judicial assistants take flak

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:02 Meas Sokchea

A NEW sub-decree appointing assistants to the country’s top judicial body has been criticised by opposition members and civil society groups who say it represents another instance of “interference” in the judicial system.

The sub-decree, issued on September 23, orders the appointment of 11 officials as assistants to the disciplinary panel of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM), the body constitutionally charged with reviewing the Kingdom’s court system.

Suy Mongleang, secretary general of the General Secretariat for Legal and Judicial Reform in the Council of Ministers, said the new appointees would help fill a shortfall of staff on the panel.

“The president of the disciplinary panel asked us to help because [it] does not have human resources and material,” he said. According to the sub-decree, the new appointees will be under the authority of the president and prosecutor general of the Supreme Court.

However, government critics said that in appointing members of the Cambodian People’s Party in line with the new subdecree, the government was breaching the country’s constitutional separation of powers.

“If there is any interference into the judiciary, it is an abuse of democratic principles,” said Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann.

“If we want the judiciary system to be independent, we should not allow party members to have the position of judges or to be the members of judicial bodies.”

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, said there was no problem if the government was creating the body to aid in the investigations of the panel, but that any direct involvement in disciplinary decisions would be illegal.

Others said the new body – whatever its merits – should have been created through the legislature rather than by subdecree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “If we want to reform the court system, we should have a law from the [National] Assembly,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “It is not a decision for the prime minister.”

Suy Mongleang rejected the criticisms, saying the new body would be unable to independently punish judges.

“We are just helping the courts’ administration, relating to material and human resources. In countries all over the world, the government helps to do this,” he said.

The criticisms follow similar concerns about a 26-member panel formed by Hun Sen earlier this month, with a mandate to weed out “irregularities” in criminal cases that come before the country’s courts.

Railway families take govt buyouts

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:02 Kim Yuthana and Meas Sokchea

THE final 23 families living along rail lines in Tuol Kork district agreed on Wednesday to accept compensation from City Hall, though at least one resident said he believed the families had been forced into the deal after the government threatened to evict them.

“I agree to accept this, though it is with great suffering,” said Hay Saroeurn, who received US$20,000.

He said 13 other families had also received $20,000, and that nine were given $15,000.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun confirmed that the families had accepted compensation and agreed to move.

Earlier in the day, the families had expressed their intent to hold out for offers of more money.

“If the compensation was more reasonable than what has been offered, then I would be willing to move,” Phan Vong, who also lives in the settlement known as Community B, said Wednesday morning.

Buy Hay Saroeurn said the families had changed their mind after municipal officials reiterated their plans to use “administrative measures” to resolve the dispute if no agreement had been reached by Friday.

Sang Sopheak Vichet, deputy chief of Tuol Kork district, said officials had done everything they could to resolve the dispute in a manner that would benefit the villagers.

“Whether they chose to accept the compensation or not was their choice,” he said.

“But we were planning to take administrative measures on October 2.”

Sad situation for civil parties

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A civil party member in the trial of former S-21 prison chief Kang Guek Eav, alias Duch, visits the Choeung Ek killing fields last month.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:02 Youk Chhang

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal is conducting a legal experiment at the expense of the regime’s thousands of surviving victims.

I am writing to share my thoughts on the Extraordinary Chambers’ present reassessment of the role of civil parties. As has been known to all involved since the beginning, the suspects in detention are old and frail, and the ECCC has limited time and money and is therefore under pressure to reach judgement as quickly as possible.

With an estimated 5 million survivors still living, any serious attempt to include victims in the process would have resulted in submission to the ECCC Victims Unit of at least 1 million complaints and a far greater number of civil party applications than the 2,000 received so far. The VU was nevertheless established late without sufficient staffing and financial resources, and was never able to catch up with processing the proportionately small number of applications it received.

Moreover, I agree with the concerns expressed by Dr Ear in The Wall Street Journal (“Cambodian ‘Justice’ – Without major personnel changes, the Khmer Rouge trial risks descending into farce”)that recent changes in personnel have placed unqualified persons in charge of the VU’s critical tasks. The court’s administration of victim participation has, therefore, always been inadequate.

In addition, no attempt was ever made by the co-investigating or trial judges in the Duch/S-21 case to limit the number of civil parties by applying the qualifying criteria or otherwise vetting the applications. A number of civil parties who have spoken during the trial have had their accounts dismissed by the defence and publicly questioned. With the trial almost over, the defence is seeking to dismiss 24 out of 93 civil parties from the case. The affected civil parties have no doubt been traumatised to some extent by these events. Efforts from the start to regulate civil party recognition would have avoided some of these challenges and led to earlier discussion of the problems the court is now belatedly attempting to address.

The ECCC judges now stand ready to substantially reduce or eliminate the role of civil parties in advance of the second trial due to concerns about the time involved in adjudicating the large number of expected defence challenges. The unfortunate result of this is the impression that the ECCC has conducted a legal experiment at victims’ expense. My overriding concern is, therefore, how to remedy the harm caused to the nearly 2,000 victims who have already applied for civil party status in the second case.

It is true that many civil parties do not fully understand the meaning of the term “civil party” and the scope of their role in the proceedings. However, it would be disrespectful for the court to hide behind this outreach failure. If the court wants to limit civil party rights, it has an obligation to explain the full legal implications both to the public at large and to the applicants before a final plan is adopted.

I would encourage the ECCC to write civil party applicants individually to acknowledge their applications, notify them of any anticipated change in procedure and assure them that their participatory role will remain historically significant. Additionally, I believe that the court should engage each applicant in person by inviting them in small groups to Phnom Penh to hear about proposed changes from judicial officials and be given an opportunity to voice their opinions either verbally or by filling out a written questionnaire. Finally, if representative victims are called to testify during the second trial, I feel strongly that a number of these persons should be voted for by the current civil party applicants from among a group pre-selected by a Victims Unit representative.

Whatever the court’s ultimate decision about the scope of victim participation in the second trial, it has the obligation to explain the changes directly to affected victims and to respectfully hear their views.

If called upon, DC-Cam will be more than happy to contribute logistical support for such meetings, including securing a meeting place, arranging for artistic performances and assisting with the creation of a questionnaire.


Youk Chhang is the executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a project begun by the Cambodian Genocide Centre at Yale University.

130 garment factories shut this year, govt says

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A worker makes garments at Phnom Penh’s Modern Dress Sewing Factory in this file photo. Nearly 80 factories have closed this year, and 53 have suspended operations due to the economic crisis.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:01 Chun Sophal

Closures resulted in more than 30,000 lost jobs, says ministry, with fewer than 10,000 positions created at 40 new factories.

THE Ministry of Labour announced Wednesday that 130 garment factories had closed or suspended operations during the first three quarters due to declining purchase orders.

According to an official report, 77 garment factories were shuttered, resulting in the loss of 30,683 jobs in the first nine months, while 53 suspended operations, causing a further 30,617 workers to go without work during the closure period.

A further 40 factories opened during the same period, the data showed, creating work for 9,605 people.

The temporarily closed factories would reopen should sufficient orders be placed, said Thau Buthorn, deputy director of the department of inspection at the Ministry of Labour.

“Only purchase orders can help garment factories in Cambodia resume their production and face the effects of the global economic crisis,” he said.

Kaing Monika, business development manager at the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), said it had been a difficult period for the sector, the largest export industry in Cambodia.

“Only those factories which are supported by significant international buyers have survived and managed to continue producing through this hard time,” he said, adding that just 283 GMAC factories were still operating.

Ath Thun, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (CCAWDU), said some factories had closed briefly and reopened to take advantage of a five-year tax holiday for new factories.

They also used it as a way to lay off staff without severance payments and then rehire them on new contracts with reduced benefits, he said.

He said factory owners bribed “corrupt officials or union leaders” to get away with the practice, illegal under Cambodian law, which states that bankrupt companies must go through bankruptcy proceedings first.

The World Bank noted in its Doing Business 2010 report that bankruptcy proceedings have not gotten off the ground in Cambodia despite the passage of the bankruptcy law.

Kaing Monika said only two GMAC factories had reopened after closure, both with different owners.

MH Bio-Energy agrees new cassava deal

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:01 May Kunmakara

BANTEAY Meanchey-based Te Haing Development Co agreed last month to provide South Korea’s MH Bio-Energy Group with dried cassava for conversion into ethanol, managers at the two companies said Wednesday.

Ros Sopharith, senior manager of MH Bio-Energy Group, which was closed temporarily in September over water-contamination concerns, said his company had spent US$1 million to build a 5-hectare drying court as well as a warehouse for Te Haing.

“My company built these facilities to help Te Haing process cassava. I’m not worried about Te Haing supplying us with enough dried cassava because they will be growing part of the volume themselves,” he said.

The plant currently produces 10,000 tonnes of ethanol per year for export to Europe.

Te Haing, owner of Te Haing Development Co, said that MH Bio-Energy Group had helped him organise purchases of cassava from farmers in Banteay Meanchey province, but that he had also planted 1,000 hectares of cassava of his own in the province’s Svay Chek district, close to the drying and storage site.

“I signed a contract with MH Bio-Energy to supply them with 6,000 tonnes of dried cassava every two or three months,” said Te Haing, adding that MH Bio-Energy agreed to buy the dried cassava at $92 per tonne, while he would pay local farmers between $38 and $44 per tonne for the fresh cassava.

“Right now the drying area needs to be expanded by 5 hectares”, Te Haing said. “We cannot dry our cassava by machine like corn, rice or other crops because of it will damage the quality.”

According to Te Haing, on a good day his facility can dry 1,000 tonnes of cassava.

Ros Sopharith said that Te Haing Company would begin supplying after the end of the rainy season.

Official preparations begin for three IPOs

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:01 Nguon Sovan

THE government announced the start of preparations for three state-owned companies to list on the forthcoming stock exchange in a meeting Wednesday at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA), Telecom Cambodia and Sihanoukville Autonomous Port held a meeting on initial public offerings with Minister Keat Chhon, who said the companies would act as an example to the rest of the private sector during the bourse’s initial stage. The main benefit from listing would be good corporate governance, he said.

“The listing is a method to mobilise financial resources for these enterprises,” he said, adding that all three had been the subject of takeover enquiries by foreign firms, the reason they had been selected to list.

Chhun Sambath, director of the department of securities issuance at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia, announced Wednesday the financial requirements for listing in the Kingdom, the first time the regulations have been made public, although these have not yet been finalised.

A minimum capital of 10 billion riels (US$2.39 million) would be required, he said, along with a minimum annual net profit of 1.5 billion riels during the previous period. Over the prior three years, a combined net profit of at least 3 billion riels would be set, he added.

A public offering would be at least 300,000 shares, Chhun Sambath said, at a minimum of 4,000 riels per share, meaning a total value of 1.2 billion riels.

An independent auditor would have to check all accounts for the previous three years prior to listing, he added.

Han Kyung Tae, chief representative of Tong Yang Securities of South Korea, which is serving as financial adviser to the ministry on matters related to the exchange, said it was still too early to tell whether the three companies selected were up to the required standard – this would normally be determined over about the next six months of preparations, he said.

“But we can speed this up and possibly finish in four months,” he said.

Last month, the heads of the three companies told the Post they had been ordered to list by the government.

Although the government has previously said it would plan to launch the exchange – in partnership with Seoul-based Korea Exchange – by the end of 2009, Keat Chhon declined to comment Wednesday on a possible start date.

Food prices hold steady in Q3 with inflation at 1.1pc

Photo by: Steve Finch
Shoppers buy food at Central Market in this file photo. Inflation on food prices remained low in the third quarter in sharp contrast to the large increases in July and August 2008.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:01 Steve Finch and Jeremy Mullins

Ministry of Commerce figures show inflation is under control, but analysts say rising prices will speed up through year-end.

FOOD prices remained fairly static in the third quarter, rising 1.1 percent compared with the previous three months, statistics released Wednesday by the Ministry of Commerce showed.

Following quarter-on-quarter deflation of close to 5 percent in the first three months of the year on a basket of 36 common household foodstuffs, and 1.7 percent inflation in the second quarter, the period from the end of June to the end of September saw a stabilisation in prices on items from maize to MSG.

The trend mirrors that shown by recent government consumer price index (CPI) data that suggest inflationary pressure has eased over the past three months: CPI rose 1.8 percent in June, slowing to 1.5 percent in July and 0.7 percent in August.

“With lower domestic demand and commodity prices, inflation pressures have eased in 2009,” the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said last week after concluding a mission to Cambodia.

The commodities that saw the highest price increases during the third quarter included garlic (138.1 percent), morning glory (60.4 percent) and imported Thai sugar (30.9 percent).

Meat in particular suffered deflating prices over the same period, figures showed – pork fell 9.7 percent, chicken was down 8.3 percent, and duck fell 5.4 percent.

Rice, the staple for many Cambodians, saw a 4.7 percent rise for the milled variety, while paddy fell in price compared with the end of the last quarter, down 1.9 percent.

“The increase is very small compared to previous years [during the third quarter],” said Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture.

Usually rice prices climb in the third quarter, he said, as supplies become scarcer ahead of the harvest season at the end of the year.

A good harvest is expected this year, the IMF said last week, meaning supply is unlikely to place too much inflationary pressure on food prices.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) forecast in its October outlook for Cambodia a 20.3 percent decline in food prices this year compared with 2008.

“In line with global trends, food and fuel prices have fallen from their highs of mid-2008,” it said.

Oil price rises modest
Petrol increased 4 percent in the third quarter compared with the previous three months, from 3,800 riels (US$0.91) to 3,950 riels per litre, while diesel was up 4.6 percent rising from 3,300 riels to 3,450 riels per litre.

Over the same period, crude prices have fallen slightly on the international market – the source of all Cambodia’s oil products – from about $70 a barrel to just over $67 a barrel Wednesday in Singapore.

Cambodia’s inflation has cooled since the third quarter of last year, when it was running at a peak of more than 20 percent year on year following huge increases in food prices that led the government to express concern over food security in the Kingdom.

Following the onset of the economic crisis in Cambodia in the last quarter, prices then began to fall.

San Sy Than, director of the National Institute of Statistics, the organisation that compiles CPI data, told the Post Wednesday that inflation is likely to return in the coming months.

“In the last quarter of 2009, we expect it to be positive [year on year],” he said.

Cinema buffs battle piracy in a sea of small screens

Photo by: Mark Roy
The Cinema Royale, one of the few remaining vintage cinemas in Cambodia, will be one of the venues for Cambofest when the internationally-recognised independent movie festival launches its third season in Kampot on December 4.

A real cinema room with a beautiful screen and a beautiful picture…it’s not the same at home.

(Post by CAAI News Media)

Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:01 Dianne Janes

Movie-hungry expats in Phnom Penh are revitalising local film culture, with a new wave of cinemas springing up to screen contemporary foreign films.

The last few years have brought mixed fortunes for cinema audiences in Phnom Penh. Venues screening local films have nearly all closed, victim to a piracy phenomenon cinema owners say they can’t compete with.

However, venues for foreign films have popped up around the city.

Phnom Penh now has venues including Meta House, focusing on documentaries; DVD movie house The Flicks, screening Hollywood movies and cult classics; and an old favourite, the French Cultural Centre (CCF), showing Francophone fare.

And it’s not just expatriates who have developed a taste for the cinema.

Mariam Arthur, CEO of film distribution company Kmy Films, says she knows several Khmers who regularly go to Bangkok for the weekend to watch movies.

“These aren’t only the rich kids. Middle-class business owners go to Thailand to purchase goods, and their kids go to the movies,” she said.

Co-owner of The Flicks, Martin Robinson, has found a niche audience amongst the English-speaking expats keen for some variety in their social life.

“Once you’ve done all the sights, and been to the bars, you hit a brick wall,” says Robinson.

Moviegoers also come for comic relief, he says. “Comedies do well,” he points out. “People working at the tribunal come in here after work, hearing about people getting tortured all day, and they just want to watch something funny.”

Alain Arnaudet, director of the CCF, says cinema is for everyone, and the local culture is more than receptive.

“Here people like to go out to see things, they are curious,” Arnaudet says, pointing to the success of the CCF’s regional touring cinema programme, which takes a mobile projector all over Cambodia.

“When we go on tour to the provinces, we have up to 2,000 people.”

Arnaudet says visual literacy, rather than words, is an obstacle to developing a strong cinema culture in Cambodia. Cambodians have “a lack of reference”, he says, as many locals have not grown up watching sophisticated styles of movies.

“They have difficulties sometimes in understanding the structure, if there is a ‘flashback’, or to follow multiple storylines,” he says.

At The Flicks, the issue for any such venue trying to run a business is the small size of the English-speaking population. “Just 20,000 or so expats, and half of them are French!” Robinson says, laughing.

While cinemas screening local and regional films generally blame DVD piracy for ruining their business, it may not be quite the same obstacle for those playing films from the West.

The French Cultural Centre pays copyright fees to screen films, although as a library and cultural institution, it pays quite modest contributions compared with a mainstream cinema.

Arnaudet does not see piracy as a major threat to his cinema, which can offer movies free of charge, with funding from the French government.

The appeal for audiences is in the cinema experience, he says.

“Going outside to meet people, to be in a real cinema room with a beautiful screen and a beautiful picture.… It’s not the same staying at home.”

Arthur hopes to use her years of experience in the film distribution business in the US to help reduce the impact of piracy here in Cambodia.

“We can’t expect to wake up one morning and have the problem of piracy solved,” she says. “It takes long-term investment and solid relationships in the ‘Hollywood’ film sales industry to bring about change.

“You have to have legal cinemas as a venue to screen legal movies.… The audience is ready to see international movies in Phnom Penh.”

She says she’s confident that everything is in place for a successful cinema industry in Cambodia.

“The day an investor is ready to build a cinema and screen licensed movies, the cinema culture will change – for the better,” Arthur says.

The question of affordability is on everybody’s lips. Many of the tiny venues around town say it would not be possible for them to pay Hollywood’s licence fees.

For now, they are meeting the demands of a cinema-hungry audience by providing a basic service for which there is no legal alternative.

Arthur says the local businesses trading in pirated DVDs are also doing the best they can under the circumstances.

“It is impossible for them to get licensed content on their own, so they buy DVDs from Malaysia,” she said.

“I really believe that most businesses want to comply with the law, they just have no access to do so.”

Kmy Films aims to help these businesses transition to legal DVD sales by making licensed movie content available at affordable prices.

To build a stronger cinema culture in Phnom Penh will also require some brave soul to invest in a big, comfy cinema showing contemporary foreign films at a reasonable price.

But, as someone said in a movie once, “If you build it, they will come.”