Friday, 12 February 2010

Questions surround Thai land mine claim

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A PMN-2 mine in Battambang province last year. A Thai man is accused of planting land mines in Oddar Meanchey.

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:04 Vong Sokheng

A MILITARY court in Phnom Penh is set to announce a verdict today in the case of a Thai national accused of planting land mines along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Suphap Vong Pakna confessed during testimony last week that he planted at least five explosive devices in a disputed area in Oddar Meanchey province. The man said he was paid by Thai soldiers to lay the mines before he was arrested last February. His lawyer said Thursday that he plans to argue for a lenient sentence.

“I hope that the court would consider the minimum jail term for my client because he was cheated by the Thai soldiers, he lacks education, and he has a mental health problem,” lawyer Sam Sokong said.

The lawyer said his client is charged with attempted murder, endangering national security and entering the country illegally – which he said could result in a prison term of between 15 and 30 years in the event of a conviction.

The case has led to renewed focus on a still-unresolved 2008 incident in which two Thai soldiers were severely injured when they stepped on land mines near the border. The Thai government said the mines had been freshly planted and pointed the finger at Cambodia.

Leng Sochea, deputy secretary general of the Cambodia Mine Action Authority, said Thailand must address the incident, noting that a diplomatic note sent to Thailand in response to the allegations had gone unanswered.

“We need an explanation from the Thai government. Otherwise we will lose face because of their allegation,” Leng Sochea said.

“We want the Thai government to look at the history of land mines and the confession of the Thai man.”

The Post was unable to reach Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn for comment Thurday, but he has previously declined to comment on the case.

Meanwhile, figures released Thursday suggest a continued drop in the number of land mine or explosive remnant of war (ERW) casualties registered in the Kingdom last year. In 2009, 243 people were injured or killed by explosives, compared with 271 in 2008, according to statistics from the Cambodia Mine/ERW Victim Information System.

Ieng Sary appeals detention

Photo by: ECCC POOL
Ieng Sary, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, attends a hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Thursday.

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:03 James O'Toole

LAWYERS for former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary requested that their client be released to house arrest during a hearing at Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal on Thursday, as questions about the ageing suspect’s health were brought to the fore.

In appealing their client’s pretrial detention, co-lawyers Ang Udom and Michael Karnavas argued that Ieng Sary, now 84 years old, is unlikely to flee the country or disturb public order if released from the court’s detention facilities, and asked judges to grant him “a less restrictive form of detention”.

“The pretrial chamber must be careful not to select as a matter of course the least favorable outcome for the charged person,” Ang Udom said, emphasising that the court must not implement unnecessarily punitive measures for a man who has yet to be tried.

Karnavas mocked the notion that his elderly client, if released, could evade Cambodian security forces.

Citing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s controversial trip to the Thai-Cambodian border this past weekend, Karnavas questioned that a country which he said appears to be spoiling for a fight with a larger neighbour can at the same time be “incapable of keeping someone under house arrest who can barely walk to the toilet”.

Deputy co-prosecutors Chan Dararasmey and Anees Ahmed said, however, that the circumstances of Ieng Sary’s detention had not changed since the pretrial judges rejected an appeal against it last year. In November, the co-investigating judges extended Ieng Sary’s detention for a third year after his arrest in 2007.

“The pretrial chamber has noted that house arrest, or even hospital detention, for this appellant is not warranted,” Chan Dararasmey said.

The court’s internal rules, Ahmed said, “do not provide for any house arrest provisions”. Concerns about Ieng Sary’s health, he added, are more than accounted for at the detention facility.

Ieng Sary “had dozens of sessions of physiotherapy at the expense of this tribunal”, Ahmed said, noting that he also has access to doctors, 24-hour nursing and “a special handrail installed in his cell”.

The court adjourned several times on Thursday for Ieng Sary, who appeared with the aid of a cane and a back brace, to take breaks. He declined to speak at length during the hearing, delegating that task to his attorneys.

“He cannot really sit long enough, more than a half hour,” Ang Udom said of his client, who left the proceedings early because of fatigue.

Ahmed said that while Ieng Sary has in the past suffered from heart and back problems, there is nothing to indicate that these problems have significantly worsened.

“These health conditions ... continue in the form that they were, and they have been contained,” Ahmed said.

Former Democratic Kampuchea head of state Khieu Samphan will appear before the court to appeal his provisional detention today, and former minister of social action Ieng Thirith will do the same on Monday.

Capital’s poorest don’t report crimes: survey

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:03 Chhay Channyda

RESIDENTS of Phnom Penh’s poorest neighbourhoods are reluctant to report crimes to police because they believe it is a waste of time and fear they will be asked to put up “incentive” money in order to receive meaningful assistance, according to a survey of five communities released by the UN on Thursday.

The survey from UN-Habitat, the UN agency charged with promoting “socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities”, also found that around half of all respondents from the five communities – Borei Mittapheap, Andong, Meanchey Sattrey Aphiwat, Boeung Salang and Chamroeun – had been the victims of crimes such as theft, domestic violence and rape.

“People hesitate to report the crimes to police when they think that what happened to them is petty, and that it is likely a waste of time to go to meet the police,” Kol Leakhana, coordinator for UN-Habitat’s Safer City Project, said during a launch event for the survey.

“It is their habit because they think that the things they lost will not be recovered if they report a theft.”

She added: “They are poor, and they have no ‘incentive’ money to give police.”

Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth on Thursday denied that Phnom Penh residents are routinely asked to pay fees when reporting crimes.

“We have no such policy to demand money from people who report crimes or file complaints with us,” he said in response to the survey’s findings, adding that “participation from people is a must to contribute to the reduction of crimes”.

He suggested that people make use of public suggestion boxes, which police have installed in all 76 of the capital’s communes. “They can write about the irregularities of law enforcement or any crimes that have happened in their communities, and we will take action later,” he said.

The survey, which had a total of 375 respondents, showed that women and children were most likely to be the victims of crimes; that most people thought drugs, alcohol and poverty were the main causes of crime; and that 97 percent of people wanted local authorities and police to do more to prevent crime in their communities.

Overall, crime has dropped steadily since 2002, according to figures provided by UN-Habitat, though the survey recorded a slight increase in petty crime last year. The overall decline, UN-Habitat said, can be attributed to increasing development.

Khmer Rouge: Brother of Pol Pot dies at 84: police

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:03 May Titthara

Khmer Rouge

The last surviving brother of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died last week in Kampong Thom province at the age of 84, local authorities said. Saloth Nhep – a younger brother of Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot – died last Thursday at his home in Kampong Thom’s Prek Sbov village, Stung Sen district, Stung Sen police Chief Nhem Chhunly said. Family members planned to hold a funeral for Saloth Nhep on Thursday, Nhem Chhunly added. “He worked as a farmer and lived with his family in a small house that was built by his children,” Nhem Chhunly said. Noeun, the police chief of Stung Sen’s Ou Kanthor commune, who goes by only one name, said Saloth Nhep lived with five children, all of whom were farmers.

RCAF to halt deployments to Thai border

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:03 Vong Sokheng

CAMBODIAN and Thai military commanders met for nearly two hours on Thursday to ensure that diplomatic tensions between the two countries do not boil over into conflict, military officials said.

Chea Tara, deputy commander for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in Preah Vihear province, said the two sides had agreed not to reinforce their positions at the border or redeploy troops beyond their current positions.

“We had a good result from the meeting, and agreed not to move or reinforce our troops in order to avoid conflict,” he said.

During a five-day border visit that concluded Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen repeatedly accused Thailand of encroaching on Cambodian territory, particularly in the area surrounding Preah Vihear temple.

If Thai troops fail to vacate this territory, including the Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvarak pagoda, Cambodia might be forced to evict them by military means, Hun Sen said Tuesday.

Despite the talks, Thai soldiers prevented Cambodian troops from approaching the pagoda on Thursday, Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said.

Thai troops near the border, he added, have been conducting military exercises in Thailand’s Surin province for the past month and a half, and informed their Cambodian counterparts of the exercises only last week.

Chhum Socheat said Cambodian officials had warned the Thais, whose exercises are taking place near Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district, to make sure their artillery shells do not land in Cambodian territory.

In February of last year, six Thai shells fired during a similar military training exercise landed 2 kilometres inside Cambodian territory. No one was hurt, and Thailand later apologised for the incident. “We told our Thai counterparts that the shelling from the exercise must not land in Cambodian territory,” Chhum Socheat said.

“We will not tolerate their shelling this time.”

French national charged with robbery, illegal use of weapon

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Francois Chateau, 48, is led from court Thursday. He was arrested in connection with the armed robbery of a Cambodia-Asia Bank branch in Boeung Keng Kang III.

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court on Thursday charged a French national with robbery and the illegal use of a weapon in connection with the robbery of a Phnom Penh bank earlier this week, a court official said Thursday.

Francois Chateau, 48, was arrested on Monday in Chamkarmon district’s Boeung Keng Kang III commune after allegedly stealing nearly US$300 from a Cambodia-Asia Bank branch in an armed holdup.

Court prosecutor Sok Kolyan said that if convicted, Chateau could face a sentence of between five and 10 years in prison for the robbery, as well as an additional six months to two years for the illegal use of a weapon charge.

“The man confessed to the two charges [in court], and had confessed already at the police station,” he said.

A commune police official who asked not to be named said Wednesday that during the robbery, Chateau had pointed a handgun at a security guard and ordered him inside the branch. Chateau then proceeded to point the gun at two cashiers before snatching the cash and fleeing, the official said.

He was arrested later that evening after bank employees alerted police.

Sand Dredging: Villagers to file complaint

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:02 Khouth Sophakchakrya

Sand Dredging

About 400 families in Por Bakkor village in Kampong Thom province near the Stung Sen river said they would file a complaint today to provincial authorities to stop sand-dredging that they say caused a stretch of riverbank to collapse last year. Village representative Pen Bopharath said the collapse occurred while the Tung Kimla Company was dredging nearby. “138 families in my village have thumbprinted a complaint and filed it to Damrie Chaon Kla commune authorities to intervene and stop this company from dredging,” she said. “But the commune chief denied our request, saying that he didn’t have the authority to stop the activities of the company.” Prum Phanny, chief of Damrie Chaon Kla commune, confirmed that he had told villagers the matter was outside his jurisdiction. “I think that the people should file their complaint to the provincial Department of Industry, Mines and Energy or the Department of Water Resources because they provided the licence to this dredging company,” he said. Provincial Industry Department Director Nhek Kunthea denied issuing a licence, and officials from the Water Resources Department were unavailable for comment.

Kraya families decry destruction of pagoda

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A man sits outside the entrance to the now-demolished pagoda in Kraya village, Santuk district, Kampong Thom, last December.

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:02 May Titthara

AUTHORITIES in Kampong Thom’s Santuk district have demolished a pagoda on an eviction site in Kraya commune, former residents say, though the district governor contends that the structure was not a pagoda but rather a “small cottage”.

Pan Par, a former soldier whose family was among the hundreds evicted from Kraya commune in December, said that authorities had begun bringing Buddhist statues removed from the pagoda to a relocation site 7 kilometres away.

“They did this because they wanted to demolish the old pagoda and give the land to the Vietnamese rubber company to develop,” he said. “Even though they did not allow us to live in the old village, they should have let us keep our pagoda out of respect for the Buddhist religion.”

He added: “It’s such a pity that they dared to destroy the pagoda and have now left the Buddhist statues in the field.”

Disabled veterans and their families first began moving to the Kraya site in 2004, having received permission from local authorities. But in 2007, the government sold off an 8,000-hectare concession, including the families’ land, to Tin Bien, a Vietnamese rubber company.

The eviction was carried out in December. Rights groups estimated at the time that as many as 1,750 families were affected, though Licadho now puts that figure at 667.

Pich Sophea, Santuk district governor, said Thursday that there had been no pagoda on the site.

“This pagoda was not a real pagoda. It was a small cottage, so we demolished it because we have given the Vietnamese company the right to develop there already,” he said.

He also said that the families themselves had been responsible for removing the Buddhist statues from the structure.

“We did not bring the Buddhist statues from the pagoda,” he said. “The villagers came here and took them by themselves.”

He added; “We are preparing land for them so they can construct a pagoda in their new site.”

Svay Rieng villagers’ health worsening in prison, relatives say

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:02 Meas Sokchea

RELATIVES of two villagers jailed in Svay Rieng provincial prison for damaging property have complained about their treatment at the hands of authorities, saying their health has deteriorated due to lack of medical care and tinhumane treatment by the authorities.

Prom Chea, 41, who was sentenced to one year in prison last month after being found guilty of uprooting temporary border markers in October, was admitted to Svay Rieng Referral Hospital this week, complaining of pains in his right leg and stomach problems .

Chhoeung Sarin, Prom Chea’s wife, said her husband’s health had improved, but that it was not being helped by the confinement tactics of the authorities.

“They shackled my husband’s legs every night, although he is seriously sick, and police are also guarding him. They only take off the shackles when I ask them to take my husband to the bathroom,” Chhoeung Sarin said.

“I requested them to take off the shackles, since he is seriously sick and cannot flee … but they still do not agree,” she said.

Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for local rights group Adhoc, decried the shackling of a sick prisoner, describing it as “inhuman” and contrary to the UN Torture Convention.

“If he is seriously sick and they shackle him it seems to add an element of torture to his sickness. We would like to call on prison officials to find other methods,” he said.

Relatives of Meas Srey, 39, the other Svay Rieng villager jailed over the border post incident, say she is also suffering health problems in prison.

Meas Srey’s elder brother Meas Proel said life in jail had worsened his sister’s “weak heart” and caused pains in her joints due to the lack of medical care.

“I went to visit my sister last week, and she told me her weak heart is more serious than before. When she was at home she took medicine every day, but since she has been in prison she has not taken the medicine as often, so her sickness is stronger than before,” he said.

But prison chief Ken Savoeun said Meas Srey had the heart illness before she was jailed, and that he had heard no reports about her health worsening.

“If she was seriously sick she would be sent out to have treatment,” he said.

Factory health plan starts slow

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:02 Emily Crane

A PROGRAMME designed to provide garment workers with health care has struggled to attract factory owners since launching last March, but organisers say they hope it will serve 100,000 workers by the end of 2011.

Established by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia and the French NGO Groupe de Recherches et d’Etudes Technologiques (GRET), the programme has grown to enompass six different health-care facilities. Preah Kossamak Hospital and a health centre in Tuol Kork began participating on February 1.

Under the programme, workers at participating garment factories can receive health care for US$1.60 per month, a cost shared between the workers and their employers, said project manager Aurore Lambert.

“Each month the money comes from the worker’s salary, and they can get free health care whenever they need it from the public health facilities involved,” Lambert said.

The programme pays a flat fee to partially cover the costs of the workers’ health care. At Cambodian-Russian Frienship Hospital, for instance, the programme pays $61 for each patient who goes in for treatment, regardless of how much the treatment ends up costing.

Lambert blamed the economic crisis for the programme’s slower-than-expected start.

“The first garment workers were insured in September of last year. We were hoping to have 10,000 workers covered in the first year, but because of the financial crisis it is hard to convince factory management to pay their contribution for the insurance,” Lambert said.

She said more than 2,000 garment workers are currently participating in the programme.

In general, she said, health insurance is an altogether foreign concept for many garment workers.

“It took a while for workers to understand the idea of health insurance ... but after a few months we have noticed more people wanting to join,” she said.

Chim Sokly, a garment worker who has been enrolled in the programme for the past six months, said she had visited the hospital three times during that period.

“It is good to be able to come to the hospital knowing I won’t have to pay large costs,” she said during a checkup at Cambodian-Russian Friendship Hospital on Tuesday. “Before I would just get medicine at the pharmacy because the hospital was too expensive.”

Lambert said the programme was set to be transferred to the National Social Security Fund in 2011.

SRP lawmaker drafts his own antigraft law

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:02 Meas Sokchea

AN opposition lawmaker said Thursday that he was drafting an alternate version of the Anticorruption Law, as the National Assembly continues to await a copy of the draft that was approved by the Council of Ministers in December.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said he decided to draft his own version of the law partially in response to the fact that the Council of Ministers had kept the approved version under wraps.

“We have learned that the government has already produced a draft Anticorruption Law and that the Council of Ministers adopted it, but it has been more than two months, and we still do not know where it is,” he said.

Senior government officials said towards the end of last year that the draft Anticorruption Law would not be debated by the National Assembly until at least April.

But opposition party and civil society representatives say they want the law handed over to the National Assembly for debate and public scrutiny as soon as possible.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said parliamentarians had not received a draft as of Wednesday.

“We have not received it yet. I am a member of the assembly’s permanent committee, and I have not received it yet. When we receive it, we will hold a session,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he did not know exactly when the draft law would be forwarded on for debate.

Phnom Penh port sees recent boom continue

Photo by: Pha Lina
Ships sit docked at Phnom Penh Autonymous Port Thursday. The port recorded its seventh consecutive month of traffic growth in January

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:01 Chun Sophal

Traffic climbed 75pc in January, beating projections for 2010

PHNOM Penh Autonomous Port maintained a strong recovery last month as shipments climbed 74.9 percent on January 2009, the seventh straight month of growth and highest annualised increase since the economic crisis hit Cambodia, according to port data.

Figures obtained Thursday showed the capital’s port recorded traffic of 4,547 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in January, or 34,051 tonnes of goods, compared with 2,599 TEUs, or 19,699 tonnes a year ago.

“The impact of the world economic crisis is diminishing,” port Deputy Director General Eang Veng Sun said Thursday.

Exports of agricultural products and textiles from the capital were up, he added, and imports of construction materials and raw materials for the garment sector had also risen.

On January 27, the port said it projected the shipment of 62,500 TEUs, about 585,600 tonnes, which would represent a 44 percent rise on 2009.

The port’s turnaround since July last year – the facility suffered a 20 percent slump in revenues for the first half of 2009 – has been attributed to the opening that month of Cai Mep Deepwater Port in southern Vietnam, which offers a more direct route to North America, Cambodia’s main export market.

With the opening of the Vietnamese port, goods from the Kingdom could be shipped to the United States and Canada by way of the Mekong River and Cai Mep, a route that takes days less than previously popular sea routes via Sihanoukville, Hong Kong or Singapore.

So Nguon, director of Cambodia’s leading domestic transportation and logistics firm So Nguon Group, said Thursday his company transported 120 containers of garment products to the port in January, compared to just 100 a year earlier.

Still, this did not represent a net rise in garment exports overall – garment and apparel exports fell slightly in January year on year, official figures showed Wednesday – instead Phnom Penh has poached traffic from other ports, principally the Kingdom’s largest facility, in Sihanoukville, since the opening of Cai Mep in July.

Despite the second-half recovery in traffic, Phnom Penh port suffered a 2 percent drop in revenues last year compared to 2008 to US$4.93 million, a figure that is projected to climb significantly to US$6.25 million this year, which would represent the highest figure ever recorded.

The Chinese owned Shanghai Co is scheduled to construct a US$30 million port upgrade that would further increase capacity.

Police Blotter: 12 Feb 2010

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:01 Sen David

A man was arrested in Ratanakkiri’s Banlung district on Tuesday after allegedly stealing money from monks he was staying with temporarily. Police said the 19-year-old man stole 3 million riels (around US$720) from the Phnom Svay pagoda while the monks who had put him up were out having lunch. A monk who stayed behind saw the robbery and immediately reported him to police. Police sent the case to the provincial court.

Three gangsters who were engaging in high-speed racing were involved in an accident in front of the Chhoun Nath statue in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Police say the three men – who were riding in a Lexus – were racing when they crashed in front of the statue, which wasn’t damaged. The three men were sent to Calmette hospital with minor injuries. The parents of the men say the boys are spoiled, and that they have been concerned about their children’s activities.

Police in Poipet town on Tuesday shaved the heads of 10 gangsters to re-educate them, after saying the men were intimidating villagers by shouting and threatening them with swords and staves. The men were sent to an NGO for re-education, as the men were constantly getting drunk. Villagers welcomed the move, expressing hopes the gangsters would change their ways.

Local authorities in Kandal province detained two men accused of trafficking drugs across the Thai-Cambodian border in Preah Vihear province on Wednesday. Police say they saw a car speeding and stopped it, after which they found a large quantity of drugs on board. The arrests were part of a cooperative effort among several provincial police departments, authorities said, adding that the men confessed to having sold drugs many times in Kandal province.

Three young boys were severely injured after a mine exploded in Battambang’s Kas Kralor district on Wednesday. Police said the boys were tending to a cow when they spotted a mine but didn’t know what it was. They started beating it as part of a game when it exploded. Their parents said that their children always go to look after the cows every evening. On the day of the incident, their parents heard the sound of explosions in the field, but they did not suppose this was happening to their children. Neighbours alerted the parents, who sent the injured children straight to hospital.

Only MPTC can licence airwave use, official says

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:01 Ellie Dyer

THE Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) is now the only body that can issue frequency licences to businesses, its director general said Thursday when quizzed on a series of sector controversies.

The telecoms industry came under scrutiny last month when leading Internet service providers (ISPs) wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen to raise concerns about the ministry’s reissuance of nine existing licences to a company called Digital Star TV.

A permit gives businesses permission to use the radio spectrum to provide technology, such as mobile-phone services or wireless Internet, to customers.

Experts have said that multiple companies using the same frequency bandwidth make technology, like WiMax wireless Internet, impossible to use.

In an interview with the Post Thursday, ministry Director General Mao Chakrya spoke in detail about the row for the first time.

When asked why Star Digital TV was granted a licence already given to nine ISPs he said: “Any other country could have the same problem. This is because the MPTC issues licences, but it is not the only ministry involved.”

The Ministry of Information was at the centre of another licensing debate last year when it awarded Phom Penh Cable Television a monopoly to provide Internet protocol television to the Kingdom. This came despite the MPTC’s already having given a licence to offer the same services to Kazakh firm Digi.

“It involved some other [ministries],” Mao Chakrya said Thursday in reference to the latest incident.

He declined to comment further, pointing instead to a new ruling on licensing detailed in a letter signed by the Council of Ministers on February 2 and handed to mobile-phone providers Monday.

“Right now, the prime minister has instructed that the MPTC, and only the MPTC, should now issue licences,” he said.

The letter states that: “To ensure unity in giving permission to investment projects, there must be approval from the government in response to requests made by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. Then the ministry can issue licences to the company.”

Mao Chakrya added that he believes the ISPs who wrote to Hun Sen should have discussed the issues with the MPTC first. The companies named in that letter are Angkor Data Communication Group, Cambodia Data Communication Co Ltd, Chuan Wei, Wicam, Wireless IP, AZ Communication Group and EZECOM.

MPTC cancels licences
MPTC informed two of these firms in a letter at the end of last month that their licences had been revoked, a decision the document said had been made in September, according to an unnamed industry executive. It remains unclear which two companies were involved.

“I think it would have been appropriate for all those companies to have worked with the ministry on behalf of the government, as we are responsible for the sector. They should have discussed [the issue] and written a letter to the ministry and so on,” Mao Chakrya said Thursday.

He added that he was happy to meet with all the ISPs involved but said some companies were not joining MPTC meetings.

He said another meeting, held once every two months, would solve this problem. The next session is due to take place in March, but the date has not yet been fixed, he added.

When the Post approached a spokesman for the group that wrote the letter to the prime minister Thursday, he referred back to the document sent to Hun Sen – which stated that the companies “wished to lodge concerns about the manner in which the MPTC is attributing new operators radio-frequency spectrum that is already under licence”.

SECC set to inaugurate exchange this March

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:01 Nguon Sovan

THE Cambodian Stock Exchange (CSX) will be inaugurated in March, an unnamed source at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SECC) said Thursday.

Although the new exchange is not expected to begin trading until the end of the year, 90 percent of preparations to establish its organisation are complete, said another SECC official, Director General Ming Bankosal, on Thursday.

“It will be formed soon,” he added, speaking at a public consultation session held at the Phnom Penh Hotel on Thursday regarding two new draft prakas, or edicts, on the exchange.

Approximately 200 representatives of the private sector took part in the consultation session, which looked at prakas on accreditation for professional accounting firms and the prime principles of operating rules for a securities market, clearance and settlement facilities, and a securities depository.

“Professional accounting firms play a crucial role in auditing a firm to have accurate financial statements,” said Ming Bankosal in reference to the first draft edict.

Professional accounting firms must hold minimum capital of 500 million riels (US$120,000) to comply, and must have conducted auditing in Cambodia for at least five years – along with the same experience overseas. Also, a firm’s financial statements must have been audited independently for the previous three years.

Once the CSX is formed in the coming weeks, it will implement the second draft prakas discussed Thursday, said Ming Bankosal.

Government licences fewer real estate firms

Sung Bonna, president of Bonna realty Group, shows his newly issued real estate licence Wednesday at the firm’s office in Phnom Penh.

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:01 Soeun Say

Property-sector decline sees more agents drop out of business

THE number of real estate and valuation firms granted permits was down 54 percent in two years, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

In January 2008, 74 companies were licensed to carry out business in the Kingdom. In the same month of 2009, the number was 43, but by January 2010 it was just 34, Mao Pov, deputy chief of the real estate division at the finance ministry said Thursday.

The cost of a one year licence and a certificate is 700,000 riels (US$167) – as defined by a 2007 prakas, or edict.

Sung Bonna, president of Bonna Realty Group and president of the National Valuers’ Association of Cambodia said some firms had been hurt by the lull in the property market.

“[Some small real estate agents] have not applied to renew their licences because the sector has been affected by the world economic crisis. Companies have decided to halt or postpone their business,” he said.

Sear Chailin, director of Visal Realty Co, said that his company’s licence had expired.

“I am going to stop renewing my licence temporarily because my business is running very slowly,” he added.

One real estate agent, who preferred to remain anonymous, cited a need to pay high informal costs to avoid delays as a reason for falling renewals.

Most firms use brokers as go-betweens to speed up the process. The agent said the practice added to the overall cost, but the brokers were close to officials and so could navigate hurdles.

Seng Sopheak, valuation manager of Cambodia Property Limited (CPL), said he renewed his licence in August.

“We don’t want to work without a licence, but we must continue, despite the fact the property market is still no better,” he said.

He said his company paid about $1,000 a year to renew licences through a broker.

“In my view, that is not expensive for big real estate agents, but it is expensive for small real estate agents,” he said.

Norng Piseth, director of finance at the finance ministry’s Real Estate Division, denied that informal charges were required to process licences and certificates, saying that agents simply preferred to use brokers and lawyers.

Officials said they hoped the number of registered real estate agents might pick up.

Mey Vann, director of the Department of Industry and Finance at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said: “If the economy improves this year those real estate and valuation companies will come back and apply for a renewal or a new licence.”

Norng Piseth emphasised that any company operating without a licence would be fined 5 million riels.

HKL gets green light to receive deposits

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:01 Nguon Sovan

HATTHA Kaksekar Limited (HKL) became the second microfinance institution in a day and the fourth in total to be granted a deposit-taking licence by the central bank on February 5, said the lender’s general manager.

Hout Ieng Tong said Thursday that HKL had put the new service into operations Monday, allowing the firm to source loan capital from depositors rather than relying solely on international lenders.

AMK received a licence the same day.

“We have spent about $500,000 to prepare our facilities, staff, hardware and software for this service since we applied in December,” he said.

“So we can start immediately at all our branches in Phnom Penh and the other 12 provinces.”

More rural deposits
He said he expected the service to encourage more people in the provinces to save money with microfinance institutions (MFIs) where it is more secure, and that depositors could gain through competitive interest rates.

HKL sets interest rates of 8 percent and 9 percent for one-year deposit in US dollars and riels respectively.

“The interest rate is higher than offered at commercial banks, but … cheaper than we can borrow from foreign investors – [abroad] the minimum is 9 percent per year on dollars,” said Hout Ieng Tong.

Outstanding loans at HKL rose 6.7 percent last year compared to 2008. Profits fell 29.4 percent to $1.2 million over the same period as non-performing loans climbed 3 percent.

Day of the lovestruck tiger

Bazooka and Aya from musical group Milo will perform at Nest on Sunday, February 14.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 February 2010 15:00 POST STAFF

The stars have aligned and Siem Reap’s bracing itself for an action-packed weekend as Valentine’s Day and the start of Chinese Lunar New Year fall on the same day this February 14.

The marquee event of the weekend will be tomorrow night at Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, which will usher in the year of the tiger from 6pm with specials on Tsingtao beer and an ang pao tree hung with traditional Chinese red gift envelopes. Lucky partygoers can win more beer, free cocktails and dinners at restaurants around town. There will also be a fortune teller in front of the bar, which will be festooned with red lanterns.

Nest on Sivutha Boulevard is doing a dual celebration with a My Chinese Valentine dinner on February 14. Tunes will be provided by Japanese band Milo and a dinner/drink/gift combo for two will be on special for US$55.

Cambojam will be playing at a purely Valentine-themed night at the Brickhouse Bar in the Angkor Night Market tomorrow night at 9pm.

For those with more ritzy tastes, the Sothea hotel will host a Valentine’s to Remember dinner complete with a violin mini-concerto on February 14, courtesy of a classically trained quartet from Royal University of Phnom Penh’s College of Music and Fine Arts. The live serenade will occur from 7-10pm.

Meanwhile, a family-style night will take place at Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa on February 14. The hotel will serve a barbecue buffet dinner from 7pm, and a Chinese lion dance will be performed by the pool.

For the anti-romantics, dateless and hopeless among us, the Warehouse and Angkor What? bars will hold anti-Valentines Day parties, with Warehouse providing a prize for the best breakup story.

An eye in the sky

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:00 Peter Olszewski

No one wandered lonely as a cloud during Monday night’s launch of artist Srey Bandol’s black and white illustrations of clouds at the Arts Lounge at Hotel de la Paix

As usual, curator Don Protasio dipped deep into his creative grab bag to give the launch an innovative edge: Paper darts flitted through the air, a bubble making machine worked overtime – much to the delight of the kids present – and readings of cloud-oriented poetry gave the night a funky San Francisco Ferlinghetti literary salon feel.

The event itself overshadowed the art on display, which, disappointingly, wasn’t all that eye-grabbing. No lofty inspiration here among the “Clouds” drawings.

The mostly-pencil renderings in relentless black and white tended to be a tad tedious. Very much a case of same, same and not at all different.

Perhaps I’m jaded because only the week before, while flying into Siem Reap, I experienced the real thing: an awesome cloud show in the skies above the province, and mere pencilling certainly could never capture such breathtaking spiritual grandeur.

Meanwhile, a different launch on Saturday night was another exercise in mostly black and white. This was the opening of the new Anjali House Photo Exhibition at the Heritage Suites Hotel.

The modest but interesting exhibition, titled “Life & Disability”, presented the photography work of local teenager and apprentice electrician, Sokdam, aged 17. His work is the result of tutoring by the Malaysian photographer Abdul Rahman Roslan in November 2009 during the Anjali Photo Workshops, which are usually part of the Angkor Photo Festival.

This exhibition is a telling testament of the vital role the workshops and the almost-lost festival play in fostering the almost-lost art of local Khmer photography.

Find Your balls

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:00 Byron Perry

All they’ll find is your balls,” says Kevin Weiser, a tall, thin Texan transplant who’s been riding dirt-bikes all his life. “They’re protected by the bike frame.”

It’s Sunday morning and a group of Siem Reap dirt-bikers are discussing what would happen if one of them ran over one of Cambodia’s many undetonated landmines.

The riders are talking shop while smoking cigarettes and making minor repairs to their bikes at team mechanic Benny Kramer’s house before they head out on their weekly ride. Today they’ve chosen an easy run – a loop around the West Baray – because there are a few beginners in the pack, but it’s not always a leisurely Sunday drive. Telling war stories is an essential part of the crew’s weekly outings.

Mille says his friend Christian hit a juvenile cow on National Road 6 at 70 km/hr. Christian survived with only major burns, but the calf was dead before he knew what hit him.

Or there’s the time Mille Svennson, a Swede working at Soria Moria Boutique Hotel who rode motocross for four years in his homeland, slipped on a sand patch and crashed in the middle of nowhere, Mondulkiri Province, badly cutting the foot of his girlfriend Maria who was riding on the back.

“Local villagers who saw the crash ran into the forest, came back and spit into some leaves and tied them to her foot with a sarong. Then they yelled at me for crashing,” says Mille. At the undermanned local hospital Mwwille had to help the doctor stitch up Maria’s foot.

The troupe will try to avoid any such disasters on today’s trip. At a petrol stop near the Siem Riep airport, Benny lays out the rules. Number one: Wear your goggles, it’s gonna be dusty. Number two: If the guy in front of you raises his hand there’s danger ahead – slow down and raise your hand for the guy behind you. Number three: Stop at every intersection.

And then, in a cacophony of snarling engines and plumes of exhaust smoke, they’re off.

Half an hour later the crew of eight is getting radical on gnarled dirt roads by the West Baray. Squealing kids with brown teeth wave and make throttling gestures as the riders fly through villages.

One moment they’re buzzing along a straight and levelled road through rice paddies, next they’re navigating hairpin turns on sandy paths through scrub forest, and later sloshing through a muddy pasture.

The group consensus is that the trick to making it through the soft and treacherous sand is to go fast and trust the bike: same with mud, water and bumpy dirt roads. In fact, according to these guys, the solution to any terrain seems to be to gun the throttle and let the bike do the work.

“I can’t ride for shit, I just hold on for dear life,” says Kevin. “I’ve ridden all over the world but Cambodia is pretty hard to beat. There’s not a lot of infrastructure so you have to be more careful in terms of injuries. But you give up that to get more freedom from regulations.”

And Siem Reap is probably the premiere hub in Cambodia for dirt biking. “In Siem Reap you ride 10 minutes out of town and you’re in perfect country,” says Mille. “There may be more riders in Phnom Penh but it takes like two hours to get out of the city to somewhere good.”

For people who want to jump on a hog for a backwoods journey through Siem Riep, there are at least two official dirt bike tour groups in town, Siem Reap Dirt Bikes and Hidden Cambodia, and lots of informal outfits, says Mille.

Today, after more than two hours of riding, the group splits up. The gang is wet and mud-splattered from the waist down and covered with a thick layer of red Cambodian dust. Three of the more intrepid members continue on to more trying terrain, but most have to return to town.

Everyone has a big, shit-eating grin on his face.

Until next Sunday.

TV stations battle for bouts

Cheam Adam (left) will face Thai Bunhan Sunday in the first set of round robin fights for CTN’s 65-kilogram tournament.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 12 February 2010 15:00 Ung Chamroeun

This Saturday, Bayon TV station will celebrate its second year of hosting the Khmer boxing with a four fighter championship featuring previous winners and runners up. Nget Ratha will face Mab Chhaya and Chantha Sarim is drawn against Soy Phearom, with the winners of each bout meeting in a final.

Also on Sunday, TV3 continues its return to live boxing broadcasts with five fights at its new stadium in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. According to Ty Ranath, an official of TV3, the channel will strive to find the best boxers and organise regular international fights twice monthly.

Sunday sees the start of round robin bouts for CTN’s 65-kilogram championship, sponsored by local wine company Sach Dom. Eight top pugilists from various clubs across the kingdom will feature in the tournament, including Him Saran, Heng Samraing, Cheam Adam, Thai Bunhan, Khon Reach, Dun Ratha, Chea Samneang and Pech Arun. Ma Serey, director of Sport at CTN, announced the draw for the first round at a press conference Wednesday. Him Saran will meet Heng Samraing and Cheam Adam will do battle with Thai Bunhan Sunday, with the other matches scheduled for the following Sunday.

Mel Kado, representative of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and also General Secretary of Khmer Boxing Amateur Federation, hailed the progress in the Cambodia boxing sector thanks to cooperation from local TV channels. He also noted that Prime Minister Hun Sen supported boxing and would offer prize money for boxers, especially when they fought against foreigners.

New Cambodian expo

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Friday, 12 February 2010 15:00 May Kunmakara

DIAMOND Island, a new exhibition hall on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich Island, is set to host the first World Cam Exhibition over three days at the end of March, showcasing a host of products. Sim Sopheak, managing director of International Event Management, the event organiser, said it was hoped the exhibition would attract 200,000 traders and customers from Cambodia, Singapore, China and Malaysia. “It is huge and the first event of its kind for Cambodia,” he said. “We are not specifying the sector as is the case with other events because we want them all to come together to give options to our visitors.”

Chomsky and the Khmer Rouge
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The Observer
February 8, 2010

In his prickly response Letters, 17 January to Andrew Anthony’s “Lost in Cambodia,” OM, 10 January 2010 Noam Chomsky does precisely what he accuses Anthony of doing:

“Vilify the messenger, to ensure that unwanted history is forgotten.”

That unwanted history is of Chomsky himself casting aspersions on critics of the Khmer Rouge. During Pol Pot’s reign, Chomsky disputed the refugees themselves. Since Cambodia, he has expanded his game to North Korea and Bosnia. I must hand it to him – more than three decades after wagging his finger at refugees like myself in “Distortions at fourth hand” The Nation, 6 June 1977, and later in After the Cataclysm South End Press, 1979, he continues to quote selectively and to obfuscate. Chomsky’s formula is straightforward: 1 quote a critic saying something supportive of one little piece of an argument you wish to make; 2 needle other critics with it; and 3 repeat ad infinitum until you weave an entire tapestry with this flimsy thread. It is a game that only a linguist of Chomsky’s calibre can master.

I am merely a former Cambodian refugee, for whom English is my fourth language. Yet it does not take much effort to find precisely what Chomsky wrote in 1979 After the Cataclysm and to let it speak for itself:

“In the first place, is it proper to attribute deaths from malnutrition and disease to Cambodian authorities?”

Since my father died of malnutrition and disease, I am especially outraged by this question. While my family worked and died in rice fields, Chomsky sharpened his theories and amended his arguments while seated in his armchair in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I believe that he would probably have me blame the Americans and their bombs for causing everything around the Khmer Rouge to go wrong.

Incredibly, Chomsky and Ed Herman did precisely that when they claimed:

“If a serious study… is someday undertaken, it may well be discovered… that the Khmer Rouge programmes elicited a positive response… because they dealt with fundamental problems rooted in the feudal past and exacerbated by the imperial system.… Such a study, however, has yet to be undertaken.”

Perhaps that study had already been undertaken but was ignored, as Chomsky and Herman intimate: “The situation in Phnom Penh resulting from the US war is graphically described in a carefully-documented study by Hildebrand and Porter that has been almost totally ignored by the press.” This is high praise for a book that contained a propaganda picture of a Khmer Rouge “hospital” operating room.

It just so happens that my father died in a mite-infested Khmer Rouge “hospital”. Nam Mon, an illiterate Khmer Rouge “nurse”, testified in July 2009 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal now taking place in Phnom Penh that all she did was hand out paracetamol and aspirin, no matter the malady. To be sure, her patients got the special treatment; they were prisoners at S-21, the Khmer Rouge killing machine that produced more than 17,000 deaths.

When it comes to allowing for honest error, Chomsky will have none of it. He refers for example to Father Ponchaud’s differing American and British editions of Cambodia: Year Zero as evidence of duplicity. If he had cared to check with the easily accessible French priest, he would have learned that the error was due to his translator, who submitted the wrong edition to the publisher.

Writing about American leaders in At War with Asia (Pantheon, 1970), Chomsky poignantly argued that:

“Perhaps someday they will acknowledge their ‘honest errors’ in their memoirs, speaking of the burdens of world leadership and the tragic irony of history. Their victims, the peasants of Indochina, will write no memoirs and will be forgotten. They will join the countless millions of earlier victims of tyrants and oppressors.”

Indeed, perhaps someday Chomsky will acknowledge his “honest errors” in his memoirs, speaking of the burdens of academia and the tragic irony of history. His victims, the peasants of Indochina, will write no memoirs and will be forgotten. They will be joined by his North Korean and Bosnian victims.

For decades, Chomsky has vilified his critics as only a world class linguist can. However, for me and the surviving members of my family, questions about life under the Khmer Rouge are not intellectual parlour games. While he is a legend in linguistics, in international affairs Noam Chomsky consistently falls short of Thomas Jefferson’s maxim that universities are “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Professor Sophal Ear
National Security Affairs
US Naval Postgraduate School
Monterey, California

Plastic surgery gives Cambodian man hope

via CAAI News Media

Published Date: February 12, 2010

Cambodian Nourn Chourn, 23, lost his lower jaw when he was hit by a stray bullet at the age of 12. In 2008, he underwent plastic surgery at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo before briefly returning to Cambodia. (UCA News)

Now he has returned, spending a great deal of his time in Japan since September of last year at Tsukiji Church, a Catholic parish near the hospital, making crafts using beads and knitted material.

Before the surgery, Chourn had great difficulty eating. Food fell from his mouth and he was unable to control his drooling. Though he lived in a household of nine, he had to eat alone.

Last year, he underwent a 21-hour operation in which bone from his leg, skin from his abdomen, and a tendon from his hand were all transplanted to his face. Last December, his right hand was secured to his jaw as part of an effort to restore his lips.

Upon the success of the operation, Chourn said, “Because of the hard work of so many people, I can look forward to eating with everyone.”

He added in a softer voice, “I hope kids will stop running from me now.”

Looks like we're in for another awful year

via CAAI News Media

By Thanong Khanthong
The Nation
Published on February 12, 2010

Let's keep an eye on several news developments affecting us directly or indirectly.

1. Vietnam has just devalued the dong for the second time since November. Effectively, the Vietnamese currency has been officially marked down by 3.3 per cent. The new midpoint for the US dollar and Vietnamese dong was quoted at 18,544, whereas the ceiling rate of 19,100 compared with Wednesday's market rate at around 18,550. Yesterday the Vietnamese currency fluctuated over a wide range of 18,700-19,100 to the US dollar. Many believe that the Vietnamese dong will still have ample room to go down further.

2. The growing possibility of Greece's default has prompted Germany to devise a bail-out plan. But other European Union members such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and the UK are also in trouble. Sovereign debt is the key theme this year. The euro is under the threat of a breakup.

3. Japan's public debt has surpassed 200 per cent of the gross domestic product. It is borrowing money at around 1.68 per cent. If the interest rate were to rise by one full percentage point, Japan would be plunged into a black hole.

4. More than 30 states in the US have already gone bankrupt. They are waiting for bail-outs from Washington DC. But the US federal government is also in dire straits, with public debt rising to beyond 80 per cent of GDP - not to mention more than US$100 trillion in contingent liabilities in healthcare and social security.

5. Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia is piling up his army near the Thai border. What is he up to? Is he getting ready for war? It appears that the US is now more enamoured of Cambodia than it is of Thailand. Hun Sen has also lambasted Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, invoking curses upon him and using foul language.

6. The Thai Army is now in firm control of the if the political situation gets out of hand. It will roll out the tanks if the red shirts strike first. The potential flashpoint could happen a week before the Supreme Court's reading of its verdict on the assets seizure case against fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on November 26. Or trouble might happen afterward. The St Gabriel's alumni are secretly forming their shadow Cabinet.

7. The situation has become particular tense, with fund flows from abroad into the accounts of key members of the red-shirt leadership. The final battle is shaping up.

8. The coalition partners are playing the constitution amendment card, to add fuel to the fire. Abhisit is challenging them to walk away from the government. But the coalition partners do not want Thaksin to come back either.

9. The Supreme Court is most likely to hand down a verdict to seize the entire Bt76 billion of Thaksin's frozen assets. After which the National Counter Corruption Commission might follow suit with further criminal charges against Thaksin.

10. Thaksin will fight his last battle, the outcome of which will spill over into March.

That's my reading of what's going on around us in the immediate and near term. It will be a horrible year.

Cambodian Medicines Are Successful at Foreign Markets – Thursday, 11.2.2010
via CAAI News Media

Posted on 12 February 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 651

“When the company PharmaProduct Manufacturing (PPM – ‘French medecines produced in Cambodia’) was established in 1996, no one expected the extent of success it would achieve at the Cambodian market and around the world. But 14 years later, this Cambodian pharmaceutical plant is very successful in exporting pharmaceutical products to foreign countries. At present, Cambodian medicines produced by PPM have established their markets in 15 countries around the world, because the quality of Cambodian medicines produced by PPM is recognized.

“Representatives from 13 countries dealing with medicines produced by PPM met in Phnom Penh during the annual convention of PMM, which coincided also with the 50th anniversary of the invention of [the antalgic drug] KINAL. During the meeting with foreign representatives from 13 countries in the evening of 8 February 2010, the director of PPM, the pharmacist Mr. Hai Ly Eang, reported about the success of Cambodian medicines made by PMM at foreign markets, and pointed to the plan to further strengthen foreign markets.

“The foreign importers of PPM products are from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal, Tchad, Togo, and Vietnam.

“During the occasion to greet those foreign representatives on 8 February 2010 on a ship on the river, the director of PPM, Mr. Hai Ly Eang, said, ‘That we are all on the ship at this time shows the success of PPM, because we are traveling on the same ship, we cooperate and we provide mutual support.’

“He added that representatives of these countries significantly contribute to support PPM to progress at the markets in their countries. The sales of PPM medicines keeps on increasing every year in the 13 countries from where their representatives participated at this occasion in Cambodia.

“The leader of PPM called on and encouraged all foreign distributors to continue to support PPM.

“Besides, PPM announced to expand its markets in the country as well as abroad. The expansion of markets abroad for medicines produced by PPM will be made by spreading a deeper and more intensive understanding of the quality of the PPM pharmaceuticals.

“As for the strengthening of the local market, it will be made by stressing, ‘If we use Khmer medicines, we will create jobs for Khmer citizens, and we will work towards a future where Cambodia is self sufficient in supplying and controlling pharmaceuticals and the health sector.’

“When Cambodian citizens and doctors use more medicines directly produced by Cambodia, it creates not only jobs for Cambodian people who work at pharmaceutical plants, but it also prepares the way for a future, where Cambodia can produce enough for itself and can control its medicines and the health sector.

“Nowadays, PPM exports 50 types of Cambodia produced medicines to foreign countries, among them Gynomax against uterus inflammation, Panol (Paracetamol) for fever, Pyrantox (Pyrantel) for de-worming of children, Caltoux for dry cough, Carbotoux for cough with phlegm, Bibactin, Diaryl for Diarrhea, Septyl for cleaning the mouth, Rhinex for colds, Appetine for appetite, Allergyle for allergy, KINAL for reducing pain, and many other medicines.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5123, 11.2.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Thursday, 11 February 2010

Thailand Continues Claims on Disputed Border

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
11 February 2010
via CAAI News Media

While Bangkok continues to insist that a 4.6 kilometer stretch of land near Preah Vihear temple belongs to Thailand, Cambodian officials and border experts say the issue should be put to rest.

Phnom Penh claims the stretch of land, west of the 11th-Century temple, rightfully belongs to Cambodia, according to surveys and maps made in 1904 and 1908, when the country was under French protection. Thailand maintains that its own mapping of the area puts the strip of land under its possession.

The impasse over the area has stirred nationalistic sentiment on both sides, which have sent thousands of heavily armed troops to adjacent positions, leading to several skirmishes over the past 19 months and the deaths of at least eight soldiers.

Neither side has been able to diffuse the situation, while rhetoric between prime ministers Abhisit Vijjajiva of Thailand and Hun Sen of Cambodia has escalated in recent days, culminating in Hun Sen calling Abhisit “stupid” and “crazy” on Monday.

The Thai News Agency this week quoted Abhisit saying the Thai government will not give up the contested strip of land.

The news agency also reported that Thailand would petition Unesco to review a map submitted by Cambodia in 2008, when Preah Vihear temple was award World Heritage status under Cambodian ownership.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told VOA Khmer Tuesday such claims showed a misunderstanding of the law by Thai officials.

“Unesco does not have any jurisdiction to make a judgment over land at all,” he said.

Cambodian officials have said Thailand lobbied Unesco using its own map. Thailand may petition again, officials said, because representatives of the UN body, which protects cultural heritage, have changed.

Cambodia’s map was recognized by the International Court of Justice in 1962, when it ruled that Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia, Phay Siphan said.

However, Thai spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Tuesday that the 1962 decision did not include the 4.6 kilometers of land now claimed by both sides.

Sean Pengse, a Cambodian border expert living in France, said the International Court in fact used the 1904-1908 map when deciding on Preah Vihear temple, thereby legitimizing Cambodia’s claims to the area.

The Thai authorities “can do whatever, but the decision is legitimate and uses this French map,” he told VOA Khmer.

Cambodia failed a chance to resolve the matter when it did not immediately file a complaint with the UN Security Council when Thai troops occupied a pagoda in the disputed area in July 2008, sparking the standoff.

Panitan said Tuesday both sides remained committed to solving the problem bilaterally and asked that other countries not interfere. Thailand was pleased with Hun Sen’s commitment to bilateral talks, he added.

The problem will be solved ahead of a Unesco World Heritage meeting scheduled for later this year, he said.

The committee is scheduled to meet July 25 through Aug. 3 in Brasilia, Brazil. Cambodian officials say they will submit a plan for the conservation of Preah Vihear temple at the meeting.