Friday, 19 February 2010

Cambodia: Fate Flows With The River

via CAAI News Media

February 18, 2010

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia. But it hasn't always been that way. The Khmer once ruled a vast kingdom that covered not just Cambodia but parts of Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, too.

The empire had its capital at Angkor, near the present-day city of Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia. At its peak, nearly 1 million people lived in the city of Angkor — at a time when London was still a town of 20,000 or so.

The empire's crowning architectural achievement was the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, one of several dozen temples built by the Angkorian kings, the ruins of which now draw tourists from all over the globe.

Water was key to the Khmer kingdom's prosperity: for irrigation, for drinking and for food from the fish that swam up the Mekong into the Tonle Sap River and the lake of the same name.

"No river, no life. No water, no life in Cambodia," says Pyyoak, my guide.

Invading armies also came up the Mekong in an effort to conquer the Khmer kingdom in the 12th century, a story told in the bas reliefs at Angkor's Bayon temple.

Pyyoak says the Champa, or Cham, came up the Mekong from the south, from what is now Vietnam, and occupied Angkor for four years, from 1177 until 1181.

The stone carvings depict the battle in vivid detail, right down to the uniforms worn by the competing armies.

Pyyoak points to another set of carvings on the wall that depict better times in the kingdom: floating villages, bountiful harvests and an abundance of fish in the river and the lake.

Christopher Brown for NPRThe residents of this floating village on Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake, south of Siem Reap, are mostly ethnic Vietnamese. Their lives and livelihoods are intimately connected to the waters of the lake and the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers

"From here, you can see the daily life of the people; they live on the Mekong River. You can see the floating village and some business people, they are selling on the Mekong River," he explains.

"And life was very good for the people of Angkor then — better than for Cambodians today?" I ask Pyyoak.

"Yes, I think that is right," he replies.

Floating Worlds Under Threat

The floating villages still exist today — the closest on the Tonle Sap Lake, just 20 minutes south of the Angkor ruins by car, then a half-hour more by boat. The Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and, scientists say, the key to the biodiversity of the entire Mekong basin, thanks to the seasonal flooding of the Mekong and the lake.

Many of the floating villages are populated by ethnic Vietnamese, who just might be distant relatives of the Cham warriors who came up the Mekong to fight more than 800 years ago.

These villages are almost completely self-contained — with floating sawmills, metal shops and grocery boats — a water world where children are born, raised and sometimes die without ever having set foot on land. Batteries power their houseboats, complete with TVs, DVD players and karaoke machines. There are even floating bars to help slake the thirst of day-tripping tourists from nearby Angkor Wat.

But it's a hard life, says fisherman Do Van Thanh, 47, one made even more difficult by a dwindling catch — half what it used to be just a few years ago, he says.

His friend, Tran Van Loi, also 47, is no biologist, but he understands very well the relationship between the river, the lake and the fish, and he smells trouble.

There are more people fishing, he says, and that means fewer fish.

In the past, adult fish would lay their eggs in the Mekong. After hatching, the small fish would find their way to the Tonle Sap, grow up here, and then return to the Mekong, he says. But with so many people fishing, more fish are being caught younger, before they can lay their eggs, he says, and he knows that's not good.

Tran says if he could quit fishing now, he would — but there's no other way to make money.

Making enough money to survive is still a challenge for the majority in Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in Asia. It's a country that would probably be far better off had its recent history not included the four-year-long terror of the Maoist Khmer Rouge. From 1975 to 1979, the regime led by Pol Pot controlled the country, a time when an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians — a quarter of the country's population — died.

Hundreds of boat crews celebrate the annual water festival on the river in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, in early November. The festival marks the day when the Tonle Sap River's current changes direction.

Living In And For The Present

But many Cambodians haven't paid much attention to the tribunal, the majority of the population having been born after that dark period in the country's history.

And Phnom Penh — the city the Khmer Rouge leaders once emptied of people in their bid to create an agrarian, utopian state — now has more people than ever.

The capital is attracting more foreign investment and more rural Cambodians looking for work, most of it in construction. The streets of the city are now choked with motorcycles and the Lexuses and Cadillac Escalades of the nouveau riche. The vehicles jockey for position as they pass the construction site of the Gold Tower 42, soon to be the city's newest and tallest skyscraper.

On the riverfront, giant vacuums suck sand from the bottom of the Mekong, which will be used to fill the city's famous Boeung Kak Lake, the site of a new high-end business and residential complex.

It is a controversial project, and a sensitive one, too, which explains why hard men with guns object to my visit to the site. Land grabs such as this one are the scourge of Southeast Asia, not just Cambodia: ordinary citizens displaced by rapacious developers and corrupt government officials.

Too Many People, Too Few Fish

Heading downriver from Phnom Penh, the scenery changes quickly. The new skyscrapers and casinos of the capital quickly give way to banana trees, rice and corn. The vast majority of Cambodia's 15 million people live in the countryside, where there is not much choice when it comes to earning a living: farming or fishing.

On this stretch of the Mekong, about 20 miles south of the capital, those who fish have the same complaints as the fishermen on the Tonle Sap.

Nguyen Quynh Thi and her husband haul in their second set of nets for the day, and it's the same as the first: nothing. It's nearly noon, but they will stay out a bit longer, they say, though Nguyen isn't quite sure why.

"Last year was better. The big fish would come down from the Tonle Sap and we could catch enough, and sell enough, to pay for fuel with a little left over for food. But every year it seems to get a little worse," she says.

Too many people chasing too few fish. Farther downstream, just short of where the Mekong flows into neighboring Vietnam, I stop to talk to one last fisherman.

Kong Hout, 48, says he and his family eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He catches it himself and says there is still enough to go around — for now, if you know where to look.

But what would happen, I ask, if there are no more fish. He doesn't hesitate.

"It would be an age of darkness," he says, with no trace of irony. Then, he thinks about it some more and comes up with something that, for him, is an even more horrible thought:

"Maybe, we'll have to start eating fish from cans."

Next, the journey down the Mekong ends in Vietnam.

Too Many People, Too Few Fish

Heading downriver from Phnom Penh, the scenery changes quickly. The new skyscrapers and casinos of the capital quickly give way to banana trees, rice and corn. The vast majority of Cambodia's 15 million people live in the countryside, where there is not much choice when it comes to earning a living: farming or fishing.

On this stretch of the Mekong, about 20 miles south of the capital, those who fish have the same complaints as the fishermen on the Tonle Sap.

Nguyen Quynh Thi and her husband haul in their second set of nets for the day, and it's the same as the first: nothing. It's nearly noon, but they will stay out a bit longer, they say, though Nguyen isn't quite sure why.

"Last year was better. The big fish would come down from the Tonle Sap and we could catch enough, and sell enough, to pay for fuel with a little left over for food. But every year it seems to get a little worse," she says.

Too many people chasing too few fish. Farther downstream, just short of where the Mekong flows into neighboring Vietnam, I stop to talk to one last fisherman.

Kong Hout, 48, says he and his family eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He catches it himself and says there is still enough to go around — for now, if you know where to look.

But what would happen, I ask, if there are no more fish. He doesn't hesitate.

"It would be an age of darkness," he says, with no trace of irony. Then, he thinks about it some more and comes up with something that, for him, is an even more horrible thought:

"Maybe, we'll have to start eating fish from cans."

Next, the journey down the Mekong ends in Vietnam.

Cambodia - Rise in pork sales

via CAAI News Media

19 Feb 2010

Srun Pov, president of Association of Pigs Raising in Cambodia, said Friday that on normal daily basis, about 4,000 pigs are sold, but 7,000 to 8,000 pigs are sold out quickly ahead of the Chinese festival.

He said Cambodia permits the imports of 800 pigs from Thailand on daily basis, and a few hundreds more are illegally trafficked or imported in through small dealers or brokers.

The Chinese New Year holiday will begin on Saturday with the offering foods to ancestors and to be followed by family gathering and travels until next Monday.

While the number of the pig sales is increased during the Chinese New Year, its price is also increased.

The price is varied according to the size and weight of the pigs, with the regular price ranging from US $25 US to US $150 a pig.

Source: newsroom -

Fined and signed

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:03 Uong Ratana

A man signs a receipt after paying a fine to Traffic Police for not wearing a helmet on Sothearos Boulevard on Thursday. The National Police said this week that 10,859 motorbike drivers had been stopped during the first two weeks of February because they lacked mirrors or helmets.

Draft Acid Law starts to take shape

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth speaks at Municipal Police headquarters on Wednesday at a conference about a proposed law on acid sales and acid attacks.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:04 Mom Kunthear and Irwin Loy

Government committee sets timeline for delivering its proposal for long-anticipated legislation

A GOVERNMENT committee plans to finalise a draft law aimed at countering acid attacks shortly after Khmer New Year, officials said Thursday, meaning it has roughly eight weeks to flesh out regulations that rights groups hope will cut down on an apparent surge in the violent assaults.

The 11-member Ministry of Interior task force met Thursday to discuss an initial draft of the law, said Ouk Kimlek, undersecretary of state at the ministry and the committee’s deputy director.

The members will consider the proposed legislation before meeting again next month, he said.

“We must try to finish this draft law and send it to the government after Khmer New Year,” Ouk Kimlek said.

“It is hard work for us because the issue is new to us, but we are trying to do our best to create an acid law in order to protect people and society.”

The initial draft law, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, is a mix of strict regulation and punishment, taking cues from other countries that are also tackling the problem of acid attacks.

Ouk Kimlek, who wrote the 20-point draft law, said he believes people convicted in severe cases should face life in prison, though the exact punishments have yet to be determined.

The draft law also proposes that accomplices in attacks, even if not directly responsible for throwing acid, should face identical punishments.

“Accomplices who help offenders in order to commit the crime ... must have the same sentence as the offender,” states one section of the draft law.

The proposed legislation calls for strict controls over all aspects of importing, transporting, producing, buying and selling acid. Businesses that deal with acid would be required to be licenced by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, with those that flout the rules vulnerable to unspecified fines or prison terms.

The law would also stipulate that all acid buyers be at least 20 years old.

But other countries where acid attacks are common have had problems implementing similar laws.

Authorities in Bangladesh passed laws in 2002 aimed at regulating acid sales and punishing perpetrators of acid crimes. The laws established a national body for controlling acid, as well as a rehabilitation centre specific to victims of acid crimes, according to a UN database detailing legal responses to violence against women.

The laws allow for perpetrators of acid crimes to face the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Statistics from the Bangladesh-based Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) show attacks spiked at 367 reported incidents in the year the laws were introduced, but fell to 115 last year – the country’s lowest reported total in a decade.

Still, the organisation believes many perpetrators continue to escape the legal system.

“Despite enactment of the new laws to combat acid violence, it is estimated that very few of the attackers are ever punished,” ASF said in a statement on its Web site. “The victims are usually poor, illiterate and frightened of the time-consuming and complicated legal system.”

In Pakistan, authorities have also regulated the sale of dangerous substances such as acid, but enforcing the law has been another matter, one advocate said.

“You’re supposed to be licenced to sell acid, but you have a lot of acid sellers who do not have any licence at all,” said Valerie Khan, chairperson of the Acid Survivors Foundation Pakistan. “Normally, you should be asking for an ID card when selling acid, but that’s not done at all.”

Nevertheless, local observers say they are encouraged by the government’s move to counter acid attacks, which came after authorities rejected earlier calls to regulate acid sales.

But they also warn that any law will be ineffective if it is not properly implemented.

“I want to see equal practice of the law between people in power and poor people,” said Kek Pung, president of the local rights group Licadho.

She said the government should also legislate a mechanism that would ensure victims have access to specialised care.

“We see that now, victims have to be sent for treatment in other countries. We need to budget for this,” she said.

Vendors concerned
Local acid vendors who have met with authorities say they support the law in principle but wonder what effect it will have on their businesses.

“I’m not afraid of practising the law,” said Im Viravuth, “but I am afraid of losing my clients.”

Mean Leab, who sells battery acid, said: “I have never wished to sell acid to people who will use it to douse someone, but I don’t know who is good and who is bad.”

The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity recorded at least 194 separate acid attacks in the Kingdom between 1985 and 2009.

Appeal Court lengthens French paedophile’s term

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Friday, 19 February 2010 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun

THE Appeal Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of a French national found guilty of committing indecent acts with a 12-year-old boy and sentenced him to one year and seven months in prison. The decision followed an appeal filed by prosecutors who believed his original sentence had been too light.

Michel Roger Blanchard, 44, was arrested in August 2008 and charged with committing indecent acts with five boys between the ages of 11 and 16 at his rented home in Sihanoukville. In the case of the 12-year-old, he was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay US$50 in compensation. He had already served nine months of pretrial detention, and the Municipal Court suspended the final three months. But he remained in prison as prosecutors worked on an appeal.

The sentence handed down Thursday will replace the old one. Peng Maneth, a lawyer provided for the victim by child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said Blanchard had already served a total of one year and six months of the new sentence, and would be released in March this year.

“It is a case that has caused suffering for the victim’s family, and the victim lost his beloved mother who was killed in a robbery a few days before the first hearing [in 2008], after she had received $3,000 from the accused in return for dropping the complaint,” she said.

The death “left behind three orphaned children who are now being cared for at a local NGO shelter”.

Peng Maneth expressed disappointment that the Appeal Court’s decision failed to include an order for Blanchard to be deportated once his jail term expires, arguing that he still poses a significant risk to children in Cambodia.

But Judge Njung Thol said the court did not wish to tarnish Blanchard’s reputation without further proof that he was a sex tourist.

“We haven’t made a thorough investigation into whether he was a sex tourist or a businessman,” he said, adding that if Blanchard re-offends, he will be treated as a sex tourist and deported.

Samleang Seila, country director of APLE, said the man had a history of paedophilia before he was sentenced in 2008.

“He was once arrested in 2003 for sexually abusing boys, but was released after giving the children money to drop their complaints,” he said.

Blanchard’s lawyer, Dy Borima, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Govt to push for legislation on chemicals

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:04 David Boyle and Khouth Sophak Chakrya

THE Ministry of Environment has launched a new initiative to develop legislation regulating the use of hazardous chemicals in agriculture and industry.

The Sound Management of Chemicals Initiative, developed in partnership with the UN Environment Programme and the UN Development Programme, was announced Thursday at a conference in Phnom Penh.

Khieu Muth, a secretary of state at the Environment Ministry, told the conference that chemicals had played an important role in the development of Cambodia’s agriculture and mining industries, but that the public needs to be more aware of the hazards associated with them.

“Chemicals, especially chemical pesticides, can be seriously dangerous. They are a double-edged sword,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

“They can provide the benefits to the users, but they also affect the health of users when they use the wrong technical methods,” he said.

Hazardous chemical products, particularly those used in agriculture, are frequently imported from Vietnam and Thailand, often without any instructions or other labelling written in Khmer. This often leads to misuse.

The initiative’s goals
Kalyan Keo, programme analyst for UNDP’s environment and energy unit, said one of the main objectives of the initiative was to build awareness about the potential hazards of misusing certain chemicals.

“Cambodia doesn’t use as many chemicals as Vietnam or Thailand, but in terms of knowledge people are not educated in how to use the chemicals,” she said.

To remedy this lack of awareness, the initiative calls for legislation requiring distributors to sell clearly labelled products.

She said the initiative is designed to produce laws within three years.

Other components of the initiative include the promotion of alternative farming practices and improved border controls.

Govt targets illegal pharmacies

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
A pharmaceutical salesman discusses products with a pharmacy owner in Daun Penh district on Thursday.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:04 Chhay Channyda

DISTRICT authorities are set to meet with owners of unlicenced pharmacies in Phnom Penh, saying their businesses will face closure if they do not register with the Ministry of Health.

In January the ministry gave municipal and provincial health officials a February deadline to launch a crackdown on unlicenced premises.

According to Sok Sokun, director of the Phnom Penh Health Department, Governor Kep Chuktema on Thursday authorised local officials to meet the owners of illegal dispensaries to demand that they apply for legitimate licences or face closure.

The date and time of the meeting is yet to be determined, officials said.

“In Phnom Penh, there are 528 licenced pharmacies and 116 illegal ones,” Sok Sokun said. “We have informed them [of the deadline], but they have not listened. This is the last time we will take these measures.”

Complicating matters, however, is the fact that many owners operating illegal pharmacies are actually also running licenced medical clinics. “We have [licenced] them to operate clinics, but they are not allowed to open pharmacies,” he said.

“When we don’t know that they sell drugs, it is hard for us to control drugs or [monitor] expired drugs.”

Doctors who run clinics are only permitted to prescribe drugs to patients, who can then go to licenced pharmacies with the prescription, he said.

The move to register pharmacies has spread to the provinces as well. Or Vanthen, the director at Kampong Speu’s Health Department, said he met with provincial officials Thursday to discuss appropriate measures to register or shut down the six unlicenced pharmacies in the area.

“We will not close them immediately, we will give them several days to apply for licences,” he said.

Criminal Law: Penal code to take effect in November

via CAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun

Criminal Law

CAMBODIA’S new penal code is set to take effect on November 30 of this year, according to a copy of the code released last month by the Council of Ministers. After its passage by the National Assembly in October of last year, King Norodom Sihamoni signed the penal code into law on November 30. Its implementation was delayed one year, however, to allow law enforcement officials to adapt to the new statutes that will supersede current laws, including some of those drafted during the UNTAC period. Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said that although the opposition was concerned about the fact that some provisions of the penal code had not been clearly defined – notably those related to defamation – the new legislation is much more comprehensive than the law currently in place. Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the new penal code constituted a modernisation of the Kingdom’s legal system and will pave the way for the long-awaited Anticorruption Law, which officials say will be debated in April.

HRP chief sees farmers jailed in border row

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:04 Meas Sokchea

HUMAN Rights Party President Kem Sokha travelled to Svay Rieng province on Thursday to visit two villagers jailed for participating in a protest with opposition leader Sam Rainsy along the Cambodian-Vietnamese border.

Kem Sokha said the pair – 39-year-old Meas Srey and Prom Chea, 41 – lacked access to proper food and medicine, and that their health had deteriorated since their arrest in December. During his visit, the HRP president presented the prisoners with mosquito nets, sacks of rice and medicine.

“I did not come to visit the victims for political reasons. My visit is for humanity and justice,” Kem Sokha said. “I came to encourage people who dare to protest for rights, freedom and territorial integrity.”

Meas Srey and Prom Chea were sentenced last month to one year in jail and ordered to pay 5 million riels (US$1,197) each in fines – in addition to the 55 million riels they must pay collectively with Sam Rainsy – after joining him in uprooting border markers along the Cambodian-Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng’s Chantrea district.

Sam Rainsy, who remains abroad in Europe, was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison and fined 8 million riels for the incident.

“The provincial court’s decision convicting the two Khmer farmers is very unjust and inhumane because they have no guilt – they were just protesting the loss of their farmland,” Kem Sokha said in a statement Thursday. The prisoners, Kem Sokha added, are considering whether to appeal their conviction.

Prom Chea’s wife, Chhoeung Sarin, said her husband had suffered severe pain in his leg since being imprisoned and was in great need of the medicine that Kem Sokha had provided.

Svay Rieng provincial prison chief Ken Savoeun said Thursday that although the prison attempts to take care of its charges, its resources are limited. Those who are seriously ill are taken to outside hospitals for treatment, he added.

Students urge govt to approve draft anti-smoking legislation

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A street vendor presents hand-rolled cigarettes made from Cambodian-grown tobacco in Chamkarmon district on Thursday.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:03 Khoun Leakhana

UNIVERSITY students accused politicians of dragging their feet over the draft law on smoking during a youth forum that took place at the National Paediatric Hospital on Thursday.

The forum, which involved around 200 students, parliamentarians and representatives of anti-smoking organisations, addressed the impact of tobacco in Cambodia with a focus on a draft law that has yet to be adopted.

Chhoeun Raksmey, a student representative from Preah Kossamak Polytechnic Institute, said Cambodians from remote areas were at greater risk of tobacco-related illnesses.

“We have seen that many people, especially people who live in remote areas, are at serious risk of suffering life-threatening tobacco-related illnesses,” he said, adding that advocates should work harder to push the government to adopt the draft law.

Mom Kong, executive director of Cambodia Movement for Health, said the draft law had been on the table since before Cambodia ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control along with 168 other countries in 2005.

“The longer the draft law is delayed, the more people will suffer from cigarettes,” he said.

To be in accord with the treaty, he said, the draft law should focus on discouraging tobacco use through increased taxes, controls over cigarette advertising, smoking bans in public and in the workplace, and warnings on cigarette packets.

Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said he was too busy to comment on Thursday, but Cambodian People’s Party parliamentarian Hou Sry said the National Assembly had yet to receive the draft law.

VN Gang Attack: Eleven held in killing of Cambodian

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Friday, 19 February 2010 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

VN Gang Attack

Vietnamese authorities have arrested and charged 11 men in connection with the killing of a Cambodian man earlier this week, and Svay Rieng provincial police have launched their own investigation into the case, rights workers said Thursday. The body of Va Daen – a 21-year-old high school student from Svay Rieng’s Romeas Hek district – was found floating in a river in Vietnam’s Tay Ninh province on Wednesday with marks on the torso and head. Han Chhin, an activist for the rights group Adhoc, said that on Monday, the second day of Vietnamese New Year, a group of 11 Cambodians had walked towards a bus station in Tay Ninh in preparation for visit to a nearby mountain. “There was a group of nearly 20 Vietnamese gangsters who gathered around and beat them with iron poles,” he said. Two other men – Va Daen’s brothers, Va Doeun and Va Deth – sustained serious injuries and are receiving treatment in a Vietnamese hospital, Han Chhin said.


City moots uniforms for moto taxi drivers

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Friday, 19 February 2010 15:03 Chhay Channyda and Tep Nimol

MOTORCYCLE taxi drivers in Phnom Penh may soon have something more in common to wear than the ubiquitous baseball cap. City officials are in talks now with a private company to begin manufacturing uniforms that will set the moto driver apart from other motorists, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Chreang Sophan said Thursday, declining, however, to name the company.

“We want to give safety to the tourists and make the city look good,” Chreang Sophan said, in explanation of the motivation for creating the uniform.

“There have been bad people pretending to be moto taxi drivers, so we need uniforms for the safety of tourists.”

He said he did not yet know when the uniforms would be finalised or how much they would cost.

But Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democratic Informal Economy Association, a group that represents more than 3,000 motorcycle, automobile and tuk-tuk taxi drivers in four provinces, expressed concern over a uniform he says many drivers may be unable to afford to buy.

He said uniforms make it easier for customers to distinguish between moto taxi drivers and regular drivers, but that police already sell uniforms to moto drivers in Siem Reap province for around US$10, and that this is too expensive. “I want Phnom Penh to sell it at a lower price, around $6,” he said.

Siem Reap provincial police Chief Sort Nady said that more than 7,000 moto taxi drivers had bought uniforms since they were introduced in 2002, and that they only cost US$6.

He said that the uniforms had identification numbers on them, and that no moto or tuk-tuk driver had committed crimes against passengers since the uniforms were introduced.

In the shadow of Vine Mountain

Photo by: Sebastian Strangio
A villager points out the grove in Kampot province where tourists David Wilson, Mark Slater and Jean-Michel Braquet were held during their six weeks in Khmer Rouge captivity.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:03 Sebastian Strangio and May Titthara

With an Australian inquest set to revisit the killing of three Western tourists by Khmer Rouge in 1994, former cadres in Kampot reflect on the events that led to the men’s capture and killing


OFF a dusty track in Trapeang Chranieng village lies a half-finished Buddhist pagoda, its unpainted walls still exposed to the mid-afternoon sun. Locals say the new building – as well as a nearby shrine, built in 2007 – is dedicated to the spirits of those killed in the village while it was under the control of Khmer Rouge forces in the 1990s.

Now a small hamlet of thatch houses and rustling palm leaves, there is little to hint at Trapeang Chranieng’s tumultuous past. As a Khmer Rouge camp – part of the armed group’s Phnom Voar (‘Vine Mountain’) stronghold – the village was the last home of David Wilson, Mark Slater and Jean-Michel Braquet, three tourists kidnapped when Khmer Rouge troops ambushed a Sihanoukville-bound train on July 26, 1994, killing 13 Cambodians.

Despite heated negotiations with Cambodian government officials to secure their release, the three were killed in September as Phnom Voar came under fierce attack from government troops. When soldiers finally overran the area the following month, the bludgeoned bodies of the three were found in a shallow grave at the foot of the hill.

At one hut, thatched with dried palm leaves, a former Khmer Rouge cadre recalled the “handsome” young men who arrived at the camp in July 1994. “When they came they were afraid at first, but after they understood [became at ease with] me, they always spent time with me and we talked a lot, even though I didn’t understand what they said,” said Keo Gnov, who cooked for the hostages during their stay.

Upon their arrival, she said, Wilson, Slater and Braquet did not take well to the rice-based Khmer diet, but were able to survive on potatoes, sugar cane and coconuts that she foraged for them.

The 63-year-old, now bent by years of back-breaking rural labour, giggled when recalling an incident during their first days at the camp, when the captives scandalised local villagers by showering naked in the open. The three quickly learned to wrap a cotton krama, or cloth, around their waists in the traditional Khmer manner.

A quiet grove, shaded by banana, mango and guava trees, is all that remains of the “prisoners’ area” of the village. Kol Mak, 60, a stooped former school teacher, pointed out the crumbling laterite foundations that mark the location of the small wooden hut that was used to house the three Western hostages.

Although the captives were confined to the camp, they were not mistreated, said Keo Gnov, and they were largely free to walk about as they pleased. But her bright eyes dimmed when she recalled the government’s artillery offensives on the area, when the mood of the hostages fluctuated between relative relaxation and an evident fear for their lives.

“When the Cambodian government soldiers opened fire, they put their arms around me and we hid in the trenches together, and at night we slept together in that wooded house,” she said. “I loved them as my sons, and I saw that they loved me as their mother.”

Keo Gnov said she was moved out of the area as the government forces began their assault on Phnom Voar and heard only several months later that the hostages had been killed. “I shed many tears when I got the news that they were killed. I wanted to help in their release, but I couldn’t because the area was surrounded by Khmer Rouge and government soldiers,” she said.

Failed negotiations
Fifteen years after the 1994 hostage affair, the Victorian coroner’s court in Melbourne, Australia, is preparing to reopen its inquest into Wilson’s killing – adjourned in 2007 – after the delivery of a case file by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The file is believed to include hundreds of pages of documents and diplomatic cables detailing the Australian government’s response to the hostage crisis.

Alastair Gaisford, who was consul at the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh at the time of the kidnappings, says the file shows Canberra had foreknowledge of the Cambodian military’s planned attack against Phnom Voar between August and October 1994 but “did nothing” to stop it.

In an article published in Melbourne’s The Age on February 8, he said that then-foreign minister Gareth Evans, who enjoyed a close relationship with senior Cambodian officials, ignored the embassy’s advice that he should travel to Cambodia in an effort to halt the offensive. “The Australian government already knew and approved of a Cambodian government plan for full-scale attack on the hostage mountain, which would place their lives in danger, only a week later,” he wrote.

Gaisford told the Post last week that the government-led negotiations – which were successful in negotiating the captives’ release in exchange for US$150,000 cash – crumbled under the government’s subsequent offensive. As a result, he said, two agreed releases scheduled for August 19 and 26 failed and led directly to the killing of the hostages at dawn on September 8.

He cited the kidnapping on March 31, 1994 of US national Melissa Himes, who was released after negotiations with the NGO she was working for, as an example of the positive outcome that could have been reached in the later case. At the time, US embassy officials put pressure on the Cambodian government not to attack the area in which she was being held, allowing negotiations to proceed.

Photo by: Sebastian Strangio
Prak Sothy (right), a former Khmer Rouge commander from Kampot province, says the attack on the Phnom Vour stronghold led to the killing of the three hostages. Keo Gnov (above) cooked for the men during their six-week internment.

Former stronghold
Not much remains today of the main Khmer Rouge base at Phnom Voar. After the stronghold was overrun in late 1994, the remaining forces turned in their weapons and descended to the surrounding plains, returning to rural life.

Chamkar Bay village, set inland from the palm-swept shores of the Gulf of Thailand, is today populated with former cadres who have taken a new turn as farmers, vendors, local government officials and cultivators of the famed Kampot pepper vine.

Over the village, tracing a crooked line across the horizon, looms Vine Mountain itself, flecked with shadows cast by the fast-moving clouds.

Prak Sothy, 63, a former Khmer Rouge commander who once bore the name Chum Nuong, still retains shades of the young man who took up Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s call to join the Khmer Rouge resistance in the mid-1970s. His former leadership role has secured Prak Sothy a prominent place in the community: Following the arrest of General Nuon Paet, the head of Khmer Rouge Division 405 – as well as his subordinates Chhouk Rin and Sam Bith – for the killing of the hostages, he is the highest-ranking former cadre still living in the village.

During an interview at his home in Chamkar Bay on February 9, Prak Sothy, dressed in a baggy military shirt and torn green trousers, confirmed that the government’s two-month siege of Phnom Voar divided the local leadership and led to the unplanned killing of the three hostages. He first recalled hearing of the killings when he arrived at the camp to find the captives gone.

His said his wife told him that angkar had taken them to “a higher level” before she heard three shots to the west of the village. Prak Sothy, now a local councilor in Pong Teuk commune, said he later learned that Nuon Paet had been in favour of a ransom exchange, but that two low-level officers – whom he identified only as Vorn and Bon – were angered by the attack and decided to execute the hostages themselves.

“The two Khmer Rouge soldiers said that the three foreigners were not their parents, so they didn’t care if they shot and killed them,” he said.

Vorn and Bon were subsequently shot on Nuon Paet’s orders, he said, for having sacrificed the ransom payments.

You Yi, a former soldier living in Chamkar Bay, agreed that the three hostages were killed as a result of a government offensive on Phnom Voar.

He added, however, that a dubious middleman had also contributed to the hostages’ death by grossly misrepresenting ransom demands to their Khmer Rouge captors.

“They wanted to cheat the Khmer Rouge soldiers. The victims’ families agreed to give us $50,000 for each of the hostages, but [the middleman] told the Khmer Rouge soldiers the figure was only $7,000. When they found out the real price, with the situation destabilised by the Cambodian government attack, they were killed,” he said.

Last month, lawyers for Chhouk Rin, the former regimental commander in Division 405, said their client would soon seek a royal pardon for his role in the killings, on the grounds of ill health. Both men said they sympathised with Chhouk Rin, who was handed a life sentence in 2002 for leading the train ambush that netted Wilson, Slater and Braquet.

“Chhouk Rin only arrested the three of them; he did not kill them. After he joined with the government he tried to negotiate their release,” said Prak Sothy. While his efforts came too late to save the hostages, Prak Sothy said Chhouk Rin should be released as a token of good will. “I think the government should release him because he gave the government a lot of help,” he said.

Long-awaited answers
As the government in Victoria prepares to reconvene its inquest after a three-year hiatus, Peter Wilson, David’s father, expressed hopes the process might finally shed some light on his son’s death at Phnom Voar. Wilson said he did not level all the blame at the local Khmer Rouge who were involved with the abduction of the three young tourists, instead pointing the finger at the political machinations of the Cambodian and Australian governments.

“In my opinion, most soldiers who do bad things, they mainly do them because they’re told to,” he said by phone from Melbourne. “Politically, the Australian government was not willing to go in hard enough to do something about Hun Sen.”

Wilson described the “mental torture” that the Phnom Voar offensive would have wreaked on the three hostages, who would have never known when their moment of reckoning was at hand. Despite years of trying to obtain vital documents through Australian freedom of information laws, he said, the department of foreign affairs is still withholding large sections of the Wilson case file.

“They don’t want it to come out for many reasons – some maybe are justifiable, but others could be just to protect themselves from what they failed to do,” he said.

But with requests from the coroner’s court this month for 157 pages of top-secret documents to be released by the government, there is an increased chance the full story will now be told.

“It’s the truth that we want,” Wilson said. “David and his friends could have been saved.”

Sellers at Pouk market evicted

Photo by: Rann Reuy
Pen Sambath grills chickens after her stall in Pouk market in Siem Reap province was removed by officials on Thursday morning.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:03 Rann Reuy

Vendor representatives say up to 100 people had stalls on market’s outskirts.

Siem Reap Province

DESPITE protests from vendors, police on Thursday dismantled and removed stalls that had been erected in front of Pouk market in Siem Reap province, carrying out an eviction that was announced in January but then delayed twice.

Pech Sokhalay, governor of Puok district, said that “hundreds” of police and military police had been deployed to the market site for the eviction, which began at 5:30am.

He said the eviction had been nonviolent and “successful”, adding: “We will use this site for car parking, and we will not allow anyone to sell in that area again.”

Local officials told the vendors in late January that they would need to leave because they were creating a nuisance for customers and merchants inside the market, and because they had positioned their stalls too close to a national road.

Vendor representatives have said that up to 100 stall-holders were situated outside the market, but district officials have put that number at 35.

Kung Phea, 35, who sold grilled chicken outside Pouk market before Thursday’s eviction, said Thursday that vendors had tried to prevent police from tearing down their stalls but had been outnumbered.

“I am so disappointed that the officials have chosen to do this, but I can’t do anything back because we have only bare hands,” she said. “I am just really upset.”

Officials have proposed that the vendors move to a private market nearby, and have arranged for them to be granted three months’ free rent.

After the three months, vendors would have to sign a contract to remain at the new location.

However, the vendors have refused, saying the private market receives little business, and that the rent is too high.

Hy Mach, 35, another of the vendors who was evicted from her stall near Pouk market in Thursday, said she had no intention of going to the new market.

“I will not go to sell at the new site because it is far from the road, and it is difficult to find customers there,” she said.

Police Blotter: 19 Feb 2010

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:02 Sen David

A beauty shop in Banteay Meanchey’s Malay district was nearly destroyed after a car crashed into it on Tuesday. Police said the driver was drunk and fled the scene following the accident. The owner of the shop said everything in the store was damaged, but noted that no one was injured. She demanded full compensation from the driver. Police said the car would remain at police headquarters “until the matter is resolved”.

A man who worked as a security guard at a factory hanged himself on Wednesday from a tree near his home in Kampong Speu’s Somrong Tong district. According to relatives, the man was angry at his family, who had demanded that he break up with his girlfriend. The girlfriend said they’d been together for five years and intended to marry, but that the family had rejected her, believing the man was not actually in love with her.

Police on Tuesday arrested an 18-year-old man accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in Kampong Cham province’s Soung district on Tuesday. Police said the man was a student and lured the girl to a guesthouse after school. The victim said the accused gave her money and cake to convince her to go with him. The man confessed to the rape, and was sent to court for sentencing, police said.

A 49-year-old man drowned in a pond in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district on Wednesday. A neighbour said he saw the man getting drunk near the pond and discovered his body floating in the water the next day. Police said the man had been unable to save himself because he was not a strong swimmer.

A fire destroyed a hospital worker’s room in a health centre in Pursat’s Bakan district on Wednesday. One witness said the authorities had trouble putting out the blaze due to a lack of fire trucks in the province, but police said the fire had been handled well, noting that it had not spread to other parts of the health centre. Health centre staff members said the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction. No one was injured, but police said the damage to the health centre was “severe”.

Cambodia Angkor Air purchases first aircraft

An ATR-72 flown by Cambodia Angkor Air sits on the runway of Phnom Penh International Airport at the launch of the new airline in July.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:02 May Kunmakara

National carrier buys ATR-72 without disclosing price or seller

NEW national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) has bought its first aircraft, which is now flying from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, aviation officials said Thursday.

CAA purchased the new ATR-72 aircraft, manufactured by a French-Italian company, and obtained its Air Operating Certificate (AOC) from the government’s State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SCAA) last week.

“We brought a brand-new ATR-72 to get it registered for an AOC on February 12. It is currently being operated on the Phnom Penh-to-Siem Reap route,” said Soy Sokhan, under-secretary at the Secretariat of Civil Aviation, who oversees CAA matters.

CAA was launched in late July last year. It is a joint venture between the government – which owns 51 percent of the business – and Vietnam Airlines. It forms part of a 30-year agreement that drew an initial investment of $100 million.

Since its launch, it has hired two ATR-72 and an Airbus A-320 from its joint-venture partner. CAA runs five flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, three flights daily between Siem Reap and Saigon, and two flights from Phnom Penh to Saigon per day.

Soy Sokhan said that the new aircraft will eventually be used to replace the hired ones.

“This doesn’t mean we will immediately stop hiring the other aircraft, as we have already set our winter flight schedule,” he added.

Mao Havannall, secretary of state at the SSCA, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

However, Long Chheng, cabinet chief of SSCA, confirmed: “The new ATR is to replace the existing one that CAA hired from their partner.”

He said that if a business buys a plane, it is automatically insured by the source company.

Soy Sokhan declined to tell the Post the source company or price.

The moves within the country’s aviation industry come despite its chequered history. In November 2008, the Kingdom failed an audit by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA). SCAA sources told the Post that the secretariat found 107 breaches of international standards, which led to Siem Reap Airways being blacklisted by the European Commission. The detailed result of ICAA’s latest audit, carried out late last year, is not yet known but shortly afterwards aviation officials said there were still failures in certain areas.

Nevertheless, Soy Sokhan said that CAA plans to buy more aircraft this year.

“We plan to buy one more ATR – this is scheduled for sometime in March – and we also hope to buy some [A-320] Airbuses to replace the hired one later this year,” he said.

Although he did not specify the exact date of importing the Airbuses, CAA hopes they will be used for long-range flights in the future.

“We don’t have the market demand to use them yet. But we plan to start regular flights to Japan, South Korea and China this year.”

Hospital official a dictator: staff

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:02 Rann Reuy


STAFF members at Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district hospital gathered on Thursday to protest against operational district director Mak Sam Oeun, accusing him of running the district’s health sector like a “dictator”.

Forty-five of Angkor Chum district hospital’s 120 staff gathered at the facility to denounce Mak Sam Oeun, whom they accused of treating them cruelly and preventing them from providing private health services outside district facilities to supplement their incomes.

Prom Chreuk, the Angkor Chum district health operations officer in charge of administration, said he had been subject to unfair treatment despite having worked in the district for 16 years.

“Since [Mak Sam Oeun] became direcor of the operational district, he began putting pressure on all staff,” Prom Chreuk said. “I just want higher officials to replace this operational district director because he is autocratic and cruel.”

Sieng Kheng, a doctor at the district hospital, said Mak Sam Oeun had prevented him from operating a private practice from which he earned roughly 160,000 riels (US$38), supplementing his government salary of 260,000 riels per month.

Mak Sam Oeun rejected the protesters’ allegations, saying he was simply preventing unlicensed medical staffers from operating in his district. “It is their right to protest if they feel I am not correct, but my withdrawing or not does not depend on their protest,” he said.

Sao Sim, director of Angkor Chum’s referral hospitals, said the 45 protestors had thumbprinted a document demanding the removal of Mak Sam Oeun from his post. The dispute is the result of tensions that have been intensifying over the past three years, he added.

Residential building approvals down 47pc

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:02 Soeun Say

THE value of investments approved by the government for residential property declined an annualised 47 percent in 2009.

According to official figures released by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction Thursday, it approved 2,836 projects in 2009 worth an estimated US$201 million, compared with the 7,220 developments worth $381 million approved in 2008 – a decline in value of 47.2 percent.

According to the report, 254 villas worth $62 million and 2,582 flats worth $138 million were given the go-ahead last year. In 2008, 1,485 villas worth $154 million and 5,735 flats worth $226 million were approved.

Lao Tip Seiha, director of the department of construction at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that the residential development market in Phnom Penh had slumped because direct capital investment from foreigners had slowed during the economic crisis.

“Now, most capital investment comes from local investors,” he said.

Lao Tip Seiha, who said he believes the construction sector may see a step-by-step recovery this year, added that current building work is not fulfilling demand for residential accommodation needed for the increasing population of Phnom Penh.

Concern about the need for housing has been highlighted by other officials this week.

Chhay Rithisen, director of the Office for Urban Affairs in the Municipality of Phnom Penh, told a workshop at Russey Keo district hall Wednesday that with about 10,000 new families coming to the city each year, Phnom Penh needs to promote investment for housing developments, especially for poor people.

According to some, the signs are good for recovery.

Kerk Narin, general manager of Bonna Realty Group, said: “According to our research, construction activity is getting better in 2010.”

Appeal filed for release of Preah Sihanouk men

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:02 May Titthara

TEN residents of Bei village in Preah Sihanouk province’s Mittapheap district have appealed to the provincial court for the release on bail of three men whom they say have been wrongly accused of robbery, citing health concerns as well as allegations that the men have been tortured.

The men were arrested on suspicion that they had stolen a mobile phone, though they have said that they merely found it and were hoping to turn it in for a reward.

Meas Sophaon, the brother of one of the men, said that he was concerned for their physical safety inside the prison.

“[My brother] told me ... he was tortured by the prison guard, and he couldn’t bear it,” he said.

Keo Rasmey, a prison monitor for the rights group Licadho, said he had also received a complaint from the group, but that he doubted that the men had been tortured in the prison.

Prison and court officials could not be reached Thursday.

Organic meat lovers set to go hungry in Reap

This could be your grill: Just follow the instructions below.

The demand is there, but we just don't grow enough local products to supply it

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:02 Post Staff

Bad news for carnivorous expatriates living in Siem Reap who like their food natural and unprocessed: First Modern Butcher Shop, the only retail outlet in town supplying organic meat to consumers, has shut down due to lack of patronage.

“There were actually a lot of Koreans coming, but we just didn’t have enough customers to sustain it,” owner Rasy Sim said of the shop, which had opened on January 3, 2008.

But the good news is Rasy Sim has vowed to open another retail outlet in the future, so Eurocentric Siem Reap residents will be able to get their paté and sausage fix.

And he’s still supplying wholesale organic fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry from his farms in Pouk commune to hotels, restaurants and markets around Siem Reap. His buyers include such big names as Le Meridien Angkor and Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor.

Expatriates can still get some of their organic fix from Lucky Market at Lucky Mall, where a few of Rasy Sim’s organic lines are also sold. But his deal with Lucky Market precludes him from stocking his produce at Angkor Market, long the favoured supermarket among Siem Reap’s expat set.

Rasy Sim also operates the Fresh from Farm Farmers Association, or Triple F, which he founded in 2004. Triple F comprises a group of 13 farmers who are being trained to improve production quality so they can sell produce to the kitchens of the big hotels, which mostly import from neighbouring countries.

Triple F’s farmers are provided room and board and three square meals a day. They raise various organic crops in symbiotic relationships to maximise growth.

“We grow tomato with radish, and lettuce with eggplant. We mix leaf, fruit and root in the same bed. They help each other grow,” Rasy Sim said.

Triple F’s aim is to promote local products, thereby improving the lives of Siem Reap farmers and reducing the Kingdom’s reliance on produce from Vietnam and Thailand. Ironically, Rasy Sim’s organisation also imports produce from Vietnam and Thailand for distribution.

“The demand is there, but we just don’t grow enough local products to supply it,” said Rasy Sim, who studied business in Paris and lived in France for 20 years. “Our intention in the future is to be able to supply it all from Cambodia.”

Joe-to-go NGO

Staff member Yourn Pholla at Joe-to-Go coffee shop

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:01 Post Staff

Joe-to-Go, a coffee shop supporting Siem Reap NGO Global Child, has reopened on “travel agent’s row” near the Old Market.

Joe-to-Go originally opened in 2007 but had to close in December 2008 because the landlord wanted to reclaim the building for his own business. But now the café is up and running again right next door to the old location.

The café’s modus operandi is to help sustain the parent NGO financially though sales of Americanos and iced lattes, reducing dependence on benefactors.

“We don’t want to rely on donors 100 percent right now,” said Nimol Pong, business director for The Global Child.

But 100 percent of the proceeds from the coffee shop do go to the NGO, which runs a school for impoverished street children. There’s also a boutique upstairs selling NGO handicrafts from throughout Cambodia, like dolls from Cambodia Knits and bags from Baray Occidental.

Photo by: Peter Olszewski
Nimol Pong, business director of The Global Child, at Joe-to-Go.

The Global Child invested US$6,000 in refurbishing the shop – Nimol Pong described the building as “quite old” – but saved cash on interior decorating fees by embracing a do-it-yourself approach.

Someone seems to have adequate design savvy as the café has turned out quite pleasant, with whitewashed walls, dark wood tables and a chalkboard menu.

And in its first month, the café has already broken even. “It’s a good start, I can say that,” stated Nimol Pong.

Joe-to-Go serves strong, tasty coffee from Ratanakkiri Province, with good results. Nimol Pong said she’s been going through guest satisfaction surveys, and the most frequent compliments are on the java.

The cafe also serves breakfast items like The Other PP – pancakes with a side of potatoes – and Western and Khmer lunch and dinner specials.

When camping isn't camping

[Top] Heritage Adventures allows temple visitors to camp in style.
[Bottom] A Heritage Adventures camp set up near Kratie.

Who you gonna call if you want to set up an Ibiza-style champagne dance party deep in the heart of the Cambodian jungle?

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 19 February 2010 15:01 Byron Perry

Who you gonna call if you want to set up an Ibiza-style champagne dance party and luxury camp in a 12th century temple, deep in the heart of the Cambodian jungle?

The hardly-roughing-it comfortable camping experts, aka Heritage Adventures, the group travel organising arm of Siem Reap’s luxury boutique Heritage Suites Hotel. That’s who.

Heritage Adventures is intent on providing the ultimate in luxurious tent experiences, and nothing is too big a challenge.

The Ibiza-style champagne dance party, for example, was organised as a 40th birthday party bash for a trader from Singapore.

Heritage constructed a 200-square-metre dance floor at a lesser-known Siem Reap Province temple, flew in a DJ from Ibiza, and made damn sure there was enough bubbly to keep the party percolating.

Vorana Na Champassak, the general manager of Heritage Suites Hotel, declined to name the temple to keep other hotels from horning in on the site, but he emphasised that the temple was outside of the Apsara protected heritage zone.

He also confirmed that “40people went through over 250 bottles of champagne”.

Heritage Adventures arranges luxury itineraries all over Cambodia for groups from all over the world. Usually the company sets up trips for the so-called “incentive travel” market, when corporations reward employees with a group trip.

Potential customers do not need to be exclusively linked to the hotel – anyone can use their services regardless of where they’re staying.

Heritage Suites Hotel and Heritage Adventures are owned by Didier Faraud, a Frenchman who’s been living in Cambodia for 16 years and, according to Vorana, “He knows the country better than the back of his hand, better than most Cambodians.”

Vorana said that Heritage Adventures never repeats an itinerary and that each trip is tailor made to the specific group.

“We spend hours discussing the fantasies of our clients so we can turn them into reality,” he insisted.

And they can handle everything from “simple” arrangements to no-holds-barred luxury extravaganzas.

On the more rustic side, Heritage Adventures recently set up a dirt bike tour for five French expats from Singapore. Sleeping quarters were simple one-person tents, and the tourists ate around a campfire.

The camp was set up each night in advance of their arrival, and Vorana said, “After a whole day of dirt biking, we’d have a shower ready for them.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the arrangements Heritage Adventures made for an incentive group of 12 American corporate types.

They constructed wooden platforms for 54-square-metre tents which, Vorana said, were “larger than your average luxury hotel room”. The tents were fitted out with big beds, flushing toilets and hot showers, and over 1000 candles were used to light up the luxury camp each night.

“It took three weeks of preparation for a two-night stay. We had to dig a well, set up solar for the showers, bring in the sinks and toilets,” explained Vorana.

That trip cost the US corporation that was footing the bill (confidentiality is paramount in situations like this) US$1,000 per person per night.

Then there was the case of the Russian gazillionaire who spent $72,000 on a two day trip for his wife, two kids and two nannies, taking a helicopter everywhere he went.

Heritage Adventures has at its disposal a veritable fleet of transportation options from vintage cars to 4x4s, from dirt bikes to helicopters to boats on the Tonle Sap. The company also recently bought two buggies, which Vorana feels differentiates it from other luxury tour organisers. “In this market you have to be a leader,” he said. “If you don’t change, you’re going to be left behind.”