Friday, 5 March 2010

Sen Sok vendors face deadline

Photo by: Pha Lina

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 May Titthara

Vendors set out their wares at Dey Hoy market in Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmei commune. District authorities gave vendors operating just outside the market until the end of the Thursday to pack up their displays, threatening those who did not comply with arrest.

Rocket test-fire successful

Photo by: Sovan Philong
RCAF units fire rockets from BM-21 launchers in a rare of military hardware testing exercise in Kampong Chhnang on Thursday.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 05 March 2010 15:06 Cheang Sokha and James O’toole

Though officials say the exercise was standard protocol, observers question the government’s motives in light of Cambodia’s political row with Thailand.

Kampong Chhnang Province

CAMBODIA successfully test-fired 200 rockets in Kampong Chhnang province on Thursday in what officials said was a routine exercise, but which some observers said was an orchestrated display of military might.

Minister of Defence Tea Banh, who oversaw the launch at a Kampong Chhnang airfield, said the event was designed to test the quality of the weapons and give troops practice in using them. The rockets were fired from BM-21 launchers, which military experts say are designed to suppress infantry.

“We tested them successfully, and all 200 rockets were shot to the right location,” Tea Banh told reporters after the launch. “There is no doubt, because what we are doing is showing our ability to defend the nation from any encroachment.”

The exercise began at 8am, with the rockets launched into the sky leaving billowing smoke as troops of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) stood by. Rockets were fired from launchers mounted on 15 trucks – 10 of which were given by the Soviet Union and five by China in the 1980s, said Phat Sopheap, an RCAF solider who completed a 90-day training course to prepare for the exercise.

Speaking in Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen deemed the exercise a resounding success.

“There were no technical errors, and no danger occurred. Within half an hour, all 15 trucks had discharged their rockets,” Hun Sen said at a ceremony celebrating International Women’s Day at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “This is not to flex our military muscle – it is a typical exercise to prepare the military to defend the nation from any incursion.”

Though plans originally called for just 10 trucks’ worth of rockets to be fired 17 kilometres, Hun Sen said he later decided to launch 15 trucks’ worth of rockets to their maximum range of 40 kilometres. He dismissed speculation that the launch was meant to intimidate neighbouring Thailand, with which diplomatic relations are currently strained.

“Even if we didn’t have a dispute, now is the time to test them,” Hun Sen said, adding that local residents had to take care to avoid the target area until military officials deemed it safe.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A soldier peers through a rangefinder to track a rocket at the launch in Kampong Chhnang province on Thursday.

Echoes across the border
Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak, deputy spokesman of the Royal Thai Army, said Cambodia was well within its rights to conduct military exercises on its own soil, requesting only that Cambodian officials closely monitor the event.

Thailand “would like to ask the Cambodian side to be very careful not to have some sort of incident that could provoke some sort of confrontation or could cause some loss of life,” Veerachon said.

WhereasThursday’s launch took place in central Cambodia in Kampong Chhnang province, Thailand conducted military exercises in Surin province, adjacent to the Thai-Cambodian border, in January and February. In August, a Thai military plane drew Cambodian ire by flying low over the Preah Vihear temple complex and its surroundings.

Veerachon said, however, that Thailand has no interest in provoking discord along the border.

“If the reason behind the exercise is threat from Thailand, there’s no point,” he said. “We want to be a good neighbour, and we don’t want anything unfruitful to happen along the border.

Carlyle Thayer, a military expert at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said the launch was “a bit of theatre” on Hun Sen’s part.

“It demonstrates that he’s in charge. It demonstrates the bravado,” Thayer said. “The military is a support base for him; there’s no question of it.”

On February 22, Hun Sen signed a document establishing partnerships between individuals and groups from the private sector and elements of the RCAF, whereby the military units are to receive charitable support.

This initiative, Thayer said, indicates the military’s expanding space in the Cambodian public sphere.

“It’s entrenching the political influence of the military in society – it makes it harder for real civilian control over the military,” he said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that although Cambodia cannot be accused of manufacturing its dispute with Thailand, the current tensions are nonetheless “an opportunity for Hun Sen to militarise or gain support for the military”.

Pointing to both the business-RCAF partnerships and Hun Sen’s recent criticisms of the TV5 television station – the premier said last week that TV5 ought to be showing more military-related programmes – Ou Virak said Cambodia is drifting towards a political model dominated by the armed forces.

“It’s an indication that the prime minister wants to create a military state, and also a one-party state,” Ou Virak said.

MSF postpones its withdrawal from HIV centre

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:06 Brooke Lewis

THE medical NGO Medicines Sans Frontieres France (MSF) has for the second time pushed back the handover of its HIV/AIDS programme to the government, in part due to uncertainty surrounding the future of salary supplements for civil servants, the organisation’s head of mission said this week.

The free programme, based at Phnom Penh’s Cambodian-Russian Friendship Hospital, serves up to 3,700 patients, making it the largest HIV/AIDS centre in the country. It is also the Kingdom’s longest-running programme offering antiretroviral treatment, which MSF introduced in Cambodia in 2001, and which drastically improves the quality of life and lifespan for people living with HIV/AIDS.

MSF began discussing the handover of the programme with the Ministry of Health’s National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS) in 2008, said MSF Head of Mission Dr Emmanuel Lavieuville. He added that the handover was originally scheduled for December 2009, but was pushed back to March 2010 at the urging of the national centre, which requested a second extension sometime last month. The handover is now expected to take place in June.

“The real problems in the handover are financial. There are a number of financial gaps that the [programme] and the [ministry] are still trying to bridge,” Lavieuville said. “We’re talking here about the incentives that we’re providing to the [ministry] staff to do their job.”

In December, Minister of Finance Keat Chhon announced that salary supplements – payments coming from development partners and the government to bolster the salaries of civil servants – would be terminated effective January 1, citing the need to promote equitable compensation arrangements and spur broader public administrative reform.

After members of the development community raised concerns about how the termination would be implemented, however, the government in January announced a stopgap arrangement under which straightforward supplements would be allowed to continue while the government formulates a new compensation scheme.

Lavieuville, like others in the development community, said there was much confusion over whether supplements would be allowed in the future.

“There is still uncertainty about how much of what we’re providing is going to be sustained, is going to be continued, after we depart – is it going to be 100 percent or just a fraction of it; is it going to be the whole staff or just a fraction of it?”

He added, though, that he was not entirely surprised by the delays. “These kinds of projects are always difficult to hand over. It’s always a complicated process.”

NCHADS Director Dr Mean Chhi Vun said Thursday that MSF had ceased supplementing the salaries of ministry staff since at least January, but declined to say whether salaries were being supplemented by another organisation.

He said NCHADS would work with the AIDS Health Care Foundation to provide a free service, adding that he was confident the programme would continue following the MSF pullout.

Thai lawyer to serve jailed Cambodian loggers

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:06 Tep Nimol

THE Cambodian government has found a Thai lawyer to defend two Cambodian brothers, Chhil Tol and Chhil Launh, arrested by Thai authorities on Monday as they were cutting down trees along the border in Oddar Meanchey province’s O’Smach commune.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Thursday that the Cambodian consul-general in Thailand had hired Prassat Thaidy, a Thai lawyer of ethnic Khmer origin who speaks Khmer fluently, to defend the brothers.

The two are awaiting trial at Sisaket provincial court on charges of crossing the border without authorisation and illegal logging.

“We do not know yet when the Thai court will try the two Cambodian people, and the lawyer has not found out yet either how long they will be imprisoned,” Koy Kuong said.

Chhin Sivuth, director of the Oddar Meanchey provincial cabinet, said Cambodian border officials were negotiating with their Thai counterparts to seek the release of the two brothers, but noted that they had not seen any success as of Thursday.

According to a report released by local rights group Adhoc last month, at least 20 Cambodian civilians have been shot and killed by Thai soldiers in the border area over the past two years. Thai officials have denied the group’s allegations.

Hun Sen tells officials not to meddle with vice crackdown

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
People check out a closed Cambo Six football betting parlour shortly after Hun Sen announced the stripping of the company’s licence during a speech at the National Institute of Education in February 2009. The premier decried the persistence of illicit gambling in a speech on Thursday.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 05 March 2010 15:06 Vong Sokheng and Khouth Sophak Chakrya

HIGH-ranking officials must stop undermining government and police efforts to stamp out illicit gambling and prostitution, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday.

Speaking at an event in Phnom Penh to mark next week’s International Women’s Day, Hun Sen said some senior officials are guilty of “misconduct”, intentionally circumventing efforts to reduce human trafficking and gambling.

“I am regretful of the misconduct of some leaders who have interfered with the court and law enforcement officials,” Hun Sen said. “The culture of impunity is not acceptable.”

Hun Sen did not name specific officials in his speech, during which he urged police to step up actions targeting human trafficking and gambling.

“We have already closed down slot machines, lotteries and cockfighting industries, but I question whether the industries still remain open or not,” he said. “I would like that the year 2010 is the year to take measures to fight against human trafficking and all forms of illegal gambling.”

Officially, all forms of gambling are banned in the King dom – except when “permitted by the Royal government”, according to the 1996 Law on the Suppression of Gambling.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said there are currently 32 licensed casinos in the Kingdom, mostly built along border areas.

Casinos have proved to be a valuable income generator, bringing almost US$20 million into government coffers in 2008, officials have previously said.

However, that was before a 2009 crackdown when the prime minister abruptly ordered all sports-betting outlets and slot-machine parlours to close, saying they were causing a moral decline in Cambodia.

Speaking at the same event, Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi said violence against women and children still remains a significant problem in the Kingdom.

She decried what she said were increasing fears by teenagers of gang rape, which she linked to the consumption of alcohol, drugs and pornography.

“These issues have intoxicated the social atmosphere and damaged the public order,” she said. “They are psychologically affecting our youth and creating unfavourable conditions for the next generation.”

Ninth acid attack in 2010 shows need for tighter laws: group

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:06 Mom Kunthear

OFFICIALS have recorded another acid attack in the capital, the ninth reported assault this year, as a committee continues to mull over a proposed law meant to counter the violent crimes.

The latest attack happened Tuesday evening in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, when assailants on a motorbike poured a beer bottle full of acid on a couple as they were on their way home from a restaurant, authorities said.

“They poured acid into a bottle of Angkor beer and then [later] doused the victims,” said Tan Narin, the governor of Toek Thla commune. “But they were not so seriously injured because the offenders used a weak form of acid.”

The governor identified the victims as Chhiv Sreyleak, 25, and her boyfriend, Hen Kosal, 24. The woman suffered injuries to her face and parts of her body, and the man sustained injuries to his back, he said.

Tan Narin said investigators suspect the attack was the result of a “love triangle”.

However, authorities reported difficulties in conducting an investigation because the victims have not cooperated, refusing to meet with police. “It is difficult to arrest the perpetrators because neither of the victims is cooperating with the police,” said Kith Sophal, the military police chief in Sen Sok district.

Chhun Sophea, programme manager of the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC), said Tuesday’s incident was the ninth such assault recorded by the CASC so far this year. The charity recorded 12 attacks for all of last year.

The trend is further proof of the need for strict regulations on the sale of the corrosive liquid, she said. “Acid is sold everywhere in our country. It’s very easy for people who want to buy and use it to douse others.”

A Ministry of Interior committee examining acid crimes is drafting a new to regulate acid sales and punish perpetrators of the attacks. The move represents a sudden turnaround for government officials, who as recently as January said it would be too difficult to impose such regulations.

Teng Savong, secretary of state at the ministry and head of the committee looking at drafting the law, said the group is preparing to reconvene later this month. The committee is expected to flesh out its current proposal with the aim of sending a final draft to lawmakers after the upcoming Khmer New Year.

Anti-trafficking gains ‘modest’, US govt says

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:05 Sebastian Strangio

THE Cambodian government has demonstrated “modest progress” in combating human trafficking during the past year, the US state department said in an interim assessment of official anti-trafficking efforts, but it also warned that key obstacles remain.

In the report, released on February 24, the US government recognised anti-trafficking successes, including the conviction of four traffickers since April 2009.

But “the government did not prosecute, convict, or criminally punish any public officials complicit in trafficking”, the report states. “Impunity, endemic corruption, and related rent-seeking behavior continue to be an impediment to progress in combating trafficking in persons.”

Samleang Seila, executive director of Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said the Ministry of Interior had made “great efforts” in 2009 to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation. But he said that many trafficking suspects still enjoy a degree of legal impunity, often receiving lenient sentences.

“This is something that is not consistent in the judicial system and may allow these officials to enjoy light sentences in Cambodia,” he said.

Ten Borany, deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection, said officials had committed offences in the past, but that the authorities had been successfully weeding out such individuals.

“We have cracked down more on these cases and now there are much fewer of them,” he said.

However, others said the assumptions of the Kingdom’s 2008 Anti-Trafficking Law, which adopted an “abolitionist approach” to the Cambodian sex industry, had in some cases worsened the situation.

“This approach has never proven successful, anywhere,” said Sara Bradford, a human rights consultant and advocate for sex workers’ rights.

“Since the implementation of the law I cannot recall a time where I felt the government gained any ground in properly and ethically enforcing the law.”

NGOs outline anti-smoking goals

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A mechanic takes a smoke break in his garage in Tuol Kork district in January. Health officials and NGOs on Thursday presented six recommendations designed to curtail smoking in the Kingdom.

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:05 Chrann Chamroeun

HEALTH officials and NGOs have formulated six recommendations for the government to step up its anti-smoking efforts, as a national seminar on tobacco control wound up in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

Lim Sareth, a health promotion officer from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), said 82 government officials and 50 NGO representatives joined the two-day seminar, which discussed strategies for controlling tobacco use in the Kingdom.

At the end of the seminar, officials presented six main strategies for reducing the health impacts of cigarette smoking.

Among these were a higher tax on tobacco products, photographic warning labels on cigarette packages, a blanket ban on tobacco advertising, and public education programmes focusing on the negative effects of tobacco.

At the close of the seminar, Ho Norn, chief of the National Assembly’s Commission of Public Health, Social Affairs, Veterans, Vocational Training and Women’s Affairs, applauded the efforts of NGOs to put the risks of smoking on the agenda.

“I am very happy and congratulate the great result of your improved efforts in strengthening the well-being of the people through this seminar,” she said. “We all know that tobacco is a product endangering the lives of users and other people, causing many diseases, such as strokes, heart attacks, stomach pain [and] liver disease.”

After the seminar, ADRA’s country director Mark Schwisow expressed hopes that the government would follow the recommendations, citing Ho Norn’s support as a positive step towards “improving people’s health and reducing poverty”.

In 2005, Cambodia became a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In January, the government announced that warnings would appear on cigarette packets by July, but stopped short of requiring the “shocking”graphic-image warnings promoted by the WHO.

Road rules discussed

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
An ambulance pulls up after a motorbike crash on Monivong Boulevard near Street 352 in February. A proposed change to the Land Traffic Law calls for raised fines for helmet-less motorbike drivers.

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 05 March 2010 15:05 Chhay Channyda

OFFICIALS and civil society groups met Thursday to discuss proposed changes to 13 articles of the Land Traffic Law – including regulations on helmets, speeding and licences – and the development of a 10-year road safety plan to lower traffic fatalities.

A document obtained at the meeting outlines the 13 proposed changes, including increases in fines for motorbike drivers who fail to wear helmets, as well as for car drivers who fail to wear seatbelts. If the proposed changes are approved, the fines for both infractions will be significantly higher – helmet fines will rise from 3,000 riels to 21,000 riels (about US$5), while seatbelt fines will rise from 5,000 riels to 35,000 riels.

Preap Chanvibol, director of the Land Transport Department at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, noted that the changes were still being debated. “This is just a proposal, and we require more meetings to finalise this. This could be reduced a little bit,” he said.

Looking ahead, Public Works and Transport Minister Tram Iv Toek, who is head of the National Road Safety Commission, said stricter enforcement of the helmet regulation, introduced for motorbike drivers in January 2009, would be critical to meeting the goal set by ASEAN to reduce traffic fatalities to a rate of seven per 100,000 inhabitants by 2010.

There were 12.6 road fatalities per 100,000 Cambodians last year, up from 12.2 per 100,000 in 2008, according to NRSC figures.

“The traffic police must enforce helmet-wearing to all people, especially youth,” he said. Citing NRSC data, he said that 72 percent of motorbike drivers wear helmets during the day, but that only 46 percent do so at night.

“We want to see 100 percent of people wearing helmets, like in Vietnam,” he said.

He added that the Finance Ministry’s allocation of 250,000,000 riels (around $59,950) towards road-safety initiatives for 2010 was insufficient and called for more financial support.

Thursday’s meeting came two days after the UN announced a Decade of Action for Road Safety, a campaign designed to stem the reported global rise in road deaths.

Ottawa Treaty: Local push for US to ban mines

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:05 Irwin Loy

Ottawa Treaty

Anti-land mine campaigners in Cambodia met with US Ambassador Carol Rodley this week, urging US authorities to sign on to a global treaty banning the weapons. Cambodia and 155 other countries have ratified the Ottawa Treaty, which came into effect this week in 1999, banning signatories from using or stockpiling land mines. The US is among the most prominent countries not to have signed. “We think it’s time that President Obama decided that standing outside the Ottawa Treaty agreed to by 156 nations is just out of date,” said Sister Denise Coghlan, country director of Jesuit Refugee Services and a member of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. If the US comes on board, Coghlan said, it could have a domino effect on other nations who also haven’t signed on to the treaty, including Russia, Pakistan, China and Israel. Coghlan said campaigners in other nations also planned to meet with US officials to press the issue. The ambassador, Coghlan said, was “very, very gracious” and promised to convey the message. Also present at the meeting was Tun Channareth, an amputee who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the ICBL in 1997. Cambodia ratified the land mine treaty in 1999. It has yet to sign on to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which will come into effect this year.

Sihanoukville villagers seek relocation land

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:05 May Titthara

ABOUT 80 people accused of living on public property gathered in front of Preah Sihanouk provincial hall on Thursday, calling on officials to grant them land for their relocation.

Ek Vithean, a representative from Spean Chhes village in Sihanoukville’s Buon commune, said that the residents, members of three villages accused of living unlawfully on pavements, had protested after receiving no response to earlier complaints.

“In 2008, provincial authorities conducted research about the number of families in our community, and then in November 2009 they allowed us to fill in forms proposing our relocation,” he said. “But after we submitted the forms of 107 families everything has been quiet, so we have come to ask them about our process.”

On Thursday, the provincial cabinet told villagers that their forms had been sent to authorities in Phnom Penh, Ek Vithean said, adding that the group now plans to make its way to the capital on Sunday.

Boun Narith, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said the villagers’ current living situation is negatively affecting their health. “In this province we still have a lot of free land belonging to the state, so it should be provided to them,” he said.

Preah Sihanouk Governor Sbong Sarath and Cabinet Director Am Sam Ath said on Thursday that they did not have time to discuss the issue.

Climate change forum

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Khouth Sophakchakrya

FLOODS and droughts which destroy crops are among the most damaging effects of climate change, farmers from across the country were told Thursday, during a forum addressing climate concerns for the agricultural sector.

Roughly 360 people attended Thursday’s first National Farmer’s Forum on Climate Change. The forum marked the first chance for many farmers to air their concerns about climate change.

Pao Ratha, a farmer from Kampong Thom, said much of his rice crop was wiped out during a drought early last year.

“The drought destroyed my rice seedlings. There wasn’t enough irrigation,” he said.

All told, 70 percent of the Kingdom’s crops were affected by floods, and 30 percent were hit with drought conditions last year, said Nhem Vanda, vice-president of the National Committee for Disaster Management.

He said authorities are trying to introduce better irrigation and new drought-resistant seedlings.

Cambodia struggles with poor irrigation systems and a lack of resources that sees farmers producing one of the lowest crop yields in the region, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Mondulkiri villagers to blame over land row: chief

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Chhay Channyda and Tep Nimol

OFFICIALS in Mondulkiri province’s Bousraa commune office have accused ethnic Phnong villagers of inciting unrest in relation to an ongoing dispute with two international rubber firms, villagers said Thursday.

Nine representatives were summoned to appear at the office earlier this week, following a public forum last month at which eight of the nine raised concerns relating to the dispute with the companies.

By Deng, 44, one of those summoned on Thursday, said the Bousraa commune chief, Keng Nhork, accused her of “inciting people to protest” by raising concerns at last month’s forum, organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR).

“He also blamed people for joining the public forum who did not speak in favour of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party,” he said. “The commune chief threatened us that if we meet with NGOs in future, we must get permission from him,” she said.

Socfin KCD, a French-Cambodian joint venture, and the Vietnamese Dak Lak Rubber Company are developing plantations that locals say have eaten into their ancestral farmland in the commune.

According to Khan Channy, 24, Keng Nhork said that villagers at the CCHR forum had accused him of selling land to the companies. However, Khan Channy said, the communities were “not afraid” to confront authorities over the issue.

Keng Nhork said that Thursday’s meeting was intended to clear up suspicions between the authorities and villagers.

“The company cleared the land for development after they got a licence to develop the area from the government, but villagers accused me of thumbprinting the paperwork for the company or selling the land to the company,” he said.

Many villagers had agreed to accept compensation, he added, but 20 percent had refused the offer and continued to protest.

Khaou Phallaboth, chairman of Socfin KCD’s board of directors, said the negotiations between villagers and the company were ongoing.

“It is not hard to deal with the people. It is hard when a group incites a small number of them,” he said.

Cooking up a storm

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Post Staff

Another major culinary breakthrough in Siem Reap is also a big plus for the resurgence of contemporary Khmer cuisine and for local NGO, the Paul Dubrule Hotel and Tourism School.

The school’s master chef of culinary arts, Prom Mear Yeat, has been selected to represent Cambodia at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or Asia Qualifying Round, which takes place in Shanghai from March 17 to 20.

Prom Mear Yeat’s assistant in Shanghai will be Dubrule culinary student Sam Sophorn.

Twelve chefs from 12 Asian countries will compete, and the best four will qualify for the Bocuse d’Or 2011 in Lyon, France.

The top three candidates at Shanghai will also take home big bucks: The winner gets 10,000 euro (US$13,600); the runner up 7500 euro ($10,150); and the third place getter 5000 euro ($6,760).

The Bocuse d’Or, the brainchild of celebrated chef Paul Bocuse, was established in France in 1987 and was the first professional culinary competition to take place in front of a live audience.

Having established itself over two decades as the world’s pre-eminent chef championship, the Bocuse d’Or launched regional competitions for Europe and Asia in 2008.

This year marks the debut appearance of a Cambodian entrant.

The school’s director, Gerald Hougardy, is a hospitality industry veteran and former CEO of Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square. He signed on at the Paul Dubrule School last September and is over the moon about the opportunity.

He told 7Days he was approached by the Bocuse d’Or committee when he first arrived last year, and didn’t hesitate.

He immediately consulted with Joannes Riviere, the executive chef at Hotel de la Paix and Cambodia’s Bocuse d’Or president, about who would be the most suitable candidate.

Hougardy said, “I feel that people here do not pay enough attention to this competition – it’s a great opportunity to promote the country.

“I’m very proud that it is one of our chefs being represented in a major culinary event like this, and my dream is that he will go through to the finals in Lyon.”

SRP’s shadow graft bill rejected

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Meas Sokchea

THE National Assembly has dismissed a draft anticorruption law submitted by opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) lawmaker Son Chhay last month in a bid to draw attention to the fact that the government had kept the official draft under wraps.

In a letter issued on Wednesday, National Assembly President Heng Samrin recognised the receipt of the law but said the assembly’s permanent committee “has in unanimity agreed not to receive the proposed law on anticorruption council from his Excellency”.

Cheam Yeap, senior lawmaker for the Cambodian People’s Party, said the committee dismissed Son Chhay’s law because lawmakers had already received the draft Law on Anticorruption, passed by the Council of Ministers in December.

However, Son Chhay said on Thursday that even though the government’s law had been drafted with the help of foreign experts, it had also come under fire from many quarters – including the World Bank – and “seemed to defend corrupt officials”.

He said his main aim was to take part in the debates surrounding the new law. “We are not offended that the law was not received because our aim was for the [government’s] law to be examined soon,” he said.

“We hope that when the assembly debates the government’s draft, it will take some ideas stated in our proposed law to include as well.”

Hush little baby

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Post Staff

Photographer Vincent Rufo was inspired by his mother to take the photos of newborn babies that will be exhibited at The Sothea boutique hotel from March 8 in honour of International Women’s Day.

“My mum took so many photos of me and my sisters as babies,” says Rufo. “It’s special now to see myself as a baby.”

The Filipino travelled far and wide in Siem Reap province taking close-up shots of Khmer newborns for the show, titled Lullaby. He says most of his photography is normally very lively, so he was drawn to the quiet and subdued babies.

“I wanted to shoot sleeping babies and capture the peace and innocence and the inner silence,” he says.

Rufo found one of his subjects at Siem Reap Referral Hospital, the only hospital in town that would let him shoot photos.

“When I came back two weeks later, the mother was so happy to see photos of her baby,” he says, adding that he found Khmer mothers to be especially caring and protective of their infants.

The highly stylised baby shots in Lullaby are mainly black and white. Rufo created intimacy by shooting from very close up – one can see every wrinkle and hair on the newborns and almost feel the tenderness of their skin.

Rufo came to Cambodia two years ago and decided the Kingdom was a “magical” place to take photos.

“I had never seen anything like the Angkor temples; they were great to shoot. But I still consider myself more of a portrait photographer,” he says.

Twelve photos, all for sale, will be displayed at The Sothea for Lullaby. Cocktails will be served, and jazz duo Aya and Trick will provide background music at the opening night.

Police Blotter: 5 Mar 2010

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun

Police say a woman spun an elaborate – and false – story of being robbed at gunpoint after she gambled away more than US$10,000 at a casino in Phnom Penh. The 30-year-old woman had brought her complaint to police in Tuol Kork district Tuesday, saying that two gunmen had chased her down the street and robbed her of her cash. However, the woman later admitted that she lost the money while gambling at NagaWorld Casino and was afraid her husband would divorce her if he knew what had really happened. Police said the woman later returned to the station and apologised profusely, seeking a pardon for her sin. Police told the woman to stop gambling and let her return to her family.

Thirteen students in school uniforms were dragged to Chamkarmon district police station for “an education” after police officials busted into an illicit snooker and video game club in the capital Wednesday. Police said they seized eight video games, four computers, eight televisions and the 32-year-old owner of the club, and promised to destroy them all – except, presumably, the club owner, who will instead face prosecution in court. The students, on the other hand, were sent home to their parents after the parents signed contracts with police.

Five men who worked as builders and metalworkers during the day moonlighted in a much less constructive profession at night: armed robbery. Police say the five men, who live in the capital, have confessed to robbing a gold vendor in Meanchey district last week. The deputy police chief said the men confessed to plotting the robbery before they pulled the heist. Each member of the group faces a charge of robbery.

A 53-year-old woman has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after she was convicted of running a business that married off Cambodian girls to Korean men. Police first raided the woman’s Tuol Kork district home last September, where they found 20 Cambodian girls and three Korean men. Police only arrested the 53-year-old suspect. The woman denied any illegal activity, but acknowledged that she acted as a “broker” several times, receiving US$100 for finding a Cambodian woman for her male Korean customers.

Show at night brings puppet delight

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Byron Perry

Photographer Vincent Rufo was inspired by his mother to take the photos of newborn babies that will be exhibited at The Sothea boutique hotel from March 8 in honour of International Women’s Day.

“My mum took so many photos of me and my sisters as babies,” says Rufo. “It’s special now to see myself as a baby.”

The Filipino travelled far and wide in Siem Reap province taking close-up shots of Khmer newborns for the show, titled Lullaby. He says most of his photography is normally very lively, so he was drawn to the quiet and subdued babies.

“I wanted to shoot sleeping babies and capture the peace and innocence and the inner silence,” he says.

Rufo found one of his subjects at Siem Reap Referral Hospital, the only hospital in town that would let him shoot photos.

“When I came back two weeks later, the mother was so happy to see photos of her baby,” he says, adding that he found Khmer mothers to be especially caring and protective of their infants.

The highly stylised baby shots in Lullaby are mainly black and white. Rufo created intimacy by shooting from very close up – one can see every wrinkle and hair on the newborns and almost feel the tenderness of their skin.

Rufo came to Cambodia two years ago and decided the Kingdom was a “magical” place to take photos.

“I had never seen anything like the Angkor temples; they were great to shoot. But I still consider myself more of a portrait photographer,” he says.

Twelve photos, all for sale, will be displayed at The Sothea for Lullaby. Cocktails will be served, and jazz duo Aya and Trick will provide background music at the opening night.

Siem Reap judge calls three to testify about attack on British man

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Peter Olszewski and Rann Reuy

Siem Reap Province

A SIEM Reap provincial court judge said this week that he had summoned three people to answer questions about an attack last month in which a British man was scalded with a boiling liquid.

On the night of January 10, after a series of domestic disputes with his Cambodian wife, David Thomas Old, a resident of Siem Reap, was attacked in his home, sustaining first- and second-degree burns and the loss of his sight.

Deputy Chief Mok Sam On of the Siem Reap city police said the attack occurred following an argument between the 61-year-old and his wife, 40-year-old Sut Sina, who live in Sla Kram commune’s Banteay Chas village.

“Domestic violence often erupts in that family,” Mok Sam On said.

Sut Sina was charged with causing intentional injury and is being held in pretrial detention.

Judge Nguon Nara said he had summoned Sut Sina, as well as her nephew, who is suspected of being one of the attackers, and the victim, who is receiving treatment in the UK. The trio have been asked to appear in court on March 10.

“This case is very difficult because we do not know if the victim’s side can come to give testimony or not, and where is the attacker?” Nguon Nara said. “We are also finding it difficult to determine what kind of liquid the attacker used because he left nothing on site.”

A friend of Old’s in Siem Reap, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Old was in serious but stable condition in a UK hospital.

“We believe he has first- and second-degree burns to about 60 percent of his body, and that he’s been blinded,” he said.

“There is a good chance that he may get about 85 percent of his sight back, but he will need a series of operations over about 10 months,” he added.

The friend said that Old had received no help from the British embassy in Phnom Penh, but that he had been aided by the British embassy in Bangkok, where he travelled for treatment shortly after the attack.

“The British embassy in Bangkok sent a letter of concern to Cambodian authorities about the case,” the friend said.

A spokeswoman for the British embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the case, citing the person’s right to privacy.

Capital port continues to report strong growth

Photo by: Pha Lina
Shipments in February were also lower because the month is shorter than the others.

Shipments in February were also lower because the month is shorter than the others."

The rise of the port
- Eight months of growth in traffic since Cai Mep port in Vietnam opened in July
- 75pc rise in traffic in January followed by 51.5pc increase last month
- Port aims for 44pc traffic growth during 2010 Source: Phnom Penh Autonomous Port

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:04 Chun Sophal

But Chinese New Year slowdown hits month-on-month figure

SHIPMENTS at Phnom Penh’s Autonomous Port increased by 51.5 percent in February compared to the same month last year, but were down on January freight highs following Chinese New Year, figures showed Thursday.

Last month 3,271 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) were delivered and received by the port, compared to 2,158 TEUs in February 2009. Many of the containers were shipped through the Vietnamese deepwater port of Cai Mep, which opened last year and is widely seen to be the reason for the capital port’s recovery following the global economic crisis. It offers a more direct route for shipments to the United States and Canada, shaving days off travel times compared to traditional shipping routes via Hong Kong and Singapore.

Despite the positive year-on-year figures, officials from the port said that the volumes were low compared to January, when 4,547 TEUs were shipped – marking a 75 percent increase on January 2009. Prior to February, the port recorded seven straight months of growth.

Director General of the port Ieng Veng Sun said Thursday that many companies did not conduct deliveries in February because they were on holiday or were busy with the Chinese New Year.

“Shipments in February were also lower because the month is shorter than the others,” he said.

“However, we hope to see an increase in March. This should reach the high levels seen in January, because demand for shipment services is increasing.

“Freight shipment at our port started to rise after we built up our cooperation with the Vietnamese port in July last year,” he added.

Hin Theany, line division general manager of Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), which ships garments from Cambodia, said Thursday that her company had not used Phnom Penh port for three weeks after Chinese New Year.

She said the port did not have ships to deliver goods straight to the US and Europe through Vietnam at that time. “We will start to ship goods through the port again next week,” she added.

In January, Hei Bavy, director general of the port, said that the Phnom Penh port’s target was to ship 62,500 TEUs this year – 44 percent more than the 43,312 TEUs transported in 2009.

Chinese company Shanghai is also scheduled to construct a $30 million port upgrade that would further increase capacity.

ANZ CEO predicts healthy recovery

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:03 Ellie Dyer

ANZ Banking Group’s global chief painted a positive picture of Cambodia’s economic future during a key-note speech Thursday in Phnom Penh.

Speaking to the Australian Business Association at the capital’s Intercontinental Hotel, ANZ’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Smith predicted Cambodia would see 5 percent economic growth in 2010 after “a difficult” 2009.

The forecast is higher than the 4.25 percent GDP growth predicted for the Kingdom in December by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which warned that “risks are clearly tilted to the downside”.

The World Bank has estimated that Cambodia’s GDP was US$9.4 billion in 2008.

When quizzed about his estimate by a member of the 170-strong audience, who described it as “the most bullish we have heard”, Smith said: “I think we can be more optimistic.”

The financial heavyweight, who was once president and CEO of HSBC, said the Kingdom was experiencing infrastructure development and rising productivity in the agricultural sector.

He said he believes that an awareness of the need for nations within the Greater Mekong area – consisting of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – to work together, coupled with “more significant” inter-country trade, will provide a boost for the economy.

“What made 2009 so difficult was the export dependency Cambodia had with the US and Europe. There is an opportunity now to focus on trade within the region,” he said, before pointing to statistics released last week which indicated that Cambodia and Indonesian bilateral trade rose 24 percent in the first 10 months of 2009 from the same period in 2008, increasing to $165 million from $133 million.

Smith’s confidence comes as Cambodia has entered into free-trade agreements with its fellow ASEAN member nations and China.

Both pacts came into effect on January 1 this year and ensure that the Kingdom will gradually decrease trade levies on many goods to zero by 2015.

Business registration surged in early 2010

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:03 May Kunmakara

NEW businesses registered with the Ministry of Commerce increased by 18 percent in the first two months of 2010 compared to the same period of last year, statistics released Thursday showed.

Official data, released by the ministry’s Business Registration Department and received by the Post, stated that 338 enterprises and companies were granted licences in January and February this year.

This compares to 286 firms registered during the same two months of last year, and represents a tax revenue increase of US$5,200 for the government given that registration rates have remained unchanged.

During the same time period, six companies were dissolved this year, compared to a total of nine in 2009, a year largely considered the worst on record for the Cambodian economy as international agencies including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank predicted a small contraction in gross domestic product.

An official at the department, who asked to remain anonymous, said that registrations started increasing at the back end of 2009 and consisted of numerous South Korean and Vietnamese enterprises.

Many of the South Korean businesses, she said, have registered as brokers and underwriters in preparation for the May launch of Cambodia’s stock exchange.

She added that the Vietnamese registrations were concentrated in the agricultural sector.

The official added that the procedures and laws had been improved to ease the granting of licences to traders and investors.

Nguon Meng Tech, director general of Cambodia’s Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday that the business climate in the country had improved so far this year.

“I have met with representatives from many foreign countries, like Japan, who are seeking local partners. This means the business atmosphere is better this year,” he said.

Noeu Seiha, a senior researcher from the Economic Institute of Cambodia (EIC), added that he believes the world financial crisis is over, and that both local and foreign investors should take the opportunity to increase their investments in Cambodia.

In 2009, the total number of new companies registered declined sharply by an annualised 27 percent to 2,011 companies from 2,755 in 2008, the ministry figures showed.

Concession comes under legal spotlight

Photo by: Uy Nousereimony
A young farm worker in Kandal province plants rice in September. Analysts say that finding sizeable paddy concessions in suitable growing areas has become increasingly difficult in Cambodia.

Invariably almost all suitable rice production areas have already been utilised."

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:03 Susan Wilson

Agro-fund backed by Australian ex-treasurer Costello may violate the Cambodian Land Law

THE Cambodian government has given approval for high-profile Australian investment fund Indochina Gateway Capital Ltd to manage a collection of land concessions whose combined areas total 10 times the legal size permitted by any one company under the 2001 Cambodian Land Law.

The project was first reported in January when Australian former treasurer Peter Costello visited Cambodia as managing director of BKK Partners, an Australian company acting as financial adviser for the project with close internal ties to Indochina Gateway Capital.

In a January meeting with Costello and Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Margaret Adamson, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An “expressed his satisfaction and support for the investment project in the agricultural sector in Cambodia, brought in by ... Peter Costello”, according to a statement from the government’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit.

Costello told Sok An he was seeking capital to fund a US$600 million agricultural investment involving 100,000 hectares of land – the equivalent of a block 50 kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide – despite clear restrictions in Cambodian law limiting economic land concessions to 10,000 hectares.

It would be the largest private investment in Cambodian history, slightly greater than the $590 million in total approved investment for the country in 2009 in what was a record investment year for agriculture.

But the legality of the land concessions required for the project remains unclear, with BKK Partners and Indochina Gateway Capital declining to respond to further questions about their size and potential locations, impact studies and ownership agreements.

Costello told Sok An that Indochina Gateway Capital would be working with joint venture partners to develop 10,000 hectares for banana plantations, 10,000 hectares for teak, 20,000 hectares for oil palm plantations, 20,000 hectares for sugarcane and 40,000 hectares for “farmland”, which is presumed to mean rice paddies, based on a previous interview with the Post.

Another managing director of BKK Partners, John Anderson, told Australian news Web site Crikey that the swathes of unoccupied land still available in Cambodia had helped to motivate the deal.

“Commodity prices spiked in 2008, and in many developing countries there’s limited land available, limited water,” Anderson was quoted as saying. “In Cambodia there’s an abundance of land and water because the Khmer Rouge wiped out 40 percent of the people.”

However, Tim Purcell, director of Agricultural Development International in Phnom Penh and an expert on agricultural income and resource management in Cambodia, said the plan might run into trouble.

Speaking to the Post Wednesday, he expressed doubt that the project could legally proceed as announced by BKK Partners and Indochina Gateway Capital in January.

“It is highly sceptical that these plans can be put into place from a technical point of view,” he said, referring to the 2001 Land Law, which states: “Land concession areas shall not be more than 10,000 hectares.”

“For 40,000 hectares, four separate concessions would need to be obtained, each under a different company name-lease agreement,” he said.

He also said it was unlikely Indochina Gateway Capital could find adjacent land without affecting existing settlements or projects.

“Practical experience by companies obtaining ELCs [economic land concessions] indicates that it is extremely difficult to obtain even 10,000 hectares in a contiguous block that is not subject to overlapping claims, existing farmland, established villages, and/or illegal squatters,” he said.

Purcell said that in contrast to Anderson’s comments about unoccupied land, there is relatively limited land available for such a scheme because economic land concessions can only legally be granted on registered and classified state private land.

“Invariably almost all suitable rice production areas have already been utilised by private rice farmers – land which is not classified as state private land,” he said.

Anderson and Costello say they are not interested in dodgy dealings, but they have not explained how the land will be acquired. Anderson told Crikey that there was also a “social development angle”, with 5 percent of the profits going to a charitable fund.

“Village displacement issues are important to us, but we’ve got to focus on the development benefits for the Cambodian people in raising up the agricultural sector to where it should be. The agricultural sector should be the main contributor to GDP. If you raise the standards and raise the yields, the benefit for the Cambodian people will be huge,” he was quoted as saying.

However, experts believe that agricultural development in Cambodia is not so straightforward.

David Pred, national director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, told the Post that in the current climate any investment involving large tracts of land would be “at the expense of Cambodian people”.

“ELCs may be reaping huge profits for investors, but they are robbing local farmers of the land and natural resources on which their lives depend, and they are often accompanied by a range of other serious human rights violations and harmful social and environmental impacts,” he said.

“The first question that comes to my mind is: Where are they going to find another 100,000 hectares of arable land for more industrial plantations when half the country’s landmass has already been concessioned and much more has been promised to Vietnam, China, Korea, and Kuwait? The only logical conclusion is that they intend to displace people or cut down protected forests”.

Reports by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Global Witness, Licadho, and Adhoc have all expressed serious concerns about the process of granting economic land concessions.

The Global Witness report Country for Sale notes that many concessions exceed Cambodian law’s 10,000-hectare limit, adding that “most, if not all, the ELC holders have failed to meet legal requirements to conduct environmental impact assessments”.

The report Economic Land Concessions in Cambodia – A Human Rights Perspective, published by the UN human rights agency, said government officials were often unwilling to follow legal requirements, adding that “officials have commented that if the Ministry were to wait until it was possible to comply with all of the requirements of the sub-decree prior to granting concessions, investors would no longer be interested in investing in Cambodia”.

Illegal precedents
There are numerous examples of economic land concessions, often managed by government officials, which clearly flout the law.

Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat is currently involved in a questionable 9,000-hectare land-concession deal that saw more than 1,000 people sleeping in tents on their farmland Tuesday night to prevent surveying by representatives of his Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Both the UN agency and Adhoc criticise the senator for holding interests in excess of 10,000 hectares. Question were also raised with regard to his Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company concession of 9,700 hectares and Koh Kong Plantation Company concession of 9,400 hectares. When combined, these two concessions – which have both been shown to belong to Ly Yong Phat – are nearly double the legal limit.

This is another hurdle for Indochina Gateway Capital, as the company would likely be considered to have “ownership interests” in the whole land area, depending on the relationship between the investment firm and the proposed joint venture partners, which has never been explained.

Manfred Hornung, legal adviser at Human Rights NGO Licadho, called on the firm to be “open and as inclusive”.

“Whether it is legal or not at this stage is unclear, but it is important for [Indochina Gateway Capital] to come clean, to be open about locations, about the international partners, to provide the community with information about structure and size of locations and to provide a long and protracted process of community involvement,” he said, adding that a “meaningful” environmental and social impact study was crucial.

Pred said such studies were frequently overlooked in another direct violation of the Land Law.

“Despite legal requirements, for the majority of ELCs, local communities are not consulted before the concession is granted, Environmental and Social Impact Assessments are inadequate or not undertaken at all, and solutions for compensation and resettlement are rarely agreed to before the bulldozers start moving in,” he said.

Executive Director of Community Legal Education Centre Yeng Virak agreed there needed to be more of a focus on impact studies, but said that theoretically, the requirements of Cambodian law should be sufficient. “The law is relatively progressive in terms of recognising the possession rights of the Cambodian people, rights of the [indigenous peoples]. The law provides quite clear and strong guidelines about what is allowed and what isn’t,” he said. “The problem is more with the failure to properly implement the law.”

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief

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Pepper, sugar GI status

Friday, 05 March 2010 15:00 Nguon Sovan

KAMPOT pepper and Kampong Speu palm sugar have been recognised as Geographical Indicator (GI) products by the Ministry of Commerce (MoC), it was confirmed Thursday. Lao Reasey, chief of the ministry’s GI bureau at the Intellectual Property Rights Department, said that a ceremony to mark the official recognition of Cambodia’s first two GI products would be held at the end of this month. Producers have reacted well to the announcement. “It is good news for us. It reflects our efforts for more than two years to prepare for GI status. Those efforts have come to fruition now,” Nguon Lay, president of Kampot Pepper Farmers’ Association, said Thursday.

WING set to expand

Friday, 05 March 2010 15:00 Ellie Dyer

MOBILE money-transfer service WING intends to expand its business to enable customers to pay utility bills and make loan repayments through their phones, its managing director said Thursday. Speaking after the launch of the company’s Social Impact Report, held at the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, Brad Jones told the Post: “We see microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Cambodia as an evolving growth area.” He said he hopes to work with MFIs to enable customers to pay off loans, pay electricity bills, and eventually disburse loans through the technology. He ruled out moving into taking deposits in the future, but said the business would help MFIs to use the system to develop services. WING, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ANZ Bank, works with Mfone, Hello, qb and Smart Mobile to allow people to make payments though mobile phones.

Crown face MND in Cup final

Phnom Penh Crown hotshot Keo Sokngorn (left) will be one of the top local talents on show at the 2010 Samdech Hun Sen Cup final this Sunday from 3pm at Olympic Stadium.

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Friday, 05 March 2010 15:00 Ung Chamroeun

Phnom Penh Crown will look to clinch their third successive Samdech Hun Sen Cup title Sunday while National Defence Ministry could claim their first

THE Samdech Hun Sen Cup final Sunday at Olympic Stadium features a blockbuster matchup of two well-known Cambodian clubs: Phnom Penh Crown, who are chasing a sensational third successive Cup title, and National Defence Ministry (MND), who are making their first appearance in the final.

In last Saturday’s semifinals, Crown emerged victorious after a drama-filled penalty shootout against classic enemies Naga Corp, and MND bumped out military rivals Preah Khan Reach 1-0 in a somewhat anticlimactic affair.

Despite their impressive record in the competition, Crown manager Be Makara says his side have a 50-50 chance against MND in the final. He voiced respect for MND’s “young and elegant players” but said that he, along with team coach Apisit Im Amphai of Thailand, had identified some weaknesses in their opponents, though he declined to give details.

The ambitious coach was disatisfied with his team’s shaky victory over Naga last Saturday, which he attributed to inadequacies at the back that allowed their opponents to come back from three goals down in the first half to level the game and force penalties. “It’s shameful that we let Naga Corp get the same 3-0 score in the second half that we made in the first. It was a weakness of our defence. I have told the players that we can’t look down on our opponents when we are ahead and there is time still left. We need to play hard until the very end.”

National Defence Ministry’s Um Kompheak comes into Sunday’s Samdech Hun Sen Cup final on scorching form

Crown defender Lor Pichseila will miss the finals due to his dismissal in the semifinals, and defenders Thul Sothearith, Srey Vesna and goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay are also suspended after receiving two yellow cards each in previous rounds.

“We will use Thong Chanrasmey, our second-choice goalkeeper,” said Be Makara. “It will be hard work for him because he has never played in a full competitive match for us.” However, the manager took comfort in the return of Chan Rithy and his young brother Chan Dara, who come into the game in good health.

Crown striker Keo Sokgnorn said that he will try his best to score more goals for the team, and expects to clinch their third consecutive title. Defender Tieng Tiny, meanwhile, hopes that he and teammates have learned their lessons from the previous matches and will play with stoic determination Sunday.

A new rule for this year’s tournament excluded all foreign players from the team squads. The rule played right into the hands of MND, who are known as the “troop team” for always fielding a 100 percent Cambodian lineup.

A solitary strike by Um Kompheak in the 27th minute against Preah Khan Reach last week was all that was necessary to open a new chapter in the club’s Cup history.

Tep Long Rachana is now manager of MND after previously plying his trade as assistant coach for both the national team and Phnom Penh Crown. During Tuesday’s training session at the National Training Centre of the Royal Armed Forces of Cambodia, assistant coach Op Sam Ath expressed the team’s gratitude to ministry officials, who he says have helped the club reach the finals this year.

The coach also asserted that, although Crown are generally regarded as the best team in Cambodia, the playing field had been leveled with the omission of their talented foreign players. “We really want our fans to see the team’s realise their potential and claim this championship,” he said. “However, we can’t ignore [the abilities] of two-time champions Phnom Penh Crown at all.”

With no players suspended for previous misdemeanours, the MND squad will be at full strength Sunday to attempt the historic upset. Right winger Nov Soseila has recovered from an ankle injury, but goalkeeper Sou Yaty has yet to confirm availability after spraining his wrist.

Op Sam Ath expressed his general content with the performances of his players so far in the competition, especially Um Kompheak, but wished to avoid a repeat of their nail-biter shootout win over Koh Kong in the last-16 round. The Army team had failed to find the net against their opponents and had edged the spot kicks 4-3 to progress.

MND captain and forward Khim Borey appreciates that his team face a tough adversary. “I’m really optimistic ahead of kickoff for this Sunday’s final, but it will be hard to win against Phnom Penh Crown.”

Apart from receiving the gleaming Samdech Hun Sen Cup trophy – which Crown will be allowed to keep if they can win it for the third time in a row Sunday – the triumphant team will take home 80 million riels (US$19,208), while the runners-up earn 40 million riels.

Beaten semifinalists Naga Corp and Preah Khan Reach, meanwhile, will face each other for third-place honours and a cash prize of 20 million riels in a playoff Saturday at 3pm.