Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open walks on for another edition

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010
The Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open will return onto the Asian Tour calendar for its fourth edition from December 9-12, 2010, officials announced today.Johnnie Walker South East Asia General Manager Sam Fischer and Asian Tour Executive Chairman Kyi Hla Han believe the continued success of Cambodia's national championship will further spur the growth of the game in the emerging golf nation.

The US$300,000 full-field Asian Tour event was inaugurated in 2007 where it entered Asian golf annals as the first ever professional golf tournament to be held in Cambodia. It will be played once again at the magnificent Phokeethra Country Club. Past champions include American Bryan Saltus (2007), Thai star Thongchai Jaidee (2008) and last year's winner Marcus Both of Australia.
Han said the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open was an important tournament as it portrayed positively on the growth of professional golf within emerging golf nations.

"I would like to laud Johnnie Walker for its unwavering support of the Cambodian Open and professional golf in Asia," said Han. "Through the support of great sponsors, the game will continue to grow within emerging countries in Asia and this will ultimately create the impetus for young players to excel and aspire to become world-class golfers. It is crucial for the Asian Tour to successfully stage tournaments such as the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open as it will provide the nucleus for the game to expand across the region."

This year's championship will serve another wonderful week of golf at the historical city of Siem Reap, which is located close the famous Angkor Wat temples.

Fisher said: "We remain fully committed to the national Open of Cambodia. Professional golf in this country is still very much at its infancy stage and we will continue to support its growth through our title sponsorship of the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open.

"Our short term goal is to generate keen interests amongst the local communities to understand and play the game while the long term dream is for this championship to become the platform for a Cambodian player to eventually triumph in his home Open."

Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort & Phokeethra Country Club Managing Director, Supachai Verapuchong said: "We are honoured and privileged that the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open will once again be played at our golf club. Over the past three years, this prestigious event has given Cambodia the opportunity to be portrayed as an international golfing and tourism destination and we are confident the popularity of the sport will continue to thrive.

Drought slightly hits Cambodia's agriculture

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PHNOM PENH, Mar 23, 2010 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Cambodia's agriculture, one of the country's major productions and earners, is slightly hit by drought, a government official said Tuesday.

Hong Narith, chief of Cabinet of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries told Xinhua by phone that drought has slightly hit the country's agricultural sector, but not critical one.

He said his ministry is waiting for the total figures of the drought being filed by local communities around the country.

Drought is now reported in several countries of the ten-members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

According to a MAFF report, 912,275 hectares of economic land concessions have been given to 65 domestic and foreign private companies since August 2007.

Cambodia, which has been successful with rice production in the last decade and this prospect remains unchanged, produced 7.286 million tons of rice for 2009/2010 of which the country has another surplus of about 3.5 million tons of rice for exports.

Cambodia's Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun has said Cambodia's rice cultivated area could be expanded up to 3.5 million hectares from 2.6 million hectares recently, from which the country could reach a potential harvest of 12.25 million tons of rice.

It's not over till it's over

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By Thanong Khanthong
The Nation
Published on March 19, 2010

The red shirts appear to be seeking a soft landing. They don't want to leave Bangkok without declaring some sort of victory. The trouble is, they can't find any face-saving excuses so they can disband and go home. Efforts are underway to allow them a graceful exit. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva must play the game by giving some promises that appear to yield to the red demands, so they can retreat with grace.

So what has gone wrong for the red shirts? Going into this rally, they were confident they would be able to finish off the government in five days. The provincial reds, with reinforcement from Bangkok, would storm the capital to demand Abhisit step down or dissolve Parliament. They bragged they would be able to raise one million supporters to bring Bangkok to a standstill.

But they could manage only 100,000 at the most on March 14. They gave Abhisit until noon on Monday to step down or they would wreak havoc. Abhisit almost underestimated the situation. He was scheduled to visit Australia and New Zealand but changed his mind after an audience with HM the King on March 8.

Thaksin Shinawatra was believed to be in Siem Reap, Cambodia, taking full command. Four generals - two Army, one Air Force and one Navy - formed a war room to coordinate the red attack.

Abhisit withdrew from Government House and moved to the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bang Khen instead, under full protection. The generals now called the shots.

The red shirts made their way to the 11th Infantry to challenge the premier. The Monday noon deadline passed, with Abhisit reaffirming that he would not dissolve Parliament. He also had the coalition partners give a public assurance they were not going to jump ship.

With Abhisit's firm stand, the reds could only make louder noises. The military prudently countered with a psychological war. A special team from Lop Buri worked with the crowds to calm their nerve. The military played music for them and spoke in a friendly way.

"Let's see your feet clapping," a military MC said. The red shirts responded. The military also turned up the loudspeakers so the red-shirt leaders had to back off. "You don't need to dissolve the House. I don't care now. But please decrease the volume," Veera Musigapong shouted. Tired of the military, Natthawut Saikua, another red-shirt leader, got annoyed: "Hey, I'm not Angulimala (a murderer during the Buddha's time who wore a garland of his victims' fingers around his neck). Could you stop it?" Intensifying the protest, Natthawut declared that the reds should draw blood and splash it onto Government House as a curse.

Abhisit flew out of the Army camp by helicopter. He visited drought areas and reservoirs in the North. When he returned to Bangkok, he was beginning to feel nervous. The red shirts meant business. The coalition partners might jump ship. Newin Chidchob of Bhumjai Thai had been to London. The Democrats suspected that Newin could have struck a deal with Thaksin.

The Democrats also smelt something fishy at an unexpected move by Chai Chidchob, the House Speaker, to call a joint parliamentary session on Tuesday. What was Chai up to? Even with this crisis, Chai wanted the session without consulting the Senate president or government whip. The Democrats would not fall into the trap. They sent a signal that they would not attend Parliament.

What if the Democrats had been so foolish as to attend Parliament on Tuesday? The plan would be similar to the bloody Songkran events last year. Then, Abhisit was trapped in the Interior Ministry after issuing an emergency decree. The red shirts surrounded his limo and attacked it. Abhisit could have been killed.

This time the reds, led by Arisman Phongruangrong, planned to surround and storm Parliament during the joint session. We will never know what might have happened to Abhisit then. And Chai would have come up with some sort of reconciliation plan by gearing Parliament toward an amnesty for both Newin and Thaksin. Sanan Khachornprasat could be the next prime minister.

This plan didn't materialise. The Democrats held their nerve. The coalition partners decided not to quit after seeing that the tide was turning fast against the reds. Thaksin quickly flew off to Montenegro after the reds were routed.

The red shirts were caught in disarray. Veera declared that the Pheu Thai MPs should resign from Parliament as a protest. His call fell on deaf ears.

What followed was the blood campaign and voodoo rituals. Now the red shirts are pondering what to do next. The protest may be raised to a higher level of intensity - more underground violence. It's not over till it's over.

In Thailand, A Little Black Magic Is Politics as Usual

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The images were shocking - and strange. On Tuesday, thousands of Thai protesters splattered buckets of their own blood outside the Prime Minister's office in Bangkok as a Brahmin priest in flowing white robes lit incense, chanted spells and cast a curse upon the government.

As theater, it was both effective and mysterious: clips of the blood curse led international news broadcasts, with viewers and analysts bewildered as to what the protesters were trying to achieve. But in Thailand, it was anything but an aberration. Curses, dark rituals and black magic have long been part of the political culture of the country and some of its neighbors. And to some Thai analysts, the strange rite was a rare public revelation of a more covert aspect of the ongoing conflict between the country's political movements - a war of the supernatural. (See pictures of the 2008 protests in Bangkok.)

The protesters, known as the Red Shirts for the color they wear, were supporters of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and has fled the country rather than serve a prison term on a corruption conviction. His opponents include the current Democrat-led government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the military, a rival group of protesters known as the Yellow Shirts and, according to some, Thailand's monarchy. Thaksin's followers are comprised largely of the rural poor, and so it was easy to dismiss, as many commentators did, the bloody curse as a desperate act by uneducated farmers. But in Thailand, despite modern commuter Skytrains, gleaming new international airports, and a populace with a passion for the latest IT gadgets, members of all classes regularly pay deference to the supernatural. From hit men getting tattoos they believe will repel bullets, to aristocratic ladies trading stocks on the advice of astrologers, and ministers who pay tens of thousands of dollars for amulets they believe will ward off evil, the unseen is a serious, and potentially lucrative, business.

Thailand is a nation that prides itself on its Theravada Buddhist heritage. But Buddhism in Thailand is blended with a brew of Hindu, animist, Khmer, pagan and other beliefs. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country's 82-year-old constitutional monarch, spent time as a Buddhist monk but also retains astrologers and Brahmin priests at court, as is tradition. So it's no wonder that coup plotters, Prime Ministers and lawmakers have frequently consulted fortune-tellers before making important decisions. Performing dark rites to increase one's power and defeat your adversaries is as pervasive among the political class as bribery and vote buying. Even Thaksin, who became a billionaire from satellite services, computers and telecommunications, once declined to answer a reporter's question because "Mercury [was] not in the right house."

In fact, according to Wassana Namnuan, a Bangkok Post reporter, Thaksin and his opponents have been deeply engaged in black magic battles for dominance of the country for several years. "Both sides have been casting curses and spells upon each other," says Wassana who has written a book on the subject in Thai called Secrets, Trickery and Camouflage: The Improbable Phenomena. According to Wassana, Thaksin believes he is the reincarnation of a Burmese king who killed many Thais, and so has engaged in elaborate cleansing rituals to wash away the sins of his past lives. While in power, Wassana says Thaksin performed several saiyasat, or black magic rituals, that he hoped would prolong his rule for life. While visiting Burma he sought counsel from a deformed astrologer nicknamed "ET" who is favored by the generals that have kept the country in their iron grip for more than half a century.

DAP News ; Breaking News by Soy Sopheap

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Cambodia, Malaysia Up Military Cooperation

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 02:57 DAP-NEWS

The Cambodian and Malaysian armies on Monday agreed to up cooperation, with Malaysia promising it will provide scholarships to Cambodian soldiers.

The agreement made during a meeting between Deputy Prime Minster Minster of Defense Tea Banh, Cambodian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun, and the Malaysian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief during the Malaysians’ two-day visit to Cambodia.

A Cambodian military source told DAP News Cambodia that the two countries have agreed to improve cooperation on human trafficking, the drugs trade and terrorism.

The Malaysian chief commander will leave Cambodia today for Vietnam.

MAFF Monitoring Bird Flu

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 02:56 DAP-NEWS

The Cambodian Ministry of Agricul- ture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is ready for Bird Flu after instituting a range of measures to prevent the disease, a MAFF official said on Monday.

“Controlling the H5N1 diseases has been practiced for many times but provincial officials still seem not to get it,” Kao Phal of the Production and Cure Department director said at a press conference at Phnom Penh Hotel on Monday. “They have not spotted cases and not informed the ministry quickly enough.”

The official asked provincial authorities to better report anything out of the ordinary, especially in border areas. Kao Phal urged local officials to monitor any birds in their area. “Some persons are allowed to import 20 pigs, but they import 40 pigs,” he added.

Son San, director of National Research Institution, said that H5N1 was recorded in Kampong Cham province at the end of December last year. In February, 2010, another outbreak was seen in Takeo.

The Phnom Penh Post News in Pictures

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Complaint against Apsara Authority

Photo by: Rann Reuy

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:04 Rann Reuy

Bullet casings rest near the remains of a home destroyed by Apsara Authority officials earlier this month in Siem Reap’s Kokchak commune. The owners of the home – Chuon Snok, 26, and his 24-year-old wife, Soeut Sey – have filed a complaint with the rights group Adhoc demanding US$500 in compensation, investigator Suos Narin said Monday. He added that Chuon Snok wanted to resolve the dispute out of court. Apsara Authority officials, meanwhile, have said that villagers threatened workers and damaged government property while trying to prevent the destruction of the home, which they said was built illegally.

Mobile phoning

Photo by: Sovan Philong

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:03 Sovan Philong

A man talks on his mobile phone while exercising near the Independence Monument last week.

Vendors worried about acid law

Photo by: Pha Lina
An acid vendor pours diluted battery acid at his shop on Monivong Boulevard on Monday. Vendors have expressed concern that regulations proposed for a new acid law could hurt their businesses.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:06 Mom Kunthear and Brooke Lewis

THOUGH a committee tasked with drafting acid legislation has so far focused largely on setting punishments for perpetrators of acid crimes, officials and those who advocate on behalf of victims say the challenge of regulating acid sales is just as important, if not more so.

Acid vendors, however, have expressed concerns that restrictions on the sale of acid could negatively affect their businesses, something Ouk Kimlek, the committee’s deputy director, says he is hoping to avoid.

“This law does not affect their businesses, both import and export,” he said Monday. “What we want is to reduce the number of acid attacks, not reduce [the number of] acid sellers.”

At its most recent meeting on Friday, Ouk Kimlek said, the committee touched on the regulation of acid sales but “focused strongly on the punishment, because this is the very important thing”.

However, Chhun Sophea, programme manager at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, said that although the enforcement of harsh sentences for acid crimes is important, the successful regulation of sales could have a bigger impact in reducing attacks.

“As far as I’m concerned, regulation of sales should be the priority because acid is available everywhere, and so easily,” she said.

A 20-point draft law – which was written largely by Ouk Kimlek – currently before the committee would require that all acid sellers be licenced, and that both acid sellers and buyers carry identification proving that they are older than 20.

Chhun Sophea said she supported the licence requirement, though she added that it need not necessarily apply to those vendors selling diluted forms of the corrosive substance that are typically used for household tasks such as unblocking drains.

“There shouldn’t be a concentrated form that eats away your skin, your face, your bones, so easily available – there should be a diluted form available for general public use,” she said.

However, she acknowledged that distinguishing between the two groups would not be easy. Though battery and acid sellers interviewed by the Post on Monday said their products could not cause serious injuries because they were diluted, Chhun Sophea said it was unlikely that this was always the case.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if battery acid sellers are selling pure acid. That’s how these people get hold of it,” she said.

Beyond licences and age limits, Chhun Sophea said, warning labels on acid containers should be required by the law, a stipulation she said would cut down on attacks and reduce the number of injuries resulting from acid “accidents”.

“Bottles should be clearly marked ‘danger’ – people drink it sometimes,” she said, adding that acid is often contained in water bottles.

Ouk Kimlek said Monday that the committee was planning to meet with vendors for a second time – a similar meeting took place in February – before finalising its version of the law, which it expects to do shortly after Khmer New Year.

He added: “I ordered the police to record how many acid sellers and acid shops there are in Phnom Penh and other places, and where they buy acid from, because at the meeting in February I tried my best to ask them where they buy acid from, but no one replied. I don’t understand why,” he said.

Acid sellers on Monday conveyed a mixed response to regulations proposed by the committee. Some said it would be difficult to enforce such rules damaging business.

Ben An, owner of the Peace Battery Shop near Russian Market, said she was worried she would lose customers if the sales restrictions were to go into effect.

“I am worried the law will affect my business ... because I can lose customers who buy lots of acid,” she said. “Some of my customers buy 20 litres or more, and if the law needs us to inform the police or authority if someone buys acid a lot, then they will not buy any more next time.”

She added that she already adheres to an informal set of rules when selling acid products. “I used to have some women who come from somewhere to buy acid from my shop, but I did not sell to them because they acted very angry,” she said.

“I did not sell to them even though they offered me a very high price.”

She added that she believes all vendors should ask customers what they want to use the acid for.

However, Ros Sokhara, who also owns a shop that sells battery acid, said it would be impossible for her to discern what customers wanted to do with the acid.

“I don’t know whether the customers buy my acid for dousing each other or for another thing. I think only about my sales. I don’t care what they will do with it,” she said.

Vy Davuth, another battery and acid seller, applauded the government for working to reduce acid attacks, but echoed other vendors’ concerns that he could stand to lose business as a result.

“I am afraid of losing clients … [but] I think it will reduce the anarchical use of acid to douse or kill someone after we have the acid law,” he said.

Audit office says probes in progress

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:06 James O'Toole

Official cites three complaints under investigation at tribunal

AN anticorruption monitor appointed last year at the Khmer Rouge tribunal is in the process of investigating three complaints, including an allegation that members of the court’s security staff have been forced to pay kickbacks to superiors, a representative of the National Audit Authority said Monday.

Speaking after a meeting with visiting UN auditors, Prom Vicheth Sophorn, deputy director of the National Audit Authority’s (NAA) Audit Department 3, said the office of the Independent Counsellor (IC) was investigating two complaints from the national staff and one from the UN staff.

Of the two national staff complaints, Prom Vicheth Sophorn said, one related to the alleged wrongful termination of an employee, and the other stemmed from charges that security workers have been forced to pay a portion of their salaries to their superiors.

“The first one is regarding an employee contract, or regarding the termination of an employee. The second is [a] ... security guard, solicit[ing] money from the subordinates,” he said.

The complaint from the UN staff, Prom Vicheth Sophorn added, was an additional case of alleged wrongful terminiation.

“The third one is the same as the previous one ... employee contract problems too, a termination one,” he said.

Prom Vicheth Sophorn described all three investigations as “in progress”, and said the IC’s office would issue a public report of its activities in “April or May”, after reporting to the government and the UN.

The UN-backed tribunal first faced corruption allegations in 2006, when Cambodian staff members said that they were forced to pay portions of their salaries to their superiors. A November 2008 report by a German parliamentary delegation quoted Knut Rosandhaug, the court’s deputy director of administration, as saying that corruption was “a serious problem ... which impedes on the work of the hybrid court”.

Last August, NAA head Uth Chhorn was appointed as the first independent counsellor for the tribunal, in part to satisfy donor demands that an effective mechanism to combat corruption be put in place.

Mao Chandara, head of the national security and safety staff at the tribunal, said Monday that he was unaware of the allegations described by Prom Vicheth Sophorn.

“I do not have any information in relation to corruption, bribery or security guards paying money to their superiors. I’m not involved at all, and I think it might relate to the administration office,” Mao Chandara said, adding that it was up to the IC’s office to handle this issue.

UN court spokesman Lars Olsen said he could not comment on the work of the IC’s office, as it operates independently of the UN and the tribunal.

The visit of the UN auditors, he added, is part of a periodic, standard audit that is unrelated to the investigations of the IC.

Investigations praised
At the time of Uth Chhorn’s appointment, some observers voiced concern about the NAA’s political independence and delays by the body in publicising its work, as it is required to do by the 2000 Law on Audit.

On Monday, however, Michelle Staggs Kelsall, a court monitor for the Asian International Justice Initiative, said the fact that the IC’s office had investigations in progress was “a positive step, clearly”.

“Good to see the office noting its commitment to transparency in issuing a report on its investigations,” she said, though she added that it was still unclear whether there were adequate protections for those who come forward with complaints.

While he did not go into detail, Prom Vicheth Sophorn said Monday that such protections were indeed in place, calling interactions with the IC’s office “very confidential for the complainant”.

Long Panhavuth, project officer at the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said his organisation would like to “congratulate the government and the UN ... for their effort to appoint the IC”, calling the office’s actions “a very good step”.

Uth Chhorn could not be reached for comment on Monday.


Court calls 16 Kampong Speu villagers

Photo by: Photo Supplied
Villagers in Kampong Speu province’s Thpong district have been summoned to court to answer questions related to the burning of a Phnom Penh Sugar Company office building, the remains pictured above, last week.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:05 May Titthara

KAMPONG Speu provincial court has summoned 16 villagers from Thpong district’s Omlaing commune to appear in court Wednesday to answer questions related to the burning of an office belonging to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company last week, provincial court officials said.

Court clerk Seng Chamroeun Rith said the summons orders were issued Friday and that the 16 were bound by law to appear. “If they don’t appear in court, the court will issue an arrest warrant for them,” he said.

Since Thursday’s incident, about 100 soldiers have been sent to guard the disputed land, which is part of a 9,000-hectare concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.

Khem Vuthy, a villager who received a summons order Monday, said, “I am not afraid, so I will appear in court on time because we were just trying to prevent our rice paddies and farmland from being taken.... The court should settle our problem by finding a middle ground.”

“In the summons order they accused us of destroying company property, but in fact I didn’t do anything,” he added.

You Thou, 62, an Omlaing commune councillor and one of the 16 summoned to court, said that in addition to the summons over the fire, he also faced an earlier summons to appear on Wednesday in response to a complaint filed against him by Chhean Kimsuon, a representative of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company. “I don’t know why they didn’t just come arrest me at my home,” he said.

Hi Hoeun, another villager, said members of the community would accompany the 16 to court in an act of solidarity. “If they arrest one of our representatives then we will stay at the prison together,” he said.

Ouch Leng, land programme officer for the local rights group Adhoc, said the court had only located six of the villagers summoned because the others had used false names in previous complaints about the company to the court.

Kampong Speu Governor Kang Heang said the company had every right to file complaints against the villagers for destroying its property.

“The company filed its complaint according to the law,” he said. “25 percent of the villagers who protested in front of the office and burned it down were drunk,” he added.

According to a recent Adhoc report, there have been 16 major cases of land disputes in which violence was used by authorities since January, during which 21 villagers were arrested, 18 seriously injured and 37 questioned in court, while 30 more stand to be called in for questioning soon.

Chhean Kimsuon, the company representative, and Khut Sopheang, provincial court prosecutor, both declined to comment Monday. Ly Yong Phat could not be reached.

Rainsy party MP seeks justice in son’s killing

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:05 Kim Yuthana

SAM Rainsy Party (SRP) parliamentarian Yont Tharo has again called on police to arrest and bring to justice those accused of shooting his son, Yont Thauron, after a traffic incident in August, and has questioned why a man named in an arrest warrant issued in December has not been brought to court.

Speaking to the Post on Monday, Yont Tharo said that police did not appear to be making any concerted effort to track down his son’s killers.

“So far, the police have not got any clue about the suspect’s whereabouts. I request that the police speed up their work in this case so that justice can be brought to my son,” said Yont Tharo, who represents Banteay Meanchey province.

On the evening of August 9, shots were fired outside a noodle stall near Wat Botum in Daun Penh district’s Chaktomuk commune, just minutes after an argument broke out when Yont Thauron’s car collided with several parked motorbikes.

Yont Thauron, a 25-year-old officer of the Royal Gendarmerie, was killed by two bullets, and three of his companions were seriously injured. On September 1, SRP lawmakers sent a letter to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng requesting that the killer be arrested and brought to face justice. So far no arrest has been made in connection with the case.

An arrest warrant issued on December 9 by Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Yeith Molin, a copy of which has been obtained by the Post, names the main suspect in the killing as Bun Vimul, 30, a police officer in the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Anti-Drug Trafficking. The warrant also lists him as a resident of Daun Penh district’s Boeung Raing commune.

Yont Tharo’s lawyer, Kaet Khy, said that even though the arrest warrant has already been issued by the court, the actual arrest of Bun Vimul is the duty of the police and the military police.

Police officials, however, said they have been unable to locate the man named in the warrant. “After the incident, the murderer managed to escape us until now, taking along with him the gun he used to kill the victim,” said Pou Davy, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh military police.

Moek Dara, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Anti-Drug Trafficking, declined to comment on the Yont Thauron case Monday.

Editor in court over accusations

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Bun Tha, editor of Khmer Amatak newspaper, speaks to journalists after being questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:05 Chrann Chamroeun

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court questioned a newspaper editor Monday in connection with two articles he published accusing a government official of profiting from a scholarship programme named after Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The complaints against Bun Tha, editor of Khmer Amatak newspaper, were filed November 5 by Kao Kim Hourn, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and president of the University of Cambodia, after the newspaper published articles criticising an unofficial 20,000-riel (US$4.78) fee levied on applicants for a scholarship sponsored by the Japanese government and Hun Sen.

The articles say that although there were just 500 places, as many as 20,000 students – many from poor, rural areas – paid to apply.

After Monday’s hearing, Bun Tha said he was thankful that the charges against him do not carry jail terms, but that it was not a good sign that senior officials used the courts to bring complaints against editors.

“The school shouldn’t have complained to me, which is a bad sign for democracy, since my paper is not aligned to any party,” he said.

Kao Kim Hourn said Thursday that the journalist had been unprofessional, failing to collect information from the university. He said the articles had “impacted the reputation” of the school, but that the money collected from the application fees went towards supporting housing for poor rural applicants and paying teachers’ salaries.

“We didn’t intend to pursue the case to Phnom Penh Municipal Court in September – we wanted to have a reconciliation with the editor,” he said. Only after Bun Tha failed to print a correction was legal action considered, he added.

Police Blotter: 23 Mar 2010

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:03 Phak Seangly

l Dangkor district police on Friday sent a 24-year-old man to Phnom Penh Municipal Court after he was accused of raping his neighbour, a mentally ill woman, 18, in Phnom Penh. Police said that the suspect raped the victim when she was at home alone and managed to escape from the scene. But he was captured by the victim’s parents, who turned him over to local police Tuesday night. The defendant confessed to the accusation, saying the crime was due to his lustfulness.

At least seven teenagers were arrested while they were drinking alcohol in the park in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Sunday night. Police said that they had already drunk for many hours at a karaoke club before continuing to drink in the open air. Police described such drinking as a bad habit because it causes social disorder. They were educated and required to sign a contract promising to stop such actions before they were set free, police said.

Siem Reap Court on Friday sentenced a teacher to six years in prison after he injured one of his students in Siem Reap district. The teacher repeatedly advised the student not to play truant and associate with “gangsters”, but he didn’t listen. The teacher went to meet his parents to inform them about that problem. Meanwhile, the student, along with a few gangsters, met him and started an argument, leading the teacher to stab his student with a pair of scissors to protect himself.

A 29-year-old woman, who is six months pregnant, was arrested and turned over to Dangkor district police on Thursday. A cloth seller, 45, accused her of stealing her clothes in a market after pretending to be a customer. The seller found some clothes with the woman when she was about to flee, police said, adding that the woman has been arrested and educated a few times already in connection with some previous thievery at markets. This time, she was sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court for trial.

A Kampong Trach district police in Kampot province are looking for a 38-year-old man accused of slaying his wife on Saturday night. District police chief said that the man, who was a former chief monk in a local pagoda, hit his 28-year-old wife three times in the head and once in left wrist with a cleaver, leaving her to die alone on the floor of her home.

Govt rejects Thai news report

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:05 David Boyle and Cheang Sokha

THE government has condemned comments allegedly made on a Thai television news programme asserting that a Cambodian rocket propelled grenade might have been used in three explosions in Bangkok on Saturday during protests against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Tith Sothea, a member of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Council of Ministers, on Monday dismissed the comments, which he said suggested that a B-41 rocket-propelled grenade imported from Cambodia had been used in the weekend attacks.

“The information is completely exaggerated, and it might worsen the relationship between Cambodia and Thailand, who are currently involved in a dispute along the border,” he said, adding that the news report had been “unacceptable”.

He said the suggestion had been made by a commentator on Thai TV 3 at around 5am Monday, but government officials were unable to provide the name of either the programme or the commentator.

Tith Sothea suggested that the Thai government was behind the comments, despite the fact that Thai TV 3 is an independent network.

“The Abhisit government always uses the media to exaggerate information and link Thailand’s [domestic] issues with Cambodia,” he said.

However, Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Monday that the government had not “made any conclusions” about the explosions and was not responsible for comments aired on independent media outlets.

“We haven’t made any conclusions yet. We are still investigating, and there have been no links like this made by the government,” he said.

Potchanee Potchanakorn, an international news reporter from Thai TV3’s news department, said Monday that she was unable to find any comments from the station’s morning news broadcasts that mentioned Cambodia at all. “So far, I have checked with the news reports from between [5am and 6am], and no one mentioned anything about Cambodia,” she said.

Korean report sheds light on foreign brides

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:05 Will Baxter

A REPORT released Sunday by the South Korean government has highlights the circumstances facing Cambodian and other women who migrate to Korea for marriage – exposing in particular large gaps in age and education levels between the brides and their husbands.

Earlier this month, Cambodia temporarily banned marriages between local women and South Korean men after breaking up a human-trafficking ring designed to facilitate such unions.

According to the report, released by South Korea’s Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, of the approximately 131,000 foreign brides surveyed there was an average age gap of about 10 years. But for Cambodian wives, the average gap was 17 years.

There was also a significant gap in the level of education attained by foreign wives compared with their husbands. Half of the women surveyed had obtained less than an elementary level of education, whereas their Korean spouses were mostly high school graduates. The report did not include information on the education gap between Cambodian women and their husbands.

The report found that, despite wide age and education gaps, 57 percent of foreign spouses surveyed showed “relatively high satisfaction” with their lives in Korea, though almost 35 percent said they felt discriminated against as foreigners.

According to the survey, the employment rate of foreign wives was 37 percent. Nearly 60 percent of the families surveyed were struggling financially and earning less than US$1,700 per month.

Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported Sunday that the number of foreigners living in Korea exceeds 1 million, and that last year 43,121 marriages – 13.6 percent of the national total – involved foreign spouses.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong reiterated Monday that authorities would review marriage procedures between Cambodian women and South Korean men before the ban is lifted.

Officials at the South Korean embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment Monday.

Casino workers threaten strike

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:05 Cheang Sokha

THE Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation (CTSWF) on Monday campaigned with employees at NagaWorld Hotel and Casino in a bid to build support for a strike after the casino refused to reinstate four union leaders fired last year.

Sok Narith, vice president of the CTSWF, said the campaign will span a week and attempt to gain the support of the majority of the 956 union members working at NagaWorld.

“We have tried to seek negotiations with the employer, but they’ve continued to deny our requests,” he said. “Our solution is to strike, but we will keep our stance that we are prepared to talk at any time with the management of NagaWorld.”

On February 16, the Secretariat of the Arbitration Council issued a verdict instructing the casino to allow union members to operate on company premises and to reinstate four union members fired in February last year. However, the casino has refused to heed the instructions, and Gregory Goh, NagaWorld’s director of human resources, said last month that the council lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the dispute. Goh declined to comment on Monday.

The four were part of a group of 14 sacked for what the company described as poor performance, although the workers say they were fired due to a dispute over bonuses. The other 10 employees have since returned to work.

Forest Blaze: Fire destroys 5 hectares of national park

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:04 Tep Nimol

Forest Blaze

Fire destroyed more than 5 hectares of forest in a national park in Oddar Meanchey province on Saturday, in a blaze that authorities said was caused by high temperatures. Ly Darith, deputy military police chief of Anlong Veng district, said the fire, which broke out in the Sa’ak forest within the Koulein Prumtep National Park, subsided the same day without intervention from local authorities. “It is a sparse jungle, not a dense one,” he said. “There are no human inhabitants or farmlands in the area.” He added: “Forest fires happen every year in the area, but usually only on a small scale. It is usually very hot, which makes it difficult for us to prevent the forest from burning.” Keo Vy, spokesman of the National Committee of Natural Disaster Management, said he had not received any official statistics related to the fire, and asked that all provincial authorities send clear reports after such incidents. “Most of the burned areas are not densely forested, they are just covered in bushes,” he said. On March 15, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged Cambodians to pay special attention to fire safety during the dry season.

Kampong Speu villagers file complaint over lost homes

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:04 Chhay Channyda

A GROUP of disabled soldiers and their families on Monday filed a complaint against two military police officers who they said burned down two homes and destroyed a third on a social land concession in Kampong Speu province last week.

Bun Sophat, one of the former soldiers who said he lost his home, accused the military police officers of threatening to shoot people living on the social land concession if they did not allow the destruction of the homes to go forward.

“They shot seven bullets into the air and threatened to kill us. I have no idea why they burned our houses, but maybe it is because they want this land for selling,” Bun Sophat said.

Eight military police officers went to the site – located in Treng Trayoeng commune in Kampong Speu’s Phnom Srouch district – last Thursday armed with seven guns and some axes, said Touch Soeu Ly, director of the Cambodian Association for Disability Relief, an organisation based in Kampong Speu province.

The complaint calls on the provincial court to prosecute the officers and make them pay US$3,000 in compensation, Touch Soeu Ly said.

He said that 400 families first began settling the land in 2000, and that they have since built a pagoda, school, health centre, market and road there.

The land was designated a social land concession in 2006.

Yann Thol, assistant to judicial bureau at provincial military police headquarters, said his office had sent officers to visit the site since the incident.

“We have accepted the complaint, but we need more time to investigate to find the real perpetrators,” he said.

Provincial court prosecutor Khut Sopheang said Monday afternoon that he did not know whether the court had received the complaint.

Lake protest saga continues

Photo by: Pha Lina
Boeung Kak lake residents walk towards City Hall ahead of a protest Monday over the continuing standoff sparked by a controversial real estate development at the site.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:04 Khouth Sophakchakrya

AROUND 250 Boeung Kak residents marched on City Hall Monday, demanding that officials provide them with a list of registered properties in the lakeside area.

Protestors said they made the request to Phnom Penh authorities after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet sent back a community appeal lodged on March 11 seeking the premier’s intervention to secure land titles for the residents.

“We do not come to protest with the municipal authority, we want to know where our [registration] letters are and how officials will respond to us,” said Sam Vanna, a Boeung Kak representative.

“We will continue to protest until the authorities agree to register our land for us.”

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema and Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun, could not be reached on Monday.

The protest is the latest in a long-running conflict between the Boeung Kak communities and City Hall, which has leased 133 hectares of the land for a controversial housing and commercial project. More than 4,000 families are expected to lose their homes to the project, by local developer Shukaku Inc.

Sam Vanna said that despite the involvement of the World Bank in the government’s Land Management and Administration Project, which sought to systematically issue land titles across the country, lakeside residents have not been able to receive land titles. “The authority did not register land for distribution to us, even though the World Bank supported this project – they forced us to relocate to Choam Chao commune, about 25 kilometres from downtown,” she said.

Boeung Kak resident Soy Kolap, 54, said villagers “do not oppose the government’s or the state authorities’ development plan”, but merely wanted to stay in homes they claim to have occupied for 30 years.

NGOs urge continued commitment to rights

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:04 Sebastian Strangio

A COALITION of local nongovernmental organisations has welcomed Cambodia’s decision to accept 91 recommendations handed down by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva Wednesday, but urged the government to implement these in practice.

In a statement Monday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of 23 NGOs, urged the government to “undertake credible steps to implement many of these recommendations within the next four years” when the country will again be reviewed by UNHRC.

“Accepting the recommendations is a first important step, and we hope that the Royal Government will now stand to its commitments and work hard to progressively improve the human rights situation in Cambodia in accordance with our Constitution,” CHRAC stated. The UN’s recommendations focused on issues such as land rights, freedom of expression and the rights of indigenous minorities.

In response, Sun Suon, Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN, cited this month’s passage of the Anticorruption Law as an example of the government’s commitment to human rights.

“We view that most of the recommendations are essential to the context of the effort for promoting human rights in Cambodia,” he added.

Mine casualties drop in January

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:04 Sam Rith

FIVE people were killed in January by land mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), and an additional nine were injured, two of whom required amputations, according to the latest statistics compiled by the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System (CMVIS).

The total number of casualties, 14, marked a 59 percent decrease from the 34 recorded in January 2009.

Six of the seven incidents recorded in the new report involved land mines – two in areas where Royal Cambodian Armed Forces troops were present, one along a path, one on a riverbank, one in a “foraging area” and one in an area that was being demined. The ERW incident – which resulted in one of the five deaths – took place on a plantation.

Five of the injured or killed were soldiers, and four were farmers. Eight reported having received some form of mine risk education.

Last year saw 243 land-mine and ERW casualties, down from 271 in 2008. Battambang remains the most mine-affected province, having recorded 79 total casualties between January 2009 and January 2010. The next most mine-affected province, Banteay Meanchey, saw 37 casualties during the same period.

As of early 2010, the Cambodia Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority has assumed control of CMVIS, taking over for the Cambodian Red Cross.

Also in January, 68 ERW and two land mines were reported to humanitarian deminers for clearance and destruction, according to the report.

UN to build regional aid hub

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:03 Will Baxter

Cambodia to benefit from facility in Malaysia for disaster relief

THE World Food Programme has set in motion plans to establish a facility in Malaysia designed to allow for quicker distribution of emergency supplies following natural disasters and other crises throughout the region, the organisation said in a statement.

The UN Humanitarian Response Depot – to be based at a Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Subang, Malaysia, north of Kuala Lumpur – will be the fifth of its kind and the first in Asia.

In 2003, Cambodia was selected as the location for the WFP’s Asian Emergency Response Facility. The main difference between that facility, originally housed about 6 kilometres outside of Phnom Penh, and the new response depot is that the latter will be accessible to a range of UN agencies, NGOs and relief organisations.

Last year, Typhoon Ketsana caused around US$140 million in damage in Cambodia, according to data from the National Committee for Disaster Management. As of January, when the NCDM presented annual data on natural disasters in 2009, some 48,787 families were still struggling with food shortages.

The response depots – also located in Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Panama and Ghana – are designed to deliver relief supplies and stock items including first-aid kits, generators, water-purification units, tents, satellite phones and high-energy biscuits within 48 hours of a disaster, according to the WFP release.

Referring to the facility to be based in Malaysia, Kenro Oshidari, WFP regional director for Asia, said: “WFP already has a long-term and substantial commitment to fighting hunger and saving lives and livelihoods in Asia, but today we mark a new chapter of support to its people.

“This facility will provide support to all countries in Asia and the Pacific, regardless of whether WFP has an operational presence there or not. Now all of Asia and the Pacific will be covered.”

The Malaysian government has agreed to contribute US$1 million annually towards operating costs for the new facility and to pay for its construction, which is expected to be completed in six to 12 months, though temporary facilities will be up and running in the meantime.

Subaru enters market for SUVs in Cambodia

Photo by: Uy Nousereimony
Models next to the first new Subaru vehicles to go on sale in Cambodia on Monday at an official launch event by local dealer Motor Image Group in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia ... [has] very good potential for growth in the economy."--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:00 Soeun Say

Local partner Motor Image Group to sell two Forester models

MOTOR Image Group entered Cambodia’s SUV market Monday, announcing it would sell two models of the Subaru Forester to compete in the Kingdom’s growing automobile market.

Motor Image is the exclusive distributor of the Japanese-made vehicle in Cambodia, marking the company’s expansion into 10 Asian countries, Glenn Tan, executive director of Tan Chong International Ltd, parent company of Motor Image, told the Post Monday.

“I’m not concerned about anything to open a business here,” Tan said. “Cambodia is one of the countries with very good potential for growth in the economy.”

An increasing number of international investors are entering the country, he said, “so that’s why I decided to invest in Cambodia”.

Motor Image will sell the 2.0X and 2.5XT models of the Forester, which won Motor Trend’s 2009 Sport Utility Vehicle of the Year award.

“After we build up our brand name here for the next year, we will expand our business,” Tan said. “I think the Cambodian market will be going up.”

Tan said the Forester would compete with the SUV market here through its design, safety and quality.

Several vehicle dealers said Monday that they were unafraid of the competition.

“We are not worrying about a new car coming because we have different kinds of models, quality and price,” said Peang Mann, CEO of World Wide Garage, which distributes six models of Chinese-made automobiles, including Great Wall Motor’s Wingle truck.

“We focus on middle-class customers,” he said.

“We are not worried about anything because we have strong points, such as quality and a large international company,” said Lim Visal, director of finance administration at Camko Motor, which sells South Korean-made Hyundai.

Cambodia’s automobile market is expanding each year and was contributing to a growing private sector, Kem Sithan, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce, said Monday.

Nevertheless, Hyundai has stalled a Koh Kong province assembly plant due to plummeting demand last year as the economic crisis hit.

Rice exports set to rise to Europe and Russia

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:00 Chun Sophal

THE Small and Medium Industry Association of Cambodia has agreed to sell 1,348 tonnes of rice worth more than US$500,000 to four European countries and Russia over the next two weeks, the group said Monday.

The association has been contracted to sell 48 tonnes to Germany, 120 tonnes to Latvia, 340 tonnes to Lithuania, 360 tonnes to Poland and 480 tonnes of rice to Russia in a deal worth $567,840, Outh Renne, secretary general of the association, told the Post Monday.

The rice will be supplied from March 27 to April 7 via Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, he added.

“We hope that the association will be able to sign more new contracts, which will open the way for it to export more rice to European markets in the future,” Outh Renne said.

The association hopes this year to export between 7,000 and 10,000 tonnes of rice worth $3.1 million to $4.5 million to European markets, according to an association report. The association exported 144 tonnes of rice to European markets in January and 480 tonnes of rice in February.

Mao Thaura, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce, told the Post Monday that an increasing amount of Cambodian rice has been exported to European markets because local producers are now more capable of processing rice and receive tariff deals from the European Union.
The EU began allowing rice imports from Cambodia in August 2009, granting a zero-percent tariff rate.

The tariff break “is a good chance for Cambodian rice to compete with that which is imported into Europe from other countries”, Mao Thaura said.

The Small and Medium Industry Association will hold a meeting in May between European buyers and local rice producers and will continue to raise local rice productivity, Outh Renne said.

Beeline buzzes on Q4 report

Photo by: Pha Lina
Traffic passes a Beeline advertisement hoarding Monday in Phnom Penh. The firm saw positive gross margins in the fourth quarter.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:00 Ellie Dyer

2009 results show active users have climbed up to 367,000

THE number of Beeline active subscribers to mobile phones has climbed beyond 370,000 since its national launch less than a year ago, according to the year-end report of the brand’s Russian parent company.

Beeline active subscribers reached 367,000 at the end of 2009, climbing from 79,000 in the second quarter that year and 95,000 at the end of the third quarter, according to Vimplecom’s annual results.

The subscriber numbers have now risen beyond 370,000, the report added.

Boris Nemsic, CEO of the Moscow-based multinational Vimplecom, announced the findings to company executives and analysts in a conference call late Thursday.

The company is now seeing “much more healthy revenues” in Cambodia, Nemsic said.

The rise in subscribers helped the consolidated gross margin for Southeast Asian units – Cambodia and Vietnam – move into the black for the first time at US$500,000 last quarter after negative margins of $1 million in the second quarter and $700,000 in the third. Quarter-on-quarter revenues in the region were stable at $2.4 million.

During the conference call, Ivan Kim, of Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital, quizzed Nemsic on flat revenues in the face of increased subscribers.

“We had in the previous quarters a very high amount of initial loads and charges on the SIM cards, due to the market entry,” Nemsic said. “What we have now is a much more stable situation, much more healthy revenues — revenues which are based on average revenues per user, which are increasing.”

The fourth-quarter results mark the beginning of “real operation” for the Cambodian venture, Nemsic said, after initial investments accrued during Beeline’s entry in a crowded sector, where nine mobile-phone companies are competing for an estimated five million subscribers, a figure that is rising rapidly.

Pricing promotions among competitors led to government regulations in December that created a price floor on tariffs. All companies are now conforming with the regulations, government officials say, but it remains unclear how the new pricing is affecting subscriber rates.

Beeline representatives in Phnom Penh did not respond to emailed questions Monday.

In November 2009, Mobitel maintained the highest levels of penetration in the subscriber market at 15.05 percent, followed by Mfone at 6.76 percent, Metfone at 6.39 percent, Hello at 4.48 percent and Beeline at 1.83 percent, according to government figures.

“Of course, everybody is aware that in Asia, especially in these booming countries, there is a high [subscriber] volatility based on promotions and so on,” Nemsic told executives. “Overall, the business development in Cambodia is on schedule, and we are satisfied with the progress we achieve today.”

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief

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Riel 30th anniversary

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:00 Nguon Sovan

HUNDREDS of bankers, economists and historians joined the National Bank of Cambodia on Monday to mark the 30th anniversary of the country’s post-Khmer Rouge currency, the riel. Cambodia produced its first currency in the 16th century to promote trade with other nations, National Bank Governor Chea Chanto told an audience of around 600 people in Chaktomuk Conference Hall. As a French protectorate, Cambodia shared an Indochinese currency with Vietnam and Laos. After gaining independence in 1953, Cambodia established a national bank and printed riel notes, but these were abolished — along with the banking system — under the Khmer Rouge. The reintroduction of the riel after the regime fell was “part of a building up of sovereignty and the state’s economic power”, Chea Chanto said.

Tourism board proposal

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:00 May Kunmakara

THE Cambodia Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Project is to hold a workshop today to discuss the benefits of a tourism marketing board. The Phnom Penh workshop, which is to be held at the Hotel Intercontinental on Monivong Boulevard, will examine best practices in establishing a tourism board for Cambodia, a body that thus far does not exist in the Kingdom but which analysts say could help promote Cambodia as a tourist destination. “The most effective marketing and promotions boards are those with some form of public-private partnership, which ensures that private sector consumer expertise and business practices are harnessed for destination marketing purposes, while ensuring this drive ‘fits’ with the government’s broader tourism policy,” Curtis Hundley, Chief of Party for USAID's Cambodia MSME Project, said in a statement released on Monday. The one-day workshop will gather hoteliers, tour operators, travel agents, airline representatives and tourism associations, among other concerned parties.

16 Omlaing commune villagers summonsed

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 15:04 May Titthara

Kampong Speu’s provincial court on Monday summonsed 16 village representatives from Omlaing commune, Thpong district, after an office belonging to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company was torched on March 18, a village representative told the Post on Monday. About 100 soldiers have been sent to guard the disputed land, which is part of a 9,000-hectare concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat. 62-year-old You Thou, a council member for Omlaing commune and one of the 16 summonsed to court, said that it’s his second time being summonsed and that the court has ordered him to appear on March 24 due to a complaint filed by Chhean Kimsuon, a representative of Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Bangkok Airways consolidates

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Airline President Speaks With ETurboNews

By Luc Citrinot, eTN | Mar 22, 2010

Puttipong Prasartthong-Osoth, Bangkok Airways CEO and president

A year ago, Puttipong Prasartthong-Osoth took over from his father the destiny of Bangkok Airways. Strategic changes have been swiftly introduced by the new CEO and president, who looked at business in a more down-to-Earth way than his pioneering father. “We faced last year a hard time, which forced us to re-evaluate our model. Crisis has changed the travel environment with competition putting fares under pressure. Our first step is now to consolidate our position before to think again about expansion,” he explained in an exclusive conversation with eTurboNews.

The philosophy of a fully-integrated concept airline will be retained but Prasartthong-Osoth acknowledges that the price structure has to be adapted to a very competitive environment. “We must show that our boutique airline concept does not necessarily mean high fares but a cozy good service and caring staff. We believe that our product is a good value for [the] money, and we don’t want to change this,” he said.

Last year was marked by a number of cuts into the international network. Bangkok Airways suspended then flights to Ho Chi Minh City, Fukuoka, and Hiroshima. The future remains also uncertain for Bangkok Airways flagship route Bangkok-Siem Reap. One of the most lucrative routes for the carrier, it could be threatened by ongoing political tensions between Thailand and Cambodia during the last six months.

“We are confident that we will continue to operate the route, as we played a pioneer role to promote Siem Reap and as traffic continues to remain steady. Let’s leave the future of Thailand-Cambodia to politicians. We want to continue helping Cambodia on its path to prosperity,” said Prasartthong-Osoth. Meanwhile, the airline launched in February a new domestic route between Bangkok and Lampang via Sukhothai, following the bankruptcy of PB Air. The airlne is also reinstating frequencies on Bangkok-Chiang Mai and Bangkok-Rangoon.

But all the cuts might only be temporary. “We are looking at all the routes we cut last year and could reinstate some of them depending [on] the competition but not before a year['s] time. Our target is still to serve up to three heritage cities in each country, which forms the Mekong Sub-Region.”

The airline will still take delivery of its long-haul aircraft Airbus A350 by 2015 and will look at the possible routes to be served by the aircraft. However, Prasartthong-Osoth is not so certain to fly to Europe with the future A350. A few years ago, original plans from his dad mentioned flights to London and probably Germany. “All will depend [on] the evolution of the demand, and it is hard to predict what will happen in five years' time. But we could also use the A350 to northeast Asia, India, and Australia”, he added.