Friday, 26 March 2010

China reveals Mekong data in boost for drought response

China has agreed to provide information on Mekong water levels with the lower basin countries

via CAAI News Media

BANGKOK — China has agreed to provide information on Mekong water levels in a major boost for efforts to respond to an alarming decline in the river's flow, authorities said Thursday.

Activists in Thailand have said that Chinese dams are responsible for record-low levels on the critical waterway, but poor rainfall in the region has also been identified as a factor.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) said that China would share data from its upstream monitoring stations on the Mekong -- on which more than 60 million people depend for drinking water, transport, irrigation and fishing.

"This is very positive news, as it shows that China is willing to engage with lower basin countries," MRC secretariat chief Jeremy Bird said in a statement.

"It will clear ambiguity on this issue and further build the trust necessary to jointly address other critical issues facing the basin, such as food security and climate change," he added.

The move comes ahead of a four-nation summit hosted by Thailand next month to discuss management of the Mekong which is suffering from the lowest water levels for 20 years.

The leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam will meet in the resort town of Hua Hin south of Bangkok.

Southeast Asia Drought Triggers Debate Over Region's Water Resources

The Dachaoshan dam in Dachaoshan, Yunnan province, China, which is located on the upper Mekong River, 28 Aug 2001

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Ron Corben | Bangkok
25 March 2010

A drought across southern China and Southeast Asia has brought the Mekong River to its lowest level in 50 years. The drought has led to debate over the vital resource and the effects that economic development, especially dam construction, may have on the river flow.

In northern Thailand, the wide Mekong River is known as Mother River. It travels from headwaters in the Tibetan plains over 4,000 kilometers to the South China Sea.

But this year, the river has fallen to its lowest level in decades.

Julian Wright manages a guest house on the Mekong River's banks at Khon Kaen in northern Thailand. Wright says there are more sand banks visible in the river than in past years.

"I couldn't pronounce it being absolutely the lowest but it's certainly the lowest I've ever seen. The hopper that collects water from the town might find itself beached, then we might find we have a running water problem," he said.

The Mekong runs through China's southern Yunnan Province, through parts of Burma, Thailand and Laos, and then moves through Cambodia and Vietnam before reaching the sea.

Severe water shortages

This year, the dry season in Southeast Asia has been far drier than normal. And the southern Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan are suffering a severe drought. Over 20 million people face water shortages with some 6.5 million hectares of crops affected.

"This is a one in 50-year occurrence - with a return period of 50 years - so it's quite severe," says Ian Makin, an engineer and senior water resources management specialist with the Asian Development Bank. "Now the problem comes is that in the dry season most people that are cropping in the Mekong Basin are using pumps and when the water level drops further than normal they can't let water out into their fields and they're struggling to keep the crop alive."

In towns, water resource officials have asked communities to conserve water. Barges and ferries normally plying the river have been forced to halt services, because in some areas, the river is nearly dry. And in low-lying areas in Vietnam's fertile Mekong delta, the drought means salty ocean water can move onto farm land, damaging the soil.

Damming the Mekong River

Environmental and rights organizations in Thailand say dams on waterways in southern China contribute to the river's low levels.

The Save the Mekong Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups, criticizes China's management of the river and dams built in China.

"It's not a natural drought - but it's also the impact from the large scale infrastructure which is the dam upstream and the fishermen and farmers have been suffering from the change of the eco-system of the Mekong River very much. And they suspect that this is because of the way the damming upstream controls the water flow," said Pianporn Deetes, a coalition spokeswoman.

China has completed the Xiaowan hydroelectric dam, the second largest hydro-electric station in the country, on the upper reaches of the Mekong. Eight others are being built in Yunnan Province.

Jeremy Bird heads the Mekong River Commission, made up of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. He dismisses concerns about the dams and blames the drought for the low water levels.

"Looking at the flow records that we have, we see no reason to suggest any operation of those projects upstream has made the situation worse. In fact, there's some evidence to suggest that if those dams had not been in place then the lower water levels may have been experienced even earlier in January," said Bird.

Possible water conflicts

Sensitivities over the Mekong's flows have led to talks between China and Thailand on how the dams may affect water levels. Chinese officials reject claims the dams contribute to low water levels.

Early next month, China will attend a summit of leaders from Mekong River nations in Bangkok. The leaders hope to find ways to better manage the river.

There are fears that rising populations will mean increased use of the Mekong for drinking water, farming, fishing and transportation. Smith Dhanrmasaroja, head of Thailand's National Disaster Warning Center, thinks Southeast Asia may eventually face conflicts over water.

"Of course they will fight. Each country they will fight for water. We will have a war, a water war in this region and people when they need to water to drink you know they will fight for everything. So conflict between Lao, Thai, Myanmar, Kampuchea (Cambodia), that thing is going to happen - we will wait and see," he said.

In a report released this week, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific expressed similar concerns about water security in the region.

The report warns that water shortages in the region are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.

A Too Quick Reaction from the Government – Thursday, 25.3.2010
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Posted on 26 March 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 657

“The anti-corruption law has already been adopted by the National Assembly and by the Senate of Cambodia. Therefore, after the King would have signed it, it will become valid. But what has to be remembered is that local civil society officials as well as officials of the United Nations had mentioned many shortages of the new law and criticized that the two institutions too quickly adopted the law. One problem they see is that the law requires high ranking officials of the government to declare their assets confidentially.

“UN officials in Cambodia criticized specifically the very quick adoption process of the crucial anti-corruption draft law. The government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen did not accept the recommendations suggested by UN officials, but warned to expel them from Cambodia. This results in a loss of trust in the general public whether the elimination of corruption in Cambodia can be achieved effectively.

“Officials of some non-government organizations said that UN officials just wanted the anti-corruption law of Cambodia to be more transparent, so that the Cambodian government can combat corruption successfully. Therefore, [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s government should not have expressed an angry reaction with the UN official’s criticism, but should take into account what they mentioned. In addition, the requirement for high ranking officials of the government to declare their assets confidentially seems to help hide the assets of corrupt officials rather than to uncover corruption.

“Officials of non-government organizations said that before, the Cambodian government had offered the opportunity for local civil society officials and for international organization officials to provide ideas toward the creation of the anti-corruption draft. But the anti-corruption draft, with 9 chapters and 57 articles, recently adopted by the National Assembly and by the Senate, does not include their recommendations. Moreover, both the National Assembly and the Senate used a very short time to adopt this important law, a process quite unlike the adoption of other laws which takes much time for reviewing and discussing.

“Cambodia had been ranked by Transparency International among the countries in the world where there exists very serious corruption [What is the Corruption Perceptions Index? - Corruption Perceptions Index 2009 - Cambodia is on position 158 of 180 countries; this number is calculated based on 8 different suveys]. Even the US Ambassador to Cambodia had criticized that corruption leads to the loss hundreds of millions of dollars of national resources every year. That means corruption in Cambodia is a serious concern, starting from high levels to the lower, where even traffic police commit offensive acts. Thus, based on the content of the anti-corruption draft recently approved by the National Assembly and by the Senate, elimination of corruption seems impossible.

“Non-government organization officials observing corruption in Cambodia said that the 9-chapters-and-57-articles draft does not have explicit content as similar laws in Yuon [Vietnam] and in China have. Even the point about the declaration of assets of high ranking officials does not state the details clearly, and thereby does not explain how corrupt officials can be identified. The government led by Prime Hun Sen should reconsider the critical remarks by UN officials, but should not react against them too fast which does not help.

“It should be noted that the government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen had created an anti-corruption unit administered by Om Yentieng; soon it will create another anti-corruption committee. Creating two institutions that have similar roles does not explain what kind of power will be provided to which institution. With a vague anti-corruption law which does not comply with international standards, corruption might occur more seriously.

“All in all, the anti-corruption draft approved by the National Assembly, presided over by Mr. Heng Samrin, and by the Senate, headed by Mr. Chea Sim, is not praised by the general public, as the content of the law does not show its real value. Actually, the opposition party parliamentarians did not raise their hands to support its adoption. Only the parliamentarians from the Cambodian People’s Party raised their hands to support it. Under such circumstances, the government, led by the Cambodian People’s Party, should consider the content of that law again, but should not react by warning to expel UN officials just because they pointed out deficiencies of that important law.”

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.17, #3841, 25.3.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Thursday, 25 March 2010

Land Demonstrators Entrench Outside Court

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By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 March 2010

At least 10 villagers were wounded in clashes with police Thursday who tried to prevent them from trucking in supplies for a sustained demonstrators over a court decision to hold two suspects in a Kampong Speu land dispute.

Around 500 villagers have maintained a demonstration in front of the provincial court, which on Wednesday ordered the detention of two villagers and arrest warrants of two others allegedly involved in the arson of property belonging to a powerful ruling party senator.

Upset villagers say they were pushed from their land by Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Villagers said Thursday they ran afoul of police who prevented them from trucking in rice, iron pots and firewood to sustain their demonstration outside the Kampong Speu court.

“Policemen stayed along the road where they’ve never shown up like this, 30 km from our village,” said Sim Ton, one of 10 villagers in a van stopped by police.

“They checked the contents of our vehicle, and the police at the last station, they stopped us, stole our rice and threw it out,” she said. “They ordered us to go back home, and when I escaped and took a motorcycle taxi, they tried to catch me.”

Am Sam Ath, head of the investigation unit at the rights group Licadho, said police were attempting to intimidate people and to prevent their right of assembly.

However, Kampong Speu Governor Kang Heang said there was “no crackdown against villagers.”

The court “will not release the accused,” he said. “Villagers must struggle by legal means.”

In Special Economic Zones, a Long Way To Go

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By Ros Sothea, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 March 2010

Cambodia has slowly developed a number of special economic zones, but poor infrastructure, insufficient telecommunications, and complicated customs are hampering their full potential, according to a senior government official.

The zones, first created in 2005, are designed to cluster investment in factories for garments, electronics and foods, all for export. Investors are offered tax incentives and one-stop service by zone administration in exchange for setting up production in the zones.

Cambodia has laid out at least 19 of these zones, mostly along the borders with Thailand and Vietnam and along the coast. But only five of them are in operation, and the zones lack road, water, electricity and skilled labor, Sok Chenda, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, told an economic outlook conference last week.

“One can’t imagine the success of the SEZs if you don’t have better processing, including infrastructure, transportation, labor skill, administrative procedures at the border,” he told the conference.

The zones need attention in “all costs—electricity costs, shipping costs and telecommunications costs,” he said.

A special economic zone can be established by the state, private enterprises and through joint ventures, on at least 50 hectares of land.

Cambodia has seven such zones in Preah Sihanouk province, five in Svay Rieng, three in Koh Kong and one each in Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham, Kampot, Kandal, Phnom Penh and Takeo. Seven more are under construction, and plans for nine others have no activity at all.

Developers are local businessmen and foreign investors from China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Japan.

Sok Chenda said the zones have been unable to attract investors because developers have not paid attention to their critical infrastructure needs.

The CDC was implementing a special economic zone law that would designate the zones as separate customs territories, outside national territory.

Sales from outside Cambodia to investors in these zones would be conditionally relieved from import duties and taxes, based on the principle that goods manufactured or produced in them are meant for export only.

Hong Choun Narun, secretary-general of the Economic Ministry, said all 21 zones will be active over the next five years, boosting exports, creating jobs and strengthening national economic growth.

Some developers, like Norng Soyeth, director of a state-owned zone in Preah Sihanouk, anticipate robust operations. His zone has put $100 million into infrastructure, he said.

“As soon as we begin operation [in 2011], our place will be full of 30 factories, invested in by Japanese and Korean investors, because we are the best location inside the sea area,” he said. “That will reduce transportation costs.”

Other zone representatives are less confident, and many were unclear on when operations would begin.

“We planned to open our zone in 2011 or 2012, but everything was stuck and investors asked for a delay due to the financial crisis,” said Mong Reththy, president of the Oknha Mong zone in Preah Sihanouk. “Now we are waiting for a good economy to come so that we can start our business.”

Sam Rainsy Seeks To Prove Border Encroachment

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By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 March 2010

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is accused of putting a false map of the Vietnamese border on his party’s Web site, defended his position Thursday, showing reporters via video conference a 14-page report from a geographic expert that he said proves border demarcation has ceded land to Cambodia’s eastern neighbor.

The question of border encroachment is a highly charged political issue, and Sam Rainsy, who is in exile, faces a two-year jail sentence on charges related to the destruction of several border markers last year.

The government again sued him earlier this year for putting up a map he says proves Cambodia is losing land.

The report, by Regis Caloz, an expert in Geographic Information Systems, shows four different markers placed between 300 meters and 500 meters inside Cambodia’s original border.

Hun Sen Paved Way for Uighur Expulsion: HRW

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By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 March 2010

Days before Cambodia deported 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree that undermined the country’s international obligations, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

The government writ “allows the interior minister to ignore both the procedures and the recommendations on refugee status of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,” the international organization said in an open letter to Hun Sen.

“We respectfully urge you to amend the sub-decree so that it will truly be an instrument for implementing the Refugee Convention and for fulfilling the government of Cambodia’s obligations as a state party,” Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch’s refugee policy director, and Brad Adams, its Asia director, wrote.

“We also urge you to consult with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to allow them access to all people seeking asylum in Cambodia, and to respect and honor the exercise of their mandate in Cambodian territory,” they wrote.

The new regulation smake Cambodia especially dangerous for asylum seekers in politically sensitive cases, such as that the Uighurs, from the restive western Chinese province of Xinjiang, found themselves in December.

In the days leading up to the deportation, Chinese officials said the asylum seekers were fleeing criminal charges stemming from unrest in the province.

After the asylum seekers, who had found their way to UNHCR, were put on a plane and sent to China, Chinese leaders pledged $1.2 billion in aid to Cambodia.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the organization had in its letter “worked with political motivation” against the sub-decree.

“We recognize political asylum cases, if it is a real political refugee, but not an economic refugee or a refugee from the law,” he said.

Thailand to provide Cambodian premier special security during visit

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Thu, 25 Mar 2010
By : dpa

Bangkok - Thailand plans to provide Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen with special security when he visits next month, Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said Thursday amid tense relations between the two neighbours.

Hen Sen plans to attend the first Mekong River Commission summit April 4-5 in the resort town of Hua Hun south of Bangkok. It would be his first visit to Thailand since a diplomatic spat erupted after Cambodia appointed fugitive Thai ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra to be a government adviser late last year and refused to extradite him back to Thailand.

Cambodia appointed Thaksin, who has a two-year jail sentence still to serve in Thailand for abuse of power, as an economic adviser to the government and to Hun Sen.

Bangkok considers the appointment of Thaksin, the de-facto opposition leader in Thailand, as interference in its internal politics.

Thaksin was prime minister of Thailand from 2001 to 2006, when he was toppled in a bloodless coup. He fled the country and has live in self-imposed exile, mostly in Dubai, since August 2008.

The relationship between Cambodia and Thailand has also been tense for more than a year because of their disputing claims to land near the 11th-century Preah Vihear border temple.

Their troops have sporadically clashed near the disputed area, and Thai nationalists have used the Preah Vihear issue to stoke tensions.

General Prawit called on Thais not to protest during the summit and said he would personally oversee security in Hua Hin.

The Mekong River Commission summit brings together Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. China and Myanmar, which are dialogue partners, are also to attend.

The Mekong River is currently facing its worst drought in decades in parts of Thailand and Laos.

Cambodian garment workers facing uphill battle in global downturn – UN

Garment workers going home on motorcycles in Cambodia [File Photo]

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25 March 2010 – Even those Cambodian garment workers who were able to hold on to their jobs in the face of global economic challenges have not escaped the current downturn unscathed, a new survey led by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) has found.

Factory closures or cutbacks due to reduced orders forced many garment workers in the South-East Asian nation out of a job. One in 10 unemployed workers lost their positions two or more times last year, with most still looking for work.

A study assessing 1,200 employed and 800 unemployed workers in the capital, Phnom Penh, finds that many with work have had their salaries slashed and now feel as though they do not have enough money to cover remittances and basic needs such as food, health care and transport.

Many of those who lost their jobs but managed to find new ones are working under less favourable conditions, seeking assistance from trade unions for assistance on challenges such as asking for leave and late wage payments.

Even though laid-off workers have looked for jobs in other garment factories, only one third of them succeed in finding work.

Those looking outside the garment industry typically try to find jobs in the service sector to work as salespeople, tailors or food vendors.

Even though many would like to enroll in training programmes, the cannot, and the families of some workers, both employed and unemployed, have sent additional family members – mostly women – to find work to deal with the loss in income.

“The information we are gathering though the survey has been helpful in identifying action that can be taken by a range of stakeholders to help struggling workers, strengthen the garment sector, and better prepare the country to deal with future economic setbacks,” said Tuomo Poutiainen, chief technical adviser at ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia initiative.

Based on the survey results, ILO is calling for employment policies promoting productive employment, enhancing social protection and working with employers to be compliant with labour laws.

The study was commissioned by the ILO with the support of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and was carried out by the Cambodia Institute of Development Study (CIDS).

Environmental Survey To Prepare Cambodia's ‘Koh Rong' Island For High-End Tourism
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PRESS RELEASE -- Hotels, 3/25/2010

(Bangkok - March 25, 2010) - Global integrated design and engineering consultancy firm Scott Wilson Group plc. has been appointed by The Royal Group of Cambodia to conduct an Environmental Evaluation and Social Impact Analysis of the Cambodian island of Koh Rong, laying the groundwork for Asia's first environmentally planned resort island.

In addition Scott Wilson has been appointed to develop the infrastructure on Koh Rong including road network, marina, international airport and utility services to jump start tourist development which places the beaches of Koh Rong within a travel time of 3 hours from Hong Kong and Singapore.

With over 80 offices worldwide, Scott Wilson offers strategic consultancy and multi-disciplinary professional services in buildings & infrastructure, environment & natural resources and roads sectors.

Koh Rong developer, The Royal Group, is headed by Chairman Kith Meng, one of Cambodia's most prominent tycoons, with interests extending to Cambodia's railways and ANZ Bank in Cambodia.

The Koh Rong archipelago, 30 minutes by boat from the coastal town of Sihanoukville, is being billed as the "next Asian Riviera" - following Phuket, Koh Samui and Bali.

Koh Rong covers 80 sq. kms, with a population of just 1,500 in small fishing villages. The island is known amongst off-the-beaten-track travelers for its pure white sand beaches and crystal clear waters and remains virtually untouched.

The Royal Group, one of Cambodia's most dynamic and diversified business conglomerate with substantial interests in property and infrastructure development, has been granted a 99-year lease by the Cambodian government to develop Koh Rong as the "first environmentally planned resort island in Asia".

The Royal Group is committed to sustainable development of Koh Rong, ensuring that the impacts on the environment are minimized and positive environmental benefits are realized throughout the development phases of the island. Most importantly the development objectives are that Koh Rong must stay a ‘Paradise Forever'.

The study will identify environmentally sensitive areas and draw recommendations for developing the pristine Cambodian island of Koh Rong for international tourism and real estate development. The study will be followed by detailed Environmental Impact Studies for the unique marine resources (Coral Reefs, Mangroves, Fisheries) as well as the island's flora and fauna. A crucial element of this will be monitoring developments and their impacts on the environment and local communities. Re-forestation, marine resource protection, waste management, poverty alleviation and employment creation for the local community are key elements of the development program.

Heading the social impact studies and infrastructure planning and development for Scott Wilson is Lauri Van Run, General Manager of the leading global design and engineering consultancy's Malaysia office. Lauri has been working with Scott Wilson since 1991 and has over 20 years experience as project manager of large infrastructure development projects, particularly in the planning, design and construction of multidisciplinary projects such as airports. Prior to joining Scott Wilson Lauri spent five years with the United Nations.

"The master plan for Koh Rong presents perhaps a unique opportunity to create virtually from the beginning a truly ecologically sustainable large scale resort community," said Mr. Van Run.

Development of the pristine "eco-island" is being carefully planned to foster the natural environment and local communities while creating a "high-end" resort destination. A development plan that realises best real estate value in balance with environmental protection - one that results in minimum environmental and social impact is currently being developed by Scott Wilson together with Hong Kong-based MAP Architects.

Opportunities for local villagers including agricultural initiatives such as organic farming, waste management, environmental awareness, improved education and medical care for the community and a future hotel management school are high on the list of priorities. It is important to provide the local community with the opportunity for employment, skills training and improvement of their livelihoods. Initial consultations have been held with chiefs and village leaders.

Along with top-end resorts, two golf courses are planned.

Mr. Van Run said: "Koh Rong is an un-spoilt paradise of pristine beaches and spectacular natural forests. It offers a unique opportunity to create the ultimate ecologically managed island, with ecologically sustainable resorts with sound investment potential."

"The Koh Rong story is similar to that of Samui and Phuket 30 years ago," said Mr. David Simister, Chairman of CBRE Thailand, the exclusive advisor and sole agent for developing the island. "It is one of the last undiscovered paradises in South-East Asia with the potential to become the next Asian Riviera."

The new airport on will be the principal gateway to Cambodia's ‘Next Asian Riviera' and a critical catalyst for the island' development," he said.

Cambodian Government Bans Marriage with Koreans

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March 25th, 2010
By Geoff Dean

According to a report in the Korea Times, 60% of Cambodian women who are involved in international marriages are married to Korean men. For Korean men, Cambodian wives rank fourth behind Chinese, Japanese, and Filipina ones in the international marriage department. What is it about Cambodian women and Korean men? Kim-chee? They do not share a common language or culture or history. For the most part, there is a significant gap in religion as well, even in the increasingly rare case that both might be Buddhist. Are Korean men especially attractive to Cambodian women and vice versa?

The government of Cambodia sure doesn`t think so.

According to Cambodian government spokesperson, Koy Kuung, there has been put in place an immediate, "temporary" ban on Cambodian-Korean marriages. He claims that many of these marriages are arranged by brokers who basically "sell" Cambodian brides to Korean males, often against the brides-to-be`s wills. The ban will remain in place until it can be determined that the couples are "real, not fake, and not involved with human trafficking". A noble aim but I wonder how they can do that! If someone challenged your marriage as "fake", could you prove conclusively that it was not?

Also, Korean males will be required to prove that they are single (not unreasonable, I suppose) and have no prison record (I`m not as sure about this one; can`t a reformed ex-con marry the Cambodian woman of his choice?)

This comes on the heels of the March 3rd arrest of a Cambodian matchmaker accused of "selling" up to 22 brides to Koreans, including online auction style. Before that, a Korean national, Lee Kyung Jun, was arrested in Phnom Pehn in May of 2009 for forging marriage certificates and other official Korean documents. Many of the Cambodian women "married off" never actually met their Korean "husbands" and instead were sent into the Korean criminal underground to work as bar hostesses and prostitues and the like.

The wave of Cambodian-Korean marriages has replaced a similar wave of Vietnamese-Korean marriages a few years back, which came to halt when Vietnam passed a similar ban and launched a crackdown on brokers and "illegitimate matchmakers", reported the EarthTimes.

Don`t get me wrong, please. I oppose human trafficking absolutely. I would never make light of it, as I know a few women in Japan (Chinese, Thai, and even, Korean) who got here in much a similar way and have heard how hard it was for them. At the same time, international marriage can often represent a lifeline for a woman and her family that otherwise would not exist. Is a total ban the best reaction?

Furthermore, there must be some legitimate Cambodian-Korean marriages among the falsity. Should loving international couples be punished for the misdeeds of others? Denied the right to get married?

And if the goal is to prevent "fake marriages", why limit the search to only Koreans? They may be the most egregious violators but surely not the only ones.

And one more question. Will Cambodian women be allowed to marry North Korean men?

Hun Sen to attend Thai summit despite row

Cambodian leader Hun Sen has agreed to attend the first Mekong River summit in Thailand

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BANGKOK — Cambodian leader Hun Sen will attend an April summit in Thailand, officials said Thursday, his first visit since the neighbours downgraded ties in a row over former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand and Cambodia, which have a history of rocky relations, recalled their ambassadors in November after Hun Sen appointed Thaksin as an economic adviser and then refused Thai requests to extradite him.

Thaksin is living abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption in his home country, but continues to rally his red-shirted supporters who have mounted mass rallies in Bangkok this month.

Thai officials said Hun Sen had nevertheless agreed to attend the first Mekong River summit, involving Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, in the resort town of Hua Hin south of Bangkok on April 5.

"We received a letter of confirmation that Prime Minister Hun Sen accepted an invitation to attend the Mekong River Commission summit," a official at the Water Resources Department told AFP.

Cambodian cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan confirmed the trip, but said it would focus purely on the Mekong issue and said there were "no plans at all" for a bilateral meeting between the Cambodian and Thai leaders.

"He's (Hun Sen) not prejudiced against Thailand at all. He's not interfering at all in Thailand's internal political problems," he told AFP.

The Thai official said the leaders of all four countries would attend the summit, which will address a severe drought that has lowered levels on the important waterway.

Cambodia and Thailand have been locked in nationalist tensions and a troop standoff at their disputed border since July 2008, when clashes erupted near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Hun Sen openly criticised his Thai counterpart, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, during one of Thaksin's recent visits to Cambodia, and made a high-profile visit to the temple, dressed in full combat uniform.

Cambodia PM to attend regional meeting in Thailand

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AP - Friday, March 26

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia's prime minister is to attend a regional meeting in Thailand next month, in his first visit since the two countries recalled their ambassadors in a diplomatic tiff over a deposed Thai leader.

Cambodia's Foreign Ministry says Hun Sen will attend the First Mekong River Commission Summit on April 4-5, accompanied by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and other top officials.

Thailand was angered last year when Cambodia appointed fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra an adviser on economic affairs. A subsequent visit by Thaksin to Cambodia, and its rejection of a request from Bangkok to extradite him, caused Thailand to recall its ambassador in protest. Cambodia followed suit, and relations remain strained.

Writers’ conference for Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam opens

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March 25, 2010

A delegation from the Vietnam Writers Association led by its chairman, poet Huu Thinh, attended the third Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Writers’ Conference, which took place in Vientiane on March 24.

Lao Permanent Deputy Prime Minister Somsavad Lengsavad and Minister of Information and Culture Mounkeo Oraboune and Vietnamese Ambassador to Laos Ta Minh Chau were present at the event.

The conference heard letters of congratulations sent by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Cambodian Prime Minister Samdec Hunsen.

Speaking at the conference, Lengsavad spoke highly of contributions by the three countries’ writers in strengthening the close ties among their nations. He said he wished writers would create more quality works, and help the people of the three countries--especially young generations--understand more about the tradition of solidarity among the nations.

On behalf of the Vietnamese delegation, poet Huu Thinh promised that Vietnamese writers would try their best, together with their Lao and Cambodian colleagues, to create new spiritual values, helping deepen the literature of the three Indochinese countries.

The conference reviewed the activities of the three associations and exchanged experiences and orientations for development in future.

At the conference, the third annual Mekong Literary Awards were presented to 10 writers from the three countries.

Vietnamese award winners included Ngoc Tu (Thoong B.C) with memoir series ‘Bao Rung’ (Forest Hurricane), Pham Quang Dau with a novel titled ‘Mot ngay la muoi nam’ (One Day is Ten Years) and Thang Sac (Nguyen Chien Thang) with a novel entitled ‘Chu Tu, con la ai’ (Uncle Tu, Who am I). (VNA)

Poor youths acquire skills at Caritas

Saray Phirum (left) shows a painting done by a student from the center

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March 25, 2010

Cheng Theavin did not think he would be able to acquire a vocational skill as his parents could not afford to pay for anything beyond basic schooling.

However, thanks to the Youth Development Program of Caritas Cambodia, the 20-year-old is now studying art.

“I study without paying any fee,” he beamed. “Now I am acquiring a skill and I feel like any other student.”

Although only in the first year of his course at Caritas’ Vocational Training Center, he is already earning some money for his family by selling his artworks.

The center in Takdol village, Kandal province, has been providing such educational opportunities to poor youths for the past 18 years.

The students, aged 17-25, can enroll in the center if they have grade nine education and come from poor families, if they are handicapped or been trafficked.

In addition to art, the center also teaches computer, accounting, administration and community development skills. All courses last for two years.

Youth Development Program coordinator Saray Phirum said that the center not only teaches livelihood skills, it also “promotes human development and leadership.”

On March 18, the center held its 18th graduation ceremony for 128 students, 39 of whom were young women.
Instilling a love for learning

One of them, Kea Rum, 20, said, “I really appreciate this school. It provided me with a good skill and also helped me to find a job.”

Rum studied community development and now has a job at Norton University in Phnom Penh.

The Caritas center also has a hostel that provides accommodation and meals for 50 students from distant provinces.

One of the residents, Vann Den, 21, said: “We live like siblings. When we have a problem, we help each other and if we have something to eat, we share with each other too.”

He noted that the youth program also has a credit scheme to assist students who want to start their own businesses after graduation.

Caritas Cambodia director Monsignor Enrique Figaredo, apostolic prefect of Battambang, said at the March 18 ceremony that the center strives to instill a love for learning among young people.

When youths are given the opportunity to develop, society also benefits, he said.

Puun Paan, an official from the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, said the Caritas program is in line with the government’ strategy in developing the country’s human resources. “So we appreciate and continue to support” the Church agency, he said.

Since opening in 1992, a total of 1,842 students have graduated from the center. According to Phirum, most have found employment or are self-employed.

Cambodian PM "has no plan" to meet Thai counterpart at Mekong summit

via CAAI News Media

[Report by Meng-ching: "Samdech Hun Sen Still Has No Plan To Meet With Thai Prime Minister When Attending Meeting in Early April"]

Phnom Penh: According Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen still has no plan to hold any separate talks with the Thai prime minister when he leads a high-level Cambodian delegation to attend a summit to be held in Thailand early April.

Koy Kuong said that until 24 March, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry had not yet received any official information that Prime Minister Hun Sen would hold separate bilateral talks with Thai Prime Minister Aphisit, except his multilateral discussions at the summit to be held in Thailand early April.

Cambodia and Thailand have had diplomatic relations problems since Thai troops invaded Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple border area on 15 August 2008.

Koy Kuong added that the diplomatic relations and border talks between Cambodia and Thailand had been at a standstill until now, without any solutions found.

While the two countries' diplomatic relations and border problems have remained unsettled, Thai Prime Minister Aphisit Wetchachiwa, has invited Prime Minister Hun Sen to attend the first Mekong River Commission Summit to be held in Prachuab Khiri Khan, Thailand, between 4 and 5 April.

An announcement issued by the Cambodian Foreign Ministry said that the delegation members to accompany Prime Minister Hun Sen to the summit in Thailand included Hor Namhong, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation; Cham Prasith, state minister and minister of commerce; Mok Mareth, state minister and minister of environment; Chan Sarun, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries; Lim Kean-hor, minister of water resources and meteorology, and other high-level officials of the Royal Government of Cambodia.

The announcement also indicated that at the end of the summit in Thailand, there would be an adoption of a declaration on meeting the needs, keeping the balance towards sustainable development of the Mekong River basin.

Originally published by Reaksmei Kampuchea, Phnom Penh, in Cambodian 25 Mar 10.

News in Pictures

Vehicles drive past the Gold Tower 42 building, under construction in Phnom Penh March 25 ,2010. Cambodia's parliament is to debate a law next month that would allow foreigners to own property directly, one of the aims being to attract more investors to the Southeast Asian country. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

An engineer (L) stands on a scaffold as labourers work at the construction site for the Gold Tower 42 building in Phnom Penh March 25, 2010. Cambodia's parliament is to debate a law next month that would allow foreigners to own property directly, one of the aims being to attract more investors to the Southeast Asian country. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Parked cars are seen at the Office of the Council of Ministers with Boeung Kak Lake in the background in Phnom Penh March 25, 2010. The Cambodian government leased the lake and its surrounding territory to a private developer for land reclamation, evicting more than 4,000 families living near the lake, according to local media. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

People walk amongst parked cars at the Office of the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh March 25, 2010. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea