Thursday, 8 April 2010

Pay more or I’ll drown you, says cab driver

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A CAMBODIAN taxi driver was arrested after he ramped up an inter-city fare, then threatened to kill his passengers by driving into a lake unless they paid the extra.

The driver had initially agreed to take 20 passengers for 2 dollars a head . But halfway there, he stopped the taxi and announced the fare had increased to 5 each.

The passengers refused to pay the extra and began arguing with the driver . A passenger then called the police who arrested the driver.

Cambodia lacks public transport, and privately operated minibus taxis, which are often overcrowded, are a common way to travel around the country. — Sapa-DPA

VN offers to train Cambodia officials in drugs crackdown

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April, 08 2010

HCM CITY – Viet Nam and Cambodia will work together more closely to control drug trafficking across their shared border, according to delegates attending a conference held yesterday in HCM City.

During the three-day conference on illicit cross-border drug trafficking, officials from the two countries exchanged information about techniques to control trafficking.

Sr Lt Colonel Hoang Anh Tuyen, deputy director of the Standing Office on Drug Control, said Viet Nam was ready to complete tasks in a memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries in November.

Under the MoU, Viet Nam will offer training to Cambodian officials in investigation techniques and the setting up of rehab centres for drug addicts. They will also share information about cross-border drug trafficking activities.

Major General Phorn Boramy, head of the executive department of Cambodia's National Authority for Combatting Drugs, said raw materials for drugs were often purchased from the so-called Golden Triangle area, which encompasses parts of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

Drugs are then manufactured in Cambodia and exported to third countries like Viet Nam.

Raw materials were often imported from northeastern provinces of Laos and sometimes sold to people in Viet Nam, Boramy said.

In recent years, more and more drugs are being manufactured in Cambodia.

Boramy said the two countries should share more investigative evidence and that Viet Nam should train Cambodia's drug trafficking staff.

Since 1998, several agreements on drug trafficking control have been signed between Viet Nam and Cambodia border provinces.

Since then, provinces have held regular meetings to exchange information on drug traffickers and their ever-changing scams.

Last year, police in Viet Nam's Long An Province and Cambodia's Svay Rieng Province discovered three trafficking cases and arrested five people.

Police in An Giang Province uncovered 156 cases, and Gia Lai Province 48 drug trafficking cases that were related to a trafficking ring in Cambodia.

At the meeting, the two parties pledged to increase information exchange, including establishing more drug control offices near the border and holding regular meetings for officers from the two countries.

Boramay said the three new liaison offices along the border between the two countries that have been set up were a timely reaction against increased drug trafficking activities.

This year, Viet Nam will organise a training course, which will include investigation skills and the tracing of drug origin as well as courses that exchange anti-narcotic experiences and monitor drug user rehabilitation.

To date, Viet Nam has established a total of nine border liaison offices for better drug control in provinces bordering China, Laos and Cambodia.

Since 2000, the office in Quang Ninh's Mong Cai has verified information on 53 people related to 25 drug trafficking cases, seizing 10kg of heroin and 157kg of cannabis. — VNS

Vinacas to grow cashew in Cambodia

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VietNamNet Bridge – The Vietnam Cashew Association (Vinacas) has signed an agreement to cultivate 2,000 hectares of cashew trees in Cambodian provinces Kampong Cham and Kampong Thorn, said the association's general secretary.

Dang Hoang Giang said the cultivation would signal the beginning of a program to cultivate cashew in the neighboring country in the next five years, and the final area under cashew cultivation there would increase by several times.

However, the association did not reveal the total planned cultivation areas as the expansion is still under discussion.

After the crops are harvested, cashew growing and processing companies in Dong Nai Province, including Donafoods, will set up processing plants in Kampong Thorn Province.

The firms will provide farmers in the two Cambodian provinces with support including seedlings and training on processing and cultivating techniques to meet standards required by importing countries.

The Vietnam Development Bank (VDB) will offer 20 major Vietnamese cashew companies preferential short-term loans to invest in machinery and equipment to improve the industry's processing capacity, according to Vinacas.

As Vietnam's current cashew crops are ending, enterprises are importing cashews from Africa to process and export.

Nguyen Ba Hoc, Vinacas' chairman, said cashew prices are rising on the global market, luring many brokers who came in to sell and re-buy African cashews, creating a sudden price hike. Vinacas has cautioned local importers against the practice, he added.

Hoc said Vietnam was in discussion with some African countries to exchange rice for cashews. However, the two countries are yet to decide how much rice from Vietnam will be exchanged for African cashew.

Vinacas has assigned Long An Province Cashew Association to negotiate the barter trade agreement, Hoc added.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Vietnam exported about 30,000 tons of cashew nuts worth US$157 million already this year, down 4.3% in volume but up 12% in value compared to 2009.


ASEAN ministers sign dispute-resolution protocol - Summary

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Posted : Thu, 08 Apr 2010
By : dpa

Hanoi - Foreign ministers of the 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Thursday signed a protocol on dispute resolution that could be used in several ongoing regional conflicts.

The ASEAN ministers are attending the organization's annual summit meeting in Hanoi amidst disagreements over handling human rights issues in Myanmar and several territorial disputes.

While the procedures of the protocol have not been finalized, some experts said it could mark a major step forward.

"ASEAN used to operate on the basis of consensus, and a single member could block progress," said South-East Asia expert Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Academy.

Thayer said that while the body would still operate consensually, the protocol provided a mechanism for deciding what to do when member states disagreed. The protocol provides for arbitration in case of dispute, followed by a binding decision by the ASEAN Summit.

Thayer said the protocol did not specify what sanctions might follow if a member state refused to comply with an ASEAN decision.

The mechanism is, however, likely to be limited to disputes between ASEAN member states, not internal issues.

The dispute mechanism could be invoked in Thailand's border dispute with Cambodia over an area near the temple at Preah Vihear, which led to armed clashes in 2008 and 2009.

Nazery Khalid of the Maritime Institute of Malaysia said the protocol could help ASEAN member states reach agreement on disputes over maritime territory in the South China Sea.

Host country Vietnam is seeking to convince ASEAN members to settle their internal disagreements over maritime territory in the South China Sea so that the group can negotiate as a bloc with China, which claims most of the sea for itself.

China has resisted that approach and insists on bilateral negotiations with each country. Khalid said Beijing's success in the bilateral approach was a reflection of "ASEAN's weakness."

"ASEAN needs to work towards addressing that, and come up with a more united front," Khalid said.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Laos and Indonesia.

Tension rises as Thailand blocks some websites, TV

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Jason Szep and Martin Petty
Reuters April 8, 2010,

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand blocked opposition websites and TV channels on Thursday and the prime minister scrapped an overseas visit a day after a state of emergency was declared to quell nearly a month of mass protests.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called off a one-day trip to Vietnam for a Southeast Asian leaders summit as tension remained high, with protesters scuffling with riot police outside a crucial satellite broadcast station and vowing defiance.

Despite the decree, the red-shirted supporters of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ignored orders to leave the capital's main shopping district and promised their biggest rally yet on Friday after briefly storming parliament this week.

Nearly 1,000 protesters tried to push through anti-riot forces guarding Thaicom Pcl's satellite earth station in northern Pathum Thani Province. The company, formerly owned by Thaksin, was used by the red shirts to broadcast programs before it was taken off air on Thursday.

The red shirts are demanding that it is back in operation by the end of the day.

The risk of a confrontation subdued Thailand's recently hot stock market, which fell more than three percent in its biggest fall in more than two months, and brought a warning from the central bank over possible fallout on the economy.

"We have to admit that the political factor has affected consumers and business," Bank of Thailand Chief Economist Suchart Sakkankosone told reporters, adding unrest could influence the timing of an interest-rate rise most economists expect in June.


Abhisit faces a difficult choice: compromise and call an election he could easily lose, or launch a crackdown on tens of thousands of protesters that could stir up even more trouble.

Most analysts doubt the authorities will use force to remove the mostly rural and working class protesters who have been camped in Bangkok's upmarket shopping district since Saturday -- a politically risky decision for Abhisit as his 16-month-old coalition government struggles to build support outside Bangkok.

But there were scattered reports of violence.

Overnight, two men on a motorbike fired into offices of the nationalist monarchist "yellow shirts," arch rivals of Thaksin and his allies, wounding two security guards. A grenade lobbed at a yellow shirt radio station failed to explode.

In 2008, the yellow shirts occupied the prime minister's office for three months and blockaded Bangkok's main airport until a court expelled the Thaksin-allied government.

The number of protesters in the district of malls and luxury hotels was growing steadily. Numbers typically swell into the tens of thousands in the cooler evenings in a carnival-like atmosphere.

Pressure is growing on Abhisit from residents in Bangkok, a stronghold of his Democrat Party, to take decisive action to end the rolling protests, which began on March 14 when up to 150,000 massed in the city's old quarter.

"Abhisit has been accused of finding it difficult to make decisions and he seems to be struggling here somewhat. But it is a difficult position. There's human cost involved," said Danny Richards, senior Asia editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The emergency decree allows authorities to suspend certain civil liberties, ban public gatherings of more than five people and stop media reporting news that "causes panic."

Abhisit assured the public on Wednesday that the emergency would not be used to impose a crackdown. Recently he has offered some concessions, including dissolving parliament in December, a year early, but protesters are demanding immediate elections.

By Thursday, authorities had blocked most websites associated with the protesters and taken several opposition TV channels off air. Military checkpoints had gone up outside Bangkok to stop more from entering the sprawling city of 15 million people.

"We will go on the offensive," a protest leader, Weng Tojirakarn, told Reuters. Another red shirt leader Nattawut Saikua said they "would not give up."

The protesters see the urbane, British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit as a front man for an unelected elite and military intervening in politics with impunity.

They say Abhisit lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote following a court ruling that dissolved a pro-Thaksin ruling party. If allies of the red shirts were to prevail in an election, it would probably spark a new round of protests by Thaksin's opponents.

(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Vietnamese goods fair ends on high note in Cambodia

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Thursday ,Apr 08,2010

The five-day Trade Fair of High-Quality Vietnamese Goods and Exports, which took place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, wrapped up April 7 with total sales amounting to US$3.3 million, up 6 percent from last year’s fair.

A total of 360 stalls from 170 businesses showcased household appliances, food, textile and garment products, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, production tools and stationary at the fair.

The event attracted around 350,000 fairgoers.

Chairman of the An Giang Province People’s Committee, Lam Minh Chieu (L), and Cambodian Trade Minister Cham Pradish (C) visit the Trade Fair of High-Quality Vietnamese Goods and Exports in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which ended April 7. (Photo: SGGP)

This year, Cambodian distributors also took on the role of sellers of Vietnamese goods displayed at stalls, while many Vietnamese businesses advertised their products in Cambodian language.

In addition, meetings between Vietnamese companies and Cambodian distributors took place until the last minute of the fair.

The largest conference was hosted by the Binh Dien Fertilizer Company, with around 1,000 Cambodian traders, distributors and farmers taking part.

Along with trading activities, many cultural and art programs were also held for young people during the fair.

One of the most exciting events was a bicycle race organized by sports agencies of the two countries. Competitions took place between 12 teams from three Cambodian provinces and five provinces of Vietnam.

The race ran from Vietnam’s An Giang Province to Phnom Penh, with a group of motorbikes leading the race waving flags with the “yellow rice ear” logo representing high-quality Vietnamese goods. The race was broadcast live on Cambodia’s Bayon Television.

The fair was co-organized by the HCMC Investment and Trade Promotion Centre (ITPC), the High-Quality Vietnamese Goods Businesses Club, and the Vietnam Goods Trade and Services Corp.

The event was also attended by Cambodian Standing Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An and Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia, Ngo Anh Dung.

The trade fairs, the first of which was organized in 2002, have contributed to boosting two-way trade between Vietnam and Cambodia.

According to the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in the first two months of the year, Vietnam-Cambodia trade reached $264.9 million, a 54.8 percent year-on-year increase. Cambodian exports to Vietnam rose by 124 percent during this same period.

However, to further promote Vietnamese goods in Cambodia, experts say that in addition to the quality of products, improvements should also be carried out in such fields as tax policy, trade conditions, logistics, market strategies, and distribution networks.

By To Quyen – Translated by Truc Thinh

Local artists visiting Cambodia, restoring hope to victims

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by Jonathan Mendick
Published on April 7, 2010

When Shane Grammer's old church acquaintance Clayton Butler asked him to paint a mural in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, he didn't think twice. Grammer, a 38-year-old artist currently residing in Roseville, completed similar murals in Peru, Mexico and Brazil, sometimes teaming with urban kids on the pieces.

"I'm ecstatic; I love that," Grammer said. "I've offered stuff like that before, and people are just busy or don't do it. So when I'm asked to do it, I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm there tomorrow. Where do I sign up?' "

On April 12, he will be leading a team of six to Cambodia to help Agape International Missions, where Butler works, to help end child sexual slavery and help restore hope to its victims. The team's goal is to "bring hope and joy" through art to the young girls in Phnom Penh's red light district, Svay Pak. They will paint a mural on a new building planned to be a new community center for the girls.

Grammer discovered his passion for art as a young teenager after he was assigned a project in driver education. He had a choice of writing a 10-page paper or creating a model. After choosing to do the model, he found that he enjoyed the two-week-long project so much, he would spend hours every day perfecting his assignment.

Watching the 1983 documentary "Style Wars" on graffiti and hip-hop culture sealed the deal and introduced Grammer to urban art. He's made a living as an artist for the last 15 years and currently runs a company, SG Studios, that makes themed environments for theme parks, casinos, and even churches. On the side, he creates fine art, and painted a graffiti mural at the B Street Skate Park.

When he told his sister-in-law, artist Becky Watson, about the opportunity to paint a mural in Cambodia, she replied to him, "I'm coming with you. You need to find a way, because I have to go."

Watson said she'd done art with youth before in Africa and Nicaragua, but this would be her first time creating a mural with kids. She also invited friends from different fields - a writer, a videographer, a photographer and a musician.

She wants the group to help the girls - some recovering victims of sexual abuse, some still working in brothels - "to tap into their creative process. I think if we can unwind them and give (them) a paintbrush in hand (to) experience it, they will remember it."

But while the two are "like a literal brother and sister," said Watson, they have different ways of mentally preparing for their trip.

"I've broken down and cried once," Grammer said. "That was last Saturday night at a church. They gave me about five minutes to speak and tell them about what I was doing, and they ended up giving me about $2,000."

Since then, Grammer, a self-proclaimed "emotional guy," said he's been so busy with work and family, he's been able to file away his emotions.

Watson, on the other hand, is planning the group's itinerary.

"I think about it every day, and I think about the kids we're going to see, so I keep my mind on it and I'm focusing on it 100 percent of the time," she said. "I just don't want to forget something I want to impart on the kids."

The group, called "Heart for the Kids," will hold a final fundraiser for the trip Thursday night at the Roseville Tower Theatre, 421 Vernon St. The 7 p.m. event will feature art, music and a live auction. Admission is a $10 donation at the door. All proceeds from the event will cover the group's expenses for the trip, with the remaining money raised being donated to Agape International Missions, a Rocklin-based nonprofit. See the above flier for more details.

Monks on parade

Photo by: Rann Reuy

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:01 Rann Reuy

Novice monks and nuns march through the Angkor Thom complex on Wednesday. Vath Vibol, the director of the Youth Education Buddhism Centre in Siem Reap province, which organised the march, said it was intended to “pay high respect to Khmer ancestors” and to teach participants “to learn how to struggle after they leave the monkhood”.

ASEAN summit set to begin

A policeman walks past a row of flags representing various members of ASEAN at the My Dinh National Convention Center, the main venue for the 16th ASEAN summit in Hanoi on Tuesday. Myanmar’s widely condemned election plans will loom large at this week’s summit.

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:04 James O'Toole

Talks on climate and the economy are on the cards, but political issues loom.

ASEAN leaders including Prime Minister Hun Sen will gather for the 16th summit of the regional bloc in Hanoi today, where the challenge of establishing a more powerful partnership in the face of broad political and economic differences will weigh on their deliberations.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said that at the conclusion of the summit on Friday, the leaders will produce “two main statements” – one on climate change and another on economic recovery.

The draft statement on economic recovery, according to Reuters, calls for coordinated action in maintaining expansionary policies until private-sector demand returns.

Discussions on climate change, meanwhile, will likely focus on adaptability efforts in the highly vulnerable region, as well as the push by Indonesia to get more ASEAN members to submit emissions-reduction targets as stipulated in last year’s Copenhagen Accord. Indonesia and Singapore are the only ASEAN nations to have adopted the non-binding accord thus far.

Issues such as security cooperation and the recently adopted China-ASEAN Free Trade Area will likely also figure into discussions, said political observer Chheang Vannarith, as ASEAN works towards its stated goal, similar to the European Union’s, of securing unified political and economic policies by 2015.

However, as the delegates put the finishing touches on their declarations, contentious political issues will be competing for their attention.

This was the case at the last ASEAN summit – held last October in Thailand – at which Hun Sen provoked the ire of his Thai hosts by comparing fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to Myanmar dissident icon Aung San Suu Kyi and suggesting that Thaksin would be appointed his economic adviser.

In the diplomatic fallout from Hun Sen’s remarks and Thaksin’s subsequent appointment, Thailand recalled its ambassador to the Kingdom, and Cambodia responded in kind.

Hun Sen has since launched a steady stream of criticism at the government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, though at a meeting of the Mekong River Commission earlier this week, the two showed that they may be ready to return to more amiable relations, and Hun Sen pledged not to allow Thaksin to visit Cambodia during the ongoing antigovernment protests in Thailand.

Koy Kuong and Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn did not comment on whether meetings in Hanoi might prompt a return to normal relations, though Panitan said the “agreement or the cooperation that we had in the Mekong River meeting will also be part of the cooperation in ASEAN”.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan has urged Thailand and Cambodia to exercise “restraint” in the course of their dispute, but the body has otherwise adhered to its traditional policy of non-interference with respect to the matter.

However, if ASEAN hopes to increase its global relevance, it must take a more assertive approach to these sorts of political issues, said Chheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.

Photo by: Bloomberg
Leaders link arms during a photo session for the fourth East Asia summit at the ASEAN summit last October.

“Prefer it or not, ASEAN member countries need to reform politically,” Chheang Vannarith said in an email, predicting that the body will increasingly press its members to make such reforms.

“Constructive engagement and more assertive demands will be applied to challenge the traditional way of ASEAN,” he said.

A high-profile test of ASEAN’s advocacy capability will come with its approach to the elections scheduled for later this year in Myanmar. An election law announced last month that bans jailed Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part in the poll has drawn criticism from more democratic members of ASEAN such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

Chris Roberts, a lecturer in international relations and Asian studies at the University of Canberra, said the great political divergence among ASEAN governments, which range from communist to monarchical to democratic, “equates to a gap in regional values as well”.

Though ASEAN may be effective in building limited consensus on economic and security-related issues, Roberts said, the bloc’s more authoritarian members will likely block efforts to give it a broader mandate in foreign policy and human rights.

“The level of power given to ASEAN as an institution – that’s where it gets difficult,” Roberts said. “I do think it’s perhaps reached its limit until other countries’ political systems evolve further.”

Mekong could be in danger

Photo by: AFP
Children swim in the Mekong River in Phnom Penh this week. A report released Wednesday says that upstream dams – including one to be constructed in Kratie province – pose a significant threat to the livelihoods of millions who are dependent on the river.

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:04 Steve Hirsch Washington

Report calls dam to be built in Kratie a threat to food security.

A MASSIVE dam slated to be built on the Mekong River in Kratie province is one of two projects that pose an even greater threat to human and food security and livelihoods than similar projects in China, according to a new report that calls for a moratorium on dams along the river.

The report, released Wednesday afternoon in Washington by the Henry L Stimson Centre, a nonpartisan think tank promoting international peace and security, raises an alarm about the US$5 billion Sambor Rapids dam as well as the US$300 million Don Sahong dam project in Laos, even as, in the aftermath of this week’s Mekong River Commission summit, international attention has been focused on the potential harm caused to the river by Chinese-built dams.

“These two dams, more than others planned further north, threaten critical migratory paths for 70 percent of the most commercially valuable species of wild fish,” states the report, titled Mekong Tipping Point: Hydropower Dams, Human Security and Regional Stability.

Richard Cronin, the report’s lead author and a senior associate and director of the Stimson Centre’s Southeast Asia programme, raised similar concerns about the Sambor Rapids project during testimony before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in February, saying it would “create a total barrier to the spawning migration” of fish that travel through the Hou Sahong channel in the Khone Falls area of southern Laos.

In a prepared statement, Cronin said the Hou Sahong channel is “the only one of 18 channels that allows unimpeded year-round spawning migration by hundreds of fish species that are worth as much as $9 billion or more annually, and which supply up to 80 percent of the animal protein of as many as 60 million people”.

Carl Middleton, Mekong programme coordinator for the International Rivers organisation, emphasised similar points on Wednesday, saying: “The Don Sahong and Sambor dams would block the major fish migrations that provide food security and livelihoods for millions of people who live alongside the Tonle Sap Lake and Mekong River.”

According to International Rivers, the Cambodian government in 2006 granted permission for the China Southern Power Grid Company to prepare a feasibility study for the dam, which it states will have a capacity of 3,300 megawatts and be completed by 2030 at the earliest. About 70 percent of the electricity generated by the dam is expected to be exported to Vietnam.

In comparison, the Don Sahong project, to be developed in southern Laos by the Malaysian company MegaFirst Corporation Berhad, is expected to be completed by 2015 and generate between 240 and 360MW, much of which is expected to go to Thailand.

Call for moratorium
The report says that Mekong River Commission countries – Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam – should impose a moratorium on dam construction on the Mekong and on tributaries that are important for fish reproduction.

That moratorium, it states, should remain in effect until standards are established for environmental and socioeconomic impact studies and cost-benefit analyses of dam proposals, as well as for plans to cope with threats to livelihoods resulting from the projects.

Along with eight dams planned for China’s Yunnan province, the report says, as many as 13 dams planned on the Lower Mekong in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia would “have an incalculable impact on human and food security and livelihoods in the whole Mekong Basin”.

“Incredibly,” it says, “there is no evidence that any country planning to build mainstream dams has made any provisions for alternative livelihoods or new sources of food security.”

Though the harmful effects of the dams – particularly with respect to wild fish stocks – are likely to materialise quickly, the development of alternative employment options will take years, the report states.

In both Laos and Cambodia, it says, power generated by downstream dams will likely aid the industrialisation of Thailand, while Laotians and Cambodians will be forced to either work across the border or find new ways to earn a living.

“These projects also pose a direct threat to the hard earned peace and stability of the Mekong Region and mainland Southeast Asia,” the report states.

Pich Dun, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong River Commission, on Wednesday rejected the idea that the dam projects could lead to regional tension.

“It’s impossible to have any conflicts between the countries in the Mekong region,” he said. “The MRC members have the right to develop dams, but in this regard there should be discussions before any building can take place.”

He also said he was not concerned that the Sambor Rapids dam or any other proposed projects for the Lower Mekong would result in undue hardship for those who depend on the river for survival.

“Whenever there is development there will be some damage.... We’ll need to discuss how to minimise the effect,” he said.

Asked about plans to mitigate the effects of the Sambor Rapids project, he said he could not comment on them in detail because he had not seen “the technical documents of the plan”.


Journalist summoned to court over photos

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:04 May Titthara

A JOURNALIST in Siem Reap province says he has been summoned to appear in court after he tried to photograph two Forestry Administration officials who were allegedly accepting bribes.

Keng Phon, a journalist with the Sthabna Cheat Khmer newspaper, said he had been ordered to appear before a court prosecutor today, after one of the officials he tried to photograph filed a complaint against him. The summons was unexpected, he said, because he had previously asked police to investigate the officials, and they had stopped him from doing his job.

“I am so surprised because I have filed a complaint to district police about the forest officials,” Keng Phon said.

The journalist said he tried to take pictures of the forest officials during a crackdown on illegal logging in early March. The officials, he said, had stopped three carts carrying timber out of a forest in Kampong Kleng commune.

Keng Phon says he saw the two officials accept a bribe of 40,000 riels (about US$10) each.

When the journalist asked the officials about the incident, he said, they grabbed his neck and deleted the pictures from his camera in a scuffle that lasted two minutes.

“After the argument, I filed a complaint with district police about the forest officials, who destroyed my documents and threatened me,” Keng Phon said. “But when I got the [court] summons, it wasn’t my complaint. It was from a forest official.”

Y Kosal, the editor in chief of the twice-monthly newspaper Sthabna Cheat Khmer, said he also has not received a response to a complaint he filed with the court.

“We are the plaintiffs,” he said. “We have become the accused.”

Suon Mengly, a provincial Forestry Administration official who Keng Phon identified as the complainant, declined to comment Wednesday.

Ty Soveinthal, the provincial court prosecutor who was named in the summons, also declined to comment.

Heng Sam Nang, the deputy police chief in Soutr Nikom district, said he received the journalist’s complaint and forwarded it to provincial police, who, he said, have already forwarded it on to the court.

The court complaints come as officials continue a country-wide crackdown on suspected illegal logging activity. The crackdown was sparked by warnings from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Govt: Thailand must act first to restore ties

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:04 Cheang Sokha

FOREIGN Minister Hor Namhong has repeated the government’s stance that it is ready to restore full diplomatic relations with Thailand, provided that Bangkok takes the first step and returns its ambassador to Cambodia.

Hor Namhong said that because Thailand acted first when the two countries withdrew their ambassadors late last year, it should also initiate the process of returning the envoys.

“Now Cambodia does not need any further discussion with Thailand,” Hor Namhong told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport before departing Wednesday to attend the 16th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi. “The easy way is that if Thailand sends its ambassador to Cambodia in the morning on a Thai airplane then Cambodia will send its ambassador on the way back.”

The two countries withdrew their ambassadors and first secretaries in the acrimonious diplomatic spat that followed the appointment of fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an adviser to the Cambodian government in November.

The comments from the foreign minister come as relations between Thailand and Cambodia appear to be warming. While attending the Mekong River Commission summit in Hua Hin earlier this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen met with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and assured him that Thaksin would not be allowed to enter Cambodia while pro-Thaksin Red Shirts are protesting in Bangkok.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Monday that Hun Sen’s remark was a positive sign that Cambodia is willing to restore diplomatic ties between the two countries, Thai media reported. Thai Foreign Ministry officials could not be reached Wednesday.

Police Blotter: 08 April 2010

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:01 Phak Seangly

Everyone knows monks don’t sleep in guesthouses – that was the maxim employed by villagers in Kampong Cham town Tuesday, who called the cops after becoming suspicious of three supposed monks who were bedding down in a local guesthouse. Police officers dutifully approached the alleged monks and demanded identification cards. When they could not produce any written evidence that they were, in fact, monks, the officers brought them to the local police station and then the provincial courthouse for further questioning. Guesthouses are not good places for monks to stay, they said.

An 18-year-old man accused of robbery was beaten to within an inch of his life Monday in what police say is another instance of vigilante justice enacted by outraged locals. Tuol Kork district police say the man snatched a necklace from a 20-year-old woman while she was returning from a product exhibition near a market in Phnom Penh. The woman shouted for help, which is when bystanders stepped in and beat the man. Police intervened; otherwise, they said, the citizens would have beaten the man to death. The man has been sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court to be sentenced – presumably after he receives a thorough trial.

Police in Prey Veng town are looking for a 32-year-old man accused of killing his wife. Police say the man, a cyclo driver, drunkenly attacked his 31-year-old wife, striking her three times with an axe. The woman was found unconscious in a pool of blood and sent to hospital. Police decided that jealousy was the motive behind the attack. Before the assault, the man drank alcohol then became furious when he didn’t see his wife at home. He then looked for his chopper, which he sometimes kept sharpened. He found the axe and allegedly attacked his wife as soon as she returned home, police said.

A 36-year-old forester has been arrested in Stung Treng province after he was accused of killing his boss with a cleaver then chucking the weapon into a pond. The man told police he had an argument with the victim, his project manager, after he failed to receive his salary. He was sent to provincial court on Tuesday.

Residents of Borei Keila refuse to occupy new relocation housing

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Long Sem, 49, sits in his home in Borei Keila on Wednesday. More than 120 families in the community have refused to accept housing that was inaugurated by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chukteman.

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:04 Chhay Channyda

PHNOM Penh Governor Kep Chuktema on Wednesday presided over a ceremony marking the opening of onsite relocation housing in Prampi Makara district’s Borei Keila community, but more than 120 families slated to move in say rooms in the building are too small and have refused to register for them.

The new building, designed to house 174 families, is part of a redevelopment project funded by the private developer Phanimex.

City Hall has promised free housing to families that are being relocated to the building in exchange for the valuable inner-city land they currently occupy. Phanimex has been promised a portion of that land in exchange for constructing the relocation housing.

Nuth Sokly, a representative of the 124 families who have declined to relocate, said they were upset that the new housing was significantly smaller than their current homes, and claimed it lacked electricity and water.

“Our request is that the houses are 4 metres by 12 metres, not 3.8 metres by 9 metres,” he said. He said that authorities had asked each family to provide photos by Monday in order to register for relocation housing, but that they had refused to do so.

“District officials informed us to give them photos by April 5 so that we can receive homes, or they will not be responsible for any damage caused to our home” as a result of further development,” he said. “It means they’ve threatened to evict us and move us to our new homes without proper compensation.”

He said families have been living in their current homes in Borei Keila since 1979, meaning they legally qualify for ownership rights. He demanded that officials pay US$20,000 to each family.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said that many evictions have been made “without adequate compensation and have not been resolved in a peaceful way”, referring in particular to the January 2009 demolition of the Dey Krahorm community.

“In some areas, people have lived more than 20 years, and the government should give sufficient compensation to people where there is development on state land,” he said.

However, Kep Chuktema said that City Hall had been proactive in initiating discussions with people facing relocation, adding that the offer of new homes right before Khmer New Year was a stroke of “good luck”.

“I have never evicted people without compensation before,” he said. “If there is no choice, you have to relocate to new places because you have lived on state land or private land.”

Suy Sophan, the director of Phanimex, said at Wednesday’s ceremony that residents should react positively to the relocation plan, which he said would facilitate the beautification of the city.

“You used to live in a slum area, but now you will move to great new apartments,” he said.

High court postpones verdict for Mu Sochua

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:03 Meas Sokchea

THE Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed issuing a verdict in the defamation case involving Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua, officials announced in a short hearing.

Judge Khim Pon told the court that the hearing would be pushed back to an unspecified date after Khmer New Year, in line with Mu Sochua’s request for a delay until after her return from the United States.

In August, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mu Sochua guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and ordered her to pay 16.5 million riels (around US$3,975) in fines and compensation, a verdict that was upheld on appeal in October.

In a letter sent to the Supreme Court president on March 29, Mu Sochua requested that the court delay the hearing until after April 17.

Mu Sochua confirmed Tuesday that she will be returning to Cambodia on April 16, but maintained that she would not pay any fines associated with the defamation suit, which has received widespread criticism.

Government lawyer Ky Tech, who is representing Hun Sen in the case, said the decision to delay the hearing was up to the court, but called for a speedy conclusion to the case.

“I think that this case should not be delayed [for a] long time. It should be processed soon,” he said.

Virologist pushes AIDS treatment

Virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi speaks at the University of Cambodia on Wednesday.

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:03 Brooke Lewis

Says govt should make third-line treatment available, even though few require it at present

THE government must do more to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to provide access to treatment for patients who have become resistant to medicine available in Cambodia, an internationally renowned virologist told the Post Wednesday.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who won the Nobel prize in medicine in 2008 for her role on the team that identified the HIV/AIDS virus in 1983, has worked on HIV/AIDS projects in Cambodia since 1995, and said she will meet with Health Ministry officials today to discuss the most pressing issues concerning the treatment of the virus.

She also said that although HIV/AIDS patients in Cambodia have access to first- and second-line treatments, third-line treatments are not available for patients who develop resistance. She said this would currently only affect a minority of patients, but that it was something that needs to be addressed, especially as it is possible that the number of patients developing resistance to initial treatment will grow.

She expressed optimism that these issues will be addressed, saying that health officials have been successful in managing the virus over the past 15 years.

“Cambodia has been very active in terms of [facilitating] access to antiretroviral treatment – I think now there are more than 37,000 patients on treatment here in Cambodia, and that’s been [the result of] a really wonderful reactivity from authorities here,” she said.

Dr Mean Chhi Vun, director of the Health Ministry’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD (NCHADS), said the government has already implemented a new model to reduce mother-to-child transmission, which he said has been successful.

“It was introduced in two provinces – Takeo and Prey Veng – in 2008, and only two babies of the 80 mothers on the programme were born with HIV,” he said, adding that the model was expanded to 11 other provinces in 2009.

“We plan to reduce the transmission of HIV from mother to child to less than 1 percent by 2020,” he added.

However, Mean Chhi Vun said that the government had no immediate plans to make third-line treatment available in the country, arguing that this would deplete resources that would be better used for maintaining a high level of first-line treatment.

“Only 3 percent of patients need second-line treatment, and even fewer need third-line treatment,” he said. “Third-line treatment is a very expensive drug.”

He added that Health Ministry officials had worked successfully with local and international partners to manage the virus, and would continue to do so.

Barré-Sinoussi arrived in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, as part of Vienna-based International Peace Foundation’s programme Bridges: Dialogues Toward a Culture of Peace.

She is scheduled to meet with health officials in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap over the next week, in addition to making public appearances.

She delivered a keynote speech at the University of Cambodia on Wednesday, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of her Nobel prize and of her work in Cambodia and elsewhere.

Woman drowns after boat sinks in Kampong Speu

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:03 Tep Nimol

A WOMAN died after a boat capsized Monday in Por Meas village, in Kampong Speu province’s Oral district, while she was crossing a small river to her farm, bringing to 27 the number of people killed in boating accidents since October.

Muong Khy, deputy governor of Oral district, said Monday two women and a man from Phnom Penh hired two boats from villagers in Trapaing Chor commune to cross a 20-metre wide river at Peam Lvea dam. While they were crossing, one of the boats sank, he said, and Khov Hunseang, a 50-year-old resident of Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, drowned.

“The sunken boat was loaded with three people, with two of them being from Phnom Penh and the other one being the boat rower and owner,” he said. He added that the boat owner and one of the women managed to swim to safety, but that the dead woman suffered from arthritis and could not make it to land, despite the attempts of villagers and bystanders to save her.

Muong Khy said the boat sank when the women panicked as a leech crawled onto the vessel, causing it to capsize.

“It was a small boat made from a tree trunk, which can turn over very easily,” he added.

Dos Sim, the police chief of Oral district, said that Monday’s incident was the first drowning to happen there this year, putting it down to the carelessness of those travelling in the boat.

Battambang market torn down after vendor rally

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:03 May Titthara

VENDORS in Battambang province looked on as around 100 police and military police officers tore down their stalls at Psar Snoeng in Banon district on Wednesday, carrying out a demolition that was postponed on Tuesday as vendors protested.

Bun Thet, one of the vendors, said they had been forced from the market at around 5am.

“Police tried to disperse the vendors and not allow us to meet together, so we carried out our vegetables and fish to be kept at some villagers’ houses, and we were just crying,” he said. “They threatened us that anyone who wanted to fight against them would be arrested and taken to prison.”

Authorities have said that the market needs to be closed for a highway upgrade, and have suggested that vendors move to a new privately owned market.

District Governor Sreng Sreang said the vendors had been given plenty of notice, pointing out that two eviction deadlines had already passed.

“We have a new market for them to do business in, and we need this market land,” he said.

Rainsy claims ‘big victory’ on demarcation

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:03 Vong Sokheng

OPPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy has proclaimed a “big victory” for Cambodia, citing court documents he says show the government shares his view that demarcation efforts along the Vietnamese border have been carried out illegally.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Sam Rainsy Party president repeated his claim that six wooden demarcation posts in Svay Rieng province that he uprooted with local villagers in October – a move that landed him a two-year jail term – were placed inside Cambodian territory.

He added that despite official denials, government documents filed to Phnom Penh Municipal Court as part of its latest case against him acknowledged that the markers were actually “approximately” 516 meters from the legal border.

“The government and I have now reached the same conclusion regarding border delineation in Samrong commune in Svay Rieng province’s Chantrea district,” Sam Rainsy wrote.

The politician, who is currently in self-imposed exile in France, also called for the release of two Cambodian farmers who were jailed for a year after October’s border incident.

Sam Rainsy is scheduled to appear in court on April 20 to answer to charges that he falsified public documents and spread misinformation in his bid to expose encroachments.

Tith Sothea, a member of the Council of Ministers’ Press Quick Reaction Unit, said Sam Rainsy’s claims lack substance, and that the government will not drop the charges facing him.

“I think the destruction of the border-demarcation markers was illegal and interrupted the speeding of the government’s work,” he said. “If he is a real democratic politician he has to appear in court to confront the government.”

Chuong Choungy, Sam Rainsy’s lawyer, said he would appear in court on his client’s behalf.

“I will request that the court set up the investigative committee comprised of border experts from the government and the SRP, as well as investigative judges that will be able to bring justice for my client,” he said.

BMeanchey families call for land from swap

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:02 Tep Nimol

A GROUP of 154 families in Banteay Meanchey province have sent a petition to provincial authorities demanding that they be granted land they say was promised to them last year in exchange for 300 hectares of farmland.

Sim Bunsang, a representative of the families, said they had reached an agreement in May 2009 whereby they would trade their farmland – which officials said they wished to convert into a tree plantation – for 300 hectares of forest land.

The land they gave up is located in Svay Chek district’s Sla Kram commune.

“The provincial authorities gave us the land only on paper, but the community and the villagers have not received the actual land yet. We request that the provincial authorities intervene and make the Forestry Administration give us the 300 hectares of land promised to our community,” Sim Bunsang said.

He added that their former farmland had been cleared and was being cultivated by a private company that had planted cassava and “small trees”.

Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said the authorities should honour the agreement reached with the families, but Tea Kimsoth, provincial deputy chief of the Forestry Administration, said he was unaware of the deal.

He added that it would be “out of legal procedure” to give state land to families.

“The request made by the villagers is not possible because they want land from the government to divide and share among themselves,” he said.

Assembly approves ASEAN terrorism law

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:02 Vong Sokheng

THE National Assembly on Monday adopted a law that will pave the way for the government to join the ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism, aimed at strengthening local and international cooperation in the fight against global terrorist activities.

Em Sam Ann, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said during Monday’s session that the law was an indication of the government’s desire to play a role in suppressing terrorism in the region.

“The law will become an important milestone in the cooperation to curb and fight against terrorism in Cambodia,” he told the parliament.

Of the 90 parliamentarians present for the vote, 80 voted for the passage of the law, which will now be sent to the Senate.

Kimsour Phirith, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said he supported the law, but called on the government to strictly implement laws that are already in place to prevent terrorists from bribing their way into Cambodia.

He said officials working along the border were often all too willing to grant entry into Cambodia in exchange for illicit payments.

“The local authorities accepting bribes at the border gates could make it easy for terrorists to cross the border,” he said.

A report released last year by the RAND Corporation, a US-based global policy institute, found Cambodia had many of the hallmarks of a terror-friendly state, including porous borders, endemic corruption and a small, marginalised Muslim population.

FTB reduces NPL rate

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Customers use ANZ Royal cash machines in Phnom Penh in November. ANZ Royal saw its NPL rate double last year.

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:01 Nguon Sovan and May Kunmakara

ANZ, however, sees bad loans in 2009 increase to ‘around 5pc’

RATES of non-performing loans (NPLs) at the Foreign Trade Bank of Cambodia (FTB) fell to 5.65 percent last year from 32 percent in 2008, an audited report showed Tuesday.

In 2009, the report stated, FTB recorded US$5.9 million in non-performing loans compared to $27.6 million for the previous year.

NPLs are defined as loans where the borrower has defaulted on payments for three months. In 2008, FTB had the highest rate of NPLs nationally, according to a banking supervision report from the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC).

The drop in NPL rates over the last year has been welcomed by FTB officials.

“It went down beyond our expectations,” said general manager Gui Anvanith, who forecast in August that the NPL rate would end up between 7 percent and 10 percent for 2009.

He said the sharp fall in bad loans was due to large companies – dealing in sectors such as agro-industry, construction, hotels, and power plants – recovering from the economic crisis and repaying debts.

He added that those still defaulting on payments would face the consequences.

“Some are unlikely to be able to afford to repay. We will sue them to get back the money, because we have their collaterals in hand. We will lose nothing,” he said.

In 2009, FTB’s lending rose 7 percent to $105 million. Deposits were up nearly 4 percent to $226 million. Profits, however, were down.

“We saw our net profit down 28.8 percent to $5.2 million last year from $7.3 million a year earlier,” Gui Anvanith said, adding that NBC held $168 million of the bank’s liquidity at the end of 2009. Though numbers of FTB bad loans have plummeted, results at other banks have been varied. Canadia Bank had the second-highest NPL rate in 2008, at 11.1 percent or $45.5 million.

Dieter Billmeier, vice president of Canadia, told the Post last week its rate declined to 4.8 percent in 2009.

ANZ Royal Bank had the third-highest NPL rate two years ago, at 2.6 percent or $6.4 million. Though the bank’s annual report has yet to be released, executives say NPLs have risen, along with the bank’s earnings before provisions, which are now estimated to be almost 20 percent above 2008 levels.

CEO Stephen Higgins wrote in an email Wednesday: “NPLs at the end of 2009 were around 5 percent. “We have taken a very conservative level of provisions on these loans, which will reduce our bottom line earnings for 2009.”

He said that the NPLs were property-related loans that were written early on in ANZ Royal’s life. “Based on our experience during the early 90s recession in Australia, we made a conscious decision to support these clients through the downturn,” he said. “We expect to be fully repaid on these over the course of 2010 as the market improves, and we are already starting to see that happen.”

Analysts lift GDP estimate for 2009

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Thursday, 08 April 2010 15:01 Ellie Dyer

THE World Bank has readjusted upwards estimates for Cambodia’s GDP performance in 2009 after unexpected signs of improvement emerged in the economy late last year.

Economists who drew up the biannual economic update on East Asia and the Pacific, released by the World Bank Wednesday, estimated that the Kingdom’s GDP contracted by 2 percent in 2009, 0.2 percent less than an estimate five months ago.

This contrasts with the government’s official assessment that GDP expanded 0.1 percent last year. The government has previously rejected estimates of recession in the Kingdom. Other international analysts including the International Monetary Fund and the Economist Intelligence Unit have estimated contractions in GDP last year.

The World Bank report released Wednesday forecast GDP growth of 4.4 percent in 2010, up from a 4.2 percent prediction in November. Garment exports – Cambodia’s main earner – are expected to expand 2 percent this year, after contracting 16 percent in 2009.

Huot Chea, the World Bank’s country economist, told the Post via email Wednesday the adjustments were made after aspects of the economy “improved unexpectedly in the last quarter of 2009”.

A doubling of agribusiness exports, a halt in the decline in tourists arriving by air, and signs that domestic credit and inflows of foreign domestic investment had “begun rebounding” were indicators of change, he said.

“The other crucial point was that garment exports were previously expected to drop by a 20 to 25 percent range, but ended up by declining less than 20 percent,” he wrote.

The World Bank report said Cambodia’s economy suffered “a serious setback” after the global economic downturn, but “signs emerged [in] late 2009 that the winds were shifting”.

The adjustments also reflect feelings among World Bank economists that the region has weathered the credit crunch.

“East Asia has recovered from the economic and financial crisis, largely thanks to China,” the report said, a viewpoint reiterated by leading economists Wednesday.

Speaking via video from Tokyo, the World Bank’s chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific, Vikram Nehru, congratulated ASEAN leaders in advance of the 16th annual summit, to begin in Hanoi today, on their handling of the economic crisis.

Nehru advised leaders to stay on top of regional development through better trade facilitation and managed migration and likened the economy to a bicycle.

“You have to continue reforming or else you fall off,” he said.

He also advised developing economies like Cambodia to look towards middle-term economic goals in the year ahead.

The report likens Cambodia’s situation to that of Vietnam a decade ago, when Vietnam chose to open its economy to foreign investment and began ambitious structural changes that boosted fixed investment to 32 percent of its GDP.

The World Bank estimates Cambodia’s foreign direct investment will grow to US$725 million in 2010, up from $515 million in 2009 and nearly rebounding to 2008 levels, when investments came in at $795 million.

The report’s principle author, Ivailo Izvorski, said through videolink Wednesday that developing nations should continue to make structural changes and increase capacity to make the most of prospective growth.

“Now developing countries have to get used to slower growth of their exports,” he said. “Before the economic crisis we were in a bubble.”

In its report, the World Bank also warned Cambodia of potential challenges in the year ahead.

Cambodia’s growth forecast could be put at risk by “the fragility of the global recovery, the uncertain capacity of the economy to diversify and the limited scope for a stronger recovery in credit”.

Huot Chea said after Wednesday’s conference that Cambodia could further protect itself from external shocks by diversifying its export markets, especially in garments, which are currently concentrated in the United States, which was hit especially hard by the economic crisis.

Cambodia managed to significantly raise exports to markets including Japan and Laos last year. However, trade rose from a small base in most cases.