Monday, 12 April 2010

Thai protesters dig in to fight on

Cambodia's new battle: Reconciling with the Khmer Rouge

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Posted : Mon, 12 Apr 2010
By : Robert Carmichael

Anlong Veng, Cambodia - Twelve years ago the town of Anlong Veng in north-west Cambodia surrendered to the government in a move that marked the end of the infamous Khmer Rouge movement.

Today most residents in the district are former Khmer Rouge cadre and their families. On Friday, 150 of them came together in a unique effort to discuss reconciliation, justice and reintegration.

Trying to reintegrate the supporters of one of the 20th century's most brutal regimes is vital to rebuilding Cambodian society, says Daravuth Seng, a Cambodian-American who heads a local non-governmental organization called the Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR), which organized the meeting.

"Our focus is to try to get victims and perpetrators to start talking in an effort to really understand one another, and in an effort to really work on reconciliation in Cambodia," he says.

He says he feels that most of the country's reconciliation efforts to date have been one-sided, excluding the Khmer Rouge.

The irony of setting the meeting in Anlong Veng was enhanced by holding it at the compound of the late general Ta Mok, the movement's final leader and one of its most brutal and intransigent members. Ta Mok is still well-regarded here.

Seng, who fled the killing fields of Cambodia as a boy with his family, acknowledges that what the organization is trying to achieve is "a huge, huge task," but says reconciliation must be inclusive.

"And with the Cambodian context, that must include a lot of the former perpetrators as well," he says, since understanding their perspective is central to reconciliation.

It is no small task. The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of around 2 million people during their rule of Cambodia from 1975-79. Many of those who died were executed, while others succumbed to starvation, overwork and illness.

After the movement was driven from power in 1979, it regrouped on the western borders with Thailand and fought the government in Phnom Penh until finally capitulating in the late 1990s

In Phnom Penh, 300 kilometres south-east of Anlong Veng, the formal process is underway to provide some measure of accountability for crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. That process is the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, a joint Cambodian-United Nations court.

Four former leaders of the movement, including its head of state and foreign minister, are in pre-trial detention. A fifth person, the regime's former security chief, was tried last year and judgment in his case is due in the coming months.

Early on at Friday's meeting, which was sponsored by Germany's development arm DED, it becomes clear that some former Khmer Rouge are concerned the court is looking to prosecute five more suspects.

The participants tell the meeting they are satisfied that justice and reconciliation require the prosecution of the five already in custody, but say the tribunal must stop there.

Im Chaem, a deputy council chief in Anlong Veng, says she and other elderly residents are concerned the court will investigate more and more suspects.

She says when they crossed over to the government in 1998, Prime Minister Hun Sen promised there would be no losers.

"Now we don't know when our turn will be because we lived and served during that time," says Im Chaem, who has previously denied allegations of extreme cruelty levelled at her when she was a Khmer Rouge district chief. "There might be another five, and then five more and then 10."

The tribunal's public affairs officer Lars Olsen says the exchange highlights the contrast between victims and perpetrators of violence. He says that most Cambodians he encounters around the country are victims and want more prosecutions, not fewer.

Olsen tells the participants that the court is not looking to add further names to its list of suspects, and says a maximum of 10 in total are to face trial.

His answer reveals the limitations of the tribunal's work. The inevitable political and practical compromises mean thousands of people will get away with murder - including possibly some of those present at the meeting.

The former cadre broadly agreed on a number of points about reconciliation. One was that more than a decade after the movement's collapse they want other Cambodians to stop referring to them as "former Khmer Rouge."

"The term 'Khmer Rouge' is associated with killing and persecution," says one. "We are finished if we are referred to as that. Our children's lives will be ruined, and no one will let their children marry ours. We should just say we are all Cambodian now."

They also called for more economic development in the area, and said all people should be equal before the law.

There is recognition too that their lives have improved since reintegration. Anlong Veng today has schooling, medical care, tarred roads, and the opportunity for educated young people to go on to university.

It is a far cry from what went before, when thousands of Khmer Rouge lived in the mountains and were constantly on the move.

"Now it has changed from bitterness to sweetness - this is very important," says another attendee. "During the war we were always changing our position, unable to stay together and even eat together. Now that the war has ended we are able to gather at the same table and have a meal."

CJR's Seng is encouraged by the day's exchanges, and says one old lady cried as she told him she regretted what she had done as a Khmer Rouge cadre.

Seng says it is vital to understand the psychology behind what happened in order to prevent future atrocities.

"There is no quick fix for reconciliation, but I honestly believe this is moving in the right direction," he says. "We can't leave out a huge group from the reconciliation process."

DAP News ; Breaking News by Soy Sopheap

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Former Vietnamese President to visit Cambodia

Monday, 12 April 2010 08:31 DAP-NEWS/ Tep Piseth

Former Vietnam President will visit Cambodia on April 20 to tighten the bilateral bonds between the two neighboring countries, the statement from Cambodia side obtained on Monday said.

Last week, a senior official from Cambodian Royal Palace said that former King Norodom Sihanouk also will pay the visit to Vietnam for personal relation only.

Cambodian and Vietnamese government have been trying to plant border markers to end it soon to construct the peaceful, security and development border. Border issue is a sensitive one for both countries.

The statement said former Vietnamese president will pay the courtesy call with Samdech Heng Samrin, president of the national assembly on April 20. And he will meet other top governmental officials. According to the his biography,

Trần Đức Lương was born on May 5, 1937. He is the former President of Vietnam from 1997 to 2006. Lươngwas born in​​ Quảng Ngãi province, and moved to Hanoi after leaving school in 1955.

He studied geology, and was employed as a cartographer. He joined the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1959, and became a functionary of the party in the 1970s. In 1987, he became deputy prime minister. Member of the Politburo since June 1996, he was elected president on September 24, 1997, and re-elected in 2002. On June 24, 2006, Trần Đức Lương announced his resignation (along with Prime Minister Phan Va(n Kha?i). Nguye^~n Minh Trie^'t was named to succeed Tra^`n as president.

ASEAN’s Chairman Vietnam Says Thai Politics is Internal Affairs, No Meeting

Monday, 12 April 2010 10:11 by Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH-Vietnam’s Foreign Minister said Thai political unrest is internal affairs and it is not practical to convene an urgent ASEAN meeting on how to response the current Thai political crisis after violent clashes between anti-government "red shirts" and security forces that killed 21 people and wounded over 800.

Vietnamese Pham Gia Khiem, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said after Cambodian foreign minister wrote to Hanoi “to convene an urgent special ASEAN Summit in order to help looking for an appropriate ways to defuse an extremely explosive situation in our friendly Thailand”.

Khiem said that “in this regard and taking into account ASEAN’s practice, I would like to seek your views on the matter and look forward to receiving your response by early (on Monday) and on how ASEAN should proceed”.

“Besides, I am of the view that it is not practical to convene a special ASEAN Summit as having been proposed,” said Khiem in a letter on Sunday to ASEAN chief and leaders of the ten Asian nations of the bloc.

He also said that ASEAN Member states are following with concerns over the recent violent situation in Thailand.

“Several ASEAN Member States, including Vietnam, have already expressed national views on this situation,” said Khiem.

“Although this matter is the internal affairs of Thailand, I share the view possibility of issuing an ASEAN as a whole should consider some kind of joint expression of views on the violence aspect as we did it before.”

He however said that Thailand has rejected the call for special meeting of ASEAN.

“As ASEAN Chair, Vietnam has consulted with Thailand on the possibility of issuing an ASEAN Chairman’s Statement on behalf of ASEAN Foreign Ministers, but Thailand’s SOM Leaders responded negatively,” Khiem said.

Foreign media reported that 20 were killed and more than 800 were wounded in the Saturday’s clashes in Bangkok between troops and the Red Shirts, mostly rural and working-class supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup in 2006, are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament immediately and leave the country.

The report said the clashes, the worst political violence in Thailand in 18 years, some of it in well-known tourist areas, ended after security forces pulled back late on Saturday.

“In light of this very grave development which no one knows when it will end and whether it will lead to more bloodshed,” he said in the letter to Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem on Saturday.

“I think that we, as fellow ASEAN member states cannot stand idle and leave ASEAN image at stake any further,” said the release.

“Therefore, I would like to propose that Vietnam as Chair of ASEAN should issue a Declaration on the situation in Thailand, or convene an urgent special ASEAN Summit in order to help looking for an appropriate ways to defuse an extremely explosive situation in our friendly Thailand,” Hor Namhong said in the release.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva cancelled summit last week trip to Hanoi, where the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Summit (ASEAN) after declaring a state of emergency on Wednesday to control a month-long anti-government protest aimed at forcing an election.

ASEAN bloc includes Brunei, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Trundling out to the provinces

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Phnom Penh residents begin the annual exodus to their home provinces for the Khmer New Year holiday this week. Traffic casualties historically have spiked prior to the holiday, due to the overloading of passenger vehicles and the density of the traffic heading out of the city.

Thailand’s protests claim 21

Photo by: AFP
A protestor gets his picture taken next to a seized army armoured vehicle after overnight clashes between the army and “Red Shirt” protesters in central Bangkok on Sunday. Demonstrators vowed to remain on the streets of the Thai capital and bring down the government, the day after the country’s worst political violence in nearly two decades.

It’s frightening. We heard explosions and people were running all around.

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:03 Thanaporn Promyamyai

Red Shirts remain defiant after attempts to remove them left over 800 injured; army retreats, calling for a truce after protesters took five soldiers hostage.


DEFIANT Red Shirt Thai protesters vowed Sunday to keep up their bid to topple the government, after the country’s worst political violence in almost two decades left 21 dead and over 800 injured.

Protest leaders, who have promised to maintain their campaign until the government dissolves parliament and calls fresh elections, demanded Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva step down and leave the country.

Seventeen civilians, including a Japanese TV cameraman, and four soldiers were killed in Saturday’s crackdown on the Red Shirt supporters of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok, the emergency services said.

On Sunday evening Red Shirts gathered to mourn the loss of their comrades at the city’s Democracy Monument – the scene of a fierce battle on Saturday – where grieving relatives led a procession holding up gold-framed pictures of the dead.

They were followed by crying men carrying caskets, a couple containing bodies draped with Thai flags and flowers. Some onlooking protesters prayed and others waved red banners.

It was the latest chapter in years of turmoil pitting the ruling elite against the mainly poor and rural Red Shirts, who say the government is illegitimate as it came to power in 2008 after a court ousted Thaksin’s allies from power.

The violence erupted when troops tried to clear one of two sites in the centre of the capital occupied by the protesters for the past month. Soldiers fired in the air and used tear gas, and the Red Shirts responded by hurling rocks.

As the clashes intensified gunshots echoed around the city, and each side accused the other of using live ammunition. Emergency services said two protesters were killed by gunshot wounds to the head.

The government denied troops had opened fire on protesters with live rounds.

“Weapons were used only in self-defence and to fire into the air. We don’t find any evidence that soldiers used weapons against people,” government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told a press conference.

Photo by: AFP
Reuters cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto is shown in Banda Aceh in 2005.

More than 200 soldiers were injured, 90 of them seriously, he said. One of the dead was a colonel.

At one stage protesters overwhelmed and captured an armoured personnel carrier, and army spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said government weapons had fallen into the hands of the demonstrators.

The army later retreated, calling for a truce with the demonstrators, who were holding five soldiers hostage. Thousands of protesters remained on the streets at the two main protest sites on Sunday.

“Abhisit must leave Thailand,” Red Shirt leader Veera Musikapong told supporters. “We ask all government officials to stop serving this government.”

The government said an investigation had been launched into the violence, and that negotiations were under way to bring about a resolution to the standoff without more unrest.

The Thomson Reuters news agency said one of its journalists, Japanese cameraman Hiro Muramoto, died after being shot in the chest during the protests.

Tokyo urged Bangkok to investigate the death and ensure the safety of Japanese nationals.

The unrest marked Thailand’s worst political violence since 1992, and the United States urged both sides to show restraint.

The protesters called on the country’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej to intervene to prevent further bloodshed.

“Did anybody inform the king that his children were killed in the middle of the road without justice?” Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said. “Is there anyone close to him who told him of the gunfights?”

Although he has no official political role, the hospitalised king is seen as a unifying figure. During a 1992 uprising he chastised both the military and protest leaders, effectively bringing the violence to an end.

Thai flags, red roses and incense sticks were placed on pools of blood where protesters were killed or wounded in the Khaosan Road backpacker district, a few yards from a clump of ruined cars with their windows smashed in.

“It’s frightening. We heard explosions, and people were running all around,” said Sharon Aradbasson, a 34-year-old Israeli tourist.

Abhisit offered his condolences over the deaths but refused to bow to the protesters’ calls to resign.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006 and is now based mainly in Dubai, also offered his condolences to the victims and their families via the micro-blogging site Twitter.

Arrest warrants have been issued for many of the senior Red leaders, but so far none are reported to have been taken into custody. AFP

Political progress elusive in Hanoi

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:03 James O'Toole


AS the 16th ASEAN Summit came to a close in Hanoi on Friday, regional leaders announced a host of new economic agreements while cautiously acknowledging the political obstacles facing the 10-member bloc as it seeks to raise its profile on the international stage.

At the conclusion of the summit, heads of state from each member country issued joint declarations on climate change and the economic recovery.

The statement on economics pledged coordinated action both in adapting to newly established free-trade agreements and in adjusting expansionary policies enacted during the economic crisis; the climate statement, meanwhile, called for a binding global emissions agreement and increased adaptability funding for a region that is one of the world’s most vulnerable to rising sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns.

The leaders also proposed the establishment of an ASEAN infrastructure fund to support the construction of transport and communications links in the region and suggested that the grouping advocate for a permanent position at global G-20 summits.

Although the bloc’s rhetoric remained hopeful, a new crisis in Thailand and perennial problems in Myanmar served as a reminder of the political divisions that threaten ASEAN’s vision of regional cohesion.

ASEAN foreign ministers took a step towards addressing political disagreements among members by framing a dispute-resolution mechanism that will be finalised at a meeting in July.

Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong called the protocol “a very good thing for ASEAN”, though he said Cambodia would be unlikely to utilise it in its ongoing border dispute with Thailand. “I don’t think so – it’s a problem apart,” Hor Namhong said.

Escalating antigovernment protests in Bangkok forced Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to cancel his trip to Hanoi and have Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya represent him instead. Though ASEAN delegates said on the sidelines of the summit that they hoped for a quick and peaceful resolution to the conflict in Thailand, they said it had not been discussed in official meetings.

Kasit told reporters on Friday that the Red Shirts would be dispersed peacefully, though his comments were soon overtaken by events as clashes erupted between security forces and protesters, killing 19 people and injuring over 800 as of Saturday.

Bucking ASEAN’s traditional policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of its members, Hor Namhong wrote Saturday to his fellow foreign ministers in the grouping, calling on them to convene a special summit to defuse the situation.

It was not clear on Sunday whether such action would be taken, but ASEAN leaders did weigh in on the situation in Myanmar, where laws enacted last month are set to prevent opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part later this year in the country’s first elections in two decades.

In a statement issued at the conclusion of the summit on Friday, the leaders said Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein had briefed them on preparations for the upcoming polls.

“We underscored the importance of national reconciliation in Myanmar and the holding of the general election in a free, fair, and inclusive manner, thus contributing to Myanmar’s stability and development,” the statement read.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, the current chairman of ASEAN and himself the leader of a one-party state, said regional countries were ready to offer aid in staging fair and credible elections in Myanmar.

“The election should be fair, democratic, with the participation of all parties, and this will help stabilise the country and focus resources for development,” Nguyen said.

Though the group’s stated goal is to establish European Union-style unity in economic and foreign policy by 2015, ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan acknowledged that gaps in political development among regional governments will not be resolved immediately.

“It has to move incrementally – the diversity and difference of governance, difference of norms and values among the member states.... I think we have to be realistic on the terrain that is very, very different and very diverse,” he said.

Hor Namhong petitions ASEAN

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong speaks with reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport on Friday, following his return from the semiannual ASEAN summit in Hanoi.

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:03 Vong Sokheng and Chhay Channyda

FOREIGN Minister Hor Namhong has proposed that a special summit be convened under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) in order to bring a peaceful resolution to the explosive political situation in Thailand, as ASEAN leaders wound up their annual summit in Hanoi on Friday.

In a letter to his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Gia Khiem dated Saturday, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said special action should be taken in order to find a way of defusing violent street protests that killed 19 people and injured over 800 as of Saturday.

“In light of this very grave development which no one knows when it will end whether it will lead to more bloodshed, I think that we, as fellow ASEAN member states cannot stand idle and leave ASEAN[’s] image at stake any further,” Hor Namhong wrote in the letter.

“Therefore, I would like to propose that Vietnam, as Chair of ASEAN, should issue a Declaration on the situation in Thailand, or convene an urgent special ASEAN Summit in order to help looking for an appropriate ways to defuse an extremely explosive situation in our friendly Thailand,” he added.

The proposal came amid Thailand’s worst political violence in decades, which erupted when antigovernment Red Shirts clashed with riot police in the capital Bangkok.

Koy Kuong, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that he has not yet received any reply from other members of the 10-member bloc about the Cambodian proposal as of Sunday.

Speaking to the Post on the sidelines of ASEAN talks in Hanoi on Thursday, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya denied that the issue had been brought up during meetings. “You keep on asking the same question – no,” he said.

Following his return from the ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Hor Namhong also moved to damp down suspicions that Cambodia would seek to profit from Thailand’s internal turmoil.

Despite the country’s controversial appointment of fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as a government advisor last year, he said, Cambodia will not interfere in Thailand’s internal affairs. He said that a recent decision to bar Thaksin from entering Cambodia during the Red Shirt protests was intended to prevent a misinterpretation of the relationship between Hun Sen and Thaksin.

“Recently, Thaksin has requested to visit Cambodia, but was denied by Prime Minister Hun Sen because of the mass demonstrations in Thailand and because [he wanted] to avoid a wrong interpretation,” he told reporters at Phnom Penh International airport after returning to Cambodia on Friday.

He also denied allegations – raised by Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya on the sidelines of the ASEAN talks – that Cambodia has allowed Red Shirt protesters access to satellite broadcasts after the Thai government cut off their access to broadcasts within in the country.

“How can we provide satellites for the Red Shirts while Cambodia does not have them? It is not true and is just a word of accusation from Thailand to Cambodia,” he said.

He added that currently, Cambodia has access only to broadcast satellites owned by Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. “Please control your internal affairs,” he said.

Police Blotter: 12 Apr 2010

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:02 Tha Piseth

A roadside vendor wants authorities to step in and offer an “education” to a 27-year-old man who posed as a security guard, demanded money, then allegedly struck him when he wouldn’t hand over the cash. The vendor, who sells pens and cigarettes on the side of a road in Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district, said the drunken 27-year-old wobbled up to him and asked to be paid taxes based on the vendor’s earnings last Thursday. The victim said he does not plan to file an official complaint to his local police; rather, he wants authorities to merely teach the 27-year-old suspect a lesson.

A 27-year-old man in Kampong Cham province has been arrested after he was accused of killing a 16-year-old boy by hanging him from a tree. Police alleged that the suspect struck the boy until he fell unconscious, then strung him up from a tree. The suspect, however, said he neither hit nor hanged the boy, though he did say he asked the boy for money before his body turned up. Police have sent the case to the provincial court.

An elderly man in Pursat province died after a container lorry crashed into him while he was driving on National Road 5. Police said the man died instantly. Villagers at the scene said the lorry was being driven very fast even though there was low visibility at night. They also said that the driver fled the scene of the crash, not bothering to see what had happened. Police have not yet identified the culprit following the incident, which happened on Thursday.

A man who was allegedly part of a group that broke into a jeweller’s house last Wednesday in Kandal province and allegedly threatened its occupants at gunpoint was rewarded for his efforts by being shot. Police said six alleged thieves broke into the house, which was home to a jewellery and money-changing business. The woman told police she was watching TV with her children when one of the robbers stuck a handgun against her body and threatened her. What the suspect wasn’t counting on, however, were the actions of the woman’s husband, who promptly shot the robber. The rest of the group quickly fled the house, though they did manage to escape with 105 grams of platinum as well as US$300 in cash. Police said they have identified the suspects.

Marking of VN border to continue despite SRP

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:03 Meas Sokchea

THE Constitutional Council on Friday dismissed a request by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) that the government suspend joint demarcation of the Cambodia-Vietnam border, saying the request did not fall under its jurisdiction.

When contacted Sunday, Pen Thol, spokesman for the nine-member council, did not comment in detail, saying the council’s decision spoke for itself.

“I can’t comment over this, because it is a decision of the Constitutional Council. [The SRP] has the right to say what it wants,” he said.

On Wednesday, 14 SRP lawmakers sent a letter to Council President Ek Sam Ol, asking him to postpone the planting of border posts pending an investigation into the party’s claims that four border marker posts in Svay Rieng province’s Chantrea district lie up to 500 metres inside Cambodia’s legal territory.

Sam Rainsy has already been jailed for two years following an incident in which he joined villagers in uprooting six temporary border markers in the area.

SRP spokesman Kimsour Phirith said the Constitutional Council’s ruling was a result of political “bias”, noting that most of its members are members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

“We knew that the Constitutional Council was mostly composed by the CPP and therefore the decision must be politically biased,” he said. “But we must do it to show Cambodians that the law was not enforced properly as the system requires.”

Kimsour Phirith said the planting of Vietnamese border posts violated Article 2 of the Constitution, which pledges the government to protect the country’s territorial integrity.

Villagers plan to petition PM in land dispute

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:03 Tep Nimol and Will Baxter

FIVE village representatives from Kampong Speu province’s Omlaing commune say they plan to submit a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen today, asking for intervention in their ongoing dispute with the Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Village representative San Thau said that the community had submitted 1,350 thumbprints along with the letter, which asks the government to set clear boundaries between the villagers’ land and land granted to the company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.

San Thau said about 100 military police and soldiers were safeguarding the company’s land, and that 20 additional excavators were clearing it.

Rights group Licadho, however, suggested that the number of soldiers was closer to 50.

The 9,000-hectare land concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company lies adjacent to a 10,000-hectare land concession awarded to Kampong Speu Sugar Company.

According to Licadho, the companies have enlisted the same representative in dealing with villagers, and both employ soldiers from Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Battalion 313 to watch over their concessions and land-clearing operations.

“We hope villagers, local authorities and company representatives will continue to meet and discuss about land markings/land ownership, and refrain from using violence,” said Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s executive director.

Omlaing commune chief Hab Dam said it was difficult to gain the trust of villagers. “They are afraid that we use fraudulent documents to sell their lands, but we have no right to sell thousands of hectares of land like this,” he said.

Workers fear for jobs after blaze guts Meanchey garment factory

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A police officer waves in a fire engine as onlookers gather outside the gates of the blazing Supertex garment factory on Saturday night.

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:03 Khouth Sophakchakrya

A FIRE destroyed a garment factory in Meanchey district’s Chakangre Krom commune in Phnom Penh on Saturday night in an incident that factory officials say may have been caused by an electrical fault after a Khmer New Year party organised for the factory’s employees.

The garment factory – owned by the company Supertex Ltd – was destroyed, along with over 1,000 tonnes of clothing, more than 500 sewing machines, three overlocking machines and three garment-controlling machines.

Mann, a factory administration official who wished to withhold his full name, said the blaze started around 8:45pm, following a party organised for workers who had just been paid.

“No workers were injured in the fire,” he said. “The security guards told me last night that the fire was caused by electricity.”

A security guard, who wished not to be named, said he heard the sound of electricity before the blaze occurred. “The fire jumped from the electricity line to the warehouse,” he said.

Net Vantha, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Fire Department, said officers fought the fire for six hours, but it continued to burn until Sunday morning.

“We did not sleep at all when we tried to save the factory, but we could not because the factory is too big,” he said. “The factory owner did not fully cooperate with us.”

Workers at the Supertex factory, which employed 2,750 people, are concerned that they will be unemployed when they return from Khmer New Year, because the fire destroyed all the raw materials in the factory.

Phan Chanthy, who worked for five years at the factory, said the workers were allowed to take a weeklong holiday to enjoy the New Year festivities, and were due to return to work on April 19.

“I am very worried, because it will impact my job and my income,” she said. “I feel pity for my boss as well.”

Safe New Year: More police deployed for holiday

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

Safe New Year

Phnom Penh’s police presence will be increased during Khmer New Year in a bid to reduce the high number of minor crimes and traffic accidents that typically occur during the holiday, city officials said Sunday. Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said police will maintain a 24-hour presence across the capital city’s eight districts throughout the three-day celebration. “We will deploy nearly 1,000 police officials to protect people from minor crimes and to ease traffic jams,” he said, adding that there will be a particularly strong presence in areas where large crowds are expected to congregate. Deputy municipal Governor Man Chhoeun said security will be stricter than last year. “We will absolutely ban people from throwing water, hitting others with sticks or painting people with powder,” he said. “Anyone who violates these rules will be briefly detained for education.”

PM writes to Poland following plane crash

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:02 Sam Rith

PRIME Minister Hun Sen sent a letter on Saturday to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to offer his condolences after the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 96 others who were killed in a plane crash in western Russia on Saturday.

“I am extremely shocked and saddened to receive news that His Excellency Lech Kaczynski and the First Lady, along with many other dignitaries, were killed,” the letter stated.

“On behalf of the Royal Government and people of Cambodia, allow me to convey to Your Excellency and through you to the Government and people of Poland as well as the bereaved families, my deepest sympathy and profound condolences for such a huge loss.”

The Soviet-made Tupelov Tu-154 airliner, operated by a Polish airline, crashed while attempting to land in the Russian city of Smolensk en route to a ceremony commemorating the massacre of over 20,000 Polish prisoners by Soviet secret police at Katyn in 1941.

Russian and Polish investigators are analysing evidence from the plane’s flight recorder, but initial indications suggest pilot error was the cause of the crash.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he did not yet know if Cambodia would send officials to attend the funeral of Kaczynski and other Polish dignitaries who perished.

He added that Cambodia and Poland continue to enjoy a good bilateral relationship.

NGOs call for crackdown on illegal logging to be widened

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:02 Chhay Channyda and Tep Nimol

A COALITION of local human rights NGOs have applauded the removal of the Forestry Administration’s director as part of a recent crackdown on illegal logging, but have called on the government to take additional action to ensure the full eradication of forestry crimes.

At a press conference Friday, Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the firing of Ty Sokun was an example to powerful officials who are profiting from the illicit trade in timber.

“It is a warning for the next person that if they fail to crack down on the crime they will be jailed,” he said, but added that from here on out there will be no excuses if the law is not implemented.

“Hun Sen has paved the way for the next person to enforce the crackdown effectively. There are no more difficult people you can’t take action against – if you can’t do it, it means that you are incapable,” he said.

Since a request from the prime minister in January, authorities have raided over a hundred warehouses suspected of holding illegal timber.

Despite the strong government measures, however, some villagers are concerned that trees are being felled illegally despite the crackdown on timber sales.

Seng Sok Heng, a representative from Oddar Meanchey province, said his community’s reports of logging were generally ignored.

“We still see that in the forest, the cutting down of trees is still continuing,” he said. “We want the authorities to go to the forest and investigate.”

He added: “Some of our villagers have been threatened when we try to protect the forest.”

Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Ty Sokun had been removed from his post at the Forestry Administration for his failure to accelerate the crackdown on forestry crimes.

Ty Sokun has since been appointed to the position of undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Agriculture, and Hun Sen has said the new forestry chief, Chheng Kim Son, should arrest anyone who breaks the country’s Forestry Law.

On Wednesday, international anti-graft watchdog Global Witness cheered the move, but said that Ty Sokun should be charged for his alleged connection to illegal logging, detailed by the group in its 2007 report Cambodia’s Family Trees.

“It is a good thing he is gone, but he shouldn’t be let off the hook for what happened while he was in charge,” Simon Taylor, Global Witness Director, said in a statement Wednesday.

The statement added that the Cambodian government “has a lot more to do if it wants to prove it is serious about protecting the country’s remaining forests and managing its other natural resources sustainably”.

Kheng Tito, spokesman for military police, could not be reached, but said last week that 14 people taken into custody after being arrested on forestry charges included government officials, and that the government would spare no one after Hun Sen gave the green light to eradicate logging crimes.

Chheng Kim Son declined to comment Sunday.

Coalition weighs in on China’s dam plans

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:02 Cheang Sokha

THE Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC), an alliance of local environmental groups, has added its voice to a chorus of regional concerns about the likely downstream impact of eight hydropower dam projects planned in China, saying they will have negative effects on Cambodian fisheries.

“The result of a joint observation by international scientists showed that currently there are no measures to reduce the impact the dams have on fisheries and resources in the lower Mekong,” the RCC said in a statement Saturday.

The statement was released in response to the recent Mekong River Commission summit, held in Thailand on April 4 and 5, where the prime ministers of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, along with delegates from China and Myanmar, jointly vowed to devote greater attention to the preservation of the river basin.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said Sunday that previous knowledge about the development of dams in Cambodia and other countries suggested that the series along the Mekong would severely affect the livelihoods of people living in communities along the river.

“When a dam is built it affects the fish and so the people who rely on the fish are also affected,” he said.

He added that power generation is vital to Cambodia, but suggested the government try to develop alternative forms of energy, citing solar power and methane as examples.

“We do hope that the government will consider our recommendations,” he said.

A report released last week by the Henry L Stimson Centre said that the US$5 billion Sambor Dam project in Kratie province and the US$300 million Don Sahong dam project in Laos – both planned for the Mekong mainstream – are an even greater threat to food security and livelihoods than similar projects in China.

Govt promotes culture

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:02 Khouth Sophakchakrya

AUTHORITIES are planning to use the deluge of major public holidays in coming weeks to focus attention on the richness of Khmer culture – and away from the lure of the gambling and sex industries, officials say.

In Siem Reap, officials plan to work with the Ministry of Tourism to promote “historic, fantastic events” starting with Khmer New Year this week.

“We hope that our people will not engage in illegal gambling,” said Khim Sarith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture. “We should play our traditional games and dances to promote the national culture and attract the interest of international tourists.”

In the coming weeks, officials are also planning festivities in the Angkor Wat area itself to mark Visak Bochea Day as well as the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which celebrates the start of the rice growing season.

As an added bonus, King Norodom Sihamoni is expected to take part, and tourists will also be allowed to visit the Angkor temples for free during the events, he said.

Thong Khon, the minister of tourism, said he hopes the cultural events will bring “peace and development progress” to Cambodia.

Push for inter-ASEAN trade

Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the plenary session of the 16th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday. AFP

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:01 James O'toole and Chhay Channyda

Free trade is fuel for thought as officials return to Cambodia from summit


ASEAN nations will push harder for internal commerce and trade to boost the economies of the bloc’s 10 members, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said Friday, as he arrived in Phnom Penh from a regional summit in Hanoi.

Speaking to reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport, the minister said ASEAN countries had achieved three quarters of all agreements necessary to allow free trade among its members.

Cambodia has implemented 83 percent of requirements, but still needs to approve ASEAN memoranda and agreements through the National Assembly and Senate in order to fully join the “ASEAN economic community”, he said.

“For Cambodia, we must approve any laws that we owe ASEAN,” he said. “What we have left to do, we must fulfill.”

By 2015, all goods from all ASEAN countries are expected to trade without tariffs to form a single market. So far, six ASEAN members have abolished nearly all inter-regional trade tariffs, he said.

Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam have managed to cut levies on 98.46 percent of goods, he added.

Although political challenges facing the region threatened to overshadow deliberations in Hanoi last week, ASEAN leaders finalised new agreements and helped solidify their economic ties.

In a joint statement released Thursday, ASEAN finance ministers said they expected growth of between 4.9 and 5.6 percent in 2010, after the region grew 1.5 percent last year.

With countries emerging swiftly from the economic downturn, the ministers called for coordinated action in monitoring their economies and winding down stimulus measures.

“We will continue to pursue supportive policies until recovery is secured, but at the same time, we will carefully withdraw our fiscal, monetary and financial sector support once private demand becomes self-sustained,” the statement read.

An agreement to slash tariffs within the region – the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement – will be enforced starting next month, Cham Prasidh said Friday, echoing statements of economic officials in Hanoi.

The agreement was originally set to go into force in January of this year as part of the newly established ASEAN Free Trade Area, but was delayed pending the resolution of a tariff disagreement between Thailand and the Philippines.

By August, the bloc will implement an agreement granting protections and preferential treatment to foreign investments made within the region by ASEAN members.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan noted that in a region of 580 million people with a combined GDP of US$2.7 trillion, intra-regional foreign direct investment stands at just 20 percent.

An increase in such investment, he said, will hopefully help expedite the bloc’s efforts to “bridge the gap” between its wealthier members and developing countries such as Cambodia.

The finance ministers’ statement also lauded last month’s establishment of the Chiang Mai Initiative, a $120 billion currency swap pool between ASEAN countries and China, Japan and South Korea that will help manage regional short-term liquidity problems on the model of the International Monetary Fund.

The launch of the $700 million Credit Guarantee Investment Facility (CGIF), the ministers added, should help boost the liquidity of local currencies, as it will back corporate bonds issued in such currencies by regional companies.

Fuel prices rose 4 percent last week

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:00 May Kunmakara

FUEL prices climbed around 4 percent in the past week at Cambodia’s five largest suppliers, parallel with a rise in global prices.

According to the Ministry of Commerce’s Petroleum Price Index, premium petrol was selling for 4,700 riel (US$1.12) per litre Friday, up from $1.08 on April 2. Regular petrol climbed from $1.03 to $1.07.

“My company just began to increase prices,” said Bin Many Mialia, business division manager of PTT (Cambodia) Ltd, which imports fuel from Thailand.

“In fact, we didn’t want to increase our prices because of the coming New Year. We wanted our buyers to enjoy their holiday,” he added

Fuel prices climbed due to a weak US dollar and euro, he said. Prices are also affected by the global market, transportation costs, the exchange rate, taxes and fuel quality, added Nay Chmnap, a communications specialist for Caltex (Cambodia) Ltd.

“Currently the global gas and oil price increased around $5 per barrel,” she said. “I cannot say when it will decrease.”

Officials at another leading fuel supplier, Sokimex Group, could not be reached for comment Friday. But according to the Petroleum Price Index, that company raised prices, too.

Bin Many Mialia added that prices remain lower than in Vietnam or Thailand, which charge $0.04 more per litre.

Land grant statistics revealed in govt report

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:00 Chun Sophal

THE GOVERNMENT provided 124,000 hectares of land to 19 companies in concessions last year, according to a report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The concessions, spread across eight provinces, were for the growth of eight agro-industrial products, including rubber, Cambodia’s second-most lucrative crop after rice.

“We hope that the companies will be able to grow more rubber in the coming years,” said Chay Sokun, deputy director of the Planning Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Sunday.

The amount of rubber grown in Cambodia increased by 20 percent in 2009, filling 83,000 hectares, according to the report, released April 6. Of those, about 22,350 came from land concessions, and the rest from private farmers.

Yim Sovann, a member of parliament for the Sam Rainsy Party, said that nearly half the land given in concessions has yet to be developed. Some companies have merely logged the land, and others have tried to enlarge their plots by encroaching on land of local villagers, he said. If work is not being done, concessions should be returned, he added.

The government gave more than 1.3 million hectares of land in concessions between 1993 and 2009, but only about 957,000 hectares remain under valid contracts. The rest of the concessions have been officially cancelled, according to the ministry.

“We have already cancelled economic concession contracts with 41 companies, and we will continue to cancel them if we find that any have failed to develop the land they received from the government,” said Chay Sokun.

Microfinance lending sees growth

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
Sathapana Ltd's building in Phnom Penh on Sunday. The company saw lending grow by 2.9 percent in quarter one.

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:00 Nguon Sovan

MFI loans rose across the board in Q1, but profits slumped as institutions slashed interest rates

LENDING by microfinance institutions showed signs of growth in the first quarter of the year, with non-performing loan rates remaining mostly steady, industry officials say.

However, companies saw net profits decline quarterly because of a decline in interest rates and the cost of operational expansion, said Hout Ieng Tong, president of the Cambodian Microfinance Association (CMA) and general director of microfinance firm Hattha Kaksekar Ltd.

“We saw small business activities gradually improving in the first quarter. People are starting to need loans for their businesses,” he said.

Hattha Kaksekar’s lending was US$33 million in the first quarter, up 7 percent from the previous quarter. The company’s non-performing loan (NPL) rate remained at 3 percent quarter on quarter.

In 2009, outstanding loans at the Kingdom’s 22 microfinance institutions (MFIs) rose 10.8 percent, to $485.1 million, compared to 2008. The overall NPL rate for 2009 was 2.86 percent, or $8.5 million, a jump from 0.67 percent recorded the previous year.

“This year, it’s expected we’ll see better lending as the economy begins to recover, but we do not expect the NPL rate to drop much,” Hout Ieng Tong predicted.

Lending is also on the up at other leading Cambodian companies, many of which have seen profits fall this quarter.

Samic Microfinance Ltd reported a quarterly rise of 9 percent, to $6 million, in lending at the end of March.

“We think that the economic situation is not better yet, and people’s earnings from their jobs and businesses are not good. Few new businesses have begun or applied for loans,” warned Samic General Manager King Kap Kalyan.

Samic saw its NPL rate drop just 7 points to 4.82 percent, for a total $270,892 in the first quarter of the year, but its profit margin fell nearly 40 percent quarter on quarter.

“We hope that it will become better in the second quarter of this year,” King Kap Kalyan added.

Sathapana Ltd saw lending grow 2.9 percent quarterly to $42.59 million. Net profits at the company fell by 2.5 percent, to $345,000. Its NPL rate dropped 6 points, to 1.97 percent.

“Despite the slight drop in the NPL rate, which showed a slight improvement in the economy, it can be interpreted as clients having made better incomes,” Chairman Bun Mony said.

Prasac MFI Ltd saw outstanding loans increase by 3 percent quarter-on-quarter, to $66 million.

“Portfolio growth during the first quarter is usually slow, because the first quarter is the peak repayment period for agriculture loans,” Prasac General Manager Sim Senacheert said.

Prasac’s quarterly NPL rate showed signs of improvement, dropping 3 points to 1.63 percent.

“After tightening our lending process in 2009, new loan disbursements have had no problems. Almost all of the problem loans were loans that were disbursed before 2009,” Sim Senacheert said.

Prasac’s before-tax profit fell 27 percent in the first quarter, to $633,000, due to a decrease in the interest rate last year.

Representatives of Thanea-kea Phum (Cambodia) Ltd declined to discuss the company’s first quarter figures, but said that it was slowing operations and lending.

CEO Chuon Sophal said: “We are managing loan problems.”

The company lent out $17.3 million in 2009, when it had an NPL rate of 4.9 percent, or $853,083, according to a CMA report.

Stock Roundup

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Monday, 12 April 2010 15:00 Ellie Dyer

POSITIVE economic data released by the US saw commodities rise on international markets last week as faith in the global economic recovery gathered strength.

Crude reached an 18-month high of more than US$87 a barrel Tuesday in London, as Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered oil giant Chevron to commence production from the Kingdom’s offshore fields by 2012 or face losing its contract.

Chevron, the American operator of Cambodia’s Block A concession, announced its first-quarter update Thursday, predicting a rise in quarter-on-quarter earnings in upstream projects internationally, reflecting higher commodity prices. The announcement saw stocks rising 2.37 percent to $79.50 in New York on Friday.

Extraction industries also saw gains internationally this week, as gold prices held strong. Australian mining firm OZ Minerals, which is seeking gold in western Cambodia, saw stock rise by 4.62 percent in Sydney to AU$1.245 (US$1.16) Tuesday. Prices gradually declined to AU$1.22 by the close of trading on Friday.

Southern Gold, which also has interests in the Kingdom, rallied 4.17 percent in Sydney on Friday after a volatile seven days. Its shares closed at AU$0.125 from a week start of AU$0.115.

Challenges ahead for visions of an ASEAN community

Myanmar's failure to embrace democracy is a perennial problem for regional body, ASEAN

A housing apartment block overlooking the Singapore city skyline

Petrol vendors are seen on a Phnom Penh street
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By Ian Timberlake (AFP) – 17 hours ago

HANOI — Street vendor Ta Thi Huong has never heard of the "ASEAN Community" which Southeast Asian leaders spent two days last week trying to refine.

"ASEAN? I don't know what it is," says Huong, 40, who wears a traditional conical bamboo hat as she sells apricots on the streets of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. "What community?"

Making the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meaningful for the region's 590 million citizens is one of the bloc's challenges but observers say the vision faces even more fundamental issues.

Analysts say it is weighed down by wide development gaps within the region, entrenched domestic interests and the perennial distraction of Myanmar's failure to embrace democracy.

Focused on economic issues for most of its existence, ASEAN's 10 members in 2008 adopted a charter committing them to tighter links.

The group aims to form by 2015 a "community" based on free trade, common democratic ideals, and shared social goals including a common identity.

Senior government officials admit that progress has been greatest in the economic sphere, while the political and social "pillars" of their community need strengthening.

"It's easy to have a harmonisation of interests on the economic sphere," said Christopher Roberts, an expert in Asian politics and security at the University of Canberra.

But he said that creating a cohesive community was a task better carried out over decades and that the 2015 goal was unrealistic.

Political, security and human rights issues are "the real point of contention" between the very diverse group of countries, Roberts said.

ASEAN's membership ranges from communist Vietnam and Laos -- one of Asia's poorest nations -- to the Westernised city-state of Singapore, the absolute monarchy of Brunei and the vibrant democracy of Indonesia.

Other members are Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia and military-ruled Myanmar.

An ASEAN summit in Vietnam's capital Hanoi which ended Friday was again overshadowed by Myanmar, and by protests in Bangkok which prevented Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from attending.

Thailand's long-running political drama is among the domestic issues within ASEAN nations which are distracting it from moving forward collectively, analysts say.

The group has been divided over how to respond to Myanmar, which is under United States and European Union sanctions.

But on Friday it urged Myanmar to ensure that this year's planned elections, which have been boycotted by the opposition, are fair and include all parties.

"You talk of a community, it means that there must be some degree of commonality within the region but as you know ASEAN is made up of countries of varying nature," said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

"Economically less so, but certainly in the political area, we have different political systems working in our neighbourhood."

He said that should not be a problem as long as everyone is committed to the same universal principles including human rights and democracy.

At their summit, foreign ministers fleshed out their vision of a rules-based regional community by signing a protocol to help member nations resolve conflicts.

Scarred by wars in the 1960s and 1970s, Southeast Asian nations have largely lived peacefully together for at least two decades, but smaller-scale conflicts and sovereignty disputes persist.

Cambodia and Thailand have been locked in nationalist tensions and a troop standoff over a disputed temple on their border since July 2008. Soldiers have died on both sides.

Although ASEAN has helped the region avoid war and has allowed its members to get to know each other better, it "has not been really effective" on bilateral issues like the Thai-Cambodia dispute, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"It it comes down to national interest, some members, they are not willing to rely on ASEAN... so at the end of the day the term 'community' is rather superficial," he said.

Ahead of the summit, ASEAN took another step towards building the social aspect of its community with the inauguration of a commission to address the rights of women and children.

Natalegawa, who says the ASEAN Community cannot be fairly compared with the much longer-established European Union, said one of group's challenges is how to make a difference in ordinary people's lives.

If it can do that, Huong, the Hanoi apricot seller, will take notice.

Cambodia takes look at biosphere

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12th April 2010

CAMBODIA is looking to the Noosa Biosphere model to learn and apply best practice approaches to sustainable tourism in the KEP Province, three hours south of Phnom Penh.

Chair of Noosa Biosphere and Tourism Noosa, Michael Donovan, recently returned from representing Noosa at a conference titled Sustainable and Responsible Development of KEP Tourism City in Coastal Zone, Cambodia, where he gave the keynote address to more than 180 national and international delegates.

The audience included Cambodia’s regional governor, secretary of state, minister for tourism and representatives from 15 other countries.

Mr Donovan said the two-day conference allowed him to share information regarding the Noosa experience in sustainability, community governance and tourism.

“Education is one of the three primary objectives of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, alongside conservation and sustainable development, and it was a privilege to be invited,” Mr Donovan said.

“The KEP Province in Cambodia has many natural assets that they wish to conserve, alongside their aspirations of a viable and economically sustainable tourism industry.”

The visit was the result of a personal invite from the Cambodian minister for tourism.

Khmer New Year
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC

April 11, 2010


On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I congratulate the people of the Kingdom of Cambodia on the occasion of Khmer New Year.

This is an opportunity to honor Cambodia's culture and its accomplishments. This past year, Cambodians marked a historic milestone when, for the first time in three decades, a former Khmer Rouge official was held accountable for his crimes before an internationally recognized court.

And over the last year, the partnership between our two nations has grown stronger and deeper. Together we have expanded cooperation on law enforcement issues, food security, the environment, and international peacekeeping.

On this festive occasion, let me reaffirm our commitment to both the partnership between our governments and the friendship between our people. We especially look forward to the 60th anniversary of our bilateral relations this coming July, a testament to our enduring bonds.

I offer best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous new year.