Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Ponheary Ly, CNN Hero, Helps Cambodian Children Go To School

via Khmer NZ News Media

Posted: 06-22-10

Although school is free across Cambodia, poor children in rural areas are often unable to attend because they cannot afford the necessary school supplies and uniforms.

For Ponheary Ly, the daughter of a schoolteacher who was killed by the brutal Khmer Rouge, helping children attend school is a mission. Ly started by helping one girl, giving her the money she needed for supplies and uniforms. Now, Ly has established her own foundation, helping thousands of children in rural Cambodia go to school. It takes only $20 a year to ensure a child gets an education.

CNN profiled Ly as part of their CNN Heroes series.


Cambodian former King begins Vietnam visit

via Khmer NZ News Media

Wednesday,Jun 23,2010

Cambodia’s former King Norodom Sihanouk, his wife Norodom Moninieth Sihanouk, and King Norodom Sihamoni arrived in Hanoi on June 22, beginning a four-day friendship visit to Vietnam.

President Nguyen Minh Triet and his wife welcome Cambodian King Sihamoni, former King Sihanouk, and his wife. (Photo: VNA)

Later in the day, State President Nguyen Minh Triet, who had invited the Cambodian guests, met with former King Norodom Sihanouk and his wife.

President Triet applauded the ongoing visit of former King Sihanouk, his wife and King Sihamoni, describing it as milestone in the traditional friendly neighbourliness and cooperation between the two countries.

President Triet and former King Sihanouk recalled the profound memories during the time Vietnam and Cambodia united and supported each other to struggle for national independence.

The Vietnamese people and generations of leaders always keep in mind, are grateful and respect deep sentiments, valuable support and great assistance that former King Norodom Sihanouk and the people of Cambodia have extended to Vietnam in the past as well as at present, the president said.

Former King Sihanouk took this occasion to thank the Vietnamese people and leaders for their affections, huge support and assistance to him, his wife, King Sihamoni and the people of Cambodia .

Both host and guest expressed delight at the fine development of the time-honoured friendly relations between the two nations, and belief that their neighbourliness and cooperation would further develop for prosperity of each nation as well as and for peace, friendship, cooperation and development in the region and the world.

In the evening, President Triet hosted a banquet in honour of former King Sihanouk, his wife and King Sihamoni.

Source: Vietnam Plus

DAP News ; Breaking News by Soy Sopheap

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German Ambassador is Pleased with Cambodia’s Cooperation

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 11:22 DAP-NEWS/ Ek Madra

CAMBODIA, PHNOM PENH, JUNE 23, 2010 – German ambassador to Cambodia, Frank Marcus Mann, told Deputy Prime Minister Sok An on Tuesday that he has been pleased working in the Kingdom over the last three years thanks to the Cambodia’s government’s good cooperation.

Mann, who set his foot on this Southeast Asian nation in August 2007 and worked as ambassador, has new assignment to work in Kuwait. His predecessor German ambassador, who worked in Madagascar, expected to take over his job on 21 July.

“We have considered our level of cooperation is high and I am optimistic that can be kept,” Mann told Sok An, who is also minister in charges of the Office of the Council of Ministers.

Cambodia is a partner country for German development cooperation. The priority areas of cooperation agreed between the two governments are rural development and support for the health system.

Sok An told the diplomat that the Cambodian government has been assisting farmers to develop more eco-rice for exports to German.

“We also need foreign investments in the rice processing plant in Cambodia so that we can process rice and packing the crop along with safety control standard for exports,” Sok An told the diplomat.

Mann congratulated the Cambodian economic growth given the fact that the constructions mushrooming in the capital of Phnom Penh.

“It is amazing how the rapid growth of the city changing,” he said in his farewell meeting to Sok An.

Cambodian growth was almost double digits from 1998 to 2008 thanks to an increase of foreign direct investments, tourism and the Kingdom’s bountiful crops.

But the country’s economy was slow as the result of the global downturn in 2008 plunged the country’s GDP to what the World Bank said it contracted 2 percent for 2009.

But Prime Minister Hun Sen is still expected that the country’s GDP is positive for last year although he did not say a figure.

The World Bank said in the early April that Cambodian growth is projected at 4.4 percent for 2010, expected 6 percent for 2011
Japan to Give 131 million U.S Dollars to Cambodia for Building Neakloung Bridge

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 11:07 DAP-NEWS/ Tep Piseth

CAMBODIA, PHNOM PENH, JUNE 23, 2010 - Mr. Masafumikuroki, Japan’s Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, on Wednesday of June 23, 2010 would sign an agreement on providing assistance of 131 million U.S dollars to Cambodia for building Neakloung bridge with Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation under a high presidency of Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Mr. Hor Nam Hong said after the signing Ceremony that a new Neakloung Bridge would not only provide the Cambodian people with the convenience of transportation and travel, but also is a high-way for foreign traffic and transportation communication services in the South-East Asian region.

“Also, the new bridge will provide convenient transportation services in our Cambodia and help reduce our local Cambodian people’s suffering and poverty,” he added.

“It is a very happy day for all the Cambodian people as a whole to have a new bridge and the Japanese Engineering Company will start implementing the construction project soon,” he added. However, he did not give any more details about the period of construction.

The bridge, which located in both Kandal and in Prey veng provinces, will be a second bridge which is donated by the Government of Japan.

“There were 199 Cambodian students who went to study in Japan in the year of 2000 and the Government of Japan provided grants of 27 million U.S dollars to all the Cambodian students and, right now, there are 24 other students who are ready to go to study in Japan,” Mr. Hor Nam Hong confirmed.

“From 1992 to 2008, the Government of Japan provided aid of 1.8 billion U.S dollars to the Kingdom of Cambodia and Japan now is Cambodia’s biggest donor country,” Mr. Masafumikuroki, Japan’s Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Cambodia, said.

Cambodia hosts seminar on role of macroeconomic policies after global financial crisis

Tuesday, 22 June 2010 11:22 DAP-NEWS

Cambodia in cooperation with UNESCAP on Tuesday conducted a seminar on “Response to Global Financial Crisis in Asia-Pacific and role of macroeconomic policies to ensure about financial development of country and economic growth and implementation in millennium development.

“The workshop is jointly organized by UNESCAP and the Ministry of Economy and Finance to provide an opportunity for Cambodia’s high level officials, policy makers and experts to conduct a focused discussion of concrete policy options to address challenges facing the country’s economy,” the statement from Ministry of economy said, adding that UNESCAP has invited experts and high level officials from key partner countries of Cambodia such as China, Thailand, Viet Nam, Republic of Korea, and India as well as experts from ESCAP, ADB, UNDP, IMF and the World Bank.

The seminar will be strengthening the response to the global financial crisis in Asia-Pacific: the role of macroeconomic policies”. “Over the next three days, we will examine aspects of monetary, fiscal and exchange rate policies that can be streamlined to help the country prepare for the future,” Douglas Broderick, UN resident coordinator. He added that the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP, is great for hosting this timely event.

He continued that investment in social safety nets now will have positive effects for Cambodia long after Cambodia’s economy has fully recovered. It is the UN’s view that a strong social safety net system should complement other measures taken to strengthen the country’s economy, such as a trade diversification strategy, as well as effective monetary, fiscal and macroeconomic policies.

“the system could include conditional cash transfers, labor-based public works schemes and food for work, civil service pensions and health insurance. Already, informal social safety net programmes are being implemented by Government, development partners and civil society. But there are limited formal programmes in place,” he noted.

“The economic downturn threatened Cambodia’s progress in reducing poverty, which is the first of the Millennium Development Goals. We remain concerned about the effects that the current global economic crisis will have on achieving these Goals. As Cambodia regains its economic momentum, we need to work harder than ever to ensure these goals are reached,” he added.

He said that over the past two years – as in many countries in the region and around the world – Cambodia has suffered significant job losses, particularly in the garment and construction sectors. We have also seen a reduction in household income for many homes. In this context, we should not only be concerned about the 30 percent of Cambodians who live in poverty – we must also consider those who live just above the poverty line. Poor and near poor households that suffered losses of income and savings as they struggled to get through the recent lean times will take time to rebuild and recover.

The Phnom Penh Post News in Pictures

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Deals on wheels

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:03 Heng Chivoan

Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officials gather in front of new Chinese lorries at the Phnom Penh military air base on Monday. Chi Wanchun, a general in the People’s Liberation Army, is scheduled to hand over the trucks today.

Khmer Rouge books enter classrooms

Photo by: David Boyle

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:00 David Boyle

Students hoist textbooks distributed on Monday during an event in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district organised by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia.

Royal household takes flight

Photo by: Pha Lina

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:00 Uong Ratana

King Father Norodom Sihanouk (left), Queen Mother Norodom Monineath and their son, King Norodom Sihamoni greet well-wishers at Phnom Penh International Airport as they depart for a four-day private visit to Vietnam.

KDC sues activist in land row

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:03 May Titthara and Irwin Loy

ACOMPANY belonging to the wife of a government minister that is involved in a long-simmering land dispute in Kampong Chhnang province has filed a legal complaint accusing a local rights advocate of disinformation – another example, some observers say, of the courts being used to silence criticism in controversial land cases.

Sam Chankea, coordinator for the rights group Adhoc in Kampong Chhnang, said he is the target of a disinformation complaint filed in late May by KDC International Company, which is headed by Chea Kheng, the wife of Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

Sam Chankea said the complaint stems from a December 26, 2009, interview with Radio Free Asia, in which he suggested that the clearance of disputed land by the company might be against the law. “The reporter just asked me about my point of view related to the company clearing villagers’ land. I said that if this is a case of clearing land belonging to villagers, it is illegal,” he said.

In the complaint, the company denies clearing disputed land, though Sam Chankea said villagers have insisted otherwise. Sam Chankea said he suspected the complaint was an attempt to intimidate him, because he had recently urged the provincial court to investigate villagers’ claims that they had been victims of a fraudulent land deal.

The company “filed a complaint against me just to threaten me to stop working on this case”, he said. “But I am not worried about this because we are working on human rights.”

KDC representative Thai Hy confirmed that a complaint had been filed against Sam Chankea on May 25, but declined to discuss the allegations at length.

Provincial court prosecutor Penh Vibol also declined to discuss them beyond saying that he had asked police to launch an investigation.

The dispute originally involved 108 families who say they have lived for years on the land in Ta Ches commune’s Lorpeang village. The company says that it bought the land in 1996.

In 2007, the company asserted its ownership of roughly 145 hectares of disputed land, saying it had struck a deal with 105 of the families. Rights groups, however, say 64 holdout families never agreed to sign over their property.

If the disinformation claim proceeds to court, it will mark at least the sixth time KDC International Company has asked the legal system to wade into the dispute, Sam Chankea said.

Since 2002, the company has filed complaints against villagers five times, he said, including a case last year in which the village chief was convicted of forging residents’ thumbprints on a complaint letter detailing claims that villagers had never sold their land to KDC.

‘Criminalisation’ of advocacy
Rights groups say there has been a recent surge in the number of legal cases brought against community groups and advocates involved in land disputes, accusing authorities and well-connected officials of becoming increasingly fond of “intimidation” tactics.

According to Adhoc, at least 235 “human rights defenders” – a term that refers to individual protesters, community representatives or representatives of protesters – faced legal scrutiny in 2009.

Of these, 58 were incarcerated as of January this year, while 88 were on the run.

“Based on these figures, intimidation against human rights defenders in 2009 rose up noticeably, compared to 164 cases in 2008,” Adhoc’s Human Rights Situation report for last year states.

Whereas human rights advocates might once have been quietly accused of “inciting protests”, they are now much more likely to be charged with actual criminal offences, the report states.

“Intimidation is a way to psychologically frighten human rights activists and human rights workers in Cambodia so they will not be able to fulfill their missions....” the report concludes.

“In return, it will force the victims to accept the resolution offered by local authorities who collude with the powerful at the expense of the powerless.”

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, said there has been an alarming increase in the “criminalisation” of land-dispute cases.

“It means [the courts] are not resolving the problem. They just make the problem worse,” he said.

“If you’re talking about community representatives, it is like they have been victimised twice. Their land is taken away, and at the same time they face criminal charges.”

Thais clarify order to deport

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:03 Cameron Wells and Cheang Sokha

A THAI labour ministry official on Tuesday elaborated on new measures for processing illegal migrant workers, saying those sent to a “special centre” mentioned in a June 2 government order signed by the Thai prime minister, including potentially tens of thousands of Cambodians, would be deported if they lacked proper documentation.

The establishment of the facility – described in the order as a “special centre to suppress, arrest and prosecute workers who are working underground” – had prompted criticism from rights groups, who expressed concern that the workers would be punished beyond simply being deported.

Supat Guukhun, deputy director general of the employment office at the Thai ministry of labour, said Sunday that migrants sent to the centre would be prosecuted “if the case is made criminal”.

On Tuesday, however, he said the status of the migrants would be investigated, and that those found to be illegal would be deported to their home countries, where they could enter into a process of nationality verification announced earlier this year. Under that process, workers are to submit documents to their home governments to secure new work permits in Thailand.

“The special centre allows migrants to come to register, and the second step is to apply for nationality verification,” Supat said. “They must have documents to allow them to work in this country; otherwise they will be deported.”

The comments from Supat came as the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), an umbrella organisation for migrant support NGOs that has offices in Hong Kong and Chiang Mai, released a statement calling for the June 2 order, number 125/2553, to be revoked, saying it could expose migrants to violent attacks from authorities.

“During 2010 alone there have already been 23 reported deaths of migrant workers resulting from acts of suppression,” says the statement, which cites a March attack in which nine migrants were killed and 19 seriously injured as police in Petchburi province fired on their truck.

“We fear that these deaths and injuries will multiply if the policy to suppress and arrest migrants [continues].”

The statement also calls for the nationality-verification process – the deadline for which was March 2 – to be reopened, and for the Thai government to assist migrants in complying with it.

In a statement released Monday, the Bangkok-based Human Rights Development Foundation also called for the Thai government to “urgently revoke its crackdown policy on unregistered migrants” and to reopen the nationality-verification process.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn referred questions to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thani Thongpakdi, deputy spokesman for the ministry, declined to answer questions over the phone and had not responded to emailed questions as of press time.

A spate of large-scale raids and arrests of migrants have been reported in the past week.

On Monday, the Thai news service Daily News Online reported that a total of 629 illegal migrant workers – including 165 Cambodians – were detained between last Thursday and Monday in a series of raids on markets and factories in Pathum Thani province.

A report from the Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand on Tuesday said that 60 illegal migrant workers in Songkhla province were detained over the weekend. No breakdown of nationalities was provided, but the report said many were believed to be from Myanmar.

Reports earlier this week said more than 400 Cambodian migrant workers had been detained throughout Thailand as of Sunday, including 307 in Bangkok.

Laddawan Tamafu, advocacy and capacity building officer for MMN, said on Tuesday that all of those detained in Bangkok had since been deported.

“The approximately 300 arrested Cambodian migrants were deported back to their home country on June 18-19 through the Aranyaprathet immigration office in [Sa Kaeo province] and passed to Poipet,” she said via email.

Hun Hean, Banteay Meanchey’s provincial police commissioner, said he did not know about the 307 migrants, but noted that at least 150 deportees are typically received at the Poipet gate each day.

“Actually, Cambodian officials at the Poipet border checkpoint receive between 150 and 200 each day from Thai authorities,” he said.

“When Thai authorities catch them, they only return them through the Poipet gate.”

Factory chiefs complain of rising inflation

via Khmer NZ News Media

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:03 Meas Sokchea

ALETTER from the head of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia to Chea Mony, a union leader who last week threatened to organise a strike over demands for a 40 percent minimum wage hike, states that recent price increases have affected factory owners more than workers.

But Ken Loo declined to say Tuesday whether the letter, dated June 16, offered any insight into GMAC’s position on the proposed minimum wage increase, which he has not yet disclosed.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, distributed the letter on Tuesday during a protest involving more than 2,000 workers from the Ocean Garment Factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district. The workers are demanding the reinstatement of seven union leaders who were suspended on June 12 after objecting to the introduction of overtime hours.

Chea Mony last week sent his own letter to the Interior Ministry announcing that he planned to organise a three-day sit-down strike beginning July 13 to press his demand that the monthly minimum wage be raised from US$50 to $70.

GMAC’s letter, according to an unofficial translation, acknowledges that the minimum wage is an important issue for “garment workers throughout Cambodia”, and that the “increase of daily living expenses has put pressure on the workers”, but goes on to say that these pressures are even greater for factory owners.

“The increase of expenses is making the GMAC members also face a lot of difficulties – more difficulties than the workers. All the expenses are increasing due to inflation and the increasing prices of goods and services,” the letter states.

Ken Loo said Tuesday that rising overhead costs for materials, electricity and the transportation of goods have hit factory owners hard in recent months.

“The price of cotton has gone up 30 percent in the last three or four months,” he said. “If inflation affects the individual, imagine how it affects the company – it is compounded many times over.”

Chea Mony said Tuesday that he was pleased the letter from Ken Loo had reiterated GMAC’s willingness to discuss the proposed wage increase.

Market plan meets rejection

Photo by: Pha Lina
A mix of umbrellas, tarpaulins and corrugated metal protect Daun Penh district’s Phsar Chas, or Old Market, from the rain on Tuesday.

via Khmer NZ News Media

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:03 May Titthara

Local company abandons scheme after encountering strong opposition from vendors

A LOCAL company has backed out of plans to overhaul Phsar Chas, or Old Market, in response to strong opposition from vendors, a company representative said Tuesday.

On Sunday, Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation Ltd (OCIC) invited 360 vendors from the Daun Penh district market to a presentation on plans to transform it into a modern “business centre”, and had solicited feedback from them afterwards via written surveys.

Nou Netra, an investment manager at the firm, which also owns Canadia Bank, said the vendors had voiced unanimous opposition to what was presented.

“Vendors were not interested in our company’s development plan, so we have decided to abandon our development plan,” he said.

According to the OCIC’s vendor survey, the company, which was behind the development of complexes including the Sorya and Sovanna shopping centres, laid out plans to develop Phsar Chas – the oldest market in Phnom Penh – into a “business centre including a modern market, restaurants, entertainment, residential apartments and wide and safe parking spaces”.

Vendors who attended Sunday’s meeting and filled out the surveys said Tuesday that they had been made wary by the fact that vendors at other markets had been evicted once massive upgrades were approved.

Touch Sreymon, a clothing vendor at Phsar Chas, said she and her colleagues have heard of several cases in which vendors were asked to pay exorbitant fees for stalls in upgraded facilities.

“Vendors have the ability to repair their shop by themselves if the authority does not develop [the market],” she said. “We are not asking any company to help us.”

Sok Pagna, 52, a fruit seller at the market, said vendors were surprised by the invitation to give their feedback to the company, but remained staunchly opposed to the project nonetheless.

“We want to know why they want to develop our market while we are doing our business. We did not agree to allow them to develop because we haven’t money to buy a new shop,” she said.

She added: “If they come to develop without asking the vendors, we will go to protest everywhere to ask for help.”

Daun Penh deputy governor Sok Penhvuth declined to comment on plans for Phsar Chas on Tuesday, referring questions to So Vantha, the market’s director, who could not be reached for comment.

Phnom Penh deputy governor Pa Socheatvong also could not be reached.

Decentralisation gets a mixed NGO review

via Khmer NZ News Media

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:03 Brooke Lewis

THOUGH attendance at local governance meetings has increased over the past two years, participation has been largely passive, and many people – especially women and the poor – say they have doubts that decision-makers will take their views into account, according to a report released by a local NGO Tuesday.

Pact Cambodia’s Second Citizen Satisfaction Survey, which follows a 2008 baseline survey, was designed to monitor the progress made with respect to the goverment’s decentralisation effort.

That effort began in 2001 with the passage of laws on commune administration, management and elections, and was implemented with the first commune council elections in 2002.

The survey, conducted between December and February, included 2,341 respondents from 130 communes across eight provinces: Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kandal, Prey Veng, Pursat, Svay Rieng and Takeo.

More than half of all respondents surveyed reported that they had attended at least one local governance meeting within the past year, compared with around 25 percent of respondents in the 2008 survey who reported having attended at least one commune council meeting in the previous year.

But of those who reported that they had attended meetings, only 5 percent said they had spoken during a meeting, and only around half of all respondents surveyed said they agreed with the statement that “when a person like me speaks, the leaders listen”.

The report also found that compared to other participants in local governance meetings, “women and the poor are less likely to speak and less likely to believe that their views will be heard”.

Erin Blake, Pact’s monitoring, evaluation, reporting and learning coordinator, cautioned that the increase in citizen participation at the local level may not be as significant as the figures suggest, because the survey had been amended this time around to include not just commune council meetings, but all local governance meetings.

This is where real democracy begins, at the grassroots level.

He said, though, that the survey’s findings were generally positive, and showed that there have been some “small but important” improvements in local governance over the past two years.

“It bodes really well for democracy in Cambodia,” he said. “To me, this is where real democracy begins, at the grassroots level.”

The report also found that overall citizen satisfaction with local governance had improved over the last two years, backing up the results of a similar report that was released by the UN Development Programme on May 31.

More than 80 percent of respondents said that commune councils “use resources well”, up from around 60 percent in 2008. And around 30 percent of respondents said commune councils were “very responsive”, up from around 20 percent.

Leng Vy, general director of local administration and deputy head of the National Council for Sub-national Democratic Development (NCDD) Secretariat, said during a speech at the report’s launch on Tuesday that the survey could be used in formulating policies to improve
decentralisation efforts.

“The findings will be important for different stakeholders and institutions of the government in order to carry out reforms,” he said.

Demining team returns home

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A Royal Cambodian Armed Forces deminer is greeted Tuesday on his return from a one-year deployment as part of a UN peacekeeping force in Sudan.

via Khmer NZ News Media

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:02 Vong Sokheng

A TEAM of 94 Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) deminers returned to Cambodia on Tuesday after tours of duty as part of UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan and Chad.

Minister of Defence Tea Banh, who presided over a ceremony at the Phnom Penh military air base, praised the peacekeepers for their humanitarian contributions.

“Today, you have returned home with fame and great success. We are so proud of you all,” he said.

In June of last year, the Cambodian government sent 52 de-miners from RCAF’s Platoon 405 to Sudan and 42 peacekeepers from Platoon 306 to Chad.

Taing Bunkry, the team leader of Platoon 405, said that, in addition to its demining work, his team had helped to build roads and houses and deliver clean water to villagers.

“Despite facing difficulty at times with the high temperatures in Sudan, we are all happy with the results of the UN mission,” he said.

Douglas Broderick, the UN’s resident coordinator for Cambodia, expressed his appreciation for the work of the de-miners.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Royal Government to increase our cooperation and coordination with Cambodia’s peacekeepers and we stand ready to assist the Government with future Peacekeeping deployments,” he said in an email.

Cambodia has sent some 468 peacekeepers to Sudan on four missions since 2006, and additional RCAF troops have been sent to Chad and the Central African Republic.

Prak Sokhon, chairman of the National Coordination Committee of UN Peacekeeping Operations, said at Monday’s ceremony that another 200 troops are set to join the UN Interim Force in Lebanon next month.


Fire families flout city’s ban

Photo by: Will Baxter
A man helps to rebuild his family’s home in Tuol Kork district’s Boeung Kak 2 commune, where a fire in March left hundreds homeless.

via Khmer NZ News Media

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:02 Khouth Sophakchakrya

Residents who lost homes in a March blaze begin rebuilding in the face of inaction

A GROUP of families made homeless by a March 8 fire in Tuol Kork district have begun rebuilding houses that are larger than those approved by city authorities, a move that residents say was prompted by growing frustration with the fact that replacement plots have yet to be demarcated.

More than three months after the fire, temporary structures still line the railway tracks in Boeung Kak 2 commune, but about 30 wood-and-brick homes are now also in various stages of construction.

Until recently, 170 families from the site had been slated for relocation to 5-by-12-metre plots in Dangkor district’s Choam Chao commune. On June 11, however, district officials axed the relocation plan because 67 other families refused to vacate the area.

All of the families have been asked to build replacement homes on 3.92-by-5.5 metre plots, a size smaller than those occupied by many before the fire.

Seang Hai, a representative of the 170 families that sought to relocate, said Tuesday that she and members of seven other families had decided to build a brick home with a metal roof on their original 13-by-14-metre plot of land.

“When the authorities decided to cancel the relocation, we decided we could not endure living in a temporary shelter under a ruined tent roof any longer,” she said.

Chan Heng, a relative of Seang Hai, said, “We told the authorities from the start that if they could not relocate us, we would rebuild our home on the old site.”

Anarchic development?
Some residents, like Phal Phornareth, lack the necessary funds to rebuild. “I want to make a new home, but we don’t have enough money,” she said, and added that she worried about disease because of recent heavy rainfall, mosquitoes and the raw sewage that is flowing into the area.

Others have expressed concern that the authorities will use the construction of unauthorised dwellings as an excuse to raze and evict the entire community.

“We need to live here, but we need the authorities to set things up. We need them to measure the land so it can be distributed to us soon in order to avoid making a slum in this area,” said Duong Sothea, a representative of the 67 families that resisted relocation.

Nov Phala, 68, said it was unfair that the authorities had not reprimanded the families building permanent homes.

“Some families are making brick homes, but the authorities are ignoring them. But before, when my family and others wanted to rebuild homes, the authorities banned us and threatened to confiscate our building materials and pull down our homes,” she said.

Tuol Kork deputy district governor Thim Sam An said Tuesday that he would not allow the former fire site to turn into a new urban slum.

“We have banned those people again and again from making new homes without permission; we have showed them our plans to build new roads in the area, and we have told them they will eventually get 3.92-by-5.5 metre plots,” he said.

“We cannot allow those families to make a slum at the fire site, because we are concerned that their homes will just be burned up in another accident.”

He added that he will hold a meeting later this week with the residents to discuss a timeframe for the measurement and distribution of the official land plots.

Ministers scold Thai officials

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:02 Cheang Sokha

Council accuses Thailand of misleading media about Red Shirts’ whereabouts

THE Council of Ministers on Tuesday again accused Thai officials of fuelling reports that Red Shirts are hiding out in the Kingdom, after the daily newspaper The Nation reported that leaders of the antigovernment group might be planning “underground operations” from Cambodian soil.

A story published Tuesday by The Nation stated that “many senior red shirts are reportedly hiding in Cambodia while allegedly plotting a third red-shirt rally and even underground operations in the coming months”.

Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Council of Ministers, said that the article constituted evidence that the Thai government was deliberately misleading its national press.

“Thailand should be honest with Cambodia, and should contact Cambodia to get the true information,” Tith Sothea said.

“It is a shame that the Thai government continues to use the media to publish fake information that could provoke trouble with Cambodia.”

Earlier this month, a report by ASTV, a Thai news station, said Red Shirt leaders Arisman Phongruangrong and Suphorn Atthawong were hiding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town.

In response, the Council of Ministers issued a statement that “false reports have been fabricated again and again by the Thai Vicious Circle aimed at discrediting the Kingdom of Cambodia”.

Last week’s statement also criticised a May 31 report quoting a Thai military official as saying that a group of Cambodian migrant labourers might have been trying to transport alleged “bomb making materials” to Muslim insurgents in Thailand’s restive southern provinces.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn referred questions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spokesmen for which could not be reached for comment.

Also Tuesday, the Banteay Meanchey’s provincial police chief accused Thai officials and soldiers of attempting to clear a section of disputed border territory for the construction of a customs office, saying that an excavator had appeared Saturday at the Boeung Trakoun border crossing between Banteay Meanchey and Sa Kaeo provinces.

Hun Hean said Cambodian and Thai officials had discussed the matter, and that the Thai officials had ultimately decided to halt the planned clearance work.

“There was a tense discussion before we reached an agreement to stop their activities,” Hun Hean said. “If they do not stop, then we will use armed forces to force them to stop.”

Kampot woman held in abuse of 16-year-old girl

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:02 Khuon Leakhana and Mom Kunthear

KAMPOT provincial police have detained a woman accused of beating her 16-year-old niece over a period of six years, officials said.

In Chiva, the provincial deputy police chief, said the woman was interrogated on Tuesday, and that she had confessed to beating the girl and burning her with hot water.

“The woman told me during questioning that she had beaten her niece for many years because the girl lived under her management, but always worked too slowly,” he said.

He said the woman is to appear today at the provincial court, where she is likely to be charged under domestic violence laws.

The 16-year-old girl was removed from her aunt’s custody on June 15 after neighbours told police and monitors from the rights group Adhoc that she had been subjected to abuse for around six years. Officials investigating the case said they found more than 20 wounds on the girl’s body, some of them fresh.

Soeung Veasna, crisis support manager at the Switzerland-based NGO Hagar International, said Tuesday that the girl had been examined on Monday at the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in Phnom Penh, and that the staff said she may need back surgery.

“The doctor told me that the girl will have to stay in hospital for a while for ongoing health checkups,” she said.

Lang Saroeun, a neighbour who was also questioned by police, said he was “happy” he could assist in the case against the woman.

Chinese boost for Kingdom

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Anyul Hasan (left) of ESCAP speaks Tuesday at a workshop on the macroeconomy with UNDP Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick and Finance Minister Keat Chhon at the Sunway Hotel.

via Khmer NZ News Media

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:01 Jeremy Mullins and Catherine James

World Bank predicts manufacturing will benefit from rising labour costs abroad

CAMBODIA could be more selective in its acceptance of foreign direct investment, but the Kingdom’s manufacturing sector is poised to benefit from higher labour costs in China, experts said Tuesday at an economic workshop attended by leading government figures.

Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon joined National Bank of Cambodia officials and a host of economic experts at Phnom Penh’s Sunway Hotel for a macro-economic workshop, organ-ised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Investment proved a focus for discussion during the session, which covered a range of topics from labour costs, to extraction and agriculture. The role of China in the region also provoked discussion.

World Bank country manager Qimiao Fan told attendees in a policy discussion that China’s rising labour costs could potentially translate to economic gains for the Kingdom.

“My own sense is that labour costs will double in China’s manufacturing sector in the next few years,” he said, and added that this will help attract manufacturing that relies on low base costs to the Kingdom.

The domestic agriculture sector also stands to benefit from China’s economic growth, as the People’s Republic is a net importer of many agricultural products, he said, providing a market for the Kingdom’s farming surplus. He added that China will be increasing well-placed to invest in Cambodian industry as it develops.

“Cambodia is at a crossroads,” he said, and the Kingdom can develop along the lines of its ASEAN neighbours by utilising its natural resources, or follow in the footsteps other Asian success stories that tapped cheap supplies of labour to manufacture products for export. Others tipped strategic investment as a means to strengthen Cambodia.

“The government needs to look at what kind of portfolio is desirable for the country and build the investments around that,” Asia Competitiveness Institute’s (ACI)

Vietnam representative Do Hong Hanh said during a presentation.

She highlighted labour productivity as a key to facilitating trade, and said selective targeting of FDI can help Cambodia enhance its competitiveness.

“It doesn’t matter how much [foreign direct investment] but what kind and how it spills over and impacts [productivity],” she said.

She advised that the Kingdom’s decision makers should shift from a traditional focus on trade policy to increasing the productivity of domestic labour, citing ACI statistics which show that Cambodia enjoyed the highest level of workforce participation in 2008 in Asia but the lowest level for individual productivity.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon said during an opening speech that the domestic economy is rebounding from the global financial crisis, but that a new set of challenges is emerging through the Kingdom’s growing international ties.

“Cambodia’s economy is highly dependent on a sustained international trade expansion and foreign capital outflow,” he said.

Keat Chhon added that the Kingdom is keen to avoid creating too large of a domestic public debt through stimulus spending.

“We have to draw a lesson from what happens in some countries in Europe.”

Organisers of the event remained positive about the Kingdom’s progress.

UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick said Asia has shown signs of a faster and more pronounced recovery than many regions.

“In this context, the potential for sharing experiences and learning within the region is truly enormous, and can provide invaluable insights and solutions,” he said in a speech that kicked off the conference.

“A strong economy, as well as good governance, are the necessary foundations on which we can build,” he said.

Buzz of success for forest honey hunters

Bees bred at the Tokyo Grain Exchange last year. Cambodian honey collectors are to see a rise in the amount of honey they bring to markets. Bloomberg

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:01 Chun Sophal

Provincial honey collectors sign sales contract

HONEY collectors from four provinces signed an agreement with the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) Tuesday in order to bring more to market.

CEDAC president Yang Saing Koma told the Post that under the agreement bee-hunting communities would supply 4,000 litres of pure forest honey per year for sale in 10 shops across Phnom Penh.

“We hope that, through this agreement, CEDAC and forest honey hunter communities will benefit from both increasing their income and preserving natural resources for each community,” Yang Saing Koma said.

Pich Phony, president of the Cambodian Honey Hunter Community, which represents about 300 members in Mondulkiri, Koh Kong, Kratie and Preah Vihear provinces, said honey would be sold to CEDAC for US$9.70 per litre.

He added that the honey hunter communities in the four provinces are able to collect from 5,000 to 8,000 litres of honey in total per year at present.

According to MSME Bee Project, only 10 percent of the 500,000 litres of honey demanded domestically each year is currently supplied by Cambodia’s collectors.

It is hoped the deal will also help strengthen community conservation of hives and natural forest resources.

“Previously, we collected honey by cutting tree branches and then taking the whole nest, but we no longer do so now.

“We collect only the honey, and we leave the nest and young bees there so that they will produce honey again,” Pich Phony said.

CEDAC hopes to buy honey from collectors in three more provinces if the scheme goes well.

Cambodian workers set to enter Kuwait's labour force this year

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:01 May Kunmakara

MIGRANT workers from the Kingdom could join Kuwait’s labour market by the end of the year, according to the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies’ president An Bun Hak.

The move would mark the completion of a memorandum of understanding (MoU), originally discussed by both governments in 2008, to send migrant workers to the Middle East.

Nhem Kimhouy, a labour official at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said Tuesday that the government and the King approved the MoU in January this year.

The ministry, he said, is currently drafting a letter to the Kuwaiti government, to be sent through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would pave the way for the opening of the Kuwaiti labour market to Cambodians.

“When [Kuwaiti officials] receive the letter their government will allow a technical group to have a talk with [ministry’s] technical group.

“They will prepare regulations which follow all the terms and conditions detailed in the MoU,” he said.

It will contribute to reducing unemployment and poverty and help our economic growth."

“It is good opportunity for our labour force. It will contribute to reducing unemployment and poverty and help our economic growth,” he added.

An Bun Hak said he believes the Kuwait job market can absorb around 10,000 Cambodian workers per year in sectors such as services, tourism, construction and extraction. He estimated that migrants could earn fixed salaries of between US$200 and $300 per month.

“But our first priority is protection of worker’s safety and rights,” he said, highlighting the need for prospective employees to be free to worship in their own way.

Orders from Kuwaiti companies for labour have already been made, he said, but he has yet to recruit workers to supply them.

“We have to select well-known companies to minimise labour exploitation as much as possible,” he said.

An Bun Hak is also waiting to speak to the labour delegation from Kuwait.

“Afterwards, around the fourth quarter of this year, we can send our labour there,” he said.

The association president added that the delay in progressing with the initial employment deal was in part due to the impact of the global financial crisis, which reduced Kuwait’s demand for workers from abroad.

He also confirmed that he has received a green light from the Labour Ministry for labour delivery to the United Arab Emirates, which he expects to take place later this year.

Last year, Cambodia sent 9,682 workers to Malaysia, 1,687 to South Korea and more than 10,000 to Thailand.

Cambodian migrant workers sent home about $353 million in remittances in 2008, according to a report produced by the UN Development Programme.

Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Koy Kuong said Tuesday that he has yet to receive a letter from Labour Ministry.

But he confirmed that both governments had already endorsed the MoU on labour delivery.

Police Blotter: 23 Jun 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:00 Sen David

A 26-year-old man allegedly set fire to his own house because his parents refused to give him money, police in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district said. The parents reported that the suspect returned home in a visibly foul mood Saturday. He asked his parents for money, but they refused. That’s when he allegedly torched the family home. Luckily, neighbours rushed to the family’s aid and stamped out the blaze before it destroyed everything. The parents said their son was addicted to drugs, jobless and bent on engaging in destructive behaviour. Police have sent the man to court.

A father allegedly stabbed his 12-year-old son to death Monday after the boy refused to finish his food, police said. The Kampong Cham family was enjoying a meal together, investigators said, when an argument broke out between the boy and his father. The mother said the father cursed the child because the boy did not want to eat rice. That made the boy angry, causing him to flee the dinner table. For some reason, the father followed the boy outside and allegedly stabbed his son to death with a knife. Police said the suspect neither drank nor used violence against his son in the past. But neighbours said they believed that the suspect was influenced by some kind of secret spirit. Police have sent the suspect to hospital.

Police in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district say a 27-year-old university student was robbed at gunpoint Monday while on his way to snack on a tasty dessert near his house. The victim reported that six assailants on three motorbikes used a gun to threaten him just as he was departing to get his dessert. He alerted police immediately, but the suspects managed to escape. Police said they were investigating the case. They also appealed to residents to be careful while driving motorbikes at night because it can be dangerous.

One man died and another two were injured in a road accident in Battambang province on Monday. Police said one motorbike crashed into another passing in the opposite direction. They blamed the crash on the dead man, who they said was drunk and slammed his vehicle into the other motorbike. The driver’s family said the man had been drinking wine at the market and drove home drunk. The two injured men on the other motorbike were sent to hospital.

Siem Reap-to-Da Lat air route wins support

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:00 Chun Sophal

DIRECT flights should be established to facilitate tourists travelling between Siem Reap and Da Lat, in the southern part of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, Cambodia’s Minister of Tourism Thong Khon has said.

Urging Cambodia’s State Secretariat of Civil Aviation to investigate the issue, he said flights between the tourism hubs could lure an additional half a million tourists per year.

He estimated that 300,000 could arrive in Siem Reap from Da Lat, with 200,000 travelling the other way each year.

Thong Khon made the comments after meeting with a delegation of high-ranking officials from Vietnam.

“We will help facilitate the flights, and open representative offices in the respective provinces to ensure the process of exchanging tourists can be successfully carried out,” added the Tourism Minister.

The chairman of the people’s committee of Lam Dong province, the home of Da Lat, said Vietnam wished to have direct flights between Da Lat and the Kingdom in the near future.

“Under an exchange agreement the two countries will have a chance to increase visitors, which would generate a lot of income for [the] national economy,” Huynh Duchoa said Monday after meeting Thong Khon.

Located approximately 300 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City, Lam Dong province was visited by approximately 2.6 million tourists last year, of which 15 percent were foreign.

It is known as one of Vietnam’s most productive agircultural provinces and currently has no direct air link with Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Siem Reap province is located 362 kilometres from Phnom Penh, and is visited by approximately 2 million tourists per year, of which half are from abroad, statistics show.

Of the 2.16 million foreign tourists who visited Cambodia in 2009, an estimated 316,202 visitors were Vietnamese.

During the Mekong Tourism Forum in Siem Reap last May, Ministry of Tourism officials highlighted Vietnam as a potential source of more flights to the Kingdom following Thailand’s recent political unrest.

“Before, Bangkok was the main gateway for tourists from Europe and from America.

“But because it has big problems, maybe tourists will use other gateways such as Vietnam or Kuala Lumpur or Singapore,” Ministry of Tourism Secretary of State Kousom Saroeuth said previously.

Expat writer puts PPenh on the suspense novel map

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:00 Douglas Long

Phnom Penh

WHAT is it about Southeast Asia that brings out the mystery/suspense writer in foreigners? Is it the ever-present stench of corruption in the region’s cities? The perceived exoticism of the Orient? The debilitating effect of relentless tropical sunshine on the brain of the average expatriate?

Whatever the reason, Southeast Asia is teeming with wannabe Raymond Chandlers. Among the more well-known are John Burdett in Bangkok and Colin Cotterill in Laos. Famed American writer Amy Tan even got into the act with Saving Fish from Drowning, a truly awful novel about package tourists gone missing in Myanmar.

Expat writer Johan Smits has now stepped into the fray with Phnom Penh Express, a suspense novel set in the Kingdom’s capital city that follows the fortunes of a chocolate maker named Phirun – born in Cambodia, raised in Belgium and recently returned to the motherland – who unwittingly gets caught in the middle of a war between competing diamond smugglers.

The quirky plotline – involving a web of international intrigue whose strands reach all the way to Europe, the Middle East and Africa – unfolds at a cracking pace that will drag the willing reader along by the sweet tooth. However, the real driving force behind the novel are the witty observations about what life is like for clueless outsiders who, for one reason or another, avoid cultivating any form of meaningful engagement with Cambodian culture.

The usual suspects are held up for ridicule: Khmer pop music, bad driving habits, defensible architecture, government corruption and the greed of young Cambodians.

Most of these observations are made through the eyes of the characters. Phirum – oblivious to the fact that he has become the target of multiple assassination attempts – remains merrily engrossed in such experimental pursuits as creating “happy” chocolates by infusing them with narcotics, and writing hilariously pitiful love poetry to Merrilee, another Cambodian native who has, through living overseas, become disconnected from her heritage.

Phirum is, like the other characters, profoundly unhappy with his surroundings. His senses rebel against the “stench of prahok” (fermented fish paste) emanating from the landlord’s flat, as well as the “relentless wailing of the karaoke addict upstairs”. He also describes the Cambodian tradition of bowing to show respect as something that animals might do.

And while Colonel Peeters – a misogynistic Belgian psychopath who travels to Phnom Penh to maintain control of his diamond-smuggling operation – shares Phirum’s nightmares about being tortured by the “horrifying noise” of local pop music, he also indulges in a number of even harsher assessments of Cambodian culture throughout the book. Meanwhile, the questionable local driving habits are described over and over again in exquisitely horrifying detail anytime anyone takes a trip across the city.

The repeated hammering away at these observations, though often witty, conspires to paint a picture of Phnom Penh as an earthbound version of the Eighth Circle of Hell, with little in the way of redemption aside from one block on Street 240, which is presented as a shady, tree-lined haven for foreigners.

As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that this droll commentary also serves as the albatross that threatens to drag Phnom Penh Express down – and herein lies the most glaring weakness of the novel: The characters all seem to put most of their energy into griping about Khmer culture, the only difference among them being a matter of degree. The author occasionally attempts to create the illusion of a dialogue between different points of view, but the debunkers always win the day. When, for example, Phirum is challenged by Merrilee about whether he qualifies as Cambodian, the final word is that he does not, mainly because he hasn’t “bought the latest Nokia with camera and digital music memory” and then filled it with Khmer love songs.

Phirum’s half-hearted argument that the poor behaviour of Cambodians results from the country wrestling itself through an “almost unavoidable phase” – and the fact that in the last chapter he has converted to eating the prahok that he had spent the entire book railing against – remain jarring and unconvincing apologies that contradict the general tone of Phnom Penh Express.

Of course Cambodian culture is not the only subject of the author’s wit. One character, William H Stoppkotte, the senior intelligence officer at the US embassy in Phnom Penh, serves as a comic stand-in for America’s genius for getting things wrong in its foreign policy.

Other worthy targets include aid workers who pamper themselves using money that would be better spent actually helping those in need. “She radiates the arrogant confidence that can usually be found only with the most die-hard prostitutes and overpaid foreign aid workers,” Smits writes, cleverly echoing Paul Theroux’s description in Dark Star Safari of UN employees who drive their white SUVs with “ministerial haughtiness”.

Overall, though, Phnom Penh Express seems bent on presenting an outsider’s view of Khmer culture. Funny at times, yes, but it would have been more challenging for the author, and much more fulfilling for the reader, if the book had made more frequent segues into the heads of Cambodians who salivate at the smell prahok and who don’t see why drivers should be slaves to a mindless electric lighting system. Judging by the entertainment choices of residents in neighbourhoods throughout the city, there are plenty of people who really do love Khmer pop music. While it’s not necessary to share this love, foreign writers can benefit from opening their minds to these sounds and trying to understand them, rather than plugging their ears in disgust.

The final chapter of the novel abruptly jumps from “now” to the year 2016, a time when corruption has virtually disappeared from the city, drivers obey traffic lights and Phirum happily chomps away on prahok during lunchtime. This sudden change serves to make the 27 preceding chapters seem like a mere prologue to vital, revolutionary change. And yet we only see the static moments, the times before and after the transformation of the city and the main characters. But it is precisely this period of change, the very years that are missing from Phnom Penh Express, that could be the subject of a truly interesting novel.

Monument Books (111 Norodom Boulevard) will host a launch ceremony for Phnom Penh Express on June 24 at 6pm. The book will be available for purchase (US$13) at Monument Books in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as at The Shop (39 Street 240) and The Chocolate Shop (35 Street 240).