Friday, 10 September 2010

Cambodian-Thai PMs to discuss border row

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 16:35 Cheang Sokha

CAMBODIAN officials said yesterday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had accepted an invitation to meet Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva in New York later this month, as the countries work to build ties following the resumption of full diplomatic relations last month.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Abhisit had requested a meeting with Hun Sen on September 24 at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where ASEAN leaders are also scheduled to meet United States President Barack Obama.

“Samdech Hun Sen accepted the meeting, and the two premiers will hold bilateral discussions,” Koy Kuong said.

Hun Sen accepted the meeting and the two premiers will hold [talks].

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told Bangkok’s The Nation that the gathering would be “an informal and friendly meeting to discuss only cooperation, not issues of conflict”.

Cambodia and Thailand withdrew their respective ambassadors last year in a rift over the appointment of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as economics adviser to the Cambodian government. Thaksin is wanted on graft charges at home in Thailand.

Ties were restored last month following the announcement of Thaksin’s resignation.

But although relations have warmed with Thaksin out of the picture, the countries’ dispute over territory along their border adjacent to Preah Vihear temple remains unresolved.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh this month, Hun Sen chided the Thai government for its inaction in resolving the ongoing border dispute and said discord between the two countries would remain as long as Thai troops were stationed in the disputed territory.

Government to allow nation-wide strike.

Photo by: Will Baxter

via CAAI

Thursday, 09 September 2010 18:26 Kim Samath

Wage crisis hits point of no return

LABOUR leaders have pledged that a strike that could be the biggest Cambodia has seen in recent memory will be held peacefully and without public disturbance, amid questions about whether authorities will allow the work stoppage to proceed as planned.

Unionists claim to have collected thumbprints from 80,000 workers who have pledged to participate in the five-day strike, slated to begin on Monday, to protest against a July decision setting the minimum wage for garment workers at US$61 per month.

Protest leaders have requested that the monthly wage for Cambodia’s 345,000 garment and footwear workers be set at $93.

Ath Thun, head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said strikers would demonstrate at their factories rather than on the streets, and therefore posed no threat to public order.

“The workers can either stay at home or go to the factories, but they will not work for one week,” Ath Thun said.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, said on Wednesday that his organisation would advise any factories facing work stoppages to seek court injunctions declaring the strikes illegal and requiring all strikers to return to work within 48 hours.

Cambodia’s Labour Law requires that workers planning a strike give notice to employers and the Ministry of Labour at least seven working days in advance. Union leader Kong Athit said that letters to GMAC and the Ministry of Labour had been sent only yesterday.

Free Trade Union president Chea Mony said the strike’s organisers had not made sufficient effort to negotiate before planning a work stoppage.

“If we strike without holding negotiations and having a clear purpose, it can affect investors, and the government might take action,” Chea Mony said.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said police would not be stationed at factories pre-emptively, and would not suppress demonstrations so long as they were conducted lawfully and without violence.

“If they follow the law, it doesn’t affect security and order,” Khieu Sopheak said. “We will take action if they break the law by causing violence or destroying factory property.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached. Deputy governor Pa Socheatvong and police chief Touch Naruth said they were too busy to comment.

Loo said it was unlikely that the actual number of strikers would come anywhere close to 80,000. Union leaders, he said, had not considered the effect the strike could have on the sector.

“The unions for sure are not going to suffer,” Loo said. “It’s going to be the workers that are going to be harmed the most.”


Jungle girl goes into training

Photo by: Douglas Long
Rochom P’nhieng, Cambodia’s “jungle girl”, sits in a hammock in Ratanakkiri province.

via CAAI

Thursday, 09 September 2010 20:14 Mom Kunthear and Vong Sokheng

CAMBODIA’s “jungle girl” is receiving life skills training from an NGO in her native Ratanakkiri province as she works to reintegrate into society, her purported father said yesterday.

Local residents say Rochom P’nhieng, believed to be 30 years old, spent 18 years living in the wilds of Ratanakkiri after going missing in 1989 while herding buffalo. After being discovered in the jungle in January of 2007, she was taken in by the family of Sal Lou, from O’Yadav district, who claimed her as his long-lost daughter.

Although Rochom P’nhieng was said to have made progress in the years following her return to civilisation, helping out around the house and learning a few words of Khmer and Phnong, a local language, she fled her home briefly in May in an attempt to return to the jungle. She was later discovered stranded in a 10-metre dugout toilet, and Sal Lou said her efforts at reintegration had been largely stunted since then.

“I hope that she can be reintegrated in our community and learn the language,” Sal Lou said. “I have no time to teach her, so I am happy she is working with an NGO”.

Hector Rifa, project director for the Spanish mental health organisation Psicologos Sin Fronteras, said in an email yesterday that Rochom P’nhieng was just one of a group of around 100 villagers to whom PSF has been providing psychological services.

“Everybody needs to learn and needs to change behaviours to adapt better to a new social environment, and all according to their capacities,” Rifa said.

Though she has yet to learn to communicate extensively via language, Rochom P’nhieng was being taught health habits and social skills to ease her interactions with others, Rifa said.

“After her training, I hope that P’nhieng will be able to clean the house, wash clothes, cook and psychoanalyse,” Sal Lou said.

“It will help my family members a lot, because then we will have time to work and earn money without having to watch her all the time to make sure that she doesn’t escape into the forest again.”

TV station provides cover for troops

via CAAI

Thursday, 09 September 2010 19:02 Thet Sambath

CAMBODIA Television Network has received more than 200 tonnes of cement and thousands of dollars in donations to help construct bunkers for soldiers stationed along the border after launching a drive last month.

“We have received more than 200 tonnes of cement and US$4,000 for buying steel to build military bunkers along the border with Thailand,” CTN director Tok Kimsay said yesterday. “It is for the military’s safety, to protect our territory.”

CTN is collecting money and raw materials through a televised campaign that began on August 31 for the construction of bunkers along a 113-kilometre stretch of border primarily in Oddar Meanchey province.

The campaign is part of a controversial programme, the specifics of which were spelled out in a document signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in February, that has private companies support the armed forces.

Although government officials have said the programme would emphasise humanitarian needs, Tok Kimsay has said he wants to provide support for troops in potential combat.

Yesterday, he said there had been “no problem” in procuring donations because of interest shown by Cambodians at home and abroad.

“We hope we will be successful in getting enough funds for these bunkers,” he said.

He previously estimated that 1,000 tonnes of concrete and 500 tonnes of steel would be necessary to complete the project.

Since border tension with Thailand began to rise in 2008, several local television stations have broadcast pleas for the public to donate food, clothing, medicine and other materials to help support border troops. CTN continues to make on-air appeals for donations, and regularly lists the names of those who have contributed to the campaign.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that construction of military infrastructure was a government responsibility. “It is the duty of the government and Ministry of Defence to build bunkers for the military, not private companies,” he said.

Blazing drugs

Photo by: Rann Reuy
Part of a stockpile of more than US$100,000 worth of illicit drugs that was destroyed by Siem Reap provincial drug officials yesterday.

via CAAI

Thursday, 09 September 2010 18:07 Rann Reuy

Siem Reap province

Provincial authorities yesterday destroyed more than US$100,000 worth of illicit drugs seized over the past two years in Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey, officials said.

Non Sophanny, chief of the provincial anti-drug trafficking office, said that the haul burned by officials yesterday included 9,592 tablets of yama, or methamphetamine, 492 packages of crystal methamphetamine, three packages of heroin and two tablets of ecstacy.

“Most of the drugs were confiscated in Siem Reap,” Non Sophanny said.

He said it was likely that most of the methamphetamine had entered the province from Phnom Penh and by way of the Poipet border crossing from Thailand.

The seizures were the result of efforts to crack down on the sale and use of drugs in Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey, he said. These efforts have also seen 42 people arrested for alleged involvement in trafficking illegal drugs since the start of the year, he added.

According to surveys conducted in Siem Reap town, he said, 241 people there are addicted to or otherwise involved with drugs.

“We are transforming drugs from making victims to destruction,” he said.

“If they got into the hands of our youth, it would have been a health hazard for many people.”

Sok Leakena, deputy provincial governor of Siem Reap, said he welcomed the efforts of law enforcement officials to curb the spread of drugs in the area. “We hope drug smuggling will decrease in the future because of the crackdown,” he said.

New Vietnamese Supermarket

Workers are busy at the US$3 million Vietnamese supermarket due to open on Monivong Boulevard, Phnom Penh, next month. Photo by: Sovan Philong

via CAAI

Thursday, 09 September 2010 19:32 Catherine James

CAMBODIA’S first Vietnamese supermarket will open its doors to customers next month, its administration manager said yesterday.

The US$3 million two-storey complex has been built on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard, in Boeung Keng Kang 3, near the Vietnamese embassy, and is owned by an investor from a firm called Z38 Co.

“It is the first Vietnamese

supermarket to open in Cambodia. We will provide good service to the clients,” Keo Rithy Thy, administration manager for the store said.

Despite its roots, the store, which will house around 100 booths for rent in 3,264 square metres of space, will not confine itself to selling Vietnamese products.

“We’re selling mix products come from abroad,” said the manager.

Chinese and Thai products will also be for sale at the complex, which is named simply Vietnamese Supermarket.

According to publicity for the store, it intends to sell bags, clothes, shoes, jewellery, toys, furniture, food and beverages.

Competitors are taking stock of the development.

“I’m not worrying anything because we have different products imported from abroad,” Chheang Meng, General Manager of Bayon Supermarket in Phnom Penh, said yesterday.

“We always give the best services to our clients and make clients feel confident with high quality standard goods,” he said.

Police Blotter: 10 Sep 2010

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Kaing Menghun

Part-time ice man iced by ice had self to blame
A 20-year-old man died after being crushed by seven large blocks of ice in Banteay Meanchey province on Tuesday. The victim was employed at a bespoke ice shop, which produces ice for local customers. While waiting to serve customers in the ice-producing room, seven slabs of ice fell on him, killing him instantly. The manager of the shop said the victim was “not a full-time worker”, and that the accident was his own fault because he failed to use proper ice-manoeuvring techniques.

Alcohol makes legless drunkard hopping mad
A one-legged man was arrested in Battambang province on Tuesday after his wife complained to police that he beat her during drunken rages. The victim told police that her unemployed husband always demanded money to buy alcohol after losing his leg in an accident a year ago. Each time she brought him alcohol, he would lose his temper and beat her, she said. He admitted hitting his wife, but denied ever causing serious injuries.

Dad accuses builder of raping his daughter
A construction worker was arrested yesterday after the father of the girl he slept with accused him of raping her in Phnom Penh. The father said he began searching for his daughter on Monday after she called him and said she had moved from Preah Sihanouk province to Phnom Penh to be with the accused. The man denied the rape allegations, insisting the two fell in love in Preah Sihanouk, and that any sex they had was consensual. After locating the couple, the father reported them to police.

Bicycle boozers find oncoming traffic, death
Two severely drunken bicycle riders were killed after colliding with a speeding car in Pursat province’s Krakor district on Tuesday. A witness said he saw the two victims trying to cross a street after emerging from a small path. Because they were so drunk, they did not register oncoming traffic. The two men died at the district hospital, and the driver of the car fled the scene on foot.

Police end yearlong hunt for accused thief
Police on Sunday arrested a man accused of robbery in Battambang province’s Kamreang district last year. The suspect was caught in Kampong Cham, having fled Battambang following the alleged robbery. The suspect told police, however, that he left in order to take a job at a rubber plantation. In response, district police commented that a thief never admits he is a thief until all the evidence is put in front of him.

Remittals key in wage debate

Photo by: Will Baxter
Sun Seak Lay, 22, cooks rice for lunch before going to work in the morning at a garment factory in Phnom Penh earlier this week.

It cannot help my family to have a good living standard, but it is better than nothing.

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Brooke Lewis and Mom Kunthear

SUN Seak Lay shares a cramped concrete house in Meanchey district with four other young women, all of whom work 12-hour days six days per week and can barely afford to feed themselves. At night, three of them sleep on a wooden platform on the ground level, while the other two sleep on the floor in a loft.

Like many garment workers, the 22-year-old sends a large chunk of her wages to her family, keeping just enough so she can eat, sleep and travel to work.

“Sometimes, I spend only 500 riels for a meal that tastes like water,” she said, “but I just eat it to keep my life going on for working.”

After leaving school at the age of 12, Sun Seak Lay worked alongside her parents in a rice field in Kandal province for four years before moving to the capital to take a job at a factory. Her chief goal is to keep her nine siblings in school.

“Poverty forced me to leave school and home in order to earn money for my family. I don’t want to work as a factory worker, but I have no choice,” she said. “I don’t want my brothers and sisters to leave school like me.”

At present, her basic wage amounts to about US$53 per month, and she also earns up to $30 in overtime. She sends the equivalent of her overtime pay home to supplement her family’s farming income. “It cannot help my family to have a good living standard, but it is better than nothing,” she said.

Kong Kunthea, one of Sun Seak Lay’s roommates, also 22, earns the same wages, and sends even more to her family in Kandal.

“I send my family from $40 to $50 per month, and keep for myself only about $20 per month, plus some for spending on water, electricity and rent,” she said.

In July, the Labour Advisory Committee, a body of government officials and industry representatives, upped the minimum wage – which is currently set at $50 plus a mandatory $6 cost-of-living allowance – to a total of $61 per month. The increase, the first since 2006, falls far below the $93 that some union leaders have asked for.

Both Sun Seak Lay and Kong Kunthea say the increase, set to go into effect in October, would be too small to make any noticeable impact on their lives, in large part because of the remittance payments they feel compelled to make.

But both women also said that no matter how much the wage increased, they would likely send almost all the extra money home.

Sun Seak Lay said that if the wage were to increase to US$90, she would double the amount she remits, meaning that, if she continued working overtime, she would be left with close to the amount she is already living on.

“I can send more money to my parents if I get a higher wage,” she said. “I will send $60 or $70 to them if I can get $90 per month.”

The extent to which remittances should be considered in arriving at a suitable wage for the sector has been a point of contention in the ongoing debate.

Last September, the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, a local research institute, released a report concluding that the ideal minimum wage for the sector would be $71.99 per month, or $74.85 per month once rising food costs are taken into account. The study – which drew from interviews with 300 garment workers representing 74 factories in five provinces – contended that at least $15 for remittances should be factored into the minimum wage.

“Workers stated that their core mission for entering the garment sector workforce is to earn cash income for their family,” the report stated. “If they do not earn enough to send remittances home, their parents will call them back. Thus, the minimum wage must cover not only the basic needs of workers, but also their dependants.”

Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, which commissioned the CIDS report, yesterday recalled that many workers said their families would pull them out of the factories if they could not afford to send at least $15 home each month.

“They said that if they did not send at least $15 home, after two or three months their parents would come to the factory to get them and take them home,” he said.

Like Sun Seak Lay and Kong Kunthea, he said a minimum wage of $61 would not be enough to cover remittances and basic living costs.

“Living conditions will not change at all if the salary goes up to $61,” he said, and added that factory workers “will have to work more overtime” to counter rising living costs.

But Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said yesterday that a minimum wage did not need to provide for remittances.

“We have to look at the definition of a minimum wage,” he said. “We think the minimum wage should ensure the worker a minimum standard of living. For us, minimum wage should not include remittances.”

He said he believed a minimum wage of $61 “probably does not allow for the full amount they would like to send home or contingency”, but that it would be sufficient to cover basic living costs.

“The minimum wage should at least ensure that workers should have decent housing, be able to afford decent food, etc,” he said.

“The current level of minimum wage definitely allows for that.”

This week, union leaders said they had collected more than 80,000 thumbprints from factory workers who would participate in a five-day strike scheduled to begin on Monday in protest of the minimum wage.

Both Kong Kunthea and Sun Seak Lay said they intended to participate. Asked why, Sun Seak Lay said, “I don’t know how my future will be if I still get too little salary like this.”

But even with the strike threat, Ken Loo said he was not worried about a potential staffing shortage should present workers conclude the new wage is unsustainable.

“There are 250,000 new entrants into the job market every year, according to the government,” he said. “The garment industry, which is the largest industry in the country, only employs around 300,000 workers. Please tell me where these 250,000 people will go?”

Graft suspect labels accuser illegal logger

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Meas Sokchea

THE head of a local conservation NGO says he has come under legal fire after lodging a complaint accusing officials in Kampong Speu province’s Oral district of involvement in illegal logging.

Chea Hean, director of the National Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation, a national watchdog, said yesterday that he was summoned on Tuesday to appear at Kampong Speu provincial court on September 15.

The summons, he said, came in response to a complaint from Chhun Chhea Heng, the head of the Oral Mountain Animal Refuge and one of those named in his corruption complaint, who has in turn accused him of illegal logging and extortion.

Late last month, Chea Hean accused 241 officials, including Chhun Chhea Heng and six other Oral district forestry officials, of turning a blind eye to illegal logging. Yesterday, he said he was prepared to appear before the court next week to defend his claims.

“I am not scared of the corrupt officials who are destroying national assets,” Chea Hean said.

“This is just the work of bad officials, and I will face the law. I’m not afraid because I haven’t committed these acts.”

Chea Hean said his complaint against Chhun Chhea Heng, filed at the Anticorruption Unit on August 30 and again at the Appeal Court Wednesday, followed a series of complaints to the provincial court in 2008 and 2009, none of which drew a response.

The most recent complaint, a copy of which has been obtained by the Post, calls on the Appeal Court to sentence Chhun Chhea Heng and six other officials to 22 years in prison and to fine them 200 million riels (US$47,619).

Ouk Savuth, prosecutor general at the Appeal Court, said on Wednesday that he had received Chea Hean’s complaint, and that officials were working to determine whether the allegations are true.

Chhun Chhea Heng could not be reached for comment yesterday, and Kampong Speu provincial court judge Iv Borin, who is in charge of the case, declined to comment.

Sam Rainsy appeal: Acting head of SRP seeks Senate help

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Meas Sokchea

Sam Rainsy appeal

KONG Korm, acting president of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, will today send a letter to Senate President Chea Sim requesting him to encourage the government to allow party leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia.

Sam Rainsy, who is in self-imposed exile overseas, was sentenced to two years in jail after an incident in October last year in which he helped villagers uproot wooden demarcation poles near the Vietnamese border.

Kong Korm said yesterday that the Senate had a “duty” to try to arrange for a compromise that would enable Sam Rainsy to return. “I have optimism that it’s very reasonable that the Senate president can ask the government authorities and the National Assembly to withdraw the complaint,” he said.

Questioning delayed in Preah Vihear NGO case

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Chhay Channyda

THE questioning of three villagers who have accused an NGO of human rights violations has been postponed until September 16, officials said yesterday.

The villagers – Sath Savoeun, 45, Kim Sophal, 41, and Srey Sophan, 62, all of Preah Vihear’s Choam Khsan district – were to be questioned yesterday after being accused of incitement, fraud and disinformation.

On Tuesday, the villagers asked the provincial court to delay the hearing, saying they feared arrest if they appeared at the court. Sor Savuth, the provincial court director and investigating judge in the case, said previously that the hearing would go ahead.

But yesterday he announced the court had agreed to the postponement. “We have delayed ... because we do not want to hear that we have tried to intimidate them,” he said.

“We have rescheduled the date for September 16 so that they can come along with their lawyers.”

The three villagers are part of a group in Choam Khsan district’s Kantout commune who say they have been terrorised by staff members from the Drugs and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation, an NGO run by a one-star general.

Rights groups say employees of the NGO, which received a 556-hectare social land concession in Choam Ksan in 2007, have issued threats, forced dozens of families off their land and even raped local residents.

Kim Sophal, one of the three accused, said yesterday that he was innocent of the allegations, but that it still “did not feel good” to see his name on the summons order.

“Their accusations are baseless,” he said.

DARPO Director Pen Loem, who also serves as an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

S-21 photographer’s NGO gains approval

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Anlong Veng district deputy governor Nhem En speaks to reporters about his plans for a tourism NGO at his guesthouse room in Phnom Penh yesterday.

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Khouth Sophakchakrya

NHEM En, who photo-graphed prisoners at Tuol Sleng for the Khmer Rouge said yesterday that the Ministry of Interior had approved his plan to establish an NGO aimed at attracting visitors to a former regime stronghold in Oddar Meanchey province.

“I will develop Anlong Veng, best known as the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge between 1993 and 1997, as a memorial and tourism site for attracting local and international tourists to visit Cambodia,” Nhem En said in Phnom Penh yesterday. He said the name of the NGO is Anlong Veng Historical Tourism Development Organisation.

The Council of Ministers in March approved a draft of a sub-decree allowing tourism development in Anlong Veng.

Nhem En, a deputy Anlong Veng district governor, said he hoped the district would become a centre for tourism, and that his organisation would provide jobs for locals.

“Our organisation will be created in order to preserve the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng, for [future] generations to research and understand about the Khmer Rouge regime, and to promote the livelihood of the people in this area as well,” he said.

During the Khmer Rouge regime, Nhem En, 50, worked at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, where he took many of the black-and-white portraits now on display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The prison, which was under the command of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, claimed the lives of as many as 16,000 “enemies” of the regime.

Nhem En said his current project – a museum in Anlong Veng that will house photos and other relics belonging to Khmer Rouge leaders including Pol Pot – was around halfway to completion.

He said he expects the museum, situated on 50 hectares of his own land in Anlong Veng, to be completed by the end of the year.

Nhem En made a splash in April 2009 when he announced plans to sell what he claimed were Pol Pot’s shoes and some of the cameras he used at Tuol Sleng for US$500,000. No buyers emerged.

American tried in child-sex case

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Chrann Chamroeun

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court yesterday heard the case against an American man charged with buying sex from three underage girls and producing child pornography during a trip to Cambodia in January.

Craig Thomas Carr, 59, was arrested January 21 and charged with purchasing sex from three 14-year-old girls in Phnom Penh and Kandal province. He was deported in May to the United States through Operation Twisted Traveller –an arrangement by which Americans suspected of committing sex crimes overseas can be tried in the US – and charged in a district court in Washington State.

But because proceedings in Cambodia had already commenced at the time of his deportation, the domestic case has gone ahead, said Samleang Seila, head of the child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants. “The prosecution started here before [he was deported], so it must continue, and there has been no instruction from the American courts to terminate it,” he said.

During a hearing in Washington state on July 27, Carr pled guilty to having sex with underage girls in Cambodia. He faces a sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison in the US.

The Municipal Court yesterday also heard the cases of Mey Sovan and Sek Savy, both 37, who have been charged with soliciting and procuring child prostitution for allegedly finding victims for Carr.

Both suspects originally denied the charges before confessing in court yesterday.

All three suspects face between seven and 15 years in prison if found guilty.

A verdict is expected September 22.

Also yesterday, the Municipal Court charged Briton Michael Leach, 50, with purchasing child sex following his arrest from a guesthouse in Kandal’s Kien Svay district on Sunday.

Recruitment centre closes after accident

Photo by: Pha Lina
Vann Synoun, 30, from Battambang province, is comforted by her father as she recovers at a Russey Keo district clinic yesterday from injuries she received in a fall while trying to rappel down a three-storey VC Manpower Company building in a bid to escape. The training facility in question has closed.

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Mom Kunthear

ALICENSED labour recruitment firm has quietly closed down a training facility in Sen Sok district where a woman was injured while trying to escape last weekend.

Police reported on Sunday that Battambang native Vann Synoun, 30, suffered minor injuries after she fashioned a rope out of various pieces of clothing and tried to rappel down the side of the three-storey VC Manpower Company building. They said she had not been detained by the company but had attempted to leave without asking for permission beforehand because she was convinced the company would say no.

Keo Thea, director of the municipal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Bureau, said yesterday that the training centre had been boarded up on Tuesday, and that the trainees had been relocated to a larger VC Manpower centre also located in Sen Sok. He said the relocation had nothing to do with Vann Synoun’s accident.

“I used to hear from the company director that [the facility] is not such a good environment for his workers to stay. That’s why they moved them to another branch, which is the head office and is bigger,” he said.

Keo Thea said he did not know how many trainees had been relocated, and company officials could not be reached for coment. But Vann Synoun said yesterday that there had been about 200 trainees living in poor conditions in the centre.

“I had to sleep with about 200 workers in a long room on the floor, and the food was not good or healthy,” she said.

Speaking from a bed in a private clinic, Vann Synoun said she had been badly injured during her escape attempt, contradicting reports from police.

“I fell unconscious for two days after I rappelled down from the centre, and I don’t know who saved me and sent me to the clinic,” she said.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A VC Manpower Company training facility in Sen Sok district. Officials said yesterday that the firm, which trains women to work abroad, had closed the facility and relocated its trainees.

She said it was true that she had tried to escape from the training centre because she had missed her family, but that the company had refused to let her leave without repaying the US$800 it claimed to have invested in her.

“I asked to leave the centre, but the director said I can only leave if I give him $800 for the documents they completed for me and for staying in the centre for four months,” she said.

An Bunhak, director of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, said companies were required to inform the Labour Ministry before relocating trainees. “I think if they move the place or close the company, they have to inform to the ministry and if they did not, it means that they did it illegally,” he said.

But Nhem Kimhouy, a Labour Ministry official, said yesterday that although the ministry had not been informed ahead of time, there was nothing wrong with the relocation.

“It is normal for a recruitment company to move their workers to another place because they think the old place is not good for their workers to stay or bad luck for their company,” he said.

Extraction's risk factor

An aerial view of the OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill open pit mine in South Australia. Bloomberg

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:01 Nguon Sovan

THE Kingdom’s mining sector may be evolving but domestic banks as yet have no appetite to lend to the nascent industry, because of high risk levels and environmental considerations.

Mining enterprises in Cambodia are gaining pace, as domestic and international firms – such as Australian giants Oz Minerals and Southern Gold – attempt to tap into the Kingdom’s inventory of mineral resources that include gold, rubies, titanium, oil and gas.

But according to the National Bank of Cambodia’s latest banking supervision report, in 2009 mining and quarrying made up the smallest proportion of credit concentration of any sector, just 0.1 percent nationally. Out of US$2.5 billion lent by banks last year, just $2.5 million went to mining.

In Channy, president and CEO of ACLEDA bank, said that although a number of miners had approached the bank for loans this year, none had been granted.

He said that although ACLEDA lent to all sectors with potential, the bank had to be certain that companies could profit without having an adverse impact on the environment.

“We have enough capital to lend even in mining sector, but firms must comply with the laws. From our stance, protecting environment is important. We also think about the health of our customers first because our portfolio is the customers’ deposits,” he said.

Risk levels were also of prime importance at Canadia bank. Last year, its loans to the mining and quarrying sector were just $600,000 or 0.15 percent of the bank’s total.

Dieter Billmeier, Canadia’s vice president, said that any reputable bank should look careful into a sector before lending, as research is a necessary element for a responsible institution with well-established credit-risk management.

“We are also prudent with environmental issues concerning this sector,” he said.

But how important are domestic loans to the mining sector, which has seen a clutch of global giants enter the Kingdom?

In Channy said that many foreign firms bring capital from their home countries.

Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, said it was more appropriate for them to be funded by equity rather than debt when they are at the ‘extraction’ rather than ‘exploitation’ stage of mining.

ANZ, he said, was one of the leading banks for the resources sector globally but has yes to lend to the Cambodian industry.

While bankers are hesitant to lend to miners operating in Cambodia, which have to date yet to extract anything in the Kingdom, research has suggested that globally lenders attitudes to extraction loans have changed over the course of the financial crisis.

A report from the former chief economist of Rio Tinto, David Humphries, published by the World Bank last year, suggested changing considerations have affected small and mid-size miners in emerging economies.

During the commodity boom of 2003 to 2008, he wrote, the financial position of emerging market miners improved. Most new financing, he reported, was in the form of bank borrowing and bond loans.

“The maturing of a banking systems and stock markets of many emerging markets ... had also been increasing the availability of funding for emerging economies, most notably for smaller and mid-cap [mining] companies” he said.

“Thus, Hong Kong emerged as a significant source of equity finance for mining in Asia.”

However, with the credit crunch that position changed, presenting “additional challenges” for the sector.

“The first and more immediate of these is financial. The flight from risk ... has impacted particularly heavily in emerging markets. For smaller companies, particularly those not yet in production, the sources of funding have pretty much dried up completely.”

But some bankers believe that as understanding of the mining industry improves in Cambodia, financing may also adapt.

Dieter Billmeier said that banks preferred to disperse loans using land titles as collateral. But in the future, banks could use smaller and easier-to-access financial leases, in which a bank buys machinery, warehouses or equipment for a company and leases it back to them – to aid miners.
Officials also hope that links between miners and banks will grow.

Cheam Yeap, chairman of the National Assembly’s commission on economy, banking, finance and audit, said yesterday that banks would play an important role in financing mining companies in the future as mineral exploitation arrives.

“Some banks are partnered with foreign investors, so they would have a lot of possibilities to lend the sector,” he said.

Miners already have a strategy to open credit markets. Cambodian Association of Mining and Exploration Companies president Richard Stanger said miners need the correct licences, to have completed exploration, have a resource base, and conducted bankable and environmental feasibility studies, to access loans.

Even if those steps were taken, he said, many miners would turn to specialist off-shore banks for loans, as “interest rates are very high here”.

That viewpoint was shared by chief executive officer of mining firm United Khmer Group, Chea Chet.

Nevertheless, Cambodia’s extractive industries are still in their infancy and some financiers are looking forward to their development.

Bank of India’s chief executive in Phnom Penh, Ramesh Chandra Baliarsingh, said: “We are very positive in financing the mining sector – if the proposal is bankable.”

But, for the meantime, that seems a big if. ADDITIONAL REPORTING ELLIE DYER

Go further with disclosure and embrace ETIT

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:01 Steve Finch

THE Ministry of Economy and Finance at the end of August again published data on extractive industry revenues – a sign the government is committed to at least a low level of transparency in this sector.

But this is just the first step. Just how far will Cambodia go in terms of full disclosure, and when?

Figures released in a national budget overview on August 23 showed the government needs to improve transparency as soon as possible, not least because oil, gas and mining revenues are increasing dramatically meaning more money is at stake.

In the first half of 2009, the Kingdom generated just 6 billion riels (US$1.45 million) in extractive industry revenues, a figure that multiplied 20 times in the same period this year to 118.49 billion riels, or $28.56 million.

We only know that because the government started to publish oil, gas and mining revenues for the first time last year.

When Finance Ministry Secretary General Hang Chuon Naron disclosed a $26 million payment by French energy company Total at a presentation in March, a snapshot of the government budget showed the same payment allocated for January.

But in the latest budget disclosure, there are no extractive industry revenue payments listed for January 2010, only a $27 million payment made in March.

Is this the same payment? Hang Chuon Naron and Finance Minister Keat Chhon were both unavailable for comment yesterday.

Although Cambodia has made an important first step towards transparency, the government should go further by embracing the industry standard – the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

By only going a certain distance, although the budget is less opaque, in many ways the current level of disclosure simply raises more questions that it gives answers.

In May, Cambodia received 6.28 billion riels from the sector according to the published version of the state budget, more than was generated for the whole of the first half of 2009.

Where did this payment come from?

The first step for the government in becoming an EITI candidate country would be to disclose oil, gas and mining revenues in full and allow private companies to do the same.

The EITI itself, along with a multi-stakeholder group, would then oversee this budgeting process – the idea is that the possibility for discrepancies between the two accounts dissuades graft.

Again, Cambodia has already gone halfway towards this standard. The government has permitted civil society groups including NGO Forum to act as observers on an inter-ministerial extractive industries working group that considers revenue transparency.

Crucially, civil society groups say they have previously applied for permanent member dialogue status but were denied.

Although there is understood to be differing opinions on EITI compliance within the government, it should be noted that countries with a far worse reputation on corruption than Cambodia have gone a great deal further on disclosure.

Chad, which lies 17 places lower than the Kingdom on Transparency International’s corruption perception index, in April became an EITI candidate, meaning it will now begin “double disclosure” of all sector payments – the state and private companies will publish payments

Iraq and Afghanistan, which between them occupy two of the bottom five positions on the corruption index, committed to the same EITI process in February. Now it should be Cambodia’s turn.

Kingdom ranks 109th for business climate

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:01 Catherine James

CAMBODIA’S business environment competitiveness has marginally improved, according to the World Economic Forum’s ranking of 139 countries, but the Kingdom continues to lag far behind its regional neighbours.

The forum’s annual competitiveness study scores 110 factors across 12 areas affecting an economy’s business climate: institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health, education, goods and labour market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation.

Cambodia, which was ranked 109th, was the worst performer of the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, excluding Laos and Myanmar which were not included in the survey.

This year’s rank is one better than last year’s 110th position.

Singapore was ranked third in the world, behind only Switzerland and Sweden – first and second respectively. The United States fell from its second place in 2009, to fourth place. Japan was the only other Asian nation to make the top 10.

Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia – in order of rank – made it into the top 50, all maintaining a fairly steady grade from last year. Vietnam, however, noticeably improved its position to 59 from 75. The Philippines was the second-worst ASEAN performer, coming in at 85, up from 87.

Of the 111 factors assessed, Cambodia’s standout strengths were ranking 12th in the world for inflation, 15th for total tax rate in the goods market, 33rd for female participation in the workforce, 35th for pay and productivity, and 37th for business impact of rules on foreign direct investment.

Cambodia’s competitiveness continues to be strangled by corruption and inefficient bureaucracy and infrastructure, the study said.

Of 139 countries, the Kingdom ranked 124th for irregular payments and bribes, 125th for transparency in government policy-making and 132nd for time required to start a business.

Its worst grade among the 111 factors was “fixed telephone lines”, for which it ranked the fifth-worst in the world at 135.

In an opinion survey on the most problematic factors for doing business in their country, found corruption topped the list in Cambodia, closely by inefficient government bureaucracy, inadequately educated workforce and inadequate infrastructure.

High prices boost rubber plants

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:01 Chun Sophal

RUBBER planting has surged in three provinces in the north of Cambodia on expectations that rubber prices will continue to rise in the future, a government official said yesterday.

Ly Phalla, director of the Rubber Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the increase of rubber price this year had led to the expansion of rubber plantations in Kampong Thom, Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces.

“As a result of this increase, we hope that Cambodia will have about 20,000 hectares of additional newly planted rubber this year,” Ly Phalla said.

Globally, rubber demand is also on the rise, and Singapore-based International Rubber Study Group reported yesterday that global consumption would exceed supply this year.

Demand would total 13.3 million tonnes, 114,000 tonnes higher than a previous forecast, while production would increase 6.1 percent to 10.25 million tonnes this year, the group said in an email.

Rubber futures in Tokyo have advanced 36 percent over the past year as demand expands from China and as weather disrupts tapping.

In Cambodia, grade 5 rubber is sold to local market for US$3,000 per tonne.

It was sold for $2,800 per tonne last month.

Ly Phalla said anticipation had led people to grow rubber on land where they had never grown the crops before such as in Veal Veng, Pursat province, and some other places in Koh Kong.

According to the statistics obtained from the three provinces, new rubber grown between January and August this year covers a total 18,790 hectares.

Last year the three provinces’ plantations covered 13,000 hectares.

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief

via CAAI

AngkorNet ISP opens office in Siem Reap

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 THIKA CHARIYA

PHNOM PENH-based internet service provider AngkorNet opened its first regional office in Siem Reap yesterday. The company’s administration and resource manager, Vong Ravuth, said Angkor Net decided on Siem Reap as it is a leading tourism and economic hub. He said the company also provided services to internet cafes in Siem Reap that catered to an influx of visiting foreigners.

New fire alarms on sale

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Sun Narin

ELECTRICS firm Dynamic E-Group launched fire alarms imported from German company Detectomat at Phnom Penh Hotel yesterday. Kim Rathna, sales executive, said the fire detectors were an improvement on the models currently available in the Kingdom, as they were able to detect both smoke and heat.There were roughly 29 fires requiring the fire service in Phnom Penh this year.

Tourist centre to open

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Soeun Say

A NEW tourist information centre is set to be launched in Battambang next Tuesday, in the latest attempt to provide services to the Kingdom’s visitors. The office, to be opened on September 14, is hoped to install confidence and make visitors feel comfortable, according to Ministry of Tourism officials.

Man About Town 10-09-2010

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Peter Olszewski

Blake is coming
Further to last week’s news item that renowned international sculptor Blake is en route to Siem Reap to launch his Fragments exhibition at Hotel de La Paix’s Arts Lounge on September 23, comes news that Blake is no recent stranger to Cambodia.

A new confrontational exhibition of Blake’s work has just finished in Canada.

This was a video installation titled “The Burning Buddha”, designed to pressure international leaders who refuse to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Blake sculpted a bronze statue of a naked girl seated in the lotus position, poured gasoline over the figure, and lit her on fire.

It now transpires that this fiery video was filmed earlier this year in Phnom Penh, beside the swimming pool at the house of a wealthy art collector who keeps a low profile.

It will be interesting to see what Blake gets up to during his visit to Siem Reap.

Feel-good night
Chilli Si Dang restaurant and Bodia Nature are teaming up tonight to give everyone the opportunity to look and feel good. Friday nights are Ladies Night at Chilli’s, and Bodia Nature is extending the idea with a charity night in support of a local NGO, ABCs & Rice.

Bodia Nature is providing free neck and shoulder massages, foot and body scrubs, and a silent auction of Bodia hampers. The full range of Bodia Nature products will also be on sale.

Bodia Nature has been developing beauty and health products for three years, based mainly on essential oils that are distilled here in Siem Reap.

Proceedings start at 8pm, with a $1 cover charge.

Cycle Cambodia
PEPY (Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself), an NGO, is once again holding its Cycle Cambodia trek, and this year will certainly test the international adventure tourists who sign on to learn the value of “Adventurous Living, Responsible Giving”.

This year’s marathon trek kicks off in Siem Reap on December 19 for a 22-day, 1000-kilometre tour to Phnom Penh, Kep “and everywhere in between”.

But it won’t just be all riding. Participants will also be able to visit NGOs along the route.

Funds raised by Cycle Cambodia, and by participants along the way, will go to PEPY’s educational and teaching programs in rural Cambodia.

Shake your rump in the Reap

Ariel Reyes doing his thang at the MGM Club in Shanghai.

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Nicky Hosford

So you think you can’t dance? Ariel Reyes begs to differ, and he’s running private and group classes in Siem Reap to show that anybody can dance – even white people.

“Everyone can dance,” he declares. “Dance and choreography are a wonderful way to bring everyone together. It’s something we all have in common.”

His expertise is in swing and salsa lessons for all levels of ability, but he can also turn his hand, and your feet, to hip-hop, R&B, and classic dances such as the tango or the waltz.

The energetic dance instructor, who is also a registered nurse, arrived in Siem Reap a month ago but is no stranger to Cambodia. He spent four years teaching at international schools in Phnom Penh until he left for China to teach dance and PE at the Shanghai International Community School.

At $5 an hour, the sessions are cheaper than a trip to the gym, and Reyes is keen to emphasise the benefits it can bring. “It’s a basic form of aerobics,” he enthuses. “You’ve just got to go for it and dance your arse off.”

Desperately unfit, I could feel the burn after only 20 minutes of continuous salsa moves. I have hips that like to move entirely independently of the rest of me. For some reason, this is good when you’re 23 but somewhat unseemly more than a decade later.

With a great deal of patience, in one short session Ariel managed to get those unruly bodily elements of mine to move with some semblance of order.

He was even fantastically good-natured about my rather frustrating tendency to try to lead.

Ariel has worked with children and adults, and laughs about how kids always prefer modern dance like hip-hop, dismissing classic dances such as swing as “so old”. But, he notes: “That’s until they get to the bit where they dip the girl. Then they get it.”

He learned his art back home in the Philippines, and got through university studying nursing on a dance scholarship. He was also on the dance varsity team and was a weekly backing dancer on Filipino television shows. Since then, he has moved into instructing and has often found it easier to find work teaching dance than as a nurse.

Classes are by appointment and held at the Angkor Gym, between Boomerang Guest House and My Home. Contact Ariel Reyes on 089 419 752.

Golfing legends drive off fairway

The winning team: (from left) Paul Popielier, Craig McDonald, Jacob Montross and Thierry Loustau.

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Adam Robertson

LAST Sunday, 32 IBC Legends of Golf members slugged it out on the fairways of Siem Reap’s Angkor Golf Resort.

IBC stands for International Business Club, more commonly known as the Chamber of Commerce.

The tournament grouped competitors in teams of four and followed a Texas Scramble format, with each team given a handicap based on the players’ ability.

Naturally there were prizes to be won for “nearest the pin”, “longest drive”, “nearest to the line” and a hole-in-one prize sponsored by Ezecom, who provided a Ford car for anyone getting a hole in one on the practice fairway, hole 19.

Nobody claimed it, although Lee Thai Khit provided a heart-stopping moment with his shot, which rolled to stop a mere five feet from the hole.

Traditionally at tournaments like this, a shotgun is used to announce early morning commencement of play but the organisers abandoned the idea in favour of a more modest firecracker at 7:30 am.

It quickly became evident which team did not overindulge the night before

as Thierry Loustau, ably supported by the rampant Jacob Montross, hit form just at the right time. A one under par front nine set the early pace, coupled with another one under par for a total of two under and victory.

Lee Thai Khit’s team of Luc Grobet, John You and Matt Rendall also showed promise but settled for a one under par 71, one shot off the pace and second place.

Prize winners were: Nearest the pin – Glenn Ang, and Paul Cheung A Long; Longest drive – Jacob Montross and Paul Cheung A Long.

Tuk tuk driver turns snapper

Kimleng Sang’s photos have a raw, intimate feel to them. Photo by: KIMLENG SANG

via CAAI

Friday, 10 September 2010 15:00 Nicky Hosford

A Siem Reap tuk tuk driver is well on the way to becoming a professional photographer, thanks to a kind helping hand from a Canadian tourist.

The intensity of Cambodia’s impact upon the senses has made it a popular destination for photographers since the country opened up again after the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the early 90s.

In the past few years, a local scene is finally beginning to develop, and 32-year-old Kimleng Sang is a shining example.

Kimleng Sang moved from Takeo province to Siem Reap in 2001 and after a couple of years was able to buy a tuk tuk and set up his own business.

This is how he came to meet David Bibbing, an enthusiastic photographer. Bibbing engaged Kimleng Sang’s tuk tuk service and the two got to talking about photography while Kimleng Sang ferried the Canadian around town.

Bibbing, spotting his talent and dedicated soul, bought Kimleng Sang a digital camera and supported some of his training.

Kimleng Sang’s images strongly reference Khmer culture because, he says, he is very proud of his country. Many people remark on the almost spiritual feeling of Kimleng Sang’s photos, yet the humble photographer insists he’s ultimately a recorder of people. Even when he is photographing ancient temples, it is the people in the images that bring the photos to life.

“I like to walk past the people and click when they don’t know,” he says, adding: “It gives a more natural feeling, like I can see the real person.”

Kimleng Sang is essentially self-taught, and has benefited a great deal from the photography tours he leads with his tuk tuk, taking visiting photographers to sites around Siem Reap that he chooses for their lighting rather than their history.

He says: “At first I thought the camera was the most important part of photography. But I soon realised that it’s really your eye, and then it’s the light.”

But it hasn’t been an easy process for Kimleng Sang, trying to learn without formal training or expensive equipment. “I learned by myself, but I learned a lot from visiting tourists and guest photographers,” he says.

He’s still driving his tuk tuk, and is looking forward to the day when he can commit himself wholly to his art.

But he’s also giving back and helping to train a new generation of young Khmer photographers at the Cambodian Poor Children Support Centre. “There are not many Cambodians taking photographs yet, so I’m trying to get there first,” he says with a grin.

Which is an interesting comment given the recent comments from the organisers of the annual Angkor Photo Festival, who lamented an obvious paucity of young Khmer photographers.

Among Kimleng Sang’s most powerful photos are images of a monk standing in front of a window, winding his saffron robe around his body. The morning sunlight blares through the window, softened as it pours though the unfolding cloth.

Though perfectly decent, the scene feels almost profanely intimate. And maybe it would be something akin to blasphemy were it taken by a barang – but it wasn’t.

And Kimleng Sang admitted that the monk in the photo never knew it was being taken, which explains its intimate, natural feeling. “Maybe one day I’ll go to Wat Attweya and tell him,” he says.

Kimleng Sang’s photos can be viewed at La Noria hotel and the Art Deli café-bar. Copies of his work can be found on