Sunday, 17 October 2010

SE Asia should 'de-dollarise', but slowly: experts

In Vietnam, the local dong is a popular currency but dollars still account for 20 percent of all currency in circulation
via CAAI

By Michelle Fitzpatrick (AFP)
PHNOM PENH — Southeast Asian countries that rely heavily on the dollar might be alarmed at its recent steep decline, but analysts warn against sudden moves to reduce their dependence on the greenback.

In Cambodia, the dollar is far more prevalent than the riel, the local currency, while neighbouring communist-run Laos sees shoppers paying for goods in kip, dollars or even Thai baht.

In communist Vietnam, the local dong is popular enough, but dollars still account for 20 percent of all currency in circulation there. And in Myanmar (Burma) a volatile domestic currency has left locals distrustful of the kyat.

"Not a single Burmese person I have ever met has savings in the local currency," said Myanmar economics expert Sean Turnell from Australia's Macquarie University.

Such heavy reliance on the greenback is known as "dollarisation" and reflects "a general lack of confidence in the local currency", said Jayant Menon, principal economist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The dollar has fallen sharply in recent weeks, but analysts say the US currency's woes are unlikely to immediately affect the use of domestic currencies much in these Asian nations.

It might, however, influence the way people in these countries save or store wealth.

"In Vietnam it could result in a greater switch to gold. In Laos, a move to baht," said Menon.

"The long-term objective for these countries should be to de-dollarise," said the economist, who has co-authored a new book about dollarisation in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

But reducing reliance on the greenback can only work if governments address the underlying problems that caused the shift in the first place, he said, and for now the dollar is still "a safer bet".

Reliance on the dollar has benefits -- it can bring stability to an otherwise volatile market and makes it more difficult for governments to simply print money to make up for budget shortfalls, according to experts.

But it also limits the power of central banks to control the money supply or determine exchange rate policies.

"Before the global financial crisis, a lot of these countries, especially Cambodia and Vietnam, had inflation building up and central banks couldn't do much in terms of mopping up the extra liquidity to try and keep inflation in check," said Menon.

"In a funny way, the global crisis was a bit of a blessing when it comes to controlling inflation because demand fell off sharply and these countries were then able to control inflation."

Another downside to dollarisation is that these countries lose out on seigniorage -- the revenue accrued when the cost of printing money is lower than the face value of that money.

The ADB estimates that Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam miss out on 20 to 90 million dollars a year this way, with impoverished Cambodia being the biggest loser. That income instead goes to the United States, where the money is printed.

But Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general of the Cambodian government's Supreme National Economic Council, defended his country's reliance on the US currency.

"Because of dollarisation, people are not scared to put money in the bank," he said. "And it imposes discipline on the government."

Still, while "de-dollarisation" -- moving away from the greenback -- is not a priority, Hang Chuon Naron said he can see a time when the riel will be the dominant currency in Cambodia.

"The issue is to accumulate national reserves, and promote a high growth rate and long-term confidence. We have to do this step by step."

Menon said he agreed with a long-term approach to reducing dependence on the greenback.

"If governments try to change the system overnight, by requiring the use of domestic currency, the experience is that it's actually counterproductive and delays further the process of de-dollarisation," he said.

But there are shorter-term measures available to governments to lessen their dollar reliance.

In Cambodia, for instance, the government "could try to increase the incentive for people to save in the domestic currency", Menon suggested, or some private-sector wages could be paid in riel.

In the medium term, Menon said all these countries could benefit from a Currency Board Arrangement -- a pegged exchange-rate system, where countries can only issue currency that is fully backed by foreign exchange reserves.

"Long term, it's about improving institutions, financial markets, capital markets, political and economic stability," he said.

Cambodia Court Imprisons Three Foreigners on Sex Crimes

via CAAI

Published : October 17, 2010

Last week Cambodian courts convicted American, French and Japanese men for having sexually abused teenagers in three separate cases that authorities said should serve as a warning to both foreign visitors looking to visit Cambodia solely for the purpose of committing sex crimes.

Phnom Penh, the 15th of October 2010: Major Keo Thea, chief of the Phnom Penh police division that protects minors and victims of human trafficking, said the cases were a victory for police, who have been trying for years to crack down on foreign men drawn to the country in order to commit sex crimes.

“Today’s convictions should serve as a lesson to other foreigners who wish to visit Cambodia only to have sex with minors. They should be aware and stay away,” he said.

In separate rulings the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court gave American, 57-year-old Alan Arthur Perry, three years in prison on charges of paying four children aged 16 and 17 for prostitution. He was ordered to pay 4 million riel ($950) in compensation to the families of the children.

Michel Roger Blanchard, a 45-year-old Frenchman, was convicted of “unlawful removal” of 16-year-old boys for the purpose of sexual relations, a charge that carries a penalty of up to 20 years. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison for taking the boys on a trip in the beach resort area of Sihanoukville. The judge ordered him to pay 3 million riel ($710) in compensation to the boys.

While in the capital, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced 41-year-old Japanese Atsushi Kato to seven years in prison on charges of repeatedly abusing a 13-year-old girl. He testified to having sexual relations with the girl a half dozen times, each time paying her $10. He was convicted of paying a child for prostitution and ordered to be deported after serving his term.

Bailing Prisoners, On Border Issue, Ask Court To Acquittal

Continuing rains worsen Cambodian flooding

via CAAI
Oct. 16 2010

Several thousand people living on the outskirts of Phnom Penh have been told to prepare for a mass evacuation as unusually heavy rains continue.

Keo Vy, a disaster relief official, said Friday at least four people died as a result of heavy rains since Monday and some 13 provinces are facing flooding problems. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to citizens to pay close attention to the possibility of floods, and ordered officials to be ready to help victims.

A letter from the capital city's authorities released to the press Friday said the level of the Prek Thnoat River, located west and southwest of Phnom Penh, has been rising significantly.

"Therefore, our brothers and sisters must get ready and prepare all kinds of means of transportation for evacuating your children and animals to the safe areas in a timely fashion," said the statement, originally issued Thursday night.

Motorboats, tools and several thousand sandbags, tools and motorboats have been prepared to help the villagers, along with more than 1,000 soldiers put on standby. Greater Phnom Penh is home to an estimated 1.5 million people, but only a few thousand — no exact figure was available — are immediately threatened with evacuation.

The Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology has issued two announcements this week saying that virtual nonstop rain due to a tropical depression was expected to last at least until early next week.

Associated Press

Students help a Cambodian village

 via CAAI

17th October 2010
USC students Laura Willoughby, Tynan Narywonczyk and Meah Paans in Cambodia tackling a problematic village water supply

THREE students from the University of the Sunshine Coast have made their mark in Cambodia, where they have been working to reduce illness among people living in a village with an arsenic-tainted water supply.

USC Health Promotion students Laura Willoughby of Twin Waters, Meah Paans of Minyama, and Tynan Narywonczyk of Narangba, spent almost three weeks in Cambodia on work placement.

The self-funded trip is being assessed as part of their degrees.

Laura, 24, described the trip as a cultural learning experience that had opened opportunities, such as connections in Cambodia.

“I want a career working in rural and Third World settings,” she said.

“The placement helped me understand the practical components of my USC course and gave me a headstart in subjects such as Implementation and Evaluation.”

The USC students chose A-Loch, a village of 400 people in the Kratie province in northern Cambodia, because of Tynan’s previous voluntary work with the not-for-profit foundation that aims to relieve poverty around the world.

“In A-Loch village our needs assessment helped determine three priority health issues – arsenic in the drinking water, malaria and malnutrition,” 27-year-old Tynan said.

“Based on research I’d already done at USC, we determined with local experts and the Newlife Foundation that the contaminated tube well had to be dealt with first.

“We then engaged the community to develop three public health strategies based around water filtration, partnership and water education,”

The students said cultural differences and translations proved interesting in the focus groups.

“It’s challenging but I have a personal passion for this now,” Tynan said.

“Since returning to Australia, I’m advocating for a totally new water source for the village, possibly a hand-dug well.”

Tynan said he intended to finish his degree and start a Masters and said he aimed to work in Third World community development the United Nations or World Health Organisation.

UBELONG Contributes to Reaching the MDGs In Cambodia

via CAAI
In September we proudly supported our volunteering projects in Cambodia by donating money from the UBELONG Fund to help reach the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

(I-Newswire) Washington, DC, October 16, 2010 - We recently proudly supported our volunteering projects in Cambodia by donating money from the UBELONG Fund to the Salvation Center Cambodia (SCC), a local Cambodian organization devoted to sustainable community development. The money was used to help a school for disadvantaged children in the Som Reang Mean Chey community of Phnom Penh. Specifically, it went to provide the children with school uniforms and materials, including plants for the school’s educational garden.

Our donation was made as part of a larger city-wide event that brought together various organizations to raise awareness and fundraising in support of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to end extreme poverty by 2015. During the event, volunteers from across the world solicited donations from local business and held discussions with locals and tourists about the MDGs. The volunteers also played games with local children and helped them to create community gardens and learn English.

For the volunteers, the festivities were an opportunity to learn about the MDGs, as well as contribute firsthand to poverty alleviation efforts. In line with the UBELONG mission, volunteers of all backgrounds were able to contribute and make a difference. UBELONG co-founder Raul Roman was in Cambodia visiting the UBELONG projects during the run-up to the event and, as he notes: “It was inspiring to see locals and international volunteers from all walks of life working together. Any barriers that may have existed because of culture, language or nationality were overcome as people came together with the aim of making a positive difference.”

Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing our support of local organization like SCC. In the next 12 months we anticipate that over 1,000 volunteers of all backgrounds and nationalities will join our programs. These volunteers represent the core of our efforts to assist communities. We encourage you to explore our volunteering opportunities in both Cambodia and the rest of the world, and to help spread the word about UBELONG.

To learn more about our projects in Cambodia and throughout the world, please visit

Cambodia must be held to account on rights

via CAAI

Friday, 15 October 2010 15:00 Ou Virak

Dear Editor,

On a recent return trip to the Kingdom, former United States Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli stated that “every nation has interests it wants to advance and protect” in its foreign relations with other states. According to Mussomeli, while the interests of China in Cambodia are access to natural resources, those of the US and some European governments relate to democracy and justice and, in the case of the US, are “inextricably linked to the Cambodian government’s commitment and attitude to its own people”.

In a column published in The Phnom Penh Post on October 11 (“A tale of two eligible suitors vying to win Cambodia”), Roger Mitton examined Cambodia’s “envious position” as the object of the competing attentions of two economic suitors, China and the US. Mitton’s article details recent overtures by the respective superpowers to “woo” Cambodia by strengthening economic ties and, in the case of China, increasing political and military cooperation. Mitton states that by criticising the December 2009 repatriation by the Royal Government of Cambodia of Chinese Uighurs, the US shot itself in the foot and lost vital ground to China in the battle for Cambodian alignment. Mitton concludes his article by urging Cambodia to exploit its envious position “to the hilt”.

Mitton’s article is a timely one and raises important questions as to the fate of human rights and democracy in Cambodia. As China draws ever closer to Cambodia, the temptation for Western democratic governments may be to abandon their commitment to democracy and justice, and to the people of Cambodia in order to placate the government and to ensure influence in the Kingdom and the ASEAN region.

In a recent speech at the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals in New York, US President Barack Obama unveiled his government’s new Global Development Policy; a new approach to foreign aid that will measure development in lives improved rather than dollars spent, and which will do away with short-term projects that manage poverty and produce only dependency in exchange for long-term projects that yield real societal improvements. At the centre of this new approach will be broad-based economic growth based upon bilateral ties between the US and partner countries. These partner countries will be those that are not only capable of moving forward economically but those who also “promote good governance and democracy, the rule of law and equal administration of justice, transparent institutions with strong civil societies and respect for human rights”.

In the past decade – a period during which Cambodia has been the world’s seventh-fastest growing economy – the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has dismantled the fundamental pillars of democracy and moved the country towards a one-party system similar to those in China and Vietnam.

Since the last election in 2008, a crackdown on freedom of expression has silenced dissenting voices, while a corrupt and politically controlled judiciary has continued to facilitate large-scale transfer of land from poor and marginalised groups to the political and economic elite. As is evident from the finding in the Global Hunger Index, as reported in The Phnom Penh Post on October 12 (“Hunger levels ‘alarming’, report finds”), that 26 percent of the country’s population is undernourished, while Cambodia’s economic growth has been impressive, it has not been shared.

According to President Obama, the new US approach to development on the basis of bilateral partnerships with countries that promote good governance and respect human rights is borne out of the fact that “over the long run, democracy and economic growth go hand in hand”. While the specter of China looms large in the East, Western democracies must avoid being drawn into a race to the bottom for influence in Cambodia. In 2009, some 70 percent of Cambodian exports went to the US or the European Union, providing the Cambodian economy with a long-term viability that Chinese largesse cannot. With this in mind, Western democracies must maintain a principled stance and ensure that continued trade with and aid to Cambodia is contingent on the well-being of democracy and justice and is “inextricably linked to the Cambodian government’s commitment and attitude to its own people”.

Ou Virak, President
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights

Flash floods kill four in Cambodia

Floods have hit many parts of Cambodia in recent days

via CAAI

PHNOM PENH — Four Cambodians including a four-year-old boy have been swept to their deaths in flash flooding in recent days as heavy rains battered the country, officials said Saturday.

Three men drowned in different provinces, while a child disappeared during flooding in the Phnom Penh area and is presumed dead, the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) said.

"The floods hit many parts of Cambodia, but at the moment they have subsided," said Keo Vy of NCDM. "We are on very high alert about flooding."

Bad weather also forced officials at Cambodia's UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal to temporarily relocate high-profile Khmer Rouge leaders currently awaiting trial for crimes including genocide during the "Killing Fields" era.

A court spokesman said Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea had been taken to a new building at an undisclosed location.

Former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, who was sentenced in July to 30 years imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity, was also among those moved.

Keo Vy said the deaths are the first due to flooding in Cambodia this year. He said 43 people were killed when typhoon Ketsana hit the country last year.

Thousands were affected by the storms and floods engulfed large swathes of Siem Reap province, home to the temples of Angkor Wat.

Cambodia: Human Rights Activists (Part 3)

via CAAI

Saturday, 16 October 2010
Press Release: Asian Human Rights Commission

Cambodia: Human Rights Activists (Part 3) -- Mr. You Tho

"I was born with the attitude and the will to help other people," You Tho explains in an interview with LICADHO.23 "I do not know why I was born with this character. It is simply the way I am."

(An excerpt from Attacks & threats against human rights defenders in Cambodia 2008-2009)

You Tho is a local commune council member in the Thpong district of Kampong Speu. First elected over nine years ago by 11 villages, You Tho shouldered the responsibility for guiding his constituency through what are challenging and turbulent times.

The land owned by his community is currently threatened by the powerful businessman and CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat. Through his company the senator hopes to appropriate the land belonging to the 11 villages in Amleang commune in order to expand his sugarcane plantation. He benefited from a government economic land concession in order to develop his project.

The Land Struggle

The struggle began in 2007 when the villagers were first told about the planned land concession and demonstrated in protest. The company kept quiet for a while. Then, in 2008 the company returned with a new plan, dubbed "tiger skin development." The company explained that it would expand the plantation while leaving enough free land for the villagers to farm. It also promised to leave a swathe of 1,500 meters of land beside the road exclusively for the villagers, who had little choice but to acquiesce. Later, the roadside land was reduced to 1,000 meters. Then 500 meters. Then 200 meters.

"Now, the company simply wants all of the villagers to leave the land, because they say that as long as we stay, there will be tensions," You Tho says. "They complain that our cows eat the sugarcane. If they had their way, there would be no more land for the people."

In January 2010, tractors from Ly Yong Phat's company began ploughing the villagers' remaining land. They arrived without the consent or knowledge of the community. When the villagers protested, they were referred to the local authorities. But the local authorities did nothing.

In early February, while You Tho was away from the villages for a meeting, some villagers became angry and began to throw earth and sticks at the tractors. You Tho is unequivocal in his belief in non-violence and advocacy as methods of conflict resolution.

"I do not tolerate violence," he says. "So I always advise people not to succumb to violence in order to resolve problems."

No tractors sustained any damage, and no one was hurt. Yet the company brought a complaint in court against five commune chiefs including You Tho. They were accused of incitement, even though none of them was present during the events. On February 14, they went to the Kampong Speu trial court accompanied by over 400 villagers who wished to show their support. The judge warned them to cease their advocacy on behalf of the villagers. He threatened that next time they were brought to court they would be jailed.

After the hearing the public prosecutor told them Senator Ly Yong Phat was too powerful to resist, because "half of the country owes him favors".

The tractors did not stop. The villagers grew weary of protesting. In March an official from the Ministry of Interior came to meet with them. She had an offer from the company. It would buy all cultivated land for $200 per hectare, and the rest for $100 per hectare. Those who refused the offer, she said, would receive "the air". Nothing.

On the 17 March 2010, more than 30 soldiers from RCAF's 313 battalion were deployed on the concession area. The battalion is one of the military units officially sponsored by Senator Ly Yong Phat in a newly-created patronage system whereby private companies can sponsor specific military units.

On the day of the deployment, You Tho was sick. The villagers met without him to discuss a course of action. Tempers were running high because the compensation offered was so low. On March 18, about 500 villagers held a protest to prevent the tractors from continuing their work, but failed. Some villagers then marched to two makeshift shelters erected by the company on their land and set them on fire.

"I was surprised and saddened by the fire," says You Tho, "but there was nothing I could do. On March 24, the court summoned me and three other leaders, accusing us of inciting the villagers to burn down the property."

The Arrest and Repercussions

You Tho left his village very early on the morning of the hearing in the company of another accused leader, Khem Vuthy. Later a large crowd of supporters followed with the other two community leaders.

"I did not want the villagers to become violent if they saw me get arrested by the court," You Tho explains. "The judge sent us to jail, and then the court closed and ran away before our supporters arrived."

You Tho holds a very low opinion of the manner in which the court handled his case. "The way the courts treated the accusations against me was very unjust," he says. "I think that the court is controlled by those with power and money. I told them that I was not there when the buildings were burned because I was sick. I had many witnesses to prove this. But they refused to listen, and they arrested me."

The villagers refused to give up on their community leaders. They remained outside the courtroom to protest. Military police beat some of them with electric batons. At night when the villagers tried to sleep on the sidewalk, the military police cleared them out so they could not rest. They had no food and no money, so other villagers brought food from the countryside on tractors. But the military police stopped them, and poured the rice on the ground. The military police are paid by Senator Ly Yong Phat, in a similar -- albeit less official -- manner than RCAF Batallion 313.

The authorities refused to speak with the villagers. So on 26 March 2010, more than 600 villagers gathered on National Road 4, blocking it for almost two hours demanding the release of You Tho and Khem Vuthy. This is the main highway from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville. The blockage led to heavy traffic congestion and prompted the deputy provincial governor, court officials and the provincial police commissioner to finally talk with villagers. After lengthy negotiations the villagers agreed to move and discuss the matter at the provincial court.

On 29 March 2010, You Tho and Khem Vuthy were released on bail and placed under surveillance. Charges against them were finally dropped in July 2010. Senator Ly Yong Phat himself delivered the court papers officially dropping the charges to You Tho, so as to attempt to secure his support for the forced eviction.


Despite the imprisonment, and the offers from the senator and other officials, You Tho remains determined to lead his community and defend their interests throughout the land struggle.

"I am poor and I was born in poverty just like many Cambodians," You Tho says. "I have heard many people say: 'Do not make friends with the poor and uneducated.' This is not the way I think, however. If we only made friends with the rich, what would happen to all the Cambodians who are poor? This is why I decided to remain with the poor. It is very difficult to be poor and uneducated, and yet I will not abandon them. There are already so few people who will really help the poor in Cambodia."

You Tho is eloquent in describing his relationship with the community, which is built on years of struggling through numerous challenges and dangers.

"My will and endurance spring from my belief in the strength of my community," he explains. "We grow stronger and stronger as the years go by. This strength encourages and sustains me. I know that if something happens to me, the people will fight for me."

The strong trust between You Tho and the village communities predates his involvement as commune chief. During the Vietnamese occupation in the 1980s, You Tho was elected village chief. His policies incurred the wrath of the local Vietnamese brigade, who came to his village in order to execute him. At once he was surrounded by over 60 villagers, who kept the soldiers at bay and saved his life. Around this time, he was also kidnapped by a group of Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Villagers followed the guerrillas into the bush, and managed to retake him from the kidnappers.

"This is exceptional, as no villagers dared to stand up to the Khmer Rouge at that time," You Tho says. "Those who were kidnapped were almost always killed."

"I cannot step down from my leadership role now," You Tho concludes simply. "The people trust me and rely on me too much for me to leave."

Hope for the Future

You Tho places much hope in the growing strength of his community in order to remain strong in the land struggle.

"The more problems we face, the greater the adversity we endure, the stronger we become in our knowledge, our organization and our solidarity," You Tho says.

Recently the number of community members in his network has increased significantly, with more and more villages joining the struggle against land-grabbing.

You Tho’s strength, and that of his community, is constantly tested by the company as well as the police and military. The villagers have dealt with police violence during demonstrations, and a number have been injured. Although they have not threatened him directly, police told villagers on numerous occasions that You Tho would be sent back to prison. They also follow him and monitor his activities. On one occasion, he observed police outside his home during a meeting. He invited them in, telling them they could report if he said anything wrong. The police declined to enter.

"I have no fear of being arrested," You Tho says. "The police are trying to weaken us by intimidation. I know that if I fear them, then I cannot be a leader. So I do not listen to the threats."

You Tho remains above all a realist, conscious of the challenges and limits to community protests and what they can achieve.

"I have hope for the future," he says, "but there are different kinds of hope. We cannot hope to keep all of our land. Yet if we do not protest, then we will lose all of our land. Keeping 50 percent of what is ours is better than nothing. We do desire to retain all of our land against the company’s wishes, but this is hopeless in the current circumstances."

You Tho knows that his community cannot reclaim all of the land appropriated by Ly Yong Phat's company without government support. Unfortunately the only assistance that they have received so far is from their community network and NGOs.

"Our community is like an orphan," he says. "We are abandoned and left to fend for ourselves."

"I do think that the people are strong," he continues. "But if we have no support from the government, then our enemies will never stop trying to take our land. This is a very political issue. In our case, the company uses the name of the Prime Minister to protect themselves. They say the Prime Minister gave the land to them, and therefore they are allowed to take it. So the government does not support the people. The sad truth is that without government support we will not succeed. By ourselves we may achieve small victories. Nonetheless our enemies are relentless and we can never stop them entirely."

"I would very much like to see a change in government," he says. "But I do not know if that is likely to happen."

(Excerpt from the General Assembly of the Human Rights Council Fifteenth Session)

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia -- Surya P. Subedi

A. Housing. and land-related rights

31. The issues associated with land rights disputes and evictions continue to dominate the headlines in the media in Cambodia today. The manner in which land is managed and used by the Government for various purposes continues to be a major problem. Land- grabbing by people in positions of power seems to be a common occurrence. gconomic land concessions leased to companies and other land transactions have severe consequences for the rural and urban poor as well as for indigenous people.2 In 2009 alone at least 26 evictions displaced approximately 27,000 people in Cambodia. The 2001 Land Law does provide a legal framework to deal with issues of land ownership, but there have been problems in implementing this law properly. It is against this background that Resolution 12/25 of the Human Rights Council urged the Government to enhance its efforts to resolve equitably and expeditiously land ownership issues in a fair and open manner, in accordance with the 2001 Land L aw, by strengthening the implementation of the law through the development of national guidelines to clari1 relevant procedures. The new Law on Expropriation enacted in February 2010 and the Government Circular issued in December 2009 are positive developments in this direction. The Law on Expropriation provides some good protection for property owners. The Ministry of Land Management made the process of adopting the Circular participatory, allowing civil society organizations and development partners to make their input.

32. The Special Rapporteur was pleased with the proposal made by the President of the Human Rights Committee of Cambodia during their meeting in June 2010 to constitute an ad hoc, informal group to look at outstanding land disputes with a view to screening them and proposing recommendations for resolving them in a legal and fair manner. This group would comprise a representative from his office, a representative of the Office in Cambodia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR-Cambodia) and several representatives from civil society organizations working on land issues. Given the inability of existing institutional bodies to resolve some of these disputes, and the lack of redress for individuals, the Special Rapporteur welcomed the proposal as constructive, provided that this new informal mechanism did not replace or undermine existing mechanisms such as Cadastral Commissions, the Courts, or the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolutio n. The Special Rapporteur encourages cooperative discussions among stakeholders about the possible role that such a mechanism could play in contributing to the resolution of difficult land disputes or eviction cases. The objective should be a transparent cooperative dialogue between the Government, OHCHR-Cambodia and civil society (including voices from communities) to make this a worthwhile exercise. The Special Rapporteur hopes that such a working group can be established in the near future.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Cambodia’s other Angkor Wat

via CAAI

By Claire Wrathall
Published: October 15 2010

The Preah Khan ruins

There on the path in front of us was a king cobra, its hood unmistakable. A baby, admittedly, not half a metre long but venomous all the same, slithering with such force that it kept leaping into the air as it made for the undergrowth.

That this close encounter should have happened at Preah Khan, the atmospheric ruins of a vast 12th-century Buddhist monastery 2km from Angkor Wat in north-west Cambodia, was oddly appropriate. Our guide had just been talking about nagas, the giant cobra-like serpent found in Buddhist and Hindu myths. Minutes before, we’d crossed a causeway whose monumental balustrades depict “Churning the Ocean of Milk”, a quest for the elixir of immortality in which teams of squat gods and demons engage in a thousand-year tug of war with a naga for a rope.

The most celebrated images of this myth are the exquisitely carved sandstone bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat, the great 12th-century Khmer temple city, dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu, which draws millions of tourists each year. And no wonder – this 500-acre site is one of the world’s outstanding monuments with its five towering pagodas, shaped, depending on your point of view, like lotus buds or hands in a Namaste salute, its courtyards, its galleries and its immense 200m-wide moat.

But to “do” Angkor Wat as a day trip from Bangkok (a 50-minute flight away) is to miss some of the most extraordinary abandoned cities in existence. For Angkor Wat is only one of dozens of such sites within a 15km radius of Siem Reap.

I was fortunate to have as my guide the conservation architect John Sanday, field director for Global Heritage Fund, the US-based non-governmental organisation, who spent 12 years supervising the conservation of Preah Khan. This 140-acre complex is a good introduction not just to the mythology but to Khmer architecture and the dynamic between Buddhism and Hinduism.

Even recent Cambodian history makes its presence felt, with graffiti by Viet Cong soldiers from the 1970s. At the gates, a band of musicians, all of them maimed by land mines, played beautifully in an effort, explained their sign, “to raise money to support themselves with dignity”.

It’s hard to know which of the eight sites I explored was my favourite. At one of the earliest, 9th-century Bakong – a massive five-tier pyramid topped by a pagoda – I was charmed by the seven-headed nagas and the life-size statues of lions and elephants. Next, Banteay Srei, the so-called Citadel of Women, is just as the British traveller Harriet Ponder described it in 1936: “An exquisite miniature; a fairy palace in the heart of an immense mysterious forest ... too lovely to be true”, even when swarming with tour groups . The intensely overgrown Ta Prohm, where parts of Tomb Raider were filmed, is utterly mysterious, its temples both endangered and held up by the gigantic and ever-encroaching trees that threaten to strangle the site.

But perhaps the most striking things I saw were the 54 mesmerising “face towers” on the Bayon, the central temple at the “great city” of Angkor Thom. Every facet is carved with a huge serene visage, the shadow of a smile on its lips, assumed to be that of King Jayavarman VII. The king’s omnipresence extends well beyond Angkor Thom, though. The most prolific architect of Khmer temples, he also built Banteay Chhmar, the remotest of the 74 accessible sites, 102km north of Siem Reap, where again his beatific portrait gazes from the sandstone towers.

Rediscovered only in the 1950s, badly looted during the civil war that ran from 1970 to 1975 and only cleared of mines in 2007, it’s well off the tourist track and best reached by helicopter. Otherwise it’s a bumpy four-hour drive. According to Sanday, who is leading a Global Heritage Fund-sponsored project to restore it, it is “one of the great architectural masterpieces of south-east Asia”, with its 1km-long arcaded enclosure wall and 500m of outstanding bas-reliefs. Though much of it has collapsed into overgrown piles of stones, there is enough intact to get a sense of its grandeur and to spot references to other earlier works: not just the face towers, but a similar balustrade to the one at Preah Khan (as well as an Ocean of Milk mural) and other now-familiar motifs.

The Khmer temples are not the area’s only appeal. There is nature: not just snakes and monkeys, such as those we saw cavorting by the moat at Angkor Wat. After the rains, the vast Tonle Sap lake quadruples in size to 12,000 sq km and is home to 200 bird species and the world’s largest pelican colony.

Siem Reap itself is a relaxed town, full of inexpensive restaurants (Viroth’s and the Khmer Kitchen) serving Khmer food (think Thai but without chillis): clear lemongrass-infused soups and salads of papaya or mango, then amok, a mild coconut curry of a snake-like fish from Tonle Sap, or lok luk beef in garlicky oyster sauce.

It was too easy to idle away an afternoon people-watching from the terrace of Le Grand Café. And a lychee martini at Miss Wong, a kitsch but alluring bar, was the courage I needed for a late-night $3 fish pedicure – almost every street has somewhere offering them – where you sit with your feet in a communal aquarium full of diminutive carp called garra rufa that feed off dead skin. It’s unbearably ticklish at first but my soles have never been softer.

There’s good shopping, at least for Cambodian silks and buffalo-horn jewellery. The classiest shops are those by the FCC, or Foreign Correspondents Club (not that you need be a journalist to dine, drink or stay there), a superb modernist-colonial building, formerly the French governor’s house, all ceiling fans, art deco armchairs and airy terraces overlooking the river. The sprawling old market is fascinating, too, selling everything from textiles to pigs’ heads and aromatic Kampot pepper.

There’s no shortage of hotels, from an Aman Resort and a Raffles (both more of a tuk-tuk ride than a walk into town) to the more centrally located Hotel de la Paix, an independent, and Orient Express’s Résidence d’Angkor, with its spacious rooms, sweet staff and a large swimming pool surrounding by luxuriant gardens.

But my abiding memory will be the conversations I had with our other guide, Nhean Samban. One of 11 children, he was born in a village near Preah Khan, making him one of the “base people”, for whom the terror and genocide of the 1970s was, he said, marginally less terrible than it was for the “new people” who came from the towns.

He was seven when the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh in 1975 and embarked on their plan to impose a primitive agrarian communal way of living – even cooking at home was forbidden. He was sent to work in the fields, collecting cow dung. He didn’t start school till he was 12, and his childhood memories are mostly of hunger. (One of his brothers died of starvation; another was killed by a land mine.)

In 1989 he found work as a waiter at the Grand Hotel d’Angkor (now Raffles), subsequently training as a guide when tourists began to return in the late 1990s. And when a university opened in Siem Reap, he was in the first intake, graduating the year he turned 40. Now employed by the tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, he supports not just a wife and three sons, but runs a dormitory for 20 children from surrounding villages so they can go to school in town and, along with his brothers, a project that has installed more than 300 wells in rural communities to reduce the prevalence of water-borne diseases.

He loves guiding, he says, because it lets him meet people from all over the world. For if ever there were evidence that tourism can be a transformative force for good, it is here in Cambodia – “this painful country”, as he called it.

In Banteay Chhmar, 50 people, from labourers to architects, are employed on the conservation project, which it is hoped will bring visitors and jobs to the area along, perhaps, with the creation of an eco lodge. (For the moment the only accommodation is some very basic $7-a-night homestays.) As the Global Heritage Fund’s slogan puts it, it’s about “preserving heritage globally, changing lives locally”. Tourism here may be little more than a decade old but for once the change it’s bringing is something to be proud of.



Claire Wrathall was a guest of La Résidence d’Angkor (doubles from $335; and Abercrombie & Kent (, which offers five days at La Résidence from £1,925 per person, including flights and excursions. Qantas ( flights to Bangkok connect with Bangkok Airways’ service to Siem Reap

Trusting the unknown opens the door to understanding in Cambodia, Vietnam

via CAAI

Friday, October 15, 2010
THOMAS HUANG / The Dallas Morning News

"What am I doing here?"

This is the question you must ask yourself when you travel great distances on your own. You have thrust yourself out into the world, to places that are completely alien to you.

You may learn something about the culture, or not. You may get sick, or not. You may make lasting friendships, or not. After a while, you feel homesick. You wonder whether you can ever become more than the outsider who stays a day or two, only to leave without making a true connection.

Yet, for me, there is something perverse in this: I feel most at home when I am traveling. I never feel more alive than when I'm set to enter an unfamiliar city or country.

Still, am I being honest with myself?

The road is a lonely place. The problems and the pain that you are trying to escape – they are always there with you, wherever you go.

Sometimes, it's only through the grace of strangers that you find a way to move forward.


PHNOM PENH – The quiet boy, Kosair, takes me for a walk through his village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. We walk down a dirt path, past a small storefront where a woman comforts her baby. Cars and motorbikes have gathered in front of another house; there's a wedding party tonight.

We walk by a group of dark-haired schoolgirls who stare at me, and their giggles turn to laughter. I know I must be a peculiar sight, a tall Chinese-American man in clothes rumpled by days of travel.

In the late afternoon light, Kosair takes a visitor on a tour of his village. Every so often, people zoom by on motorbikes, kicking up dust.

Every so often, people on motorbikes zoom by, and I clutch my camera more tightly, protecting it from their rooster tails of golden dust. I assure myself that the boy and I are safe. This is a peaceful village, and while Phnom Penh was a violent city just a few years ago, things have stabilized.

Still, I am disoriented; I don't belong here; I don't know where we are going. I could lose my way, and who would know?

The boy, Kosair, with large, watchful eyes, walks in the glow of the sun, bare-chested, wearing knee-length shorts and sandals. I am staying with his family in a house owned by a friend, an American journalist.

We pantomime our way through a conversation. We move our first two fingers, pointed downward, to show that we are going for a walk. We hear a song in the distance. To my ears, it sounds like a blend of xylophone, wind chimes and steel drums. Together, Kosair and I say, "Music." We point at other things and say the words: Car, road, tree, house, river.

We cross a bridge over the Mekong River, and, looking back, Kosair gestures toward our starting point, a small house on the riverbank. "Dey Sena," he says, or something that sounds like that. His mother's name is Sena. Perhaps he is saying, "That's my mother's house."

Kosair and his sister, Sreyleak, tease each other on the patio, playing tug-of-war with a towel.

 Kosair seems to be guiding me toward the music. We are both curious about where it's coming from. I wonder whether it's coming from a temple. We turn down another dirt road and pass several traditional stilt houses. A few people sleep in hammocks in the space underneath their houses.

We never do find the source of the music.

Kosair notices that a man in a white shirt is following us. The boy seems a little spooked. He motions for us to return home. We walk a little more quickly. Our stride grows a little longer. Once home, we are greeted by Kosair's grandfather and his mischievous little sister, Sreyleak.

The family embraces me with their warmth and cooks me a dinner of Khmer chicken soup, stir-fried shrimp and vegetables, and steamed rice. I eat my meal on the patio and watch the fishermen in their skiffs float by. Families emerge from their houses to bathe their children in the river.

Night sounds

My friend's place is a compound of small houses overlooking the Mekong River. I sleep under mosquito netting, in a guest room near a grove of mango trees, guarded by two excitable dogs. I toss and turn.
The sun rises over the Mekong River outside Phnom Penh. Observing life on the river in the soft, new light is a profound experience.

Late into the night, the neighborhood wedding party celebrates with loud Cambodian pop music, and I can hear drunken voices trying, unsuccessfully at times, to sing along.

Then there is quiet for a while, but music starts up again at 5 in the morning. (Later, I learn that it is wedding season in Cambodia, and the predawn music signals the beginning of another wedding.)

The wake-up call turns out to be a blessing.

Jumping out of bed, I pull on my clothes and wander out into the humid air, stepping gently onto the patio with my camera.

I hear the song of cicadas, the wind rustling the trees, the lapping of water on the banks. In the soft, new light, I watch a man and woman paddle their boat down the river, stopping every so often to catch fish in their nets. Downstream, in the distance, several men help their cows wade (and then swim?) to the opposite shore.

I try to capture this scene, the sunrise over the river, with my camera, but I am no photographer, and I can't quite make the images show what my eyes see. I think about the woman I loved for many years, a steadfast traveling partner. I want to share this moment with her, but she is not there.

Still, it is a profound experience. Even though I am not a particularly religious person, I am moved to whisper, "Thank you, God."

And then it is a new morning. I hear the laughter of Kosair and Sreyleak. I walk back to the house to pack my things and say goodbye.

Vietnam – Cambodia Int’l Industrial Exhibition to open in Phnom Penh

via CAAI

By staff writers-Translated by Thanh Huong
Saturday ,Oct 16,2010

An international industry exhibition will be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in December by HCM city’s Mechanical Electricity Association, said an association’s representative at a press conference on Oct. 15

The association will work in collaboration with Dang Khoa Trade, Investment and Services Company to hold the exhibition which is believed to showcase made-in-Vietnam products and services in the mechanics, information technology, construction, transportation, and agriculture.

The fair includes 350 stands of businesses from Vietnam japan, China, Thailand, Singapore…

Cambodia is one of Vietnam’s key investment destinations. A report by the Vietnam Ministry of Planning and Investment says since July 2009 seven Vietnamese investors’ projects have been licensed in Cambodia with a total capital of about US$400 million. These projects focus on areas as finance, energy, aviation, agriculture and mining.

Cambodia Social Enterprise Aims to Boost Exports of Eco-Friendly Handmade Fashion Accessories at Global Sources Hong Kong Trade Show

via CAAI

Export Service Centre Cambodia to exhibit 100% silk scarves and fashion jewelry made of recycled materials at AsiaWorld-Expo Oct. 27-30, booth # 7N02

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 16, 2010 --( The social enterprise Export Service Centre Cambodia ( will showcase hundreds of handmade fashion accessories for export at the China Sourcing Fair: Fashion Accessories at Hong Kong’s AsiaWorld-Expo Oct. 27 - 30, 2010 booth # 7N02.

Products on display will include 100% silk scarves and recycled paper jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, all produced by suppliers who embrace fair trade principles.

“Every piece in our fall collection is great quality, very creative and handmade with passion,” said Kunthy Heng, export manager of the Export Service Centre Cambodia. “We’ve included a new line of eco-friendly fashion jewelry made of recycled paper that has generated a lot of interest on our website.

“Since last April’s show, we’ve received orders from buyers in Germany, Japan, the UK and Spain. There has also been significant interest from Hong Kong and Australia.

“We’re confident our quality and flexible terms will again appeal to discerning buyers. Quite unique in the export field, we offer:
* Low minimum orders of just $500. This allows buyers to quickly test their markets at minimal investment;
* Mixed lots: Buyers can offer customers more variety and not incur the extra expense of large numbers of each SKU, and;
* International standards: Each item is handcrafted and not mass-produced. We QC everything before it is shipped.”

Show Highlights and Color Trend Area feature Cambodia products
Fair organizer Global Sources ( NASDAQ: GSOL) will feature products from the Export Service Centre Cambodia at the show highlights and color trend areas.

“Having our goods selected at this international event clearly shows that Cambodia products can compete with the best in the world,” Heng said. “We are delighted that so many of our products will be among the handful featured at these high-traffic areas.”

Social responsibility, job creation through export promotion
The Export Service Centre is a member of the nonprofit Kearny Alliance, whose mission is Aid through Trade.

Alexander Boome, program director of the Kearny Alliance, said: “We expect the fair trade nature of our business and eco-friendly product lines to greatly appeal to even more buyers this show.

“I want to thank Global Sources for its generosity as part of its corporate social responsibility for giving us the booth space. Buyers’ export orders will help generate much needed jobs for the needy and disabled in Cambodia.”

About The Kearny Alliance
The Kearny Alliance (, a US nonprofit 501 (c) (3) foundation, partners with other international organizations to further its mission of ‘Aid through Trade,’ to advance international development and poverty alleviation through trade-related business, education, training and applied research.

Key programmatic areas include:
* Livelihood development at the grassroots level: Through the social enterprise Export Service Centre ( in Indonesia and Cambodia (, the Kearny Alliance assists small producers who do not have the capacity to export direct to participate in the global economy. It estimates that in 2009 it created more than 3,800 jobs.

* Job creation for small & medium producers: Through the Developing Country Export Assistance Program (, the Kearny Alliance connects smaller exporters in developing Asia with buyers worldwide. Surveys of beneficiaries show that suppliers have received $772,000 in export orders, and they expect more than $5,500,000 to develop in 2010.

* Education & skills development: The Kearny Alliance offers stipend support for students from Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and mainland China to study in Hong Kong and the US. The dozens of Kearny Alliance Scholars receive internships and on-the-job training in export-related companies and organizations in 10 countries.

* Trade policy research: One major initiative is FutureofUSChinaTrade.Com, an online center for data, analysis, and insightful discussion on U.S. - China trade offering Forum Discussions News & Analysis, Facts & Figures, Discussion Outcomes, Book reviews and Meet the Experts. This developed from the Kearny Alliance – Arizona State University forums on China, trade and the world economic order high-level meetings held in Phoenix and Beijing which explored potential solutions to issues and challenges of mutual benefit to China-US trade relations.