Monday, 22 November 2010

Attempt to Show Video "Who Killed Chea Vichea?" Prevented Second Time

Cambodia represses truth about union leader’s murder

 via CAAI

By Andrew Buncombe
The Foreign Desk
Monday, 22 November 2010

Earlier this year, police in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, prevented the screening of a documentary about the murder of trade union leader Chea Vichea. The charismatic Vichea, (left) who campaigned for better wages and conditions for Cambodia’s 300,000 garment workers, was assassinated in 2004 next to a newspaper kiosk. Amid an international outcry, two men, widely believed to have played no role in his death, were charged with his killing. They have since been freed on bail.

American journalist Bradley Cox, who was living in Phnom Penh at the time and who had previously met the union leader, rushed to the scene of the murder. He launched his own investigation into the killing and came to the conclusion that it could not have been carried out without the knowledge of the “highest levels” of the political establishment. It was perhaps no surprise then, that the government of Hun Sen did not want ordinary Cambodian citizens watching Mr Cox’s film, Who Killed Chea Vichea?

Ironically enough, at about the same time that the Cambodian authorities were banning Mr Cox’s film, they were also establishing a Freedom Park in the centre of the capital and making it the designated place for political protests. The move was widely seen as being carried out to counter critics of its authoritarian policies.

Anyway, I got word over the weekend that members of the Free Trade Union and the Teachers Union of Cambodia again tried to screen the documentary, this time in Freedom Park, only to be again bundled away by police. Mr Cox said in an email: “As you may know, Freedom Park is now the designated location where all demonstrations must be held. The Cambodian government would like the international community to believe this shows their growing commitment to freedom of expression.”

He added: “In reality, it does just the opposite, isolating demonstrations in a remote area of the city and limiting them to 200 people (even though the park can hold more than a thousand.) As the union leaders entered Freedom Park, they were met by fifty to a hundred police carrying batons and shields who prohibited them from screening the movie. So much for freedom of speech.”

The people of Cambodia are working hard to rebuild their country after decades of war and violence. Several million foreign visitors travel to see sites such as the remarkable Angkor Wat. Yet for the veneer of openness (and despite the stalwart efforts of publications such as the Phnom Penh Post which wrote about the latest crack-down on Mr Cox’s film), the government seeks to keep tight control on those who seek to question its actions and behaviour. This is just another example.

Cambodian beauty pageant for disabled full of land mines

via CAAI

PHNOM PENH— From Monday's Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010

Morten Traavik knew the idea of a beauty pageant for Cambodian land-mine victims was testing taboos: 20 women scarred by the country’s decades of war parading their amputated bodies for the chance at a new prosthetic limb.

“I wanted to see if I could apply my skills as an artist … to this reality and draw attention to the issues at hand in a new way that didn’t just confirm already established preconceptions of the land-mine survivors as pitiable abominations,” the Norwegian theatre director said.

He might even have expected the backlash that soon followed from some local charities, as happened with his first pageant for land-mine victims in Angola the year before. What he did not expect was the government’s about-face in August, 2009.

Days before a photo exhibit of the contestants was set to debut in the capital of Phnom Penh, a lead-up to the live pageant being planned for December, the Ministry of Social Affairs pulled the plug. Calling the affair an affront to Cambodian tradition, it ordered the project shuttered “immediately” and asked Mr. Traavik to leave the country. The local support he had dried up.

“When the Minister of Social Affairs himself started his own campaign against Miss Landmine,” he said, “everybody ran for cover.”

Miss Landmine, a new Canadian documentary that follows the project from start to finish, premiers Monday on CBC.

By the Cambodian government’s best estimates, land mines still litter some 650 square kilometres of the country, a legacy of the Khmer Rouge and their fanatic efforts to keep their neighbours and enemies at bay. In its pursuit of North Vietnamese forces crossing into Cambodia, the United States dropped another 2.75 million tons of bombs on the country during the Vietnam War, many of which failed to explode on impact and remain active to this day.

Together, land mines and other old ordnance have killed or maimed some 63,000 Cambodians since the 1979 fall of the Khmer Rouge and continue to claim more than 200 victims a year.

In moving the pageant from Angola to Cambodia, Mr. Traavik knew he had to make a few changes. In a culture where modesty trumps most other virtues, the swimsuits had to go. Soft, candy-coloured gowns took their place.

With support from the relevant ministries and the government’s mine-action agency, Mr. Traavik and his team set to work, scouring the country for contestants. With tens of thousands of land-mine victims across Cambodia, the women weren’t hard to find. They also found some critics.

“I have the same feelings now as then,” said Punk Chhiv Kek, the president of a leading local human rights group who called the pageant “a contest of suffering.”

“In my personal opinion, the project is in poor taste,” she said. “But at the end of the day, whether to appear or not is a decision for each contestant to make. They are, or should be, free to choose what they want.”

Others were more adamant. Chris Minko, an Australian national who heads Cambodia’s disabled volleyball league, took his complaint straight to the Minister of Social Affairs, suggesting Mr. Traavik be asked to leave.

“There are more dignified ways of showcasing the ability of Cambodian women land-mine survivors, such as through the many high[ly] successful and internationally recognized Cambodian programs of sport and disability,” he said.

The ministry agreed. NGOs that had supported the project fell silent. A letter Mr. Traavik sent to about 20 non-government groups asking for their support also went ignored. More than a year on, local NGOs active in mine clearance and victim assistance were still reluctant to talk about the pageant for the record.

Lim El Djurado, a spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry, said the government banned the project to protect the country’s customs.

“We did not allow the contest to take place because it degrades Cambodian tradition,” he said. “When you make disabled people do this kind of thing, it looks like you mock them.

“If they really want to help, they can come and provide artificial limbs and give them skills to improve their lives.”

Mr. Traavik believes he was offering the women something just as valuable. By giving them a chance to be part of something typically reserved for the able bodied, he believes he gave them a chance to reclaim their pride and self-respect. For proof, he offers the women themselves.

“If they had felt the same way as the government,” he said, “they would never have taken part.”

Among the women who did was Dos Sopheap, who posed for her photo shoot with a toy machine gun.

From a soft black gown cut just below the knee, a single leg runs to the floor. She balances herself against a whitewashed wall with one arm and holds the gun in the other. Composed and confident, she offers up only the slightest smile, an image of playfulness and power all at once.

Fourteen years ago, at the age of six, Ms. Dos was headed fishing with some neighbours when they ran into a Khmer Rouge soldier, one of a band still holding out in a few remote pockets of western Cambodia. When the soldier tossed a grenade their way, she recalled, the group ran for cover. Someone stepped on a land mine. Her father lost a hand. Ms. Dos lost her left leg.

As that young girl grew older, she learned to hide.

“I didn’t want to go to school. When I saw other kinds wearing shorts, I really wanted to but couldn’t. … All I could do was cry,” she said. “I felt like I should not have been born.”

Now, she said, “I have hope about going back to school. I believe I can do things like the others.”

In December, the Miss Landmine team slipped back into Cambodia unannounced to officially crown Ms. Dos and present her with a new, custom-fitted prosthetic leg. When the government threw the project out of the country, Mr. Traavik simply moved the pageant online. Some 2,300 votes came in from more than 30 countries.

Miss Landmine captures the trip on film. As with the pageant, though, the government has vowed to bar any attempt to screen it in Cambodia.

Stan Feingold, the movie’s director, finds the government’s stand hard to fathom.

“The Miss Landmine project has a very positive message,” he said. “Disabled people don’t have to hide in their homes and be ashamed of their injuries. Disabled people can contribute in many positive ways to Cambodian society. I don’t understand how the Cambodian government could disagree with that.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Abhisit sets out Thai position on temple

Abhisit: Opposes development

via CAAI

Published: 22/11/2010

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has clearly told his Cambodian counterpart that Thailand opposes any attempt to develop disputed territory adjacent to the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Abhisit said he held bilateral talks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last week on the sidelines of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy meeting in Phnom Penh.

Mr Abhisit said during his weekly talk show yesterday morning that it was the first time the two leaders had seriously discussed issues relating to the proposed development near the temple as part of the Preah Vihear World Heritage project.

He told Hun Sen that Thailand considered the area to be Thai territory but the World Heritage listing in 2008 had led to a proposal for Cambodia to manage the area "and that is unacceptable to us".

Mr Abhisit said Cambodia's management plan would lead to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and other countries managing an area that was Thai territory. He told Hun Sen that this development would cause conflict between the neighbours.

Hun Sen disagreed with the presence of Thai soldiers in the disputed area, but Mr Abhisit said the army presence resulted from Cambodia's development of a market there in violation of the 2000 memorandum of understanding under which the countries promised not to make any changes to the area pending demarcation negotiations.

Mr Abhisit said the talks ended with Thailand and Cambodia still opposed on the border issue, but they would try to find ways to prevent it triggering a conflict in the lead-up to the World Heritage Committee meeting next June.

Drug trafficking ruled beyond UN protection

via CAAI

Kim Arlington
November 22, 2010

DOES trafficking drugs make you a member of a social group?

The question was considered by the Refugee Review Tribunal when a Cambodian man, jailed for smuggling drugs into Australia, applied for a protection visa after he was transferred to a detention centre on parole.

The man was carrying drugs when he was arrested on his arrival in Australia in 2006.

Advertisement: Story continues below He feared that if he returned to Cambodia, he would be harmed by his co-accused because he informed on them, and that his conviction for drug smuggling put him at risk of harm from the local authorities.

The 1951 United Nations Convention defines refugees as people who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion".

The man argued that as a former police officer and deputy governor involved in drug-related offences he was a member of a social group.

The tribunal members accepted that in Cambodia "corrupt officials may tolerate the drug trade, that some of the leaders of the drug-smuggling enterprise have political power in Cambodia, and that some are even government officials themselves".

But they found the man's fears did not fall within the scope of the convention.

"The essential and significant reason for the harm the applicant fears is not his membership of any group, but what he has done - namely involved himself in drug trafficking," they said.

The members concluded Australia did not owe him protection obligations and rejected his visa application.

The man had sought a review of the decision in the Federal Magistrates Court, arguing that the tribunal "erred in law because it failed to see my situation as a human situation". A magistrate, Kenneth Raphael, found the tribunal had made no error and dismissed the man's application.

Previous cases have held that fear of revenge, unless linked with race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group, would not normally amount to persecution under the convention.

Former Khmer Rouge fighter haunted by his past

Former Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Ieng Sary
via CAAI

By Suy Se (AFP)
PHNOM PENH — Stumbling across the photo of his twin brother who died more than three decades ago was the last thing former Khmer Rouge fighter Uch Sokhon expected on a visit to Cambodia's genocide museum.

"I feel shocked," the 53-year-old said, gently wiping the dusty glass frame holding a black-and-white image of his brother, immortalised at the age of 20. "But it was a long time ago."

The picture is one of hundreds of mugshots of condemned prisoners on display at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Now a genocide museum, it was at the centre of the Khmer Rouge security apparatus between 1975 and 1979.

Some 15,000 inmates, including women and children, lost their lives and torture was routinely used to extract confessions from terrified prisoners at the facility, also known as S-21.

Sokhon and some 300 other people, mainly former Khmer Rouge supporters and fighters, recently travelled all night on buses from the northwestern Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin to tour the prison for the first time.

Pailin was one of the final refuges of the brutal regime, which was driven from power in 1979. Soldiers and officials fled to the remote region to re-group and try to battle the new government

The trip was organised by the UN-backed war crimes court -- which was set up in 2006 to bring ex-regime leaders to justice -- and aims to increase awareness among Cambodians about the ongoing trials.

Confronting victims as well as former soldiers and cadres with the jail and the court's work is a key part of bringing closure to the past, a court spokesman said.

"We believe it is easier for people to understand the mission of the tribunal when they see Tuol Sleng and the court with their own eyes," Lars Olsen said.

Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was the first to face justice at the UN-backed court.

In a landmark ruling in July, the tribunal sentenced him 30 years in jail, though the case is now under appeal.

Walking past the tiny cells that held some of the prisoners, including perhaps his own brother, and after inspecting the torture implements on display, Sokhon says he regrets his own past actions.

"I feel remorse and pain because I also used to be a fighter for Democratic Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge)," said the teary-eyed civil servant.

Sokhon said he and his identical twin, Sokhan, both joined the hardline communist movement in 1971 aged just 15 because it was the only way to survive.

Dedicated fighters, they quickly rose through the ranks to become mid-level military commanders.

But the regime turned against Sokhan when he tried to help a relative who had caused a minor accident in February 1976.

Sokhon had left the keys in the ignition of a bulldozer he had been using to dig irrigation channels, when his cousin Thein decided to take it for a ride.

He accidentally turned the vehicle over -- an arrestable offence in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge.

Sokhon told his senior cadres his cousin was to blame for the incident, but when his twin heard the news he insisted on protecting their relative.

"I warned my brother not to help our cousin otherwise he would lose his position and be arrested," Sokhon said. "But he said he must help him.

"A few days later I was told that my brother was arrested... And I knew he had been sent to Tuol Sleng."

Despite his brother's detainment, Sokhon continued to fight for the Khmer Rouge -- even after Vietnamese forces ousted them from the capital in 1979.

He lost his right eye in 1989 when a grenade landed near him during a fight against government troops, and there are still more than 20 pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body.

After years of combat, Sokhon defected to the government in 1996 alongside the regime's foreign minister Ieng Sary. Two years later, the civil war ended.

"Now, I hate the regime very much. I am glad that the regime leaders are standing trial," he said.

Up to two million people died from starvation, overwork and execution during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

The four most senior surviving regime leaders -- including Ieng Sary -- are due to face trial next year for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for their part in Cambodia's "Killing Fields" era.

Cambodian and international prosecutors have disagreed on whether to pursue more suspects and Prime Minister Hun Sen told UN chief Ban Ki-moon last month that a third case was "not allowed" because it could spark renewed civil war.

Sokhon said his own personal journey to face the past was over.

"I don't want to remember. I want it to end here. But that does not mean I still support the Khmer Rouge," he said.

China's billions reap rewards in Cambodia

A Cambodian family on their houseboat on the outskirts of Siem Reap Town in Cambodia. (Will Baxter/For The Washington Post)

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010

IN KOH KONG, CAMBODIA Down a blood-red dirt track deep in the jungles of southwestern Cambodia, the roar begins. Turn a corner and there is the source - scores of dump trucks, bulldozers and backhoes hacking away at the earth. Above a massive hole, a flag flaps in the hot, dusty breeze. The flag of the People's Republic of China.

Here in the depths of the Cardamom Mountains, where the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge communists made their last stand in the late 1970s, China is asserting its rights as a resurgent imperial power in Asia. Instead of exporting revolution and bloodshed to its neighbors, China is now sending its cash and its people.

At this clangorous hydropower dam site hard along Cambodia's border with Thailand, and in Burma, Laos and even Vietnam, China is engaged in a massive push to extend its economic and political influence into Southeast Asia. Spreading investment and aid along with political pressure, China is transforming a huge swath of territory along its southern border. Call it the Monroe Doctrine, Chinese style.

Ignored by successive U.S. administrations, China's rise in this region is now causing alarm in Washington, which is aggressively courting the countries of Southeast Asia. The Obama administration has cultivated closer ties with its old foe Vietnam. It has tried to open doors to Burma, also known as Myanmar, which U.S. officials believe is in danger of becoming a Chinese vassal state. Relations have been renewed with Laos, whose northern half is dominated by Chinese businesses. In a speech about U.S. policy in Asia on Oct. 28, before she embarked on her sixth trip to Asia in two years, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used military terminology to refer to U.S. efforts: "forward-deployed diplomacy."

During a recent trip to Phnom Penh - the first of a U.S. secretary of state since 2002 - Clinton, while speaking to Cambodian students, was asked about Cambodia's ties to Beijing. "You don't want to get too dependent on any one country," she told them.

Still, China powers ahead.

China has concluded a free-trade deal with all 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while a similar U.S. pact is only in its infancy. It is cementing ties with Thailand - a U.S. ally - despite recent political unrest there.

In Cambodia, Chinese firms have turned mining and agricultural concessions in Mondulkiri province in the eastern part of the country into no-go zones for Cambodian police. Guards at the gates to two of them - a gold mine and a hemp plantation - shoo travelers away unless they are able to pay a toll. "It's like a country within a country," quipped Cambodia's minister of interior, Sar Kheng, at a law enforcement conference earlier this year, according to participants at the meeting.

China's real estate development firms have barged into Cambodia with all the ambition, bumptiousness and verve that American fruit and tire firms employed in Latin America or Africa in decades past. One company, Union Development Group, of Tianjin in northern China, won a 99-year concession for 120 square miles - twice the size of Washington - of beachfront property on the Gulf of Thailand. There Chinese work teams are cutting a road and mapping out plans for hotels, villas and golf courses. The estimated investment? $3.8 billion. The target market? The nouveau riche from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Last month, China pledged to support the construction of a $600 million stretch of railway between Phnom Penh and Vietnam that will bring China a major step closer to incorporating all of Southeast Asia, as far south as Singapore, into its rail network.

Across Cambodia, dozens of state-run Chinese companies are building eight hydropower dams, including the 246-megawatt behemoth on the Tatay River in Koh Kong. The total price tag for those dams will exceed $1 billion. Altogether, Cambodia owes China $4 billion, said Cheam Yeap, a member of the central committee of the ruling Cambodia People's Party.

"This takeover is inevitable," said Lak Chee Meng, the senior reporter on the Cambodia Sin Chew Daily, one of the country's four Chinese-language dailies, serving a population of 300,000 Chinese-speaking Khmer-Chinese and an additional quarter-million immigrants and businessmen from mainland China. "Cambodia is approaching China with open arms. It's how the United States took over its neighborhood. It's geopolitics."

Purchasing sway

The perennial question about China's rise is when will Beijing be able to translate its cash into power. In Cambodia, it already has.

Cambodia has avoided criticizing Beijing over the dams China is building along China's stretch of the Mekong River - installations that experts predict will upend the lives of millions of Cambodians who live off the fishing economy around the great inland waterway, Tonle Sap.

Cambodia so strictly follows Beijing's "one China" policy that it has refused Taiwan's request to open up an economic office here despite the many millions of dollars' worth of Taiwanese investment in Cambodia.

China's heft was also clearly on display in December when Chinese and American diplomats went toe-to-toe over the fate of 20 Uighur Chinese who had fled to Cambodia and were seeking asylum. China said that some of the men, members of a Chinese Turkic minority, were wanted for having participated in anti-Han Chinese riots in Xinjiang in July 2009. The United States said don't send them back.

China threatened to cancel a trip by its vice president, Xi Junping, who was coming to Cambodia with deals and loans worth $1.2 billion in his briefcase. So Cambodia returned the Uighurs to China. Two days later Xi, who is on track to be China's next leader, arrived in Phnom Penh.

In April of this year, the U.S. State Department announced that to punish Cambodia, it was canceling a shipment of 200 U.S. surplus military trucks and trailers. Less than three weeks later, China donated 257 military trucks.

Cambodia has also followed China's lead when it comes to the South China Sea, a 1 million-square-mile waterway that China asserts belongs to Beijing. In July, Clinton, speaking in Hanoi, challenged China's claims to the open seas and advocated a multilateral approach to divvying up the fishing rights and offshore oil and gas that the sea is believed to contain. China opposes multilateral negotiations, preferring to divide and conquer with bilateral talks. Last month, Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, backed China's approach.

China's one-upmanship with the United States continued earlier this month. A day after Clinton left Cambodia, Wu Bangguo, one of China's top Communist Party officials, arrived in Phnom Penh. During her visit, Clinton had raised the possibility that the United States might forgive a portion of Cambodia's debt to the United States; it owes $445 million. Wu was more forthright. He struck $4.5 million off Cambodia's tab; Chinese officials are considering forgiving an additional $200 million.

Only a few obstacles

China's road to domination here hasn't been without potholes. Vietnam, which ousted the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 and installed Hun Sen, has woken up to the threat of increased Chinese influence and has directed Vietnamese state-owned companies to pour money into Cambodia. From $28 million in 2008, Vietnamese investment jumped to $268 million in 2009 and to $1.2 billion this year, according to Cambodian government statistics.

The Vietnamese military runs Cambodia's No. 2 - and soon to be No. 1 - telecommunications company. Most government officials use its services because it gives them SIM cards loaded with free minutes.

But China is quick to counter Vietnam. Chinese and Cambodian officials this month signed a $591 million loan package - Cambodia's biggest ever - from the Bank of China for Cambodia's other main telecommunications company. The only catch is that $500 million was earmarked to buy Chinese equipment from the Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Even Cambodia's ruler, Hun Sen, has sometimes chafed at the bearhug from Beijing. In December 2009, Chinese workers finished a massive $30 million government building where the prime minister was supposed to house his offices. But Hun Sen didn't like the place, complained about its squat toilets and the fact that "it didn't even have a proper chandelier," according to a Western diplomat. There were also concerns that China had bugged the premises. So Hun Sen built new offices next door and opened both buildings last month.

Historical influence

China has exercised imperial sway over Cambodia for centuries. Eight hundred years ago, Chinese troops bailed out Khmer kings; friendly Chinese warriors are carved on the side of the famed 12th-century Bayon temple near Angkor Wat. In the 1950s and 1960s, Communist China embraced the regime of King Norodom Sihanouk and provided the Khmer Rouge with inspiration, security and economic assistance throughout their bloody rule from 1975 to 1979. Sihanouk, now 88 and the king father, resides in Beijing.

Huo Zhaoguo, a Chinese manager of Union Development's massive project along the Cambodian coast, is typical of the new Chinese coming to this country. In the 1980s in Lanzhou in northwestern China, Huo struck it rich selling beans but then lost his fortune. He washed up in Cambodia in the 1990s, chasing a Vietnamese dealer who owed him money. Huo returned to Lanzhou penniless but couldn't stay. "I'd been rich there once and so everybody laughed at me," he said. "A man needs self-respect."

Huo moved back to Cambodia and opened a noodle stand. He moved up to a noodle restaurant and then met the boss of Union Development, who came to his shop searching for northern Chinese food. The boss gave Huo a chance at Union, and now Huo is overseeing road construction. Union got the land because it had the cash and the connections, Huo said.

"This country is too poor and the corruption is the same as China," he observed. "If you have power here, you have a great future."

"Cambodians feel no pressure to succeed. They even take weekends off. Not us," he said, with the air of colonial supremacy you hear from many Chinese in Cambodia. "We work."

Preah Vihear: Abhisit still firm on temple site

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:02 Thomas Miller and Bangkok Post

Preah Vihear

THAILAND still opposes Cambodia’s proposal that the Unesco World Heritage Committee manage the area around the ancient Preah Vihear temple, according to remarks by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday. “I’ve told my Cambodian counterpart that Thailand will continue using the watershed mark as the border between both countries”, Abhisit said during his weekly broadcast in Bangkok. “Thailand will abide by the International Court of Justice’s ruling in 1962 and is against Cambodia’s move to submit its management plan for the Preah Vihear to the World Heritage Committee in June next year, as it could lead to more conflicts”, he said. Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan said Abhisit’s statement indicates the two governments remain at odds over the controversial issue. The decision about how to manage the temple is up to Cambodia, he said, because “it is under Cambodian sovereignty, as has been internationally recognised”.

Boy drowns during festival

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Dragon boat teams steer towards the bank of the Tonle Sap river on Saturday as the first round of competitions kicked off in Phnom Penh. Two racers were injured in Saturday’s competition, while five boats capsized.

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:02 Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

AN 8-year-old boy drowned on the first day of the Water Festival, while five boats were sunk after the first two days of races, leaving two competitors injured.

According to witness accounts reported to police, the boy was trying to collect bottles and empty cans that had been discarded at the Tonle Sap river’s edge on Saturday, when he was swept away by the river’s current and then submerged under the Royal Palace’s boat.

Phnom Penh deputy police chief Pen Rath said yesterday that authorities were still searching for the victim’s body.

“He disappeared on Saturday about noon near the Royal Palace’s parade, at the Water Festival ceremony, while he was swimming to collect the empty bottles and cans for sale,” he said.

He says the Water Festival attracts at least 100 children who swim in the river to collect rubbish for money every year, and that the police “have to prevent them from entry into the sites”.

He added that this year more police have been stationed along the river to prevent children from entering the water.

Meanwhile, five boats were sunk on the first two days of racing – two from a crash, and three from capsizing – which resulted in two injuries, one of which authorities said was serious.

“The reason why the boats sunk during the race is because some rowers do not have experience and they hit each other during the competition,” said Chea Kean, deputy general director of the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals. “However, they all are lucky because they were immediately rescued by competent rescue services.”

The NCONIF had little details about the injuries, but said that one paddler had sustained a serious arm injury, while another participant was in stable condition following a leg injury.

The other paddlers were picked up from the water by rescue boats. Police officials said that 5,000 officers have been deployed to the streets of Phnom Penh this year to ensure spectator safety and to regulate traffic.

Pen Rath said that four people had been arrested on allegations of theft, while two children who had been separated from their families were successfully returned once the parents were found.

The NCONIF said that 420 boats were taking part in this year’s festival, compared with 391 from last year.

According to Phnom Penh Municipality officials, an estimated 3 million people have travelled to the capital so far to take part in this year’s festivities.

SRP to visit sensitive border area

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:02 Meas Sokchea

LAWMAKERS from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party say they will visit sensitive areas along the Vietnamese border next week in order to probe local allegations of Vietnamese encroachments.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said opposition parliamentarians had already written to National Assembly President Heng Samrin to inform him that they intend to witness the planting of border demarcation post No 109 in Kampong Cham province’s Memot district.

The plans come after more than 200 villagers from Da commune thumbprinted a petition stating that the demarcation posts had been planted in their ricefields by Vietnamese authorities.

“Issues of territorial integrity are a national issue,” Yim Sovann said. “And each people’s representative has an obligation to go and defend the national interest.”

Preempting the expected government resistance to the border visit, he said the Constitution gave full rights for parliamentarians to oversee the work of the border demarcation teams.

The planned visit is just the latest in the SRP’s campaign to expose alleged border encroachments by Vietnam. The party’s self-exiled president, Sam Rainsy, has been sentenced to a total of 12 years’ prison on a series of charges relating to his attempt to expose what he claims are incursions in Svay Rieng province.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said he was not interested in the SRP’s planned border visit, adding the party should let the government take responsibility for border affairs.

Var Kimhong, the senior minister in charge of border affairs, could not be reached for comment yesterday, but said last week that the government would block any group threatening to disturb the border demarcation process.

Union head faces drug charges

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court on Saturday ordered a garment factory union leader to serve pre-trial detention on charges of drug smuggling, as workers and union heads protested the arrest, claiming the charges had been fabricated.

Sous Chantha, 29, a union leader at the United Garment Factory in Sen Sok district’s Teuk Thla commune, was arrested late on Friday evening after military police stopped him at a checkpoint to search for armaments. Upon searching his bike, police found nine parcels containing crystal methamphetamine, known as ice.

Investigating Judge Phou Povson said he was yet to begin interrogating the suspect, but that the court “decided to issue to detention warrant following the court prosecutor’s charges against him”.

About 200 workers from the factory protested outside the Phnom Penh military police headquarters, demanding the suspect’s release.

Ath Thun, head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said there were “irregularities” in the case and that the CLC would talk with human rights groups to ask them to investigate.

“We suspect that a third party masterminded a plot to plant the drugs in his bike, after he resigned from the factory he had worked at for more than 10 years to register with my organisation,” he said.

Pursat villagers to appear in court

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:02 May Titthara

PURSAT provincial court has summoned 12 people from Krakor district to appear for questioning in connection with a recent protest against the Pheapimex Group, a local conglomerate.

The 12 have been accused of inciting protests, destroying private property and preventing the company from developing private land, said community representative Kun Veng, one of those who received a summons.

“They create a fake case to accuse us, even though they know they need evidence,” he said. Kun Veng said the company was destroying land that locals own and depend on for a living.

On November 10, hundreds of local residents gathered in Krakor district, protesting the company’s efforts to clear forest and farmland for the development of acacia and cassava plantations.

Villagers may also bring a complaint against Pheapimex, said Duok Sary, another of those who received a court summons.

Provincial prosecutor Top Chansereyvuth and Pheapimex representative Ty Kimtok both declined to comment.

Police Blotter: 22 Nov 2010

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:01 Chrann Chamroeun

Man questioned after running away with lover
A 20-year-old man was arrested in Kratie province on Friday after being accused of kidnapping a woman and taking her to Mondulkiri province. Her parents filed a complaint to provincial police after they discovered her living with the man for more than a week. The suspect denied the allegations, claiming the pair had been “in love” for years, but her parents had denied their love. He told police that he and the girl decided to pack up and live in Mondulkiri because the parents rejected his marriage request. KOH SANTEPHEAP

Customers purchase socks, but steal moto
Police are on the hunt for two men accused of stealing a motorbike from outside a clothes shop in Battambang’s Svay Por commune on Thursday. Police caught the suspects on CCTV cameras, and they were reportedly posing as legitimate customers. They arrived on the same bike, but left on separate vehicles. One of the suspects, however, bought a pair of socks before fleeing on the stolen bike. KOH SANTEPHEAP

Pregnant woman allegedly kicked
Preah Sihanouk provincial military police arrested a man accused of kicking a pregnant woman repeatedly in the stomach because she refused to repay an outstanding debt of 2,300 riels (US$0.56). Officials said the suspect’s sister-in-law had demanded the money back, which she lent the victim during the Pchum Ben festival. The suspect returned to the home while the women were arguing and began to kick the woman until she bled. She lost the baby, and police sent the suspect to court on assault charges. KOH SANTEPHEAP

Bike burglar reoffends, arrested by police
A 27-year-old man was re-arrested on Friday on suspicion of motorbike theft in Kampong Thom’s Baray district, just 10 days after he was released from prison. Police said the man had been convicted of stealing a motorbike from a police official in Kampong Cham province. He was suspected of committing a series of robberies in Baray district since his arrest, and confessed to the fresh charges when he was re-detained. KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Cops detain 8 for narcotics offences
Police have arrested eight people on suspicion of drug dealing and drug abuse after 10 small packets of crystal methamphetamine and three parcels full of yama pills were confiscated from them in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district. The suspects were arrested on Friday. Police also said “some instruments for taking drugs” were confiscated during the raid on Boeung Kak I and II communes. KAMPUCHEA THMEY

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief

via CAAI

Military officer accused of killing villager

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:01 Chrann Chamroeun

A MILITARY police official has been accused of shooting a villager to death in Banteay Meanchey province’s Malay district on Friday. Ran La, 27, remains at large after a complaint – filed with the rights group Adhoc by the family of victim Phoun Phim, 18 – accuses the official of shooting his gun twice in the air because the victim’s home-made tractor failed to stop on its way to a local pagoda. One of the bullets ricocheted and hit the victim in the arm, and he died in hospital the next day. Provincial military police chief Or Borin said the suspect will be made “responsible before the law”. Adhoc provincial coordinator Soum Chankea said the rights group had concluded that “it was an intentional killing because it was not in self-defence.”

Charges laid after murder of wife

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:01 Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

KAMPONG Speu Provincial Court charged a man with the murder of his wife and daughter in Oral district. Phorn Poeurn, 29, allegedly used a sickle to slash the necks of his 22-year-old wife and 3-year-old daughter at their house in Trapaing Chor commune on Friday. Deputy district police chief Buth Bunthoeurn said that the suspect was sent to the provincial court on Saturday, where he was officially charged with murder. Commune police chief Ho Thy said the suspect was a firewood cutter and suffered from mental illness. “A week before the murder took place, he escaped to the forest because he thought someone wanted to arrest him,” Ho Thy said. “When he returned, he accused his wife of having a new husband and got very angry. He used the sickle to kill his wife and his daughter, who was nearby.” He added that the suspect had another child.

Cambodia’s chess pair bow out in Guangzhou

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:00 Dan Riley

Cambodia’s Lay Chhay beat Jackson Hong of the Philippines in the last round of the Chinese Chess competition on Friday to end up 13th out of 18 players. Compatriot Heng Chamnan managed a draw in his last match against Kazuharu Shoshi of Japan to claim 15th place. China’s Hong Zhi won gold in the event.

Sar Churpveasna’s best is only just not enough

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:00 Dan Riley

Despite shaving a hundredth of a second off his personal best, Cambodian sprinter Sar Churpveasna came home fifth in his men’s 100 metres heat at the Aoti Main Stadium in Guangzhou yesterday to see him agonisingly miss out on a place in the semifinals. Churpveasna’s time of 11.19 was also set by Bangladesh’s Azharul Islam, who took a photo finish for fourth and with it the last qualification spot from the heat.

CIMB celebrates Cambodian future

Photo by: Pha Lina

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:01 May Kunmakara

Officials open the first branch of Malaysian Bank CIMB, in Phnom Penh, on Friday. During the opening, National Bank of Cambodia governor Chea Chanto said he expected deposits and credit to grow from between 20 to 25 percent this year, compared to 2009. Credit could reach US$3.01 billion this year, from $2.51 billion last year, while deposits could increase to $4.12 billion from $3.3 billion in 2009.

Estate estimate: Land prices continue value slide

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:01 Soeun Say

Estate estimate

LAND prices in the capital are continuing to fall quarter on quarter, according to Cambodia’s National Valuers Association.

The value of commercial and residential land prices dropped 2 to 3 percent in the third quarter this year, compared with the previous quarter.

Commercial land in Phnom Penh was estimated to be worth US$2,800 per square metre in the third quarter, down from $2,850 compared to second quarter this year. Residential land was estimated at $1,600 per square metre, down from $1,650 in the second quarter.

National Valuers Association President Sung Bonna said that there were more land transactions in the sector this year, but added that local and foreign investors alike remained tentative.

Seng Sopheak, valuation manager of Cambodia Properties Ltd, said land and housing prices had stabilised somewhat, but added that commercial and residential trade had increased by 5 to 10 percent over the first nine months. “A lot of banks have changed attitudes to providing property loans with low interest rates,” he said.

But David Simister, chairman of CB Richard Ellis Indochina, said yesterday the market had been characterised by a drop in transactions.

CIMB shows sector maturity

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:01 Steve Finch

THE introduction of Malaysian bank CIMB is the latest sign Cambodia’s financial sector is maturing ahead of next month’s deadline requiring lenders to triple registered capital to US$37.5 million.

With Bank of China set to open in the Kingdom over the coming weeks, which would make it the 30th bank in the country, the sector is certainly becoming overpopulated but the new reserve requirement rule should guarantee that only serious, stable players survive.

This is entirely appropriate as Cambodia desperately needs to establish a banking sector with stable foundations.

When Cambodia increased minimum registered capital a decade ago from $5 million to the current $13 million, the central bank’s new requirement prompted 11 banks to close, some of which were considered to be havens for money laundering.

With the new requirement that banks raise their registered capital to $37.5 million the smaller banks will be forced to team up with foreign investors or other lenders in the sector to meet the new standard.

Or they will simply die as happened previously. And in their turn the likes of CIMB will continue to enter the market meaning that Cambodia’s banking sector will quickly evolve and mature.

In a country that has experienced low levels of saving and problems associated with malpractice in the banking sector, compared to many other countries in Asia, this trend is welcomed.

Although many analysts warn that Cambodia’s banking sector is becoming overly competitive in the same way as industries including telecommunications, this is no bad thing in the short term.

While this trend could fuel competition over savings rates in theory, in practice many banks are offering very different rates, while borrowing rates will hopefully come down.

International lenders with a good reputation are always able to generate lending capital at lower rates than smaller players because they are considered less risky by international financiers and they benefit from much larger capital resources anyway. This is all good for Cambodia.

Less positive would be a situation in which consolidation within the sector turns into a messy affair, if banks are suddenly forced to close when the sector as a whole has only recently struggled to regain confidence following liquidity concerns and high rates of non-performing loans.

The National Bank of Cambodia seems to be making the right moves in terms of killing off banks that can’t cut it and replacing them with those that have done so for many years on a global scale. But this is a fine balancing act in terms of issuing the right number of licences and setting the registered capital requirement at an appropriate level. Only time will tell if the central bank has got this right.

Cambodia goes 2-2 in festival fights

Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun
South African fighter Bakhulule Baai blocks a high kick during his TV5 Water Festival international bout against local favourite Thun Sopea.

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:00 Robert Starkweather

WMC African Contender Champion Bakhulule Baai dealt local powerhouse Thun Sophea a rare decision loss on Friday in the main event of TV5's annual Water Festival fight card held at Old Stadium.

To the delight of gamblers playing the underdog, the South African middleweight unloaded with a sustained flurry of fists in the second round, snapping Thun Sophea's head with jabs, lefts, rights, crosses and uppercuts.

Thun Sophea slowed Baai in the third with kicks to the body, but down the stretch the renowned counter-fighter never did enough to retake the lead. Through the final six minutes, Baai continued to press the action while the Prey Veng native waited to counter and, in the end, judges rewarded the humble Cape Town fighter for his aggression.

In the co-feature, Sen Bunthen smashed Iranian fighter Hesam Fadaei with kicks in the opening seconds of round two, sending the 200-fight veteran to his knees grimacing in pain. Fadaei declined to answer the count.

In lightweight action, Koh Kong sensation Phon Phanna battled to a five-round decision victory over Kenya's Leo Nganga.

The Smach Meanchey native cut Nganga with an elbow and scored a knockdown with knees to the body in the third round in what looked to be a short fight.

But the Kenyan champion not only held on, he came back strong in the final two rounds, scoring with hard elbows from both sides in the fourth and cutting Phon Phanna across the left eyebrow with a knee to the head in the fifth.

In the first international bout on Friday’s card, WMC Intercontinental Champion Juan Montenegro stopped Van Chanvey in the third round with a single right elbow to the jaw.

The blow sent Van Chanvey's mouthpiece sailing into the air and the fighter collapsing to the canvas, where he remained motionless until well, well past the count of 10.

Cambodia miss on medals

Photo by: AFP
Wei Chen Yang of Taiwan (red) fights against Pen-Ek Karaket of Thailand during the men’s under-58kg Taekwondo final at the Guangdong Stadium in Guangzhou yesterday. Wei Chen Yang had disposed of Cambodia’s Chhoy Bouthorn earlier in the competition.

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:00 H S Manjunath

Cambodia’s Asian Games medal hopes in women’s taekwondo were shattered by Thailand’s Prasopsuk Rapatkor on Saturday when she edged past Sorn Davin in their under-73kg quarterfinals at the Guangdong Gymnasium.

Victory would have ensured Sorn Davin at least a bronze medal, but while the only point of the match was marked in her favour, a penalty deduction saw the scores leveled with the Thai contenstant given the superiority vote from the referee.

Prasopsuk then lost her semifinal to China’s Luo Wei, who went on to claim the gold on Saturday with a narrow 5-4 victory over Feruza Yergeshova of Kazakhistan.

It was a disappointing weekend for the Kingdom’s two aspirants in the men’s taekwondo competition. Chhoy Bouthorn proved no match to Taiwan’s Wei Chan Yang in the under-58kg round of 16 contest. A dominant display in all three rounds saw Wei Chan Yang storm to a 14-1 victory, and the 18-year-old Taiwanese sensation carried on his fine form right up to the final, where he beat Karaket Pen-Ek of Thailand with a superiority win to clinch the gold medal.

In a men’s under-54kg round of 16 bout on Saturday, Cambodia’s Chan Sovatha was made to suffer on the mat by Phimmasone Douangs of Laos, who sealed his passage into the quarterfinals with a dominant 14-2 winning margin.

Bun Kenny and Orn Sambath’s euphoria over their first round men’s tennis doubles victory on Wednesday evaporated just two days later when the Cambodian pair went down without a whimper 6-1, 6-1 to the Taiwan combo of Yi-Chu Huan and Lee Hsin-Han. The match at the Aoti Tennis Centre was wrapped up in just 37 minutes and featured some consistent serving and volleying by the Taiwanese duo, who were eventually stopped in the semifinals by a Chinese team.

President of the Tennis Federation of Cambodia Cham Prasidh, who is also Senior Commerce Minister, hailed the “delightful achievement” of Cambodia’s first round victory over a Saudi Arabian side. “We are happy we won one,” he said. “We have to take one match at a time. It is a sign that the country’s tennis is heading in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, in the boxing ring on Saturday, Cambodia’s Svay Ratha was outpointed 8-4 by Montolalu Vinky of Indonesia in their men’s 64kg last 16 bout.

It was a case of too little too late for Cambodia’s beach volleyball duo of Samath Vansak and Taing Mengheak in their men’s preliminary Pool G match on Friday. Having lost their first two outings to Chinese and Iranian teams, the team turned up trumps against an East Timor line-up in taking exactly 30 minutes to seal a 21-18, 21-16 victory. Their only win of the campaign was enough to clinch third place in the four-team group, but not enough to advance to the knockout rounds.

The other Cambodian combination of Mon Rom and Nget Sothearith went down fighting against India’s Mudunuri Kasi and Meda Kiran Kumar 21-14, 13-21, 6-15 in their last Pool E match on Friday, to find themselves bottom of the group table.

Vath Chamroeun, General Secretary of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia who is back in Phnom Penh after a week-long stay in China, said yesterday: “The competition was too stiff for our athletes. We are beginning to show promise, and this performance is better than any of our previous performances. We have a long way to go, but I am sure this experience will help our delegation [in future events].”

Angkor Photo Festival opens

Photo by: Angkor Photo Festival
To Conquer Her Land, by Poulomi Basu of India, was among photos by women at the festival opening.

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:01 Craig Miles

THE Sixth Angkor Photo Festival opened on Saturday night at FCC Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap, played out against a beautiful backdrop of the first night of the annual Cambodian Water Festival.

All the magic of the Water Festival – the madness of the chaotic crowd, the spectacular lights on the river, the booming of colourful fireworks – happened virtually on the doorstep of the photo festival’s opening venue, the FCC.

This was both a boon and a hindrance. The noise from the crowds outside almost drowned out the commentary, while the riotous fun of the water festival distracted from the serious tone of the opening.

The serious but stylish opening hosted many international guests who were treated to the Asian Women Photographers showcase, curated by Yumi Goto who resides in Bangkok.

Goto also announced the official launch of the Reminders Project Photo Grant for Asian photographers, despite many of the details still being tentative.

The lack of Cambodians was unfortunately evident at the event, probably due to the celebrations happening along the river outside the FCC. But festival general coordinator Camille Plante said she was happy with the opening night.

“Everyone understood there was a lot of noise,” she said. “But the pictures told the stories themselves.”

Photo by: Angkor Photo Festival
Opium Addiction in Badakhshan, by the late photographer AK Kimoto, who died in March at the age of 32. On show at the Angkor Photo Gallery.

Plante also said she was happy with the amount of Asian women photographers who were on hand to see their work showcased. Of the 15 women photographers, six were at the opening night.

The photo festival continued on the night with another slideshow at FCC Angkor Hotel. Mexican Prisons by Ryo Kameyama of Japan was a highlight, which documented jails in Mexico, particularly La Mesa Prison in Tijuana, where inmates often riot against the poor conditions.

Shinsekai or The New World, by Florian Ruiz from France was also a fascinating piece which showed a recreational area of Osaka. This is where societal outcasts live in a closed-off underworld, surrounded by violence, alcoholism and illegal gambling.

Perhaps joining in more with the Water Festival festivities and jazzing up the mood at the opening night may have created more of a fun night. But the weekend was a stylish start to what hopefully will be a grand return for the Angkor Photo Festival.

Book launch by children from Anjali

Photo by: Angkor Photo Festival
See the world through children’s eyes with Anjali’s book, Cambodia, Our Vision, on sale to support the NGO.

via CAAI

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:01 Nicky McGavin

A SPECIAL exhibition will be held tonight at the Friends Centre at Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, featuring photos from a book just produced by children’s NGO, Anjali.

The book, Cambodia, Our Vision, which sells at US$35, is a collection of photographs taken by more than 50 of the children from Anjali, giving their unique insights into and interpretations of the world around them. The photographs are the results of many workshops over the years managed by the Angkor Photo Festival and with visiting photographers.

At the heart of tonight’s exhibition are 14 photographs from nine young Anjali photographers, aged from eight to 18. Amongst them are images by Try Sophal, 18, and Sokdam, 17, whose work can also be seen this week at the Angkor Photo Gallery and the Hotel de la Paix.

Sophal won top student award from the You Khin Memorial Women’s Art Prize in June this year. “Sophal manages to capture really intimate moments,” says Sam Flint, the director of Anjali. “She creates some very strong portraits. Right now she’s working on a solo exhibition next year.”

Among others exhibiting is Daney, aged eight, who is blind in one eye and at risk from a degenerative disease. Her sister is already blind. The Angkor Hospital for Children is monitoring Daney’s condition. Sales of the book will raise funds to support Anjali, created four years ago out of the Angkor Photo Festival.

Water festival not all smooth sailing

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Fireworks sponsored by the South Korean government illuminate Phnom Penh's skies during Cambodia's annual water festival over the weekend.

via CAAI

Sunday, 21 November 2010 20:52 Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

An 8-year-old boy drowned on the first day of the Water Festival, while five boats were sunk after the first two days of races, leaving two competitors injured.

According to witness accounts reported to police, the boy was trying to collect bottles and empty cans that had been discarded at the Tonle Sap river’s edge on Saturday, when he was swept away by the river’s current and then submerged under the Royal Palace’s boat.

Phnom Penh deputy police chief Pen Rath said yesterday that authorities were still searching for the victim’s body.

“He disappeared on Saturday about noon near the Royal Palace’s parade, at the Water Festival ceremony, while he was swimming to collect the empty bottles and cans for sale,” he said.

He says the Water Festival attracts at least 100 children who swim in the river to collect rubbish for money every year, and that the police “have to prevent them from entry into the sites”.

He added that this year more police have been stationed along the river to prevent children from entering the water.
Meanwhile, five boats were sunk on the first two days of racing – two from a crash, and three from capsizing – which resulted in two injuries, one of which authorities said was serious.

“The reason why the boats sunk during the race is because some rowers do not have experience and they hit each other during the competition,” said Chea Kean, deputy general director of the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals.

“However, they all are lucky because they were immediately rescued by competent rescue services.”

The NCONIF had little details about the injuries, but said that one paddler had sustained a serious arm injury, while another participant was in stable condition following a leg injury.

The other paddlers were picked up from the water by rescue boats. Police officials said that 5,000 officers have been deployed to the streets of Phnom Penh this year to ensure spectator safety and to regulate traffic.

Pen Rath said that four people had been arrested on allegations of theft, while two children who had been separated from their families were successfully returned once the parents were found.

The NCONIF said that 420 boats were taking part in this year’s festival, compared with 391 from last year.

According to Phnom Penh Municipality officials, an estimated 3 million people have travelled to the capital so far to take part in this year’s festivities.

Equality: entrepreneur style

 Photo by: Pha Lina
From an initiative she set up to help women gain literacy skills, Nguon Chantha, co-director of Mekong Blue and the Stung Treng Women's Development Centre, now employs 77 people, helping them earn a sustainable living while furthering their education.

via CAAI

Sunday, 21 November 2010 21:09 Matthew Backhouse

Setting up and growing a business can be a challenge for many women in Cambodia.
Photo by: Pha Lina
The travel agency started by Sreat Mom Sophear’s is worth $100,000 and has thousands of clients.

Sreat Mom Sophear, general manager of Sophiya Travel and Tours

FRESH out of university, Sreat Mom Sophear struggled to find a job that matched her skills. Undeterred, the 28-year-old decided to work her way up from the bottom until she had enough money to set up her own tourism business.

She launched Sophiya Travel and Tours five years ago with US$2,000 and a lot of determination. The effort paid off, and the company is now worth $100,000 with thousands of clients a year. She decided to start the company after becoming disillusioned with the entry-level jobs on offer for finance and banking graduates. The first few years were the most difficult, as she had to divide her time between the business and a second job as a flight attendant.

“It was very hard. Sometimes I woke up at 4am [to go to work].”

Investing profits back into the company had been crucial to growing the business. She relocated the company last year to a newly-renovated office in Phnom Penh’s upmarket Boeung Keng Kang district and opened a cosy café next door. She has also established a second branch of the travel agency in Siem Reap and invested in several properties.

“Sometimes families think the ladies should not be strong or independent – we should just stay at home or just be employees working for somewhere, or taking care of babies or children,” she said.

“That is one thing I want to share with the ladies – that not only men can do it, women can also.”

Sok Channda, president and chief executive of Angkor Data Communication Group

Sok Channda admits she is “a special case”. From her humble beginnings as a plastic flower vendor with no university education, she now runs several of Cambodia’s leading information technology companies.

She founded Anana Computers more than 15 years ago importing components from Vietnam one piece at a time, until the company had everything it needed to build its first computer.

“In the beginning we didn’t have a lot of money to increase business. We only bought one CPU, one hard disk, one motherboard, one monitor, one VGA card,” she said.

Over time, the company built relationships with key players overseas including Intel, Dell, Hewlett Packard and IBM. The business diversified in 2005 with the establishment of internet service providers MekongNet and AngkorNet, which together are the second biggest players in the market.

Although she had learned from experience in the job, she said education would be vital for the next generation of entrepreneurs. She meets regularly with other businesswomen to share knowledge, and offers discounts on internet services for schools. She also employs a number of women in senior management positions, including the group’s sales and marketing director.

“[If] you do good, somebody will look for you and follow,” she said.

Nguon Chantha, co-director of Mekong Blue and the Stung Treng Women’s Development Centre

FORMER nurse Nguon Chantha wanted to help impoverished women empower themselves – and became an accidental entrepreneur along the way.

Nine years ago, together with her husband, she founded the Stung Treng Women’s Development Centre at Sre Po village, in a remote part of Stung Treng province, to teach local women to read and write.

She soon realised the women wanted literacy skills to find employment, so she set up two looms where six of them could produce traditional silk products.

The enterprise has since grown to 35 looms and 77 employees, making it one of the largest employers in the province.

Nguon Chantha said it had been “really, really difficult” to get the business off the ground, with some people calling her crazy or stupid.

“I don’t know many women doing something like this,” she said.

Although she has no business background, she has already set up a shop in Phnom Penh called Mekong Blue, established an online store, and made distribution deals with top-end hotels in Siem Reap. Her aim is for the donor-supported centre to become completely self-sufficient, with sales of high-end silk supporting the centre’s numerous local social programmes.

“We realised if you don’t do business, you don’t make money, and that’s how we started the business. The more we sell, the more women get better jobs – that’s the whole idea.”

The centre started with a budget of US$3,000, but last year total sales reached $120,000 – the highest revenue since they began. She hoped to see more Cambodian-driven social enterprises like hers in the future, and for donors to offer greater support for marketing and distribution.

Isabelle Duzer, owner of Le Sauvignon wine bar and restaurant in Phnom Penh

PARIS-born Isabelle Duzer wouldn’t have dreamed of quitting her job to open a wine bar in her native France, but there was nothing stopping her in Cambodia.

The former human resources consultant had lived in Phnom Penh for several years before she decided to leave her job and open Le Sauvignon earlier this year.

Duzer said she had never started her own business before, but had relished the opportunity.

“It’s exciting to have your own business and to work on something you like,” she said.

Not one to take the back seat, Duzer has made decisions on every aspect of the business – from the décor in the newly-renovated Boeung Keng Kang restaurant, through to the wine list, which she selected herself from five suppliers.

“I wanted to have nice wine – not the wine you can find in every bar,” she said. “I’m not a professional, but I like good wines.”

She said it had been challenging to set up the business on her own, with marketing and communications proving particularly difficult. But she was coming up with new ways to attract customers, such as wine tastings, gourmet dinners, specialist tea tastings and afternoon teas with cakes and sandwiches.

She has also set up a website and used the social networking site Facebook to spread the word. But Duzer said she had found it no more difficult to start a business in Cambodia as a woman.

“Maybe it’s different if you’re Khmer or expatriate, I don’t know – but for myself I didn’t see any challenges because I’m a woman,” she said.

Photo by: Pha Lina
Anita Lam has made croquettes all over the world.

Anita Lam, owner of Dutch Croquette in Cambodia

FROM the plains of the Kalahari to the mountains of Nepal, Anita Lam has made Dutch bar snacks wherever she has lived.

Now she’s started a small business selling them in Phnom Penh.

Born in Rwanda, Lam later moved to the Netherlands with her Dutch husband, where she learned how to cook traditional croquettes from her mother-in-law. The snacks are made from a meat or vegetable ragout that is rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They are often served with mustard and bread as an accompaniment to beer.

Lam said she made the croquettes as a hobby wherever she and her husband lived, in countries as diverse as Botswana, Mali and Nepal.

“When I was in Botswana, in the middle of the Kalahari, I used to work with the bushmen, but later on when there was no more work I had nothing to do. So I started making the croquettes and called all the Dutch neighbours to come to our home on a Saturday.”

Lam moved to Cambodia five years ago and recently decided to turn her hobby into a small business. She has been making croquettes in her kitchen and selling them to friends, families and a local German bakery for the last two months. She has even been making croquettes with a Cambodian twist. “Local people like it when I put in chilli and garlic,” she said.

The business is already making a small profit and Lam hopes it will continue to grow. Lam said networking with other businesswomen through the Women’s International Group had been encouraging. “They are very powerful, they know what they are talking about,” she said.