Tuesday, 11 January 2011

General on weapons charge

Photo by: Sovan Philong
General Mith Virak is arrested by military police at his home in Stung Meanchey commune, in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, yesterday.

via CAAI

Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:02 Thet Sambath

A BRIGADIER general was arrested by military police in Phnom Penh yesterday for allegedly possessing illegal weapons, a charge officials said was just one part of an ongoing investigation against the officer.

Mith Virak, a brigadier general at the Ministry of Defence, was apprehended yesterday morning at his villa in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune.

Roughly a dozen military police surrounded the compound, where two Land Cruiser SUVs and two other cars were parked.

“He was arrested for possessing illegal weapons, and those were confiscated,” said Sao Sokha, commander of the national military police. “He also has some more weapons that are not officially registered.”

The case, Sao Sokha added, is “not only related to illegal weapons, but also other issues, so the investigation is ongoing”.

“He has more problems, so we are still working on his case,” Sao Sokha said.

Police also confiscated one of Mith Virak’s Land Cruisers, which bore Royal Cambodian Armed Forces licence plates. He was taken to national military police headquarters for questioning following his
arrest, Sao Sokha said.

Meanchey District Governor Kouch Chamroeun said local police had not been involved in the investigation. A military police officer at the scene who asked not to be named said other law enforcement departments had not been informed of the investigation in order to preserve the integrity of the case against Mith Virak.

“If we joined with other departments, information would leak out and there would be intervention to help him,” the official said.

Four handguns and an AK-47 rifle were confiscated at the scene yesterday, the official said. He said Mith Virak was also involved in a land dispute case, but declined to offer further details.

Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat could not be reached for comment yesterday. Ros Chhorm, deputy secretary general of the defence ministry, said he was unaware of the case and had never heard of Mith Virak.

British man faces child sex charges

via CAAI

Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

A BRITISH man was arrested in Siem Reap province yesterday on suspicion of committing indecent acts against four children, police said.

Sun Bunthorng, chief of the provincial Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection office, said the 54-year-old has been accused of sexually abusing four boys, and is currently being held at the provincial police station.

“We will send the suspect to court [today] to face two charges against the four boys,” he said.

Sun Bunthorng said the arrest was made after the boys told police that they were sexually abused by the man while they were working as book sellers at a souvenir shop he operated in Siem Reap.

“The boys told us that they were promised US$50 a month in October to work at the suspect’s souvenir shop, but they hadn’t yet worked for a month and had not gotten any money,” said Sun Bunthorng.

“They stopped working for him because they could not tolerate his sexual abuse against them.”

He added that the arrest was the result of cooperation between police and local child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants.

In a statement yesterday, APLE alleged that according to their investigations, the man lured the boys to work at a shop he ran at Siem Reap’s Old Market, where he then took advantage of them.

Sun Bunthorng said that during questioning by police, the accused denied any wrongdoing, which he said was “normal for the offender” in this type of situation.

“We believe that the suspect sexually abused the boys based on the victims’ hard testimonies, and we will try to collect more evidence when we are ordered by the court,” he said.

Three women murdered in Siem Reap robbery

Photo by: Photo Supplied
Villagers in Siem Reap province gather around a house which was the site of a grisly triple homicide on Sunday.

via CAAI

Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:02 Kim Yuthana and Thik Kaliyann

Siem Reap province

THREE women were murdered in their home in Siem Reap province yesterday morning, with police claiming one of the women was raped before she was killed.

Siem Reap town Police Chief Thoeung Chantharith said Eng Ly, 70, Eng Mouygech, 60, and Oak Sreyneang, 20, all from Wat Svay village in Sala Kamroeuk commune, were killed when their throats were cut with a cleaver.

Oak Sreyneang was raped before she was killed, he added, in what appeared to be a brutal robbery.

“We are working to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” he said.

“It is the most cruel murder I have seen since I became a police chief over 10 years ago”.

Pat Chansok, a Siem Reap provincial police officer, said the only evidence that remained inside the house was the murder weapon and initial investigations suggest that there may have been more than one person responsible.

Police were informed about the killings at around 6am yesterday, when an ice seller stumbled upon the grisly scene.

“He went to the house to bring ice, because [the] family sells groceries,” Pat Chansok said. “Then when he came inside the house he saw blood and the bodies of the three women.”

35-year-old Pheng Touch, son of the deceased Eng Ly, said it was “very cruel” what had happened to his family, which he said never had any problems with anyone.

Yin Mao, Siem Reap provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that last year saw a similar case in Siem Reap involving an 8-year-old child.

“We hope to help the bereaved family and to work with police to arrest the perpetrator and bring them to court,” he said.

Sex crime: 60-year-old questioned over rape

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:01 Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Sex crime

A 60-YEAR-OLD man with severe physical disabilities had been arrested on suspicion of raping a 5-year-old girl in Kampong Thom province’s Baray district, police said yesterday.

Um Chin, deputy district military police chief, said the suspect was arrested on Sunday evening following a complaint filed by the alleged victim’s family. He said the suspect, a neighbour of the girl, who has polio and is unable to walk due to severe disfigurement in both legs, had lured the victim into his house with the promise of cake.

“The reason this polio man was able to rape her is because she stayed alone while her parents went to work in the village,” Um Chin said.

“And she was raped after she was called to enter into the man’s house for cake.” He said the suspect had been sent to the provincial police for questioning.

Kun Sitha, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said the case was one of the most serious she had heard of in Kampong Thom, and called for the court to “strongly punish this old man”.

Government stands by controversial NGO law

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:01 Thomas Miller and Meas Sokchea

THE government defended its controversial new draft NGO law in the face of mounting criticism and asked for input from civil society representatives at a consultation in Phnom Penh yesterday.

At the meeting, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng reaffirmed the government’s commitment to passing the law and dismissed fears that it would be used to control Cambodian civil society groups.

“If the government had a plan to threaten NGOs or associations, it would not need to have the presence of NGOs. The second reason is that if we planned [to threaten NGOs], there is no need for a workshop like you see today,” Sar Kheng said. “There are very few laws that we get to discuss in public.”

Sar Kheng said the law was “modest and does not infringe on rights”, and that he didn’t see how it would restrict NGOs’ activities, attempting to address claims that the law limits the right to freedom of association.

In his overview of the draft law, Nuth Sa An, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, repeatedly said compliance would not be difficult.

Sar Kheng also rebuffed calls for the government to reconsider the legislation’s legal necessity before moving forward.

“The government must have the law on organisations,” he said, adding that other countries in the region had “similar laws”. Moreover, he argued, the government had to take into account “the whole picture”, which included the possibility of terrorists using NGOs as cover for their activities.

The International Centre on Not-for-Profit Law has described law’s articles on mandatory registration as a “restriction” on freedom of association, and a number of NGOs operating in Cambodia have requested that it be voluntary for local associations, which they fear will be most impacted.


We hope that an NGO law can facilitate the growth of this sector, and not hold it back.


Cheap Sopheak, deputy president of the Farmer and Nature Network, said the law was unusable after just one day of consultation because it contained a number of vague articles that would be difficult for small organisations to handle.

“This law must be revised further. I would like to request the government to have voluntary registration for organisations, which would avoid complicated issues for small organisations,” he said on the sidelines of the meeting.

The government had so far not responded to the request for a longer consultation or the establishment of a joint government-NGO working group, said Chith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum.

Nuth Sa An said during the meeting that he would report on the meeting’s discussions to officials at the ministries of foreign affairs and the interior, which will decide whether to agree to the request.

Meanwhile, the international community has called on the government to reconsider the need for the law.

“We strongly urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to reconsider whether the draft NGO law is in fact necessary and, if so, to adopt and implement a law consistent with a commitment to expand, rather than restrict, the freedom for civil society organisations to operate,” United States embassy spokesman Mark Wenig said in a statement yesterday.

“The US strongly believes that a strong, independent, and diverse civil society community is indispensable to democracy.”

The British Embassy said yesterday that it had made own views “clear” to the government. “We hope that an NGO law can facilitate the growth of this sector, and not hold it back,” Lesley Saunderson, the embassy’s deputy head of mission said.

Two regional organisations, FORUM Asia and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, said they were “deeply troubled by a Cambodia government plan to pass a restrictive law” for NGOs, and called for an extended consultation process in a joint statement.

Laurence Bernardi, spokeswoman for the French Embassy, said she had no public comments, but that the embassy would monitor the issue.

“We don’t want to interfere in this debate which is, first of all, a process to be handled by the national actors of the Cambodian society,” she said.


Lawyers boycott land dispute hearings

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:01 Chhay Channyda

LAWYERS for two defendants in an ongoing land dispute boycotted a Kampong Chhang provincial court hearing yesterday, after the court allegedly refused to summon their clients’ witnesses.

Pheng Rom, 45, and Reach Seima, 30, are being sued by the agricultural firm KDC International in connection with claims they made in 2009 that KDC illegally cleared 140 hectares of their land in Lorpeang village.

KDC is headed by Chea Kheng, the wife of Suy Sem, the Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy.

The evidence from the hearing is based on a police report that the lawyers allege places the burden of proof on the defendants.

“We asked for the police to be present and a witness from Lorpeang village, Keo Sokha, who saw the transporting of tractors to clear the land,” defence attorney Sam Sokong said. “Since this did not happen, we boycotted.”

He and two other lawyers from Legal Aid of Cambodia and the rights group Adhoc asked the judge to delay yesterday’s hearing, a request which was refused.

The hearing continued with a KDC representative, KDC lawyer, the district prosecutor, their five witnesses and Pheng Rom in attendance.

Reach Seima, the second defendant, did not appear at the hearing, saying he did not trust the proceedings.

“The court will judge in their favour because they are the rich; the poor are wrong,” he said.

Ny Sokha, community programme officer for Adhoc, observed that the judge did not ask the defendant whether he could defend himself without a lawyer, which should be grounds for a hearing dismissal.

The verdict for both defendants will be handed down on January 17.

Cops probe murder case

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:01 Tep Nimol

AUTHORITIES say they are continuing to investigate the murder of four people in Ratanakkiri province on Sunday morning, even though police shot and killed the main suspect.

Kheng Kry, 32, allegedly stabbed and killed his 61-year-old brother in Prak village, an ethnic Tumpuon community in O’Chum district.

Kheng Kry fled to a nearby house, where he is alleged to have killed three children – Khvek Van, 9, Khvek Pik, 6, and Khvek Mon, 8 – by cutting their throats with a knife.

“The case is in the hands of the police and the prosecutor,

who will continue their investigations,” O’Chum district governor Sak Srun said yesterday.

Sak Srun said that the authorities asked for permission from the prosecutor to bury Kheng Kry’s body away from the village.

“No one showed up claiming to be a family member of the perpetrator, so the villagers dragged the body to a forest and buried it to avoid the smell,” he said.

Sak Srun said on Sunday that the decision was made to use lethal force against the accused, because it was believed that he would otherwise have “killed more people”.

Police Blotter: 11 Jan 2011

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:01 Phak Seangly

‘Gangster’ food fight erupts at wedding party
The hosts of a wedding party in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district have filed complaints against two teenage gangs accused of involvement in a fight that left four men seriously injured and about 100 glasses broken. A sister of the bride said the fight broke out during the wedding party on Sunday after a member of one of the gangs asked her to dance with him. She said members of the other gang threw a beer can at her prospective dance partner, sparking an all-out brawl in which both sides employed an armoury of plates, wooden sticks, plastic chairs and stones. The family has filed a complaint with police requesting that the brawlers help cover the costs of the damage caused by their fight. KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Motorists killed by low-hanging electrical wire
Two female students, both 18, died in an accident on their way to school in Siem Reap province’s Siem Reap town on Saturday. Police said the girls, who were sharing a motorbike and travelling at “high speed”, died instantly after driving into an electrical wire hanging low across the road. A tow truck had allegedly damaged a nearby electrical pole, causing the wire to drop dangerously, police said. Officials said they stopped the vehicle but that the driver managed to evade arrest. The victims, who had not been wearing helmets, died “in a pool of blood” from head injuries, police said. KOH SANTEPHEAP

Man arrested after axe attack in Phnom Penh
A 20-year-old man was arrested in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district on Friday on suspicion of attacking a 29-year-old construction worker by hitting him in the head with an axe. The suspect denied any involvement in the attack, saying he had merely been a witness to a fight that led to the attack, and had fled the scene of the crime because he was afraid. The victim was sent to hospital for treatment. KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Police suspicious after drunk driving death
Police are investigating the death of a 21-year-old man whose body was found on Saturday morning in Pursat province. Police said they suspected the man was drunk when he drove into a tree on Friday night but, after finding a wooden stick nearby the victim’s body, police said they suspected he was also being chased by unnamed “opponents” at the time. RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

‘Sorcerer’ killed in Kampong Speu

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:01 Mom Kunthear

POLICE in Kampong Speu province say they are investigating the death of an accused sorcerer in the province’s Oral district on the weekend.

Sieng Soeun, 51, had his throat slit by unknown assailants on Saturday night, as he was walking home after drinking palm sugar juice with his friends in Tasal commune.

Oral district Deputy Police Chief Buth Bunthoeun said that the motive for the killing remained obscure, and refused to comment on whether police have any suspects.

“I found there are many people that live around him who hate him and believe that the victim knows about sorcery, but I don’t know the real reason behind the killing yet,” he said yesterday.

“We are investigating whether the man was killed for personal reasons or accusations of sorcery, and I can’t say more about how many killers there were or where they come from because it is an ongoing investigation.”

Rath Thavy, provincial monitor for local rights group Adhoc, said that it was difficult to evaluate cases in which the victims are accused of sorcery.

“It can be an excuse if the killers accuse the victim of sorcery, because they may have a personal motive and could kill the victim [for that reason],” Rath Thavy said.

He added that this was the first death of an accused sorcerer in Kampong Speu province so far this year, though two people were accused of sorcery in the province in 2010.

Sorcery charges are not uncommon in rural Cambodia, which has seen eight instances of accused sorcerers being killed since 2008, according to a recent report by rights group Licadho.

Chhay Thy, Adhoc’s rights monitor in Ratanakkiri province, said there have been five documented cases of witchcraft in the province since 2003.

“There were five cases of witchcraft and three of those people were killed,” he said.

Leopard Capital tops up investments, targets Laos

Workers at the Nautisco plant in Sihanoukville, where Leopard capital has topped up its investment. Photo by: Chun Sophal

via CAAI

Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:00 Jeremy Mullins

LEOPARD Capital has topped up its investments in three Cambodian projects as well as secured shares in a company set to list in Laos, the fund’s Chief Executive Officer Douglas Clayton said yesterday.

The US$34 million fund has increased investment in Kingdom Breweries, Nautisco Seafood Manufacturing, and ASA Plc – a holding company with 19 percent ownership of ACLEDA Bank, according to a release.

“We see them all as good investments,” said CEO Douglas Clayton. The three investments had originally been smaller than the average size for Leopard’s portfolio, he said, and the fund taken the opportunity to increase its stakes.

Kingdom Breweries Chief Executive Officer Peter Brongers said the new capital was marked to cover additional costs.

The firm had originally intended to launch in May or June, but its boutique beer began sales in October, a move which had incurred additional costs.

The brewer had added new fermentation tanks and an improved filtration system, which had cost several hundred thousand dollars a piece, he said.

“It’s always better to a have a [financial] cushion,” he said yesterday.

ACLEDA Securities President and Managing Director Svay Hay said Leopard had increased its stake in ASA by 2.58 percent, and now controls 10.30 percent of the holding company.

“Leopard is a leading private equity fund with various experiences, and [brings] value added,” he wrote yesterday.

ASA was a form of an Employee Stock Ownership Plan that also allowed a certain degree of outside investment, he said. It was established in 2000, and launched an internal stock market in 2006. Another unnamed South Korean fund had also invested in ASA, he said.

Sihanoukville-based Nautisco Seafood Manufacturing representatives declined to comment yesterday, but Leopard said in the release that its investment would provide secured debt and purchase additional common shares, increasing its stake in the project from 31 percent to 38 percent.

Clayton declined to reveal the dollar amounts of the three investments.

Meanwhile, Leopard also announced it had purchased 5,000,000 shares, or 2.32 percent, of the initial public offering of state-owned Electricite du Laos Generation Company - one of the first two companies to list on the Laos Stock Exchange today. EDL had made 25 percent of its shares available for the IPO.

“It’s a good opportunity to participate in the hydropower sector in Laos, and we’re pleased that the Laos exchange has launched,” said Clayton.

He added that Leopard was keeping the door open for investment in firms listing on the Cambodian bourse, which is set to launch by July.

“If there’s a good bottom-up opportunity, we’re certainly open to exploring [the opportunity],” he said.

High rubber prices salve tax headache

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:00 Chun Sophal

HIGH international rubber prices are making a recent tax rise on exports more palatable, according to some of the Kingdom’s leading figures in rubber production.

Increasing rubber prices are generating high profits for the industry, with quality exports fetching near US$5,000 per tonne on international markets, according to Mong Reththy, who is a prominent businessman and co-president of the government-private sector working group on agriculture.

Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed into law an increased tax on rubber.

If the product is worth below $2,000 a tonne, a tax of $50 per tonne will be charged.

While if the product is worth above $4,000, the tax will be $300 per tonne, according to article three of a subdecree which went into effect on January 1.

For exports worth between $2,000 and $4,000 a tonnes, the tax ranges from $50 to $200.

The tax had previously sat at $50 per tonne, regardless as to the value of rubber.

“I think rubber exporters will have no objection to paying taxes in line with special taxes imposed by the government,” said Mong Reththy yesterday

Rubber producers interviews by The Post raised few concerns about the increase in levies.

Men Sopheak, deputy director of Sopheak Nika Investment, said the government’s decision to raise the tax was acceptable, given the commodity’s rise in value on international markets in recent months.

Sopheak Nika exports some 10,000 tonnes of rubber each year.

While Leng Rithy, president of the Vietnam Rubber Enterprise Federation, said the company – which has been granted land concessions totaling 100,000 hectares – was still studying Cambodia’s decision to increase the export duties.

“The company hasn’t yet produced rubber for export, so we need time to study the decision in advance,” he stated.

Cambodia exported some 35,000 tones to 40,000 tonnes of rubber per year over the last five years, according to data obtained from the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.

China plans to import cassava

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:00 Chun Sophal

KHAOU Chuly Development Company plans to invest US$7 million to grow cassava on 5,000 hectares of land in Mondulkiri province this year, chairman Khaou Phallaboth said yesterday.

The project – which is also set to include a processing factory – aims to produce 150,000 tonnes of cassava per year, largely for export to the People’s Republic of China.

“We hope the project will be successful, which can create a new market for farmers to sell their products and to earn more income for the national economy,” he said.

Cassava is often used in ethanol production. Yields on Khaou Chuly Development Company were targeted at 30 tonnes of cassava per hectare per year.

Construction of the production facility was slated to begin near to the end of this year.

While production of the crop now generally occurs in the Kingdom’s western provinces, Khaou Phallaboth also said there was plenty of land available in the northern reaches of Cambodia.

The land, he said, had strong potential for high yields.

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery undersecretary of state Kit Seng said that cassava production often produced high yields, but added planting for the long term could damage the quality of the soil.

Still, he said the Agriculture Ministry supported cassava production – especially as it was a priority crop, with companies receiving encouragement from the government to grow.

In December, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced an agreement with China aimed at increasing cassava exports to Asia’s largest economy.

Ministry of Agriculture figures show that cassava was grown on 200,821 hectares of land for the 2010 to 2011 harvest season, an increase of 40,495 hectares from the previous season.

Baseball team given the celebrity treatment

Members of the Cambodian national baseball team practice pitching and batting during a training session on Team Appreciation Day at the baseball field in Kampong Thom's Prasath Balaingk district on Sunday. Photo by: SRENG MENG SRUN

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:00 H S Manjunath

Popular local hip-hop artist Pou Klaing headed a bevy of entertainers who traveled to the Cambodian national baseball team’s practice pitch on Sunday in Kampong Thom’s Prasath Balaingk district to inspire players to work hard for a challenging season ahead.

The celebrity meet-and-greet, labelled Team Appreciation Day, was the Cambodian Baseball Federation’s idea of keeping the members of the team and supporting village community in good humour and high spirits as Cambodian baseball celebrates its revival and prepares for a shot at the SEA Games in Indonesia later in the year.

A household name in Cambodia, Pou Klaing joined several other well known acts for a day out at the diamond with a visiting media team from Phnom Penh in close attendance. The day featured frenzied photo shoots, dancing razzmatazz, comical cackles and popular Cambodian skits to keep a lustily cheering crowd amused.

Some of the entertainers turned up in Cambodian national team jerseys, and tried their hand at swinging the bat and pitching a few balls.

Baseball Federation President Joe Cook, who is based in the United States, made himself heard loud and clear via a cell phone routed through a microphone with a passionate appeal for baseball to be spread far and wide in the Kingdom.

“We will spare no effort to take baseball to the people, and we want you to help us in this,” said Cook.

For his part, Pou Klaing said he was more than happy to be in Kampong Thom among the baseball fraternity.

“We enjoyed it and the people loved it. I hope baseball will be greatly benefited from this [event],” he said.

The current practice ground is part of a large estate belonging to Nhem Thavy, a CPP lawmaker for Kampong Thom province who is a passionate supporter of baseball. A beautiful resort replete with an artificial lake and breathtaking landscape is nearing completion around the baseball facility.

While facilities may be basic for the national team undergoing training ahead of the official season opening on February 25, Nhem Thavy is in no doubt that a major league standard baseball ground will be in place soon with plans to turn the sprawling site into a major sports centre.

The CBAF say they are expecting the strength of players to increase by up to 50 percent by the time the season gets off next month, and it is marking out participation at the 2011 SEA Games as its top priority for the year.

Teams make it or break it in cup ties

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:00 Ung Chamrouen

Yesterday’s fallout from the 2011 Hun Sen Cup saw three teams qualify for the next round, while five sides slumped out.

In group C, tournaments heavyweights Preah Khan Reach scored, well a score, against a starstruck Preah Vihear. Half of the team’s 20 goals were registered by national team striker Khoun Laboravy, who has now struck a dozen in the competition.

Also in group C, division A1 club Chhlam Samuth confirmed their progression to the last 16 stage with a 10-0 trouncing of Kratie. Preah Vihear and Kratie have been eliminated and will play each other tomorrow for consolation only.

Group G favourites Naga Corp managed a 2-0 dispatch of Takeo to signify their advance, while Kep crashed out after their 6-0 drubbing by Preah Sihanouk Autonomous Port.

Banteay Meanchey from group A and Kandal from group E both saw their dreams of making the Phnom Penh rounds disappear yesterday with losses to Mekong Kampuchea University and Stung Treng respectively. Chhma Khmao and Western University played out the Cup’s first goalless stalemate in Prey Veng yesterday.

On Sunday, Kirivong Sok Sen Chey hitman In Vichheka shot to the top of the scorers chart by netting 11 of his team’s 16 goals against provincial minnows Kampong Speu. It was the striker’s 14th goal of the competition after his hat-trick past Koh Kong Friday.

Sunday’s most gripping contest came in the Kampot v Koh Kong group H clash. Having lost their first game, Koh Kong kept themselves in the race with a 2-1 victory. Un Sopheak scored the last gasp winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

National team pin-up Kouch Sokumpheak notched another two goals as Phnom Penh Crown eliminated hosts Kampong Thom Sunday with a 6-1 thrashing. Sokumpheak had come up against his elder brother and opposite number Sovireak in the match.

Newly founded club Neak Khiev from Kampong Cham kept their hopes for qualification alive via a 5-2 win over Siem Reap side Baksey Chamkrong.

Fly, be free!

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:01 Wesley Monts

A man affected by the controversial 133-hectare development of the Boeung Kak lakeside releases a bird into the air during the conclusion of a week-long protest at Phnom Penh’s ‘Freedom Park’ on Sunday.

Hun Sen firm on Thais

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses more than 1,500 students at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh on Sunday.

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Monday, 10 January 2011 20:43 Cheang Sokha

Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that a Thai parliamentarian and six other Thais arrested on trespassing charges will have to serve at least two-thirds of their jail sentences if convicted, as additional charges were announced against two of the detainees.

A group of Thais including Panich Vikitsreth, a lawmaker from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, were arrested in Banteay Meanchey province last month and charged with illegal entry and unlawfully entering a military base, charges that carry a combined maximum sentence of 18 months in prison. Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, the premier said neither the government nor any other organisation could intervene the case.

“Intervention from all corners, including the United Nations, is impossible,” Hun Sen said.

“We will talk about this further when the court has completed its procedure, but the law is the law, the court is the court, and the government cannot influence or order the court to do this or that for a political compromise.”

He added: “After they are convicted, they have 30 days to make an appeal, and after the conviction is effective, they have to serve two thirds of their sentences before we consider whether there is a pardon or not. What I am saying is based on the law.”

Under Cambodian law, prisoners are eligible for pardon after serving two-thirds of their jail sentences. In 2009, however, the government released a Thai national sentenced to seven years in prison on espionage charges just days after his conviction.

The suspect, an airport engineer named Sivarak Chutipong, was arrested for allegedly passing the flight details of Thaksin Shinawatra to the Thai Embassy during one of the fugitive former Thai prime minister’s controversial visits to the Kingdom.

Cambodian officials said at the time that the release was secured in part through the intervention of Thaksin, a bitter rival of the current Thai government who currently lives abroad to avoid a prison term for graft.

Also yesterday, municipal court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun said two of the seven Thai detainees – Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Taiputana – faced an additional espionage charge.

“We have charged Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree with collecting information that might damage national defence,” Sok Roeun said. The charge carries a sentence of between five and 10 years in prison.

Veera, a former leader of Thailand’s “Yellow Shirt” People’s Alliance for Democracy movement, now leads the Thailand Patriot Network, a PAD splinter group. Veera and the Yellow Shirts have staged repeated rallies at the border over the past few years to protest alleged Cambodian encroachment on Thai territory.

Pich Vicheka, a Cambodian lawyer hired to represent Veera, said yesterday that he had yet to receive word of the additional charge against his client.

Thai officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, though the Bangkok Post reported that Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva had called an “urgent meeting” yesterday with members of his cabinet in response to Hun Sen’s comments.

“Mr Abhisit said the first priority of the government is to help the detained Thais,” the newspaper said.

On Sunday, a group of Yellow Shirt activists, including a former senator, flew to Phnom Penh to meet with the detainees and offer legal assistance in the case.

Don't call me a traitor:PM

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Prime Minister Hun Sen and Education Minister Im Sethy (right) enter the National Institute of Education on Sunday.

via CAAI

Monday, 10 January 2011 19:25 Cheang Sokha and Rebecca Puddy

Prime Minister Hun Sen has again lashed out at critics of the January 7 holiday marking the 1979 overthrow of the Khmer Rouge, warning he will arrest anyone who accuses he or other senior officials of being “traitors” to the country.

“I would like to tell you not to curse as a national traitor,” Hun Sen said during a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh yesterday.

“If you curse, it will be a problem, if you dare to use this word you will be arrested from your homes. Don’t talk about freedom of expression on this matter.”

The premier also warned that any politician or parliamentarian making similar criticisms would lose their parliamentary immunity and be arrested immediately.

“Whether or not you have parliamentary immunity, the father of parliamentary immunity will still arrest [you].
You can say whatever, or curse January 7, but don’t curse as a national traitor,” Hun Sen said.

In his speech, the prime minister also cautioned foreign countries against interfering if the government does make any arrests.

“I would like to give a message in advance, as it might happen in the future,” he added.

On Friday, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party held celebrations marking the 32nd anniversary of the January 7, 1979 overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese army.

The January 7 holiday – known as Victory over Genocide Day – has attracted criticism, however, with some arguing the day should not be celebrated as it marks the moment Cambodia lost its national sovereignty and fell under the influence of Vietnam.

In a statement released ahead of the holiday last week, political observer Son Soubert said the CPP’s commemoration of the day demonstrated an ignorance of “the general fear felt by the great majority of the Cambodian people of losing national independence and sovereignty”.

Opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that the day was more a celebration of the birthday of the CPP, and reiterated that Hun Sen was a traitor to his country.

He was also critical of the premier’s warning, saying citizens have a democratic right to criticise politicians and that the party’s position on the issue of January 7 would remain firm.

“If somebody has said traitor they have done nothing wrong,” Yim Sovann said. “The prime minister is a public figure and he should accept criticism from the people. In a democratic society we have to accept criticism, or we are not a democracy.”

Police in Siem Reap province are also investigating the distribution of antigovernment leaflets apparently released to coincide with last week’s January 7 celebrations. Last year, four people were convicted on disinformation charges for circulating similar leaflets in Takeo province.

Ousted provincial police chief questioned in drug case

via CAAI

Monday, 10 January 2011 20:19 Chrann Chamroeun and Kim Yuthana

Former Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean has been detained on suspicion of accepting bribes and involvement in drug trafficking after being removed from his post last week, officials said yesterday.

Banteay Meanchey Governor Ung Oeun said yesterday that Hun Hean – no relation to Prime Minister Hun Sen – was being held along with Banteay Meanchey Deputy Police Chief Chheang Sun by National Police officials.

“We welcome the skillful investigation by the National Authority for Combating Drugs and the Ministry of Interior that has probed former provincial police chief Hun Hean on suspicion of taking bribes and conspiring with illegal businessmen on drug crimes,” Ung Oeun said.

The governor said that he had received reports that Hun Hean was involved with “several different drug crimes”, and that the investigation that led to his removal from his position had lasted roughly six months.

“I firmly believed and had confidence that top-level authorities with enough ability would conduct a thorough investigation against him and obtain enough documents to prove that he was guilty of taking bribes and not cracking down on drug crime,” Ung Oeun said.

Hun Hean denied on Sunday that he had been involved in corruption, suggesting that his removal was engineered by a rival in the government.

“I’m not involved with corruption or administrative mistakes like the allegations say, but my removal may have been the result of trickery or jealousy in relation to my position, where I have worked for three years,” Hun Hean said. “In my life, I have never been greedy and have always donated money to poor people to help them improve their lives.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Hun Hean and Chheang Sun had been detained for questioning at National Police headquarters.

“We just brought them for interrogation, and we haven’t charged them yet because our team is still in the process of interrogating them on suspicion of drug crime,” Khieu Sopheak said.

“We will reveal the outcome of the investigation when it is completed, and we are not yet sure whether the case will be transferred to the [Anticorruption Unit] for further investigation.”

Hun Hean was removed from his position following a letter from Interior Minister Sar Kheng dated Friday, which installed Deputy Provincial Police Chief Chan Kosal as acting Police Chief.

Provincial officials said on Sunday that Hun Hean had been transferred to the staff department at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh pending the outcome of the investigation.

Ung Oeun said that in three years as provincial police chief, Hun Hean had seemingly played an active role in fighting crime.

“I can’t say whether or not he is a good man, but during his three years of work he made a very good effort in cracking down on all kinds of crimes,” he said.

“From the outside, it seems like he improved security in the province, but we don’t always know the details of what’s going on behind the scenes.”

In August, Hun Hean presided over an investigation that led to the seizure of nearly 13 million flu tablets commonly used to manufacture methamphetamines, one of the Kingdom’s largest-ever drug busts.

More arrests coming: ACU
Also yesterday, Anticorruption Unit head Om Yentieng said in a speech to Ministry of Culture officials that three or four unnamed anti-drug police officers will be arrested in the next few days for allegedly releasing detainees in exchange for bribes.

“We will arrest them so that they can be prosecuted in connection with arresting drug smugglers and then releasing them in return for taking bribes of between 20,000 and 160,000,” Om Yentieng said, neglecting to specify the currency of the alleged bribes.

The ACU head referred follow-up questions on the matter to ACU spokesman Keo Remy, who could not be reached for comment.

Kingdom to milk new industry

Dairy cows rest in the sun in Otaki, New Zealand. Cows from the country could be brought to produce milk in Cambodia.


No one in our country is producing fresh milk ... we have a real investment partner with full experience


via CAAI

Monday, 10 January 2011 19:52 Soeun Say

CONSTRUCTION on the Kingdom’s first dedicated dairy cow farm and fresh milk production facility is set to begin this month, according to officials behind the joint venture.

“This is the first time in history that our country will produce fresh cows’ milk,” said Srey Chanthou, managing director of 7NG Group.

“We hope it will be successful, and that we can expand our business further.”

The US$2.5 million project will raise Holstein cows imported from New Zealand and Australia, and aims to produce 1.2 million litres in the first year of production.

7NG Group has partnered with Sweden’s HPT Dairy Company for the venture, though officials declined to reveal what percentage each firm owns in the joint venture.

Srey Chanthou said there were a number of points in favour of producing milk in the Kingdom.

“I see that no one in our country is producing fresh milk,” he said.

“Secondly, the demand is increasing every day.

“Third, we have a real investment partner with full experience and the technology to produce cow milk.That’s why we decided to invest.”

The plant will lie on 100 hectares in Kampong Speu province’s Phnom Sruoch district, next to the Kirirom National Resort. It is scheduled to open in November 2011, he said.

In 2012 – its first full year of production – the company aims to feed 200 head of cattle, producing 1.2 million litres of milk. By 2013, it would like to have 500 to 700 cattle producing three million litres of milk.

Grass, planted by the group, will form part of the diet of the herd. The venture will initially focus on supplying the Cambodian market, but could turn its attention to exports as capacity allows, said Srey Chanthou.

No price for the fresh milk has yet been set, but it will rely on the open market for its pricing, with the aim of competing with imports. The official contract establishing the joint venture was signed in a ceremony at the Sunway Hotel last week.

Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy general director Meng Saktheara said the ministry welcomed the project.

“I think it will be very good for our country,” he said. “It is possible to raise milk cattle here, as we have lots of good areas for this.”

He also said that the involvement of the Swedish firm would help introduced the latest technology to Cambodia.

Koh Kong dredging resumes

Photo by: Sebastian Strangio
Dredging boats unload sand into a bulk carrier for export to Singapore, around 10 kilometres off the coast of Koh Kong province, in February 2009.

via CAAI

Monday, 10 January 2011 19:45 Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Large-scale sand dredging has resumed in coastal areas of Koh Kong province following a three-month halt in the controversial operations late last year, officials said yesterday.

The dredging, which began in Koh Kong in 2008, has long drawn criticism from local and international rights groups, who claim it is causing environmental damage and impacting on the livelihoods of local fishermen.

Pech Siyon, director of the provincial Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, said yesterday that dredging recommenced in early November after the last licensed company wound down operations in August citing a lack of demand in Singapore.

Pech Siyon said four local companies – which he named as LYP Group, Udom Seima Trading, the International Singapore Company and the Direct Action Company – are currently involved in exporting “at least” 2,000 cubic metres of “selected sands” to Singapore every week.

“We can’t stop these local companies from dredging sand in Koh Kong province, because they have received licenses from the Royal Government of Cambodia to do this activity in the province,” he said.

Pech Siyon said there was no compelling reason to shut the companies down, saying that their activities “have not impacted the environment in the area”.

In May, anti-graft watchdog Global Witness reported that up to 796,000 tonnes of sand were being removed from Koh Kong each month and sent to Singapore, where it is used in construction and reclamation projects.

The group concluded that the trade is being conducted with little regard for international standards or local laws, and argued that the booming trade had destroyed livelihoods and threatened marine ecosystems.

In an emailed statement yesterday, Global Witness campaigner George Boden said the organisation was not aware the Cambodian government had formally resumed sand dredging along Cambodia’s coast.

“If this has happened”, he said, “then we hope that this decision was based on a thorough analysis of the environmental and social concerns raised by our research”.

Neang Boratino, Koh Kong provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that about 200 families supported by small-scale fishing operations in Koh Kong province had been adversely affected by the dredging.

“The dredging activities of these companies have really impacted on local fishermen’s daily businesses, local environments and biodiversity in these areas,” he said.

“I am now afraid that if they continue these dredging activities in the province, natural resources and biodiversity will be completely destroyed and those people who are dependent on fishing as an occupation will lose their jobs.”


Drunk police have no leg to stand on

via CAAI

Monday, 10 January 2011 19:08 Chhay Channyda

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on government officials, especially traffic police, not to drink while on duty.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen appealed to traffic police, military police, and government officials who he said should instead devote their energy to “strengthen[ing] the social order”.

He asked how traffic police can legitimately fine those who violate traffic laws if they themselves are drunk.

“If they both are drunk, how can we sentence this case? When you are on duty, make sure you don’t drink alcohol,” he said.

Hun Sen also drew attention to the current wedding season, which he said is usually a marked by increased accidents caused by drinking. “2011 is the year we make the economy grow, reduce poverty, strengthen the social order and reduce traffic accidents,” he added.

Hun Sen’s call followed a similar plea from the Ministry of Health on December 31, when it called for people to limit their alcohol consumption in a bid to cut government spending on related health and social problems.

During a meeting last month, a coalition of civil society groups called on the government to restrict advertising and increase taxes on alcoholic beverages in a bid to control alcohol consumption.

N.Korean Restaurants Abroad Feel the Pinch

 via CAAI

January 11, 2011

Siem Reap, Cambodia's second largest city near the sprawling ruins of the Angkor Wat, has two North Korean restaurants, down from three since North Korea recalled all their expat staff after Kim Jong-il's stroke in 2008 and returned only the employees of two of them. The restaurants rely on South Korean tourists for business since the town is a popular destination for them.

One of them, called Restaurant Pyongyang, sells the famous cold noodles or naengmyeon for US$7 a dish, while North Korean dancers perform and pour drinks for customers. It used to be a regular stopover for South Korean tourists, with tour agencies charging $30 for a visit and a meal. One tour guide said, "In Cambodia $7 a dish is already pretty expensive, but many tourists go to the restaurant because of its attractions."

The Restaurant Pyongyang in Siem Reap, Cambodia (file photo)

After North Korea's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in March last year, the South Korean Embassy in Cambodia asked tour agencies and South Korean residents' association there to avoid sending visitors from the South there, but local sources say the plea fell largely on deaf ears. But the North's artillery attack on Yeonpyong Island in November last year finally did the trick. The South Korean residents' association in Siem Reap voluntarily boycotted the North Korean restaurants, and tour agencies also voluntarily took them off their itinerary.

The restaurants are apparently suffering. A member of the South Korean residents' association said, "Almost all of the customers were South Korean tourists, but it seems that even the performances have stopped now there are no customers."

Around 120,000 South Koreans a year reportedly visited the two restaurants, contributing to an estimated W200-300 million (US$1=W1,126) in monthly sales. North Korea runs over 100 restaurants in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Russia, which serve as a source of much-needed hard currency for the regime by sending home $100,000-300,000 a year.

The mood in Siem Reap is now desperate. Last month, a placard outside a South Korean restaurant criticizing North Korea's attacks were torn down by seven people who appeared to be North Korean agents, in what expats there believe was another small-scale North Korean provocation. Tour agencies are also losing revenues after taking the restaurants off their itineraries. "We used to charge $30 per visit and took 30 percent of the profits, but not any more," a tour guide said.

South Korean residents' associations abroad rarely voluntarily boycott North Korean restaurants. The Okryugwan chain of North Korean restaurants in Beijing's Wangjing district is still accessible to South Koreans. A South Korean Embassy official there said, "We asked residents to avoid the restaurant in November but did not force them."

Meanwhile, a North Korean restaurant in Kathmandu, Nepal closed down in November after its North Korean manager defected to South Korea.

englishnews@chosun.com  / Jan. 10, 2011 12:19 KST

COMMENT: Cambodian sanctuaries —Ralph Shaw

via CAAI

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The major reason behind the American inspired coup and subsequent invasion of Cambodia was Vietnamisation — the idea that the US could buy its way out of the Vietnam quagmire, ‘honourably’, by increased military assistance and economic aid to the South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Thieu

The American-instigated coup that ousted Prince Sihanouk on March 18, 1970 is aptly described as the “beginning of the end of Cambodia” by Seymour Hersh in his book The Price of Power. The coup really was the start of a minor apocalypse for the country. Sihanouk had kept his country neutral in the raging conflict in neighbouring Vietnam by performing a balancing act between the communist and right wing forces. The anti-communist faction that deposed Sihanouk strengthened ties with the US and formally allowed South Vietnamese to conduct cross-border raids against communist sanctuaries in Cambodia, which were under secret US bombardment since March 1969, with the result that the communists moved further inland towards the Capital Phnom Penh.

Claiming that the Cambodian capital was in danger President Nixon launched an invasion of Cambodia on April 30 1970 in support of Lon Nol’s anti-communist government in Phnom Penh. The US foray into Cambodia ended two months later, without achieving anything, with 344 American, 818 South Vietnamese and untold communist combat deaths. The bitter civil war in Cambodia continued unabated and the social order collapsed. In 1975, the same year that Saigon fell, Lon Nol was overthrown by the communists. The reign of genocide that followed killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. The total number of civilian deaths in a population of 8 million at the time, including those from starvation and disease, is estimated to be around 1.7 million.

Though the US never admitted its role in the Cambodian coup investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has marshalled compelling evidence, from high level sources, that leaves little doubt that Sihanouk’s fall was the work of US agents. Sihanouk charged the same in his memoir, My War with the CIA (1973), but was belittled for his allegations. A highly classified military plan, initially code named Dirty Tricks, later baptised Sunshine Park, called for infiltration of mercenaries into Cambodian army units and assassination of Prince Sihanouk by a US trained assassination team disguised as Vietcong (the communist guerrilla force in South Vietnam). Sihanouk’s murder was to be used as a pretext for a right-wing coup. Mercenaries were infiltrated in the Cambodian army units before the coup but the assassination part of the proposal was rejected by Premier Lon Nol. He condemned it as “criminal insanity”. Hence the coup was staged while Prince Sihanouk was on a two-month foreign tour.

Prince Sihanouk, who often made equivocal statements on important issues, was nonetheless consistent in one view — that the US could not win in Vietnam. He advised US officials to establish normal diplomatic relations with North Vietnam because he thought that a unified socialist Vietnam was inevitable in the long run. He also admitted that he was powerless against the North Vietnamese and Vietcong sanctuaries inside Cambodia and told a visiting US senator that he was aware that Americans were bombing the sanctuaries but would not protest as long as the areas under attack were not inhabited by Cambodians. He said, “It is in one’s own interest, sometimes, to be bombed...in this case, the US kills foreigners who occupy Cambodian territory and does not kill Cambodians.” He also declared that if the Americans withdrew from Vietnam there would be no bombing incidents in his country. Sihanouk’s message was clear. He was suggesting that South Vietnam could not be prevented from going communist and that the US should consider a face saving retreat. Nixon and Kissinger considered him an enemy for giving such candid advice.

The major reason behind the American inspired coup and subsequent invasion of Cambodia was Vietnamisation — the idea that the US could buy its way out of the Vietnam quagmire, ‘honourably’, by increased military assistance and economic aid to the South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Thieu. Militarily Vietnamisation aimed at strengthening the South Vietnamese army through aid and training to the point where it could take on the Vietcong on its own, thus making the American withdrawal from Vietnam not to appear as an act of defeat and betrayal. In President Nixon’s thinking the North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia and in Laos along the Vietnamese border, that lay in the general area of the Ho Chi Minh trail — Vietcong’s supply line — were the biggest hurdles to his exit strategy i.e. Vietnamisation. The North Vietnamese and Vietcong could presumably continue a war of attrition indefinitely from the sanctuaries by conducting cross-border raids into South Vietnam and then fleeing back to the security of the safe havens in Cambodia and Laos. The spring 1970 invasions of Cambodia and Laos were primarily undertaken in support of Vietnamisation. But that was not the only reason.

The American Joint Chiefs of Staff had long advocated an invasion against the sanctuaries. Having been humiliated by the Vietcong into a stalemate in South Vietnam, where the Vietcong was in control of most of the countryside, they sought to expand the war as a way of assuaging their sense of defeat. The invasion had no support in the US State Department and many of Kissinger’s top aides in the National Security Council vehemently opposed it. The US’s anti-war movement, spearheaded by students, went berserk in the wake of the invasion. One-third of the US Universities were closed because of protests and four students got killed in disturbances at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

President Nixon, shaken and nervous, held a press conference on May 8, 1970 and announced the unilateral withdrawal of American troops by July 1. However the, supposedly, secret bombing of the Cambodian sanctuaries continued until the signing of peace talks in 1973. It was a clear indication of the failure of the Cambodian invasion. The invasion had backfired by not only in its failure to destroy the North Vietnamese strongholds, that became more dispersed, but also by bringing the North Vietnamese and the Cambodian communist insurgents, the Khmer Rouge, together. The two groups had been antagonistic to each other until then. Most ironic was the fact that American Generals soon realised that instead of aiding Vietnamisation the invasion had become an obstacle to the policy by spreading the South Vietnam forces in a futile struggle in Cambodia instead of having them take greater responsibility in fighting the Vietcong in South Vietnam.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at ralphshaw11@gmail.com

Peer Q&A - Didier Lamoot, General Manager, Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra

 via CAAI

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jim Sullivan

Didier Lamoot, GM

Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, Cambodia

Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, Cambodia
Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, Cambodia

Three weeks ago, the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra in Cambodia opened its doors as the first new 5-star debut in Phnom Penh in more than a decade. General Manager Didier Lamoot believes the new hotel is evidence of a brand new day in Phnom Penh. Lamoot previously managed a sister hotel property in Siem Reap and is now in his seventh year in Cambodia.

Q. Why haven't any other 5-star hotels opened in Phnom Penh in the past decade? The region is booming, and yet Phnom Penh, until now, hasn't been able to capitalize on the wider world's interest.
A. When talking about Cambodia, people immediately think of Angkor. And who can blame them? It is one of the world's marvels. For the past dozen years, so much of the interest in Cambodia, for both the leisure and the corporate traveler, has been on Angkor. There's been so much attraction to Siem Reap — gravitational attraction, inevitable attraction — that Phnom Penh has been left with the second fiddle. But the second fiddle is now asking the first violin for some time on the main stage.

Q. Can this city support another five-star hotel? The city already has two, as well as a fairly new 600-room hotel-casino.
A. In 2004-2005, they were telling me it would be crazy to put up a hotel. The upscale hotels were losing money then. But by 2007-2008, everyone was saying, “We're waiting for you. We need more rooms.”

Q. Is this city ready for prime time?
A. The city is ready. But it's hard to communicate to the world that we are ready. Both private industry and government have to be pulling in the same direction, and with great vigor, to ensure that the world knows this.

Q. How do you persuade corporate and leisure travelers that Phnom Penh should be a destination for these travelers?
A. This is the future of Cambodia. This city is emerging as Cambodia's hub, as a gateway to Angkor, yes, but also to Sihanoukville and the southern coast. Note that Thai Airways flies into Phnom Penh, not Siem Reap. If we want to develop the country as a real destination, we have to develop the south. That's how Phnom Penh becomes a hub.

Q. But that’s not the way the city is perceived now?
A. Correct. According to the official statistics, we had 471,283 arrivals to Phnom Penh in from January to October 2010, while there were 557,145 arrivals to Siem Reap. That doesn't suggest that the country yet revolves around a hub.

Q. What is the next milestone you're looking out for in Cambodia’s redevelopment as a destination?
A. Easy. We need a long-haul flight into Phnom Penh from Europe, from the States and/or from Australia. All of the planes coming in now are with regional carriers.

Q. Air France?
A. Bien sur. Yes, we've just learned that Air France plans to fly direct to Phnom Penh from Paris three times per week, starting in March. This is big, even if there will be a connecting flight at Bangkok.

Q. Tarmac to tarmac, France to Cambodia is too much to ask at present?
A. Apparently. But soon enough, we hope there will be cause. And we expect that this will begin with charters. We have 250,000 Franco Khmer coming in from Paris. They can fill a few planes.

Q. Where are travelers coming in from now?
A. From Vietnam, remarkably enough. Travelers from Vietnam are the No. 1 source of travelers to Cambodia at present. Then Korea, China, Japan. The U.S. is No. 5.

Q. What does the opening of the Sofitel mean for Phnom Penh? As general manager of the hotel, we know you're predisposed to say it's a big deal, but is it really?
A. It is, and for this reason: There has been very little investment in upscale hotel development over the past 10, 12 years. So now, with this hotel, we open with as much panache as any other hotel can claim in Southeast Asia.

Q. How so?
A. Well, start with the design. All of the restaurants and bars are singular. There is an individual concept. There will be a service level comparable to what you can have in Tokyo or New York. It will cost. Our Sunday brunch, for example, will cost $45 to $60. But we're not afraid to deliver luxury. People want to pay money for value.

Q. How can Phnom Penh compete with Angkor?
A. Let me go out on a limb here. The first wonder of Cambodia is not Angkor. It is Khmer culture. It is the smell that comes from these kitchens, the smiles you see on these faces. Tourism is still rather new to the Khmer, and as such, it's a wonder. Every great new destination goes through this. And so in the near-term, travelers to Cambodia will be the beneficiaries of fresh contact with the Khmer culture.

Q. You're saying the Khmer are friendly.
A. Okay, okay. Let me add to that: The Khmer want to show the world they can make it. There is that energy here. They are welcoming, and they have something to prove. They want to learn fast, and really they have so much to gain. They want to get rid of this image of the Khmer Rouge.

Q. About the Khmer Rouge, is this still one of the great drivers to the country's tourism. Thanatourism, or Dark Tourism is —
A. Are you asking, 'Are people coming here for the Killing Fields?'

Q. Yes.
A. No. They've been coming for Angkor. But we do send them to the Killing Fields, to Tuol Sleng. Today's trials, we hope, will be a final chapter. We will turn the page. It’s still interesting to talk about all that. But we have so many new conversations to have. The black pepper of Kampot, for example. The best in the world. Or the new highway between Thailand and Vietnam. The open skies. The open borders. So many new things to talk about.

Q. About the hotel specifically, what do you expect to be most compelling?
A. I expect that it will be the cumulative effect of all our restaurants. You won't come to the Sofitel to eat. But you'll know that if you want Italian, you'll come to Do Forni. For Chinese to Fu Lu Zu. For pastry, to Chocolat. Each kitchen is led by an individual chef and will celebrate an individual identity. For all of this to happen all at once in Phnom Penh, with eight new food and beverage options at once…that, I think, will be extremely compelling.

Q. That's especially compelling for locals and leisure travelers. How does the hotel establish itself as the destination of choice for inbound arrivals?
A. When you look at the investments made here in the ballroom, which is one of the largest in Southeast Asia, and in the audio-visual technologies in the meetings facilities, where we've spent more than $1.5 million alone, then I think we become immediately attractive as a destination property. We can seat 2,000 people in our ballroom alone and have 1,100 people to a sit-down dinner. We can do concerts. We have a room just for translators. We can do functions for 700 people outside by the pool. It's hard for me to imagine that we do not make a grand impression in this part of the business.

Q. So the corporate business is to loom large here? Larger than Siem Reap?
A. In Siem Reap, two of every three guests is a leisure traveler. But in Phnom Penh, we anticipate that two of every three guests will be a corporate traveler. But these travelers no longer fit so neatly into this bucket or that bucket. One is no longer just at the hotel for leisure, or just for business.

Q. Because of the Internet?A. Yes, the Internet. There's no question that technology is really creating a new kind of traveler. The worldwide economic crisis is prompting changes, too. People are changing where they go and with whom. If you travel for business, you'll carry your laptop, but you may have your family, too. It's not so clear anymore, this fine line between when someone is on holiday and when someone is at work. Sometimes, they look like the very same thing.