Friday, 1 April 2011

Fire strikes factory warehouse

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:02Tep Nimol

AN electrical malfunction caused a fire to ignite in the cloth storage facility of the River Rich Textile Factory located in the Prek Tapring village of Sa’ang district’s Sitbou commune in Kandal province on Wednesday.

Sa’ang district governor Koem Chankiri said the fire happened at about 7pm after the garment workers had already left the premises, adding that no workers were injured or killed in the fire.

Ming Pich, Sa’ang district police chief, said that police used four fire trucks in an attempt to extinguish the flames, which raged until about 11pm.

“The storage facility consisted of old sewing machines and out-of-date cloth and luckily the fire did not spread to the nearby buildings or the villagers’ homes,” he said yesterday.

As of yesterday, police had not calculated the losses caused by the fire, but Ming Pich confirmed that there was no foul play with regard to the cause of the fire.

“We will finish our investigation because it accidentally broke out; no one set fire to it,” he said.

Suspects in armed force detained

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:02Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Seven people were arrested yesterday on suspicion of forming an illegal armed force that military police officials said went by the name Sovannaphumi Army.

Ya Kim Y, deputy commander of the Phnom Penh Military Police, said the suspects were arrested yesterday at two different locations in the Tuol Kork and Dangkor districts of Phnom Penh.

The arrests were made after Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun issued warrants in the case.

“These people were involved with the establishment of an illegal armed forces movement in Cambodia,” he said.

Ya Kim Y added that the suspects were now being detained at Military Police headquarters in Phnom Penh for further questioning and interrogation before being sent to court to face charges.

“They are now being detained under the strict control of the military police forces,” he said.

“They will be sent to the court for their charges after the completion of their interrogations and investigations.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun declined yesterday to comment about the arrests of the seven suspects or to provide additional details about the case.

Labour trainees charge false detention at IIS

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:03Chhay Channyda

An official at the Community Legal Education Centre said yesterday that the group had received calls from four women training at the IIS labour recruitment company in Phnom Penh accusing the facility of false detention.

The women, aged between 18 and 24, said they were not allowed to visit family for months at a time, a claim the company denies, and were being asked to pay US$1,500 to be released form their contractual commitment to work for two years in Malaysia, according to Chhon Sokha, a labour program unit officer at CLEC.

Chhon Sokha said she received calls on Thursday morning from four workers living at IIS recruitment company’s offices, located in the capital’s Dangko district, who wanted to return to their families, but were unable to afford the additional $1,500 debt that would be added to the $200 dollars they already owed the company for training and administrative costs.

Hay Chetra, 20, one of the four trainees, said the company refused to give her permission to visit her family in her homeland, so she no longer wanted to fulfill her obligation to work overseas.

“I previously worked in Malaysia through another recruitment firm,” said Hay Chetra. “But while staying with IIS they have been so strict with us. So I don’t want this job anymore. I miss my parents.”

Thach Sotharath, the director of IIS, said workers were allowed to visit home two to three times during their three months living in the company’s Phnom Penh training facilities, but added that the company required express permission from parents or official guardians.

Bank comes under scrutiny

Photo by: Marisa Reichert
A motorbike passes by PHSME Specialized Bank Ltd on Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh yesterday.

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:03Mary Kozlovski

The chairwoman and majority shareholder of a Phnom Penh specialised bank has been indicted in Canada for allegedly laundering tens of millions of dollars in drug money, highlighting concerns about the Kingdom’s financial regulatory capacity.

Cambodian-born Lech Leng Ky, chairwoman and majority shareholder of Peng Heng SME Ltd – a specialised bank that has operated in Phnom Penh for the past decade – is on trial in Montreal with her husband, Chun Sy Veng.

They are charged with allegedly running what Canadian prosecutors have described as “a sophisticated money-laundering system”, Canadian daily The Globe and Mail reported last week. The pair has a long history in the Cambodian banking sector, having previously run a bank that was closed down by the government in 1995 amid allegations of money laundering.

Despite this fact, Peng Heng SME Ltd received a licence from the National Bank of Cambodia in 2001.

The Globe and Mail said prosecutors in Montreal alleged that Lech opened Peng Heng SME in Phnom Penh with money borrowed from Daniel Muir, a drug trafficker who was murdered in Montreal in February 2004.

Nguon Sokha, director general and spokeswoman at the National Bank of Cambodia, said NBC officials were trying to reach representatives at Peng Heng.

“We are aware of the issues that you have mentioned about the Peng Heng bank and our supervisor is now looking into this issue [and] to what extent it is a problem,” said Nguon Sokha.

General manager of Peng Heng SME, Pech Vannthoeun, said that Peng Heng provided loans to small and medium enterprises and confirmed Lech Leng Ky’s involvement in the bank.

“[Lech Leng Ky] is still a 70-percent shareholder,” said Pech Vannthoeun. “She is still chairperson.”

A specialised bank is a financial institution with a lower capital requirement than a commercial bank and which does not take deposits. As of 2009, there were five such licensed institutions in Cambodia.

Pech Vannthoeun declined to comment on the Montreal case, saying that Lech Leng Ky visited Peng Heng once “a long time ago” but was not involved in the bank’s day-to-day operations.

“[Lech Leng Ky] is not in Cambodia,” said Pech Vannthoeun. “I just report to another shareholder so I haven’t [been] involved with her.”

Prosecutors in Canada have alleged Lech Leng Ky and Chun Sy Veng were running a money-laundering system through two companies in Montreal – Peng Heng Or Gold Inc and A&A Services Monétaires Inc – when they were approached by Muir in the early 2000s, according to The Globe and Mail.

Muir reportedly entrusted about C$100 million (US$103 million) to Lech Leng Ky, and Lech Leng Ky and Chun Sy Veng moved the money overseas by “wiring bank drafts to Cambodia” and purchasing “more than [C]$10 million in diamonds … that were then sent to Hong Kong, Thailand and Cambodia”.

The pair was about to fly to Cambodia in October 2002 when agents at Montreal’s airport found US$600,000 in $100 bills in Chun Sy Veng’s luggage, and they were eventually arrested in January 2005 after returning from a trip to Cambodia.

In 1995, Chun Sy Veng was the chairperson and Lech Leng Ky owned a 20 percent stake in the Credit Bank of Cambodia, which had its assets seized and licence revoked by the central bank on May 6 1995, less than one year after the bank opened for business in Phnom Penh. Lech Leng Ky resurfaced in the banking sector following Peng Heng SME Ltd’s receipt of a licence from the National Bank of Cambodia in 2001.

Article 18 of the 1999 Law on Banking and Financial Institutions states that no one can be a member of a board of directors or supervisory board of a bank if they have been involved in the management of a bank whose licence has been withdrawn after disciplinary action.

“I think [Credit Bank of Cambodia] violated our banking law on 15 points including lack of reporting … and not having enough capital or equity,” said Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Tioulong Saumura, who at the time was serving as deputy governor of the central bank.

Credit Bank of Cambodia closed after Canadian securities firm Marleau Lemire said that CBC owed them US$1.5 million after the bank “failed to meet a margin call on the Chicago futures market”, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review.

FEER revealed Lech Leng Ky had been indicted in Canada in October 1994 on two counts of money laundering and had her assets frozen and that then central bank governor, Thor Peng Leath, had been implicated in CBC’s operations.

Tioulong Saumura said she was warned about Lech Leng Ky and Chun Sy Veng in advance of CBC’s closure by the Canadian ambassador to the Kingdom.

“[The ambassador] said that Canada may need assistance or cooperation from Cambodia, from the central bank, and it was him who told me that …[Lech Leng Ky and Chun Sy Veng] had been prosecuted …on grounds of money laundering,” said Tioulong Saumura.

Nguon Sokha said the NBC weighs a variety of factors when making licensing decisions.

“[We look at] the minimal capital but we also look at the shareholders, the capacity and competency of the management,” said Nguon Sokha, declining to comment specifically on Peng Heng’s licence.

A report issued last month by the United States State Department said that the Kingdom’s dollarised economy and the “limited capacity of the National Bank of Cambodia to oversee the fast growing financial and banking industries” create a climate that is highly conducive to money laundering.

Despite the passage of anti-money laundering legislation in 2007, the report also states that investigative and prosecutorial infrastructure in Cambodia is weak, with no money laundering prosecutions or convictions since 2007.

Mey Vann, director of the financial industry department at the Ministry of Economy and Finance and member of the NBC Financial Intelligence Unit’s anti-money laundering committee, said the government would work with Canadian authorities to verify the allegations against Lech Leng Ky and Chun Sy Veng.

Tioulong Saumura said that in most other countries, Peng Heng would never have been issued a banking licence.

“We have had a number of banking licences given like sweets,” said Tioulong Saumura. “You can’t hope that the population is going to trust a bank which is led by somebody who is prosecuted for a financial crime.”

Strike at sportswear factory continues

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:03Mom Kunthear

About 1,000 workers continued to strike for a sixth consecutive day at the 8 Star Sportswear Ltd yesterday, demanding the company pay workers a US$2 per month attendance incentive fee on top of two concessions already made.

Phim Chamnan, law coordinator for the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said almost all of 8 Star’s workforce had joined the strike at their factory in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune and had vowed to continue to do so until the company met their final demands.

“The three points that the workers have demanded from the company are an additional $2 more for an attendance incentive and 2,300 riels for food and holiday [leave] for the Khmer New Year from April 12 to 18,” he said.

Nou Mun, administrative director at 8 Star, said yesterday that the attendance incentive was unreasonable on top of the two demands the company had already granted and vowed to take the issue to higher authorities.

“We will take legal measures by sending the case to the Arbitration Council to resolve it for us, and we will respect the decision of the Arbitration Council,” he said.

Workers already received and $8 per month incentive for arriving on time, he said.

He added that workers and were creating headaches for the company by making excessive demands.

Heang Sreylin, a 30-year-old employee at 8 Star, warned that strikes would continue indefinitely until they caved in to the final demand.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Riot police provide security yesterday while homes are dismantled in Tuol Kork village, in Russei Keo district’s Tuol Sangke commune.

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:03Meas Sokchea

Roughly 200 armed military police and police from Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district descended upon Tuol Sangke commune’s Tuol Kork village yesterday to enforce a Supreme Court ruling in favor of a former Funcinpec minister, demolishing the homes of forty-two families, who said they had lived on the land for years.

“I don’t know where I will live, I have only this spot,” Kun Sunlok, a local villager, said yesterday. She said she had bought the land legally, and claimed she spent more than US$100,000 to build the home she has lived in for seven years. “It is equal to my life,” she said.

The action, carried out in coordination with Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Hing Bun Chea and Russey Keo district governor Khlaing Huot, enforced a 2007 verdict in favour of Khun Haing, a former Funcincpec Minister of Religions and Cults who is now a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Residents said they had built their homes with permission from commune authorities, and pointed out that construction had taken place over a significant period of time.

“The village chief and commune chief allowed people to build, then people built homes with two or three floors,” resident Nget Thyda said. “If it is the land dispute of Excellency Khun Haing, why didn’t he oppose [construction] when people started?”

Hing Bun Chea said he was merely enforcing a court ruling.

“I don’t know if he bought the land from anyone, I am enforcing the verdict to take the land to give to Khun Haing,” he said.

Khlaing Huot informed reporters that the enforcement was rectifying a land-grab by a “powerful man”, who had then sold the land to locals.

“This area is very complicated. On behalf of the authorities, I am happy with this enforcement,” Khlaing Huot said.

He said none of the villagers had land titles, and offered $1 million to anyone who produced a legitimate one.

Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc who observed the demolition, said local authorities were at fault for allowing people to buy up disputed land.

“It is a mistake of the authorities,” he said. “The authorities did not prevent the construction.”

Residents say they bought the land from former Preah Vihear provincial governor Meas Savoeun, whose wife won ownership over 6,000 square metres Tuol Kork in a 2004 ruling by Un Bunna, a judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

In 2007, however, a ruling by the Supreme Court reversed the verdict.

Hun Sen set to declare assets

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:03Vong Sokheng

Prime Minister Hun Sen is to declare his assets today to the Kingdom’s Anti-Corruption Unit that, though not to be released publicly, is expected to serve as an example for other officials in ongoing efforts to tackle graft.

Sar Sambath, permanent member of the ACU, said yesterday that although the contents of the declaration would remain private, Hun Sen would publicly drop off his asset declaration documents today.

“By law, documents of the asset declaration by Prime Minister Hun Sen would be kept as confidential the same as other officials, but the process is open for the press to see.”

Yet critics have expressed concern over the effectiveness of the confidential nature of the declaration process, while spouses and family members of officials are not required to declare their assets.

“I think that corruption will remain widespread in the country if the asset declaration of an official remains confidential. Our people want to know about the assets of individual officials, so that people can make their own judgments about the government’s policy to fight corruption,” Yim Sovann, spokesman of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said yesterday.

ACU spokesman Keo Remy said yesterday that the ACU has appealed to lawmakers, NGO leaders, selected senior civil servants, court officials, and police and military officers to declare all assets in writing before April 7.

“It is the first time in the Kingdom’s history that we have officials’ asset declarations, and I think the arrival of [Hun Sen] ... is a model for other officials,” he said.

The ACU previously said that about 100,000 officials would be required to declare their assets, but that number has dropped to 25,000, according to the latest ACU announcements.

Om Yentieng issued a notification on March 24 concerning failure to comply with the declaration deadline, saying they would face prison terms of between a month and a year and fines of up to 2 million riels (about US$500).

Air France reconnects

Photo by: Sovan Philong
The first Air France plane to Cambodia in 37 years descends to Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday.

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:02Tom Brennan and Soeun Say

Air France KLM’s return to Cambodia after 37 years of no flights reconnects two countries with close historical ties, but also reflects the growing economic importance of the region.

Asia as a whole is “growing extraordinarily,” CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told The Post yesterday. For that reason, and France’s history with Cambodia, the move is a “natural” one for Air France KLM.

“Certainly this business [in Indochina] is attractive for the future,” he said.

Air France’s inaugural flight to Cambodia, number 274, touched down at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday afternoon. It was the first of its kind from any European carrier since the Khmer Rouge took the city in 1975.

The company will start with three round-trip flights a week, with a stop in Bangkok. But Gourgeon said he hopes to see direct flights between Paris and Phnom Penh in five or so years.

The CEO wouldn’t offer an expectation of revenues from the new route, but he did say it would take “a year, maybe less” before it was profitable. He added it was because, while businessmen may put the route to use immediately, it usually takes time for consumers to incorporate it into their vacation plans.

“But we are optimistic enough to think it’s worthwhile,” Gourgeon said, “and we see the future for a profitable route.”

He also said he plans to eventually add flights to Siem Reap, a major tourist destination in the Kingdom. When asked why Air France didn’t start with flights to the Angkor Wat area, he said he thought it had to do with issues with local Cambodian operators.

“From what I understand, it’s not feasible yet,” he said.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon yesterday welcomed the flights and the potential growth in tourism that they could offer by making travel from Europe more convenient.

“European tourists like to visit Cambodia because we have Angkor Wat, beaches and ecotourism areas,” he said, adding that while the Kingdom’s economy doesn’t benefit directly from the new flights, it does benefit from the increased spending brought by tourists. France was the largest European source of tourists to Cambodia in the first two months of 2011.

Ang Kim Eang, President of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said the flights, coupled with the visa exemption for visitors from ASEAN countries, “will bring Cambodia further inflows of tourists.”

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said he saw Air France’s return as a sign the global community increasingly feels comfortable doing business in the Kingdom.

“Air France’s direct flights showed that foreign investors feel confident to invest in Cambodia,” he said.

To that end, tourism won’t be the only revenue stream Air France KLM will find from Cambodia.

The planes will also carry as much as 40 tonnes a week of cargo, the company said.

Now that there is a more direct route between the Kingdom and Europe, Gourgeon expects businesses to make the switch to Air France when shipping air freight.

“This traffic will naturally move to be on our aircraft,” he said.

Indonesia telco sets sights on CamGSM

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:01May Kunmakara and Jeremy Mullins

TELEKOMUNIKASI Indonesia is reportedly still in talks to acquire a majority stake in Cambodian mobile operator CamGSM, after originally targeting completing the deal during the first quarter of 2011.

“The planned deal would be Telkom’s first major purchase overseas, and would signal further consolidation as fast-growing Southeast Asian mobile markets mature,” Reuters news agency has reported.

In December, Telkom Chief Commissioner Tanri Abeng said he hoped negotiations for a stake in CamGSM would be completed during the first quarter of 2011.

Royal Group and Telkom Indonesia officials did not return requests for comment yesterday.

France Telecom was also linked to negotiations over CamGSM last year. Last week France’s Ambassador to Cambodia Christian Connan said he was not aware of any negotiations since the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications generated revenues of $28.5 million in 2010, a 53 percent increase on $18.6 million in 2009, according to its annual report released yesterday.

Revenue comes from tariffs from telecommunications companies and internet operators, as well as licensing fees, postal services, and spectrum management, it said.

“We see that telecommunication industry has rapidly developed both in scopes and in operational infrastructure expansion to rural areas in recent years,” Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun said.

The report also claimed that Vietnam’s Metfone had 4.52 million subscribers at the end of December. It claimed 2.84 million subscribers in November. The next largest operators were Cellcard with 2.7 million and Mfone with 1.1 million. Some industry insiders have previously expressed scepticism over accuracy of subscriber figures.

Bourse settlement window is still risky

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:01Steve Finch

Reports this week the new Cambodian stock exchange will likely settle securities transactions in two working days does not represent a major risk in itself – South Korea and Laos, for example both use the T+2 system. But combined with Cambodia’s unusual approach of dual currency listings for the first three years of operation, the draft prakas only adds to questions over how exactly the country’s first bourse will account for listings in riel and US dollars.

Should the prakas be passed, settlements will be completed during a two-day window that would be subject to possible fluctuations in the riel-dollar rate, a process which – even without the currency issue – is considered the highest-risk stage of stock trading.

Questions therefore remain as to how the Government intends to add more detailed policy to address what most analysts consider to be the variable adding the highest degree of risk to Cambodia’s forthcoming exchange – dual currencies – with little more than three months before a scheduled launch.

“The T+2 system itself is not the main issue,” Kyung Tae Han, chief representative of Tong Yang Securities in Phnom Penh, said yesterday. “Investors will be exposed to the currency risk for the two days.”

This week has provided an example of how this risk could work in practice. The local currency buying rate at street money changers strengthened from about 4,030 riels to the dollar at the end of last week to 4,015 riels on Thursday. If the same trend were to take place over a public holiday weekend – and Cambodia has a staggering 26 national holidays this year – a purchase on Thursday, for example, would not be settled until the following Tuesday. Will the Government attempt to add measures to the settlement system to account for this associated currency risk? And exactly which rate would apply? Thus far, these issues remain unresolved.

“No-one seems to know exactly how the exchange rate will be set or who will set it,” said Han, a long-time advisor to the Government on the forthcoming exchange.

Currently, four main currency dealers set the tone for the day’s rates, according to sources in the banking industry – Chhay Vann, Heng Heng, Khay Sakhao and Ly Hour Exchange. In order to reduce currency risk within the settlement period surely rates at the new bourse will have to be as close as possible to those at major dealers – unless the country’s whole currency exchange set-up is to be overhauled – so how will the stock exchange set these rates?

For Cambodia to instill confidence, particularly among foreign investors, these questions will have to be addressed in detail before the exchange launches.

And although the concept of settlement periods has existed since the very beginnings of securities trading, the addition of dual listings in Cambodia’s case offers very little in the way of precedent from which to work.

Rice export potential highlighted

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:01May Kunmakara

Cambodia has plenty of potential to become a large rice exporter, and should consider measures such as a free trade area on its borders to boost trade, according to a Thai official.

Speaking at a Phnom Penh meeting with members of the Thailand Rice Exporters’ Association, Niyom Wairatpanij, vice chairman of Thailand’s Board of Trade, urged the Kingdom to overcome its obstacles to increase rice exports.

“I think Cambodia has a lot of potential to become a [major] rice exporter in the near future,” he said. “But in the meantime, I think you still lack infrastructure, and electricity and logistics costs are very high compared to Thailand.”

Those costs are “more than double,” Niyom Wairatpanij said.

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said the country was working on these issues, pointing to work on railway to better connect the Kingdom with Thailand and neighbouring countries.

He also said the lack of quota limitations and duty-free status Cambodia enjoys in the European Union makes processing and exporting rice from here “much more attractive.”

Niyom Wairatpanij also urged Cambodia to set up a free-trade zone at the border to allow for a free flow of goods between the countries, but Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh rejected the idea, saying the recent border clashes would make that difficult.

Korbsook Ian Suri, president of the Thai Rice Exporters’ Association, said that after a few days touring Cambodia and meeting rice millers and government officials, she did see opportunities for future investment.

Unused concessions hinder agriculture, companies say

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Workers pour freshly tapped rubber in Kampong Cham province earlier this week. While the agriculture sector is expanding, some say the government should act on unused concessions.

We think the government should have a mechanism to closely follow up in order to confiscate undeveloped land

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:01Chun Sophal

The Ministry of Agriculture ought to hold meetings every two years with land concession owners to accelerate their investments or risk having the concessions revoked, according to Leng Rithy, Director of the Vietnamese Rubber Enterprise Federation in Cambodia.

Hundreds of firms have obtained government land concessions, but too few actually follow through with investing, he said yesterday.

“We hope the Ministry can evaluate progress on projects that have been granted government land concessions, and encourage the companies to complete them,” he said.

He added government officials should consider revoking land concessions from companies who did not use them.

Prominent agriculture businessman Mong Reththy said government representatives and companies with concessions do not have regularly scheduled meetings at present, which proves to be an obstacle in pushing investment.

“I support the request, because I believe direct meetings can provide a positive resolution for all of us,” he said, adding he felt meetings could be held as often as quarterly rather than every two years.

From 1993 to 2009, the government provided concessions totalling 1,335,724 hectares to 126 companies to invest in agro-business. However, a Ministry report from last year states that development was actually taking place on 956,690 hectares by 85 companies.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay claimed that nearly half of concession holders were not developed by companies as required in their contracts.

“We think the government should have a mechanism to closely follow up in order to confiscate undeveloped land, to avoid losing national benefit,” he said.

Discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture would not be a concern for private companies that actually intend to invest, he said.

Regular meetings would provide information to the ministry, so it “can understand clearly what is going on, and decide whether the company can keep the land to develop, or should have concessions withdrawn.”

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves did not discuss plans to for meetings with private companies when contacted yesterday.


Photo by: Noel Yeo

Irish songstress Mary Black.

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:00Nicky McGavin

As reported two weeks ago, Hôtel de la Paix had announced that the Irish singer Mary Black was coming to town, sparking off a delighted series of mental jigs and reels among Siem Reap’s small Irish community, and anyone else with the good taste to have heard of her.

Mary Black is an Irish legend; a folk singer with a global following who’s pure, yearning voice has been a part of Irish lives for almost 30 years.

A woman of substance, not to be compared with the mortifying Ronan Keating who played in Cambodia four years ago, she was to come and quietly hand over some cheques to the founder of local NGO Green Gecko at a special evening at the Hôtel de la Paix on Thursday March 24.

The cheques, for $30,000, were the result of a unique fundraising concert and auction held in Singapore two weeks previously, headlined by Mary Black.

And although it was uncertain whether Black would actually perform while in Siem Reap, we were certain we’d be able to twist her arm.

So it was a brutal disappointment and an ironic twist when the news came crashing in that Black had fallen at another fundraiser in Australia and broken her arm in several places, meaning she couldn’t come here after all.

But the organisers said “play on” and the evening at the Hôtel de la Paix went ahead.

All of this was the culmination of two years of plotting by Christian de Boer, sales director at de la Paix, and his friend Joe Eades, who lives in Singapore. The pair cooked up a plan to help the Green Gecko and what came about was the night in Singapore, an evening that took everyone by surprise.

With the help of a friend, they were able to secure the participation of Black.

Then, the Irish Ambassador made his residence available for the evening at which almost 300 invited guests showed up. The auction included paintings by the Green Gecko kids themselves and a bronze sculpture by Siem Reap artist Sasha Constable that brought in $6500 for the charity.

Two weeks later in Siem Reap at the Hôtel de la Paix, a smaller invited crowd gathered. The news had already broken that Black wouldn’t be there. Instead, guests were treated to a bokator performance by the children from Green Gecko, who are already receiving national awards for their skills in this ancient martial art. Then de Boer produced the cheques from the auction and from local businesses who’d donated – the size of the amount was a further surprise for Tania Palmer, the founder of Green Gecko.

And then, the grand finale: A group of Irish musicians who’ve played with Black in the past – Liam Mac Gabhann, Rohan Young and Terry O’Neill – ripped into a trad session that tore a hole in the hearts of the Irish listeners and sucked everyone else into its spirited vortex. The Gecko kids, who rarely get the chance to be part of the audience, were intrigued.

The music session moved on to Molly Malone’s, and in true Irish style went on into the silly hours of the morning.

Mary Black has promised to come back, and de Boer and Eades have no doubts this will happen.

Said de Boer: “She’s a lady with a golden heart.”

Bridge across polluted water

Photo by: Thik Kaliyann
Siem Reap’s latest beautification project: a new bridge shown here at its opening ceremony.

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:00Thik Kaliyann

Siem Reap’s far-ranging beautification project got into gear with the opening of a new 40-metre bridge near the Old Market by provincial governor Sou Phirin.

At the ceremony, Apsara Authority general director Bun Narith said: “The government wants to restore Siem Reap River back to its glory, and construct a charming garden on both sides of the river involving the planting of over 640 trees.”

He said the construction of the new bridge will increase tourist traffic in the area between Old Market and Dream Flower Market prior to the start of a second phase

of the beautification plan which will include the installation of hoardings featuring new tourist maps, and the heritage listing of several pagodas and other buildings around Siem Reap town.

During his speech at the bridge opening, Sou Phirin also highlighted the impact of residential pollution on the river which he said is destroying an important tourism asset.

“Until 1993 the river had clean water that you could drink or swim in. The scenery was also relaxing and enjoyed by many tourists. Recently, the beauty of the river has begun to die, and we must remember this was a sacred river in the Angkor period.”

At the end of the ceremony Sou Phirin was confronted by a South Korean tourist who complained about police preventing him from walking across the bridge during the ceremony.

Gesturing at a map, the tourist also told Sou Phirin that he was disappointed with the lack of information provided to visitors to Siem Reap on maps such as the one he was consulting.

Politely taking the tourist aside, Sou Phirin explained that a ceremony to inaugurate the bridge was underway, and that he takes the issue of providing correct information to visitors very seriously.

He said: “At the moment we’re trying to install more maps for tourists along the roads, and we’re hoping that after this, tourists will not lose their way if they forget their map book.”

Recently, an additional six tourist information maps along roads in Siem Reap were installed by the provincial government at a cost of $28,745.

Man About Town: 1 Apr 2011

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 15:00Uong Ratana

The Siem Reap Post bureau is moving this week – next door. Instead of being number 629, the bureau will now be at number 627.

The street remains the same, Street 06, not that anybody knows where that is because it never appears on maps as Street 06.

Street 06 used to be known colloquially as Fruit Stall Street because there were many fruit vendors set up along the stretch. But the stalls were then ordered to move on.

To add further confusion, many tourists who see the Phnom Penh Post sign think the bureau is the Post Office and come in to buy stamps or send mail.

To find the bureau’s new office, phone us on 063 966 290, but please don’t ask for stamps.

THOSE crazy Hash House Harriers will run again tomorrow and, as usual, the meeting point is the Victoria Angkor Resort parking lot at 3pm.

Meanwhile, the Hash boss said recently: “As the Hash was becoming a real financial drain, and as all Hashers are equal in front of a beer, we have decided to charge both Khmer and foreign Hashers five dollars from now on. Still a good deal, considering it covers transportation, food and drink.”

THE Heritage Suites Hotel hosted the Sala Bai-Skal fundraising night on Friday March 24 and raised $4305, with just over $860 presented to the Sala Bai Hotel & Restaurant School last week.

Nearly 50 prizes, billed by organisers as being worth “over $10,000”, were donated by Siem Reap’s local businesses to bring in the total amount raised.

Siem Reap hotel general managers displayed their generosity by purchasing tickets for their staff members, which resulted in Mithona, the housekeeping supervisor from Heritage, winning a luxury two-night break at Victoria Angkor Resort and Spa. In exchange, a member of Victoria’s staff won two nights in Heritage Suites.

The night was hosted by Heritage Suites general manager, Magnus Olovson, who raised $1130 during the auction.

Sala Bai’s cheque represented 20 percent of the takings, and the rest went to Skal International coffers, mainly to fund the bid for Siem Reap to host the 2013 Skal International World Congress.

Skal promoted the night by saying a “substantial percent” of the takings would be given to Sala Bai. There were some grumbles that 20 percent was not a substantial percent, and that the $860 was a little on the light side.

The night was also originally promoted as a “charity draw and auction”, and it was a stretch for Skal to be regarded as a charity when the majority of members are hotel general managers – among Siem Reap’s highest paid professionals.

But in later promotional material, Skal billed the night perhaps more accurately as a “fundraising event”.

ANYONE interested in playing bridge on a regular weekly basis in Siem Reap? If so, please contact Chris Smith of AboutAsia on 089 547 251.


Photo by: Michael Sloan

Dominique in her rally gear.

via CAAI

Friday, 01 April 2011 14:21Michael Sloan

Selling John Deere tractors is just part of the daily routine for Siem Reap French expat Dominique Dufieux, and she shrugs off any suggestion that it may be a tad unusual.

But then again, 37-year-old Dominique’s life story is anything but usual and spans a childhood escape from the Khmer Rouge, an entanglement with a messy international corporate legal drama, and a hair-raising car rally through the Moroccan desert.

Dominique was born in Phnom Penh, and was two-and-a-half years old when her family fled the Kingdom and the Khmer Rouge.

Dominique’s family joined hundreds of others sheltering at the French Embassy for several weeks following the Khmer Rouge’s advance into Phnom Penh.

Dominique’s father Michel, a salesman for Peugeot, features as a bit player in several books written about the period, including Francois Bizot’s memoir The Gate, which is now being made into a movie.

Dominique says her father’s scepticism

of the Khmer Rouge’s intentions led him to accept an offer from the US Embassy to evacuate the family by plane.

She says that because her father was also a pilot, he had already seen evidence of what the Khmer Rouge was doing outside of the city, and had warned French residents that they needed to realise that the Khmer Rouge were killing people rather than liberating them.

Now, just on 35 years after her dramatic childhood departure to France, Dominique

is back in the Kingdom and working as a procurement and logistic manager for RMA Cambodia Co Ltd in Siem Reap. The job entails selling John Deere tractors, Ford vehicles, and electricity generators to customers between Poipet and Battambang.

But Dominique’s life has taken many unusual twists and turns.

She says all she recalls of her childhood is the initial shock of adjusting to life in France.

“All I can remember is the noise and the size of the people. I was going under the table each time I heard a noise like a motorbike, and my grandmother used to say ‘What’s happened to this child?’”
Eventually she settled comfortably in France, married an Englishman called Mark, and together they ran an English-language school.

She began occasionally visiting Cambodia to do humanitarian work in the early 1990s, and had no intention at the time of moving back to the country of her birth.

But the decision to relocate came in the wake of a contractual dispute with the French pharmaceutical company bioMérieux.

The English-language school which she and her husband ran provided English training to businesses including bioMérieux.

There was a legal falling out with the group that’s been well documented in the media with allegations of threats and aggression.

“It was ridiculous, it was like something out of the movies,” she says.

The scenario peaked with allegations of a physical attack on husband Mark in 2002. The stress caused the couple to divorce, and prompted Dominique to return to Cambodia in November of 2008 after accepting a job with international railway construction company TSO (Cambodia) Co Ltd to conduct a survey on Cambodia’s railways.

“I decided to move back here because honestly, I didn’t want to stay in France,” she said. “It was extremely psychologically stressful, and I had no experience of that type of aggression before.”

Her husband Mark has continued to publicise the case, most recently flying to America to picket a bioMérieux factory in North Carolina. But Dominique has tried to put it behind her, and says she now looks back on the experience as if it happened to someone else.

“For me, I had to turn a page and start a new life. My ex-husband was completely focused on the injustice. Sometimes when you are a victim of something, you can’t rest until you’re acknowledged as a victim.”

But back in Cambodia, working for TSO involved danger of a different kind – in the form of the thousands of mines still littering the Cambodian countryside and aggression from villagers who didn’t want the rail road to intrude on their patch.

“In the north we had problems because the tracks had all been torn up. We had to lay new ones right on the rice fields. Often we’d send topographic surveyors to take measurements and they’d return and say the villagers wanted to cut them with a big knife and things like that.”

To overcome the stress and rigour of that job, Dominique took time out in March last year to take part in the annual Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc – a gruelling 2500-kilometre all-women car rally through the Moroccan desert which took six days to complete.

“I needed to get out of Cambodia to do something crazy, thinking that when I come back I will feel a lot better.”

Upon returning to the Kingdom she accepted a job in May 2010 with RMA Cambodia, working at the company’s new branch in Siem Reap. The company is expanding and she says the role suits her perfectly.

“I do intend to stay. For me it’s a very beautiful town, and it’s pleasant to live here.”