Monday, 30 June 2008

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary attends his pre-trial hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary attends his pre-trial hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)REUTERS/Print Samrang/Pool

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Leng Sary attends his pre-trial hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)REUTERS/Print Samrang/Pool

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary attends his pre-trial hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)REUTERS/Nguyen Tan Kei/Pool

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Leng Sary is assisted during his pre-trial hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)REUTERS/Print Samrang/Pool

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Leng Sary is assisted during his pre-trial hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)REUTERS/Print Samrang/Pool

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Leng Sary is assisted during his pre-trial hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)REUTERS/Print Samrang/Pool

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Leng Sary is assisted during his pre-trial hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)REUTERS/Print Samrang/Pool

Cambodians register for a hearing of Ieng Sary, a former Khmer foreign minister, Monday, June 30, 2008, at the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Ieng Sary appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal Monday to press for his release from pretrial detention.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

People gather for the first public hearing against the detention of former Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Ieng Sary at the Extraodinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh on June 30.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

People are seen lining up outside the first public hearing against the detention of former Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Ieng Sary at the Extraodinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh on June 30. Ieng Sary appeared before the court to appeal his detention, in a case that poses the first big test for the tribunal.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Cambodians line up as they wait for a hearing of Ieng Sary, a former Khmer foreign minister, Monday, June 30, 2008, at the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Ieng Sary appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal Monday to press for his release from pretrial detention.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Foreigners register their name before the attend for a hearing of Ieng Sary, a former Khmer foreign minister, Monday, June 30, 2008, at the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Ieng Sary appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal Monday to press for his release from pretrial detention.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Thai court blocks support for temple bid

Asiaone Travel
Mon, Jun 30, 2008

The Nation, ANN

BANGKOK, THAILAND - A Thai court has temporarily blocked the government from supporting Cambodia's bid to have an 11th century temple near the Thai border declared a world landmark.

The Administrative Court issued an injunction early yesterday at the request of the People's Alliance for Democracy, a Thai group opposed to the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

The judges voted nine to three to order the government to temporarily suspend "until the court rules otherwise" a Cabinet resolution backing Cambodia's application to Unesco for the Preah Vihear temple to be designated a World Heritage Site, a statement from the court said.

A small amount of territory adjacent to the temple remains in dispute and critics claim cooperation with Cambodia over the heritage site application would jeopardise Thai claims to it.

The court's action is a political embarrassment for the government, which is fighting accusations by opponents that it ceded Thai territory to Cambodia.

The ruling applies to a Cabinet resolution which endorsed a Cambodian map of Preah Vihear temple, as well as a joint communique signed on June 18 in which Thailand said it supported Cambodia's bid.

The communique specifically said the application had no bearing on territorial claims by the countries.

But in its ruling, the Administrative Court said the communique "might undermine Thailand's future standing on the territorial dispute".

Cambodia has an internationally recognised claim over Preah Vihear temple and does not need Thai support for its application.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia, a decision that still rankles Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced aspects of the more famous Angkor Wat in north-western Cambodia.

On Friday, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong accused Thai opposition politicians of exploiting the cross-border dispute to advance their own domestic political agenda and warned that they might endanger bilateral relations.

"I very much regret that some politicians in Thailand are using Preah Vihear as an issue for their own domestic battle," he told reporters.

"(It) could affect the very good friendship and cooperation our two countries have had so far."

Democrats petition UNESCO against Preah Vihear statement

BANGKOK, June 30 (TNA) – Thai opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday petitioned the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) against accepting a joint statement from Thailand and Cambodia regarding the disputed Preah Vihear temple.

Mr. Abhisit said he had already submitted his party's written objection to the two government's joint communique issued for UNESCO and affirmed he would call for the reconsideration of the Thai cabinet resolution on the matter after the Administrative Court's injunction on the case.

The court on Saturday issued an injunction temporarily blocking the government from supporting Cambodia's unilateral move to have the 11th century temple registered as a World Heritage site.

Meanwhile, a group of 77 senators led by Bangkok Senator Rosana Tositrakul presented a petition to Senate Speaker Prasobsuk Boondech asking that it be forwarded to the Constitution Court for deliberation. The petition asked the court to consider whether the June 17 Cabinet decision endorsing the Thai-Cambodian Joint Communique supporting Cambodia's unilateral move to apply on Preah Vihear temple was unconstitutional or not.

Meanwhile, Supreme Commander Gen. Boonsang Niempradit said the military was ready to evacuate Thai nationals from Cambodia if there was an untoward confrontation.

He said some people in the northeastern province of Si Sa Ket bordering Cambodia continued protesting and demanding the expulsion of Cambodians out of the overlapping areas of the temple compound.

But military units stationed there had managed to create proper understanding among the people, Gen. Boonsang said.

He said neither the Thai nor the Cambodian sides want to see any clashes between the peoples of the two neighbouring countries.

Rainsy's immunity assured until after election

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Cheang Sokha
Friday, 27 June 2008

Cambodian lawmakers will wait until after the July 27 general election to debate whether to strip opposition leader Sam Rainsy of his parliamentary immunity, in a bid to ease political tensions ahead of the polls, European Union elections observers said.

Rainsy faces investigation and possible arrest over defamation claims made by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong if he loses his legislative protection.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a request on June 16 that the National Assembly “temporarily suspend the immunity of Sam Rainsy,” adding that the court had collected enough evidence to warrant further investigation into the accusations made against him by Namhong.

Namhong alleges he was defamed when Rainsy said during a speech on April 17 that under the Khmer Rouge regime he was the director of Boeng Trabek prison, a detention center for intellectuals and members of the royal family.

Namhong has repeatedly said that he was an ordinary prisoner at Boeng Trabek, denying that he worked for the regime, whose 1975-79 rule over Cambodia resulted in 1.7 million deaths in one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

But the EU’s chief election observer, Martin Callanan, told reporter’s on June 20 that Namhong had assured poll monitors that no move would be made against Rainsy until after the election.

“Hor Namhong ... assured [EU] election observers that parliamentary immunity of the opposition leader Sam Rainsy would not be stripped before the July national elections,” Callanan said.

Election monitors said they welcomed the decision, saying Rainsy’s participation in the vote would help ensure a stabile political atmosphere.

“It’s a good that Rainsy can join the campaign because it will make the election go smoothly,” said Mar Sophal of the election monitor Comfrel.

Rainsy last lost his parliamentary immunity in 1995 while he was in self-imposed exile in France, shortly before he was convicted of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen in a case that drew heavy international criticism.

Although he was later pardoned and returned to Cambodia, Rainsy says the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, of which Hun Sen is a member, is still trying to shut him down and earlier dismissed the July polls as “meaningless” in the face of the CPP’s political maneuvering.

In the weeks leading up to the campaign season Hun Sen ordered an investigation into the Sam Rainsy Party, claiming that defectors had implicated the opposition in a number of violent plots, including the 1998 rocket attack against the prime minister and a 2000 attack in the capital by the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, a band of self-proclaimed coup makers led by a Cambodian-American.

In a letter to the CPP on June 18, the opposition called on Hun Sen to stop intimidating Sam Rainsy followers with threats of prosecution over phantom plots.

“The accusations that the SRP is involved in violence is unacceptable.... The SRP has no culture of violence,” the party’s statement said.

Two jailed for fleecing Vietnamese Montagnards in Cambodia

The Earth Times

Mon, 30 Jun 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Two people were jailed for four months each by a Cambodian court for harbouring Vietnamese Montagnards for a fee after they entered the country illegally and then cheating them, local media reported Monday. Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea daily reported that Phann Savang, 55, and her colleague Leir Yainghay, 37, had taken in three Montagnards with the promise they could take them safely to a United Nations refugee facility in return for 70 dollars from each.

However, the pair failed to make good on their promise and were arrested in March and accused of taking money under false pretences, Rasmei reported Phnom Penh Municipal Court was told.

Montagnards are a primitive, mostly Christian minority from the Vietnamese highlands who have sometimes claimed refugee status in Cambodia, alleging persecution in Vietnam, and sought repatriation from there to a third country such as the US.

They claim their religion and the fact that they fought with the US against the Vietnamese communists makes them targets of discrimination - charges Vietnam denies.

The fate of the cheated Montagnards was unclear.

Khmer Rouge appeal case to test limits of international law

The UN-backed Cambodian genocide court faces a test when a former Khmer Rouge chief, Ieng Sary, launches an appeal


PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The first big test of the UN-backed Cambodian genocide court begins on Monday when a former Khmer Rouge foreign minister is scheduled to appear in court to appeal against his detention.

Ieng Sary, 82, is one of five top regime cadres currently detained for crimes allegedly committed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule over Cambodia.

He has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity and is expected to face trial within the next year.

But his lawyers say that Ieng Sary was absolved of any crimes after he surrendered to the government in 1996, when he received a royal pardon for an earlier genocide conviction.

That conviction was handed down in a 1979 trial in absentia conducted by the government installed after Vietnam occupied the country and ended the Khmer Rouge's bloody reign.

"The court will have to decide whether the amnesty is valid or not. Maybe they will have a conflict between Cambodia's constitution and international norms," said Sok Samoueun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP).

Deciding whether nationally granted amnesties apply to international trials is a significant area of contention that has been raised in the Sierra Leone war crimes trial and the International Criminal Court, said Rupert Skillbeck, head of the Khmer Rouge tribunal's defence office.

"Amnesty is one of the areas of international criminal law where law and politics collide. But the (Khmer Rouge trial) judges will have to judge it as a legal question to be decided," Skillbeck said.

"It's one of the most significant legal questions for this tribunal to answer and an important question in international criminal law in general," he added.

At Monday's hearing, Ieng Sary's lawyers will seek to have him freed on bail, and are expected to argue later in the week that the charges should be dropped because his amnesty still holds.

As the top Khmer Rouge diplomat, Ieng Sary was frequently the only point of contact between Cambodia's secretive communist rulers and the outside world.

He was also one of the biggest public supporters of the regime's mass purges, researchers say.

"He came as close as any senior (Khmer Rouge) official in power ever did to describing publicly... the policy of executing", said Stephen Heder and Brian Tittemore in their book "Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge."

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed, as the Khmer Rouge set about dismantling modern Cambodia after seizing control of the country.

But as much as he was an advocate for the regime during its 1975-79 rule, Ieng Sary's later defection to the government proved a fatal blow to the then-disintegrating movement.

His departure came two years before Pol Pot's death in 1998. The two had met as schoolboys in the capital Phnom Penh and later became eager supporters of the communist movement at university in Paris.

His wife Thirith, who also became a minister in the Khmer Rouge regime, was arrested with him in November.

Ieng Sary has suffered from deteriorating health since his arrest, according to his lawyer, highlighting the fragile condition of the tribunal's likely defendants, who are mostly in their 70s and 80s.

Commentary: Body blow

By Veera Prateepchaikul

The blows fell one, two, three on the ruling People Power party and de facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra last week. But mortal danger lurks in Cambodia, and the government is accountable.

Veera Prateepchaikul is Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Post Publishing Co Ltd.

It was really a bad week for the People Power party and its de facto leader, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In just one week, they were dealt three crippling blows, including one which landed squarely across Mr Thaksin's face. It appeared as if Lady Luck suddenly deserted the party, leaving it to twist alone in the winds of fate.

The first blow came on Tuesday when the opposition Democrats grilled Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and, particularly, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama over their alleged mishandling of the 10th-century Preah Vihear temple dispute which could place Thailand at a disadvantage in future border negotiations with Cambodia.

The damning evidence presented during the censure debate by Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva prompted the prime minister to order a rephrasing of a cabinet resolution adopted a week earlier which endorsed the Cambodian map around the temple and pledged Thailand's support for Cambodia's unilateral bid to list the temple as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The word "map" in the resolution was changed to "chart" to avoid future complications.

While the censure debate was in progress, a second blow was unleashed by the Administrative Court. The court ordered the reinstatement of Government Pharmaceutical Organisation board chairman Dr Vichai Chokewiwat and five other board members who were earlier sacked by Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsab, a PPP MP from Nakhon Pathom.

The third blow came on Wednesday when the Supreme Court sent Mr Thaksin's three lawyers to jail for six months for contempt of court in connection with the snack box that was stuffed with two million baht in cash. The three lawyers are also facing bribery charges which carry a maximum five years' imprisonment.

Moreover, they may have their law licences revoked for five years by the Law Council of Thailand.

Mr Thaksin's personal secretary, Pongthep Thepkanchana, said his boss has denied any involvement with the snack box scandal and is willing to testify if required. He said Mr Thaksin would not benefit by giving money to court officials.

It's possible Mr Thaksin knew nothing about the alleged bribery attempt. But since the three suspects were his lawyers, he was inevitably linked to the scandal. Hence, his reputation is bruised.

Although the censure debate was over and Mr Samak and his seven ministers survived it thanks to the united support shown by PPP legislators and the coalition parties, the wounds inflicted upon the government by scathing opposition attacks will not be healed unless there is surgery in cabinet. So some heads must roll, including Mr Noppadon's and Mr Mingkwan's.

But the government's difficulty is not yet over even if certain ministers are axed. The Preah Vihear temple controversy is very much in the air. The Administrative Court has issued an injunction in response to a petition filed by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) asking the court to freeze the Thai-Cambodian joint communique and the cabinet resolution pledging Thailand's support for Phnom Penh's bid to list the temple as a World Heritage site.

The court ruling may well deal a devastating blow to the government and, in particular, the prime minister and Mr Noppadon. It will provide PAD with deadly ammunition to press for Mr Samak's resignation.

But what is of greater concern are the implications of the court decision toward politics in Cambodia where an election is scheduled on July 27. Although the decision has no binding effect on Cambodia, it may be exploited by unscrupulous Cambodian media or politicians to whip up anti-Thai sentiments. It would be similar to an ugly incident some years ago when Cambodian media fuelled an anti-Thai frenzy over a statement about Angkor Wat by a famous Thai actress which eventually led to the burning of the Thai embassy and other Thai properties in Phnom Penh.

Hopefully, the tragedy will not be repeated. Otherwise, the Samak government will be held accountable.

Cambodia Votes 2008

Campaigning is under way for the 2008 Cambodia election, with a colourful launch through the streets of Phnom Penh. [Radio Australia]

Radio Australia
30 June 2008

Cambodian political parties have begun month-long campaigning for a general election that Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party is expected to dominate.

Connect Asia in Cambodia

Radio Australia]

Radio Australia's Connect Asia program journeys to Cambodia for the start of the 2008 elections, and coverage of the challenges of the country's past, and the issues facing its future leaders.

Connect Asia presenter Sen Lam and producer Bill Bainbridge are joined by Chhieng Yuth from Radio Australia's Khmer Language Service.For the latest coverage:

Khmer Rouge tribunal hears pre-trial appeal

Produced by Radio Australia and Australia Network

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Tribunal is hearing a pre-trial appeal by Ieng Sary, the third most powerful official during the regime's rule, known as the "Killing Fields".

He has appealed for release from pre-trial detention in what's being seen as the first test for the UN-backed tribunal.

Sary, third-in-command of the Khmer Rouge during its reign between 1975 and 1979, faces charges of committing crimes against humanity.

But he denies that he was responsible for the execution of expatriate Cambodians who were deceived into returning home after the regime seized power.

The United Nations-established tribunal, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, will begin its first proper public trial in September.

Radio Australia's Sen Lam reports from Phnom Penh that over two years since the UN-backed tribunal first opened, the special court says it is ready to hold the trial.

Made up of both local and international judges, the tribunal will try the first of five former senior Khmer Rouge officials.

Kaing Khek Ieu, also known as Duch, is accused of torturing to death some 17,000 Cambodians, including women and children, at Tuol Sleng - the high school which was turned into an interrogation prison by the Khmer Rouge.

Yuma native to teach in Cambodia

PHOTO BY JARED DORT/THE SUN
ADAM FLYNN, a 2004 graduate of Yuma High who received his bachelor's degree from Princeton in June, will teach English at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in Cambodia


YumaSun.com
June 29, 2008

BY STEPHANIE SANCHEZ, SUN STAFF WRITER

Many students dream of snagging a high-paying job right after college. But not Yuma native Adam Flynn.

Instead, Flynn is joining the call to public service even if it seems old fashioned. That's why he's equipped with his brown leather journal, laptop and U.S. passport and is set to travel to Cambodia to teach English for a year.

The 21-year-old, who graduated from Princeton last month with a bachelor's degree in history and played football there for four years, will teach English as a second language at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in Cambodia as part of a fellowship program sponsored by Princeton-in-Asia.

"I'm really happy to be going because it's like an amazing combination of travel experience that can broaden your mind. It's work where you can help people and really make an impact," Flynn said. "And it's fun because I'm going to be living in a completely foreign culture for a year."

He said he realizes that Cambodia is a very young country and it has problems with a division between the rich and the poor. But for him, teaching English in Cambodia will make him happy that he can make a difference.

"You will have a lot of people who want to learn, and for them learning English will significantly better their lives because they have the tourism and they have the businesses. There if you know a scrap of English you have a step up on so many other people," he said.

Another goal of his is to leave a positive impression of America for the people of Cambodia.

"I'm going to be sort of this big, walking, hard-to-miss representative of America," said Flynn who is blond, blue-eyed and is 6 feet 6 inches tall.

There he hopes to learn more about himself and says the only way to do it is to take a step right out of your comfort zone.

"When traveling you place yourself in all these sort of strange situations, you learn things about yourself that you wouldn't normally learn otherwise. If you sort of spend your time entirely in your comfort zone, then it's hard to grow."

At first Flynn was nervous that he wouldn't make the cut for the Princeton-in-Asia program because he noticed that many other applicants had very strong background compared to him. But he believes that it was his versatility and resilience that got Flynn chosen.

"One thing I learned that in a lot of situations, it's always a plus to be a sort of a good-humoured, adventurous and friendly."

Bid to delay Unesco decision

By The Nation
Published on June 30, 2008

Thai World Heritage panel chief expects positive response to plea

Thailand will ask Unesco to delay a decision on Cambodia's proposal to list Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, said Pongpol Adireksarn, head of Thailand's World Heritage Committee.

His statement followed the Central Administrative Court injunction on Saturday against the Thai government supporting Cambodia's bid.

The court said the position taken by the government "might undermine Thailand's future standing on the territorial dispute". The government communique gave Cambodia's bid "active support", the ruling said.

The Unesco World Heritage Committee is meeting from Wednesday till July 10 in Quebec, Canada.

Pongpol cited Unesco's Article 11, Item 3, which states that listing of World Heritage sites that straddle two countries' territories cannot be done without endorsement from both sides.

He expected the committee would respond positively to the appeal.

Pongpol said the proposal to Unesco to list Preah Vihear should be submitted jointly by both countries, which is similar to the position Thailand took on the issue last year. He said he would seek Cambodia's cooperation at the Quebec meeting.

"This temple should unite instead of divide us. This is why we are suggesting a joint application," Pongpol said.

Pongpol said the temple should be a major tourist attraction for both countries. "If there is conflict, no tourists will come to visit because they fear danger," he added. "We can both take care of the temples and of the tourists."

Separately, Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Veerasak Futrakul dismissed growing fears that the court injunction would send Thai-Cambodian ties into a tailspin.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand Ung Sean, he said bilateral ties had not been affected by the court's order and Phnom Penh considered the ruling, as well the raising of the issue during last week's no-confidence debate in Parliament, as Thailand's domestic matter.

Embattled Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama remained tight-lipped over the ministry's next move, saying more time was needed to assess the situation in light of the injunction.

The director-general of the ministry's Legal Affairs Department, Krit Kraijitti, did not rule out appealing the injection.

Suwat Apaipak, a member of the legal team that succeeded in getting the court to overturn a June 17 Cabinet decision, urged Noppadon to inform Cambodia and the UN cultural body that Thailand could no longer support the listing bid.

The injunction has proved to be a major political embarrassment for the government. A clearer response should be revealed on Tuesday following the weekly Cabinet meeting, where the issue is expected to be high on the agenda.

Despite the government's insistence that the joint communique calling for the listing of Preah Vihear had no bearing on territorial claims by the two countries, Pongpol said the next move would have to come from the Cabinet.

His predecessor on the committee, Adul Wichiancharoen, said the earlier call for Thailand and Cambodia to jointly apply for the Unesco status was a way to depoliticise the thorny issues of territorial dispute and sovereignty.

Pipob Thongchai, a member of the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy, said Noppadon should show responsibility by resigning from his Cabinet post.

Pakistani among three arrested in Cambodia

Daily Times
Monday, June 30, 2008

PHNOM PENH: A Briton, a Pakistani and a Taiwanese-American, have been arrested in Cambodia for trying to smuggle 750 grammes of drugs out of the country, police said on Sunday.

Steven Bushel, Sha Hihan and Victor Chhan were arrested on Friday in a hotel room where they were discovered with 450 grammes of crystal amphetamines known as “ice” and 300 grammes of a white powder used to produce the drug, anti-drug police investigator Chea Leng told AFP.

“We had been monitoring them for almost three months and we knew that they were trying to smuggle the drug out of Cambodia,” he said.

Police were still trying to learn where the suspects were smuggling the drugs, he said.

The three men were being held at the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug unit to await trial, he added.

afp

Top Khmer Rouge diplomat in court

Both Ieng Sary and his wife will be tried by the genocide court

BBC News
Monday, 30 June 2008

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary has appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal to appeal against his detention.

The 82-year-old has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Maoist regime's four-year rule in the late 1970s.

He is one of five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge being detained by the UN-backed tribunal.
Some 1.7 million people are thought to have died under the brutal regime.

Hundreds of thousands starved as the Khmer Rouge tried to create an agrarian society. Many others perceived as educated were tortured and executed.

Trials are expected to begin later in the year.

Royal pardon

About 300 people attended the hearing at the court in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Ieng Sary is the most prominent surviving Khmer Rouge leader - and is still viewed as an influential and respected figure in parts of Cambodia, reports the BBC's Guy Delauney from Phnom Penh.

He received a royal pardon 12 years ago after reaching a deal with the government that resulted in the eventual surrender of the Khmer Rouge.

His lawyers say this is why he should not be facing charges now. They will also argue that a trial would amount to double jeopardy.

The Vietnamese-backed forces which ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979 tried Ieng Sary in absentia and found him guilty of genocide. That verdict was overturned by the pardon.

But Cambodians who survived Khmer Rouge prison camps feel particularly strongly about the former foreign minister, our correspondent adds.

Many of them were well-educated people who returned to the country after personal appeals from Ieng Sary to help rebuild Cambodia.

They were arrested on arrival, and thrown into brutal detention centres.

Ieng Sary's wife, former social welfare minister Ieng Thirith, has also been charged by the genocide court.

Cambodian gov't appeals for loans to farmers

June 30, 2008

Cambodia's agricultural sector has the potential to compete regionally if commercial banks loan the money needed to modernize, local media reported Monday, citing senior government figures.

Commercial banks are being encouraged to assist farmers through loans, Sun Kunthor, a government advisor and general director of the Rural Development Bank of Cambodia (RDBC), was quoted as saying in the Mekong Times newspaper.

"We needed commercial banks' participation in providing loans to the sector and we are urging them to cooperate," he said.

Nearly all of the RDBC's loans last year went to the agricultural sector, Sun Kunthor said, but even the bank's 20 million U.S. dollars of working capital would bring little improvement alone.

Bu Ros, chief of Canadia Bank's loan department, said his bank also strongly supports loans to the agricultural sector and will provide as many as possible.

"We were advised by the president of the bank to focus mainly on offering loans to the agricultural sector and we are prepared to give 10 percent of the total loan which is 430 million U.S. dollars for the year 2008," he said, adding that around 6 percent of Canadia's loans were to farmers last year.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has recently urged the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the National Bank of Cambodia to consult with commercial banks to provide the credit needed to modernize Cambodian agriculture.

Source:Xinhua

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister seeks release from pretrial detention

The Associated Press
Published: June 30, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The former Khmer Rouge foreign minister appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal Monday to press for his release from pretrial detention.

The United Nations-assisted tribunal has charged Ieng Sary, 82, with crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Ieng Sary is one of five defendants being held by the tribunal, which plans to begin its first trial later this year. His wife, 76-year-old Ieng Thirith, who served as the Khmer Rouge's social affairs minister, is also being held on charges of crimes against humanity.

The tribunal, jointly run by Cambodian and international personnel, is attempting to establish accountability for atrocities committed by the communist group when it ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

The group's radical policies resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

In their detention order in November, the investigating judges said Ieng Sary is being prosecuted for supporting Khmer Rouge policies that were "characterized by murder, extermination, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhuman acts such as forcible transfers of the population, enslavement and forced labor."

Ieng Sary has dismissed the charges as "unacceptable" and demanded evidence to support them, according to a copy of his detention order.

On Monday, the defense demanded that Ieng Sary be placed under either house arrest or protective hospitalization and undergo proper psychiatric examination to determine whether he is fit to stand trial.

Ieng Sary's "weak physical and mental capacity" makes him unable to fully assist his lawyers, Michael Karnavas, an American lawyer from Alaska, told the court.

"That's one of our primary issues here — the ability to follow proceedings. We cannot go forward on this very critical issue" relating to Ieng Sary's right to a fair trial, Karnavas said.

"If nothing else, it is a violation of equal protection in a sense that a more robust individual could exercise all of his rights whereas someone who is not as robust, be it physical or mental, will have less," he said.

"I don't believe that these are the so-called international standards that our friends, the prosecution, are advocating," he said.

Ieng Sary and his wife belonged to the inner circle of the Khmer Rouge and were in-laws of the movement's late leader, Pol Pot, who was married to Khieu Ponnary, Ieng Thirith's sister. Ieng Thirith took her husband's surname after they got married.

In 1996, Ieng Sary received a royal pardon from former King Norodom Sihanouk as a reward for breaking away from Pol Pot and leading his followers to join the government. The mutiny foreshadowed the Khmer Rouge's collapse three years later in 1999.

But the pardon had no bearing on the Cambodia-U.N. tribunal pact. Similar appeals by other defendants have failed.

The three other suspects in custody awaiting trial are Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, Nuon Chea, the former chief ideologist, and Kaing Guek Eav — also known as Duch — who headed the Khmer Rouge's S-21 torture center.

The tribunal has said it plans to start Duch's trial in September.

NagaCorp Mulls Casino Rights Sale in Cambodia Capital (Update1)

By Netty Ismail

June 30 (Bloomberg) -- NagaCorp Ltd., the monopoly casino operator in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, said it may sell a license to foreign companies, giving them the right to develop a new gaming property in the city.

``NagaCorp may consider any subconcession proposal when the timing is right,'' Chief Executive Officer Chen Lip Keong, 60, said in an interview on June 27.

The company has a monopoly to operate casinos within a 200- kilometer (125-mile) radius of the capital until 2035, and isn't subject to any legal restriction on selling secondary licenses.

Cambodia's only publicly traded company is betting on growing wealth at home and in the neighboring countries of Thailand and Vietnam to increase its revenue base beyond gamblers from China, Malaysia and Singapore. Macau overtook the Las Vegas Strip as the world's biggest casino market after the city ended Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho's monopoly in 2002, spurring at least $25 billion of investment in the city by foreign operators including Las Vegas Sands Corp.

``As bigger regional players focus on the higher end, we expect NagaCorp will maintain its niche in the mass-end VIP segment,'' said Gavin Ho, a Hong Kong-based analyst at CLSA Ltd.

Singapore awarded bids for two casino resorts in 2006, cutting taxes on gaming revenue to the world's lowest for so- called high-rollers. Japan and Taiwan are also considering allowing casinos in an effort to boost tourism.

Shares Rise

Kuala Lumpur-based Genting Bhd., which will operate one of the two Singapore resorts, plans to build Southeast Asia's first Universal Studios theme-park at its property in the city. Genting is Asia's biggest publicly traded gaming operator.

NagaCorp rose 1 percent to HK$2.12 at 11:57 a.m. in Hong Kong trading, the first gain in three days. The shares have fallen 18 percent this year, less than the 21 percent decline in the benchmark Hang Seng Index and a 31 percent drop in Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd., a Hong Kong-listed Macau casino operator. Genting fell 29 percent.

NagaCorp is catering to ``regional mid-sized'' gamblers taken to its casino by junket operators, who provided about 45 percent of its gaming revenue last year, Chen said.

About 52 percent of revenue comes from the public casino floor. The operator's revenue rose 69 percent to $144 million in 2007.

``We are not competing head on with those high rollers in Macau,'' Chen, a Malaysian, said in Phnom Penh, where the company is based.

`Poor Man's VIP'

Citigroup Inc.'s Hong Kong-based analyst Anil Daswani, in a Feb. 18 report, said NagaCorp was part of the ``poor man's VIP'' market.

NagaCorp operated its casino on a barge moored along the banks of the Bassac River in Phnom Penh for eight years, before relocating in October 2003 to a permanent hotel and entertainment complex, NagaWorld, a few hundred meters away.

The company is expanding the complex to 700 hotel rooms and 300 gaming tables by next year. It had 508 hotel rooms and 176 gaming tables in June.

``They have done a good job attracting customers,'' said Billy Ng, a gaming analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Hong Kong. ``There will be more competition but I don't think we need to be concerned about it now.''

`Strong Perception Issue'

Visitors to Cambodia have risen to about 2 million from 118,183 in 1993, when Southeast Asia's second-poorest nation emerged from a two-decade civil war.

Chen owns 62 percent of NagaCorp after selling a 5 percent stake in the company in May for ``a small premium'' to Chicago- based Columbia Wanger Asset Management LP, he said.

The Cambodian operator is trading at 8 times its forecast earnings per share for 2009, compared with an average of 21 times for its regional peers, Ho at CLSA said in a report dated June 26.

Ho initiated coverage of the stock with a ``buy'' recommendation, setting a 12-month price target of HK$3.31. NagaCorp's profit is set to grow 37 percent to $77 million in 2009, according to the CLSA report.

``I am situated in a country like Cambodia, I have a strong perception issue,'' Chen said. ``If I don't produce earnings, I am invisible, nobody will notice me.''

Sacravatoons : " Siem Fire-Game "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon at http://sacrava.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Central banker keeps eye on the riel issues

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong and Brendan Brady
Friday, 27 June 2008

A bureaucratic pinch-hitter, Phan Ho, 56, began his career at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in 1972. After the KR years he joined the Ministry of Planning in 1982. For the past decade, he’s settled accounts in the Kingdom’s burgeoning financial sector as deputy director general of the National Bank of Cambodia and secretary general of the recently formed regulatory watchdog, the Financial Intelligence Unit. Ho gave his two cents worth on June 20 to the Post’s Brendan Brady and Kay Kimsong on balancing the Kingdom’s economic exuberance with responsible monetary policy.

What’s the role of the National Bank of Cambodia?

The National Bank of Cambodia is the country’s central bank, the supervisory authority of the banking system, so we license and regulate commercial banks. There are now 16 commercial banks.

What is the National Bank’s top priority?

The area that attracts most of our attention is the soundness and sustainability of the banking system, its ability to grow while maintaining compliance. It’s our job to create growth, and there’s been more sustainable growth during the last three or four years. But if the amount of money in circulation is not sustainable, the growth is not sustainable. Right now, the growth of loans and bank deposits is very rapid, with outstanding loans growing by 80 percent in the past year.

What’s a more comfortable growth rate?

Twenty or 30 percent.

Capital reserve requirements are slated to rise at the end of July. Why?

Our economy is growing a bit faster than normal, especially in terms of loans and deposits. We see that the banks have excess liquidity and that’s why we have raised the reserve requirement. We want to tighten up on credit because most loans are going to big real estate projects that don’t necessarily benefit the economy.

Is there a particular sector that’s of concern to the National Bank?

We are concerned about construction loans and housing loans. We understand the situation in the United States about subprime mortgages and the problem in which people lose their ability to pay off loans. That’s why we are taking action to prevent this, but achieving an impact will take some time.

Does the National Bank control the flow of capital through Cambodia’s borders?

Formal transfers between banks can be monitored, but we still have informal transfers that we cannot control. It’s difficult for the central bank to know about this money because some of it is kept in people’s pockets and some is related to other government institutions.

You can see all the big construction projects like Camko, the Gold 42 Towers, and the International Finance Complex. The costs of those projects are very high and we can’t control how much money they bring in from outside the country and how much they pay out to contractors. There are also informal transfers from expatriates in some land and housing sales, and there is also a lot of speculation in real estate by individual Cambodians. It is very difficult for us to know the extent of it.

What is the basis for Cambodia’s currency system?

It used to be gold-backed but now other countries don’t use the gold standard anymore so they can print what they need. Our currency is not transferable; it can only be used locally. So now we just pay the paper and printing costs. We have foreign reserves of about $2 billion and, normally, the amount of money in circulation should be proportionate to double GDP.

Does the dollarization of the Cambodian economy pose problems for consumers or enterprises?

It’s market-driven. It’s very difficult for the central bank to control. We promote the use of the riel by requiring all taxes and utilities be paid in riel, and we ask government agencies to pay salaries in riel. It all used to be paid in dollars, but now it’s paid in riel. That’s our policy since 2000. The larger denomination riel notes are in circulation but are not popular.

Will the government begin paying civil servants through direct, electronic deposit?

Some government agencies already have a deal with Canadia Bank for salary payment, and we’re expanding to all government agencies in two or three years. It’s safer than carrying money from Phnom Penh to the provinces. But everyday there are still trucks of money going to the provinces.

Will the stock market be established on schedule?

It will be on time. We are conducting local training and are also sending people to be trained in South Korea. A lot of companies don’t want to comply with disclosure requirements for listing, but this is not a regulatory matter for the central bank, it’s for the Ministry of Finance.

Some opposition parties and NGOs have raised concerns over money laundering in Cambodia through casinos and land speculation. Is the National Bank monitoring money laundering?

We are worried about this issue. That’s why we established the Financial Intelligence Unit to control the flow of money through the country’s borders. The FIU has already met and its members include the National Bank, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Council of Ministers. All the related ministries have received technical assistance from Japan, France, Australia, the IMF, and the World Bank. Training has taken place and some people have already been arrested.

What if someone carries a suitcase of cash to a casino in Poipet? How do you monitor this kind of activity?

This requires the Ministry of Finance to issue another sub-decree asking the gambling industry to report suspicious activity. This has not happened yet because we were just established in May of this year. The law has been issued, but we still need a sub-decree to enforce it.

Banks see credit cards as key to retail market


Vandy RattanaAutomatic teller machines (ATMs) and the planned launch of domestic credit cards mark a turning point for retail banking in Cambodia, as money becomes more readily available – and not necessarily in cash.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Cheang Sokha
Friday, 27 June 2008

On the back of rising personal wealth and economic growth, Cambodia’s small retail banking industry is taking off, fueled by rising trust, access and confidence in the stability of the Kingdom’s financial sector.

“The number of people coming into the Cambodian banking system far exceeds population growth,” said Steve Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal.

According to Higgins, the outlook for Cambodia’s retail financial sector is overwhelmingly positive, and he expects it to continue growing steadily in the coming years.

“If you look at the proportion of credit to GDP in Cambodia, it’s still far lower than other Asian markets, so there’s plenty of scope for natural growth,” he said.

“A hallmark of developing economies is that financial services increase far more rapidly than the general economy. It’s happened everywhere, and it’s happening in Cambodia.”

ANZ Royal, established in 2005 as a joint venture between Australia-based ANZ and the local Royal Group, has pioneered electronic and internet banking in Cambodia.

In addition to its suite of personal accounts, ANZ Royal was the first bank to install ATMs – it now has 120 across the country – and plans to soon launch its first Cambodian credit card.

Acleda Bank president and CEO In Channy has also witnessed a rapid expansion in retail banking since Acleda was first licensed in December 2003.

“We’ve built from being an NGO with five offices to having 213 offices across the country,” he said.

By April this year, Acleda was opening 770 new bank accounts per day, and the growth shows no signs of abating.

According to Channy, Acleda plans to double the number of ATMs from 30 to 60 in the coming year, and build on the 300 point-of-sale systems already present throughout the Kingdom.

Personal loans and credit cards are also seen as a strong potential growth area. Of the $438.8 million wrapped up in Acleda loans, only $10.5 million were personal, Channy said.

“This is a very small amount but in the future this [sector] will be part of our growth,” he said, adding that the bank also plans to introduce credit cards as its retail services expand.

“In Cambodia, there are few banks that issue real credit cards,” he added.

Paul Guymon, general manager of local market research firm Indochina Research, said that this growth has been underpinned by a sharp increase in the trust shown by Cambodians in the domestic banking sector.

“There is now a lot more trust in the banking system, and consumers are willing to put more of their money in banks,” he said. “Even just four years ago, there was an ingrained distrust of banks.”

According to Guymon, this confidence is reflected by the rise in the number of ATMs in Cambodia since the first ANZ Royal unit was installed in 2005.

“The key thing in terms of the use of banking and financial services is the increasing number of ATMs,” he said. “ATMs are a major spur to the use of retail banking [since] money is readily available, yet secure .”

One challenge to the further expansion of retail banking is the large proportion of the rural population either too poor to afford traditional banking services or who live too far from bank branches.

“Lower income groups are locked outside the banking industry, not only because of distrust, but also because their money is being spent on a day to day basis,” Guymon said.

Channy foresees the entire retail banking sector eventually embracing greater competition.

“We are trying to provide a convenient infrastructure to all of our customers,” he said. “Acleda and the other banks are each doing this, which will further improve the trust in the banking industry.”

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister to appeal pretrial detention

The Associated Press
Published: June 29, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The former foreign minister of the now-defunct Khmer Rouge movement plans to appeal to Cambodia's genocide tribunal for release from his pretrial detention, a court spokesman said Sunday.

The United Nations-assisted tribunal has charged Ieng Sary, 82, with crimes against humanity and war crimes. He will appear on Monday to press for his release, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said.

Ieng Sary is one of five defendants being held by the tribunal, which plans to begin its first trial later this year. His wife, 76-year-old Ieng Thirith, who served as the Khmer Rouge's social affairs minister, is also being held on charges of crimes against humanity.

The tribunal, jointly run by Cambodian and international personnel, is attempting to establish accountability for atrocities committed by the communist group when it ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

The group's radical policies resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

In their detention order in November, the investigating judges said Ieng Sary is being prosecuted for supporting Khmer Rouge policies that were "characterized by murder, extermination, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhuman acts such as forcible transfers of the population, enslavement and forced labor."

Ieng Sary has dismissed the charges as "unacceptable" and demanded evidence to support them, according to a copy of his detention order.

Ang Udom, Ieng Sary's lawyer, said he planned to challenge earlier assertions by the judges that his client would be a flight risk and a threat to witnesses if released.

"My client is too old. He cannot escape from Cambodia," Ang Udom said. "If he wanted, he could have done so long before his arrest."

Ieng Sary and his wife belonged to the inner circle of the Khmer Rouge and were in-laws of the movement's late leader, Pol Pot, who was married to Khieu Ponnary, Ieng Thirith's sister. Ieng Thirith took her husband's surname after they got married.

In 1996, Ieng Sary received a royal pardon from former King Norodom Sihanouk as a reward for breaking away from Pol Pot and leading his followers to join the government. The mutiny foreshadowed the Khmer Rouge's collapse three years later in 1999.

But the pardon had no bearing on the Cambodia-U.N. tribunal pact. Similar appeals by other defendants have failed.

The three other suspects in custody awaiting trial are Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, Nuon Chea, the former chief ideologist, and Kaing Guek Eav — also known as Duch — who headed the Khmer Rouge's S-21 torture center.

The tribunal has said it plans to start Duch's trial in September.

Siem Reap Cambodia: Step forwards the foremost tourism destination in South East Asia


Bayon Temple in Siem Reap

PR-inside.com
2008-06-29

Currently, Siem Reap is the most famous destination in Cambodia. By the year 2020, Siem Reap will become the foremost jewel of South East Asia tourism. It is the cultural magnet, attracting tourists from the world- not just to the famous temple complex but to the beautiful city, where a thriving population conducts business in harmony with the environment.

This is

the feel-good vision described in a final draft report of the Siem Reap Master Plan conducted by JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) in cooperation with Siem Reap officials and the APSARA Authority that has role in protecting the monuments of Angkor and providing technical support for urban development.The report optimize that by 2020, Siem Reap will have become a "beautiful and unique tourist city based on a harmony of history, arts and Khmer culture," the report states in its strategic vision. "It will have learnt from the implications of Angkorian wisdom for sustainable development and cultural diversity in the 21st century'.

www.tourismindochina.com/siem%20reap-attractionsite.htm

The plan was designed to develop the economy, construct necessary infrastructure and maintain the quality of tourism resource and environment in the town. This last concern has also responded to the climate change, the hot global issue, which tourism. It is our commitment that 'Tourism will be at the leading edge of the global response to climate change.' Not only in Cambodia but also in other countries, good environment has vitally played role in thriving the tourism sector.

By CHHEM Samnang

Banking sector emerges from financial wilderness

Tracey Shelton
Acleda Bank’s sparkling headquarters in Phnom Penh reflects the rapid growth of financial services in Cambodia, where 24 commercial banks now compete to fund the Kingdom’s development and provide a safe haven for personal wealth away from the traditional hoarding of gold and jewelry.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 27 June 2008

After decades in the wilderness, Cambodia’s financial sector is finally starting to make inroads into the country’s vast, largely unregulated cash-based economy. But despite recent progress, there is still a long way to go in reform and transparency if growth is to be maintained long-term, say economic analysts and industry experts.

Over the past few years, the country’s double-digit annual growth rates have led to a rapid expansion in retail and commercial banking, with outstanding personal and business loans rising from a total of $471.6 million in 2004 to $893.6 million two years later, according to figures from the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

In its latest annual Asian Banking Outlook report, global credit rating firm Moody’s has painted an optimistic picture of the Kingdom’s business sector, predicting economic growth of 7.2 percent in 2008 and financial stability over the next 12-18 months despite the recent global credit crunch.

“In Cambodia, public confidence in the banking system is recovering,” said the report, a development it put down to sustained economic growth, increasing personal wealth and a stable regulatory environment.

Since the restoration of private property rights in 1989, the National Bank of Cambodia has been leading the government effort to reform and develop the financial sector.

Acleda Bank president and CEO In Channy credited the sector’s increasing stability to the passing of the 1999 Laws on Banking and Financial Institutions, which created the transparency and predictability necessary to build trust in the financial sector.

“The level of trust in the banking industry has increased because of this law,” he said. “The public trusts banks more now because banks have to issue detailed financial statements.”

Channy said that this increase in trust was demonstrated by the rapid growth in Acleda’s domestic deposits, which climbed from $800 million in 2004 to $2.5 billion in April this year.

“More competition is coming. Investors now feel comfortable coming to Cambodia,” he added.

Cleaning house

In November 2000, a bank restructuring initiative by the National Bank led to the de-licensing and liquidation of 12 banks that had failed meet a new requirement that they increase their base capital from $5 million to $13 million.

According to the Asian Development Bank’s 2001-10 Financial Sector Blueprint from December 2001, the initiative underscored the government’s awareness of “improving the soundness and reliability of the banking system, which is crucial for confidence building.”

But Cambodia’s chaotic recent history, coupled with the country’s grinding poverty and chronic corruption, have inspired anything but financial confidence.

After marching into Phnom Penh in April 1975, the Maoist Khmer Rouge dynamited Cambodia’s then-new National Bank building, sending worthless banknotes blowing through the streets of the deserted capital. For the three-and-a-half years of Pol Pot’s rule, the use of money was outlawed and the economy crumbled.

The Vietnamese-backed government that toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979 was then faced with the challenge of building a functioning financial system from the ground up, a development that is still, in many ways, a work-in-progress.
---------------------------
The banking sector is now growing very fast. Confidence and trust have been gained from the public. That’s our greatest achievement.
–Phan Ho, National Bank deputy director general
--------------------------

But National Bank deputy director general Phan Ho said that the government’s reforms have proven very successful in establishing a baseline of consumer and business confidence upon which future reforms can build.

“The banking sector is now growing very fast,” said Ho. “Confidence and trust have been gained from the public. That’s our greatest achievement.”

But despite steady growth and a more stable regulatory framework, Cambodia’s banking and financial sector remains a small part of an overwhelmingly cash-based economy, with bank deposits constituting just 18 percent of GDP in 2007, and even then concentrated mostly in the capital and larger provincial towns.

According to the Financial Sector Diagnostic report released by the IFC in June 2007, “a well-developed public infrastructure has not been established, [including] relevant business laws, an efficient and independent judiciary, regulation and supervision of other financial markets, and a secure and efficient payment and clearing system.”

Still, ADB economics and financial sector officer Vanndy Hem said that Cambodia has made great strides.

“If we look back from where the sector started, the achievements we see today are solid and fundamental to the future development of Cambodia. Key among those are the restored confidence of the public in the system [and] the steady shift from the informal to formal usage of the system,” he said.

“Cambodia should be applauded for its achievements in introducing some fundamental laws and regulations, [but] the real challenge is how we can ensure that they are carried out,” he said.

Raising standards

As Cambodia’s 24 commercial banks fiercely compete for increasingly savvy customers, they are raising standards of transparency beyond minimum government requirements.

According to Acleda Bank vice chairman John Brinsden, the arrival of foreign-owned banks in Cambodia has raised the bar beyond the formal regulatory framework.

“In Cambodia the four largest foreign banks (Canadia Bank, Acleda, ANZ Royal and Campu Bank) dominate, then there’s a large gap before you come to the rest,” said Brinsden.

Although foreign-owned banks have been allowed to operate in Cambodia since the UNTAC period of the early 1990s, it’s only in the past five years that the arrival of large, consumer-oriented banks such as ANZ Royal has pushed up the standards of smaller local and regional institutions.

ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins said that his bank has held itself to the same high standard in Cambodia as it does in Australia and New Zealand.

“We’ve brought some innovative banking practices here: the branches, the ATMs,” he said. “ANZ Royal was an international quality bank, coming into a country that was very much in need of it.”

Brinsden of Acleda agrees. “ANZ has really shaken things up here and has forced other banks to put in ATM networks,” he said. “In terms of customer service and transparency, they’ve caused some of the local banks to raise their game a little.”

Equity funds find a new frontier

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cat Barton
Friday, 27 June 2008

As international interest in emerging markets surges, Cambodia’s profile is rising as a key frontier for private equity, with three major funds looking to pour upwards of $450 million into the Kingdom’s economy.

Cambodia stands out as a rare safe haven from the global credit crunch, due to it un-leveraged economy and bountiful natural resources, said Douglas Clayton, a managing partner of Leopard Cambodia, which is raising $100 million for its Cambodia fund.

“Cambodia offers the best reward to risk profile in the region now, as competition is still low and the country has such vast potential,” he said.

Leopard Cambodia was the first fund to launch in April after raising around a tenth of its targeted $100 million. It is looking for investments of between $5 million and $15 million and its first project is a tourism property development in the Angkor temple town of Siem Reap.

“We are very bullish on tourism growth there, and expect a robust return on this project,” said Clayton.

Leopard was followed into Cambodia’s investment-hungry economy by Frontier Investment & Development Partners (FIDP), a $250 million fund that launched three weeks ago and has so far had strong interest from investors, said its CFA Marvin Yeo.

“Cambodia has untapped oil and gas reserves, large amounts of fertile agricultural land, low labor costs, a stable democratic political system and a dollarized economy with no capital controls where companies can be 100 percent foreign owned,” he said, explaining why so many investors are now flocking to the Kingdom.

“The highest growth levels are found in resource rich frontier economies,” he added.

Yeo said he could not disclose the exact amount of money raised until the fund had achieved its first close. The fund sets a $10 million minimum investment per institution.

“I’m absolutely in no doubt that it [raising the necessary capital] will happen over the next few months,” he said, citing the fund’s investment platform and deals already in the pipeline as key factors in its future success.

The Kingdom’s other major new fund, Cambodia Emerald Limited Partnership, which is looking to raise $100 million to invest in a range of sectors, most importantly agri-business, tourism and real estate, closed its seed round of financing in late April when two investors agreed to back the fund and provide an unspecified amount of capital. The company is now set up and operating and actively looking to do deals.

“We are not in a position at this time to discuss our first projects or targeted returns,” said Peter Brimble, managing director of Cambodia Emerald. “In general, we expect our returns to be consistent with international investors’ expectations for a market like Cambodia.”

Both Leopard and FIDP are expecting returns of least 25 percent on each investment they make.

High rates of return coupled with a business-friendly environment and emerging political stability help explain the record levels of attendance at the Cambodia Investment, Trade and Infrastructure 2007 last November as well as a conference in Siem Reap last month – organized by Leopard Capital – at which 22 mainly US fund managers met assess future opportunities.

“The double-digit economic growth rates of the past few years and indications of relatively high economic growth in the future suggests strong potential for capital gains in Cambodia,” said Brimble.

The recent flurry of high finance activity belies the fact that Malaysian interests have been active in the Kingdom for years and South Koreans have long been investing in banking and property, with a $2 billion satellite city on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and a city-center skyscraper now under construction.

Much to the chagrin of the longstanding expatriate business community in Cambodia, the Kingdom still suffers from something of an image problem – another legacy of the devastation wrought by the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime and the ensuing years of civil strife.

Moreover, rampant corruption – the Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Cambodia the 14th most corrupt out of 179 nations in its 2007 study – and a weak legislative framework have served as a deterrent to large-scale FDI for years.

Despite all the media discussion of these issues in Cambodia, most foreign investors who have been here a while are seeking to expand their Cambodia businesses, not sell them, said Leopard’s Clayton.

“I think that says a lot,” he said. “We expect the emergence of a stock exchange in Cambodia will increase business transparency here, as has been the pattern throughout Southeast Asia.”

For Emerald’s Brimble, there has been a “significant misunderstanding of the Cambodian situation.”

Major improvements in the regulatory and legal environment for business have been quietly inspiring substantial increases in FDI in recent years, he said.

“Ongoing improvements in levels of corruption and the business environment will enable FDI to grow and to thrive,” he said.

Finding enough suitable opportunities to absorb hundreds of millions of dollars of private-equity capital may be another issue for the fund pioneers to grapple with in the not too distant future.

FIDP’s Yeo is confident that it is possible due to the potential of key sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, oil & gas and real estate which are largely private sector driven.

“Cambodia needs very conservatively at least $5 billion of investment over the next three years,” he said.

“Given that the domestic debt markets are still in their infancy (and that the international debt markets have been largely closed off to Cambodia) and the lack of any domestic public capital market to raise funds, private equity funds and direct investments ... are pretty much the only ways for projects to get funded.”
A Cambodian flag flutters near an entrance gate to Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodian-Thai- border in Preah Vihear province, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, on June 21, 2008. High on a Cambodian cliff, the Preah Vihear temple has weathered war and territorial disputes. Now it's at the center of a political tug-of-war in neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)



As the Khmer empire, which once encompassed parts of Thailand and Vietnam, shrank to the size of present-day Cambodia and the country was plunged into civil war, the Preah Vihear temple fell into disrepair. Steps, walls and pillars have collapsed.HENG SINITH PHOTOS: ASSOCIATED PRESS

By KER MUNTHITAssociated Press

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — High on a Cambodian cliff, the Preah Vihear temple has weathered war and territorial disputes. Now it's at the center of a political tug-of-war in neighboring Thailand.

As it has over the centuries, the ancient temple is fueling nationalist sentiment on both sides of the border, and opposition supporters in the Thai parliament are raising it as a reason for why the prime minister should step down.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej recently endorsed Cambodia's bid to register the temple as a UNESCO World Heritage site — enraging opposition lawmakers who say he is yielding national sovereignty to Cambodia.

Never mind that the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it stands on to Cambodia in 1962 — it remains an issue in both countries.

"The Preah Vihear temple is part of a wounded history of Thailand and Cambodia," said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "It was used to stir up a nationalist movement during World War II, and again during the Cold War ... and is now threatening to inflame politics again."

Protests on the border

The crumbling stone temple, which is a few hundred feet from Thailand's eastern border with Cambodia, is the centerpiece of a no-confidence motion against Samak. The opposition accuses the prime minister of policy mistakes and of being a proxy for deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

The dispute comes shortly before the World Heritage Committee starts its annual meeting Wednesday to consider bids for special status, which helps attract funds for preservation of a site as well as raising its tourism profile.

Thai senators sent a petition to UNESCO this week asking that consideration of Cambodia's request be deferred until both countries file a joint nomination for World Heritage status. UNESCO has not responded.

Anger is simmering on both sides of the border, particularly in Thailand.

"The Temple of Gloom," ran one banner headline in The Nation newspaper, under a photo taken in March of Samak shaking hands with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Samak insists his endorsement of Cambodia's bid has no effect on Thai sovereignty, saying the temple belongs to Cambodia and the Cambodians are entitled to seek its listing as a World Heritage site. A stretch of disputed territory around the temple was not included in the request to UNESCO, Samak told lawmakers.

Thai protesters have gathered near the hilltop site since Sunday, singing patriotic songs and shouting that the temple belongs to Thailand, said Hang Soth, director-general of Cambodia's Preah Vihear Authority.

As a result, Cambodia closed the border gate that leads from Thailand to the temple.

A myth among some Thais'

Preah Vihear, a Hindu-themed temple that reflects the beliefs of the kings who ruled what was then the Angkorean empire, is located on the top of a 1,722-foot cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, about 150 miles north of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. Reaching it by road is easiest from the Thai side of the border.

"We are the owners of the temple, and it has nothing to do with Thailand," said Moeung Son, a Cambodian tour group operator and founder of the Khmer Civilization Foundation.

Last week, his group held a rally in Phnom Penh to support Cambodia's UNESCO bid and dispel what he called the "myth among some Thais who say that Preah Vihear temple is theirs.

"Built between the ninth and 11th centuries, it is revered partly for having one of the most stunning locations of all the temples constructed during the Khmer empire — the most famous of which is Angkor Wat.

As it has fallen into disrepair, Hun Sen has pledged "a serious commitment" to building a road to the temple "whatever the cost.

The Gods in the JUNGLE


Indian Express
Lindsay Pereira
Sunday, June 29, 2008

12,000 people called it home, and 80,000 worked towards its upkeep. Today, the roots of trees are all that keep the Cambodian temple of Ta Prohm from oblivion n lindsay pereira

The music grew louder with every step. Accompanying it was the sucking sound made by wet earth, as I walked beneath massive trees on my way to the temple of Ta Prohm. As I turned a corner, the source of the music appeared through the mild drizzle. It was a group of ragged locals, sitting under a tent and creating a rhythmic, hypnotic rhythm.

Some were blind; others held percussive instruments between stubs that were once feet. Victims of a 25-year old civil war, they were survivors. And, for a world that had forgotten them, they were creating music.

It was, with hindsight, the perfect setting for my first glimpse of Ta Prohm, a name derived from a dedication to Lord Brahma. Like a dirge, the music created a backdrop against which the crumbling walls of the temple appeared. It was a view that had stayed the same for decades, the stone held firmly in place by the massive roots of silk cottonwood and strangler fig trees. It was a strange state of limbo for what in the late 12th century was born Rajavihara, the ‘royal temple’, built by the Khmer king Jayavarman VII.

Begun in 1186 AD, this was to be a Buddhist monastery and university. Family was clearly important to the king, considering the temple’s main image was allegedly modelled on his mother, while smaller temples within the enclosure were dedicated to his elder brother and his teacher. Those calm faces staring down for centuries, at visitors from foreign shores, were all that remained of what was once a powerful kingdom.

As I stepped into an enclosure of fallen columns and sunlight-dappled ground, it was hard to imagine what life here was like eight centuries ago. According to the guidebook The Monuments of the Angkor Group, first published in 1944 by Maurice Glaize, this was once home to over 12,000 people, including 18 high priests and more than 600 dancers. Some 80,000 people living in villages nearby offered services and supplies. A full temple treasury enabled the complex to expand until the end of the 13th century.

And then, in the 15th century, the Khmer empire collapsed. Temples was abandoned everywhere, and the forest slowly closed in. While the world outside struggled with mundane issues like war and the clash of civilisations, Ta Prohm slept undisturbed. When it was eventually re-discovered early in the 20th century, an unusual decision was made to leave it as it was. Glaize says this was done only to Ta Prohm because it was the one temple that had ‘best merged with the jungle, but not yet to the point of becoming part of it.’

It was easy to see why Ta Prohm was among the most popular temples in the massive archaeological park that held Angkor Wat. It was all thanks to the trees. An ironic situation, considering they now held the temple in a vice-like grip that could no longer be broken. Maurice Glaize described, almost lovingly, their ‘long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants.’ The effect was eerie. It’s why Hollywood wanted it as a backdrop, and got it for the Angelina Jolie-starrer Tomb Raider. Apart from the stunning architecture, what gave the ruins of Angkor Wat much of its character was its mysterious past. When King Suryavarman—the predecessor of Jayavarman VII—died, work on Angkor stopped abruptly. The temples were sacked by enemies of the Khmer people, the Chams, and restored by Jayavarman VII.

Now, as tourists lined up beneath the strangling roots for photographs to send home, I thought about how this calm still seemed illusory. Not many countries could boast a history as bloody as Cambodia’s. After the 19th century came to a close, the 20th saw the rise of the infamous Khmer Rouge. There was little damage to temple structures during that bloody reign, but a large number of statues were stolen or destroyed. The passage of time still refused to guarantee peace. Riots erupted in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh as late as 2003, after a false rumour spread, of a Thai soap star claiming Angkor belonged to Thailand.

I walked through crumbling halls that must undoubtedly have once been grand, thinking about how the Vietnam War had left Cambodia with over six million landmines. One in every 236 Cambodians had lost a limb due to a mine explosion. The music outside, barely discernable, was a reminder no one paid heed to. It was now a souvenir, available on CD for $10.

As I continued on my way out, the devtas on temple walls turned eyes of stone towards me and smiled calm, placid smiles. The world outside had changed irrevocably since they were carved into being. For them, however, our history was just a moment in time. As I stepped into the sunlight, the music played on.

Cambodian political parties gear up for July election

Cambodia's political parties are continuing to campaign this weekend, ahead of next month's general election.

It is hoped the nation's fourth democratic election will be free of violence, but already, the ruling Cambodian People's Party has been accused of intimidation by the Opposition.

Sen Lam reports from Phnom Penh that campaigning Cambodian-style is a colourful affair.

In the capital, small lorries cruise the city streets in convoys, with loud music and political slogans, as party members pile into the back of the trucks.

Human rights groups and election observers have voiced concern in recent weeks over perceived intimidation, in particular, the arrest and release of a newspaper editor, and the closure of a provincial radio station.

The station had sold air time to opposition parties without government permission.

For the moment, the campaigning climate is better than in previous elections, although threats against activists at grassroots level, are reported to continue.

Produced by Radio Australia and Australia Network

Three foreigners arrested in Cambodia on drug charges

The Sunday Times
June 29, 2008 Sunday

PHNOM PENH - THREE foreigners - a Briton, a Pakistani and a Taiwanese-American - have been arrested in Cambodia for trying to smuggle 750 grammes of drugs out of the country, police said on Sunday.

Steven Bushel, Sha Hihan and Victor Chhan were arrested at midnight Friday in a hotel room where they were discovered with 450 grammes of crystal amphetamines known as 'ice' and 300 grammes of a white powder used to produce the drug, anti-drug police investigator Chea Leng told reporters.

'We have monitored them for almost three months and we knew that they were trying to smuggle the drug out of Cambodia,' he said.

Police were still trying to learn where the suspects were smuggling the drugs, he said.

The three men were being held at the Interior Ministry's anti-drug unit to await trial, he added.

Ice can be produced in rudimentary laboratories from a range of chemicals and resembles clear, chunky crystals that can be smoked, snorted or injected.

Although drug arrests have risen, Cambodia is becoming an increasingly popular trafficking point for methamphetamines and heroin, particularly since neighbouring Thailand toughened its stance on illegal drugs in 2002.

-- AFP

Chinese-funded hydro-dams bring hope and fear to Cambodia

Cambodian children eat rice by candle-light during an electricity outage in Phnom Penh


A worker, in Cambodia's neighbouring state of Laos, overlooks a hydro-power dam under construction

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Hydropower is held up as the beacon of hope for millions of electricity-starved Cambodians, with ten planned hydro-dams set to power up their homes for the first time.

But flicking the switch comes at a price as critics say the controversial deals made with mostly Chinese companies to build the dams will create further hardship for Cambodia's poor and ruin the environment.

For window-maker Dorn Seanghor, however, the prospect of working without being plunged into darkness is appealing. In the midst of Cambodia's building boom his business should be thriving, but he is constantly frustrated.

"There's usually a blackout for six to eight hours almost every day -- one time in the morning and again in the evening," he said at his shop in the capital, Phnom Penh.

"It disturbs my business. I use a generator when the power is cut, but the price of gasoline is very high now."

Still, Dorn Seanghor is one of the luckier ones. Four-fifths of Cambodians do not have access to any electricity.

Ten dams are set to begin churning between 2010 and 2019, and once they are all operational the government says they will generate 2,045 megawatts of power, serving all Cambodia's provinces.

Government officials say six of the dams will be funded by Chinese companies, but the US-based International Rivers Network warned in a January report that these Chinese investments could threaten some of Cambodia's most precious eco-systems.

"Poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage (natural) resources," the report warned.

Groups have been particularly concerned about the looming affects of Kamchay Dam, under construction by Sinohydro Corporation in Bokor National Park and expected to flood 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres) of protected forest.

And now environmental groups say two more projects agreed in mid-June at a cost of more than one billion dollars -- Stung Tatay by China National Heavy Machinery Corporation and Russey Chrum Krom by Michelle Corporation -- have not been properly scrutinised.

Both will be located in the country's southwestern Cardamom Protected Forest, and about 1,600 hectares (3,953 acres) of woodland would have to be flooded or cleared to make way for the dams, the government has said.

This could destroy key animal habitats and upset the delicate eco-system.

"Cardamom is the last hot spot of conservation in Indochina," said Sam Chanthy, an environmental officer with advocacy group Forum on Cambodia.

Qian Hai, third secretary of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, denied his country's companies would damage the environment.

"We just help Cambodia. All these projects are approved by the parliament and the government," he said.

Ith Praing, Cambodia's energy secretary, insisted the government conducted careful environmental studies for all the dams.

"Outsiders always raise environmental issues, but we need electricity. We must develop our country. We must use our resources rather than buying oil," he said.

Cambodia has begun to climb back from decades of civil unrest to emerge as one of the region's fastest-growing economies.

Economic growth has averaged 11 percent over the past three years, although 30 percent of the 14 million people still earn less than a dollar per day.

The government fears rocketing energy prices will scare away foreign direct investment.

"Every sector needs electric power. When we have electricity at a reasonable price, development will come along," said Ith Praing, adding the government forecasts that by 2030, 70 percent of Cambodian families will have electricity.

Opposition member of parliament Son Chhay, however, said the debate is not simply a case of economic development versus the environment.

Poor people could be forced from their land to make way for the mega-projects, crops could be destroyed, while the environment the rural poor depend upon may be wiped out, he told AFP.

"The government just closes its eyes and lets Chinese companies do things that will cause a lot of problems in the future," Son Chhay said.

"It will not resolve poverty in Cambodia. Cambodia will lose a lot without taking into consideration the environmental consequences."