Thursday, 31 January 2008

Tumor aside, she's OK with America

Pediatric neurosurgeon Philipp Aldana explains about the detailed surgery he and Saswata Roy, pediatric craniofacial and skull-base surgeon, performed on Buntheep Chun, a 12-year-old Cambodian girl, to remove a large skull-base brain tumor that was stealing her vision and threatening her life.

Photos by DON BURK/The Times-UnionBuntheep Chun (left) and Gioia Michelotti, director of the Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry, answer questions during a news conference at Wolfson Children's Hospital Wednesday where her brain surgery was explained. The primary surgery took 20 hours, involved the removal of her entire forehead, the upper part of her eye sockets, base of the skull, nasal bones and sinuses.

20 Hours of surgery To remove a lemon-sized growth. Challenge Get to the tumor without harming her face or brain.

By LARRY HANNAN, The Times-Union

Buntheep Chun doesn't look like someone who had her entire forehead, the base of her skull and the upper part of her eye sockets taken out and put back together only two months ago.

The orphan from Cambodia looked like a normal 12-year-old Wednesday at Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville. When asked what she likes best about being in America, Buntheep broke into a big smile and said via an interpreter she likes everything about America.

"I don't think she's talking about the surgical procedures," said her guardian and interpreter, Gioia Michelotti. "She's just very happy with the way people have treated her since we arrived in Jacksonville. We feel very fortunate that God brought us here."

On Dec. 6, Buntheep went through 20 hours of surgery to remove a lemon-sized tumor that was blinding her and breaking through the bones protecting her brain. The challenge doctors faced was getting to the tumor without doing damage to her brain or face.

"I could see this was an enormous tumor that occupied the bottom half of her skull all the way to the back of her nose," said pediatric neurosurgeon Philipp Aldana, who removed nearly the entire growth piece by piece.

Buntheep still has no vision in her right eye, but she can see normally out of her left eye. There appear to be no other complications from the procedure. Doctors hope she will fully regain her sight.

A small portion of the tumor remains, about half the size of a pea. It could not be removed without damaging her brain, doctors said. Buntheep will continue to get regular X-rays to make sure the tumor doesn't grow back.

"There is a 10-20 percent possibility it will grow back," Aldana said.

Buntheep had to go through another surgery later in December after spinal fluid leaked into her skull. The spinal fluid was drained, and doctors pronounced her recovered from the complication on Christmas Day.

To get at the tumor, surgeon Saswata Roy took Buntheep's face apart, and then put it back together again after the tumor was removed. He also removed her nasal bones, and the back of the septum sinuses.

"The tumor was located in one of the hardest locations to get to," Roy said. "For a beautiful 12-year-old girl, you want to get [the tumor] out and leave her with a normal life."

Her face was then reconstructed using the bones of her skull, as well as tissue from the leg.
It took several attempts to remove it. The first one in mid-November had to be halted because of profuse bleeding, leaving it about 80 percent intact.

Bleeding was also a factor in the December surgery.

"We had to stop several times to get the bleeding under control," Aldana said. "Also, portions of her skull bones were mixed in with the tumor."

Wednesday, Aldana and Roy discussed the surgery with the media while Buntheep looked on.

The only hint of what she had gone through was a scar about two inches above her hairline that is expected to fade with additional cosmetic surgery and the growth of her hair.

"I've never seen her scared," Roy said. "It's almost eerie."

Buntheep's father, a soldier, was killed when she was 3. Her mom couldn't afford to keep Buntheep and her older brother so she gave them to the Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry School in Phnom Penh. Michelotti is the school's director.

Buntheep began experiencing vision problems in October, eventually losing sight in her right eye and suffering from cloudy vision in the left eye and numbness in the face.

That led to the discovery of the brain tumor.

Michelotti began writing letters pleading for financial help so Buntheep could get the tumor removed.

Missionaries in Cambodia paid for them to come to the United States, and an elder at a church in Pensacola recommended Wolfson.

"Wolfson has a long history of caring for local children and, at times of urgent need, for children from around the world," said Baptist Health President Hugh Greene in a written statement.
"This is just an extension of our mission.

The doctors who worked on Buntheep did so for free and Wolfson also did not charge for the hospital stay, said Wolfson administrator Larry Freeman. The costs involved were estimated to be between $500,000 and $800,000.

She was released to the Ronald McDonald House on Jan. 11. Barring further medical complications, Michelotti and Buntheep hope to return to Cambodia in March,

When asked if she would have any advice for another child who had to deal with what she went through, Buntheep thought for a few seconds and then whispered something to Michelotti.
"She said, 'Trust God,'" Michelotti said.

FBI chief in first Cambodia visit

Head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Robert Mueller (R) and U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Joseph A. Mussomeli smile after they cut a ribbon during the inauguration of an FBI office in Phnom Penh January 31, 2008. The FBI opened its first office in Cambodia on Thursday, amid increasing concerns over regional terrorism, a U.S. embassy official said.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Robert Mueller (R) and U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Joseph A. Mussomeli cut a ribbon during the inauguration of an FBI office in Phnom Penh January 31, 2008. The FBI opened its first office in Cambodia on Thursday, amid increasing concerns over regional terrorism, a U.S. embassy official said.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, right, and U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli prepare to cut a ribbon to inaugurate the FBI legal attache office at the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008. Mueller visited Cambodia and held talks with Cambodian officials to enhance cooperation in the fight against global crimes, including terrorism and human trafficking.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller addresses a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008. Mueller visited Cambodia and held talks with the country's officials to enhance cooperation in the fight against global crimes, including terrorism and human trafficking.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh
Thursday, 31 January 2008

One of the top US law enforcement officials has arrived in Cambodia as part of a tour of South East Asia.

Robert Mueller is the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ever to visit the country.

He is the latest in a series of high-profile American officials who have been increasing their contacts with Cambodia.

As recently as three years ago, Mr Mueller's visit would have been little short of unthinkable.
The US had a frosty relationship with the Cambodian government - and even refused its top police officer a visa.

But now the FBI's director is holding meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen - and the US embassy is hailing the "expanding co-operation" between the two countries' law enforcement agencies.

The threat of terrorism is one reason for the change of heart.

One of the leaders of a group connected to attacks in Indonesia was known to have spent time in Cambodia.

And the courts here have shown their willingness to try suspected terrorists.

But Mr Mueller's visit seems to be part of a larger attempt to build stronger relations with South East Asian nations which it formerly viewed as hostile.

The US has noted China's growing influence in the region.

Diplomats hope that a stronger American presence in countries like Cambodia will encourage democratic reforms and development.

34 foreign women picked up during vice-operation


Thirty-four foreign women were picked up during a vice-operation at a budget hotel in Bandar Puchong Utama early yesterday.

Federal police anti-vice, gaming and secret society division (D7) principal assistant director SAC II Rodwan Mohd Yusof said the women were found hiding in several rooms on the top floor of the four-storey shoplot.

“The raiding party took several hours to round up the women, aged between 19 and 25. There are secret passages leading to the rooms where the women were hiding.”

The women comprised 16 Chinese nationals, 12 Vietnamese, four Thai and an Indonesian and a Cambodian.

Checks showed they entered the country last November on work permits.

Two hotel employees, both in their 20s, were also detained after police found 15 boxes of firecrackers inside the premises. Police are looking for the hotel owner.

New Zealand asks Thailand to explain refugee hold-up

Thu, 31 Jan 2008

Wellington - New Zealand is asking Thailand to explain why it has refused to let a group of refugees from Burma leave the country to start new lives Down Under, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Thursday. New Zealand agreed two years ago to accept two families of Kayan people - whose women traditionally wear a number of brass rings around their unnaturally long necks - as refugees, but Thai authorities will not give them exit visas.

According to a BBC report from the area in north-west Thailand on Wednesday, it is suspected that the families are being kept in Thailand because of the central role they play in the local tourism industry.

The BBC said three Kayan villages close to the Burmese border were a major lure for foreign tourists and quoted a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees as saying, "It's absolutely a human zoo."

Kitty McKinsey said some 20,000 other Burmese refugees had recently been allowed to move to third countries, but Thailand was not letting a group of 20 Kayans who had been accepted as refugees by New Zealand and Finland leave.

"We don't understand why these 20 are not allowed to start new lives," she told the BBC. "The Thai authorities are treating them in a special way."

The BBC quoted a 23-year-old woman called Zember as saying the UNHCR told her family in 2005 that they had been accepted by New Zealand.

"I was so happy," she said. "They tell me a house is already waiting for us in New Zealand."

The New Zealand foreign ministry spokeswoman told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa: "we have raised our concerns with the Thai foreign ministry. We are waiting for a response."

Ieng Sary Hospitalized

31 January 2008.

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 545

Tribunal Officials Concerned about Health of Five Former Khmer Rouge Leaders in Detention

“Phnom Penh: A Khmer Rouge tribunal official said on 29 January 2008 that Mr. Ieng Sary, 76, was admitted to Calmette Hospital at mid noon of 28 January, to have his hypertension checked by doctors and to have a medical checkup for his chronic diseases. The statement of this official is parallel to the announcement of the pre-juridical process of Nuon Chea, which is due to be held on 4 February.

“Mr. Reach Sambath, the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s spokesperson, told Koh Santepheap by phone that Mr. Ieng Sary had been brought to Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh to have a medical examination for his hypertension related ailments. He continued, ‘We have made all efforts to treat him.’

“Mr. Eang Udom, Ieng Sary’s defense lawyer, said that Mr. Ieng Sary had suffered a serious relapse of heart related diseases, and on 29 January he was still hospitalized, waiting for medical help from Calmette doctors. The lawyer added, ‘He is suffering from a serious heart disease, that is why he was sent to the hospital, right now he is being observed by the doctors.’

“Mr. Reach Sambath added that ‘it is normal for older people to have hypertension, the patients are asked to take medicine regularly, because if they do not take it, it can cause problems; however, we consider all means to help him, providing highest attention; we are not careless.’

“It is noted that Mr. Chhit Chhoeun, as known as Ta Mok, had been detained by the military court in Phnom Penh for many years; later on, he suffered from serious ailments and was sent to a hospital. He died in the Ketumealea Hospital a few day later, on 23 October 2006.

“Mr. Reach Sambath continued that so far, the other accused, besides Mr. Ieng Sary, are in normal health. However, the five defendants are all old, they can face blood vessel or heart related aliments like Mr. Ieng Sary, while they are waiting for their hearings at the court.

“Mr. Ieng Sary and his wife had been brought to the Khmer Rouge tribunal in the early morning of 12 November 2007, charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. Mr. Ieng Sary and his wife were the former Khmer Rouge Number Three and Number Four top leaders, who were arrested and have been jailed at the Khmer Rouge tribunal after Duch, the former chief of Tuol Sleng prison, and Nuon Chea, the former president of the People’s Assembly of the Democratic Kampuchea regime.

“On 28 January 2008, 28 judges of the Khmer Rouge tribunal met for their third plenary session to discuss the court’s performance every half year. In that meeting, Mr. Kong Srim, chairing the session, said that the investigating co-judges have been conducting their investigations of the defendant Ieng Sary, charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, and had issued a warrant to temporarily detain the defendant.

“Mr. Kong Srim added that the five defendants have been charged and are temporarily detained for only four months, starting from the date when the investigative requests were issued.

“During the last few months, there were hints that the Khmer Rouge tribunal does not have sufficient money, and the funds can run out by April 2008, while legal processes have been done only for one of the former Khmer Rouge leaders, that is for the bail request for the defendant Duch. The date for the judgments has not yet been set, while before it was considered that the Khmer Rouge tribunal is a three years project and it was expected to cost US$56.3 million.

“Mr. Kong Srim claimed that ‘we start the year 2008 with a great success.’ He added that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is the smallest one of the international courts, and it has also the lowest budget. ‘We have around 300 staff members (200 national employees and 100 international staff members).’”

Koh Santepheap, Vol.41, #6258, 30.1.2007

Preah Vihear temple part of Thailand

As a Khmer architecture junkie, I find Dr Reiff's rationale somewhat presumptive in maintaining that since the Preah Vihear temple has Hindu elements, it therefore should belong to Cambodia (Postbag, Jan 29).

There are many temples along the royal road from Angkor Wat to Phimai (such as Surin, Prachin Buri and Buri Ram) that have Hindu elements and Khmer style of architecture, and yet, indisputably they belong to the modern Siam (Thailand).

Phnom Rung in Buri Ram, another potential World Heritage site with plenty of Khmer art, is definitely not claimable by Cambodia.

The judgement of the Court of Justice in The Hague on the territory of Preah Vihear temple was only a legalistic interpretation and, with due respect to the court, all the Thai governments since the ruling date have accepted the decision.

However, it is an indisputable fact that natural access to the Preah Vihear temple has to be made through Thai territory and hence physically it is difficult for visitors not to view the temple as being within Thai territory.

In theory, the temple may belong to Cambodia, but in practice, the temple is part of Thailand.
So it is rather ludicrous for Cambodia to ask the UN to recognise the temple as a World Heritage site without Thailand's participation.


Bangkok Post

FBI Director visits Vietnam


VietNamNet Bridge - Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Robert S. Mueller III arrived in Hanoi today to meet with senior Vietnamese law enforcement officials to discuss various aspects of bilateral cooperation.

Along with China and Cambodia, Vietnam is part of a regional visit paid by the FBI chief.

Talking with the Ministry of Public Security’s senior officials, Director Mueller thanked the Vietnamese Government for its cooperation on law enforcement issues, and highlighted FBI’s commitment to strengthening Viet Nam-US ties, and to further enhancing cooperation in many other areas in the era of increasing transnational crimes.

“No one person, no one agency, no one police department, and no one country has all the answers,” said Director Mueller. “This is why our relationship with our Vietnamese partners is such an important one. I look forward to continuing our cooperation in combating crime in its many forms.”

On January 31, the FBI director will preside over a ceremony to open a new US Legal Attaché Office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This new office - the 60th Legal Attaché Bureau around the world - will oversee both Cambodia and Viet Nam.

(Source: SGGP)

U.S. opens FBI office in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- The United States on Thursday opened here a new overseas branch of its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), officially called the embassy's Legal Attache Office.

Visiting FBI Director Robert Mueller and U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli cut the ribbon for the opening ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh.

The office will work with the Cambodian national police authorities to crackdown on cross-border crimes and terrorism acts, said Mueller.

Both sides will cooperate closely to exchange information and jointly carry out operations against such crimes, he said.

U.S. will also help train the Cambodian police force to benefit the law enforcement in the kingdom, he added.

Mueller arrived here on Wednesday for a two-day official visit to Cambodia to expand bilateral legal cooperation. He had met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials.

A Princeton graduate and highly decorated member of the U.S. Marine Corps, Mueller became the sixth director of FBI in 2001 after serving as the acting deputy attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice.

Girl healing after removal of tumor

The Associated Press
January 31, 2008

JACKSONVILLE - She struggled through the murder of her father, homelessness and abandonment. Now the 12-year-old Cambodian girl is recovering after surgeons here successfully removed a lemon-size tumor from beneath her brain.

Buntheep Chun, a wisp of a girl with dark eyes and a slight smile, is staying at Ronald McDonald House after several surgeries, including one lasting about 20 hours at Wolfson Children's Hospital.

Buntheep began experiencing vision problems in October while staying at the Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry. A CT scan showed she had a tumor filling her head, said Gioia Michelotti, the school's director who accompanied Buntheep to the United States and serves as her translator.

She and Buntheep boarded a flight from Phnom Penh to Chicago, without knowing where the girl could receive treatment.

After landing in Chicago, they were notified that doctors and nurses at Wolfson would donate their services for free. The procedures would have cost about $1 million, hospital officials said.

Buntheep arrived Nov. 14 and was taken to the Children's Emergency Center, where she was met by Dr. Philipp Aldana, a pediatric neurosurgeon.After an MRI, Buntheep was diagnosed with a giant cell granuloma, a rare, benign tumor that had gotten so large that it had broken through the bones protecting the brain.

The next day, pediatric craniofacial and skull-base surgeon, Dr. Saswata Roy, and Aldana biopsied the tumor and removed part of it.On. Dec. 6, a team of doctors and nurses performed 20 hours of surgery on Buntheep.

The procedure called for removing her forehead, the upper part of the eye sockets, base of the skull, nasal bones and sinuses and the back of the septum, just to reach the tumor.

She was released to Ronald McDonald House on Jan. 11, but she will spend about three months in Florida before returning to Cambodia.

Police: New Britain Woman Arranged Fake Marriages

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. -- A New Britain woman was arrested after police said she arranged fake marriages to help foreigners get U.S. citizenship.

Federal authorities said Hun Siv, 41, recruited three U.S. citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages with three people from Cambodia.

If convicted, Siv could face as much as 20 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

MathabaCambodi-US cooperation in fighting trans-national crimes is expected to tie up following Cambodia’s visit by Robert Mueller, head of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation starting from January 30.

Ha Noi (VNA) – Director Muller will preside over the official opening of the bureau's permanent office in Cambodia’s Phnom Penh capital the same day, said sources from the US embassy in Cambodia was cited by the media as saying. During his visit, he will meet Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials, the embassy said in a statement, adding that the embassy views the FBI director’s visit as another indication of the expanding cooperation between law enforcement agencies of the two countries.

Khmer Rouge second-in-command requests removal of ECCC judge

Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Leslie Schulman

[JURIST] Lawyers for former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch report] on Wednesday filed a motion with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] requesting the removal of Cambodian military court chief Ney Thol from Nuon Chea's scheduled February 4 pre-trial hearing and all future proceedings relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity charges [statement, PDF] against Nuon Chea because of alleged impartiality. According to the motion, Ney Thol, who is a member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) [party website, in English], sentenced an opposition leader to jail in a questionable 2005 trial which was biased against the defense. The opposition leader was later pardoned. The motion claims that Ney Thol's "participation in highly questionable judicial decisions" indicates his biases and justifies his removal.

The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. Nuon Chea was known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge, indicative of his high position in the communist movement led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 having never been prosecuted for alleged war crimes. He was arrested and charged [JURIST report] in September and said that he was never in the position to order the deaths attributed to him, but that he will cooperate with the ECCC [JURIST report]. The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials, but to date, no top officials have faced trials. The first trials are expected to begin this year. AP has more.

Plans To Build Temple In Newtown Rejected

January 30, 2008

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The state Supreme Court has unanimously rejected a Buddhist society's efforts to build a temple in Newtown.

The Cambodian Buddhist Society of Connecticut argued last year that Newtown was violating state and federal laws that protect religious freedom when it denied a permit for the temple.

Supporters had said the Cambodian Buddhist temple, which would have been the first in the state, was important to preserving their religion and culture because elders are dying off. Many of those trying to build the temple fled the killing fields of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge 30 years ago.

But Newtown officials and neighbors of the 10-acre site where the temple would have been built said it could attract up to 450 people on days when religious festivals are held. The Planning and Zoning Commission declared that level of activity "too intense."

What Can Be Seen, peter chin mines multidisciplinary techniques to achieve total theatre

BY David Balzer
January 30, 2008

The title of multidisciplinary artist Peter Chin’s latest performance, opening next week as part of Harbourfront’s ongoing WorldStage program, is Transmission of the Invisible, a phrase that pertains to the extensive travelling Chin has been doing his entire life. Born in Jamaica and of Chinese, African and Irish descent, Chin — who might be described as a composer-musician-choreographer-dancer-designer-director — has spent long periods of time in Java and Cambodia, the latter of which has been his home for a good part of this decade, and provides the central inspiration for Transmission.

The “transmissions” of the new piece are most noticeably cultural and political, concerning the legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Video artist Cylla von Tiedemann worked with Chin in developing and recording scenarios that inform a dance component (von Tiedemann had a whopping 30 tapes from which to edit her film): monks, a child psychologist, a dance teacher, her student and, markedly, a young man and his grandmother, all make an appearance.

“What’s quite distressing in Cambodia is that the younger generation doesn’t know the extent of what happened during the Pol Pot regime, particularly the torture and deprivation,” says Chin. “Even though it’s all quite recent, it’s not taught in schools, and, maybe understandably, seniors don’t know how to talk about it.” The dance teacher and her student in von Tiedemann’s video offer a microcosm: the former is trying to instruct the latter in a classical Cambodian work, representing the staggering loss during the Khmer Rouge period of approximately 90 per cent of the country’s artists, and thus of much of their repertoire.

“A lot of [Transmission] starts in Cambodia, or has imagery from there, but is perhaps more universal than that,” adds Chin. He addresses the concept of trauma, for instance, which has strange, affecting connections to motifs of travel and discovery. Chin is interested in trauma present both psychologically and physically in the children of survivors of atrocities, and this manifests itself in his unique, celebrated choreography. As in his previous Stupa, dancers in Transmission will be using their faces as well as their bodies, suggesting the continuum between emotion or memory and, well, moving flesh.

But Chin’s new piece is by no means an unremittingly haunting thing. In addition to what he describes as “fraught or spiky or angular or troubled” movements, there are ones — “peaceful and beautiful” ones — that convey the wonder and complexity of cultural discovery, whether it arrives through exploring one’s own past, or another country and time. For Chin, an adherent of the Asian philosophy of “total theatre,” there are simply no shortcuts in conveying such states.

“Some ideas or feelings are best manifested through, say, dance one moment, poetry the next, and then music,” says Chin. “Somehow having an array of disciplines at my disposal, or a combination or hybrid of them, allows me to serve the idea better. What gets expressed becomes about the idea alone, rather than the discipline, the technique.”

Local Hospital Saves Girl with Rare Tumor


JACKSONVILLE, FL -– Buntheep Chun came to the First Coast with a medical emergency. The twelve-year-old from Cambodia had a lemon sized tumor in her head.

“The tumor occupied the entire bottom half of the skull that is next to the brain,” Dr. Phillipp Aldana.

As soon as her plane landed at Jacksonville International Airport, Chun was rushed to Wolfson Children’s Hospital where surgery began immediately.

“It’s a very rare type of tumor that is really aggressive locally and tends to grow and grow into structures,” said Dr. Aldana, a Wolfson Children’s Hospital Neurologist.

“There is really no good treatment for it but to take it out.”

Removing the tumor was tricky, doctors were forced to get to it through Chun’s forehead.

Doctor’s say they wanted to do it without scaring her face.The procedure took 20 hours to complete.

Chun got her vision back in her left eye but doctors say they are hopeful the same will happen in her right eye.

Doctors expect Chun to be in Jacksonville for another 30 days.

Dance PreviewPol Pot’s legacy

Tristan R. Whiston (left) visits Never Man’s Land, while Peter Chin oversees Transmission Of The Invisible.
Photo By Steve Payne

Why stay at home and watch TV when there’s a dance show to spark your interest?
Glenn Sumi

What happens to the culture of a country ravaged by war and brutality? Choreographer and director Peter Chin confronts this timely question in Transmission Of The Invisible, a look at Cambodian dance after the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s.

“About 10 per cent of dance artists were killed during that time,” says Chin, “and I’m interested in the re-building of those dance forms.”

During his research, which included a five-month residency at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, he met teachers who survived Pol Pot’s regime to instruct new students.

“Teachers teach steps and an aesthetic, but they also wanted to impart something that goes beyond technique: the invisible spirit of the culture,” he says. That’s where his title came from.

Chin says most Cambodian dancers acknowledge their ancestral teachers before they dance. And many dancers admit to having been possessed now and then by former teachers.

“Suddenly the student will start directing a rehearsal and say, ‘Too fast!’ or ‘We never used to do it like that!’ in the voice of the ancestral teacher. There really is a transmission of the invisible through other realms of time and space.”

The Kingston, Jamaica-born Chin is best known for his dance works inspired by other Asian countries, particularly Indonesia, where he studied in the 1990s. Cambodian dance, he discovered, is a little bit like Javanese.

“The hand movements and the slow elegance are similar,” he says. “It’s also similar to Thai dance, which came from Khmer culture in the 1400s. We probably know about Thai dance more because it’s a richer country and can export its culture more.”

The ambitious new work, which gets a prominent slot in the World Stage series, includes five dancers (two from Cambodia, three from Canada), an ambient soundscape and a video element that includes images of traumatized children, child psychologists and Buddhist monks.

“Monks,” he points out, “were also targeted by the Khmer Rouge.”

The modern-day Cambodian dance scene, explains Chin, is caught between the traditional and the new.

“I’m in both places,” he says. “Sometimes what you call tradition is really about prestige and status and presentation. But a lot of the Cambodian dances come from an animistic, shamanistic place that connects you to the primordial. I’m all for that.

“I’m also interested in new expressions. Every art form evolves.”

Fourth quarter Cambodian garment exports plummet 46 percent: official

The International Labour Organisation headquarters in Geneva

Cambodian women are pictured working at a Garment factory in Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian garment exports plummeted 46 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007, capping off a dismal year in one of the impoverished country's key sectors, industry officials say, warning of future factory closures and job cuts.

An economic downturn in the United States, which buys 70 percent of all Cambodian textiles, and continuing domestic labour disputes contributed to the plunge, said Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia (GMAC).

Until last year, the sector had enjoyed annual growth of up to 20 percent, he added.
But export growth for all of 2007 stood at only 2.4 percent, representing 2.9 billion dollars, Van Sou Ieng told AFP, adding that the outlook for 2008 "surely was not good."

"Definitely some factories will close, some people will lose their jobs," he said.

Cambodia's garment industry is the impoverished country's largest source of income, providing 80 percent of its foreign exchange earnings and employing an estimated 350,000 people.

Despite heavy competition within the region, namely from China and Vietnam, Cambodia has won over buyers in the US and Europe with its labour-friendly image.

This should help it maintain some market presence, said Tuomo Poutiainen, the chief technical advisor with the International Labour Organisation's Better Factories Cambodia programme, which monitors workplace conditions.

"Cambodia will most probably remain a good sourcing destination at least for the established brands," he said.

But the end of US restrictions against Chinese textile exports in 2009, as well as greater productivity and cheaper utilities in Vietnam are still likely to erode Cambodia's position, industry officials warn.

Deteriorating labour relations are also weakening the sector, Van Sou Ieng said.
"The immediate solution is improving industrial relations."

"If we can convince our colleagues from the unions to cooperate and be more serious and productive, we might be able to maintain some permanence," he added.

Industry officials said an estimated 1,100 separate unions are operating in Cambodia's 300 garment factories, with some manufacturers having to deal with as many as seven workers' groups at one time.

"It is impossible to manage," Van Sou Ieng said, adding that frequent illegal strikes have cut heavily into productivity and driven away foreign buyers.

"It is a serious black mark on the industry," he said.

Labour leaders have disputed factory owners' claims, saying they are greatly exaggerating the number of strikes and that workers are simply lobbying for fair wages.

Minimum wage for garment workers hovers around 50 dollars per month.

"The message that the whole of the garment sector is hearing is that there needs to be a common way forward that sensibly represents the interest of all," said the ILO's Poutiainen.

"Global competition is brutal and any discouraging news from Cambodia in terms of labour unrest may affect negatively the levels of orders," he added.

In the wake of last year's slaying of a third union leader, several international clothing manufacturers said a resolution to labour-related violence was crucial to their continued presence in Cambodia.

Cambodia to get 7 mln usd loan for transmission line to import electricity - ADB

Thu, Jan 31 2008

BANGALORE (Thomson Financial) - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said it will provide a 7 mln usd loan without government guarantee to Cambodia for building transmission lines to import electricity from Thailand, including to the tourism hub of Siem Reap, and the growing cities of Battambang and Banteay Meanchey where there have been power shortages.

The bank said the move will be a boost for the economy of northwest Cambodia, not just in tourism but also in agriculture, services and manufacturing.

ADB's financial assistance is being made to the (Cambodia) Power Transmission Lines Co Ltd (CPTL), a private Cambodian company.

The bank's assistance will go toward the estimated 34 mln total project cost and the balance of the funding is being provided through equity and loans from the Export-Import Bank of Thailand, Foreign Trade Bank of Cambodia, and a wholly owned subsidiary of Gramercy Advisors/Arco Capital Management Family of Funds.

The 115-kilovolt power lines will connect with Thailands national grid at the border and will then run about 221 kilometre into Cambodia, to Siem Reap, home to the famed Angkor Wat temple, and Battambang, an important agricultural centre.

In addition to connecting the major towns, the new lines will also provide opportunities to wire rural communities along the route, ADB said.

The high-voltage grid lines will be the first to be privately owned in the Greater Mekong Subregion. It is also the first ADB private sector infrastructure project in Cambodia.

Expert: Tribunal Needs Reform Before Funding

By Sivon Brahm,
VOA Khmer Washington
30 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

[Editor’s Note: Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, issued a statement Wednesday questioning whether the US should directly fund the Khmer Rouge tribunal. The statement, quoted in full below, comes as US lawmakers are considering funding the tribunal. US officials have said they will not fund a tribunal that does not meet international standards of justice.]

“US Ambassador Mussomeli and his staff are of the view that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now on the right track and that the US should now seriously consider direct support. I believe direct US support of the tribunal is appropriate, but only if the ECCC agrees to some key reforms to keep the trials on track:

Robust Anti-Corruption Commitments – One key condition is that the ECCC adopt tough anti-corruption controls. Since the issuance of a scathing UNDP audit last summer, the tribunal has taken minimal steps to crack down on alleged corruption.

The tribunal must appoint an ad hoc panel immediately to investigate the allegations and must take decisive action against any employee found to have engaged in malfeasance. The United Nations and Cambodian government must publicly commit to stringent measures going forward. The Khmer Rouge trials are above all a chance to show Cambodians how justice can be done, and corruption could deal the process a fatal blow.

A Clear Operating Timeline – The ECCC also needs to commit to a clear timeline for the completion of its mandate. It is essential to conduct the trials carefully and to deliver credible verdicts, but efficiency is also important. Cambodians have waited for three decades for justice, and an unnecessarily drawn-out process would likely generate considerable public dissatisfaction.

If the ECCC lasts as long as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) or International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), all of the Khmer Rouge defendants may pass away without ever facing justice.

A Credible Budget Plan – Third, the ECCC needs to present a credible, binding financial plan. The fact that it has already asked for additional funds is somewhat disconcerting. The Special Court in Sierra Leone began with a 3-year, $56 million mandate like the ECCC but has now spent roughly $150 million and five years with no clear end in sight. The ICTY and ICTR have consumed well over $2 billion.

Tribunals sometimes press donors for funds by insisting that justice cannot be done without large additional contributions. In some cases, their pleas are justified, but a balance needs to be struck. Bureaucracies have powerful incentives to perpetuate their own existence, and tribunals are no exception.

The United Nations and the Cambodian government may view the tribunal’s relative success to date as a way to secure more funding, but funds should only be given if the UN and RGC commit to efficiency measures, such as using local resources and outsourcing functions where appropriate. Civil Society Participation – A third condition for direct U.S. assistance, related to the first two, should be inclusion of civil society participation in periodic reviews of the ECCC’s budget and operations.

An outside voice can help the tribunal allocate resources more efficiently, help to break political impasses, and provide a useful watchdog function. The reforms above will not eliminate the risks associated with the tribunal, but they need to be taken if the ECCC is to complete its mandate effectively.

US assistance may not be financially critical for the ECCC, but both the United Nations and Cambodian government will view it as symbolically and politically important.”

Civil Parties to Confront ‘Brother No. 2’

By Sok Khemara,
VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
30 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

When jailed Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea attends a pre-trial hearing next week, he will be confronted not only by judges but also representatives of civil cases against him, in what officials say is new precedent in war crimes tribunals.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal allows for both criminal and civil cases, and several groups have been building civil cases against Nuon Chea, “Brother No. 2.”

“It’s the first time in the history of international tribunals that victims can confront and respond to the accused as civil party complainants,” said Hisham Moussar, a tribunal monitor for the rights group Adhoc.

Nuon Chea’s hearing, set for Feb. 4, will determined whether he can be released ahead of his atrocity crimes trial.

Among the victims filing civil suit are Seng Theary, executive director of the Center for Social Development, and Chhum Mey, a survivor of Tuol Sleng prison.

Nuon Chea’s Cambodian attorney, Son Arun, said Wednesday he had not heard the civil parties would be at the hearing.

“It will be difficult if there are many complaining parties during the hearing,” he said.

Democracy Narrowed in 2007, Group Says

By Chun Sakada,
VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
30 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

The government has tightened its control over civil society in the past year, while the number of rights abuses has remained high, a group said Wednesday.

The freedom to organize and demonstrate has diminished, as has the right to life and security, the well-respected group, Adhoc, said in an annual report. In 2007, the group documented 574 personal or political rights abuses.

“While the political party in the coalition government has drifted apart and weakened, we see that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has almost controlled the power alone, and it began to tighten the freedom of expression in public,” said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc.

“So, we have seen that the freedom of expression in public has become more and more tightened, compared to previous years,” he said. “Now that the CPP has ruled alone or shared little power with the coalition party, we are wondering how this will affect the democratic process, especially freedom of expression in public and the freedom of association.”

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith brushed aside the report.

“I don’t know if Adhoc is going to enter politics, as Kem Sokha has,” he said, referring to the president of the new Human Rights Party.

Cambodia had not declined in freedoms, he said, but was moving toward stronger rule of law.

Association Notes 17 Threats on Media

By Heng Reaksmey,
VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
30 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

The Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists said Wednesday the national media environment was mostly positive, but it noted 17 separate instances where journalists were threatened in 2007.

Cambodian journalists have faced threats from the Ministry of Information on closures and death threats from anonymous callers, among others, the association said.

“First, 2007 saw some progress on legal aspects, because Hun Sen’s government withdrew defamation from the criminal law,” said Samrith Duong Hak, vice-president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists. “Second, we see that there are some shortcomings, which are increasing threats, such as the burning down of a reporter’s house in Pursat province, the throwing of an unexploded grenade into a reporter’s house in Svay Rieng province, and some other forms of threat, in which the perpetrators were not found.”

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday some of the problems stemmed from Cambodian journalists getting involved in affairs outside journalism, “but using the journalistic name.”

The international monitor Freedom House rated Cambodia “not free” in 2007, citing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s “intensified suppression of all criticism” and a government that “does not fully respect freedom of speech.”

Chinese Dam Projects Worry Environmentists

By Mean Veasna,

VOA Khmer

Original report from Phnom Penh

30 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

At least two large Chinese companies have received investment licenses to take over hydroelectric projects in Cambodia.

Meanwhile, Chinese companies are studying four other projects, officials said recently. But the dams seriously threaten the environment, according to two groups that released a report Monday.

Cambodia fuel prices are higher than its neighbors in the region. Only 20 percent of the people living in downtown areas have enough electricity. The Cambodian government has said there is a clear need to lower electricity costs.

And the plan has encouraged private sector to produce and share electricity. But the investment in Cambodian hydroelectricity is threatening the ecological system and could affect thousands of Cambodian people, International Rivers and the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia said in a report, issued Monday.

The report says five Chinese hydroelectric companies, including Sinohydro Corporation and Yunan Corporation for International Techno-Economic Corporation, received government licenses to invest more than $500 million.

Three other companies had an agreement with the government to study four projects.
The report says the Kamchay hydroelectric project in Bokor National Forest, Kampot province, invested by Sinohydro, flooded 2000 hectares of forest.

Stung Chhay Areng, in the central Cadramom Mountains, could flood nine villages, affecting about 1,500 people, most of whom are ethnic minorities.

The project could flood the habitat of at least 31 animal species that are almost extinct. Meanwhile, a Sambo hydroelectric project in the Mekong basin would block the habitat and migration routes of fish species.

Ngy San is vice president of the NGO Forum of Cambodia and a member of Rivers Coalition in Cambodia.

He urged the government to initiate a clear national program and said the government had not studied the consequences of the project licenses.

“The report says those investments are mostly or totally made based on politics, which means the leaders of the two countries meet with each other,” he said. “They decided with the facilitation of the engineers. So, we request that the government should come up with a national program on the investment of local hydroelectric development.”

Several government environmental officials declined to comment on the report.

Ith Prang, secretary of state of the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said an impact study is conducted on every hydroelectric project, though some studies have not been concluded.

“We could not evaluate unless we have studied the environment around,” Ith Prang said. Officials in charge of commerce in the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh refused to be interviewed to clarify the rivers report.

Kim Sovann, a spokesman for Sinohydro, said he had not seen the report of the above organizations. But he confirmed several studies were undertaken before his company received a license to invest.

“My company and the Ministry of Environment sent our staff to the site several times,” Kim Sovann said.

Ngy San said the investment could mean a surplus in Cambodian electric power in a couple of years, which would have environmental consequences and bring uncertainty in the sale of power to other countries.

But Ith Prang said the electric power production increase would be done yearly, according to actual need.

Ex-construction executive sentenced to 17.5 years for child porn

Jim Leusner
Sentinel Staff Writer
January 30, 2008

A former Lake Buena Vista construction executive, accused of abusing and photographing more than 50 Asian children and distributing their pictures on the Internet, was sentenced Tuesday to 17 1/2 years in federal prison and placed on lifetime supervision.

The sentencing of William Irey, 50, of Orlando, revealed two contrasting portraits of the man: one an admitted pedophile who traveled to Cambodia in 2006 to exploit young children; the other a civic-minded family man who, according to mental-health experts, could be rehabilitated with a low risk of re-offending.

Defense lawyer Kirk Kirkconnell argued that Irey's conduct stemmed from a "compartmentalized" problem in an otherwise stellar life. For much of the 90-minute hearing, he presented testimony that his client -- who faced a minimum-mandatory 15-year-sentence and maximum of 30 years -- deserved leniency.

Experts and family members testified that Irey has been receiving treatment in a Leesburg hospital during the past year and was an outstanding father with a long record of service with such organizations as the United Way, YMCA and Rotary International.

"I hurt a lot of people," Irey said in an apology to the judge, the government, his family and friends. "I can't undo that."

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell gave Irey the lighter sentence after ascribing his acts "largely due to an illness," which he said was treatable.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Hawkins objected to the sentence. She had pressed for the maximum, calling Irey the smiling "star" of photos taken with the children he assaulted, many ages four through six. Hawkins said he also "wrote filth" on their bodies and "inserted objects" into them. She said he rented children at brothels for up to $1,500.

More than 1,200 photos seized from Irey's computers were some of the "most egregious images" ever seen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Child-abuse groups who know the photos from the Internet call them "The Pink Wall Series," Hawkins said.

Irey is the former chief executive officer of Frank Irey Construction Inc., a Walt Disney World contractor which worked on Epcot's Mission:Space and facilities at Hong Kong Disneyland through a related Chinese company.

"Prepare for the worst," Aung San Suu Kyi advises Myanmar (Roundup)

Jan 30, 2008
Asia-Pacific News

Yangon(dpa) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday advised the nation to 'hope for the best but prepare for the worst,' in a rare meeting with her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

The ruling junta allowed Suu Kyi a rare respite from house arrest to meet with members of the NLD for about two hours Wednesday afternoon at the Sein Le Kanthar State Guest House where she held talks with NLD chairman Aung Shwe and seven others and government liasion minister Aung Kyi.

Following the meeting, NLD spokesman Nyan Win told correspondents that Suu Kyi had criticized the government's so-called dialogue process for not including representatives of the various ethnic minority nationalities and failing to set a deadline.

Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel peace prize in 1991 for her heroic struggle for democracy in her country, cautioned Myanmar's downtrodden population 'to hope for the best prepare for the worst,' said Nyan Win.

Suu Kyi has been kept under house arrest in her family's Yangon compound since May, 2003.

It was not clear why Myanmar's military regime allowed her to meet with the NLD leaders but the conciliatory gesture comes at a time when the junta is under increasing pressure to show progress in its political dialogue with the opposition.

European Union special envoy for Myanmar Piero Fussino was in Bangkok earlier this week calling on all Asian governments to unite in putting pressure on Myanmar's junta.

'It is necessary to open a new phase of more constructive and more concise. We need a real dialogue between the junta and the opposition and all different sectors of Myanmar society,' said Fassino.

Fassino has already visited Beijing to discuss the Myanmar issue, and plans to travel to Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Japan to solidify Asian support in what has become a fairly universal call on the military rulers of Myanmar to speed up their political dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other suppressed segments of Myanmar society.

The EU appointed Fassino as special envoy for Myanmar last year in an effort to increase pressure on the junta to bring about real political change in their country in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks that shocked the world and left at least 31 people dead.

The crackdown reignited international concern about Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962, but the growing frustration has thus far accomplished little in terms of forcing the regime into a real political dialogue with Suu Kyi.

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has visited Myanmar on several occasions, with the last visit in November, to press for a genuine dialogue but with limited success.

LHA official's career path followed Cambodia horrors

By Dennis Shaughnessey,

LOWELL -- Tha Chhan's life journey has taken him from the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the executive offices of the Lowell Housing Authority.

Chhan, 45, was recently promoted to division director of Leased Housing Programs at the LHA. As a young boy, he witnessed first-hand the atrocities and horrors that took place in his homeland. He lost family members. He saw things he prefers not to remember.

He fled Cambodia in 1983 and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand. On May 23, 1985, he arrived in Waukeegan, Ill. He's never looked back.

Chhan came to Lowell 1988. He went to the unemployment office for work.

"I had two job offers," Chhan said. "Both temporary. One was for the (Internal Revenue Service) as a tax examiner and the other was here at the Lowell Housing Authority as an interpreter."

During the interview in Lowell, Chhan learned that if a full-time position opened, he could go to college and get fully reimbursed. Chhan attended what was then the University of Lowell, then transferred to Franklin Pierce College, earning a liberal-arts degree. He's holds a master's degree in business administration from Boston University.

But in the beginning, there was culture shock.

"I grew up in a communist country. We worked seven days a week from dawn to dusk," he recalls. "Here, we got two days off every week. We had a vacation, health benefits."

He has been a fixture in Lowell for almost 19 years. In addition to his other duties as Leasing Housing program director, he sees himself as a liaison to the Southeast Asian community.

"By understanding their culture, I can help them assimilate and integrate," he explains. "When it comes to living in the housing authority, I can help them understand what we expect of them and what they can expect of us."

Chhan's promotion to division director coincides with several other recent promotions in the LHA. He takes over for Mary Ann Maciejewski, a 26-year employee who has been tapped as executive assistant to Executive Director Gary Wallace.

"She has a talent working with tenants and landlords, as well as executive directors," Wallace said with a laugh. "Her extensive background, education and diligence make her a perfect fit to replace Carol Tsitsinopoulos, who retired at the beginning of the month."

It was Tsitsinopoulos' retirement, in fact, that led to several promotions in the department, including Arlene McDermott, a 29-year LHA employee, who now fills Chhan's old position as assistant division director.

"When Carol retired, we moved several people up and did not fill the back positions," Wallace said, adding that the administrative staff has decreased from 57 people to 47.

"We've been slowly moving that way for the past six or seven years. We can do that because personnel know each other's position and their dedication allowed us to merge several jobs into one so we can survive."

Wallace said attrition, early-retirement incentives, cross training, job sharing and privatization, accounted for approximately $1 million in savings to the LHA.

"As we go into collective bargaining with the unions, it's good for them to see what we're doing at the management level," Wallace said.

"We're making the necessary cutbacks in order to save money for the agency. It also shows the taxpayer that we are fiscally responsible."

A renaissance in Cambodia creates a real estate scramble

Chor Sokunthea/Reuters
Construction workers in Phnom Penh where the economy is expanding at 10 percent.
By Ed Cropley
January 29, 2008

After decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "killing fields," Cambodia is enjoying an unprecedented boom, its economy expanding at around 10 percent annually for the last five years.

But the breakneck growth, fueled mainly by garment manufacturing, tourism and real estate development, is turning its once-sleepy capital into a building site and pushing many ordinary Khmers from their homes.

"I will move only when they pay me enough to find another place to live," said Ngay Tun, a fisherwoman living on Boeung Kak, a 120-hectare, or 300-acre, lake that is about to be drained and filled in to make way for a housing project in central Phnom Penh.

"I worry about it every day, that they are going to come suddenly in the night to kick us out," she said, paddling a small wooden boat through floating banks of morning glory.

While the outlook for the garment industry and tourism appears solid - especially while the U.S. dollar, Cambodia's de facto currency, continues to fall - the same cannot be said for real estate, where prices are spiraling to dizzying heights.

Figures from Bonna Realty, a leading real estate business, suggest the price of prime Phnom Penh land doubled last year to $3,000 per square meter - compared with less than $500 in 2000.

Land in the Bangkok downtown district of Silom, for example, is $5,000 per square meter, while Ho Chi Minh City, the hub of a red-hot economy in Vietnam, prices can be as high as $15,000.

"There is a debate about whether there's already a bubble," said Stéphane Guimbert, an economist with the World Bank.

"On the one hand, clearly the market was very depressed until a couple of years ago because there was little security and stability. But on the other hand, it's surprising that prices are increasing so fast," he said.

In one of the first signs of overheating, annual price inflation has spiked to more than 9 percent in the last year, almost double its level in the preceding five years, and anecdotal evidence points to big upward pressure on wages.

At the top of the market, prices are being driven by huge foreign-funded ventures like "Gold Tower 42," a $300 million South Korean apartment block that, at 42 stories, will be three times higher than Phnom Penh's current tallest building.

Even though it will not be ready until 2012, Cambodia's super-rich are already buying some of the 360 units at $2,150 a square meter.

But such prestige projects are the tip of the iceberg, and foreign investment accounts for only a small fraction of the boom, analysts say.

The domestic financial services industry is growing fast - private-sector lending by Cambodia's 20 or so banks grew 60 percent last year - but remains too small to be financing projects valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Instead, analysts say, much of the funding is Cambodian cash stuffed into mattresses, locked up in gold, or squirreled away in anonymous offshore bank accounts for years.

"There are a lot of people in this town who are fantastically wealthy," said Trent Eddy, director of Emerging Markets Consulting in Phnom Penh. "The banks are not doing mortgage lending for the sort of stuff that's driving up prices."

The most popular theory on the streets of Phnom Penh is that a global banking cleanup after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, flushed out billions of Cambodian-linked dollars in bank accounts in Singapore, which encouraged their repatriation.

With few other investment options, and a steadily improving regulatory and legal framework, along with political stability under Prime Minister Hun Sen, real estate is the obvious choice for many.

Even though the economy remains one of Asia's smallest, with gross domestic product of around $6.5 billion, the prospects are such that international investors have been looking into setting up domestic real estate funds, mainly in the hotel sector.

CB Richard Ellis, the U.S. property services company, is opening a Phnom Penh office in the next few months.

The prospect of revenue from off-shore oil and gas by 2010 reaffirms the view of outsiders that the economy is only heading in one direction, and that rapid urbanization and demand for better housing from Cambodia's 13 million people must follow.

The clearest example is another South Korean venture, a $2 billion "new town" called Camko City taking shape on the northern outskirts of Phnom Penh.

"They are targeting primarily the Cambodians. There's very little accommodation in Phnom Penh, but demand is growing," said Lee Sangkwang, commercial attaché at the South Korean Embassy. "It's kind of pioneering."

The changes, however, are not coming without costs.

The city's infrastructure, already in a dilapidated state after nearly three decades of civil war, is creaking under the weight of the expansion, with roads clogged by traffic, leaking sewers, and frequent floods and power blackouts.

Critics also point to a lack of transparency and vision in urban planning - despite assurances from Mayor Kep Chuktema that he "listens to the views of all stakeholders."

Social tensions are also emerging, with many city-center communities living in fear of eviction and pop songs lamenting the growing obsession with property speculation and the desire to make a quick buck.

"Now, the war in Cambodia is over land," said Ros Sopheak, who drives an auto rickshaw

Thailand to provide electricity for Angkor Wat

Bangkok Post

The Export-Import Bank of Thailand and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have agreed to provide 14 million dollars to finance the construction of transmission lines across the Thai-Cambodian border, EXIM Thailand announced Wednesday.

"The construction undertaken by (Cambodia) Power Transmission Lines Company Limited aims to supply electricity for the growing industrial and tourism sectors in Cambodia," bank president Apichai Boontherawara.

The banks have joined with Advisors/Arco Capital Management Family of Funds (Arco) and Cambodia's Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) to provide a total of 20 million dollars to finance the power transmission lines construction for electricity imports from Thailand.

The total package, with 7 million from EXIM Thailand and ADB, 4 million from Arco and 2 million from FTB, will finance the construction of 115-kilovolt double-circuit transmission lines running approximately 221 kilometers from Thailand's Aranyaprathet district in Sa Kaeo province to Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Siem Reap in Cambodia, home to the famed Angkor Wat temple complex.


Three Thai firms to invest in Cambodia power plant

Wed Jan 30, 2008

BANGKOK, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Three leading Thai companies said on Wednesday they were studying plans to build a 3,660-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Cambodia to supply electricity to Thailand.

Top builder Italian-Thai Development PCL ITD.BK, Electricity Generating EGCO.BK and Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding RATC.BK gave no indication of how much the plant would cost.

But they said in a statement to the Thai stock exchange they had signed a memorandum of understanding to study joint investment in the plant in the Cambodian coastal province of Koh Kong near the Thai border.

EGCO and Ratchaburi would hold a combined stake of 70 percent and Italian-Thai Power, 15 percent owned by Italian-Thai Development, would have the other 30 percent, they said.

The three firms were talking to the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand about supplying electricity generated by the plant to Thailand, it said.

Construction was expected to start in 2012 and the plant to begin operations in early 2016, the statement said.

At 0926 GMT, Italian-Thai shares were up 3.9 percent at 8 baht, Electricity Generating was up 2.69 percent and Ratchaburi was 1.18 percent lower.

($1 = 33.03 Baht) (Reporting by Ploy Chitsomboon; Editing by Michael Battye)

Cambodian judge accused of bias will stay for Khmer Rouge hearing

Wed, 30 Jan 2008

Phnom Penh - A motion seeking the dismissal of a Cambodian judge by a former Khmer Rouge leader's defense team was rejected, a court spokesman said Wednesday. Media spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Reach Sambath, said the court had dismissed a protest against former Military Court chief Ney Thol by the defense team of accused "Brother Number 2" Nuon Chea.

Nuon Chea is appealing his pre-trial detention at a February 4 hearing by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the court. Nuon Chea was arrested in September and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 1975-79 regime.

Nuon Chea's lawyers accused Ney Thol of not being impartial and being politically biased due to alleged links with the ruling Cambodian People's Party in a motion made public Wednesday.

Dutch lawyers Victor Koppe and Michiel Pestman claimed Ney Thol's "continued presence on the bench threatens to undermine the credibility and integrity" of not just Nuon Chea's hearing, but all cases before the court.

Previously Ney Thol stepped down from preliminary hearings of another of the five former leaders currently in custody, former Toul Sleng torture center commandant Duch, saying because he had been held in the military prison since 1999, he could be seen to be too close to the case.

"I can only say that the motion was not upheld," Sambath said, but declined to comment further.
Five senior Khmer Rouge figures, including Nuon Chea, are in the custody of the joint UN-Cambodia Extraodinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hearings regarding the crimes the four men and one woman are charged with are expected to get underway within months. Many senior cadre, including former supremo Pol Pot, are already dead. Pol Pot died at home in 1998.

Ney Thol, one of the country's most senior judges, was not available for comment Wednesday but has previously strongly denied any allegations of bias made against him.

Cambodian conservation work – not just a man’s world

Training on how to use a geographic positioning system.© WWF-Cambodia Keo Sopheak

The team is installing a camera trap.© WWF-Cambodia WCS Team

30 Jan 2008
By Porny You

Women are working as hard and sweating as much as the men in WWF conservation programs in remote areas of Kampuchea.

In WWF-Cambodia’s Srepok Wilderness Area Project (SWAP), in the country’s eastern plains, Khmer, foreign and local indigenous Phnong women play a vital role in preserving the Mondulkiri Protected Forest (MPF).

Hy Somaly, a Phnong indigenous woman, joined SWAP’s Community Extension Team to inform and educate the indigenous community on the importance of wildlife conservation.

“I have to go to different communities to inform and educate them on how to improve their livelihoods with sustainable natural resources use”, she explains.

It is testament to Somaly’s skills and talents that she can work across three cultures – her own, Khmer and that of her foreign colleagues.

Her Khmer colleague, Att Sreynak, a data assistant with the Srepok project, notes that though Khmer and Phnong people have different traditions, they can work together very effectively to reach the projects goals.

“Luckily Somaly can speak Khmer, so there is no language barrier between her and other colleagues”, she says.

Sreynak is no stranger to hard work on the project. While collecting data, she often has to walk long distances into the forest.

She acknowledges it is quite demanding, but would never let the mainly male ranger team that accompanies her know.

“Even though the conditions can be quite bad, especially in the rainy season – we would never give up – because we are responsible for getting the job done”, she says.

As SWAP has planned to develop its site for ecotourism, Olga van den Pol has been a recent new female addition to team, joining as ecotourism team leader.

Originally from Holland and fluent in many languages, she is still struggling with the Khmer language.

“Though I cannot speak Khmer language, I can ask for help from any Khmer colleagues who can interpret for me.

The system works and we recently had a reward from our conservation efforts with the “capture” by a camera trap, of one tiger we knew was in the forest, but which we had not seen for two years.

It was good to know it was still thriving in the forest area we are protecting and developing”, she explains.

She hoped, as a result of WWF-Cambodia’s work in this area, that wildlife populations would increase and alternative livelihoods could be developed to reduce the local communities’ dependence on natural resource use.

The MPF is a quiet place with fresh air and bird sounds, where some people wish to visit or stay at for a while for pleasure.

However, as it has not yet been developed as an ecotourism site, it also can be considered as a dangerous place, in particular for women who live there for work.

All rangers and police have to leave their posts to go patrolling – leaving only women, who are chef and cleaners at the posts.

According to Keo Sopheak, senior SWAP officer, women do not dare to walk at night around in the open, because they are afraid of dangerous wildlife.

“I can not blame them as in the past we have seen tiger tracks around the camp sites. It is not only wildlife that is dangerous, humans can be worse with hunters and poachers who might take the opportunity to visit the post sites while the rangers and police are not there”, he said.

“Though they feel scared, these women never ever give up their work. They all play a vital role in supporting WWF-Cambodia’s conservation work by keeping our staff strong and healthy.

Working in the hard conditions of the forest might seem like a job more suited to a man, but in the SWAP, the women play just as important a role at every level of our conservation work”, Sopheak says.

Travel Blog: Cambodia - country of children
Wednesday, 30 Jan 2008 10:17

Anna Kainberger is taking a year-out from her career to travel in south-east Asia, Australasia and the South Pacific, along with Hawaii and the USA. This month she will be reporting from Laos and Cambodia. Here is her eighth blog entry:

I crossed the boarder from Laos into Cambodia at Strung Treng, where it was a simple matter of filling out a few forms, handing over US$22 and a picture to retrieve a one month visa for Cambodia.

When then showing your passport to the authorities you pay another US$2 "stamp fee": probably more of a back pocket tip for the customs officials.

But keep smiling and get it over with; after all hanging around at the boarder in the glistening hot sun arguing with Cambodian officials is not really something I would recommend.

From Stung Treng it was another three hours to Kratie, where I stopped for the night as I simply couldn't face nine hours straight on a bus after my very relaxing holiday in the 4,000 Islands.

Kratie is a small town nestled at the Mekong and is another great place to spot the Irrawaddy dolphins. Boats and drivers can be hired from the pier for as little as US$4-5.

I skipped more dolphin sighting tours and just enjoyed a fresh cool coconut at the river front, watching one of the best sunsets I have seen so far. I wondered if the afterglow could be any more colourful, taking one picture after the other, unable to believe my eyes.

After a night in what I would call a plush hostel (US$4) with my own bathroom and a fan, I got up early again the next day to continue my journey down towards Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, where I arrived at 15:00 the same day.

Watching the landscape from my window seat, the thing that immediately caught my eye was the massive piles of plastic and plastic bags flying around the fields and roads.

Cambodia seems to be buried in heaps of plastic and whilst this particular road was tarmac, it was not the most pleasant journey I have experienced.

The second thing I noted was that there are endless numbers of children around; playing along the street, walking, hitchhiking and waving at the tourist buses.

Arriving in Phnom Penh I had to fight off several tuk-tuk drivers, as they are very keen to take you to a hotel of your choice, or drop you off at one of their own recommendations to earn a small commission.

One million of Cambodia's 13 million inhabitants live in Phnom Penh and it is not easy to navigate around initially, as there is no main traveller's centre.

The variety of accommodation is endless - from a cheap hostel costing US$2-3 per night up to a five star luxury hotel - you can take your pick.

Most backpackers and travellers stay around Riverside, where it is not far to the Grand Palace, the National Museum and the vast number of pubs, bars and clubs overlooking the river.

The town itself offers an interesting variety of buildings, from French colonial through to wooden stake huts and traditional Khmer style houses. You will find anything and everything right next to each other. It boasts two main markets.

The central market is called Phsar Thom Thmei (apparently this is the more expensive one), where you will find shoes, clothes, jewellery, sunglasses, food, flowers, electrical equipment, fake watches and so on and so forth.

The Russian market (Toul Tom Poung) is the cheaper option and also sells a lot of household goods, clothing, silks, DVDs and other digital and electrical goods and food, (both wholesale and retail mind you).

Phnom Penh is also the location of the infamous Tuol Seng Torture prison, or S21, and the "killing fields", or the Choeung Ek Genocide Centre, is located 15Km southwest of the city centre.

These show the legacy of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Between 1975 and 1979 two million Cambodians were starved, executed or tortured to death.

Pol Pot's regime wanted to create a farming communist country, cleansing its people of anyone who was educated, part of the former government or simply wearing glasses.

The Khmer Rouge also placed an unknown number of landmines across the whole of Cambodia, without drawing maps, mind you, so to this day straying off the trodden path is a big no-no.

Clearing work is taking place but it is going very slowly, so my advice is to stay clear of the jungle.

To understand the Cambodian people it is vital to see what crimes the Khmer Rouge committed in just the four years of their reign of terror.

Today Choeung Ek is a memorial marked by a Buddhist stupa filled with 8,000 skulls of victims who were executed here, most of them former inmates of S21.

Visiting S21 will send chills up and down any hard-trodden traveller's spine. The torture prison was located in the middle of town in a former high school.

The prision cells have been left unchanged, sporting torture tools you would not be able to dream up in your worst nightmares, as well as pictures of the bodies found in the individual cells.

The Khmer Rouge meticulously took pictures of every person admitted to S21 and huge black and white photographs are shown on display, a reminder of the many men, women and children who were killed.

Any Cambodian alive today has lost at least one member of their family to the Khmer Rouge.

The thing that struck me most about Cambodia was that the average age is about 25-40. Phnom Penh is also a city full of begging street children; orphans living in the street trying to survive on the money they are able to beg from tourists.

In perfect English these children will explain to you that they want your half-drunk can of coke because they are starving.

If you want to do something for these kids you should gather them together and take them to dinner or lunch at any of the local food stalls.

You can feed ten kids for as little as US$3-4. There is also a lot of organised begging and book selling going on in the capital and I was not sure if the kids were actually able to keep the money or had to hand it to a superior.

Buying a book from either a landmine victim or a child is another option for putting some money back into the community - money better spent than paying the US$6 admission fee at the grand palace.

For me three days of Phnom Phen was enough before I moved on to Siem Reap, home of the famous Angkor Temples.