Saturday, 5 April 2008

Press conference on the Sunday peaceful anti-inflation rally

April 4, 2008


Members of Parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) invite journalists andall interested observers to attend a press conference on the April 6, 2008peaceful rally they are organizing to protest against accelerating inflationand to ask for pay increases commensurate with the actual cost of living.

The press conference will take place on Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 08:30a.m. at the SRP Headquarters in Phnom Penh. Preparations for, and details onthe Sunday march will be exposed.

SRP Members of Parliament

Comment New York Sun,Yasith Trial

By Kok Sap
April 3, 2008

RE: At Trial, Cambodian-American Coup Plotter Portrayed as Reckless

Dear Editor,

The article compels me to comment. No slight the aftermath was from 3-6 killed and most likely all were insurgents and by standers caught in cross fire. The charges appear credible but raise confusion further. In light of 1797 neutrality laws and its interpretation by brilliant Attorney General Robert F Kennedy in April 20 1961 statement which appears inapplicable in Citizen Yasith case. Undoubtedly he is a sacrificial lamb for our foreign relations enhancement with Cambodia dictator. Conveniently his charges are based on outdated laws. This makes one wonder when we are getting sentimental with any known dictator.

In his arguments then there were major scale military operations Puma and Zapata led by Captain Zuniga Brigade 2506 which all were prepared, trained and departed from US to overthrow a foreign sovereignty. The Attorney General Robert F Kennedy, the boss of the very FBI famously put,” There have been a number of inquiries from the press about our present neutrality laws and the possibility of their application with the struggle for freedom in Cuba.

First may I say the neutrality laws are among the oldest laws in our statue book. Most of the provisions dated from our first year of independence, and with only minor revisions, have continued in force since the 18th century. Clearly they were not designed for the kind of situation which exists in the world today.

Second the neutrality laws were never designed to prevent the individuals from leaving the United States to fight for a cause in which they believed. There is nothing in neutrality laws which prevents refugee from Cuba from returning to that country to engage in the fight for freedom. Nor is individual prohibited from departing the United States, with others of like belief, to join still others in second country for an expedition against in a third country.

There is nothing criminal in individual leaving the United States with an intent of joining the insurgent group. There is nothing criminal in his urging others to do so. There is nothing criminal in several persons departing at the same time.

What the law does prohibit is as a group organized a military expedition from departing from United States to take action as a military force against a nation with whom the United States at peace.There are also provisions of early origin forbidding foreign states to recruit mercenaries in this country. No activities engaged in by Cubans patriots which have been brought to our attention appear to be violations of our neutrality laws.”

From USINS angle, refugee definition fits all refugees whether from Cuba, Cambodia or Rwanda. All fled from fear of reprisal, persecution, stateless, and believes or fears of own life in danger. The United States has traditionally been proud of its claim, a home of the brave and the freed. The most adorable lady who stood tall in New York harbor said, " Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Given if Mr. Kennedy was still living, he probably argued in Citizen Yasith behalf that there was no law broken. The main thrust of his argument might be Citizen Yasith was not a military or mercenary recruiter. Beside in real earth time, during the event he had never set foot in either second (Thailand) or third country (Cambodia) and caught pants down in this so called plot of coup. Mr. Kennedy has clearly said, there is no criminal in his urging others to do so.

Citizen Yasith plead not guilty to the elevated charges. Seemingly it is a criminal act by showing his affection and enthusiasm in providing support of morale for a handful insurgents to take own initiative in revolting against a known dictator in Cambodia. Along the line there was another arrest of another coup plotter, General Vang Pao from Laos charged with conspiring to buy arms for the insurgents in Laos. Sadly, this General was no stranger but a staunch and instrumental ally in US war against Hanoi and China communism then. It is frightening to see the impact from US anti domino theory unrolls its friendly fire.

According to the imprisoned former police chief Heng Pov and FBI accounts per Mr. Ron Abney in March 1997, the very dictator had ordered the assassins to toss 4 grenades in the peaceful demonstration crowd which caused at least 20 death and hundreds of injured.

The irony was some US politicians were informed of the Cambodia Freedom Fighters intent. With strong hope, Citizen Yasith would have thought US take note seriously. Subsequently, the US grand jury is in action to condemn a delusional coup plotter as FBI agent called him with the help from Cambodia dictator selected 15 strong witnesses.

The US knows the dictator has the audacity to disobey the UNDP 1993 election laws and 1991 Paris Peace Accord not to say he used bloody coup in July 1997 to grab power. In this tyrant action alone cost more lives and property destruction than the accused Citizen Yasith in folds. CFF intent was to stop the dictator from terrorizing people furthermore.

In this mockery of US neutrality laws, April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was a full blown organized military expedition with US land, sea, and air forces support in addition to Brigade 2506 manned by Cuban exiles from Florida’s Everglades training base. The aftermath was phenomenal and historically heroic action for US foreign policy then.

For the sake of understanding and comparison from Wikipedia source, “By the time fighting ended on April 21, 1961 68 exiles were dead and 1,209 captured. A few were executed and the rest sentenced to thirty years in prison for treason. After 20 months of negotiation with the United States, Cuba released the exiles in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine. Cuba's losses during the Bay of Pigs Invasion are unknown, possibly 4,000-5,000.

In one air attack alone, Cuban forces suffered an estimated 1,800 casualties when a mixture of army troops, militia, and civilians were caught on an open causeway riding in civilian buses towards the battle scene in which several buses were hit by napalm. The total casualties for the Brigade 2506 were 104 members killed, and a few hundred more were wounded. After the Bay of Pigs, Castro fearing the US might try to invade Cuba again.”

One can only assume this must be a daunting task for the prosecution to arrest and detain a criminal like Citizen Yasith. Meanwhile the lady from New York Harbor must be speechless that her words were no longer inspiring and meaningful. This is a new page of US history in foreign policy of SE Asia.

One Righteous Against the Thousands of Crazy

By Kok Sap
April 1, 2008

RE: A grand jury recommended that US citizen Yasith should face charges of conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country and engagement in a military expedition against a nation with whom the United States is at peace.

In light of Mr. Brad Adams and Ron Abney accounts, Cambodia remains under the abusive regime which US Department of State is fully aware of and listed it in its Black Book since July 1997. The obvious, the tyrant ruler inflicts intractable pain and anguish upon citizens and world conscience daily.

To the surprise, the justice and human rights advocates had not come out in drove to argue in Citizen Yasith case. Indeed, he was overzealous and openly stated his purpose to fight for the weak. However, that does not excuse him from the accused crimes and charges according to his country of citizenship laws .Today, he is facing witnesses who are selected and sent over to U.S court by Cambodia tyrant ruler.

No way will any of the witnesses speak against their ruler.Other hand many of Cambodians living in U.S were abused and violated to the core of UN human dignity and rights by Cambodia preceding government. That’s the ground that many of us were granted rights to live here. Although years passed and we grown to love and oblige our home country calls of duty. Some of Cambodian children grown up and joined up the U.S armed forces. Yet so many of us remain hurt and share the conviction one day that our former country Cambodia and kin will live free of abuse and fear. Because of that many of us obliged to help and advocate putting a stop on the current government abuses.

In this justice saga, let’s look at Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg ,of Harvard School, argument in light of Dr. Martin L King reasoning’s,” Justice is not a rule or a set of rules but a moral principle. We know it is sometimes right to kill, because it is sometimes just. The Germans who tried to kill Hitler were doing right, because respect for the equal values of lives demands that we kill someone who is murdering others, in order to save lives.”

Cicero said,” The inability to tell good from evil is the greatest worry of man’s life.” Is Citizen Yasith an evil or good? In U.S argument in this, it makes citizens Nixon, Ford and Kissinger doctrine in SE Asia, the world savior.

Inevitably, for the fishermen must use bait to catch fishes. So it goes in arm struggle people get hurt and killed,in this matter how one argues injustice. During US Civil Rights struggle, late Mr. Malcolm X openly said,” in any mean necessary when come to self defense and one freedom. “ Along that line, Citizen Yasith openly advocated breaking unjust laws of his birth country in any necessary mean to seek freedom for his fellows. I am pretty sure what he saw in his action was to save lives and defend justice.

There is a striking similarity in the Bay of Pig invasion event excepted it was prepared and conducted from U.S soil. The goal was to overthrow Cuba government and eliminate Cuba leader Fidel Castro. Cuba was recognized a foreign sovereignty although its leader was not well received by Cubans in exile. I bet there were more causalities than Citizen Yasith private sponsored excursion. Ironically, U.S government waivered its citizenship laws on Cuban fighters.

Also some may still remember the Contra deal and Colonel Oliver North lied to Congress during President Reagan terms. For some reasons, the complexity of Contra involved Cambodia resistance movement that was primarily made up of Democratic Kampuchea fighters during the time too. However, none of the key personalities in both events was facing swift justice and possibly irrevocable penalty like Citizen Yasith today. In light of moral principles and obligation, many citizens are profoundly confused.

But for the sake of one morality and judgment let’s share the quote from Dr. King Letter from Birmingham Prison, in 1965,” One may well ask, how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact there are two types of laws, just and unjust. One has not a legal but also a moral responsibility to obey just laws. One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just; any law that degrades human personality is unjust. An unjust law is code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal.

I do not advocate evading and defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust law, and willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

From the Egoism,” the right action in any situation is the one that is most in the individual’s long term best interests.” That seems proving Citizen Yasith is an egoist. That reminds us, a famous egoist line from U.S exemplary, give me death or liberty. Beside him, there are Sixty-four Cambodian Freedom Fighter (CFF) members, mostly peasant farmers, were subsequently arrested by Cambodia tyrant. The group’s name implies clear defined role and mission. Given peasant in Cambodia, in most cases, is illiterate and poor. However in human tuition it’s not hard to recognize freedom and terror. May be that’s why they put themselves at risk of being killed and arrested to fight ultimate fear.

Accustomed to fear of reprisal from old country, this matter is apparent a lightning rod for many Cambodians in U.S. Especially those residents of Long Beach felt deaf and mute over this case. Although, many of them share view and pain with those who live under the tyrant rule. Not only that in Citizen Yasith case, the laws seem justifying the ends meet the means. The failure to see the obvious is unacceptable and immoral. The silence is too deafening

Union Won't Call Workers to Join Rally

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
04 April 2008

The leader of one of Cambodia's largest unions said he would not call workers to join an opposition rally Sunday, following a $6 addition to wages Friday.

Government, management and worker representatives signed a deal Friday to bring the monthly wage of workers to $56 in the face of rising costs of living.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, who threatened sweeping strikes last week if salaries were not increased, said Thursday individuals should consider joining the rally.

"As an individual, I will join the demonstration," Chea Mony said.

He is a voluntary union leader, and inflation affects his living condition as much as anyone, he said.

He would not call on his workers to join en masse, he said.

The Sam Rainsy Party has called for a demonstration of up to 5,000 people in the capital to protest the government's inability to curb inflation.

Hun Sen: Agriculture Key to Reducing Poverty

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
04 April 2008

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday told officials at the Ministry of Agriculture that growth in their traditional sector was the key to raising millions of Cambodians out of poverty.

"Agricultural development is a main point to reduce poverty in Cambodia, and I expect this year Cambodia will have only 30 percent under the poverty line," Hun Sen said, speaking at a closing ceremony of an annual agricultural conference in Phnom Penh.

Ministry officials and economists said Friday the sector was important for poverty reduction.
The government should work to promote agriculture to improve Cambodia's economy, one economist said, but it should not rely completely on one sector.

In 2007 economic earnings from rice paddy grew 50.8 percent and for other crops between 4 percent and 8 percent, Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said Friday.

But while agriculture has the potential to reduce Cambodian poverty, said Kang Chandararath, an economist and director of the Cambodia Institute of Development Studies, the government must ensure enough land for people to grow crops.

Election Problems Persist, Group Warns

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
04 April 2008

Cambodia's political climate has improved since general elections in 2003, but critical problems remain, the US-based National Democratic Institute said Friday.

The group cited as cause for concern judicial intimidation of the opposition, improper removal of eligible voters from registries, and restricted access by competing parties to electronic media.

"We have seen improvement since 2003, especially with respect to the National Election Commission, but this is far from a level playing field and the context is such that one party continues to dominate the entire political system," said Peter Manikas, NDI director of Asia programs.

The National Election Committee was now operating with more transparency, and more women were involved in politics, the group noted, following a five-day visit by international delegates.

"This is free expression, so they can make comments and make some opinions before or during the election period," NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said. "However, NEC is now resolving their concerns."

NDI also recommended the NEC move out of the Ministry of Interior.

Seng Theary, executive director at the Center for Social Development, said the NDI recommendations echoed concerns from civil society.

She fully supported them, she said.

Ministries Seek to Bridge Gaps of Justice

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
04 April 2008

The poor, women and minority indigenous groups suffer from informal or non-existent systems of justice, which the government is now seeking to redress.

The Ministry of Justice and the Council for Legal and Judicial Reform are seeking ways to improve access to judicial proceedings for the groups.

UNDP recently studied four provinces: Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu, to see whether establishing new courts would work.

"More than 90 percent of those interviewed in Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri said that land disputes and domestic violence are the top problems," said Raymond Leos, a top adviser at UNDP. "The people in the two provinces have almost zero access to the courts, because they are unaware of the procedures and fear corruption."

"Cases in the two provinces are similar to the provinces of Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang," Leos said.

Officials hope to empower the poor and vulnerable, including women and minorities.

The result of the study have been proposed for the government's plan for development.

Meanwhile, the ministries of Interior and Justice, with help from UNDP, are beginning to build district-level "justice centers" and commune-level dispute resolution practices, the UNDP said.

"The mobile courts will benefit the poor, so they won't have to travel from remote provinces, and will reduce costs when their disputes cannot be solved at the district level," said Pov Sophy, secretary-general of the Ministry of Justice.

Officials met Thursday to discuss indigenous law, examine divorce and separation issues, and to discuss "the feasibility of a Justice of the Peace system," Sophie Baranes, UNDP deputy country director for Cambodia, said.

Nut Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, said the government has established justice centers, or mobile courts, in four districts of Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu province.

They will expand into Mondolkiri and Ratanakkiri, as well as Battambang and Siem Reap in 2008, he said.

Weigh Needs of Residents on Lake: Guest

By Poch Reasey, VOA Khmer
04 April 2008

The government should work hard to ensure it is considering the needs of residents as it seeks to develop and improve Phnom Penh, a representative of a "housing rights" task force said Thursday.

Phnom Penh is enjoying a development boom, leading to a steady climb in property prices, but many residents say they are caught between government policies to develop and the need for fair prices for moving.

"Take Boeung Kak lake for an example," said Phann Sitha, coordinator for the Housing Rights Task Force, on "Hello VOA" Thursday. "The average income of the residents is at least $10 dollars a day. So when people heard that the area would be developed, they stood to lose that much money in income. Therefore I urge the government to make sure that after the development of the area, the residents will be able to make at least the same amount of money, if not more."

Boeung Kak residents told VOA Khmer in recent weeks they were not being paid a fair market price for their homes, which must be removed in a city development plan.

The city government has offered a regulated buy-out, but residents say this is far too low, and they fear they will be forcibly evicted following general elections in July.

Many Boeung Kak residents have lived around the lake since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, and some actually lived there under the regime, said Soeng Bunna, president and CEO of Bunna Reality Group, another guest on "Hello VOA" Thursday.

Some of them, however, just moved in, he said.

"I don’t have the specific number, but I know that some people have just moved to Boeung Kak in the last few years," he said. "Irregardless, it's up to the government, the development company and the people to talk about a specific amount of money the residents should be compensated. I understand that sometimes the area is very hard to develop and therefore the developer has to spend a lot of money."

The city has leased 133 hectares of land around the lake to Shukaku, Inc., in a 99-year-lease worth $79 million.

Survey Report Says That Mr. Sam Rainsy Will Become Prime Minister in 2008

Posted on 5 April 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 554

“A survey on candidates for the position of prime minister indicates that Mr. Sam Rainsy is in the first rank, before Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is currently holding the position as the prime minister of Cambodia.

“According to a website seen by Khmer Machas Srok, there are only four candidates for the position of prime minister mentioned who receive supports as participants competing in the 2008 national elections. The four candidates are Mr. Sam Rainsy from the Sam Rainsy Party [SRP], Mr. Hun Sen from the Cambodian People’s Party [CPP], Prince Norodom Ranariddh from the Norodom Ranariddh Party, and Mr. Kem Sokha from the Human Rights Party.

“The internationally accessible website, where the public can express its opinion on almost all possible sectors, ranging from trade, sports, and politics, indicates a variety of opinions related to competitors on the market, as well as the support ranges for each [of the many different] candidacies. It shows the clear figure of supporters [who have left their opinion on this website]. On this opinion poll during the last two months, 44% of the visitors supported Mr. Sam Rainsy; 36% supported Mr. Hun Sen; 13% supported Prince Norodom Ranariddh; and 5% supported Mr. Kem Sokha.

[Actually, the Internet address does not point to a public opinion polling institution - it is a program where every Internet user on the World Wide Web can, free of charge, in less than 5 minutes, create any opinion polling site - writing a question of not more that 70 letters, and providing 2 to 5 answers for the visitors to click on, indicating their preference]

“The CPP of Prime Minister Hun Sen is concerned, because the people who gave their opinion for the party have suffered from suppression and threats of grabbing their lands by powerful and rich, who are relatives and officials of the prime minister.

“Corruption is a root problem which the CPP established. The national and international public blamed the Hun Sen-led government, a so-called ‘hole-in-the-basket’ government [metaphor for not being able to maintain or preserve their assets], for not protecting the properties and interests of the Cambodian people, who are demanding that an anti-corruption law be created soon.

“Currently, the price of gasoline and of goods of all kinds is constantly increasing. This is a serious failure of the Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency of the government led by Mr. Hun Sen. Therefore, the majority of the people have turned to support the SRP, which is the only big and well-known opposition party in Cambodia.

“To conclude, even though the CPP has ‘conscripted’ people and attracted them by giving them government positions, for example providing positions to those who defected the SRP to join the CPP, it would be impossible for them to win, because the communist party [misnomer, pointing at the CPP] will come to an end of its political life during the coming 2008 parliamentary election.

“It should be noted that lawmakers from the SRP proposed to the National Assembly to create a law to provide Cambodian people living abroad to have the right to vote in the same way as Cambodian people living in Cambodia during the 2008 national election. This is a practice that other countries in different parts of the world follow. For the rest of the world, citizens living anywhere around the world [depending on the home country] may still vote to select the leaders for their home country. However, a similar proposal was rejected by Cambodian government officials.

“According to a report on a similar survey made by the NGO Pulroth Vichea [no details identified] led by Dr. Chhim Phal Virun, concerning various provinces which have up to four parliamentary seats, the SRP is competing with the CPP. The report indicated that the CPP might receive more than 60 seats, and the Sam Rainsy Party might received more than 40 seats. More than 20 seats might go to any of the other parties. There are many people who did not participate in the 2007 Commune Council elections. If young people who have just reached the voting age, and people who did not go to cast their votes in 2007, will go to vote for the SRP this year, Mr. Sam Rainy will become prime minister to lead Cambodia, just like what the opinion poll predicted.”

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.2, #130, 4-5.3.2008

Thailand 'no' to curbing rice exports

A shopkeeper carries a sack of rice in Nakhonsawan province, north of Bangkok. (Photo: Reuters)



Thailand, the world’s biggest rice exporter, said today it would not follow the footsteps of its competitor, Vietnam, in restricting rice exports.

Its Deputy Prime Minister/Finance Minister, Surapong Suebwonglee, said there was no plan to suspend rice exports and the government would let the market decide.

“We will let the rice market follow demand and supply. We don’t want to abuse or make it artificial,” he told reporters at the 12th Asian Finance Ministers’ Meeting here today.

Surapong was asked whether Thailand, which sold 9.4 million tonnes overseas in 2007 and 2.4 million tonnes so far this year (until March 10), would restrict exports following steep price increase and tight supply.

Vietnam, the world’s second-biggest exporter, had told its dealers not to sign export contracts in March and April due to production shortage.

According to reports, the Thai Government has about 2.1 million tonnes in its stockpile and expects at least 18 million tonnes of new white rice to enter the market over the next 12 months.

Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, had told the media that exports would drop 50 percent in the second quarter due to surging prices and tight supply after Vietnam’s decision to hold back its export.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s international rice prices have risen 20 per cent since January.

He said the political uncertainty in Thailand posed serious risk to domestic recovery more than financial turmoil in the international scene.

On whether the six-party coalition that took power in February could last more than a year following various attacks against it, Surapong said, “as a coalition government we hope so.”

Surapong said despite the political problems, the government was confident it could achieve a six per cent growth this year following various stimulus packages revealed so far.

He said the initial forecast was between 4.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent, adding that the US sub-prime crisis would not have much effect as it has been there for some time.

Cambodia gets satellite tv

Shin Satellite (ShinSat) subsidiary Cambodian DTV Network (CDN) and National Television of Kampuchea yesterday launched Cambodia's first satellite television service, serving mainly upcountry viewers.

April 4, 2008

The service, called Techo-DTV, is the first satellite-network service providing direct-to-home (DTH) television programming to each household in the kingdom. After buying the US$75 (Bt2,400) DTV set, viewers can watch all local Khmer channels for free. The service includes some foreign channels, and customers can subscribe to local pay TV in the near future.

ShinSat said in a statement yesterday that two-thirds of the country's 3 million households still did not have a television set.

"The key objective … is to build a nationwide information infrastructure that benefits all Cambodians, in accordance with government policy to develop and educate its citizens evenly," said CDN general manager Nuthapong Temsiripong.

"The Techo-DTV service will be not only focused on providing the existing Khmer channels, but also equipped with the potential capability to develop new programmes for long-distance education to rural areas and specifically benefit the promotion of Khmer culture and the tourism industry as our contribution to the country."

The Cambodian DTV Network was established this year as part of an expansion by ShinSat, which has been operated DTH services since 1994.

The Nation

Damming Public Opinion

Three Gorges Dam, by slumber.six (CC).

The risks of China's economic diplomacy in Cambodia

By Devin T. Stewart
April 4, 2008

In this increasingly interconnected age, the role of public opinion has grown in many areas of life—from corporate valuations in the form of brands to political influence in the form of soft power. With these trends in mind, China's approach to dealing with global public opinion, be it over Tibet or Darfur, carries risks.

Symbols of control

China's style of economic diplomacy may become one of the greatest questions of our time. While the rich democratic countries attempt to pursue development strategies that are people friendly, emphasizing human rights and environmental standards, China is said to be following a strategy that is regime friendly, focusing on local practices, practical results, and infrastructure development. For this reason, some observers have argued that China's approach may be more appealing to the elite in less democratic countries in Africa and Asia.

Unfortunately, the enormous dams that China is constructing both inside its borders and in the countries where it invests may become a symbol for a flawed approach to coping with an increasingly powerful public opinion. From the Three Gorges Dam to the "Great Firewall" of Internet censors in China to the planned dams of the Mekong River, China hopes dams can provide growth and stability. For how long can China dam public opinion?

Money first, governance later

A potentially powerful dynamic playing out in China's relations with the developing world emerged during a recent trip I took to Cambodia. Looking at the potential oil and gas boom in Cambodia, my research investigated the possible impact of natural resource revenue on Cambodian society and governance.

It is widely known that China is willing to deal with authoritarian regimes, but these relationships may end up sparking a backlash against China in the developing world. As UNDP head Kemal Dervis said at a recent conference at New York's New School, the greatest threats to development may be social instability from inequality and environmental degradation, not macroeconomic stress. This sentiment was a major theme in many of my interviews in Phnom Penh.

"China is making Cambodia move backward," said Son Chhay, a Cambodian opposition party lawmaker. He explained that China's involvement with Cambodia's authoritarian regime is erasing the progress the country made in human rights and democratic development. One effect is that Western donors may have to weaken their demands for better governance just to keep up with the growing influence of Chinese investment.

During the last decade, the main source of foreign influence had been nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with aid donors. Now, China's presence is shifting the balance, potentially exacerbating the two risks that worry Dervis. For example, China's distaste for making aid contingent on policy indicators may worsen the already rampant corruption in Cambodia. Most observers predict that at least half of the oil and gas revenue would go into the personal bank accounts of corrupt officials.

Hydro power without people's power

"You could have a people power movement in the next two to three years if the government fails to create the million jobs needed. The youth will go to the street because they have nothing to loose," Son Chhay said. He predicts upcoming elections will fail to be democratic. Half of the population is young and unhappy with the government, and they have no memory of the genocide of Pol Pot and therefore no fear of authority. One target could be Chinese-owned businesses.

While my trip to Cambodia was to examine the impact of possible oil and gas revenue, it became clear that the planned Mekong dam and its symbolic implications were at least as important. "The big story is hydropower. Cambodia relies on the Mekong and damming will have devastating consequences on food and welfare," said a Western diplomat based in Cambodia.

Civil society groups such as Cambodia's NGO Forum are questioning the country's plan to become "the battery of Southeast Asia," especially for energy-hungry Thailand and Vietnam, with the help of Chinese state companies, which are in turn financed by Chinese state financial institutions. Without thorough and transparent social and environmental impact assessments, NGO groups worry that the dam projects in Cambodia and Laos could disrupt fish migration patterns in the Mekong River.

The coming fallout

"Cambodia's future rests on a knife's edge," as one senior economic researcher put it. The path the country will take depends on the foreign influence coming to Cambodia, he explained. If Chevron decides that the energy resources off of Cambodia's coast are worth pursuing, the American company could possibly bring more transparency and accountability to Cambodia's economy. If not, China will become the dominant source of external influence given that its total investment in the country now exceeds that of any other donor.

In the long-term, when the voice of the people is stifled, it hurts the advancement that comes through the positive interaction between civil society and corporations. Pietra Rivoli wrote about this in her book "The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy." This problem will haunt China's development strategies both within its borders and in its relations with other countries.
It seems cracks are forming in China's dams, literally and metaphorically. "China cannot survive the system it is creating," Son Chhay concluded. "I predict a crisis in China before they enter the real world."

Hard work - but what a great holiday

Thierry Falise/OnAsia/ActionAid
Helen Walker, challenge events manager, finds out how heavy the water buckets are at the Soksan building site

Thierry Falise/OnAsia/ActionAid
Linda Hill, a member of the Cambodia community challenge team, carries soil on the Soksan building site

Thierry Falise/OnAsia/ActionAid
A local worker unloads bricks from a truck by sliding them on a wooden plank

Thierry Falise/OnAsia/ActionAid
"It looked easy, but keeping the mortar on the brick was no mean feat - most of it ended up on my boots

Alexandra Ferguson

Alexandra Ferguson helps locals to build a new community centre in Cambodia with ActionAid.

Danger! Mines! Beyond the skull-and-crossbones sign, the red and white tapes fanned out through the long grass. In the still heat of the afternoon, chickens scratched beneath a banana palm, a woman filled a jerrycan at a well and two children creaked past on an oversized bicycle.

Kim Sros splashed water into the makeshift hollow and we dragged our shovels back and forth, mixing the sand and cement. On the scaffolding behind us, two villagers added a row of bricks to a side wall, while two volunteers, Graham and Sally, rendered the front elevation in sweeping arcs.

We stopped to stretch. "The community centre will make a real difference to Soksan," 19-year-old Kim, the village's representative, said through an interpreter.

"Before, we had nowhere to meet. Sometimes we would go to the pagoda, but in the rainy season we always got wet. Now we will have a place to teach pre-school children and hold health checks and training workshops. We are very excited."

I was in Cambodia with the charity ActionAid, working on a building project shared between local villagers and volunteers from Britain.

Banteay Meanchey province, on the Thai border, was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, whose regime was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians in slave-labour camps and torture centres in the late 1970s. Although the regime fell in 1979, fighting continued here until 1998.

The displaced population ekes out a living from farming rice in fields riddled with landmines; there is little infrastructure; and the average family survives on less than 50p a day.

ActionAid has been working with local NGOs to combat poor health, land loss and illiteracy since 1999. Cambodia has about 40,000 amputees and the highest HIV rates in Asia. Malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and dengue fever are additional concerns in Banteay Meanchey.

The sale of land to fund health care is common and the lack of formal land titles makes the poor vulnerable to land grab. With no source of food or income, people cross the border to find work and more than half of all school-age children work to supplement the family income. Child trafficking and domestic violence are other pressing problems.

Chantara Kimsan, an ActionAid programme officer, was working with the team at Soksan. "Often it is hard to see the results of our work because we are passing on knowledge," he said.

"But this is how change begins. We are looking for long-term solutions and this centre will be used by about 400 people."

Two further centres – funded by the volunteers – were under way in the nearby villages of Koh Snuol and Santepheap, although heavy rain had halted work at the latter.

The extra British muscle was welcome and our lack of building skills no obstacle. Among the 21 volunteers, aged from 21 to 69, only Seb – a brickie from Bristol – had any professional expertise. Everyone here had raised at least £3,300 to take part: a minimum of £1,855 for the centres, plus £1,445 to cover flights and ground costs.

Unlike the average charity trek, this project had the volunteers working alongside the people benefiting from their sponsorship and we could see how the cash was being spent. After the building work, a sightseeing trip to the temples of Angkor was in prospect.

Poipet, our base for the five-day build, was a dusty border town an hour from the building sites. Run-down hotels and market stalls lined a central square dominated by a Khmer statue. A few yards farther on the asphalt petered out and the potholes – big enough to swallow an elephant – began.

Our hotel receptionist was overwhelmed by the influx of guests, as was the plumbing. Later that evening, in varying states of cleanliness, we talked about our fundraising efforts.

The past few months had been a whirl of car-boot sales, garden fĂȘtes, sponsored runs and tombolas. "I was up at 7am every day, baking scones," said Elizabeth, an assistant postmistress.

Gordon, a professor of education, strong-armed friends with the tag line "Stobart finally does something practical", while Susan, a BA flight supervisor, had won The Weakest Link.

What was it about this project that had caught their imagination? Ryan, a health worker, said he had always wanted to visit Cambodia, "and this seemed like a great opportunity to help people and see the sights".

"I love being outdoors, working with my hands," said Andrew from London. "ActionAid has the right approach, getting the locals involved and keeping them central to everything."

The first day had left a big impression: "You're not encountering anything that you do not already know on an intellectual level," said Barbara, a publisher. "But seeing it – the real subsistence, the precariousness of their lives – is something else." Her words returned to me the next morning when I joined the other half of the group, bound for Koh Snuol.

Having left what passes for the main highway, we bounced down a rutted track through paddy fields and dense pampas grass. It was late November – harvest time – and men and women toiled in the fields.

Children played beside bamboo shacks patched with sacking and corrugated iron; a young amputee laboured through the dust on home-made crutches. We came to a slow-moving creek hemmed by stilt homes; rubbish littered its banks. We inched across the rickety wooden bridge, scattering loose planks, and pushed deeper into the bush, skirting a squat schoolhouse ringed by bicycles before pulling into a clearing.

Unlike the building at Soksan, the two-storey centre at Koh Snuol was little more than a skeleton of concrete posts and bare timbers.

The locals were already hard at work. Our building manager, Anthony, consulted the foreman – a slight, muscular man in flip-flops – while we donned hard hats and steel-capped boots. The floors had to be laid and, after safety briefings, we began the laborious business of shifting several tons of hardcore by hand in baskets. A stream of local men, women and children swelled our numbers.

Some of the group turned to bricklaying; others mixed cement. The simplicity of our tasks allowed us to chat and even try out a few words of Khmer on the bemused Cambodians. They had never met Westerners before and our size intrigued them. John – the tallest at 6ft 5in – drew shy glances. We plastered on sunscreen and insect repellent, even though there was a cool breeze. By midday the heat was intense and we retreated to the shade.

After lunch, Seb gave me a lesson in the art of bricklaying. Having applied the mortar with two deft strokes, he grounded the brick with a swift wiggle and tap of the trowel handle. It looked easy, but keeping the mortar on the brick was no mean feat – most of it ended up on my boots.

After a few false starts, I was soon worrying about my perps – perpendiculars – and horizontals, following the guide string in concentration.

Gordon applied himself with equal gusto to the adjacent wall. He had already completed several rows. He stood back to survey his handiwork: "I've got a bit of a GaudĂ­ effect going on here," he chuckled. "Lots of wavy lines!" His horizontals looked fine to me.

Behind us, the others levelled the floor. A length of hosepipe stretched along the perimeter acted as a rudimentary spirit level, the water marking the incline below the raised cut ends. The hi-tech tamping tools were logs mounted on two slender branches.

The dull thud of wood on stone kept time as the sun scorched a path through the sky and at 4.30pm we downed tools for the day.

With so many pairs of hands, we had made good progress. The first-floor women's refuge still required a little imagination, but the ground-floor layout – with separate rooms for literacy classes and Aids awareness, a women's clinic and village meetings – was clear.

I met Chheang Eang, a women's health worker, at her modest home the next day. Chosen by her peers, she had received six weeks' training from ActionAid.

Encouraging women to seek help was her first task, because, culturally, they are very shy. Having a dedicated, private room in the centre would help and simple health education – especially about HIV and Aids – would save lives.

"Before, I did not know how to protect my own and my daughter's health," she told me. "Now I do, and I can help other women, too."

The wall chart behind her was a stark reminder of the continuing threat from landmines: they come in all shapes and sizes, all devastating. Since the area was cleared the number of incidents had fallen, but their legacy remained: the widow raising a family of seven, the farmer who had lost a leg, the village elder blinded by shrapnel.

But this community is looking to the future with a real sense of hope and purpose and, as the week progressed, and the walls at Koh Snuol grew higher, our conviction deepened. Fitness levels varied, so we set our own pace and selected our tasks. Our language skills did not improve much, but there was a great deal of laughter. Somehow it worked: we became a team.

The same seemed to be true at the Soksan site. In the evenings we traded stories over steaming bowls of noodles and obscure local beers. The bricklaying was complete at the first site, the rendering almost finished and work had started on a retaining wall.

At Koh Snuol, there was still much to do, but we had made great strides. The villagers of Santepheap would have to wait for the ground to dry out before building could resume, but funding was secure. ActionAid is committed to overseeing the community centres for the next seven years and each village will elect a management committee.

As the build drew to a close, it was hard to know who had gained more from the experience: the locals or the volunteers. "It's the best thing I've ever done!" Ryan said. "It has been physically strenuous but working with the local people has been really special."

Barbara summed it up: "You can make a significant physical contribution. Who'd have thought that 21 people who had never done this before could achieve so much?"

On the final afternoon, we gathered for farewells. The village elders thanked us and the children presented us with drawings. A little girl with huge almond eyes pressed her palms together in silent greeting and handed me a piece of paper.

The centre was there in bright crayon strokes. There were no landmines or crutches, just flowers and a family and a purple rabbit. Above it all was a smiling sun.

- ActionAid's next Cambodia community challenge will take place in November. It is also planning community builds in Nepal and South Africa in 2009. To join, a registration fee of £300 is needed plus a minimum sponsorship target.

- For further information on ActionAid's community challenges, see

Volunteer force

Hands Up Holidays ( combines holidays with volunteering projects. Catering for groups of up to 12 people on trips of up to three weeks, projects include building and environmental projects, and teaching English in local communities in 23 destinations. Each volunteering experience accounts for around a third of the trip. Prices range from £500, for eight days in Northern Vietnam teaching English, to £3,500. Prices include accommodation but not flights.

Gap Guru (0800 032 3350, runs volunteering trips across India in areas including Bangalore, New Delhi and Calcutta, which include community and teaching projects, allowing volunteers to work with underprivileged children, or aid Tsunami victims and disabled people. Trips range from four weeks to six months, with costs starting at £990 (including homestay accommodation and meals but excluding flights).

Global Volunteer Projects (0191 222 0404, organises medical placements, teaching projects, HIV awareness projects, journalism placements and conservation projects around the world. A month-long journalism project in China costs from £1,095.

Outreach International (01458 274957, volunteer projects in Central and South America, Sri Lanka and the Galapagos Islands of up to six months. From £1,300, including flights, insurance, language training and full board.

STA Travel (0871 230 8512, has launched a range of new "voluntourism" trips. These include orangutan conservation in Borneo, where volunteers work at the orangutan rehabililtation centres of Sarawak, and reforestation projects in the Peruvian Andes, where volunteers help with tree planting and assisting the local community to implement a sustainable reforestation programme. Prices from £1,500 including flights, accommodation and meals.

For more information on volunteering projects, visit Worldwide Volunteering ( which has a database of more than 1,600 volunteer organisations and 1.1 million placements in 214 countries worldwide.

Vietravel launches tour to Cambodia this month

A caravan tour conducted by Vietravel


VietNamNet Bridge – Vietravel is launching a four-day caravan tour to Cambodia from April 30-May 3 in celebration of Liberation Day.

From HCMC, the caravan will travel to the to Moc Bai border in Tay Ninh Province. After going through customs, tourists will head to Phnom Penh to see the city's sites including the Royal Palace and Penh Lady Pagoda. Guests will then spend the night at the Cambodiana-Sunway Hotel.

Tourists will travel to Siem Reap on day two. Upon arrival, tourists will visit a fisherman on Tonie Sap Lake, shop at the market and enjoy a dinner buffet while watching Apsara dancing.

The following day will be spent exploring the temple complex with stops at Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei, Preup, Bayon and Angkor Wat. Tourists will then be treated to a gala dinner.

The tour will stop at Kampong Thom Province before crossing the Moc Bai border into Vietnam.

The tour is priced at US$319 and should be booked at least 15 days prior to the departure date.

For more information, contact Caravan Center of Vietravel, 190 Pasteur Street, District 3, HCMC, tel: (08) 8228898, ext: 293 or website:

ICT and Telecommunications World Expo 2008 launched in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia ICT and Telecommunications World Expo 2008 with the theme "Enable You One Step Ahead" was launched at the Mondial Center in Phnom Penh on Friday, expected to draw up to 50,000 visitors.

This international exhibition and conference is held by National ICT Development Authority of Cambodia (NiDA) and International Data Group (IDG Indochina) annually since 2005, a press release said.

This year, the event attracts the participation of more than 30international and local companies, showcasing the latest computer, cell phone and satellite technology, it said.

The Expo is organized to speedup the country's ICT industry development by calling government sectors, companies, and individual specialists to share their experiences, local and international companies showcase the latest ICT products, services and technologies during the three-day event, it added.

"ICT industry is developing rapidly from period to period leading Cambodia ICT and Telecommunications World Expo to play an important role in gathering local and international ICT companies to display their hottest products and services in order to meet the demand for government, private sectors, SMEs and education," said So Khun, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia.

By the end of 2007, there were 15,950 internet subscribers in Cambodia, compared to about 6,000 subs in 2000, according to official statistics.

In addition, mobile phone market in Cambodia is booming with 2,275,000 subscribers at the end of 2007.

Editor: Du Guodong

Former hunters help save rare birds in Cambodia: report

A flock of milky storks perch themselves on a lamp post

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — One-time hunters recruited to a conservation project have helped threatened bird populations in Cambodia's Great Lake recover, according to a report Friday.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) report said populations of some of the bird species had increased 20-fold since the project began in 2001 at Tonle Sap Lake, known as the Great Lake.

The project by the WCS and Cambodia's environment ministry employed about 30 former hunters and egg collectors as park rangers tasked with providing 24-hour protection for breeding colonies, the report said.

The plan was to boost the populations of the spot-billed pelican, milky stork, painted stork, lesser adjutant, greater adjutant, black-headed ibis and the Oriental darter.

The waterbird colonies were first discovered in the mid-1990s. At the time, the birds were threatened with extinction because of villagers' rampant harvesting of eggs and chicks, the report said.

"When first discovered, the colonies were heavily threatened by annual harvesting of the eggs and chicks by nearby villagers, mainly for trade and local consumption," the report said.

But the populations of the birds have increased from a total of 2,500 breeding pairs in 2001 to more than 10,000 pairs in 2007.

The colonies include the largest, and in some cases, the only breeding populations for the waterbirds in Southeast Asia, according to the report.

Tonle Sap lake is Southeast Asia's largest freshwater reservoir, which can expand to 12,000 square kilometres at the peak of the rainy season and recedes to about 3,000 square kilometres in the dry season.

The lake is rich in biodiversity and offers a breeding place for many species of birds and fish.