Saturday, 19 April 2008


Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at
Written by The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 18 April 2008

Since the last issue of the Post on April 4, information on the following appointments as advisors to assist the Prime Minister, the Royal Government or the National Assembly have become public.

-H.E. Pen Sophal as Personal Advisor to the President of the National Assembly with equal rank to Secretary of State. February 18.
-H.E. Leng Se as Member of the Council of Jurists with equal rank to Under-Secretary of State. February 18.
-H.E. Khun Sophal as Member of the Council of Jurists with equal rank to Under-Secretary of State. February 18.
-H.E. Chhit Sarith as Member of the Council of Jurists with equal rank to Under-Secretary of State. February 18.
-H.E. Koy Kuon as Member of the Council of Jurists with equal rank to Under-Secretary of State. February 18.
-H.E. Ou Kunthea as Advisor to the Royal Government with equal rank to Secretary of State. February 20.
-H.E. Uk Moeun as Advisor to the Royal Government with equal rank to Secretary of State. February 20.
-H.E. Kem Kunwath as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Secretary of State. February 20.
-H.E. Ming Samphan as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Minister. February 20.
-H.E. Sboang Sarath as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Secretary of State. February 20.
-H.E. Yin Socheat as Member of the Economic, Social and Cultural Observation Unit of the Office of the Council of Ministers with equal rank to Under-Secretary of State. February 18.
-H.E. Has Sareth as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Minister. March 1.
-H.E. Chhorn Praling as Member of the Council of Jurists with equal rank to Under-Secretary of State. March 7.
-H.E. Yim Yan as Advisor to the Ministry of Health with equal rank to Under-Secretary of State. March 7.
-H.E. Phat Sareth as Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Information. March 8.
-H.E. Chheang Yanara as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Senior Minister. March 8.
-H.E. Real Maravy as Assistant to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Under-Secretary of State. March 14.
-H.E. Chea Sophara as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Senior Minister. March 14.
-H.E. Heng Traykri as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Minister. March 14.
-H.E. Kvan Seam as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Minister. March 14.
-H.E. Bun Sambo as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Minister. March 14.
-H.E. Hor Sopheap as Advisor to the Royal Government with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 18.
-H.E. Thach Keth as Advisor to the Royal Government with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 19.
-H.E. Um Both as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 19.
-H.E. Uk Maly as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 19.
-H.E. Ma Chhoeun as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Minister. March 19.
-H.E. Prak Chanthy as Advisor to the Royal Government with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 22.
-H.E. Kong Chan as Advisor to the Royal Government with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 22.
-H.E. Hay Naiheng as Advisor to the Royal Government with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 22.
-H.E. Khaimpoun Keomony as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 22.
-H.E. Chum Kosal as Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 22.
-H.E. Sam Raimsaik as Advisor to the Royal Government with equal rank to Secretary of State. March 22.
-H.E. Chiv Keng as Advisor to the Chairman of the Council of Jurists of the Office of the Council of Ministers with equal rank to Secretary of State. April 3.

FM To Sue Sam Rainsy for Khmer Rouge Remarks

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

Khmer audio aired April 18 (832KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 18 (832KB) - Listen (MP3)

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong plans to sue opposition leader Sam Rainsy over statements made Thursday linking the minister to the Khmer Rouge, an official said Friday.

In a ceremony to commemorate the fall of Phnom Penh to Khmer Rouge guerrillas in 1975, Sam Rainsy said Thursday at least two ministers in the current government were cadres of the regime.

“One of them was secretary and interpreter of Pol Pot and who is senior minister and Minister of Economy and another current deputy prime minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs was director of Beoung Trabek prison,” Sam Rainsy said. “The director of a prison can point someone and this person will be disappeared.”

Keat Chhon is currently the Economy Minister, and Hor Namhong is the Foreign Minister.

Hor Namhong will file a suit against Sam Rainsy for the remarks, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sim Bunthoeurn. “He will meet with a lawyer this Monday.”

Sam Rainsy could not be reached for comment, because he is abroad.

But Eng Chhay Ieng, SRP secretary-general, said Sam Rainsy had not mentioned Hor Namhong by name, nor accused him of killing anyone.

The party will defend its leader in court, he added.

Keat Chhon could not be reached for comment Friday.

HRP Blasts Passage of ‘Organic’ Law

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

Khmer audio aired April 18 (919KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 18 (919KB) - Listen (MP3)

The Human Rights Party on Friday condemned the passage of a law that will pave the way for commune council voting at district, provincial and municipal levels.

The so-called “organic law,” passed by the National Assembly earlier this month, provides a means by which commune council members vote for councils of provinces, municipalities, and districts.

The Human Rights Party said the law will favor parties already in government: the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, its coalition partner, Funincpec, and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

“The Human Rights Party has a policy to promote a proportional system of election, to open an opportunity for young intellectuals using their knowledge, capacity and popularity to be responsible for people over parties,” said Keo Remy, HRP vice president.

SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Ieng said that while his party has seats in commune councils across the country, which will have a say under the new law, Funcinpec does not, and so the coalition party’s support of the law was “confusing.”

But Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu Sorn said his party would have to work harder to gain seats in the next round of commune elections.

Not all Funcinpec parliamentarians voted for the law, he added.

Newly established parties will face difficulties in administrative representation under the new law, said CPP lawmaker Chiem Yeap, “but we must respect it.”

“This organic law serves Cambodia’s general interest, but does not serve the party interest,” he said. “This organic law is important for the whole nation, particularly from low- to high-level and from the king to ordinary people.”

In its years of reconstruction, Cambodia has never held an election for provincial, municipal or district councils. They have in the past been appointed positions.

Army Pushing Pagoda to Move: Monk

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

Khmer audio aired April 18 (1.03MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 18 (1.03MB) - Listen (MP3)

The armed forces is threatening to demolish a pagoda in Kampot province, if the leaders don’t move it first, a chief monk said Friday.

Division 11 soldiers have said the pagoda, which is home to seven monks and nine nuns, was built illegally in 2007, said Venerable In Sok, head monk at the pagoda.

Soldiers are not allowing villagers to hold ceremonies or pray at the pagoda and have threatened to destroy it if it is not moved, he said.

The pagoda is near a military headquarters and must be moved, said Phy Sokhen, secretary of the intervention forces of Division 11.

Not Norn, the district chief of the local Ministry of Religion office, said the pagoda had a legal permit to from the ministry to be built on the site.

The military was wrong in this matter, he said.

Kampot Governor Thach Khorn said he would conduct an investiation.

Officials Will Face Jail for Deforestation: Authority

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

Khmer audio aired April 17 (5.72MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 17 (5.72MB) - Listen (MP3)

Any government official associated with clearing the forest for the sale of land faces imprisonment, a land dispute authority said Thursday.

“Any officials, commune chiefs or ‘oknha’ will be punished, even if there is no corruption law,” said Khieu Sorn, a Funcinpec parliamentarian who is also a member of the National Land Dispute Authority.

They will not be allowed to let people destroy the forest, Khieu Sorn said, as a guest on “Hello VOA” Thursday.

A caller to the show, Huot Sambath, from Oddar Meanchey province, said the districts of Anlong Veng and Tra Pearng Prasath were facing mass deforestation for the sale of land.

Cambodia Center for Human Rights investigator Ing Kong Chit, who was also a guest Thursday, acknowledged that land clearing was happening now in many areas, most recently in Koh Kralor, Battambang province.

Khieu Sorn said local authorities have the responsibility to inform people about land certificate and ownership to avoid problems.

Preah Vihear Police Deny Killing Man

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

Khmer audio aired April 18 (766KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 18 (766KB) - Listen (MP3)

Preah Vihear authorities have not detained anyone in the shooting death of one man over New Year, a police chief said Friday.

Preah Vihear Police Chief Mao Pov said none of his officers were responsible for the death of Din Bros, 20, who was shot while riding a motorcycle in Tbeng Meanchey district April 11.

Din Bros was a member of a group of gangsters, Mao Pov added.

Investigators for the rights group Adhoc have said they suspect one of three policemen in the district shot Din Bros.

Mao Pov declined to say whether anyone had been jailed over the murder.

“The police did not go anywhere,” he said. “The operations of the police are to safeguard and provide security during Khmer New Year. We did not affect the life of any people.”

He declined further comment.

Adhoc provincial coordinator Hor Neath maintained his claim Friday, that Tbeng Meanchey district police shot Din Bros.

“This is only the denial [of the police]. We have a confidential source” in the case, he said.

Adhoc will send an intervention letter to the court next week calling for an investigation, he said.

Y Hean, a neighbor of Din Bros, said the driver of the motorcycle claimed police did the shooting.

Neither the driver nor members of Din Bros’ family could be reached for comment.

Victims Applaud UN Tribunal Stance

By Sok Khemara,
VOA Khmer Original report from Washington
18 April 2008

Khmer audio aired April 16 (1.15MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 16 (1.15MB) - Listen (MP3)

Members of civil society and survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime welcomed the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said this week the international community must play a role in helping a hybrid tribunal close one of history’s “darkest chapters.”

The tribunal is facing growing financial difficulties, as donor countries evaluate whether the courts can meet international standards and deserve funding.

“Now is a good chance to find enough money to try Khmer Rouge leaders,” said Seng Theary, executive director of the Center for Social Development, who has filed suit against jailed leader Nuon Chea in tribunal proceedings. “That’s why I support and appeal to any country to fund the Khmer Rouge tribunal and participate.”

The tribunal has faced allegations of corruption and mismanagement, but it is now asking donors for up to $114 million over the original $56 million budget.

Ban said Tuesday, on the 10th anniversary of Pol Pot’s death, that the UN and the government are “actively engaged” in bringing five jailed former Khmer Rouge leaders to trial.

“With the support of the international community, it is my hope that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia will soon deliver long-overdue justice for the people of Cambodia,” he said, referring to the tribunal by its official name.

Van Nath, a survivor of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison, whose chief, Duch, is awaiting trial in tribunal detention, said Friday he supported more funding for a speedy tribunal.

Kek Galabru, founder of the rights group Licadho, said she hoped the coming of the new year would help donors change their minds to help finish the tribunal proceedings.

“If it stops, we have to release the Khmer Rouge leaders,” she said.

Inflation Hits Cambodia

By Rory Byrne
Phnom Penh
18 April 2008

As in other developing countries from Egypt to Haiti, soaring inflation has recently emerged as a threat to Cambodia's hard won social stability. While wages have remained low, the price of rice and other staples have skyrocketed pushing millions deeper into poverty. While the Cambodian government says it is doing its best to curb the worst effects of inflation, opposition politicians say it is not doing enough. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

Thomas Keusters, the WFP's Country Representative in Cambodia, says the high cost of rice on the world market has led many growers to export their crop, driving up the domestic cost of the grain.

"There are not that many big exporters of rice so obviously those who are producing rice in this country see a benefit of seeing the rice going out of the country,” Keusters said. “Secondly, in general I think there has been an increase in the cost of producing rice, so by definition, people are producing, or selling rice more expensively."

He adds with money running out, the WFP is in danger of running out of its remaining rice reserves in a matter of weeks:

Cambodia's rural poor, who make up over 80 percent of the population, are particularly at risk from inflation.

Many are poor rice farmers who only grow enough rice to feed themselves and their families for half the year
For the rest of the year they rely on handouts from the WFP, or they harvest wild plants and fruits from the forest which they sell to buy rice. High prices at the market mean that they cannot buy enough to feed their families.

Chanmom lives with her family in a small village in Kompong Speu province north of Phnom Penh.

"I sell wild fruit and bamboo to make a living. That is all I can do. If there is no bamboo or fruit I have nothing. That's all I can do to stay alive. I don't have any cows or rice fields only this old house. Now it is very difficult for me to feed my family because the price of food and rice is increasing," she said.

With a general election in July, inflation has become a highly politicized issue in Cambodia. Marchers in this recent demonstration organized by the main opposition party in Phnom Penh accused the government of not doing enough to curb soaring prices.

Sam Rainsey is the leader of the main opposition Sam Rainsey Party. "We want the government to take appropriate measures to stop or to curb inflation. And we want the government to increase salaries for civil servants, wages for workers," Rainsey said.

For its part, the government says it is doing what it can. On the orders of Prime Minister Hun Sen, rice exports have been banned for two months while tons of surplus rice were released onto the market at reduced prices.

A ban on pig imports was also lifted in a bid to lower pork prices.

While these measures have had some success, experts expect that, as in the rest of the world, prices here will continue to rise over the long term. And that - the World Food Program says - could have damaging long term consequences,” he said.

"A lot of people who are now on the verge of surviving are going to face even more difficulties to make ends meet and really survive. This is condemning possibly a whole lot of generations because people will not go to school, people will not go into productive activities, because they will really be constrained by their search for food," Keusters said.

Experts say that most poor rice farmers in Cambodia will run out of their remaining rice stocks by June at which point they will have to buy rice at the market. That means that the worst effects of high inflation on the poor may be yet to come.

The 'real Tibet' hailed by author

Shanghai Daily

AN EIGHT-MONTH bicycle ride from France to Cambodia has given 74-year-old Paul Dubrule a chance to see a different Tibet from what he had learnt about in France.

"I spent three months riding through Tibet during that trip. This experience completely changed my perspective about the region," Dubrule, chairman of hotel chain Accor Group, said in Shanghai yesterday."

Compared with those talking about Tibet in the French media but never setting foot in the region, I think I have more things to tell."

In 2002, Dubrule made a 15,000-kilometer journey by bicycle from his home at Fontainebleau to Siem Reap, Cambodia, during which he rode from Ngari in west Tibet to Qamdo in its east.

"Before arriving in Tibet, I thought local people were under repression from the central government as many other Westerners (thought)," he said.

But, during the tour, he saw schools, hospitals, power plants, airports, and highways.

"I saw many roads under construction," he said. "Along my way, I met many local people. Their life was not as good as in France but I found they were benefiting from the economic development."

Dubrule had read books about Tibet since the 1990s and many portrayed the Dalai Lama as a "saint" and "victim." But he later learnt in Tibet that under the Dalai Lama's rule there was no medical service in a 1,000-kilometer area.

"In Tibet, I found that people would like to have the region modernized rather than maintaining old lifestyles simply for tourists," he said.

He did not agree with the Dalai Lama who said development in Tibet was causing a disappearance of traditional culture. "If a culture cannot move forwards with economic and social development, it will end up in the museum instead of blessing its people.

"Should anyone refuse development, schools and hospitals in the name of protecting culture and religion?

"In his travel book, "Le Test du Cocotier," he wrote about what he saw in Tibet and was criticized by some back home.

"I am not surprised," he said. "Many French had not been to Tibet, most of the information they got was biased or confused. The real Tibetan history is unknown to many."

"Although I have never met the Dalai Lama, I would like to tell him that a country should protect the religious belief of its people but religions should not be a tool for people to turn against their country," he said.


No bull for pop heartthrob
April 18 2008

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's leading pop heartthrob has backed down on threats of legal action against a farmer who named a stud bull after him, the singer said on Friday.

The nation's most popular singer-actor, Preap Sovath, 36, had threatened legal action against the owner of a $10 000 (about R80 000) Brahman breeding bull he named after the sex symbol.

Sovath was quoted in a range of local media to be taking action to protect his wife, who had reportedly become distressed after seeing advertisements offering the services of the bovine Preap Sovath for $100 per mating, with satisfaction guaranteed.

But Friday the Cambodian equivalent of Ronan Keating said he would not be taking any action."No, no, no. I don't care anymore and I am too busy," Sovath said by telephone.

Theories for the change of heart abound, including a rumour it was partly due to the unsuitability of alternative names offered by the farmer.

A moniker such as 'Little Preap' was unlikely to enhance the careers of either the bovine or bopping version of the star, fans admitted.

Cambodia presents documents on ASEAN Charter's ratification to secretariat

MCOT English News
18 April 2008

Jakarta, April 18 (ANTARA) - Cambodian Ambassador to Indonesia Khem Bunneang on behalf of his government handed documents on his country's ratification of the ASEAN Charter to ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan at the ASEAN Secretariat here on Friday.

Cambodia is the sixth country that has ratified the ASEAN Charter after Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam, Pitsuwan said before receiving the documents from the Cambodian envoy at a ceremony attended also by the ambassadors of other ASEAN member countries to Indonesia.

Pitsuwan praised Cambodia as one of ASEAN's youngest members for being very active and having a strong commitment to accelerating ASEAN's regional integration.

Four other ASEAN member countries have yet to ratify the charter, namely Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand.

It was just a matter of time for the four states to ratify the ASEAN Charter, Pitsuwan said optimistically.

The ASEAN Charter was signed on November 20, 2007 by the Leaders of ASEAN's 10 member countries at the 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore coinciding with ASEAN's 40th anniversary.

The charter embodies the association members' resolve to become a more solid and integrated regional community.(Antara)

Cambodia 'waking up' to development

The Washington Times
April 18, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) An old hospital was razed to make way for Phnom Penh's tallest building — a 42-story twin condominium tower. A garbage-strewn slum became prime real estate after police evicted its residents to a parched rice field outside the capital.

Cambodia is experiencing a construction boom fueled by foreign investment, particularly by South Koreans, and buying and selling among the country's few nouveau riche — while leaving the poor majority behind.

Shopping malls and tall apartment buildings are sprouting up, transforming the capital's landscape that once bore the charm of colonial French-style villas but resembled a ghost town at the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime nearly 30 years ago.

Political stability and robust economic growth of nearly 10 percent have lured investors to the real estate market that has seen prices surge in the past few years — although they are still lower than in neighboring Vietnam or Thailand.

"Cambodia was sleeping for many years, and now it's waking up," said Claire Brown, managing director of Britain-based Claire Brown Realty, who began buying and selling property in Phnom Penh two years ago.

"Everybody wants to get a piece of the action," she said by phone. "The time to get in is now because soon it's going to be too late."

Prime city land prices have tripled in the past two years to $279 per square foot. Those kinds of returns have drawn rich and middle-class Cambodians, as well as those living abroad.

"In buying and selling land, they could get profit 100 or 200 percent a year, if they make the right bet on the right location," said Dith Channa, the sales manager of CPL Cambodia Properties Ltd., a Phnom Penh-based real estate agency.

Japan sinks funds into S??ille SEZ

Courtesy of Phnom Penh at
Written by Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 18 April 2008

Japan has signed a 3.65-billion-yen ($35.92-million) loan agreement with the Cambodian government for the design and development of a new 70-hectare special economic zone (SEZ) at Sihanoukville Port.

The agreement, signed in Phnom Penh on March 31 between the government and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), a Japanese government financing institution, will help fund new roads, sewage facilities and water supply for the SEZ, which will be Cambodia’s 19th such investment park.

“[SEZs] definitely attract more foreign investors,” said Carie Phou, marketing manager of Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone Ltd, adding that the zone in the capital had already lured firms from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia with its tax concessions and streamlined permit application process.

“It’s a friendly investment environment,” she said.

Hiroshi Suzuki, JBIC advisory economist to Senior Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon, said he believes the new SEZ will attract more foreign investors.

We think that this new agreement could contribute to attracting Japanese investment to this country.

“The first benefit is infrastructure. In Cambodia, power and water and such kinds of infrastructure are not sufficient. But within the SEZ, foreign investors will enjoy good conditions,” he said.

Like Cambodia’s pre-existing SEZs, the Sihanoukville SEZ Development Project will also offer investors financial benefits including simplified customs control, low service charges, exemptions from profit tax and import-export duties, and protection against labor unrest.

Suzuki said he is expecting the new SEZ to increase Japanese foreign direct investment (FDI) in Cambodia.

“Of course, the first option in the agreement is to assist the development of Cambodia,” he said. “However, at the same time, one important challenge is how to attract FDI… and we think that this new agreement could contribute to attracting Japanese investment to this country.”

According to the Council for the Development of Cambodia, Japan’s FDI between 1994 and 2007 amounted to $135 million, just a fraction of the amount invested over the same period by China ($1,761 million) and South Korea ($1,509 million).

“The necessary infrastructure and facilities will … create a better investment climate for potential Japanese investors,” a Japanese Embassy spokesman said by email.

The spokesman added that the Embassy expects the SEZ to create an estimated 15,000 jobs for Cambodians upon its completion.

Going for broke at Bokor

Cat Barton
The old casino atop Bokor Mountain looks out over the jungle to the Gulf of Thailand.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at
Written by Cat Barton
Friday, 18 April 2008

Tycoon Sok Kong talks to Vong Sokheng and Cat Barton about his ‘defining project,’ the $1-billion redevelopment of Bokor resort, and the challenges of enjoying free time in Cambodia

No sooner had Okhna Sok Kong stepped off his helicopter than he lit up a Winfield Blue and strode purposefully across the uneven grass atop Bokor Mountain towards the assembled journalists, cigarette dangling between diamond-encrusted fingers.

The 58-year-old looks every inch the tycoon: immaculately turned out in a well-cut suit, solid-gold Rolex watch and gold rimless glasses, he is preceded by a bevy of assistants and a vast reputation.

Smiling, smoking and barking orders in quick succession, Sok Kong quickly settles himself into a chair, orders a glass of red wine, and launches into an explanation of his newest project, a $1-billion redevelopment of the decaying French colonial-era Bokor Mountain resort.

“It is a big investment, it is a difficult investment and it will define me,” he says of his plan to create a “world class tourist city” from the dilapidated ruins of the Kingdom’s colonial past. “This is my ultimate challenge.”

The company he founded in 1994, Sokimex Cambodia Investment Co., Ltd, has a portfolio which ranges from garments to gas by way of five-star hotels. It has the ticketing concession at Angkor Wat, dominates the domestic market for petroleum products and Sok Kong’s Sokha Hotel Co., Ltd is an increasingly important player in the country’s booming tourism industry.

But the Bokor redevelopment will be the jewel in the Sokha Group’s crown.

“With this project, we are not looking for short-term profit, we want to do it well,” says Sok Kong.

Despite his punishing work schedule and penchant for Winfred Blues, which he bulk-buys in Singapore, the Okhna looks younger than his years – possibly because he feels he is just now coming of age professionally.

“This is the right time for me to do this business, now that the economy is growing,” he says. “If I didn’t [launch the Bokor redevelopment] now, it would become a missed opportunity.”

The project is ambitious. The Bokor mountain area covers 140,000 hectares, although the project only covers the previously developed areas – the three plateaus, which total about 14,000 hectares.

The first plateau is the highest on the mountain and the only area to have pre-existing buildings – the old casino, hotel, post office and church. This will become the “tourist city” and the other two plateaus will be developed into residential areas.

The aim is to finish construction of a new 600-room hotel over the next two-and-a-half years while rebuilding the 33-kilometer road up the mountain. The road – currently a muddy, pot-holed nightmare – will be enlarged and sealed at a cost of some $20 million.

The importance of preservation is emphasized repeatedly by Sok Kong and his employees. The French colonial buildings will be preserved; their outer shells strengthened and the insides ripped out in line with UNESCO recommendations.

When restored, the original hotel will offer a small number of higher priced luxury rooms.

“We will knock down the casino,” Sok Kong says. The original building is to be replaced with a purpose-built, 3,000-square-foot casino so the new development can capitalize on the long-standing reputation of Bokor as a high-end gambling retreat.

The residential areas aim to tap into what Sok Kong sees as a new growth market – second homes for middleclass Cambodian families and retirement homes.

“The main market is for Cambodians, overseas Cambodians and also retirees,” explains Sok Kong’s executive assistant, Svay Vuthy. “The weather here is good for retirees. We envisage some fulltime residents and some holiday homes.”

Although the master plan for the project is not yet finished, the company estimates that about 1,000 residential villas, condominiums and houses will be built.

The project has various impressively progressive elements, including a botanical garden and a market garden that will supply the hotel with fruit and vegetables. There are even plans for a wind farm to meet some of the resort’s electricity needs.

The biggest sticking point currently for the project is infrastructure, primarily the Sihanoukville airport.

“If international flights could land at Sihanoukville it would contribute to the entire project here,” Sok Kong says.

“Sihanoukville is dead because of [the lack of airport development]. If they want a tourist boom in the south like there was in Siem Reap then they need that airport.”

Sok Kong is optimistic about the impact of the project on the local economy. Not only will the project create massive employment opportunities – for example, the 600-room hotel alone will require 900 staff – it will also ensure they are jobs with perks, such as subsidized housing and long-term training schemes.

“We are not talking about the benefits now, we are talking about the benefits in 15 years’ time,” Sok Kong explains. “I want to create stable, long-term jobs for Kampot locals and also a stable supply of goods for the hotel project – people can grow the vegetables we need.”

Already, according to Sok Kong, the proposed development is proving a spur to the local economy, with land prices at the base of the mountain jumping from an average $10 per square meter before the project was announced in January to $70 a square meter today.

Managing the hotels currently in the Sokimex portfolio and overseeing new projects in Bokor, Kirirom and Phnom Penh – a large hotel on the Chroy Changvar peninsula is currently in the works – is no mean feat. When asked when he finds time to relax in between managing multiple multimillion-dollar development projects, Sok Kong smiles ruefully.

“Maybe in [England] it is easier for businessmen and they have time to relax. Here, we have a problem with human resources – it is very difficult for me to find staff I can trust and rely on.

And the banks can only lend up to 20 percent [of a project’s cost]. All the banks in Phnom Penh cannot fund [my Bokor redevelopment]. I have to do everything myself,” he says.

With this in mind, can he succeed with his hugely ambitious project in Bokor?

“The Sokha Group, how much money do we risk to pursue my ideas? How much do we lose? But now, when I have success, people accuse me of getting favors, of getting all the prime locations for my business,” Sok Kong says.

“But what they see is simply the success of my business model – the pursuit of my ideas.”

Khmer at a crossroads

Photo Supplied Chaimongkol Chalermsukjitsri, an ethnic Khmer and Thai citizen, poses with children at a school he runs in Chruy village in Surin, Thailand. He has opened four Khmer language schools in Surin over the past two years in an attempt to save what he sees as a dying language.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at
Written by Brendan Brady
Friday, 18 April 2008

One man fights to keep the Khmer language alive in Thailand despite signs that those along the border would rather be speaking Thai

Thai national Chaimongkol Chalermsukjitsri never misses a chance to speak Khmer, addressing market vendors, porters and street cleaners in the indigenous tongue of northeast Thailand’s Surin province.

An ethnic Khmer from the border region of Thailand once controlled by the Angkorian empire, 42-year-old Chaimongkol has set up four Khmer language schools in Surin over the past two years in an effort to revive what he claims is a dying language in the region.

He is currently negotiating with the largest secondary school in Surin to include Khmer language classes in their curriculum.

But the roughly 100 enthusiastic learners at his language schools are far from representative of most Khmer in Surin, who are letting their linguistic heritage slip away, according to Chaimongkol.

Chaimongkol recently took his cause to Phnom Penh, telling education officials in the capital that Khmer has fallen out of common use in Surin, particularly among youth, and is at risk of further decline with each generation.

Chaimongkol says parents cultivate a Thai-speaking household because they believe speaking Khmer is of little value to their children’s future.

“In education and work, Khmers have struggled to find a better life. So they think getting rid of their background will help them get a job.

“There are many things that change the attitudes of young Khmers in Surin about being a Khmer speaker. Thailand is stronger than Cambodia, economically and politically. I suspect many have the impression that Cambodia is more barbaric than Thailand,” he says.

The absence of attractive pop-culture materials in Khmer, such as music or movies, makes it even harder to motivate youth to take an interest in their ancestral language, he adds.

Chaimongkol says apathy towards preserving Khmer also comes from education officials.

When he asked teachers at a school in Sisaket province – also on the Cambodian border – if they had considered teaching Khmer, “they had a big laugh,” he says. “That is what always happens.”

He recalls a recent conversation with a university faculty member from Bangkok who said she could spare him a grant if he taught Khmer using Thai scripts.

Chaimongkol says he saw the offer as an affront.

“Later on, she told my partner that if my school expanded then it would be like [insurgent-wracked] southern Thailand. I should be under control, this was her meaning.

“I told them that I just want to protect my language. You don’t allow me to go to your school. Okay, I don’t.”

Other than this instance, he says he hasn’t encountered any opposition from Thai authorities.

“I’ve put up signs in public places and I’ve sent numerous letters to many officials for support, and the Surin governor himself even opened up a course at the provincial hall to promote the learning of the Khmer language among the government ranks of the province,” Chaimongkol says.

If Northern Khmer is lost in Thailand, people will lose an important link with their cultural identity, argues Chaimongkol.
“Losing language means losing one’s pride,” he says.

Still, funding from Cambodians is limited and Chaimongkol says his mission is an exhausting, uphill battle.

Cambodian donor Chantara Nop says he offers financial support because Khmer Surin are his kin. They had worked hard to preserve the Khmer language, he says, but in the last 50 years those efforts have been erased. “But now Chaimongkol is the chosen one.”

AirAsia launches KL, Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh flights

The Edge Daily

HO CHI MINH: AirAsia yesterday launched its direct daily Kuala Lumpur-Ho Chi Minh city and twice weekly Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh city flights.

In a statement yesterday, AirAsia said the Bangkok–Ho Chi Minh city flights would be increased to four times weekly starting April 27, 2008. Together, AirAsia group has a combined 11 flights weekly to Ho Chi Minh city.

Collectively, AirAsia group has nine points into Indochina, comprising Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Cambodia), Vientiane (Laos), Hanoi (Vietnam), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Yangon (Mynmar), Hanoi (Vietnam) and Ho Chi Minh city (Vietnam) from Bangkok.

The group has a combined 101 routes, 53 destinations serviced by AirAsia group and two international destinations serviced by AirAsia X, AirAsia’s long-haul low-lost affiliate.

“Twenty thousand seats have been snapped up since we opened the Kuala Lumpur — Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) on March 12, 2008 and Bangkok — Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) on March 3, 2008,” said AirAsia chairman Datuk Pahamin Ab Rajab.

To date, AirAsia group has carried over 49 million passengers and has grown from a two-aircraft fleet to 70 today, and now has the most extensive low-cost network in the region.

Trading rice for potatoes

BRENDAN BRADY Vegetable vendors at Doeum Kor market in Phnom Penh say it is unlikely their sales of potatoes will rise in the future, despite the health and agricultural benefits the hardy tubers have over rice.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at
Written by Brendan Brady and Mom Kunthear
Friday, 18 April 2008

With the price of rice at an all-time high and global stockpiles alarmingly low, there is a growing movement to introduce the humble spud as an Asian food staple.

China saw gains in potato farming last year amid devastating drought that prompted agricultural experts there to press for a switch to the more resilient potato. This month, Bangladeshi authorities urged villagers to eat potatoes to ease demand for rice, which has seen prices double in a year.

The prospect of mashed, baked, boiled or fried potatoes seems to have little traction with Cambodians, however.

While for Western expatriates in Phnom Penh the potato recalls buttery memories of festive feasts, the vegetable is held in low regard by most Cambodians.

Hout Penglay, a produce vendor at Doeum Kor market, said consumers were sticking to rice despite the soaring prices.

Trying to introduce the potato into everyday cuisine was a desperate measure, he said, and would not be resorted to by Cambodians unless absolutely necessary.

“I can’t go back to life under the Pol Pot regime when I and other people ate potatoes instead of rice,” said Em Sokha a shopper at Doeum Kor market.

“If there are political problems or war again, then maybe they can use potatoes to replace rice.”

Internationally, there are fears food security is already sufficiently threatened to justify elevating the spud’s status. The United Nations has dubbed 2008 the “International Year of the Potato” (IYP) to encourage consumption of the vitamin C and potassium-rich tuber.

“The potato produces more nutritious food more quickly, on less land and in harsher climates than any other major crop – up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, compared to around 50 percent in cereals (including rice),” the Food and Agriculture Organisation says on the official IYP website,

While promoting potato farming has yet to make its way on to the Cambodian agenda, the head economist at the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, Kang Chandararot, said diversifying the Kingdom’s heavily rice-based agricultural sector could help stabilize food prices.

Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said he is keen to see more potatoes grown in Cambodia.

“I think it’s a good idea and I support the farmers who plant potatoes because it’s part of the food supply for Cambodians, but Cambodians can’t eat potatoes as a substitution for rice because potatoes serve just as a kind of snack,” he said.

“I know poor people in isolated areas eat potatoes in place of rice when they ran out of rice, but this rarely happens.”

Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri and parts of Pursat would be best suited for potato farming due the regions’ cooler climate, according to Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.

BHP to assess Mondulkiri mining venture

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at
Written by Peter Olszewski
Friday, 18 April 2008

Australian mining giant BHP Billiton will soon begin an initial evaluation of its joint-venture Mondulkiri exploration licence in eastern Cambodia to decide if it will start mining for bauxite in the region.

It will also determine the potential for an alumina refinery in the province.

In October 2006, Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation and BHP Billiton signed a mineral exploration agreement with the Cambodian government to explore for bauxite in Mondulkiri. Most of the exploration sites are in protected forests.

The agreement requires a detailed evaluation of the Mondulkiri exploration licences to determine resource size and quality, environmental and community issues, risks from unexploded ordinances and the appropriate mining, processing and transport options.

Following the studies, which were originally said to be due in the first half of 2008, the partners have the exclusive right to negotiate a mining agreement with the government to develop the project. BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi previously partnered on the Mozal aluminium smelter in Mozambique.

A BHP Billiton spokesman told the Post on April 16 that the initial evaluation will commence this year.

“It is not known exactly how long the initial exploration period will last. If positive, further exploration evaluation can be expected to last up to an additional two years,” he said.

“A team consisting of exploration specialists and ERW (explosive remnants of war) clearance specialists will be based in Mondulkiri during the period, and they will be supported by community and environmental specialists.

“There is no certainty that a bauxite mine will be developed. A bauxite mine requires a large investment, not just in the mine but also in associated infrastructure and for transport of the bauxite.”

The spokesman continued: “This (agreement) does not provide us with a mining license – only a license to explore for bauxite.

“The whole period of exploration and assessment is likely to take at least five years. If a bauxite mine is eventually developed, BHP Billiton would be the operator of the project, but it’s still very early days.”

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh accompanied Hun Sen on the six-day tour to Australia and on his return, during a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport, Cham Prasidh said the land set aside for exploration could be up to 1 million hectares.

But during the same week Forbes magazine reported that the size of the exploration area was not revealed.

In December 2007, Prasidh said BHP Billiton would invest between $500 million and $1 billion in exploration in the Mondulkiri region, and Mitsubishi might invest an additional $3 billion if mining begins.

A report by the Australian Embassy said BHP Billiton is expected to invest $1.6-2.0 billion.

Exiled couple in legal limbo after US ruling

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at
Written by Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 18 April 2008

An US federal appeals court has overturned an earlier ruling, confirming a Cambodian couple’s eligibility for political asylum in the United States despite the husband’s previous work at a Cambodian prison where inmates – mostly Khmer Rouge soldiers – were allegedly mistreated.

The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a ruling it made on the case last August, saying that former Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) activist Pauline Im and his wife, Ngin Sethy, faced political persecution if they returned to Cambodia. An attempt on their lives was made in 2000.

The court also noted that Im’s brief employment as a guard at a Vietnamese-run prison during the early 1980s did not involve direct participation in the mistreatment of prisoners, an act which could have seen him deported.

“Im never beat any prisoner in his time as a prison guard. He did not decide who was imprisoned in the jail and he had no say in which prisoners were interrogated,” the court ruled in August.

“Im was charged with unlocking the doors to prisoners’ cells based on instructions from superiors,” added.

The court on April 11 withdrew the August ruling in light of a similar asylum case involving a former prison guard from Eritrea, Daniel Negusie, who is alleged to have been directly involved in the abuse of prisoners.

The US Supreme Court is not expected hand down its verdict on Negusie’s case until June 2009, casting the Cambodian couple into temporary legal limbo.

The couple’s lawyer, Emmanuel Enyinwa criticized the court’s decision this month, saying the two cases were not comparable because Im, unlike Negusie, was unarmed and played no role in the interrogation or mistreatment of prisoners.

After working as a prison guard following the 1979 Vietnamese invasion that ousted the Khmer Rouge, Im briefly joined the anti-Vietnamese resistance and was jailed in 1983 for anti-government activities.

Following the Paris Peace Accords, he joined the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party and ran as a candidate in the 1993 parliamentary elections.

After serving in the Ministry of Rural Development and the National Assembly, Im joined the opposition SRP in 2000.

The couple, who now live in Fresno, California, fled Cambodia after unknown assailants – thought by Im to be government agents – fired on their Phnom Penh home in July 2000.

??nti-poverty??leader revels in US backing

KHEM SOVANNARA Khmer American Daran Kravanh, leader of the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP), wears a garland of flowers at his party’s first congress, March 29 at the Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh.

Courtesy of Phnom Penh post at
Written by Meas Sokchea
Friday, 18 April 2008

Preparations for the July 27 national election are in full swing, with parties big and small gearing up to hit the campaign trail for a month starting June 26.

In all, 57 parties have announced they will run for a place in government, with 45 parties already registered with the Minister of Interior, Tep Nitha, secretary general of the National Election Committee (NEC) told the Post on April 10.

Among the hopefuls is the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP), lead by American-Khmer Daran Kravanh, who will run against the likes of Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy for the post of prime minister.

“Our party will bring the governance system from the USA to [Cambodia],” Kravanh, the founder and president of the KAAP, said at the party’s first congress on March 29.

As the party’s name suggests, the KAAP’s platform focuses on reducing poverty, arguing that rising inequality is a threat to social stability.

Daran is critical of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and particularly so Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal power.

He claims the CPP have only remained in power so long because they have money, and says he will provide “real results” through programs such as his pension scheme, which, he says, will ensure no elderly Cambodian will ever go hungry again.

Hun Sen on April 9 lashed out at the fledgling party while attending the inauguration of a school in Pearaing district, Prey Veng province. He mocked political parties that faded away immediately after elections and ridiculed KAPP’s proposal to introduce pensions in Cambodia.

“It is not possible,” he said. “If you do not work, you will not just get given American money.”

Kravanh claims to have more than 300 American advisers and governors who support his party, although he has not elaborated on the nature of this support.

Kravanh has also lashed out at the NEC, alleging the body is not capable of ensuring free and fair elections.

Tep Nitha said he declined to respond directly to the criticism, saying he didn’t even know who Kravanh was.

“The NEC just gets on with its work. It is up to an individual if they want to criticize us,” he said.
Despite his criticism of the CPP and key Cambodian institutions, Kravanh maintains that he would be happy to join a coalition with Hun Sen after the July elections.

“Hun Sen is a leader and he has spent a long time trying to help us,” he said.

The KAPP has already managed to attract some support in the run-up to the election. Party member Chuon Vanna, 25, from Kampong Speu province, said she joined the movement because she was impressed by Kravanh.

“When I’ve been with him on missions to the provinces I have seen him cry he is so moved by the poor people,” she said.

Seng Yet, a disgruntled former Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party member, said he recently joined the KAPP because he liked their policies.

They will help more Cambodians to become rich, he said.

Thousands homeless as city burns

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP People carry belongings away from a fire in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district, April 11, which the deputy director of the city’s firefighting unit, Um Chantha, said was the worst disaster he had witnessed in recent years.

Cramped housing, lack of resources blamed for difficulty fighting fires

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at
Written by Cheang Sokha
Friday, 18 April 2008

Large plumes of black smoke have become a familiar feature of the Phnom Penh skyline as Cambodia reaches the peak of the hot season, with seven major fires wreaking havoc on the capital over a ten-day period.

During the first four months of the year, 27 fires have each caused extensive damage to various parts of the city. This figure represents a significant increase on 2007, when only 37 fires were recorded for Phnom Penh during the entire 12-month period, said Um Chantha, deputy director of the municipality’s firefighting unit.

“House fires are often caused by the carelessness of homeowners who do not have any kind of defense against fire,” Chantha said.

“At hotels, big companies or enterprises, they have fire extinguishers but normal residents do not have these on hand.”

Chantha said the April 11 slum fire at Teuk Thla commune in Russey Keo district, in which 450 houses were razed and thousands left homeless, was the worst disaster he had witnessed in recent years.

His team was unable to access the area quickly or easily and this hindered their attempts to stop the blaze, he said, adding that limited resources for firefighters was a major problem.

“We have only eight operational fire trucks in our unit,” he said. “This is not enough; we need roughly 20 more fire trucks to help.”

Ouch Sokhon, police chief of Chamkarmon district, said 44 houses burnt to the ground on April 16 in Sangkat Psah Demtkov.

The fire was caused by faulty wiring and although it destroyed the properties in their entirety, no one was seriously hurt.

One resident, who referred to himself only as Pheap, said his home was completely destroyed by the fire.

“I have nothing now,” he told the Post. “I lost all my property which I had saved for a long time to buy.”

According to Pheap, most of the houses in the area are wooden and were rented out to people from the provinces who are now working in Phnom Penh. “They do not understand how to prevent fires,” he said.

“I was always concerned about the risk of fire from neighboring houses as they didn’t seem to be careful,” he said. “Now finally the fire has happened and we have all lost everything.”

The blaze was the second fire to occur in the Sokhon neighborhood within a week following one at the Nagaworld hotel and casino complex – one of the country’s biggest hotels – on April 12.

About 100 tourists were evacuated from Nagaworld after a fire broke out at a construction site inside the complex.

Local police chief Sokhorn said the ramshackle nature of many urban communities in Phnom Penh made it harder to stop fires.

Residents of the Psah Demtkov community had ignored municipal construction restrictions and expanded their houses at the expense of the road through the community, Sokhorn said, adding that the access lane on which the community is based was too narrow for fire engines to pass.

If the trucks had been able to access the area quickly, they would have been able to prevent the fire spreading through all the houses, Sokhorn said.

Firefighters eventually broke a brick wall around one property to get hoses through. Two hours later the fire was extinguished but the 120 families in the area – nearly all renters – were left homeless and sifting dejectedly through the smoldering remains of their former homes.