Friday, 29 August 2008

RIGHTS-CAMBODIA: Mass Evictions May Follow Lake Grab

Boeung Kak lake is being filled in and communities evicted to make way for a residential and shopping precinct. Credit:Andrew Nette/IPS

IPS
Friday, August 29, 2008

By Andrew Nette

PHNOM PENH, Aug 29 (IPS) - A plan to redevelop Phnom Penh’s largest remaining natural lake into a residential and shopping precinct has ignited a storm of protests and claims that it could result in the largest eviction in Cambodia’s post-war history.

Local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) fear the redevelopment of Boeung Kak lake could be the precursor of a fresh round of evictions across the country and renewed pressure on communities involved in existing land disputes.

The commencement of the project comes ahead of a Sep.10 meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which will debate whether or not to extend the three-year mandate of Yash Ghai, the Special U.N. Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia.

NGOs plan to raise the Boeung Kak project at the meeting as evidence of the continuing problem of forced evictions in Cambodia.

Rumours about the lake’s redevelopment, circulating for more than a decade, were confirmed in February 2007 when Phnom Penh Municipality signed a 79 million US dollar, 99-year lease on the site with a company called Shukaku Inc.

Although little known, Shukaku Inc has been linked in the Cambodian press to Pheapimex, a giant land company owned by ruling party senator Lau Meng Khin.

Amid a heavy police presence, contractors began pumping sand into the lake on Aug. 26 in preparation for the development of a 133-hectare commercial and housing project.

According to Housing Rights Taskforce, a coalition of more than 20 local and international housing rights organisations, residents have been told the pumping will continue 18 hours a day until 80 hectares of the 90-hectare lake are filled.

Boeung Kak residents claim they were not notified about the work and have received few details about the project and what will happen to those affected.

Chou Ngy, lawyer for the residents, told an Aug. 27 press conference that the project breaches several Cambodian laws.

These include the failure to publicly release an environmental impact assessment and the lack of a bidding procedure preceding the agreement.

He said residents are currently preparing to file an injunction to prevent it going ahead.

"According to the 2001 Land Law, the lake itself should be inalienable state land, so its ownership cannot be transferred for longer than 15 years, during which time the function (of the property) must not change," said a joint statement released this week by the Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and Amnesty International (AI).

"Many of the families have strong legal claims to the land under the Land Law," it said.

Municipal authorities say around 600 families will be affected, but NGOs put the number at approximately 4,250 or roughly 30,000 people.

Local media has reported that residents have been given three choices by the municipality; they can move to government approved accommodation in the north east corner of the city which NGOs say is not yet completed, take an 8,500-dollar lump sum in compensation, or wait until alternative housing has been built around the new Boeung Kak lakeshore.

The market rate for land is up to 6,000 dollars per sq m. Under the terms of their lease, Shukaku is paying approximately 50 cents per sq m per year.

"We are very concerned what will happen to our houses and livelihoods and the possibility that we will have to move," Som Vanna, one of the affected Boeung Kak residents, told the Aug. 27 press conference.

"We ask the company to halt the process of filling in the lake and meet the community to discuss the issue."

Touch Sophany moved to Boeung Kak in 1979 and makes a living growing vegetables such as morning glory around the lake. "I think I speak for all families when I say the Boeung Kak lake area is very easy to live in," she said. "Even poor people can make a living catching snails in the lake. The water is polluted, but this is being used as an excuse to force people out in the name of development."

"I want to stress the compensation offer is not acceptable to the people," said Sophany. "They should pay us the market rate."

International NGOs have criticised the planned development.

"If the government wishes to develop Boeung Kak, they should do so through a legal process, with the participation of communities that live around the lake," said Dan Nicholson, Phnom Penh-based Asia Coordinator, COHRE.

Concerns are also being expressed about the potential environmental impact of filling in the lake, which NGOs maintain is a natural reservoir for excess rainwater during the monsoon season.

Officials from the ministry of water resources and meteorology disagree and have told the local media it is not a flood protection area. An environmental impact assessment conducted by the Phnom Penh Municipality also supported the decision to fill in the lake.

Land grabbing and forced evictions are a major issue in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s media is littered with stories of large-scale real estate and infrastructure projects, many of them involving the allocation of significant areas of land, often as concessions.

Two significant development projects have been revealed in the last month alone.

These are the development of an island the size of Hong Kong off the coast of the southern province of Sihanoukville and a two-billion-dollar residential project in the former French colonial resort of Kep.

Housing organisations are concerned about the rights of people in those areas given Cambodia’s recent history of forced, sometimes violent, evictions, many clearly illegal under the country’s laws, which occur without proper consultation or compensation.

So serious was the outcry about the issue that in the months leading up to the Jul. 27 election Prime Minister Hun Sen personally intervened in one dispute and threatened to dissolve the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes, seen by many as a lame duck for its lack of activity.

After a pre-election lull in evictions, there are fears that communities currently embroiled in land disputes will be under renewed pressure and that there will be a spate of new evictions.

"There is an expectation that a lot more evictions will happen and that evictions in the works for some time will now get the green light," said David Pred from the NGO Bridges Across Borders, which operates a school in the Boeung Kak area.

"We are concerned that a number of evictions could be carried out after the election and we call on the government to respect the laws of Cambodia and their international human rights obligations," said Nicholson.

Housing rights organisations aim to make Boeung Kak a major issue at the Sep. 10 UNHRC meeting.

The meeting will consider whether to extend the mandate of the current special representative for human rights in Cambodia and as such will look at the country’s human rights record.

COHRE, AI and Human Rights Watch are all expected to make presentations about the human rights situation, said Nicholson. "There is no doubt that Boeung Kak and other evictions [in Cambodia] will be on the agenda,’’ he said.
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Nuon Chea: appeal dismissed

Cambodge Soir

29-08-2008

“Brother Number 2” lawyers request that some written records of the inquest of the procedure be removed.

Lawyers for the 90 year-old Khmer Rouge official requested in an appeal that some of the evidence of the co-investigating judges’ investigation should be deemed as void, based on the differences between Cambodia Law and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal’s (KRT) internal rules. The pre-trail chambers magistrates dismissed the request in a decision which cannot be appealed.

Among the evidence are written records of a hearing dated September 20, 2007. At that time Nuon Chea was only counselled by “one Cambodian Lawyer”, stated the defence which also recalled that the defence asked for more time to prepare this hearing. The extension was denied.

In December 2007, the lawyers of Nuon Chea, aka “Brother number 2” filed an application to quash the procedure acts. Their application was dismissed in January 2008 by the co-investigating judges. A month later the defence appealed the decision.

During the Pol Pot regime, Nuon Chea was a member of the Standing Committee of the Central Committee, before become Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea then President of the Democratic Kampuchean Assembly. He is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Preah Vihear: last soldiers postponed

Cambodge Soir

29-08-2008

Meeting between the two countries Friday, August 29, cancelled due to unrest in Thailand.

So the soldiers will enjoy a bit more sightseeing in Preah Vihear. On Friday August 29, a Cambodian delegation headed by Neang Phat, the Secretary of State for Defence was to meet with the Thailand Regional Borders Committee. On the agenda was the redeployment of the remaining soldiers still on the Preah Vihear site.

But the meeting was cancelled due to a new surge in the anti-government demonstrations troubling Thailand. On Wednesday August 27 at 2:00 pm, the Thai advisory team—although it arrived earlier to finalise the last details of the meeting—was asked to return home.

The Thais informed Neang Phat that they would like to postpone Friday’s meeting to discuss the outcome of the last encounter between Hor Nam Hong, the head of the Cambodian delegation and his Thai counterpart Tej Bunnag in the Thai resort of Hua Hin on August 19, at a later date.

Dredging operations start on Boeung Kak Lake

Cambodge Soir

29-08-2008

Process pumps started dredging sand in Boeung Kak Lake on Tuesday morning.

A large-scale investment project went ahead on Tuesday morning in the presence of police forces instructed to bar access to the lake. Some members of local NGOs actively involved in the defence of the lake dwellers’ interests could not access the lake.

The still disputed real-property project covers 133 hectares and was authorised by the government following an agreement dated August 22, 2008. Thousands of families are directly concerned by the future disappearance of the lake. Environmental consequences are also a major concern. The disappearance of the lake may cause flooding, a possibility the Ministry of environment denies.

Hoc Sarorn, who lives in a village along the lake, pointed out that the dwellers’ waste water runs into the lake. Therefore, drainage would trigger sanitation issues. But the locals have not yet filed any complaints against the project. Mann Choeun, Phnom Penh’s deputy-governor, stated that the terms of the agreement have already been discussed between the Ministries and the municipal authority, to prevent any local complaints. He recalled that in addition to dredging the sand, the company planned to install a machine to drain the lake water.

Around one hundred locals gathered on the premises of the Forum NGO, for a press conference challenging the modest compensations from the investment company. Touch Sophany is one of the representatives of the local community: “the company should have established a direct dialogue with the locals before dredging the sand. Their interests must be taken into account. In the case of these interests not being respected, the municipality shall declare void the 99- year lease that was granted to the Shukaku Company”, she said.

She added that most of the locals are not satisfied with the compensation: US$ 8,500 in compensation or a dwelling of the same value in the periphery of the town. This solution did not meet the expectations of the 450 families, who requested a minimum of US$ 13,000.

Bun Rachana, a lawyer for the Housing Rights Task Force, declared that his team will look into providing legal assistance to those desiring it.

The authorities have already started to destroy the lake dwellers’ plantations. Chun Hun, 42 years-old, grows morning glory on an area of four hectares. He reported that on Tuesday morning the police went on the lake to cut cables bordering the plantations of the locals without any warning. Chan Savet, a human rights investigator for Adhoc, criticised this operation which according to him is a destruction of people’s property and a violation of human rights. “It is paramount to start negotiating before acting” he explained.

The local people are now on their guard and are ready to fight any future police intervention on the lake.

Borei Keila relocation creating modern-day leper colony: NGOs

VANDY RATTANA An HIV-positive Borei Keila resident in the green shelters at the site in central Phnom Penh.

Living with hiv at Borei keila: a case study

Sophal, 34, takes a picture out of an album. “This is me and my second wife,” he says. “I was 27kg when I met her at the hospital. At that time I wanted to die.” After his marriage he stopped thinking so morbidly and now accepts that “death comes someday for everybody”. For four years, Sophal has swallowed his medicine regularly four times a day. “If I am not on time, I will be sick,” he says. He doesn’t want to live through the headaches, fever and stomach pains that he felt at the beginning of his antiretroviral treatment. It was impossible for him to work. Now, Sophal has to work because his wife is often sick. “She developed a resistance to the treatment. She got thinner everywhere, only her belly has swollen,” he said. His handicrafts with a local NGO Mith Samlanh allows him to earn around $20 a week when he feels healthy. It is just enough to enable him to keep living in the “green shelter” for HIV-positive families at Borei Keila while waiting to be relocated to Toul Sambo. The NGO Hope gives him 10kg rice per month but he wonders if NGOs will still support the families at Toul Sambo. Some have already said they will not.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Porée
Thursday, 28 August 2008

HIV-positive families face isolation, lack of access to essential medical care, after being left out of re-housing scheme once vaunted as a model for urban development

TWENTY kilometres outside Phnom Penh, past the Prey Sar prison, lies Toul Sambo village. Its proximity to the city's main jail, a grim collective of buildings housing the Kingdom's undesirables, is apt: Toul Sambo is a prison too, but one where people will be confined not by chains, padlocks or iron bars but by Aids, poverty and the municipality of Phnom Penh.

"I would prefer to live on the pavement in Phnom Penh than to live here," said Phally, an HIV-positive resident of Borei Keila who is being relocated to Toul Sambo.

This is the tail-end of the Borei Keila relocation scheme, a scheme that was supposed to be a "model project", a way for the government to demonstrate that it is possible to develop an inner-city area while still respecting the housing needs of the urban poor.

Instead, the municipality appears to be constructing a modern day "leaper colony" - the isolated village of Toul Sambo has been purposely built to house the HIV-positive families who are going to be evicted from Borei Keila.

A progressive scheme

Under the initial 2004 Borei Keila agreement signed off by the government, homeowners who were living "permanently" on the central Phnom Penh site and renters who had been living in the settlement since 2000 were considered eligible for on-site resettlement in apartments in 10 buildings constructed by the private developer.

The land-sharing project was hailed as progressive because renters and owners were, for the first time, given the same rights. The first two buildings were opened in March 2007 in a highly publicised ribbon cutting ceremony.

But the Borei Keila land share quickly ran into trouble as rights groups accused city hall of reneging on its agreement to re-house all residents. Soon, Phnom Penh's so-called "progressive" urban development scheme became mired in corruption, stymied by red tape and then forgotten.

Only the poorest of the poor remain now, most others have been given flats or have given up. But those living with HIV - who are the poorest and most marginalised members of the community - have nowhere else to go.

During a ceremony Wednesday in Borei Keila, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said the government plans to build the new ministry offices on the Borei Keila site. Thong Khon told the Post that they expect to finish constructing the new building within a year and the ministry will return its current property to the government.

" I WOULD PREFER TO LIVE on the pavement iN PHNOM PENH THAN TO LIVE IN TOUL SAMBO. "

The majority of families not yet relocated are the HIV-positive families living in the so-called green shelters. They are expected to be moved to Toul Sambo but have no idea of when this will happen as officials refuse to disclose details of any planned relocation.

Despite the fact a considerable number of the HIV-positive families have lived at Borei Keila since 2000 or before, in theory giving them the right to an apartment, they have not been included in the on-site redevelopment.

According to Mann Chhoeun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, these HIV-positive families have no right to stay at Borei Keila.

Instead, the families are being relocated to Toul Sambo at the expense of the municipality, he said, explaining "the municipality bought the land and is financing the construction of their new houses. We have limited means. This is our capacity to help them".

"It is not discrimination to relocate them to Toul Sambo, it is an act of charity from the municipality," he said.

Another Andong

"It is offensive to say we are talking about ‘charity' when we speak about people who need access to their medication to survive," said Sharon Wilkinson, country director for CARE.

Many NGOs working on land and eviction issues in the Kingdom oppose what they say is the standard modus operandi of the Phnom Penh municipality: relocating the poorest of the poor to sites on the outskirts of Phnom Penh that lack even basic health and education services and have few, if any, employment opportunities for evictees.

In 2006, the municipality facilitated the relocation of a central Phnom Penh community to Andong. Thousands of Sambok Chab residents were dumped 22 kilometres from the city in a field lacking any basic amenities.

Two years on at the site, disease is rife, infant and maternal mortality rates have soared, and employment and education opportunities are scarce or nonexistent.

NGOs are warning that the municipality is making the same mistakes with Toul Sambo. Médecins sans Frontières wrote an assessment on the new site, decrying the fact that even "access to safe drinking water is not yet secured".

Thus the municipality's Toul Sambo proposal has alarmed many local and international NGOs and UN agencies - they worry that the assistance they provide to evictees is letting the government off the hook.

"Our medical team is happy to cooperate with the health authorities in providing continued support to evicted people at various relocation sites around Phnom Penh," said Manfred Hornung, monitoring consultant with the local rights group Licadho, which provides medical care at Andong.

"However, I believe that we all have a strong responsibility to ensure that the civic rights of the affected people are not being trampled upon, while we deliberately confine ourselves to assuming our roles as quiet service-providers," he said.

The Aids village

At Toul Sambo the plots of land allocated to the HIV-positive families are just 3.5 metres by 4.8 metres in size. Houses are made of metal sheets, and there is space for one bed, next to a small hole that serves as a toilet.

"The houses will topple over at the first storm," says HIV-positive Borei Keila resident Lakhena, who has come to see Toul Sambo for the third time.

There is no electricity, a single well is supposed to provide the new village's drinking water, the sewage system is not functioning, and the nearest adequate hospital is in Phnom Penh.

There are no employment opportunities for those evictees who are strong enough to work, nor cash compensation to tide the families over during the initial relocation period.

No provisions have been made to facilitate access to medical care, including to the lifesaving antiretroviral drugs.

Most of those to be relocated currently scrape out a living in Phnom Penh through finding work in the capital's informal economy as construction workers, trash pickers or motorcycle taxi drivers. When they move, they will be too far from the city to continue such employment.

A recent study from Catholic NGO Caritas on 13 families from Borei Keila estimated average monthly income at $97 per family and average expenditure at $94 per month.

These are the poorest of the poor, eking out a living on the fringes of the city, but now that the city has thrown them out, what can the future hold?

"People will call us the ‘Aids Village,'" said one HIV-positive Borei Keila resident who is slated for relocation to Toul Sambo.

"If we get sick, no one will bring us to Phnom Penh. We will die in Toul Sambo," the resident said.

The discrimination that HIV-positive people feel every day at Borei Keila will worsen, residents fear, when all those with the virus are forced out of their community and into an isolated village.

But they are scared to protest. "If we complain, we will get nothing," said Borei Keila resident Chea. Community representatives told all the HIV-positive families to sign documents accepting relocation in Toul Sambo, otherwise they will get nothing.

Making things worse

Kem Ley, executive director of HACC (HIV/Aids coordinating committee), a network of near 100 local and international NGOs working on Aids, said it usually takes up to five years to integrate HIV-positive people who are relocated.

"Generally it is very difficult for them to earn money and the children at school suffer high discrimination. That's why many of them return to the city," he said.

Once trumpeted as the prototype for a new wave of progressive urban development in Phnom Penh - the kind without squatters, evictions or protests - the Borei Keila social land concession project is now likely to deepen the poverty, stigmatisation and illness of the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community, observers warn.

Cambodia's youth see politics as a pointless, dangerous game

VANDY RATTANA; Young people on the campaign trail for Funcinpec in Sihanoukville.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 28 August 2008

Young voters express frustration over the Kingdom's predictably confrontational politics and say fear of reprisal and self-interest keep them silent in public and absent from the polls

AS demographic data for July's election are still being tabulated, many younger voters are expressing pessimism, apathy and fear towards politics.

While some said they pay scant attention to how their nation is run, others said they follow the national discourse but are too afraid to join in.

"Of course I'm afraid for my security when I talk about politics because I'm risking my life - I can be killed, just like some political heroes who died over politics," said Ham Kimhoun, a 25-year-old who works with a local NGO.

He said his peers are uninterested in politics, focusing their attention elsewhere. "I see a lot of youths who think that politics is pointless, and they're only concerned with studies, work and their lifestyle, more so than politics," Ham Kimhoun said.

The last available figures for youth voting, from the 2007 commune election, show a low turnout, although voter participation is normally likely to be lower in non-national contests. Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee, said that in the commune polls, just 3.2 percent of eligible voters aged 18-35 cast ballots, which translates to some 265,000 young people hitting the polling booths.

However, for the July 27 national election, Moa Pouthyroth, program coordinator of Youth Council of Cambodia (YCC), said her group, which worked in eight provinces and the capital, noticed large numbers of younger voters at the polls.

She estimated about 70 percent of eligible young voters cast their ballots. Until official numbers are available, it is impossible to verify this estimate.

Tailor Korn Channavy, 24, said she's never cared about politics and that what's most important for her is money. "Politics is useless and worthless for me to think and care about. My top priorities are money and work, because that's what will help me improve my lifestyle," she said.

" [National politics] Resembles theatre: sometimes comedy, sometimes tragedy "

"Politicians only ever think of what benefits them, so I do too," she added. "My time is valuable; I don't waste it talking or thinking about politics."

Thon Saykhim, 20, a national youth coordinator for Khmer Youth and Social Development, said she finds politics frustrating and repetitive. "I'm fed up with national politics," she said. "Politicians don't think about the country's development; they're only concerned with power." She added that post-election disputes are the norm for Cambodia, from mandate to mandate.

Without expressing support for any party, she said "the opposition party often protests the ruling party but neglects their own shortcomings, and equally, the government is overly proud about their power. The parties don't understand each other".

Heng Thou of the Advocacy and Policy Institute said national politics "resembles theatre: sometimes comedy and sometimes drama".

She said she talks about politics with friends and co-workers, but she doesn't speak her mind in public because it's not safe. "A lot of people have been killed for talking about politics. Our country is not that free," she said.

Seng Rithy, director of education and advocacy at the Khmer Youth Association, lamented the culture of fear as an obstacle for youth participation in politics.

"It isn't right to threaten people for discussing politics," he said. "It's not a good environment for youths now, and for the future, because they're not free to discuss and exchange ideas and opinions."

Wrapping up business at the lake

RICK VALENZUELA

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Rick Valenzuela
Thursday, 28 August 2008

Chum Chamnan makes a tray, used for the Buddhist ceremony Kathen, at her Boeung Kak home adjacent to the pipe that on Tuesday began filling the lake with sand. The 39-year-old has lived here since 1993, making tray as well as fishing and growing morning glories, more than half of which were buried by midday Tuesday. She says she's accepting $8,000 compensation and will move to Kandal, where she will start a new business.

Villages to be built at the border after PM orders better defences

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Thursday, 28 August 2008

Government hopes to populate isolated areas next to Thailand following a series of border incursions by Thai troops at two key temples

NEW villages are being established along the border with Thailand in Oddar Meanchey province as Cambodia builds up its defences against future incursions by Thailand, officials say.

The order to more heavily populate the frontier came last week from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who also has decreed that soldiers would be given land in the region to encourage them to settle there permanently.

Provincial Deputy Governor San Vanna said that the policy to promote settlement along the Thai border was a direct response to the encroachment by Thai troops at Preah Vihear and Ta Moan Thom temples.

"People constitute a strong fence to defend Cambodia's borders," San Vanna said.

Most of the 224 kilometres of border area in Oddar Meanchey is mountainous and heavily forested, with few roads or people.

"More new villages and people's presence along border will help protect [our land]," San Vanna said."We rushed to form these new villages after receiving instructions," he said.

"I do not know how many villages have been formed to date as there has been no official registration yet."

Defending the nation

Long Sovann, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, said that he has not received any instructions to populate the 100-kilometre stretch along the border, which currently only has two villages.

"More villages along Preah Vihear's border would help to defend the nation," he said.

Battambang province Governor Prach Chan said that while he has also not received any instructions, Battambang's three districts along the border are already densely populated.

But he expressed support for the government's plan to populate the border areas.

"This is strategy to defend our nation as well as develop the area," Prach Chan said.

The government also has plans to build two roads linking the border areas.

Lake residents want justice

RICK VALENZUELA; Residents watch as a pipe begins pumping sand and water into the lake. The reclamation process is expected to take more than a year to complete.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Thursday, 28 August 2008

A lawyer representing Boeung Kak villagers will challenge the filling of the lake by private developers and demand fair compensation for the displaced

RESIDENTS at Boeung Kak plan to file a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over what they say is the illegal filling of the natural lake by private developers.

"I will file with the court on behalf of residents and demand acceptable compensation," said the residents' lawyer, Choung Choungy, at a news conference Wednesday attended by about 100 lake residents.

"There had been no compensation when workers started filling the lake," said Noun Thol, 33, a representative of the lake residents. "I'm afraid that houses near the sand pump could fall down."

Toch Sophany, 48, lives in Village 4 in Srah Chak commune. She settled in Boeung Kak in 1979 and makes her living growing vegetables and lotus flowers.

"My business will be destroyed," she said. "Boeung Kak is our business." She said villagers would not accept houses and cash to abandon the area.

Municipal officials agreed Monday to pay an additional US$500 to lake residents who accepted compensation of a new house and $8,000 in cash.

"I will not take [the deal]. I want fair compensation," Toch Sophany said, adding that fair compensation would be at least $30,000.

" THIS MAY BE THE BEGINNING OF THE BIGGEST FORCED EVICTION IN POST-WAR CAMBODIA. "

Pa Socheatvong, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, told the Post on Wednesday that the municipality has three options for lake residents: a new house, a cash settlement or on-site upgrading of existing properties.

"This is our policy," he said. "If they refuse to accept the first two options, they must wait for development to finish."

Pa Socheatvong said residents would not be endangered by current development work. "Residents can move their houses away from the pump to areas that have more water."

Amnesty International and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the filling of the lake.

"In the absence of proper plans, compensation and adequate alternative housing for at least 3,000 affected families, the filling of the lake should be immediately halted. Otherwise, this may be the beginning of the biggest forced eviction in postwar Cambodia," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher, in the statement.

"If the government wishes to develop Boeung Kak, they should do so through a legal process, with the participation of communities that live around the lake," said Dan Nicholson, Coordinator of COHRE's Asia and Pacific Programme.

Amnesty International and COHRE said the agreement between City Hall and Shukaku Inc breached domestic law, and "no environmental impact assessment has been made public".

Puth Sorithy, director of the Environmental Impact Department at the Ministry of Environment, said last week in a meeting with 450 lakeside families at City Hall that Boeung Kak is not a healthy place for people to live.

"I felt sick from the smell when I visited," he told the villagers. "Our EIA balances natural and social environment issues. If there is no EIA, the company could not pump sand into the lake."

Thai-Cambodian oil talks stall

The Bangkok Post
Friday August 29, 2008

Border dispute blocks long-sought deal

YUTHANA PRAIWAN & NAREERAT WIRIYAPONG

Negotiations involving overlapping claims to undersea oil and natural gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand are likely to drag on as both Thailand and Cambodia still need to seek agreement on the disputed border area, says Krairit Nilkuha, the director-general of the Department of Mineral Fuels.

The two countries had opened negotiations in 1995 in a bid to tap into potentially rich reserves.

The talks led to a memorandum of understanding signed in 2001 by the Thai and Cambodian prime ministers.

Under the pact, they agreed in principle to join in development and share profits from a total of eight blocks of petroleum fields in the overlapping claims area (OCA).

The 2001 agreement still needs approval of the Thai House of Representatives to comply with provisions in the 2007 Constitution governing international agreements and treaties.

However, the main obstacle centres on two petroleum blocks, designated Block 5 and 6, where clarification of the disputed sea border is still sought.

Since the memorandum of understanding was signed in 2001, only five meetings have been held with no real progress made, even though both sides have clearly expressed their willingness to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.

Committees and working groups are working to seek an agreeable solution for the whole 26,000-square-kilometre OCA.

Leaders from both countries last failed to hammer out a formal arrangement in 2006 during a visit to Cambodia by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

However, Mr Krairit said he was optimistic that negotiations could be concluded soon, with a goal of seeing production from the areas begin within 10 years.

''All state agencies related to the OCA are accelerating efforts to seek the best solution that could help resolve the disputed sea border between the two countries, so we could resume talks,'' he said.

Thailand first awarded exploration licences to work in the areas in 1968 to Idemitsu, Chevron, British Gas and Mitsui Oil.

However, the dispute first arose in 1972 when Cambodia claimed its overlapping sea border. The Phnom Penh government also later awarded the licences over the exact same areas in 1997 to Conoco Phillips, Shell and Idemitsu.

As the dispute remains, those licence holders are unable to gain access to the areas in question.

Mr Krairit said he believed that resources in the area were plentiful, based on results from blocks nearby in the Pattani basin in Thai territory, where there are proved reserves of 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas by US-based Chevron and Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production.

No data on petroleum reserves within the disputed areas have been revealed due to the extreme sensitivity of the border claims.

Mr Krairit said the talks should rely on the International Territory Law following the model of a Thai-Vietnamese sea territory clarification in 1997, or the Malaysia-Thailand Joint Development Area (JDA) in 1990.

Viraphand Vacharathit, the Thai ambassador to Cambodia, agreed that the prospects for the talks seemed brighter, adding that the two governments had agreed in principle that the benefit-sharing model of the Thailand-Malaysia JDA was the best solution.

''What has yet to be concluded is sharing ratio for the spilt of the resources,'' said the ambassador.

Authorities on both sides have discussed OCA issues occasionally. Talks have been positive so far because both parties want to reap benefits from the untapped gas deposits.

''It is believed that the OCA has more natural gas reserves than oil. However, the amount of reserves has yet to be confirmed,'' Mr Viraphand said.

Pol Pot victims from killing fields plan resorts by Angkor Wat

Business Standard
Bloomberg / New York August 29, 2008

Kith Meng grew up in Australia as an orphan and a refugee from Cambodia's genocide. He tells of washing dishes and mowing lawns to make ends meet while living in Canberra. Being a poor outsider made him stronger, he says, and unusually driven.

Back in Cambodia since 1991, Kith Meng, 39, has built his Royal Group into an empire that owns Cambodia's biggest mobile phone company and television network and is developing a $2 billion resort and casino on a fishermen's island on Cambodia's coast.

The country's most successful businessman, he supports Prime Minister Hun Sen and benefits from his ties to the government, which granted the 99-year lease on the island for his resort. Kith Meng is a Neak Oknha, an honor the royal family confers on a few of the wealthiest members of society.

Black-and-white photographs of Kith Meng's parents adorn one wall of his office in the capital city of Phnom Penh. They starved to death during Pol Pot's reign, when Cambodia's fertile countryside became the killing fields —- two victims among the 1.7 million, or 20 per cent of the population, who perished. Kith Meng fled the terror, first to a refugee camp in Thailand and then, in 1981, to Australia. “Suffering is my mentor.” he says.

Thousands of former refugees, with their own harrowing stories, have returned to Cambodia, and now investors hoping to profit in the next frontier market — a term Standard & Poor's coined for economies smaller or less developed than traditional emerging markets — are coming to the country, too.

‘Discovery Story’

The entrepreneurial drive and technical skills the returnees bring with them from overseas are breathing life into the economy. Three decades after Pol Pot exterminated the country's educated classes and emptied its cities, Cambodia's gross domestic product is just $8 billion a year.

Political and business leaders are grappling with poverty, inadequate health care, poor education and a lack of roads in this nation of 14 million. Corruption is slowing progress, says Joseph Mussomeli, the US ambassador.

“The trick with a frontier market is getting the timing right,” says Douglas Clayton, who founded Leopard Cambodia Fund LP last year and is raising $100 million to invest in real estate, banking and agribusiness. “Cambodia is really a discovery story — and it's being discovered.”

Cambodia grew 9.5 per cent a year from 2000 to 07, the fastest pace in Asia after China, which expanded 9.9 per cent a year. Political stability under the administration of Hun Sen, 56, has helped the Cambodian economy take off, says Bretton Sciaroni, chairman of the American Cambodian Business Council in Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen

Hun Sen has run the country since 1985. He came to prominence as a communist while the Vietnamese occupied the country, having pushed Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge from the capital. He strengthened his grip with a landslide victory for his Cambodian People's Party in July's parliamentary elections. An opposition leader has alleged manipulation of voter rolls, and the royalist party that shared power in the 1990s has been reduced to two seats in the legislature.

Clothing exports and tourism have buoyed the tiny economy, though the revenue of any of the world's 500 largest companies would still dwarf Cambodia’s annual economic output.

A 1994 law to open the country to foreign investors has encouraged some to put money in. Approved foreign direct investment rose to a record $4.4 billion in 2006, according to the Cambodian Investment Board. Investors can own 100 per cent of a company, and they face no restrictions on taking money in and out of the country — in contrast to China or Vietnam.

First KFC

From 1994 to 2007, foreign exchange reserves expanded 16-fold to $1.6 billion. Cambodia is scheduled to open its first stock and corporate bond markets by the end of 2009.

Global companies have opened offices in Phnom Penh, encouraged by the robust economic growth — and by the prospects of oil and gas development following a discovery off Cambodia’s coast in 2005 by Chevron Corp.

They include power-turbine maker General Electric Co, Microsoft Corp and London-based Knight Frank LLP, a property consultant. Kith Meng has brought Phnom Penh a KFC chicken restaurant, the nation's first foreign fast-food chain.

Government revenue from Chevron's planned project could reach $1.7 billion when peak production is reached in 2021, an International Monetary Fund report said last year.
“The significant oil discovery by Chevron really was the one that pushed me over the edge,” says Stuart Dean, president for Southeast Asia at GE, which also provides aircraft leasing, water treatment and health-care services.

Cambodian researchers discover large colonies of rare primates

The Earth Times
Fri, 29 Aug 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - A survey by environmental agency Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has uncovered "surprisingly large" populations of two globally endangered primates in a remote protected area in Cambodia, it said in a press release Friday. A census by WCS scientists and Cambodian rangers across a 780- square-kilometre area in the remote north-eastern border province of Mondulkiri on the Vietnam border counted 42,000 black-shanked doucs and 2,500 yellow-cheeked crested gibbons, it said.

"The estimate represents the world's largest known populations for both species," WCS said in a press release, adding that total populations of the two threatened species within the surrounding 3,000sq km area may be even larger.

"Prior to this discovery, the largest known populations of the two primate species were believed to live in adjacent Vietnam, where black-shanked doucs and yellow-cheeked crested gibbons number at 600 and 200 respectively. Their total population figures remain unknown."

Doucs, a species of Old World monkey, take their name from the Vietnamese word for monkey and the strikingly marked black-shanked doucs are found only in this patch of Cambodia and Vietnam.

WCS gave the Cambodian government rare praise, saying its commitment to prevent logging in the area had been strong and had helped greatly, but warned that other threats still remained.

"The primates have benefited from a cessation of logging activities, a nation-wide gun confiscation program implemented in the 1990s, and a habitat where there is plenty to eat," WCS said.

"But ... the area still remains at risk from conversion to agro-industrial plantations for crops, including biofuels, and commercial mining."

NZ successfully completes Asean trade

NZPA Thursday August 28 2008

New Zealand and Australia have successfully completed free-trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The announcement of a deal came in a statement today during annual talks by economic ministers of the 10-member Asean.

NZPA understands the deal includes the eventual elimination of tariffs on New Zealand's meat and dairy exports and could be signed by the end of the year.

It is understood there are still some outstanding issues between some of the other countries, but it was hoped they would be worked out at a bilateral level before the deal was signed.

A sean economies, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia, represent a market of more than 575 million people.

The bloc represents a global total trade of over $NZ2010 billion and was New Zealand's third largest export market for merchandise goods in the year to June 2008 -- worth $4.6 billion.

New Zealand's trade with the region has been growing at 24 percent per year for the past three years.

Trade Minister Phil Goff has previously said the benefits of the deal are not only economic. It also meets New Zealand's strategic goal of being an integral part of the regionalisation under way in the Asia-Pacific area.

Cambodian opposition parties take election grievances overseas

www.chinaview.cn
2008-08-29

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP), which are two opposition parties of Cambodia, have written to the leaders of 18 nations who signed the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, complaining of alleged irregularities in the July 27 general election, local media reported Friday.

Signed by SRP President Sam Rainsy and HRP President Kem Sokha, the letters expressed the opposition parties wish to bring to signatories' attention the extent to which political developments in Cambodia have departed dangerously from the path laid out in the Paris Agreement, the Cambodia Daily newspaper said.

According to a copy of the letter, the two parties reiterate their complaints of "systematic and massive electoral fraud."

They also accuse the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the National Election Committee (NEC) of deleting "hundreds of thousands" of pro-opposition voters from the election list.

Meanwhile, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap told the newspaper that he was not surprised by the opposition's letter-writing campaign but also believed that it would do them little good because other countries, a number of whom monitored the election, are confident the poll went smoothly enough.

Editor: Sun Yunlong

Thailand postpones border spat talks: Cambodian general

Cambodian soldiers stand guard on a road near a pagoda close to Preah Vihear temple
PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Anti-government protests in Bangkok have caused the Thai military to postpone talks to discuss withdrawing troops from a disputed border area near an ancient temple, a Cambodian general said Thursday.

Twenty soldiers from Cambodia and Thailand remain stationed at a small pagoda on a patch of disputed land near Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple, while 40 from both sides remain nearby.

Up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops pulled back from the area in mid-August, suggesting that an end to the sometimes tense six-week military stand-off could be near.

But Cambodian and Thai military officials scheduled to meet Friday to discuss a further pullback of troops postponed their talks at the request of Thai officials, Cambodian General Neang Phat, a secretary of state at the defence ministry, told AFP Thursday.

The request was made Wednesday afternoon, just hours after a 30-member Thai delegation arrived in Siem Reap to prepare for the talks, he said.

"They requested the meeting be postponed and they returned to Thailand," General Neang Phat said.

"They did not give any reasons. But we can know that it is because of their internal problems," he added.

A Thai foreign ministry official later confirmed the postponement but said both sides forced the delay.

"The meeting was postponed because both sides are not yet ready due to their internal processes," he said.

"A new meeting date will be rescheduled as soon as possible and the meeting will still be held in Cambodia as agreed," he said.

Thousands of Thai protesters seized a television station and occupied the the main government compound in Bangkok this week in an attempt to force the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

Cambodian General Neang Phat said it was not clear when Thai and Cambodian military officials would resume the meeting to discuss troop withdrawals.

After talks last week between Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong, the two sides said a border committee would meet in October to step up efforts to draw the boundary around the temple.

Cambodia had asked the UN Security Council to consider the standoff that erupted in July, but Hor Namhong said that request would likely be withdrawn.

Relations between the neighbours flared up last month after Preah Vihear was awarded world heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the ancient Khmer temple.

On July 15, Cambodia arrested three Thai protesters for illegally crossing the border to try to reach the temple, sparking the deployment of troops from both sides on the tiny patch of disputed land near Preah Vihear.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute.

Cambodia deploys VisaNet to unify domestic ATM network

ThaiPR.NET

Visa works with four major Cambodian banks to launch “Easy Cash”, a new domestic ATM network

Visa, along with Cambodia Mekong Bank, Canadia Bank, Singapore Banking Corporation (SBC Bank), and Union Commercial Bank (UCB), have announced the setting up of a unified domestic payments infrastructure in Cambodia. The move will connect the ATM networks of the four banks.

The network, called “Easy Cash”, will make it easier for Cambodians to perform basic banking services, such as balance enquiries and cash withdrawals at any Easy Cash network ATM around the country.

Ms. Truong Minh Ha, Visa’s country manager, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos said, “Visa and our partner banks have worked in close cooperation with the Government of Cambodia to develop and implement a system that will efficiently deliver electronic banking services to the fast growing banked population in Cambodia.

“The banks investigated various means to connect their systems and they concluded that the most resilient and cost-effective solution for their needs was to connect the ATMs through VisaNet. This decision was made based on the technology and scale of the VisaNet system, coupled with the expertise of Visa's team.”

The deployment of the domestic switch aims to help drive electronic payment transactions in Cambodia. Electronic payment systems can help bring more people into the banking system because they help create safer, more efficient and convenient payment services.

“This service is the only network in the country to connect four locally incorporated banks electronically to give customers the flexibility of accessing their accounts from any of the four banks’ ATMs. Bank customers are no longer limited to using ATMs from a single bank,” said Mr. Thet Vannara, Card Center Manager of Cambodia Mekong Bank.

Mr. Luis Chen, Vice President, Canadia Bank said: “The VisaNet system will increase the number of ATMs available to our customers. Indeed, our customers will now find convenient access to 86 ATMs around the nation from which they can draw upon their funds and manage their personal finances. As a group, we are looking to have up to 126 ATMs connected under VisaNet before the end of 2008.”

The VisaNet system makes full use of the banks' existing ATM infrastructure. By unifying under the Easy Cash brand, banks benefit by being able to provide more customers with ATM services leading to an increased footprint in the market.

Diaz Kun, Executive Vice President of SBC Bank said, “ATMs have gained prominence as a delivery channel for banking transactions in Cambodia and banks have been deploying ATMs to increase their reach. The advantages of working on the shared ATM network with the other three participating banks include a bigger ATM network and optimal use of the ATMs with more transactions per machine per day. Importantly, the Easy Cash ATM network will make life easier for bank customers since it will bring more convenience to them through a larger number of ATMs across the country.”

Mr. Yong Kah Wah, Card Center Manager of UCB is particularly enthusiastic about the increase in services of the Easy Cash network rollout in Cambodia. “Customers today are continually seeking more convenient ways to manage and access their funds. Launching the Easy Cash network is by far the most cost-effective solution in providing UCB with the capability of providing services for each and every customer”.

--www.theasianbanker.com (August 29 2008)--

Documents: 177 people were released from Khmer Rouge torture centre

M&C Asia-Pacific News

Aug 28, 2008

Phnom Penh - Documents showed 177 prisoners were released from the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 torture centre, the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) told local media Thursday in a dramatic turnaround from previous statements that only seven people had survived.

DC-Cam previously maintained only a handful of people had survived the torture centre by the time the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979 and up to 16,000 had died there. DC-Cam is credited with archiving thousands of documents left by the 1975-79 Democratic Kampuchea regime and being the foremost documentary authority on it.

DC-Cam has supplied the bulk of documentary evidence to the joint UN-Cambodian court set up to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

'These are documents sitting there for the past 30 years,' the English-language Cambodia Daily quoted DC-Cam director Youk Chhang as saying.

Chhang said the 177 released prisoners should 'not be considered survivors as they had been spared by their captors.'

He was unavailable for comment Thursday as to why DC-Cam had not drawn public attention to the historically invaluable documents earlier nor perused testimonies of released prisoners before the indictment of former S-21 jailer Kaing Guek Euv, alias Duch, if it knew of them.

In July 2007, DC-Cam initially disputed the claims of Chim Math, who was subsequently recognized by others as S-21's first known female survivor, saying no available documents supported her claims.

It was unclear if the new evidence would affect the defence case for Duch, who was expected to face court as early as October.

Duch is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity and has not denied overseeing the centre, where men, women and children were beaten, starved and subjected to horrors, including being forced to wear buckets of live scorpions on their heads.

In his August 8 indictment, the co-investigating judges upheld the previously held theory that nobody was ever released.

Up to 2 million Cambodians perished under the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime.

Embedded Travel Guide Cambodia: Island Paradise

Jaunted
27/08/2008

This week, our Cambodia embed, Tim Patterson, is giving us the inside scoop on the country, live from a guesthouse in Sihanoukville.

Remember The Beach? The excellent Alex Garland novel, later made into a crappy movie that even Leonardo DiCaprio couldn't save, depicted a group of backpackers who created their own paradise on a remote Thai island.

The uber-backpackers of The Beach braved shark attacks and drug lords to escape the tourist development that was consuming the Thai islands. Turns out, they could have just crossed over to Cambodia instead.

The Cambodian islands are just as lovely as anything in Thailand, but for the moment, there's barely any tourist infrastructure on the beaches. A few bungalow spots have opened in the past few years, and there are plans for mega-resorts in the future, but for now you're free to live out your deserted island fantasy.


Koh Tonsay

Located just off the coast of Kep, Koh Tonsay has a few decent beaches, one simple row of bungalows and great views across the sea to Bokor Mountain. Long-tail boats go to Koh Tonsay every morning from Kep. Aim to pay about $7 per person, round-trip.

Koh Russei

Koh Russei is one of the islands closest to Sihanoukville and was one of the first to get any tourist infrastructure. Also called Bamboo Island, the beaches on Koh Russei aren't anything special, but the bungalows there are nice and it's easy to get to. Ferries run daily from Sihanoukville and cost about $8 per person, round-trip.

Koh Rong Samluem

Koh Rong Samluem is a large island two hours from Sihanoukville. There are two collections of bungalows here, along with one village and a small navy base where bored sailors greet travelers with warm beer and boiled squid.


The EcoSea Bungalows are right next to a village and best suited for scuba divers, while the Lazy Beach Resort on the far side of the island appeals to travelers looking for total isolation and basic creature comforts.

Koh Rong

Koh Rong is a huge island three hours from Sihanoukville with a beach on the southwest shore that is simply spectacular: It's six kilometers of flawless white sand.

There are several small villages on Koh Rong, but as The Guardian recently reported, the government has sold development rights to the island to a private group that will evict all islanders, with no plans as of yet for compensation.

A bungalow complex called Snake Eyes is located at the southern end of the epic beach, but when I visited last week it was abandoned--apart from a pit viper and a two lonesome dogs.

Koh Tang

Scene of the last battle of the Vietnam War, Koh Tang is a scuba diver's paradise way offshore in the Gulf of Thailand. It takes a full day to get there, so you're best off going on a fully equipped dive boat.

Why make the effort? Well, have you heard of Thailand's Koh Tao? Apparently the diving at Koh Tang is even better.

Embedded Travel Guide Cambodia: Temple Time

8/28/2008

giving us the inside scoop on the country, live from a guesthouse in Sihanoukville.

In Cambodia, you're never far from a Buddhist temple, or wat. Even the smallest village will have its own temple, where teenage boys are schooled in the principles of Buddhism. All Cambodian men are expected to spend some time in a monastery before marriage, and townspeople support monks by giving them food in exchange for blessings.

All wats are open to the public, monks are always thrilled to greet foreigners and by following a few simple rules of etiquette, you won't accidentally offend anyone.

What's Wat:Wats are easy to recognize. The architecture of the main temple is marked by soaring golden roofs with pointed corners. Orange-robed monks live in outbuildings around the temple hall, and it's perfectly acceptable for travelers to wander into the temple complex.

Most monks study English along with Buddhism, and you won't spend more than five minutes in a temple complex before being approached by monks eager to show you around.

The main hall of the temple usually contains painted murals depicting the life of Buddha, along with a Buddha statue where visitors burn incense and pray. There's no obligation for visitors to bow to Buddha, but if you feel the urge, by all means light some incense and pay your respects.


How to Behave:

Dress conservatively and keep your voice low. Women should avoid wearing revealing clothing at all times in Cambodia, but especially when visiting a wat. A woman cannot touch a monk under any circumstance, although it's fine to have a conversation.

Be sure to remove your shoes when entering the temple hall, and never point your feet at the statue of Buddha. If a monk shows you around, honor his time by making a small donation to the temple.

Crashing with Buddha:

Traditionally, wats serve as places of refuge for travelers. If you find yourself in a rural area where there is no guesthouse, it's possible to stay overnight in the wat. This is easier for men than for women, but both sexes can sleep in the temple hall. Be sure to get permission from the head monk and act respectfully at all times.

Some temples may have mosquito nets and sleeping mats, but it's best to bring your own. Sleep with your feet pointing away from the Buddha statue, and make a donation to the temple before leaving.


Get Blessed:

Monks will be happy to give you a traditional blessing for safe travels. You can get blessed at the wat, or on the street while monks make their morning rounds collecting alms.

For a street blessing, wait until you see a monk and get his attention by making a traditional greeting, hands pressed together in front of your chest. Kneel at his feet, bow your head and receive the blessing, then make a donation by giving money to the small boy who accompanies the monk on his morning rounds.

Unexpected Large Monkey Population Discovered

Science News

ScienceDaily (Aug. 28, 2008) — A WCS report reveals surprisingly large populations of two globally threatened primates in a protected area in Cambodia.

The report counted 42,000 black-shanked douc langurs along with 2,500 yellow-cheeked crested gibbons in Cambodia's Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, an estimate that represents the largest known populations for both species in the world.

WCS scientists conducted the surveys with the Royal Government of Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries across an area of 300 square miles (789 square kilometers) within a wider landscape of 1,150 square miles (3,000 square kilometers), which is about the size of Yosemite National Park. The scientists believe total populations within the wider landscape may be considerably greater.

The WCS scientists who worked on the census include Tom Clements, Nut Meng Hor, Men Soriyun, Edward Pollard, Hannah O'Kelly, and Samantha Strindberg.

The data were first presented at the International Primatological Society Congress held recently in Edinburgh, Scotland. WCS also announced at the IPS Congress the discovery of 125,000 western lowland gorillas in northern Republic of Congo, where conservation work has been ongoing since the early 1990s.

"Whether it's protecting gorillas in the Republic of Congo or monkeys and gibbons in Cambodia, conservation can and does work when you have government commitment and scientific knowledge on the ground ," said Dr. John G. Robinson, Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science for the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Now we must put into place the management to truly protect these populations and apply the approach to other regions where primates are in trouble."

The two primate species are found in much lower numbers at other sites in Cambodia and in Vietnam. Prior to the recent discovery in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, the largest known populations were believed to be in adjacent Vietnam, where black-shanked douc langurs and yellow-cheeked crested gibbons hover at 600 and 200 respectively. The total population of the two species remains unknown.

The recent census in Cambodia took place in a former logging area where the two monkeys were once extensively hunted. Then in 2002, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries declared the region a conservation area and began working with WCS on site management and landscape-level planning for conservation and local development.

According to WCS, a combination of factors account for such high numbers of primates:
successful long-term management of the conservation area; cessation of logging activities; a nation-wide gun confiscation program implemented in the 1990s; and habitat where there is plenty of food. The report says that the two primate populations started to recover in 2002 when the joint program between WCS and the Royal Government began and have remained stable since 2005.

The news on primates is not all good. In Cambodia, WCS researchers are concerned that looming threats could jeopardize recent successes.

"Despite this good news in Cambodia, the area still remains at risk from conversion to agro-industrial plantations for crops, including biofuels, and commercial mining," said Tom Clements, the lead author of the WCS report. "WCS is therefore committed to continuing to work with the Cambodian Government to ensure that these globally important primate populations will continue to remain secure."

WCS has worked with the Royal Government of Cambodia since 1999, helping to establish the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, and developing landscape-level conservation programs in the Northern Plains and Tonle Sap Great Lake.

WCS work in Cambodia has been supported by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Apes Conservation Fund, MacArthur Foundation, Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation, ADB Greater Mekong Subregion Core Environment Program, and the Danish Government's Danida program.

JOEL BRINKLEY: In Cambodia, government watches as developers evict poor from their land

The Olympian
By JOEL BRINKLEY
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Published August 28, 2008

Well past the city limits, beyond the sign that says "Bon Voyage; See You Again," after the paved roads end, down a rutted dirt track, Un Thea sits in the mud outside her shanty house, peeling bamboo shoots - and seething.

Two years ago, soldiers and police showed up in the middle of the night to throw her family and more than 1,000 others out of their homes on a plot in central Phnom Penh. The soldiers torched the crude houses before Un and the others had time even to retrieve their meager belongings. Then all of the residents were herded onto buses and ferried out here, about 15 miles away, and dumped in a rice paddy without so much as a bottle of water or a tarp for cover.

Then the soldiers left - though a few stayed behind to turn away the aid groups that came out to drop off emergency rations. Un's case is among several thousands more or less similar land seizures across Cambodia in the last three years.

"Out here, it is hard making business," Un complains with considerable understatement. She is 25 but already looks decades older. "They dumped us here and gave us no money, no land title. Nothing."

Cambodia is a democracy. The modern state grew out of a U.N. peace conference in 1991 intended to create a free nation from the rubble the Khmer Rouge left behind. Since then, the government has purported to manage the country according to the rule of law.

Every democratic country, including the United States, fails at times to live up to its democratic ideals. But the cruelty the Cambodian government visits upon its weakest citizens can be breathtaking. You expect this in North Korea, or Zimbabwe. But Cambodia? In late July Cambodians voted in national elections that were generally peaceful with scattered complaints. Government leaders tolerate human rights groups that regularly castigate them and, within limits, critical stories in the news media.

Still, stories like Un's can overwhelm the positive developments here.

Chum Bon Rong is secretary of state in the National Land Authority, which is supposed to arbitrate land disputes like the Andoung case. Last week he told me that his agency has received more than 3,000 land-seizure appeals in the last two and one-half years. Of those, he acknowledged, only about 50 have been judged in favor of plaintiffs, the impoverished people whose land was seized. Even among those 50, he acknowledged with a rueful grin, "sometimes the cases disappear" after referral to another agency that is supposed to implement the Land Authority's findings.

In 2001, under pressure from the West, Cambodia enacted a Land Law that was supposed to set clear rules for property disputes. Seven years later, the government has yet to write the regulations implementing that law. Meantime, the seizures continue unabated. Phnom Penh is booming, and when a developer spots a choice piece of land, he simply pays off the proper official to win a newly minted land title. All that's left is rid the property of its pesky residents - almost always poor, uneducated people like Un.

Once the residents have been disposed of, they are forgotten. Licadho, a local human rights group, noted in a new report that Un and the others dumped out here suffer from "malnutrition, typhoid, dengue fever, hepatitis A or B, hypertension, respiratory tract infections, gastro-intestinal illnesses including stress-related ulcers, depression," and last in this litany, "anger management problems." Um and her husband built a one-room shelter on stilts from scrap wood, bamboo matting and plastic tarps. Ten people now live in and under the house. She has no electricity or running water. No one in this community has a phone; there's not a single toilet.
"We have to buy water from the water seller," she says, nodding toward an earthen cistern beside the house. Mosquito larvae seem to roil the water surface. Tacked to her shelter's front wall, a poster warns of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness.

Um says she can make about 5,000 riel selling her peeled bamboo shoots at market. That's $1.22. She sends her young sons into Phnom Penh "to shine shoes for the people. They go and stay for a month."

A few months ago, the United Nations issued a report saying the government here always "tilts in favor of businesses" that want to develop land, "pitting poor farmers against developers." Even though his own agency's numbers show the very same thing, Chum says complaints like that from abroad are "a case of propaganda."

Nephews of Khmer Prime Minister Cause Five People to Die during Third Term Royal Government

Posted on 29 August 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 575

“Nephews of Prime Minister Hun Sen have caused four people to die in traffic accidents during the third term government that will come to an end next month. Relatives of innocent people who died because of Mr. Hun Sen’s nephews mostly were paid US$4,000 in order to save the perpetrators from being convicted.

“Early 2004, a nephew of Mr. Hun Sen was involved in a traffic accident near a fence at the Olympic Stadium where he was with his group of children of the rich, causing four innocent people to die, because of a brutal gun fire. In that event, a nephew of the Prime Minister who holds the surname Hun and his group drove a car and hit people, but none was injured. After chatting with each other for a moment, a heavy shootout with firearms started; it was the gunfire from the faction of Mr. Hun Sen’s nephew which hit a seller of Lout Chha - a fried rice and coconut seller - resulting in the death of four people, and then the perpetrators and their group paid US$4,000 to the families of each victim.

“Also, a nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Hun Chea, drove a car and hit a person, killing him, in Phnom Penh last week, and the perpetrator paid US$4,000 compensation, like in the killing of four people in 2004.

“However, causing a person to die this time agitates people from the legal profession as well as a well-known newspaper of the United States. Furthermore, officials of the government said that a person who causes the death of another person like this will not be able to avoid a conviction according to the law.

“A lawyer, an official of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, reported to The Cambodia Daily that drivers involved in accidents that result in the death of a persons cannot legally escape from a conviction of a crime by paying a compensation to the family of the dead victim.

“However, Mr. Khieu Kanharith, the Minister of Information and the government spokesperson, seemed to protect the perpetrator, Mr. Hun Sen’s nephew, in a press conference on Sunday.

“It is reported that Mr. Hun Chea, Mr. Hun Sen’s nephew, had paid a compensation of US$4,000 to the family of the victim who rode on his small motorcycle and died through the accident, but there is no legal action taken. Mr. Khieu Kanharith said that doing so [paying a compensation to the victim’s family] is legal in Cambodia.

“Lawyer Kea Eav, also an expert in traffic law, and Mr. Ung Chun Hour, the director of the Transportation Department of the Ministry of Public Work, said that anyone who causes an accidents that leads to the death of another person, cannot legally avoid a criminal investigation and prosecution towards finding solutions according to the criminal code. They recognized, however, that this law is frequently not practiced. Mr. Kea Eav criticized the speech of Minister Khieu Kanharith as a misunderstanding, as it is against the law that the authorities would let such cases to be solved on the basis of compensation payments. He added, ‘Accidents which result in the death of another person are a crime that cannot be solved through compensation. A compensation payment cannot stop criminal proceedings.’

“Mr. Ung Chun Hour, a co-drafter of the new traffic law, said that frequently, the authorities violate this law to solve problems through compensation payments outside of the judicial system. He continued to say, ‘They are wrong, if they do not use the judicial system, though frequently also the victims’ families want to avoid to use legal procedures which take very long before a solutions is achieved.’

“Mr. Jeffrey M. Kahan, a legal and development advisor of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that there is not one clause in the legislative procedure code which allows a compensation payment to stop a clearly criminal procedure.

“The traffic law states, ‘Anyone who causes an accident which leads to an unintentional killing will be convicted to serve from one to three years in prison, and will be charged with between Riel 2 million [approx. US$490] and Riel 6 million [approx. US$1,480]. This clause does not talk about compensation.’

“Mr. Joel Brinkley, a well-known writer, whose article was published in the Modesto Bee in California/USA, wrote an article on 22 August 2008 with the title ‘The world leader in corruption is – Cambodia.’ This article pointed to an accident caused by a nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, killing an innocent person, but the perpetrator was able to avoid to be caught in the net of the law. This article in the Modesto Bee makes officials of the government feel uneasy, as the Minister of Information tried to explained things in a press conference on Sunday.
“As a matter of fact, during the third term government, Mr. Hun Sen’s nephews caused the death of five people, and this does not include such different cases as that Oknha Hun To hit Mr. Nuon Vuthy, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, a few days ahead of the election, at the Prek Kdam Ferry Dock.”

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.2, #231, 28.8.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:Thursday, 28 August 2008

Insufficient preparations delayed border talks

BANGKOK, Aug 28 (TNA) - A senior Cambodian official said on Thursday the anti-government protests in Bangkok had caused the Thai military to postpone talks over the disputed border area near Preah Vihear temple, but Thailand denied this, saying the postponement was due to insufficient preparations by both countries.

Cambodian Defence Ministry Secretary of State Neang Phat said a 30-member Thai delegation arrived in Siem Riep on Wednesday to prepare for talks scheduled for Friday over a further pullback of troops. But hours later it requested the meeting be postponed and then returned to Thailand.

Gen. Neang Phat said he understood the request was made due to the ongoing political problems in Thailand. It was not clear when Thai and Cambodian military officials would resume talks.
The Thai Foreign Ministry, however, on Thursday said both sides were not ready due to their internal processes.

The ministry added a new meeting date would be scheduled as soon as possible and the meeting would stillbe held in Cambodia as agreed.

Earlier this month Thailand and Cambodia agreed to convene a second meeting between the head of the Cambodian Temporary Coordinating Task Force and the head of the Thai Regional Border Committee on August 29 in Cambodia, to discuss the second phrase of redeployment of troops around the Preah Vihear area. (TNA)

Two large populations of endangered monkeys discovered in Cambodia


The yellow-cheeked crested gibbon (top) [Credit: Matt Hunt] and the black-shanked douc langur (bottom) [Credit: Allan Michaud].

mongabay.com
August 28, 2008

Conservationists have discovered "surprisingly large populations" of two globally threatened primates in a protected area in Cambodia.

Surveys by scientists with the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Cambodian government counted 42,000 black-shanked douc langurs and 2,500 yellow-cheeked crested gibbons in Cambodia's Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area. The estimate represents the largest known populations for both species in the world, according to a report released by the conservation group.

Seima was once a logging area where the monkeys were heavily hunted, but WCS says that the recovery of the primates began in 2002 when Cambodia's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries declared the region a conservation area and began working with WCS on conservation and development. The effort was aided by a nation-wide gun confiscation program, cessation of logging activities, and the existence of habitat where there is plenty of food. Nevertheless WCS is still concerned about threats to the forest zone.

"Despite this good news in Cambodia, the area still remains at risk from conversion to agro-industrial plantations for crops, including biofuels, and commercial mining," said Tom Clements, the lead author of the WCS report. "WCS is therefore committed to continuing to work with the Cambodian Government to ensure that these globally important primate populations will continue to remain secure."

The positive conservation news comes on the heels of an announcement by WCS that a population of 125,000 western lowland gorillas had been discovered in northern Republic of Congo.

"Whether it's protecting gorillas in the Republic of Congo or monkeys and gibbons in Cambodia, conservation can and does work when you have government commitment and scientific knowledge on the ground ," said Dr. John G. Robinson, Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science for the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Now we must put into place the management to truly protect these populations and apply the approach to other regions where primates are in trouble."

Condom lubricant popular acne cure for Cambodian women

A Cambodian woman holds a wrapper from Number One Plus condom

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — A condom lubricant designed for sex workers and gay men has become a popular acne cure among female Cambodians, women in the capital and local media said Thursday.

Number One Plus, a water-based lubricant produced by health organisation Population Services International (PSI), is an excellent cure for acne, 29-year-old vendor Tep Kemyoeurn told AFP.

"After I used it for three days, all of my acne dried up and went away," she said. "Many people believe in it," she added.

Khen Vanny, 29, from Phnom Penh, told AFP that women of all ages have taken to using the lubricant to get rid of spots.

"It is very effective. Some people don't believe in it but people who do really get a good result," she said, adding: "My youngest sister and my aunt use it too."

Another woman told Khmer-language Kampuchea Thmey newspaper that she had used many kinds of medicine to treat acne but none had worked.

"After that my friends, who work at garment factories in Phnom Penh, advised me to apply the lubricant from Number One Plus condoms on my face every night," she told the paper.

"And just within three to four nights, the acne on my face gradually and then totally disappeared," she added.

A vendor near a factory in the coastal city of Sihanoukville told the newspaper that she sold packets of Number One Plus lubricant for 500 riels (12 cents) to many women every day.

The paper urged experts to conduct research about the phenomenon.

PSI were not immediately available for comment on the apparent cosmetic benefits of their product.

Reinvestigation Ordered in Relative's Killing

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
28 August 2008

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered investigating judges on Monday to re-examine a case in the death of one man at the hands of his brother and nephew that had originally been charged as manslaughter.

The court earlier this month held a hearing over Lim Heang, 52, and his son, Lim Hoknay, 31, in the killing of Lim Eng, 51, who was stabbed to death in a Phnom Penh home near Central Market on Feb. 22, 2008.

Both suspects were arrested three days later and charged with manslaughter.

In a brief statement Thursday, Municipal Judge Ke Sakhorn said the case would be reinvestigated and the suspects would remain in detention, but he did not elaborate.

Investigating Judge Din Sivuthy was not available for comment Thursday.

Lim Hoknay told the courts in the original hearing on Aug. 11 that the victim, who was unrecognizable, had entered the house with several knives and cut the housekeeper.

Lim Hoknay said a struggle ensued after the housekeeper was cut on the head and neck and shouted for help. Lim Heang found Lim Hoknay in a struggle with the victim, and all three men fought.

During the struggle, Lim Eng was stabbed and died, though neither suspect has admitted to doing the killing.

Lim Heang said during the Aug. 11 hearing that Lim Eng entered his home early in the morning, in a dark house, and he had not recognized his brother. The dark clothing, sunglasses and hat Lim Eng had been wearing made him look like a Vietnamese or Chinese robber, he said.

The housekeeper, Mork Sophy, corroborated the testimony of the defense.

Lawyers for the family of the victim argued that the death of Lim Eng, who had been visiting Cambodia from his home in Canada, was not an accident, but was murder.

Tribunal Jurists To Discuss Road Ahead

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
28 August 2008

Khmer audio aired 28 August (770 KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired 28 August (770 KB) - Listen (MP3)

Prosecutors and judges of the Khmer Rouge tribunal will meet next week in a plenary session to consider how to proceed in coming weeks, with five leaders in detention, one ready for trial and a number of complications ahead.

"They will go over the general progress of the courts," UN tribunal spokesman Peter Foster said Thursday. "They will discuss the opening of the trial chamber and the arrival of those judges, and they will discuss any changes or experiences with the internal rules as they are now written, and perhaps suggest some revisions."

The meeting, which will last from Monday to Friday, will center around "how they are going to proceed in the coming month," he said.

The judges and prosecutors, collectively known as jurists, will also discuss technical aspects of a new court room, an audio-visual system, translation and interpretation, Foster said.

The meeting comes as the tribunal is facing a funding crisis, as it seeks to increase its mandate through 2010 and has been hampered by allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement.

UNDP has halted $300,000 in funding to the courts, as donors consider whether and how much they will continue to contribute.

"First of all, we can note the corruption within the [tribunal]," said Long Panhavuth, a tribunal monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative. "Secondly, there is no coherence of work between international and national jurists. And third is transparency and that people do not get enough access to information on the court related to the progress of the court."

These concerns will have to be resolved, he said.

The tribunal has completed most of the pre-trial proceedings against Tuol Sleng prison chief Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, and had hoped to begin a trial by September.

Prosecutors, however, have appealed for a redrafting of the investigating judges' closing order, which includes indictments, for Duch.

Hisham Mousar, a tribunal monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said Thursday the jurists must settle some of the challenges facing them, including the continued participation of civil parties.
"We think that the participation of civil parties makes for a more complicated procedure," he said. "They will discuss this issue because there are many problems related to it in the Pre-Trial Chamber."

Party's Double-Voter Complaint Rejected

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
28 August 2008

Khmer audio aired 28 August (983KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired 28 August (983KB) - Listen (MP3)

The Constitutional Council on Thursday upheld the denial of a complaint by the Human Rights Party over alleged voting-list irregularities throughout Cambodia in July's election.

The Human Rights Party had claimed in its complaint to the National Election Committee that 15,255 polling stations were found with registries containing voter names twice.

The double names could have led to ineligible voting, the party said in its complaint.

The NEC rejected the complaint, and that decision was maintained by the Council.

Thursday's hearing was the final decision of the Constitutional Council over election complaints that were filed by the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties.

Nhiek Vannara, deputy secretary-general of the Human Rights Party and the legal representative in the case, told reporters Thursday the Council's decision was "very unjust for the Cambodian voters and the Human Rights Party."

"We cannot accept the result of the decision," he said. "But we have no place to continue to complain. We are very, very sorry for the Constitutional Council members, in this unjust decision, but we hope that we will stand up for justice for the next election."

Nhiek Vannara called the decision "artificial."

He told the hearing the double names could have led to an estimated 1 million voting irregularities.

NEC legal representative Em Sophath said during the hearing the denial of the HRP complaint was "very legal and fair."

"The Human Rights Party complaint did not have enough evidence to support [it]," Em Sophath said.