Sunday, 14 September 2008

US diplomat tours Cambodia's famed Angkor temples

International Herald Tribune
The Associated Press
Published: September 14, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte toured centuries-old Angkor temples in northwestern Cambodia on Sunday as he began a three-day visit to the Southeast Asian nation, an embassy official said.

Negroponte was scheduled to arrive in the capital, Phnom Penh, on Monday to hold talks with Cambodian officials, including Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, U.S. Embassy spokesman John Johnson said.

The deputy secretary of state was also expected to attend the signing of an agreement under which the United States will provide US$24 million for economic development projects in Cambodia, the embassy said in a statement.

Negroponte's visit is the latest sign of improved relations between the two countries.

Last year, the United States lifted a decade-old ban on direct aid to the Cambodian government. Washington cut off direct funding to Cambodian government projects in 1997 after Prime Minister Hun Sen ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh, then his co-premier, in a coup.

Before the ban was lifted, U.S. aid to impoverished Cambodia was mostly channeled to projects implemented by private groups.

The U.S. has also recently resumed non-lethal military aid to Cambodia. Last week, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln hosted a rare tour for a group of Cambodian military and government officials as it passed through the region on its way home from Iraq.

US Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte arrives in Cambodia

M&C Asia-Pacific News
Sep 14, 2008

Phnom Penh - US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte flew into the northern Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap in a relaxed start to his three-day official visit, touring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, local officials said on Sunday.

Negroponte arrived in Cambodia from neighbouring Vietnam for a visit which will include meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen and an array of ministers including Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

He is scheduled to sign a 24-million-dollar agreement on Monday to assist economic development in the country and will hold a press conference on Tuesday morning before flying out, according to a schedule from the US embassy.

At Angkor Wat, Negroponte toured the 12th century World Heritage- listed temples, which are also the nation's largest tourism draw, 300 kilometres from the capital, and he is expected to arrive in Phnom Penh early on Monday morning, officials said.

Ties between the US and Cambodia have warmed considerably in recent years, with the US providing support for the nation's armed forces as well as recently agreeing to give aid directly to the government, rather than through other agencies.

Cambodia has also been praised by the US for its help in fighting terrorism and its assistance in helping locate the remains of US soldiers missing in action, mostly from the Vietnam War era.

PM said : " We are tired of civil war, but we are brave to fight any foreign country that has the ambition to violate our territorial integrity."

SIAM settled in a temple in the Dongrek Mountains, TA KRABEI Temple, claiming it belongs to Thailand
MORE than 100 Thai soldiers seized control of the Kingdom's Ta Krabey temple Wednesday evening and are refusing to leave, despite the best efforts of some 50 Cambodian soldiers who remain at the site, military commanders stationed at the border said.

Ho Bunthy, deputy commander of Border Military Unit 402, said that Cambodian soldiers - who have controlled the small temple for years - tried to defend the site by shooting in the air but that the Thai soldiers still marched in.

"They dared to enter because they know Cambodian soldiers got the orders not to use violence and shoot," Ho Bunthy said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen affirmed his position towards Siam [Thailand] that the incursion by Siamese troops makes the patience of Cambodia running out. He said so during a regular session of the Council of Ministers yesterday morning on 12 September 2008.

Mr. Khieu Kanharith, the government spokesperson, said that during the session, Prime Minister Hun Sen presented his firm position to the members of the Royal Government, to protect the territorial integrity against the intrusion by foreign troops.

“Mr. Khieu Kanharith continued that Hun Sen said during the session that Cambodian patience becomes thinner and thinner after Siamese Troops become more impudent by invading very old temples along the border. Legal choices are to send a complaint to the Security Council of the United Nations, and a suit at the International Court of Justice in The Hague might happen in the meantime as two responses by Cambodia, while the Siamese side seems to consider Cambodia to be a very cowardly country.

“Hun Sen stated that Cambodia is tired of wars, but this does not mean that Cambodia is afraid of wars. We are tired of civil war, but we are brave to fight any foreign country that has the ambition to violate our territorial integrity.

That does not mean that Cambodia wants war, but Cambodia does not accept an incursion not respecting the law, and not respecting the sovereignty of a country.

Hot off the grill

Hearty venture: Since it struck a nostalgic chord in him, Hassan went into the sausage business.

The Star
Sunday September 14, 2008

Story and photos by GRACE CHEN

A sausage maker in Banting whips up some pretty hot stuff.

IT IS not hard to find Hassan Mohammad’s house though it is located in a small signless by-road in Kanchong Darat, Banting, Selangor.

All one has to do is to follow the fragrant whiffs of grilled meat which will lead you directly to this 48-year-old sausage maker’s abode.

“You have to try these hot off the grill. It won’t taste as good once it gets cold,” invited Hassan grinning widely to show off his silver teeth.

He had set up an impromptu barbecue and grilling slowly over red embers of charcoal were a row of nice, fat sausages, all with the fat sizzling within their skins.

Somewhere, at the back of the house, smells of roasting dried meat wafted out to the front and made everyone’s mouth water.

To say ‘no’ to Hassan’s sausages is a very hard thing to do, especially when one has to contend with a juicy cylinder of meat in front of one’s nose.

You see, unlike the frozen supermarket variety, Hassan’s sausages are made of 100% beef and imbued with spices for taste.

The recipe is, of course, a secret which was given to him by his mother, Maislamah Ahmad, 72, who is still residing in Cambodia.

However, the sensitive tongue does detect hints of chillies, five-spice powder and a moderate though not overpowering amount of salt.

In retrospect, what makes Hassan’s sausages so yummy are the chunky bits of fat and tendon present in the filling, which is very similar to the texture of Chinese sausages, albeit Hassan’s ones are fresh and unwaxed.

And Hassan also knows full well what the smells of roasting meat can do for though his sausages are sold raw at the night and farmers’ markets, he would always make it a point to grill some by the side of his stall for sampling and, of course, for sale.

Now for those who may want to question how well Hassan’s sausages may move in such instances, he uses his time at the latest Malaysian Agriculture, Horticulture and Agrotourism Show (MAHA) where he had set up his booth, as a case in point.

Have a bite: Hassan with his wife Sharifah, who helps him with the sausage making.

For the duration of the exhibition which lasted 12 days, Hassan revealed that he had grilled close to 15,000 sausages, which would average to about 1,250 franks sold every day.

But let’s digress. How does one get into the business of making sausages?

In Hassan’s case, it would go back to his days of having to deal with the advancing threat of Khmer Rouge soldiers in his hometown of Praek Pra, near Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Hassan recalled that by age 12 he had to stop school due to the fighting and had spend the rest of his most impressionable years living in refugee camps.

Treats and feasts were rare and far in between but he would always remember that the best tasting rewards that came from his mother would always be her beef sausages.

Not surprisingly, years later, after Hassan had arrived in Malaysia under the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) programme in 1983, the sight of sausages never failed to strike a nostalgic chord with him.

And so, that was how this asylum seeker, who had come here with only RM250 in his name, would decide to embark on a business to make sausages in 1990 after a long stint of selling consumer goods at the pasar malams around Selangor.

“Do you know what kind of skill it takes to clean 1.5 metres of cow intestine?

“First, you have to turn the intestine inside out by hand. Then, you have to scrape the insides clean with a knife and you have to do all this without breaking or puncturing the skin,” said Hassan who will then pump the minced beef into the intestines with a sausage stuffer.

While a picture of Hassan surrounded by cow innards during the preparation of his sausages may not be the cure for sore eyes, this sausage maker revealed that choosing this path has blessed him with a happier life.

Today, Hassan is a father of four as he had saved enough over the years to send for his childhood sweetheart, Sharifah Abdullah, now 40, and ask for her hand in marriage.

He might have even sent for his parents too except that they have insisted on staying put in Praek Pra.

“I am where I am today because of my own endeavours. I started out selling cheap clothes at night markets and went on to running a nasi campur stall before venturing into making sausages.

Roasted dried beef: Another product from Hassan’s sausage venture.

“Very soon, I’ll be building my own factory complete with cold rooms and preparation areas,” said Hassan who has already allocated a plot of land for this project.

And herein, Hassan revealed that there is really no magic formula when it comes to ensuring business growth.

“There must be a proper record of where the money goes. You must know how much you have spent on supplies and how much of profit you have made from it at the end of the day.

“Only then can you determine how much you can allocate for your own personal use and for reinvestment in the business.

“There must always be a clear rule on this. Never be tempted to use money intended for your suppliers for your own expenses with the excuse that you’ll compensate for it the next day. Sooner or later, you’ll mix things up,” was Hassan’s simple advice.

But meanwhile, Hassan’s sausages are grilling and so are his dried roasted meats.

Even then, the possibilities for them are endless, especially for hungry tummies during Ramadan. Think roast beef sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, kebabs ... slurp!

To sink your teeth into Hassan’s sausages, call 016-2921726 or go to 14, Lot 3132, Lorong Gembira, Jalan Kenanga, Kanchong Darat, Banting, Selangor.

Siam Is More Impudent – Cambodian Patience Is Running Out

Posted on 14 September 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 577

“Phnom Penh: Prime Minister Hun Sen affirmed his position towards Siam [Thailand] that the incursion by Siamese troops makes the patience of Cambodia running out. He said so during a regular session of the Council of Ministers yesterday morning on 12 September 2008.

“Mr. Khieu Kanharith, the government spokesperson, said that during the session, Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen presented his firm position to the members of the Royal Government, to protect the territorial integrity against the intrusion by foreign troops.

“Mr. Khieu Kanharith continued that Samdech Hun Sen said during the session that Cambodian patience becomes thinner and thinner after Siamese Troops become more impudent by invading very old temples along the border. Legal choices are to send a complaint to the Security Council of the United Nations, and a suit at the International Court of Justice in The Hague might happen in the meantime as two responses by Cambodia, while the Siamese side seems to consider Cambodia to be a very cowardly country.

“Samdech stated that Cambodia is tired of wars, but this does not mean that Cambodia is afraid of wars. We are tired of civil war, but we are brave to fight any foreign country that has the ambition to violate our territorial integrity.

“That does not mean that Cambodia wants war, but Cambodia does not accept an incursion not respecting the law, and not respecting the sovereignty of a country.

“Mr. Chan Saveth, an investigating official of a civil society organization, said, ‘We support the speech by Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen, representing a clear position about Cambodia’s patience. Cambodia has a precisely defined territorial integrity, has laws, and exists on the world map, therefore, it will not let any country with such an ambition to swallow the country.’

“Mr. Chan Saveth expressed his view that this support is not to encourage the government to start a war, but to find ways to send a complaint to the United Nations. He said, ‘I want to affirm again that if the position of the government is as clear as mentioned above, the citizens and the civil society organizations will provide 100% support, but the government has to review its complaint to the UN Security Council it had previously lodged and then suspended. If the government revokes the suspension, it is a sign of not accepting the impudence of the Siamese troops invading along the Cambodian border.

“Mr. Chan Saveth added that Cambodia has no history of invading other countries. Therefore, what Prime Minister Hun Sen said is acceptable, because our patience is limited.

“Mr. Un Phalla, a law student of the Royal University of Law and Economics, said, ‘I support Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speech, something which has never been heard since Siamese troops invaded along the border.’

“Mr. Un Phalla continued, ‘We are hurt, as Khmer students, when hearing that Siamese troops increase their invasion along the border and use many tricks in negotiations. Therefore, my support is not to encourage Samdech to start a war, but to refer to the legal basis as our priority, by sending a complaint to the United Nations as soon as possible.’

“Prince Sisowath Thomico said that if talking about territorial integrity, every Khmer citizen does not want to see an incursion by foreign countries. Prince Thomico added ‘Regarding Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speech, it is now not only me who is supporting it and who is happy, but also many citizens, when they hear such courage of a leader who represent the will to protect the territorial integrity.’

“Prince Thomico said also that the government has to put all territorial issues on the table to be solved together, and all political parties should not show different attitudes toward this problem. Internal opposition [among parties] is one thing, but territorial issues are of nationl concern.

“The head of the government showed also his position on the plan of the opposition parties not to attend the inaugural session [of the National Assembly], saying that this is their problem - and the government does not care about it, because it is better for the whole nation to think about the border issue. The citizens have already voted to give their power to their representatives [the elected members of the National Assembly], so if they do not want the seats they won, the seats should be given to others who can work. Now, the government is caring about the border issue, because the citizens expect the new term government to solve the issue.

“Mr. Khieu Kanharith said that Samdech Hun Sen said during a council of ministers’ session that concerning the Cambodian and Thai border disputes, we are strengthening further legal documents to be sent to the International Court of Justice and to the Security Council of the United Nations about the incursion by Siamese black clad soldiers [of the Thai special Border Protection Unit] at Khmer temples.

“Samdech also said regarding the confrontation, ‘We just avoid armed fighting, as it is better to fight with legal methods. Thai black-clad soldiers invaded Cambodian territory at the Keo Sekha Kirisvarak pagoda, which is 300 meters away from the Preah Vihear Temple, on 11 July 2008, after this temple was listed as a world heritage site on 7 July 2008. Then, Siamese troops have tried to control several other temples of Cambodia along the border in Oddar Meanchey.’

“Samdech Hun Sen added that ‘in relation to the situation before, we understood the Thai government related to the incursion, which was firstly caused by the Thai opposition party. So far, we are patient at the highest level, but our patience was shaken again and again by the Siamese troops, making our patience to run out.’ Samdech emphasized that this issue cannot be solved without going to the International Court of Justice.

The Situation at the Ta Krabei Temple

“The situation at the Ta Krabei Temple is somewhat better, after the Siamese troops withdrew from the temple, about 300 meters from the Cambodian border.

“Mr. Neak Vong, the commander of Brigade 42, reported to Kampuchea Thmey that after tense discussions, the Siamese troops agreed to withdraw from the Ta Krabei Temple at 2:30 p.m. of 11 September 2008. He went on to say that 170 Siamese soldiers withdrew from the Khmer temple and took positions in their territory, about 300 meters from the border. As for the Cambodian troops, their numbers are now balanced. So the situation at the Ta Krabei Temple starts to be better, but the troops are suffering from very cold weather, because there is rain every day.”

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.7, #1745, 13.9.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Saturday, 13 September 2008


The Bangkok Post
Sunday September 14, 2008

Thaksin Shinawatra's reported investment in Koh Kong has led to a land-grabbing frenzy, writes Piyaporn Wongruang and Nareerat Wiriyapong

Embattled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has packed up and moved to London, but Koh Kong residents like Kamnan Tit are hoping he returns and brings economic prosperity to the Cambodian province.

For the past few months, rumours of the ex-prime minister's possible involvement in a mega-tourism project in Koh Kong have fuelled a land grab and sent prices soaring, creating a buzz of activity in the once sleepy area.

''We heard the news that Mr Thaksin would come to invest in Koh Kong, so we even rushed to buy land on nearby Koh Kapi,'' said Kamnan Tit, who recently introduced the principle of sufficiency economy to his village of Peam Krasaob.


Fueling the excitement was Mr Thaksin's meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Siem Reap golf course in early April this year.

The golf outing came shortly before former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama (also formerly Mr Thaksin's lawyer) showed up at the state opening ceremony for the upgraded Road No 48, which links Thailand's border town of Had Lek, in Trat province, with Koh Kong.

The road, about 150 kilometres long, was financed by the Thai government with a low-interest loan of about 500 million baht, plus another 300 million baht in aid for four connecting bridges.

The aim of the project is to improve access to inner Cambodia and connect Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam under the economic framework of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) scheme.

The White Paper produced by Thailand's foreign ministry noted that Mr Noppadon was there to discuss the heritage listing of the disputed Preah Vihear temple.

Speculation from many sources links the two incidents, in the belief that the people involved had compromised Thailand's interests in exchange for Mr Thaksin gaining a personal advantage.

According to several Thai agents, as well as officials working in foreign affairs, Mr Thaksin discussed the possibility of investing in a tourism-related project on Koh Kong with the Cambodian government during that period.

One high-ranking foreign affairs official, who was briefed by a source close to Hun Sen, said that a discussion had taken place, in which they agreed that the investment should go to Koh Kong.

An internal information analysis by one Thai foreign affairs unit noted that the targeted area for Mr Thaksin's investment would be the 10,000-hectare Koh Kong island, the biggest of 23 islands off Koh Kong province's coast.

It further noted that the Cambodian government had already approved the lease of the whole island for the development of hotels, casinos and other businesses to stimulate the tourism industry.

A road and a series of bridges are also planned to link the project to the mainland. Road No 48 will be 10 kilometres long and cut through the plots of some senior Cambodian military officials.


''Khun Phat is among the people taking part in this project, and possibly Mr Thaksin too,'' said another high-ranking foreign affairs source.

''Some Cambodian senior military officials here said the land prices will increase if Mr Thaksin really invests there.''

Khun Phat is the owner of Koh Kong International Resort Club, near the border. A senator for the ruling Cambodian People's Party and widely known as the ''King of Koh Kong'', Khun Phat has been accused by international human rights groups of forcing locals off their land by getting police to use force against them.

Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh was quoted as saying during the opening of the road that Khun Phat ''was discussing the prospective investment in Koh Kong with Mr Thaksin''.

The defence minister also stated that Mr Thaksin was one person Hun Sen trusted and wished to invite to be an advisor on the development of Koh Kong, which the Cambodian government wants to turn into a special economic zone.

In a telephone interview, Khun Phat confirmed he is among the investors in the planned project. But he said it will be a joint investment between himself and a few European investors.

According to Khun Phat, these investors were introduced to him by Mr Thaksin. Khun Phat insisted Mr Thaksin will not invest in the project. He said he only introduced the investors.

''[Mr Thaksin] has a lot of friends,'' he said, adding that the project has received an unofficial green light from the Cambodian government.

They only need to discuss in detail what the project will look like, as well as how the benefits will be shared between the investors and the government.

''We are serious about this, but we have to wait for the new government first,'' said Khun Phat, who is known to be a close aide of Hun Sen.

After Mr Thaksin became Thailand's prime minister in 2001, he met Hun Sen at least eight times to discuss opportunities between the two countries.

It was Mr Thaksin who proposed the Economic Cooperation Strategy in early 2003, which later turned into a new regional economic framework known as the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, or ACMECS, at the end of that year.

Under the framework, 46 common projects plus 224 bilateral projects were lined up for implementation over 10 years following the first declaration. These included Road No 48.

The road project came about after Mr Thaksin met Hun Sen during the GMS meeting on Nov 3, 2005.

According to the foreign ministry's letter to the secretariat of the cabinet, the foreign ministry of Thailand reasoned that Road No 48 would help improve the economy of both countries.

It would also help to elevate Thai-Cambodian relations, and was in line with Thailand's regional transport link strategy under the GMS.

As well as the road upgrade, other development projects, including the development of the linkage between tourism sites in Cambodia and Thailand, were also in the pipeline.


Cambodia stands to gain a lot if these investments come true, and especially if Mr Thaksin is involved. However, there may be a downside as a consequence of the land grabs and speculation.

With rumours over Mr Thaksin's involvement buzzing around from Koh Kong to Phnom Penh, many local residents have been quick to buy up land with the hope of hitting the jackpot.

Land prices are indeed increasing, according to the president of Koh Kong Chamber of Commerce, Bun Tun.

He said land changes hands easily, sometimes even within a day, due to high prices offered for further land speculation. The price of a beachfront property, for instance, was once about US$5 per square metre. It has now increased to $150 per sq m, about 30 times the previous price.

Koh Kong, which is one of Cambodia's prime seaside cities, has about 1.2 million hectares of land and contains about 24,000 households.

Ever since the end of the Cambodian war in the late 1970s, the government has been trying to resurrect its economy through various means. The Koh Kong project is the latest of these efforts.
Besides relying on foreign aid for economic development, Cambodia, which had a per capita GDP of about $460 in 2006, relies heavily on foreign investment.

In 1994, Cambodia's new investment law was promulgated. The Council for the Development of Cambodia then approved more than $4.27 billion worth of foreign direct investment, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific 2008 business report.

Available data, last updated in 1999, reveals more than 700 foreign projects were approved, with hotels and tourism being the most popular choices for foreign investors, making up nearly 45 per cent of all foreign investment projects.

To encourage investment, the government allowed all sectors of the economy to be opened to foreign investors. In 1999 a sub-decree placed investment restrictions on certain areas, including the media.

The allocation of land is a crucial part of investment. Although only Khmer legal entities and those of Khmer nationality have the right to own land outright, foreign investors are allowed to lease land for up to 70 years.

The primary concern among social advocates and activists in Cambodia is that the present land allocation system may not support sustainable land utilisation or prevent land conflicts arising as a result of new development projects.

The Asian Development Bank's 2004 environmental report noted that although the new Land Law is a landmark in the formal recognition of the land rights of ethnic minorities in Cambodia, enforcement, property rights definitions and titling remain a challenge.

At present, many locals are being evicted from their land, either forcefully or from the lure of attractive land prices.

A government-approved large-scale entertainment project on Koh Yor, which is also part of Koh Kong province, is already suffering a backlash.

''At present, investors are pouring in and land prices are skyrocketing, but it is the poor people or farmers who are lured to sell the land,'' said Bun Tun. ''They might get a lot of money at first, but they spend it without much thought. If this trend goes on, all the land could be sold out over the next five years, and we will end up with a lot more poor people here.''

What's more, a zoning map acquired by an agent source shows that a Cambodian military facility at the top end of the island will be moved down south to make way for planned development.

The island is now divided into zones, including one at the top end which is believed to be Khun Phat's stake.


Sam Rainsy, the leader of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy party, claims there is an official document showing Mr Thaksin and Hun Sen's joint development plan for Koh Kong province. His party is preparing to ask the Cambodian parliament to provide a copy of the document.

Sam Rainsy claims the two met occasionally when Thailand's former prime minister made trips from Europe and Hong Kong to discuss and conclude the deal for the investment in Koh Kong.

Sam Rainsy claimed Mr Thaksin has an ulterior motive in building up his base and facilities in Koh Kong _ his real intention is to continue his political activities in Thailand.

''Cambodia is the base for Mr Thaksin to get in touch with his supporters in Thailand,'' he said.

Mr Thaksin's close aides, including Pongthep Thepkanchana, his personal spokesman, as well as Mr Noppadon, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Auditor General of Thailand has launched an investigation into Thailand's financial assistance for Road No 48. According to a high-level source at the office, the cabinet's approval of the project bypassed certain state auditing procedures.

''The project involved state funds worth millions of baht, but it was not audited by a responsible agency. We want to learn what they based their decisions on,'' said the source.

Diplomatic breakdown

The Bangkok Post
Sunday September 14, 2008


The squabbling between the United States and some traditional allies to the south _ Bolivia , Venezuela and now Honduras _ is escalating to the point that it threatens to makes the row between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple seem reasonable by comparison.

There have of course been tensions and heated words between Washington and Caracas for a long time, but the expulsion of the US ambassador to Bolivia on Thursday, followed by Venezuela's expulsion of its US ambassador on Friday, along with a volley of expletives let loose by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and apparently aimed at Americans in general, marks a new low for the US in its relations with a part of the world it has long considered its ''backyard'' and under its protection.

This relationship was first formalised in 1823 when then US President James Madison's warned European powers to stay out of South America in what has come to be known as the Monroe Doctrine.

Not long after Chavez received ovations from a crowd of thousands in Caracas on Friday when he used a profanity to describe ''yankees'', who he then told to ''go to hell 100 times'', the Central American nation of Honduras announced that it will hold off on the accreditation of a new US ambassador in solidarity with Venezuela and Bolivia. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said his country was not not breaking relations with the United States.

In reaction to all this the US figuratively expelled the ambassadors from Venezuela and Bolivia, who had already been recalled, and characterised the two country leaders as weak and desperate.

The troubles began when Bolivian President Evo Morales accused US envoy Phillip Goldberg of encouraging a violent protest in eastern Bolivia by groups demanding the government grant them a larger share of the region's gas export revenues. At this point, no independent corroboration has emerged to support Morales' claims, and US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack should be believed when he says the allegations are false unless such evidence surfaces. Clearly the burden of proof is on Morales to present evidence for his claims, since it is impossible to prove a negative _ that the US has not supported the unrest. This appears to be a case of Morales pointing to an all-too-convenient scapegoat for his troubles instead of taking them head on.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's knee-jerk reaction in support of Morales is predictable as well.

That said, it cannot be denied that the US has a long history of meddling in the affairs of South and Central American countries, going back to the 1890s. During the Cold War, under the guise of upholding democracy in the face of spreading global communism, the US aided a number of ruthless and decidedly undemocratic regimes and backed several successful coup d'etats.

The US has also been naive in its arguments against the wave of left-leaning leaders emerging in South America, Chavez in particular. Characterising him as a fanatic rabble rouser might play well to US audiences, but while not wholly inaccurate, it neglects the fact that Chavez has done a lot for the poor in Venezuela, chiefly by allowing them to benefit directly from the country's oil wealth through a variety of social programmes.

What is also true is that the US has over a very long time contributed vast amounts of aid to South and Central America in many areas, including health, education, and legitimate democracy-building endeavours. What's more, the US is a major trading partner for most all of these nations. For these reasons it is unlikely that the row will spread much further.

Tensions with Venezuela will almost surely remain high, however. Even before the diplomatic removals they were simmering with the news that Russia had sent two strategic bombers to Venezuela for military exercises. As well, the US is accusing officials high up in the Chavez government of arming and funding the Colombian rebel group FARC ''even as it terrorised and kidnapped innocents".

The situation with Bolivia will remain very volatile as well.Washington had hoped to build a good relationship with Morales despite his leftist politics, and this is still possible.

It is clear that in order to do this the US must resist the old temptation to look on South and Central America as being under its dominion. The next US president would do well to focus more attention than his predecessor on building up mutually beneficial relations in the region.

Cambodian senator is no stranger to controversy

Ly Yong Phat
The Bangkok Post
Sunday September 14, 2008


Ly Yong Phat, the businessman behind the major developments planned on Koh Kong, is no stranger to controversy having been criticised by several human rights agencies for forcibly removing villagers from their land in 2006.

Also known as Phat Suphapha, he is a senator in the ruling Cambodian People's Party and one of the wealthiest men in Cambodia who counts many of the country's most powerful people as his close associates.

Mr Phat came under fire from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) for the forced eviction of 250 families in the Chi Khor Leu commune in Sre Ambel district of Koh Kong province on Sept 19, 2006.

According to the AHRC report, military police were involved in the eviction, destroying the villagers' crops and bulldozing houses. Seven people were injured in the confrontations, including two villagers who suffered bullet wounds.

The Cambodian government granted Mr Phat's Agriculture Duty Free-Shop Development Company two 10,000-hectare concessions in the commune, which the villagers had been living in since 1979, the report said.

Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, FORUM-ASIA, the Asian Human Rights Commission and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) issued a joint statement in Oct 2006 condemning the evictions.

He offered compensation of $50 per hectare when human rights lawyers were asking for a fair market value of $500-$1,000 per hectare, human rights workers later discovered.

Jolie-Pitt Foundation Establishes HIV/AIDS Clinic in Ethiopia

By Brian Orloff and Mary Green

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's Jolie-Pitt Foundation has made a $2 million donation to the Global Health Committee to establish a center to aid children affected by tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia.

The center will be modeled after the Cambodian Health Committee's Maddox Chivan Children's Center in Cambodia, where children receive medical, education and social services.

"Our goal is to transfer the success we have had in Cambodia to Ethiopia where people are needlessly dying of tuberculosis, a curable disease, and HIV/AIDS, a treatable disease," Jolie said in a statement.

As in Cambodia, where the couple named the center after their eldest child, the Ethiopian branch will be named for Zahara, 3, who was adopted from Ethiopia.

"It is our hope when Zahara is older she will take responsibility of the clinic and continue its mission," Pitt said in a statement.

The clinic will also focus on tuberculosis care. The disease causes approximately 2 million deaths yearly, and is the largest cause of death worldwide for children and adults with AIDS.

"The fact that poor people continue to die in our world today of TB, a curable disease, because of lack of access to drugs and care is unacceptable," Pitt said.

The Jolie-Pitt foundation was established in Sept. 2006, when the couple donated $1 million to the Global Action for Children organization and $1 million to Doctors Without Borders.


The Bangkok Post
Sunday September 14, 2008

A history shared between Thailand and Cambodia leaves many residents of Koh Kong with identity problems
By Piyaporn Wongruang

In the late afternoon, showers descend on Koh Kong, sending this sleepy town near the Thai-Cambodian border into stillness for a short time. There is hardly any movement apart from a few long-tailed boats cruising past on the Kah Bpow river.

By the river sits 55-year-old Bun Tun. Sometimes his thoughts match the serenity of the setting, other times, he is anxious about the future of his family. In the many years he has lived near the border, Bun Tun has had an internal struggle to work out who he really is.

He is fluent in Cambodian, but deep down he knows he has Thai blood flowing through his veins.
So, he says, he is a Cambodian, with Thai lineage.

Bun Tun, now president of the Koh Kong Chamber of Commerce, is not alone. In Koh Kong there are many other residents who are struggling with identity issues.

They have lived through difficult situations, particularly when there have been territorial disputes between Thailand and Cambodia. ''When we live in Cambodia, people somehow feel that we are Thais. But when we are in Thailand, people there say we are Khmer,'' says Bun Tun.

The fate of Koh Kong residents with Thai backgrounds cannot be separated from the fate of the town itself.

More than one hundred years ago, during the reign of King Rama IV, Koh Kong was considered part of Thailand, or Siam as it was known then.

It was designated by the King as a twin town to Prachuap Khiri Khan province, because of its location on the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand. It was given the name Pajjan Kirikhettara to rhyme with Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Koh Kong was caught up in the expansion of the French empire late in the 19th century. At one time France also claimed Chanthaburi and Trat, which are now part of Thailand.

Eventually, Siam lost Battambang, Sisophon and Siem Reap, in exchange for all the territory the French held, except for Koh Kong.

After World War II when Thailand failed to take back the territory it lost to France, some Thai residents fled Koh Kong.

Those remaining in the town later joined other Khmers in a group fighting the French. The group grew strong and allied with communist groups in the region. Cambodia became independent in 1953, and King Norodom Sihanouk took over and ruled the country.

The King, however, pursued a strict administration of Koh Kong, which was continued by the Lon Nol government. Koh Kong people sided with Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in order to oppose the government. But the group later betrayed them.

When the Khmer Rouge came to power in April, 1975, a lot of people in Koh Kong were killed or simply disappeared. The town was virtually empty, with abandoned houses and temples. But the Khmer Rouge's livestock, and their weapons, remained.

Bun Tun and six of his family members _ except for his father, who had been killed earlier _ decided to flee to Thailand. He came with his two beloved cows, and a new hope for life.

''While fleeing the Khmer Rouge, we could hardly bring anything. We had to cross the river. That was very tough. We then had to walk past or through the many land mines before entering Thai territory,'' said Bun Tun.

Bun Tun's family settled in Klong Yai district of Trat, but Bun Tun had to leave them behind in order to make a living. He worked on a fishing boat for some years before he managed to get his own.

When the Khmer Rouge's terrible reign finally ended, Bun Tun decided to go home, along with many others.

''I belong here,'' said Bun Tun.

Like Bun Tun, 66-year-old Kamnan Tit of Peam Krasaob village also fled Koh Kong, but eventually returned. He said life in Thailand was not any easier.

People on the Thai side considered them Khmer refugees. They were poor and could hardly make a living.

At that time places like the border village of Had Lek were very under-developed. It consisted mainly of rocky coastal areas and there was always the risk of landmines and pirates operating in the waters. People tried to earn a living from fishing.

''I was poor there, so I took a risk and went back home,'' said Kamnan Tit, who has tried to develop his village over the years. His village recently embraced a sufficiency economy principle to help improve the villagers' quality of life.

But as Koh Kong develops, its people are changing. It is now home to about 130,000 residents of different races.

People like Bun Tun and Kamnan Tit now commonly have two surnames, one Khmer and the other Thai. But the second generation have a clearer picture of their future. Some have chosen to be Thais, hold Thai identity cards and live on Thai soil.

But for people like Bun Tun, the internal struggle continues.

''I am thinking about retiring from my business now, but my children don't want to live here and take over my business,'' said Bun Tun. ''They said they cannot speak Khmer.''

Thai, Cambodian army standoff at another dispute temple ruin

SURIN, Sept 13 (TNA) -- Fully-armed Thai and Cambodian soldiers are again in confrontation -- this time at a different temple ruin on another mountain in Surin province -- but still marking the ill-defined border between the neighbouring countries.

A combined Thai Army force of local para-military rangers and regular troops from the Suranaree Task Force were dispatched to another ancient ruin, this time the Tawai temple sitting atop the Phnom Dong Rak mountain range in Thailand's northeastern province of Surin along the Cambodian border.

The Thai military force was dispatched following reports that some 150 armed Khmer troops led by Col. Neak Pung, commander of the Cambodian army's Task Force 42 assigned to defend the mountain, had several days ago tried to enter the ancient temple, which is claimed by both countries.

The Tawai ruins is located about 12 kilometres east of Ta Muen Thom, another ruin contested by both countries which sparked tension in early August.

Before the situation turns worse, Maj-Gen. Kanok Netrakawesana, chief of the Suranaree Task Force, opted to negotiate with the Khmer troops.

Both sides later agreed to withdraw their men from the Tawai temple compound but are still maintaining positions at the border.

The Tawai temple is attracting attention as the third disputed area between the two countries, after Thailandand Cambodia had engaged in disputes over the better-known Preah Vihear and the Ta Muen Thom ruins, which lies either in Thailand's Surin province or in Cambodia's northern Uddor Meanchey province. (TNA)

Miss Street-Porter, I have a job for you in Cambodia

The Sunday Times
September 14, 2008

Jeremy Clarkson

Since we’re told charity begins at home, it’s better, I’ve always thought, to give £1m to a hapless British person than 10p to an organisation that provides sandwiches for prisoners in Turkey. Now, however, I have decided that, actually, charity begins in Cambodia.

Some people get all dewy-eyed about Africa. That’s jolly noble, but I don’t see the point because I fear that no matter how much money you pump in, the bejewelled pigs that run the place will pump it straight back out again, into the coffers of Kalashnikov and Mercedes-Benz. The only thing I’d send to the dark continent is a team of SAS hitmen to shoot the likes of Mr Mugabe in the middle of his face.

Others would say that we have enough problems on our own shores without getting all teary over the children of Mr Pot. I disagree, because these days, every time I think of underprivileged people in Britain, the hideous face of Shannon Matthews’s mum pops into my head, all greasy, fat and stupid, and it’s hard to summon up any sympathy at all.

Cambodia, though, is different. It’s a country of 14m people but between them they have only about 5m legs. In fact, there are 25,000 amputees, the highest ratio per capita of any country in the world. This is not because Cambodians are especially clumsy. It is because of landmines.

Nobody knows how many mines were laid during the endless cycle of warfare, but it’s sure to be in the millions. What we do know is that since the Vietnamese invaded in 1979 and drove the madman Pol Pot into the hills, 63,000 people have trodden on one.

One man has had his left leg blown off four times. They gave him a good prosthetic after the first and second explosions, but since then he’s had to make his own out of wood.

And it’s still going on today. In most places in the world, you can get three rice harvests per year from your paddy field. In Cambodia, it’s one. This is partly because the Khmer like a weird sort of rice that’s harder to grow, but mostly it’s because you set off with your plough and within minutes there’s a big bang and your water buffalo has become a crimson mist.

As a result of the ordnance lying in every field, no one is fighting for a right to roam in Cambodia. They have no equivalent of the Ramblers Association. They have no concept of Janet Street-Porter. In fact they have no concept of England.

Because the education is so poor, most people there believe the world is made up of four countries: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Everywhere else is France. All white people are therefore French. Angelina Jolie, who adopted a Cambodian baby, does much to help clear the landmines and has been made a Cambodian citizen, is French. I was French. And every night, most of the men settle down to watch Manchester United and Chelsea slug it out for honours in the French Premier League.

I’d never met an adult anywhere in the world (apart from America) who’d never heard of Great Britain. In Cambodia nobody had.

What’s more, you will never see a Cambodian person wearing sunglasses. Mainly this is because the average wage in Cambodia is less than £400 a year and so Ray-Bans are a bit out of range. But also it’s because Cambodians all have flat noses. So sunglasses simply fall onto the floor every time you hop to the shops, and every time your buffalo explodes.

That’s what did it for me. The sunglasses.

Not the education. Not the notion of living in a country where there is no Janet Street-Porter. The landmines made my eyes prickle, but my heart just mushroomed over the idea that they can’t afford to wear shades. And that even if they could, they’d keep falling off.

I have therefore decided that I must do something. Unfortunately, however, we all reach a point like this when we decide we must help, and then it’s so very hard to know what should be done next.

Secretly we all know that for every pound we donate to a large charity, only 2p actually reaches the people we have in mind. The rest is spent on adverts for highly paid co-ordinators in The Guardian and expensive offices in London’s glittering West End.

You always feel you want to go to the root of the problem. But in the bee that’s come to nest in my roost, that’ll be hard. Earlier this summer a team of Australian doctors happened upon a little girl in the town of Siem Reap. Her face had been horribly disfigured, by a bloody landmine I suppose, and they were overwhelmed with a need to help.

They went to meet her parents, and her father was keen that his daughter be sent to Australia for plastic surgery. Her mother, however, went ballistic when she discovered the poor child would once again look normal. “How will she be able to beg then?” she asked. And the Aussie medics were sent packing.

I can’t even ring the Cambodian government for help because I fear it would be extremely enthusiastic and then all the money I sent over would be spent on fixtures and fittings in the finance minister’s next luxury hotel. That’s if I could raise any money in the first place. It’s hard when money’s tight here and everyone else has their own pet project.

I suppose I could write to Ray-Ban asking it to design a cheap pair of shades that can be worn by someone who has no nose. But I think it’d be better if I started work on some designs for the most brilliant mine-clearing vehicle the world has ever seen. I’m thinking of strapping some ramblers together, and then . . .

Clinton foundation helps reforestation program in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- The William J. Clinton Foundation will help reforestation and avoided deforestation program in Cambodia, National Television TVK channel reported Saturday.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen supported that program and he recommended the Clinton Foundation to cooperation with Cambodia's forestry administration on that program, Ira Magaziner, representative of Clinton Foundation in charge of climate change, was quoted by TVK as saying.

The Clinton Foundation will help to preserve the forestry in Cambodia, Ira said.

Hun Sen said that Cambodia has six baby forestry breeding stations and each place has about five million baby trees.

The Clinton Foundation will implement the program in 2009, Country Director Zach Katz said, without elaborating the amount of the fund.

The Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) is developing a regional forestry program covering Indonesia, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.

Editor: Yan

Making the world more business-friendly

The Bangkok Post
Saturday September 13, 2008

Making the world more business-friendly

East Asia offers some of the most attractive and least burdensome business environments, reports Umesh PandeyAs Asia becomes the top destination for many businesses, the East Asia and Asia Pacific, have been rated as among the most entrepreneur-friendly regulatory environments with the likes of Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, and South Korea ranked in the top 50 countries with the best environment to do business.

As the 10-member Asean starts to compete with the likes of China and India for foreign direct investment, the regulatory environment in Asean countries has become far better than those in China and India, according to the World Bank.

China was ranked 83rd and India 122nd out of the 181 countries surveyed in the World Bank's Doing Business 2009 report released this week. As a result, Asean countries should be able to take comfort that they should receive their fair share of FDI given their better regulatory environments.

Singapore managed to maintain its top global ranking for the second year in a row for a superior regulatory environment that makes starting and operating a business in the country easy.

Among the Asean countries Thailand ranked second (and 13th worldwide), followed by Malaysia (20th globally). Brunei was in 88th place, Vietnam 92nd, Indonesia 129th, Cambodia 135th, the Philippines 140th place and Laos 165th place.

"The ranking of the nations is a good indicator for not just inflows of capital in to Thailand but for Thai entrepreneurs who are looking to invest outside Thailand as well, because this gives them a good idea of what the regulatory environments in various parts of the world look like and what are the areas that they may have to improve on," said Pimpapaan Chansilpa, chief inspector-general with the Commerce Ministry.

The World Bank said that the East Asia and the Pacific had the greatest momentum among regions in reforming business regulations this year.The survey identified 26 reforms between June 2007 and June 2008 that made it easier to do business in 24 economies across the region.
Among the world's large emerging markets, China led with reforms that made it easier to obtain credit, pay taxes, and enforce contracts.

The region's other top reformers included Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Improvements made it easier to pay taxes, start a business, trade across borders, and register property.

The World Bank said countries in Asia Pacific were among the world leaders in taking steps to protect investors, improve bankruptcy procedures, and strengthen the legal rights of creditors and borrowers. Cambodia's new secured transactions law made it the world's leading economy in easing access to credit.

Doing Business 2009 ranks economies based on 10 indicators of business regulation that track the time and cost to meet government requirements in starting and operating a business; trading across borders, paying taxes; and closing a business. The rankings do not reflect such areas as macroeconomic policy, quality of infrastructure, currency volatility, investor perceptions, or crime rates.

"Countries in the region are clearly committed to reform agendas," said Dahlia Khalifa, a coauthor of the report. "Regardless of their stage of economic development, they are recognising the role that regulatory reform can play in staying competitive while boosting entrepreneurship and job creation," she added.

Cambodia’s ‘phantom citizens’

Andong; Photo: Carole Vann

Human Rights Tribune

12 September 08 - With cheap manpower and generalized corruption, Cambodia is a Garden of Eden for Asian companies. Several thousand citizens have been forcibly expelled to make room for gigantic commercial centers or casinos.

Carole Vann/Human Rights Tribune – In front of the shed lies an old metal bedframe, completely rusted. On top, a hodgepodge of pots and pans, clothes, plastic cups and plates, some knives and spoons. Further on, a hammock has been nailed to a wall. ‘We must take the essentials if they set fire to the neighborhood,’ explains Malai, a lovely woman in a sarong, who lives nearby with her husband and three children. ‘They’ are the Cambodian authorities.

On the banks of Boeng Kak lake, in the suburbs of Phnom Penh, the neighborhood is poor, there is no sanitation, everything flows into the lake.

Homes are wooden huts attached to each other with beaten earth for floors. Here 4,250 families have lived for years in a sort of eviction reprieve. They know that one day, very soon, they will be expelled by force. An improvement project will fill in the lake and transformer the place into a gigantic commercial zone with deluxe appartments. One and a half years ago, the municipality of Phnom Penh granted a 99 year lease to a South Korean company (Shukaku) for the entire lake and its banks.

‘They have offered us several thousand dollars if we leave voluntarily, explained Malia. But the price of land is exorbitant. Rents also. It’s not enough to relocate us.’ Malai is a seamstress working at home, her husband unemployed. Like all their neighbors, they are refusing to leave.

Malai, her family and the inhabitants of Bang Kak are among 70,000 Cambodians – of 150,000 across the country according to Amnesty International – threatened with forced eviction. ‘If they refuse to leave, the authorities come and set fire to their homes, beat the inhabitants and arrest those who protest,’ said Kek Galabru, founder of LICADHO, one of two main organizations (along with ADHOC ) defending human rights in Cambodia). Last year, in Sihanoukvile [a southern port city], the military police arrived at dawn with automatic rifles, electric prods and bulldozers. They set fire to the houses and brutalized the inhabitants.’

The events in Sihanoukville shocked the Cambodian media, so violent was the repression. ‘The men were detained and forced to sign transfer papers before being freed’ added Kek Galabru.

This Khmer, married to a Frenchman, is a figurehead in the Cambodian human rights movement. She is one of the rare persons who has dated, at the risk of her life, to denounce the disfunctions in her country.

According to her, the problem with forced evictions is that it is a delayed bomb. The problem is linked to the modern history of the country. At the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, people returned to their villages. They settled on small plots of land and refused to budge. In 2001 a tax law came into force that stipulated that anyone living on a piece of land, uncontested by others, for five years, would become a landowner. But to get a deed to the property proved an unending battle. A multitude of officials had to be appeased, something most people could not afford.

The tax law also stated that the state could requisition land for ‘community development’. But the government plays with these terms. Luxury commercial centers, unaffordable to the majority of Kmers, are thus labeled in the public interest, to the point that the public wants to hear no more about ‘development’.

Kek Galabru and Thoun Saray, the President of ADHOC, were in Geneva last week to bring their story to the 9th session of the Human Rights Council. Amnesty International and the Geneva based NGO, COHRE (Center on Housing Rights and Evictions) consider that forcing evictions and confiscating land is high on the list of current problems in Cambodia.

More than 100,000 people were dislodged in the capital over the past ten years. The conditions in which they were rehoused are also tragic. Families find themselves parachuted miles from their villages onto vast open spaces. In February, 100 families were transferred by force from Sabok Tchap, a quarter in Phnom Penh, to Andong, a no-man’s land located 30 kilometers from the capital. Each family received a 12x5 meter parcel of land, no water, no electricity, no sewers. When it rained the terrain was transformed into mud and filth.

No work, no schools, no medical centers and no transport. And no property deed either. The state can retake this land at any moment. Isolated from everything, the relocated people have become ‘phantom citizens’, deprived of all elementary rights, according to Thoun Saray.

Translated from French by Pamela Taylor

A trip to a religious shrine in Cambodia

Express Buzz
Sandip Hor
14 Sep 2008

When the new Seven Wonders of the World were announced in July 2007, I was disappointed not to see Angkor Wat in that list. It raised questions in my mind about the selection process, which was based on voting through the Internet. That perhaps provided populous and resourceful countries like China, India, Brazil, Mexico and others an edge over small and poor Cambodia, where centuries of civil war and genocide has made the nation economically unstable.

However, the non-selection does not take the glory away from the grandeur of the Angkor temples; over a million tourists visit Cambodia every year to see them, and the numbers are increasing.

Today’s Cambodia is the successor state of the mighty Khmer empire which ruled much of present Vietnam, Laos and Thailand between the 9th and 14th centuries. Trade with India gave the Khmers their cultural contacts and the belief that the prosperity of the Indians was mainly due to protection from their gods. That inspired them to Hinduism and Buddhism and triggered the celebrated era of Indianised Khmer civilisation. They built their capital in Angkor, located in the country’s fertile northwest and utilised their wealth and vast labour force to build some of the world’s most outstanding temples dedicated to Hindu gods, mainly Shiva and Vishnu, which were later converted into Buddhist shrines.

The demise of the Khmer dynasty in the 15th century triggered the nation’s dark period, dominated by foreign invasions, French colonisation and civil wars, undoubtedly worst of the lot being the mass killings by communist leader Pol Pot in the 70s that ruined the state intellectually, socially and economically.

The situation stabilised only in the 1990s, when Cambodia sent an open invitation to the world to come and see their glorious past. The small laid-back town of Siem Reap became a hot spot as the gateway to Angkor where tourists rush to explore the ruins of over a thousand temples, which range in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble to architectural masterpieces. The most popular among them are Angkor Thom, Banteay Srey, Baphuon, Bayon, Preah Khan, Ta Prohm and the wondrous Angkor Wat which undoubtedly is the jewel in the crown.

Angkor Wat in Khmer meaning “City Temple” was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as a Vishnu temple; in fact, the deity of the eight-armed God is seen today at the entrance, though in the 14th century it became a Buddhist shrine.

I had seen countless images of Angkor Wat before, but the first sight of the edifice crowned with five towers was spell-binding. It was just like viewing a giant picture post-card against the blue sky. It sparked in my mind a quote from the travel notes of French botanist Henry Mouhot, who in 1861 discovered this site cloaked in the jungles for centuries — “It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”

The temple, structured on three levels, each comprising covered rectangular galleries, is built around open courtyards in diminishing size ultimately rising to the central tower. “There is a mythological significance about its construction. King Suryavarman designed this temple to represent Mount Meru, the abode of the gods in the Hindu religion. The towers at the top portray the mountain peaks; the outer walls, the moat and the open courtyards represent the mountains, oceans and the continents respectively, symbolising a long journey one has to undertake to reach the home of god.

The main shrine in the central tower at the top has four Buddha images. It is believed that the Vishnu statue at the entrance was housed there till Buddhism took over the holy place in the 14th century. The stairway to the central tower is very steep and sharply angled purposely, made that way to represent the enormous hardship required to touch the kingdom of gods. I felt short of courage to ascend through that route and offered my prayers to Lord Buddha from the lower end. The entire temple is full of carvings of apsaras, the celestial dancers.

There are almost 2,000 of them, in different styles and structure — young and old, lusty and modest, with exotic hairstyles, enigmatic expressions and lovingly carved jewellery. I saw some in mini skirts, which testified that showing pretty legs was trendy centuries ago as well.

Angkor became a world heritage site in 1992 and now an international committee has been established to oversee the planned restoration of these architectural wonders. The world has acknowledged Angkor icons as treasures of their own. As a result, several international agencies have come forward to work on the restorations.

While exploring Angkor, the province appeared to me severely underpopulated and I did not come across many people middle-aged and older. Ridh, our hotel receptionist in his mid-thirties, gave the clarification: “Pol Pot during the Khmer Rouge genocide wiped off a huge percentage of the Cambodian population. That included my father, elder brothers and uncles. We, the babies at that time, were fortunately left out and mainly constitute the country’s population today.”

There are a few who escaped death, but have lost their legs or arms in landmine explosions and I spotted some of them in groups around the Angkor temples, singing in a choir to attract tourist sympathy. They don’t beg, they are too proud to do so as they are the inheritors of these majestic temples, but their distressed faces say that they cannot live without external help.

Like them, most of the locals today consider Angkor an income-generating commodity — it is their lifeline. Being the gateway to Angkor, Seam Reap swarms with hotels, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops — they have all mushroomed in the last five years in an effort to utilise the tourist boom to revamp the struggling economy. Even tourism from India is on the rise, and to complement that there are a few good Indian restaurants in town where the paper masala dosa and chicken biriyani is as good as what you can hope to get in Chennai or Bangalore.

Sacravatoons :" I'm coming Back ! "

Courtesy Sacravatoon

Thaksin Shinawatra at the centre of Cambodian politics

Cambodge Soir


The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the government argue on alleged links with their Thai counterparts.

Sonn Chhay, an SRP MP, sent a letter to Sok An, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Council of Ministers, asking for clarification and for documents regarding contracts signed between companies linked with the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the Cambodian government. The MP insisted on shedding light on many businesses linked with the Thai tycoon and relaying them to the national press. Thaksin’s name has been linked with development projects in Koh Kong, Phnom Penh, and several Cambodian regions such as Preah Vihear. These projects are often related to petroleum development supposedly located in Cambodian waters.

“My party was accused of linking Thaksin and Preah Vihear for political grounds but now that the elections are over, it is time to ask the government on the substance of these cases. There are links between cases where Thaksin is mentioned and Cambodia’s problems" he asserted. According to him there are also grey areas in the Preah Vihear and Ta Moan Thom temple disputes, as the Thai army invaded Cambodia without fearing any retaliation from the Phnom Penh government. Finally Sonn Chhay added that pursuant to article 96 of the Constitution, Sok An must answer his questions.

Phai Siphan, the spokesman for the Council of Ministers could not be reached but in a statement made to Kampuchea Thmei newspaper, he declared that no secret agreement existed with Thailand. He thinks that SRP accusations are just a repeat of the Thai opposition’s arguments attacking the Bangkok government. Phai Siphan in a letter sent to the SRP, ask for written clarification of the SRP links with its Thai counterpart.

“Is the relationship between both countries’opposition parties a positive aspect for the resolution of the Preah Vihear dispute or any other border issues?” wondered the spokesman.

Single swearing in ceremony to be held

Cambodge Soir


The Constitutional Council has rejected the joint applications sent to the King by the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP). The applications requested that the two opposition party MPs could swear in at a different time to the Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers, following alleged "election rigging”.

The Constitutional Council based its notification on two arguments, legal and customary. Article 7 from the Constitution provides that “The King shall be inviolable.” and therefore cannot be ordered to respond. Also that “the King of Cambodia shall be a symbol of the unity and eternity of the nation." (article 8), and “the King shall assume the august role of arbitrator to ensure the faithful execution of public powers”(article 9).

The Council recalls that “in the past, the King Father Norodom Sihanouk allowed National Assembly members to swear in together, not separately”.

Indirectly the King ended any suspense. Politics is left to politicians, as provided by Article 7 of the Constitution: “The King of Cambodia shall reign but not govern”. The King sent the matter to the Constitutional Council for advice. Then the King conveyed the Constitutional Council’s conclusions to the HRP and SRP heads.

Interviewed by Cambodge Soir Hebdo Sonn Chhay, a MP and SRP spokesman pretended to be surprised: “I cannot see an answer coming from the King, we have to swear in separately and will not attend the first session of the National Assembly”, he declared.

As for Yem Ponhearith, General Secretary of the HRP, his statement is confusing: “We will not attend the first session, but we want to swear in and we follow the king".

And the King seems to follow the Constitutional Council’s notification which advocates a single swearing in ceremony.