Friday, 28 November 2008

No support for Thai accusations against Cambodia of planting mines

Thai soldiers clearing landmines in Cambodian territories near Preah Vihear temple on 20th July, 2008.

Everyday.com
27th November, 2008

Translated from Khmer by Khmerization

A Cambodian official said that there is no one country, among the signatories to the Ottawa Anti-mine Convention, that supports the Thai accusations that Cambodia had planted new mines along the borders.

Mr. Phay Siphan, Secretary of State and spokesman for the Council of Ministers, told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday that the Thai complaints to the annual meeting of the Ottawa Anti-mine Convention, which was held in Geneva of Switzerland on the 24th of November, that accused Cambodia of planting new mines has failed to get supports from the participating countries. Mr. Phay Siphan said that the Thai complaints had exposed the Thai lies to the world community.

It can also expose the Thai aggression and invasion against Cambodian sovereignty to the world community.Mr. Phay Siphan said: “We have nothing to hide. The complaints show that Thailand had stationed and deployed troops in violations of Cambodian territories which have already been littered with landmines.”

Latest News in picture from Thai

A soldier stands guard at the U-tapao international airport, 140 km (87 miles) southeast of Bangkok November 28, 2008. Thai police began talks with anti-government protesters blockading Bangkok's Don Muang airport on Friday, a senior police officer said, and will move against them if negotiations fail to end the siege.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Passengers wait in the line of check in at U-tapao international airport, 140 km (87 miles) southeast of Bangkok November 28, 2008. Thai police began talks with anti-government protesters blockading Bangkok's Don Muang airport on Friday, a senior police officer said, and will move against them if negotiations fail to end the siege.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Anti-government protesters set up the barrier in front of Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Nov. 28, 2008. Thailand's government prepared to crack down on protesters occupying the capital's two airports, but called on the public not to panic as rumors of a coup swept through the city.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

An anti-government protester sets up a barrier in front of Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Nov. 28, 2008. Thailand's government prepared to crack down on the protesters occupying the capital's two airports, but called on the public not to panic as rumors of a coup swept through the city.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Senior Cambodian delegation returns home

Nhan Dan
November 28, 2008

A high-ranking Cambodian delegation led by Samdech Chea Sim, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) Chairman and the Senate President, departed from Hanoi on November 27, concluding an official three-day visit to Vietnam.

During their stay in Vietnam , Chairman Chea Sim and his entourage were received by Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh and State President Nguyen Minh Triet. They also met with NA Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong and Secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee Pham Quang Nghi.

During the talks and meetings, the Vietnamese leaders stressed the importance of the Cambodian delegation’s visit, considering it an important political event helping to consolidate and develop the traditional friendship and co-operation between the two nations.

They affirmed that the close ties between the two Parties and two States is an invaluable common asset of the two nations.

The Vietnamese leaders also stressed that Vietnam has always attached importance to the maintenance and development of the existing good neighbourliness, traditional friendship and comprehensive and sustainable co-operation with Cambodia.(VNA)

Thailand's PM sanctions force to remove PAD protesters

Aircago Asia Pacific
Friday, 28 November 2008

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) today is bracing for decisive action following the decision by the Thai Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, to sanction force to remove protesters from Thailand's two main airports Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Meuang.

Andrew Wood , general manager of the Chaophya Park Hotel, Bangkok filed this situation update this afternoon.

The Thai government will try to open the airports with the police we now understand. Maybe as early as today. It may result in more violence as both sides say they are committed; PAD to forcing the Prime Minister to resign. The government to removing the protesters and reopening the countries main airports. Many of the anti government PAD protesters have gone inside the two international airports at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang.

Army tanks were deployed last night in a 'training' exercise to nearby Suvarnabhumi. They were spotted on the expressway in convey, with yellow peace flags, in the early evening. No pictures or news and the tanks have not featured on any newswires or dailies today.

People are now traveling to Phuket and Penang by train or overland to Cambodia and Chang Mai to try and get flight connections home via Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong. Bangkok Airways is still flying out of Utopao and have flights via Samui /Phuket to Singapore and Hong Kong.

It is all a huge mess for the embattled tourism industry. There are many, many cancellations. The losses are huge. Chaophya Park Hotel in Bangkok the occupancy is now down to 20 per cent for next week when normally we would be in the 90 per cent range during November; our busiest revenue month. I have received 600 room- nights cancellations in the last two days alone. Weddings and banquets functions are still taking place as planned. The local market is resilient but the international market is expected to be suffer a huge, possibly knockout blow. Each day the airports are closed some estimate it is costing THAI International, the national carrier around Baht 500 million in lost revenue and the loss to future tourism business is immeasurable.

Almost 80 per cent of Thailand's 14+ million annual tourists normally transit through Suvarnabhumi airport. They have to get the airport open and quickly. Travel and tourism sector job losses look more inevitable next year, the longer this siege continues.

-Andrew Wood

Thailand may lose status as air travel, logistics hub

Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport

By Timothy Ouyang
Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE: Thailand may lose its status as an air travel and logistics hub in the region, according to some industry-watchers. With Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport set to remain closed until Saturday, they said tourism in the country will be hit.

Suvarnabhumi Airport is seen as a key transit point for international travel into IndoChina. But analysts said it is in danger of losing that status.

Shukor Yusof, aviation analyst, Standard & Poor's, said: "Bangkok is going to lose a lot of investor confidence in terms of a gateway into IndoChina.

"What I think could happen in the near future is that Ho Chi Minh city's airport at Tan Son Nhat is going to be the main focus because there's stability in Vietnam. There's a lot of business going about in Vietnam and it also serves as a potential hub into Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia."

Hundreds of flights have been cancelled since the closure of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Wednesday and the national carrier, Thai Airways, is the hardest hit.

Bangkok has been competing to be the number one aviation hub in the region, against the likes of Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. Some said the longer the disruption, the harder it will be for the capital to climb to the top.

Stephen Forshaw, vice president, Public Affairs, Singapore Airlines (SIA), said: "A lot of what you lose in a day, you make up in the days afterwards when the situation normalises.

"But the longer it goes on, the less attractive it makes Bangkok as a destination and that causes concern in markets that are traditionally very high sources of tourism for the Thai economy."

SIA added that the closure of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport will not have material impact on its revenue.

Apart from full-service airlines, budget carriers have also been using Bangkok as a hub. According to some market-watchers, they will feel even more heat from the disruption.

"These are the airlines that are going to feel the impact strongly because their businesses depend on tourism, on casual travellers within Thailand," said Shukor.

According to some estimates, the Singapore-Bangkok route accounts for as much as 35 per cent of the revenues of budget carriers operating between the two cities. So far, both Jetstar Asia and Tiger Airways said they have yet to assess the losses in revenue from the airport's closure.

Suvarnabhumi Airport currently handles more than 260,000 domestic and international flights every year. That is about 76 flights every hour, making it one of the busiest airports in Southeast Asia.

On mission to aid poor in Cambodia

Hamilton Advertiser
Nov 27 2008
by George Topp, Lanark & Carluke

NEXT summer, a 16-year-old Carluke girl will be embarking on the trip of a lifetime to Thailand and Cambodia.

Leanne Craig, a sixth former at Carluke High, is taking part in a World Challenge Expedition to Thailand and Cambodia.

The expedition will consist of a trekking phase and will involve carrying out a project, such as working in local schools and orphanages or building wells in the poorer Khmer villages.

She will be working with children with a genuine need for assistance and outside help in Cambodia, one of the poorest countries on earth, and within the top ten on the United Nations' Least Developed Countries list.

A percentage of the money Leanne has raised will be donated to Clic Sargent, the UK's leading children's cancer charity.

Although she is hard at work studying for her highers, Leanne has also been working part-time at the Wallace Hotel in Carluke to earn extra money for her trip.

Leanne, who is also into horse-riding, held a fund-raiser for her trip at Dalziel Park Hotel.

Afterwards she said: “ It was a big success. We had a race night and an auction with some very generous donations from businesses including Lanarkshire Business Group, Mosko Hairdressing, The Hair Company, The Bellshill Hilton, Dalziel Park, 1 Devonshire Gardens, Ian Skelly, Allison's Flowers, Asset and General Finance, Kilmarnock player Fraser Wright and Ranger's player Steven Whittaker. I also want to thank local band Zen who played their farewell gig on the night.”

Lanarkshire Business Group have helped her fund raising get off to a great start by presenting her with a cheque for £500. Gordon Sommerville from the LBG said they were pleased to contribute to the fund raising for a very good cause and wish Leanne every success in her venture.

To donate, contact Linda or Leanne Craig on 01555 759618, or drop in to the computer shop, ICT Ltd, 56 High Street, Carluke.

GREAT START: Leanne Craig’s fund raising gets off to a good start with a £500 donation from the Lanarkshire Business Group.

Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia discuss triangular growth

Nhan Dan
November 27, 2008

The Prime Ministers of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia attending the fifth Development Triangle Summit, held in Vientiane, Laos, on November 26 agreed to work together to accelerate socio-economic development in the triangle, covering the three countries’ ten provinces.

The host PM, Bouasone Bouphavanh in his opening speech said that the Development Triangle is a zone of great importance for the three countries and is currently facing numerous difficulties.

The three countries should intensify their co-operation and complete a number of mechanisms and policies in order to facilitate the flow of investment and maximise their potential to develop the area, he stated.

Sharing this opinion, Cambodian PM Hun Sen said that furthering the development in the area would help to effectively narrow the development gap between the three countries.

Co-operation between the nations should be expanded, focusing on border economic zones as well as the tourism, trade, investment and training sectors.

Addressing the summit, Vietnamese PM Nguyen Tan Dung viewed the meeting as opportunities to discuss measures to increase co-operation between the three countries, review the triangle’s development following the fourth summit in Da Lat , Vietnam , in December 2006, and approve preferential mechanisms between the three countries and with other partners.

The PMs agreed that the close and effective co-operation in the development of the triangle had yielded important results in a number of fields, including improved infrastructure and busy trade-investment activities in the area, helping to increase socio-economic development and improve the living conditions of those living in the triangle.

They agreed to intensify their co-operation in economy, trade and investment and pledged to provide more favourable conditions for the three countries’ investors in the area.

The leaders approved of the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding to issue special preferential policies for the development triangle in order to attract investors from within the three countries, as well as from others to the area.

Highlighting the important role played by businesses in developing the area, the leaders supported the Lao PM’s idea of organising a business forum to increase government-business dialogue and encourage them to contribute further to the development triangle.

They agreed to hold a youth forum for the three countries’ younger generations to meet and exchange their views and experiences.

The three PMs praised the effective co-operation between the three countries and Japan in developing the triangle and hoped that Japan would further its co-operation and financial commitment to development in the triangle.

Concluding the summit, the PMs passed the summit’s joint statement, and signed the Vientiane declaration on co-operation within the development triangle and a memorandum of understanding governing a range of preferential policies for the area. (VNA)

Cambodia's first rock opera hopes its stage will be a bridge

The lead male character, Sam, rehearses in a Phnom Penh studio in early November.


By Miranda Leitsinger

CNN ASIA

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- A man strums an electric guitar while another musician blows on a buffalo horn converted into an instrument. A boy performs the traditional Cambodian monkey dance spliced in with breakdancing beats while a singer raps to the moves.

The artists are rehearsing for Cambodia's first known contemporary rock opera, "Where Elephants Weep," which makes its world debut Friday in Phnom Penh.

The production, loosely based on a classical Cambodian love story and performed in both English and Cambodian, is part of a bid to revive the arts in the Southeast Asian country, where most artists died under the Khmer Rouge, an ultra-Maoist movement bent on building an agrarian utopia.

"I think when any culture is interrupted by the tragedy of war, it's particularly important to go back and visit those (ancient) traditions, but we are in the 21st century and it's also important to bring those traditions forward," said John Burt, the show's executive producer and founding chair emeritus of Cambodian Living Arts, which commissioned the production.

"Where Elephants Weep" is the tale of two Cambodian-American men who return home after surviving the 1970s genocidal Khmer Rouge regime to reconnect with their roots but are confronted by the tragic past as well as an unfamiliar modern Cambodian society. One of them ends up in a pagoda and ultimately dead, while another falls into a doomed love affair with a leading local pop singer.

"There are many, many twists and turns in the love story that we have created that bring together the marriage of east and west and also address very specifically the clashes between east and west, between modernity and ancient life," Burt said.

Those worlds can be seen in the dance, where American and Cambodian choreographers fused traditional Cambodian dance, including using shadow puppets cut into the shape of elephants, with the back spins and handstands of breakdancing.

The music also parallels the east-west journey of the two male protagonists.

Composer Him Sophy, who studied in Russia for 13 years after surviving the Khmer Rouge labor camps, has blended rap, religious chanting, rock, his country's ancient music, operatic styles, pop and even added a Khmer Rouge propaganda song as a cell phone ringtone in the production.

Two musical ensembles will perform on the stage: a traditional Cambodian one that includes some 37 instruments such as the long-neck guitar and a one-stringed instrument; and a Western rock band outfitted with drums, an electric bass, piano and synthesizer.

"I knew before that it would be so difficult for me as a composer because traditional musical instruments are never played in big performances, Cambodian musicians never read (musical) notes, they don't work with a conductor and especially related to the tune -- the pitch of traditional instruments -- it's not enough tune to perform with the rock band," Him Sophy said.
To resolve the tune issue, the composer said he and his team "reinvented" some of the Cambodian instruments, such as the buffalo horn -- believed to be used for some 1,000 years to call elephants.

"The commission of this opera ... was to inspire and invite him (composer Him Sophy) to bring his own voice of the ancient Khmer sound into his own score that married his traditions with western pop and rock tradition," Burt said. Watch video

Most of Cambodia's artistic traditions had been passed down orally, from teacher to student, up through the 1970s. But a majority of the country's artists were some of the at least 1.7 million people -- nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population -- who died under the Khmer Rouge from execution, disease, starvation and overwork, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Five of the regime's former leaders are awaiting trial before a U.N.-backed tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The loss of Cambodia's artists spurred efforts to find survivors who could instruct future generations about the country's ancient arts, some of the instruments of which can be seen carved on the temples of Angkor Wat, which are up to 1,200 years old, in Siem Reap.

Cambodian Living Arts now has 20 master artists teaching nearly 400 students, plus an archive sound studio. The group is expanding its efforts to include commissions of new work, such as the rock opera.

Him Sophy lost two brothers to the Khmer Rouge.

One of the songs he composed for the production, "No Mother," is about those who lost their parents under the Khmer Rouge, and the main character, Sam, has suppressed many of his painful memories of being a child soldier during that era.

"Of course, the tragedy for Cambodian people, I cannot explain it all, but I would like to show it through the opera," he said.

The story is not just a reprisal of the country's tragic past, but a look at it today: there are scenes of beer girls and nightclubs, Buddhist religious ceremonies and a planned traditional arranged marriage, and the newly rich living in freshly-acquired luxury homes.

Burt said a Cambodian-American friend inspired him to bring forward the story of those refugees who go back and "land in this very betwixt and between place, where they are not really American, they are not really Cambodian."

The cast includes Cambodian-Americans, one who said the experience has been a homecoming of sorts for her.

When Amara Chhin-Lawrence, 27, came to Cambodia for the project in 2003, "it was very much a feeling of being at home ... because there wasn't this dual nature anymore."

"This is where I feel like my yearning for my homeland will rest," she added.

Burt, who had to have a theater renovated to accommodate the size and scope of the show since there was no suitable venue in the country, aims to take it to other cities around the world but believed it was important to have the world premiere in Cambodia.

"Cambodia soon will and should have the stages that can welcome international touring shows, that can welcome the shows of their own people, and our hope is that this show really raises the possibility for that to occur," he said.

The creative team also hopes audiences will view Cambodia differently after seeing the show.

The production presents "Cambodia in the light that it so urgently needs to be shown in," Filloux said. "And that is not in terms of the Khmer Rouge regime, not in terms of looking in the rearview mirror, but in looking towards the resilience of spirit of Cambodian people, at the enormous challenges that they have faced and how their art and their sensibility and their spirituality can utterly transform them."

"Where Elephants Weep" runs through December 7.

Official: Thai crisis adversely affects border talks with Cambodia

www.chinaview.cn
2008-11-28

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- The current situation of Thai politics has affected negatively its border negotiation with Cambodia, said Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong here on Friday.

"I can say that the complicated situation of politics in Thailand has exactly negative impact on the border discussion and plantation of border makers between Thailand and Cambodia," he told reporters after coming back from a regional meeting in Laos.

Both sides have already agreed to hold foreign ministers' meeting next month in Siem Reap and the experts from the two countries are also scheduled to measure the land, plant border makers and cleaned the mines near the Preah Vihear Temple during the same month, he said.

The resolution of the border matters now depends on the Thai side's situation, he said.

"We still need more time and are following the situation in Thailand," he added.

In October, Cambodian and Thai troops exchanged fire on their disputed border area, killing two and wounding a dozen.

Prior to the clash, the ownership of the Preah Vihear Temple caused both sides to maintain military stalemate near the border for weeks.

During this period, rounds of meetings were held, but all failed to find common ground on the border issue to break the stand off.

The two countries have 790-km-long border line, but only with 73 border posts which were planted in 1907.

Editor: Liu

Siem Reap tourism hit by Thai protests

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 28 November 2008

TOURISM officials said Thursday that flight cancellations caused by the recent political unrest in Thailand have cost the Kingdom nearly 500 international tourist arrivals per day.

Mobs with the pro-monarchy People's Alliance for Democracy on Tuesday stormed Suvarnabhumi International Airport and on Thursday closed Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, prompting airport officials to cancel all departing flights.

Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said as many as 500 tourist arrivals would be lost by the disruptions in Bangkok, which would affect travel agencies, hotels and other related services.

"The question is who will share responsibility for the loss," he said.

Luu Meng, president of the Cambodian Hotel Association, said the loss of international tourists could put a squeeze on the Kingdom's hotel sector.

"If the problems in Bangkok continue, some hotels in Siem Reap will be without guests," he said.He added that flight cancellations had left some travellers in Siem Reap without a return flight, and others in Bangkok without service to the Angkor temple town, a key tourist hub.

"Phnom Penh hotels have not been impacted much, but Siem Reap could sustain a big impact," he said.

Kao Sivorn, director of Cambodia's State Secretariat for Civil Aviation, said between eight and 10 flights from Bangkok to Siem Reap have been cancelled since Suvarnabhumi was occupied by protesters.

More to do in fight against child sexual exploitation

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
A sex worker looks out to the street by Wat Phnom. Youngsters gathered in Brazil this week to talk about child exploitation.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Laurence Gray
Friday, 28 November 2008

Opinion

By Laurence Gray

Children gather in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, to voice their concerns


It is to the world's shame that hundreds of youngsters - including many from the Asia-Pacific region - are meeting in Brazil this week [November 25-28] to talk to governments and activists about the global sexual exploitation of boys and girls for profit.

While it is a very good thing that children have been invited to the third World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, it is also a reflection of the failure of countries worldwide to do more to protect children from the worst forms of abuse.

According to Unicef, around two million children every year are now being exploited through prostitution or pornography. The sad truth is that the problem cannot be solved unless children are invited to be part of the solution.

Improvements in awareness

In the years since the first congress was held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1996, things have moved on. The sexual abuse of children at the hands of tourists, brothel owners and traffickers was a major talking point back in 1996. Much has been done since then to raise awareness, engage hotels and tourism authorities, and introduce laws to protect children. Child victims are now more likely to be recognised as survivors rather than criminals.

In some areas, progress in protecting children has been made. In Cambodia, the government has clamped down, closing down a notorious brothel village near Phnom Penh where underage sex was sold. Police have been trained to spot child abuse and poster campaigns engage the public in fighting it.

Governments cooperating

Southeast Asian governments are also working together now to return and rehabilitate child victims of sex trafficking, introducing tougher laws and holding one another to account.

However, enforcement remains patchy. It is not difficult to find children being sold for sex in parts of Asia - or indeed in countries in Europe, the Americas and Africa. In Asia, there is still the false premise that child sex abusers are white male tourists, overlooking the fact that many youngsters are abused by Asians. Asian governments also lag behind in terms of implementing extradition laws that bring child abusers home for trial.

Technology offers more dangers

The internet and the proliferation of mobile phones with video- and photo-sharing capabilities are potentially exposing children to online predators and pornographers. The role that teachers, family and friends traditionally play in protecting children from abusers is failing because children spend more time online, where they are exposed to the moral lows of the internet and where abusers can make direct contact anonymously.

Much more needs to be done in policing the internet to prevent hard-core images of children being shared, to combat abusers who now transmit encrypted images to buyers or who groom children online in an attempt to meet them or persuade them to "perform" via webcams.

Until recently it was chiefly poor children who were at greatest risk from commercial sexual exploitation due to their poverty and vulnerability. Now any child with a computer and internet connection is also in danger.

The growth of the internet, especially in Asia, where only 15 percent of the population - some 600 million people - are users, highlights the huge potential for further exploitation in this area. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, child pornography is already a multibillion-dollar industry.

Organisations demonstrate efforts

Leading child rights organisations like World Vision have brought 300 children, some the survivors of sexual exploitation, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The organisations will be showing how they have been at the forefront of efforts to warn youngsters about the dangers of trafficking and the internet, and persuading governments to do much more to protect them.

Children are telling us they want adults to do more. They want their families to make better money so they are not handed over to brokers whose promise of a good job only leads to work in brothels; they want their friends educated about online risks and the internet censored; they want their families to love and protect them, not sell them; they want border police to be non-corruptible rather than accepting bribes from traffickers; they want their governments to listen to and stand up for them.
________________________________________

Laurence Gray is World Vision's
advocacy director for the Asia-Pacific region.

As prices rise, the slums move out

Photo by: THOMAS GAM NIELSEN
A child walks through a back alley at Andong, where thousands of urban poor were dumped by authorities in 2006.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thomas Gam Nielsen and Chrann Chamroeun
Friday, 28 November 2008

Phnom Penh's property boom has come at the expense of the capital's poor

Nearly 80,000 urban poor have been moved out of the city to make way for lucrative land developments, but many are dissatisfied with their new surroundings. Thomas Gam Nielsen and Chrann Chamroeun report

RISING property prices have spurred the eviction of urban poor from the inner city at the same time that they have forced relocation sites further into the countryside around Phnom Penh, say local and international housing rights advocates.

With the United Nations expecting Phnom Penh's population to double by 2020, they say many more poor living on valuable land in the city centre are becoming vulnerable to eviction and that the government should take action to implement property laws that are already on the books.

"The private sector is focused on achieving its goals with little attention to the social environment, especially poor people. They do not want to see slums in the city," said Din Somethearith from the UN Program on Human Settlement, or UN-Habitat. When market prices started to rise in the early 2000s, he said, thousands of families were relocated from slums and squatter communities in the city to make way for property development.

In a survey of Phnom Penh's 41 relocation sites, local housing rights advocacy group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut counted 15,831 families that were either forced to or agreed to move as a result of urban developments in Phnom Penh - as many as 80,000 people in total.

" THE PRIVATE SECTOR IS FOCUSED ON ACHIEVING ITS GOALS WITH LITTLE ATTENTION TO THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT. "

An additional 4,050 families also face eviction from the Boeung Kak lakeside due to the development of a 133-hectare commercial and housing development at the site.

Land price emergency

The relocation of urban poor from the city began with the restoration of private property rights in 1989 and gathered pace as the Kingdom achieved increasing political stability towards the end of the 1990s.

Din Somethearith said that during the 1990s an excess of private funding ensured support for affected communities and better infrastructure at relocation sites. In particular, he cites the resettlement of 128 families to Akphiwat Meanchey in 1999 as one of the bright spots in the municipality's housing program.

"The community leaders were able to choose the site themselves ... and the municipality brought the community to the site and they approved the better living conditions," he said.

He added that a good location - just a few kilometres from the city centre - a high level of community involvement and the presence of running water and toilets made the Akphiwat Meanchey relocation a success in the eyes of NGOs and those removed.

But by the start of the millennium - what Din Somethearith referred to as the "emergency period" - the number and size of land evictions began to increase rapidly; in 2001 alone, 12 Phnom Penh communities were forced to relocate, several because of a series of blazes that tore through their homes on the Tonle Bassac riverfront.

At the time, then-Phnom Penh governor Chea Sophara dismissed suggestions the fires were part of deliberate attempt to uproot residents, calling them "a series of accidents".

At the same time, land prices in Phnom Penh started rising. Figures from the Bonna Realty Group show that the price of commercial land rose from US$400 a square metre in 2000 to $900 in 2005, and then doubled in price each year between 2006 and 2008, peaking at $2,500 per square metre in June.

These price jumps have seen a concurrent rise in the number of relocations to new housing settlements - the worst of which was the site in Andong.

Early in the morning on June 6, 2006, thousands were loaded onto trucks at the Sambok Chap slum community along the Tonle Bassac and dumped on unoccupied land at Andong, 20 kilometres outside the city.

More than two years later, the 1,600 families at Andong still do not have proper access to running water, children face malnutrition and adults have struggled to find work so far away from Phnom Penh, where many sold goods in the markets.

Manfred Hornung, a legal consultant with the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said that the municipality had evicted the families without preparing any sort of relocation scheme for the site, but had learned from the bad press received following the Andong relocation.

"In the last two years the municipality has refined its strategy," he told the Post. "They do not operate in such a crude mode any longer.... In most cases the families still face the same problems, but it is done in a much smoother and refined way."

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun acknowledged the bad conditions at Andong, but disagreed with the problem's source.

"Only 400 renters from Sambok Chap originally had the right to a plot of land at Andong," he said, adding that when it was broadcast on television that renters would have the right to own land at Andong, "greedy people moved to Sambok Chap so they could be allocated a land plot at Andong".

The quality of the relocations

In June, the UN issued a viewpoint on resettlement and evictions in Cambodia, pointing out the responsibilities of the government under domestic and international law.

"Relocation sites must provide for security of tenure, minimum services and infrastructure, such as potable drinking water, sanitation and washing facilities, site draining and habitable housing. They must ensure access to employment options, health care services and schools," the UN stated.

But Mann Chhoeun said the municipality was already committed to increasing community involvement as a way to ensure better outcomes for relocated communities.

"Negotiation is better than conflict," he said, adding that government guidelines mandated the provision of "land, housing, infrastructure, education, hospital, sanitation and security" to all urban evictees.

Through the Urban Poor Development Fund, an organisation chaired by Mann Chhoeun since it was founded in 1996, families were also encouraged to save up money to build their houses through a local microfinance scheme.

Mann Chhoeun agreed that there were instances of bad relocations, but said City Hall was committed to working with NGOs and the private sector to resolve any issues as quickly as possible.

"Sometimes people meet job crises, transportation troubles and a lack of access to schools," he said, but added that the municipality was "in the process of solving these problems together with partners such as the [Development Fund] and UN-Habitat".

But Hornung questioned this line of argument, saying that the question of the quality of relocation sites overlooks a set of more fundamental questions.

"Before we talk about the quality of relocation sites, we need to talk about ownership rights, entitlements and the right of people to stay where they are. If you look at most relocation sites, regardless of their quality, they are far out of town, with limited access to markets and very few livelihood opportunities," he said.

Hornung added that the Kingdom's Land Law, passed under donor pressure in 2001, allows members of such communities to claim title to any land they have occupied peacefully for five years prior to the passing of the law - something that has been ignored in the case of most urban evictions.

Looking to the future

City Hall and local rights organisations also disagree about whether increasing urbanisation and economic growth will increase the eviction of poor urban communities in the coming years.

According to the municipality's own figures, that there are some 569 slum communities in Phnom Penh, but Mann Chhoeun said that the city authorities would "[find] resolutions to make Phnom Penh a city where both poor and rich live comfortable lives in beautiful communities".

According to the Housing Rights Task Force, an alliance of housing rights advocacy groups, 15 communities in Phnom Penh are facing eviction, and Hornung said the creation of prime real estate areas in Phnom Penh's centre will force many more slum communities out of the city.

"I assume that these people living in these villages in central Phnom Penh are completely unaware of the fact that foreign construction companies and developers are going around with plans [highlighting] the areas where they live as prime real estate areas," he said. "This will be the future of Phnom Penh's central area."


CONTRASTED

The good, the bad and the ugly of Phnom Penh's housing resettlements


Photo by: THOMAS GAM NIELSEN A child stands at the entrance of the Akphiwat Meanchey relocation site, first settled in 1999.



Akphiwat Meanchey

In between garment factories in the Meanchey district of Phnom Penh lies the Akphiwat Meanchey relocation site. In 1999, after two years of planning, 128 families arrived at their new houses and nine years later the community seems satisfied.

"I am very happy to be at this new location with a good environment, a nice house and a nice atmosphere. There are good business opportunities here, the market is nearby, we have a school, a nice road and factories around," said Kim Thay, a 63-year-old kiosk owner.

"Before, I lived in a very dirty place, where it flooded when it rained heavily and people looked down at us and insulted us because we were poor," she added. At Akphiwat Meanchey, UN-Habitat filled the land to prevent flooding, constructed wells and paid for individual toilets for all the families.

Some of the villagers work in the nearby garment factories and others earn extra income by making meals for the hungry workers. The community leaders were able to choose the land, which the Municipality of Phnom Penh then purchased for them. They found a place close to work opportunities and services such as health care and schools.

Meas Kimseng, the architect and coordinator of the local NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, supervised a one-and-half-year-long study on the relocation sites in Phnom Penh. He said the Akphiwat Meanchey should be used as an example of how to involve the displaced in the decision-making process.

Kim Thay said she will always be grateful for the help of UN-Habitat and the municipality. "My life has now changed, and I have new hope with a comfortable place and life," she said.


Photo by: THOMAS GAM NIELSEN
Pheng Sameoun, 53, stands in front of the shed where she lives with her husband and youngest son.
Andong
Andong, 20 kilometres from central Phnom Penh, was nothing but fields until June 6, 2006, when 1,600 families were dumped there after being evicted from their old community at Sambok Chap on the Tonle Bassac. Today, the same number of families pack the area, according to Dr Horng Lairapo, who treats patients at Andong twice a week as part of a medical team run by rights group Licadho.

“There is no clean water, and the children have diarrhoea, gastrointestinal problems and infectious diseases from the dirty water,” he said.

Fifty-three-year-old Pheng Sameoun sometimes receives medicine for her stomach problems from Horng Lairapo, but it does not help her husband’s drinking problem, her family’s lack of money or their ramshackle living conditions.

“I have never suffered like this before. In Phnom Penh, I had a home and enough food, but when they kicked me out and made me live here, I had nothing,” she said with tears in her eyes.

In Phnom Penh, she sold vegetables and washed clothes, and her husband was employed. Now, they do not earn enough money to support their 10-year-old son. Pheng Sameoun still goes to Phnom Penh and sells clams, when she has enough money to afford a motortaxi.

“When I feel good, I go to Phnom Penh to find money, but sometimes I stay home to cry, because I do not have anything to eat,” she said.

The relocation site has just 777 land plots for around 1,600 families, but the allocation process is in deadlock.

Photo by: THOMAS GAM NIELSEN

Residents of Borei Keila’s “green shelter” live amongst garbage and feel deprived of their right to a new apartment at the site.

Borei Keila

With 1,776 families, Borei Keila was the first and largest housing project in central Phnom Penh. Tang Kimseng, 51, moved to her new apartment last year, when the first three of the settlement’s 10 buildings were ready for occupation. She is happy with her 4-by-12-metre home with tile floors and her own bathroom, but she questions the business prospects at the site.

“It is a good house for living, and I want to thank the prime minister, but I want him to solve the problem with places for doing business,” she said, referring to an agreement between the community leaders and the construction company Phanimex.

Phanimex planned to rent out the ground floor for shops at market prices, but the residents simply cannot afford it.

While around 520 families have moved into new apartments, others feel betrayed by the allocation process. To be entitled to a new apartment the families need to prove that they have been living at the site since 2000.

Samrit Bunly represents 120 families who say they are eligible for the new apartments, but that they have been deprived of this right by local authorities.

In July, they sent a letter of complaint to Prime Minister Hun Sen, which highlighted their poor living conditions in temporary sheds next to the apartments, known locally as the “green shelter”.

“We are calling on the government to pay attention to us, [because] we are living in very bad conditions with poor sanitation and have difficult lives,” she said.

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

Retired teacher Ty Chany has lived for two years at the Damnak Trayoeng relocation site.

Damnak Trayoeung

The 1,465 homes of Damnak Trayoeng village, 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh, were constructed by the 7NG Group, welcoming its first families in August 2006, when they left their old houses in the Dey Krahorm community.

Ty Chany, a retired teacher from the Royal University of Arts, moved voluntarily from Dey Krahorm.

“I am happy that I decided to come, now that I have lived here for more than two years. When I heard about the eviction [from Dey Krahorm] I felt OK because I got a good compensation,” he said, referring to his 4-by 12-metre house.

Though he is retired, he still teaches painting at the Royal University of Arts, but the distance to Phnom Penh makes it difficult for him to save money. He has yet to receive the legal title to his house, but when he does he will rethink his situation.

“Maybe I will sell my house, so I can buy a new one in Phnom Penh that is affordable, and then I can work there and make money more easily,” he said.

Ty Chany’s house is near a big, local market, and the site also has its own primary school and work opportunities at a nearby garment factory.

The houses at Damnak Trayoeng generally look better than the slum housing in Dey Krahorm, where around 100 families remain. The families that stayed put at Dey Krahorm are demanding either compensation that reflects the market price of their land or on-site development, which was originally promised in 2003 but has yet to materialise.

Cambodia safer than other regional countries for journalists: group

PARTLY FREE"
The US-based NGO Freedom House ranks Cambodia's press as "partly free", which is the same ranking as Thailand. However, Vietnam and Laos earned the status "not free". Freedom House calls the Kingdom's press "vigorous".

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay
Friday, 28 November 2008

Cambodian rights officials and journalists divided on problem of intimidation, but agree that legal threats against the press are rising

CAMBODIA remains a relatively safe country for journalists, an international media watchdog said, despite the killing earlier this year of a reporter working for an opposition newspaper.

But Cambodia-based rights officials and media experts say legal attacks against journalists have increased, even if physical intimidation is on the decline.

"Compared to other countries in the region, like the Philippines for example, the climate in Cambodia for journalistic practice is generally more peaceful," Red Batario, the regional coordinator for Southeast Asia at the Belgium-based International News Safety Institute, said in an email Friday.

Moneaksekar Khmer reporter Khim Sambo, who was gunned down in July, was the only Cambodian on the institute's tally of 80 media professionals killed during 2008.

The figure, which does not include two additional journalists killed since the list was compiled, marks a significant drop from the 173 media personnel slain in both 2006 and 2007, according to the institute.

" Many judges don't like journalists... The libel law need to be clear. "

Little changed

Since 1994, at least 10 journalists have been killed in Cambodia, though only Khim Sambo's death has occurred in the last five years.

Rights groups, however, point out that none of these cases have been solved.

Naly Pilorge, director of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said the crimes have not been "properly investigated and prosecuted, proving again there is an environment of impunity and lawlessness in Cambodia".

"Little has changed in regard to media freedom and safety of journalists in the last decade," she said.

"Until journalists are protected both from physical and groundless legal attacks, media freedom will remain an illusion in Cambodia."

Pen Samithy, the editor-in-chief of Khmer-language daily newspaper Rasmey Kampuchea, said the physical safety of journalists had improved, but agreed that the courts had become the favoured weapon against the press.

"It's easy to get a ruling against the media. Some laws are unclear, and judges will make a decision based on how they think about journalists," he said.

"Many judges don't like journalists.... The libel law needs to be clear," he added.

Finding shelter from the storm

Photo by: THOMAS GAM NIELSEN
Educational boards and posters are handed out in Svay Rieng to change people's attitude towards domestic violence.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thomas Gam Nielsen and Chrann Chamroeun
Friday, 28 November 2008

SVAY RIENG
The Safe House, a women's shelter at an undisclosed address in Svay Rieng, battles rising domestic violence by giving hope to the province's most at-risk victims of rape and battery

FOR more than a year, a shelter simply called the Safe House has been helping the most vulnerable victims of rape and domestic violence in Svay Rieng province, where, like most areas outside the capital, social services are limited.

"There has been a big difference [since we opened]. Now, we can help these women with full security, and they do not have to feel afraid," said Nget Thy, project manager at the Cambodian Centre for the Protection of Children's Rights, the organisation that runs the Safe House.

The idea for the Safe House, which is located at an undisclosed address, was born after an original open-door shelter proved unable to protect victims from their abusers.

"When we received victims of rape or domestic violence, the perpetrator would sometimes come and complain and want to take the victim from our shelter," Nget Thy said.

"Also, brothel owners would pass by and want to get back their former sex workers," he added.

Since moving to their new address, the organisation has been able to provide security for at-risk victims of domestic violence or rape who have been targeted by perpetrators trying to track them down.

According to Lourdes Autencio, coordinator of counter-trafficking in persons at the Asia Foundation - which is a major donor to the Safe House - the centre is particularly impressive as it evolved in response to local needs rather than because of an explicit donor request.

"It was born out of the need of those high-risk individuals," she said, adding that the Asia Foundation gives technical support to the Safe House.

Growing need

A report released Tuesday by the Women's Affairs Ministry said that a quarter of Cambodian women were the victims of abuse, while young girls have increasingly become targets of sexual assault.

In Svay Rieng, the rights group Licadho has reported 14 cases of rape this year, including those involving seven children, and 21 cases of abuse.

At the moment, five females between ages 12 and 25 years are living at the Safe House, referred to the program by local authorities and other NGOs.

The organisation counsels the women and tries to create an atmosphere that will allow them to take back control of their lives. "These are very sensitive cases, and the main point is to make them feel safe," Nget Thy said.

Clients can live at the Safe House for up to six months, and afterwards are given vocational training or help finding a job.

At the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre, general director Nop Sarin Sreyroth welcomed Safe House initiative.

"It is good that they have the Safe House in Svay Rieng, because even though they could refer some of victims to us, we cannot take all cases," she told the Post.

Russian paedophile sentenced to 8 years in second sex trial

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Friday, 28 November 2008

Alexander Trofimov, whose first jail term was slashed by nearly half, is convicted for soliciting sex with an underage girl in Sihanoukville

SIHANOUKVILLE Municipal Court handed down a second child-sex conviction to Russian businessman Alexander Trofimov on Thursday for soliciting sex with an underage girl, sentencing him to an additional eight years in jail.

The 41-year-old former chairman of Koh Puos Investment Group, who is already serving six years for sexual assault in Cambodia's largest-ever paedophilia case, appeared in court for sentencing after missing the first two days of his trial, said his lawyer, Saing Vannak.

He added that he was unsure whether Trofimov would appeal the ruling.

"I will talk to my client about whether to appeal," he told the Post after the sentence was handed down. "My client was absent during the trial so the decision is unfair."

Trofimov was convicted on one of two counts of purchasing sex from a minor, brought by a single victim.

The second count involving 17 victims is still under investigation, with a verdict expected later, said Teng Maneth, a legal officer at the anti-paedophile NGO Action Pour les Enfants.

This week's trial was the third attempt to get Trofimov into court after a lack of lawyer delayed earlier trials.

Two Cambodian women, Tit Srey Mom and So Sina, were also given to eight-year prison terms on Thursday in connection with the case.

Trofimov was arrested in 2007 and first stood trial in March of this year on charges of abusing a 13-year-old girl.

He was sentenced to 13 years, but his prison term was slashed to seven years by the Appeals Court in October.

Bith Kimhong, director of the Anti-human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department at the Ministry of Interior, said that from January to November of this year, seven foreigners were arrested for having sexual relations with children.

After years of being seen as a haven for sexual predators, Cambodia in 2003 began a campaign to clean up the Kingdom's image by arresting paedophiles and other sex offenders, arresting dozens of foreigners.

Businessman offers deal to Anlong Krom homeless

Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Soldiers stand over the recently-destroyed village of Anlong Krom in Kampot.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Friday, 28 November 2008

Senator Mong Reththy has promised jobs for villagers on his company's rubber plantation in Stung Treng province

CPP Senator Mong Reththy has announced plans to take villagers evicted from Anlong Krom village in Kampot province to work on his farm in Stung Treng.

Tan Monivann, deputy director general of the Mong Reththy Group, said that the company has prepared 100 hectares of land to build houses for the villagers if they volunteer to live there and work for the company.

"We have welcomed all of them if their intent is to live there and work for us," he told the Post Wednesday.

"But we have heard that those people are not real landless people, that they were just squatting on the land."

Tan Monivann said that the land in Stung Treng province, part of a 100,000-hectare agricultural land concession granted by the government in November 2001, is being planted with rubber trees.

On Monday and Tuesday, villagers said that more than 100 police, military police and soldiers from RCAF Brigade 31 started torching and dismantling 300 villagers' homes in Anlong Krom, in Kampot's Taken commune, leaving them without shelter or food. Authorities say the villagers were living illegally on land belonging to Bokor National Park.

Prak Khoeun, a villager whose home was dismantled, said that those evicted had received word that Mong Reththy was offering to take them to Stung Treng, but most of them did not plan to move.

"We will not go there," he said. "Anyway, we feel afraid that we will be cheated, so we would rather stay here."

Bokor National Park Director Chey Uterith said that the 55 families remaining at the site will be forced to leave by Sunday.

"If they do not leave, we will file a complaint to the court," he said. "We will conduct a statistic of how many families are genuinely landless and then report them to Mong Reththy or the provincial authority."

Thai claims of land mine use on border ignored: Cambodia

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 28 November 2008

Thailand has accused the Kingdom of violating an international mine ban at a meeting on the Ottawa Convention, Cambodian delegates say

INTERNATIONAL delegates to an annual conference in Geneva on the global land mine ban have ignored Thai accusations that the Cambodian military has planted fresh mines during recent tensions along the countries' disputed border, Cambodian officials said Thursday.

"The Thais firstly complained that Cambodia isn't following the convention banning land mines. Secondly, they accused Cambodia of planting new mines in the border area," said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan.

According to the Cambodian delegation in Geneva, Phay Siphan said, the Thai complaints were ignored by the other meeting participants.

"The other members of the convention said nothing. They did not listen to them," he told the Post.

"They have understood we are people who want only to make peace. The Thais keep misleading the world."

Chan Rotha, deputy secretary general of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, said, "The donor countries will not pay attention to the Thais' accusations because they already know through their representatives in Phnom Penh that we have not laid any new mines."

'A grave threat'

At least one Thai soldier has been killed and two others seriously wounded in a spate of land mine incidents that have occurred during the five-month military standoff on the border.

Following a blast that wounded two Thai troops on October 6, Thai Foreign Ministry officials accused Cambodia of laying new anti-personnel mines on Thai territory, calling it "a grave threat for the international community" and a violation of the 1997 mine ban treaty.

But Cambodian officials insist that the Thais stepped on mines left over from Cambodia's civil war in the 1980s and 1990s.

Furthermore, Phay Siphan said that since unexploded mines were only on the Cambodian side of the border, the blasts proved that the Thais had crossed into Cambodian territory.

Thai political turmoil seen as stalling border row talks

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A soldier unrolls cartridges of ammunition in Preah Vihear in this file photo. Civil unrest in Thailand makes a speedy resolution to the months-old border standoff unlikely.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady and Thet Sambath
Friday, 28 November 2008

But as Bangkok erupts in civil unrest, Cambodia unlikely to take advantage of its neighbour's upheaval to press its point

AFTER ratcheting up its rhetoric last month, the government has since resisted taking jabs at Thailand over their disputed territory, even as escalating political upheaval in Bangkok has made progress in border negotiations impossible.

"Nothing has changed in our negotiations with the Thai government," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong. "They claim they are fine and still able to communicate [over diplomatic affairs]."

The government remains tight-lipped on its ability - or inability - to engage with the besieged regime.

"The protests don't affect us. That's their internal dispute and we won't interfere," said Koy Kuong.

But as rioting in Bangkok boils over into full-blown civil unrest, forcing the Cabinet to go into hiding and putting the government's foreign affairs on the backburner, Cambodia faces the possibility of losing another chance to advance negotiations over its shared border.

Some Asean member states have asked Thailand to postpone a regional summit it is supposed to host in Chiang Mai next month, and the scheduled bilateral talks in Siem Reap in January could also fall by the wayside.

Even if the summit is held, Cambodia will not put the border dispute on the agenda, according to Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan.

"We're not going to pressure Thailand. Through bilateral talks, we can talk in a friendly way."

Changing its tune

The government has been advancing a patient line on Thailand's internal turmoil. But this hasn't always been the case during the five-month-old standoff.

Hun Sen on October 13 delivered an ultimatum to Thailand that it must withdraw its forces from Cambodian territory, warning of a "full-scale conflict" if Bangkok did not comply.

But, after a border clash a couple of days later that claimed the lives of three Cambodians, Hun Sen downplayed the threat of war.

Telling reporters that "Cambodia is poor and will not show its muscles", Hun Sen assumed a decidedly humbler tone, which he has largely maintained since.

This approach has frustrated Yim Sovann, a lawmaker from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, who said Thailand's reliability as a negotiator should be raised during the Asean summit in December.

"Since July, there have been many meetings but no results," he said.

But Chea Vannath, an independent commentator on social and political affairs, said that "while what's happening within each country affects the other in border talks, the reality is that patience is expected".

She also said that Hun Sen, while a seasoned veteran in persevering through domestic conflicts, had limited experience in formal international diplomacy, and therefore may still be finding his range in speaking on a dispute that's in the global limelight.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, thought the Cambodian government was wise to avoid embarrassing Bangkok.

"The bottom line is there's no way for an agreement now because the Thai Cabinet and parliament are unable to convene."

If Cambodia were to petition for third-party involvement, the international community would sympathise with the domestic difficulties in Thailand that left the hands of its government tied, he said.

"Cambodia has every right to do that, but it could damage the long-term relationship between the two sides," he said.

Saving face is paramount in Asian diplomatic etiquette, he added, and pressing an already beleaguered regime could be seen as stepping outside the accepted rules of engagement.

"The Thai government is falling, so to step on it by pressing it for a resolution would be viewed as adding insult to injury."

Increases to military budget worry NGOs, political opposition

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 28 November 2008

Sam Rainsy Party and NGOs say increases in public spending should go towards social programs and economic infrastructure

GOVERNMENT proposals to sharply increase funds to the military and the prime minister's discretionary spending budget have raised concerns by the opposition party and local NGOs who say the money is being funnelled into corruption-prone sectors and should instead be used to bolster the country's social and economic development.

"If soldiers have no shoes, no uniforms, no money, you can imagine where the money is always going," said Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann. "I don't believe the National Audit Authority is really inspecting the way money is spent."

When it meets in early December, the National Assembly is expected to approve a fiscal budget for 2009 that increases military spending from US$224 million to $300 million, and unallocated funds for the prime minister to use on an ad-hoc basis from $196 million to $224 million.

The SRP was considering voting against the new budget allocations because they were not included in the spending debate, he added. But he doubted the proposals would be rejected, given the strength of the ruling party's numbers in parliament.

SRP lawmaker and spokesman Son Chhay questioned the ability of the government to increase its budget as the country's biggest-earning industries - garments and tourism - brace themselves for a downturn due to the global economic crisis.

He said unscrupulous spending by government officials was draining the public coffers and urged the government to close loopholes in tax collection. Companies and the wealthy were withholding large sums of money owed to the state, he said.

Son Chhay also warned of a repeat of the military's last influx of new funds, which was plagued by graft.

In 2002, the World Bank plunged $42 million into a demobilisation program that went awry. Fabricating tens of thousands of ghost soldiers, government officials pocketed huge sums of money, while many of the real soldiers meant to benefit from the program remained without benefits. The debacle has heightened suspicions over the military's ability to handle funds responsibly.

" I can assure you the 2009 budget won't go to corrupt opportunists. "

Where bucks are needed

Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum on Cambodia, said local NGOs were concerned that the new budget allocations overlooked the most pressing needs of the population.

"Agriculture, education and rural development should be the top priorities because they help reduce poverty," he said.

Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Assembly's finance committee, said Cambodia's military budget lagged behind those of other countries, making it vulnerable to foreign threats, and insisted there would be no repeat of the ghost soldier scandal.

"I can assure you the 2009 budget won't go to corrupt opportunists. We (the CPP) were elected by millions of people; we have worked to gain the trust of the people," Cheam Yeap said.

Asean meet in question amid crisis

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 28 November 2008

Cambodian officials to wait and see whether security improves

GOVERNMENT officials remained uncertain Thursday on whether they will attend the December 14 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Thailand, as security fears over political upheaval in the host country's capital continue to escalate.

"We are already prepared for the summit, but there is still three more weeks to go, and we are waiting to see whether the political crisis in Thailand settles in order to maintain security and guarantee smooth operation of the summit," Koy Kuong, a secretary of state at the Foreign Ministry, told the Post Thursday.

The leaders of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam agreed at a meeting on Wednesday to propose that the summit be postponed to a later date as the situation in Bangkok deteriorated after mass protests closed the capital's two main airports.

But Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said Thursday that Cambodia may be willing to keep the date if Thai officials can ensure stable conditions.

"We will participate in the summit in order to please the Thai premier, but will wait to hear if there is any possibility of irregularity ... which could impact the condition of the summit," he said.

Thai officials declared Thursday that, "as of now", the regional summit will go ahead on schedule in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

"As of now, I insist that the summit will proceed as planned, but I will discuss this issue with the prime minister and he will make the final decision," Thailand's Foreign Minister Sompong Amornviwat said from Germany, where he remains stranded.

Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan and other members will now consult Thailand about whether it is best to delay the meeting or maintain the scheduled date.

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat returned to Thailand from an APEC summit in Peru on Wednesday on a special flight that landed in Chiang Mai, where he has called a Cabinet meeting to address the escalating turmoil.

He has rejected calls by the army chief to hold new elections.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

MUMBAI TERROR ATTACK uncovered and detailed in special report by CNN IBN



Mumbai Terror Attack in details with sequence in CNN IBN report. The Mumbai Terrorist Attack mumbai

A series of seven explosions killed at least 174 people on crowded commuter trains and stations Tuesday evening in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, police said.

Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) India Kills over 125



At Least 125 Killed in as many as 10 Coordinated Terror Attacks, 327 Wounded, Many Westerners Taken Hostage and Murdered as Islamic Gunmen Attack Mumbai, India.

Hotels, Restaurants, Hospitals, and Train Station were targeted, singling out Americans and Britons. 100-200 being held hostage. Deccan Mujahdin is claiming responsibility for these vile attacks.

Thailand Airport Shutdown Enters 3rd Day



The protests that have shutdown Bangkok's International airport are now entering their third day. Protesters have taken over the airport, forcing the cancellation of all flights. They are demanding the resignation of Thailand's Prime Minister. (Nov. 27)

Thailand : A state of emergency

Protesters occupying Bangkok's main airports vowed Friday to "fight to the death," as police said they would negotiate with the demonstrators before trying to evict them under emergency laws
A Thai anti-government protester at Bangkok's occupied Suvarnabhumi international airport. Protesters occupying Bangkok's main airports vowed Friday to "fight to the death," as police said they would negotiate with the demonstrators before trying to evict them under emergency laws(AFP/Pairoj)

Passengers wait in the line of immigration at U-tapao international airport, 140 km (87 miles) southeast of Bangkok November 28, 2008. Thai police began talks with anti-government protesters blockading Bangkok's Don Muang airport on Friday, a senior police officer said, and will move against them if negotiations fail to end the siege.REUTERS/STRINGER (THAILAND)

Passengers wait in the line of immigration at U-tapao international airport, 140 km (87 miles) southeast of Bangkok November 28, 2008. Thai police began talks with anti-government protesters blockading Bangkok's Don Muang airport on Friday, a senior police officer said, and will move against them if negotiations fail to end the siege.REUTERS/Stringer (THAILAND)

Anti-government protesters stand in the grounds of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport November 28, 2008. Protesters laying siege to Bangkok's two airports braced for a battle with security forces on Friday after Thailand's prime minister declared a state of emergency to end a blockade threatening to cripple the economy.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

Anti-government protesters man a checkpoint as they check cars entering Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Friday early morning, Nov. 28, 2008. Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has declared a state of emergency for Thailand's airports which are under siege by the People's Alliance for Democracy.(AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Anti-government demonstrators are seen in the departures hall of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport on November 28, 2008. Protesters laying siege to Bangkok's two airports braced for a battle with security forces on Friday after Thailand's prime minister declared a state of emergency to end a blockade threatening to cripple the economy.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (THAILAND)

Mumbai Terror Attacks

Indian commandos prepare to attack from a rooftop of Nariman House in Mumbai on November 28, 2008. Special forces stormed a Mumbai Jewish centre and battled to free guests trapped at two luxury hotels Friday, as India reeled from an audacious Islamic militant attack that left 130 people dead.(AFP/Prakash Singh)

A suspected gunman in the premises of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, or Victoria Terminus railway station, in Mumbai, November 26, 2008.(The Times of India/Reuters)

A suspected gunman walks outside the premises of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or Victoria Terminus railway station in Mumbai November 26, 2008. Elite Indian commandos fought room-to-room battles with Islamist militants inside two luxury hotels to save scores of people trapped or taken hostage, as the country's prime minister blamed neighbouring countries. The gunmen attacked the hotels, a landmark cafe, hospitals and the railway station, killing 107 people and wounding 315 so far. Picture taken November 26, 2008.(The Times of India/Reuters)

Activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu hardline group, burn an effigy of what they say represents terrorism, during a protest against Wednesday's shootings in Mumbai, in the northern Indian city of Allahabad November 27, 2008.(Jitendra Prakash/Reuters)

Unidentified Thai guests walk towards a bus after being rescued from Oberoi Trident Hotel where suspected militants are holed up in Mumbai, India, Friday, Nov. 28, 2008. Masked Indian commandos dropped from helicopters Friday onto the roof of a Jewish center in Mumbai where Muslim militants were holed up, possibly with hostages, as sharpshooters kept up a steady stream of fire at the five-story building. The attack came as commandoes scoured two luxury hotels room-by-room for survivors and holed-up militants, more than a day after a chain of attacks across India's financial center by suspected Muslim militants left people dead.(AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

ASEAN head travels to protest-hit Thailand to 'clarify' summit

An anti-government rally at Suvanabhum airport in Bangkok

BANGKOK (AFP) — The secretary general of Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN said Friday that he had travelled to Thailand to assess whether the kingdom was still able to host a summit as protests shutter the main airports.

Speaking by phone to AFP as he made his way overland to Bangkok, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) head Surin Pitsuwan -- a former Thai foreign minister -- said the final decision lay with the Thai government.

"Part of my trip here is to discuss the ASEAN summit with the Thai government. I have to listen to the Thai government first," he said.

"The Thai government should make a decision on its readiness and the internal situation."
Surin has been in Singapore, and said he was travelling overland from Penang, Malaysia, which is near the Thai border.

Current ASEAN chair Thailand has insisted it will go ahead with the December summit in the northern city of Chiang Mai, even as anti-government protesters stepped up a six-month campaign to topple the prime minister.

They swarmed the main Suvarnabhumi airport on Tuesday and shut it down, and on Thursday, the smaller Don Mueang was also forced to shut its doors when protesters surrounded it, cutting almost all air travel in and out of Bangkok.

Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have raised the possibility of postponing the ASEAN summit due to the worsening political crisis in the country.

In a statement late Thursday out of Singapore, the ASEAN secretariat said Surin would "clarify this matter with Thailand."

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat declared emergency rule at the two airports on Thursday to try to rein in the protests, after holding a special cabinet meeting in Chiang Mai to discuss the escalating turmoil.

He has rejected calls by the army chief to hold new elections.

Thailand announced in late October that the ASEAN summit would be moved from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a government stronghold.

The government said it was because of northern Thailand's cooler climate, but the anti-government protests are believed to be a key factor.

Phoenix residents stranded in Thailand due to protests

Courtesy of the Spitler family
Danny and Pam Spitler in Cambodia in 2006

by Rebekah L. Sanders
Nov. 27, 2008
The Arizona Republic

The Spitlers expected to carve their turkey this Thanksgiving in the Valley.

Instead they gave thanks in two southeast Asian hotels.

After a recent trip to the region, the family was scheduled to leave Wednesday through Thailand's main international airport, arriving back in Phoenix with enough time to put the holiday dinner on.

Instead authorities cancelled all flights in or out of Bangkok, after local protesters demonstrating against the Thai government swarmed airports and streets and held a sit-in.

With the airports closed, thousands of foreign tourists have been stranded for days in the country, waiting for tensions to calm and flights to resume.

Danny Spitler, 60, of Phoenix, is among those late in getting home.

But his frequent e-mail updates have assured stateside relatives he's safe, along with his fellow travelers: wife Pam, sister Kay, 80-year-old father Irvin and two others close to the family.

On Thanksgiving morning, Danny's daughter, Lindsey Spitler, reminded the group to look on the bright side.

Be thankful you get to eat the delicious local favorite, fried rice, and enjoy warm weather instead of a blizzard, she e-mailed her dad from her home near Washington, D.C.

The group left Arizona in mid-November to visit an elementary school the Spitlers built for poor farm children in Cambodia four years ago. Family members have made trips to the school several times.

When their recent visit was over, most of the group continued to Thailand for their flight home. Danny and Pam stayed an extra day in Cambodia, planning to follow.

But on Wednesday, the travelers were told at the terminal they would have to wait.

Twelve hours later, the airline announced flights were canceled, a bus was outside and they would have to stay at a hotel in the capital.

"They were lucky," Lindsey said, since some tourists had to stay farther away.

Spitler and his wife found a hotel in Cambodia to hole up in until flights through Thailand resume.

No one knows when the family will return.

Lindsey said although her father and his wife missed their turkey dinner, their holiday hasn't been too bad.

"If I had to pick a place to be stranded, I'd pick Cambodia," Lindsey said. "It's a beautiful place."