Monday, 26 January 2009

Thai-Khmer border will solve through mutual mechanism

By Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation

Phnom Penh—Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajivia reaffirmed today with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that both countries would solve the border issues through the existing bilateral mechanisms.

Abhisit also hailed Hun Sen's positive speech made on 20 January in Oddar Meanchey to solve the ongoing border issues between the two countries. The Cambodian leader said he would not raise this issue at the upcoming Asean summit.

"As we are immediate neighbors and share common borders, traditions and cultures, my Government is committed to bringing better security and more prosperity to the livelihood of our two peoples and countries," Abhisit said in part in his letter, which was delivered to Hun Sen by Kasit during the courtesy call this afternoon.

In Oddar Meanchey, Hun Sen commented on the Thai-Cambodian relations that his country wants to prevent the resurgence of an armed conflict and urge both sides to continue the bilateral negotiations.

Abhisit expressed gratitude to Hun Sen for accepting the invitation to attend the 14th Asean Summit in Hua Hin on 27th February to 1st March. He also said that he would visit Cambodia in the near future "to enhance further all aspects of our relations."

Earlier Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya held "substantive" discussion with his Cambodian counterparty, Hor Namhong. He also had an audience with King Norodom Sihanoumi.

Thailand and Cambodia reduce troops

Press Association

Thailand and Cambodia have agreed in principle to scale back troops on their disputed border following a deadly military confrontation near an ancient temple last year.

Foreign ministers from both countries met in the Cambodian capital to restart stalled talks and set a schedule for future meetings on demarcating the frontier near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple to avoid future armed clashes.

"The priority and the urgent issue is to demarcate the area near Preah Vihear temple and the scale down of troops," Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said.

In October, troops exchanged fire, leaving two Cambodian soldiers dead and 10 from both sides wounded. A Thai soldier died later from wounds sustained during the clash.

The countries' Joint Border Commission will meet on February 2 to discuss border demarcation, followed by a meeting of defence ministers on February 6.

"Defence ministers will discuss reducing the number of troops at the border," said Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tharit Charungvat.

The fighting in October was the latest flare-up in a decades-old dispute over a stretch of jungle near the Preah Vihear temple. The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

The two countries share a 500-mile land border, much of which has never been clearly demarcated because the countries refer to different maps.

Talks were delayed by Thailand's internal political crisis, which eased in December with the arrival of new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Dey Krahom Eviction, morning of January 24 2009. Courtesy Karl Bille.

Challenging Times – What Kind of Change to Come? - Sunday, 25.1.2009

Electric baton


Teargas

The police and the people.
Teargas was used, and electric batons – their existence in Cambodia had frequently been denied by the authorities.

People close by were watching: Will they be next?



The Dey Krahom Community on 24.1.2009
[Pictures: courtesy of Karl Bille, LICADHO, Monika Nowaczyk, Nestle Poell G. Lagaya]

Posted on 26 January 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 596

On 20 January 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States of America, change started to come. Never before had so many people around the world be able, through TV and the Internet, to participate form afar – never before was also so much interest expressed, in the new presidency of this country by a crowd of more than a million people in Washington, and many more around the globe.

To refer here to these events may be an occasion to remember the years of Administrative Reform and Judicial Reforms in Cambodia, and the efforts to see spokespersons authorized in the different sections of the Cambodian administration, so that the Cambodian public will not have to read, time and again, that one official refers an inquiry to the next, and the next does not have time to speak to a journalist. And the public, the people - “The Cambodian people are the masters of their own country” according to Article 51 of the Constitution – are not informed what is being done and why – even in such important situations that they trusted the commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces for many years, and now he is no more there, and the population – civilian and in uniform – does not know why they should withdraw the confidence they had held for many years.

During the long and difficult election campaign, there had been different slogans leading to the inauguration, becoming more and more specific: “Hope and change” - “Hope is not enough” - “Change you can believe in” - not only believe in, but real “Change we need.” And change started to happen. First of all there is an openness for communication, through the media, to the people. It was reported that the new president visited the White House media quarters and press office – places that the former president is said to have avoided – because there, people ask questions and expect clear answers.

When the new president signed some executive orders in front of TV cameras, before he signed them, he read parts of them and explaining what is meant, for the public to understand. And it was announced that e-mail alerts and Internet blogs would be used for “timely and in-depth content” about the administration’s policies:

“The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. We will publish all non-emergency legislation to the Web site for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.”

And in terms not only of changed style, but also of content, the president made some fundamental policy declarations in his inaugural address:

“Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

One cannot but remember that Prime Minister Hun Sen had made similar declarations in relation to the ongoing violence by the rich or on behalf of the powerful, when he had said already in 2002:

“We are conscious that corruption in the public machinery, be it judiciary or administrative or any other, increases transaction costs for everyone and reduces predictability in law enforcement and implementation of government’s policies… The government believes that enactment of adequate laws and regulations to prevent and punish corruption is crucial for addressing this problem. In this spirit, the Royal Government is committed to finalize the draft of the Anti-Corruption Law before the end of June 2003.”

In December 2005, the Prime Minister had warned that if illegal land seizures were not brought under control, they could lead to a farmers’ revolution.

And – interestingly enough - it was the Chinese People’s Daily Online which reported on 13 February 2007 the concerns of the Cambodian Prime Minister (we missed to see this reported in the local press):

“The land grabbers dare to get a lot of land illegally while we have always appealed again and again to stop. The land grabbers are not simple people, and they must be powerful people in the government. I asked the question, do they dare to conduct a coup d’etat in the future?” And he is quoted to have replied himself that they really dare to do so. “So before they conduct a coup d’etat, we need to take action against them.”

We do not have an explanation for what is happening now – in spite of these words.

When the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch had raise critical question about many countries, including Cambodia, the leader of the Cambodian government’s Human Rights Commission is quoted to have quickly dismissed their statement, elaborated with 20 detailed documents, as “defaming the country with lies. - I refuse all of the accusations, they are just trying to make up things.”

Human Rights Watch had also criticized then USA. The new president’s executive orders to bring change to the detainees at Guantánamo Bay and to the harsh interrogation methods, some of which the new attorney general – the US minister of justice – called torture, remove some of these accusations.

In the meantime, when people from 234 families, to be evicted from land, assured to them by a court order, were protesting, they where shot at – not by illegal private thugs hired by a company, but by members of a Military Police unit.

Yesterday, on Saturday, the protracted negotiations - with residents of the Dey Krahom area in Phnom Penh, who claimed that the compensation offered to them for being removed 20 km away, with no school for their children, and no possibility to continue to earn a living like now, where they used to live since many years, are different from the original promise for new arrangements in place - came to an end. They were replaced by destruction and forced eviction.

According to public discussion, neither the transfer of this public land – originally “3.60 hectares of social land concession granted by the Royal Government of Cambodia to the seven Dey Krahom communities” - into private business use is procedurally and legally very transparent. Nor does the 7NG Group presented detailed plans for the commercial use of the land - except that it is for high class housing and maybe a shopping center – rumors in the absence of transparency. The Mirror has regularly reported information that the construction sector of the Cambodian economy is facing severe problems. The construction boom in Phnom Penh during the last years resulted in many high rise and high price buildings being constructed or being under construction, which now have to be scaled down or abandoned. But the 7NG company can go ahead?

Phnom Penh has not seen anything similar to what what President Obama could say to a new senator, who has dedicated herself to public, not high priced, housing:

“During her career, Kirsten Gillibrand has been a strong voice for transparency and reform in government and shares the belief that government should be open, accessible and work for all of our citizens. In Congress and as special counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she worked to strengthen public and private partnerships to invest in infrastructure and New York’s economy.”

Where are the 7NG plans to be located in view of the warning, quoted by the Chinese international media? Are they among the group about which Prime Minister Hun Sen has “always appealed again and again to stop” - or is the Cambodian government maintaining the position nationally, which President Obama has denounced as wrong internationally: “that power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please… Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

The experience of many people to be marginalized and to be pushed further out, for the benefit of powerful and rich interests, will not help to build a human, peaceful, an just society. This is not how the hearts and minds of people can be won.

PHOTO
Thailand and Cambodia agree to further talks over disputed land, including the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.

Australia Network News

After two hours of official talks, Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to more negotiations to resolve a border land dispute.

Cambodian Foreign Minister, Hor Namhong, says this is another step forward in the show of restraint.

In November, the two countries agreed to pull their troops out from the disputed area near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple and to follow up with joint demarcation of the heavily mined frontier.

But the political turmoil in Thailand that led to the fall of the government delayed the implementation of the plan.

Mr Hor and his Thai counterpart, Kasit Piromya, also agreed on a joint committee, to meet in March, to look at a stretch of disputed sea in the Gulf of Thailand, believed to contain oil and natural gas.

Thais, Cambodians to scale back troops at border

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE

The Associated Press
Published: January 26, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Thailand and Cambodia agreed in principle Monday to scale back troops on their disputed border following a deadly military confrontation near an ancient temple last year.

Foreign ministers from both countries met in the Cambodian capital to restart stalled talks and set a schedule for future meetings on demarcating the frontier near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple to avoid future armed clashes.

"The priority and the urgent issue is to demarcate the area near Preah Vihear temple and the scale down of troops," Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said.

In October, troops exchanged fire, leaving two Cambodian soldiers dead and 10 from both sides wounded. A Thai soldier died later from wounds sustained during the clash.

The countries' Joint Border Commission will meet Feb. 2 to discuss border demarcation, followed by a meeting of defense ministers Feb. 6.

"Defense ministers will discuss reducing the number of troops at the border," said Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tharit Charungvat.

The fighting in October was the latest flare-up in a decades-old dispute over a stretch of jungle near the Preah Vihear temple. The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

The two countries share a 500-mile (800-kilometer) land border, much of which has never been clearly demarcated because the countries refer to different maps.

Talks were delayed by Thailand's internal political crisis, which eased in December with the arrival of new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

REFILE-Cambodia, Thailand agree on more border talks

PHNOM PENH, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Thailand and Cambodia agreed on Monday to more talks to resolve a dispute over a stretch of land at their border near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple that spilled over into fighting last year.

"This is another step forward. We must show our restraint," Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong told reporters after a two-hour meeting with his Thai counterpart, Kasit Piromya.

The two countries agreed in November to pull out troops from the disputed area and follow up with joint demarcation of the heavily mined frontier. However, the fall of the Thai government in December delayed implementation of the plan.

Kasit, who was a prominent member of the royalist Thai protest group that stirred up last year's bad blood over the temple, said it was important to resolve the long-running dispute through peaceful means.

The pair also agreed on a joint committee to meet in March to look at a stretch of disputed sea in the Gulf of Thailand believed to contain oil and natural gas.

The Hindu Preah Vihear temple sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two southeast Asian nation and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of adjoining scrubland, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Ed Cropley)

Cambodia, Thailand pledge to continue peaceful deal on border issues

www.chinaview.cn
2009-01-26

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers here on Monday pledged to continue to seek for peaceful and amicable deal on the border issues, and set the next agenda within the first week of February.

"The meeting today has a good point that Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will try to persuade (his government) to solve the border issues as soon as possible," Hor Namhong, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told reporters at a news conference in the presence of his Thai counterpart.

Kasit Piromya said that "the meeting is very important for the good relationship between the two countries and peoples, and the diplomatic ties will proceed smoothly from now on."

According to them, both sides agreed to set up a date from Feb.2 to 4, in which the joint border commission will start to demarcate the territory, and Thailand's defense minister will then visit Cambodia on Feb. 6 to meet his counterpart to discuss withdrawing troops from disputed territory around the 11th-centuryPreah Vihear temple.

"We also agreed that the border committee have to first measure the locations near the temple in order to plant border markers as we decided in the previous meetings," said Hor.

The committee will also convene a meeting to check the sea-overlapping zones in March, he added.

Kasit Piromya arrived here on Sunday for his first ever visit to the kingdom since he was appointed as foreign minister in December 2008.

Tempers flared on the border after the Preah Vihear temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site last July, angering Thai nationalists who demanded that the then-government reclaim the territory, including the 11th-century ruins and its surrounding lands.

Rounds of talks were held since then, but resulted in no major achievements due to the political instability in Thailand.

Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated their 805-km shared border. Only 73 border posts were planted in 1907and both countries planned to plant hundreds more in the coming years.

Editor: Zhang Mingyu

Thai Khadi Research Institute urges govt not to cooperate with Cambodia over Preah Vihear

The Thai Khadi Research Institute of Thammasat University Monday urged the government not to provide any cooperation to Cambodia over Preah Vihear temple management before the demarcation is completed.

Srisak Wallipodom, president of the institute met Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, at the Government House to submit the demand.

He also demanded the government to fire Pongpol Adireksarn as the chairman of Thailand's World Heritage Committee.

Srisak also urged the government to file an appeal with Unesco to demand that revocation of the registration of Preah Vihear as a world heritage site.

The Nation

Talks planned on border

THE STRAITS TIMES
Jan 26, 2009

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIA'S foreign minister said on Monday he and his Thai counterpart had agreed to begin demarcating their disputed border and try to end a stand-off that has sometimes led to military clashes.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said he and visiting Thai minister Kasit Piromya agreed they must end a land dispute near an ancient temple, where troops from both nations clashed on October 15, leaving four soldiers dead.

'The demarcation of the border at Preah Vihear temple and discussions over troops is an urgent priority,' he told a joint press conference after the meeting.

'Both sides - Cambodia and Thailand - agreed to set up a date from February 2 to 4 in which the joint border commission will start to demarcate territory.'

Thailand's defence minister will then visit Cambodia on February 6 to discuss withdrawing troops from disputed territory around the 11th century Khmer temple, he added.

Mr Hor said the two countries agreed to 'peaceful and friendly' negotiations and would also form a joint commission before March to demarcate overlapping claims in the Gulf of Siam.

The Cambodia-Thailand border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

Tensions flared in July when the cliff-top Preah Vihear temple, which is in Cambodia, was awarded United Nations World Heritage status, rekindling the long-running disagreement.

Mr Kasit was scheduled to meet Cambodian king Norodom Sihamoni and premier Hun Sen later in the day. -- AFP

Probe questions fate of refugees in Thailand

Thailand accused of abusing boat people - 25 Jan 09



Thailand is being accused of brutally mistreating hundreds of Bangladeshi and Rohingya boat people.

Humanitarian groups say at least 300 may have drowned after being towed out to sea on boats without engines or adequate supplies.

Al Jazeera's Selina Downes has been to Thailand's Andaman coast, one of the front lines of this emerging conflict.

Photograph released by Thai navy showing a group of illegal immigrants captured on December 12.



This photo taken December 23 by a tourist to the Similan Islands shows refugees grouped on a beach, far right.

This picture taken December 23 by a tourist to Thailand's Similan Islands shows handcuffed refugees under guard.

This picture provided to CNN is said to show refugees being processed on a remote Thai beach.

This picture provided to CNN is said to show refugees being towed out to sea by the Thai army

From Dan Rivers
CNN

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Bedraggled, hungry and dazed, the refugees arrived on the shores of Thailand after fleeing one of the most repressive governments in the world -- the hard-line military regime in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

But a CNN investigation has uncovered evidence that for hundreds of Rohingya refugees -- members of a Muslim minority group -- abuse and abandonment at sea were what awaited them in Thailand, at the hands of Thai authorities.

Extraordinary photos obtained by CNN from someone directly involved in the Thai operation show refugees on their rickety boats being towed out to sea, cut loose and abandoned.

One photo shows the Thai army towing a boatload of some 190 refugees far out to sea.

For days, accusations have been carried in several regional papers that the Thai army has been systematically towing boat-loads of Rohingya refugees far out to sea and setting them adrift.
The army denied it, and the Thai government has launched an inquiry.

CNN's investigation -- based on accounts from tourists, sources in Thailand and a Rohingya refugee who said he was on a boat towed back out to sea -- helps to piece together a picture of survival thwarted by an organized effort not just to repel arriving refugees, but to hold them prisoner on shore, drag them in flimsy boats far out to sea and then abandon them.

Watch CNN's investigation into reports of refugees being set adrift »

Three tourists recently voiced concern to CNN over what they had seen -- and in some cases photographed -- near Thailand's tourist areas.

One tourist provided CNN with photos last week of refugees detained by Thai authorities on a beach near a tourist site, with the refugees prone on the sun-bleached sand while guards stood nearby.

"Whenever someone raised their head or moved, they [guards] would strike them with a whip," said Australian tourist Andrew Catton.

A CNN crew traveled to a remote stretch of the Thai coast four hours north of the tourist island of Phuket to investigate the growing reports that the Thai military was secretly detaining Rohingya refugees before towing them out to sea and setting them adrift.

In an isolated beach area, debris including sandals and campfire remnants indicated that large numbers of people had been there but were nowhere to be seen.

The crew then traveled to a nearby island, where residents reported that refugees who had escaped were living in the jungle.

In one hamlet, villagers had captured a Rohingya man they believed had been living in the jungle for days.

The refugee, who identified himself as Iqbal Hussain, told CNN he was on one of six boats in a makeshift refugee fleet that arrived in Thailand in December.

He said all six boats with their refugee cargo were towed back out to sea in January, and five of the six boats sank. His boat made it back to shore, and he hid in the jungle for days until nearby villagers captured him.

In broken English and using sign language and drawings, he described what happened to the other men on the boats:

"All men dead," he said, putting the number of dead at several hundred.

The Rohingya, a persecuted minority in Myanmar, have been fleeing their country in rickety boats for years, in search of a better life.

In Thailand, many instead have found deprivation and the possibility of desertion far off shore, according to the CNN investigation.

The source who provided CNN with photos of refugees in a boat being towed out to sea stressed that the Thai army had given the refugees food and water, but he also confirmed that the boats had been pulled for more than two days into international waters before they were set adrift.

His account directly contradicts briefings by senior Thai army sources who denied any such operation was undertaken.

A source in the Thai military, after extensive questioning, did confirm to CNN that the Thai army was operating a dump-at-sea policy. But the source defended it, insisting that each boatload of refugees was always given sufficient supplies of food and water.

That source claimed local villagers had become afraid of the hundreds of Rohingya arriving each month, and that they were accusing the refugees of stealing their property and threatening them.

CNN asked the government for comment and was told an investigation was being launched. Reflecting the sensitivity of the matter, a report on that investigation is expected to go directly to the prime minister.

Relocated residents find homes, water lacking

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Dey Krahorm evictees wash Sunday at their new home, a relocation site provided by developer 7NG 16 kilometres outside of Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady AND Chhay Channyda
Monday, 26 January 2009

Former slum dwellers try to rebuild their lives at Damnak Trayoeng as the struggle for adequate compensation continue.

Click to see full Story.

Evictees request 7NG money

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by CHHAY CHANNYDA and BRENDAN BRADY
Monday, 26 January 2009

Click here to watch a video of the relocation operation.

DEY Krahorm evictees have issued calls for local developer 7NG to reinstate an offer of cash compensation for families forcibly evicted Saturday from the Phnom Penh community.

Following the eviction, 7NG announced it would no longer offer cash compensation, a stance that was reiterated Sunday by company officials.

But Dey Krahorm community representative Chan Vichet said he would deliver a letter Monday to City Hall requesting the $20,000 cash compensation offered by 7NG before Saturday's eviction be reinstated.

"$20,000 isn't enough, but we feel it's all we can get now," he said.

Srey Sothea, 7NG chairman, reaffirmed his stance to stop offering cash compensation to evicted residents.

"We only have houses for them. Right now, the cash is gone," he said, adding that 28 more evicted families had since accepted homes at the Damnak Trayoeng relocation site.

Thirty additional families, who have refused to go to the relocation site, are living temporarily at the Phnom Penh office of rights group Licadho.

One family member, 51-year-old Dul Chanta, told the Post Sunday that she had been asking for $50,000 compensation but would now accept $25,000, while Cheng Srey Vann, 22, vowed to "keep protesting if they refuse to give us money".

We have no home, say evictees

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
In her makeshift home at the relocation site, Srey Na, 12, holds an English textbook for a class in the city she says she can no longer attend.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady AND Chhay Channyda
Monday, 26 January 2009

Residents and rights groups bemoan worsening situation for former Dey Krahorm residents

ONLY 27 families among the scores evicted from Dey Krahorm Saturday morning have so far been assigned homes at the Damnak Trayoeng relocation site built by private developer 7NG, while hundreds of other residents trucked out to the village are squatting in fields without access to clean water or electricity, many told the Post.

"Even the homes that have been assigned have no water, no toilets," said Kim Ratana, deputy director of the aid group Caritas.

Beginning 6am Saturday, more than 300 workers hired by 7NG used hands, hammers and bulldozers to demolish the mostly wood and tin homes left in Phnom Penh's Dey Krahorm slum community.

The last families evicted had still not agreed to compensation, arguing the cash was insufficient and the relocation homes were too far from their livelihoods in the city.

While 7NG said around 80 families had remained in Dey Krahorm until the eviction, rights groups have put the number at closer to 150.

"I collapsed in tears when I saw my house trampled by a bulldozer," said 33-year-old Sin Mao, adding she had a land title. "When they drove us to the relocation site, they said they would resolve everything, but we've received nothing so far. We're just living on the street."

While most of the evictees were shuttled to the relocation site by 7NG trucks, some 30 families refused to go there and instead are living in the Phnom Penh office of local rights group Licadho, which is providing legal assistance to evictees during compensation negotiations.

Dul Chanta, 51, who is staying at Licadho's office, fainted Saturday after watching a bulldozer demolish her home, and was later hospitalised from exposure to tear gas, which several said was used by some of the 200 police presiding over the eviction in response to residents throwing stones.

She said she lost most of her possessions, having had only 10 minutes from the time she saw workers and police outside her home to the moment bulldozers rolled over it.

She said authorities chose the weekend to evict the remaining residents as there would be fewer bystanders in the area.

Dul Chanta had asked for US$50,000 in compensation but was now willing to settle for $25,000, she said.

Srey Sothea, the 7NG chairman, reiterated Sunday that offers of cash compensation had been discontinued following Saturday's eviction. He rejected claims by residents that the stationing of police around the complex during the night was a move designed to seal the area off from the media and possible intervention by rights groups.

He also said residents had received fair warning.

"We told them about it the night before the removal. We told them to prepare their belongings, but they did not believe us," he said.

Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth declined to comment Sunday, and he referred questions to Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun, who could not be reached.

David Pred, director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, said that by retracting cash payouts as an option, the developer was breaking past promises.

"Mann Choeun has stated at two press conferences - at the Cambodian Press Club on January 13 and again Saturday - that the residents would still be able to choose between cash compensation or a flat at the relocation site even after the eviction," he said, adding that even cash payouts would not provide just compensation.

"The families who do have valid legal claims to the land were under no legal obligation to accept the company's compensation offer," Pred said. "They had every right to reject it and remain on their land and in their homes. If the company wants the land, they need to offer the homeowners a price that they were willing to accept."

An estimated 800 to 1,400 residents lived in Dey Krahorm before old community leaders signed a contract with 7NG in 2005, giving the company the 3.6-hectare property in return for building relocation houses in Damnak Trayoeng village. Land rights groups have challenged the legality of the original contract and accused city officials and 7NG of using intimidation to force residents to accept compensation deals.

Relocation site insufficient

Rights advocates providing relief food and medical services at the relocation site said the area is woefully unprepared to absorb the evictees.

Thun Saray, president of rights group Adhoc, said that Dey Krahorm residents' ongoing complaints against the relocation site were valid.

"If they move far from the city, there are no jobs or schools. It's not just the house, it's about their ability to carry on with everyday life," he said.

Pred said that for residents the move "would constitute a complete disruption of every aspect of their lives ... and would almost certainly result in deeper impoverishment".

Kim Ratana said the isolation would be especially dire for the more than 30 evictees with HIV as well as others suffering from tuberculosis and other serious diseases who require access to free treatment centres in the city.

Manfred Homung, a legal consultant with Licadho, said the combination of injuries and loss of possessions endured during the eviction and imminent food and water shortages at the relocation site could prove intolerable.

He said the relocation site's resources are being stretched by renters and market vendors evicted from Dey Krahorm, who have never been eligible for compensation under the scheme devised by the municipality and private developer.

A second forced removal by authorities was imminent, he said, once hundreds of homeless are left there after 7NG decides it has compensated all the families it needs to.

The developer revealed Sunday a rough outline of its plans for Dey Krahorm.

Chairman Srey Sothea said it would be "transformed" into a space for a park, office buildings and trade centre.

He added his company was interested in acquiring the Bassac apartment buildings adjacent to Dey Krahorm but expected they would carry a steep price tag. It would likely be a tough showdown with other developers who are "also interested in developing this building", he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY TITTHARA

Top military brass take oaths in wake of RCAF reshuffle

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Former RCAF commander-in-chief Ke Kim Yan shown here in a file photograph.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Sam Rith
Monday, 26 January 2009

Removal of army chief and wholesale promotions 'routine'

IN the wake of Thursday's major reshuffle of the Kingdom's top brass, senior military figures have told the Post the changes are routine, dismissing widespread speculation of a political purge.

"It is normal for leadership to change, and it is important to constantly strive to improve the leadership of the army," Defence Minister Tea Banh said Sunday.

A royal decree, signed by King Norodom Sihamoni on Thursday, promoted eight generals - all of whom are well-known loyalists of Prime Minister Hun Sen - to senior RCAF positions.

General Ke Kim Yan, a loyalist of CPP President Chea Sim, was terminated from his position as commander-in-chief of RCAF, with his deputy, General Pol Saroeun, being bumped up to the post.

Seven officers have been promoted to the post of deputy commander-in-chief, including General Kun Kim, Meas Sophea, Mol Roeup, Chea Dara, Hing Bun Heang, Ung Samkhan and Sao Sokha.

In a nationally televised speech Saturday, during the swearing-in of the new officers, Tea Banh said that the outgoing chief was in support of the reshuffle.

"The transfer of power is going on smoothly," Tea Banh said.

Chea Vannath, an independent analyst, said that the upheaveals within the armed forces had resulted in rampant public speculation about internal divisions within the ruling party.

"There is no explanation ... and we lack information about whether those individuals are involved in land grabbing, illegal logging, or have lost the faith of their political party," she said.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said that the removal or promotion of generals was not an effective way to reform the military, which would remain stagnant while officers remained members of the ruling party.

"I think that a routine reshuffle of the highest level of the armed forces was a way of strengthening loyalists," he said. "This is a reform stemming from an internal dispute in the CPP."

Thai FM will seek pardon for convicted JI plotters: lawyer

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Monday, 26 January 2009

During audience with King Sihamoni, Thai FM Kasit Piromya is expected to seek pardon for two Thai terrorists convicted in 2003

THAI Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is expected to request a royal pardon today from King Norodom Sihamoni on behalf of two Thai nationals sentenced to life imprisonment for a terrorism plot targeting the US and UK embassies and the Unicef office in Phnom Penh in 2003.

Kao Soupha - the defence lawyer who represented Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, 44, and Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, 40, at their one-day trial in December 2004 - told the Post Sunday that Kasit will make the request during his meeting with the King in Phnom Penh today. The foreign minister was to arrive in the Cambodian capital Sunday night.

"I think it's the best way ... if our Thai partners seek a release from the Cambodian government," Kao Soupha said, adding he did not believe the two convicted men deserved a life sentence.

Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that royal pardons can only be issued in cases where the convicted has already served two-thirds of a prison term, according to Cambodian law, which is not the case with Yalaludin Mading and Abdul Azi Haji Chiming.

" It's the best way … if our Thai partners seek a release from the ... government. "

Nevertheless, "the minister of justice [Ang Vong Vathana] will look into the [case] documentation", he said.

Ang Vong Vathana told the Post he is yet to receive any information regarding a possible royal pardon.

Original conviction

The two Thais were originally arrested in May 2003 along with Cambodian Sman Esma El and Egyptian national Esam Mohamid Khadr Ali following an investigation into a bomb plot aimed at Western targets in Phnom Penh. Yalaludin Mading, Abdul Azi Haji Chiming and Sman Esma El were all found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, along with five additional men in absentia, after it was proven they had links to Jemaah Ismaliyah, a regional Islamic terror network. Esam Mohamid Khadr Ali was acquitted.

Despite pressure by rights groups claiming a miscarriage of justice, a Supreme Court ruling on March 21 last year upheld the life sentences after a five-judge panel maintained the men had links to JI. A key member of the group, known as Hambali, was captured in Thailand in 2003 - the same year the plot in Cambodia was uncovered. He is now held by the US at Guantanamo Bay.

Should Yalaludin Mading and Abdul Azi Haji Chiming be moved back to Thailand, they would then apply for a royal pardon from Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, AFP has quoted their wives as saying.

Repatriation of the two men is not the only sensitive issue up for discussion during the two-day meeting between the Thai and Cambodian governments. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release said a meeting between Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart will also address continued tensions along the border.

Royals, diplomats say goodbye to late ex-PM

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophakchakrya
Monday, 26 January 2009

THE royal family and other dignitaries will attend a ceremony today to commemorate the death of former prime minister and former president of the National Assembly Chau Sen Cosal Chhum, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 104.

Kim Vann, 65, a son of the late former leader, arrived in Cambodia from Paris for the ceremony, which is scheduled to begin early in the morning.

"We will cremate [the body of Chau Sen Cosal Chhum] in front of Wat Botum on Monday," he told the Post.

Prince Mohessara Norodom Chakrapong told the Post Sunday that he and all the royal families would express their condolences at the ceremony, adding that the former leader contributed many achievements for the development of Cambodia, including developing Cambodia's constitutional law and other key legislation.

"Our nation has lost one of our great long-time clean sons and public servants," Prince Norodom Chakrapong told the Post Sunday.

"He is a former president of the National Assembly and former prime minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia in the earlier Preah Vihear dispute with Thailand in 1962."

French honour late leader

The French embassy on Friday also expressed its condolences and honoured Chau Sen Cosal Chhum, making him, posthumously, a commander of the French Legion d'Honneur.

Nominated as supreme advisor to the king in 1992, Chau Sen Cosal Chhum also led the Constitutional Council between 1998 and 2007.

Developing old battlefields key to national security: PM

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
A soldier rides along dirt roads to the Preah Vihear temple site with his AK-47 rifle.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Monday, 26 January 2009

Series of paved highways aim at stimulating economy and improving border defences in former battlefield areas

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has pledged to develop former battlefields along the Kingdom's borders, saying the move is integral to national security.

"Cambodia's borders with Vietnam, Laos and Thailand will become developed, and we will not have to worry about further armed disputes," he said during the inauguration of a bridge in Oddar Meanchey province last week.

"The main goal is to develop society, security and national defense. It is not done to give us a base to attack neighboring countries but to improve communication and cooperation."

Hun Sen cited the examples of Malai district in Banteay Meanchey province, Phnom Proek and Sampov Loun districts in Battambang province, and Pailin province as examples of successful border development.

According to Kim Borey, Director General of the Ministry of Public Works & Transport (MPWT), paved roads are already in construction across Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces, adding that the next step will be to link Pailin and Battambang provinces to Koh Kong.

"I hope this road connection will be finished in five years, within this government term," he said, adding that funding was coming from China, Kuwait, the Asian Development Bank, Thailand and Korea.

He said the ambitious scheme is composed of three major roads - one gravel road closest to the border for military patrols, a wider gravel road for commercial transport and a paved road for passenger travel.

"We are looking for loan from different countries to build more roads along border," he said, noting that the government has consistently increased road building in border areas year on year.

According to Kvan Siem, military engineer in RCAF General Command, the gravel road construction in Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey and Banteay meanchey provinces is being completed by the army.

"We are constructing roads along the border and we will finish almost 500 kilometers at the end of this year", he said.

"We are building roads... for the families of soldiers and police along the border who will be able to live alongside their husbands who are stationed at the border."

He added that the road linking Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey and Stung Treng provinces will begin construction this year, and that the road linking Banteay Meanchey to Battambang, Pailin, Pursat and Koh Kong provinces will commence in 2010.

Villagers refuse company cash

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Monday, 26 January 2009

Villagers standing in way of satellite city development in Siem Reap province are holding out for more money from local developer

VILLAGERS from Siem Reap province's Varin district have turned down the compensation offered to them by developer Banya Group Co Ltd, which is building a US$12 billion satellite city 50 kilometres north of Siem Reap town.

Peang Kosal, Banya Group's executive director, said the company had offered villagers $200 per hectare for their land in Utey village, Lvea Kraing commune, but local residents told the Post many families are holding out for more money.

"I won't accept the compensation of $200 per hectare because it is too cheap," said Hap Heu, a villager of Lvea Kraing commune, adding that around 350 of the village's 500 families had turned down the company's offer.

"We will try our best to keep the land until the company gives us $3,000 per hectare for our orchard land."

Earlier this month, 540 local families lodged complaints with rights group Adhoc over the proposed satellite city, which is to be located on 7,000 hectares of land near the Thai border, but Peang Kosal said around 1,025 hectares of land remained in dispute.

Business as usual

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said that the legitimate development of the land required agreement between the company, community and local authorities, but said thatthe norm in land dispute cases was for private developers to work with land authorities to strip people of their property.

"Most development projects are marked by collusion between companies and governmental officials, which allow the company to violate people's property," he said.

"Even if all three sides agree, the government has to closely examine the environmental impacts.""The government has to allow the participation of both foreign and local investors, to ensure the effectiveness of national revenue collection," he added.

But Peang Kosal said that "if they still insist on refusing the company's compensation, we will resort to enforcing the forestry and land laws to allow us to develop the area".

Villagers fight villagers, district chief, over farms

ALLEGED LAND DEAL
The three men detained over the dispute allege that the Chi Kraeng district governor has been trying since 2004 to force 1,347 families from their land in Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes so he can sell the land to an unknown businessman.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by KYLE SHERER
Monday, 26 January 2009

Villagers continue to protest outside the Siem Reap courthouse for the release of three men accused of tying a district govenor to land deals

Siem Reap Province

VILLAGERS were continuing a week-old demonstration Sunday outside Siem Reap provincial court, demanding the release of three jailed activists despite their commune chief urging them to return home and allow the matter to be dealt with through legal channels.

The recent protests erupted in November following the arrest of two Chi Kraeng commune farmers and a journalist from local newspaper Khmer Society who allegedly claimed a district governor was interfering in the dispute.

The arrests prompted an eruption of anger from Chi Kraeng commune - the majority of whom are farmers. They burned tires outside the Siem Reap courthouse and posted pig heads to members of staff there, despite requests from their commune chief to be peaceful.

"I went to the courthouse to try and bring them back but they did not come," Chi Kraeng commune chief Loeu Chenda told the Post on Wednesday.

Kim Savoeun, a representative of the Chi Kraeng protestors, told the Post Thursday that cooperating with the commune chief would be fruitless, as he believes she has organised a deal for the sale of the land behind their backs. "We will remain outside the courthouse until the three prisoners are released."

Conflicting claims
Farmers from Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes on the outskirts of Siem Reap province both claim ownership over the 475 hectares of flatland that falls within the borders of Anlong Samnor commune.

The Chi Kraeng community claim their district governor, in collusion with their commune chief, has sided with the Anlong Samnor villagers in a bid to force the 1,347 families in the area from their land so it could be sold for development.

Ownership of the area is hotly contested, and according to Anlong Samnor assistant commune chief At Eng and Korng Choeuh, a representative of the Anlong Samnor community, the Chi Kraeng farmers do not themselves have any rights to the farm land.

They claim the protesting farmers are new arrivals, telling the Post Wednesday that Chi Kraeng families only started moving onto the land after November 23 this year and are now preventing the original land owners of Anlong Samnor from planting their crops.

"We will give all the paperwork and ownership records to the commune chief so he can prove it to the court," At Eng said.

According to At Eng, the disputed land has been used by Anlong Samnor farmers since 2005. Now, he says, the commune's main concern is legally evicting the Chi Kraeng villagers.

"I am sure the verdict will be favourable. One side has no paperwork, and Anlong Samnor commune has all the records. Even the governor tried to appeal to the people in Chi Kraeng, but they were uncooperative," he said.

US to support legal training

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
The trophy for the second annual Client Counselling Competition gleams next to participants.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sarah Whyte
Monday, 26 January 2009

United States has committed US$12 million to five-year program aiming to improve legal education in the Kingdom and support rule of law

AGAINST a recent, rapid decrease in practising local legal professionals, the United States has pledged US$12 million over five years as part of a training project aimed at improving legal education across the Kingdom.

The USAID program, assisted by the East-West Management Institute and the American Bar Association, was described by Legal Education Specialist Steven Austermiller as a bid to improve the standard of teaching in domestic law schools.

"Traditional lecture formats will be complemented with hands-on practical forums and debates. This type of teaching gives students the ability to problem-solve, present on-the-spot legal analysis and to have effective communication in the law realm," he said Friday, adding that the program included ethics classes.

In September, the government was forced to speed up the legal graduate program to plug a widespread deficiency in judges.

The Supreme Council of the Magistracy appointed 55 new judicial graduates as judges and deputy prosecutors at 21 municipal and provincial courts across the Kingdom. Currently, there are still only 647 lawyers in Cambodia, which experts say is not enough to cater to a growing need for legal counsel.

The announcement of the funding, which will build on a previous USAID training program, came as law students nationwide participated in the second annual Client Counselling Competition, held Friday in Phnom Penh. The winners of the competition ­­- Tan Tepi Kanika and Theng Tith Maria from the Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) - will travel to the University of Las Vegas in the United States, representing Cambodia in the international version of the competition.

Despite participant numbers doubling from last year, many participants expressed a desire to practise overseas.

"Many students want to study internationally. Once I have finished, I would like to become a diplomat," said law student Ratana, 20, from RULE.

But the president of the Cambodian Bar Association, Chiv Songhak, said he was not worried that law students would be drawn to international law firms over local ones.

"Cambodia provides good opportunities for law students. There is no need to go overseas," he said.

Royalist alliance splits over candidate lists, party platform

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Nhek Bun Chhay’s Funcinpec will not be joining the NRP to contest May elections.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brett Worthington and Neth Pheaktra
Monday, 26 January 2009

Funcinpec and NRP to contest May council elections separately after meetings on royalist collaboration fall apart over points of principle

FUNCINPEC and the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) will not sign a memorandum of understanding to create a Nationalist Alliance ahead of May's district and provincial council elections, Funcinpec Second Deputy President Prince Sisowath Sirirath said Sunday.

Despite a promising first meeting, negotiations between the parties deteriorated last week when they failed to agree on a common platform.

"Everything is finished now," Prince Sirirath said. "The discussion between Funcinpec and the NRP has been stopped because of disagreement on the words used, and some of our principles."

But NRP spokesman Suth Dina said that while it was unlikely the parties would contest the elections together, talks were only being put on hold.

"The MoU agreement between the NRP and Funcinpec is postponed because in our two discussions we couldn't find a common principle that both parties could accept," he said.

"But in principle, the NRP intends to cooperate [with Funcinpec] in the local elections in May."

Stumbling blocks

Suth Dina said two obstacles now stood in the way of the parties teaming up, the first of which stemmed from a new subdecree changing the number of district, provincial and municipal council members.

He said the other problem the parties faced was their inability to agree on a list of candidates."Funcinpec wants to put a candidate on all candidate lists, but the NRP wants to alternate the name of the candidates on the list and share the votes for all candidates," Suth Dina said.

"In a province where Funcinpec has many members in the commune council, a candidate from Funcinpec would be at the head of the list, [but] the principle is still in discussion.

"The NRP spokesman said that, combined, the parties could win seats on new councils in 12 provinces but separately they could only win in six or seven.

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, agreed, saying that alone both parties would struggle.

"By themselves they cannot gain more seats. If they negotiate, then together they could potentially gain seats," he said.

But, he said, in reality the two parties were bad at working together and have a difficult future. "They cannot come together," he said.

"They join and split and each time they do the voters lose confidence in them."

Negotiations first began almost two weeks ago as both parties attempted to rebuild following major losses in July's national election.

GOVT SHAKEUP: Top judge retains post

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Monday, 26 January 2009

CAMBODIA'S most senior judge will retain his post amidst a wider government reshuffle, Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana said Sunday. Dith Munty, president of the Supreme Court, will not be removed from his post despite Prime Minister Hun Sen's recent call for the retirement of all civil servants over 60 years of age "with no exception". "There is no information about the removal of Dith Munty from the post of president," he told the Post. But he said that the Supreme Council of the Magistracy will vote next week on the proposal to remove Phnom Penh Chief Prosecutor Ouk Savuth and replace him with Yet Chakrya, currently serving as provincial prosecutor in Banteay Meanchey.

Pigs for sale ahead of Year of the Ox

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Monday, 26 January 2009

A vendor at Phnom Penh's O'Russey Market sells roast suckling pigs Thursday ahead of the Lunar New Year rush. Suckling pig is a very popular dish on Lunar New Year - which starts today - and dozens of impromptu stalls selling pigs and other popular Chinese fare such as smoked duck, have sprung up across the capital. Although not officially a public holiday, the Kingdom's sizable Chinese community means that many restaurants and businesses close down for the week.

Government should take economic bailout seriously

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rainsy
Monday, 26 January 2009

Dear Editor,

In the front-page article "SRP calls for govt bailout" in the January 19 edition of The Phnom Penh Post, you wrote "opposition leader Sam Rainsy has called on the government to set aside a US$500 million economic stimulus package to offset the local effects of the world financial slump, claiming ‘tens of thousands' of Cambodian jobs have been lost to the global crisis". This article correctly reflects the spirit of my January 16 letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen drawing his attention to Cambodia's vulnerability in the face of the ongoing world financial crisis and to the seriousness of its worsening impact on our economy, the unprecedented fall in agricultural prices literally strangling our farmers, massive job destruction in the hitherto-growing nonagricultural sectors (garment, construction, tourism), and the collapse of the property market.

The suggested $500 million stimulus package would be the first emergency measure designed to alleviate the fallout from the world crisis and to prevent economic, social and political upheavals with incalculable consequences for Cambodia's stability and long-term development.

However, in the above mentioned article, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith is reported as saying there is no need for such a package because the government has already reserved funds for unforeseen circumstances, as it has been doing every year in the annual state budget. He is quoted as saying: "We have a reserve budget, not only for the global economic crisis but also for other disasters such as floods, and so forth", although he reportedly could not remember the exact amount set aside for 2009.

What the government has actually set aside for the 2009 fiscal year as "unplanned expenditures" - $144 million compared with $132 million for 2008 - is not adequate to cope with the deteriorating situation. Firstly, in the amount being far too little, and more importantly, in the concept, because the package must be thoroughly planned in order to produce its expected effects. For this purpose, we must forget "floods" and similar contingencies for a while, and concentrate on macroeconomics, fiscal policy, monetary policy, job creation, full-employment equilibrium, aggregate demand, deficit spending and other elements of Keynesian economic theory.

I would like to respond also to National Assembly Vice President Nguon Nhel who is quoted, in the January 18 edition of Khmer-language newspaper Rasmey Kampuchea, as saying the government does not need to follow my recommendation related to the world economic crisis because it has already taken "measures against inflation". Apparently, Mr Nguon Nhel does not realise that the problem is no longer inflation but deflation and recession.

Sam Rainsy
Member of Parliament

Cambodia Keeps Tax Breaks as Shortage of Cash Prevents Stimulus

Bloomberg,com
By Daniel Ten Kate

Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia, reliant on overseas aid to finance a quarter of the national budget, said it will extend tax breaks for clothing manufacturers and invest in power plants as a cash shortage restricts its ability to provide economic stimulus.

“We cannot distribute cash to the people,” Hang Chuon Naron, secretary-general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said in a telephone interview from Phnom Penh on Jan. 23. “What we can do is give targeted tax cuts to garment factories and spend more on infrastructure so we can prepare for economic development in the future.”

Cambodia needs to reduce business costs because it can’t afford the stimulus measures adopted by richer neighbors Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. The International Monetary Fund said the economy, Southeast Asia’s second poorest, may grow 4.75 percent this year, the slowest pace in 11 years.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said the government should ask for more grants and loans to fund a $500 million stimulus package he has proposed. The money would go to stabilizing crop prices and the construction of irrigation and road networks, he said.

“The Cambodian government is disconnected with reality and when the fallout materializes, it will be a terrible awakening,” Sam Rainsy said in an interview from Phnom Penh. “Every country around the region has announced a stimulus package, but Cambodia has done nothing so far.”

The government will extend a 2006 profit tax exemption for garment factories until the end of this year, Hang Chuon Naron said. That will help cut costs for an industry that accounted for 12 percent of gross domestic product in 2007 by supplying clothes for retailers such as Gap Inc. and Stockholm-based Hennes & Mauritz AB.

Donor-Funded

The tax breaks will be coupled with donor-funded investments in rural roads, power plants, irrigation systems and telecommunications networks, he said. More than two-thirds of the nation’s labor force work at least some of the time in the countryside, according to the Economic Institute of Cambodia.

Tourism, construction and garments, which together make up more than 60 percent of the economy, all face threats to growth this year, Hang Chuon Naron said. The number of foreign visitors may fall by 20 percent, construction will slow and garment exports might drop more than the 2 percent decline in 2008, he said.

“It’s very difficult to make a judgment about garment exports this year because we don’t sell high-end products,” he said. “We have to look at the real figures for the first quarter, which will be crucial.”

Dwindling Factories

The number of garment factories fell 10 percent to about 260 last year, leaving 20,000 workers without jobs, said Roger Tan, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association of Cambodia. The industry, which employs about 320,000 of Cambodia’s 14.2 million people, sells 70 percent of its products to the U.S., where retail sales have fallen for six straight months.

“Even if factories want to operate on the same scale, they may be forced to reduce their scale on account of reduced credit lines,” Tan said in an interview. “Buyers in Europe and America are telling us to ship on consignment.”

Cambodian lawmakers last month passed a $1.8 billion budget for 2009, increasing spending by a third from last year. The passage came days after donor countries pledged $950 million in aid, almost 40 percent more than they offered in 2008.

Last year marked an end to four straight years of economic growth in excess of 10 percent spurred by foreign-investment friendly policies such as 99-year leases for agricultural land, tax holidays and low import tariffs. The boom helped Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party win 73 percent of seats in a July election.

Stock Exchange

The country plans to open its first stock exchange in December, undeterred by a global financial crisis that halved the value of markets in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam last year.
Government coffers may soon get a boost from petroleum concessions in the Gulf of Thailand, where Chevron Corp., the second-biggest U.S. oil company, struck oil in 2005.

The government doesn’t have many options to boost the economy besides tax cuts and tackling corruption to ensure a more efficient use of donor funds, said Kang Chandararot, an economist with the Cambodia Institute of Development Studies. Transparency International, a global non-governmental organization, ranked Cambodia 166 out of 180 countries in its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.

“Not wasting the money we received from donor countries is the only way to induce private investment,” he said by phone from Phnom Penh. “Confidence in the real estate and construction sectors is in free fall.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

Officials: GDP growth slowest in 6 years in Cambodia

People's Daily Online
January 26, 2009

Cambodia's Gross Domestic Products (GDP) hit 10.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2008, up from 8.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2007, but still the slowest growth rate in six years, national media said on Monday.

High inflation normally eats away real GDP growth as money loses its purchasing power, Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general of the Ministry of Finance and Economy, was quoted by English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily as saying.

The National Institute of Statistics (NIS) of the Planning Ministry is expected to release the final GDP growth rate in June, which is likely to be 7 percent, he said, adding that NIS will take into account the year-on-year inflation rate of 13.46 percent.

The forecast rate would be slightly higher than the World Bank's projection of 6.7 percent and the International Monetary Fund's 6.5 percent.

Cambodian GDP grew strongly in the first half of 2008, but took a hit in the final months of the year amid meltdown in the global economy and the local real estate market, combined with slowdown in garment exports and foreign tourist arrivals, according to the secretary general.

The Cambodian economy once consecutively enjoyed double-digit increase during the 2005-2007 period.

Source: Xinhua

Cambodian Central Bank to cut reserve requirement

PROPERTY REPORT ASIA
by Asia Pulse

The National Bank of Cambodia will cut the bank reserve requirement from 16 per cent to 12 per cent and eliminate restrictions on real estate lending effective on Feb. 1, national media said on Monday.

This constituted a reversal of the bank´s monetary tightening measures brought in last year to cut inflation and rein in soaring property values, said English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh Post.

Officials said that they hoped the looser rules would stimulate lending amid a worsening economic crisis.

"We increased the reserve rate (from 8 per cent to 16 per cent in May 2008) because we were vigilant over the crisis and wanted to prevent the inflation. Now inflation is falling, so we lowered it to give banks easy cash to provide more loans to their customers," said Tal Nay Im, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia.

Inflation rocketed to 25.1 per cent in the first half of 2008 in Cambodia and dropped to 13.46 per cent in December, according to the National Institute of Statistics of the Planning Ministry.

Experts and bank industrialists have repeatedly called on the government to lower the reserve rate so that financial institutions could loan more money and fuel the economy in the grips of a financial slowdown.

The Cambodian economy enjoyed double-digit increase during the 2005-2007 period, but down to below 10 per cent in 2008 and will further slide to around 5 per cent in 2009, according tothe forecasts by experts and international financial institutions.

92% Cambodians with HIV/AIDS receive treatment

www.chinaview.cn
2009-01-26

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- More than 92 percent of the Cambodians living with HIV/AIDS have been provided with anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment in 2008, a 7 percent rise over 2007, national media said on Monday.

With this, Cambodia is coming closer to its objective of making ARV drugs available to nearly all who need them by 2010, Mean ChhiVun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs, was quoted by English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily as saying.

"We now cover 92 percent. Our target is 97 percent in 2010. The universal access target is about 85 percent, but for Cambodia, we want to provide anti-retroviral treatment for all," he said.

The treatment was given free of charge last year to 31,989 patients, including 3,067 children, in 77 government-run health centers and partner organizations in Cambodia, he added.

According to official figures, around 100,000 Cambodians have died of HIV/AIDS since 1991 and some 120,000 now live with the disease.

The kingdom has brought its prevalence rate down to below 0.9 percent from the peak of 3.3 percent in 1997.

Editor: Yang Lina

Pictures of the day

Dey Krahorm resident sits on the remains of her home as she waits for a truck to transport her to a new location. "I have no money," she said. "What can I do? I don't know where I will sleep. I can't do anything because they destroyed everything." (Photo by: Heng Chivoan)

A woman carries her mother from their home in Dey Krahorm, yelling, "Help me, help me, my mother is dead," explaining later that her mother has fainted from fear and worry. The woman then screamed at intervention police officers, "You are Cambodian, but want to kill Cambodians. You destroyed my house. You're like gangsters." (Photo by: Heng Chivoan)

Dey Krahorm resident carries away bedding as she passes red-clad hired hands from developer and property owner 7NG. In the foreground is a potrait of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who in the 1960s pushed for construction of middle-class housing and shared public space, including the adjacent Bassac apartments, for which the Dey Krahorm land formerly served as a park. (Photo by: Heng Chivoan)

A woman wearing a helmet tries to stop a bulldozer as her daughter attempts to stop her, during the eviction of slum dwellers in Phnom Penh January 24, 2009. Cambodian police fired teargas and eight people were injured on Saturday during the forced eviction of 80 families from a Phnom Penh slum, rights activists and police said. At least two of the eight slum dwellers were seriously hurt in clashes with clean-up crews hired to tear down the dwellings on government land recently sold to a private company.REUTERS/Stringer (CAMBODIA)

A woman is helped by her neighbours after she was hit by a bulldozer after trying to stop it from tearing down her house, in Phnom Penh January 24, 2009. Cambodian police fired teargas and eight people were injured on Saturday during the forced eviction of 80 families from a Phnom Penh slum, rights activists and police said. At least two of the eight slum dwellers were seriously hurt in clashes with clean-up crews hired to tear down the dwellings on government land recently sold to a private company.REUTERS/Stringer (CAMBODIA)

Workers of garment factory L.A Garment block a road as they demand for their salaries, in Phnom Penh January 24, 2009. The company, which has stopped production, owes workers two months of salary, according to the protesters.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)


Workers of garment factory L.A Garment block a road as they demand for their salaries, in Phnom Penh January 24, 2009. The company, which has stopped production, owes workers two months of salary, according to the protesters.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Workers of garment factory L.A Garment block a road as they demand for their salaries, in Phnom Penh January 24, 2009. The company, which has stopped production, owes workers two months of salary, according to the protesters. Placard (C) reads " Government please help us, owner did not pay us, only Prime Minister Hun Sen can help us."REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian shoe-shine boys play soccer on the street for betting during their break in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Jan. 23, 2009. Most of Cambodian shoe-shine children in Phnom Penh are spent their day-long working at restaurants without attending schools.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Trade in humans likely to increase

Cambodian fishermen trafficked to work aboard a Thai fishing boat are repatriated from Surabaya, Indonesia. Chris Lom/International Organistion for Migration

The National
Larry Jagan, Foreign Correspondent

PHNOM PENH // Human trafficking in Cambodia is expected to rise in the coming months because of increasing poverty, according to humanitarian agencies. They say that the full effects of the global economic downturn and international credit crunch have yet to hit the country. When they do, food and fuel prices will probably soar, putting many more people – especially women and children – at risk of falling victim to traffickers.

“The lure of a better life and a secure income is bound to trap more unsuspecting youngsters into the grip of these trafficking rings,” said Lim Tith, the project co-ordinator for the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) in Cambodia.Last year the Cambodian government introduced a new anti-trafficking law. Although it did raise awareness of the issue, it also led to a draconian crackdown on sex workers, instead of trying to tackle all forms of trafficking and its root causes, said Vicheth Tuon, chief executive of the Coalition to Address Trafficking and (Sexual) Exploitation of Children in Cambodia.

“Trafficking is a mega-problem in Cambodia, and it’s becoming a critical issue that needs to be tackled head-on,” Mr Tuon said. “It has grown immensely in the last 10 years since the end of the conflict, and will continue to grow unless effective measures are taken to stop it.”In Cambodia, men and women, boys and girls are all susceptible to being trafficked, UN officials say. Some are trafficked inside the country, while others are sent abroad. “It’s a major social problem that affects both the victims and their families,” Mr Lim said. Most trafficking in Cambodia appears to be for “labour exploitation”, UN officials say.

Most victims end up in domestic service, factories and trawling ships, or as beggars and scavengers abroad. There are more than 200,000 Cambodians working in factories and boats in Malaysia and Thailand, at least half of whom have been trafficked, UN surveys show. Many women and children are lured away from the countryside by gangs to work as commercial sex workers in Cambodia’s major urban centres – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.

“I came to Phnom Penh to work in a restaurant,” said Pong Ly Kaeng, a 22-year-old bar girl.“The owner came to our village in Svay Rieng [in western Cambodia] and promised my sister he would look after me and pay me a good salary. So I went with him. But I left when the owner tried to make me have sex with a customer. Then my cousin found me a job in the bar. But I don’t sleep with all my customers.”

“At least 20 per cent of sex workers in Phnom Penh have been trafficked,” Mr Lim said. “It is difficult to estimate the number of people being trafficked into Phnom Penh to become commercial sex workers, but there is a constant stream. Maybe as many as 500 a month are coming.”Women have also been trafficked abroad for sexual exploitation in the past, according to UN officials.“A few years ago there was a major case of Cambodian women being smuggled into Somalia,” Mr Lim said. There have also been a few cases of women being taken to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

But trafficking in Cambodia is a two-way street. There are many Vietnamese women who have been trafficked from southern Vietnam to work in Phnom Penh’s sex industry. Many of them are underage, according to a Cambodian aid worker who monitors the situation. She declined to be identified out of concern that it might endanger her security.In an effort to prevent human trafficking, in response to pressure from the United States, the Cambodian government introduced new anti-trafficking legislation nearly a year ago. However, most NGOs say the legislation made the situation worse because authorities went after sex workers rather than traffickers.

“A lot of sex workers have been arrested without clear evidence and are being kept in detention centres where the conditions are atrocious,” Mr Tuon said. “The victims of trafficking are being persecuted – they are worse off than before,” he said. “The answer is not to close down brothels and the street sex trade; the girls’ need the income and their families depend on them. What they need is alternative employment.”

International aid groups working in Cambodia say the country’s campaign against HIV/Aids is also at risk. “Legislation is a necessary component to stop the spread of HIV and Aids,” said Tony Lisle, the UN Aids co-ordinator in Cambodia.“Now we need to make sure the police understand the intent of the law – and that the laws criminalise traffickers, not consenting sex workers.” But the traffickers continue to ply their trade with impunity. A few members of minor gangs have been arrested, but aid workers say they are scapegoats and believe the top men orchestrating the trafficking rings are left alone.

“No one can touch the ringleaders,” Mr Tuon said. “Everyone knows who they are, but because of their power and influence, they are left untouched by the police.”A recent development is that of young children being trafficked into Thailand and Vietnam to work as street-sellers or beggars.Most of the young girls selling flowers in Bangkok’s red light districts are Cambodians – such as seven-year-old Kimmi from Phnom Penh who has been selling roses in Nana for more than two years; her father sold her to a trafficker for US$50 (Dh184).

Cambodian children, especially from the western provinces, are being trafficked to Vietnam to beg or work as scavengers in the southern capital, Ho Chi Minh City.“Handicapped children are particularly vulnerable, as they are believed to be more effective beggars,” Mr Lim said. “Up to 700 children a month are being trafficked across the borders.”Although the government has adopted some measures to curb the trade in human beings, much more needs to be done, humanitarian workers in Phnom Penh say.

“It’s an uphill battle,” Mr Lim said. “Human trafficking is a major industry and it’s growing every month.”