Monday, 16 February 2009

Vietnam cameramen recall Khmer Rouge torture horror

Mon Feb 16, 2009

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Vietnamese army cameramen recalled on Monday the horrific scenes as they passed through the barbed wire gates of Pol Pot's S-21 torture centre in Cambodia's capital 30 years ago.

"We had to use masks and perfume to bear the stench as we walked into the centre," said Dinh Phong, a member of an army film crew covering Hanoi's toppling of the Khmer Rouge regime that was blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people.

They found five emaciated children, one of whom later died, hiding under piles of prisoners' clothing in the Phnom Penh school where at least 14,000 people were tortured and killed.

"They were all naked. Their bodies marked by mosquito bites," Phong, 70, told reporters on the eve of the first trial of Pol Pot's surviving henchmen by a United Nations-backed tribunal.

The black-and-white footage of the swollen, maggot-infested bodies in S-21, some of them still shackled, was taken a few days after Pol Pot's fighters were driven out of the capital in January 1979.

The film is expected to figure prominently in the trial of former S-21 chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, which formally begins on Tuesday with procedural motions.

The 66-year-old chief Khmer Rouge interrogator faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and homicide.

Ho Van Tay, who led the Vietnamese film crew, said the 16 mm footage showed the axes, spades and electrical wires used to torture and later kill inmates.

"We had to step around swollen, worm-infested corpses with shackles on their ankles," the 75-year-old said.

They filmed a room where inmates were forced to make sculptures of Pol Pot, who died in 1998. They also found Vietnamese uniforms among the piles of clothing, he said.

"I assumed Pol Pot not only killed Cambodians, he killed Vietnamese," Dinh Phong said.

The Khmer Rouge and North Vietnamese were allies against the U.S.-backed government in Phnom Penh in the early 1970s. But Pol Pot fell in with China after seizing power in 1975 and waged a border war against Vietnam that led to his downfall.


HANDS OF BLOOD

Van Tay said they would not testify at the trial of Duch, but the appearance of the former Vietnamese soldiers was something of a rarity in Phnom Penh.

Despite international and domestic repugnance at the Khmer Rouge and their disastrous attempt to create an agrarian utopia, a significant minority of Cambodians mourn Jan. 7 as the start of a 10-year occupation by their hated Vietnamese neighbours.

Hanoi has portrayed the invasion as a mercy mission and the occupation as necessary to prevent a resurgence of the Khmer Rouge, whose final surrender came only after Pol Pot's death.

"Cambodia and Vietnam are friends and neighbours," said Van Tay, who was joined at the press conference by Norng Chan Phal, the S-21 survivor he found 30 years ago.

The Cambodian was only 6 years old when his mother and three siblings were taken to S-21, accused of being enemies of the Khmer Rouge.

His mother was photographed and thrown into a cell.

"When I visit the prison I'm still shocked when I see the window where I last saw my mother," said the weeping 39-year-old, who planned to attend Tuesday's hearing.

"Duch's hands are full of blood. It's time for Duch to pay for his actions," he said.

Vietnam expects to earn $3.2 bln from wood exports this year

www.chinaview.cn
2009-02-16

HANOI, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- Vietnam plans to earn revenue of 3.2 billion U.S. dollars from wood products exports this year, up from 2.8 billion U.S. dollars over 2008 despite difficulties fueled by the global economic crisis, the local newspaper New Hanoi reported Monday.

To slash difficulties for the country's wood exporters, Vietnam's Ministry of Industry and Trade urged local wood processing and exporters to ensure a stable supply of raw materials instead of the imported ones to reduce production costs.

At present, Vietnam's major wood sources are in Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia, whose governments are narrowing wood materials exports.

Simultaneously, the domestic wood industry needs to raise competitiveness by stepping up investment in technologies and equipment, said the ministry.

Vietnam's biggest importers for wood products are the United States, European countries and Japan.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

Ivory trade hits Asia's elephants

Conservationists say much of the demand for ivory originates in China

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

The illegal ivory trade in Vietnam is threatening the survival of South East Asia's dwindling elephant population, a wildlife monitoring organisation says.

Ivory prices in Vietnam are higher than anywhere else in the world, indicating rising demand, researchers from the international group, Traffic, found.

Around 4,000 tonnes of illegal wildlife products are estimated to pass through Vietnam every year.

There are thought to be fewer than 150 elephants left in the wild in Vietnam.

The trade in ivory was officially banned in Vietnam 16 years ago - but because of a loophole in the law allowing shops to sell tusks obtained before that year, the trade still carries on.

Rising demand

Traffic, the international organisation that monitors the wildlife trade, believes the ivory business could be growing again in Vietnam, after a survey showed prices were higher there than anywhere else in the world.


Just 1,000 elephants are thought to survive in the wild in Laos

Tonnes of illegal wildlife products are estimated to pass through Vietnam every year - and the source of these products remains a cause of acute concern to conservationists.

A combination of decades of war, followed by rapid economic and population growth, has degraded many of Vietnam's own forests.

But in Laos, the communist state next door, which has long been under the sway of its more powerful neighbours, there are still extensive forests, with perhaps 1,000 elephants living wild.
These forests and their inhabitants are being plundered at an alarming rate, say conservation groups, to feed demand in Vietnam and China.

A recent study by the WWF found more than 1,000 new species of animal in this region, evidence of its rich biodiversity.

Traffic is asking the Vietnamese government to improve what it describes as erratic monitoring of illegal elephant products, and to close the legal loopholes that allow the ivory trade to continue.

Experts: Investors still highly interested in Cambodia

www.chinaview.cn
2009-02-16

SIEM REAP, Cambodia, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- Investors still remain highly interested in putting their money into Cambodia, despite of the global economic downturn, the Economic Conferences here on Monday quoted financial experts as saying.

"Although the global crisis has undoubtedly had an impact on direct foreign investment, this is expected to be only temporary, as regional investors are still showing strong interest and the entry cost and risk is comparatively less than for other developing markets," said Im Channy, president and CEO of the ACLEDA Bank, a leading sponsor of the one-day Business Roundtable, which was opened here on Monday by the Economists Conferences to discuss ways for the kingdom to secure sustainable economic development.

"The National Bank (of Cambodia) took robust measures in 2008 to squeeze credit when inflation was running high, but have been equally quick to relax them this year when the economy started to slow down," he added.

Brett Sciaroni, senior partner of the Sciaroni and Associates, another leading sponsor of the Business Roundtable, also said that "there is still considerable interest in investment in Cambodia, despite the economic troubles that are evident in more advanced economies."

"Businesses operating in Cambodia rate political stability and an openness of the Royal Government to engage in dialogue with the private sector as key features of the current investment environment that have attracted the attention of many potential investors," the Economic Conferences quoted him as saying in a press release issued prior to the meeting.

"Furthermore, while much legal reform is needed, investors are impressed with the commitment of the government to getting modern commercial laws in place as evidenced by the progress that has been made both before and after Cambodia's accession to WTO," he added.

With the same press release, the Economist Conferences warned that "the next 10 years will be more challenging for Cambodia than the past decade, and economic growth is unlikely to be as strong."

Cambodia has just enjoyed a decade of blistering growth, more than doubling its per capita GDP between 1998 and 2007, thanks to political stability, deepening integration into the global trade and investment community and improved macro-economic management, according to the Economist Conferences.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

Cambodia's ATM networks grow despite crisis

www.chinaview.cn
2009-02-16

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- Despite concerns over the impact of the global credit crunch on local financial institutions, Cambodian banks are expanding their network of ATMs to provide customers with easier access to their money, national media reported Monday.

In Channy, president and chief executive of ACLEDA Bank, told the Phnom Penh Post that the growth of ATMs has boomed in the last few years as living conditions improve and greater progress is made in modernizing the kingdom's bank sector.

"In 2007, (we) had 20 ATMs. Now, we have 60 ATMs with plans to reach 100 by the end of this year," In Channy said.

"Our ATMs have been installed in all parts of Cambodia," he said.

"Our long term expansion strategy will include an expansion of our network to 500 ATMs and 240 branch offices nationwide," he added.

Meanwhile, Kunkanel Nong, a marketing manager at the Canadia Bank, said that Canadia currently operates 48 ATMs throughout Cambodia, up from 25 in 2007, and that the bank expects to reach 60 ATMs by the end of this year.

The first ATM in Cambodia was introduced by Canadia Bank in June 2004, according to the National Bank of Cambodia's (NBC) 2007annual report.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

News leak on ex-military chief angers Cambodian government

www.chinaview.cn
2009-02-16

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- The Council of Ministers have chastised the press for publishing information from a leaked government document that revealed it began probe into the real estate holdings of recently removed military chief Ke Kim Yan, national media said on Monday.

The publishing of information contained in the official minutes of a meeting of the Council of Ministers held on Jan. 23, one day after Ke Kim Yan's ouster as Commander in Chief of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), amounted to "incitement and provocation of a bad political environment," English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily quoted a statement of the council as saying.

"The government is investigating to find the people who leaked its internal documents and will take strict measures against these individuals," the statement added.

The minutes, which found their way into the hands of several media outlets late last week, revealed that Ke Kim Yan was removed in part because of his land dealings.

According to the minutes, "the Council of Ministers has been informed and commented on the termination of the position of commander-in-chief from HE Ke Kim Yan based on two reasons:

"First, reforming the RCAF rank and file by adhering to work effectiveness in the military rank and file.

"Second, involvement with land issues by a top and powerful person in the military rank and file and doing business by using the name of military for personal gain."

The minutes went on to describe a resolution by the Council of Ministers to have both military and government bodies investigate Ke Kim Yan's land dealings.

Since his removal, ruling party and military officials have repeatedly claimed that his ouster was solely to promote reforms within the military.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

Valentine’s Day Troubles - Sunday, 15.2.2009

Posted on 16 February 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 599

The Phnom Penh Post reported on Friday, 13 February 2009, the results of a study by the Cambodian sociologist Tong Soprach, including that:

“The study questioned youths on two occasions… and found that 61.2 percent of respondents considered Valentine’s Day special, but that most knew little about the origins of the day itself. Most youths recognized the day as foreign, with several respondents renaming the occasion ‘loving day.’”

For these students, the fact that Valentine’s Day is foreign is not negative. Not so for some others; one newspaper reported: “Citizens Ask TV Stations Not to Publish ‘Valentine’s Day’ on Televisions, because it might encourage youth to take up a foreign culture.” And it is not reported whether they know – or care to know – the origins of this day and its name. But even if TV did not report on it, many people know anyway and are prepared – there are many stands at the roadside, especially near universities and high-schools, selling roses, because the student want to buy them.

Obviously, Valentine’s Day has also become an institution in other countries in Asia: the Chinese News Agency XinhuaNet has a nice picture with the heading: “A couple of lovers walk with a bouquet of roses in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, Feb. 14, 2009. Lots of lovers bought roses to celebrate the Valentine’s Day.”
“A couple of lovers walk with a bouquet of roses in Harbin

There is no expression of concern that this is “foreign cultural influence.” And it is even more surprising that the same publication also has a picture from North Korea with the caption: “A couple pose for photos at an exhibition on ‘Kim Jong Il flowers’ held in Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Feb. 14, 2009. The exhibition was held to celebrate the upcoming 67th birthday of DPRK top leader Kim Jong Il.” There was no mention of Valentine’s Day – but a young man and a young women have their picture taken together in front of red roses on 14 February – there seems to be some special meaning intended.

A couple pose for photos at an exhibition on 'Kim Jong Il flowers

Source: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-02/14/xin_35202061420347811815914.jpg

However, Cambodia is one country where the question of a clash between traditional culture and Valentine’s Day became an issue. India is another, especially since there has recently been violence against women – with claims that it is in order to protect Indian culture.

Male activists of the conservative Hindu Sri Rama Sena organization entered the “Amnesia Bar and Restaurant” in the Indian city of Mangalore on Saturday evening, 24 January 2009, and threatened the women sitting inside. They objected to women drinking alcohol and dragged them outside, where many fell or were pushed to the ground. They also told the women that they would face dire consequences if they were seen in a bar again. The group left the bar after threatening its owner.

Many people, including public figures in India and some in Cambodia, condemned this violence, and there was a lot of public discussion. Some voices suggested that maybe the victims had provoked the attack by their behavior, which was not – in the opinion of critics of the women - in accordance with Indian culture. They suggested that the Sri Rama Sena organization should also be praised – it celebrates all traditional Hindu festivals elaborately and does a lot to propagate cultural traditions which, they said, are not sufficiently protected, and that the organization had to act as a “moral police.”

Then, on 10 February, a group of self appointed “moral police” stopped a bus in Mangalore, knowing that a 16 year old Hindu high-school student was on the bus with her Muslim boyfriend. They dragged her out and brought her to the police, who called her parents to hand her over to them. She could not bear the public shame and killed herself the next day.

Violence continued: near the famous white marble monument of Taj Mahal, radical traditionalists attacked three young couples of lovers and cut their hair to shame them. Others attacked and burnt a shop selling Valentine’s Day greeting cards, and some entered restaurants looking for lovers having special Valentine’s Day meals together. In some cases, they threatened that they would force any lovers to immediately get married to “legalize” their behavior of showing that they liked each other – there were raids on shopping centers where young people hang out and walk around, holding hands.

In the meantime, some people who had committed violence were arrested – but often the authorities were slow to act, as the victims were considered to have violated traditional culture.
Madhu Chandra, a well-known human rights activist, strongly defended the civil liberties of couples. “It is the right of every Indian citizen to express our love in the different manners acceptable, in the Indian way, or in the English way, or in the Islamic way.”

Wide attention was created, however, only when a group of young women, many of them students, started to publicly claim their rights and fight back in an unusual way. Some of these voices were on the Internet:

“All of us bloggers are protesting, holding hands against this infringement of our right to hold hands, and walk in and out of pubs or anywhere else without being beaten up or molested for it.”
“In Indian culture, a girl could be a Master of Business Administration, or a Doctor, a teacher, a mother, or she could be just another adult citizen. A girl’s wishes don’t count. It just doesn’t make sense …. and you see semi-literate neighbors and elders and now even the local criminals, are deciding how she is allowed to dress, with whom she socializes, and what she eats or drinks?
“Why do we make excuses for our culture? Let’s be honest. It needs to see major reforms.”

As they had been accused of being “pub-going, loose, and forward [modern] women,” a group quickly set up an organization of “Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women,” which in a couple of days had more than 30,000 members, to campaign for their rights. As a sign of protest against the Sri Rama Sena organization, they called on women and girls across the country to send parcels of pink panties by courier to the Sri Rama Sena office in the city of Hubli. It is reported that a huge number of such parcels were delivered from many different regions of India before and on Valentine’s Day.

Has all this anything to do with the origin of Valentine’s Day? Maybe yes – there are different traditions, but they are all related to an act of defiance against a forceful power interfering with personal choices to accept and to give love. One Indian blogger told the story this way:

“Of the varying opinions as to the origin of Valentine’s Day, the widely accepted one is that associated with the Roman Empire during the third century. To be precise, a priest named Valentinus was beheaded by Emperor Claudius the Cruel on 14 February of the year 269.

Valentinus performed secret weddings, after the Emperor Claudius banned marriages in order to prevent soldiers from deserting his army. The good saint refused to deny Christ and so was thrown into prison, where he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. He fell in love with her and left a note in the cracks of his cell the night before his execution: ‘From Your Valentine.’

“Gradually, 14 February became the date for exchanging love messages. The date is marked by sending poems and simple gifts such as flowers.”

One young woman in India wrote about the attacks of those who claim to protect Indian culture, giving her impression that these men – old and also young – have mostly been living without any experience of relating to women in a situation of mutual respect. The traditional culture had assigned a secondary role to women. Most of the young men involved came from schools for boys only, so they have not had the experience to relate to girls in a daily school situation among equals. Once they meet girls, they either claim a social and cultural power superiority – or they can only think of sexual relations.

The report in the Phnom Penh Post shows a similar narrow-mindedness:

“New research on young Cambodian attitudes towards Valentine’s Day and sexual relationships has found that more than half the interviewees questioned were happy to engage in sexual intercourse. In fact, the research shows that many middle-class Cambodians are using Valentine’s Day not to celebrate their love, but as a catalyst for sex.

“Disturbingly, however, 66 percent of males planned to have sex with their partners regardless of consent, with 39.5 percent of those males losing their virginity.”

Should Valentine’s Day be suppressed? That would only be an expression of not respecting gender equality. Maybe Valentine’s Day could be an occasion to learn and to reflect that it is not about sex, but about growing into a renewed culture of women and men, in mutual respect and cooperation, and in love.

Cambodia: Child Survived Khmer Rouge Torture Center

Norng Chanphal, left, listens as former Vietnamese Army Reporter Dinh Phong, describes how he discovered Chanphal and four others as the Vietnamese Army liberated Toul Sleng Prison from the Khmer Rouge in Jan of 1979. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

2009-02-16

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: The first known child survivor of the Khmer Rouge's largest torture center said Monday (16 Feb) he and his brother hid in a pile of rags as captors who killed his mother fled approaching Vietnamese troops 30 years ago.

Norng Chan Phal, now a 38-year-old father of two, was eight when the Vietnamese stormed into Phnom Penh to end the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. He was held at the notorious S-21 prison where some 16,000 men, women and children were brutally tortured and executed.

Camp commander Kaing Guek Eav, goes before a U.N.-backed tribunal Tuesday (17 Feb). Better known as Duch, he will be the first of five former Khmer Rouge leaders to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Phal said at a news conference Monday he and three other children, including his brother, lived through the ordeal, but that his mother was killed. Earlier, only 14 adults were believed to have survived incarceration.

Phal's story surfaced last week when previously unseen footage was shown of Vietnamese troops entering the prison, also known as Tuol Sleng. It showed living children and many adult corpses, some decapitated.

Duch is accused of having committed or abetted a range of crimes including murder, torture, rape and persecutions on political grounds.

The charges stem from the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 brutal rule over Cambodia, during which at least 1.7 million people died of disease, starvation or execution.

Phal, who grew up in an orphanage, said his father was arrested and taken to Tuol Sleng in 1978. Six months later his mother was arrested, and he and his brother were sent to the prison with her.

His mother was put in a cell on the second floor while he and his brother were sent to the prison kitchen. They helped tend the vegetable garden.

"I saw my mom look through the window at us. The next day I never saw my mother again," he said.

Phal broke down in tears at a news conference as he described revisiting Tuol Sleng, which is now a genocide museum.

"I look at the place where I saw my mother through the window and I still pity her for being kicked and pushed by the Khmer Rouge," he said.

Phal said he and other children hid in a pile of discarded prisoners' clothing in Jan 1979. The prisoner guards shouted at them to come as they loaded the prisoners in trucks to take them away before the arrival of Vietnamese forces.

"A woman came to put the kids in the vehicle. I called my sibling to hide in the clothes. Because they were in a rush they couldn't find us. I hid there and hoped my mother would come and find us," he said.

The Vietnamese soldiers gave them food and later took them to the hospital.

Two of the Vietnamese photographers who shot the films - Ho Van Tay and Dinh Phong - were also at the news conference.

They said they arrived at Tuol Sleng and found five children who had been hiding. One of them later died.

The films were recently given by the Vietnamese government to the Cambodia Documentation Center, a U.S.-funded effort which has collected some 1 million documents related to the Khmer Rouge era. (By SOPHENG CHEANG/ AP)

MySinchew 2009.02.16

Cambodia readies for first KRouge trial

Skulls of victims are piled up on display at the Choeung Ek memorial stupa south of Phnom Penh. Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court on Monday busily readied for a deluge of around 1,000 people expected to attend its long-awaited first trial of a Khmer Rouge leader, a spokeswoman said.(AFP/File/Nicolas Asfouri)

by Patrick Falby

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court on Monday made final preparations for its long-awaited first public trial of a Khmer Rouge leader, 30 years after the fall of the communist regime.

Prison chief Kaing Guek Eav -- better known as Duch -- will appear Tuesday for the initial hearing in his trial for crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder.

"The court is an absolute hive of activity," said tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis, who predicted nearly 1,000 spectators and journalists would attend the trial's first day.

"It reaffirms to us the intense public interest in what's happening. We're well aware this is a historic day for Cambodia," she added.

Former maths teacher Duch, 66, is one of five Khmer Rouge leaders who have been detained by the court, seeking justice for the 1975-1979 regime that killed up to two million people.

His first hearing is expected to last less than three days as it involves procedural matters to determine the structure of the trial, according to court officials.

Norng Chan Pal, Cambodian child survivor of the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, told a press conference Monday that he wanted Duch to face justice "because Duch's hands are full of blood."

Norng Chan Pal cried and dabbed at his eyes with a tissue as he described making a recent visit to the prison, which is now a genocide museum, and returning to the spot where he last saw his own mother.

"I miss my mother," he said. "I looked at the place where my mother looked at me through a window on the second storey. I never saw her again," he said. Even though full testimony is not expected until March, the official start of the first Khmer Rouge trial was welcomed by Sim Ny, a street vendor in capital Phnom Penh.

"I am very happy to see the Khmer Rouge trials start now. This means justice is on the way to us," said the 49-year-old, who lost her brother to the regime while she was forced to work in a rice field.

"Thirty years have passed, but I am still wondering why the Khmer Rouge, which was Cambodian, killed millions of Cambodians," she added.

Duch was indicted last year for allegedly personally overseeing the torture and extermination of more than 12,000 men, women and children when he headed Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21.

The prison, once a high school, is now a genocide museum lined with haunting black and white pictures of many victims and displaying torture instruments.

Thousands of inmates were taken from Tuol Sleng during Duch's tenure for execution just outside the capital at Choeung Ek, a former orchard now known as the Killing Fields.

Most adults were beaten to death with iron bars to save bullets, while children had their heads smashed against a tree.

Established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the United Nations, the long-stalled war crimes tribunal is the last chance for Cambodians to find justice for the Khmer Rouge's crimes.

The Khmer Rouge, led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, emptied Cambodia's cities during its time in power, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to take society back to "Year Zero" and forge a Marxist utopia.

The movement was ousted by Vietnamese-backed forces but continued to fight a civil war until 1998. Pol Pot died in the same year.

Duch has been detained since 1999 and was formally transferred to the tribunal in July 2007. He faces a maximum term of life imprisonment by the tribunal, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

The tribunal has however faced controversy over allegations of political interference by the government and claims that Cambodian staff paid kickbacks for their jobs.

The joint trial of the four other Khmer Rouge leaders is set to start later this year after Duch's trial is completed, although no date has yet been set.

Judges are now mulling whether to open cases against other former Khmer Rouge leaders after a dispute between the international and Cambodian co-prosecutors over whether to pursue more suspects.

Lawyers call for new Duch investigations

Photo by: AFP
A monk examines photos of former inmates at Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng prison. Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal on Tuesday opens the long-awaited trial of the Khmer Rouge's former prison chief Duch, the first person to face justice for the horrors 30 years ago.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins and Neth Pheaktra
Monday, 16 February 2009

Democratic Kampuchea policy of forced marriage is crime against humanity that requires investigation, say civil party co-lawyers.

CO-LAWYERS for civil parties at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have urged the court to open new investigations into the role of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav in organising "forced marriages", a crime that has been recognised as a new, separate crime against humanity by international law.

In a press statement released over the weekend, lawyers said that there was sufficient evidence to link the prison chief, known by his communist name Duch, to organising "at least one mass wedding", and that it was thus necessary for the court to conduct "immediate and serious supplementary investigation".

"Since at least early 1977 ... weddings and prescription of sexual intercourse of couples were ordered and organised by senior leaders all over the country.

Forced marriages were clearly carried out as a matter of state policy," their submission to the court outlined.

"They were used statewide as a measure to weaken and attack Cambodian families, to produce more children to join Angkar's revolution and to control sexuality and reproductive power," it said.

"Hence, the crimes were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population."

The crime of forced marriage, as it is linked to rape and enslavement on a mass scale, is a type of sexual violence that is punishable as a crime against humanity.

One of its main purposes, in light of the Khmer Rouge's intent to form a new society, was the intention of Democratic Kampuchea to have forced pregnancies.

"According to researchers,"[t]he leader of DK wanted to make sure that children were born who could continue the revolution. The main purpose of weddings, for the Khmer Rouge, was not to form family units, but to produce children who could serve the revolution," the submission said.

"The entire population that was not yet married and over 18 years old was a target of the attack," it added.

According to the lawyers' submission, Sierra Leone's war crimes court is the only international tribunal to have recognised forced marriage as a crime against humanity.

"The UN secretary general defined a forced marriage as one that ‘lacks free and valid consent of at least one of the parties'.

"In its most extreme form, forced marriage can involve threatening behaviour, abduction, imprisonment, physical violence, rape and, in some cases, murder," the submission says.

"In light of the development in other international and internationalised tribunals including gender-related crimes in their jurisdictions, the ECCC should follow other Courts and recognise the dimension of such crimes and their impact on society," it adds.

Although the 67-year-old's trial begins Tuesday, lawyers say additional investigations would not delay proceedings.

"Investigations can be conducted besides the ongoing trial. This is a normal procedure," international co-lawyer for civil parties Silke Studzinsky told the Post.

She added that despite being a crime against humanity, forced marriages had not yet been properly investigated.

"Sexual violence, such as forced marriage, was never seriously investigated by this court. This approach is common in all courts - to neglect these crimes is typical," she said, adding that there were many reasons for this.

"There is a common perception that these crimes did not happen under the Khmer Rouge, so witnesses have never been asked about these issues," she said.

Co-lawyer for Duch, Francois Roux, said he welcomed the new submissions, but was unsure if it would be accepted by the trial chamber.

"I think the civil parties can request the new accusation as they want, but it is the Trial Chambers' job to make a decision," he told the Post.

Duch is currently charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, along with domestic charges of premeditated murder and torture.

HRW chides KR tribunal

Photo by: AFP
Tourists look at portraits of former security guards of Tuol Sleng prison, displayed at the genocide museum.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins and Neth Pheaktra
Monday, 16 February 2009

‘Political interference' marring court in final run-up to inaugural trial hearing, according to Human Rights Watch.

THE Khmer Rouge tribunal has received its second bout of criticism from a global monitoring group just days before the start of its first trial.

International watchdog Human Rights Watch has urged the forthcoming trials at the Khmer Rouge tribunal to "resist political interference and meet international fair trial standards", or risk its credibility.

"Any hint of political manipulation at the tribunal will undermine its credibility with the Cambodian people," Sara Colm, Cambodia-based senior researcher said in a press statement released Saturday.

The New York-based group has previously accused the UN-backed court of allowing political considerations to block additional indictments and says the court's independence remains a concern as the first trial gets set to begin.

"The tribunal cannot bring justice to the millions of the Khmer Rouge's victims if it tries only a handful of the most notorious individuals, while scores of former Khmer Rouge officials remain free," she added.

The group is the second international monitoring organisation to scrutinise the tribunal in the week before it opens.

A report released Thursday by the Open Society Justice Initiative blasted the court for beginning trials while "grave flaws", including possibly serious corruption allegations, remain unaddressed.

Human Rights Watch released a report last month condemning the progress of the war crimes court and accusing the government of obstructing its procedures.

Government interference has been feared by observers since international co-prosecutor Robert Petit filed a formal statement of disagreement to the pretrial chamber over the issue.

Petit has publicly expressed the need to carry out further investigations in order to meet the court's mandate of prosecuting "those most responsible" for events occurring under the 1975-79 regime.

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Please, those who love justice, let justice be decided by the judges.

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However, Chea Leang, his Cambodian counterpart, has argued that this could affect political stability.

As senior members of the current CPP government held similar positions under the Khmer Rouge regime, observers have claimed there is an understandable reluctance on the part of the government to allow further investigations to proceed.

But with a trial beginning on Tuesday after years of delays, public affairs officer Helen Jarvis said she would prefer people to focus on the trial, which will be an important historical event, rather than on "observations from the sidelines".

"When the trial begins, it will show how ready and well-equipped the court is to meeting international standards," she added.

Court spokesman Reach Sambath added that the criticism went against the spirit of the trials.

"We work hard every day to bring justice to the Cambodian people and the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime," he said.

"Please, those who love justice, let justice be decided by the judges."

Court to rule today in 7NG complaint

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Monday, 16 February 2009

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court is to rule today on charges of inciting destruction of property filed by private developer 7NG against representatives of the Dey Krahorm shanty community it evicted last month.

7NG and the municipality late last month launched a blitz eviction of the scores of families remaining in the 3.6-hectare community who had declined the developer's compensation offer of a relocation home or US$20,000.

The charges stem from an incident in December 2007, in which residents allegedly destroyed a 7NG excavator and injured its driver after the vehicle was brought into the area late at night.

Chan Vichet, Ly Yuleng and Bun Thoeun were accused of inciting violence, and after the incident they said they had feared a rapid, unannounced eviction.

All three accused have denied the charges. Chan Vichet, the most high-profile of the three, has argued that during the incident he in fact appealed to residents over a loudspeaker not to react to what he described as an intentionally provocative move by 7NG.

"I have done nothing wrong and having nothing to fear," he said.

"Pure gold is never afraid of fire," he added.

The three-lawyer defence team, provided by local rights group Licadho, has described the charges as baseless.

"There is no real evidence against my clients," lawyer Ham Sunrith said. "Their testimony has come only from people working for the company, which is not acceptable testimony."

SRP calls for Thaksin investigation

Photo by: BLOOMBERG
Ousted former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra shown here in a file photograph.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea and Sebastian Strangio
Monday, 16 February 2009

Letter to Hun Sen, citing Bangkok newspaper, says presence of fugitive premier in Cambodia could jeopardise relations with Thailand, where he still faces corruption conviction

OPPOSITION lawmakers have called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to investigate media reports that former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has sought refuge in Cambodia following the cancellation of his British visa late last year.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the Sam Rainsy Party expressed concerns the fugitive Thai politician might be using Cambodia as a launch pad for a political comeback in Thailand, potentially jeopardising relations between the two countries.

"There has been much information about the presence of the former Thai prime minister in Cambodia since early January," the letter said.

"Because of concerns from Khmer citizens about the potential impact on the political affairs of neighbouring countries, we, as people's representatives, would like to ask Royal Government to make an official response."

On the run

Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and convicted in absentia for corruption, is thought to be searching for a new home following the cancellation of his visa by UK officials in November.

At the time, Thai media speculated that the former premier was considering a move to China, the Philippines or the Bahamas, but recent reports in The Nation indicate the premier may have set up base in Koh Kong province.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann could not be reached for comment Sunday, but Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the rumours had no clear source and that their dissemination could affect the country's national security.

"There is no information confirming whether Thaksin has come to Cambodia or not," he said, questioning the opposition's use of The Nation's reports.

"This information could affect national security. Thailand could use this information to do something that we do not expect them to do."

Thitinan Ponsudhirak, a political analyst based at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, would not speculate on Thaksin's whereabouts, but said that his presence in Cambodia, if true, could develop into a serious diplomatic problem.

"If he is in Cambodia, using it as a political stagingground, it would have adverse ramifications - not only for Thai-Cambodia relations, but also within the Asean framework - because Thaksin is at the centre of the Thai political quagmire," he said by phone from Bangkok.

He added that Thaksin could still legally reside in Hong Kong, the US, Dubai and China, despite being blocked from Japan and Great Britain.

The SRP also sent a separate letter to Hun Sen asking him to investigate government officials named in a recent report from international watchdog Global Witness, which alleged high-level corruption in the Kingdom's mineral and oil industries.

According to the Constitution, the prime minister must respond to the opposition's letters within nine days.

Land concessions to come under focus in annual govt reviews

SCRAMBLE FOR LAND
Up to November 2008, the government granted 65 licences to private companies covering 895,176 hectares, according to Agriculture Ministry statistics. In 2007, the ministry ordered the cancellation of 37 concessions covering 332,240 hectares in 11 provinces.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Monday, 16 February 2009

The Agriculture Ministry will screen economic land concessions to ensure companies are conforming to govt concession licences.

THE Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to embark on a countrywide evaluation of economic land concessions in order to ensure companies are meeting their agreements as set out in government concession licences, according to officials.

Chan Tong Yves, a secretary of state at the ministry, said working groups had been established to monitor and evaluate companies holding concessions on an annual basis.

"If they do not follow [the contracts], we will have strict measures for them," he said.

"We will inspect and evaluate the proposed investments before we grant licences, and we will review them after that."

Between June and August 2008, the ministry set up five working groups for reviewing 35 economic land concession companies in 13 provinces, three of which had been forced to cancel their contracts.

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If they do not follow [the contracts], we will have strict measures for them.

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Two others were issued with warnings and 30 were pushed to speed up the implementation of their projects.

"They did not implement the agreement in their contracts," Chan Tong Yves said of the two companies stripped of their concessions.

Chan Tong Yves added that the ministry had held discussions with companies holding concessions of more than 10,000 hectares - the maximum allowed by law - but that it had not yet moved to demarcate and subdivide the land.

Tan Monivann, deputy director general of Mong Reththy Group, whose Green Sea Industry Co Ltd received roughly 100,000 hectares of economic land concessions in Stung Treng province in 2001, said he had had not yet discussed the reduction of the company's land.

"We are implementing the projects in accordance with our master plan," he said.

But Ny Chakrya, head of the monitoring section of local rights group Adhoc, said that about 20 to 30 percent of companies implemented their projects but added that some others were logging valuable timber in the concession area without developing the land or implementing the agreed projects.

"Some companies did not implement their projects or any development in the area that could benefit local people," he said.

"The government has the right to grant concessions to private companies for investment, but they did not study the impacts over a long period."

Changing of the guard

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Heng Chivoan
Monday, 16 February 2009

Yet Chakriya shown above was sworn in Friday as the new chief prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Yet Chakriya was promoted from his previous post as prosecutor at Banteay Meanchey provincial court. He replaces Ouk Savuth, who has been promoted to deputy general prosecutor at the Court of Appeal.

Political parties are 'all the same', IRI survey finds

WHO WAS ASKED?
The IRI Survey of Cambodian Public Opinion looked at people's attitudes towards last year's general election, thoughts on democracy and feelings on the direction the country is taking. Seventy-eight percent of respondents were from rural areas.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Robert Carmichael
Monday, 16 February 2009

Responses show over 80 percent of Cambodians want to elect their own village chief, not have one imposed by govt.

Some 82 percent of Cambodians believe the Kingdom is moving "in the right direction", according to a nationwide public opinion survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) - an increase of 11 percent over results from a similar survey in 2007.

An IRI representative contacted by the Post on Sunday refused to comment ahead of today's official launch.

But the IRI discussed the results of the survey - conducted in 2008 following July's national election - last week with Sok An, deputy prime minister and minister at the Council of Ministers.

Council spokesman Phay Siphan said the government would not respond in detail ahead of today's release but said the survey was extremely helpful.

Tool for guidance

"The survey is a useful tool, and we have learned a lot from the responses of the public," Phay Siphan said. "It will prove very important for guiding the government in setting its policies."

The report, which surveyed the opinions of 2,000 people across the country late last year, also found that 85 percent of respondents wanted to elect their own village chief rather than having one imposed by the government.

And the survey showed why that was an important consideration: Two-fifths of respondents said the village chief was the most influential person in their lives. The second-most influential person, according to 28 percent of respondents, was the prime minister.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said many village chiefs across the country exerted a strong influence at the local level. His concern was that this influence could endanger freedom of expression.

"I think that even though Cambodia is seen to be moving in the right direction, that doesn't mean that the government is doing well in all areas," he said. "The influence of village chiefs means they can play a role as either a protector of human rights or an abuser of them."

Parties all the same

Some 55 percent of people surveyed said that there was either no difference between competing parties in the 2008 election or that they didn't know what the differences were. Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said that posed a challenge for the opposition party.

"There is something wrong with our message," she said. "But there is another factor - the CPP has all the media channels. They keep saying: ‘There is no difference. Every party is alike'. The media went so strong on that, and we have no means to say that we are different. Every channel on radio and TV says that: ‘We are the same'."

"But where we are able to reach and to say: Yes, there is a difference, then 21 percent of the voters say there is a difference," she added. "So we have to work harder on the message getting there much earlier."

The problem of equal access to media, an issue of intense debate during national elections, was felt by 95 percent of respondents as "very or somewhat important" in building a functioning democracy.

Other factors that scored 95 percent or higher in that category were making the judiciary stronger and independent, and ensuring that provincial governments were elected by all citizens.

IRI country representative John Willis said last week that the data would be used by all major political parties to promote democracy, accountability and good governance.

The survey was carried out last year between October 22 and November 25 in all 24 provinces and municipalities.

Govt to investigate leak of meeting details on Ke Kim Yan's sacking

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Former commander-in-chief of RCAF Ke Kim Yan, shown here while in inspecting troops in Preah Vihear.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Monday, 16 February 2009

Council of Ministers says the meeting minutes were not intended to be made public and vows to carry out an investigation into the leak.

THE spokesman for the Council of Ministers condemned the recent leak of a document detailing the January 23 Cabinet meeting at which officials discussed the removal of Ke Kim Yan from his post as commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

Various media outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and several newspapers, published stories about the meeting minutes over the weekend.

"This document is only for the government," said spokesman Phay Siphan in an interview with the Post Sunday. "It is the government's internal work, and it is not for the public."

He called the release of the minutes illegal and said the government would conduct an investigation to find out who was behind the leak.
He did not, however, dispute the veracity of the stories published about the report.

According to the document, the government's decision to remove Ke Kim Yan on January 22 and to replace him with his deputy, Pol Sareoun, was designed to accomplish two goals: to expedite reforms among RCAF "rank and file" as well as to prevent "a top, powerful person" from conducting "their business by using the name of RCAF for their own benefit".

The document states that officials approved an investigation into Ke Kim Yan's land deals, which would be carried out by the military and by various government bodies.

The document states that Ke Kim Yan was involved in land deals in Phnom Penh, near Preah Vihear temple and in Stung Treng province, among other places.

A high-ranking official at the Council of Ministers who spoke on anonymity said the Ministry of National Defence planned to remove soldiers who had been sent by Ke Kim Yan to protect companies involved in his land deals.

"They will start to withdraw commanders loyal to Ke Kim Yan in the next step," he said.

Another high-ranking official in the Ministry of Defence who also requested on anonymity said a list of RCAF commanders slated for removal, which was sent to Minister of Defence Tea Banh earlier this month, had not yet been approved in part because Tea Banh was fearful that additional removals would contribute to greater turmoil within the RCAF.

South Korea to lend $40m for Siem Reap river project

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
The Siem Reap river will soon have a $40 million make-over thanks to a Korean loan.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Monday, 16 February 2009

The restoration of 10 kilometres of the waterway will begin this year and should be completed within three years.

A US$40 million loan from South Korea will fund a major project to restore 10 kilometres of the Siem Reap River, provincial Governor Sou Phirin told the Post.

The project would serve to improve the appearance of Siem Reap and likely attract more visitors to the tourism hub, the governor said.

"We will start restoring the river by the middle of this year, and expect to complete the project in three years," he said, adding that the Cambodian government would contribute $4 million.

The restoration will begin at the Naga Bridge, near the city's Jayavarman VII Hospital, and will run from there to the Tonle Sap Lake. The river will be dredged to a depth of four metres, and the banks will be planted with grass.

"By improving the city and the river, we will make Siem Reap the most attractive Khmer-culture city in the country," Sou Phirin said.

The Siem Reap River begins in the Kulen mountains and runs through the city before emptying into Tonle Sap Lake. But the disruption caused by the civil war has allowed the river to silt up over the past four decades.

Reclaiming the river

Bun Narith, director general of the Apsara Authority, the government body tasked with managing the Angkor Wat complex, said the authorities needed to ensure that the river's original nature wasn't lost. He predicted the project would bring economic benefits to the area.

"I am very keen on the restoration because improving the charm of the river can to some extent help to attract tourists," he said. "Once the river has been restored, I believe tourists will spend time at the riverside, and thereby extend their stay in the city for an extra day on top of their tours to Angkor Wat."

The South Korean embassy in Phnom Penh confirmed the loan but declined to provide further details.

Authorities launch antimalarial drugs, mosquito net campaign

Photo by: RICK VALENZUELA
A vendor at Psar Chah handles a three-person mosquito net made in Cambodia with Vietnamese fabric.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana
Monday, 16 February 2009

Despite substantial progress in recent years, health authorities hope a new mosquito-net drive will further reduce malaria fatalities.

THE government has announced plans to boost its antimalarial projects in 2009, distributing mosquito nets to as many as two million people and reassessing the types of antimalarial drugs it makes available to those most vulnerable to the disease.

Health officials say new funding will allow nets to be distributed in areas most vulnerable to the deadly parasite over the course of 2009.

"We have received a budget for buying mosquito nets from different sources," Siv Sovannaroth, chief of the treated bed net department at the National Centre for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control, said Wednesday.

He said that the distribution will be targeted at areas that are considered to be seriously threatened by the spread of the disease, which, according to the centre's estimates, encompass nearly two million people.

"Our goal for 2009 is to distribute mosquito nets to at least 80 percent of this targeted two million people," he said.

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For those who are seriously threatened, we will give them out free of charge.

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"We will only focus on areas which are under threat of the spread of malaria, especially areas near forests."

Siv Sovannaroth added that the prices of nets will vary depending on the recipient's circumstances.

"We will sell mosquito nets to people who are threatened by malaria for US$2 to $3 each, but for those who are seriously threatened, we will give them out free of charge," he said.

Substantial progress

A decade ago more than 1,000 people died each year in the Kingdom from malaria, but recent efforts to control the disease have seen the number of annual fatalities drop to less than 200.

Despite this progress, recent studies point out that the threat of malaria remains - and officials hope new drugs, in concert with the new mosquito net campaign, will help to keep malaria deaths at bay.

Kheng Sim, deputy director of National Malaria Control at the Ministry of Health, said that there were also a number of antimalarial medicines currently being slated for use within the next five years.

"We will change the medicine needed to treat malaria in four provinces: Battambang, Pailin, Pursat and Kampot," she said.

City pledges $30,000 for sanitation, mosquitoes

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Monday, 16 February 2009

PHNOM Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema pledged nearly US$30,000 Thursday to local health officials to take measures to improve the city's sanitation and thereby reduce the number of mosquitoes in the capital.

"The number of mosquitoes is drastically increasing in Phnom Penh because of a lack of sanitation," Kep Chuktema said at a ceremony announcing the establishment of district-level tax departments at City Hall.

"I have supported measures to fight mosquito numbers, and we will help support all activities that reduce the number of mosquitoes in Phnom Penh," he added.

Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department, told the Post Thursday that the type of mosquitoes common in the dry season do not spread diseases like those in the wet season, but they can cause skin irritations and annoy people.

"We will fight mosquito numbers in Phnom Penh by spraying chemicals into the drainage system for about one month," Veng Thai said.

"We are not concerned about epidemic diseases because the mosquitoes in dry season just displease people at night."

Introduction to Banking Cambodia 2009

Photo by: Tracey SHELTON
International Data Group (IDG) Indochina Senior Advisor Derrick Tan announces the Banking Cambodia 2009 conference at NagaWorld Hotel & Casino last week


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Derrick Tan
Monday, 16 February 2009

Comment

By DERRICK TAN

WITH the rejuvenation of the banking and finance sector in Cambodia in the 1990s after a devastating era, the industry is now growing healthily and, in turn, contributing to the country's economic growth.

This effort has been primarily due to the leadership of the government and the National Bank of Cambodia, with assistance from donor organisations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Developing infrastructure and information and computer technology applications are prerequisites for the modernisation of the banking and finance sector. In Cambodia, many innovation-driven banks are leading the way through technology to bring more convenience to customers, facilitate business growth and integrate with the international banking system.

Key areas of focus are the implementation of core banking systems, ATM networks, payment platforms, E-banking, mobile banking, and backroom operations and clearinghouse functions.

Other areas of promise include an upgrade of Cambodia's banking ICT infrastructure to support front-end point-of-sale (POS) systems and the development of a cheque truncation system (CTS) to facilitate non-cash payments, an online and mobile bill presentment and payment system, and e-banking and mobile banking.

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Developing infrastructure and ICT applications are prerequisites for the modernization of the banking and finance sector.

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Through the Banking Cambodia 2009 conference, co-organisers IDG and the National ICT Development Authority (NIDA) hope to introduce fresh perspectives to help keep Cambodia's banking and financial sector up-to-date on global trends.The conference and exhibition will feature new processes and best practices and assess the latest technologies currently modernising the sector.

The event, which takes place on Thursday and Friday at the prestigious international NagaWorld Hotel & Casino, marks the first of an annual series of conferences and exhibitions for the banking and finance industry. Themed the "modernisation of the banking and Microfinance Industry in Cambodia", this timely event serves as an ideal platform for the exchange of the latest ideas and best practice in ICT innovations and solutions.

It will serve as summit meeting for government ministries and agencies, local and regional banks and financial institutions, especially microfinance institutions, technology and solutions providers, and everyone who is involved in the industry.

The two-day conference will commence with a presentation of strategic issues in banking and finance developments in Cambodia. The governors of the State Bank of Vietnam and the Bank of Laos PDR have accepted an invitation to attend and will join their counterpart, the governor of the National Bank of Cambodia, at this summit meeting, hence bringing together the central bank governors of the Indochina region at Banking Cambodia.

The first keynote - "Cambodia: Recent Economic and Monetary Policy Developments" - will be presented by Neav Chanthana, the deputy governor of the National Bank of Cambodia, updating attendees on the latest monetary policy developments in the Kingdom.

Investors looking to Cambodia as a location for good returns and growth should pay attention to the presentation of Bretton G Sciaroni, legal adviser to the Royal Government of Cambodia, as he touches on "Cambodia's Investment Environment: Sectors with Excellent Potential".

The keynotes will be followed by sessions on innovations in banking from world-class technology and solutions providers like First Cambodia, Oracle, IBM, SAP, Avaya, Wincor Nixdorf, Temenos, FPT-IS and many others.

Because of the financial crisis, central banks across the world are in high-alert mode, especially when they have the means to manage fiscal policies and implement actions and regulations to help stabilise the banking system of their countries. Business communities worldwide are now looking to their governments to help stimulate their economies, such as by freeing up credit flows so that lending by banks to businesses can return to reasonable levels to sustain business growth.

On day two, the conference will focus on the banking and microfinance sector in Cambodia. Qimiao Fan, country manager at the World Bank will deliver a presentation on the banking sector's role in helping Cambodia survive and develop during the world economic downturn.

The highlight of the conference will be a leadership forum titled "Obtaining Financing for Business Survival and Growth: What the Banks Can Do During the Financial Crisis".

The forum will discuss whether there is a role for state institutions, donor organisations and NGOs to help with loans to businesses. The panel discussion will gather authorities from the NBC, the Association of Banks in Cambodia (ABC), the World Bank, IFC, Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA) and other international banking and finance experts.

The conference will also showcase bank technology providers such as First Cambodia, FPT-IS, Oracle Technology, Oracle Financial Services Software, IBM, Wincor Nixdorf, Temenos, Neptune Software, 3i InfoTech, Interflex, Computer Telephony Asia, Thakral.

It will also feature banks and associations including the ABC, CMA, Canadia Bank, OSK Indochina Bank, ANZ Royal Bank and many others.

The organisers welcome the entire banking and microfinance community to join Banking and Finance Cambodia 2009. We particularly urge business owners, corporations, and small and medium-sized enterprises to join us to learn how they can get business loans to grow their businesses. Similarly, farmer associations and rural businesses can learn how they can get microfinancing to buy seed, fertilisers and get export financing. Visitors will also have a chance to win attractive prizes from the organisers.

Information about the conference and showcase is available at www.idgcambodia.com/banking.
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Derrick Tan is a senior advisor at International Data Group (IDG) Indochina.

Making schools better

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Newly appointed Minister of Education Im Sethy shown here in a file photograph. The minister believes Cambodia has made great strides in education, though it still has far to go.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Poree
Monday, 16 February 2009

Minister of Education touts progress made in bringing education to everyone and outlines the challenges that lie ahead.

In an interview with the Post, Minister of Education Im Sethy reflects on how Cambodia's education system has changed since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime and how it can be improved. He also details efforts on the part of the ministry to introduce material about the regime into classrooms nationwide.

How do you view the evolution of the education system?

In 1979, we went back to square one. As you know, 80 percent of teachers were killed during the Khmer Rouge years. The majority of those who were still alive had taught in primary schools. And only 10 percent of the school buildings remained. The task before the Ministry of Education was huge. We basically had to reorganise an education system that was in ruins.

I think we have to be optimistic because we have done a lot since then. Of course we do not satisfy everybody, and there is a lack of quality in many areas. But look at the changes: At the beginning of the school year - on September 24, 1979 - we had a 10-year education system and 900,000 pupils. We now have regular schools with 12 years of study and a free education system.

Today is the time of education for all. Ninety-three percent of children go to school in Cambodia. Of course, it is not enough, but we strive to respond to the needs of the people.

You speak about a free education system, but many pupils have to give money to their teachers.
Most of these irregularities take place in chief towns. In the countryside, this is less common because people do not have enough money to pay. So it does not concern everybody.

We try to prevent this. We recognise that salaries are not sufficient and that we have to change things. We give a bonus to teachers who teach supplementary classes and to those who teach in remote provinces. And, like last year, teachers will get a 20 percent increase in their salary this year.

What are your priorities when it comes to reform?

Our essential task is to make sure that children who are of age to go to school are able to. In looking at access, we hope to abolish the differences between the rich and the poor, between boys and girls and between the cities and the countryside. That's why we need to build more schools and to add new buildings to incomplete schools, especially in remote areas.

Our duty is also to improve the quality of education through reforms. Without reforms, there will be no progress. We first have to restore order according to official regulations, which are already in place.

Let's give an example, on the problem of retirement: All teachers should retire when they are 60 years old. Right now, some do and some don't. The rules have to be applied to everybody.

Here's another example: We have received criticism from people who say there are too many pupils repeating grades or abandoning school altogether. To fix this, we need to revise the rules. Right now, the rules state that if a pupil is absent a certain number of days, he fails automatically. But if a pupil does not go to school, someone should visit the parents and find a solution to the problem.

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OUR ESSENTIAL TASK IS TO MAKE SURE THAT CHILDREN WHO ARE OF AGE TO GO TO SCHOOL ARE ABLE TO.

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In general, I would say that we are entering a phase of consolidation of our education system. We have neither enough classes nor enough teachers, but in the long run we plan to have an education system where there will be enough resources for students to attend school all day long.

How is it possible to improve the quality of education?

We need to focus on teacher training. Continuing training for teachers is necessary. They should receive a weekly training on methodology. We encourage them to study part time. They will get a better salary if they get new training certificates.

But the training of teachers, which has to be flexible for people of different levels, is not enough. We have to focus on the areas where education is not accessible to all.

Education is a way to integrate people from remote areas who have their own language and culture. Within one state, you can't have parallel education systems. We need to share a common language, the official language, without preventing them from preserving their own language and culture. We want a school system that is inclusive.

What about the quality of the university education?

We are working on standards for education that will allow us to fix the level of skills required. We have already established these standards for grades 3, 6 and 9, thanks to support from [the United States Agency for International Development].

We need to do the same thing at the university level. And private universities will have to conform to these standards as well.

Teaching about the Khmer Rouge regime is basically nonexistent in schools. What do you think are the challenges in teaching this, and what solutions do you propose?

After the genocide, we tried to talk about this period, but the international community blamed us and accused us of "politicising the system and implicating the children in political matters".

After the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, the same international community prevented us from using the word "genocide". Later, there were problems with the interpretation by different political parties of the history that was taught in grade 12.

But everybody needs to know the past of his people. So we are working with the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) in order to talk about this period. Our young people need to understand the situation of their country and to know what happened. And they have to get larger knowledge of Cambodia's history and of the world's history.

When will material on the Khmer Rouge be integrated into the curricula?

We should launch it in the coming weeks.

Interview by Anne-Laure Poree

Banks look to untapped savings

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
(From left) ANZ Global CEO Mike Smith, NBC Deputy Governor Neav Chanthana, Royal Group Chairman Kith Meng, and Wing Managing Director Brad Jones at the launch of ANZ’s mobile banking service. ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins (background) looks on.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Monday, 16 February 2009

An IMF report has served notice on the banking sector of 'increased risks and exposed weaknesses', but banks are confident under-the-mattress deposits remain to be had.

AGAINST a backdrop of global economic turmoil, the honeymoon is over for the local banking sector, according to recent financial reports, but market leaders are confident their foundations are firm enough to see them through periods of falling growth and likely economic stagnation.

Since early this decade, the Kingdom's banking sector has enjoyed a period of relatively easy growth, buoyed by economic expansion, political stability and the gradual introduction of benchmark regulations by the National Bank of Cambodia.

However, a report released last week by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sounded a warning about liquidity and the current level of non-performing loans in the country's highly dollarised banking system, saying that the global crisis had "increased risks and exposed weaknesses" - especially among those banks over-committed in the Kingdom's loosely regulated property sector.

"Growth is slowing, liquidity is tightening, and, as a result, banks' balance sheets are coming under strain," the report states.

In terms of gross domestic product, the IMF predicted a growth rate of just 4.8 percent in 2009, down from an estimated 6.5 percent in 2008 and 10.25 percent in 2007. But although the IMF says the global downturn has "exposed vulnerabilities" in the sector, the country's leading retail banks hope to weather the storm, saying there is still a large reservoir of untapped growth to balance the slowdown.

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It has been estimated that there is still $1 billion to $1.5 billion that is sitting under the mattress.

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In Channy, president and chief executive of ACLEDA Bank, who has presided over a rapid expansion of retail banking since ACLEDA was granted its full commercial banking licence in December 2003, said that the company had gained enough traction with customers to sustain it through the tougher times ahead.

"In 2008, ACLEDA became the top bank for domestic deposits. To me, there is strong growth and strong public confidence in ACLEDA," he said, adding that the company's after-tax profits had increased over 2007 levels.

In Channy also said that the physical proximity of the bank to most of its customers - it has 226 branches in every major district and some communes - has generated a good deal of trust among its customers. "We have both grown together, our customers and ACLEDA bank. This is the reason I feel confident that we are safe," he said.

ANZ Royal Bank, the local joint venture between Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) and Royal Group, which has pioneered electronic and internet banking since it was formed in 2005, is also confident the fall in growth will be balanced out by the large reserves of cash that remain outside the banking system.

"Growth will certainly be slower than people anticipated six months ago, in common with pretty much every other country in the world," said ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins. Despite the Cambodian market contracting in 2008, he added that there were "still opportunities" to be had. "It has been estimated that there is still $1 billion to $1.5 billion that is sitting under the mattress," he said. "Even if Cambodia doesn't grow overall, if you can capture some of that money, there are significant opportunities for growth."

Flying forward

Last month, ANZ Australia launched the Kingdom's first mobile banking service, known as WING, which the company hopes will push forward the frontiers of retail banking in Cambodia, unlocking hitherto untapped markets in rural areas. As a branchless payments service that allows customers to send money and make person-to-person transfers from their mobile phones, WING representatives are confident the technology can also help alleviate rural poverty, as well as proving a viable business enterprise.

"WING will help improve people's livelihoods and reduce poverty by increasing their access to banking services," said ANZ Chief Executive Mike Smith at the launch of the new service on January 20. He said that mobile banking will open up large portions of the Cambodian market to banking services, allowing rural Cambodians access to banking and a route out of cycles of rural subsistence.

"Access to financial services and the ability to save and transfer money is a significant challenge in Cambodia.... By enabling customers to create savings accounts, we can help break the cycle of subsistence living," he said. "WING will help people make secure payments and create sustainable communities, and for ANZ it's a sustainable business opportunity, so it's a real win-win."

Brad Jones, managing director of WING, said that being on the frontier of retail finance in Cambodia brought its own unique challenges - not least, the ingrained distrust of formal banking in parts of the country where ruthless moneylenders once held sway.

"This is one of the big challenges to starting a business that offers branchless payment services," he said, adding that a concerted education and marketing program would be launched shortly to familiarise rural customers with the technology and soften ingrained suspicions.

According to Jones, most WING customers' first point of contact will be the company's local salesman - called a WING "pilot" - who will help recruit customers locally. "We're training them, and they're earning an income to provide these services, so WING will become very much a part of the community," he said.

In Channy said that ACLEDA was also looking at the new technology as a way of complementing its presence at the district level, and expected it would point the way forward for the industry as a whole.

"Banking branches located physically in the communities are not enough. There are about 14,000 villages [in Cambodia], and to reach them, we would need to add more and more offices," he said. "We will need other facilities to help them, including electronic and mobile banking.

Room to grow for microfinance

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
An office of microfinance institution Prasak in Kampot. Microfinance has seen a period of sharp growth in recent years and will continue to do so through the downturn, albeit at a slower pace, sources in the industry say.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Monday, 16 February 2009

After recent success as one of the fastest growing sectors in the Kingdom, microfinance is set to weather the current economic malaise with strong growth, the industry says

Cambodia's sky-high microlending growth will continue at double-digit rates in 2009, albeit at a slower pace than previous years, according to the industry.

"There is a bit of a slowdown, but overall, the sector is OK. It means slower growth, rather than the rapid growth we have seen before," said Paul Luchtenburg, CEO of AMK microfinance. "We are being a little more conservative [in 2009]. There is less financing around."

Microfinance has been one of the country's fastest growing sectors, with annual borrower growth of about 20 percent since 2004, according to International Finance Corporation (IFC) figures.

Cambodia had 18 microfinance institutions at the end of 2008, according to a report by the NGO Forum of Cambodia, an umbrella organisation.

Less access to foreign capital and a jittery economy will see the sector cut back lending this year, but strong local deposits and greater awareness of banking are expected to keep microfinance growing.

In 2008, the government permitted microfinance institutions to accept deposits, which has greatly increased access to capital, while reducing dependence on foreign investors.

Cambodians have been quick to embrace savings accounts, and deposits now make up a sizable chunk of bank assets. "The microfinance sector in Cambodia has experienced significant growth over the past five years, reaching over 800,000 borrowers and nearly 400,000 savers in all provinces of Cambodia," said Margarete Biallas, program manager at Access to Finance Advisory Services for the IFC.

AMK alone expects to add 60,000 clients this year, an increase of 30 percent over the previous year. The figures are promising, says Luchtenburg, but a sharp drop from the more than 70 percent growth the company has seen for the past few years.

"[The crisis] could mean less funds available to the poor.... Part of our mission is to help poor people ... with the slowdown, people who need funds might not get them," Biallas said.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank released reports this month that raised stark warnings about the Cambodian banking sector, saying they may be under "increasing strain" affecting their "financial soundness".

But the microfinance industry says the findings apply to commercial banks that have lent heavily to the sagging property sector and not to microlenders.

Cambodia's microfinance institutions are small relative to commercial banks, accounting for six percent of bank assets and 10 percent of loans at the end of 2007, according to the World Bank.

But microlenders are critical to Cambodia's rural population and have 76 percent of the country's more than 800,000 borrowers, say World Bank figures.

"The crisis doesn't affect our [segments]. Deposits are still growing. We don't need foreign capital because our local deposit base is strong enough," said In Channy, president and CEO of ACLEDA bank.

In Channy says that low exposure to risky real estate has helped shelter microfinance from the slowdown. The bank reports $490 million on local deposits, with $463 million in loans, and expects 40 percent to 45 percent growth rate for 2009. He added that ACLEDA's exposure to real estate was below the 15 percent of the total loan portfolio and that non-performing loans are a low 0.4 percent. "MFIs are safe and sound," said In Channy.

Figures from the IFC - a major backer of local microfinance - show the sector has a strong deposit base and loan ratio, with roughly 800,000 Cambodians saving about $423 million in 2008.

"The total microfinance portfolio growth has increased sixfold in the last three years, which shows microfinance popularity with people who previously had no access to reasonably priced and properly regulated financial services.

As long as microfinance institutions have the funds to lend, they will expand even more in future because they are the only financial services available for most of Cambodia's population," Biallas added.

Keeping out the cyberthieves

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A clerk uses a computer system at a Phnom Penh bank. Online banking security will become increasingly important in Cambodia as the industry develops internet and mobile services.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by HOR HAB AND BRENDAN BRADY
Monday, 16 February 2009

As Cambodia begins to embrace the benefits of internet banking and hi-tech thieves try to take advantage, many in the industry have started to invest heavily in cybersecurity.

While the expansion of Cambodia's banking sector may expose it to more security threats, industry officials remain confident that security technology will grow in kind.

"There are hundreds of people trying to hack into our system every month, but they can't break in," said Terry Mach, ACLEDA Bank's information technology manager.

By expanding its IT budget every year, to US$4 million in 2009 compared with $3 million last year, ACLEDA is able to keep pace with the growing numbers of online thieves who have set their sights on Cambodia, he said.

In its most aggressive initiative, the bank has contracted professional penetration testers from Australia to search for weaknesses in its online network.

ANZ Royal Bank's chief executive, Stephen Higgins, says he expects cyberthreats to Cambodia's banking sector to escalate, but from a low base level that will remain manageable.

For ANZ, security is managed from its headquarters in Melbourne. Higgins said cyberthreats were more prominent in Thailand and Vietnam, "but it's not something we take for granted. We are always upgrading".

Sao Volak, chief executive of Campura Systems Corp, a technology systems firm, said Cambodian banks are now using a wide range of modern technology including firewalls, data encryption and user protection and detection systems to protect their electronic networks.

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There are hundreds of people trying to hack into our system every month, but they can't break in.

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Last month saw the introduction of another cutting-edge banking tool that could offer a major boon for the security of money transfers in the Kingdom.

ANZ's WING mobile phone banking system could prevent theft common with remittances, which traditionally have been sent from urban workers to their families in the countryside through an informal network of couriers, friends and moneylenders and which are sometimes lost, stolen or skimmed from in hefty service charges. ACLEDA has said that it intends to launch its own mobile payments system by the end of this year.

But to be effective, security systems needed to be backed by robust government legislation, Sao Volak said. "In other countries where cyberattacks on banks are a major issue, their governments create cyberlaws, cyberpolice and even a cybercourt to protect banks and bank users from being susceptible to such attacks."

Last year, the government launched the Cambodian Computer Emergency Response initiative to monitor all electronic systems in Cambodia, including those for banking, as well as the Financial Intelligence Office to address money laundering. Phu Leewood, secretary general of the National Information Communication Technology Development Authority (NIDA), said his office hoped to open its planned Information Security Task Force this year to guard against threats to online information such as viruses and hackers.

While the Kingdom is getting into the swing of hi-tech banking security, even if considerable gaps remain, ACLEDA's Terry Mach says banking security remains as good as the manpower behind it.

"I think everything depends on its surrounding environment. If we buy the latest technology software but don't have people to handle the work, security will not improve," he said.