Friday, 27 February 2009

ASEAN signs free trade pact with Australia, NZ

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: February 27, 2009

CHA-AM, Thailand: Southeast Asian nations signed a free trade pact with Australia and New Zealand on Friday, one of the few concrete economic measures to emerge from the region's annual summit as it grapples with the worst global slump in decades.

The free trade agreement between the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations could boost the combined gross domestic product of all 12 nations by more than $48 billion by 2020 but will do little to ease the current economic pain. The gross domestic product of all ASEAN countries combined is about $1.2 trillion.

The pact will "facilitate business activities at a time of global slump," said Malaysia's International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. "Regional integration is essential to buoy export-dependent economies in ASEAN."

Leaders and top officials from ASEAN — a region of more than 500 million people — are gathered in the Thai resort town of Cha-Am, 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of the capital Bangkok, for the grouping's 14th summit.

The meeting, usually dominated by human rights issues, is overshadowed this year by the global economic meltdown, which has already dragged the export-dependent region's most advanced economy — Singapore — into recession.

Thailand's economy shrank in the fourth quarter and others like Malaysia and Indonesia are facing rapidly slowing growth as exports crumble.

The summit has underlined that ASEAN — which groups one of Asia's richest countries with some of its poorest — has limited capacity to respond to the global economic crisis.

"There's no immediate salvation or magic bullet expected from the meeting. The problem they are facing is global," said David Cohen, head of Asian forecasting at Action Economics in Singapore. "The collapse in export demand is pinching all economies in the region."

Officials said talks about the economy have focused on sharing information about self-help mechanisms such as economic stimulus packages that various countries have announced to prop up their domestic economies.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu said the economic outlook remains highly uncertain. "We did agree that it's anybody's guess what is going to happen next. We have to keep a close watch," he told a press conference.

Foreign Ministers agreed informally that expanding a proposed emergency currency fund to $120 million from $80 billion was a "matter of urgency," said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat, but nothing was likely to be finalized at the three-day summit.

Top officials from Japan, South Korea and China — who will provide 80 percent of the fund — are not at the meeting after it was delayed for two months due to political unrest in Thailand.

Australia, whose $1 trillion economy almost equals ASEAN's combined GDP, and smaller neighbor New Zealand, called the free trade agreement a blow against the prospect of rising protectionism amid the economic slump.

"In these present economic conditions, to forge a free trade zone is a very strong affirmation from the countries concerned that their actions do speak louder than their words," New Zealand's Trade Minister Tim Groser told the Associated Press.

"This is a very big deal commercially but I also think it's a significant deal politically," he said. "We viewed Southeast Asia as a source of threat, instability and danger. To move from that to signing an agreement that sees Southeast Asia as a source of tremendous economic opportunity is a remarkable change over a 30-year period."

Australia said the agreement would cement existing low tariffs and over time eliminate tariffs covering 96 percent of the country's current exports to the region.

Its annual two-way trade with Southeast Asian countries totals about 80 billion Australian dollars ($52 billion).

New Zealand, which already has near zero tariffs on most imports, said 85 percent of ASEAN goods entering its borders will be duty free by 2010. But tariffs on New Zealand's exports will only be eliminated by 2020 and to only four countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam.

Countries such as Thailand have resisted lowering tariffs on mainstay New Zealand exports like milk powder and Australian manufactured vehicles. Thailand said the regional pact doesn't expand upon its bilateral agreement with New Zealand.

Pacts related to merchandise trade within ASEAN, and an investment agreement that aims to encourage the flow of capital within Southeast Asia, were signed Thursday. Ministers also signed agreements setting out arrangments for mutual recognition of each nation's dentists and doctors.

ASEAN's members are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Associated Press Writer Ambika Ahuja contributed to this story

Indochinese writers tie up cooperation

Cambodia's Deputy PM Sok An gives the mekong River Literature prizes to writers on February 19, 2009.

SAIGON
Friday , Feb 27, 2009

A delegation of the Vietnam Writers’ Association (VWA), led by its president Huu Thinh, attended the 2nd Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia Writers’ Conference, which took place in Phnom Penh on February 19.

Among those attending were Sok An, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Chim Chhem, Cambodian Minister of Culture and Fine Arts.

The conference reviewed the work of writers from the three countries and the cooperation between them, in line with an agreement reached during the first conference held in Ha Noi, September 2007.

The participants also agreed on an action plan that aims to increase cooperation between writers from the three countries, including an exchange of delegations, helping writers to produce work depicting their countries, customs, the lives of their people and economic development.

Their work will contribute to intensifying the traditional friendship between the three neighbors.

On this occasion, the Mekong River Literature prizes were given to 12 writers, four were awarded to Vietnamese.

The recipients included the novelists Nguyen Tri Huan, for ‘Dong song cua Xo Net’ (The River of Xo Net), and Trinh Thanh Phong for ‘Canh Dong Chum’ (The Plain of Jars).

The others were the poets Nguyen Anh Ngoc for ‘Truong ca song Mekong bon mat’ (Epic of the Mekong River), and Pham Sy Sau for four collections of poetry, ‘Gui ban be lam xong nghia vu’ (To those who had fulfilled their duties), ‘Chia tay cua rung’ (Farewell at the entrance to the forest), and ‘Diem danh dong doi’ (Roll-call of companions-in-arms).

The Mekong River Literature Prize is an initiative by the Vietnamese Writers’ Association, aiming to inspire writers and poets from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to create works highlighting the friendship between the three countries.

The writers toured several local areas in Konpon Thom and Siem Reap provinces.

The third Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia Writers’ Conference will be held in Vientiane, Laos, in 2011.

Source: VN

US rates Malaysia’s human rights record

The Malaysian Insider
Friday February 27 2009

HONG KONG, Feb 27 — The US State Department's annual report on human rights took a number of Asian countries to task over a broad range of issues in 2008.

Countries such as Myanmar, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia were sharply criticised, while Indonesia and Thailand received generally high marks.

The survey (www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/index.htm), a worldwide roundup required by Congress, is compiled from reports by US diplomats in each country.

MALAYSIA: The country's national elections in March were held in ''a generally transparent manner,'' the US report said, and the central government ''generally respected the human rights of its citizens.''

But the report also found worrisome and chronic problems, including ''credible allegations of immigration officials' involvement in the trafficking of Myanmar refugees'' as well as governmental preferences given to ethnic Malays. Malaysia also continued to restrict some basic freedoms, including press, speech and religion, the State Department said.

In practice, the report found, ''the country does not permit Muslims, born into Islam, to convert to another religion,'' and civil courts have not intervened in these apostasy cases that have come before courts enforcing Shariah, or Islamic law.

CAMBODIA: The State Department said the government's record ''remained poor'' during 2008, and it criticised extrajudicial killings by security forces, arbitrary arrests, prolonged pre-trial detentions, a weak judiciary and denials of the right to a fair trial.

Seizures of private land for government and commercial projects has caused extensive unrest in Cambodia, especially in the capital Phnom Penh, and the US report cited land issues as ''a continuing problem.''

''Corruption was endemic,'' the report said.

The commercial sex trade continued to ensnare women and children, the report found. Cambodia has long been a regional destination for child-sex tourists, and the report cited ''increasing reports that Asian men travelled to the country to have sex with underage virgin girls.''

INDONESIA: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton detoured through Indonesia last week during a trip to Asia — her first overseas mission for President Barack Obama — and she said the country had undergone ''a great transformation'' since the Asian financial crisis 10 years ago.

The State Department report, on balance, also was complimentary of Indonesia, referring to ''significant measures to advance human rights and consolidate democracy.''

''Indonesia deserves credit — really remarkable,'' said Zachary Abuza, a professor of political science at Simmons College in Boston and a widely recognised expert on Southeast Asia. ''The story of this year's election is that there is no story: parties are out doing things parties do, candidates are campaigning, and there is little political violence. Democracy, albeit imperfect, is taking root.''

But Abuza added that ''the usual suspects deserve their comeuppance'' in the report — the judiciary, well-connected business interests and the military.

MYANMAR: The report on Myanmar, which the State Department survey refers to as Burma, called the ruling junta ''highly authoritarian'' and said military officers ''wielded the ultimate authority at each level of government.''

The US criticisms were harsh and wide-ranging: extrajudicial killings; official rape, torture and disappearances; the abuse, harassment and detention of political activists; the delay of international aid to cyclone victims; use of children as soldiers and forced labourers for the military; the trafficking of women and girls; and restrictions on speech, assembly and worship.

''Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn't influenced the Burmese junta,'' Clinton said last week. ''Reaching out and trying to engage them hasn't worked either.''

NORTH KOREA: ''A dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong Il'' is how the State Department described the North Korean regime.

The report on 2008 reiterates the regime's many known abuses, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture of prisoners through the use of electric shocks, public nakedness and extreme stress positions. ''Pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions in some cases,'' the survey said, ''and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prisons.''

The regime's nearly absolute control of information meant Internet access was limited to high-ranking officials and select university students, the report stated, noting that web access was routed by phone lines through China and a local connection linked to a German server.

THAILAND: It was a fractious year for Thailand, with anti-government protests and court rulings leading to substantial political changes. Mass protests at one point shut down both the airports in Bangkok for eight days, causing a serious blow to the economy. The political street theatre calmed in December, with the selection of a new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The US report found that Thailand ''avoided unconstitutional disruptions in governance, and the government's respect for human rights remained unchanged.''

''In all, the State Department seems so pleased that Abhisit is in power and that there is the potential for political stability that it's willing to gloss over much of the undemocratic means that got him there,'' Abuza said.

''The report also glosses over the back-room machinations of the monarchy and the total politicisation of the judiciary,'' he added. ''It also generally ignores the fact that under the 2007 Constitution, half the senators are appointed, mainly by the crown.''

The report tied numerous human rights abuses to a separatist insurgency in southern Thailand.

VIETNAM: The summary of the State Department report on Vietnam was sharp and to the point: ''The government's human rights record remained unsatisfactory.''

''Political opposition movements were prohibited,'' the report stated. ''The government continued to crack down on dissent, arresting political activists and causing several dissidents to flee the country. Police sometimes abused suspects during arrest, detention, and interrogation. Corruption was a significant problem in the police force.''

State controls were found to have been tightened on the press and freedom of speech; foreign human rights groups were barred from the country; and human trafficking, violence against women and Internet firewalls (particularly against sites affiliated with the Catholic Church) remained areas of concern to the United States.

May local elections in Cambodia: COMFREL says results are a foregone conclusion

O' Tapaong (Pursat, Cambodia). 26/05/2008: Sam Rainsy Party sign in a storm on the road to Phnom Penh.
©John Vink/ Magnum

Ka-set

By Duong Sokha
26-02-2009

They will be held on May 17th but there is already no doubt as to their outcome, three months before polling day: the elections of new councils for the capital, districts, provinces and municipalities of Cambodia will consecrate the members of the almighty Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), an important local organisation for the observation of elections, revealed on Wednesday February 25 its first estimations: a landslide victory for the ruling political formation which will only leave next to nothing for the three other parties sitting in the National Assembly. The chosen polling format, the indirect suffrage, does not leave much leeway and deprives citizens of any participation, a detail which could have changed the whole deal, COMFREL denounces, deploring in the meantime the average cost of those polls per voter, said to be fifty times more important than that of the July 2008 legislative elections.

A simple calculation
The organisation for the observation of elections in Cambodia Comfrel did not need to engage in knotty calculations to estimate the distribution of seats between the four parties represented at the commune level: given the fact that commune councillors only will be called to cast their vote on may 17th to elect the new councillors for the capital, provinces, municipalities and districts of Cambodia, it is easy to guess, whilst taking into account the affiliations of the electorate, who will end up voting for whom. COMFREL simply established a relation between the total number of seats for the future councillors, and that of the commune councillors, party by party.

Thus, out of the 21 seats reserved for the council of the capital, Phnom Penh, the party of prime Minister Hun Sen, the CPP, will obtain according to estimations made by COMFREL, 61.9% of the vote of the electorate, i.e. 13 seats, compared to 8 for the main opposition formation, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), while the two royalist brothers, FUNCINPEC and the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) will not have any elected representative.

The only uncertainty: the attitude of NRP and FUNCINPEC elected representatives
Out of the twenty-three provincial councils in the Kingdom, the CPP would supposedly take the lion’s share: 273 seats (77.34%) compared to 69 for the SRP, 7 for the NRP and 4 for FUNCINPEC. “If FUNCINPEC and the NRP cooperate, results might change, according to the authors of the COMFREL report. The CPP would win 272 seats and the SRP, 68. FUNCINPEC and the NRP might gather altogether 13 seats”. This eventuality seems to be emerging as the two warring brothers signed a “Royalist” Memorandum of Understanding on February 2nd2009, in preparation for the May 17th elections.

As for the 2,862 seats of the 193 councils of municipalities and districts of Cambodia, they will be distributed as follows, according to COMFREL: 2,150 seats for the ruling party (75.15%), 618 for the SRP, 53 for the NRP and 40 for the FUNCINPEC. Once again, a collaboration between the two royalist formations would slightly modify the deal to the detriment of the CPP (20 seats less, i.e. 2,130) and the SRP (5 less, i.e. 613) but at the benefit of FUNCINPEC-NRP union which could pride itself the election of 118 councillors.

All in all, at all local levels, the Cambodian People’s Party should consolidate its domination over the whole political stage, with a total of 2,436 seats compared to 695 for the formation led by Sam Rainsy (which would only have elected representatives within the councils of Phnom Penh, of 21 out of 23 provinces and 172 out of 193 municipalities and districts. Taking into account a potential union of the so-called Royalist formations, the difference would be minor: the CPP would still be well ahead with 2,415 seats, when the SRP would get 689 seats and the FUNCINPEC and the NRP would share together the remaining 131 seats in 9 provinces and 78 municipalities and districts.

Although it is represented within the National Assembly, the second opposition party - the Human Rights Party (HRP), led by Kem Sokha – will not have a single elected representative since its creation dates back to July 2007, i.e. after the last commune elections in April 2007. The party, as a consequence, does not have any electorate.

Costly elections, devoid of any matter at stake
Unless an unlikely political earthquake shakes the whole stage, those estimations should not be very far from reality. For COMFREL, who insists on saying that these are only “unofficial calculations”, the good of this study is therefore and above all to allow for a subsequent control of the official results but especially to encourage the reform of the election system for these councils for the future mandates.

The organisation for the observation of elections is indeed seizing this opportunity to repeat its criticism towards elections which will not interest citizens, because the polling mode is that of the indirect suffrage, which deprives them of any participation. According to COMFREL, the vote of commune councillors does not suggest any surprise: “There is no reason why they would not vote for their formation, since they benefit from the power and interests that their party enjoys, unless they receive money from other parties”, COMFREL reports.

Devoid of challenges at stake, those elections are also quite pricey. Even worse, COMFREL says: in proportion, expenses will be a lot higher than those spent for the July 2008 legislative elections. “They amounted to 16.76 million dollars for 8,125,529 voters back then, or an average cost of 2.6 dollars per voter. For the council elections, the National Election Committee (NEC) allowed 1.5million dollars for just 11353 voters [i.e. the total number of commune councilors who will be able to vote], i.e. an average cost of 132.12 dollars per voter”, the Cambodian organisation denounces, adding that it “does not take an interest in the process of elections:”, but however, is “ready to collaborate with the councils after the polls.

Cambodian opposition leader loses immunity


Fri Feb 27, 2009

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian parliamentary committee has suspended the immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a move he condemned on Friday as unconstitutional and intended to silence criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The French-educated former finance minister, who leads a party named after himself, was stripped of his immunity for refusing to pay a $2,500 fine for defaming Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party during last year's election.

Rather than paying the fine to what he says is a systemically corrupt government, he had offered to give the same amount to a hospital.

Under Cambodia's constitution, only the full National Assembly, not its Permanent Committee, can strip a sitting Member of Parliament of immunity from prosecution.

"They are definitely taking a short-cut. They definitely violated the constitution, which means that they want to silence me," Sam Rainsy told Reuters.

When stripped of his immunity in the past, he has often fled Cambodia shortly afterwards, normally to France.

A former Khmer Rouge soldier who has been in charge for the last 23 years, Hun Sen won a landslide in July's election but remains vulnerable in Phnom Penh to Sam Rainsy, who commands support from the capital's increasingly educated youth.

KRouge leader's appeal delayed by lawyer no-show

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court delayed the Khmer Rouge head of state's appeal for release from jail after his famed lawyer Jacques Verges failed to appear at proceedings.

Khieu Samphan stood in court on Friday and said Verges had not travelled from Paris to attend his appeal ahead of the trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"In order to make sure that the pre-trial chamber hears my comments fully according to the law, I would like to request that the pre-trial chamber adjourn this meeting to a later date," Khieu Samphan said.

Frenchman Verges, who has acted for some of the world's most infamous figures including Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Venezuelan terrorist "Carlos the Jackal," is known for attempting to sew confusion in the courtroom.

After a short recess, Judge Prak Kimsan said the appeal would be adjourned until April 3, noting that it was in Khieu Samphan's interest to deal with the matter as soon as possible.

During proceedings, co-defence lawyer Sa Sovan called the situation "unexpected" and said a relative of Verges had an emergency operation. But after the hearing he told reporters it was an important colleague in hospital.

"I actually think that Jacques Verges wanted to take part in proceedings," Sa Sovan said.
A fierce anti-colonialist, Verges, who was born in Thailand, reportedly befriended Khieu Samphan and other future Khmer Rouge leaders while at university in Paris in the 1950s.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation and overwork as the communist regime emptied Cambodia's cities, exiling the population to vast collective farms in its bid for a communist utopia.

The long-awaited first Khmer Rouge trial started last week when the regime's notorious prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, went before the court.

The appeal for release from detention for former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary was also delayed this week until early April after his lawyers said he was to ill to attend proceedings.

Cambodia Approves Land For Game Hunting Park - Government

NASDAQ

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AFP)--The Cambodian government on Friday approved the establishment of a game park for well-heeled hunters in a remote, jungle-covered northern province, officials said.

The cabinet passed a sub-decree for the creation a more than 100,000-hectare reserve for game hunting in Ratanakkiri province, a government statement said.

The establishment of the reserve is for "investment, wildlife conservation and the sustainable development of wildlife hunting in order to serve the economy of the community," the statement said.

The reserve would help eradicate illegal wildlife poaching, it said.

The statement didn't say when the park would open or who would operate it, but Madrid-based NSOK Safaris expressed an interest in December 2007.

"First, we have to establish the area and the investment is the next step," said Chheang Dany, deputy director of the forestry administration's wildlife protection office.

"It could be NSOK or other companies. The government will examine and approve the investment project separately," he said.

Officials have previously said they are considering allowing 30 species to be hunted, including wild cattle, pigs, deer and gaur, but Chheang Dany said the number of species hadn't been finalized.

Government officials hope the project will help diversify Cambodia's tourism offerings beyond the famed Angkor Wat temple complex.

Impoverished Cambodia is trying to persuade tourists to stay longer and see sights other than the World Heritage-listed Angkor temples, tapping into a number of other areas such as eco-tourism.

Tourism is one of the few sources of foreign exchange for the kingdom.

Cambodian PM departs for 14th ASEAN Summit in Thailand

www.chinaview.cn
2009-02-27

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday departed for 14th ASEAN Summit which will be held from Feb. 27 to March 1 in Thailand.

"We will focus on issues of food security, energy, disaster management, terrorism, oil and gasoline," Sry Thomarong, adviser to Hun Sen, told reporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport before the departure.

The summit at this time is very important to help solve the world economic crisis, he said.

"In addition, since the ASEAN Charter was ratified, we have to have other regulations to walk forward to create the ASEAN Community in 2015," he said.

Meanwhile, Cambodian and Thai prime ministers will meet at 04:30 p.m. local time (0930 GMT) on Friday to talk about the bilateral cooperation and which will focus on the trade, investment, economy, tourism and border conflicts near the Preah Vihear temple, according to what Hun Sen said earlier this week.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

Emerging trends threaten health gains

Photo by: AFP

An HIV-positive woman lies in her wooden house in central Phnom Penh. Despite impressive progress in reducing HIV rates in Cambodia, the Kingdom may still not meet its Millennium Development Goals for health.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet
Friday, 27 February 2009

Though the Kingdom has made progress since the health-related development goals were adopted, officials must now combat emergent trends as well as problems that persist WHEN Mony Pen discovered five years ago that she was HIV-positive, the list of things she did not know about the disease included how she got it, how she could treat it and how long she could live with it.

"People told me I was probably going to die very soon," said the 28-year-old Phnom Penh native, who learned of her status only when her husband, a policeman, died of full-blown Aids two years after they married.

These days, Mony Pen, now an adviser to the Cambodian Community of Women Living with HIV/Aids (CCW), knows all about transmission and treatment, and can discuss in detail everything from antiretroviral drugs to the threats posed by opportunistic infection.

She also knows this expertise sets her apart from the majority of Cambodian women, particularly those outside Phnom Penh. The 2005 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) found, for example, that 67 percent of women in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces believed HIV/Aids could be transmitted by a mosquito bite and 56 percent believed it could be spread "by supernatural means".

Mony Pen said she believes this lack of knowledge could fuel a resurgence of the disease that might erase the much-touted gains made against it in recent years.

This concern is not hers alone. UNAIDS Country Director Tony Lisle told the Post this week that several trends - in particular, the rise in so-called indirect sex work performed in beer halls and karaoke bars - could trigger an increase in new infections that might even "set the scene for a second-wave epidemic".

In this regard, Cambodia's fight against HIV/Aids resembles its broader effort to meet targets under the three health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

With some exceptions, notably in the area of maternal health, available data shows that Cambodia met or exceeded targets for 2005 and is likely to do the same in 2010 and 2015. But certain recent trends have muddied the picture, reinforcing the fact that progress is not inevitable.

Speaking in reference to HIV/Aids, Lisle captured a widely held view of the general health picture in the Kingdom, one articulated in recent interviews by doctors, NGO workers and government officials: "Yes, Cambodia, you've done a fabulous job," he said. "But it's not over."

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
An HIV-positive three-year-old child plays at home in Phnom Penh after receiving treatment at a Phnom Penh hospital
A FOUR-PART LOOK AT CAMBODIA'S MDGS
Last year marked the midway point for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, benchmarks for developing countries established in 2000 that cover everything from poverty to environmental sustainability. Last year also marked the five-year anniversary of the adoption of Cambodia's Millennium Development Goals, the localised versions of the global goals. In a four-part series, the Post looks at the progress made and the challenges that remain in achieving targets set for 2010 and 2015, drawing on government data as well as interviews with officials, NGO workers and Cambodians who stand to benefit from the effort. Part Two looks at the goals for child mortality, maternal health and diseases such as HIV/Aids.


Child mortality
A recent survey assessing the impact of rising food prices on child health underscored the tenuous nature of progress made in pursuit of MDG No 4: to reduce child mortality.

The Cambodian Anthropometric Survey, findings of which were made public last week, found that the percentage of children classified as acutely malnourished - the number of which had fallen by half between 2000 and 2005 - increased from 8.4 percent in 2005 to 8.9 percent in 2008.

The strong link between child malnutrition and child mortality - noted, among other places, in the 2005 assessment of MDG targets published by the Ministry of Planning - suggests that, in light of the survey results, Cambodia might have trouble meeting its 2015 target mortality rate for children younger than five: 65 deaths per 1,000 live births.

The survey results run counter to Cambodia's recent performance in the area of child health. Between 1998 and 2005, the under-five child mortality rate fell from 124 per 1,000 live births to 82, far surpassing the target of 105.

Viorica Berdaga, chief of child survival at Unicef, said via email that this decline could be attributed to factors including better access to safe water and the promotion of breastfeeding, which provides children with disease-fighting antibodies.

But Berdaga also noted that the mortality decline was in part due to a lowered fertility rate, which calls into question Cambodia's ability to reduce child mortality even further.

In its 2005 assessment, the Ministry of Planning noted that fertility declines have had a similar effect on child mortality in other developing countries but that, in most cases, "the initial positive impact" was "not enough to sustain continued improvement in child mortality due to underlying causal factors". Berdaga said this assessment could be applied to Cambodia as well.

Asked to predict whether Cambodia would meet the 2015 child mortality target, Berdaga could say only that the Kingdom "has a chance".

Maternal health
If current trends continue, several experts said, Cambodia has little, if any, chance of achieving targets set under the fifth MDG: to improve maternal health.

The most recent reliable data shows that the maternal health situation has worsened as of late. The Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) found that the maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births had increased from 437 in 1997 to 472 in 2005. The interim target for that year was 343.

In a recent email interview, however, Pen Sophanara, a communications associate for the United Nations Population Fund, emphasised the "promising signs" she said could potentially reverse the trend, including higher rates of deliberate birth- spacing.

She echoed the conclusion presented in the 2005 Ministry of Planning assessment that officials could significantly lower the maternal mortality rate by providing more family planning resources, which allow women to allot sufficient time between pregnancies. Longer gaps between pregnancies tend to result in smoother pregnancies and healthier infants.

On top of limited family planning, Pen Sophanara said efforts to improve maternal health continued to be hindered by a shortage of midwives and skilled birth attendants.

She said the Ministry of Health was aiming to have one midwife stationed at each of the Kingdom's health centres by the end of the year. In addition to bolstering recruitment, she said, officials will need to distribute resources to rural health centres to ensure midwives can be effective.

Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho, said midwives should be able to take blood samples, conduct ultrasounds and screen for potential delivery complications.

She also stressed that midwives should be adequately paid so they do not collect informal fees, a practice that prevents very poor women from accessing health services.

Pen Sophanara said midwife recruitment and other efforts in place could potentially yield a drop in the maternal mortality rate, pushing it closer to the goal of 140 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015.

"Nobody wants to see women die giving lives," she said. "If these figures continue to be positive, maternal death will be lowered."

Photo by: ROBBIE COREY-BOULETMony Pen, whose late husband gave her HIV, works to give women access to HIV/Aids information.

The HIV/Aids fight
One target already surpassed is that pertaining to HIV/Aids infection, a leading indicator of progress made in achieving the sixth MDG: to combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases.

Meeting the target resulted in part because of a statistical error that caused the rate of infection in the late-1990s - which was used as a base in establishing benchmarks through 2015 - to be artificially inflated when the MDGs were adopted. Because of the adjustment that occurred when better data became available, current rates of infection are already lower than the targets.

For example, the estimated prevalence among Cambodian adults in 2006 was 0.9 percent, lower than the 2005 target (2.3 percent), the 2010 target (2 percent) and even the 2015 target (1.8 percent).

According to a 2008 UNAIDS report, however, Cambodia's prevalence rate is the second-highest among all countries in South and Southeast Asia (only Thailand's is higher). And, while acknowledging progress, Lisle and other experts cited a range of persistent problems.

Mony Pen said she has concluded from her own observations that discrimination against those infected with the disease remains high.

Sou Sina, 29, who is from Sihanoukville and now works at CCW in Phnom Penh, said she encountered this very obstacle when she tested positive at the age of 20.

"At the time, my family took care of me, but they were afraid," she said. "They didn't understand the disease. And that broke my heart."


Like Mony Pen, Sou Sina learned of her status only when her husband died. She also found out then that her son had been infected through mother-to-child transmission, but she did not know how to obtain treatment for him. He died two years later - at the age of four - of tuberculosis.

Lisle said it is common for women to become infected by their husbands unwittingly. In addition, he pointed to data suggesting that programs designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission have been ineffective.

Data from 2008 indicated a mother-to-child transmission rate for HIV-positive pregnant women of 35 percent.

Lisle said Cambodia has traditionally "led the region" in the fight against HIV/Aids, adding that he has every reason to believe this will continue. But a failure to respond to these emergent trends, he said, could quickly render the Kingdom's recent progress aberrational.

In Cambodia, Lisle cautioned, there exists the threat of "a second epidemic waiting right around the corner".

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR AND CHEANG SOKHA

Tribunal graft charges spread

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Monks file into the Extraordinary Chambers on the opening day of Duch's trial on February 17.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cat Barton
Friday, 27 February 2009

German delegation exposes results of secret UN probe; staff concur

IT became a monthly ritual: Employees on the Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal would get paid, and then they would - somewhat grudgingly - hand over some of their salaries to their supervisors.

"You get paid in full, but when you [collect] it, you put it in an envelope and give it to the collector," a former employee at the UN-backed court told the Post in an interview late last year, describing how many of those working at the court were forced to hand over a percentage of their paychecks to higher-placed officials.

"In front of people, you're told to say, ‘No one is taking away my money,' [and] the money transferred into your account is the full amount, but then you have to ... give over the percentage," the employee said.

These kickback allegations are at the heart of a corruption scandal that has plagued the tribunal since they first came to light in 2006.

Despite denials from Cambodian court officials, the accusations were of enough concern to spark a review by the UN - the results of which have never been made public.

But a report from a German parliamentary delegation, written in November after its members met with the tribunal's deputy director of administration, Knut Rosandhaug, has shed some light on the graft allegations, detailing a bleak assessment of the court's corruption problems.

"A serious problem is the grave corruption which impedes on the work of the hybrid court," the report cites Rosandhaug as saying.

"Cambodian employees are required to pay kickbacks in order to be able to work," the report says, with the authors - members of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid Committee of the German parliament - using the German term schutzgelder, which literally means protection money.

Rosandhaug told the Post Thursday that he had no comment, as the “document referred to is issued by an entity outside the UN and the ECCC.”

“It is now for the Germans to comment,” he added.

The report had been available on the Bundestag website but was unavailable Thursday afternoon with no explanation. Rainer Buescher, the delegation’s press officer, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The report’s findings, however, support accounts given by tribunal staffers and the concerns of lawyers for Brother No 2, Nuon Chea, who have sought to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged graft.

“It certainly confirms some of our worst suspicions,” Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for Nuon Chea’s defence team, said Thursday.

One court staffer explained in a series of interviews conducted with the Post how the kickback operation worked.

“For the first four months [of my contract], I paid 70 percent [of my salary in kickbacks], then it went down to 10 percent,” said the employee, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution.

“Let’s say you are the supervisor. You have 30 people under you, so the people under you know to give their envelope [containing the kickback] to you, and you hand it to Sean Visoth,” the employee said, referring to Cambodia’s top court administrator who is implicated in the Bundestag report. “In all the sections, it’s the same thing.”

The scheme was deeply unpopular – “Would you like it if you got paid, then your money got taken away?” the employee asked – but was maintained by a climate of fear.

“I’m afraid, if they know I talk to you, they’re not going to take a gun and shoot me in my face, but they will find some way [to fire me] … or they [will hurt] my kids,” the employee said.

“I can tell you until the day you close the door, the corruption will still go on,” the employee added.

“Anyone who speaks, they will be terminated.... They will set up their committee and find a way to get rid of that person who has talked, and that is why up to now” no information has come out.

Included in the Bundestag report are details of last July’s UN probe.

“It is deeply troubling – everyone had been placing blame for corruption on the Cambodian government, but now it seems like someone or some officials with the UN are involved in a potential coverup,” Ianuzzi said.

“It is very damaging for the credibility of the tribunal. Why are international officers protecting corrupt Cambodian officials?” he added.

The report cites Rosandhaug as saying that “the United Nations should withdraw from the tribunal, in case the national government continues to object following up on the corruption allegations”.

“Until today, the government categorically denies the existence of that problem. The United Nations would suffer from a loss of credibility if they’d support a tribunal which is characterised by corruption,” he said, according to the report.

In January, the Nuon Chea defence team filed a complaint to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, claiming unresolved graft allegations threatened the legitimacy of the tribunal and violated their client’s right to a fair trial. The lawyers accused Sean Visoth and the court’s former chief of personnel, Keo Thyvuth, of violating criminal law by “perpetrating, facilitating, aiding and/or abetting an organised regime of institutional corruption at the ECCC during the pending judicial investigation”. They also demanded the results of the UN investigation be released.

The complaint prompted a criminal investigation, but this was abruptly dropped in February.

Sean Visoth has been on sick leave since November, and the head of the court’s public affairs department, Helen Jarvis, said she knew of no date for his planned return to work.

“As far as I know, the UN does not have authority to conduct investigations into Cambodian staffers,” she said Thursday, adding that she knew nothing about the report and could not comment on it.

Sean Visoth could not be reached Thursday, but a woman answering his phone said he was too busy to speak to a reporter.

“It is unclear from the [German] report what exactly the UN found Visoth to be guilty of – did he pay money from his position? Or did he demand money from others? From our perspective ... the latter is more complicated, as it suggests more ECCC officials may be involved,” Ianuzzi said.

“We have some information that the UN has a sectional list” of officials involved in corruption, he added.

The team says this is troubling, as the office of administration is responsible for nine sections of the court, including court management and victim support.

“If everyone in the office of administration is paying kickbacks, everyone is compromised,” Ianuzzi said.

He said the defence team now planned to write a follow-up letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and forward a copy of the delegation’s report to the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal’s prosecutor general in a bid to reopenthe criminal investigation.

In addition, the delegation’s report quotes Rosandhaug as saying the Cambodian government “tries to interfere in the work of the tribunal”.

“The government of Cambodia has already signalled that it will not allow for additional criminal investigations to be opened,” the report says.

The court’s international co-prosecutor, Robert Petit, has sought to try an additional six suspects, but his Cambodian counterpart, Chea Leang, has voiced opposition.

The key question now, however, is what the response – other than further hushing up of the issue – will come from the UN, Ianuzzi said.

“There is a lot of momentum. Things are moving forward. The Duch hearing last week was a success, [and] many people are emotionally and professionally invested in the tribunal, and they want to see it succeed,” he said.

“But everyone needs to take a long hard look at what are the allegations, [and] I hope Knut makes a comment. What this institution really needs is leadership, and no one is leading the ECCC at the moment.”

Ieng Sary ill; hearing postponed

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Friday, 27 February 2009

In his absence, lawyers argue for his release

DETAINED former Khmer Rouge minister Ieng Sary's bail hearing was postponed to April 2 after he was deemed unfit by doctors to attend the Khmer Rouge tribunal for the scheduled hearing on Thursday.

The 83-year-old was admitted to hospital Monday after doctors found blood in his urine. He was discharged Wednesday.

Lawyers for the accused octogenarian continued to press for his release in his absence on the basis that insufficient medical care was available at the court's detention centre.

"Pre-trial detention is not a form of punishment," co-lawyer Michael Karnavas told the court.

"One cannot discuss the health issue if one does not know what the heath issue is," he added on the issue of getting doctors to provide information as "experts" to the case.

It was also debated whether or not the court could have a hearing in his absence, with civil party lawyers arguing that a video link to the former leader's jail cell could be set up.

This was dismissed by defence lawyers, who claimed it would give a false sense of justice and strip Ieng Sary's right to participate in his trial.

In a press conference after the hearing, Karnavas criticised the pace of decisions at the UN-backed tribunal.

"When it takes 11 months to make a decision, it is unacceptable," he added, calling the chamber a "black hole".

However Cambodian co-prosecutor Tan Senarong said, "We don't intend any delay of the hearing but unfortunately, as you know, Ieng Sary's health is not good."

Vendors protest relocation

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
May Chhann, an Olympic Market vendor who is 71 years old, protests the relocation order on Thursday morning.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Friday, 27 February 2009

Streetside fish vendors near Olympic Market say they'll continue to protest relocation order, as city officials say removal necessary to ease traffic jams.

FISH vendors from the capital's Olympic Market say efforts to protest their forced removal from the streets where they have long operated have been met with threats of police violence.

Some 100 of the vendors were trying to deliver a letter to City Hall on Thursday when police told them to turn back or face physical
punishment, forcing them to move their protest to a different venue, according to a representative of the group, May Kim Seak.

City authorities sent letters to the area's 766 street vendors on February 2 telling them they would have to cease trading on the sidewalks near the market by last Sunday in a bid to clean up the area.

"We just want the Phnom Penh governor [Kep Chuktema] to resolve our problem and help us keep our right to sell at our old places," said May Kim Seak.

She said that in 1993 the vendors had been forced to move to street 310, one block from Olympic Market. Now, she said, the municipality wanted them to move even further away from the market.

"We have handed in our letter and the municipal Cabinet has stamped it. They said they would work out a settlement and told us we should stop protesting and go home," she said.

Another vendor, Heng Vannak, who is disabled, said he had been waiting four days for the authorities to resolve the issue, but nothing had happened. "I can't earn any money because I have to come and protest," he complained.

Lo Yuy, Chamkarmon district governor, said the vendors' sales activities had damaged the street and the authorities needed to repair it.

The commune chief of the Tuol Svay Prey I commune, Ly Pu, said vendors had the right to protest but that would not affect the municipality's determination to stick with its development project. And that meant they would not be allowed to sell from the sidewalks of Street 310 again, he said.

"That area is the street. We have provided them with new stores they can move to," he said of the municipality's plan to shift them to a street behind the Tuol Sleng Primary School. "We want to eliminate the culture of sidewalk selling. They have clogged up traffic for 10 years now."

Rights Report: 'Poor' rights record

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Friday, 27 February 2009

RIGHTS REPORT

THE United States lamented Cambodia's "poor" human rights record in its annual human rights report Wednesday, citing the abuse of detainees, the impunity of security forces and "endemic" corruption as the areas of most concern. The report is submitted to the US Congress every year, along with 195 other country reports, for foreign policy decisions. "Security forces committed extrajudicial killings and acted with impunity. Detainees were abused, often to extract confessions, and prison conditions were harsh," it says. Embassy spokesman John Johnson said the US was "working with the Cambodian government on most, if not all, of the issues brought up in the report".

Comfrel report blasts council elections scheduled for May

FUNDING THE VOTE
The 2008 general election cost $16.8 million and accommodated roughly 8.1 million voters. The council elections scheduled for May will cost $1.5 million but will only accommodate 11,353 voters, according to the National Election Committee.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Friday, 27 February 2009

In a new report, the election watchdog argues that the polls will not be of interest to the average voter and will also be too expensive.

THE Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) on Thursday issued a report criticising the upcoming council elections scheduled for May, in which the group says the polls will hold no interest for the general public, which is not allowed to vote in them, and will therefore prove largely meaningless.

The report states that the elections will be relevant only to the political parties that won council seats in 2007's commune council elections.

May's council elections will see the country's 11,353 commune councillors vote to determine the representation of their respective parties at the higher-level district councils and the municipal and provincial councils.

The election process is part of the government's strategy to devolve power to fill the gap between representation at the local and national levels.

Under the council election law, councillors may not vote for any individual of their choosing but instead must vote for one of the candidates put up by each party represented in that commune. That, said Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha, means the system is flawed.

No real ballot choice
The report points out what it regards as another problem: Because commune councillors were appointed to the ballot list by their respective parties, and thereby won their posts, they need to serve that party's interests. For that reason, Comfrel states, they are unlikely to vote for the candidate of another party - even if they want to.

"So in reality, they will simply vote for their own party, although some could be bought off by other parties," the report states.

Cost concerns
The report also argues that the cost per voter will far exceed the cost per voter in the 2008 general election. The general election cost US$16.8 million for around 8.1 million voters. According to the National Election Committee (NEC), which manages the country's polls, the vote in May will cost $1.5 million for 11,353 voters - more than 50 times as much per voter.

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said the law requires his organisation to run the council poll but acknowledged the cost will be much higher per voter and said this is due to the logistics required for the vote.

"In the national election, we would have one ballot box in each office," he said. "But in the council election, we have two ballot boxes and two voting forms because councillors are voting for the district level and the provincial level."

Pursat, Battambang villagers say armed robbery on the rise

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Friday, 27 February 2009

Villagers' robbery totals in many cases differ from totals provided by police, who some allege are not doing enough to curb the trend.

CHHIT Cheak, 52, was getting ready for bed Saturday night when four robbers entered his home in Pursat's Bakan district, pistol-whipped him and pointed a gun to his head. One of the robbers then cut his head with an ax, he said, before the group stole more than US$300 worth of gold and $50 in cash.

"They hit me and tried to kill me because I had no more money for them, but luckily I was able to hide under a heavy bed," he said.

Chhit Cheak said he has heard of five cases of similar armed robberies this year in nearby villages.

Other villagers in Bakan district said there have been at least two cases of armed robbery in the district this month. They said they had also heard of other robberies taking place elsewhere in Pursat, marking an increase over previous years.

But Ros Bunnan, provincial police chief in Pursat, told the Post Wednesday that there had been just one robbery case this year and four or five in 2008.

"I do not think robbery cases have increased in my province," he said.

But Pursat is not the only place where villagers' accounts conflict with those of law enforcement officials.

In recent interviews with the Post, villagers in Battambang and Pailin provinces also reported a spate of robberies in rural areas, with some asserting that ineffective law enforcement had failed to address the problem.

Effects of the robberies
"They are frightening people," Chhit Cheak said of the robberies. "People do not dare go out of their homes at nighttime."

"I am worried of robberies because they have happened more and more in remote villages", said Mom Sarin, who also lives in Bakan. "They
are armed with guns and no one dares to intervene."

Mom Sarin said the tight networks typical of rural villages worked in the robbers' favour.

"When they know someone has sold rice, pigs or cows, they can then rob them at nighttime," Mom Sarin said.

Yoeum Ny, 49, who lives in Battambang's Banan district, said she was robbed at knifepoint Sunday night of 1,100,000 riels ($266.60) and 16,000 baht ($445.18).

"They robbed me, they hit me and they cut me with a knife when I was shouting for intervention from relatives," she said. "I did not know if they had guns or not because it was so dark. But they threatened to kill me, and then they slashed me with a knife."

She added: "We all are worried of security at nighttime. We cannot sleep because we are worried about robberies."

Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said there have been at least two armed robberies in Bakan in February, one on February 19 and another on Sunday. He added that he believes there have been more in other districts.

Por Vannak, military police chief in Battambang, said there were at least 10 robbery cases this year in the province.

Sor Thet, Battambang's police chief, acknowledged that robberies were on the rise in remote villages but said he did not have enough officers at his disposal to launch a crackdown.

Chea Mony asks to meet disgraced top cop in prison

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Former Phnom Penh police Chief Heng Pov shown here in a file photo.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra and Tom Hunter
Friday, 27 February 2009

Union president has requested permission to visit Heng Pov, who oversaw the investigation of his brother's slaying.

CHEA MONY, president of the Free Trade Union (FTU), has requested permission to visit the former Phnom Penh police chief, Heng Pov, in Prey Sar prison.

Chea Mony said he intends to visit the former police commissioner primarily to inquire about the 2004 killing of his brother, former FTU leader Chea Vichea, who was gunned down at a Phnom Penh newsstand. He told the Post Thursday that he would not force the ex-top cop to talk about his brother's slaying, but hoped they would be able to discuss it.

Heng Pov is currently serving a 58-year sentence on a range of charges including kidnapping, murder and extortion. He attempted to flee the country and was granted political asylum in Sweden before being deported from Malaysia back to Cambodia.

Heng Pov was in charge of the investigation into Chea Vichea's death and has hinted subsequently that he knows about an alleged coverup.

The two men convicted for the killing - Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun - were released by the Supreme Court in December, pending further investigation.

Heng Pov's lawyer, Koa Sopha, told the Post Thursday the visit could be in both of their interests - hinting that Heng Pov could potentially shed new light on Chea Vichea's murder. He added that the UN and other NGOs should visit Heng Pov in prison, saying that "while he is accused of nine crimes, he is also human".

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, told the Post Thursday it would likely be difficult to gain access to this high-profile prisoner.

Mong Kim Heng, Prey Sar prison director, said he had not yet received Chea Mony's letter of request and declined further comment.

Group says robbery suspects tortured

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Chhay Channyda
Friday, 27 February 2009

THE Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee called Wednesday for an investigation into the alleged torture of five robbery suspects who were arrested in Battambang province late last month.

In a letter submitted to the Battambang provincial prosecutor, the coalition of rights groups pushed for an investigation of the military police officers responsible for the suspects' detention.

The five suspects were arrested in Battambang's Bavel district on January 31 in connection with a robbery committed the day before, Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, told the Post Thursday. They were initially detained in the district prison before being transferred to Battambang provincial prison.

At a February 3 court hearing, Yin Mengly said, the suspects appeared to have been brutally beaten.

"They were seriously injured, with scars and bruises all over their bodies," Yin Mengly said, adding that he believed the bruises were inflicted with a bat and were part of an attempt to get the suspects to confess.

Por Vannak, military police commander in Battambang province, denied the torture allegations and accused rights groups of reflexively supporting suspected criminals.

More gambling centres close

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A security guard stands in front of a closed branch of Sporting Live in Phnom Penh on Thursday. The company is the latest gambling entity to face closure, it said.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal and Hor Hab
Friday, 27 February 2009

Sporting Live Group among many gaming venues shut down across the Kingdom following Prime Minister Hun Sen's crackdown on Cambo Six.

THE government's crackdown on licensed gambling extended beyond Cambo Six on Thursday following an earlier directive targeting all electronic gaming, slot machines and sports betting in the Kingdom, officials said.

Minister of Finance Keat Chhon said he issued a declaration Wednesday terminating all previously valid licenses following a directive by Prime Minister Hun Sen the same day ending gambling to "make social reform, strengthen public order, and improve social morality".

"We will punish - in accordance with the law - any business licensee who disrespects this declaration," Keat Chhon said.

Sporting Live Group, an internet-based sports gambling chain set up in 2006, was forced to close, it said Thursday, the latest company to be hit by the government crackdown on gambling after Hun Sen's abrupt announcement on Tuesday that Cambo Six would be closed for moral reasons.

"We agreed to close our business in accordance with the government's decision," said a Sporting Live employee who requested anonymity.

Its Phnom Penh branches were shuttered Thursday, while other officials outside the capital reported they had forced closures in the provinces.

Like Cambo Six, Sporting Live also has foreign backers, although the company employee refused to answer questions about the overseas money invested. It employs 200 workers, he said.

Both Sporting Live and Cambo Six said Thursday that they had not been able to pay out all winnings owed to customers because of the crackdown, despite Keat Chhon's insistence that all punters could be paid by the end of Wednesday.

Nancy Chau, manager of Cambo Six's head office, said Thursday that during a meeting with Keat Chhon the previous day, she had been advised to send a letter to the prime minister requesting a compromise on the issue in a bid to save the considerable investment - both domestic and foreign - in the company.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
We agreed to close our business in accordance with the government's
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"We told the prime minister we have an agreement; we cannot immediately end the agreement," she said, referring to the company's licence, which before this week's forced termination had been valid until January 31, 2011.

Chau said there had been no reply from Hun Sen as of Thursday afternoon.

"We do not know [the response] - we are lost right now," she said.

Daun Penh district Governor Sok Sambath told the Post he had followed the government's directive to cease the operations of licensed gaming venues.

"We have closed all seven Cambo Six branches, three Sporting Live branches and nine slot-machine venues in Daun Penh, he said.

In Preah Sihanouk province, Governor Sboang Sarath also closed a number of gambling venues, he said.

In Phnom Penh, however, the NagaWorld, a riverside casino featuring slot machines, was still operating as normal on Thursday afternoon.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STEVE FINCH

S'ville port to go online, official says

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Friday, 27 February 2009

Integrated Asean agreement expected to expedite customs clearance around region.

CAMBODIA is set to implement a major Asean agreement that would drastically cut customs clearance times and allow importers to access the entire region through Sihanoukville Port, a port official.

Starting in May, authorities will apply the Asean Single Window (ASW), which synchronises customs information systems and allows traders to forward goods to any Asean country after clearing one regional port of entry, said Ma Sunhout, deputy director general at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port.

The agreement went into effect in 2008 in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are set to implement the plan by 2012, which would see the region linked by a unified customs system.

Ma Sunhout said that computer systems and customs procedures are being revamped for the ASW.

"We will officially implement the Asean Single Window in May ... at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port," he said.

He expected that an inaugural event will be presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 1.

Businesses have long complained that inefficiency and corruption in Cambodia's customs systems harms Cambodia's competitiveness.

Ma Sunhout said the system would reduce clearance times and cut business costs, especially for importers or companies relying on foreign feedstocks.

Under the plan, clearance times would be cut to 30 minutes, from a regional average of four hours, he said.

Single checkpoint
The Sihanoukville Port plans to build a single customs clearance point to quicken the approval process.

Sin Chanthy, secretary general of the Cambodia Freight Forwarders Association, said he was pleased that the plan will soon be realised.

"I am very happy to hear the news that the government will officially implement the Asean Single Window in May," Chanthy said.

"I hope that through the Asean Single Window clearance will be cheaper and less expensive."

Chanthy said customs procedures have improved in the leadup to the ASW with the creation of an electronic document processing system, but that processing still takes between three and five hours per container.

He noted that the cost of clearance has fallen in the past year from US$50 to $25 for a small container, and from $80 to $40 for a large container.

Tias Tary, a customs officer at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta said ASW had been successful in her country. "This system has really reduced time and cost," she told a group of journalists touring Southeast Asia last week on a program sponsored by the East-West Centre of Hawaii.

Hyundai to delay parts plant, open showroom

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan and George Mcleod
Friday, 27 February 2009

The announcement follows official visit from Hyundai boss to gain support for new factory

South Korea's Hyundai Motors said it is delaying construction of a parts assembly plant in Cambodia after the company's vice chairman, Choi Han Young, met Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin to drum up support for the venture.

Jason Sun, director of Star Motors (Cambodia) - the authorised local Hyundai distributor - said that the plans would have to be delayed because of the global financial crisis, which has seen automobile demand nosedive around the world, including in Cambodia.

However, he said Hyundai still planned to go ahead with a new Hyundai showroom in Phnom Penh to increase the company's presence.

"Cambodia is a small market, but the standard of living is rising, and there is lots of potential," he said.

The showroom, located on Russian Boulevard, has already been built and will be launched "in a few weeks", Sun added.

Choi met Hun Sen on Tuesday and Heng Samrin Wednesday, and an application for the parts assembly plant is currently being considered by the authorities.

"We have submitted our investment proposal to the council for the development in Cambodia already, but there is no approval yet," said Sun, declining to reveal the investment cost, the location and when construction will begin.

"I received the investment proposal for [Hyundai's assembly plant]," Sok Chenda, secretary general for the Council for the Development of Cambodia, said Thursday. He declined to reveal the details of the proposal.

Tough market
Around 300 Hyundai vehicles are currently sold each year in Cambodia, but the company is entering a tough market, with all car companies reporting weak sales on the economic slowdown.

Kong Nuon, president of TTHK Co Ltd, Cambodia's only Toyota distributor, forecast that auto sales would drop 40 percent within the next two years due to the economic crisis and the real estate downturn.

He added that 2,800 new cars were typically sold in Cambodia each year, and about 20,000 secondhand automobiles changed hands. Sales of new cars were shared between around six automobile importers: Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mercedes and Ssangyong, he said.

In a related development, the local partner in a joint venture Yamaha motorcycle manufacturing facility in Phnom Penh told the Post Monday that construction had also been delayed as a result of the global economic crisis.

Kong Nuon, who is also president of Kong Nuon Import & Export, added that planned capacity had been scaled back between 30 and 40 percent from 30,000 motorcycles in the first year.

Globally, Hyundai has fared better than other car companies. Bloomberg reported the Seoul-based company saw US sales jump 14 percent from a year earlier in January, while industry-wide sales fell 37 percent.

Korea's answer to pizza a hit at Bi-Ryong restaurant

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Phnom Penh's Bi-Ryong restaurant has a varied menu of Chinese and Korean dishes, but the Korean black noodles, pictured at left, is by far the house favourite.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nora Lindstrom
Friday, 27 February 2009

The Korean-owned eatery serves up an unusual array of Chinese and Korean cuisine including the house specialty - black noodles, the quintessential Korean comfort food.

Located deep in Korea Town just off Monivong Boulevard on Street 334, Bi-Ryong restaurant serves up an unusual array of traditional Korean and Chinese treats. Though the restaurant brandishes itself as Chinese, it is Korean-run and the menu features popular dishes from both countries catering to a variety of tastes.

However, it is the noodles with black bean sauce that Bi-Ryong is famous for. Appearing on the menu under its Chinese name zhajiang mien, this big bowl of food is called jajangmyeon in Korean, and Bi-Ryong restaurant chefs prepare the dish according to the traditional Korean recipe.

The dish, featuring thick noodles made from wheat flour, as well as onion, zucchini and meat or seafood in a black sauce made from roasted soybeans, is in fact considered by many to be Korea's answer to pizza.

As the sauce is difficult to prepare at home, a delivery industry similar to that of pizza in Western countries has developed around the dish in Korea, Yoonjung Garu Kim, a Korean NGO worker in Phnom Penh, told The Post last week.

The jajangmyeon is served in two bowls: a larger one with the noodles, and a smaller one with the sauce. While the sauce does not look particularly appetising, with its black colour and somewhat gelatinous consistency, once mixed in with the green-tinged noodles the whole appears more enticing.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
As the sauce is difficult to prepare ... a delivery industry has developed around the dish in Korea.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It is once you tuck in, however, that you realise what the Koreans are going nuts for. Zhajiang mien, or jajangmyeon, whichever you think it is, is incredibly tasty. The sauce is sweet but not overpoweringly so, while the noodles are reminiscent of spaghetti.

The few bits of seafood or meat in the bowl can be difficult to find among the vast amounts of fried onion, but ultimately that matters little, as the sauce and noodles make for an unexpectedly yummy treat.

Similarly to its Western counterpart, pizza, the nutritional value of the dish is low, but it is filling and satisfying in exactly the same way.

At US$4 to $6, jajangmyeon is easily the most affordable item on the menu.

The rest of the Bi-Ryong menu is extensive and expensive. It features various dishes of sea cucumber in the $35 to $50 range, as well as unappetisingly sounding cold jellyfish for $20.

As is traditional in Korean restaurants, side dishes, or banchan, are served with every meal. However, merely a few of these were served at Bi-Ryong. Accompanying the meal were only small portions of kimchi, pickled radish, black bean paste and sweet onion.

The ambience
In true modern Asian style, Bi-Ryong restaurant is lit by fluorescent lights and the air-conditioning is on full blast.

In the main room, the TV shows a Korean soap with English subtitles, suggesting the place is more of an eatery than a restaurant. However, the restaurant also offers a number of private rooms for those in search of an escape from the communal atmosphere.

The global recession has driven many Koreans to leave Cambodia for their homeland, or alternatively, to eat at more affordable restaurants than those run by their compatriots.

Bi-Ryong restaurant, and others like it, are thus significantly quieter these days, which is unfortunate as this subtracts from the atmosphere and allows the TV to take over.

That said, the owner at Bi-Ryong was so pleased to see a foreign customer that he wished to welcome me in person, while several of the Korean patrons complimented me on my choice of the Korean dish jajangmyeon.

Bi-Ryong (or Chinese Restaurant, as stated on its sign board) is open daily from 11:30am to 9:30pm.

The Phnom Penh Post News In Brief

In Brief: Asean summit opens

Written by Cheng Sokha
Friday, 27 February 2009

The 14th Asean Summit is set to begin today in Cha-am, Thailand, near the resort town of Hua Hin. Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to hold sideline talks with his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to discuss the dispute over territory along their shared border that has dragged on for more than seven months and included a fatal clash.


In Brief: Officials deny king's meddling

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Friday, 27 February 2009

In a posting on its website, the Foreign Affairs Ministry on Thursday refuted claims that King Norodom Sihamoni had lobbied for the election of Algeria's former foreign affairs minister for the top post at the United Nation's cultural arm, Unesco. The posting came after a recent article in the Algerian newspaper El Khara, which said Sihamoni had been in contact with Mohammed Bedjaoui to support him in a bid to replace current Unesco general director, Koichiro Matsuura, of Japan.


In Brief: Anti-malarial resistant parasites

Written by Robbie corey-Boulet
Friday, 27 February 2009

New studies provide evidence that malaria parasites resistant to the anti-malarial drug artemisinin have emerged along the Thai-Cambodian border, the World Health Organisation said Wednesday. The parasites could "seriously undermine" progress made in controlling the disease, which has been aided by increased use of artemisinin-based combination therapies. "If we do not put a stop to the drug-resistant malaria situation that has been documented in the Thai-Cambodia border, it could spread rapidly to neighbouring countries and threaten our efforts to control this deadly disease," said Hiroki Nakatani, the WHO's assistant director general.


Quarterfinals kickoff

Written by Dan Riley
Friday, 27 February 2009

PHNOM PENH - The quaterfinals of the top domestic football competition, the Samdech Hun Sen Cup, begin Saturday with Build Bright University - who scraped through the last round against Kiriong Sok Sen Chey on penalties - against defending champions Phnom Penh Crown in the 2pm kickoff slot at Olympic Stadium. The day's later fixture kicking off at 4:15pm sees last year's runners up Preah Khan Reach take on Post Tel Club who have already scored ten goals in the competition thanks to a demolition of Battambang Province in the previous round. Admission to the stadium is free and games are broadcast on TVK.

Protests Erupt in Thailand




NTDTV

Thousands of red-shirted protesters carried banners saying "Hijack the Prime Minister" outside Bangkok's Government House, amid tightened security.

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship is putting pressure on the current Thai prime minister to sack his foreign minister. Thats because the minister is a key supporter for a group called the Peoples Alliance for Democracy or PAD. The PAD organized months of protest outside the Thai government compound calling for new elections.

United Front for Democracy supporters also want the government to call a snap election.

[Bualuang Tangthong, UDD Supporter]:
"I'm here to ask for justice. I'm not biased and not really on the side of Thaksin. I just want justice. I want the law to not be biased. If anyone does anything wrong, they should be in jail."

The rally is expected to last three days in the lead-up to the ASEAN summit hosted at the seaside resort of Hua Hin.

Thailand postponed the ASEAN summit last December after PAD protesters occupied Government House, shut down the capital's two airports and forced the then-prime minister to resign.

Thai separatists say no end to struggle - 27 Feb 09



AlJazeeraEnglish

Muslim separatist fighters in southern Thailand have told Al Jazeera that they will keep fighting for independence, despite efforts by Indonesia to broker a peace deal.

In the second part of an exclusive report, our correspondent Step Vaessen travelled through the three provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat to meet the fighters.

Former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state Khieu Samphan sits in the dock during his 4th pre-trial chamber public hearing at ECCC

A vehicle transports Khieu Samphan, a former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state, from his cell to his 4th pre-trial chamber public hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 27, 2009. Kieu Samphan is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Foreigner and Cambodian pre-trial chamber judges, Prak Kimsan of Cambodia, rear left, and Katinka Lahuis of the Netherlands, rear right, listen to an unidentified representative during before a hearing of Ieng Sary, a former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, at the UN-backed genocide tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009. Judges at Cambodia's genocide tribunal have delayed a hearing into the continued detention of former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, citing his failing health. The tribunal's head judge Prak Kimsan has announced the postponement until April 2, following appeals from Ieng Sary's attorneys.(AP Photo/Tang Chhin Sothy, Pool)

A Cambodian Buddhist monk arrives to attend the pre-trial chamber public hearing of former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state Khieu Samphan at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 27, 2009. Khieu Samphan is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state Khieu Samphan sits in the dock during his 4th pre-trial chamber public hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 27, 2009. Kieu Samphan is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.REUTERS/Tang Chhin Sothy/Pool (CAMBODIA)

Former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state Khieu Samphan sits in the dock during his 4th pre-trial chamber public hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 27, 2009. Kieu Samphan is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.REUTERS/Tang Chhin Sothy/Pool (CAMBODIA)

Khieu Samphan, a former Khmer Rouge head of state, is seen during a hearing at the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Feb. 27, 2009. The U.N.-backed genocide tribunal has adjourned his appeal Friday for pre-trial detention to April 3, 2009.(AP Photo/Tang Chhin Sothy, Pool)

Judges stand at the start of a pre-trial chamber public hearing of former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state Khieu Samphan at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 27, 2009. Kieu Samphan is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.REUTERS/Tang Chhin Sothy/Pool (CAMBODIA)

Former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state Khieu Samphan sits in the dock during his 4th pre-trial chamber public hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 27, 2009. Kieu Samphan is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.REUTERS/Tang Chhin Sothy/Pool (CAMBODIA)

Former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state Khieu Samphan sits in the dock during his 4th pre-trial chamber public hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh February 27, 2009. Kieu Samphan is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.REUTERS/Tang Chhin Sothy/Pool (CAMBODIA)

ASEAN Summit at Hua Hin, Thailand February 27, 2009

A policeman directs traffic outside the Hua Hin airport as state leaders arrive for the 14th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in the Thai resort city of Hua Hin, about 200 km (125 miles) south of Bangkok February 27, 2009.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) is greeted as he arrives for the 14th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in the Thai resort city Hua Hin about 200 km (125 miles) south of Bangkok February 27, 2009.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen gets out of his plane upon his arrival for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit at Hua Hin airport February 27, 2009. The upcoming 14th ASEAN summit is scheduled to be held at the seaside resort town of Hua Hin from February 27 to March 1, 2009.REUTERS/Nicolas Asfouri/Pool (THAILAND)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) is greeted by supporters after arriving for the 14th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in the Thai resort city Hua Hin about 200 km (125 miles) south of Bangkok February 27, 2009.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) is greeted by Thai Minister of Culture Teera Slukpetch (R) upon his arrival for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit at the Hua Hin airport February 27, 2009. The upcoming 14th ASEAN summit is scheduled to be held at the seaside resort town of Hua Hin from February 27 to March 1, 2009.REUTERS/Nicolas Asfouri/Pool (THAILAND)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen waves to supporters after arriving for the 14th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in the Thai resort city Hua Hin about 200 km (125 miles) south of Bangkok February 27, 2009.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) waves upon his arrival for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit at Hua Hin airport February 27, 2009. The upcoming 14th ASEAN summit is scheduled to be held at the seaside resort town of Hua Hin from February 27 to March 1, 2009.REUTERS/Nicolas Asfouri/Pool (THAILAND)

Foreign Ministers line-up for a group photo ahead of a meeting during the 14th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the Thai resort city Hua Hin, about 200 km (125 miles) south of Bangkok February 26, 2009. Standing from left to right, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Rais Yatim, Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo, Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem, Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win, Laos' Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

Indonesia's Trade Minister Mari Pangestu (R) smiles at Cambodia's Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh during a signing ceremony of ASEAN Economic Agreements in the seaside resort town of Hua Hin, some 200km (125 miles) south of Bangkok, February 26, 2009. The 14th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit is scheduled in Thailand's Prachuap Khiri Khan province from February 27 to March 1, 2009.REUTERS/Vivek Prakash (THAILAND)