Monday, 31 August 2009

HIV/AIDS positive at the new house after their family was evicted from the city to Toul Sambo, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009

Chan Toma (R), a 40-year-old HIV positive man, is treated by a doctor at his new house after his family was evicted from the city to Toul Sambo, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009. A senior World Bank official held talks with the Cambodian government over the forced eviction of people from their homes and said the development bank would continue to work with it on land reform to tackle the problem. Land ownership is a controversial issue in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Chan Toma, a 40-year-old HIV positive man, is treated by a doctor at his new house after his family was evicted from the city to Toul Sambo, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009. A senior World Bank official held talks with the Cambodian government over the forced eviction of people from their homes and said the development bank would continue to work with it on land reform to tackle the problem. Land ownership is a controversial issue in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Chan Toma, a 40-year-old HIV positive man, takes a break from setting up his new house after his family was evicted from the city to Toul Sambo, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009. A senior World Bank official held talks with the Cambodian government over the forced eviction of people from their homes and said the development bank would continue to work with it on land reform to tackle the problem. Land ownership is a controversial issue in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Chan Toma, a 40-year-old HIV positive man, works on his new house after his family was evicted from the city to Toul Sambo, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009. A senior World Bank official held talks with the Cambodian government over the forced eviction of people from their homes and said the development bank would continue to work with it on land reform to tackle the problem. Land ownership is a controversial issue in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Cambodia : 'Killing Fields' Trial

The Murderer against humanity Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, the former Khmer Rouge prison chief of the notorious S-21 torture centre during his trial in Phnom Penh


Chum Manh, 78, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge S-21 torture centre, sits in his former cell during a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009, as he boycotts the Khmer Rouge trial of Duch, the chief of the S-21. A group of 28 civil parties, many of them relatives of prisoners who died after harsh interrogations at S-21, boycotted the trial as they are disappointed with the court order not to question the personal character of Duch. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Chum Manh (R), 78, and Bou Meng, 68, both survivors of the Khmer Rouge S-21 torture centre, lead a group of civil parties on a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009, as they boycott the Khmer Rouge trial of Duch, the chief of the S-21. The group of 28 civil parties, many of them relatives of prisoners who died after harsh interrogations at S-21, boycotted the trial as they are disappointed with the court order not to question the personal character of Duch. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Sek O, 42, cries as she prays at her father's portrait during a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009, as she boycott the Khmer Rouge trial of Duch, chief of the S-21 torture centre. A group of 28 civil parties, many of them relatives of the prisoners who died after harsh interrogations at the S-21, boycotted the trial as they are disappointed with the court order not to question the personal character of Duch. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea


Chum Manh, 78, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge S-21 torture centre, poses in his former cell during a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009, as he boycotts the Khmer Rouge trial of Duch, the chief of the S-21. A group of 28 civil parties, many of them who survived the S-21 where more than 14,000 prisoners died after harsh interrogations, boycotted the trial as they are disappointed with the court order not to question the personal character of Duch. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Chum Manh (L), 78, and Bou Meng (C), 68, both survivors of the Khmer Rouge S-21 torture centre, point at pictures of victims during a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009, as they boycott the trial of Duch, chief of the S-21. A group of 28 civil parties, many of them who survived the S-21 where more than 14,000 prisoners died after harsh interrogations, boycotted the trial as they are disappointed with the court order not to question the personal character of Duch. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea


Chum Manh (R), 78, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge S-21 torture centre, wipes away tears while people pray at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, August 31, 2009, as they boycott the Khmer Rouge trial of Duch, the chief of the S-21. A group of 28 civil parties, many of them who survived the S-21 where more than 14,000 prisoners died after harsh interrogations, boycotted the trial as they are disappointed with the court order not to question the personal character of Duch. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Reviews and Revisions – Some Almost too Late – Sunday, 30.8.2009

Posted on 31 August 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 627
http://cambodiamirror.wordpress.com/

Whenever there are large scale development actions planned, there are almost always also some people affected negatively, everywhere in the world.

The following report about how a Ratanakiri deputy governor publicly speaks of the need to carefully weigh positive goals and unavoidable negative results, is an example that is worth of being taken care of widely in the country: “Development cannot avoid certain impacts that we try to steer clear of.” – “First we need to assess the impacts on the society, the economy, and the environment, especially to organize plans with the participations from all relevant institutions and from the communities, before any projects are finally decided.”

It is to be seen how this basic attitude will be applied in dealing with the may open questions which have been raised in relation to the Sesan Krom II Hydro-Electric Dam. As we also mirrored during the week, the Sesan V Hydro-Electric Development Project has already been canceled. The reasons are not completely clear in detail – it is reported that the plan was given up “as it would not provide economic benefits.” Economic benefits for whom? For the regional society? For the economy of the whole country? Or for the economy of the implementing company? And what about the overall economic results for the affected communities?

Surely it is extremely difficult to present an overall financial evaluation for the economic results of such plans, when the situation of the local people, and of the macro-economic benefits for the whole country are at stake.

This may lead to overly simple decisions, using the data which can more easily be estimated and calculated: the cost of the construction, and the estimated income from the sale of the electricity. The price of giving up the living environments of villagers, and the monetary value of loosing their ancestral sites is different. It cannot be calculated.

Was a similarly careful consideration made before starting to destroy the Boeng Kak lake by filling most of it up with sand from the Mekong river-bed, and displacing thousands of inhabitants? Was the plan for destroying the lake made, as the Ratanakiri deputy governor suggests, “with the participation from all relevant institutions and from the communities, before any projects were finally decided?” It seems that things went quite differently in Phnom Penh, before a company got the contract without public bidding, without a broad consultation among the wider Phnom Penh population affected – not only the families who used to live around the lake are affected – and without public evaluation of the price paid by a private company for a lot of public property.

Now flooding starts again in parts of Phnom Penh. Many months ago, it had been reported that the city started to build – with public funds – extensions for the management of excess water which cannot find temporary storage in the lake, as it was usual formerly, before the Boeng Kak lake was filled in.

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When families were made to move to make room for big constructions plans, it was always claimed that the relocation sites offered, had all the basic necessary amenities. That was also the case when the remaining people from the Dey Krahom region were forced out on behalf of the 7NG company. – Now we had the following headline: “The Shukaku Company Donates US$10,000 through the 7NG Company to Create a Clean Water System for 185 relocated families in Damnak Trayueng village, Chaom Chau commune, Dangkao district, Phnom Penh.” Now, the Shukaku company – involved in filling up the Boeng Kak lake, donated a clean water system – which was obviously still missing – through the 7NG company, and last week the Phnom Penh municipality negotiated on behalf of the Shukaku company with the last remaining families to leave the Villages 2 and 4 at the lake. How are the interests of these three entities, private and public, related to each other?

On Thursday, The Cambodia Daily had a detailed report about the situation in Damnak Trayueng, where also 335 families relocated who had been “renters” at Dey Krahom and therefore did not get compensation offered. The report describes rampant sicknesses among children and adult in the partly flooded area, where children can no longer go to school since relocation, and the adults find it difficult, 15 km away from town, to find jobs.

A revision of this situation is not yet in sight.

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Should the following cases me mirrored as “revisions” of past decisions? This is not really appropriate, because the relevant institutions and persons in the bureaucratic administration of the court and prison system failed to take the necessary decisions. Quite simply: the case files of arrested suspects were not only misplaced – nobody seemed to care that the papers were misplaced and two people were kept in jail against the law:

- “A Man Had Been Detained for Four Years without Being Presented to a Judge, because His Case File Had Been Lost [he was arrested for stealing a mobile phone worth US$15 in 2005 – Kandal]”

- “A Woman Had Been Temporarily Detained for Around Three Years without Any Hearing Yet, and It Is Suspected that Her Case File Had Been Lost”

We have not found any reports – neither that the persons who were held illegally, will get a monetary compensation for the injustice suffered, nor that the culprits in the bureaucracy will be punished. But this scandal is at least receiving attention higher up: “The Minister of Justice, Mr. Ang VongVathana, Reminded Judges and Prosecutors Not to Lose Case Files Again.”

And there are more cases – about which the Mirror had reported in the past – where court decisions are called up for reconsideration, without going into Appeals Court procedures:

- “The King Asks the Minister of Justice to Check the Decision of the Municipal Court on Mr. Hang Chakra” [the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok, who was sentenced to serve 12 months in prison for defamation and disinformation against government officials]

- “The Dispute about the Renakse Hotel in front the Royal Palace Reached the King” [after there had been a request for his intervention, but the King referred this case to Prime Minister Hun Sen to make a decision]

And finally, there is the case of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, jailed for the murder of the labor leader Chea Vichea in January 2004. The Court of Appeals confirmed their sentences of 20 years in prisonment in 2007. In December 2008, the Supreme Court released them on bail, In August 2009, the Court of Appeal ordered a review of the case against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Ouen, and bail for them was extended.

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At the time of this writing, the exit poll reports from the elections in Japan are coming in. On Saturday, we had mirrored voices from Cambodia, considering: “Will Cambodian-Japanese Ties Change if Japan Has a New Prime Minister?” The Japanese voters cast their votes, first of all, for internal concerns, responding to the intentions of the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan to fundamentally review and revise the 50 years of government by the Liberal Democratic Party, which until now held 303 of the 480 seats in the outgoing parliament, while the Democratic Party of Japan had only 112. Now the Japanese media estimate that, based on exit poll analysis, the situation will be reversed: the Democratic Party of Japan will probably get 300 or more seats. And that will mean a reorientation from a policy of supporting the bigger corporations to a focus on consumers and workers, strengthening the public welfare system, and reforming the power structure of the bureaucracy.

Whether this will lead also to a revision of the Cambodia related policy of Japan or not, as discussed on Saturday, only the future will show. But it is sure that Cambodian politics will carefully observe why such a fundamental change in the public opinion happened in Japan. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party said, in his own words, that the election brought a “revolution,” as the people were “fed up” with the governing party.

Dalai Lama prays, encourages democracy in Taiwan

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, center left, prays for victims and survivors of Typhoon Morakot, at the destroyed village of Shiao Lin, in southern Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama blesses survivors of Shiao Lin, the village hardest-hit by massive mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot early this month, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009, in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

By PETER ENAV, Associated Press

SHIAO LIN, Taiwan – The Dalai Lama said Taiwan should have "very close and unique links" with China but also enjoy democracy, as he arrived at a devastated village Monday to pray for victims of Taiwan's worst storm in 50 years.

Beijing has voiced its opposition to the Dalai Lama's visit, saying it could have a negative effect on relations between the mainland and Taiwan, which Beijing wants back after the two split six decades ago.

The Tibetan spiritual leader insisted his visit was a humanitarian one and that he had no political agenda, but in his remarks to reporters he encouraged Taiwan to preserve its democracy.

Kneeling on the ground above what was once the farming village of Shiao Lin, the Tibetan spiritual leader offered his prayers for the estimated 500 villagers who died in mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot in early August. The village is now an empty stretch of mud and scattered boulders.

Overall, some 670 were killed in the storm, and the Dalai Lama plans to lead a mass prayer ritual for them.

At Shiao Lin, he put his palms together in prayer while a monk next to him recited a Buddhist sutra. He then embraced two weeping relatives of Shiao Lin victims, holding their heads as he knelt on the ground and prayed.

Some 50 former Shiao Lin residents had returned to welcome him, many wearing T-shirts with pictures of the village before the deadly mudslides.

"We welcome him and we're very happy that he's here," said Liu Ming-chuan, 44.

The Dalai Lama also made brief remarks about the tragedy and about the invitation for his visit. He has said he had a moral responsibility to visit the victims.

He said he was not disappointed by President Ma Ying-jeou's refusal to meet him. "This is a humanitarian visit," he told reporters. "On my side, there is no political agenda."

"In any case, Taiwan should have very close and unique links with mainland China, but at the same time Taiwan also should enjoy democracy and prosperity," he added.

Communist Party-ruled China has long vilified the Dalai Lama for what it claims as his attempt to fight for independence of Tibet, which has been under communist rule for decades.

But instead of criticizing Ma for his visit, the spokesman for China's State Council Taiwan Affairs Office blasted Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party for its "ulterior motives to instigate the Dalai Lama, who has long been engaged in separatist activities, to visit Taiwan."

Taiwan's opposition had invited the Dalai Lama to comfort the typhoon victims.

The invitation came as Taiwan and China have dramatically improved their relations after decades of enmity. Ma has made closer business ties and cultural exchanges a signature issue of his 15-month-old administration.

Beijing has said it "resolutely opposes" the Taiwan visit, and a Chinese official for Taiwan affairs on Sunday night warned the visit "is bound to have a negative influence on the relations between the mainland and Taiwan."

A Taiwanese official said 70 Chinese athletes have decided not to attend Saturday's opening ceremony of the international Deaf Olympics in Taipei, but would still take part in the games. Emile Sheng, an executive of the games' organizing committee, declined to comment on media reports that the group was boycotting because of the Dalai Lama's visit.

Not all in Taiwan have welcomed the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Earlier Monday, some 20 demonstrators confronted him outside his hotel, saying the visit was short of bringing real disaster relief to Taiwan.

"I love it," the Dalai Lama told reporters in response. "It's an indication of freedom of expression. It's wonderful."

Sri Lankan journalist given 20 years in prison

Sri Lankan prison guards escort ethnic Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam out of the High Court premises in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009. The court Monday sentenced Tissainayagam to 20 years in prison under the island's harsh anti-terrorism law for publishing articles critical of the government's war on the Tamil Tiger rebels.(AP Photo)

By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI, Associated Press Writer

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan reporter singled out by President Barack Obama as an example of persecuted journalists around the globe was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison on charges of violating the country's harsh anti-terror law.

J.S. Tissainayagam's articles in the now-defunct Northeastern Monthly magazine in 2006 and 2007 criticized the conduct of the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels and accused authorities of withholding food and other essential items from Tamil-majority areas as a tool of war.

Tissainayagam's conviction, 17 months after the ethnic Tamil reporter was arrested, was the first time a journalist was found guilty of violating the country's Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Rights groups have accused the government of waging a broad crackdown on media freedom that has continued since it routed the rebels and ended the nation's quarter-century civil war in May.

Tissainayagam, who has been labeled a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, was arrested in March 2008 and indicted five months later under the anti-terror law.

During his World Press Freedom Day address in May, Obama highlighted Tissainayagam's case as an example of journalists being jailed or harassed for doing their jobs.

On Monday, High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara said Tissainayagam's articles violated the law because they were aimed at creating communal disharmony. She also found him guilty of raising money for a publication whose articles violated the anti-terror law and sentenced him to 20 years.

"The constitution guarantees media freedom, but no one has a right to deliberately publish false reports that would lead to communal violence," prosecutor Sudarshana de Silva said in his court filing.

Defense lawyer Anil Silva said Tissainayagam had always fought for human rights.

"He was never a racist and he at no time tried to arouse hatred," he said in his defense filing. "Now he has been punished for what he wrote as a journalist. This will be a lesson to other journalists too."

Silva said his client would appeal.

"There is no press freedom in this country today, even after the war is over," said Sirithunga Jayasuriya, a local media rights activist. Tissainayagam's conviction would set a bad precedent for media across the country, he said.

International media rights groups say the government has used emergency laws to silence public criticism of its conduct and has failed to investigate violent attacks — and killings — of journalists.

The government has denied the allegations.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 11 Sri Lankan reporters were forced to flee the country in the past year, and Amnesty International said at least 14 Sri Lankan journalists and media workers had been killed since the beginning of 2006.

In June, the government said it would re-establish a powerful press council with the authority to jail journalists it finds guilty of defamation or inaccurate reporting.

KRouge prison chief 'not mentally ill'

August 31, 2009

The Khmer Rouge's main prison chief has no mental disorders despite having overseen the killing of thousands of people, experts have told a Cambodia war crimes court.

French psychologist Francoise Sironi-Guilbaud and Cambodian psychiatrist Kar Sunbaunat were testifying at the trial of Duch, who is accused of overseeing the torture and execution of some 15,000 people at Tuol Sleng prison.

"Is Duch suffering from a mental disorder? No, we have detected no mental disorder in the accused," Sironi-Guilbaud told the tribunal on Monday.

The expert went on to say that Duch, who worked as a maths teacher before the late 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, lived with disappointment but lacked sympathy for others.

"Duch (was) a man with one single idea, with one single thought at that time," she said.

Kar Sunbaunat added that the assessment, which stretched back to Duch's childhood and family life, revealed no signs that Duch had suffered from psychological problems.

Monday's hearing was boycotted by 28 of the 93 civil parties in the case, who are angry with judges after a ruling last week banning them from questioning Duch about his personality.

Chum Mey, 79, a survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, said the group would no longer attend the trial unless they were granted the right to ask the defendant questions.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, has repeatedly accepted responsibility for his role governing the jail under the regime and begged for forgiveness from the families of the victims.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a bid to forge a communist utopia, resulting in the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork and torture.

KRouge prison head has no mental problems: experts

Video grab shows Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, the former Khmer Rouge prison chief of the notorious S-21 torture centre during his trial in Phnom Penh. Mental health experts have told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court that Duch has no mental disorders despite having overseen the killing of thousands of people.(AFP/File)

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Mental health experts told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court Monday that the Khmer Rouge's main prison chief has no mental disorders despite having overseen the killing of thousands of people.

French psychologist Francoise Sironi-Guilbaud and Cambodian psychiatrist Kar Sunbaunat were testifying at the trial of Duch, who is accused of overseeing the torture and execution of some 15,000 people at Tuol Sleng prison.

"Is Duch suffering from a mental disorder? No, we have detected no mental disorder in the accused," Sironi-Guilbaud told the tribunal.

The expert went on to say that Duch, who worked as a maths teacher before the late 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, lived with disappointment but lacked sympathy for others.

"Duch (was) a man with one single idea, with one single thought at that time," she said.

Kar Sunbaunat added that the assessment, which stretched back to Duch's childhood and family life, revealed no signs that Duch had suffered from psychological problems.

Monday's hearing was boycotted by 28 of the 93 civil parties in the case, who are angry with judges after a ruling last week banning them from questioning Duch about his personality.

Chum Mey, 79, a survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, said the group would no longer attend the trial unless they were granted the right to ask the defendant questions.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, has repeatedly accepted responsibility for his role governing the jail under the regime and begged for forgiveness from the families of the victims.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a bid to forge a communist utopia, resulting in the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork and torture.

CAMBODIAN WORKER BRUTALLY MUIRDERED ON PATTAYA CONSTRUCTION SITE


Pattaya, August 31 [PDN]:On the evening of 30th August 2009 a Cambodian carpenter working on a Pattaya village project was murdered by his friends because he refused to get more drinks for them.

At 11:00 pm Police Lieutenant Colonel Winai Hohrien of the Banglamung police was informed that a Cambodia worker, identified as Mr. Tid, had been killed at the Chokchai Garden Home 2 village in Soi Kao Noi, Moo. 10, Nongprue Banglamung. A police team led by Police Colonel Somneuk Junkate together with a rescue team and doctors from Banglamung hospital rushed to the scene.

At the construction site police found the body of Mr. Tid, aged around 30, lying in a 2 metre deep garbage pit. He was wearing red shirts and blue shorts and his head had been smashed by a hard item. His neck was broken and his body was covered in wounds. He had been dead for about an hour.

Witnesses told police the victim had been drinking with two friends in his room. They heard Mr. Tid being told to go and get some more whisky, but he refused and they started arguing. The two friends then attacked him with a hammer and a rock. The two suspects then carried the dead body and threw it into the garbage pit before making their escape. In a search of the room next door police found a bloodstained rock and hammer.

The police will be contacting the Thai construction foreman and search for the heartless murderers.




River sand is Vietnam's latest endangered resource


Posted : Mon, 31 Aug 2009
Author : DPA

Hanoi - Surging international demand for sand is leading to excessive dredging in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, damaging the terrain and the environment, officials said Monday. The jump in sand excavation is fueled by demand from Singapore's construction industry, which is searching for new sources after Indonesia and Cambodia banned exports.

Nguyen Van Be, director of the department of Natural Resources and the Environment in the province of An Giang, said illegal dredging in the Mekong Delta had caused landslides and altered the courses of rivers.

Be's colleague Tran Anh Thu said oil discharges from dredging barges were polluting river water, damaging the region's fish farms.

"We have strengthened inspections of this illegal activity, but it is difficult to stop," said Be. "When we go to check, people stop dredging, but when we go away, they start again."

According to the customs department in the Mekong Delta port of Can Tho, the volume of sand exported to Singapore from the area in the first half of 2009 topped 7 million tons, up from just 1.1 million tons last year. Total exports for 2009 are expected to top 10 million tons.

The surge has taken place even though the national government banned all sand exports last October.

The ban exempts all contracts signed before November 30, 2008. Can Tho customs official Nguyen Minh Thong said sand exporters were simply altering the dates on contracts to make it appear they had been signed before the deadline.

Thong said his department was not responsible for checking that the dates on contracts were correct.

Sand exporters have responded to a surge in the price of sand after Cambodia banned exports on May 18.

Construction industry sources said sand, which had sold for 1 dollar per cubic meter or less before the Cambodian ban, was now selling for 2.35 dollars per cubic meter or more.

Vu Duc Hung, a water police official in Can Tho, said the local channels of the Mekong River were "filled" with sand-dredging barges.

Concern over Singaporean demand led Malaysia to ban sand exports in 1997. Indonesia followed suit in 2007 after environmentalists complained that the island of Riau, used as a source for Singapore, was disappearing.

Singapore uses the sand both in construction projects and to extend its own territory via landfill. The island country is 33 square kilometers larger than it was at independence in 1965, and has plans to expand further.

New school for Vietnamese pupils in Cambodia opened

08/31/2009

A new primary school for overseas Vietnamese children officially opened in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh on August 30 to mark the 64th anniversary of Vietnam’s National Day (September 2) and the August Revolution.

The Khmer-Vietnam Tan Tien school, a three-storey building with more than 10 classrooms, is located on an area of 1,200 sq. m in Mienchay district, Phnom Penh. The State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese, the Ho Chi Minh City Fatherland Front Committee and several overseas Vietnamese benefactors will financed the school construction.

Addressing the ceremony, Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia Ngo Anh Dung praised the efforts that the Vietnamese community in the country has made in the recent past.

The school will provide training to over 400 pupils in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

On the occasion, the Vietnamese Embassy in Cambodia, the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese, the Fatherland Front Committees of Ho Chi Minh city and neighbouring provinces of Long An, Dong Nai and An Giang together with many sponsors, Vietnamese and foreign alike, donated millions of VND and presented 1,000 sets of textbooks, 4,000 notebooks, computers and music teaching instrument to the new school.

VOVNews/VNA

Cambodia reduces troops, citing improved security

By SOPHENG CHEANG,Associated Press Writer
Monday, August 31

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia has reduced by half the number of troops patrolling a disputed 11th century temple along the Thai border, citing improved security and the need for soldiers to help farmers plant rice, a defense ministry spokesman said Monday.

Long-standing tensions over temple ownership reached a fever pitch in July 2008 when UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, approved Cambodia's bid to have Preah Vihear named a World Heritage Site. Thailand protested the move, claiming that it undermined its claim to a small amount of adjacent land.

Since then, there have been several gunbattles between Thai and Cambodian troops in the area and a number of soldiers from both sides have been killed or wounded. Both sides have refused to back away from their positions until now, with each saying it has the rightful claim to the land.

Lt. Gen. Chhum Socheat said the troop pullout began Wednesday and was completed Sunday. Along with soldiers, the army has withdrawn tanks and other heavy equipment from the site around the temple.

"We have pulled out 50 percent of our forces from the disputed border near Thailand because we thought that the situation there was getting better from day to day," Chhum Socheat said, refusing to provide specific troop numbers because of security concerns.

"We also want to tell the Thai side that Cambodia wants to solve the border problem by peaceful means and wants the border be a peaceful place," he added.

There was no immediate comment from the Thai Foreign Ministry.

The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

Cambodia and Thailand share a 500-mile (800-kilometer) land border, part of which has never been clearly demarcated because each country relies on different maps.

Swiss man charged with abuse in Cambodia

31/08/2009

A Cambodian court on Friday charged Rudolph Knuchel, 62, with sexually abusing two boys.

Phnom Penh - A Cambodian court has charged a Swiss man with sexually abusing two minors, a government official said Sunday.

Police said Rudolph Knuchel, 62, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of the sexual abuse of two boys, aged 14 and 16, after bringing them to his home in Siem Reap province.

"The judge has charged him for child sex abuse," said Sun Bunthorng, the director of the government department that deals with human trafficking and protecting minors.

He said police also found evidence of child porn videos on Knuchel's computer.

The judge could not be contacted for comment Sunday.

Samleang Seila, director of the anti-paedophile group Action Pour Les Enfants, which helped in the arrest, told AFP that his team and police had been tracking the man's action since 2008.

Cambodia has struggled to end its reputation as a haven for paedophiles, putting dozens of foreigners in jail for child sex crimes or deporting them to face trial in their home countries since 2003.

AFP / Expatica

Sand exports surge on Cambodia ban

Workers remove sand from the Mekong River. The surge in dredging in the Mekong Delta has caused landslides along the rivers and altered river flows. — VNA/VNS Photo Ngo Lich
http://vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn
31-08-2009

HCM CITY — Export of sand mined from rivers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta to Singapore has reached unprecedented levels in recent months, causing landslides along the rivers and altering their flows.

In the first half it almost topped 7 million tonnes against 1.1 million tonnes in the whole of last year, according to an official from the local Department of Customs, who estimated the figure to cross 10 million tonnes this year.

The sharp increase was caused by a ban on sand export imposed by the Cambodian Government three months ago to ensure domestic supply and protect the environment.

Nguyen The Hung of the Can Tho Sand Exploitation Enterprise said the price of sand, which used to be VND15,000 to VND17,000 per cubic metre before the Cambodian ban, had gone up to VND40,000 now.

With high profits involved, authorities are finding it difficult to curb sand mining in the Tien and Hau Rivers, which has reached alarming levels.

Vu Duc Hung, a waterway police official in Can Tho, said the Hau had been overwhelmed by barges.

With sand around the rivers taken away, landslides have become a serious threat. Some of the smaller rivers also face the threat of having their flows altered.

Nguyen Minh Thong, deputy head of the Can Tho Department of Customs, said the Government’s Instruction No 29 issued last October temporarily curbed the sand export.

But contracts signed before November 30, 2008, continue to be implemented.

The instruction does not have a deadline for completing the contracts, he said, besides which many exporters illicitly change the dates on their contracts.

Thong called on the Government to regulate the sand exploitation and trading.

Nguyen Thanh Son, vice chairman of the Can Tho People’s Committee, agreed with him, saying there was a need to review the sand trade since it damages the environment. — VNS

World Bank in talks with Cambodia over evictions

Monday, August 31, 2009

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A senior World Bank official held talks with the Cambodian government over the forced eviction of people from their homes and said the development bank would continue to work with it on land reform to tackle the problem.

Land ownership is a controversial issue in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed.

The World Bank joined with other aid donors in July to ask the government to halt forced evictions and the problem was raised again by its vice-president for East Asia and the Pacific Region, James Adams, during a visit last week.

"A major focus of the visit was Cambodia's urban land sector and the increasing numbers of disputes and evictions of poor people in urban settlements," the bank said in a statement.

"The discussions on land reform were constructive and it was agreed to continue these discussions over the coming week to agree next steps," it said.

The bank has provided funding of $24.3 million for a land management and administration project from 2002 to 2009, and an estimated 1.1 million land titles were issued, said Bou Saroeun, a spokesman for the World Bank in Phnom Penh.

Other donors such as Germany, Finland and Canada have together provided more than $14 million to support the land title project, Saroeun added.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Situation grim at Tuol Sambo

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
HIV patient Touch Sokhak, 45, speaks to reporters about the inadequate facilities of his families home at the Tuol Sambo relocation site on Friday.


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These families [at tuol sambo] are in dire need of basic assistance.
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The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Chhay Channyda and Robbie Corey-Boulet

THE lack of food at a controversial resettlement site that is home to more than 60 HIV-positive individuals is "potentially life-threatening", a new report has warned.

The joint field report from four HIV/AIDS NGOs was released Friday, the same day that the heads of the National Aids Authority (NAA) and UNAIDS Cambodia visited Dangkor district's Tuol Sambo village for the first time.

City Hall forcibly relocated 20 HIV-affected families to Tuol Sambo following their June eviction from the Borei Keila community in central Phnom Penh. About 20 more Borei Keila families were sent there in July.

Residents at Tuol Sambo have complained that their 3.5-metre-by-4.5-metre green metal sheds - which are smaller than those required for emergency refugee camps - become oppressively hot during the day. On Friday, a broken water pump had rendered a local well unusable, meaning that residents looking for drinking water needed to buy water jugs at 1,200 riels (US$0.29) each.

The lack of resources described in the joint field report was borne out by interviews. Touch Sokhak, 45, who is HIV-positive, said his family did not have enough food or drinking water, adding that the heat made it difficult to store his medicine.

"We face a lot of difficulties living here, but the main problem is that it is too hot," he said. "It makes my health get worse because I do not sleep enough."

Tak Dina, 30, described the discrimination she faced at the site, another concern raised in the report.

The former restaurant worker said her efforts to sell cold drinks in the village had been unsuccessful because no one would buy from her.

"Here we cannot sell," she said. "If I sell drinks, no one will come to buy because they are disgusted with HIV-positive people. Other villagers have an easy time recognising us because we are different from them, and because we live in these green houses."

Jason Barber, a monitoring consultant for the rights group Licadho, said conditions at the site had become "grimmer and grimmer" in recent weeks.

"I think the people are expecting to see some results from this visit, and I think they will judge the government and UN agencies on their actions rather than their words here," Barber said. "It's one thing to express concern. It's another thing to meaningfully provide some assistance."

Coordinating aid
Residents and NGO workers described a diffuse humanitarian assistance effort.

There are currently at least 11 NGOs providing various forms of assistance, from food to medical treatment to education, said Oum Vicheth, a home-care officer at the Centre of Hope, which has operated a weekly mobile clinic at the site.

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A man sleeps as his son plays within their home at the Tuol Sambo relocation site on Friday.

UNAIDS Country Director Tony Lisle said Sunday that the purpose of the visit was "to get an immediate overview of the current situation in respect of the community's needs", adding that he would meet this week with stakeholders and the NAA to discuss ways "to better coordinate the response".

While Lisle said the aid effort had been "reasonably well-coordinated" and that NGOs had been "exceptionally flexible", he noted that there was room for improvement.

"I think, again, we need to emphasise national leadership," Lisle said. "The NAA will lead on coordination."

NAA Secretary-General Teng Kunthy said Friday that his organisation had devised a plan to improve conditions at the site, though the specific efforts he mentioned hinged on NGOs.

"We have acknowledged that the shelters are hot and narrow, but Caritas will help improve their living," he said, referring to the Catholic charity Caritas Cambodia.

He also said Caritas would construct a pipe system that would bring water to the individual dwellings. Kim Rattana, executive director of Caritas, said the pipe system would be completed in mid-September.

Both Lisle and Christophe Peschoux, the Cambodia representative of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern that NGOs were being forced to pick up the pieces of a poorly executed eviction, arguing that the municipality had not taken steps to properly set up the site before moving families there. City Hall could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

Peschoux said he believed NGOs risked inadvertently condoning future evictions by providing humanitarian assistance, though he said they did not have the luxury of retreating "behind nice principles" and refusing to help the evictees.

"In this case, humanitarian agencies are facing a dilemma," he said. "We are opposed to forced evictions by principle because they are inhumane and increase poverty and social distress.... At the same time, the eviction has taken place and these families are in dire need of basic assistance."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O'TOOLE


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TUOL SAMBO Timeline

JUNE 18, 2009 The government begins evicting residents of Borei Keila, with 20 HIV-affected families being moved from their homes in front of the new Ministry of Tourism building to Tuol Sambo.

JULY 23, 2009 Another 20 families from Borei Keila are relocated by the government to Tuol Sambo as residents complain that the relocation site lacks adequate housing and services.

JULY 27, 2009 More than 100 international HIV/AIDS and social justice organisations call on the government to "urgently address dangerous conditions in a de facto AIDS colony".

AUGUST 28, 2009 The heads of UNAIDS and the National AIDS Authority visit the Tuol Sambo relocation site to assess conditions and make recommendations for better coordination of services to residents.

Deadly drive

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Sam Rith

The number of fatalities resulting from traffic accidents in June increased by 35 percent over the same period last year, according to a recent report from the Cambodia's Road Crash and Victim Information System (RCVIS). The report, released last week, stated that there were 132 deaths out of 1,140 casualties. The data, provided by hospitals, health centres, private clincs and Traffic Police offices in all of the Kingdom's 24 provinces, also pointed to a possible decrease in overal helmet use by motorbike drivers, as only 136 motorbike drivers involved in accidents were wearing helmets. This marked a 13 percent decrease from May 2009.

Honouring Granny Penh

Photo by: Sovan Philong

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Sovann Philong

A woman offers incense to a statue of Daun Penh [daun means grandmother] at Wat Phnom last week. In Khmer legend, this wealthy widow ordered the mountain and temple that sits atop of Wat Phnom to be built after she discovered four bronze and one stone Buddha statues inside a koki tree branch at the site. Believers regularly visit the shrine to pray for luck and offer food, cash and gifts.

Troops exit temple complex

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Soldiers walk down the mountain near Preah Vihear temple last month. One brigade left the area this week following Hun Sen’s promise to reduce troop numbers around the disputed temple.

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Thet Sambath

Cambodia's Defence Ministry says government has halved deployed troops at Preah Vihear but warns that forces remain prepared for any future hostilities.

Troops stationed at the Preah Vihear temple complex near the Thai border completed their redeployment over the weekend, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces commander told the Post on Sunday.

Srey Doek, commander of RCAF Division 3, said Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday met soldiers from Brigade 11 during their redeployment to their base in Kampot province.

"[Hun Sen] welcomed them as they travelled near Siem Reap and offered them each 50,000 riels [US$12], and the prime minister's wife offered them gifts of fruit," Srey Doek said.

Srey Doek said the money and fruit were given to nearly 1,000 RCAF soldiers as expressions of gratitude for their service at the front line, adding that troops from other brigades from Siem Reap as well as members of Hun Sen's personal bodyguard who were also redeployed over the weekend did not meet the prime minister.

Meanwhile, an official at the Defence Ministry said Sunday that forces at the border have now been halved.

"We have pulled out 50 percent of the troops from Preah Vihear temple," said ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat.

"This shows that the situation at the border is really getting better, and that both countries have a mutual understanding of peace," he added.

Hun Sen declared last week that the 13-month standoff with Thailand over the disputed Preah Vihear temple complex, which claimed more than seven lives and left hundreds homeless, had effectively ended following a bilateral withdrawal of troops announced during a meeting on August 24 between the head of RCAF, General Pol Saroeun, and his Thai counterpart, General Songkitti Jaggabatra of the Royal Thai Armed Forces.

Troops still on guard
Despite a thaw in relations, Cambodian military officials last week were quick to point out that troops would still be necessary to guard the integrity of the border and the sovereignty of the nation.

Defence Minister Tea Banh said some troops would remain at the border.

"We do not need too many soldiers there now. We are currently adjusting the numbers to achieve the right balance for the situation," Tea Banh said last week.

Chea Dara, RCAF deputy commander in chief, echoed this sentiment Sunday, saying the border's security remained a vital concern and downplaying the impact of the withdrawal on Cambodia's ability to secure its border with Thailand.

"It is not a problem for our soldiers to defend the nation, even as their numbers have been reduced by the withdrawal," he said Sunday. "We have kept enough of our troops in place."

He said if Thailand "shows a softer manner" Cambodia could cut troop numbers further. "However, if anything happened, our troop mobility would be very swift."

Thailand in June reignited the row over the temple when it asked World Heritage body UNESCO to reconsider its decision to formally list the temple in Cambodia.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads over the land around Preah Vihear temple for decades.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

No suit against Chea Mony

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Meas Sokchea

MINISTER of Information Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had ordered officials of the Cambodian People's Party to halt legal action against Chea Mony, brother of slain union leader Chea Vichea, after he blamed the government for his brother's killing.

The announcement during a Radio Free Asia broadcast reverses the government's position stated earlier this month that it had already begun legal action against Chea Mony.

Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Sunday, but Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed the order, though he declined to provide any further details.

Chea Vichea, former head of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was gunned down in 2004. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were convicted of the crime the same year, but the Supreme Court ordered their provisional release in December 2008, citing contradictory evidence in their previous trial.

During a hearing on August 17, the Appeal Court announced a new investigation into the case and ruled that the two men were to remain free until a verdict was handed down.

Chea Mony said following the hearing that he remained convinced the government had been involved in his brother's killing - comments that prompted Khieu Kanharith to say initially that the government had no choice but to file a legal complaint.

Chea Mony on Sunday welcomed the U-turn. "I would like to congratulate the government, especially the prime minister, for reversing this decision, and again I would urge the courts to find the real killers and bring them to justice," he said.

"Hun Sen's decision is a good strategy because no one should be sued by the government for defamation or anything else. Our country has the rule of law and democracy, so we must find the truth."

Rights groups welcomed the government's climbdown on Sunday, describing it as a vital step towards restoring freedom of speech in Cambodia.

Ny Chakrya, of the rights group Adhoc, said: "I support this change of stance, which shows the government is capable of acting with maturity. Even if our politicians are criticised, they can respond with patience."

Am Sam Ath, head of an investigative team with the rights group Licadho, said the government had been wrong to take the words of a grieving man so literally.

"Chea Mony made his statement in the Appeal Court because he was upset that his brother was murdered five years ago and the real killers still haven't been found," he said. "If the government were to sue him for that, it would spell the end for freedom of expression."

The Appeal Court ordered further investigations into the 2004 killing of trade union leader Chea Vichea following requests from the defence lawyers of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the two men accused of the killing.

"This case is still not clear, which requires us to conduct further investigations involving some police in relation to the [slaying]," presiding Judge Chuon Sunleng said after the two-hour hearing.

He ordered that suspects Born Samnang, 28, and Sok Sam Oeun, 41, remain free until the investigation is closed and a verdict handed down.

During the hearing, the two men again declared that they had not been involved in the killing, accusing the police who arrested them in 2004 of forcing them to confess to a crime they didn't commit.

Prek Leap businesses robbed at gunpoint

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Khouth Sophakchakrya

JEWELLERY vendors from Russey Keo district's Prek Leap market were robbed at gunpoint of gold, platinum and more than US$7,000 in cash, vendors said Sunday.

Kim Srun, 46, said that on Friday, six masked thieves accosted her and other jewellery vendors from Prek Leap market, located in in Prek Leap commune, Kean Khilang village. All told, five vendors at the market lost 1.2 kilograms of gold, 0.8 kilograms of platinum and $7,650, Kim Srun said.

"They hammered my jewellery box and stole about $2,500, as well as gold, platinum and about 1.2 kilograms of jewellery," she said.

Sok Sarann, a 37-year-old garment vendor at Prek Leap who witnessed the robbery, said that he and others at the market had little faith in police and market security, whom he said paid only lip service to their complaints.

Chey Soseila, Russey Keo district police chief, said the vendors had overstated the value of their goods, estimating that only 75 grams of gold and about $2,000 were lost, though police "still apologise to those who lost their property".

Garment workers say media were wrong about protest

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Mom Kunthear

Spokesman calls Deum Ampil and Kampuchea Thmey reports a 'trick' to undermine the unity and message of factory workers.

A representative for several thousand workers from the Sky High garment factory in the capital's Dangkor district said Sunday that demonstrators protesting earlier this month against low wages and poor working conditions did not target the head of a Cambodian trade union, as local press reports last week suggested.

Chan Dary, 29, a representative for workers at Sky High, said Sunday that reports published in two Khmer-language dailies - Deum Ampil and Kampuchea Thmey - incorrectly stated that workers had filed complaints against Yun Rithy, head of the Khmer Youth Federation of Trade Unions, for inciting them to protest.

"We have never complained about Yun Rithy. This is a fairy tale spread by the owner of the [Sky High] factory to defame us and to deter influential people, NGOs or other organisations from assisting us," Chan Dary said.

Thousands protest
Workers are protesting against the factory, not Yun Rithy, Chan Dary said.

"We want the factory owner to agree to our conditions, which we feel are not difficult to implement. But they don't want to give in, so they they try instead to make us suffer," he said.

Sky High workers began their protest on August 24, with several hundred workers assembling in front of the factory. Last week, the number of protesters reached into the thousands.

Yun Rithy said Sunday he had no direct involvement with the protests and rejected claims that he influenced anyone to demonstrate.

"I don't know anything about it, and I have incited no one to do anything," he said. "I have only tried to help workers because we are an organisation that supports labour rights and benefits for workers, and in this I have done nothing wrong."

"These problems I cannot solve on my own. I can just investigate and urge [factory owners] to respect the labour law," he said.

Getting the story wrong
Keo Sarum, 27, a worker at Sky High, said local newspaper reports got the story wrong about the protests.

"We did not collect thumbprints for a complaint against Yun Rithy, as the newspapers said. This was a trick by the factory owner in an attempt to divide the workers," Keo Sarum said.

"I would like to ask the publishers of [Deum Ampil and Kampuchea Thmey] where they got their information. Before they write something about us, they should come talk to us," She said.

Ill workers back on job

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Mom Kunthear

SEVERAL dozen workers from Maurea Garment Corp in Russei Keo district who were taken to hospital Saturday after fainting at work have recovered and re-turned, an official said Sunday.

"Firefighters had come that day to teach them emergency procedures in the event of a factory fire," adding they sprayed simulated smoke, said Svay Pak commune Governor Hou Samon.

He added also that most of the workers were Muslims who were eating only one meal a day because of the Ramadan religious festival.

Philippine female legislators denounce Hun Sen over slur

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Mu Sochua speaks to the press after being found guilty of defamation earlier this month.

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WE DENOUNCE THESE TACTICS OF INTIMIDATION, PERSECUTION AND REPRESSION....
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The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Meas Sokchea

Group calls the premier's defamation suit against Mu Sochua an act of chauvinism designed to stifle freedom of expression.

A women's party in the Philippines has joined the international call for the Cambodian government to halt its campaign of intimidation against opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of sexism.

Mu Sochua, an SRP parliamentarian, was convicted on August 4 of defaming Hun Sen and ordered to pay 8.5 million riels (US$2,028) in fines and 8 million riels ($1,909) in compensation. The charges stemmed from an April speech by Hun Sen in which he referred to an unnamed woman as a "cheung klang". The term means "strong legs" and is considered derogatory when used to describe women.

The speech prompted Mu Sochua to file a defamation suit, but Hun Sen denied that he had been referring to her and countersued her for defamation, pointing to an April 23 press conference in which she made her suit public. Mu Sochua's case was thrown out, whereas the premier was allowed to proceed with his.

The verdict, which Mu Sochua described as a "political game" that has cast Cambodia's judicial system "into darkness", met with widespread international condemnation.

Last week, the Gabriela Women's Party (GWP), which describes itself as the only all-female party in the Philippine House of Representatives, accused the prime minister of being a chauvinist.

"We strongly protest the discriminatory slur of the statements of the prime minister as anti-women and chauvinist," the statement reads. "Likewise, we deplore the alleged acts of repression as forms of attacks against the right to free expression, democracy and equality."

"We denounce these tactics of intimidation, persecution and repression, using the legal system against the administration's critics and members of the opposition party. We urge the Cambodian government to respect the rights of MP Mu Sochua as a woman leader and parliamentarian who is working for democracy, equality and justice."

The government was dismissive of the criticisms on Sunday. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan accused the party of knowing nothing about Cambodian politics.

"They have no right to make statements such as this because they don't know the facts of the situation in Cambodia," he said.

"A party in the Philippines probably knows the least about Mu Sochua's case."

A hearing on the dismissal of Mu Sochua's lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen was postponed earlier this month because of her absence from court.

The lawmaker was summoned to appear in court on August 17 by Prosecutor General Ouk Savuth after she contested a Municipal Court decision in July rejecting her lawsuit against Hun Sen.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said she requested the hearing be delayed because she was due to visit the United States for medical treatment.

The parliamentarian, who represents Kampot province, is scheduled to return from the US on September 20.

Accidents on roads increase for tourists

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Khoun Leakhana

GOVERNMENT officials held a meeting with local transportation companies earlier this month to standardise safety measures in response to a sharp increase in traffic accidents involving tourists, officials said Sunday.

According to a report released by the Traffic Police department on Friday, 299 tourists were involved in road accidents in Cambodia in the first half of 2009, compared with just 168 in the first half of 2008.

Uk Kimleik, national deputy police commissioner, said that on August 21 police and other officials held a meeting with 18 Phnom Penh transportation companies in which they discussed ways to improve traffic safety for tourists in the Kingdom.

The transportation companies agreed to adopt several specific measures to target this problem. "We made them promise to cooperate with us on a number of points, including limiting the speed of their vehicles to 40 kilometers per hour in cities and 90 kilometers per hour outside of town," Uk Kimleik said.

The companies also agreed that any drivers they employ will be properly licensed, and that the overloading of buses and other transport vehicles will be completely banned, he added.

Government officials voiced concern on Sunday that continuing declines in traffic safety could pose a serious threat to Cambodia's reputation as a travel destination.

"It is really very bad for our tourism sector when tourists die in road accidents here," said Sem Psnha Vuth, victim and road accident information controller. "Visitors who see road accidents will be shocked."

Provincial officials to face bribery charges

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Chrann Chamroeun

Twelve officials are accused of taking bribes and illegally granting loggers access to a wildlife sanctuary in November 2006.

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court brought charges of bribery and destroying natural resources against 12 officials from provincial forestry and environmental offices at a hearing on Saturday.

The officials, from Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces, were charged along with three smugglers in connection with an incident from November 2006. Forestry officials were accused in that incident of accepting bribes from smugglers who illegally logged in Preah Vihear's Boeung Per wildlife sanctuary, Phnom Penh deputy prosecutor Kry Sok Y said Sunday.

The officials are being charged under articles 97 and 98 of the Forestry Law and Article 22 of the Environmental Law.

Chan Madina, the judge presiding over the case, told the Post Sunday that she needed to "take time to consider the case", and was unwilling to offer a timetable for the verdict, which Kry Sok Y said would happen around the end of next month. If found guilty, the defendants could face up to 15 years in prison under the two charges.

Only six of the 12 officials facing charges were present at the hearing, with four rumoured to be in hiding, Kry Sok Y said. The six men present, none of whom are facing pre-trial detention, uniformly denied the allegations against them.

In November 2006, officials from the Ministry of Environment and the Forestry Administration filed a complaint against the provincial officials, accusing them of conspiring to grant access to smugglers in the preservation area. A raid on the smugglers at Boeung Per wildlife sanctuary netted a truck and logging equipment, though none of the officials involved were arrested at that time.

Approved investment figures from S'pore, Europe multiply

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Pedestrians walk past a Singapore Banking Corp branch Sunday in Phnom Penh.


Singapore builds Asian business empire

NEXT time you stay in a luxury resort, buy a loaf of bread or open a bank account in Asia, check the company's country of origin. Chances are you are dealing with a brand based in Singapore. With the global economy apparently on the mend, Singapore Inc is all set to reap the benefits of stepped-up spending by Asia's middle and upper classes. Singapore Airlines has long been an iconic brand, but newer names like resort and spa operator Banyan Tree have established themselves as top-tier players in the region. "If you don't globalise ... you eventually stagnate," the firm's founder and Executive Chairman Ho Kwon Ping said at a recent news conference. Other Singaporean companies are enjoying similar success throughout the region. OSIM, a maker of electronic massage chairs and other lifestyle products, such as air purifiers, has over 1,100 outlets spread across 28 countries and concentrated mainly in the region. Budget carrier Tiger Airways is also becoming a mainstay in the travel industry, having established a wide network across the Asia-Pacific region with flights to 19 destinations from Singapore. It is not to be mistaken for Singapore's Tiger Beer, now one of the most popular beverages in Southeast Asia. AFP


The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Chun Sophal

Investment by city-state increases more than 300 percent up to end of July as traditional investors China and South Korea drastically reduce capital inflow.

DESPITE an 82 percent decrease in approved investments in the first seven months of this year, as reported by the Post last week, investments by fellow ASEAN member Singapore have risen more than three-fold to US$176.37 million, according to a recently released breakdown of the figures by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC).

In terms of Cambodian investment, Singapore has now closed the gap with Thailand, the largest ASEAN investor in the Kingdom. Neighbouring Thailand invested $178 million in the first seven months - more than Singapore by less than $2 million - having registered approved investments that totalled $15.33 million more than the city-state over the same period last year.

In the third week of this month, 21 companies from Singapore met with Cambodian officials in Phnom Penh to seek out investment opportunities.

"I believe that investment in Cambodia will enjoy better development in the future because now many investors are eyeing investment opportunities in the Kingdom," Yun Heng, deputy director of the Evaluation and Incentive Department of the Cambodia Investment Board, said Sunday.

The Singaporean companies were mainly planning to target tourism and agriculture, he added.

Lawrence Leow, deputy honourary secretary of the Singapore Business federation and chairman and CEO of Crescendas Group, told the Post during a visit to Cambodia on August 20 that his company would invest between $20 million to $30 million in the tourism sector.

Also this month, Singapore's HLH Agriculture Cambodia Ltd announced that it had invested $15 million to grow red corn in the Kingdom.

According to CDC data, agriculture and tourism remained the most promising sectors for outside investment.

Overall, ASEAN raised its investment into Cambodia from $139.61 million in the first seven months of 2008 to $471.23 million for this year up to the end of July.

Europe also dramatically increased its investment in the Kingdom, up from just $15.6 million in the first seven months of 2008 to $292.95 million during the same period this year. Having represented just 0.19 percent of Cambodia's total investment last year up to the end of July, in 2009, Europe accounted for 19.95 percent of total investment in the Kingdom up to the end of last month.

France increased its investment in Cambodia from just $6.24 million for the whole of last year to $49.68 million in the first seven months of 2009.

"I believe that investment in Cambodia will enjoy better development in the future," said Yun Heng, referring specifically to ASEAN and European investors, notably Singapore and France.

He added that European investors had been especially interested in the tourism sector.

However, the figures showed that Cambodia's traditional investors had largely walked away following the onset of the global economic crisis.

China, which made up nearly half of all investment in Cambodia in the first seven months of last year, decreased investment a staggering 93.34 percent from $3.89 billion to $258.98 million.

Similarly, South Korean investment in Cambodia fell over the same period 91.11 percent from $1.23 billion to $109.25 million.

NBC would widen bank use

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Nguon Sovan

ASENIOR central banking official said she hoped a government directive requiring civil servants to receive their salaries through a bank account will help efforts to boost the number of people in the country with deposits at commercial banks.

Despite rapid growth in deposits over the past few years, just 820,284 people, or 6 percent of the population, have deposit accounts at commercial banks, said National Bank of Cambodia Director General Tal Nay Im.

She said she was optimistic the number would increase as people became more aware of the advantages of holding money at banks.

"Now, thanks to wider expansion of bank branches throughout Cambodia, people prefer to transfer money through bank accounts rather than carry cash with them because cash transfers via bank accounts are fast and safe," she said.

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People prefer to transfer money through bank accounts.
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Central bank figures released earlier this month show deposit growth slowed considerably last year after rapid growth this decade saw deposits climb from just 14.2 percent of GDP in 2000 to 28.6 percent by the end of 2008.

Deposits grew just 3.67 percent to US$2.52 billion by the end of 2008 after growing 71.4 percent in 2007 from $1.4 billion to $2 billion.

However, the number of depositors reached almost 700,000 by the end of last year, up 53.4 percent from a year earlier.

The central bank said the value of deposits increased in the first half of 2008 but declined again once the global financial crisis kicked in as investors from elsewhere in the region remitted their US dollar deposits to their home countries to take advantage of exchange rate benefits as the value of their currencies fell against the dollar.

Tal Nay Im said deposits had begun growing again this year, with $2.9 billion currently deposited in 820,284 accounts at the country's 28 commercial banks, up from 24 at the end of 2008.

Just five banks accounted for 72.6 percent of deposits at the end of 2008: ACLEDA Bank with 18.2 percent, Canadia Bank 17.2 percent, Cambodian Public Bank 15.1 percent, ANZ Royal Bank 13.9 percent and Foreign Trade Bank of Cambodia 8.2 percent.

ACLEDA Bank's CEO In Channy said it currently had too much money, having tightened lending, and so had reduced interest rates on one-year fixed deposits from 7 percent late last year to 6.5 percent.

"However, we still encourage customers to deposit at our bank, but now it is not through increasing deposit rates but through fast and safe services for our customers," he said.

NBC to spend $6m to maintain value of riel

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Nguon Sovan and Nathan Green

THE National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) has announced it will dip into its foreign reserves and buy US$6 million worth of Cambodian riels this week to hold up the value of the local currency, but an economist has warned that downward pressure will persist at least through the end of 2010.

In an announcement Friday, the central bank said it would take bids today, Wednesday and Friday at its Norodom Boulevard headquarters, putting up $2 million in US dollar holdings on each of the three days to buy riels.

Permitted bidders include commercial banks, licensed money changers and listed businesses.

NBC Director General Tal Nay Im said that because Cambodia was between harvests there was low demand for riels to buy agricultural produce, putting downward pressure on the value of the riel.

That pressure has been strong since the global financial crisis kicked in last year, she added, with plummeting business activity reducing demand for riels to pay workers.

The central bank intervenes regularly in the foreign exchange market to prop up the value of the riel. In early August it bought $2 million worth of riels daily for five days after the local currency hit a low of 4,191 against the greenback during the first week of the month.

The intervention had the desired effect, with a sharp appreciation to 4,116 on August 12 before the value edged back down to 4,136 to the dollar. It was at a similar rate last week.

"Given the small market for the riel, this sharp rebound clearly reflects the NBC's intervention," the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) Cambodia economist Danny Richards told the Post earlier this month.

However, he also warned that downward pressure on the riel would continue and questioned how long the central bank could continue dipping into foreign reserves to prop up the local currency.

"The NBC will continue to intervene in foreign-exchange markets to prevent the riel from depreciating too quickly against the US dollar," he said by email. "However, its international reserves position will remain precarious. The US dollar is strengthening against major trading currencies, and given that there is still a lack of confidence in the riel, the dollar will remain the currency of choice in Cambodia for trade and investment."

In the EIU's August country outlook, Richards predicted that the riel would fall to 4,304 to the dollar by the end of 2010 as falling merchandise exports widened the current-account deficit from 9.6 percent of GDP in 2008 to 10.2 percent in 2009, putting downward pressure on the currency.

In a recent country risk service, the EIU also noted that Cambodia's real trade-weighted exchange rate had appreciated 20.3 percent over the past 48 months, "suggesting that the currency remains overvalued and thus vulnerable to a correction".

Tal Nay Im said that official exchange rates were determined by the NBC as an average of exchange rates at "five large markets in Phnom Penh".

The official exchange rate was always within 1 percent of market exchange rates, she added.

Canadia Bank Executive Vice President Dieter Billmeier said he expected the value of the riel to pick up against the US dollar and currencies in neighbouring countries between November and February because of the harvest season.

Documenting the forest in addition to the trees

Photo by: Photo Supplied
Logging on: Vandy Rattana hones his focus.


WHERE?
"WALKING THROUGH"
an exhibition of photography by Vandy Rattana can be seen through September at Baitong Cafe and SaSa Gallery, 7 St 360
(between Street 51 and Norodom Boulevard)
http://www.baitongcambodia.org/

The Phnom Penh Post
Monday, 31 August 2009
Lim Seng Haeng

Local fine-arts photographer Vandy Rattana hopes to harness a collective of local Khmer artists who are willing to work toward international standards.

VANDY Rattana, 29, is a successful photographer and one of the six founders of Stev Selapak, a Cambodian photographers' group created in early 2008. The group aims to promote world-class Cambodian photographers to an international audience.

(Disclosure: Vandy Rattana is a former Post staff photographer.)
Vandy Rattana has already represented Cambodian artists overseas, joining a contemporary art collective in Beijing called "The Long March", which recently invited contributors from each country on the historical Ho Chi Minh Trail for a collaborative creativity session.

Vandy Rattana says his love of photography could well be genetic because his father dedicated his whole life to art. Vandy Rattana realised his love for art at the age of six and has also been able to draw very well since childhood.

During this time, he also developed an appreciation for film, absorbing movies from Russia, Vietnam, India, China, America and Japan - but he preferred India's because of the artful compositions and framing. Indian movies also often portrayed pertinent family and social issues.

Since early 2005, Vandy Rattana has devoted his life and career to photography. His first photo exhibition, a treatise on interior spaces for a local art collective called Visual Arts Open (VAO), was titled "Looking In", which made him well-known locally.

At the end of the year, he will leave Cambodia to advance his studies in France. But before he leaves he will present his latest exhibition, "Walking Through", documenting the rubber plantations of Kompong Cham province in 2008 and 2009.

What inspired you to create this group?
I have seen that, in France or other Western countries, they create diverse groups or unions. And they really work well, so I think this group will contribute a lot to Cambodian photography.

If we have a group, our voices will be heard more widely, and we will have solidarity. We can help each other by giving advice or innovative ideas.
Logically, we can share knowledge among each other. We will screen our photos locally and, one day, when we are stronger, we can compete internationally. Khmers can be the best if they are willing.

What are the criteria to become a member?
Now we have six founding members - though more people will join soon.
We don't require much for membership, although you should be under 35 years of age, have a strong commitment and be ready to learn. You will not earn any money, but you will learn a lot about photography.

Do photographers need a lot of knowledge?
A good photographer needs to have a great deal of understanding, which requires a lot of reading and listening. Anyone can be my teacher; I listen to everyone, so I can learn from them.

Cambodians are not really socialised, and if they so socialise, they usually just meet to drink together. I mean socialising in terms of meeting someone to whom you can talk, share and learn from. You can learn from scholars - even celebrities, common folk or dumb people. Knowledge is borderless. You know this; others know that - so you have to keep learning, creating and sharpening your knowledge every day.

Recently I've started to love Japanese movies because they require a lot of critical thinking, and the endings are often unexpected. They work your brain better than simple, easily predictable movies.

So what are the main problems currently facing Cambodian photographers?
Cambodian photographers' lack of assignments - and they are not willing to work independently on their own. Some have worked for media agencies, and they can survive, for sure, but they do not gravitate towards creative work.

To be a photographer in Cambodia you have to be self-inspired and self-motivated or you will get lost because Cambodian people do not really welcome innovative ideas.

People call us crazy because we create new phenomena, regardless of whether it is art. So being a photographer is not really a ... nice profession. You need to try it first to be able to capture great things in life.

How can we improve?
We need more high-quality photography. There are still insufficient documentary photos showing the changes in our society and the culture.

Like I have done for each of my exhibitions, I need to spend a lot more time doing research and thinking topics though.

Recently, I have just photographed rubber trees, which could be my last exhibition in Cambodia. I spent an entire month observing and photographing the rubber trees in many places in Kampong Cham Province.

I slept with the local community in the rubber plantation and faced many obstacles just to get good and meaningful photographs.

You need to make an effort and to be positive about what you are doing.