Thursday, 18 March 2010

Mekong, whose water level has dropped to only 33 centimeters, the lowest in 50 years

A Cambodian farmer ploughs a field during the dry season in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, March 18 ,2010. Severe drought has hit Southeast Asian countries, parching the region's major river, Mekong, whose water level has dropped to only 33 centimeters, the lowest in 50 years. Apart from the drought, villagers who live along the Mekong, which flows 4,350 km (2,700 miles) from the glaciers of Tibet to the rice-rich delta of southern Vietnam, attributed the falls of water level to newly constructed dams in China. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthesa

A Cambodian farmer collects water for his crops during the dry season in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, March 18 ,2010. Severe drought has hit Southeast Asian countries, parching the region's major river, Mekong, whose water level has dropped to only 33 centimeters, the lowest in 50 years. Apart from the drought, villagers who live along the Mekong, which flows 4,350 km (2,700 miles) from the glaciers of Tibet to the rice-rich delta of southern Vietnam, attributed the falls of water level to newly constructed dams in China. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthesa

A Cambodian man collects water for domestic use during the dry season, from a river in Kandal province on the outskirts of Phnom Penh March 18 ,2010. Severe drought has hit Southeast Asian countries, parching the region's major river, Mekong, whose water level has dropped to only 33 centimeters, the lowest in 50 years. Apart from the drought, villagers who live along the Mekong, which flows 4,350 km (2,700 miles) from the glaciers of Tibet to the rice-rich delta of southern Vietnam, attributed the falls of water level to newly constructed dams in China. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthesa

A man and his dog walk on the river bed of the Mekong river at Koh Dach district in Kandal province, east of Phnom Penh, March 17, 2010. Changing weather patterns and rising seas are already affecting many people in Southeast Asia's Greater Mekong Basin and climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions more, a report by global conservation group WWF released in October 2009 shows. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

A dog wades in the Mekong river at Koh Dach resort in Kandal province, east of Phnom Penh, March 17 ,2010. Changing weather patterns and rising seas are already affecting many people in Southeast Asia's Greater Mekong Basin and climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions more, a report by global conservation group WWF released in October 2009 shows. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Cambodia fishermen work on their fishing boat on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh March 17, 2010. Changing weather patterns and rising seas are already affecting many people in Southeast Asia's Greater Mekong Basin and climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions more, a report by global conservation group WWF released in October 2009 shows. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

A fisherman rows his boat along the Mekong river in Phnom Penh March 17, 2010. Changing weather patterns and rising seas are already affecting many people in Southeast Asia's Greater Mekong Basin and climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions more, a report by global conservation group WWF released in October 2009 shows. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

'Red Shirts' pour blood at prime minister's house




March 17, 2010

THAILAND - Thousands of "Red-Shirt" supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra gathered in Bangkok on Wednesday to pour their donated blood in front of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's resid...

Cambodia To Get National Airline

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The Cambodian government will launch a national flag carrier in a joint venture with Indonesia’s Rajawali Group, the conglomerate announced in Jakarta on April 10.

PR Log (Press Release) – Mar 17, 2010 – The Cambodian government will launch a national flag carrier in a joint venture with Indonesia’s Rajawali Group, the conglomerate announced in Jakarta on April 10.

The two sides will set up a joint venture with capital of up to $50 million, with Cambodia’s government owning 51 percent of the shares, Rajawali said in a statement. “With a national flag carrier, we envisage our economy and tourism industry will grow rapidly,” Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said in the statement.

More than 20 foreign airlines, including Japan Airlines and Dubai-based airline Emirates, currently operate direct flights to the Kingdom. (AFP) Contributed by The Phnom Penh Post

British-Cambodian film wins One World festival


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Prague, March 17 (CTK) - The British-Cambodian film Enemies of the People about the Khmer Rouge terror in Cambodia won the Best Film Award at the One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival 2010 held in Prague on March 10-18, its spokesman Filip Sebek told CTK yesterday.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Prague's Lucerna cinema on Thursday evening.

The Enemies of the People, directed by Rob Lemkin, is based on dozens of interviews with people who directly participated in the massacres under the Khmer Rouge regime that were recorded by a Cambodian journalist for years. They include a unique testimony of a close aide to Pol Pot.

The Best Director Award will go to Pawel Lozinski fro the Polish documentary Chemo on oncological patients who undergo chemotherapy at a clinic in Warsaw.

The Rudolf Vrba Award for the best film in the Right to Know category will be bestowed on The Sun Behind the Clouds by Tibetan directors Rita Sarin and Tenzing Sonam.

They will also receive the Vaclav Havel Special Award for a film that uniquely contributes to the defence of human rights, awarded by the jury of which Havel, former Czech and Czechoslovak president, is honorary chair. Havel is to present the award in person.

The Rudolf Vrba Jury's Special Mention will go to the film Tibet in Song in which a local musicologist returns to Tibet to map its rich music traditions. The film was also awarded in the documentary film section at the Sundance film festival in the United States last year.

All That Glitters, a Czech film directed by Tomas Kudrna, will receive the Czech Radio Award for a creative use of music and sound in a documentary.

The Student Jury has decided to award director Marije Meerman for her film I Wanna Be Boss.

The winner of the Audience Award will be known only on Thursday.

So far Czech director Tomas Skrdlant's documentary The Unwelcome has received the highest ratings. It shows the fate of several people whom their families abandoned after their birth as disabled and who lived in institutional care.

After Prague, the One World festival continues in another 29 towns in the Czech Republic.

The festival attendance was record high this year. A total of 32,500 people attended the screenings from last Thursday, when the event was opened, until Tuesday night. The attendance in the regions is also high, Sebek said, adding that the total attendance might exceed 100,000 this year.

ASEAN SEC-GEN'S COMMENTS NOT ON CAMBODIAN MILITARY EXERCISE

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KUALA LMPUR, March 18 (Bernama) -- The Asean secretary-general's recent comments on developments in Cambodia pertained to the prevailing situation along its border with Thailand.

Dr Surin Pitsuwan said it was not in reference to any particular military exercise in Cambodia which he had no knowledge of, at that point in time on March 5.

Bagas Hapsoro, Asean's Deputy Secretary-General (Community and Corporate Affairs), said in a statement that it was unfortunate that the two different issues were placed together in a Bernama article from Bangkok, "ASEAN Fears Cambodia May Send Wrong Signal".

"The question directed at me was of a general nature, and my responses were with specific reference to the prevailing situation along the Cambodian-Thai border which I have expressed on many occasions before, to all ASEAN Foreign Ministers and to the ASEAN Leaders,” said Dr Surin.

He said his concerns on the border situation had been publicly expressed on numerous occasions and were a routine response to media enquires.

Cambodia, China agree to deepen friendship, cooperation relations

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English.news.cn
2010-03-18

PHNOM PENH, March 18 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian and Chinese senior officials agreed on Thursday to further strengthen friendship and cooperation relations to bring more benefits to the peoples of the two countries.

The common view was reached when visiting Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu held talks with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Office of the Council of Ministers Sok An on Thursday.

During the meeting, Hui highly valued the relations between China and Cambodia, saying that China and Cambodia "are good neighbors, good friends and good partners." He said that the bilateral relations between China and Cambodia "serve as a model for state-to-state relations."

In recent years, the bilateral relations have maintained sound development momentum, Hui said, adding that China and Cambodia have kept close high-level exchanges, deepened economic and trade cooperation and maintained close coordination and cooperation on major international and regional affairs.

Moreover, Hui emphasized that the Chinese side attaches great importance to the Cambodian relations and is willing to make joint efforts with Cambodia to carry forward traditional friendship, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and enrich bilateral comprehensive cooperative partnership in order to promote such relations to a new higher and depth level.

Sok An fully agreed with Hui's positive evaluation of Sino- Cambodian relations. He thanked China for its long-term support and assistance to Cambodia's economic and social development, saying "Cambodia is willing to work with China to strengthen the cooperation and exchanges in various fields in an effort to promote bilateral relations to a higher level."

During the meeting, the two sides have an in-depth exchange of views on cooperation in agriculture, tourism, telecommunications, disaster prevention and reduction, and reached broad consensus.

The two sides also agreed to work together to smoothly implement and promote the cooperation projects, and actively explore new cooperation fields and mutual benefit and win-win cooperation model so as to bring greater benefits to the people in both countries.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Hui Liangyu held talks with Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhay Ly. After the meeting. Hui, together with Sok An and Yim Chhay Ly, attended the signing ceremony of agriculture, communications cooperation agreements.

Hui Liangyu will also have a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday afternoon.

Hui, arrived in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, began his three-day official visit at the invitation of Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Office of the Council of Ministers Sok An.

Cambodia is the first leg of Hui's five-nation visit which will also take him to the Laos, Palestine, Israel and India.

Editor: Anne Tang

Cambodia Protects Floodplain Grasslands Sheltering Rare Birds


Large areas of Tonle Sap grasslands are flooded during each rainy season, supporting a large freshwater fishery. (Photo by Mai Mark)

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NEW YORK, New York, March 18, 2010 (ENS) - The Cambodian government has decided to protect six of the largest remaining stretches of lowland grasslands in Southeast Asia. The six sites, one in Siem Reap province and five in Kampong Thom province, encompass about 77,000 acres (31,160 hectares).

The sites are located in and around Cambodia's Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake. They contain unique seasonally flooded grasslands that form a refuge for many globally threatened birds.

The grasslands are a fishing, grazing, and deep water rice farming resource for local communities. While most of the sites have been partially protected by a provincial conservation order, they remained vulnerable to land-clearing and dam-building activities associated with large-scale commercial rice production.

The new designations empower staff from Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to prevent these activities.

The designation of the protected areas is the result of work done over the past four years by the Wildlife Conservation Society, based at New York's Bronx Zoo, in collaboration with Cambodia's Forestry and Fisheries Administration, local governments and community stakeholders.

As part of that effort, WCS has sourced funds and provided technical advice and management support.

Other partners include the Centre d'Etude et de Developpement Agricole Cambodgien, the Sam Veasna Center, BirdLife International in Indochina, the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity, and the University of East Anglia.

"Recognizing the importance of these sites as part of Cambodia's unique natural heritage shows the national government's great commitment to the conservation of some of the country's valued landscapes," said WCS President and CEO Dr. Steven Sanderson.

Among the species that will benefit from the designation is the Critically Endangered Bengal florican, Eupodotis bengalensis, the world's largest and rarest bustard. The global population of this ground-nesting bird, distinguished by dramatic high jump displays during mating, is estimated at less than 1,300. More than half the world's Bengal floricans live in Cambodia.

"Traditionally the grasslands around the Great Lake have been communally owned, and a unique agricultural ecology has evolved over the centuries that has provided a niche for the Bengal florican," said Jonathan Eames, program manager with BirdLife in Indochina.

Bengal florican on the Tonle Sap grasslands (Photo by Allan Michaud courtesy BirdLife International)

The Tonle Sap grasslands, so important for breeding Bengal floricans, have declined by 60 percent since the late 1990s, with the intensification of rice cultivation playing a major role in this loss.

While florican habitat benefits from the traditional low-intensity agricultural practices such as seasonal burning, plowing, planting, and harvesting, illegal commercial rice farming destroys its habitat, forcing floricans into ever-shrinking areas.

The loss of grassland habitat in the Tonle Sap floodplain led to the 2006 designation of 310 square kilometers of land as Integrated Farming and Biodiversity Areas, where large scale habitat conversion is forbidden but extensive traditional use is encouraged.

The conservation groups praised the Cambodian government for the new declaration, which is the strongest step Cambodia has taken to date to protect the habitat of floricans and other bird species living in the protected areas, including Sarus cranes, storks, ibises and rare eagles.

In 2006, the first comprehensive survey for Bengal florican and other grassland bird species was jointly conducted by BirdLife and the Wildlife Conservation Society in the provinces surrounding the Tonle Sap lake. Information gained during the survey was used as a foundation for defining areas to be conserved.

A crude estimate, to be refined, put the Cambodian Bengal Florican population at between 700 and 900 individuals.

Researchers found that the disappearance of grassland habitat in Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces was a key reason behind the decline in Bengal floricans. They said the floricans have been disappearing because of large-scale changes in agricultural techniques that have occurred throughout Southeast Asia.

The collaborative project to protect the grasslands of Tonle Sap has been supported by grants from: Fondation Ensemble; the IUCN Netherlands Ecosystem Grants Program; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Without Borders � Critically Endangered Animal Conservation Fund; the UNDP/GEF-funded Tonle Sap Conservation Project; and WCS Trustee Eleanor Briggs.

Funding was also provided by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, administered through BirdLife International in Indochina. This Fund is a joint initiative of l'Agence Fran�aise de Developpement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank.

Richard Salter, international team leader for the Tonle Sap Conservation Project, has pointed out that establishing a set of common rules and an effective monitoring system for the sanctuary is a work in progress. He believes that problems of hunting and poaching are declining as local residents see the natural and economic value of preserving the area both as a biosphere and as a tourist destination.

DJ OZ Minerals Posts 605,000 Ounce Cambodian Gold Resource

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MELBOURNE, Mar 17, 2010 (Dow Jones Commodities News via Comtex) -- OZ Minerals Ltd. (OZL.AU) on Thursday posted an initial gold resource at its Okvau project in Cambodia of 650,000 ounces.

The miner said drilling carried out to date has identified a Joint Ore Reserves Committee-compliant inferred mineral resource of 8.1 million metric tons of ore at grades of 2.3 grams per ton for 605,000 ounces of gold.

OZ said the results have given it sufficient encouragement to continue with further exploration and the next phase will aim to identify the potential for more than 2 million ounces of gold in the Okvau district.

Based on the results, OZ said it remains confident of discovering more Okvau-style mineralization and adding to the current resource.

-By Alex Wilson, Dow Jones Newswires: 613-9292-2094;

DAP News ; Breaking News by Soy Sopheap

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China to Sign Three Agreements With Cambodia to Boost Bilateral Trade

Wednesday, 17 March 2010 12:46 By Ek Madra DAP News

PHNOM PENH, March 17 (DAP) – Cambodia to sign three Memorandum of Understandings (MOU) with China during the visit of Chinese vice premier aims to improve the bilateral trade, a government’s spokesman told DAP.

Phay Siphan said Hui Liangyu, who is visiting the Kingdom from March 17 to 19, is more than just improving the already strong relationship but “to expand the two-way trade”.

Liangyu will preside over the signing ceremony of the bilateral cooperation in agriculture, which is the country’s back bone economy, accounted almost 27 percent of the country’s GDP.

Another agreement on enhancing cooperation between Cambodian telecommunication and China’s Huawei Technologies and the agreement on providing equipment and service providing between CAMGSM and Huawei Technologies, said the release.

Cambodia has been successful with rice production in the last decade and this prospect remains unchanged. The kingdom produced 7.286 million tonnes of rice for 2009/2010 of which the country saw another surplus of 3.1 million tonnes of rice for exports.

In February, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced an ambitious plan to invest another $310 million including the Chinese loans of $240 million for improving the kingdom’s irrigation systems, which is a key factor contribute to boost rice production for exports.

Many analysts said Cambodia’s potential investment in rice is high but opportunities for increased exports have been limited because of the country’s poor irrigations and processing facilities.

Agricultural minister Chan Sarun has said that Cambodia’s rice cultivated area could be increased up to 3.5 million hectares from 2.6 million hectare from which the country could reach a potential harvest of 12.25 million tonnes.

Also, telecommunications market in Cambodia stood at $429 million in 2008.

The growth in turnover has remained very robust, holding a high level of 31 percent on average for the last six years, said a government report.

The impoverished Southeast Asian nation has eight mobile phone firms, which foreign-owned except Mobitel, which worked in partnership with Luxembourg-registered Millicom International Cellular.

CAMGSM (Mobitel), which has lion share of 66 percent out of the Cambodian mobile phone market, followed by Camshin 12 percent, said a government’s report.

Cambodia has an estimated 4 million mobile phone subscribers out of a population of about 14 million people of which nearly 90 percent lived in the countryside.

Also, Cambodia has high potential in rice investment which intrigued not only China, the Cambodian biggest donor, but other donors such as Japan and South Korea.

Kuwait agreed to provide loans of $546 million for Cambodia of which some $486 million will be invested in irrigation systems and hydro-power in the northeast. The remains of $60 million goes for roads in the north-western province of Battambang, a rice-growing area.

Kuwait, which had leased rice fields in Cambodia to secure food supplies, planned to invest $200 million in the Cambodian farmlands.

“They have money, we have land. They won’t come if we do not have agricultural potential,” agriculture minister Chan Sarun has said.

China also pledged more loans for Cambodia to invest more in constructing irrigations in Prey Veng, Pursat and Oddar Meanchey.

Cambodia’s leaders called more Chinese investment to invest in the kingdom so that to boost exports. Beijing has provided Cambodia the duty free access of 418 items for exporting the products to the Chinese market.

Cambodia imported products from China was $933.43 million in 2008. The kingdom exported to China was $12.93 million the same year. The figures of trade value for 2009 were not immediately available.

Chinese investment in Cambodia lowered to US $349.15 million in 2009—hit by the international financial downturn. It was US $4.48 billion in 2008.

During the last December, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping encouraged Cambodia to export more products to China. At the time, China announced $1.2 billion in grant aid and loans for Cambodia to develop its physical infrastructures which were devastated by two decades of civil war in the 1970s.

Cambodian “One China Policy” cemented the two Asian nations’ relations thanks to the former King Norodom Sihanouk who inked the diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1958.

Nothing on the box

Photo by: Rann Reuy

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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:04 Rann Reuy

Discarded televisions sit outside the ruins of makeshift houses built in front of the Apsara Authority headquarters in Siem Reap town. Provincial officials destroyed the 10 homes on Wednesday after accusing the families of living illegally on state land.

Revisiting Lon Nol’s Cambodia

A look back at Lon Nol’s ill-fated gamble on democracy in Cambodia

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IF WE DIDN’T DO IT, WE WOULD HAVE BEEN BLAMED BY OUR CHILDREN, BECAUSE WE WOULD'VE LOST TERRITORY WITHOUT FIGHTING A BATTLE
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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:05 Sebastian Strangio

Forty years on, former participants reflect on the country’s star-crossed republican experiment

FORTY years ago today, the National Assembly convened in Phnom Penh and voted to replace then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk as head of state. The “coup” of March 18, 1970, though it involved no immediate shedding of blood, paved the way for the country’s first experiment with republican government.

The regime that came into being four decades ago was headed, and later personified, by two men: General Lon Nol, a close ally of Sihanouk who became prime minister in August 1969, and Sihanouk’s cousin Prince Sisowath Sirikmatak. During their five short years in power, which ended with the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975, the two men attempted a bold experiment in Khmer democracy. On October 9, with much pomp and ceremony, they presided over the founding of the Khmer Republic, bringing Cambodia’s centuries-old monarchy to an end and installing a US-style presidency.

Caught between the velvet-gloved authoritarianism of Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime and the horrors that came after under the Khmer Rouge, the Khmer Republic remains a blind spot in many accounts of Cambodian history. But the event was in its own way a historical watershed, shattering Prince Sihanouk’s royalist consensus and opening up a political rift that led the country into civil war and the more muted political conflicts of the present day.

“One could say that the events of 1970 did polarise the Cambodian population more so than ever before, and transform the system of political accommodation that Sihanouk had practised so well during the late 1950s and early 1960s into one of confrontation,” said Justin Corfield, historian and author of Khmers Stand Up: A History of the Cambodian Government 1970-75.

The final tally of the vote on March 18 – 89 votes for and three against – was a surprising indictment of the Prince, who claimed (and was given) credit for leading Cambodia to independence and uniting the country under his Sangkum regime.

Ros Chantraboth, the author of another history of the republican era, said that Sihanouk’s neutralist Cold War balancing act, performed so successfully since the mid-1950s, took a “suicidal” turn at the end of the following decade. By tacitly allowing Vietnamese communist troops to use Cambodia as a staging ground for their operations inside South Vietnam, Sihanouk inflamed local sentiment, something that was only worsened by the corruption and economic mismanagement that plagued the Sangkum regime.

Ros Chantraboth said that the faults of Sihanouk’s regime continued under the Khmer Republic. “For two years, the corruption and injustice were controlled, but started to reassert themselves in 1973 when old officials came to power,” he said last year. “The March coup just changed the image of the regime.”



Far left: Brigadier General Dien Del (left in photo) watches a military parade in Phnom Penh during Independence Day celebrations, November 9, 1974. phOTO SUPPLIED

Above: President Lon Nol greets Thomas Anders, the US embassy’s then-deputy head of mission, at the Presidential Palace in Chamkarmon, now the Senate compound, circa 1972. COURTESY DOCUMENTATION CENTRE OF CAMBODIA

Left: A young Chhang Song (top left in photo) sits behind a row of Viet Cong prisoners at a press conference in the early 1970s. The military high command presented the five captured cadres to the press as evidence that Vietnamese communists were encroaching on Cambodian territory as part of their ongoing war against the regime in South Vietnam. COURTESY DOCUMENTATION CENTRE OF CAMBODIA

Nearly from the moment of its inception, the republic started coming apart at the seams. Sihanouk, informed of his overthrow by Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin on the way to the airport in Moscow, raged against its “traitorous” architects and plotted his revenge. He found a comfortable exile in Beijing, where, on March 23, he broadcast a call to arms against the republican government and formed a broad-based alliance that included the Khmer Rouge, his erstwhile enemies in the maquis.

Meanwhile, the new government struggled with student protests, constitutional legitimacy and the steadily approaching maelstrom of civil war.
Corruption was especially rife in the Khmer National Armed Forces (FANK), which, thanks to US largesse, expanded from a force of 35,000 into a bloated legion of more than 200,000. A common practice among commanders was to overreport the number of troops in their units, siphoning the salaries of these “phantom soldiers” into their own pockets. Others, bent on self-enrichment, sold arms directly to the enemy.

US President Richard Nixon, encouraged by the new regime in Phnom Penh, sent US troops over the border from South Vietnam in April 1970 to capture the Vietcong “headquarters” that was assumed to be directing the communist insurgency from inside Cambodia. The battle lines of this new proxy war quickly settled into place: As Lon Nol threw in his lot with the Americans, eating up economic and military aid, the Vietcong and their Cambodian apprentices turned their fire on the new government.

Despite the reported bravery of its rank and file, the army wilted under repeated insurgent attacks during 1971 and 1972. Only a few effective units, and the indiscriminate US bombing of communist base areas, prevented the republic’s premature fall. But even this had its own tragic aspect: Just a week before the US congress ordered a bombing halt in August 1973, an American B-52 bomber accidentally dropped its payload on the Mekong ferry town of Neak Leung, killing some 200 civilians. Journalist Elizabeth Becker writes in her book When the War Was Over that in 1973 alone, the US dropped 257,465 tonnes of explosives on Cambodia – around 50 percent more than the amount dropped on Japan during the Second World War.

A legacy worth defending
But 40 years on, those who took part in Cambodia’s republican experiment have defended the regime’s legacy, arguing that the toppling of Sihanouk was unavoidable despite the failures that followed. For General Dien Del, as for other future republicans, the winds of change began blowing through Sihanouk’s Cambodia as early as 1968, when the Prince started turning a blind eye to Vietnamese incursions.

Two days before the coup, Dien Del, then a major in the army, was recalled from the front in Ratanakkiri province to a meeting with Lon Nol, in which he was briefed on the plan to seize power. Dien Del said the prime minister, who enjoyed close relations with both Sihanouk and his mother, Queen Kossamak, appeared nervous at what might eventuate. “Lon Nol was eager, but seemed worried about the consequences, worried about the country and the monarchy,” he said.

Now 79, the laconic Dien Del – whom British journalist Jon Swain described as the army’s “best general, a man with a merry sparkle in his eyes” – said he still admires Lon Nol for standing up to the Vietnamese, as did many Cambodians at the time. “He was very popular as a civilian official and a military commander,” he said.

Chhang Song, who served as Lon Nol’s minister of information during 1974-75, said the events of March 18 were inevitable due to the Prince’s tacit support for the “silent invasion” of the Vietnamese, who treated eastern Cambodia virtually as “conquered territory”. Chhang Song, then one of Sihanouk’s personal advisers, said he was unsurprised when the coup was announced on national radio.

Photo by: Sebastian Strangio
Chhang Song, the Khmer Republic’s last Minister of Information, discusses the regime during an interview earlier this month.

“We didn’t want to lose Sihanouk; but at the same time, if we didn’t lose him we were going to lose the country,” he said during a recent interview in Phnom Penh. “If we didn’t do it, we would have been blamed by our children, because we would’ve lost territory without fighting a battle. The coup was a decision – right or wrong – for Cambodians to stand up to defend our territory. We didn’t just let [the invasion] happen and then go and complain in Long Beach.”

Chhang Song said the republican regime, for all its failings, also heralded the “spread of liberal ideas and principles” into Cambodia for the first time. “Cambodian society was previously very closed – nobody outside knew what was happening – but it was republican ideals that opened it up. These things were possible.”

In its early years, the regime drew on a “spontaneous” outpouring of patriotic support from students and progressive intellectuals, the latter of whom depicted the republic in terms redolent of revolutionary France, said Son Soubert, the son of Son Sann, who served as prime minister under Sihanouk’s Sangkum regime. The National Assembly’s famous 1792 declaration “La patrie en danger!” – originally made in response to Prussia’s alliance with Austria against France – was resurrected by the regime to depict the impending threat of communism.

“There was a lot of evidence of communist involvement in our internal affairs, so students and progressives – even before the coup – came to offer their services to defend the country,” Son Soubert said. “When the regime overthrew Prince Sihanouk, they based their support on these young students.” Indeed, an enduring image of the immediate post-coup period is of overladen Coca-Cola lorries filled with dozens of teenage youths in baggy army fatigues – later dubbed “24-hour soldiers” for the perfunctory training they were offered – trundling off to the east to fight the communists.

A republic for the Khmers
The Khmer Republic’s dark flipside – its demonisation of Cambodia’s half-million-strong Vietnamese population – also quickly asserted itself.

“Lon Nol was an echo before he was a voice,” William Harben, a US political officer, wrote in a cable from Phnom Penh in 1972. “The deep inferiority feelings of the Khmer towards their Vietnamese neighbours and the Chinese commercial caste calls for a myth of their descent from the imperial temple builders of the past.”

Becker describes how the focus on countering Vietnamese communism took the form of a quasi-mystic campaign of racist violence against Vietnamese civilians. In April 1970, Cambodian troops rounded up some 800 Vietnamese Catholic labourers living on the Chroy Changvar peninsula, shot them and then dumped the bodies into the Tonle Bassac. The bloated corpses that floated past on the current in the days afterward, she wrote, were “an open, hideous warning” to all Vietnamese living in Cambodia.

In any case, the initial flood of euphoria was quickly stemmed by events. Despite the use of French revolutionary slogans to buoy up morale, Son Soubert said, the republic – as venal and corrupt as its predecessor – could not maintain the momentum of these initial enthusiasms. “The leadership was not up to the task. They were corrupt – they benefited from this kind of regime, and they did not sustain the enthusiasm of the young people,” he said.

Even the abolition of the monarchy in October, Chhang Song said, was motivated less by ideology than by the need to solve a glaring problem of state legitimacy. With Sihanouk still the nominal head of state, but an irreconcilable enemy (the Prince repeatedly threatened to hang the “traitors” who overthrew him), it was necessary to proclaim the republic as a way of, as he put it, putting the regime’s “papers in order”.

Decision-making started to take on a vague, improvisatory quality. General Sak Sutsakhan, the last republican head of state, wrote in 1980 that the regime’s main leaders, especially Lon Nol, operated “in what can best be described as a dream world”, forging plans “based on unreality, or interpretations of history”. Lon Nol’s health also started to take its toll on the republic. After suffering a stroke in 1971, he became increasingly isolated from the outside world, prey to the predictions of astrologers, his information filtered through a small coterie of advisers.

“He knew nothing,” Dien Del said. “He didn’t know how much a packet of cigarettes cost.… His knowledge and the reality were very different.” He added that plans were in the offing for a second coup to topple the ailing president, but that they foundered upon the apparent lack of US interest in overthrowing a leader who still, despite (or because of) his mystical reveries, enjoyed considerable support among the rank and file.

By 1972, with the US seeking an “honourable” disengagement from Indochina, the other pillar of the regime’s support had also started to crumble. “I’m sorry that they miscalculated the timing,” Son Soubert said of the regime’s leaders. “They had good intentions, but the timing was not appropriate.”

One former FANK army captain agreed that the republic’s promising start was compromised by its proxy role in the Cold War. “I blame the Americans,” he said, referring to the US invasion of April 1970. “They came to make Cambodia pregnant – if we can say that – and did not take care of the infants.”

The collapse of the republic
The end, when it came, was swift and unrelenting. Unhindered by US bombing sorties, the Khmer Rouge made rapid gains during the 1974-75 dry season, encircling the capital by March. On April 1, with FANK units mounting a last-ditch defence of the capital, Chhang Song accompanied the president as he was evacuated by air to Thailand, and thence to the US Pacific Command Headquarters in Oahu, Hawaii. He said Lon Nol was surprisingly composed during the weeks following the fall. Even when informed that his brother, intelligence chief Lon Non, was killed by the Khmer Rouge and dragged through the streets in Phnom Penh, he remained impassive. “He didn’t say much of anything,” Chhang Song said.

“He was very stoic – there was no sign of tears, nothing.”

David Chandler, historian and author of The Tragedy of Cambodian History, said that in hindsight, the regime – at least in its early years – appears better than it is sometimes depicted. “It’s hard to talk sensibly of a regime that lost control of so much territory so quickly, and was so swamped by US military aid,” he said. “When I visited Cambodia in 1970 and 1971, however, I was impressed by the vigour and optimism of many people in Phnom Penh, after the smothering closing years of the Sihanouk era.”

Even after 1975, the former FANK captain said, the republican spirit lived on, migrating up to the Thai border where many former republicans, including Dien Del and Sak Sutsakhan, took up arms against the Vietnam-backed government. “Many people carried on that spirit to liberate the country from the Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge and corruption. That spirit has continued from the Lon Nol times,” he said.

But for Lon Nol himself – the man whose name will probably be eternally linked with the doomed regime – exile would be a reminder of lost opportunities. Chhang Song, who read Lon Nol’s eulogy at his funeral in California in 1985, said that he had never felt much sympathy for the revolutionary ideas that captivated Sirikmatak and other intellectual supporters of the Khmer Republic. “Lon Nol was a Cambodian nationalist,” he said. “He wanted this country to be unified, he wanted the people to be independent from the Vietnamese.”

He recalled an incident shortly after fleeing the country, when he and Lon Nol visited a fast-food restaurant in Hawaii, Lon Nol’s teenage son Rith in tow. As they walked into the restaurant, tears suddenly welled up in the ex-president’s eyes. The two men sat down, and Lon Nol gestured around at the diners. “‘Look at the American people – they are so equal. Everybody eats with everybody else, they are happy, and they continue to build their country,’” Chhang Song recalled him saying. “‘I wanted Cambodia to be like that, and I missed my chance.’”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY TITTHARA AND NETH PHEAKTRA

PM says 2009 saw ‘slight’ growth

Photo by: AFP
Cambodian rice farmers bring in the harvest in this file photo. The IMF said Wednesday that the agricultural sector was a “bright spot” in Cambodia’s economy in an otherwise dour 2009.

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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:05 Ellie Dyer and Nguon Sovan

CAMBODIA’S gross domestic product achieved “slight growth” last year despite the fallout from the global economic crisis, according to preliminary financial results, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday.

The prime minister made the statement in front of around 300 private-sector, government and civil-society leaders at the Cambodia Outlook Conference, held in the capital’s Phnom Penh Hotel.

“Recent estimates suggest that GDP growth last year remained positive, even though it was only slight growth.

“This was supported by good results in the agriculture and service sectors, which grew at 5.4 percent and 2.3 percent respectively,” said the premier in a keynote speech.

He added that growth sectors had offset declines in other industrial areas such as garments, which slid 9 percent. He went on to predict that 2010 should see GDP rise by 5 percent.

Hang Chuon Naron, secretary general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, told the Post after Tuesday’s conference that the primary result for 2009’s GDP growth was recorded at 0.1 percent. The finalised figure is set to be released in June, Hun Sen said.

The government’s positive estimate differed sharply with that of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Speaking after Hun Sen, John Nelmes, the IMF’s representative for Cambodia, said overall GDP was estimated to have contracted by 2.5 percent last year. However, he remained positive about the country’s outlook.

“After the economy bottomed out late last year, recovery is now under way in Cambodia,” he said.

“The IMF estimates that growth will turn positive this year, with GDP rising by 4 percent, but I would not rule out the prime minister’s forecast of 5 percent,” he added.

In 2008, the World Bank estimated that Cambodia’s GDP was US$9.4 billion.

Hun Sen emphasised during the conference, which discussed measures needed for Cambodia to become a high-growth economy, the importance of the agricultural sector as a “potential engine of growth” in the medium to long term.

The IMF also described the sector’s growth as a “bright spot” during 2009’s economic decline.

This was later challenged by Cambodian Economic Association President Chan Sophal, who stated that despite the apparent growth in the sector, many cassava farmers had found it hard to sell crops in 2009.

Hun Sen went on to predict sustainable growth in the agricultural sector, especially in rice and rubber production. But the premier did temper his largely positive message.

He warned that the nation must remain vigilant of the economic “storm”, despite the apparent upturn.

“The weather seems calm, but the sky is not clear. More rain may or may not come. However, we have to prepare raincoats and umbrellas in advance,” he said.

The premier talked of the need to save money, reiterating that he would freeze government recruitment, with the exception of teachers and medical workers.

Economic experts were also frank about the measures that Cambodia needs to put in place, if the Kingdom is to move up the world’s economic ladder.

Nelmes said that Cambodia should aim for GDP growth of 6 to 7 percent to become a middle-income country, but warned: “Going forward, [Cambodia] needs to be very careful to avoid having an inflation problem.”

Vietnam previously set itself a target of this year to become a middle-income nation.

Hang Chuon Naron talked of the need to create a “better quality of growth” for the domestic economy.

He explained that small-scale land development, which has the potential to increase employment, is an important factor to consider along with the introduction of large land concessions.

“This is a balancing act,” he said.

UN concerned over minority rights


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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:05 Tep Nimol and Kim Yuthana

Despite some of the best laws in Asia, activists say, local implementation is lacking.

A UN panel has called on Cambodia to redouble its commitment to protecting the rights of its indigenous minority communities, joining a chorus of concerns from rights activists who have warned of a “crisis” among the country’s indigenous populations.

In its concluding observations to a hearing on Cambodia last month, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), lauded the presence of a legal framework for the protection of indigenous rights, but said it was hampered by weak implementation.

“While welcoming the efforts made by the State party to adopt a wide range of legislation in areas such as asylum, access to land, access to education, the prohibition of racial discrimination, the Committee is concerned with the lack of uniform and faithful implementation and enforcement of these laws,” the CERD noted.

It also said the quest for economic growth via the granting of large-scale agricultural and mining concessions had been “to the detriment” of many indigenous communities.

At a press conference Wednesday, Van Samech, an ethnic Kuoy representing Kampong Speu’s indigenous populations, said that communities had lost burial grounds and spirit forests to a 9,985-hectare agricultural concession, undermining their social health.

“Children lose their educational opportunity. Youths develop bad behaviour and ignore their traditions. Wildlife is lost. It affects our health and makes the climate change,” she said.

“The authorities threatened us not to protest and not even to cry. We want the government to respect the rights of all aborigines by abiding by the constitutional law and the land law.”

Representatives of 12 indigenous groups from Ratanakkiri province say they have thumbprinted a petition that they plan to give to Prime Minister Hun Sen when he travels to the province to inaugurate National Road 78 today. The petition expresses their worry about the loss of land and natural resources to private development.

“We want the government to study thoroughly the bad effects which can happen to our communities before licencing any company to develop the land,” said Kham Phor Savat, 42, a Tumpuon representative from Lumphat district.

Chith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, said that the government had granted nearly a million hectares in economic land concessions across the country, but that only a small amount of land had been given to minority groups. When people protest, he added, activists are often accused of incitement.

“What we are doing is not meant to incite minority groups to defy the government. We just want to bring them their rights and help them protect their land and forest,” he said.

Ty Sokun, director general of the Forestry Administration at the Ministry of Agriculture, said he had not yet read CERD’s recommendations, but rejected the idea that Cambodian minority groups had the automatic right to use community forests in perpetuity.

One activist, however, said many communities he has spoken to are not against development, but want development to happen “on their terms”. “They want to be in control of that change,” said Graeme Brown, a consultant on indigenous minority rights. Without being granted local agency, he added, groups could suffer a rise in social problems such as alcohol abuse.

Brown called on donors, which have prompted positive change for indigenous peoples in the past, to take fresh action to ensure the government implements laws already on the books. “When you look at Cambodia, it has some of the best legal frameworks in Asia – they just need to be implemented,” he said.

ADDITIONAl REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

Funcinpec predicts royalist merger for 2013 polls


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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:05 Meas Sokchea

THE Kingdom’s estranged royalist parties will reunite in time for the 2013 national election, Funcinpec’s president announced on Wednesday, although the Nationalist Party – Cambodia’s other royalist political group – has rejected a suggestion that the merger would take place under the Funcinpec name.

At a press conference at his home in Phnom Penh, Funcinpec President Keo Puth Reasmey said the Nationalist Party, which split from Funcinpec in 2006 to become the Norodom Ranariddh Party, would reunite with his group in 2012.

“Even if we have not written it formally, we must focus on the election by naming [the new party] the Funcinpec party. I am just hinting at it, but I don’t know whether Nationalist Party will be happy or not when they hear this,” he said.

“If we do not do so, the merger will be meaningless, and international and grassroots [groups] will also not believe in us.”

Keo Puth Reasmey also expressed a desire to join with Kem Sokha’s opposition Human Rights Party, noting that the three parties’ combined votes in the 2008 election matched Funcinpec’s total haul in 2003 polls.

“We can see clearly the votes we could have lost” because of the split, he said, warning that without a merger, the parties would be weakened against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Nationalist spokesman Pen Sangha said Wednesday that he recognised both parties could be merged under one name in 2012, but that the two parties had not reached a decision on the issue.

“Excellency Keo Puth Reasmey’s comments seem so hasty. We have agreed on some points, but on some points we have disagreed,” he said. “We have not raised any [party] name.”

Funcinpec, founded by then-prince Norodom Sihanouk in Paris in 1981, romped to victory in the UN-backed elections in 1993, but has seen its popularity fall in every election held since.

Following a highly publicised split in 2006, when former Funcinpec head Prince Ranariddh fled into exile before being convicted of embezzlement, Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party captured just four of the National Assembly’s 123 seats at the 2008 elections.

PM lashes out at rehab critics


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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:05 Cheang Sokha

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has lashed out at critics who “blindly attack” Cambodia’s controversial drug rehabilitation centres, accusing international rights organisations of bias in a speech Wednesday.

“Some human rights organisations, lacking in rational consideration, take the chance to blindly attack without seeing the government’s charity,” Hun Sen said before 300 drug police officials during an Interior Ministry conference on combating narcotics.

The premier did not name a specific organisation, but a Human Rights Watch report in late January blasted the Kingdom’s 11 government-run rehabilitation centres, claiming that drug users are subject to abuse including “sadistic violence” and forced labour in the facilities.

Hun Sen said drug users in the centres will soon receive daily allowances and medication.

“They are not criminals. They are the victims, so they should receive proper treatment,” Hun Sen said, before ordering Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng to buy drug medication and the Ministry of Justice to adopt a proposed law on combating drugs in May in order to send it to the National Assembly for debate.

Last December, the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) conducted a criticised trial of the Vietnamese detoxification medication Bong Sen on 21 drug users.

Fighting for their rights


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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:05 James O'Toole

Workshop looks at difficulties facing women who seek divorce

MARRIED to a man who repeatedly beat her, her children and even her 75-year-old mother, Bopha lived in constant fear of her husband’s destructive rages.

However, after despairing for years, the 45-year-old from Kampong Chhnang – who asked that her real name not be used – took a step taken by very few Cambodian women: She got a divorce.

Gathering in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, representatives of the government and civil society organisations met for a workshop to discuss the legal and social hurdles faced by women, like Bopha, who seek separation from their abusive husbands.

“A divorce should always be the last option, as marriage is a sacred bond between two people,” Ing Kantha Phavi, minister of women’s affairs, told the workshop. “However … I am also sure that we agree that as there are reasons to try to save a marriage, there are also reasons to end one.”

Though comprehensive statistics on the issue are unavailable, it is clear that divorce is out of reach for many Cambodian women today. This is particularly true in rural areas, not least because of a basic lack of workers in the legal sector, said Dorine van der Keur, international coordinator of the UN Development Programme’s Access to Justice project.

Of the around 650 registered lawyers in Cambodia, van der Keur said, “only half of them are practising, and only a small percentage of that are actually providing free legal aid to the poor, so you can imagine that it’s almost impossible to get a lawyer if you’re poor”.

Compounding this difficulty, said Thida Kus, executive director of the local rights group Silaka, is the great gender imbalance within the legal profession, where male judges and lawyers are often less sensitive to domestic disputes and gender violence than their female colleagues.

Although the Ministry of Justice has dispatched a working group to encourage more women to join the sector, the disparities remain stark: 178 male judges versus 30 female, and 98 male prosecutors versus two female.

In the case that a woman does secure a divorce hearing, she must travel to the nearest court and pay a fee of 55,000 riels (US$13), both potentially prohibitive costs.

She must also have a legally registered marriage, which is not the norm for many in rural areas.

Even then, a successful divorce is no panacea for gender equality in the face of long-standing cultural bias, Thida Kus said.

“Given the local context of Cambodia, we cannot totally rely on law enforcement to protect a woman from domestic violence,” Thida Kus said. She called for an increase in economic and social programmes targeting women, as well as a broader reassessment of cultural mores.

“Right now, socially, a woman is frowned upon if she decides to leave her husband - she is looked down upon by the community, even by her own family,” she said.

The current legislation on divorce is reasonably progressive, van der Veur said, providing women with the possibility of alimony, shares of household assets and even restraining orders in the aftermath of divorce. A more pressing challenge, she said, is the “demand” side of justice – getting individuals and communities to assert and protect women’s rights.

For Bopha, a successful divorce came only after twice seeking mediation from her commune chief and paying a bribe to the provincial women’s affairs department that did not produce the desired outcome. With support and representation provided by workers from Legal Aid of Cambodia, however, she finally achieved legal separation from her husband.

“I’m not sure if he will come back, but even if he comes back, I will not accept him,” she said.

Words fly over boating cartel


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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:04 Chhay Channyda

THE Phnom Penh Tourist Water Transport Association plans to submit a complaint letter to authorities requesting the return of a rogue boat operator who has refused to abide by association rules, which require all members to participate in a centralised booking system.

The association was formed in January and requires boat operators to participate in the booking system, which splits boats into three different types with prices ranging from US$20 to $40 per hour.

Ly Puthy, association president, said a letter thumbprinted by all members would be sent to the Tourism, Interior, Public Works and Transport ministries, and to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, requesting that Rin Naran – owner of the Chamkar Sne boat – immediately join the association.

The letter will state that Rin Naran has exploited his freedom and is hurting the businesses of other members.

“Rin Naran is a member of this association, but he does not respect its rules,” Ly Puthy said. “We want authorities to intervene to ask him to come back to our association.”

Hun Chanleak, owner of the Mekong Star Tourism boat, said she supports the association and applauds the fact that every boat has a chance to be profitable.

“I was beaten when competing for customers when we were located at Phsar Chas,” she said. “Now, no one beats others for clients by reducing prices.”

However, Rin Naran said he had never filled out a membership application. “The association prevents our right to freely take customers,” he said. “Customers call my phone, so I take them on my boat.”

Third villager shot by troops in Thailand, officials report


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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:04 Tep Nimol

CAMBODIAN authorities say another villager from Banteay Meanchey province has been shot and killed by Thai soldiers – the third reported case in less than a week.

Thma Puok district Police Chief Yort Yay said the villager, 44-year-old Pol Sarith, was shot three times in the head and chest along the Cambodian-Thai border on Monday.

“The victim is a villager who sells and buys secondhand motors with a Thai businessman,” Yort Yay said.

Yort Yay says the Thai soldiers also placed a bomb and 90 tablets of amphetamines near the victim’s body to accuse him of being a drug trafficker.

Pol Sarith is from the same district as two other villagers reportedly shot on the weekend after having strayed into Thai territory.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Wednesday he was waiting for comment from Thailand regarding the allegation.

Local rights group Adhoc has reported that Thai soldiers shot and killed at least 20 Cambodian civilians in the border area in 2008 and 2009.

Thai officials have declined to comment on individual cases, but said Thai soldiers claim to have fired on armed groups only.

Appeal filed
Meanwhile, the Thai lawyer defending six Cambodians convicted of illegal logging in Thailand’s Surin province last month has filed an appeal, Koy Kuong said.

The six villagers from O’Smach commune in Oddar Meanchey were arrested on January 25 while collecting rattan in areas along the Thai border.

A Thai court sentenced them to 27 months in prison after finding them guilty of illegal logging, a ruling that rankled Cambodian officials, who said they had been given an inaccurate court date and were thus unable to ensure the group had legal representation.

Koy Kuong said Prasat Thaidy, the lawyer selected to defend the six Cambodians, filed the appeal on Tuesday, though he said he had been informed that a hearing would not be held for another six months.

Government agrees to protect grasslands


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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:04 Will Baxter

THE government has agreed to work with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other organisations to protect six lowland grassland areas totalling 31,159 hectares in and around the Tonle Sap floodplain, the WCS country programme director, Mark Gately, said Wednesday.

The seasonally flooded areas – five in Kampong Thom province and one in Siem Reap province – comprise the Bengal Florican and Biodiversity Management Area, which provides refuge for threatened species.

Gately said the order outlining the terms of the agreement, signed last month, marked the strongest government-led effort to protect the species, which include birds such as the Sarus crane and the Bengal Florican.

Previously, the areas were partially protected by a provincial order, but they remained vulnerable to land-clearance and dam-building connected with legal and illegal large-scale rice farming, Gately said.

Under the new agreement, the area will be protected by law enforcement teams from the Forestry and Fisheries administrations, Gately said, adding that the teams would conduct regular patrols and inform provincial authorities of any illegal activity.

Railways need support to profit, Toll CEO says

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Children cycle past dilipidated freight cars on a rail line near Phnom Penh station in October.

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Unless immediate action is taken now... and it needs to be now, cumulative funding ... will not deliver."--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Thursday, 18 March 2010 15:00 Ellie Dyer and May Kunmakara

Australian logistics firm says key infrastructure must be added

THE Kingdom’s railway network needs immediate attention if it is to become commercially viable and sustainable, the head of the Australian partner in the system’s renewal said Wednesday.

Speaking at the Cambodia Outlook Conference in Phnom Penh, David Kerr, CEO of Toll Holdings Group Cambodia (THGC), asked the government to put regulations and infrastructure in place, which are needed to fix the country’s railways.

The network is undergoing a US$141.6 million revamp under a 30-year concession by a joint venture between Toll, Australia’s largest trucking and freight company, and Cambodia’s Royal Group. The first train is scheduled to run in October.

The private sector needs officials to negotiate quicker customs clearances for freight at the borders, direct rail access to containers held at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port and fuel subsidies for the railway concessionaire, Kerr said.

“Unless immediate action is taken now by the Cambodian government, and it needs to be now, cumulative funding from Asia Development Bank, AusAID and the private sector of around $200 million will not deliver,” he said.

This does not mean that trains would cease running on renewed lines, he said, but they would not be economically viable or sustainable in the long term.

Toll’s freight operation would need to make 250 round trips per annum to become economically feasible, he said, a difficult pace to maintain with freight held for customs clearance at borders and ports.

After his presentation, Kerr told the Post that the potential costs of moving containers to a railway carriage without direct port access would be “significant” for the company.

Action needs to be considered now and built into plans to redevelop ports, he said.

Kerr said he has met in recent days with two deputy prime ministers to discuss developments. Representatives from the ADB and AusAID, together with the French and Australian ambassadors, were “heavily involved”, he said.

Touch Chankosal, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, said Wednesday that the government will comply with all the recommendations, which he said have been written into an agreement on the railway provision.

However, he said that negotiations with Thailand to assist with the cross-border customs issues have been temporarily suspended due to the “current situation” between the two nations.

“Whenever the situation is good enough, we will resume our negotiations,” he said. “The company also knows this because we have been working together for a long time.”

The ministry intends to assist negotiations between the company and Sihanoukville port over a rail link, Touch Chankosal said.

“We will play a role as facilitator because [the port] is an autonomous entity which seeks profit,” he said. “So, we will assist them on creating smooth negotiations. However, the result is reliant on agreement made by the two parties.”

Kerr said that Toll’s Cambodian venture would pave the way for an integrated transport network within the Greater Mekong Region.