Monday, 18 October 2010

Clinton coming to Cambodia

Photo by: AFP
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Pristina, Kosovo, last week to meet officals as part of a Balkan tour that included Bosnia and Serbia.

via CAAI

Sunday, 17 October 2010 21:55 Buth Reaksmey Kongkea and James O’Toole

United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton will pay a visit to the Kingdom at the end of this month, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong has said.

Koy Kuong said that the US’s top diplomat would visit following the trip by United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who is scheduled to arrive next Tuesday for a two-day visit.

“So far, we do not have the exact date of US Secretary of State Her Excellency Hillary Clinton’s visit yet, but I know that she will be visiting Cambodia at the end of this month after the official visit of His Excellency Ban Ki-moon,” Koy Kuong said.

“We are working on this now, and we will release the formal information when it is completely done.”

The American embassy, however, could not provide details of the visit.

“The embassy has received no confirmation about her visit from Washington,” an embassy spokesman said.

The last time a US secretary of state travelled to Cambodia was in 2003, when Colin Powell held the post. In 1996, top envoy Warren Christopher visited.

Koy Kuong said the purpose of the visit was “to strengthen bilateral cooperation and friendship between the two countries”. Under President Barack Obama, the US has attempted to play a more vigorous role in the region and reassert its presence in the face of a rising China.

At an ASEAN security dialogue in Hanoi this July, Clinton riled Beijing by claiming the US had a “national interest” in seeing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. China’s naval buildup and its territorial claims in the area have been viewed warily by ASEAN members such as Vietnam.

In July, the Kingdom hosted the US-sponsored “Angkor Sentinel” military exercises, which involved more than 1,000 military personnel from 26 countries.

Draft budget approved

via CAAI

Sunday, 17 October 2010 22:20 Nguon Sovan and James O’Toole

The Council of Ministers has approved a draft budget law for 2011 calling for an increase in spending of more than US$400 million compared to last year, including a $22 million rise in national security and defence spending.

Although a sector-by-sector breakdown of the budget was not available, Cheam Yeap, the chairman of the National Assembly’s Banking and Finance Committee, said spending would target key “social needs”.

“For Cambodia, our priority sectors are still education, health, rural development, agriculture, women’s affairs, social affairs and physical infrastructure,” Cheam Yeap said.

The draft budget calls for $2.4 billion in spending for 2011, up from $1.97 billion for this year, for a roughly 18 percent increase. This year’s $1.97 billion represented roughly a 4.6 percent increase from the previous year.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the budget for defence and security spending had risen from $276 million to $298 million. This bump, he said, had been driven mainly by the military wage bill.

“The government raises salaries for them by 20 percent annually and has to pay benefits to retired officials,” he said. He could not provide detailed data on allocations for other sectors, but said “social sectors” had been the focus.

Officials at ministries including Education and Rural Development could not be reached for comment yesterday. Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said he was busy when asked about next year’s health spending.

Voice of America reported on Friday that the Ministry of Health was allocated $165 million for 2011 and the Ministry of Education budgeted $218 million, representing year-on-year increases of $21 million and $20 million – or 13 percent and 9 percent.

The 7 percent increase in defence spending fell far short of last year’s 24 percent rise, which drew criticism from civil society groups that said it was unjustified in view of the Kingdom’s needs in other sectors. Still, it is likely to be viewed with some annoyance by donor countries, who have continually pushed the government to direct more revenue towards its self-described “priority” sectors, said Carlyle Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

“It’s a pebble in the shoe,” Thayer said. “It’s an irritant, but [donors] have got a lot of scar tissue.”

In June, donors announced a record $1.1 billion in development assistance for the subsequent 18-month period.

Cheam Yeap said the government could tap its $95 million reserve budget if further funding was needed for national security and defence. In addition, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a document in February approving a controversial programme in which local businesses provide funding to military units.

Chheng Kimlong, a lecturer in economics at the University of Cambodia, said the government would do well to focus spending on sectors that “reproduce investment or another stream of revenues”, including education and infrastructure development.

The government deficit was 5.9 percent in 2009 and will drop to roughly 5.3 percent this year, according to the Asian Development Bank. Although spending is set to increase 18 percent in 2011, ADB senior country economist Peter Brimble said this should not jeopardise what the International Monetary Fund described in September as the Kingdom’s “favourable debt sustainability outlook”.

“In the decision to increase the budget to this amount, we would be confident that the government would be careful to balance their objectives to reduce poverty against the need to maintain responsible debt-management practices,” Brimble said.

Nine-year-old girl allegedly tortured

via CAAI

Sunday, 17 October 2010 22:06 Mom Kunthear

Officials are investigating allegations that a 9-year-old girl was tortured while working as a housemaid for a family in Pursat province.

Ben Sivla, a commune councillor, said the girl’s neighbours reported the case to police and rights workers on Saturday after she fled the house where she lived and worked in Krakor district’s Anlong Thnout commune.

“She ran away from home because her [employers] fought her and accused her of taking their money,” she said.

She said officials had found “many wounds” on the girl’s head, hands, face and back – some of which appeared to have been inflicted with knives and ropes – and that the girl appeared to have been the victim of ongoing abuse.

“She has both new wounds and old wounds on her body,” she said.

She said the girl – who had previously worked for two other families and was sold to her current employers in exchange for 100 kilograms of rice – was being sheltered in an orphanage pending the results of an investigation, which would include interviews with the girl’s former employers.

“We are investigating her case to find out more evidence,” she said. “We don’t know for sure yet which family tortured her seriously.”

Keat Sam Ork, the commune police chief, said the girl’s current employers had denied torturing their young maid but had admitted to beating her after she allegedly stole money from them. He said investigations were ongoing, and that he did not know whether the girl’s employers would be arrested and charged.

“We can not assume that the house owners fought her when she was wrongly accused, or that the girl took their money; that’s why we have to take time to investigate this case,” he said.

Nget Theavy, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said that regardless of whether the girl had stolen money, the owners should be prosecuted for beating a child.

She said the girl’s employers should have found other ways of punishing their maid if she had been stealing from them.

“They have to find other ways to stop her from doing that again besides beating her because she is too small,” she said.

She also noted that it is illegal for a 9-year-old to be employed as a maid, and for people to be sold into labour.

“With her age she has only one duty and that is to study; she does not need to work,” she said.

She said it was the first torture case she was aware of in Pursat province.

Hun Sen applauds Chile mine rescue

via CAAI

Sunday, 17 October 2010 21:43 Cheang Sokha

Prime Minister Hun Sen has praised the Chilean government for last week’s successful rescue of 33 miners who had been trapped since August following a partial mine collapse.

A statement issued Friday by the Council of Ministers said that Hun Sen regarded the rescue effort as a “lesson and experience” that officials could learn from when facing challenges in Cambodia. “Samdech Techo Hun Sen applauds the excellent help from the Chilean government for the 33 trapped miners,” it said.

The men were trapped on the August 5 by a huge rock collapse inside the mine and had been almost given up for dead before a probe sent down through a narrow bore hole stuck lucky on August 22.

Thirty-two of the miners were released from hospital on Saturday with one man remaining in the clinic for treatment of a dental problem, after they were all successfully rescued last Wednesday.

When the river runs dry

via CAAI

Sunday, 17 October 2010 21:26 Will Baxter

Cambodia and other countries in the lower Mekong region should delay any decisions about initiating hydropower projects for 10 years to allow for further research of potential impacts, according to a long-awaited environmental assessment study.

“Due to the uncertainties regarding scale and irreversibility of risks in such a complex river system ... decisions on mainstream dams should be deferred for a period of up to 10 years, with reviews made every three years to ensure that the necessary conditions to strengthen understanding of the natural systems as well as management and regulatory processes are conducted effectively,” said a statement that accompanied the study.

Tiffany Hacker, an interim communications adviser for the Mekong River Commission, which represents Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, said the recommendation for a delay was based on numerous “guidelines that essentially say there needs to be more supporting information, and that the potential impacts are not clear”.

“The full scale of the irreversible risks are still uncertain based on the information that [consultants commissioned by the MRC] were able to gather for the strategic environmental assessment,” she said.

The 11 hydropower projects proposed for the lower Mekong have received widespread criticism from conservationists and rights workers, many of whom welcomed the recommendation for a deferment.

Phal Lika, a hydropower and community rights project officer at the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said yesterday that the proposed decade-long delay was “a good

Pich Dun, secretary general of the government’s National Mekong Committee, said yesterday that “if all the dams are built as planned, there will be affects on fisheries, biodiversity, ecology, and loss of wetlands”.

“In Cambodia, when wetlands are lost, it means that people cannot cultivate their crops,” he said.


Angkor Wat under threat

Photo by: Roger Mitton
Angkorian-era ruins of Banteay Chhmar temple in Banteay Meanchey province.

via CAAI

Sunday, 17 October 2010 19:46 Keeley Smith

 An international heritage conservancy has warned that the Angkor Wat temple complex faces “critical” threats in the form of heavy traffic and inefficient conservation techniques.

A report released by the Global Heritage Fund also said the fact that many tourism-related businesses were foreign-owned made it difficult for Siem Reap residents to benefit economically from the temples.

“Hundreds of thousands of visitors climb over the ruins of Angkor every year causing heavy deterioration of original Khmer stonework,” says the report, which is titled “Saving Our Heritage: Safeguarding Cultural Sites Around the World”.

According to the report, the number of visitors to Angkor Wat has increased by 188 percent since 2000, from 840,000 to 2,420,000 in 2009.

An Apsara Authority official said last week that Angkor Wat had seen a 24-percent increase in foreign tourists in the first nine months of 2010 compared with the same period last year.

“Mass tourism is overrunning the fragile archaeology site, with millions every year climbing unabated on the monuments,” said GHF Executive Director Jeff Morgan.

The report also says that the temples have been threatened by rapid development in Siem Reap, and that Bayon temple has already borne the brunt of this trend.

“The nearby sprawl of hotels and restaurants is sapping the region’s local aquifer, which has caused the Bayon Temple’s 54 towers to sink into the ground,” it states.

Morgan said that while the Apsara Authority, the government body tasked with managing the temple complex, and UNESCO had taken positive steps towards ensuring the temples were maintained, they did not have a presence at many heritage sites elsewhere in the country.

“Other provinces have little support for heritage preservation [in a situation] typical of most developing countries,” Morgan said.

Mao Loa, director of the Apsara Authority’s Department of Monuments and Preventive Archaeology at the Angkor Wat temple complex, said she had not seen the report, but that the body would be receptive to feedback on the management of the complex.

“We always wait to see constructive criticisms; we need them to raise straight points,” she said.

She agreed that more conservation efforts were needed outside Angkor Wat. In 2004, she said, Apsara expanded from five departments to 14 in a bid to expand its reach, but some pressing conservation issues remain unaddressed.

Who benefits?
Despite rapid development fuelled by a rising number of visitors, much tourism-related revenue – which the report pegged at US$436 million last year – is not going to locals, the report states.

“The local population is not benefiting due to exclusive concession at Angkor and high concentration of hotels in foreign ownership leading to leakages,” Morgan said.

“One stark example: There are 360 Koreans living in Siem Reap to manage all the Korean business. Little stays in the province. Most of the good hotels are Korean or Thai, or foreign.… In fact, Siem Reap is still one of the poorest provinces in Cambodia.”

The report also includes a case study of Banteay Chhmar temple in Banteay Meanchey province, which is lauded as a model for other countries.

In the 1990s, the site was a target of looters, and 25 square metres of bas-reliefs were stolen, according to the report. In 2007, the GHF began a restoration project led by the South Asian Conservation and Restoration Agency.

The report notes that conservation training at the site is being conducted “in the Khmer language by Khmers for Khmers”, thus making it a “landmark in the sustainable conservation process”.

John Sanday, GHF Field Director for the Banteay Chhmar Conservation Training Project, said the knowledge of Cambodian craftsmen was as important as his “technical conservation knowledge” in maintaining the site.


Flooding on Thailand-Cambodia border still critical

via CAAI

Oct 17, 2010

(NECN/MCOT: Sa Kaeo, Thailand) - The border district of Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaew province was under water for the second day on Sunday, with more than 1,000 households being affected.

Flooding in the municipal area and Aranyaprathet's market was described as the worst in 13 years, forcing local residents and vendors to move their belongings and goods to areas with higher ground. Buddhist monks had to wade through floodwaters while on their morning alms rounds.

Many roads in the Aranyaprathet municipal area were heavily flooded and several sections of them could not be used by small passenger cars.

At the border market of Rong Kluea, which was earlier heavily inundated, saw receding levels of floodwater and was returning to business as usual. However, officials were removing large amounts of garbage brought by floodwater.

At Sa Kaew's Baan Klong Luek border checkpoint, cargo trucks from Thailand were prevented by Cambodian authorities from entering that country due to severe flooding in Cambodia's border town of Poipet. The Cambodians said there was no space left to store new goods and the local warehouses were being flooded.

Officials at the Aranyaprathet customs house said the Cambodian authorities order continued for the second day Sunday.

They said each day more than 150 trucks carrying Thai exports to Cambodia pass the Baan Klong Luek border checkpoint. It was estimated that the suspension of cargo transport caused 50 million baht in loss of revenue each day for Thai exporters.

Cambodia: slice of real life

via CAAI

By SARAH LAMONT - The Southland Times

James Hargest College pupils who visited Cambodia on a mission trip had a "life-changing" experience.

Fifteen year 12 and 13 students and two teachers travelled to the country's capital Phnom Penh this month to work in an orphanage.

The students spent 12 days teaching English in a language school, as well as working in a programme with children from the slums.

James Hargest College head of department guidance counsellor Sandra Tyree said the students had fundraised for the trip themselves and paid the rest of the costs their own way.

The students were asked to give the trip a rating afterwards and they all gave it at least a 10 out of 10, and some said it was 100 out of 10, she said.

Year 13 student Lauren Brown said the trip had been life changing and it changed the way the students saw the world.

Mekong countries should delay dam projects for decade: study

Boats lined up along the Mekong River in Laos

via CAAI

PHNOM PENH — Countries in the lower Mekong River region should delay any decisions about building hydropower dams for 10 years, an influential new study said Friday, warning of the many risks involved.

The recommendation was made in a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) report commissioned by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an inter-governmental advisory body that deals with all Mekong River-related activities.

The MRC -- which represents Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam -- is studying the possible construction of 11 hydropower projects on southeast Asia's longest river.

"The recommendation to defer dam construction for a 10-year period is very significant," said Tiffany Hacker, an interim communication advisor for the MRC.

Environmental groups have long objected to damming the river, arguing that it would damage fragile ecosystems.

The assessment, led by consultants with the help of the MRC, government agencies and civil society representatives, said more time was needed to study the risks that come with building dams in such a complex environment.

"The mainstream projects are likely to result in serious and irreversible environmental damage and... losses in biological diversity and ecological integrity," the report said.

It also warned that the dams would have a negative impact on fisheries and could "lead to increasing food insecurity for millions of people".

The MRC stressed that it was under no obligation to follow the report's recommendations, but Hacker told AFP that member countries were "likely to take the findings seriously".

The four countries will now study the findings "for at least six months" before deciding on how to proceed, Hacker said.

More than 60 million people rely in some way on the river, which is the world's largest inland fishery, according to the MRC.

The wildlife group WWF has warned that the Mekong giant catfish -- one of the world's biggest freshwater fish -- could be driven to extinction if plans to build hydropower dams on the river go ahead, blocking spawning grounds.