Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Police Blotter: 21-12-2010


via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Phak Seangly

Man confesses to vengeful axe attack
A 33-year-old man was arrested and sent to Pursat provincial court on Wednesday, accused of attacking two men with an axe. Police said the suspect had confessed to hacking into the back of a 66-year-old man on Tuesday, claiming he was avenging his deceased father for a wrong that he refused to disclose. The victim also allegedly confessed to having “chopped in the head” a 55-year-old man who attempted to help the first victim. Both victims were sent to the provincial hospital for treatment. KOH SANTEPHEAP

Thief apprehended after returning for phone
A 25-year-old suspected motorbike thief has been arrested after police called a mobile phone dropped at the scene of a robbery, and the suspect came to collect it. Police said the suspect dropped the phone while stealing a motorbike from a 22-year-old student in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district on Thursday, and that the student handed it to police, who called the owner and told him to pick it up. KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Police nab ‘broken-hearted’ arsonist
A 38-year-old man has been arrested for attempting to burn down two of his neighbours’ homes in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town. Police said the suspect had tied up bamboo sticks with pieces of kerosene-soaked cloth, which he lit and threw onto the roofs of two homes, before throwing stones at passing motorcyclists. Police said the suspect was using drugs, had “a broken heart after his wife abandoned him”, and was also possibly mentally ill. KOH SANTEPHEAP

Soldier detained after drunken rampage
A 26-year-old soldier has been arrested after destroying the windows and doors of his mother-in-law’s home in a drunken rage in Kandal province’s Takhmao town. Police said the man was arrested on Wednesday after he drank about a litre of rice wine and flew into a violent rage when his mother-in-law – with whom he was staying – told him that she could not give him his salary because his employers had not yet sent it. The man, who police said is “addicted to rice wine”, tore down seven doors and windows before he was arrested. KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Gas station attendants arrested for fuel theft
Three gasoline station attendants have been arrested on suspicion of stealing about 1,000 litres of diesel in Preah Sihanouk province. Military police said the trio was arrested on Tuesday, and that two of the suspects had confessed to stealing the fuel and selling it for personal gain. The third suspect denied involvement in the scheme. RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

Tyre group goes full recycle


Used tyres are bundled onto a cart outside a garage in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo by: Pha Lina

via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:01 Chun Sophal

KONG Nuon Import and Export Co opened its first tyre recycling factory in the Kingdom yesterday, complimenting its 15-year-old business of importing and distributing new tyres.

Kong Nuon, General Director of the company, said the US$1.5-million recycling tyre plant, based in Ang Snuol district Kandal province, had the capacity to recycle between 36,000 to 40,000 tyres per year.

“We have launched this recycling tyre factory because we want to help our clients who have used our tyres to get more benefits,” he said.

Consumers always throw their used tyres away, but now if they return the tyres to the company they would receive a 10 % discount on their new tyres or they can hire the factory to process and retread the old ones, he said.

He added that with the American technology standards being used by the factory, Bridgestone Bandang Franchise, the quality of the recycled tyre was around 90 % as good as a new tyre.

“We hope that our production plan will be successful for Cambodian markets because our products meet international quality standards,” he said.

The company will charge between US$50 to US$80 per tyre to process medium tyres, and between US$100 and US$140 per tyre for heavy tyres.

Yuichi Asaoka, general manager at Bridgestone Asia Pacific Pte Ltd, said that Bridgestone always only uses technology and innovation to produce high quality tyres.

“Our mission is to serve our customers around the world with new and high quality tyres by recycling old tyres to new tyres at a low cost but with safety a priority and eco-friendly standards,” he said.

So Nguon, Director of So Nguon Group, the biggest shipping company in the Kingdom which consumes about 1,500 tyres per year said that the recycled tyres would be used if it is processed in accordance with proper technical principle.

“I think that establishing a new processing tyre plant is a very good action because it will enable the large consumers to use more tyres with low costs,” he said.

Mondulkiri coffee finds a market


via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:01 Rann Ruey

OFFICIALS and vendors said Mondulkiri’s coffee was increasingly popular in local and international markets, after several years of market constraint saw farmers give up the crop to grow rubber instead.

An Chanthy, a Mondulkiri coffee shop owner, said sales had increased to 30 tonnes this year, up from 18 tonnes in 2009 in the local market. She said her business alone sold almost 700 kilograms this year at the One Province One Product exhibition, increasing from 240 kilograms last year.

“We have had very good sales,” she said.

Bou Sopheap, a coffee farmer in Mondulkiri province, said Vietnamese vendors were buying the produce at a higher price this year, paying US$1.80 per kilo, up from US$1.30 per kilo last year.

Sok Serey, Chief of Mondulkiri provincial Department of Commerce, said coffee was grown on about 50 hectares of farm land in the province, yielding about 70 tonnes, and sold for around 20,000 riel per kilo.

He noted that previously the brew barely had a market and had struggled with adequate pricing in the last several years, with coffee farmers hardly surviving in the past.

Cheng Sochantha, Deputy Director of Mondulkiri administrative office, said in the early 1990s the crop was grown on nearly 200 hectares of land. However as the price dropped to 2,000 riel per kilo, farmers gave up and grew rubber instead.

“We didn’t have market for our coffee and there were many other things that happened,” he said.

However, despite the growing demand, officials cited low capacity of production as an obstacle for exports.

An Chanthy said many foreign companies had sought negotiations to order coffee from her for resale but she dared not sign a contract with them because the low capacity meant she could not always supply on time.

Price index up 3.2 percent


via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:01 Sam Rith

CAMBODIA’S Consumer Price Index increased 3.2 percent in November this year compared with the same month in 2009.

The monthly report bulletin on CPI of the Ministry of Planning’s National Institute of Statistics released yesterday showed that transport costs have increased 2.2 percent while gasoline prices have increased by 12.5 percent since November last year.

The price of food and non-alcoholic beverages has increased 4 percent. Rice increased 0.7 percent, meat increased 2.5 percent, while fish and seafood was up 6.8 percent.

Housing, water, electricity and other fuels group has increased 2.7 percent, while gas has increased 25.8 percent.

However, month-on-month figures showed inflation has slowed since October with the CPI decreasing 1 percent since October.

Excell banks on data future


An employee works at the Excell service centre on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard in Phnom Penh. The company is looking more to the internet for expansion. Photo by: WESLEY MONTS

via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Jeremy Mullins

CAMBODIA’S smallest mobile provider by subscriber numbers is increasingly focusing on internet services over traditional voice calls, its chief executive officer has said.

GT-TELL Company, which operates domestically under the Excell brand, and has previously said it is seeking a strategic investor, sees its CDMA technology as superior for internet use, according to its CEO.

CDMA is an alternative mobile phone technology, which needs a certain type of handset in order to make calls.

The firm is its lone operator among the Kingdom’s mobile service providers.

Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) statistics show that over 99 percent of Cambodia’s mobile subscribers are using rival GSM technology - phones which require SIM cards.

In the Kingdom’s ultra competitive market, Excell claimed just 35,434 mobile active subscriber at the end of June, out of a Cambodian total of 7.3 million, according to MPTC.

A data-driven future
But the company is determined that data can make a difference.

While some 60 percent of the Kingdom’s population used voice technology, Excell’s CEO Bioliddin Salakhiddin uulu, said internet has only started to penetrate the Kingdom.

“If you look at data penetration – internet users – it’s still quite low. Ten percent maybe, or maybe even less than that,” he said.

“But the strong side is the data, so that is where we are concentrating right now. CDMA has an advantage, because of the technology it also helps [us] have a lower operational cost.”

But a key challenge remains. There were fewer handsets available that use CDMA technology than GSM.

“This is one of the problems of all CDMA operators all over the world are facing,” he said.

Excell has begun heavily subsidising the price of handsets, in some areas offering phones for free along with purchasing air time.

“Whoever gets our handsets becomes our subscriber – they cannot switch to another operator,” he said.

Negotiations
Biloliddin Salakhiddin uulu declined to comment directly on whether negotiations on any strategic investments were ongoing.

“We are doing the expansion ourselves right now,” he said. “But keep [in] mind we are open for future developments, but I would not comment on specific details.”

The firm – back by investors from Russia and central Asian countries, including Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan- last week issued a press release announcing its service was available in Battambang, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kampong Cham and Svay Rieng provinces.

Excell has expanded partially through a tower sharing agreement with Hello, and is also in the process of setting up in Kampong Thom, he said.

Counting SIMs: MPTC calls for statistic cooperation


via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Jeremy Mullines

SOME of the Kingdom’s mobile phone service providers are reluctant to release information to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, which officials say is making it difficult to provide oversight for the sector.

The ministry compiles a monthly list of active subscribers in Cambodia, but officials said some companies are routinely late in providing the information they require.

“Not only the Ministry, but the Council of Ministers need reports,” said Sieng Sithy, deputy director of the Directorate of Telecommunications Policies Regulation. “Without cooperation from other people it’s very difficult.” MPTC’s November report showed Cambodia has 8.58 million mobile subscribers, but many in the industry say actual numbers could be as small as half that.

Hello’s CEO Simon Perkins said he was not aware specifically of the complaint about late numbers, but said he did have a concern over the accuracy of the reported figures. “I don’t know which operators are slow to report, or why. My guess would be maybe they don’t have anything good to report?” he wrote.

Sieng Sithy some people switch between SIM cards, creating large subscriber totals.

Vietnam visitors up 50 percent on last year


via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 13:20 Soeun Say

THE number of tourists visiting the Kingdom rose 17 percent for the first 11 months year on year, with the most significant leap in foreigners seen in visitors from Vietnam, according to Ministry of Tourism statistics released yesterday.

Government figures show 2,258,587 tourists entered the Kingdom via land, air and sea transport between January to November – a 17.23 percent increase on last year’s 1,926,615 tourists for the same period.

The largest source of overall arrivals to the Kingdom was Vietnam with 424,013 visitors – or 18 percent of the total – a 49.83 percent increase on 2009’s first 11 months.

South Koreans were the next largest group of visitors with 11 percent of the total, followed by China with 7 percent and Japan with 6 percent.

Kong Sophearak, Ministry of Tourism director of Statistics and Tourism Information Department, attributed the rise in visitors from Asia’s more developed nations to ease of entry.

“We saw tourist numbers increase because the [visa] laws are easier than before,” he said.

He added that the new visa exemption for Cambodian and Thai citizens which came into effect last week would give a further boost to the industry.

The Ministry of Tourism forecast this year's growth in tourism to be around 16 percent based on the global economic recovery, aiming for a goal of 2.5 million international visitors.

Baseball pitches new goal


CBAF President and founder Joe Cook says he is keen as ever to help further Cambodian baseball. Photo Supply

via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 H S Manjunath

Cambodian baseball is all fired up to touch new bases as the cobwebs of uncertainty are cleared away and the new ball park at Kampong Thom gets set for a long season ahead. The Cambodian Baseball Federation, or CBAF, have launched their plan for a grand revival of the sport in the Kingdom with a target of taking part in the 2011 SEA Games tournament.

After months of inactivity marked by administrative difficulties, a minor player revolt and severe financial strain bordering on total collapse, baseball is slowly being restored to its heady days of the past. CBAF president Joe Cook, the man who brought the American staple to Cambodia in 2002, is hoping all his wishes are answered this time.

The Joe Cook story is well publicised in the world of baseball, including his escape to freedom in the US as a 12-year-old from his war-torn homeland, and his adulthood passion to bring baseball to the Kingdom, forcing him to take on two jobs as a cook in Alabama.

On one hand, his relentless pursuit of his ambition earned him adulation, but on the other his highly individualistic style of functioning made him a sitting duck for his detractors. While he poured his time, energy and often his own resources to raise the country’s baseball profile by sending the national team to international events, he faced a fierce media backlash when the administration was hit by a severe financial crisis.

The Cambodian National Baseball team pose for a photo at their newly completed training ground in Balaingk district, Kampong Thom province. The team is getting ready to play at the SEA Games next year. Photo Supply

The situation was aggravated by the desertion of players over pay and conditions and a blaze of negative publicity and harsh accusations aimed at Cook brought about a trust deficit, which lead to the federation falling into suspended animation.

It was a terrible phase both for Cook personally and for Cambodian baseball. While admitting to some of his failings, Cook steadfastly defended his integrity and quickly began building up his dream once again.

“The worst is behind me and I am as gritty as ever to see baseball activity resume in Cambodia,” said Cook in an email to the Post.

The heart and soul of the CBAF plan is participation in the 26th SEA Games, which will be held in Jakarta and Palembang from November 11-26 next year. According to the federation, no stone will be left unturned in its effort to make this happen, but they are also well aware it will be much harder to achieve than it sounds.

As a first hurdle, the CBAF has to convince the parent national sporting body, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, on its commitment and capability to field a decent team. A meeting between CBAF representatives and NOCC Secretary General Vath Chamroeun has been fixed for December 27 in what both sides describe as a positive step forward.

For his part, Cook is adamant in his assertions that he will succeed in sending the team to Indonesia and is confident of raising the necessary funds. He says he is more than happy to discuss procedural requirements with both the NOCC and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports while soliciting the support from the two government bodies.

“We missed out on the Asian Games [in Guangzhou in November this year], and we do not want to miss SEA Games at any cost,” said Cook.

Meanwhile, a recruitment spree has been set in motion to enroll talented players into the national team. Cook expects a core of about 50-60 players in place within the next few months.

Reputed Japanese baseball coach Sato Takayuki is now in charge of a relatively raw and inexperienced bunch of youngsters who have found a new love for the American sport but are far from ready for big time competition. Some old-timers have rejoined the team, but overall it is predominantly new blood as Cook and the CBAF herald a new beginning.

As many as 168 days of intense training have been planned for the team with dozens of practice matches slated along the way.

The CBAF is now on the look out for major sponsors. Cook, as always, is busy working his sources and contacts on the personal front in the US to raise as much funds as he can to infuse new life into Cambodia’s young sporting population.

“Everything is in place and the training sessions are going smoothly at Kampong Thom. We hope to recruit more and more players and ensure that they are looked after well,” said Chea Theary, Cook’s niece and General Secretary of the CBAF.

“The equipment we have is adequate for the time being, but we hope to get more in the months to come. We are looking forward to an exciting season.”

NOCC official Vath Chamroeun, meanwhile, is cautiously optimistic about the federation’s revival. Despite feeling it was too early to take a stand on the national team’s participation at the SEA Games, he noted the NOCC were more than happy to see the resumption of baseball.

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief


via CAAI

Activist’s son shot dead in Pailin province

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Meas Sokchea

THE son of an opposition Sam Rainsy Party activist was shot dead by a border defence soldier in Pailin province’s Sala Krao district, the victim’s father said yesterday. Koeun Phat, deputy chief of Kamrieng commune in Battambang province, said his son, Koeun Thoeun, was shot in the chest with an AK-47 on Sunday night. “I don’t know clearly why this incident happened,” he said. Prom Pat, commander of border defence Drigade 504, said a soldier under his command had shot Koeun Thoeun in an act of self-defence.

Abused maid returns home to her family

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Phak Seangly

A WOMAN from Kampot province who claimed her employer physically abused her while she was working as a maid in Malaysia has returned to Cambodia after her sister sought intervention from police and rights groups. Tep Sophy said her half sister, 20-year-old Ly Soben, arrived home safely last Tuesday. But Tep Sophy said she was unhappy that her family dropped their lawsuit against the agency that sent her sister abroad. Kea Sophal, a lawyer for rights group Adhoc, said Ly Soben dropped the charge after the firm paid her US$6,000 in compensation.

Businessman files suit over state timber raid

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Phak Seangly

A TIMBER trader in Preah Sihanouk province has filed a complaint against a forestry official after luxury timber and two cars were confiscated from him in a raid last month. Y Meng Leang, deputy administrative forestry chief of Preah Sihanouk’s Stung Hav district, said on Sunday that he had just received a subpoena from the provincial court. “It is retaliation. I cooperated [with forestry authorities] to take action against illegal timber but did not lead this raid,” he said. Y Meng Leang said he and other officials worked together to confiscate the timber in a raid in Prey Nop district on November 17. The plaintiff could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Boxer left fighting for his life after debut bout

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 YEUN PONLOK

Local kickboxer Puth Amab was in critical condition at Calmette hospital yesterday after collapsing during his fight against Soy Dinko at Bayon TV boxing arena on Sunday. The 20-year-old from Svay Rieng who fights out of Puth Serey Vong Club was making his first appearance in the ring and suffered a barrage of blows in the first round before collapsing to the canvas in the second round. Scans at the hospital revealed internal bleeding of the lungs. Puth Amab’s trainer Yoeun Chhoeun declined to give details of the fighter’s condition, but noted that he had not done much training in preparation for the bout.

Indonesia edge out the Philippines in semifinal

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Dan Riley

A Cristian Gonzales’ goal two minutes before half-time proved decisive for Indonesia in the second leg of their 2010 Suzuki Cup semifinal against the Philippines on Sunday. With an identical 1-0 result carried over from the first leg, Indonesia booked their place in the final with a 2-0 aggregate score. They now face neighbouring rivals Malaysia – who they thrashed 5-1 earlier in the group stage of the competition – in home and away legs on December 26 and 29 for the title. Whatever the outcome in the final, a new name is now guaranteed to adorn the Suzuki Cup trophy this year.

Films highlight plight of fishermen


Giant Mekong River catfish, such as this one caught in the Tonle Sap lake, are on the verge of extinction.

via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Jana Nikolin

IN a night dedicated to the dramatic decrease of fishing stock and the irreparable damage caused by a cascade of hydro dams on the Mekong River, German Cambodian Cultural Center Meta House will tomorrow night screen two short films focusing on the problem.

The movies, Where Have All The Fish Gone? by English journalist Tom Fawthrop and Floating Villages by young Cambodian director Koam Chanrasmey, illuminate the difficulties of Cambodian fishermen making their living from the Mekong.

“Cambodia, like most Asian countries, is a water-bound society; the life of the people has traditionally been centred on the water and Cambodians have depended on the Mekong River for centuries,” said Nico Mesterharm, owner of Meta House. “In the past Cambodia was so abundant in fish, they were literally jumping in the buckets of the fishermen.”

The increasing numbers of hydropower dams, however, built on the Mekong to meet the growing demand in energy, have disrupted the migratory path of several large freshwater species, leading to their extinction. “As the Mekong River originates in southern China and passes through dams in China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand before reaching Cambodia, not many fish are left for Cambodians,” said Mesterharm. “But taking away water as a living space from Cambodians is like depriving them of an important part of their culture.”

While the movie Where Have All the Fish Gone? gives an overview of the problems of decreasing fish stock and the impact of the government’s decision to increase the number of dams in Cambodia, Floating Villages provides an insight into the hardships faced by Vietnamese fishermen living in a floating village in Siem Reap province. “In Chhorng Kheah commune there are seven floating villages, the biggest of which is inhabited by Vietnamese immigrants,” said 21-year-old director Koam Chanrasmey, who developed the short film as part of a fellowship granted by the Rockefeller Foundation in the Philippines.

“The Vietnamese fishers face severe hardship. The fishing stock has decreased, they encounter strict government regulations on fishing, their children often support the parents instead of going to school and they can hardly afford the costs for gasoline or necessary repairs to their boats,” he said.

While the government has promised to allocate land to them, little action has been taken so far, according to Koam Chanrasmey. “It is much more lucrative for the government to sell the land to investors instead of giving it to the villagers for free,” said the young director. “And the floating villages are a good tourist attraction, too – it’s like a zoo.”

A question-and-answer session with members of NGOs invited to join the discussion will end tomorrow night’s screenings, which begin at 7pm. Meta House, 37 Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh.

Green fuel from rice and coconuts


The “charbriquettes”, made of rice husks and coconuts, produce no smoke

via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Emilie Boulenger

TWO green-focused NGOs have developed a new fuel which aims to reduce deforestation and provide an income to poor families near the former Stung Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh.

The “charbriquettes” promoted by Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise, created by two NGOs, are made of rice husks and coconuts.

“When the dump site near Pour un Sourire d’Enfant closed, the NGO was willing to find a substitute income for the families,” said Antoine Cabassu, part of the sales and marketing team for NGO Geres and SCFE. “Geres had heard about ovens that could be used to carbonise the biomass,” he said.

Two years ago, PSE and Geres set up SGFE to hire workers from Phnom Penh’s poorest communities to make the briquettes, used as solid fuel instead of wood in stoves.

Today, the enterprise functions with two security guards and 12 employees, who earn US$80 a month and benefit from health insurance.

The briquettes are a way to improve the management of waste materials and reduce greenhouse gas discharges.

Waste coconuts and rice husks often decomposes and discharges methane, a gas 24 times worse than carbon dioxide in affecting global warming, according to Cabassu.

This product, ideal for barbecues, also produces no smoke – which can be toxic – during the cooking process.

The “charbriquettes” have been for sale since last January, but SGFE has just launched a commercial expansion drive. For the moment, exporting to Japan enables the enterprise to have time to develop, but the aim remains to capture a larger share of the Cambodian market, which traditionally relies on charcoal to cook.

However, charbriquettes are more expensive than charcoal, at 2,300 riel for a kilogramme of premium fuel that burns for two hours and US$1 for a kilogramme of diamond fuel that burns for five hours. The charbriquettes are currently available at Lucky Supermarket and some Tela gas stations.

Lakesiders hold protest


Photo by: Pha Lina

via CAAI

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 15:00 Chhay Channyda

Around 20 Boeung Kak lakeside residents participated in a protest at Phnom Penh’s “Freedom Park” yesterday, demanding compensation for the destruction of their homes. Chan Puthisak, one of the protesters, said that authorities’ unresponsiveness left them no choice but to take to the streets. “We are staging the protest because we have lost hope that anyone will help us,” he said. Residents claim that developer Shukaku Inc has refused to pay them full compensation and that authorities have barred them from rebuilding their homes on the site. En Saphan, deputy chief of Srah Chak commune in Daun Penh district, said on Sunday that she had asked the residents to wait a little longer for City Hall to resolve the issue.

Ranariddh speaks out


Photo by: Sovan Philong
"Fortunately, I am back now": Prince Norodom Ranariddh speaks during his interview with The Post last week.

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 17:01 Neth Pheaktra and Sebastian Strangio

To begin with, what are your motivations for returning to politics?

There are two main reasons that I have returned to politics. First, since I returned to live in my home country [in 2008] I have been invited by members of the Nationalist Party, the former Norodom Ranariddh Party. More than 11,165 petitions have been sent to me.

The second reason is that though there have been many royalists in our kingdom – in Nhek Bun Chhay’s clan, Keo Puth Reaksmey’s group, and at Chhim Siek Lieng’s side – they have been unable to unify all of the royalists. The royalist group has been divided into hopeless pieces, like children who have no parents. So I believe I must return and gather all the royalists.

I realise that my post as president of the King’s [Supreme Privy Council] is a great and honourable position, but if I cared only my own honour, my own comfortable living, and collecting the three million riels of my salary, it would not be possible to return to reunite the royalists. If possible, we will merge the two [royalist] parties into one.

Doesn’t it all come a little too late, given the parlous state of the royalist movement at the moment?

I don’t think it’s too late for the upcoming commune election in 2012 and it isn’t too late for the national election in 2013. However, what we must do is be honest among the leadership, and follow the royalist purpose and aims in order to establish a new party. Recently, I proposed to resume leadership of my lovely Funcinpec, merging it [with the NRP] into Funcinpec 81 – referring to the year 1981, when the group was founded by the King Father. But the new [party] has been rejected by [Funcinpec Secretary General] Nhek Bun Chhay.

How are the reunification talks progressing now?

I will still continue the unification – at least on my own side, the NRP – if Funcinpec 81 is not accepted. I am confident of the reunification because there is still a connection between the NRP’s members and Funcinpec’s members. I am waiting for Nhek Bun Chhay. If he listens to local members, if he is one of the royalists, if he really wants to see unification, the door is still open for negotiation. I gave him a turn to kick at the ball, but he hit it over.

Some are suspicious that your return to politics is just a ploy by Prime Minister Hun Sen to divert attention away from the punishment of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who you said has received a “red card” of 12 years in prison. What is your response to this?

I have given a very clear reason for my return to politics. It’s not that I am a pawn, a tool to confuse national and international opinion. Moreover, if we listen to Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen, he seems not to want my return to politics. Recently, he stated clearly, as did [CPP lawmaker] Cheam Yeap, that Hun Sen likes Nhek Bun Chhay from Funcinpec: he does not need the NRP.

You’ve said that you are seeking a coalition deal with the Cambodian People’s Party, yet have also said that you’d like to remain independent. How do you intend to strike this balance?

In Cambodia we have only three possibilities in the political field. One is the CPP, another one the opposition. But I do think we have a middle path. I don’t like the word “collaboration” – collaboration sounds like during the Second World War when Petain of [Vichy] France collaborated with the Nazis. I rather like to talk about cooperation. I share some concerns with the opposition parties; only the approaches are different. I believe that if we cooperate with the ruling party in the same system, maybe it will be more efficient.

What is the middle way? It means that we gather royalists under one party. This force shall convert into seats at the commune councils, at the districts, provinces and municipalities, and later, in July 2013, it will convert to more seats in the National Assembly.

When we win seats, what will we do with them? This is important. The opposition party has been opposing for four mandates already, and I respect it. In a multiparty system, the opposition is needed. But in Cambodia, the culture of the opposition party is only to oppose. I’ve never seen any actual results of any proposal from the opposition party. Corruption is still an issue, land is still an issue, so is the independence of the judiciary. There are many issues which remain the same – the CPP still rules.

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha has said that if your policies don’t change, then he won’t lend you his support. But given your rather turbulent relationship with Prime Minister Hun Sen, would you challenge him as you did before he ousted you in July 1997?

When I use the word “oppose”, it means that I am entering into the opposition group. I prefer to choose the new phrase “contribute to addressing national issues”, which implies that flexibility is not always a good thing. For example, in the past I was very unsuccessful at being flexible. We [Funcinpec] were partners, but most of our ministers applied a flexible theory: when they saw others get involved in corruption, they did so as well. They forgot their basic values and origins and political approach. This was our big mistake.

Therefore, I ask Kem Sokha to wait and see how I am doing, but not to hope that I’ll become an opposition party, nor that I will serve as the front of any party opposing the CPP. I will not do it because I am a son of the King Father, who is siding with Hun Sen. The King Father wrote on December 10 that he would continue to support Hun Sen 100 percent until the end of his life. Norodom Sihamoni is the King of Cambodia and Samdech Hun Sen is prime minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia – how can I stupidly do that alone?

Some critics – including the prime minister – have said that royalist parties risk dragging the monarchy into a dirty political game and sullying its reputation. What is your response?

We have to separate two things in a very clear manner. One: His Majesty the King must be politically neutral, meaning that he must not have any political party. The second thing is this: I do believe that in a country like Cambodia – even like in Thailand – [royals] should have a big political party.

I’d like to remind you that my father, in 1955, after independence, saw that the monarchy of the Kingdom was in a very difficult situation, politically and socially. So, he abdicated, he stepped down, to form a movement – the Sangkum Reastr Niyum – and he successfully resolved the problem. And may I remind you that Samdech Hun Sen did not say, “Prince Ranariddh, you must stop making politics”. I helped him to resolve critical problems, I made him prime minister three times, in ’93, ’98 and 2003. He didn’t say anything at that time – he took advantage of this.

It is my position that the royal family should not be a pariah of politics. Our constitution says very clearly that our citizens have a sacred right to have political activities.

In the 1950s and 1960s, peasants and villagers would go to the Royal Palace with their grievances. Today they go to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s doorstep. How do you see the role of the monarchy today?

My father was called the “pink Prince” – la prince rose – because at that time he was very close to the socialists. It was by necessity, you see, but inside, his socialism rather meant social justice, and he opened up the doors of the Royal Palace for all of the people to come and to submit to him their difficulties. I remember two families even went to the Royal Palace because their dispute was about one palm tree!

But for the time being, people feel that the real power is held by the Prime Minister instead of by His Majesty the King, and the King likes to show that he is politically neutral, and that by law, in a parliamentary system, the one who has the substance of state power is rather the prime minister.

How did growing up under your father’s regime shape your political outlook?

For me, the Sangkum Reastr Niyum was a golden era of Cambodia: 15 years of peace when you had wars all around. It is one of the greatest achievements of my father. Secondly, he developed the country without a lot of assistance from outside. And thirdly, I think his real power was based on the people. You could say maybe “people power”, but the participation of the people through a lot of mechanisms: you had the [National] Congress, you had the royal audience, etc.

I think the SRN is a model of the unity of the nation. I think this is most important: unity between the leadership and the grassroots, and if you don’t have it, you won’t be able to solve the real problems of the country. You see, for my father, the priority was the country, and secondly his own party, and thirdly, the members of his party. But I’m afraid that now, the first [priority] is the members of the parties.

We were struck by a comment you made a couple of weeks back, when you said politics was as “addictive as opium”. What are some of your more personal motivations for getting back into politics?

Politicians can’t really abandon politics, but there are in my opinion two types of politics. One, to satisfy yourself. Another one is to really serve the country. So if the opium is to really serve the country, I think it’s good to have that opium. For me, the opium is to be with the people and to serve the people.

What do you think about the current development of the country, and how has it changed since you last had a prominent role in government?

Firstly, I must say I did not have enough time to serve the country, to [put] the country on the way of progress. But I’d like to remind you that according to the report of the World Bank in 2003, which I used for my electoral campaign, in terms of FDI, the best years were from 1993 to 1998. In 1997 I was toppled. The investment law of 1994 – I was the architect of that law, which was able to attract a lot of investment to Cambodia.

My assessment is this: Cambodia has made progress, but not enough compared to the other countries in the region. But you have to create an atmosphere conducive to creating investment. I think that the lack of transparency, the lack of a real independent judiciary create an atmosphere not favourable to attracting serious investment to Cambodia, but I’m not hopeless. I think we will be able to improve the situation.

What do you think history will say about Prince Ranariddh?

Fortunately, I am back in politics, otherwise history would write about me that I wasn’t a real prince of the people. Fortunately, I am back now.

Thai nationals set to walk free


Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Prime Minister Hun Sen greets Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya at the Council of Ministers yesterday.

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 20:16 Cheang Sokha

Three Thai nationals jailed on immigration charges are set to walk free after receiving a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni yesterday.

On December 9, Siem Reap provincial court convicted the three men of illegal entry and unlawful possession of weapons, sentencing them each to 18 months jail.

Sanong Wongcharoen, 36, Lim Puangpet, 39, and Lan Sapsri, 53 – all from Surin province’s Sangkhla district – were arrested on August 18 by authorities in Oddar Meanchey province.

Their reprieve came after a meeting in Phnom Penh between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya yesterday.
Heng Hak, director general of the Department of Prisons at the Ministry of Interior, said the three men had been released into the custody of visiting Thai officials, in accordance with a pardon signed by the King yesterday.

“We picked them up from Siem Reap [and brought them] to Phnom Penh this morning,” Heng Hak said.

The Bangkok Post quoted Kasit as saying after the meeting that the three men are expected to return to Thailand today, accompanied by Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Kasit, who arrived in Phnom Penh for a two-day visit on Sunday, also met with his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong, yesterday.

New migrant regulations

Following the meeting, Hor Namhong told reporters that Thailand had agreed to reopen until 2012 a registration process for migrant labourers that will allow tens of thousands of Cambodian workers currently at risk of deportation to remain in Thailand legally.

The Thai government had previously set a February 2010 deadline for migrant workers to apply for a process known as “nationality verification”, which would allow them to
renew their work permits.

As a result, some 43,301 Cambodian migrants who had been working legally but failed to register for the verification process prior to the deadline faced the possibility of deportation, according to figures provided by the Human Rights and Development Foundation, a Bangkok-based rights group.

Cambodian officials estimated that more than 90,000 Cambodian workers had missed the February registration deadline.

More than 1,000 Cambodian workers were arrested and detained in June for missing the deadline, after Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva authorised a crackdown on June 2. Thai officials said in October that they were considering reopening the registration process because of the “backlog” of workers who missed the deadline.

Hor Namhong said yesterday that he and Kasit had also discussed a recent rash of arrests and shootings of Cambodian nationals by Thai border guards, and agreed that Thailand would be more lenient toward Cambodian trespassers.

“I requested that from now on [Thai soldiers] stop using violence or shooting and that if [Cambodians] commit wrongdoing, just arrest them and take legal action,” Hor Namhong said. “[Kasit] promised to do so.”

However, six Cambodians were reportedly injured when Thai border troops fired on them for logging valuable hardwood in Thai territory close to the border with Oddar Meanchey last week.

Srey Naren, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said there have been six separate shooting incidents this year involving Thai troops and Cambodians, including five in which people were killed and one in which a person disappeared.

Pair from dubious firm charged


Photo by: Sovan Philong
Ray C Dam (left), chairman of ARP-OITC Group, enters Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday.

via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 20:56 James O'Toole and Chrann Chamroeun

Two men from a local property firm raided by police this past weekend were charged with forgery by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday after allegedly fabricating documents claiming ties to the United Nations, the United States government and HSBC Bank.

Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun said Ray C Dam, the chairman of ARP-OITC Group Co Ltd, and Soush Saroeun, the firm’s executive managing director, had been charged with forgery under Articles 626, 627, 628 and 629 of the Kingdom’s new penal code, which went into effect this month.

“We have transferred the case to an investigating judge for further examination of these charges,” Sok Roeun said.

Article 629, which relates to forging government documents, carries a jail term of between five and 10 years. The combined charges carry a maximum sentence of 16 years in prison.

The case follows an October report in The Post that investigated ARP-OITC and its parent company, the “Office of International Treasury Control”, questioning the groups’ grandiose alleged credentials and raising concerns over possible fraud. OITC officials have previously been implicated in financial scandals in Ecuador, Fiji and the United Kingdom.

Dam and Soush Saroeun were arrested on Saturday at Dam’s luxurious home in Daun Penh district, where police confiscated OITC documents and Dam’s four Lexus cars. Two foreigners were arrested along with the pair, though these men were later released, said Rin Savoeun, deputy chief of the internal security department at the Ministry of Interior.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had “ordered investigation into this case last month after learning that [Dam] had pretended to be an advisor to [Senate President] Chea Sim and used that title to grab land in Banteay Meanchey province”. The government “welcomes” the indictments against Dam and Soush Saroeun, Khieu Kanharith added.

Dam has been locked in a land dispute with Lay Saran, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in Phnom Srok district, over seven hectares of land in the district.

Mey Vann, director of the financial department at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said his ministry had filed a complaint against ARP-OITC after learning that the group was operating without a real estate license despite billing itself as an “international real estate consultancy”.

Keith Scott, the OITC’s “chief of cabinet”, said in an email on Sunday that he was not involved in ARP-OITC’s operations in Cambodia, though he defended Dam, who is identified on the OITC website as owner of the “Global Debt Facility” and “sole arbiter ... of the Tripartite Gold Commission, established under the Bretton Woods Agreement”.

“This does not appear to be a matter that questions the institutional and international authorities of Dr Dam,” Scott said. “Those I know to be genuine.”

Future Montagnard cases now uncertain


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 21:54 Cheang Sokha and James O’Toole

The prospects for future Montagnard asylum seekers in Cambodia remains unclear following the government’s order last week that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees close a centre in Phnom Penh for the Vietnamese minority group, officials said yesterday.

Foreign minister Hor Namhong said on Friday that the government would allow the UNHCR to keep the centre open until February 15 after originally ordering that the facility be closed by January 1. A total of 76 Montagnards are now housed at the centre, 62 of whom have been granted refugee status, allowing them to be resettled in a third country.

Thousands of Montagnards, most of whom are Christian, have streamed into Cambodia since 2001, fleeing alleged political and religious persecution at the hands of Vietnamese authorities. Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to say yesterday whether Montagnard asylum seekers would still be welcome in the Kingdom following the closure of the UN centre in February, suggesting they have nothing to fear in their own country.

“Wait and see,” he said. “I don’t think the Montagnards will come again, because the Montagnards are living in their hometown already.”

Under a 2005 memorandum of understanding signed by Cambodia, Vietnam and the UNHCR, Montagnard refugees in Cambodia are housed at the “closed site” in Phnom Penh temporarily before being resettled in a third country or voluntarily returning to Vietnam.

“The MOU remains the applicable legal framework governing the situation of Montagnard refugees in Cambodia,” the UNHCR said in an internal report last month.

With the closure of the centre in February, it remains to be seen how this legal framework may be altered.

“It’s all very unclear,” said Denise Coughlan, director of Jesuit Refugee Services in Phnom Penh. “I don’t even know who’s assessing the cases of the new Montagnards.”

Kitty McKinsey, Asia spokeswoman for the UNHCR, said in an email that the UN was “seeking to find lasting solutions for the recognised refugees” at the centre.

“As for other Montagnards who might come to Cambodia in the future, we are discussing with the Cambodian government how their cases should be processed,” she said. McKinsey declined to comment directly on the 14 Montagnards at the centre who have not received refugee status, although she said asylum seekers who have appealed against rejections of their cases should not be deported during their appeals.

A December 2009 sub-decree placed the responsibility for refugee processing in the hands of the Ministry of Interior. The UNHCR said in its report last month, however, that it “continues to closely work with the government’s officials to develop the capacity of the Refugee Office”.

Mom Sophannarith, head of the Ministry of Interior’s refugee office, said his unit had not dealt with Montagnard cases.

“The government has it own refugee office, but we did not deal with the Montagnards,” he said. “This group of Montagnards did not seek refuge in Cambodia – they asked the UN to resettle them elsewhere, so this is the work of the UN.”

Coughlan said the closure of the Montagnard centre and the legal uncertainty surrounding the issue raised broader questions about Cambodia’s willingness to accept asylum seekers.

“Are the Burmese eventually going to be to cut off? Are the Pakistanis?” Coughlan said. “How many people?”

Lawyer condemns incitement case


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 21:37 Thomas Miller and Chhay Channyda

The World Food Programme employee convicted on Sunday of criminal incitement distributed the offending web article to only two of his co-workers, his attorney said yesterday, amid mounting criticism of the “draconian” conviction.

Chou Sokheng, the lawyer for Seng Kunnaka, who works at the WFP’s Russey Keo district warehouse, said his client did not publicly distribute the article.

“He confessed he printed the article to read with his other two co-staffers, but he denied distributing it to the public,” he said.

Seng Kunnaka was sentenced to 6 months jail and fined 1 million riel (US$250) under Article 495 of the new penal code, which came into effect December 10.

The content of the article Seng Kunnaka printed is still unclear. While Chou Sokheng said it contained pictures of government officials, he declined to provide further details. Article 495 outlaws public speech that directly incites actions “seriously” affecting social security, and carries a prison sentence of between six months and two years, even in cases in which incitement is ineffective.

Kor Vandy, the presiding judge, declined to comment yesterday, referring questions to Deputy Prosecutor Chet Khemara, who was unavailable.

But bloggers at the news blog KI-Media, from which Seng Kunnaka is thought to have printed the article, said yesterday they believed he may have printed an article posted on December 17, the same day he was arrested. The article, titled as an opinion piece, shows headshots of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials with the word “traitors?” written along the side in various languages.

“That’s why the judge refused to talk about it, because then he would be forced to repeat the question we posted,” KI-Media’s administrator Heng Soy said in an email.

Human Rights Watch yesterday expressed deep concern about the conviction of Seng Kunnaka, whose case “probably set an all-new world record for speedy proceedings by the Cambodian courts”, and called on Cambodia’s donors to “wake up”.

“It’s shocking that we now see even a warehouse employee at a UN agency with a print-out of materials from a website can incur the wrath of this increasingly authoritarian Cambodian government,” HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said yesterday.

WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre DeMargerie said the agency was “still trying to clarify” the facts of the case.

Japanese company to employ thousands


via CAAI

Monday, 20 December 2010 19:47 Catherine James

A US$2-billion Japanese precision components company, Minebea Co Ltd, has selected Cambodia as the launching pad for its future growth.

The Kingdom’s improving education system and burgeoning workforce were cited as chief drivers of the decision, a company official said on Monday.

Minebea’s expansion plan includes building a component manufacturing plant estimated to cost ¥5 billion ($60 million) and employ 5,000 people in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone, with operations to start next April.

Kumano Yasunari, Minebea corporate communications manager, told The Post on Monday that the company researched for three years, looking at a number of countries in Asia, including Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, before making a decision.

“At the moment it’s a very big problem to find workers, especially in Thailand and China,” Kumano Yasunari said. “So as our future grows we decided to find a new place for production and to build a workforce.

“Finally we decided Cambodia was the best place for the next Minebea.”

He said Cambodians had worked for the company in its Thailand operations and they were impressed with their work ethic.

“We saw Cambodian people were very good at working in our industry,” he said.

Kumano Yasunari said the aim was to have 900 staff employed locally when operations began in April, growing to 5,000 by the end of 2012.

The company already employs about 55,000 people in Asia – the largest hub being Thailand with 35,000.

In a company statement released on Friday, the Tokyo-listed Minebea said it was the first time in 17 years – since setting up its Shanghai plant in 1994 – that it would establish a large-scale production site in a new region.

“The new Cambodian plant will assemble medium and small-sized motors, mainly for office-automation equipment, household electrical appliances and digital equipment, using parts supplied by Minebea plants in Thailand,” the statement said.

Initially it will rent a factory within the PPSEZ, gradually transferring production into its own factory – still to be constructed – by the end of 2012.

“Going forward, the company ... will develop the Cambodian site into a volume production structure second only to its Chinese factory,” the statement said.

Kumano Yasunari said these plans were only the beginning.

“In the future we will expand the factory so we can do other things,” he said, adding that all the component parts were produced in one factory in Thailand, but that may also change with the company’s expansion plans.

Cambodia Urges Thais to Approve Border Agreements

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh Monday, 20 December 2010

via CAAI

Photo: AP
Hor Namhong, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, addresses the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly.


“If a Cambodian is doing something illegal in Thailand, Thai authorities should arrest him or her in conformity with normal procedures and not using violence.”

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong met with his Thai counterpart on Monday, demanding that Thai parliament approve a series of meeting minutes crucial to advancing border agreements.

Hor Namhong told reporters after his meeting with Kasit Pirumya that he wanted urgent action on border resolutions.

“I demand that the Thai National Assembly approves the minutes of three joint border commission meetings and ask to urgently hold Cambodian-Thai joint border commission meetings for demarcation between Cambodia and Thailand,” Hor Namhong said.

Kasit said Thai parliament needs to determine whether agreements made in a series of meetings in recent years are constitutional.

Kasit was in Cambodia with a high-level border delegation for talks with senior leaders, including Prime Minister Hun Sen. The visit follows a series of improved diplomatic steps and an easing of tensions on the disputed border near Preah Vihear temple.

“I appointed a new ambassador in charge of border affairs, who will arrive in Phnom Penh soon to meet Var Kimhong, the Cambodian border commission head for border talks,” he said.

Hor Namhong also said he requested that Thai border authorities exercise restraint in dealing with Cambodians who illegally cross, following reports of shootings.

“If a Cambodian is doing something illegal in Thailand, Thai authorities should arrest him or her in conformity with normal procedures and not using violence,” he said.

Kasit said he would take the request back to Bangkok.

A spokesman for Hun Sen said the prime minister had encouraged more joint cooperation for resoultion of border disputes in his meeting with Kasit.

The Thai delegation, which stays through Tuesday, also includes senior military officials, including Prayuth Chan-ocha, the nation’s new commander-in-chief.

Bridge Inquiry Aims To Find What Government ‘Missed’

Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Washington, DC Monday, 20 December 2010

via CAAI

Photo: by Men Kimseng
The head of the organization, Ou Virak, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday that interviews with nearly 50 witnesses showed too few police were stationed near the bridge.

“The response of the police was much lacking.”

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights is continuing its investigation of the Nov. 22 Diamond Bridge catastrophe, but it lacks the authority to summon government officials and police for questioning.

The head of the organization, Ou Virak, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday that interviews with nearly 50 witnesses showed too few police were stationed near the bridge.

The center is holding its own investigation into the disaster, which killed 353 people, after the government’s official report was concluded in under a week and found no fault with Water Festival organizers, city planners or security officials.

“In our view, the government report missed a lot of angles,” Ou Virak said. “That’s why CCHR is trying to seek information through other aspects of the situation, including watching videos and interviewing victims and witnesses.”

The organization was following more leads and had “found much more than the government when it ended its investigation,” he said. “But we don’t have the authority to summon anyone for questioning like the government.”

Like the government report, CCHR found witnesses who said the main cause of the deadly stampede came when people began shouting that the swaying bridge would collapse. But it also found there had been “no preparation” for such a crowded bridge and that police were not stationed near the choke point.

The group also found reports that electric shocks went through the crowd, he said, a claim it is continuing to investigate.

Witnesses said the police had done little on the mainland side of the bridge to keep the crowd from amassing on the bridge, as a concert got underway on Diamond Island, on the other side. Witnesses also said a barricade for vehicles had become a source of congestion for foot traffic.

Overall, Ou Virak said, the disaster showed an “absence of good governance,” where officials have not taken responsibility for the incident, and where underpaid police were not at their stations.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, officials had blamed the incident on the crowd, saying that uneducated people “from the countryside” had panicked. Ou Virak called this “irresponsible.” Meanwhile, the National Assembly did not step forward in its own inquiry, he said.

Ou Virak was also critical of the response to the stampede, where, he said, police stacked the injured with the dead, creating more fatalities.

“The response of the police was much lacking,” he said, “and the police were not prepared or trained properly to understand early rescue.”

Tun Srey Pov, who survived the bridge incident and also spoke on “Hello VOA” Thursday, said there were not enough police to contain a situation that rapidly got out of hand.

“If they had had enough security or enough control, there would not have been a deadly stampede that caused more than 300 people to be killed,” she said. “I want to know for sure.”

Cambodian UN employee sentenced under restrictive new speech law

http://www.monstersandcritics.com/

via CAAI

Dec 20, 2010

Phnom Penh - A Cambodian court has sentenced a United Nations employee to six months in prison after he was convicted under the new penal code for distributing anti-government materials.

Seng Kunnaka, a Cambodian security guard for the UN World Food Program, was sentenced Sunday, just two days after his arrest. He was charged under a new law that took effect less than two weeks ago.

'The court found him guilty of incitement ... on Sunday and sent him to prison that same day,' Municipal Court Judge Kor Vanndy told the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

Seng Kunnaka was reportedly arrested after printing out and distributing material from KI-Media, a popular Cambodian news blog that takes a strident anti-government line.

Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the World Food Program's country director for Cambodia, told the newspaper that the agency was still trying to learn more about the case.

'We are purely a development agency not involved in any political activity and abide entirely to humanitarian principles, which include impartiality,' he said in an email.

Licadho, a local civil rights group, criticized the conviction, saying 'the new criminal code in its current form is a threat to freedom of expression in the country.'

'This rushed trial and groundless conviction is further proof of the growing crackdown on freedom of expression by the Cambodian government,' Licadho director Naly Pilorge said.

Rights groups worried as Cambodia orders refugee camp shut

via CAAI

Cambodia's order to shut down a United Nations refugee office has further strained troubled ties with international organisations, casting doubt over the pro-business government's commitment to reforms.

Rights groups are incensed by the order, made public last week, to close the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) centre, which handles Vietnamese refugees. They say the government is sending a clear message that it cares little for human rights.

The order follows Prime Minister Hun Sen's demand to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in October to remove the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) representative, whom he accused of working for his opponents.

Hun Sen said that if the U.N. refused, he would close down the rights body in the country.

The government has also said it might cancel plans to donate 2,000 tonnes of rice to a nother U.N. body, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, and to expel the U.N. Development Programme's local official over comments he made about an anti-corruption bill before it took effect this year.

The laws seek to attract foreign investors deterred by corruption, but analysts and some in business say loopholes raise doubts about the resolve to tackle graft.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, said it was "totally unreasonable" for the government to demand the closure of the refugee centre -- which holds Vietnamese nationals who say they have fled repression at home.

"It shows that the Cambodian government may want the U.N.'s money, but it doesn't want to hear about human rights," he said, describing the move as part of an intimidation campaign by the government to silence critics and cement its grip on power.

A regional UNHCR representative could not be reached and the OHCHR declined to comment.

The government has also picked fights with foreign donors and international financial institutions, which provide vital development aid to alleviate poverty.

SPATS WITH DONORS, LENDERS

Hun Sen has expressed irritation at the World Bank and other institutions for stating that the economy contracted in 2009 -- contrary to Finance Ministry data -- and for giving growth forecasts lower than the government's.

A World Bank land registry project, aimed at helping people lacking land titles, was scrapped last year after the bank and other donors asked the government to halt forced evictions.

Rights groups accuse he government of leaning on the judiciary to punish critics and using its parliamentary majority to push through defamation laws aimed at muzzling dissent.

The U.N. has maintained a large presence in Cambodia since the 1990s, when a U.N. Transitional Authority supervised an election and a cease-fire after decades of civil conflict, including the mass killings of the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge.

Local non-governmental organisations say government moves will leave independent bodies more open to intimidation.

"It very much leaves the role of NGOs in the balance, with many questioning how they can effectively operate in a country that did not allow U.N. officials to operate freely," said Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

Cambodia's government defended the closure of the camp and said its close political ally, Vietnam, now enjoyed peace and a booming economy, so a refugee centre was no longer necessary.

"It's time to close this site because there is no war in Vietnam, no armed conflict so the refugees don't have to be present in Cambodia any more," said Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

(Editing by Martin Petty and Ron Popeski)