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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Forum: Abandoning our allies

President Bush's use of the Vietnam-Iraq analogy in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last month was accurate but lacking. Most of his critics know little about the history of the Vietnamese communists, and they choose to blindly ignore what is glaringly known about the intentions of al Qaeda and the radical Muslim jihadists in the Middle East.

The president in his analogy forgot to mention that while the communists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos didn't announce their genocidal intentions at the onset of the war, al Qaeda and the Muslim jihadists have — as demonstrated by September 11, 2001, attacks and by numerous other acts of barbarism, such as the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl.

George Santayana said, "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them." Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were tragedies, but if the defeatists in Congress get their way, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will be both tragedy and farce.

Ho Chi Minh, cofounder of the French Communist Party, held a position of leadership in the international communist movement — the Comintern. Ho founded the Indo-China Communist Party in 1930, and was sent by the Comintern to Siam (Thailand), Malaya and Singapore to preside over creation of communist parties in these countries. Moscow also put him in charge of creating communist parties in Cambodia and Laos.

After the Geneva agreements in 1954, Ho Chi Minh saw to it that several hundred young Cambodians were taken north, indoctrinated in communism and given military training. They were later armed and sent back, where they became the basis of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia's Eastern Zone. Knowing of Ho's close ties to Moscow and his intent to create a Soviet-style Union of South East Asia, China began training and arming the Pol Pot faction of the Khmer Rouge as a counterbalance to Soviet influence.

North Vietnam enabled the Khmer Rouge to take over Phnom Penh in 1975 by providing logistics, ammunition, artillery and backup by Vietnamese troops, making them complicit in the genocide of at least 1.5 million Cambodians.

Viewing the U.S. as a paper tiger after its abandonment of South Vietnam, the Vietnamese Communist Party sent its mighty military force into Cambodia, not to liberate it from Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, but to colonize that country to fulfill Ho Chi Minh's dream of hegemony over Indochina. They never dreamed the U.S. would ally with communist China to drive them out. Unfortunately, Hanoi's Khmer Rouge remained intact and now controls Cambodia.

Vietnamese communists continue their policy of neocolonization, nibbling away at Cambodia by annexing sizable portions of its borders, coastlines and islands through illegitimate treaties with their puppet regime in Phnom Penh. Their latest method is a "Development Triangle" scheme that involves flooding three northeastern provinces of Cambodia and the three southeastern provinces of Laos with Vietnamese settlers. The Vietnamese army has already established coffee, cashew and rubber plantations in the Laotian provinces — the latter covering more than 7,000 hectares.

The similarity between the Vietnamese communists and the al Qaeda and the Muslim jihadists is that they are both fanatical true believers who see it as their divine right and destiny to establish hegemony over their respective regions, regardless of the cost in human life.

U.S. involvement in Vietnam was justified in trying to prevent the "dominos" — the Southeast Asian nations — from falling victim to communism. Likewise, the U.S. must stay involved in Iraq to keep radical Islam from spreading throughout the region, and to prevent the eventual take over of Iraq by Iran — another "domino effect."

Another Vietnam-Iraq analogy is how the United States treats its allies. Some observers thought the Iraqis would welcome the Americans with garlands of flowers. However, the Shias viewed us as betrayers rather than liberators, because after arming and encouraging them to rebel against Saddam's regime at the end of the First Gulf War, the coalition failed to enforce the Southern no-fly zone. This allowed Saddam's forces to slaughter an estimated 100,000 Shia with tanks, helicopter gunships and devastating artillery fire.

Now, about 10,000 Iraqis who worked for the United States have been threatened by the terrorists who accuse them and their families of "collaborating" with the enemy — a death sentence. They have been referred by the United Nations for resettlement in the U.S., but even though many are translators who have already been vetted by the U.S. armed forces, so far only about 100 have been admitted.

One who called the U.S. Embassy in Jordan for help was told, "You knew the risk when you helped the Army." Recently, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" and tried to justify the snails-pace processing said the problem is the "very thorough security checks" put in place after September 11; however, only 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqis may be admitted this year.

During a trip to Hanoi last February, Mrs. Sauerbrey told persecuted Montagnard ethnic minorities that they should stay in the Central Highlands rather than fleeing to Cambodia to seek sanctuary. This came after the repressive Vietnamese communist regime told her the Montagnards were free to travel and take their grievances to the U.S. Embassy or consulate.

The reality is that the embassy and consulate are heavily guarded by communist police who won't let the Montagnards enter. Loyal allies of America during the Vietnam War, the Montagnards lost about half of their adult male population fighting the communists. When the United States withdrew from Vietnam, about 1.5 million Montagnards remained. Now the Vietnamese regime gives their population at around 750,000 — evidence of the regime's brutal and longstanding policy of ethnic cleansing.

After September 11, 2001, some Americans took pleasure in vilifying the French, ridiculing them as afraid to fight and prone to flee the battlefield. But if the defeatists in our own Congress succeed, America will once again have abandoned its allies — and once again, terror and slaughter will follow.

MICHAEL BENGE

Mr. Benge spent 11 years in Vietnam as a Foreign Service Officer. He is an advocate for human rights and religious freedom.
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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rupee and the IT sector

The hardening rupee has been one of the major focal points of the IT industry of late. A 10% appreciation in the last one year has made a serious dent on the global competitiveness of the Indian IT sector.

Apprehensions that some segments of the IT/BPO business may be flying out of India has made the industry bigwigs somewhat nervous.

In a bid to combat their growing concerns about the rupee appreciation, some of the industry leaders have even called for slowing down the rate of salary hike in the sector, and of course as expected, others have reiterated their right to peg the salaries wherever they wish. Free market, etc. Thus increasingly, there is a tacit expectation, if not a strident demand, from the sector that the government should manage the appreciation of the rupee better. Never mind its impact on inflation and interest rates.

Well, no harm in having one’s expectations and hopes and sending some gentle signals along those lines. But even as those gentle signals are finding their audience, there are certain aspects of the issue everybody connected should take note of.

From a mere 5% of a $33 billion total Indian exports in 1996-97, today (2006-07) the IT sector accounts for a hefty 25% of the $120 billion total exports from India. This represents a compounded annual growth of 35% for the IT sector over a 10-year period, making IT the fastest growing and the biggest export-oriented sector in the country. Clearly then, if the rupee is getting steadily stronger, the Indian IT sector has had a strong hand in making it so! In short, the IT sector has become a victim of its own success.

After all, if the IT exports rode on a historically weak rupee, it is only natural that in due course, the forces of international markets will bring about a correction. That’s international territory in the financial markets.

That is how industries and nations grow up and learn to cope, as well as find, develop or invent other strengths to stay afloat in a competitive market. And the Indian IT sector can be no exception to this standard rule. It only stands to reason that after decades of reigning strong, the hardest currencies of yesteryears like the US dollar, the Deutsche mark, the pound sterling, the yen or the French franc give way to currencies of the emerging economies.

There was a time when the Japanese automakers faced the same problem as the Indian IT sector today, only much worse — namely that of a super hard yen. Their companies would struggle to spend millions in R&D for devising a superior carburettor design that would bring the cost of a car down by $85, only to see a strong yen push the car price up by $300 the next morning. But the Japanese auto industry learnt to cope. That’s when they unleashed their Lexuses, Accuras and Infinities into the western world.

Clearly, our IT sector needs to find similar market solutions, rather than seriously expect or hope for a government handholding. You either have a free market or you do not. The sector will have to reduce its dependence on conventional export markets; tap hitherto untapped markets, say, among the rapidly emerging east European countries; negotiate their contracts in rupee rather than dollars; get a lot more India-centric; move up the value chain; draw in work-force from the fringe states to bring about superior wage arbitrage and do a whole lot of other things so that the sector is driven more by quality and value than by the softness of the rupee.

To illustrate one of the above points, let us see how our IT sector can become more India-centric. Take Cambodia. For tourists visiting Cambodia, the visa is on arrival. And the software and the system installed at the beautiful Siem Reap airport is so advanced that visas for an entire plane load of tourists is cleared in 15 minutes flat. IT is on its best display here, including the computers on the immigration desk taking your picture on the spot. The same is true of the passes issued as you enter Angkor Vat. The column of vehicles at the entry gate moves faster than our vehicles do at most of our Toll Gates.

During the few seconds a car stops at the entry to Angkor Vat, the tourist’s picture is taken and the laminated pass issued for one or three days as required, complete with his or her picture and other details, such as, name, date, time, etc. Don’t we have enough and more scope in our own country for our IT sector to address, without worrying excessively about exports? We are a big enough country to do much of our ‘exports’ out of Bangalore and Hyderabad to a couple of dozen of states within the country.
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An artist’s calling

By LEONG SIOK HUI

A passion for art and history led Lim Muy Thean to becoming a respected artisan in Cambodia.

If you studied art at one of the most prestigious fine arts schools in the world – the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (National School of Fine Arts) in Paris – and your fellow alumni included artists like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas and fashion designers, Valentino and Hubert de Givenchy, what would you do?

You could become a celebrity painter and command a six-figure price tag for each piece of your artwork.

Or, you could be like Lim Muy Theam.

Lim set aside his dreams and journeyed to a place he once fled from 15 years ago to take part in the rebuilding of a country ravaged by three decades of war.

Lim is one of the few overseas-educated Cambodians who are helping to revive the Khmer craft industry and manage the successful Artisans d’Angkor (AA).

As the art-design director, Lim’s job is to create new products and introduce new collections for AA.

He also designs the chic AA stores with simple lines to showcase the elaborate craftwork.

“We are not simply just producing artefacts of Angkor temples,” says the genial Lim during an interview in his Siem Reap office.

“My job is to come up with the right colour, proportions, shapes and designs that people can appreciate and want to put in their homes.”

But how did Lim, who speaks fluent French, English and Khmer, end up with AA?

The journey home

Born in Takeo Province, south of Cambodia, Lim was nine when the Khmer Rouge regime fell and Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978. Amidst the widespread famine and the trauma caused by the genocide, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled the country.

Lim’s family was among the refugees who arrived in France in 1980. Lim was separated from his family and adopted by a French family.

“I was exposed to arts and culture since young,” says Lim, who visited his Cambodian family during summer holidays when he was growing up. Traditionally, Cambodian parents raise their children to pursue practical careers like in business or computers.

“But my French family saw my artistic talents and passion for art and history. They pushed me to follow my dream,” says Lim.

At that time, the Cambodian community in France only talked about politics, the rebuilding of Cambodia after the war, and not arts or culture, Lim adds.

After high school, Lim enrolled in the École Bulle, Paris (one of the largest trade schools in France) to study interior design and graphics. In 1992, he gained admission into the tough and prestigious École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.

In 1994, he made the life-changing decicison to return to Cambodia.

“With my arts knowledge, I wanted to see how I can share and give what I had learned in France to my people,” says the idealistic artist. Growing up in France, Lim used to hear about the sublime Angkorian Empire and the glory of Khmer arts. But when he finally returned to Cambodia, he was shocked.

“There was no presence of any art or style, people didn’t even speak very well. They were just trying to feed themselves,” says Lim, who initally worked as a painter and did a few exhibitions in an art gallery.

So he set out on a mission to learn about Khmer art and style.

For three years, he devoted himself to learning about his country. He trawled through temples and pagodas around the country, visited people’s homes, and studied whatever artwork and artefacts he could lay his hands on. The Khmer Rouge regime had tried to wipe out any reminder of Cambodia’s past – its artisans, cultural artefacts, statues and books.

“I'm interested in how Cambodians live their everyday lives and use things like spoons and pots, the house they live in – the equilibrium of the designs,” says Lim, 39. “And I try to find the relationship between the aesthetics of the Angkor temples and present-day Cambodians' lives.

Inevitably, Chantiers-Écoles (whose programme was still in its infancy) roped in the designer to help them set up a modular training and look into the technical and artistic aspects of the programme.

Daunting tasks

At Chantiers-Écoles, one of Lim’s roles was to reintroduce the traditional method to the trainees. But there were no precedents and virtually all the information on arts and crafts had to be researched, compiled or rediscovered.

Lim was lucky to track down some of the old master craftsmen who were still alive and based in Phnom Penh. Most of these artisans are from Battambang, a once dynamic city that sits between the Thai/Cambodian bordertown of Poipet and Phnom Penh.

At the beginning of the 20th century under French rule, Battambang experienced a rebirth of craft traditions with French and Siamese stylistics influences. The city produced skilled craftsmen, artists and musicians who later moved to Phnom Penh.

Over three years, Lim studied how the masters worked and took notes and pictures. He then taught the traditional process to youths who have zero background or knowledge in arts and crafts.

“These youths have never been to school and they had no concept of time and discipline,” explains Lim. “We had to figure out what language and method to use to make them understand without using technical jargons. We could only use visual tools to teach and motivate them.”

It was a learn-as-you-go process for both the teachers and trainees.

He spurs his trainees to look at links to their cultural past. Ancient temples dot the country and even in the boondocks, there is a presence of style and aesthetics. Cambodians also grew up with folktales told by their ancestors.

“We’re not a fine arts school, we give basic skills to the artisans so they can work as a team within our network. In this modern economy, our artisans can’t work on his own out there because he doesn’t hail from a traditional craftsman’s family.

“But people will give value to quality, aesthetic beauty and detail,” says Lim.

“Even when we do reproductions, we respect the material, the process of creating the craft and try to understand what our ancestors have done, the years they spent to carve a masterpiece and try to feel their spirits in our work.

“One of the most challenging things for me is, though I can come up with excellent designs that meet international standards, we still have to figure out how to transmit that message to our artisans about something so refined and with the right colour or shapes. It takes time.”

What delights Lim is that over time, the artisans have become sensitive to aesthetics.

“Even on weekends after work, when they're eating or lazing in their hammocks, they chat about proportions, what is good, what colour mixes well with another. They love to work on special orders, as they are freer to express their individual creativity.”

A pat in the back

After 10 years with AA, Lim can look back and be proud of one thing: He started working with 50 artisans and now AA has more than 600 artisans.

He walks alongside the artisans as they journey through life, from their apprenticeship to securing a stable job and starting a family.

“Now they have their own houses, and in the weekends, they can ride their motorbikes with their families to Angkor Wat, have a drink in front of the temple and spend a leisurely time,” says Lim, smiling.

“To most people, this may sound simple, but it is a big success to have this stable and ‘normal’ life in Cambodia.”

Today, one in three Cambodians still live on less than 2000 riels (RM1.70) a day (UNDP Cambodia). And most villagers from rural Cambodia have never stepped foot in Siem Reap.

But AA has created over 1000 jobs for its artisans and staff involved in marketing, retail, design and logistics.

“We have affected maybe a total of 4,000 to 5,000 Cambodians' lives, plus the children who are the future of Cambodia,” says Lim.

“I think I've been part of this good work.”
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Friday, September 28, 2007

The leaf-books of Khmer Monks

23 September 2007 (Vietnam News, courtesy of chlim01) - The art of inscribing text on leaves used by monks in Cambodia is in danger of being lost as the sole monk with the skill takes a two-year break without finding any successor. The Cambodian version of the art is not old - only about 100 years old - but similar ancient traditions are found elsewhere in the region, for instance by the Cham in South Vietnam (see related story at the end of the post). I wonder if there’s a regional tradition of writing texts on leaves. Further south in Bali and Java there are copies of king-lists written on palm leaves. It occurs to me that the Malay word “buku” is a corruption of the English word “book”, but ancient texts surely existed before European contact. Today, virtually all textual sources of ancient Southeast Asia is based on carved inscriptions on stone. However, I would not be surprised if this region had a rich textual culture based on leaf-books such as the ones mentioned here.

Monks await next in line to record history
by Trung Hieu – Vien Du
On a quiet, peaceful afternoon, in a large, airy chamber of an ancient Khmer pagoda, two yellow-robed monks – one wrinkled, one fresh-faced – study a large Buddhist prayer book.

They must turn each page carefully, for the book doesn’t contain ordinary paper. Rather, its pale yellow pages are made of a special type of dried leaf, on which prayers and descriptions of historical events are etched in delicate Khmer script.

Xa Ton Pagoda (or Xvayton, in Khmer) in the southern province of Soc Trang preserves over 100 such Buddhist prayer books made of buong leaves, or Sa-tra, as they are known in Khmer.

According to its oldest monks, it was in this pagoda in Tri Ton District that a monk created the method to carve prayers on leaves over 100 years ago, and the technique caught on as a way to preserve prayers.

Ethnic Khmer monks had previously used bamboo planks as canvases for recording prayers and stories, but the leaf idea proved superior: many have survived more than a century without suffering damage from termites or other wood-eating pests.

Not just anyone could learn the art of creating the books, however. The pagoda’s chief monks only taught the skills to a few gifted monks who proved virtuous.

Now, in the town of Tri Ton in An Giang Province, only one monk, 62-year-old Chau Ty of Svay So Pagoda, knows how to inscribe the holy writings onto dried leaves. Exhausted after 40 years of writing such books, he opted to take a two-year break.

“Writing prayers on leaves is not an easy job. We have to clean ourselves then burn incense to the Buddha, and our minds must be very tranquil – only then can we start the work,” he says.

Finding an appropriate successor to train, however, has proved trying.

“I wish to find a follower to whom I can transfer my skills, but so far I have not found anyone suitable,” the old monk says with a sigh.

Xa Ton Pagoda’s Chief Monk Chau Phuol agrees that the process of constructing the books is a lengthy one. First, the maker must find the buong trees, a rare plant located only in isolated mountainous areas. Then, the young leaves must be cut down and allowed to dry in the sun before being cut into 60X6cm pieces.

The maker then uses a pointed iron tool to carve each letter on the leaf canvas, then rubs the surface with ink. He cleans the surface and lets the leaves dry under the sun once again. Each leaf can contain five vertical lines of sparkling script, with 20 characters in each column.

“It could take all day for a skilful maker to complete one leaf,” he says.

Once the pages are bound with string or human hair, the result is a smooth, shiny book, often weighing about 1kg.

The contents of these books are diverse, ranging from stories about the Buddha to daily prayers, lessons in virtue and Khmer folk tales and legends. To monks at the pagoda, the books beckon from another time in Xa Ton’s 200-year history, to the era when the pagoda was surrounded by dense forest inhabited by monkeys – which gave the pagoda its Khmer name meaning “troops of monkeys coming”.

More than 1,000 such leaf books are also preserved in the nearby province of Kien Giang, home to 73 Khmer pagodas. Famous pagodas Phat Lon, Lang Cat, Soc Xoai and Ta Pet harbour a large collection of the books, but the numbers of those able to read them are dwindling.

Danh Duc, principal of the province’s Ethnic Minority Boarding School, fears that the books may have outlasted their readership: only a few elders remain in the province who are able to read the ancient Khmer scripts written in such books.

“Most of them are very old and weak now,” he says. “I am afraid that a part of the treasure of folk knowledge and valuable information on history, culture and society may be lost, as we lack people who can read and translate these ancient documents for future generations.”

Taking a leaf from the Cham

The idea of making prayer books out of buong leaves also caught on among the Cham people: in the central province of Binh Thuan’s Bac Binh District, 13 such books remain as relics of Cham cultural heritage.

The ancient tracts are kept safe in the home of chief monk Mai Tiem in Binh Tien Village, Phan Hiep Commune, where the local Cham practise Brahminism.

When the Cham gather for rituals, they bring out the books, but not for reading. The 40X5cm books are displayed in places of honour, considered sacred items.

“Perhaps our ancestors wrote these books with the belief that when they read them they would be helped to avoid wild beasts or failed crops,” Mai Tiem says. “Some books contain prayers for organising sacred ceremonies and annual festivals. Some are simply testaments for the descendants.”

Mai Tiem’s youngest son Mai Huu Xuan says his family often cleans each page of the books carefully and hangs them in a dry, clean place to ensure that their legacy will last for future generations.

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Kid's Day a Hit in Cambodia and Thailand

"Bring Your Kids to Work Day" has become quite popular in several countries along the Pacific rim, according to one spokesperson for the Universal Children's Organization.

"It's amazing! The kids go to work with the parents, and productivity seems to go way up! The kids even end up staying late."

She added that the sneaker and clothing industry seems to have taken to the event most successfully.

So great was the scheme's success that the Cambodian government is planning to make it more than just a once a week thing.

Business analysts see this as a good thing.
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Teaching from Cambodia


BY RICK FOSTER SUN CHRONICLE STAFF

ATTLEBORO - Hoeurn Somnieng's mother sent him to live with another family as a preschooler so that he could get an education and grow up away from the abusive household into which he was born.
Somnieng studied hard, but was denied a diploma when his impoverished family couldn't spare $5 for a bribe for a good mark on a national standardized test. Unbowed, Somnieng turned to a Buddhist temple in a poor province of Cambodia - the only source of a free education unsullied by palm-greasing in a land only now recovering from the ravages of the Khmer Rouge.

Now a Buddhist monk, Somnieng has spent the past several years of his life working to bring Cambodians advantages he never had by founding a growing collection of social and educational movements that include a sewing trades school, a foreign language academy and a junior high school.

Many of those who attend the schools, run by the Life and Hope Association, are victims of domestic abuse or poor young people trapped in lives of menial labor or the sex industry.

"I wanted people to have an alternative to poverty," said Somnieng, 27, who administers the school at the Wat Damnak temple in rural Siem Reap Province. About 15 students of all ages attend.

Somnieng visited Attleboro High School Thursday as part of an exchange tour during which he is studying western educational methods and attending conferences and meeting with Cambodian-American students.

During the short visit at AHS, he answered questions from an asian studies class at the school and visited with social studies teacher Tobey Reed, whom he met while Reed was visiting Cambodia as a teacher volunteer.

"He's an extremely impressive individual," said Reed, who noted Somnieng's tour is sponsored by the East-West Center. Attleboro was put on the tour partly because of the school's significant population of students whose families came to this country from Cambodia.

For Cambodian students, the visit by the distinguished monk provided a source of inspiration.

"Because of all the things he's done, I feel so very proud of him," said Pagna Eam, a senior who emigrated with her family in 2004. "His story reminds me of what it was like in Cambodia."

The Life and Hope Association is the umbrella organization for Somnieng's school, which is partially funded by foreign aid programs in the United States, Australia and Germany, pays for student transportation and meals, as well as supplements salaries of government teachers.

The major focus is vocational training, with graduates of its sewing program receiving a sewing machine, material and a microloan to start their own businesses. Alternately, graduates can go to work for large companies or remain with the temple, which markets seamstress services.

Somnieng is currently on a four-month, whirlwind tour that includes a number of conferences, visits to schools and teaching assignments stretching from Hawaii to China. While in the United States, Somnieng will also visit Vermont, Connecticut, New York and Iowa.
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More barriers to entry

We accept the reality that our economic development lags behind Asian peers such as Malaysia, Thailand and China. We often joke around that we might have been overtaken by "new kids on the block" like Vietnam and Cambodia.

Now, we cannot joke anymore. Vietnam has really leap-frogged Indonesia, at least according to the Doing Business 2008 survey conducted by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation, which compared indicators across 178 economies from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Indonesia ranks 123, behind Vietnam's 91. Our other peers are far ahead us. Malaysia, for example, sits 24, Thailand 15 and China 83. This is not to mention Singapore, which tops the list, and Hong Kong, which ranks fourth.

Indonesia only fares better than countries like the Philippines (133), Cambodia (145), Laos (164) and Timor Leste (168).

But there is always a consolation. Indonesia has experienced a steady, albeit slow, progress in improving its business environment. Indonesia's overall "ease of doing business" ranking improved from 135 last year to 123 this year.

This mild progress has been supported by macro economic stability, government reform packages in the real sector, passage of investment law, tax and customs reforms as well as introduction of one-stop service in some local governments.

Indonesia's low rank is especially related to cumbersome entry procedures. The survey shows starting-up a new business in Indonesia is getting more difficult. It now needs 105 days to set up a legitimate shop in this country, longer than 97 days last year. With this worsening situation, Indonesia now ranks at the bottom among Asian countries in terms of starting-up a business.

This result confirms a previous survey by University of Indonesia's Institute for Economic and Social Research (LPEM-UI), which shows processing time for a new start-up business slows down to 86 days from 80 days previously.

This reality is especially worrying for Indonesia's economy. Such increasing barriers-to-entry simply prevent those in the informal sector from entering into the formal sector.

If these informal businesses continue to operate in the informal sector, they will not be subject to taxes, and therefore, it would be hard for the government to increase the country's tax ratio.

It is a stark irony. While the government, through the tax office, is trying so hard to expand the coverage of taxes, at the same time, it is making it difficult for informal businesses to go formal.

That's why, the tax office cannot really expand the tax base. It's only targeting those who are already paying taxes -- just like hunting in the zoo. It cannot go after those in the informal sector, who like those in the illegal sector, such as gambling and prostitution, remain untaxed.

Barriers to entry are just many. Minimum capital requirement is one. This requirement is totally unnecessary because this automatically prevents micro businesses to go formal. In more advanced neighboring countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and Hong Kong, and even developing countries like Vietnam, a minimum capital requirement is just nonexistent.
So why do we require businesses to have a capital requirement in order to go formal? It might be just one of the ways to prevent new entrants into joining the lucrative tenders of the government procurements. This may satisfy existing contractors and also officials who regularly receive kickbacks from the contractors, but it is at the expense of more tax income for the government. So, the government needs to reconsider this minimum capital requirement.

Another problem, according to LPEM-UI, is the decentralization of licensing to the provincial office of the Justice Ministry. Inefficiency at these provincial offices added more than two weeks to the business start-up process, and led to more face-to-face contacts with officials, thus increasing likelihood of bribery and corruption.

Therefore, we suggest the government centralize again this licensing authority until the government is ready to implement safeguard measures to prevent corruption at local offices of the Justice Ministry.

The bottom line is cumbersome entry procedures in Indonesia are often associated with more corruption. Corruption is just at the root of the problem of doing business in Indonesia. As long as corruption remains rampant, we cannot expect our ranking in doing business to match the level of Malaysia or Thailand.

The latest survey by Transparency International Indonesia, which shows Indonesia scored worse on its latest corruption perception index, does not give much expectation. Unless we strive further to tackle corruption, we are afraid our standing in the Doing Business survey will not improve much -- or it could even worsen, and we would be eventually taken over by other new kids on the block like Cambodia, Laos or even Timor Leste.

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Commentary: Trial by fury in Cambodia

JULIO A. JELDRES

Guest Commentary
In his commentary entitled "No immunity for Sihanouk" dated Sept. 5, Dr. Lao Mong Hay argues that retired King Sihanouk should not be given immunity by the mixed Cambodian-U.N. tribunal set up to try Khmer Rouge leaders. Lao writes: "Sihanouk, while in China in the immediate aftermath of being overthrown, became the head of the Khmer Rouge-dominated government in exile. From China, Sihanouk used his popularity to mobilize the Cambodian people 'to go into the maquis (jungle)' to join the Khmer Rouge."

Lao also writes: "Furthermore, many Cambodian people still believe that Sihanouk was instrumental in the Khmer Rouge's victory and was therefore also responsible for the suffering of the Cambodian people under the Khmer Rouge's rule. They also want justice and to know the truth about their horrible past history in which Sihanouk must have had a hand due to his association with the Khmer Rouge."

These are serious allegations against retired King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, yet Lao has offered no evidence to support his claims.

Firstly, Samdech Sihanouk did not join the Khmer Rouge; they adhered to his United National Front of Kampuchea (FUNK) which was established by the retired King in Beijing on March 23, 1970, after he had been overthrown by a U.S.-supported coup led by General Lon Nol. There is a statement signed by Khieu Samphan, Hu Nim and Hou Youn, nominal leaders of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, to that effect. Khieu Samphan is still alive in Cambodia and he can be consulted about the veracity of this. Hu Nim and Hou Youn were killed by Pol Pot.

Secondly, If Lao cares to consult the series of messages King Sihanouk issued to the Cambodian people from Beijing, he never told them "to go and join the Khmer Rouge" but rather to join the resistance fighting the Lon Nol regime and the U.S. and South Vietnamese invaders. The resistance was not comprised solely of Khmer Rouge but initially of a majority of supporters of Sihanouk, even some princes of the royal family, public servants, diplomats and the people, who had been driven toward the resistance by the U.S. carpet bombing of Cambodia and the tremendous corruption of the Lon Nol regime.

That these non-Khmer Rouge, nationalist, pro-Sihanouk forces were later on liquidated by the Khmer Rouge, allowing it to take the upper hand and achieve final victory in April 1975, is another completely different story.

Thirdly, King Sihanouk was head of state of the Royal Government of National Union of Cambodia, which was established in exile in Beijing in May 1970. It was in that capacity that Samdech Sihanouk returned to Cambodia from Sept. 9 to 28, 1975, then proceeded to China for the National Day and then to New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

After visiting the United Nations, he undertook a long trip of Arab, African and European countries that had recognized his government from 1970 to 1975, and then on Dec. 30, 1975, he returned to Cambodia.

In Phnom Penh, he lived under house arrest and could only leave the Royal Palace when the Khmer Rouge allowed him to make visits to the countryside. All contact with the Cambodian people was forbidden, even with his own children, grand-children and other members of the royal family.

The deputy chief of mission of the Romanian Embassy in Beijing, a gentleman surnamed Lefter who visited Cambodia in late January 1976, upon his return to Beijing told U.S. diplomats that he had had a three-hour private conversation with Sihanouk. He described the prince as being very sad and feeling that he had been dealt a double blow, first by the Lon Nol coup and second by the Khmer Rouge. Sihanouk had lost weight, was despondent and feared for his life, he said.

An Egyptian diplomat in China by the name of Tewfik, who had known Sihanouk since 1958, visited Cambodia in early March 1976. He commented to the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing that Sihanouk "was a head of state who had nothing to do with the day-to-day business of government."

Both diplomats felt that Samdech Sihanouk did not enjoy much power or influence and that he owed his life to the influence of China with the Khmer Rouge, and to the interest other foreign heads of state showed for his well-being.

In 1977, President Josip Tito of Yugoslavia, for instance, was only willing to receive a visiting Khmer Rouge delegation led by Ieng Sary after he was given assurances that his ambassador in Phnom Penh would have access to Sihanouk.

Samdech Sihanouk submitted his resignation in early March 1976. Thus, it would have been very difficult for His Majesty to "have had a hand" in the horrible events that took place in Cambodia afterwards.

--

(Ambassador Julio A. Jeldres is a former senior private secretary to King Norodom Sihanouk and the king's official biographer. He established the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh in 1992 and has worked as consultant to several U.N. agencies in Bangkok. He is presently a research fellow at Monash University's Asia Institute in Melbourne, Australia.)
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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cambodia reborn

Kenneth Morgan discovers a land that has escaped its turbulent past and is on the brink of a resurgence

Cambodia is an attractive country that is leaving behind the trauma of its history and creating something all its own. This was symbolised for me by the sight of a man sitting cross-legged outside the riverside art gallery in Siem Reap. He was busy fashioning a kind of mobile sculpture out of a pile of small rifles - the Cambodian version of turning swords into ploughshares.

The land has suffered grievously at the hands of foreign invasions over the years. After the Khmer empire folded in the 14th century, and the city of Angkor with its one million inhabitants wasted away (perhaps through the non-functioning of its canals), Cambodia fell prey to frequent incursions by neighbouring Thais. Relations between Cambodians and Thais are still frosty. Four years ago, a television actress, who stars in a kind of Thai Coronation Street, supposedly said that Angkor Wat really belonged to Thailand - rather like the French claiming Westminster Abbey. There were attacks on the Thai embassy, even talk of war, before it was established that the slandered soap star had never said any such thing.

The colonising French established a protectorate in Cambodia in 1863 and built attractive quarters in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Napoleon III donated a somewhat incongruous French wing to the king's palace in Phnom Penh, just before his own downfall. But France did little to build up Cambodian infrastructure - less so than the British in India - and pillaged the country right up to the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Sadly, no one was a more enthusiastic pillager than one of my erstwhile heroes, André Malraux, arrested after looting Banteay Srei temple and trying to ship four figurines illegally back to France, like latter-day Elgin Marbles. Let out before he'd served his full one-year sentence, Malraux cashed in by writing a bestselling novel, La Voie royale, about his dodgy past.

More recently, Cambodia was infiltrated by the Vietcong, South Vietnamese guerrillas backed by North Vietnam, during the Vietnam War and then had its own civil war when Prince Sihanouk was ousted in 1970, before being invaded by a united Vietnam in 1978. Further horror was inflicted in the Kissinger era by the Americans, who spent three years pouring bombs on to helpless Cambodian peasants, slaughtering far mers and buffaloes indiscriminately as they sought to bomb North Vietnamese sanctuaries. The schoolteacher father of a Cambodian we met in Phnom Penh had been blown up by a US B-52 bomber while walking to work. George W Bush's claim that Cambodia suffered the horrors of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge because the United States "walked away" from "finishing the job" in Vietnam is almost beneath contempt.

The worst torment of all, of course, was per petrated by Cambodia on itself. A possible two million of the country's then 16 million people were murdered by the Pol Pot regime. The three million inhabitants of Phnom Penh were driven out into the rice fields at just three days' notice. Memories remain very much alive - after all, Pol Pot died only in 1998. The Foreign Correspondents' Club on the waterfront in Phnom Penh still bears mementoes. Bullet-holes are visible in the fabric of the Angkor Wat temple, and many landmines remain. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school where only seven of 17,000 inmates survived, displays gallows, torture apparatus, photographs of the mute, staring faces of victims. Equally sombre is the Choeung Ek Memorial ("the Killing Fields"), 15 kilo metres south-west of Phnom Penh.

Though Cambodia has much from which to recover, it is manifestly doing so. My daughter and I found Phnom Penh a relaxed and civilised place along a busy waterfront. It is more fun than stolid Kuala Lumpur, or even Bangkok. The few traffic lights are scarcely needed, as cars drive very slowly and most traffic (apart from tourist "tuk-tuks" and the odd elephant) consists of motorised scooters and bicycles, ridden mainly by the overwhelmingly female factory-based labour force.

Urban life centres on riverside bars, cafes and eating houses (where the waitresses are not necessarily there to serve food). I recommend the Frog and Parrot bar, simply because it's run by another Welshman - offering, oddly enough, menus interleaved with the thoughts of Margaret Thatcher. The National Museum is a hymn to historic Buddhist and Hindu sculpture, many icons patched together after systematic smashing by the Khmer Rouge. Old splendours survive at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, in whose bar Somerset Maugham spent evenings meditating on women, whisky and white men's burdens.

For the moment, the future of the Cambodian economy rests less on a modernising Phnom Penh than on a vibrant past. The area comprising Angkor is huge, far greater than the city of Angkor Thom alone, let alone the great temple of Angkor Wat. The balmy early morning, with lowish humidity and few visitors, is the time to explore the galleries, terraces and shrines of the temple, its columns and capitals evocative of a Greek classicism of which the Khmers knew no thing. Similarly, the mighty statues of the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom; the Ta Phrom temple, kept upright by the roots of towering trees; the delicate sculptures of post-Malraux Banteay Srei, with everywhere subtle fusions of Hindu and Buddhist imagery (Cambodian culture is very Indian), violent collisions of gods and demons. Some of this is famous from films: the sci-fi cavortings of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, who spent a week shooting on location here, were received positively by Cambodians.

Now is the moment to visit Cambodia. Its Buddhist people are cheerful and courteous; its culture (notably the youthful "apsara" ballet) is captivating; its Khmer cuisine (based heavily on fish such as amok from regular flooding of the Tonle Sap great lake in the central plain) is memorable. The landscape is studded with incom parable archaeological sites. Angkor has yet to be polluted by commercialism: for me, it recalled the brooding majesty of Machu Picchu back in 1963. Cambodia's emergent society is unformed, unlike capitalistic Malaysia, now celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence. But something new, and maybe better, is growing.

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Cambodia bid to protect treasures

By Guy De Launey

Cambodia has invited international law enforcement agencies to help protect the country's ancient temples.

US homeland security and FBI agents are among those who may be advising the new national heritage police force.

They are hoping to put an end to the rampant looting that has seen many monuments stripped of their statues.

Peace has not been kind to many of Cambodia's ancient monuments. As decades of conflict ended in the 1990s, looting accelerated dramatically.

The local authorities and the United Nations' cultural organisation, Unesco, moved quickly to protect the world-famous Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples.

But more remote sites were left to their fate.

Stolen-to-order

US agents and local officers have been meeting in Siem Reap to discuss ways of protecting what is left.

US special agent Ann Hurst said their experience of dealing with stolen artefacts from Iraq will be crucial.

"We can provide training in how to prevent these types of violations. There were stolen paintings and stolen coins being taken out of Iraq and smuggled in to the US," she said.

"What we did in those cases was prosecute the people who smuggled the goods in - and the people who accepted the goods in the US."

Many Cambodian items have been stolen to order for private collectors.

Others have turned up at international auction houses, so expertise in intercepting illicit shipments is badly needed.

Technical assistance in detection and policing will also bolster the thinly-stretched and poorly-funded local forces.

For Cambodia, stopping the looting is partly a matter of pride - the towers of Angkor adorn the national flag - but as tourism grows, so does the economic importance of preserving ancient treasures.

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Cambodia's garment export increases 12 pct in first half of 2007

The total export of Cambodia's garment products increased by 12 percent in the first half of this year, senior officials said on Wednesday.

The export is up 12 percent in the first six month of this year compared with the same period last year because it had good labor standard and the international buyers continued to buy garment products from Cambodia, Cham Prasidh, minister of Commerce, told the Cambodia Buyers Forum Wednesday.

Cambodia stands the fifth largest garment products exporter in the world with competitive partners from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia, he said.

"The garment industry employs over 330,000 workers. More than 80 percent of the workers are poor rural women whose earnings are crucial to their families," Chairman for Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) said, adding that the garment industry provides livelihood for at least 1.7 million people in Cambodia.

The cost of exporting a container of garment products is still high in Cambodia and it takes many days for legal procedures, he said.

In Vietnam, the price is about 300 U.S. dollars per container and it takes one day for legal procedures, he said, adding that in Cambodia, the price is 700 or 800 U.S. dollars and it takes three days.

The two-day forum is organized by International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank, Mekong Private sector Development Facility (MPDF) and International Labor Organization ( ILO), which aims to support Cambodia's garment industry, ensure it maintains good labor standard and also promote Cambodia to new buyers in the world.

Source: Xinhua

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cambodia to educate remote communities about dangers of avian influenza

he Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Medicam will organize a community forum in Mondulkiri near the border with Vietnam on Thursday to educate remote communities about avian influenza and how they can protect their poultry and their families from contracting the deadly virus, said a press release on Tuesday.

"The event will be the first of a new series of community forums that Medicam, with support from FAO, will organize in areas of the country that have limited or zero access to TV and radio, to inform communities about the risks posed by avian influenza to their poultry and to their health," said Dr. Sin Somuny, Executive Director of Medicam, an umbrella organization of more than 100 health NGOs in Cambodia.

"The forum will veer away from the usual 'we tell you and you listen to us' speeches," said Guy Freeland, Team Leader of FAO's Avian Influenza Control Programme in Cambodia.

"We would like it to be an interactive exchange of information based on a consistent storyline depicted by a series of photographs that shows how avian influenza is transmitted from its source in poultry to other farms and villages," said Freeland.

The photo exhibit will be interspersed with posters promoting messages on how to stop the spread and protect both poultry and humans from the disease, said the release.

To reinforce the messages, TV and radio spots will be played continuously before the forum. Speakers and the audience are expected to engage in a two-way information exchange based on what is on the visual and verbal presentations, it added.

Cambodia has had 22 outbreaks in poultry since 2004 and seven human deaths, and the latest outbreak in poultry and in human was reported in Kampong Cham in April 2007.

Source: Xinhua
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Cambodia pushes plans to form regional rice exporters association

Cambodia has hosted a ministerial-level meeting of the Ayeyawady Chao Phraya Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) in an attempt to strengthen agricultural relations and cooperation with neighbors through the formation of an association of rice exporting countries, local media reported Wednesday.

The meeting, presided over by Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, was held on Sept. 24 at the Angkor Palace hotel in Siem Reap province with the participation of delegates from Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, the Koh Santepheap newspaper said.

Speaking at the meeting, Cham Prasidh said that he had shared discussions with foreign officials about the formation of an association of rice exporting countries, it said.

"Through the previous meetings, we have agreed on a concept paper which is the first draft to be put forward to senior officials from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam to make further discussion and approved during the five countries' summit to be held in October," Cham Prasidh was quoted as saying.

"The cooperation will push the member countries to (help) farmers increase output and seek markets for them," he added.

The talks were arranged following recommendations from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during the 12th ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit held in January at Cebu in the Philippines, the newspaper said.

ACMECS is a political, economic, and cultural organization with the members Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, it said.

ACMECS nations produce 55 million tons of rice a year, 13 percent of the world's product and export around 13 million tons a year, approximately 45 percent of the world's exports, it added.

Source: Xinhua
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8,100 ha of rubber to be planted in Cambodia

Tan Bien-Kampong Thom Rubber Development Company has signed a contract to lease 8,100 ha of land in Kampong Thom province of Cambodia for rubber plantation and the building of a rubber latex plant.

The contract will be valid for 70 years and is running under a cooperation programme of the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments.

60 ha of rubber crops have been planted and nursery has already gone up on a 15 ha plot of land.

The project is estimated to cost 770 billion VND (48.1 million USD). Tan Bien Rubber Company contributed 51 percent of the capital, the Viet Nam Rubber Industry Corporation, 29 percent and the Song Da Corporation, 20 percent.

The Tan Bien-Kampong Thom Rubber Development Company plans to put 7,900 ha under rubber by 2010 and put a 26,000 tonne latex processing plant into operation by 2023.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cassie's Blog: Covering up in Cambodia


By Cassie Phillips for CNN


BATTAMBANG, Cambodia (CNN) -- Cassie Phillips is in Battambang, Cambodia, where she will be working with the NGO Homeland.

Homeland is a Cambodian organization that works with local underprivileged children to give them some of the advantages they may have missed out on in their early life.

Cassie will be meeting and helping children from the region who have suffered from a range of afflictions. Keep up with her experiences in her blogs and video diaries.

September 25, 2007
I managed to stay awake long enough to take in so many new sights it exhausted me to the point of passing out for the rest of the trip.

Some of what I saw included lush rice fields, small thatched houses on stilts, and red dirt roads filled with people. There were people in cars, on motos and bicycles -- riding two to four people each -- and on foot carrying different types of goods. As we left the city, the road became less crowded and the scenery more green.

I awoke when the bus pulled into a rest station. Not hungry, I asked for the bathroom. To my surprise, the toilet, or lack thereof, was a porcelain sink-like bowl in the ground with a bucket of water next to it. To be honest, this caught me off guard. Too embarrassed to ask my male friend how to use the bathroom, I closed the door and sorted it out myself.

Since arriving in Battambang two weeks ago, three observations come to mind. First, communication is more than oral exchanges. In fact, since I've been here, I really haven't been able to communicate with the majority of people orally.

At first, not being able to talk, ask questions, and share stories was frustrating. However, I would say it's a blessing not being able to communicate with people at first because it really allows you to take things in and observe people. I often think people just talk to talk. That is, fill awkward moments of silence or over stimulate one another with meaningless words.

I enjoy the degree of anonymity I have when people trust I cannot speak the language. For example, at work, if I quietly sit in the office, after a while, people forget I'm there and carry on almost as if I am not present. I feel as if I see how people truly interact.

I can figure out quite a bit even though I do not understand what they say. However, I think as I learn more Khmer, people will tailor their behavior, as they know I can understand what is said.

Second, the legacy of European colonialism permeates beauty standards in Cambodia.

Before I came, I was encouraged to observe the cultural dress of women in Cambodia. So when I packed, I made sure to leave my short shorts and tube tops at home. However, I was very disappointed to see the women here always wear pants or long skirts and long sleeves for the most part. Primarily, I did not understand how it wasn't hot for them, especially since most of the kids wear shorts and tank tops.

At first, I thought dressing conservatively was part of the modest role women are expected to fill. Then I realized that covering yourself also protects against all sorts of bug bites and sunburn. This made me happy to cover myself despite how hot it made me.

However, after speaking with a friend, I realized there is yet a third and perhaps supremely important reason for covering up. As she was slipping on her elbow length purple gloves over her long sleeve sweater, while I rolled the sleeves up on my shirtsleeves and wiped sweat from my brow, she told me she wore the gloves so she wouldn't get dark. Many times I heard her comment, "I don't want to be dark."

As a brown person in the United States, I'm attuned to understanding skin color in a racial hierarchy. In my short time here, many people have commented to me that I am "dark like Khmer" as they tap my arm. However, I am never sure if they are paying me a compliment or not. After all, I've seen Khmer of just about every skin tone.

Similarly, I was told that many Khmer envy white foreigners for their big (pointed) noses. These commentaries reflect the French colonization of Cambodia and its influence on beauty standards. Accordingly, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with covering up, but the present dengue epidemic is reason enough for me.

Finally, it feels as if everywhere I go I'm surrounded by smiling faces. Actually, everywhere I go I manage to catch the attention of the majority of people for some period of time.

Normally, the constant stares I receive would become infuriating at some point. No one likes to feel as if they are a freak. However, what makes the stares bearable are the warm smiles that follow, if you just take the time to catch someone's eye and smile at them.

I have daily memories of warm faces and toothless grins which always outshine the blank stares they begin as. The ease at which people are willing to crack a smile in Cambodia highlights the positive energy that abounds and friendly demeanor of Khmer culture.

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Major Drug Discoveries Found in Cambodia

The recent discovery of two huge methamphetamine laboratories in Cambodia has led to fears that the country is becoming a major regional center of illegal drug production and consumption. Authorities say that tougher anti-drug programs in neighboring countries have led some major drug producers to shift production to Cambodia. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

This meth lab recently discovered in Phnom Penh's Dangkor District is the largest ever discovered in Cambodia. Police at the scene confiscated laboratory machinery, $100,000 in counterfeit notes, guns and huge quantities of methamphetamines.

Police say the lab was used to manufacture and test new generations of increasingly potent illegal drugs.

Another so-called super-lab recently discovered in Kompong Speu province, west of Phnom Penh, was used to make the raw materials needed to produce methamphetamines.

Police say they discovered almost four tons of drug-producing chemicals, enough to make hundreds of thousands of pills.

Lars Pedersen is the head of the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs in Cambodia. "This puts Cambodia in a higher league in terms of the drug problem. It's now clear that we have drug production taking place in Cambodia. The main drug, which is abused in the country -- and that goes through the country -- is metamphetamines."

The U.N. says 60 percent of the world's 25 million methamphetamine users are living in Asia. Eighty percent of those are under 26 years of age.

In the past, drug enforcement officials say traffickers used Cambodia solely as a transit point. Most drugs came down the Mekong River from Burma and Laos into Cambodia en route to Thailand and Vietnam. Some got shipped further to Australia, the U.S. and Europe.

Pedersen says that the recent discoveries of production facilities in Cambodia reflect a growing drug problem in the region. "It's part of a worsening trend in general in the region," he says. "But trafficking in Cambodia is also influenced -- trafficking and production for that matter -- is also influenced by the crackdowns in Thailand, by a tougher policy in Thailand and in China for that matter, also. So it's a matter for traffickers, producers, to find alternatives and this country is a very attractive alternative."

Robert Bruce is with GSM Consultancy and works with governments in the region to safely dispose of illegal drugs. He says that the Cambodian government and other partners deserve credit for acting quickly to try to contain the methamphetamine problem. "It's really unfortunate that Cambodia is being used as a production center but at the same time I think it's very good that the government is stepping in early, supported by donors and supported by other governments to take actions before it becomes more widespread."

Pedersen says methamphetamines made in Cambodia pose a threat to all countries. "We should not forget that it affects all of the rest of the world because drug production in the magnitude that we see here is not only intended for the Cambodian market, it is intended for the world market."

U.N. officials say that greater cooperation between law enforcement and government officials in the region is needed if the threat from illegal amphetamines is to be contained.
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Detained KRouge chief's family demand bail

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The family of detained Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea demanded Tuesday he be released on bail because they doubt officials of Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal can tend to his poor health.

"We want him released on bail so we can take care of him," Nuon Chea's son, Nuon Say, told AFP.

"I heard there are doctors to take care of him, but we are still worried about his health... we don't know how they are caring for him."

Nuon Chea, 81, is the oldest of the Khmer Rouge's ageing leaders, all of whom are suffering a variety of ailments, making health a major concern for the court tasked with trying the former regime's leaders.

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said earlier that five doctors and four nurses have been assigned to take care of Noun Chea, adding those in the court's custody had access to better healthcare than most Cambodians.

During a routine medical check-up shortly after his arrest last week, Nuon Chea was pronounced to be in relatively good health.

But his lawyer, Son Arun, said Tuesday he was considering seeking bail, in part over the concerns of his client's family.

"We are considering the case... I am thinking about the reasons (to ask for bail)," he said.

Son Arun said the court has already agreed to change Nuon Chea's prison diet to include more fish and vegetables, and build a new Western-style toilet that is easier to use.

Only two former leaders have been arrested so far -- Nuon Chea and former prison chief Duch.

But others are expected, adding to the burden of keeping those accused of crimes committed during the regime's 1975-79 rule alive long enough to see the inside of a courtroom.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, while another likely genocide suspect, military commander Ta Mok, died last year.

By the time the communist Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979 up to two million people had died of starvation, disease, overwork or were executed in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.
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Vietnam And Cambodia Seek Brunei Oil And Gas Expertise

Bandar Seri Begawan - Vietnam and Cambodia could cooperate with Brunei on technical expertise on oil and gas exploration, said the newly-appointed Vietnamese Ambassador to the country, Mr Pham Binh Man, and Mr Nan Sy, Cambodian Ambassador to the country, after their meeting at the Cambodian Ambassador's Residence in Jln Bengkurong yesterday.

After they met to enhance the two diplomats' cooperation, Mr Pham told Bulletin that during the recent visit by Vietnam's Prime Minister to Brunei last month, three MoUs were signed on the avoidance of double taxation, petroleum and sports cooperation.

The newly-appointed Vietnamese Ambassador said as Vietnam is developing, the country can learn from Brunei's expertise in oil and gas exploration. "We have to put into practice the action on the recent MoU signing on petroleum cooperation," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Nan Sy said Brunei's technical expertise in oil and gas would be valuable in assisting Cambodia. He also proposed to the Brunei government the possibility of direct flights between the two countries to further enhance trade and tourism.

"Brunei could be a hub for visitors from Sarawak who wish to go to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh in Cambodia which is also popular for its Angkor Wat," he added. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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Cambodian jungle girl 'returns home'

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia's mysterious "jungle girl" has disappeared back into the forests where she was found less than a year ago, police said Tuesday.

The wild woman believed by the parents of Rochom P'ngieng to be their long-lost daughter melted back into the jungle about a month ago and searches for her have proven fruitless, said Ley Tom, O'Yadaw district deputy police chief in the remote north-eastern province of Ratanakiri.

Rochom P'ngieng disappeared while herding buffalo as an 8-year-old, which would now make her 27. Her parents believe the woman captured by local workers who caught her stealing food from their logging camp is their daughter, saying they identified her by a distinctive scar even though the woman was unable to communicate in any known language. They did not undergo DNA tests.

"One day she just disappeared back into the jungle, and no one has seen any sign of her since," Tom said by telephone.

The wild woman's story fascinated the world as researchers and psychologists tried to piece together her story after her discovery in January and human rights groups rushed to assist.

Tom said her behaviour changed little during her months in civilization and after the initial excitement died down, people from the outside world forgot about the strange girl in a faraway corner of Cambodia near the Vietnamese border.

"After the first rush of people, organizations stopped coming and no one asked about her," Tom said. "She didn't begin to speak, and she used to walk around ripping her clothes off. Look, I think she was just crazy.

"I have to say it is strange, though, how she can just disappear without a trace."

He said he did not know how the parents, members of an ethnic minority hilltribe who have no access to communication with the outside world, had taken her disappearance, 19 years after they first lost their daughter.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Billy Bob 'sorry' for Angie

Los Angeles - Billy Bob Thornton feels sorry for his ex-wife Angelina Jolie.

The Monster's Ball star is grateful he doesn't have to endure the media frenzy which surrounds Jolie and her lover Brad Pitt.

He said: "I do feel sorry for Angie and Brad. The only time you hear about me is when I've got a movie coming out and I like it like that. They have to cope with it all the time."

Thornton and Jolie remain close despite divorcing five years ago citing "irreconcilable differences".

The 52-year-old actor also considers her new partner Pitt a good friend.

He said: "I'm still close to Angie but Brad's a friend too. We've known each other for years."

Jolie and Thornton adopted a son, Maddox, from Cambodia six months before their marriage broke up in 2002, but Pitt has since become the child's adoptive father.

Thornton is set to star in movie Peace Like a River, on which Pitt will be a producer.

Based on the novel of the same name by Leif Enger, the film will see Thornton play a janitor in 60s Minnesota, who is secretly capable of performing miracles and brings his still-born child Ruben back to life.

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Global Challenges | International Donors Scale Back HIV/AIDS Funding to Cambodia as Country Achieves Prevention Targets

The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, USAID and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development have decided to scale back HIV prevention funding in Cambodia, Xinhua/People's Daily reports. The Cambodian-language newspaper Koh Santepheap reported Thursday that the organizations made the decision because the country reportedly has achieved satisfactory progress in curbing its HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV prevalence has declined from about 3.3% in the 1990s to about 0.9% in 2005.

"The reduction in aid does not mean they have to end HIV/AIDS prevention activities," UNAIDS Representative Pasi Rajander said during a course on HIV/AIDS prevention and labor law held from Sept. 18 to Sept. 20 at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. "In fact, the ... government of Cambodia has enough capacity to carry out on their own the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS," Rajander added.

Mean Chhi Vun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD, said the health ministry plans to increase the number of voluntary confidential counseling and testing centers from 185 to 190 across the
country by the end of 2007, up from 150 centers in 2006.

More than 70,000 people have been tested at the centers this year, and 5% tested HIV-positive, Mean added. Those who are tested at the centers will receive prevention and treatment counseling, according to the local Kampuchea Thmey newspaper, Xinhua/People's Daily reports (Xinhua/People Daily, 9/20).

NGO Releases Incorrect Data on HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, Newspaper Reports
In related news, the nongovernmental organization Save the Children Australia recently released some inaccurate data about HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, the Cambodia Daily newspaper said Thursday, Xinhua/People's Daily reports. According to the newspaper, the group cited HIV/AIDS prevalence in Cambodia as being the highest in Southeast Asia and estimated that 140,000 Cambodian children would be orphaned due to AIDS-related causes by 2010. SCA also incorrectly estimated that there are 164,000 HIV-positive Cambodians and that an estimated 51,000 AIDS orphans in the country are under age 15.

SCA Country Director Nigel Tricks on Tuesday apologized for the inaccurate data, saying they came from his organization's main office in Melbourne, Australia, and had not been updated. "Cambodia is one of the world's few success stories," Tricks said. SCA estimates there are 65,000 HIV-positive people in Cambodia and 6,000 AIDS orphans under age 15, he added. According Teng Kunthy, secretary-general of Cambodia's National AIDS Authority, there are an estimated 67,200 people older than age 15 living with HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, and it is unclear how many children have been orphaned as a result of the disease (Xinhua/People's Daily, 9/20).





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''Economic Brief: Oil and Gas Dynamics in the Gulf of Thailand''

A recent report from the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) has stated that in a moderate scenario oil revenue income for Cambodia would start at US$174 million by 2011 and peak at $1.7 billion per year by 2021. These predictions are based on the current project led by Chevron off the coast of southern Cambodia that looks set to begin production in 2008. The project holds an estimated reserve of 700 million barrels of oil in a technologically challenging arrangement. The I.M.F. predictions do not include the potentially larger basin that is currently in a disputed Overlapping Claims Area (O.C.A.) on the maritime border between Thailand and Cambodia. The Cambodian Ministry of National Defense has recently announced plans for a tripling in the size of the navy in order to provide security for the oil production facilities. According to Cambodian Minister of Defense Tea Banh, the recent expansion plans cite anti-terrorism and anti-piracy as the underlying justification for the expansion.

The implications for Cambodia are significant. The economic benefits of the resource revenue generated by the oil projects have the potential to make considerable improvements to Cambodian society. However, factors are already in place which suggest that the impact may not be positive. The income based on resource rents would in effect double the country's G.D.P. in the initial stages of the project. If this massive input is managed poorly, it could lead to severe inflation and have a considerable impact on the garment sector that currently makes up 80 percent of Cambodia's export economy.

Significant governance issues, chronic rates of corruption, a significant population bubble of young adult males, a reported high rate of availability of small arms due to 30 years of internal conflict, weak economic institutions, a recent history of civil war and a predilection toward political violence suggest that Cambodia has a strong possibility to face other and more considerable obstacles on the path to economic benefits. The pattern to date of resource extraction benefit in the forestry and fishing sectors is one of collusion between the political and military elite for self-enrichment at the expense of traditional stakeholders. According to some observers, the diversion of benefits from social investment to self-enrichment has meant that the social cleavages within the society have had little opportunity to heal. If this pattern is extended to the oil and gas sector, then the potential for systemic abuse is strong as is the potential for social unrest.

The tripling of the size of the Cambodian navy will likely make Cambodia's neighbors nervous. The O.C.A. with Thailand in particular is a sensitive area due to the considerable resources represented under the claim. Border disputes with Thailand in the past have been a cause for nationalist displays of violence, producing an alarming opportunity for nationalist political expression especially in the face of domestic social unrest due to the previously mentioned impact of resource revenue. Instruments are in place for the resolution of the disputed area, but there has been no movement since the memorandum of understanding was signed in 2001. Despite a diplomatic breakdown in 2003, the two sides continue to meet annually in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

In regard to China, the post-coup (1997) relationship with the country continues to strengthen. Economic, strategic, diplomatic and cultural ties have filled the void left by the international community, which generally withdrew from Cambodia after 1997. China continues to be the major donor for the Cambodian armed forces and is likely to remain so in the near future. The diplomatic benefit of the relationship for China accrues from the anti-Taiwanese stance of the Cambodians, along with an important ally in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) community. The discovery and production of oil in the immediate vicinity of China will only strengthen Beijing's efforts to cultivate and promote a regional ally.

In regard to the United States, for the first time in three decades the U.S. Navy paid a visit to Cambodia early in 2007. The United States has had poor relations with Cambodia since the coup in 1997, but it is now making strong overtures to the present leadership. In February, the ten year ban on aid to the country was lifted and a bilateral trade and investment framework agreement was signed in 2006 to promote better trade relations. The benefits for the United States include economic interests in the oil and gas sector, governance and democracy promotion in the region and an attempt to counter Chinese influence in Southeast Asia. The strongest opportunity for Washington to influence Cambodian policy in the short term lies in the garment sector, which faces an end to favorable trade status at the end of this year. Cambodian officials have been lobbying Washington to provide some reprieve from the anticipated sharp impact that the cessation of quotas will generate.

The bottom line is that the sudden and considerable flow of resource revenue may have a serious impact on the Cambodian state. The O.C.A. between Thailand and Cambodia offers a strong potential for revenue sharing and bilateral cooperation but requires a concerted effort to avoid nationalist sentiment and a problematic precedent of conflict over border issues. Chinese influence may continue to deflect and dilute international efforts to establish the strong governance and economic institutions required to properly manage the inflationary impact of the large revenue increase. The seemingly positive news of an oil and gas discovery must be tempered in light of the complex issues surrounding revenue generation and its impact in Cambodia.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of enquiries@pinr.com. PINR reprints do not qualify under Fair-Use Statute Section 107 of the Copyright Act. All comments should be directed to comments@pinr.com.

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Britney's antics fuel swing back to Asian music in Cambodia

Phnom Penh - Britney Spears was once every Cambodian's girl next door, her face adorning millions of T-shirts, school bags and businesses ranging from beauty parlours to souvenir shops. But recent scandals in the life of Britney and other young American starlets have horrified even the youth of culturally conservative Cambodia and fuelled a stampede toward stars closer to home.

As well as a boom in locally produced Cambodian music, South Korean, Indonesian and Indian artists have taken over the airwaves, according to music sellers, and at least some of that trend can be directly credited to Britney and company.

Sok Leng, the proprietor of Empire Disc music shop in the capital, said 25-year-old Britney's latest album, due for release in November, has received virtually no interest, and offerings later than her 2000 studio album 'Oops I did it Again' no longer move.

"There are still requests for her work, but it is almost always for her old hits. We don't sell Korean music yet, but there is not a day that goes by when someone doesn't ask for it," Leng said.

"Television now shows a lot of Korean music clips, and people want to buy it."

Wholesome Korean pop sensation Rain is a huge star in Cambodia. Britney, by comparison, has lost significant appeal.

"She is a mother of two but she dances with few clothes. We don't want to follow our parents' ideals exactly, but we don't want to follow this example either," says Srey Mom, a 23-year-old music fan. "For me, I am embarrassed to watch this."

Newspaper proprietors have taken notice. Once pictured demurely, Britney was featured disapprovingly in Khmer-language daily Koh Santepheap last week wearing nothing but underwear.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said he had noted fashions and hair styles increasingly following trends set by Korean artists, and that may be reflected in Cambodian youth's musical choices.

But, he said, it was not only Britney's doing. Paris Hilton was another who had dismayed the majority Buddhist Cambodian public.

"It's no matter for the new generation who inspires their hair or their dress, such as, say, the Korean stars, if they remember they are still Cambodian," he said. "Cambodian young people prefer their own stars and other Asians to those Europeans."

But in a country where a Christmas television special once had the plug pulled by Prime Minister Hun Sen himself when a female performer was deemed to be dancing and dressing too immodestly, young Cambodians may find it more comfortable to follow local examples and those from countries such as Korea and Indonesia.

Still, Kanharith said, music is a fickle industry and Britney and friends may yet recover. "Everybody makes mistakes. The important thing is that they adjust themselves following those mistakes."
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Finding a place in southeast Asia

By: Ray Weikal

If not for the students at St. Pius X High School, Douglas Little might still be commuting through 1,000-year-old temples.

Little teaches history and government at the high school. He's also a world traveler who most recently spent two months this summer in southeast Asia. In Cambodia, Little's experience teaching English to orphans in a monastery was profound.

“If it weren't for the students at St. Pius, I might not have come back,” he said.

An interest in world cultures and a desire to improve his teaching skills and help others have prompted many of Little's quests around the globe. Since he graduated from Park University in 1999, Little has visited 59 countries. As Cambodian officials opened up their country to tourism, Little saw an opportunity to learn more about that nation.

“The reason I chose it was that it's really just opening up now,” he said.

Little ended up spending most of his time at the orphanage, which is in the midst of the Angkor Wat ruins about 30 kilometers from Siem Reap. The Buddhist Wat Damnak monastery cares for 31 orphans who range in age from 2 to 17. The monks provide room, board and education for children who might otherwise be forced in to menial labor or child prostitution, Little said. In order to protect the children from kidnappers, the orphanage is located far away from any large towns.

From noon to 4 p.m. on most days, Little filled in for the orphans' regular English teacher.

“I was teaching conversational English. With the younger kids, a lot of it was just us talking together,” Little said. “The monks want them to be employable in the tourist industry.”

Little also became an ad hoc soccer coach for the kids, who were passionate about that sport. Little coaches soccer at St. Pius X.

“After class, we'd play soccer for several hours,” he said. “They need people to be like a big brother.”

When Little felt the need, he would hitch a 45-minute ride to through the ancient ruins to Siem Reap, commonly on the back of a ubiquitous scooter. Siem Reap is becoming a tourist hub for the region, with Western-style hotels, restaurants and shops. On one of these trips, Little bought three soccer balls for about $20 to replace the one at the monastery that had been used so much that it no longer had a cover. The students were delighted.

“The orphans have hardly anything,” he said. “It's an unimaginable luxury to even have a picture of yourself.”

On his time off, Little traveled throughout Cambodia and Vietnam, getting a tangible sense of the region's history. He explored the old Buddhist temples, saw the infamous Cambodian Killing Fields, swam in the warm waters off the beaches of central Vietnam and crawled through claustrophobic tunnels used by communist guerillas against the Americans.

“I really wanted to improve my knowledge of Vietnam and also pay my respects to those who served in the war,” Little said. “Vietnam is absolutely stunning.”

When the time came to make his way back to Kansas City, Little said he had second thoughts. This feeling was amplified when he returned to work and overheard some girls trying to decide which mall they should go to so they could buy shoes.

“The orphans were just great kids,” he said. “When you're there, you definitely get the sense that they need you. I didn't want to leave, to tell you the truth.”

In the end, though, Little knew that he couldn't abandon his American students.

“I love Pius,” he said. “I have the greatest kids in the world.”

Staff writer Ray Weikal can be reached at 389-6637 or rayweikal@npgco.com .
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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Muslim Cham people of Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Cham people of Cambodia and Vietnam have had a long and difficult history. Cambodia thrived until 1969 when civil war broke out and plunged the populace into turmoil. Hundreds of thousands died under the communist Khmer Rouge. To this day, there are incessant coups and the people live in fear.

The remaining Cham people (about 315,000) survive by boat building, farming, fishing, and light commerce. Fighting and war, both between Cham communities and between Chams and the Vietnamese, have all but ended the agricultural economy. Today their villages are extremely poor and constructed in an impermanent way.

Their most ancient religious beliefs, going back to the second century AD, were in a mother goddess. During the third and fourth centuries, they slowly converted to Hinduism, specifically worshipping the gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Beginning in the 15th century they gradually converted to Islam. Only a few dozen Chams have been reached with the gospel. There are no known churches and no Cham Bibles.

Pray for avenues to open up for the gospel to reach the Chams. Pray that a Cham church would come into being.-JR

Philippians 2:5-11

« (Jesus) made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant...He humbled Himself and became obedient to death.... Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place. »

Because of the humble obedience of Jesus, the Father exalted Him. Jesus did not humble Himself that He might be exalted, but in order that man might be redeemed through His death. How human it is for us to seek ways to become great, even at personal sacrifice and pain. Yet the ones God exalts are those who have given up personal ambition and pride because they have understood His heart and will. If our Master had to humble Himself and learn obedience in order to redeem men, so His disciples also must humble themselves in obedience in order to reveal His glory and goodness.

Pray for Christ-like humility on your part, and the part of your church.

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Jailed Khmer Rouge leader wants better prison toilet


Detained Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea wants different food and a new toilet in his cell at a UN-backed genocide court where he is awaiting trial on war crimes, his lawyer says.

The most senior surviving leader of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime was arrested early on Wednesday (local time) in his home in north-west Cambodia and brought to the capital Phnom Penh where he was put in the tribunal's custody.

Lawyer Son Arun says Nuon Chea has complained about the high-calorie meals provided by the tribunal.

"Nuon Chea said the food is delicious, but he worried about hyper-tension after eating it. So he has asked for his meals to be made of fish and vegetable so that he can live longer to stand the trials," Son Arun said.

Age and failing health are major concerns for the tribunal given that the crimes committed under the regime occurred three decades ago.

Official documents say Nuon Chea is 81, although his lawyer earlier said he was 82.

Nuon Chea has denied the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying he was never in a position to order any of the deaths that occurred under the Khmer Rouge.

His cell is equipped with a squat toilet, which Son Arun said was too hard for him to use.

"He cannot sit on the squat toilet because of an ailment in his knees. When he squats over it, he has difficulty trying to get back up. He needs a sitting toilet," Son Arun told AFP.

"I have already requested the tribunal to replace the squat toilet with a sitting toilet for him."

The tribunal's spokesman Reach Sambath said the squat toilet was installed for security reasons.

"The squat toilets have fewer moving parts that could cause injuries and have fewer places to hide things," he said.

But he said the court would bow to that demand. "We will provide him the best services and facilities," he added, saying the court would also replace a woven mat with a mattress for the suspect.

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Vietnam, Cambodia sew up ties in garment industry

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam and Cambodia will further exchanges of information and experiences as well as increase cooperation in the textile-garment industry.
The decision was reached at a working session between the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade and a Cambodian delegation in Hanoi on September 21.

Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Bui Xuan Khu said textiles and garments are a major export staple for Vietnam and have an important role in the country’s economic restructuring process.

He said the industry now has to deal with problems relating to the lack of materials, the need for more prestigious brands, poor design and unprofessional management.

Ath Thorn, President of the Cambodian Textile-Garment Association, said he was impressed by the Vietnamese textile-garment industry’s growth rates during the past five years.

He stressed his country is eager to cooperate with Vietnam in the industry, particularly in the areas of cotton cultivation and supply.

Cambodia was also interested in Vietnam’s experiences in developing the industry, its policies on labour and its business structure, said the Cambodian official.

(Source: VNA)
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JSAC to hand over special monument to local government of Cambodia

The Japanese Assistance Team for Small Arms Management in Cambodia (JSAC) will hand over a Peace Monument made of de-commissioned weapons to the Kampong Thom government on Sept. 27, said a press release issued by JSAC on Friday.

The monument, 3.5 meters in height and named "World of Peace," was created by six Cambodian artists and will be permanently installed in the Children's Park in Kampong Thom, said the release.

The weapons used to create the monument were surrendered by the residents of the province, it added.

JSAC was established by the Japan International Cooperation System (JICS) in attempt to implement the Peace Building and Comprehensive Small Arms Management Program in Cambodia. Since beginning its operations in Cambodia, JSAC has amassed 28,602 weapons.

Due to years of war at the end of last century, weapons have been widely circulated among the Cambodian civilians. Consistent efforts have been made by the government in conjunction with international bodies to collect and destroy these weapons.

Source: Xinhua
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Blogs Open Communication in Cambodia

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian blogger asked recently whether former King Norodom Sihanouk should be considered the country's founding father of blogging.

He got no definitive answer. Cambodian blog watchers say the 84-year-old monarch may not have known he was blogging when he unveiled his Web site, updated daily by his staff since 2002 with his views on national affairs, correspondence with his admirers and news about his film-making hobby.

But it is clear that young, tech-savvy Cambodians are joining Sihanouk in embracing blogs. The trend is changing their lives and their communication with people abroad — even as electricity remains an unreachable dream for most households in this poverty-ridden nation of 14 million.

"This is a kind of cultural revolution now happening here in terms of self-expression," said Norbert Klein, a longtime resident from Germany who is considered the person who introduced e-mail to Cambodia, through a dial-up connection in 1994. "It is completely a new era in Cambodian life."

Cambodians with the skills and the means to blog are discovering a wider world and using the personal online journals to show off their personalities and views about the issues facing their country, from corruption to food safety.

"Blogging transforms the way we communicate and share information," said 25-year-old student blogger Ly Borin.

To his surprise, a recent blog post of his on poor food safety in Cambodia drew a comment from an international traveler. He said interaction with a stranger living perhaps half a world away was unimaginable in Cambodia just a few years ago.

Cambodia became one of the most isolated countries in the world during the late 1970s, when the communist Khmer Rouge were in power and cut off virtually all links with the outside world as they applied radical policies that led to the death of 1.7 million people. The Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, but the country is still struggling to rebuild. Fewer than one-third of 1 percent of Cambodians have regular Web access.

If the Internet opened a path for news from outside Cambodia, blogging is turning the path into a two-way street.

"Having a blog brings me up to date with technology," said Keo Kalyan, a 17-year-old student whose nom-de-blog is "DeeDee, School Girl Genius! Khmer-Cyberkid." "I can do social networking and contact other bloggers" around the world.

She and three peers organized the first-ever Cambodian Bloggers Summit — the "Cloggers Summit" to the cognoscenti. Foreign professional bloggers and 200 university students took part in the two-day meeting in Cambodia last month to trade ideas.

Her team also has conducted 14 workshops for 1,700 students to share their knowledge about digital technology.

Raymond Leos, an American professor of communications and media arts at a Phnom Penh university, said Sihanouk showed his countrymen blogging's broad potential.

After seeing TV images of same-sex weddings in San Francisco in 2004, Sihanouk posted a statement expressing his support for gay marriage. When a foreigner allegedly wrote him an e-mail criticizing his stance on the subject, Sihanouk shot back on his Web site, saying "I thank you for insulting me" but "I am not gay."

"We can learn from him that blogging can be fun, interesting and provocative," Leos said.

One politically conscious blogger rapped Prime Minister Hun Sen's government over its failure to curb chronic corruption.

"I feel so shameful of our Prime Minister Hun Sen. We are begging the world for money," Vanak Thom wrote on his "Blog By Khmer." "(His) government is too corrupt. Without corruption, I know our Cambodia can be free from the abyss of this poverty."

Human Rights Watch continues to criticize the Cambodian government's treatment of dissent, but bloggers are able to express at least some overt criticism. And there is no official censorship.

More to the point, said John Weeks, an American who runs the House32.com Web design firm in Phnom Penh, blogs are not yet relevant to most Cambodians.

"I don't see blogs where farmers talk about rainfall, or where (motorbike-taxi drivers) complain about gas prices," he said.

For starters, the blogs are generally in English, a language that's becoming more popular among the new generation than French, which is the legacy of colonial times. Yet, English is spoken and read by only a tiny fraction of the country's population, limiting usefulness of the blogs to the elite.

Although there are blogs in Khmer, the Cambodian language, their growth is also hampered by the lack of standardized native fonts, said Klein, the early Internet user.

Cambodia's Internet penetration also is among the lowest in the world, in part due to high electricity and network connection costs. An hour of access at an Internet cafe here costs about 2,000 riel, or 50 cents, while 35 percent of Cambodians make less than the poverty-level income of 45 cents a day.

While only a tiny proportion of Cambodians go online, the Pew Internet and American Life Project says more than 71 percent of American adults use the Internet. About 13 percent of residents of neighboring Thailand and 19 percent of people in Vietnam have regular access, said Preetam Rai, Southeast Asian editor of Global Voices.

Seeking to reduce poverty and encourage economic growth by narrowing the digital divide, Cambodia's government has made national computer literacy a priority. It is linking local governments and national agencies to a main government data center, using a $50 million loan from South Korea, said Soung Noy, deputy secretary-general of the official National Information Communications Technology Development Authority.

Blogger Ly Borin said modern technology such as computers are simply too advanced for many older Cambodians, who have mostly just been struggling to survive for the past 30 years. The new technology, he said, "is hard for them to follow."

Cambodia's violent past also has made many older people — though not Sihanouk — fearful of speaking their minds, Klein said.

Less elevated Cambodians than Sihanouk meanwhile said they hoped to use their blogs to show how far their country has come from its troubled past.

"Cambodia is not just about Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot," said Bun Tharum, 25, referring to the now-defunct radical communist group and its late leader. "Now we have a tool to inform the outside world about how we are thinking and progressing."

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