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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

U.S. warship to pay port visit to Cambodia for first time in over 30 years

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

A U.S. navy warship will dock at Cambodia's main sea port next month for the first time in more
than three decades, a high-ranking American military commander said Wednesday.

The USS Gary, a guided missile frigate with 200 officers and crew, will arrive at the Sihanoukville port in southwestern Cambodia on Feb. 9 and will stay until Feb. 13, said Adm. Gary Roughead, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

"The purpose of the visit is to bring our navies closer together," Roughead said after meeting with Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh. "We believe that it marks a beginning of a strong navy-to-navy relationship with many opportunities for the future."

Tea Banh hailed the planned visit by the USS Gary as "a new era" in military ties between the two countries.

The United States halted military assistance to Cambodia following a 1997 coup in which Hun Sen grabbed full power after ousting his co-premier, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Hun Sen remains as prime minister.

Roughead is the second top U.S. military official to visit Cambodia in the last six months in the latest move to re-establish military links.

During a visit in July, Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the
United States could help train Cambodian military and provide it with non-lethal assistance.

The two-day visit by Roughead, scheduled to end Thursday, was billed as a familiarization visit. He was appointed to his position in 2005.

According to his US Navy biography, Roughead is responsible for the world's largest combined fleet command, encompassing 102 million square miles and more than 190 ships and submarines, 1,400 aircraft, 191,000 sailors and marines and 30,000 civilians. Read more!

Cambodian leader slams ILO for 'untruthful' reports about garment factories

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Prime Minister Hun Sen accused the U.N. labor agency Wednesday of false reporting about working conditions in Cambodia's garment factories.

Speaking at a meeting with investors, the prime minister echoed complaints from a representative of clothing industry employers protesting factory monitoring work by the Geneva-based International Labor Organization.

Damaging reports by the ILO about "any factories could create risk not just for factory owners but for the workers," Hun Sen said during a forum with businessmen Wednesday.

Since 2001, the ILO has been running a project to monitor working conditions in Cambodian garment factories.

Hun Sen called on the U.N. labor agency to correct any "untruthful reports" it has produced about industry, which is Cambodia's leading foreign exchange earner. He did not refer to any specific ILO findings but was addressing complaints raised by an unidentified investor at the meeting.

The prime miniser went so far as to suggest that some ILO staffers may be using blackmail tactics in their work.

"ILO is a good organization, but there could also be some bad people working for it," Hun Sen said. "Sometimes, some of its staffers may even try to extort money from factory owners, like, 'If you give me money, I will write a good report about you.'"

The ILO office in Cambodia did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The garment industry employs 320,000 workers in 286 factories. Garment exports have grown to more than US$2.2 billion (€1.7 billion) annually in recent years, largely because of restrictions imposed by the United States and the European Union on garment imports from China.

Investors have expressed concern about the future of Cambodia's garment industry following the accession of Vietnam, another low-cost and labor-intensive producer, into the World Trade Organization.

Exports from Vietnam to the world markets "will intensify," Hun Sen said, asking "what kind of impact will Cambodia get from such competition?"

To help the industry survive, the government has decided to offer investors tax breaks totaling 116 billion riel (US$28.6 million; €22 million) this year and 121 billion riel (US$30 million; €23 million) in 2008, Keat Chhon, Cambodia's finance minister, said at the meeting Wednesday. Read more!

Roundup: Labor report shows shrink of Cambodia's garment industry

Altogether 62 garment and shoe- making factories were closed in Cambodia in 2006, while 20 others have suspended their operation, a sign of shrink of the kingdom's pillar industry, an official report said on Tuesday.

As a result, 27,644 workers became unemployed, 20,441 of them women, while 150,000 went home to wait for their factories to re- open, if possible, said the labor report released to the media during a seminar organized by the Ministry of Vocational Training and Labor here on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the report said that from 2004 to 2006, there were 594 labor disputes, 288 of them organized by unions, or 48.48 percent of the total.

Some 557 factories were vexed with such disputes, 180 in 2006, 148 in 2005 and 229 in 2004, it said.

The report did not say the rise of labor disputes led to the shrink of the industry, but local media have widely reported that the disputes and ensuing strikes, together with Vietnam's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), have driven garment and shoe makers to directly close their factories in Cambodia, or close first and then transfer to the neighboring country to enjoy better operation climate.

In addition, the report said that there are currently in Cambodia 420 garment factories and 19 shoe factories with 287,005 workers, 256,934 of them women.

Earlier on Jan. 15, reports said that the number of strikes and labor disputes in the garment industry in 2006 has been the largest that the kingdom ever experienced.

Compared to 67 cases of garment strikes in 2005 in Cambodia, 2006 saw 103 such incidents, according to a recent report from the Labor Ministry's Labor Dispute Department.

Labor disputes also increased from 148 cases in 2005 to 217 last year, a number significantly higher than the one that was disclosed on Tuesday.

Some 65 percent of the disputes were resolved with ministry brokering and the rest sent to the Arbitration Council, a body that issues awards on labor disagreement.

Out of last year's strikes, 78.61 percent occurred due to employers' failure to respect the labor law, 3.5 percent due to employee demands for compensation as their factories closed and bosses ran off to dodge the responsibility and 1.4 percent due to discrimination against unions, said the department's report.

"This year (2006) was bad. Workers took industrial action, failing to seek prior negotiation with factory management. They should clarify reasons behind a strike," said Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia ( GMAC), adding that strikes claimed 15 million U.S. dollars of loss for the industrialists in 2006 or 40 percent higher than the previous year.

Due to the strikes and after rounds of negotiations, the minimum monthly wage for an average garment factory worker has been increased from 45 U.S. dollars to 50 U.S. dollars starting from 2007, a good news for the employees but another burden for the producers.

Garment has been one of Cambodia's major pillars of foreign currency attraction.

In 2005, the kingdom exported 2.29 billion U.S. dollars' worth of garment and textile products,
accounting for 79 percent of its total exports.

Source: Xinhua Read more!

Spanish psychologist evaluates Cambodia's 'jungle woman'

Phnom Penh, Jan 25. (AP): Cambodia's "jungle woman" smiled for the first time, showing a childlike appreciation for a puppet show put on by a visiting Spanish psychologist, the man who claims to be her long-lost father said on Wednesday.

Hector Rifa, a doctor of psychology from Spain's University of Oviedo, was spending several days with the woman in the hope of unraveling some of the mystery surrounding her since she emerged from the forest on January 13, naked and unable to speak, after what may have been nearly two decades in the wild.

Rifa is the first foreign medical professional to meet the woman who is believed to be 27-year-old Rochom P'ngieng, who disappeared in the jungles of Cambodia's northeastern Rattanakiri province while herding water buffaloes when she was 8.

"He put on a short puppet show, and my daughter smiled," Sal Lou, who claims to be the woman's father, said by phone from the remote northeastern village of Oyadao.

"He sang and danced" to try to cheer her up, he said. When asked if this was the woman's first smile since the family took her in, he replied: "Yes."

Sal Lou's family, members of Cambodia's Pnong ethnic minority, say they are certain the woman is Rochom P'ngieng because of a childhood scar on her right arm.

With no other evidence supporting their claim and others have speculated that the woman may have a history of mental troubles and simply became lost in the jungle much more recently.

Villagers began calling her "jungle woman" after she emerged from the forest walking like a monkey. Read more!

Girl, 6, embodies Cambodia's sex industry

Story Highlights•

More than one million children in global sex trade each year, U.S. State Dept. says• 50,000 to 100,000 women and children involved in Cambodia's sex industry• Gang rape, AIDS, torture afflict the women and children in this field.

By Dan Rivers CNN

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- At an age when most children might be preparing for their first day of school, Srey, 6, already has undergone trauma that is almost unspeakable.

She was sold to a brothel by her parents when she was 5. It is not known how much her family got for Srey, but other girls talk of being sold for $100; one was sold for $10.

Before she was rescued, Srey endured months of abuse at the hands of pimps and sex tourists.
Passed from man to man, often drugged to make her compliant, Srey was a commodity at the heart of a massive, multimillion-dollar sex industry in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

"It is huge," said Mu Sochua, a former minister of women's and veteran's affairs who is an anti-sex trade activist.

The precise scale of Cambodia's sex trade is difficult to quantify. International organizations -- such as UNICEF, ECPAT and Save the Children -- say that anywhere from from 50,000 to 100,000 women and children are involved. An estimated 30 percent of the sex workers in Phnom Penh are under the age of 18, according to the United Nations. The actual figure may be much higher, activists say.

Global sex industry

Around the world, more than one million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year, according to the U.S. State Department. The State Department believes Cambodia is a key transit and destination point in this trade.

"Trafficking for sexual exploitation also occurs within Cambodia's borders, from rural areas to the country's capital, Phnom Penh, and other secondary cities in the country," the State Department wrote in a 2006 report. "The Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."

Sochua said that with millions of Cambodians struggling to live on less than 50 cents a day, many women turn to the sex industry. Poverty is also often what drives parents to sell their child or themselves on the streets.

"Always a child is left behind, often a girl, who is preyed on by traffickers," Sochua added.

An unlikely saviour

Srey was rescued from the life of a sex slave by Somaly Mam, a former prostitute who runs shelters for the victims of Cambodia's sex trade. Somaly has rescued 53 children, so far. Many of them have profound psychological trauma. Some clearly are mentally ill.

"A lot of them, when they arrive, have psychological problems ... very big problems. ... And they never have love by the people, by their parents," Somaly said.

One girl at Somaly's shelter appears especially disturbed. She was rescued after being imprisoned for two years in a cage, where she was repeatedly raped.

She needs psychiatric care, but there is none available. Somaly says she does her best to give this girl love and support, but that it's not easy with so many other needy children around.

Somaly herself suffered terrible ordeals when she worked the streets, including seeing her best friend murdered. She is determined to build something positive out of so much despair.

Her work has caught the attention of world leaders, celebrities and religious figures. Her office in Phnom Penh is adorned with photos of her meeting Pope John Paul II and messages of support from governments and charities.

Despite the attention, Somaly said the situation on the street is not getting better. Gang rapes of prostitutes are becoming more common, she said, and many of the attackers don't use condoms. Instead, they share a plastic bag.

"Poor women, they have been raped by eight, 10, 20, 25 men ... they hit them. They receive a lot of violence," she said.

HIV-AIDS also remains a persistent, though declining, problem among Cambodia's female sex workers.

About 20 percent of Cambodia's female sex workers are HIV-positive, according to Cambodia's Ministry of Health. This compares with the 39 percent of sex workers who tested positive in 1996, according to the Health Ministry.

To help sex workers transition to a more normal life, Somaly is hoping to expand her refuge in the countryside outside Phnom Penh, where former sex workers attend school and learn skills like weaving and sewing.

Asked what the future holds for Srey, Somaly stroked the girl's hair and paused.

Srey is HIV-positive, she said.

In such a poor country, without decent hospitals or medical care, Srey's future is bleak. Somaly just hopes she can make this girl's life bearable for as long as it lasts. Read more!