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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Vietnam eyes on Cambodia land for more trouble for Cambodians

Vietnamese rubber manufacturers are bouncing into neighbouring countries due to a lack of suitable land at home.

State-run Daklak Rubber Company, or Dakruco, recently won a licence for its $10 million rubber plantation project in the north-eastern region of Cambodia, close to Vietnam’s Dak Nong and Dak Lak provinces.

It is the company’s second overseas plantation following one in Laos.

Dakruco director Huynh Van Khiet said the Cambodia-based project initially aimed to cultivate 1,000 hectares of rubber trees and build a small-scale rubber latex processing factory.

“We are quickly completing procedures to take over the land in Cambodia so that the plantation of the first 1,000ha will be finished by the end of this year,” Khiet said.

Capitalised at $32 million, Dakruco’s Laos investment project started in 2005, aiming to plant 10,000ha of rubber trees and 3,000ha of cashew and cacao trees. The construction of a 5,000 tonne capacity rubber factory is incorporated in the project and the factory will later be expanded to a 10,000 tonne capacity.

“Investment formalities differentiate from each country. The Cambodian Government would like to see our project’s effectiveness before allowing us further land,” he said.

Regarding Dakruco’s project in Laos, Khiet said by the end of this year 6,000ha of rubber trees would be planted and the bulk could be harvested in early 2010.

Laos’ more fertile land and favourable climate helped reduce the growth period of rubber trees from seven years if planted in Vietam to five years.

“We are also building the latex processing factory in Laos in 2009,” Khiet said, adding that the factory would help Dakruco raise its annual export value by 20 per cent from $28.1 million last year.

Similarly, state-run Vietnam Rubber Group (Geruco) which is Vietnam’s leading rubber producer with 50 per cent of the country’s rubber plantation area and 70 per cent of the country’s latex output, is also accelerating the group’s investment projects in Laos and Cambodia.

A Geruco source said that by the end of this year, the group would cultivate 8,000ha of a 10,000ha rubber plantation in the southern region of Laos. The $25 million project is 200 kilometres from Vietnam’s Quang Tri province.

The source also said the Cambodian Government had allowed Geruco to study 180,000ha for the possible cultivation of rubber trees in Cambodia, with the first 10,000ha lot expected to begin plantation by 2007.

Vietnam is the world’s sixth largest rubber producer and fourth largest rubber exporter, behind Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The country’s rubber plantation area has expanded to 450,000ha since rubber trees were brought to Vietnam more than 100 years ago.

The nation’s annual rubber latex output is estimated at 400,000 tonnes, 80 per cent of which is exported and 20 per cent was domestically used. China is the biggest importer of Vietnam’s rubber latex. A robust increase of 25 per cent in rubber latex price, from $1,800 per tonne last year, is making local rubber firms profitable.

By Hoang Mai
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Cambodia dismisses rights abuse claims against police chief

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia on Thursday dismissed calls for the national police chief to be barred from the United States because of alleged human rights abuses, calling the claims against him "nonsense."

Gen. Hok Lundy is scheduled to leave for Washington on Friday to discuss counterterrorism and transnational crimes with FBI officials, said Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged the U.S. State Department to cancel Hok Lundy's visa, alleging in a statement Monday that he once ordered an extrajudicial killing and has been involved in drug smuggling and human trafficking.

"This is nonsense," said Khieu Sopheak.

The allegations are "unacceptable, groundless, baseless," and they "have tarnished the reputation of the national police chief" and the police force, he said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday that Washington had "compelling reasons" to issue Hok Lundy a visa, which he declined to discuss.

Hok Lundy was denied a U.S. visa early last year for reasons never made public.

Neither McCormack nor the FBI would comment on Lundy's alleged misdeeds or on the planned counterterrorism discussions.

Brad Adams, the Human Rights Watch Asia director, said Monday that Hok Lundy "represents the absolute worst that Cambodia has to offer and should never have been given a U.S. visa."

He said the FBI should investigate, not host, the police chief for his "alleged involvement in political violence and organized crime in Cambodia."

Human Rights Watch said Hok Lundy has been implicated in a number of serious human rights abuses, including a conspiracy to carry out a grenade attack on a peaceful demonstration by opposition supporters in March 1997, in which a U.S. citizen was injured.
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Former U.N. ambassador who escaped Cambodia’s killing fields highlights Human Rights Day

By Arthur E. Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Sichan Siv told an audience gathered Wednesday morning at Indiana State University about his harrowing escape from his native Cambodia in the 1970s.

Siv, a former U.S. representative to the United Nations, was the keynote speaker for the sixth annual Terre Haute Human Rights Day.

The event is organized by local human rights activists and supported by several academic departments at ISU as well as a number of local organizations.

Siv fled Cambodia in early 1976.

“It was hope that kept me alive for one year,” Siv said, speaking about the year he survived in Cambodia after the communist Khmer Rouge took control of the southeast Asian nation on April 17, 1975.

He told the audience of some 200 students, faculty and local citizens he never knew if he would be alive the following day when he went to sleep each night after a day of 18 hours of forced labor.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia until 1979 when they were toppled by a Vietnamese invasion. Under Khmer Rouge rule, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians were killed by execution, starvation or forced labor.

In April 1975, Siv and about 3 million other residents of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, were forced to evacuate the city by the newly installed Khmer Rouge leadership. Siv and his family eventually found themselves in a distant village where they were placed into forced labor, he said, adding he soon realized that, because he had worked previously for an American aid agency, CARE, he was a danger to the rest of his family. This knowledge led him to escape the forced labor camp, he said, riding a bicycle some 600 kilometers across country to near the border with Thailand, he said.

Once on his own, Siv told the audience, he was captured again by the Khmer Rouge and placed back into forced labor. All this time, Siv said he tried hard to conceal his education because the Khmer Rouge killed anyone suspected of being educated, a capitalist or political opponent.

“I threw away my glasses,” Siv said. Wearing glasses was taken as a sign of education, he said.

Siv escaped from the Khmer Rouge again by jumping from a moving lumber truck. He worked his way across country without food or water for three days until reaching Thailand, where he was arrested for illegally entering the country.

Eventually, Siv’s former colleagues with CARE helped him immigrate to the United States, where he started a new life shortly before July 4, 1976 – the U.S. bicentennial year. He picked apples, flipped hamburgers and drove a cab in New York City before being admitted to Columbia University on a scholarship. Taking an interest in politics, he eventually volunteered for the 1988 George H.W. Bush presidential campaign and was later asked by Bush’s transition team to work for the president, where his duties would eventually take him to the United Nations.

Sadly, he said, Siv learned his mother, sister, brother and their families were all murdered back in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.

“Adapt and be adopted,” Siv said is his advice to his fellow U.S. immigrants. “Adapt to America and America will adopt you.”

The audience asked questions of Siv after his approximately 30-minute talk. In response to a question about illegal immigration in America, Siv said that is a very emotional subject for him personally, adding that the key word is “illegal.”

Siv was critical of the United Nations Human Rights Commission for admitting countries such as Iran, North Korea and Cuba, which he characterized as “bad and ugly.” He said he often walked out of commission meetings in protest when such countries gained membership.

“That’s a sad situation,” he said.

Siv added, however, he believes the United Nations is the best option currently available for international cooperation.

“There is nothing better at the moment,” he said, adding that the UN presently does some things well, such as its handling of HIV, aid for children and assistance for refugees.

Arthur Foulkes can be contacted at (812) 231-4232 or
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Hydroelectric dams endanger Cambodia's river people

Powell River Peak reporter Luke Brocki travelled to Cambodia and Vietnam after winning a fellowship administered by the Jack Webster Foundation and funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.

The second installment in his series of development-related stories looks at the lives of indigenous minority groups along the Sesan River in Cambodia's Ratanakiri Province. Brocki gathered data from personal accounts, academic studies and history books to explain the impacts of Vietnamese dam construction on downstream village communities.

Sesan struggles
"Yesterday morning, we could see the sand," says the village elder. "For the last two weeks, the river was so dry we could ride motorcycles to the other side."

We're standing on the sunny shores of the Sesan River in the jungle of Cambodia's Ratanakiri Province, on a large tributary of the Mekong River recognized in Vietnam for its hydro power potential. Two other rivers, the Sekong and Srepok, join the Sesan in Cambodia before flowing into the Mekong; together they contribute about 20 per cent of the Mekong's water. For comparison, all of Thailand contributes about 10 per cent.

"And during the rainy season, riverbanks cannot contain the water," says elder Kosal Teouy of the Kanat Douch village. "We moved the village up here in 2000, afraid of being swept away by the sporadic releases of water from the upstream dam."

Teouy's village is one of 12 in the area that abandoned the riverbank for the safety of the surrounding hills. The fears of the villagers proved justified; the site of the old village flooded in 2006.

"The water at the moment is clear, but it looked murky and mixed with oil over the last year and during dam construction," Teouy tells me through a translator.
A large group of wet children chase each other around the shore, while another couple of youngsters push a long and narrow wooden boat around the calm water with a long oar, like gondoliers.

"The children get a rash when they swim in the river; their skin gets red and itchy," he tells me when the group passes us.

The water is also no longer drinkable. The village gets its drinking supply from a well, recently dug by a German non-governmental organization (NGO). "It's very difficult to find food to eat," Teouy says. The main diet consists of rice and salt, with traces of fish, meat and wild vegetables when available.
The villagers are used to seasonal fluctuations of the water table and even to flooding during the wet season, but since the dam construction, the river levels have been changing frequently and erratically. Diurnal fluctuations of the water table have made fishing and farming difficult, if not impossible.

The basin's entire ecosystem is in danger, with many varieties of riverine plants having dwindled because of unnatural flooding, and bird and turtle nests having been swept away.

"We've made several requests to the government to stop dam construction, but the government doesn't respect the demands of the people. The situation is becoming worse and worse."

The politics of power
Cambodia's young democracy hasn't yet been the catalyst for change. Reigning prime minister Hun Sen was appointed to government by Vietnam while Cambodia was under Vietnamese military occupation in the late 1970s. Initially with the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen changed sides and was selected for a leadership role in the rebel government Vietnam was installing in Cambodia after overthrowing the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in 1978. He ruled as a despot until 1991, when the Paris Peace Accords mandated democratic elections. His party, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), went on to win the 1993, 1998 and 2003 elections. Today, the CPP has a majority in the National Assembly of Cambodia, but governs in coalition with the royalist Funcinpec party, which won 20 per cent of the national assembly's 123 seats in 2003.

Various political opponents accuse Hun Sen of being a puppet of Hanoi due to his past ties with the North Vietnamese, but he defends the charges with claims that he represents only the Cambodian people. More recent political opponents outside the country accuse him of being a corrupt dictator who controls the country by force.

Kanat Douch is beginning to despair. This group of a few dozen villagers is by no means alone. More than 55,000 people have suffered severe impacts to their health and livelihoods because of upstream dam construction along the Sesan. For these indigenous groups, the nightmare began with the completion of Vietnam's US$1 billion Yali Falls Dam, about 80 kilometres upstream from Cambodia's border. Construction on the 720-megawatt dam began in 1993 and was completed in 2000, funded by loans from Russian and Ukrainian governments. Since then, the World Bank last paid for an electrical transmission line that transports power from the dam south to Ho Chi Minh City.

By 1993, Vietnam had a fledgling environmental law that called for mandatory environmental impact assessments (EIAs) of major investment projects, including large-scale hydroelectric dams, but the law lacked regulations and guidelines to govern transboundary issues. Thus, downstream impacts of the Yali Falls Dam, now known to extend through Ratanakiri and as far as Cambodia's Stung Treng Province, some 300 kilometres downstream, were not investigated in the EIA. Construction pressed on and six other dam sites have since been identified for the upper Sesan River Basin; most of them are complete and operational today.

Development gone wrong
Since about 2000, flurries of studies and reports have been emerging as academics, local advocates and members of the media noticed downstream impacts.

According to a 2002 briefing paper by the International Rivers Network, the worst erratic releases of water occurred while the dam was under construction from 1996 to 2000, resulting in flash flooding downstream, causing deaths of at least 36 people and hundreds of thousands of livestock, and destruction of rice fields, vegetable gardens and fishing gear totaling about US$800,000.

In late 2005, the NGO Forum on Cambodia released a report documenting serious violations of international law under the 1995 Mekong River Agreement. The agreement calls for immediate cessation of transboundary harms as soon as victims speak out and for the resolution of disputes within a timely manner. That dialogue is only now beginning.

A 2007 paper co-authored by Canadian Ian Baird and Australian Andrew Wyatt, about to be published in the International Journal of Water Resources Development, examines transboundary impacts in detail in the Sesan River Basin. Baird and Wyatt identify as challenges the failure to implement standard international planning processes and the failure to follow due process in dam planning, construction and operation, despite the availability of international expertise and funding. "Weak technical and financial capacity on the part of the downstream country, Cambodia, has allowed the politically dominant upstream country, Vietnam, to impose its national interests on downstream communities in Vietnam and Cambodia," they stated.

Forging connections
A key figure on the front lines of the human rights battle, Kim Sangha, came to Ratanakiri six years ago. He planned to stay for one year, but became involved with a local NGO-3SPN, the three S-rivers protection network.

The 38-year-old Phnom Penh native couldn't leave once he saw the problems these indigenous groups were facing, and the hopelessness that was settling in after years of denial and inertia from powerful people able to effect change. Now coordinator of 3SPN, Kim spends his days visiting local villages and educating villagers about their rights to voice concerns and bring their problems to the attention of Cambodia's young democratic government.

"Our role is to report the concerns of the people and build up a local movement," he says in an interview in Kanat Douch village. "We organize many events and workshops, let villagers and officials debate the issues."

Kim fights for the demands of the villagers: bringing back the natural flow of the river, compensation for their losses and a guarantee of their safety in the future through a strong communication system.

"Right now, the villagers' participation in the projects is very limited," he says. "In Vietnam, they have policies for resettlement programs with compensation. In Cambodia, nothing."

His latest focus is on creating strong regional linkages between the villages in Ratanakiri to help villagers communicate and make them understand their rights. "Every year, we organize about 25 commune workshops to bring people together and dispense new information about dam construction and action plans for the villages. We need to push government on this issue."

Cambodia's minister of environment, Mok Mareth, was not immediately available and did not return my messages by deadline. Kim's luck was a little better.

"We talk with government often, but still don't know if the political will is there to help us," he says. "There were talks around equitable benefit sharing, which is a very good message given by government, but the government desires to develop economically. Sometimes this looks like a game they play to build more dams in the region and sell power around the country."

But Sangha refuses to lose hope. When asked about his source of motivation, he says he's driven by the promises of choice in a democratic society.

"There's a new election every five years," says Sangha. "Something has to change. We don't yet have a real democracy, but if we want one, it will have to happen through mobilization of the people. The children of government officials go to the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to learn about democracy. Maybe they'll use the new ideas. I hope it won't come to a revolution, but we have to fight for the people."

November 1993: Construction begins on the US$1 billion Yali Falls Dam.

1996: Major flooding hits northeastern Cambodia, including Ratanakiri and Stung Treng provinces. Dam construction begins to alter the flow of the Sesan River.

1998: The Yali Falls Dam reservoir is completed.

1999 to 2001: Water releases, spills and surges from the Yali Falls Dam cause a series of deaths and other downstream damage in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Early 2000: Reports of surges and deaths appear in the media. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat begins an investigation.

April 2000: MRC involvement leads to steps for advanced warnings of water releases. Independent consultants draft a report reminding Vietnam about its international obligations, calling for remedial efforts and compensation for affected communities. Vietnam never accepted, finalized, or officially published the draft.

April 2002: The Yali Falls Dam officially opens.

November 2002: A Vietnamese official acknowledges water releases and apologizes for downstream impacts.

June 2005: Villagers from Ratanakiri send a petition to the Cambodian government, again listing their demands for action surrounding the dam. They have yet to receive compensation.

Currently: Frontline local NGOs (non-governmental organizations), in partnership with philanthropic giants such as the McKnight Foundation, Oxfam Australia and Oxfam America, continue to educate and mobilize indigenous minorities to fight government and end the injustice.

Source: NGO Forum on Cambodia.
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