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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Animals deaths close Cambodia Zoo

PHNOM PENH - Scores of rare animals have disappeared or died at a zoo in Cambodia’s tourist hub Siem Reap, forcing authorities to close the facility and highlighting the growing problem of private animal farms.

The unreported deaths of two rare leopards at the Angkor Zoo were among the reported 50 cases that caught the attention of authorities, said Forestry Administration official Vann Sophanna.

Other animals, including birds and deer, have also vanished, he told AFP.

"Valuable and rare animals always went missing and the zoo’s owner claimed they had died, but he did not report this," Vann Sophanna said, adding that those animals left in the zoo were in cramped, dirty cages and malnourished.

"The zoo lacks hygiene, there was not enough food for the animals and there were no veterinarians," he said.

Officials say the remaining animals will be taken to a wildlife rescue centre for treatment.

Zoo owner Seng Chhoeun could not be reached for comment.

The illegal wildlife trade flourishes in Cambodia, fuelled by corrupt authorities and weak legislation.

Most of the trafficked animals feed the regional demand for exotic pets or traditional medicines, although a growing number are ending up in small private zoos throughout Cambodia.

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US report gives mixed review of Cambodia's anti-terrorism efforts

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia remains vulnerable to a terrorist presence due to its weak law enforcement and rampant corruption, a U.S. government report said Tuesday.

The country's ability to investigate potential terrorist activities and prosecute terrorists has been hampered by a lack of training, resources and comprehensive legislation, the U.S. State Department said in its annual report on terrorism for 2006.

The report's Cambodia section was released by the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday in the capital, Phnom Penh.

"There were no indications that specific terrorist groups operated in Cambodia (last year), but porous borders and endemic corruption could make the country vulnerable to a terrorist presence," the report said.

However, it said Cambodian leaders have shown a strong commitment to taking aggressive legal action against terrorists.

On Monday, Cambodia's National Assembly unanimously adopted legislation to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.

It was among several legislative measures the government has planned for curbing terrorist acts, boosting investors' confidence in doing business in Cambodia and countering criticism that the country is a place for illegal financial activities.

But critics said the law is weak because the maximum penalty is only a year in jail and a fine of 5 million riel (US$1,250; €920).

They also said Cambodia's feeble banking system helps foster rampant corruption.

The U.S. State Department Report said that, despite its shortcomings, Cambodia has cooperated fully with Washington's requests to monitor terrorists and entities listed as supporters of terrorist financing.

It said Cambodia's government has, with U.S. help, installed computerized border control systems at two main airports — one in Phnom Penh and one in the country's main tourist hub of Siem Reap, near the famed Angkor Wat temple complex — as well as at two land border crossings in southwestern and northwestern provinces.

Cambodia has borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
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Cambodia Tribunal Clears Procedural Hurdle

BANGKOK, May 1 — For a moment, it appeared that $2,700 might be enough to save the mass killers of the Khmer Rouge from going on trial.

Thirty-two years after the deaths of 1.7 million people during the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, slow-moving preparations for an international tribunal were stalled again in early April when the foreign judges said a registration fee for lawyers was too high.

After a decade of delays and squabbles, the issue of the lawyers’ fee became a critical one, crystallizing the distance between the crimes of the past and the preoccupations of the present.

Last week, the Cambodian Bar Association, which had first claimed an affront to its sovereignty, lowered the registration fee to $500. On Monday the foreign judges at the trial, who had called the higher fee unacceptable, said they were satisfied.

Each side issued a statement asserting its commitment to justice.

It was the last of countless large and small stumbling blocks, and it seemed to open the way for an agreement on procedural rules a month from now.

But it remains unclear how long it will then be before the first indictments are brought. And even if all goes smoothly, it is likely to be months before the first defendant is brought into a courtroom to face charges.

“It comes down to time,” said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has been gathering potential evidence for a trial.

“We need to use time wisely in order to catch up with the aging Khmer Rouge leaders,” said Mr. Chhang, who is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge years, from 1975 to 1979. “People use so much time to deal with little things, probably because the victims are not their priority.”

Since technical preparations began last summer, nearly one-third of the planned three-year period for the tribunal has been consumed by disputes and delays.

Before that, it took the United Nations and the Cambodian government six years of often-unfriendly talks to reach an agreement in 2003 to hold the trial.

The United Nations demanded that international standards be met and the Cambodians complained that their national sovereignty was being abused. The resulting hybrid has been criticized by human rights groups for setting too low a standard of justice.

The fee dispute illustrated the chill that has grown between the 12 foreign judges and prosecutors and the 17 Cambodian judges and prosecutors, who must reach agreement every step of the way, from indictment to final judgment.

“They sit across the table from each other, but they communicate by public statement,” reported one official of the tribunal, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to comment in public.

The fee became an issue in April when the foreign judges and prosecutors pulled out of discussions on rules of procedure for the tribunal.

The fee, they said, was “not in line with accepted practice at the international level” and could be a prohibitive financial burden on defense lawyers.

“The international judges wish to emphasize that the window of opportunity is closing quickly and they simply cannot allow for endless delays,” they said in a statement at the time.

The disputed amount included a $500 registration fee, a $2,000 fee to sign on a client and $200 a month in additional fees. All but the registration fee has now been waived.

Compared to the tribunal’s $53 million budget and to other fees in the legal profession in general the amount seemed small.

The near-breakdown it caused offered a glimpse into what may be the tenor of discussions on more substantive legal questions that the international teams will face.

“I think there will be more issues like this every step of the way,” Mr. Chhang said. “And I just hope they don’t take more time than the victims can stand.”

Every delay over the years has revived concerns that the aging potential defendants may live out their lives in quiet retirement in Cambodia and evade trial entirely.

The Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998. His right-hand man, Son Sen, was killed the year before that. Ta Mok, the Khmer Rouge military commander, died last July.

All of the major remaining figures — Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary — are reported to be in poor health.

The only prominent figure in prison is Kaing Khek Iev, the commandant of the prison and torture house Tuol Sleng.

Despite these problems, the judges and prosecutors have resolved more than 100 sometimes-complicated procedural rules, crossing barriers of legal systems, language and culture.

Under a complicated supermajority system, the Cambodians outnumber the foreign participants. But the foreigners retain the right to veto any decision. The standoff over the lawyers’ fees showed that they are quite ready to use that power.
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Joint M'sia-Cambodia Promotion To Boost Tourism Industry

From Linda Khoo

PHNOM PENH, May 1 (Bernama) -- The Tourism Ministry will work closely with the Cambodian government to promote the "one destination, two countries" tourism package to woo more tourists from Europe and Middle East to the two countries.

Under the joint promotion, tourist attractions in Malaysia and Cambodia would be promoted as a single tourism package to lure more tourists, Deputy Minister Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai said today.

"Good friends (Malaysia and Cambodia) should work together to strengthen co-operation and relations between the two countries to promote tourism," he said.

A joint committee should be set up to work out the details to vigorously promote the "one destination, two countries" package for the two Asean member states to enjoy a higher growth rate in tourism," he told reporters after meeting Cambodian Tourism Minister Lay Prohas.

Cambodia is the last stop in Lim's tour of Indo-Chinese countries under the Visit Malaysia Year follow-up promotional programme to attract more tourists to Malaysia. Earlier, he visited Vietnam and Laos. Lim is scheduled to return home today.

Lim said Malaysia-Cambodia bilateral relations must be further enhanced to realise the target of wooing 20,000 Cambodian tourists to Malaysia this year.

He said Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and budget carrier AirAsia operate 27 direct flights a week on the Phnom Penh-Kuala Lumpur and Siem Reap-Kuala Lumpur routes, enabling Malaysia to receive 14,694 Cambodian tourists last year, up 47.6 per cent, compared with 9,957 in 2005.

A total of 3,043 Cambodian tourists came to Malaysia in January and February, an increase of 1,042 visitors compared with the same period last year.

"The Cambodian market has high potential and growth prospects. Two-way co-operation can yield lucrative income for the two countries," he said.

Lim said co-operation to promote "one destination, two countries" tourism product has been established with Thailand, Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam which have tourism products that can woo foreign tourists from throughout the world.

"This will help transform Asean into a must-visit tourism region," he said, adding that Asean countries had many tourist attractions for global tourists.

Last year, 82,931 Indo-Chinese tourist arrivals were recorded, up 28.68 per cent compared with 64,444 visitors in 2005.

Of the total, 63,866 were Vietnamese, Cambodians (14,694) and Laotians (4,371).

Meanwhile, Lay Prohas wants to emulate Malaysia in promoting his country's tourism industry to the region.

He expressed interest in seeking Malaysia's co-operation and sharing experience to promote tourism products in his country that are attracting international tourists.

He also wants Malaysia to provide advisory service to train human capital in the tourism industry.

"We can identify the areas for further co-operation in promoting our tourism industry. We can work out the details," he added.

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Cambodia Battling Terrorist Financing

Cambodia's National Assembly on Monday unanimously approved legislation to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, but critics described the bill as too weak.

All 77 lawmakers who attended the assembly session voted for the bill, which was endorsed by the Cabinet last July.

The government hopes the legislation will boost investors' confidence in doing business in Cambodia and counter criticism that the country is a place for illegal financial activities.

The legislation must be passed by the Senate and signed by the king before it can take effect, but those steps are considered formalities.

Central bank Governor Chea Chanto called the legislation "an important legal instrument and foundation for thwarting and cracking down on any attempts of money laundering and terrorist financing in Cambodia."

But critics said it was weak because the maximum penalty is only one year in jail and a fine of 5 million riel ($1,250).

Son Chhay, a lawmaker from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the penalty won't prevent people from committing financial crimes.

"On the contrary, they will be prepared to work against the law because the penalty is not really harmful to them," Son Chhay said.

His party's lawmakers, during the debate over the law, also questioned its significance in Cambodia, where financial transactions are largely carried out in cash rather than through the banking system.

"We see every day the flow of cash from one hand to another without having to go to the bank. That will make the law difficult to be used in dealing with money laundering," Son Chhay said, noting that many Cambodians still keep their money "under the pillows" at home.

In 2004, Heraldo Munoz, who then headed a U.N. committee on the al-Qaida terrorist network, warned that Cambodia's lack of anti-terrorism laws and weak law enforcement could allow Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiyah terror group to use the country as a base.

The comment drew an angry reaction from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
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Cambodia cuts fees, clears last hurdle to Khmer Rouge tribunal

Apr 30, 2007, 9:47 GMT

Phnom Penh - The final hurdle preventing a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders appears to have been cleared Monday with international judges accepting a lower fee for foreign attorneys proposed by the Cambodian Bar Association (CBA).

The CBA agreed to cut registration fees for international defence lawyers to 500 dollars from 5,000 dollars, according to a statement released through the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Wrangling over the fee resulted in judges boycotting a plenary meeting scheduled for Monday to pass internal rules, renewing fears that the trials would be delayed yet again.

'The international judges are confident that this fee will not hinder international lawyers, particularly those working in a pro bono capacity, from registering with the Cambodian Bar and taking part in the historic work of the Extraordinary Chambers,' said the statement.

The plenary is now expected to be held the last week of May. The internal rules govern every aspect of the tribunal from witness protection issues to the heights of judges' chairs, and despite officially being set in motion last July, the trials could not proceed without them.

Up to 2 million Cambodians are estimated to have perished under the Khmer Rouge's 1975 to 1979 Democratic Kampuchea regime. Advocates of the 56-million-dollar joint Cambodian-UN tribunal warned that the trials of a handful of mainly aging and ailing former leaders of the ultra-Maoist movement must be held soon or they risk never taking place at all.
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