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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Spotted and snapped: first photos of leopard with young in Cambodia

Cambodia Leopard and cubs
were photoed by strapped camera

03 May 2007

Srepok, Cambodia – The first ever photographs of a wild leopard with young in Cambodia show that a pioneering project is helping to conserve wildlife and support local livelihoods there.

The photographs were taken by the animals themselves when they triggered camera traps that had been set up by wildlife biologists working with local community rangers.

“They are very secretive creatures and incredibly difficult to see, even with the best guides,” says Nick Cox of WWF's Greater Mekong office.

A female leopard of Cambodia
is patrolling her territory with cubs.

“But in the Srepok Wilderness Area of the Mondulkiri protected forest in north-eastern Cambodia, our rangers have had recent encounters with leopards that would make big cat biologists green with envy.”The Srepok Wilderness Area Project (SWAP) aims to ensure that local people benefit from conservation in a part of Cambodia where forests are relatively intact, but threatened by illegal logging, conversion for agriculture and the unsustainable trade in wildlife products..
WWF is working with the Cambodian government and the International Institute for Environment and Development on the project, which is part funded by the Darwin Initiative.

The project partners are aware that conservation in a country as poor as Cambodia will only succeed if local people continue to benefit economically from the Mekong River and its surrounding forests. The area’s wildlife has been struggling as a consequence of decades of war, colonial mismanagement of wildlife and civil strife.

The Srepok wilderness area was largely unprotected until WWF began working there in 2002. The rangers working in the forest have provided anecdotal evidence of their belief that the forest ecosystem is recovering, but nothing firm until now.

Leopards will only reproduce if the conditions are right and these photographs are an initial positive indicator of a healty ecosystem.

Under the Darwin Initiative funded project, Julia Chase-Grey is studying how local hunting and farming practices affect populations of the leopard and its prey species, such as the dog-like dhole.

“Very little information exists on the ecology or conservation of the leopard in Cambodia,” says Chase-Grey, a PhD student at Durham University, United Kingdom.

Chase-Grey spent two months working with rangers from local communities, whose knowledge of the area and its wildlife meant they could advise her where to set up the camera traps.

The SWAP has trained the rangers in an effort to provide sustainable alternatives to hunting.

James MacGregor of the International Institute for Environment and Development says that the SWAP’s innovative approach provides a practical lesson in best practice conservation management in genuine collaboration with local people.

“This project highlights the importance of involving local people in conservation and ensuring that they have a stake in protecting wildlife,” says MacGregor.

“The Srepok Wilderness Area Project is helping to restore the natural wildlife populations and provide local people with pathways out of poverty.” .
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Cambodia's SBC Bank orders Diebold ATMs

SBC Bank is the first financial institution in Asia Pacific to certify and implement EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) security standards using Diebold Opteva automated teller machines (ATMs), as well as the company's Agilis software.

"EMV chip card technology provides enhanced ATM security to combat fraud at the ATM," said Andy Kun, president and chief executive officer of SBC Bank. "It also provides interoperability between chip cards and networks and adds new services, such as customer loyalty, debit and credit programs."

Based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, SBC is deploying 17 Opteva terminals - a combination of stand-alone, lobby units and through-the-wall ATMs - at its headquarters, branches and convenience stores for cash withdrawals. The machines will be upgraded in the future to incorporate other features and functionality.

EMV, a joint venture between Europay, MasterCard and Visa, produced specifications to support interoperability between integrated chip cards and various types of payment system terminals (ATMs, point-of-sale terminals, etc.). Smart cards allow for a new dimension in card security. EMV is now recognized as the worldwide reference standard for smart card technology in the financial environment, as it allows for the interoperability of smart cards among different networks and countries.

"EMV compliance doesn't just reduce a bank's financial exposure to card fraud," said James L.M. Chen, Diebold's senior vice president, Asia Pacific and Europe Middle East and Africa divisions. "It also offers a significant competitive advantage that allows retail financial services organizations to focus on, and take advantage of, the spending and payment card habits of their traditional markets."

The SBC terminals run on Agilis software, Diebold's open architecture, cross-vendor platform that enables the management of terminals from various manufacturers. ATMs within SBC's network employ Diebold's OptiEye surveillance cameras. Designed specifically for Opteva terminals, OptiEye cameras and lenses are installed inside the ATM and provide an exceptional field of view using digital signal processing to enhance overall security during customer transactions.
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Will oil wealth keep Cambodia afloat, or drown it?

Boys are scavenging the garbage field on the outskirt of Phnom penh

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia: Still clawing its way out of the ruins of its brutal past, Cambodia has come face to face with an extraordinary new future: It has struck oil.

Two years ago, the U.S. oil giant Chevron said it had found potentially huge deposits off the southern shore. Further exploratory drilling is being analyzed now.

The size and quality of the deposits are still not publicly known. But together with other likely deposits in nearby areas and with mineral finds being explored onshore, experts say Cambodia could soon become a resource-rich nation.

Top officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, have fed the excitement, saying the oil money could start to flow within two to three years.

This is not necessarily good news.

For many other poor countries, like Nigeria and Chad, oil has been a poisoned bonanza, paradoxically dragging them into deeper poverty and corruption in what some call the oil curse.

"This will be a watershed event for this country one way or another," said the U.S. ambassador, Joseph Mussomeli. "Everyone knows that it will be either a tremendous blessing or a terrific curse. They are unlikely to come out unscathed."

With its tiny economy, weak government institutions, widespread poverty and crippling corruption, Cambodia seems as ill-suited as any country in the world to absorb the oil wealth that is expected to come its way.

Indeed, this is a land that already suffers many of the symptoms of the oil curse, even before a drop of oil has been pumped.

Its people remain traumatized by the mass killings by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, when 1.7 million people died, and by the decades of civil war, brutality and poverty that have followed.

Now, 28 years after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is fitfully approaching the start of a trial of a handful of surviving leaders that could bring some belated healing.

Coming together, the impending trial and the approaching flow of oil mark a transition in Cambodia from its still-raw past to a suddenly more challenging future.

"I do believe this is Cambodia's last best chance to take its place in the world and the region," Mussomeli said. "If not, they're going to be a basket case into the next century."

Cambodia has six potential fields in the Gulf of Thailand off the shore of this southern port city as well as several other fields in areas that are disputed by Thailand.

Onshore, mining companies have found deposits of a variety of minerals, primarily bauxite and gold, that could add to the country's new riches.

The rush of foreign countries whose oil companies have staked claims includes China, which has become the country's biggest commercial investor, its biggest aid donor and its hungriest consumer of raw materials, pushing ahead with major hydropower and road building projects.

The Chinese have made optimistic statements about the oil field they control, although the basis for these statements is not clear.

In the first of the six fields to be explored, Chevron said in early 1995 that it had found oil in four out of five wells. Two more rounds of exploratory drilling have followed.

A company spokeswoman, Nicole Hodgson, said last week that the results of the latest drilling were being analyzed and would be announced later this year. She declined to estimate the size of the field.

If used wisely - as Hun Sen promises it will be - the new wealth could be the salvation of this country of 14 million, where 35 percent of the population lives on less than 50 cents a day. It could help build clinics and schools and roads and irrigation canals and bring electricity to the 82 percent of Cambodians who now live without it.

Over all, it would dwarf a small-scale economic recovery that reached 10 percent growth last year, based mostly on garment manufacturing and tourism, as well as construction and agriculture.

Or it could be sucked up by a small, powerful elite that already devours most of the nation's wealth and bring on the symptoms of the oil curse: a breakdown in government services, economic stability and social order.

"We will try our best to make sure that the oil income is a blessing, not a curse," Hun Sen said in April. "These revenues will be directed to productive investment and poverty reduction."

That promise sounds very much like the ones Hun Sen made in the past, when he vowed to crack down on illegal logging and corruption. Those promises did not seem to be backed with muscle.

Vast stands of timber and deposits of gold and precious gems have disappeared with little benefit to the people.

Government buildings have been sold for profit. The tourist concession at the country's most famous killing field has been leased to a Japanese company. Ticket fees from the national symbol, the Angkor temples, mostly go into private hands.

Transparency International, a private monitoring agency based in Berlin, recently ranked Cambodia 151st out of 163 countries in its annual report on perceptions of corruption.

To avoid the worst consequences of sudden wealth, it seems, Cambodia must change its ways.

But the men in power may not be prepared to resist the temptations and challenges that have overwhelmed some other oil-rich nations.

"If we look at the past, it's not too good," said Sok Hach, president of the Economic Institute of Cambodia, a private research group. "I still hope those people in charge can change. But if things don't change, I'm really afraid Cambodia will collapse."

Looking into the future, Ian Gary, an oil and mining expert with the aid group Oxfam America, said "the nut of the problem" was something that was already the case in Cambodia: "an influx of money going straight into the hands of the central government, where there are few checks or balances."

An oil-rich government, happy at its trough and free of the need to collect taxes, may ignore its constituents. Economic disparities could lead to social unrest, political instability and violence.

"The record is extremely poor," Gary said. "We've seen over time that there are greater incidences of civil war and conflicts in oil-rich states, that development indicators are low, and there is often negative growth."

Even with the best of will, small economies may not be prepared to absorb the windfall, said Purnima Rajapakse, deputy head of mission in Cambodia for the Asian Development Bank.

An economy centered on oil may cause other industries - like garments in Cambodia - to wither, adding to joblessness and poverty.

There are signs that Cambodia may already be turning down the wrong path, some experts said. Transparency is crucial to the proper management of oil money, and the government has so far released little information.

Under standard practice, Gary said, hefty "signature bonuses" are paid by oil companies at the time exploration contracts are signed.

"So already money is flowing into the Cambodian government, one would presume, from these exploration contracts, and there is no explanation of that," he said.

Sok Hach said he was frustrated by his inability to get more facts and figures about the oil finds for his economic analyses.

"The oil will start in two or three years; it's tomorrow," he said, "and the government does not want to release anything."
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Small Hotel with a Big Heart

Besides being occupied by running a hotel in Sihanoukville, Henrik Olsson is also doing his best to improve children's life in Cambodia.

By Rapeepat Jumnongjit

Henrik Olsson is not much of a city guy, instead he prefer living in a quiet country side where everything is not so busy and overtake by capitalism or tall buildings. Back in 1987 when he was still a carpenter from a small town in Sweden, he escaped the dark cold season by visiting Asia as a tourist. In 1989 he came to Thailand and he felt in love with the country right away.

"Living in Asia has always been one of my dreams," 41 years old Henrik says.
"So in the mid 90's I was thinking about moving to Thailand but I saw the changes that I didn't like. The country became over-developed and commercialized."

Henrik came to Cambodia in January 2002 and he was also fallen in love with Cambodia.
"It reminds me very much of Thailand that I discovered in 1989, especially the beach town that I live now in Sihanoukville, it is a really nice place" Henrik continues.
"Big changes will come here within two or three years. I have been here for four years and I've seen the great changes in the past six months."

Sihanoukville has the biggest increase of tourists this year compare to Angkor Wat which has always been the one and only attraction in Cambodia. However more help is needed from the government of Cambodia to rebuild the infrastructure, more and better attractions, and to secure the beach of Sihanoukville on the international tourist circuit.

"Without backpackers this town would never be re-discovered." Henrik says.
After going around the town it’s not hard to notice that there are numbers of new hotel buildings which are in the middle of construction.

"It's getting more popular for tourists and it will bring more investors since they've just found an oil resource by southwest of the town's seaport and the opening of a new airport which will have an international route within couple of years. Right now Sihanoukville is like a cake which is getting bigger and everyone just wants a piece of it.” Henrik continues.

Small Hotel

Four stories hotel by the name of small hotel located by downtown Sihanoukville right behind the Caltex gas station and it only take ten minutes walk to the beach. It welcomes all visitors with friendly staffs and relaxed environment.

Small hotel has its charm for dining and bar with Swedish cozy atmosphere that will almost make you feel like home. At small hotel you will most likely find Swedish flags, blue tablecloths, Swedish-language newspapers, friendly waitress who always greet you with the smile and behind the bar Henrik who always there to take care of the guests.

“My wife helps me with the cashier and I always sit behind the bar and talk to people. She’s the brain and I’m the mouth.” Henrik says.

“Right now there are about 50 to 60 Scandinavians coming to Sihanoukville each week, especially the Swedes” says Henrik.

“Sihanoukville has become a main destination for Scandinavian package travel, next high season there will be about 200 Swedes coming to town.”

Small hotel kitchen also attract Scandinavian tourists with excellent Scandinavian dishes such as Norwegian cured salmon with dill, the Swedish meatballs or the Swedish “pyt I panna”.
Help the Cambodian Children

If you walk around the lobby of small hotel you would find papers and photos pinned up on a board telling stories of aiding children’s life in Cambodia. It is a fact that Cambodia is still a very poor country and the children are the future of the country since the Khmer rouge wiped out over two millions populations. The children need good education and decent health care. Henrik is one among other good people who are doing good deeds for the country. He is part of “Help the Cambodian Children” organization which aims to improve Cambodian children life everyway they can.

In 2005 Henrik and his other two Scandinavian friends raised a fund by walking from his hotel in Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh with the distance of 240 kilometers.

“We raised $2500 and with that money we ensured that 140 orphaned and disadvantaged Khmer children in Sihanoukville get an education. Later in 2006 we gained enough money to construct a proper school building and set up a full support programme in teaching English called the Goodwill school” says Henrik.

The Goodwill School

The Goodwill School now consists of three classrooms, library and toilet, employs three dedicated teachers and provides an education to 160 children from the poorest families in Sihanoukville.

The school also encourages the children that do not attend school to come in and take part in creative and recreational facilities, which is something the poor children have no access to. At best, they have an old tin can to kick around, if they are not busy working to support their families. The girls are also learn to glass paint, make jewelry and other hand-crafted items, which are then sold to raise funds.

“We also help them with the basic medical treatment by taking them to the hospital for basic vaccine shots and basic health check,” says Henrik.

“It is not easy for Cambodian people to get a Medical care. If you have no money then no Health Care. If I go back to Sweden and dying with cancer, they will give me a chance and treat me. People here don’t even get their first chance.”

“At the Goodwill School we are also trying to teach our students and teachers about sex education. People here close their eyes to this subject and talking about sex is like a taboo here, regards to their culture. But it is very important for them to start learning about this, to protect themselves from the decease or unprepared pregnancy.” continues Henrik
“There are many projects we’ve been working on to help these children. They deserve an opportunity to grow up with good health and proper education.”

Henrik is going back to Sweden this year to visit his family and get married again in Sweden.

“We have already been through the ceremony in Cambodia but I know that my family would like to see us getting married again in my hometown which has no problem to me as long as everybody is happy.” say Henrik.

The small hotel will also expand to another building down the road with 27 rooms which will accommodate numbers of Swedes tourists in the next high season.

“I don’t know what change will come to Sihanoukville. Will I still be here when it turns to be another busy city? I don’t know. For now I know that I love this town and I am happy with what I do.”

Created 2007-05-02 .
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Food keeps alive memories of Cambodia

By fish and noodle soup

By Jane Dornbusch, Globe Correspondent May 2, 2007

LYNN -- When Cambodian native Kimthorn Penh arrived in the United States in 1984, she brought her husband, six of her eight surviving children, and little else. Her daughter Chanthou Taing, who was a teenager then, just laughs and shrugs when she's asked what the family was able to carry with them out of Thailand, where they lived in a refugee camp for nearly four years after fleeing the violent clashes between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese in their homeland. The large stone mortar and pestle Penh uses to prepare her traditional dishes -- surely that came from home?

"Oh, no," says Taing. "Nothing that big or that heavy."

But the family did bring an intangible legacy with them: the elegant, refined cuisine of Cambodia, which Penh 70, has passed on to her children, and, they hope, to the next generation: Taing's 10-year-old daughter, Shainlee, loves Cambodian food, her mother reports. Today, Penh and her husband share a comfortable home in Lynn with Taing, Taing's husband , Hong, Shainlee, and another of Penh's daughters, Chanthang Ros.

"All my siblings know how to cook," says Ros, at 28 the youngest of Penh's children. "My mom is the root of all of it. I learned traditional dishes at home, where we cook together." Still, she says, "I wouldn't compare my skills to hers."

At home in Cambodia, Penh and her husband farmed, and she had a sideline selling her homemade specialties for parties, weddings, and temple ceremonies. When the communists took over, and the Vietnamese invaded, the family headed for the Thai border. "We were lucky," says Taing. "We made it through." In the refugee camp, Taing received some medical education and worked assisting American doctors there. After four years, those doctors used their influence to help the family relocate to the United States. Today, Taing is a nurse; Ros -- an infant when she left Cambodia -- is a senior human resources administrator for John Snow, Inc.

In the kitchen, the sisters defer to their mother as she prepares num ba chok, a rice vermicelli soup with fish. It's a typical dish, says Ros, in that it's light, healthful, and deeply flavored.

"It's complicated to describe and time-consuming to make," she says, a special-occasion dish. To make it, a trip to a well-stocked Asian grocery is in order, to obtain ingredients such as krachai , a rhizome that faintly resembles ginger root; the Cambodian anchovy paste known as prahok ; and the subtly tart, green Thai plum leaves or mokak leaves, whose bright flavor is far preferable to the puckery sourness of lime juice in this dish.

Once home, there's chicken soup to prepare, then simmer with tilapia and ground seasonings. In the oversized mortar and pestle, Penh grinds the kroeung, the characteristic spice paste of lemon grass, krachai, and turmeric. She deftly wraps cooked vermicelli around her fingers to form tidy bundles for serving. The vegetable garnishes that complete the soup are sliced paper-thin, lending the dish a sublime delicacy. The soup is delightfully layered in flavors and textures, served with a sweet-spicy sauce made from peanuts and coconut milk.

In her bright, airy dining room, Taing has created a space that echoes the feel of the homeland she remembers perfectly but hasn't seen in nearly 30 years. "It's open, more like Cambodia, with lots of sun for the plants," she says. "I wanted it to be open, for my mom." And in here, her American born and bred daughter can also connect with her heritage. Will Shainlee carry on the family cooking tradition? "She's trying to learn," says her mother.
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