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Monday, May 14, 2007

King agrees to accept petition for royal pardon of Cambodian prince

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni has agreed to accept a petition from the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) for a royal pardon of its president with a jail term of 18 months, NRP official said on Saturday.

"This is a positive sign from the King for a royal pardon of Prince Norodom Ranariddh," NRP spokesman Muth Chanthan told Xinhua.

The King is expected to receive and send the petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen who should then consider a pardon of Ranariddh, he said, adding that the letter bears nearly 200,000 thumb-prints from the prince's supporters.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court in March sentenced Ranariddh in absentia to 18 months in jail for breach of trust over the sale of the co-ruling Funcinpec Party's headquarters in the capital.

Before and after the sentence was made, he has stayed overseas in order to shun trouble and embarrassment.

He was ousted as Funcinpec President in October 2006 for neglecting party affairs and being unable to cooperate with, and later established NRP.

According to law, Ranariddh can't re-start his political life unless he completes two-thirds of his term or receives a royal pardon from the King.

Ranariddh once served as First Prime Minister of the Cambodian government and President of the National Assembly of Cambodia.

Source: Xinhua
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Cambodia celebrates 54th birthday of King Sihamoni

Cambodia on Monday celebrated the 54th birthday of King Norodom Sihamoni with a three- day public holiday and various posters erected on main boulevards to highlight the monarch's image.

According to the government's notice, the public holiday ran from Monday to Wednesday all over the kingdom.

Meanwhile, huge posters of the King could be seen near the Independence Monument, and above the front gates of the Royal Palace, the National Assembly and some ministries.

Major newspapers on Monday published stories and many rarely- seen file photos of the monarch.

They also printed full pages of blessing and admiration from senior government officials and close friends of the King.

On Saturday, a diplomatic team from the Chinese Embassy met the King at the Royal Palace to wish him happy birthday.

Sihamoni was chosen as Cambodia's monarch by the nine-member Royal Council in October 2004, after his father, former king Norodom Sihanouk, announced abdication. He is the second king for the Kingdom of Cambodia in its 60 years strong of history.

Sihamoni was born on May 14, 1953, in Phnom Penh, as son of Sihanouk and former queen Monineath.

Source: Xinhua
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Land grabs leave thousands destitute in Cambodia's heartland

Land right advocate, turned back by corrupted police

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2007 (EST)
Tieng Khov has only enough food to feed his family for the next few weeks -- leftovers from last year's harvest that were brought in before the bulldozers came to plough under his crops.

CHHOUK VILLAGE, Cambodia (AFP) - The 46-year-old says he is tired, but the anger has not gone out of him; like hundreds of families in this farming community in southwestern Cambodia, he suddenly lost everything to the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company land concession that overtook his rice fields and orchard.

"We still have a surplus of crops from last year, but when that runs out, we will die," says Tieng Khov, who lost 17 hectares (42 acres) of land.

"They've killed the animals, they've threatened the people and they've stolen the land," he said.

Behind him the 9,700-hectare (24,000-acre) Koh Kong Sugar concession, one of the largest in Cambodia, stretches in an arc along the foot of some low hills, a vast gash of bare earth and smoking brush cuttings.

A moat has been dug around the border, and armed police stand guard, turning away the curious.

Koh Kong Sugar, one of at least 57 ventures awarded "economic land concessions" since 1992 under a plan to turn fallow fields into export crop plantations, is a glaring example of how Cambodia is being parcelled out to politically connected companies, land rights advocates said.

This "land grab," as the activists call it, has dispossessed tens of thousands and fuelled a growing anger at the government's disregard for its most vulnerable people, they said.

Most of those left homeless by land seizures are poor farmers or urban slum dwellers with little or no political leverage.

Only some are compensated for their losses and of those who do get money, few are paid anywhere near fair market value for land that is often re-sold for hundreds of dollars a square metre (yard).

"Almost no economic land concessions in Cambodia involve consultations with the residents in the communities," says one lawyer with the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC).

"We can see that land grabbing has increased every day -- evictions, conflicts between the poor and the rich taking their land," said the lawyer, who asked that his name not be used. Land right lawyer Seng Sokhim(L) talked with poor victims

Land records were largely destroyed by the communist Khmer Rouge, which forced most of Cambodia's population onto vast collective farms during their rule in the late 1970s.

In the chaos that followed the regime's overthrow in 1979, people simply occupied whatever land was available, and many remain where they settled at that time.

While Cambodia's 2001 land law allows people to keep land that they have worked for five years without dispute, few have obtained full title.

As land values rise sharply, they are falling prey to those with the money to buy up as much property as possible and the power to flout land rights legislation.

"The government created many institutions to resolve these problems. But none of these institutions work," CLEC's lawyer says.

Some have tried to fight these seizures in court, but few have any trust in Cambodia's notoriously inept judiciary.

"We filed papers already to sue the company, but frankly there is no action. The courts are very corrupt -- I have no idea what the outcome will be," said Tieng Khov.

More often, farmers and villagers are forced to directly confront those taking away their farms, sometimes with disastrous results.

When the Koh Kong Sugar bulldozers came to tear up their farms, all the villagers here could do was shout, said Sim Men

"It did no good. We stood and yelled but then armed police came down," the 25-year-old says. "I was visited by armed men and told to sell my land."

Since then, any cattle or buffalo caught wandering onto company land have been shot and their owners fined as much as 100 dollars for the "infraction," she said.

"I used to hear the sound of guns and I was very scared," she said, explaining that her family of six used to be able to survive on the 250 dollars they earned each year from their cashew and mango farms.

"I hear the company is coming to take my home -- right now I am in limbo," she said as she sat near the deep ditch that now keeps her from her old farm.

Guards working for Koh Kong Sugar had also opened fire last year on a crowd of villagers trying to stop the bulldozers, wounding several in the legs, said Tieng Khov.

Cambodian senator Ly Yong Phat, who owns Koh Kong Sugar, conceded that guards had acted too forcibly.

"I do not know why they opened fire," he told AFP. "We told the company to avoid this kind of problem again."

While he said "we cannot give the land back," Ly Yong Phat explained the company had set up a committee to try and deal with the farmers' complaints.

"But I don't know how much progress they have made so far," he said.

Land disputes elsewhere have been worse. The eviction of thousands of Cambodians from a slum in the capital Phnom Penh last June sparked riots, and a standoff in the northwestern border town of Poipet ended in the deaths of at least six people in 2005.

Rights groups say they received more than 100 land rights complaints last year alone.

The rising violence has alarmed international observers and the government alike.

UN envoys have repeatedly said that land disputes would destabilise the fragile country, while Hun Sen, who earlier warned of a "farmers' revolution" over land grabbing, has vowed to punish officials involved in illegal land deals.

But critics say the prime minister is merely paying lip service to the issue -- only two officials so far have been forced to relinquish land -- and that more concrete steps are needed before the government's steps against land grabbing are taken seriously.

"The government itself has recognised the ill effects of concessions, so they need to take immediate action to stop granting them," said CLEC's lawyer.

But even a suspension of concessions would do little for people like those in Chhouk and surrounding villages who have been left destitute by Koh Kong Sugar.

"Hun Sen does not know the real situation -- I'd like to ask him to come down and see the true situation for himself," said Tieng Khov.

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Vietnamese businesses get a little Seoul

by Le Hung Vong

Major foreign companies have been visiting Viet Nam for years, but now major Vietnamese companies have begun to seek opportunities abroad.

A delegation led by deputy PM Nguyen Sinh Hung with representatives of 100 companies will visit South Korea from May 21 to 24 during the Viet Nam Days in South Korea to be held by the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI).

The delegation includes representatives of major companies in the oil and gas, telecommunications, coal and mineral, and shipbuilding sectors. They aim to attract direct and indirect investment from South Korea to Viet Nam.

VCCI general secretary, Pham Gia Tuc, said Korean and Vietnamese security companies were expected to sign significant new agreements during the trip.

So far Viet Nam has suffered a deficit in two-way trade with South Korea. According to figures from the Ministry of Trade, in 2005 Viet Nam’s exports to South Korea totalled US$0.7 billion while its imports from RoK amounted to $3.43 billion. Tuc said these imports from South Korea included equipment and materials for production lines in Viet Nam that specialise in exports.

By the end of 2006, Viet Nam had licensed 1,263 FDI projects with a total investment of $7.8 billion by Korean companies. In 2006 alone, Korean companies were licensed for 203 projects capitalised at $2.4 billion.

Eye on Cambodia

Facing competition in the do-mestic market, some companies in HCM City have begun to look into the neighbouring market of Cambodia.

The Dong Thien Joint Stock Co, for example, has ceased its operation in Viet Nam to focus on a sand-exploitation project in Cambodia. It has set up a branch in Cambodia that will open in June.

The assistant to Dong Thien’s general director, Nguyen Phuc Son, said that the VND20 billion ($1.25 million) sand-exploitation project in Cambodia was the company’s biggest project to date.
Twenty-seven Vietnamese companies have opened branches and representative offices and invested in projects in Cambodia. The main fields of investment are health, agriculture, transport, telecoms, and hydropower production.

The Ministry of Planning and Inestment recently licenced the Si Gon Trade Corp (Satra) to form a joint-venture with the Sokimex Group to build major plants to process cashews and seafood, and to breed cows as well as construct a supermarket in Cambodia.

Four travel companies, the Sai Gon Mekong Joint-Stock Co, Saigontourist, Cho Lon Tourist and Fiditour, have cooperated with Cambodian partners to bring tourists from HCM City to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap by land, air and water.

The $10.5 million Cho Ray-Phnom Penh hospital project is also underway, in which the Sai Gon Health Investment Joint-Stock Co. is contributing two-thirds of the capital and Cambodian partners the remaining amount.

However, investment in Cambodia still faces difficulties. For example, a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) project to build a road from Phnom Penh to Cambodia’s international airport was cancelled at the last minute because of several problems, including site clearance. It was invested in by a joint-venture between the Viet Nga Infrastructure Investment Joint-Stock Co. and the Cambodian Mong Rethy Group.

Nguyen Van Hung, representative of a Dong Nai-based company that has a rubber plantation in Cambodia, said the company had to abandon the project because of site clearance problems.

Deputy director of the Tay Ninh Department of Planning and Investment, Tran Luu Quang, said companies investing in Cambodia also faced problems caused by Vietnamese authorities. He added that many companies in Tay Ninh wanted to grow cashews and cassavas in Cambodia but when they imported these products to Viet Nam they encountered problems at customs.

"Because of the high import tax rates and no preferential policies, many companies become discouraged and leave their projects unfinished," said Quang.

Japanese group plans resort

The Central Highlands prov- ince of Lam Dong has given the nod to a Japanese consortium to invest 100 billion yen ($831.4 million) in a luxury resort complex.

The Para Plan Joint-Stock Co, which includes four Japanese companies, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Limtec, plans to build the Dankia-Suoi Vang (Gold Stream) resort complex on a 5,100-ha area in Lac Duong District, some 22 km from the city of Da Lat.

The Japanese investors plan to turn the area outside Da Lat into an attractive urban town and a larg-scale complex of high-class resorts dubbed "Romantic Town"

However, the provincial authority has warned that if the consortium failed to submit its investment application after six months, the project would be taken off the table.

Lam Dong People’s Committee revealed that a French group proposed a 2 billion euro project for Dan Kia-Suoi Vang. But Chairman Huynh Duc Hoa said the province would wait to hear from the four Japanese groups who have pursued the project over the past three years.

Sun Wah looks skyward

The Hong Kong-based Sun Wah group is seeking a prime location for a second high-rise building in HCM City as part of its plan to expand business in Viet Nam, the group president said last week.

After his meeting with Le Hoang Quan, chairman of HCM City People’s Committee, Sun Wah President Jonathan Choi Koon-shum said Sun Wah planned to build another high-rise because the current one is fully occupied.

Sun Wah is currently the owner of the Sun Wah Tower in HCM City, and is also the developer of the $400 million Sai Gon Pearl residential-commercial complex. It is a key shareholder in the VinaCapital Investment Fund.

Choi said the company was seeking to hire consultants to list on the Vietnamese stock market this year. The group was also keen on investing in the new urban area of Thu Thiem in District 2 as well as a software park.

He said the group was also planning to build an industrial park and an eco-tourism complex in Ha Noi and Vinh Phuc Province.

Sun Wah Group, established in 1957, is a diversified conglomerate with businesses in areas related to seafood and foodstuffs, real estate, financial services, infrastructure, technology and media. The group began activities in Viet Nam in 1970.

Steel production slows

Imports of China-made steel have resulted in a sharp decline of steel production and consumption in the local market this year. According to figures from the Vietnamese Steel Manufacturers Association, the country’s steel production in April amounted to 248,979 tonnes, a decrease of 3 per cent compared with March and a year-on-year decrease of 14 per cent.

In the first four months of 2007, the association’s members produced 916,692 tonnes, an increase of 5.53 per cent compared with the same period last year. Consumption, however, decreased by 9.26 per cent over 2007.

Members such as Hoa Phat and Pomina had to halt their roll-steel production lines while others, such as Viet-Han and Vinakyoei, reduced their production by half because their products were less competitive than those imported from China.

Meanwhile, steel consumption in the local market was on the rise in April, amounting to 300,000 tonnes a month. According to the association, due to the pressure from ASEAN members and other countries, the Chinese Government abolished the refunding of the 8 per cent Value-Added Tax (VAT) on exported steel products from April 15, resulting in higher prices of exported steel from China, estimated at $35 or VND500,000 per tonne.

The association also said they would propose appropriate measures to defend their members’ production. — VNS
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Pisei Chea: Communication, Chemistry and Music

Senior Stories: Our Intriguing Seniors of 2007

Pisei Chea's passion for Cambodia was intensified by "Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors" by Dirth Pran. She picked it up during her freshman year, and its impact on her was so great that four years later, she decided to write a rhetorical analysis about the novel as her senior communication thesis.

Chea, who is applying for fellowships to go to Cambodia and is an alternate for a Fulbright Scholarship, presented her senior thesis at two conferences: the 33rd Annual DePauw Undergraduate Honors Conference in March and The Theodore Clevenger Undergraduate Honors Conference last month.

Chea, 21, also has a personal connection to Cambodia as her parents are natives of the country. Although she has never been and her family hasn't visited Cambodia in the last 40 years, the Southeast Asian nation has a large influence on her life. After learning so much about the country and making it a part of her communication thesis, she plans to step on Cambodian soil for the first time in September, she said.

"I want to be able to do something about one of the biggest problems there: land mines and victims," Chea said.

Chea's other passion is community service. She has always been dedicated to helping others and finds that community service is one of her natural instincts. She is the president of Circle K, a community service organization at GW, and has been doing community service for most of her life, she said.

"Doing community service, I believe, brings a lot more to the person that's serving than the person that's being helped out," Chea said. "What keeps me going from week to week is the satisfaction it brings, or one more smile on another person's face or even inspiring others to do the same."

During her sophomore year, she combined her two passions and volunteered with the Cambodia Fund. She helped fundraise for land mine relief by selling highly valued paintings.

Before I volunteered there, they had sold about three of the prints," Chea said. "And by the time I was done, we had sold 10. It was such a unique experience."

Her passion for community service was rejuvenated during her internship at Discovery Communications, when she heard the former CEO Judith McHale speak at a luncheon. Chea distinctly remembers McHale's words: "We have to close the gap between what we do and what we know," Chea recalled.

"It struck me that that's exactly what needs to be done, and I realized that what she said made me want to close that gap," Chea said.

Eventually Chea wants to be able to take her passions to a creative level, relating it back to her communication major. She said she may go back to Discovery Communications or make her own documentaries about pressing global and social issues.

Chea is graduating from GW with magna cum laude honors. She is a member of multiple honor societies including Golden Key International Honor Society and Lambda Pi Eta, the national communication studies honors society.
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Journalist who became a chronicler for modern Asia

SYDNEY: Through wars, disasters and coups, foreign correspondent Kate Webb chronicled the turbulent birth of modern Asia, becoming a media legend who had the eerie experience of reading her own obituary.

Webb, who died yesterday at 64 after battling cancer, covered many of Asia’s seminal events of the last four decades with a keen eye for the real story and a rare empathy for the innocent victims of history.

In 1971, she became caught up in the turbulence herself when she was ambushed and taken prisoner by North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia.

She and five others were marched through the jungle in a 23-day ordeal during which she was reported killed, earning a front-page obituary in the New York Times.

“It was strange and embarrassing to see that,” said the soft-spoken Webb shortly before her death in Australia, her adopted homeland where she launched her journalism career in the early 1960s and retired nearly 40 years later.

She and the other captives were freed just as her family held a memorial service for her in Sydney.

The body of a young woman, found near the spot where she vanished during a firefight, had been wrongly identified as hers.

“It caused a bit of a stir at home,” Webb recalled a few years ago, her trademark beer and cigarette firmly in hand.

Her legend was minted in Vietnam, where she was one of only a few women to cover the war full-time and where her courage and reputation as a stickler for the facts earned her the unwavering respect of colleagues.

“Kate Webb was one of the earliest - and best - women correspondents of the Vietnam war,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Peter Arnett. “She was fearless as an action reporter, with a talent for the vivid phrase.”

Webb’s knack for being in hotspots at the right time, a fearsome wrath and her colourful bar-room antics became the stuff of folklore among fellow Asia hands who made their mark in the pre-Internet era.

Armed only with a notebook and typewriter, Webb covered the fall of Saigon in 1975, the rise of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, the assassination of India’s premier Rajiv Gandhi and the strife in East Timor.

She was also on hand for the ‘People Power’ ouster of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, the Gulf War, the Soviet occupation and ensuing civil war in Afghanistan, the death of North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in 1994 and Hong Kong’s handover to China.

“She was a pioneer for female reporters and a role model for all foreign correspondents. She was one of the legends,” said veteran AFP journalist Chris Lefkow, who covered the 1991 Gulf War with her.

Modest and intensely private, Webb chose the anonymity of wire journalism over other media.

Quietly probing, shy, tough, vulnerable, blunt, pithily funny and terrifying to those who crossed her, she preferred to tell the stories of ordinary people whose voices would not otherwise be heard.

“She was a classic war correspondent - chain-smoking, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed at times and always fearless,” said AFP’s Roberto Coloma, a long-time friend.

“But beneath that hard exterior was a tender, caring person. Kate always had a soft spot for the underdog.”

Webb was born in New Zealand in 1943 and moved to Australia at the age of eight when her father became a professor of political science in Canberra.

Death first shook Webb’s life when her parents were killed in a car crash when she was 18.

After studying philosophy at Melbourne University, she wanted to become an artist. Webb stumbled into journalism when she was forced to pay for a stained-glass window she shattered while working on it.

She landed a job as a secretary on Sydney’s Daily Mirror and soon became a cadet reporter.

At 23, she resigned, paid her own way to Saigon and wrangled a job as a freelancer for the United Press International wire service, where she would work for about 13 years.

Kitted out in khaki, the slight brunette covered two of the biggest battles of the war, including the 1968 Tet offensive, and witnessed much horror that would stay with her throughout her life.

In 1970, she became bureau chief in Phnom Penh after her boss and their photographer were killed.

After her captivity in 1971, which left her with two types of malaria that nearly killed her, Webb saw out the end of the Vietnam War, filing ceaselessly for 24 hours as the last Americans fled falling Saigon.

She joined AFP in Jakarta in 1985 and remained with the agency for 16 years, serving in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, South Korea and Afghanistan.
She also undertook emergency assignments to other Asian nations until her retirement in 2001.

It was in Afghanistan, a country for which she held a special affection, that she had some of her closest shaves.

A furious militiaman turned on Webb following a rocket attack outside the Kabul Hotel and almost scalped her when he dragged her up the stairs by her long hair, tearing out a large clump. She escaped and spent much of the night hiding on a freezing balcony.

Webb later befriended an Afghan family that helped her out of another tight corner and helped them migrate to Australia, where she put the children through university.
She played down such characteristic generosity by saying people had given her big breaks and she was simply trying to reciprocate.

“She always felt closer to local people than to foreign journalists and operated in the nether parts of town where the cameras were not,” said Reuters correspondent Bill Tarrant, a friendly rival of Webb’s in Indonesia, India, Afghanistan and South Korea.

“She was one of a kind - formidable, irascible, self-deprecating and sometimes even insulting. She was an Annie Oakley type,” he said.

At the end, through the veil of pain that cancer brought, Webb was uncomplaining and remained fiercely witty.

When a nurse found her outside the hospital having a quiet cigarette and chided her with a warning that smoking was bad for her, Webb shot back cheerily: “Too late!” – AFP.
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