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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Vietnam joins Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand to boost rice exports

Vietnam will collaborate with Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand to raise the profile and quality of the region's rice exports.
A cooperation agreement to this effect was being considered by the five countries which belong to the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Co-operation Strategy (ACMECS), the Vietnamese trade ministry said.

The agreement would cover transfer of farming techniques and sharing of global market information to strengthen the region’s competitiveness.

Vietnam has already signed a similar agreement with Thailand, and the two countries plan to meet in Hanoi next month to discuss implementation of the accord.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, rice exports topped 1.8 million tons in the first five months fetching US$580 million, a year-on-year decline of 21 per cent and 8 per cent.

The ministry said the decline had been caused by logistical challenges, including difficulty in leasing ships, increase in freight charges, and bad weather which hindered the loading of rice bags onto ships for export.

This year Vietnam expects to export around 5 million tons, Thailand 8 million tons, Cambodia about 300,000 tons, and Myanmar around 100,000 tons.

The Philippines recently bought 280,000 tons of 25-per-cent broken rice from Vietnam at of $328.96-348.99 per ton to be delivered between June and August.

Source: VNA
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Cambodia detains foreigners over protest at donor meeting

Phnom Penh - Cambodian police said Tuesday they had detained at least five foreigners for distributing leaflets urging the release of two men convicted of the murder of a trade union leader during an annual donor meeting.

Daun Penh district police chief Phorn Pheng said at least five people he believed to hold foreign passports had been 'invited' to the Phnom Penh municipal police foreigner office but said he could not give details.

'We did invite five people go to the foreigner police office ... They were distributing leaflets outside a meeting while (Cambodian Prime Minister) Hun Sen spoke inside,' Pheng said.

He said he could not confirm local media reports which said that as many as eight foreigners were detained, including Americans, Canadians, a New Zealander, a Briton and a Scandinavian, but added that they were not expected to face serious charges.

'I don't know any more information, because they have been transferred from my department now, but I hope and would expect they will be free to go soon,' he said.

The two-day annual meeting of most of the aid dependent country's key donors is scheduled to conclude Wednesday, with donors tipped to meet or surpass the 601 million dollars pledged to Cambodia last year.

The foreigners were allegedly distributing leaflets demanding the release of two men convicted of the January 2004 murder of union leader Chea Vichea.

Under criticism by a number of donors, the 2005 convictions for the murder of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have been blasted by human rights groups including Amnesty International as a cover-up. There have been widespread demands for the men's case to be reopened.

The annual donor meeting comes in the wake of the government's recent banning of a negative logging report by London-based environmental group Global Witness and a highly critical report in Geneva last week by Yash Ghai, UN human rights envoy to the Cambodia.

On Saturday, New York-based Human Rights Watch demanded donors make Cambodia more accountable for how it uses aid, claiming human rights abuses and endemic corruption were still rampant despite billions in aid being poured into the country in the past decade.

The meeting comprises key bilateral donors to Cambodia including the US, Germany, Japan and South Korea, and the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank.
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Cambodia pleases donor countries with anti-corruption oaths

Cambodia here on Tuesday opened its annual donor countries' meeting, with its prime minister Hun Sen repeatedly vowing to fight corruption at any cost to safeguard these donors' confidence in his government.

"We have always fight corruption with concrete measures and the government is determined to adopt anti-corruption laws as soon as possible," he told more than 100 representatives of donor countries and NGOs and top governmental officials at the two-day First Cambodian Development Cooperation Forum (CDCF).

In addition, Hun Sen even promised to hand over his personal properties to the new government, if his Cambodian People's Party (CPP) fails to win the next general election, apparently in effort to counter the wide-spread allegations that the current CPP government is too corrupt to stay in power in 2008.

"CPP has already appointed me as premier candidate for the general election in 2008, and if CPP fails, I will sign to hand over the properties (of mine) and all the official documents to the new government," he said.

Hun Sen made these remarks at the forum for the Cambodian government, its development cooperation partners and the civil society to dialogue on public policy issues and the associated financing framework on medium term, namely the annual meeting for the donor countries to help the government offset its budget.

While official figures showed that the donors pledged 601 million U.S. dollars in aid for Cambodia in 2006, almost half of its government budget, the kingdom still cherished much higher expectation this year due to its confirmation of rich reserves of oil and natural gas.

However, in recent days, NGOs have verbally attacked the government for corruption, in order to provide tools for the deputies of 18 donor countries and five NGOs at CDCF to press for anti-corruption efforts and contain donations.

At Tuesday's forum, to appease the donors, Hun Sen described corruption as "cancer of the society" and vowed to fight it with real actions.

"Even we don't have anti-corruption law yet, we take strict actions to fight corrupt officials," he said, adding that the government has already established its committee to handle the work.

Recently, he said, seven government officials were punished over illegal logging, two arrested and put into jail for seizing private properties, one accused of conspiracy in state land grabbing and destroying forestry, one another accused of destroying natural resources and ruining the environment, and 11 others jailed over cutting forestry illegally in Ratanakiri province.

Meanwhile, the premier told the representatives that his party is set to win the next election, obviously trying to fuel their confidence in CPP and its continued governance.

According to the law, any political party who wins 50 percent of the votes at the National Assembly plus one more vote can establish the government, he said.

"Now Cambodia has about 60 political parties. If CPP wins the next general election, I will continue to lead the country as premier," he said.

The 50 percent plus one rule can guarantee that no more political deadlock will occur in Cambodia, he added.

Hun Sen has been country leader since 1985 and transformed Cambodia from a war-torn land into a kingdom with macro economic stability for over 10 years.

According to the government's report, between 1994 and 2006, the average annual economic growth rate of Cambodia was 9.8 percent. In 2005 and 2006, the rates respectively stood at 13.4 percent and 10.4 percent.

Source: Xinhua
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Cambodian PM returns after visit to Japan

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen returned Saturday from a visit to Japan, which was aimed to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

At the Phnom Penh international airport upon the arrival of Hun Sen, Secretary of State of Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Long Visalo told reporters that it was the first official visit for Hun Sen to Japan, which was from June 13 to 16.

Long Visalo said that during the visit, Cambodia and Japan signed an agreement to protect Japanese investors in Cambodia, adding that groups of Japanese entrepreneurs, investors and government officials will visit Cambodia next month in order to find chances for investment.

So far, the loans and grants from Japan to Cambodia are worth about 1,177 million U.S. dollars, he said.

Japan will also provide scholarships for 1,000 Cambodian students in the next 5 years, he added.

Hun Sen also requested the Japanese government to help Cambodia with several projects, including the National Road No.2 from Phnom Penh to Takeo province, the water irrigation system for Vay Ko river which will benefit the people in Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces, the expanding of Sihanoukville sea port, the creation of special economic zone in Sihanoukville, the electricity network from Phnom Penh to Kompong Cham and Kratie province, the water clean system in Siem Reap province and the Neak Loung bridge, Long Visalo said.

Japanese experts will come to study and construct these projects soon, he added.

Japan has been Cambodia's largest donor country for years, but lags behind other countries in the fields of investment and trade.

Source: Xinhua
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Cambodia asks foreign donors for more aid

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The Cambodian government opened a meeting with foreign donors Tuesday to ask for more aid, amid a barrage of criticism that it has reneged on promises to control rampant corruption.

Despite economic growth averaging 11.4 percent for the last three years, Cambodia remains one of the world's poorest countries and heavily reliant on foreign aid. Donors pledged US$601 million (€448 million) to the government last year.

It is not yet clear how much Cambodia will ask for during the two-day meeting that started Tuesday.

Human rights and environmental groups said the government keeps breaking its promises of reform, and that donors must get tougher with the government to ensure it meets its pledges.

"If their mission is to help Cambodia's long-suffering population, rather than just cozying up to its kleptocratic government, donors must start insisting on tangible actions to combat corruption and impunity," Simon Taylor, director of the Britain-based environmental group Global Witness, said in a statement Monday.

Early this month, his group issued a stinging report alleging tycoons, some senior officials and relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen were running illegal logging businesses. The government denied the allegations.

Yash Ghai, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for human rights in Cambodia, in a report this month, also blasted the government's land concessions.

He said many rural Cambodians were losing out on land which was being given to those with government connections, including for logging purposes.

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli has praised the government for realizing strong economic growth and "solid progress" in some health and legal areas.

But progress in other important areas, such as land-grabbing, the environment and good governance "is hampered by the systemic corruption we see in Cambodia today," he said Saturday.

Yet, the donors "are being taken for a ride" by the government, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director, said Saturday.

"Hun Sen continues to run circles around the donors, making the same empty promises every year and laughing all the way to the bank," he said.
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JSM plans Vietnam, Cambodia IPO

JSM Indochina Ltd, a company set up to invest in Vietnamese and Cambodian real estate, said on Tuesday it planned an initial public offering in London to raise between US$400 million and $600 million.

JSM, which is based in the Cayman Islands and focuses on the development and management of retail and serviced apartment assets, plans to sell up to 600 million shares at $1 each, targeting admission by the end of June, it said in a statement.

"JSM Indochina will give investors access to one of South East Asia´s fastest-growing economies and a developing property market," Chief Executive Craig Jones said in a statement.

"We believe that Vietnamese and Cambodian real estate fundamentals now offer extremely attractive opportunities for investors."

The offering comes as real estate firms in Europe face slowing property price rises and higher interest rates.

Last week, British hotel owner Vector Hospitality pulled a potentially record-breaking $4 billion IPO, and Spain´s Realia was forced to slash its offering price.

Jones, who plans to sell land in Vietnam and Cambodia worth around $35 million to JSM in exchange for shares, shrugged off concerns over potential lukewarm investor demand for property stocks.

"Investor demand for access to markets in Vietnam is quite strong ... We feel very comfortable with our $US400 to $US600 million raise. We think that is a result of strong investor demand globally," Jones said.

"There are very few international retailers there with exceptional (retail) parks... We see a number of retailers wanting to enter the market and we want to be there providing them with facilities."

The company, which will focus on HCM City and Hanoi areas, was in talks with retailers such as Parkson Retail Group for letting, Jones said.

Lehman Brothers is acting as bookrunner to the issue, and Evolution Securities is acting as nominated adviser.

The company will give Lehman Brothers an over-allotment option over ordinary shares of up to a maximum of 15%.
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