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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bush speech doesn't tell full story on Cambodia

President Bush's VFW speech was full of untruths and half-truths about Vietnam.

The killing fields he refers to came about due to the CIA-sponsored deposing of the Cambodian government of Prince Sihanouk in 1970, after the prince declared Cambodia neutral during the Vietnam War.

It is estimated 800,000 Cambodians were killed by the bombs dropped from B-52 bombers on Cambodia. Estimates of those killed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are over 1.7 million.

Ironically, it was Vietnam that in 1978 invaded Cambodia and finally deposed the murderous regime of Pol Pot.

The Vietnamese have commented on Bush's speech and say that America would never have prevailed there because the Vietnamese were fighting for their own country.

The Republican-friendly media fails to point out the inaccuracies in Bush's speeches or the fact that he cleverly injects 9/11 every time he mentions Iraq, as if Iraq had made the 9/11 attack, which of course, Iraq did not.

The media also doesn't report that the only people allowed within eyesight of Bush at these events are meticulously screened to ensure Bush will have no protesters.

It is not reported that his press conferences are not really press conferences, but are only scripted events, with the Bush people providing the questions.

The media in this country is mostly Republican-friendly, and Democrat-critical, which makes it very difficult for Democrats to get fair treatment in the media.

I feel that citizens should not only work to make sure a Democrat occupies the White House in '08, but also work to turn out of office all of the congressmen that shirked their oversight duties, and allowed the Iraq tragedy to happen
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PAEDOPHILE TO ESCAPE JUSTICE ON THE RUN IN CAMBODIA

By Pual Bull

A Paedophile who is on the run from police in Derby remains at large abroad because British authorities have no powers to extradite him.

Former special constable Ian Bower, who lived in Ilkeston, has even faced fresh child sex charges while on the run in Cambodia, where he has been teaching English to youngsters.

But because the UK does not have an extradition agreement with the country, he has been allowed to stay in Cambodia after being cleared of the latest counts against him.

The pervert, who was sentenced in September 2004 to three years and nine months for offences against children and downloading child pornography in the UK, fled a Derby bail hostel in February last year.

Derbyshire police said he would be arrested if he ever returned to the UK because his decision to leave meant he was in breach of the terms of his prison release conditions.

The 42-year-old was arrested in Cambodia in January, on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh, on suspicion of debauchery, which is the Cambodian legal term for sexual offences against children.

After being held in custody for several months, Bower was finally cleared at the end of June of abusing two boys, aged 12 and 14.

The Evening Telegraph understands that Bower, who was placed on the Sex Offenders' Register in the UK, has decided to stay in Cambodia, which will make it impossible for British police to catch him unless he is deported.

A Derbyshire police spokesman confirmed Bower was "wanted" for recall to prison for breaching his licence.

He said: "If he comes back to the UK, he will be arrested for that reason.

"With there being no formal process in place [between the UK and Cambodia], we can't force him to come back to this country."

Bower, who used to live in Ilkeston but whose last UK address was in Bramcote, Nottingham, was sentenced in 2004 for two counts of indecent assault on a male and two counts of gross indecency with a child.

He was also convicted of downloading scores of indecent images of children being sexually abused.

At his trial in 2004, the court heard that Bower had spent hours on his computer in a loft conversion office after moving in with his then girlfriend and her two children at their home in Derbyshire Drive, Ilkeston, in 1999.

The couple separated in July 2002 and police became involved in October of that year when they examined a computer found at Bower's mother's address.

They found 38 indecent images of children under the age of 16 and two films containing images of boys performing sexual acts.

Ninety one images of children were found to have been deleted from the computer but were recovered by the Computer Crime Investigation Unit.

Bower was eventually released on licence from prison on condition that he resided at the Burdett Lodge bail hostel in Bass Street, Derby.

But he went missing in February last year and, when he was arrested in Cambodia, it was discovered he had been teaching English to children in the country since April 2006.

Both the Prison Service and the Probation Service monitor an offender's release into the community.

The Probation Service has said that travel abroad is prohibited under standard licence conditions.

The Home Office has also said that sex offenders who are subject to notification requirements must tell police if they intend to travel abroad for more than three days.

A spokeswoman for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, which acts as a focal point in tackling child abuse and monitors offenders abroad, said: "We do talk with authorities in Cambodia and non-government organisations.

"We would desire to get any individual that has gone missing from their registration back to the UK, where they can be managed appropriately within the community."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have been asked by this individual not to discuss his case publicly and we will abide by his wishes."

An official at the Royal Embassy of Cambodia, in London, declined to comment.

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Interview: Cambodia's Rising Star Keo Sokngon

Lethal with both feet, Keo Sokngon is the captain of the Cambodian national Under-17 team where his hard work has proven to be inspiration to his team. And while the goals might not have been free-flowing as he would have liked, there is no doubt that striker Sokngon is the rising star of Cambodian football

Tell us a little bit about where you are from?

I was born in Kratie province which is located some 300km away from the capital city of Phnom Penh. And from there I started to play football first with the schools before I was spotted to play here in the city.

How old were you when you first started playing football?

I was six-years-old then and the reason why I chose football was because of all the games which I've played, I love football the most.

Your first team?

Roka Kandal School. I've never played for the national age-group teams for Cambodia before. This Under-17 team is my first national team assignment in an international competition.

Who do you play for at the moment?

Previously, I played for the Kratie Province Football club – before they changed the name to Moha Garuda FC - I've been with them since I was 15-years-old. The team is currently playing in the Cambodian Second League where we are all looking forward to playing in the higher Cambodian Premier League in 2008.

How many goals have you scored for Moha Garuda FC? A: I've scored 18 goals from 13 matches. Q: Have you always played as a striker?

Always – I like to score goals and of course, I've been told that it is my natural position.

Who do you fashioned your playing style after?

Thierry Henry. I feel that we have a similar built and I like the way he moves forward.

What do you think of Cambodian football at the moment?

Cambodian football is developing. The level is higher than before. So there is a lot of excitement for the future. The football management currently (in the Football Federation of Cambodia) is working very hard for the game to grow further and in the right direction.

Do you harbour any thoughts of playing abroad some day?

Of course – it is the ambition of any footballer to hone their skills to the highest level. I would like to change clubs to get more experience and high level competition. But more that importantly, I would like to join clubs with good coaches.

Where do you think you would like to go?

Vietnam for the V-League. The standard is higher than it is in Cambodia. Perhaps given the opportunity, I hope to play for Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) some day.

Now that you part of the Cambodian national Under-17 team, do you have any intention of playing for the senior Cambodian national team?

Of course, I would like to be part of the Cambodian national team for the Asean Football Championship qualifiers next year. I don't think that it will be hard to fit in though because the older players in the team will guide me through.

What do you think of Cambodia's chances for the qualifiers of the Asean Football Championship next year?

It will not be easy for sure but I believe that we can be competitive.

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THRIVING DENS

The number of Thais crossing to Poipet has increased under this government, to 3,000 a day. Most go to gamble

STORIES BY NAOWARAT SUKSAMRAN, PHOTOS BY TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD, SA KAEO

Casinos are doing a thriving business in the border town of Poipet in Cambodia.

Each day, 3,000 Thais enter Cambodia through the Klong Luek-Poipet checkpoint in Aranyaprathet district. The daily figure shoots up to almost 10,000 during the long holiday period.

The above figures only include passport-holders, as Sa Kaeo residents can seek border passes to enter the neighbouring country.

Over 80% of Thai holiday-makers entering Cambodia through the checkpoint end up in casinos. The rest either head for Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.

Cambodian casinos opposite Sa Kaeo are the most popular destinations for Thai gamblers as they can be easily reached.

Immigration officer Pol Lt-Col Sompong Kaenchan said the number of gamblers dropped dramatically during the previous administration when the Thai border authorities were ordered to tighten border crossing regulations and told to install closed-circuit cameras at the checkpoints.

The same government flirted with the idea of legalising gambling, to stop the flow of money across the border to Cambodia.

Business picked up after the easing of regulations to facilitate visitors who are now only required to show their passport to gain entry.

One gambler said the casinos in Cambodia are a boon for Thai gamblers.

"Whenever police step up raids on gambling dens in Bangkok, gamblers flock to border casinos," he said.

Eu-ee, a travel agent, said casino operators provide gamblers with free transportation. Every morning, double-decker buses await gamblers at Lumpini park and some major department stores.

Gamblers travelling in a group can ask for a pick-up at a designated location in Bangkok or nearby provinces, such as Saraburi, Nakhon Ratchasima and Nakhon Pathom.

Any gambler ordering gambling chips worth 10,000 baht or more at any of the casinos is entitled to a free ride, free food as well as free accommodation.

The ride can cost you 100 baht if you have to pay out of your own pocket, he said.

Serm Chantapan, chief of Ta Yak tambon organisation administration, said some local people have made a fortune providing transportation for the gamblers. However, when many tried their luck at the gambling tables they ended up losing even their vehicles.

The TAO chief said he has time and again tried to discourage Sa Kaeo people from gambling through all sorts of measures. Teachers are told to regularly lecture their pupils in school on what harm gambling could bring to the family so that they could get the message across to their parents.

"The casinos are no good to our economy as the social impact is immense, not only on our community, but the whole country," Mr Serm said.

The hope of making a quick fortune has also kept the locals away from hard work. "Betting pays off better than selling vegetables and fish in a market," one vendor said.

She pointed out many vendors crossed the border to play slot machines and pocketed 300-500 baht a day, much higher than the daily earnings of 100-200 baht they generally make in a market.

Such a mindset has given business operators in the province a headache.

Ratri Saengrungruang, who runs a tour agency, said besides the labour shortage, job-hopping was another problem as many prefer to spend their time in a casino where they can earn big tips.

It is no secret that Thai politicians own many gambling dens in neighbouring countries, where they can make lavish income and also launder their ill-gotten gains.

"Politicians-turned-casino owners enjoy privilege. They need not step out of their car for customs clearance, especially after the closed-circuit cameras were installed, as the images were also relayed to the Prime Minister's Office," a source said.

A veteran politician, whose business at the Golden Triangle went down, now runs two casinos in Poipet. Among Thai casino operators are an oil trader and a steel importer, said the source. "Casino earnings are their accumulated capital, and part of the earnings will be injected into the upcoming election," said the source. According to a report published in a Cambodian daily, US$16 million in tax went into Cambodian government coffers last year from 24 legal casinos on the Thai-Cambodian border.

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Thai traders in border dispute

Chanthaburi _ Cross-border traders in Chanthaburi sought help from provincial authorities yesterday after local Cambodian officials reportedly banned Thai trucks from going any further than 500 metres across the border to pick up produce for sale. The ban has caused perishable goods to be left stranded at the border, local Thai traders said.

About 40 crop traders from Soi Dao district yesterday petitioned Chanthaburi Governor Panus Kaewlai for help after Cambodian authorities in Battambang province reportedly imposed restrictions on Thai trucks crossing into Cambodia.

Trucks were not allowed to travel more than 500 metres over the border, they said. The traders complained they could not pick up produce that they had already paid for, which will rot if it is not collected in the next few days.

Sombat Juengtrakul, chairman of the cross-border traders group in Soi Dao district, said no trucks from the Thai border had entered Cambodia since the ban was imposed.

Cambodian authorities reportedly claimed right-hand drive vehicles were not allowed in Cambodia and that therefore, Thai trucks were refused entry.

Mr Sombat said some Thai farmers who planted crops on rented plots in Cambodia also suffered losses as they could not transport their crops back across the Thai border.

It is the fifth time that such a ban has been imposed this year, he said.

Lertla Nakhaket, chief of Chanthaburi commerce association, said local authorities would hold urgent talks with Battambang officials to find a solution.



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The rise and rise of a Cambodian capitalist

By Shawn W Crispin

PHNOM PENH – Kith Meng's is the bold new face of Cambodian capitalism. Widely considered the country's richest entrepreneur, the Sino-Khmer businessman presides over a sprawling business empire held under his Royal Group of Companies which has leveraged into and helped drive Cambodia's recent economic boom.

With impeccable political connections - including not least his role as a personal advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen - Kith Meng, 37, has secured a growing trove of lucrative government
concessions, licenses and land deals that his Royal Group has in sometimes controversial fashion translated into big business profits.

Those include his controlling stakes in CTN television, mobile telecom leader Mobitel, the Camlot lottery company and a 45% stake in a commercial banking joint venture with Australia's ANZ Bank, where he serves as board chairman and reportedly drives strategic decision-making.
Last year he purchased the swanky Cambodiana Hotel, newly established the Infinity Insurance company and accumulated extensive property holdings and development concessions in the capital Phnom Penh, in what his critics contend are often opaque deals brokered with various line ministries. (Kith Meng could not be reached through his Royal Group for comment.)

His growing service sector empire has drawn both favorable and unfavorable comparisons to neighboring Thailand's telecom tycoon-cum-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's commercial and political ascent. He reportedly will seek a seat on the national senate at upcoming elections and some Phnom Penh-based analysts see him one day as a potential successor to the 55-year-old Hun Sen, who they note rose to political prominence through his military prowess rather than business acumen.

A former refugee from political violence, Kith Meng's is one of Cambodia's most compelling rags to riches stories. His father, Kith Peng Ike, a Sino-Khmer businessman and landlord, was singled out as a "class enemy" during the Khmer Rouge's genocidal purges and he reportedly died from starvation in one of the radical Maoist group's labor camps.

Kith Meng and his family fled the country for Australia, where he was raised and educated. He returned to his war-torn homeland in the early 1990s to help his elder brother, Sophan Kith, to develop the resurrected family business, which upon reestablishment was first known as the Royal Cambodia Company. The enterprise started modestly, supplying furniture, food and office equipment to the United Nations authority that ushered Cambodia's rocky transition from civil war to parliamentary democracy.

In 1991 the Royal Group won the rights to distribute exclusively Canon copiers throughout the country and it quickly spun those monopoly revenues into a joint venture in 1993 with Motorola to establish one of Cambodia's first wireless communication networks. It later did a deal with Luxembourg's Millicom International Cellular, which over the years has grown into the country's leading mobile telecom outfit, Mobitel.

In 1994 Sophan Kith died under mysterious circumstances and, peculiar to cultural norms of seniority as the youngest sibling, Kith Meng took control over the family business. He now serves as both the company's chairman and chief executive officer and his cut-throat approach to business expansion has rapidly transformed the Royal Group into Cambodia's leading service sector conglomerate.

Young gun
As a Western-educated, 37-year-old entrepreneur, Kith Meng's resume stands out among the older generation of ethnic Chinese businessmen who dominate Cambodia's traditional economy. Cambodian politicians have long relied on Sino-Khmer businessmen to run crucial sectors of the national economy, similar to the ethnic-based government-business nexuses seen in Thailand and Indonesia.

In Cambodia that privilege comes with a royal title known as Okhna, which is bestowed on those who make sizable financial contributions to the royal family. Kith Meng is believed to be one of the youngest businessmen to ever receive the honorific and his meteoric commercial rise includes his recent selection as the head the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce.

As Cambodia becomes more integrated into the global economy, Kith Meng has emerged as the government's de facto spokesman for selling the country to potential foreign investors as a profitable and desirable place to do business. He is regularly seen on local television wining and dining foreign business delegations. On the Royal Group's website is a pitch to potential foreign investors to help build its proposed Royal Caesar Casino, which it's billing as "the largest and most dazzling gaming facility in the Cambodia hemisphere".

Beyond the diplomacy and hype, there is much more at play to Kith Meng's growing prominence than mere spin-doctoring. Some political analysts contend that Hun Sen has played an instrumental role in cultivating and mobilizing the young entrepreneur's modern business image in a vigorous public relations effort to shirk his and his government's notorious reputation as the "Mafia on the Mekong".

Cambodia emerged from nearly three decades of civil war only to become known as a regional hub for illicit business, including rampant money laundering, drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal logging. Hun Sen and his Cambodia People's Party's (CPP) have been directly linked to shadowy figures reputedly involved in illicit businesses, including his established ties to businessman Theng Bunma, who has contributed millions of dollars to the premier's past election campaigns and also implicated by US authorities for alleged drug trafficking.

As Cambodia's aboveground economy booms, state concessions are no doubt providing rich new sources of legitimate revenues for Hun Sen's government. It is unknown whether Kith Meng contributes funds directly to his CPP, but his concession payments to line ministries are no doubt bolstering state coffers. One Phnom Penh-based Western businessman who spoke on condition of anonymity and claims to have personally conducted the due diligence research on the Royal Group's recent joint venture with Australia's ANZ Bank says that his in-depth investigations failed to turn up any "dirty laundry" in Kith Meng's past or present business dealings.

Reborn landed gentry
That's not to say his business practices lack for controversy. Kith Meng's style has reportedly ruffled feathers among the more established Okhna represented in the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, whereby the older generation of Sino-Khmer businessmen have bristled at his perceived patronizing lectures about globalization and at what some of them reportedly view as his overly direct Western-style of interaction.

Whether those complaints stem from genuine pique or instead heartfelt fear of Kith Meng's expanding reach into other Okhna's once monopolized markets is unclear. One Western aid agency representative, who spoke with Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, says that soon after launching last year’s joint venture with ANZ Bank, Kith Meng pushed to expand the bank's local branch network much faster than ANZ first planned. That aggressive strategy, it turns, has paid off handsomely through a fast growing market share of deposits and the lion's share of loans in the nascent home mortgage market.

Other times, critics say, Kith Meng's Royal Group pushes too hard. In June 2006 police armed with batons, tear gas and AK47 assault rifles evicted at least 20 families from a contested land plot worth several million dollars next to Phnom Penh's Preah Monivong Hospital which the government had controversially awarded to the Royal Group for development. The resident families were reportedly given US$500-$1,500 in compensation and trucked to a relocation site 30 kilometers outside the capital which lacked electricity and water.

Similar complaints have arisen from his plans for the landmark Bassac Theater. In 2005, the culture ministry granted the concession, which called on the Royal Group to rehabilitate the damaged structure in exchange for the rights to outfit the theater's surrounding land with new offices and a conference center. The company has since decided to demolish the historic building and evict the scores of artists who after the Khmer Rouge's "class enemy" purges took refuge in the old theater.

Those same artists have resurrected the traditional Khmer art forms that the Maoist movement aimed to destroy and after squatting at the historic site for over a decade, each has received $300 to abandon an area where land prices now top $1,000 per square meter. The irony of such deals is not lost on Kith Meng's critics, who contend that the Royal Group is capitalizing on the legal vacuum for adjudicating land ownership rights created by the Khmer Rouge's destruction of the national land registries.

On the Royal Group's website, Kith Meng says in a statement that the company's origins trace "back to the early days of the Khmer Rouge occupation" – meaning, presumably, the property and businesses his father maintained before the radical Maoist movement killed him and drove his family, including a young Kith Meng, into exile. In Cambodia's latest capitalist incarnation, government connections often trump historical claims and reassert old social class divisions, of which Kith Meng's and the Royal Group's fast expanding commercial domain is living proof.

Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor.
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1.5 mln child workers exploited in Cambodia: rights group


PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Some 1.5 million Cambodians under the age of 14 are being forced to work, often in hazardous conditions, a prominent rights group said Thursday at the start of a campaign to combat child labour.

"The reality of poverty is that it is indiscriminate and affects not only adults but also children," the group Licadho said in a statement.

"This sadly forces many young children to engage in domestic and manual labour to support their families, with a large proportion working under severe conditions."

Nearly 90 percent of child labourers in Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries, work as unpaid help for their families, according to the World Bank.

About 250,000 of them work in seven of the 16 sectors nationally recognised as hazardous, which include begging, waste scavenging, factory work or mining, the bank says.

Both the World Bank and rights groups have urged tougher legislation that would curb such practices.

Following years of civil unrest and government mismanagement, Cambodia remains mired in poverty, with 35 percent of its 14 million people living on less than 50 US cents per day.

Education often becomes the first victim in the daily struggle to survive, with a majority of child labourers being forced out of school at an early age.

"These children do not have an opportunity to receive an education and most of them face exploitation and physical and verbal abuse, every day," Licadho said.

The group this month launched a two-year awareness-raising campaign that hopes to expose employers and government officials to the dangers faced by child labourers.

"Governmental authorities, civil society and the private sector must work together to rescue child labourers and provide them with physical and mental rehabilitation services," the group said.
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