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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cambodia: Cashew market crumbling

The dearth of domestic cashew processing plants means many farmers are abandoning the nut and growing more profitable crops: rubber and cassava. Faced with a stagnant market for local cashews, farmers of the high-end nut are switching to other crops, according to local agriculture experts. Without domestic processing plants to purchase cashews, farmers are forced to sell to the nearest buyer, Vietnam, which is one of the world's biggest cashew processors and exporters, according to Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.

Cashews in Cambodia are harvested mainly in the provinces of Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom and Ratanakkiri, which are near Vietnam. "Currently, the cashew nut market in Cambodia is very small, and what we export to Vietnam is just raw product so Cambodian farmers get a bad price," said Yang Saing Koma.

Vietnam imported about 150,000 tonnes of cashews from Cambodia and South Africa in the first half of 2008. The country has exported about US$850 million worth of cashews this year, according to a Vietnamese news report. Yang Saing Koma said that in Cambodia the industry would continue to decline unless local processing infrastructure was developed to provide Cambodian farmers a deeper pool of buyers.

Cambodia's only cashew processing plant, the now- defunct CAMAG in Kampong Cham, used to purchase a minuscule 150 tonnes per year, according to Tim Purcell, an agriculture specialist based in Phnom Penh with the NGO Agriculture Development International. A June 2007 report from the Economic Institute forecasted a decline in the domestic cashew industry.

The agency warned that by exporting 95 percent of its raw product to Vietnam, Cambodia was forgoing too much of the value-added chain for its cashew industry to remain profitable. According to the EIC report, the main barrier to investment in processing plants in Cambodia is staggering energy costs, which remain significantly higher than in Thailand and Vietnam. Farmers who once dedicated their fields to cashews are now growing rubber and cassava.

"Cashew nuts are only exported to Vietnam, there's really no local market. But with cassava and rubber, they are purchased by local companies at competitive prices," said Suon Dy, head of the Department of Industry, Mines and Energy in Kampong Cham. He said that at current market prices, one hectare of cashews yields around US$1,000 worth of product per year, compared with nearly $2,500 for rubber and cassava.

Global demand for rubber and cassava has climbed in recent years.
Cassava is used to produce ethanol, one of the main alternative fuels promoted by the global campaign against climate change. Natural rubber has also been increasingly prized, by China especially, following dramatic hikes in the price of oil, as it is used to make its synthetic alternative. Local processing conditions also favour the prospects for both crops: Cambodia processes about half the cassava it grows, and by law refines all of its locally harvested rubber.

Meas Sothearvy, head of the agriculture ministry's statistics office, said that while it was too early to tally nationwide yields for this year's harvest, inspections suggest there are significant declines in cashews. For 37-year-old Prum Chorn and others in the former cashew growing district of Memot in Kampong Cham province, the benefits of switching to rubber crops were overwhelming. "Cashew nut yields once a year and is bought at low prices from middlemen to go to Vietnam," he said.

"Rubber yields daily and is purchased at high prices from rubber factories within the province." Similarly, Ing Taingleng, 73, from Kampong Thom's Baray district, said he's following the lead of other farmers in the province and this year would replace half of his 20-hectare cashew farm with rubber crops. "The price of cashew nuts has not changed for several years now; it's still $500 to $700 a ton depending on the quality," he said.

"And we can only export to Vietnam. With rubber, the price is going up a lot and there is a strong market in Cambodia."
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Cambodia wants to discuss temple dispute at next meeting: Thai FM

BANGKOK, (TNA) - Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat on Tuesday revealed that Cambodia wants to raise a border demarcation dispute over Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temple ruins for discussion with Thailand at the next Foreign Ministers' meeting.

Interviewed on the telephone after chairing the Informal ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in New York, Mr. Sompong said that he had reported to the Meeting the results of the two rounds of talks between the Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers on resolving the border tension between the two neighbouring countries.

Participants were informed that progress was made in the talks as both countries have agreed to reduce their respective military forces stationed in the disputed areas to 30 each and are working towards a further cut in forces.

He said Cambodian officials informed the meeting of their desire to raise the border dispute over Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temples for discussion with Thailand.

It is expected the issue would be brought up for discussion when Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat visits Cambodia on October 13 at the invitation of his Cambodian counterpart Somdej Hun Sen.

"ASEAN members were satisfied when we told them that both countries understood each other and saw a need to adhere to the bilateral talks to solve the border dispute.

"The United Nations Secretary-General told the ASEAN Meeting that he had been informed of the progress in the Thai-Cambodian talks on the dispute.

"The UN chief also expressed a desire to see both countries attempt to settle the dispute through bilateral talks, not the UN Security Council," he said.

Mr. Sompong said no ASEAN members questioned Thailand's readiness to serve as ASEAN chair.

The Minister said he decided to join the meeting in New York to assure ASEAN colleagues of Thailand's readiness to organise the ASEAN Summit in December.

He added that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had agreed to visit Thailand on December 18 to attend the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok. (TNA)

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Cambodia golf courses aim to hit tourists

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia's efforts to attract high-end tourists by developing a world class golfing scene in the space of just a few years appears to have paid off, with a major regional golf tour company preparing to showcase the courses in Europe.

Golfasian, which is based in Thailand, said it would promote Cambodia alongside neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam at the International Golf Travel Market in Marbella, Spain from November 11-14.

Cambodia will be marketed as an exciting new regional golf destination at the event, billed as the world's premier golf travel expo and credited with making or breaking emerging hot destinations, it said.

At last year's event, neighbouring Vietnam won the International Association of Golf Tour Operators' World's Best Up-and-Coming Golf Destination award and has since reaped plenty in golfing tourism dollars. Cambodia is in the midst of a tourism boom and is keen to earn similar recognition in the lucrative golf tourism market.

"Golf holidays in Cambodia are a new introduction, yet pioneering golfers are finding it a fascinating country in which to play a few rounds," Golfasian says on its website.

"Cambodia doubled its number of luxury golf courses last year to four and hopes to have eight by 2010 in a bid to lure more high-end tourism from the fast-growing sport in Asia."

Golfing legend Nick Faldo's company designed a PGA-standard course in Siem Reap, the country's tourist hub about 300 kilometres north of the capital, where golfers are offered the chance to tour the world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex between rounds.

And Arnold Palmer Design Company, named after its famous founder, is currently building a 36-hole course for a new billion-dollar five-star resort in Bokor, 200 kilometres south of the capital.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

'Unnecessary' dam project threatens rarest wildlife

By Michael McCarthy, Environment editor

One of the world's rarest reptiles, the critically-endangered Siamese crocodile, is gravely threatened by a proposed dam in an unspoilt region of Cambodia, British conservationists warn.

Construction of the Chay Areng dam in the Cardamom mountains will wipe out a fifth or more of the remaining population of the crocodiles, which stands at fewer than 200 individuals in the wild, according to Fauna and Flora International (FFI), which is based in Cambridge.

It will displace hundreds of indigenous people from their homes, and do enormous damage to the wildlife in a valley which alone holds more than 30 globally threatened species of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians, ranging from tigers, Asian elephants and pileated gibbons to the white-winged duck, the yellow-headed temple turtle and one of the world's rarest and most prized freshwater fish, the Asian arowana.

Furthermore, says FFI, an economic assessment showed that the 120ft dam, which is being promoted by a Chinese power company, is not necessary for Cambodia's future electricity demand and is in effect surplus to requirements. FFI is calling on the Cambodian government to cancel the scheme.

Were it to go ahead, the Siamese crocodiles would be the most notable casualties of the project in wildlife terms. The stocky, 10ft-long reptile, which feeds largely on fish and snakes, is extinct over 99 per cent of its original range, with tiny remaining groups in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam apart from Cambodia, where the Areng river habitat is the most secure and significant breeding site in the world, harbouring between 40 and 50 individuals.

If the Areng river is dammed, says FFI, this fragile population will be seriously reduced or wiped out. The inundation will destroy vital lakeside nesting areas, shallow feeding zones, sandy basking areas along the river, and essential lakeside burrows used for shelter. The organisation also fears that the 1,000-plus Chinese workers who will be brought in to build the dam will begin poaching the other wildlife in the valley, saying that this has happened in similar schemes elsewhere.

The whole range of the Cardamom mountains in western Cambodia has hitherto been one of the best unspoilt areas of montane rainforest in South-east Asia, having been protected from exploitation for decades by the region's wars. FFI says it is "the untouched jewel in the crown of Asian biodiversity".

But now it is being opened up, especially by the Chinese, who are offering to build hydropower and other generating infrastructure for the Cambodians in exchange for a future share in the country's untapped natural resources, which include oil and gas. Many of the rivers of the Cardamom range have dams proposed for them, and one, at O'Som, is already going ahead.

FFI says its recognises that Cambodia needs more electricity and some of it will come from hydropower. But it says that a 2007 report, the Master Plan Study of Hydropower Development in Cambodia, commissioned by the Japan International Co-operation Agency and the Cambodian Ministry of Mines and Energy, identified 10 priority sites that would be sufficient to meet the projected national demand – and significantly, these did not include the Chay Areng.

"The Areng dam is unnecessary and surplus to requirements," said Jenny Daltry, a senior conservation biologist with FFI. "Hundreds of households of an indigenous people, the Khmer Daeum, will be displaced and have to move. These are people who have been there for hundreds of years and who really do live in harmony with nature and have set up their own protected areas in the forest, and six villages of them will go, and possibly seven.

"In wildlife terms, it will be a disaster. The crocodiles, which represent at least a fifth of the world's population in the wild, will disappear and there will be catastrophic damage to other wildlife.

"It is still up to the Cambodian government to approve or reject the proposal from the Chinese company and we strongly feel it should be rejected."

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Cambodian prince returns from exile

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia's Prince Norodom Ranariddh ended 18 months in exile Sunday after his brother the king pardoned him for an embezzlement conviction.

In July, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found the prince guilty of breach of trust and sentenced him in absentia to 18 months in prison.

The prince returned home from Malaysia following the royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni on Thursday.

A lawsuit was filed by his former supporters in the royalist Funcinpec party which Ranariddh led before being ousted from the party in October 2006. The Funcinpec party sued the prince for allegedly embezzling US$3.6 million from the sale of the party's headquarters in August that year.

The prince formed a new political party, the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which won two parliamentary seats in July general elections without him being present.

Over 100 supporters met the prince at the airport in Siem Reap province, home to Cambodia's famed Angkor temples, where he arrived from Malaysia, said party spokesman Suth Dina.

The spokesman said the prince planned to keep a low profile as he contemplates his next political activities.

Ranariddh and Sihamoni are sons of former King Norodom Sihanouk.
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Foreign developers say Cambodia regulations could stifle building

A group of foreign developers say Cambodia's new building regulations could stifle the Kingdom's construction boom.

The new laws require builders to place large cash deposits with the government and apply for several additional licences before starting projects.

Shin Woo Kim, a legal adviser to the Korean Real Estate Development Association has told the Phnom Penh Post that Cambodia would be seen as a high risk country if the new regulations on housing developments take effect.

The new Finance Ministry rules also require developers to purchase site insurance and deposit at least two per cent of the total project cost in a ministry account.

The Ministry says the regulations will tighten a largely unregulated construction sector.
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

A haven for children

'Grandma' connects Cambodian orphans and North American sponsors
GRAEME MORTON, Canwest News Service; Calgary Herald
Published: 2 hours ago
For Marie Ens, these truly are the golden years. "I praise God every day for my life," the eloquent 73-year-old says.

"I get to live in this beautiful place with palm trees, tropical flowers, my two golden retrievers and I have all these children who call me grandma."

A luxury retirement condo on a pristine Caribbean island? No, it's the Place of Rescue orphanage in rural Cambodia, which Ens founded five years ago and where she's still the driving force.

At this neat-as-a-pin community west of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, more than 150 children, many orphaned by parents who died from AIDS, live in a safe, secure environment.

The centre is also a home to 17 "grannies," elderly women whose children have died of AIDS or were wiped out during the maniacal regime of Pol Pot during the 1970s.

"My job is to act as the go-between linking the kids in Cambodia and people in North America who have the heart to help them," Ens said. "This place was the Lord's dream."

The youngest of seven children from a Saskatchewan Mennonite family, Ens knew from an early age that she had a missionary's heart.

After marrying her husband, Norm, the couple applied to be missionaries. "We arrived in Cambodia in 1961," Ens said. Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces stormed into Phnom Penh in 1975. "It was a very tumultuous time, but I don't think anyone knew of the horrors that were to come."

In three years, Pol Pot and his minions are believed to have killed between 1 and 2 million Cambodians in his drive to create a socialist, agrarian utopia.

The Ens spent four years in France, where they ministered to many Cambodian refugees. After her husband's death in 1991, Ens felt like she needed to return to Cambodia. In 2000, when she turned 66, Ens had a spiritual epiphany in, of all places, an office supply store. "Despite my age, nothing had changed about the calling I still felt inside me. When I was in a Staples store, I heard the Billy Joel song My Life and that was it," she recalled with a smile.

Soon after, Ens was off to Cambodia again, ministering in military hospitals and caring for those stricken with AIDS. She saw firsthand the growing legions of children being left behind when their parents died. Substantial funding to launch her orphanage came from Samaritan's Purse supporters.

Each child is sponsored by a North American supporter to cover such daily necessities as food, clothing and education. The love, hugs and support come from Ens and her Cambodian staff. "Some of these kids come from horrible situations. My job is to be that caring grandma so that they know they are loved and valued."

For more information, visit www.placeofrescue.com or www.samaritanspurse.ca.


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Everett church staffs clinic in Cambodia that aids 8,500

EVERETT -- More than 8,580 Cambodians trekked miles across their country to receive free medical care provided by a team of 31 volunteers from New Life Center Foursquare Church in Everett.

The volunteers recently returned from a two-week trip to Cambodia, where they and others from four states set up and ran a weeklong medical clinic near Pursat, a city in western Cambodia, said Rick Saw­czuk, New Life Center's missions pastor.

The team was comprised of students, adults, doctors and dentists who traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capitol, before making the five-hour trip to the medical clinic site west of Pursat. In Pursat, volunteers helped set up a temporary clinic including a pharmacy, an emergency room, an operating room and a wound care clinic.

During the week, volunteers treated medical conditions including skin infections, dehydration, malaria, dengue fever, stomach pain, bacterial infections, scabies and wounds. The team performed surgeries from dawn until dusk each day, including numerous tumor removals, and tended to a young man who had severed the fingers of his right hand, said Dr. Fred Hawley, a medical doctor in private practice in Arlington who was part of the New Life team.

One patient's fractured wrist was reset. More than 500 people were tested for tropical diseases and more than 400 were treated at the dental area. Volunteers gave out more than 1,000 pairs of reading glasses to people older than 50. In the wound care area, children were bathed with medicated shampoos and given new sets of clean clothes. Those with wounds received bandages and medicine to treat infections. The most serious cases were taken to the emergency or operating rooms for treatment, where Hawley performed a number of minor procedures.

Volunteers shared their faith with the patients as they entered and left the clinic. Ted Olbrich, a Foursquare missionary to Cambodia, said he hopes up to 30 village churches and at least one or two new orphan homes will be established as a result of the weeklong clinic, Sawczuk said.

New director at Prince of Peace preschool

Michelle Nilsen had big shoes to fill when she recently became director of Prince of Peace preschool in Everett.

Nilsen recently took the helm when Sue Baxter retired from the preschool after 30 years.

Nilsen's first day as director was in August and she was honored at an installation service in September. She has military, business and teaching experience.

Prince of Peace operates preschool ministries at various congregation sites in Snoho­mish County including Advent, Mill Creek; Christ the King, Snohomish; Holy Cross, Lake Stevens; Light of the Cross, Bothell and May's Pond and North Creek Presbyterian, Mill Creek.

Roughly 500 children ages 3 to 5 are served by the ministry that began in 1973 at Prince of Peace in the Eastmont neighborhood.

Herald staff reports
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TeliaSonera buys Asian operators for $488m

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Top Nordic telecom operator TeliaSonera AB aims to tap growth in Asian markets by buying controlling stakes in operators in Nepal and Cambodia for around 3.2 billion Swedish crowns ($488 million), it said on Friday.

TeliaSonera said it would buy a 51 percent stake in TeliaSonera Asia Holding BV from Kazakhstan’s Visor Group, which has an 80 percent stake in Nepalese operator Spice Nepal and 100 percent of Cambodia’s Applifone.

TeliaSonera said it expected to close the deal on Oct. 1.

Chief Executive Lars Nyberg said the purchases were an indication of where the company’s growth would increasingly come from in the future.

He said Eurasia offered rapid growth possibilities as economies are growing fast and mobile penetration levels low.

“You should see this as a sign of what our priority is when we look beyond the CIS markets,” Nyberg told a conference call.

One analyst who declined to be identified said Nepal was the more interesting acquisition of the two.

“There is a big population ... low mobile penetration and quite limited competition,” he said.

In Cambodia, competition is fiercer, he added.

Lena Osterberg, analyst at SEB said the price TeliaSonera was paying for the assets was too high, but Nyberg said the price was fair, given the good growth opportunities.

TeliaSonera shares were down 3 percent at 0950 GMT, against a 2 percent fall in the wider Stockholm market.

TeliaSonera has expanded rapidly in countries in the former Soviet Union in recent years as it diversifies away from its mature home markets in Scandinavia.

It has operations in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia and Moldova as well as the Baltic states.

However, expansion has not come without headaches and TeliaSonera has been in a long-running dispute over control of Turkish operator Turkcell TCELL.IS and Russia's Megafon.

Nyberg said Eurasia was an increasingly important profit driver. He said the region had EBITDA margins over 50 percent against around 32 percent for the group as a whole.

“That’s why we should invest in this region,” Nyberg said.

TeliaSonera said Spice Nepal is the second-largest mobile operator in Nepal with around 1.6 million subscribers and an estimated market share of about 41 percent. It had sales of $41.1 million in 2007 and $34 million in the first half of 2008.

EBITDA, excluding non-recurring items, was $19 million in 2007 and $18.2 million in the first half of 2008. Nepal has a mobile penetration of around 13 percent, TeliaSonera said.

Applifone is the fourth-largest mobile operator in Cambodia, with some 97,500 subscribers and an estimated market share of 3 percent. Mobile penetration in the country is around 21 percent.

Tero Kivisaari, TeliaSonera’s Eurasia head, said he expected ARPUs (average revenues per user) in both countries to be stable or to decline slightly.
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Cambodian PM renews beauty pageant ban

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday renewed his ban on beauty pageants in the Southeast Asian country, calling a previous beauty contest "bad luck."

Hun Sen said the Miss Cambodia pageant in 1993 was "bad luck," pointing to the fact the capital's historic Tonle Bassac theatre burned down the year after it hosted the contest.

"Don't spend (money) on a Miss Beauty contest. Don't hold it," he told officials during the first meeting of his government's new cabinet.

Hun Sen urged people instead to "please go ahead with boat racing."

The premier cancelled plans for a Miss Cambodia pageant in 2006, calling it a waste of funds that were better spent on farming. He also said he would not allow such a contest until poverty in Cambodia was reduced by more than half.

More than 30 percent of Cambodians live in grinding poverty in the tiny country of 13.4 million people.

There has not been a Miss Cambodia contest since the 1990s.
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Friday, September 26, 2008

Cambodia: King Pardons Half-brother

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Prominent Cambodian politician Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Thursday (25 Sept) was granted a pardon for his embezzlement conviction by his half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, paving the way for his return from exile.

Ranariddh, who is living in Malaysia, will come home Sunday (28 Sept) to resume his political career, said Suth Dina, a spokesman for the party named after the prince.

The king signed a royal decree pardoning "the convicted person named Norodom Ranariddh, who the court has sentenced to 18 months in prison."

In July, a Supreme Court judge upheld a lower court's ruling from last year that found Ranariddh guilty of breach of trust and sentenced him in absentia to 18 months in prison.

The lawsuit was filed by the prince's former colleagues in the royalist Funcinpec party, which he once led.

The court also ordered him to pay US$150,000 in compensation to the party.

The Funcinpec party, which ousted Ranariddh as president in October 2006, sued the prince on a charge of embezzling some US$3.6 million from the sale of the party's headquarters in August that year.

The prince now leads his own Norodom Ranariddh Party, which won two parliamentary seats in this year's general election two months ago.

His party has said the court ruling was politically motivated. He had been living in exile, mostly in Malaysia, long before the court case was initiated against him.

The prince is "happy" about the pardon, Ouk Phalla, Ranariddh's consort, said by phone from Malaysia. She declined to elaborate.

It was not clear what prompted the pardon. But local media have recently reported about behind-the-scenes maneuvering between Prime Minister Hun Sen's government and the prince's party to end Ranariddh's legal trouble.

The two politicians are known for having an on-again, off-again political relationship. They once served as co-prime ministers until Hun Sen staged a coup to unseat his rival.

When Ranariddh was still the leader of Funcinpec, Hun Sen encouraged the royalist party's followers to get rid of the prince for his weak leadership.

Ranariddh fired back, accusing Hun Sen of poking his nose in his business.

The prince and King Sihamoni are sons of former king Norodom Sihanouk.

In a letter to Sihamoni on Thursday, Ranariddh thanked the king for granting him the royal pardon "following intervention" from Hun Sen.

The prince, in a separate letter, also offered "warm congratulations" to his Hun Sen after the country's parliament endorsed him as the prime minister for another five years. (AP)

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Study: Mental health during pregnancy impacts child in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- A strong correlation between mental health problems during pregnancy and low birth weight and stunted childhood development has been identified by a study aiming to raise the profile of maternal mental health in Cambodia, national media reported Friday.

The study, conducted by the Trans-cultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO), Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) and Cambodia Reproductive and Child Health Resource Centre (RACHA), focused on Pursat province and was largely based on interviews with 297 women, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

Among the sample study, symptoms of depression and anxiety were detected in 17.8 percent of pregnant women while 9.8 percent reported symptoms of anxiety only.

The risk factors identified by the study included poverty, unplanned pregnancy, history of abortion, loss of a child, illness or death of a family member, marital conflict and a history of mental health problems.

Currently, maternal mental health is of low priority amongst stakeholders in Cambodia, possibly due to a lack of research and understanding into the potential impact of poor maternal mental health on the general health and well-being of both mother and child, officials said.

Chan Theary, executive director of RACHA, said prioritizing mental health has long been neglected by both government and donor agencies in Cambodia.

"Women's mental health remains low on the agenda of planners and policymakers not only in Cambodia but generally in the developing world. This is an emerging public health challenge," she said, adding that depression will be the second most common global disease by 2020.

Professor Ka Sunbaunat, psychiatrist and director of National Program for Mental Health, said mental health problems in pregnant mothers have profound effects on the health of the unborn child.

"Mental health problems in mothers can cause children to have retardation, epilepsy or physical underdevelopment. Some of these problems are incurable," he said.
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Cambodia eyes nuclear plant for electricity

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Impoverished Cambodia hopes to build a nuclear power plant to meet its future energy needs and help offset its dependence on imported oil, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Friday during the first meeting of his new Cabinet.

In outlining his new government's vision, he said one of its priorities will be to expand electrical generation to power its small but growing economy. Increased housing and factory construction will generate more demand for electricity, he said.

Hun Sen offered no hint when Cambodia would actually have its first nuclear power plant, saying it is still "a long distance away for us, but this is our goal."

Building hydroelectricity and coal power plants will be the immediate priority for expanding electricity generation and reducing reliance on imported oil, Hun Sen said.

The government has identified 14 potential sites for hydropower plants and has granted contracts to Chinese companies to build several of them.

Electricity costs in Cambodia are among the highest in the world, and only about 15 percent of the country's 14 million people are connected to the power grid, according to the World Bank.
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gulf states covet Asian farms

By Brian McCartan

CHIANG MAI - Once committed largely to perceived safe-haven investments in the United States, Gulf nations are now looking to send their petrodollar surpluses towards a more exotic global destination: Southeast Asian farmland.

Last month, two high-level Kuwaiti delegations toured Southeast Asia's food-producing countryside, looking to invest in agricultural lands and agro-business partnerships on a contract farming basis. Those visits came amid similar regional overtures from other Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Most of the deals are still in the negotiation stages and provisionally appear to involve leasing rather than outright purchasing of agricultural lands, where Gulf state companies pay to rent the land, provide inputs and contractually agree to buy the produce.

Such an arrangement would be similar to the contract farming deals China has recently cut across the region, including in Myanmar and Laos. It's unclear if the Gulf state-invested produce would be purchased at a fixed future rate or prevailing market prices, and what percentage would be paid to local farmers who actually work the lands.

What is clear is a pressing Middle Eastern need to shore up the region's shaky food security. The Gulf Research Center (GRC), a Dubai-based think-tank, in May highlighted the declining agricultural production by the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) six member states and the wider region's increasing financial exposure to spiraling food prices.

A GRC report that month specifically called on the GCC nations - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - to develop links with foreign countries with abundant arable land. Higher global food prices are a key contributor to escalating inflation in the Middle East, which suffers from a lack of fertile land and consistent water supplies.

The region's surging oil wealth is meanwhile attracting ever-larger influxes of immigrants, who are putting further strain on already import-intensive food supplies. The region's population could rise to 39 million in 2010, from 35 million in 2006, and surge to 58 million by 2030 if current demographic trends continue, the GRC forecast. The population of the six member countries was 30 million in 2000.

Gulf states already import between 60% and 90% of their food requirements, amounting to a total bill of US$10 billion per year. Saudi Arabia is the largest importer, followed closely by Kuwait and the UAE, according to the GRC. Meanwhile, world food prices surged to record highs earlier this year. Costs for cereals such as rice, the Gulf's main staple, have recently declined, but remain three times higher than the past decade's moving average. For example, the price of rice imported from India and Pakistan has risen by 70% on average.

The average price of food in Qatar rose 19% during the first three months of this year, more than three times the same period last year. Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have all recorded similar increases.

Prices in Kuwait have not risen as high, mainly due to its lower reliance on the US dollar as a trading currency, but the oil-rich nation is firmly in search of greener pastures for its petrodollar investments.

The increasing expense of food imports along with rising housing costs have helped to drive inflation rates as high as 11% in April and May. Kuwaiti Commerce and Industry Minister Ahmad Baqer told parliament in June that the country should work with other Gulf states to invest in food production and agriculture to secure future food supplies.

In that direction, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheik Nasser al-Mohammed al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah made an eight-nation Asian tour in August with the chief aim of securing agriculture-related investments. The trip took in Brunei, Cambodia, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.

"The value of the accords and economic and commercial protocols are more then US$27 billion, with $3 to $4 billion of investments and possible commercial partnerships with each country," Kuwaiti Finance Minister Mustafa al-Shamali said in statements published on August 17.

A delegation led by Kuwati premier advisor, Ismael al-Shatti, returned in late August to visit Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to activate agreements made during the premier's earlier visit. The delegation included representatives from the Kuwait Investment Agency (KIA), a sovereign wealth fund, as well as the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development, the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation and the Kuwait Flour Mills and Baker Co.

Cambodia seems to have been the biggest immediate benefactor from Kuwait's investment tour. Discussions during the Kuwaiti premier's visit included possibilities for technical assistance for oil exploration and a proposal to exchange agricultural technology for leasing an undisclosed large plot of land set aside to grow food specifically for export to Kuwait.

During the visit of the al-Shatti delegation on August 21, Kuwait announced it would provide Cambodia with more than $546 million in soft loans for a variety of infrastructure projects, largely in the agricultural sector.

Kuwait's move represents the second-largest loan by a single country to Cambodia, after China's contribution of $601 million last year, earmarked mainly for hydropower dams, bridges and new government offices.

Cambodian spokesman Sin Bunthoeun said US$486 million of the first Kuwaiti tranche will be used to build irrigation systems and a hydropower project on the Steung Ser River in central Kompong Thom province. The remaining $60 million will be used on road building projects in western Battambang province, he said.

In return, Kuwait received authorization to build an embassy in Phnom Penh, beginning next year, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said he will travel to Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE in January to further discuss rice exports.

The Kuwaiti investments come conveniently while Cambodia seeks to establish itself as a major regional rice exporter. The foreign funds represent a large cash infusion for the country's otherwise stretched national coffers and through investments in irrigation infrastructure and modern rice mills will be crucial to continuing improvements in its backward and inefficient rice industry.

Total Cambodian rice production has grown to 6.7 million tonnes in 2007-08, with a surplus of 2.5 million tonnes. The government has said it aims to export 10 million tons per year by 2015. Whether it can reach that goal and still feed its impoverished local population at locally affordable prices is an open question. The deals with Kuwait raised eyebrows when a month later the Cambodian government requested a $38 million emergency food aid package from the Asia Development Bank (ADB).

Some question why this is necessary when the government has said it expects a slight harvest increase this year and is keeping to is rice-export plan. The ADB's country manager has recently called the food security situation in Cambodia "an unprecedented emergency". Cambodia's agriculture minister told the Phnom Penh Post earlier this month that the request to the ADB was only to safeguard against "sudden and unexpected shocks, such as those brought about by natural disaster".

Details of the Kuwaiti agreements signed with Laos, Myanmar and Thailand are apparently still at the discussion and fact-finding stage. During an August 5-6 visit, the Kuwaiti and Lao prime ministers agreed to pursue means to improve cooperation in energy and agriculture. Kuwait appears to be particularly interested in Laos' rice and palm oil sectors. Plans for the opening of a Kuwaiti embassy in Vientiane were also discussed.

Kuwait and Myanmar signed two agreements related to investment and economic and technical cooperation during the Kuwaiti premier's visit. The al-Shatti delegation also discussed a contract farming arrangement with Myanmar officials led by Prime Minister General Thein Sein during their follow-up late August visit.

U Tun Aung, president of the Myanmar Beans and Pulses Trader's Association, told Myanmar Times magazine that Kuwait "will provide the fertilizer and financial support, hiring Myanmar's land and human resources, and then in turn they will purchase the crops at world market prices. Paddy plantation and palm oil are the agriculture sectors they are most interested in."

Organic oil
The Kuwaiti government is not alone in looking towards Southeast Asia. The UAE-based al-Qudra Holding is reportedly exploring possibilities for rice production in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. If accomplished, it would be part of the company's grand plan to acquire by the first quarter of 2009 400,000 hectares of land or cultivating wheat, maize, rice and vegetables in the Middle East, Asia, North Africa and East Africa.

Qatar apparently has even more ambitious designs for Southeast Asian farmlands. Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor al-Thani visited Cambodia this year to explore deals to exchange agricultural technology for access to arable land. The Qatari prime minister announced during his April visit plans to invest $200 million in Cambodian agriculture, strikingly similar to Kuwait's later bilateral overture.

Even bigger Qatari investments are in store for Vietnam. Qatar and Vietnam have established a $1 billion investment fund of which a portion would be dedicated to agriculture, the Qatar-based Gulf Times reported on September 2. An estimated 90% of the fund's equity will be provided by the Qatar Investment Authority, a national sovereign wealth fund.

There is, of course, a political risk attached to investments that in certain instances could act to create a new class of global landlords. The Gulf state overtures also come against the backdrop of rampant official land-grabbing in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, where private ownership rights are not firmly established as their economies transition from communist to capitalist systems.

Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's largest food importer, looking to regions closer to the Middle East, is in discussions with Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey and Ukraine to grow crops for export. Riyadh envisions large-scale agriculture projects for selected countries in excess of 100,000 hectares and those plans appear in some form also to include Thailand.

A group of potential Saudi investors were taken to survey rice farming areas in Thailand's central Suphanburi province in May, led by deposed Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The proposal involved renting, not selling, the land, which foreigners are barred from owning in Thailand, and the creation of a joint rice-exporting venture.

The surveyed land was apparently owned by a ruling coalition politician with the Chat Thai party. Nonetheless Agriculture Minister Somsak Prissnanantakul and the Thai Farmers Association came out strongly against the idea, accusing the plan's proponents of selling off the country to foreigners and jeopardizing Thai farmers' unique way of life.
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Cambodia: Parliament Endorses New Cabinet

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to combat corruption and advocate good governance as he unveiled the country's new Cabinet on Thursday (25 Sept).

Cambodia's newly elected lower house of parliament, overwhelmingly packed with lawmakers from Hun Sen's ruling party, voted to approve the Cabinet, which is filled with the same ministers who served in Hun Sen's administration the past five years.

"A new term but with the same old face," Hun Sen, 57, told the National Assembly after the vote.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party took 90 of 123 seats in July elections, ensuring that it will have a free hand in virtually all legislative matters.

Hun Sen, Asia's longest-serving leader, said his new government will not "waver in its commitment to accelerate development and comprehensive reform."

He has made similar promises in the past to foreign aid donors, who give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

But critics have often criticized his government for doing little to control corruption, illegal logging and land-grabbing by well-connected businessmen.

Cambodia was ranked 166 among 180 countries in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, where the No. 1 country is the least corrupt. Transparency International is a Berlin-based international non-governmental agency.

Hun Sen responded to the findings with his trademark rebuff, saying many issues in Cambodia have been exaggerated by his critics.

"It is their right to write whatever they want," he said. "Nothing is perfect in this world. Social injustice and corruption occur everywhere. The difference is how small or big they are."

All 26 lawmakers of the Sam Rainsy Party, Cambodia's main opposition group, boycotted Thursday's vote, as did three other lawmakers from the Human Rights Party. The two parties have disputed the results of July's election, saying they were rigged to help secure votes for Hun Sen's party. (AP)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Minding Cambodia's bottom line

Since 1995, Senaka Fernando, a senior manager at the Cambodian branch of financial services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers, has observed the rise of the Cambodian economy

When did PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) start in Cambodia?
We follow our clients. The entrance of a major client into the Cambodian market, British and American Tobacco, prompted us to come here in 1995.

Who were PwC's clients in the early days?
After the passage of the foreign investment law in 1994, foreign investors gradually started to trickle, and if you look at our revenue numbers from '95, '96, '97 they were always on the rise. Even though there wasn't much inflow of commercial clients in the beginning, the donor money kept flowing to Cambodia and we helped manage their projects. Donors look at us to see the projects they fund are properly managed and there's financial transparency. They would give money to a ministry, which would set up a project implementation unit whose finances we would manage.

Is it difficult to set up a company in Cambodia?
It is quite easy to set up a company here. If you want to set up a 100 percent foreign-owned company, you can, unlike with some other countries in the region where you sometimes have to enter a joint venture with a local partner.

Who are PwC's clients?
We get referrals from our PwC network saying we have a client that's coming to Cambodia to look for real estate, set up a factory, set up a bank, and we give them advice on the investment environment. In recent years we've been working a lot with property management, banking, hotels, casinos, and the most recent trend in growth has been in financial services, construction and real estate. The diversity is becoming wider. We advise them on how to set up - how to structure a company and how to tax plan - and once they are in operation we do audits.

The central bank also happens to be an audit client. There aren't many countries in the world where we do an audit of the regulator. If you take the Asean region, it's only Cambodia. When we audit the National Bank, we audit them like any other client. It is part of the whole transparency process because it is in the national bank's constitution that they need to be checked and audited.

Do you ever decline clients?
We have a long checklist to go through before accepting a client. One classic example where we reject is when someone comes in for an audit with two sets of books - one for internal purposes and one for tax purposes where they manipulate the numbers. That's a trigger point for us to decline the client. Most of the time when we turn down clients it's because they don't want to give us the information about their numbers and accounts upfront.

Do you use a country-specific auditing approach in Cambodia?
We have one audit approach, which we will follow in the United States, in Cambodia, in Afghanistan. Depending on certain factors, we may do some extra work. For example, in a country like Cambodia when, say, constructing or purchasing a school for an aid-funded project, there will be extra work done to see how the biddings are awarded because that can be especially tricky.


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DONORS LOOK AT US TO SEE THE PROJECTS THEY FUND ARE PROPERLY MANAGED AND THERE’S FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY.

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What are your clients' major concerns?
[Currently] inflation, but it is difficult to get information on inflation in Cambodia.... More generally, the legal system - the enforcement of laws and code systems - is one of the major concerns for any foreign investor coming here. That's the first thing they ask about. Most of the basic laws are already there - the law on commercial enterprise, the law on secure transaction. There is also a whole checklist of laws the government needs to pass to comply with the World Trade Organisation. If they pass all of those pieces of legislation, the legal network will be there. But enforcement of the law is really crucial.

We're trying to address some of these concerns in the Private Sector Working Group, where stakeholders get together with the government. We raise issues to the government on behalf of our clients and some of the clients participate directly in the working groups. For example, smuggling, corruption - these are issues that are being discussed in the working groups in an ongoing basis.

What industry has the largest room for growth?
Agriculture, because that's a huge market that hasn't been properly tapped into. We have been contacted by the Kuwaiti Investment Fund about investing in agriculture in Cambodia.
There hasn't been much investment in agriculture in Cambodia and the land is fertile here.

What are your clients most excited about?
The growing purchasing power of local people because you see a middle class emerging - especially for the beverage and mobile phone industries. When you see our clients' numbers, you see a consistent trend in growth.

Will you be providing services to the upcoming Cambodian Stock Exchange?
I think they would want us to audit. That's what we do in many other countries, like in Vietnam. When people are going to be listed, there is certain advisory work that we help our clients with. We have had inquiries from some of the companies thinking of joining. The listing requirements have not yet been published. The Ministry of Economy and Finance know that accounting firms will have to play a crucial role for the stock exchange.

Interview by Brendan Brady
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Cambodia: Ruling Party Dominates New Parliament

The Cambodian People's Party's efforts by cheating on the vote, intimidating people's liffe, threatening lives, Killing lives, stealing parliamentary seates are finally paid off and continuing for the next pushes for Cambodia. They always said criminals are usually lucky, that is just in Cambodia.

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Cambodia's newly elected lower house of parliament held its inaugural session Wednesday (24 Sept) that saw the ruling party's already firm grasp on power grow even tighter in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's party now holds 90 of 123 seats, ensuring that the Cambodian People's Party will have a free hand in virtually all legislative matters.

"They have been ruling the country single-handedly, and they still are," said Ou Virak, director of the nonprofit Cambodian Center for Human Rights. "Their one-party rule is just more legitimate than before."

An election on 27 July election handed Hun Sen's party 17 seats beyond the 73 it already held, further cementing the CPP's majority.

Ou Virak and other rights activists say the virtual one-party system risks damaging the country's fragile democracy and giving unfettered power to Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who has dominated the country's politics for decades.

They say the ruling party's supremacy will weaken an already limited system of checks-and-balances and make it more difficult to voice dissent and air grievances about social injustices.

Hun Sen is a former soldier in the Khmer Rouge movement that wreaked havoc in Cambodia when it held power from 1975-1979. He has been at the center of the country's politics since 1985, when he became the world's youngest prime minister at age 33. He has held or shared the top job ever since, bullying and outfoxing his opponents to stay in power.

The parliament will vote Thursday ( 25 Sept) on a new Cabinet _ an exercise seen only as a formality given the domination of Hun Sen's party.

King Norodom Sihamoni presided over Wednesday's event at the Nation Assembly, and called for the lawmakers to "succeed in fulfilling your duties for the great benefit of our nation." Sihamoni is a constitutional monarch who holds no executive power.

The lawmakers were dressed in green silky wrapped skirts and white turtleneck, long-sleeved shirts _ the traditional Cambodian outfit used in functions attended by the king.

The Sam Rainsy Party, Cambodia's main opposition group, has 26 seats in the parliament. The other three smaller parties hold combined seven seats. (AP)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

1,700 balloons released outside Cambodian prison

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: A leading Cambodian human rights group renewed its call Tuesday for the release of two men believed to have been framed for murdering a prominent labor leader and government critic.

The "gross injustice" against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun must end because they are innocent, the Cambodian human rights group Licadho said in a statement.

The men are serving 20-year prison terms for the 2004 killing of Chea Vichea, the former head of Cambodia's Free Trade Union of Workers and an outspoken critic of government corruption and human rights abuses.

Licadho and other rights groups say Cambodian authorities have made the men scapegoats to conceal the real killer.

Dozens of people, including relatives of the murdered union leader and the convicted men, staged a peaceful rally Tuesday near the Phnom Penh prison where the pair is detained.

They released 1,700 white balloons symbolizing the number of days the men have been imprisoned.

"They are not the killers of my brother," Chea Mony, the younger brother of slain union leader Chea Vichea, said. "Please do not lose your hope. There will be the day you will get the justice you have long been denied."

Cambodian courts — seen by critics as being corrupt and susceptible to political influence — have drawn heavy criticism at home and abroad for their handling of the case.

Critics have said the courts have persistently ignored key evidence, including witness testimonies that the two men were not at the crime scene the day the killing took place.

"Every day longer that these two men remain in prison only imposes greater suffering and hardship on them and their families, and draws more attention to the appalling state of Cambodia's justice system," the group's director, Naly Pilorge, said in the statement Tuesday.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun are awaiting a hearing at the country's Supreme Court to appeal their conviction, Pilorge said.
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Cambodia bans Chinese powdered baby milk

Phnom Penh - Cambodia joined a growing list of countries that have banned Chinese milk powder and stepped up inspections, a senior official said Tuesday.

Secretary of State for the Commerce Ministry Chan Nora said Cambodia's quality control bureau also ramped up testing of imported products.

'We need to protect the public. This applies to all products - not just Chinese goods. We have stepped up inspections,' he said.

China is a major donor and close ally of Cambodia, and Nora stressed the crackdown was not aimed at any one country.

However Cambodia's endemic corruption, poor border control and poverty has made it a notorious dumping ground for unscrupulous traders of defective products in the past, including chicken suspected to be infected with bird flu and even toxic waste.

Cambodian authorities are concerned that contaminated milk powder might be repackaged and sold in poorer markets such as their own.

Chinese officials acknowledged last week that melamine, a chemical that causes kidney-related diseases, was present in milk processed by three major Chinese dairy companies.

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Dubai Group in first Cambodia investment plan

SINGAPORE: Dubai Group, an investment company managing more than $40bn on behalf of the emirate’s ruler, said it may invest in Leopard Capital’s Cambodia fund, the group’s first investment in the Southeast Asian nation.

“We are interested in Cambodia,” said Lim See Teik, a senior private-equity analyst at Dubai Investment Group, the asset management unit, in an interview late on Friday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, where he attended an investment forum organised by Leopard Capital. “There seems to be a lot of potential.”

The prospect of oil and gas development and political stability under the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen are luring foreign investments in Cambodia. The economy of Southeast Asia’s second-poorest country, which abolished money and markets under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago, grew 9.5% a year from 2000 to 2007, the fastest pace in Asia after China.

Dubai Group has invested in other Southeast Asian countries, except for military-ruled Myanmar, said Lim, 41, who is based in Kuala Lumpur. – Bloomberg Read more!

South Korean investment changes the face of modern Cambodia

By Raphael Minder

A young Cambodian couple smile for David Kim, the South Korean photographer, as he takes their wedding pictures.

Last November Mr Kim moved with his wife to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, using the proceeds from the sale of his photo shop in Seoul to open Luk Studio. The business has made "a really good start" as more and more Cambodians turn to professionals to capture their union, he says.

Although his business is still in its infancy, Mr Kim has already hired three people to help manage bookings and photo shoots.

"I had my company in Korea for three years, but demand wasn't growing any more and there was simply too much competition," says the 32-year-old. "I can already say that I am the number one here because nobody was really offering this [service] professionally."

Mr Kim is making a grassroots contribution to a much more substantial flow of South Korean money and expertise entering Cambodia.

Last year South Korean investments there grew fivefold, making Cambodia the second-biggest recipient of Korean investment after China, according to the Korean International Trade Association. South Korea briefly overtook China two years ago as the biggest source of foreign direct investment, accounting for 23 per cent of projects approved by Cambodian authorities that year. Although China regained its leadership, several large-scale Korean projects are in the pipeline, in sectors including construction and finance.

Observers find it hard to explain exactly why Koreans have zoomed in on a country that is not particularly close to them, either geographically or culturally. "A lot of Korean businessmen are looking to invest abroad and somehow Cambodia seems to be now better known, particularly among small and medium-sized businesses, than other countries," says Anh Ho-young, South Korean deputy trade minister.

One suggestion is that the historic disconnect between the countries has helped. Decades of war have fuelled a profound distrust in Cambodia of its neighbours.

Also, "Koreans are Asia's most adventurous frontier market investors right now", says Douglas Clayton, who has been investing in south-east Asia for two decades and manages Leopard Capital, a Cambodian fund.

"They understand how Korea itself was rapidly developed from a frontier market into a developed society and see the possibilities to repeat that process in transitional economies like Cambodia.

"For historical reasons, Koreans are not eager to place all their bets on China, so they are interested in alternative low-cost production centres," he adds.

The most visible sign of South Korean investment in Cambodia is the redrawing of Phnom Penh's skyline. Two Korean construction companies are erecting skyscrapers that will be the city's tallest buildings.

Meanwhile, a joint venture between Korean and Cambodian companies is developing a satellite city, appropriately named Camko City. The $2bn (€1.4bn, £1bn) project is financed by Shinhan, a Korean bank, and is also due to house Cambodia's future bourse - again with financial as well as training assistance from the Korean stock exchange.

In the six years since he arrived in Cambodia, Won Jong-min estimates the Korean community has grown from less than 500 to about 10,000. He settled there "not because of business but because I fell in love with the beautiful nature" around the temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia's cultural treasure.

Mr Won has since founded K-Channel, a Korean-language broadcaster that is expanding rapidly and is expected to break even after just two years on the air.

His success owes much to the fact that Koreans remain close-knit and rarely learn Khmer, even though many marry Cambodians or form property partnerships with locals to circumvent restrictions on foreign land ownership.

"Demand for more Korean [TV] content and entertainment is very strong," says Mr Won.

Some pundits date the flourishing of business ties between the two countries to a state visit by Roh Moo-hyun, the former South Korean president, in late 2006, accompanied by a cohort of Korean executives.

Hun Sen, Cambodia's long-standing prime minister, has also encouraged an open door policy. Last year, when a Cambodian chartered aircraft crashed on a domestic flight with 13 Koreans among its 22 passengers, he headed the search-and-rescue team, a gesture that did not go unnoticed in Seoul.

"It's very rare for any prime minister to lead this kind of rescue, and I think it shows just how close this prime minister feels to Korea," says Mr Anh.
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Cambodian commercial banks told to triple capital

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) -- The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) has tripled the minimum capital requirement for commercial banks in the Kingdom in an effort to tighten and strengthen the banking sector, national media reported Tuesday.

According to a copy of an NBC directive, commercial banks in Cambodia are now requiring to have a minimum capital of 150 billion riel (about 36.5 million U.S. dollars), the Cambodia Daily newspaper said.

Commercial banks will be allowed to maintain the current capital requirement of 50 billion riel (about 12 million U.S. dollars) if they have an influential shareholder that is a bank or financial institution with an investment grade rating from a reputable rating agency, the directive said.

While the Cambodia's four main banks - Acleda, ANZ Royal, Canadia and the Cambodian Public Bank - are likely to be unaffected by the change in conditions, it remains to be seen how many of the country's 17 other commercial banks will measure up tothe new rules, the newspaper said.

In addition, the country's six specialized banks, which only make loans and do not take deposits, must also increase their minimum capital to 30 billion riel (about 7.3 million U.S. dollars) unless they have a bank or financial institution influential shareholder with an investment grade rating, according to the NBC directive.

All existing banks have until 2010 to meet the new requirements, the directive states.

NBC Director General Tal Nai Im said that the new commercial bank requirements are aimed at making it more difficult for prospective banks to enter the sector in Cambodia.

"Some banks that don't have the minimum might have to withdraw," she was quoted as saying.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cambodia, Thailand to restart talks on border dispute

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 22 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia and Thailand will restart bilateral negotiations to resolve their 10-week border dispute on Sept. 29 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York, national media reported Monday.

Either Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen or Foreign Minister HorNamhong will fly to New York this week to attend the General Assembly session, Chea Sokhum, deputy secretary-general of the Permanent Organizing Commission for National and International Ceremonies, was quoted by the Cambodia Daily newspaper as saying.

Whoever attends will also lead the Cambodian side Sept. 29 during negotiations in New York with the Thai foreign minister, Chea Sokhum told the newspaper.

Military leaders of both countries will also meet in early October in Siem Reap to resume negotiations concerning the withdrawal of troops from Preah Vihear temple, RCAF Region 4 Commander Chea Morn said.

The renewed talks will come four weeks after Thailand indefinitely postponed bilateral military meetings.

The border row erupted after Cambodia's arrest of three Thai nationalist protesters on July 15, whom authorities alleged crossed illegally into Cambodia close to the disputed temple site.

Since then, Thailand and Cambodia have been building up their forces near the temple and tensions have escalated, spreading to other temple sites along the border.
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

36 Hours in Phnom Penh


A krama, a traditional scarf with many uses, at Psar Tuol Tom Pong, a k a the Russian Market

By ERIKA KINETZ
Published: September 21, 2008

THERE’S another revolution going on in Phnom Penh. Once home to the Communist Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, now has its own KFC and other capitalist trappings. Skyscrapers are rising, and foreign money is pouring in. This may be your last chance to see Phnom Penh before this former village at the mouth of three mighty rivers, once called the Pearl of Asia, turns into a booming metropolis. Even today, the city seems to shimmer with the sense that its low-slung buildings, ambling cows and smiling monks are not long for this world.

Friday

5 p.m.
1) DRINK BY THE RIVER


Founded at a confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Tonle Bassac Rivers, Phnom Penh is a city of water. Some of its main streets were once canals, and there’s no better way to honor Phnom Penh’s riparian soul than with a sundowner at Maxine’s (71 Tonle Sap Road, Chruoy Changva Peninsula; 855-12-200-617). In an old wooden house that is slouching into the river, Maxine’s has a ramshackle authenticity that, at least for now, seems immune to the city’s rapid modernization.

7 p.m.
2) EAT LIKE A COLONIALIST


The French ruled Cambodia from 1864 until 1953, and whatever else you have to say about that legacy, they did leave behind good cheese. If you are in the mood to live large, go for the foie gras ($17) at the elegant La R├ęsidence (22-24 Street 214; 85523-224-582; www.la-residence-restaurant.com). Otherwise, head to La Marmite (80 Street 108; 855-12-391-746; entrees $7 to $13), a scruffy bistro that offers better food than most of its more expensive cousins. (Note that prices in Cambodia are often quoted in dollars.) Afterward, if you happen to be in Phnom Penh on the first Friday of the month, follow the surreal swirl of drunken expatriates to Elsewhere (175 Street 51; 855-23-211-348), which has tables tucked into the trees around a small swimming pool. Or retire early. Cambodia, after all, is still a nation of peasants who rise at dawn.

Saturday

8 a.m.
3) KNOW THE STORY

Five Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial at a United Nations-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh. But this dark chapter is still so politically sensitive that it’s barely discussed in Cambodian schools. All the more reason to grab an early tuk-tuk, a motorcycle-powered rickshaw, out to the Choeung Ek killing fields, about nine miles away via Monireth Boulevard (admission $2). Then swing by the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Street 113 and Street 350; 855-12-457-677; $2), where at least 14,000 men, women and children were tortured. Tread softly: locals say the place is still haunted.

Noon
4) EAT WITH FRIENDS

For solace, find your way to Friends (215 Street 13; 855-12 802-072; www.streetfriends.org) , where you can take comfort that your lunch is being served to you by rehabilitated street children. Despite the nation’s galloping economy, about a third of Cambodians still live on under a dollar a day, the United Nations Development Program has said. The fruit shakes ($2.50 to $3.50) are fantastic, as are the tapas-style entrees, like grilled fish fillet with salsa verde ($3).

2 p.m.
5) HUNTING FOR BARGAINS


Bargains abound in Phnom Penh. Looking for affordable gems? Go to the backroom of Mr. Sit Down (116 CEO Sihanouk Boulevard; 855-12-805-4-28), where Hoeu Sareth’s solid workmanship, simple designs and shiny Pailin rubies have enticed expatriates for years. For women’s clothes, go to L’Armoire (126 Street 19; 855-23722-310), a sweet boutique that sells well-cut dresses from the designer and owner, Alexandra Barter. Ambre (37 Street 178; 855-23-722-310), housed in an old colonial mansion, carries men’s suits and fancy dresses. And before lugging your bags back to the hotel, pick up at least one all-cotton krama, a traditional checkered scarf used for everything from holding babies to bathing. You’ll find a great assortment (about $1.50) at Psar Tuol Tom Pong, a k a Russian Market, at the corner of Streets 440 and 163.

5 p.m.
6) THE SPA EXPERIENCE


For a pampering facial, try the spa at Bliss (29 Street 240; 855-23-215-754; facials, $38 to $45), but if you want a massage, head to Health Care Center Master Kang (456 Monivong Boulevard; 85523-721-765), which has a utilitarian ambience but some of the best-trained masseuses in town. Start by sticking your feet in a pool of hot herbal water that looks like mud. The aromatherapy oil massage ($15 for one hour) involves piles of hot towels, up to 20, stacked on your aching back. The forceful foot massage ($10 for an hour) can’t be beat.

6:30 p.m.
7) KHMER COOKING


Khmer cuisine is not for the squeamish: garlicky crickets, black beetles, crispy tarantula and chopped chicken bits with bone. Fear not: there’s barbecue. At a curbside plastic chair at Sovanna Restaurant (2 Street 21; 855-12-840-055) order dishes, like fresh-grilled squid, shrimp, beef or pork (small plates, 8,000 riels, or $1.96 at 4,168 riels to the dollar; big plates, 16,000 riels).

8:30 p.m.
8) STAY HYDRATED

The respectable side of Phnom Penh’s night life consists of drinking, drinking, and then drinking some more. Tourists flock to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (363 Sisowath Quay, 855-23-724-014; www.fcccambodia.com). Actual journalists tend to drown themselves in the strong margaritas at Cantina (347 Sisowath Quay; 855-23-222-502), a grungy Mexican joint on the river. For martinis, go to Metro (Sisowath Quay at Street 148; 855-23-222-275), a sleek, modern place with some of the best drinks in town. If you must dance, Riverhouse (6 Street 110; 855-23- 220-180) offers throbbing bass and a slightly ghetto vibe.

Sunday

8:30 a.m.
9) SEE THE OLD CITY


One of the best ways to disentangle the city’s torturous — and tortured — history is to study its old buildings. Settle into a cyclo, a kind of bicycle-powered rickshaw, for a three-hour tour of the city’s architecture with Khmer Architecture Tours (855-92-870-005; www.ka-tours.org; the tours meet at the Phnom Penh Post Office, at Streets 13 and 102), a nonprofit group with very informative guides. Although the city has been shaped by waves of French and Chinese, you’d never find that old Chinese temple (now inhabited by squatters) or that defunct Citro├źn factory without help. Also, don’t miss the work of Cambodia’s most celebrated modern architect, Vann Molyvann, whose midcentury modern buildings are disappearing fast. Two have been torn down this year alone. Group tours ($5 to $12) are given every other Sunday; private tours are also available (about $40 for three hours).

Noon
10) ART AND ARTIFACTS

If you can’t make it to Angkor Wat, check out the collection of Angkorian artifacts at the National Museum (corner of Street 13 and Street 184; 855-23-211-753). An open-air pavilion built around a lush garden fountain, it’s one of the calmest places in the city, despite the occasional bat flying overhead. For something more modern, head around the corner to the Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture (47 Street 178; 855- 23-217-149; www.reyum.org), run by Ly Daravuth, a French-educated curator and cultural historian whose past exhibits have included wat paintings and sculptures made from everyday objects. Reyum also publishes a collection of books on Cambodian culture that you won’t find elsewhere.

2 p.m.
11) TASTE THE PAST

Cambodia was once famous for its peppercorns, which look innocuous enough but pack significant heat. Kampot, a sleepy river town about three hours south of Phnom Penh, was once the center of Cambodia’s peppercorn farms. Today, nonprofit groups are working to revive the trade. The sweetest way to savor this history is at the Chocolate Shop, the city’s first and only chocolate boutique (35, Street 240; 855-23-998 6-38). Order a palm-sized slab of dark chocolate encrusted with crushed Kampot pepper ($5). It is as sweet and as hot as the tropics themselves.

THE BASICS

Most flights between the United States and Phnom Penh require a connection. Korean Air (www.koreanair.com) flies from Kennedy Airport to Phnom Penh, via Seoul, South Korea, starting at $1,645, a recent online search showed. Cheaper flights can sometimes be found on EVA Air of Taiwan (www.evaair.com), which flies from Newark to Phnom Penh via Taipei. A recent online search found fares starting at about $1,200. A taxi from the airport to Phnom Penh center is about $10 with tip.

The Raffles Hotel Le Royal (92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh;, 855-23-981-888; www.phnompenh.raffles.com) is where journalists camped out in 1975 on the eve of the Khmer Rouge’s takeover. Today, the historic hotel still draws dignitaries and foreigners, with stately rooms starting at $300.

The year-old Villa Langka (14 Street 282; 855-23-726-771; www.villalangka.com) is a welcome addition to the city’s small but growing list of boutique hotels. There’s a dark-tiled pool, a peaceful garden and tastefully designed rooms from $35 to $100.

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Hun Sen greets Somchai, vows good relations

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday sent a congratulatory message to Somchai Wongsawat on his appointment as Thailand's new prime minister, saying that he hoped that the two neighbouring countries "will soon be able to peacefully and legally settle all the current border issues".

The message from the Cambodian leader said that Mr Hun Sen hoped the border problem could be solved "in the spirit of friendship and good neighbourliness".

"I look forward to working closely with Your Excellency to further promote the existing excellent bonds of amity and fruitful cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand for the mutual interests of both our peoples and for a stronger Asean family," the message said.

Mr Somchai was royally appointed as Thailand's 26th prime minister on Thursday.

According to the Thai foreign ministry, Mr Hun Sen also telephoned Mr Somchai on Thursday hours after his royal appointment as prime minister took place.

Both parties recalled their earlier meeting on May 14 this year during the opening ceremony of Route 48, a road in Cambodia, at a time when Mr Somchai was Thailand's deputy prime minister and education minister.

The two prime ministers emphasised the willingness of both governments to address outstanding issues between the neighbours by using existing bilateral mechanisms to further strengthen the friendly relations between their two countries whose histories and destinies have been linked from time immemorial.

The warm exchange was a change from Cambodian statements last week, when Mr Hun Sen and his spokesmen disparaged the Thai government, and questioned whether the country could serve as chairman of Asean. (TNA)

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Elray Resources Builds Portfolio With Heavily Mineralized Properties in SE Asia, N. America

Company Builds Solid Foundation With Heavily Mineralized Mining Properties in Cambodia and Mexico as Gold Bull Market Continues

A technically-driven gold and precious mineral exploration company, is pleased to provide shareholders with the following update on its recent activities.

The company has successfully assembled a portfolio of heavily mineralized and highly prospective target properties in strategic locations in South East Asia and North America. The portfolio includes three properties totaling over 15,000 hectares in Cambodia, one of the last frontiers for precious/base metal discovery and development. Mining has exploded in mineral-rich Cambodia, and was only recently opened up to exploration using modern techniques. Cambodia has emerged as a stable and pro-business country in the region, with annual GDP growth expected to be 7.5% in 2008, according to the Asian Development Bank.

The Company's portfolio includes multiple areas with history of small scale mining. Grab samples on these properties have ranged up to 71.9grams/tonne gold. The Company holds 100% of the license for these properties.
In addition the Company has also acquired an option on a highly prospective property in Mexico, one of the most prolific gold and silver producing countries in the world. The Company's Analhi Project is situated in Sinaloa State.


With these properties in its portfolio, the Company believes it has built solid foundations on which to move onto its next phase: adding to its top caliber team, finalizing the details of its aggressive work program for the coming months, and assessing further mining and exploration opportunities in South East Asia and elsewhere.

"Given the strong bull market we have seen in gold recently, we are very pleased with the potential of these properties," commented Mr. Michael Malbourne, Director of Elray Resources. "We believe the recent upward trend in the price of gold will continue as investors seek safe haven."

For more information please visit www.ElrayMining.com

This announcement contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Actual results may differ from management's expectations. These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that include, among others, risks associated with gold & precious mineral exploration risks related to competition, management of growth, new products, services and technologies, potential fluctuations in operating results, international expansion, commercial agreements, acquisitions and strategic transactions, government regulation and taxation. More information about factors that potentially could affect the Company's financial results is included in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investor Relations:
Jake Harris
Phone: (347) 410 9782

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Extended Agreement Further Protects Archaeological Heritage of Cambodia

The Department of State is pleased to announce the extension of a “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material from Cambodia from the Bronze Age through the Khmer Era” (MOU). This extension, consistent with a recommendation made by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, represents a continuation of cooperation that began in 1999 when emergency U.S. import restrictions were implemented to stanch the pillage of Cambodia’s rich archaeological heritage and the illicit trafficking in such material.

This U.S. action is in response to a request made by the Government of Cambodia under Article 9 of the 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The Convention offers a framework of cooperation among State Parties to reduce the further pillage of intact archaeological sites, activity that destroys information about past cultures and places a nation’s cultural heritage in jeopardy. Cambodia is the first country in East Asia to receive the cooperation of the United States in protecting its cultural property in this manner.

The extended MOU expands the scope of the original to include archaeological objects from the Bronze and Iron Ages. It specifically restricts the import into the U.S. of ancient Cambodian stone, metal, and ceramic archaeological material unless an export permit is issued by Cambodia or there is verifiable documentation that the objects left Cambodia prior to the effective date of the restriction.

The Department of Homeland Security has published a Designated List of restricted categories of objects, amending it to include material representing the Paleolithic Era (Stone Age). The restricted objects may enter the United States if accompanied with an export permit issued by Cambodia or documentation verifying its provenance prior to 1993 and if no other applicable U.S. laws are violated. The Designated List and information about the MOU can be found at http://exchanges.state.gov/culprop. Read more!

KSL counts on Laos, Cambodia projects

Sugar giant plans for B20bn 2010 revenue

YUTHANA PRAIWAN

Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Plc (KSL), Thailand's fourth largest sugar producer, hopes its revenue will double to 20 billion baht in 2010, buoyed by returns from its seven-billion-baht investments.

''Revenue this year was projected at 10 billion baht, up 25% from a year earlier on high sugar prices driven by global supply tensions,''said Chanachai Chutimavoraphan, assistant vice-presidhdent of SET-listed KSL.

KSL reported net income of 159 million baht for its third quarter ending July 31, up 10% from 144 million a year earlier. Sales rose 32% to 2.8 billion during the same period. Revenue was 8.92 billion baht for the last fiscal year.

The company is now proceeding with its two-year investment plan ending next year, aimed at integrating the operations of plantations and sugar mills.

To finance the expansion next year, the group plans to issue two billion baht worth of bonds in November. The bonds will be divided into two lots, with maturities of three years and five years, valued at 1.5 billion and 500 million baht respectively.

He said that around three billion of the total seven-billion-baht investment budget will finance sugarcane plantadhtions and processing plants in Cambodia and Laos, both scheduled to start operation next year. The remaining four billion baht was earmarked for domestic investments.

He said these projects would help boost revenue to 12 billion baht in 2009.

The group was granted a 30-year concession to grow sugarcane on 60,000 rai in Laos and a 90-year concession for 120,000 rai in Cambodia.

In the first year of production, both projects would produce at 30% of their total capacities of 150,000 tonnes a year, expected to be achieved in 2010.

Mr Chanachai said the company hoped to benefit from growing sugarcane in the two countries, which as less developed nations have special export quotas from the European Union.

Under the special quotas, EU guarantees the prices 1.6 times higher than the global market prices through 2015.

In 2010, KSL's projects in neighbouring countries would contribute 20% to total revenue. Domestic revenue would drop to 60% from 80% as a result, with the remaining 20% being contributed by power and ethanol businesses. In 2010, its expanded sugar mills in Thailand would run at full capacity of 78,000 tonnes per day from 67,000 tonnes now.

KSL earmaked four billion baht for domestic growth including doubling its power plant's output to 40 megawatts and raising ethanol and fertiliser output to 350,000 from 150,000 litres per day.

As its biomass power plant received a United Nations clean development mechanism (CDM) certificate for cutting carbon emissions by 40,000 tonnes a year, from 2009 KSL could earn US$1 million a year trading carbon credits.

KSL shares closed yesterday on the SET at 8.50 baht, down 10 satang, in trade worth 6.3 million baht.




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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thailand ready to mend border dispute with Cambodia

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation

Thailand reaffirmed its commitment to mend border disputes over Hindu temples with Cambodia through bilateral mechanisms when the country has a new Cabinet, newly elected Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said yesterday.

"I will convey a message to Phnom Penh that we will continue negotiations to resolve the problems," he told reporters after a meeting with senior officials at the Foreign Ministry.

The two countries convened two rounds of foreign minister meetings in July and August in Siem Reap and Cha Am respectively to settle the conflict over the Hindu temple of Pheah Vihear and set a timeline for talks on a group of Khmer sanctuaries at Ta Muen.

Both sides agreed to convene a meeting of the Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) in October to discuss issues related to the survey and marking of the sector under the terms of reference and JBC master plan.

A third round of ministerial meetings was earlier scheduled after the JBC meeting.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday accused Thai soldiers of being thieves, "creating anarchy" around border areas, including at the Khmer sanctuaries of Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai. "We cannot accept this act," Hun Sen said, calling for fresh border talks with Thailand.

Somchai said if necessary he would call Hun Sen himself to explain the situation and promise further discussion between foreign ministers of both sides when his government completed its new Cabinet.

Thailand, at this stage, has no foreign minister. Somchai said he would appoint a person who knows foreign affairs very well as the new foreign minister. Former career diplomat Saroj Chavanavirat was widely tipped as the minister but Somchai declined to confirm this.

The new foreign minister is scheduled to meet with his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly late this month in New York.

The case of the third temple recently raised in the conflict, Ta Kwai, would be discussed in New York, said the Foreign Ministry's permanent secretary Virasakdi Futrakul.

He said troops on both sides had been redeployed 400 metres away from the Ta Kwai temple following local negotiations. The border dispute must be settled by existing bilateral mechanisms rather than third parties as suggested earlier by Phnom Penh, he said.

Thailand and Cambodia, however, would inform Asean during an informal meeting of foreign ministers to be held September 29 on the sidelines of the UN meeting, Virasak said.
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New Thai PM affirms willingness to continue border talks with Cambodia

BANGKOK, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- Thailand's newly-elected Prime Minister Somchai Wongsaw at said Thursday that he is ready to hold talks with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen to settle their border dispute.

"I'm ready to talk with Prime Minister Hun Sen to achieve better understanding and mutual benefit," Somchai was quoted by a The Nation website report as telling journalists.

Thailand's House of Representatives on Wednesday elected Somchai, deputy leader of People Power Party (PPP) for the premiership.

Somchai added he expected Thai and Cambodian delegates to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next week.

Somchai's remarks came after Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday accused Thai soldiers of intruding into the disputed border areas, while the Thai Foreign Ministry responded that armed Cambodian units had invaded into its territory in August and September.

The Thai Foreign Ministry summoned this week Cambodia Ambassador Ung Sean to protest the invasion.

Relationship between the neighboring countries became sour since July as they have been engaged in a quarrel on a refreshed long-time border dispute, which led to a military standoff around some ancient temples along their borders.

Hun Sen has renewed a warning that he might file Cambodia's complaints to the UN Security Council or international courts if the border conflicts could not be settled on bilateral level.

Two round of talks on the border issue, concerning land around the Preah Vihear and other ancient temples between the two countries foreign ministers took place in July and August, but without much substantial progress.
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A model model

Up and coming model Truong Thi May is known for her Khmer background, her shiny, cascading hair and her towering 1.72-meter figure. But most don’t know that she’s also a dedicated student of Buddhism.

May’s face and dark complexion have become increasingly recognizable on the covers of magazines and catwalks since she took the first runner-up spot at the The Gioi Phu Nu (World of Women) magazine’s 2006 Miss Photogenic contest and the 2007 Miss Ethnic Vietnam pageant.

Her elegant runway walk, unique style and tan skin have made her a standout newcomer on the local fashion scene.

Born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1988 to Khmer-Vietnamese parents, May grew up in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, where much of Vietnam’s Khmer population lives.

She had a difficult childhood as her father died when she was only nine. As the eldest of five siblings, supporting the family was her responsibility.

She was able to cope with her family’s hardships through the help of her mother and a Buddhist monk who became a mentor and father figure.

It was her master who encouraged her to enter beauty contests. He said she could make the Khmer community in Vietnam proud.

“My modeling career has allowed me to fully support my family,” May says, adding that she hopes to become a singer and actress some day.

Though she was offered a lead role in director Phuong Dien’s much anticipated film Am Tinh (Negative), May’s mother says the young model turned it down. She says May’s Buddhist belief did not mesh with the film, which depicts in detail the rise and fall of model Lam Uyen Nhi, who went from being Miss Vietnam to a life of drugs, prostitution and AIDS.

Dharma kid

Perhaps May’s most distinct quality is her determination to avoid the decadence of the entertainment world.

Her stage name, Margaritte Truong, was given to her by her Buddhist master. The name represents her teacher’s wish that she remain as pure and innocent as a white daisy.

The 20-year-old has been practicing austere Buddhism and following a strict vegetarian diet since she was 13.

She begins her day getting up at 4 every morning, performing 108 kowtows and reading prayers.

Her family has been devoutly Buddhist for several generations and all members are vegetarians.
Her younger sister, brother and cousins are Buddhist monks and nuns.

“If destiny decides it so, I’ll also be a nun in the future,” May says, adding that she always feels at home in a pagoda.

May says her best friend is a nun and they often discuss Buddhist philosophy. “I’m most happy on weekends when my mom and I visit my master, sister and brother in Dong Nai Province. We attend sermons, do charity work, or go on pilgrimages (giving and collecting alms for others) with the clergy,” she says.

“Buddhism teaches me how to be a good person and a good child in the family. It also teaches me about life and humanity,” she says.

“It has also showed me how short and fleeting life is, so I make the most of my time and try to do good deeds,” she adds.

The religion has also taught her tolerance and forgiveness. After being the first runner-up at the 2007 Miss Ethnic Vietnam held in the highland town of Da Lat last December, May was accused of misrepresenting her ethnicity.

She later proved that she is of Khmer origin.

“I’m a Khmer in appearance and at heart and I’m proud of that,” she says.

“My family are Buddhists, so we try to avoid disputes or mentioning unpleasant past things,” May says when asked why she did not demand an apology from the man who accused her.

“I was not worried that it would stain my name, because according to Buddhist teachings, nothing will get in our way if we do nothing wrong.”
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CAMBODIA: Human trafficking likely to increase

PHNOM PENH, 17 September 2008 (IRIN) - Trafficking in Cambodia is set to rise with the sharp increase in food and fuel prices, according to humanitarian workers.

"The lure of a better life and a secure income is bound to trap more unsuspecting youngsters into the grip of these trafficking rings," Lim Tith, project coordinator for the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) in Cambodia, told IRIN.

"Trafficking is a mega-problem in Cambodia," said Vicheth Tuon, chief executive officer of the NGO Coalition to Address Trafficking and (Sexual) Exploitation of Children in Cambodia (COSECAM).

"It's becoming a critical issue that needs to be tackled head-on, in a coordinated and comprehensive way," he said.

According to the UN, men, women and children are susceptible to trafficking, with some trafficked inside the country and others sent abroad - mostly for labour exploitation.

Some women and children are recruited from the countryside by gangs and inducted into the sex trade in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, while most end up in domestic service, factories, ships or as beggars.

"I came to Phnom Penh to work in a restaurant," a 22-year-old bar-girl, Pong Ly Kaeng, said. "The owner came to our village in Svay Raeng and promised my sister he would look after me and pay me a good salary. So I went with him. But I left when the owner tried to make me have sex with a customer. Then my cousin found me a job in the bar. But I don't sleep with all my customers."

Such stories are typical among the girls working in the capital's entertainment industry, in "hostess" bars, Karaoke clubs, beer gardens and brothels.

"At least 20 percent of sex workers in Phnom Penh have been trafficked," said Lim. "It is difficult to estimate the number of people being trafficked into Phnom Penh to be commercial sex workers, but it is a constant stream, probably between 200 and 500 a month," he said.

Trafficking abroad

But there have also been reports of women being trafficked abroad for sexual exploitation.

"A few years ago there was a major case of Cambodian women being smuggled into Somalia," said Lim. "There have also been a few cases of women being transported to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to become commercial sex workers. Of course there are also many Vietnamese women who have been trafficked from southern Vietnam to work in Phnom Penh's sex industry," he said.

Many of them are under-age, a Cambodian aid worker who monitors the situation, told IRIN.

Another disturbing trend is children being trafficked to neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam to work as street sellers or beggars.

Most of the girls selling flowers in Bangkok's red light districts are Cambodians - including seven-year-old Kimmi from Phnom Penh, who has been selling roses in Nana for more than two years after her father sold her to a trafficker for US$50.

Cambodian children, especially from the western provinces, are being trafficked to Vietnam to beg and to a lesser extent work as scavengers in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh.

"Handicapped children are particularly vulnerable, as they are believed to be more effective beggars," said Lim, adding that up to 700 children a month were being trafficked across the border.

Cheap labour

Yet most Cambodians who are trafficked end up in sweat shops, construction sites, fishing trawlers and domestic service, mainly in Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan.

"One of our current concerns is Cambodian men who are being trafficked to work on fishing boats in Malaysia and Thailand," Lim said.

More than 4,000 a year were being trafficked, passing through a network, from one local recruiter to another in Phnom Penh or the border town of Poipet, to a Thai gang and then sold on to a boat, he said.

Conditions on many of the boats, which go out to sea for up to six months, are reportedly intolerable, with few safety precautions taken.

"Once on the fishing boat, life is unbearable; we get little to eat and are often beaten," Kong, a former Cambodian fisherman on a boat based in southern Thailand, said. "It's so bad there are only two choices: commit suicide or jump ship," he said.

According to the UN, more than 200,000 trafficked Cambodians are working in factories and boats in Malaysia and Thailand.

"The situation remains critical, and the fact that it remains hidden makes it much harder for the government and development workers," Tuon said.
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