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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Plane abandoned at Hanoi airport

Vietnamese authorities say they are mystified as to who owns a Boeing 727 which has been abandoned at Hanoi's Noi Bai airport.

The plane was flown in from Siem Reap in neighbouring Cambodia in late 2007 and has been unclaimed ever since.

An airport official told the BBC that they believe the owners could be an airline based in Cambodia.

The official said that if it remains unclaimed, the plane will have to be sent for scrap.

The plane has a Cambodian flag on its fuselage and is emblazoned with the name Air Dream, but the authorities say they have no information about the airline.

Earlier, one security official at Noi Bai airport told the BBC’s Vietnamese Service that the plane belongs to bankrupt budget Cambodian airline Royal Khmer, but this is not certain.

Permission was originally given for the plane to remain at the airport while essential maintenance was carried out but these repairs have not been done.

Online newspaper VietnamNet reported that the owners could be unable or unwilling to pay the required airport parking fees.

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Cambodian progress leaves poor behind

I was driving south in the United States as my wife read out loud the April 26 New York Times column "Last Breakfast in Cambodia" by Sichan Siv, former United States ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He described his last bowl of Kuytiev noodle soup on April 17, 1975, the day armed Maoist Pol Pot Khmer Rouge radicals entered Cambodia's capital as victors.

Siv, then manager for humanitarian relief CARE, had missed the April 12 U.S. airlift out of Cambodia as he was busy with a relief meeting elsewhere. Subsequently, he spent a year in Pol Pot's "slave labor camps" where he survived two death sentences, then escaped, was jailed in Thailand, and finally was allowed to resettle in the U.S.

Thirty-three years later, Siv's column's datelined at Angkor, ancient Khmer ruins he visited during the Cambodian celebration of New Year. The Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese troops never permitted those traditional celebrations, Siv says, "But now Cambodia is free again and the festivities are in the open." Yet, Siv also observed, "Cambodia today is not unlike the Cambodia of my youth -- there is deep poverty and enormous wealth side by side. There is unrest beneath the surface ... ."

Siv's writing takes me to the March 27 statement by Ron Abney, director of the International Republican Institute, who was injured in Phnom Penh by the March 1997 hand grenade attack on the opposition Sam Rainsy Party protesters. The attack brought the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to Cambodia. No result was revealed.

Abney's statement reads: "Cambodia hasn't really changed. Everything looks shinier and tourists who fly from their own country to Bangkok or Hong Kong to Siem Reap and its five-star hotels and then back to their homes talk of how wonderful it is to see all the changes. They should travel about an hour from Siem Reap in any direction and see what has happened to the homeless who used to pack the streets of that great city.

"In Cambodia everybody votes but nobody counts," the statement charges.

Country for sale
Ironically, on the day Siv's "now Cambodia is free again" appeared in the Times, in England The Guardian's Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark's 11-page "Country for sale" (guardian.co.uk) reported, "Almost half of Cambodia has been sold to foreign speculators in the past 18 months -- and hundreds of thousands who fled the Khmer Rouge are homeless again."

The British claimed that Russian investor Alexander Trofimov bought Snake Island, or "Koh Puos," from Cambodia in 2006, and in 2007 Cambodia's islands of Russei, Ta Kiev, Bong, Ouen, Preus, Krabei, Tres "were all snapped up by foreigners" who also negotiated to buy "public beaches" as well. The "super-rich, predominately British, French and Swiss speculators, fuelled by a high-risk machismo, came hunting for profits of 30 percent or more. Their interest was land speculation ...," the article says, and the writers accuse authorities of permitting investors "to form 100 percent foreign-owned companies in Cambodia that can buy land and real estate outright -- or at least on 99-year-plus-99-year leases. No other country in the world countenances such a deal." The article was floated on the Internet by Cambodian groups, but I was amazed by the lack of discussion about it.

Economic development comes in many forms and shades. In "Angkor Wat: A Temple to Tourism?" Susan Postlewaite writes in the April 21 Business Week, "Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of the famous ruins, is booming, and luxury hotels, galleries, golf courses and spas are rising to meet demand." Of the 2.1 million tourists who visited Cambodia in 2006, almost half went to Angkor Wat. "Everyone is happy. The government is happy, the prime minister is happy," Postlewaite quoted a consultant for the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, about the international arrivals.

Getting a makeover
Postlewaite's "Real Estate Boom in Cambodia's Capital" in the June 2 Business Week reminds, "A decade ago, Phnom Penh lacked even a single traffic light. Today, as land speculators rake in profits and new developments lure tenants, the dilapidated capital ... is getting a makeover. All over the city, shanty towns and old villas are being sold for land value and razed to make way for high-rise apartments, office buildings, shopping malls, and new villas." Postlewaite mentioned a 42-story "residential building," a 52-story skyscraper, both funded by money from South Korea.
The sales manager for the $240 million Korean-funded Gold Tower 42 skyscraper that's expected to be completed in three and a half years was quoted as boasting, "We are 80 percent sold out," with "high-ranking Cambodians and some foreigners from other Asian countries" plunking down deposits. And don't worry that foreigners are not allowed to own real estate in Cambodia. "You can get (Cambodian) citizenship" if your investment is of a certain size; "It's a contribution to the country," Postlewaite quoted a Western law firm in Phnom Penh.

Postlewaite says opposition leader Sam Rainsy called "many of the real estate deals 'shady.'" She writes, "The scramble for prime land has led to widespread evictions of people without clear land titles to the properties," and references a human rights group's report in Phnom Penh as claiming more than 50,000 people were evicted for development in 2006 and 2007, where "a developer wants to build a new township that will have condos, a hotel, and shopping."

"There is no balance between the big development and the rights of the people," a human rights lawyer told Postlewait.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at peangmeth@yahoo.com.

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Cambodia marks 1962 Preah Vihear verdict

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni on Tuesday endorsed a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the International Court ruling that awarded an ancient border temple to Cambodia over Thailand, according to a letter received Tuesday.

In a letter to the head of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation, Moeung Son, the king congratulated their efforts to organise the June 15 ceremony and wished them success.

"I deeply thank you for this information and would like to admire this ceremony's organisation to remember this event," the king wrote.

The foundation is a newly formed group of archeologists, business people, interested citizens and legal consultants formed to lobby for Cambodian interests of the once-disputed 11th century Preah Vihear temple perched on the Thai border.

King Sihamoni was a former ambassador for Cambodia to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Cambodia rejected an offer for Thailand to co-manage the Hindu temple that dates to the Khmer Empire, and asked Unesco to list it as a World Heritage site.

Thailand disputes the border around the temple but seems to have resigned itself to the World Heritage listing after recent UN-brokered talks in Paris, although it remains a sensitive cross-border issue.

The temple, known as Prasat Phra Viharn by Thais, is sacred to both sides and was previously occupied by Thailand, but the International Court in The Hague ruled it to be Cambodian in 1962.



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