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Monday, August 11, 2008

Vietnam illegal wildlife trade eats away at biodiversity

Vietnam’s appetite for illegal wildlife meat and demand for traditional medicine is devastating animal and plant species within and beyond its borders, experts warn in two new reports. Vietnam has been one of Southeast Asia’s most biodiverse countries, but some species may be lost before they are known to science due to an illegal global trade believed to be trailing only drugs and gunrunning.

Two new reports spell out that, despite Vietnam’s international commitments to combat the trade, the smuggling of tigers, monkeys, snakes, pangolins and other animals to and through Vietnam is booming.

“Vietnam’s illegal trade in wildlife continues unabated and affects neighbouring countries,” wrote Nguyen Van Song of the Hanoi Agricultural University in the Journal of Environment and Development.

“Wildlife in Vietnam has become very scarce.”

The study estimated that up to 4,000 tonnes of live animals or meat, skins, ground bones and other illegal products are trafficked into and out of Vietnam per year, generating more than 67 million dollars in revenues.

Species are mostly sourced from Vietnam’s national parks and neighbouring Laos and Cambodia, to be consumed in Vietnam, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, according to the study based on hundreds of interviews.

The largest volume of illegal wildlife goods is smuggled across the Vietnam-China border, with an estimated 2,500 to 3,500 kilogrammes flowing daily through the two major border gates, it said.
There have been high-profile crackdowns. In a case last week, Vietnamese police seized more than two tonnes of live snakes and 770 kilogrammes of tortoises from Laos en route to China.

But the report estimated that the total value of confiscated wildlife accounts for only three percent of the illegal trade, and that authorities are at a disadvantage when a forest ranger polices an average of 1,400 hectares (3,500 acres) of forest at a monthly wage of about $50.

Smugglers connected to ‘influential people’ — shorthand for gangsters — bribe or threaten officials and hide their contraband in trucks, ambulances, wedding and funeral cars and prison vans, the report said. The capital Hanoi is Vietnam’s largest market for illegal wildlife meat, with revenues of over 12,000 dollars a day, the report said.

“Hanoi is the cultural and political centre of Vietnam where wildlife protection and conservation policies are issued and implemented,” said the report.

“This suggests that the gap between policies and implementation of wildlife protection is still big.”

The most popular species served in Hanoi were snakes, palm civets, monitor lizards, porcupines, leopards, pangolins, monkeys, forest pigs, hardshell turtles, soft-shell turtles, civets, boas and birds.

The other market fuelling the trade is traditional Vietnamese and Chinese medicine, said a report by the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC.

Surveys found that “many high-profile animals of global conservation concern (such as tigers, bears or rhinos) can still be bought on the market, provided prior notice is given and that the price negotiated is high enough.”

Informants had told TRAFFIC that live tiger cubs, tiger skeletons, raw materials and processed medicinal products were brought from Cambodia, Laos and as far as Malaysia to supply the Vietnamese market.

Traders in Ninh Hiep commune near Hanoi had offered to supply investigators with “any type of medicinal animal if ordered sufficiently in advance” — including a frozen tiger, rhino horn and wild bear gall bladder.

The shop-owners who offered the illicit goods, the TRAFFIC report found, were “well organised, each claiming that they were shielded from investigations through protection by enforcement personnel.” afp
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Aussies, Brits and Kiwi rescued from capsized Cambodian tour boat

Phnom Penh - Eight foreign tourists and five Cambodians were rescued from a tourist boat which capsized in high winds and sank near the popular tourist hub of Siem Reap, a district official said Monday. One New Zealander, three Australians and four Britons were rescued from the Vietnamese-skippered 20-metre slow boat by Cambodian vessels which came to the rescue, Tho Sambath, a district governor, said by telephone.

"They were lucky they were near the shore. Any further out and it would have been difficult to help them," he said.

The boat sank in the Tonle Sap lake near Siem Reap, about 400 kilometres north-west of the capital.

Siem Reap is home to the Angkor Wat temple complex, which is Cambodia's largest tourist attraction, and a popular way to get there from the capital is by boat, despite often rudimentary safety precautions.
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Cambodia: Phnom Penh In The Groove

On the day when Cambodia Premier League leaders Phnom Penh Empire FC scored a thumping 5-0 win over Mohd Garuda, third-place Build Bright United stuttered to a 3-1 loss to Naga Corp FC.

And Build Bright could not have had a worse start to their campaign when they scored an own goal off S. Z. Sani in the 64th minute to cancel out their earlier strike from Prom Put Sithy just five minutes after the restart.

With the score level at one goal apiece, Naga Corp grew in confidence for Sunn Sovanna Rith to slam home the lead in 75th minutes before A. P. Uademebuo grabbed the winner in injury time.

The three points has allowed Naga Corp to move up to fifth in the standings.

In the meantime, Phnom Penh Empire had little difficulty to pick up the full points when they blasted five goals past a hapless Moha Garuda with Chan Rithy knocking in a hat-trick with goals in the 34th, 53rd and 90th.

The two remaining goals for Phnom Penh were scored by Chim Ratanak in the third minute and Lappe Lappe in the 76th minute as they remained on top with 36 points from 13 matches.


CURRENT CAMBODIA PREMIER LEAGUE 2008 STANDINGS

1. PHNOM PENH EMPIRE FC 36pts (+22)

2. PREAH KHAN REACH FC 23pts (+5)

3. BUILD BRIGHT UNITED FC 20pts (+9)

4. KHEMARA KEILA FC 20pts (+8)

5. NAGA CORP FC 20pts (+6)

6. NATIONAL DEFENSE MINISTRY FC 19pts (+8)

7. KIRIVONG SOK SEN CHEY FC 14pts (-11)

8. MOHA GARUDA FC 11pts (-13)

9. PHUCHUNG NEAK FC 9pts (-17)

10. POST-TEL FC 4pts (-17)

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A land of great beauty and heartbreak inspires an artist

BY ALEX SINNOTT

GENOCIDE, war, famine and renewed hope in a land redefining itself after the murderous regime of Pol Pot are subjects explored by artist Rachel Peters' exhibition on Cambodia.

Colours of the Khmer was inspired by Peters' three-week visit to Cambodia last year to meet up with a long-time friend, Kannikun Ouk.

Peters first met Kannikun in 1988 through her work in the charity organisation Initiatives for Change.

"When Kannikun was a child her father was killed, and he, like many others, were killed for the simple fact that they were teachers," Peters said.

As a teenager Kannikun became separated from her mother after fleeing Cambodia to a refugee camp in Thailand.

"For many years she didn't know that her mother was still alive in Cambodia until she was able to return to Phnom Penh in the mid-1980s," Peters said.

Visiting Cambodia in June 2007, Peters said her meeting with Kannikun was bittersweet as her physical condition had deteriorated after her experience as a refugee.

"It's a sad country. There's still a lot of corruption, but the Cambodian landscape is so rich and exotic and so aspects of that went into my artwork," she said.

Proceeds from the exhibition, which will run at the Allan Lane Community Gallery until August 17, will go to the Cambodia Trust.

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Cambodia's Sokimex Group Building 5-Star Hotel in Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH, Aug 11 Asia Pulse - Cambodia's Sokimex group has held a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a five-star hotel in Phnom Penh in an effort to improve tourism infrastructure in the country.

The US$100 million hotel, the third of its kind in Phnom Penh, is expected to be full operational in two years time.

The 16-floor hotel, once completed, will have 799 rooms, two great conference halls and 10 ballrooms.

At present, the Cambodian capital has only two five-star hotels and four four-star ones. Meanwhile, the number of foreign travellers going to Cambodia has increased rapidly, reaching 1.1 million people in the first half of 2008, up 13 per cent over the same period of last year.

The Cambodian tourism authorities have set a target of attracting 2.5 million foreign travellers this year, as compared with over 2 million visitors in 2007.

Sokimex, established in the early 1980s, is one of Cambodia's biggest business groups.
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Acleda poised to shift focus out of Cambodia

By Raphael Minder in Hong Kong

Acleda, a Cambodian microfinancier that has built up the country’s largest retail banking network, is considering opening its shareholding to a western commercial bank as it starts to expand outside its home market.

Last month Acleda became the first Cambodian bank to make a foray abroad, after obtaining a banking licence from neighbouring Laos. The bank is eyeing China and Vietnam next.

In Channy, chief executive, told the Financial Times that Acleda had received 19 investment proposals and would decide next month which one would make the best “strategic shareholder”. Western banks are on the list, although he would not disclose names.

Acleda began 15 years ago as a microfinance program­me backed by the United Nations and has since established itself as one of Asia’s leading providers of microcredit.

It has also developed a full-fledged retail business, with 214 branches across Cambodia. Mr In Channy forecast that, in five years, microfinance would represent 30-40 per cent of Acleda’s lending business, down from 50 per cent now and 70 per cent in 2005.

Mr In Channy added that there was no specific timetable for expanding into more countries but sounded particularly optimistic about filling a void in the Chinese lending market. “There is just no institution in China like ours serving the lower sector,” he said.

To meet such ambitions, Mr In Channy said Acleda “really needs the capital base to grow”, at a rate of about $70m a year. Adding a shareholder, however, could alter the balance of power, since Acleda is currently 51 per cent-owned by its staff and other locals, while the other 49 per cent is owned by foreign funds and international donors, including the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private lending arm.

With inflation recently soaring in Cambodia, Mr In Channy insisted that Acleda could weather any serious economic downturn, noting that its rate of non-performing loans was 0.02 per cent in 2007, compared with an average of 5.2 per cent for the country’s banking sector.

In a report earlier this year, Standard & Poor’s, the credit ratings agency, commended Acleda for its good asset quality, “although the laws on secured transactions are not well-defined in Cambodia and recovery is not guaranteed. This might call into question the bank’s ability to enforce claims and magnify its exposure to structural weakness in the economy.”
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