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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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