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Monday, October 06, 2008

Cambodia's silk industry could face collapse: prince

Prince Pheanuroth warns that a drop in domestic silk farming and threat of declining imports could kill a vital industry trade

CAMBODIA'S silk weaving industry could face colapse, with supplies from Vietnam and China expected to dry up, Prince Sisowath Pheanuroth told the Post last week.

"We want the government and concerned NGOs to help expand the cultivation of mulberry trees and silkworms [in Cambodia] without delay," said Prince Pheanuroth, who coordinates the Phnom Penh-based NGO Cambodian Sector-Wide Silk Project.
Cambodia imports about 700 tonnes of raw silk a year from Vietnam and China, at a cost of US$28,500 per tonne, or $20 million every year - a 10 percent increase over last year, Prince Pheanuroth said.

But with large silk factories in China and Vietnam coming online, local silk producers may be starved out of feedstocks.
About 400 tonnes go to local manufacturers, while the balance gets exported to Thailand, he added.

"The import of large amounts of raw silk is not good because imported silk is poorer in quality than Cambodian silk," Prince Pheanuroth said.

The local industry has become dependent on the low-quality imports, he said.

"Vietnam and China ... have been focusing their silk industry on textile factories," he said.

"When demand increases in those countries, they will no longer be able to satisfy the Cambodian market."
The prince called for greater government involvement to prevent the decline of the silk industry.

"We know that Cambodia cannot compete in the silk sector because [Vietnam and China] have a much greater capacity for silk production. The government must encourage more silk production at home if it hopes to avoid shortages in the future," he said.

The prince said that prior to 1998, Cambodia had about 2,000 silk-producing families.

That number has fallen to 700 today as farmers turn to more easily produced crops or decide to sell their mulberry plantations - the principal source of food for silkworms - to capitalise on rising land prices.

Domestic farmers produced about 50 tonnes of raw silk per year during the 1960s, he said, but the turbulence of the 1970s and the civil war that followed effectively ended the manufacture and trade of silk.

A vital sector
Men Sineoun, executive director of the Cambodian Handicraft Association, said imported silk is vital to the sustainability of the silk sector.

He said the association, which comprises 43 NGOs and some 2,000 members, accounted for about $2.5 million of exports in 2008 to 16 countries in Europe, North America and Asia.
"Ninety-five percent of our finished goods use imported raw silk," he said.

"If there were no imports, we would face difficulties. Cambodia's silk market should be a priority because foreign markets still desire handmade products," he added.

Mao Thora, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce, said Cambodia needs about 400 tonnes of raw silk per year to sustain the industry and called for greater investment from the private sector.

"Cambodian farmers can only produce about three to five tonnes per year," he said.
Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, agreed that private investment was important but stressed a greater governmental role in bolstering the sector.

"The government should encourage private companies to invest in this sector ... and encourage farmers through start-up capital, new mulberry plantations and an increase in silk worm farming," he told the Post.
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Landmine hurts Thai soldiers near Preah Vihear

(BangkokPost.com) - Two Thai field soldiers lost their legs on Monday after stepping on a landmine in the lower northeastern province of Si Sa Ket near the Thai-Cambodian border area.

It was the same spot about three kilometres from the 11th century temple of Preah Vihear where soldiers from both sides clashed briefly last Friday.

Landmines in the site were previously dismantled and removed, and it is believed that new landmines could be activated in the area, according to a bomb rescue unit stationed in Si Sa Ket. One of the rangers lost a leg while the other lost both of them, he said.

After the explosion, more Cambodian troops were deployed to the border area.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, said he had talks with the Cambodian counterpart and everything is going well. However, he avoided talking about the details of their discussions.

Gen Chavalit said he and Prime Minister and Defence Minister Somchai Wongsawat will travel to Cambodia on October 13 to work out the Preah Vihear case.

“Thailand and Cambodia are neighbouring countries with close relations. There could be some minor issues, but they can be solved,” Gen Chavalit believed.
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CAMBODIA: Coastal development threatens livelihoods

SIHANOUKVILLE, 6 October 2008 (IRIN) - The beach looks idyllic with its white sand and seagulls but soon it will be populated with high-end resorts. Sophal, who requested his family name not be revealed, does not know what will happen to his home once the evictions begin.

“This entire area will be cleared out,” he said. “I don't know when, or why. They [the government] don't tell us anything. Just that a big buyer came and bought it.”

“Some powerful people in the government are taking all the land ... and soon we'll have nothing left,” he said.

Those 192 hectares of land were allegedly ceded to high ranking military officer Sar Soeung, who uses the space as private property, a report by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission revealed.

According to Cambodian officials, Sihanoukville, one of Southeast Asia's popular backpacker resorts, is poised to become the region's next big tourist destination.

To expedite the process, the government regularly hands land concessions to government-tied elites at the expense of poor residents, claims Cambodian human rights watchdog Adhoc.

“These concessions and evictions are mostly a problem of corruption,” Cherp Sotheary, Sihanoukville coordinator for Adhoc, told IRIN. “Most of the private investors who got concessions are affiliated with the ruling party, coming in the form of joint ventures with foreign companies.”

The Sihanoukville governor's office was not available for comment.

Rabbit run

The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) announced on 13 September it had granted permission to the Cambodian Pol Cham Group to develop a five-star resort and golf course on Koh Tunsay, or Rabbit Island, reported the Cambodian English daily, the Phnom Penh Post.

But that project will require the eviction of 14 families, who claim they were compensated only US$900 when they demanded $20,000.

“In Sihanoukville, the fishermen and their communities depend on the environment to earn their living, usually by farming vegetables,” Sotheary told IRIN. “When the investments come, they clear the land and locals lose their income.”

Other islands have been ceded to British, French, Chinese and Russian investors, but residents claim the government did not inform or consult them about the purchases.

Sihanoukville governor Say Hak, however, guaranteed residents the right to stay with legal documentation under Cambodia's 2001 land law. The central Cambodian government also declared the coast and islands public property that could not be developed.

According to a 2008 report by Yash Ghai, the UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, land laws are “regularly” violated “with impunity by influential individuals, companies and government entities”.
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