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Monday, November 10, 2008

Russia could write off Cambodia's $1.5 bln debt

MOSCOW, November 10 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is discussing with the Cambodian leadership the possibility of writing off most of Cambodia's debt, which stands at around $1.5 billion, a senior Russian lawmaker said on Monday.

"Russia and Cambodia are holding talks to write off Cambodia's debt of around $1.5 billion. The principal sum (about 70%) of the debt could be written off as part of Russia's participation in the Paris Club of Creditor Nations," said Valery Yazev, deputy speaker of the lower house of Russia's parliament, after a trip to Cambodia and Laos.

Yazev said the debt's outstanding part could be divided into two and settled at concessional interest rates.

The vice-speaker said the next round of negotiations on settling Cambodia's debt to Russia would be held early next year in Moscow.

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Cambodian gov't rejects IMF s gloomy economic report

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian government officials have rebuffed a gloomy economic forecast by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), saying the Kingdom's predicted growth slowdown would not be as dire as the world body suggests, national media reported Monday.

At the culmination of a two-week mission Friday, the IMF announced that lower foreign investment, as well as runoff effects from the global financial crisis, would push Cambodia's economic growth down to 4.8 percent in 2009, from a previously predicted rate of nine percent.

But in a prepared speech Sunday for the 55th anniversary of Independence Day, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he was confident the government's strong economic record protected it against such a depreciative outlook, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

"During the last four years, Cambodia has maintained an economic growth of two digits," he was quoted as saying.

"In the fourth mandate, the government will ensure the achievement of economic growth of around seven percent a year and pull down the inflation rate to one digit," he added.

Cambodian Finance Minister Keat Chhon told the Post last week that economic growth would be no lower than 6.5 percent for 2009.

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Water Festival fears for illegal detainees in Cambodia

A human rights group is concerned that the upcoming Water Festival in Cambodia could see another surge of illegal detentions and hidden abuses for the capital Phnom Penh's homeless and sex workers.

Writing etched into the walls of one so-called "social rehabilitation center" suggests that people are being detained against their will and abused, according to rights group LICADHO.

The group has called on the Cambodian government to shut down the centres, including one that was once a Khmer Rouge death-camp in the 70s.

In recent years the camp has been turned into what the Government describes as a "Social Rehabilitation Centre."

Human rights group LICADHO says, however, it's one of several illegal prisons that keep the homeless and destitute off the streets and out of sight.

The Cambodian Government has repeatedly claimed the island camp and other similar centres are voluntary and have denied accusations of abuse.

But last week LICADHO monitors gained access to a facility in Kampong Speu province.

LICADHO'S director, Naly Pilorge says what they found was evidence that contradicts Government claims the centres are for rehabilitation.

"My colleagues entered the facilities and went into the rooms where people were detained," she said.

"Immediately they saw drawings and writing both in Khmer, in Thai and also in English of obviously former detainees that had written appeals and their situation here in those rooms. There was a number of drawings of women who implied that they had been sexually abused and raped. There was one writing in English - on one hand they said 'life' and the other was 'hell'. And there was also counts of days like you see in prisons at times all over the world where people count how many days and how many nights they have been detained.

"We have interviewed people, we have seen people who are neglected, abused and with these drawings it's obvious to us that this is a place where people are unlawfully detained and seriously abused," she said.

She says those interviewed are describing situations of the "worst you can imagine."

"Starting from not having food and water and this was obvious from the first time we went to these centres, as soon as the gates were open people ran to the grounds outside and started eating grass and leaves, so it was obvious that people were not getting enough to eat.

"We have allegations of gang rapes and sexual abuse. We also have information about beatings, very severe beatings leading to the death of people," she said.

Ms Pilorge says during many public holidays and particularly Water Festival, the Cambodian Government "wishes to maintain its image of the 'Kingdom of Wonder' and therefore the government continues to detain people who they believe contradict that image.
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Cambodia, Thailand begin border talks

Cambodia and Thailand made a "big step" by agreeing to an agenda to resolve a long-running border dispute that erupted in deadly fighting last month, Cambodia's lead negotiator said.

Officials from the two countries met in the Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap to begin three days of talks aimed at hammering out territorial claims and ending a four-month military stand-off that spilled into a deadly shootout near the ancient Preah Vihear temple last month.

"We have moved forward with a big step in resolving the border issue," Va Kimhong, head of Cambodia's border committee, told reporters at the end of a meeting in which the two sides agreed to an agenda for defusing tensions.

The negotiator added the two countries would make it a priority to demarcate territory around the 11th century Khmer temple as soon as it is cleared of landmines.

"We have also agreed to determine the location that needs to be measured in area around Preah Vihear temple," he said.

In earlier opening remarks, Mr Va said only about 60 per cent of the border between the two countries had been demarcated, despite an agreement to have lines properly drawn by the end of 2006.

"It is so important that both our countries should have clear border lines in order to solve the problem and avoid incidents," he said.

He called for both sides to cooperate in a friendly manner and "avoid using weapons and armed forces."

The foreign ministers of both countries are scheduled to meet on Wednesday, officials said.

Shortly after a round of talks failed last month, troops from the two countries clashed on October 15 on disputed land near the temple, killing one Thai soldier and three Cambodian troops.

Two rounds of emergency talks after the October clashes made little progress, with both sides only agreeing not to fire on each other again.

The Cambodian government has since announced that it plans to double its military budget next year to 500 million dollars.

The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

The most recent tensions between the neighbours began in July when the temple was awarded UN World Heritage status, rekindling a long-running disagreement over ownership of the surrounding land.

- AFP

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