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Saturday, February 28, 2009

US: drug problems in Cambodia, Philippines

By FOSTER KLUG

WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday praised Beijing for its efforts to fight drug smugglers but said China remains a major transit point for international drug markets.

The State Department, in its annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, also described substantial drug problems facing Asia, including in Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar; progress was seen in Laos and Vietnam.

While Beijing recognizes drugs as a major threat to its security and economy, "corruption in far-flung drug-producing and drug transit regions of China limits what dedicated enforcement officials can accomplish," the report said.

North Korean drug activity, the report said, "appears to be down sharply. There have been no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years."

But, the State Department said, not enough evidence exists to determine if state-sponsored trafficking has stopped. The State Department has previously raised suspicions that Pyongyang derived money from drug production and trafficking.

In the report, the United States also said that drug runners have increasingly looked to move their products through Cambodia because of Thai and Chinese crackdowns.

The report noted "a significant and growing illegal drug problem" in Cambodia. It praised the country for destroying seized drugs and stiffening penalties for drug use and trafficking but said corruption hampers government efforts.

The State Department called the scope of the drug problem in the Philippines "immense," despite law enforcement efforts to disrupt major drug organizations. Still, the report said, the government had some success enforcing counter-narcotics laws.

Laos has made "tremendous progress" in reducing opium cultivation, but, the report said, the country's momentum is "stalling, and gains remain precarious."

Vietnam was said to have continued making progress in fighting drugs, improving its pursuit of drug runners and its cooperation among state agencies and with the United Nations.

The report said that, in 2007, rising opium values pushed poppy cultivation into new regions of military-run Myanmar. The State Department did not receive 2008 U.N. statistics on Myanmar in time for the annual report.

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Burma, Cambodia Bar Rights Activists from ASEAN Talks

By VOA News

Burma and Cambodia blocked leading activists from attending talks with Southeast Asian leaders Saturday in Thailand, where the regional bloc is trying to promote human rights as part of its charter.

Leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations - ASEAN - were set to hold rare talks with civil society representatives at their annual summit, taking place in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin.

But, Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen said they would not take part if activists from their own countries were present.

Debbie Stothard, a coordinator with the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said rights groups had no choice but the withdraw their Burmese and Cambodian representatives.

The barred activists were Khin Omar, a democracy campaigner from Burma, and Pen Somony, a volunteer coordinator from Cambodia.

Human rights have been a recurring issue for ASEAN, which has a charter that prevents interference in its members' affairs.

Soe Aung, with the Burmese rights group, told reporters that ASEAN needs to change its policy of non-interference or no change will ever come to Burma.

ASEAN comprises Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines.
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Friday, February 27, 2009

Cambodian opposition leader loses immunity

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian parliamentary committee has suspended the immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a move he condemned on Friday as unconstitutional and intended to silence criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The French-educated former finance minister, who leads a party named after himself, was stripped of his immunity for refusing to pay a $2,500 fine for defaming Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party during last year's election.

Rather than paying the fine to what he says is a systemically corrupt government, he had offered to give the same amount to a hospital.

Under Cambodia's constitution, only the full National Assembly, not its Permanent Committee, can strip a sitting Member of Parliament of immunity from prosecution.

"They are definitely taking a short-cut. They definitely violated the constitution, which means that they want to silence me," Sam Rainsy told Reuters.

When stripped of his immunity in the past, he has often fled Cambodia shortly afterwards, normally to France.

A former Khmer Rouge soldier who has been in charge for the last 23 years, Hun Sen won a landslide in July's election but remains vulnerable in Phnom Penh to Sam Rainsy, who commands support from the capital's increasingly educated youth.

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Thai, Cambodian PMs meet as border tension eases

HUA HIN, Thailand, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva met his Cambodian counterpart on Friday as tension along their disputed border has eased, vowing to start energy cooperation in the overlapping Gulf of Thailand.

Abhisit said both countries had agreed to set up panels of technical experts to work on demarcation of the gas-rich area.

"Our understanding has been improved a lot recently and we are looking into possibilities to start our energy cooperation," Abhisit told reporters.

Cambodia's exploration area covers 37,000 square km (14,300 sq miles), while another 27,000 square km are disputed with Thailand.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said this month his government was preparing a framework to manage its energy revenues when offshore oil fields start producing from 2010.

In November last year, U.S. major Chevron Corp (CVX.N) and operator of Block A in the Gulf of Thailand, said Cambodia's first oil was unlikely to be onstream before 2010 at the earliest.

Chevron operates the block with a 55 percent interest, while Mitsui Oil Exploration, a unit of Mitsui & Co (8031.T), holds a 30 percent stake and South Korea's GS Caltex a 15 percent stake. Abhisit said he would expand cooperation with Cambodia to trade and tourism, aiming for a one-visa-two-country project for tourists who want to visit both countries at once.

Phnom Penh and Bangkok agreed earlier this month to withdraw the remaining troops on their disputed border to avoid a repeat of last year's armed clashes near a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Hun Sen told reporters this month both countries would jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area where four soldiers died in a firefight last October.

The Preah Vihear temple, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand, sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two countries and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of adjoining scrubland, leaving considerable scope for disagreement. (Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Valerie Lee)
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US: drug problems in Cambodia, Philippines

By FOSTER KLUG

WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday praised Beijing for its efforts to fight drug smugglers but said China remains a major transit point for international drug markets.

The State Department, in its annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, also described substantial drug problems facing Asia, including in Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar; progress was seen in Laos and Vietnam.

While Beijing recognizes drugs as a major threat to its security and economy, "corruption in far-flung drug-producing and drug transit regions of China limits what dedicated enforcement officials can accomplish," the report said.

North Korean drug activity, the report said, "appears to be down sharply. There have been no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years."

But, the State Department said, not enough evidence exists to determine if state-sponsored trafficking has stopped. The State Department has previously raised suspicions that Pyongyang derived money from drug production and trafficking.

In the report, the United States also said that drug runners have increasingly looked to move their products through Cambodia because of Thai and Chinese crackdowns.

The report noted "a significant and growing illegal drug problem" in Cambodia. It praised the country for destroying seized drugs and stiffening penalties for drug use and trafficking but said corruption hampers government efforts.

The State Department called the scope of the drug problem in the Philippines "immense," despite law enforcement efforts to disrupt major drug organizations. Still, the report said, the government had some success enforcing counter-narcotics laws.

Laos has made "tremendous progress" in reducing opium cultivation, but, the report said, the country's momentum is "stalling, and gains remain precarious."

Vietnam was said to have continued making progress in fighting drugs, improving its pursuit of drug runners and its cooperation among state agencies and with the United Nations.

The report said that, in 2007, rising opium values pushed poppy cultivation into new regions of military-run Myanmar. The State Department did not receive 2008 U.N. statistics on Myanmar in time for the annual report.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

ASEAN leaders challenged on rights, economy

by Thanaporn Promyamyai, Agence France-Presse


HUA HIN, Thailand - Southeast Asian leaders Thursday faced renewed pressure to deal with rights abuses in Myanmar on the eve of an annual summit likely to be dominated by the global economic crunch.

International rights watchdogs and the United States both urged Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders gathering here this weekend to push for reform in the military-ruled nation, the 10-member group's black sheep.

Tight security was in place in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin, amid fears anti-government protesters who have besieged the premier's office in Bangkok could turn their attentions to the three-day summit starting Friday.

ASEAN ministers are expected to discuss the formation of a regional human rights body on Friday, a day before heads of state formally meet, but Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch expressed concerns.

"To be worthy of its name, the body must be empowered to effectively address human rights in Myanmar," Donna Guest, London-based Amnesty's Asia-Pacific deputy director, said in a statement.

Myanmar, ruled by the military since 1962, is a member of ASEAN but has long been a thorn in its side, with Western nations urging the regional bloc to push the junta towards political reform.

The rights groups said the summit must in particular address the rights of refugees and migrants, in particular Myanmar's Rohingya boat people, whom the military of fellow ASEAN member Thailand is also accused of abusing.

They also highlighted recent harsh prison terms handed down to pro-democracy activists.

Separately the US ambassador to ASEAN, Scot Marciel, called on the region to push Myanmar's rulers for "political progress" using their contacts and access to the country.

ASEAN has not put the issue of the Rohingyas on its agenda for the rigidly organised summit, but Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said it might be discussed at an informal dinner with his colleagues late Wednesday.

Kasit defended the planned rights body, saying: "We are an ASEAN family... we can talk to one another without making demands or questioning."

But the focus of the summit is expected to be ASEAN's efforts to help its export-driven economies escape the ravages of the global financial crisis, with several member nations either already in recession or on the brink.

Leaders are to sign a declaration on a roadmap for forming a European Union-style community by 2015 and to formally initial a free-trade pact with Australia and New Zealand.

They will also discuss a 120-billion-dollar emergency fund agreed on by Asian finance ministers on Sunday -- but analysts warn that the region is largely at the mercy of what happens elsewhere.

Several ASEAN nations are also distracted by elections or political turmoil, with Thailand facing a recent resurgence of months of unrest that had forced the summit to be delayed from its original date in December.

Key regional partners including China, Japan and India have stayed away from the rescheduled summit.

In Bangkok, supporters of ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra rallied for a third day outside current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's office to demand new elections.

Thailand's Kasit, who faces calls to quit over his involvement in a protest movement that shuttered Bangkok's airports last year, defended his record and said he did not think his attendance at the summit would be a distraction.

"I am such a nice person and serving society to the best of my ability," Kasit said.

Officials said there was no threat to the summit from the latest protests but police said they had deployed more than 5,000 officers, including some with sniffer dogs, to protect the venue.

Thailand currently holds the rotating chair of ASEAN, which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

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Two UK men found dead in Cambodia

Two British men have been found dead in a Cambodian hotel room after apparently snorting heroin by mistake.

Mark Ganley, 34, and David Hunt, 36, both originally from Southampton, were found in a hotel in the capital city Phnom Penh earlier this week while on holiday, sources said.

The Foreign Office added that consular assistance was given to the families of the men after the deaths were reported.

Cambodian police said businessman Mr Ganley, believed to be living in Vietnam at the time of his death with his partner, and journalist Mr Hunt had bloodied noses.

It is thought they died of overdoses after snorting heroin-based powder but believing it to be cocaine.

The men were found in a shared hotel room with a bag of white powder and some local currency after a maid entered.

Cambodian police are investigating the deaths.

Mr Hunt's sister Kate Sanderson told the Southern Daily Echo: "This was a tragic accident and we are devastated by our loss.

"Both Mark and David were talented individuals and were hugely loved and respected by family and friends alike. They will be sadly missed."

Mr Hunt worked for the Portsmouth based news agency M&Y and its director Pat Symes said: "David worked for us for three years and we were deeply shocked and saddened by the news. He was an outstanding news and sports journalist and is already greatly missed."
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Detention hearing for Khmer Rouge official delayed

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Judges at Cambodia's genocide tribunal say they have delayed a hearing on whether to release the Khmer Rouge's former foreign minister from pretrial detention, citing his poor health.

Head judge Prak Kimsan said Thursday the hearing was postponed until April 2 following an appeal by Ieng Sary's attorneys on health grounds. Ieng Sary did not appear in court.

It is the second time that Ieng Sary, 83, has filed a petition for release since his arrest in 2007 on charges of crimes against humanity.

He was hospitalized Monday with a urinary infection and returned to his cell Wednesday.

The U.N.-assisted tribunal has charged five people in connection with the estimated 1.7 million deaths during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vietnam, Cambodia agree to accelerate border marker planting

Speed up land grabe and encrouchment by Yuon Ha Noi, land and sea in thousand squar kilometres are shrinking deep into Cambodia territories.

VietNamNet Bridge – The eighth session of the Vietnam-Cambodia joint technical subcommittee for land border demarcation and marker planting was held in Phnom Penh from Feb. 23-25.

The Vietnamese delegation was headed by Nguyen Hong Thao, Deputy Head of the Foreign Ministry’s National Border Committee and member of the Vietnam-Cambodia joint border committee, whilst the Cambodian delegation was led by Long Visalo, Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Head of the Joint Technical Committee for Land Border Demarcation and Marker Planting.

Based on the results of the border demarcation and marker planting activities undertaken by Vietnam and Cambodia as well as the current situation in each country, the two sides agreed to propose adjustments to the master plan governing the matter for the 2009-2012 period.

They also discussed preparations for the third session of the Vietnam-Cambodia Joint Committee for Border Demarcation and Marker Planting.
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Ecstasy threatens rainforests in Cambodia

Authorities, working with conservationists, have raided and closed several 'ecstasy oil' distilleries in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains. The distilleries posed a threat to the region's rich biological diversity, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the conservation group involved in the operation.

"The factories had been set up to distill 'sassafras oil'; produced by boiling the roots and the trunk of the exceptionally rare Mreah Prew Phnom trees and exported to neighbouring countries," said FFI. "The oil is used in the production of cosmetics, but can also be used as a precursor chemical in the altogether more sinister process of producing MDMA – more commonly known as ecstasy. The distillation process not only threatens Mreah Prew Phnom trees, but damages the surrounding forest ecosystem. Producing sassafras oil is illegal in Cambodia."

The raids followed a month-long investigation by FFI and the Ministry of Environment which turned up several newly built sassafras factories run by Vietnamese syndicates in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary. The sassafras oil is usually smuggled to Thailand or Vietnam.

"The re-emergence of the sassafras factories in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is of enormous concern to us," Tim Wood, FFI Field Coordinator at Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, said. "Not only are we faced with the prospect that the oil may be used for producing illicit drugs, but the factories have a very destructive impact on the fragile habitats and ecosystems in the sanctuary.

"These factories are located close to streams and by-products from the distillation process causes significant pollution of the environment. In addition, the distillation process itself uses enormous quantities of fuel wood from other rainforest trees. Finally, the factory workers typically engage in poaching wildlife from the surrounding forests to supplement their basic diets. Thankfully, on this occasion we were able to locate and destroy the factories before they were in full production mode."
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CAMBODIA: Cursed by oil and poverty

PHNOM PENH, Having allegedly exhausted Cambodia's timber resources to fund its 1990s civil war, business and military elites are plundering mining resources while failing to uphold international human rights and transparency standards, a new report warns.

The long-term effects could fuel corruption and contribute to a "resource curse", whereby a tiny elite soaks up the profits instead of using oil and mining revenues to alleviate poverty, London-based Global Witness states in Country for Sale.

Cambodia is Southeast Asia’s second-poorest country after East Timor, with 35 percent of its population living on less than US$1 a day, according to government statistics.

Revenues from the 2005 oil find, which could total more than $1.5 billion annually, according to some estimates, should be directed to achieving its 2015 Millennium Development Goals, say critics.

"I see the rise of Cambodia's mining and oil sectors as just one part of the wholesale diversification of natural resource and state asset exploitation in Cambodia," Eleanor Nichols, a campaigner for Global Witness, told IRIN.

"Historically, the revenue generated by their misappropriation has reinforced the position and impunity of elites, further strengthening their hold on the levers of power," she said.

Global Witness has had a rocky relationship with the government, having closed its office in Phnom Penh in 2005 after threats over a report implicating top officials of illegal logging.

The Nobel-prize nominated group first monitored the country's forestry resources in the 1990s when international donors urged logging reform.

Greater transparency demanded

The group, with several other NGOs, continues to urge international donors to demand more transparency in Cambodia’s young oil and mining sectors as a condition for aid.

Cambodia receives about $600 million aid every year. In 2009, the national budget is $1.77 billion, with donors pledging around $1 billion.

"It is fair to say that the revenue generated would be significant for a country which still relies on donor countries to provide the equivalent of over 50 percent of the annual government budget in development aid," Nichols said.

Secretive mining contracts, mostly in the country's remote northern provinces, allegedly require the forced, mass evictions of rural poor and indigenous people.

"On some sites, land has been taken from local people and cases of intimidation of residents are reported," Global Witness stated. "There has been no free, prior and informed consent by the local population in any of these cases."

The Cambodian embassy in London issued an angry response to the report, denying the accusations.

"The Global Witness report was fairly underhanded and failed to recognise the tireless work and vision of some in government," Michael McWalter, the Asian Development Bank's oil and gas adviser to the government, told IRIN in an e-mail.

Oil worries

The International Monetary Fund estimated the find off the southwest coast at two billion barrels, though energy giant Chevron has been tight-lipped about numbers.

Cambodia could follow the patterns of Nigeria, Venezuela and Iraq, where mismanagement and secrecy surrounding oil contracts plunged the countries into further poverty, said Ou Virak, an economist and head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

"There's every indication Cambodia is heading towards Nigeria. We fit very well of a profile of countries facing a resource curse," he told IRIN. "The fact that all key institutions with money are headed by only a few people indicates there is no intention of having a system in place for transparency and accountability."

Donors last year asked the government to consider joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) a global coalition of governments, companies and civil society groups that requires full disclosure of oil, gas and mineral revenues.

The government originally considered signing on to EITI, but reportedly said in October it would not endorse the initiative.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) hosted a conference last March to address how the government should manage oil and gas revenues to alleviate poverty.

At the conference, delegates from the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority, Supreme National Economic Council, and Norwegian Petroleum Directorate discussed the possibility of establishing an independent fund to manage revenues transparently, a model that has worked in Norway.
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"Super" malaria threat on Thai-Cambodia border

LONDON, The fight against malaria could be undermined by the emergence on the Thai-Cambodian border of strains that are resistant to the most potent type of drug, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday.

Artemisinin, a compound extracted from a Chinese herb, is regarded by medical experts as the best drug against malaria and is recommended for use in combination with other medicines to stop the development of resistance.

But the WHO said there was growing evidence that parasites resistant to artemisinin had emerged along the border between Cambodia and Thailand, where workers walk for miles every day to clear forests.

The risk is similar to the development of so-called "superbugs" that are resistant to antibiotics.

"If we do not put a stop to the drug-resistant malaria situation that has been documented in the Thai-Cambodia border, it could spread rapidly to neighbouring countries and threaten our efforts to control this deadly disease," Hiroki Nakatani, WHO assistant director-general, said in a statement.

The WHO plans to try and contain the spread of resistance with the help of a $22.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The prevalence of malaria has been reduced considerably over the past 50 years, but the disease still kills more than a million people every year.

Resistance along the Thai-Cambodia border started with chloroquine, followed by resistance to sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and mefloquine, drugs used in malaria control several years ago.

The risk of resistance to any drug increases when it is used on its own, which is why the WHO recommends the routine use of artemisinin combination therapies, such as Novartis AG's (NOVN.VX) Coartem. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler, editing by Will Waterman)
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In Sihanouk's words: the Cambodian monarch's private archives

This file picture taken on Feb. 24, 1995 shows King Norodom Sihanouk praying during a Buddhist ceremony at Wat Mony Prasittivong outside Phnom Penh (AFP photo / files)

PARIS, Feb 25, 2009 (AFP) - In meticulously labelled boxes piled on shelves in an old Paris building lies the hidden story of Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk, his personal chronicle of 30 years of Khmer suffering and death.

After abdicating in 2004, the self-proclaimed "king-father" of the country, now aged 87, handed France his personal archives last January for safe-keeping at the National Archive.

"Rarely does a foreign head of state give archives to another country," said Olivier de Bernon, head researcher at the Far-East French Institute (EFEO) and the first to browse the "historically significant" papers.

"The archives were never in Cambodia, but came directly from Sihanouk's home in Beijing," said de Bernon.

It took him two years, with the help of two researchers and an archivist, to sift through the king's 10,000 photographs and one million documents. An inventory of the "Sihanouk Fund" is to be published this year.

Destroyed by later regimes, no personal records remain of Sihanouk's first reign, coronation or childhood. The Paris archives cover the later agitated times that followed Lon Nol's pro-American coup which overthrew Sihanouk on March 18, 1970.

Among the gems are a photograph of Sihanouk's resignation speech as head of state of the Khmer Rouge regime on April 2, 1976 and pictures of North Korea, where he was invited by the country's founder, the late Kim Il-Sung.

Head of state turned political prisoner, Sihanouk spent 1976-79 under house arrest in his Phnom Pen palace with Queen Monique.

A one-time sympathiser of the extremist Cambodian communist movement nicknamed "the red prince" during the Vietnam War, it was the king himself who came up with the name "Khmer Rouge" in 1960.

But de Bernon said Sihanouk was never a supporter of the extremists, with five of his children and 14 grandchildren killed under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, which left a total of two million Cambodians dead.

"The king was in Beijing from April to September 1975 and was only in power for a year under the Khmer Rouge before resigning. It was only in 1977, like many others, that he understood how the regime operated, and in fact high-ranking Chinese officials had to intervene to ensure he wasn't killed," said de Bernon.

Letters signed Zhou Enlai, Malraux, Arafat, Mandela or Reagan are among Sihanouk's letters.

One from actress Jane Fonda congratulates him for the Khmer Rouge victory and offers to take up their cause in the US.

"Sihanouk has a literary style that shines through in his letters, speeches and thousands of drafts," said de Bernon.

A workaholic with a wide variety of interests, Sihanouk wrote poems, songs and even recipes, and played the saxophone and piano. He could sing in a dozen languages, sometimes for four or five hours at a time, and shot dozens of films glorifying Cambodia.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thailand to return seized Cambodian artefacts

Fine Arts Department director-general Kriangkrai Sampatchalit said yesterday that the other 36 items wanted by Cambodia could not yet be returned because more evidence was needed to prove their origin.


The Cabinet yesterday agreed to return seven artefacts to Cambodia in a yet to be scheduled handover ceremony.

"Once more evidence is provided to us, the department will identify and verify these [36] items," he added.

The sandstone artefacts to be returned are an 86-centimetre bust of a goddess and six of demons varying in height from 60cm to 81cm. The busts date back to the 18th century and some are cracked or damaged.

Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch said the artefacts had been intercepted by customs in Samut Prakan province in May 2000, while they were being smuggled into Thailand in sea-freight cargo. They have since been in the custody of the Fine Arts Department pending completion of legal and customs procedures.

There are no details over whether anybody was arrested.

The items will be put on display at the National Museum from today before they are handed over. The Fine Arts Department's permanent secretary Weera Rojphojjanarat said it had not been decided if Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen would be invited to the handover ceremony.

The Culture and Foreign Ministries of both countries are working on diplomatic protocol to have the artefacts returned to Cambodia as soon as possible, reportedly as a sign of goodwill aimed at strengthening bilateral relations that have soured after the Phrea Vihear dispute.

Kriangkrai said the department was pursuing some 100 artefacts of Thai heritage that have reportedly surfaced in other countries.
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Typhoon or big bright sun: the economic forecast on Cambodia goes wild

Short, poor, ill and corrupt, or, in other words, the new potential composite of the average Cambodian person elaborated on the basis of statistical figures circulated here and there by various international and national organisations intervening in Cambodia. However, despite the profusion of reports, charts, tables and databases supposed to dissect the Cambodian economy and society, finding recent and reliable elements in the jungle of numbers that these statistics made in Cambodia represent remains a hard task. Alarmist views regarding the economic crisis do not help either since they provide indices which take different shapes and prove randomly malleable. And indeed, predictions for 2009 might well make one feel giddy, as they bet on an economic growth rate oscillating between 1% and... 6%, according to sources. Even though analyses disagree on the results concerning the past few years, forecasting Cambodian economy looks like a tough challenge.

GDP: who can lower the stakes?
The International Monetary Fund is definite on that point: Cambodia is going to be badly stricken by the global economic crisis. Six months ago only, the same organisation reckoned that despite a slight downturn, the Cambodian economy remained “robust”, and all indicators are today are in the red: a decrease in orders in the textile industry, a drastic drop in the number of tourists, a massive decline in the building sector ... The direct result is that the growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product, which was due to go above 7% in 2008 was revised downwards and reached an estimated 6.5% at the end of the year. For 2009, according to the latest report released by the institution, the growth rate should not go over 4.8%, a prediction which is already dubbed as optimistic by John Nelmes, IMF Resident Representative in Cambodia.

For its part, the World Bank , who also revised its estimations for the past years (the 7.5% estimated in 2008 were brought down to 6.7%), predicts for 2009 a growth rate close to 5% (4.9% to be precise, i.e. 2 points below the initial predictions). The Asian Development Bank (ADB ) forecasts for its part 4.7%. And the Economist Intelligence Unit (a branch specialising in economic statistics and forecasts within the private British group The Economist) is the naysayer in the lot, putting forward predictions of a rate close to 1%, in other words the weakest Cambodia has ever seen, at least since the Paris Accords (October 23rd 1991).

When it comes to those figures, the Cambodian government refrains from officially refuting them, for the simple reason that they were partly calculated thanks to data that the government themselves communicated to those organisations, via the Ministry of Economy and Finance , the Ministry of Planning and the National Institute of Statistics (NIS ) . However, it appears easy for the government to downplay the impact of this today, by proposing in turn its own “estimations” and its “objectives”. The prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, claimed on February 16th in front of a packed audience of international economists, that the Cambodian GDP could well increase by 6%, with a little bit of good will!

Clear skies, showers or typhoon?
Between the bright sun the government would like to dream of, the typhoon forecast by the British group and the skies alternating sunny spells and scattered showers predicted by the World Bank, the IMF and the ADB, it is hard to know who to turn to and trust. Most analysts yet speak with one pessimistic voice. Indeed, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) announces tens of thousands of unemployed people in Cambodia’s key-sectors, which will be the victims of a crisis which would supposedly affect no less than 500,000 Cambodians and might even, by the end of 2009, concern more than a million of them. The French daily newspaper le Monde also adds their own reading of the situation. Indeed, in its February 23rd edition, the Paris-based daily paper did not hesitate to display as a title for their article, “Cambodian economy suffers as a result of its opening-up to the world”, thus underlining the contrast between the golden picture of a country who for the past ten years “had yet mounted the Asian horse of growth” and a grimmer one depicting the economy which at the end of the day, is just that of “one of the poorest countries in the world”.

Short and sickly
It is true that if one simply juxtaposes statistics found here and there on the net, the portrait is not that flattering. “The Cambodian” is pictured as poor (average annual income per capita: slightly less than USD600, according to the government), corrupt (166th country out of 180 in the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index published by the NGO Transparency International , sickly (with an average life expectancy of 62 years, compared to 72 in Thailand and Vietnam) and short (81st out of 81 countries, with an average height of 5’31” for adult men, compared to 5’38” for the Vietnamese, 5’54” for the Thai and 6’04” for the Dutch), although this last feature is said to be considered a quality http://www.shortsupport.org/ .

Everyone looking for their own figures
Data, even when published in documents and on the Internet websites of institutions well-known for their reliability, is very often obsolete or has been collected using various methods, which eventually blocks the way to any possible comparison. Thus, one can see on the public databases of many organisations (like the WHO , the World Bank , UNICEF , the CIA ...), the Cambodian population was largely over 14 – if not 15 – million inhabitants in 2006... when the last national census counted 13.39 million souls. Cambodians appear to live five years longer or shorter, depending on the sources (ranging from 57 years according to UNICEF, to 62 years according to the WHO)... And they obtained an annual average GDP per capita, in 2007, of USD540 according to the World Bank, when the IMF claims it was USD604.

Indices for developing countries?
Beyond these discrepancies, which can be explained in some cases by the techniques used, the very quality of these indices is regularly questioned. Some estimate that the indices bring a distorted vision of reality and therefore call to create new instruments or to use others which are already set up – this would allow the refining of analyses of economies and societies in the modern world, particularly in developing countries like Cambodia where the informal sector plays an essential part. Pointing at statistical mistakes a posteriori or blaming economic indicators might be a little too easy. But in any case and facing the dark perspectives drawn by those figures, this helps remind that these indicators were first elaborated as tools meant to provide a better understanding of a complex world, and were not invented to remodel or govern it.

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Despite Rapid Premium Growth, Cambodia's Insurance Sector Has a Long Way to Go

BestWire Services Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Cambodia's insurance industry has seen rapid premium growth in recent years, which largely outpaced the country's gross domestic product, yet the market has not seen marked development.

In the past year, Cambodia's insurance industry experienced 18% growth in premium income, in comparison with an estimated GPD growth of 6.8%. However, the insurance market size has only a total value of US$20.5 million. This makes it hard to attract new players, particularly foreign insurance companies, which could play a critical role in developing the market, said Youk Chamroeunrith, general manager and director at Forte Insurance, a leading local insurance company.

"We need to have more foreign investment first to drive premium growth," said Chamroeunrith in an interview. However, the global financial crisis has put pressure on insurance growth because of declining foreign investment. Chamroeunrith said premium growth already slowed down by about 2% in the past year.

Lack of a legislative framework and a low level of insurance awareness in the country are the biggest hurdles for insurance development in Cambodia, said Chamroeunrith. The country now only has nonlife insurance operators and product offerings are limited to commercial business lines for corporate clients.

Now, Cambodia only has five domestic insurance companies: Forte Insurance, Caminco, Asia Insurance [88751], Campubank Lonpac and Infinity Insurance, and one local reinsurer, Cambodia Reinsurance Co., which is 80% owned by the government, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Slow Development A Malaysian company is expected to open shop in Cambodia in partnership with a local company. Malaysia's Kurnia Asia Pte. Ltd. [86752] plans to set up a nonlife joint venture with Canadia Investment Holding Ltd., parent company of Canadia Bank in Cambodia.

State-owned Caminco also plans to sell its 75% shares owned by the government, and then a joint venture may be formed with a Thai insurance company and local investor.

In general, Cambodia's insurance sector is facing the dilemma of small market size to attract new entrants. Chamroeunrith said this is one factor that ultimately constrains further market development without more players. Established in 1999, Forte Insurance takes up about 50% of market share in terms of total nonlife insurance premiums in Cambodia.

Insurance companies generate a majority of insurance premiums from corporate sector's property, fire, motor and medical business lines in Cambodia. Individual premium only accounts for a very small proportion of insurance business, said Chamroeunrith.

Corporate clients are a major driver for future premium growth in the country, which just opened up the market for business in recent years, said Chamroeunrith. The government has tried to attract more direct foreign investment, and this will contribute to drive insurance demands. Cambodia attracted US$10 billion in foreign investment last year and the market should have the potential to grow, noted Chamroeunrith.

Currently, life insurance is nonexistent in Cambodia, where only 1% to 2% of the nation's 14 million population can afford insurance. License for life insurance was made available last year but there is no legislative framework laid down for investment products.

Life insurance is not developed in the Cambodia because people have little knowledge on the importance of buying insurance for protection. The lack of a regulatory framework is one obstacle but the fundamental issue is a low level of insurance awareness across the country, according to Chamroeunrith.

The World Bank identified life insurance as an important financial sector as its development can ultimately encourage public savings and drive productive investment. In this area, Cambodia has some way to go.
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Khmer Rouge 'First Lady' in Cambodia court tirade

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The former Khmer Rouge "First Lady" launched an angry tirade at Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal on Tuesday, telling her accusers they would be "cursed to the seventh circle of hell."

Ieng Thirith, 76, facing trial for crimes against humanity under the communist regime, at first told the court that defence lawyers would speak on her behalf during her appeal against detention, saying: "I am too weak."

But she later erupted at the prosecution's suggestion that she was aware of atrocities at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison while she served as social affairs minister during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.

"Don't accuse me of being a murderer, otherwise you will cursed to the seventh circle of hell," Ieng Thirith said in an 15-minute outburst.

"I don't know why a good person is accused of such crimes and I have suffered a great deal and I cannot really be patient because I have been wrongly accused," she said.

Alternating between English and Khmer, she said that "everything was done by Nuon Chea," the regime's top ideologue who is also among the five top cadres facing trial at the tribunal over the regime's atrocities.

Although Ieng Thirith regained enough strength for her vigorous denial, the health of the ageing suspects is an ongoing concern.

Ieng Thirith's husband, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, was hospitalised Monday evening for blood in his urine, court spokesman Reach Sambath said.

It was the ninth time Ieng Sary, 83, has been rushed to hospital since the pair were detained by the court in November 2007, the spokesman said.

In documents read to the court Tuesday, investigating judges argued it was necessary to keep Ieng Thirith in jail to protect her security, preserve public order and ensure she did not flee from trial.

But defence lawyer Phat Pouv Seang demanded her immediate release, saying that the investigating judges failed to provide adequate evidence.

After years of wrangling between the Cambodian government and the United Nations, the court was created in 2006 to try leading members of the Khmer Rouge regime.

The tribunal's long-awaited first trial started last week when the regime's torturer-in-chief, 66-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, went before the court.

Those proceedings were largely limited to lawyers arguing over the use of a film showing the Tuol Sleng prison controlled by Duch, where investigators say more than 15,000 people died.

Arguments and testimony in the case against Duch will begin March 30, according to an order signed Monday by trial chamber president Nil Nonn.

Duch's lawyer Francois Roux has said his client, who has converted to Christianity, wished to use the trial to publicly ask his victims for forgiveness.

The Khmer Rouge government oversaw one of the worst horrors of the 20th century, wiping out up to two million people through starvation, overwork and execution in a bid to forge a communist utopia.

The leader of the regime, Pol Pot, died in 1998. Ieng Thirith's sister Khieu Ponnary was married to him.

Duch's trial is expected to take around three months, and then the court is expected to mount its case against Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, former "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 82, and 77-year-old former head of state Khieu Samphan.

Judges are mulling opening cases against several former mid-level Khmer Rouge leaders after a dispute between the international and Cambodian co-prosecutors over whether to pursue more suspects.

International backers have appeared hesitant to pledge more money to the court after allegations of political interference by the government over whether the court will bring charges against more Khmer Rouge figures.

The tribunal has also faced controversy over claims that Cambodian staff paid kickbacks for their jobs.
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Vietnam, Cambodia eye closer inspection cooperation

Cambodia Kingdom or Vietnam Kingdom? A nobrain -Hun Xen government official is showing the world that Cambodia government is unable to draft corruption law

HANOI, A senior Cambodian official has asked for help from Vietnam’s Government Inspectorate in the training of personnel and making of laws regarding anti-corruption, complaints and denouncements.

The Cambodian Minister of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspections, Som Kim Sour, made the request during her talks with Vietnam ’s chief government inspector, Tran Van Truyen, in Hanoi on Feb. 23.

Som Kim Sour appreciated the Vietnamese Government Inspectorate for assistance it extended to the Cambodian ministry, as well as its operation results in the recent years.

Truyen briefed his guest on his agency’s work relating to socio-economic issues, complaints and denouncements and the fight against corruption in 2008 and directions set for this year.

Cooperative ties between the Vietnamese Government Inspectorate and the Cambodian Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspections is vivid evidence of the cooperation and friendship between the two countries, he stressed. (VNA)
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Ask an Expert: Tap into the power of community

By Steve Strauss for USA TODAY


Q: I own an Italian market in New York. I would like to expand, even if the conventional wisdom says it's not the right time. That said, getting a loan is hard and I'm not sure I have the resources to do it without some help. What should I do? — Max

A: Well, if it's help you need to grow your business, then you should get some. What if I told you there was an easy way to get that help, and it won't cost you hardly a cent? And what if I further told you this method is incredibly powerful and historically successful?

I thought you might be interested.

Think for a moment about all of the immigrants who have come to this country, be it Irish Catholics, Eastern European Jews, Asians, whomever. When you hear their success stories, usually it's because they were industrious, hard-working, entrepreneurial, thrifty, and so on.

They also tapped the power of their community.

Historically, when an immigrant starts a new business in this country, their first taste of success comes when members of the community begin to frequent the business. Word gets around, other members of the group start to show up, and the fledgling business takes root. If the business is really good, then the word of mouth continues to grow, and the business expands organically, seemingly effortlessly.

But it's not just new immigrants who can tap the power of community, almost any business can.

Sophy Khut and her family escaped Cambodia after the war and moved to the Portland, Oregon in 1976 when she was about 10 years old. As she became a young woman, needing to help her family, she began to work in an aunt's restaurant, doing everything from washing dishes and mopping floors to cleaning up and bussing tables. She opened her own restaurant just a year later — when she was but 22. But with the help of the local Cambodian community, it started strong. Their continued support helped the restaurant grow.

Buoyed by her success, Sophy looked around and realized that a golden opportunity lay not far away: Long Beach, Calif., has the largest Cambodian community anywhere in the world outside of Cambodia. As she told me, "it was a great opportunity and a ready market." So she up and moved to California, by herself, and started another restaurant, from scratch.

Sure, it sounds intimidating, but Sophy knew the secret: Help the community and they will help you.

So she opened Sophy's Thai and Cambodian Cuisine and immediately began tapping into the vast Cambodian community that surrounded her. She knew that a great restaurant, serving delicious, home-cooked food should be a winner.

She was right.

Sophy's is now one of the very best Cambodian restaurants in all of Southern California. Nobody does it better than Sophy's, and the mass of satisfied customers every night attest to that. That she just moved to a restaurant three-times the size, and it's already full every night, is further proof.

And how about this: It's all word of mouth. Sophy does not advertise. That's the power of community (and having a great business).

Here's Sophy's secrets to having your community support your business:

"Give, rather than take": Sophy explains that giving actually has two meanings:

• First, you have to give your customers a great product or service. Give them more than they expect.

• Second, give in the traditional sense. For instance, the Cambodian community in L.A. has a foundation called Hearts Without Boundaries, whereby they bring needy Cambodian children who have congenital heart defects to the U.S. and give them surgery and all of the medical help they need – for free. Sophy is a big a participant in the group, and in fact the team meets in her restaurant regularly.

"Get involved": In Sophy's case, she helps out every year with the Cambodian New Year parade. She has food booths at fairs and expos. She opens the restaurant up to different groups. She donates to non-profits.

All of this gets the word of Sophy's Restaurant out there. And then, when people show up, her great food and friendly restaurant makes them want to come back.

So the lesson is clear: Get involved in your community. Befriend them. Be thankful for their patronage. Help out. Just take it from Sophy: "Support your community and they will support you!"

Today's tip: Do you bill by the hour for different clients and customers? If so, you might be interested in some great software I recently learned about. Fast, easy, online, and affordable, Bill4Time can help you focus on your work, not your billing. Check it out here.

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: sstrauss@mrallbiz.com.And you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —www.mrallbiz.com.


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Cambodia drafts sub-decree for better resettlement in development projects

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia has started drafting a sub-decree on addressing social-economic impacts caused by the development projects on implementation of involuntary resettlement, a government official said here on Monday.

"In the current context of Cambodia, we are lacking legal norms and legislations to support resettlement implementation, including limited awareness of people on law and weak enforcement of land law and other regulations," said Chhorn Sopheap, deputy secretary general of the Supreme National Economic Council and director of the resettlement department of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

"We continue to further revise the sub-decree to cover all important issues in conformity with other laws and regulations, and to ensure efficient implementation," he said in the opening remarks of the five-day regional workshop of involuntary resettlement implementation and management, which also attracted participants from Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia.

The government is preparing this crucial sub-decree as policy guidelines for a better resettlement implementation, he said.

The project implementation is even more difficult and complicated if a third party causes problems behind because resettlement implementation is not only related to socio-economic side of affected people but also sometimes related to people's mind, especially political issues, he said.

"There were some problems occurring during the project implementation due to lack of adequate policy measures as well as experience, but we have to maintain a balance between people's rights of interest and general or public interest represented by prerogatives of public power," he said.

"We believe that good resettlement can prevent impoverishment and poverty of the affected people by turning displacement into development opportunities," he added.
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ASEAN Agrees to Boost Regional Fund by $40 Billion

Asian finance ministers pledged to uphold free trade and investment in the midst of the global economic slowdown and said they would allocate an additional $40 billion to protect falling currencies.

The ministers from 10 Southeast Asian nations as well as China, Japan and South Korea agreed to boost funding for the Chiang Mai Initiative -- an arrangement forged after the 1997 Asian financial crisis to address foreign reserve deficits through bilateral currency swaps -- from $80 billion to $120 billion.

The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will provide 20 percent of funding, with 80 percent from China, Japan and South Korea.

The plan is expected to be approved at an ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, from Feb. 27 to March 1.

"We reaffirm our determination to dedicate ourselves to increasing the free flow of trade and investment, to standing firm against protectionist measures which would worsen the economic downturn," the ministers said in a statement.

The commitment to free trade echoed comments made earlier in the day by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"I hope that ASEAN will send a signal that in this economic downturn it will not favor protectionism," Abhisit said. "ASEAN will not survive alone while causing trouble to other countries."

In October, ASEAN finance ministers expressed confidence that the group would weather the global downturn, noting its economic fundamentals remained sound even though growth might not match last year's 6.7 percent.

But in recent months, many countries have begun to feel the effects of the downturn on their export-driven economies.

Thailand reported Thursday that exports posted their steepest fall in 12 years in January as demand for the country's cars, hard drives and electrical goods evaporated amid the global slump.

Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have all announced multibillion-dollar stimulus packages that include a mix of infrastructure projects, cash handouts or tax cuts aimed at creating jobs and boosting consumer demand.


ASEAN was founded during the Cold War as an anti-communist political coalition, later evolving into a trade bloc. It consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Read more!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

CHINA: Khmer Rouge Trials Raise Ghosts of the Past

By Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Feb 20 (IPS) - The skeletons are tumbling out of China’s cupboard of buried memories. The 30th anniversary of China’s brief but bloody war with Vietnam may have gone unmarked but for the fact that Feb.17 also saw the start of the trial of the chief torturer of Cambodia’s grisly Khmer Rouge.

China’s role in Cambodia’s bloody past is now little spoken of and this is how Beijing, Hanoi and Phnom Penh - all intent on trade and development - prefer it.

When in 1979 Vietnam ousted Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, Beijing was so incensed by what it saw as defiance in its backyard by a political party it had helped create that it ordered an attack to "teach Vietnam a lesson" and keep Pol Pot in power.

During his 1975-1979 rule Pol Pot had sought to replicate Mao Zedong’s agrarian utopia, but the experiment left Cambodia deeply scarred and a quarter of its population - some 1.7 million people - dead.

Although aware of the atrocities committed by the regime, Beijing sided with the Khmer Rouge over the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and launched a massive offensive against Vietnam along the two countries’ border.

The month-long border conflict claimed anywhere between 20,000 to 60,000 lives, and yet no commemorations were held on the 30th anniversary either in Beijing or Hanoi.

As the trial of Khmer Rouge’s chief investigator Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, opened in Phnom Penh, China sought to downplay its role in supporting Pol Pot’s regime.

"As everyone knows, the government of Democratic Kampuchea had a legal seat at the United Nations, and had established broad foreign relations with more than 70 countries," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular press briefing, referring to the former Khmer Rouge government.

Duch is being tried on charges of crimes against humanity. Under his watch, as commandant of the notorious S-21 prison, some 14,000 people were tortured and sent to their deaths in the killing fields outside the capital Phnom Penh.

According to Pol Pot’s biographer, Philip Short, after the Vietnamese invasion, Duch found shelter in China, working for Radio China International in Beijing.

"China owes Cambodian people an apology," says Lao Monghay, former director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh and now a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. "It supported the Khmer Rouge before coming to power and continued to lend its support even after Pol Pot assumed power regardless of what was happening to Cambodian people."

According to Lao Monghay, China had donated one billion US dollars to Democratic Kampuchea before 1979 and another billion dollars after 1979 in order to fight the Vietnamese invasion.

China often admonishes Japan to "face up" to history, insisting that Tokyo’s unapologetic attitude regarding its invasionist politics of the past impedes relations with its neighbours. But when applied to China’s own past, reckoning of history’s fallacies is discarded as irrelevant to current and future developments.

"China and Vietnam have had a period of unhappiness in their past,’’ Jiang Yu told reporters. "But what’s important is that the leaders and people of both countries have a broad wish and consensus to create a bright future together. History has already reached its conclusions," she added.

The Khmer Rouge regime was a replica of Maoist regime, says Lao Monghay, and any probe into its record could throw unfavourable light on China’s own historical blunders. "The Chinese communist regime hasn’t accounted yet for the sufferings caused to its own people during years of political campaigns and persecutions," he adds.

During Mao’s rule China armed and trained rebel groups in almost every South-east Asian country, including Indonesia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, even as it fostered warm relations with their official governments.

Beijing’s generous support for revolutionary armies all over Asia rose during the Cultural Revolution when China’s rivalry with the Soviet Union intensified and they competed for influence in the region as Western colonial powers retreated.

"In the end it was realpolitik, far more than ideological affinity, which brought China and Cambodia together," wrote Short in his biography of Pol Pot, ‘The History of a Nightmare.’ "There was near-perfect symmetry to the three countries’ relations. China was to Vietnam as Vietnam was to Cambodia - a vast and powerful neighbour, which threatened hegemony."

While Beijing saw Vietnam as a Soviet bridgehead in Asia, it also saw "Cambodia as the one country on Vietnam’s western flank which might be expected to resist the expansion of Vietnamese, and hence of Soviet power," Short wrote.

Now, as then, imperatives of ideology have given way to realpolitik. Economy and trade form the basis for Beijing’s policies towards its neighbouring countries these days. China is patiently rebuilding traditional ties with all of its Southeast Asian neighbours, using foreign investment, development aid and "soft power" to draw them back into its economic orbit.

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) intra-regional trade programme, launched by the Asia Development Bank (AsDB) in 1992, has provided Beijing with the framework for expanding economic ties without arousing fears among its neighbours still wary of Chinese power.

"China actively participates in the development of the GMS because it sees it as the building of a passage to all of South-east Asia," says He Shengda, researcher with the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences.

In Cambodia these days, Chinese firms are engaged in mining and logging, and have built roads, bridges, garment factories, power plants, casinos and resorts, investing about 1.5 billion dollars in 2007.

A Cambodian investment group and a Chinese textile firm have committed three billion dollars to a joint venture, in Sihanoukville, modelled along the lines of China’s tax-free special economic zones.

In Vietnam, the old theatres of war are now bustling with Chinese traders, facilitated by new highways, such as the one linking Nanning in Guangxi province with Hanoi. Within three years, another AsDB-financed highway will shorten the drive between Yunnan capital Kunming and Hanoi to less than 24 hours.

Similar accelerated economic integration can be seen elsewhere in South-east Asia where Chinese companies are providing capital and expertise in exchange for markets and valuable resources.

"The economies of the GMS and China are highly complementary," says Zhang Guotu, an expert on South-east Asia with Xiamen University. "The sub-region has great potential in terms of resources and labour but its economies are lagging behind. This presents opportunities for Chinese state and private companies looking both for markets and investment."

Within the greater scope of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), China is pushing for enlarged economic interdependence too. In a sign of its growing ambitions, last year Beijing appointed a special ambassador to the 10-member association.

In 2010 China and ASEAN are due to launch the first stage of a trade agreement, reducing tariffs on trade between China and the five founding countries of the bloc - Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. In 2015, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma will also join the trade bloc. The exception is Brunei.

Nevertheless, China’s relations with South-east Asian nations remain prickly as history and politics often get in the way of economic integration.

"History should not be easily discarded," says Lao Monghay. "It only takes a look at Cambodia and China relations for example, to see that they have been like a yo-yo in the past - swinging from good to bad and back."
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Migrant workers: Last ones in, first ones out

By Manolo Abella And Geoffrey Ducanes Ilo


THE rapid growth of migration and remittances is ending.

Some of the countries that absorbed many Asian migrant workers, particularly the United States and Europe, have reported the sharpest economic downturns in the current global financial meltdown.

More than 4 million South and Southeast Asian workers in seven countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are expected to significantly decrease in 2009.

Substantial numbers come from the Philippines (1.2 million, mainly in the US and Canada) and India (1.1 million mainly in the US, the United Kingdom and Canada).

When the dust has settled, many Asian workers are expected to be laid off in these countries.

Much lower demand for migrant workers is expected in Asian destination countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. The jobs most likely to be affected are those in construction, finance, trade-related industries (such as export manufacturing and shipping), travel and tourism.

Contracts are unlikely to be renewed or even prematurely terminated. Migrant workers who have just recently arrived in countries of employment are going to be particularly affected since the last ones in are likely to be the first ones laid off.

Malaysia has more than 2.1 million registered foreign workers. Most of those retrenched are from manufacturing, which together with the services sector, is expected to be the hardest hit by the crisis.

About 30 percent (900,000) of Singapores workforce are foreigners, including 143,000 professionals from all over the world. The rest are low-skilled workers, mainly from Southeast Asia, China, India and Sri Lanka.

Thailand has some 1.8 million foreign workers mostly coming from neighboring Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

South Korea has more than 400,000 foreign workers. In December it suffered a decline in total employment for the first time in more than five years while small and medium-sized companies have gone bankrupt or shut down.

Upside

The situation is not as dire for all workers or in all destinations. The demand for health sector jobs, for instance, will likely remain strong. Foreign engineers are still very much in demand in some countries like Saudi Arabia.

Public investments in the Gulf States are foreseen to remain strong in spite of the severe drop in oil prices.

The economies of major labor-importing countriesSaudi Arabia and Kuwait along with Qatarare expected to have stable growth, although that of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which had earlier experienced rapid growth is now expected to decline.

The Philippines has large numbers of workers in the Gulf Statessome 2.18 million workersrepresenting 43 percent of the 5.1 million Filipinos working on temporary contracts abroad. The Philippines also has substantial number of workers in North America (700,000), Europe (668,000) and East and Southeast Asia (one million).

The number of Filipino contract workers abroad continued to increase reaching a total of 1.377 million in 2008, an increase of some 28-percent over the previous year.

This means a daily deployment of some 3,772 documented migrant workers.

In recent years Asia experienced unprecedented rates of growth of recorded migrants remittances. Double-digit rates of growth were recorded for Asian countries, notably Nepal, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines.

In the Philippines, the annual growth of migrants remittances averaged almost 16-percent over the previous six years. For 2009, the central bank predicts that remittances are still likely to grow but at a slower rate of from 3 percent to 6 percent.

Although remittances slowed down in the latter half of 2008, overall growth for the first 11 months was 15 percent, reaching $15 billion.

According to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), reported displacements up to January 20 affected 4,000 Filipino workers mainly in Taiwan (3,494), UAE (297), Brunei (69) and Macau (45).

The most common reasons cited for the displacement were bankruptcy of companies and a slowdown in operations.

Downside

There are concerns that the brunt of adjustment to the economic crisis will fall hardest on migrant workers.

Layoffs have already been reported for industries most directly affected by the crisis. But other forms of adjustments such as work-sharing and reductions in wages and benefits are not yet reflected in any formal statistics.

More foreign workers in Singapore complain about pay cuts, not being paid on time, having their working days reduced, and not being provided food, shelter and healthcare, which employers are legally obliged to provide.

Many Malaysian firms adjust to the crisis by reducing the number of working days, hours of overtime work and in some instances forcing workers to use their annual leave.

Many countries have stopped issuing new work permits to or renewing work permits of foreign workers. Some are even providing companies incentives to replace foreign with native workers.

Singapore is urging companies to avoid lay-offs by finding means to cut costs. In case of unavoidable retrenchment, foreigners will be laid off first.

Malaysia has issued a freeze on the issuance of work permits for foreign workers and has instituted a policy to terminate foreign workers first.

South Korea has stopped issuing new visas and it is unlikely that the quota for foreign workers will be increased. It is encouraging small and medium-sized companies, the primary employers of foreign workers, to hire more locals.

Thailand has announced that no new work permits will be issued and that the planned registration of undocumented foreign workers will now be put off till after 2009.The work permits of about 500,000 foreign workers will not be renewed for 2010 and authorities have threatened to deport undocumented migrant workers.

Countries have responded by close monitoring, providing immediate assistance and looking for alternative employment for those who have been displaced.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has established help desks in provinces to help match the skills of retrenched (or aspiring) migrant workers with available jobs within the country and abroad, as well as to advise them on self-employment.

President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the Overseas Workers Welfare Fund to set aside P250 million for livelihood support to displaced migrant workers. DOLE has already sent special missions to Taiwan and Dubai to assist Filipinos who have lost their jobs or are expected to lose their jobs in reintegration.

The POEA is also providing legal assistance to displaced workers seeking refund of plane ticket expenses, placement fees, etc. from recruiting agents or their employers.

Read more!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Land grabs in Cambodia push poor out

Bill Schiller
Asia Bureau


PHNOM PENH–When military police sealed off the ramshackle, inner-city neighbourhood of Dey Krahorm at 2 a.m. one day last month – preparing to forcibly remove its remaining residents to make way for a plush, new commercial development – Lee Robinson, of Victoria, B.C., was inside.

"We knew there was going to be trouble," says Robinson, who runs a small non-governmental organization here called Licadho Canada.

Robinson and a handful of other Canadians, Americans and Germans had come to show their support for the people of Dey Krahorm, many of whom had been fighting for years to cling to what they believed was their rightful property.

Robinson and her foreign colleagues are part of a small but vocal throng of international youth that has converged on Cambodia, to press international donors and their governments to call Cambodia's government to account over its continued seizure of neighbourhoods populated by the poor and to press for civil rights.

But that day last month, they could do little when the neighbourhood of Dey Krahorm was laid to waste by the developer, with the backing of military police, the riot squad, and a band of about 100 "hired hands" clutching crowbars and clubs.

When the sun finally rose over Phnom Penh, the developer's group pushed its way through barricades of wood, metal and vendors' carts mounted by residents, and cleared a path for a massive steam shovel that swung its arm like a baseball bat, crushing every structure in its path.
Tear gas boomed, fires erupted and people were dragged screaming from their homes. Police endured a rain of rocks in retaliation.

"Everything kind of went into a war zone," Robinson recalls. "It was chaos."

By noon it was over. Dey Krahorm, a neighbourhood that began in the mid-1980s and was once home to musicians, actors, comedians and even a few civil servants, was no more.

The defeated were trucked off to a resettlement site some 20 kilometres outside the city, and once again, the development of Cambodia's capital marched on.

International human rights groups here say this is happening with increasing frequency across one of the world's poorest countries.

As international aid floods into Cambodia – aimed at reducing poverty and helping to build infrastructure – the rich elite are growing ever more powerful, while the poor are getting pushed aside.

"Cambodia is basically up for sale," says David Pred, one of the founders of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, a spinoff of a U.S.-based human rights organization.

"It's being parcelled up and sold to the highest bidder."

He says it's time the international community called a halt to it. And it's in a position to do so, he adds.

"International donors provide half of this government's national budget," he notes. "It's time they demanded accountability."

Pred and a growing number of non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders say aid to the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen should be made conditional on its respect for law and human rights.

Once counted among the Dey Krahorm community's staunchest defenders was former Canadian ambassador to Phnom Penh, Donica Pottie.

"People here still remember her," says Naly Pilorge, a French, Canadian and Khmer national who heads Cambodia's largest human rights organization, The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights. "She stood up for the people of Dey Krahorm and for the poor."

While here, Pottie worked to free jailed human rights defenders and pressed the government to end forced removals and halt widespread land expropriation.

But Pottie returned to Ottawa in 2007 and Canada's mission here was downgraded from full-fledged embassy status following cutbacks from Ottawa.

This month, British-based environmental watchdog Global Witness issued a stinging report detailing what it alleges is the parcelling out of the nation's oil, gas and mineral reserves mainly to the family, friends and trusted associates of the government of Hun Sen.

Opposition parties here immediately seized on the report to demand an accounting from the government. But following national elections in July last year, in which Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party took 91 of 123 seats – elections that were criticized by the European Union and the United Nation's Special Representative for Human Rights as seriously flawed – the opposition is weak.

The government has promised to look into the matter, but with no stated timetable.

Meanwhile, as Cambodia's rich elite get richer, the nation continues to do without.

Cambodia has no national electricity grid.

Its highways are in a shambles.

And more than 60 per cent of Cambodians have no access to clean water.

The land on which Dey Krahorm once stood – the words mean "Red Soil" – was actually granted to the community by the government as a so-called Social Land Concession in 2003, one of several under a plan announced by Hun Sen himself to provide secure land tenure and on-site upgrading for Phnom Penh's poor.

But, as is so often the case in the developing world, the developer persuaded a tiny band of community leaders to affix their thumbprints to documents, turning over the entire parcel for their own lucrative private gain and a remote relocation outside the city. The deal was done without any consultation with the Dey Krahorm residents.

Some gave in. But a rump group of more than 150 families took a stand. They fired the leaders, elected their own and refused to move. Some 250 small retailers and renters stayed with them.

"In our view it (the land grab) was completely illegal," says German lawyer Manfred Hornung, who works for Pilorge's human rights organization and is now defending the leaders of the remaining residents who have been taken to court by the developers.

He warns, too, that forced removals like Dey Krahorm come with significant social costs, costs that may simmer now – and come to a boil later.

"Resettling people so far outside the city disrupts families, forces people to abandon jobs and takes children out of school."

And it's part of a pattern in recent years, he notes.

The forced removal of other Phnom Penh neighbourhoods like Sambok Chap, Mitheapheap and Russy Keo have all forced the poor from the city. And yet another target is Boeung Kak – a lake in the city's north end that developers plan to backfill and build on, pushing as many as 4,000 families in the surrounding area out of the city.

The plans for Boeung Kak constitute a social and environmental disaster in the making, says Pred of Bridges Across Borders.

"International aid is supposed to be about poverty reduction. But this epidemic of land theft is undermining the international community's best efforts.

"We're absolutely not anti-development," he says.

"But what we're seeing here is exclusive development for the super-rich, while the poor get pushed ever deeper into poverty. It's creating conditions for instability."

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Taste Buds: Kirirom Cambodian

A.V. Crofts

In the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, bakeries and noodle shops typically open for business at the crack of dawn to beat the sting of midday heat. In the early 1970s, Meng Ung’s father, a second-generation Chinese-Cambodian, owned such a bakery in Phnom Penh, where wholesalers would arrive early to purchase loaves of fresh bread followed later in the morning by local Cambodians in search of their breakfast. Today, an ocean and lifetime away in Lynnwood, Ung sits at a polished table in his spotless family bakery and restaurant that shares the name of his father’s original store: Kirirom.

As a Chinese-Cambodian, Ung has a rich appreciation for the ethnic blend in Cambodia that informs their cuisine – from the French colonial presence of the 19th and 20th centuries to Cambodia’s geographic position sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam. “Phnom Penh is a melting pot,” Ung explains. “You have Chinese influence, you have the French. Cambodian food shares lots of spices with Thai and Lao cooking – we are like brothers.”

Kirirom’s menu reflects the kaleidoscope of cultures that influence contemporary Cambodian cuisine: French baguettes accompany rich noodle soups infused with lemongrass. Chinese donuts and humbao sit side-by-side with flaky apple and cherry turnovers in the bakery display cases. Fried rice, curries and satays all make multiple menu appearances. “Each family has a different cooking style,” says Ung. “Kirirom’s food is how I cook at my house.” Eating at Kirirom provides an education in early food fusion, made visible for the multicultural nature of Ung’s tri-lingual (Khmer, Chinese, and French) household growing up.

The first lesson involves navigating Kirirom’s extensive menu, laid out beautifully with color photographs of each dish and detailed ingredient descriptions. Starting with appetizers that range from the Kirirom Egg Rolls ($4.50 for six) to the Grilled Short Rib Lemongrass ($4.50 for three skewers), the effect is a welcome collection of many Southeast Asian favorites. My personal favorite is the Wrapped Shrimp ($5.25 for seven), a creative starter that presents crispy wanton-wrapped shrimp piping hot with a sweet chili dipping sauce. While some establishments overdo the oil on frying, Kirirom hits the mark on the shrimp without a hint of grease.

With such attractive photographs to pore over and more than 80 options to suit every taste, deciding on entrées was truly challenging. No sooner had my eyes landed on a simply gorgeous soup in both presentation and description, then a rice dish or one of the 14 Cambodian sandwiches (“Cambodians love sandwiches!”) Kirirom creates for hungry customers would pull them to their corner of the menu. Ultimately, curiosity often won out and I was duly rewarded.

The Phnom Penh Sour Soup ($7.65) arrives at your table with a nest of coarsely chopped basil and ground peanuts atop a savory broth, with delicate sections of pickled lotus root the thickness of a pencil swimming with fresh pineapple chunks, sectioned tomatoes, shrimp and egg. The pleasing pucker of the lemongrass broth and pickled lotus is complemented by the high-note sweetness of the fresh pineapple. While not as memorable as the sour soup, the Phnom Penh Noodle Soup ($4.95) starts with a delicious pork broth and is served with thin rice noodles, cilantro, green onions, bean sprouts, ground and sliced pork, wafer-thin slices of chicken loaf, fish balls and a pinch of pickled vegetables on the top.

A standout entrée is the XO Fried Rice with Chicken ($8.25) an addictive dish that combines specially marinated chicken, broccoli florettes, Chinese broccoli and celery coins, egg and juicy shiitake mushrooms. The chicken and shiitake mushrooms make the dish by far one of the best versions of a fried rice entrée my taste buds can remember. The rice is also served with a simple but satisfying pork broth soup and hot sauce.

Kirirom baguettes ($.70 for small and $1.60 for a large) enhance any meal and are baked fresh daily. “We don’t use any preservatives,” Ung says. “The shelf life of our bread is only two days.” Chinese donuts ($.65 each) are also excellent options for dunking into rich broths or sopping up one of the many homemade sauces Ung and his family create in the kitchen. Do not think sweet when it comes to Chinese donuts; these babies are a savory puff pastry that adjusts perfectly for either a swim in your soup or a plunge into your sweetened hot cup of coffee for dessert.

Along with a range of beers and soft drinks, Kirirom boasts a wonderful fresh coconut drink ($2.50), which is happily served in a hefty pint glass with a spoon, to better scoop the generous curls of coconut meat and sinfully sweet juice. Another libation of unusual variety is Kirirom’s soybean drink ($1.25), a canned sweet soy juice that has a wonderfully milky quality reminiscent of horchata and my taco trawling days. These drinks easily qualify as desserts, but if you still feel the need to indulge, Kirirom has an array of baked confections made fresh daily.

While Kirirom recently celebrated its first birthday this past March, its story really begins back in Phnom Penh at the original Kirirom, which Ung and his eight siblings and parents were forced to abandon in 1975 during the rise of the Khmer Rouge, the brutal political regime responsible for over 1 million Cambodian deaths over the course of its brutal reign from 1975-’79. The Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodian cities of its residents, forcing families like Ung’s to relocate to the countryside. Ung was only 9 at the time.

After miraculously avoiding the fate of many of his urban counterparts, Ung fled ravaged Cambodia at the age of 15 into Thailand. He spent three years in refugee camps, first in Thailand and then on an Indonesian island, arriving in Seattle through sponsorship by an aunt and uncle in 1984. Ung was part of the first wave of roughly 3,000 Cambodians to arrive in Washington state in the 1980s. Now Cambodians in the state number over 10,000. Ung has experienced some unexpected reunions since opening Kirirom, with old Cambodian friends from grade school appearing at the restaurant and discovering their shared history.

All but two of Ung’s siblings have since joined him in Lynnwood (one sister is in Sydney, Australia; another sister remains in Cambodia) and his three brothers cook at Kirirom with one sister, the eternally cheerful Davy Chea, whose smile greets each customer upon entry. Davy is so quick that she is able to reach your table, menus in hand, before you do. And Ung, the man behind it all? You’ll catch Ung at Kirirom on weekends; during the week he’s at his desk as a technical designer job at Boeing.

But perhaps the most influential presence at Kirirom is Ung’s father, who relocated with his wife to Lynnwood in 1995. “My father wants to make sure that our bread carries the same formula that we had back home,” Ung shares with me in his soft voice as I survey the restaurant, elegant in its simplicity. He grins and continues, “I want to be known for carrying on the tradition of Cambodian food.”

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Cambodia's empty dock

International justice is a farce while those in the west who sided with Pol Pot's murders escape trial

Jhon Pilger

At my hotel in Phnom Penh, the women and children sat on one side of the room, palais-style, the men on the other. It was a disco night and a lot of fun; then suddenly people walked to the windows and wept. The DJ had played a song by the much-loved Khmer singer Sin Sisamouth, who had been forced to dig his own grave and to sing the Khmer Rouge anthem before he was beaten to death. I experienced many such reminders.

There was another kind of reminder. In the village of Neak Long I walked with a distraught man through a necklace of bomb craters. His entire family of 13 had been blown to pieces by an American B-52. That had happened almost two years before Pol Pot came to power in 1975. It is estimated more than 600,000 Cambodians were slaughtered that way.

The problem with the UN-backed trial of the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders, which has just begun in Phnom Penh, is that it is dealing only with the killers of Sin Sisamouth and not with the killers of the family in Neak Long, and not with their collaborators. There were three stages of Cambodia's holocaust. Pol Pot's genocide was but one of them, yet only it has a place in the official memory.

It is highly unlikely Pot Pot would have come to power had President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, not attacked neutral Cambodia. In 1973, B-52s dropped more bombs on Cambodia's heartland than were dropped on Japan during the second world war: equivalent to five Hiroshimas. Files reveal that the CIA was in little doubt of the effect. "[The Khmer Rouge] are using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda," reported the director of operations on May 2, 1973. "This approach has resulted in the successful recruitment of a number of young men [and] has been effective with refugees."

Prior to the bombing, the Khmer Rouge had been a Maoist cult without a popular base. The bombing delivered a catalyst. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot completed. Kissinger will not be in the dock in Phnom Penh. He is advising President Obama on geopolitics. Neither will Margaret Thatcher, nor a number of her retired ministers and officials who, in secretly supporting the Khmer Rouge after the Vietnamese had expelled them, contributed directly to the third stage of Cambodia's holocaust.

In 1979, the US and Britain imposed a devastating embargo on stricken Cambodia because its liberators, Vietnam, had come from the wrong side of the cold war. Few Foreign Office campaigns have been as cynical or as brutal. The British demanded that the now defunct Pol Pot regime retain the "right" to represent its victims at the UN and voted with Pol Pot in the agencies of the UN, including the World Health Organisation, thereby preventing it from working in Cambodia. To disguise this outrage, Britain, the US and China, Pol Pot's main backer, invented a "non communist" coalition in exile that was, in fact, dominated by the Khmer Rouge. In Thailand, the CIA and Defence Intelligence Agency formed direct links with the Khmer Rouge.

In 1983, the Thatcher government sent the SAS to train the "coalition" in landmine technology - in a country more seeded with mines than anywhere except Afghanistan. "I confirm," Thatcher wrote to opposition leader Neil Kinnock, "that there is no British government involvement of any kind in training, equipping or co-operating with Khmer Rouge forces or those allied to them." The lie was breathtaking. In 1991, the Major government was forced to admit to parliament that the SAS had been secretly training the "coalition".

Unless international justice is a farce, those who sided with Pol Pot's mass murderers ought to be summoned to the court in Phnom Penh: at the very least their names read into infamy's register.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Meeting Incentive Conference Exhibition to See Growth in Siem Riep Cambodia

Luxury Travel has just launched a MICE Department and Specializes in Planning and Organizing Incentive Trips and the Company Spokesperson Says Meeting Incentive Conference Exhibition Sees Growth in Siem Riep Cambodia.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, February 20, 2009 --(PR.com)-- Teeming with history, marvelous architecture and awash in natural beauty, Cambodia is fast becoming a must see destination in South East Asia. The largest religious monument ever built, Angkor Wat ranks at the top destinations in South Est Asia and top of globetrotting VIP business travellers - must see list of wonders in the world.

After a lengthy period of internal strife and civil war curtailed travel to Cambodia for the better part of three decades, the establishment of the peace has spurred a rise in tourism accompanies by a hotel constructions boom in the town of Siem Riep located just fine miles from Angkor Wat.

Cambodia now becomes a wonderful place to celebrate MICE smoothly, reaching both successful business meeting and negotiation and enjoyable holiday business.

Meeting Incentive Conference and Exhibition, MICE for short, is becoming increasingly important in business context as this model provides elegant facilities with a wide variety of recreational activities during the pleasure holiday business.

With its unique incredible and fabulous culture and nature destination's beauty, Cambodia can be a better place to celebrate MICE smoothly, reaching both successful business meeting, and enjoyable business stay.

“Cambodia is for everyone all sizes of MICE. The international standard hotel with modern conference facilities in a world heritage destination, resort and meeting rooms and variety of attraction suiting all taste for nature and culture lovers, golf, relaxation activities, health and spa enthusiasts, cuisine, day trip to marvelous Angkor Wat and Thom. Nature and culture is waiting to sustain ably serve and satisfy most discerning guests” said Tonny Pham, Mice Department Manager of Luxury Travel.

Luxury Travel Co., Ltd (www.luxurytravelvietnam.com) is a 100% fully registered and privately-owned Vietnamese company. Luxury Travel has just launched a MICE department and specializes in planning and organizing incentive trips and have been one of the leading MICE destination companies in the region for over 5 years.

The company’s depth of experience and large infrastructure enable it to create unique itineraries with the operational confidence to fulfill client expectations. Among Luxury Travel’s clients are ambassadors, French ministers, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada…and others.

Luxury Travel is headquartered in Hanoi and has offices around Vietnam and management offices in Laos and Cambodia. Luxury Travel has won numerous travel awards for excellence.

“Our company is the first travel company in Indochina specializing in incentive holidays. We have first hand knowledge on MICE, and excellent relations with suppliers in Mice industry for whatever event or incentive holiday you want. Name it we make it happen in style.” added Tonny.

Luxury Travel has everything you need to organize a successful MICE trip in Vietnam Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

MICE planers can go to www.luxurytravelvietnam.com for meeting incentive conference and exhibition options.
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Global shrimp survey highlights ill effects of illegal trawling in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, The weak legal framework regulating Cambodia's shrimp fishing industry has complicated efforts to curtail unlawful trawling, which has contributed to rising environmental and social hazards, national media reported Friday, citing a report published this week by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The limited nature of available data on the Kingdom's shrimp resources, moreover, makes it difficult to enact programs that would increase the industry's profitability and sustainability, the report stated.

The 10-country survey, titled "The Global Study of Shrimp Fisheries", includes an overview of the Cambodian shrimp industry that highlights holes in the government's knowledge about it, the Phnom Penh Post said.

Researchers were unable to uncover, for example, the contribution of shrimp fishing to the GDP or the exact nature of the taxonomy of the Kingdom's shrimp catch.

But they were able to estimate that trawlers and other vessels bring in between 3,000 and 4,000 tons of shrimp annually, and the report notes that shrimp is "the most valuable fishery export of the country."

With regard to trawling, the report states that the ban against trawling in water less than 20 meters deep is not widely enforced, in part because the majority of trawlers in the Kingdom are small and thus not suited for offshore operations.

Trawling in shallow waters leads to conflicts with small-scale fishers, as trawlers destroy the equipment of small-scale fishers and operators "often do not pay compensation."

Nao Thuok, director of the Department of Fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture, told the Post Thursday that illegal trawling was largely carried out by Thai and Vietnamese fishermen using illegal equipment.

"We will increase our efforts to fight the foreign fishermen who have invaded to illegally fish in Cambodia," Nao Thuok said.

The FAO report does point to "a significant amount of foreign trawling in the Cambodian zone" but does not say foreign fishermen are primarily to blame for illegal trawling.
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Top Chinese political advisor meets Cambodian King

BEIJING, Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, met here Friday with visiting Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni.

Jia spoke highly of the contribution of the Cambodian royal family to promoting Sino-Cambodian ties.

He said the China-Cambodia relationship remains solid and has been growing stronger with joint efforts of the two peoples and cultivation of leaders of the two sides.

China highly values its relations with Cambodia, and would work with Cambodia to advance high-level exchanges, promote practical cooperation, so as to realize common prosperity and cement bilateral relations, he said.

Sihamoni said China is the "most reliable friend" of Cambodia, expressing his gratitude for China's long-term support and economic assistance and for its contribution to Cambodia's national reconciliation, peace and development.

He said Cambodia would join hands with China to continue to promote the bilateral relations to a higher level.
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