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Monday, March 31, 2008

Struggling Asians go unnoticed

Poor grades lumped in with standout students

If her native tongue was one commonly spoken in the U.S. instead of the less familiar Khmer, Thana Ouk might have more help at school.

She would have access to classes in her language and programs attuned to her cultural heritage. Her mother, who speaks no English, would be better able to communicate with teachers.

But Thana, a junior at Roosevelt High School, is Cambodian and can find few services tailored to her needs. Instead, she falls under the broad umbrella of "Asian" for public school funding and testing purposes.

Because many families of Asian heritage are well-educated and have comparative material advantages, and because students in the broad Asian category often perform as well as or better than white students on standardized tests, resources are scarce for Asians who are struggling in public schools.

But Thana is struggling with her schoolwork, especially reading. Her four older siblings never graduated from high school, and now the 17-year-old is fighting to avoid the same fate.

"I've been here, like, ever since I was born, but I'm not really fluent with language," said Thana, a slight girl with black hair and plastic frame glasses. "Sometimes I'll be reading a story or something in the book, and then I'll somehow get lost in the wording."

Some educators have begun to call disadvantaged Asians an invisible minority, unseen because their low test scores are masked when lumped with higher achieving counterparts.

These students, often from Southeast Asia, go unnoticed for other reasons too. Their numbers are small. There's a dearth of bilingual programs in their languages, counselors fluent in Asian languages and culture and advocates in general. Few schools can communicate with their parents who don't speak English.

At an Illinois State Board of Educationmeeting this year, several activists urged the state to report Asian achievement scores by specific ethnicity instead of lumping them together.

"Why not separate them so that everyone can use [the data] to help their own people?" asked Juanita Salvador-Burris, who argued at the meeting in Chicago. Many Southeast Asians, in particular, arrive as refugees from war-torn countries, and their children struggle with poverty and language—challenges not always shared by other Asian ethnicities.

"These kids need the same kind of supports that other groups . . . receive—extensive academic, remedial and socio-emotional support," said Sally Ewing, a former principal at Passages Charter School, which is run by Asian Human Services, a social services agency serving Chicago's pan-Asian community. "When you talk about funding grants . . . we have to be much more powerful in our case because there is this myth that Asians are doing very well."

A 2002 U.S. Department of Education study—one of the rare national reports examining Asians by ethnicity—found that Southeast Asians, including Cambodians, Laotians and Hmong have reading and math scores comparable with Latino and African-American students.

California, home to about one-third of the country's Asian population, is one of the few states where the public school system separates Asian students' test scores by ethnicity. For all 8th grade Asians, 64 percent are passing in English, a rate higher than whites across the state. Cambodians and Laotians, however, are passing at a 30 percent rate.

"We have students, sometimes ages 15 to 16, who come from refugee camps [and] have never held a pencil or opened a book," said Richard Norman, principal at Senn High School on Chicago's North Side. "They struggle just like any of the other minorities in the school."

But some argue that because of what they call the "model minority myth"—a belief that all Asians excel in academics—those who struggle do not receive the same attention as African-American or Hispanic students.

"There are also a lot of outside organizations that work to help improve [African-American and Hispanic] scores," said Alvin Yu, a director at the Chinese Mutual Aid Association in Chicago. "There are fewer working toward those ends for Asians, partially because of this perception."

Southeast Asian populations in many school districts are relatively small. Asians make up only 3 percent of the student population in Chicago Public Schools.

"There's a bigger challenge when it's a very small group and not as well-established a community from which to draw either teachers or assistants," said Ross Wiener, policy director at the Education Trust, a reform think tank in Washington, D.C.

Of the nearly 30,000 Southeast Asians in the six-county area, most are concentrated in Chicago, primarily the North Side neighborhoods of Albany Park and Uptown.

In Ouk's case, her mother, Tha, came from a family of farmers in Cambodia and had no education. During the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979, much of the educated class was exterminated. Tha Ouk fled with her family in 1978 and spent the next seven years in refugee camps before securing visas to the U.S.

Now she lives in a small Albany Park apartment with four of her grandchildren and Thana, subsisting on a mix of public assistance and what help her older children can provide. At home, Thana speaks in Khmer, though she mixes in some English with her nieces and nephews, who are half-Cambodian and half-Puerto Rican.

After school, Thana spends most days at the Cambodian Association of Illinois, a newly renovated community center on the North Side. There, she attends workshops, teaches traditional Cambodian dance and receives tutoring. She says she feels uncomfortable getting help elsewhere.

"When you ask [a] question, [teachers] look at you like, 'What? You're asking me the question? Aren't you supposed to be the smart one?' " she said with a plaintive smile. "I was like, 'No. . . . I'm the same as everybody else. I don't see why you're looking at me that way.' "
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Cooperation in Mekong region yields success

Is Cambodia in the fast track of better or disaster? well Cambodia today is in the fast track of disaster. The Hun xen government did nothing to improve the lives of million Cambodians. The government officials are richer and fater from robbing land from the poors and cutting trees and stealing all kind of natural resources.

By Zhai Kun (China Daily)

Premier Wen Jiabao is in Laos attending the third Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) summit which ends today.

Since the GMS was launched by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 1992, the five countries in the region, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, have all been put on the fast track of growth.

In this process, China has played an active role in enhancing economic regional cooperation. Besides, it has also integrated the cooperation with its domestic strategy of developing Southwest China, which lies in the upper reaches of the Mekong River, called the Lancang River. Thus, a balanced economic development is being nurtured in the greater Mekong area.

The regional cooperation is playing a vital role in promoting comprehensive development of the subregion.

The Mekong River flows through six nations, including China. Its basin covers 2.56 million sq km with a population of 320 million. With vast forests and rich underground resources, the basin boasts one of the best biological reserves in Asia.

The ADB launched the GMS in 1992, aimed at poverty eradication, and all Mekong nations have since been involved in the common initiative of economic development. It was under such a backdrop that the concept of "Greater Mekong Subregion" took shape.

Following the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took the lead in promoting regional cooperation, to which China actively responded by stepping up its cooperation with the Mekong River nations.

Countries in the Mekong subregion today have achieved political peace, social stability, and economic gains.

Regional cooperation within the GMS framework has seen advances in transportation, telecommunications, trade, tourism, and agriculture.

Take transportation as an example. After the Trans-Asian Railway was completed, the key cities in the region, Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane, all started direct flights to their capitals as well as construction of their ports. A transportation network linking water, land and air will play an increasingly important role in the region, and Asia as a whole.

Two criss-crossing corridors have just been completed in the region. The "north-south corridor" - a 2,000-km highway linking Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, and the Thai capital city of Bangkok via Laos, and the "east-west corridor" - a 1,500-km highway stretching from Vietnam's Da Nang through Laos and Thailand to Myanmar, will serve as vital transportation arteries in the region.

The countries in the Mekong River basin have deepened their opening up to each other, nurtured closer ties with the rest of Asia, and the world. Their efforts in recent years are paying off. The per capita annul income was $1,100 in 2006 compared to $630 in 1992.

The development momentum of the region has also attracted the attention of other countries.

The relationship between the United States and the Mekong River nations has improved, especially that between the US and Vietnam. Nguyen Minh Triet, the Vietnamese President, visited the US last year, the first visit by a Vietnamese state head to the US in the 32 years following the end of the Vietnam War.

Japan has also been paying more attention to its diplomatic ties with the Mekong River countries. The current Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has designated this year as one of exchange between Japan and nations of the Mekong region. Japan hosted a ministerial meeting in Tokyo with the foreign ministers of the five Mekong region countries in January.

More multinational companies headquartered in the US or Japan are looking to invest in the Mekong region.

It is viewed as the gateway to the east by India. And the link between the Mekong River and the Ganges River is seen as a "natural pivot to advance eastward".

In September last year, Australia published a strategic report on promoting cooperation and integration in the Greater Mekong Subregion, calling the region essential to Australia's interests. The report suggested the Australian government donate A$50 million each year for the next 10 years to countries in the Mekong region.

Many international and non-government organizations have also placed the Mekong subregion higher on their agendas.

It is clear the Mekong subregion is seeing an integration of multiple interests. It would help if more countries reach an understanding about their own roles in aiding the region.

There are several areas in which these countries can help.

The first is biological protection, tapping and protecting water resources. Second, disease prevention, like bird flu, AIDS and encephalitis B.

Other areas include cooperation in fighting terrorism, easing the shortage of manpower, and bridging development disparity in the five countries.

China has developed sound relations with countries of the subregion, an example of China's policy of promoting harmony with its neighbors.

On Friday, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Finance released a report through the People's Daily. In the report, the ministerial departments gave a detailed statement about China's economic and trade ties with the Mekong River countries, its role in promoting regional cooperation, and its plans for participating in regional cooperation in the near future.

The author is director for Southeast Asian and Oceanic Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

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Cambodia: Infamous Grenade Attack Still Unpunished

FBI Should Revive Probe of Alleged Perpetrators Promoted by Hun Sen

(New York, March 30, 2008) – The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) should reopen its long-stalled investigation into the grisly grenade attack on an opposition party rally in Phnom Penh 11 years ago that left at least 16 dead and more than 150 injured, Human Rights Watch said today. The FBI investigation, which made significant progress in 1997, has been effectively abandoned.

On March 30, 1997, a crowd of approximately 200 supporters of the opposition Khmer Nation Party (KNP), led by former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy, gathered in a park across the street from the National Assembly to denounce the judiciary’s corruption and lack of independence. In a well-planned attack, four grenades were thrown into the crowd, killing protesters and bystanders, including children, and tearing limbs off street vendors. The grenade attack made headlines and provoked outrage around the world. On June 29, 1997, the Washington Post wrote:

“In a classified report that could pose some awkward problems for U.S. policymakers, the FBI tentatively has pinned responsibility for the blasts, and the subsequent interference, on personal bodyguard forces employed by Hun Sen, one of Cambodia’s two prime ministers, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with its contents. The preliminary report was based on a two-month investigation by FBI agents sent here under a federal law giving the bureau jurisdiction whenever a U.S. citizen is injured by terrorism. ... The bureau says its investigation is continuing, but the agents involved reportedly have complained that additional informants here are too frightened to come forward.”

“The FBI was close to solving the case when its lead investigator was suddenly ordered out of the country by the US ambassador, Kenneth Quinn,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The FBI has damning evidence in its files that suggests that Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the attack, but it has refused to fully cooperate with congressional inquiries or follow through on its initial investigation. Instead of trying to protect US relations with Cambodia, it should now finish what it started.”

The FBI investigated the attack because Ron Abney, a US citizen, was seriously injured in the blast, which the United States at the time deemed to be an “act of terrorism.” Abney had to be evacuated to Singapore to treat shrapnel wounds in his hip.

Instead of launching a serious investigation, then co-Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that the demonstration’s organizers should be arrested and instructed police not to allow them to leave the country. (To read an Agence France-Presse account published at the time, please visit:

On the day of the attack, Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit, Brigade-70 (B-70), was, for the first time, deployed at a demonstration. Photographs show them in full riot gear. The police, which had in the past maintained a high-profile presence at opposition demonstrations to discourage public participation, had an unusually low profile on that day. Officers were grouped around the corner from the park, having been ordered to stay away from the park itself. Also for the first time, the KNP had received official permission from both the Ministry of the Interior and the Phnom Penh municipality to hold a demonstration, fuelling speculation that the demonstration was authorized so it could be attacked.

Numerous eyewitnesses reported that the persons who had thrown the grenades were seen running toward Hun Sen’s bodyguards, who were deployed in a line at the west end of the park near the guarded residential compound containing the homes of many senior Cambodia People’s Party leaders. Witnesses told United Nations and FBI investigators that the bodyguard line opened to allow the grenade-throwers to escape into the compound. Meanwhile, people in the crowd pursuing the grenade-throwers were stopped by the bodyguards at gunpoint and told they would be shot if they did not retreat.

“This brazen attack, carried out in broad daylight, ingrained impunity more than any other single act in recent Cambodian history,” said Adams. “But that appears to have been one of its purposes – to send the message that opposition supporters can be murdered without ever facing justice.”

In a June 1997 interview with the Phnom Penh Post, Hing Bun Heang, deputy commander of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and operationally in charge of the bodyguards at the park on March 30, 1997, threatened to kill journalists who alleged that Hun Sen’s bodyguards were involved. Hing Bun Heang has since been promoted as deputy director of Hun Sen’s cabinet and, in September 2006, appointed as supreme consultant to Cambodia’s Senior Monk Assembly and assistant to Supreme Patriachs Tep Vong and Bou Kry.

The bodyguard unit B-70 remains notorious in Cambodia for violence, corruption, and the impunity it enjoys as the de facto private army of Hun Sen. According to a 2007 report by the nongovernmental organization Global Witness, “The elite Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 unit makes between US$2 million and US$2.5 million per year through transporting illegally logged timber and smuggled goods. A large slice of the profits generated through these activities goes to Lieutenant General Hing Bun Heang, commander of the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit.”

In one notorious case in 2006, two soldiers from B-70 shot a Phnom Penh beer promotion girl in the foot for being too slow to bring them ice. They were arrested by military police, but released hours later by their commander. A representative of the commander said the victim would be paid $500 compensation by B-70, but no criminal investigation or prosecution ensued.

“Instead of investigating the senior officer in charge of the bodyguard unit implicated in the 1997 grenade attack and who threatened to kill journalists reporting on it, Hun Sen has promoted him,” said Adams. “Apparently, Hun Sen considers such a person qualified for a senior position in the country’s official Buddhist hierarchy.”

Given the serious and credible allegations of the involvement of the Cambodian military in the grenade attack, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the United States has increased military assistance and training to the Cambodian military before it completed its investigation into the 1997 attack.

Human Rights Watch called on the US to ensure that it is not providing any assistance or training to current or former members of B-70 or other Cambodian special military units with records of human rights abuse. In an effort to solidify counterterrorism cooperation, the FBI in 2006 awarded a medal to the Cambodian Chief of National Police Hok Lundy for his support in the US “global war on terror.” Hok Lundy was chief of the national police at the time of the grenade attack and has long been linked to political violence.

“No credible explanation has ever been offered for the deployment or behavior of Hun Sen’s bodyguards on March 30, 1997,” said Adams. “Their actions may reach the highest levels of the Cambodian government, yet the FBI investigation has been dropped. The fact that the US is providing military assistance instead of investigating the grenade attack shows that it is effectively complicit with the Cambodian government in abandoning any hope for justice for the victims of this horrific attack.”
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Cambodia, Laos sign MOU of border crossing pass, transportation

PHNOM PENH, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia and Laos have signed a Memorandum of Understanding of border crossing pass and transportation while Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen paid a visitin Laos, Cambodian Commerce Minster Cham Prasidh said here on Monday.

The MOU was signed by Hor Namhong, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, with his Lao counterpart, Cham Prasidh told reporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport after returning from Laos.

This MOU is very important for people of both sides because it allows them to be able to cross the border between the two countries with a border crossing pass for a limited period of time and they could make business, Cham Prasidh said.

Another MOU of transportation, which allows a limited number of vehicles of both sides to cross border, was signed by Cambodian Minister of Public Works and Transportation Sun Chanthol and his Lao counterpart, he added.

He said that Cambodia and Laos will also strengthen bilateral ties and traditional and friendly cooperation for a long term.

Hun Sen left here on Friday for Laos to conduct an official visit there and attend the third Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit on March 30-31.

His delegation includes Hor Namhong, Cham Prasidh and other senior officials.
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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vietnam to boost economic cooperation with Cambodia

Cooperation between Vietcong and Cambodia is too tasty that million Cambodians could not accepted so far, the cooperation is the tactic for Vietnam using to steal Oil and gas from Cambodia. Cambodian children will loose more natural resources to the Vietcong thieves.

VIENTIANE, March 30 (Xinhua) -- Vietnam and Cambodia have agreed to beef up their cooperation, especially in the fields of oil and gas, electricity, mining, cash crop cultivation, and construction material production.

During the meeting between Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen here Sunday, on the occasion of their attention to the 3rd Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Summit, they have agreed to accelerate Vietnamese-backed projects in Cambodia.

Trade between Vietnam and Cambodia should reach 2 billion U.S. dollars in 2010, said the two prime ministers.

The two sides have also agreed to finish their land border demarcation in 2012 as scheduled, and closely cooperate in dealing with some other issues, including those on using Mekong water resource.

Starting on Sunday, the two-day summit with the theme of "Enhancement of Competitiveness via Greater Connectivity" will focus its discussion on strengthening transport connectivity, boosting cooperation between public and private sectors, implementing sustainable environment management and enhancing cooperation for GMS developments. GMS members include Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China. Read more!

'Killing Fields' survivor Dith Pran dies

By Richard Pyle

NEW YORK (AP) — Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose harrowing tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country's murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film "The Killing Fields," died today, his former colleague said.

Dith, 65, died at a New Jersey hospital this morning of pancreatic cancer, according to Sydney Schanberg, his former colleague at the New York Times. Dith had been diagnosed almost three months ago.

Dith was working as an interpreter and assistant for Schanberg in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, when the Vietnam War reached its chaotic end in April 1975 and both countries were taken over by Communist forces.Schanberg helped Dith's family get out but was forced to leave his friend behind after the capital fell; they were not reunited until Dith escaped four and a half years later. Eventually, Dith resettled in the United States and went to work as a photographer for the Times.

It was Dith himself who coined the term "killing fields" for the horrifying clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered on his desperate journey to freedom.

"That was the phrase he used from the very first day, during our wondrous reunion in the refugee camp," Schanberg said later.

The regime of Pol Pot, bent on turning Cambodia back into a strictly agrarian society, and his Communist zealots were blamed for the deaths of nearly 2 million of Cambodia's 7 million people.

With thousands being executed simply for manifesting signs of intellect or Western influence — even wearing glasses or wristwatches — Dith survived by masquerading as an uneducated peasant, toiling in the fields and subsisting on as little as a mouthful of rice a day, and whatever small animals he could catch.

After Dith moved to the U.S., he became a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, dedicated to educating people on the history of the Khmer Rouge regime.

He was "the most patriotic American photographer I've ever met, always talking about how he loves America," said AP photographer Paul Sakuma, who knew Dith through their work with the Asian American Journalists Association.

Schanberg described Dith's ordeal and salvation in a 1980 magazine article titled "The Death and Life of Dith Pran." Schanberg's reporting from Phnom Penh had earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

Later a book, the magazine article became the basis for "The Killing Fields," the highly successful 1984 British film starring Sam Waterston as the Times correspondent and Haing S. Ngor, another Cambodian escapee from the Khmer Rouge, as Dith Pran.

The film won three Oscars, including the best supporting actor award to Ngor. Ngor, a physician, was shot to death in 1996 during a robbery outside his Los Angeles home. Three Asian gang members were convicted of the crime.

"Pran was a true reporter, a fighter for the truth and for his people," Schanberg said. "When cancer struck, he fought for his life again. And he did it with the same Buddhist calm and courage and positive spirit that made my brother so special."

Dith spoke of his illness in a March interview with the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., saying he was determined to fight against the odds and urging others to get tested for cancer.

"I want to save lives, including my own, but Cambodians believe we just rent this body," he said. "It is just a house for the spirit, and if the house is full of termites, it is time to leave."

Dith Pran was born Sept. 27, 1942 at Siem Reap, site of the famed 12th century ruins of Angkor Wat. Educated in French and English, he worked as an interpreter for U.S. officials in Phnom Penh. As with many Asians, the family name, Dith, came first, but he was known by his given name, Pran.

After Cambodia's leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, broke off relations with the United States in 1965, Dith worked at other jobs. When Sihanouk was deposed in a 1970 coup and Cambodian troops went to war with the Khmer Rouge, Dith returned to Phom Penh and worked as an interpreter for Times reporters.

In 1972, he and Schanberg, then newly arrived, were the first journalists to discover the devastation of a U.S. bombing attack on Neak Leung, a vital river crossing on the highway linking Phnom Penh with eastern Cambodia.

Dith recalled in a 2003 article for the Times what it was like to watch U.S. planes attacking enemy targets.

"If you didn't think about the danger, it looked like a performance," he said. "It was beautiful, like fireworks. War is beautiful if you don't get killed. But because you know it's going to kill, it's no longer beautiful."

After Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in 1979 and seized control of territory, Dith escaped from a commune near Siem Reap and trekked 40 miles, dodging both Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge forces, to reach a border refugee camp in Thailand.

From the Thai camp he sent a message to Schanberg, who rushed from the United States for an emotional reunion with the trusted friend he felt he had abandoned four years earlier.

"I had searched for four years for any scrap of information about Pran," Schanberg said. "I was losing hope. His emergence in October 1979 felt like an actual miracle for me. It restored my life."

After Dith moved to the U.S., the Times hired him and put him in the photo department as a trainee. The veteran staffers "took him under their wing and taught him how to survive on the streets of New York as a photographer, how to see things," said Times photographer Marilynn Yee.

Yee recalled an incident early in Dith's new career as a photojournalist when, after working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, he was robbed at gunpoint of all his camera equipment at the back door of his apartment.

"He survived everything in Cambodia and he survived that too," she said, adding, "He never had to work the night shift again."

Dith spoke and wrote often about his wartime experience and remained an outspoken critic of the Khmer Rouge regime.

When Pol Pot died in 1998, Dith said he was saddened that the dictator was never held accountable for the genocide.

"The Jewish people's search for justice did not end with the death of Hitler and the Cambodian people's search for justice doesn't end with Pol Pot," he said.

Dith's survivors include his companion, Bette Parslow; his former wife, Meoun Ser Dith; a sister, Samproeuth Dith Nop; sons Titony, Titonath and Titonel; daughter Hemkarey Dith Tan; six grandchildren including a boy named Sydney; and two step-grandchildren.

Dith's three brothers were killed by the Khmer Rouge.
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Saturday, March 29, 2008

China reinforces commitment to boost Mekong co-op

China reaffirmed its commitment on Friday to continue to boost the economic cooperation in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), saying cooperation will benefit all nations in the region.

"China will further its cooperation with the other GMS members in fields such as transportation, energy, telecommunication, agriculture, environment, human resource development and tourism", said a country report issued by China prior to the third GMS summit.
China along with fellow member states Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar will attend the conference in Vientiane, Laos, on March 30 and 31.

"The other GMS countries are all friendly neighbors of China, and they and China have maintained a long tradition of friendship," said the report, which added China had always attached importance to enhancing and developing its friendly relations with other countries in the region.

GMS cooperation is project-oriented and provides financial and technological support according to the actual needs of member countries.

According to the report, a total of $9.87 billion, a shared contribution by China and the other five countries as well as the Asian Development Bank, has been poured into 34 projects, and another 146 technological aid projects also cost a total of $166 million.

Several model projects facilitated by China under the GMS economic cooperation framework were listed in the report, which included:

-- The Laos one-third section of the western line of the south-north economic corridor (Kunming-Laos-Bangkok Road)

-- Cooperation on the Pan-Asia Railway, and research into both the China and other sections.

-- The 110 KW power line connecting Hekou, Yunnan Province, and Lao Cai in Vietnam

-- The GMS Information Highway (GMS IS) phase I project

-- The first GMS Agriculture Ministers Meeting and the GMS Agriculture Information Network Service

-- The implementation of the Action Framework for the GMS Strategy of Facilitation of Trade and Investment, and its own country action plan

"China is planning to promote cooperation on agriculture, railways, and human resource training within the subregion at the third GMS summit," said He Yafei, Chinese assistant foreign minister, at a news briefing on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's attendance at the summit.

According to He, the triennial meeting will have as its theme "Enhancing Competitiveness Through Greater Connectivity" and Premier Wen will deliver a keynote speech on China's views and proposals to further boost the GMS cooperation and its future development.

The GMS, established in 1992, promotes economic and social development, irrigation and cooperation within the six Mekong countries.

About 320 million people live within the GMS region, and their common link, the Mekong River, winds its way for 4,200 kilometers. The great majority of these people live in rural areas where they lead subsistence or semi-subsistence agricultural lifestyles.

The area boasts abundant natural resources and huge development potential. With a long history of cultural and economic exchanges among the nations, the area has formed peculiar cultural and economic characteristics based on different folk customs and natural landscapes of the six nations sharing the river.

The first GMS Summit was held in Cambodia's Phnom Penh in 2002, and the second in southwest China's Kunming in 2005.

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Chinese premier leaves Beijing to attend Mekong summit in Laos

BEIJING, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Invited by Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao left here on Saturday to pay a working visit to Laos, and attend the third Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit in Vientiane.

Wen's visiting group includes Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Minister of the National Development and Reform Commission Zhang Ping, Minister of Finance Xie Xuren, Minister of Commerce Chen Deming, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Government Chairman Ma Biao, Governor of the Yunnan Province Qin Guangrong, Director of the Premier's Office Qiu Xiaoxiong and Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei.

Leaders from GMS members -- Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China -- as well as representatives from the Asian Development Bank will meet at the summit to promote economic, social, cultural, tourism and environmental cooperation within the region.

The theme of the triennial meeting is to "Enhance Competitiveness Through Greater Connectivity" and Wen will deliver a keynote speech on China's views and proposals on boosting the GMS cooperation and its future development.

The GMS, established in 1992, promotes economic and social development, irrigation and cooperation within the six Mekong countries.

The 1st GMS Summit was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2002, and the 2nd summit in Kunming, China, in 2005.

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New probe urged for senior Khmer Rouge leaders

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Prosecutors at Cambodia's genocide tribunal called for a new investigation into claims of torture and killings committed under the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, in a statement Saturday.

Prosecutors asked investigating judges at the UN-backed tribunal to examine allegations of crimes committed at a Khmer Rouge security centre, said the statement dated Friday.

Many Cambodians were unlawfully detained, subjected to inhumane conditions and forced labour, tortured and executed at the centre, it said.

"These factual allegations, if founded, could constitute crimes against humanity," Robert Petit, one of the prosecutors, said in the statement.

Prosecutors asked that senior regime leaders Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Thirith and Kaing Guek Eav -- all currently in the court's custody -- be investigated for their involvement in these crimes.

The request was accompanied by more than 30 supporting documents totalling around 1,500 pages of analytical reports, witness statements and documents from the period.

"As a result of the detailed nature and concise form in which the information was provided, we were able to assess and act on this information quickly," Cambodian prosecutor Chea Leang said in the statement, encouraging victims to come forward.

"Without participation of victims and witnesses, the court's ability to ascertain the truth regarding the extent of the crimes and those who are responsible for them will be significantly reduced," she said.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed as the communist Khmer Rouge dismantled modern Cambodian society in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia during their 1975-1979 rule.

Public trials are expected to begin this year, but delays in the process have raised fears that the elderly defendants could die before going to court.
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Vietnam and India move to limit rice exports

By Keith Bradsher

HANOI: Vietnam and India on Friday tightened limits on rice exports, joining Egypt and Cambodia in trying to conserve scarce supplies for domestic consumption at the risk of triggering further increases in global rice prices, which have roughly doubled since the start of this year.

Soaring prices for rice, a staple for nearly half the world's population, are already causing hardship across the developing world, particularly for urban workers. Together with rising prices for other foods, from wheat and soybeans to pork and cooking oil, higher rice prices are also contributing to inflation in many developing countries.

Rice-importing countries have become increasingly desperate, with fast-food restaurants in the Philippines even cutting rice portions in half.

Ben Savage, a rice broker at Jackson Son & Co. in London, said that even before the latest restrictions by Vietnam and India, international rice trading had practically stopped as exporters had become reluctant to sell as they waited to see how high prices would go. "The market has pretty much ground to a halt for the past few weeks," he said.

Shipments are still being made to complete contracts signed months ago, and governments are still doing deals with each other using state-controlled companies. But with virtually no private contracts being signed, the rice market has become extremely volatile, with prices jumping ever higher as governments impose more export restrictions.

Global rice consumption has exceeded production in each of the last seven years, so rice stockpiles have been falling steadily. Rising affluence in India and China has increased demand even as a plant virus has damaged the harvest in Vietnam and poor weather has hurt output in other countries.

Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand, announced Friday that it would reduce rice exports by 22 percent in the hope of curbing the rapidly accelerating inflation rates in the country.

India on Friday set a new minimum price for rice exports of $1,000 a ton, far above the price of $700 to $750 for most grades of rice. The new price makes it unlikely that India will export any rice except the highest grades of basmati rice for which the market within India has long been small.

Cambodia said Wednesday that it was halting all private sector rice exports. Egypt has barred all rice exports starting on April 1; while Egypt bars exports each year to conserve supplies for domestic consumption, the Egyptian government has acted earlier than usual this year and after less rice than usual has been exported.

Thailand has not imposed restrictions yet, but there has been public discussion about doing so.

Vietnam's restriction "is sure to cause more concern among rice-importing countries and push prices even higher," said Duncan Macintosh, a spokesman for the International Rice Research Institute in Manila.

China to pay farmers more for rice

China said Friday it would pay farmers more for rice and wheat, trying to raise output and cool surging inflation that threatens to fuel unrest ahead of the Beijing Olympics, The Associated Press reported from Beijing.

Beijing has frozen retail prices of rice, cooking oil and other goods in an effort to rein in food costs, which jumped 23.3 percent in February from a year earlier. But analysts warn that holding down the prices paid to farmers will discourage them from raising production and easing shortages blamed for the increases.

The price increase is meant to "raise farmers' enthusiasm for growing grain and make progress in the development in grain production," the government's National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement announcing the change.
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Friday, March 28, 2008

6 Malaysians nabbed in Cambodia for disrupting flight

PHNOM PENH -- Six drunken Malaysian men were arrested and set to be deported from Cambodia on Friday, after they shouted at flight attendants and scared passengers on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, officials said.

The six men were arrested as soon as the AirAsia Airbus A320 landed in Phnom Penh, airport police chief Chhour Kimny told Agence France-Presse.

"They are drunk and demanded services that air hostesses don't provide. They made trouble on board the flight," he said.

"They used a loud voice and had a verbal conflict with the air hostesses. They acted improperly and caused chaos among the passengers," he said.

A top immigration official told AFP the six would be deported from Cambodia soon. It was not immediately known how many passengers were on board. Read more!

Backgrounder: Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)

VIENTIANE, March 28 (Xinhua) -- Leaders of the six GMS countries will be meeting in Vientiane, Laos on March 30-31 to discuss ways to deepen economic cooperation for their countries' shared prosperity.

The triennial meeting, the third among the Leaders of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), will have as its theme "Enhancing Competitiveness Through Greater Connectivity".

It aims to sustain and deepen economic cooperation and integration efforts among the GMS countries in order to better meet development challenges and realize the common vision of an integrated, harmonious and prosperous subregion.

The Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program (the GMS Program) was started in 1992 by the six countries sharing the Mekong River -- Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

About 320 million people live within the GMS region, and their common link, the Mekong River winds its way for 4,200 kilometers. The great majority of these people live in rural areas where they lead subsistence or semi subsistence agricultural lifestyles.

The area boasts abundant natural resources and huge development potential. With a long history of cultural and economic exchanges among the nations, the area has formed peculiar cultural and economic characteristics based on different folk customs and natural landscapes of the six nations sharing the river.

These resources provide both income and sustenance to the great majority of people in the subregion who are leading subsistence or near subsistence agricultural lifestyles. The land yields timber, minerals, coal, and petroleum, while water from the many rivers supports agriculture and fisheries and provides energy in the form of hydropower. The coal reserves of the subregion are abundant, and the oil and gas reserves considerable. Most of these are in Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. These abundant energy resources are still relatively underused.

The First GMS Summit was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in November 2002, while the Second GMS Summit was held in Kunming, China in July 2005.
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Souren Melikian: Art casualties from Tibet to Cambodia find an eager market

An 11th Century Khmer statue in Baphuon style that fetched 2.11 million at Christie's, Who have the rights to own the Cambodian national heritage?

By Souren Melikian
New York: One thing art market actors cannot be accused of is being squeamish. If anyone should harbor any doubts on that score, the auctions of "Indian & South-East Asian Art" held on March 19 at Sotheby's and March 21 at Christie's will have dispelled them.

The title did not really do justice to the contents of the sales. Indeed, the gilt bronze Buddhist figures that each auction house ran on the glossy covers of their catalogues indicated that the thrust was not on India, nor even Southeast Asia, but Tibet. Nepal and Cambodia were also represented by outstanding works that did not qualify as Indian either.

By one of those ironies of fate, the Tibetan uprising broke out that week, stirring up memories of the massive destructions during the Chinese Cultural Revolution that swept away major architectural masterpieces in Tibet such as the 15th-century Densatil monastery and dispersed thousands of religious ritual works of art kept in monasteries. But if professionals had passing qualms at the thought that the untoward turmoil might compromise their commercial endeavors, they need not have worried. On March 19, Tibetan art did splendidly.

Sotheby's star lot, which was also the most problematic because of its ambitious estimate ($1.5 million to $2.5 million plus the sale charge) sold against the reserve for $1,385,000, still a large price for this 15th-century gilt copper figure of the seated Buddha. The head and neck were repeatedly painted until recent times, in keeping with Buddhist ritual tradition. Hence a sweet, mealy-mouthed expression, not exactly popular with most collectors.

The catalogue, however, pointed out "the pristine condition of the statue, with its gilding almost entirely intact" and assured that this "clearly indicates its highly regarded Tibetan status, where [sic] it is likely to have been placed in an exalted temple location out of danger of accidental damage or handling by devotees." Sadly, it was not out of danger of incidental removal. Were bidders encouraged by its provenance, the Berti Aschmann Collection which it had entered, the catalogue said, in 1961? Possibly. The fear of looting committed a long time ago is somehow not as nagging as that of more recent pilfering.

Actually, such fears, which are plausible in the case of magnificent bronzes tumbling onto the market without any reference to provenance or previous publication, did not affect the sale of some of the most important pieces seen at Sotheby's.

A group of 15th-century gilt bronze seated figures purporting to portray four historical lamas thus sprang up out of the blue. Cast at the same period as part of some set, they were in strikingly good condition and the Tibetan inscriptions incised on the pedestals named the lamas. Two of these, from the Sakya order, lived in the 13th and 14th centuries. Shang Koenchog Pel, born around 1250, was highly regarded by Kubilai Khan (1215-1294), the descendant of Gengis Khan and founder of the Mongol dynasty that ruled China from 1271 to 1368. Pel established the Sakya practice of Tantric Buddhist teaching which he passed on to his disciple Choje Draphupa Sonam Pel (1277-1346). The disciple's portrait is a gilt bronze figure of precisely the same dimension, 32 centimeters, or 12 5/8 inches, high, as the master's likeness, clearly made as a match.

Objects of veneration in the monastery they once belonged to, the two portraits respectively sold for $205,000 and $217,000, far above their estimates.

Yet, through one of those auction quirks that often affect the art of complex cultures understood by few in the Western world because the essential keys provided by their language makes them impenetrable, the next two portraits did not sell. Both immortalized the memory of Gyaltshap Kunga Wangchuk (1424-1478), the fourth abbot of the Sakya order in a famous religious center, the Ngor monastery, and both were signed by the sculptor, Tsugtor. The stiff estimates, $200,000 to $300,000, may have acted as deterrents.

Rarest of all, a large bronze bodhisattva of the 11th century bore a connection to another bodhisattva found in the rubble of the Sakya shrine at Piyang, not far from the border separating Chinese-held Tibet from the Tibetan areas incorporated with India. No provenance was given here either. Was that also rescued from the ruins of the Piyang shrine? The "Asian Private" buyer, as Sotheby's release put it, who paid the $181,000 that the 11th-century bronze cost, will have to work that out.

Earlier in the sale, works of art from another Buddhist land devastated by 20th-century events, likewise offered without a provenance, made one wonder how it is that so few questions are asked about just how works of art of major importance, for which no government would ever issue an export license, come to tumble on to the market.

Do the temples of Cambodia, erected by the Khmers at the height of their culture between the 10th and 13th centuries, ring so few bells? The admirable sandstone figure of a woman carved in the 11th century in the style known from Banteay Srei and described as having been acquired in 1986 was missing its head, very neatly chopped off, and both feet. It looked suspiciously like those sculptures broken off in situ. However, that did not harm its commercial performance. It ascended to $361,000, nearly six times the estimate.

Next came a 12th-century bronze bodhisattva from the Angkor period. No provenance at all here, no date of acquisition. The 34 centimeter four-armed statue did not sell as easily. Whether this was due to the high estimate, $80,000 to $120,000, plus the sale charge, or to angst caused by the fear of possible problems in some distant future, when perhaps proof of precise provenance will have to be produced for transactions to proceed legitimately, is hard to tell. Even so, it brought $73,000.

The next piece, a 13th-century bronze figure of Ganesha seated on a pedestal cast in the Bayon style of Angkor Wat, happily exceeded its high estimate by half, climbing to $52,000. Here, the catalogue noted "Provenance. Hong Kong Collection, 1980s," implying that it passed through the Hong Kong trade in those years. Some "provenance."

And that is the story of the entire art market handling sculpture or objects dug up in Tibet, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia or even India, but less so in the latter case. India, now more powerful, has been able to tighten the screws on illicit digging.

Two days later, at Christie's, things differed only in nuances. A Khmer statue of the 11th century in the Baphuon style had surfaced in the market in 1968, two years before the Unesco cut-off line of 1970, after which goods of uncertain provenance are deemed less kosher. At $2.11 million, it now holds the world record for Khmer sculpture. How nice!

Tibet contributed a fantastic gilt bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara cast in the 14th century and said to have been in Tokyo by the mid-1960s. It went for just over $1 million.

Another Avalokiteshvara, cast in the 9th century, did not have that luck. Despite the proportions reminiscent of the Srivijaya culture in Sri Lanka, the facial features point to a Cham origin. The mysterious Cham people who survive in communities scattered across Vietnam and Cambodia adhered to Hinduism and Buddhism in circumstances that elude us and later turned to Islam, when it reached the Vietnamese coast via the maritime route around the 11-12th century. Their distinctive art points to a strong collective personality. More might be learned about them if excavations were conducted. That is not going to happen. Few are concerned about the vanished culture of a minority on its way out.

With every major work projected onto the market by commercial digging, a portion of its past history is lost forever. The rare Cham bronze which, Christie's assured, came from a "Private English Collection [in the] 1990s" actually failed to sell as the hammer came down at $95,000. Thus was historical waste accompanied by commercial failure. From Tibet to Cambodia, the common treasure of mankind is squandered at a rate that matches that of melting Antarctica. And business goes on.
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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cambodia unveils plan for sustainable development of oil, gas reserves

PHNOM PENH, March 27 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia has unveiled a detailed plan for developing the country's oil and gas reserves that would ensure sustainable economic development and reduce poverty at an UNDP conference, officials said Thursday.

The government has set its sights on long term benefits rather than short term gains, said Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia and Chairman of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority.

The plan, which includes the formation of a regulatory framework and the development of human resources, was "a vital step" towards sustained economic development, the official said in the inaugural speech of a poverty reduction conference.

The March 26-28 conference, Fuelling Poverty Reduction with Oil and Gas Revenues Comparative Country Experiences, was the first of its kind in Cambodia, which drew more than 500 participants from Cambodia and around the globe, a conference press release said.

Arne Walther, the former secretary general of the International Energy Forum, explained how Norway had become the model for prudent use of resource wealth when huge offshore resources were discovered there in the 1970s.

Transparent rules and regulations were a vital part of the process, said the advisor to Sao Tome et Principe's Minister of Natural Resources, Genoveva Jose da Costa.

She said the country had set up a National Oil Account for revenues from its natural resources.

Global energy experts also discussed legal frameworks, fiscal arrangements, contract negotiation and how to reliably assess resource bases, the press release said.
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Cambodia lifts ban on importing pigs, pork to curb soaring food prices

PHNOM PENH, March 27 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed Thursday that the government allows importing pigs and pork products from neighboring countries as the food prices increasing sharply.

The pig diseases in neighboring countries were over according to a report of the Cambodian veterinarian department, so the government lifted the ban on importing pigs and pork products from neighboring countries, Hun Sen said during a pagoda inauguration ceremony in Kompong Cham province.

Lacking of pork products on local markets also caused the soaring up of beef and fish prices, he said.

Hun Sen also appealed to fish lot owners to release their fish products to markets to drop the fish price.

Meanwhile, Cambodian Finance Minister Keat Chhon, in a statement released on Thursday, appealed to people to remain calm and not to stock up on foods, which could make the situation even harder.

According to the statement, Hun Sen has asked the finance and commerce ministries to address "the abnormal increase of price of goods," saying rising costs are "affecting the daily livelihoods of our citizens, especially workers, farmers and civil servants."

Since Wednesday, the Cambodian government has released surplus rice into the markets, allowing people to buy five kilograms each at reduced prices.

While rising food prices are part of a global trend, they have hit especially hard in Cambodia, where more than a third of the country's 14 million people are mired in poverty.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Suspects in Elephant’s Death Arrested

Two Cambodian men have been arrested for allegedly poisoning an elephant and sawing off its tusks to sell on the black market, officials said Wednesday.

The male elephant, which was chained to a tree by its owner in Rattanakiri province, about 200 miles northeast of the capital Phnom Penh, was found dead in March 2007.

Police at the time said the alleged killers had doused jack fruit, a tropical fruit eaten by elephants, with rat poison.

The tusks of the 62-year-old elephant, measuring almost 3 feet each, had been removed.

The two suspects, Men Rattana, 42, and Klem Sam Ouen, 27, were arrested this week, almost a year after the animal's killing, said Hor Ang, the provincial deputy police chief.

They were charged with intentional destruction of private property because the elephant belonged to a Cambodian family and was not living in the wild. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison.

Police raided the suspects' homes after being tipped off by villagers who had overheard the two men discussing prices for elephant tusks, Hor Ang said.

A saw that police believe was used to remove the tusks was found at one of the suspect's homes, he said. Each tusk could fetch up to $3,000 in the illegal ivory trade.

Elephants are the main means of transport for Cambodia's hilltribes, the ethnic minorities that live in the country's northeastern highlands.

Conservationists have said that the end of years of armed conflict in Cambodia has allowed the elephant population and other wildlife to repopulate Cambodian jungles.

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World Bank approves 6 mln USD grant for Cambodia to fight bird flu

PHNOM PENH, March 26 (Xinhua) -- The World Bank Group on Wednesday approved a six million U.S. dollars grant to support Cambodia's efforts to implement a national plan to minimize the threats from avian and human influenza, and to prepare its health systems to respond to any possible outbreak in the future.

The grant, provided by the International Development Association (IDA), will be used to finance the Avian and Human Influenza Control and Preparedness Emergency Project (AHICPEP), a press release said.

Designed in support of Cambodia's Comprehensive Avian and Human Influenza (AHI) National Plan, this project aims to help the government contain the spread of the H5N1 virus, reduce livelihood losses among commercial and backyard poultry growers, limit damage to the poultry industry, diminish the viral load in the environment and prevent or limit human morbidity as well as mortality, it added.

In addition to the IDA grant, the Government of Japan has provided a three million U.S. dollars grant from its Policy and Human Resources Development (PHRD) Fund. A grant of two million U.S. dollars was approved by the Avian and Human Influenza (AHI) Facility, a multidonor grant-making mechanism supported by the European Commission and eight other donors, it said.

Both grants will co-finance AHICPEP, the press release said, adding that the PHRD Fund and AHI Facility are both administered by the World Bank.

The combined 11 million U.S. dollars project will be implemented by units within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Health, and the National Committee for Disaster Management of Cambodia.
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Cambodia turns to hydropower, to villagers' alarm

CHAY ARENG RIVER, Cambodia: Along the Chay Areng Valley in the remote Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, children still scamper barefoot through one of the last remaining tracts of virgin jungle in mainland Southeast Asia.

If they take the same paths in a few years, they will probably have to be swimming.

Faced with a rapidly growing but power-starved economy, Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided that the rivers flowing from one of the few elevated spots in a relentlessly flat country should become a source of energy.

In the past two years he has agreed to at least four Chinese-financed hydropower projects as part of a $3 billion plan to raise the country's electricity output from just 300 megawatts today to 1,000 in a decade, enough to power a small city.

The indigenous communities in the forests in the Cardamoms appear to be the ones that will pay the biggest price.

"We have been living here without a dam for many generations; we don't want to see our ancestral lands stolen," 78-year-old Sok Nuon said, lighting a fire inside her wooden hut nestled among trees near the Chay Areng River.

"I do not want to move, as it takes years for fruit trees to produce crops," she said. "By then, I'll be dead."

Few people argue that Cambodia's 14 million people do not need more power.

After decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "killing fields" of the 1970s, the economy has finally taken off, growing at a rate of nearly 10 percent a year.

But its antiquated power plants, fueled mostly by diesel fuel, can meet only 75 percent of demand, meaning frequent blackouts and prices around twice those in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. Those factors inhibit faster economic expansion.

With the closer ties Hun Sen has cultivated with Beijing over the past five years, Chinese cash and dam-building expertise has become a solution to the pains of breakneck growth.

"Chinese investment in hydropower is so important for Cambodia's development," Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in January after meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi.

But critics maintain that much of the planning is taking place with scant regard for the long-term impact on the environment in a country where most people still rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

"Poorly conceived and developed hydropower projects could needlessly and irreparably damage Cambodia's river system with serious consequences," said Carl Middleton of the U.S.-based group International Rivers Network.

But the Chay Areng project hardly appears to be a model of transparency. The deal was signed in late 2006 with China Southern Power Grid, one of the two electricity network operators in China, to build a 260-megawatt plant at an estimated cost of $200 million, with a completion date of 2015.

The first that villagers knew of the project was when Chinese engineers turned up this year to start working on feasibility studies. Officials at Southern Grid and in the Cambodian government have been reluctant to discuss the details of the studies.

The Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh denied any shortcuts were being taken in the dam construction.

"They comply with environmental standards and are approved by the Cambodian government," said a Chinese diplomat who was granted anonymity because of the political sensitivity surrounding the project. "We just want to help Cambodia as much as we can."

Environmentalists who have conducted their own studies say the reservoir created by the dam will cover 110 square kilometers, or 42 square miles, and displace thousands of indigenous people in nine villages.

More than 200 animal species, including elephants, sun bears, leopards and the endangered Siamese crocodile, would be affected upstream, said Sam Chanthy of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, a foreign-financed group in Phnom Penh.

Downstream from the site, the delicate ecosystem of the flooded forest, home to some of the world's rarest turtle species as well as hundreds of types of migratory fish, would also be at risk from disruptions to water flow, Chanthy said.

Eng Polo, who works for the wildlife group Conservation International, agreed. "It won't take long for these invaluable assets to disappear when the dam is built," he said.
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Cambodia halts rice exports to curb rising domestic prices

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia's prime minister ordered a ban Wednesday on rice exports to neighboring Thailand and Vietnam in a bid to curb rising domestic prices for the country's staple food.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia is halting rice exports for two months to help "ensure the stability of the Cambodian market."

The measure is only temporary "to guarantee food security for Cambodia," he said in a speech at a ceremony marking the repair of a road.

Cambodia is a minor rice exporter, shipping about 450,000 tons of milled rice last year, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate. Neighboring Thailand, one of the world's top exporters, exported 8.5 million tons, it said in its "Rice Situation and Outlook Yearbook."

Hun Sen said all border agencies must begin implementing the order Thursday at all crossing points along the borders with Thailand and Vietnam. Because of the small-scale of production, most if not all exports would go overland to the two countries.

Since the end of the harvest early this year, farmers living in provinces bordering the two countries have been selling rice in large quantities across the borders, attracted by high prices, said Men Sarun, owner of Men Sarun-Import-Export Co.

He said a ton of rice now sells for about US$500 (€318), twice as much as last year.

The trend, while making some farmers happy about earning greater profits, could also result in food shortages in Cambodia later in the year, he said.

Hun Sen said the rising price of rice is a global problem.

In another speech Tuesday, he blamed "economic saboteurs" for causing the surge in domestic prices. It was not clear whom he was referring to.

Without imposing the ban, Cambodian rice will "keep flowing out, and they (the alleged saboteurs) will keep shaking up the price at home," he said Wednesday.

"So keep the rice here. No more export of it for two months after which the government will see how stable the market is," Hun Sen said.

The government will inject rice from its reserve into the market to help prevent further increase of the price, he said.

Cambodia produced an estimated 3.6 million tons of milled rice last year, according to Cambodian agriculture officials. About 2 million tons was estimated to be needed for domestic consumption this year, leaving a surplus of 1.5 million tons.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chinese premier to attend Mekong summit in Laos

BEIJING, March 25 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will pay a working visit to Laos from March 29 to 31, and attend the third Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit in Vientiane, announced Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Tuesday.

Qin told a regular press conference that Wen will pay the visit at the invitation of Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh.

Leaders from GMS members -- Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China -- as well as representatives from the Asian Development Bank will meet at the summit to promote economic, social, cultural, tourism and environmental cooperation within the region.

The 1st GMS Summit was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2002, and the 2nd summit in Kunming, China, in 2005.

The GMS was established in 1992 to promote economic and social development, irrigation and cooperation within the six Mekong countries.
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Sultan Receives King Of Cambodia In Audience

By Azaraimy HH &Yusrin Junaidi

Bandar Seri Begawan - State ties between Cambodia and Brunei are further enhanced as His Majesty the King of Cambodia Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni began a three-day State visit yesterday to the Sultanate.

The Cambodian king arrived at the IstanaNurullman for an audience with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and members of the royal family.

Also present were His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah and HRH Prince Abdul Malik.

Before the audience, His Majesty the Sultan and His Majesty the King of Cambodia proceeded to the Royal Dais to receive the Royal Salute, while the national anthems of both Cambodia and Brunei were played. The national flag of Cambodia was also hoisted.

After the 21-gun salute, the Commander of Royal Brunei Armed Forces invited His Majesty the Sultan and His Majesty the King of Cambodia to inspect the Guard of Honour.

This was followed by a second Royal Salute before His Majesty the King of Cambodia was introduced to members of the royal family by the Grand Chamberlain.

Also present at the palace reception hall were top government officials, including the Legislative Council speaker, Cabinet Ministers, Privy Council members,

Deputy Ministers, Police Commissioner, Legislative Council members, Permanent Secretaries at the Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as heads of foreign missions. His Majesty the King of Cambodia was introduced to the heads of foreign missions by the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

His Majesty the Sultan was then introduced to the delegation of Cambodia.

His Majesty the King of Cambodia is accompanied by Her Royal Highness Samdech Reach Botrei Preah Anoch Norodom Arunrasmy, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Cambodia to Malaysia.

Other delegates include Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Royal Palace Mr Samdech Chaufea Veang Kong Som Ol, Ambassador of Cambodia to Brunei Mr Nan Sy, Senior Minister and Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Mr Veng Serey Vuth, Member of the Senate Mr Puth Khov, Member of the Parliament Mr Khek Sam On, Minister and Director of the Royal Secretariat Mr Srey Nory, as well as the Secretary of State and Chief of His Majesty the King of Cambodia's Secretariat, Mr Ly Song Veng, among others.

Earlier yesterday, His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah welcomed His Majesty the King of Cambodia at the Berakas International Airport.

Also in attendance and welcoming His Majesty the King of Cambodia were Hj Mohd Nor Hj Jeludin, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as Mr Nan Sy, the Ambassador of Cambodia to Brunei.

At the airport, His Majesty the King of Cambodia was introduced to senior government officials. Also present were the Minister in' Attendance, the Ambassador of Brunei to Cambodia, Officers in Attendance, as well as the Military Aide de Camp by the Deputy Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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Wife buyers turn to Cambodia after crack down on marriage brokers in Vietnam

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The brides-to-be are brought down from poor Cambodian villages and herded into city hotels, where they are lined up and put on display for prospective grooms flown in from South Korea.

Over the past four years, some 2,500 women have wedded South Korean men, passing through an underground matchmaking business that few in Cambodia knew existed until recently.

A report to be released next month by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration sheds light on the growing phenomenon. A crackdown on marriage brokers in neighboring Vietnam is pushing the activity into Cambodia, according to the report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

"It's become a big business," said John McGeoghan, an IOM project coordinator in Cambodia. "We now see that these marriage brokers are popping up in Cambodia. This is a new market for them, and there's a lot of money to be made."

Potential grooms reportedly pay brokers up to US$20,000 (euro13,000), the IOM report says. The bride's family receives at most US$1,000 (euro650), with the rest pocketed by brokers. It is unclear how many are now operating in Cambodia.

The grooms, mostly factory workers and farmers, have trouble finding wives in South Korea because they are low-income earners, IOM says. Although some of the marriages prove successful, others herald loneliness, broken promises, divorce and sometimes violence, the report says.

Kim In-Kook, a South Korean embassy official, confirmed that the number of marriage visas issued to Cambodian brides soared from 72 in 2004 to 1,759 last year. He declined further comment.

Growing South Korean investment and tourism in Cambodia is also playing "a significant role in the expansion of transnational marriages" between the two countries, the IOM report says.

Cambodia's government publicly acknowledged the issue for the first time this month, apparently alarmed that it could slide into human trafficking, in which women are tricked or forced into marriage.

Earlier this month, the Interior Ministry announced it was canceling licenses of two South Korean companies for engaging in the matchmaking business. The firms had registered as export-import firms to secure legal entry into the country, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng denounced the firms' activities as "human trafficking."

Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke out on the problem shortly after, telling law enforcement agencies to be stricter in issuing marriage certificates "to prevent deceptive activities." He also urged parents "not to be so easygoing" about sending their daughters into brokered marriages with foreigners.

Traditionally, marriages in Cambodia are arranged by parents. Now, brokers are approaching Cambodian families. If interested, the families provide photos of their daughters, which are sent to South Korea or posted on Web sites, the IOM report says.

Brokers arrange 4-to-6 day marriage tours to Cambodia for prospective grooms, most of whom have expressed interest in more than one woman, the report says. The men are ushered through something akin to underground speed-dating, followed by a marriage ceremony.

"Most of the matchmaking occurs in restaurants or small hotels located in or near Phnom Penh," the report says, referring to Cambodia's capital city. "There the men typically select a bride from as many as 100 who are made available."

The women are mostly in their late teens and early 20s, attracted by promises of high living standards and money, the report says.

It cites one marriage in which a South Korean man promised to make monthly remittances to his bride's family, but was too poor to keep the promise. "This caused tension and arguments that resulted in domestic violence," the report says.

The woman is seeking divorce, but has received threats from the Cambodian marriage brokers, who have told her she would be charged US$1,000 if she returns and her parents would be harmed, the report says.

"It's not as romantic and wonderful as (the women) thought it would be," McGeoghan said.
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Cambodian dam plans suffer information drought

By Andrew Nette

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia has rejuvenated old plans to develop the country’s huge hydropower potential, big-ticket schemes to be led by Chinese investors which will simultaneously fill government coffers and have severe social and environmental impacts on local communities.

Like neighboring Laos in the 1990s, foreign donors, electricity-hungry neighboring nations such as Thailand and Vietnam and big business interests in China are all keen to transform Cambodia into a major hydropower generator. Previous plans for developing Cambodia's hydropower potential were put on hold due to political instability and the economic chaos that followed the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

But with recent rapid economic growth rates in the region - including Cambodia, which notched gross domestic product growth of around 10% in 2006 and 2007 - hydropower schemes are apparently back on the national agenda. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told a donor’s meeting last year that his government plans to make Cambodia into the "battery of Southeast Asia".

A 2003 plan developed by the Ministry of Mines, Minerals and Energy, with the support of the Mekong River Commission, estimated that Cambodia has the potential to generate 10,000 megawatts of energy for internal use and export. Almost 50% of that power would be generated from projects along the mainstream Mekong River, which runs through Cambodia.

Foreign donors continue to play an important supporting role, particularly the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) through its so-called Mekong Power Grid Plan, a plan it has been pushing since the early 1990s which envisages an interconnected power grid across the entire region.

The ADB predicts that Cambodia will initially be a net electricity importer but will become a net exporter once the country's full hydropower potential is realized. However, local and international environmental and other groups are warning that large-scale hydropower development could create serious problems, impacting on some of the country's most pristine ecosystems and reducing water flow and fisheries with major consequences for the livelihoods of thousands of people.

"We are not against development or hydropower," said Ngy San, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum, an umbrella body of nongovernmental organizations. "What we want to do is to ensure poverty reduction and sustainable development, which is also the government's plan.

"We are also working to ensure that Cambodian decision-makers will learn the lesson of other countries in relation to hydropower, and not repeat those mistakes," said San. What is potentially different for Cambodia is the role China is expected to play in developing the resources.

China’s and Cambodia’s political and economic ties have grown enormously over the past decade. China is the nation's single largest investor, and Chinese state companies, often financed by state-owned financial institutions such as the Chinese Export-Import Bank, are the main players in hydropower dam development.

Phnom Penh has identified about 14 priority projects, of which six are under development - all by Chinese companies. For instance, China's Sinohydro is building a 145-meter dam on the Kamchay River in Kampot province, representing Beijing’s biggest investment in the country.

There is no disagreement among officials and activists that Cambodia needs to generate more power. Currently, only 20% of the population has access to cheap, reliable sources of electricity, mainly in urban areas. Meanwhile domestic demand for electricity is estimated to be growing at around 20% per year.

"It is simple - development needs electricity," said Touch Seang Tana, an advisor to Cambodia's Council of Ministers and a fisheries expert. "Power is currently very expensive in Cambodia, particularly in regional areas that are the most disadvantaged."

The government wants to provide services to the rural communities, but this is difficult to do without electricity," he said. "The actual number of people impacted negatively [by dams] is small and overall the entire benefit to the nation is significant. The government has to balance all these factors."

Activists strike a more cautionary note. "The rush to develop our hydropower potential needs very careful study," said NGO Forum’s San. "However, it must include consultation with impacted communities, and comply with all relevant national and international laws. There are some in the government that share our concerns, but they find it difficult to act because they are not the real decision makers."

NGOs complain that the decision-making process in relation to hydropower development lacks transparency. While a plethora of departments and regulatory bodies participate in the process, observers say the agenda appears largely to be set by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, with the direct intervention of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The lack of transparency is accentuated by China’s involvement, critics say. "There is almost no information in the public domain on the financing arrangements for Cambodia's hydropower projects," stated a report released jointly in January by the US-based International Rivers Network (IRN) and the NGO Forum.

"The lack of information from the Chinese dam builders is very disturbing - they do not consult or share information," said Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International in Cambodia (CIC). His organization works in the Cardamom Mountains Protected Forest Area, one of the largest continuous swathes of rainforest left in Southeast Asia and home to a number of globally endangered species.

According to the CIC, there are plans to build a number of dams in the protected area, all by Chinese companies. According to the plan’s critics, the number of hydropower projects scheduled for construction in protected forest areas illustrates the fact that existing laws are insufficient to protect the environment and affected communities.

The situation is particularly serious, notes the report by the NGO Forum and IRN, given that "compared against the already less than admirable environmental and social standards of Western bilateral donors and export credit agencies ... Chinese institutions are noticeably weaker".

One of the projects under scrutiny is the proposed Sambor dam on the mainstream Mekong in central Kratie province. A number of construction options are being studied, including one that would only block between one-quarter to one-fifth of the river and have, according to Council of Ministers adviser Tana, only "minimal" impact.

NGO Forum’s San concedes that there are mixed views about dam-building and the economic impact involved for the potential affected communities. "Is there a real need for electricity in Thailand? Yes. But have the economics been thought through, have any preliminary contracts for power export from Cambodia to Thailand actually been signed? No. We want to see a good economic analysis, including a full cost-benefit analysis before projects go ahead," San said.
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Water, water everywhere...

Rob Sharp

Phnom Penh, March 23: In the middle of South-east Asia's largest freshwater lake ~ Cambodia's Tonle Sap ~ lives “Hot Sam”. The 55-year-old fisherman crouches in his self-built home, a shack, buoyed on a bed of bamboo and anchored to the lake bed two metres beneath him.

As he bobs above the murky water, rickety motorboats full of tourists chug past taking pictures. Gazing across his ramshackle fiefdom, Hot Sam opens his mouth and flashes a brown smile of rotten teeth.

The grinning gaze takes in the remarkable scene of the floating villages of Chong Khneas, one of the highlights of the country's burgeoning tourist industry and a natural, watery spectacle of abundance. On the surface, Tonle Sap and its natural resources ought to be a rich provider for its residents. And unsurprisingly for a fisherman living in a floating village, water is at the centre of everything in life for Hot Sam and his sizeable family. Their drinking water comes straight from the lake and the fisherman describes their little precautionary ritual before they drink it. The family collects the water, they then let it settle and drink it.

This is the same water in which they freely defecate, the same water in which they wash and the same shrinking body of water upon which they depend for livelihood. The population pressure which he has helped to create ~ with 11 family members ~ is making the pollution problem worse and helping to drive down the fish stocks on which they all rely. The spectre of climate change is starting to make itself felt in the low water levels and the precariousness of life is starkly apparent n even the houses’ anchor lines are shaken as they get snagged in the propellers of passing boats.

“The weather now changes every year and we have no idea what to expect,” bemoans Sam. “The rainy season is much more irregular than it was 15 years ago. Our catch of fish is worse than ever. We have less to sell on once we have fed ourselves, and we have to go further to get the same amount. Everything is getting harder and harder.”

The floating villages which were originally set up as a place of refuge from the genocidal madness of the Khmer Rouge find that their fate has come to reflect the less gruesome but nonetheless deadly challenges facing Cambodia now.

Hot Sam is living in the wrong half of the developing world. He is one of the 2.6 billion people on the planet who live without access to basic sanitation. Today is World Water Day, a UN-backed initiative which aims to highlight this. But sometimes the impact of such campaigns can be diluted through their over-use of meaningless jargon. The truth on the ground, or rather on the water, is that in Cambodia ~ one of the poorest countries in the world n its population of 14 million cannot get access to the basics: latrines, clean water for drinking and washing. If this continues, its high mortality rates, which mean some 83 children out of 1,000 perish before they are five, are destined to persist.

Such a bleak situation may surprise the tourists who pay a handful of dollars to take a tour around the floating villages. The 800-odd households, which accommodate some 6,000 people, can look bewitching to a newcomer. The truth is bleaker still. The eight floating villages were set up in the 1970s by farmers seeking refuge from the Khmer Rouge, who had confiscated their land. Added to the mix are a plethora of illegal Vietnamese immigrants (who make up a third of the population); they live separately and are often blamed for the overfishing problem (throwing dynamite into the lake is a common accusation). Floating past houses, villagers can be seen listless, dozing in hammocks or on straw mats. Their homes, often used to accommodate as many as a dozen people, are no bigger than average European kitchens. The walls are cobbled together using anything that lies, or floats to hand and need to be replaced regularly once the rot sets in. Once spent, they can be stripped off and used for fuel.

When fish stocks dwindle, some opt to sell batteries as a source of income, which their neighbours can use to power their televisions or music equipment. Or they can sell kerosene lamps, still used by the majority of people in the country for night light. Fish are held in place in specially-crafted pens, which are hammered to the shallow bed by men stripped to the waist, seemingly oblivious to the film of murk through which they break every time they dive.

But, despite the villagers' apparent success in adverse conditions, fresh obstacles are never far away. For one, Hot Sam's attitude towards drinking and allowing his children to play in the lake-water seems to be common among many of those living here. The area is woefully under-resourced n there is apparently only one school and one health centre and there is little evidence of the educational work and resource provisions which organisations such as the British Red Cross are carrying out in more remote parts of the country.

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Cambodian king to visit Brunei Shell Petroleum refinery

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni is scheduled to receive a guided tour of the Brunei Shell Petroleum complex during his official visit next week, according to an itinerary received from a palace source Sunday. Sihamoni is scheduled to arrive in the oil-rich sultanate at the personal invitation of Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Monday for a three-day visit.

Brunei, a fellow member of the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations, has said it is advising Cambodia on management of potentially rich offshore oil reserves which the currently impoverished nation expects to tap by the end of the decade.

The royal visit is reciprocal after the sultan's visit to Cambodia last April.

Brunei Shell Petroleum Sdn Bhd in the oil fields of Seria is a company jointly owned by the sultan's government and Royal Dutch Shell, according to the Brunei Petroleum Unit website.

The government site says the Petroleum Unit acts on behalf of the Brunei government "as a regulatory body prudently monitors and oversees all activities that are carried out by concessionaires holding concession areas in Brunei Darussalam."

Sihamoni is scheduled to end his visit Wednesday after a series of engagements featuring meetings with Brunei Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtader, a banquet hosted by the sultan in his honour and meetings with various officials expected to further focus on oil and gas.

Donors have voiced concern that endemic corruption may turn Cambodia's potential oil wealth into a curse.

Brunei, however, has been very supportive of Cambodia in its bid to use oil to assist it in shrugging off its donor dependency after 30 years of civil war.
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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Two new egat plants on stream in 2012

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) will build two new 800-megawatt power plants worth a combined Bt36 billion in Ayutthaya and Chachoensao provinces.

Egat expects to hire a contractor for construction of the first plant in Wang Noi district of Ayutthaya by the end of the year, so that the plant can feed power to the system in 2012.

Egat governor Sombat Santijaree yesterday said the bidding would also take place early next year for the construction of another 800MW plant in Chachoengsao's Bang Pakong district, which will supply power in 2013.

"During 2008 and 2009, Egat will borrow Bt10 billion per annum to finance the construction," Sombat said. "We're discussing with the Finance Ministry about the fund-raising options, whether we should issue bonds or tap loans from financial institutions."

Yesterday, Egat officially started the engine of its plant in Chana district, Songkhla, which is one of the investment projects under the 15-year power development plan (PDP).

The plant, fuelled by 130 million cubic feet of natural gas daily from the Joint Development Area, is supplying power for the South where demand rises 10-11 per cent per annum. With an installed capacity of 731MW, it cost Bt16.9 billion.

Egat has boasted that it faced no resistance from the local community, thanks to close discussions with local leaders. It has also contributed Bt400,000 to a community development fund. After the commercial start-up, the fund will receive Bt30 million-Bt50 million a year.

According to Santi, Egat will proceed with the planned investment under the PDP, which requires the state agency to erect two coal-fired power plants.

Egat is now looking for locations for the power plants, expecting to finalise the plan in 2009 so that the facilities can start feeding in power in 2015.

"If we can't keep to the schedule, the Chana power plant could be expanded to accommodate the generation of another 700MW, or Egat could buy more power from overseas sources like the one in Koh Kong, Cambodia," Santi said.
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Angkor What??

A long bus ride to Siem Reap, well four hours so not hugly long and also not the longest we'll do on this trip but we are aiming to shorten bus journey as much as possible by stopping at small towns along the way. The largest town like place we were in was paske so Siem Reap is very much welcomed by us. Western food, an opportunity to clean our clothes (properly) and meet lots of other like minded people in bars with western music.

We managed to steal the last room at the 'Shadow of Angkor' guest house for $8, fan with warm water as the owner put it, not cold. To be honest the day sun heats the tank so the first minute or so can sometimes be quite hot. The first time you'll find us arguing over who is going for a shower first, thats for sure.

We do the usual, dump our stuff, pull out our day bag and fill it with what we need and head out to explore. By foot we scoped out the restaurants we want to try whilst here (the most important task) then strolled around the town gathering our bearings, Siem Reap isn't particularly big but very pretty.

The next morning we woke early, yes again, rented our bikes for $2 each and headed in the direction of Angkor Wat. We stopped after 6km to purchase our $20 tickets each (Khemer people have free entry, we also worked out they must make $52 million a year from entry fees) before cycling a further 4km which brings you to the first ruin of the ancient and enormous city. The first being Angkor Wat, we walked around admiring the ruins and shocked we were still able to climb it and walk through. Not sure how long this will be the case but glad we had the opportunity.

We cycled further for another few km before reaching Bayon the next city of the Angkorian era, we are now understanding how large the city was. This was the one with the smilie faces on the rocks plus other beautiful wats. We continued cycling around the area stopping at particular ones and ending in the famous one where the trees are begining to over grown the ruins. Truly beautiful and more so the sun was being to set which created a glowing shade of burnt orange on all the surfaces.

We headed back for a well deserved shower and tucked into a german meat feast of sausages at one of the local bistros and enjoyed a few Angkor beers which are more expensive then the Lao beer.

The following day Daniella did her circiut around all the local artisan factories visiting ceramic workshops while Jon enjoys an extended lie in. Meeting for lunch later we booked a 'Day in the life' tour which consisted of us living a day in the shoes of a local. Starting of the day with rice havesting which I truly cannot convey in words the difficulty, mainly skill and techniques which years of practice will give you, oh and lots water. We all, including two others who decided to join the tour were sweating buckets while the locals seemed fine. This gave us a opportunity to really appreciate the rice we eat. We made a video which we will attempt to put up soon.

We then moved to another family in the village and helped them make thatched roofs with bamboo sticks and dried palm leaves before heading to a local reservor with an explantion of the villages eco system.
without another

Well an intresting a cultural time in Siem Reap and now its time for us to yet again pack our bags to move on. Not without another cake from the 'blue pumpkin' bakery though (a very modern upmarket stylish bakery) as you can imagine, we felt at home.To be honest most of Siem Reap is full boutique hotels and fancy restaurants to please the tourist trade. Every thing most backpakers aren't looking for but we enjoyed while we could.

Next stop the big smoke, Phnom Penh.
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Friday, March 21, 2008

Viet Nam, Thailand look ahead to closer ties

What is meant when for Cambodia when Thailand and Hanoi make love? is it going to be sqeezed or will be stumped to death like the year 1975-1979.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej will pay an official visit to Viet Nam on March 24, looking to beef up economic ties, maximise the effectiveness of cooperative mechanisms and sign several cooperation pacts.

The visit is made at the invitation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in accordance with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)?s norms.

Established diplomatic ties on August 6, 1976, the two Southeast Asian countries have enjoyed a take-off in the partnership since 1991. The bilateral ties have developed strongly after Viet Nam joined ASEAN in July 1995.

The two countries? trade also got a boost, seeing the rise of 21.3 percent to reach 4.8 billion USD in turnover in 2007.

Up to the present, Thailand has invested in 169 FDI projects capitalising at 1.66 billion USD in Viet Nam , mostly involving in industrial and construction industries.

As a result, Thailand is ranking the 22 nd out of 77 countries and territories, and the third among ASEAN member countries, investing in Viet Nam .

Besides, Thailand has actively worked to boost trade, tourism and investment cooperation between its northeastern provinces with central localities in Viet Nam . In 2006, more than 120,000 Thai holidaymakers visited Viet Nam and over 200,000 Vietnamese visited Thailand .

As the two major rice exporters in the world, the two countries have created a common rice cooperative mechanism to bolster the cooperation in the field.

Apart from bilateral cooperative ties, the two Southeast Asian countries have coordinated to promote cooperation opportunities in the West-East Economic Corridor, within ASEAN, the Great Mekong Subregion, and the Ayayewady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy.

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Cambodia still obtaining criminal confessions through torture: rights group

A quarter of criminal defendants in Cambodian courts are tortured or coerced into giving confessions, a statistic that has not changed since last year, according to an annual report [PDF text] released Thursday by Center for Social Development (CSD) [advocacy website]. The report found that:
Although duress is prohibited in Cambodia, CSD found a significant number of cases where defendants alleged of being victim of this inhuman practice to extract confession. At the six courts monitored by CSD, including the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court, 25.3% of defendants whose cases were monitored claimed having been coerced by judicial police officers...

Judges rarely followed up on these allegations. Adequate follow-up would include conducting further inquiry into the allegation or to prosecute perpetrator. At Phnom Penh Court, for example, with only five defendants out of a total of 292 defendants alleging coercion did the trial judges request the prosecution to prove that the confession was given freely and voluntarily.

"The CSD annual report makes clear what goes on inside Cambodia's courtrooms still falls short of what can be considered procedural justice," he said.

"CSD reported that over 25 per cent of defendants appearing in court claimed to have been tortured or coerced into giving confessions. I note that this ... is the same as reported last year, indicating there has been no significant change."

The Court Watch Project by CSD has come to be viewed as the definitive annual survey of developments in the fledgling Cambodian judicial system since it was launched in 2003.

CSD, which receives funding from a number of donors including Germany and the US, interviewed a wide range of judicial officials, witnesses, lawyers and defendants between October 2006 and September 2007.

Judicial reform of the notoriously corrupt Cambodian system has been earmarked by donors to the aid-dependant nation as a key factor in the country's development after 30 years of civil war.

The report outlined a number of concerns, including poor training of the judiciary, bribery, torture, underfunding, a lack of independence and frequent pre-trial detention of prisoners for terms exceeding the legal limit of six months.

"Not all the news is bad," Mussomeli said, but "on balance ... there remains a good deal to be done before the people of the judicial system will earn the trust of the people of Cambodia."

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