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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Retired Marine guilty of 'sex tourism'

A retired Marine Corps captain was found guilty by a federal jury in Los Angeles on Thursday of traveling to Cambodia to engage in sex with children.

Michael Joseph Pepe, 54, was convicted of violating the federal Protect Act, which strengthened laws against predatory crimes involving children outside the United States.

Pepe was accused of drugging, raping and beating seven Cambodian girls ages 9 to 12. Six of the girls flew to the U.S. and testified during the three-week trial in front of U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer.

Several of the victims testified that Pepe required them to give him sexual massages and to perform oral sex on him on a daily basis, according to a news release by the U.S. attorney's office.

Prosecutors also presented evidence seized by Cambodian police during a search of Pepe's residence in Phnom Penh.

Pepe is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 3.
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Friday, May 30, 2008

Former Khmer Rouge hail Pailin SEZ

'Hot battlefield' to become 2,000-hectare industrial zone

A massive special economic zone (SEZ) being carved out of jungle near Pailin on the Thai border will help create jobs for former Khmer Rouge soldiers living at the one-time rebel stronghold, local officials said.

A signboard went up in mid-May on the outskirts of the partially cleared Pailin SEZ, which at 2,000 hectares dwarfs similar zones designed to lure foreign investment in neighboring provinces.

Thai firms are eager to set up at the Pailin zone, about 15 kilometers inland from the border town in Steung Kach commune, Salakrao district, according to Pailin Municipality deputy governor Ich Sarou.

Sarou said he and other local officials have met several times in recent months with a group of about 50 Thai businessmen who are cooperating to open a biodiesel production plant as well as garment and electronics factories at the zone.
"They wanted to launch their operations two months ago by sending machinery in to clear land but we refused their request because it's a big investment worth more than $2 million, which means they have to get permission from the CDC (Council for the Development of Cambodia)," Sarou said.

Keut Sothea, another deputy governor of Pailin Municipality and a former Khmer Rouge commander, said the special economic zone will go a long way to improving the lives of the region's ex-rebels.

"It will encourage investors to open factories here and will provide work for our former Khmer Rouge soldiers and other people," Sothea said, adding that the jungle from which the zone is currently being created used to be "a hot battlefield for the Khmer Rouge, Vietnamese soldiers and government forces."

"Before, we used to shoot and shell each other there; now we are fighting to make business and a profit," he said.

"It is good news and it shows that Cambodia is completely peaceful.... We are forgetting the past and turning the land into a developed area for people's wellbeing," he added.

Sarou said the SEZ had been in the pipeline for several years and was part of a plan outlined by Prime Minister Hun Sen to establish five special economic zones in Pailin and Banteay Meanchey, Koh Kong, Kandal and Svay Rieng provinces. It is hoped the zones will lure foreign investors through tax breaks and the prospect of cheap Cambodian labor.

"We hope companies and factories will invest here next year," Sarou told the Post in Pailin. "We have a lot of land for their investments."

However, the deputy secretary general of the CDC's Special Economic Zone Board, Chea Vuthy, said on May 20 he had not received any requests from businesses seeking to start operations at the Pailin SEZ.

He also said that while the CDC welcomed foreign investment in the area, the council had not received a request for the Pailin zone to be formed.

"The special economic zone in Pailin has not been officially requested and registered. They (Pailin Municipality officials) should request approval for it from the CDC," he said, indicating that its approval was a mere formality.

Former Khmer Rouge soldiers in the area contacted by the Post welcomed news that work was progressing on the Pailin SEZ. "I am very happy to hear this special economic zone is being created here. I hope it will help many Cambodian people find work and stop them from having to go to Thailand," said Soeun Say, a farmer who was previously a fighter for the hardline communist movement.

"We need investors to come here - we have a lot of land to produce crops for factories," he said.

Lath Nhoung, another former Khmer Rouge soldier, said the SEZ would benefit the agricultural sector as well as provide industrial jobs.

"When we have more factories we are encouraged to farm because it means we have a market for our crops," he said.
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US donates military trucks to Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The United States will deliver 31 used trucks to Cambodia, its first direct supply of military hardware there since Washington lifted an embargo three years ago.

The U.S. Embassy said Friday that the 31 GMC cargo trucks — part of a group of 60 the U.S. military has agreed to give to Cambodia — will be handed over at a ceremony Monday.

The U.S. halted military assistance to Cambodia following a 1997 coup in which Hun Sen grabbed full power after ousting his co-premier, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Hun Sen remains prime minister.

In August 2005, President Bush waived the ban, citing Phnom Penh's agreement to exempt Americans in Cambodia from prosecution by the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court.

Since direct military ties between the two countries were restored in 2006, the U.S. has pledged nearly $3.2 million in military aid to Cambodia, the embassy said in a statement.

It said the 31 trucks are "the first deliverables" under a U.S. program for "assisting Cambodia in its efforts to improve" its border security, mobility and peacekeeping operations.

It added that the U.S. military is spending $413,000 on processing, packaging and shipping all 60 vehicles — "excess defense articles no longer needed by the U.S. armed forces."
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Cambodia to send 139 mine sweeping soldiers to Sudan under UN mission

PHNOM PENH, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia will send 139 soldiers to clean mines in Sudan under the UN mission, Cambodian National Defense Minister Tea Banh announced here on Friday.

"We will send 15 of them firstly on June 2 and the rest on June10 according to the schedule," Tea Banh told the national conference of the government's rectangular policy.

"Our K-315 group will return from Sudan on June 8," he said, adding that the new group of soldiers will replace them.

Cambodia has already sent two groups of mine sweeping soldiers to Sudan under UN humanitarian mission and each group had over 130soldiers, he said. Read more!

For investors, Cambodia could be the next Vietnam

By Erika Kinetz

If private equity interest is the bellwether for the hot investments of the future, consider this: At least four new private equity funds, backed by brand-name investors, are aiming to bring $475 million of foreign investment into Cambodia.

"Eventually, Vietnam worked out well," Marc Faber, a fund manager and investment adviser known for his "Gloom, Boom, & Doom Report," said by telephone from Switzerland. "I think the same may happen to Cambodia."

Faber, who is on the boards of two of the new private equity firms in Cambodia - Frontier Investment & Development Partners and Leopard Capital - is not the only one who thinks so.

Jim Rogers, a commodities specialist who founded the profitable Quantum Fund with George Soros in the 1970s, and Robert Ash, former chief executive of AIG Asset Management Services, are also on the board of Frontier.

Heinrich Looser, the retired chief of private banking at Bank Julius Baer in Zurich, and Jim Walker, a former director and chief economist of CLSA Securities, are on the Leopard board as well.

The surge in interest is part of a general turn toward so-called frontier markets as investors seek shelter from the global credit crisis and diminishing returns in developed markets. It is also one more sign that aid-dependent Cambodia, with a gross domestic product of just $8.4 billion last year, could finally be inching out of the shadow of its chaotic past.

For many in the West, Cambodia remains tainted by the communist crackdown after the end of the Indochina wars. Yet China, South Korea and Malaysia have been pouring in investment. In 2006, foreign direct investment totaled $2.6 billion, up from just $340 million in 2004, according to the International Monetary Fund.

A rising segment of Cambodians - a third of whom still live on the equivalent of less than $1 a day - are snapping up Honda Dream motorbikes and KFC chicken drumsticks. Cambodia, which plans to open stock and bond exchanges next year, also has the potential to produce two things the world now craves: more rice and oil.

But take a drive out of the capital, Phnom Penh, where the first skyscrapers are rising in the country, and you return quickly to a landscape of water buffalo and thatch huts, governed by the rhythm of the rains.

That looks like opportunity to Marvin Yeo, who recently quit as a syndicate manager at the Asian Development Bank to co-found Frontier, which manages the Cambodia Investment and Development Fund, with a Singaporean economist, Kim Song Tan. They hope to raise $250 million by the end of the year.

Cambodia, Yeo said, "is where Vietnam was some 8 to 10 years ago." He likes a lot about Cambodia: its location in a fast-growing region, a young and inexpensive work force, rising productivity, a pro-business government, stable politics and strong GDP growth, which peaked at 13.5 percent in 2005 but was expected to mellow to 7 percent or 8 percent in coming years.

Thirty years of an isolating war, he added, have made Cambodia "one of the best investor diversification plays around."

But as Han Kyung Tae, the chief Cambodia representative of Tong Yang Investment, part of the South Korean Tong Yang Group, points out, promise and pretty macroeconomics are one thing; closing good deals on the ground are quite another.

Han has been trying to start an Indochina investment fund for more than a year. He said he had reviewed 30 to 40 business plans, but had yet to close a single deal. Tong Yang has scaled back its venture capital aspirations and now hopes to invest $25 million in a Cambodian information technology company, as part of a Vietnam-Cambodia fund, Han said.

His search, he said, was complicated by lack of transparency in a business culture built around sealed family empires. "It's hard for us to get the information we need to invest," Han said. "It's totally new to them. Some feel offended if I ask for financial information."

Investors also say that the weak legal system, immature accounting standards and corruption in Cambodia remain challenges. An anti-corruption law has been foundering for more than a decade, and Cambodia ranks near the bottom of Transparency International's corruption perceptions index.

Kathleen Ng, the managing director of the Center for Asia Private Equity Research, which is based in Hong Kong, sees private equity interest in Cambodia as largely "spillover" from a still-emerging Vietnam.

A second wave of private equity investment in Vietnam - the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and 1998 obliterated the first - began to crest in 2006, rising to $2.0 billion in 2007, up from $166.5 million in 2005, according to the center.

The Ho Chi Minh stock exchange opened in 2000, and despite some recent trouble with expensive initial public offerings is beginning to build a track record of profitable exits, Ng said.

In December 2007, Vietnam Manufacturing & Export Processing Holdings became the first company based in Vietnam to be listed on the Hong Kong exchange; Merrill Lynch invested $22 million and realized $13.06 million through the sale of a third of its holdings, according to the private equity center.

Texas Pacific Group and Intel Capital, the venture capital arm of Intel, together invested $36.5 million in the Vietnamese Corporation for Financing and Promoting Technologies. Two months after it went public, Texas Pacific, which invested $21.5 million, sold less than a quarter of its holdings, booking a cash return of $22.17 million, according to the center.

"There's a level of confidence but Vietnam still needs to prove itself," Ng said. "You cannot just use a few divestment results to say, 'Hey, a place is doing well."'

She added that it might be too early yet for thriving private-sector equity investment in Cambodia, but that the country was ripe for development-finance institutions.

Proparco, the financing subsidiary of the French Development Agency, is "studying the possibility" of investing $5 million to $15 million in a Cambodia-focused private equity fund, according to Julien Kinic, an investment officer at Proparco. The French firm is already a shareholder in Dragon Capital, a Vietnamese asset management group, and has provided direct financing to several prominent Cambodian businesses, Kinic said. "Our interest in Cambodia is not new," he said. "What is new is the rising of the economy and the strong need for financing."

Douglas Clayton, who founded Leopard Capital last year, said that Leopard's Cambodia Fund had raised $10 million of its $100 million target since its inception in April, mostly from wealthy individuals and private banking institutions. He expects to close on Leopard's first project, a 250-unit condo project in the Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap, in the next few weeks.

"Cambodia needs several billion dollars of investment," said Clayton, who used to head the Thailand office of CLSA Securities. "Part of that can be private equity. The challenge will be to build the businesses. Most are early-stage investments. This is building basic industries and services."

Cambodia Emerald, which split off from Leopard in November, also aims to raise $100 million, said Peter Brimble, who directs Emerald with Bradley Gordon, a former corporate lawyer.

The funds are targeting investment in tourism, agribusiness, infrastructure, real estate, manufacturing and financial services, among other sectors.

Of course, what goes up can come tumbling down. Take Vietnam: After rising 500-fold from 2003 through the end of 2007, its stock market fell by nearly half in the first quarter.

Cham Prasidh, Cambodia's minister of commerce, said he was not worried about wading into the increasingly foreboding tides of global capital markets.

"Even if there is a world recession, if you develop the capacity to create an enabling environment for doing business and investment in Cambodia, you will survive," he said.

Besides, he added, Cambodia is ready to ride the waves: "We're surfers."

Read more!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Observers laud cluster bomb ban but questions remain

DUBLIN - A LANDMARK agreement on a treaty to ban cluster bombs was welcomed by politicians and campaigners on Thursday but some questioned how effective it can be without backing from key powers like the US and China.

After 10 days of painstaking negotiations at Croke Park stadium in Dublin, diplomats agreed on Wednesday the wording of a pact to outlaw the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who agreed to scrap cluster bombs shortly before the agreement was reached, said the treaty, due to be signed in Oslo in December, would be 'a major breakthrough'.

The agreement was reached by delegates from 111 countries but there are several notable absentees from the list of supporters.

Agreement merely a step forward

'We must be clear about the fact that this agreement will be merely a step forward; it must not be regarded as the final destination,' Britain's Independent newspaper said in an editorial.

'The most glaring problem is that the United States, China, Russia, Pakistan, India and Israel have not signed the treaty.

'If the largest militaries on the planet refuse to curb their stockpiles of these weapons, what real good can it do?' Cluster munitions are among the weapons posing the gravest dangers to civilians, especially in heavily bombed countries like Laos, Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Dropped from planes or fired from artillery, they explode in mid-air, randomly scattering bomblets. Countries are seeking a ban due to the risk of civilians being killed or maimed by their indiscriminate, wide area effect.

They also pose a lasting threat to civilians as many bomblets fail to explode on impact.

The treaty requires the destruction of stockpiled munitions within eight years - though it leaves the door open for future, more precise generations of cluster munitions that pose less harm to civilians.

Britain is set to ask the US to remove cluster bombs stockpiled at its military bases on its territory in the wake of the agreement, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The treaty was welcomed by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an umbrella group of non-governmental organisations, which hopes it will stigmatise cluster munitions, as the similar Ottawa Treaty did for landmines.

CMC co-chair Simon Conway said the treaty was a compromise but nonetheless 'incredibly strong'.

'We're going to end up with a strong treaty that prohibits every cluster bomb that's ever been used, with no transition periods, with strong obligations on clearance and particularly strong obligations on victim assistance,' he said.

Hildegarde Vansintjan, advocacy officer for disability campaigners Handicap International, said the convention made states responsible for providing assistance to cluster bomb victims.

The treaty 'would be a real step forward for the people suffering from cluster munitions all over the world,' she told AFP.

The cluster munitions ban process, started by Norway in February 2007, took the same path as the 1997 Ottawa Treaty by going outside the United Nations to avoid vetoes and seal a swift pact. --AFP
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China presence in Cambodia grows

PHNOM PENH - China, hungry for strategic influence and natural resources, is asserting itself as a major investor in Cambodia, sparking concerns that a huge inflow of Chinese cash will fuel existing corruption and exploitation in one of the world's poorest countries.

The relationship between the two countries is long and mixed, given Maoist China's unflagging support for the late supreme Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, whose Marxist faction is blamed for the deaths of more than a million Cambodians from 1975-79.

But in recent years, ethnic Chinese families close to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen have played a key role in putting Chinese companies, often with the backing of the Chinese state, in touch with top Cambodian officials, economists and activists said.

"China needs Cambodia," US-based Cambodian economist Tith Naranhkiri said. "If a security problem occurs, for example, a war with Taiwan, China may need Cambodia ... Secondly, for economic reasons, it needs gas and oil."

According to the official China News Agency, China has become one of the biggest investors in Cambodia, with 3,016 Chinese companies making cumulative investments of US$1.58 billion to the end of 2007. Bilateral trade last year rose by 30% from 2006, to $730 million.

Since the signing of an investment protection agreement in July 1996, a further $350 million has been pledged, mostly in the forestry sector, power, textiles, construction materials, and agricultural development.

Major role for China
"China now plays a crucial role in our economy. It is both an important donor and an investor, and it's also a big market for Cambodian products," Khmer Economists' Association president Chan Sophal said. "Our agricultural products are exported to China but through Thailand and Vietnam. We are also a market for Chinese products. China’s role in the Cambodian economy is growing," he said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Cambodia in February, pledging a further $55 million in aid and investments of $1 billion in the country's power industry. He also waived import tariffs on 400 Cambodian products.

Besides investment and assistance, China has also granted military assistance to Cambodia, providing the country’s dilapidated navy with nine patrol boats in November 2007 and five warships in 2005.

But rights activists and anti-corruption campaigners point to a huge increase in illegal logging, land-grabbing, and worker exploitation as a secondary consequence of Chinese money.

"The effect of lots of money coming in with few strings attached, going to a lot of people in the government, is generally exacerbating corruption," Simon Taylor, director of the international anti-corruption group Global Witness, said.

Land grabs, illegal logging
"This manifests itself as land-grabbing, massive plantations and illegal logging, unregulated mining, the building of dams, and so on," Taylor said.

Meanwhile, workers' rights are often sidestepped in Chinese-invested factories, especially in the textile industry, activists said.

"The Chinese companies, especially garment factories, today have a lot of problems with Cambodian workers," Chan Saveth, of the rights advocacy group Adhoc, said. "Today, we see that China dominates garment factories in Cambodia. Workers suffer a lot, and the Chinese garment factories have mostly restricted workers' freedom."

Hundreds of thousands of workers - the majority of whom are women - are employed in Cambodia’s textile industry, which generates annual revenue of more than US$1 billion.

They have described an atmosphere in which they are constantly pressed into unpaid overtime, with too many financial worries and too little spare time to cause trouble for management. Unauthorized deductions from pay-packets are common, and paid sick leave is rare.

Protests in the forest
Chinese money has been tied up with massive agricultural and forestry exploitation projects, which are destroying traditional ways of life such as bamboo-harvesting and resin-tapping, activists said.

The Cambodian government granted a Mondulkiri forest concession of 200,000 hectares - 20 times the legal limit - acquired secretly by Pheapimex, an ethnic-Chinese owned Cambodian conglomerate with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Pheapimex formed a joint venture with China's Wuzhishan plantation firm to exploit the region, displacing indigenous minority people who rely on the forests for their traditional livelihoods.

Global Witness said bigger deals involving Chinese state-backed companies were likely the least transparent and the most strongly defended by government security forces, who responded with military force to anti-logging protests by villagers in Mondulkiri.

"From the perspective of people in Cambodia who might want to ask questions about the process ... it's even more difficult with some of these recent deals that have totally been brokered behind closed doors," Taylor said.

He said the outcome of such deals for people living in rural areas was disastrous. "They know nothing until the moment that the bulldozers turn up and start pushing down their houses."

Loans, grants from Beijing
"If they protest, they get the full force of the state mechanism ... suppressing their efforts to get their voices heard," he added.

Hun Sen has banned illegal logging and called anarchic logging "the biggest mistake" of his political career, and his views have been backed up by anti-logging speeches by ministers, but with little apparent effect.

Chan Sophal said China's interests in Cambodia were clear. "They help us, but they also look into the resources we have, such as mines, oil, gold, iron, and land. They need land to grow agricultural and agro-industrial crops to meet the demands of the [China's] population."

Difficult history
Sino-Khmer relations began in 1958. During the 1970s, Maoist China for Pol Pot gave steadfast support to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, whose faction is blamed for deaths of more than a million people.

Closer ties developed after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 through former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk, who maintained a second home in China and close ties with Beijing.

China wrote off significant loans to the Cambodian government six years ago, making new loans and grants worth $600 million during the visit to Cambodia of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in April 2006.

While no conditions were attached, analysts say Beijing is keen to secure access to the southern port of Sihanoukville for strategic reasons, particularly as a delivery point for imported oil.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

11 parties finally approved to join parliamentary election of Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, May 28 (Xinhua) -- The National Election Committee (NEC) of Cambodia confirmed that 11 out of the 12 political parties applying to join the general election on July 27 are eligible to vie for seats at the National Assembly, said a press release received Wednesday.

NEC made the ultimate decision, after the Constitutional Council inspected and rejected the application of the Khmer Popular Society Party, said the committee in its release.

Earlier last week, NEC preliminarily denied the party's application and sent its document to the council for further inspection.

The approved participants included the major ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), the co-ruling Funcinpec Party, the royalist Norodom Ranariddh Party, as well as the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Human Rights Party.

During the previous general election in 2003, 23 political parties vied with each other for the 123 seats in the Cambodian National Assembly. In that year, CPP led by Prime Minister Hun Senwon 73 seats, Funcinpec 26 seats, and SRP 24 seats.  
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Vietnam reports "UFO" explosion off Cambodia coast

HANOI (Reuters) - An unidentified flying object exploded in mid-air over a southern Vietnamese island, state media said on Wednesday, a day after Cambodia's air force retracted a report of a mysterious plane crash.

The Vietnam News Agency said residents of Phu Quoc island, 10 km (6 miles) off the coast of the Cambodian province of Kampot, found shards of grey metal, including one 1.5 meters (1.5 yards) long.

"The explosion happened at about 8 km (5 miles) above the ground, and perhaps it was a plane, but authorities could not identify whether it was a civil or military aircraft," VNA said in a report headlined "UFO explodes over Phu Quoc Island."

Soldiers were sent out to look for wreckage and survivors, and local authorities contacted airlines in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, but received no reports of missing aircraft, the official state news agency added.

Villagers in Kampot said on Tuesday that they had heard a loud explosion. On Wednesday they told Reuters they had found small chunks of metal near the coastline.

Kung Mony, deputy commander of Cambodia's Air Force, said on Tuesday he had been told of a foreign plane crashing in Kampot province, but later backed off his claims of an aircraft accident.

(Writing by Grant McCool and Ed Cropley in Bangkok; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Alaskan ANG delivers medical supplies to Cambodian airfield

5/27/2008 - A C-130 from 144th Airlift Squadron, 176th Wing Kulis Air National Guard Base, Anchorage Alaska taxis down the runway after landing at Kampong Chhnang Province airfield Cambodia May 24. The ANG C-130 was the first ever U.S. military aircraft to land at this countryside airfield since it was built in 1975 under the Pol Pot’s regime. This mission delivered 3000 pounds of medical supplies for two separate operating locations in Cambodia in support of Operation Pacific Angel, a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of CDRUSPACOM capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the Active, Reserve and National Guard components of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski.

A forklift offloads a 3000-pound pallet of medical supplies from an Alaskan Air National Guard C-130 at Kampong Chhnang Province airfield, Cambodia May 24. An awaiting multi-national team of medical professionals will breakdown and process the supplies for movement to clinics in Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Cham Provinces in support of Operation Pacific Angel, a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of CDRUSPACOM capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the Active, Reserve and National Guard components of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski.

Master Sergeant Tracy Lewis (left), from Pacific Air Forces International Heath Alliance, hands off a box of medical supplies to Lieutenant Colonel Mark Sophai, a doctor with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces here May 24. A team effort to quickly breakdown and distribute supplies to multi-national medical teams for transport to operating locations for Operation Pacific Angel was fostered between the RCAF and U.S. Air Force, active duty, reserve and National Guard members. Operation Pacific Angel is a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of CDRUSPACOM capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the Active, Reserve and National Guard components of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski.

The airfield at Chhnang Province, Cambodia is teaming with a RCAF and U.S. Air Force, active duty, reserve and National Guard members in efforts to get operations underway for Pacific Angel 2008 here May 24. Operation Pacific Angel is a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of CDRUSPACOM capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the Active, Reserve and National Guard components of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski..
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Report Says Cambodia Media Subject to Political Pressures, Bias

With just two months to go before a general election in Cambodia, a report on the news media says that local journalists regularly face interference from the business and political elite. It says journalists work in a climate of fear in Cambodia and that there is impunity for those who threaten or kill them, allegations the government rejects. Rory Byrne has more from Phnom Penh.

The report found that over half of Cambodian journalists live in fear of physical or legal attack. Most say they are pressured to cover stories with a political bias.

"They have political bias because the conditions that they work push them to do that, you know, because their newspaper were supported by one political party, but mostly the ruling party," said Kek Galabru, the president of Licadho, the Cambodian rights group that produced the report.

All of Cambodia's television stations, and the bulk of its radio stations, are owned by people close to the ruling Cambodian People's Party. Galabru says the owners use those outlets to gain political advantage.

"Concerning the electronic media - the government controls (it) very tightly," Galabru noted. "They know that it makes a big impact on the public opinion. There is no single one - concerning television - that belongs to (an) independent voice."

With the election in July, campaign observers complain about what they call excessive pro-government content on the airwaves. Koul Panha is heads the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

"The election process in Cambodia [does] not reach to international standard [for a] free and fair election," Panha said. "The key measure of importance is the media - equal access to the media. But in the Cambodian context it's not like that - you can see the TV - 84 percent of political coverage is still in favor to the ruling party."

The minister of information, Khieu Kanharith, denies that the media favors the government.

"You know the people criticizing this, or assert these allegations, most of the time they are not really journalists," Kanharith said. "They don't understand the job or sometimes they didn't listen to the radio or watch the TV. And if everyone can read Khmer, or listen [to] Khmer, they know well that we have real freedom here."

The Licadho report also says there is little risk for those who threaten or kill journalists.

"We found at least nine that were killed for their work and none of the perpetrators was brought to justice so it sends a very strong message that there is impunity for the one that wants to attack the journalists," Galabru said.

The government disputes the number of journalists killed and denies that killers go unpunished.

"They say nine were killed - are you sure they got killed? Two or three - traffic accident," Kanharith said. "When you are a journalist killed it doesn't mean politically killed. When [Prime Minister] Hun Sen's brother was killed, until now also we couldn't find the murderer. Nobody says 'Why don't you go to find Hun Sen's brothers killer?'"

The minister says journalists can, and do, write and say what they want, including attacking Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"If you [are] scared you cannot accuse Hun Sen of being a Vietnamese puppet, as a thief, as the most corrupt family or anything. Read the newspaper, listen to the radio - you can see it. If they [are] really scared, how you can put it?" Kanharith asked.

Rights activists, however, say that critical voices find it hard to get heard in Cambodia. Koul Panha of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections says the authorities should do more to ensure fair access to the media.

"The Cambodian government, and the National Electoral Commission must make more effort to encourage the state media and the private media [to] open [themselves] to all political parties," said Panha. "If they can do that they will contribute a lot to the improved election environment and electoral process in Cambodia."

The Licadho report calls on the government to pass a law guaranteeing the electronic media's independence. It also calls for abolishing prison sentences for defamation, misinformation and incitement, and for media owners to increase salaries for journalists to make them less susceptible to bribery.

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Tigers, Elephants Returning to War-Torn Cambodia Forest

For years wildlife poacher Lean Kha had prowled the war-ravaged forests of Mondulkiri Province in eastern Cambodia looking for meat.

A former teenage soldier for the Khmer Rouge political party, he estimates that he killed a thousand animals, including ten tigers, after the fall of the brutal Pol Pot regime in 1979.

Once dubbed the "Serengeti of Asia," almost all of Mondulkiri's wildlife was wiped out by poachers during decades of conflict, which began with the war in neighboring Vietnam. (See a Cambodia map.)

Now, with Cambodia finally at peace, small but growing populations of animals—including Indochinese tigers, Asian elephants, and critically endangered species such as the giant ibis—are returning to one of Southeast Asia's last remaining dry forests.

And Kha, now 45 years old, is helping to protect them as a head ranger supported by the international conservation group WWF.

"At the time I was ignorant and did not think there was a problem when I shot those tigers," he said, sitting at the forest headquarters in Mereuch as the Srepok River rushed behind him.

"Now I know we need to protect these animals for our children and grandchildren."

Coming Back Home

Humans cannot live inside the protected Mondulkiri Protected Forest reserve. A visitor can walk for miles without seeing any sign of humans, an unusual experience in otherwise densely populated Cambodia.

And with the region's searing summer temperatures and open, shadeless terrain, it's also usually hard to spot wildlife during the day.

But camera traps that take pictures at night show a different story.

A few years ago park rangers caught their first Indochinese tiger on camera. In 2007 a camera trap produced a picture of a female leopard and her cub.

Other wildlife returning to the area include banteng, a type of ox; Eld's deer; several species of wild cats; and one of the region's last remaining wild water buffalo populations.

"There is a lot of wildlife out there, considering the beating that this area has taken," said Nick Cox, who coordinates WWF's regional dry forests program and is based in Vientiane, Laos.

While leopards are now relatively common, there may be only five to ten Indochinese tigers in the forest today.

But conservationists say that as the density of prey species increases, the number of tigers could rise to at least 30 in as little as five years.

That is, if the 70 rangers working the forest can keep poachers at bay.

Like Kha, many of them are former hunters who have spent their whole lives under the forest canopy. Now they spend at least 16 days on patrol every month, keeping strict records of wildlife numbers.

(Related: "Armed Squads Aim for Poachers, Loggers in Cambodia" [August 15, 2003].)

"All protected areas need to know the number of important prey species and carnivores, because if we don't know the credit in our bank account, we can't monitor our wealth," said Prach Pich Phirun, a research coordinator for WWF's Srepok Wilderness Project.

Cambodia Boomtown

Even without the threat of poachers, the battle for this vast forest of almost a million acres (close to 400,000 hectares) is far from over.

Cambodia's popularity as a tourist destination is skyrocketing, with foreign tourist arrivals topping two million last year, according to the country's tourism minister. And the remote Mondulkiri Province is becoming the country's new hot spot.

Draped over several rolling hills, Sen Monorom, the tiny provincial capital, has the feel of a Wild West boomtown.

A plethora of hotels and backpacker lodges have opened up, and wealthy Cambodians are streaming to the area to snap up any available land. The main road being graded and paved by Chinese contractors will ease access to the region.

"This increased activity could put a lot of pressure on the environment," said Craig Bruce, WWF's technical advisor on protected areas in Cambodia, who is based in Sen Monorom.

A housing building boom, he warned, could also lead to a surge in illegal timber cutting.

And there are signs that poaching and illegal wildlife trade are on the rise in Cambodia, where animals are being smuggled through Vietnam with the involvement of Chinese traders.

Ecotourism Plans

Conservationists are now investing in ecotourism projects in the hopes of keeping the Mondulkiri forest protected.

WWF is planning an upscale eco-resort with eight cottages along stilts on the banks of the Srepok River.

Yet money earned from such eco-projects must benefit local communities living around the forest, said James MacGregor, an environmental economist at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, which backs the WWF project.

"There are a lot of poor people in this area who have traditionally generated their livelihood through hunting and collecting wood," MacGregor said.

"We're asking people to forgo doing something that has helped them for years."

(Related: "Unique Mosses Spur Conservation, Ecotourism in Chile" [November 14, 2006].)

Planners envision that Mondulkiri could also become a destination for adventurous travelers, such as mountain bikers.

Mark Ellison of Cambodia-based Asia Adventures said tour operators are looking to offer tourists additional activities in Cambodia besides visiting the popular Angkor Wat temples.

"Here's an opportunity to go mountain biking in an area that is for all intents and purposes undiscovered," he said.

While a recent bicycle trip of conservationists and journalists showcased the unchartered nature of the terrain, it also turned into a harrowing ordeal at one point, with bikers getting lost without any means of communication.

Luckily a passing elephant driver had noticed tire tracks from the bikes going the wrong way and tracked down the team just as its water supply was running out.

Cox, the WWF dry forest program coordinator and one of the most experienced bikers on the trip, admitted that some work needed to be done before Mondulkiri would be ready to welcome visitors.

"There are a few kinks that need ironing out, that's for sure," he said.
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Rice Slumps by Limit as Cambodia Ends Ban on Overseas Shipments

By Jae Hur and Luzi Ann Javier

May 27 (Bloomberg) -- Rice futures tumbled by their daily limit for the second session as producers eased export bans, alleviating concerns that global supplies will fail to meet demand.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced yesterday that an export ban has been lifted, Chan Tong Yves, deputy head of the farm ministry, said today by phone from Phnom Penh. Vietnam and India said earlier this month they may ease export curbs.

The staple for half the world, which reached a record $25.07 on the Chicago Board of Trade on April 24, slumped 50 cents. The record prices for food, including palm oil and wheat, have stoked concern about shortages and caused riots from Haiti to Egypt.

``The Cambodian news has damped market sentiment,'' Takaki Shigemoto, an analyst with Tokyo-based commodity broker Okachi & Co., said by phone today. ``With major producers in Southeast Asia braced for harvesting bumper crops in the next couple of months, the global market sees more supplies.''

Rough rice for July delivery fell 2.5 percent to $19.85 per 100 pounds as of 11 a.m. in London. The price is still 88 percent higher than a year ago. The Chicago market, which fell 50 cents on May 23, was closed yesterday for a public holiday.

Cambodia would produce 6.8 million metric tons of unmilled rice this year after sufficient rains, compared with 6.7 million tons last year, the farm ministry's Chan Tong said.

The country has more than 1 million tons of rice available for sale overseas, the Financial Times said today, citing the Cambodian premier. The ban on exports was put in place in March, the report said.

Global Forecast

Global output of milled rice in 2008 will be 445.3 million tons, up 2.3 percent from last year's record 435.2 million tons, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said on May 22. Consumption will rise 2.4 percent, the agency said.

The Philippines, the world's largest rice importer, has failed this year, to fill state tenders for the grain, driving prices higher last month. The country imports about 2 million tons a year to plug a supply deficit.

A Philippine food company was the sole buyer today at a rice tender for private companies in Manila, the National Food Authority said. Uni-Agro Native Products Inc. was seeking 500 tons out of the total 141,440 tons of tariff-free imports on offer, Assistant Administrator Conrad Ibanez told reporters.

The Philippines may hold another government rice tender in December to make sure stockpiles in state-owned warehouses will not drop below the equivalent of 15 days' of consumption, Ibanez said. The Philippines consumes about 33,000 tons of rice a day.

`Soften Prices'

Cambodia's lifting of the nation's export ban ``will soften prices,'' Ibanez said. ``We'll import if September harvests are lower than last year.''

Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter, said on May 21 that a ban on new overseas shipments may be lifted from July and the harvest in the north of the country is ``much better'' than previously expected.

India, the world's second-biggest rice producer after China, may partly ease a ban on rice exports as the country is set to harvest a bumper crop, Commerce Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters on May 9. Output in the year ending June may reach a record 95.68 million tons, the farm ministry said April 22. That compares with 93.35 million tons produced a year earlier.

Pakistan, the fifth-biggest exporter, will permit shipments of 1 million tons because local needs have been met, Mohammad Azhar Akhtar, chairman of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan, said on May 16.

Japan is in talks with the Philippines, the world's largest rice importer, about shipments from Japan's stockpiles of overseas rice, according to a government official, who declined to be identified in remarks reported May 12.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Cambodia demands return of Preah Vihear artifacts

Phnom Penh - A lobby group comprised of Cambodian business people, archeologists and lawyers Monday called on the Thai government to return artifacts they alleged had been removed from the border temple of Preah Vihear decades earlier. The newly-formed Khmer Civilization Foundation comprises heavy hitting lobbyists including prominent human rights lawyer Sok Sam Oeun, businessman Moeung Son and leading archeologist Vong Sotheara.

"We ask the Thai government to return artifacts ... from the temple," chairman Moeung Son told a press conference in the capital.

"If the Royal Cambodian Government asks for these artifacts back and Cambodia can identify them, under international law, Thailand should give them back," Sok Sam Oeun said.

The call comes when Deputy Prime Minister Sok An was still overseas after UN-brokered talks with Thailand over the temple in Paris, which has proved a deeply sensitive topic between the neighbours.

Cambodia rejected an offer for Thailand to co-manage Preah Vihear and has asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to list it as a World Heritage site.

Thailand has disputed the border around the temple but seemed to have resigned itself to the World Heritage listing after the talks.

The temple, known as Prasat Phra Viharn by Thais, is sacred to both sides and was previously occupied by Thailand, but the International Court in The Hague ruled it to be Cambodian in 1962.

The Cambodian government has not yet raised the issue of the return of artifacts publicly.

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Cambodia resumes exports of milled rice

THE Cambodian government said it will resume rice exports after its two-month ban came to an end yesterday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said that there was no rice shortage in Cambodia and that the ban, imposed on March 26 to ensure a stable supply of the country's staple food, had helped stabilize domestic prices.

Beginning today, rice exports can be resumed for some 1 million tons of milled rice Cambodia has in excess of its needs for domestic consumption, he said.

Cambodia produced a surplus of nearly 1.6 million tons of milled rice from last year's farming season, he said. But he added that exports must not exceed the total amount of surplus until the new harvesting season begins in December.

Hun Sen said more than 500,000 tons had been exported before he imposed the two-month ban.

The export ban primarily stopped rice from flowing to neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. Since the end of the harvest early this year, Cambodian farmers living in provinces bordering the two countries have been selling rice in large quantities across the borders, attracted by high prices.

In Phnom Penh markets over the weekend, a kilogram of low-grade rice was selling for between 1,800 riel (US$0.46) and 2,000 riel, little changed from before when the ban was imposed.

Earlier this year, rice of this quality cost about 1,300 riel a kilogram.

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Single donation for quake relief of China tops $301,000 in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, May 26 (Xinhua) -- The China Hong Kong and Macao Expatriate and Business Association of Cambodia here Monday donated 301,000 U.S. dollars for China's quake relief works, making the largest single donation so far in the kingdom.

"With your contribution, Cambodia's donation campaign for China's quake relief efforts reaches its climax," said Zhang Jinfeng, Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, while receiving the money in deputy of the Chinese government.

The Chinese compatriots' affection has trickled into a sea of love, she said.

"The nature is cruel, but the people are affectionate," she said, adding that a nation can usually rise and flourish over disasters.

Yum Sui Sang, chairman of the association, told the ambassador that all his members believe in the good leadership of the Chinese government which will take the country to overcome the disaster.

"The 1.3 billion Chinese people become united again due to the disaster. We are just invincible," he added.

Also Monday, the Association of Chinese in Cambodia, which is the largest Chinese Cambodian civilian organization, donated over 200,000 U.S. dollars at the embassy.

Until Monday, the embassy has received around 1.165 million U.S. dollars of donation from the Cambodian government, the Cambodian royal family, Chinese and Chinese Cambodian societies, as well as local Chinese, Chinese Cambodian and Khmer indivi
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No breakfast for children because of aid cuts

KAMPONG SPEU, Cambodia (AP) — At dawn in a ramshackle elementary school in rural Cambodia, the children think of only one thing: their stomachs. They anxiously await the steaming buckets of free rice delivered to their desks.

But by the end of the month, they will no longer get free breakfast from the U.N. World Food Program. About 450,000 Cambodian students will become the latest victims of soaring global food prices.

Five local suppliers have defaulted on contracts to provide rice because they can get a higher price elsewhere, program officials say. Prices of rice have tripled on the global market since December.

Faced with a shortfall of more than 14,000 tons of rice, and with more pressing needs to meet, the World Food Program stopped the free breakfasts in March. The schools' remaining stocks are expected to run out in the coming days.

That will leave students without what was often the best meal they got all day.

"I feel hopeless," said Boeurn Srey Leak, a 15-year-old in sixth grade.

Rich countries have pledged $469 million for food aid to address what is expected to be a $755 million deficit, due to food prices that have risen 76 percent since December. The U.S., already the largest provider of food aid, is expected to contribute almost a third of that money. If Congress approves, the U.S. will contribute $770 million more to be available after Oct. 1.

But the money will not arrive in time to save some food programs from being cut or ended.

"I don't think there is a single program that doesn't have some kind of concerns because they have to scale down," said Susana Rico, an official of the World Food Program which feeds almost 89 million people worldwide, including 58.8 million children. "The majority of countries will suffer some kind of cutbacks in rations or programs in the next three to five months."

The numbers are grim. In Burundi, Kenya and Zambia, hundreds of thousands of people face cuts in food rations after June. In Iraq, 500,000 recipients will likely lose food aid. In Yemen, it's 320,000 households, including children and the sick.

Private aid agencies based in the U.S. also said food price hikes are hurting their projects.

Mercy Corps will likely distribute 20 percent less food to Iraqi refugees in Syria and serve 12 percent fewer Colombian families fleeing violence in the countryside. World Vision may stop helping 1.5 million people — nearly a quarter of the number it serves — because of rising food prices and pledged donations not yet delivered. At least a third are children.

In Cambodia, the free breakfasts that started in 2000 have made children visibly healthier, said Nheng Vorn, the principal of Choumpou Proek School, about 40 miles west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

"They are more focused on lessons, and their reading ability has improved subsequently," he noted.

But principals at many such rural schools don't have the money to replace the breakfast program. Girls in particular will be at risk of dropping out because families need them at home to work in the fields or help raise siblings, said Thomas Keusters, the World Food Program's Cambodia director. Children in Cambodia often start school late and repeat grades a lot, he said.

"It's not uncommon to have a girl in grade five or six who is already 15 or 16 years old," Keusters said. "We are paying them to come to school. I'm very concerned about them because I have no rice."

About six miles away from Choumpou Proek school, the students of Sangkum Seksa school devour hearty portions of rice, peas and sardines in the morning. The school has only 10 rooms, housed in two faded yellow concrete buildings. Some students go barefoot.

"I can only feel pity for them," said the principal, Tan Sak. "I have no solution for them after the current stock is used up."

Before the free breakfasts, many students left school before noon so they could eat lunch at home.

"I had difficulty sitting in the class because my stomach was growling," Rim Channa, a 13-year-old fifth-grader.

Now, once again, all they will have for breakfast is the tart fruit from the nearby tamarind trees.

Associated Press Environmental Writer Michael Casey contributed to this report from Bangkok, Thailand.

On the Net:
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Ex-Thai PM 'plans city in Cambodia'

Thailand's ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is planning to build a "modern city" in neighbouring Cambodia, replete with a financial district and port, an official said.

The businessman, who owns English football club Manchester City, told Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen of his plans for Koh Kong province, near the Thai border, during a meeting on Friday in the capital Phnom Penh.

"He did not say how much money will be invested, he just told Prime Minister Hun Sen about his plan," Hun Sen's spokesman, Eang Sophalleth, told AFP.

Thaksin, joined by other Thai investors, told Hun Sen the planned city would include a financial centre, hospital, schools and housing, he said.

A port to be used for fixing ships would also be included, he said.

Eang Sophalleth said Hun Sen welcomed the plan, asking Thaksin to work on his project with the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC).

Thaksin was toppled in a military coup in September 2006 and went into self-imposed exile in Britain.

The 58-year-old former Thai premier returned to Bangkok in late February after his allies swept back into power in elections late last year.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

They're going to Cambodia with a camera

But many children around the world are being exploited for sex, according to Nicole Severson, who started a nonprofit organization to bring attention to the atrocity.

“We want to learn more about these children who have been sold into the sex trade — children as young as 3, some say — because we’ve been horrified by the research,” said Severson, president and founder of Saving Hope International.

The recent St. Cloud State University graduate will fly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, today with a Web designer and a videographer to capture what they see and can learn about the sex trade there.

As of last year, the United Nations estimates 30 percent of the sex workers in Phnom Penh were younger than 18.

“Our goal is to go into Cambodia not with the mentality of ‘We know what you need’ but to assess what they need, to talk to other nonprofits that are already there and just kind of figure out what we can do and what our role will be,” she said.

Saving Hope International became recognized as a tax-exempt charitable organization in November. Its goal is focus attention on child sex workers and victims “to carry their story through imagery to the world.”

Sarah Stroschein, a St. Cloud State junior majoring in graphic design, and Laura Senko, a 28-year-old documentarian from Toronto, will accompany Severson on the monthlong trip.

“The research I’ve done is that the average age of a young girl being exploited is somewhere between 11 and 14 years old,” Severson said.

The 28-year-old from St. Cloud graduated with a major in nonprofit management and minor in photojournalism. She will be putting both knowledge areas to use in Cambodia, a country the group has not visited. The trip to Cambodia is the volunteer organization’s first major project.

“I lived in Mozambique, Africa, for three months in 1999, where there was a girl — one of many — whose home had been invaded by rebels and she was raped continuously over a period of time,” Severson said.

The United Nations estimates that 700,000 to 4 million women and children are trafficked globally. The highest concentration — 225,000 people — is estimated to come from Southeast Asia.

“I’ve gone overseas and seen the poverty and deprivation, so my heart has always been to bring hope to these children, which is why I called my organization Saving Hope International,” Severson said.

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Great Aussie barbeque may soon be made in Cambodia

Phnom Penh - They are environmentally friendly, socially responsible and a great talking point for guests - Australians may soon be throwing a shrimp on a traditional Cambodian clay barbeque.

That's the hope of Tom Drury of Thomas Imports in Sydney's Mosman.

Drury is currently advertising the handmade clay barbeques on internet trading site, but says he will approach large chains that show interest in going carbon-friendly such as Bunnings.

The barbeques are the brainchild of French environmental aid agency Geres, manufactured by mostly small and previously poor family businesses in the central province of Kampong Chhnang.

'I'm interested in Geres because they are involved with carbon reduction projects in Cambodia. I want to give a few dollars from every barbeque I sell to Geres in the hope of becoming a carbon neutral company,' Drury said by email.

Kimberley Buss, Australian carbon offset analyst with Geres, says the great Aussie barbie going green from Cambodia is exciting.

'I think a certain percentage, especially men, will always want their big, shiny barbeques,' she said in an interview. 'But they make a great talking point - every barbeque has a story.'

By redesigning the traditional Cambodian model so the grill sits closer to the fire, adjusting the number and size of the ventilation holes and keeping heat in with a metal jacket, Buss said the barbeques used 25-per-cent less fuel than conventional barbeques.

'It's a moral thing with a lot of buyers,' Buss said. 'And it helps people. There are two sisters making them at the moment who may not have had work before but now every time I visit they have something more - a new motorbike, new staff. It's great.'

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The Cambodian government has announced plans to re-launch.........

The Cambodian government has announced plans to re-launch the national airline, which was scrapped with massive losses on 2000. This time however the airline is being launched with the backing of massive Indonesian conglomerate Rajawali, and will be able to tap into the massively growing number of tourists to Cambodia.

Visitor numbers to Cambodia grew to 2 million in 2006, 60% of whom flew into the country. And with Cambodia being hailed as the new Thailand, because of its virgin white sandy beaches, and undiscovered tropical locations prompting a further 20% rise in tourism for 2007, it is hoped the new airline will be an added boost to the clearly flourishing Cambodia tourism market.

Liam Bailey head of international research for David Stanley Redfern Ltd gave his view on the possible effect the airline will have on the Cambodia property market: "New air routes are always good news for property markets, but the new Cambodia airline, and the likely increase in flights it will generate will be of special significance in Cambodia. The massively successful property markets of Malaysia, Thailand, and Thai islands like Koh Samui, have largely been fuelled by tourism, well in Thailand almost completely fuelled by tourism.

"But in Cambodia, property market growth has been largely limited to Phnom Penh, and fuelled by growth in commercial, business, financial and services sectors. The recent massive increases in visitor numbers, which will be helped by the new airline, will spread property market growth to other areas, and new Cambodian property hotspots will be emerging very soon - perfect timing given that the Phnom Penh property market is showing signs of levelling out."

Even though Cambodia property has been among the hottest for the past two years, it seems the surface has barely been scratched on the country's property investment profitability.

Find out more about Cambodia property at
About David Stanley Redfern

David Stanley Redfern Ltd is one of the U.K.'s leading overseas property investment specialists. The reasons for this are an incomparable range of international properties spanning 40 destinations worldwide, and unrivalled customer care, which lasts long after the purchase has been completed. Experienced, professional staff and membership to the overseas property market's regulatory body: the Association for International Property Professionals, as well as their stringent due diligence procedures gives buyers the confidence that any purchase with David Stanley Redfern is a safe one.
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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Siem Reap port rehab plows ahead

The Chong Khneas Boat Association in Siem Reap says it plans to hold a demonstration unless provincial authorities do something about South Korean port investor Sou Ching Investment Co.'s collecting of money from tourists without ongoing development of the area.

Association chairman Roeun Thoeun said Sou Ching is taking $1 from each foreign tourist at the port south of Siem Reap city but is not upholding its part of an agreement to provide the community with proper roads, parking and toilets.


The problem has been occurring since the company started the project. So far the problem between villagers and Sou Ching has not been resolved.

Minh Bunly FACT


"I see the company has lived up to about 20 percent of the agreement," Thoeun said. "We want to take that money (provided by tourists) and develop the infrastructure in the area ourselves."

Thoeun said some 220 locally owned boats take tourists from Chong Khneas to visit the Tonle Sap and many boat owners have complained that the construction activities of Sou Ching Investment are disrupting their livelihoods.

"Since the company arrived (in May 2007), there have been a lot of problems for villagers in the community," Thoeun said, pointing to environmental concerns arising from pollution caused by the port's development.

On January 2, the Boat Association of Chong Khneas, together with the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA), wrote a letter to Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin requesting provincial authorities stop Sou Ching from collecting money from foreign tourists as of January 15. So far the company has not stopped.

Thoeun said the association's next step would be to organize a demonstration targeting local authorities for their perceived lack of support for boat owners and the Chong Khneas community. A date for the protest has not been set.

Meanwhile, Siem Reap district authorities on January 21 dismantled about 300 homes, moving them back five meters to allow Sou Ching Investment to widen a road.

CATA president Ho Vandy said Sou Ching has a contractual obligation with the local authorities to develop the area, first by building roads, parking lots and public latrines. The provision of infrastructure would then justify collecting fees from tourists, he said.

"Chong Khneas area is very messy; a bad environment with a lot of beggars disturbing tourists," Vandy said. "We do not oppose the company's development but the company wants to make cake without flour."

Vandy estimated that each day Sou Ching collects $1,500 to $1,800 from tourists to clean the area but said many tourists continue to complain about the cleanliness.

"We want to keep the area's future potential as tourist attraction," Vandy said.

In May 2007, the Council for the Development of Cambodia granted a license to SouthKorean firm Sou Ching Investment Co. Ltd to invest $2 million in a project to build a port at Chong Khneas, but the project was stalled by villagers' protests.

Sou Ching representative Var Chhoudeth said there was only a small core of protestors and they had been inciting unrest in the wider community.

Chhoudeth said his company has been developing the area with a canal for the boats, expanded roads and a car park, and was also cleaning the area.

"The boat association wants to take the money themselves but they cannot develop the area," Chhoudeth said. "What our company is doing is based on the agreement with the provincial authority."

Minh Bunly, project officer for the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, a local NGO working with the fishing community at Chong Khneas, said the company had provided the community with little infrastructure.

"The problem has been occurring since the company started the project," Bunly said.

"So far the problem between villagers and Sou Ching has not been resolved."

Siem Reap Deputy Governor Chan Sophal, who is in charge of overseeing the port development at Chong Khneas, said he was too busy to comment on the project when contacted by the Post.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, about two million foreign tourists visited Cambodia in 2007. Chong Khneas is one of the best-known destinations in Siem Reap.
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Child labor surges with building boom

B ATTAMBANG – Sy Oeur was 12 years old when she dropped out of school in a desperate bid to keep her impoverished family afloat. Despite her age, she quickly found a job working ten-hour shifts in a brick factory for which she is paid 6,000 riels a day.

She says she doesn’t mind the long hours or dangerous work as she’s happy to be able to help her family.

Behind the glitz and glamour of Cambodia’s recent construction boom is an army of under-aged, under-paid workers such as Oeur. The surge in demand for cheap labor has prompted thousands of children, some as young as six, to abandon their schooling and accept hazardous work in factories or on construction sites.

A new research study released May 8 by local rights NGO Licadho and World Vision draws attention to the gross child rights violations that underpin Cambodia’s latest burst of economic development.

The study was launched in Battambang where an estimated 500 children are currently employed in the province’s 26 brick factories.

“Most of these children are forced to work at the brick kilns because of poverty,” Vann Sophath, deputy director of communication and advocacy for Licadho, told the Post at the launch.

Conditions in the brick factories meet the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) criteria for the “worst forms of child labor,” the report claims. Factory work hinders education opportunities – around 74 percent of child workers do not attend school – and carries health risks ranging from third degree burns from the kilns to respiratory problems from brick dust.

Factory owners “never pay for treatment” when their workers are injured on the job and very few factories have any safety procedures in place, said Sophath.

Protective glasses, helmets and work shoes were almost unheard of among the children interviewed, less than half of whom were wearing gloves, hats or masks during work. Fewer than 20 percent of the children interviewed in the report said they had received work safety information from their employers.

The most common tasks performed by children in brick factories include loading bricks to and from kilns, extracting and grinding clay, and operating machinery. Brick making machines are hazardous as hands or arms can be easily caught in the constantly grinding moving parts.

Children working at the brick kiln receive an average wage of 5,000 to 6,000 riel per day with children under ten years old receiving 1,000 riels.

“Work in the brick factory is quite hard but I do not have any choice because my family needs the money,” said Kouch Chantha, 14, who, like all his siblings, works weekend shifts at the factory.

“I actually do not want to come but I am forced to work here by my mother because if I don’t come here I will have nothing to eat,” he said.

Most children, particularly those of a very young age, begin work alongside their parents and 30 percent said they lived at the factory in which they worked with either their parents or other relatives.

Pressure from parents who rely on their children’s wages to provide for the family means many child brick factory workers are resigned to their fate, said Chea Ravy, a child welfare worker at World Vision’s drop-in center for child workers in Battambang.

“They have only known one thing their whole lives: How can they build a dream?” Ravy asked.

Many factories in Battambang are taking on more child workers due to the recent constriction boom, said Eng Soeur, the owner of Ponlok Thmey Brick Factory which currently employs 50 workers. February and March were particularly busy months this year as brick prices rose to 400 riel per brick and his factory reported average sales of 150,000 bricks per month.

Although Soeur himself does not allow children to work fulltime at his factory, he does now allow child workers on weekends and holidays.

The construction boom has also resulted in a higher percentage of females working in brick factories.

Sok Seth, director of the Ministry of Labors’ Prey Konkhla Vocational Training Center – which includes a state-run brick factory which employs children – estimates that 70 percent of child brick workers are girls as boys are needed for heavier work on construction sites.

“The regulation in my center is not to hire children to work but we cannot enforce it 100 percent because the children sometimes come along for work with the mother,” Seth told the Post during a visit to the center on May 9.

Seth stressed that parents, as well as the brick factory owners, need to consider more carefully the future of their children and the dangers they face in this kind of work.

However, he added that if factory owners ceased hiring children the earnings of many families would decrease markedly, which is why many parents are not happy with the work of NGOs who are trying to combat child labor.

An estimated 1.4 million Cambodian children between the ages of seven and 14, or more than 50 percent, are engaged in some for of labor, mostly in the agricultural sector, according to international agencies.
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Property sales hit a bump as election nears

C ambodia’s red-hot property market has cooled significantly as investors fretting over the outcome of July national elections curb a buying spree that has seen land prices more than quadruple in some parts of the country, realtors and lawmakers say.

This trend, however, is likely to reverse itself as post-poll jitters die away, they add.

Sung Bonna, chief executive of the Bonna Realty Group, said the pace of sales had slowed by about five percent since mid-April and prices that have been on a scorching run for the past three years have flatlined.

While most agree that polling on July 27 is unlikely to be followed by radical land reforms or policies that restrict investment, realtors say people remain wary of change – especially political – and this is playing out in urban and rural property markets.

“In general, businesspeople involved in real estate are waiting to see what the situation is after the national election,” Bonna told the Post, adding that without buyers, property sellers have been forced to cap prices.

“Also, the rainy season isn’t a good time to go out and see land,” he added.

Realtors, however, including Bonna, predict the elections would register as only a small blip on the long-term pattern of rising Cambodian property prices.

“I think real estate will remain a tool that helps the country develop,” said Cheng Kheng, owner of Cambodia Properties Limited (CPL), adding that he expected prices to resume climbing a few months after the polls, once concerns over restructuring subside.

According to Kheng, many of the bigger spenders in Cambodia’s real estate sector have political party affiliations that were demanding more of their time as the election approached.

“I think people who have a lot of money to buy land are busy campaigning for the election.”

But the real estate sector slowdown has also hurt an unprecedented building boom that was a key factor behind Cambodia’s recent double-digit economic growth.


In general, business-people involved in real estate are waiting to see what the situation is after the election.– Sung Bonna


Several mega-projects around the capital appear to be languishing in the financial doldrums, according to economists who say a combination of domestic political concern and shaky global markets has discouraged investment in real estate.

“I don’t think construction firms would want to stop their buildings if they had enough money,” said Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodia Institute for Development Study.

“But they seem to be lacking finances to finish their projects,” he said, adding that inflation had squeezed project funding, with rising prices for construction materials and labor impacting on new developments.

Cheam Yeap, a lawmaker with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) that is expected to dominate the July polls, said a CPP-led government could protect property investments, something that opposition politicians have demanded as the country attracts more foreign money.
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Strange but true: inflating cambodian boy

TO Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where a father and mechanic “learned the hard way not to inflate children when he inserted an air hose designed to fill car tires into his 5-year-old son’s anus and blew him up”.

The Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea daily reported Try Sienghym was “playing” with his son Sok Sambo when the incident took place.

The paper said the child’s stomach became distended and his concerned mother rushed him to hospital, where he remains in a stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery.

“The father very much regrets playing like this now,” the paper quoted a family member as saying.

Police were not expected to take action against the father, blaming the incident on pure stupidity, against which there is currently no law.

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Cambodia: Garuda Add To Khemara's Misery

The misery continues for Khemara Keila FC when they conceded their second defeat in less than a week following their 1-0 loss to Moha Garuda at the National Training Centre.
Khemara had faltered to a 2-0 loss to Build Bright United a few days earlier.

And this time round, a 14th minute strike off P. Taboula was enough for Moha Garuda to pick up the win and the three points.

In the meantime, Phuchung Neak FC had to fight tooth and nail before they were able to hold Kirivong Sok Sen Chey FC to a 3-3 draw.

The score at the break was 3-2 in favour of Kirivong Sok Sen Chey FC with goals coming off Ly Ravy (35th minute), O. J. Chukwuma (43rd) and O. A. Jothan (44th) while Phuchung Neak replied off Lappe Lappe (17th) and Hok Sochivorn (30th).

However, Hok Sochivorn turned up to be the toast for Phuchung when he nailed his second goal of the afternoon and the equaliser deep in injury time for the win.
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Friday, May 23, 2008

ASIA/CAMBODIA - A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes found by fishermen in Mekong waters

ASIA/CAMBODIA - A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes found by fishermen in Mekong waters, where it had left during the war 33 years ago

Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) - A group of fisherman found a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in the deep, muddy waters near the shores of the Mekong River, next to Phnom Penh, in the network of rivers that unite opposite the Royal Palace. On the afternoon of April 11, eight men of Cham origin, Muslims, found a cast-iron statue entangled in their fishing nets, weighing 160 kilos and measuring a meter and a half in height. It had been in the river for at least 33 years, since the beginning of the regime of Khmer Rouge.

Not knowing what to do with it, they sold it for $7 US dollars to some local inhabitants that intended to recycle it and use it for raw material. Some Christian people who happened to pass through the area immediately recognized it as a statue of the Virgin Mary. Thus, it was passed to new owners, from the parish of Areaksat, being sold at $1,000 US dollars, which immediately translated into 10 sacks of rice. It seems that its new owners did not want to make a business deal with a sacred image. The statue is now at the parish of Our Lady of Peace. The Christian community has immediately expressed its gratitude to the poor family, for having donated the statue.

For some time now, the account of the statue’s appearance in the river has been circulating around Phnom Penh. In this month of May, consecrated to the Virgin, the faithful take her daily offerings and flowers. Especially on Sunday, numerous Christians come together to pray before the image of Our Lady of Lourdes, that has been named, “Our Lady of Mekong.”

For now, the origin of the statue is completely unknown. With the conquest of religious houses during the war, the statue was surely thrown into the waters, where it remained 33 years. The parish of Areaksat, near to the site of the statue’s appearance, in times of war was not located there, but 2 kilometers away from the site. Some of the area’s elderly folk were questioned regarding the statue, but they have been unable to recognize it or offer information as to its location before it was thrown into the Mekong River. (PB) (Agenzia Fides 21/05/2008 righe 27, parole 372)

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Thousands of poll agents to guarantee fair election in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH,(Xinhua) -- Two hundred and forty trainers from Cambodia's four major political parties are preparing to train tens of thousands of poll agents who will watch the National Assembly Election Day process to ensure that votes are counted fairly and that their opponents play by the rules, a press release said Thursday.

Members of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), the Funcinpec Party, the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) will attend a party poll agent training conducted by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in Phnom Penh from May 26 to 31, an NDI press release said.

The party trainers will in turn train tens of thousands of their own party's polling agents, it added.

NDI's training will equip the political party trainers with the knowledge and skills to conduct systematic observation of the polls and report based on a standard polling agent manual and observation checklist based on the National Assembly election laws, regulations, procedures and code of conduct, the release said.

The NDI will invite all political parties that have officially registered for the National Assembly election to receive the party poll agent training, it said, adding that other political parties will be trained in a second batch.

The NDI provided a similar training prior to last year's Commune Council elections, in which more than 100,000 party poll agents watched the polling process.
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Royal cows signal 'quite good' rice harvest in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's royal cows performed an ancient ceremony on Friday, predicting the country will have a "quite good" rice harvest this year, despite global concerns over supplies of the grain.

King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the country's Royal Ploughing ceremony in a park outside the royal palace. Thousands of people watched on as royal astrologers observed what the cows ate to signal the coming year's harvests.

After a symbolic ploughing of a portion of the park's field, a pair of royal cows were led to seven dishes -- rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and alcohol -- laid out on trays.

"Based on what the royal cows ate, the rice harvest will be quite good," chief astrologer Kang Ken declared before the crowd of onlookers.

He also said the corn harvest would be good, but the bean crop would be average.

The traditional ceremony marks the start of the planting season in the kingdom.

Farmers who joined the ceremony hailed the prediction.

"This means that we will not face rice shortages in the coming year," said 58-year-old Kao Tob, a rice farmer in Kampong Chhnang, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh.

Even if the harvest is strong, Cambodians face soaring food prices. Inflation reached double digits late last year and now hovers around 11 percent.

Good-grade rice -- Cambodia's staple food -- has nearly doubled in price this year.

It now costs nearly 0.90 dollars per kilogramme (41 cents per pound), deepening the poverty of the one-third of the population who live on less than 50 cents a day.

World rice prices have soared this year, a trend blamed on higher energy and fertiliser costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of rice farmland to biofuel plantations, and price speculation.
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Informal marriage brokers active in Cambodia despite official ban

PHNOM PENH, May 23 (Xinhua) -- There are more than 100 informal marriage brokerage agencies still at operation in Cambodia despite the official ban and closure of three South Korean ones, state media said Friday.

"The government doesn't allow operation of marriage brokerage services at all" because they are exploitative, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodian Daily quoted You Ay, secretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, as saying.

She said foreign men who frequent or live in Cambodia desire to marry local women out of "true love," but insisted that foreign marriage ban will remain valid until relevant legislation is drafted.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is expected to meet with the Interior Ministry over finalizing such a sub-decree in the coming month, she added.

Foreign marriage brokerage agencies came into spotlight in Cambodia after the International Organization for Migration issued a report stressing the vulnerability of Cambodian brides flocking to South Korea in increasing numbers.

The government in response banned all marriages between Cambodians and foreigners on March 29, pending new legislation to regulate the process.
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

WORLD BANK GROUP: World Bank Extends Cambodia Country Program, Approves Two New Projects to Help Govt. Fight Poverty

The decision to extend the current CAS three more years resulted from extensive consultations with the Government and other stakeholders, including the donor community, the private sector, and the civil society. These consultations confirmed the continued relevance of the CAS strategy of improving governance through a wide range of development initiatives, said Ian Porter, Country Director for Cambodia. 'The Bank's assistance strategy recognizes the positive changes in Cambodia over the past three years, and the solid progress the Government has made in implementing the ambitious reform agenda,' Porter said. 'This progress has enabled the World Bank and other donors to continue working with the Government to deepen their reform efforts.' First approved in 2005, the Cambodia CAS provides support for tackling some of the critical governance issues threatening the country's ability to reduce poverty and achieve Millennium Development Goals. It aims to improve governance through private sector development for growth; public financial management for better service delivery; land administration, management and allocation for agricultural investments and growth; and decentralization and social accountability for better governance and empowerment of communities.

The Cambodia CAS was the first Bank Group CAS produced jointly with the Asian Development Bank, the UK Department of International Development, or DFID, and the UN system, which have all endorsed the extension.

Together with the CAS extension, the World Bank's Board of Executive Directors also approved two lending projects for Cambodia, aimed at helping the government fight poverty by improving access to roads, as well as providing poor people with land for agricultural development.

Under the Road Asset Management Project (RAMP), the Bank will provide $30 million worth of financial and technical support to help the government perform periodic maintenance on selected sections of the country's road network, as well as establish related systems. Studies have shown that road access helps reduce poverty as it allows poor people easier access to the markets. An improved road system also enables the government to bring social services to remote, rural areas.

This five-year project also receives financial support from the Asian Development Bank, and the Australian Agency for International Development. The Royal Government of Cambodia also contributed toward the project cost, which stands at $56.1 million.

The second project, the Land Allocation for Economic and Social Development Project (LASED) will receive a total of $11.5 million in funding from the World Bank, which complements technical cooperation support from the Government of Germany. LASED will support the Government's social land concession program.

Under the project, local communities will identify appropriate state land, and select poor, landless families to receive land as well as livelihoods assistance within their own communities. The five-year project will be implemented by the local communities, with assistance from the Government's land and decentralization support agencies.

CONTACT: Elisabeth Mealey, World Bank Group Tel: +1 202 458 4475 e-mail:
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The dark side of Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s capital city is still haunted by the ghosts of the Khmer Rouge

By Jack Souther

Somewhere over the Mekong Delta we crossed from Vietnamese into Cambodian airspace. It’s only a 40-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh but it spans one of the most historically volatile regions in all of Southeast Asia. Back in the 18th century, before the Vietnamese annexed it, the rich agricultural land of the Delta was part of the Khmer Kingdom. Since then Cambodia’s border has been buffeted by war, violated by its Thai and Vietnamese neighbours, and ignored by foreign powers.

As we begin our descent into Phnom Penh I get a fleeting glimpse of the mighty Mekong River that runs through the centre of the city. Moments later a friendly immigration officer welcomes us to Cambodia and takes only a few minutes to process our visas. Kosal, a stocky, dark skinned fellow in his early 40s greets us with a big smile. He will be our guide in Phnom Penh. The trip to our hotel takes us past stately French Colonial houses, some restored, others crumbling into ruin. Built 100 years ago when Cambodia was part of French Indochina, they now stand side by side with Art Deco mansions that once belonged to officials of Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s pre revolutionary government.

The traffic, a mix of tuk tuks, motorbikes, and pickups, is less frantic than that in Ho Chi Minh and, perhaps because it is smaller, the pace of life seems more relaxed. After a sumptuous dinner at the Amoc Cafe we return to the Juliana Hotel, order a drink from the bar, and settle down at a table in the lush poolside garden. It’s hard to imagine that 33 years ago foreigners like us were banned from the country and the people of Phnom Penh were fleeing their city in terror, abandoning their homes, shops, and most of their possessions to a handful of Khmer Rouge soldiers.

In her book First They Killed My Father (Harper Collins), Loung Ung describes the day the soldiers arrived and ordered everyone to leave on the pretense that the U.S. was about to bomb the city. “You can return in three days,” they were told. It was the first of many lies designed to control the terrified people. At checkpoints outside the city the Khmer soldiers offered good jobs to anyone who had worked for the Lon Noi government. Those who identified themselves were killed. The others became virtual slaves in work camps and rural communes where many died of starvation and disease.

I asked Kosal if he remembered that terrible time. “Yes,” he replied, “my experience was very similar to that of Loung Ung. Almost every family in Cambodia was affected one way or another by Khmer Rouge violence. They killed three members of my family and I have lost track of the others.”

The convoluted history that paved the way for the Khmer Rouge takeover and the subsequent tragedy of Pol Pot’s social experiment is a tale of political intrigue, deceit and social collapse. Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953 and for 20 years, under the autocratic rule of Norodom Sihanouk, it enjoyed a period of relative prosperity.

But discontent with Sihanouk’s repressive policies came to a head in 1970 when a military coup led by general Lon Noi overthrew him. After fleeing to Beijing Sihanouk set up a government in exile allied with a revolutionary movement lead by Pol Pot, whose peasant army had been waging a limited guerilla war against the government since 1963. Sihanouk nicknamed them the Khmer Rouge and his support drew thousands of new recruits into the revolution.

In the meantime the Vietnamese war was spilling over the border, and in 1969 U.S. president Nixon authorized the secret bombing of suspected communist bases in Cambodia. Over the next four years an estimated 250,000 Cambodian civilians, mostly peasants, were killed by B52 carpet-bombing. The survivors, bitter and displaced from their land, flocked to join the Khmer Rouge and, with aid from China, Pol Pot’s guerrilla skirmishes escalated into full-scale civil war. On the 17th of August 1975 truckloads of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge soldiers stormed triumphantly into Phnom Penh and replaced the Lon Noi government with a regime even more brutal and horrific than the war that brought them to power.

Our brief stay in Phnom Penh was an emotional roller coaster that took us through the depravity of the Pol Pot years to the measured optimism of modern Cambodia — from the unspeakable horror of the killing fields to the tranquility of the Royal Palace.

“We will go first to Tuol Sleng Museum,” Kosal tells us as we pile into a tuk tuk and head off in a cloud of exhaust from the aging motorcycle towing us. The sprawling low buildings of the museum were once occupied by a high school but, with the addition of razor wire, barred cells and long rows of leg shackles chained to the floor, the Khmer Rouge converted it to a prison. Security Prison 21 (S21) became the largest centre of detention and torture in the country — the place where those suspected of being a threat to Pol Pot’s regime were brought for interrogation. Few of them left alive. Between 1975 and 1978 more than 17,000 people were trucked from S21 to the killing fields of Choeung Ek.

It’s 15km from S21 to Choeung Ek, a deceptively tranquil place where tree shaded paths wind past 129 mass graves now muted by greenery. The skulls of more than 8,000 victims are displayed in a memorial stupa, but no one knows how many thousands of hapless people were executed and dumped here by the Khmer Rouge.

This, I thought, is Pol Pot’s legacy — the grisly remnants of a mad man’s dream. Brother number one, as he referred to himself, had the vision of a self-contained agrarian society, a pure Khmer society without foreign influence where hard working peasants would replace the decadent upper and middle classes of the cities. As soon his troops entered Phnom Penh he set the country’s clocks to year zero and the all-powerful Angkar (organization) of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea set out to change society through relocation, forced labour and purges.

Driven by paranoia and absolute power the Angkar executed anyone perceived to be a present or future threat to the regime. Employees of the former government were the first to go, followed by the intelligentsia. According to Kosal even wearing glasses, a sign of wealth and intelligence, could be a death sentence.

The purges soon escalated into full-scale genocide and many of those not killed outright by the Angkar died of starvation or disease, in a country that had killed most of its doctors and had no medicines. Before it was over at least two million Cambodians, almost a fifth of the population, had died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. And those remaining were barely able to feed themselves.

The nightmare of Pol Pot’s dream came to an end in 1979 when the Vietnamese, fed up with border incursions and Khmer Rouge attempts to retake the Mekong Delta, launched a full-scale invasion of Democratic Kampuchea. They drove the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh, replaced the Angkar with a new government, and maintained a military presence in the country for the next 10 years. But Pol Pot and the remnants of the Khmer Rouge retreated into the jungle and continued sporadic attacks on the government until they were finally defeated in 1998, the same year that Pol Pot died of a heart attack at age 70. Like most of his Khmer Rouge henchmen he was never brought to justice.

As we left Choeung Ek my mind still carried the image of thousands of skulls staring at me through empty eye sockets. It’s a tribute to the human spirit that Kosal and those of his generation who survived the genocide are able to put the horror behind them and live normal lives.

Although Cambodia is still plagued by factional infighting and corruption it has come a long way in the last 20 years. We stop for lunch at “Friends,” a restaurant that not only serves great tapas, but also provides former street kids with training in the hospitality industry. Outside, a group of school children is painting murals and as I watch them I think of their parents. When they were the ages of these kids they were being trained as child soldiers. They witnessed the deaths of their families and had neither schools nor enough to eat.

Later on the grounds of the Royal Palace I found a quiet place to sit and unwind. Watching the saffron-robed monks strolling serenely through their manicured gardens I try to put the genocide out of my mind. If I had not actually seen the torture chambers of S21 and the killing fields of Choeng Ek the whole thing could have been just a chilling dream.

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