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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cambodia introduces new regulations for developers and real estate agents

New regulations are being introduced in Cambodia to protect property investors from fraud as the country's real estate industry booms.

Developers will be required to deposit a sum with the National Bank of Cambodia before being allowed to begin construction on a project under new regulations aimed at curbing fraud.

Payments from buyers will be held in this account with the aim of making the whole payment system more transparent and avoid developers using money illegally. It will also allow the government to intervene if developers fail to honour their contracts.

Real estate agents and developers will have to obtain a licence from the Ministry of Economy and Finance to sell projects and face legal action and even closure if they fail to do so.

The new rules mean developers and agents must comply by the end of September, a spokesman for the Economy and Finance ministry said.

There will be costs to the developers and agents involved but officials believe this will deter cowboys. 'Real estate developers will be required to deposit 2% of the projects' total value at the National Bank of Cambodia,' said Mao Pao deputy chief of the ministry's real estate division.

'We will require a developer to open a housing development account at any commercial bank to enable buyers to make payments through the bank,' he added.

The price for the new licences for selling or renting will depend on the scale of the project. Until now developers only needed a letter of permission from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction and an investment licence from the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

There are estimated to be around 100 developers currently operating in Cambodia, many of them quite small. Some said the new regulations will be too costly and put them out of business.

Capital Phnom Penh has undergone an unprecedented construction boom over the last several years, including a number of residential and commercial mega-projects that are set to transform the capital from a sleepy backwater.
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Sri Lanka envoy for Cambodia genocide tribunal

Sri Lanka’s new High Commissioner to London Nihal Jayasinghe left for Cambodia to sit on the UN-sponsored tribunal trying former leaders of the dreaded Khmer Rouge regime for crimes against humanity.

Nihal Jayasinghe, a former Justice of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court is one of three international judges sitting in the Supreme Court chamber, the highest tier of the three- layered tribunal.

Nihal Jayasinghe was sworn in as a member of the tribunal when he was a Justice of the Supreme Court and this is the first time he will be attending a meeting of the tribunal since his retirement from the Sri Lankan judiciary and his appointment as High Commissioner to Great Britain.

The other two international judges are Motoo Naguchi of Japan and Agnieszka Klonowiecka-Milart of Poland while four Cambodian judges make up the seven-member Bench that will hear appeals against convictions by the Trial Chamber.

High Commissioner Jayasinghe, who is due to return to London at the end of this week said that he is not due to present his credentials to the Queen until the first half of October. However he said that he has called on officials of the British Foreign Office and met with British parliamentarians and journalists besides members of several Sri Lankan organisations and associations here.

“My message to them has been that there is no quarrel or conflict between the Sinhala and Tamils communities. The conflict is with the LTTE, with a terrorist group,” Jayasinghe told The Sunday Times. He said that there is a misconception here that the Government and the Sinhala people are against the Tamil community and this had to be corrected.
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Cambodia, UN-FAO launch emergency project for farmers

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Cambodia and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are launching an emergency project through its Technical Cooperation Program (TCP) in Cambodia to help impoverished farmers boost agricultural production, said a joint press release received here Saturday.

The project is part of the FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP) started in December 2007 and aims to boost the local food supply to soften the blow of soaring food prices, it said.

The FAO is focusing on immediate activities during this rainy season from July 2008 to Sept. 2008 and within the dry season from Nov. 2008 until Jan. 2009, so that by the next harvests there will be more food available locally at lower prices, it said.

In addition, the project is providing fertilizers, which are petroleum-based and thus out of reach of poor farmers as oil prices break new records every day, it said.

As the latest step of the project, a rice seed distribution ceremony to vulnerable farmers was held on Aug. 28 at Bati district, Takeo province, with the attendance of Chan Sarun, Cambodian Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as Omar Salah Ahmed, FAO Representative in Cambodia, said the press release.

For the medium and long term plan, the FAO aims at a more comprehensive assistance program towards agricultural development by focusing on increased productivities, irrigation and improving the storage, it added.
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Cambodia now tops ASEAN for traffic fatalities, officials say

Phnom Penh - Cambodia is now officially home to the most dangerous roads in the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), officials said Thursday. Cambodian drivers are infamous for their blithe disregard for traffic laws, let alone the laws of physics, and as roads improve rapidly this combination resulted in an average of 4.5 people dying on the country's roads every day, new statistics said - up from 3.7 in 2006.

Figures by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport for the first half of 2008 show 3,870 documented traffic accidents, resulting in 6,839 people injured and 956 killed - nearly 15 per cent higher than the same time last year, with 833 fatalities reported.

"We have to rush to educate people on the traffic laws," the ministry's secretary-general of transport, Ung Chun Hour, said by telephone. "And we have to enforce laws like helmets for motorbike riders and their passengers."

The ministry did not provide updated comparisons to other ASEAN countries, but said Cambodia's fatality rate puts it ahead of much larger nations such as the Philippines, also known for road chaos.

The government spent millions on driver education, taking out television and newspaper advertisements and setting up driver education centres, after the Asian Development Bank estimated accidents cost the country 3 per cent of its GDP in 2003 alone.

However, poorly paid traffic police often lack the will to enforce the law and a "fine" of 1.25 dollars (or 2.50 dollars if the driver insists on a receipt) usually makes the traffic violation go away.

Drunk driving is also rampant, but Cambodia has no more sophisticated ways of testing if a driver is over the limit than smelling his or her breath - usually after the accident.
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China and Vietnam square off in Laos

By Brian McCartan

VIENTIANE - China's growing influence in resource-rich Laos is seen by some as coming at the expense of ties with Vietnam, long the communist country's main patron and de facto security guarantor. The diplomatic recalibration is part of the landlocked country's bid to more fully integrate economically with the region and has so far served its interests well.

Laos is of increasing strategic importance to both China and Vietnam, two of Asia's fastest growing countries. Vietnam's interests lie primarily in securing its long land border with Laos and developing greater access to markets in Thailand. For China, Laos provides a growing avenue to export products to wider Southeast Asia, particularly from its remote and less-developed, landlocked southwestern regions.

Both countries have a growing interest in Laos' bountiful and largely untapped natural resources, agricultural products and hydropower to fuel their expanding economies.

Some analysts here predict that the balance of influence inside the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) could soon shift in Beijing's favor, as senior Lao leaders fade from the political scene and younger, more market-savvy cadre lacking experience in the communist revolutionary period assume positions of power.

Although 10 of the 11 member politburo's standing committee speak fluent Vietnamese - a mark of their deep personal ties to Hanoi and its political leadership - rising mid-ranking cadre are less likely to have studied in Vietnam while an increasing number have studied in the former Soviet Union, China or elsewhere.

Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh's appointment at the 2006 Eighth Party Congress was seen by many as the beginning of a shift towards more Chinese influence over the government. Born in 1954, he was a 21-year-old student activist and not a revolutionary war veteran when the communists took over the country in 1975. He later studied in the Soviet Union rather than Hanoi.

In apparent realization of this changing dynamic, China has adopted a long term diplomatic strategy for Laos. Rather than overly leveraging its commercial might, Beijing is simultaneously cultivating younger Lao leaders through programs that bring them to China for vocational, ideological and military training. These moves are being made in anticipation of an already dawning era when Vietnam-orientated old guard cadre fade from the political scene.

In an interview with Asia Times Online, Lao spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy showed the pragmatic side of Lao thinking. Noting that China is the new emerging power in the region, he said, "Openness and integration in the region is far better than the Cold War in the past imposed by some power. When Laos was a part of a security belt, it resulted in thirty years of war.”

Although he was referring to the broader Indochina War with the US, and earlier France, he could have just as easily been referring to the era of cool relations between Laos and China in the period between 1975 and 1988. Now, as the region's former communist countries reform their centrally planned economies with more market-driven policies, commercial imperatives are redefining how the region interacts, including with Laos.

Commercially positioned
Laos is now eager to promote itself as "land-linked" instead of "landlocked", emphasizing its potential role as a trade crossroads between China and Southeast Asia. According to spokesman Yong, "Laos has been suffering because it is landlocked and isolated. Connectivity in the region can only bring good things to Laos."

This view means that Laos sees the value in diversifying its diplomacy away from its traditional reliance on Vietnam. The balancing act has also extended to its erstwhile Western donors: while keen to accept investment and aid to boost the economy, create jobs and raise living standards, at the same time the government would rather avoid the conditions for political change and more official transparency often accompanying such aid.

Investments from China and Vietnam, on the other hand, come without pre-conditions. According to a 2005 monograph by noted Lao scholar Martin Stuart-Fox, it is not in the strategic best interests of China or Vietnam for the LPRP to lose its monopoly on political power and with both countries' commercial support there is little incentive for the LPRP to initiate political reforms.

Vietnam's strong relationship with Laos stems from the origins of the two countries' communist parties through the Indochinese Communist Party in the 1930s. This relationship was further cemented in the thirty years of struggle against the colonial French and then an American-backed regime, which was finally overthrown in 1975.

Communist Lao and Vietnamese forces fought side-by-side throughout those wars; then-North Vietnam's supply pipeline - the Ho Chi Minh Trail - famously used in its fight against the US-backed South Vietnam, ran through eastern Laos. Lao communist cadre received ideological and military training in Hanoi, while Chinese involvement in the struggle in Laos was confined to road building in the northern regions.

Laos and Vietnam entered into a formal twenty-five year Lao-Vietnam Friendship and Cooperation Treaty in 1977, underpinning what the two sides referred to as a "special relationship". Vietnam's siding with the Soviet Union against China in a doctrinal dispute meant that relations between its ally Laos and China also cooled. Relations worsened when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978 and China made a limited invasion of northern Vietnam in early 1979.

Bilateral relations between Laos and Vietnam are still strong, although the 1977 alliance was allowed to lapse in 2002. Personal ties between Lao and Vietnamese leaders remain strong enough politically for the "special relationship" to endure. Lao state-run media contains almost weekly news of bilateral socio-economic, cultural and military cooperation between the two countries. Billboards across Laos last year hailed the 45th anniversary of diplomatic ties and the 30th anniversary of the Lao-Vietnam Friendship and Cooperation Treaty.

Meanwhile, Vietnam remains Laos' second largest trading partner. The Vietnam-Lao Committee for Cooperation said in July that two-way trade hit US$240 million for the first half of this year, an increase of 58% year on year. The two countries have stated a shared goal of reaching $1 billion in bilateral trade by 2010 and $2 billion by 2015.

Investment competition
Vietnam is also clearly competing with China for investment influence. Figures released at an August 12 conference on Vietnam-Lao investment cooperation held in Vientiane showed that Vietnam's investment had grown to 177 projects valued at $1.28 billion. If accurate, this would raise Vietnam to the second-largest foreign investor in Laos behind Thailand and would move China down into third place.

Targeted investment areas include mining and expert-oriented agriculture and processing. Recent years have seen heavy Vietnamese investment in rubber plantations in southern Laos, particularly in Savannakhet and Champassak provinces. Laos is also increasingly being seen as a potential source of hydropower and state-run PetroVietnam and Electricity Vietnam are reported to be planning new projects in the country.

To facilitate trade and investment and access to markets in Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia, Vietnam has been busy constructing roads in eastern Laos as part of the Greater Mekong Subregion's East-West Corridor road project, which aims to link Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and India. The most important link is the road connecting the Vietnamese central port of Danang with the so-called "Second Friendship Bridge" across the Mekong connecting Savannakhet, Laos, with Mukhdahan, Thailand.

While commercial ties are fast expanding, the two countries security links are perhaps better-established. Until at least the late 1980s, 40,000-50,000 Vietnamese soldiers were estimated to be based in Laos. Although Vietnam pulled its troops out in the 1990s, it still maintains training cadre, and according to some sources, military intelligence stations in the country. The Lao military continues to turn to Vietnam for military advice, especially concerning the ethnic Hmong insurgency. Lao military delegations to Vietnam in 1999 and 2000 went, according to some analysts, to seek advice after protests and a wave of mysterious bombings across the capital, Vientiane.

In contrast, China only resumed normal diplomatic relations with Laos in 1988 - but it is now fast making up for lost time. China was able to vastly increase its clout in Laos by bailing out the country from the 1997 Asian financial crisis through increased aid, investment and trade. Generous export subsidies and interest-free loans helped stabilize the tanking local currency, the kip.

Since then, a series of bilateral agreements have been signed covering economic and technical cooperation, infrastructure development and investment and banking. In 2000, President Jiang Zemin paid the first visit ever by a Chinese head of state to the country, paving the way for continued high-level government-to-government exchanges. According to Chinese media reports, Beijing canceled much of Laos' $1.7 billion debt owed in 2003.

China's interest in Laos is primarily economic, as both a source of natural resources and a conduit for its manufactured goods into Southeast Asia. Chinese investors are heavily involved in Lao hydropower and several dams are under construction with more in the planning stage. Mining is also an important area of investment, with concessions granted to Chinese investors for gold, copper, iron, potassium and bauxite.

So, too, is commercial agriculture, with Chinese investing heavily in corn, cassava, sugarcane and rubber in northern regions for export to China. Noting the new technology, seeds and markets brought in by Chinese investment, spokesman Yong said "Improved relations and opening up to China in those six (northern) provinces has had an immediate benefit."

Two-way trade stood at $249 million in 2007, but similar to Vietnam, China has said it hopes bilateral flows will hit $1 billion over the next few years. According to the Lao Committee for Planning and Investment, Chinese direct investment totaled $1.1 billion by August 2007, making China the second largest investor behind Thailand.

During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Vientiane in March, in conjunction with a Greater Mekong Subregion Summit, seven agreements were signed between the two countries covering economic issues, technology, energy and e-governance. China also offered $100 million in export purchaser credits for the vehicles and helicopters. Chinese loans have also helped to set up the Lao Telecom Company and Lao Asia Telecom, establish e-government projects and purchase aircraft for Lao Aviation.

China has paid particular attention to the development of the fast-expanding network of roads in northern Laos. Reconstruction of Route 3, connecting the Chinese city of Jinghong in Yunnan, through Laos to the town of Huay Xai across from Chiang Khong, Thailand, was completed earlier this year. Construction on a bridge - funded by China - across the Mekong River to complete the route is expected to begin later this year. The road project is a part of the Greater Mekong Subregion's North-South Corridor to connect China, Laos and Thailand. China hopes that the route will allow it to more efficiently transport goods through Thailand to the rest of Southeast Asia and provide a link with Thai seaports.

Soft and hard power
However not all Chinese investment has been strictly commercial. Considerable effort - and money - has been spent on "soft influence" projects, including the Beijing-financed construction of the $7-million National Cultural Hall, the 13-kilometer Central Avenue, renovation of the Patuxai Victory Monument and its surrounding park in Vientiane. It has also constructed a Sino-Lao Friendship Hospital just outside of the tourist town and old royal capital of Luang Prabang. In addition, increasing numbers of LPRP cadre are attending trainings and seminars in China, many in the southern Chinese city of Kunming, while more and more scholarships are being made available for Lao students to study in China.

Significantly, China has built on these economic ties to make strategic initiatives towards Laos, seen by some as a potential threat to Vietnam's position. It has recently increased contacts between the Lao People's Army (LPA) and the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), while the number of Lao officers attending trainings in China has increased.

The Lao military's budget has grown steadily in recent years, according to analysts, and the government is no doubt aware that with China's huge weapons industry and Beijing's demonstrated willingness to exchange military hardware for commercial concessions is better placed to modernize its military through closer ties with China than Vietnam.

Not everyone is happy with China's growing role, however. While many Laos are happy to have access to cheaper Chinese manufactured goods, they are not always as enthused about what some see as a growing influx of Chinese migrants into the country and a perceived increase of Chinese influence over the government. Lao fears of a gradual "Chinese invasion" were perhaps most in evidence through the disapproval expressed in the wake of the government's announcement of a big land concession to Chinese investors near Vientiane's iconic That Luang Buddhist monastery.

While the land grant was apparently made in exchange for China's construction of a modern new sports stadium complex to be used when Laos hosts the 2009 Southeast Asia Games, the arrangement apparently angered some in the LPRP who were not consulted on the deal. Although the government has been at pains to dispel these rumors, they continue to persist.

Former Lao president Kaysone Phomvihan once said, "The mountains may wear out, rivers may run dry, but the Lao-Vietnam relationship will last forever." That may be true, due to geography as much as history, but China-Vietnam competition for influence in Laos is running high and so far the country has benefited nicely in balancing the two neighbors' advances.

Brian McCartan is a Chiang Mai-based freelance journalist. He may be reached at
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Friday, August 29, 2008

Thailand and Cambodia trying to tie up oil contract

Negotiations involving claims to undersea oil and natural gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand are dragging on for Thailand and Cambodia.

The two countries had opened negotiations in 1995 in a bid to tap into potentially rich reserves; the talks leading to a memorandum of understanding signed in 2001 by the Thai and Cambodian prime ministers.

The two countries agreed in principle to join in development and share profits from a total of eight blocks of petroleum fields in an overlapping claims area, but the agreement still needs approval of the Thai House of Representatives to comply with international treaty agreements.

Committees and working groups are working to seek an agreeable solution for the whole 26,000-square-kilometre area which is under dispute.

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Better factories for Cambodia

By Eric Beauchemin

In 1994, Cambodia began to emerge from decades of instability, war and genocide. Companies started setting up garment factories, which today account for 80 percent of Cambodia's export earnings. Initially, most of the factories were sweatshops, but since 2001 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has been running a unique programme to improve working conditions in the industry.

The Better Factories programme is the result of a trade accord signed between the United States and Cambodia in 1999. Washington agreed to give the Southeast Asian nation quotas in return for an improvement in working conditions in the garment sector. Neither side knew how to measure whether that was actually happening, so they approached the ILO.

Poor conditions
Initially, says Ros Harvey, the Better Factories' chief technical advisor, the conditions were quite poor. "But over the past five years," she says:
"We've seen a significant improvement. For example, wages are now regularly paid, as is overtime, and women get maternity leave. However there are still problems. It's not a perfect world in Cambodia, but we are engaged in a process of improvement that is delivering real benefits to working people."

The Better Factories programme doesn't only monitor the garment industry. It also helps factories improve working conditions. Over half of the Better Factories' budget is spent in training and education.

In 1995, GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, decided that industrialised countries had 10 years to open their textile and garment industries. It gave developed countries some breathing space, forcing companies in developing countries, such as China and India, but also Cambodia, to pay extra to export their products to countries in the European Union, North America and elsewhere.

Experts predicted that the phasing out of quotas would decimate the garment industries of countries like Cambodia because they wouldn't be able to compete. But that hasn't happened, says Ros Harvey.

"The government, employers and unions have agreed that they're trying to pursue a market niche, where compliance with labour standards matters. As a result, both the quantity and value of Cambodian garment exports have increased."

"I think that this creates a degree of optimism that there are companies that care about this. It shows that a developing country can capture the benefits of globalisation for its workers by insisting that the labour laws are respected."

Success story
One of the success stories in the Better Factories programme is New Island Clothing (Cambodia) Limited, which was set up five years ago by a British group on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. It employs nearly 600 people and manufactures clothes for companies around the world.

The company has committed itself to exceeding government and international employment and labour standards. General manager Adrian Ross (photo) says:
"Our intention was to bring to Cambodia a factory that would be considered to be of a world-class standard and to create a good environment for our potential Cambodian employees. We believe that a good factory is well-organised, creating the products and environment for good quality work. When customers come along and see that the place is properly structured and looks right and feels right, they're confident to put their product in with us."

Corporate social responsibility
Cambodia is the only country in the world where the ILO publishes the names of factories and their progress in making improvements. Ros Harvey: "This is very unique, particularly in the context of corporate social responsibility or CSR. It means that international companies that are sourcing in a developing country should try to ensure that working conditions in their supply chain comply with the law. In Cambodia, we're actually monitoring that and also providing information in a transparent manner. This ensures that CSR is not just window-dressing."

Unexpected results
Most of the workers in the garment sector, which represents 80 percent of Cambodia's export earnings, are women. On average, they earn 60 dollars, compared to the average monthly salary of 20 dollars. It may not seem like much, but it can make a huge difference in the lives of these women and their families. Many of the employees send up to half the wages to their families in the countryside.

The Better Factories programme is having unexpected results, says Ros Harvey.
"The status of women has improved significantly in their families, where they are the principle breadwinner. In Cambodia, that is a very important thing. Women have very low status compared to men. There are very worrying trends in terms of domestic violence and the attitude of men to women. If this sector of the economy and these opportunities can correct some of that and create a better status for women, I think that is a really positive impact as well."

Child labour
The Better Factories programme is also helping eliminate one of the major problems in Southeast Asia: child labour. Most of the women working in factories today are over 18. According to Ros Harvey,

"The ILO puts a lot of lot of emphasis on maternity protection and the right to breast-feeding, which is protected by Cambodian law, to ensure that women really do have those options so that they can combine their family and their working life. Because this is one of the few opportunities for what are relatively good incomes in Cambodia, you're seeing more women staying in the work force rather than just leaving when they get married."
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Condom lubricant popular acne cure for Cambodian women

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - A condom lubricant designed for sex workers and gay men has become a popular acne cure among female Cambodians, women in the capital and local media said Thursday.

Number One Plus, a water-based lubricant produced by health organisation Population Services International (PSI), is an excellent cure for acne, 29-year-old vendor Tep Kemyoeurn told AFP.

"After I used it for three days, all of my acne dried up and went away," she said. "Many people believe in it," she added.

Khen Vanny, 29, from Phnom Penh, told AFP that women of all ages have taken to using the lubricant to get rid of spots.

"It is very effective. Some people don't believe in it but people who do really get a good result," she said, adding: "My youngest sister and my aunt use it too."

Another woman told Khmer-language Kampuchea Thmey newspaper that she had used many kinds of medicine to treat acne but none had worked.

"After that my friends, who work at garment factories in Phnom Penh, advised me to apply the lubricant from Number One Plus condoms on my face every night," she told the paper.

"And just within three to four nights, the acne on my face gradually and then totally disappeared," she added.

A vendor near a factory in the coastal city of Sihanoukville told the newspaper that she sold packets of Number One Plus lubricant for 500 riels (12 cents) to many women every day.

The paper urged experts to conduct research about the phenomenon.

PSI were not immediately available for comment on the apparent cosmetic benefits of their product.

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Group discovers large threatened monkey populations in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — There are "surprisingly large" populations of two globally threatened monkey species in a protected area in Cambodia, a conservation group said Friday.

The US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) counted 42,000 black-shanked douc langurs and 2,500 yellow-cheeked crested gibbons in a study of Cambodia's Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, the group said.

"At present all evidence does suggest that Cambodia has the largest populations in the world of both the black-shanked douc and the yellow-cheeked crested gibbon," Edward Pollard, a WCS scientist who worked on the census in the northeastern protected area, told AFP.

The two populations started to recover in 2002 when the Cambodian government established the Seima conservation area, and numbers have remained stable since 2005, said WCS in a statement.

Before the recent discovery, the largest known populations were believed to be in adjacent Vietnam, where black-shanked douc langurs and yellow-cheeked crested gibbons hover at 600 and 200 respectively, WCS said.

"The total population of the two species remains unknown," the organisation said.

WCS attributed the Cambodian monkey boon to several factors, including successful management of the area, cessation of logging activities and a nationwide gun confiscation programme implemented in the 1990s.

However the group warned the protected area is still at risk from growing plantations and commercial mining operations.
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pol Pot Victims From Killing Fields Plan Resorts by Angkor Wat

By Yoolim Lee and Netty Ismail

August 28 (Bloomberg) -- Kith Meng grew up in Australia as an orphan and a refugee from Cambodia's genocide. He tells of washing dishes and mowing lawns to make ends meet while living in Canberra. Being a poor outsider made him stronger, he says, and unusually driven.

Back in Cambodia since 1991, Kith Meng, 39, has built his Royal Group into an empire that owns Cambodia's biggest mobile phone company and television network and is developing a $2 billion resort and casino on a fishermen's island on Cambodia's coast. The country's most successful businessman, he supports Prime Minister Hun Sen and benefits from his ties to the government, which granted the 99-year lease on the island for his resort. Kith Meng is a Neak Oknha, an honor the royal family confers on a few of the wealthiest members of society.

Black-and-white photographs of Kith Meng's parents adorn one wall of his office in the capital city of Phnom Penh. They starved to death during Pol Pot's reign, when Cambodia's fertile countryside became the killing fields -- two victims among the 1.7 million, or 20 percent of the population, who perished. Kith Meng fled the terror, first to a refugee camp in Thailand and then, in 1981, to Australia. ``Suffering is my mentor,'' he says.

Thousands of former refugees, with their own harrowing stories, have returned to Cambodia, and now investors hoping to profit in the next frontier market -- a term Standard & Poor's coined for economies smaller or less developed than traditional emerging markets -- are coming to the country, too.

`Discovery Story'

The entrepreneurial drive and technical skills the returnees bring with them from overseas are breathing life into the economy. Three decades after Pol Pot exterminated the country's educated classes and emptied its cities, Cambodia's gross domestic product is just $8 billion a year.

Political and business leaders are grappling with poverty, inadequate health care, poor education and a lack of roads in this nation of 14 million. Corruption is slowing progress, says Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador.

``The trick with a frontier market is getting the timing right,'' says Douglas Clayton, who founded Leopard Cambodia Fund LP last year and is raising $100 million to invest in real estate, banking and agribusiness. ``Cambodia is really a discovery story -- and it's being discovered.''

Cambodia grew 9.5 percent a year from 2000 to '07, the fastest pace in Asia after China, which expanded 9.9 percent a year. Political stability under the administration of Hun Sen, 56, has helped the Cambodian economy take off, says Bretton Sciaroni, chairman of the American Cambodian Business Council in Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen

Hun Sen has run the country since 1985. He came to prominence as a communist while the Vietnamese occupied the country, having pushed Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge from the capital. He strengthened his grip with a landslide victory for his Cambodian People's Party in July's parliamentary elections. An opposition leader has alleged manipulation of voter rolls, and the royalist party that shared power in the 1990s has been reduced to two seats in the legislature.

Clothing exports and tourism have buoyed the tiny economy, though the revenue of any of the world's 500 largest companies would still dwarf Cambodia's annual economic output.

A 1994 law to open the country to foreign investors has encouraged some to put money in. Approved foreign direct investment rose to a record $4.4 billion in 2006, according to the Cambodian Investment Board. Investors can own 100 percent of a company, and they face no restrictions on taking money in and out of the country -- in contrast to China or Vietnam.

First KFC

From 1994 to 2007, foreign exchange reserves expanded 16-fold to $1.6 billion. Cambodia is scheduled to open its first stock and corporate bond markets by the end of 2009.

Global companies have opened offices in Phnom Penh, encouraged by the robust economic growth -- and by the prospects of oil and gas development following a discovery off Cambodia's coast in 2005 by Chevron Corp. They include power-turbine maker General Electric Co., Microsoft Corp. and London-based Knight Frank LLP, a property consultant. Kith Meng has brought Phnom Penh a KFC chicken restaurant, the nation's first foreign fast-food chain.

Government revenue from Chevron's planned project could reach $1.7 billion when peak production is reached in 2021, an International Monetary Fund report said last year.

``The significant oil discovery by Chevron really was the one that pushed me over the edge,'' says Stuart Dean, president for Southeast Asia at GE, which also provides aircraft leasing, water treatment and health-care services. The company may invest in health-care and energy projects, Dean says. Today in Cambodia, electricity costs three times as much as in Thailand.

Outdated Views

Still, the business council's Sciaroni, a former lawyer at the White House under President Ronald Reagan, says perceptions of Cambodia have not caught up to the changes. In May, a U.S. State Department official inquired on behalf of an executive if it would be safe to visit Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, the five-towered archaeological wonder. ``He wanted to know about bandits and land mines,'' he says. ``I said this is ancient history.''

If Cambodia is about to take off on the same trajectory as Vietnam to its east or Thailand on its western border, the time to get in is now, says Robert Ash, a former executive at the asset management arm of insurer American International Group Inc. ``Where the perceived risks are greater than actual risks, investment opportunities are the result,'' Ash says. ``Such is the case of Cambodia.''

Investors familiar with Thailand and Vietnam have been among the first to spot the changes taking place in Cambodia. ``In the past, when you went to a dinner party here, everybody would be talking about politics,'' says Leopard's Clayton, 47, who used to run the Thailand office of CLSA Securities, a Hong Kong-based brokerage. ``Last year, when I came, nobody was talking about politics. Everyone was talking about property, investments, deals, like everywhere else in the world.''

Frontier Market

Besides Leopard, at least two other private equity funds have been established to capitalize on Cambodia as a frontier market. Cambodia is outpacing Asia's other frontier markets in Bangladesh, Laos, Mongolia and Myanmar, says Clayton. Cambodia is represented by just one company in the S&P/IFCG Extended Frontier 150 Index.

Marvin Yeo and Kim-Song Tan, co-founders of Phnom Penh-based Cambodia Investment & Development Fund, say they noticed the buzz when they visited the capital city in May 2007 to deliver speeches to senior government officials on how to develop capital markets.

Indeed, the streets of Phnom Penh are filled with traffic and roadside vendors who sell everything from motorbikes and household goods to tropical fruits and local snacks. Multistory office buildings, residential towers and bridges are under construction. From 2004 to '07, the number of cars in Cambodia doubled to 200,000, according to figures from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Rogers, Faber

Yeo and Tan are raising $250 million for their private equity fund. They brought in Ash, the former AIG executive, as an adviser, along with Jim Rogers, a former hedge fund manager who predicted the start of the commodities boom in 1999.

Rogers, who has circled the world by motorcycle in search of investment ideas and now mostly invests his own money, says he was surprised by Cambodia's progress. ``It's got a lot of great things going for it,'' he says. Marc Faber, an investor who forecast a bust in Asia before the region's financial crisis in 1997, is also an adviser.

``Cambodia is Vietnam 8 to 10 years ago and Thailand 20 years ago,'' says Yeo, a former financing specialist at the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. He says the boom will move fast in Cambodia, because it's a smaller country than Thailand or Vietnam and has more pro-business policies. ``You can expect to see very time-compressed growth in Cambodia,'' he says.

Following Vietnam

Vietnam, with six times as many people as Cambodia, may be the model -- and the cautionary tale. The benchmark index for Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange surged almost fivefold in two years to a peak on March 12, 2007. By June of this year, it had lost more than two-thirds of its peak value.

Investors face many hurdles in Cambodia -- not just the risk of getting in late. In a report this year, the World Bank and International Finance Corp. ranked Cambodia 145th out of 178 countries as a place to do business. The assessment weighed criteria such as how difficult it is to register property, secure credit or move goods across borders.

In Transparency International's 2007 survey of perceptions about corruption, the Berlin-based watchdog group put Cambodia among the world's worst, ranking it 162nd among 180 countries.

``The rule of law needs to be more central to Cambodian society and business,'' Ambassador Mussomeli said in a speech to mark the opening of an aluminum can factory in Phnom Penh in December by an affiliate of Crown Holdings Inc., the U.S.-based packaging manufacturer. ``Cambodia will lose a great many of its potential investors if it does not fiercely combat corruption,'' said Mussomeli, who is scheduled to leave his post at the end of August.


As much as $500 million a year is diverted from government coffers, the U.S. Agency for International Development estimated in 2004 in its most recent report on the issue.

John Brinsden, vice chairman of Acleda Bank, Cambodia's biggest bank, says the country's attitude toward business is laissez-faire. ``You are apt to get a few people who're going to take shortcuts all over the place,'' he says.

Kith Meng, the country's most prominent business leader, has a gap in his resume. A chamber of commerce biography says he earned his ``B.S. Economics & Political Science at the Australian National University'' in Canberra. He repeated this piece of his biography in an interview.

``The Australian National University is unable to find any record of Kith Meng ever attending or graduating,'' Jane O'Dwyer, a spokeswoman for the school, said in an e-mail. In addition, the degree he describes is not offered, she said.


After being told of the discrepancy, Kith Meng said he attended the school for two years and didn't graduate. ``What year, I can't recall,'' he said.

``Newly emerging and developing markets like Cambodia do tend to attract entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes,'' Brinsden says. He declines to comment on Kith Meng.

NagaCorp Ltd., a gaming company that has a government-granted monopoly on casinos in Phnom Penh, initially failed to list its shares on stock exchanges in Hong Kong and Singapore. The exchanges said internal money-laundering controls were inadequate. NagaCorp managed to list its shares in Hong Kong in 2006 after working with U.S. consultants to develop better practices. It's the only publicly traded Cambodian company.

``After that experience, we gathered much more capability and credibility,'' said Malaysian tycoon Chen Lip Keong, who owns 62 percent of NagaCorp.

Business Meeting

Hun Sen hasn't passed an anti-corruption law, despite pledging in 2003 to push it through the assembly. The leader says he wants to diversify the economy to reduce its dependence on textiles and tourism. Clothing and other manufacturing account for 26 percent of the country's GDP, agriculture makes up 31 percent and tourism and other services 43 percent.

Every six months, Hun Sen sits down with top executives from the private sector to find ways to eliminate obstacles to doing business in the country. The meeting is broadcast nationwide. Its decisions immediately get addressed with legislation.

Crown's can factory got built partly because the government was quick to react to the company's concerns. In 2005, Crown was hesitating because of Cambodia's 7 percent import tariff on raw aluminum compared with 1 percent or no tariff in most countries. Company representatives met with Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh and Economy and Finance Minister Keat Chhon. Soon after, the government scrapped the tariff.

The company opened its Phnom Penh factory last year. ``You have to listen to the private sector,'' Cham Prasidh, 57, says.

Genocide Survivor

During the Khmer Rouge genocide, Cham Prasidh survived by disguising his identity and education. He told the Khmer Rouge he was blind and was given the task of burying hundreds of bodies of those who were executed or killed by disease or starvation. Cham Prasidh says he lost 74 members of his family, including his father, a parliament member who was executed; only his younger sister and brother survived.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge rose to power in the chaos that engulfed Indochina during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early '70s. As fighting spilled across the border and the U.S. Air Force bombed inside Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge gained strength in remote mountainous areas.

General Lon Nol, in a coup in 1970, ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk and overthrew the constitutional monarchy. By 1975, the Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and toppled Lon Nol. Paris- educated Saloth Sar, who later took the name Pol Pot, renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea and declared it was Year Zero, according to David Chandler's book The Tragedy of Cambodian History (Yale University Press, 1991).

Year Zero

The Khmer Rouge set about creating a purely agricultural society. Money, markets and private property were abolished. Schools, universities and monasteries were closed. Tens of thousands of professionals were executed and many more citizens died of starvation and disease.

In the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, black-and- white portrait photos of thousands of genocide victims fill the walls. The museum is in a former high school where the Khmer Rouge imprisoned, tortured and killed an estimated 17,000 people.

In late December 1978, Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia. They captured Phnom Penh on Jan. 7, 1979. The Khmer Rouge fled to near the Thai border, where Pol Pot lived until his death in a jungle hideout in 1998.

Hun Sen is a former Khmer Rouge officer -- he lost an eye while fighting as a guerilla. He fled to Vietnam in 1977. By 1979, he was back. At the age of 26, he became minister of foreign affairs in the Vietnamese-backed government. On the strength of his ambition, bureaucratic skills and loyalty to the Vietnamese, Hun Sen rose to prime minister by 1985.


The Vietnamese remained in the country and fought the Khmer Rouge through the 1980s. A peace settlement signed in Paris in 1991, restoring the royal family and setting the country on a path to elections, finally allowed Cambodia to begin rebuilding.

Cham Prasidh is one of Hun Sen's longest-serving government colleagues. He returned to Phnom Penh from the rural areas a year after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge. He joined the foreign affairs ministry and within three months became Hun Sen's private secretary.

The violence of Pol Pot's time, and the uncertain years that followed, have left the country to this day without the factories, roads and bridges needed to make and move basic supplies.

`Country Needs Everything'

``Other than bricks, we have to import pretty much everything,'' says Jung Myung Sik, a representative of South Korea's World City Co., which is constructing a $2 billion complex called Camko City near Boeung Kak Lake, a 20-minute drive from Phnom Penh's central district. Camko City, modeled on a successful satellite city outside Seoul, will include the planned stock exchange, residential and commercial buildings, three schools and a medical center.

``This country needs everything -- electricity, steel, cement, broadband, bookstores,'' Jung says. ``This is a big challenge for us. The situation can only improve in time.''

Khaou Phallaboth, who returned to Cambodia in 1991, is among those trying to create the industry the country needs. He spent some of his 20 years as a refugee in Paris and Brussels as a Buddhist monk and an artist.

He and his father, Khaou Chuly, have rebuilt the family construction business decimated by the Khmer Rouge. Khaou Chuly Group has set up a venture with Siam Cement Pcl, Thailand's biggest cement producer, to make 1 million tons of cement a year. Khaou Phallaboth, now 47, plans to triple capacity to meet the country's demand of 3 million tons.

50 Cents a Day

He also plans to expand into agribusiness, securing land to grow rice and rubber. He is in talks to form a venture with Clermont-Ferrand, France-based Michelin & Cie., the world's second-largest tiremaker, to export the rubber. Known to friends as ``Peck,'' Khaou Phallaboth has, like Kith Meng, been proclaimed an Oknha, which means lord in the Khmer language.

A third of the country's people still live on less than 50 cents a day. Eighty percent live in rural areas, and 60 percent of the population is younger than age 20.

Just eight kilometers (five miles) southwest of Phnom Penh, some 800 families live in shacks built on bamboo stilts above a vast garbage dump. Barefoot children, some abandoned by their parents, pick garbage to survive.

Today, former refugees who have seen wrenching hardships of their own run Cambodia's economy. They're spurring growth -- and creating a measure of glamour -- in this still-impoverished land.

Kith Meng owns a hotel on the banks of the Mekong River in Phnom Penh and is planning a boutique resort with India's Oberoi Group near Angkor Wat.

Island Resort

In his office overlooking the Royal Palace in one direction and Cambodia's first shopping mall in another, he flips through a 20-page document that outlines his island resort-casino plan, which will take more than a decade to complete. He declines to say how much Royal Group is paying the government for the island lease. He says Cambodia is still hungry for investment and expansion. ``Every sector of the economy will drive growth,'' he says.

Public Works and Transport Minister Chanthol Sun, 52, is another former refugee lured back by the chance to play a role in transforming his country. He lost his mother and a brother when the Khmer Rouge drove the population out of the cities. The rest of the family managed to escape to a refugee camp in Thailand. He had been sent to the U.S. in 1973, escaping the violence with a one-way airplane ticket and $50 in his pocket.

After earning a master's degree in public administration at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he went to work at GE. Then came a call for help that Chanthol Sun decided he couldn't turn down. The Cambodian government asked him to set up a Cambodia development council, and he came back in 1994 to the country of his birth.

``When I worked at GE, I worked hard for the shareholders, but who are they?'' he says. ``Here, my shareholders are men, women and children in the streets I see every day.''

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Thai protesters defy orders to end siege

BANGKOK - Thousands of Thai protesters trying to bring down the prime minister again defied orders Thursday to end their siege of government offices, forming human shields to protect their leaders from arrest.

The courts have ordered them to clear out of Government House immediately and issued arrest warrants for nine of the protest leaders, but the alliance against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej remained defiant.

"If nine of us are arrested, you must continue to rally here," said 73-year-old Chamlong Srimuang, one of the key figures in the months-long campaign by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to force Samak to resign.

Rumours spread overnight that the thousands of police massed outside the compound in downtown Bangkok were preparing to enter and force the demonstrators out.

"It's our victory that police did not storm and arrest us last night," Chamlong told cheering protesters, who have spent two nights and a day camped out sheltering from the rain and sun under umbrellas.

The PAD movement, which has been protesting since May, says Samak is a mere figurehead running the country on behalf of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is barred from holding office.

PAD protests helped lead to the putsch that unseated the populist Thaksin, and the entry to government of his ally Samak has infuriated the country's old power elites in the military and palace.

Samak, who was elected last December, has said he will use a "soft and gentle" approach with the group, and despite tense moments overnight police standing guard around Government House kept a low-key presence.

"At this moment there are more than 10,000 protesters inside," deputy government spokesman Nuttawut Saikua told AFP.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said many police appeared to have left the enclosure overnight, while the PAD has installed their own checkpoints with volunteer guards searching everybody trying to enter the rally site.

The government's patience with the group appears to be wearing thin, and a poll Wednesday showed that the majority of Bangkok residents were also fed up with the antics of the group claiming loyalty to the revered monarchy.

The crisis began early Tuesday when up to 35,000 anti-government demonstrators stormed a state-run TV station and surrounded at least three ministries before finally invading the grounds of Government House.

A senior police officer, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to talk to the media, said the Metropolitan Police top brass were planning their next steps.

"They will prepare documents and hopefully by early afternoon police will enter Government House with a court injunction and arrest warrants to meet with protest leaders," the officer told AFP.

The Criminal Court on Wednesday issued arrest warrants for nine people, including the five PAD leaders, on charges including treason -- which carries the death penalty -- and illegal assembly.
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Cambodia traffic the most deadly in Asean

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia is now officially home to the most dangerous roads in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, officials said Thursday.

Cambodian drivers are infamous for their blithe disregard for traffic laws, let alone the laws of physics, and as roads improve rapidly this combination resulted in an average of 4.5 people dying on the country's roads every day, new statistics said - up from 3.7 in 2006.

Figures by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport for the first half of 2008 show 3,870 documented traffic accidents, resulting in 6,839 people injured and 956 killed - nearly 15 per cent higher than the same time last year, with 833 fatalities reported.

"We have to rush to educate people on the traffic laws," the ministry's secretary-general of transport, Ung Chun Hour, said by telephone. "And we have to enforce laws like helmets for motorbike riders and their passengers."

The ministry did not provide updated comparisons to other Asean countries, but said Cambodia's fatality rate puts it ahead of much larger nations such as the Philippines, also known for road chaos.

The government spent millions on driver education, taking out television and newspaper advertisements and setting up driver education centres, after the Asian Development Bank estimated accidents cost the country 3 per cent of its GDP in 2003 alone.

However, poorly paid traffic police often lack the will to enforce the law and a "fine" of 1.25 dollars (or 2.50 dollars if the driver insists on a receipt) usually makes the traffic violation go away.

Drunk driving is also rampant, but Cambodia has no more sophisticated ways of testing if a driver is over the limit than smelling his or her breath - usually after the accident.

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Thailand postpones border spat talks: Cambodian general

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Anti-government protests in Bangkok have caused the Thai military to postpone talks to discuss withdrawing troops from a disputed border area near an ancient temple, a Cambodian general said Thursday.

Twenty soldiers from Cambodia and Thailand remain stationed at a small pagoda on a patch of disputed land near Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple, while 40 from both sides remain nearby.

Up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops pulled back from the area in mid-August, suggesting that an end to the sometimes tense six-week military stand-off could be near.

But Cambodian and Thai military officials scheduled to meet Friday to discuss a further pullback of troops postponed their talks at the request of Thai officials, Cambodian General Neang Phat, a secretary of state at the defence ministry, told AFP Thursday.

The request was made Wednesday afternoon, just hours after a 30-member Thai delegation arrived in Siem Reap to prepare for the talks, he said.

"They requested the meeting be postponed and they returned to Thailand," General Neang Phat said.

"They did not give any reasons. But we can know that it is because of their internal problems," he added.

A Thai foreign ministry official later confirmed the postponement but said both sides forced the delay.

"The meeting was postponed because both sides are not yet ready due to their internal processes," he said.

"A new meeting date will be rescheduled as soon as possible and the meeting will still be held in Cambodia as agreed," he said.

Thousands of Thai protesters seized a television station and occupied the the main government compound in Bangkok this week in an attempt to force the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

Cambodian General Neang Phat said it was not clear when Thai and Cambodian military officials would resume the meeting to discuss troop withdrawals.

After talks last week between Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong, the two sides said a border committee would meet in October to step up efforts to draw the boundary around the temple.

Cambodia had asked the UN Security Council to consider the standoff that erupted in July, but Hor Namhong said that request would likely be withdrawn.

Relations between the neighbours flared up last month after Preah Vihear was awarded world heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the ancient Khmer temple.

On July 15, Cambodia arrested three Thai protesters for illegally crossing the border to try to reach the temple, sparking the deployment of troops from both sides on the tiny patch of disputed land near Preah Vihear.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CAMBODIA: Hydropower projects lack transparency, could displace thousands

PHNOM PENH, 27 August 2008 (IRIN) - Over the past year Phnom Penh has been considering several multi-million dollar dam projects around the lush Cardamom mountains and in other regions which threaten the country's wildlife and, if implemented, could lead to the displacement of thousands of people.

“The prime minister has been pushing to build these dams very quickly,” said Seng Bunra, Cambodia’s country director for Conservation International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working to protect rainforests worldwide. “'We need to make sure the feasibility studies are not rushed, and that care is taken in their construction.”

Bunra is especially concerned about a hydropower project on the Areng river, which he says could flood 20,000 hectares and displace some 1,500 primarily indigenous people.

The government has appeared to be unwilling to discuss the feasibility and environmental effects of the dam, he said.

“They [the government] had a research team studying the feasibility of the Areng project,” Bunra told IRIN, “but they just… kept it private, and then stopped studying it.”

Lack of public consultation

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) [see:], which sets international hydropower standards, says construction locations should be determined through a public consultation process.

A joint report by the NGOs International Rivers (IR) and the Rivers Coalition in Cambodia (RCC) also concluded that “hydropower development in Cambodia has proceeded in the absence of meaningful public consultation and an overall lack of transparency in the decision-making process.”

The report points out that Prime Minister Hun Sen and his cabinet have repeatedly made decisions regarding hydropower “behind closed doors”.

“We're still not certain on the actual roles of the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy, and the National Electricity Authority,” said Ngy San, director of the RCC. “We're concerned the government has not been releasing this information publicly, but the prime minister seems to be the main decision-maker regardless.”

Representatives from the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy were unavailable for comment.

China's influence

To counteract spiralling electricity prices (some of the highest in the world, according to the World Bank), the government has embraced a development plan tapping into Cambodia's vast river resources, with annual funding from Beijing (US$600 million) that almost equals the total of Western donor monetary aid.

In April, Chinese Foreign Minister Wen Jiabao promised $1 billion in aid to Cambodia specifically for two hydropower projects, which have since materialised into the Stung Tatay and Stung Russey Chrum Krom dams.

Unlike aid from Western governments and NGOs, Chinese aid comes with no good governance or transparency strings attached. Premier Hun Sen praised China after an earlier $600 million aid package in 2006 for not “interfering with the internal affairs of Cambodia”.

However, whether Chinese companies will build dams that meet international environmental and social standards remains questionable, says the IR report

China's largest hydropower firm, Sinohydro Corporation, will build the $280 million Kamchay dam inside a major national park, potentially flooding 2,000 hectares of protected forest, the report warns.

Sinohydro, owned by the Chinese government, was “downgraded” in 2006 after a government review - for its poor performance and for unspecified safety and environmental accidents - the IR report notes.

The details of many hydropower contracts - particularly Sinohydro's - remain unknown. Cambodian lawmakers were asked to endorse the Sinohydro deal in 2006 without even having had access to the contract, according to the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

Environmental concerns

Another dam project under way on the Atay river threatens endangered Siamese crocodiles, which rely on the river's seasonal levels for breeding.

Various species of turtle, fish, and birds are also at risk, according to Flora and Fauna International, an NGO that protects two wildlife sanctuaries in the Cardamom Mountains.

Local diets depend particularly on fish, of which several species may face significantly reduced populations, according to Flora and Fauna.

The Atay dam will flood 3,560 hectares of protected forest in the Phnom Samkok Wildlife Sanctuary, and 5,193 hectares in total, according to a recent assessment by the Chinese Danang Corporation.

“In terms of conservation, it's a lot of land,” Bunra told IRIN. “We cannot stop the development projects in these areas, but we can only ask the government and companies to reduce the environmental impact.”

Government’s stanceThe official stance of the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy states that the Cardamom Mountains consist of over one million hectares, making 5,000 hectares worth sacrificing to lower energy costs in Cambodia.

Thorn Kimhong, who directs the Cardamom natural protected areas for the Ministry of Environment, said the Atay dam was necessary. “The dams must be built,” he told IRIN. “We need it for lower energy prices and for developing Cambodia.”

But for the thousands of residents who could be displaced, uncertainty lies ahead.

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Government to investigate impact of sand dredgers

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sand from the Mekong are being sucked from the banks and shipped to Singapore, which some say could be destructive

The Ministry of Water Resources is set to investigate and possibly ban dozens of illegal sand-pumping companies on the Mekong River, ministry officials told the Post Tuesday.

"We will take measures against companies that illegally pump sand along the Mekong," said Secretary of State Veng Sakhon.

Singapore has been buying massive amounts of sand to expand its land, but has had trouble sourcing the material.

Indonesia and the Philippines are among the countries that have banned most sand sales because of its destructive impact on riverbeds and shorelines.

Cambodia is one of the only countries that still allows sand dredging in protected areas.

Veng Sakhon said Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor has already reported to Prime Minister Hun Sen about illegal sand-pumping companies, especially boats pumping sand along the river in Russey Keo district's Kien Klang commune.

"Hun Sen agreed with the minister on the need for action," Veng Sakhon said. "He will make a decision this weekend," he said.

He added that some mobile pumping companies plying the rivers claim to be doing business in the name of high-ranking government officials.

"Some businesses claim that they know this or that official, but we don't believe them," Veng Sakhon said.

"We need an investigation." He added that other companies use falsified licences to stay in operation.

Illegal sand pumping contributes to bank erosion along the Mekong and could seriously affect the lives of villagers near the river, Veng Sakhon said.

"I have received several complaints from villagers and officials about illegal sand pumping," he said.

But the ministry has also encouraged legal businesses to export sand to Vietnam and Singapore.

20 licensed companies
Pov Chantha, director general for Sand Resource Co Ltd, said his company exported a total of 200,000 square metres of sand to Singapore via Vietnam in the first half of 2008.

Sand Resource, established earlier this year, is one of at least 20 licensed companies shipping sand to Singapore, Pov Chantha said, adding that due to its high quality, Cambodia's mountain and river sand sells for as much as US$6 per square metre in Vietnamese ports.


Our sand is much better quality than sand available in Vietnam.


"Cambodia exports directly from Phnom Penh to Singapore, and we pay import and export taxes," said Pov Chantha.

"The Mekong has never been dredged, and if we did not pump sand it would become too shallow in the future."

He said that, as a legal business, Sand Resource has paid $200,000 to Cambodia's customs department and the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy for its exports and the same amount to the Vietnam Tax Department at the Vietnamese port.

Cambodia exports sand to Singapore principally for use in beaches, construction and road building.

"We can export as much as the market needs," Pov Chantha said. "Our sand is much better in quality than sand available in Vietnam."

Pov Chantha questioned what he said is excessive taxation by the government, saying that the Mekong River was as much as 20 metres deep during the 1960s but is now only about eight metres.

"I wonder why the government is even taxing us at all because we are helping to make the river deeper," he said.

"I have heard that the ministry once sought $100 million in financing to pump out silt from the river."

He also questioned the potential impact that pumping sand could have on the river banks.

"I don't think riverbanks along the Mekong and Tonle Bassac will collapse because of sand-pumping companies, but rather because of the flow of water during the rainy season," he said.

Ith Praing, secretary of state at the ministry, said sand is a national mineral and should be properly controlled by a joint committee with the Ministry of Water Resources.

Complaints filed
Dang Chamroeun, first chief of Chruoy Changvar commune, said there are a few hundred boats dredging sand from the river each day along the banks of the peninsula, especially along National Road 6A.

"Local residents have filed complaints to related ministries for authorities to take action but have received no answer," Dang Chamroeun said.

He said commune authorities used to catch the boats, but they were released after four or five days and continued dredging in the same place. "The people feel disappointed with that," he said.
Residents fear that their homes will eventually fall into the river if the dredging continues and the river gets deeper, he said.

He added that one house in Deum Koe village has already been destroyed by eroding banks and many others have been abandoned.

"I don't understand the technical studies about the effects of dredging or the licences companies hold to do business," Dang Chamroeun said.

He said there were no problems in the area before the dredging started but that villagers in Prek Pra commune along the Bassac River now fear that dredging will result in eroding riverbanks.

Most disturbing to conservationists is the presence of sand dredging in protected areas where companies are apparently operating without permission from the Ministry of Environment," he said.

"If you take too much sand from a river, it affects the shore and the forests nearby ... some of the areas the companies are operating are very sensitive," said Bunra Seng, the country director of Conservation International (CI).

He said CI is monitoring sand dredging in the Central Cardamom protected forest.
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Soldiers stationed on border will be given land, prime minister says

Govt announces new social land concession for troops in a bid to strengthen border security

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has called for land concessions to be given to soldiers serving along the Cambodia-Thai border in a move that is hoped to populate the Kingdom's frontier and strengthen it against incursions, the Council of Ministers said.

"Hun Sen's plan is to develop roads throughout the northwest and to provide for soldiers and their families serving in the region," said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan. "He was a solider, so he understands the needs of soldiers and their family members."

The new plan follows announcements last week that military engineers will build new roads near the Preah Vihear and Ta Moan Thom temple complexes in response to a six-week standoff with Thailand over disputed border territory near the two temples.

San Vanna, deputy governor of Oddar Meanchey province, said the government has instructed him to prepare land for soldiers and their families near bases where they are currently stationed.

"We received orders to prepare land for the military," San Vanna said Monday. "The land is ready and we're working out the details."

Touch Ra, a soldier in Military Region 4 and deputy chief of Chom International Checkpoint, welcomed the plan.

"The prime minister's policy will be good for our soldiers and will encourage them to defend the border and our nation against Thailand," Touch Ra said. "It's an important step toward improving border security and the safety of the whole Kingdom."

A new strategy
Ke Kim Yan, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, visited soldiers last week at Preah Vihear and Ta Moan Thom temples, as well as in Anlong Veng district to evaluate current plans for new roads along the border.

Opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy welcomed the land concession measure but warned that high-ranking officials could use the opportunity to seize the best real estate for themselves and leave rank-and-file troops with little.

"It's a good idea ... but commanders will take the best land for themselves, while our troops will be left with smaller plots," Cheam Channy said.

Chea Mon, commander of Military Region 4, said provincial authorities, and not the military, would administer the land concessions.

"I am in contact with provincial authorities regarding the concessions, but it is their responsibility to apportion land to military families," he said Monday. He added that he does not know how authorities will ultimately distribute the concessions.

A high-ranking official with the Ministry of the Interior, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press, said that he had received no instructions about the proposed concessions but that the government has plenty of land waiting to be distributed to landless people.

"We are working to provide land for landless people in Kratie and Kampong Cham provinces, as well as other provinces," the official said. "We want to make sure it's given to the right people, not just military families."

Other measures to better secure border areas are under consideration, according to government spokesman Khieu Kanharith, who responded to a story in the Bangkok Post on Monday about a possible "Berlin-style" wall along the border with Thailand.

In a press release, Khieu Kanharith said a wall had never been proposed but that concrete markers and barriers could be built to help stop smuggling and other cross-border criminal activity, but only in areas agreed to by both countries.
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Court slashes sex crime sentence

Talking about Cambodia is talking about the leading corruption country in the world. Some crook even got away with murders. There is no wonder the Kangaroo judge won't need a big package with tasty meal. It is Cambodia Kingdom, the famous world for corruptions.

Written by Cheang Sokha

A Belgian national convicted in 2006 under the old debauchery laws had his original 18-year sentence reduced to just three years, causing alarm among anti-paedophile NGOs

AN appeals court Tuesday reduced by 15 years the sentence of a Belgian paedophile convicted of sexually abusing a Cambodian boy, citing a change in child abuse laws.

Philippe Dessart was arrested in April 2006 in Phnom Penh and charged with debauchery for the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy in a Veal Vong district guesthouse. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Presiding judge Oum Sarith said Tuesday the Court of Appeals upheld the November 2006 conviction by a lower court, but changed the charge from debauchery to indecent acts with a minor.

The court reduced Dessart's sentence to three years and imposed a fine of six million riels (US$1,500).

According to an announcement by the court, Dessart will spend only six more months in prison to complete the three-year term.

"I'm very satisfied with the announcement," said Dessart's defense lawyer, Nou Chantha, who attended the court hearing without his client.

"I will not file further appeals to the Supreme Court."

Dessart, 47 at the time of his arrest, first made contact with the boy through a local NGO before cultivating a private relationship with the child's family. The government's Anti-Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit arrested Dessart after acting on a tip from French NGO Action Pour les Enfants (APLE).

Change in the law
Cambodia used to apply its debauchery law to almost all sex crimes, but has recently updated its statutes to include the new charge of indecent acts.

Samleang Seila, country director for APLE, criticised the court's decision, saying it puts Cambodia's children at risk.

"I am very concerned about the reduction of Dessart's sentence," Samleang Seila said.

"It is an incentive for Dessart and other offenders to continue abusing our children. I am really not happy with the court.... The reduction of the sentence gives him more of a chance to commit further acts of abuse in Cambodia, and it is very concerning."

Dessart has admitted he was convicted in 1992 of child sex charges in Belgium and imprisoned for three years, but has repeatedly insisted he has done nothing wrong in Cambodia since first arriving in the country in 2001.

Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-paedophilia push in 2003 in a bid to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.
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Cambodian MP urges UN, ASEAN to fullfill Burma promise

A Cambodian Parliamentarian on Wednesday called on the Secretary Generals of the United Nations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations to fulfill their promise on Burma by initiating a new approach to finding a political solution for the country.

Son Chhay, Chairperson of Committee on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Media of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia, in separate letters on Wednesday reminded both the Secretary Generals of UN and ASEAN the need for them to abide by their promises on Burma.

“They have both promised to look into the sufferings of the Burmese people and find a solution to the crisis. But till date there is no solid evidence that the promise has been kept or put into practice,” Son Chhay told Mizzima over telephone.

Son Chhay, who is also the Chairperson of ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) Cambodia Chapter, said it is a matter of deep concern for the international community to hear reports about detained Burmese democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi living without food.

“I believe that she [Aung San Suu Kyi] is on hunger strike… I think it is the right time to remind them [UN and ASEAN General Secretaries], that they must abide to their promise,” Son Chhay.

Reports said Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under detention for the last 12 of 18 years, has refused to accept food supplies since mid-August, though the reason for her refusal is still not known.

A Burmese political party in exile told Mizzima earlier that Aung San Suu Kyi might be on hunger strike demanding direct talks with the ruling generals with regard to the ensuing 2010 general elections.

But spokesperson of her party – the National League for Democracy – Nyan Win said they could not confirm the information as they lack communication with their detained leader.

Son Chhay said Ban Ki-moon should realize that the current process of interaction with the Burmese military junta is not leading to a solution but is strengthening their rule.

Though Gambari had visited military-ruled country several times, there has been no productive outcome, Son Chhay said, adding that he agrees with Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision not to meet the UN envoy during his last visit.

“We want a more serious action. Perhaps, the UN Secretary General should appoint somebody else,” he added.

He said, Gambari had not been very effective or capable of producing any positive solution to the problems of Burma.

“I think it is about time that we find someone who is more capable,” Son Chhay added.

And similarly, Son Chhay urged the ASEAN Secretary General, Surin Pitsuwan, to pay a personal visit to Burma and find a realistic solution to the political crisis in the country.

Meanwhile, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), in a press statement released on Wednesday expressed its concern over reports of Aung San Suu Kyi refusing food.

The AIPMC called on the UN and ASEAN to intervene and to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi is given necessary attention.

The group urged the ASEAN Secretary-General to personally visit Aung San Suu Kyi and conduct a comprehensive assessment on her health.

“The Secretary General should also look into the reasons as to why she is refusing her food supply,” the statement said.

The group also said Aung San Suu Kyi’s refusal to meet visiting UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari last week is “an indication that his mandate is failing.”

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Brunei negotiates for rice imports from Cambodia says local media

Phnom Penh - A delegation from the Brunei Finance Ministry met with Cambodian Finance Minister Keat Chhon to discuss importing Cambodian rice and seed, local media reported Wednesday. The delegation, headed by Brunei Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary Dato Paduka Haj Ali Apong, had not reached any firm agreements on the amount of rice and seed Brunei would require or how soon, but that discussions went well, according to Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper.

The delegation is also scheduled to meet the Cambodian commerce and agriculture ministers as well as the Rural Development Bank and the Rice Millers Association of Cambodia, the paper said.

It did not state a scheduled duration for the visit.

Cambodia has said it aims to be a major rice exporter in the region, matching the current leader Thailand by 2015, and in recent months has negotiated with African nations, including Guinea, as well as Gulf states Kuwait and Qatar.

Brunei is a fellow of Cambodia in the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations and has already provided advice on tapping potential offshore oil reserves.

Sultan of Brunei Haji Hassanal Bolkiah visited Cambodia in April last year and the two countries have strong bilateral ties.

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Rat meat in demand in Cambodia as inflation bites

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The price of rat meat has quadrupled in Cambodia this year as inflation has put other meat beyond the reach of poor people, officials said on Wednesday.

With consumer price inflation at 37 percent according to the latest central bank estimate, demand has pushed a kilogram of rat meat up to around 5,000 riel (69 pence) from 1,200 riel last year.

Spicy field rat dishes with garlic thrown in have become particularly popular at a time when beef costs 20,000 riel a kg.

Officials said rats were fleeing to higher ground from flooded areas of the lower Mekong Delta, making it easier for villagers to catch them.

"Many children are happy making some money from selling the animals to the markets, but they keep some for their family," Ly Marong, an agriculture official, said by telephone from the Koh Thom district on the border with Vietnam.

"Not only are our poor eating it, but there is also demand from Vietnamese living on the border with us."

He estimated that Cambodia supplied more than a tonne of live rats a day to Vietnam.

Rats are also eaten widely in Thailand, while a state government in eastern India this month encouraged its people to eat.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Alan Raybould and Paul Tait)

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Psychologists bring long-buried mental disorders into the daylight

Written by Mom Kunthear

While many older Cambodians still think they are being tormented by evil spirits, younger people are turning to modern psychology to recognise stress and other mental illnesses

THE life of 53-year-old Sok Mach fell apart when her marriage failed and she lost one of her children to a preventable childhood disease.

When she began suffering incapacitating pains, she assumed she was simply delirious with grief. Unable to get her life back on track, she never suspected that she was suffering from an undiagnosed psychological disorder.

"I got headaches, I couldn't sleep and I would vomit almost every day," she recalled. "I went to see a doctor and they diagnosed me with psych-asthenia. Only then did things start to get better."

Psychasthenia, a disorder characterised by phobias, obsessions, compulsions and excessive anxiety, is one of many psychological conditions, recognition of which is now emerging into the Cambodian mainstream. But for a country so accustomed to physical hardship, it is often difficult for individuals and even health institutions to recognise, let alone diagnose, internal pain.

It is not only Cambodia's turbulent history that has left a legacy of mental illness; the social and economic problems people encounter today are increasingly taking their toll. Psychologists in Phnom Penh say they are now dealing not with long-buried psychological trauma but with contemporary psychosocial problems.

Social stress
"We encounter a whole range of conditions in the younger generations: depression, anxiety and stress, along with psychological problems stemming from sexual abuse, dealing with HIV/Aids or other forms of severe trauma," says Dr Ken Wilcox of the Wilcox & Associates psychology practice in Phnom Penh. "Psychologists in Cambodia are not dealing [primarily] with postwar trauma anymore," Wilcox said.

Chea Sophal, like Sok Mach, now realises that stress-related social problems were what triggered the onset of his mental illness. The Kandal province native says that he felt he "was a crazy person" for years before he got up the courage to ask for help.


we can reduce mental health problems in the future if we address serious issues in society now.


"For many years I didn't want other people around me.... I couldn't control myself," he said.

Wilcox said unwillingness to seek professional help, coupled with a complete lack of knowledge about mental illness, was a common problem.

"Among the local population, we do see many instances of psychological trauma related to family and cultural issues." he says. "Often people do not know how to cope with the stresses they suffer, and so they internalize it. They have no outlet," Wilcox said.

Yim Sobotra, deputy head of psychiatry at the Cambodian-Russian Friendship Hospital, acknowledged that the predominance of family-related stress means that women were most afflicted by mental illness.

"Most patients are women, twice as many as men, because women get pressure from both their families and society," he said.

His hospital, which deals with up to 200 patients seeking regular consultations and medical prescriptions, receives around 20 new patients a day. But he worries that there are still many people who are unable to recognise the seriousness of their psychological problems.

"Some of them don't know they have a mental illness. They think they have been hurt by black magic or that they have done something to offend their guardian spirit."

Traditional ways of dealing with different kinds of psychological disorders are still common among the older generation of Cambodians, who are more likely to seek help from herbalists or faith healers.

But Wilcox is more optimistic for the future.

"While older generations will suppress their problems or look to spiritual means to cope, the younger generations are starting to seek help when they are concerned about their psychological health," he said.

"We now see many 15- to 25-year-olds who see that there are options available to them."

Kang San, program coordinator of the Trans-Cultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), also expressed the importance of a back-to-basics approach to psychological health.

"I think we can reduce the number of instances of mental health problems among Cambodian people in the future if we can address some of the more serious issues in society right now," he said.

For Kang San, poverty alleviation and education will play an integral part.

"If we can reduce the poverty of those with psychological problems, provide them with a job and educate them about their illness, I hope we can effectively treat them." .

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Cambodian orphans arrive in Honolulu for cultural exchange, performances

30 children ages 14 to 20 to participate in cultural exchanges with other Oahu students during two–week visit, culminating with fundraising performance at Mamiya Theatre

A group of talented children from the Future Light Orphanage of Worldmate (FLOW) just outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, arrive on Oahu September 3.

Many will meet their email foster parents for the first time, and also participate in cultural exchanges with other Hawaii students of the same age from Kaimuki High School, Le Jardin, Mid-Pacific Institute, and Punahou School.

The visit culminates with an extravagant fundraising performance at 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 13 at Mamiya Theatre. Tax-deductible tickets are available for $50 and $75 ($100 tickets are sold out) by calling 545-3676, and include a wine and pupu reception with the performers from 5 – 6:30 p.m. at the theatre plaza.

"For most of the children, this trip is the first time they've ever left Cambodia," said Oahu resident Rob Hail, Founder and President of Email Foster Parents International, a non-profit that pairs caring adults as foster parents with orphaned and vulnerable children in developing countries. "What's even more exciting is that on September 3, many foster parents will get to meet their foster kids for the first time, after years of frequent email correspondence. It's sure to be a chicken-skin moment."

FLOW was founded in 1992 by Phaly Nuon, a dynamic humanitarian who survived Cambodia's infamous "Killing Fields" of the Khmer Rouge. The orphanage cares for 250 children ages 5 to 22, and an additional 100 children who come from neighboring villages for lunch and English classes. All kids attend public school or university as a condition of residency, and the older children participate in caring for their younger "siblings". As part of the curriculum and to provide a link to their rich and ancient heritage, children are given the opportunity to learn Khmer classical dance and music.

Over the years, the program has grown and expanded, and in 2006 twelve students were invited to perform in Tokyo, Japan. Following this, Hail, and fellow Rotarians Nancy Walden and Hal Darcey decided they would figure out a way to get the children to Hawaii, despite many hurdles with visas and cost.

"We wanted to bring the kids here, so they could meet their foster parents in the flesh, as well as experience our American and Hawaiian cultures while sharing their own culture with us," said Nancy Walden, Cambodian Children Cultural Tour Chair. "These extremely talented teens represent a positive future for Cambodia. To see them perform is an inspiring and delightful experience."

Email Foster Parents International (EFPI) blossomed out of a program founded in 2001 by Rob Hail. The program become a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2008. Today EFPI provides a bridge between orphaned and vulnerable children in developing countries with responsible, caring international donors who offer them support and encouragement primarily through email correspondence and through a $360 annual donation that provides care for the foster child. Foster parents can travel to FLOW to meet their children, getting to know them while staying in FLOW's guesthouse.

"The relationship you build with your foster child is powerful," said Hal Darcey, EFPI Vice President. "Your encouraging words are so important; they soon start calling you mom or dad. If you have children, they begin to see them as brothers or sisters. It really touches your heart to know you are making such a difference in their lives."

Those who are interested in becoming a foster email parent should visit or call 545-3676.
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Ericsson deploys rural, solar-powered site with satellite transmission in Cambodia for Star-Cell

For the first time, Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) has combined a GSM base station and satellite transmission in a solar-powered site, enabling Cambodian mobile operator Star-Cell to expand its network coverage in remote areas. The solution offers affordable communications for all and is based on Ericsson’s energy-optimized main-remote base-station.

The satellite transmission feature provides affordable mobile-network coverage in remote areas where other transmission solutions are unavailable. This is vital for bridging the digital divide, as about 80 percent of the Cambodian population lives outside the main urban centers.

The GSM main-remote solution has a lower environmental impact than standard base stations, consuming up to 50 percent less energy, and helps lower total cost of ownership by reducing operating costs.

Star-Cell has selected Ericsson’s solution to expand network coverage and introduce EDGE-based applications to enable mobile health and educational services for rural communities.

Denis Ryabtsev, Chief Marketing Officer at Star-Cell, says: "Ericsson’s solar-powered site with satellite transmission will make a significant difference. It enables us to expand cost-effectively into rural areas, connect people for the first time, and offer affordable services that improve quality of life"

Hans Karlsson, President of Ericsson Thailand and Indochina, says: "This marks an important milestone and we are proud to implement the first solar-powered solution in Cambodia. This move highlights our technical leadership, our commitment to sustainable development, and our vision of providing communication for all"

This deployment follows a series of initiatives from Ericsson to optimize the energy efficiency of mobile networks by creating solutions that reduce environmental impacts and lower operator costs. These initiatives include: BTS Power Savings features that put a network in stand-by mode during off-peak hours and saves up to 15 percent of the network access energy consumption; the innovative site concept Ericsson Tower Tube; biofuel-powered telecom sites; a hybrid solution using diesel and batteries that cuts network operating costs by up to 50 percent; and the Solar Village Charger, co-developed with Sony Ericsson. Ericsson delivered its first solar-powered sites in 2000 to Maroc Telecom in Morocco, and has so far provided more than 200 sites in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas.
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Bank of India applies to open in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia has welcomed an initial application by the Bank of India to open in Phnom Penh, local media reported on Tuesday.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper quoted Finance Ministry director of investment Chan Sothy as saying the nationalised Indian bank, which has a presence in all the major trade centres of the world, applied to open a branch in April.

The paper quoted Sothy as saying he and Finance Minister Keat Chhon met outgoing Indian ambassador Aloke Sen Friday and "welcomed the Bank of India to open a branch in Cambodia".

The officials discussed various ways of increasing Indian investments in Cambodia, the report said. It quoted banking officials as saying the Bank of India application was still being processed and therefore no concrete date could be set.

The two nations have close historic ties and Cambodia has been keen to foster closer economic ties with India as investment from other powerhouse Asian economies such as China and South Korea continues to grow.
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