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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Siem Reap port rehab plows ahead

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

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


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

Minh Bunly FACT


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cambodia: Garuda Add To Khemara's Misery

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

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

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

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

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