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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Vietnam sets nuclear pace in Southeast Asia

By Andrew Symon

HANOI - General Electric of the United States and Asian rivals in the nuclear power sector such as Daewoo and Toshiba are among companies looking to win big contracts in Southeast Asia as the region's countries turn to the once-shunned energy source to fuel future economic growth.

GE and companies from France, Russia, Canada, Japan, South Korea and China turned out in numbers at a nuclear industry exhibition in Hanoi last month, bidding to help Vietnam develop its first nuclear power facilities.

High global fuel prices in the 1970s resulted in a raft of plants being built in Europe and North America. After a retreat in the 1980s over safety issues, interest in the nuclear option is reviving as Asia's surging power demands help spur global fossil fuel prices and pressure mounts to reduce growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

Vietnam is on track to become Southeast Asia's first country to take the nuclear plunge, with the government and its main energy-related agencies, the Vietnamese Atomic Energy Agency and Electricity Vietnam (EVN), advancing plans for huge expansion in power generation.

Vietnam plans to have four nuclear generation plants with a total of 8,000 megawatts (MW) capacity in operation by 2025. Two of those plants, each with two 1,000 MW units, are to be up and running by 2020 in Ninh Thuan province on the country's central coast. Construction is set to begin in 2015 and the government has earmarked US$6 billion for each plant.

So far, there is little if any public opposition to the development in the authoritarian country, increasing Vietnam's commercial attractiveness to the global nuclear industry.

In Indonesia, the government aims to have its first nuclear plant in operation some time after 2015 on the Central Java north coast. The outlook here is less certain, as public opposition is strengthening nationally and locally, to the extent that at least one Islamic religious leader has issued an edict against the plan. With national, regional and presidential elections scheduled for next year, Indonesia's nuclear plans could be derailed, some industry executives fear.

Thailand is also carrying out a feasibility study for a nuclear plant to be built in the country by 2020, although again public opposition might hinder progress. Community and non-governmental organizations in recent years managed to derail construction of two large coal-fired power plants in southern Prachuap Kirikhan province.

Elsewhere in the region, nuclear feasibility studies are underway by relevant government agencies in the Philippines and Malaysia.

The nuclear momentum appears to be strongest in Vietnam, where the government last August doubled its previous generation target of 4,000 MW to 8,000 MW goal by 2025. A law providing the framework for development of nuclear power plants and foreign investment in the industry, wider civilian applications for nuclear science, and safety and non-proliferation standards and controls is expected to be passed this month by the National Assembly. This will enable the government to get on with project planning and establish a tendering process for power plant construction, fueling and operation.

Before those laws were in place, the recent Hanoi exhibition attracted a who's who of global energy firms. Executives from France's Areva and Electricite de France (EDF) rubbed shoulders with their counterparts from Japan's Toshiba and Federation of Electric Power Companies, South Korea's Daewoo and the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company. Representatives of General Electric, Russia's Rosatom and Atomostroi and China's Guangdong Nuclear Power Company were also present, as were officials of the United Nations' Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

The four-day exhibition from May 13-17 was the third in the country since 2004. Foreign companies are expected to play critical roles in supplying technology, education and training for Vietnamese scientists, engineers and technicians. The government also clearly hopes to finance the plants' construction through export-import credit schemes of the respective companies' governments.

The exhibition served a dual purpose of providing information to the Vietnamese public about the government's plans. In late May, more than 400 local representatives of the coastal Ninh Thuan province were invited by the government to voice opinions about proposed plants at a seminar co-organized by local power company EVN and Electricite de France. The state-controlled press reported that the response to the plant by the two districts' representatives at the meeting was largely positive.

Powerful diplomacy
The Vietnam exhibition also underlined the close links between business and government in the international nuclear industry.

The French consortium was strongly supported by the French Embassy in media statements and interviews at the Vietnam event. At a press conference, French nuclear power industry representatives pointed to a new government agency, the French International Nuclear Energy Agency, which had been established to provide experts to collaborate with foreign governments on feasibility studies, safety concerns and other issues.

The China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company's presentation signaled China's new goal of entering the global nuclear business as an investor and supplier rather than as a recipient of foreign expertise, equipment and investment. China's nuclear power expansion plans are the most ambitious in the world in terms of scale and speed of development. Established nuclear power players, including from Japan and South Korea, said they see Chinese rivals as a fast-rising, low-cost competitive threat.

Japan's Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi are also in the nuclear hunt and seem well placed to benefit from Tokyo's strong commercial diplomacy in the region. Coinciding with the Vietnam exhibition, the governments of Japan and Vietnam signed a bilateral assistance agreement. As part of that pact, Japan is scheduled to help Vietnam prepare and plan for the introduction of nuclear energy, educate experts in nuclear power and help the country formulate nuclear safety regulations.

Vietnam has also signed nuclear cooperation agreements with the governments of Russia, France, South Korea and the US. One potential commercial ace up the sleeve of Japanese companies is their government's push for new incentives to invest in nuclear power development in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

Tokyo is lobbying for new nuclear facilities to be eligible, after the Kyoto climate change accord expires in 2012, for clean development mechanism (CDM) credits for carbon dioxide reduction achieved by not building new coal- and gas-fueled power plants.

Given the scale of nuclear power plants and the fact that plants emit nearly no greenhouse gases, CDM credits that could be sold on global carbon markets and used by companies and governments to meet mandatory carbon emissions targets elsewhere could have huge value. The Japanese government put its case forward at a UN climate change meeting in early April.

The proposal was left on the table, due mainly to developed countries' still strong concerns over safety and weapons proliferation. The Tokyo proposal is expected to resurface at another UN meeting on climate issues in Copenhagen in late 2009. The CDM scheme for nuclear power is expected to get a wider hearing as governments grapple with putting in place a successor agreement to Kyoto.

If adopted, the CDM proposal could have enormous implications for Southeast Asia's nuclear power development. The high capital costs associated with building nuclear power plants are at this point still expected to constrain the region's nuclear future, but those start-up costs would be mitigated significantly if new plants were entitled to CDM credits.
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US upgrades Cambodia's anti-human trafficking rating

The US government has upgraded Cambodia's anti-human trafficking rating for the first time since 2006, saying that the Kingdom has made a significant effort to combat people smuggling.

The country has been placed this year in Tier 2, the middle category in the US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report, putting it alongside countries like Chile, Angola and El Salvador, which are among the 170 countries assessed.

Since 2006 Cambodia has languished on the Tier 2 Watch List after being relegated to the lowest category, Tier 3, in 2005.

"The Royal Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so," said the State Department in its report released on June 5.

"Cambodia is placed on Tier 2 for the first time since 2004 due to the government’s increased engagement in combating trafficking in persons over the previous year," it added.

The assessment follows Cambodia's passage of new anti-trafficking legislation which criminalized all forms of human trafficking, as well as the formation in April 2007 of a national anti-trafficking taskforce.

"This legislation provides law enforcement authorities the power to investigate all forms of trafficking and is a powerful tool in efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers and have them face stringent punishments," the State Department said.

"High-level government officials have spoken publicly about a 'zero-tolerance' policy for officials profiting from or colluding in trafficking in persons," it added.

But the new legislation has been sharply criticized by advocates for commercial sex workers who say the law has also led to an increase in abuses by authorities cracking down on prostitution.

Many sex workers, advocates claim, have been beaten, raped or robbed while in police detention, and the mass closure of brothels has hindered efforts curb the spread of HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"This law ... increases violence, discrimination and human rights abuses against sex workers. It allows for corruption to spread among law enforcers," said Pich Sokchea of the Women's Network for Unity, who was speaking June 4 at a rally by sex workers against the legislation.

"Many times, when the brothels are raided police rape the women before arresting them," added Sokchea, who is also a sex worker.

Despite its progress, Cambodia remains a source and destination country for persons trafficked both for sex or labor, the State Department points out.

"Women and girls are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation to Thailand and Malaysia.... Some Cambodian male migrant workers returning from India, South Korea, and Malaysia reported being subjected to conditions of forced labor and debt bondage," it said.

"Children are trafficked to Thailand and Vietnam to beg or work on the streets selling candy or flowers or shining shoes," it added, recommending that the government increase anti-trafficking training for authorities and step up court prosecutions of people smugglers.
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Phnom Penh market has good potential for the foreigner crooks

Foreigner businesses are part of corruption in Cambodia. The land concessions and businesses development cause many cons businessmen siding with corrupted government officials to rob the land from many poor Cambodians in the Capital city of Phnom penh. Many businesses are bringing nothing to for development in Cambodia and they are just parasite sucking blood from the poor to feed themselves.

Strong economy and interest from foreign investors seen fuelling demand

With foreign investors eyeing a piece of Phnom Penh's property pie, the Cambodian capital's real-estate market has potential for growth this year, a survey by Agency for Real Estate Affairs (AREA) shows.

AREA president Sopon Pornchokchai said land prices in Phnom Penh range between Bt200,000 and Bt300,000 per square metre.

By the end of January, 90 new condominium and residential projects comprising 25,596 units were launched.

The total worth of the projects was US$2.09 billion (Bt68.7 billion).

Of these, 66 per cent or 16,823 units were sold at an average price of Bt2.6 million.

With Cambodia's economy growing and investors showing interest in putting their money into the property market, the demand for residential projects in Phnom Penh has seen strong growth since 2005, Sopon said. Condominiums and commercial buildings have continued to attract the most investment.

Out of the 25,596 units constructed by the end of January, 22,985 were commercial buildings, 1,186 were condominiums, 547 were detached houses, 534 were double houses and 231 units were townhouses.

Most property developers homed in on the main city centre, where prices for residential properties start at Bt4.53 million.

The survey was conducted last month.
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Managing Cambodia's mangroves

Beyond the bustling town of Koh Kong, off the coast of southern Cambodia, lie 45,000 hectares of mangrove forest. They're among the most pristine in Southeast Asia and, like others around the world, they're under threat.

Mangroves form a transition zone between land and sea. Like all transitional ecosystems, they are diverse. Mangrove foliage provides rich bird habitat. Fish, crabs and molluscs hide and breed in their dense, aerial root system, which is adapted to salty water.

As if these ecosystem services weren't enough, mangroves stabilise soil, moderate the force of wind and waves, recycle nutrients and sequester carbon.

Khmer Rouge
Ironically, Cambodian mangroves prospered under the Khmer Rouge, which preferred to herd its citizens into the middle of the country. With their downfall, and the emergence of a market economy in the 1990s, powerful entrepreneurs - with military or government links - began clearing the mangroves for shrimp farms and charcoal. Local middlemen joined in, along with inland Cambodians and foreign fishermen attracted to the region's rich mangroves.

Alarmed by resource decline - and encouraged by international NGOs - the Cambodian government began cracking down. Conservation and poverty reduction could both be promoted, the government reasoned, by empowering local communities. Commune elections were held for the first time in 2002, followed by a community fisheries law. For the first time, mangrove communities began managing their own resources.

Management committees
With help from the UN Development Program and Canada's International Development Research Center, Cambodia' Environment Ministry launched its Participatory Management of Coastal Resources Project in 1997. Community workshops were held on mangrove ecology and management.

In 2001, the first village management committees were formed within the boundaries of Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, deep in Koh Kong's mangroves. Villages outside the sanctuary, around Chrouy Pros Bay, have been invited to participate, in order to reduce fishing conflicts.

Community management has been a success. Villagers have protected local sea grass beds, which are linked to the mangrove ecosystem and add fish spawning habitat. In the mangroves themselves, community patrols do their best to control illegal cutting and fishing practices. Mangroves have been successfully regenerated.

On the down side, government support for enforcement is limited and inconsistent and, outside the confines of community areas, illegal practices continue, such as the use of "light" boats armed with powerful lamps that attract fish. Some fear that commercial dredging of the Koh Kong River - led by powerful Cambodian interests - will damage the mangroves.

As elsewhere in the world, mangrove villagers and their international supporters realize that tourism may be the greatest force for mangrove protection. At least one villager in the area is planning an ecotourism initiative.
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Cambodia to establish law for marriage with foreigners

PHNOM PENH, June 5 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia will establish a law to allow Cambodian citizens to marry foreigners, Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng said here Thursday on the sideline of the Cambodia-U.S. cooperation meeting on combating human trafficking.

"Tomorrow, I will preside over a meeting for organizing the draft sub-decree to allow Cambodian people to marry foreigners," he told a press conference held after the meeting.

Recently, Cambodia halted to approve marriage between Cambodians and foreigners because it involved human trafficking, he said.

"We knew it contradicted our constitution and also discriminated individual rights, so we decided to establish law to facilitate marriage with foreigners, " he said.

The draft sub-decree would exclusively focus on marriage between Khmers and foreigners, he added.

Earlier this year, the International Organization for Migration issued a report stressing the vulnerability of Cambodian brides flocking to South Korea in increasing numbers.

The government in response condemned marriage brokerage agencies for exploitation and human trafficking, ordered the closure of three South Korean ones, and banned all marriages with foreigners on March 29, pending new legislation to regulate the process.
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