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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ASEAN+3 nuclear safety forum kicks off in Bangkok

BANGKOK, (Xinhua) -- Experts and officials on nuclear energy safety from the 10 ASEAN countries and its three regional partners -- China, Japan and South Korea, gathered here Monday to convene the first ASEAN+3 Forum on Nuclear Energy Safety.

The two-day forum, the idea of which was initiated by Thailand at last November's East Asia Summit in Singapore, was co-hosted by Thailand and China. It is to provide an academic platform for exchanging experience and technologies in a bid to promote regional cooperation on nuclear safety issue.

At the opening ceremony on Monday, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama noted that the ASEAN+3 framework was established in 1997 to respond to the Asian financial crisis, and now it can play a role to cope with a new crisis, which is "no less significant, no less urgent" than the 1997 financial crisis, -- the challenge of long-term energy security in the wake of skyrocketing oil prices.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, the Philippines and Singapore.

In face of rising oil price, which has increased over 100 percent in about one year to the current level of 135 U.S. dollars a barrel, countries, especially developing ones which are "too reliant on oil and thus too vulnerable to the unprecedented oil price shock", are looking at alternative sources of energy, particularly those renewable, sustainable, and clean, Noppadon said.

Nuclear energy is one of these sources of energy that many countries, including those in Southeast Asia, have growing interest in exploring.

To address public concern about nuclear safety, a critical issue to the development of nuclear energy, Thailand and other ASEAN countries have agreed on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-free Zone Treaty. A Plan of Action adopted last year calls for the establishment of a regional nuclear safety regime.

Noppadon also noted that the forum is fitting and timely as theASEAN+3 process comprises both countries that have great expertise in nuclear technology for peaceful purposes -- referring to China, Japan and South Korea, and countries that are in great need of such technology -- the ASEAN countries, while all countries under the framework share the political will to enhance greater regional cooperation on energy security.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), among ASEAN countries, governments in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have already launched plans for building their first nuclear power plants.

The Thai government has planned to build nuclear power plants with a total generating capacity of 4,000 MWs in 13 years from now, with the first plant put in operation in the year 2020, accounting for about 10 percent of total power generation.

Panels have been set up to conduct a detailed study of the project from 2008 to 2010, after which a final decision will be made whether to implement the nuclear program based on assessment of Thai public opinion.

Wang Zhongtang, Assistant Administrator of National Nuclear Safety Administration of China, in delivering a keynote speech at the opening, said China has obtained experience on design, manufacturing, construction and operation of nuclear power plants in over 20 years of efforts since it started the construction of its first nuclear power plant.

The Chinese government has launched a nuclear power development program -- by 2020, a 58-GW total capacity of nuclear power will be in operation or under construction, accounting for 4 percent of the general power capacity of China. Now China has 11 units in operation and eight units under construction, with a total capacity of about 16 GWs.

Wang told Xinhua that China is very willing to share its experience and technologies with any ASEAN countries on nuclear energy safety, as it believes that "there is no national boundaries as regards nuclear safety," and that enhancing cooperation on the issue is of benefit to countries involved, to the region as well as the whole human society.

Among its experiences, China believes that "a strong independent nuclear safety authority is vital, a systematic legal system is fundamental, prudent and scientific assessment and review mechanism is important; the environmental impact monitoring system is also the key elements to convince the public confidence."
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Cuscapi may pay dividend by 2010

SHAH ALAM: Cuscapi Bhd, a homegrown software solutions developer, may reward its shareholders with a dividend by 2010 if its regional expansion bears fruit.

“We intend to move towards a dividend-based company, but first the numbers need to be justified. Nevertheless, we will continue to look into ways of rewarding our shareholders through dividends as our business grows,” its chief executive Danny Leong Kah Chern told The Edge Financial Daily in an interview.

Cuscapi, formerly known as Datascan Bhd, expected contribution from its international business to double in the current fiscal year ending Dec 31, 2008 (FY08) from 8% in FY07, backed by its presence in China, he said.

The Mesdaq-listed firm had in March 2008 established a wholly-owned subsidiary, Cuscapi Beijing Co Ltd, to tap into China’s fast-growing food & beverage (F&B) industry.

Our plan is to always make profit, or at least break even, within the first year of our expansion into a specific overseas market. For China, we expect to see earnings coming in by the second quarter (ended June 30, 2008),” he said, adding that Cuscapi had allocated RM2 million for its expansion into China.

Leong said Cuscapi, which is mulling the transfer of its listing to the Main Board by 2010, also planned to gain a foothold in Thailand by year-end. It will then explore the possibility of forming joint ventures with local players in Indonesia, the Philippines and the Middle East .

It has been reported that the company is also planning to float its overseas assets in London, Singapore or Hong Kong in the next three years.

“This is the year for us to grow our presence regionally, but we will always make sure our bottom line won’t be affected much. Our strategy is for the long term,” Leong said.

He also said the company would be able to sustain its earnings growth amid higher operating expenses partly via the recurring income from its managed services, which contributed about 23% to its total revenue of RM38.7 million in FY07, a 4% year-on-year increase.

The company’s net profit for its first quarter ended March 31, 2008 (1QFY08) dipped 84.28% to RM210,000 from RM1.34 million a year earlier despite revenue increasing by 6.19% to RM7.89 million from RM7.43 million, due to higher operating costs and international business development.

Cuscapi said it had secured Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) Cambodia as its client with the installation of its solution for restaurant operations in the KFC store in Phnom Penh.

“Cuscapi’s entry into the Cambodian F&B market is timely as the market is growing well, spurred by the tremendous growth potential of the country’s tourism sector,” said Leong.

The implementation for the second KFC outlet in Cambodia is scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

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Japan's Hino Motors Ltd launches in Cambodia

Phnom Penh - Hino Motors Ltd of Japan has opened its first Cambodian branch to take advantage of the booming construction sector, local media reported Tuesday.

The Mekong Times reported the Japanese transport vehicle giant would be angling for the dump truck, cargo truck and concrete mixer market, which is currently dominated by second-hand vehicles.

Construction is one of Cambodia's fastest growing markets as political stability continues, real estate prices soar and foreign investors seek new markets.

Hino is just the latest multinational corporation to invest in Cambodia - a move welcomed by government officials, the Mekong Times said.

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Hun Sen faces few challengers as Cambodia vote nears

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — With nearly six weeks until Cambodia's general election, almost everyone says they already know the result.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, Southeast Asia's longest-serving leader besides the sultan of Brunei, has spent much of his 23 years in power ruthlessly undermining his political rivals, who are now so weakened that analysts say none have much hope of success.

Cambodia has 57 parties, but only 11 are running in the July 27 poll -- less than half the number that contested the last national election five years ago.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) towers above them all.

"Who will win? The CPP. No doubt about that. Even without taking into consideration threats, pressure and vote buying, the CPP is the one with the people on the ground," said Cambodian political analyst Chea Vannath.

The CPP was installed by communist Vietnam in 1979, after Hanoi invaded and toppled the Khmer Rouge -- the genocidal regime behind Cambodia's infamous "Killing Fields."

While the CPP has dropped its communist ideology, it retains a ubiquitous presence across the country and a tight grip on every level of government.

"Government and administrative offices throughout the country are very extensive and tightly controlled," said Lao Mong Hay, senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Opposition members have already accused Hun Sen of buying off their supporters by offering them attractive jobs, a charge the premier has brushed off.

"They say that we are buying people. We are the ruling party -- we have the right to appoint them to positions of power," Hun Sen said last week, during one of his daily televised speeches given at events big and small across the country.

Hun Sen, 55, became prime minister in 1985 and has single-mindedly focused on staying in power, publicly vowing to remain in office until he turns 90.

He actually lost his first election to a royalist party in UN-backed polls in 1993, but bargained his way into becoming a "second prime minister" and then reasserted total control in a 1997 coup.

Hundreds of people were killed in the run-up to elections the following year. Protests against Hun Sen's victory were put down violently.

The last national election in 2003 was far less violent, but plunged the kingdom into a year of political stalemate as parties wrangled over forming a coalition.

The party's current coalition partner, the royalist Funcinpec, has been hobbled by infighting and the ouster of its leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who has formed his own eponymous party.

With their ranks divided, analysts say the royalists appear spent as a political force.

The main opposition Sam Rainsy Party is expected to win few votes outside the capital. Hun Sen rival Kem Sokha has formed a new Human Rights Party that will be cutting its teeth in the polls.

Some 8.1 million people are registered to vote at 15,000 polling stations, under the eyes of more than 13,000 domestic and international observers.

During his rule, Hun Sen has steered the impoverished country out of the ashes of civil war and grown the economy by opening up to trade and tourism.

Garment exports and tourism have brought double-digit economic growth, but Cambodia remains one of the world's poorest countries. Some 35 percent of its 14 million people live on less than 50 US cents a day.

Spiralling inflation has raised concerns about CPP's management of the economy.

"You can see the price of gasoline goes up every day," analyst Chea Vannath said. "I'm sure it will be one of the main concerns."

But he predicted Hun Sen would nonetheless romp to victory.

"The Cambodian people are traumatized by past experiences, so they don't show up on the street," she said.
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Cambodia, FAO vigilant over re-occurrence of bird flu

PHNOM PENH, June 17 (Xinhua) -- It is important for Cambodia to remain vigilant for possible re-occurrence of avian influenza, as Cambodia shares borders with Vietnam and Thailand where outbreaks of the pathogenic virus continued to occur, said a statement here Tuesday.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in their joint statement said that they have been organizing public awareness and education activities to warn Cambodians of the danger avian influenza poses to their poultry and to their health.

Village meetings in Svay Rieng, Takeo, Kampong Cham and Kampot provinces, all bordering Vietnam, have been conducted since April, drawing 4,000 people from 25 villages, it added.

"The ministry and FAO have been working together to provide technical and communication skills training to veterinary officials, village animal health workers and village chiefs, so they will be able to educate the public on actions they can take to prevent avian flu infection," said Kao Phal, Director of the Department of Animal Health and Production at the ministry.

Although Cambodia hasn't had any outbreak since April 2007, it does not mean that the risk of AI is not present anymore, said the statement.

"FAO, with support from the United States Agency for International Development and Germany, will continue to strengthen the government's laboratory capacity to detect bird flu, improve bio-security in the backyard farms and in the markets, as well as in disease surveillance and early response to minimize the risks of avian flu," said Etienne Careme, FAO Emergency Program Coordinator.

In addition, both sides will organize a community forum on avian influenza in Pouk District, Siem Reap province, on June 19.

While not located along the border with Vietnam and Thailand, Siem Reap is among the provinces with the largest poultry population and represents an important trade center for poultry, majority of which is sourced from its villages, said the statement.

Siem Reap experienced an AI outbreak in poultry in two villages in February 2004.

In Cambodia, bird flu has killed seven people, including a 12-year-old girl in Kampong Cham province, the latest case of its kind.
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