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Saturday, July 12, 2008

For many hoteliers in Southeast Asia, going green is easier said than done

By Patrick Falby

As climate change guilt among tourists grows, many hotels and resorts in emerging hotspots like Cambodia are touting their environmental credentials in an effort to cash in on the “eco” tag.

But some are finding that in a nation still pulling itself out of poverty and rebuilding after decades of civil war, it is not always easy being green.

The new minimalist 16-room riverfront Quay Hotel in the capital Phnom Penh boasts that it is one of the first businesses in Cambodia to completely offset its carbon emissions.

But their all-natural soap is flown in from Thailand and there is nowhere to buy items such as chemical-free linen, said Michelle Duncan, operations manager for FCC, the group that owns the hotel.

“We’re a hotel trying to do our bit to offset emissions in the country,” Duncan said. “In London or Australia or wherever, it’s a lot easier to recycle.”

What exactly makes an “eco-resort” also remains to be defined, with no worldwide standards that hotels and resorts have to meet to claim the tag.

In Cambodia, tycoon Sok Kong recently said the environment was his “first concern,” despite his plans to build two luxury golf courses in the country’s Bokor Mountain protected area.

Yin Sorya, an eco-tourism adviser to the Cambodian government, said that local officials often do not understand what makes sustainable tourism.

“When they [Cambodian officials] talk about eco-tourism, they talk about golf courses or five-star hotels,” Yin Sorya said. “Here in Southeast Asia, they want high-market mass tourism.”

Many of the resorts marketing their green credentials in Cambodia and neighboring Laos are modest properties in pristine jungle settings.

They use locally sourced materials, some solar power and try and give back to poor local communities while causing as little impact as possible.

In Thailand, environmentally friendly policies are becoming more high-tech, with homemade biofuels, intelligent lighting and organically fertilized herb gardens all wooing tourists concerned about their carbon footprint.

“People are saying: ‘If I want to travel, I’d better make it environmentally conscientious,’” said Juergen Seidel, a director for Six Senses, which has hotels and resorts in Thailand and Vietnam.

Six Senses plans to produce enough clean energy to power all of its operations as well as feed electricity into local grids by 2020, Seidel said.

“Every year there’s a 10 or 20 percent increase of travelers in this niche market we’re providing,” he said.

A UN report last year found that tourism, in particular air travel, accounted for about 5 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide.

However, as the travel industry adopts more sustainable practices, there are so many different “green” standards on the market right now that tourists are left scratching their heads.

Environmental activists hope that Cambodia will learn to make the most of its pristine forest, much of which was unintentionally preserved as decades of civil war stunted development and left the wilderness untouched.

But as tourist arrivals soar, jumping 20 percent from 2006 to last year alone and bringing much-needed money to this poor nation, a high-end hotel building boom sweeping the country is worrying some activists.

Yet Touch Nimith, an eco-tourism officer for Conservation International in Cambodia, holds out hope that the environmental tourism trend will help save protected areas.

“The eco-tourism we’re thinking about is for conservation, not local economics,” Touch Nimith said.
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Arsenic risk high in Sumatra, Myanmar, Cambodia: study

PARIS (AFP) — Eastern Sumatra, the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar and Cambodia's Tonle Sap lake are among areas in Southeast Asia facing a high risk of arsenic contamination in the water, according to a study published on Friday.

The researchers use innovative digitalised techniques, drawing on geology, geography and soil chemistry, to compile a "probability map" of naturally-occurring arsenic concentrations in five Southeast Asian countries and Bangladesh.

The map is intended as a useful pointer for health watchdogs, urban planners and water engineers worried about concentrations of this poison in groundwater supplies but lacking the funds to carry out wide-scale analysis of water samples.

Published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the Swiss-led study combined several methods to compile its probability model.

These included knowledge about sediments whose textures and chemical or bacterial properties could release arsenic from the local ore, thus contaminating aquifers.

Also factored in were areas with flat, low-lying topography. Arsenic contamination is rarely found in places with slopes.

The benchmark for risk was the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline of 0.01 milligrams of arsenic per litre in drinking water.

The study predicted that in Bangladesh -- which has the worst arsenic contamination in the world -- the risk of water breaching this guideline was highest in the south-centre of the country and in the northeastern Sylhet basin.

This prediction concurred with water samples previously taken and analysed from tube wells in Bangladesh.

High probabilities of arsenic contamination were also seen for the deltas of the Irrawaddy in Myanmar and the Red River in Bangladesh, for the Chao Praya basin in central Thailand and for the organic-rich sediments of the flood plain of Cambodia's Tonle Sap lake.

The computer model said an area of about 100,000 square kilometres (38,600 square miles) on the east coast of Indonesia's main island, Sumatra, was likewise "prone to high risk" of contamination above the WHO benchmark.

This prediction was then borne out by samples taken from a zone in Sumatra deemed to have high-risk and low-risk aquifers.

However, many wells in this area are deep and draw water from below the water-bearing sediments which have the arsenic problem, the study says.

"The prediction map is a useful tool for identification of areas at risk of arsenic contamination, but... understanding the local geology as a function of depth is of vital importance for specific areas," it cautions.

In Bangladesh, tens of millions of people are potentially exposed to arsenic-tainted water, boosting the danger of skin lesions, respiratory illness and cancer.

The risk comes from so-called shallow tube wells which were drilled in the 1970s and 1980s, ironically in a bid to provide rural Bangladeshis with safe water. Millions of these pipes were installed.

The new study is lead-authored by Michael Berg of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Duebendorf.
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Democrats call for Cambodia talks on temple

The government should meet with Cambodian officials to settle a territorial dispute over the Preah Vihear temple, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Saturday.

The Democrat party leader said officials from the two countries should meet to ensure a fair resolution to the boundary dispute, the Thai News Agency reported.

Cambodia has claimed ownership of the land around the temple, which was designated a World Heritage Site this week by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Mr Abhisit said Thai officials should ensure any agreement regarding the dispute includes guidelines concerning any potential support facilities for the temple. The opposition leader said such facilities could potentially infringe on Thai territory.

The opposition leader met with the president of Thailand's World Heritage Committee on Saturday. Following that meeting he told the news agency he was concerned Cambodian officials would be solely responsible for determining zone boundaries at the temple as well, even though Thailand is equally entitled to the disputed land surrounding the Cambodian temple.

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Vatana said to be hiding in Poi Pet

Veteran politician Vatana Asavahame, wanted for jumping bail in a corruption case, was found hiding in his casino in Cambodia's Poi Pet border town, police said yesterday. Deputy national police chief Jongrak Juthanont quoted a report from Sa Kaeo police chief Pol Col Itthipol Piriyaphinyo as saying that a cousin of Mr Vatana had crossed the border from the province to see him at the Poi Pet Resort hotel, one of the two casinos in which he holds major stakes in Cambodia. The other is the Grand Diamond hotel.

Although the former interior minister's whereabouts are now known, police could not arrest Mr Vatana outside Thai territory, said Pol Gen Jongrak adding the court also has not ruled on the case yet.

The court on Wednesday seized Mr Vatana's 2.2-million-baht bail and issued a warrant for his arrest after he failed to turn up to hear the verdict in the Klong Dan wastewater treatment plant corruption case. The reading of the verdict is re-scheduled for Aug 18.

Pol Gen Jongrak said Mr Vatana could have travelled to Cambodia by car via Sa Kaeo or taken a boat to Cambodia's Koh Kong province from his home province Samut Prakan.

Pol Gen Jongrak also said it was hard for a well-known figure to be hiding in the country, citing the case of former public health minister Rakkiat Sukthana, who eluded police for almost a year after he was given a 15-year jail term in the medicine supply scandal case.

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Cambodia journalist shot dead - police

PHNOM PENH, July 11 (Reuters) - A Cambodian journalist working for an opposition newspaper was shot dead on Friday by unknown gunmen who fired on the victim and his son, police said.

Khim Sam Bo, 47, was shot twice and his 19-year-old son was seriously wounded in the capital Phnom Penh, as they left a sports stadium, police chief G. Touch Naruth said.

"We do not know the motive for the killing yet. The investigation continues," he told Reuters.

Colleagues said he had written stories criticising senior government officials and corruption in the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is seeking re-election in a July 27 general election.

Khim Sam Bo worked for more than 10 years for the Khmer Conscience newspaper, whose editor Dam Seth was recently accused of defaming Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. The charges were later dropped.

"I am so disappointed. It hurts me to hear that he was killed," Dam Seth told Reuters.

"I call on the authorities to find the killers of Khim Sam Bo and punish them," he said. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Bate Felix)
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Cambodia's ex-king denounces Thai claims to temple


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's former king dismissed any Thai claim to an 11th century temple on the border as baseless, weighing in on a dispute that has soured relations between the neighbors and fueled anti-government protests in Thailand.

Preah Vihear temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site this week, reopening a long-standing disagreement between Phnom Penh and Bangkok over which country owns the land that surrounds it.

Former King Norodom Sihanouk said in a handwritten note posted on his Web site Friday that any Thai claims to the temple were "absolutely false."

He accused the Thais of causing "unmerited and anachronistic problems" for Cambodia "rather than concentrating on developing harmonious, friendly and fruitful relations" between the two countries.

Sihanouk said that some Thais are ignoring historic facts that prove that the "mountain and the temple of Preah Vihear are 100 percent Cambodia and belong to Cambodia 100 percent."

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it occupies to Cambodia, a decision that still rankles Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor Wat in northwestern Cambodia.

"Thanks to Khmer kings and the Khmer Empire — the Angkorian Empire in particular — Thailand is actually very rich in temples and other Khmer monuments in the style of Angkor," the former king said.

Thailand's Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama resigned Thursday after the Constitutional Court ruled that he had overstepped his authority in supporting Cambodia's application to have the temple classified as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO added the temple to its list of landmarks on Monday.

Some political opponents have charged that the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej deliberately bypassed Parliament and backed the bid in exchange for business concessions from Cambodia for toppled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other Samak cronies.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, led a group of Thai, British and Dubai businessmen to Cambodia in late May to discuss several investment projects, including the construction of a new city.

But at a recent news conference, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong dismissed suggestions that the business trip was linked to the Preah Vihear issue.

As Cambodians celebrate the recognition for the temple, a small group of Thais continue to protest, demanding the eviction of Cambodians living on land near the temple.
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Cambodia Fire South Korean Coach Yoo

Cambodia have fired South Korean coach Yoo Kee-heung from the national team after poor results and the lack of a coaching license.

According to local media, executive members of Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) voted 6-1 to fire Yoo.

He has been replaced by local coach Prak Sovannara.

Yoo was only appointed seven months ago and failed to lead his team to the AFC Challenge Cup, losing 1-0 in qualification to Nepal.

Also Yoo doesn't possess the A-level coaching license issued by the Asian Football Confederation.
Ouk Sethycheat, FFC secretary general said: "Without the license, he can't coach Cambodia for the ASEAN Football Federation qualifiers, which are to be held here in October," he added.

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