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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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