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Monday, February 09, 2009

NGO website barred in Cambodia for releasing scathing report

PHNOM PENH -- The website of UK-based corruption watchdog the Global Witness has been blocked for some local web users following its release of a scathing report on Cambodia's nascent oil and mining industries last week, national media said on Monday.

AngkorNet, one of the kingdom's leading internet service providers (ISP), had blocked the site over the weekend in a manner consistent with a deliberate attempt to prevent access, English- language newspaper the Phnom Penh Post quoted Norbert Klein, editor of the online Cambodia Mirror, as saying.

"This doesn't happen automatically. Somebody somewhere must have done something," he said, adding that the block could either have originated with the ISP itself, or "somewhere further upstream."

AngkorNet representatives confirmed the Global Witness site was barred to its customers, but could not provide further details into the reasons for the restricted access.

The 70-page "Country for Sale" report accused corrupt ruling elites of monopolizing the kingdom's mining and oil industries, aided by a "total lack" of transparency.

The report has drawn fierce criticism from Cambodian government officials since its release on January 5.
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Thailand bars Cambodian rice, cassava

Written by Thet Sambath

Protectionism aimed at other crops, too: officials, traders

THAI authorities have closed the border to agricultural products from Cambodia at all checkpoints between the two countries due to Thai farmers protesting the competition posed by cheaper Cambodian exports, officials and traders said.

In what is being seen as a protectionist measure on Thailand's part, Cambodian sources on the border told the Post that Koh Kong, Pursat, Battambang, Pailin, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces are all affected. Cassava and rice were being blocked - the main products barred - and may not reach export markets, traders said. At some crossings, corn, beans and sesame have also been barred, they said.

"The Thai authorities have told us they must close to imports of Cambodian agricultural products because their people are protesting at [government] offices against crops imported into their country because it brings prices down," Sok Pheap, chief of the Cambodia-Thailand Border Relations Office, said Sunday.

Cambodian dry cassava was selling for 2.1 baht (six US cents) per kilogram Sunday compared to 2.6 baht (7.5 cents) per kilogram in Thailand. Similarly, corn was slightly cheaper in Cambodia at 6.2 baht per kilogram - in Thailand it was 6.8 baht per kilogram.

Early last week, some crossings had been kept open, meaning Cambodian exports were still getting through, but since that time the border has been completely closed to Cambodian agricultural produce, said Sok Pheap.


They didn't tell us when they will again allow crops to be imported.


"In a meeting, they didn't tell us when they will again allow [Cambodian] crops to be imported into their country," he added.
Keo Narin, a Cambodian army officer in Military Region 5 in O'Beichon commune, O'Chrouv district, Banteay Meanchey province, said Sunday that cassava, corn, rice and other crops are being stored in houses and rice fields along the border.
"The [border] closure continues, so farmers are trying to keep their goods from going bad in the hope the gates will open again in the near future," he said.

Smuggling continues
Despite the blockade, some Thai and Cambodian businessmen are continuing to smuggle agricultural products across the border, he added, but trade is well down.

Ung Oeun, governor of Banteay Meanchey province, said Sunday that he has asked Thai officials in neighbouring Sa Keo province to have a meeting at the end of this month to discuss the issue.

"We will ask them [the Thais] to resume normal border trade," said Ung Oeun, adding that there had been no orders from Phnom Penh to initiate counter-protectionist measures.

Despite the blockade, there was some good news for Cambodian traders. One exporter, Som Mab, said Sunday: "I was told by the Thai authorities this weekend that they will allow Cambodian rice to be imported into Thailand in two days' time." In Pailin, dry cassava was already being allowed through, he added.

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