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Monday, June 15, 2009

Civil society groups call for transparency on resource revenues

Written by Sebastian Strangio

A COALITION of civil society groups launched a new resource revenue watchdog Friday, citing the need for more transparency in Cambodia's natural resources sector.

Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency (CRRT) - founded by the Centre for Social Development, Development and Partnership in Action, the NGO Forum on Cambodia, the Economic Institute of Cambodia and the Youth Resource Development Program - aims to ensure that revenues from mining and potential offshore oil deposits are handled accountably.

"[T]he revenues from extractive industries have enormous potential to lift Cambodians out of poverty," Lim Solinn, the regional programme coordinator for Oxfam America's East Asia office, said at the launch.

"Conversely, if not properly managed, these same dollars could have dramatically adverse affects - environmental, social and economic."

Resource bounty
The discovery of oil and gas reserves by US oil giant Chevron off the country's south coast in 2004 has prompted speculation about the potential benefit of any future oil revenues, with some civil society groups expressing concerns that Cambodians will derive little benefit from the money.

In February, international corruption watchdog Global Witness released a report claiming high-level corruption and nepotism in the country's extractive resources sectors, springing from the granting of "highly dubious" economic concessions by the government.

Lim said that Cambodia was well-placed to avoid the "resource curse" - the economic distortions caused by a heavy reliance on extractive resources - provided it makes an effort to establish the proper procedures and regulatory infrastructure, including input from the non-government sector.

"This can only be done with a strong and meaningful engagement between government, companies and civil society," she said.

Financial reforms
Hang Chuon Naron, vice chairman of the Supreme National Economic Council, said at Friday's launch that the government was dedicated to ensuring extractive resources would be a blessing rather than a curse, claiming increased revenues could be used to sustain "robust economic growth" and "rapid poverty reduction".

He said the government's Public Financial Management Reform Programme, initiated in 2004, would ensure a fully transparent system is in place by 2015, adding that the government would share information about oil revenues with NGOs and development partners.

But Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay regarded the government's promises with suspicion, saying its track record on natural resource revenue management was not good.

"We don't trust the government.... There's no record in the past that the government has been accountable," he said. "A lot of resources have been disappearing, starting with forests, gems and gold mines."

But he reiterated the CRRT's calls for more information on oil revenues, saying the SRP has requested that details of oil exploration agreements be made public.
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Evictees cry foul over homes


District officials deceived the HIV community of Borei Keila into thumbprinting an agreement to vacate homes, residents claim

MEMBERS of the Borei Keila community, where more than 30 families with HIV-positive members are facing eviction, say they were duped by district authorities Friday into agreeing to leave their neighbourhood near Olympic Stadium in exchange for larger homes at a relocation site outside the city.

"The authorities are cheating. When we agreed to thumbprint, the authorities told us they would remove the dividers to make two houses into one house," said resident Sok Sinethe.

But Horm Oun, another Borei Keila resident, said, "Lim Seda [the deputy chief of Prampi Makara district] told us after we gave our thumbprints we cannot make two houses into one".

"I felt hopeless when I heard this," she said.

The chief officer of the district's development programme, Sok Ath, said the Borei Keila residents were mistaken.

"We did not make promises or threaten them for their thumbprints. We only agreed to take their request for larger homes to City Hall for a decision," he said, adding that they would also ask City Hall that instead of buying two tuk-tuks to ferry people into the city for work, that it give each family US$250.

Sao Vanna, the chief of the HIV community, who does not live with the families facing eviction, said 20 families will be moved to Tuol Sambo perhaps as early as today.

Sao Vanna, who will set up an office at Tuol Sambo, blamed NGOs for the conditions at the relocation site.

"Before, City Hall had plans to construct 4-metre-by-12-metre homes and called upon the NGOs to fund the construction and infrastructure, but without NGO funding ... City Hall did not have enough money," he said.

But on Sunday during a visit to Tuol Sambo - about an hour's tuk-tuk ride away from Borei Keila - residents said that it was clear the municipality could do more to support them.

Ten paces from the green metal shelters that will house the families, workers are building brick homes for families from Russey Keo who lost their houses after a riverbank collapse. According to a construction worker, the Russey Keo homes will be 4 metres by 8 metres, almost double the floor space of the HIV community's homes, which are 3.5 metres by 4.8 metres.
"Why does the municipality make small houses for us and big homes for others?" Sok Sineth asked.

Residents also fear that their community, which is already known as "the AIDS village", will face discrimination.

Resident Touch Chhay Ran said when she visited Tuol Sambo last month she overheard local villagers insulting the Borei Keila community, giving her fears that she will need to endure discrimination on a daily basis.

"They said they were afraid that their community would catch AIDS from us, turning all of Tuol Sambo into ‘the AIDS village'," she said.
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Assembly to rule on MP's legal shield

Written by Meas Sokchea

THE Permanent Committee of the National Assembly is to meet today to consider suspending the parliamentary immunity of Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua, in relation to the defamation lawsuit filed against her last month by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

National Assembly Permanent Committee President Cheam Yeap said a request for the temporary suspension of Mu Sochua's immunity came Friday from Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

"When we have the meeting we will discuss this. This is one of a large number of issues that the committee must resolve," he said, adding that Mu Sochua's immunity would be restored if the court found she was not at fault.

"This is just a temporary suspension [of her immunity] so that the court has the right to question her directly about the lawsuit."

The move has been criticised by observers who say that, while technically legal, the removal of the lawmaker's protection would raise questions about the independence of the courts.

"The court's request is legal, but I would like to emphasise that the courts in Cambodia nowadays are not independent. This issue is very much bound up with politics," said Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, agreed, saying the abuse of power by the ruling party ran counter to the spirit of the Kingdom's Constitution.

"We are concerned about the suspension of [her] immunity. It doesn't seem to be necessary," he said.

"We should think whether it is necessary and in the interests of the people. When one side has all the power and abuses it, it is contrary to the Constitution."

Hun Sen sued Mu Sochua after she filed her own lawsuit against him for comments made during a speech in Kampot on April 4, when, she said, he insulted her by calling her a cheung klang.

Mu Sochua claimed the Khmer term, meaning "strong legs" in English, has derogatory overtones when used in relation to a woman.

But her lawsuit was dismissed by the Municipal Court on Wednesday, with Deputy Prosecutor Hing Bun Chea explaining in a three-page statement that since the prime minister's comments did not refer to Mu Sochua by name, and Hun Sen did not intend to insult any individual with his comments, the suit was not valid.

Mu Sochua told the Post on Sunday that she was unsurprised by the news that she might lose her immunity, claiming her only concern was the reversal of basic democratic rights because of the ruling party's domination of the judicial process.

"I am not worried at all. I just want people to realise that they voted for the CPP to win 90 seats in the National Assembly. But how much justice has the CPP guaranteed for the people? This is not only my story: It is everyone's story," she said.
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Cambodia Tribunal Reduces Sentence for Khmer Rouge Torture Chief

By Daniel Schearf, Bangkok

Cambodia's U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal has ruled a former Khmer Rouge torture chief now on trial was detained "unlawfully" by the military and would be compensated for time served. The ruling means the only Khmer Rouge official to face justice can no longer be sentenced to life in prison.

Cambodia's war crimes tribunal says the military violated the rights of Kang Guek Eav in detaining him after his 1999 arrest.

Better known as Comrade Duch, the former head of the notorious Khmer Rouge S-21 detention center was held for eight years before being turned over to the tribunal.

Duch was arrested and is on trial for his role as head of the detention center, charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder and torture.

He was facing up to life in prison if convicted, but will now have all his time in detention subtracted from any sentence he may receive.

The tribunal's legal communications officer, Lars Olsen, says that means at least 10 years taken off, depending on how long the trial lasts.

"And he would also be entitled to additional remedies which the trial chamber in its decision today said they would address when the time for the sentencing would arise," Olsen said. "That could be typically that he would get extra time off of a sentence because of his unlawful detention."

Olsen says the arrest of Duch was legal, but his detention from 1999 to 2007 was illegal under Cambodian law, which only allows a maximum of three-years provisional detention.

Duch's defense team had asked that he be released from his current detention, but the court rejected that request.

Duch is the only senior former Khmer Rouge official to face justice for crimes committed under its brutal late 1970's rule. He is also the only one to admit responsibility, although he claims he never personally killed anyone.

Under Duch's supervision, more than 12,000 prisoners there were accused of being enemies of the communist Khmer Rouge and then systematically tortured and executed.

Four more senior former leaders are set to face trial in the next year or two.

Up to two-million Cambodians were worked, starved, and executed by the Khmer Rouge in their attempt to create a Communist utopia.

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Alleged Khmer Rouge torturer cries in court

Associated Press Writer

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- A man accused of running an infamous Khmer Rouge torture center broke down in tears at his trial Monday as he spoke of the imprisonment and execution of former comrades in the facility he commanded.

Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch (pronounced Doik), testified to Cambodia's U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal that the prison's own guards and interrogators were also among those executed during the regime's brutal rule, in some cases for simple irregularities and mishaps in carrying out their duties.

He commanded Phnom Penh's S-21 prison, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children were tortured before being sent to their deaths when the communist group held power in 1975-79. About 1.7 million Cambodians died from forced labor, starvation, medical neglect and executions under the regime.

The tribunal also ruled Monday that Duch - who is being tried for crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture - was held in government custody longer than is legally allowed, and if found guilty can apply to have his sentence reduced.

The 66-year-old displayed rare emotion during his testimony as he spoke of seeing fellow revolutionaries locked up in the cells of his prison.

"I did not want them to see my face when they were in such conditions," he said as tears rolled down his face. He said even today he tries not to recall them.

"Betraying friends, yes, I did. That was beyond cowardly," he said.

Duch had previously testified that being sent to S-21 was tantamount to a death sentence. Most prisoners were tortured into giving fanciful confessions that suited the Khmer Rouge's political outlook, though they generally had been loyal members of the group.

He also said more than 100 personnel from S-21 and the Prey Sar prison - a reeducation center on the outskirts of Phnom Penh - were arrested, tortured and executed for minor offenses. He said he was the one who reported such incidents to his superiors.

Those killed included torturers, security guards and interrogators. Their wives and children were also arrested and executed because they were considered the regime's enemies, he said.

Duch is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. He could face a maximum penalty of life in prison; Cambodia has no death penalty.

The tribunal's judges agreed Monday that Cambodian laws only allowed him to be held for three years without trial. Duch had been held by Cambodia's military court from 1999 until 2007, after which he was transferred to the tribunal's custody.

His lawyers have applied several times - most recently in April - for his release from provisional detention, as well as credit for time served and a reduced sentence to compensate Duch for the violation of his rights.

The judges said his detention until 2007 "constitutes a violation of the Cambodian domestic law applicable at the time" and of "his internationally recognized right to a trial within a reasonable time," the judges said in a 15-page ruling.

They said the tribunal was not responsible or liable for the prior abuse of Duch's rights, but agreed that if found guilty, "he is entitled not only to credit for time already spent in detention, but also to a reduction in sentence as a result of previous violations to his rights."

Duch's age, however, means that a reduction in his sentence would have little impact should he be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders will face trial in the next year or two. They include Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith.
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Maybank opens fourth branch in Cambodia

MAYBANK (1155) yesterday opened its fourth branch in Cambodia, located in the city centre on Tep Von Street, Siem Reap City.

The branch will offer full banking facilities and services including deposits, mortgage financing, trade financing, deposit, remittance services as well as foreign exchange services. It also offers ATM facilities which are linked to the Maybank ATM network in Phnom Penh.

In a statement, Maybank head of international, Abdul Farid Alias, said the branch in a provincial location of Cambodia is part of the bank's strategy to tap on the growth potential of the region as well as to support the development of the business and tourism sectors there.

"Siem Reap is one the fastest growing towns in Cambodia and has the advantage of being the gateway to the famous Angkor Wat as well as many other ancient temples. The tourism industry has tremendous potential given the presence of many tourist facilities, namely hotels and businesses. Our branch will be able to serve the needs of the local businesses as well as Malaysian and Singaporean companies which have business activities in the region as well as the country," he said.

Siem Reap Province has a population of one million and Siem Reap is the second largest city in Cambodia. An estimated 70 per cent of its population consisting both local and foreigners live in Siem Reap City itself.

"We plan to open four more branches in Cambodia by the end of the next financial year subject to approval from the authorities," added Abdul Farid.

Its international network currently has over 400 offices in 13 countries, in addition to 384 branches in Malaysia as well as associates in Pakistan (MCB Bank) and Vietnam (An Binh Bank).

Maybank first established its presence in Cambodia in 1993 and has three other offices in the capital city Phnom Penh.

"Maybank Cambodia registered a 22.37 per cent growth in revenue for the 11 months of our current financial year compared to the previous corresponding period. Total loans to various sectors of the economy as at May 2009 grew 64.25 per cent over the previous period," Abdul Farid said, adding that the top three sectors it provides financial support to are telecommunications, manufacturing and general commerce.
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