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Friday, July 17, 2009

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Kampot, Cambodia

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

KAMPOT, Cambodia (Reuters) - Got 48 hours to explore Kampot? The quaint, riverside town in southwestern Cambodia is attracting more tourists with its relaxed atmosphere and run-down yet fine French architectural legacy.


6 p.m. - Relax with a drink at one of many bars on Riverside Road, which runs along the Kampong Bay River. The east bank has spectacular views of Bokor Mountain.

7 p.m. - Dine at Ta Eou, a charming place built on stilts over the river. The menu is extensive and includes lots of seafood. Crab with peppercorns is a favorite.

8 p.m. - Drop by the Kampot Traditional School of Music for Handicapped and Orphaned children -- near the old market -- which teaches children traditional music and dance. The performances are free but donations are welcome.


7 a.m. - After a quick breakfast, head out for a day-long jungle trek in Bokor National Park, the main reason most travelers venture into Kampot. There is a road up to Bokor Mountain but it is sometimes closed to visitors. Check with local guides first.

Most tours consist of a challenging three-hour trek and then a drive up to the top, where the first stop is the Black Palace, the remains of the residence of former King Sihanouk.

Other attractions include the abandoned buildings of Bokor Hill station -- a Catholic church and the eerie French hotel and casino. Some locals say that gamblers who had lost everything at the casino often jumped to their death from the mountain.

In its heyday, Bokor was a getaway for French officials, who headed up the mountain to escape the tropical heat. But years of neglect have left ghostly ruins, often shrouded in fog and clouds. If the clouds pass, admire the spectacular view of the coast and the cool mountain air.

Bokor National Park is also an important wildlife reserve -- however the average visitor is unlikely to see much. Tigers are present but very rare, although gibbon can often be heard.

The two-hour trek back down includes a stop at a waterfall for those who want to refresh themselves with a swim.

7 p.m. - Back in Kampot, head to one of the town's massage parlors where blind masseurs will help take away the aches of the day's trek.

8. p.m. - Enjoy a well-deserved drink at the rooftop balcony bar Rikitikitavi, which also has a charming restaurant that serves a mix of Khmer and international food.

9 a.m. - After breakfast, head out to a pepper plantation. In Cambodia's colonial days, Kampot pepper was the king of spices in Parisian kitchens but during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, most plantations were destroyed. Today, local farmers have started to grow and sell black peppercorns again.

11 a.m. - Limestone caves dot the landscape around Kampot. Some have exotic rock formations and Buddhist shrines and are worth a visit. The Phnom Chhnork caves shelter a pre-Angkorian ruin.

2 p.m. - In town, stop off at the Epic Arts cafe to enjoy cakes, bagels and shakes -- the homemade chutney and banana jam are a must-try. The cafe, which employs disabled staff, also sells cards and handicrafts.

3 p.m. - Take a walk around town and soak up the relaxed atmosphere. Although small, Kampot has charming quiet lanes, and architecture influenced by both the Chinese and the French.

4 p.m. - Set sail on the Kampong Bay river, and stay on the water to catch the sunset. If the water level is high enough, head to the Tek Chhou rapids, a popular swimming area.

Passing by lush green scenery, watch fishermen getting ready to go out to sea and sail pass dozens of huts on stilts.
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Nordic Aviation looks to Cambodia

DENMARK-based Nordic Aviation Capital (NAC), an aircraft-leasing company, said Thursday it was looking to expand its business into Cambodia before the end of the year having recently opened its first office in the region in Singapore.

The world's largest lessor of turboprop aircraft said that it planned to visit the Kingdom in September or October this year to look for clients.
"We're certainly interested in Cambodia," Mats Ericson, the head of the new NAC Singapore office and vice president of sales and acquisitions, said by telephone.

"We'll be seeing how we can assist [Cambodia's aviation industry]."

With Siem Reap Airways currently grounded, the Kingdom does not have any airlines flying but will launch new national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air on July 27 at Phnom Penh International Airport.

Explaining the decision to open its Singapore office, NAC's first permanent presence outside of Europe, Ericson said that having first entered the Southeast Asian region 10 years ago, the company felt the increasing potential here required stronger representation.

"We think Southeast Asia is a growth market," he said, adding that NAC has already leased aircraft to companies in Indonesia and Vietnam.
NAC, which is based in Billund, Denmark, mainly leases ATRs and Bombardiers, according to the company's Web site, and has over 100 aircraft, including a number of jets.
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World Bank warns against Cambodian evictions

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The World Bank has urged Cambodia's government to halt forced evictions from disputed land, which it said was threatening the livelihoods of thousands of urban dwellers.

About 150 families were evicted on Thursday and Friday by 70 armed police and dozens of demolition workers from a site along the Mekong river in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

In a statement, the World Bank said a fair and transparent mechanism for resolving land disputes needed to be established.

"This has become a major problem in Phnom Penh and other fast growing cities in Cambodia -- creating uncertainty for, and putting at risk the livelihoods of, thousands of poor people."

Donors have in recent years injected up to $1 billion a year to fight poverty in Cambodia, where 35 percent of the country's 14 million people are living below the poverty line.

The World Bank said the authorities had failed to go through the proper process of negotiation with residents, which violated international norms and breached human rights laws.

Cambodia's government, which has been desperately wooing foreign investment and needs the donors at a time when its economy is shrinking, rejected the report and said those evicted had been offered adequate compensation.

"The government always has relocation and social safety networks in place ahead of removing the squatters," said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.

"But these land-grab opportunists created these problems in the first place," he added.

Amnesty International has also pressed for an end to the evictions, saying families had rejected the state's compensation packages because they were deemed "unfair and inadequate".

Roeun Sareth, 49, who was evicted early on Friday, said his home was torn down after residents asked for more money.

"They turned us down when we negotiated for fair compensation," he said.
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Amnesty International condemns forced evictions of Cambodian families

The forced eviction of 60 low-income families in central Phnom Penh on Thursday and Friday was strongly condemned by Amnesty International today.

The families dismantled their homes after three years of government harassment and intimidation, with no choice but to accept inadequate compensation rather than have their homes demolished.

Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher, said:

'Amnesty International strongly condemns this forced eviction and the deeply flawed process that led to it.

'Group 78 was clearly cut off from due process and denied justice. The Municipality of Phnom Penh made no attempts to properly consult with the affected community or explore any feasible alternative to eviction.

'This makes a mockery of the government's obligations to protect the right to housing.'

Before dawn today (Friday) at least 70 security forces, some armed with guns and electronic batons, moved in and blocked off the area known as Group 78 where four remaining families were holding out, with human rights workers and journalists monitoring the situation. Dozens of hired workers demolished what was left of the dismantled houses. Within hours, the resisting families had agreed to leave.

The families in Group 78 had been living under the threat of forced evictions for three years, with the Cambodian authorities following none of the safeguards required under international law.

The Municipality issued a final eviction notice to Group 78 in April 2009 and, in a series of subsequent meetings, officials, including Phnom Penh's deputy governor, warned the community that the police and military police would demolish their homes if they did not accept the compensation on offer. The community had also received information that up to 700 security forces had been mobilised for the eviction.

Group 78 residents started moving into the area on the riverfront in 1983 and have applied for formal land titles several times since 2006, but the authorities have ignored their applications in spite of official documentation proving strong ownership claims. The final eviction order was issued by the Municipality, which has no mandate under national law to issue such a document, and without the judicial overview required under the 2001 Land Law. It was issued despite the fact that a local Commission has yet to determine who owns the disputed land. The options for alternative accommodation and compensation offered by the Municipality were inadequate.

The Cambodian Government has consistently failed to guarantee the right to adequate housing and protect its population against forced evictions. In 2008 alone, Amnesty International received reports about 27 forced evictions, affecting an estimated 23,000 people. Amnesty International is repeating its calls on the government to end forced evictions and introduce a moratorium on all mass evictions until the legal framework protects human rights.

Amnesty International is calling on the Cambodian Government to end forced evictions and introduce a moratorium on all mass evictions until the legal framework protects human rights.

Forced evictions are evictions which are carried out without adequate procedural and legal safeguards, such as adequate notice, prior consultation with those affected, provision of legal remedies and adequate alternative accommodation. Under international law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR), Cambodia is prohibited from carrying out forced evictions, and must protect people from forced evictions.
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Dose of the Delta Blues


The rock gods must have been smiling when, in 2001, Zac and Ethan Holtzman met Chhom Nimol at a nightclub in Long Beach, California's Little Phnom Penh. Inspired by cassette tapes Ethan hauled home from a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia, the American brothers had set about the rather quixotic task of forming a Khmer rock band. They'd learned a couple of songs, but needed a singer to give them life. They found one that day in Chhom, a recent émigré with a knockout voice. Dengue Fever, that singular, strange and wonderful ensemble, was born.

Four years later, Dengue Fever traveled to Cambodia with their friend John Pirozzi, an American director and cinematographer. That trip is the subject of Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, a DVD/CD combination released in April. Shot in 10 days with a small, Cambodian crew, Sleepwalking is part travelogue, part ode, and an affectionate look at a band that straddles worlds. In front of a Cambodian crowd, Chhom, who spoke almost no English when she met the Holtzmans, is finally at home, while the band tags along, alien, outsized and bumbling good-naturedly through the simmering streets of Phnom Penh. Cross-cultural dimensions like this set the film apart from typically slick rock-doc fare.

Yet Sleepwalking is still very much a rock 'n' roll story. Dengue Fever's music is a revival of a unique genre of psychedelic pop that thrived, briefly, in 1960s Cambodia. With U.S. troops stationed in neighboring Vietnam, Khmer musicians like Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea mixed the trippy rock of Armed Forces Radio with Khmer melodies, creating spaced-out, original tunes. It all ended, tragically, with the rise of Pol Pot; many of the country's musicians were persecuted or killed by the Khmer Rouge.

Sleepwalking is dedicated to the memory of those fallen artists, and is a more than fitting tribute. Dengue Fever meet and jam with musicians who have attempted to preserve the Khmer sound. Together, in the film's lively finale, they perform a concert in a Phnom Penh slum. The crowd initially gawks but ends up being thoroughly charmed. Spend a summer afternoon listening to Dengue Fever's bittersweet corpus and you just might be won over yourself.

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