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Monday, August 17, 2009

Mekong River Raises Cost of Trans-Asia Railway

By Luke Hunt, Phnom Penh

Plans to finally finish the massive Trans-Asia Railway have hit cost hurdles in Cambodia. The initial findings in a Chinese feasibility study shows the need to build several bridges in the Mekong River Delta will raise the final cost of linking Phnom Penh with the Vietnamese border by rail. New estimates put the cost at $600 million for the Phnom Penh to Vietnam leg.

A preliminary technical study report says that two big bridges - a thousand meter span over the Mekong River and 1,500 meter bridge over the Tonle Sap - will be the big ticket items. The Chinese-funded study, which will be published soon, estimates they will have a combined price tag of $262 million.

More than $100 million will also be spent on smaller bridges to enable safe passage across the Mekong Delta.

Cambodia has divided its railway system in two. The China Railway Group will build an entirely new 255 kilometer line in the east while Australia's Toll Holdings will take control and reconstruct old French-built lines in the west.
Derek Mayes is a board member of the Australian Business Association of Cambodia. He says the economic benefits will be enormous for the Southeast Asian economy, with rail offering a cheaper and safer alternative to road.

"I think it will be very large, it certainly will increase traffic on the rails because road transport as we know is very expensive and considerably dangerous, considering the safety aspects on the roads here," Mayes said.

The problem, though, is the initial costs. Touch Chankosal is Cambodia's undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. He says that the $600 million needed to connect Phnom Penh to Vietnam represents a huge sum for the Cambodians. The government probably will have to seek additional capital from outside the country, possibly the Asian Development Bank, if it is to be completed.

The Trans-Asian Railway project intends to use existing and new rail lines to connect all of Asia to Central Asia, South Asia and Western Europe. In all, tracks will link 28 countries, although only less than half that number has ratified the agreement with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

In Southeast Asia, the line will connect Singapore to Turkey, with tracks running through Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
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Brother of New Zealander jailed, killed by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge rages at prison commander

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The brother of a New Zealander tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge three decades ago told the man who ordered the execution on Monday that he wished him a similarly gruesome fate.

Kerry Hamill was 28 when his yacht was blown off course into Cambodian waters in 1978, and he was captured by the radical communist regime. He and a shipmate, Briton John Dewhirst, were taken to Phnom Penh's S-21 prison and later killed.

Kerry's brother, Rob, wept as he testified at the trial of S-21's commander, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch — the first of five senior Khmer Rouge defendants to be tried by a U.N.-assisted tribunal and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions.

"Duch, at times I have wanted to smash you, to use your words. The same way that you smashed so many others," Rob Hamill said, sitting in a suit and tie, his hands folded before him. "Smash" was the euphemism the Khmer Rouge used when ordering executions.

"At times, I have imagined you shackled, starved, whipped and clubbed, viciously. I have imagined your scrotum electrified, being forced to eat your own feces, being nearly drowned and having your throat cut," said Hamill, referring to some of the horrors faced by prisoners.

Duch sat behind him, expressionless.

"I have wanted that to be your experience, your reality. I have wanted you to suffer the way you made Kerry and so many others (suffer)," Hamill said.

About a dozen Westerners were among the estimated 16,000 people held at the prison before being killed. The communist regime's radical policies while in power from 1975-79 caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people nationwide by execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition.

Rob Hamill, 45, a rower who represented New Zealand at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, said his family learned of his brother's death 16 months after he disappeared. Their parents read in a newspaper that he was executed after two months at S-21.

"Death not by shipwreck, not by drowning or freak accident, but death by torture. Death by torture not over a few seconds or minutes or hours or days or weeks even," said Hamill.

Asked by judges for his response, Duch (pronounced DOIK) repeated his earlier testimony that he received orders to kill the Westerners and burn their bodies.

He asked for forgiveness from the victims' families, acknowledging that they had suffered miserably.

He said he was not offended by being blamed.

"Even if the people threw stones at me and caused my death, I would not say anything," he told the court.

Duch is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and murder, and could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Cambodia has no death penalty.

His trial is expected to wrap up by the end of the year.
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Malaria deaths, infections in Cambodia on rise

PHNOM PENH, The reported number of fatal malaria cases almost doubled in the first half of 2009 compared with the same period last year, while the overall number of infections rose more than 58 percent, local media reported Monday, citing the figures from the Ministry of Health officials.

Tol Bunkea, chief epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, was quoted by the Cambodia Daily as saying that the number of malaria deaths this year stood at 130 out of a total of 32,638 registered malaria cases. Dr Bunkea said that in the first half of 2008 there were 67 fatalities out of 20,563 reported cases of malaria.

Duong Socheat, director of National Center of Parasitology, Entomology, and Malaria Control, said the increase of infections was due to the early rains and the fact that the government had distributed mosquito nets too late this year.

Dr Socheat said the increasing number of people migrating to remote, forested areas on the Cambodian-Thai border, such as in Pailin and Oddar Meanchey provinces, was also leading to a rise in malaria cases.

"People are moving there to work, clear the forest and do farming in areas that have a lot of mosquitoes. Then they come back with malaria," he was quoted as saying, and adding that, "this migration is still the major cause of this disease."

Dr Socheat said the government is also increasingly concerned about the effectiveness of medicine for malaria treatment, as recent international studies found strains of drug resistant malaria in western Cambodia "Before it took 48 hours to kill the parasite, but now [in some cases] it takes 80 hours," he said.

In February, the World Health Organization started a 22.5 million U.S. dollars cross-border project to contain the drug-resistant malaria strains.
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Cambodia: Appointment Of Judges

Cambodia: Appointment Of Judges And Prosecutors Is Unconstitutional

Lately there has been a hectic time within the Cambodian judiciary with the actual and planned retirement and appointments of many judges and prosecutors. The government has retired and replaced half of the members, two ex-officio and two appointed, of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM), the supreme judicial body responsible for the nomination and discipline of judges and prosecutors. A further 27 are also to be retired. In the meantime, some 32 judges and prosecutors, including four who are the de facto age of retirement of 60, have been appointed to new positions.

In a statement dated 7 August 2009 (see CAMBODIA: Law on the statute of judges, not their retirement, is the right end from which to tackle judicial reform), the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has already pointed out the unconstitutionality of the government’s infringement upon the jurisdiction and independence of the SCM when it had bypassed it and retired and replaced those four SCM members. According to the country’s Constitution, the nomination, including appointment, retirement and transfer, as well as the discipline of judges and prosecutors are the responsibility of the SCM, and not that of the government. The SCM is the supreme body of the judiciary which is chaired by the country’s king and which also has the responsibility of ensuring judicial independence.

The AHRC has also urged the Cambodian government to enact two long-overdue laws which the country has specifically stipulated (Art.135 of the Constitution) and which would provide the legal background and framework for the judiciary as required under Art.14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right to a fair trial by an independent, competent and impartial tribunal established by law. With the law on the statute of judges and prosecutors, the age of retirement would be officially fixed and known, and actual retirement could be set without arousing any suspicion of favouritism for those who wish to remain in active service.

The AHRC has further noticed that the appointment of judges and prosecutors, as shown in the king’s successive appointment decrees, has not respected the principle of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary as enshrined the country’s Constitutions (Arts 51 and 128). In these appointments, the Minister of Justice, a cabinet member and also a member of the SCM, has made nomination proposals, received the approval of the SCM and submitted them to the king for signing. For some appointments, the SCM has been bypassed altogether and the proposals directly submitted to the king for signature.

This practice contravenes Art 134 of the country’s Constitution which says, among other things, that “The Supreme Council of the Magistracy shall make proposals to the King on the appointment of judges and prosecutors to all courts.” It should be declared unconstitutional when, according Art. 150 of the same Constitution, “Laws and decisions by the State institutions shall have to be in strict conformity with the Constitution.”

The Cambodian government and its ministry of justice in particular seem to have exploited the absence of the constitutional review or any other forms of judicial review of their decisions and have tried to rule by decree, at least in appointment and retirement of judges and prosecutors. The constitutional review of laws seems clear cut when a specific number of public figures and even ordinary citizens may request for it. However, there is almost a complete silence over the constitutional review of decisions of state institutions, the government and its ministries included. Only a litigant who feels his or her rights are affected by such a decision could raise the issue of its unconstitutionality with the Constitutional Council through the Supreme Court. Unlike in the case of promulgated laws, neither any public figure mentioned above nor any concerned citizen may request for the constitutional review of decisions of state institutions. Nor is the Constitutional Council habilitated to do this constitutional

The AHRC strongly urges the Minister of Justice to respect the principle of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary and the SCM, refrain from infringing upon the jurisdiction of the SCM, and let this supreme judicial body fully exercise its full constitutional authority over the nomination and discipline of judges and prosecutors. The Minister of Justice should relinquish its control of the SCM Secretariat and transfer it back where it belongs, that is, to the SCM. It should instead secure for the SCM adequate resources to enable it to fulfill its constitutional duties in the nomination and discipline of judges and prosecutors, and in the independence of the judiciary.

AHRC further urges that all decisions of state institutions, including those of the government and the Ministry of Justice regarding the nomination and discipline of judges and prosecutors as well as the independence of the judiciary, should be in strict conformity with the Constitution as specifically stipulated under its Art 150. The Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Constitutional Council should therefore be amended in order to subject such decisions to the same constitutional review as all laws.

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Vietnam, Cambodia mull rice venture to steady prices

VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnamese and Cambodian officials met this week to discuss setting up a state-owned joint rice mill project to control prices, a local association said.

An official from the Vietnam Food Association said Thursday that the Southern Food Corporation (Vinafood 2) and the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam would be the Vietnamese partners, representing a 60 percent stake in the Cambodia-based joint venture.

The first rice venture between the two countries would combine the rice processing experience of the Vietnamese partners with Cambodia’s rice production sector, which has been largely untapped for exports, said the official.

Vietnam is the world’s second biggest rice exporter, having shipped nearly US$1.7 billion worth of rice in the first seven months this year.

Cambodian rice yields have been increasing and its government has encouraged businesses to process for export, according to the association.

About 1 million tons of Cambodian rice was ready for export, said the association. The competition, as well as a high summer-fall yield in Vietnam, was pushing prices down, according to local officials.

The new venture is expected to help prevent prices from falling, the association said.

The association aims to prevent price drops by asking members to buy 400,000 tons of the grain from farmers in order to increase its rice stockpiles.

Regional association

A Thai official said Saturday that five Southeast Asian nations may set up a rice-trade association next year to cooperate in stabilizing rice prices.

Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar will also cooperate on other issues related to food security and production, said Chiya Yimvilai, a spokesman at a meeting of ASEAN economic ministers in Bangkok. The countries would also work together on developing rice products, he said.

“It won’t be like OPEC,” said Chiya, speaking at a press briefing. “Our objective is to help prevent prices from falling too much, but we won’t jointly set the prices.”
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