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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cambodia approves ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement

PHNOM PENH (Xinhua) - Cambodian National Assembly yesterday approved the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement, paving the way for the Kingdom to implement trade facilitation and tariff liberalization among ASEAN member countries.

The agreement is aimed at achieving the establishment of the ASEAN market and the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.

This agreement covers, among others, tariff liberalization, elimination of non-tariff barriers, rules of origin, trade facilitation, customs procedures, standards and conformance, and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.

"It will help reduce or omit import tax, favorable tax for good items from the partners and help facilitate private sector for their business, as well as speed up the flow of investment capital from the outside world," said Nin Saphan, chairwoman for the committee of public work, transport, posts and telecommunication, industry, mine, energy, commerce, urbanization, land management and construction.

"Cambodia has prepared itself to join with other countries in regional integration like the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement, and for Cambodia, the agreement will come into effect in 2018. So we still have time to take actions for trade deal," said Kong Vibol, secretary of state for the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

"Our country still need the state revenue from the import tax for supporting the state expenditure and development infrastructures and the country is the youngest in ASEAN. Therefore, other members allow us to fully implement the agreement in 2018," he said.

"The agreement will also help narrowing the development gap between the ASEAN's old and new members," he added.

It is said that after 2018, Cambodia is still allowed to charge 5 percent of customs duties on 61 farm products imported from other ASEAN countries.
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Cambodia: Pedal to the mettle

By Kerri Jackson

Silver has crossed my palm. Or, more specifically, my wrist. And being fatally attracted to shiny things as I am, silver - in a metaphorical, American dollar sense - is soon crossing the palm of the Cambodian girl now eyeing me expectantly.

I'm in a small silversmith village about two hours' drive north of Phnom Penh, on the potholed, bustling NH5 highway to Battambang in Cambodia's north west.

The city is another bone-rattling four hours away by bus, so this is certainly not the fastest way to travel between the country's two largest cities, but it is a fantastic way to see the rural back blocks of this country. From the emerald-green rice paddies to the clusters of slow-moving oxen, this is a very different Cambodia from the hustle and edginess of Phnom Penh. The only similarity is the motor scooters which beep and toot their way along the highway - although here they're laden with livestock rather than school children.

Then there are the small villages, like this one where our bus stops to load up with silver. Each village between Phnom Penh and Battambang seems to specialise in a craft or industry, whether it's this exquisite silversmithing, pottery, stone carving, or silk farming and weaving.

Each is a small hive for tourists, but they are still a better place to buy your treasures than the heaving markets of Phnom Penh if you want "buy-from-the-manufacturer" bargains.

So it is that our bus now resembles a blinged-out Priscilla wagon, at least on the inside, as it wends its way into Battambang.

This city of some 140,000 people is an elegantly wasted place - comprising just five named streets and a beautiful collection of ramshackle French colonial buildings - located along the meandering riverbanks of Stung Sangker.

Today Battambang city works as a hub, servicing the surrounding agricultural region, home to what it claims is the country's best rice, and a fledgling tourist industry. Visitors come here for the French architecture but stay for the easy pace, the friendly locals and the beautiful scenery.

The vast market seems to take up the entire centre of town. It's a sometimes sobering, olfactory-challenging introduction to Third World food storage and preparation but mostly it's a thriving community centre. With vendors selling everything from fish, meat and vegetables to ready-made snacks, clothing and bicycles, this is the beating heart of this small city.

Once you've explored the town centre there's plenty to see in the surrounding areas. And one of the best ways to see it all is by bicycle.

Cambodia is as flat a country as you're every likely to find, making it perfect for pedal-powered sightseeing. However, temperatures can be scorching, so a word of advice: start your trip early in the day to avoid pedalling through the searing heat of the midday sun. We learnt that the hard way.

The effort of battling through chaotic early-morning scooter traffic is soon rewarded with a calm riverside ride through the city's outskirts towards Wat Slaket, where you can wander among the picturesque temple buildings and monks' living quarters. The monks are friendly and happy to chat to visitors.

"Thank you for your smile. I give you my smile too. It is important to give your smile to people," says one, his smile beaming from a window.

Another 12-year-old boy explains in Khmer to our guide that he asked his mother to let him live at the monaster, y already recognising it as offering a better type life in this very poor country.

For us though, it's time to saddle up again for the big push on through villages and past rice paddies for another 11km to the spectacular Wat Ek Phnom.

Along the way, the roads are lined with stalls, drying rice paper and other bicycles laden down with produce and merchandise. Children rush out of houses giggling, waving and keen to practise their language skills with "hellos!" or "bonjours!"

Wat Ek Phnom, a partly ruined 11th-century temple that was once Hindu but now Buddhist, is a calm, contemplative place. On one side is a lotus-filled water reservoir; on the other, a giant Buddha statue stands majestically amongst the cattle.

Refreshed with a fresh coconut drink, it's time to get our slightly saddle-sore hides back on those bikes for the ride back to Battambang.

As the temperature bolts merrily towards 40C, all sensible Cambodians have retired to the shade for a siesta while we desperately plug our pedals homeward dreaming of hotel swimming pools or cold showers.

Instead, there's the quick, cooling violence of a torrential thunderstorm as we're off the bikes and on the bus for the ride to Prasat Banan, an imposing five-towered temple atop a hill, 30km south of Battambang. More pressingly, it's atop some 358 steps. They are, thankfully, largely under the shade, but still a big ask of bicycle-weary legs. But by the time you reach the top, and let the dots clear from your eyes, the panoramic views across the patchworked countryside more than make up for it. The temple is another moody 11th-century, falling-down stone structure locals say was a model for the grander, more famous temples at Angkor.

There's one more surprise on the road back to Battambang - the Chan Thay Chhoeng winery. Yes, a winery.

Here, one Cambodian woman has taught herself winemaking from English-language books, while teaching herself English from a dictionary. The wine, from a sister in France, produces wine, that is, to be fair, a little rough around the edges but the commitment and story behind it, make it seem a little sweeter.

It's a good spot to wrap up a tour of this area as it seems to encapsulate the mix of cultures and history that is Battambang's biggest asset.

Kerri Jackson travelled to Cambodia with Cathay Pacific and Adventure World
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Webb Assures Cambodia Of "very Close Look" At The Trade Act

U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who is on a two-week tour of five South-East Asian nations, made a lightning visit to Cambodia Tuesday to 'invigorate' the United States' relationship with that country.

Talking to reporters at the capital, Phnom Penh, Webb said he assured during talks with the minister of commerce that Washington will take a "very close look" at the Trade Act of 2009, a measure introduced to provide duty-free access to the U.S. market for garments made in 14 least-developed countries.

He stressed the need for labor standards in beneficiary countries meeting international standards.

He said he discussed with the leaders of two of the opposition groups about the ongoing crackdown by the Cambodian government against its opponents. The U.S. wants to do "what we can to encourage political diversity in Cambodia," he added.

He is to meet with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen later in the day.

Chairman of the U.S. Senate's Sub-Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Webb visited Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand with the mission of the U.S. government's re-engagement with Southeast Asia at all levels.

He will wind up the tour with a visit to Vietnam later Tuesday.

by RTT Staff Writer
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US Senator Jim Webb makes quick stop in Cambodia on Asian tour

Phnom Penh - US Senator Jim Webb made a lightning visit to Cambodia on Tuesday as part of a regional trip designed to 'invigorate the relationship' between the United States and South-East Asian nations.

Webb is in the region in his capacity as chairman of the Sub-Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. His trip takes in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

At a press conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday ahead of a scheduled meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Webb was asked about the ongoing crackdown by the Cambodian government against its opponents.

The question followed a strong European Union statement issued earlier in August in which the EU warned that the government's actions could narrow Cambodia's democratic space.

Webb would not be drawn on whether or how the US would exert pressure on Phnom Penh to respect democratic rights, saying only that the US wants to do 'what we can to encourage political diversity in Cambodia.'

'As a part of my visit here I met with the leaders of two of the opposition groups to hear their views, and we had [a] discussion with respect to the issues that you mentioned, and we will continue to listen to people from all sides,' Webb said. 'I listened in great detail to the concerns of the two opposition leaders on that topic.'

He was more forthcoming on the Trade Act of 2009, a measure introduced by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein to provide duty-free access to the US market for garments made in 14 least-developed countries.

Cambodia, whose economically vital garment industry has been battered over the past year, would benefit from the passage of the bill. However the legislation is currently languishing in the US Senate.

'That issue was the subject of a pretty lengthy discussion with the minister of commerce, and I committed to him that we'll take a very close look at the legislation,' Webb said.

Webb said one key concern is that labour standards in beneficiary countries should meet international standards.

'It's very important to the Democratic Party in the United States to make sure we have a fair playing field among our workers and workers overseas,' he explained. 'That being said, the minister made a very compelling case for us to look at that legislation and we will do that when we get back.'

Webb leaves Cambodia later on Tuesday headed to Vietnam.
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Rob Hamill faces brother's killer

By JEFF NEEMS - Waikato Times

Hamilton man Rob Hamill faced his brother's alleged killer in a Cambodian court yesterday, but the former torture camp commandant claims he can not remember him.

Speaking to the Times from Phnom Penh shortly after testifying at the UN-backed trial of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch and the head of the notorious S21 prison camp under Pol Pot's Khymer Rouge regime, Mr Hamill was not surprised by Duch's claim he did not recall Mr Hamill's older brother Kerry.

Kerry Hamill is believed to have been one of a handful of Westerners killed in the camp between 1975 and 1979. Kerry Hamill's yacht strayed into Cambodian waters in 1978, and while exact details of his death remain unknown, he is believed to have been tortured and executed while in S21.

Duch has testified he carried out orders from the regime's late leader Pol Pot, and Mr Hamill said Duch continued with that defence when he gave the equivalent of a victim impact statement in Phnom Penh's Extraordinary Chambers of Courts of Cambodia.

"His out is that he was just taking orders. It was either that, or be killed himself."

An emotionally drained Mr Hamill said there was sense of relief at having made his statement, aimed at court judges and detailing the huge impact of his brother's death on the Hamill family. He was able to make extensive eye contact with Duch, who sat just metres from him.

"It was very difficult, but he was certainly very attentive," Mr Hamill said. "I didn't look at him that much when I was making my statement - I was really looking up at the judges."

Reading his statement from notes, Mr Hamill said he was able to look directly at Duch when he made "a couple of pointed comments", while Mr Hamill's wife Rachel noticed Duch nervously fidgeting during particularly emotional parts of her husband's testimony.

"I had some emotional moments in there," Mr Hamill said of his appearance, which lasted just under an hour. "I was wiping away a few tears as I was telling the story."

"Whenever I said things that were emotionally charged about him (Duch), he was shuffling, pretty nervy..."

Mr Hamill believed Duch to be a "very sharp cookie, playing the court really well". Mr Hamill was able to directly question Duch, and asked him how long his brother was interned for.

"But the answer I got was that he (Duch) didn't know...which was a bit disappointing. He just didn't remember."

"The longer Kerry was in there, the worse it would've been," Mr Hamill said. "I know he was in there for at least two months."

Ad Feedback Mr Hamill said Duch recalled Kerry Hamill's British crewmate John Dewhurst, "and he just said they both were killed at the same time".

"He said specifically he remembered the British man, but not my brother. It is disappointing, and I find it hard to believe...they were brought in at the same time, two Westerners."

Mr Hamill said although somewhat surreal, events at the trial had transpired much as he had expected. While he had not neccessarily gained any more information about his brother's death, Mr Hamill said he felt it was significant to represent the estimated 17,000 people killed in the camp, and their families.

Feedback from lawyers participating in the trial was that Mr Hamill's statement and questioning had made a strong impact on the judges.

"It was pretty powerful, being in there, and being part of that. I really felt I got the message across that I wanted to."

The trip to Cambodia for the trial will be an integral part of a documentary on Mr Hamill's search for justice for his brother, entitled Brother No 1.
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