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Friday, August 21, 2009

Tourist arrivals, garments may lift Cambodia economy

PHNOM PENH, Tourist arrivals in Cambodia rose in July after dipping slightly in the first half, and garment sales to Asia are picking up, officials said on Friday, suggesting a slump in the economy might be contained.

The International Monetary Fund has forecast the economy would shrink 0.5 percent this year after expanding 5.5 percent in 2008, which was a sharp slowdown from four years of double-digit growth.

The number of tourists visiting the country in the first six months of 2009 dropped 1.1 percent from last year to 1.08 million, but in July arrivals rose 13 percent from a year before to 106,528, according to tourist ministry data.

"I can see the worst is over for Cambodia's tourist industry and we will see more tourist arrivals from now on," Deputy Minister for Tourism So Mara told Reuters.

The country is aiming to welcome 2.25 million tourists in 2009 after 2.2 million last year.
Officials were also taking heart from the breakdown of data from the garment industry, Cambodia's biggest export sector.

Garment exports in the first six months dropped 24 percent from last year to $1.1 billion.
However, exports to Asian markets rose 18 percent to $56.74 million in that period and those to Japan alone doubled to $9.61 million, according to a commerce ministry report.

"Although the increase in demand from Asian markets is small, it is a positive sign of recovery for us," Mean Sophea, head of the commerce ministry's external trade department, told Reuters.
Garments are Cambodia's biggest export earner, bringing in $2.78 billion last year. The authorities expect a drop of 30 percent this year.

Garment factories mushroomed earlier this decade and in 2005 there were about 270.
That figure had dropped to around 140 after factories closed because of the global economic crisis, according to the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), but 26 new factories have opened this year, a sign of recovery.
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Cambodia, Thailand trade media barbs over dispute marine deployments+

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 21 (AP) - (Kyodo)—Cambodia and Thailand have traded allegations and counterallegations via the media recently over the deployment of naval forces in a disputed area in the Gulf of Thailand, with Cambodia denying Friday Thai charges that its navy has violated bilateral patrol agreements.

The brouhaha began last Saturday when The Bangkok Post quoted an anonymous Thai military source as saying the Thai navy had set up a new base on Koh Kut near an area of overlapping claims after Cambodia granted a concession to French oil company Total S.A. to explore for oil and gas in the region.

Other Thai military sources claimed later that Cambodian naval vessels were patrolling in the disputed area last week, which Thailand said was a violation of an agreement on the overlapping area that requires each side to inform the other when naval patrols will be carried out.

Cambodia has denied the Thai allegations delivered via the press and most leading Cambodian newspapers highlighted those denials in their stories Friday.

Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Cambodia's National Defense Ministry, denied the reports outright and said Cambodian naval vessels never entered the overlapping area.

Instead, he claimed, the Thai Royal Navy had conducted an exercise that included an aircraft carrier and several warships near Koh Kut.

He added the naval exercise was an apparent show of force after the Cambodian government granted the oil and gas exploration rights to Total to explore for oil in nearby waters.

The Bangkok Post said Thailand's Ministry of Defense plans to protest Cambodian patrols via the Foreign Ministry.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for Cambodia's Foreign Ministry, said he has not seen any protest note yet, and he too denied Cambodian naval activity in the disputed area.

Cambodia announced July 19 it had awarded rights to Total to explore in a 2,430-square-kilometer area that is also claimed by Thailand.

So far, Cambodia and Thailand have not faced off over their maritime border, but some fear a confrontation may not be far off.

Since July last year, the two countries' militaries have skirmished several times across a disputed land border near Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple, which was listed around the same time as a World Heritage Site, despite claims by some in Thailand to the temple.

Cambodia claims Thai troops crossed into its territory, triggering short-lived firefights, while Thailand claims its troops have always remained on the Thai side of the border.
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UN appeals for charges to be dropped against Cambodian accused

The United Nations has called for charges to be dropped against two Cambodian men accused of killing trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004. The men spent years in jail, but campaigning by Cambodian and international human rights groups who believe they are scapegoats, led to them being released on bail in January. Now, the Appeal Court has ordered that the case be re-investigated.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speakers: Brad Cox, director the documentary, 'Who Killed Chea Vichea?'

COX: I agree 100 per cent [that charges should be dropped against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Ouen]. For the last five years they've tried to build the case; they've never produced any credible evidence and so its a long time coming. These guys should have been never even arrested in the first place.

COCHRANE: And why were they arrested?

COX: Ah, well there're a lot of theories of why they were arrested. There was a lot of international pressure on the government and the police to make an arrest on the case, it was very high profile. Chea Vichea was known internationally as well as nationally and it appears they needed a couple of scapegoats and these two guys fell in their laps and that's who they decided to go with. One of them wasn't even in Phnom Penh, he was 40 miles away on the day of the killing but from the police perspective that didn't seem to matter. They were used as scapegoats anyway.

COCHRANE: Now you talk of "they" needing scapegoats... Outside the court this week Chea Vichea's brother, Chea Mony, repeated allegations he's made before that the government was involved in his brother's murder. And Khieu Sopheak, the Ministry of Interior spokesman threatened to take him to court over those kind of statements. Has your investigation uncovered any evidence of the authorities being involved in Chea Vichea's death?

COX: Well, I'm not sure what evidence when Chea Mony said that he said that the government killed his brother. What I do know is that the police, led by Hok Lundy and Heng Pov, did deliberately frame the two men in the case - I prove that in the movie that is being released next month. The question is, 'Who told the police to frame these guys and why?' My guess is that Chea Mony assumes that the government had to tell the police how to do this because, who else is there to tell the police? I assume that's his reasoning, but you'd have to ask him, I'm not really sure.

COCHRANE: Now Chea Vichea wasn't the only prominent figure killed around that time. Can you tell us briefly about some others and what's happened with those cases?

COX: Well in the year before he was killed, there was a slew of murders, mostly politically-related. In the beginning of 2003, there was monk, Sam Bun Thoeun, who was urging monks to vote, who strongly supported the opposition. There was Om Radsady, who was a very close adviser to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was the president of the FUNCINPEC party.

COCHRANE: And what's happened as a result of these kinds of cases? Have there been investigations? Have there been convictions?

COX: Well all these cases are similar in many ways. Number one, almost all of them were killed by two men on a motorbike. All these cases were investigated by Heng Pov, of the Phnom Penh police. All of these have had very unsatisfactory conclusions - either no-one was arrested or the people who were arrested, like in the Chea Vichea case, were obviously innocent of the case.

COCHRANE: Now we've heard earlier about the Khmer Rouge tribunal as an important step in establishing some kind of bottom line of justice in Cambodia. How important is this case in terms of establishing a strong position on impunity?

COX: Well, I think this case is a good example of the impunity that continues to exist there and this case is very similar to a lot of other murder cases, some of which I just mentioned to you now and there are others even from that same time period. I think if the government was serious about finding justice for these people, then you would see some of these cases being satisfactorily concluded. But that isn't the case and there's wide speculation that the courts are controlled by the government; they're told how to handle cases, anything that is political has to go through them and so they end up what is best for them and justice has very little to so with it.
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Petition filed for expulsion of Belgian paedophile from Cambodia

Phnom Penh - Seven child protection organizations have petitioned Cambodia's chief of police to expel a Belgian man twice convicted of child sex crimes, national media reported Friday. Three years ago Belgian national Philippe Dessart received an 18-year sentence from a Cambodian court for sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy. He was released earlier this year after a change in the law.

Dessart then moved into the home of his former victim in Banteay Meanchey province in western Cambodia and reportedly plans to marry the boy's mother.

Samleang Seila, who heads APLE, an anti-paedophile organization, told the Cambodia Daily newspaper that the petition was filed on August 4, but that he had not yet had a response from the police chief.

"We are pursuing urgent action - whether his visa must be cancelled or anything else," Samleang Seila told the newspaper.

Samleang Seila said he had seen Dessart walking in the capital Phnom Penh this week with his former victim.

"It is not appropriate that the victim goes around with him," he said.

Dessart was previously convicted in Belgium of child rape and torture in the 1990s, for which he served three years.

Dessart's lawyer, Dun Vibol, said his client had served his sentence and therefore has the right to remain in Cambodia.

"Doing this is not right, and [the child protection organizations] don't give him the chance to correct himself to reintegrate into society," Dun Vibol said.
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