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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Australian agro-deal in Cambodia carries risks, rewards - Feature

Phnom Penh - As a former finance minister of Australia, Peter Costello is comfortable with large numbers. The latest is his proposal on behalf of an Australian fund to invest 600 million US dollars into at least 100,000 hectares of land concessions in Cambodia. The concessions would see private equity investors pumping money into plantations of teak, palm oil, sugar, rice and bananas. In return, Cambodia would get 150,000 jobs, the government said after Costello met with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Significant investment, plenty of jobs plus the promise of improved agricultural methods? Such a deal should be good for Cambodia on all three counts.

But human rights workers said they worry the country's ongoing problems with corruption and poor governance combined with often-violent land evictions mean it is less certain that ordinary people would benefit.

And as veteran opposition legislator Son Chhay made clear, transparency in investment deals is hardly the order of the day.

Son Chhay has plenty of experience in how the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) operates when it comes to investments. He headed parliament's foreign affairs committee until 2008 but said his deputy, a member of the CPP, regularly prevented him from getting information on deals.

"It's still the case that we are not able to get our hands [on investment documents], and that's a cause for great concern," he said.

In the past two decades, much of rural Cambodia has been carved up into economic land concessions (ELCs). The UN's human rights office released a report three years ago that said 59 large concessions totalling almost 950,000 hectares had been granted to private companies to develop agricultural-industrial plantations.

The report made it clear that the true figure was certainly higher because data on smaller ELCs were not available. What was clear, it concluded, was that the concessions had "adversely affected the human rights and livelihoods of Cambodia's rural communities."

In the intervening three years, government figures showed it has approved 33 more agricultural-industrial projects worth 837 million dollars although they did not indicate how much land is involved. State-to-state deals, however, are not on that list, and Qatar, Kuwait and South Korea have so far expressed interest in, or signed deals for, ELCs.

Human rights workers said risks to the rural poor over such deals are significant because they are regularly evicted to make way for foreign investors. The government's often-brutal approach to evictions and its disregard for its own laws in doing so have raised concerns abroad.

Such government behaviour was one of the items discussed by the UN's special rapporteur on human rights during a recent two-week visit. Surya Subedi asked the government to suspend all land evictions until proper legal safeguards are in place.

The government denied the request, citing the need to develop the country. It told Subedi that national guidelines on evictions were being drafted but did not say when they would appear.

The UN envoy expressed cautious optimism in telling reporters that the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution that requires guidelines be put in place to protect the vulnerable.

"So it is now becoming an international requirement," Subedi said.

One relevant regulation recently approved by Cambodia's parliament was a much-criticized expropriation law. Subedi criticized parts of the law for being far too vague.

"For example, what do we mean by public interest?" he asked. "If land can be acquired in the public interest, how do you define it? Who defines it?"

Acceptable compensation measures for those affected were absent, too, he said.

Those concerns are shared by many in Cambodia, including Son Chhay although he did welcome one of the benefits touted by Costello: new ways of farming to boost production.

The opposition lawmaker said new methods could help 80 per cent of the 14 million people who rely on outdated farming techniques. The country's rice yield of around 3 tons per hectare, for example, is far below that of some of its neighbours.

But the primary motive for Costello's investors is financial. Investors want a return on their money, and the food crisis of 2008 when prices rocketed showed that food can be profitable.

"I think agriculture is going to come back into its own as an investment in the decades that lie ahead, and of course, that's a great opportunity for Cambodia," Costello told the Phnom Penh Post.

For his part, Son Chhay would prefer investment from countries like Australia rather than from Cambodia's more traditional investors, such as China and Vietnam, whose companies, he said, are uninterested in improving local skills.

Yet he insisted that a transparent, corruption-free approach is vital to ensure the Cambodian people benefit from the deal.

"A lot of concessions have caused problems to our farmers and indigenous people who have no knowledge of what is in the contracts," he said.

But he called on Costello to make public the full details of any contract with the government.

"He should act upon his word [to do so]," Son Chhay said. "We would hope that this kind of investment from a society like Australia would be done in a proper manner."
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Brunei Hosted ATF2010, eyes turned to Cambodia

The Asean Tourism Forum which is opened by his Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister of Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, is closed by handing over the Asean Tourism Forum (ATF) Commemorative Plaque to Cambodia on Thursday, January 28th.

As the tourism in Brunei is still very young, the country benefited from the forum and gained more knowledge in promoting its own tourism. Foreign travel agents have expressed interest in Brunei and found the country as a unique new destination.

Brunei is not touristy; people don't bother tourists like in some other countries and tourists are free to do whatever they want as long as they follow the rules. Maybe the biggest disadvantage the country has is the ban of alcoholic drinks. You may not be able to find any alcoholic drinks in the country. Tourists can only bring 2 bottles of alcoholic beverage or 12 cans of beer with themselves. Neither hotels nor markets sell alcoholic beverages in the country. Some foreign travel agents commented that alcohol is the biggest problem that the country may face in tourism industry. Many Europeans want to drink wine with their dinners.

During the ATF, Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) and Tourism Malaysia signed a marketing deal to spur tourist arrivals in Brunei and Malaysia. "We see tourism as a collaborative effort, and not competitive," said Tourism Minister Dr. Ng Yen Yen after signing ceremony which took place during Malaysia's National Tourism Organization briefing at the Bridex Center.

750 international exhibitors showcased their tourism products to 363 buyers at the Travelex, which was held from January 26 to 28. Travex 2010 was held in conjunction with the Asean Tourism Forum 2010 from January 21 to 28.

After ATF, some of the international buyers and media joined to a three-day, two-night post-tour of the country and visited Ulu-Ulu National Park, Tasek Merimbun, Oil and Gas Discovery Centre in the Belait District and others.

The Brunei Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Yahya handed over the Asean Tourism Forum (ATF) Commemorative Plaque to Cambodia, who will be hosting it next year. The event would be held January 15-21, 2011.
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Early Media Acclaim For Electric Cambodia Collection, Curated By Dengue Fever

Cambodia's rock music of the '60s and '70s - unearthly, haunting, startling - receives an exciting retrospective in the new compilation Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia, available from Minky Records. I'm hoping you might consider covering this fascinating and poignant release with a CD review or feature, speaking with curators, Dengue Fever.

Proceeds from the album benefit Cambodian Living Arts, a project of the non-profit Massachusetts-based Marion Institute devoted to supporting the revival of traditional Khmer performing arts and inspiring contemporary artistic expression (

The 14-track collection, selected with care by the members of the internationally renowned Los Angeles rock band Dengue Fever, takes a deep look at the intoxicating rock produced by such noted Southeast Asian musicians of the era as singer-songwriter Sinn Sisamouth, one of the kingpins of the Cambodian music scene, and the brilliant female vocalists Pan Ron and Ros Sereysothea. Initial media response has been very powerful as you'll note from the sampling given below.
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cambodian, Thai troops clash on border

PHNOM PENH: Cambodian and Thai troops have had a brief shoot-out on their disputed border, a Cambodian defence ministry spokesman said on Saturday, in the latest such flare-up.

Chum Socheat told AFP that soldiers from the two countries exchanged fire for two or three minutes on Friday evening.

"We are now further investigating into the problem to find out how it started. We can't tell who started it first," he said.

He added that Cambodian troops reported a Thai soldier was killed in the skirmish, however Thai military officials were not immediately available to comment.

Troops from the two countries briefly exchanged fire in disputed territory near an ancient Khmer temple last Sunday.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads over their border for decades. Nationalist tensions spilled over into violence in July 2008, when the Preah Vihear temple was granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

Four soldiers were killed in clashes in the temple area in 2008 and three more in a gunbattle last April.

The border has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

Relations plunged further in November after Cambodian PM Hun Sen appointed ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives abroad to escape a jail term for corruption, as an economic adviser. - AFP/de
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No more excuses

By Butch Hernandez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Filed Under: Poverty, Education

IN HER Foreword to the 2010 Education For All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GMR), Unesco director general Irina Bokova said that “rising poverty levels mean that the challenge of meeting basic human needs is a daily struggle. Lessons from the past teach us that children are often the first to suffer—as is their chance to go to school.”

One of the tools that the EFA GMR uses to determine a country’s progress is the EFA Development Index or EDI. Its indicators are the four most easily quantifiable EFA goals, namely, universal primary education, adult literacy (first part of goal 4), gender parity and equality, and quality. The EDI value for a given country is arrived at via the arithmetic mean of these four goals. An EDI of “1” means the country has fully achieved.

Lets start with the good news first.

The 2010 EFA GMR finds that the Philippines together with Fiji, Indonesia and Malaysia, is “in an intermediate position with an EDI between 0.80 and 0.94.”

And now the bad news.

The EFA GMR also says that in 2007, 9 million primary school-age children were out of school in the East Asia/Pacific region, mostly from the Philippines (1 million), Indonesia (500,000), Cambodia and Thailand (about 250,000 each).

More alarmingly, around 25 percent of those who do go to school drop out before Grade 5 due to poverty and location, “with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and some outlying islands falling far behind the national average. Many poor and vulnerable households [have] to cut back on education spending or withdraw their children from school.”

Furthermore, in the Philippines, Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Burma, 9 percent to 14 percent of pupils drop out of the first grade; only 54 percent to 73 percent of children enrolling in primary school reach the last grade. School retention is particularly poor in the Philippines.

These figures have remained rather constant for the past five years.

What has this led to? A rising number of adult illiterates: over 1.4 million in the Philippines and 1.2 million in Vietnam.

The EFA GMR says that globally, “literacy remains among the most neglected of all education goals, with about 759 million adults lacking literacy skills today. Two-thirds are women.” The report adds that “millions of children are leaving school without having acquired basic skills.”

It seems that the Philippines has been a disappointment, because “achieving Universal Primary Education by 2015 should have been a formality, given its wealth level and starting point at the time, and there is now a real danger that, without decisive political leadership, the country will miss the goal. Education indicators for the Philippines are below what might be expected for a country at its income level. Extreme poverty and regional disparities are at the heart of this.”

Aside from conventional poverty indicators, EFA GMR also looks at “Education Poverty,” which it defines as “young adults aged 17 to 22 who have fewer than four years of education. They are unlikely to have mastered basic literacy or numeracy skills.”

Young adults with fewer than two years of education, who are likely to face extreme disadvantage in many areas of their lives, including health and employment, fall under the “Extreme Education Poverty” category.

“Despite the progress of the past decade, absolute deprivation in education among 17- to 22-year-olds is extraordinarily high in Cambodia and Myanmar [Burma], and remains significant in Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Philippines and Vietnam,” says the UN report.

Let’s now take a look at international assessments such as the TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study) and the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment.

The PISA is given to eighth graders (or 2nd year high school students). It assesses achievement in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy, “not merely in terms of mastery of the school curriculum, but in terms of important knowledge and skills needed in adult life.”

In 2003, PISA added an additional domain of problem-solving: “to continue the examination of cross-curriculum competencies.”

The UN report says that “evidence from international assessments of reading skills is even more disturbing. Among the East Asian and Pacific countries included in the 2006 assessment, the proportion of students performing at or below level 1 of the reading literacy scale ranged from less than 6 percent in the Republic of Korea to 58 percent in Indonesia.”

We would have benefited greatly from international assessments like TIMSS and PISA. Our neighbors in the region surely did. Unfortunately, the Philippines participated in neither the 2006 PISA or the 2007 TIMSS, for a variety of reasons.

So now we know what we have suspected a long time ago: Philippine education is reeling largely from self-inflicted wounds.

In his opening remarks at the launch of Education Nation’s 10-point Agenda (Inquirer, 1/23/10), Ramon R. Del Rosario of the Philippine Business for Education (PBed) said “It is time that we demand of our government leaders at all levels to demonstrate their genuine concern for the plight of millions of Filipino children. Our country deserves quality education for all. We demand it. We will watch over it. We shall fight for it. No more excuses.”

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Cambodia ship held by court, not taken by Somalis

HARGEISA (Reuters) - A Cambodian vessel reportedly hijacked off Somalia instead was detained in the Somaliland port of Berbera on court orders, a port official said on Saturday.

The Kenya-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme earlier in the week had said the MV Layla-S had been hijacked after discharging its cargo in the breakaway northern enclave of Somaliland last year.

However, assistant chief of Berbera port Bile Hirsi said the ship was held after a local businessman, whose goods were destroyed in a fire on board another ship that belongs to the owners Layla-S, asked the court to detain it.

"The ship is in Berbera port by the order of the regional court of Berbera, because Abdillahi Omar -- a businessman who had a lot of merchandise on the ship that burned outside the port last October -- made a complaint to the regional court and the court ordered that the ship should remain in the port," he said.

Bile said the businessman wanted compensation for merchandise destroyed in the Maria Star fire.

Somaliland, which declared itself independent in 1991, is proud of its relative stability compared with the south of Somalia, where hardline Islamist rebels control large amounts of territory and are battling a weak Western-backed government.

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Rights group criticizes Cambodia opposition leader's conviction

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday called [press release] the closed door trial of Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy [official profile] and two others a "farce," saying the ruling demonstrates the government's control over the country's judiciary. Rainsy was convicted [RFA report] Wednesday, in absentia, of inciting racial discrimination and intentionally destroying posts demarcating the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. Two villagers were convicted of the same crimes. HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said the decision was the result of political motivations by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen [official profile]:

The Cambodian government's relentless crackdown on critics continues apace in 2010. Hun Sen seems intent on reversing the political pluralism that has been created over the past two decades. Any hopes of slowing Hun Sen's assault on the political opposition now depends on the donor community, which props up the government financially. This political trial should make donors recognize the gravity of the situation.

Rainsy was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 8 million riels (approximately USD $2,000), and the two villagers were each sentenced to one year in prison. All three were required to pay 55 million riels (approximately USD $13,000) for destroying the border markings.

The charges stem from an incident [Phnom Penh Post report] in October where Rainsy joined Cambodian villagers in removing six temporary border markers, which the villagers said were placed on their lands by Vietnamese authorities. Rainsy called the planting of the border markers a border incursion and said his conviction was requested by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung [BBC profile]. Rainsy was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in November, and an arrest warrant was issued for him in December after he failed to appear for questioning about the incident. He has said he would return to the country and allow himself to be taken into custody if the two villagers are released from prison. Read more!

Cambodia: A beautiful, haunting and heart-breaking country

By Christina Patterson

I was greeted with the smell of lemongrass. After a night flight to Bangkok, and a dawn flight to Phnom Penh, and a car-ride through the chaos that is the Cambodian capital in rush-hour – a chaos full of miracles, like entire families perched on mopeds and apparently surviving – we arrived in an oasis of calm. There were mint cocktails waiting for us, and giant, carved elephants and men in pointy hats and purple knickerbockers, and grand staircases that you could imagine yourself swishing down, in evening dress, before meeting some Ernest Hemingway-type figure for martinis in the bar.

For this is Raffles Hotel Le Royal, built in 1929 in the heyday of French colonialism, when Cambodia was a peaceful country full of temples and paddy fields and Buddhas. It was the favoured haunt of writers and foreign correspondents, and it was here they fled in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge marched on Phnom Penh and launched one of the bloodiest regimes in history.
It's hard to believe now, as you collapse on a vast bed in a room that's all dark wood and gracious living, or wander to the Amrita Spa for a soothing massage, or sample the delicious buffet in the CafĂ© Monivong, but you can't get away from history in Cambodia, and this is a place – like everywhere else – that saw chaos and terror and death.

You could spend all afternoon, after your massage, and your lie-down, and your lunch, sipping G and Ts by the pool – and I have to admit it's tempting. The last thing you want, in fact, after no sleep, and the stress of getting yourself there, and that journey through the rush-hour traffic, is to be bussed out, in the heat of a burning sun, to a place where thousands of people were killed. But it's also, in a peculiar way, the best way to start your trip to Cambodia.

If you want sunshine, go to Torremolinos, but if you want to get a true taste of the beautiful, haunting, heart-breaking country whose capital, Phnom Penh, was once regarded as the "Pearl of Asia", you have to see the killing fields. You have to see the beauty born out of blood, and the courage that has grown – yes, like a pearl – out of suffering beyond imagining.

There are brilliant pink flowers and a stall selling canned drinks at the entrance to Choeung Ek. This was the point where the trucks stopped, two or three times a month, to deliver men, women and children to death and mass graves. Between 1975 and 1979 – a time when in Britain we were watching Starsky and Hutch and listening to Abba – about 17,000 died here, bludgeoned to death, poisoned, disembowelled or buried alive. Many of the killers were children, children who learnt to smash babies' skulls against the rough bark of a "killing tree" before later being killed themselves. Loudspeakers played music to drown out the victims' screams.

Even now, you can see bits of bone and cloth poking up through the ground. Many of the mass graves have never been disinterred. But if you can't see the bodies, you can see some of the skulls. There are more than 8,000 of them, arranged by sex and age, behind the glass panels in a Memorial Stupa, created in 1988. Green mats next to it say (in English) "Welcome" and next to them are buckets of chrysanthemums.

Inside, funeral music is playing. In a hut nearby, there's a notice, presumably put up by the Cambodian government. "They have the human form," it says of the Khmer Rouge, "but their hearts are demons' hearts."


Back in Phnom Penh, we saw more evidence of the "demons' hearts".

When the Khmer Rouge took the city, they requisitioned the Tuol Svay Prey High School as a centre for detention and torture.

"While getting lashes or electrification, you must not cry at all" says a sign outside the former "Security Prison 21" – a sign offering detailed guidance on how prisoners should behave while having their torsos whipped with iron chains, or their organs, or bowels, cut out. In the rooms used for torture there are still iron beds, electrical sockets, and some of those chains. The floors, walls and ceiling are flecked with blood.

In rooms nearby are the most haunting photographs I've ever seen. Thousands of men and women – men with the same cropped hair, women with the same regulation bob – stare out at you, eyes frozen with fear. Upstairs are the tiny cells – some built in brick, some in wood – where they awaited torture and death. In theory, they were sent to Choeung Ek to die, but some died in those iron beds, and were beheaded so they couldn't be identified.

"I will see you down here," said our gentle guide. "I don't want to go up there," she added quietly. Like so many others in Cambodia, she is still living with the legacy of what she witnessed. She spent 14 years in a refugee camp, but was lucky to survive. Three million Cambodians did not.

You carry these thoughts with you wherever you are in Cambodia, and you're right to. This is not something you can wash away with cocktails in the Elephant Bar (there's a cocktail, the Femme Chic, in honour of Jackie Kennedy, who stayed at Le Royal) or by eating a delicious dinner in the Restaurant Le Royal, or even with a few gentle lengths in the pool. But those cocktails and that dinner provide vital tourist dollars to a country recovering from profound trauma. They won't erase it. Nothing can erase it. But to see a country, and understand its past and present splendours, you have to know its history.

It was, nevertheless, a relief to have a day of gentle sight-seeing in Phnom Penh, a vibrant mix of temples, markets and colonial buildings, and of bustle and crumbling grace. First, we went to the Royal Palace complex, still the official residence of King Sihamoni (a 50-something bachelor ballet dancer who has so far failed to produce the requisite heir) and therefore with only selected bits open to the public. Much of it is 20th-century, though there's a pavilion that was built for Napoleon in Egypt in 1869 and moved here in 1876. What the palace lacks in age, it makes up in grandeur. The Silver Pagoda, covered in 5,000 tiles and five tons of silver, is breathtaking. Inside, there are more Buddhas than you could shake a sceptre at: a massive emerald one, a life-size gold one, studded with diamonds, an 80kg bronze one, and thousands of tiny ones, surrounded by silver floral arrangements and silver cigarette boxes. Asian kings, it seems, like their bling.

One of the chief pleasures of wandering around this Disneyland-with-a-royal-Asian-twist is watching the Cambodians relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. It was one of the pleasures of our next stop, too: a small wat (temple) at the top of 300 steps. Vendors nearby were selling bacon and eggs, flowers and grilled pork to offer to the gods, or the chance to set a songbird free. Inside the temple, there was a giant Buddha (of course), accompanied by flashing neon lights and tinkling music.

The artefacts on display at the National Museum were a little more tasteful. They're magnificent, in fact – more than a millennium's worth of fabulous Khmer sculpture, including an eight-armed Vishnu from the sixth or seventh century, giant wrestling monkeys carved from sandstone and practically an army of post-Angkorian Buddhas, many rescued from Angkor Wat.

We had lunch overlooking the Mekong, and after (at last!) a few hours by that gorgeous hotel pool, we went back to it, to glide down the river in a little wooden boat, and drink beer while the sun set. In a fishing village of huts on stilts a woman swung in a hammock, girls washed their hair, and children bobbed in the water like happy ducks. As we gazed out at the pointed roofs silhouetted against a sky shot through with brilliant pink and orange, the city at last seemed at peace.

Now it was time for the temples. If you do them properly, you have to get up early, and so we got up early for the long drive to Sambor Prei Kuk, originally known as Isanapura, the pre-Angkorian capital of Chenla. On the way, we stopped off at a service station, where travellers and passersby were enjoying a wide range of snacks, including fried crickets, ants and tarantulas. One of our party grabbed a long, hairy leg and took a bite. From the expression on her face, it clearly wasn't delicious. It is, however, probably not a great idea to risk anything that might turn your stomach because the roads outside Phnom Penh can do that on their own. They may have been cleared of mines – thoughV C there are still up to four million left in the country – but they're a far cry from smooth Western Tarmac. By the time we arrived at Sambor Prei Kuk, we felt like thanking all the gods for our arrival.

And there were plenty of opportunities, because there are more than 100 temples scattered through the forest, many dating back to the early seventh century. There were plants poking through the ancient bricks and among the Sanskrit inscriptions and the carvings, and it felt like a world lost to nature and forgotten, except by the children who followed us around. They asked us – in better English than the government-sponsored guide who was thrust upon us – our names and what we earned. In Cambodia, according to our real guide (who had to defer to the government guide), everyone asks everyone what they earn.


In the next few hours, on the bumpiest roads I've ever been on, we had the chance to see more of this fascinating country: landscape that shifted from lush green to arid brown, and then back again, animals scrabbling for food under houses on stilts, and in one village what appeared to be an entire school – dressed in the standard national uniform of white shirts and blue trousers or skirt – on bikes. In the same village, we saw men chipping away at stone Buddhas – as if there was a national shortage of Buddhas. Which, I can tell you, there isn't.

By the time our minibus juddered to a halt, at the end of a track in the depths of the jungle, we were ready to collapse. Refreshment, thank god, was at hand, but first we were taken to our accommodation – a whole tent each, with a real bed, and a separate (tented) loo and ingenious shower. In those few moments, dusk descended, and we emerged to flaming torches and margaritas.

The men looking after us – of which there seemed to be an embarrassingly large number – made top-notch cocktails, and a top-notch dinner, too. We ate and drank late into the starry, flame-lit night.

As we staggered out of our tents, clutching our heads, at sunrise, that no longer seemed such a great idea, but spirits rose with a spectacular, hangover-crushing breakfast and with the sight, behind us, of a vast, brick pyramid. This, it turned out, was Prasat Thom, a seven-story sandstone temple built 1000 years ago. We were in Koh Ker, for a brief period (from AD928 to 944) the capital of Cambodia, and this magnificent building looming in front of us was, it turned out, only the beginning. We were in a vast temple complex, which looked as if it hadn't been touched for centuries, and with the exception of the odd khaki-clad guard, and the cicadas, we were alone. The surrounding area was teeming with temples: temples with Shiva Linga (vast phallic symbols) in them, like Prasat Thneng and Prasat Leung, and others (like Prasat Neang Khmau) in which the gnarled tree-roots and strangler figs laced, like a lattice-work, over them, looked as old as the stones.

And now we were on our way to the biggest temple in the world, but first, thank the Buddha, there was civilisation, in the form of the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor. For 75 years, this magnificent hotel on the edge of Siem Reap has been the place where anybody who was anybody – anybody, that is, seeking a bit of 1,000-year old epic splendour – has stayed. Gracious elegance, with dark woods and antique furnishings, was just the ticket after our night under canvas, and the gargantuan pool proved irresistible.

There was more punishment ahead, in the form of a pre-dawn alarm call, but the punishment, we were assured, would be rewarded. And so it was. The sight of the sun rising over the vast, spiky skyline of one of the most spectacular spiritual buildings in history is one you'll never forget. Particularly, it has to be said, when accompanied with the tongue-tinglingly delicious patisserie in the lavish packed breakfast that Raffles had provided.

You need sustenance for the hours ahead, to drink in the delights of Angkor Wat, a three-tiered pyramid crowned by five towers, like beehives, that rise 65 metres above the ground. It was probably built as a funerary temple for Suryavarman II (1112 – 1152) to honour the Hindu god, Vishnu, who lurks (in the form of a statue) in one of the towers. But it feels more like a homage to history, religion and life. In the extraordinary bas-reliefs, which stretch around the outside of the central temple complex, and which would take a lifetime to study, you can see pictures of battles from the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, military marches from the army of Suryavarman (complete with parasols, elephants and the royal tiara), armies of monkeys and scenes from heaven and hell.

Nothing in Cambodia – or indeed in much of the world – is as spectacular as Angkor Wat, but other temple complexes are fascinating in different ways. Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Angkorian empire, has an entrance flanked by 54 massive gods on one side, and 54 massive demons on the other, each with a different expression – sad, happy, sneering – on their face. The carvings in the main temple are touching in their humanity: men cooking meals, women weighed down by children, chubby-buttocked soldiers in loincloths fighting, a man wincing because his bottom has been bitten by a tortoise. Ta Promh, "discovered" by the French explorer Henri Mouhout in 1860, and left as he found it, is a symbol of human impotence in the face of nature: a magnificent, collapsing, mythical mix of giant roots and giant stones.

On our last day, we went on a boat trip to Tonle Sap, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Asia. Four million people live on the lake, or the banks of it, many in tiny floating boats, in floating villages. There are floating schools, and floating restaurants, and floating health centres, and floating crocodile farms. It's a hard, hard life, to scrape a living and bring up a family in a space the size of a small room. But they do it. Day after day, they do it. Like so much else in this beautiful, sad, fascinating country, they weather the storms and go on.

Travel essentials: Cambodia

Getting there

* Cox & Kings (020-7873 5000; offers a nine-night trip to Cambodia from £3,195 per person. The price includes Thai Airways flights from Heathrow via Bangkok, private transfers, two nights' B&B at Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh, four nights' B&B at Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap, two nights' B&B in a tented temple camp, some meals and all excursions.

* There are no direct flights between the UK and Cambodia; the gateway is Bangkok, served by Thai Airways (0870 606 0911;, British Airways (0844 493 0787;, Eva Airways (020-7380 8300; and Qantas (08457 747767; from Heathrow. Connections to Phnom Penh are offered by Thai Airways and Air Asia (0845 605 3333;

Staying there

* Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh (00 855 23 981 888) and Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, Siem Reap (00 855 63 963 888):

Visiting there

* National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh ( Open daily 8am-5pm; admission US$3 (£2).

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Friday, January 29, 2010

U-M Flint nursing students pledge to help Cambodian orphans receive essential health care

By Beata Mostafavi Flint Journal

FLINT — Doni Warner knew the name of the surgeon leading the open heart surgery on his five-month-old son — but he really got to know the nurses.

They were the ones who offered him and wife Jody blankets on nights they slept in waiting rooms, brought them water and were “translators” when doctor lingo was a little too much.

It’s part of what inspired the former construction business owner to pursue a nursing degree at the University of Michigan-Flint — and why he is joining a trip to Cambodia that will involve medical care for orphans.

“There are numerous diseases that you can get treated for in the United States,” said Warner, 41, who is raising money to pay for the $3,000-plus venture in May. “Kids are dying from things over there that we can get everyday care for here.”

Warner is among a group of about 10 UM-Flint students who are leaving for the 14-day trip. Some students such as Warner also plan to stay longer on their own to continue work in orphanages.

Overseas, they will give children physicals and follow up with those who need medical attention. They will help with IVs and monitor vital signs for malaria patients.

They will help village children who have puncture wounds on their feet from collecting reusable items from a nearby dump barefoot.

Some will also spent time teaching children English and help teach them basic care for themselves — such as washing their face and brushing their teeth.

“It just goes back to wanting to help somebody in the world ... and the people in Cambodia have a desperate need for health care,” said Warner, a father of four.

“It seems a little better calling than building houses,” he added of future plans to work in the health care field, possibly on a global level.

For UM-Flint nursing student Kevin Fitzpatrick, the Cambodia trip adds to a list of service work — including volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, boarding up abandoned homes and traveling to Iowa with his church to help with relief efforts after the massive floods in 2008.

“Just the little bit we can do in the short time we’re there I hope helps brighten their day,” said the Swartz Creek father of two, 35. “We aren’t there to save the world but to make a difference.

We take so much for granted here. Hopefully we will impact them as much as they will impact us.”

The trip is coordinated through UM-Flint’s international nursing program, which earns students three credits.

Students will spend long hours working with people in need but will also get some free time and a chance to visit well known spots such as 7th World Wonder Angkor Wat.

But university officials say this kind of trip draws a special group of students.

“These are for students who don’t mind sleeping on a wooden plank or riding in a rickety bus. It’s not Europe,” said Maureen Tippen, clinical assistant professor who has organized similar trips for nearly 14 years.

“For most of the students, it’s a life-changing experience.”
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British conservationist given prestigious award from the Royal Government of Cambodia

British conservationist Dr Jenny Daltry was today given a Royal award by the Cambodian Government. She has worked for UK-based Fauna & Flora International for 15 years and during that time made a huge impact on Cambodia's wildlife.

Jan 29, 2010 – Phnom Penh, 29 January 2010 – The Royal Government of Cambodia has awarded British conservationist, Dr Jenny Daltry, the title of Officer of the Order of Sahemetrei, given to foreigners for their “distinguished services to the King and to the Nation.”

Dr Daltry was honoured with the award for wildlife conservation activities within the Kingdom of Cambodia. She has worked as Senior Conservation Biologist for British-based international conservation organization Fauna & Flora International (FFI) for 15 years.

Much of her time has been spent in Cambodia, where she led a number of field expeditions that resulted in the increased protection of forested areas covering more than 1,000,000 hectares in the Cardamom Mountains. In 2000, Dr Daltry re-discovered the Siamese crocodile (which was previously thought to be extinct in the wild) and subsequently spearheaded a pioneering community-based programme to conserve this critically endangered reptile.

Impressively, Dr Daltry also led a ground-breaking initiative to establish a new generation of Cambodian scientists. This country has an incredible diversity of wildlife and contains many of the richest habitats remaining in the Mekong Basin. Yet because the Pol Pot regime largely wiped out the educated classes, Cambodia lacks enough qualified practitioners to manage its wildlife and help it to develop sustainably.

Under FFI Cambodia’s University Capacity Building Programme, Dr Daltry created the first permanent Masters of Science programme at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. 147 Cambodians have enrolled on the course so far. She is also the founder and chief editor of the country’s first peer-reviewed scientific journal - the Cambodian Journal of Natural History – to encourage Cambodians to publish and share their knowledge of Cambodian’s wildlife and natural resources. The second issue of the journal has just recently been published.

“I am overwhelmed and grateful.” Dr Daltry said. “For a conservationist to receive this rare honour does, I think, signify the importance that Cambodia places on its wildlife, forests, and protected areas. Cambodia is changing fast, but economic development does not have to mean the loss of its wildlife or priceless environmental services. The achievement I feel most proud of is helping talented Cambodians, from the government ministries to villages, to become leaders in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. I also thank my colleagues and co-workers for their tireless commitment and support for more than a decade. “

The Order was be presented to Dr Daltry by H.E. Ty Sokhun, Head of Forestry Administration during a formal ceremony on January 29th 2010. It was attended by senior Government Officials, international dignitaries such as His Excellency Rafael Dochao Moreno, Head of the EU Delegation, and His Excellency Andrew Mace, British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, and representatives of conservation NGOs including FFI CEO, Mark Rose.
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About Fauna & Flora International (FFI) (
FFI protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and take account of human needs. Operating in more than 40 countries worldwide – mainly in the developing world – FFI saves species from extinction and habitats from destruction, while improving the livelihoods of local people. Founded in 1903, FFI is the world’s longest established international conservation body and a registered charity. FFI has been working in Cambodia since 1996.
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Brookline High launching Brookline Cambodia Partnership

Brookline —
Dan Green, a social studies teacher at Brookline High School, invites the community to a fundraising event that is the official launching of the Brookline Cambodia Partnership, a local effort to build a Brookline High sister school in a rural Cambodian village.

The event takes place at the Elephant Walk, 900 Beacon St., Boston, on Saturday, Jan. 30, from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. The organization hopes to raise $24,000, $13,000 of which will be matched by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The funds will pay for the building of a six- to eight-room secondary school with computers, Internet connectivity, desks and chairs, books and an English teacher. Following the building of the school, the group (pending School Committee approval) hopes to send BHS students on service learning trips to Cambodia, where students will not only have an opportunity to experience the rich culture of Cambodia, but also visit (and possibly teach in) the BHS sister school. Before and in between visits, BHS and Cambodian students will have the opportunity to build relationships via the Internet.

Green and his colleague, Kate Boynton, presented the program to the School Committee in June and received much encouragement from the members. Up to this point, they have raised more than $6,200 for the construction of the school.

Elephant Walk owners will provide a multi-course meal for more than 100 Brookline community members who will pay $25, of which $20 will benefit the project. A number of community and education leaders, including local politicians, Superintendent Bill Lupini, BHS Headmaster Bob Weintraub, members of the Brookline School Committee and others will be attending the event.

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Uighurs returned to China 'disappear' says rights group

China must account for the whereabouts of ethnic Uighurs forcibly repatriated from Cambodia, a US-based rights group has said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said such groups had "disappeared into a black hole" on their return to China.

The Uighurs fled to Cambodia after mass ethnic riots in China in July. Beijing has referred to them as criminals.

In December, a group of 20 Uighurs were put on a plane to China despite opposition from the UN and US.

They said the group were likely to face persecution in China.

"Uighur asylum seekers sent back to China by Cambodia have disappeared into a black hole," said Sophie Richardson of HRW.

"There is no information about their whereabouts, no notification of any legal charges against them, and there are no guarantees they are safe from torture and ill-treatment."

HRW said a number of the group had given detailed accounts of past torture and persecution in China and that threats had been made against their families.

The organisation said China has a history of executing or imposing harsh sentences of Uighurs sent back from abroad and that there were unconfirmed reports some members of a group previously returned had been sentenced to death in western Xinjiang province.

'Fair trials'

Ms Richardson said the Chinese government must say where the group are being held and under what status as well as allowing the UN and family members to see them.

"Family members have the right to know what has happened to their loved ones," she said

"The Chinese government must treat all returnees humanely, ensure fair trials, and not persecute individuals for activities and speech that are protected under international law."

There has been no immediate comment from the Chinese foreign ministry.

The Uighurs fled Xinjiang after July's violent ethnic clashes in the provincial capital Urumqi which left at least 97 people dead.

Most of those killed in the unrest were majority Han Chinese, according to officials, and Urumqi's Han population had demanded swift justice.

At least 25 people have been sentenced to death after the riots.

Tensions between the mainly-Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang and Han have been growing in recent years. Millions of Han have moved to the region in recent decades.

Many Uighurs want more autonomy and rights for their culture and religion than is allowed by Beijing's strict rule.
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Chevron extends Cambodian energy exploration deal

Phnom Penh - US energy giant Chevron Corp has extended its offshore energy exploration deal with the Cambodian government, local media reported Friday, but the company provided no other details citing 'commercial reasons.'

'Chevron welcomes the ongoing opportunity to evaluate the Block A resource,' spokesman Gareth Johnstone told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper.

Block A, an area off Cambodia's coast in the Gulf of Thailand, is thought to be one of the nation's most promising areas for oil and gas exploration in the coming years.

Announcement of the deal after almost a year of negotiations with the Cambodian government puts an end to speculation that Chevron might quit the country.

The newspaper noted that Chevron has spent 125 million dollars and drilled 15 exploratory wells in Block A since 2002. The latest date for production, which has been pushed back several times, is 2013.

Chevron is one of many extractive companies that have been criticized in recent years for their refusal to say what they are paying for the rights to tap Cambodia's natural resources. Corruption is endemic in the impoverished South-East Asian nation, and there are concerns that any windfall from oil and gas revenues will be squandered.
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Bello, Crowe, "Slumdog" Scribe Team at HBO

By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Maria Bello has teamed with Russell Crowe and the Oscar-winning writer of "Slumdog Millionaire" for a series project in the works at HBO.

Bello is set to star in the drama "Emergency Sex," which is being written by Simon Beaufoy. They will executive produce with Russell Crowe.

Inspired by the book "Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From Hell on Earth," by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson, the project revolves around the larger-than-life exploits of expatriate nongovernment-organization workers who find their sanity tested in the face of atrocities, loneliness and primal desires.

The book chronicles the real-life experiences of Cain, Postlewait and Thomson, who met in Cambodia during the 1990s as members of a UN peacekeeping mission. Crowe purchased the screen rights to the book.

Bello stars in John Wells' film "The Company Men," which is creating buzz at the Sundance Film Festival. She also has been courted by the broadcast networks this pilot season. Crowe next stars in "Robin Hood." "Emergency" would mark the series debut for Beaufoy, who will reunite with "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle this year for "127 Hours."

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cambodia destroys tonnes of oil used to make ecstasy

PHNOM PENH, Jan 28 (AFP) - Cambodian authorities and Australian police on Thursday began destroying tonnes of a raw ingredient used to make the party drug ecstasy, an anti-narcotics official said.

They started burning 14.6 tonnes of confiscated sassafras oil, which is extracted from a rare tree found deep in Cambodia's jungles, said Moek Dara, secretary-general of Cambodia's national authority for combating drugs.

"If we don't crack down on the oil, a lot of people, not only those in Cambodia, will suffer," he told AFP, adding that it would take at least 10 days to destroy the sassafras.

Sassafras is an ingredient for cosmetics but also a precursor chemical to make ecstasy. Five litres of the oil would produce 10,000 pills of the club drug, officials said.

The oil comes from the rare M'rea Prov Phnom tree, Moek Dara said.

The stocks of sassafras, which were confiscated in anti-drug raids last year, were being destroyed in the northwestern province of Battambang along with nearly six tonnes of other chemical substances, he added.

Cambodia destroyed 35 tonnes of sassafras in 2007 when authorities made the oil illegal.

Impoverished Cambodia has become a popular trafficking point for narcotics, particularly methamphetamines and heroin, after neighbouring Thailand toughened its stance on illegal drugs in 2002.

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From Cambodia’s Killing Fields to $125,00 win in Las Vegas

By Robin Leach

It was a long and difficult journey from “The Killing Fields” of Cambodia for refugee Kimbo Ung, who has now settled in Las Vegas and become a full-time poker player. Kimbo recently defeated World Series of Poker bracelet winners and a Hollywood actor in the Heartland Poker Tour at Red Rock Casino to win the $125,000 pot.

Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari was there. Layne Flack was there. Lou Diamond Phillips and yours truly were there when 300 players from the Midwest invaded Las Vegas for the celebrity event. But the biggest star was a 42-year-old unknown who spent the past three years on the bubble.

Kimbo, the winner of $125,901, nearly busted out multiple times. He sat at the Final Table as the short stack, and at one point had 80,000 chips when his opponents had millions. But Kimbo is no stranger to starting over, having spent a lifetime overcoming horrifying and unbelievable odds as The Comeback Kid.

Kimbo relates his childhood to the Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields. He explained: “The movie didn’t even do justice to the horror we faced before we reached the United States as refugees.”

One of seven children, he learned English and graduated from high school on the East Coast. Without a college degree, Kimbo worked as a graphic designer in New York City. The daily grind of 14-hour days and traveling by train from Connecticut became too much, so he and his wife, Sokhim, moved to Texas to start over.

Kimbo and Sokhim, also from Cambodia, invested in the dream of owning their own business. Two years after opening a seafood restaurant, the couple realized the hard truths of the service industry and decided, having run out of money, to start over yet again. They packed their belongings in their truck and made the trek to Las Vegas.

During their drive three years ago, they had to stop to fill jugs of water for their overheating truck. Pulling up at Palace Station, the truck died for good. Kimbo and Sokhim started over a third time just as the economic recession began.

Unable to find a job, Kimbo made a living playing poker. “I never considered myself a pro, but I supported myself through poker,” he said. After 18 months of bad beats and missing the money, Kimbo gave up tournaments and played only two to five no-limit games.

On a day off from her job at a Strip casino, Sokhim and her husband were at the movies at Red Rock when she noticed a qualifier round of the Heartland Poker Tour about to start. She urged Kimbo to invest $250 of their last savings in the qualifier. Sokhim had no way of getting home 20 miles away while Kimbo played, and he didn’t want her hovering over the table. So she watched three more movies while he looked for the winning hands.

Kimbo played the qualifier and won his way into the sellout Main Event, returning to battle accomplished poker players such as Theo Tran, Mary Jo Belcore-Zogman and David Singer. Low on chips throughout, a turning point came when he beat Theo. “I reminded myself to never give up,” said Kimbo, who made it to the Final Table.

Heartland Poker Tour producers weren’t surprised when they learned of Kimbo’s honesty shortly after the set was dismantled and shipped back to the Midwest.

“Our players are good people,” HPT President Todd Anderson said. “If a stereotype exists of today’s poker players, Kimbo seems to fit it at first glance. With dark glasses and an Ed Hardy hoodie, he appears emotionless, focused, confident and aggressive.

“At one point he was dangerously low on chips and had to ask another player to make change. Kimbo was given too much and really needed the chips, but said he’d never feel good about stealing from an older man. So he returned the overpay chips, and his luck turned, and he went on to win.”

After the shock of his win started to wear off, Kimbo revealed that he doesn’t normally wear glasses or conceal his face when he plays.

“I didn’t want to embarrass myself by becoming the first player to cry at the Final Table,” he said, crying as he hugged his wife, becoming the first champion of the televised Heartland Poker Tour’s Season 6.

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Minority groups in Cambodia get spotli

According to media sources in Phnom Penh, the Center for Advanced Study (CAS) has announced a release of the first book about the history of ethnic minority groups in Cambodia.

Jan 27, 2010 – According to media sources in Phnom Penh, the Center for Advanced Study (CAS) has announced a release of the first book about the history of ethnic minority groups in Cambodia.

The 664-page book examines the lifestyles and cultures of Cambodian residents of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Laotian descent, as well as members of Muslim and other minority communities, CAS director Hun Sokhom was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

"We hope the book will help Khmer people better understand the traditions and cultures of each ethnic group," Hun Sokhun said, adding that he believed that widespread distribution of the book will reduce discrimination directed at minority groups.

The book is based on two separate studies carried out by Khmer and foreign experts - a three-month study by the United Nations in 1996, and a 12-month study in 2006, paid for by the Rockefeller Foundation, according to the newspaper.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A thin line between Cambodia and Vietnam

By Jared Ferrie

PHNOM PENH - The leader of Cambodia's main opposition party, Sam Rainsy, skipped his court date on Wednesday, eluding an arrest warrant issued for allegedly uprooting border markers on the frontier with Vietnam. Rainsy instead remained in France, where he had fled in advance of the hearing because he felt the case was politically motivated.

The Svay Rieng province court convicted villagers Meas Srey and Prum Chea to one year in prison and ordered them each to pay 5 million riel (US$1,200) in compensation to district authorities for moving the border posts. Rainsy was convicted in absentia to two years in prison, handed an 8 million riel fine and ordered to pay 5 million riels compensation to district authorities. All three must pay an additional 50 million riel in compensation for destroying the border posts, according to the ruling.

The case highlights the ongoing controversy of Vietnamese influence over Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, some 30 years after the government in Hanoi ordered troops to invade Cambodia. The two countries are now in the process of demarcating their 1,270-kilometer long border. They are also negotiating investment agreements that could see Vietnam pouring billions of dollars into Cambodia.

On December 26, during a conference in Ho Chi Minh City, officials signed a memorandum of understanding intended to pave the way for more Vietnamese investments in Cambodia. No deals were finalized, but the economic agreements covered projects including electricity generation, fertilizer production and rubber plantations, as well as a proposal to explore for bauxite mining in Mondulkiri province. A Vietnam official in Phnom Penh told the Phnom Penh Post that revenues from bauxite mining alone could amount to US$6 billion.

Against the backdrop of a possible $12 billion worth of new Vietnamese investments, Rainsy implied that Cambodian officials were reluctant to criticize their larger neighbor about alleged Vietnamese encroachment on Cambodian lands.

"I am defending Cambodia's independence and territorial integrity regardless of these ongoing investment projects and financial deals," he said in an e-mail from Paris. "Maybe those in the Phnom Penh government take those material interests into consideration in their handling of border issues with Vietnam, but I don't."

A spokesman for the Cambodian government, Phay Siphan, said in an interview that increasing economic ties with Vietnam had no bearing at all on the border demarcation process. He said a commission is carefully analyzing data from maps drawn up during the colonial period of French rule in order to determine exactly where the border lies.

"The job of the border commission between Cambodia and Vietnam is not to lose or gain territory from either side," said Phay. "Sam Rainsy is misrepresenting the work of the border commission."

Rainsy, who is a fierce critic of Vietnamese influence in Cambodian affairs, was charged with incitement of racial discrimination and destruction of property for his role in an October 25 incident in Svay Rieng province. Rainsy allegedly joined five villagers in uprooting the wooden poles after hearing complaints that they had been placed in a nearby rice field. Two of those villagers were arrested and sentenced on Wednesday.

To back up his case, Rainsy's eponymous political party (SRP) on Monday released what it said was evidence that the uprooted border demarcation posts were placed 300 to 500 meters inside Cambodian territory. The SRP referred to maps drawn up by the French in 1952, which defined the border and which were given to the United Nations by the Cambodian government in 1964. Those were corroborated by maps produced by the United States military in 1966, according to the SRP.

Rainsy said he enlisted the help of cartographers, historians, geographers and computer experts who examined the maps and used satellite pictures and GPS coordinates to determine that the uprooted border markers were indeed placed within Cambodian territory. Rainsy refused to name the experts, but he noted that he also received "technical assistance" from a French map engineer at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

Cambodian officials threatened to lay further charges after the release of the information by the SRP. "The government will consider taking legal action to prohibit any illegal publication that affects the security of the social order," Tith Sothea, a government advisor who works at the press office of the Council of Ministers, told the Phnom Penh Post on Monday.

In his e-mail, Rainsy said that threat sounded "rather Stalinist". He added: "They are embarrassed and afraid because I am exposing scientific, objective and factual evidence of what I am claiming."

Phay, the government spokesman, confirmed that the government is investigating the information made public by Rainsy and the SRP, and that the investigation could lead to further charges if the claims are shown to be false. "We don't want to see any misleading information that will affect law and order and national security," he said.

Phay also accused the SRP of releasing the information in order to distract attention from Rainsy's case. "He has the right to freedom of expression, but it can't cover up what has been done." He said that rather than releasing the information to the media, the SRP should have brought it forward for debate in parliament, or even in a separate court case.

But Rainsy alleged that the courts are "political tools" used by the ruling Cambodian People's Party to "crack down on opposition". Many rights groups and analysts share that view. Last year, a spate of lawsuits against opposition parliamentarians, journalists and activists prompted a litany of criticism from international rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as the United States Embassy in Cambodia.
"This is a public secret. Everyone knows that the court is under control of the government," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. "There is an attempt by the ruling party to consolidate its power." He said the case against Rainsy was an example of that trend. "This issue of the border could have been downplayed. They take any chance to silence the opposition."

But Rainsy has so far refused to be silenced, taking up his cause with governments in Europe while participating in radio call-in shows in Cambodia. His party has also vowed to begin investigating other sections of border between the two countries.

Jared Ferrie is a Phnom Penh-based journalist.

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Cambodian ship hijacked, Indian crew may be on board

Mumbai: A Cambodian cargo ship, MV Layla S, was hijacked off the Somalian port of Berbera in the Gulf of Aden, a top maritime authority said here on Wednesday. The crew members are said to be a mix of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Somalian and possibly Syrian nationals.

The details of the crew members are still awaited, said the Directorate-General of Shipping (DGS). The vessel is believed to be owned and managed by Al Hufoof, an agency based in either Syria or the United Arab Emirates.

The DGS said the ship was overpowered after the cargo was offloaded at Berbera Port.

Moreover, the DGS said the crew has reportedly been abandoned by the owner so they may have been already held in captivity since the past few days. Such incidents are common in this region but come to light only much later.

The DGS has informed the authorities, including the Coast Guard and Indian Navy, of the developments.
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13 countries meet in bid to save wild tigers

The Associated Press

HUA HIN, Thailand -- Efforts to save the wild tiger are at a critical point and it will take greater political will and cooperation from Asian countries to prevent the big cats from becoming extinct, conservationists and the World Bank warned Wednesday.

The dire message was offered to 13 tiger range states attending the first Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation. The aim of the three-day meeting is to convince countries to pledge to spend more on tiger conservation and set targets for boosting their numbers - vows that would then be finalized by heads of state in September at a meeting in Vladivostok, Russia.

"There will be no room left for tigers and other wildlife in Asia without a more responsible and sustainable program for economic growth and infrastructure," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in a video message to the 180 delegates.

"The tiger may be only one species, but the tigers' plight highlights the biodiversity crisis in Asia," he said.

Thailand's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Suwit Khunkitti told delegates the time had come for his fellow ministers to commit to "bold commitments and actions so that we can collectively turn the tide of extinction on the tiger."

Tiger numbers have plummeted because of human encroachment, the loss of more than nine-tenths of their habitat, and poaching to supply the vibrant trade in tiger parts. From an estimated 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, the number today is less than 3,600.

John Seidensticker, head of conservation ecology at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and chairman of the Save the Tiger Fund, recalled how he watched the Javan and Bali tigers disappear in the 20th century, adding that "losing a tiger is like losing a very close, dear relative and I'm still saddened by that experience."

He said conservationists have over the years been successful in banning trade in tiger parts, outlawing hunting and boosting protection measures. But he said he and others never foresaw the breakneck economic development in Asia that would "pave over" key tiger forests and grasslands and create a market for tiger parts that has caused poaching to skyrocket.

Still, Seidensticker and others said the meeting itself offered hope, showing that the bid to save tigers has gone beyond passionate environmentalists and scientists and is now being embraced by government officials and key donors like the World Bank.

The meeting is being organized by Thailand and the Global Tiger Initiative, a coalition formed in 2008 by the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institute and nearly 40 conservation groups. It aims to double tiger numbers by 2022.

"That this meeting is happening is hugely important," said John Robinson, executive vice president of conservation and science for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

Robinson said the political will to save the tigers must be strengthened, funding increased for impoverished countries where tigers remain and forests expanded to ensure that tigers and humans don't clash - a problem especially common in India and Indonesia.

Relocating communities is an option as long as the villagers are compensated adequately, Robinson said.

The World Bank said countries must work to minimize the impact of roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects on tiger habitat - something the bank has vowed to do in projects it funds. It also called on countries to better train and equip their forest rangers and reduce corruption in the government agencies tasked with running national parks and protected areas.

"Corruption has been rampant and all pervasive in some of the countries as far as forest management is concerned," said Keshav Varma, the Global Tiger Initiative's program director, told delegates. "Corruption is gradually and persistently nibbling away at our natural resources. The politics of money is drowning out the weak voices of the tiger and the poor."

The 13 countries attending the meeting are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

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China to Help Restoration of Cambodia's National Road

The ground breaking ceremony of the restoration of National Road No. 62 in northern Cambodia was held on Wednesday with the attending of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Zhang Jinfeng.

"It is a major route of transportation linking Cambodia's northern border to capital Phnom Penh and the road will be sure to enhance Cambodia's economic vitality as well as greatly promote Cambodia's economic and social development, " said Zhang at the ceremony.

"It is the first economic and trade cooperation project between China and Cambodia in the beginning of 2010," Zhang said. "A good beginning is half done." She also said that more construction projects assisted by Chinese government will be started or finished this year. These projects include irrigation system, road restoration and transmission and transformer networks.

The 128-km-long road, running through Kampong Thom province to Thbeng Meanchey, will lead to Preah Vihear province.

The construction project, carried out by Shanghai Construction Group, will last for 40 months and with a total cost of 52 million U.S. dollars.

Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke highly of China's assistance to Cambodia, saying that the assistance provided by China helps to promote Cambodia's social and economic development and reduce poverty for people. He said that China's assistance in infrastructure construction, including transport, water conservancy, electricity as well as personnel training are pure- hearted without any preconditions.

He said that the construction of National Road No. 62 helps to connect the area to Siem Reap province which will promote the development of the local tourism industry.

Hun Sen said that the royal government has been strengthening the land, waterways, railways, aviation and port construction. " There are roads there is hope," he stressed.

The construction of the infrastructure will help to attract investment in various fields, promote economic development, enhance remote areas, and improve living standards, he said.

After thanking the Chinese government and people to provide assistance, Prime Minister Hun Sen also wishes Chinese people living in Cambodia have a happy Chinese New Year, saying that "with the approaching of traditional Chinese New Year, I wish all Chinese people, overseas Chinese living in Cambodia health and success in the coming year."
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Cambodia won't send troops to Afghanistan, Iraq

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday he will not send peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hun Sen said some countries, which he did not name, had requested 1,000 Cambodian de-miners be deployed to Afghanistan.

"I will not send Cambodian sons to die in those two countries," he said in remarks at the groundbreaking for a new road in the central province of Kampong Thom. "The Cambodian people have seen enough war and suffered enough casualties from land mines."

Cambodia was wracked by almost three decades of war and unrest after a 1970 military coup and became one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. It has trained a large corps of skilled de-miners.

In April 2006, Cambodia sent 135 soldiers to help U.N. peacekeepers clear mines in war-torn Sudan. Hun Sen, however, rejected requests from the U.S. to deploy Cambodian troops to Iraq that same year. He said he questioned the overall legitimacy of the war in Iraq and that it was too dangerous for Cambodians to operate there.

In early 2009, Cambodia sent several dozen troops to Chad and the Central African Republic.

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KSL set to double sugarcane output

KOH KONG, CAMBODIA : Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Plc (KSL) aims to invest about 15 billion baht over the next five years to double its sugarcane output in Thailand and continuously expand its presence in Cambodia and Laos.

Thailand's only listed sugar miller expects the group's total revenue to top 20 billion baht from last year's 12 billion baht when the expansion is completed.

Chairman Chamroon Chinthammit said the company would spend 6-7 billion baht to build a new factory complete with a power and ethanol plant in Sa Kaeo. The Bo Phloi mill in Kanchanaburi also requires an investment of 8 billion baht, of which half is being spent on the first phase of construction.

The group currently operates four sugar mills and cane farms in Khon Kaen, Chon Buri and Kanchanaburi, with combined sugar production of 5 million tonnes per crop.

KSL projects that its local sugarcane output will double to 10 million within five years, moving it from the fourth to third place in the country in terms of overall production, said Mr Chamroon.

The company on Monday inaugurated its $100-million sugar mill in Koh Kong, the first of its kind in Cambodia. The group, together with Cambodian and Taiwanese partners, has been granted a 90-year farming concession for 20,000 hectares in Koh Kong along the border of Thailand and Cambodia.

An estimated 240,000 tonnes of sugarcane will be processed in the 2009-10 season, the first year of operation.

"We are aiming for the total production of 2 million tonnes from Cambodia within five years while our crushing capacity in Laos will be expanded to 700,000 tones from 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes at present," Mr Chamroon said.

KSL has also been awarded a concession of 30 years for 10,000 hectares in Laos. The Sawannakhet mill, with total investment of $40 million, began operating at almost the same time as the Koh Kong plant.

Laos and Cambodia are among the 19 developing countries entitled to duty-free sugar exports to European markets. KSL has signed five-year contracts with London-based Tate & Lyle to supply all of its output from Cambodia and Laos at the price of 19 cents a pound.

Ly Yong Phat, one of Cambodia's top businessmen and a close ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen, holds 20% in KSL's joint venture while the Thai sugar miller controls 50%. The remaining 30% is owned by the Taiwanese partner Ve Wong Corp.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to seek the required land and labour for KSL, which needs 4,000 employees, saying the sugar industry was vital for the Cambodian economy. According to data from Thailand's Commerce Ministry, the country exports 300,000 tonnes of white sugar to Cambodia.

Chalush Chinthammit, KSL's assistant vice-president for business development, said the group expected up to 20% growth in revenue this year, thanks to the high sugar price, now at a 28-year high of 29 cents a pound, and higher production than last year.

Given the current supply shortage, sugar prices will remain on the uptrend, definitely breaking the 30-cent mark by the end of the second quarter, Mr Chalush added.

KSL shares closed yesterday on SET at 14.70 baht, up 50 satang, in trade worth 44 million baht.

Relate Search: Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Plc, Chairman Chamroon Chinthammit, Bo Phloi mill, Kanchanaburi.
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Cambodian drug centres deny abuse

Operators of drug rehabilitation centres in Cambodia have denied accusations patients are subjected to "sadistic violence". Human Rights Watch claims people are being held in the centres against their will, where they are subjected to torture, rape and humiliation. The organisation is calling for Cambodia authorities to shut down controversial facilities .

Presenter: Stephanie March
Speakers: Joe Amon, director, Health and Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch; Nean Sokhim, director, My Chance Drug Detention and Rehabilitation Centre, Phnom Penh .

MARCH: The report by Human Rights Watch says 2,000 people are being held in so-called "drug rehabilitation centres" across Cambodia. Joe Amon is the director of the Health and Human rights commission for the organisation.

AMON: There were reports of beatings, being shocked with electric batons. There were cases where people would describe very specifically how staff and guards would wind together electrical cables together and whip inmates with them. But we also heard about rapes, we heard about people being shackled for long periods of time and being forced to stand in the sun.

MARCH: The report says many of the detainees are picked up by police and military in an effort to get drug users, sex workers and beggars off the street. Others are sent by their families who pay the authorities to treat and rehabilitate the patients. But Mr Amon says it's not only drug users who end up in the facilities.

AMON: Most of them were at some point drug users - not all of them were drug addicted or drug dependant. There were also children in there, adults who hadn't used drugs but got caught up in street sweeps. And also really quite disturbingly individuals with mental illness

MARCH: Government statistics show between 2007 and 2008, there was a 40% increase in the number of people in the the centres. Mr Amon says the centres are an easy way for authorities to keep so-called undesirables off the street.

AMON: And the other is profit. You know family members that are paying to have individuals picked up and put in these centres. You know that money is against Cambodian law, by law it says drug dependency treatment should be free. And that money is going directly into the pocket of the people running the centres.

MARCH: Nean Sokhim is the director of the civilian-run "My Chance" drug rehabilitation centre in Phnom Penh. He says patients are treated well, receive three meals a day and have job training opportunities.

SOKHIM: In my centre is no murder happen, no problem eh.

MARCH: Is there any violence towards the people in your centre from the guards?

SOKHIM: No, never.

MARCH: The is a report that has come out from a human rights organisation that says people that are tortured and kept against their will. What do you say about this report?

SOKHIM: No, no never happen like this. But the Human Rights Watch always say, always advise bad about the drug rehab centre in Cambodia. I don't know why because in my centre I always try to do everything better and better.

He says some detainees have tried to run away in the past.

SOKHIM: We have some, but all of them because we (inaudible) them and we can drug them and we forbid them to do the work at the outside of the after they can escape.

MARCH: So if someone tries to run away you give them drugs so they can't escape?

SOKHIM: Yeah, yeah yeah.

MARCH: Human Rights Watch says there are at least 11 drug centres operating in Cambodia. Some are run by the police and military while others are operated by civilians. Mr Sokhim says while there is no abuse at his centre he can't vouch for those run by the security forces.

SOKHIM: For other centre, they can violence at the centre governed by the police, governed by the military police. But in my centre is civil governed.

MARCH: Human Rights Watch is calling for all the drug rehab centres to be closed down and investigated for rights abuse. Joe Amon from the organisation says detention centres are the wrong way to tackle drug abuse.

AMON: The World Health Organisation did an assessment and they said in their report that they estimated that it was close to 100 percent relapse for the people who have been in these centres.. It's just the wrong way to approach drug addiction. Drug addiction is a chronic relapsing condition. It's not helped by a period of military drills and forced exercise.

Mr Sokhim estimates 70 percent of the 2,500 people who have been in his centre since it opened in 2006 have successfully managed to conquer drug abuse.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

WING set to cover all of Cambodia

Mobile phone electronic payment service, which just turned one year old, says it will cover Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri from next week, the last provinces to gain full access to WING

THE mobile money transfer system WING will operate fully in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces by the end of the month, Managing Director Brad Jones said Monday, giving the service full coverage in the Kingdom for the first time.

Having launched one year ago, WING will allow customers to “cash out” for the first time in the two provinces from next week, Jones said.

Previously WING users could transfer money there on the service’s four partner mobile operators – Hello, qb, Smart Mobile and Mfone – but could not collect the money.

“This week we have people who are setting up Wing cash X-press outlets in Rattanakiri and Modulkiri which now gives us access to every province in Cambodia,” Jones told the Post.

He added that the expansion was the result of a A$1.5 million (US$975,000) grant from the Australian government (via Ausaid) made last year.

“We have been using that [Ausaid] grant to actually further development of WING to provincial areas” Jones said.

WING, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ANZ Bank, formally launched its operation in the kingdom on January 21 last year.

Jones said that during the first year of operations, WING had gained 85,000 users, adding that the growth rate of its users was increasing.

“In the first month, we put on maybe 4,000 to 5,000 customers. In our last month, we put on close to 20,000 customers,” he said, adding that the network aspect of the WING business model meant growth would rise at an increasing rate.

“To use WING, you need to have your friend or family on WING, so as more and more people start to use WING, it becomes more useful for people who are already WING’s customers,” he said.

The electronic payment service had also benefited from a rising number of mobile providers signing up over the past 12 months, the latest being Mfone in October.

“Smart Mobile is pleased on the results of the partnership since the launch,” CEO Thomas Hundt said by email Monday.

The two companies started to work together from the start of August.

It remained unclear how much revenue WING had generated in its first 12 months of operations.

Jones declined to give a breakdown of financial results Monday. “We don’t disclose the actual figure in terms of what’s been transacted, but I can tell you … [there has been] significant growth month on month in both the volume of transactions we have and the value of transactions.”

WING is completely dependent on coverage by its four mobile partners, Jones admitted, given that transactions are conducted by mobile phone.

WING is not available with Mobitel, the country’s mobile leader in terms of market share, or on Metfone, which is understood to cover the largest area of any mobile service in the Kingdom.

The Vietnamese operator’s Cambodia CEO Nguyen Duy Tho told the Post in October that by the end of November last year, Metfone had been due to cover between 90 and 95 percent of the Kingdom’s population of about 14 million people.

“If there isn’t coverage of that particular network, but there is coverage for Hello, they might borrow someone’s phone who is on Hello, and use the WING service,” Jones said, adding that most people would have a SIM card with one of the four operators working with WING.

Cambodia’s mobile-phone users are notorious for posessing a selection of SIM cards in a bid to make the most of tariffs that have become increasingly competitive as new mobile phone companies have entered the market.

WING had held discussions with other operators, he added, but “we don’t have concrete plans at this stage”.

“We’re not actively looking to partner with them,” he added.

Mobitel, which is wholly owned by the Royal Group, the joint-venture partner with ANZ in ANZ Royal Bank, is understood to be developing its own mobile money transfer network.

Jones said he recognised that another mobile operator was looking to set up a rival mobile payment system and that “we welcome the competition in this market”.

He added that he had not had discussions with Mobitel with which WING “are unlikely to work with”. Mobitel was going in its “own direction”, Jones said.

By not working with the market leader, it was important that WING build a strong customer and provider base, he said.
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Cambodia Gold & Ruby Exploration Project Moves to Second Phase -- Terra Energy & Resource Technologies Increases Royalty Rights

Terra Energy & Resource Technologies, Inc. (OTCBB: TEGR), a natural resources exploration services technology company, announces that the Company has signed a phase two contract for gold and ruby exploration in Cambodia, increasing its royalty rights in the overall project.

The exploration services contract engages Terra in its proprietary satellite-based STeP® analysis of gold and ruby mineralization in Cambodia, which is the second phase contracting of exploration after it successfully completed the first phase of the project. As requested by the client, in addition to STeP®, Terra is to perform other traditional geological and management services, in order to further define and locate resources after presenting the client with good indications of mineral prospectivity and priority zones as a result of Terra's phase one survey.

Terra previously signed a working agreement with the Millennium International Group, which serves as a frame work of the relationship between the companies and outlines the pricing, royalty as well as co-investment rights, among other provisions, Terra Energy & Resource Technologies obtains as consideration for its services.

In connection with the phase two contract, Terra has an increased royalty interest in the acreage and co-investment rights contingent upon the advancement of the exploration license in Cambodia.

"We have had several service contracts with the Millennium International Group over the past six months. This relationship is dear to us, and we are encouraged that this client is also our market partner in Asia," said Dmitry Vilbaum, Chief Executive Officer of Terra Energy & Resource Technologies.

"The synergy is in Terra performing the services for cash, royalty, and non-promoted co-investment rights, effectively creating a joint venture with the client," said Dr. Alexandre Agaian, Terra Energy & Resource Technologies' President. "Terra is encouraged and incentivized to perform its innovative technology work and help our JV shorten the exploration cycle and expense to a minimum, so that Terra can start receiving the royalty cash flow and potentially co-invest on the same terms as the Millennium International Group."

About Terra Energy & Resource Technologies, Inc.

Terra Energy & Resource Technologies, Inc., through its subsidiary Terra Insight Services, Inc., provides mapping and analysis services for exploration, drilling, and mining companies related to natural resources found beneath the surface of the Earth. The Company uses a suite of innovative and efficient technologies, which facilitate the prediction and location of commercially viable deposits of hydrocarbons, gold, diamonds, and other natural resources, and assesses them for any given geographic area -- on or offshore. For more information, visit

Safe Harbor for Forward-looking Statements

This press release may contain forward-looking information within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and is subject to the safe harbor created by those sections. There are many factors that could cause the Company's expectations and beliefs about its operations, its plans to acquire interests in exploration properties or technologies, plans to drill or drilling results to fail to materialize, including, but not limited to: competition for new acquisitions; availability of capital; unfavorable geologic conditions; prevailing prices for oil, natural gas and other natural resources; and general regional economic conditions.

For More Information, Please Contact:
Terra Energy & Resource Technologies, Inc.

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Brisbane charity rescues trafficked children in Cambodia

David Barbeler

A BRISBANE-based organisation that rescues child sex workers in southeast Asia has cracked its first Cambodian syndicate, saving two girls, 10 and 14.

The rescue was carried out by the Brisbane-based charity The Grey Man, comprising former Australian special forces soldiers, former police and civilians.

A spokesman said the group's director of operations - a former Sydney policeman who uses only the name Tony to protect his identity - was in Cambodia on a fact-finding tour when a motorbike driver offered to arrange some young girls for him.

"Tony contacted our partner agency International Justice Mission (IJM) who in turn engaged with the police," the spokesman said.

The motorbike driver took Tony to a hotel late on Monday where a pimp showed him two Vietnamese girls, aged 10 and 14, the spokesman said.

"He (Tony) asked for both girls and on the pretext of going to an ATM to get the $US600 ($A665) to pay for them, he briefed police," he said.

Police and an IJM investigator then accompanied The Grey Man director back to the room to arrest the pimp and the motorbike driver.

The girls, who'd been trafficked from Vietnam, have been placed in the care of a British aid agency. The Grey Man will assist in supporting the children.

It's understood The Grey Man representatives are working with Cambodian police to arrest others involved.

The Grey Man's president, a former special forces soldier who uses the pseudonym John Curtis, said it was the organisation's first official operation in Cambodia, having previously rescued more than 100 children and women in Thailand and Laos.

"Without our intervention these girls would have been tossed onto the street in a few short years with AIDS," he said.

"I commend the Cambodian Police and IJM for their assistance.

"It is particularly apt that on Australia Day, Australians from The Grey Man charity are putting themselves in harm's way to rescue children in southeast Asia."

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GMS cooperation brings freer flows of people, goods

Almost every day from early in the morning until dusk, Buenan, a 41-year-old migrant from Cambodia, moves around his food peddling cart in the small seaport of Trat on the eastern coastal area of Thailand’s Trat province, which borders with Cambodia’s Koh Kong province.

The small seaport, which stands as a gateway for cross-border trading between Cambodia and Thailand, has for almost two years been a trading site for Buenan, who sells various kinds of snacks mostly to workers in the seaport.

“I come from a small village in Koh Kong province, Cambodia. Now it’s easier for us to cross the border. I use a seasonal identity card for the border crossing, which we can get from the gubernatorial office in Koh Kong. The others just use the normal passports and cross the border conveniently,” he said.

He was speaking to The Jakarta Post through an interpreter, when a number of ASEAN journalists visited several development projects under the Greater Mekong Sub-region cooperation program (GMS) on the invitation of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) late last year.

Yem Yan, a Cambodian immigration officer at the Cham Yeam International border checkpoint on the Cambodia’s Koh Kong/Thailand Trat border, said that cross border travel through the checkpoint has increased. “It is partly because of less bureaucracy and partly because of the improving infrastructure on the border areas,” he said.

He said that on the side of Koh Kong there had been thousands of people like Buenan applying for the seasonal passports in order for them to cross the border and work in the informal sector, as house maids and construction workers, or to do small businesses like food sales.

“I decided to do this job after I saw that many Cambodian people succeed in doing this. Now I’ve found it better than doing farming in my home village,” Buenan added.

The combination of improving management of cross-border travel and increasing economic development under the GMS cooperation program have significantly contributed to the freer flow of people and goods and to the sharing of resources, which is key to the industrial development and modernization of the sub-region.

This was contrary to the strained relations between the GMS states and very limited intra-trade and economic cooperation at the beginning of the program in 1992.

With improving conditions, people like Buenan have had a better chance to improve their livelihoods outside of their hometowns or even outside of their countries within the sub-region, which comprises the six countries of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, as well the Yunnan province of China, all linked by the Mekong River.

Initiated by ADB, the six countries set up the GMS cooperation program in 1992 to enable them to work more closely together to reduce poverty, and promote integration and economic cooperation.

Due to improving relations and increasing economic growth, people like Buenan were facilitated by this sub-regional cooperation to lift themselves out of the poverty trap.

Based on data from ADB, 10 years after the GMS cooperation program started, the proportion of people living on less than US$1 a day fell from 52.7 percent to 28.8 percent in Laos, 50.7 percent to 9.7 in Vietnam, 46 to 33 percent in Cambodia, and 10.1 percent to less than one percent in Thailand.

This trend is expected to continue as member countries committed themselves to improving their economic cooperation.

During the first GMS Summit in November 2002 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the six leaders of the sub-region stated in their joint declaration: “Our most important achievement has been the growing trust and confidence among our countries, which has provided a favorable environment for trade and investment, economic growth, and social well-being.”

Eric Sidgwick, the senior country economist of ADB in Cambodia, said that such sub-regional integration and cooperation had helped lead the transition from subsistence farming to more diversified economies, and from command economies to more open and market-based economies, particularly for the state-centralized systems in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The GMS covers an area of 2.6 million square kilometers, the size of Western Europe, with a population of about 325 million, including the Yunnan province of China. This is a large potential market, with abundant but un-exploited natural resources.

The sub-region has attracted international interest, especially from international agencies like ADB, and the World Bank which provide loans and assistance to develop infrastructure and encourage private firms to invest and expand trade.

But Eric noted that human resource development had been slow to catch up with the pace of economic development.

Despite the efforts of GMS governments to improve their human resources and the help of international agencies like ADB and the World Bank, the quality of human resources in the sub-region is still lower than hoped for.

This is shown by the relatively low literacy rate in the sub-region. “In Cambodia the national literacy rate reached up to 75 percent, but in some areas like the Koh Kong province bordering Thailand’s Trat province the literacy rate is even lower than that,” he told visiting journalists in Koh Kong town.

“Without the quality of human resources, people in the sub-region cannot benefit to the maximum from rising economic development. This is a challenge for governments in the sub-region if they are serious in realizing the social well-being of their people,” he said.

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