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Thursday, September 30, 2010

State Department says Cambodia has ability to pay off US debt

WASHINGTON - The State Department says that cancelling Cambodia's debt would set a bad example because the impoverished country has the ability to pay what it owes the United States.

Joseph Yun, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said Thursday at a congressional hearing that even as Cambodia has accumulated debt with the United States, it has paid off other creditors on time.

Yun says the debt stems from low-interest loans in the 1970s for U.S. agricultural commodities. He says it was about $445 million by the end of 2009.

Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, chairman of the House of Representatives Asia subcommittee, says other countries have cancelled debt for Cambodia, while the United States insists on "squeezing this little, least developed country."
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US Subcommittee To Hold Hearing on Old Debt

Cambodian Prime minister Hun Sen right talked with US congressman Eri Faleomavaega ,left, during a meeting in Phnom Penh Jan. 7, 2010. Faleomavaega will oversee the hearing.

A US House of Representatives subcommittee is scheduled to discuss Cambodia's war-era debt on Thursday.

Cambodia has repeatedly sought the elimination of $300 million in debt from the Lon Nol era, without success. Prime Minister Hun Sen called it a “dirty” debt that should not be repaid.

The Foreign Affairs Committee's Asia, Pacific and Global Environment Subcommittee will discuss the debt Thursday, according to the committee's website.

According to a position paper to be given by Cambodia at the hearing, the government is seeking a wave of the debt due to a “multitude of challenges and constraints facing the country after the adverse impacts of the global economic and food crisis.”

“We seek the understanding and goodwill of the honorable members of the Congress, the US administration, and the people of the USA in granting a favorable consideration of our request for the cancellation of the related debts,” according to a copy of the paper.

Eni Faleomavaega, a Democrat from American Samoa and chairman of the subcommittee, will oversee the hearing. Joseph Yun, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, will be the witness.
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Union Rep Hospitalized After Assault

Hundred of Cambodian garment workers Monday held a strike to demand their monthly salary raise to US 93 dollars from current $61.

A factory representative for the Free Trade Union was severely beaten and hospitalized on Thursday, union officials and police said.

Phao Sak, 26, was in serious condition in Calmette hospital in Phnom Penh following the assault.

Union representatives said Phao Sok had tried to bargain for worker bonuses at the Generation clothing factory in Samrong Thong district, Kampong Speu province, ahead of the Pchum Ben national holiday.

Phao Sak was driving on his motorcycle from school to the factory when two unidentified men attacked him near the factory, according to the union, which cited witnesses in a statement Thursday.

The two men hit him repeatedly over the head with boards, the statement said.

“This is not an accident,” Chea Mony, president of the union, said Thursday. “It is an attempted assassination of a Free Trade Union representative.”

Free Trade Union representatives are repeatedly beaten for confronting factories over conditions and incomes, he said.

No suspects have been arrested.

Samrong Thong District Police Chief Khuth Sophal denied the case was an attempted murder. “I think maybe it's because of a drunken altercation. However, police will investigate.”

The Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia was not among those who participated in a general strike last week, but it is among the most powerful unions in Cambodia's garment sector.

In 2004, the union's president, Chea Vichea, was shot and killed by unknown assailants. At least three other union leaders have been killed since then.

Tensions between factories and workers have run high for weeks, with employees demanding better incomes in the face of rising living costs and factories facing competition in a shrunken global marketplace.
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hun Sen Weighs In on Labor Disputes

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday made a public appeal for the courts to drop charges against workers participating in a general strike earlier this month, in a move that proved popular with labor leaders.

His appeal came after the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia ruled out a request from the Ministry of Labor that factories walk away from cases they filed against the leaders of the strikes, where thousands of workers demanded better incomes to offset the rising cost of living.

“I would like to request the court to drop charges against workers and the trade union leaders and to request all factories to take the workers back to work,” Hun Sen said, speaking at the graduation ceremony for the National Education Institute. “This is a win-win resolution.”

GMAC officials declined to comment on the statement Wednesday, but they have said in the past the factories have the right to file against the strikes, which they called illegal.

Hun Sen said Wednesday that if the court complaints went forward, the strikes would continue. He urged factories to find ways to better compensate their workers—who belong to Cambodia's top-earning industry—and he urged employees to “work hard for the gain of the companies.”

“This is a fair gesture by Prime Minister Hun Sen to take care of the workers,” said Ath Thun, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation and a leader of the strikes.

He said around 150 workers from 17 factories had not been allowed back to work, following four days of strikes that cost factories as much as $15 million.

A Kandal provincial court official said he would hold a “legal examination” of the cases in light of Hun Sen's remarks.

Meanwhile, both managers and labor leaders have been working on improving negotiations. Both have agreed to send five members each into a commission, and they have signed off on a nine-point agreement to improve negotiations.
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The Cancer is in Kabul's occupation and not anywhere else

The White House fulminations against Pakistan seem to display an increasing level of impotence and frustration stemming out of assured defeat in Afghanistan.

The White House’s defeatism is palpable from the threats and rhetoric emanating from the emissaries that make their rounds around the world.

A bankrupt policy, a misguided adventure, and misdirected anger at allies display a level of panic sen in the days before the end game in Vietnam.

It is pedagogical to read the threats from the White House against the non-combatant state of Cambodia

“President Richard M. Nixon, April 30, 1970

Good evening my fellow Americans:

Ten days ago, in my report to the Nation on Vietnam, I announced a decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year. I said then that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased enemy activity in Laos, in Cambodia, and in South Vietnam.

At that time, I warned that if I concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.

Despite that warning, North Vietnam has increased its military aggression in all these areas, and particularly in Cambodia.

…For the past 5 years – as indicated on this map that you see here – North Vietnam has occupied military sanctuaries all along the Cambodian frontier with South Vietnam. Some of these extend up to 20 miles into Cambodia. The sanctuaries are in red and, as you note, they are on both sides of the border. They are used for hit and run attacks on American and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.

These Communist occupied territories contain major base camps, training sites, logistics facilities, weapons and ammunition factories, airstrips, and prisoner-of-war compounds…

…Tonight, American and South Vietnamese units will attack the headquarters for the entire Communist military operation in South Vietnam. This key control center has been occupied by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong for 5 years in blatant violation of Cambodia’s neutrality.

This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which these attacks will be launched are completely occupied and controlled by North Vietnamese forces. Our purpose is not to occupy the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.”

The fulminations coming out the current White are very similar to the Nixon esclation which carried out massive bombing raids to destroy the alleged “Ho Chi Minh Trail”. Nixon lied when he said that he would target the so called “sancturies” a few kilometers inside the border. The US massively bombed almost all of Cambodia. A map of Cambodia which displays the bombing raids shows a map specled with pin pricks all over Cambodia. The rapid rise of the Khemer Rouge is analogous to the rise of violence in Pakistan.

Three major revelations can be discerned from Bob Woodward’s transcription of White House:

1) The US has resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan. Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post describes the impotence as follows: “As Woodward recounts it, by last spring — just six months after President Obama announced the dispatch of 30,000 additional U.S. troops, along with a modified counterinsurgency strategy — virtually every civilian official at the National Security Council and in the vice president’s office had concluded that the plan was doomed.”

Take retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the chief advisor for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the NSC. Woodward quotes him as saying in a meeting that Obama’s plan to gradually transfer security from U.S. and NATO forces to the Afghan army is a “house of cards,” destined to collapse. Lute, like several others on the NSC, argues that there has been no “proof of concept;” military commanders in Afghanistan, they argue, have yet to transfer even one Afghan district or town to local forces — and may never be able to do so.”

2) There is almost total consensus in the US Administration that the Afghan Government is totally inept, corrupt and incapable. Karl Eikenberry describes Mr. Karzai as “an unreliable partner Karzai was.”
“He’s on his meds, he’s off his meds,”

3) The third issue is inane indictment of Pakistan. Hence the rhetoric of bombing 150 sites in Pakistan and blaming Pakistan for the “cancer” in Afghanistan. The front pages of the Washington Post are full of diatribes against Pakistan. Those who have any doubts about Bharat’s intentions and feelings towards Pakistan can find the worst of the allegations replicated with embellished venom in most of the Bharati papers. Sify news, and th Indian Express are the most vitriolic. The Deccan Herlad, Times of India and The Hindustan Times lead the middle pack. The Hindu despite its name is the most liberal and in many ways talks sanity. One thing is certain–all of them are Pakistanphobic and cannot dare to publish positive stories about Pakistan. Its not that the Pakistani establishment is obsessed with India, as the residents of the White House think–the Pakistani establishment wants to defend itself from the constant Bharati onslaught waged on international forums, Pakistani borders and the media.

The US is obsessed by “sanctuaries”. How could there be sanctuaries if 9% of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan National Resistance (Haqqanis, Hikmatyars and Taliban etc).

Jackson Diehl quotes NATO’s chief civilian representative in Kabul, Mark Sedwill “points out that the campaign plan drawn up by former U.S. commander Stanley McChrystal didn’t anticipate that they would be wiped out. Contrary to Jones, McChrystal and other NATO commanders on the ground concluded that their goals in Afghanistan can be reached even if Taliban leaders still find refuge in Pakistan.”

Bob Woodward’s revelation are orchestrated and planned. Bruce Riedel and Rahm Emanuel know exactly what they would get if they allowed Woodward into selected meetings what they could expect. They fed Woodward with the disinformation and propaganda that they wanted published. The purpose of this exercise is to forward their own agenda–which is not a hidden secret. Riedel made the right noises at the beginning of Obama Administration–however he quickly turned. He believes in India and wants a strong US-Indian alliance. Riedel wants Kashmir resolved with the LOC as the permanent border and he wants to “convince” the Pakistanis into supporting US misadventures in Afghanistan and in Central Asia. The “CIA Murder Army” is part of that “convincing”.

President Obama has misdiagnosed the problems in Afghanistan. It is not Cancer, it is treatable. The problems can be fixed if he can identify the malady in the right place–the problem resides in Washington and Kabul–not anywhere else
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

US Providing $51 Million in Health, Education and Other Aid

The US on Tuesday provided more than $35 million to Cambodian health and education, part of more than $51 million in funding expected this week.

The US will provide $33.55 million in grant funds to reduce HIV and AIDS and prevent major diseases like tuberculosis and other dangers such as maternal and child health, officials said. And it will provide another $1.55 million for Cambodia's “education objectives,” including improving basic education and access to education.

Cambodia's economic growth and future development rely on “an educated and healthy population,” US Ambassador Carol Rodley said in Phnom Penh at a signing ceremony Tuesday.

Long Visalo, the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, accepted the funding Tuesday, calling health and education “the two highest priority sectors” for reducing poverty and increasing economic development.

The US is expected to provide another $16.44 million to Cambodia in a ceremony Wednesday, in a separate initiative to improve the country's business environment and enhance its agricultural capabilities.
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Cambodia's Kep: Sleepy seaside town begins to stir

The Associated Press

KOH TONSAY, Cambodia — Ask for the crab. In black peppercorn sauce.

The proprietor of the thatched-roof and bamboo-walled island restaurant will acknowledge the order in sign language and broken English. She'll shuffle across the seaside grass over to the dock where the crab cages sit, steeping in the Gulf of Thailand's tepid waters.

She'll return with a bucket of crustaceans and fry them in an iron wok over a charcoal fire in her open-air kitchen, searing them in a sauce made largely from sweet, fiery Kampot peppercorns. She'll bring you a heap of steaming seafood, pepper sauce, paper napkins and beer to the shaded picnic tables. You'll eat the crab — soft-shells and all — sucking the sauce from your fingers, drinking the beer to blunt the fiery pepper and thank the stars that few people have discovered the culinary and aesthetic pleasures of this southern coastal region.

While Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples are its biggest tourist draw, beach-bound tourists — particularly those looking for more than the backpacker-on-a-shoestring itinerary — are waking up to the unexplored beauty that this muggy country has to offer. The low-key beach town of Kep and the riverside village of Kampot, a three-hour drive south of the capital Phnom Penh, offer rough edges but simple charms, along with nearby islands like Koh Tonsay, where the crab in peppercorn is served.

The Kep-area beaches also offer alternatives to better-known regional beach resorts like Thailand's Phuket and even Cambodia's own Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville was a favorite of jet-setters (Jackie Kennedy visited in the '60s) before the country was beset by the horrors of wars, coups and the Khmer Rouge. These days, Sihanoukville's luxury resorts have plenty of attitude, having been rediscovered by growing numbers of nouveau-riche Cambodians and others. Sleepy Kep, in contrast, seems to attract a clientele that spurns Sihanoukville's swagger.

The town of Kep consists of a collection of modest residences and hotels tucked into the foliage off crumbling pavement and dusty roads, along with rows of motley shacks and several grand villas, many of which still show the ravages inflicted by the Khmer Rouge who sneered at Kep's bourgeois trappings. Kep Beach is mostly a stretch of rocky sand directly under the main road, though that doesn't stop the locals from swimming along the stony promenade. Notable local landmarks include an unusual nude statue of a fisherman's wife and a monstrous statue of a crab. The 16-room Beach House hotel and its tiny swimming pool hides just above the beach in the tropical hillside foliage, offering sweeping views of the gulf.

Bending around the promontory to the west and north is Kep's main drag, the Crab Market: a line of bamboo and thatch shacks where you can find crab, fish, prawns and squid, not to mention laundry service, tourist trinkets, boat rides, motos (mopeds), cold beer, cheap drugs, Internet connections, massage services and just about anything else you can imagine. The circus mix of locals, backpackers and proper tourists is a prime spot for people-watching.

Farther up the coast are Kep's nicer accommodations. Inland and up in the hills, there's the Veranda, with a wooden restaurant and bar on a slope with a vista of stunning sunsets over the water. Waterside, Knai Bang Chatt has the swankiest lodgings in town with an emerald infinity swimming pool and stylish, modernist building. The hotel's Sailing Club next door has a dining room perched on piers over the water and a small sandy beach where you can sip vodka tonics while the waves lap your toes. Kep Malibu Estates, despite the unusual name, is also perched inland, its swimming pool and grassy yard up a dusty road past rundown shacks and the disconcerting sight of impoverished farm families tending ragged plantings and staring blankly at passing tourists.

For many, the islands just off of Kep are the real draw. Phu Quoc is the largest, but it belongs to Vietnam and it's some distance away. For that reason, Koh Tonsay — translated as "Rabbit Island" — is arguably the most popular. Like many things in Cambodia, getting there is not entirely for the faint-hearted. Most hotels have connections with boat operators, or you can arrange a boat ride at one of the Crab Market shacks. The skinny boats, built mainly for fishing, are powered by crate-sized outboard engines with propeller shafts the length of a small tree. Their narrow width means they pitch and yaw more than most people feel comfortable with. That said, they move fast, and the 30-minute ride to Koh Tonsay (about $10) takes you out into a bay past poetic scenes of fishermen tending lines and seine nets.

The island reportedly was used at one point as a prison colony by the country's long-ruling monarch, Norodom Sihanouk. Today, however, its dense interior foliage keeps most visitors limited to the crystalline waters that slosh the whitish sands on its north side, where simple wood platforms are dotted with hammocks and thatched roofs. Just inland are the open-air kitchens and shacks of the half-dozen families who cater to tourists. For overnight stays, many families rent bungalows that are nothing more than enclosed shacks with wooden sleeping platforms and mosquito nets.

For most visitors, lounging on the beach platforms, alternating between swimming in the bathwater sea and drowsy contemplation of swaying palms is the most activity one can muster. Occasionally, wiry, naked-to-the-waist Cambodian men shimmying high into tree canopies, hacking at bushel-sized bunches of coconuts with machetes and letting the green fruit thud to the ground, spooking unsuspecting tourists. For less than a dollar, they'll trim off the husks for you, lop a hole into the top and pop a straw in it for the freshest coconut milk you could possibly hope for.

But when hunger truly strikes, it's best to find crab. The size of golf balls, these crustaceans are caught by traditional hook and lines, and left in cages in the water until mealtime. For less than $5, the cook/hostess prepares a mound of the animals, cooked in oil and peppercorns of the Kampot — a once-famous Cambodian agriculture export — and beer for two. The instinct is to equate crab with lobster, use your teeth to dismantle the shell and suck the meat out. But the shells are so soft, you realize it takes less effort to just eat the crab, meat, shell and all. With pepper sauce tingling on your tongue and cold beer washing it down, gorge yourself on Kep's finest culinary offering — and enjoy a place while it remains untrampled by the crowds.

If You Go...


TIMING: The best time to visit Cambodia is in the rainy reason (roughly late September through February), when the daytime temperatures aren't sweltering. The rains, while heavy, are brief in their duration and awe-inspiring in their intensity. This is considered high season for many hotels and other tourist services.

GETTING THERE: Fly to one of Southeast Asia's hubs — like Bangkok or Singapore — then take a budget carrier — Air Asia, Silk Air, Dragon Air, Jet Star, to name a few — to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. Regular bus service between Phnom Penh and Kep is cheap (around $7; but getting tickets and finding the right departure point in Phnom Penh's chaotic streets can be difficult, so best to ask your hotel or a travel agent for help. Renting a taxi to make the three-hour drive is also possible. Cost varies depending on whether you use a private car ($20-35 a day; or a shared taxi or car ($40 and very subject to change with no notice)


—Knai Bang Chatt: Located waterside, about a minute by moto or tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) from the Crab Market. Rates $150-$350 high season, $110-$225 low season.

—Veranda Natural Resort: Located inland, up a steep hill at end of dirt road, about three minutes by moto or tuk-tuk from Crab Market. Rooms and bungalows $40-$210, high season,; $35-$195, low season.

—Kep Malibu Estates: Located inland, up a short dirt road, about three minutes by moto or tuk-tuk from the Crab Market. Rooms or bungalows, $35-$120, high season, $30-$80, low season. Camping is also available.

The Beach House: Located on a steep hill overlooking Kep Beach, 3 minutes by moto or tuk-tuk from Crab Market. Rooms $40-$55.
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Workers, Factories Agree to Negotiation Commission

Trade unions and garment manufacturers have agreed to establish a government-brokered commission in order to break an impasse over increased income for workers, after thousands went on general strike earlier this month.

Union and factory representatives met with government officials on Monday, agreeing to establish the commission, with five members each from workers and manufacturers, in order to reach some kind of agreement over monthly income that workers say does not enable them to meet a decent standard of living.

Thousands of workers from one block of unions went on strike earlier this month to demand more negotiations, after manufacturers said they would not increase salaries beyond a $5 raise, for a monthly total of $61, in July.

The strikes cost factories millions of dollars, and some companies have brought lawsuits in its wake. Despite agreeing to the negotiation commission, companies said they would not be deterred from legal action against some strike leaders.

Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, said Tuesday his unions had submitted the names of its five commission members to the Ministry of Labor in preparation for the meeting. That list includes himself and four other leaders of unions.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said the group will send its names forward on Wednesday, after which a meeting date can be scheduled.

The general strike, which last four days, comes as Cambodia is looking to rebound from the global financial crisis. Garments remain the country's main earner, ahead of tourism.

The strike also prompted some major clothing distributors, including the Walt Disney Company and Levi Strauss, to issue a call for reconciliation.

“We urge all parties to respect the process and engage in good faith dialogue to find a solution, show commitment to constructive action for a long term solution and refrain from any inflammatory action or counterproductive rhetoric, and find a solution that is inclusive of all parties’ concerns and provides a long term stability for the industry,” they wrote in a letter to the government, unions and GMAC.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Corruption battle has begun: govt

THE newly established National Anticorruption Commission has established a five-year plan to fight corruption in Cambodia, and has said that it is in the process of investigating 10 complaints against government officials.

NAC spokesman Keo Remy said the Anticorruption Unit, the NAC’s investigative arm, had made significant progress during its roughly three months in operation.

“We have started our work and we don’t want to give detailed information that exposes the investigative procedure, but right now, senior officials at the ACU have started examining all of the complaints,” Keo Remy said.

The five-year plan, Keo Remy said, included such previously announced measures as anticorruption education, forced public-asset disclosures by government officials and the establishment of a website to publicise the work of the ACU.

Om Yentieng, head of the ACU, said in July that as many as 100,000 officials could be required to declare their assets.

On Monday anti-corruption officials met representatives from civil society organisations to discuss the process of filing complaints with the ACU.

The Kingdom ranked 158 out of 180 in anti-graft group Transparency International’s world corruption index last year.
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Boy, 16, convicted of sleeping with a 14 year old

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court has sentenced a 16-year-old boy to four years in prison after finding him guilty of having sex with a 14-year-old girl twice at a guest house in Daun Penh district’s Psar Thmey commune in April.

Huot Ly Hour, 16, was arrested on April 27 from a local guest house after the girl’s parents lodged a complaint with police.

The complaint accused the boy of sleeping with their underage daughter the night before.

Presiding judge Din Sivuthy also ordered Huot Ly Hour to pay 16 million riels (US$3,809) in compensation to the victim.

Defence lawyer Ong Sileth said the decision was unjust, and that the court lacked the evidence to convict her client.

“There was no family document that specified the girl’s exact age,” she said. “She said at the police station that she was 16, but then told an investigating judge that she was 14.”

She said that her client would decide whether to lodge an appeal against the verdict.

During a September 10 hearing, the 16-year-old confessed to having sex with the girl, though he said that the pair were “sweethearts” who had been seeing each other for more than a month before his arrest.

“I had sex with her twice in separate guesthouses with mutual consent,” he said.

He told the court that the night before he was arrested, he drove the girl to the riverside to hang out and eat, before taking her to a guesthouse where he asked her to stay overnight.

“The girl was afraid to go home because she feared that her parents would be angry; that’s why she agreed to spend the night with me,” he said.
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Cambodia sets out plans to fight corruption

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia on Monday laid out plans to tackle graft in one of the world's most corrupt nations, in an attempt to reassure foreign investors.

The National Council for Anti-Corruption, a new body, said it had adopted a five-year plan that would include mandatory asset declarations for more than 100,000 state officials.

Council spokesman Keo Remy said the asset declarations would start early next year.

Cambodia was ranked 158th worst out of 180 countries on anti-graft organisation Transparency International's most recent corruption perception index.

It was also ranked the second most corrupt Southeast Asian nation after Indonesia in an annual poll by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy earlier this year.

Keo Remy told AFP that the council aims to improve "the national economy and the standard of living for the people, as well as to gain confidence for foreign investment."

Rampant corruption has harmed the country's image in the eyes of foreign investors and donors.
In an effort to change a culture of corruption that has permeated levels of society, the council said it wants to organise anti-graft lessons in schools and universities across the country.

It also plans to launch ways for the public to report corruption and extortion attempts by government officials, such as a hotline and a website.

"Under our crackdown nobody will be forgiven for corruption," Keo Remy said.

In March, the government approved a long-awaited anti-corruption law that could see officials jailed for up to 15 years if convicted of accepting bribes.

The law allowed for the creation of the anti-corruption council and an anti-corruption unit to oversee investigations, but critics said it was unlikely either body would be effective because both would be controlled by the ruling party.
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