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Monday, January 04, 2010

KAB aborts plan for Cambodia

KUALA LUMPUR: KURNIA ASIA BHD []'s (KAB) plan to tap into Cambodia's insurance industry has come to a halt after it discontinued a proposed joint venture (JV) with Canadia Investment Holding plc (CIHP) to undertake general and life insurance businesses in the Indochina country.

In an announcement to Bursa Malaysia yesterday, KAB said the board of directors of wholly owned Kurnia Asia Pte Ltd (KAPL) and CIHP had mutually agreed to discontinue with the proposed JV after due deliberation. No reason was given for the decision.

The JV company, Cana Kurnia Insurance plc, was first proposed in April 2008 in which KAPL would have 49% and CIHP the remaining 51% stake. CIHP holds the entire equity interest of Canadia Bank plc, which is one of Cambodia's largest bank in terms of total assets.

At the time of the proposal, KAB had said that the insurance industry in Cambodia was at its infancy stage. With the projected strong growth of the Cambodian economy then, KAB said the JV gave it the opportunity to tap into the insurance industry in Cambodia and to enjoy the potential upside of the industry.

The JV was part of KAB's long-term business strategy to expand geographically.

Subsequently, KAB announced the deferment of the JV in March last year after the downturn of the global economy.
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Biomass Briquette Plant Opens in Cambodia


Cambodia opened its first biomass “charbriquette” factory in Phnom Penh last month, an enterprise that will produce fuel for stoves from waste biomass material.

The factory, a venture backed by Geres and For a Child’s Smile, two French organizations active in Cambodia’s development community, aims to reduce demand for wood and charcoal that 80 percent of Cambodians use every day to cook and boil water.

“Climate change and global warming are serious issues these days,” said Yohanes Iwan Baskoro, Cambodia country director for Geres. The factory, Mr. Baskoro said, “will save about 1,600 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere” every year.

The number of households projected to use charcoal as an energy source here will rise to more than one million in 2015 from about 500,000 now, according to a 2008 study conducted jointly by Cambodia’s Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, the United Nations Development Program and Geres.

The projected increase has raised concerns among environmentalists, who say that charcoal production entails the removal of vast quantities of woodland, often in naturally growing forests.

According to Geres, Phnom Penh consumes 90,000 tons of charcoal every year, a market believed to be worth about $25 million.

At the new factory, called the Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise, waste biomass like coconut husks and shells will be burned for an hour in brick kilns, or until the material is carbonized. The heat from the burning process is then recaptured in a funnel and used to dry the waste biomass so that the burning process becomes more energy efficient.

The end-product, known as char, is crushed and mixed with water and cassava residue to form individual briquettes of fuel.

Mr Baskoro said that the biomass used to make the briquettes would otherwise decompose on the capital’s streets, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the form of methane and carbon dioxide.

Moreover, there will be less dependence on producing charcoal from wood, most of which comes from naturally growing forests.

The briquettes, Mr. Baskoro said, “will preserve Cambodia’s natural forests by having a cleaner and safer alternative to wood and charcoal. He added that the briquettes produce less smoke and pose less of a threat to human health and the environment.

And while the briquettes will cost nearly three times that of charcoal sold on the streets of Phnom Penh, they will burn for nearly twice as long, according to Ly Mathheat, the executive director of the Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise.
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Deal signed with VN on cashew production

Cambodia signed a memorandum of understanding Thursday to lease 6,000 hectares in Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom provinces to Vietnam to grow cashew nuts.

Vietnamese officials in Phnom Penh said the deal was signed by Vietnamese officials from Dong Nai province and authorities from Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom provinces.

Le Bien Cuoung, commercial counsellor at the Vietnamese embassy, said 3,000 hectares within each province would be used by private companies from both countries to build a cashew-nut study centre and to seed high-quality cashew trees.

“This [memorandum] will give both sides confidence in investments,” he said. “We don’t come to plant for export. We also hope to help local farmers with new technology, offering them new seed, and buying their yields.”

The counsellor added a long-term plan is to build processing plants in both provinces once yields are high enough.

An undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, Tekreth Kamrang, applauded the potential investment from Vietnam on Wednesday.

“This will allow farmers to get more income by increasing the capacity of their plantations,” she said.

Cambodia already has around 80,000 hectares set aside for cashew-nut cultivation, according to commerce ministry figures, which the Economic Institute of Cambodia estimates accounts for 1.3 percent of world production – much of which is sold to Vietnam.

Vietnam holds a quarter of the world’s cashew market, according to the country’s trade-promotion agency.
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Deported Uighurs highlight China's ties to Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Two days after Cambodia repatriated 20 Uighur asylum-seekers fleeing China, the two countries signed trade agreements worth more than $1 billion, bringing significant investment, loans and grants to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation. Both countries deny a deal was struck, but China's growing ability to leverage its economic power in the region combined with Cambodia's weak rule of law have observers believing otherwise.

China insisted the Uighurs were outlaws, saying they participated in deadly protests earlier this year, while Cambodia contended it was merely following its immigration laws by deporting them. Rights advocates, however, said the refugees fled China after witnessing police violence against other members of their ethnic group.

Uighurs are a Turkic, Sunni Muslim minority native to China's far-western Xinjiang province. Xinjiang has been buffeted by bombings, attacks and riots in recent years that Beijing has blamed on Uighur separatists demanding autonomy. Violent confrontations erupted in July between Uighurs and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, whose increased migration to the region has heightened ethnic tensions. Nearly 200 people were killed and another 1,600 wounded, according to media reports.

Rights groups anticipate that the Uighurs deported from Cambodia are unlikely to get a fair trial in China and face torture, lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty. Seventeen Uighurs have already been condemned to death for their role in the protests.

The deportation coincided with a visit to Cambodia by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who signed 14 pacts worth $1.2 billion related to infrastructure, construction, grants and loans. China has become Cambodia's leading foreign investor and one of the country's leading donors, stepping up its presence with projects for roads, dams, mines, irrigation and telecommunications. Cambodia's recent offshore oil prospects have made it an even more enticing trade partner.

Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher, Brittis Edman, said the Uighurs were traded as a "commodity" and that the move was an ominous sign of Cambodia's attitude towards refugee protection. Joshua Kurlantzick, a Southeast Asia expert at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington and author of "Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power is Transforming the World," said that in exchange for its investment, China wants Cambodia to support its stance on its most sensitive diplomatic issues -- including Taiwan, Tibet and dissenting minorities like the Uighurs.

While analysts were interpreting the deportation as a sign of China's growing diplomatic audacity, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was left picking up the pieces of Cambodia's failed refugee program. "It's a grave breach of Cambodia's obligations," said Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Asia. "As a signatory of the 1951 convention, Cambodia was obligated to commit to non-refoulement, which means no refugees should be returned to face persecution." McKinsey said the UNHCR took extraordinary efforts to intervene in Cambodia's decision, having its top official, Antonio Gutierrez, attempt to speak with Prime Minister Hun Sen directly and offering to evacuate the Uighurs to a third country.

But local observers wonder if the UNHCR lost the leverage it needed to manage such a politically laden case by divesting itself of authority in recent years. The Uighurs -- who had been in Cambodia a few weeks before news of their arrival surfaced through media reports -- had first sought asylum through the UNHCR. But the agency has phased down its role in handling asylum applications. Cambodia is one of just two Southeast Asian signatories of the 1951 international Refugee Convention, and for the past two years, it has been the focus of the UNHCR's effort to create a locally managed refugee office to serve as a model for the region.

In a press release from October 2008 titled "Cambodia on track to become refugee model for Southeast Asia," UNHCR's then-representative in Cambodia, Thamrongsak Meechubot, was quoted as praising Cambodia's progress. "Things are moving since the government agreed in June that it was prepared to take responsibility for refugee status determination itself," he said. But there were signs that Cambodia wasn't ready, and diplomats in Phnom Penh privately expressed reservations to the UNHCR about its faith in a government that had in the past directly deported, or been implicated in the covert extradition of, Chinese and Vietnamese nationals fleeing persecution. According to a report from Human Rights Watch, the government has even aided and abetted the Vietnamese government in keeping tabs on political refugees who have fled to Cambodia.

After the deportation, the government highlighted its own compromised position by criticizing the UNHCR for not taking control of the case and evacuating the Uighurs to a third country. "We wanted to deal with it quietly without harming our relationship with China," said Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who added that Western diplomats and rights workers put Cambodia in an impossible position with China by leaking news about the Uighurs presence to the press. Just a day after the Uighurs were rounded up by police, the government pushed through a bill giving it complete control over asylum applications in the future. The takeover had been in the pipeline, but the timing raised eyebrows.

"The whole system failed," said Sara Colm, Human Rights Watch's senior researcher on Cambodia. "UNHCR wanted to turn over the refugee process here to the government . . . and now, as a result, you have 20 people who risk losing their lives."

Brendan Brady is a journalist based in Cambodia, who writes for the Los Angeles Times, CBC, Global Post and IRIN, among other publications. His main subjects of interest in Cambodia are the Khmer Rouge tribunal, human rights abuses, diplomatic disputes and religious tensions.
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Indonesia may seek tariff cut delay

Indonesia may lodge a formal request with Southeast Asian neighbours to delay some tariff reductions under a free trade agreement with China, an official from the country's trade ministry said on Monday.

The pact between China and Asean covers about 7,000 product lines and came into force this year.
But Indonesia has led resistance after sectors such as textiles and garments complained that the agreement left them vulnerable to cheap Chinese imports.

Iman Pambagyo, director of regional co-operation at Indonesia's trade ministry, said Jakarta was considering asking for implementation of the pact to be delayed for some sectors. "It has been discussed among the ministers and will be brought to the president soon. The cabinet decision will be in January, I am confident about that,'' he said.

Indonesia's co-ordinating minister for the economy, Hatta Rajasa, said last week that a team had been set up to investigate whether the pact would damage the economy. "If it's unfair, we can reject it. We'll do something to protect our national interest,'' he said.

Under the pact, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand have to reduce to zero tariffs on about 90% of imported goods. Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma have up until 2015 to make the cuts.

Manufacturers of goods such as textiles, footwear and steel in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia appear vulnerable to cheap Chinese imports.

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From Cambodia to Geelong, with London 2012 in sight

Van Vun trains for the 2012 Paralympics. Leigh Henningham Picture Editor The Age 03 9601 2682 2 More pics of Van Vun, Liz van vun batch 4. cheers Rahman 2Mobile +60 16 2462 977 SPECIAL

FOR much of his young life, Van Vun's view of the world has been obscured by people's kneecaps.

A bout of polio when he was 18 months old left him unable to use his legs, so he relied on his arms to heave himself across the fields where his parents grew rice and vegetables near the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

Now 23, Van Vun's carved biceps are propelling him far beyond his family's fields, and he has a clear vision of the future that awaits him.

Ranked No. 1 in Cambodia across all distances in wheelchair racing and with his sights set on the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Van Vun will arrive in Geelong on Friday for an eight-day training camp organised by Parallel Sports, a volunteer group affiliated with Athletics Victoria.

Van Vun , who is making his first trip overseas, will return home with a new wheelchair donated by Parallel Sports.

''I hope I can learn a lot in Australia and show that Cambodian athletes can compete with international athletes with pride,'' he said.

Van Vun, who only began attending school when he got his first wheelchair at the age of 15, is an example of how sport is helping change lives in a country that has one of the world's highest concentrations of disabled people.

In 2006, when he was studying electrical repairs at a rehabilitation centre in Phnom Penh, Van Vun heard about the wheelchair racing program organised by the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled) and signed up immediately.

Before he started competing, Van Vun said, no one wanted to talk to him. ''People looked down on me,'' he said.

Now a national hero, police stop traffic for him when he is training on the streets of Phnom Penh. He says he feels as though people treat him like a ''normal person''.

Chris Minko, an Australian from Myrtleford, is secretary-general of the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled), and was recently honoured for his services to Cambodians with disabilities with an award from the country's Prime Minister, Hun Sen.

He said Van Vun was an example of how sport could help Cambodia's most marginalised citizens regain their self-esteem and physical wellbeing to become active members of the community.

Kaye Colman, vice-president of Parallel Sports, said Van Vun would train alongside some of Victoria's best wheelchair athletes and several Japanese athletes at the camp, taking part in three training sessions a day - on the track, in the gym and the pool.

She said the group decided to give Van Vun a new wheelchair to help him in his bid to qualify for the London Paralympics.

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