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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Costello pushes USD$600 mil investment in Cambodia

Australia's former Treasurer Peter Costello left parliament four months ago and now is hard at work in Cambodia. Mr Costello is acting as a financial adviser to an investment fund that's planning a 600-million dollar project. If successful it will be the biggest single foreign investment in Cambodia to date, roughly equalling the total approved investment in the country last year.

Presenter: Karon Snowdon
Speaker: Peter Costello, former Australian treasurer

SNOWDON: Peter Costello was Australia's longest Treasurer, holding the post for the 11 years of the Howard Government. Mr Costello resigned from Parliament in October having spent two years in opposition after the Liberal party lost the 2007 federal election.

In November he joined the Australian company BKK Partners, which provides financial and corporate advisory services in the Asia Pacific region. His client in Cambodia is Indochina Gateway Capital Limited, which focuses on private equity investments in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Its hoping to develop an agri-business fund to focus on Cambodia's agriculture.

Peter Costello told Steve Finch of the Phnom Penh Post newspaper he's in the country to meet with government officials.

COSTELLO: The proposal is that the investment would be in rice, sugar, bananas. That other investors would put together a sizeable sum that would bring the best of Australian technology to the agriculture sector and export state of the art agriculture production to markets outside Cambodia. Its a very large scale investment. We're looking at 600 million [US dollars].

SNOWDON: Mr Costello says Australian technology and know-how will benefit Cambodia.

COSTELLO: Australia is one of the world's major agricultural producers. And that technology, if it were brought into a country like Cambodia, would lift productivity enormously.

SNOWDON: And he believes there are potentially good returns for investors.

COSTELLO: Personally I think agriculture is going to be a great industry for investment. We have seen a spike in food prices in 2008. So 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. Countries that have natural advantage in agriculture should make the most of them. I think it'll be good for Cambodia, I think it'll be good for Australia by the way. I think its a natural fit.

SNOWDON: The Cambodian Government has made agricultural development its main priority for achieving higher growth and poverty reduction. Around 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and in poverty, dependent on agriculture, mainly rice.

According to the Phnom Penh Post, the scale of the IndoChina Gateway project is bigger than anything previously seen in Cambodia. If the fund raised its target of USD$600 million, it would be more than the total of all domestic and foreign investment in the country in 2009. Last year saw a big improvement though - investors are looking at Cambodia with fresh ideas.

But Peter Costello says there's still a long way to go to reassure investors who need a better legal system, business regulation, and straightforward anti-corruption measures.

COSTELLO: There's a reason why we should be against corruption. Eventually corruption undermines development. People who think you can develop an economy and turn a blind eye to corruption are wrong. Really the first thing you need for development is certainty and security for investment and corruption undermines and corrodes that.
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Khmer and Thai troops clash at border near temple

By Deutsche Presse Agentur

Phnom Penh - Cambodian and Thai soldiers exchanged fire early Sunday 20 kilometres from a disputed ancient temple site on Cambodia's northern border, a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

General Chhum Socheat told the German Press Agency dpa that the clash occurred on the morning that Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong was visiting the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple.

Chhum Socheat said Thai soldiers had crossed 200 metres into Cambodian territory near an abandoned village 20 kilometres from the temple when they encountered Cambodian soldiers.

"When they saw our soldiers they shot at them, and after (our soldiers) shot back there was no more fighting," he said, adding that the Thai troops subsequently withdrew.

Chhum Socheat said none of the Cambodian soldiers were injured or killed, but he had no information on whether Thai troops had suffered casualties.

He said he did not expect further fighting since senior officers on both sides had since spoken with each other.

"Now it's quiet, they solved the problem by telephone," he said.

Late Sunday the Foreign Ministry said Hor Namhong was unaware during his visit that the clash had taken place, and had since returned to Phnom Penh.

The relationship between the two nations has been tense for more than a year with sporadic clashes between troops near the disputed area surrounding the temple. Much of the border between the two countries has yet to be demarcated.

Diplomatic relations worsened markedly in October when Cambodia appointed Thailand's fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra as a government adviser.

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LEAD: Cambodia, Thai troops exchange fire near disputed border area+


Cambodian and Thai troops exchanged brief fire Sunday morning near the disputed area of Preah Vihear Temple but there were no casualties, a Cambodian military official and a Thai military source said.

There were, however, conflicting reports about how the firefight occurred, reportedly at 9:15 a.m. at Choam Te, some 20 kilometers east of Preah Vihear Temple.

According to the Thai military source, the incident occurred while Thai troops were patrolling in the border area to look for illegal logging and they met Cambodian soldiers by accident.

The source said the Thai soldiers were told by Cambodian soldiers to put down their weapons and they refused.

"When we refused to put down the guns, they (Cambodian soldiers) started opening fire on us and we fired back...for around 20 minutes," the source said.

In Phnom Penh, Gen. Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Cambodia's National Defense Ministry, told Kyodo News that Thai troops fired at Cambodian troops patrolling in the area, and Cambodian troops returned fire immediately afterward.

Cambodian officials said the incident took place as Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong visited Preah Vihear Temple on Sunday to inspect the border situation and presented foodstuff to Cambodian soldiers based near the border area.

Since the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand began in 2008, there have been two rounds of military clashes, which left several people dead or injured on both sides.

The dispute erupted after Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple was listed as a World Heritage site by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The dispute apparently stems partly from conflicting border maps.

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Cambodia police bust paedophile ring

Police in Cambodia have arrested two locals and a US man after smashing a seven-year pedophile ring offering underage "virgin" girls to tourists for $US3,000 ($A3,327) a night, they say.

Taxi driver Mey Sovann, 36, and his female accomplice Sek Vy, 47, were arrested on Friday for providing underage girls for sexual services, said Bith Kimhong, head of Cambodia's anti-human trafficking unit, on Sunday.

A six-month investigation, aided by the French Police's International Technical Co-operation Delegation (SCTIP), found that since 2003, Mey Sovann had advertised underage virgin girls on the Internet for $US3,000 ($A3,327) a night.

He would pick up customers from Phnom Penh airport and show them pictures, before taking them to meet the girls at a guesthouse owned by Sek Vy, according to an officer from SCTIP's Cambodia office, who asked not to be named.

Mey Sovann was arrested by undercover police at the airport in possession of the underage girls' photographs, while Sek Vy was arrested at her guesthouse in Kandal province, about 20km south of Phnom Penh.

American Carl Craig Thomas, 58, was also arrested on Saturday in the capital for sexually abusing three underage girls provided by the Cambodian pair, and for child pornography pictures he took at the guesthouse, Bith Kimhong said.

"We have arrested the man and the woman who provided underage girls. During the investigation, we found they were providing three underage girls to the US man too," Bith Kimhong told AFP.

"Now we are investigating the case further to see if they have a wider network," he added.

Cambodia has struggled to shed its reputation as a haven for pedophiles, putting dozens of foreigners in jail for child sex crimes or deporting them to face trial in their home countries since 2003.

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