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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sichuan Trade Mission Due Next Week

A Chinese delegation from the province of Sichuan will travel to Cambodia for the first time next week in search of investment options, on the heals of deepening ties between the two countries.

The delegation, led by Sun Yuan, president of the Sichuan Chamber of Commerce, will meet with National Assembly President Heng Samrin, lawmakers and trade officials.

The five-day visit is a fact-finding mission for Sichuan business leaders, who hope to build ties, especially in the trade of commercial goods, said Korm Kosal, Heng Samrin’s cabinet chief.

Nguon Meng Tech, secretary-general of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, said Cambodia has no Sichuan companies. However, he said, he hopes to convince investors on the visit to build agricultural businesses, expand tourism and bring construction and mining companies.

“If we receive investment from Sichuan, it will help push our economic growth through investment and trade exchange,” he said.

The visit comes follows an announcement last week that Cambodia will expand consular services to six cities in China and a $1.2 billion development pledge from Beijing in December 2009.

In October 2009, Prime Minister Hun Sen took more than 100 Cambodian companies to Sichuan province in an effort to woo investment.

Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yiep said Heng Samrin will explain to the delegation the investor-friendly laws of Cambodia, which include tax incentives, land concessions, zero import duties for construction materials and zero export tariffs on some products.

Economist Kong Chandararoth said the visit marked a “new step” in Chinese-Cambodian investment.

“Cambodia will be able to strengthen its economic growth if Sichuan comes to invest,” he said.
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Sand dredging threatens Cambodia's coasts

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, May 12 (UPI) -- Sand dredging in Cambodia, fueled by Singapore's expansion and land reclamation projects, poses a huge risk to Cambodia's coastal environment, says a new report.

In its "Shifting Sands" report, environmental group Global Witness estimates that as much as 796,000 tons of sand is being removed from saltwater estuaries in Cambodia's Koh Kong province each month -- enough to cover all of Phnom Penh nearly a half-inch deep in just eight months.

Singapore, with a population of 4.9 million people, has increased its land surface by 22 percent since the 1960s, mostly through land reclamation projects using imported sand. This appetite for sand is fueling a "corrupt and environmentally disastrous" sand industry, the Global Witness report states.

The Cambodian government in May 2009 imposed a ban on sand exports. Yet two prominent Cambodian senators had been awarded sand extraction licenses, Global Witness said, and there is no trace of any revenues benefiting the state.

The London-based watchdog group estimates the annual value of the sand shipments is $28.7 million in Cambodia and $248 million once the sand reaches Singapore.

Cambodia's sand-dredging industry poses a "huge risk" to its coastal environment, threatening endangered species, fish stocks and local livelihoods, the report states.

Hundreds of fisherman from the Koh Kong and Kampot provinces have protested repeatedly against the sand dredging, The Phnom Penh Post reported, quoting a fisherman from Koh Kong as saying that fish catches had decreased about 40 percent since last year.

The process of sand dredging has also "wreaked havoc" on the region's coastlines, the Global Witness report said, noting that Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia each have banned dredging sand for export because of environmental concerns.

Emphasizing that Singapore prides itself as being a regional leader on environmental issues, "the country's failure to mitigate the social and ecological cost of sand dredging represents hypocrisy on a grand scale," George Boden, campaigner at Global Witness, said in a release.

"Cambodia's natural resource wealth should be lifting its population out of poverty," he said, noting that nearly 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day.

In a statement, Singapore's Ministry of National Development rejected the findings of the Global Witness report, saying "we do not condone the illegal export or smuggling of sand, or any extraction of sand that is in breach of the source countries' laws and rules on environmental protection."

"We have not received any official notice on the ban of sand exports from Cambodia," it added.

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Civil Coalition Slams ‘Unlawful’ Sugar Concessions

Villagers in Kampong Speu protest against Phnom Penh Sugar Company for land grabbing.

The government has granted tens of thousands of hectares of unlawful land concessions to a small group of companies, some of them owned by the same person, a coalition of rights groups said Wednesday.

The concessions violated portions of the land law and a sub-decree on economic land concessions, according to the coalition, comprised of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, NGO Forum and Housing Rights Task Force.

The law says that each concession must be below 10,000 hectares for any individual owner of a company.

But an investigation into the deals found “that although different locations are granted as land economic concessions to different company names, they are of course run and owned by only the same physical person with the size bigger than 10,000 hectares,” according to the coalition.

The coalition specifically named the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company, granted 9,700 hectares in 2006; the Angkor Sugar Investment Company, granted 9,863 hectares in 2007; and the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, granted 8,343 hectares in 2010.

All three companies are owned by Ly Yong Phat, a powerful senator for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party who is currently engaged in an ongoing land dispute for the 2010 concession, in Kampong Speu province’s Omlieng commune, Thpong district.

“Such provision of land concessions is clearly contradicted to…Article 59 of [the] Land Law,” the coalition said in a statement.

Omlieng villagers say the Phnom Penh Sugar Company has pushed them from their farms, and they have staged multiple protests in the commune and provincial capital, including the burning of several company buildings and a bulldozer.

The coalition said the unlawful concessions “do not really contribute to a sustainable national development of Cambodia” and instead create a negative reputation for the country. The groups called on the government to cease new concessions, publicly review current ones and cancel those that are not in line with the land law.

They also recommended the government return land to people that was lost in unlawful concessions.
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