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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cambodia Hopes to Expand Alternative ‘Justice Centers’

Cambodia hopes to establish conflict resolution centers in every district across the country by 2012 to keep people out of unnecessary court cases and unburden parts of the overloaded judiciary, officials said Wednesday.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana told a workshop in Phnom Penh that at least 30 “justice service offices” have already been set up with more expected next year. The service centers are especially geared to cases that would benefit the poor, women and minorities, who “lack access to justice,” he said.

The centers act as arbiters for conflict resolution, especially in land disputes, family conflicts, domestic violence, marriage annulment or divorce and other small disputes.

Aparna Basnyat, a UNDP representative from the regional office in Bangkok, said the centers resulted in faster settlement of cases, lower costs for participants and were more likely to be used because they are less intimidating than the courts.

A justice center in Stung district, Kampong Thom province, has solved two of four cases, said district governor Hang Sithim, who said he had also put out complaint boxes in villages to help people resolve disputes and concerns.

Y Sahak, governor of Kroch Chmar district in Kampong Cham province, said he was looking forward to getting a center established there.

“I want the justice service office in the district to help solve the people’s disputes without their spending time and money,” Y Sahak said. “People don’t want to pay more or spend more time at the courts. The people want to solve their disputes in the district faster than in the court.”
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Rice Husks Provide Alternative to Chinese Coal in Cambodia

The Cambodian rice miller and exporter, Angkor Kasekam Roongroeung (AKR), is set to launch its rice husk-powered electricity generator at the start of next year, enabling the company to double its rice exports to 70,000 tons per year.

Electricity from the newly-built rice husk generator will be used to--you guessed it--process rice.

The plant comes with community perks, too. AKR will sell its excess electricity to nearby villagers at $0.22 cents per kilowatt, lower than the $0.27 per kilowatt price they would normally pay for power from the national grid.

“We will take this opportunity to process more rice for export in an attempt to help our rice producers earn more income,” said AKR director, Chieu Hieng, as reported by the Pnom Penh Post.

The innovative power source is a welcome addition. Cambodia spent $59 million last year importing electricity from Thailand and Vietnam and is currently co-constructing a coal-fired plant with China at a cost of $362 million. Concerns are being raised about Cambodia's increasing demand for power and the trend toward using eco-un-friendly coal-fired power.

And like other developing countries in Asia--such as Nepal, with its vast Himalayan-sourced rivers and significant dependence on Chinese and Indian investment--the natural resources for natively-generated power exist domestically, but the country lacks the necessary funds for infrastructure development.

Rice husk generators could become a replicable trend in Cambodia. Already, Golden Rice Cambodia is investing $2 million into a rice-husk power plant to power nearby mills. AKR's total cost for its plant was $6 million, including the land.

Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.

[The Rice husk generator image above is from Acumen Fund investee, Husk Power Systems.]

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Thai-Cambodian ties back on track (minus Thaksin)

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia are seemingly back on track - after two years of strain as a result of the controversy over Preah Vihear temple and the appointment of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as Phnom Penh's adviser.

The improved ties were reiterated in Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's remarks in an interview with the media on Dec 6, that the two countries' relationship had "returned to normal". His statement signals a good gesture for the two sides to foster good ties once again.

And it has come at the right time, as the two countries will be celebrating six decades of diplomatic relations this Sunday in Phnom Penh. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will represent Thailand at the celebrations in the Cambodian capital. Improved ties are what people of both countries would definitely like to see. But Thailand and Cambodia still have sensitive issues to work out. These include the border demarcation and the stalled development plan for Preah Vihear temple. These two problems remain unresolved.

The Hindu temple was listed as a World Heritage site in 2008 but the development plan was blocked by Thailand at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Brazil this year, as Bangkok wanted first to resolve the issue of overlapping boundaries around the temple.

The next WHC meeting is scheduled for June next year in Bahrain. From now until the Bahrain meeting, the two leaders have to continue a dialogue to find a compromise solution on the issue.

In order not to let the issue damage improving ties, both Thai and Cambodian leaders should separate their diplomatic relationship from the border problems.

A good example of this is how Thailand and Laos handles their relationship. Bangkok and Vientiane enjoy good diplomatic relations and various cooperation while leaving the border demarcation to the Thai-Lao Joint Boundary Commission to handle. Border problems are normally very sensitive and take time to resolve.

What made ties between Thailand and Cambodia more complicated was the issue of the ousted former prime minister, who has close personal ties with the Cambodian premier.

The relationship between the two countries worsened after Thaksin was appointed as economic adviser to the Cambodian government in November last year. Bangkok recalled Thai ambassador to Phnom Penh Prasas Prasasvinitchai and Cambodia reacted in the same manner.

However, relations improved after Thaksin resigned from the position on Aug 23 this year, and the Thai government resumed the normalisation of diplomatic relations the very next day. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Mr Hun Sen have met four times at international meetings, and this has helped improve relations between the two.

Thailand uses the same strategy it pursues with Laos, for Cambodia.

Direction-general of the East Asian Affairs Department, Pasakorn Siriyaphan, said the Foreign Ministry maintains good relations with Cambodia and lets the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission tackle the border problem.

Cambodia now understands the legal procedure in Thailand, which cannot move forward the border demarcation as the three memoranda of understanding on the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission have not been approved by parliament, he added.

"It is a good sign that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has understood Prime Minister Abhisit's explanation that Thailand has its own internal process," Mr Pasakorn said.

Under Section 190 of the constitution, the three documents need parliament's approval first to give Thai officials the mandate to negotiate with their Cambodian counterparts on the demarcation issue. The matter has been put on parliament's agenda four times but still has not got anywhere.

For Cambodia, Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told the Bangkok Post that Phnom Penh will not raise the temple issue for the time being and has rather placed its attention on how to strengthen bilateral relations. "We can drop the Preah Vihear temple issue and focus on how to improve mutual understanding between our two nations," Mr Khieu Kanharith said.

But the temple issue still remains a time bomb awaiting challenges from the two countries.

A government source said if Cambodia still proposes its management plan to the WHC, Thailand will keep opposing it because the plan involves some area over which the two countries claim ownership and the issue of sovereignty has not been settled. "We don't know if Cambodia will bring up the Preah Vihear issue again because its next local elections are scheduled for 2012. If the two countries can settle this problem diplomatically and do not let it become a political issue, that will be good," the same source said.

Mr Pasakorn said one thing the two countries will have to eliminate is the feeling of hatred which many Cambodians harbour towards Thais. "We are doing it all [to create better understanding between Thais and Cambodians] and I think things are moving along the right track," Mr Pasakorn said.
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