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Friday, December 30, 2011

Myanmar, Cambodia emerge as high-growth investment destinations

SINGAPORE: By some measure, Myanmar had a spectacular 2011. Endorsed as chair of Asean for 2014, and a high profile visit from the US secretary of state - reward for recent political reforms that have elevated confidence in an economy barely emerging from years in the dark.

Andrew Rickards, CEO of Yoma Strategic, said: "The country that is perhaps being held back in development, that is perhaps being held back for the last 40 or 50 years, suddenly tries to reintegrate with the world economy.

"There's an awful lot of catching up to do, challenges from basic infrastructure mobile telephones internet access to hotel rooms and getting flights... You could imagine that the whole place is creaking a little bit at the seams as it is suddenly being put on people's radar for the first time."

Singapore-listed Yoma Strategic is deeply entrenched in Myanmar, with 95 per cent of its revenue derived from property and other investments in the country in the latest half-year. It is well positioned to benefit from further reforms, even though the country still carries the weight of trade sanctions by the US and Europe.

With Singapore being Myanmar's 4th biggest trading partner in 2010, historic business ties count for a lot.

Ho Meng Kit, CEO of the Singapore Business Federation, said: "In the case of Myanmar, it will be more difficult, a little bit more unknown... The key really is the extent of the reform that is happening, whether this will be followed through, and whether it will then lead to an improvement in the business environment there.

"Then again, its a lot more opportunities so for some companies who do have links, have the intelligence there (and) have the partnership there, those risks can be managed."

Neighbouring Cambodia is also reforming its ways, although it is more established as an investment centre than Myanmar. It will chair Asean in 2012.

Danish manufacturer Jebsen & Jessen said the ease of doing business is propelling a potential US$650,000 investment in the country.

Fritz Graf Von Der Schulenburg, Eexcutive Vice Chairman of Jebsen & Jessen, said: "Small for its population, but very much open in its policy to attract new investors and it is easy to settle down there, it is very easy to build up business relationships."

Mr Ho said: "Cambodia has been reformed, has been in the market for a long time, has been a member of WTO since 2004. So of course from the risk point of view, I think Cambodia represents far lesser risk and because our companies have been operating there more recently."

Dr Mark Mobius, Executive Chairman at Templeton Emerging Markets Group, said these frontier markets are now in their "take-off stage", where self-sustaining development is taking place, thanks to high consumer spending at home.

-CNA/ac .
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Orphanage tourism and Cambodia's fight to end it

In Cambodia, it's not uncommon for tourists to be offered tours of local orphanages in the same way they're offered tours of Angkor Wat.

It might be tempting to accept the opportunity to experience "the real Cambodia," especially when you're confronted by extreme poverty at every turn. But before you do, a new campaign backed by international NGO Friends-International and UNICEF asks you to think again.

"Travelers care for Cambodia and are often disturbed by the perceived situation of children," said Sebastien Marot, Executive Director of Friends-International, whose headquarters are in Cambodia. "It is essential for them to understand the real situation and what positive actions they can take to effectively protect and support these children."

A recent study of Cambodia's residential institutions showed that the rapidly growing practice of "orphanage tourism" actually does more harm than good, violating the rights of children and contributing to the separation of families. The study revealed that 72 percent of children living in institutions labeled "orphanages" have at least one living parent, and that the number of these types of institutions has grown in recent years, despite the fact that the number of orphaned and vulnerable children has shrunk. The study also showed that a number of these orphanage tourism schemes are run by unscrupulous business operators, and many aren't regulated.
Orphanages in themselves aren't bad, but visitors must be aware of the effects of their actions. The Friends/UNICEF campaign encourages tourists to ask themselves a number of questions before they decide to visit an orphanage, including:
  • Are visitors allowed to just drop in and have direct access to children without supervision? Orphanages that allow strangers off the street to interact with children unsupervised, without conducting sufficient background checks, are not protecting the interests of the children.
  • Are children required to work or participate in securing funds for the orphanage? The songs and dances may be cute, but they can also be viewed as child labor and groom children for begging and street work that leaves them open to exploitation.
  • Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program? The extended family plays an important role in Cambodian culture, and efforts should be made to reunite orphaned children with family members that can care for them.
One of the most important questions, though, is one visitors should ask themselves.

"You aren't allowed to go anywhere and hug a child in your own country," said Marot. "Why should you be able to do it here?"

To learn more about positive ways to protect children in your travels, check out these seven tips from Friends-International. Read more!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cambodia, Thailand Reignite Talks for Joint Offshore Exploration

Cambodia and Thailand sought Thursday to revive long-stalled plans for joint offshore energy exploration along their disputed sea border, with Phnom Penh saying it wanted a deal "very soon".

Politics and the occasional border clash between the neighbors have for years got in the way of solving a lingering dispute about overlapping claims to undersea oil and natural gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand.

But ties between the two have eased significantly in recent months, sparking fresh hopes that a deal can be reached to finally allow both countries to tap into the potentially rich reserves.

Cambodia says that it is sitting on an estimated hundreds of millions of barrels of crude and three times as much natural gas, although observers say it remains unclear how much could be recovered and what the revenues would be.

"As both countries need income from oil and gas, we should reach an agreement very soon," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said after meeting his Thai counterpart in Phnom Penh to discuss re-starting the talks.

Thai Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan said after meeting Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who heads the National Petroleum Authority: "We hope that in the future we're able to work on the overlapping claims area."

Once "some processes" were finalized, he told reporters, "the oil and gas will come out in eight to 10 years, not now".

Cambodia and Thailand first opened negotiations to jointly develop the disputed area in 1995, but they hit problems when ex-Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

Angered by Phnom Penh's decision to briefly appoint Thaksin as an economic adviser, and amid a festering border dispute near an ancient temple, Bangkok in 2009 decided to cancel a 2001 memorandum of understanding.

Tensions have eased markedly since Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, came to power in August.

Impoverished Cambodia said it hopes to begin pumping oil in December 2012 from offshore fields outside the contested zone, with exploration agreements with U.S. energy giant Chevron and French oil company Total already in place.
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CAB approves direct flights to Cambodia, but actual flights may still take time to happen

Direct flights from the Philippines to Cambodia may soon be a reality after the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) gave local carriers the greenlight to add frequencies for the neighboring country.

The Philippine carriers that received the flight frequencies are AirAsia, Airphil Express, Cebu Pacific, and Zest Air, according to industry regulator CAB.

However, it will take some time before actual flights to Pnomh Penh or Siem Reap can take off from the Philippines, CAB Air Operating Rights Division OIC Noni Godoy told GMA News Online in a telephone interview.

“Nasa planning stages pa ang mga airlines. Aayusin muna nila ang flight schedule, tapos mag-aapply sa amin for approval,” she said.

She added that CAB issued the go ahead to add frequencies in response to a bilateral agreement between Manila and Pnomh Penh, referring to the Dec. 8 meeting of the Philippines-Cambodia Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation in Pnomh Penh.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda F. Basilio and Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Ung Sean headed the meeting, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement on Dec. 16.

Discussed during the meeting were efforts at developing bilateral cooperation, including air services and tourism.

“The Philippines and Cambodia agreed to conclude the agreements on culture and air services as soon as possible,” the DFA said.

But for now, travelers from Manila will still have to take connecting flights to get to Pnomh Penh or Siem Reap, usually from Thailand or Vietnam.

According to the Zest Air ticket, sales and cargo center , the airline still does not have direct flights to Cambodia.

The CAB is mandated by law to regulate, promote and develop the economic aspect of Philippine air transportation. — VS, GMA News
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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hun Sen Calls for More Talks on NGO Law

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, center, and his wife Bun Rany alights from a plane as they arrive at the Ngurah Rai airport in Bali, Indonesia, file photo.

The Cambodian government on Wednesday took a step back on a controversial law to regulate NGOs, with Prime Minister Hun Sen saying in a public speech he wanted the Ministry of Interior and local NGOs to continue discussions that would make the law “acceptable” to all.

The draft law has come under continued criticism from international and local NGOs, who say it will stymie their work and expose them to arbitrary legal measures if enacted.

But Hun Sen also made it clear that the draft law would not be dropped altogether.

“If there is no agreement in 2012, it must wait until 2013,” he said at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh. “And if it is not until 2013, it will not die,” he said.

While some groups have said the law is altogether unnecessary, others have said it needs further revision to ensure that small associations can form, that registration not hamper the work of NGOs and that it not leave groups who dissent with government positions open to closure or other legal repercussions.

A US Embassy spokesman told VOA Khmer Wednesday the US has not changed its position on the draft law and that the government should “refrain from passing any new law that restricts rather than enhances the important role of civil society in Cambodia.”
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K-Pop romances resonate with Cambodian readers

By Oum Vannak and Sun Narin

A wave of Korean cultural influence from fashion and beauty to the music industry is taking an ever-increasing hold of Cambodia’s young pop consumers.

Korean novels, translated from the original Korean language to Khmer language, have soared immensely in popularity amid this trendy culture wave.

Usually about 150 to 200 pages in length, these novels have catchy titles – almost always dabbling in the topic of love and romance. Some recent titles have included “Your handsomeness grabs my spirits” and “Fall in love with me, girl”.

These pop novels tend to depict young, budding love and play on the exciting and fast-paced romantic imagination of young adults.

Hom Rattana, a student at the University of Law and Economics, said that she’s been reading these romantic novels since her first year of high school.

“The novel has impacts on young people’s mindsets, because it encourages them to have a longing for a certain sweetness and affection from their partner. It makes me want the romantic partner I’m reading about,” she said.

“Khmer novels usually have a lesson at the centre of them, but we aren’t learning much from these Korean novels besides one depiction of love,” Hom Rattana added.

She said that because of this central theme of love and romance, and especially because of the fun and interesting writing style this creates, she prefers these K-pop romance novels to Khmer novels. She finds herself wanting to follow-up on the characters’ stories because they are the same age as Hom Rattana, and like herself, university students.

Heng Solida, another K-pop novel enthusiast, said that most readers are girls, as the novels put a strong focus on playing up to female sentiments.

“The novels use great language and funny phrases to keep me emotionally entertained,” she said.

It’s pretty clear that as young Cambodians, we probably don’t always have the disciplined habits of taking time out of our day to read. This brings us straight to the television. But, the rise of K-pop novels has been challenging the stereotype of youngsters in front of the TV screen as of late, as youth are choosing novels over their favourite programming.

Sok Chanphal, a writer and lyric composer, said that these novels keep readers interested with their fun language, and are missing any messages of importance.

“Some writers just write for the sake of writing. As the writer, we should include a message for the readers because it can help society,” he said.

Ly Chanda chooses not to read K-pop novels because he believes, too, that they lack a message.

“As young Cambodians, we should know what messages are good and what messages are bad. We have to understand that these novels are only for entertainment, and have little to do with real life.”

Vrek Danita, a university student, used to read K-pop novels but now finds them a waste of time.

“It brings teenagers into an imagined world. High school girls who like to read these kinds of books will want to try to have the same kind of lover, and then they’re set up for failure. On top of that, females are portrayed as inferior to their male counterparts.”
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Two Thai spies jailed in Cambodia withdraw Appeal complaint

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- The two Thai "Yellow-Shirt" activists jailed in Cambodia for espionage appeared in the Court of Appeal on Wednesday to withdraw their complaint against the verdict of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of First Instance.

The pair are Veera Somkwamkid, one of the leaders of the People 's Network against Corruption and a high-profile activist in the Thailand Patriot Network, and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court of First Instance, on Feb.1, convicted Veera and Ratree of illegal entry, unlawful entry into military base and espionage and sentenced them to eight years and six years in jail respectively.

In later February, the two Thais lodged an appeal against the verdict.

Speaking before the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, the pair said they decided to withdraw the complaint without reason explannation.

Meanwhile, the Appeal Court Judge Samrith Sophal agreed the withdrawal and said that the duo could seek Cambodia's King for royal pardon after they have served two thirds of the jail term.

The duo's appearance in the Court of Appeal was just a day before the visit of Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul to Cambodia.

Speaking to reporters at a short break at the Court, Veera said in the prison, he has been given good care from the guards and inmates, adding that he missed his homeland very much.

Veera and Ratree were arrested on Dec. 29, 2011, along with five others including Democrat Party Member of Parliament Panich Vikitsreth, after they illegally entered Cambodian territory to observe border demarcation process.

The five were released in late January after Cambodian court suspended their sentences of nine months in jail.
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Friday, December 23, 2011

Guidance for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un from Cambodia

By Mary Kay Magistad

Mourning continues in North Korea, with copious public weeping, and a steady stream of visitors past the glass sarcophagus where deceased leader Kim Jong Il lies in state. His son, Kim Jung Un, now faces the prospect of taking up the mantle. The young Kim is in his late 20s, and it’s expected he’ll get a fair amount of guidance from relatives and other advisers in the tight knot of collective leadership.

But for encouragement in blazing his own path, he might want to look at the record of someone who came to power at an even younger age.

When Norodom Sihanouk became king of Cambodia in the early 1940s, the French colonial government breathed easy. Here was an 18-year-old playboy prince, they could easily manipulate. Or so they thought.

A dozen years later, Sihanouk sent them packing, and declared Cambodia an independent, non-aligned state. That such a young leader could so defy expectations might be an encouraging thought for young Kim Jung Un, as he ponders his future.

This week, Kim Jong Un paid his respects to his father, lying in state, strolling in with his stylish semi-shaved haircut, his black suit filled out by many a good meal. Behind him stood the party elders who may support and guide him – or, may try to manipulate him, as the French tried with Sihanouk.

Behind him stood the party elders who may support and guide him – or, may try to manipulate him, as the French tried with Sihanouk.

Sihanouk happens to be a long-time friend of North Korea. North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, gave Sihanouk a villa in Pyongyang, which he used often. Kim also gave Sihanouk use of a North Korean film crew, and in the 1960s, Sihanouk would make movies starring himself, his wife and children, and his ministers.

The storylines of these films tended to be similar – a handsome young prince learns about a plot to bring him down, and through his ingenuity and righteousness, puts down the threat and preserves peace and happiness in his kingdom.

By the time these films were made, in the ’60s, Sihanouk had been in power for a quarter century, and it was kind of going to his head. He’d been so good at outmaneuvering the French, he tried to do the same thing by playing opposing sides off each other during the Vietnam War. That included letting Vietnam ship weapons across Cambodia, which led to the US bombing Cambodia.

In Australian filmmaker Jim Gerrand’s “The Prince and the Prophecy,” Sihanouk explained what he was trying to do. “I did not want to do harm to the United States. I like Western culture…My wife is half-French, half-Cambodian. No Vietnamese blood. And I did not consort with any Vietnamese girl when I was a playboy,” Sihanouk said. But he added, “By patriotism, I had to help the North Vietnamese, and I got their promise to respect always Cambodia as an independent state.”

That’s not quite how it worked out.
Sihanouk’s general, Lon Nol, didn’t like how Sihanouk was cozying up to the Vietnamese. So Lon Nol staged a coup, and Sihanouk was out. The Chinese then persuaded Sihanouk to become a figurehead leader of the communist Khmer Rouge. Many Cambodians joined him – because they revered Sihanouk and wanted him back in power. But this time, it was the Khmer Rouge who outmaneuvered him. They used him to come to power, and once there, they put him under palace arrest and killed several members of his family. Almost two million other Cambodians also died under Khmer Rouge rule.

Still, years later, Sihanouk told filmmaker Jim Gerrand he stood by his record.

“I do not think that I make serious mistakes. May I quote?,” he said, reaching for notes he had on his lap, from something a diplomat had said about him. ‘Sihanouk made mistakes like any other man, but he was a fantastic diplomat and a great nationalist. He kept his people happy, well-fed and at peace by walking a very thin tightrope between the big powers.’”

Kim Jung Un has a little tightrope walking of his own to do now. So the lessons for him?

Use low expectations to your advantage, and do it early. Don’t make deals with China without thinking carefully about the consequences. And don’t get too drunk on your early successes.

In the end, Sihanouk failed in his own tightrope walking, and Cambodians suffered for it. North Koreans are already suffering. They can only hope their new young leader offers them something better.
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Pitsuwan: ASEAN Members Look Forward to Cambodia’s Chairmanship

Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, says Cambodia can rely on the support and cooperation of its neighbors as it prepares to take over the chairmanship of the regional bloc at the end of the month.

Analysts say Phnom Penh will have to juggle a variety of challenges, including ASEAN's efforts at forming an economic union by 2015 and disputes between several ASEAN members and China over the South China Sea. Cambodia must also manage its own border dispute with Thailand.

But Pitsuwan told VOA's Khmer service after a meeting this week with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong that Cambodia can set an example for the rest of the world.

“A lot of hope is being pinned upon the chairmanship of Cambodia because we're only three years into the community 2015 and most of the global community is looking at us with Cambodia as the chair of how ASEAN is going to conduct our business, our affairs as we move into the community in the year 2015.”

Pitsuwan added that other members of the 10-nation bloc have expressed their confidence that the bloc will prosper under Cambodia's chairmanship.

“All members of ASEAN and all the dialogue partners have full confidence that Cambodia is going to chair ASEAN with great success and all of them pledge support through me, through the Secretariat that they will do everything necessary that Cambodia wants cooperation and support and coordination from them. They're ready to help to support and to cooperate with Cambodia as chair of ASEAN because they know that ASEAN is the most successful regional organization in the world today.”

Cambodia will take over the chairmanship from Indonesia, which used the office to help relieve tensions over the South China Sea and the Thai-Cambodian border during the past year.

The group recently agreed to permit Burma to serve as chairman in 2014.
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McRaes teach English to Cambodian teens

Teaching English and working with 30 Cambodian teens is how two retired Wilkes County educators, Jim and Ramona McRae, spent their Thanksgiving this year.

The trip reunited Mrs. McRae with Young Hi Seo and her brother, Jae, former students at Millers Creek Elementary School. Mrs. Seo, 37, lives in Singapore and works for NBC Universal. In her spare time, she and her husband volunteer and support a program run by a Korean nun in Prey Veng, a remote Cambodian village.

Mrs. Seo encouraged the McRaes to join her and her husband in their annual work with a group of students from the Prey Poun High School close to Prey Veng.

The experience was life changing for the McRaes, who have been traveling internationally since 1978. Their latest trip was the most extreme travel they have experienced, agree the McRaes.

“It is a different world,” said Mrs. McRae. “”This was a very humbling experience and made us appreciative of our standard of living.”

Transportation in villages such as Prey Veng, where the McRaes stayed is mostly by bicycles or scooters. Electricity in those villages is scarce and only generated by batteries powered by gas generators. The diet for most people consists of rice and vegetables. Most villagers’ houses are on stilts with floors made of bamboo slats. Below the floors are frequently chickens, dogs and pigs roaming the ground.

The students they worked with have virtually no knowledge of western culture, but are hungry for knowledge and the opportunity to improve their English.

“These teens want to be successful and want to be helped,” said Mrs. McRae.

The couple knew they were in a vastly different place as soon as they got off the plane.

“We saw a father, mother and baby riding together on a scooter. The father was steering the bike with one hand and holding an IV connected to the baby in the other,” said McRae.

Sister Regina, the 50-year-old Korean nun who runs the school program the McRaes worked in, told them the couple was probably leaving the hospital.

They quickly learned that seeing three people on a scooter was not uncommon. The McRaes also realized that Sister Regina lives a life remarkably similar to Mother Theresa.

Cambodia, a 69,898 sq. mile southeast Asian country is still recovering from three decades of war. Equally as devastating was the reign of Pol Pot who led a ruthless campaign against western culture and capitalism, forcing the people to work in collective farms. He tortured and killed 1 million to 3 million people, many of whom he saw as intellectuals.

“Anyone who wore eye glasses and therefore read, were considered enemies of the state,” said McRae.

Since 1993 and the end of Pol Pot, Cambodia has seen much progress, but has a long way to go.

Sister Regina was motivated to begin her scholars program eight years ago. She was selected as a guide for a Cambodian Buddhist Monk in Korea. He shared with her his country’s history and its struggle now to become more developed, leading to an improved way of life for the Cambodian people.

Six months later Sister Regina moved to Cambodia and began her program of helping the 30 top teens or scholars attending Prey Poun, a government run high school of 800 students. She also raises funds for buildings which benefit all students in the school.

Assistance includes giving each of the students a bicycle, which is the only way for them to get to school if they live more than three miles away because there is no public transportation.

Sister Regina helps the scholars earn money by tutoring younger students with English. This is necessary because most families rely on everyone in the family, including their children, to earn money for their survival. Usually this means working in a rice paddy, so other provisions have to be made for the students in Sister Regina’s program.

Those strong family values have caused the scholars to dream of a different kind of career from their parents which will enable them to help their village. The students are also given scholarships to continue on to college. Many of Sister Regina’s students are already in college or have graduated.

“Every kid we worked with wants to be an accountant, banker, teacher or doctor. But they want to return and help their village, not move away to Singapore,” said Mrs. McRae.

The first time the McRaes visited the high school was Thanksgiving. They administered an English test to the students.

“This was a very emotional day for us. We wanted all the students to go with us and that was impossible. During lunch with the students, I realized many of the parents had made an extra effort to send the best they had because we would be eating with them,” said Mrs. McRae,

The top five would be traveling with the McRaes, Sister Regina and Mrs. Seo on a three day trip to Siep Reap and Ankgor Wat, the ancient temple complex close to Siep Reap.

This was the first time most of the students had left their village and they were amazed at the experience, said Mrs. McRae.

“These students have no electricity, no access to computers and only see TV if someone in the village happens to have a generator and TV,” said Mrs. McRae.

The six-hour trip to Seim Reap was through little villages, towns, rice patties and jungle. The students were also able to continue working on their English through conversations with the McRaes and Mrs. Seo.

On their return from Seim Reap, the McRaes went into rice patties to teach English to young children. They traveled on the back of a motorbike, driven by young Cambodians.

“When we reached our separate destinations, we were met by 30 eager little kids waiting for the Americans to come. They were ages 7-14, but looked younger because of their poor diet,” said Mrs. McRae.

After the lesson, they distributed bread, prizes and clothes collected by Mrs. Seo and her friends in Singapore.

Contributions are vital for Sister Regina’s program. Several methods are available, including sponsoring a child for $10 a month, which the McRaes are now doing. The little girl they are sponsoring cried when she learned this because her family is so poor, said Mrs. McRae.

While their eight-day trip to Cambodia was only a portion of their six week travels this fall, it was most definitely the highlight.

They are anticipating a return to Cambodia in a few years and hope to continue supporting Sister Regina’s program, who for them embodies the following quote from Mother Theresa.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
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CAMBODIA: Unions threaten strikes over short-term contracts

Union leaders have been meeting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh this week to look at ways to curb the garment industry's widespread use of temporary or short-term contracts for hiring workers - and have warned they could resort to strike action if changes aren't made.

The unions are uniting to put pressure on the government, factory owners and buyers to take steps to put an end to the practice, which they say is illegal.

The short-term, temporary contracts - referred to in Cambodia as 'fixed-duration contracts' - are repeatedly renewed. However, their use can lead to increased worker insecurity, denies workers benefits to which they are entitled, including maternity leave, and can coerce workers into forced overtime.

However while the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents employers, confirmed that temporary contract are used, it warned foreign investors' interest would be harmed if the government backs the unions' requests.

Of major concern for the unions is the face that fixed-duration contracts are being used to avoid paying maternity leave to female staff, who make up the overwhelming majority of a workforce that produces about 85% of the Kingdom's exports.

"Women on fixed-duration contracts often have to choose between keeping their jobs and having children," said Chheng Kim Lang, a representative of the Cambodia Labour Confederation. She said that because the labour law requires employers to provide maternity leave to employees who have worked for them for one year, factory managers were using six-month contracts to avoid this.

Short-term contracts also hurt "labour productivity and corporate competitiveness by discouraging human resource development and jeopardising industrial relations", a statement from the union leaders said.

At some garment and footwear factories, up to 90% of staff are on short-term contracts, they said, adding that the use of such contracts is far less prevalent in countries whose garment industries compete with Cambodia's.

Although the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia says the labour ministry has interpreted the law to allow for the indefinite use of fixed-duration contracts, not all of its members use them.

Kevin Plenty, a member of GMAC's executive committee, said his company, Quantum Clothing (Cambodia) Ltd, uses long-term contracts "because they allow us to increase productivity and efficiency."

A study the sector's recruitment practices earlier this year warned the use of short-term employment contracts in Cambodia not only threatens to erode the industry's competitiveness but also violates labour laws and could lead to widespread unrest.
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Laos, Cambodia to strengthen relations

Dec 22, 2011 (Vientiane Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- VIENTIANE (VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN) -- The ruling parties of Laos and Cambodia signed an agreement in Vientiane on Wednesday to reaffirm their commitment to develop their relations for the benefit of the people of the two nations.

The agreement was reached during an official working visit to Laos by a high-level delegation from the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) from December 20-23.

Party Politburo Member and President of the Inspection Committee of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) Central Committee, Dr Bounthong Chitmany, representing the Party Central Committee signed the agreement with the CPP Standing Committee's Sim Ka.

Sim Ka is leading the high-level delegation from the CPP during the visit to Laos and in talks with LPRP leaders.

During the meeting, the two sides reported on the general situation in their respective countries and on Party activities in recent years.

They also discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest before expressing their shared appreciation of the relations between the two Parties.

The two sides reaffirmed they would strengthen their relations for the benefit of the two parties, nations and people of Laos and Cambodia and to contribute to international peace, friendship and cooperation.

On the same day, the Cambodian delegation called on LPRP Politburo member and National Assembly President Pany Yathortou.

Pany said she appreciated Sim Ka's visit, which would contribute to consolidating the cooperative relations between Laos and Cambodia.

Sim Ka expressed his pleasure at the visit to Laos, to witness the progressive development of Laos under the leadership of the LPRP.

He appreciated the relations between the LPRP and the CPP and was confident that the two parties would continue to share their experiences in various fields for the mutual benefit of their two countries.

The Cambodian delegation will also visit sites of historical and cultural interest in Vientiane and Vientiane province.
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'Cambodia to build bigger roles for ASEAN Secretariat, Secretary General'

PHNOM PENH (Xinhua) - Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Thursday afternoon that as the 2012's ASEAN chair, the country would empower bigger and stronger roles for the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its secretary general.

The premier's remarks were made during a meeting with the visiting ASEAN's Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan at the Peace Palace.

He said the ASEAN Secretariat is the ASEAN's core and is permanently in charge of ASEAN's affairs, whilst each member country is just rotating chair, so Cambodia wants ASEAN Secretariat and its Secretary General to have bigger and stronger roles for the interests of the whole ASEAN.

The premier advised Surin to prepare documents relevant to the roles of ASEAN Secretariat and its Secretary General for Cambodia when it is the chair next year in order to discuss and decide to empower them bigger and stronger roles.

Surin said the ASEAN Secretariat would try all its best to help Cambodia chair ASEAN successfully next year and added that all ASEAN members and dialogue partners have expressed their supports for Cambodia as the rotating ASEAN chair in 2012 and are ready to help the country by all means.

Surin arrived here on Dec. 21 for a 3-day visit to discuss Cambodia's chairmanship of ASEAN in 2012.
Earlier in the day, he held talks with Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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Cambodia: Revise or Abandon Draft NGO Law - Donors Should Insist on Protections for Civil Society

For immediate release

Cambodia: Revise or Abandon Draft NGO Law
Donors Should Insist on Protections for Civil Society

(Bangkok, December 22, 2011) – Donors, who provide approximately half of Cambodia’s national budget, should make clear to the Cambodian government that the fourth draft of the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO) must be revised to protect civil society or be withdrawn, a group of concerned international human rights organizations said today. Any revisions should involve meaningful consultation with civil society organizations and aim to support their activities instead of creating a legal framework allowing for arbitrary closure of organizations or the denial of registration.

The groups involved are Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, Freedom House, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Article 19, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Civil Rights Defenders, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, Centre for Law and Democracy, Protection International, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH, and the World Organisation Against Torture - OMCT).

“The Cambodian government is pressing forward with a draft law that grants it broad authority to make arbitrary decisions about which groups can operate and which cannot,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Civil society delivers essential services and acts as a constructive watchdog over government and private sector activities. This law is hardly the sort of ‘reform’ that will benefit Cambodian citizens. Donors should say no to this farce.”

The 4th draft of the LANGO contains vague and unspecified terms that will enable the government to target critics by ordering their closure or denying them registration, the groups said. These terms should be clarified, and new and unnecessary barriers to the registration and operations of international NGOs should be eliminated. Furthermore, protections should be established to ensure that if an organization decides not to register, it is not denied legal status and therefore rendered incapacitated. Provisions placing burdensome notification requirements on community-based organizations should be removed.

Governments have a legitimate regulatory interest in providing benefits to organizations that become legal entities and preventing criminal activity. But such regulations cannot be used as a cover to undermine rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly, which are protected under the Cambodian constitution and international treaties to which Cambodia is a party.

The Cambodian context is critical for understanding the risk to Cambodia’s civil society should the current draft of LANGO pass, the groups said. Cambodian governance is still missing the checks and balances found in functioning democracies that limit arbitrary action by the executive branch of government. Government officials who react most harshly to NGO criticisms frequently are found to have a financial stake in the case at hand. Therefore, to argue that Cambodia should have a specific law on NGOs simply because other countries have one ignores the Cambodian government’s increasing actions to constrict public space for pluralistic debate and peaceful expression of views.

The fourth draft of LANGO fails to establish clear provisions to justify denial of registration to associations or NGOs. It violates Cambodia’s obligations under international law, such as under article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is party. LANGO also fails to include clear and objective standards in articles 28 and 29 concerning suspension or termination of registration. Article 28 provides that domestic organizations can be “dissolved by court decisions” but no further details are given, leaving matters to the discretion of a judiciary where political interference is common.

There are no provisions for appealing a suspension or termination and the law lacks procedural safeguards such as advance notice of regulatory action, opportunities to resolve problems prior to termination or suspension, or limiting termination to a sanction of last resort. Such provisions are extremely worrisome given the political and governance context of Cambodia, which is characterized by endemic corruption, arbitrary application of punitive legislation and an absence of judicial independence, the groups said. The Ministry of Interior’s suspension in August of the NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) is a harbinger of the sudden, unilateral, and non-transparent actions this law will legitimize. The government has still failed to adequately indicate the legal basis for STT’s suspension.

“Many officials in the Cambodian government have never accepted that civil society should operate independently or criticize their decisions,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, the director of Southeast Asia Program at Freedom House. “A major success of the UNTAC peacekeeping mission 20 years ago was to create this space for civil society. Now it is up to donors to protect it and ensure NGOs can continue to independently provide their essential services to Cambodians.”

Despite promises by the Cambodian government to eliminate mandatory registration, the fourth draft makes legal status dependent on registration, and thus essentially maintains the requirement. The fourth draft represents a bait-and-switch by removing the mandatory clause but then requiring an organization to register if it wants to obtain legal status. Without legal status, it is unclear under the draft law whether an association or NGO will be able to operate in Cambodia since that status is required to enter into legal contracts, open bank accounts, hire staff, import materials, and collaborate with partners “for implementing aid projects according to the existing laws.”

This arrangement effectively undermines respect for the right to freedom of association and cynically presents local associations and NGOs with the choice of either registering or facing constant bureaucratic roadblocks in their work. Although community-based organizations will no longer have to register, under article 5 of the draft law they will be required to provide prior written notice to local authorities who could be easily used to restrict their work.

The groups also expressed serious concerns that this fourth draft specifically targets international NGOs (INGOs) and would severely hamper both their projects and their advocacy efforts to promote good governance and development approaches that respect human rights. Article 17 of the draft law sets out an overly broad and vague standard that will allow the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) to use wide discretion in dealing with INGOs, including terminating a group’s registration if the ministry decides that the INGO has conducted activities that “jeopardize peace, stability and public order…or harm the national security, national unity, culture, customs and traditions of the Cambodian national society.” Moreover, the Memoranda of Understanding that INGOs would have to negotiate with ministry is valid for only three years, resulting in a de facto re-registration process. INGOs also will have no right to appeal any termination of their registration.

“This latest version of the law can be arbitrarily misused to root out international NGOs who employ rights-based development approaches and offer constructive but critical opinions and critiques of the government’s policies and practices,” said Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).

Finally, passage of this law is not necessary in light of existing Cambodian legislation addressing legitimate regulatory concerns: NGOs can obtain legal status through the newly effective Civil Code. Civil Code sections 46-118 provide details on registration and dissolution of non-profit legal entities, the right to appeal government decisions, and far less burdensome registration requirements. The Penal Code and Anti-Corruption Law address fraud; meanwhile INGOs already obtain legal standing through Memoranda of Understanding with the government.

“Cambodia’s donors should press the Ministry of Interior to extend the consultation period on the fourth draft of LANGO so that all viewpoints and voices are heard,” said FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen and OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

Simon Taylor, Director of Global Witness, concluded “At stake now is the last 17 years of development assistance in Cambodia and the extent to which the donors will be remembered for failing to prevent the removal of one of the few instruments of accountability in Cambodia, nurtured to a great extent thanks to their investments.”

For more information, please contact:

In Bangkok, Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA):  +66-81-868-9178 (mobile),

In Bangkok, Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch: +66-85-060-8406 (mobile),

In Bangkok, Gayathry Venkiteswaran, Executive Director, Southeast Asian Press Alliance:  +66-88-017-4810 (mobile),

In Geneva, Delphine Reculeau, Coordinator, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, OMCT:  +41-22-809-4939,

In Halifax, Canada, Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy: +1-902-431-3688,

In London, Mona Samari, ARTICLE 19 Senior Press Officer: + 44 (207) 324 2510,

In London, Brad Adams, Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch: +44-7908-728-333,

In Paris, Arthur Manet, Press Officer, FIDH: +33-14-355-2518,

In Stockholm, Brittis Edman, Program Director, Southeast Asia, Civil Rights Defenders: +46-70-722-6086,

In the United Kingdom, Jenny Bromley, Senior Campaigner, Global Witness: +44 7540 891 837,

In Vancouver, Gail Davidson, Executive Director, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC): +1-604-738-0338,

In Washington, DC,  Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Southeast Asia Program/International Religious Freedom Consortium, Freedom House: +1-202-489-2578,
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Hong Kong and Cambodia renew agreement on police co-operation

Hong Kong (HKSAR) - The Police of Hong Kong and Cambodia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on December 20 to renew the co-operation on combating transnational crime, including drug trafficking, economic crime, cyber crime and money laundering.

The MOU was signed by the Commissioner of Hong Kong Police(HKP), Mr Tsang Wai-hung, and the Commissioner General of the Cambodian National Police (CNP), Mr Savoeun Neth.

The agreement, signed during the Commissioner's visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, complements existing co-operation between HKP and CNP. It sets out the framework in tackling transnational crime and also bolsters the partnership in capacity building and professional development.

Following the signing ceremony, Mr Tsang held a meeting with senior CNP officers on various policing issues of mutual concern.

"Renewal of the MOU marks the commencement of enhanced co-operation between the two forces. Both sides are committed to assisting one another in practical term of policing," the Commissioner said.

He also made a courtesy call on the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Mr H.E.

SAR Kheng, who further reiterated the importance of police co-operation.

The Commissioner headed a five-member delegation, including the Director of Personnel and Training, Mr Ma Wai-luk, for the visit. They returned to Hong Kong today.

Police Report No. 182
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Cambodia Earns US$180mil Annually from Migrant Workers

PHNOM PENH, 22 DECEMBER, 2011: Cambodia has earned about US$180 million annually from migrant workers, working in four countries in Asia, according to a government's statistic released on Thursday, reported China's Xinhua news agency.

Some 126,000 Cambodian workers were working in Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan, said the data, adding that the amount sent was direct income for their families, whom majority of them are poor and living in rural areas.

A separate report filed by Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training showed that by the end of July this year, Thailand was the biggest recipient country offering 8,464 jobs, while Malaysia was the second, offering 3,200 and South Korea ranked third with 3,144, respectively.

South Korea is seen as a big growing labour market for Cambodians this year.

Heng Sour, director general of Ministry Labour and Vocational Training, said a rough number of 5,957 Cambodians had been sent to work in South Korea in 2011, already double in number compared to a year earlier that recorded at 2,116 Cambodian workers under the employment permit system.

South Korea began to accept Cambodian workers in 1993 under industrial training system and such system lasted through 2006 with a total of 3,399.

Asia Foundation and the USAID have estimated that there are an average of 300,000 new labour forces in Cambodia, but only 20,000 to 30,000 are expected to get jobs.

Therefore, they said those new labour forces are looking for job opportunities in other countries, and are targeting Malaysia, Thailand, and South Korea, the richer nations.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cambodia, Thailand agree to withdraw troops from disputed land around temple

By Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia and Thailand have agreed in principle to withdraw troops from a border area where a territorial dispute triggered deadly clashes.

The agreement was announced Wednesday after Thai Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha met with his Cambodian counterpart, Tea Banh. It is meant to end combat over a small patch of land both countries claim around the ancient temple of Preah Vihear. Eighteen people were killed in the last round of fighting in April.

The new agreement calls for both sides to withdraw troops completely and simultaneously from a demilitarized zone demarcated by the Netherlands-based International Court of Justice, but sets no date. The court in July ordered troops from both countries to withdraw after Cambodia sought its help.
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Russian convicted of child sex charges gets royal pardon from Cambodian king

By Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A prison official says a Russian businessman convicted of sexually abusing more than a dozen girls in Cambodia has walked free after being granted a royal pardon.

Preah Sihanouk Prison director Pich Veasna says 45-year-old Alexander Trofimov was one of 360 prisoners granted amnesty by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni. Trofimov had been convicted of buying sex from 17 girls between the ages of six and 13.

Before his arrest in October 2007 Trofimov was chairman of a Russian-led investment group developing a Cambodian tourist island.

Trofimov was originally sentenced to 17 years in jail but his term was slashed to seven years in August 2010.

Trofimov was one the higher profile cases in recent years in Cambodia’s efforts to crackdown on pedophiles.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vietnam’s investment in Cambodia doubles in 2011

HCMC – Vietnam’s investment in the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia kept surging this year, accounting for over half of the country’s total outbound investment, of which the investment in Cambodia has doubled.

As of now, Vietnamese enterprises have invested in some 100 projects in Cambodia, with the total registered capital of US$2.1 billion. This statistics was published by the Foreign Investment Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment at the Mekong Investment Cooperation Forum 2011 held in HCMC last weekend.

In 2011 alone, local investors registered the investment capital worth over US$1 billion in the neighboring country, twice as much as the figure last year.

In addition, Vietnamese enterprises have to date also invested in 200 projects in Laos, worth US$3.3 billion in total registered capital. In the January-November period this year, Vietnam’s registered capital in this country amounted to US$500 million, rising by 15% year-on-year.

Currently, Laos attracted most of Vietnam’s overseas investment, followed by Cambodia in the second place. On the other hand, Vietnam is the third biggest investor in the two neighboring countries, after China and Thailand

The majority of Vietnamese investment projects in Laos and Cambodia are in the fields of forestry, agriculture, energy, mining, telecommunication, and banking. Among those, several large-scale projects in Laos will soon start service in 2012.

Big Vietnamese investors in Laos and Cambodia include the military-run Viettel, Vietnam Rubber Industry Group, Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group, and Saigon Invest Group.
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Thaksin hogs limelight as Thai PM struggles to shine

By Natnicha Chuwiruch

BANGKOK | Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:46pm IST

BANGKOK Dec 20 (Reuters) - Thailand's jet-setting, self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is carving out a more direct political role for himself in government led by his sister, a move that could rock a fragile peace in his deeply polarised country.

The billionaire who fled in 2008 before he was convicted in absentia of power abuse has spent the past week visiting Cambodia, Nepal and also Myanmar, smoothing the way, he says, for an official visit to the former Burma by his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

According to the Bangkok Post newspaper, Thaksin said he was in Myanmar last Thursday and met President Thein Sein and retired former military dictator Than Shwe, although a source close to the fugitive tycoon told Reuters the visit was personal and no high-level meetings took place.

Despite his overthrow in a 2006 coup and his self-exile in Dubai, Thaksin, 62, has never faded from the Thai political scene and the landslide election win for Yingluck's Puea Thai Party in July has strengthened his hand.

He has been central to Thailand's six-year colour-coded crisis, backing two ruling parties led by his allies and the main focus of crippling street protests in 2007 and 2008 by anti-Thaksin "yellow shirts" and bloody counter demonstrations by his "red shirt" supporters in 2009 and 2010.

The latest moves, independent analysts say, may be counter-productive for the political neophyte Yingluck, who is trying -- with little success -- to emerge from behind Thaksin's shadow and assert herself as the real leader of Thailand.

It also risks striking a raw nerve for influential figures in the royalist establishment and the military that toppled him and crushed the subsequent red shirt street insurrections.

"Everyone knows Thaksin is the one controlling the new government from behind the scenes but no one (in the government) wants to come out and say it out loud," said Kan Yuanyong, director of the Siam Intelligence Unit think tank.


Kan said Thaksin, whose five-year ban from politics expires in May next year, had kept a low profile as a government advisor in 2008. But his latest moves to reassert himself, seemingly as representative of a country in which he is technically a criminal, could be a step too far.

"In the upcoming year, I think we could expect to see Thaksin trying even harder to come back into power," he added.

The Myanmar visit, which the Post quoted Thaksin as saying was to smooth the way for Yingluck's trip, followed a similar visit to Cambodia in September, a few days before the first official visit by his 44-year-old sister, who critics deride as his "puppet."

Yingluck held separate meetings on Tuesday with Thein Sein and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi while in Myanmar.

Thaksin remains loved and loathed in equal measures in Thailand and his latest activities follow moves by the new government to seek out legal avenues to aid his return.

Some ministers close to Thaksin have made no secret that they would like to see his conviction overturned, something that could re-ignite tensions in a country where he has powerful enemies -- who could move against Yingluck's government.

A proposed plan to amend an amnesty law that would have allowed Thaksin to return a free man was aborted by Yingluck's government last month after it prompted an outcry from the main opposition party and anti-Thaksin groups.

The opposition last week cried foul over a decision by Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul -- a distant relative of Thaksin -- to reissue his Thai passport after it was rescinded two years ago by a previous government.

Sukhum Nuansakun, a retired political scientist, said that although Thaksin was trying to assist his inexperienced sister, his prime motivation was to stay in the spotlight.

"It's not like he would be in competition with his sister," he said. "He wants everyone to see that he still has a role in this new government." (Writing and additional reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Lane)
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FM Surapong accused of failing to protect Thailand's interest

The opposition Democrat Party on Tuesday accused Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul of failing to protect Thailand's interests in the border dispute with Cambodia.

Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalsut said the foreign minister failed to protest when Unesco's international coordinating committee (ICC) last Wednesday inspected the ancient Preah Vihear temple on the border between the two countries.

Both Thailand and Cambodia claim sovereignty over a 4.6squarekilometre area next to Preah Vihear - known as Phra Wihan in Thai - which the World Court said in 1962 belonged to Cambodia.

Meanwhile Surapong dismissed the accusation as a Democrat attempt to distort facts for political benefit. "I call on the opposition to stop playing politics. They should avoid causing damage to the country by playing political games," he said.

Chavanond said the Cabinet in December 2008 resolved to reserve Thailand's right for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to notify the country before entering the area claimed by Thailand to examine the temple.

He said Unesco was aware of the Cabinet resolution as it was informed by Thailand's ambassador to France.

According to the Democrat spokesman, this government failed to send any representative to join the ICC examination of the Preah Vihear compound. "Thailand this time failed to abide by our own order and allowed them to pass our territory easily," he said.

Chavanond added that it was likely that Cambodia would try to take advantage of the situation when it came to the border dispute between the two countries.

Chavanond, serving as secretary to Surapong's immediate predecessor Kasit Piromya, claimed that some officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry - increasingly discontent with the foreign minister's actions - were regularly supplying him with information about what Surapong did.

"I do not call for anything more than abiding by the Cabinet resolution to protect our sovereignty," Chavanond said. "I believe [Cambodian Prime Minister] Hun Sen loves this government the most. This government has allowed him to do whatever he likes more than any other government over the past 10 years."

Surapong said that Unesco and Cambodia invited Thailand to join the ICC examination tour but that Thailand turned it down. He added that the opposition should not try to politicise the matter.
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Thai Army Chief to Attend Thai-Cambodia General Border Talks

Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chano-cha on Tuesday said he would join Thai-Cambodian General Border Committee (GBC) meeting led by Defense Minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa in Cambodia on Wednesday.

He said the meeting will discuss 17 key issues including peaceful co-exist between the two countries as well as the Cambodian stance in compliance with the injunction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The ICJ on July 18 ordered Thailand and Cambodia to withdraw their troops from the newly defined demilitarised zone in disputed area around the contentious Preah Vihear temple while urging both countries to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to allow the observers to enter the disputed zone.

The army chief said the conclusion of the GBC meeting will be proposed to the cabinet and parliamentary meeting for approval as it is required by Article 190 of the Constitution, stipulating that any international treaties and agreements having effect on the country's territory must first be approved by the parliament.

At the GBC meeting, it is expected that both sides will specify the forces to replace their soldiers at Preah Vihear in accordance with the court order.

The ancient temple and its surrounding area have been frequently a flashpoint between the two countries. Although the World Court awarded the 11th century temple to Phnom Penh in 1962, a plot of 4.6 sq-km land has been claimed by both neighboring countries. Military build-up along the border and nationalism in the two countries prompted cross-border firings and shelling in February and April this year, killing at least tens of soldiers on both sides and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate.
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Monday, December 19, 2011

The well-kept secrets of Angkor Wat

If you look beyond the smiling Buddha faces of Bayon and the towers of Angkor Wat, you might stumble upon a sleepy district lost somewhere in the shadows of its more popular neighbour Siem Reap.

Battambang, surprisingly the second largest city in Cambodia, is where I finally found the bona fide flavour of the country and which doesn't adhere to rules laid down for its tourist-centric trail.

Initially, I wanted to take a boat to Battambang from Siem Reap, despite knowing that the journey time would be doubled. The water levels of the Tonle Sap river were quite low, so that made sure I stuck to the three-hour road journey. To my surprise, this town that came across as a laid-back settlement, was actually the second-largest in Cambodia and has witnessed its fair share of tumultuous events in Cambodia's long, mutinous history.

The bamboo train Apart from the past that it still retains, Battambang has also held on to its ancient bamboo train system. Extremely impatient for a ride, I left the very same day for Odambang, the village from where you can 'board' the train. The train is nothing more than a large bamboo platform mounted on train axles powered by a small gokart engine, and as mundane as it looks, the journey atop is nothing short of exhilarating.

I didn't realise it till I sat on it, and waited for the young boy to pull the engine cord that brought the bamboo train to life. Within a few seconds, we were hurtling through greenery with fierce speed. With no roof, doors, or seatbelts and with only a railing to hold on to, it's more thrilling than a rollercoaster ride. The most quirky part is that when another bamboo train approaches from the opposite side, you have to stop to get off, heave the cart off the tracks, change positions and resume! It could actually be tiresome once the novelty wears off, but the teamwork of strangers is quite endearing.

For ages, the rural parts of the surrounding region have had the bamboo train as its most dependable mode of transport. I was sad to learn that it was phasing out and would soon be replaced by the modern railway system, and glad that I had a chance to experience it before that happened.

Art of making rice paper Around the main Battambang town are a host of elfin villages that introduce you to the rural heart of Cambodia in a way that none of the other places here do. I started this tryst in one such village where I saw and learnt the traditional way of making 'rice paper'. This is not the paper used for artwork but refers to the thin, translucent layer of pounded and steamed rice used to wrap fresh spring rolls.

Until I spent hours there observing how the rice is boiled, drained and milled before even starting the real process, I would have never thought of the humungous effort that goes into making an everyday dish here. My remork or 'tuk tuk' driver was on a mission to show me 'real Cambodian food' and the village of Phsa Prohok welcomed us with a stench that pervaded my senses for days after.

Fish paste, which is a condiment of freshly pounded fish of all kinds that is left to rot, is a major ingredient in authentic homemade Cambodian food. Though I was assured by everyone that once cooked, the smell evaporates, there was no way I could be convinced to buy some and try it out. What I did buy though was the delicious bamboo sticky rice. Though it is found pretty much all over Cambodia, the sticky rice in Battambang, the 'rice bowl of Cambodia' is famous all over. Getting off from the ubiquitous hammock that Cambodians love to lie in, the young girl at the roadside shack heated one of the bamboo pieces over fire and cracked it open to reveal the ready mix of steamed rice, coconut milk and nuts. Despite not being a rice lover, I devoured it in minutes. No visit to the palate trail is complete without a visit to the petite Battambang Winery, the sole winery of Cambodia, so we made a pit stop there to sample the traditional red and white wines apart from the locally brewed brandy and delicious ginger ale.

The mini Angkor Wat
While Angkor Wat is Cambodia's biggest draw, few know that tucked away in Battambang is a primeval temple that is believed to have been the inspiration for the magnum opus. A long flight of steps up the quiet hillock takes you to the Banon temple which was built in the 11th century by Udayadityavarman II. It has five towers pointing towards the sky and looks like a smaller version of Angkor Wat.

Being surrounded by dense foliage, it's hard to get anything more than a glimpse of the expanse below. But if you want a grand view, the best bet is the hill atop which rests the temple Phnom Sampeu. It commands a surreal sight of Battambang in the distance and a vast canopy of green in the foreground of the dark hills that glow like embers in the last rays of the dying sun. Before it turned completely dark, I spiralled down the hill on a 'bike taxi' for my most awaited moment.

The colony of bats
Close to the base is a limestone cave that houses a colony of bats that numbers close to three million. I was sceptical initially, as I had not read about it in my guidebook or heard about it from fellow travellers, but I decided to give it a shot because the locals know best. We parked the bike on the roadside and stood solemnly like the handful of other people waiting for the spectacle. I turned my face towards the cave that a native pointed out and waited with bated breath. As the light began to dip, the distant din grew louder and slowly the insect bats spilled out of the cave's mouth, tumbling, reeling and getting back into the file that flew towards the fields each night in search of food. I stood there with my neck craned up for nearly an hour, amazed at this secret that Battambang cradles. As the last of the bats dissolved into the night, I left the site trying to discern the dark track still moving across the sky. I'm not sure if the bats earned Battambang a special place in my heart, but they would definitely be a big part of my reason to return.

Fact file
Getting there:
Fly to Siem Reap via Bangkok. From Siem Reap, it's a three-hour bus journey to Battambang.

Best time to go:
Winter (November-March) is the best time to beat the humidity.
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Secret Recipe secures master franchisees in Cambodia, India

KUALA LUMPUR:Lifestyle café chain Secret Recipe has secured master franchisees to operate its business in Cambodia and southern India by April next year.

Faba Global Group Co Ltd has been granted the master franchise to operate in Cambodia, while Secret Recipe South India Pvt Ltd will operate in India.

Secret Recipe Cakes and Cafe’s chief executive officer, Datuk Steven Sim said the business in India was expected to start in the third quarter of next year with target of 10 outlets by end of 2013.

The Indian market has a huge growth potential as its gross domestic product is expected to grow at 8.4 per cent in 2012 and 8.5 per cent in 2013, he added.

Sim was speaking to reporters at the international franchise signing ceremony yesterday , witnessed by Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir.

In Cambodia, Sim said, the target location was Phnom Penh with the first cafe expected in April next year. The country’s gross domestic product projected to grow at 6.5 per cent for next year and the year after.

Meanwhile, Mukhriz said Secret Recipe’s venture into India and Cambodia was timely amid the anticipated growth, demographics expansion and robust gross domestic product trends and very attractive consumer markets in the two countries. Bernama
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Surapong plays down Cambodian attack on chopper

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said yesterday that an incident in which Cambodian forces fired upon a Thai helicopter near the Cambodian border last week was a misunderstanding and would not lead to a dispute between the countries.

He said he would clear up the misunderstanding, although reports had it that Navy commander Admiral Surasak Runrerngrom had issued a letter of protest against Cambodia and closed border checkpoints and goods-transit points.

The foreign minister said the incident would not inflame the border conflict because Thailand and Cambodia enjoyed cordial relations. He said he is scheduled to meet Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on December 29, which would give him an opportunity to discuss many issues.

Vice Admiral Pongsak Riroj said the helicopter of the Chanthaburi and Trat Border Prevention Command was attacked and damaged by Cambodian forces for unknown reasons while flying in Trat on Friday. The Thai military retaliated by closing two transit points for goods in Trat's Muang and Bo Rai districts, and 30 smaller border checkpoints in Chanthaburi and Trat used by Cambodia to buy supplies for military personnel and civilians.

The checkpoint at Ban Had Lek, however, remained open.

Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut accused Surapong of failing to protect the country's integrity and sovereignty by not protesting to Cambodia over the incident. "The first thing the government must do is to lodge a protest with the Cambodian government, otherwise it means we admit that we are wrong.

"Cambodia has issued a statement saying its forces shot at the helicopter legitimately because Thailand encroached upon its territory,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Chavanond called on the Foreign Ministry to reveal the truth over the issuing of a passport to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Pheu Thai Party earlier said Thaksin, who is on the run from a corruption conviction, was not on a ministry blacklist. Chavanond said Thaksin is the subject of an arrest warrant on a criminal charge and is banned from holding a travel document.

"The rules are clear. How can the government distort or delete these rules?'' the spokesman asked.

Meanwhile, Auditor-General Sriracha Charoenpanit said his office last week submitted its second summons for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to give a statement on an alleged conflict of interest in connection with the government's tax-deduction policy to support first-time homebuyers. Sriracha said Yingluck postponed her first summons response because she was occupied with tackling the flooding.

Yingluck has 30 days from the issuing of the second summons to meet with officials. The Democrat Party accuses the government of policy corruption by issuing a housing scheme that favours SC Asset. Yingluck is a former chief executive of the company.
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Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie launching charities for their kids

Angelina Jolie has announced that she and partner Brad Pitt will create charities for each of their six children.

Jolie revealed during a chat on Anderson that she and Pitt are funding a clinic in Ethiopia in honor of their daughter Zahara Marley, who was born in the country.

The Hollywood superstars have also built a children's medical center in Cambodia for their son Maddox.

Pitt and Jolie plan to create several more charities in order to teach their children the value of philanthropy and keep them in touch with their home countries.

"They have programs in their countries [for] each of them we're starting. There's a TB/AIDS clinic being built for Zahara; there's a clinic already for Mad," Jolie told Anderson Cooper.

The actress continued: "So each of them will take that responsibility. They are from their country and they are of their country and they should know that, it's part of their family, we are their family but so is their country."

Jolie recently acknowledged that she was living a "self-destructive" lifestyle until she began her own charity work as a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

Her directorial debut In The Land of Blood and Honey, which has netted her a Golden Globe nomination, opens in US cinemas on December 23. A UK release date has yet to be announced.

Jolie's full interview on Anderson airs on Monday (December 19).
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Americans donate blood to Cambodia

Cpl. Asmond L. Coker, radio operator, gives blood to Cambodia's national supply during a drive at an auditorium Dec. 16. More than one hundred service members from USS New Orleans, USS Pearl Harbor, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 5 donated. The Camp Pendleton-, Calif., based Marine unit embarked three U.S. Navy ships in San Diego Nov. 14 and arrived in southeastern Asia Dec. 11 as part of a regularly scheduled deployment.

REAM NAVAL BASE, Cambodia - U.S. Marines and sailors and members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces queued up to give blood to Cambodia's national supply during a drive at an auditorium on Ream Naval Base Dec. 16.

U.S. service members from USS New Orleans, USS Pearl Harbor, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 5 donated 107 units, while Cambodians from the Royal Khmer Navy donated 113 units.

Hok Kim Cheng, the Ministry of Health's National Blood Transfusion Center director in Phnom Penh, said Cambodia needs blood - around 3,000 units per month, with two-thirds required in the capital alone.

Approximately 35 percent of the national supply comes from voluntary donations, while the rest comes from families; however, a fifty-fifty source is ideal, said Cheng.

"That is why we organize mobile blood drives," said Cheng, adding that the Ministry of Health solicits donors from the country's own infrastructure - the military for example.

"Today is very helpful," said Cheng. He said the collaboration between Cambodia and the U.S., and the health ministry's relationship with the American embassy and U.S. Pacific Command, was "good for our nation."

Ten-time blood donor Staff Sgt. Toby Salas, 28, who serves as an administrative chief for unit Marines aboard New Orleans, said, "It was a different experience from giving blood in the past."

Salas, who carries an American Red Cross donor card in his wallet, said, "The feeling of giving this time was special - being in a different country, around a different culture. I felt good about it."

The Cambodian and American donors alike received a 20-page booklet, slightly larger than a business card and stamped by the Ministry of Health, with the first blocks filled out to mark the donation.

"It's a good souvenir," said Salas, who hails from Tuscaloosa, Ala. "I can't read it; it's in a foreign language, but it's a reminder of my time in Cambodia. It's a keepsake that I can show the kids and wife. It'll show them there are other cultures outside our own, outside America."

The Camp Pendleton-, Calif., based Marine unit embarked three U.S. Navy ships in San Diego Nov. 14 and arrived in southeastern Asia Dec. 11 as part of a regularly scheduled deployment.
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1st motor manufacturing plant starts operations in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- A Japan-invested motor manufacturing plant launched operations in Cambodia on Saturday, raising a hope for the development of hi-tech industry in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

"Cambodia has reached a new phase of attracting investors for high technology industry after, in the past, it had attracted investments in garment industry," Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the inauguration of the small-size motor manufacturing plant (Minebea Cambodia) in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone.

"The plant reflects Japanese investors in Cambodia and it has brought modern technology for the development of Cambodia," he added.

Kinoma Yoshihisa, president and CEO of the Tokyo-based Minebea Co., the investor of Minebea Cambodia, said the plant would assemble DC brush motors and micro-actuators for office-automation equipment, household electrical appliances and digital equipment, using parts supplied by Minebea plants in Thailand, and the finished products will be exported back to Thailand.

"The plant is the first manufacturer of sophisticated and small- sized motors in Cambodia and it creates thousands of jobs and contribute to the development of Cambodia's economy," he said.

Kep Chuk Tema, the governor of Phnom Penh, said the plant began the construction in April, 2011 on the land plot of 100,000 square meters in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone.

He said in the next phase, the company will build one more plant on the same plot of land to manufacture medium-size motors.

The total investment for the project is 60 million U.S. dollars, he said.

Japan is Cambodia's 11th largest investor with the total investments of 257 million U.S. dollars from 1994 to October 2011, according to the reports of the Council for the Development of Cambodia. Most Japanese investment projects here are in manufacturing industry.

The Minebea was founded in 1951. So far, the firm has set up 32 motor manufacturing plants in 11 countries: Japan, Thailand, China, Singapore, Malaysia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Slovakia, Czech and Cambodia.
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More Japanese firms eye investments in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) -- More Japanese firms are looking to Cambodia this year either to invest or to learn about the investment environment in the country, participants in an economic forum were told Friday.

Sok Chenda, secretary general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, told the forum in Phnom Penh for Japanese investors that the government is improving as quickly as possible the investment environment, human resources and infrastructure.

More than 65 Japanese representing various institutions and companies attended the meeting.

Yoshihisa Kainuma, president of Minebea Co., said some challenges remain in Cambodia such as incomplete infrastructure and the high cost of electricity, but his company decided to invest there because of low labor costs, strong support from the government and a location close to Thailand where his company had already invested.

Statistics provided by the council showed that in the first 10 months this year, 16 Japanese companies invested $67.6 million in Cambodia, up sharply from only six companies that invested $35.3 million in all of last year.

In addition, nine more Japanese companies have applied in the first 10 months this year to make investments worth another $53 million, the statistics showed.

The investments cover a variety of industrial sectors, including shoemaking, garments, motorcycles and packaging, as well as beach and island development.

Japanese investments in Cambodia since 1994 through October this year totaled $250.6 million.

Since 1994 through November, China has invested $8.8 billion, South Korea $4 billion and Malaysia $2.6 billion.
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Cambodia to guard garment exports amidst EU crisis

The Cambodian Government is worried that the Greek economic crisis could affect the country’s garment exports to the EU, and it will take measures to absorb external shock, Keat Chhon, Minister of Economy and Finance said at a trade exhibition in Phnom Penh.

The Government has expressed concern in spite of it upgrading the Kingdom’s gross domestic product outlook for 2011. The concern stems from the fact that EU is the second largest importer of Cambodian garments, and hence crisis in the EU countries could hurt our exports, the Minister said.

The Government will take measures to absorb external shock arising from the EU debt crisis. These will include those related to strengthening domestic laws, human resources and financial institutions, he added.

However, Cambodian garments being less expensive in nature, there may not be much decline in orders from European countries, according to Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh.

He hoped that Europeans would not stop buying Cambodian clothes even in the midst of financial crisis.
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Nuon Chea Denies Khmer Rouge Intended To Destroy Buddhism

“He demolished Buddhism when he was in power.”

In this photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Nuon Chea, center, who was Pol Pot's No. 2 and the group's chief ideologist, sits during the second trial of the top leaders of Khmer Rouge in the court hall of the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, file photo.

Jailed Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea continued to defend the regime’s policies in a major trial on Thursday, saying the movement was not bent on destroying Buddhism, despite the systematic destruction of pagodas across the country.

Those who accuse the Khmer Rouge of seeking to destroy the religion “do not understand Buddhism,” he said in testimony before the UN-backed tribunal. Buddhism resides in the heart, and in meditation, he said, not in temples.

Thousands of pagodas were destroyed, along with the banking and education systems, after the regime came to power in 1975.

“The party had no measures to eliminate Buddhism,” Nuon Chea told the court under questioning.

However, tribunal attendee Lay Sochea, a monk from Wat Neakvoan pagoda in Phnom Penh, disagreed.

“It’s just his pretext,” he said. “He demolished Buddhism when he was in power.”
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Cambodia's future rests on punishing past sexual crimes, argue campaigners

Gender violence in Cambodia owes much to the Khmer Rouge, many feel – yet the trial of the regime's leaders ignores the issue

By Hanna Hindstrom

Relatives of Khmer Rouge victims take part in an emotional prayer ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Net Saveoun was 18 when she was gang raped by Khmer Rouge soldiers. She was one of 30 women selected to "carry salt" and taken to the forest in Pursat province, western Cambodia in 1978. Each of them was beaten, brutalised and had their throat slit before being tossed into an open grave.

"I was the last one," said Saveoun. "I was hit with an axe and my clothes were torn off and then they raped me. They hit me three times with an axe. Then I was thrown into that hole full of blood. Everyone else was already dead."

But Saveoun is not a witness in the proceedings that began last week in the extraordinary chambers of the courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Instead she addressed a separate hearing last Thursday, held on the other side of the city as part of the Cambodian 16 days of action on violence against women to highlight sexual crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge.

To the frustration of both victims and campaigners, rape and sexual violence have been broadly excluded from the UN-backed trials. The investigating judges have maintained that the regime punished perpetrators of so-called moral offences, and that rape did not form part of official policy. So only forced marriages have been included in the indictments.

But rights activists say the ECCC has failed to investigate fully allegations of rape. "Through our research we have seen that a lot of rapes were carried out, especially by guards in prisons, and rapes before killings were common," said Duong Savorn, co-ordinator of the gender based violence project, part of the Cambodian defenders project, which organised the hearing.

There is also evidence to suggest that perpetrators were not punished and that the Khmer Rouge deemed rape an acceptable retribution against "enemies of the state".

"I heard of only one case where the Khmer Rouge soldier in power who repeatedly raped women was sent to a re-education camp," said Kasumi Nakagawa, who has interviewed more than 1,500 people in a research project on sexual violence under the Pol Pot regime.

The hearing's panel of experts called for the ECCC to hold senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge to account for the widespread sexual violence inflicted on the Cambodian people.

"Sexual violence is the only crime against humanity that is routinely dismissed as 'collateral damage'," said Nancee Bright, chief of staff to the UN's special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

Organisers hope the event will encourage victims to speak out and help end the culture of impunity that still haunts Cambodia today.

"[The brutalities of the Khmer Rouge regime] may have happened a long time ago but the legacy of those crimes lives on," said Bright. "We see sexual violence including trafficking of girls as young as six, we see forced prostitution and gang rape, oftentimes via people within their communities, and we see very little protection of migrant workers."

This violence can also have devastating impacts on the social and economic rights of Cambodian women, including access to education. "I heard recently about a case of a man going into a house and raping four students," said Sam Noeun, executive producer at Women's Media Centre of Cambodia. "This can put parents off from sending their daughters to study, especially in the countryside, where it is difficult to travel."

There are no comprehensive statistics on sexual violence but, according to rights groups, rape is on the rise, especially among young people. While rape is illegal and punishable by law – Cambodia introduced a new penal code last year that clarified the definition of rape – enforcement is a problem. So too is a culture of blaming victims, which ensures few women speak out. Poor women and sex workers are the worst affected.

A 2010 Amnesty International report highlighted the endemic corruption and discrimination in the judicial system that prevents women from accessing justice. Many cases are "settled" out of court with the assistance of corrupt civil servants. Cambodia recently fell 10 places on Transparency International's annual corruption perceptions index; of 182 countries, it now ranks 164th.

"I have no hope at all in the legal system of this country," said Kong Vanna, who witnessed his sister's rape more than 30 years ago and still lives in the same village as two of the perpetrators. As the statute of limitations under Cambodian law has passed, he has no legal recourse.

Rights activists are adamant the ECCC must end the legacy of impunity and send a clear message that rape is unacceptable. "If we don't address issues of violence in the past, the violence of the present will continue to happen," said Duong Savorn. Read more!