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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Thailand wants talks wIth CambodIa on observers

By The Nation

Thailand wants to discuss plans for Indonesian observation of the border conflict with Cambodia during boundary committee meetings in Indonesia later this month, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

As Asean chair, Indonesia has proposed hosting the Thailand-Cambodia Joint Boundary Committee (JBC) on demarcation and the General Border Committee (GBC) in Bogor from March 24-25.

Cambodia has said it agrees to the proposal and will attend the meetings of the two bodies.

Phnom Penh insisted the meetings could not be bilateral discussions between the two parties, asking for Indonesia to act as a "referee" over the matter.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said Thailand regarded the meetings as bilateral although Indonesia would observe proceedings.

Thailand wants discussions on the terms of reference (TOR) for Indonesian observers on the border between the two countries at the disputed area adjacent to the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, he said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand was ready to discuss the border matter with Cambodia and hoped the border meetings in Indonesia could ease border tension.

"But we have to look at the form of the meetings since there will be a third country to engage with the issue," he said.

"The JBC and GBC have their own mechanisms but it would be no problem if anybody sat in as a witness," he said. "Indonesia, as the chair of Asean, will acknowledge the meetings but it will not intervene in the content of the meetings."

Thailand and Cambodia have long been at loggerheads over the boundary issue. The latest clashes took place from February 4-7 and claimed around 10 lives including three civilians on both sides.

Cambodia brought up the issue with the United Nations Security Council and Asean last month.

The UN urged Asean to enforce a "permanent ceasefire" at the border areas. Indonesia came up with a plan to dispatch observers to the disputed border. The TOR has been sent to the two for consideration. Phnom Penh has agreed to the terms, though Thailand is still studying them.

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World Bank urges Cambodia to stop mass eviction

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The World Bank called on Cambodia Wednesday to halt a mass eviction taking place in the capital amid mounting criticism over forced displacements in the country.

"We are deeply troubled and frustrated about the people who are being forced from their homes," World Bank president Robert Zoellick said in a statement.

A private company headed by a ruling party politician is filling in a lake in central Phnom Penh for commercial development, a controversial project that will eventually displace some 4,000 lakeside families.

Half the residents living on the shores of the Boeung Kak lake have already left, but they received only limited compensation from the company, according to a local housing rights group.

The remaining residents have held frequent protests in recent weeks, urging the company and the government to provide adequate compensation or allow them to stay in their homes.

The Bank is offering the Cambodian government "financing and technical advice to find practical solutions," Zoellick said. "We have repeatedly called on the government to end the evictions."

Cambodia has faced mounting criticism over a spate of forced evictions in recent years.

Last month the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, said he was "deeply concerned" about land rights violations.

In 2009 alone, at least 26 cases of mass evictions displaced approximately 27,000 people across the country, according to a UN report issued last year.

Land disputes have been a major problem in the country since land ownership was abolished during the 1975-1979 rule of the communist Khmer Rouge. Many legal documents were lost during that time.

The World Bank started a land titling programme in Cambodia in 2002 to address these issues, but it failed to include the Boeung Kak lake residents.

The government cancelled the programme in 2009, saying it was "too difficult".

A investigation by the World Bank later found that the lake residents were displaced in violation of policies it had agreed with the government for handling resettlement.

The Bank recognised it had been too slow to respond to the evictions, however.

A spokeswoman for the Cambodian Ministry of Land Management refused to comment on the statement but said a government response was expected shortly.

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Custom red tape criticised

Cambodia’s customs procedures put the country at a disadvantage to its neighbours and require updating to encourage economic development, according to experts.

Domestic infrastructure is improving, but unnecessary regulations in Cambodia were hindering potential investment, said Paul Apthorp, board member of the Greater Mekong Subregion Business Forum.

“Freight cargo is like water – it takes the line of least resistance. If the easiest route is that way, that’s the way you’ll go,” he said.

“Transport has to do with time. If you want to send cargo, you send it [by] the quickest, most efficient route, not the shortest route.”

The Asia Development Bank has organised a two-day symposium in Phnom Penh on attracting investment and promoting growth on its Southern Economic Corridor project, which is envisioned initially as a transport and logistics route through southern Thailand, Cambodia and southern Vietnam.

Minister of Commerce official Cham Prasidh said in an opening speech that the Southern Economic Corridor had strong potential for development, but added this would not happen overnight.

ADB Southeast Asia Department official Arjun Goswami told The Post action had started on building the corridors project, though the SEC lagged behind other similar regional projects.

“I think what we now need is a clear, set timetable, an agreement on indicators and a sequence of steps to get the full implementation going,” he said.

Some infrastructure projects require completion – such as the Neak Leoung bridge spanning the Mekong river on the road between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, which is set for a 2015 finish.

Conversations were required to discuss why the Southern Economic Corridor lagged behind other corridor projects in Southeast Asia, he said, adding it could be due to such reasons as incomplete transport links, issues over trade facilitation, or other problems.

Apthorp said the single biggest thing Cambodia can do to improve its transport and logistics industry is to recognise electronic transmission of documents.

“Remove the need for original documents for transit. Yes, have the original document for final clearance,” he said, adding this was commonplace in most countries.

“The law [in Cambodia] has not been updated for the modern trade experience.”

Apthorp – who is also a strategic development official at TNT Express Worldwide (HK) – said he preferred to send Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh freight via Laos as it is quicker than shipping through Cambodia.

He estimates unnecessary paperwork means freight costs 40 to 50 percent higher when shipping in Cambodia than it would if procedures were streamlined.

Although “tea money” payments were commonplace across the developing world, he said it was important to differentiate between tea money – which he likened to a tip at a restaurant – and flat-out bribery to cover illegal operations.

Sok Chheang, executive director the Cambodia Trucking Association, said that he would like to see an agreement in place for Cambodian trucks to cross the border with Thailand, and vice versa.

He claimed customs clearance was not a large problem, though at the Economic Corridor symposium he said he planned to ask the government to reduce time and costs at the border.

Customs officials could not be reached for comment today.

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Uncovering the treasures of Siem Reap

By Albert Alvarez

COMMON descriptions I have heard about Siem Reap have been, exotic, tranquil, serene and even sublime.

With all these good reviews about Siem Reap in Cambodia, I think it was worth taking a trip to see what the hype was all about.

Siem Reap has become a popular destination, because of the famous Unesco World Heritage site, Angkor Wat. You may have seen this temple in a movie or in documentaries on TV, but seeing the complex up close can be overwhelming. And to my surprise, aside from the Angkor Wat, there was so much more to see and do, in this very exotic and exciting destination.

To date, there are no direct flights from Cebu to Siem Reap, so allow travel agents or your own resourcefulness to check routes with airlines of choice, based on budget and schedules.

Like any trip, I would suggest that you read up on some basic facts about Siem Reap and Cambodia. Try to familiarize yourself with the popular destinations, lay out of the city and even the customs of the country. The question of where to stay is something important to me, based on the area, type of accommodation and price. For more information, try to check out these websites, and

Fortunately, Siem Reap is not as big as I thought it would be. I managed to walk a good portion of the city in a day. A small walking tour could take you to certain interesting points of the city. You could start at the heart of the city, which for me, would be Old Market. There are some interesting good deals to be made here.

Drop by Pub street, during the day and at night, to see what the social life is like in Siem Reap. Nearby, you can check out the Wat Preah Prom Rath, Wat Bo and Wat Damnak temples. Take a stroll along the Siem Reap River and make your way to the Royal Residence, the Royal Independence Gardens and the Angkor National Museums.

Then, when the sun goes down, make your way back to the Old Market via Sivutha Boulevard, passing by the Central Market, Noon Night Market and Angkor Night Market.

If you are not much of a shopper, check out the Khmer restaurants, other bars and cafes, where you can sample all sorts of food. My favorites were the chicken amok and the banana blossom salad.

Finally, the major attraction in Siem Reap is the Angkor Archeological Park. There are different day passes, such as the one-day, three-day or the seven-day pass. You can hire a guide, to give you a better understanding of the area and a vehicle as well, since the park is enormous. Due to the many number of temples,

I would probably suggest to see the Angkor Wat and the Angkor Thom (Bayon) first. If you have more time, check out Preah Khan, Ta Prohm and Phnom Bakheng. There are more temples such as Prasat Kravan, Bantay Srey, Neak Pean, Ta Som and so on. But you can make your own list of which temples you wish to see based on your own interest and schedule.

Like always, I would advise anyone going on a trip, to always note some important facts about your destination, such as telephone numbers and hotlines of the police, hospitals, banks, credit card companies, ports, airport, bus stations and the tourist office.

Siem Reap, for me, is now a destination I would recommend to anyone who wishes to see a bit of adventure as well as have some rest and recreation. The people are extremely friendly, the food is amazing and the places of interest possess a certain charm that is quite endearing.

I wish that you too will experience the treasures I have found in Siem Reap.

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