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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cambodia: controversial sand dredging on TATAI river continues

Ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat has defied an order endorsed by the Prime Minster to halt his controversial sand dredging activities on the Tatai river in Koh Kong, prompting authorities to request intervention, documents obtained by The Post reveal.

The dredging operation on the Tatai river has stirred up serious concern from tourism operators and villagers in the area, who have said it is destroying the local environment and driving customers away.

Government officials appear at loggerheads over the tycoon’s operations.

The Water Resources Minister has insisted in a letter that the so-called “King of Koh Kong” cease violating the ban, but provincial authorities have denied that dredging was even taking place. The Ministry of Industry, Mining and Energy, meanwhile, has extended the LYP Group’s dredging licence by a year.

A blunt letter written by Minister for Water Resources Lim Kean Hor, dated August 4, called for the intervention of provincial governor Bun Leut to enforce a July 15 temporary ban on LYP Group dredging.

“The Sand Resource Management Committee already informed the company on July 15, 2011, to postpone the business activity so a study could be re-conducted. But up until now, the company has not yet postponed its business activities,” the letter reads.

The tycoon’s company had been found to be dredging beyond authorised boundaries and using too much equipment, it added.

Just days before the letter was sent, however, the Ministry of Industry, Mining and Energy issued LYP Group with a 12-month permit extension on July 28. The renewed license, also obtained by The Post, shows that Ly Yong Phat will now be allowed to continue dredging at seven locations until September 2012, though the total area of the permit will be reduced from 3,229 hectares to 1,241 hectares.

At that point LYP Group will have been dredging in the area for five years, the licence signed by industry minister Suy Sem stated.

Ly Yong Phat, Suy Sem, Lim Kean Hor and Bun Leut could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday he had visited the upper Tatai river last week and observed dredging near eco-resorts in the area, which he believes should be stopped immediately.

“All the companies shall listen to critical agencies that are involved there like the [Ministry of] Environment. All the businessmen that are involved in dredging in that area shall be stopped immediately,” he said.

He emphasised any halt would be temporary to allow further inspection of impacts from the dredging. Pech Siyon, Koh Kong provincial director department of Industry, Mines and Energy, denied yesterday dredging was taking place in the banned area and said he was not aware of any new licence granted to LYP Group either.

“LYP is still sand dredging in the lower Tatai, but operations at the upper Tatai have remained postponed as normal since the ban by Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he said, adding the sand was destined for export to Singapore.

Political wrangling has done nothing to ease the minds of affected residents.

Dredging operations are now taking place about 30 metres off the shore of the river’s Andaet island, resident Vora Huy Kanthoul said on Monday, raising his concern the entire land mass would collapse into the river.

“We have a problem, nobody can sleep at night, they do it at night and they’ve been doing that for about 10 days,” he said. Villagers who had agreed to embrace ecotourism instead of traditional forms of income had been sold short by dredging, while crab yields had reportedly dropped by 90 percent.

“They used to hunt illegal game and the local NGOs and the environmental NGOs have been very successful in changing their way of living from poaching to ecotourism, but now they say [dredging is] going to affect them so in the long run and that will really affect the economy,” he said.

Pech Siyon said his department wasn’t worried about public concern surrounding the impact of LYP Group’s operations on tourism investment and local livelihoods, but was focused on closely monitoring the company to ensure they respected regulations.

The Singapore Ministry of National Development has repeatedly failed to reply to inquiries.
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Yingluck, Hun Sen meet urged

A meeting between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen would probably pave the way for a resumption of border talks, Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa says.

A meeting could help revive the long-stalled General Border Committee talks, he said.

Since Hun Sen appears to be on good terms with Ms Yingluck, their meeting may lead to Cambodian defence minister Gen Tea Banh agreeing to a GBC meeting. "Without holding a GBC meeting, we will not be able to talk about the withdrawal of troops [from the designated provisional demilitarised zone] and allowing Indonesian observers into the area," he said.

Gen Yutthasak said Thailand has no option but to abide by the International Court of Justice's ruling, but it could ensure that both sides are in a win-win situation.

"To be in a win-win situation, we have to be friends," he added.

He said that once Hun Sen gives the green light, he would invite Gen Tea Banh for dinner in Bangkok and after that he would visit him in return.

"Gen Tea Banh and I are old friends. We frequently talked at meetings abroad when I was permanent secretary for defence and deputy defence minister.

"Gen Tea Banh also wants to come to Bangkok, but Hun Sen must first give him permission," he said.

Gen Yutthasak will make an inspection in Si Sa Ket next week to get first-hand information and discuss the matter with commanders of the armed forces.

An army source said Lt Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon, the 2nd Army chief, will host a Regional Border Committee (RBC) meeting on Aug 23-24 at the 2nd Army headquarters in Nakhon Ratchasima to discuss troop withdrawals.

The meeting's results could be used by the defence minister when he goes to the next GBC meeting which would be hosted by Cambodia, the source said.

Army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha said he wants the RBC meeting to take place as soon as possible because it would open a channel for communication between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Gen Yutthasak said he would pay respects to the president of the Privy Council, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, this week because his job is to pursue reconciliation efforts.

He said he has discussed the chain of command with Ms Yingluck and it was agreed that he reports directly to her, rather than to a deputy prime minister overseeing security affairs.

Asked how he would defend Pheu Thai against the accusation that it is disloyal to the monarchy, Gen Yutthasak said the situation has improved and senior party members are doing their best to uphold the institution.

He expressed confidence there would be no coup and that if he heard of one he would ask those planning it to try to work out their problems.

He insisted that no armed forces commanders would be removed after he takes office as defence minister.

Gen Yutthasak said he would have discussions with all parties concerned before any high-ranking military officers are transferred.

"I will pick the armed forces leaders. I'll talk to them about the nominations - why this person and not that person," he said.

He said deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has no special tasks for him except pursuing national reconciliation.

"The military must be for the people, not the military for a particular political party. "The military and political parties should be strong.

"When a party is weak it will resort to military power," he said.
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Airmen enhance relationships, airfield ops in Cambodia

By Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz
Pacific Angel 11-1 Public Affairs

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia -- Having the ability to deploy anywhere in the world within 12 hours to build an air base and sustain airfield operations is a critical capability that few countries have the capacity to accomplish.

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia – Master Sgt. James Bonk meets with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces during a subject-matter expert exchange here Aug. 8, 2011. The exchange was part of PACIFIC ANGEL 11-1, which partners U.S. and Cambodian military and civilian personnel to provide medical, dental, optometry and engineer programs to local Cambodians as well as airfield operations subject-matter expert exchanges. Sergeant Bonk is a contingency response team lead assigned to the 36th Mobility Response Squadron, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz
Airmen deployed here in support of Pacific Angel Cambodia 11-1 are exchanging ideas and sharing best practices on this capability and are strengthening partnerships through dialogue on aircrew, loadmaster, airfield management and aerial port operations with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and local airport staff.

"We're here to show them our capabilities and give them the tools to further themselves ... we're also learning how they do business," said Master Sgt. James Bonk, a contingency response team lead assigned to the 36th Mobility Response Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. "By being able to integrate our abilities with theirs we're able to help each other out when needed."

Being able to integrate with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces enhances the U.S. Military's ability to perform operations in an area of responsibility covering more than 100 million square miles and 50 percent of the world's population.

"It's crucial to have an airfield and to be able to sustain operations in order to get items to people like medical supplies and food when they need it," said Sergeant Bonk. "We're partners and we're aiming to improve interoperability."

An aerial demonstration by a North Carolina National Guard C-130H from the 145th Airlift Wing, followed by a walk through of the aircraft provided the RCAF an opportunity to examine how the aircraft works along with receiving cargo, airdrops, managing the airfield and setting up an aerial port.

"We've learned a lot from our friends," said Col. Proeung Phath, Royal Cambodian Air Force. "We can benefit from these exchanges and experiences. It's great to work next to them and I'm happy they're here."

Exchanges that foster partnerships and relationships will enhance future operations for Cambodians and the U.S.

"I'm happy to be here establishing friendships and learning more about the way they do business," said Sergeant Bonk. "Everyone is very friendly and has been very welcoming, I'm glad to be able to share with them now and in the future."

Operation Pacific Angel Cambodia 11-1, is a combined partnership between U.S. and Cambodian military and civilian personnel providing medical, dental, optometry and engineer programs to local Cambodians including airfield operations subject-matter expert exchanges.

The operation is scheduled to conclude Aug. 12.
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World Bank Freezes Loans to Cambodia

In this photo taken on March, 17, 2011, a woman stands by a window of her house on the edge of Boeung Kak, Phnom Penh's largest lake. She and other residents of the area are being evicted from their homes to make way for upscale villas and  buildings. The dispute over Boeung Kak lake has embarrassed the World Bank and led to an unusually tense standoff with Cambodia's government. The bank issued an ultimatum in March demanding a halt to evictions and higher compensation for landowners. A May 8 deadline has been pushed back to next Monday.

The World Bank said Tuesday it will stop loaning money to Cambodia until the government reaches a deal with thousands of residents who are under threat of eviction in a huge development project.

Country director Annette Dixon says the World Bank has not made any loans since December and will not approve any more until Phnom Penh agrees on compensation with lakeside residents.

Dixon says the bank continues to encourage the Cambodia government to reach an agreement to provide on-site housing for the remaining residents of Boeung Kak Lake.

Nobody at the bank was available for further comment.

Two years ago, the Boeung Kak lake area in central Phnom Penh was home to 4,000 families. Now just 1,000 are left and workers have nearly finished filling the lake with sand.

Rights groups say the development has proceeded illegally from the start. They say people have been evicted without proper compensation and the threat of violence by the authorities has seldom been far away.

For years, lakeside residents tried to get land title documents from the local authorities in a program funded by the World Bank. While hundreds of thousands of other Cambodians obtained land titles, residents at the lake did not.

Earlier this year the bank admitted it had let down the residents and quietly informed Phnom Penh to resolve the issue. If not, the bank said it would reconsider its programs in Cambodia.

Today’s statement indicates the bank has stuck by that pledge.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force a local organization that advises lakeside residents of their rights, says local officials started meeting with residents, earlier this year, and the sides have made some progress.

“We found that some parts, some points are moving forward and some parts are not moving forward," Phearnum says. "It seems to be like slowly and people still fear concern about the forced eviction, because during the land survey also the company, they trying to lobby or threaten people to move out with the small compensation. This is the way that some part is a good result and some part is not a good result. But the community they have strong solidarity.”

Cambodia is developing fast and land prices have sharply risen in recent years. Critics say that has caused a wave of land grabbing, driving tens of thousands from their homes.

The capital has changed fast, too. In the past decade, slums have been cleared and their residents relocated outside the city limits. High-rises and apartment blocks are now common.

The companies behind the Boeung Kak development are very well-connected. One is owned by a senator from the ruling Cambodian People's Party; the other is a firm from China, a nation that has pumped billions into Cambodia in recent years.

Cambodian officials say they are not concerned by the bank’s position. Spokesman Phay Siphan says the World Bank has exceeded its mandate in insisting that Phnom Penh abide by such conditions.

Phay Siphan says the government’s only responsibility to the World Bank is to repay monies it has borrowed, and that conditions on one loan should not affect any others.

Sia Phearum, of the Human Rights Task Force, stresses that lakeside residents want the bank to resume lending, once a solution is found.

“I think if everyone talks about the Boeung Kak issue. I think the government at least they will reconsider and work more (for) improving for solving the problem of the people, of their own voters,” Phearum says.

The coming weeks and months will clarify whether the bank’s ultimatum will help with finding a solution.
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