Saturday, June 29, 2013

BBG Condemns Foreign Media Ban in Cambodia

The Broadcasting Board of Governors has condemned a directive issued by the Cambodian government that forbids the broadcasting of all foreign programming for 31 days prior to the July 28 election. The directive affects all FM radio stations broadcasting Radio Free Asia and Voice of America programming.

“I am extremely troubled by the Cambodian government’s actions today,” said Victor Ashe, a member of the BBG’s governing board and the vice chairman of the board overseeing RFA and who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Poland from 2004-2009.  “By denying its citizens access to unbiased news and information in this critical time it is undermining its own legitimacy and blatantly repudiating the very democracy it claims to espouse.  When I visited Cambodia in May, I met with leaders in the media and civil society.  I know first-hand how much they rely on the reporting of RFA and VOA.”

Radio Free Asia reports that at least 10 FM stations in Cambodia have dropped programming as a result, and e-mails from listeners are already starting to pour in. VOA’s Khmer Service says the government’s decision to pull VOA radio programs from FM stations has sparked immediate complaints on Facebook and other social media sites. Both broadcasters have issued statements condemning the ban.

Radio Free Asia will continue to provide programming through its websites and social media platforms as well as on shortwave radio. VOA will continue providing news and information broadcasts on direct-to-home satellite, web streaming and shortwave and AM radio broadcasts from outside Cambodia.  Because of the Cambodian government’s action, both broadcasters are now considering adding shortwave frequencies.

In a statement today, the U.S. State Department urged the Royal Government of Cambodia to reconsider the decision. “This directive is a serious infringement on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and starkly contradicts the spirit of a healthy democratic process,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

US urges Cambodia to drop ban on foreign broadcasts


WASHINGTON — The United States on Friday slammed a ban on foreign radio broadcasts by the Cambodian government in the run-up to next month's elections as a "serious infringement" on press freedom.
The Cambodian information ministry had published a directive banning broadcasts of foreign-produced radio programs for 31 days before the July 28 vote, State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
"This directive is a serious infringement on freedom of the press and freedom of expression and starkly contradicts the spirit of a healthy democratic process," he told reporters.

"We are deeply concerned by this action and urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to reconsider this decision."

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Friday that their Khmer programs, as well as those of Voice of America and Radio Australia, would be barred under the directive.

Ventrell warned the Cambodian government's decision cast doubt on the "intentions and the credibility of the electoral process" even though Cambodian officials have publicly said they aimed to have free and fair elections.

Official campaigning for next month's general election, which is expected to be won by strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen who is seeking to extend his 28-year grip on the country, began on Thursday.

While all political parties are free to canvass voters and hold public events, observers say there is little chance of unseating the incumbent Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities.

Radio Free Asia Responds to Cambodian Election Censorship

June 28, 2013                                                                          

WASHINGTON, DC – The following statement from Radio Free Asia is in response to the Cambodian Ministry of Information’s directive banning all FM stations from broadcasting foreign-based news in Khmer language a month ahead of the July elections:

The Cambodian government's decision to ban Radio Free Asia and other international radio programming from FM stations during the election campaign period is the most sweeping and stunning frontal assault on media freedom in Cambodia in recent memory. The Ministry of Information's directive doesn't stem from complaints of programming irregularities, but rather is a blatant strategy to silence the types of disparate and varied voices that characterize an open and free society. Unfettered access to diverse, accurate, election information provides the foundation for fair and free elections, and Prime Minister Hun Sen's decision represents a major regression in the march towards democracy and freedom in Cambodia. Radio Free Asia remains committed to bringing objective, accurate and balanced election coverage to the people of Cambodia at this critical time and will do so on every delivery platform available. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cambodian Khmer Rouge atrocity suspect dies

June 27, 2013
 Tuol Sleng prision. Photo by: Quoc Viet/RFA

A former top Khmer Rouge military officer who was expected to be indicted for alleged atrocities has died, a Cambodian official said Wednesday.

Northwestern regional deputy commander Maj. Gen. Ek Sam Oun said former Khmer Rouge air force chief Sou Met suffered from diabetes and died June 14 after a long illness. He had been living in Battambang province and was believed to be 76.

A U.N.-backed tribunal is currently trying two former top leaders of the Khmer Rouge for alleged crimes against humanity and other offenses. The group’s radical policies in 1975-79 led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

Tribunal documents leaked last year indicated that prosecutors were seeking to indict Sou Met along with Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Mut. The documents alleged that both took part in purges that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.

Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said he was unaware of Sou Met’s death and noted that he had never officially been named a suspect.

The tribunal earlier convicted the head of a Khmer Rouge prison where thousands were tortured before being sent away for execution. Currently on trial are Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist and No. 2 leader, and Khieu Samphan, its former head of state, both in their 80s.

There are concerns that the defendants could die before justice is achieved. Former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, who was being tried with his two colleagues, died in March.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has opposed extending the tribunal to cover further suspects, saying it would cause civil unrest. Many former members of the Khmer Rouge — including Hun Sen, who defected from the group in 1977 — hold important positions in the current government or are political allies.

Ek Sam Oun said Sou Met had been appointed an adviser to the Cambodian armed forces and held a major-general’s rank in the army after he defected from the Khmer Rouge in the late 1990s, but was retired at the time of his death. The Khmer Rouge were ousted from power in 1979 by a Vietnamese invasion but continued an insurgency from the jungles until the shrinking movement collapsed with the 1998 death of its leader, Pol Pot.

Sou Met had been receiving medical treatment for several months in hospitals in Phnom Penh and in the Thai capital, Bangkok, Ek Sam Oun said, adding that a Buddhist funeral ceremony was held for him at the headquarters of Cambodia’s northwestern Army Region Five. He did not give any details of any family surviving Sou Met.

Vietnamese Lured Into Gambling Scams in Bavet

By and - June 27, 2013 
The Cambodia Daily

Vietnamese students are increasingly being lured across the border to casinos in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet City, becoming indebted and being held captive by predatory loan sharks, according to a recent Vietnamese media report.

Nguyen Thanh Khiem, deputy chief of police in Vietnam’s Binh Duong province, told Thanh Nien News earlier this month that there were scores of brokers targeting young Vietnamese gamblers.

“The problem is that many of them [the students] who have been cheated by similar scams have in turn lured their friends into the casino cons,” Mr. Khiem was quoted as saying.

Some of the victims are barely teenagers, according to the report, and are lured with free meals, accommodation and $100 in gambling chips. Earlier this year, 13-year-old Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh from Binh Phuoc province managed to cross the border illegally with a friend and was subsequently detained at an unnamed casino in Bavet City until her parents paid the $3,000 debt she had rung up, according to Thanh Nien News.

Despite the report, Bavet commune police chief Mao Phin Phirum said that he was not aware of casinos or loan sharks detaining Vietnamese or demanding ransoms.

“Some casinos do offer free meals and accommodation, and hundreds of people per day cross the Vietnamese border to gamble,” he said.

“But they are not students—most of them are businessmen,” he added
Bavet City deputy police chief Keut Chamroeun said that about 200 Vietnamese come per day to gamble, though he said that the number of casinos is actually declining, as three casinos have been forced to close due to bankruptcy in the past two years, leaving 12 operating casinos—the same number as in 2010.
Mr. Chamroeun said he did not know whether students were among the gamblers, but he acknowledged that illegal loan sharks—who he said were not Cambodian—have detained clients until their debts have been repaid.

“The loan providers are Vietnamese, and there have been cases when we had to intervene after the families of victims detained for gambling losses asked us for help,” he said, declining to elaborate on the frequency of such cases.

Pin Bunroath, an investigator with human rights NGO Licadho in Svay Rieng, said that generally, when Cambodian police are alerted to these incidents, they do investigate and arrest the culprits.

“Before, there were only a few arrests made but during the past six months more Vietnamese women have been jailed in Svay Rieng provincial prison after they were charged with illegally detaining human beings,” Mr. Bunroath said.

Svay Rieng provincial prison chief Sous Sakho said that a total of 25 Vietnamese have so far been jailed this year for charges including illegal detention, drug trafficking and drug use, which is an increase on 2012, which saw 17 jailed for the entire year.

“Most of the Vietnamese people were arrested at different casinos,” he said.

Despite the increase in arrests, reports of violent extortion and kidnapping have long plagued Bavet City, earning it a similar reputation to Poipet City on Cambodia’s western border with Thailand.

Last year, Thanh Nien newspaper reported that an 18-year-old student was detained and had his finger cut off and sent to his mother over $2,000 that he had borrowed from sharks operating in the Las Vegas Casino in Bavet City. And a 13-year-old girl was reportedly detained as collateral after her father lost about $5,000 dollars in Bay Tang casino.

Election fever strikes Cambodia a month before polls

June 27, 2013
 Cambodian People's Party Campaigners in June 27, 2013. Photo by: Quoc Viet/RFA

Cambodia on Thursday officially started campaigning for next month's general election, expected to be won by strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen who is seeking to extend his 28-year grip on the country.

Thousands of supporters from several political parties took to Phnom Penh's streets in colourful rival rallies, as cars and motorcycles adorned with political banners roared through the capital.

The rallies, held one month ahead of July 28 polls, mark the official start of election season in the kingdom.
While all political parties are free to canvass voters and hold public rallies, observers say there is little chance of unseating the incumbent Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities.

Hun Sen and other CPP leaders marked the start of campaigning by receiving a blessing from the country's top Buddhist monks in front of tens of thousands of supporters.

"Making a right decision will bring more success, but a wrong decision will be a setback and a huge danger for the nation," Heng Samrin, CPP honorary president, told the rally.
The CPP would prevent the return of a genocidal regime, he added.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in June 27, 2013. Photo by: Quoc Viet/RFA

Party leaders have warned the country risks a return to civil war if the opposition wins, citing a pledge by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to prosecute members of the government for their alleged roles in the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror in the late 1970s.

"Voting for the CPP is like voting for yourself," Heng Samrin urged supporters, many wearing T-shirts and caps with the party logo.

Hun Sen has run Cambodia for 28 years, making him Southeast Asia's longest-serving leader beside the sultan of Brunei.

His government is regularly accused of suppressing political freedoms and muzzling activists.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, his main challenger, is barred from running in the polls due to a string of convictions that the opposition says are politically motivated.

Rainsy, who lives in exile in France to avoid prison, faces 11 years in jail if he returns, after he was convicted in absentia for charges that included publishing a "false map" of the border with Vietnam.

There are eight parties competing for 123 parliamentary seats in the July 28 poll.

Some 9.6 million people are registered to vote under the eyes of more than 7,700 domestic and international observers.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Khmer Krom protest arrests

06 kampuchea krom monk protest freedom park pha lina
Kampuchea Krom monks and supporters protest against the Vietnamese government and appeal to the international community at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
More than 100 monks and other demonstrators railed against the Vietnam government’s continued incarceration of two monks for their alleged affiliation with Kampuchea Krom organisations yesterday.

Protesters at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park held banners and portraits of three monks – one of whom was released – who, their supporters say, were arrested and tortured, by Vietnamese police on May 21 in an area of southern Vietnam that was once part of the Khmer empire and is referred to by some as Kampuchea Krom.

“We need freedom to live, like Vietnamese people and other nations on the world,” Thach Setha, Executive Director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community said at the rally. “Living without freedom is meaningless.”

On May 21, Kleang provincial police forces in Vietnam surrounded the Prey Chhop and Serei Tasek pagodas, arresting five monks and two members of the pagodas for allegedly associating with foreign Khmer Krom Associations. All were released, except monks Liv Ny and Thach Thoeun.

“Police forces defrocked the monks and put them in rice sacks and then loaded on a truck,” a petition the group handed over to a Phnom Penh Municipal Hall employee for delivery to the Vietnamese embassy says.  “Monk Ly Chenda who was freed lost memory . . . we suspect that he was punished [with] drugs that cause him lose memory.”

Signs held by demonstrators bore slogans including “Vietnam has to show respect toward Kampuchea Krom indigenous people” and “Vietnam authorities have to stop threatening Kampuchea Krom monks and people.”

“[We] are ready to sacrifice our lives for protecting our religion and race,” venerable Seang Sovannara, 38,  shouted to the crowd through a microphone.

Ket Che, administrative director of Phnom Penh Municipal Hall, said the group’s petition will be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will then forward the document to the Vietnamese embassy.

The Vietnamese embassy could not be reached for comment.

Lao Dams, Mining Ruining Sekong Water Quality in Cambodia

by RFA
Dam-building and gold mining in southern Laos are ruining water quality downstream on the Sekong River in Cambodia, where villagers are no longer able drink or use the water, according to an environmental group.

The activities undertaken by Lao and Vietnamese companies on the Sekong’s tributaries are making the river water muddy and full of silt, said Meach Mean of the Cambodia-based 3S Rivers Protection Network, which monitors environmental issues in the Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok rivers in the Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia border area.

Because of the sediment in the Sekong, villagers downstream in Cambodia’s Stung Treng province do not dare drink the water from the river and want the Lao government to address the problem, according to the group.

“For Cambodians, the important thing is that countries should not cause problems for other countries, whether through building dams or through dredging for gold,” Meach Mean said.

Currently, the muddy waters were being caused by construction work underway on the Xe Pian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam on the Nam Noy River, a Sekong tributary, Meach Mean said.

“The construction of the Xe Pian-Xe Nam Noy dam is causing the Nam Noy River… to become very silty,” before it flows into the Sekong, he said.

The dam, which will produce electricity for export to Thailand after it is completed in 2018, is one of a dozen hydropower projects Laos has planned or underway on the Sekong and its tributaries, including a series on the Sekaman that had previously caused silt downstream.

The Sekaman dams had been a “serious cause” of water quality problems in Cambodia until work on the Sekaman 3 wrapped up last year and construction on the Sekaman 1 was suspended over the past year, Meach Mean said.

Dredging for gold

Now, dredging for gold on the river’s tributaries in southern Laos’s Attapeu and Sekong provinces has become a bigger issue than the muddiness caused by dam construction, he said.

“The main problem now is the dredging of the Xekaman and Xesou Rivers in Attapeu province and the Sekong River in Sekong province for gold by Vietnamese companies and Lao companies working with Vietnamese companies.”

The companies use back hoes to scoop up soil from streams and riverbanks, then extract the gold onsite using chemicals, which likely include mercury, he said.

“This obviously causes a lot of turbidity downstream,” he said, referring to a measure of how much particulate is suspended in the water.

Previously, dredging had been done by Chinese-owned boats in the Sekong River, but now the heavy machinery used by Vietnamese companies is causing more sediment to flow downstream.

Chemicals such as mercury are often used in the mining process to get gold out of rock, and residents in southern Laos have complained of toxic pollution from gold mining along the Sekong waters for years.

Sekong River Basin

Some 30,000 Cambodians and tens of thousands of Laotians—many of them members of ethnic minorities in both countries—live in the Sekong River Basin and rely on the waters for their livelihoods.

Environmental groups have said dams in the basin threaten fish stocks and sediment flows, with global green group International Rivers warning that little study has been done on what kind of long-term effects the dams will have on local communities.

The only large dam in full operation so far in the Sekong River Basin, the Houy Ho that was completed in 1998, proved “disastrous” for downstream communities in Laos and Cambodia, according to International Rivers.

The projects are part of a “hydro boom” in land-locked, impoverished Laos, which has mountainous terrain suited to hydropower and is aiming to become the “battery” of power-hungry Southeast Asia by selling electricity to its neighbors.

Laos has come under fire from neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam for plowing ahead with construction on the Xayaburi dam, the first dam across the main stem of the Mekong River, over their objections.

The Sekong and the other 3S Rivers form important tributaries flowing into the 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) Mekong, Southeast Asia’s key artery.

'Little attention' to local communities

Earlier this month, two hundred environmentalists and riparian community representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and southwestern China met in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to discuss how dams on the Mekong and the 3S rivers built by Laos and other countries were affecting their local river environments and living standards.

Tek Vannara, deputy director of the Cambodia NGO Forum that hosted the meeting, said regional governments including Laos “pay little attention” to local communities when making the decisions to build the dams.

According to Laos’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, as of March Laos had 14 dams under construction across the country, 24 in the planning stage, and 32 in the feasibility study stage, in addition to 16 that had recently become operational.

Aside from selling electricity to its neighbors, Laos has also aimed to capitalize on its natural resources with mines, and its mining industry is growing fast.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, there are currently more than 150 mining firms in Laos operating more than 200 mining projects.

Significant gold reserves have been found in Laos’s southern provinces, and the Ministry of Planning and Investment said recently that foreign investors are interested in exploring new gold, lignite, and silver mines near the Sekong and Sekaman rivers.

Travelport renews long-term agreement with Galileo Vietnam

June 26, 2013

Present at the official signing ceremony of Galileo Vietnam were (from left to right) Nguyen Thi My HAU and Luu Thanh TRONG - Galileo Vietnam, Allan SO - Regional Business Development Director Travelport, Tran Do Uyen TRAM - Galileo Vietnam, Patrick Andres – Vice President and Regional Managing Director APAC Travelport, Pham Van Hien – Chairman Galileo Vietnam, Le Dinh NGHIA – Galileo Vietnam and Nguyen Thanh LONG – General Manager Galileo Vietnam , Laos and Cambodia.
Travelport, the leading provider of critical transaction processing solutions and data for the global travel industry, has today announced the renewal of a multi-year distribution partnership with Galileo Vietnam. The re-signing of this significant agreement sees Galileo Vietnam continue as the national distribution company (NDC) for Travelport’s technology and service in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. To celebrate the extended agreement, a signing ceremony and gala dinner was held at the Legend Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, with key airlines, agency partners and VIPs in attendance.

The renewal of the agreement comes after ten successful years of partnership between Galileo Vietnam and Travelport. Through this partnership, Galileo Vietnam has introduced Galileo GDS to almost 500 travel agency partners in the region.

Patrick Andres, Travelport’s Vice President and Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific, says, “Vietnam is one of my favorite countries to visit with beautiful natural landscapes, friendly people and vibrant cities such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The travel industry in this region is expected to experience stronger growth in the years to come as a result of increased disposable income and improved living standards. Travelport could not be more pleased to continue the successful working relationship we have with Galileo Vietnam during these exciting times of change. Their commitment to outstanding service in delivering our technology and services to the local travel agent community makes them a key partner in the region and an excellent representative of the Travelport group.”

Pham Van Hien, Chairman of Galileo Vietnam, says, “Our vision at Galileo Vietnam is to provide our customers with the best solutions in technology and services across aviation, hospitality and tourism. In utilising the Galileo GDS, many of the airlines we have worked with have reduced their distribution costs by 80%. We look forward to continuing our work with Travelport, and continuing to provide cutting edge solutions to travel agencies. We’re very excited about the future of the industry in this region, and about our role in it.”

Galileo Vietnam was established in 2002 and is the sole representative of the Travelport group in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, now with six offices within the region. With the renewed agreement, customers will continue to benefit from Galileo Vietnam’s regional expertise and the latest Travelport products and solutions.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ex-Governor’s ‘Slap on Wrist’ for Shooting a Stark Contrast to Harsh Penalties for Human Rights Defenders

Phnom Penh (June 25, 2013) – Cambodian Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) and Cambodian
League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) welcome the conviction of former Bavet

governor Chhouk Bandith for shooting three garment workers last year, but condemn the light sentence –
one-and-a-half years in prison – for actions that amounted an attempted triple-homicide.
The sentence is little more than a slap on the wrist, and is emblematic of Cambodia’s pervasive culture of
impunity for the well-connected elite.

According to witnesses, then-governor Bandith brandished a gun during a protest at a garment factory in
February 2012 and fired shots into a group of thousands of workers. Three women were seriously injured.
He has yet to spend a day in detention, and at one point, charges were actually dropped altogether. He was
finally charged with causing “unintentional violence.”

In contrast, Boeung Kak Lake land activist and human rights defender Yorm Bopha was sentenced to three
years in prison – though one year was recently suspended by the Court of Appeals – for allegedly
“masterminding” a physical assault on one man. There was no evidence presented in court linking her to
the attack. Bopha has been in prison since September 2012, including more than four months in pretrial

“Bandith opened fire on a group of thousands of people, with plenty of witnesses, and effectively got six
months in prison for each person he shot,” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge. “Bopha wasn’t even
present at when the alleged beating began, and no evidence has connected her to it, yet she will spend two
years in prison.”

“You can’t even call this a double standard – it’s two entirely different justice systems: one that is wielded
as a weapon against activism, and another that serves and protects well-connected individuals.”
The Bandith case is reminiscent of the legal proceedings that followed the April 2012 killing of
environmental activist Chut Wutty. After advancing multiple inconsistent explanations of Wutty’s death,
authorities ultimately claimed that Wutty’s killer was also dead – killed by security guard on the scene.
That security guard, Rann Boroth, was eventually convicted, and released after six months in prison.
“Just like in the killing of environmental leader Wutty, the appearance is so bad that authorities are
backed into a corner,” Pilorge said. “They have to do something. Unfortunately, here, as in the Wutty case,
they only did the bare minimum, and it does nothing to combat the Kingdom’s culture of impunity.”
Bandith was also ordered to pay 38 million riel (US $9,500) in compensation to his three victims – 20
million riel (US $5,000) to one, 10 million riel (US $2,500) to another, and 8 million riel (US $2,000) to the

Bavet is located in Svay Rieng province. The region’s special economic zones are home to a host of
garment factories which supply international buyers such as Puma, which purchases from the factory
where the injured workers worked at the time of the shooting.

The verdict comes only six months after the reinstatement of murder verdicts against Born Samnang and
Sok Sam Oeun, who were scapegoated in the killing of union leader Chea Vichea in 2004. There was no
evidence connecting the pair to the crime, and the Supreme Court had ordered them released in 2008.
Inexplicably, their 20-year prison sentences were reinstated in December 2012, despite no new evidence
being presented at court.

“These verdicts do nothing to help the international reputation of Cambodia’s vital garment sector,” said
Moeun Tola, head of CLEC’s labor program. “The message is: Scapegoats and activists get large sentences,
even if they didn’t commit a crime, while well-connected individuals get a slap on the wrist – no matter
what their crime.”

We urge the Svay Rieng court prosecutor and the General Prosecutor to appeal the verdict to open the door
for the Court of Appeal to reevaluate the case against Bandith, and apply just and adequate charges and
penalties under the law. Under no circumstances should the Court of Appeal allow Bandith to remain free
while his appeal is pending.

We also call upon authorities to prioritize Bandith’s immediate arrest, so that he is not allowed to flee, and
so that he can pay restitution to his victims.

U.S. report on Cambodia's human trafficking "untrue, ludicrous:" Foreign Ministry

PHNOM PENH, (Xinhua) -- Cambodia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed U.S. report on the situation of human trafficking in Cambodia released last week as "untrue and ludicrous" in a statement issued Monday.

"Undoubtedly, in the report, there is plenty of untrue information on the situation of human trafficking in Cambodia," the ministry's spokesman said in the statement. "Many of the issues raised in the report are either made from general sweeping assumptions or lacking real evidence to prove. Therefore, many of those issues in the report were ludicrous."

The reaction was made after the U.S. State Department, in its 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report released last Thursday, downgraded Cambodia a notch to the Tier 2 Watch List--the scale's second-lowest rank--from Tier 2 for failing to demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking in 2012.

Launched in Washington by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the annual report described Cambodia as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.

The report made very little recognition of the hard work and the sincere efforts of the Government of Cambodia in its fight against human trafficking, the statement said.

"Just in 2012 alone, real progress has been made. A total of 133 suspects related to human trafficking were arrested and 458 victims were rescued," it said. "At the meantime, about 300 suspects were convicted by the courts."

NagaWorld sacks staff

PHNOM PENH, 25 June 2013: Hundreds of workers including croupiers, drivers and cleaners at Phnom Pehn’s biggest casino have been fired or suspended after striking for higher wages in the latest bout of labour strife to hit the country, a union leader said Monday.

More than 400 workers at the Malaysian owned NagaWorld Hotel and Casino have been sacked or suspended from their jobs, according to Sok Narith, vice president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation.

The workers were among “more than 1000″ staff on strike since 13 June 13. They were demanding a pay rise from $80 to $150 a month and improved working conditions, Sok Narith told AFP.
“The strike is in accordance with the law,” he added.
Hundreds more workers had received a text message from the casino management saying their contracts with NagaWorld have been “terminated with immediate effect,” he said.

The company could not be immediately reached for comment, but an email apparently by NagaWorld to senior staff and seen by AFP said 413 workers had had their contracts “terminated/suspended”.
The workers “have been identified to have been involved in the illegal strike against the company”, the email added.

Hundreds of workers protested outside the casino on Monday demanding that they be reinstated.
Gambling is legal for foreigners in Cambodia and the country draws tens of thousands of Thais and Chinese — whose own countries ban betting — to its tables.

Cambodian workers have repeatedly demonstrated against low wages and tough conditions in the multibillion-dollar textile industry, which produces goods for top western brands.

Earlier this month, hundreds of garment workers had been fired from a factory making sportswear for US giant Nike after a series of pay protests.

China's Hong Kong delegation visits Cambodia for business opportunities

PHNOM PENH, June 25 (Xinhua) -- A group of business executives from China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has been visiting Cambodia to seek possibilities to broaden bilateral trade and investment ties.

The delegation is comprised of leaders of 24 firms doing businesses in financial and professional services, infrastructure and real estate, garments and textiles, telecommunications, food and chemicals, according to Raymond Yip, assistant executive director of Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

The group is led by John C Tsang, financial secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Speaking during a Business Luncheon in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, John C Tsang said that Hong Kong entrepreneurs were among the earliest and most prolific investors in Cambodia.

"They bring not only capital investment to Cambodia, but also a great deal of experience in manufacturing, in developing effective supply chains, in adopting new technologies and in identifying new growth opportunities," he told the event, which was attended by Cambodian trade officials, businesspeople and bankers.

Cambodia is the delegation's first leg of the two Southeast Asian nations visit from June 24-29 in order to strengthen economic partnership with the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Their next stop will be Myanmar.

"Hong Kong will continue to strengthen links with Cambodia and promote free and open trade in the region," he said. "Through this visit, I hope that we can forge even closer ties with Cambodia and Myanmar."

Addressing the Business Luncheon, Cambodian Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh highly spoke of good trade and investment relations between Cambodia and China in general and between Cambodia and Hong Kong in particular.

"The visit is very important to further broaden trade and investment links between Cambodia and China's Hong Kong," he said.

Hong Kong is Cambodia's 6th largest trading partner and is the 5th largest source of imports, the minister said. Currently, some 56 Hong Kong-owned garment and footwear factories are operating in Cambodia, employing some 35,000 workers.

Bilateral trade between Cambodia and Hong Kong valued at 879 million U.S. dollars in 2012, a 18 percent rise year-on-year, he said.

Cambodia's export to Hong Kong was 68 million U.S. dollars, up 50 percent, while Hong Kong's export to Cambodia reached 811 million U.S. dollars, up 25 percent.

Meanwhile, Cham Prasidh said Cambodia now enjoys full political stability, sound macro-economic stability, and good and transparent legal framework, which are essential components for investors to make decision for their investment.

He said the country has been encouraging investments in agriculture, transport and telecommunication infrastructure, energy and electricity sectors, labor-intensive industries and export-oriented manufacturing, and tourism.

During the stay in Cambodia, the delegation will meet with Chea Vuthy, vice secretary general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, deputy prime minister and finance minister Keat Chhon, and deputy governor of the National Bank of Cambodia Neav Chanthana, as well as chairman of Cambodian Chamber of Commerce Kith Meng.

The group will also pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday afternoon, Cham Prasidh said.

Lao And Cambodian Stock Exchanges Stagnant After Two Years With A Combined Three Companies Listed

By | June 25 2013

If you were given all the money in the world to invest in a stock from the stock exchanges of Laos and Cambodia, which stock would you choose? You might not actually get a lot of choices - both exchanges are stagnant two years after becoming operational, due to domestic companies being unwilling to reveal financial information, unfavorable rules and regulations, and limited understanding by potential investors. The Lao Securities Exchange (LSX) has two companies listed currently, which is double that of the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX).

On an average day, the combined trading turnover from the three companies listed in these two exchanges might reach a total of 5 million Thai baht ($160,760), a few minutes’ activity on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), where average daily turnover this year has been 60 billion baht, Bangkok Post, a Thai newspaper, reported.
RTR2VE45 Photo: LAOS-INVESTMENT/ REUTERS/Martin Petty A woman sweeps the floor at the Laos Security Exchange building. 

LSX was launched in January 2011 with help from both the SET and the Korea Exchange of South Korea (KRX). KRX holds a 49 percent stake in the LSX operating company – as well as 4 percent of the CSX.
LSX has a slight edge over CSX with its two listed companies – EDL Generation Plc and Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao. Both began trading when the market opened 26 months ago.

CSX, on the other hand, had to wait until April 2012, nine months after it opened in July 2011, for Phnom Penh Water Supply, its only listed company, to begin trading.

The Cambodian government is pressing two other state-linked businesses – Telecom Cambodia and Sihanoukville Autonomous Port – to hold their IPOs. Several deadlines have come and gone without anything happen, however.

The same barriers are deterring both exchanges from becoming more successful. In addition to the small number of listed companies, the rules and regulations of both are unfavorable – in particular, they discourage foreign investment.

“We’re in the process of allowing foreign investors to hold more shares in the listed companies. The ceiling for foreign investors in listed companies currently is 5 percent. We will hike it to 10 percent by the end of this year,” said Park Ho-jeong, vice-chairman and chief operating officer of the LSX, according to Bangkok Post.

Park said foreign investors were looking to invest more in the Lao stock market. In addition to doubling the ceiling for foreign shareholding, the LSX also is trying to introduce new products to the market despite a number of difficulties.

Laos has set ambitious goals for its exchange in the face of setbacks. LSX plans to have 10 listed companies by 2016, which means it needs to attract eight more companies. It also hopes to reach the break-even point within five years.

Currently, daily trading volume is around 80,000 shares; if this figure hits 1 million, LSX is confident the market can break even, Park added.

LSX wants to encourage potential companies by educating them on the important role the capital market can play in their business planning and fundraising. It has dealt with 50 companies that have the potential to be listed, including Lao Airlines.

Changing the mindset of company owners is still the biggest hurdle to be overcome. These leaders need to understand the mechanism of the stock market, as well as the need for compliance and transparency in trading.

“Company owners don’t understand why they have to reveal their financial statements to the public. We have to change their mindset, which is not easy. We have been trying to hold lots of conferences or seminars to educate them about this,” Park said.

LSX is targeting domestic companies in agriculture, real estate and construction. Eventually, it plans to attract foreign companies or joint ventures.

CSX faces similar challenges. The capital market being new to Cambodia, most companies don’t understand the process of raising funds through the market.

Kao Thach, the deputy director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia, said the country should incorporate a program about the stock market into education, so young people as well as investors can have more understanding about how the market works.

Cambodia has more potential companies than Laos, as it has more manufacturing activities and a more active real estate business.

However, Thach believes CSX should focus on manufacturing and service sectors, but not real estate, due to heavy speculation in the real estate market.

“The property companies in Cambodia currently are not good enough for our economy,” Thach said, according to the Bangkok Post. “They can’t create jobs for our people. What those companies do is buy and sell land for profit and speculate on the market prices. So, I don’t think that real estate can support our stock market.”

Former Cambodian official convicted in absentia

— A former Cambodian governor was convicted in absentia Tuesday of shooting and wounding three garment workers and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, an outcome that rights groups say highlights the impunity of the country's political elite.

Chhouk Bandith, former governor of Bavet town in southeastern Cambodia, has been on the run for months and was not present at his trial.

The former official fled after the Feb. 20 attack in which he was named the prime suspect in shooting three female protesters. The women were seriously wounded by the gunshots while demonstrating outside their factory with about 1,000 other workers for better working conditions and benefits.

A prosecutor in December dropped the charges against Bandith, saying there was no evidence to prove he was the gunman. The move sparked outrage among rights groups and in March was overturned on appeal, paving the way for his trial.

On Tuesday, the Svay Rieng provincial court convicted Bandith of unintentionally wounding the protesters. Human rights groups had criticized the charge as too lenient and had called for a stiffened charge of attempted murder.

Rights groups welcomed the conviction but condemned the light sentence, saying that several witnesses saw Bandith open fire into the crowd of protesters.

"The sentence is little more than a slap on the wrist, and is emblematic of Cambodia's pervasive culture of impunity for the well-connected elite," said a joint statement issued by the Cambodian Community Legal Education Center and Licado, the League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights.

The rights groups called on authorities to find and arrest Bandith so that he can serve his sentence and pay restitution to the victims. Bandith was ordered to pay 38 million riel ($8,500) in compensation to the three women.

Cambodia's judiciary is widely regarded as corrupt and susceptible to political manipulation. International human rights groups accuse the government of using the judiciary to silence its critics and to attack human rights defenders and say the courts regularly fail to deliver justice to the country's people, particularly the poor.

Cambodia's garment industry is the main foreign exchange earner for the poor Southeast Asian country. It employs more than half a million workers, most of whom are women. Garment exports last year totaled $4.6 billion, up from $4.3 billion the previous year.

Read more here:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Building project aims to prevent human trafficking

Source: PRWIRE

A casual conversation has evolved into a project that will help Cambodian children, provides stable homes for their families and aid in the fight against human trafficking. At the same time it will offer Australian students, academics and construction professionals an experience they'll never forget.

After connecting via a mutual friend, it soon became clear to Cundall’s Alistair Coulstock and Raw Impact’s Troy Roberts that there was a fantastic opportunity to bring together the construction industry and students to help those in poverty stricken Cambodia.

Alistair a Principal for Cundall and Troy who recently founded not-for-profit organisation RAWImpact will head up the Build Against The Traffick project, one of RAWimpact’s five development initiatives.
Alistair says “Within minutes of speaking with Troy, I realised we were on to something great, and the ‘Build Against The Traffick’ concept was born. Since that phone call everything has been falling into place. I’m a big believer of synchronicity, and subsequently, people have been entering my life who fit perfectly with this project.”

Commencing in July this year, students from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) pairing with experienced architects to design houses for rural Cambodia.  The students will assess energy use in developing countries and investigate passive and active solutions. They will be assisted by the architects, a core group of engineers and lecturers from UNSW and the Royal University of Pnomh Penh.

In areas of Cambodia are some of the poorest people in the world. The sheer scale of poverty puts immense pressure on families, who can do little to feed themselves and survive. As a result, trafficking of women, children and even the men is a regular occurrence.

Often, traffickers will poach from the most vulnerable villages fabricating lies that the children will have a better future, be educated, and have lots of food. With a sum of money equivalent to 3-6 months wages this may sway innocent and unsuspecting families into giving up their children. In other circumstances, the children may not have parents and could be living with a relative or friend – this makes the jobs of the pimps even easier.

“Hearing about these atrocities, I was determined for Cundall to work worth Raw Impact to encourage the construction industry to come together to implement this project” Explained Alasdair.

The shortlisted designs will then be built by teams of professionals from the construction industry, suppliers, students and lecturers. Managing and overseeing the project will be Troy Roberts and his experienced local team of builders from RAWimpact.

As part of the trip the teams will visit the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields and S21 Torture School to gain an appreciation of what these amazing people have endured.  The groups will then travel three hours north to Kompong Thamor, which will act as a base for our build.

As an additional challenge, teams will spend one night with a family in the village and try to feed them for the equivalent of $1 per person.  It’s anticipated that the experience will provide a raw insight into the harsh realities faced by these families on a daily basis, and will be one they will never forget.

“We want to bring together a movement of people that will make a real impact on the world, and connect them with a cause that inspires them the most. And it’s not just about money.” Explains Raw Impact Founder Troy “We want them to bring their time, their ideas and their skills to the fight against some of the greatest injustices in the world today.  And we truly believe that together we can make a real impact for very powerful change"

Executive Chef, Sarah Swan from 100 Mile Table will also be travelling as a volunteer, creating some delicious culinary masterpieces for the same budget the teams have to feed their families. In this special event, Sarah will show everyone what can be created with so little money.

Cundall and Raw Impact are now looking to the industry to make this concept reality “We have everything in place and now seeking financial support from organisations by way of funding, donation of tools and apparel” Alasdair passionately explains. “Key to the project’s success is funding and generous donations to be able to cover the costs of the trip.”

Cambodian PM starts 1-month silence ahead of election

Xinhua | 2013-6-24

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday started to implement his self-imposed discipline to remain silent during a month-long election campaign for the general election on July 28.

"During the campaign period from June 27 to July 26, I will not publicly appear to do election campaign," the premier said in his last public speech during the inauguration of a Buddhist temple's praying hall in eastern Kampong Cham province.

However, he would closely monitor the upcoming election situation.

Meanwhile, the premier appealed to all levels of authorities to maintain security and public order in order to ensure a smooth, transparent, and non-violent election campaign by all political parties.

Since 1998, Hun Sen has stuck to his own principle not to deliver a speech publicly during a one-month election campaign ahead of a general election, which is held once in every five years.

Cambodia is scheduled to hold a general election on July 28, according to the National Election Committee. Some 9.67 million Cambodians are eligible to cast their ballots for the 123-seat parliament.

Eight political parties will run in the election. Three major parties among them are the ruling Cambodian People's Party of Hun Sen, the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party led by self-exiled leader Sam Rainsy, and the royalist Funcinpec Party headed by Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey, the youngest daughter of late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

In the last election in 2008, Prime Minister Hun Sen's party won up to 90 seats, while the opposition totally won 29 seats, and the royalist group won four seats.

Political analysts predict that Hun Sen's party will win a landslide victory in the upcoming polls.

Hun Sen, 61, has been in power for 28 years and vowed to stay in the office until he is 74.

Nike Calls For Probe Into Crackdown On Cambodian Factory Workers

June 24, 2013

Nike has called on the Cambodian government to launch an independent inquiry into a police crackdown on workers at a factory making sportswear for the U.S. multinational after reports said the violence caused two pregnant women to miscarry and left others injured.

In letters to Cambodia’s labor and commerce ministers made public on Friday, Nike expressed “deep concerns” over the May 27 incident at the Sabrina Cambodia Garment Manufacturing plant outside the capital Phnom Penh three weeks ago.

The police action came amid riots stemming from a protest by 4,000 workers outside the plant’s premises in Kampong Speu province to back claims for higher pay. Eight workers and trade union members have been detained and hundreds of employees dismissed following the violence.

“Nike respectfully requests that the Cambodian government open an inquiry using credible, independent third parties to determine the cause of the incident,” the company’s vice president Hannah Jones wrote in a May 30 letter.

“In addition, we urge the Cambodian government to consider the appropriate support for the injured workers,” it said.

Injured in crackdown

Nike said several factory workers sustained injuries after being confronted by police, who according to reports used stun batons to disperse the crowds.

Reports said the crackdown left 23 injured, including two pregnant women who suffered miscarriages after police moved in on the crowd.

In a second crackdown a week later, at least 10 workers were injured when police broke up another demonstration and arrested the eight, who are now awaiting trial on charges of inciting violence and destroying property.

Violating code of conduct

Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia President Chea Mony urged the Cambodian government to honor Nike’s request for an independent probe, saying Sabrina had wanted authorities to crack down on the demonstration in order to intimidate the strikers.

“Sabrina breached the code of conduct [that Nike has for its contractors] by inviting police and military police officials to assault the workers,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“Nike is a good buyer and we don’t want to lose them, but the factories [supplying them] abuse workers,” he said.

The eight awaiting trial include three Free Trade Union members and five workers at the factory, he said.
Eight others have been charged but have not been taken into police custody.

Chea Mony said the violence had been provoked by the police, not the strikers, and that the wrong people had been arrested.

“The arrests are meant to threaten members of my union because the union is viewed as siding with the opposition. Our members have [in the past] been killed, arrested, and persecuted,” he said.
He said authorities had done nothing to end the labor conflict since Nike sent the letters to Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh and Minister of Labor and Vocation Training Vong Sauth on May 30.

Freedom of association

The Sabrina factory supplying Nike is part of its Better Factories Cambodia, a program established by the International Labor Organization to monitor workplaces and offer advice.

Nike had said in the letters that its code of conduct for contract manufacturers such as Sabrina requires them “to respect their employees’ rights to freedom of association.”

“Explicit in the code is our expectation that workers should be able to exercise that right safely without fear of harassment, intimidation, or retaliation,” they said.

The workers were striking to demand that Sabrina, which employs more than 5,000 people at the plant, give them U.S. $14 a month to help pay for transport, rent, and healthcare costs on top of their U.S. $74 minimum wage.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, refused to comment when contacted by RFA on Friday.

Around a half million people work in Cambodia’s garment industry, which earns some U.S. $4.6 billion a year producing goods for Western clothing firms.

The garment industry is Cambodia’s third-largest currency earner, but workers often work long shifts for little pay, trade unions complain.

In March the Cambodian government announced a higher minimum wage of U.S. $80 per month from U.S. $61 for garment and footwear workers, though unions had originally demanded U.S. $120.

This week, Prime Minister Hun Sen cautioned about job losses if manufacturers quit the country over wage demands.

The warning came as 3,000 workers at a garment factory in Phnom Penh supplying Swedish clothing brand H&M sealed off a national highway to back demands for better salaries and working conditions.

UNESCO lists 2 Chinese properties, 17 other places as world heritage sites

Xinhua | 2013-6-24

The UNESCO's World Heritage Committee had inscribed two Chinese properties and 17 other places around the globe on its prestigious World Heritage List during its 37th annual session here, bringing the total number of world heritage sites to 981.

The sites are recognized by the UNESCO for its exceptional beauty or cultural value. Italy's Medici Villas and Gardens were the latest site added to the World Heritage List by the committee during the session on Sunday.

The China's newly-listed sites are Xinjiang Tianshan natural property and Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces.

The other listed sites included Italy's Mount Etna, Mexico's El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, Namibia' s Namib Sand Sea, Tajikistan's Tajik National Park, Canada's Red Bay Basque Whaling Station, Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Fiji's Levuka Historical Port Town, India's Hill Forts of Rajasthan, Iran's Golestan Palace, Ukraine's Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese, Japan's Fujisan, Niger's Historic Centre of Agadez, Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine, Portugal' s University of Coimbra, Qatar's Al Zubarah Archaeological Site, and Germany's Bergpark Wilhelmshoehe.

The 37th session of the World Heritage Committee was held in Phnom Penh on June 16 and will close in Angkor on June 27.

During the session, besides new site inscription, the 21-member committee had added six World Heritage sites in Syria on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to the country's civil war that caused heavy damage to the sites.

The six sites in Syria are Ancient City of Damascus, Ancient city of Bosra, Site of Palmyra, Ancient City of Aleppo, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal'at Salah El-Din, and Ancient Villages of Northern Syria.

Moreover, the committee placed the World Heritage site of East Rennell in Solomon Islands to the List of World Heritage in Danger due to logging that is affecting the ecosystem of the site, while the World Heritage site of Bam and its Cultural Landscape in Iran, struck by a major earthquake, were removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Ek Tha, a spokesman for the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee, said that all discussions during the session had been made in a frank manner and friendly atmosphere.

"Cambodia is very proud to chair this UN committee smoothly and professionally," he told Xinhua on Sunday. "Through this milestone event, Cambodia will be more known to the outside world -- as we all know over 1,460 delegates from 128 countries have joined this meeting."

He also lauded China for its two wonderful sites being inscribed on the prestigious list during the session.
Speaking during the session on Sunday, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Chairman of the 37th WHC session, said that Qatar will host the 38th WHC session next year.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cambodia PM says garment firms may quit over wage rows

  • photo_1371667563179-1-HD.jpg
    Cambodian garment factory workers sit as they block a street during a protest in front of a factory in Phnom Penh on June 19, 2013. Cambodia's strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday warned garment workers that protests demanding higher wages could push manufacturers to quit the country. (AFP)
Cambodia's strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday warned garment workers that protests demanding higher wages could push manufacturers to quit the country.

His appeal came after unions last week said hundreds of workers had been fired from a factory making sportswear for US giant Nike after a series of pay protests.

Cambodian workers have repeatedly demonstrated against low wages and tough conditions in the multibillion-dollar textile industry, which produces goods for top western brands.
Currently workers can earn around $110 a month with overtime.

Hun Sen said repeated protests may imperil the country's lucrative garment industry by persuading firms to relocate to Myanmar, Laos and India where labour is cheaper.

"If the investors move out, it will be a big disaster for our country," Hun Sen said in a speech broadcast on national radio.

"It is easy for garment and footwear factories to flee the country," he said, warning workers to be "cautious over high pay demands".

The premier said some $480 million was paid to workers across the country each month.
The textile industry, which employs about 650,000 people and produces clothes for top western brands, is a key source of foreign income for the country.

Hundreds of workers on Wednesday briefly blocked the road outside a factory in the capital Phnom Penh making clothes for Swedish clothes firm H&M protesting over healthcare payment, according to an AFP photographer.

The incident comes after 10 workers were injured when police broke up a June 3 demonstration at a factory in the southern province of Kampong Speu making goods for Nike.

Sixteen garment workers and union representatives have been charged with inciting violence and damaging property during the protest, judge Chhim Rithy, from Kampong Speu provincial court, told AFP.
Eight of the activists are being held in detention, the judge added.

A week earlier riot police allegedly used stun batons against the strikers.

Protesters said a pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage in that crackdown, and have accused the security personnel of using excessive force to quell the rallies.

Unionists rejected Hun Sen's comments.

"He (Hun Sen) does not know the hardship the workers are facing," said Chea Mony, leader of the Free Trade Union.

"Generally, the factory owners do not respect the laws or workers' rights."

Mekong Dams Threaten Extinction of Giant Catfish

By Joshua Lipes

Dams across the mainstream of Southeast Asia’s lower Mekong River, such as the Xayaburi dam under construction in northern Laos, could drive the waterway’s endangered giant catfish to extinction, a wildlife protection group said Thursday.
cambodia-mekong-giant-catfish-june-2005.jpg In a file photo, Cambodians release a Mekong giant catfish into the wild in Phnom Penh. AFP

The elusive Mekong giant catfish, which the U.S.-based World Wildlife Fund (WWF) called “one of the world’s largest and rarest freshwater fish,” can reach up to three meters (10 feet) and weigh up to 300 kilograms (660 pounds).

The Xayaburi dam would prove an “impassable barrier” for the migratory catfish, which is believed to only exist in numbers of up to a couple hundred, WWF said in a statement based on the findings of a new study.

“A fish the size of a Mekong giant catfish simply will not be able to swim across a large barrier like a dam to reach its spawning grounds upstream,” said Zeb Hogan, the study’s author and associate research professor at the University of Nevada.

“These river titans need large, uninterrupted stretches of water to migrate, and specific water quality and flow conditions to move through their lifecycles of spawning, eating and breeding.”

The giant catfish is already in “steep decline” due to overfishing, habitat destruction and dams along the Mekong’s tributaries, the WWF said, adding that the Xayaburi dam could “disrupt and even block spawning, and increase mortality if the fish pass through dam turbines.”

“It’s likely the Mekong giant catfish use the stretch of river of the Xayaburi dam as a migration corridor, with adult fish likely passing through this area on their migration from floodplain rearing areas to upstream spawning sites,” Hogan said.

“It is also possible the giant catfish spawn in the area where the dam is now located.”

Dam controversy

Construction on the controversial U.S. $3.5 billion dam, which will be the first across the main stem of Southeast Asia’s key waterway, resumed last year following delays amid objections from Laos’s neighbors.

The dam’s construction is still in its early stages, with officials saying in March that about 8 percent had been completed.

The dam has come under criticism for what some groups have said are significant gaps in data about its potential socio-economic and environmental impact, particularly in terms of how it will affect fish populations in the Mekong.

Finnish consulting firm Poyry Group, which had published a glowing assessment of the dam’s impact, had said that “fish passages” can be built into the Xayaburi to allow fish to get past the dam’s turbines while swimming up and down the Mekong, but WWF said that the claim has never been successfully put into practice.

“You can’t expect fish ladders to work without understanding your target species, their swimming capabilities, and the water current that will attract these fish toward the pass entrance,” said Eric Baran of the World Fish Centre.

“Research is still needed to ensure mitigation efforts will work.”

An earlier study had recommended a 10-year moratorium on all Mekong mainstream dams due to a need for further research on their potentially catastrophic impact.

Dropping numbers

Mekong giant catfish were once widely distributed through the Mekong river basin, possibly as far as Myanmar and southwestern China, and were relatively abundant up until the early 1900s.

But WWF said that their numbers have since plummeted and the species is now limited to the Mekong and its tributaries in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

Catch figures have dropped from thousands of fish in the late 1880s, to dozens in the 1990s, and only a few in recent times.

Thailand, Laos and Cambodia regulate fishing for the giant catfish, with bans in place in Thailand and Cambodia, but the species is still fished illegally and accidentally in fisheries targeting other species.

“Catches should be monitored to ensure that Mekong giant catfish are not being illegally targeted by fishers,” University of Nevada’s Hogan said.

“Incidental catch should also be monitored since it is one of the best and only sources of information about the distribution, life history and abundance of this river giant.”

WWF recommended several measures to prevent the giant catfish’s disappearance, including the urgent protection of its migratory corridors and habitat, as well as increased international cooperation, since the species occurs in an international river and crosses country borders to complete its life cycle.

“The Mekong giant catfish symbolizes the ecological integrity of the Mekong River because the species is so vulnerable to fishing pressure and changes in the river environment,” said Dr. Lifeng Li, director of WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme.

“Its status is an indicator of the health of the entire river, and its recovery is an important part of the sustainable management of the Mekong basin,” he said.

“The Mekong giant catfish can be saved, but it will take a level of commitment from all lower Mekong countries, as well as international organizations and donors, that currently does not exist.”

Cambodia, China celebrate 55th anniversary of diplomatic ties

June 20, 2013
PHNOM PENH, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia and China on Wednesday jointly celebrated the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, vowing to further enhance the ties to a new high level.

The event was highly attended by President of Cambodia's National Assembly Heng Samrin, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, members of the Cambodian government, parliament, and senate, and foreign diplomatic corps to Cambodia as well as Chinese and Cambodian business people.

Speaking at the celebratory ceremony, Hor Namhong said that 55 years ago, the diplomatic relations between the two countries were established by the high guidance of Cambodia's late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former Chinese President Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai.

"Over the past 55 years, the multi-faceted relations and the closeness between our two countries have been consolidated from day to day," he said. "The leaders of the two countries have constantly exchanged visits and the bilateral cooperation has been flourished and strengthened in all fields, particularly investment, trade, tourism and culture."

He said the year 2013 is also the Cambodia-China Year of Friendship, and various programs and activities have been widely organized to celebrate this year of friendship.

"On behalf of the government and people of Cambodia, I'd like to extend our deep gratitude to the government and people of China for the invaluable contribution to the socio-economic development of Cambodia," he said, reiterating that Cambodia always adhered to One-China Policy.

"I am firmly confident that through the traditional relations of friendship and Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation between our two countries, the bilateral ties will surely be further developed and strengthened," he said.

Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue said the good ties between China and Cambodia have served as a role model of friendship between countries of different social systems.

"I am convinced that, with the care of our leaders and the efforts of peoples of both countries, China and Cambodia will further deepen political mutual trust, improve cooperation of mutual benefit and enhance understanding and communications, so as to propel our friendly ties to a new high level," he said.

Chheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, told Xinhua in an interview in April that the bilateral relationship between Cambodia and China has reached the top level after the two countries' leaders have fostered it for 55 years.

"Now, the relationship has entered its 55th year, and it is regarded as time-honored relationship," said Chheang Vannarith, who is also a lecturer of Asia Pacific Studies at the Leeds University in the United Kingdom.

In the last decade, he said, China has emerged to be the key actor in Cambodia in almost all dimensions ranging from development assistance, to trade and investment, from security and defense cooperation to cultural and educational exchanges.

China is one of the top providers of development assistance to Cambodia. Loans and grants from China during the period of 1992 to present have amounted for 2.7 billion U.S. dollars, according to Cambodia's Finance Ministry.

In terms of economic cooperation, China is the top investor in Cambodia. According to the figures of the Council for Development of Cambodia, from 1994 to 2012, total Chinese investment in Cambodia has reached 9.17 billion U.S. dollars.

On the bilateral trade, China is also one of the leading trading partners for Cambodia. Last year, the bilateral trade volume accounted for 2.9 billion U.S. dollars and it is expected to reach 5 billion U.S. dollars by 2017.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cambodia unveils strategy to attract Chinese tourists

June 19, 2013

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's Ministry of Tourism on Wednesday finalized its 5-year strategic plan to attract at least 1.3 million Chinese visitors by 2018.

Speaking at a seminar on Cambodia tourism marketing strategy targeting China, So Visothy, director of the Tourism Ministry's Marketing and Promotion Department, said that currently China is the third largest tourist arrival group to Cambodia.

The country greeted 333,890 Chinese visitors in 2012, up 35 percent year-on-year, and during the first four months of this year, some 174,150 Chinese visited Cambodia, up 55 percent compared with the same period last year.

"We see China as a huge market for Cambodian tourism," he said. "Under the strategy, we target 600,000 Chinese tourists in 2015 and 1.3 million in 2018."

To reach the goal, Cambodia would continue broadening promotion of Cambodian tourism destinations to China and encouraging more direct flight connection between the two countries, he said.

According to the strategic plan, the country would prepare entry-exit application forms and announcements at airports in Chinese language, write signs on main roads in Chinese language, study to establish China Town and train more Chinese speaking tour guides.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said at the seminar that it was important to encourage owners of hotels, restaurants and tourism resorts to use three languages--Khmer, English and Chinese--on billboards, or promotional leaflets or brochures.

"Chinese are rich now, more and more Chinese visit abroad," he said. "Cambodia and China have had very good diplomatic tie. With this good tie, it will be easy for us to attract more Chinese to Cambodia."
At the seminar, there was also a presentation about trends and hobbies of Chinese tourists by Dr. Li Chuangxin, representative of ASEAN-China Center and professor of International Tourism Research Institute of China Tourism Academy.

Tourism is one of the major sectors supporting Cambodian economy. Last year, the country received 3.58 million foreign tourists, up 24 percent year-on-year, and generated total revenue of about $2.2 billion, or 12 percent of the GDP, said the ministry of tourism.

The country is the destination for ecological and cultural tourism, and it is well-known for its 12th century Angkor Wat Temple, a world heritage site, and the 11th century Preah Vihear Temple, another world heritage site.

Besides, it has a pristine coastline stretching in the length of 450 kilometers in four provinces of Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk, Kampot and Kep. The coastline was recognized as one of the World' s Most Beautiful Bays in May, 2011.

Two Taiwanese injured in Cambodia traffic accident

Taipei, June 19 (CNA) Two Taiwanese travelers received injuries in a fatal traffic accident in Cambodia Wednesday that left four people dead and seven injured, according to the Tourism Bureau.

The two, both women, are members of a tour group organized by the Taipei-based Comebest Tour agency. One of them was taken to a hospital in Thailand suffering from severe rib fractures, while the other was receiving medical treatment in Cambodia, according to an initial report from the bureau on the incident.

As of press time, there was no other information about the case.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

World Heritage Committee to inscribe new sites and examine conservation of sites already on the List

Tuesday, June 18, 2013
The World Heritage Committee will consider the inscription of 32 sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List during its next session, from 16 to 27 June in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Cambodia).

Media wishing to attend the meeting must register online. The Committee’s debates, chaired by Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, will also be webcast*.

A press conference with the Chair of the World Heritage Committee, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and representatives of the Committee’s advisory bodies (International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN; International Council on Monuments and Sites, ICOMOS) will be held at the venue of the session on Monday 17 June at 12.30 p.m.

The following nominations by States Parties to the World Heritage Convention will be examined:
Natural properties: Xinjiang Tianshan (China); Great Himalayan National Park (India); Mount Etna (Italy). Mount Kenya-Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (an extension of “Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest, Kenya); El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (Mexico); Namib Sand Sea (Namibia); Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary (Philippines); Tajik National Park (Mountains of the Pamirs) (Tajikistan); Cat Tien National Park (Viet Nam).

Mixed Natural and Cultural Properties: Pimachiowin Aki (Canada), Archipel des Bijagós – Motom Moranghajogo (Guinea Bissau); Sehlabathebe National Park (Lesotho) (an extension of “uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park,” South Africa).

Cultural properties: Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (Canada); Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (China); Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea); Levuka Historical Port Town (Fiji); Water features and Hercules within the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe (Germany); Hill Forts of Rajasthan (India); Golestan Palace (Islamic Republic of Iran); Cultural Landscape of Maymand (Islamic Republic of Iran); Medici Villas and Gardens (Italy); Fujisan (Japan); Town and Castle of Vianden (Luxembourg); Isandra Zoma (Madagascar); Agadez (Historic Centre of Agadez), (Niger); Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines (extension of “Wieliczka Salt Mine”, Poland), Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine (Poland / Ukraine); University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (Portugal); Al Zubarah Archaeological Site (Qatar); Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex (Russian Federation); Historic city of Alanya (Turkey); Ancient City of Tauric Chersonese and its Chora (5th century BC – 14th century AD, Ukraine).

Five of the above sites had already been considered for inscription in the past: Hill Forts of Rajasthan, (India); Al Zubarah Archaeological Site, (Qatar); Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong, (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea); Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex, (Russian Federation); Tajik National Park, (Tajikistan).

Three of the nominations to be debated are extensions to existing World Heritage sites.
They include the recommendations of the World Heritage Committee’s advisory bodies: IUCN for natural sites and 8B2add. ICOMOS for cultural sites and 8B1Add.

Another important item on the agenda of the Committee will concern the review of the state of conservation of World Heritage sites (see also 7B.Add and 7B.Corr). Information about the state of conservation of sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger and add.

Airborne laser uncovers ancient city under dense Cambodian forest

The Associated Press
Jun 18, 2013

SYDNEY – Airborne laser technology has uncovered a network of roadways and canals, illustrating a bustling ancient city linking Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temples complex.

The discovery was announced late Monday in a peer-reviewed paper released early by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The laser scanning revealed a previously undocumented formal urban planned landscape integrating the 1,200-year-old temples.

The airborne lasers produced a detailed map of a vast cityscape, including highways and previously undiscovered temples, hidden beneath dense vegetation atop Phnom Kulen mountain in Siem Reap province. It was the lost city of Mahendraparvata.

“What we have now with this instrument is just ‘bang’ — all of a sudden, an immediate picture of an entire city that people didn’t know was there before, which is remarkable,” University of Sydney archaeologist Damian Evans, the study’s lead author, told Australia’s The Age in a video interview from Cambodia. “So instead of this kind of very long gradual process, you have this kind of sudden eureka moment where you bring the data up on screen the first time and there it is — this ancient city very clearly in front of you.”

The laser technology, known as lidar, works by firing laser pulses from an aircraft to the ground and measuring the distance to create a detailed, three-dimensional map of the area. It’s a useful tool for archaeologists because the lasers can penetrate dense vegetation and cover swaths of ground far faster than they could be analyzed on foot. Lidar has been used to explore other archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge.

In April 2012, the Australian researchers loaded the equipment onto a helicopter, which spent days crisscrossing the dense forests from 800 metres above the ground. The team then confirmed the findings with an on-foot expedition through the jungle.

“We had reasonable expectations, I guess, of what we would find using the lidar data, but what we’ve ended up with has just blown our minds,” Evans told The Age. “It’s just absolutely incredible what we can see.”
The researchers theorize the civilization at Mahendraparvata eventually collapsed because of deforestation and broken canals and reservoirs.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cambodia reports 13,700 malaria cases in 5 months, killing 4 people

Xinhua | 2013-6-17

Cambodia reported 13,700 malaria cases in the first five months of this year, down 60 percent from 31,100 cases in the same period last year, the National Center for Malaria reported Monday.

From January to May this year, the disease killed 4 people, a sharp decrease compared with 27 deaths in the same period last year, the report said.

Dr. Char Meng Chuor, head of the center, said the remarkable decline was thanks to mosquito net distribution and awareness campaign. Last year, more than a million of mosquito nets were given free-of-charge to the vulnerable groups of people throughout the country.

He said the country is committed to eliminating the disease by 2025.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. In Cambodia, the disease is often found in rainy season and mostly happens in forest and mountainous areas, particularly provinces along the border.

Last year, the country recorded 45,553 cases of malaria, killing 45 people, the report said.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cambodia passes bill against genocide denial

By Sopheng Cheang
The Associated Press
June 15, 2013
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s National Assembly approved a bill on June 7 making it a crime to deny that atrocities were committed by the country’s genocidal 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, a law that critics allege will be used as a weapon against the political opposition.
The assembly passed the bill unanimously in the absence of opposition lawmakers, who were expelled from the legislature this week. A committee controlled by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party said the opposition legislators must relinquish their seats because they had left their old parties to join a new, merged party to contest the country’s general election in July.

The recently established Cambodia National Rescue Party faces an uphill battle against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s well-organized, well-financed political machine. It is already handicapped by having its leader, Sam Rainsy, in self-exile to avoid jail on what are widely seen as politically motivated charges. Hun Sen’s party, which holds 90 seats in the assembly, is expected to win an overwhelming share of the 123 seats at stake.
The expulsion of the 28 opposition lawmakers from the assembly hurts their ability to campaign by depriving them of their salaries as well as their parliamentary immunity from arrest. The government aggressively uses defamation laws to punish the kind of critical remarks that would be common in an election campaign.
Hun Sen, who has been prime minister since 1985, called for the new law after a leading opposition lawmaker reportedly suggested that some of the evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities was fabricated by Vietnam, whose army invaded to oust the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Hun Sen was once a Khmer Rouge cadre, and his political allies include people linked by scholars to Khmer Rouge atrocities.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party said it was “disappointed” by the bill’s passage and felt it was illegal because the expulsion of its lawmakers left the assembly without the quorum needed to pass legislation.
It also suggested that any such law should not allow former Khmer Rouge leaders to hold high positions in society, including prime minister and the presidents of the National Assembly and Senate. Like Hun Sen, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim are former Khmer Rouge members.

The radical policies of the communist Khmer Rouge are generally held responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition. A U.N.-assisted tribunal is currently trying two of the group’s surviving former leaders on charges of genocide and other crimes. Hun Sen has sought to block the tribunal from holding trials of any more suspects.
The bill approved June 7 must go through several more pro forma stages before becoming law. It would punish anyone denying that crimes were committed by the Khmer Rouge with imprisonment of six months to two years.

“Not recognizing the crimes constitutes an insult to the souls of those who died during the (Khmer Rouge) regime and brings suffering to the surviving family members of the victims,” government lawmaker Cheam Yeap told the National Assembly, saying the law would help people recall their bitter history, bring justice for the victims and help prevent a repetition of the events.

Youk Chhang, director of Documentation Center, an independent office that documents Khmer Rouge atrocities, said the law “poses the risk of politicizing the incredibly difficult process of reconciliation that Cambodia has been struggling with for the past 30 years.”

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said his group believes it is not necessary to have a law that prohibits denials that serious crimes were committed under the Khmer Rouge.

“Restricting debate, discussion and education about the Khmer Rouge period through such a law would be to the detriment of survivors, rather than for their benefit,” he said in a statement. “The law is therefore a blatant politicization of our country’s history in order to score points before the national elections.”
Brad Adams, Asia director for the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, called Hun Sen’s advocacy of the law “entirely election-related.”

“It’s a tool to try to intimidate the opposition but also to galvanize his side, to demonize the opposition as unfit to govern, and to show that he’s in charge, to show the country that he can completely dominate the opposition. And make them squirm,” Adams said.

Even before proposing the law, Hun Sen’s government sought political gain from the issue by having pro-government media publicize the remarks by Kem Sokha, deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, that some exhibits at Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng genocide museum — once a Khmer Rouge torture camp — were faked by the Vietnamese, even though the camp’s commander confessed to atrocities there and was found guilty by a the U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal.

Kem Sokha’s party said his words had been distorted and taken out of context. (end)

Boeung Kak Activist’s Prison Term Reduced

cambodia-Bopha-march2013.gif Yorm Bopha (C) with her son at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, March 27, 2013.

Cambodia’s Court of Appeals on Friday reduced the prison term of a Phnom Penh housing rights activist but upheld her conviction in a decision her lawyer said would be appealed. 

Yorm Bopha, a campaigner for the rights of evictees from the city’s Boeung Kak Lake community, had one year suspended of her original three-year sentence on charges critics say have been manufactured to silence her.

The 29-year-old activist, who has denied the charges of “intentional violence" leveled against her in connection with a skirmish that broke out near her home last year, will not accept the decision and will take her case to the Supreme Court, her lawyer Chan Socheat told RFA’s Khmer Service after the hearing.

He said that although Friday’s decision will allow her to leave prison earlier than the original sentence, the verdict is still unfair because there was no evidence she had committed a crime.

"The court couldn't link the crime to any suspects," he said.

Yorm Bopha was arrested in September last year in connection with the beating of a suspected thief.

She has been named an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience and local rights groups have said her case smacks of political interference and should be thrown out.

Presiding Judge Taing Sun Lay announced the verdict after a five-hour hearing. Yorm Bopha still has to pay a 20 million riel (U.S. 5,000) fine, which was part of the original sentence. 

Boeung Kak protesters

Boeung Kak evictees, unhappy with the verdict, demonstrated near Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence, calling on him to help them get her released.

The protesters were stopped by police as they marched in the rain toward the residence, though no one was injured in the confrontation.  They did not receive a response from Hun Sen.

Activists from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities have staged regular protests over their land disputes over the past several years since plans emerged for them to be relocated to make way for new commercial developments.

Last month, city officials said the city’s newly appointed governor Pa Socheatvong would re-examine the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila land disputes that rocked his predecessor’s term, but would not intervene in Yorm Bopha’s case as her sentence was up to the courts.

Local rights groups say Yorm Bopha has been targeted for her activism since she emerged at the forefront of a campaign for the release 13 Boueng Kak women imprisoned last year.