A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 31 January 2008

Revisiting colonial family history. How Japanese occupation changed everything for the Le Rumeur family

The Cambodia Daily , Saturday, March 3, 2007

By Michelle Vachon

The Cambodia Daily

The Le Rumeur family in front of Angkor Wat . Photo courtesy of the Le Rumeur family

Guy Le Rumeur's photos of Cambodia in the 1940s speak of a French family's peaceful life in the country-relaxing on the beach in Kep, touring Angkor on an elephant and staying in traditional stilt houses in the countryside.
But one of his daughter's memories of Phnom Penh is of her mother lifting the corner of a sheet covering bodies, trying to find the corpse of a Cambodian friend after a bombing raid by allied forces near Phsar Thmei in February 1945.
The Chinese neighborhood where textile factories were located had been bombarded from the air, Le Rumeur's daughter Chris Dityvon recalled.
"There were at least 200 injured and more than 200 dead," she said. Her parents would later adopt their Cambodian friend's daughter, Meas Yenn.
World War II was raging in Europe, and Indochina, after France's surrender to Hitler's Germany in 1940, was occupied by Germany's ally Japan.
Le Rumeur, a French career military officer in the colonial army, would be arrested by the Japanese along with many Frenchmen in Indochina on March 9, 1945; he would spend nine months in jail in Saigon.
Le Rumeur and his family had arrived in Cambodia in 1939. Among the children, three-year-old Dityvon and one of her siblings had been born in Africa, two others in Saigon and two more would be born in Cambodia.
Growing up in Cambodia was wonderful, Dityvon said in a recent interview in Phnom Penh.
"We were quite free-this was not the type of family in which one is told not to go out," she said. "[Meas] Yenn and I would get money, get a rickshaw and go for a ride along the Mekong River."
Dityvon's recollection of Phnom Penh's Japanese occupation tells of a period on which historians have hardly written.
Last year, she contacted the French authorities to find out whether French military archives would confirm what she remembered of the events when she was a child in the 1940s.
"They said there were no archives [for that period] in France," she said.
But, she said, "I knew vaguely that my father had kept a journal." Her brother had the journal and sent her a copy. "It's because of this journal that I was able to piece together specific details," she said.
After the arrest of Le Rumeur in March 1945, Dityvon's family stayed at home for a little over a week. But one day, a Cambodian man rushed into the house and told her mother that the Japanese were about to take her and the children away.
Dityvon remembers the Japanese arriving and making them board a truck as Vietnamese people on each side of the truck yelled insults and threatened them.
According to historian David Chandler, a few days earlier the Japanese had posted notices stating that more than 8,000 Vietnamese living in France had been massacred.
This prompted ethnic Vietnamese living in Phnom Penh to turn against the French, wounding some with sticks and knifes, Chandler said. Shortly after, the Japanese herded French families into compounds north of the city where they stayed until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, he added.
The compounds were neighborhoods surrounded by barbed wire where French people were made to share their homes with French families brought in from other parts of the city. Dityvon recalled her family ending up on an open terrace as few people welcomed large families.
The Japanese guards were friendly, she said. Although French children were told not to speak to them, the guards would smile and treat them warmly. At one point, Dityvon's mother was even allowed to return to their home in the city to bring back some of the family's belongings.
But dozens of Frenchmen were killed during the Japanese occupation, Le Rumeur wrote in his journal and in his 1962 book "Merveilleux Cambodge," or wonderful Cambodia, which he penned under the name of Claude Fillieux since a military officer could not publish such a work.
Some were killed because they had joined the resistance movement against Germany and Japan; others while resisting arrest on March 9, 1945; and others following interrogation by the Japanese, he wrote.
Prior to this, Le Rumeur recalled fighting the Thai army near Kbal Krabei mountain in what is now Oddar Meanchey province. On Feb 27, 1941, the Thais bombarded the Cambodian and French forces all night and kept shooting until 10 am sharp, when a ceasefire was to take effect, he wrote in his journal.
The French were then forced to turn over Battambang and Siem Reap provinces to Thailand, with the exception of the area around Angkor. Sections of Laos were also handed over. Only in 1947 would Cambodia regain its territory.
The Le Rumeurs returned to France in May 1946, Dityvon said. The family had adopted so many Cambodian ways while living here that she had difficulty adapting to life in France. "It was terrible. I was walking barefoot...but what shocked [people] the most was that I sat on the floor-a thing one did not do."
Dityvon was glad when the family moved to Martinique in the Caribbean a few years later. She eventually settled in Paris where she still lives.
After Le Rumeur died at the age of 103 in 2004, Dityvon discovered black-and-white photographs that her father had taken in Cambodia.
"They were on glass plates, about 23 by 30 centimeters in size," she said.
Left in boxes for years, most of them were beyond repair. But she was able to recover around 70 of them, which Stephane Janin of Popil PhotoGallery in Phnom Penh arranged to be exhibited at the National Library, where they are on display through Friday.
Dityvon came for the opening of the exhibition last month, her first visit since leaving Cambodia in 1946. All she recognized was Wat Phnom where she had played as a child. "At Wat Phnom, I was home," she said.

Lawmakers consider letting foreigners buy real estate

By Cat Barton
Phnom Penh Post, issue 17.
Phnom Penh- Foreign investors may not need to wait for the stock market in 2009 if they want a piece of Cambodia's economy.The government is on the verge of changing the property ownership laws so that foreigners will be able to buy real estate in the country and own it outright.Although current law prohibits foreigners from actually holding title to land in Cambodia, the National Assembly is considering an amendment to the law that could be approved soon, said Nuth Narang, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction."Local developers have a massive interest in seeing the law change. Cambodia is open for business now. There is huge demand, foreigners would buy property," said Matthew Rendall, a lawyer with the investment advisors Sciaroni and Associates.Although it was not clear what restrictions Cambodia might put on foreign property investment, Rendall said there is no downside to changing the law. Cambodia has "nothing to lose," he said. Developers contacted by the Post said a change in the law would change the marketing environment for developers in Cambodia. Marketing director Nhem Sothea at Grand Phnom Penh International City said changing the law would make it "much easier to sell property here.""There is a large Korean market -they want to come here and retire and we could access that market better with a change to the law."Backed by Indonesia's Cinputra, through a local partner RCAF Gen. Ke Kim Yan, the International City is developing 260 hectares 20 minutes northwest of the city center into a gated community. Nick Chandler, sales and marketing director for Brocon, which buys colonial buildings in Cambodia and rehabilitates the apartments for sale to foreign investors, said a change in the law would create huge demand. "There is a real buzz regarding Cambodia," he said. "They have had three years of double digit growth-9 percent this year. A lot of people see that and those people see property as the best and most stable way to get into this market."Narang said the ministry is discussing whether changing the law "will be beneficial to the economy." "We need to assess how best to go about this," said Narang. He added that the ministry is seen as favoring the amendment because in August it passed a sub decree allowing foreigners to use property they own via a leasehold as collateral with the banks. Some of Cambodia's neighbors already permit some type of foreign property ownership. Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia all allow foreign investment in "immovable property" with various restrictions. Immovable property includes not only land but buildings and leases.In Thailand, the rules are that at least 51 percent of high end apartment block developments must be Thai-owned. In Singapore, foreign nationals can own property above the seventh floor. "It would be a natural progression for Cambodia to introduce something similar," said Rendall. "It will bring a massive injection of investment into the economy. There will be a huge reaction."Other options could be prohibiting foreign ownership of ground floor units, but allowing sale of above ground apartments. Or the government might change the title deeds so that anything defined as a "building" but not as "land" could be bought. A change in the law would clearly benefit developers such as the South Korean developers of the Camko City project, which includes many high end apartments. Camko City officials could not be reached for comment. According to the company's marketing information, the first planned development includes 18 houses and 100 townhouses, but many more large blocks of apartments. At the moment, property developers get around the land buying restriction by selling leaseholds to foreign investors, said Chandler at Brocon,He said foreign buyers obtain a 99-year lease with an option to renew. The leases all include a clause saying if the land law changes, the leaseholds will be converted to "free hold." Owners would have to pay certain taxes and transfer fees to convert. He said Brocon has sold more than 20 properties under the lease agreement. "A change of law allowing foreigners to buy would mean all leases revert to freehold and that would give us an even easier product to sell," said Chandler. Brocon's target market is sophisticated foreign investors who already have property portfolios in the region. "The current legal framework is not an impediment to us. We are not selling to mum and dad investors.""Capital growth on land over the last two years has been ridiculous-something that sold for $500 two years ago is now $2,000 plus," said Chandler.

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 17 / 01, January 11 - 23, 2008© Michael Hayes, 2008. All rights revert to authors and artists on publication

Hello, Thaksin, This is Sonthi

The Thaksin-backed PM, Samak Sundaravej, flanked by his wife and daughter, talked to the media after his appointment as PM was enorsed by the king.

The coup-maker said this morning he called the man he overthrew. "I've spoken with Mr Thaksin on the phone, as a brother," Gen Sonthi told reporters. "There are no political conditions, nor any hidden benefits."
Deputy Prime Minister Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, the man who ousted Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 coup d'etat, said he has phoned the deposed premier for "national reconciliation".
Gen Sonthi met reporters on Wednesday morning at Suvarnabhumi airport, after he returned from a trip to the Middle Eastern countries.
To the reporters, he defended his telephone conversation with Mr Thaksin, who is backed by People Power party at the core of the new coalition government.
"There are several people who are concerned about the nation. They want to see a peaceful country. So they advised that I speak to him, with the help of a mediator," he said.
The phone conversation took place before Khunying Potjaman, wife of Mr Thaksin, came back to Thailand, which was at the beginning of January, he said.
Gen Sonthi insisted that the coup was not a failure, and dismissed speculation that he fears Mr Thaksin may seek revenge against him.

Democracy Narrowed in 2007, Group Says

Kem Sokha, Leader of Human Right Party.

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer

Original report from Phnom Penh

30 January 2008

The government has tightened its control over civil society in the past year, while the number of rights abuses has remained high, a group said Wednesday.
The freedom to organize and demonstrate has diminished, as has the right to life and security, the well-respected group, Adhoc, said in an annual report. In 2007, the group documented 574 personal or political rights abuses.
“While the political party in the coalition government has drifted apart and weakened, we see that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has almost controlled the power alone, and it began to tighten the freedom of expression in public,” said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc.
“So, we have seen that the freedom of expression in public has become more and more tightened, compared to previous years,” he said. “Now that the CPP has ruled alone or shared little power with the coalition party, we are wondering how this will affect the democratic process, especially freedom of expression in public and the freedom of association.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith brushed aside the report.
“I don’t know if Adhoc is going to enter politics, as Kem Sokha has,” he said, referring to the president of the new Human Rights Party.
Cambodia had not declined in freedoms, he said, but was moving toward stronger rule of law.

Association Notes 17 Threats on Media

Khieu Kanharith, minister of information and government spokesman.

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer

Original report from Phnom Penh

30 January 2008
The Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists said Wednesday the national media environment was mostly positive, but it noted 17 separate instances where journalists were threatened in 2007.
Cambodian journalists have faced threats from the Ministry of Information on closures and death threats from anonymous callers, among others, the association said.
“First, 2007 saw some progress on legal aspects, because Hun Sen’s government withdrew defamation from the criminal law,” said Samrith Duong Hak, vice-president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists. “Second, we see that there are some shortcomings, which are increasing threats, such as the burning down of a reporter’s house in Pursat province, the throwing of an unexploded grenade into a reporter’s house in Svay Rieng province, and some other forms of threat, in which the perpetrators were not found.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday some of the problems stemmed from Cambodian journalists getting involved in affairs outside journalism, “but using the journalistic name.”
The international monitor Freedom House rated Cambodia “not free” in 2007, citing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s “intensified suppression of all criticism” and a government that “does not fully respect freedom of speech.”

Civil parties to confront 'Brother No. 2'

Nuon Chea escorted to court by police.

Civil Parties to Confront ‘Brother No. 2’
By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer

Original report from Washington

30 January 2008

When jailed Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea attends a pre-trial hearing next week, he will be confronted not only by judges but also representatives of civil cases against him, in what officials say is new precedent in war crimes tribunals.
The Khmer Rouge tribunal allows for both criminal and civil cases, and several groups have been building civil cases against Nuon Chea, “Brother No. 2.”
“It’s the first time in the history of international tribunals that victims can confront and respond to the accused as civil party complainants,” said Hisham Moussar, a tribunal monitor for the rights group Adhoc.
Nuon Chea’s hearing, set for Feb. 4, will determined whether he can be released ahead of his atrocity crimes trial.
Among the victims filing civil suit are Seng Theary, executive director of the Center for Social Development, and Chhum Mey, a survivor of Tuol Sleng prison.
Nuon Chea’s Cambodian attorney, Son Arun, said Wednesday he had not heard the civil parties would be at the hearing.
“It will be difficult if there are many complaining parties during the hearing,” he said.

Lowell Housing Authority official's career path followed Cambodia horrors

By Dennis Shaughnessey,

LOWELL -- Tha Chhan's life journey has taken him from the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the executive offices of the Lowell Housing Authority.
Chhan, 45, was recently promoted to division director of Leased Housing Programs at the LHA. As a young boy, he witnessed first-hand the atrocities and horrors that took place in his homeland. He lost family members. He saw things he prefers not to remember.
He fled Cambodia in 1983 and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand. On May 23, 1985, he arrived in Waukeegan, Ill. He's never looked back.
Chhan came to Lowell 1988. He went to the unemployment office for work.
"I had two job offers," Chhan said. "Both temporary. One was for the (Internal Revenue Service) as a tax examiner and the other was here at the Lowell Housing Authority as an interpreter."
During the interview in Lowell, Chhan learned that if a full-time position opened, he could go to college and get fully reimbursed. Chhan attended what was then the University of Lowell, then transferred to Franklin Pierce College, earning a liberal-arts degree. He's holds a master's degree in business administration from Boston University.
But in the beginning, there was culture shock.
"I grew up in a communist country. We worked seven days a week from dawn to dusk," he recalls. "Here, we got two days off every week. We had a vacation, health benefits."
He has been a fixture in Lowell for almost 19 years. In addition to his other duties as Leasing Housing program director, he sees himself as a liaison to the Southeast Asian community.
"By understanding their culture, I can help them assimilate and integrate," he explains. "When it comes to living in the housing authority, I can help them understand what we expect of them and what they can expect of us."
Chhan's promotion to division director coincides with several other recent promotions in the LHA. He takes over for Mary Ann Maciejewski, a 26-year employee who has been tapped as executive assistant to Executive Director Gary Wallace.
"She has a talent working with tenants and landlords, as well as executive directors," Wallace said with a laugh. "Her extensive background, education and diligence make her a perfect fit to replace Carol Tsitsinopoulos, who retired at the beginning of the month."
It was Tsitsinopoulos' retirement, in fact, that led to several promotions in the department, including Arlene McDermott, a 29-year LHA employee, who now fills Chhan's old position as assistant division director.
"When Carol retired, we moved several people up and did not fill the back positions," Wallace said, adding that the administrative staff has decreased from 57 people to 47.
"We've been slowly moving that way for the past six or seven years. We can do that because personnel know each other's position and their dedication allowed us to merge several jobs into one so we can survive."
Wallace said attrition, early-retirement incentives, cross training, job sharing and privatization, accounted for approximately $1 million in savings to the LHA.
"As we go into collective bargaining with the unions, it's good for them to see what we're doing at the management level," Wallace said.
"We're making the necessary cutbacks in order to save money for the agency. It also shows the taxpayer that we are fiscally responsible."

FBI chief visits Vietnam: US embassy

Photo: A cyclist cycling pass US embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.

HANOI (AFP) - United States FBI chief Robert Mueller met top Vietnamese police officials Wednesday, a day before he opens an office for the agency in Phnom Penh that will cover Cambodia and Vietnam, the US embassy said.
Meeting senior Vietnamese Public Security Ministry officials on a tour that also took in China, the Federal Bureau of Investigation director thanked Vietnam for its law enforcement cooperation, a US embassy statement said.
Mueller wanted to "further enhance cooperation in a variety of critical areas in this era of increasing transnational crime," the statement said.
"No one person, no one agency, no one police department, and no one country has all the answers," Mueller was quoted saying in the statement. "This is why our relationship with our Vietnamese partners is such an important one."
On Thursday the FBI director was due to attend the opening of a new US Legal Attache Office in Phnom Penh, the 60th worldwide.
"The globalisation of crime -- whether terrorism, international trafficking of drugs, contraband, and people, or cyber crime -- absolutely requires us to integrate law enforcement efforts around the world," Mueller was quoted as saying on the website of the US embassy in Cambodia, which neighbours Vietnam.

Court Rejects Buddhists' Temple

The Hartford Courant

The state Supreme Court Wednesday unanimously rejected the legal arguments and efforts by the Cambodian Buddhist Society of Connecticut to build a temple on 10 acres they own in Newtown.The case pitted the Newtown Planning and Zoning Commission and neighbors of the site on Boggs Hill Road against the Buddhist society, which claimed the denial of a permit for the temple violated and federal laws that bar political entities from placing a substantial burden on the exercise of religious freedom.The justices determined that there was "substantial evidence" on which the town based its refusal to grant the Buddhists a special exception to build the 7,600-square-foot temple and meeting hall, which contemplated up to 450 Buddhists attending celebrations of the five major festivals a year.
The justices also said the denial did not trigger federal and state laws designed to safeguard the exercise of religious freedom, because the circumstances of the case do not fall within the parameters of those laws.Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote that the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 "does not apply to neutral and generally applicable land use regulations that are intended to protect the public health and safety, such as those at issue in the present case."The society claims that the commission's denial of its application on the basis of the temple's Asian design and the fact that Buddhist festivals would be celebrated on its property demonstrates its discriminatory intent," Palmer wrote. "Upon careful review of the record, however, we are satisfied that the commission's concerns were motivated not by religious bigotry, but by neutral considerations that it would apply equally to any proposed use of the property."Palmer noted that town officials and neighbors had expressed hope the Buddhist society would find a more suitable setting in the town for its temple.The Newtown Planning and Zoning Commission, in its unanimous decision in February 2003 denying the special permit application, stated in part: ``Although the commission would welcome the Buddhist religion into the community, the planned and expected future level of activity proposed ... is too intense.''The Cambodian Buddhist temple would have been the first in Connecticut. With elders dying off, the Cambodian Buddhists say the risk is grave that their religion and culture will die as well. Many of the Cambodian Buddhists involved in trying to build a temple fled the "killing fields" of the Pol Pot and Kmer Rouges regime three decades ago.``Time is running out. The older generation is dying,'' said Pinith Mar said, after listening to the Supreme Court arguments. Mar fled a Cambodian refugee camp at age 13 and is now an engineer with the state Department of Transportation. Because the Khmer Rouge systematically killed monks and the educated, Cambodian Buddhism and the culture it represents dwell in those who escaped annihilation.``If they are gone, I have nowhere to go,'' Mar said of the elders who can teach him and his 8-year-old twin sons the rites and traditions of his religion.Attorney Robert Fuller, representing the commission, and attorney Thomas Beecher, who represents neighbors opposed to the temple, both argued that the decision does not hinder or burden the exercise of religion, but states only that the location is not appropriate for a temple.The commission initially gave six reasons for its denial of the permit application, including that the Asian architecture would have a negative impact on property values and was not in harmony with the area's traditional New England architecture. Superior Court Judge Deborah Kochiss Frankel ruled that five of the commission's reasons were unsubstantiated, but upheld the decision based on the commission's concern that the society had not yet obtained well and septic permits.Fuller also denigrated what he termed the ``melodramatic'' assertions of the Cambodian Buddhists that it was imperative that they build their temple as soon as possible. He noted that they let three years lapse between buying the property in 1999 and applying for the special permit in 2002.Attorney Michael Zizka, who represents the Cambodian Buddhist Society, told the justices the delay could not be equated with a lackluster attitude to build the temple. ``This is not a society that is flush with money," Zizka said.He later said outside the court that the society does not want to invest in a well and septic system if it doesn't have a building permit. He said it was the jurisdiction of the local and state departments of health, and not the planning and zoning commission, to oversee septic and drinking water concerns.The case required the justices to analyze both the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the state's Religious Freedom Act in the context of the proposed temple. Fuller argued that those laws don't mandate special treatment for religious groups; Zizka countered that they do. In his brief, Zizka cast the commission's denial as thinly veiled discrimination.Justices Peter Zarella and Richard Palmer both commented that the state's Religious Freedom Act is ``a significant overlay'' on established law. They and Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr. asked Fuller why the commission didn't approve the permit with the condition that well and septic permits be obtained before the start of construction.``It's preferential treatment that someone else isn't going to get,'' Fuller replied. ``The cases don't say that. They say they [the Buddhists] should be treated no better or no worse. They don't get an automatic free ride.''Beecher, in his brief, argued that the planned size of the temple grew from 6,000 square feet to 7,600 square feet before the first public hearing on the issue. However, there are homes on Boggs Hill Road that are larger, including an 8,200-square-foot house on Boggs Hill Road that sold last year for $1.87 million.Outside court, Mar, and Bruce P. Blair, Buddhist chaplain and director of Yale University's Indigo Blue center for Buddhist life, had explained the importance of having a temple.They said a monk is not a true monk unless he has a temple, just as temple is not a temple unless it is inhabited by a monk. The monks can leave the temple and its grounds, but cannot be away overnight.``It ends up being a question of the integrity and legitimacy of the faith,'' Blair said.``When we go to a temple, we go to pay respect for our loved ones who have passed away, and we believe the spirit of the loved one goes to the temple to see the family,'' Mar said. ``The monk is a channel between the living and the dead.''Blair said last year the temple is in no way a social club. ``It's a place wherein the faith can be handed from one generation to the next,'' he said. ``To deny that liberty is to extinguish the very life of the community. It is to finish the work of Pol Pot. It is something that is so wrong.''
Contact Lynne Tuohy at ltuohy@courant

A renaissance in Cambodia creates a real estate scramble

Building sites like these ones are sprung up throughout Phnom Penh.

PHNOM PENH: After decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "killing fields," Cambodia is enjoying an unprecedented boom, its economy expanding at around 10 percent annually for the last five years.
But the breakneck growth, fueled mainly by garment manufacturing, tourism and real estate development, is turning its once-sleepy capital into a building site and pushing many ordinary Khmers from their homes.
"I will move only when they pay me enough to find another place to live," said Ngay Tun, a fisherwoman living on Boeung Kak, a 120-hectare, or 300-acre, lake that is about to be drained and filled in to make way for a housing project in central Phnom Penh.
"I worry about it every day, that they are going to come suddenly in the night to kick us out," she said, paddling a small wooden boat through floating banks of morning glory.
While the outlook for the garment industry and tourism appears solid - especially while the U.S. dollar, Cambodia's de facto currency, continues to fall - the same cannot be said for real estate, where prices are spiraling to dizzying heights.

Figures from Bonna Realty, a leading real estate business, suggest the price of prime Phnom Penh land doubled last year to $3,000 per square meter - compared with less than $500 in 2000.
Land in the Bangkok downtown district of Silom, for example, is $5,000 per square meter, while Ho Chi Minh City, the hub of a red-hot economy in Vietnam, prices can be as high as $15,000.
"There is a debate about whether there's already a bubble," said Stéphane Guimbert, an economist with the World Bank.
"On the one hand, clearly the market was very depressed until a couple of years ago because there was little security and stability. But on the other hand, it's surprising that prices are increasing so fast," he said.
In one of the first signs of overheating, annual price inflation has spiked to more than 9 percent in the last year, almost double its level in the preceding five years, and anecdotal evidence points to big upward pressure on wages.
At the top of the market, prices are being driven by huge foreign-funded ventures like "Gold Tower 42," a $300 million South Korean apartment block that, at 42 stories, will be three times higher than Phnom Penh's current tallest building.
Even though it will not be ready until 2012, Cambodia's super-rich are already buying some of the 360 units at $2,150 a square meter.
But such prestige projects are the tip of the iceberg, and foreign investment accounts for only a small fraction of the boom, analysts say.
The domestic financial services industry is growing fast - private-sector lending by Cambodia's 20 or so banks grew 60 percent last year - but remains too small to be financing projects valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Instead, analysts say, much of the funding is Cambodian cash stuffed into mattresses, locked up in gold, or squirreled away in anonymous offshore bank accounts for years.
"There are a lot of people in this town who are fantastically wealthy," said Trent Eddy, director of Emerging Markets Consulting in Phnom Penh. "The banks are not doing mortgage lending for the sort of stuff that's driving up prices."
The most popular theory on the streets of Phnom Penh is that a global banking cleanup after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, flushed out billions of Cambodian-linked dollars in bank accounts in Singapore, which encouraged their repatriation.
With few other investment options, and a steadily improving regulatory and legal framework, along with political stability under Prime Minister Hun Sen, real estate is the obvious choice for many.
Even though the economy remains one of Asia's smallest, with gross domestic product of around $6.5 billion, the prospects are such that international investors have been looking into setting up domestic real estate funds, mainly in the hotel sector.
CB Richard Ellis, the U.S. property services company, is opening a Phnom Penh office in the next few months.
The prospect of revenue from off-shore oil and gas by 2010 reaffirms the view of outsiders that the economy is only heading in one direction, and that rapid urbanization and demand for better housing from Cambodia's 13 million people must follow.
The clearest example is another South Korean venture, a $2 billion "new town" called Camko City taking shape on the northern outskirts of Phnom Penh.
"They are targeting primarily the Cambodians. There's very little accommodation in Phnom Penh, but demand is growing," said Lee Sangkwang, commercial attaché at the South Korean Embassy. "It's kind of pioneering."

Three Thai firms to invest in Cambodia power plant

Reuters - Thursday, January 31

BANGKOK, Jan 30 - Three leading Thai companies said on Wednesday they were studying plans to build a 3,660-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Cambodia to supply electricity to Thailand.

Top builder Italian-Thai Development PCL , Electricity Generating and Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding gave no indication of how much the plant would cost.
But they said in a statement to the Thai stock exchange they had signed a memorandum of understanding to study joint investment in the plant in the Cambodian coastal province of Koh Kong near the Thai border.
EGCO and Ratchaburi would hold a combined stake of 70 percent and Italian-Thai Power, 15 percent owned by Italian-Thai Development, would have the other 30 percent, they said.
The three firms were talking to the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand about supplying electricity generated by the plant to Thailand, it said.
Construction was expected to start in 2012 and the plant to begin operations in early 2016, the statement said.
At 0926 GMT, Italian-Thai shares were up 3.9 percent at 8 baht, Electricity Generating was up 2.69 percent and Ratchaburi was 1.18 percent lower.

Cambodian judge accused of bias will stay for Khmer Rouge hearing

Nuon Chea (left) and Ney Thol (right).

Phnom Penh - A motion seeking the dismissal of a Cambodian judge by a former Khmer Rouge leader's defense team was rejected, a court spokesman said Wednesday. Media spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Reach Sambath, said the court had dismissed a protest against former Military Court chief Ney Thol by the defense team of accused "Brother Number 2" Nuon Chea.
Nuon Chea is appealing his pre-trial detention at a February 4 hearing by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the court. Nuon Chea was arrested in September and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 1975-79 regime.
Nuon Chea's lawyers accused Ney Thol of not being impartial and being politically biased due to alleged links with the ruling Cambodian People's Party in a motion made public Wednesday.
Dutch lawyers Victor Koppe and Michiel Pestman claimed Ney Thol's "continued presence on the bench threatens to undermine the credibility and integrity" of not just Nuon Chea's hearing, but all cases before the court.
Previously Ney Thol stepped down from preliminary hearings of another of the five former leaders currently in custody, former Toul Sleng torture center commandant Duch, saying because he had been held in the military prison since 1999, he could be seen to be too close to the case.
"I can only say that the motion was not upheld," Sambath said, but declined to comment further.
Five senior Khmer Rouge figures, including Nuon Chea, are in the custody of the joint UN-Cambodia Extraodinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Hearings regarding the crimes the four men and one woman are charged with are expected to get underway within months. Many senior cadre, including former supremo Pol Pot, are already dead. Pol Pot died at home in 1998.
Ney Thol, one of the country's most senior judges, was not available for comment Wednesday but has previously strongly denied any allegations of bias made against him.

More than 150 Cambodian turtles rescued from becoming dinner

Phnom Penh - Scores of Cambodian turtles described as "endangered" have been rescued from the near-certain fate of a dinner plate and released back into the wild, local media reported Wednesday. The English-language Cambodia Daily reported 169 turtles in the central province of Pursat, 200 kilometres north-west of the capital, were released into the Tonle Sap lake after being confiscated from local fishermen.
The paper did not specify what species was released, but described them as "threatened." Local fisheries officials were not available for further comment Wednesday.
"People love to eat turtles," the paper quoted a government official as saying.
Despite a concerted government education programme and an increasing number of Cambodian turtle species being declared endangered, roasted turtle and turtle eggs remain local delicacies, especially in the lead-up to Chinese New Year.

Cambodian conservation work - not just a man's world

A woman working for the Srepok project is teaching rangers and policemen on how to read a map (right).© WWF-Cambodia
SWAP Team Training on how to use a geographic positioning system (left).© WWF-Cambodia Keo Sopheak

By Porny You

Women are working as hard and sweating as much as the men in WWF conservation programs in remote areas of Kampuchea.In WWF-Cambodia’s Srepok Wilderness Area Project (SWAP), in the country’s eastern plains, Khmer, foreign and local indigenous Phnong women play a vital role in preserving the Mondulkiri Protected Forest (MPF). Hy Somaly, a Phnong indigenous woman, joined SWAP’s Community Extension Team to inform and educate the indigenous community on the importance of wildlife conservation.“I have to go to different communities to inform and educate them on how to improve their livelihoods with sustainable natural resources use”, she explains.It is testament to Somaly’s skills and talents that she can work across three cultures – her own, Khmer and that of her foreign colleagues.Her Khmer colleague, Att Sreynak, a data assistant with the Srepok project, notes that though Khmer and Phnong people have different traditions, they can work together very effectively to reach the projects goals.“Luckily Somaly can speak Khmer, so there is no language barrier between her and other colleagues”, she says.Sreynak is no stranger to hard work on the project. While collecting data, she often has to walk long distances into the forest. She acknowledges it is quite demanding, but would never let the mainly male ranger team that accompanies her know.“Even though the conditions can be quite bad, especially in the rainy season – we would never give up – because we are responsible for getting the job done”, she says. As SWAP has planned to develop its site for ecotourism, Olga van den Pol has been a recent new female addition to team, joining as ecotourism team leader.Originally from Holland and fluent in many languages, she is still struggling with the Khmer language.“Though I cannot speak Khmer language, I can ask for help from any Khmer colleagues who can interpret for me. The system works and we recently had a reward from our conservation efforts with the “capture” by a camera trap, of one tiger we knew was in the forest, but which we had not seen for two years. It was good to know it was still thriving in the forest area we are protecting and developing”, she explains. She hoped, as a result of WWF-Cambodia’s work in this area, that wildlife populations would increase and alternative livelihoods could be developed to reduce the local communities’ dependence on natural resource use.The MPF is a quiet place with fresh air and bird sounds, where some people wish to visit or stay at for a while for pleasure. However, as it has not yet been developed as an ecotourism site, it also can be considered as a dangerous place, in particular for women who live there for work.All rangers and police have to leave their posts to go patrolling – leaving only women, who are chef and cleaners at the posts. According to Keo Sopheak, senior SWAP officer, women do not dare to walk at night around in the open, because they are afraid of dangerous wildlife.“I can not blame them as in the past we have seen tiger tracks around the camp sites. It is not only wildlife that is dangerous, humans can be worse with hunters and poachers who might take the opportunity to visit the post sites while the rangers and police are not there”, he said.“Though they feel scared, these women never ever give up their work. They all play a vital role in supporting WWF-Cambodia’s conservation work by keeping our staff strong and healthy. Working in the hard conditions of the forest might seem like a job more suited to a man, but in the SWAP, the women play just as important a role at every level of our conservation work”, Sopheak says.

Travel Blog: Cambodia - country of children

Wednesday, 30 Jan 2008 10:17

Choeung Ek memorial stupa

Anna Kainberger is taking a year-out from her career to travel in south-east Asia, Australasia and the South Pacific, along with Hawaii and the USA. This month she will be reporting from Laos and Cambodia. Here is her eighth blog entry: I crossed the boarder from Laos into Cambodia at Strung Treng, where it was a simple matter of filling out a few forms, handing over US$22 and a picture to retrieve a one month visa for Cambodia. When then showing your passport to the authorities you pay another US$2 "stamp fee": probably more of a back pocket tip for the customs officials. But keep smiling and get it over with; after all hanging around at the boarder in the glistening hot sun arguing with Cambodian officials is not really something I would recommend. From Strung Treng it was another three hours to Kratie, where I stopped for the night as I simply couldn't face nine hours straight on a bus after my very relaxing holiday in the 4,000 Islands. Kratie is a small town nestled at the Mekong and is another great place to spot the Irrawaddy dolphins. Boats and drivers can be hired from the pier for as little as US$4-5. I skipped more dolphin sighting tours and just enjoyed a fresh cool coconut at the river front, watching one of the best sunsets I have seen so far. I wondered if the afterglow could be any more colourful, taking one picture after the other, unable to believe my eyes. After a night in what I would call a plush hostel (US$4) with my own bathroom and a fan, I got up early again the next day to continue my journey down towards Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, where I arrived at 15:00 the same day. Watching the landscape from my window seat, the thing that immediately caught my eye was the massive piles of plastic and plastic bags flying around the fields and roads. Cambodia seems to be buried in heaps of plastic and whilst this particular road was tarmac, it was not the most pleasant journey I have experienced. The second thing I noted was that there are endless numbers of children around; playing along the street, walking, hitchhiking and waving at the tourist buses. Arriving in Phnom Penh I had to fight off several tuk-tuk drivers, as they are very keen to take you to a hotel of your choice, or drop you off at one of their own recommendations to earn a small commission. One million of Cambodia's 13 million inhabitants live in Phnom Penh and it is not easy to navigate around initially, as there is no main traveller's centre. The variety of accommodation is endless - from a cheap hostel costing US$2-3 per night up to a five star luxury hotel - you can take your pick. Most backpackers and travellers stay around Riverside, where it is not far to the Grand Palace, the National Museum and the vast number of pubs, bars and clubs overlooking the river. The town itself offers an interesting variety of buildings, from French colonial through to wooden stake huts and traditional Khmer style houses. You will find anything and everything right next to each other. It boasts two main markets. The central market is called Phsar Thom Thmei (apparently this is the more expensive one), where you will find shoes, clothes, jewellery, sunglasses, food, flowers, electrical equipment, fake watches and so on and so forth. The Russian market (Toul Tom Poung) is the cheaper option and also sells a lot of household goods, clothing, silks, DVDs and other digital and electrical goods and food, (both wholesale and retail mind you). Phnom Penh is also the location of the infamous Tuol Seng Torture prison, or S21, and the "killing fields", or the Choeung Ek Genocide Centre, is located 15Km southwest of the city centre. These show the legacy of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Between 1975 and 1979 two million Cambodians were starved, executed or tortured to death. Pol Pot's regime wanted to create a farming communist country, cleansing its people of anyone who was educated, part of the former government or simply wearing glasses. The Khmer Rouge also placed an unknown number of landmines across the whole of Cambodia, without drawing maps, mind you, so to this day straying off the trodden path is a big no-no. Clearing work is taking place but it is going very slowly, so my advice is to stay clear of the jungle. To understand the Cambodian people it is vital to see what crimes the Khmer Rouge committed in just the four years of their reign of terror. Today Choeung Ek is a memorial marked by a Buddhist stupa filled with 8,000 skulls of victims who were executed here, most of them former inmates of S21. Visiting S21 will send chills up and down any hard-trodden traveller's spine. The torture prison was located in the middle of town in a former high school. The prision cells have been left unchanged, sporting torture tools you would not be able to dream up in your worst nightmares, as well as pictures of the bodies found in the individual cells. The Khmer Rouge meticulously took pictures of every person admitted to S21 and huge black and white photographs are shown on display, a reminder of the many men, women and children who were killed. Any Cambodian alive today has lost at least one member of their family to the Khmer Rouge. The thing that struck me most about Cambodia was that the average age is about 25-40. Phnom Penh is also a city full of begging street children; orphans living in the street trying to survive on the money they are able to beg from tourists. In perfect English these children will explain to you that they want your half-drunk can of coke because they are starving. If you want to do something for these kids you should gather them together and take them to dinner or lunch at any of the local food stalls. You can feed ten kids for as little as US$3-4. There is also a lot of organised begging and book selling going on in the capital and I was not sure if the kids were actually able to keep the money or had to hand it to a superior. Buying a book from either a landmine victim or a child is another option for putting some money back into the community - money better spent than paying the US$6 admission fee at the grand palace. For me three days of Phnom Phen was enough before I moved on to Siem Reap, home of the famous Angkor Temples.

Anna Kainberger

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Nuon Chea calls for judge's removal

Judge Ney Thol who incurred the ire of Nuon Chea.

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer

Original report from Washington

29 January 2008

The lawyer of jailed Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea has called for the removal from the proceedings of judge Ney Thol, who is also the chief of Cambodia’s military courts.
Lawyer Victor Koppe confirmed Tuesday he had filed a motion to disqualify Ney Thol, but Koppe declined to elaborate.
“We are waiting for the response of the prosecution and the decision of the ECCC,” he said, referring to the tribunal by its official name, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
Legal experts said Ney Thol’s dual positions could constitute a conflict of interest, but Ney Thol said Tuesday the motion was “inappropriate.”
Ney Thol recused himself from a hearing for Kaing Khek Iev, alias Duch, in November, because the former prison chief had been held for years under the military courts.
Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath declined to comment on the motion.
Nuon Chea is to face a hearing for his pre-trial release Feb. 4.

Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hails Cambodia-China Relations

Hor Namhong, Cambodia's minister of foreign affairs.

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodia-China relations have been increasingly strengthened and promoted both in scope and depth, bringing greater benefit to both peoples, said Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong in a recent written interview with Xinhua.
During the past 50 years, Cambodian former king Norodom Sihanouk, King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen, together with successive leaders of China, have nurtured very close friendship and fruitful multi-faceted cooperation in many fields between the two countries, he said.
By celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties of the two countries, which falls on July 19 this year, both countries aim to enhance their traditional bonds of amity and good collaboration, he said.
To achieve the goal, a number of exchange programs are being organized in various fields such as economy, culture, education and tourism, he said.
It is expected that these programs will result in greater understanding and closer friendship between the peoples in the two countries, increasing exchange of tourists, expanding trade and investment and scoring more dynamic economic cooperation, he added.
Hor Namhong's written interview was done in the eve of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's visit to the kingdom on Wednesday.
Cambodia established diplomatic ties with China on July 19, 1958.
Editor: Yao Siyan

Boom time in construction industry

A fisherman throws his fishing net at the sun set in Kandal provincem Cambodia, November 18, 2007. After decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge 'Killing Fields', Cambodia is enjoying an unprecedented boom, its economy expanding at around 10 percent annually for the last five years. But the breakneck growth, fuelled mainly by garment manufacturing, tourism and real estate development, is turning its once-sleepy capital into a building site and forcing many ordinary Khmers from their homes.(Chor Sokunthea/Reuters)

FBI director to hold talks in Cambodia: US embassy

Robert Mueller, head of FBI, seen here in 2007, will hold talks with Cambodian anti-terrorism officials in Phnom Penh.

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Robert Mueller, head of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, will visit Cambodia this week to meet top officials, the US embassy said Tuesday, amid increasing concerns over regional terrorism.
Mueller, who is on a three-nation Asian tour, will arrive in Cambodia Wednesday to preside over the official opening of the bureau's permanent office in the capital Phnom Penh.
During his visit he will meet Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials, the embassy said, without elaborating on the agenda for the talks.
"The globalization of crime -- whether terrorism, international trafficking of drugs, contraband, and people, or cyber crime -- absolutely requires us to integrate law enforcement efforts around the world," Mueller was quoted saying on the embassy's website.
"The embassy views Director Mueller's visit as another indication of the expanding cooperation between our two countries' law enforcement agencies," the embassy said in a statement.
Washington has begun seeking Cambodia's support in a number of anti-crime efforts, including counter-terrorism and drugs-trafficking.
Law enforcement officials have in the past expressed concern that Cambodia's porous borders and weak policing could make the country an ideal haven for extremists.
Hambali -- real name Riduan Isamuddin -- allegedly a key member of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) network, reportedly spent several months in Cambodia before he was captured in Thailand in 2003.
Last April, Cambodian National Police Chief Hok Lundy travelled to Washington for anti-terror talks with the FBI, despite criticism from rights groups over alleged abuses by his forces.

Source: International terrorists financing rebel groups


Narathiwat _ Southern insurgent networks probably receive funding from and share their ideology with international terrorist groups, a security source said yesterday.
The source said proof of the links lies in the militants' systemised management of their organisations and the pattern of violent attacks perpetrated by well-trained assailants.
The rebels also appear to be financed by international terror groups and share ideologies, the source added.
Army chief Anupong Paojinda said earlier he had new information about the southern insurgency that he planned to present to the new government.
He did not elaborate.
But the source said the new information pertained to the discovery of a link between the insurgent leaders and international terrorist groups.
It contradicts what then prime minister Surayud Chulanont said previously.
Gen Surayud on Jan 18 dismissed the idea of financial connections between local militant groups and the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
He said, however, that they shared ideologies.
Gen Anupong, who visited the provincial special task force headquarters in Narathiwat's Muang district yesterday, was told that the insurgents were losing strength as more and more of their sympathisers were cooperating with local authorities.
At a briefing by task force commander Maj-Gen Theerachai Nakwanich, he was also told that many core rebel members were being arrested.
In Yala, an 80-strong combined force of police, soldiers, and rangers raided a fruit orchard in Bannang Sata district after the authorities were told Ma-aea Apibanbae, a Runda Kumpulan Kecil core leader, and his underlings were hiding there and preparing an attack.
The force and the suspected insurgents clashed for 10 minutes, and a policeman and one suspected militant were killed.
The slain rebel was believed to be Mr Ma-aea's younger brother Sulaiman, aged 27.
Also in Yala, a rubber grower was shot dead in front of a mosque in Krong Pinang sub-district on Monday night while on his way to attend evening prayers at the mosque.
In Sa Kaeo, a Cambodian Muslim was captured yesterday for carrying a fake Thai citizenship card shortly after crossing into Thailand in Aranyaprathet district, according to rangers at the Burapha task force who intercepted the suspect, police said.
The suspect, Suem Sari, 28, is believed to have travelled with six other Cambodian nationals who slipped back into Cambodia through the checkpoint when they saw him being arrested.
The group was thought to be heading for the deep South as Suem Sari was carrying with him bus tickets from Bangkok to Narathiwat.
Suem Sari also had with him a passport, which was genuine, along with five ATM cards.

Library unpacks a treasure: 1,105 Khmer-language books

Expected to be ready for check-out in April, acquisitions double Mark Twain collection.
By Paul Eakins, Staff writer

Susan Taylor, a librarian at Mark Twain Library in Long Beach, views a photocopy of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, translated into Khmer, at the library Monday during the unpacking of 1,105 books she and employee Lyda Thanh purchased on a trip to Cambodia.

LONG BEACH - A small crowd tore with delight into eight tightly sealed cardboard boxes Monday at the Mark Twain Library, pulling out the first of 1,105 new Khmer-language books recently arrived from Cambodia.
The new acquisitions more than double the size of the library's Khmer book collection, which had numbered 1,094, library officials said.
The additional books will give Long Beach's sizable Cambodian community some much-needed new reading materials that will serve both young and old, according to library officials, local Cambodian leaders and others who had gathered for the opening of the boxes.
Gary Ung, a library donor and Cambodian immigrant, said the new books will help Cambodian-American children retain their native culture and language.
"Some of them can read (Khmer), but some of them can only speak it and not read it," Ung said. "I think this will give them a key."
After struggling to find Khmer books in the United States or even through Cambodian publishers, branch librarian Susan Taylor and library employee Lyda Thanh went straight to the source this month, spending almost two weeks scouring Cambodian book stores.
There they discovered a surprising variety of books, said Thanh, whose official title at the library is homework helper. Thanh is the daughter of Cambodian immigrants, speaks the language fluently and catalogues all of the library's Khmer books.
She said groups such as nongovernmental
organizations have stepped up production of Khmer texts.
"It's developing at an exponential rate," Thanh said. "Just from two years ago to now, the number of organizations that are publishing high-quality books has grown."
The two women bought the books from six bookstores and other sources, often astounding those around them in the process, Thanh said.
Taylor said the Cambodians were surprised the women had so much money to spend on books and that they were buying so many.
"We were scooping them up and scooping them up," Taylor said.
Especially amazing to the locals was that the books were going to be put in a public library where people could take them home for free, she said.
"The libraries there are either research only, or you have to pay an exorbitant fee that no one can pay," Taylor said.
The library paid $3,500 for the books and almost as much, $3,100, to ship them back to the states, Taylor said. All of the travel expenses for Taylor and Thanh were paid for by the Helen Fuller Cultural Carrousel committee, which is part of Friends of the Library.
Councilman Dee Andrews of the 6th District, which includes Cambodia Town, spoke briefly at the event, joking that he was disappointed he didn't get to travel to Cambodia as well. But for the children of Cambodian immigrants who haven't visited their parents' homeland, books can be a great alternative, he said.
"I didn't go to Cambodia, but remember, a book can take your mind anywhere you want to go in the world," Andrews said.
Taylor and Thanh brought back a wide range of books. The new additions to the Khmer collection include traditional Cambodian children's books with illustrations, translations of books such as "The Little Prince," children's books in Khmer and English, and a variety of adult books ranging from "Life of the Buddha" to instructional books about computer programs.
The women also obtained a photocopy - Cambodia doesn't have copyright laws - of the only existing Khmer translation of "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl," Taylor said. Another popular book series, "Harry Potter," was more difficult to come by because all of the copies had been sold, but Taylor said she is working to get that, too.
After unpacking the books, Nancy Prerk, project manager for the annual Cambodian New Year Parade, and other women recited aloud the letters of the Cambodian alphabet on an educational poster made for children.
"It brings back memories of being in school," Prerk said. "Some of the novels I used to read when I was little I'm definitely going to check out."
Before that can happen, Thanh must catalogue and organize all 1,105 of the new books. Library officials said the books will be available for check-out in time for the Cambodian New Year Parade on April 6.
However, on Saturday, the public will get a chance to see the books firsthand, even if they can't be taken home. Visitors can browse through the books, hear about the library's Cambodia trip and see photos from the journey beginning at 2 p.m. at the Mark Twain Library, 1401 Anaheim St.
paul.eakins@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1278

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Building Industry Booms

Men work at a construction site in Phnom Penh January 27, 2008. After decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields", Cambodia is enjoying an unprecedented boom, its economy expanding at around 10 percent annually for the last five years. Picture taken January 27, 2008.To match feature CAMBODIA-PROPERTY/ REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Construction boom in Phnom Penh

Commuters travel past an under-construction building in Phnom Penh January 27, 2008. After decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields", Cambodia is enjoying an unprecedented boom, its economy expanding at around 10 percent annually for the last five years. Picture taken January 27, 2008.To match feature CAMBODIA-PROPERTY/ REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Boom time hits Cambodia, but not all are smiling

Construction sites like this one is a constant sight in Phnom Penh these days.
By Ed Cropley

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - After decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields," Cambodia is enjoying an unprecedented boom, its economy expanding at around 10 percent annually for the last five years.
But the breakneck growth, fuelled mainly by garment manufacturing, tourism and real estate development, is turning its once-sleepy capital into a building site and forcing many ordinary Khmers from their homes.
"I will move only when they pay me enough to find another place to live," said 49-year-old Ngay Tun, a fisherwoman living on Boeung Kak, a 120 hectare (300 acre) city-centre lake about to be drained and filled in to make way for a housing project.
"I worry about it every day, that they are going to come suddenly in the night to kick us out," she said, paddling a small wooden boat through floating banks of morning glory.
While the outlook for the garment industry and tourism appears solid -- especially while the U.S. dollar, Cambodia's de facto currency, continues to fall -- the same cannot be said for real estate, where prices are spiraling to dizzy heights.
Figures from Bonna Realty, a leading estate agent, suggest the price of prime Phnom Penh land doubled last year to $3,000/sq m -- compared to less than $500 in 2000.
By contrast, land in Bangkok's downtown Silom district is $5,000/sq m, while Ho Chi Minh City, the hub of neighboring Vietnam's red-hot economy, prices can be as high as $15,000.
"There is a debate about whether there's already a bubble," World Bank country economist Stephane Guimbert said.
"On the one hand, clearly the market was very depressed until a couple of years ago because there was little security and stability. But on the other hand, it's surprising that prices are increasing so fast," he said. In one of the first signs of overheating, annual price inflation has spiked to more than 9 percent in the last year, almost double its level in the preceding five years, and anecdotal evidence points to big upward pressure on wages.
At the top of the market, prices are being driven by huge foreign-funded ventures such as "Gold Tower 42," a $300 million South Korean apartment block which, at 42 storeys, will be three times higher than Phnom Penh's current tallest building.
Even though it will not be ready until 2012, Cambodia's super-rich are already snapping up some of the 360 units on offer at $2,150 a sq m, only a shade cheaper than Ho Chi Minh City.
But such prestige projects are the tip of the iceberg, and foreign funding accounts for only a fraction of the boom, analysts say.
The domestic financial services industry is growing fast -- private sector lending by Cambodia's 20-odd banks grew 60 percent last year -- but remains too small to be funding projects to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Instead, analysts say, much of the funding is Cambodian cash stuffed into mattresses, locked up in gold, or squirreled away in anonymous offshore bank accounts for years.
"There are a lot of people in this town who are fantastically wealthy," said Trent Eddy, director of Phnom Penh-based Emerging Markets Consulting. "The banks are not doing mortgage lending for the sort of stuff that's driving up prices."
The most popular theory on the streets of Phnom Penh is that a global banking clean-up after the September 11, 2001 attacks smoked out billions of dirty Cambodian dollars sitting quietly in bank accounts in Singapore, which encouraged its repatriation.
With few other investment options, and a steadily improving regulatory and legal framework -- not to mention political stability under ex-Khmer Rouge strongman Hun Sen -- real estate is the obvious choice for the prodigal loot, so the theory goes.
Even though the economy remains one of Asia's smallest, with a GDP of around $6.5 billion, the hype is such that international portfolio investors have been looking into setting up domestic real estate funds, mainly in the hotel sector.
U.S. property services firm CB Richard Ellis is also hoping to get in on the action with the opening of a Phnom Penh office in the next few months.
The prospect of revenues from off-shore oil and gas by 2010 reaffirms the view of outsiders that the economy is only heading in one direction, and that rapid urbanization and demand for better housing from Cambodia's 13 million people must follow.
The clearest example is another South Korean venture, a $2 billion "new town" called Camko City taking shape on the northern outskirts of Phnom Penh.
"They are targeting primarily the Cambodians. There's very little accommodation in Phnom Penh, but demand is growing," said Lee Sangkwang, commercial attache at the South Korean embassy. "It's kind of pioneering."
The changes, however, are not coming without costs.
The city's infrastructure, already in a dilapidated state after nearly three decades of civil war, is creaking under the weight of the expansion, with roads clogged by traffic, leaking sewers, and frequent floods and power blackouts.
Critics also point to a lack of transparency and vision in urban planning -- despite assurances from Mayor Kep Chuktema that he "listens to the views of all stakeholders."
Social tensions are also emerging, with many city centre communities living in fear of eviction and pop songs lamenting the growing obsession with property speculation and the desire to make a quick buck.
"Now, the war in Cambodia is over land," said tuk-tuk driver Ros Sopheak.
(Editing by Michael Battye and Megan Goldin)

Chinese dams threaten Cambodian eco-systems: Group- AFP

It was reported that two Cambodian largest dams like this one are flooding the eco-systems.

PHNOM PENH (AFP)--Cambodia's two largest dam projects threaten to flood huge swathes of protected forests, a conservation group has said, urging reform in the country's burgeoning hydropower sector.
International Rivers Network, in a report released late Monday, said that the Kamchay and Stung Atay dams, which seek to provide much-needed electricity to the country, will instead wreak havoc on local communities and slow development.
The US-based group targets in particular Chinese investment in the sector, which it said is powering forward through close ties between Cambodia's government and Beijing, unchecked by public scrutiny.
The projects highlight the "growing interest in large-scale hydropower dam development by Cambodian decision makers backed mainly by Chinese project developers and financiers," the group said.
"Chinese investment in Cambodia's hydropower sector is threatening some of the country's most precious eco-systems and the livelihoods of thousands of people." Funded largely by a $600 million Chinese aid package, the Kamchay Dam is located entirely inside Cambodia's Bokor National Park and will flood 2,000 hectares of protected forest, the group said.
Once completed in 2010, it will also force local residents from the area, stripping them of their livelihoods, and could threaten downstream tourist sites, International Rivers said.
Protected forests in Cambodia's Cardamom mountains will also be submerged by the Stung Atay Dam, which is expected to come online in 2012, and four others currently under consideration.
"Cambodia's free-flowing rivers and abundant natural resources are invaluable assets," said Carl Middleton, Mekong program coordinator with International Rivers.
"Poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage these resources and undermine Cambodia's sustainable development." Only an estimated 20 percent of households have access to reliable electricity in Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries.
Spiraling utility prices, driven by this lack of supply, are a major obstacle to attracting foreign investment, and the government has struggled to find a way to bring down the cost of power.
International Rivers urged Cambodia to seek alternate power sources, or adopt international standards within its own utilities sectors.
"Cambodia has many choices for meeting our electricity needs, including renewable and decentralized energy options that must be explored" said Ngy San, deputy executive director with the NGO Forum on Cambodia.

Cambodian PM urged to attend parliament

Son Chhay (left) and Hun Sen with wife, Bun Rany, in the background.

Cambodia, Phnom Penh -A parliamentary committee in Cambodia has requested the prime minister, Hun Sen, attend parliament to answer questions directly.Mr Son Chhay, an opposition MP who also the chairs the 5th Committee of the parliament, has submitted the written request to the prime minister.The letter calls for answers on issues including the implementation of the four-angle economic policies, revenue collection from Angkor Wat, land disputes, corruption and human rights.Hun Sen hasn't been to Parliament during question time throughout the third term of government, which is due to expire soon.The constitution and parliamentary internal regulations stipulate that the prime minister is supposed to attend question time every Thursday morning.A senior advisor to the PM says the request is ridiculous and has queried the motives behind it.

Judges meet to iron out tribunal rules

Meeting of the staff at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

By Mean Veasna, VOA

Khmer Original report from Phnom Penh

28 January 2008

Khmer Rouge tribunal judges said Monday they were preparing for upcoming trials, seeking ways to improve on internal rules governing the operation of the courts.
“Our court is getting close to the trial stage. Therefore this plenary session has a clear and urgent agenda, such as observations on ways to improve internal rules related to the management of procedures in the court,” said judge Kom Srim, chief of the tribunal Supreme Court Chamber and head of the session.
Twenty-four of 25 judges were prepared to adopt several key amendments to the internal rules of the tribunal, he said.
Some changes are necessary now that the trials are progressing, especially with the arrests now of five Khmer Rouge leaders, said trial chamber judge Sylvia Cartwright.
“There remain many different legal, judicial, administrative and financial issues to be resolved,” she said.
The internal rules were the sticking point for the formation of the tribunal, and even though they have now been adopted, critics worry the tribunal will run out of money.

10-Year-Old Folk Singer Bridges Cultures

Bosba Panh performing at Chaktomuk Hall on 21st Dec. 2007.

By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer

Original report from Washington

28 January 2008

Bosba Panh, whose repertoire includes Bob Dylan as well as traditional Khmer music, recently packed a concert hall in Phnom Penh. Chaktomuk Hall’s capacity is 570 seats, but Bosba Panh brought in 700 people.
Her music is increasingly gaining attention, as she strums a guitar and sings in cafes and halls for Westerners and Cambodians alike.
Bosba Panh, 10, whose father is Khmer and mother is Lao, put out the album “Phnom Penh” in 2006 and established her own music company, La Compagnie Bosbapanh, when she was 8 years old.
“Bosba confirms her talent as a classical singer in exploring the cultural richness of her country and in making famous international songs her own,” said Muoy You, director of Seametrey Children’s Village, a school, who attended the performance at Chaktomuk Hall. “She sang of the beauty of Cambodia, love and peace, liberty and freedom.”

Opera Singer Nurtures Cambodian Voice

Sethisak Khuon, in one of his performances (Photo: http://ki-media.blogspot.com ).

By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
28 January 2008

In a land covered with karaoke clubs, with singers in every home and videos on every television, Cambodia’s only traditionally trained opera singer stands singularly apart.

Trained in Moscow, Italy and Berkeley, Khuon Sethisak, has been back in Cambodia since 2001 and has since worked steadily to bring opera to Cambodians—and help them sing.

Khuon Sethisak, who tenor voice is rich and powerful when he sings but a little quiet when he speaks, said Cambodia’s singers need help to learn how to protect their voices, and encouragement to join international venues and events.

Past singers have not had access to international venues, he said Monday, as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “I want the world to know the voice of Khmer singers,” he said.

Cambodians need to work on the craft of singing and need to nurture the talent they have and keep training their voices, he said.

Meanwhile, he said, he hopes to make opera accessible to all.

“Opera is a world inheritance,” he said. “An opera singer can sing until he’s 70 or 80 years old. It’s not just for the old or rich. To learn opera is to sing, act, to behave. Opera is good to instill morality in society.”

Cambodian photos shed light on poverty

By Jenica Stimpson-

28 Jan 2008

This photo, part of an exhibit by Trevor Wright, shows a young child chewing on a stalk of sugar cane. Wright's photo exhibit "Life at the Cambodian Garbage Dump," is located on the 4th floor of the HFAC.
Trevor Wright, a BYU student and media arts major, served his mission in Cambodia and was intrigued with its people. He decided to go back last summer with the Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF) to serve the people he had grown to love. For three months he taught English to impoverished children and helped make their lives a little easier through the aid that the Children's Fund provides.
While serving in Cambodia he took documentary-like pictures of children at the dump. Families are driven to the dump in poverty and struggle through life as garbage pickers who find and sell whatever they can in hopes of earning enough money to survive. Children must help support their families by rummaging through the garbage each day.
"Through my photos, I like to capture the moments, situations and feelings of the individuals so that we can develop a greater understanding of human beings," Wright said. "Because of this experience in Cambodia, I have decided to minor in international development."
Wright's photos are currently displayed in the 4th floor west hall of the Harris Fine Arts Center.
Wright first became interested in photography while in high school and was influenced by his dad. As he grew older he became especially interested in documentary-type photos. He is planning on making a documentary film on the founder of CCF, Scott Neeson, in the near future.
Hollywood film executive Scott Neeson founded the CCF when he traveled to Cambodia in 2003 and witnessed the desperate needs of young children. After working in the film business for 26 years, he now resides in Phnom Penh, Cambodia year-round.
According to the CCF Web site, the organization has three separate facilities where 300 children receive nutrition and housing, medical treatment, dental services and vaccinations. The children are also involved in an educational program that includes local language reading and writing, classes in English, social sciences and math. They also attend evening classes where they learn traditional Khmer music, dance and drama.
"Through these photos I hope that other people will fall in love with Cambodia like I have," Wright said. "I hope that these photos will give an insight that these people are individuals just like you and me."

Phnom Penh Riots Five Years Later: Khmer Studies Becoming More Popular

Logo of Dhonburi Rajabhat University in Bangkok.

Relations improve in wake of anti-Thai riots


The riots in Phnom Penh five years ago that resulted in the Thai embassy being burned and rocked Thai business confidence in the country has not deterred Thai people from learning the Khmer language. Since the anti-Thai protests on Jan 29, 2003, Dhonburi Rajabhat University, which pioneered teaching Khmer, has seen more students applying for the course, according to university vice-president Prayoon Songsilp.
About 40 students enrol in the class each year, said the expert in the Khmer language, adding the number was higher than during the protest, which temporarily soured ties between the two countries. However, she did not reveal past records on the number of students.
Dhonburi Rajabhat University opened its Khmer language course in 1989. Now Silpakorn, Maha Sarakham and Si Sa Ket Rajabhat universities also offer students courses in the Khmer language in a bid to build closer relations between the countries.
For Thailand, one of the most jarring events in Thai-Cambodian relations in recent history happened on January 29, 2003. On that day hundreds of young Cambodians stormed the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, broke into the compound and burned the building. The angry rioters then moved on to other Thai businesses in the area, looting and smashing property, prompting then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to send C-130 military planes to evacuate Thai people living there.
The major cause of the protests came from a single misunderstanding of culture and history between the two countries. Actress Suwanan Kongying was accused of saying that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand in a television show, something she later denied saying.
The incident showed a large gap in understanding between the two countries. One way to close that gap was to learn the language of Thailand's neighbouring country.
''The Thai people should know all the languages of their neighbours, especially the Khmer due to many similarities in the cultures,'' said Ms Prayoon.
Thai words used to address members of the Royal Family have their roots in the Khmer language, she said as an example.
Pajaree Phancharoen, 20, a second-year student at Silpakorn University's archaeology faculty, said she had chosen to learn Khmer because she was interested in the language.
It is not difficult to learn to write Khmer because it is similar to the Thai language, but the pronunciation is different because it has more than 20 vowels, she added.
''I would like to become a tour guide because there are very few people who know the Khmer language. I want to know the Cambodian culture, way of life and food,' ' she said.
Supachai Varoros, a fourth-year student at Dhonburi Rajabhat University's education faculty, said he is taking up the course because his home province, Si Sa Ket, is adjacent to Cambodia.
''After I graduate, I will go back home to become a teacher because I got a scholarship to study. I chose to learn Khmer because I think I can use it more than Japanese, Chinese or English in my hometown,'' he said.
''Language will be an important way of helping us understand and not look down on each other,'' he added.
The situation now is different from in the past when only a few Thais knew the language of their neighbouring country.
The lack of Thai people speaking Khmer was reflected in an incident involving the navy when Cambodia was at war.
''The Royal Thai Navy, which patrolled along the border, got hold of some Khmer documents, but no navy officer could read the documents,'' recalled Ms Prayoon.
After then-prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan launched a policy of turning the battlefield into a trading market in 1988, a lot of Thai businessmen flocked to Cambodia but knew nothing of the language, she said.
Those who knew how to speak Khmer made big money at the time when Thai businesses starting up in Cambodia needed people to translate contracts and agreements.
In addition to being translators, these Thais also had to turn themselves into teachers for the Thai businessmen and bankers who wanted to do business in Phnom Penh.
The demand for Khmer speakers led to a decision by Dhonburi Rajabhat University to open language courses to the public.
''Reporters or businessmen were among the 500 people in the first group who entered Phnom Penh, but they had to apply to join the course first,'' she said.
She also taught the language to Thai diplomats being sent to Phnom Penh or those wanting to know Khmer since 1994.
However, the Khmer language is not highly popular compared with other languages in this region for Foreign Ministry officials.

Ensuring history's right on both sides is key to better ties

One of the keys to closer ties between Thailand and Cambodia lies with the Thai-Cambodian Association that was set up a year after the 2003 riots.
And for the association, a way to prevent violence recurring is to create a proper understanding of Thai-Cambodian history. Trying to correct history textbooks is a good way to start.
But five years on, there hasn't been much progress on this front even though academics from the two countries have met frequently to discuss the textbooks.
''What is different in the textbooks [about Thai-Cambodian history] is that the two countries write history differently,'' Dhonburi Rajabhat University vice-president Prayoon Songsilp said.
Ms Prayoon said it might be wise if the two countries studied each other's history more and softened the words used in textbooks.
The future is also encouraging as Thailand is helping Cambodia design a curriculum for the Thai language at the bachelor's degree level at the University of Cambodia in a task expected to be completed next year, she said.
Allowing Cambodian students to learn Thai in universities also shows that the Cambodian government is more open about education these days, she said. In the past the Phnom Penh government feared Thai influence, she added.
The Thai-Cambodian Association has also launched more than 30 projects _ mostly in arts and culture, literature and student exchanges, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said.
''We believe that Cambodian people have a better attitude towards these projects,'' he said, citing the good response from Cambodian university students who know the Thai language who have been invited to visit Thailand. ''They know Thailand better,'' he added.
Bangkok has taken Thai movies and songs to Cambodia to show to Cambodians and the two countries also have cooperated to produce dictionaries as well as projects on reading and writing the Thai language for students at the secondary to university level .