Thursday, March 17, 2011

Learning to cook Cambodian with a hopeless flirt

A Cambodian cookery class with a Balinese womanizer -- what he can't teach you (and some of what he can) ain’t worth knowing

I'm celebrating St Patrick's Day with a green army. . . in Cambodia

 It can be a lonely life far from home but these Irish volunteers will still mark the day, writes John Costello
Thursday March 17 2011
The shamrocks, shillelaghs and shenanigans will be in full swing as the world turns Irish today.
But while cities and towns around the globe become engulfed in a sea of Guinness, a large number of Irish people working in some of the world's poorest countries will be celebrating St Patrick's Day in their own unique way.
Mary Knox, 67, will be toasting Ireland in the small city of Sisophon, Cambodia, where she works as a teaching adviser for the international charity, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).
She arrived there 17 months ago, and was soon feeling "lonely, scared, missing my family and friends, thinking I must be insane to leave my comfortable home for this back-of-no-place, one-horse town".
Mary's husband died of cancer two years ago and shortly afterwards her mother passed away, leaving Mary thinking what she would do.
'My kids are all raised, so the question was, 'Do I go to seed or do I do something?' she says. "So I saw an advert for the VSO and decided to go for it."
However, it can be lonely being Irish in a place where St Patrick and, indeed, Ireland are largely unknown.
"I cried last St Patrick's Day," says Mary. "I wasn't here long and I didn't really know anybody. Being here if you didn't look at the calendar you wouldn't know it was St Patrick's Day.
"So it is a very, very sad day to spend by yourself when you are Irish and there is no one to wish you happy St Patrick's Day. I got emails from the kids, but by the time they had come in from work I had long gone to bed and the day was over."
Thankfully, Mary has used the last 12 months to educate the children and teachers at the school she works in about Ireland and its national saint.
"It takes a lot of explaining that Ireland is not Iceland," she laughs. "Yes, I tell them it's cold, but not actually that cold! Then they think we are part of England so I have to explain to them they are pretty near Thailand but are not Thai.
"They understand that because there is no love lost between them even though they are only a couple of miles away.
"This year I can explain that this is my celebration," she says. "I told them the story of St Patrick and they even managed to say 'Happy St Patrick's Day'.
"With what happened here with the Khmer Rouge, the children were very taken aback with the story of how he was kidnapped and taken as a slave."
To celebrate St Patrick's Day, Mary has twinned her local school with the Grade Three class of Holy Cross School in Tramore, Co Waterford.
"The kids sent a package of shamrocks, an Irish flag and other things, so we did a project on Ireland," Mary says.
"They are as poor as church mice but they always have a smile and are so happy for the smallest thing you give them or can do for them. And they appreciate such little things. They have a lot of what we lost."
This year, thankfully, Mary won't be celebrating alone.
"There are two other Irish people here now so we will go out for dinner and maybe open a bottle of wine," she says. "And that is unusual here because wine is very expensive. So we will be pushing out the boat!"
Tanzania is not a place renowned for its Paddy's Day celebrations, but this year Tom O'Donoghue will be celebrating at the Irish embassy in Dar es Salaam while looking forward to the Irish Tanzania Society's ball on Saturday night.
"Few people know much about Ireland here. I am constantly saying to people, 'No I am not English, I am from Ireland'. The English language seems to brand us," he laughs.
Tom, a former school principal from Ferrybank in Co Wexford, arrived in October 2010 to work as a VSO volunteer on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania.
'I'm dealing with schools with over 3,000 pupils and 20 classrooms," he says. "Some classes have over 120 children.
"The classrooms have blackboards and chalk but little else. We are pretty good at grumbling about Irish conditions but the poverty here bears no relation to Ireland."
Zanzibar's population is 97% Muslim with only a tiny Christian population, so few give much pause for thought for St Patrick and the Irish.
"It does seem to bring the Irish community together very strongly," says Tom.
"I'm slightly removed from it on the island but I am really looking forward to the celebrations. We are invited to a reception at the Irish Embassy and on Saturday we have a day planned for Irish dancing, music and swigging some porter. But we will start the day watching Ireland beat England in rugby!
"All the Irish citizens are given first refusal and then there's a massive waiting list for the celebrations. It is one of the most important social events on the year in Dar es Salam. It's a love of the kind of party the Irish can put on."
For more information on being a VSO volunteer visit
Irish Independent

Cambodia limits foreign men marrying Cambodian girls...AGAIN!!!

Fearing of false marriages and human trafficking, Cambodia has limited rights and access of foreign men who want to marry Cambodian women, a government official said Thursday.

Koy Kuong, a spokesman of Cambodia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said the ministry had sent a diplomatic note to foreign embassies and consulates in Cambodia that foreign men are now limited their full access to marrying Cambodian women.

He said the note regulated that any "foreign man who wants to marry Cambodian woman must be under 50 years of age and has an income of at least 2,500 U.S. dollar per month".

He said this new regulation came into effect on March 1, 2011.

Koy Kuong said with the new regulation enforced, Cambodian women will not be traded as slaves, false marriages or human trafficking.

He said foreign men who come to their ages of 50 will sooner or later get retired and will earn less money to secure a decent life with new wives.

However, this regulation is criticized by local nongovernmental organizations that deal with human rights, saying it is a discriminatory act against women.

Kek Galabru, president of Licadho, said the government should instead provide better education and improve women status.

She said women shall enjoy full rights as men to choose their love ones regardless their ages.

Source: Xinhua

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cambodian leader's son gets military promotion

Phnom Penh - The eldest son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was made a major general in the country's armed forces, local media reported Tuesday, fuelling beliefs that the strongman is grooming a potential successor.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than a quarter-century, joined the Khmer Rouge movement as a teenager and received limited secondary education. His 33-year-old son, Hun Manet, by contrast, is a 1999 graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point who later earned a doctorate in economics at Britain's University of Bristol.
He received his promotion at a ceremony Monday in Phnom Penh presided over by Defence Minister Tea Banh, who reportedly touted Hun Manet's West Point education in conferring the honour.
'This school is recognized internationally for its distinction in political science, law and military affairs, and in his new position, Manet must use the skills he has learned,' Tea Banh was quoted as saying by the Phnom Penh Post.
Hun Sen, 58, said last year that he plans to serve as premier for perhaps 15 more years and has claimed that he does not want his son to get involved in politics.
Observers said, however, that Hun Manet's rapid rise through Cambodia's military ranks is evidence of the premier's ambitions for his son.
'This is, again, part of the prime minister's attempt to consolidate power in politics,' said Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, a non-governmental organization that promotes democracy. 'This is the way leadership and consolidating power in Cambodia works.'

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cambodia, China announce 1.6billion dollar deal: officials

PHNOM PENH — China will inject 1.6 billion dollars into Cambodian infrastructure over five years, officials said Thursday, just days after the US urged the country not to become too dependent on the Asian giant.

"Within the next five years, Cambodia and China will have 23 co-operation projects," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters after a meeting between China's top legislator Wu Bangguo and the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen.

Hydropower dams, mining projects, bridges and railway links would be among the initiatives funded by China between 2010 and 2015, he added.

At their meeting in Phnom Pehn, Wu and Hun Sen witnessed the signing of 16 deals, including a loan agreement arranged by the Bank of China that will see Cambodia's largest mobile operator CamGSM borrow over 590 million dollars.

China also plans to help Cambodia build a new railway to neighbouring Vietnam, providing one of the last missing links for a pan-Asian network that would connect Singapore with China's Kunming by train, according to the spokesman.

He said Wu also promised to boost Chinese direct investment in the kingdom, which so far this year stands at 610 million dollars.

Wu's visit to Cambodia comes just days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a high-profile appearance in the country and urged Cambodians not to become "too dependent" on China.

Khieu Kanharith said Wu hailed the "fast growing ties" between the two countries and told Hun Sen that "China does not want to seek power and become the owner of the region".

China -- a former patron of the Khmer Rouge regime, which oversaw the deaths of up to two million people in the 1970s -- is the country's top donor, according to Cambodia.

Nearly 400 Chinese companies have invested billions of dollars in Cambodia, including key infrastructure projects such as hydropower dams and coal power plants.

But China's involvement in the country has not been without controversy.

A December 2009 decision by Cambodia to deport 20 Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority group in western China -- despite their application for UN refugee status -- came ahead of a 1.2 billion dollar aid and loan package from Beijing.

China has rejected accusations that the generous package was linked to the move.

Cambodia’s new stock exchange: not just a numbers game

ALTHOUGH the number of licences issued to firms to act on behalf of the long-awaited Cambodian stock exchange represents an important consideration, the experience of the companies approved is perhaps more significant. So too critical factors that remain unresolved, such as the currency of operation.

In terms of numbers of licensed firms, seven underwriters would seem excessive during the opening phase of trading as there will almost certainly only be three firms listed. That means some will see no underwriting business from the outset and will have to bank on the exchange’s early success in attracting new IPOs.

What the Security and Exchange Commission of Cambodia announcement did not make fully clear on Tuesday is that many approved underwriters are licensed to perform multiple roles. OSK Indochina Securities has been approved to act as a dealer, broker and adviser as well as an underwriter, it announced on October 21. Similarly, SBI Phnom Penh Securities has received a “full licence” to operate as a securities firm.

In terms of the number of firms licensed, the SECC appears to have approved a total that is more than adequate to start out with spare capacity for the expected rise in IPOs once the exchange gains momentum. As noted by SECC Director General Ming Bankosal in March, approving the 22 companies that applied for licences would have been too many.

More important is the level of expertise brought in to operate with the exchange. With little or no experience of securities markets, Cambodia has rightly approved companies with a wealth of experience overseas.

The SECC approved licences for two majority Malaysian firms along with Vietnamese companies, a South Korean firm and CAB Securities of India – all of which have invaluable securities market expertise. Cambodia Capital Securities is expected to play a key role following years of experience connecting businesses to foreign investors.

None of this expertise will necessarily guarantee the success of the stock exchange though. The key to a solid start has to be a strong foundation based on well-considered regulations, some of which remain unclear and incomplete. A decision on listings in riel, United States dollars or both is just as critical. Should the exchange launch prematurely, confidence at the opening bell would most certainly be undermined.

In terms of the quality and quantity of licensed operators within the market, the SECC has established the necessary foundations based on setting aside national pride for practicality purposes.

In relation to the start date and choice of currency, the commission would be well advised to follow in a similar vein – a rushed launch with listings in riels would only lead to a critical lack of confidence in a market many investors still consider overly risky.

A Cambodian traffic 'incident' with a government official

What might have otherwise become just another anonymous moment of vehicular impunity on the streets of Cambodia’s capital has leapt into the public consciousness and will now likely stay there for much longer than many in officialdom want, thanks to a bystander with a mobile phone camera.

Could this be Cambodia’s first viral video?

The low-fi, 34-second clip was originally on the blog LTO Cambodia last Thursday and has since logged 34,000 views from combined YouTube postings.

On another popular web forum, Khmer440, two separate posting on the incident had received a total of 3,125 views by Monday afternoon.

Comments on LTO Cambodia range from the jaded – “That’s Phnom Penh!” – to the incredulous.

“How can Cambodia move forward if these people are doing this to their own country?” one poster asks.

The driver has been reported by police as Sok Than, a deputy director at the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations Inspection Department. His family says he suffers from a mental illness, according to deputy municipal traffic police director Pen Khon. The vehicle has been confiscated, while Sok Than was released on Thursday into his family’s care.

It’s unclear if charges will be laid.

“It is an individual’s problem and does not affect the government,” replied Council of Minister Spokesman Phay Siphan when asked by a reporter whether this kind of behaviour, now making the rounds on the social media websites, embarrasses a government struggling to address both impunity and one of the worst traffic records in Asia.

Others were less forgiving.

“He should resign from his position for such behaviour,” said one government officials who did not want to be named. “He is a top official so he should do the polite thing and respect local authorities and the law.”

The incident highlights the immediacy of information in a country where, not too, long ago the official record was something that was always subject to debate.

“These days, when you see an accident or any unusual cases on the street, you can capture that very moment and tell your friends,” said prominent Cambodian blogger Tharum Bun via Google chat.

“Web tools like YouTube and Facebook help spread the stories faster and faster.

“I was on Twitter and quickly learned that a Phnom Penh expat had just posted a blog post with video about a traffic accident. … While watching the video, I told a friend about this and sent her the link,” he added.

“A day later I realised that people on social networking sites shared the video clip on Facebook. Thus, friends of their online friends are well aware of this.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bars girls of Phnom Penh

Posted: 22 Oct 2010 02:20 PM PDT

Net is a bar girl working in Phnom Penh. A peep into her life and her home. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 22/10/2010. Images here taken February 2010.
Net is a bar girl working in Phnom Penh. A peep into her life and her home. Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


S is a sex worker in Phnom Penh. Her working soubriquet is Net. She lives in a 3 x 3 m cell on the highest floor of a shared enclave in a Phnom Penh slum. I use the word slum accurately, as her accommodation meets many of the internationally agreed markers defining a slum dwelling.

Access is through a gloomy passageway off a main street, vibrant with street vendors. Climbing the two cracked and slippery staircases to her room, I ascend passed her neighbours filthy living spaces, too small to sit in so they sit in the passageway playing cards and chatting. It’s impossible to avoid placing your feet in the pools of oily wastewater or stepping onto the discarded detritus.

Her room is a roughly nailed plank construction, a wooden coffin, the bamboo topped bed occupying one third of the space. No toilet. No shower. No washbasin. A small clothing rack to store her sexy work clothes, a blaring TV prominent on a shelf above the few treasured personal items she keeps - photo albums of her baby and mother, a clear HIV-STD certificate and a few bottles of perfume which are mostly empty. A rusty fan recirculates the hot mosquito infested air.

Net is 26 and originates from the poor rural provinces in northern Cambodia. Her only child is now three years old and lives with her mamma in her own home town, where her brother and his family also live. Her estranged husband lives with a “new girlfriend” in Thailand. Tall and snake thin, her cheekbones protrude deeply into her dark facial skin. She is no classic beauty queen just charmingly pretty with a pleasant smile. Chatting fluently in bar girl English, she does however, command the English language better than most of her co-workers, a real asset when advertising herself adjacent to her beautiful and highly competitive friends. She tells me “after leaving my husband I try to live for more [than] one year in the provinces with my baby”. She struggled to earn enough money to live and to support her offspring. Someone in the village tells her that she should go to Phnom Penh to “make lots of money”. The streets are paved with gold farang in Phnom Penh! Telling her family that she is going to the capital to work in a “tourist restaurant”, which she did for a while, she uprooted herself from her family and moved into a shoe box room in the capital city.

As a daughter her Asian culture demands that she earns money, not only for her baby but also as a social welfare system for her parents. In a region without state care for the elderly, adults have children with the expectation that they will care for them when they are ageing, although perhaps not when they are old as life expectancy in Cambodia is only 59.5 years, middle age in Western society.

Net was not sold by her family as a young virgin girl to a rich man in Phnom Penh or to a wealthy Chinese businessman. She was not beaten, raped and coerced - broken - as a novice brothel worker like so many young girls in Cambodia. She found herself, in her mid-20s, with few choices; she had no money to support her family and was totally estranged from her errant and promiscuous husband. He wanted to keep her as a second wife, a mia-noi, an offer she tearfully declined believing that to be unacceptable and morally repugnant. He gives her no money to support his child. Little education, lacking formal employment skills other than house work, she tried the one option she believed would make her “big luy [money]” -milking the farang as a bar girl in Phnom Penh.

Net does not find acclimatisation into the sex industry at all easy. Her first employment is in one of Phnom Penh's infamous walking street saloons. She struggles to “wet kiss” the “farang” [Western male tourists] as instructed by the Mamasan boss. Chat to her and it’s obvious that sex work is not her first career option but it is lucrative; the bar pays her around $60 a month, $15 of which goes to rent her shared room. Clients, if she can secure one, pay maybe $25 or more for a night with her, depending on the work. “Best work”, nights in Sinhouville or Siem Reap, acting as an Asian trophy girlfriend for an “old man”; this is the work she “enjoys” and it’s a bonus as she gets a holiday in a nice room, clean showers and free food. They “pay bar fine” for the time she is away from her work and she still gets paid by the bar.

Five weeks into her new role at this bar she is dismissed by the manager because she blatantly refuses to “wet kiss” the sex tourists in the bar, as demanded by the boss. She tells me "It's not good. No do wet kiss in bar".

At 26 Net is quite old to become a bargirl. This combined with her apparent inaptitude for sex work, her unwillingness to let go of her morality and her plain looks, means that she struggles to find a new job in a different ladybar. Restaurant work is physically very hard and she tells me that she “does not want to work hard” to earn money when she sees pretty young girls [cash] “rich” from the “easy work” with western sex tourists.

What are her options now I ask? Slightly confused she replies “she may move to Sinhouville to earn more money”. The streets are lined with gold farang in Sihanoukville, the beach resort of Cambodia similar to Pataya in Thailand. To tap into this gold rush though net knows she must crush her innate morality, totally destroying her belief that some things are not for sale. Prostitute herself fully. It appears to be a seriously challenging option for Net, even though she cannot face the routine demands of traditional employment in a restaurant, in a clothing factory or as a rice worker in the provinces.

What does she do now? She tries to freelance. Disguised in working girls clothing she emerges from her shoebox home, ventures into the night, onto the pulsating streets and into the seedy bars and nightclubs of Phnom Penh to try to earn her living by entertaining a paying western man. Her sex tourist clients never venture into the hidden backstage of her life. She acts out her roles for them- lover, sex toy, girlfriend - on the sanitised stage of their hotel rooms. Rooms cheap at $20 a night or less, cleaned daily. They never see or understand the real side of her life. She leaves them after they pay her and returns on foot, or maybe side sitting on a moto, to the dark staircase which climbs up to her room. To her life watching TV, playing cards in the alleyway and cuddling her childhood teddy bears. Until the late evening when she dresses and the game starts again.

I have withheld Net's full name in this article in the hope that she finds less painful employment in the future.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cambodia’s Bamboo Railway

Cambodia’s main train service runs sporadically and is often subject to derailments. So, locals in Battambang, Cambodia, have taken the lack of reliable transportation into their own hands. They have created a train made from recycled tank wheels, small motorcycle engines bamboo poles. The vehicle is very rudimentary, but it gets the job done.

The trains, known as ‘Norries’, are simple bamboo slabs with wheels that run on the state-built track. The trains are surprisingly fast going up to 40kph. If you ride one of these norries, don’t expect to just sit back and relax, if you meet a train coming in the opposite direction, passengers are expected to lift the platform and axles off the tracks to let the other “train” pass.

We encourage you to take a look at this amazing video by Journeyman Productions and see the Norrie in action.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cambodian locals fuelling child prostitution

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIA'S child prostitution problem is usually associated with foreign paedophiles, but the majority of clients paying for sex with children are Cambodian men, campaign groups said on Wednesday.

Foreigners' sex crimes grab the headlines, but the problem of homegrown offenders can be overlooked by authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), according to Chin Chanveasna of End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT).

In a new study commissioned by ECPAT, an umbrella group for a number of NGOs, 43 out of 44 former child sex workers in Phnom Penh said their regular clients were Cambodian men.

Chin Chanveasna said the police and the government 'have not taken enough measures against Cambodian perpetrators.' But General Bith Kimhong, the director of the Interior Ministry's anti-trafficking unit, said the government was tackling the problem.

'We have taken a serious action against both Cambodian and foreigners who are seeking sex with underage people,' he told AFP.

According to the report, local demand for prostitutes is estimated to contribute between 49 to 70 per cent of the demand for commercial sex in Cambodia. A 'high demand for virgins from Cambodian men fuelling the flow of underage girls into Cambodia's sex trade' was also cited as a concern. -- AFP

THERE is a persistent belief among Cambodian men that sleeping with a virgin has rejuvenating powers and can even cure HIV/Aids.

Of the 19 respondents who sold their virginity, 13 said it was to Cambodian clients. 'It's a stupid idea where they think that sex with a young girl will bring them good luck, strong energy or a long life,' said Sao Chhoeurth, executive director of anti-trafficking NGO AFESIP.

Sex with a virgin can cost up to US$2,000 (S$2,617) 'depending on how pretty or young the girl is,' he said, a large sum in a country where more than 30 per cent of its 14 million people live on less than 50 cents a day.

Chin Chanveasna added that aid groups had yet to work out a strategy on how to deal with the problem.

The research, carried out in January, was small-scale but Sao Chhoeurth said the findings reflect the situation across the country.

'If a girl works in a brothel for a long time, most of her customers will be locals,' he said. -- AFP

Monday, September 20, 2010

Illegal immigrants pour across border seeking work [... in China]

Sound familiar? It's happening in China, where rapid growth has led to a shortage of workers to fill low-skill jobs. But the Chinese don't seem to be concerned.

September 19, 2010
By David Pierson
Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Aidian, China —

The illegal immigrants come seeking higher wages, steady employment and a chance at better lives for their families. They cross the border in remote stretches where there are no fences or they pay traffickers to sneak them past border guards.

Then they work as maids, harvest crops or toil hunched in sweatshops.

As familiar as this sounds, this is not the United States or Europe, but China, which is attracting an increasing number of undocumented workers to fill the bottom rungs of its booming economy. Tens of thousands of foreigners from Southeast Asia, North Korea and even faraway Africa are believed to be working here illegally.

Among the most active areas for the furtive crossings is China's 800-mile southern borders with Vietnam, whose people are drawn by jobs in China that may pay twice as much as they do at home.

"People are struggling for money in Vietnam. They look at China and think it's rich," said Anh Bang, a 23-year-old Vietnamese clothing merchant who travels legally to China several times a month but empathizes with those who enter without documents. "In China they can find a job easily and earn so much more."

Labor shortages in China's export-heavy eastern coastal regions are driving demand for foreign workers. So are Chinese workers' calls for higher wages, which are cutting into employers' profits.

"This is an economic phenomenon," said Zhang Wenshan, a professor of law at Guangxi University who has studied the rise of illegal workers. "It's globalization. Labor costs are increasing in China. This is hard on employers who don't necessarily need sophisticated laborers. So a lot of foreigners are motivated to come here.… It's like how many Chinese have gone to the U.S. to seek better lives."

It's an unlikely reversal for a country that until recently seemed to have an endless supply of cheap labor. But rapid development and urbanization are just as quickly raising workers' expectations. Young, rural Chinese have fled the farms for cities. Factory workers are choosing to strike rather than accept minimal pay. In their wake they're leaving openings that foreign workers are eager to fill.

With their numbers still relatively small and China's economy growing rapidly, illegal immigrants so far haven't been the lightning rod that they are in the United States. China has no social safety net to speak of, so there's no resentment of immigrants using public services.

Still, tensions are growing. The Chinese government, historically wary of foreigners, has granted permanent residency to only a few thousand migrants in the last three decades. Sporadic roundups of illegal workers are on the rise. Friction between authorities and African merchants exploded into a riot last year in the southern city of Guangzhou after police were accused of harassment.

Controlling the influx of illegal workers isn't easy, even for an authoritarian state. China shares a border with 14 countries. The nation famous for its Great Wall has virtually no fencing or barriers along this boundary, which stretches 13,670 miles through tropical forests, mountains and deserts.

"Beijing will start worrying if they're not worrying already," said Demetri Papademetriou, president of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. "But no country that reaches the status of China's economy doesn't go through this."

For many Vietnamese, the quest for the Chinese Dream often begins in border communities such as Aidian, a shabby village of 8,500 in the province of Guangxi, an under-developed region along the border with Vietnam.

On a recent rainy afternoon, two young men wearing basketball jerseys sat on plastic stools on the Chinese side of the border collecting 10,000 Vietnamese dong, about 50 cents, from a steady flow of people entering from the Vietnamese side. The visitors showed no documents, even though a passport and visa are required by law. The men collecting the entrance fees declined to say whom they worked for.

Wei Haiguang, a contractor whose business is just up the street from the border crossing, said corruption in the region was endemic. He said friends of his had helped guide Vietnamese workers into China at the bidding of employment agents, who pay about $30 for each laborer. Most of the foreigners are young, 17 to 20 years old.

The government "won't ever be able to control the border," said Wei, a stocky 38-year-old wearing Buddhist bracelets and an ivory pendant. "There's too many small roads and passes. Besides, who else is going to work in the fields?"

The job of Chinese authorities is particularly challenging here because it's tough to tell who's who. Members of the Zhuang ethnic minority group dominate parts of Guangxi and share a heritage

Cambodia buys nearly 100 tanks, military trucks from Eastern Europe

September 20, 2010

Cambodia has bought nearly 100 tanks, armored personnel vehicles and other military trucks from Eastern Europe, military and port officials said Monday.

The officials said nearly 100 tanks, armored personnel vehicles, and military trucks were shipped off Sihanoukville Sea Port on Monday and will later be taken to Phnom Penh.

Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for Cambodia's Ministry of National Defense confirmed the arrivals of the military trucks, but refused to give exact number and other details.

However, he said, they were bought from Eastern Europe.

The Sihanoukville Sea Port officials said they saw around 50 tanks, and 40 armored personnel vehicles and a few other military trucks.

They said those military equipment were shipped on a large vessel of about 120 meters long and 17 meters wide.

Sihanoukville Sea Port is located in Sihanoukville Province, a coastal area and is about 230 kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh.

Last week, Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also confirmed Cambodia is to receive a shipment of 50 tanks and 44 armored personnel carriers from an Eastern European country, but decline to give the details, just saying that the vehicles were to be "used for national defense."

[Israel's] Queenco signs Cambodian hotel casino deal

Yigal Zilkha's Queenco will own 70% of the joint venture, which will be based at the Holiday Palace Hotel in Sihanoukville in Cambodia.

20 September 10
Globes' correspondent (Israel)

Queenco Leisure International Ltd., today signed an agreement with Paradise Investment of Cambodia to operate a hotel, casino and other tourist facilities in the country at the Holiday Palace Hotel in Sihanoukville in Cambodia.

Queenco will own 70% of the joint venture and Paradise Investment 30%. The agreement is for a 25 year lease of the hotel with an option for a further 25 years. Queenco will pay $30,000 rent per month in quarterly installments.

After the announcement of the signing of the agreement Queenco chairman Yigal Zilkha said, "In recent years we have identified the potential of South East Asia and are working to expand the company's activities in the region. Growth in gaming activities in South East Asia in general and in Cambodia in particular is rapid and the business potential is far from being realized."

Queenco has hotel and casino activities in Greece, Serbia and Romania.

The company's share price is unchanged on the London Stock Exchange today at ₤3.39.

The share price of parent company Queenco fell 0.98% on the TASE in early afternoon trading to NIS 3.95.

Here come our ruski tanks and APCs to counter those dirty, rotten, East European tanks ordered by the Thais!

KI-Media Note: There must be a lot of East European arm dealers out there who are laughing all their way to the bank!
Russian-made BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers (APC) are unloaded from a ship at Preah Sihanouk port, about 230 km (142.9 miles) west of Phnom Penh September 20, 2010. Cambodia has bought 44 APCs and 50 new T55 tanks as part of the country's effort to "strengthen sovereignty" following the tension with Thailand over the World Heritage listed Preah Vihear temple since 2008, the pro-government newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily reported. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea
A Russian-made BTR-60 armoured personnel carrier (APC) is unloaded from a ship at Preah Sihanouk port, about 230 km (142.9 miles) west of Phnom Penh September 20, 2010. Cambodia has bought 44 APCs and 50 new T55 tanks as part of the country's effort to "strengthen sovereignty" following the tension with Thailand over the World Heritage listed Preah Vihear temple since 2008, the pro-government newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily reported. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea
Russian-made BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers (APC) are seen on a ship prior being unloaded at Preah Sihanouk port, about 230 km (142.9 miles) west of Phnom Penh September 20, 2010. Cambodia has bought 44 APCs and 50 new T55 tanks as part of the country's effort to "strengthen sovereignty" following the tension with Thailand over the World Heritage listed Preah Vihear temple since 2008, the pro-government newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily reported. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea
A Soviet-made T-55 tank is seen on a ship prior being unloaded at Preah Sihanouk port, about 230 km (142.9 miles) west of Phnom Penh September 20, 2010. Cambodia has bought 44 APCs and 50 new T-55 tanks as part of the country's effort to "strengthen sovereignty" following the tension with Thailand over the World Heritage listed Preah Vihear temple since 2008, the pro-government newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily reported. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea
A Soviet-made T-55 tank is unloaded at Preah Sihanouk port, about 230 km (142.9 miles) west of Phnom Penh September 20, 2010. Cambodia has bought 44 APCs and 50 new T-55 tanks as part of the country's effort to "strengthen sovereignty" following the tension with Thailand over the World Heritage listed Preah Vihear temple since 2008, the pro-government newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily reported. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea
Russian-made BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers (APC) are seen on a ship prior to being unloaded at Preah Sihanouk port, about 230 km (142.9 miles) west of Phnom Penh September 20, 2010. Cambodia has bought 44 APCs and 50 new T55 tanks as part of the country's effort to "strengthen sovereignty" following the tension with Thailand over the World Heritage listed Preah Vihear temple since 2008, the pro-government newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily reported. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bulldozers Destroy Priceless Archaeological Site in Cambodia

A 2500 year old archaeological site was unexpectedly destroyed in Cambodia last week. An archaeologist who rushed to the scene was shocked to discover heavy equipment still leveling the land, apparently to create temporary housing for a nearby company. Story by Kent Davis
Memot archaeological site destruction 1 Bulldozers Destroy Priceless Archaeological Site in Cambodia

Local archaeologist Heng Sophady was shocked to see a priceless Cambodian prehistoric site destroyed, apparently for temporary housing.

Memot, Cambodia — The rural Memot area in southeastern Cambodia has proven itself as one of the richest sources of information about the country’s pre-historic development. Ancestors of the primitive people who once lived there later became part of the Khmer Empire. The Khmer, one of the world’s most advanced artistic civilizations, grew to rule most of Southeast Asia only 1500 years after the Memot villages formed.

On Tuesday, September 2, a colleague in the Memot area placed an urgent call to archaeologist Heng Sophady to report the destruction of an ancient village site. Mr Heng rushed to the site, located in Samrong Village and called the Samrong Circular Earthwork.

3D Image of Hourn Khim Circular Earthwork Memot Cambodia Bulldozers Destroy Priceless Archaeological Site in Cambodia

Example of a circular earthwork in Memot, similar to the Samrong site destroyed.

While historical research in Memot goes back more than 50 years, this site had only been discovered in an aerial photo in 1997 by Waseda University professor Yasushi Kojo.

Memot archaeological site Cambodia Bulldozers Destroy Priceless Archaeological Site in Cambodia

Memot, Cambodia

Work in the Memot area began in 1959 with French archaeologist Louis Malleret, who described a series of 17 circular earthworks. These mounds represented the sites of early villages.

The first local excavation was begun in 1962 by Bernard Philippe Groslier who coined the name “Mimotien” for the previously unknown civilization. Now 36 massive prehistoric villages have been discovered in Cambodia. Radiocarbon dating and fragments of glass beads found at one site indicate an original settlement date close to 1000 BC. For the excellent full story, visit

Cambodian Authorities Rally to Protect Historical Site

Posted: 13 Sep 2010 03:56 PM PDT

Researchers worldwide were shocked when bulldozers unexpectedly overran a 2500-year-old archaeological site in Cambodia, a country that depends on historical assets to attract more than 2 million visitors each year. Government authorities reacted quickly to minimize the damage and prevent future accidents like this one.

Article by Kent Davis [Click here for Italian media coverage]

Memot archaeological site destruction 11 Cambodian Authorities Rally to Protect Historical Site

Local archaeologist Heng Sophady was shocked to see construction equipment destroying a priceless Cambodian prehistoric site.

Memot, Cambodia – When archaeologist Heng Sophady arrived at the 2500 year-old prehistoric site he was stunned to find the area leveled, with bulldozers still pushing dirt that only a day before held clues to Cambodia’s history. Local contractors ordered the land clearing, unaware of the irreplaceable history that lay beneath their feet.

Memot Site Map Cambodian Authorities Rally to Protect Historical Site

Prehistoric sites in Southeastern Cambodia are filled with details about the country's distant past.

The Memot area is particularly rich in ancient artifacts, offering insights into some of the earliest human settlements in Cambodia. Discoveries include tools, dwellings, jewelry, bones, beads and implements used in everyday life. French archaeologists found the prehistoric villages more than 50 years ago. Cambodian scholars and international teams from Germany, Japan, Australia, France, the United States and other countries continue the investigation. The Samrong Earthwork where the incident occurred was unexcavated, and was only discovered by aerial photography in 1997.

samrong 00 Cambodian Authorities Rally to Protect Historical Site

By the time Mr Heng arrived at the remote site the damage was done.

On September 2, Mr Heng received an urgent call with news of the destruction. He quickly rushed to the scene but the damage was already done. Mr Heng quickly contacted authorities in the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts who were quick to respond. Ministry officials immediately scheduled an emergency meeting to review Mr Heng’s field report and authorized him to meet with the Director General of the Memot Rubber Plantation, which manages large tracts of land for its operations (see map below). For the excellent full story, visit

Monday, September 6, 2010

The 12th-century facebook of Angkor Wat

Figures from the terrace of the Leper King

Identities of the mysterious women carved into the Cambodian temple could finally be revealed. Andrew Buncombe reports

Monday, 6 September 2010
The Independence (UK)

Amid the splendour of the 12th-century temple at Angkor Wat, they stand and stare like silent sentinels, sensuous rather than erotic, carved with elegance and care. But exactly who are these 1,786 mysterious women and why, more than a century after Cambodia's famed Hindu temple was rediscovered byWestern archaeologists, did it take the efforts of an amateur researcher from Florida to push experts into trying to resolve the puzzle?

Though Kent Davis had lived in South-east Asia during the 1990s, he did not have an opportunity to see Angkor Wat until 2005. Like most visitors to the huge complex in the centre of the Cambodia, for many years cut off from the outside world because of the presence of theKhmer Rouge, he was mesmerised by the experience.

But he was also left with a flurry of questions. "I went to Angkor as a tourist and I was startled when I got there to notice these women," said Mr Davis, 54, a publisher and writer who now lives near Tampa, Florida. "I was not prepared for it. The human element of them struck me and I wanted to know who they were. I asked one of the guides and he said they were there to serve the king after he went to heaven."

Mr Davis's interest was tweaked, so he wanted to know more. He vowed he would return to the US and investigate. Yet when he got home he found there was essentially nothing written about these women, who appear throughout the temple complex in full body carvings.

Indeed, the only study of the female carvings he could find had been made in the early 20th century by the daughter of Frenchman Henri Marchal, then the curator of the temple site. Frustrated but intrigued, he decided he would find out for himself. Five years and several trips to Angkor later, Mr Davis has slowly begun to get some answers.

After turning for help to computer experts from the University of Michigan, a team was able to conduct facial mapping experiments on digital photographs of the women, or devatas. The team, whose findings were presented last month at the International Conference on Pattern Recognition, an academic convocation in Istanbul, concluded that there were at least eight different facial types, perhaps reflecting a variety of ethnicities in the Khmer kingdom.

The results are to be examined further by archaeologists and more computer mapping is planned. But for all the effort that went into the mapping, the results of which were published in DatAsia magazine, many questions about the women remain unanswered.

"There are almost 1,800 women's faces there," said Mr Davis, who is now trying to use 65 separate characteristics to place the faces in a database. "It's a Facebook of the 12th century, but no one had ever heard of them. This was the biggest temple the Khmer people ever built and it must have been important to them because they threw everything into it. They would have put important things in it; these women must have been important to the kingdom."

Mr Davis wrote to universities, pestered experts, and sought the opinions of people from around the globe who had worked at Angkor. Trude Jacobson, an assistant professor of history at the University of Queensland, Australia, and author of Lost Goddesses: Denial of Female Power in Cambodian History, said: "Kent is an enthusiastic researcher of a question that everyone assumed was settled long ago, or doesn't matter.

"The history of women in Cambodia, until very recently, has been one in which they were relegated to the shadows. His interest is infectious and has made others more interested in questions of gender in an otherwise heavily masculinised historical inquiry."

What has struck Mr Davis as he has continued his enquiries, is that for all the women at Angkor there are relatively few male carvings."Could these different women represent the different professions of the Khmer kingdom?" he said. "Could they be scholars, agriculturalists? I think they must represent the most important women in the kingdom."

Dr Peter Sharrock, an expert on South-east Asia at London's School of African and Oriental Studies, has studied the temples around Angkor for years. "We understand [the female carvings] little but they play a major role in the architectural sculpture of these temples, which must imply a major role in the beliefs of the ancient Khmers and in the rituals in their temples," he said.

"Khmer descent was primarily matrilineal, and Khmer women were literate and powerful. Many were queens, and most kings base their genealogies and claims to the throne on their female ancestors. The ancient Khmers venerated the goddess Prajnaparamita in the most elaborate cult to her known anywhere in Asia. So there are fundamental questions here about an exceptional female religious and regal role in ancient Cambodia that remain unanswered."

Professor Jacobson believes the images were part of a broader iconography relating to the supernatural world. "The devatas, placed either side of doorways, were guards who monitored who was permitted access from the mundane world to the supernatural," she said.

"[Those] represented as flying or dancing, were responsible for leading the souls of the dead to the supernatural world from the battlefield. The models for the images at Angkor were doubtless members of the royal family."

Mr Davis said he was dedicated to trying to throw greater light on the mystery of the carvings by working with the team of researchers he has cultivated. At this point, he said, starting to analyse the images was like "being the first person to get a map to the British Museum and the keys to the front door".

He added: "Once we define facial types more thoroughly, an incredibly exciting prospect appears. If these images are portraits of actual people, it's logical to assume that they had children within this region, and that creates the possibility of using facial pattern recognition on people living in this area to see if facial shapes and types seen at Angkor still live here. We could actually find the descendants of some of the sacred women in the temple."

Symbol of a nation

*The sprawling temple complex of Angkor Wat, located amid dense jungle and close to the city of Siem Reap, was built in the early 12th century and is one of a series of stunning palaces and temples that were built over a 400-year period by the Khmer Kingdom.

*Today, the temples attract up to a million tourists a year, but for many years the remarkable buildings were unknown to the West, which only "rediscovered" them in the 19th century. During the 1970s and 1980s they were off-limits as a result of the presence of the Khmer Rouge, the Maoist-inspired rebels who ruled Cambodia from 1975-79 and who then engaged in a bitter civil war for the next two decades.

*Angkor Wat itself, the most impressive and best-preserved of the complexes, was built for King Suryavarman II in the early part of the 12th century and is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It has since become a symbol of Cambodia, even appearing on its national flag.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cambodia aims high with record-breaking skyscraper

Wed Sep 1, 2010

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia is aiming for the record books with an ambitious plan to construct Asia's tallest building, a 555-metre skyscraper worth $200 million (£130 million), Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday.

The building would be five times taller than the country's present highest structure, the new, 32-storey Canadia Bank Tower, which dominates the Phnom Penh skyline, where buildings of more than five floors stand out.

If the project goes ahead, it would top the Taipei 101 Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Centre and Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers -- the world's three tallest buildings after the 828-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

"It will be shorter than the one in Dubai and taller than any buildings in Asia, and I think we can do it," Hun Sen announced during a university graduation ceremony on Wednesday.

"We don't have to be too conservative and we also don't need to be too outdated," Hun Sen added, brushing off criticism from cultural groups concerned that a construction boom was threatening the city's French colonial architecture.

Hun Sen said the proposal had been made to the country's Land Management Ministry and local lender Canadia Bank would be involved in the project.

However, real estate companies questioned whether there was much demand for a building half a kilometre high in the capital of one of Asia's poorest countries.

"Where would the investors come from?" said Sung Bonna, CEO of Bonna Real Estate Group in Phnom Penh.

"We are concerned about the shortage of demand and occupancy rates so we need time, but we hope this dream comes true."

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Martin Petty)

Cambodia boasts plans for Asia's tallest building [-We may not have anything to eat, but we'll have the tallest building in Asia!]

Posted: 01 Sep 2010 08:38 AM PDT

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Impoverished Cambodia plans to build a 1,820-foot (555-meter) skyscraper, its prime minister said Wednesday, a feat that would give one of the region's least-developed capitals the tallest building in Asia.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said he had approved a master plan for the skyscraper, which would be located about half a mile (one kilometer) from the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh — a dusty city of colonial villas, slums and one standout skyscraper, the recently completed Canadia Tower that is about 377 feet (115 meters) high.

Hun Sen did not say when construction would start, how much it would cost or give any other details, except that it would be built by a Cambodian company, Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp., owned by tycoon Pung Khiav Se.

The company's project manager, Touch Samnang, said preliminary estimates suggest the building would cost $200 million, but the project was being studied by experts and government ministries. He said it would include a shopping mall, hotel, apartments and an entertainment center.

That figure is dwarfed by the sum for what is currently Asia's tallest building, the Taipei 101 in Taiwan. Rising 1,667 feet (508 meters), it cost about $1.6 billion. It had been the world's tallest since 2004 but was overtaken in January when Dubai unveiled the Burj Khalifa, which rises 2,717 feet (828 meters) from the desert.

Cambodia, whose commerce is tiny by international standards, has been experiencing a real estate bubble for the past few years, but several ambitious construction projects have been delayed or suspended.

Cambodia to have 'Asian Riviera.'

Wednesday, 1st September 2010
Source : HVS Internmational
The Royal Group (TRG), a Cambodian corporation in property and infrastructure development, has unveiled a masterplan to develop Koh Rong into Asia's first environmental resort destination.

The plan, which aims to transform the island into the next ‘Asian Riviera’, will cover elements such as infrastructural development of an airport, a marina, a port and roads, as well as resorts, hotels, golf courses, shopping, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

TRG has been granted a 99-year lease for the development, which has a five-year schedule for the first phase and eventual completion in 25 years’ time.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cambodia tourism records swift recovery

September 2010
Travel & Tourism News Middle East

TOURIST arrivals in Cambodia increased by about 12 per cent in the first six months of this year, according to recently released Ministry of Tourism statistics.

In the first half of 2010, Cambodia received a total of 1,221,156 foreign visitors, up from 1,086,518 in the same period last year.

Tourists from Asia accounted for a large number of the visitors, with arrivals from neighbouring Vietnam taking the top spot at 208,667, up 46 per cent on 2009.

South Korea stood at number two, with 136,498, up around 35 per cent annually. Japan was third with 71,107 tourists, a modest rise of about seven per cent.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the growth in tourism was due in part to a gradual recovery of the global economy and an easing of vehicle restrictions at Cambodia’s border frontiers – which has led traffic at some checkpoints to soar by up to two-thirds.

“We hope the number will continue to grow in the second half of this year,” he said.

Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said visa-exception agreements and an increase in flights would be an important factor in attracting more tourists to the kingdom in coming months.

He said that airlines such as Bangkok Airways and Air Asia would increase their flights from October to December, the high tourist season.

The statistics showed that in the first six months, tourist arrivals by air rose an estimated 14 per cent to 632,373, while arrivals by road and water rose around 13 per cent to 522,634.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cambodia's Khmer heritage threatened by looting of archeological sites

A visitor at the temples of Angkor, which have been looted for their carvings and artworks. Photograph: David Longstreath/AP

Angkor temples among threatened Cambodian sites highlighted by the International Council of Museums

Tuesday 3 August 2010
Florence Evin
Guardian Weekly

Bells, drums, bracelets, bronze statuettes; cornaline and agate beads; a Buddha's head, a lingam, a phallic symbol associated with the Hindu deity Shiva, lintels, fragments of chiselled bas-reliefs and engraved sandstone steles; female divinities, ritual objects, gilded wooden statues … and so the list goes on. In all, the first Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk published on the internet by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) details 46 categories of object.

Despite the measures taken by the Cambodian government to protect its 2,000-year-old Khmer heritage, the widespread looting and destruction of archaeological sites continues.

At present only the immediate vicinity (covering about 230 sq km) of the main Angkor temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon, Baphuon, Preah Khan and Ta-Prohm – which Unesco placed on its World Heritage list in 1992, is protected. Angkorian remains hidden in the forest extend over a much larger area.

Apart from Angkor, attempts to prevent looting have had little effect. "The prehistoric past of Cambodia remains largely unexplored and undocumented," ICOM explains on its site. "The looting of sites from all periods of Cambodia's past robs the world of the chance to understand the unique beginnings and continuous evolution of the Khmer civilisation."

Local people have no idea of the antiquities' value nor even the ban on trade. This explains why, in 2009, only two thefts – of sandstone statues of the Buddha – were reported to Interpol, which keeps track of stolen artefacts for its 188 members, including Cambodia.

Recent thefts have not achieved the same media impact as the spectacular raid on Banteay Chmar temple, east of Angkor, in 1999, when a 50-metre strip of bas-reliefs was cut out and trucked through the jungle to Thailand. Fortunately, the loot was intercepted in Thailand and returned to Cambodia. ICOM's first Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk targets collectors, museums, art dealers, customs and police, but also seeks to inform the general public and raise overall awareness.

Although neither of the two recognised trafficking hubs – Thailand and Switzerland – have ratified the Unesco convention on illicit trade in cultural goods, this development may well make them less attractive.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cambodia’s Angkor Casino To Break Ground In October

2 Aug, 2010 / GamblingCompliance Ltd. / Bill Spain

Building work on Cambodia’s biggest casino will start in October – with Harrah’s and MGM among potential investors in the resort, according to developers.
South Korean real-estate developer Intercity Group will build the $470m integrated resort and casino in the popular tourist region of Siem Reap, with the aim of targeting the growing number of Chinese visitors to Southeast Asia.

The resort – 195 miles northwest of the capital Phnom Penh – is in a region which attracts over a million tourists a year to its famous Angkor temples, with about 580,000 flying directly into Siem Reap.

James Cho, vice-president, said the construction of the Water Park complex, with three hotels, a gaming centre, shopping and convention centres and an 18-hole golf course, will start in October and should open in early 2012.

He said that the casino, which was granted a licence in 2008, aimed to draw visitors from nearby Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and particularly China.

He said: "They're visiting Singapore, they're visiting Southeast Asia, and we just think that right now it's a very good time, it's the right time. Asian gaming is hitting Cambodia right now.

"With the Chinese, the increase in the middle class from China, Southeast Asia is a very good market. There is no visa restriction like they have in Macau.”

Cho said around 2.2 million tourists a year visited Cambodia and 1.3 million of them went to the temples in Siem Reap. The new resort is hoping to attract 60 to 70 percent of them.

Cho said the Intercity Group casino would be the first sited away from country's borders and was part of the Cambodian government's effort to attract more tourists into the country.

"They're making it a very rare exception and allowing a resort with gaming to be built," he said.

He said that Harrah’s and MGM Resorts International, the largest casino owner on the Las Vegas strip, are among potential investors to visit the site.

“All these big guys are interested in operation management deals,” Cho said. “We’re confident because the feasibility is there and gaming concessions in this region are so rare.”

Despite the early successes of Resorts World Sentosa, which opened in Singapore in February and Marina Bay Sands which opened in April, which have helped drive awareness of the potential economic value of casino development, observers caution funding for the casino may remain an issue.

Cho said the tourist draw of Angkor Wat, a 12th century Hindu temple, an international airport and “tons” of incentives from the government, including corporate tax holidays and low gaming levies, would make the project viable.

He said: “Not everybody’s going to gamble in Macau or Singapore - Cambodia is family friendly and it’s cheaper.”

Hyung Joo Kim, Intercity’s chief executive officer, is scheduled to meet Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen this week in the capital Phnom Penh.

He will be accompanied by several partners in the project, including Tobin Prior, a former executive with Kerzner International who led that firm’s failed bid for a casino in Singapore in 2006.

The Cambodian government had a revenue of $19m from its 29 casinos in 2008, according to Finance Ministry statistics. That fell to $17m last year, because of a drop in tourist arrivals and diplomatic disagreements with neighbouring Thailand.

Most forms of gambling are forbidden in Thailand but thousands of Thais regularly visit massive casino complexes just over the border with Cambodia.

NagaCorp is currently the only casino operator in Cambodia, with a licence to run casinos within 200 km (124 miles) of Phnom Penh until 2065.

NagaCorp recently reported a decrease in revenue of 39.1 percent to $117.8m for 2009, down from $193.5m in 2008, with net profit down 36.3 percent to $25.5m.

In 2009 60 percent of NagaCorp’s VIP gamblers were from Malaysia, 15 percent from Vietnam and 12 percent from each of Singapore and China.

Sean Monaghan, an industry expert who formerly worked as a gaming analyst in Singapore said junket operators in Thailand and China would be vital to the success of the project.

He said: “Even though Siem Reap sounds goods, most of the people that go there aren’t really casino players. You have to have a very, very solid team to pull that financing off.”

Friday, July 30, 2010

US and Cambodia in controversial lockstep

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 08:22 AM PDT

Cartoon by Sacrava (on the web at

Jul 31, 2010
By Clifford McCoy
Asia Times (Hong Kong)

"In a July 8 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based rights lobby, alleged that many RCAF units selected to participate in the joint exercises had abysmal rights records. HRW said that by allowing the controversial units to participate in the drills, the US had undermined its own commitment to the promotion of human rights in Cambodia."
BANGKOK - Cambodia's first-ever multinational military exercise is part and parcel of intensifying competition between the United States and China for regional influence.

The recently completed US-Cambodia military drills, known as "Angkor Sentinel 10", involved 1,200 soldiers from 23 countries and were ostensibly part of Washington's Global Peace Operations Initiative, a program run jointly by the US Department of Defense and State Department to help train global peacekeepers against insurgency, terrorism, crime and ethnic conflict.

The largest contingents of troops in the exercise were from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the US Army Pacific, even as it was billed as a multilateral peacekeeping operation.

Warming bilateral relations come as the Barack Obama administration puts new policy emphasis on Asia and moves to compete with, if not contain, China's growing influence in Southeast Asia. Cambodia, as well as Laos and Myanmar, are viewed by many observers as already firmly in China's orbit. China's influence in Cambodia has grown considerably in the past decade. While not the largest official donor to the country, its aid projects and investments are strongly publicized and come without demands for improved human rights, better governance or less corruption.

The US has provided over US$4.5 million worth of military equipment and training to the Cambodian military since 2006, and this was the first time the two sides jointly put the equipment to use. Recent statements by US officials highlighted the cooperation between Cambodia and US forces.

At the May 3 opening of the now-completed, US Defense Department-funded Peacekeeping Training Center, US charge d'affaires Theodore Allegra said the US remained ''committed to enhancing military relations with Cambodia in the areas of defense reform and professionalization, border and maritime security, counter-terrorism, civil-military operations and de-mining."

The $1.8 million training center was "evidence of the US government's commitment to enhancing partner capacity with Cambodia", he said.

At the July 12 opening ceremony of the military operations, US ambassador to Cambodia Carol Rodley said Washington was committed to enhancing its military relationship with Phnom Penh and called Angkor Sentinel a "unique opportunity" to expand the friendship between the two countries.

The drills, which also included participants from France, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, India, Italy, Germany, Japan, Mongolia and the United Kingdom, notably coincided with the 60th anniversary of US-Cambodia relations.

The program for the exercises consisted of two main components: a multilateral UN force headquarters computer-simulated command post exercise held in Phnom Penh and a two-week field training exercise at the RCAF's ACO Tank Command headquarters in Kompong Speu province 50 kilometers west of the capital.

However, the exercises did not sit well with some military officers in Thailand, the US's erstwhile security partner in the region. Thailand plays host annually to the region's largest US-led joint military exercise, Cobra Gold. Some Thai officers have expressed dismay that the US is showing increased strategic interest in a country that has emerged as one of its biggest security threats in light of recent border disputes and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's perceived meddling in Thai domestic politics.

United States Under Secretary of State William Burns discounted this view in a July 16 press conference in Bangkok. "We don't see that as in any way contradicting or in conflict with our commitment to working with the Thai military on regional security or peacekeeping operations," he said.

Guns for hire

Cambodia has come a long way since being the recipient of one of the United Nations' largest peacekeeping operations from 1991-1993. After decades of debilitating civil war, the country has in recent years sent peacekeepers, primarily de-mining experts, to Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and Lebanon.

Human-rights activists argue that while Cambodia may no longer need peacekeepers itself, its population is still in need of protection from its own armed forces, including units involved in the recent joint exercises.

In a July 8 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based rights lobby, alleged that many RCAF units selected to participate in the joint exercises had abysmal rights records. HRW said that by allowing the controversial units to participate in the drills, the US had undermined its own commitment to the promotion of human rights in Cambodia.

HRW, Cambodian human-rights organizations and other international rights groups, as well as the US State Department, have all detailed ACO Tank Command units involvement in illegal land seizures. These include the November 2009 seizure of farmland from 133 families in Baneay Meanchey province and the use of tanks in 2007 to flatten villagers' fences and crops in a forceful move to confiscate land.

HRW noted that certain elite units, such as the prime minister's personal bodyguard, Airborne Brigade 911, Brigade 31 and Brigade 70, were all scheduled to participate in the Phnom Penh portion of the exercise. Both the bodyguard unit and Brigade 70 were involved in the 1997 grenade attack on a political rally by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, according to HRW.

Airborne Brigade 911, meanwhile, has been linked to arbitrary detentions, political violence, torture and summary executions. Brigade 31 has been accused of involvement in illegal logging, intimidation of opposition party activists and land-grabbing, including the use in 2008 of US-provided trucks to forcibly evict villagers from their land in Kampot province.

Cambodian military officers and soldiers operate without fear of arrest or punishment, human-rights groups say. ''Hun Sen has promoted military officers implicated in torture, extra-judicial killings and political violence,'' said Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director.

While some of these acts have been carried out for the benefit of the business interests of military officers, others have been done at the request of private companies with links to the military. Plans announced by Hun Sen in February for corporate sponsorship of military units to cover defense costs have many worried that the contributions will increase companies' control over military units to do their bidding.

Cambodian government officials dismissed HRW's claims. The US has likewise defended its involvement in the exercises. In a July 11 statement by embassy spokesman John Johnson, he said all participants in the exercises were "thoroughly and rigorously vetted" by the embassy and the Defense and State departments.

This was echoed by Burns during his visit to Phnom Penh. "Any military relationship that we conduct around the world is consistent with US law. And so, we look very carefully, we vet carefully, the participants from Cambodia, from other countries, in any kind of exercise that we engage in."

HRW called on the US government to suspend military aid to Cambodia until an improved and thorough human-rights vetting process could be implemented to screen out abusive individuals or units from receiving US aid or training. However, indications are that the US has little interest in putting the brakes on rapidly improving bilateral ties with Cambodia.

Symbolic gestures

One major symbolic step was the removal last year of Cambodia and Laos from a list of Marxist-Leninist states. The redesignation opened the way for increased US investment by removing restrictions on US Export-Import Bank financing and loans to both countries. Washington is currently one of Cambodia's largest donors with more than $72 million in assistance this year focused on health, education, economic development and government accountability. The US donated $65 million in 2009.

Washington is apparently showing its support in other ways, too. Last month, an American judge sentenced Cambodian-American Chhun Yasith to life in prison for his leading role in an attempted coup in November 2000 by a group calling itself the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF). Although the CFF had previously received some tacit US approval, the verdict sent a message to other Cambodians that support for any anti-government activities from US soil would no longer be tolerated.

Security related ties have also improved, partly out of recognition that several high-profile terror suspects have passed through Cambodia. In January 2008, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller made a visit to Cambodia to open a new FBI office at the embassy. Mueller said at the time, "It's an important country to us because of the potential for persons transiting Cambodia or utilizing Cambodia as a spot for terrorism."

Since then Phnom Penh has requested FBI help to solve the assassination of opposition journalist Khim Sambo and his son in July 2008 during a national election campaign. The journalist was known for his scathing criticisms of Hun Sen's administration, including allegations of corruption. The government has also requested FBI assistance in a joint investigation into a failed bomb plot against several government buildings by would-be Cambodian rebels in January 2009.

Prior to opening its new office, the FBI was involved in an investigation into the 1997 grenade attack on a rally by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in which 16 people were killed and an American citizen was among the injured. The US government and the FBI were later criticized for pulling out of the investigation when it was believed they were on the verge of solving it. A June 1997 Washington Post article cited US government officials familiar with a classified FBI report on the investigation as saying the agency had tentatively pinned the blame on Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit.

Jousting between the US and China for influence has become more openly apparent. After the US suspended the delivery of military vehicles following the repatriation of ethnic Uighur asylum seekers from Cambodia to China in December, Beijing stepped in with a $14 million pledge of military aid in May. The 256 military vehicles and 50,000 military uniforms covered under the pledge were delivered by China in June.

China has also provided small arms to Cambodia in recent years, including modern QBZ Chinese-made assault rifles for Cambodia's special forces units. With China keen to maintain its edge in Cambodia and expand its influence in the rest of the region, US policymakers may feel Washington can ill-afford to miss opportunities to improve ties. The upshot may be that strategic partners are less rigorously vetted as new friends are sought and military relationships developed.

Clifford McCoy is a freelance journalist.