Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bringing Commerce to Cambodia

Ron Gluckman 02.11.08

Brash, ambitious, some say ruthless, Kith Meng is building an empire in the newest tiger economy.

A towel around his neck, the slight Cambodian in a sweaty Nike sports shirt shouts instructions into a cell phone. He's stomping across the spacious lawn of the Cambodiana Hotel with an arrogant swagger, like he owns the place. Which, in fact, he does.

He's Kith Meng, and that same swagger is on display practically everywhere you look these days in Cambodia. From hotels to telecoms and television, banking, insurance, even education, Kith's Royal Group has a finger in nearly every pot simmering in Asia's newest tiger economy.

Long derided as a backwater that utterly missed the Asian economic boom, Cambodia has been racing to make up for lost time. News that the economy surged by more than 13% in 2005 caught everyone's attention. But growth has averaged 9% annually since 1998, says Stephane Guimbert, senior country economist at the World Bank. That's the second fastest in Asia, after China. Last year growth may have hit 10%.

Granted, it's from a very low base, and exports are mainly textiles. But investment has picked up in the expectation that oilfields off the southern coast will be developed. Real estate is skyrocketing, faster than anywhere in Asia outside of China. And the country drew more than 2 million visitors last year for the first time. Plans call for a stock exchange to open in 2009.

Susan Schwab, who in November became the first U.S. Trade Representative to visit Cambodia, praises its liberal investment laws and a commitment to cleaning up rampant corruption. "This is a wonderful story, for any country, more so one so scarred by its past," she says. "If the buzz factor hasn't already hit, it's definitely developing." Her visit coincided with a landmark Phnom Penh investment conference. "We expected 300 people, but there were over 500," says Christopher Bruton in Bangkok, one of the organizers and a researcher and consultant in Cambodia for decades. "We have never seen such interest in Cambodia."

Kith happily notes: "Before, people used to think of this as a place of war and instability. But now we are part of the global economy, and everyone is coming."

When they arrive, many have no choice but to court Kith, who, more than any of the country's other tycoons, stands as the rugged role model for wheelers and dealers in this anything-goes, frontier economy. "He's a real rags to riches story," says Dean Cleland, chief executive of ANZ Royal, which is planting ATMs and the bank's vivid blue logo everywhere around Phnom Penh. Australian banking powerhouse ANZ holds 55% in the joint venture, with Kith holding the rest, but nobody would consider him a meek minority shareholder. "We have strong and rigorous board meetings," Cleland says.

The word around town is that the two sides battle constantly, with ANZ struggling to distance itself from a meddlesome Kith. "Who said that?" Kith snorts, temper flaring at any inkling of criticism. Yet he quickly calms down, chuckling as he concedes: "My role in the partnership is to push. And push. I'm like the driver."

It's clearly a role he relishes. And, whatever confrontations ensue behind closed doors, the combustive mix has propelled the venture into a lead role in a banking market that may be growing at 30% a year, fueled by the bubbling real estate market. Of course, Kith also claims plenty of prime Phnom Penh plots.

New high-rises are rapidly reshaping a city skyline still dominated by a 15-story Intercontinental Hotel. But 40-story office, commercial and residential towers are on the rise. Just to trump them, Kith vows to build one 45 floors high. Then came the announcement last month that the 52-story International Finance Tower had gotten approval. Kith will surely adjust his sights higher.

Many of Phnom Penh's streets are still unpaved, and there isn't a single Golden Arches or Starbucks yet. Hence, at the opening late last year of a Swensen's, a U.S. chain of ice cream parlors, none other than the U.S. ambassador and the commerce minister cut the ribbon. The hunger for fast food will be satisfied this year by the first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets opened by--who else? Kith, who also has the Pizza Hut concession.

"He's not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense of creating new businesses," notes one close friend. "What he does is go out and get the business that Cambodia needs. He brought in mobile phones, television, banking, insurance. He's the right guy at the right time."

Take ATMs. When ANZ opened in late 2005, there were hardly any in Cambodia. "We wanted to bring in 25," Cleland recalls. Kith wanted 100. "We ended the year with 52, which seemed a fair compromise," Cleland says. The number quickly topped 90 and will surpass Kith's goal any day.

Not that Kith is satisfied. Now he's barking about credit cards. No Cambodian bank issues plastic, not surprising considering the country's rather recent financial turmoil. Money finally returned to circulation after the Khmer Rouge outlawed currency, blew up the banks and turned clocks--and this war-torn nation--back to Year Zero.

Cleland says there may be 6,000 credit cards issued by overseas banks in the country. He reckons that cards rarely make financial sense until the number reaches 100,000. But Kith is guided by intuition, not market studies. "In his words, you cannot be the number one bank without credit cards," Cleland says. And guess what? "We're rolling them out in April," he notes.

The bank boss may not be very excited about the $1.5 million likely to be spent on the rollout, but he's quite satisfied with a profit of $541,000 for 2007--years before any profit was projected. All the more impressive, it comes as the bank plows cash into expansion. "This has been a good partnership, for both sides," Cleland says. "[ANZ] tends to be more cautious, but that definitely isn't his style. He's very aggressive, very bullish."

ANZ almost took a pass on Cambodia. "If not for Kith Meng, I don't think we'd be here," says Cleland. "A lot of people ask why ANZ is in Cambodia. The answer is that he went to Australia looking for a bank for the country. He made the rounds and came back and told us that of all the banks, we were the one that had said 'No' the most politely." Cleland says ANZ had previously assessed Cambodia: "It came up as a market that was too small, and it was too soon." Kith pressured ANZ to reconsider, suggesting that it fly people in for a new look. If they didn't like what they saw, he would pay for the trip. What ANZ saw was a huge cash economy bigger than what bank deposits indicated. "We caught the wave at exactly the right time," Cleland says.

ANZ may know banking, but Kith has the Midas touch in Cambodia. And he clearly stands apart from both the old money--made mainly in mining, logging and smuggling in the 1980s and 1990s--and the new entrepreneurs starting restaurants and tourism businesses. The older tycoons tend to be reclusive and tied by blood or marriage to the political leaders. In contrast the brash Kith is only 39, unmarried and linked to nothing but the pursuit of profit. Many call him the new face of Cambodian capitalism.



Sidebar:
Concrete Jungle

Nobody would have sized him up as such in the early 1990s, when he returned to Cambodia from Australia. He grew up there, just another skinny, shell-shocked refugee kid who had managed to escape the Khmer Rouge; about a quarter of the country's population perished during its brutal reign of terror in the 1970s.

Kith was the youngest son of Kith Peng Ike, among the many landlords and merchants of Chinese heritage who were an early target of the Khmer Rouge. Kith watched both his parents starve to death and often refers to his family's suffering but rarely gives details. After Vietnam toppled the Khmer Rouge, he made his way to Phnom Penh in 1980, then fled with a sister in 1981 to a Thai refugee camp. They immigrated to Australia, settling in Canberra.

These were the defining years of young adolescence for Kith. Many say his personal history explains his "go-for-the-throat" business style. "He is ruthless," concedes one close friend, "but Cambodia is a ruthless place. And you have to remember where he comes from. It made him a closer. He doesn't mince around."

Kith says he studied economics at the University of Canberra but talks little of the decade he spent Down Under, except when it suits him, as on an Australian tour with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. He's a major supporter--and beneficiary--of the prime minister, say many in the Phnom Penh business community. He holds the title of Okhna, bestowed on those who make civic contributions of $100,000 or more. Yet Kith denies receiving any special privileges, launching into a rage over a recent story on the Internet that suggested that he had the prime minister's ear.

He rarely talks to the media, which is surprising because he travels around the region touting investment in Cambodia at various conferences. "I'm an ambassador for Cambodia," he says proudly. And he gladly took over the presidency of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce--and "revolutionized it, made it effective, modern," concedes a Bangkok businessman and Kith critic. Other Cambodian tycoons prefer backroom deals, but quiet isn't in Kith's vocabulary. "He loves to exaggerate his importance," says the same businessman. Even friends agree that he's a big talker with a short attention span.

His reluctance to talk to the press is understandable, since the coverage he gets tends to be negative. He has been linked to numerous scandals--unfairly, note associates--including real estate deals in which residents or monuments were reportedly moved aside to give Kith development rights. His response: "I don't move people. That's the government's role. I'm a businessman."

The reason he avoids discussing his Australian upbringing, meanwhile, is because of bad memories, says one member of his inner circle. "He suffered from horrible racism," he says. "I remember one time he was telling me about taking a cricket bat to school, and it wasn't for sport. It was for protection."

Now he travels with an entourage that includes several assistants working a battery of phones and the usual bodyguards, standard in Cambodia, where arguments are often settled with muscle. One old tale concerns another tycoon so perturbed by a flight delay that he pulled out a gun and shot out the plane's tires. Stories of Kith's dispatching assistants to voice his displeasure are legendary. "He is tough," Cleland concedes. "But I think he actually likes all these rumors and gossip. It's part of Cambodia. He's told me, strength is in how people see you."

Kith, for his part, says that what sets him apart from others in Cambodia's new economy is his work ethic. He describes workdays that start at dawn, ending long after dark. Only recently have friends persuaded him to devote time to short workouts; he likes the treadmill, perhaps because he can still field calls. "I remember the first time I told him I was going on annual leave," recalls Cleland. "He said, 'Why?' He never takes a holiday. He told me he couldn't imagine anything worse. He just loves to work."

Kith Meng returned to Cambodia in 1991, following his eldest brother, Sophan Kith, who had resurrected the family business, then called Royal Cambodia Co. It flourished as one of the suppliers to the United Nations, then involved in its largest peacekeeping mission to date, with a budget of $10 billion.

Royal began its revival by arranging shipments of furniture and food. Soon it had the concession for Canon photocopying machines, a huge asset in an era before e-mail. "Kith himself was never a big player in the early days," recalls another supplier of the U.N. "He mainly was in the shadow of his brother." But his brother died under mysterious circumstances in 1994, prompting rumors that he was poisoned.

Kith Meng took over Royal and began a steady expansion through a series of partnerships. The key deal was a stake in MobiTel, which under Kith's chairmanship has become the leading mobile telephone company in the country and Royal's cash cow. Most of his other ventures remain long-term plays that have yet to pay dividends. "If Kith Meng has any weakness," says one foreign friend, "it's that he hasn't sold anything yet. It may be timing, but it's typical of self-made men in Asia. They just hold on to things too long." He adds: "Cash flow? He doesn't have a clue."

Still, he says Kith is maturing quickly. "Building a modern, diversified conglomerate takes a lot of different disciplines. I see it happening." Critics and colleagues alike say he puts his divisions in good hands. Unlike the established elite here, who tap family members, Kith recruits Western talent. "And he treats them well," says one competitor.

"Kith is raw and unpolished, but I think he's genuine," adds a longtime business consultant. "He doesn't read books or magazines, but he reads people."

Dropping his towel, Kith sits at a table on the lawn of his Cambodiana Hotel and begins discussing deals with potential investors from Thailand and America. Forget complicated business plans. "I know how to make money," he says. "That's why people do business with me."

Sidebar:
Concrete Jungle

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Telekom Malaysia to invest $100 million in Cambodia

Telekom Malaysia eyes Laos, Myanmar assets

  • Reuters
  • Saturday January 26 2008
(Recasts with details, background)
By Jennifer Tan
SINGAPORE, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Telekom Malaysia's mobile arm, TM International, is eyeing mobile assets in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, and will invest $100 million in Cambodia in the next two years to build its networks, the unit's chief said on Saturday.
Chief Executive Yusof Annuar Yaacob also expected TM International's revenues to grow up to 20 percent in the next three years.
"We're investing about $100 million in Cambodia over the next 18 to 24 months, and we're looking at a transaction in Laos at the same time -- we're talking to the government about taking over one of their mobile operations," Yusof told Reuters in an interview.
"As for Myanmar, which is the El Dorado of Asian telecoms, we're quite keen to do something there too -- we've been engaging with the government there."
The company is also keen on Vietnam and will wait for an opportunity to open up, he said.
"We've been engaged with the respective telecom companies for a couple of years now," he said, pointing out that MobiFone, Vietnam's second-largest operator, has been working to select a foreign adviser for an initial public offering.
A MobiFone executive said in December that the company's IPO would be delayed till May or June this year.
"It's also a partnership issue. Despite the war, they like American companies, but for an American company to come in the door, it might not be politically acceptable, so it might be an idea for us to partner one of these guys to increase our chances of taking a stake," Yusof said, adding that possible partners included AT&T Inc and Vodafone Group plc
Relations between Vietnam and the United States have warmed recently, culminating in the first visit to Washington last June by a Vietnamese head of state since the 10-year Vietnam War ended in 1975.
RUSH OF INTEREST
Last September, state-controlled Telekom said it would spin off its mobile business into a separately listed firm, TM International, to help unlock the value of its fastest-growing operations, separating it from its more staid fixed-line and broadband units.
TM International will house its domestic Celcom mobile unit and operations in nine other countries, including India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Earnings growth at Telekom, Malaysia's fifth-largest firm by market value, has mainly been driven by revenue from Celcom and its 67 percent-owned Indonesian mobile unit, Excelcomindo Pratama Tbk
Looking ahead, Yusof said he expected TM International's revenues to grow above 20 percent, but this figure would fall when combined with Celcom's slower growth rates. Celcom accounts for about half the group's revenues.
"The numbers are between mid- to high-teens (in percentage terms) for the blended organisation, over the next three years," he added.
When Telekom decided to spin off TM International, there was a rush of interest from operators such as Vodafone, Emirates Telecommunications Corp (Etisalat), Orange and China Mobile, because there were so few attractive telecom assets left in Asia, Yusof said.
"But so far we have not made a decision on two things: one, whether we will go ahead with that strategic partnership, or two, when that will happen. Everybody is engaging us regularly."
He added that if a decision was made on the sale of a stake to a foreign investor, the size would be at least 20 percent.
"But the key is not what that number is, but what they would bring to us -- do we want somebody who comes with an asset that makes sense?"
The listing of TM International would be finalised in early or middle of the second quarter, ahead of the earlier target of end-June, Yusof added.
TM International would not need to raise capital following the spin-off, but if it did, it would raise between $300-$700 million, smaller than earlier projections of $1 billion, he said. (Editing by Ramthan Hussain)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cambodian History Writ Large

By LESLIE HOOK
January 25, 2008; Page W14

SIEM REAP, Cambodia -- This country's most famous temple may be 900 years old, but the message it sets out to convey is timeless: Angkor Wat is all about glory. The temple is one of hundreds built by kings of the Khmer Empire to commemorate themselves and their empire, as well as to worship their gods. But Angkor Wat stands out from the rest -- in artistry, in scale and in popular imagery.

One of the largest religious structures in the world, and the only religious monument to appear on a national flag, Angkor Wat has become synonymous with Cambodia at its most powerful -- when it was the seat of the Khmer Empire, stretching from the South China Sea to the Bay of Bengal. The monumental scale of the temple has the same effect on visitors today as when it was first built. Angkor Wat has but a single approach: a wide stone causeway more than a third of a mile long (that's as long as six football fields end-to-end). The entry walkway crosses a moat 600 feet wide (my guide assures me it used to be filled with crocodiles) and ends at a wall and gates leading into the center of the compound. The central compound covers about 400 acres and once supported a town of about 100,000 people.

[Angor Watt]

With one central tower more than 130 feet high surrounded by four shorter towers, the center of the temple imitates the five peaks of Mount Mehru, the mythical mountain at the center of the Hindu universe. The temple walls (three concentric rectangles that demarcate the progressively higher levels of the temple), garden grounds and moat represent the soil and seas of the earth.

Reaching Mount Mehru is no easy chore: The temple's stone steps are dizzyingly steep -- more like a stone ladder than a staircase -- as a reminder of the effort it takes for humans to get closer to heaven. And, as if to drive home the point, the inner sanctuaries of the central tower were accessible only to the king and a select handful of priests.

When Angkor Wat was built, Cambodia was primarily Hindu and Khmer culture drew much of its inspiration from India. Most of the inscriptions at Angkor are in Sanskrit, and the nymph-like apsaras, or celestial dancers, that grace the walls derive from Hindu mythology. Later, however, the Khmer kings became interested in Buddhism, and Angkor Wat was converted into a Buddhist monastery between the 12th and 15th centuries. The central statue of the innermost sanctuary -- likely a statue of Vishnu -- was removed and a Buddhist image erected in its place. For several centuries, the Khmer empire practiced a syncretic faith that combined Buddhism and Hinduism.

In many ways Angkor Wat is so much larger than life that the details of the temple get overlooked amid the legends that surround it. It's easy to forget that it contains nearly 2,000 feet of the finest Khmer bas reliefs in the world. Its nearly 2,000 celestial apsaras represent the apogee of Cambodia's apsara-carving tradition and provide a detailed account of court dress and female fashions during the period of its creation, the elaborate headdresses, heavy jewelry worn on the arms and neck, and flowing skirts. Traditional Cambodian dance to this day imitates the apsaras' poses and costumes.

One of the most intricate reliefs decorating the walls of the temple's first gallery depicts the Churning of the Sea of Milk, a key event in Hindu cosmology in which the world was created by an epic tug-of-war between gods and demons. Each side pulled on a giant five-headed snake wrapped around Mount Mehru, and the subsequent twisting of the mountain and churning of the seas gave birth to the apsaras that grace the walls of Angkor Wat, as well as an elixir of immortality over which the gods and demons subsequently dueled. In this story, Mount Mehru is not only the center of the universe, but also the birthplace of the known world.

The Khmer empire included modern-day Burma, Thailand and Vietnam -- the largest area ever covered by Cambodia -- and laid the foundations for Cambodian culture and art for centuries to come. In a sign of the temple's importance, the king's palace was most likely on the temple grounds, although nothing of it remains today. About one million men, women and children populated the Angkor area, according to an estimate by French archaeologist Bernard-Philippe Groslier, making it the largest settlement in the preindustrial world.

All this manpower was necessary to build the temples, which were painstakingly erected from giant sandstone monoliths hewed out of a quarry more than 37 miles away. Rather than having foundations that sink into the ground, most Angkorean temples are built on huge mounds of earth that give them their pyramid shape, the soil excavated from a moat or from one of the lakes. Some historians theorize that the blitz of building during the Khmer Empire could have been accomplished only through a mandatory labor requirement levied on all citizens, or perhaps even through slavery.

The grandeur that marked the Khmer Empire was not to last, however. The royal city of Angkor was repeatedly sacked by the Thai army during the 14th century, and in 1431 the capital was relocated farther away from Thailand. Angkor Wat itself -- by that time converted to a Buddhist temple -- continued to function, and for centuries it was home to a flourishing monastery that attracted pilgrims from as far away as Japan, even while the former capital city nearby was gradually overtaken by the jungle. Although the Buddhists occupying the temple removed most of the original Hindu art, Angkor Wat's habitation and its continuous maintenance helped the temple remain relatively intact while many other Angkorean temples now lie in ruins.

Even after surviving the removal of its Hindu art, Angkor Wat did not entirely escape the turbulence of Cambodia's recent history. The Western part of Cambodia in which Angkor Wat is located was a Khmer Rouge stronghold through the 1990s (the Khmer Rouge were ousted from the capital city, Phnom Penh, in 1979). Restoration work on the temples took a forced, decades-long hiatus during the wars that wracked Cambodia through the later half of the 20th century. The area was unsafe for tourists until about 10 years ago, when the Khmer Rouge signed a peace treaty that formally ended Cambodia's civil war. There was relatively little physical damage to the temple as a result of the wars, but they did irreparable damage by destroying almost all of the remaining written records pertaining to the Angkorean period. Khmer archaeology scholar Christophe Pottier of the French Research School of the Far East estimates that 95% of the relevant documents have been destroyed in the past three decades, an irreplaceable loss.

In the years since peace has come to Cambodia the opportunities for looting have also increased, and many of the finest sculptures have been spirited out of the country and sold to buyers abroad. Tourism also poses its own set of dangers, with some temples suffering from overexposure to footsteps or curious hands. But despite this -- even as the physical structures of the temples inevitably decay -- Angkor will continue to symbolize something greater than itself. The memory of the Khmer Empire, and with it Cambodia's full potential, is unlikely to fade anytime soon.

Ms. Hook is an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Asia.

Cambodian-registered ship goes missing on its way from Japan to Hong Kong.

Search on for missing cargo vessel

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-01-26 10:54

China has sent rescue ships to search for a cargo vessel missing in the East China Sea with 17 Russian crew on board.

The China Maritime Search and Rescue Center said on Friday it launched a search and rescue emergency plan soon after a rescue center in Russia's far east informed it of the missing boat on Thursday.

The Cambodia-registered ship went missing on its way from Japan to Hong Kong.

The vessel failed to arrive in Hong Kong on Thursday as scheduled, and the last radio contact was made with the ship on Sunday, when it was 212 sea miles (391 km) east of Shanghai.

Russian rescue officials then informed rescue centers in China, Japan and South Korea of the Captain Uskov's disappearance.

"Our rescue ships have started searching," Zhai Jiugang, a senior official with China's search and rescue center, said.

Vessels sailing in the East China Sea have also been informed by the center's branches in Shandong and Shanghai of the disappearance of the ship, and were asked to assist in the search, he said.

The center is also using maritime satellites to help search for the vessel. But by Friday afternoon, there was "no clue about the missing boat, and we will continue to search", he said.

The boat, with a cargo capacity of 5,200 metric tons, was built in Japan in 1982. It flew a Soviet flag and was later sold to a private shipping company and registered in Cambodia.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cambodian Chinese prepare for Chinese New Year lion dance

Roasted pigs prepared for the inauguration ceremony of new prop lions used in lion dance are seen at the Chaozhou Guild of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 22, 2008. The Chaozhou Guild of Cambodia, a civilian group of the Cambodian Chinese originated from Chaozhou, China, held the ceremony here on Tuesday to greet the forthcoming Chinese lunar calendar new year, which falls on Feb. 7 this year. (Xinhua Photo)


 Roasted pigs prepared for the inauguration ceremony of new prop lions used in lion dance are seen at the Chaozhou Guild of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 22, 2008. The Chaozhou Guild of Cambodia, a civilian group of the Cambodian Chinese originated from Chaozhou, China, held the ceremony here on Tuesday to greet the forthcoming Chinese lunar calendar new year, which falls on Feb. 7 this year.


Cambodia signs deal to set up stock exchange in 2009

PHNOM PENH (Thomson Financial) - Cambodia Tuesday signed an agreement with representatives from South Korea's stock exchange operator to establish Cambodia's first stock market in 2009, officials said.

The memorandum of understanding makes formal the planned joint venture between Cambodia and the Korea Exchange (KRX), Asia's fourth-largest bourse operator.

The Cambodian government will own a 51 percent share in the new exchange, with KRX holding 49 percent, said Aun Pon Monirath, secretary of state with Cambodia's finance ministry.

'Both sides are now looking for a location and training people to work,' he said after a signing ceremony with KRX.

Last September parliament approved a law setting out the rules and regulations by which private and state enterprises can issue stocks and bonds.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon said at the time the law was up to international standards, although he acknowledged that many challenges remain -- particularly creating the infrastructure for the market and a computer system to manage trading. afp

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vietnam, Cambodia trade set to increase 27 percent

An Giang (VNA) – Viet Nam and Cambodia have set a target of increasing their two-way trade by 27 percent to 2.3 billion USD by 2010 and to 6.5 billion USD five years later.

These targets were released at a Viet Nam-Cambodia border trade conference in the Mekong delta province of An Giang on January 16, which was attended by representatives from central and local governments of the two countries.

Addressing the conference, Viet Nam ’s Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Nguyen Cam Tu said much remains to be done by the two governments, localities and businesses to achieve the target.

He also mentioned a number of difficulties in cross-border trade between the two countries, including poor transport systems, equipment and facilities.

Participants at the conference proposed that the two governments create a more convenient legal foundation for the development of cross-border trade and transport, loan provision for developing transport systems and facilities at border markets and economic zones.

They also called for the exemption of visas for people in border provinces, the simplification of import-export and investment procedures, and cooperation to build border markets and economic zones and transport systems.

Viet Nam exported 1.2 billion USD worth of commodities to Cambodia last year, a 6.5-fold increase of 2001. Cambodia is now Viet Nam ’s 16 th largest importer, buying mostly home alliance, vegetables and fruits, confectionaries, plastics, cigarettes and detergent.

Viet Nam is Cambodia’s third largest export market, importing chiefly home electric appliance, interior decorations, garment accessories and auto parts.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cambodia to double luxury golf courses by 2010: official

A golf pro playing at the Phokeethra Country Club in Siem Reap

Related News

Full coverage »

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia doubled its number of luxury golf courses last year to four and hopes to have eight by 2010 in a bid to lure more high-end tourism from the fast-growing sport in Asia, officials said Thursday.

Cambodia in 2007 opened its only two PGA-rated courses in the popular tourist town on Siem Reap, in northwest Cambodia near the famed Angkor temples which remain the country's biggest draw for foreign visitors.

A third course backed by South Korean investors is expected to open in Siem Reap in 2009, said Suos Yara, secretary general of Cambodia Golf Association.

Three other multi-million-dollar golf projects are also under construction near the capital Phnom Penh and along the border with Vietnam, with another planned near the seaside resort of Sihanoukville, he told AFP.

"Golf can attract more high-yield tourists. Beside touring our heritage sites, tourists also need entertainment," he said.

"They have different hobbies, but most adults like playing golf as part of their tour package," he added.

Cambodia's profile as a golfing destination got a major boost when the Phokeethra Country Club in Siem Reap hosted the country's first international golfing event in November.

Suos Yara said the golfing industry has also contributed jobs to the local community, adding that the government wanted to eventually see at least seven courses in Siem Reap and about 10 near Sihanoukville.

"We want more golf courses ... When we have more golf course, we have more tourists and prospective investments," Suos Yara added.

Tourist arrivals to impoverished Cambodia topped two million in 2007, bringing in much-needed revenue.

But while most foreigners still flock to the Angkor temples, tourism officials are seeking to create more visitor destinations.

Six hours on the Dancing Road: "Terrifying and incredibly fun!"

A tiny pagoda is a huge reminder of what happened in this "killing field"

Seattle Times staff reporter


Editor's note: Seattle Times reporter Haley Edwards is traveling to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Syria and filing dispatches as she goes. For the jaunt around Asia, her 23-year-old friend, Stevie, is her sidekick. ("Or I will be hers; we're still working out the details," Edwards says..) In the Middle East, she'll be meeting three of her friends from college, two of whom are living in Damascus, Syria. See her dispatches below (most recent on top).

CAMBODIA — For those who are, as I was, a bit hazy on recent Cambodian history, here's the quick and dirty: During the Vietnam War, parts of Cambodia were heavily bombed by American forces. Between 1975 and 1979, a genocidal dictator named Pol Pot and his party, the Khmer Rouge, murdered between two million and three million people. In 1980, there was a massive, nationwide famine.

The first day we were in Siem Reap (the first major town you encounter on the aforementioned Dancing Road), Stevie and I visited one of the "killing fields" where Khmer Rouge soldiers murdered and buried civilians.

You think "killing fields" and you think it's going to look like Gettysburg. It doesn't. The killing fields here aren't really fields at all. They're just a few patches of dirt, interspersed with trees, about the size of a soccer field. Houses — three-walled structures made of corrugated metal and cardboard — lean into each other around the outside. Kids play in the trash heaps out in front.

One of the reasons why historians know that Khmer Rouge used this place to torture and murder people was because in 1980, they found 75 maimed and decapitated bodies that had been shoved down a well. When we arrived, there were two boys playing along the rim of that same well, balancing and goofing around. Life goes on, I guess.

The only indication that this ground was once wet with blood is a tiny pagoda, maybe 20-feet tall. It has four little stair cases on each side leading up to a plate-glass window, stretching floor to ceiling. Inside, it's full of skulls. Victims' skulls.

Our guide, Chea Bunat, told us that his father's skull is in there somewhere. He doesn't know which one. All he remembers is that one day, when he was eight years old, a bunch of men with machine guns rolled into his tiny village (Kleang Village, it's called) outside Siem Reap, and started going door to door, hauling anyone who was educated out into the street. They took Bunat's dad, who was a math teacher, but left his mom, who was a housewife. He remembers that the soldiers interrogated his mom about their neighbors. What did they do for a living? Did that guy go to school?

"And you couldn't lie, they knew everything. It was test to see if lying," Bunat says. "If lie? Then, bam." He mimes holding a machine gun, then hits himself in the forehead. "Right there on the street."

Six hours on the Dancing Road: "Terrifying and incredibly fun!"

CAMBODIA — The best way to get from Thailand to Cambodia is to take the Dancing Road, a deeply-cratered one-lane dirt road, stretching from the Thai border into the dusty expanse of northwest Cambodia.

It's named the Dancing Road for the way that people jitterbug around their cars while hurtling at top speed over potholes large enough to hide an entire cow.

It takes roughly six hours to negotiate 150 kilometers, from the border to the next biggest city, Siem Reap. But the potholes, craters, dirt moguls and ATV-style jumps (really, our bus got at least two feet of air over some of these) are hardly the biggest obstacle. Every kilometer or two, the road just ends.

There's a little orange "Detour" sign, written in the elegant Cambodian script, behind which is a 20-foot cliff. Cement drums are piled up on either side of the road at these junctures, indicating that the man-made gorges will, at some point, be filled in as drainage ditches. But, for now, they're just another reason for the bus driver to pull the e-brake, crank into a four-wheel drift and skid around a hairpin turn, all the while narrowly missing the herds of cows, auto-rickshaws ("tuk tuks"), motorcycles ("motos"), stray dogs and throngs of children in impossibly white school uniforms who crowd the sides of the road.

It's part terrifying, part incredibly fun.

Stevie and I first experienced the Dancing Road on a public bus, and, while none of the other passengers really spoke most of the time (it was nearly impossibly to hear over the deafening creaking of our 70s-era school bus), everyone on the bus leaned into the aisle and peered out the front window, just to watch the show. To scream. To pray. Sometimes, the whole bus would break into hysterical laughter after narrowly avoiding broadsiding a cow, or swerving to avoid a man on a bicycle carrying over 400 mangos in a fishing net on his back, or after the driver slammed on the brakes and all of us smushed up against the seat in front of us, our luggage skittering down the center aisles like skipping stones.

But for anyone who's ever ridden in a developing nation — or on the streets of Rome, for that matter — the Dancing Road would be old hat. It's chaotic and death-defying, sure, but it's what's on either side of the road that makes it unique to Cambodia:

Thatch houses balance on stilts (not because of floods, but to keep the home cool) as its occupants sleep in hammocks underneath.

Impossibly green rice paddies unfurl in every direction, the water flashing silver in the bright sunlight, and then end, abruptly, and the landscape turns into the dusty yellow-red of desert. Palm tree forests dot the landscape, looking like something out of Dr. Suess. Kids wear blue surgical masks with their blue-and-white school uniforms, to avoid the dust. Billboards remind children not to touch landmines. Craters from American bombs still pockmark the fields. Men with no arms, no legs and no faces beg at rest stops, their livelihoods stolen by the landmines that, 30 years later, still lie in wait in these rice fields.

"Gas stations" — old 2-liter bottles of Pepsi, filled with petrol — simmer in the sun. Ranch-style gates, the kind you might see in Texas, line the side of the road, leading to temples ("wats"), too far down the dusty paths to see.

Thirty-five men cram into the bed of a single pickup truck (really, 35 seems impossible; it's not), red-checkered cloths (a traditional Khmer cloth) wrapped around their faces.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Golf industry grows in Cambodia




The number of golf courses in Cambodia went from two to four in 2007 and should double again to eight by 2010 with four more courses in various stages of planning, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodian Daily said on Thursday.

The two to open most recently in Siem Reap province are the country's only PGA-rated courses, and they are playing off each other to bolster the kingdom's golf industry, said the paper.

"We are a growing destination, and golf is the fastest growing sport in all of Asia," said Maximilian Kaendler, clubhouse manager at the Phokeethra Country Club in Siem Reap.

About 500 golfers visited the club each month since it opened in April and it hosted the country's first major international golfing event in November.

Meanwhile for the Angkor Golf Resort which opened in November in the province, 1,000 visitors were received in its first month.

"The more we see businesspeople come, the more we see golfers come as well," Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh told the newspaper.

However, said the paper, the Cambodia's golf industry still faces hurdles, as current customers are usually local businessmen and government officials, and few travelers wander onto the courses while visiting the region.

Cham Prasidh said that a demand for golf will arise as long as foreign entrepreneurs continue to invest in Cambodia.

"It is a sport where you develop friendship very fast, which is good for business as well," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency January 17, 2008)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cambodia - Hardcore Travel Destination

Steve Finn
I am a UK based wannabe writer/photographer with a particular interest in South East Asia

author's email

author's web site

view author's other articles

January 16, 2008
Cambodia

Cambodia is an assault on the senses. Anywhere in the country beyond the cosseted, tourist rich environs of Siam Reap, the visitor finds facts which stagger them from every direction.

Between 1965 and 1973 the US dropped almost a third more ordnance (2.8 million tonnes) on Cambodia, a country the size of Oklahoma, than the allies dropped in the whole of WW2 (2million tonnes) including the atomic bombs which struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Cambodia is thought to be the most heavily bombed country in history.

The Khmer Rouge slaughtered in the region of quarter of the population, although historians are still arguing over the exact numbers. Lower estimates put the number just under a million, with the more extreme scholars suggesting that some three million people perished. The population of Cambodia, as of 1975, was in the region of 7.5 million people.

Even today, Cambodia is a country very much in transition. More than a third of Cambodian people survive on less than 50 cents a day, 24% of Cambodians will not live beyond the age of 40. More than 90%, some estimates are as high as 96%, of roads in the country are un-sealed dirt tracks. Cambodia, it is fair to say, is a hardcore travel destination. But the picture is changing.

The Cambodian economy is growing at over 6% per annum, largely as a result of a successful textile industry and a rapidly expanding tourist trade. Visitor numbers went through the one million mark in 2005 and look set to continue rising. Whilst it clearly has some way to go, the politically stable and accessible Cambodia we find today has far more to offer than the temples of Angkor Wat.

Phnom Penh, although a city still in recovery, is surely worth the effort of a visit. Of course, the genocide museum at Tuol Sleng and the killing fields of Choueng Ek will dominate most agendas, but there are unexpected treasures in Pnom Penh as well.

The colonial influence is obvious, Cambodia was a French colony until 1953 and there are some fine art-deco buildings around the city. True, the city itself has an unusual civic approach to maintenance and repair; rubbish is gathered in heaps and collected when they can get round to it.

Many Phnom Penh roads have returned to their ‘natural’ state and the traffic is wildly chaotic. The people are friendly though and the city has a positive, upbeat, atmosphere.

The discerning visitor will look beyond such trivia, and hopefully both ways before crossing the roads, to find some truly excellent restaurants along the riverfront. The FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) is a treasure, an excellent menu, good local beer and the best spot in town for people watching.

It’s said that the correspondents themselves, foreign journalists, fled so unceremoniously when the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh that there was beer on the bar and cigars smouldering in the ashtrays of the FCC club. There were also several abandoned cameras; what price those rolls of film now?

The Russian Market, a battered example of colonial architecture, sits smugly at the heart of a traffic storm promising the brave a typically Asian retail therapy session; cheap clothes, dodgy watches and an authentically Khmer food experience.

Very few will want to get to Cambodia and miss the temples of Angkor Wat and, fortunately, the road between Phnom Penh and Siam Reap is a sealed example and in good shape. Buses are regular, comfortable, take around five hours and cost a bargain $10.

It is possible to take a ferry along the Mekong and across Tonle Sap Lake in some eight hours. This may seem a bit more rock’n’roll but the reality is that the boats are not air conditioned, often overcrowded and blistering hot if you choose to sit outside. They also cost a relatively expensive $25 for the ride.



Siam Reap could hardly be more different to Phnom Penh. It’s small, fairly quiet, funky and safe. Whilst it would be wrong to suggest that Phnom Penh is dangerous, it can have an edgy feel in the darker parts of town after sundown. Siam Reap feels more like a holiday camp with a temple attached. Everyone is there for the same reason; Angkor.

There is accommodation to suit every budget in Siam Reap, from $5 hostels to the considerably more costly Le Meridien Angkor which tops out at $410 for a suite. There are plenty of comfortable, well situated hotels in the $25 range.

Transport around town, in both Pnom Penh and Siam Reap, can be had for $10-15 a day for a ‘moto-dop’ (a sort of motorbike and trailer) or tuk-tuk ; $25 for an air-con car. It’s simple to arrange yourself with a driver or hotel reception staff are generally very helpful and will organise it for you.

Angkor Wat itself is the biggest religious monument in the world. It is possibly the busiest as well, expect a crowd. Those with limited time will need to decide just which parts of the complex they want to see.

The main temple at Angkor is the obvious place to start, if only for the iconic picture of the temple across the lake. Be aware that if you save the main temple until later in the day in order to get better light for your pictures that they close the site down before dusk.

If you want moody, dramatically lit images of Angkor Wat they will have to be sunrise ones, not sunset. The sun does rise behind the temple, but if you make the effort to be there at 4am don’t expect to have the place to yourself.

Ta Phrom will also be on everyone’s list and is easily the most striking ruin. Ta Phrom is the complex which featured in the Tombraider film and has been left to be re-claimed by the jungle. A mile or so away, the Bayonne is probably the best example of bas relief carvings.

It’s often said that it’s not possible to see Angkor in a day. That is undoubtedly true, but some 1 million people a year seem to be giving it their best shot and the numbers are expected to breach 3 million by 2010.

No part of Angkor Wat is roped off. At the moment, there is nothing to stop people clambering over these exquisite, important, ancient ruins which have sat serenely in the jungle since they were abandoned half a millennium ago. The temples are suffering now and the time is rapidly approaching when they will, like so many heritage sites, have to be viewed from a distance.

There is no doubt that Cambodia remains an adventurous tourist destination. The infrastructure outside of the major cities is not restored. The ironic answer of ‘Bangkok’, to the question ‘where is the nearest hospital’ should not be too readily dismissed. It is accessible though, Cambodia, and those who make the effort to go there will not be disappointed.

This is a country which, having suffered almost three decades of brutal civil war, is slowly hauling itself back into normality and they need some help now, not in the form of aid but in tourist dollars spent in the bars, shops and hotels.

If all you have the time or inclination to do is spend a few days poking around Angkor taking pictures, and a few nights enjoying the jaunty, sanitised nightlife of Bar Street then you should go. It’s not Cambodia, Siam Reap is more like Cambodia’s theme park, but it’s worth the visit all the same. Even if only to see Angkor Wat up close and personal, before they put it behind ropes and in the glass cases of an air conditioned museum.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Some Cambodian History


Monday, Sep. 12, 1955

Bird in the Bush


"I beg you," Cambodia's impetuous young King Norodom Sihanouk entreated his subjects in a surprise broadcast last March, "permit me to leave my gilded cage." With that, he turned over the monarchy's six-tiered parasol to his father, Suramarit. After 14 years on the throne, 32-year-old Sihanouk was convinced that, "If I ever lose this King job, maybe I can go to Hollywood. They like Oriental characters over there, don't they? Maybe I could be a Cambodian Charlie Chan."

Last week, uncaged and happy, Citizen Sihanouk was flitting from village to village in a ruby-red Studebaker convertible, escorted by a fetching songstress and a loud jazz band on wheels. It was election time in Cambodia.

Princely Portrait. As King, Sihanouk enjoyed tootling a saxophone, composing love ballads, keeping race horses and elephants, a troop of dancing girls and a harem of concubines. But he was no mere playboy Oriental monarch. He also helped to win his country's freedom from French colonial rule, led his army in a skirmish against invading Viet Minh Communists and encouraged his diplomats to stand up successfully to Molotov and Chou Enlai at last year's Geneva meeting. Yet he felt powerless really to run his land, to keep it clear of corruption and out of a head-in-sand neutrality. Cambodia, he decided, is a monarchy ruled by politicians; he would become a politician.

He vowed, when he abdicated, never to return to power. He is not now a candidate for office. But he founded and now heads the Sangkum Party—the Socialist People's Community—which he hopes will capture a majority of the National Assembly's 91 seats. Sihanouk, whose portrait is the party's symbol, stands for a strengthened parliamentary monarchy for the central government at Pnompenh and "democracy at a level the people can understand," i.e., provincial assemblies to run local affairs and to check up on delegates to Pnompenh.

Rival Among Ruins. Chief opposition comes from the Democratic Party, whose symbol is a trumpeting elephant, and whose nominal chief is Sihanouk's cousin, His Highness Prince Phorissara. Deep in the jungle, however, somewhere near the ruins of ancient Angkor Wat, hides the Democrats' moving spirit, an old enemy of the ex-King. Son Ngoc Thanh was Japan's puppet Premier of Cambodia in World War II, when ex-King Sihanouk was only in his early twenties. Since then, besides being pro-Japanese, Thanh has been pro-French, anti-French, pro-American, anti-American, pro-King and anti-King, but never very antiCommunist. He once dickered with Communism's Ho Chi Minh for armed help in ridding Cambodia of the French. Impatient with what he felt was Sihanouk's excessive tolerance of the French presence, Thanh mounted an armed rebellion against the King three years ago, and might have got somewhere had not King Sihanouk, by dramatically taking "political asylum" in Thailand, startled the French at Geneva into setting Cambodia free.

Thanh's Democrats, mostly city dwellers who want power in their own hands, stand for abolishing the monarchy in favor of a republic. To Sihanouk, that is an invitation to corruption and chaos among his politically unschooled people. Says he: "We cannot afford the luxury of a republic."

Gallic & Frank. As the campaign hotted up last week, the main issue was neutralism v. siding with the West. Wailed the Democrats' chief newspaper: "American military aid will vassalize Cambodia and lead it to war." Like a flash, Sihanouk shot back: "What's wrong with American aid? Even Yugoslavia and Russia have accepted it."

Day in and day out, French-educated Sihanouk campaigned with Gallic gestures added to high-pitched, singsong Khmer, and spoke with a candor uncommon among either kings or commoners. "I completely failed in suppressing corruption while I was King," he shouted from his red convertible. "But I must admit I succeeded in my crusade for independence. I am not a genius. I get my ideas from the people."

This week Cambodia's adult males (soldiers and Buddhist monks excepted) prepared to cast their votes. Most of them, unable to read, must go by symbols. A monkey, a wooden plow, a bouquet of lotus flowers, five ears of corn designate various minor parties. If more people choose the trumpeting Democratic elephant than the portrait of the ex-King, there is always Hollywood.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cambodia-based Acleda Bank PLC assigned 'B+/B'

BANGALORE (Thomson Financial) - Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said it assigned its 'B+/B' counterparty credit ratings (CCR) to Cambodia-based Acleda Bank PLC with a stable outlook, citing the bank's adequate balance sheet strength and satisfactory asset quality.

The agency also assigned its 'D' bank fundamental strength rating on the bank.

S&P said it believes that the bank's asset quality on a long-run steady state basis might be weaker than that indicated by the current very low reported NPA levels due to portfolio seasoning.

An upgrade will hinge upon its ability to maintain good asset quality upon stabilization of its loan portfolio and improvement in core profitability through greater income diversity and an upgrade in Cambodia's sovereign rating, the agency said.

S&P said, however, substantial asset quality slippage from rapid loans growth or major economic deterioration will pose downward pressure on the ratings.

Cambodia opens first big cement plant

Sun Jan 13, 2008 10:52pm EST

KAMPOT, Cambodia, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Cambodia's first major cement plant, a $93 million joint venture with Thailand's Siam Cement SCC.BK, opened on Monday, another symbol of the war-scarred southeast Asian's nation rapid economic development.

The factory, in the coastal province of Kampot, is expected to produce 960,000 tonnes of cement this year, reducing Cambodia's reliance on imported materials for the construction boom reshaping its capital, Phnom Penh.

Siam Cement and top Cambodian building firm Khaou Chuly Group said their joint venture, Kampot Cement Co., should be producing double that quantity in 2009 and 2010.

At the factory's opening ceremony, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia had been importing between two and five million tonnes of cement each year to meet soaring demand and needed to start making its own.

"We need more cement," he said.

After decades of civil war, including the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields" of the 1970s, Cambodia's economy has taken off in the last three years, due mainly to rapid expansion of its tourism and garment industries.

A construction boom fuelled by billions of dollars of foreign investment, much of it South Korean, has helped push annual economic growth to nearly 10 percent. (Reporting by Dara Rith; Writing by Ek Madra; Editing by Ed Cropley)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

EVA airplane forced to land in Cambodia

Sunday, January 13, 2008

PHNOM PENH -- A plane carrying 146 passengers and crews was forced to make an emergency landing in Phnom Penh shortly after take off due to technical problems, an airport official said Saturday.

The EVA Airways flight, which was en route from the Cambodian capital to Taipei, returned to Phnom Penh International Airport on Friday about 15 minutes after it left, said Kim San, chief of Cambodia Air Traffic Services.

The plane, which had technical problems related to supplying air within the cabin, left for Taipei after being grounded for one hour, he said.

Cambodia's largest airport planned for seaside resort: minister

Radio Australia - News - Cambodia's largest airport planned for seaside resort: minister

[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/ra/news/stories/s2137118.htm]

Last Updated 12/01/2008, 12:44:42
Select text size:

Cambodia's seaside airport near Sihanoukville is slated to become the country's largest as a new focus is placed on bringing tourists into the area.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon told the AFP newsagency the airport would be bigger than Phnom Penh International Airport.

A year after its re-opening, service at the Sihanoukville airport remains limited to chartered domestic flights.

But plans are underway to make it a regional travel hub, with the first phase of a 200 million-dollar expansion expected to be completed by March.

The airport, some 230 kilometres southwest of Phnom Penh, had been closed since the early 1980s due to financial difficulties.

Direct flights between Siem Reap, the gateway to Cambodia's famed Angkor temples, and foreign cities have prompted a rise in tourist arrivals.

Officials hope to attract 2.4 million people to Cambodia this year.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Banking industry country risk assessment on Cambodia assigned Group 10




Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said that Cambodia's banking industry has been categorized in Group 10 in its Banking Industry Country Risk Assessment (BICRA). This reflects the country's nascent stage of development with deficiencies in the structural, institutional, and legal frameworks, it said in a report titled "Banking Industry Risk Analysis: Cambodian Banks Poised For Growth, But Structural And Institutional Vulnerabilities Exist."

Other countries in Group 10 are Bolivia, Jamaica, Ukraine, and Venezuela. (For a list of Asian BICRAs see "Banking Industry Risk Analysis: Asian Banking Systems," published April 23, 2007. For an introduction to BICRAs see "Banking Industry Country Risk: These Are The Good Old Days," published June 6, 2006.)

Cambodia's economic prospects are good due to political stability and liberal economic and trade policies. As a result, banks in Cambodia are poised to benefit from strong growth opportunities as the economy gathers momentum. However, the Cambodian banking system is fragmented and lacks financial depth with poor access to credit. There are a wide variety of structural distortions that prevent the optimization of financial intermediation by banks in Cambodia. Key ones are inadequate legal framework for secured transactions, developing institutional framework, and information asymmetry arising from poor disclosure standards.

As Cambodia transitions to a market economy and credit growth picks up, its main challenge is to rectify these deficiencies. Cognizant of this, the country's central bank, National Bank of Cambodia, has taken steps to restore confidence and improve banking and business regulations articulated in the Financial Sector Development Blueprint. The recent entry of international players has also brought a much-needed infusion of best practices and expertise. All said, the reform process is in its early stages and proper execution is crucial.

The BICRA reflects the strengths and weaknesses of a country's banking system relative to those in other countries. BICRAs classify countries into one of 10 groups ranging from the strongest banking system (Group 1) to the weakest (Group 10) from the perspective of country risk. Standard & Poor's analyzes the credit standing of financial institutions in the context of broad economic, regulatory, legal, and competitive environments in which they operate. This sectoral analysis is integral to estimating the probability of a banking crisis, the potential severity of fallout in the event of a crisis, and the fundamental strength and creditworthiness of individual financial institutions.

The report is available to subscribers of RatingsDirect, the real-time Web-based source for Standard & Poor's credit ratings, research, and risk analysis, at www.ratingsdirect.com. If you are not a RatingsDirect subscriber, you may purchase a copy of the report by calling (1) 212-438-9823 or sending an e-mail to research_request@standardandpoors.com. Ratings information can also be found on Standard & Poor's public Web site at www.standardandpoors.com; under Credit Ratings in the left navigation bar, select Find a Rating, then Credit Ratings Search. Members of the media may request a copy of this report by contacting the media representative provided.

Re-disseminated by The Asian Banker

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cambodia's oldest newspaper sold

New Owners for Cambodian English Paper
Associated Press 01.08.08, 11:57 AM ET

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -

Cambodia's oldest English-language newspaper will publish weekly instead of once every two weeks under a new ownership deal meant to make the paper more competitive, its founder said Tuesday.

Ross Dunkley and Bill Clough of Australia and Michel Dauguet of France have bought a controlling interest in the Phnom Penh Post, said Michael Hayes, a U.S. citizen who founded the paper 15 years ago.

Dunkley is the chief executive officer of Myanmar Consolidated Media, which publishes the Myanmar Times newspaper in that country, and Clough owns a mining and oil exploration company in Perth, Australia, said Hayes, who said he will stay on as the paper's editor-in-chief. He did not give Dauguet's occupation.

The newspaper is now published once every two weeks and will go weekly under the new ownership, Hayes said. It was not immediately clear when the new publication schedule would start.

"It has been several years that I have been looking for an investor to help expand the Post," Hayes said in an e-mailed response to a reporter's questions.

Hayes said that the Post is not in debt, though it just breaks even financially.

"It has never really been easy to run a paper here in Cambodia," he said.

The Post is a respected publication in Cambodia's media world, and sometimes draws the government's ire. The paper is read mostly by expatriates, overseas subscribers and government officials.

The new owners could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Post became Cambodia's first English newspaper in 1992 when Hayes started it with $50,000 in savings - as well as two computers and a fax machine.

Elixir Gaming has 976 gaming machines in Cambodia

Reports 2007 Year-End Installed Base of 1,542 Electronic Gaming
Machines

Gaming Machine Participation Venues increased from 2 to 12 in 2007
Fourth Quarter
LAS VEGAS & MACAU--(Business Wire)--Elixir Gaming Technologies, Inc.
(AMEX:EGT) ("Elixir Gaming" or
"the Company") today announced that the Company's installed base of
electronic gaming machines was 1,542 units as of December 31, 2007,
exceeding previous market guidance. The units are installed across 12
venues, with 566 installed at 3 venues in the Philippines and 976
installed at 12 venues in Cambodia.

-0-
*T
Current Installed Base of Electronic Gaming Machines
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Commencement
Venue Location Units Date
======================================================================
Premier VIP Manila, Philippines 200 August 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Casablanca Clark, Philippines 120 August 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Almond Manila, Philippines 246 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Macau Clubs Phnom Penh, Cambodia 190 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Star City Phnom Penh, Cambodia 150 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Angkor Paradise Siem Reap, Cambodia 120 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Hotel Caraba Siem Reap, Cambodia 100 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Lucky Diamond Phnom Penh, Cambodia 95 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Alibaba Phnom Penh, Cambodia 89 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Long Beach Phnom Penh, Cambodia 80 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Tin Tin Phnom Penh, Cambodia 80 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
8th Wonder's Phnom Penh, Cambodia 72 December 2007
----------------------------------------------------------------------
*T

As with all of the Company's agreements to date, Elixir Gaming has
100% of the gaming machine floor at each of the 12 venues noted above
and receives no less than 20% of the net gaming win from the machines.

Gordon Yuen, Executive Chairman and CEO of Elixir Gaming,
commented, "Our 2007 year-end installed base of 1,542 gaming devices
provides a solid base from which to achieve a growing stream of daily
recurring revenues throughout 2008. The significant number of venues
recently brought into operation proves Elixir International's
execution capability. We believe that the installed base can continue
to increase by an average of approximately 1,000 units on a quarterly
basis throughout 2008."

Joe Pisano, Senior VP of Elixir Gaming, added, "We are making
solid progress towards achieving our internal target of having an
installed base in excess of 2,500 gaming machines by late March/early
April 2008. The contracted pipeline to place gaming machines on a
participation basis continues to steadily grow - as does the average
daily net win at the venues currently in operation."

About Elixir Gaming Technologies, Inc

Elixir Gaming Technologies Inc. ("Elixir Gaming") is a member of
Elixir Group, an innovator of gaming technology solutions and a wholly
owned subsidiary of Melco International Development Limited. Elixir
Gaming, in collaboration with Elixir International (which is also a
member of Elixir Group), secures long-term contracts to provide
comprehensive turn-key solutions to 3, 4 and 5 star hotels, cruise
ships and other well-located venues throughout Asia that seek to offer
casino gaming products. Elixir International assists the venue and
venue owner with the licensing and regulatory process, physical casino
design, construction management, slot and game floor design layout
purchases the gaming machines and systems from the industry's leading
gaming equipment suppliers and installs the gaming machines and
systems such that the casino is delivered in a fully operational
state. Elixir Gaming retains ownership of the gaming machines and
systems and receives recurring daily fee of at least 20% of the net
gaming win per machine and provides on-site maintenance. The Company
has established a strategic presence in the Asia Pacific region with
participation contracts in the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and
other Asian markets. For more information please visit
www.elixirgaming.com.

About Elixir Group

Elixir Group is an important strategic component of Melco
International Development Limited's gaming and leisure entertainment
focus. Elixir Group holds the distinction of being a "home-grown"
brand: a full-fledged game manufacturer based in Asia - designing,
developing and supplying gaming machines and technology solutions
(surveillance, LEDs, ATMs) for the Asian market. With gaming research
and development centers in Macau and the Philippines, proximity to key
growth markets provides Elixir Group with competitive advantages. As a
pioneer in the competitive Asian gaming market, Elixir Group, through
its wholly-owned subsidiary, Elixir International, has consistently
delivered exciting solutions, expert sales advice and professional
gaming support. Elixir International has forged alliances with leading
gaming and technology companies and by accessing its partners'
manufacturing capabilities is able to focus entirely on innovative
product design and customer service. Elixir International has also
secured several strategic agreements in the provision of gaming
technology infrastructure for various gaming concession holders in
Macau.

Forward Looking Statements

This press release report contains forward-looking statements
concerning Elixir Gaming Technologies, Elixir Group and Elixir
International within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act
of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of
1934, as amended. Those forward-looking statements include statements
regarding expectations for the business relationship between Elixir
Gaming Technologies, Elixir Group and Elixir International, including
the recurring revenue that may develop from the relationship with
Elixir Group and/or Elixir International, and the Company's
expectations for future product revenue. Such statements are subject
to certain risks and uncertainties, and actual circumstances, events
or results may differ materially from those projected in such
forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause or contribute to
differences include, but are not limited to, risks related to Elixir
Group's inability to place gaming machines at significant levels and
risks relating to Elixir Group's ability to place games that generate
the expected amount of net-win. Elixir Gaming Technologies cautions
readers not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements.
Elixir Gaming Technologies does not undertake, and specifically
disclaims any obligation, to update or revise such statements to
reflect new circumstances or unanticipated events as they occur.

Jaffoni & Collins Incorporated
Richard Land or Dave Jacoby, 212-835-8500
egt@jcir.com

Copyright Business Wire 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

ITD part of $5bn Cambodia coalfired power generation venture

Koh Kong plant will produce 1,830 MW

YUTHANA PRIWAN


ITD president Premchai Karnasuta studies a map of the Koh Kong site at a briefing yesterday. The coal-fired Cambodian plant could generate up to 3,660 megawatts once it is operating at full capacity.

SET-listed Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD), Thailand's biggest construction company, is joining with five investment partners to develop a $5-billion coal-fired power plant in Cambodia.

President Premchai Karnasuta said ITD had signed a memorandum of understanding to invest in the power plant with Egco Plc, Ratchaburi Electricity Holding Plc, Datang International (Hong Kong) Ltd and Sino Thai Resources Development Plc.

Italian-Thai Power and Energy controls the largest stake of 30% in the joint venture, Koh Kong Power Light Ltd.

The SET-listed power companies Egco Group and Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Plc hold 20% each. China's Datang owns 15%, while Egat International, a newly established and wholly owned overseas investment unit of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, holds 8% and Sino Thai holds 7%.

Located in Laem Yai Saen in western Cambodia, Koh Kong Power Light is expected to come onstream by 2014 with an initial capacity of 1,830 megawatts. The utility is targeted to reach its maximum capacity of 3,660 MW several years later, Premchai said.

ABN Amro has conducted a financial feasibility study of the project, while Team Consulting Co provided environmental management studies. Datang International (Hong Kong) Ltd will be an equipment and engineering service provider. The company has discussed a long-term purchasing contract with a coal mine operator in Indonesia, he added.

Mr Premchai said that Koh Kong Power Light had been in discussions with the Thai government to supply power to Egat. It offered a cheaper price for electricity to Thailand than local coal-fired power plants and Laos's Hongsa Lignite in order to secure a power purchase contract with Egat.

''We want the new power plant to supply electricity to Egat, but it has yet to be included in the current Power Development Plan,'' Mr Premchai said.

''The project has not started construction. But once we secure the power contract with Egat, we could speed up the development to finish one year ahead of schedule.''

The Cambodian power plant is part of ITD's strategy to diversify into energy and mining to offset falling revenue from core construction activities over the past two years. It established wholly owned subsidiaries Italian-Thai Power and Energy Co and Sin Rae Muang Thai Co to support this strategy.

The two companies have sought business opportunities in Southeast Asian countries, India and Madagascar, he added.

ITD posted a consolidated net profit of 893 million baht in the nine months to September 2007, compared to a loss of 1.4 billion baht during the same period a year earlier, reflecting in part a change in accounting methods.

ITD shares closed yesterday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand at 7.25 baht, down 60 satang, in trade worth 196 million baht.

Monday, January 7, 2008

More petrol smuggled into Cambodia


00:33' 07/01/2008 (GMT+7)


VietNamNet Bridge - Petroleum smuggling to Cambodia from southern Viet Nam's Mekong River Delta has been dramatically increasing recently due to the latest rise in world petroleum prices.

It is reported that petroleum has been hidden in 20-30 liter plastic cans and then transported by small boats, carrier tricycles or motorbikes across the border. Some smugglers have even carried cans of petroleum on their backs.

At the Tinh Bien border, it is estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 cans of petroleum are illegally transported from Viet Nam to Cambodia daily while reports from the Tinh Bien Border Anti- Smuggling Forces pointed out that less than 1,500 liters of smuggled petroleum were seized in 2007.

In An Phu District of An Giang Province, plastic cans of petroleum have been transported through the border by carrier tricycles and motorbikes to Binh Di riverside where they were unloaded and then transported on small boats into Cambodia.

At present, a liter of petroleum in Viet Nam is VND4, 000 - 5,000 lower than in Cambodia.

In related news, in response to rumors that petrol prices will soar to VND17,000 a liter within the next few days, Deputy Minister of the Industry and Trade, Nguyen Cam Tu asserted that despite a sharp increase in the world petroleum price in early this year, no local petroleum corporation has recently proposed to hike their petrol price at the pumps.

Mr. Tu added that world petroleum prices climbed to US$100 a barrel on January 3 and stated that this shift was just a temporary fluctuation. He suggested that due to this, petroleum corporations cannot propose a rise in pump prices.

According to market specialists, the rumor may originate from a new proposal which has been recently submitted to the government for consideration. Accordingly, the Government will no longer set the ceiling price to curb prices but will let petroleum corporations set their own rates for the whole year.

If the proposal is approved, the pump petrol price in the country will probably rise VND17.000 per liter soon.

Foreign tourist arrivals in Cambodia to increase by 20% on annual basis

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Foreign tourist arrivals in Cambodia will increase by 20 percent on annual basis in the upcoming decade, local Chinese-language newspaper the Commercial News on Monday quoted an industry report as saying.

Cambodia saw some two million foreign tourist arrivals in 2007,a 20 percent rise over 2006, and the expansion rate is expected to maintain, said the report from the Cambodian Association of Travel Agencies.

Most of the tourists were Japanese, Chinese, Americans, South Koreans and French people, said the report, adding that the industry earned some 140 million U.S. dollars in 2007, accounting for almost 10 percent of the kingdom's gross national products.

Meanwhile, another Chinese-language newspaper the Jianhua Dailyon Monday quoted industry official as saying that Cambodia will have three million foreign tourist arrival in 2010 and five million in 2015.

Tourism has been one of Cambodia's triple pillar industries. The Angkor Wat historical park in Siem Reap province, the beach in Sihanoukville municipality and the Royal Palace in capital city Phnom Penh are the main attractions for foreign tourists.




Friday, January 4, 2008

Down by the riverside in Cambodian capital

Despite democracy and property ownership issues restricting the development of Cambodia’s real estate sector, fly to let investors can take advantage of some attractive rates in Phnom Penh.

One developer is offering a net rental guarantee of 10 percent for the first two years. Add this to Cambodia’s capital growth which is hovering around 15 to 20 percent per year, and it presents a viable investment opportunity.

A refurbished 1-2 bedroom apartment complete with electricity, water, telephone, central heating, lounge, bathroom and gardens situated in the chic riverside French Quarter of Cambodia’s capital are available through David Stanley Redfern Ltd from £29,151.

Rent is freely negotiable between landlord and tenant in Cambodia. Phnom Penh has two international airports that offer daily flights.

As foreign ownership of land isn’t allowed in Cambodia, investors must take one of four routes around the problem. Buy through a local company, lease the land, acquire governmentally encouraged Cambodian citizenship and land ownership rights as you do so.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Cambodia's Top 10 Economic news stories of 2007

Local paper highlights Top 10 Economic News of Cambodia in 2007


By Xia Lin

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- Major local Chinese-language newspaper the Commercial News here on Monday highlighted the Top 10 Economic News of Cambodia in 2007 and outlined the robust pulse of the kingdom's economic vibration.

On top of the chart was the signing of the single visa agreement between Cambodia and Thailand on Dec. 17, which allowed foreign tourists from a third country to visit the two countries with a single visa and thus promoted more foreign tourists to visit both countries.

Second, Cambodia re-opened its Sihanoukville International airport on Jan. 15, after more than 20 years of hiatus, in order to perfect its air traffic network and attract more travelers to the seaport city.

Third, the kingdom started to construct its National Road No. 8on March 15, which, upon its completion, will improve the country's road network and provide more choices for its outgoing people.

Fourth, the National Assembly on Dec. 3 approved the government accounts settlement for 2005, which had 89.2 million U.S. dollars in surplus and confirmed its successful economic reform.

Fifth, the Special Economic Zone of Sihanoukville began to be constructed in 2007 with the participation of Chinese investors. The project aimed to provide full-scale business service for export-oriented factories and companies.

Sixth, real estate prices in Phnom Penh surged drastically in 2007, as it inhabitants increased by 3.2 percent on annual basis and foreign investment rushed in to share the country's foreseeable economic boom in the near future.

Seventh, Cambodian has become the sixth largest garment exporter in the world. The industry created job opportunities for about 0.5 million Cambodians and generated some 0.3 billion U.S. dollars of monthly payment for the employees.

Eighth, maiden direct flight between Europe and Cambodia was made on Dec. 7, which would bring more tourists to the kingdom.

Ninth, agricultural exports flourished in 2007, as palm oil, peanuts, rice, pepper and other rural products became ever more popular in the international markets.

Finally, luxury real estate project the Longqing Resort in Kandal province was demolished on July 31, as it expanded its land illegally and in effect constituted menace to the safety of the capital city.

Earlier in November, the Asia Development Bank put Cambodia's economic growth rate for the current year at 9.5 percent and nine percent in 2008, while the Cambodian government gave a conservative estimation of seven percent both in 2007 and 2008.

In addition, the latest World Bank (WB) East Asia and Pacific Update said in November that despite slight decline, Cambodia's economic outlook for 2008 will remain strong overall, with its growth rate dropping from 9.5 percent in 2007 to 7.5 percent in 2008.

According to official figures, the economic growth rate of the kingdom in the past three years averaged 11 percent, by which the government said that macro-economic stability has been realized out of decades of war and turmoil.