Saturday, May 31, 2008

More Vietnamese travellers go to Cambodia

HA NOI — Cambodia in the first four months of this year welcomed more than 80,000 Vietnamese visitors, an increase of 97 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon.

Khon said he supported the proposed tourism co-operation and joint venture plans between Lam Dong province and Cambodian localities during a meeting with a Lam Dong province delegation in Phnom Penh on May 27.

The new figures bring Viet Nam to third place, following the Republic of Korea and Japan, in terms of the number of visitors to Cambodia, an advance from the fourth and the sixth position in 2007 and 2006, respectively.

In the first four months of this year, Viet Nam also hosted around 50,000 Cambodian visitors, up 80 per cent from the same period of last year.

Cambodia: An Improbable Paradise

Whoever says money can't buy happiness hasn't shelled out for their own beach in Cambodia. Before the crew of the Sea Breeze can even drop her anchor, Alexis de Suremain is in the water, swimming straight for 90 yards of white sand: his 90 yards of white sand. A wall of tangled jungle rises to the east; to the west, the sun sinks into its own reflection over the Gulf of Thailand. "See that?" de Suremain asks, waving at the sun as it bisects the beach view. "Right down the middle."

If all goes according to plan, these 35 acres (14 hectares) of sand, rock and jungle will in a few years host a plush eco-resort of palm trees and solar-powered bungalows. De Suremain, a French expat who runs guesthouses in Phnom Penh, says he combed Cambodia's shores for three years before he settled on building his resort on the remote island of Koh Rong. "I wanted something where you couldn't hear karaoke, where the neighbor's dogs don't bark and where the cocks aren't crowing in the morning," he says. "I wanted something completely isolated."

He's got it — for now. The postcard-perfect beaches of Cambodia's scores of islands and 270 miles (435 km) of southern shore have gone largely unnoticed by developers for the past 40 years. But in 2007, a record 2 million tourists visited Cambodia, signaling that the country was beginning to shake its killing fields image as an impoverished backwater where wandering off the beaten path could mean finding yourself astride an unexploded land mine. Cambodia is starting to register as a must-see destination, and it's not all about Angkor Wat. Brackish mangrove swamps and remote beaches are being envisaged as golf courses and plots for five-star bungalows with private pools. Indeed, there are signs of vitality in other sectors of the impoverished country's once moribund economy. Cambodia's GDP grew 10.4% in 2006 — the highest rate in Southeast Asia that year — and foreign investment shot up some 400% to nearly $4 billion. Thirteen foreign companies, including Chevron, have licenses to explore Cambodia's offshore blocks for oil and natural gas; the government says domestic oil production could begin within three years. The rush for Cambodia's gold coast is on, raising hopes that the economic torpor of this aid-supported nation will finally end. "This part of the country has been a revelation for me," says Steve Smith, a Londoner who finances his endless summer as a dive instructor in southeast Asia. "I didn't even know there were beaches in Cambodia."

The Undiscovered Country
To witness this awakening up close, I recently borrowed a wreck of a bicycle for a slow ride through the sleepy Cambodian seaside town of Kep, near the Vietnamese border. After limping along the potholed coastal road past unkempt plots of oceanfront land with crumbling colonial-era manses, I stopped to look at a billboard — the only one in sight. On it was a picture of a home that would not have looked out of place in a Denver subdivision. A young man pulled up on a motorbike next to me. "You want to buy?" he asked. I told him I wasn't in the market, and so he handed me a flyer for his business, Sunny Tours, that bore a stern warning: NOW IS THE TIME TO ENJOY KEP!!

Five years ago, Sunny Tours' catch-it-while-you-can marketing wouldn't have been very effective. In the early 20th century, Kep-sur-Mer was established as a getaway for French civil servants running the colony, and it served as an enclave for rich Khmer after independence in 1953. (The former King, Norodom Sihanouk, built a royal residence there that, like most of the old estates in town, now stands empty.) The holidays ended in the 1970s after an American bombing campaign brought the first wave of more than two decades of war, including the Khmer Rouge-led genocide that killed nearly 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.

Stability has been slow to return to Kep and to the country as a whole. But today nearly every Asian nation has a stake in Cambodian industries, from hydroelectric dams to oil exploration to real estate development. In Kep, three Modernist homes have been restored into Knai Bang Chatt, a striking boutique hotel owned by two Belgians. At the other end of town, the early 20th century La Villa de Monsieur Thomas is being revamped into a five-star resort by a Khmer developer. And in February, Sokimex, a powerful Cambodian company that imports most of the nation's petroleum, began converting a colonial casino on Bokor Mountain into a flashy new resort. "All of a sudden there's interest," says Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, who last year hosted the first American business conference in Phnom Penh. The country is "lucky to be stuck between 85 million Vietnamese and 65 million Thai," he says. "It's hard to ignore this place now."

More projects are in the works. About an hour's motorbike ride down a red dirt road that trails off the coastal highway, residents of the fishing village of Angkoal have started selling their small holdings to real estate developers. One family, residents of a palm-fringed knob of land that slopes into the water, says their property is regularly visited by speculators. "They come every day," says Sry Mau — even though the place where the young woman's family has lived for 23 years has already been purchased by a Cambodian hotelier for $8,000. With the money, they bought a new, considerably smaller piece of land across the road and a new fishing boat.

In a country where 4.7 million people live on less than 50 cents a day, the surge of investment is changing lives and could help create jobs. The country desperately needs more employment opportunities. About a third of Cambodians are 15 years old or younger, and they'll be entering the workforce in droves over the next two decades. Hundreds of NGOs are already busy trying to fix Cambodia, and about 20% of the government's total budget still comes from foreign aid. The prospect of a tourism boom coupled with the start of domestic oil production offers the tantalizing possibility of a more independent way forward. With foreign aid, "you'll always be living according to somebody else's rules," says Rithivit Tep, director of the private-equity firm that owns Kep's Thomas villa and development rights to two islands. "We have wasted a lot of time."

Paradise or Vassal State?
A few hours drive down the coastal road, I was sitting inside the dusty office of Sokun Travel and Tours when the lights cut out. "No good," said the woman behind the desk, looking into the dark street. "Every day, two or three times." We conducted the rest of our transaction by candlelight. Mourn Sokun, who owns the travel agency, says Sihanoukville, the current hub of south-coast tourism, can't keep up with the rush of tourists. The number of foreign visitors to the city shot up by 50% between 2006 and 2007, and infrastructure, including electricity generation, is overtaxed. In 2007, the local airport reopened to shuttle tourists between Angkor Wat and the coast, only to close months later when a domestic flight went down, killing 22 people on board. It's still closed today. Som Chenda, Sihanoukville's minister of tourism, says the city needs more of everything — more hotel rooms, more restaurants, more hospitality training, more language teachers. "We need it all," says Som. Right now, Sihanoukville doesn't even have enough fresh produce coming in: "There are too many tourists and not enough food."

In a line of work that relies on clean beaches and clear water, Mourn, the travel agent, worries the authorities aren't working hard enough to protect the environment. As more guesthouses and bars pay their license fees to operate at the popular beaches, Mourn says raw sewage is being piped into the water and trash is being dumped onto the sand. "People pay their money, and the government closes their eyes," Mourn says. Government officials say they are aware of the growing problem. "The coast is not so good now because of the fast development," says Prak Visal, who heads the Sihanoukville branch of a regional coastal-management project. Solid-waste dumping, mangrove destruction, unsustainable fishing practices and illegal logging are a few of the challenges he says the area faces. But slowing things down? Not an option. "We protect, but we develop, too," Prak says.

Though some are happy with the money they've made, others living in valuable areas fear they'll lose their land, or lose it without being fairly compensated. Few families hold formal land titles, leaving many to rely on local authorities to vouch for them as landowners if a developer comes calling. Though efforts to provide documentation for landowners have been ramped up — almost 1 million land titles have been granted since 2004, according to the World Bank — there are millions more to go. Cambodians' scramble to secure their rights speaks to a fundamental anxiety: faith in the law is dismally low. For the past two years, the country has ranked near the bottom of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, and in a 2007 World Bank study, only 18% of respondents said they thought judges were honest. "Corruption is so pervasive it's part of the culture," says Theary Seng, executive director of the Center for Social Development, a Phnom Penh-based NGO. She worries that the billions coming in from private investment — particularly in oil — will not trickle down to the countryside where 80% of the nation lives. "If they want to do it right, they have lots of good models in the world," says Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador, warning against Cambodia going the way of oil-cursed nations like Nigeria and Chad. "Or they could do it wrong and they could suffer the political consequences in 20 years. This is their chance to be a real country. This is their chance to have a real economy. If they screw it up, they'll be a vassal state."

The Road Ahead
Alongside road 4, the 143-mile (230 km) ribbon of asphalt connecting Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh, water buffalo graze in rice paddies that stretch from horizon to horizon. Kids in white school uniforms pedal their bikes in the dirt, moving alongside traffic like birds riding on air currents. It's places like these — in other words, most of Cambodia — where the five-star visions of the coast begin to get a bit blurry. Neither tourism nor oil alone can drive the national economy in a meaningful way. There must also be investment in agriculture and other sectors that employ most Cambodians, says Arjun Goswami, country director for the Asian Development Bank. "If one of these days I can go into Whole Foods and see a Cambodian export on the shelves, that's when I'll be a happy man," says Goswami.

In Phnom Penh, I stop by the offices of Rory and Melita Hunter, an Australian couple whose real estate company was recently granted a 99-year lease to build a luxury boutique hotel on Song Saa, a tiny pair of islands off the coast. They show me elaborate renderings of the future 40-room complex, replete with a wine cellar, air-conditioned library and 15 over-water bungalows designed to reflect the architecture of a nearby fishing village. The Hunters paid relocation costs for the 15 or so families living on the islands. They hauled away tons of trash that had been piling up for years, and started to revive the local coral reef that had been all but destroyed by overfishing. "Knowing that there had been all these other issues about how people had been relocated, we wanted to do it properly from the start," says Rory Hunter. "We're going to be doing business here for a long time." Maybe money will buy happiness for Cambodia; maybe it won't. But nobody said paradise was built in a day.

Saving Cambodia's Great Lake

By Philippa Fogarty
BBC News, Tonle Sap lake

Children hold up small fish in Kampong Klaeng village
Hundreds of thousands of families around the lake depend on it to live
Every May, when the rains come, water levels in the Mekong start to rise.

When the river flows into Phnom Penh it meets another river that drains from a lake in central Cambodia.

So full is the Mekong that it reverses that river's flow, forcing water back upstream and expanding the lake more than five-fold.

This is the Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. Cambodians call it the Great Lake.

It is an area of extraordinarily rich biodiversity and a key breeding ground for fish, which migrate upstream from the Mekong to spawn in seasonally-flooded forest areas.

The lake is vital to Cambodia. It provides two-thirds of the country's protein and more than one million people depend on it directly for their livelihoods.

But the lake faces serious threats.

Map

Cambodia's population has risen rapidly and pressure on resources has increased. Fish stocks are threatened by over-exploitation and illegal fishing methods.

Farmers and developers have taken advantage of weak governance to seize and drain land in the flooded forest, destroying key wildlife habitats and polluting the lake.

More trees have been felled for domestic use by local people, some of whom have been hunting rare wildlife to compensate for smaller fish catches.

Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned of a "serious environmental disaster" if the problems were not addressed.

Fish sanctuary

The Asian Development Bank-financed Tonle Sap Environmental Management Project (TSEMP) is leading efforts to do that.

Eight years ago, more than half the lots on the lake allocated to commercial fishing were released to local communities.

Part of TSEMP's work is helping villages create legally-recognised community fisheries to protect and preserve their own resources. More than 170 of these groups have now been set up.

Kids sit in boats and chat on the Tonle Sap

Soer Tao is deputy head of the community fishery in Kampong Klaeng, on the lake's northeast shore.

The village is home to about 10,000 people living in stilted houses to cope with the seasonal flooding. Some 85% of residents depend on fishing for their livelihoods.

Ten years ago, Soer Tao says, illegal fishing and destruction of the forest were causing serious problems to villagers. But local management of resources is bringing benefits.

The village boundaries have been formally set. Residents patrol the area and if people are fishing illegally or if developers are trying to encroach into the flooded forest, they should now be better positioned to tackle the problem.

The village has also established a fish sanctuary, 300 metres by 30 metres, where fish can spawn during the dry season. It is marked by red flags and guarded at each end.

When the flooding comes, the fish will swim out - hopefully in greater numbers every year.

"The fish sanctuary will protect the fish as livelihoods for everyone," Soer Tao said.

New projects

But it is not just about protecting fisheries.

Preak Toal is a floating village. Everything floats, even the school and the petrol station, and everyone depends on the lake to live.

Floating houses in Preak Toal
Many people live in floating communities on the lake

Now projects are being set up to help families diversify their livelihoods away from the lake in a bid to reduce pressure on resources.

Former poachers patrol a biosphere reserve, guarding the rare water birds that they used to hunt. Tourists pay to enter and local families use pedalos to show the day-trippers around.

Some residents have built floating gardens for fruit and vegetables, while others are growing mushrooms in their floating houses. One group is trying to turn water hyacinth into charcoal-like fuel.

But the initiatives are, of course, not perfect. It is still much simpler for villagers to get firewood from the forests and to sell fish for quick profit.

'Turning point'

Dr Neou Bonheur, director of TSEMP, admits that trying to promote environmental awareness to those struggling to make a living can be difficult.

Dr Bonheur
Dr Bonheur says efforts to protect the lake must be sustained

"It is hard," he says, "but when we teach them not to cut the forest because it is a breeding ground for the fish, they see the benefits of that."

The villagers, he says, are not the greatest challenge.

"Now we are at a turning point - rice and fuel prices are up and there is a tendency to look for resources such as land, not from the communities but from outside groups who want to claim areas for development.

"That's the most difficult thing for us, the people who damage the communities and fisheries in that way."

Community resource management was put in place at the right time, he says, but it must be strengthened to ensure local people have a permanent voice.

He describes efforts to date as "so far, so good", but says they must be sustained.

"We cannot say it is now enough - we have to continue to work hard on many areas."

But there is one key issue Cambodia cannot control.

China, Thailand and Laos all want to dam the Mekong for hydropower, something experts say could have a serious effect on the seasonal influx of water and wildlife into the lake.

"We are a downstream country and less powerful compared to upstream countries," says Dr Bonheur. "We can only hope that through dialogue, Cambodia can voice its concern."

"The Tonle Sap is a great asset for Cambodia. We must protect it at all cost."

American military doctors from Guam assist Cambodians

Lt. Gov. Cruz Back On Guam After Cambodia Mission Print
Guam
Written by Phillip Leon Guerrero, Pacific News Center - Guam, Saipan, CNMI, Asia-Pacific
Friday, May 30, 2008 11:37 AM

Guam - Lieutenant Governor Mike Cruz is back in the office today, after returning from a military mission in Cambodia.

Cruz, a Commander in the Army National Guard was sent to aid medical and humanitarian efforts in the country. In a press release, the Lt. Governor says he was grateful to be a part of a "humbling experience to help those that need it most."

Cruz was joined by local doctor, Lt. Colonel Chris Perez in bringing their medical expertise to the area of Kampong Chhnang.

US donates used trucks to Cambodia following restoration of military ties

Friday, May 30, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The United States will deliver 31 used trucks to Cambodia, its first direct supply of military hardware there since Washington lifted an embargo three years ago.

The U.S. Embassy said Friday that the 31 GMC cargo trucks — part of a group of 60 the U.S. military has agreed to give to Cambodia — will be handed over at a ceremony Monday.

The U.S. halted military assistance to Cambodia following a 1997 coup in which Hun Sen grabbed full power after ousting his co-premier, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Hun Sen remains prime minister.

In August 2005, President Bush waived the ban, citing Phnom Penh's agreement to exempt Americans in Cambodia from prosecution by the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court.

Since direct military ties between the two countries were restored in 2006, the U.S. has pledged nearly $3.2 million in military aid to Cambodia, the embassy said in a statement.

It said the 31 trucks are "the first deliverables" under a U.S. program for "assisting Cambodia in its efforts to improve" its border security, mobility and peacekeeping operations.

It added that the U.S. military is spending $413,000 on processing, packaging and shipping all 60 vehicles — "excess defense articles no longer needed by the U.S. armed forces

Cambodia to send 139 mine sweeping soldiers to Sudan under UN mission

PHNOM PENH, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia will send 139 soldiers to clean mines in Sudan under the UN mission, Cambodian National Defense Minister Tea Banh announced here on Friday.

"We will send 15 of them firstly on June 2 and the rest on June10 according to the schedule," Tea Banh told the national conference of the government's rectangular policy.

"Our K-315 group will return from Sudan on June 8," he said, adding that the new group of soldiers will replace them.





Monday, May 26, 2008

The Cambodian government has announced plans to re-launch the national airline

2008-05-25 12:21:33 -

The Cambodian government has announced plans to re-launch the national airline, which was scrapped with massive losses on 2000. This time however the airline is being launched with the backing of massive Indonesian conglomerate Rajawali, and will be able to tap into the massively growing number of tourists to Cambodia.

Visitor numbers to Cambodia grew to 2 million in 2006, 60% of whom flew into the country. And with Cambodia being hailed as the new Thailand, because of its virgin white sandy beaches, and undiscovered tropical locations prompting a further 20% rise in tourism for 2007, it is hoped the new airline will be an added boost to the clearly flourishing Cambodia tourism market.

Liam Bailey head of international research for David Stanley Redfern Ltd gave his view on the possible effect the airline will have on the Cambodia property market:
"New air routes are always good news for property markets, but the new Cambodia airline, and the likely increase in flights it will generate will be of special significance in Cambodia. The massively successful property markets of Malaysia, Thailand, and Thai islands like Koh Samui, have largely been fuelled by tourism, well in Thailand almost completely fuelled by tourism.

"But in Cambodia, property market growth has been largely limited to Phnom Penh, and fuelled by growth in commercial, business, financial and services sectors. The recent massive increases in visitor numbers, which will be helped by the new airline, will spread property market growth to other areas, and new Cambodian property hotspots will be emerging very soon - perfect timing given that the Phnom Penh property market is showing signs of levelling out."

Even though Cambodia property has been among the hottest for the past two years, it seems the surface has barely been scratched on the country's property investment profitability.

Find out more about Cambodia property at www.davidstanleyredfern.com/investment-property/cambodia.
About David Stanley Redfern

David Stanley Redfern Ltd is one of the U.K.'s leading overseas property investment specialists. The reasons for this are an incomparable range of international properties spanning 40 destinations worldwide, and unrivalled customer care, which lasts long after the purchase has been completed. Experienced, professional staff and membership to the overseas property market's regulatory body: the Association for International Property Professionals, as well as their stringent due diligence procedures gives buyers the confidence that any purchase with David Stanley Redfern is a safe one.

Media enquiries should be directed to Liam Bailey at media@davidstanleyredfern.com

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cambodia to mark Thailand border

Cambodia to mark Thailand border

[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/ra/news/stories/200805/s2251281.htm]
Cambodia says it will install more markers along the Thai border in a bid to more clearly demarcate the state line.

Var Kim Hong, chief of the National Border Committee, says more markers are needed as those installed by France are inadequate.

He says it's not clear when the work will begin or how many markers would be needed.

Cambodia has an 805 kilometre land border with Thailand, but only 73 markers, planted by the French in the early 20th century, demarcate the border.

Cambodia and Thailand created a bilateral committee to demarcate the border in 2006 following disputes along their border in Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces.

Throughout its history Cambodia has been plagued by border disputes with neighboring countries.

Negotiations with Vietnam, Thailand and Laos over border demarcations are ongoing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cambodia plans to open nine hydropower dams by 2019

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia will construct controversial Chinese-funded dams as part of a plan to feed its electricity-starved economy, according to government documents obtained Monday by AFP.

The Southeast Asian country will open nine dams of various sizes between 2010 and 2019 to generate 1,942 megawatts of power, according to a government report to parliament obtained by AFP. At least four of the dams will be backed by China.

The US-based International Rivers Network last year said that two Chinese-funded hydroelectric dams already under construction threatened to flood huge swathes of Cambodia's protected forests.

The group said the Kamchay and Stung Atay dams, unchecked by public scrutiny, will wreak havoc on local communities and slow development.

The new government report said the Kamchay hydropower plant will open in 2010, while Stung Atay hydroelectric dam will open in 2012.

"By 2020, all villages will have electric power. (And) by 2030, at least 70 percent of the families countrywide will have electricity use," the report said.

The government also plans to build nine coal-powered plants between 2011 and 2020, the report said.

Only some 20 percent of Cambodian households currently have access to electricity.

Spiralling utility prices, driven by this lack of supply, are a major obstacle to attracting foreign investment, and the government has struggled to find a way to bring down the cost of power.

Cambodia confiscates 'Burma Daily' publication

Phnom Penh (dpa) - The Cambodian government on Monday confiscated the Cambodia Daily newspaper from newsstands over a supplement called The Burma Daily, the Information Ministry and the newspaper's publisher said.

The official ministry explanation was that the confiscation was ordered because The Burma Daily, which had appeared since last week as a four-page insert with an identical masthead as its sister publication, was not licensed.

But publisher Bernard Krisher argued that the paper did not need a license because it was a supplement and the decision to confiscate the English- and Khmer-language daily, which has a circulation of about 5,000, reflected badly on the government.

He vowed to continue to print The Burma Daily for several more days as planned even if it were confiscated. After its printing is finished, it is to become an online and mail publication for distribution in Burma.

"The Burma Daily has no political agenda," he said by telephone. "It is designed to introduce to the Burmese people what a free and responsible newspaper looks like."

Krisher said he had not spoken to the ministry about the reasons for confiscating the paper, which is viewed by expatriates as a primary source of daily news in English.

"I don't have to explain to anyone," he said. "The New York Times does not explain to President [George W] Bush."

Media analysts speculated that the government might fear that the often anti-government Cambodia Daily might embarrass it by taking a similar approach to the Burmese military junta.

Cambodia and Burma have maintained warm relations despite an international outcry over the junta's appalling human rights record.

The nation's largest journalism association, the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said it was investigating the confiscation of the newspapers.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was not available for comment Monday.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Canines are the latest victims in Cambodia amid food crisis

Friday, May 16, 2008

PHNOM PENH -- Dognappings are sharply up in some areas of Cambodia as people seek alternative sources of protein and the prices of more conventional meats continue to rise, dog owners and police said Wednesday.

Military police officer Ra Dy, who lives on the outskirts of the capital, said he personally had lost three dogs in quick succession and had decided to stop keeping any more until things settled down.

"If you check on them every hour, they might still be there, but if you forget and leave them for two hours, they are gone," he said.

Khieu Viriya, 22, a dog fancier from the western suburb of Toul Tom Poung, said he has also lost three dogs recently to thieves.

"And the story is the same for the neighbors, too. It is terrible to lose a dog, because they are like family, but even worse when you know they are to be eaten," he said.

Traditionally most Cambodians have refused to eat dog, viewing it as an unclean meat, although in 2003 the capital's mayor urged citizens to consume more to keep the stray dog population down.

Dog is sold in some restaurants, including high-end Korean establishments, and has become increasingly popular as a drinking snack amongst the country's avid rice wine fans as an energy food.

Dy said organized bands of dog thieves had begun cruising the city, snaring dogs with wire nooses and speeding off on motorbikes.

Vendors said although dog, sometimes euphemistically sold as "special meat," remains inexpensive, like pork and other meats it has nearly doubled in value in recent months.

Other exotic meats such as rat have also nearly doubled in price, but with the rice harvest still months away, the rodents are out of season, pushing up the demand for dog and other alternatives.

Cambodia, Vietnam launch direct bus route to Angkor temples

Cambodia, Vietnam launch direct bus route to Angkor temples

May 16, 2008, 6:21 GMT

Phnom Penh - Vietnamese company Saigon Passenger Transport Company (Sapaco Tourist) is launching a new luxury bus service from the Vietnamese capital Ho Chi Minh direct to Cambodia's northern tourism hub of Siem Reap, a company spokesman said Friday.

The new nine-hour, 500-kilometre trip cuts hours off the former route through the Cambodian capital and is just the latest in a stream of Vietnamese tourism investments in Cambodia as its travel industry booms, according to the Tourism Ministry.

The new route, which crosses into Cambodia through Vietnam's southern Tay Ninh Province, launches Monday and one-way tickets will cost 24 dollars, Sapaco's spokesman said.

Siem Reap's Angkor Wat temple is Cambodia's largest tourism attraction, bringing in the bulk of the country's more than 2 million visitors last year, and the route is expected to prove especially popular with budget travellers, the company predicted.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cambodian doubles bank reserve requirement to tame inflation


7 May, 2008, 1151 hrs IST, AGENCIES

PHNOM PENH: The Cambodian government has decided to double the private bank reserve requirement in a bid to reduce cash flow in the economy and tame inflation, a Finance Ministry official said Wednesday.

The measure will take effect in July when all private banks will have to raise their reserve requirement from 8 percent to 16 per cent, said Hang Chuon Naron, secretary-general of Cambodia's Finance Ministry.

He said the move is necessary to cut back on loans made to the private sector and help cool down the economy, which ``has been heating due to too much cash circulation ... that has spurred investment but also driven up prices on property and general commodities.''

The Cambodian economy grew an average of 11.1 per cent a year in the 2004-7 period. Inflation rose along with the growth, with sharp increases in foods and fuel.

Through the end of January, measuring from the end of 2006, the food price index increased 20.9 per cent and the transportation cost index rose 13.5 per cent, the Finance Ministry said in a report last month.

Officials at the Association of Banks in Cambodia could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In Channy, the president and CEO of ACLEDA Bank Plc, said the reserve measure ``is not a good idea at all.'' He said it would slow growth and limit business and employment opportunities.

Banks should lend out 100 per cent of the deposits made by the public, he said.

``The more they lend the more investment can be generated, as well as more employment, more income for both companies and private individuals,'' he said.

Cambodia has a cashed-based economy in which 90 per cent of bank deposits and the money in circulation is in foreign currency, mostly the US dollar.

In Channy said current bank deposits in Cambodia total about $2.4 billion (euro1.6 billion). ACLEDA is holding 21 per cent of the total deposits, making it the second largest commercial bank in the country.

He said banks' loans which are already less than 80 percent of the total deposits will effectively shrink by another 8 percent as a result of the government measure. The reduction, he predicted, would result in a decline in investment and employment.

Even if the measure was necessary, it should have been gradual and ``not jumped straight to 16 per cent'' from 8 percent, In Channy said. ``I believe we need more growth,'' he added.

Hang Chuon Naron, the Finance Ministry official, did not say how long the measure would stay in place. He stressed that the government's ``goal is to cool (the economy) down to avoid too much inflation.''

``When it grows too strongly, it generates inflation, so we cannot tackle both'' at the same time, he said.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Less than one-thousandth Cambodians subscribe to internet

PHNOM PENH, May 3 (Xinhua) -- There are only some 13,000 Cambodians, or less than one-thousandth of the total population, subscribe to internet, according to an industry survey published on Saturday by English-language newspaper the Phnom Penh Post.

Most of them are in capital Phnom Penh and tourism province Siem Reap, said the survey carried out in 14 cities of the country.

Some 21.5 percent of the users are not satisfied with cost, 44.6 percent with reliability and 5.7 percent with speed, it said.

There are now nine internet service providers in Cambodia, with the top one sharing 28.8 percent of the market and the bottom one 1 percent, the survey added.

Most internet operators of Cambodia now use satellite to serve their customers. Nationwide fiber web infrastructure for internet service is still being constructed. This makes internet a luxurious enjoyment for ordinary Cambodians.

Cambodian textile workers excel at competition

"The car was heard leaving home, heading for Phnom Penh.

I sadly said goodbye to my parents, hoping to return home with money for my mother", go the opening words of the song "I am precious" that won first prize at a recent song and dress-making contest here.

But the winner wasn’t a regional song contest entry. Rather, she was Touch Sreynith, a garment worker writing about the journey from her home town to work in Phnom Penh and find a new future. The contest was organized jointly by the International Labour Organisation''s (ILO’s) Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) programme, the International Finance Cooperation (IFC), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Precious Girl Magazine (whose readership focuses on garment workers), the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, the French Development Agency and the Garment Industry Productivity Center.

"The competition successfully brought together key players in the industry", says Tuomo Poutiainen, Chief Technical Advisor for BFC. "This is a good example of effective collaboration showing that by working together we can do something positive and valuable for the Cambodian garment workers."

Indeed, the recent contest was more than just a stage for garment workers to display their hidden talents. It shows how the garment industry has evolved along lines that improve productivity and marketing as well as working conditions.

An International Buyers’ Forum in Phnom Penh last September, convened by BFC and the IFC, underscores these developments. According to Ros Harvey, the Global Programme Manager for the ILO and IFC Better Work programme, the Buyers’ Forum provided a chance for "all stakeholders in the industry to get together and discuss matters concerning the Better Factories initiative as well as broader industry issues.

The Forum is an opportunity for international buyers to meet together with government, suppliers and unions. Together we can work on shared solutions. The Forum also allows Cambodia to promote itself to new buyers".

This year, the Forum saw the attendance of 17 international garment brands, represented by 43 retailers, most of which are members of the Better Factories programme. Buyers came mainly from the US and Europe, including Adidas, Gap, H & M, Wal-Mart, Levi Strauss & Co. and the Walt Disney Company.

Buyers announced that they would continue to source their garments from Cambodia for the upcoming year. This announcement is welcome news for Cambodia’s garment industry, which employs over 340,000 people in around 300 factories.

The industry has been fearful of losing market share in 2008 if the US decides to remove quotas on Chinese imports. This would threaten Cambodia’s 2006 position as the fifth-largest supplier to the US, with a total global export value at $2.6 billion.

At the same time, buyers underlined that the existence of the Better Factories programme and its emphasis on working conditions and productivity were major reasons behind them choosing to work with Cambodia. They affirmed the need for strong support for BFC as it goes through the transition period towards sustainability as an independent entity in the near future.

So far, the hopes of the industry and its workers have not been deceived, or as the author of the winning song puts it: "Mother, stay home and don’t worry. My life is valuable. Factory work is not shameful; it provides benefits to society".

According to Ros Harvey, "this is not surprising. The ILO’s Better Factories programme in Cambodia has led to verified improvements in working conditions across the Cambodian garment industry, the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs and sustained increases in exports to the United States and the European Union".

During a recent address to the ILO Governing Body in Geneva on growing links with the ILO, World Bank President Robert Zoellick expanded this theme, saying that Better Factories Cambodia has helped "to improve labour practices and competitiveness in the global supply chain".

He cited a number of areas of joint concern to the Bank and the ILO, including developing skills, helping workers adjust to change and expanding efforts on gender issues and that the Bank and the ILO were joining forces in such programmes as the Better Work initiative.

Based on the positive results of Better Factories Cambodia, Better Work, a joint ILO-IFC initiative is now developing global tools and piloting three country projects, in Jordan, Lesotho and Viet Nam with the full cooperation of workers’ and employers’ organizations.

The project combines enterprise assessments of compliance with labour standards at the factory level, with training and capacity building. The first phase directly benefits 1.2 million working people with the potential for reaching millions more.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Thailand's Sam Cement May Spend 6 Billion Baht on Second Cambodia Factory

By Anuchit Nguyen

May 6 (Bloomberg) -- Siam Cement Pcl, Thailand's biggest producer, may spend as much as 6 billion baht ($189 million) to build a second factory in neighboring Cambodia to triple its production capacity there.

The planned factory, twice as big as the first plant, will increase the Bangkok-based company's capacity in Cambodia to 2.55 million tons a year, company President Kan Trakulhoon said in a May 2 interview. A feasibility study will be completed this year.

Siam Cement, controlled by the king's asset management arm, is building cement and paper plants in countries including Vietnam and the Philippines to counter slowing domestic sales. The company is also expanding investments in petrochemicals to benefit from oil reserves in the region.

``We have to import cement for our customers in Cambodia, as the first factory, which started operations in January, is already running at full capacity,'' Kan said. ``There's a very strong outlook for cement sales in Cambodia because of infrastructure development and economic growth.''

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's largest miner, and Chevron Corp. are investing in Cambodia to tap the nation's natural reserves of copper and oil. Developers such as Club Mediterranee SA and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. are building hotels and adding rooms as more tourists visit ancient temples such as Angkor Wat.

Cambodia's economy expanded 9.6 percent last year and 10.8 percent in 2006, according to the International Monetary Fund's data on its Web site.

Shares of Siam Cement rose 1.9 percent to 212 baht on May 2 in Bangkok. Markets were shut yesterday for a public holiday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok at anguyen@bloomberg.net.

More Vietnam tourists keen on Cambodia tourism


18:41' 05/05/2008 (GMT+7)


VietNamNet Bridge - Vietnam ranks third following the Republic of Korea (RoK) and Japan on the number of tourists visiting Cambodia in the first quarter of this year.

According to the Cambodia Tourism Ministry, thanks to favorable travel between Vietnam and Cambodia, more Vietnam tourism companies attach importance to exploiting well-known tourist attractions in the country such as Angcovat, Angcothom in Siem Riep, Phnom Penh Capital and coastal Kongpongxom.

Aiming to further attract foreign tourists to Cambodia in the upcoming time, the Cambodia Tourism Ministry set a plan to upgrade infrastructure system, speed up tourism cooperation with Greater Mekong Sub-region countries, invest in building sea and airports to support transport activities and pick up foreign tourists to Cambodia.

The country’s tourism sector is expected to attract an estimated more than 2.3 million foreign tourists in 2008.

(Source: HNM/CPV)