Thursday, July 31, 2008

New movie about Cambodia's war history

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Synopsis

In 1970 the war in Vietnam began to spread past its border into neutral Cambodia. Fearing the spread of communism, Cambodia became a target of the CIA. On March 16th 1970 General Lon Nol staged a coup d’état in Cambodia with assistance from the American CIA and a group of 12 secret army Cambodian soldiers who believed they were doing what was best for their country.

Production: Sothea Pictures

Director/Writer: Nathaniel Nuon

Official website: residuethemovie.com

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cambodia's ambitous plans for stock exchange proceeding

Listen:

Cambodia is moving ahead to establish a stock exchange by the end of next year, as one of South East Asia's poorest nations, Cambodia hopes money raised through a stock exchange will allow companies to expand.

It's getting advice from the South Korean Stock Exchange while Korean companies are building the physical and financial infratructure for the exchange.

Presenter: Karon Snowdon
Speakers: Marvin Yeo, Managing Partner with Frontier Investment Partners of Singapore and Cambodia; Professor Douglas Arner, Director of the Asian Institute of Internatiional Financial Law at Hong Kong University

Exports to Cambodia hit potholes in Mekong Delta

A steel shop in HCMC.
Businesses have complained of the excessive cost of transporting export goods from Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia because of the appalling condition of the roads in the Mekong Delta.

The excessive costs discourage domestic firms who want to expand their business into the neighboring country, they said.

Hoang Hai, a car driver who delivers goods from HCMC to Mekong Delta’s border provinces of An Giang and Kien Giang, said the road, Highway No. 80, was very rough.

It takes eight hours to drive 290 kilometers from HCMC to Tinh Bien border gate in An Giang Province, and 10-11 hours to Ha Tien border gate in Kien Giang Province, which is 340 kilometers, he said.

Vehicles on the highway can average 65-70 kilometers per hour so if the highway was better it would only take four hours to travel to Tinh Bien and five hours to Ha Tien.

Traffic is held up repeatedly by construction work along the highway, Hai said, adding many vehicles also got bogged in the worst sections.

Twelve bridges on Highway No. 80 are in danger of collapsing, restricting vehicles over 20 tons from using them, according to Road Management Zone No. 7.

The bridge problems hit exporters hardest putting transport fees for one ton of iron from HCMC to Tinh Bien border gate up to VND700,000 (US$42), steel and iron exporter Hong Phuc Ltd.’s Nguyen Thien Chi said.

Trucking firms said they were cautious about delivering goods to Mekong Delta because the rough roads damage their trucks.

Drivers said they usually drove in fear that they’d hit a big pothole caused by last years flood, but the upgrade for No. 80 is still waiting for Ministry of Transportation’s instruction.

Canal hidden dangers

An official from a domestic steel exporter, Hoang Dung, said the volume of exported construction materials to Cambodia would increase when dredging was done on Vinh Te Canal, which leads to the Tinh Bien border gate in An Giang Province.

An Giang Province has begun a VND2 billion ($119,000) dredging project in the canal.

They expect to clear it by next month so vessels over 500 tons can use the waterway.

At present only barges of 250 tons and less can use it, because there are many submerged rocks and snags.

In addition canal loading fees of VND75,000 per ton ($4.50), push the cost of transport up, impacting export business’s competitiveness.

An investor, who wanted to be anonymous, has agreed to help the provincial authority build a port on the canal to speed up shipping.

An Giang Province Custom Office bureau director Le Viet Thai said infrastructure at border areas had improved at a snails pace over the past five years.

Thai said it was also time that the eight ton rated Huu Nghi Bridge on Vinh Te Canal was upgraded.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cambodia plans first stock exchange

Updated July 25, 2008 14:21:18Cambodia reportedly plans to open its first stock exchange and start a corporate bond market in the fourth quarter of next year in a bid to attract foreign funds.

Head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance's financial market division, Kao Thach, says 6 to 10 companies, with a combined market value of up to $US400 million, will likely be listed on the exchange within a year of it being set up.

The listing requirements in Cambodia will likely be modeled on the Kosdaq - South Korea's second stock market that was set up 12 years ago for small- and medium-sized firms as well as venture start-ups.

Cambodia's CPP declares victory in 4th general election

By Xia Lin, Liu Lu, Long Heng

PHNOM PENH, July 27 (Xinhua) -- The major ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has declared that it took the lead in the polling of the fourth general election of Cambodia Sunday, wining at least two thirds of the 123 seats at the National Assembly, senior CPP officials said.

CPP could take 80 to 89 seats, CPP officials said. Its spokesman Khieu Kanharith also confirmed the ratio.

"We are leading in most of the provinces," said the spokesman.

The major opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) could win around 30seats, CPP sources quoted initial vote count as saying.

However, NGOs and supervising bodies estimated that CPP had over 70 seats and SRP some 50.

Meanwhile, SRP leader Sam Rainsy called for a re-vote in Phnom Penh, saying that 200,000 people there could not vote Sunday after their names were lost from registration lists.

"Neither party won more than two-thirds of the seats," he insisted.

CPP senior member told Xinhua that his party won majority of the votes in Phnom Penh, but he didn't know how many seats were harvested yet.

The national television station TVK, authorized by the National Election Committee (NEC), Sunday night started to broadcast preliminary official results province by province.

At most polling stations in Kaoh Kong province, Pailin municipality and Pursat province, CPP basically shared over 70 percent of the ballots, SRP 15 to 20 percent, and the co-ruling Funcinpec Party and the newly established Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) single digits, according to TVK.

Monday afternoon, NEC will make public overall preliminary official results and final official results will be known about one month later.

CPP victory means that Prime Minister Hun Sen will stay for another five-year term, after being government leader for 23 years.

Sunday morning, Hun Sen and his wife cast their votes at the polling station in the provincial Teacher Training Center near his residence in Takhmao town of Kandal province.

"So far, the atmosphere is good and I hope that today, until the end of the voting and the counting of ballots, the election will go smoothly across the country," the 57-year-old premier told reporters.

He didn't comment anything further inside the polling station, because it was against the election law.

Nget Sovandary, a 39-year-old school teacher, said that she voted for a leader that could make her living standard better.

"The election is very important for me because it provides me with citizen rights to choose a leader that we love," she said.

Chea Savuth, a 43-year-old civil servant, said that he was so happy with voting because "we will choose a leader that will bring the country with peace and economic development."

Official records showed that Cambodian had 11 percent of economic growth on average in the past three years, the highest among Southeast Asian countries. The per capita GDP rose from 448 U.S. dollars in 2005 to 594 U.S. dollars in 2007 and the foreign reserves from 890 million U.S. dollars in 2005 to 1.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2007.

While campaigning during the past month, Hun Sen and his CPP repeatedly cited these positive economic figures and development of infrastructure as the major achievements of his government in order to boost the electoral results.

NEC held a press conference Sunday afternoon, saying that the polling was conducted nationwide smoothly and successfully, as scheduled from 7:00 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) to 3:00 p.m. (0800 GMT).

Some voters went to the polling stations only to find that they were not registered by NEC, which has been the major problem so far in the polling day, said NEC, while not telling their number.

In addition, it rained in Kaoh Kong province and Sihanoukville municipality Sunday, but the weather didn't affect the people who cast their ballots there, NEC officials added.

Altogether 11 political parties are running for the 123 seats at the Cambodian National Assembly. A total of 8,125,529 voters were registered and 17,000 local and international observers watched the polling process, according to NEC figures.

More than 10 million ballot papers have been printed for the nation's 8.1 million eligible voters, with around 32,000 bottles of indelible ink supplied to 15,255 polling stations nationwide, NEC added.





Cambodia's ruling party claims early lead in vote count

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) claimed an early lead Sunday shortly after polls closed in general elections expected to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year grip on power.

"The early results from all polling stations show that the CPP is leading," said Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for the party and the government.

"We can't say how many seats we will win, but we've gained at least seven more seats" on top of the 73 the party already held in the 123-seat parliament, he added.

Friday, July 25, 2008

South-East Asia ASEAN and the temple of doom

Jul 24th 2008 | BANGKOK AND PULAONG
From The Economist print edition
Modest progress on Myanmar is overshadowed by the threat of war between Thailand and Cambodia
FOUR months ago, when Thailand’s prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, visited his Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen, the two countries seemed capable of dealing peacefully with a long-running dispute over an ancient temple on their borders. Thailand backed Cambodia’s bid to have the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple listed as a “world heritage” site and both sides agreed to keep talking over their overlapping claims to a nearby patch of land.
Since then, things have deteriorated to the point where each side has sent thousands of troops to the area. This week talks between the two countries agreed no more than to try to avoid settling things by force. Cambodia asked the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting over what it called a state of “imminent war”.
The armed confrontation between two members overshadowed this week’s meeting in Singapore of foreign ministers from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). For all its shortcomings ASEAN had seemed at least to have banished the threat of war between its members. Now even this seems in doubt. ASEAN had hoped to trumpet its achievements over Myanmar, where relief supplies are now flowing fairly freely following cyclone Nargis in May. But the Thai-Cambodian dispute stole the show. Thailand rejected ASEAN’s offer to mediate. As ever, other member countries were reluctant to press too hard. They pleaded unsuccessfully with Cambodia not to show up ASEAN’s failure by pursuing its appeal to the Security Council.
For Cambodians the 900-year-old Hindu temple, perched on an escarpment, is a melancholy reminder of their forebears’ once-mighty Khmer empire, which for centuries ruled much of Indochina. Thailand is still smarting from a 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice, awarding the temple to Cambodia (but not specifying where the border should be drawn). A loose coalition of Bangkok’s royalist elite, opposed to Mr Samak’s government, has whipped up public outrage over its backing for the world heritage listing, which a UN committee approved this month. Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that the government should have consulted parliament first, prompting the resignation of the foreign minister.
In recent years people on both sides have made a living trading with each other and serving tourists. Now, with the area swamped with soldiers, the headman of Pulaong, the village nearest the temple on the Thai side, says dozens of small businesses have closed. On July 17th local shopkeepers traded punches with anti-government protesters from Bangkok.
It is hard now for either country to back down. Mr Samak cannot afford to look weak, and nor can Mr Hun Sen, who is facing a general election on July 27th. He is sure to win it but his critics accuse him of weakness in the face of Thai aggression.
Bilateral talks will resume after the Cambodian election, when it is hoped a peaceful resolution will be easier to reach. But with so many troops and weapons in the disputed area, there is the constant risk of a mishap, leading to bloodshed. In 2003 a mob burned Thailand’s embassy in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, over misunderstood comments by a Thai actress that were seen as asserting Thai sovereignty over Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
If ASEAN were unable to prevent another such accident, the world’s doubts about the block’s relevance would only deepen. ASEAN had hoped to recover its reputation somewhat with the publication at the summit of a report showing progress in bringing relief to Myanmar’s cyclone victims. ASEAN’s initial response had been slow and feeble: it could have embarrassed its rogue member’s military dictators into allowing in more aid, more quickly, by making a generous and public offer of assistance that, coming from “friendly” neighbours rather than hostile Western powers, would have been harder to reject. Belatedly, ASEAN proposed a “tripartite” group—itself plus the UN and the Burmese government—to oversee relief efforts, thereby giving the regime cover to soften its opposition to foreign aid workers’ presence in the devastated Irrawaddy delta.

The tripartite group’s report to the summit contained fairly good news: although aid workers were only able to offer shelter to 30% of those left homeless by the storm, locals have got on with it themselves and rebuilt about 80% of the 800,000 destroyed or damaged homes. Enough medical aid has arrived to avert a much-feared outbreak of deadly diseases. A senior relief-agency official says ASEAN’s involvement has eased the flow of aid workers and supplies down to the delta. But he says much of the credit is due personally to George Yeo, the foreign minister of Singapore (ASEAN’s current chair), and Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN’s secretary-general, who are “pushing the envelope” of the block’s rule of non-interference.
Mr Yeo said Myanmar had hinted that Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s opposition leader, might soon be freed from house arrest. Embarrassingly, his Burmese counterpart swiftly denied this. In its communiqué ASEAN used its strongest language yet to demand that Myanmar release Miss Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and hold fair elections. But the Burmese generals know that the block is still far from taking any action to back its words. The summit sought to make progress on a new ASEAN human-rights body but the Burmese said it must not have powers to monitor or investigate abuses—only a toothless one would do.
Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, reminded ASEAN leaders that they had, in 41 years of summitry, honoured only 30% of the fairly modest agreements they had signed. Other, broader Asian forums are developing, he noted, posing a danger that ASEAN might be sidelined. But, as he also noted, the block’s biggest members are preoccupied with domestic matters—political crises in Thailand and Malaysia, approaching elections in Indonesia and the Philippines—that leave little time for thinking about regional unity.
This year saw the end of one of ASEAN’s traditional contributions to that unity—the annual cabaret at which its foreign ministers and their guests entertain each other and make fools of themselves. As host, the famously fun-loving Singaporean government dropped the event. Maybe there is not much to laugh about.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cambodia to Open Bourse in 2009; Urges Corporate Transparency

By Netty Ismail and Yoolim Lee

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia plans to open its first stock exchange and start a corporate bond market in the fourth quarter of 2009 in a bid to attract foreign funds to Southeast Asia's second-poorest nation, a government official said.

Six to 10 companies, with a combined market value of $200 million to $400 million, including Sokimex Group, the country's biggest petroleum company, and Acleda Bank Plc, its largest bank, will likely be listed on the exchange within a year of it being set up, Kao Thach, head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance's financial market division, said late yesterday.

Cambodia, which abolished money under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago, is seeking to lure foreign funds as economic growth slows after peaking at 13.5 percent in 2005. The government will need to improve the legal system and urge Cambodian companies to open their accounting records to investor scrutiny, said Agost Benard, who covers the country for Standard & Poor's.

``Given all the uncertainties and lack of transparency, at least initially, it will probably be the local people who are willing to take the punt,'' said Benard, associate director at the rating company in Singapore. ``International investors who expect higher standards of disclosure and transparency will take a wait-and-see attitude.''

The government last year asked more than 400 companies, most of which are family businesses, to get their financial statements audited to improve transparency, Thach, 34, said in an interview in Phnom Penh.

Local Rules

``Cambodia has been effectively cut off from the rest of the developed world for the past three decades, so a lot of business has been done based on unwritten local rules,'' said Marvin Yeo, co-founder of Frontier Investment & Development Partners in Phnom Penh.

Frontier Investment, a private-equity fund, is raising $250 million to put in the second-poorest of 10 Southeast Asian nations, and will cash out of some of its planned investments through listings on the exchange, Yeo said.

The listing requirements in Cambodia will likely be modeled on the Kosdaq, South Korea's second stock market that was set up 12 years ago for small- and medium-sized firms as well as venture start-ups, Thach said.

Companies seeking a Kosdaq listing need to be in business for at least three years with minimum paid-in capital of 500 million won ($495,417) and debt-to-equity ratio of less than 150 percent of the industry mean. Venture capital firms have less stringent requirements under the South Korean government's program to prop up smaller technology companies.

Raising Capital

South Korea's exchange is helping Cambodia set up its bourse. The Cambodian government, which will likely own at least 51 percent of the planned venture, and the operator of the Seoul-based bourse, Korea Exchange Inc., will begin discussions next month to decide on their shareholdings, Thach said.

The Cambodia Securities and Exchange Commission will likely be set up as early as September, Thach said.

``They're nowhere near getting the rules together, the criteria for listing, transparency, proper accounting,'' said John Brinsden, vice chairman of Acleda Bank, the largest Cambodian bank with 209 branches in 24 provinces.

Acleda Bank will ``need a lot of capital over the next few years'' as it opens more offices in Cambodia and neighboring countries including Laos, Brinsden said in Phnom Penh.

Sokimex, which has monopoly rights to ticket sales at the Angkor Wat ancient temple ruins in Siem Reap, plans to expand its hotel and resorts business, Chief Executive Officer Sok Kong said on the company's Web site.

Transparency Concerns

Other Cambodian companies considering initial public offerings include Canadia Bank Plc, Union Commercial Bank Plc and Mong Rithy Group, which has palm oil plantations in Sihanoukville, Thach said.

Royal Group, which owns the country's biggest mobile-phone operator and has a partnership with Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Cambodia, will consider a listing ``in the future,'' Chairman Kith Meng said in an interview in Phnom Penh.

Companies can sell shares or bonds in Cambodia's currency, the riel, or the dollar, which will mitigate any foreign exchange risk for international investors, Thach said.

Still, ``the biggest concern would be the credibility of the companies or their reporting standards,'' said Frontier Investment's Yeo. Transparency International, a private monitoring agency based in Berlin, ranked Cambodia 162nd of 179 countries in its annual report on perceptions of corruption last year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Netty Ismail in Singapore nismail3@bloomberg.net.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tourist growth helps boost property market in Cambodia

The number of tourists visiting Cambodia has increased in the first half of this year with authorities now predicting more than 2.3 million visitors for 2008.
The Ministry of Tourism said numbers were up more than 14% compared with last year. A spokesman said political stability and infrastructure improvements had increased the number of tourist arrivals to the country. Some $1.64 billion is expected to be generated in 2008 from tourism alone.
According to specialists this means a boost for those with buy-to-let property in the country as these latest figures are part of a trend. Visitor numbers reached 2 million in 2006, and rose a further 20% in 2007.
'This sustained and aggressive growth in the tourist sector, as well as booming construction, property and garment manufacturing sectors is helping the country's economy to enjoy near double-digit growth,' said a spokesman for David Stanley Redfern.
The real estate sector, in particular, is growing at a phenomenal rate and no more so than in the capital Phnom Penh where land doubled last year to $3,000 per square metre, up from just $500 in 2000. 'Add to this the growth in the tourism sector and rental yields in the city are also expected to grow,' he added.
Once known as the 'Pearl of Asia', Phnom Penh is a significant global and domestic tourist destination for Cambodia. The city is the wealthiest and most populous in the country; it's commercial, political and cultural hub and is home to more than two million people.
French villas along tree-lined boulevards remind the visitor of its colonist heritage, yet its oldest structure is the Wat Phnom from the founding days of the city, constructed in 1373. The French however, certainly left their mark and parts of the city are filled with colonial villas, French churches, boulevards, and famous landmarks such as the Art deco market Phsar Thom Thmei and the Hotel Le Royal.
Proving popular are apartments in the chic riverside French quarter from as little as £49,000. These authentic French colonial period buildings have been completely refurbished and modernised and are expected to appreciate by 15 to 20% per year. The developer is currently offering a rental guarantee of 9% for the first two years, making this a safe investment in an aggressively growing market.

Cambodia's Premier in Strong Position Ahead of Vote

Hun Sen Has Steered Economic Miniboom,
But Graft Abounds
By PATRICK BARTA
July 22, 2008; Page A13

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose party is expected to win re-election here Sunday, is credited by many Cambodians with guiding their country to become one of Asia's newest investment hot spots.

After enduring one of the worst genocides in history, a new Cambodia now features skyscrapers, foreign investors and stability. This week's national election will serve to show just how far the country has come.

But keeping the economic recovery on track in Cambodia -- a nation best-known for its genocidal 1970s Khmer Rouge regime -- is getting more difficult in the face of a global slowdown, regional competition and entrenched corruption.

Mr. Hun Sen opened Cambodia's doors to foreign investors and has overseen notable improvements in living standards. Economic growth has surged 10% or more annually in recent years, driven by an influx of investment funds, property speculators and a few big multinationals, including Chevron Corp. and BHP Billiton.

Phnom Penh, the capital, recently got a new fleet of metered taxis, and it soon will have its first skyscrapers, including a 42-story luxury condominium tower rising up next to an office for a national antileprosy campaign. In brochures, the project's South Korean developers compare the building -- which boasts a grass-covered "sky park" on its 10th floor -- to Manhattan's Time Warner Center.

But attracting a lot more investment will depend on Cambodia overcoming its reputation as one of the world's most corrupt countries. It ranks among the worst on Transparency International's annual list of graft-ridden nations, with 72% of its residents reporting they paid at least one bribe in the past year -- roughly on par with Cameroon and Albania. Opposition leaders and others say a more pervasive rule of law is needed to sustain the boom by making Cambodia attractive to blue-chip foreign investors who currently prefer countries such as Thailand or Vietnam.

[Go to photos.]
Patrick Barta/ The Wall Street Journal
An estimated 1.7 million people -- or roughly a fifth of the population -- died or were killed during the Khmer Rouge years.

Many economists believe Cambodia's miniboom is already fading. Growth has been fueled by just a few sectors -- notably tourism, construction and garment manufacturing. Inflation is soaring, pushed by higher fuel and food prices, and the new garment factories around Phnom Penh are facing new competition as China expands its textile output and global demand slows.

The International Monetary Fund predicts growth of Cambodia's economy will slow to about 7% this year, in part because of slowing garment exports.

Mr. Hun Sen has "delivered political stability, and that has translated into economic growth," says Arjun Goswami, country director for the Asian Development Bank in Phnom Penh. But, he adds, "the story is going to get more difficult for Cambodia."

Economic issues have played an important part in the election campaign. "The kind of growth we are having now is not sustainable or equitable," contends Sam Rainsy, a French-educated former finance minister who leads a prominent opposition party. Much of Cambodia's economic activity, he notes, involves illegal businesses or black-market operations: illicit logging, land speculation, gambling and prostitution. Such businesses thrive, he says, because of a political system permeated with graft.

[Hun Sen]

Ruling-party leaders have dismissed some allegations of graft as exaggerated, and promised to pass legislation to rein in corruption in the future.

Though small, Cambodia could become a major investment site. It has significant deposits of bauxite, gold and other minerals, and energy companies have recently found sizable oil deposits off its coast. The country also has large areas of arable land that could be developed for rice and other crops to help meet Asia's growing demand.

Much of that potential was squandered as Cambodia suffered through wars and atrocities in recent decades. Cambodia became independent from French colonial rule in the 1950s, but was bombed heavily by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. It later fell to the Khmer Rouge, a home-grown Maoist rebel group whose leaders, including the notorious Pol Pot, outlawed money and private property in a disastrous bid to create a nation of agricultural collectives. Some 1.7 million people -- about a fifth of the population at the time -- died of illness or starvation or were killed.

Invading Vietnamese forces eventually ousted the Khmer Rouge and installed Khmer Rouge defectors, including Hun Sen, in a new government. He became prime minister in 1985. A battle-hardened soldier-turned-politician -- he lost an eye in combat -- Mr. Hun Sen survived Cambodia's transition to nominally democratic rule in 1993 and has since fended off all challengers to his rule, including a violent coup in 1997 against a rival with whom he shared power.

Despite his government's reputation for corruption and its strong authoritarian streak, Cambodians re-elected Mr. Hun Sen's party in 1998 and 2003, and he has remained popular among many Cambodians who believe the country is better off than it was a decade ago.

[Chart]

A party victory in Sunday's national parliamentary elections would give him another five years in power. Now in his late 50s, he has said he plans to stay in power until he is 90 years old. In a speech earlier this year, he said, "I wish to state it very clearly this way: No one can defeat Hun Sen. Only Hun Sen alone can defeat Hun Sen."

To sustain popular support, the government has rebuilt schools and repaired roads, in part with money provided by foreign donors. It has also made it easier for foreigners to visit and invest in the country, stoking a surge in tourist arrivals and hotel and office construction.

Mr. Hun Sen's party "has done a lot to improve the country," says Sokna Tea, a 20-year-old finance student who was hanging out one recent afternoon near a new $1 billion property development expected to include a 52-story tower and convention center. Many Cambodians simply believe Mr. Hun Sen's victory is inevitable or fear that a vote against his government could lead to political unrest.

Despite some reports of campaign-related violence, independent election observers say they expect the vote to be fair, and campaigning for the dozen or so parties contesting the vote has been vigorous. Mr. Hun Sen's political organization, the Cambodian People's Party, is backed by many of the country's wealthiest tycoons and has deep pockets, allowing it to vastly outspend the smaller opposition groups.

Some economic analysts say controlling Cambodia will become harder for Mr. Hun Sen, especially if rising food and energy prices undermine the recent gains in poverty reduction. More than half of Cambodia's population of 14 million is under 21 years old, and many youths are better educated than their parents, meaning they will likely demand more from their government in the future.

"I want something more than stability," says Theary Seng, a social activist in her 30s who has lived in the U.S. and now is the executive director of a Phnom Penh watchdog group known as the Center for Social Development. After all, she says, "North Korea has stability."

Write to Patrick Barta at patrick.barta@wsj.com

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Too much adoration at Cambodia's Angkor temples

Statues
Paul Watson / Los Angeles Times
Statues line a roadway in the Angkor temple complex in Cambodia. A decade ago, the site drew about 300,000 tourists a year. This year, more than a million are expected. More photos >>>
The crush of tourists at the sandstone ruins is taking a toll, conservationists say.
By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 20, 2008
ANGKOR, CAMBODIA -- The ancient sandstone temples of Angkor have stood up to endless assaults down the centuries, from medieval raiders armed with clubs and spears to genocidal looters laying land mines.

These days, the onslaught begins in the early morning darkness, when invading columns of buses, taxis and sputtering tuk-tuks converge on a dirt parking lot across from Angkor Wat's broad moat.

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They disgorge hundreds of camera-wielding tourists, who march through the gray light toward the awesome gates of the world's largest religious monument.

Hindus constructed it in the 12th century, with a gilded central tower representing Mt. Meru, mythical home of the gods and the center of the spiritual and physical universes. They built it facing west, perhaps in honor of the god Vishnu, preserver of all things.

For today's tourists, the alignment has a more mundane appeal.

It's a great place to snap a picture of the sunrise behind sprawling Angkor's best-known temple.

When the shutters stop clicking, tour guides herd their groups into the monument all at once. Tourists jostling for space bump, scrape and rub their fingers against exquisitely carved stone, adding to centuries of damage to the friezes of soldiers depicted in epic battle atop chariots and elephants.

Beating a path

By dusk, the mob of sightseers has moved to Phnom Bakheng, where buses drop off hundreds of people who then scramble for position on large, delicately balanced stone platforms at the small temple, Angkor's oldest.

Obscured from the road by dense forest, it was safely off the regular tour routes until sappers cleared land mines that Khmer Rouge guerrillas had placed to defend the strategic hilltop.

"Now it's suddenly become the destination where everybody wants to be at the end of the day to see the sunset, and to see the views, which are spectacular," said Bonnie Burnham, president of the New York-based World Monuments Fund. The nonprofit group helps conserve historic sites around the world.

Many of Phnom Bakheng's 108 shrines stand on platforms that have shifted over the centuries as water trickles in and loosens sand and dirt, and the tourists are gathering where they shouldn't. So many people have clambered up stones next to the crowded stairs that erosion is accelerating, with loosened sections poised to tumble, Burnham said.

"The platforms where people stand are not really stable," Burnham said. "They're eroding very rapidly. The magnificent sculpture on the shrine at the center of the temple is in very fragile condition and has not been treated for conservation yet.

"People shouldn't really be touching it, or going anywhere near it," she said.

Burnham's fund received almost $1 million last month from the U.S. State Department for a project to stabilize the eastern side of Phnom Bakheng, the temple's most endangered section.

As night falls, the tourists feel their way back down the hill and onto air-conditioned buses. They're delivered to their hotels in nearby Siem Reap, where they rinse off the sweat of a long day's touring with a dip in the pool or a soothing shower before dinner.

As the taps open up, more of the dwindling ground water is drained. UNESCO has warned that the receding water table could undermine Angkor Wat's fragile foundations, causing the temple to gradually sink.

There hasn't been enough research to say how much the heavy demand for water affects Angkor Wat's stability, said Dougald O'Reilly, a Canadian archaeologist who heads , a nonprofit group working to protect Cambodia's historic sites from looters and overuse.

Growing numbers

A decade ago, about 300,000 tourists visited Angkor Wat each year. It was possible to have a quiet, spiritual moment alone in nearby temples that had been swallowed up by the jungle.

But peace, after decades of civil war and upheaval, opened the tourism floodgates. More than a million people are expected to file through Angkor Wat's narrow stone corridors this year, and the government hopes to draw 3 million to the site by 2010.


With more hotels and resorts on the drawing board, conservationists are pushing hard to prevent a destructive free-for-all of development and tourism.

"It's going to mean some sacrifices," Burnham said. "People aren't going to be able to do some of the things, in an unregulated way, that they've been permitted to do in the past."

Angkor's temples aren't new to the indignities of visitors with sharp elbows.

Numerous armies have barged through the city-state founded 1,200 years ago. Its temples were abandoned to the jungle during almost half that period. Angkor Wat suffered its worst damage when Khmer Rouge fighters looted it in the late 1970s as they were committing mass murder in the name of an agrarian revolution.

Foreign donors and governments, led by the U.S., France and Japan, have spent as much as $50 million over the last 15 years to repair the scars of time and abuse.

But the work is far from finished, and new threats are building.

Sokimex Group, which has used its connections with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to become the country's biggest company, plans to build a 900-room hotel and spa, with shopping mall, water park, slot machines and conference center, on a 56-acre site in Siem Reap.

Disputed revenue

Sokimex also controls the ticket concession to Angkor. Passes cost $20 a day, $40 for three days and $60 a week. It's small change for a company that deals in oil, gas stations, pharmaceutical products, garment making, property development and luxury hotels and resorts, in addition to running an airline.

Sokimex's share of the admission take is set by a contract with the government, and Burnham said it leaves most of the profit in the company's hands. One-third of the revenue is supposed to go to Apsara, a Cambodian agency set up by royal decree to preserve the Angkor sites and manage development.

But some people dispute the ticket sales figures, saying Apsara, which takes its name from the heavenly nymphs of Hindu and Buddhist mythology whose bare-chested figures adorn the Angkor temple walls, gets enough only to cover basic expenses.

"Apsara has virtually no money for conservation," Burnham said. "All of the conservation at Angkor is being done through international assistance."

Stomping grounds

The effect of millions of feet pounding on Angkor Wat's steps and floors already has led officials to close some areas. The towers, the tallest of which rises 213 feet, are off limits because the constant wear and tear made the structures unsafe.

A first step toward reducing congestion could be as simple as insisting that visitors walk through Angkor Wat in the same direction, from beginning to end, Burnham said.

She also wants to see Cambodian officials set time constraints on tickets for the busiest of Angkor's temples, to limit pressure during peak hours.

The day may come when a strict quota is placed on the number of visitors allowed at certain monuments, Burnham said.

But O'Reilly hopes to avoid that by persuading tourists and their guides to make better choices.

O'Reilly is deputy director of the Greater Angkor Project, a team of researchers at Australia's University of Sydney who in recent years have discovered how vast ancient Angkor was by studying images taken by NASA satellites and an ultralight plane.

Their theory is that the city's 15th century collapse occurred largely because people neglected their environment, cutting down too many trees to expand rice paddies, causing waterways to fill with silt.

If they're right, it's a cautionary tale for the 21st century, as overdevelopment threatens the magnificent buildings and art that ancient Angkor left behind.

paul.watson@latimes.com

Monday, July 21, 2008

Vimpelcom buys Cambodia's Sotelco for $28 million

Mon Jul 21, 2008 9:04am EDT

(Adds details, quotes, background)

MOSCOW, July 21 (Reuters) - Vimpelcom (VIP.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Russia's number two mobile phone operator, has bought a 90 percent stake in Cambodia's Sotelco from its largest shareholder, Altimo, in a second step in its Asian expansion, it said on Monday.

"Cambodian market entry is an important part of Vimpelcom's international expansion strategy particularly within (the company's) South-East Asian cluster of operations started by our entry to the Vietnamese mobile market," Vimpelcom's Chief Executive Officer Alexander Izosimov said in a statement. "We foresee impressive growth potential within the South-East Asian region, and cluster synergies," he said.

Vimpelcom, which this month finalised its mobile venture in Vietnam, said in a statement on Monday the transaction was made through the purchase of 90 percent of Sotelco's parent company, Atlas Trade Limited, for $28 million.

"We expect that it will take us nine months to create and launch a network," Vimpelcom's Vice President for business outside Russia, Nikolai Pryanishnikov, told a conference call.

Pryanishnikov said Vimpelcom would invest around $200 million in the network within the first three to four years after its commercial launch and aimed for roughly 20 percent market share, or around 2 million subscribers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cambodian secretary of state recovering well after acid attack

PHNOM PENH -- Ngor Srun, secretary of state at the Cambodian Council of Ministers and top aid for Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, was recovering well in Thailand after the acid attack Sunday in Phnom Penh, national media said Wednesday.

Although the acid hit Srun's face, his wounds were superficial and he should be able to return soon to Cambodia following medical treatment in Thailand, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily quoted his sister-in-law Chea Sam Ath as saying.

"I saw him Sunday before he left for Thailand. He is just a little burned and it didn't affect his eyes. He can be normal after treatment," said the elder sister of Srun's wife Chea Sam Eng, who is the second daughter to Cambodian Senate President Chea Sim.

The attack occurred in downtown Phnom Penh, as Srun ended his participation in a major general election campaign for the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and prepared to bring his vehicle to a nearby workshop for mechanical check.

Srun was hospitalized at the Calmette Hospital around 11:00 a.m. local time Sunday and transferred to Thailand later in the afternoon.

Hospital sources said that Srun was burnt on the left side of his face, ear and chest. His wounds were cleaned, treated and bandaged in the emergency room over the course of two hours.

This has been the second high-profile crime so far during Cambodia's general election month, which started in June and will end on July 27.

Friday, veteran reporter Khim Sambo and his son were shot dead on street. Sambo used to work as part-time contributor for the Khmer Conscience News, a Cambodian-language newspaper closely affiliated with the major opposition party.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Russian company buying interest in Cambodian mobile operator

Sistema to gain foothold in China and Bangladesh

AFK Sistema, the largest diversified consumer services corporation in Russia and the CIS, has been working in India since September 2007 and is now seeking a niche in China and Bangladesh. It is negotiating the acquisition of an operator in Bangladesh, most likely Teletalk, valued at $300-$500 million.
The corporation will have to compete in the region with VimpelCom, Russia's second-largest mobile phone operator, which has started its Asia-Pacific expansion in Vietnam.
Sistema has signed telecommunication agreements with the governments of China and Bangladesh, Vladimir Yevtushenkov, the main beneficiary of Sistema, said during a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday.
The corporation has been granted a license to provide mobile services in the border provinces of China and is considering buying a local operator, Yevtushenkov said.
According to a source of the business daily Kommersant in the corporation, it will most likely seek to buy a stake in a state-owned company.
At present, six mobile operators are working in Bangladesh. According to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the total number of their subscribers as of late May was 42 million (25% of the population).
Sistema, set up in 1993, gained a foothold in the Asia-Pacific region in September 2007, when it bought a 10% stake in Indian cellular operator Shyam Telelink. It has since increased the stake to 74% and plans to invest $5-$7 billion in this project.
Gennady Frolov, the holding's director for corporate communications, said Sistema had agreed with Sberbank to obtain a $450 million loan.
Sistema will have to compete with VimpelCom in the region.
Yevgeny Solomatin, director for development at Russian consulting and marketing company Cominfo Consulting, said: "Their interests are already overlapping in the region, where they will rival for licenses and moderately priced assets."
VimpelCom has announced its interest in Laos and Burma. Its deal to buy a 90% stake in Cambodian operator Sotelco from Altimo, which owns a 44% stake in VimpelCom and is managing the assets of Alfa Group, was approved in June, Solomatin said.
Sistema and VimpelCom have invested as much as $1.8 billion in Vietnam, but even multibillion-dollar investment will not make them leaders on the Vietnamese market.

US boosts military ties with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States is stepping up military ties with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as part of a deepening relationship with Southeast Asia amid competition for influence from China, officials said.

The United States and Laos, they said, plan to exchange military attaches by the end of the year as part of the strategy aimed at beefing up defense links with the trio in the heart of a once central Cold War battleground.

Three years after resuming full military ties with Indonesia soured by human rights concerns, "we are beginning to develop those same kind of ties with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia," deputy US assistant secretary of state Scot Marciel said.

"We are starting off small -- doing some training, some exchanges which we think are very useful," he said.

"And by the end of this year, we and the Lao government will open defense attache offices in each other's capitals, which is a big step, an important step," Marciel, the US ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said at a Washington forum last week.

Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were latecomers to ASEAN together with Myanmar.

The other ASEAN states are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

US officials rejected any notion that the move to build military ties with Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos was to check China's rising influence in Southeast Asia, saying it was part of broadening the overall relationship.

"It doesn't really signify more than that," said a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

China is rapidly building up its military and could challenge traditional US naval dominance in the region, experts say, citing among other examples, Beijing's setting up of a new underground nuclear submarine base on the southern tip of Hainan Island, close to vital sea lanes in Southeast Asia.

Unlike many other Southeast Asian states which have substantial military ties with the United States, "we havent had that so much with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia because of the history," the State Department official said, referring to the Vietnam War.

As the conflict escalated between the United States and Vietnam, neighbors Laos and Cambodia became increasingly involved in the war.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail -- a supply route from North to South Vietnam that the United States wanted to cut -- passed through both countries.

US officials said they were looking at expanding an international military education and training program in Vietnam, now confined largely to ship visits and a modest English language teching project for Vietnamese military officers.

The former battlefield enemies exchanged defense military attaches in the mid 1990's after Hanoi cooperated in accounting for missing Americans from the Vietnam War.

US defense ties in Laos also centered on the recovery of soldiers missing.

China is fast emerging as a top economic player in Cambodia and Laos.

In Cambodia, where the 1975-1979 communist Khmer Rouge regime was backed by Beijing, China is the largest foreign donor.

"It is a fact that China is growing economically and playing a more active role in much of the world, certainly including in Southeast Asia, but we don't see this as a zero sum game," Marciel said.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Skyscrapers to rise above inflation, say developers

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Friday, 11 July 2008
11-builders.jpg
vandy rattana
Construction prices are on the rise but the developers of some of Phnom Penh’s biggest building projects insist higher costs will not prevent a dramatic shift to high-rise living in the capital.
Property developers are trumpeting the impending transformation of Phnom Penh’s skyline, despite fears the sharp rise in the price of construction materials could bring the capital’s skyward march up short.

Huy Sophanna, construction site supervisor for the Ieng Group, a local contractor, said the prices of building materials have increased across the board since last year, with the price of scaffolding ballooning from around $400 per ton to $1,035 per ton, and bricks stabilizing at $600 per 100,000 after reaching a high of $1,200 earlier in the year.

“In previous years, our flats sold well after construction, but now we are not selling as many,” he said. “Some construction companies postponed their construction when the price of construction materials jumped up, but the number of buyers is still lower.”

The costs of oil, electricity and specialty metals are also on the rise.

However, spokesmen for the 42-story Gold Tower 42 residential high-rise claimed the project would proceed as planned, dismissing rumors that construction has been halted at its site on Monivong Boulevard.

“This is a worldwide tendency at the moment, not just in Cambodia. Contractors are suffering from high prices,” said Kim Kyo-Won, project director of Hanil Engineering & Construction, the Korean contractor that is building Gold Tower 42 and the Camko City satellite city project.

“No alterations shall be made, and the projects will go ahead as planned.”

Michael Kim, chief consultant for Yon Woo Cambodia Co., Ltd, the project’s developer, said costs were still within manageable levels and would not have much effect on the construction.

“We are losing some of our profit margin, [but] we’re fixing the price right now, even though the cost of all the materials is rising, so it’s a real benefit for customers,” Kim said.

Sixty percent of Gold Tower 42’s condominiums, 70 percent of its office space and all its commercial space have already been sold off the plan, indicating sustained demand for space in the building.

Kim said Gold Tower 42’s symbolic status as the country’s first skyscraper would ensure it was completed on schedule, whatever the challenges.

“This is a very important project for Cambodia, and if it doesn’t succeed it will cause a lot of problems for a whole lot of other projects,” he said.

Kuoy Aphireach, site engineer of GS Engineering & Construction, which last month broke ground on its 52-story International Finance Complex (IFC) development, said the IFC project would not be impacted by rising costs, although smaller operations would feel the pinch.

“High inflation of construction materials will have an impact on small local companies and some other foreign companies are cutting costs, but not our company. We have planned ahead to avoid the problem,” he said.

“We are not worried about the shortage of buyers or renters, because our projects have been successful in many places, including Kuwait and Vietnam,” he said, adding that apartments and office space in the IFC would go on sale once the project was 30-50 percent completed.

Bonna Realty Group CEO Sung Bonna said rising costs would likely result in delays or cancellation of construction projects across Phnom Penh, but was unsure whether or not the capital’s skyscraper projects would be affected.

Cambodian garment workers worry about future prospects

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Sath Vanny sits anxiously at the door to her tiny one-room hut in the factory district of Cambodia's capital.

She left her hometown in the southern province of Takeo seven years ago to work at a women's shirt factory, sending most of her earnings back to help the family farm.

But a slowdown in orders has the 25-year-old worried about her job. Overtime work has fallen off as Cambodia's textile sector, the country's biggest industrial employer, struggles against stiffer global competition and slowing demand.

More than 10 Chinese-owned factories have moved to cheaper markets, leaving hundreds of thousands of garment workers -- mostly young women like Vanny who support their impoverished families -- facing destitution.

"I was told that we didn't have as many orders as we used to, but with the basic wage I don't have money to send to my parents," says Vanny, who now earns less than 60 dollars per month.

"I can't imagine living without a factory job. I am so worried about my family," she adds, wiping away tears.

The garment industry earns 80 percent of Cambodia's foreign exchange earnings and employs an estimated 350,000 people in more than 300 factories.

The industry thrived after a unique labour-friendly deal with the United States in the 1990s.

Under the deal, Cambodia passed new labour laws, encouraged labour unions and allowed the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to inspect factories and publish its findings.

In turn, the United States cut tariffs on Cambodian garment exports, buying 70 percent of all of the country's textiles.

Cambodia maintained its higher working conditions after the deal expired in 2005, and garment-making has made the economy one of the fastest growing in the region. But it does not look built to last.

The industry grew only 8.0 percent last year after suffering a dismal fourth quarter that saw orders plummet by nearly half, according to the World Bank. It previously enjoyed growth of up to 20 percent.

Apparel exports have declined since October, mainly due to the US economic slowdown, according to Cambodia's commerce ministry.

Exports to the United States slipped 1.44 percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period last year, to some 500 million dollars, it added.

Meanwhile factory owners are looking abroad for greater productivity and lower costs, says Cambodia's Free Trade Union (FTU).

Sok Vannak, who has been working at a factory for almost 10 years, says her Chinese bosses often threaten to move the factory to Vietnam, where costs are cheaper.

"They warn us all the time. I'm afraid that it could come true," says the 27-year-old.

"I have no land to farm. Without the factory we will have a hard time surviving," Vannak says.

Garments are a shifting industry, says Kaing Monika, manager at the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia. Many manufacturers could move to Vietnam, Bangladesh or India, he adds.

"Production costs -- oil and power -- are high in Cambodia, and the demand for higher wages also put the country's garment industry in danger," he says.

Factory owners complain about a proliferation of labour unions and illegal strikes, but workers say they merely want proper wages.

About 27,000 garment workers have quit in the last year in search of higher pay, according the FTU.

Some have gone to look for work in rural areas where the cost of living is lower, while others have found work at karaoke parlours where they're in danger of falling into prostitution, says FTU president Chea Mony.

Next year will bring even more competition when US restrictions on Chinese textile exports are scheduled to end.

"China and Vietnam are still our direct competitors, and so far we have nothing special to offer buyers. That is why we're very concerned," says Oum Mean, of Cambodia's labour ministry.

"To counter this competition, we must increase productivity, quality and extend our reputation as having high labour standards," he says.

Cambodian Journalist Shot Dead




12 July 2008

Byrne report - Download (MP3) audio clip
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A prominent Cambodian journalist who worked for a pro-opposition newspaper was shot dead Friday along with his son in the capital Phnom Penh. Human rights groups say that the attack is meant to intimidate journalists and the public ahead of Cambodia's upcoming general elections while the government has condemned the killing and pledged to catch the killers. Rory Byrne has this report for VOA from Phnom Penh.


Relatives of killed journalist Khim Sambo arrange portrait during mourning ceremony at pagoda in Phnom Penh, 12 Jul 2008
Relatives of killed journalist Khim Sambo arrange portrait during mourning ceremony at pagoda in Phnom Penh, 12 Jul 2008
Khem Sambo and his 21-year-old son were riding a motorcycle Friday afternoon when they were each shot twice by a man on another motorcycle. They both died later in hospital.

Sambo, 47, reported on corruption, land grabbing and other social issues in Cambodia for the opposition newspaper Moneaseka Khmer.

Human rights advocate Theary Seng says that the killings have all the hallmarks of a political assassination.

"He's a well known journalist with an opposition voice who has been very critical of the government. It was intentional because there were at least five bullets sprayed on this man so it has all the indications of a political assassination," said Seng.

The killings of Sambo and his son follow at least half a dozen other killings in recent months that are thought to be politically motivated. They come just two weeks before Cambodia's national elections and are intended to send a message to voters, says Seng.

"There is a pattern of killings," he said. "The killings are concentrated a few months before the elections. The other pattern is that it's done in broad daylight, its done in a public space, so that the public can get the message which is: be careful if you go to a voting booth on the 27th."

Human rights groups say that Sambo is the 12th journalist to have been killed for his work since 1992. None of the killers have been found. Speaking to reporters in Phnom Penh Saturday Cambodian information Minister Khieu Kanharith condemned the killings and said that the "culprits cannot be forgiven and must be found."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Royal Group Seeks $2 Billion for Cambodian Resort

By Netty Ismail

July 10 (Bloomberg) -- Royal Group, which owns Cambodia's biggest mobile-phone operator, plans to raise as much as $2 billion with Hong Kong-based Millennium Group to build resorts, casinos and an airport on an island off the coast of Cambodia.

Royal Group and the Millennium real-estate investment firm are seeking investors and partners for resorts, apartments, casinos, golf courses, polo fields and an airport on Koh Rong island, according to a financing investment document obtained by Bloomberg News. The island is the largest of 22 off the coast of the southern port city and beach resort town of Sihanoukville.


``This is a place that people haven't discovered yet,'' said Royal Group Chairman Kith Meng in an interview in Phnom Penh. ``It's like the Maldives,'' an island country in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka, he said.

Cambodia, the second-poorest of 10 Southeast Asian nations, is relying on tourism to fuel economic growth as garment exports slow. The country attracted about $400 million of tourism- related investments in the first half of 2008, mostly for resorts, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said. Visitors to Cambodia exceeded 2 million for the first time last year, up from 118,183 in 1993 when Cambodia emerged from a two-decade civil war.

``Our dream is to transform our costal line into the next Riviera of Asia,'' Cham Prasidh said in a July 4 interview. ``There'll be plenty of resorts appearing on the islands and all along the coast of Cambodia. There will be billions of dollars of investment in that sector this year and next year.''

Angkor Wat

The companies will raise funds from investors in London and the Middle East, and it will take 10 years to 15 years to develop the island, said Kith Meng on July 4.

Cambodia wants to develop tourism beyond the key destination of Angkor Wat, known for its ancient temples. The island project may face competition with beach resorts also being developed in Vietnam and Thailand.

``The tourism industry is overwhelmingly concentrated on Angkor Wat because of the unique attraction you can't find elsewhere in the world,'' said Agost Benard, associate director at Standard & Poor's in Singapore. ``As far as developing a beach resort, you'll be competing with a lot of countries because it's a generic product.''

Royal Group and Millennium are raising funds as record oil prices prompt airlines to cut flights. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Hong Kong's largest airline, said July 2 that earnings would be ``disappointing'' because of record fuel costs.

``I don't know if the current oil prices will affect air travel and if it's going to be a booming sector in the near term,'' Benard said.

Turquoise Waters

The companies are trying to get resort and hotel operators, including Singapore-based Banyan Tree Holdings Ltd., to participate in the project, Kith Meng said.

Royal Group and Millennium plan to develop the 76 square- kilometer (29 square-mile) Koh Rong island, now inhabited by fishermen, into a ``luxury resort destination,'' according to the document. The island has 28 white sand beaches, including the 6.1 kilometer Snowdrift Beach, surrounded by shallow turquoise waters.

``The world isn't even aware it exists,'' said Douglas Clayton, founder of Leopard Capital, who has lived in Asia, including Cambodia, for about 21 years. ``In a decade, it might have an international airport cluttered with private jets and marinas full of mega-yachts; visit it today and you'll be the only one on the beach.''

Kith Meng, who was educated in Australia, declined to say how much Royal Group is paying the government for a 99-year lease to the island.

Royal Group also is planning to build a resort in Siem Reap, near the temples of Angkor Wat, with India's Oberoi Group. Royal Group already has a telecommunications venture, MobiTel, with Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular SA, and another partnership in Cambodia with Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., Australia's third-largest bank, called ANZ Royal Bank.

To contact the reporter on this story: Netty Ismail in Singapore nismail3@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: July 10, 2008 01:07 EDT

Siem Reap, Cambodia: Angkor Wat (2nd of 3 Parts)

Posted By Lori On July 11, 2008 @ 12:46 am In food tour

[1]

When it comes to sightseeing, I’m the more-markets-than-monuments type of tourist. It’s not really my thing to be shuttled around in a tour bus blindly following a guide whose hand is perennially attached to that “follow me” pink (or yellow or what have you) flag. But in Cambodia, I had to visit Angkor Wat…

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Singapore Petroleum drilling well off Cambodia

SINGAPORE Petroleum Company and its partners began drilling an exploration well off Cambodia on Tuesday, the company said in a statement.

The well is the first in Block B, about 160 kilometres southwest of Sihanoukville, the company said.

Drilling to test the hydrocarbon potential is expected to take about 15 days, it said.

Singapore Petroleum, through a wholly-owned subsidiary, has a one-third interest in the block.

Cambodia expects to begin oil production in 2011, a senior energy official said in March.

Oil was discovered in 2005 by the US energy giant Chevron, the most active of several firms exploring in six blocks off the country's coast.

Prime Minister Hun Sen warned late last year that it was 'highly premature' to estimate how much oil Cambodia might hold in undersea reserves.

Concerns have also been raised over how Cambodia - one of the world's most corrupt countries - would use its new-found oil and gas wealth. -- AFP

900-year-old temple on disputed Thai-Cambodia border named world heritage site

MONTREAL — A 900-year-old temple, which sits in a disputed border zone between Thailand and Cambodia, has been named by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

UNESCO spokeswoman Joanna Sullivan says Preah Vihear was designated Monday at a meeting in Quebec City. "I can confirm to you that, yes, it was inscribed this afternoon," Sullivan said.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled Preah Vihear was located inside Cambodia's border, a decision opposed by many in Thailand.

Thai citizens were asked to donate money to help finance the country's push to defend the temple in the international court.

Cambodia has been trying to obtain the designation for the Khmer-style temple since 1992.

However, Thailand has vetoed its neighbour's previous submissions, fearing the status would include nearly five square kilometres of disputed land along the border.

In June, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama signed a joint communique with Cambodia, endorsing the country's bid to nominate the temple as a world heritage site.

Tensions along the border boiled over last month when protesters threatened to evict Cambodians living in the disputed territory. Cambodia responded by closing access to the temple.

The temple's select status as a world heritage site will attract tourists and grants from the United Nations' World Heritage Fund.

Monday, July 7, 2008

CAMBODIA: Farmers turn back to oxen as fuel price rises


Photo: Van Reoun/IRIN
Cambodian farmers shifted to mechanical tillers in recent years instead of using oxen and other droughted animals but they are now finding the high cost of fuel is eliminating any profit margin
BATTANBANG, 7 July 2008 (IRIN) - The soaring price of fuel, fertiliser and food is a common complaint of Cambodian farmers, but spiraling inflation is creating newer and tougher challenges, especially for rural communities.

Vann Than, a 55-year-old farmer and father of six in Popeal Khe village, is feeling the burden of fuel costs and loan repayments on a mechanical tiller he bought to plough his five-hectare rice field.

Until 2006, when he upgraded to the mechanical tiller, Vann Than had used an ox-drawn plough. In any other year, Vann Than told IRIN, repaying the loan would be manageable, but the annual jump in the inflation rate - to 18.7 percent in January 2008, according to the National Institute of Statistics Consumer Price Index - has taken a heavy financial toll, particularly when he is struggling to pay for diesel fuel, which has doubled in price, and fertiliser, which has also increased significantly.

"We spend everything on these higher costs. I don't think we will make any profits from our rice field this year," he said.

Similar stories of rural hardship are common in the northwestern part of the country, 300km from the capital Phnom Penh.

In Thma Koul district's Popeal Khe village, dozens of mechanical ploughs are parked in front of farmhouses. Three years ago, many farmers in this village sold their draught animals to purchase mechanical ploughs. They believed the mechanical tillers would prepare their fields faster and thus increase productivity and profits.

In the rush to mechanise, only three families among dozens in the community continued using oxen, villagers told IRIN.

Now with the cost of diesel increasing, they regret abandoning their draught animals so quickly, Koy Kean, 68, the village chief, told IRIN.

For those who did not buy tillers, but sold their animals anyway, and now rent the services of those with private tillers, each planting season the cost of field preparation is almost as much as owning a tiller outright. According to Koy Kean, the cost of tilling a one-hectare rice paddy has risen from US$39 last year to $51 this year.

Production mix

Photo: Van Reoun/IRIN
Small scale farmers are increasingly using drought animals for their tilling and the manure as a cheap, natural alternative to high-priced chemical fertilizer

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said that in general using mechanical tillers was more productive than tilling with draught animals, but the steeply rising fuel costs had upset that equation.

He suggested farmers needed to be flexible and probably should retain their draught animals - including buffaloes, oxen and cattle - for times such as these.

And it is just that mix of animal and machine that Vann Than said he was using to minimise his production costs this year. On his five hectares, he first used his mechanical tiller to break the soil and then, on a second pass-over, he used his oxen to plough deeper furrows.

"As fuel prices, as well as the cost of fertiliser, soar, we will make less profits," Vann Than said, adding that the price of 50 kg of fertiliser had doubled to $40.

Chan Sarun, the Agriculture Minister, told IRIN of his concern that some farmers who used mechanical tillers were now feeling the effects of fuel hikes.

He recommended that those who owned small plots of farmland stick to using oxen. He also suggested that farmers cut back on high-priced chemical fertiliser and rely more on manure and compost as an alternative. In addition, he advocated the use of improved seed varieties and better planting techniques to increase yields.

"If the farmers use better seeds with well-levelled fields they will produce higher yields," Chan Sarun said, adding that the increased use of manure made sense as too much chemical fertiliser made soil less fertile over time.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Exit tax to be incorporated into flight price at Cambodia's int'l airports

PHNOM PENH, July 3 (Xinhua) -- Starting from Sept. 1, the departure tax that airline passengers line up to pay at the international airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will be transferred to ticket price, local newspaper the Cambodian Daily said on Thursday.

The government has not made an official announcement yet on thetax, but a meeting between authorities, airport management firm and about 20 airlines that serve the international airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is tentatively set for mid-July, said Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents.

Moving the tax payment to ticket price is a victory for the industry and travelers, he said.

"Often people don't carry the money, or don't carry U.S. dollars, so it is very difficult for the tourists who don't know they will have to pay (the airport tax)," he added.

The airport management service fee, 25 U.S. dollars for foreigner and 18 U.S. dollars for Cambodian, has been levied by the government since 2003 and goes to airport infrastructure construction, as well as service and security improvement.

Cambodia, Japan to finalize trade pact by end of July

PHNOM PENH, July 3 (Xinhua) -- An investment protection agreement between Cambodia and Japan will finally come into force at the end of July after nearly a decade of negotiation and revision, English-Khmer language newspaper the Mekong Times said Thursday.

Diplomatic notes on the trade pact, labeled the Agreement for the Liberation, Promotion and Protection of Investment, were exchanged between the two nations in Phnom Penh on July 1 and will come into force on July 31, the paper quoted a Japanese Embassy statement as saying.

The agreement is expected to "improve Cambodia's investment environment and further strengthen the economic relationship between the two countries," said the statement.

Cambodia hopes the deal will attract investment from Japan which Prime Minister Hun Sen has personally visited 15 times, according to the paper.

The possibility of concluding an agreement on investment protection and promotion was first raised by the premier during his visit to Tokyo in 1999.

Japan, the world's second largest economy, lags behind other Asian countries in terms of investment.