Friday, August 29, 2008

Pol Pot Victims From Killing Fields Plan Resorts by Angkor Wat

By Yoolim Lee and Netty Ismail

August 28 (Bloomberg) -- Kith Meng grew up in Australia as an orphan and a refugee from Cambodia's genocide. He tells of washing dishes and mowing lawns to make ends meet while living in Canberra. Being a poor outsider made him stronger, he says, and unusually driven.

Back in Cambodia since 1991, Kith Meng, 39, has built his Royal Group into an empire that owns Cambodia's biggest mobile phone company and television network and is developing a $2 billion resort and casino on a fishermen's island on Cambodia's coast. The country's most successful businessman, he supports Prime Minister Hun Sen and benefits from his ties to the government, which granted the 99-year lease on the island for his resort. Kith Meng is a Neak Oknha, an honor the royal family confers on a few of the wealthiest members of society.

Black-and-white photographs of Kith Meng's parents adorn one wall of his office in the capital city of Phnom Penh. They starved to death during Pol Pot's reign, when Cambodia's fertile countryside became the killing fields -- two victims among the 1.7 million, or 20 percent of the population, who perished. Kith Meng fled the terror, first to a refugee camp in Thailand and then, in 1981, to Australia. ``Suffering is my mentor,'' he says.

Thousands of former refugees, with their own harrowing stories, have returned to Cambodia, and now investors hoping to profit in the next frontier market -- a term Standard & Poor's coined for economies smaller or less developed than traditional emerging markets -- are coming to the country, too.

`Discovery Story'

The entrepreneurial drive and technical skills the returnees bring with them from overseas are breathing life into the economy. Three decades after Pol Pot exterminated the country's educated classes and emptied its cities, Cambodia's gross domestic product is just $8 billion a year.

Political and business leaders are grappling with poverty, inadequate health care, poor education and a lack of roads in this nation of 14 million. Corruption is slowing progress, says Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador.

``The trick with a frontier market is getting the timing right,'' says Douglas Clayton, who founded Leopard Cambodia Fund LP last year and is raising $100 million to invest in real estate, banking and agribusiness. ``Cambodia is really a discovery story -- and it's being discovered.''

Cambodia grew 9.5 percent a year from 2000 to '07, the fastest pace in Asia after China, which expanded 9.9 percent a year. Political stability under the administration of Hun Sen, 56, has helped the Cambodian economy take off, says Bretton Sciaroni, chairman of the American Cambodian Business Council in Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen

Hun Sen has run the country since 1985. He came to prominence as a communist while the Vietnamese occupied the country, having pushed Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge from the capital. He strengthened his grip with a landslide victory for his Cambodian People's Party in July's parliamentary elections. An opposition leader has alleged manipulation of voter rolls, and the royalist party that shared power in the 1990s has been reduced to two seats in the legislature.

Clothing exports and tourism have buoyed the tiny economy, though the revenue of any of the world's 500 largest companies would still dwarf Cambodia's annual economic output.

A 1994 law to open the country to foreign investors has encouraged some to put money in. Approved foreign direct investment rose to a record $4.4 billion in 2006, according to the Cambodian Investment Board. Investors can own 100 percent of a company, and they face no restrictions on taking money in and out of the country -- in contrast to China or Vietnam.

First KFC

From 1994 to 2007, foreign exchange reserves expanded 16-fold to $1.6 billion. Cambodia is scheduled to open its first stock and corporate bond markets by the end of 2009.

Global companies have opened offices in Phnom Penh, encouraged by the robust economic growth -- and by the prospects of oil and gas development following a discovery off Cambodia's coast in 2005 by Chevron Corp. They include power-turbine maker General Electric Co., Microsoft Corp. and London-based Knight Frank LLP, a property consultant. Kith Meng has brought Phnom Penh a KFC chicken restaurant, the nation's first foreign fast-food chain.

Government revenue from Chevron's planned project could reach $1.7 billion when peak production is reached in 2021, an International Monetary Fund report said last year.

``The significant oil discovery by Chevron really was the one that pushed me over the edge,'' says Stuart Dean, president for Southeast Asia at GE, which also provides aircraft leasing, water treatment and health-care services. The company may invest in health-care and energy projects, Dean says. Today in Cambodia, electricity costs three times as much as in Thailand.

Outdated Views

Still, the business council's Sciaroni, a former lawyer at the White House under President Ronald Reagan, says perceptions of Cambodia have not caught up to the changes. In May, a U.S. State Department official inquired on behalf of an executive if it would be safe to visit Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, the five-towered archaeological wonder. ``He wanted to know about bandits and land mines,'' he says. ``I said this is ancient history.''

If Cambodia is about to take off on the same trajectory as Vietnam to its east or Thailand on its western border, the time to get in is now, says Robert Ash, a former executive at the asset management arm of insurer American International Group Inc. ``Where the perceived risks are greater than actual risks, investment opportunities are the result,'' Ash says. ``Such is the case of Cambodia.''

Investors familiar with Thailand and Vietnam have been among the first to spot the changes taking place in Cambodia. ``In the past, when you went to a dinner party here, everybody would be talking about politics,'' says Leopard's Clayton, 47, who used to run the Thailand office of CLSA Securities, a Hong Kong-based brokerage. ``Last year, when I came, nobody was talking about politics. Everyone was talking about property, investments, deals, like everywhere else in the world.''

Frontier Market

Besides Leopard, at least two other private equity funds have been established to capitalize on Cambodia as a frontier market. Cambodia is outpacing Asia's other frontier markets in Bangladesh, Laos, Mongolia and Myanmar, says Clayton. Cambodia is represented by just one company in the S&P/IFCG Extended Frontier 150 Index.

Marvin Yeo and Kim-Song Tan, co-founders of Phnom Penh-based Cambodia Investment & Development Fund, say they noticed the buzz when they visited the capital city in May 2007 to deliver speeches to senior government officials on how to develop capital markets.

Indeed, the streets of Phnom Penh are filled with traffic and roadside vendors who sell everything from motorbikes and household goods to tropical fruits and local snacks. Multistory office buildings, residential towers and bridges are under construction. From 2004 to '07, the number of cars in Cambodia doubled to 200,000, according to figures from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Rogers, Faber

Yeo and Tan are raising $250 million for their private equity fund. They brought in Ash, the former AIG executive, as an adviser, along with Jim Rogers, a former hedge fund manager who predicted the start of the commodities boom in 1999.

Rogers, who has circled the world by motorcycle in search of investment ideas and now mostly invests his own money, says he was surprised by Cambodia's progress. ``It's got a lot of great things going for it,'' he says. Marc Faber, an investor who forecast a bust in Asia before the region's financial crisis in 1997, is also an adviser.

``Cambodia is Vietnam 8 to 10 years ago and Thailand 20 years ago,'' says Yeo, a former financing specialist at the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. He says the boom will move fast in Cambodia, because it's a smaller country than Thailand or Vietnam and has more pro-business policies. ``You can expect to see very time-compressed growth in Cambodia,'' he says.

Following Vietnam

Vietnam, with six times as many people as Cambodia, may be the model -- and the cautionary tale. The benchmark index for Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange surged almost fivefold in two years to a peak on March 12, 2007. By June of this year, it had lost more than two-thirds of its peak value.

Investors face many hurdles in Cambodia -- not just the risk of getting in late. In a report this year, the World Bank and International Finance Corp. ranked Cambodia 145th out of 178 countries as a place to do business. The assessment weighed criteria such as how difficult it is to register property, secure credit or move goods across borders.

In Transparency International's 2007 survey of perceptions about corruption, the Berlin-based watchdog group put Cambodia among the world's worst, ranking it 162nd among 180 countries.

``The rule of law needs to be more central to Cambodian society and business,'' Ambassador Mussomeli said in a speech to mark the opening of an aluminum can factory in Phnom Penh in December by an affiliate of Crown Holdings Inc., the U.S.-based packaging manufacturer. ``Cambodia will lose a great many of its potential investors if it does not fiercely combat corruption,'' said Mussomeli, who is scheduled to leave his post at the end of August.


As much as $500 million a year is diverted from government coffers, the U.S. Agency for International Development estimated in 2004 in its most recent report on the issue.

John Brinsden, vice chairman of Acleda Bank, Cambodia's biggest bank, says the country's attitude toward business is laissez-faire. ``You are apt to get a few people who're going to take shortcuts all over the place,'' he says.

Kith Meng, the country's most prominent business leader, has a gap in his resume. A chamber of commerce biography says he earned his ``B.S. Economics & Political Science at the Australian National University'' in Canberra. He repeated this piece of his biography in an interview.

``The Australian National University is unable to find any record of Kith Meng ever attending or graduating,'' Jane O'Dwyer, a spokeswoman for the school, said in an e-mail. In addition, the degree he describes is not offered, she said.


After being told of the discrepancy, Kith Meng said he attended the school for two years and didn't graduate. ``What year, I can't recall,'' he said.

``Newly emerging and developing markets like Cambodia do tend to attract entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes,'' Brinsden says. He declines to comment on Kith Meng.

NagaCorp Ltd., a gaming company that has a government-granted monopoly on casinos in Phnom Penh, initially failed to list its shares on stock exchanges in Hong Kong and Singapore. The exchanges said internal money-laundering controls were inadequate. NagaCorp managed to list its shares in Hong Kong in 2006 after working with U.S. consultants to develop better practices. It's the only publicly traded Cambodian company.

``After that experience, we gathered much more capability and credibility,'' said Malaysian tycoon Chen Lip Keong, who owns 62 percent of NagaCorp.

Business Meeting

Hun Sen hasn't passed an anti-corruption law, despite pledging in 2003 to push it through the assembly. The leader says he wants to diversify the economy to reduce its dependence on textiles and tourism. Clothing and other manufacturing account for 26 percent of the country's GDP, agriculture makes up 31 percent and tourism and other services 43 percent.

Every six months, Hun Sen sits down with top executives from the private sector to find ways to eliminate obstacles to doing business in the country. The meeting is broadcast nationwide. Its decisions immediately get addressed with legislation.

Crown's can factory got built partly because the government was quick to react to the company's concerns. In 2005, Crown was hesitating because of Cambodia's 7 percent import tariff on raw aluminum compared with 1 percent or no tariff in most countries. Company representatives met with Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh and Economy and Finance Minister Keat Chhon. Soon after, the government scrapped the tariff.

The company opened its Phnom Penh factory last year. ``You have to listen to the private sector,'' Cham Prasidh, 57, says.

Genocide Survivor

During the Khmer Rouge genocide, Cham Prasidh survived by disguising his identity and education. He told the Khmer Rouge he was blind and was given the task of burying hundreds of bodies of those who were executed or killed by disease or starvation. Cham Prasidh says he lost 74 members of his family, including his father, a parliament member who was executed; only his younger sister and brother survived.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge rose to power in the chaos that engulfed Indochina during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early '70s. As fighting spilled across the border and the U.S. Air Force bombed inside Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge gained strength in remote mountainous areas.

General Lon Nol, in a coup in 1970, ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk and overthrew the constitutional monarchy. By 1975, the Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and toppled Lon Nol. Paris- educated Saloth Sar, who later took the name Pol Pot, renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea and declared it was Year Zero, according to David Chandler's book The Tragedy of Cambodian History (Yale University Press, 1991).

Year Zero

The Khmer Rouge set about creating a purely agricultural society. Money, markets and private property were abolished. Schools, universities and monasteries were closed. Tens of thousands of professionals were executed and many more citizens died of starvation and disease.

In the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, black-and- white portrait photos of thousands of genocide victims fill the walls. The museum is in a former high school where the Khmer Rouge imprisoned, tortured and killed an estimated 17,000 people.

In late December 1978, Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia. They captured Phnom Penh on Jan. 7, 1979. The Khmer Rouge fled to near the Thai border, where Pol Pot lived until his death in a jungle hideout in 1998.

Hun Sen is a former Khmer Rouge officer -- he lost an eye while fighting as a guerilla. He fled to Vietnam in 1977. By 1979, he was back. At the age of 26, he became minister of foreign affairs in the Vietnamese-backed government. On the strength of his ambition, bureaucratic skills and loyalty to the Vietnamese, Hun Sen rose to prime minister by 1985.


The Vietnamese remained in the country and fought the Khmer Rouge through the 1980s. A peace settlement signed in Paris in 1991, restoring the royal family and setting the country on a path to elections, finally allowed Cambodia to begin rebuilding.

Cham Prasidh is one of Hun Sen's longest-serving government colleagues. He returned to Phnom Penh from the rural areas a year after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge. He joined the foreign affairs ministry and within three months became Hun Sen's private secretary.

The violence of Pol Pot's time, and the uncertain years that followed, have left the country to this day without the factories, roads and bridges needed to make and move basic supplies.

`Country Needs Everything'

``Other than bricks, we have to import pretty much everything,'' says Jung Myung Sik, a representative of South Korea's World City Co., which is constructing a $2 billion complex called Camko City near Boeung Kak Lake, a 20-minute drive from Phnom Penh's central district. Camko City, modeled on a successful satellite city outside Seoul, will include the planned stock exchange, residential and commercial buildings, three schools and a medical center.

``This country needs everything -- electricity, steel, cement, broadband, bookstores,'' Jung says. ``This is a big challenge for us. The situation can only improve in time.''

Khaou Phallaboth, who returned to Cambodia in 1991, is among those trying to create the industry the country needs. He spent some of his 20 years as a refugee in Paris and Brussels as a Buddhist monk and an artist.

He and his father, Khaou Chuly, have rebuilt the family construction business decimated by the Khmer Rouge. Khaou Chuly Group has set up a venture with Siam Cement Pcl, Thailand's biggest cement producer, to make 1 million tons of cement a year. Khaou Phallaboth, now 47, plans to triple capacity to meet the country's demand of 3 million tons.

50 Cents a Day

He also plans to expand into agribusiness, securing land to grow rice and rubber. He is in talks to form a venture with Clermont-Ferrand, France-based Michelin & Cie., the world's second-largest tiremaker, to export the rubber. Known to friends as ``Peck,'' Khaou Phallaboth has, like Kith Meng, been proclaimed an Oknha, which means lord in the Khmer language.

A third of the country's people still live on less than 50 cents a day. Eighty percent live in rural areas, and 60 percent of the population is younger than age 20.

Just eight kilometers (five miles) southwest of Phnom Penh, some 800 families live in shacks built on bamboo stilts above a vast garbage dump. Barefoot children, some abandoned by their parents, pick garbage to survive.

Today, former refugees who have seen wrenching hardships of their own run Cambodia's economy. They're spurring growth -- and creating a measure of glamour -- in this still-impoverished land.

Kith Meng owns a hotel on the banks of the Mekong River in Phnom Penh and is planning a boutique resort with India's Oberoi Group near Angkor Wat.

Island Resort

In his office overlooking the Royal Palace in one direction and Cambodia's first shopping mall in another, he flips through a 20-page document that outlines his island resort-casino plan, which will take more than a decade to complete. He declines to say how much Royal Group is paying the government for the island lease. He says Cambodia is still hungry for investment and expansion. ``Every sector of the economy will drive growth,'' he says.

Public Works and Transport Minister Chanthol Sun, 52, is another former refugee lured back by the chance to play a role in transforming his country. He lost his mother and a brother when the Khmer Rouge drove the population out of the cities. The rest of the family managed to escape to a refugee camp in Thailand. He had been sent to the U.S. in 1973, escaping the violence with a one-way airplane ticket and $50 in his pocket.

After earning a master's degree in public administration at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he went to work at GE. Then came a call for help that Chanthol Sun decided he couldn't turn down. The Cambodian government asked him to set up a Cambodia development council, and he came back in 1994 to the country of his birth.

``When I worked at GE, I worked hard for the shareholders, but who are they?'' he says. ``Here, my shareholders are men, women and children in the streets I see every day.''

To contact the reporters on this story: Yoolim Lee in Singapore at; Netty Ismail in Singapore at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Exposing the CIA's 'most secret place

By Andrew Nette

PHNOM PENH - It was known as the "secret war", a covert operation waged by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout the 1960s and early 1970s against communist guerrillas in Laos. The most secret location in this clandestine conflict was the former CIA air base of Long Chen, in central Laos, which remains off limits even today. A film exploring this little known conflict, The Most Secret Place on Earth, will be released in cinemas across Europe this year.

The film, which was previewed in Phnom Penh in mid-August, includes images of Long Chen shot by the first Western camera crew to enter the base since the communists took control of the country in 1975.

"I first got the idea to do the film when I visited the Plain of Jars in Laos in 2002," recalled Marc Eberle, 36, the film's German director. "You could still see the craters from the air bombing and unexploded ordnance was everywhere. Then I heard about Long Chen and the fact that no one had got there since the war and I thought, how do I visit and how do I make a film about it?"

Much is unknown about the Lao conflict despite it remaining the largest and most expensive paramilitary operation yet run by the US. It was completely run by the CIA using largely civilian pilots from the agency's own airline, Air America, and mercenaries recruited from the Hmong, an ethnic tribe living in mountainous areas in central and northern Laos.

As the center of the covert operation, Long Chen's location was never marked on any map even though, at its peak, it was one of the world's busiest airports and was home to 50,000 people. "I found it bizarre that at one time this was the second-biggest city in Laos and it was completely secret," Eberle says.

Long Chen is still off limits to foreigners and most Lao due to clashes between government forces and remnants of the formerly CIA-backed Hmong army. Until recently it formed part of a special administrative zone under the direct control of the Lao army.

Interest in the secret war in Laos was rekindled in 2003 when two Western journalists made contact with members of the Hmong resistance, the first Westerners they had seen since the CIA abandoned them 27 years earlier. Upon seeing the white faces, hundreds of the tribe dropped to their knees weeping, believing in error that former CIA sponsors had returned to rescue them from the communists.

Pictures from the encounter were printed in Time Asia and won a world press award, but US media showed little interest. The decades-old conflict again made headlines last year when US authorities arrested 78-year-old Vang Pao, the head of the CIA's Hmong forces in the 1960s and early '70s, and indicted him on terrorism charges relating to his alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the Lao government.

Eberle believes events in Laos in the 1960s have strong parallels with the present conflict in Iraq. "Laos was the progenitor of the way America fights wars in the 21st century," he says. "Outsourcing the war to private companies, gathering public support by falsifying intelligence and documents, embedded journalism and automated warfare including the use of so-called 'smart weapons', all these methods were first tested in Laos."

The conflict began in the late 1950s, as Washington sought to counter communist Pathet Lao forces and their North Vietnamese allies who had begun building the Ho Chi Minh trail through the jungles running down the eastern border of Laos. The operation was placed under CIA control to get around the supposed political neutrality of Laos and the conditions set by the 1954 Geneva Accords that marked the end of French rule in Southeast Asia and covered the cessation of hostilities for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Vang Pao, then an officer in the Royal Lao Army, was recruited in 1960 to lead the Hmong troops drafted by the CIA to fight the communists. Long Chen was established soon thereafter, the largest of hundreds of airstrips built by the CIA throughout Laos.

Actors of a secret war The film examines the conflict through the stories of players involved in its covert, diplomatic and military aspects, including former diplomats, CIA officers and Air America pilots. It also draws on critics such as Alfred McCoy, author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade and a reporter at the time in Laos, and Fred Branfman, an aid worker turned anti-war activist who worked to help expose the conflict.

Ordinary Lao people at the receiving end of the world's most technologically sophisticated military machine also get a chance to tell their story. Although there is a short interview with Vang Pao, the one aspect of the story not adequately dealt with is the plight of the Hmong, who bore the brunt of some of the most savage fighting.

With the exception of senior officers like Vang Pao and their families, support for the Hmong forces was unceremoniously dumped when the US abandoned fighting operations in the region after the fall of Saigon to communist forces in 1975. Complicity with the CIA during the secret war is still punished by the government, say the Hmong, who claim that executions by of collaborator's family members by government troops continue.

One of the most interesting aspects of The Most Secret Place is that it incorporates previously hitherto unused footage Eberle managed to collect, including film of actual combat missions as well as day-to-day life at Long Chen, gathered from myriad sources including the US National Film Archive and television stations from across Europe.

"The CIA had just declassified a whole lot of material so that helped as well," he says. "The most important source was the guys who were over there filming with their little Super 8 cameras, often illegally."

The film's analysis sets it apart from other books and documentaries on the subject, many of which actually seek to justify the conflict, lauding the CIA operatives and their Air America pilots as heroes. The reality, as Alfred McCoy says towards the end of the film, was very different.

"We destroyed a whole civilization, we wiped it off the map. We incinerated, atomized human remains in this air war and what happened in the end? We lost."

The covert nature of the conflict meant that US forces were able to ignore virtually all the rules of engagement operating in Vietnam. Every building was a potential target and the civilian death toll was huge.

The situation grew worse in 1970 when US President Nixon authorized B-52 bomb strikes on Laos, which remained classified information until many years later.

American planes dropped an average of one planeload of bombs on targets in Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years, making it the most heavily bombed country on earth per capita in the history of warfare.

Link to full story

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cambodian Prince Ranariddh to leave politics, work for the palace

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prince Norodom Ranariddh is expected to resign as head of his self-named party and quit politics, fellow royal Prince Sisowath Thomico said, suggesting that the move could be part of a plan for his return from exile, local newspaper reported Monday.

"I heard of his intentions two weeks ago," Sisowath Thomico was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

He added that he did not know if the resignation would be permanent or temporary.

Former king Norodom Sihanouk had often requested that Ranariddh give up politics and focus on improving the nation, Sisowath Thomico said.

Ranariddh, who left Cambodia last year under a cloud of legal problems, is living in Malaysia.  


August 25, 2008


During the last four decades, growth rates of Asia’s “emerging nations” have exceeded those in industrialized nations by an average of 4 to 5 percent. But as economic growth rates deteriorate in the U.S. and Europe, multinational companies can’t help wondering if China, India, Cambodia and Vietnam can escape the contagion — and prop up the global economy in the process.

Last year was no exception, with developing East Asian countries recording their highest growth rate (10.2 percent) in more than a decade, according to the World Bank.

Growth rates in emerging Asian countries have traditionally tended to slow whenever the U.S. economy slows, but this time the impact may be less severe. The current downturn is expected to shave only 1 to 2 percentage points off the region’s growth rate, which is still expected to be about 8.5 percent in 2008, according to forecasts by the World Bank and national governments.

Growth in China, the largest of the emerging economies, will likely slow from 11.4 percent last year to “only” 9.4 percent this year and to

9.2 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank. Todd Lee, managing director of Global Insight’s Greater China group, agreed that China’s slowdown will continue. Lee estimated second-quarter growth in China at 10.1 percent, down from 10.6 percent in the first quarter. But conditions are hardly bleak. Foreign direct investment in China increased 26.3 percent in the second quarter (year-to-year), compared with 24.6 percent growth in the first quarter of this year. That’s way down from 40 percent growth in 2005, but nothing to sneeze at.

India’s gross domestic product growth rate dropped only slightly to 8.8 percent during the first quarter of this year, from an average rate of 8.9 percent over the last five years. Jyoti Narasimhan, research director of India at Global Insight, said economic growth in India remains “very robust,” despite the slight decline.

Vietnam and Cambodia also are slowing, but not at alarming rates. World Bank economists forecast Vietnam will grow 8 percent this year, only a slight drop from 8.5 percent in 2007. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam is increasing at an exponential rate, according to Simona Mocuta, senior economist at Global Insight’s Asian group.

Last year, economists were pleased to see Vietnam reach $10 billion in foreign direct investment approvals, Mocuta said, but this year’s figure for FDI is projected at $30 billion. “This is just the initial wave,” he said. “Vietnam is the third emerging player.” Vietnam will invest in infrastructure improvements, and on importing huge volumes of intermediate goods, such as manufacturing machinery.

Cambodia, like Vietnam, depends heavily on exports of textiles and apparel for its growth, but it is diversifying slowly into heavy industry. Foreign investment in Cambodia is modest, but an investment boom may be around the corner.

“There is a lot of interest in Cambodia,” Mocuta said. “Companies are prospecting, but they are only now just starting to commit.” Multinationals are encouraged by the discovery of oil deposits off Cambodia’s coast, by the country’s current political stability and by growing consensus that local contract manufacturers now meet global labor standards.

Although rising prices for fuel and food are hurting some of these nations, others are enjoying a windfall as a result of the higher prices of oil, rice, coconut oil, iron ore, copper and rubber. Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam are the big winners, boosting their GDPs by an extra 1 to 2 percent a year, according to the World Bank. (In contrast, commodity price inflation will cut the GDP growth rate in China, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia by 1 to 2 percent.)

Economists believe that emerging Asia will continue to do well, barring a total meltdown in the global economy. The key reason, the World Bank said, is that the region’s strong long-term growth trend is not driven by year-to-year fluctuations in world demand but by “improvements in productivity, innovation, quality control, education and skills.” These trends are fueling the emergence of an ever-larger middle class that has the buying power to purchase a growing share of the products made in Asia by global corporations.

Where does this leave trade? Emerging Asian exports are growing at a slower pace, in part because they are expanding from a much higher base. China’s exports grew 30 percent from third quarter of 2006, but that rate dropped to less than 10 percent in the first quarter of 2008. Likewise, India’s exports are growing at an annual rate of 22 percent this year, down from an annual rate of 24 percent rate a year earlier.

For emerging Asia, markets in the U.S. and other industrialized countries are becoming less vital. According to a recent report by the Asian Development Bank, Asian countries now direct about the same percentage of their trade (combined imports and exports) to other countries within Asia as the countries of Europe and North America do within their own regions.

“As Asia’s economies have grown larger and more complex, they also have become more integrated — through trade, financial flows, direct investment and other forms of economic and social exchange,” the bank’s report said. Another key factor: The 1997-98 financial crisis dramatically underscored emerging Asia’s vulnerability to market conditions in industrialized countries. A decade later, growing economic integration has made emerging Asian nations less vulnerable.

Several intraregional free-trade agreements are in various stages of negotiation. These include agreements that would link India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, one between China and ASEAN, and one between China and India. After several years of negotiating with ASEAN, India is reportedly close to working out a compromise with Indonesia, a member of ASEAN, regarding palm oil trade, which would be the last obstacle to a bilateral agreement.

India and China have created a joint study group to weigh the feasibility of a bilateral free-trade agreement now that China has become India’s No. 1 trading partner.

For all their similarities, there are significant contrasts among emerging Asian nations. China, Vietnam and Cambodia depend on trade for a larger share of their economic growth than India does. Last year, the value of Chinese exports equaled 41 percent of the country’s GDP, while India’s exports were worth only 21 percent of its GDP. Conversely, only 38 percent of China’s GDP came from domestic consumption, compared with 55 percent in India.

Unlike China, Vietnam and Cambodia, India rarely serves as an overseas manufacturing platform for multinationals. Building on its strength in information technology services and outsourced business process, India is attempting to become a major source of R&D, biotechnology and generic pharmaceuticals.

And while China’s domestic market is growing rapidly, manufacturers in India more often focus on their huge domestic market, not on exports. “A lot more of the U.S. players view India as a place to produce and sell for the local market,” Narasimhan said.

Even Indian manufacturers are concerned about China’s lust for foreign markets. Some Indian manufacturers have complained that a free-trade agreement with China could wind up flooding the Indian market with cheap Chinese imports.

A Phnom Penh adventure

Armed with a Lara Croft-style attitude, but with a much more decent wardrobe, I recently spent three wonderful but tiring days in Phnom Penh — and what a trip it was for my friend and I!

Upon arriving at the hotel, we immediately set off to find Central Market, a shopping haven for fashionistas.

One really needs to toughen up mentally so as not to succumb to the temptations on sale such as unique handbags, custom-made jewellery, jade, delicate Cambodian silk, silverware . . . basically everything and anything is sold under this big yellow dome.

We even chanced upon Cambodian delicacies like fried cockroaches, grasshoppers and the like.

Though I’m adventurous, I chickened out when it came to putting one of those bugs in my mouth. Guess I am not as audacious as Lady Croft.

After the shopping trip, I took my friend for her first full body Khmer massage. For just under US$4 (RM13), it was indeed a steal. The masseuses were so good at their craft that both my friend and I felt so light and relaxed after the session. We were now all geared up for our second day — exploring Phnom Penh.

There are undoubtedly a lot of temples and pagodas in the city, most notably the majestic Chatomuk Mongkul, The Royal Palace.

The grand palace, surrounded by magnificent sculptures, is characterised by the many tiered roofs and towers which are symbols of prosperity.

The glorious sight of the palace left us awed. Most of the ornaments and embellishments in the banquet halls are made of gold.

The luxurious palace, however, is such a contrast to Cambodia’s poor living conditions.

Apart from the notorious traffic and “out of control” tuk-tuk drivers and motorcyclists who kept pestering us to use their service, there were many dental clinics in the city — perhaps Cambodians are very particular about their teeth.

There were also notices and reminders about sexual exploitations or abuses of children.

It was also disturbing to see many young child beggars and labourers around.

Everything went smoothly on the holiday until we were about to leave. We weren’t told about the US$25 (RM83) departure tax. Luckily I hadn’t spent all my money at Central Market.

I certainly enjoyed my Phnom Penh visit tremendously and would love to visit the country again.

Nazreen, Mersing

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Cambodia's emerging 'brain drain'

Written by Mom Kunthear and Chrann Chamre
Young Cambodians from the provinces are flocking to Phnom Penh in increasing numbers to attend university in the capital, but the move is taking the best minds from the countryside
Rick Valenzuela
Kun Vesna (left), a 23-year-old electronics major from Takeo province, studies with Ty Soksan, 22, from Phnom Penh, at Norton University in the capital on Wednesday.
A MASS exodus of young people from the provinces is under way.

This is not the rural poor, flocking to staff the Kingdom's booming garment industry or find informal work on the fringes of the country's recent impressive economic growth. This is the rural middle class - young, ambitious Cambodians who are coming to Phnom Penh in search of a degree and a job.

Students from the provinces are flocking to Phnom Penh in increasing numbers to enroll in universities in the capital, turning their backs on provincial higher education institutes for academic, personal and professional reasons.

"Almost all provinces have universities, but [young people] cannot accept their quality," said Ros An, deputy chief of the Information and Statistic Bureau of Higher Education Department of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

"The educational institutes in the provinces are not yet international standard, they are low quality, that's why the number of students coming from provinces to study in Phnom Penh is increasing," he said.

Both private and public universities in the capital have benefited from year on year increases in enrolments of rural students.

Despite growing evidence of a rural-to-urban "brain drain", the government is not planning to act, Ros An said.

"Young people have the freedom to decide they don't want to study in the provinces. And some universities in the provinces do not offer the majors that they want to study," he said.

It's better in the city
In Phnom Penh, the registrar of the private Norton University, who declined to be named, said enrolment was increasing at around 16 percent a year due to students coming from the provinces to study in his university.

"Most parents send their children to study at university in Phnom Penh, even if their provinces have universities," Ros An said.
If i apply for a job with a degree from the provinces, i don't think i'll get picked.

"They think that universities in Phnom Penh are better quality, have more experienced professors, and they will have a better chance of getting a job at the end of their course," he said.

"The downside is that they have to spend more money than in provinces on transportation, food and accommodation," he added.

Duong Leang, rector at the Asia Europe University, said that this year about 80 to 85 percent of total enrolment was students from the provinces.

"The quality of the universities in Phnom Penh are better than in the provinces and they have more choice" of institutions and courses, he said.

Jobs at stake
Touch Kosal, a 19-year-old first-year hotel and tourism student at Norton University, said that he decided not to attend university in his native Kandal province because he wanted the best education possible in Cambodia.

"And also, I have a much better chance of getting a job because employers prefer qualifications from Phnom Penh universities," he said.

Fourth-year student Seang Chheyleang, 25, who is studying accounting at the Human Resources University in Phnom Penh, said he moved to the capital two years ago for both educational and personal reasons.

"I didn't want to continue my study at a university in the provinces because there were no good professors and the curriculum wasn't so interesting," he said. "But I also moved to Phnom Penh as I wanted to see a new environment, make new friends.

"Also, I need a job when I finish and if I apply for a job in the city with a degree from the provinces I don't think I'll get picked," he said.

Sun Dina, 20, a third-year student at The Royal University of Phnom Penh, said financial reasons made her move to Phnom Penh.

Her parents couldn't afford to pay for her studies in her native Sihanoukville, but in the capital she was able to find an NGO to sponsor her degree.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said he had witnessed an increase in the number of students moving from the provinces to universities in Phnom Penh.

"Education in the provinces is not good so many chose to study in Phnom Penh," he said.

Children increasingly used to smuggle fuel from Vietnam border

Written by May Titthara
Lower fuel costs encourage families to enlist their youngest members in bringing cheap petrol into Cambodia at the expense of school

BAYAB, Svay Rieng province - Of the 100 primary school students in this village near the border with Vietnam, 60 have abandoned their studies for an unlikely youthful past time: petrol smuggling.

"I'm doing this to help my family because we are poor," said 13-year-old Chen Chav, who said he can make 3,000 riels hauling three litres of illegal fuel by bicycle over 8km of dirt track and rice fields to the main market in Svay Rieng town.

Fellow smuggler Nary, 14, said he has been secreting petrol from Vietnam for about six months.

"Because of this I have difficulty studying and always missed school. Now, I've quit my studies to do this business," she told the Post on Tuesday.

"If I don't do this, I don't have enough money to pay for food," she said, adding that it is better for children to engage in fuel smuggling because they are less likely to be stopped by authorities, who usually demand large bribes from adults.

"If my mother or father goes to take it from the border, police and customs officers will arrest them and take the petrol," she said.

Surging global oil prices have pushed the price of petrol in Cambodia to record highs of around 5,600 riels per litre, encouraging smuggling from Vietnam, where government subsidies have kept fuel costs lower.

In the small villages dotting the border like Bayab, children have become the most likely mules, commune chief Nhoung Yenu said.

"More and more, the children have stopped going to school," he told the Post. Now we're going to have to persuade their families to encourage these kids to study."

District Governor Uy Han said the problem of truancy was worsening, with parents often pushing their children into smuggling to supplement the family's income.

"We are trying to educate these families to stop their sons and daughters from smuggling petrol from the border and allow them to go to school," he said.

Riding the rails of Southeast Asia

Aug 23, 2008

The rail runs through it

AS THE train pulls away from Tanjong Pagar, factories loom like skyscrapers and squat houses acquire an imposing air. Familiar sights turn foreign even before we cross the border.

Our journey across five countries has just begun. Inside the chilly carriages of KTM's Ekspres Rakyat to Butterworth, Mr Bean stumbles his way through gaffes on the Samsung flatscreen television as a family tucks into a breakfast of bread and apricot jam. Other passengers catch a nap on plush fabric seats before we hit the checkpoint at Woodlands.

It will be the first of four borders we pass in our bid to travel 5,000km to the edge of China via the route of the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link project.

A 13-year-old initiative of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), the proposed rail network spans more than 5,000km across Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, and includes spur lines to Laos and a Vietnam port along one route.

We take 15 hours to reach the northern Malaysian town of Butterworth, before hopping onto the 20-hour Ekspres Antarabangsa sleeper train that cuts through the jungles of southern Thailand.

In a region where airports and shipping are an extension of national ego, the rail route gives us an unvarnished backyard glimpse of each destination.

At the Thai-Malaysian checkpoint in Padang Besar, a lopsided sign posts a lingering reminder of Thailand's more austere past: Aliens with a 'hippy characteristic' it warns, will be deported. The order is dated 1979.

Many of our fellow passengers are regulars on this cross-country route. Malaysian Leong Geok Lin, 44, for example, spends most of her time working with Thai orphans and survives on a RM400 (S$168) monthly allowance. The train, she says, is the cheapest way for her to travel between the two countries.

Two days later, on our third-class-only service 275 from Bangkok to the Cambodian border, the train fills up with villagers laden with fresh produce and Cambodian workers heading home. The migrant workers crowd around the rear wagons. Ms Sieb Saisieb, 38, is heading home for the yearly visit she has been making ever since she started work in a Bangkok plastic bag factory.

She says: 'Five years ago, I was a farmer in Sisophon town but I earned just enough to survive. In Bangkok, I can make 184 baht (about S$7) a day with overtime.

'Find me a job,' she implores, half in jest. 'I want to go to Singapore.' She gets off, like us, at the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet because the trains go no further from here.


THAILAND'S tracks are not connected to Cambodia's rail network, which lies in shambles after decades of war and inadequate funding. The country is the main missing link in the Singapore to Kunming railway network. It has about 600km of single meter-gauge track running from the inland town of Sisophon to its port of Sihanoukville via its capital, Phnom Penh.

There is only one passenger train service in Cambodia. It runs once a week, crossing some 270km from Phnom Penh to Battambang town on Saturdays and returns to the capital on Sundays. The trip takes 13 hours or more, about three times longer than by bus.

Just over 900 people took that train each week in 2005. These days, the figure is probably closer to 120, reckons train driver Leng Savath.

Catching that train entails entering Cambodia via Poipet, a town linked to Thailand by rail until the tracks were destroyed about 50 years ago. It is Cambodia's busiest land border crossing with Thailand now, though the constant traffic presents both promise and peril.

Trafficking syndicates send indentured children to beg across the border, while the influx of child sex tourists is apparent in posters pleading: 'Please respect our children. Do not harm or sexually exploit our children.'

Still, there is money to be made, whichever way you see it. Poipet's smoky, neon-lit casinos bustle with day-trippers from Thailand camped around its baccarat tables with bottles of Singha beer.

Just metres away outside, Cambodian barefoot porters pull wooden carts towards Thailand, where they will load up and lug back durians and mangoes, for 120 baht to 130 baht a day.

Among them is a 60-year-old woman who has tucked her eight-month-old grandchild into her cart for company. 'Sometimes I carry her, sometimes I put her in the cart,' she says, giving the child a pod of tamarind to suck on.


ABOUT 100km from Poipet lies Battambang town, which boasts of outskirts served by one of the most reliable 'railways' in the country. These consist of dozens of bamboo rafts powered by portable motors running on underused rail tracks improvised by the locals.

A 30km ride on the 'bamboo train' costs locals 5,000 riel (S$1.70). It leaves only if there are 10 people on board, or if the driver decides he is done waiting.

At Ou Dambang commune, a 10- minute drive from Battambang, we haggle with 24-year-old driver Sorn Thin, settle on a tourist price of US$15 (S$21), then hop onto the strips of bamboo nailed together to form the platform.

No handrails are in sight as we hurtle through the Cambodian countryside at 40km per hour, lurching each time its wheels hit the misaligned track.

These 'trains' transport everything from fuel and fertiliser to livestock to communities hard to access by road. Since dozens of bamboo trains zip about on one single track on any given day, there's a lot of give and take to make sure everybody gets to where they are headed in good time.

Heft, ironically, gets us to our destination faster because lighter 'trains' - by community consensus - have to be dismantled to let us pass.

But these lightning-quick calculations of who should give way are thrown out of the window when a real train suddenly chugs by. The lumbering giant loaded with logs causes a suspension of bamboo train services but presents an opportunity for extra income.

Out of nowhere, hordes of young men, women and children rush forward to haul the wood to the side of the tracks. A businesswoman haggles with an armed policeman guarding the wood, then hands over a stack of riel. An hour later, the train is almost emptied of wood, and continues on its bereft way to Battambang station.

The grinning porters pocket 10,000 riel each and promptly spend it on pong tea khon (fertilised duck eggs) at a roadside stall.

The train to Phnom Penh

IT IS not exactly news when the passenger train due to travel from Battambang to Phnom Penh doesn't show up. It has broken down - again.

We hitch a ride instead on a cargo train. It grinds along at a glacial speed of 10kmh on a track partially smothered under weeds. Beat-up motorcycles and buses zoom past us on a parallel highway.

In a dark wagon filled with boxes of Thai ketchup, milk powder and claw hammers, railway employees and businessmen swing languidly in hammocks they have brought along and strung across the carriage. These small proprietors, says train supervisor Kong Thom, have to travel with their goods to 'guarantee their safe arrival'.

The trains run so irregularly that our driver Leng Savath, 56, sometimes gets behind the wheel just once a month. Mr Kong Thom says: 'Most people working on the trains have other jobs. I help my wife to run her grocery shop in Phnom Penh. I do this trip only two to three times a month.'

The salaries are correspondingly low. Train guard Teuk Sophal, 46, earns 67,000 riel a month, and can only afford to live in an abandoned railway carriage by Phnom Penh train station.

Two hours into the journey, the train grinds to a halt. Engine problems. We get off with the staff for fresh air, while the driver does repairs. Half an hour later, we resume our crawl to Phnom Penh.

After six more hours of wobbling on ketchup box-seats, we get off at Pursat town to seek the comfort of an unmoving bed. The train, we later learn, arrives at Phnom Penh 166km away only in the wee hours of the next morning.

'The dream has wheels'

LATER, in Phnom Penh, we stumble upon the passenger train that we had meant to take, and realise why it is shunned by all but the poorest of locals. The carriage's wooden floorboard bears gaping wounds that give a clear view of the tracks beneath. Broken benches unscrewed from the carriage floor are heaped in one corner. Sunlight streams in through a rusting hole in the roof.

It may seem dismal now. But Cambodia's rail network is due for renewal if its government stays the course on one of its latest high-profile projects. The country started work earlier this year to rehabilitate and rebuild 650km of rail track after getting US$55 million in loans from the Asian Development Bank and Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Malaysia is contributing US$3 million worth of reclaimed rails. The plan is to reconnect Cambodia's railway to Thailand's, and, hopefully, provide safer and more comfortable options to the bamboo train.

Domestically, the project promises to take freight off the roads, reduce congestion and cut pollution at a time of soaring fuel costs. Regionally, it could give the Singapore to Kunming Rail Link plan - which has sputtered more than once due to its high estimated cost of $3 billion - a shot in the arm.

Once Cambodia completes its rail project by 2011, all that would stand between a single uninterrupted rail route from Singapore to Kunming within Asean's borders would be a missing 400km section between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. China, on its part, has already started rebuilding its century-old rail link to north-western Vietnam, which forms the tail end of the route.

The regional rail network is crucial in bringing the young economies of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam up to speed with Asean's more affluent members and to pave the way for a genuine Asean economic community, says Asean watcher Denis Hew.

Mr Barry Cable, director of the transport and tourism division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, says developing the railway sector will diversify development away from coastal areas.

It could also mean more. British current affairs magazine Monocle calls rail connections 'a hopeful sign of stability' as the existence of regular, scheduled rail services between countries are more powerful symbols of integration than disparate roads or air links.

It is a sign that is sorely needed now, as Cambodia and Thailand bicker over the ownership of the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on their shared border.

Crucial motivation to close the rail gap between Vietnam and Cambodia will come from the success of the current Cambodian project.

ADB Cambodian director Arjun Goswami says: 'As a vision, I love the idea of the (regional rail link). If we get the Cambodian project done, we can say the dream has legs, or should I say, wheels.'

Cambodians like security guard Mey Chea, 31, cling to that dream. He says: 'In the future, our trains will be like the ones in China we see on TV. They will be comfortable, efficient and modern.'

The train to Hanoi

ON BOARD the Vietnam's Reunification Express, which travels the length of the country, Hanoi natives working in the southern financial hub of Ho Chi Minh City return home with gifts of cake and dragon fruit, joining holidaymakers heading north to catch the sights of the limestone karsts of Halong Bay. Youths charge their iPods in the electrical sockets in the toilets, while tan-averse women hunker down for the long ride with sun hats and cloth masks.

The 1,726km-long Saigon to Hanoi line, built in the 1930s, was repeatedly bombed and sabotaged during World War II, the Franco-Viet Minh War and the subsequent conflict between the American-backed South and the communist North. It was quickly repaired within one year after the North's victory to symbolise Vietnamese unity.

The service has come a long way since, says retiree Nguyen Ngoc Loat, 70, who is on his way to visit relatives in Hanoi.

'It used to be very messy in the past. It could take three days to get from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

'People would steal things from you when you were sleeping, or they would put fragile things on the edge of their seats, and demand inflated sums if you break the items when you walk past them. It is much safer now.'

Still, there are other things to worry about. As we speed past buffaloes taking a dip in a pond one hour from Hue, the air-conditioner seizes up. The women remove their sodden cloth masks. A train attendant turns up with a hairdryer and spends the next hour trying to thaw out the aircon vent above our heads. It yields - but only briefly.

Embarrassed that foreigners should be witnessing such a spectacle, a Vietnamese mutters to us: 'Excuse me, excuse me.'

But a few hours later, as the carriage fills up with the odour of stale sweat and dinner scraps, he props his feet by my elbow and snores his way to dreamland.

Lao Cai final stop, for now

I LIE awake on my bunk bed as rain beats on the windows of service SP3 from Hanoi to Lao Cai. In the distance, the clouds hang low over the Hoang Lien mountain range. This route is frequented by tourists heading towards the hill resort of Sapa, which means that it is served by some of the most luxurious sleeper trains in the country.

Darkwood interiors, soft lighting, complementary fruit baskets all add up to a one-way ride that can cost US$140. Meanwhile, those who endure the 294km ride on a hard wooden seat pay only 80,000 dong (S$6.80) a ticket.

Lao Cai, our fifth border in 17 days, is our final stop. Passenger train services onward to China do not exist as Beijing is rehabilitating its section of the regional link that runs from Kunming to its border town of Hekou. That lies just across the Red River, from Lao Cai.

The first section of the work is set to be completed by next year, while work on the remaining section is due to start this year. When that is completed, it will re-establish a rail connection that was built way back in 1910.

Meanwhile, the town's residents bridge the missing links in their own way. Renminbi is readily accepted in the casino at Lao Cai International Hotel. Chinese signs at the jackpot machines plead: 'Please do not place your cigarette butts on the coin dispenser trays.'

Most of the fruit and vegetables on sale in the local market come from China. Vietnamese salesgirls at the souvenir store at Lao Cai-Biti's Trade Centre light up when they hear 'Duo shao qian?' ('how much' in Mandarin).

Labourers haul sacks of Vietnamese peanuts and lychee across the bridge linking both sides while Chinese trucks roar by in the other direction. A billboard in Hekou greets visitors entering China with a postcard picture of Vietnam's Halong Bay.

In years to come, the train that passes through here will cut through more than five borders as it wends its way through South-east Asia. By then, perhaps, the borders may cease to matter.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ericsson deploys rural, solar-powered site with satellite transmission in Cambodia for Star-Cell

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN, Aug 21, 2008 (MARKET WIRE via COMTEX) ----For the first time, Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC: 10.78, +0.43, +4.15%) has combined a GSM base station and satellite transmission in a solar-powered site, enabling Cambodian mobile operator Star-Cell to expand its network coverage in remote areas. The solution offers affordable communications for all and is based on Ericsson's energy-optimized main-remote base-station.

The satellite transmission feature provides affordable mobile-network coverage in remote areas where other transmission solutions are unavailable. This is vital for bridging the digital divide, as about 80 percent of the Cambodian population lives outside the main urban centers.

The GSM main-remote solution has a lower environmental impact than standard base stations, consuming up to 50 percent less energy, and helps lower total cost of ownership by reducing operating costs.

Star-Cell has selected Ericsson's solution to expand network coverage and introduce EDGE-based applications to enable mobile health and educational services for rural communities.

Denis Ryabtsev, Chief Marketing Officer at Star-Cell, says: "Ericsson's solar-powered site with satellite transmission will make a significant difference. It enables us to expand cost-effectively into rural areas, connect people for the first time, and offer affordable services that improve quality of life."

Hans Karlsson, President of Ericsson Thailand and Indochina, says: "This marks an important milestone and we are proud to implement the first solar-powered solution in Cambodia. This move highlights our technical leadership, our commitment to sustainable development, and our vision of providing communication for all."

This deployment follows a series of initiatives from Ericsson to optimize the energy efficiency of mobile networks by creating solutions that reduce environmental impacts and lower operator costs. These initiatives include: BTS Power Savings features that put a network in stand-by mode during off-peak hours and saves up to 15 percent of the network access energy consumption; the innovative site concept Ericsson Tower Tube; biofuel-powered telecom sites; a hybrid solution using diesel and batteries that cuts network operating costs by up to 50 percent; and the Solar Village Charger, co-developed with Sony Ericsson. Ericsson delivered its first solar-powered sites in 2000 to Maroc Telecom in Morocco, and has so far provided more than 200 sites in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

Notes to editors:

Photos are available in the photo library:

Ericsson's multimedia content is available at the broadcast room during the day:

Background information on energy efficiency innovation (pdf)

Ericsson deploys first solar solution in South America for Digicel Suriname

White papers - Sustainable energy use in mobile communications (pdf)

Ericsson Corporate Responsibility Report 2007

About Star-Cell, Cambodia

The Applifone Company, known under the brand name Star-Cell, is a private GSM mobile operator in Cambodia. The company was established in 2006 and commercially launched in 2007.

Since its commercial launch, Star-Cell has extended its services into major areas of Cambodia, such as Phnom Penh, Koki (Kandal province), Siem Reap and Kompong Som (Sihanouk Ville) and has coverage on the National Road No. 6 (Phnom Penh to Siem Reap). As one of the fastest-growing companies in the market, Star-Cell is known for its quality and innovative services, and has ambitious expansion plans for the future.

About Ericsson's RBS 2111

RBS 2111 is a radio base station offering wide area coverage using a main-remote concept that needs no site floor space. Its distributed architecture reduces total site costs and makes rollout significantly easier. It provides the best available voice quality and complete GPRS/EDGE mobile data support.

Copyright Copyright Hugin AS 2008. All rights reserved.

   Ericsson Media Relations Phone: +46 8 719 69 92 E-mail: Email Contact 

SOURCE: Ericsson

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cambodian Cardamom Mountain Wilderness to Be Dammed

Dam construction must not damn opportunity for protection of one of Asia's last intact, fully functional natural ecosystems

By Rainforest Portal, a project of Ecological Internet - May 27, 2008

Caption: Indochinese tigers and dams do not mix (link)

The Cardamom Mountains in Southwest Cambodia -- one of the world’s priceless ecological treasures -- contain the region's last true wilderness with untouched rivers cascading to the Gulf of Thailand. This is one of Asia's last unbroken, large primary forest expanses with wild waterways linking mountain-top and ocean, containing still intact extensive tracts of lowland evergreen forest, and holding over 40 globally threatened species. The mountain range is home to fourteen endangered and threatened mammal species including Asian elephants, Indochinese tigers, and Malayan sun bears. If the Cambodian government were interested, the Cardamoms would be an easy contender for World Heritage Site designation.

The Cambodian government is preparing to dam and flood the Cardamom Mountains' riverways with a dubious hydroelectric scheme. To meet Cambodia’s escalating power demand, the government seems intent on moving forward with a centralized grid system fueled by hydropower. The government has hastily engaged Chinese companies to carry out dam feasibility research across the landscape. An estimated 15 sites are now being assessed and two are already under construction. There is almost no public information on the projects' financing.

The proposed Stung Cheay Areng Dam is of particular concern. The proposed Areng River dam is located in a densely populated area close to the Central Cardamom Protected Forest. The Areng River is unique, situated in a wide agriculturally rich flat valley and meanders slowly though fertile floodplain and oxbow lakes. Its reservoir would flood nine villages with a combined population of 1,500 mainly indigenous people and would extend into protected forests, inundating the habitat for 31 endangered fauna species, including the world’s most important breeding site for the endangered Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) and Cambodia's most important Asian elephant site. Downstream impacts will include loss of rice paddies and destruction of productive swamp forest fishery.

The government is being secretive about the project, saying it will base any decision to proceed on an environmental impact assessment. Yet the assessment is being carried out by people with no experience, who are employed by the government, and will almost certainly be rubber-stamped by government officials. Experience in neighboring countries and globally has shown large hydropower projects incur significant environmental and social costs that undermine sustainable development. There are many better-suited dam sites in the Cardamom landscape than the Areng River.

Cambodia is a poor nation, so sensible hydro-electricity projects may be justified. Yet Cambodia’s free-flowing rivers and abundant natural resources are invaluable irreplacable assets, the health of which is vital to the well-being of Cambodia’s rural population. Poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage these resources and undermine Cambodia’s sustainable development. Prime Minister Hun Sen's government should demonstrate wise leadership and fully protect the Cardamom Mountains.