Monday, March 30, 2009

Cambodia's long road to justice



The former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin is enjoying a mini-boom after years of war

It is said that in life there are only two certainties – death and taxes. But Cambodia could add a third – the road to Pailin is always difficult.

Stretching 83 back-breaking kilometres west from Cambodia's second city of Battambang it seems the road has always been in a potholed state of disrepair.

A decade ago it was pitted with deep craters from years of fierce fighting between Khmer Rouge forces and the Cambodian armed forces.

Both sides of the track littered with danger signs warning of landmines. The journey took a mind-rattling five hours.

In the intervening years it has been repaired, the ruts from rainy season damage rolled flat, the travel time quickened, only for the wheels of countless heavy trucks bearing timber and other goods to tear it apart once more.

Now the road is in upheaval again - this time for the better - as Chinese money pays for it to be completely rebuilt, with sturdy new bridges and drainage channels to replace the rusting steel and timber structures that have somehow held together all these years.

For years the residents of Pailin lived in the shadow of conflict [AP]
The reconstruction of Route 57 to Pailin reflects Cambodia’s own struggle to reconcile with its bloody history and that of its former Khmer Rouge leaders, many of whom made Pailin their home.

In late 1998 Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's Brother Number Two, and the former Head of State Khieu Samphan had just come out of Pailin’s jungles to meet Cambodia's prime minister, signalling a final end to years of hostilities between the last remaining Khmer Rouge guerrillas and the government.

Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge's former leader, had died earlier the same year while held under house arrest by his former military commander, Ta Mok, a man known to many as "the Butcher".

Change in the air

IN DEPTH

The legacy of Year Zero
Surviving the Khmer Rouge
Timeline: The Khmer Rouge

Video:
Surviving Tuol Sleng
I knew Pol Pot: Part 1 | Part 2

A decade later, Pailin is still the dusty frontier town it has always been, with ramshackle buildings, a bustling market and a few dubious-looking restaurants.

But change is in the air. A new Honda motorbike dealership is doing brisk trade, a Suzuki store is opening soon. Lockups compete to sell the latest mobile phone and all along the road from Pailin to the Thai border 15 kilometres away, construction is under way.

Down at the border there are duty free shops selling wines, cigarettes and liquor. Bright lights flash from the casinos attracting gamers from the other side of the international crossing.

The teak forests and thick bamboo groves that used to surround the town have disappeared, replaced by hectares of flat land given over to farming.

Pailin's population has tripled
in the past decade
The gem mining that once funded the Khmer Rouge war effort has also gone, as have the people scrabbling behind earthmovers hoping to find a ruby or sapphire chip they could sell for a few riel or baht.

The forested track I first walked tentatively down with a TV crew to try to confront Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan in early 1999 is now unrecognisable.

Only the concrete post that supported a bamboo pole barring the path to the leaders’ homes remains to mark the way.

At the time there was a guard post manned by a Khmer Rouge soldier with an AK47. As we approached he furiously dialled his war-time field telephone.

Minutes later another soldier appeared brandishing a rocket launcher and a rack of five grenades. We were being warned.

Two cars with blacked-out windows appeared and sped past heading for the Thai border.

Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea lived freely in Pailin for several years [AFP]
Perhaps Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were inside, but we did not hang around to find out.

It would be another eight years and four more trips to Pailin before I came face to face with Nuon Chea, when the ageing former Brother Number Two finally agreed to talk to Al Jazeera in June 2007.

It was one of the last interviews he did before being detained by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia or ECCC – the hybrid United Nations-Cambodian body that will try the former Khmer Rouge leaders.

The journey to Pailin from Battambang then took just two hours, but the ECCC still took Nuon Chea south by helicopter.

He left behind many other former Khmer Rouge members, among them Kong Duong a pleasant, smiling man, who is now Pailin's chief information officer.

He is also the former boss of Pailin radio – a station which ironically used to broadcast the songs of a popular female singer who was herself murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

Kong Duong says he only joined the Khmer Rouge in 1979, after the invading Vietnamese army forced the group from power. He fled into the jungles to fight for the country’s liberation.

But he is no fan today of the Maoist extremism which the Khmer Rouge used so ruthlessly to all but destroy Cambodia's people.

Now in his new role as Pailin's information officer he is helping to transform the town.

"Pailin has moved on," he insists.

New work ethic

"The development of capitalism is a good thing. When we lived under communism the aim was equality, no-one wanted to compete. People were poor then because there was no competition. Capitalism is good for development because people work hard and compete."

One of those signing up to Pailin's new capitalist work ethic is Kiet Boren, a casino worker from Battambang who came to Pailin 10 years ago, seeing the opportunity to make money in a 'new province'.

After decades of war, Pailin is keen to present a new face to the outside world
Kiet Boren is just one of the thousands of migrants who have helped boost Pailin’s population three-fold in the last 10 years.

He says he plans to use the money he's making to start up his own business in the future.

Like many people here he knows about the Khmer Rouge trials only just beginning in Phnom Penh after years of delays, but he does not spend much time thinking about it.

Kong Duong agrees. "I don’t think the priority for people here is justice or the Khmer Rouge trial," he says.

"Their priority is daily life, and whether they can sell their cassava at the market, or earn enough money to send their kids to school."

The new road to Pailin is due to be finished towards the end of next year, which may just coincide with the start of the second Khmer Rouge trial, predicted to include all five surviving leaders.

Just like the physical road, after years of delays Cambodia's long road to justice is finally nearing completion.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ex-Khmer Rouge still dominate regions of Cambodia

By DENIS D. GRAY – 

ANLONG VENG, Cambodia (AP) — Just as the chief Khmer Rouge torturer takes the stand before a United Nations-backed genocide tribunal, a mausoleum fit for a king will be unveiled for another murderous leader from the same regime.

The entombed Ta Mok, known to his victims as "The Butcher," remains a revered figure in Anlong Veng because practically everyone here — from the district chief to the tourism promoter, from the wealthiest businessmen to dirt-poor farmers — was once Khmer Rouge.

This remote, rough-and-ready town is no aberration. Thirty years after the fall of their Maoist regime, former Khmer Rouge officials still run extensive enclaves across northwestern and northern Cambodia. After Anlong Veng, their last holdout, fell in 1998, Khmer Rouge officials abandoned their savage policies and took posts in the new power structure.

They appear unlikely to face justice for alleged crimes during a brutal 1975-1979 reign of terror under which some 2 million died.

"We were the former Khmer Rouge commanders so we knew the area and the people, so after we surrendered we were confident we would get similar positions — in the government, police, the military," explains Pery Saroen, 55, Anlong Veng's deputy district chief, whose superior is also a one-star army general. "When we handed over ourselves, our territory, we became part of the government. We had an agreement with the government and we knew they would forgive us."

An equivalent scenario would have been known Nazi officials and military commanders, some with blood on their hands, serving in 1975 as West Germany's mayors and ministers amid war crimes trials for their leaders.

Only five are expected to face trial. The first, Kaing Guek Eav — better known as Comrade Duch — headed Phnom Penh's notorious S-21 torture center. He is scheduled to testify at the end of the month before a joint international and Cambodian tribunal.

"It's clear that not every Khmer Rouge cadre who carried out killings and crimes is going to come before the tribunal. We don't believe it should stop at the top five most notorious figures. We could do more to bring justice to Cambodians," says Sara Colm of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, echoing criticism of many Cambodians and foreign prosecutors.

Nhem Sarath, with the non-governmental Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, says villagers outside Khmer Rouge areas often ask why the court doesn't try the many Khmer Rouge suspected of atrocities.

"They also ask us why the powerful leaders now running the country are also not arrested," he says.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin were all Khmer Rouge commanders or officials, and now are unchallenged in their power. Other top positions are filled by their one-time comrades, including Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong and deputy prime ministers Men Sam On and Keat Chhun, who also holds the finance and economy portfolio.

Although no evidence has come to light implicating Hun Sen, a division commander, in Khmer Rouge crimes, he has sought to narrowly restrict those brought to justice because a number in his government and party are hiding skeletons in their closets.

Among the most notorious is Meah Mut, an ex-Khmer Rouge military official, who is on a prosecution "hit list" of at least five others they want to try. A brigadier general and adviser to the Defense Ministry, he lives in a lovely house amid a fruit orchard in Samlot, about 125 miles from Anlong Veng, in the northwest.

It was to this region that the Khmer Rouge leaders and thousands of followers fled when a Vietnamese invasion force toppled their regime in 1979. While Khmer Rouge in other areas of the country sought to quietly merge back into society, those in the northwest melted into the jungles and mountains to wage guerrilla war until the guns fell silent through an amnesty in 1998, the year Anlong Veng fell, and their leader, Pol Pot, died. All ex-Khmer Rouge in the region express loyalty to Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party.

David Chandler, a leading Cambodia historian due to appear as an expert witness at the tribunal, says the deal has proved a "standoff, a trade-off that suits both sides."

"They are not going into dissidence or to secede. They have to behave to a certain extent but Hun Sen is not going to mess with them too much," he says. "I don't think these are dedicated left-wing thinkers or performers. I think they abandoned that and got into the money and the patronage situation and are perfectly happy."

Many of the former Khmer Rouge claim to support the trial of their one-time leaders.

"To be honest, when ex-Khmer Rouge heard that the top five leaders would be tried, they said, 'We don't mind. Let's do it,'" said Nhem En, another district deputy head who was S-21's chief photographer and, like most former Khmer Rouge, points a finger at the leaders while denying any wrongdoing himself.

Ta Mok, who died a prisoner in 2006, is still much admired in Anlong Veng. His mausoleum, copied from ancient Angkorian temples by his rich grandson, will be completed almost to the day that Duch testifies.

"We regarded Ta Mok like a father who takes care of his children. He imposed restrictions and discipline but he gave us food, clothing, places to live," recalls Chat Chay, a poor laborer and former Khmer Rouge soldier. He noted how Ta Mok, whose cruelty was legendary, built roads, a hospital, a bridge and a high school building.

The town's 3,000 schoolchildren are taught nothing about their country's Khmer Rouge past, and only a few posters about the trial have been put around school grounds, says elementary school Vice Principal Reak Smey. He is one of a sizable influx of non-Khmer Rouge from other parts of the country, drawn by the possibility of acquiring land in the sparsely populated area and earning income from a lucrative cross-border trade with nearby Thailand.

"When I first arrived I was worried about having to adapt to life with former Khmer Rouge, but after a few months I discovered their honesty and kindness. The more I lived with them, the better I felt," he says, recalling that the revolutionaries had tried to instill rigid morality, albeit at the point of a gun, during their years in power. Now, he says, their virtues are being eroded by the influence of the newcomers.

Khieu Dum is a wealthy 36-year-old who owns a gas station and money exchange business. He is also the son of Khieu Samphan, who faces charges of crimes against humanity during his time as the Khmer Rouge president. An expensive Lexus sports utility vehicle sits in the son's garage at the dusty crossroads of this district of about 20,000, where the new settlers have had to be friendly because they are the powerless outsiders.

"This is a small and simple place. People just go about their business. The old (Khmer Rouge) people and the newcomers live together amiably. I have never had trouble because of my father," says Khieu Dum.

The Khmer Rouge leaders were off to a head start when the amnesty came, having amassed mini-fortunes during their days as guerrillas through smuggling of timber, gems and antiques to Thailand. Now, the upper echelons own some of the poshest houses and cars in the provinces of Pailin, Preah Vihear, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Oddar Meancheay — Cambodia's Khmer Rouge country.

Some have sunk into gross corruption and engage in activities, like gambling, which would have earned them summary execution in the old days. And they have certainly ditched their ideal of a classless society.

In Anlong Veng, a two-class system appears to have emerged: the rich businessmen and government officials living in town and former low-ranking soldiers who barely survive on arid land they don't own in the surrounding countryside. Thus the town witnessed both the final military defeat of the Khmer Rouge and the death of its ideals.

Chat Chay says he joined the movement as a 14-year-old after the Khmer Rouge persuaded him they would liberate the country and create a utopia of neither rich nor poor. Now, he breaks up stones at construction sites, able to use only his right hand since a head wound paralyzed his left side. He earns less than one dollar a day for his family of seven.

"The Khmer Rouge didn't do what they promised. They changed their policies," says the 51-year-old man. "I was wounded but the Khmer Rouge gave me nothing and I have also received nothing from this government."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thailand, Cambodia to discuss overlapping maritime claims in April

BANGKOK, March 24 (TNA) - The Thailand and Cambodia Joint Border Commission (JBC) will hold a fresh round of negotiations on overlapping maritime areas of the two countries when the body meets in Cambodia early next month, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said on Tuesday.

Mr. Kasit told journalists that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the Thai government to accelerate the process of settling the overlapping maritime areas, after various rounds of talks in the past have failed to resolve the issue.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the issue was raised on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, held in Thailand's southern seaside resort of Hua Hin late last month.

The problem of the overlapping areas is rather ‘technical’, Mr. Abhisit said, but appropriate officials are dealing with it.

Although the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in the year 2000 agreeing to resolve contested claims covering 20,600 square kilometres which are potentially rich in natural gas and oil, no tangible headway has been seen.

Panithan Watanayakorn, deputy secretary-general to the Thai prime minister, said the joint meeting will take place April 2-3 in Cambodia’s Siem Reap. It will also consider land area demarcation, methods of restoring peace along the land border, demining, border trade and promoting tourism to improve bilateral relations.

The Thai-Cambodian border has never been fully demarcated, in part because the border is littered with landmines left from decades of war in Cambodia.

The government of Thailand’s former prime minister Samak Sundaravej approved a Bt1.4 billion mine clearing operation on the border, but no progress has been seen so far. (TNA)

Cambodia to send soldiers to Chad, Central Africa for UN peacekeeping mission

PHNOM PENH, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia will send soldiers to Chad and Central Africa for UN peacekeeping mission, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said here on Tuesday.

"We will send our soldiers to these countries according to the request of the UN Secretary General," he told a university graduation ceremony.

Cambodia has already sent 3 groups of soldiers for mine clearance in Sudan for UN peacekeeping mission, he said, adding that the country never sent troops to war-torn countries.

Meanwhile, the premier didn't mention when and how many soldiers would be sent to the two countries.

In 2006, Cambodia sent 135 deminers to Sudan for UN peacekeeping mission, and then 139 in June 2007 to replace the old ones. The deminers were renewed again in 2008.

Additionally, Cambodia once joined international military exercises respectively held in Bangladesh and Mongolia.

In 2010, Cambodia will host a large-scale ASEAN-U.S. military exercise at its Sihanoukville Port.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cambodia's electricity future

Written by Nathan Green (Phnom Penh Post [1])

Monday, 16 March 2009

powerlines 225x300 Electricity Supply Improvements in Sihanoukville by 2011 [1]State requests private investment for development of national grid as plans continue for increased electricity network coverage outside capital.

THE government is courting private investors for its proposed national electricity grid and is hoping to have the main backbone of the system in place by 2015, an official said last week.

Ty Norin, chairman of the Electricity Authority of Cambodia, told the 2009 Cambodia Outlook Conference in Phnom Penh on Thursday that private sector investment was needed to top-up donor and government funds already earmarked for the project to ensure maximum coverage. He did not name possible backers.

Under the government’s 2013-18 Cambodia Power Development System plan, the proposed national grid will be controlled by the state-run Electricite du Cambodge, but Special Purpose Transmission Licences will be available to private companies to operate sections of the grid, he said. It is expected that these will mostly be used to supply large individual consumers as well as rural areas off the main grid.

This is probably the biggest constraint that we hear about.

Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, told the conference that affordable electricity prices and reliable access were critical for the future of the country’s manufacturing sector.

“This is probably the biggest constraint that we hear about but one that will be fixed in the next year or two,” he said.

Higgins noted that electricity cost from 18 US cents per kilowatt-hour in Cambodia compared to around 5.4 cents per kilowatt in Vietnam.

Ty Norin said the high cost of electricity was due to the country’s almost total reliance on fuel imports due to an absence of indigenous resources.

The government also hoped to firm up fuel supply agreements with key trading partners to enhance energy security and would build a coal-run power plant near Sihanoukville port to feed into the grid.

“We are very confident in the near future our power supply will not be entirely dependent on foreign fuel,” he said.

Ty Norin ruled out government subsidies or price controls to keep energy prices low, saying the national budget could not support subsidies and that price controls would make the market unattractive.

“We cannot force the tariff down by setting it lower because if the tariff is lower than the cost we will create an issue with sustainability of supply,” he said. “The market will die.”

However, major industries and Special Economic Zones within 10 kilometres of substations will be able to source electricity on a direct feed, which would give them a comparatively lower grid tariff by exempting them from network transmission charges. However, rural areas would likely face greater costs due to higher charges, said Ty Norin.

Phnom Penh, which accounts for 85 percent of Cambodia’s electricity consumption, will be the central point of the proposed grid. Substations will be built in the capital, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampot and Sihanoukville by 2011, he added. The grid will be connected to western Cambodia by 2012 to supply electricity to Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey.

Piracy in Southeast Asia: Real Menace or Red Herring?

By Stefan Eklöf

Counting Piracy

Over the past 25 years piracy and armed robbery against vessels have become a growing concern for the shipping industry and the international community. Since 1984, when the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations started to collect information about acts of piracy and armed robbery against vessels, close to 4,000 such acts have been reported to the organization. The problem, moreover, has grown worse since the turn of the millenium. In 2004 alone, 330 cases were recorded – a notable decline from the previous year’s 452 cases, but still a substantially higher figure than any year of the twentieth century. Over half of the attacks worldwide, 169 cases in 2004, occurred in Southeast Asia, and a map of the region included in the IMO’s annual Report on Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships shows much of Indonesia’s coastline dotted with black spots, each representing an attack (1). With most of the attacks in or around Indonesian waters, the country has earned a reputation as a haven for pirates, and a couple of years ago a well-known correspondent and author on organized crime in Asia even dubbed the country the ”pirate republic” (2).


Pirates prowl the high seas of South East Asia in 2005. 

But to what extent do these figures represent the actual situation? On the one hand, the reported attacks are often said to be no more than the tip of an iceberg since many shipping companies for different reasons – including fears of expensive delays in connection with police investigations and harmful publicity – choose not to report attacks against its vessels, neither to the authorities nor to any international organization. Nor do governments generally report incidents to the IMO in spite of a resolution, passed in 1983, requesting member states to report all attacks against vessels flying the flag of their country to the organization (3). The main source of information about pirate attacks is instead the International Maritime Bureau, a unit of the International Chamber of Commerce, which since 1992 operates a Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The Centre is mainly financed through voluntary contributions from the shipping and insurance industry. One of its main tasks – in addition to assisting the victims of pirate attacks and assisting the authorities in investigations – is to receive and collate information about piratical activity and to issue consolidated reports on piracy and armed robbery against ships to, among others, the IMO. In 2004, all but five of the 330 attacks listed in the IMO’s annual report were reported by the Piracy Reporting Centre of the IMB (4).

Compared with the general understanding of the word ”piracy”, however, the IMB’s definition is very broad. For statistical purposes, the Bureau defines piracy and armed robbery as an ”act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act” (5). This definition not only covers actual and attempted attacks in international as well as territorial waters; it also includes all types of attacks regardless of whether the ship is berthed, at anchor or at sea.

This definition is unfortunate – even if only for statistical purposes – because it blurs any attempt to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the problem of ”piracy” in Southeast Asia as well as in other parts of the world. Many of the so-called armed robberies in port areas are in fact more readily describable as ”theft in port”, typically involving some three to five perpetrators boarding a ship in order to steal supplies, such as engine spare parts, some cans paint and ropes. These so-called ”pirates” in port are not likely to be identical with the more audicious – and often more violent – pirates who board steaming vessels at sea, with both their methods and objectives differing. From the point of view of protection and law enforcement, moreover, it does not seem very helpful to conflate the two types of incidents as they require very different counter-measures. Combatting the first type of incidents mainly involves improving security onboard ships when in port and in port areas, whereas combatting the second type of incidents requires international coordination and intelligence sharing between the authorities of several nations, the shipping industry and international organizations.

Mapping Piracy

Seperating the IMO/IMB statistics from the 75 incidents that in 2004 were reported to have occurred in port areas in Southeast Asia – mainly in Indonesia – results in a somewhat different and much clearer picture. What is left are 92 cases of actual and attempted attacks at sea (in addition to two cases of spotted suspicious craft), heavily concentrated to three adjacent regions along the east coast of Sumatra: The northern parts of the Malacca Strait (34 cases), the southern parts of the Malacca Strait including Singapore Strait and Indonesia’s Riau-Lingga archipelago (23 cases), and the waters east of southern Sumatra (eleven cases). Together these areas accounted for close to 74 per cent of all reported attacks at sea in Southeast Asia. Other areas where several cases were reported were the southern parts of the South China Sea (six cases), the Makassar Strait east of Indonesian Borneo (six cases) and the Sulu region of the southern Philippines and eastern Sabah (four cases).

The figures stand out as high in international comparison, but they hardly justify descriptions of Southeast Asia or the Malacca Strait as ”piracy prone” or pirate-infested”. With around 200 ships transiting the Strait daily, the risk for an individual ship of being attacked was between 0,1 and 0,2 per cent in 2004 (6). In the southern Malacca Strait area, as well as in the waters off southern Sumatra, most of the attacks – around 80 per cent of actual attacks – were what may be called Low-Level Armed Robberies (LLAR), or ”petty piracy”, involving a group of pirates, generally armed with knives and non-automatic firearms, boarding the victim ship in the aft from a small open craft with the objective of stealing cash and portable valuables such as watches, jewellery and electronics. These pirates generally avoid violence unless resisted and leave the ship with their loot within 15 to 20 minutes.


Map of South East Asia

Traumatic as these attacks may be for the crews and passengers of the victim ships, they do not seem to constitute a big problem for the shipping industry. The IMB has estimated the average value of property lost in each such attack to around US $ 5,000 (7) – and this has probably declined over the past few years as the development of more efficient and safe ways to transfer money electronically worldwide has made it less necessary for ships to carry large sums of cash. In the southern parts of the Malacca Strait, the petty piracy attacks have been going on more or less incessantly for the past 25 years and have led to the development of a range of relatively easy and uncostly measures that can be implemented onboard ships in order to avert an attack. Aside from arming merchant vessels – which most shipping companies, trade unions and international organizations do not recommend for fear of escalating the violence thereby endangering the safety of the crew and vessel – these include alert anti-piracy watches, illuminating the deck at night (when most attacks take place), locking all doors and hatches of the ship’s superstructure and rigging fire hoses in the aft to prevent pirates from boarding. One of the most efficient preventive measures is Secure-Ship, an easily collapsable electric fence which is mounted around the ship and which uses a 9,000 volt, non-lethal, electric schock to deter intruders and sets off an alarm if tampered with (8).

Of greater concern to the international community and the crews of international vessels are the more violent attacks which mainly occur in the northern parts of the Malacca Strait. Of the 18 actual attacks that were reported there in 2004, 15 (83 per cent) may be called High-Level Armed Robberies (HLAR), involving heavily armed pirates not hesitating to use lethal violence. In addition to these 15 attacks, moreover, there were eight attempted attacks in which ships were fired at. Several of the robberies involved the shooting and killing or wounding of crew members, the taking of hostages and hijackings of whole vessels, especially tugs and barges. The most serious incident took place on 5 January 2004, when armed pirates boarded the Indonesian tanker Cherry 201 and took 13 crew members hostage. The pirates later released the captain so that he could convey their demand for ransom, but as the shipping company failed to pay the ransom – initially set for US $47,616 but eventually negotiated down to a quarter of that amount – the pirates one month later shot dead four crew members. The remaining eight jumped overboard and escaped (9).

The IMB suspects that the perpetrators of the kidnap-for-ransom attacks in the Northern Malacca Strait are members of the Free Aceh Movement, GAM, which since 1976 has waged a guerilla war for Acehnese independence from Indonesia. However, even though GAM members have been known to engage in kidnappings, particularly of Indonesian businessmen, on land, it seems unlikely that the organization on a central level would endorse piratical activity. The strategy of the GAM leaders, most of whom live in exile in Sweden, has been to try to gain the sympathy of the international community for Acehnese independence, and engaging in piracy would be clearly detrimental to this objective, especially against the background of much speculation about a possible connection between piracy and the threat of maritime terrorism in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. This said, however, it is possible that some local bands of GAM sympathisers may use piracy as a means of fund-raising – although it is equally possible that it is the work of politically non-committed bandits in the region.


The rebels of Free Aceh Movement are fighting for an independent 
Islamic state from Indonesia.

In the wake of the devastating tsunami which hit the region, particularly Aceh, on 26 December 2004, all piratical activity seemed to cease in the Malacca Straits, and there were no reported attacks during January 2005. As regards the northern parts of the Strait, this is quite understandable, as the pirates are likely to have been hard hit by the disaster with many of them probably killed and much of their equipment, including boats, engines and weapons, destroyed. The lull in piracy in the southern parts of the Strait is more difficult to explain, as the tsunami had no significant physical impact there, and as the pirates’ land bases, mainly located in Indonesia’s Riau archipelago, were left intact. The lull was in any case temporary, and from February 2005, attacks again began to be reported, both from the northern and southern parts of the Malacca Strait, with the same recognisable pattern of mainly High-Level Armed Robberies in the northern parts and mainly Low-Level Armed Robberies in the southern parts (10).

Combatting Piracy

Piracy in Southeast Asia is often explained by combination of poverty and weak law enforcement. The explanations generally – explicitly or implicitly – pinpoints Indonesia, the poorest country in the Malacca Strait region with the weakest marine law I enforcement capacity, as the source of the problem. To some extent the explanation is relevant. There is little doubt that most, if not all, pirates currently operating in the Malacca and Singapore Straits are Indonesians based in Indonesia – mainly, it seems, on the north coast of Aceh and possibly the east coast of the province of North Sumatra, and on the scattered small islands of Indonesia’s Riau archipelago just south of Singapore Strait. It is also obvious that the Indonsesian navy, which has the main responsibility for policing the country’s territorial waters, is overstretched and lacks the capacity to patrol the vast archipelago – not only against pirates, but also against smugglers of drugs, arms, contraband and humans and against large fleets of foreign fish trawlers operating illegally in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. From that perspective it should perhaps come as no surprise if combatting piracy is not a main priority for the Indonesian navy and other authorities.

The attacks in the Malacca Strait region mainly (although not exclusively) befall non-Indonesian vessels, and most attacks – 82 per cent in 2004 – take place outside Indonesian territorial waters, mainly in international waters. With the Malacca Strait being one of the world’s most important international commercial shipping lanes, it might seem reasonable – at least from the point of view of the coastal states in the region – if the cost of policing the Strait were shared by all its users. However, when the Indonesian government, supported by Malaysia, in the early 1990s suggested that a toll system be introduced to pay for the cost of policing the Strait and protecting the environment, the suggestion won little support from the shipping industry or the international community. Saying that the shipowners seemed ”ungrateful” that they were allowed to use the Malacca Strait for free, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghafar Baba bluntly summarized the Indonesian and Malaysian viewpoint: ”These people seem to have come out with a theory that they make the profit and we come out with the money to keep the straits clean of pollution and pirates” (11).

Since then the number of reported pirate attacks in Southeast Asia has multiplied, but the shipping industry and the international community in general have shown little willingness to share the cost of policing the Malacca Strait. The main exception has been Japan, which over the past years has taken the initiative to, and provided funding for, a number of efforts to suppress Southeast Asian piracy, including the provision of training programs and equipment to the law enforcement authorities in the region. The most recent of these initiatives is the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), concluded among sixteen Asian countries (Bangladesh, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, India, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam) in Tokyo in November 2004. The most important provision of the agreement – which so far has only been signed by four states, Cambodia, Japan, Laos and Singapore – is the projected setting up of an Information Sharing Centre in Singapore in order to facilitate international cooperation in the suppression of piracy. The weakness of the agreement, however, is that it only obligates governments to share information which they deem pertinent to immediate pirate attacks and that Centre’s operation will depend on volontary contributions (12).

Even though ReCAAP may be a significant development, it will not be enough to eradicate piracy in Southeast Asia. Doing so will probably require more far-reaching arrangements for international cooperation, including joint or coordinated patrols and the right of so-called ”hot pursuit” into the territorial waters of a neighbouring country. At the moment, however, such arrangements seem unlikely to come about. Piracy remains a comparatively minor problem for most Southeast Asian countries, and strong sensitivities over issues of national sovereignty are a major obstacle to the forging of any binding agreements among the countries of the region.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of piracy as a menace to international maritime commerce, most shipowners do not seem terribly concerned. The risk of an attack is still very small, and the economic losses incurred are generally bearable – usually below the decuctible level of the insurance policy. Consequently, and in accordance with the laws of market economy, piracy is likely to persist as long as the cost of protection is higher than the incurred losses.

Stefan Eklöf (Stefan.Eklof@ace.lu.se), Ph.D., Research Fellow, Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University, is the author of Pirates in Paradise: A Modern History of Southeast Asia’s Maritime Marauders, Copenhagen: NIAS Press. He wrote this article for Japan Focus. Posted on August 5, 2005.

Endnotes

(1) International Maritime Organization, ”Reports on Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships – Annual Report 2004”, MSC.4/Circ.64, 5 May 2005, accessed on 26 July 2005. The IMO report does not use the term ”Southeast Asia” but the more inexact ”Far East” (further divided into ”Malacca Strait” and ”South China Sea”). All but four of the 173 cases recorded in the ”Far East”, however, occurred in Southeast Asia (i.e. in or around the waters of ASEAN countries).

The IMO distinguishes between ”piracy” which, in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is defined as incidents occurring on the high seas or outside the jurisdiction of any state, and ”armed robbery” which is defined as incidents occurring within a state’s jurisdiction.

(2) Lintner, Bertil, Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia, New York and Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2003.

(3) Resolution A.545(13) on ”Measures to Prevent Acts of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships”, adopted by the IMO Assembly, 13th session, 17 November 1983. In 2004, only three states, Colombia, Liberia and the United Arab Emirates, reported attacks to the organization.

(4) The IMB also publishes annual (as well as bi-annual) piracy reports; see ICC International Maritime Bureau, ”Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships. Annual Report, 1 January – 31 December 2004”, Barking, Essex: ICC International Maritime Bureau 2005. In addition, the IMB posts weekly piracy reports on the Internet (accessed on 26 July 2005).

(5) Ibid., p. 2; italics in original.

(6) It is assumed that the real number of attacks were twice the reported number, giving a total of 114 for the year in the northern and southern parts of the Malacca Strait.

(7) Gottshalk, Jack A. and Brian P. Flanagan, Jolly Roger with an Uzi: The Rise and Threat of Modern Piracy, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press 2000, p. 90.

(8) See further the manufacturer’s Internet web page at http://www.secure-marine.com, accessed on 28 July 2005.

(9) Gunawan, Apriadi, ”Pirates kill four aboard ship in North Aceh”, Jakarta Post, 6 February 2004, and ICC International Maritime Bureau, 2005, p. 17.

(10) See the IMO’s monthly reports for January–March 2005: MSC.4/Circ.65,MSC.4/Circ.66, and MSC.4/Circ.67, all accessed on 28 July 2005.

(11) Wong Sai Wan, ”M’sia willing to provide security in the Straits”, The Star, 7 September 1992.

(12) John F. Bradford, ”The Growing Prospects for Maritime Security Cooperation in Southeast Asia”, Naval War College Review, 58: 3.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cambodia’s Garment Exports Fall as Demand Drops in U.S., Europe

Cambodia’s Garment Exports Fall as Demand Drops in U.S., Europe [-Isn't that contrary to what Dr Hun Xen predicted?]

By Daniel Ten Kate and Carole Zimmer

Just look at the factories ... They’re closing. The living standards get worse and worse- Sary Muong, factory worker
March 18 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia’s garment exports are declining as a global recession crimps demand in the U.S. and Europe, cutting into an industry that supports a 10th of the Southeast Asian country’s population. 

In January, garment exports plunged 25 percent from a year earlier to $185 million, said Mean Sophea, who heads the Commerce Ministry’s Trade Preferences System Department. Over the past decade, they grew at an average pace of 28 percent per year, according to the World Bank.

“I’ve never seen garment exports drop this much,” Mean Sophea said by phone from Phnom Penh, the capital. “The government is trying to reduce expenses for exporters, but we have seen a lack of demand from the U.S. and Europe.”

The U.S. and Europe take more than 90 percent of clothes made in Cambodia. Southeast Asia’s second-smallest economy may shrink 0.5 percent in 2009, the International Monetary Fund said March 6, revising down its 4.8 percent growth projection made a month earlier.

The proportion of garment shipments to total exports is higher in Cambodia than any country except Bangladesh and Haiti, according to World Trade Organization data. Some 70 percent of the country’s clothes were shipped to the U.S., where it was the eighth-largest supplier in 2007, the World Bank has said.

Lost Jobs 

About 30,000 Cambodian garment workers, or a 10th of the total, lost their jobs in the past year as factories closed, the World Bank said in a March 8 report. The industry accounted for 17 percent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product in 2007.

The garment industry took off 10 years ago after Cambodia signed a trade deal with the U.S. that linked market access with improved labor standards in its factories. Exports went from almost nothing in 1994 to $2.7 billion two years ago.

The money earned every month by those who sew and stitch jeans and T-shirts for retailers such as Gap Inc. and Stockholm-based Hennes & Mauritz AB supports as many as 1.5 million Cambodians, said Douglas Broderick, resident representative of the United Nations Development Fund in Phnom Penh.

“There’s a whole community around the garment sector, little vendors, landlords, food stalls,” he said. “All those people will get hit.”

Sary Muong, a Cambodian garment worker earning less than $2 per day, has struggled to provide her family basic goods like food and clothing. The 34-year-old single mother makes a monthly salary of $55 that supports her parents and 8-year-old daughter.

Just look at the factories,” Sary Muong said from a one-room shack with no running water or toilet in Phnom Penh where she lives with her sister. “They’re closing. The living standards get worse and worse.”

Labor Standards 

Cambodia’s garment industry has built a reputation for good labor standards over the past decade that the Commerce Ministry says contributed to its growth. In 2001, the government, garment factories, labor unions and the International Labor Organization, a UN agency, agreed to set up a monitoring agency called Better Factories Cambodia.

It files semi-annual reports on working conditions in factories that go to buyers like Nike Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Adidas AG. Still, the higher labor standards haven’t stopped retailers from demanding ever lower prices, said Roger Tan, a factory manager and secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association of Cambodia.

“Every factory is cutting costs now whether they like it or not,” he said. “The whole world is in deep trouble. Nothing should surprise anyone now.

The government, reliant on overseas aid to finance a quarter of the national budget, has said it will extend tax breaks for clothing manufacturers to help reduce costs. Even so,Cambodia remains “increasingly affected” by the global slowdown, the IMF said, adding that its 2009 growth forecast may be revised again.

The world economy will shrink this year in a slump that is the worst “in most of our lifetimes,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF’s managing director, said March 10. The World Bank, which also expects a contraction, said two days earlier that global trade would decline by the most in 80 years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net; Carole Zimmer in New York at czimmer2@bloomberg.net.

S. Korean Investment in Cambodia down by 25 pct in 2008

The South Korean investment in Cambodia fell by 25 percent in 2008 over 2007, as the investors' pockets became contracted over the global financial crisis, national media said on Wednesday.

The amount of investment in 2009 was expected to further go down by 58 percent over 2008, Chinese-language daily newspaper the Commercial News quoted South Korean Embassy official Lee Sang Kwang as saying.

In 2008, the registered South Korean investment in Cambodia stood at 1.25 billion U.S. dollars, but only 473 million U.S. dollars was actually poured into the kingdom for a variety of projects, he said.

In 2007, the investors channeled 629 million U.S. dollars into Cambodia for their projects, he added.

"We have found that many South Korean investing companies faced their hard times, so most of them suspended their projects here," he said.

They could not manipulate their capital in South Korea as easily as before, and then became unable to invest more in overseas countries, including Cambodia, he added.

South Korea used to the third largest investing country in Cambodia, right after China and Japan, according to official figures.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Websites blacklisted by Cambodia for giving fake visa information

PHNOM PENH, March 16 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian government has names three "fraudulent" websites as providing fake visa and wrong information about Cambodia, said official news agency the Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) on Monday.

These fraudulent website were addressed as www.cambodiaonarrival.com, www.cambodiaevisa.com, and www.elovecambodia.com, AKP quoted a press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as saying.

Some of them offered visa service which turned out to be fake and deceptive, it said.

The ministry "would like to inform the users of e-Visa that the ministry's website, www.mfaic.gov.kh, is the only authorized website to issue e-visa" for travelers coming into the country, it said.

The ministry "welcomes visitors to the Kingdom of Cambodia to use the convenience of our e-Visa services that enable you to participate in the E-government initiative," it added.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cambodian sand mining spikes in Koh Kong estuaries

Sand mining spikes in Koh Kong estuaries Print E-mail
Written by Sebastian Stragio and Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
KOH KONG PROVINCE

Large-scale sand dredging operations in Koh Kong estu aries ignoring long-term effects, say environmentalists.
090310_06.jpg
Photo by: SEBASTIAN STRANGIO
The Panamanian-registered Raffles being loaded with estuary sand dredged by the Hong Kong-based Winton Enterprises, 10 kilometres off Koh Kong's coast.

A CHINESE company is extracting thousands of tons of sand from coastal areas in Koh Kong province each day, raising the spectre of long-term damage to the region's fragile estuarine and marine ecosystems.

A recent Post investigation found that a Hong Kong-based firm is openly dredging sand in the province's extensive salt-water estuaries - including areas protected under Cambodian law - for export to Singapore.

The island city-state, the epicentre of a global sand industry worth more than US$6 billion annually, imports around 3.8 million tons of sand each year for land reclamation and construction projects. But following an Indonesian government ban on sand exports in January 2007, Cambodia - with its loose regulatory framework and pristine coastal environment - is now squarely in the sights of foreign dredging companies, observers say.

"The timing of the sand rush appears to coincide with the end of sand exports from Indonesia to Singapore," said Eleanor Nichol, a campaigner for corruption watchdog Global Witness, which conducted investigations into Koh Kong's sand industry as part of its "Country For Sale" report, released last month.

"Our investigations in Koh Kong revealed a complicated picture, with a mix of Cambodian and international companies operating to dredge and transport the sand."

The Global Witness report found that the Koh Kong operation - worth an estimated $35 million annually - is controlled by the local LYP Group of Companies, which the group said is owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat.

The Post investigation - based on some dozen interviews and visits to the dredging sites - enlarged upon Global Witness' findings, confirming that that the bulk of Koh Kong's sand is being extracted and shipped to Singapore by Winton Enterprises Limited, a Hong Kong-based mining firm working in close partnership with LYP.

It also confirmed that the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, a 25,897-hectare protection zone established in 1993 to protect one of the world's last intact coastal mangrove ecosystems, lies at the centre of Winton's extensive sand-mining operations.

On its website, Winton Enterprises states that it is began sand-mining operations in "Indo China" in November, and that sand is being dredged and transported "by Winton's own vessels" to Singapore. It says also that the "abundant" reserves in the location will ensure "in volume" supply for its Singaporean clients.

White gold
Although no specific country is mentioned, a Winton representative based in Koh Kong confirmed by phone that the company is operating in Cambodia with the permission of a local "concessionaire".

He added that the government had imposed a "very strict limit" on the size of the concession and the amount of sand that could be extracted.

"We obtained the concession and now we are just following the government's directives," the representative said, declining to answer further queries about the company's operations.

Shortly after Winton Enterprises was contacted by phone and email, the website's main page was placed "under construction" and access to the operational information was barred.

It is unclear how much sand is being removed from the area by Winton, but there do not appear to be clear limits on the operation.

In late February, Post reporters tracked the supply chains of sand extracted from Koh Kong estuaries by Winton dredgers for export to Singapore. Sand was observed being extracted by unmarked dredging vessels in Koh Suon, 10 kilometres up the Koh Pao River from Koh Kong town, and in Koh Smach, inside Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary to the south.

The sand was then transferred onto larger barges bearing "Winton" markings and shipped 10 kilometres offshore, where it was unloaded into an ocean-going bulk carrier, the Panamanian-registered Raffles [see map].

According to international shipping registries, the Raffles - owned by a company listed in the Bahamas - alone has a deadweight capacity of 37,696 tons, enough to hold more than $400,000 worth of sand at $11 per metric tonne - the figure Global Witness estimates as the wholesale market value for reclamation sand.

The Raffles also crops up in a 2006 Amnesty International report, which cites allegations the ship was used in illegal arms trafficking to Liberia during a 2001-03 UN arms embargo.

Global Witness investigators also noted the presence of 15,000 ton carriers in the area, quoting local sand workers as saying that each could be readied for export in "three days".

The organisation concluded with a "conservative" estimate that around 60,000 tons were being mined for export each month, while in a conversation with Post reporters, Lim Sokheang, general manager of LYP Group, estimated 40,000-50,000 tons per month.

But Kev Wa, executive director of Environmental Watch and Protection in Cambodia (CNRPO), a Koh Kong-based watchdog, said that up to "a million" tons of sand - with a potential resale value of $11 million - had been removed from the area in the past three months.

‘Sister' companies
Interviews conducted with officials and sand workers in Koh Kong also revealed the nature of Winton's cooperation with LYP Group. At a Thai sand storage depot across the river from Koh Kong town, which Global Witness revealed is run by the Thai Saroon Conrete Co on land owned by Ly Yong Phat, the Post was told by depot staff that stored sand had been extracted by Winton dredgers.

Mandarin-speaking staff at a second sand depot refused to give the name of the company operating it, but a ship moored offshore, the Shun Hong Hai 88, listed in Chinese shipping databases as belonging to Guangdong-based company Great Sea Freight Transportation Co, was observed being loaded with sand from a smaller barge that was part of the Winton operations upstream.

When asked about the operations in Koh Kong, Deputy Provincial Governor Bin Sam Ol did not mention the Chinese involvement, saying only that LYP had been awarded a "monopoly" license to extract sand in the area.

But Pech Siyon, director of the Koh Kong Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, confirmed that four local companies - LYP Group, Udomseima, Dany Trading and Regapo Ltd - had been granted concessions to mine sand in the province, and that Winton was operating under the concession awarded to LYP - its international "sister company".

"All four companies received licenses from the Council for the Development of Cambodia, and the individual companies gave a share to several other sister companies, who bring their ships and technology for the dredging operations and for transport to Singapore," he said.

He added that the companies were forced to pay provincial taxes of $0.10 per cubic meter of muddy shore face and $0.20 per cubic meter of sandy shore face extracted.

Pristine estuaries

I AM CONCERNED THERE WILL BE BIG WAVES WHEN THE GROUND SURFACE COLLAPSES DUE TO THE DREDGING OF THE SAND.


Stretching its labyrinthine arms over an area of over 25,000 hectares, Peam Krasop's translucent saline waters encompass dense mangrove islands that are among the world's last intact ecosystems of their kind.

Paul Everingham, a wildlife photographer and amateur environmentalist who has been observing Koh Kong's coastal environment since 2004, said that its broad river estuaries - the "jewel in the crown" of the Kingdom's south coast - formed the focal point of a region-wide ecosystem stretching as far as the coral reefs of Indonesia and the Philippines.

"The southwest watershed of the Cardamoms is the largest and most pristine section of the mountains," he said. "Every string, river and creek in [this area] funnels into this estuary system, the heart of which is the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary."

He described the area as an "environmental hotspot", and one of the "most active" aquatic breeding grounds in Southeast Asia.

But the sharp increase in sand-mining activity in Koh Kong has environmentalists worried that virgin coastal estuaries will meet a similar fate to Indonesia's Riau Islands, where intensive sand extraction resulted in serious environmental degradation and forced Jakarta to institute a blanket ban on the practice in January 2007.

At the time, the Jakarta Post quoted Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Desra Percaya as saying sand extraction operations had caused "severe environmental damage" to several islands in the archipelago, including Sebayik and Nipah.

The 1992 Ospar Guidelines for the Management of Dredged Material, part of an international agreement governing marine conservation, likewise cite the "significant physical impact" of dredging operations, highlighting the "covering of the seabed and local increases in suspended solids levels" and the "smothering of benthic [bottom-dwelling] organisms in the dumping area".

Following the Indonesian ban, the Singaporean Building and Construction Authority (BCA), part of the city-state's Ministry of National Development, said that the shortfall in sand would easily be made up from "new supply sources" in the region.

But as the dredgers close in on Cambodia, local fishermen say they have noticed changes in the age-old patterns that govern life on the water.

Chun Doeun, 38, who has been fishing the Koh Pao River for 15 years, noted the strange behaviour of local crab species, which have floated to the water's surface since the arrival of the sand-dredgers last year.

"[This] is a strange habit for this kind of species. Crabs always dwell on the riverbed," he said. "The changed habits of the crab species have happened since the start of the sand-dredging operations."

Tith Seour, a 48 year-old fisherman angling within sight of the Raffles operation off the coast, said also that recent fish and crab catches had been low, citing the possibility it could be linked to the Winton operations.

"For ocean fishermen, I am concerned there will be big waves when the ground surface collapses due to the dredging of the sand," he said.

CNRPO President Chea Hean added that 1,500 fishermen in Koh Kong and Mondul Seima districts had recently filed joint complaints about the impacts of sand mining on their livelihoods, citing "shore collapses" and the release of oil by dredging ships.
090310_07map.jpg

Environmental safeguards
Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration, acknowledged that sand-mining could harm fisheries by destroying sea-grass and spawning grounds, but said that the Administration was doing its best to advise authorities about the effects.

"If they ask our opinion about any project, then we will study [it]. If there are seahorses there, or sea-grass or coral reefs, we will inform them that they cannot mine," he said, adding that its recommendations had already helped stop proposed operations near Koh Tang and Koh Rong Samloem that would have seriously damaged marine ecosystems.

He added that the limited sand-mining operations currently in place would probably have little effect on the overall health of Cambodia's marine areas, provided they were restricted to 1 or 2 percent of the area.

"If we provide a few concessions there could be no harm to the fisheries environment, because as compared to the 50,000 square kilometres of our marine areas, just a few kilometres - maybe less than 1 percent of the area - will be impacted," he said.

Nao Thuok added that he had not heard of Winton Enterprises, but that the Administration was investigating one unnamed operation in Koh Kong.

Neither LYP officials nor Ly Yong Phat could not be reached for comment about the company's activities inside Peam Krasop, but Pech Siyon told the Post that environment safeguards were in place in Koh Kong, and that if any dredging company violated the law there would be an "investigation" into its activities.

But one source familiar with the area said that even were the political will present, the technical capabilities of performing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in line with the Kingdom's 1996 Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management was beyond the capacity of the local authorities.

"For something like sand-mining, it's not simple: if you do an assessment in January and you take the sand in July, your assessment is going to be wrong," the source said, adding that the EIA was vital, since it provided the entire basis for a project's environmental legitimacy.

"That's what I think is wrong with this... There's nobody who can really do these EIA [studies] correctly."

Either way, Global Witness's Nichol said that the current framework for allocating mining concessions leads to a natural disregard for environmental effects. Far from a system based on "technical and financial merits", mining allocations were mostly made in secret to members of the ruling elite, she said.

"The system for allocating concessions is patronage and nepotism," she said.

"These assessments need to be done prior to any operations and the public consulted," she said.

090310_07_2.jpg
Photo by: SEBASTIAN STRANGIO
Winton's military connection?

Staff on board the ships owned by Winton Enterprises were observed wearing military fatigues without any insignia or identifying markings.

Global Witness raised the possible involvement of Chinese military in the operations, while Winton's website features photos of company director Loh Mui Keng Victor being granted an "Excellency Award" by Minister of Defense Tea Banh in the presence of RCAF officers at a June 24, 2008, ceremony.

However, Koh Kong provincial military commander Yun Mean denied Cambodian or Chinese military involvement in the dredging operations, telling the Post that the "soldiers" were Chinese company workers wearing paramilitary clothes. "Last week I asked military police commanders in Koh Kong to check and withdraw the paramilitary clothes worn by Chinese workers, because it looks confusing to people," he said.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Banishing the Ghosts in Cambodia

Josh Haner/The New York Times
Overlooking the Gulf of Thailand at Knai Bang Chatt, a hotel on Cambodia's southern coast.

The New York Times

By HENRY ALFORD
Published: March 15, 2009

IN Kep, a tiny town on Cambodia’s southern coast on the Gulf of Thailand, two British women are staring at the ghostly remains of a bombed-out seaside villa. Originally called La Perle de la Côte d’Agathe, Kep was founded in the 1920s and was the resort of choice for French Cambodia’s jet set. But the Khmer Rouge had particular distaste for Kep and its sybaritic pleasures, and all but razed the town in the 1970s.

One of the women points out a trail of wetness on the villa’s walls and floor where a dog has peed. “Oh, dear,” she tut-tuts. “It looks like the building is crying.”

Less than a mile down the road, rising from the ashes of Kep like an extravagant bird-of-paradise, is the chic 11-room seaside hotel, Knai Bang Chatt, designed in the ’70s by a protégé of Le Corbusier. No one is crying here. All is luxury and escapism; lush plantings and an infinity pool are combined in a way that fairly screams “James Bond love lair.” Sprawled poolside is a muscular young Belgian gentleman engrossed in his Ian McEwan. The man idly smoothes out the waistband of his black designer swimsuit, the greatest irritation he will face all day. Tonight he will dine under a gorgeous palapa-style structure by the sea, and perhaps join other guests for a midnight swim in the Gulf of Thailand.

To many Americans, Cambodia means only two things — the majestic temples of Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. But there’s another Cambodia — the southern coast — that is beginning to emerge as a popular alternative to the heavily trafficked beaches of Thailand. Here, in towns like Sihanoukville — which, in its heyday in the 1960s, used to draw visitors like Jackie Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve — travelers are exploring the unusual pleasures that occur at the intersection of the luxurious present and the ravaged past.

When my boyfriend, Greg, and I spent a week on the coast this November, we experienced two firsts, both involving tiny bubbles. First, we went swimming one night in Kep among phosphorescent plankton (it’s as if thousands of underwater fireflies are doing a nonstadium version of “the wave”). Later we went into a pharmacy in Sihanoukville and, for $2.80 for 20 tablets (U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere), bought one of the unheralded marvels of modern life: effervescent codeine.

This was not the Cambodia I expected — the tiny bubbles Cambodia. I’d had a sneaking suspicion that my first trip to the land of Angkor Wat and ancestor worship and rampant friendliness might somehow change me, but I expected this change to be triggered by the fact that about one fifth of this country’s population, including most anyone educated, was wiped out by Pol Pot in the 1970s, or that the United States probably dropped more bombs on Cambodia during Richard Nixon’s presidency than it dropped on Japan in World War II.

Y OU’D be hard-pressed to find a town center, let alone a bricks-and-mortar store, in Kep’s bucolic center, but there’s a buzz of activity at the series of shacks along the water that form the crab market. Here fresh crabs are pulled out of wooden cages that you can see just offshore, and, for $7, cooked with curry and stalks of local Kampot peppercorns to produce an exciting variation of everything I’d ever eaten while wearing a lobster bib. Kep is also, oddly, without a decent beach — the sienna-colored sand at the half-mile-long town beach is clearly the world’s largest accumulation of Cajun rub — but you can take a 20-minute boat ride out to Rabbit Island, where a scattering of pale, tubby Britons and gorgeous Danish girls laze on good sand or on the porch of rented huts and sunning platforms, all amid a scrum of mangrove trees, chickens and slightly confused cows. We set ourselves beachside and Greg pulled out a cigarette pack emblazoned with the name of France’s handsomest-ever movie star — Alain Delon — which he’d bought for 30 cents in town. I thought, I am surrounded by at least three kinds of beauty.

We also took day trips from Kep to a temple cave and to Bokor Mountain. Although taxis, motorbikes and tuk-tuks are plentiful and cheap in Cambodia, we’d decided to hire, at $45 a day, a kind and shy 28-year-old Phnom Penh driver named Toun Bon Thim to take us around in his car, including our subsequent nine-hour drive from the coast up to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat.

When Bon Thim and Greg and I stepped out of the car near the trail to the cave temple, we were greeted by a small band of giddy and adorable Cambodian children who wanted to guide us. The kids — led by a hilarious 14-year-old boy in a T-shirt emblazoned “Parental Advisory” — led us through a muddy rice field to a steep set of wooden stairs (“203 steps. Easy!,” Parental Advisory coached me. “Easy for Mr. New York City!”). Soon we were peering down in a stalactite-dripping cave in which sat a very well-preserved seventh-century brick temple, about the size of four phone booths. Parental Advisory looked at my popped eyes and, aping the helium-pitched voice of a flip teenage girl, he exclaimed, “Ohmygod!” Suddenly I wanted to revoke every sarcastic comment I’d ever made about Angelina Jolie and her Cambodian child; I longed to take Parental Advisory back to New York with us, and turn him into America’s next comedy sensation.

Although most of the two-lane roads that link Cambodia’s bigger cities have been improved and repaved in the past 10 years or so, anyone who jiggles his way in a Jeep up the 19-mile road that is being built on Bokor Mountain in nearby Kampot is vividly, if not violently, reminded of earlier road-based pittedness: by journey’s end you realize that if you were a gallon of paint, not only would you be thoroughly mixed, you would now be a solid. (Loung Ung, a Cambodian writer and land mine activist who has returned to Cambodia some 30 times since escaping in 1980 and moving to Cleveland, told me that before the roads got better, she always packed sports bras for her trips back there.) The top of Bokor Mountain is the site of an abandoned hill station, including an eerie, burned-out palace hotel and a Catholic church where sometimes the fog sneaks up on you so thick that you can’t see your hand in front of you. The site was the setting for the climax of the 2002 Matt Dillon crime thriller, “City of Ghosts.”

“Almost every place in Cambodia has a ghost story attached to it,” Ms. Ung said. “I think it’s because we practice Theravada Buddhism: our gods are able to cross between the borders of the world. And we believe that our ancestors are always with us. When so many people died in our country in the ’70s, we ended up with a lot of haunted, unresolved lives. It’s not fear, it’s respect.”

Indeed, Greg and I got our own taste of unresolved living one afternoon in Kep. We were staying at a place called the Veranda — a series of funky bamboo and wood treehouses, many with terrific views of the Gulf of Thailand and the Vietnamese island Pho Quoc. Greg was lying in the hammock on our porch when he heard a series of mewling, feline cries coming from above him, followed by a soft thump. When he went into our bungalow, he saw first the air vent over our bathroom ceiling and then something more unusual: a kitten had landed in our shower. That night over drinks I told a fellow guest, “I think it’s a message from on high.” The man concurred: “Yes. And the message is: a kitten has landed in your shower.”

The theme of untethered animals is one that reasserts itself not infrequently in Cambodia. After Kep, we spent a relaxed day in sleepy Kampot — a placid riverfront lined with colonial-era buildings increasingly being renovated by expatriates — pottering around the second-hand bookstore and taking in the view of Bokor Mountain.

From Kampot we drove three hours to the coast’s most developed town, Sihanoukville, a drive during which we dodged cows, dogs and a monkey that had parked in the road in the manner of an irritable and recently deposed dictator. But the more common life-threateners were other human drivers, whose conception of the word “lane” can only be described as elastic. I asked Bon Thim if most Cambodians believed in reincarnation, and he said yes. I posited, “This may explain why they drive this way.” Equally thrilling to behold were the loads that we saw heaped onto motorbikes — huge, jodhpur-shaped bundles of firewood or morning glories; a bureau and a desk; four twin mattresses; an IV drip; a family of four. Bon Thim told us: “On New Year’s, when workers travel home, there is even more stacking. Sometimes 20 people stacked on the roof of cars or trucks. Sometimes driver has someone seated between him and his door.”

In Sihanoukville, we reveled in the pleasures that the rest of the coast, however lovely, had denied us: white sand beaches, shopping, non-restaurant-based night life. The beaches ranged from the utterly pristine and private one at our hotel, the Independence — where Jackie Kennedy and Ms. Deneuve are said to have stayed and which earned the nickname the Ghost Hotel after the Khmer Rouge used it as a redoubt during their occupation of Sihanoukville — to the very crowded Occheuteal, lined with food shacks and vendors. During our visit to Occheuteal, I bought a bunch of litchis for a dollar from a woman carrying them on her head, but passed up requests to rent an inner tube (50 cents an hour), be massaged in my chair ($6 an hour), have my back hair “threaded” ($5), or hear a blind man sing (unspecified). Greg and I parked ourselves at one of the food shacks and started people-watching; we rewarded ourselves with mango shakes (mango ice and sweetened condensed milk are put in a blender and frothed to a fare-thee-well).

To shop in a country where the average daily wage is less than a dollar a day is to suddenly want to pay retail. Some of the arenas of this strange inclination are more direct than others: both of the shopping haunts that drew our attention were charity-based. On the muddy, trash-flecked dirt road that leads to Serendipity Beach, the northwestern end of Occheuteal Beach, we found the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project, where kids who are kept out of school and forced into selling wares or themselves on the beach are given free language classes and painting lessons. We each bought a painting ($4 each, plus $1.50 each for frames). A few hours later we found ourselves at Rajana, a gift shop whose proceeds go to teaching young Cambodians handicraft skills. We marveled over the jewelry made from recycled bomb shells ($28 to $32) and key rings made from recycled bullets (95 cents), prior to buying lots of silk scarves ($6 to $30) and lemon-grass candles in bamboo holders ($1.75).

Outside of the tinkly piano-bar womb of Sihanoukville’s two high-end hotels — the Independence and the Sokha — the town’s night life caters mostly to backpackers and beach bunnies, some of them just in from party capitals like Phuket or Vang Vieng, and eager to shimmer and effloresce over cocktails. A stroll down Serendipity Beach will bring you in contact with fire throwers, mystics, British Vogue photographers, sex tourists and many, many opportunities to indulge in something called a “vodka bucket.” Here is the youth of the world, working hard to forget the inequities of working for an understaffed and poorly run N.G.O.; here is the youth of the world, working hard to remember the name of the French dude they just made out with. The signs of these revelers’ impact on the local economy are not hard to find — certain beach bar/guesthouses offer a free night’s lodging to those of their young customers willing to hand out fliers on the beach for an hour; the business card for one local bar included a map which pinpointed the locations of 1) the bar 2) an A.T.M. and 3) the hospital.

Once Greg and I had been home for two weeks, I contemplated whether my day-to-day life had been changed by the trip. I’d stopped e-mailing Bon Thim by then; I’d also burned through our lemon-grass candles, and distributed all our scarves and effervescent codeine and Alain Delon cigarettes. I’d given up trying to recreate the fabulousness of the mango shake that I’d had on the beach. I’d even — was it possible? — stared at our sunset-at-Knai Bang Chatt pictures so long that I had robbed them of their power. Things seemed fairly ... status quo. A wonderful status quo — but a status quo nevertheless.

And then I remembered. We’re adopting a cat.

THE LUXURIOUS PRESENT MEETS THE RAVAGED PAST

GETTING THERE AND AROUND


Any leg of the triangle that is Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville-Kep will take about three and a half hours by taxi and cost $30 to $60, depending on your negotiation skills. A tuk-tuk to Kampot or Bokor Mountain and back will run about $25. The ever-reliable Toun Bon Thim can be reached at bonthim@yahoo.com. Several airlines, including Cathay Pacific (with a stop in Hong Kong) and Korean Air (with a stop in Seoul), have flights from Kennedy Airport in New York, with round-trip fares in April starting at about $1,300, based on a recent Web search.

WHERE TO STAY

Knai Bang Chatt (Phum Thmey Sangat Prey, Thom Khan Kep; 855-12-879-486; www.knaibangchatt.com) serves breakfast at a rough-hewn 24-foot-long table under a palapa overlooking the sea, where dinner (about $38 for two) is also served. Guests have use of Hobie Cat sailboats. Doubles from $150 — U.S. dollars are accepted at hotels, restaurants and shops — in the high season (October through March); otherwise from $110.

At the Veranda (Kep Mountain Hillside Road; 855-12-888-619; www.veranda-resort.com) doubles start at $25. The resort’s bar and restaurant, with the sight of gorgeous sunsets, is quite good, and serves mostly Western food (dinner for two, about $26). Doubles from $25.

The Independence (Street 2 Thnou, Sangkat No. 3; 855-34-943-3003; www.independencehotel.net), stylishly refurbished in 2007, is, along with the Sokha, Sihanoukville’s most luxurious beachfront property. You’ll need to take a tuk-tuk (about $5 one way) if you want to go into town or to the public beaches. Doubles from $140.

WHERE TO EAT

At Kimly (to the left of the restaurants at the crab market along the waterfront in Kep; 855-12-435-096), the crab with Kampot pepper is the local specialty. The shrimp tom yum soup and the shrimp with Kampot pepper are also worth trying. Dinner for two, about $20.

Rikitikitavi (River Road, Kampot; 855-12-235-102; www.rikitikitavi-kampot.com) is on a balcony overlooking the river. A delicious fish amok — a kind of Cambodian curry that is steamed instead of boiled — is served in a banana leaf. The cook is a former sous-chef at the InterContinental in Phnom Penh. Lunch for two, about $15.

Chhner Molop Chrey (Krong Street, Mondul 3, along the waterfront of Victory Beach in Sihanoukville; 855-34-933-708) is a long-established seafood restaurant, serving fresh fish, shrimp and crabs along the waterfront. Dinner for two, about $16.

WHAT TO DO

At Massage (Champey Inn, 25 Avenue de la Plage, Kep), the setting (under a palapa, and not too far from the sea) is especially nice. Expect to pay $10 for traditional hourlong massage; $15 for oil massage.

Bokor Mountain. Visits to the top of the mountain are in a state of flux while the road is being built. You may be required to go with a ranger in his Jeep ($40, plus $5 park entrance; ask at the park entrance), or you may be able to go in a group tour (try Sok Lim Tours, 855-12-719-872; www.soklimtours.com) for $10, plus admission fee.

Rajana (down the alley at 62 7 Makara Street; 855-23-993-642; www.rajanacrafts.org) in Sihanoukville is one of a chain of nonprofit stores, with wonderful textiles, and some clothing and knickknacks. The N.G.O.-run garden cafe downstairs serves good light meals, and is a fine place to cool off.

HENRY ALFORD is a contributing editor at Travel & Leisure and Vanity Fair, and the author of “How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth).”