Monday, June 22, 2009

Cambodia's Poi Pet : On the mean streets

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Written by May Titthara and Eleanor Ainge Roy
MONDAY, 22 JUNE 2009
POIPET

Rising numbers of street children are turning up in the once-lawless border town, lured there by lax law enforcement, gang protection and easy pickings.
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Photo by: ELEANOR AINGE ROY
One of an estimated 850 children working in Poipet collects cans to recycle earlier this month. NGO workers are struggling to help the burgeoning population of street children in the border town.

THE sun had not yet risen over the border town of Poipet in northwestern Cambodia, when Sous Veasna, 10, began his daily march to Thailand. With him were a dozen other children, still rubbing the sleep from their eyes as they passed the gaudy Las Vegas Casino and the faded Tropicana.

This gang, made up mostly of children less than 15 years old, is one of many operating between the porous border of Poipet and Aranyaprathet, Thailand.

"The town is getting a reputation as a good place for orphans and street children to live," said one border officer who has been living in Poipet for 15 years and identified himself only as Mr Cham.

"There are so many now that they take safety in numbers, and local residents are afraid of them because they steal and take drugs," he said, adding that most border officers turn a blind eye to the children crossing every day through the "black routes" because they know they have no other means of earning a living.

In total, there are around 850 Cambodian street children operating in and around Poipet, said Yan Sam, project co-coordinator of the drop-in centre Damnok Toek.

An estimated 200 to 300 Cambodian street children cross the border to work illegally in Thailand every day, mostly informal work at the Loung Kloeu market, Yan Sam said.

Authorities and NGOs say it is impossible to verify figures. While some of the children spend the occasional night in an NGO drop-in centre, the majority do not, as night is their most profitable time.

"In the night if I have money, I go to buy drugs because they are cheap and they stop me feeling hungry," said one gang member, identified only as Mao, 15.

The Poipet children themselves say the rising number of street kids in the flush casino towns of Aranyaprathet and Poipet is due largely to the fact that street children can fare better there than in other parts of Cambodia. On a good night they might pull in 100 baht to 200 baht (US$2.91 to $5.82) from a generous punter with a lucky hand.

More typically, street children earn between 20 baht and 40 baht per day, 50 percent of which they must give to their gang leader.

"If I don't earn enough money, the older gangsters will beat me," says Sao Sreyny, 7. Despite the threat of physical abuse, she says she stays with the gang for want of any route out of the marginalised existence she has fallen into.

"I know the things I do are bad for society, but society does not care about me, and the big gangster will give me drugs, so I regard him as my father."

Gangland rules
According to Kheav Bory from the rights group Adhoc, most of Poipet's street children are organised into gangs, which are usually about 50 to 60 members strong. The older gangsters, generally aged between 20 and 25 years, make their living "leading" the group, and the younger members pay the older members to take care of them.


I know the things I do are bad for society, but society does not care about me.


In return they are offered protection from rival gangs, food and often drugs - usually glue or metamphetamine - to feed their addictions, which Adhoc claims many gang members actually encourage as a means to control the children.

Drug use is endemic, while physical and sexual abuse is common and likely to go unpunished, Kheav Bory said.

"The local authorities largely ignore the gangs of street children, as they have no way to make money off of them," Kheav Bory said.

"They will only act when the gangs turn violent towards each other, or robberies become too frequent."

Young gang members say they avoid authorities by targeting houses and property outside of the busy Poipet town, meaning they are less likely to get caught.

Because the majority of the child gang members are very young, they benefit from a certain legal immunity - no one under the age of 15 is meant to be sent to prison in Cambodia.

If caught, the children are instead sent to the Poipet Transit Centre, a re-education centre run by the Ministry of Social Affairs. But according to the centre's director, Chheang Maneth, her facility caters mostly to trafficked women and children and has no authority to detain children against their will.

Chheang Maneth also said her centre lacks the resources to deal with violent, drug-addicted children with a history of criminal activity. As a result, the task of looking after the street children's welfare often falls to NGOs such as Damnok Toek and Krousar Thmey, which have been set up specifically to work with them.

Both organisations send their staff members out at night several times a week to try to persuade the children to stay in their facilities.

But by their own admission, they are only reaching a fraction of Poipet's street-kid population. In June, Krousar Thmey received only 23 children at their drop-in centre. The concern is that Poipet is gaining a reputation as a street child's paradise, with lax authorities, easy access to drugs and numerous options for begging and stealing.

"The government needs to put pressure on the authorities to force these street children into our drop-in centres," says Sin Bunyang, a peer educator at Krousar Thmey.

"They are getting more powerful and no one can be bothered to deal with them," he said.

Though NGOs like Krousar Thmey blame the authorities for not doing enough, immigration officer Sao Bunrith says the Poipet authorities are working hard to tackle the problem of rogue children.

"We don't know how many children cross the border daily, but if we catch them we send them to the Poipet Transit Centre for re-education." he said.

But for many of the street kids, like Mao, 15, the lack of support from the government or NGOs condemns him to continuing with his life on the streets.

"I don't want to do this, but I have no choice. I feel like I am in hell now, I am not a person and also not a ghost," he told the Post.

Toll Group to operate Cambodian railways

The Toll Group, one of the Asian region's leading providers of integrated logistics services, has signed an agreement with the Royal Government of Cambodia to operate the country's railways under a thirty year concession.

Under the concession agreement with the Cambodian Government, a joint venture between Toll, the majority partner (55%) and the Royal Group (45%), will become the operator of the Cambodian rail network and related freight logistics.

The Royal Group is a Cambodian conglomerate with successful operations in a range of businesses in Cambodia including banking, telecommunications and the media.

"This agreement complements Toll's existing presence in Cambodia through its oil and gas logistics operation. As the operator of the railways, we now have a strong strategic partnership with the Government of Cambodia that will see future benefits for Toll and the Cambodian people," said Paul Little, Managing Director of the Toll Group.

"The Cambodian Government has committed in our agreement to seeing more freight transported by rail. They have acknowledged that an efficient intermodal rail and integrated logistics operation will underpin Cambodia's economic development both locally and across the Asian region.

"Over time, the Cambodian railways are likely to become a vital part of the planned rail link between Singapore and China which will include Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. As the long term operator of the Cambodian railways through its involvement in the joint venture, the Toll Group will be excellently placed if the planned expansion occurs," said Mr Little.

Siem Reap’s 4th Golf Course: Cambodia

Last week Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen presided over the groundbreaking ceremony at Bellus Angkor Resort and City, a US$ 470-million project undertaken by the Korean developer Intercity Group.

The project will be built on a 265-hectare site located 22 kilometres north of Angkor Thom. In addition to a 1,500 room hotel and resort, water park, shopping malls and entertainment centre, the complex will be home to Siem Reap’s fourth international standard golf course. The construction of a forth golf course will strengthen Siem Reap’s claim of being South East Asia’s newest golfing destination.

For excellent golf holidays in Siem Reap contact: info@asia-adventures.com

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cambodia's last frontier falls

By Stephen Kurczy

RATANAKIRI – The remoteness of Cambodia's northeast once made it an ideal hideout for Vietcong, Khmer Rouge, wildlife poachers and illegal loggers. The same isolation had in recent years drawn adventure travelers to the once jungle-covered province, which is now struggling to strike an equitable balance between eco-tourism and sustainable natural resource extraction.

After decades of civil war and lawlessness, Cambodia is now politically stable and promoting tourism to generate foreign currency earnings. Bordering Laos and Vietnam, Ratanakiri now has the infrastructure - a paved road that stops 96 kilometers from the provincial capital, Banlung - and a range of accommodations to host amateur explorers.

The Lonely Planet guidebook refers to the province as "a colorful hotchpotch of natural beauty and cultural diversity". The Wall Street Journal Asia recently labeled it "one of the last frontiers of Asian adventure travel". Those picture-perfect assessments have drawn bigger and bigger crowds: according to the Tourism Ministry, visitors to Ratanakiri surged from 6,000 in 2002 to over 105,000 in 2008.

However those expecting to find pristine forests teeming with wildlife are increasingly disappointed to find lifeless patches of freshly cut tree stumps. Officials say they are doing everything in their limited powers to protect the areas, but the market forces driving resource extraction are often too powerful to resist.

"Forests everywhere are a frontline between conservation and development. It's not easy to say which way to go," said Chheang Dany, deputy director of the Forestry Administration's Wildlife Protection Office. That frontline is slowly but surely receding in resource-rich Ratanakiri.

En route to the province's picturesque waterfalls, unregulated gem mines pockmark the landscape. Recently the government approved a Spanish company's 100,000-hectare plan to establish a game reserve, drawing ire from conservationists who fear it will lead to over-hunting in the area. Meanwhile the mystical "spirit" forests of minority hill tribes are yielding to the commercial impulse of rubber and cashew nut plantations.

The competition between development and conservation is exemplified inside the province's 3,325-square kilometer Virachey National Park. Conservation International, a US-based group that strives to empower grass roots communities in jungles and deserts to make conservation part of their livelihoods, has called the park "potentially one of Cambodia's most biologically diverse protected areas".

Yet many of those tasked with protecting the park, including police and rangers, are known to supplement their meager official salaries through collusion with loggers and poachers. Asia Times Online recently took a three-hour boat ride up the SeSan and Ta Bok rivers, followed by a seven-hour trek along the leech-infested Ho Chi Minh Trail inside the park.

There, a freshly cut tree blocked the path. So Sokoeun, a guide and part-time park ranger, speculated that military police likely cut the log to sell on the black market. "The military police don't make enough money, so they need to do illegal activities," So Sokoeun said, adding that each two-meter-long section of the log could sell for several thousand dollars.

His assessment of police abuse of power is supported broadly by documentary evidence. According to a 2007 report compiled by British environmental watchdog Global Witness, "The police are frequently implicated in forest crime and border police units played a lead role in the massive illegal logging of the Virachey National Park in Ratanakiri in 2003-2004."

The report cited an infamous illegal logging case that involved a former park ranger, Yerb Sat, whom police allegedly got drunk on rice wine and forced to sign papers allowing logging in his section of the park. "Police threatened to kill him if he didn't sign," his wife said during an interview at her stilted home on the southern edge of the park.

Yerb Sat was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison as part of a bust that implicated the province's former governor and military chief, who both fled Cambodia to escape arrest. Because much of Virachey's timber and animals are sold to Vietnamese buyers, illegal activity focuses in the park's so-called Dragon's Tail - where Cambodia comes to a point between Laos and Vietnam.

Denuded dragon
During a three-month patrol of the Dragon's Tail during early 2008, So Sokoeun arrested eight groups of poachers and loggers, he said. Kham Phon, another guide who accompanied Asia Times Online through Virachey, is a former trader of illegal timber and live animals taken from the park. He said in the 1990s he would stack cages filled with sun bears and monitor lizards on the back of his motorbike and drive clandestinely by night to meet buyers along the Vietnamese border.

Police caught him once, he said, but he paid a bribe and drove on. A decade ago, a live sun bear sold for US$200; now, as the animals become more rare, the same creature fetches $1,500 on the black market, he said. "Many of the animals now are gone," said Kham Phon, who gave up his illegal trade in 1998 to become a park ranger.

The price of illegal timber has also skyrocketed, quadrupling in the past year to between $4,000 and $8,000 per cubic meter, said Pen Bonnar, the provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc. To deter illegal logging and trapping inside Virachey, from 2000 to early 2009 the World Bank provided about $2.8 million for additional rangers, training and environmental studies.

In an October 2008 report, the bank stated the program "probably contributed to poverty alleviation by providing community grants and creating local employment opportunities in the [park]. On the other hand, it probably reduced income generation from lucrative illegal activities such as hunting, fishing, logging and unregulated collection of non-timber forest products."

However the bank ended its support for Virachey in March, partly in response to the Cambodian government's controversial decision in 2007 to grant a mineral exploration license to Australia-based Indochine Resources that covered 60% of the 3,325-square-kilometer park. Indochine's geologists have since sent numerous helicopter expeditions to take rock and soil samples.

Virachey park director Chou Sophark said in an interview that he hasn't enough resources for dedicating a ranger to monitoring Indochine Resources' activities. Without World Bank funding, the park had to reduce its number of rangers from 70 to 55 and cut monthly salaries from $70 to around $30. The cuts, environmentalists note, coincide with rising prices for animals and timber on the black market, raising the incentive for illegal poaching and logging.

Even if the World Bank continued its financial support for Virachey, Adhoc's Pen Bonnar said illegal logging and trapping would continue "because all the local authorities - the police, courts, provincial authorities - are part of the problem".

With the tourism industry suffering from the global economic downturn, it will likely be even harder for locals to see the long-term benefits of conservation over the short-term profitability of natural resource extraction.

International arrivals to Cambodia fell 2.2% year-on-year in the first four months of 2009 and Ratanakiri-based guides and guesthouse owners say arrivals have slumped. Pierre-Yves Clais, owner of Terres Rouges, an upscale lodge in Banlung, said he has nearly lost hope that Ratanakiri can be saved from resource extraction-led development.

Clais said he watched as the long road to Banlung - once hidden beneath a canopy of old growth trees - was transformed by illegal logging into open fields. Independent estimates show that Cambodia lost 29% of its primary tropical forest in the five-year period spanning 2000 to 2005.

"Whenever I see a nice piece of forest, I know it's doomed," said the former French soldier, who first came to Cambodia with the United Nations-backed peacekeeping authority in 1992. Clais said that he loved Cambodia's pristine forests and native cultures so much that he decided to stay.

"It was so nice back then. But I don't have the same feeling about it because of the destruction of the local environment and local cultures, primarily by the Cambodian people," said Clais. "Every day they destroy it more."

Chheang Dany, the official at the government's Wildlife Protection Office, said if conservation and development are to find equilibrium, provincial authorities must respect the law, locals must protect the environment and businesses must invest in tourism.

"Virachey National Park, bigger than Singapore, only generates 10 to 20 tourists a day. How can we generate the revenue for the rangers to guard the park?" he said. "We want to preserve the natural resources and promote the sustainable use for the economy. It's not easy to find a solution, to do it equally."

"I'd love to say it's not too late," said Clais, "but who's going to enforce that policy? If there is going to be hope for Ratanakiri, who is going to bring it? Superman?"

Stephen Kurczy is an Asia Times Online contributor based in Cambodia. He may be reached at kurczy@gmail.com.

Vietnam To Build $438 Million Railway To Cambodia

HANOI -(Dow Jones)- Vietnam will spend $438 million to build a railway linking the economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City with Cambodia, the Ministry of Transport said Tuesday.

The 128.5-kilometer railway from Ho Chi Minh City to the border with Cambodia will form part of the Trans-Asia Railway linking Singapore and Kunming, China, the ministry said in a statement.

Vietnam expects to get official development assistance from China and other international donors to build the railway, it said.

A feasibility study on the project is being prepared by a Chinese consulting consortium and should be submitted to the Vietnam Railway Department later this month, the ministry said.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poipet: Where Cambodians Are Trafficked into Thailand


I had traveled to Cambodia's "wild west" border town of Poipet, in search of a story about human trafficking.

It was certainly the edgiest assignment I'd ever undertaken with World Vision. Everyone knew that trafficking was rife, yet nobody wanted to talk to us about it.

"There are no illegal crossings on our border," said an officer with the Cambodian border police. "Trafficking happens through the immigration post."

"There is no way people can pass through immigration illegally," said a Cambodian immigration officer. "That would require a high level of corruption from both Thai and Cambodian officials. They cross the border instead."

In fact, we were told in an anonymous interview, people go willingly and illegally across borders, across rivers, in casino cars straight through immigration. Hundreds of them every month. As many as half of them under-age.

Our source refused to be named because he said that would endanger his family. He said he was telling us because he was tired of it all, he wanted it to stop. He had children of his own.

The immigration officer told us that one of his duties was to bring back the bodies of Cambodians killed in Thailand. According to him, there were several each month, sometimes shot in bungled drug deals or arrests, sometimes beaten and left to die, or drowned in the river that forms the border.

Most of them had crossed illegally; without paperwork, it was difficult, upsetting, and sometimes impossible, to identify them.

"Why do people go with traffickers?" I asked everyone I met.

"Because they are poor. Because here they earn $3 a day; there they earn $8."

"Are children trafficked?" I asked.

"Yes," they answered. "But not on our watch."

Grasping at Poipet's slippery underbelly felt more like investigation than reporting. I will admit to suffering a twinge of regret that I could not push harder, break the crime rings with an exclusive "hidden camera" expose and the masked evidence of my anonymous source.

But in fact, what World Vision is already doing is probably more important than that. One major solution to the problem lies in advocacy, in working with governments across borders on their will to change, working with communities to teach them how to protect themselves and understand their rights.

World Vision has formed and joined coalitions that push governments to ratify and uphold legislation, including last year's groundbreaking Thailand law that finally recognized that boys and men could be considered victims of trafficking.

Last year World Vision also hosted a workshop for border authorities in Poipet, with both Thai and Cambodian officials in attendance to learn about the causes, effects and legalities of human trafficking.

Many of the police we met told us with pride that they had been in attendance.

"The situation is definitely improving," our source told us.

It's not time to rest just yet, though. Poipet is still a transient, dirty, lawless little town. Poverty still pushes people to take risks that will cost them dearly.

We met Phu Pean, a grandmother at home with her two grandchildren; her daughter travels across the border to Thailand each day to make shoes at 2 baht a pair.

"When should children work?" I asked her.

"Oh, once they can talk," she said. "Then they are able to look after themselves."

"Your grandchildren are talking now," I told her. "Would you ever send them to live and work in Thailand?"

She thought. "I would," she said, "but I don't know how to find the people that would take them."

At least -- unlike most of the other people I met in Poipet -- she was telling the truth.

-- Katie Chalk

World Vision released a report today called "Ten Things You Need to Know About Human Trafficking" [PDF]. Video of the interview with Phu Pean, as well as other people living and working in Poipet, is available online at World Vision.

Katie Chalk is a writer and researcher who has been working for World Vision in the Asia-Pacific for the last four years.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Vietnam's deepwater port expected to have knockon effect in Cambodia


Written by Hor Hab
THURSDAY, 11 JUNE 2009

New port outside Ho Chi Minh City will see rerouting of region's sea routes, analysts say, giving Cambodia greater role in links to North America and reduced shipping cost

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Photo by: NGUON SOVAN
Sihanoukville Autonoumous Port may see reduced traffic, analysts said, due to higher-priced handling costs and competition from Phnom Penh’s port, but overall Cambodia is expected to benefit from Cai Mep.
THE June 1 opening of Vietnam's first deepwater port in Cai Mep, outside of Ho Chi Minh City, will benefit Cambodia's sea transportation by reducing transit periods and cutting costs, the shipping industry says.

MOL America, one of the world's largest transportation companies, said Monday in a press release that it would ship via Phnom Penh to Cai Mep instead of going to Singapore to cut North American shipping times by up to 10 days.

"Direct barge service to Ho Chi Minh [City] will reduce intermodal travel, while completely eliminating the need for feeder services and trans-shipping in Singapore," it said. "In addition to reduced transit times, customers will also experience cost savings."

As well as increased through traffic, the main benefits for Cambodia, said Hei Bavy, general director of Phnom Penh Autonomous Port, is that exports from the Kingdom would also no longer have to rely solely on Hong Kong and Singapore - vessels can now travel directly from the southern Vietnamese port to North America, while large vessels will also be able to dock closer to Cambodia, also cutting costs for domestic businesses.


There will be some effect ... but the level of impact is not yet known.


"With the new deepwater terminal in South Vietnam, we can save about three to four days [in travel time] and US$300 per container by not transiting through Singapore Port, instead leaving directly from Vietnam Deepwater Terminal to the United States and Europe," Hei Bavy said.

Phnom Penh Autonomous Port would likely see an upswing in traffic as a result, he added - due to its status as the capital and centre for the transportation of goods - while Sihanoukville Autonomous Port could be expected to see a drop in activity. Sihanoukville also has higher handing fees than competing ports, analysts said, including the new Vietnamese deepwater port.

Phnom Penh sees about 15 percent of Cambodia's container traffic with Sihanoukville accounting for 75 percent and the remainder passing overland. Sihanoukville port offers roughly double the capacity of Phnom Penh.

Lou Kim Chhun, director general of Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, said Cai Mep could result in a drop in traffic at Cambodia's busiest port - admitting he was concerned - but that preparations had been made to boost cooperation and competitiveness.

"We have also shipped containers to Ho Chi Minh City, so it won't affect us much because we can transit to Ho Chi Minh City instead of going through Singapore or Hong Kong," he said.

Lower costs and faster services would likely prove an incentive for more companies in Cambodia to use shipping services overall, said Hei Bavy.

Phnom Penh Port had aimed to increase traffic by 20 percent in 2009 year-on-year on the 50,000 containers that passed through the capital, he said. With the opening of Vietnam's port, Hei Bevy said he hopes that this target will be surpassed.

Port expansion
Phnom Penh is planning to expand capacity by targeting a loan from China to develop a new port location that would see just 25 percent of traffic going through the capital housed at the original Phnom Penh port, he said, adding that it was a five- to 10-year plan to bring port services closer to businesses in Cambodia in a bid to boost economic activity.

Overland transport would also rise as Cambodia sees an increase in through transit due to its strategic position close to the Cai Mep port, So Nguon, director of So Nguon Group and So Nguon Transportation and Service Import-Export, said Wednesday.

"Imports and exports - especially garment raw materials and products - will increase considerably," he said, adding he expected overland traffic to rise by up to 15 percent.

Cambodia and Vietnam this year agreed to facilitate cross-border trade by permitting the checking of cargo on just one side of the frontier.

"We can save about five days ... if we compare the period of transiting from Sihanoukville Port to Singapore before heading to US markets, but we do not yet know the costs," said So Nguon.

He said he did not expect Sihanoukville port to be significantly affected due to the realignment of trade routes in the region following the opening of Cai Mep.

Sin Chanthy, general secretary of Cambodia Freight Forwarders Association, said that in the current economic climate, the opening of Cai Mep was good news given that it would cut costs and increase efficiency.

It was still to early too tell how significant the new Vietnamese port would be for Cambodia, however, he said.

"There will be some effect on Cambodia's seaports, but the level of impact is not yet known because we have to wait and see what will happen in the next two or three months," said Sin Chanthy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ASIA: Land grabs threaten food security


Photo: Carmela Fonbuena/IRIN
Rich food importers are acquiring vast tracts of farmland in various parts of Asia

Wednesday 10 June 2009

PHNOM PENH, 10 June 2009 (IRIN) - Sam Pov, a rice farmer in Cambodia’s western Battambang Province, is very worried that his land will be taken over by a foreign investor.

"I've heard the rumours about [Kuwait and Qatar]. I heard they might get our land because they need food," he said.

"The commune leaders haven't talked to us yet, and I don't think they will if the time comes. This is a good time for them to get paid and get huge benefits."

Last year, delegations from oil-rich Kuwait and Qatar visited the impoverished nation, eyeing leases on land to export food back home - a move that could leave many Cambodians without enough food, say activists and NGOs.

Kuwait has reportedly offered US$546 million to the Southeast Asian nation in loans for dams and roads, while Qatar will invest $200 million in agriculture.

And while the government has not yet announced what the Gulf States will get in return, they have publicly expressed interest in the country’s farmland.

"Cambodia has plenty of farmland and forests but has been suffering from land grabbing by the government as well as influential people for years," Jin Ju, a food rights activist at the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) , told IRIN from Hong Kong.

"I doubt that [either] government would consider the villagers and farmers as equal decision-makers," she said.

Evictions

Forced evictions, mostly to build hotels and high-end apartments, have been a problem in Cambodia since the UN peacekeeping force left in 1993.

Adhoc, the Cambodian human rights watchdog, estimates 50,000 people were evicted to make way for development projects in 2006 and 2007 alone.

The problem arose because most land documents were destroyed under the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979, making it unclear who owns what.

Yet the practice in Cambodia of leasing land to Gulf States for farming - and the rate at which the land is being siphoned off - is new, say food rights groups.

"The governments [Kuwait and Cambodia] should select appropriate land through discussion with the villagers, and combine the traditional farming in Cambodia and new technology for farming," Ju added.

Food insecurity

The problem of land grabbing by foreign investors and governments, however, extends well beyond the confines of Cambodia.

Elsewhere in Asia similar examples can be seen, as well as in Africa. According to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), between 15 and 20 million hectares of farmland in such countries have been subject to transactions or negotiations since 2006.

IFPRI estimates the value of such deals at up to $30 billion.

Ever since high food prices in 2007 and 2008 raised the prospect of food insecurity for countries without much farmland, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have scoured Asia for land.

China, which has to feed more than one billion people, is also looking to Southeast Asia to sustain its breakneck growth.

"Not only will it displace small farmers as such investments have done in Indonesia," said Amitava Mukherjee, head of the UN Asian and Pacific Centre for Agricultural Engineering and Machinery in Beijing, "but it will also have serious environmental consequences … [and] given that UAE and Kuwait are leasing land, not buying it, [they] would have no interest in long-term development of the farmland they are seeking access to".

He added that the comments were his own and did not reflect the views of the UN.

In Kamukhaan village in the Philippines, such effects have become well documented, according to the AHRC.

Since a Filipino company took over 613ha in the village to build a banana plantation in 1981 - to supply US-based fruit company Dole - hundreds of villagers have suffered skin and respiratory ailments from pesticide use, the group claims.

"The farmers had lost their farmland, their children, their natural sources, their health and their future," Ju said.

"Now the Philippines' food sovereignty is absent and the self-sufficiency is almost zero," she claimed.

In the Philippines this year, Bahrain secured 10,000ha for agro-fishery, Qatar leased 100,000ha, and an unknown company from China leased 1.24 million hectares, though the deal has been put on hold, according to an April policy briefing by IFPRI.

Such deals are often done in secret, it says, stopping civil society groups from overseeing the terms and defending the rights of local farmers.

In Myanmar, Chinese companies have driven farmers off their land to cultivate an oil plant, according to Welt Hunger Hilfe, a German NGO.

The farmers already faced seasonal changes that threatened food security, but had their last source of food taken from them by the government, the group says.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Telecommunication System In Cambodia Is Having Problems Because Of Overlapping Frequency Ranges – Friday, 5.6.2009

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 615

“The telecom system in Cambodia is seen as progressing strongly at present, but in the background, it is facing some technical problems. If there is no correction, there might be more problems for the users.

“A telecom expert said recently that the telecom system in Cambodia is having many problems, and the major one is the overlapping of frequency ranges, while the various telecom systems are progressing in Cambodia.

“At present, telecommunications in Cambodia have improved a lot – a few years ago, there were only 3 big mobile phone companies, but now there are 9; even if one counts only the system access numbers [011, 012, 016, 017, etc.], one can see there are many. The number of Internet Service Providers, which was previously 4 or 5 only, now has increased to about 30.

“This expert said, ‘The frequencies allocated are too close, and sometimes, when we deviate just a bit, there are problems for the users.’

“Regarding this problem, an official of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, who asked not to be named, said by telephone on 4 June 2009 that it is true that there is an overlapping of frequency ranges, but this is not because the ministry had provided too many licenses to different companies. The problem relates to installation techniques.

“He said, ‘The frequencies overlap because of incorrect installations, and when we check to correct this, the problem can be solved.’

“Besides the problems of overlapping frequencies, the overlapping of licenses provided is also another complicated problem.

“The same expert added that sometimes, the problem is not only that frequency installations result in their spread and overlap, but also the provision of overlapping licenses makes it for him, a technical expert, difficult to solve.

“He said, ‘As I know, just with the WiMax technology alone (a new technology used to provide Internet services to mobile phones), about 20 systems are provided with overlapping licenses.’

‘He continued to say that generally, WiMax technology is used with mobile phones only, but here, companies providing television over the Internet also have licenses to use it.

“Relating to this issue, the president of the Information and Communication Technology Association of Cambodia, Mr. Nang Rada, said that the problems of the telecom system in the country exists because Cambodia has no systematic law and no policy to regulate the telecom systems. [The World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) lists the Information and Communication Technology Association of Cambodia as a member].

“He added, ‘We do not have a telecom law and a related policy, and therefore, our telecom system has problems.

“According to Mr. Rada, the problems in communicating between different systems [for example from a 011 phone to a 012 phone, etc.] result from the non-existence of a telecom law as a basis [to regulate interconnections].

“He added, ‘The difficulties in calling from one system to another exist because we do not have a regulating law.’

“The same official of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication stated that a draft law is at the Council of Ministers and is awaiting discussion.” Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4912, 5.6.2009

US Marine Meets Extended Family While Deployed in Cambodia


III Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Stefanie Pupkiewicz



An hour and a half outside of Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, a man in a cowboy hat wearing a blue surgical mask waits anxiously as a van pulls up.

One of the passengers is his nephew, Bunthoeun Ham, whose parents fled Cambodia in the 1970's to escape the bloody and violent hand of the Khmer Rouge and the civil wars that followed its fall from power.

The van arrives and the man in the cowboy hat, Moun Ey, approaches his nephew and sweeps him into an embrace that leaves no doubt they are family, even though this is their first time meeting.

Ham is a petty officer 3rd class in the U.S. Navy who served as the Khmer translator for the 3rd Medical Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, during the Cambodia Interoperability Program 2009.

It was the combination of good timing and eavesdropping that got Ham, a personnel specialist with the personnel support detachment, CLR 37, 3rd MLG, his place on the 3rd Medical Battalion deployment to Cambodia as their translator and ultimately his opportunity to meet the family that his parents had forlornly left behind.

In November, Ham arrived on Okinawa for his second tour and while checking in he overheard Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Craig, who was one of the coordinators for the Cambodia Interoperability Program 2009, speaking about 3rd Medical Battalion's deployment to Cambodia. Ham inserted himself into the conversation and vouched for his credentials as a native speaker.

Ham did not hear anything for a few months but followed the recommendations of Craig to get his passport and medical records in order then he was contacted by Craig, followed by a phone call in Khmer. On the other end was Maj. John Cherry, the Cambodian foreign affairs officer for the III Marine Expeditionary Force. Cherry asked Ham a few questions and the stuttering petty officer replied in Khmer, receiving a stamp of approval from Cherry.

Within weeks he was touching down in Phnom Penh with a plane full of Marines and sailors who had no ability to speak the language. A language that he had spoken his entire life, but when he stepped off the plane he was anxious about how good his Khmer was.

He didn't have the opportunity to avoid his role as translator. The officials from the airport who were processing the passports of the service members recognized his name as Khmer and sought him out.

Ham felt shy and stuttered a bit during his first Khmer exchange, he said.

But, he got used to it quickly. Over the next two weeks, he was immersed in the culture and language that he had always known was his but had never truly experienced, Ham said.

The Cambodia that Ham found was not the Cambodia that his parents left behind. Their Cambodia was victim to constant gun battles, the sounds of which echoed almost constantly across the rice paddies.

The refugees would move about in large groups and Ham's parents told him, "You just stayed in the middle and tried not to get shot."

Ham's visit to the Killing Fields, where thousands of Cambodians were killed during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge made Ham realize the sheer scale of the horrors his parents endured, he said. But, the people of Cambodia have recovered from those horrors.

Phnom Penh is a budding metropolis filled with new construction and motorbikes that seem to drive with little caution. The provinces, where the medical and dental civil action project occurred and his family live are developing.

"You see growth everywhere, and I know there is plenty of room for more," Ham said.

The medical and dental civil action project was deeply rewarding for him, Ham said.

In Khmer, people are referred to as older brother or older sister instead of sir or ma'am, so, for Ham, that meant he was helping the members of his very large extended family, he said.

It was his meeting with his actual family though that moved him to tears because of all of the sacrifices that his parents made to ensure that he and his siblings had a better life. He took special liberty to be able to visit them and see all the sights. The visit allowed him to see the life that he would have had if his parents hadn't left, Ham said.

The visit to his parents' villages took careful navigation on narrow roads and then further navigation on foot through the rice paddies to meet everyone.

An afternoon at the sea with his father's family wrapped up the day for Ham and his family. They parted ways thinking it was his last opportunity to see them.

But the next day, after a morning of sightseeing in Phnom Penh, Ham returned to the hotel only to have a Cambodian woman approach him with a strangely familiar face.
Alin, Ham's cousin, waited almost five hours in the lobby of the hotel for him to come back. She had never met or seen him before but her family had said that he looked identical to her father, she said.

She was incredibly anxious and a little scared waiting for Ham to come back from his sight seeing, she said. The hotel staff informed her when he walked in and he was all the way across the lobby and almost into the elevator before she mustered up the courage to speak to her American cousin.

The two spent the next two days getting to know more about each other and exploring Phnom Penh.

It felt good to let Alin experience the city as a tourist with the leisure to eat from food vendors and experience her culture, Ham said. She normally works seven days a week with no days off so that she and her husband can afford to eat and live in their modest apartment.

Ham says that he misses his family now that he has returned to Okinawa, and hopes to be able to return to Cambodia in his role as translator again. His ability to help the Cambodian people and reconnect with his family made his job with 3rd Medical Battalion rewarding.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mu Sochua: One of Cambodia's precious gems

Sara Veal, Contributor ,  Jakarta   |  Tue, 06/02/2009 9:31 AM  |  People

Photo by Lucia De GiovanniPhoto by Lucia De Giovanni

When Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly insulted an unspecified female politician recently, he got more than he bargained for: His implied target turned around and sued him.

The prime minister’s insult might be considered typical in a country with continuing gender inequality, but that didn’t mean Mu Sochua was going to take it lying down.

For 20 years, Mu Sochua has been a voice for exploited Cambodians. As the Vietnam War spread to Cambodia in 1972, the then 18-year-old was exiled, with no chance to say goodbye to her parents, who later vanished under the Khmer Rouge regime. She spent 18 years overseas, studying and working in Paris, the US and Italy and in refugee camps along the Thai–Cambodian border.

Since her return in 1989, she has been hands-on in rebuilding her homeland, first as an activist and now as a politician, focusing on women’s and children’s issues.

“I had the choice of being part of the reconstruction of Cambodia and I took that choice,” said Sochua, a member of parliament for the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), the leading opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

In 1991, Sochua formed the first Khmer women’s organization, Khemara, and joined the FUNCINPEC political party, winning a national assembly seat representing Battambang in 1998. She soon became the first female minister for women’s and veterans’ affairs.

“What prepared me for the job was my early return, before the country was even officially open to the Western world, which put an embargo on it during 1975 to 1990.”

Her first ministerial act was to launch a national campaign for gender equality, Neary Rattanak (Women Are Precious Gems), which transformed an old Khmer proverb, “A man is gold; a woman is a white piece of cloth” into “Men are gold; women are precious gems.”

The rewritten proverb argues that women are as valuable as men; if “dirtied”, they can shine again like gems, rather than be stained forever like a muddied cloth.

However, in July 2004, she resigned, claiming corruption hindered her work. She joined the SRP, becoming the party’s first female secretary-general in 2006.

Her struggle has been recognized by several nominations and awards, including a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nomination and the 2005 Vital Voices Human Rights Global Leadership Award, presented by then US senator Hillary Clinton.

Sochua, who is fluent in English, French and Khmer, and holds degrees in psychology and social work from US universities,  says her international background enhances her work, but only to a point.

“The Western education allows me to know what the international standards are for human rights, for gender equality and for quality of life, and it allows me to set these standards for the women of Cambodia, but in a modified way in order to keep in balance values and culture.

“I am very clear about what can work in Cambodia and what is totally from the West.”

She believes the key to positive change lies in giving people the right to participate in national development without discrimination.

“[Development] must be based on the preservation of the country’s resources, which are plentiful but so badly managed because of corruption and lack of rule of law.”

Sochua’s three daughters have all followed in her humanitarian footsteps. Although she says Asian people look at her with “sorry eyes” when they hear she has no sons, she is fiercely proud of her girls, saying they inspire her to fight even harder for equal access to education and healthcare and for gender equality.

“[Each time] I go to the police station and work with survivors of gender-based violence, I imagine myself a victim and that my daughters are caught in this cycle of violence.”

Her struggle led to her decision to sue Hun Sen for defamation, after he allegedly called her “cheung klang” (strong leg), an offensive term for women, during a speech in her Kampot constituency. He immediately responded with a countersuit, a threat to remove her parliamentary immunity and a request that the Cambodian Bar Association investigate her lawyer, Kong Sam Onn.

Without immunity, Sochua faces imprisonment and her lawyer faces disbarment. However, she is determined to proceed with the case.

“If no action was taken against [his] words, the people will never want to seek assistance from me again,” she says, adding his comments violated her rights and generally devalued women.

While she believes she has little chance of a fair trial, with the courts said to be under the influence of the executive, she hopes her case will publicize the weaknesses of the judiciary and demonstrate that no one is above the law.

Whatever the outcome, Sochua continues to look to the future. She hopes Cambodia can eventually be economically independent and a key player in ASEAN, citing Indonesia as a model to follow.

“For that we need to be accountable to our people first and be credible in the eyes of the ASEAN community,” she says. “That is the long-term investment I am working on and why I intend to remain in politics: To give what it takes to bring new leadership for Cambodia and to give our youth of today a chance to have what youth in neighboring nations are enjoying.”

This determination shows she cannot be stained by any dirty words, no matter who throws them.