Tuesday, December 28, 2010

‘Regret’ over forced evictions

I find this slight humorous, if not a Homer Simpson "Doh!" moment. To think that the government ministers are now claiming ignorance of humanitarian policies is certainly a bit far-fetched, but I suppose acknowledging it is the first step. Let's hope that this is a positive sign for future development policies of the Cambodian government.

Monday, 27 December 2010
By May Titthara

A senior government official yesterday expressed “regret” over the forced eviction and relocation of thousands of Phnom Penh residents in recent years, attributing problems to a lack of awareness in resolving government policy.

Speaking at a workshop in Phnom Penh yesterday, Im Chhun Lim, the Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that though the removal and relocation of residents’ homes was commonplace in developing countries, it was important that the government takes action based on the proper policies.

He said much confusion stemmed from residents who are living illegally on state land, but who claim ownership and market-price compensation for their properties.

“It is regrettable that [we] were not previously sufficiently aware of how to resolve issues such as the confusion between resettlement based on humanitarian policies and the resettlement based on market price compensation or unreasonably high compensation demands that could not be accommodated,” he said.

Im Chhun Lim added that some relocation cases were complicated by the involvement of politicians, which delayed compensation negotiations or caused standoffs between residents and the authorities. Often, the disputes did not end until the government took “administrative measures”, forcibly removing residents from disputed land.

He stressed that the government wanted to avoid these problems at all costs, and would implement a “humanitarian” policy related to urban evictions and relocations.

Back in Cambodia

view from my balcony with Angkor Wat on the horizon (if you squint or have binoculars)

Aaahhh...I'm baaack!

It's great to be back in Cambo-land. I've got a nice flat to live in with Wi-Fi and enough space, even though it's a little further than I wanted from the main part of town and I have to fight traffic by the big market every time I come and go.

Getting settled in and re-connected with folks has been good. I managed to find a part-time paying job within 3 days of arrival thanks to a CouchSurfing connection. And, the funny thing is that it is a school I taught at 5 years ago, Paul Dubrule Hotel and Tourism School. And there are a few more things in the pipeline.

Now I'm in my final week of "freedom" before the volunteering and teaching begin on January 3rd.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hundreds die in tragic end to water festival

I haven't had a chance to post on this, even though it happened one week ago today. It is most definitely a tragedy that could have been avoided. The loss is incredible and heart-wrenching. This is one reason why I have steered clear of Phnom Penh during its annual water festival. One's safety just simply cannot be guaranteed.

Here are several links to articles printed in the Phnom Penh Post about this incident.

Stampede in Cambodia kills hundreds, government says
By the CNN Wire Staff
November 22, 2010

A stampede that occurred during a festival in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh has killed 339 people, officials said Monday.

Another 329 people were injured in the crush, said Philip Bader, a news editor with the Phnom Penh Post, citing information given by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a televised address.

Visalsok Nou, a Cambodian Embassy official in Washington, said more than 4 million people were attending the Water Festival when the stampede occurred.

But other reports put the number at 2 million., said Steve Finch, a journalist with the Phnom Penh Post.

The municipal police chief said that the stampede, which began around 10 p.m. (10 a.m. ET), likely occurred because a suspension bridge packed with people began to sway, creating panic, said Bader, who cited reports of people jumping from the bridge into the river below.

Finch said police began firing water cannon onto a bridge to an island in the center of a river in an effort to get them to continue moving across the bridge.

"That just caused complete and utter panic," he told CNN in a telephone interview. He said a number of people lost consciousness and fell into the water; some may have been electrocuted, he said. Finch cited witnesses as saying that the bridge was festooned with electric lights, which may have played a role in the electrocutions.

The government denied anyone was electrocuted.

Video link to report on stampede.

Hundreds die in tragic end to water festival
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Post Staff

Hundreds died and hundreds more were injured last night in a stampede on Diamond Island’s north bridge, bringing a tragic close to the final day of water festival celebrations in Phnom Penh.
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced via video conference at 2:30am that 339 people had been confirmed dead and 329 injured.

“With this miserable event, I would like to share my condolences with my compatriots and the family members of the victims,” he said. “This needs to be investigated more.”

This is the biggest tragedy since the Pol Pot regime,” he said, adding that Cambodia would hold a national day of mourning on Thursday and that a committee would be set up to investigate the incident.

The cause of the stampede has not yet been confirmed, but Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said it happened because “one million people”, many of whom were leaving the island, became “scared of something.”

Phnom Penh struggles to cope with tragic stampede
Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Cambodian officials today were struggling to cope with the aftermath of last night’s tragic stampede on Diamond Island in Phnom Penh that left more than 300 people dead and several hundreds more injured.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced early this morning via video conference that 339 were confirmed dead.

Nhim Vanda, deputy director of the Department of Disaster Management put the figure today at 349, while unconfirmed reports from police officials said 375 had been killed.

Death toll surges in island disaster
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
By Cheang Sokha

The death toll from Monday’s tragic bridge stampede has leapt to 456, according to official figures released yesterday, eclipsing earlier estimates that put the number of dead at around 350.

In a statement announcing the figures, Ith Sam Heng, Minister of Social Affairs and the chairman of the government’s committee investigating the cause of the incident, stated that the toll spiked after 17 provinces reported their casualty numbers to the authorities.

“After each province reported to the subcommittee, the total number is 456 now,” said Ith Samheng.

“Some bodies were transported home straight away and some injured people died at home,” he said, explaining the increased toll. “This is a shocking incident for Cambodia.”

Hundreds of people were crushed and suffocated to death on Monday night when crowds attending the annual Water Festival became trapped on a narrow suspension bridge, in one of the country’s worst peacetime losses of life.

Cambodians turn out to honor the dead
By CNN Wire Staff
November 25, 2010

Hundreds of somber-faced Cambodians assembled Thursday morning in front of the suspension bridge in the capital where hundreds of people died Monday in a stampede during a festival.

Some carried flowers, others lit candles and incense in honor of the dead in the ceremony early Thursday, which the government has declared a day of mourning.

PM overcome by grief
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Cheang Sokha

CAMBODIANS across the country observed a day of mourning yesterday for the victims of Monday’s Diamond Island stampede, as questions remained about the ultimate cause of and responsibility for the disaster.

Government officials said Wednesday that the death toll had reached 456, though that number was revised downward yesterday to 347. Senior Minister Om Yentieng, the deputy chairman of the government commission investigating the incident, said yesterday that the death toll provided a day earlier by the investigatory sub-commission had double-counted victims who were brought to local hospitals before being returned to their home provinces.

Government officials gathered yesterday morning at the site of the tragedy, where Prime Minister Hun Sen shed tears as he knelt to pay respect to the souls of the deceased.

Tragedy a ‘joint mistake’
Monday, 29 November 2010
Cheang Sokha

Government authorities have announced the conclusion of their investigation into the causes of last week’s lethal stampede on Diamond Island, saying no officials will be held to account for an incident that was described as a “joint mistake”.

Announcing the results of the inquiry, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An backed up preliminary findings that the incident was triggered by mass panic related to the swaying of the bridge leading to the island.

“There is no sign of terrorism or that criminals arranged this in advance. We can say that it was caused by a stampede,” said Sok An, who headed the committee investigating the Diamond Island tragedy.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bloggers United Challenge: Week 3

The Challenge

What's inside your handbag? You can tell a lot about a person by what they carry around with them everyday. What's in yours and why? (photos are always welcome)

I once sat next to a man who exclaimed, "Wow! You have such a small purse!" This is true. I don't like to carry around big bags and have them filled with everything under the sun. Generally my purse has the basics. This is what's currently in my purse:
  • a small zippered wallet with card slot because a larger wallet is just too cumbersome
  • 2 pens (free from an agricultural company) that write fantastically
  • 1 mechanical pencil (from where I'm working) because you never know when you need to write in pencil
  • sunglasses in their soft case are a must for going out into the sun and driving
  • car & house keys
  • a small zippered bag that contains chapstick, gum, toothpicks, tissues, lotion, nail file and eye drops; one must always be prepared.
  • a notepad to write down my thoughts, reminders and other lists
  • a few coupons for local restaurants
  • a Tupperware container with chili & lime almonds and a another with chocolate almonds because I like to make sure I have snacks
  • my cell phone (on vibrate), otherwise it's in my pocket
  • a few postcards to write out and send for Swap-Bot swaps
  • my friend's newsletter from China for me to read while I'm waiting for something. It's 11, single-spaced pages long!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bloggers United: November Challenge Week 2


Oh dear! You're on death row! (don't worry....... you're totally not guilty and the governor is going to call to stop it before it happens). What is your last ever meal and why?

I would ask for a roasted turkey dinner with all the trimmings that was prepared by my mom:

  • cornbread stuffing

  • honey cinnamon yams

  • mashed potatoes & gravy

  • homemade dinner rolls

  • broccoli & cauliflower with melted cheese

  • pumpkin pie

  • apple pie

There's not much better than that, except maybe really good chocolate mousse.

If she's not availabe to cook a turkey dinner, I'd ask for BBQ'd chicken from F. McLintock's in Shell Beach, California. The local saloon in my town offers a Tuesday special of a 1/2 chicken with your choice of BBQ or pineapple sauce with cheese bread and your choice of fries or a baked potatoe. The dinner used to come with their famous ranch beans and a side salad, but now that's extra.

Dessert would have to be either Doc Burnstein's ice cream (which is a reincarnation of the original Burnadoz Ice Cream Parlor) for a drumstick, or a pink champagne cake from Madonna Inn.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tight leash for monks

This article reminds me of the time I was studying the Cambodian language under the tutelage of 3 young Cambodian monks in 2004. I discovered that monks are the same as any young boy in his teens, hormones and all. They kept a pair of binoculars to watch any young girls who came into the pagoda compound.

In addition to that, I actually had a monk fall in love with me, sending me frequent emails describing how he wanted to hold my hand and such. And this was after only meeting him once. I have to laugh a little at the thought of the monks being told to watch the boat races from a "safe distance" to keep them in line with Buddhist precepts.

Monks line up in front of Angkor Wat during a Visak Bochea Day ceremony in April. Photo by: Sovan Philong

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

By Vong Sokheng

Buddhist monks will be allowed to watch boat races during the upcoming water festival – but only from a safe distance.

The Ministry of Cults and Religions says it has banned Buddhist monks from walking freely among the crowd during the three-day festival, which runs from November 20-22, in order to preserve proper Buddhist morality.

“We are not prohibiting the Buddhist monks from taking part during the festival if the monks will gather and sit in one place that is not too close to the crowd,” said Dork Narin, secretary of state at the ministry.

“In order to keep monks in [line with] good Buddhist concepts and to keep a neutral mind, we will not allow the monks to walk freely in the crowd because the monks could break the rules if they see a sexy lady or a couple kissing in the crowd.”

Monks are expected to remain celibate, refrain from touching or being alone with women and are forbidden to drink alcohol.

At least 20 Buddhist monks were disciplined at last year’s water festival for allegedly walking amongst the crowd and flirting with girls, said Ten Borana, personal assistant to the Kingdom’s chief Buddhist monk Non Nget.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Cambodian sanitation ranks last in region

This is why I am so excited about furthering the Sustainable Sanitation Cambodia project. Cambodia ranks the lowest in Southeast Asia in its access to toilets. Let's build some toilets in the Cambodian countryside people!

Tuesday, 09 November 2010
By Rann Reuy

Fewer people in Cambodia have access to adequate sanitation facilities than in any other Southeast Asian country, according to a new report from the Ministry of Rural Development.
Only 29 percent of Cambodians had access to sanitation facilities as of 2008, said the report released on Monday, which draws on figures from the World Health Organisation and the UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

By comparison, 96 percent of people in Thailand, 75 percent in Vietnam and 53 percent in Laos had access to such facilities, according to the JMP 2010 report, which was released in March.
Furthermore, 67 percent of Cambodians living in urban areas had access to sanitation facilities in 2008, compared with only 18 percent of people in rural areas.

Chea Samnang, director of the Rural Development Ministry’s Department of Rural Heath, said on Monday that the number of toilets in the Kingdom’s rural areas was increasing at about 2 percent annually.

“We see it is increasing, but it is so slow,” he said.

He said he did not believe that the lack of progress in rural areas could be attributed to poverty levels, arguing that many people who did not own a toilet, which would cost about US$20-30, owned other “modern electrical items” such as motorbikes or telephones.

They Chanto, hygiene promotion officer at the ministry’s Rural Hygiene Education Office, said a substantial number of Cambodians defecate in the open, meaning that about “3,000 fresh stools were scattered into the environment each day”.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Ideas worth reading about

Check out these ideas and links very thoroughly. They are worthwhile and demonstrate how the simplest idea can be transformative. It's an encouragement for me to move beyond my ideas and push them into reality.

D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution by Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist.
I became interested in such figures while writing a book with my wife, Sheryl WuDunn, about educating and empowering women as a solution to many of the world’s problems. We ran into extraordinary men, like Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, who pioneered microfinance in Bangladesh. Or Bill Drayton, an American who is a godfather of entrepreneurs working for social change and who now runs a group called Ashoka to support them. Or Greg Mortenson, whose struggles to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan are chronicled in “Three Cups of Tea.” But it struck us that women in particular were finding creative ways to help the world’s most vulnerable people, many of them also women.

How to Change the World from Nicholas D. Kristof's "On the Ground" blog.
First, dip your toe in the waters to get a sense of the work that is being done and to find what resonates most with you. Another approach is to browse a comprehensive site like Global Giving, where organizations around the world have posted their wish lists. Another easy first step is to sponsor someone abroad through a program that lets you contribute a certain amount each month to that person and exchange letters.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for a cause and organization that particularly speaks to you, that exhilarates you. Then dive in and focus your efforts on that organization. Also, don’t limit your involvement to writing checks. People are also needed to sign petitions and write indignant letters to members of Congress. Try to visit a project that you’ve supported. This doesn’t work for everybody, but think about volunteering for a stint abroad. Or there are many other organizations that will take volunteers to teach English or do other work, and it truly can be a life-changing experience.

I also recommend the books by David Bornstein on social entrepreneurship. His best known is “How to Change the World,” which has become the bible of would be change-makers. There is also a list of recommended organizations by Kristof.

Finding Volunteer Trips that Actually Help. By Marnie Hunter, CNN.
The idea of volunteering away from home seems like a win-win to many travelers: a way to experience and help another community at the same time. But without a solid, well-designed program and reasonable expectations, volunteer travel can do more harm than good.

Showing up in parts unknown, hoping to make a big difference in a small amount of time, is likely to leave travelers and hosts disappointed.

"You're not going to change the world in a week or two. You're not going to eradicate poverty in a village. You're not going to teach a kid how to read," said Doug Cutchins, a former Peace Corps volunteer and co-author of "Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others."

The key to having a positive impact in a short amount of time is realizing that your efforts are part of a process, Cutchins said. Results are subtle and come about slowly through a long line of volunteers.

ConCERT Cambodia. ConCERT – "Connecting Communities, Environment & Responsible Tourism" - is a non profit organisation based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our aim is to reduce poverty, and we do this by bringing together people who want to help, and local organisations that need the kind of support they can give.

At ConCERT we have information on a range of organisations that are engaged in humanitarian activities, all of whom need your support. They are well managed and financially transparent, and work in partnership with local people.
We also have a wealth of information on the causes and effects of poverty in Cambodia; this information explains why there is such an urgent need for your support.

Global Giving. The world is full of problems. GlobalGiving is full of solutions. GlobalGiving connects you to the causes and countries you care about. You select projects you want to support, make a tax-deductible contribution, and get regular progress updates - so you can see how your gift is making a difference.

One Day's Wages. One Day’s Wages (ODW) is a new grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. ODW promotes awareness, invites simple giving, and supports sustainable relief through partnerships, especially with smaller organizations in developing regions.

New Hope Cambodia. New Hope Cambodia is a grass roots, hands on and non government organization. “Whilst 'free education for all' is our priority, an important step in breaking the cycle of poverty, we cannot ignore the chronic malnutrition; ill health and appalling living conditions our students and families face every day”.

Ponheary Ly Foundation. The PLF is supported not only by private donations but by the dedicated work of both local Cambodian volunteers and visitors from abroad. Volunteers have taught, bathed, cooked for, played with and inspired children. They have bundled, loaded and delivered supplies to children and schools far and wide.

The PLF is about people showing up and paying attention. We hope if you’re ever in our neck of the woods, you’ll join us.

High silk prices concern craftsmen

In my humble opinion, Cambodian silk is some of the best in the world. It would be wonderful to invest in silk production so that the cost of materials could be reduced and the reliance on foreign silk could be decreased as well.

So much of the silk sold in the marketplace to tourists is labeled as Cambodian, yet if the silk thread is bought elsewhere, does that still make it Cambodian? Worse yet is when the Vietnamese or Thai finished silk products are sold as Cambodian.

Thursday, 04 November 2010
By Chun Sophal

HANDICRAFT makers called for increased domestic production of raw silk yesterday, as the price of thread imports continued to rise last month.

“When we are confronting growing prices, we have no options because there is little silk production in Cambodia,” said Men Sineurn, executive director for the Cambodian Craftsman Association. Locally produced raw silk meets only 1 percent of market demand from the 20,000 Cambodians workers who are employed through using the material.

Silk thread sold for US$41 per kilogram in the opening days of November, up 2.5 percent from $40 in October, according to Kae Muny, secretary general of the Khmer Silk Village Association.

Between 300 and 400 tonnes of silk is required annually to meet the Kingdom’s demand. Some 70 percent of goods made with silk are sold on domestic markets; the remainder is exported.

“It will take a long time to produce silk in our country,” said Kae Muny. Silk production was still largely done at the household level, and there was no large-scale investment in the field, he said.

Some 500 families have planted mulberry trees in Banteay Meanchey province’s Phnom Srok district, and Siem Reap’s Srey Snom district, but they only produce up to 4 tonnes per year. Silk thread cost $37 per kilogram six months ago, and $27 per kilogram a year and a half ago.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Bloggers United: November Challenge

The Challenge:

Your Lotto numbers have come up! You have taken care of your family and friends, you have 15 million dollars to spend on whatever you dreamed of before. How are you going to spend the money?

Give it away! There's tons of projects I would love to fund.

First, I would fund my Sustainable Sanitation Cambodia project which aims at providing training and education for building waterless composting toilets across the Cambodian countryside. Only $5,000 would be needed to provide a village with 100 households with their own toilets, if even that much.

Second, I would build my dream home in Cambodia which would also serve as a guesthouse/hostel where hospitality and vocational skills training could take place for the poor and disabled at no cost to them.

Third, there are lots of little groups and organizations that would dearly benefit from some donations. Many of the organizations supported by ConCERT Cambodia would love a little something extra coming their way.

Fourth, I would get my mom's house fixed up even though this is supposedly covered by the original challenge. She's got some termite issues and the old workshop could better be used as an enclosed laundry room. Her backyard needs a facelift and her garage needs to be organized with industrial shelving for all the plastic bins of stuff she has.

Fifth, I would have a my Cambodian wedding and finally arrange the visa to the US for my husband. This is long overdue and my family would love to finally meet him in person.

And now for some not so comic relief...

Just a demonstration of another use of Landcruisers in Cambodia. This gives a completely new meaning to the idea of "off roading."

The Phnom Penh Post even highlighted this incident in today's edition. "Could this be Cambodia's first viral video? "

Monday, 01 November 2010

What might have otherwise become just another anonymous moment of vehicular impunity on the streets of Cambodia’s capital has leapt into the public consciousness and will now likely stay there for much longer than many in officialdom want, thanks to a bystander with a mobile phone camera.
Could this be Cambodia’s first viral video?
The low-fi, 34-second clip was originally on the blog LTO Cambodia last Thursday and has since logged 34,000 views from combined YouTube postings.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Temple families resist relocation

And so it continues as I thought it would. The villagers don't want to move, but it doesn't matter because the authority goes above and beyond provincial authority. They will more than likely be evicted with little to no compensation (just like in Phnom Penh), all in the name of cultural heritage. This should not be allowed, but it happens because the dollar is perhaps considered more important to the officials than even the welfare and livelihood of their own people.

Today also happens to be the day that my in-laws are meeting with the Apsara Authority (see What's the Apsara's Authority? from July 2009)to seek approval to rebuild their house which was blown down last week in a storm. The previous request last week brought out a truck full of officials with weapons to threaten the family with eviction if they attempted any "new" repairs on the house.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

A woman cooks outside her home in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district in February. Her home is one of hundreds that have been marked for removal.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

By Rann Reuy

MORE than 250 families in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district yesterday rebuffed entreaties from officials to relocate to make way for UNESCO and Preah Vihear National Authority offices.

A notice from the authority dated October 18 said 70 families from Kantuot commune’s Svay Chrum village would need to move by Saturday, with the remaining families expected to clear out not long after.

The families have been offered 2 million riels (US$475) in compensation as well as 50-by-100-metre plots of land in Thamacheat Samdech Techo Village (Samdech Techo Nature Village). The same village has taken in hundreds of other families that have been moved to make way for development at Preah Vihear temple, which was enshrined as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

Residents said yesterday that they had been living on their land since 2000, and that they had previously been promised by local officials that they would never be evicted.

“Samdech Techo village has no market. It is far, it has a dirty road, and the land is small,” said 45-year-old Sao Yat.

Another resident, 43-year-old Keo Nith, said she did not want to part with her 5 hectares of rice fields, which she described as productive.

“They might control this area,” she said of the PVNA and UNESCO officials, “but we are asking to live here.”

Provincial officials yesterday visited the site and attempted to negotiate with the residents, who responded by saying they would not move. Long Sovann, the deputy provincial governor, said the decision to kick them out had come from higher than the provincial level.

“This is the national principle. It is not the provincial decision,” he said.

He then referred further questions to PVNA General Director Hang Soth, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Preah Vihear: Families told to make way for UNESCO

Somehow I'm not entirely convinced that making room for a UNESCO office will be the end of enroachment on this village's land. Only $475 and a small plot of land in exchange for their homes? Even in Cambodia that amount isn't enough build a new home. UNESCO should be more proactive and actually build homes for these people rather than just pay them off. If the villagers protest they will most likely end up with nothing. So sad...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010
By Thet Sambath

A GROUP of 275 families in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district have been instructed to relocate by Saturday to make room for offices for the Preah Vihear National Authority and UNESCO, officials said.

Mol Mab, the chief of Choam Ksan’s Kantuot commune, said fewer than 1,000 hectares of land would be cleared, and that affected families would be given 2 million riels (US$475) each as well as 50-by-100-metre plots of land in Thamacheat Samdech Techo Village (Samdech Techo Nature Village). The same village has taken in hundreds of other families that have been moved to make way for development at Preah Vihear temple, which was enshrined as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

Prak Sarann, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, expressed concern that the famlies would no longer have any farmland. But provincial deputy governor Sor Thavy said the families were only required to move their homes and would continue to have access to their existing farmland.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Statistics needed for good planning

When most people hear the word statistics they might moan. I usually do, too. But proper data collection allows for more accurate statistical analysis. All of which add up to more well-informed public policies. I didn't spend 2 years in a public policy master's program for nothin'!

So it is no surprise to me that the country director of Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency said “Statistics have to be correct, unbiased and reliable.” Well, duh! I guess Cambodia's embarking on this quest. Good luck.

Thursday, 21 October 2010
By Rann Reuy

THE Kingdom’s first enterprise census, slated for 2010, will provide crucial information to develop effective national policies, according to Minister of Planning Chhan Thorn.

The survey is to be conducted from March 1 to 30 next year, but the exercise will only be productive if the results are put to good use, he said yesterday at a workshop marking Cambodia’s participation in the first World Statistics Day.

Funded largely by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the census aimed to gather concrete business-related information to help foreign investment and organise national-level business strategy, ministry officials have said.

Eva Asplund, country director of Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency said statistics were important in assisting the private sector in business decisions, as well as for researchers, academics and legislators to have firm foundations to develop public policy.

“Statistics have to be correct, unbiased and reliable,” she said at the workshop yesterday.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eating with your heart

I used to be the English language teacher at the other hospitality training school in town. But I must admit, Sala Bai is a much better deal for students as they don't have to pay anything to attend such a fine hospitality training institution. They benefit by the hands-on experience of working in some of the best hotels and restaurants in town.

Friday, 15 October 2010
Nicky McGavin

It’s not so much about eating your heart out, as eating with your heart, with hospitality training school Sala Baï’s training restaurant opening its doors to the public on Monday.

The restaurant serves set menu options as well as à la carte, and its dishes are derived from both Asian and Western influences.

From the set menus, the first week’s items include Tonle Sap fish with pineapple and jasmine rice, and beef on lemongrass skewers with pepper dip and jasmine rice.

For more Western appetites, there is pan-fried Tonle Sap fish with lemon butter sauce, and spaghetti with chicken and asparagus.

Starters include spring rolls, grilled vegetables in a mixed green salad and tomato soup with cheese ravioli.

Emmanuelle Dethomas, the Sala Baï marketing and communications manager, promises many forthcoming gastronomic treats. “Our chefs are coming up with some wonderful new ideas for the year ahead,” he said.

Read more about Sala Bai here or at their website.

Angkor Wat under threat

This is no surprise to me and many other "foreigners" in the tourism trade. With the government's goal of increasing tourism numbers, it would naturally follow that the famous temple ruins will eventually be ruined by the increase in numbers.

Photo by onlyincambodia

Sunday, 17 October 2010
By Keeley Smith

An international heritage conservancy has warned that the Angkor Wat temple complex faces “critical” threats in the form of heavy traffic and inefficient conservation techniques.

A report released by the Global Heritage Fund also said the fact that many tourism-related businesses were foreign-owned made it difficult for Siem Reap residents to benefit economically from the temples.

“Hundreds of thousands of visitors climb over the ruins of Angkor every year causing heavy deterioration of original Khmer stonework,” says the report, which is titled “Saving Our Heritage: Safeguarding Cultural Sites Around the World”.

According to the report, the number of visitors to Angkor Wat has increased by 188 percent since 2000, from 840,000 to 2,420,000 in 2009.

An Apsara Authority official said last week that Angkor Wat had seen a 24-percent increase in foreign tourists in the first nine months of 2010 compared with the same period last year.

“Mass tourism is overrunning the fragile archaeology site, with millions every year climbing unabated on the monuments,” said GHF Executive Director Jeff Morgan.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I Love Your Blog!

Swap-bot swap: I ♥ Your Blog!
I swap with Swap-bot!

I'm a member of an online group called Swap-Bot where you can sign up to "swap" things. Mostly it's stuff you send in the mail like letters & postcards, but occasionally there are e-swaps.

I am participating in one right now called "I 'heart' Your Blog!" I will be reviewing 7 blogs from my partners and sharing them with you. Since the swap's instructions were very vague and confusing, I'm actually review all 14 of the blogs for both my receiving and sending partners.

The first set are my send-to partners who are supposed to be rating me on my review and including a link back to their blog. The second set are those who I'm supposed to be rating.


Blog #1: Santity's Overrated

By PsceanMama from Tennessee

According to the author, her blog features, "A little of this, a little of that, from a half-crazed stay-at-home mom of two boys." It's entertaining to read about a variety of things are are interesting to her. I've got to admit, the background of books is perfect for her most recent post about reading & watching The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

Blog #2: Memories Through Quilting

By AlteredArtFreak from Oklahoma

Memories Through Quilting

This blog features her quilting creations. Oh how I wish I could quilt, too! I must say that the background is incredible for this blog. So amazing!

Blog #3: El Blog de Jex

By Jex from Mexico

I love that Jex provides tutorials and links about crafty things beyond just shooting the breeze. It's a helpful and fun site. I especially like all of her links for "pimping your blog." I think I'll be visiting a few of those links in the near future...

Blog #4: Rachel's World

By scrapkween from Texas

Create your own banner at mybannermaker.com!

I love how she talks through some of the challenges in her family's life as well as the triumphs. Her description of homeschooling her children is refreshing and honest. There are many little tidbits to take away from this special blog.

Blog #5: The Sweet Maple Life

By SilverHealer currently residing in Virginia, but trying to permanently reside in Canada

It's sweet to see how she features her different creations. I am always impressed by the creativity of others. I like how she signs each blog entry with her name. So classy. And I can definitely relate to how she feels about Canada. It just feels like home, which is the same way I felt about the first time I was in Cambodia.

Blog #6: Miss Muff Cake

By missmuffcake from California

"Veganism and crafting from a not so big city perspective." Skulls, skulls and more skulls. While personally not a fan of skull images, they are certainly more popular today by a adding a more whimsical look to them. I really love her "Peanut Butter Plan" as it reminds me of the Friday nights I spent handing out brown bag lunches to the folks living on the streets of downtown Santa Cruz. Very courageous, yet so inventive! You go, girl!

Blog #7: What Oh What!

By ilovetubby from Oklahoma

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Such an adorable tutorial on the homemade, no-sew pincushion. Also, her step by step photos of her craft projects are really helpful. I already know how to redo the seat cushion in a chair (Thanks Dad!), but I'm sure there are lots of folks who appreciate this helpful how-to. She also has a great selection of craft links that looks very promising.


Here are the ones that I am rating about their review of my blog.

Blog #1: Keeping up with the Joneses

By ksj1717

Such a variety of different topics presented on this blog. It's fun to go from crafts to the home garden within a couple of posts. I look forward to reading what comes next in her life.

Blog #2: Random Adventures by Hippofairy

By hippofairy from California

Random adventures sums up this blog fairly accurately. Though the statistician in me would disagree with the random part because adventures that are planned wouldn't technically qualify as random. I digress... It is entertaining to read her narration of the events and see the pictures of some of her creations. I would definitely follow this blog.

Blog #3: CF

By cfchai of Singapore

A cute little blog that reminds me a of a personal diary/calendar, but with a little bit more details for certain dates.

Blog #4: Hedgehog and Rabbit

By Brooklyne

Brooklyne's blog features mostly the results of her Etsy shop as it is promoted in various treasuries by other Etsy folk. The design is adorable and references to her family members is cute, too. Now I'm curious to check out her Etsy shop to see what handcrafted items are there. Her shop features handmade wallets, brooches and embroidery doodles.

Blog #5: Butt Naked Woman's Little Room of Crafty Wonders

By myeow from Singapore

It's always fun to have a window into another part of the world. Myeow does this well by showcasing the craftier side of Singapore in her blog. I'll make sure I connect with her before I next head off to Singapore. Her crafty creations are so sweet, too!

Blog #6: Riechanster

By Riechan from Belgium

A very lovely blog detailing her adventures in shopping and other activities in Belgium. The pictures are always a great addition to help the readers relate what she writes about.

Blog #7: Rock n' Roll Stops the Traffic

By Lima from Italy

Create your own banner at mybannermaker.com!

This blog features a lot swaps that she's participated in, as well as some of the various events in her life. It's fun to read about her new crafting experiences and see the results.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Floods continue to cause chaos

The late rains this year are reminiscent of last year's floods in mid-September. Lots of water and streets that turn into rivers. I am glad I am not there to experience this.

You know, in the four years that I lived there from 2003-2007, I never experienced such dramatic flooding. But, I suppose that doesn't mean it never happens. After all, I do come from earthquake country where we don't get huge earthquakes every year. Nor do we get heavy winters except every 10 years or so.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010
By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Continuing rough weather has been blamed for the deaths of two people in Kampong Speu province, and more than 20 fishermen were said to have gone missing off the coast of Koh Kong province as a result of storms that have caused flooding nationwide.

Van Sokha, secretary to the Kampong Speu provincial governor, said two men were killed by electric shocks generated by a power line that was downed by strong winds.

The weather “had caused many factories and markets to shut” in the province and affected an untold number of hectares of rice crops, he said.

In Koh Kong, Thuon Chem, a fishing community representative in Kiri Sakor district, said at least 20 fishermen had been reported missing since the storms began on Sunday, but that she was hopeful they would be found.

“We are still searching for the boats and fishermen who were lost during the storm and heavy rains,” she said. “We think they are all OK, and we wish them all good luck.”

Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naruth said Dangkor appeared to be the worst-affected district, with the homes of 1,475 families from 16 villages sustaining “severe” damage.

At the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which is located in Dangkor district, flooding forced officials to relocate the five Khmer Rouge leaders currently in custody, said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press.

Keo Vy, director of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said yesterday that the floods had hit most districts in seven provinces outside Phnom Penh: Kampot, Kampong Speu, Kandal, Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk

According to a statement issued Monday by the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, low atmospheric pressure is expected to see flooding continue through today in all lowland areas – including Phnom Penh – as well as in Kampong Speu, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces.

Friday, October 08, 2010

I'm being followed...

Actually, through a Google search of this very blog with a friend over the weekend, I discovered that Cambopedia wrote a blog post featuring yours truly!

I'm mean, come on, couldn't they have at least told me about it first?

Regardless, my ego's been satisfactorily stroked to know that I'm considered "another interesting blog to read." Well, ok.

So, keep reading. I promise I'll remain interesting, if not more...

Monday, October 04, 2010

DC Walk to Stop Modern Slavery

My friend Matt started his first year of law school at Georgetown in Washington D.C. He's keeping a blog. But even more than that he's getting involved in local events. One of those events is this DC Walk to Stop Modern Slavery (i.e. human trafficking).

It will be the largest anti-human trafficking event in DC history! This event is organized entirely by community volunteers. No one on the organizing team is paid. 100% of money raised will go to organizations that combat human trafficking and care for victims.

Go to the Get Involved section on the left side of the home page and Sponsor a Walker, namely, my friend Matt Boutte. Just enter his name and it will take you through the process of donating. Easy peasy!

You can read about it in his own words on his blog, Matt's Adventures.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Memories are made of this

After reading this article, it reminds me of why I keep returning to Cambodia. I've always described to people that I knew I needed to return here after visiting in early 2003 because it always felt like I left home and needed to return. It's like the song "I left my heart in San Francisco" except I left mine in Cambodia.

Steve Levitt with a girl with no hands in Siem Reap, 1990.
Friday, 01 October 2010
Steve Levitt

I AM planning my return to Siem Reap from my small home in Canberra, Australia, rifling through my old passports as an aid to a failing memory. The passports tell me that I have been coming to Cambodia regularly for just over 20 years.

First I came for adventure and stories as a photojournalist. Then as a communications officer with a global aid agency. Then as an uncle with a favoured niece. Now I’ll return as a father with his eldest son.

No other country appears so often in my packed passports, and no place other than Siem Reap has such a hold to keep drawing me back.

Perhaps it is because Cambodia, more than any other country, is never the same place twice, and because Siem Reap seems to change by the minute.

Read the rest of the article here.

Drink driving blitz

Now here's an interesting article. I never thought that Cambodian police would ever begin do drunk driving checkpoints. Does this mean they'll check themselves, too? Another step forward, especially considering the increasing number of traffic incidents and deaths on the roadways.

Sunday, 03 October 2010
By Mom Kunthear

Municipal traffic police established nighttime drunken-driving checkpoints in all eight districts of the capital over the weekend, stopping nearly 100 drivers and fining four of them.

Chev Hak, deputy chief of the municipal traffic police, said the checkpoints had operated between 6.30pm and 11pm in Phnom Penh on both Friday and Saturday nights.

National Police Chief Neth Savoeun had originally called for the checkpoints to be set up on September 1 in Phnom Penh and also in Kandal and Kampong Speu provinces.

But the plan was pushed back one month so police could receive training on how to man checkpoints and operate breath analysers.

Chev Hak said the breath analysers had not yet been delivered to the two provinces, and that he suspected checkpoints would be established in both shortly after the Pchum Ben holiday.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ticket to Cambodia

I just booked my return ticket to Cambodia last night! Woohoo! Well, actually it's to Bangkok, but I'm looking forward to spending a day or two there to do some long-craved for shopping.

I'll be arriving shortly after the sister-in-law has her 2nd baby. I arrived last year just a few weeks after her first baby. What fun!

I'm really looking forward to being back there. I think I've been going through withdrawals and feeling listless here. Now I just need to find somewhere to work.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Magic Man

Here's a fun post for a local street entertainer in Siem Reap. I remember watching his performance several times from my table at the Soup Dragon while eating my bowl of noodles for breakfast. Good times.

Magic Man Johnny smiles on the streets of Siem Reap where he is famous for his dangerous (and noisy) acrobatics. Photo by: ZOE TROUT

Friday, 27 August 2010 15:00 Nicky Hosford

MENTIONED to one Pub Street area bar manager that I was going to talk to the “noisy boy”, the guy who jumps through the knife-filled hoop of fire onto a dark, decrepit mattress to the blare of loud, uncomfortable music. “Oh, is that what you call him?” she asked. “We call him Magic Man. Sometimes we call him something else. Maybe you can’t print it though.”

“Mr X” is another name given to him, but he calls himself Johnny. Johnny has been in Siem Reap for four years now and has become a definitive feature of the town, part of the Siem Reap experience.

Most days you’ll see him doggedly hauling his cart from one tourist hotspot to another. Once there, he’ll set up his main event, which requires a rickety looking stand, topped with three rusted hoops to which have been attached a few dozen knives at disparate angles. Through this he leaps and rolls onto a dog-eared mattress, also doing some fire eating tricks. All this is done to the sound of some ghastly techno caterwaul segueing at times into the dreaded “Macarena”, and to the cheers of tourists who find him endlessly fascinating.

For those who live here the novelty has worn off – the show, or rather the music, can tend to wear a little thin after a while.

When I ran him to ground for this interview, his portable music machine was exuding a gentle, wafting, Khmer ballad. He’s aware of the complaints about his noisiness, and has toned down the music. But, as he says, he just wants to earn a living, and is proud of his entrepreneurialism.

“Other people just beg,” he says, “I use my skills.”

Originally from Battambang, Johnny started to learn his craft from the Phare Ponle Selpak’s circus school. Stranger still, this is the boy who actually ran away from the circus.

He felt he could do better on his own and, although leaping through a hoop came from his early acrobatic training, the knives were his very own embellishment. And he’s got the scars to show for it. Great unnatural protuberances are scattered across his arms, interspersed with long, thin, flat scars and what look like cigarette burns. Among them are tattoos dotted across his body.

He has protective Sanskrit script on his hands, arms and back. On his chest, there is a representation of himself, eating a fire stick. “I made them myself, for fun. They aren’t from the military or anything like that,” he says.

Although he hasn’t seen his parents for years and doesn’t know where they are now, he lives with his wife and two children on the road to Chong Kneas. The muscles on his too-thin arms bulge as he pulls on the wisp of a beard on his chin and says, “I don’t want my children to do what I do. It’s too dangerous. I want them to read and learn.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Temple body plans public forum

I'm not sure I'm convinced that a meeting with the APSARA Authority will improve how it treats villagers within the Angkor Park borders. However, it will hopefully be a valuable sounding board to make their rules about building or restoring property within villages near the park area.

Thursday, 26 August 2010 15:03 Rann Reuy

Siem Reap provinceAPSARA Authority officials plan to hold a public forum “as soon as possible”, in order to explain rules concerning the construction of housing by villagers in Siem Reap’s Leang Dai commune.

Chrun Sophal, director of the authority’s communications department, said yesterday that, following an internal meeting, a forum would be held to discuss building restrictions in Leang Dai, which falls within the bounds of the Angkor temple park.

“We will hold the forum after meeting the Siem Reap governor [today],” he said. “We are trying to balance natural resources, the environment and the preservation of culture.”

In a letter dated July 23, opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ke Sovannarith criticised the Apsara Authority, which maintained the temple park, for preventing the commune’s 1,255 families from building new market stalls, a kindergarten and other facilities.

Contacted yesterday, Ke Sovannarith said that she supported the initiative to hold the forum because villagers were not sure what they were permitted to build. “The problem is not just in Leang Dai, but in other places as well,” she said. “The Apsara Authority should call all affected villagers to listen.”

In March, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights organised a similar public forum, at which Apsara officials defended the rules aimed at preserving the Angkor temple park.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Calling it a Season

Just another typical day in Cambodia. Motorbikes can carry just about any quantity and type of product imaginable.

Photo by: Sovan Philong

Friday, 11 June 2010 15:00 Sovan Philong

A man transports fish traps down Street 217 on the last day of May. The annual fishing ban began June 1 and runs until September.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sleuth researches enigmatic Angkor girls

An interesting story about a research with a curious theory about all those Apsaras on the temples.

Michigan State University worked with Davis to devise a mathematical trait
analysis system to be used at Angkor Wat.

Friday, 20 August 2010 15:01 Peter Olszewski

FLORIDA-based researcher, publisher and robot manufacturer Kent Davis is rapidly gaining an international reputation as the sleuth of Siem Reap, a new age detective delving into what he sees as one of the greatest mysteries of ancient Angkor Wat – the 1780 images of anonymous and mostly bare-breasted women depicted in carvings throughout the iconic structure.

Commonly known as apsaras (or, as Davis prefers, devatas), these female images were mostly accorded little significance.

But Davis, a former resident of Siem Reap and a regular visitor to Temple Town, is sure he’s onto something. He’s sure that these women represent something decidedly significant, but he’s not quite sure what.

Read more here...

Youth employment falling

This subject is an area of interest for me. My master's thesis covered this topic, but as this article states, there is a need for more information.
"The government should promote proper training.
They should provide the youth with professional training, and research the
market and what people need to develop the economic sector."

"We still need updated data on national youth

I hope to develop further research on this type and seek out research funding in order to do so.

Friday, 13 August 2010 15:03 Cameron Wells

YOUTH unemployment rates in Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia are expected to rise to as high as 14.8 percent by the end of the year, according to a new report released by the International Labour Organisation.

The report, released today, states that global unemployment among people aged 15-24 is expected to reach 13.1 percent by the end of the year. It stood at 13 percent at the end of 2009, when 81 million young people were out of work, a rise of 7.8 million since 2007.

The report also says that young people working in low-paid sectors of Cambodian industry were finding it hard to break back into the sector after losing their jobs because of the global financial downturn.

“If a worker in a low-income country loses a job in the formal sector – such as the garment worker in Cambodia – there is little chance of finding new work in the same sector as it continues to shrink,” the report reads.

Tun Sophorn, national coordinator at the ILO, said that the Kingdom’s unemployment rate may be higher than the figure mentioned in the report.“We still need updated data on national youth unemployment,” he said. “The seasonal farmers, they sometimes work for three months and are unemployed for the rest of the year. But that is counted as employment.”

He said the lack of jobs for Cambodian youths can largely be contributed to a struggling economy and more youths entering a market that cannot sustain employment growth.

“Acknowledging the economic crisis last year, there were a lot of job losses and a lot of problems with young people entering the markets,” he said. “Hundreds of young people enter the workforce every day. They are trying to get good and decent jobs, but they still face challenges.”

The ILO report follows a Labour Ministry report released Tuesday, which stated that youth unemployment levels were “becoming critical” and pointed to foreign labour markets as “a cornerstone for alleviation of unemployment, income enhancement and poverty reduction”.

The Labour Ministry report also stated that economic growth and employment in Cambodia had become “narrowly concentrated in the agricultural, garment, construction and tourism sectors”.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said youths continually look to overseas employment because of a lack of proper training and opportunities in Cambodia.

“Every year around 200,000 to 300,000 youths go abroad to look for jobs,” he said. “The government should promote proper training. They should provide the youth with professional training, and research the market and what people need to develop the economic sector.”

He said that foreign investment was the key to developing sustainable employment for youth workers in Cambodia. “Competition in Cambodia is very bad; gas [petrol] and electricity rates in Cambodia are the highest in Asia,” he said.

“There needs to be a good environment for investors. Good investors from developed countries don’t want to invest in Cambodia [because] of government bureaucracy and corruption.”He said: “We need to reform our economic policies.”

Officials from the Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tonle Sap lake: Officials talk sustainable tourism

Thursday, 19 August 2010 15:02 Rann Reuy

Tonle Sap lakeTourism officials in Siem Reap province have announced that they intend to establish a “learning laboratory for sustainability” as well as a “master plan for sustainable tourism development” as part of efforts to promote responsible tourism around the Tonle Sap lake.
Speaking during a three-day workshop in Siem Reap on Tuesday, Tourism Minister Thong Khong said that the aim of both initiatives would be to ensure that as tourism develops around the Tonle Sap lake, South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake, it would contribute to the alleviation of poverty in local communities and assist in the conservation of the area’s bounty of natural resources.
Thok Sokhom, director of the International Cooperation and ASEAN Department at the Tourism Ministry, said officials hoped to finalise the master plan by November this year. “We will look to establish the learning lab in Siem Reap,” he added.
The three-day workshop is scheduled to finish today.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Long Beach student, business owner raise funds for toddler's surgery

This is simply an inspiring story about how so many different people and groups can come together for a single cause without knowing it ahead of time. I'd love for something similar to take place with the Sustainable Sanitation Cambodia project!

Millikan High senior Lauren Briand and Socheat Nha in Briand's Long Beach home on Wednesday. (Jeff Gritchen/Press-Telegram)
Socheat Nha at Lauren Briand's home. Behind her is Nha's father, Phin Ken, and her cousin, Kenha Heang, right. (Jeff Gritchen/Press-Telegram)

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Long Beach Press Telegram

LONG BEACH - A student and a Long Beach business owner are raising money to help save the life of a Cambodian toddler and support the fledgling local nonprofit that finds treatment for destitute children.

When Lauren Briand went to Cambodia, she was looking for a project. At Angkor Children's Hospital, her project found a purpose. Now that purpose has a face.

Lauren and her mom, Debbie, were part of an educational and humanitarian tour to Cambodia led by Cal State Long Beach professor Alex Morales. Lauren was hoping to find something that would inspire her for her upcoming senior project at Millikan High.

The 17-year-old found it when the group went to Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap and saw scores of children in need of help. Already looking ahead to a future in medicine, Lauren found a natural fit in doing something to aid those in need.

Read the rest of this heart-warming and inspiring story here.

Cambodia opens luxury casino

Oh boy! Cambodia is treading a very precarious line with this one. I'm not sure how gambling is OK and fully-promoted, but not contradictory to "traditional cultural values". How is gambling not in the same camp as pornography, adultery and drug addiction. Oh, yes, it's because you can make a boat-load of money from it.

The irony is that last year several casinos were closed due to the lack of "visitors". I guess Mr. Kith Theang has better PR and marketing capabilities to attract more visitors than his rivals.

Feb 26, 2010

PHNOM PENH (Cambodia) - CAMBODIA opened a luxury, US$100 million casino on Friday hoping to attract more foreign tourists and promote its fast-growing entertainment industry, casino owners said.

The Titan King Casino, located along the Vietnam border, is one of a number that have sprung up along the country's frontiers with Vietnam and Thailand, attracting thousands of gamblers.

The Ministry of Finance says Cambodia earned US$19 million from 29 casinos in 2008. But revenue fell to US$17 million in 2009 because of a decline in tourist arrivals and a border dispute with Thailand.

The Titan King Casino is owned by Mr Kith Thieng, a business tycoon close to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In a message posted on the casino's website, Mr Kith Thieng said the town of Bavet, where the casino is located, was fast becoming an entertainment centre, 'much like Las Vegas and Macau'. Bavet is 68 miles (110 kilometres) south-east of the capital Phnom Penh.

Mr Hear Sopheaktra, assistant to the owner, said the casino would help attract more foreign tourists.

Who will be Big Brother? Ministers differ on Internet controls

I think it is very thoughtful of the Cambodian government to consider the consequences of granting a single government entity the exclusive rights to monitoring and filtering all of the internet traffic for Cambodia. This is a particularly sticky point when it comes to encouraging free market policies since government-controlled services are the opposite of free-market capitalism.

100226_5Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
Suong Senghuot, a line supervisor for the Internet service provider WiCam, checks for data service on the corner of Monireth and Sihanouk boulevards.

Friday, 26 February 2010
Brooke Lewis and Sam Rith
The Phnom Penh Post

SENIOR ministers on Thursday were in apparent disagreement over the extent to which the state-owned company Telecom Cambodia would be able to block access to individual Web sites if it were granted control of the country’s Internet exchange – a move both company and government officials are reportedly looking to implement as soon as possible.

An official from the company on Tuesday said it would seek to block access to Web sites deemed inappropriate for a range of reasons, a statement that drew fresh outcry from representatives of the private telecommunications sector, one of whom said it could be “very dangerous” for the government to filter online content.

“If any Web site attacks the government, or any Web site displays inappropriate images such as pornography, or it’s against the principle of the government, we can block all of them,” Chin Daro said. “If TC plays the role of the exchange point, it will benefit Cambodian society because the government has trust in us, and we can control Internet consumption.”

In any case, rights groups and private telecommunications sector representatives have expressed concern over the plan to funnel traffic through TC’s exchange point, with some painting it as a threat to freedom of information.

MPTC and TC officials have said that the proposal stems from national security interests and a desire to preserve cultural values, but some private sector representatives have countered that the government is attempting to mask an attempt to make money from Internet traffic.

For the full article, go here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This is very real and very alarming, but not surprising in the least. I am constantly reminded: the love of money is the root of all evil.

Kith Meng is an entrepreneur whose parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge (All Photos: Agnes Dherbeys)
A mansion being built in Phnom Penh for prime minter Hun Sen
Victor in his parents' luxurious home in Phnom Penh
Sophy(far right), the 'Paris Hilton of Cambodia' at a shoot

February 14, 2010

Andrew Marshall
The Sunday Times (UK)

Cambodia has been colonised all over again, this time by its own greedy and ruthless ruling class.
Meet the spoilt, young elite who, unlike most Cambodians, enjoy the privileges of wealth - and aren’t ashamed to flaunt it

I am going to drive a little fast now. Is that okay?” There is one place in Cambodia where you can hold a cold beer in one hand and a warm Kalashnikov in the other, and 21-year-old Victor is driving me there. We’re powering along Phnom Penh’s airport road with Oasis on his Merc’s sound system and enough guns in the trunk to sink a Somali pirate boat. Victor is rich and life is sweet. His father is commander of the Cambodian infantry. He has a place reserved for him at L’Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr. And, in his front passenger seat, there is a thin, silent man with a Chinese handgun: his bodyguard.

“His name is Klar,” says Victor. “It means tiger.”

Devastated by decades of civil war, Cambodia remains one of the world’s poorest nations. A third of its 13m people live on less than a dollar a day, and about 8 out of every 100 children die before the age of five, but Victor — real name Meas Sophearith — was raised in a very different Cambodia, where power and billions of dollars in wealth are concentrated in the hands of a tiny ruling elite. They prefer to conceal the size and sources of their money — illegal logging and smuggling, land-grabbing and corruption — but their children like to spend it.

I first met Victor at a fancy Phnom Penh restaurant called Cafe Metro. Outside, Porsches, Bentleys, Cadillacs, Mercedes and Humvees fight for parking spaces. The Khmer Rouge are dead; the Khmer Riche rule. The son of a powerful general, Victor has his future mapped out for him. He went to school in Versailles, speaks French and English, and now studies politics at the University of Oklahoma. “My mother wanted us to get a foreign education so we could come back and control the country,” he says. The shooting range is where Victor and his friends go to relax. “I’ve grown up with guns and soldiers all around me,” he says. Victor and his generation are Cambodia’s future. Will they use their education and wealth to lift their compatriots out of poverty, or continue their parents’ fevered pursuit of money and power?

Britain’s Department for International Development gave £16.5m of taxpayers’ money to the country in the last fiscal year, but has announced the closure of its Cambodia office by 2011. Perhaps the development agency tired of throwing money at a nation where so much poverty can be blamed on a grasping political clique and their luxury-loving children. The Khmer Riche kids sometimes seem indistinguishable from the old colonial ruling class. They carry US dollars — only poor people pay with Cambodian riel — and live in newly built, neoclassical mansions.

Sophy, 22, is the daughter of a deputy prime minister. Rich, doll-like, and self-obsessed, she could be the Paris Hilton of Cambodia. She imports party shoes from Singapore, selling them in her own multistorey boutique. It has six staff, no customers and a slogan: “It’s all about me.” Sophy’s name is spelt out in sparkling stones on the back of her pimped-up Merc. She is launching a magazine with her brother Sopheary, 28, and their cousin Noh Sar, 26. All three were educated abroad and prefer to speak English together. Sopheary, who studied in New York State, seems both amused and slightly embarrassed by his wealth and privilege.

“What can you do?” he asks. “Your parents give you all these things. You can’t say no. If someone gives you cake, you eat it.”

Cambodia’s official economy largely depends on garment exports, but there is a much larger shadow economy in which only the rich, the ruthless and the well connected survive and prosper. The closer you get to Hun Sen, Cambodia’s autocratic and long-serving prime minister, the better. Hun Sen staged a bloody coup d’état in 1997 and has kept an iron grip ever since. Opponents have been silenced, while loyalists have grown rich. The armed forces are a major player in the black economy. Cambodians are often driven from their land at gunpoint by soldiers or military police. Cambodia has been colonised all over again, this time by its own greedy and ruthless ruling class.

Ask Cambodian ministers how they got so rich on a meagre government salary, and they will reply: “My wife is good at business.” When I ask Noh Sar, whose father is a senior customs official, why his family is so wealthy, he smiles and says: “My mother works a lot.”

Victor’s mother, too, is good at business, according to Country for Sale, an investigation into the Cambodian elite’s wealth published by the London-based corruption watchdog Global Witness in February 2009. “She is a key player in Royal Cambodian Armed Forces patronage politics, holding a fearsome reputation among her husband’s subordinates,” says the report.

It is only in the past few years that the children of Cambodia’s elite have grown confident enough to show off their family’s wealth. “If you want people to respect you in Cambodia, you must have a good car, good diamonds, a good cellphone,” explains Ouch Vichet, 28, better known as Richard. “It’s an I’m-richer-than-you competition.” Richard drives a black Cadillac Escalade ($150,000) and wears a Hèrmes watch ($2,500) and a 2.5-carat diamond ring ($13,000). “My money is from my parents,” he says with refreshing candour, and then breaks it down. They gave him a villa ($500,000), and a rubber plantation that will generate income for the rest of Richard’s natural life. His parents-in-law gave him $100,000 in cash and another villa, worth $200,000, which he sold and invested in real estate. He also runs a nightclub called Emerald — his parents made their first fortune in gems — which provides him with “pocket money”. A party of rich kids can spend $2,000 on drinks and mixers in a single night — more than an average Cambodian earns in three years. His parents’ second, much larger fortune comes from real estate. A few years ago they bought about five hectares of land just outside Phnom Penh for $14 per square metre, then sold it for $120 per square metre two years later. They made more than $5m. “Where else can you make profits like that?” grins Richard. “It’s crazy money.” He has a daughter called Emerald and a son called Benz. His living room features giant chairs ornately carved from tropical hardwood, and a flatscreen television the size of a pool table.

Yet Richard’s house is modest by the operatic standards of Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kuok district.

A taxi driver shows me the neighbourhood — it’s like a “homes of the stars” tour in Beverly Hills, except that Tuol Kuok’s backstreets are piled with uncollected rubbish. My driver points out giant mansion after mansion, and tells me who lives there. Defence minister. Prime minster Hun Sen’s son. Hun Sen’s daughter. Secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour. A deputy prime minister — Sophy and Sopheary’s dad. A four-mansion compound with high walls, razor wire and a gate guarded by special-forces soldiers — Victor’s family. Tuol Kuok’s houses are well guarded for a reason: until there was real estate to invest in, many wealthy Cambodians kept their money at home in bricks of cash, sometimes for so long that the elastic bands around them rotted. “We don’t trust banks,” says Richard. “The old generation kept their money under the bed. The new generation keep it in safes in their houses.”

Victor’s family, too, stay away from banks, but for a slightly different reason. “If you put your money in a bank, everyone will know how much you have,” he explains. I had also heard that rich Cambodians had repatriated hundreds of millions of dirty dollars from Singapore banks after a post-September 11 shake-up of global banking, and that this money had helped fuel the land speculation in Phnom Penh. Richard had heard this too. The bank accounts had belonged to “government people”, he said. Buying land and selling land had not only enriched them further, but had also allowed them to obscure the source of their wealth. Laundering any dirty money was vital, since foreign donors were pressing the Cambodian government to pass anti-corruption legislation that would force the rich to declare their assets.

For the children, the wealth comes with one big condition: they must do exactly what Mum and Dad tell them.

“I wanted to go to art school, but my parents wouldn’t let me,” says Sopheary.

Most kids dutifully join the family business. For some, that business is politics. The commerce minister, Cham Prasidh, whose house is the size of an airport-departure hall — one with a jet-ski lake — gave a ministry position to his wife and made his daughter his chief of cabinet. Cambodia’s ambassadors to Britain and Japan are brothers, and their boss is also their father, the foreign minister Hor Namhong. “It’s not nepotism,” he insists.

Their parents also expect them to marry young and strategically, to someone from a rich and influential family. These marriages are often arranged. Many high-society Cambodians soon find themselves trapped in loveless unions; extramarital affairs are common. Sophy, that deputy prime minister’s daughter, was married off at 17 to the son of the rich and powerful interior minister. A web of marriages binds together the elite and ensures the ruling

People’s Party’s stranglehold on power. At the centre of the web sits prime minister Hun Sen. His three sons and three daughters are all married to the children of senior ruling-party politicians or, in the case of his son Hun Manet, to the daughter of the late national police chief. Hun Manet is being groomed to succeed his father. He graduated from West Point in 1999, amid protests by members of the US Congress over his father’s human-rights record. Senior Khmer Rouge figures such as Comrade Duch, the mass-murdering commandant of Tuol Sleng prison, are currently on trial at a United Nations-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Riche, on the other hand, remain above the law. Victor displays a military VIP sticker on the dashboard of his Merc. “It means that the police cannot touch me,” he says. Many of his generation abuse such privileges. Last August Hun Chea, a nephew of the prime minister, hit a motorcyclist with his Cadillac Escalade, ripping off the man’s leg and arm. Hun Chea tried to drive off but couldn’t, because the accident had shredded one of his tyres. Military police arrived, removed the Escalade’s licence plates and, according to the Phnom Penh Post, told Hun Chea: “Don’t worry. It wasn’t your mistake.” Hun Chea walked away. The motorcyclist bled to death in the road.

Hun Sen has yet another bad-boy nephew, the widely feared, mega-wealthy Hun To (“Little Hun”). In 2006 a newspaper editor filed a lawsuit against Hun To for alleged death threats, then fled overseas to seek asylum, with the help of the UN. Hun To owns, among other cars, a Lamborghini, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a Bentley. Victor test-drove Hun To’s latest acquisition before it was put on a Cambodia-bound shipping container: a $500,000 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercar. “He’s built a special garage for it,” says Victor. He dares not criticise Hun To. But he is critical of Cambodian society. “From top to bottom, everyone is corrupt,” he says. He hopes one day to set up a foundation to help poor Cambodians send their children to study overseas.

“We want to change things, but we’ll have to wait until our parents retire,” he says.

But the older generation shows no sign of retiring — not when there’s so much cake to eat. In January 2009 foreign donors pledged $US1 billion to Cambodia, its biggest aid package yet, mostly donated by western tax-payers. The government relies on foreign aid for almost half of its budget. It could break this reliance by exploiting its reserves of oil, gas and minerals: the International Monetary Fund estimates that Cambodia’s annual oil revenues alone will reach $US1.7 billion by 2021. Could, but probably won’t. Why? Because the same elite who cut down the trees and sold off the land are now poised to extract the oil and minerals. And they will expect their children to help them.

Some Hun Sen loyalists have already been allocated exploratory mining licences, including General Meas Sophea. He recently hired a temp to act as his foreign liaison officer. The temp is his son. His son’s name is Victor.