Monday, 5 May 2008

PM apologizes as defections continue

By Neth Pheaktra
The Mekong Times

Prime Minister Hun Sen apologized to opposition leader Sam Rainsy Saturday for the inconvenience caused by Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) officials defecting to his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). However, he again declared he would welcome all opposition defectors.Speaking at the inauguration of a temple in Kompong Chhang province, the premier revealed that the CPP has just received Kim Ouchansamith, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) deputy president of Prey Veng.

Kim Ouchansamith has already been appointed as a government advisor and is a candidate for the position of lawmaker, Hun Sen said.

“The CPP will continue to receive [other party officials] both before and after the election,” Hun Sen said. “It will receive [officials] both new and old without discrimination. [It] collects all.” Hun Sen’s declaration comes as political parties are beginning to register party names and candidates for July’s parliamentary election with the National Election Committee (NEC).

The premier said that defections “can make some parties find it difficult to prepare a list of candidates to register with the NEC. Some candidates who have already been registered have defected to other parties.”

“I apologize to H.E Sam Rainsy for making H.E find it difficult to prepare a list of candidates for the position of lawmakers,” Hun Sen said.

Sam Rainsy said he was unconcerned by recent defections.

“I know how to consider the SRP’s matters, and it is not necessary for other parties to worry for the SRP,” he assured. “We will solve the problems in a proper and timely manner. Therefore, I have no worries about the preparation of the SRP’s candidate list, and we will submit it on time.”

NEC Secretary General Tep Nitha said yesterday that registered candidates who defect must be deleted from NEC lists.

“If [the defecting candidate is] officially registered, we have to delete his name, and a reserved candidate will replace him,” he explained.

“According to the election law, the NEC will delete the name of any person who stands for two parties, and will not allow him to stand for any party.”

Sam Rainsy said members’ defections to other parties had actually benefited the SRP.

“The defection of a person did not cause any serious [impacts] to SRP because those at the grassroots levels maintain their wisdom,” he claimed.

“We gained support from tens thousands of CPP members who are not satisfied with the corruption of CPP officials, improper economic control, land grabbing and soaring commodity prices” Hun Sen has repeatedly denied accusations of corruption in defection deals.

“I have no need to buy people and people are not goods,” he said. “Apart from the mistakes of the political parties they [defectors] were once in, there is also another point – the CPP is politically in the right.”

Election monitoring trip to Cambodia draws questions of bias

The student who was previously the trip's lead organizer is daughter of the Cambodian opposition party leader.

Cambodian police save British man from lynch mob

TREND news

Cambodian police arrived in the nick of time to save a British man from a lynch mob after he allegedly savagely beat his girlfriend on the street, an officer said Monday.

David Finch, 42, of Birmingham, had allegedly been punching and kicking his 20-year-old Cambodian girlfriend on the footpath when his neighbours decided they could take no more, said Chhit Vuthy, deputy police chief of Psar Kandal 1 in the capital, the dpa reported.

"They formed a mob and managed to hit him hard in the head but we arrived just in time and then they had to let him go," Vuthy said. "He has no respect for Cambodians, and they were angry."

Mob and extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals remain relatively common in Cambodia.
Finch, a long-term expatriate in Cambodia who ran and lived in his bar, Broken Bricks, had a history of violence and drugs were believed to be involved, police said.

Vuthy said he was unsure whether the father of one would now be deported or sent to court. The victim was taken to hospital with a suspected broken arm and bruising but released soon after.

The incident is the second of its kind since Cambodia banned marriages to foreigners last month , citing potential for abuse and exploitation of often poor and under-educated Khmer women.

Two weeks earlier a German man was charged with aggravated assault after breaking both his Cambodian wife's arms, repeatedly beating her and locking her in their house for weeks at a time.

Cambodia says rice cartel would ensure global food security

People buy rice in Cambodia as the country's premier said that an OPEC-style rice cartel would ensure food security

A woman buys rice in Cambodia as the country's premier said that an OPEC-style rice cartel would ensure food security

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that a proposed OPEC-style rice cartel in Southeast Asia would ensure global food security, rejecting concerns that it would increase hunger and poverty.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said last week that his country had agreed in principle to form a rice price-fixing cartel with Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia as costs of the staple grain skyrocket.

The grouping of nations along the Mekong river would be similar to the oil cartel OPEC, and would be called the Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries (OREC).

Hun Sen said during a university graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh that the cartel would not try to manipulate markets, but would seek to ensure global food security.

"We will not only ensure food security in each of our own countries, but will help solve the entire problem of (food) shortages across the region and the world," Hun Sen said.

"When there are shortages, we will not stockpile the rice or increase prices," the premier said.
"We really want to help ensure food security," he added.

The Asian Development Bank has come out against the planned cartel, while senior Philippine officials have blasted the proposal as "anti-poor," saying it would only exacerbate hunger and poverty.

Hun Sen urged other Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, not to worry about the cartel.

"The formation of the organisation is not meant to strangle the throats of countries that do not have rice," he said.

The five proposed members of the cartel will discuss the organisation at regional talks in October, Hun Sen said, adding that the Mekong river nations would export up to 15 million tonnes of rice a year.

World rice prices have soared this year, a trend blamed on higher energy and fertiliser costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of rice farmland to biofuel plantations, and price speculation.

Hun Sen on Wednesday appealed to the country's farmers to start growing rice and other crops, saying most of the population would benefit from the global food crisis.

Talking Heads - Geraldine Cox

Monday, 05 May 2008

This week on Talking Heads, Peter Thompson chats with Geraldine Cox AM, the President, Director and 'Big Mum' of the Sunrise Village Orphanages in Cambodia.

Geraldine's life reads like a thick airport paperback - war zones, exotic locations, diplomatic cocktail parties, lots of men, love, prostitutes and sex, a bloody coup, adoption (multiple efforts), teenage rebellion, hedonism and selflessness, meetings with kings, generals and prime ministers. She could be described as part sinner, part saint. She's done it all and tells it with an extraordinary frankness.

Through her Sunrise Village Orphanages, Geraldine cares for hundreds of children. But she once enjoyed a champagne lifestyle with the diplomatic service. She had two mink coats and her life was exciting and full. During this time she was consumed by an inability to have children.

At one stage Geraldine hired Thai prostitutes in a desperate attempt to conceive. Eventually she was able to adopt a Cambodian girl, whom she named Lisa, but who turned out to be profoundly disabled. After seven difficult years with Lisa, Geraldine found herself on the brink of taking her own and her daughter's life.

"Why couldn't I have a child whose life I could make a difference to? In evaluating this over the years, I really think that Lisa's role in her life, if it's been anything; it's been to lead me back to other children where I could make a difference."

There are currently two Sunrise children's villages. Sunrise 1, about 20 km outside Phnom Penh houses 130 children. Sunrise Angkor Children's Orphanage in Siem Reap houses a further 80. A further complex in Sihanoukville is under construction.

Festival of the Dead

The New Republic
by Christina Larson
The gross exploitation of Cambodia's past.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
An hour's drive from downtown Phnom Penh sits a campus of modern office buildings. The architecture is standard office-park fare, but with fantastic crowns of golden lintels and red tiles--traditional Khmer designs--grafted atop. (The effect is rather like seeing a businessman wearing a papal crown.) The offices were originally constructed for the military, and a sign that reads ROYAL CAMBODIAN ARMED FORCES still hangs on one gate. Elsewhere on the campus, a large bronze statue of a warrior on a pedestal stares down at onlookers, one arm pointing an accusing finger, the other brandishing a club. My guide, an American who works for the United Nations, tells me that it is a traditional Cambodian representation of justice. But, he adds, wrinkling his nose, he doesn't much like it. "It's not what justice should look like," he says. "You know, the lady with the blindfold and the scales."

The question of what, exactly, justice looks like is in the air here because the campus is home to the tribunal that is slated to begin trying five top Khmer Rouge officials within the next few months. Backed by the United Nations, the tribunal represents the first attempt to prosecute leaders of the Khmer Rouge in almost 30 years. After the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 and put a halt to the killing, they held a cursory trial, widely regarded as a sham. In the years that followed, no comprehensive attempt was made to hold surviving Khmer Rouge officials accountable for the estimated 1.5 million people who perished under their rule between 1975 and 1979. History loomed, ominous and inscrutable, and the questions surrounding the Cambodian killings fields, questions that might have been answered through trials, went largely unaddressed. Why had the Khmer Rouge kept such meticulous records--rooms upon rooms of file cabinets containing labeled photos of victims, taken both before and after death? Why were some people killed for offenses as superficial as wearing glasses, while others were not? Why were so many of the guards at the notorious S-21 detention center--responsible for interrogating and torturing tens of thousands--middle-school-aged children?

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998 without ever having to answer these questions. But some of his deputies survive, including the five whose trials are expected to begin soon: Kaing Guek Eav, head of the S-21 prison; Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist; Khieu Samphan, former chief of state; Ieng Sary, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister; and his wife, Ieng Thirith, former minister of social affairs.

World Vision: ORBIS in Cambodia

Michael Vrabec has spent decades doing corneal transplants in his Appleton office, but it’s the ones he does as part of a traveling eye hospital that have proven most memorable. He recently spent two weeks in Cambodia, where he performed the country’s first transplant on a 32-year-old rice farmer.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
ORBIS volunteer Dr. Michael Vrabec, assistant clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, hand carried three donated corneas from Wisconsin to Cambodia, and prepares to board the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 11, 2007. The corneas were donated by Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin. The ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital Program provided intensive ophthalmic training for 52 ophthalmologists and eye doctors in Cambodia as well as participants from Myanmar and Laos.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
ORBIS volunteer Dr. Michael Vrabec, assistant clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, discusses a corneal transplant option with trainees at the Preah Ang Duong Hospital, December 11, 2007. Dr. Vrabec volunteered with ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital Program that went to Cambodia at the invitation of the Cambodian Ministry of Health, for intensive ophthalmic training for 52 ophthalmologists and eye doctors in Cambodia as well as participants from Myanmar and Laos. ORBIS is a non-profit group dedicated to helping fight blindness around the world.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Dr. Michael Vrabek and the trainees take a first look at Sry Loy's cornea, during a post-op exam at Preah Ang Duong Hospital, December 12, 2007. Loy received a new cornea the day before. His cornea is still tinted green from the fluorescent stain used during the operation. Loy, 32, is a rice farmer who has been bilaterally blind for the past 10 years. He traveled 12 hours to Phnom Penh, in hopes that ORBIS could restore some of his sight. Loy was the recipient of a cornea donated by the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, and had the first corneal transplant performed in the country.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Bunly Chhreng, 20, thanks ORBIS volunteer Dr. Michael Vrabek, as the doctor lets him know that Bunthoeuom Song's corneal transplant went well at Preah Ang Duong Hospital, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 12, 2007.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Thol Ram, left, watches her mother Thou Hem, center, during her post-op exam aboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 13, 2007. Translator Kaknika Kosal, right, assists. Mrs. Hem was treated for glaucoma by Dr. Ralph Sanchez, of Glaucoma Consultants of the Capital Region in Voorheesville, NY.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
ORBIS's Troy Ingham, RN, climbs through the floor of the recovery room, bringing up supplies from the storage area as patient Yeth Oen awaits surgery aboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 13, 2007. A trainee, left, observes. ORBIS is a non-profit group dedicated to helping fight blindness around the world

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
ORBIS volunteer Dr. Michael Vrabek, left, performs a corneal transplant on patient Sokin Von, left, as trainees watch a monitor showing the procedure, right, aboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 11, 2007. Dr. Vrabec is the assistant clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in Madison, WI

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
As volunteer anesthesiologist Dr. Artem Grush wheels Line Chea, 5, into the operation room for her surgery, she turns back and cries for her mother, aboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 11, 2007. Line was the first surgery performed for the 100th trip of the FEH, and the first of the program in Cambodia. ORBIS volunteer Dr. Robert Kersten, associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, performed a levator resection for Line's left eyelid.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Volunteer RN Pamela Schultz of Chicago comforts Sok Kim, mother of Line Chea, 5, who became emotional with concern after her daughter was taken into the operation room for her surgery aboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 11, 2007. Line was the first surgery performed for the 100th trip of the FEH, and the first of the program in Cambodia. ORBIS volunteer Dr. Robert Kersten, associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, performed a levator resection for Line's left eyelid.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Bunthoeuom Song, 23, waits alone in a stairwell for his surgery to begin, at Preah Ang Duong Hospital, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, December 12, 2007, for his corneal transplant. Mr. Song did not inform his family of his upcoming surgery because they live far away and have little money, and he didn't want them to tax themselves trying to make the long journey to be with him during his surgery.

Photo/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
The halls of Preah Ang Duong Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, were filled with people hoping that ORBIS would be able to help them or their family members with eye health problems, December 10, 2007. ORBIS International brought its world renown programs to Cambodia at the invitation of the Cambodia Ministry of Health. The ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital was stationed at the airport, and volunteers also worked with trainees at the local facility.

World vision : Doctors export their skills so others can finally see

JS Online
Story by Kawanza Newson and Kristyna Wentz-Graff
May 4, 2008

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - The halls of Preah Ang Duong Hospital are filled with hundreds of people hoping that the doctors who have just arrived will treat their eye problems.

They are young. They are old. Some have bare feet.

Most traveled for hours, even days, just to be seen.

Among them is Loy Sry, a blind rice farmer who lost his vision 10 years ago. Loy can only see shadowy shapes and light, and he is afraid that doctors won't give him surgery. Or if they operate, the procedure won't restore his sight. Even worse, that he'll lose his land because his problem is inoperable.

"They will run out of patients, and I'll get other problems," said the 32-year-old, who walks hunched forward with his arms outspread to make sure nothing is in his way.

This December 2007 trip is the 100th journey for the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital, but it is the first time the group of international doctors has been to Cambodia. The country, which is one of the poorest in Southeast Asia, is rife with eye disease and has a critical ophthalmologist shortage.

Most of its professionals, including eye doctors, were killed in the late 1970s during the Khmer Rouge's genocide, leaving few doctors to care for citizens and train more doctors.

Currently, there are only eight ophthalmologists and 40 eye doctors to provide care for the entire country. Most practice in urban areas, while 85% of the population lives in rural areas. They have limited access to eye care when they're infected or injured, usually during agricultural work.

Sharing knowledge

For the next two weeks, those doctors and others from nearby Laos and Myanmar will receive intensive training and ophthalmologic equipment to help improve treatment in the region.

They'll work alongside an international ORBIS medical team - including an Appleton ophthalmologist and a Marshfield nurse - who will teach them to perform eye surgery and manage at least six common ailments.

"The goal is to upgrade their skill set," said Brooke Johnson, spokeswoman for ORBIS, based in New York. "A lot of times we train the more senior doctors because they're already in a position to train others. The hope is that they'll train younger doctors and that the skills will trickle down."

Since 1982, ORBIS programs have helped more than 6.8 million people in 86 countries and trained more than 195,000 health care professionals, she said. Cambodia was the 75th country visited by the Flying Eye Hospital, one of several programs designed by the organization to prevent blindness worldwide.

A Boeing DC-10 was renovated to function as a fully operational surgical center.

Before the plane's arrival, Cambodian doctors scouted their practice areas for patients who could be treated by the ORBIS doctors. That's how Loy found out about it - a local doctor examined his eyes and told him to go to Phnom Penh to be considered for a corneal transplant.

Journey for sight

Loy made the 12-hour trip from KratiƩ Province to Phnom Penh with his brother Loy Srom, 28. They walked, took a bus and rode on the back of a small motorcycle to get here.

When the plane arrives, the siblings had been in Phnom Penh for eight days. It was a long trip, but Loy told an ORBIS interpreter that it was something he had to do. Today, Loy waits nervously in the darkened examination room, continuously rolling medical papers in his hand.
"Making the trip was important to me," he said. "I hope to have my life back. Not being able to see or help my family makes me feel dead at times . . . helpless."

Appleton ophthalmologist Michael Vrabec has volunteered with the ORBIS program since 1990, when he spent three weeks in Ibadan, Nigeria, as the only cornea surgeon. Since then, he's been on about 20 trips, including journeys to Bangladesh, Paraguay and Morocco.

"I have the same idea of trying to save sight worldwide," he said.

Vrabec said volunteering has greatly improved his skill level because the international cases he treats are always more difficult than what he sees in the U.S.

And he pushes the local doctors to immediately begin to use what they learn, typically allowing the local doctor to perform most of a surgery because "when the plane leaves, the plane is gone."

Over the years, Vrabec has learned to travel lightly. For this trip, he packed a small suitcase with a few shorts and T-shirts for himself; two large bags of medical supplies to donate to the local hospital; and a small blue insulated lunchbox with three corneas donated by the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin for transplantation. Each cornea costs about $2,400.

Vrabec, who is also an assistant clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, has performed thousands of corneal transplants and can quickly spot a case that can be used for training.

A reason found

As he performs Loy's examination, Vrabec is surrounded by a dozen local doctors who listen intently while he explains that Loy's corneas were infected and scarred, likely from his agricultural work.

The cornea is the clear surface at the front of the eye that protects it from germs, dust and other harmful materials. It also helps the eye focus. When the cornea becomes injured or infected, a person's vision is dramatically reduced.

Corneal transplantation is one of the most frequently performed human transplant procedures. Since 1961, more than 700,000 corneal transplants have been performed, according to the Lion's Eye Bank.

Recovery of the donor eye tissue takes place within hours of death and excision, and preservation of the cornea must take place within 18 hours of death. A corneal transplant typically is performed within three to five days after donation, though it can be done up to 14 days later if the donor cornea is stored properly.

Jerry Rabbach, community relations specialist for the Wisconsin eye bank, said 42,000 corneal transplants are performed in the U.S. each year.

Of the 1,011 eyes that were donated to the Wisconsin eye bank for transplantation last year, only 187 were transplanted outside the U.S., he said.

Vrabec, who sometimes travels to Madison to pick up corneas for his operations, tells the local doctors that Loy is an ideal candidate - he is young, blind in both eyes, has parents who depend on his work for survival and cannot afford to have the surgery otherwise.

Loy is then sent for an exam to make sure he can handle anesthesia and then to meet with more doctors who explain the procedure and give him a wristband displaying Vrabec's name.

A life changed

A few days later, Loy and other patients are transported from Preah Ang Duong Hospital by ambulance to the airport for their procedures aboard the plane.

Loy does not smile. His brows are furrowed as he listens to the talk around him and tries to understand what is going on. He knows that he will have surgery aboard an airplane, but he has never been on or seen an airplane up close before.

Once aboard, he is escorted into an exam room and a large "c" is written above the eye that will get the transplant.

Loy is one of the first patients in Cambodia to receive a corneal transplant and his procedure is broadcast live to local doctors on the plane.

"The second stitch is the most important stitch in determining whether or not we'll have astigmatism," Vrabec tells the crowd.

He also tells them to save the old cornea "just in case" and not to touch the tip of the needle during surgery because it will dull.

In about an hour, his transplant is over, and Loy is sent to the recovery room before heading back to the hospital.

The next day, his eye patch is removed at the hospital. Loy returns to the plane a day later for a follow-up exam and is able to count fingers that a doctor holds up for him while standing across the room.

He also finally sees the flying hospital.

"This plane is so big, I don't have any words to describe it," he says.

Since his surgery, Loy has a new appreciation of life. A month after his transplant, he returned to Preah Ang Duong Hospital to meet with ORBIS doctor Wenhua Li from the Shanxi Eye Hospital in China. During that visit, he told the doctor that he has been very careful about following the doctor's instructions and using his eye drops. He also said he's decided to change careers and to try to start his own family.

"I want to be a taxi driver now to make more money for my family and to find a girlfriend," he said.

China farms the world to feed a ravenous economy

Associated Press Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008

The rice fields that blanketed this remote mountain village for generations are gone. In their place rise neat rows of young rubber trees - their sap destined for China.

All 60 families in this dirt-poor, mud-caked village of gaunt men and hunched women are now growing rubber, like thousands of others across the rugged mountains of northern Laos. They hope in coming years to reap huge profits from the tremendous demand for rubber just across the frontier in China.

As Beijing scrambles to feed its galloping economy, it has already scoured the world for mining and logging concessions. Now it is turning to crops to feed its people and industries. Chinese enterprises are snapping up vast tracts of land abroad and forging contract farming deals.

This quest raises both hope and criticism.

Laos' communist regime touts rubber as a miracle crop that will help lift the country from the ranks of the world's poorest nations. China is expected to consume a third of the world's rubber by 2020, become its largest car market and put 200 million vehicles on the road.

But some Laotian farmers are losing their ancestral lands or being forced to become wage workers on what were once their fields. Chinese companies are accused of getting rubber concessions from officials and not compensating farmers. They are also accused of violating laws, human rights and the environment, under conditions described by experts as "anarchic."

"The Chinese companies in the north are a bunch of thugs," says Charles Alton, a consultant in agronomy for international agencies in Laos. However, Alton says, the "unpoliced, unregulated situation" in northern Laos is ripe for exploitation.

The Chinese deny or don't comment on such allegations.

"I haven't heard of the bad behavior of Chinese companies abroad, but Chinese companies which intend to expand abroad must know it is important to have a good relationship with the local people," says Ju Hongzhen, president of the China Rubber Industry Association.

China's State Forestry Administration last year issued guidelines for Chinese firms running overseas plantations. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is also scrambling to put out guidelines for a fast-moving global scenario.

From Southeast Asia to Africa, the Chinese are farming oil palm, eucalyptus, teak, corn, cassava, sugar cane, rubber and other crops. As in Laos, the industrial-size farms are variously viewed as an ecological nightmare or a big step toward slashing poverty.

In Congo, a Chinese telecommunications giant, ZTE International, has bought more than 7 million acres of forest to plant oil palms. In Zimbabwe, state-owned China International Water and Electric Corp. reportedly received rights from the government to farm 250,000 acres of corn in the south.

Indonesia is moving to develop biofuel plantations with The China National Overseas Oil Corporation. The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, an advocacy group, believes other deals are in the works, often through proxy companies because of long-running anti-Chinese sentiment in the country. The group says the project would destroy natural forest.

In Myanmar, rubber concessions have gone to at least two Chinese companies, Ho Nan Ching and Yunnan Hongyu. Refugees fleeing Myanmar's military regime say troops are forcibly evicting farmers to make way for rubber plantations, including some run by Chinese enterprises.

A Chinese-Cambodian joint venture, Pheapimex-Wuzhishan, converted land of the Phong tribal people into a tree plantation 20 times larger than allowed by law in Cambodia, according to the environmental group Global Witness. The group says the concession in Mondulkiri province encroached on grazing grounds, destroyed sacred sites and used toxic herbicides.

Another Chinese enterprise in Kratie province circumvented the size restriction by registering as three separate companies, Global Witness says.

In Beijing, the Commerce Ministry declined to answer written questions about China's global reach in agriculture or operations of Chinese enterprises abroad except in Laos, where it said companies had a "very strong awareness for environmental protection." Local residents welcome the new developments because incomes have increased by as much as five times, a ministry statement said.

However, the central government in Laos last May ordered a moratorium on concessions over 100 hectares (247 acres), in part because it had become clear many were covers for logging.

Entire hills in the north have been scalped of green cover, and rubber trees penetrate into the tangled natural forests. Also being cleared are secondary forests, sources of medicinal herbs and edible plants that tribal people have depended on for generations.

The government edict against concessions appears to have been ignored in the north, where local officials often a make the rules in an environment of corruption, ill-defined land laws, vague agreements and conflicting agencies.

"The Chinese companies do everything in their power to take advantage but they are also taken advantage of. The system is corrupt and there are loopholes and sometimes it works in their favor and sometimes against them," says Weiyi Shi, an American economist who recently completed a study on the rubber industry.

The study found that when the China-Lao Ruifeng Rubber Company moved in, the frontier village of Changee lost most of its rice fields and grazing land and its burial grounds were desecrated. The pleas of villagers got no result and some protesters were reportedly held at gunpoint, with the Chinese using coercion through local authorities.

A company executive, Zheng Fengqi, contacted in China, denied there were any protests on the concession granted by the military.

"The local people also liked the project because they could earn more money and lead a life of better quality," he says.

Many independent farmers do indeed embrace the Chinese with enthusiasm, hoping to replicate an earlier rubber bonanza in China's neighboring Yunnan province. Some have personal contacts, even relatives, living in China and set up informal business arrangements with them.

Some villagers even torch their surrounding forests, hoping the Chinese will come in and offer them rubber trees.

"They see what is in China, where people have gone from wooden houses to concrete, walking or bikes to motorbikes and cars, buffaloes to hand tractors and kerosene to electricity," says Michael Dwyer, a natural resources researcher from the University of California, Berkeley. "They want the same."

Farmers can hope to take home up to $1,200 from an acre of rubber - roughly seven times more than from growing rice. But it will be another six to seven years before latex begins to ooze from most trees in the north.

"If the price is high we will prosper," says Chan Phoung, one of the villagers at Chaleunsouk, inhabited by the Khmu ethnic minority. "If it's low we don't know what we will do."

A friend adds: "It's like raising a pig for profit - it may die before you can sell it at the market."

Cambodia opens first farmers rice bazaar in Takeo

PHNOM PENH, May 5 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian Center for Agriculture Research and Development (CEDAC) has held its first farmers' rice bazaar in Takeo province's Tram Kark district, local media reported Monday.

The center plans to open many more markets throughout Cambodia over the next two years as part of its efforts to improve farmers' knowledge of the rice trade and to prevent unprocessed rice from being officially exported out of the country, the Mekong Times newspaper said.

"We want farmers to know how to do business with their consumers in this market and let them know how they should produce their foodstuff," said Yang Saing Koma, CEDAC president.

"I think this bazaar can contribute to a reduction in rice exports because when farmers see the strong potential of domestic sales, they will consider storing and grinding unhusked rice to sell in their communities instead of exporting," he said.

Some 85 percent of the Cambodian population are farmers producing about 5-6 million tons of rice a year, the newspaper said.

However, almost one-third of the yield is transported abroad for processing before it is sold as Thai or Vietnamese rice, costing local farmers both profits and prestige, it said.

Editor: Sun Yunlong

Cambodia: Phuchung Begin Season With Win

Phuchung Neak FC began their Cambodian Premier League debut on an upbeat note when they edged Build Bright University 3-2.

Hok Sochivorn was the toast for Phuchung Neak FC when he nailed a hat-trick with goals in the 21st, 23rd and 91st minutes.

But the blame for the loss should fall squarely on Build Bright for their inability to settle down early in the first half of the game and failing to build on the momentum which they had carved after the break.

With a crowd of around 3,500 spectators at the National Olympic Stadium in the Cambodian capital, Build Bright only managed to score twice in the second half off N. Syvestraheim in the 55th minute before Sem Bunny gave them a sense of hope with the second goal in the 74th minute.

But Build Bright’s revival came on a tad too late as Phuchung Neak made sure of the three points with the late goal deep in injury time.

Thailand, Cambodia to discuss Phra Vihear issue

( - Weerasak Futrakul, permanent secretary to the Foreign Ministry has reportedly been appointed to hold talks with deputy prime minister Sok An of Cambodia on Tuesday to discuss the controversy over making the Phra Vihear temple a Unesco heritage site.

Both parties claim they want to find a solution to rights to a controversial piece of land spanning which surrounds the temple.

The temple is Cambodia, but land around it is still in dispute.

The Thai government has offered its full support for Cambodia's proposal to register the temple as a Unesco World Heritage site but plans to propose that a contract be drawn up.

If both governments are unable to reach a deal on the issue Tuesday, they may consider delaying the talks to a later date.

Cambodian minister: Rice cartel aims for common price

PHNOM PENH, May 5 (Xinhua) -- An organization of rice exporting countries (OREC) including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar will aim to set common price for their rice exports for more benefits of their own and the world, national media said on Monday.

Common price of rice will enhance OREC's capability to rice production, provide chance for them to help settle the world food crisis and increase incomes for their farmers, Chinese-language newspaper the Commercial News quoted Cambodian Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Chan Sarun as telling a rural products exhibition in southern province of Takeo on Sunday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen had repeatedly raised the concept of OREC and emphasized the above-mentioned benefits, just before Thailand made a similar initiative at the end of last month, he said.

In addition, he said, common price will help dissolve the chaos on the world's rice market and thus secure the uttermost benefits for all.

"It is high time to establish such an organization," he added.

OREC are now planning to meet as soon as possible to materialize the concept, according to earlier reports.

Meanwhile, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asia Nations) countries, including OREC themselves, agreed for cooperation to stabilize rice price during a meeting in Indonesia on Sunday.

However, on the same day, the Asia Development Bank officials in Spain clearly opposed establishment of OREC, citing that it contradicted the free spirit of market economy and would bring about disadvantages to both sellers and purchasers.

The rice exports of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam used to account for some 40 percent of the world's total annual export of rice. If Laos and Myanmar are also included, the percentage will rise over 50 percent.

Rice price has been spiraling since 2008 and high-quality rice currently sells some 1,000 U.S. dollars a ton.

Editor: Sun Yunlong

Press Freedom Day: Cambodian Journalists Reveal Corruption, Land Grabbing, and Human Rights Violations

Posted on 4 May 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 558

“Every year Cambodian journalists and other journalists in the region and in the world meet together to celebrate the 3 May as World Press Freedom Day, which is a deeply meaningful day, and it is not only a day for journalists, but also for the people of all sections in Cambodia and in the world. Journalists have organized different activities as professionals, to show the importance of their freedom, and they joined together to check and reevaluate the press freedom conditions within the past one year, and they made efforts as well, to find solutions, to guarantee that journalists can fulfill their duties honorably and without intimidation, threats, or any violent reactions.

“This year, UNESCO observes the World Press Freedom Day under topic of Freedom of Expression, Access to Information, and Empowerment of People, recognizing the great importance of journalists and of the media. This organization considers democracy and social development to be difficult to travel on a smooth road, if the citizens in society do not get access to accurate, fair and politically unbiased information. In this sense, the press plays an important role in empowering the citizens by providing rich and useful information that helps people to gain control over their own lives .

“Last year, the Club of Cambodian Journalists continuously monitored the situation and has seen that journalists and the media in Cambodia substantially participated in changing society towards improvement, by providing information in many different ways and with content, related to the revealing of corruption, of land grabbing, and of human rights violations. Meanwhile, Cambodian media are working actively while Cambodia is moving toward the fourth term parliamentary elections on 27 July 2008, and all recognize that real and non-biased information is very important for all Cambodian citizens to choose their representatives as well as to be the real owners of their lives and their fate.

“On World Press Freedom Day, there surely are different commentaries about the situation of press freedom in Cambodia, but when we look at the press freedom in the region and in the world, we can see many positive points related to the situation of press freedom in Cambodia. According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, 86 journalists were killed, and most of them were in North Africa and the Middle East in 2007, but no Cambodian journalist was killed.

This organization said that press freedom of Cambodia ranks 85th among 165 countries observed. Cambodia is considered as the country which has the highest level of press freedom in Southeast Asia. These figures and this evaluation satisfy us, but it also tells us that we must make more efforts to make Cambodia rank better. According to the observation of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, during the one year starting from 3 May 2007 to 3 May 2008, there were seven lawsuits against journalists for publishing articles which are now still in hands of the courts, and there were eleven threats against journalists while they were working.

“However, the Club of Cambodian Journalists finds that it has to insist that a requirement for journalists to fulfill their mission effectively, is that journalists must have the freedom to report, have the rights to get enough information, and have good working condition, without economic and political pressure.

“On the occasion of this Press Freedom Day, we would like to stress two main issues: to promote the right to access to information in Cambodia quickly – that means to create an effective system of spokespersons in ministries and state institutions, and to create and adopt legislation assuring the right to access to information. Moreover, we should also focus on working conditions and the living standard of journalists, because most journalists in Cambodia get low salaries, making it difficult to live appropriately in society, and many conditions, stated in the labor law, are hardly implemented. Thus, the Club of Cambodian Journalists would like to call on all media companies to give more attention to their journalists – both their working conditions, and their salaries.

“On this Press Freedom Day, the Club of Cambodian Journalists would like to send our sad condolences to the families of the 86 journalists and their families of 20 media agencies in the world who were killed. We also ask for the release of the 67 journalists who have been abducted, and we ask for justice and for the release of the 887 journalists in detention. All of them were either killed, abducted, or arrested while they were doing their work of seeking for real information for other human beings in different parts all over our world.”

Koh Santepheap, Vol.41, #6335, 3-4.5.2008

Australian man jailed for rape dies in Cambodian cell

Australian Bart Lauwaert (C)

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — An Australian man convicted and imprisoned in Camdodia in 2003 for raping underage girls has been found dead in his jail cell in the country's northwest, a court official said Sunday.

Former English teacher Bart Lauwaert, 41, was sentenced to 20 years for raping his nine maids, aged between 12 and 14, in Siem Reap province, the tourist gateway to the kingdom's famous Angkor Wat temple complex.

"He died Saturday night," prosecutor Bou Bun Ham told AFP. "He didn't commit suicide. We just found him dead on the floor."

Bou Bun Ham refused to give any further details on the cause of death, and said Lauwaert's body had been sent to the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh.

A duty officer at the Australian embassy said, however, that Lauwaert died a day earlier.
"Bart Lauwaert suffered a stroke and died on Friday," the officer said. "His body is still in the capital city of Phnom Penh waiting for his family, who currently live in Belgium."

Lauwaert had denied the rape charges, but in June 2006 lost an appeal against his sentence.

The nine girls had recanted their original statements and said they had never been assaulted, but the appeal court upheld the sentence amid accusations that the victims had been pressured to change their stories.

Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-paedophilia push in 2003 in a bid to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.

Nine bordergate EZs planned

Lorries carry goods through Lao Cai International Bordergate. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue


HA NOI — Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved a plan to set up nine additional economic zones along the country’s bordergate region by 2020, bringing the total number of EZs in the country to 30.

The scheme, endorsed by the Prime Minister on April 25, is part of a larger economic development plan for the bordergate region up to 2020. It focuses on sustainable development and long-lasting friendship and political security between Viet Nam’s border provinces and neighbouring provinces in China, Laos and Cambodia.

The plan calls for the construction of infrastructure and the setting up of a well-co-ordinated management mechanism, together with policies that would increase the gross import-export revenues with neighbouring border regions to US$43 billion by 2020.

The nine target bordergate economic zones are Mong Cai, Lao Cai and Lang Son in the north, the special economic zone of Lao Bao and another central bordergate economic zone Cau Treo, the largest border economic zone of Bo Y in the Central Highlands, Moc Bai, An Giang, and Dong Thap in the south.

These bordergate economic zones should help strengthen international co-operation and attract domestic and foreign investment into the country, according to the master plan.

Bordergate zone

Located in the East-West Economic Corridor and the Viet Nam-Laos-Cambodia economic triangle, the Bo Y bordergate economic zone occupies 400ha in Ngoc Hoi District in the Central Highlands Province of Kon Tum.

To date, 54 investors have launched projects worth VND11 trillion ($687.5 million), including nine projects in the pipeline and 14 that have already been allocated land.

The zone is now focusing on developing infrastructure to attract investors, said Nguyen The Dat, head of the zone’s State management team.

Another bordergate economic zone on the trans-Asia highway, Moc Bai in southern Tay Ninh Province, also has great potential.

Located 70km from HCM City and some 170km from Phnom Penh, the 21.3ha zone opened in March, 2006 and has a commercial-industrial area and a duty-free supermarket.

Provincial authorities approved 38 projects capitalised at VND5.4 trillion ($337.5 million).

Phuong Trinh Co Ltd, in co-operation with Cambodian partners, has invested $3 million in launching a bus route linking Ben Thanh Market in downtown HCM City with Moc Bai and Tay Ninh town.


ADB chief opposes OPEC-style rice cartel

MADRID, May 3 (Xinhua) -- The chief of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on Saturday that he opposed the idea of setting up an OPEC-style rice cartel as suggested by Thailand amid surging food prices.

"Agricultural markets should be market oriented. It would not be good for exporters and it certainly would not be good for importers," ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda told reporters on the sidelines of the bank's annual meeting, which began here Saturday.

Thailand has said recently it had contacted Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on the proposal to form an OPEC-style rice cartel for a stronger voice on international price-setting.

In the past month, rice prices have doubled, whose impacts have been most pronounced in import-dependent countries.

During the past year, domestic rice prices doubled in Bangladesh and Cambodia, and rose 70 percent in Afghanistan, 55 percent in Sri Lanka and 40 percent in the Philippines, according to the Manila-based ADB.

Kuroda said that to tackle rising food prices in the medium and long term, the most important task is to increase agricultural productivity.

In a 15-page report, the ADB urged governments to step up investment, boost rural infrastructures and strengthen institutions to sustain higher farm output.

However, Kuroda played down the role of supply shortages behind the current price hikes.

"According to various statistics, supply of most agricultural products has been increasing steadily," Kuroda said.

Despite the recent surge in food prices, particularly rice prices, "supply of rice in Asia is not short of covering demand," he added.

But Kuroda admitted that the rise in prices made people worry about future supplies and rush to buy more rice than they usually do, which contributed to an even worse situation.

On the role of speculative moves, Kuroda said there were conflicting views among economists.

Grain inventories have declined sharply in recent years, a sign that speculators may not have been involved to a large extent in the food price surge, he said.

Figures showed the current stocks of rice, wheat and corn were estimated to have fallen by over 40 percent between 2002 and 2007.

Food prices dominated the agenda of the four-day ADB annual meeting.

Editor: Du Guodong

The Cambodian Holocaust

Independent Online
Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose enslavement and escape from the Khmer Rouge inspired the film The Killing Fields, died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 65.

Pran coined the term “Killing Fields” after seeing the remains of victims of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime.

He died at a hospital in New Jersey from pancreatic cancer, according to his former New York Times colleague, Sydney Schanberg.

They were in Cambodia in 1975 to report the fall of Phnom Penh to Khmer forces. Dith Pran was not allowed to leave, and had to endure four years of torture and starvation before escaping to Thailand.

In 1980, Mr Schanberg described his colleague’s ordeal in a magazine article, and later a book, called The Death and Life of Dith Pran.

It became the basis for the Oscar-winning Hollywood film, The Killing Fields. “Pran was a true reporter, a fighter for the truth and for his people,” Mr Schanberg told the Associated Press.

“When cancer struck, he fought for his life again. And he did it with the same Buddhist calm and courage and positive spirit that made my brother so special.”

Mr Dith himself coined the term “killing fields” to describe the horrifying scene he witnessed on his journey to freedom in Thailand.

The Khmer Rouge was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, during which it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century.

The regime claimed the lives of more than a million people - some estimates say up to 2.5 million perished.

Under the Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside.

But this dramatic attempt at social engineering had a terrible cost, and whole families died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork.

Pol Pot’s death in April 1998 heralded the end of the brutal career of a man responsible for overseeing one of the worst genocides of the 20th century.

Between 1975 and 1979 his regime claimed the lives of more than 1m people - through execution, starvation and disease - as the Khmer Rouge tried to turn Cambodia back to the middle ages.

For many survivors of that era, the joy of his demise will only be tempered with the regret that he was not called to account for his crimes against humanity.

The “people’s tribunal” at which his former colleagues sentenced him to life imprisonment last year was widely regarded as little more than a show trial.


Many precise details of Pol Pot’s life remain shrouded in mystery.

He is thought to have been about 72 when he died, although the exact date of his birth is not clear.

Born Saloth Sar - Pol Pot was a nom de guerre - the fledgling tyrant grew up in a relatively prosperous farming family in Kompong Thong province, the heartland of the then French protectorate.

One of his brothers, Saloth Neap, once described Pol Pot as a gentle and kind child. He added he had no idea what his sibling had become until he saw a poster of “Brother Number One” - Pol Pot’s title as leader of the Khmer Rouge - hung up at his work collective.

Having studied at a Buddhist monastery and a Roman Catholic school, he won a scholarship in 1949 to study radio electronics in Paris.

He eventually lost his scholarship and returned to Phnom Penh in 1953.

Pol Pot then scaled the ranks of the underground Cambodian Communist Party and became secretary-general in 1962.

His success was attributed to his ability to combine remarkable charm and grace with an unflinching ruthlessness.

Warped nationalism

In 1963, fearing persecution from Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s secret police, Pol Pot and several of his trusted right-hand men fled into the bush.

Based in remote northeastern Cambodia, he was influenced by the surrounding hill-tribes.

These “original Khmers” were self-sufficient in their communal living, had no use for money and were “untainted” by Buddhism.

From this base he waged war against the US-backed Cambodian government.

When he came to power in 1975, he quickly set about transforming the country into his vision of an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities, abolishing money, private property and religion and setting up rural collectives.

Pol Pot’s radical social experiment claimed the lives of countless Cambodians.

Anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort was killed. Often people were condemned for wearing glasses or knowing a foreign language.

Back to the jungle

The Khmer Rouge government fell in 1979 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia after a series of violent border confrontations.

Pol Pot and his forces once again fled to the northern jungle as evidence of their atrocities was broadcast around the world.

But even though international audiences were horrified by the Hollywood movie about his rule, The Killing Fields, the Khmer Rouge enjoyed support from the United States and other Asian nations because of its opposition to America’s enemy Vietnam.

Pol Pot officially retired as leader of the Khmer Rouge at the end of the 1980s.

Following a bloody power struggle inside the Khmer Rouge he was arrested by his former colleagues in July 1997, and charged with treason.

After a “people’s tribunal” sentenced him to life under house arrest he gave an interview two months later in which he declared: “My conscience is clear”.

Dith worked as a photographer for The New York Times after his escape from the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

He also became a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Dith spoke and wrote often about his wartime experience and remained an outspoken critic of the Khmer Rouge regime.

The Killing Fields

The staggering story of the Cambodian Holocaust, and of the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran - who bear witness as the country is turned into one horrific, giant death camp.

Perhaps the most harrowing and visceral film of the 1980s, The Killing Fields is unstinting in its cinematic and, more broadly, political intelligence. Also it is an indictment of insensitive US foreign policy that contributed to one of the most terrible genocides of the 20th century.

American journalist Sydney Schanberg (Waterston) remains in Cambodia after the Communist Khmer Rough takeover, but must leave when the situation becomes too murderous. Tragically his aide and guide, Dith Pran (Ngor), is unable to escape, and is consigned to a Khmer Rouge death camp.

Schanberg desperately tries to trace Pran, while Pran knows he must escape the camp or meet the horrific end that befalls so many of his countrymen.

It’s a potent, enthralling story, always intelligently told, with a palpable sense of moral outrage permeating every frame. The horror of genocide is probably truly comprehensible only to the people who have survived it, but the images of Pran, literally up to his eyes in corpses, in his desperate bid to escape the killing fields is desperately affecting - and provides a palpable sense of real terror.

Without doubt one of the finest British films of the last 50 years.

Angkor Wat International Half Marathon in December , Angkor Wat, Cambodia
In 2007 Angkor International Half Marathon was celebrated on 2 December and other related events on a day before Angkor International Half Marathon. During that time, there were 2,157 participants from 39 countries and 1 region, that's more than ever before! This race has been taking place in one of the famous world heritage, considered as a world heritage site by UNESCO. This event composes of many types of race such Half Marathon Men/Woman, 21 km Wheel Chair, 10 km Men/Women, 5 km Women, 3 km Kids, Bike Race, and Bike Rally. The next celebration will be held on December 7th, 2008.
Apart from Sightseeing in Siem Reap there are a lot of thing to do and enjoy in their festivals and events. Surely, it can be a good idea to get involve with the real festivals and events. The race is arranged to gather money for the physically challenged, able bodied run for this honest purpose. There is no age limit of the participants, eight to eighty everybody can run. Winning or loosing does not matter at all here; participating for such a grand reason is concerned as the most honorable fact. Participants come here to take part in the Bike Race and Half Marathon from almost every part of the world. The participants receive warm welcome and are provided comfortable accommodation. Angkor half Marathon in Siem Reap
( ), revives the spirit and bond of the Khmer people. If you are coming to Cambodia during this great opportunity, please do not miss the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon.
Beside from enjoying Angkor half Marathon in Siem Reap, you can plan for the other Festivals and Events in Siem Reap which include Chaul Chnam (Khmer New Year),
( ) in Siem Reap and Angkor Photo Festival in Siem Reap. Rest assured that the wonderful city of Siem Reap won't disappoint you!
For more information about Cambodia:
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Prepared by CHHEM Samnang

Rice crisis hits Cambodian kids

Global forces endanger breakfast program for poor children, despite a record local harvest
May 04, 2008

PRAY VIEV, Cambodia–The Sun Sun primary school – two low-slung ochre-yellow buildings and a wooden shack – is surrounded by rice paddies that recently yielded what farmers say is the best harvest in memory. But that has not shielded schoolchildren here from the effects of the global food crisis.

A countdown has begun among administrators here and at 1,343 other schools across Cambodia.
In less than a month, the schools' rice stocks will run out and a popular free breakfast program will be suspended indefinitely because of soaring food prices.

Short of cash, the World Food Program, the UN agency that feeds the world's poorest people, can no longer supply 450,000 Cambodian children with a daily breakfast of domestically grown rice supplemented by yellow split peas from the United States and tuna from Thailand.

In a country where a recurrent paucity of food has taught Cambodians to survive on a bare minimum of nutrition, children in this village are unlikely to starve. But some may miss out on an education.

"Most of the students come to school for the breakfast," said Taoch Champa, a 31-year-old teacher.

The suspension of the breakfast program illustrates one of the many ways the food crisis, in which the price of grain has soared in recent months, is hurting the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

Only destitute schools were selected to take part in the program. Pray Viev is one of the poorest villages in Cambodia's most impoverished province, Kampong Speu.

When free breakfasts were introduced here eight years ago by the World Food Program, they were an instant hit.

"Students brought their brothers and sisters, 2, 3 and 4 years old," said Yim Soeurn, the principal at Sun Sun. "It was very hard to control."

Breakfast has been a magnet for students ever since, as well as the teachers' best friend.

Well-fed students are more attentive, tardiness is no longer a problem (breakfast is served at 6:30 a.m., before classes begin) and attendance by girls, who for years had been kept home by their parents, has increased sharply.

When the program was interrupted in January 2007 because of budget problems, attendance fell by 10 per cent, Yim said.

Menh Veasal, a 14-year-old at the top of his class, skipped school to collect frogs and crabs from a nearby river, his contribution to meals with his parents and seven siblings.

Sim Sreywat, 12, was ordered by her mother to trek to nearby mountains where she harvested tamarind buds and bamboo shoots.

The imminent depletion of rice supplies is particularly paradoxical for children who each day walk or ride their bicycles to school in a landscape of neatly delineated rice paddies.

Rice is plentiful in Cambodia, which has been a net exporter for the past decade. But the staple is becoming less and less affordable for the people who grow it.

A 2006 survey, well before the spike in food prices, found that 22 per cent of Cambodians in rural areas could not meet their own basic food needs.

The most productive agricultural land in Cambodia is near the borders with Thailand and Vietnam, and much of what is harvested there is exported at world-market prices.

But the soil in Kampong Speu province is sandy and parched, yielding less than 1 tonne per hectare, or 2.5 acres, half the national average.

Local farmers typically have plots that are too small to feed their families.

Worldwide, the World Food Program has begun an appeal for an additional $500 million to cover the increase in food prices.

In Cambodia, the price of rice is now above $700 a tonne, more than double the $295 per tonne the agency budgeted for this year.