Monday, 9 June 2008

World Bank supports Cambodia's education sector


(MENAFN) The World Bank (WB) has announced a grant of $57.4 million for Cambodia to help the country's Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports carry out an education project during 2008-2010, Vietnam News reported.

The WB-financed (Sector Support Scale Up Action Program) comprises of three components to assist Cambodia expand early childhood education, improve primary education access and quality, and promote institutional development and capacity building.

It is expected that over 3 years, about 650 existing incomplete schools will be completed and about 25 new buildings for pre-schools, 25 new buildings for primary schools and 60 new district office of education (DOE) facilities will be built.

Australian company cements a place in Cambodia's island resort boom

The Earth Times
Mon, 09 Jun 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Australia's Brocon Group Ltd cemented its place in the island development boom off Cambodia's coast, earning formal government approval for its planned 35-million dollar luxury resort, CEO Rory Hunter said Monday. "From July 2007 we had an in-principle agreement, but we have now received official approval on a 99-year non-renewable lease from Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Council for Development of Cambodia so we can go full steam ahead," Hunter said by telephone.

He said the company hopes to break ground this year, although it may be early next year, and completion is scheduled for 2010.

The development on the twin Song Saa, or Sweetheart Islands, 29 kilometres off the south-west coast of Cambodia, is being billed as a place for "well-heeled adventure travelers" and will feature a spa, restaurant, pool and luxury accommodation.

"We have interests in a few other areas, but this is our labour of love at the moment," Hunter said. Brocon also renovates French colonial era apartments in the capital, 240 kilometres away, for sale and rent.

Established in 2005, Brocon is a small company with just nine full-time staff in its Phnom Penh office but has been a success story in Cambodia's rapidly expanding real estate market.

Hunter said the coastal islands off Sihanoukville show tremendous tourism potential, claiming the atmosphere is reminiscent of Thailand's now world famous beach resorts 30 years ago.

Private Equity Funds Turn Toward Cambodia

June 9, 2008
Posted by Deal Journal

As Vietnam’s overheated economy teeters on the brink of crisis, its neighbor Cambodia is being labeled the next frontier market for private equity.

That should be good news for a country that’s normally only in the headlines for its bloody past, but it also raises an important question: Can foreign investment flourish in a state notorious for corruption, weak laws and business secrecy?

While finding suitable targets in Cambodia may be difficult enough, private equity buyers are also certain to face challenges when they try to exit years from now. “This really is a frontier market,” said Chris Leahy, a Singapore-based managing director at risk consultant Kroll Inc.

In a sure sign Cambodia has arrived on the global investment map, finance luminaries Marc Faber and Jim Rogers have poured praise on the country’s investment prospects. “Cambodia offers an enormous potential for future capital gains,” Mr. Faber wrote in a recent newsletter for acolyte investors. Messrs. Faber and Rogers are advising some of the private equity firms that will pour upwards of $500 million into Cambodia from already completed and continuing fund raising.

Last month, 22 mainly U.S. fund managers met in Siem Reap, Cambodia’s base for temple tourism, to assess the opportunities.

They aren’t the first. Malaysian interests have been active in the country for years and South Koreans are already investing in banking and property, including a $2 billion satellite city on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.

The expatriate business community in Cambodia has long railed against negative perceptions of the country. One refrain: ‘Cambodia is more than a pile of skulls’ - a reference to Phnom Penh’s gut-wrenching “killing fields” museum. Some 1.7 million people, a fifth of the population, were killed during the communist Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror from 1975 to 1979. Special attention was paid to exterminating the educated. Three decades later, the consequences continue to ripple through the country; a lack of skilled people hampers efforts to lift millions out of grinding poverty.

Another legacy of that era, corruption, is well documented. Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Cambodia the 14th most corrupt out of 179 nations in its 2007 study.

It is also difficult to enforce legal rights and business contracts. “There are issues in Indonesia or Philippines enforcing rights but it’s much harder in Cambodia,” said Kroll’s Mr. Leahy. “A creditor needs more than 400 days to get a claim enforced, and that’s assuming the court decides to side with a foreign creditor’s claim,” he said, citing a World Bank report.

Given the perception that large-scale business activities require an unsavory accommodation with powerful figures in the government, staying small may be the key to success for private equity investors.

“We want the small- and medium-sized investments below the political radar screen,” said Douglas Clayton, a managing partner of Leopard Asia, which is raising $100 million for its Cambodia fund. Leopard’s fund opened for subscription in April and has so far raised $11 million. It’s targeting investments between $5 million and $15 million, with a preference for minority stakes and a willingness to start businesses from scratch.

Mr. Douglas said the group sees opportunities in food processing, the garments industry, agribusiness and property. Its first deal is a minority stake in a 250-unit condominium in Siem Reap. The projected return for the fund’s $2.5 million investment in the condo is 60%, well above its target for returns of 25%.

But finding enough suitable opportunities to absorb several hundred million dollars of private equity capital is another issue facing investors. The challenge is finding companies with accounting and management standards that approach international norms, said Peter Brimble, managing director of the Cambodia Emerald Fund, which is aiming to raise $100 million after splitting from Leopard late last year.

The money can be absorbed if the economy continues to grow strongly and the government continues to improve transparency and legal standards, Mr. Brimble said. “As we dig deeper into this country and connect with the entrepreneurial class we are finding a lot of opportunities,” he said.

“Five hundred million dollars is really just a few golf courses and hotels. A lot more could be absorbed,” said Douglas Broderick, the U.N. Development Program’s resident representative in Cambodia.

–Stephen Wright in Bangkok



Vietnam detains, releases 5 Thai fishing boats

The Bangkok Post

Hanoi (dpa) - Vietnamese authorities have released five Thai fishing boats they had detained late last week for violating the country's territorial waters, an official said Monday.

Coast Guard vessels from Kien Giang province in southern Vietnam escorted the five boats with 58 fishermen aboard, including 24 Thai nationals and 34 Cambodian nationals, to international waters and released them there on Saturday, according to Tran Xuan Nghiem, director of the Foreign Affairs Department of Kien Giang province.

"Vietnam and Thailand have friendly relations, so we just released the boats without punishing them," Nghiem said.

The boats were detained last Thursday while fishing in an area about 32 kilometres from Hon Khoai Island off Vietnam's southernmost province of Ca Mau, according to the official.

"They admitted to violating Vietnamese waters and promised not to do it again," Nghiem said.

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal's Rebirth

June 9, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Eight months ago the United Nations-sponsored Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh didn't look like it was worth funding. The United Nations Development Program, which distributes donor funds to the Cambodian side of the tribunal, had tried and failed to suppress an embarrassing audit, first revealed on these pages. The Open Society Justice Initiative's Phnom Penh office brought to light various irregularities at the tribunal, including damning allegations that Cambodian tribunal staff and judges were required to kickback part of their salaries to keep their jobs.

Now the cash is running out. This week, the tribunal is expected to ask donor nations for around $100 million to fund its activities for the next three years. Given the advanced age and poor health of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the stakes are high. But the tribunal's progress over the past few months has been marked. It is now is worth funding.

Last year's audit noted grievous mismanagement, fiscal irregularities and grossly deficient staffing at the tribunal. In response to those complaints, hiring procedures have been improved and made more transparent. International managers now participate in evaluating Khmer staff; Cambodian appointees must meet the advertised minimum qualifications required for their positions, and the unqualified have been eased out. True, some reforms are more dubious, like the requirement that Cambodian staff sign a pledge stating their opposition to corruption at the tribunal. And the comical suggestion box set up for whistleblowers to report dereliction of duty remains unused. But the trend is generally in the right direction.

New senior managers show promise. Take Knut Rosandhaug, who last week took over as coordinator of U.N. assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials and deputy director of the tribunal administration. The pragmatic Norwegian lawyer boasts 20 years of experience in policy making, negotiation, program management, human rights and conflict negotiation. As a director at the U.N. mission in Kosovo, he won a reputation for knocking heads and getting results. He promises the same in Phnom Penh, where five senior Khmer Rouge leaders are – some 30 years after their alleged crimes – finally in the dock.

The tribunal's newly appointed "Special Expert," ex-Yugoslavia tribunal prosecutor David Tolbert, has also won plaudits – especially when it comes to the tribunal's much-maligned budget process. Having exhausted its woefully inadequate initial budget of $56 million, the tribunal submitted a new budget in January asking for an additional $114 million. Donor nations, reluctant to keep funding such a corrupted enterprise, tied their pledges to clear proof that their checks would not be squandered or stolen.

Mr. Tolbert has carved out better lines of communication between donors and the tribunal, after years of distrust and suspicion between them. He has also encouraged tribunal staff to adopt plans for increased fiscal and managerial transparency in order to keep cash pipelines flowing. The new budget, revised since January, will be formally proposed this week.

There remain good reasons to be skeptical of both the Cambodian government and the U.N. No investigation has ever been undertaken, for example, to address the kickback allegations. The Cambodians have insisted auditors found no such evidence. In fact the auditors did not investigate that issue, as it fell outside their mandate. Privately, international observers acknowledge that the Cambodian government will simply refuse to undertake such an investigation. One solution may be to ignore past allegations of corruption, while making clear that any future wrongdoing will not be tolerated. That's not a perfect solution, but it would allow the tribunal to move ahead and perform its work.

The greatest fear, of course, is "slippage"; the idea that the Cambodian side of the tribunal is on its best behavior because the donors are so focused on the issues of corruption and mismanagement, and will return to business as usual as soon as the magnifying glass is removed. The trick, then, will be to ensure that the good behavior is not fleeting, requiring airtight checks and balances to fend off the bad habits of old.

Despite these doubts, there is a growing sense in Phnom Penh that an important corner has been turned and that we may be witnessing the rebirth of a tribunal that deserves support.

Mr. Hall is an associate professor of law and director of the Center for Global Trade and Development at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California.

Thai efforts to combat human trafficking recognised

Radio Australia

Efforts in Thailand and Cambodia to combat human trafficking has been recognised in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report released this week.

Cambodia has even moved from a watch list to a Tier 2 alongside Thailand.

Presenter: Bo Hill
Speakers: David Feingold, International Coordinator for HIV/AIDS and Trafficking, Office of the Regional Advisor for Culture, UNESCO Bangkok; Andrew Hunter, Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers

HILL: Mark Lagon, the man in charge of the US State Department's Anti-trafficking unit, describes human trafficking as widespread, modern day slavery and says about 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. This year, Ambassador Lagon singled out the Thai shrimp processing industry for harsh criticism. Ambassador Lagon tells one Burmese woman's story, recruited to work in Thailand's shrimp industry.

LAGON: Desperate to leave her country, Aye Aye Wynn described her horror to me at finding herself locked in a factory compound in the middle of a jungle, prevented from leaving or calling family by phone, or even eating decently. She and her Burmese brethren weren't even paid.

HILL: He goes on to tell of how Aye Aye Wynn was beaten and chained up. David Feingold is international director for UNESCO's AIDS and Trafficking Project in Bangkok. He says most people who become victims of trafficking into Thailand are from Burma, coming across Thailand highly porous border. He says the government in Bangkok has made two major recent steps forward, however, to combat human trafficking. A nationality law now recognises a large number of formerly stateless people as Thai citizens, providing control and protection. The other new legislation is a recognition that men, like women and children, can also be victims of trafficking and will no longer be treated as illegal immigrants and charged. David Feingold says this corrects a major error in previous anti-trafficking law in Thailand.

FEINGOLD: It's particularly an important change when addressing issues of labour trafficking which have received far more attention in the US report this year then they had in previous years. Previously the nearly sole focus of the report was sexual trafficking which in fact is not the majority of trafficking in the world.

HILL: In neighbouring Cambodia, a national anti-trafficking task force was formed last year. New legislation governing the taskforce coordinates agencies, oversees a wide prevention program and gives police and law enforcement agencies greater powers. The US State Department has recognised the success, moving Cambodia off a watch list to Tier 2 on its global trafficking report. What the US State Department report fails to mention, however, is those who claim they have become victims of the new initiatives. The legislation has changed the legal definition of what is prostitution in Cambodia and now describes all sex work as trafficking or sexual exploitation. An industry which was once described as "a fixture of urban life in Cambodia" is now fighting forced detention, the mass closure of brothels and draconian police intervention such as using the possession of condoms as evidence of sex work. Phuong, a Phnom Penh sex worker, was interviewed for a video report produced by the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers. APNSW says she is just one of a number of victims of the new police powers.

VO: I got arrested in the park in front of the railway station. They took my watch and money. They took me to the station and they didn't beat me but they gang raped me, one after the other."

HILL: Andrew Hunter is from APNSW. He says the law is a violation of sex workers human rights, where even peer educators and union organisers can be arrested for human trafficking offences.

HUNTER: What's happened is there's been a mass closure of brothels across Cambodia which has led to huge numbers of sex workers being put out of work and large numbers of sex workers being sent to government and NGO rehabilitation centres against their choice. And large numbers of HIV positive sex workers are being sent to those centres where there's no medical care. In a lot of the centres there's massive human rights abuses - the guards are raping, and gang raping the women on arrival and in some cases regularly and daily.

HILL: Andrew Hunter says it is the US State Department's Anti-Trafficking report that lead to the persecution of sex workers in Cambodia.

HUNTER: Three years ago the draft legislation was tabled in Parliament, and the Women's Network for Unity here, the sex workers union, lead a campaign and met with the Prime Minister and got the legislation stopped. That lead to Cambodia being put on the US government watchlist in their Trafficking in Persons Report and since then there's been huge pressure from the US government under the threat of sanctions to actually pass this law.

Tribunal views from Khmer Rouge town

Moung Seng joined the Khmer Rouge because he had nowhere else to go

Ven Dara says local people want the five former leaders to be cleared

Sak Sokhum says he does not know why so much killing took place

By Philippa Fogarty
BBC News, Pailin, Cambodia
Monday, 9 June 2008

Sak Sokhum does not know who to blame for the estimated 1.7 million people who died under the Khmer Rouge.

He was only 15 when he joined the Maoist movement in 1974.

Everyone had to, he says. They were going to save Cambodia from capitalists and the mounting threat from the Vietnamese.

First he was a driver. Later, when the Khmer Rouge had emptied cities and sent millions of people to work in the fields, he became a bodyguard for a mid-ranking commander.

When the regime fell in 1979, he and many thousands of fighters fled northwest to continue the battle.

For years he was a signals operator, relaying information between base commanders and guerrillas in the jungle along the Thai border.

Then he worked in a medical corps. In 1995 his leg was blown off by a landmine laid by another Khmer Rouge unit.

When the fighting finally ended in the mid-1990s, Sak Sokhum settled down with his family to work as a welder.

He has regrets about the past, but says it was a war and he had to follow orders. He was happy when fighting ended, he says, because he always expected to die.

Now a UN-backed genocide court is preparing to try five of the most senior Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes against humanity.

"The trials are good for Cambodia, because we are all victims of the Khmer Rouge," he says. "It is a good example for the children - it shows that if you do wrong, you must face trial."

But he does not know who should take responsibility for the 20% of the population who died - from starvation, disease, execution and torture - under the Khmer Rouge.

Former head of state Khieu Samphan was a good guy, he says, as was Nuon Chea, deputy to the now deceased Pol Pot.

"At that time, there was killing everywhere. It is hard to say who specifically killed who and where," he says.

Potential witnesses

Sak Sokhum is among thousands of former fighters living in Pailin, a dusty, ramshackle town on Cambodia's border with Thailand.

The Khmer Rouge controlled Pailin for decades, using its gem fields and hardwood forests as a key source of funding.

After the fighting ended, top leaders lived freely in the town until their arrest by the tribunal last year.

Former fighters dominate the local administration. Governor Y Chhean was an ally of Pol Pot. His deputy is the son of former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary.

As victims of Khmer Rouge rule line up to testify before the Phnom Penh-based genocide court, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath says getting the people of Pailin involved in the process is vital to its success.

They can be witnesses, he says, and whether it is for the prosecution or the defence is up to them. "In order to have a fair and credible trial, we need cooperation from all sides."

Earlier this year, about 200 local residents met visiting tribunal officials. Many were apprehensive, the spokesman said.

"They thought that one day they could become targets of the tribunal. So we explained to them that this trial is not about everyone - only the senior and most responsible people."

"We told them that their cooperation was very important."

'Look elsewhere'

One local resident with strong views on the tribunal is Ven Dara, a politician who lives near the main market.

A picture of her uncle hangs on the wall. It is Ta Mok, the Khmer Rouge regional commander whose extreme brutality earned him the nickname "The Butcher".

She wants the tribunal to determine responsibility for what happened - but she wants it to look overseas, at the politics driving events in the region at the time.

"If the five leaders are held responsible, it is not fair. We need to look at the international factors - the role of the US, China, Russia, the French, the Vietnamese," she says.

"The Khmer Rouge thought that they were saving the people, but instead they are accused of being murderers and traitors. This is a regret."

She wants the court to move forward so that the five leaders can be cleared and the "real murderers" uncovered.

She is reluctant to acknowledge wrongdoing by the Khmer Rouge. Asked about killings under the regime, she talks in vague terms of direct and indirect responsibility - but does not answer the question.

'Move forwards'

Other residents, though, are more reflective.

O Lan is the deputy director of tourism. He fought for the Khmer Rouge, but his father and sister died under its rule.

"People who joined the Khmer Rouge when they were young, they have regrets," he says. "They don't know how it turned out like it did."

He thinks the tribunal will be good for victims' families, to help them find out the facts. As for blame, that is a matter for the government.

"Rather than looking backwards, we should keep moving forwards and develop the country," he says.

Moung Seng, a corn farmer, also thinks the past should remain the past.

He was orphaned by the regime, but then found shelter at a Khmer Rouge-run camp in the early 1980s and fought for the movement until the war ended.

He thinks the five leaders should be punished, because "they are responsible for killing their own people".

But five is enough, he says.

And he does not talk about the past with his children.

"We told them that there was not enough food and that people had to work hard," he said. "But no more."

Cambodian economic growth to drop to 7% in 2008

PHNOM PENH, June 9 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian economic performance remains robust though the pace of growth is expected to ease to around seven percent in 2008, down from over 10 percent last year, local media reported Monday.

According to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) statement released recently, the drop in economic growth to around seven percent this year mirrors slowing growth in the garment sector, the Mekong Times newspaper quoted the IMF as saying.

Garment exports are under pressure because of a decrease in international demand and intensified regional competition, the IMF said.

Cambodia's garment industry is a major contributor to the gross domestic product (GDP) with 301 factories and over 340,000 workers exporting 2.9 billion U.S. dollars worth of garments last year.

"Tourism continues to expand at a healthy pace," the IMF stated, adding that with the Tourism Ministry reporting around two million tourists visiting Cambodia last year generating a total revenue of 1.4 billion U.S. dollars.

Cambodia's tourism industry accounts for 15 percent of GDP and employs tens of thousands, indirectly benefiting many more.

Cambodia, as a net rice exporter, should benefit from higher rice prices, the IMF said, but it warned higher food prices will adversely affect the most vulnerable, particularly the urban poor and the landless.

An IMF staff mission led by Luis Valdivieso, visited Cambodia from May 28 to June 5, to hold discussions with senior officials of the Cambodian government on macroeconomic developments and policies.

Agriculture hampered by lack of funds in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, June 9 (Xinhua) -- The Rural Development Ministry of Cambodia has announced that many Cambodian farmers are struggling with a lack of capital for land, fertilizer and insecticide, local media reported Monday.

A lack of investment in the agricultural sector and a land shortage is apparently compounding the situation, Sao Chivoan, the ministry's undersecretary of state, was quoted as saying by the Mekong Times newspaper.

Speaking at a round-table meeting organized by the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) on the development of Cambodia, Sao Chivoan said that agricultural development could be a sustainable way to develop the Kingdom.

"However, our country is still working on it ... so the 85 percent of Cambodia's population that live in rural areas continue to face challenges," he added.

Yang Saing Koma, executive director of the Center for Studies and Development of Cambodian Agriculture (CEDAC), said better irrigation and education in modern techniques would boost agricultural output.

He warned that sale of farming land could affect productivity.

Sao Chivoan also highlighted the uneven development currently taking place.

Most of development gathers around the Tonle Sap Lake where many people are living, he said, so development projects are not fully carried into more rural areas, especially border regions.

There are many barriers, including a lack of road infrastructure, budget and especially the NGOs' funds for development projects that are in the hands of donors, he added.

However, the government's rural development policies are beginning to bear fruit, with roads and schools becoming more common in remote areas, he said.

Editor: Du Guodong

Wat a controversy!

The Bangkok Post

By Post Reporters
The Democrat party has urged the government not to rush to support Cambodia's attempt to register Preah Vihear temple as a new World Heritage Site.

Democrat deputy leader Alongkorn Ponlaboot said on Sunday that the government should think carefully before backing the Cambodian effort.

He was speaking after Phnom Penh redrew the boundaries of the ancient temple site to convince the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) that it now deserved to be put on the World Heritage list. The old map, which was opposed by Thailand, included overlapping areas.

Mr Alongkorn said that by supporting Cambodia on the issue, Thailand would automatically lose its right to reclaim sovereignty over Preah Vihear in the future.

On June 15, 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled the ancient temple belonged to Cambodia. Mr Alongkorn said the ruling was unfair and not based on law.

The Treaty of Versailles stipulated later that the demarcation of the disputed areas was questionable, and that was why Thailand wrote to the United Nations secretary-general on July 3, 1962, saying it reserves the right to reclaim the ancient temple in the future, he said.

"The present government has no right to either sell or reclaim Thai sovereignty in this case.

Next week, I hope, the National Security Council (NSC) and cabinet will review the issue.

Otherwise, it would be a shame and tantamount to betraying the nation and selling Thai sovereignty to another country," Mr Alongkorn said.

He suspects vested interests are behind the move to support Cambodia on the listing.

Mr Alongkorn suggested the government oppose the listing and ask Unesco's World Heritage Committee to drop the issue from the agenda of its July 2-10 meeting in Quebec.

The new Cambodian map will be discussed at the NSC's weekly meeting today. If the NSC approves the map, cabinet is likely to endorse the map tomorrow.

Cambodian perplexed by enigmatic letter from King Sihamoni's father

The Earth Times
Sun, 08 Jun 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's royal palace officials on Sunday strongly denied an enigmatic letter distributed to the press by former king Norodom Sihanouk indicated that his son, King Norodom Sihamoni, might abdicate. But the palace did not say what the letter actually meant, while Sihanouk himself remained silent. The letter and its possible interpretations has caused a stir in some quarters with a national election looming in July.

In copies of the letter, handwritten in French and distributed Friday, Sihanouk speaks of a looming crisis for the Cambodian monarchy "in the near or far future", using the French words "chances" and "deposee."

He also speaks of a "simple life" abroad in Paris.

The monarchy is a pillar of the Cambodian constitution, and the king, seen as a demi-god by many ordinary people, is widely recognized as a symbol of stability.

Sihamoni took the throne in 2004 after his octogenarian father abdicated, citing old age and ill health.

Sihanouk may be the only monarch in the world to abdicate twice - once in favour of his own father so he could take a political role in the 1950's, and again, after many hints and false alarms, four years ago.

Sihamoni, 55, is popular with the public and politicians alike for his quiet manner and stately bearing. Unlike his father, he rarely makes public speeches or statements.

Random Cambodian Facts

Sunday, Jun 08, 2008

Here are a couple random facts from Cambodia that you might be surprised to learn:

1) Cambodians do not know their birthday. Due to the turmoil and poverty caused by the Cambodian revolution, individual birthday celebrations do not exist in Cambodia. As a result, I have not met a single Cambodian that knows what day or even what month they were born. Instead, to keep track of their age, Cambodians coincide their birthday with the Asian New Year which occurs every April and designates the start of rainy season. So, on Asian New Year, everyone turns one year older and celebrates together!

2) Cambodia uses American dollars as their currency. American dollars are accepted around the world, but this is the first place I have been where dollars are the main currency. ATMs dispense American dollars, prices are quoted in American dollars and it is definitely the preferred currency. Cambodia does have its own currency, the Rhiel, but this is only used to make change (in place of American coins); for example if something costs less than a dollar change is given in Rhiel. Right now it is 4,000 Rhiel to one USD, so 50 cents is 2,000 Rhiel. I doubt this practice will continue if the dollar continues to fall. Maybe euros are the new dollar...

Cambodia opposition candidate faces defamation charge

Radio Australia

A Cambodian newspaper publisher who is an opposition candidate in next month's elections has been charged with defaming Cambodia's foreign minister.

Dam Sith is a candidate for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

He's been charged with defaming Hor Namhong in an article about the Khmer Rouge.

Human rights activists have accused the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen of using the courts to intimidate the opposition ahead of the general election.

Hun Sen is widely expected to win the parliamentary election, possibly with a clear majority of seats.

From peas and salt to nothing for breakfast

Cambodian children eat rice in their classroom during a school breakfast, supported by the World Food Programme.
June 08, 2008

Students at a rural elementary school in Cambodia enjoyed their last free breakfasts in class after the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP ) stopped supplying rice and other food because of soaring global prices.

Besides directly providing nutrition for children, the WFP breakfasts have provided an incentive for parents to send their children to school rather than sending them to work in the fields or stay home to look after younger siblings.

WFP said last week that the programme will be resumed later, probably around October, as the agency provides $1.2 billion (Dh4.4 million) in new assistance to help tens of millions of people in 62 nations hardest hit by the food crisis.

Meanwhile, though, Cambodia educators must convince parents to keep their children in the classroom.

The principal of Choumpou Proek school, about 70km west of the capital Phnom Penh, said he has been meeting with village leaders and families to encourage children to keep going to school, even without the benefit of extra nourishment.

The free breakfast programme in Cambodia began in 2000 and has recently been benefiting about 450,000 rural students. The World Food Program feeds almost 89 million people worldwide, including 58.8 million children.

No rice

Choumpou Proek principal Nheng Vorn - who did not know the programme is supposed to be restarted - said his 612 students enjoyed a final free breakfast of steamed yellow split peas with salt - but no rice.

The school's rice supply ran out May 27, so staff cooked the last 29kg of peas for the students, Nheng Vorn said by telephone from the school in a village in Kampong Speu province. The WFP also provided soybeans and cooking oil.

Even though the school is in a rice-growing area, the farms cannot produce enough of the staple to feed the entire community. WFP selected schools in poorest communities for the breakfast programme.

The UN's food agency said three months ago that breakfast stocks at the 1,344 rural schools under its programme would run out before mid-June, and stopped sending rice supplies in March.

The cutoff began after five local suppliers defaulted on contracts to provide rice because they could get a higher price elsewhere, programme officials said.

The price of rice tripled in the first four months of the year as the world food crisis deepened.

Soaring fuel prices have driven up the costs of fertilisers, farm vehicle use and transporting food to markets. Speculation and increased consumption of meat and dairy goods in China, India and other booming developing nations are also considered major factors in the food price hikes.

Global crisis

About 10km from Nheng Vorn's school, Sangkum Seksa school principal Tan Sak said his students have been eating breakfasts of steamed peas with salt since their WFP rice ran out two weeks ago.

The school's kitchen will shut down next week when the peas run out, he said.

Similar situations were occurring around the country and all over the developing world.

In Burundi, Kenya and Zambia, hundreds of thousands of people face cuts in food rations after June. In Iraq, 500,000 recipients will likely lose food aid. In Yemen, it's 320,000 households, including children and the sick.

Most, if not all, will now benefit from WFP's newly announced commitment to renew aid.

Coco Ushiyama, WFP's acting director for Cambodia, said in an interview last month that it was "really a tough decision" to end school food aid in favour of continuing programmes benefiting orphans of HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, who are in "more desperate need" of food aid.

US provides nearly $1 million for Bakheng temple restoration

Photo courtesy of WMF/Glenn BoornazianThousands of tourists descend on Phnom Bakheng each afternoon toenjoy the sunset over nearby Angkor Wat temple.
Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Written by Peter Olszewski
Sunday, 08 June 2008

The United States will provide almost a million dollars for continued preservation and conservation work on the Phnom Bakheng temple at the Angkor Archaeological Zone in Siem Reap, the US embassy said in a statement.

The $978,705, provided through the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation to the World Monuments Fund, will allow work to be done on the 9th century Hindu temple's most visible, but heavily-damaged portion.

“The historic city of Angkor is one of the world’s cultural and architectural wonders. Conserving its monuments, which are a crucial part of Cambodian history, is one way to promote peace and prosperity in the country," said US Embassy Charge d'Affaires Piper Campbell.

"This grant is therefore a significant diplomatic gesture, and it is important to note that it was made possible by strong Congressional interest," she added, speaking in Siem Reap on June 4.

Phase One of World Monuments Fund’s work at the temple was conducted between 2004 and 2007 with a separate $550,000 grant from the US State Department.

This work included archaeological research, conservation assessments, the creation of a plan for the management of tourism at the site and emergency conservation measures.

Phase Two will address some of the most urgent challenges at Phnom Bakheng –- protecting the temple structure from further deterioration through stabilization, waterproofing, repairs and partial reconstruction.

Located on a hilltop, Bakheng is a popular tourist spot to see sunset views of the nearby Angkor Wat temple, the most famous of the monuments in the Angkor complex.

But the large numbers of visitors who scramble each day up Bakheng's worn stairways makes it one of the most threatened temples in the park.

Cambodian perplexed by enigmatic letter from King Sihamoni's father

The Earth Times
Sun, 08 Jun 2008
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's royal palace officials on Sunday strongly denied an enigmatic letter distributed to the press by former king Norodom Sihanouk indicated that his son, King Norodom Sihamoni, might abdicate. But the palace did not say what the letter actually meant, while Sihanouk himself remained silent. The letter and its possible interpretations has caused a stir in some quarters with a national election looming in July.

In copies of the letter, handwritten in French and distributed Friday, Sihanouk speaks of a looming crisis for the Cambodian monarchy "in the near or far future", using the French words "chances" and "deposee."

He also speaks of a "simple life" abroad in Paris.

The monarchy is a pillar of the Cambodian constitution, and the king, seen as a demi-god by many ordinary people, is widely recognized as a symbol of stability.

Sihamoni took the throne in 2004 after his octogenarian father abdicated, citing old age and ill health.

Sihanouk may be the only monarch in the world to abdicate twice - once in favour of his own father so he could take a political role in the 1950's, and again, after many hints and false alarms, four years ago.

Sihamoni, 55, is popular with the public and politicians alike for his quiet manner and stately bearing. Unlike his father, he rarely makes public speeches or statements.

U.S. pays to rebuild temple in Cambodia

Calgary Herald
Sunday, June 08, 2008

restoration - A sacred temple in the historic Cambodian city of Angkor has received a $978,700 US grant to undergo the second phase of a restoration project.

The World Monuments Fund received the grant from the U.S. State Department and will use the money to rebuild and stabilize the severely damaged east elevation at Phnom Bakheng, the oldest temple in the city, fund spokeswoman Holly Evarts said in a telephone interview.

The temple, built by Khmer King Yasyovarman I in 907 AD, represents Mount Mehru, the mythical home of Hindu gods. Perched on the highest point of the Angkor alluvial plain, its stunning sunsets attract hundreds of tourists daily.

Benz family returns home

By Buzz Ball, Benz Family

By Buzz Ball
Carthage Press
Sun Jun 08, 2008

For the first time in more than three years, the Mark Benz family has returned to Carthage from its High Tower Ministries work in Cambodia.

But they have returned with a lot more than what they had when they left in 2004.

• Established is the Cambodian Orphan Aid;

• The Bykota House, a Christian Children’s Home, is in full operation with 16 kids;

• Shepherd’s Crook is an “at Risk” ministry vehicle through which a large variety of needs have been met for individuals and families who otherwise would be at great risk;

• The School of the Nation is a private Christian school to the reach of High Tower Ministry to specifically meet the educational needs of the children of Bykota House and dependants of High Tower Ministries staff.

• And most significantly, the Benz family has grown from seven when they left – two are married and still living in the states – to 10.

“We have five homemade kids and five adopted,” said Rhonda Benz. “We adopted two (Cambodian children) while we were still in the states, and we adopted three more since we have been there.”

Still residing and married in the States are Rebekah, 24, and Steven, 22. They both live in Carthage.

Benz children living in Cambodia are Kathleen, 19, Danielle, 18, and Isaac, 17. Adopted children who also went with Mark and Rhonda are Seth, 9 and Chantal, 7. The three children whom the Benzes adopted while in Cambodia are Christopher, 7, Mary, 6, and Madeline, almost two.

For Kathleen, Danielle and Isaac, moving to Cambodia to live for three years produced some mixed feelings.

“I really didn’t want to go,” confessed Isaac. “But now, I really enjoy it. I feel much differently now.”

Danielle had the same feelings, but really not about the present but about the future.“I was really upset, wondering where my future was going to go,” she said. “I thought that We would be living in a jungle and in tree houses. But once moving there and I found out differently, I adopted to it.”

But Kathleen was looking forward to the challenge.

“I was looking forward to moving there,” she said. “I have always had a heart for missions and I felt really at home there. Sure it was hard to move away from home, but I really love it in Cambodia.”

The Benz children are not just a part of the family, but they are part of the missionary team.
Kathleen works in the office, teaches and helps train the cooks.

Danielle is more fluent in Khmer (the Cambodian language) than the other members of the family.

‘Before we started the school, I taught English for a year or a year and a half,” said Danielle. “After that, I would help around and would translate. I’m also the worship leader at church on Tuesdays and you have to be fluent in the language to do that.”Isaac teaches art, guitar and drums.

“He brings a lot of life into the party,” said Rhonda. “But he also is our handy man. He is more skilled than a native adult plumber is. He has been a tremendous asset.”

Often times, a different environment and culture tests a family so much that it tends to grow apart. The opposite is the case for the Benz family.

“I think we have grown closer as a family, but it has been a struggle,” said Mark. “This different lifestyle has brought out different things in our personalities that we have had to deal with. We have had to rely upon each other to basically survive. We’ve had challenges, but those challenges have taught us that we need to rely upon each other, but more importantly, the Lord.”

Rhonda said she wondered if “we had made a big mistake right after we moved there. Learning the language was a big adjustment and living on the Equator was different and being in the minority. But we are Christians in a Buddhist country. That is very difficult. But we have survived.”

Being back for the first time in more than three years brings joy to Rhonda.

“We are very happy to be back in Carthage,” said Rhonda. “It is nice for our kids to see clean streets. They are all signed up for the Summer Reading Program at the library and we’ve already been to George Washington Carver and will go several other places while we are here.”
High Tower Ministries is based upon three foundational beliefs:

• We are Christ-Centered;

• We care for those most vulnerable;

• We seek to make disciples.

High Tower Ministry is sported by friends and family.

“We have a home team and that team faithfully sends us support each month,” said Rhonda. “Our home church is the Bykota Church, but we are not support by any actual church.”

The Benzes hope to take back some laptop computers for use in the school.

“We are not asking for new computers but just some used laptops,” said Mark. “We can’t take the towers because of the weight restrictions on the airplane.”

Those who want to be a part of the “home team” may contact High Tower Ministries, P.O. Box 535, Carthage, Mo., 64836, or visit