Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Cambodian firm plans $100 million sugar plant JV

via CAAI News Media

Tue Feb 9, 2010

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Cambodia is in talks to build the country's biggest sugar plant, worth $100 million, as part of a joint venture with a French company that would help revive an industry that collapsed during the country's lengthy civil war.

The Mong Reththy Group plans to build the country's second sugar plant since the 1970s and hopes to produce 80,000 tonnes of annually within three years for export to European markets, the company's president told Reuters on Tuesday.

The project aims to take advantage of the European Union's "Everything But Arms" trade initiative, which allows tariff-free imports of any product except weapons from poor countries.

Mong Reththy, a Cambodian tycoon and senator, said his company was still in talks on the proposed joint venture with the French company, which he would not name until a deal was struck.

Cambodian companies lacked sufficient funds to go it alone and remained dependent on foreign investment, he said, adding now was a good time to start because of the high price of sugar cane.

"It's impossible to come up with $100 million. Cambodians can't do it alone, there needs to a partnership with foreigners," Mong Reththy told Reuters when discussing the plant, to be built in the northern province of Stung Treng.

The group's deputy director, Mok Chansothea, said clearance of the 10,000 hectare (24,710 acre) site, around 500 km (310 miles) north of the capital, Phnom Penh, would begin on Feb. 22 and planting would start in June.

Last month Cambodia, a net importer of sugar, launched a sugar plant in the southern province of Koh Kong, the first sugar facility to operate in 40 years.

The plant, worth $90.6 million, is a joint venture between Cambodia's Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company Limited, Thailand's Khon Kaen Sugar KSL.BK and Taiwan's Vewong Corp, according to local media.

The two projects would produce a combined 160,000 tonnes of sugar for export, Mong Reththy said.

That is significantly less than Thailand, the world's second-biggest exporter with over 5 million tonnes a year, but the new plants are a sign of the efforts being made by the impoverished country to boost exports and reduce its reliance on neighbouring countries. (Editing by Martin Petty)

Hun Sen lets fly at Abhisit

via CAAI News Media
Published: 9/02/2010
Newspaper section: News

A fresh onslaught of insults by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen directed at Abhisit Vejjajiva is widening the diplomatic gulf between the two countries.

A Thai soldier armed with a rocket launcher guards the Ta Muan Thom temple on the border with Cambodia in Phanom Dong Rak district of Surin yesterday. Security forces were on alert for the visit to the temple by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, but he cancelled his plans. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD

Thailand and Cambodia had been struggling to find ways to mend fences after a series of spats but Hun Sen yesterday appeared to want nothing of the kind.

He scrapped a visit to Ta Muan Thom, an ancient border temple in Phnom Dong Rak district of Surin.

Diplomatic tensions did not ease despite Hun Sen not turning up at the temple and he fired a broadside at Prime Minister Abhisit on a Cambodian website.

The Thai embassy in Phnom Penh alerted the Thai government to the remarks on the website and the Foreign Ministry was quick to counter the Cambodian leader.

"I have to apologise to the Cambodian people that up until today all Thai people and the government have wanted to resume relationships with Cambodia in all fields, including economic, social and investment cooperation," said Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, assistant to the foreign minister.

"But criticising the Thai premier so badly damages Thailand's dignity and that will make it even more difficult to normalise ties.

"The harsh and rude words should not have come from a prime minister of any country. We cannot accept it.

"It is impossible for any country to resume [good] relations without being respectful of each other first."

Thailand will now press for sovereignty over disputed areas along the Thai-Cambodian border, Mr Chavanond said.

"We have never invaded any place which is not ours. We have the evidence to confirm that the area, including Wat Kaew [Sikha Khiri Sawara] or other areas in the 4.6 sq km [of disputed territory] are under Thai sovereignty."

Tension along the border escalated after Hun Sen concluded his weekend tour of the area yesterday. His itinerary included the Preah Vihear temple.

A military standoff continued yesterday morning around the Ta Muan Thom temple as the army tripled its troop presence to about 1,500 to offset Cambodian troops beefing up security during Hun Sen's visit to the opening ceremony of a military office at Ban O-rumchong, six kilometres inside Cambodia.

"We regard Cambodia's troop increase for Mr Hun Sen as very unusual," said Col Thanet Wongcha-um, chief of staff of the Suranaree Task Force.

Hun Sen contacted the Thai army yesterday to ask if he could cross the border to visit the Ta Muan Thom ruins as a tourist after going to Ban O-rumchong.

"But we advised him this was not the right time as there were protesters [from the People's Alliance for Democracy] here which could have been inconvenient for his trip," Col Thanet said.

The Cambodian premier did not respond and then left for Phnom Penh by helicopter, he said.

Dozens of heavily armed Thai soldiers remained on guard at Ta Muan Thom and about 300 police officers equipped with batons and shields were deployed along the main road to the ruins. They were there to prevent about 150 protesters opposing Hun Sen's planned visit from entering the temple. The demonstrators had camped overnight at the Ta Muan Tod ruins, about a kilometre away.

Villagers said they were unhappy with what the PAD was doing as they wanted to live in peace in the area.

In Bangkok, Thailand has asked Unesco to show it a Cambodian plan to manage and safeguard areas at and around Preah Vihear to ensure it will not touch on the disputed territory.

"We are now asking [Unesco] to give us the plan," Mr Abhisit told reporters.

"The 4.6 sq km being disputed by the two countries is the point that we will have to consider carefully," he said.

"We have the right to see the plan and we also have the right to express our opinions. I will closely monitor the matter and I will not let Thailand lose its territory," he said.

Mondolkiri: The Creation of Tourism Communities Is Slow Due to Some Problems – Monday, 8.2.2010

via CAAI News Media

Posted on 9 February 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 651

“Phnom Penh: Mondolkiri is a province with potential for eco-tourism everywhere. Its natural environment is better than in other northeastern provinces. But a tourism official of this province said in a recent meeting that this province has not yet created tourism communities following legislation related to tourism to comply with proper tourism community standards like those in Koh Kong or in other provinces.

“The head of the Department of Tourism of Mondolkiri, Mr. Ngin Sovimean, said, ‘We cannot establish tourism communities, because the provincial forestry administration opposes it, and thus, we need to wait until forestry communities have been created.’ The Minister of Tourism, Mr. Thong Khon, commented, ‘If we wait until the forestry administration has formed its communities first so that tourism communities can be created, that will be very slow.’

“An official of the Ministry of Tourism in charge of tourism communities, Mr. Thok Sokhom, said that previously, the creation of forestry and fishery communities did not work. But tourism communities could operate at other provinces as the provincial authorities cooperate and especially, local people voluntarily and willingly participate.

“Mr. Thong Khon said that the creation of tourism communities cannot be made successful by the tourism sector alone, but it needs cooperation from private partners. If there are no transportation agencies to carry tourists to various sites, tourism communities cannot get active.

“In the meantime, if transportation agencies do not help to advertise tourism communities, those communities will not function.

“Relating to the Bu Sra waterfall resort, the best tourism site of the province, Mr. Ngin Sovimean said that by 2010, after it had been handed over to a private company for investment already more than one year ago, the company did nothing, but just improved only the road from the provincial capital to the site and collects money from tourists every day [but does not do anything for the community].

“Mr. Thong Khon said that the report about Bu Sra resort sent to the Ministry seems accurate. Now, he assigned a secretary of state to take charge of this case, because the related investment plan is among Samdech Hun Sen’s recommendations.

“By now, there are 29 eco-tourism communities countrywide.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5120, 7-8.2.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 8 February 2010

Hun Sen calls down curse on Thai PM over land row

via CAAI News Media

Tue, Feb 09, 2010
The Nation/Asia News Network

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee

Border tensions died down yesterday but the war of words flared up with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen reciting a curse on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for his comments on disputed territory.

Thai security forces had been put on alert over the weekend as Hun Sen toured the border near overlapping areas including the Preah Vihear Temple.

The PM arrived in the vicinity of Ta Muen Thom Temple but did not visit the ruins.

Colonel Thanet Wongcha-um, chief of staff of the Suranaree Task Force, which oversees the area, said Thai authorities on the ground informed Hun Sen's advance team the situation was not safe due to the presence of yellow-shirt protesters.

Before leaving the area, Hun Sen presided over the inauguration of Ta Moan village in Oddar Meanchey province, some five to six kilometres away from the temple, Thanet said. Thai troops retreated after his departure, he said.

During the opening ceremony, Hun Sen launched a verbal attack on Abhisit.

Abhisit said on Sunday that Hun Sen's visit to Preah Vihear would help Thailand claim possession of the area surrounding the temple. Hun Sen visited the temple on Saturday and accused Thai troops of invading Cambodia. Abhisit said later that day that Hun Sen's accusation meant the Cambodian leader accepted Thai ownership.

Hun Sen put a curse on Abhisit.

"If you don't tell the truth about Thai troops invading Cambodia, let magic objects break your neck, may you be shot, be hit by a car, may you be shocked by electricity or [may you be shot] by misfired guns."

"Will Abhisit swear on having all his family members killed and having them [perish] in a plane crash, if [he still claims] that Thai troops did not invade Cambodia?" Hun Sen was quoted as saying by Cambodian website Deum Ampil News.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear is located in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia.

Abhisit argued that the court was referring only to the stone remains but the area adjacent to the temple belongs to Thailand.

He said again yesterday that Thailand would never surrender any of its territory.

Relations with Cambodia turned sour after Abhisit took power due to his stance against Cambodia over the Preah Vihear issue.

Hun Sen criticised Abhisit for supporting the yellow-shirt movement, which helped set the stage for the military coup in 2006 and seized Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2008, paving the way for Abhisit to assume power.

Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to the foreign minister, said Thailand regretted learning about Hun Sen's harsh statement.

Such an outburst would undermine attempts to restore diplomatic relations, he said.

Cambodia asks US to cancel $339 million debt

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel smiles during a meeting with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. Cambodia asked the United States on Tuesday to cancel US$339 million in debt that dates back to loans from the 1970s, or consider converting most of it into development aid for the impoverished country.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)  

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel, right, and U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Carol A. Rodley meet with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, unseen, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. Cambodia asked the United States on Tuesday to cancel US$339 million in debt that dates back to loans from the 1970s, or consider converting most of it into development aid for the impoverished country. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodia asks US to cancel $339 million in debt from 1970s

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday February 9, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Cambodia asked the United States on Tuesday to cancel $339 million in debt that dates back to loans from the 1970s -- or consider converting most of it into development aid for the impoverished country.

The proposal, which came during a visit by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel, was the latest in a long-running exchange about how to handle the debt and what the money was used for 40 years ago.

"Cambodia has asked the United States government to cancel the debt but if it cannot do that, at least turn 70 percent of the debt into aid for the social development of the country," Deputy Foreign Minister Ouch Borith said after a meeting with Marciel. He said if the latter option were accepted, Cambodia would discuss repayment plans for the remaining 30 percent.

Marciel, who is the U.S. ambassador to ASEAN, was expected to brief reporters later in the day.

The U.S. provided low-interest loans to Cambodia during the regime of Gen. Lon Nol in the early 1970s that financed rice, cotton and other agricultural commodities.

Lon Nol came to power in a 1970 coup that ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The United States was the main financial and military supporter of Lon Nol's regime until it was toppled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge movement in April 1975.

Cambodia's current government says the money was also used to "buy weapons and support the war, which caused great suffering to the Cambodian people," Ouch Borith said.

The two countries have not yet come up with a repayment plan, partly because the Cambodian government refuses to accept responsibility for debts incurred by the Lon Nol regime, and partly because of a disagreement over the amount of debt owed.

Cambodia's garment manufacturers and labour unions talk pay rise

via CAAI News Media

Tue, 09 Feb 2010
By : dpa

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's garment manufacturers have held talks with unions and government officials about sharply increasing the 50-US-dollar monthly minimum wage paid to factory workers, local media reported Tuesday. Unions and the government's National Institute of Statistics have calculated that the country's 358,000 garment workers need to earn at least 93 dollars per month to afford food, housing and travel expenses.

The president of the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia, an industry body, told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper that he was supportive of the increase "in principle."

"[But] today I want to emphasize to workers that we are only discussing the issue, not agreeing to an increase to 93 dollars," Van Sou Ieng said, adding that the topic required further research before any deal could be reached.

If an agreement is settled on a wage hike, it would be the first increase in two years.

Cambodia's garment-manufacturing industry has been battered by the global downturn with exports to its main US market slumping. The Ministry of Labour reported that 93 factories closed last year for the loss of almost 70,000 jobs. A further 60 factories suspended operations as orders dried up.

In its annual country report released in December, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted that garment exports declined 16 percent by volume in the nine months to September. The IMF said Cambodia is hampered by high electricity costs, unreliable product supply and low productivity.

IMF figures showed garment manufacturing accounted for 15 percent of Cambodia's gross domestic product in 2008 and two-thirds of its exports.

The sector is one of the four pillars of Cambodia's economy. Two of the other pillars - tourism and construction - also registered sharp declines last year. The fourth pillar, agriculture, grew by an estimated 5 per cent.

Brunei-Cambodia air links to be set up to spur tourism

via CAAI News Media

The Brunei Times Feb 9th, 2010


AIR links between Brunei and Siem Reap are set to start, a report from Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post newspaper reported yesterday.

In its website, the newspaper quoted ranking officials from Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism as saying international flights will also link Siem Reap with Indonesia to boost tourism.

Siem Reap to connect to Brunei,

Tith Chantha, director general of the ministry, was quoted as saying that Cambodia would launch connections with Borobudur in Java, Indonesia in April, while the Brunei flights will follow later.

“If the plan is successful, we believe that more and more tourists will come to visit Cambodia. We hope that tourist numbers will increase around 10 per cent in coming years. We are now discussing technical matters in order to facilitate the flights,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

For its part, Brunei is eyeing a 14 per cent annual increase in its 2010 inbound tourist figures, a higher target than the 10 per cent rise that government’s tourism executives had announced earlier.

Sheikh Jamaluddin Sheikh Mohamed, chief executive officer of the Brunei Tourism Board, said the inbound tourist figures slipped in 2009.

Only 119,540 arrivals were recorded in January to September last year compared to 225,757 in the same period in 2008.The Brunei Times

DAP News ; Breaking News by Soy Sopheap

via CAAI News Media

Cambodian PM Hun Sen is Pleased with Metfone system

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 06:25 AK MADRA

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen called armed forces to use Metfone mobile system given the company has provided good service nationwide compared with other telephone companies who are currently operating in the kingdom.

The current border situation near Thailand is also a reason, which prompted Cambodian military and police to use Metfone system for security reason to avoid from being tapped the telephone conversations. Dealing with Metfone is safe.

The Metfone cable networks are planted underground. Other companies dealt with air services. “So for security reason, all the military division and brigades facilities must be equipped with Metfone cable network so that to prevent any leaking the secret/confidential plan of military,” he said.

“I asked His Excellency Tea Banh and His Excellency So Khun to immediately set up the telephone’s cable system of Metfone which already reached this area,” he told the crowd at the weekend where he joined the inauguration of the military facilities worth $3.5 million in Preah Vihear province.

Tea Banh is defence minister and So Khun is the minister for Post and Telecommunications. “After the Metfone cables are in place in the area, we use the service the maximum.”

Metfone is a brand name for Viettel (Cambodia) PTE.,Ltd. Metfone proudly launched its services in October, 2008 with largest mobile network, whose coverage of 90 percent all areas in this kingdom including urban and rural areas.

The company has been invested more than $100 million to implement and manage a wide and high quality network with significant operations through all 24 provinces.

Metfone has launched many services like mobile network (MetEco, Met4ever, MetGold, MetBiz), wireless fixed phone network (MetHome) and Internet services with 20 percent cheaper than the others, charging per second.

The company has a big amount of customer care and the call centre staffs to deal with customer all the time, and have 100 Metfone showrooms in all provinces.

Metfone has a lot of new promotions with a special convenience for customers like VAS (Value Added Services) includes I-muzik, I-Share, Call Me Back, Miss Call Alert, GPRS service, SMS Service (Gold Price, Money Exchange Rate, Weather Forecast...)

Hun Sen encouraged the officials to use Metfone rather than other companies, whose services were absent in the areas.

“I and Kun Kim turned on mobile phones which used with other mobile services but did not work, so I had to use Metfone instead,” Hun Sen said in the gathering of more than 4,000 military along with commanders including military deputy military commander Kun Kim.

He also called the government’s inst- itutions concerned to facilitate the works of expanding the Metfone optic cable networks across the country for serving people better the telecom service.

At the end of 2009 Metfone will have 3000 BTS and 10.000 km optic cable, and cover a long the national road, provincial road, urban areas, border areas as well as remote sea islands.

Viettel (Cambodia) is officially the first company launching all services Internet ADSL, IP Leased Line, VoIP, Mobile Network and Wireless Fixed phone.

Metfone provides Internet uses to high schools nationwide, costs about $5 million.

Viettel Cambodia was a Cambodian company invested by the Vietnam leading GSM mobile operator, Viettel, which now serves more than 20 million subscribers, a quarter of Vietnam population itself.

It has over four years of mobile operating experience; however, Viettel is proud to be a well-known brand of the most fast-growing mobile operator in Vietnam. To date, it shares 50 percent of the market, a giant step from the number zero in late 2004.

Cambodia’s telecommunications minister So Khun has been called for more foreign firms to invest in the country’s mobile phone sector to satisfy demand that has been growing 40 percent a year in terms of the number of users. The government also wanted to extend reliable coverage to the whole of the country.

In May, 2009, Russia invested $200 million in telecom service in Cambodia.

A leading Russian listed Vimpel-Communications, VIP, announced $200 million investment in Cambodia, where the company saw a great potentiality of mobile phone users.

VimpelCom was the first Russian company to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange ‘NYSE’ under the symbol ‘VIP’ consists of telecommunications operators providing voice and data services through a range of mobile, fixed and broadband technologies.

Anna Aybasheva, of VIP, has said that the company has planned invest in total of $200 million in the next three years times included a $70 million is now being injecting for the operation through the end of this year.

This impoverished Southeast Asian nation has eight mobile phone firms, all foreign-owned except market leader Mobitel, which worked in partnership with Luxembourg-registered Millicom International Cellular.

Cambodia has an estimated 4 million mobile phone subscribers out of a population of about 14 million people of which nearly 90 percent lived in the countryside.

Cambodia to Spend US$100 Million for Military Development Near Thai Border

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 06:23 AK MADRA

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Saturday that his government to invest $100 million for the development of military and social sector in Preah Vihear province alone, the move aimed at strengthening its defense system and the living standard of the locals.

“This amount of money ($100 million) is not going to spend in the field of defense operation, but also to invest in the social development in this area,” Hun Sen said without details.

Hun Sen assured that assured that his ruling party officials are always there to support military operations to protect the nation from being invaded by any foreign invaders including Thailand.

Roads, bridges and military bases as well as military’s houses have been built and upgraded across the province, where the Temple of Preah Vihear located.

“These facilities enable our soldiers to strengthen their capacities so as to prevent any invasion of the tricky neighbor,” Hun Sen said referring to Thailand.

At the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who is also Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers, said he was pleased with the progress has been made by the Royal Cambodia Armed Force (RCAF) over the constructions of military facilities on the 820 hectares of land.

“But we cannot achieve the every thing overnight,” said Dr. Sok An.

“At the same time we must take tough preventive measure on any foreign aggression of taking Cambodian land. We never let any foreign country takes Cambodian land even a single inch,” he said. The government will invest more in the defense field as long as the ruling party of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) continues to stay in power, said the officials.

Hun Sen recalled then the King Norodom Sihanouk who won the case against Thailand over Cambodia’s claimed the Temple of Preah Vihear in which the U.N. court of International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1962 ruled out that: the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia.

“I assured our retired King Norodom Sihanouk that we are doing our best to protect the territory from being aggressive by any foreign countries,” he told to more than 4,000 soldiers who attended the ceremony, which displayed more than 20 tanks, heavy weapons including missiles.

“We do not want bloodshed with Thailand, but we will only if it’s necessary,” he was speaking at the inauguration of a US$3.5 million newly built military headquarter, which was funded by Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Sok An, also minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Minister.

“We are avoiding any militarily confrontation as fighting each other is so bad. But this issue is completely depends on the Bangkok government,” Hun Sen told the crowd.

He also slammed the Thais Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who was quoted in Thais media this week saying that Cambodia’s leaders should negotiate first with Thailand before Hun Sen himself is going to visit the Temple of Preah Vihear.

“Where is the 4.6 square km of disputed area,” Hun Sen asked.

“We, Cambodia, have never accepted any Thais unilateral map.” he said loud.

“Cambodia troops must not pull out from the area. I do not need any negotiation with you (Thailand). That is our land and we do not need you to come and welcome us on our land,” Hun Sen said before he headed off to visit the Temple.

“I can go any time I want to and I can go anywhere if I want to. It is up to me, not you (Thailand’s leader),” he responded to Thais leader comments.

The relations of the two Asian nations have turned sour since Thailand was not pleased with the UNESCO listed the Temple in July, 2008.

The Cambodian Prime Minister warned that Phnom Penh will never reopen its entrance gate, which could be accessed from the Thais side unless the border situation to return to the situation before 15 July, 2008, when both troops clashed and the relations of the two Asian nations turned rocky since.

At least six soldiers were killed from both sides since the two Asian neighbors’ military armed clashed, which have been locked in a standoff since 2008, near at the Temple of Preah Vihear.

Hun Sen has regarded the armed clashes as incidence, not war.

The Cambodian 900-year-old Temple of Preah Vihear was listed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Site in 2008.

Cambodian FM Blasts Thai Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 06:22 DAP-NEWS

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said on Monday that Thai media reported false informaion about the visit of Hun Sen to border areas.

“I do not know why they commmented on the wrong things and interpreted PM Hun Sen’s visit in the wrong direction and made the public confused and created the tension. They themselves created tension with us,” Hor Namhong told reporters during a press conference at the Foreign Ministry yesterday afternoon. “They got confused information about the visit. Actually, PM Hun Sen does not have schedule to visit to Ta Moan Temples but Thai leaders and Thai media commented that Cambodia asked Thai side to enter the temples. It is false information.”

PM Hun Sen went to open a new army headquater about 6 km from Ta Moan temple, he explained. “Thai leaders and Thai media system are stupid and I am so sorry to say that. We should say honestly that they are illiterate,” he said. “I so regret that they commented again and again with false information. Moreover, the Thai media and Thai leaders said that they sent a Thai delegation to welcome PM Hun Sen’s visit to border areas, inclduing Preah Vihear temple. In fact, the Cambodian side allowed the Thai delegation to welcome PM Hun Sen on Cambodian soil at Preah Vihear temple.”

Hor Namhong said tensions between Cambodia and Thailand heightened after Thai troops encroached upon Cambodian soil along the border, especially in the Preah Vihear temple region, since July 15, 2008. “It did not come from the appointment of former Thai PM Thaksin as economic advisor to PM Hun Sen, and also it has not been from the non-extradition of Mr. Thaksin. The tension has occurred after current Thai leaders Abhisit and his subordinates used the issue of Preah Vihear temple as a political reason to topple one another and grabbed their own benefits.”

“Thai leaders are stupid leaders, and I am sorry I said these words,” Hor Namhong continued. “Military relations on both sides are good and normal but the politicians in Bangkok always provoked a bad situation with Cambodia. Not only Thai leaders and Thai media system are crazy, but also the spokesman for the Thai foreign ministry is crazy. They are trying to create problems.” He stressed that area near Preah Vihear and temple clearly belongs to Cambodia according to interntaional law, including at the World Court in the Hague in 1962. “If they want (the land), they should please file a complaint to the International Court,” Hor Namhong said.

Thailand apparently plans to protest the registering Preah Vihear temple as a Cambdian World Heritage Site with UNESCO again in July 2010 in Brazil, despite their previous failure. Hor Namhong called the planned Thai actions and “out of date protest” and a “daydream for Thai leaders.”

Hor Namhong confirmed that Cambodia has never asked for Thai assitance for PM Hun Sen’s visit to the border area. “PM Hun Sen walked on Khmer soil and we do not need to ask the Thai side for permission. This is our land,” he stressed.

He also blamed a Thai princess who created for confused comments about Thai-Cambodia tensions. “She is confused about history as a lecturer at the university,” he added.

Aid floods in for Border Dam

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 06:20 DAP-NEWS

Following an appeal from Cambodian soldiers stationed at Veal Entry led by Soy Sopheap, DAP Media Center Director-General, to construct a dam, so far over US$5,000 has been donated by local and overseas donors.

Seang Chan Heng, Heng Development Company Director-General, gave US$2,000 the Cambodian People´s Party (CPP) branch in Massachusetts, US led by Chea Sarun gave US$1,000; So Chong Hour, Sihanouk Provincial Advisor Chief, gave US$1,000; Leang Ching Chay, a Cambodian living in the US gave US$1,000; Khoy Khun Hour, Kampot Province Governor, gave US$1,000; Chorn Chan Leakhena, Cambodian actress, gave US$200; and Chum Sivutin, a student at a Cambodian University, gave US$10.

Veal Entry battle field Commander in Chief Nou Sarat told Soy Sopheap that all soldiers are appealing for aid from all Cambodians both in the country and overseas to build a dam at a cost of more than US$5,000 for the soldiers’ needs. “The dam will be 2m high, 8m wide and it will be able to store the water all the time,” he added.

Leang Ching Chay told DAP News Cambodia that, following his visit to Preah Vihear temple, he saw soldiers short of water. He called for other people living in the US to donate to soldiers stationed at Preah Vihear.

Nou Sarat thanked donors and vowed to protect Cambodian territory, not allowing Thai soldiers to encroach illegally.

Gov’t Blasts ‘Crazy’ Abhisit

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 06:19 DAP-NEWS

Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen on Monday had harsh words for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has made remarks suggesting that some of the areas visited by Hun Sen are Thai territory.

Hun Sen noted that that Thai Citizens have recently thrown human excrement into Abhisit’s compound, demonstrating their hatred and contempt of him.

“Thai soldiers encroached illegally into Kesekha Kirisvarak pagoda,” Hun Sen said, stressing that the area is not Thai territory as Abhisit had suggested.

“I tell Thai citizens that, among all Thai Prime Ministers, Abhisit is the worst,” Hun Sen said, before addressing Abhisit himself, adding that, “You are very crazy.”

Hun Sen also blasted two Thai newspapers, the Bangkok Post and the Nation, saying they have published erroneous information regarding his three-day visit to border areas.

Thailand has sent more troops to the Ta Morn Thom temple and mistakenly claimed that this area belongs to Thailand. Cambodian has asked Thai forces to withdraw from the area but the Thais insisted that they will stay here to protect a rally of pro-royalist ‘yellow shirts’.

The two nations called for talks to ease the situation then Thai soldiers withdrew from the area.

The Cambodian Foreign Ministry held a press conference to reply to Thai government leaders’ allegations.

“You are crazy and you do not have good advisors,” veteran Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters, apparently also addressing the Thai PM. “You are a Prime Minister (but) you got false news from the news agencies.” The Cambodian Foreign Ministry also displayed documentation proving the Ta Morn Thom temple belongs to Cambodia under international law.

Monday was the third day of Hun Sen’s visit to Preah Vihear temple and other areas at the border with Thailand.

Count 'em up

Photo by: Sovan Philong

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:00 Sovan Philong

Children play high card last week in Kandal Stung district, Kandal province.

Kor Muoy families remain in limbo

A boy pauses on Friday to speak with a former resident of Kor Muoy village who was recently sent to a relocation site some 30 kilometres away. Fifty families from the village, located at the bottom of the mountain on which Preah Vihear temple sits, say they have been excluded from housing at the new site.

Now, when the roads are good, they are asking us to resettle...."

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:03 Vong Sokheng

A group of 50 families says the government relocation plan for the P Vihear site excludes them

Preah Vihear Province
AS political observers waited to see how Prime Minister Hun Sen’s weekend visit to Preah Vihear temple would affect relations with Thailand, a group of 50 families who have been living near the site for years hoped for the answer to a more concrete question: Where would they be forced to move come March?

The families are among the 473 currently living in Kor Muoy village, below the ridge where the temple is located. When fighting first broke out near the temple following its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2008, the government set in motion plans to relocate residents to a site some 30 kilometres away, citing concerns for their safety as well as a desire to develop the area as a “cultural heritage site”.

But representatives of 50 families say they have not been included on a list of those to receive housing at the new site, to which Kor Muoy residents are scheduled to move in March, according to notices recently placed in the village by local authorities.

Pov Narith, the 40-year-old owner of the Prasat Preah Vihear Manrith guesthouse in Kor Muoy, said the families had been looking to Hun Sen’s visit as an opportunity to clarify what will happen to them after they are forced to move. He said the payment of 2 million riels alone – without a new plot of land – would not be sufficient compensation.

“When I first came here in 2001 there was nothing. Life was difficult back then,” he said. “There were bad roads, and there was no telephone network. Now, when the roads are good, they are asking us to resettle, but it is not easy to tear down my guesthouse, and I’m worried that life will become difficult again.”

Government officials said they could not confirm why the families had been left off the housing list, but Pov Narith and others interviewed for this story said it was because of their support for opposition political parties.

He said he led a trip to Phnom Penh last April to submit petitions to the Senate and the National Assembly, and that the Senate responded in May that they should be entitled to live on the land.

Mom Nay, 41, (left) and Ngin Yong, 54, are among the residents of Kor Muoy village who have moved to a relocation site some 30 kilometres away.

But when representatives tried to press their case to the premier on Saturday, they were rebuffed by security, he said.

“We knew Samdech Techo would visit this village, and we tried to see him and submit a petition about this partisan discrimination, but we were detained on the day of his visit and have now become targets of discrimination by the local authorities,” he said.

Heng Sreypov, 46, who has lived in a large wooden house in Kor Muoy since 2002, is also among the villagers who have been left off the list at Techo Hun Sen Natural Village. She said she was detained by a bodyguard of provincial governor Sar Thavy for five hours on the day the premier visited.

“I did nothing wrong, but the bodyguard of the governor pulled me out from the crowd and pushed me into the car as a criminal. I was ashamed, but I didn’t have any idea what I did wrong,” she said.

Sar Thavy could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Ham Sokha, one of the village chiefs at the relocation site, said the 50 families would need to wait to receive their plots of land because it was still being cleared.

“Everyone will receive land and a house of the same size,” he said, adding that he did not know why just 50 families had thus far been excluded.

In his speech at the relocation site on Saturday, Hun Sen said a total of 792 families would ultimately be able to live at the relocation site: the 473 from Kor Muoy as well as the 319 families who moved from the market at the base of the temple after their homes were destroyed by Thai rocket fire during a skirmish last April.

“Even if you did not vote for me, it is still my duty to resolve the problem for you, and I would like to confirm that in the long term the area around Preah Vihear will become a development site. I will no longer isolate this area such as before, and it will be linked by road to the border of Thailand and Laos so we can keep improving the conditions,” Hun Sen said.

Hang Sot, director of the Preah Vihear National Authority, declined to comment on specific plans for the cultural heritage site at the temple.

PM skips Tamone temple on border trip

A soldier mans his station at Preah Vihear temple Friday morning ahead of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to the site, where a standoff with the Thai military continues.

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:03 Vong Sokheng and James O'toole

PRIME Minister Hun Sen concluded his high-profile tour of the Thai-Cambodian border on Monday, continuing his harsh rhetoric against the Thai government, but avoiding visiting a temple in Oddar Meanchey province that both sides claim as their own.

Speaking at Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Base 42 in Oddar Meanchey’s Banteay Ampil district, Hun Sen again accused Thailand and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of invading Cambodian territory, pointing in particular to Thailand’s occupation of the Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvarak pagoda, near Preah Vihear temple, that began on July 15, 2008.

“Abhisit, will you swear on having all your family members be killed in a plane crash ... that your soldiers did not come to invade Cambodia at Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvarak?” Hun Sen said.

“Do you dare to swear on magic that could break your neck, on a plane crash or a dissolution of the countries, that your soldiers did not invade Cambodia’s territory on July 15, 2008?”

Hun Sen, who visited Preah Vihear temple on Saturday, also accused Abhisit of stealing the premiership in Thailand, saying the Thai leader had “no family honour”.

“You attacked me, so I have to defend, and will continue with counter-attacks on you,” Hun Sen said.

Despite these confrontational remarks, Hun Sen chose to forego a visit to nearby Tamone Thom temple, just a few kilometres away in Banteay Ampil district.

Chawanon Intharakomansut, secretary to the Thai foreign minister, said Monday that Cambodian leaders had been in talks with Thailand about a potential visit to Tamone Thom, but scuttled their plans after Thailand demanded that Hun Sen’s escorts travel unarmed.

“We asked them to [discard] their weapons if they want to come into the area, that’s the only condition, and I think they changed their minds,” Chawanon said.

In a statement released on Monday, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tamone Thom was “clearly situated in Cambodian territory”, citing maps from 1908 as proof of the Kingdom’s claim. Accompanied by this statement was a copy of a note written by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong in 2008 to then-Thai foreign minister Tej Bunnag in which Hor Namhong accused Thai troops of occupying Tamone Thom illegally, ordering their immediate withdrawal.

Chawanon declined to comment on these documents, and said that Tamone Thom is indisputably a Thai possession.

“The fact is that we’ve controlled the area for so long … so there’s no question,” he said.

In a press conference on Monday afternoon at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hor Namhong denied that Hun Sen had ever planned to visit Tamone Thom.

Hun Sen “had no plan to visit [Tamone Thom], and I knew before it before the visit”, Hor Namhong said, rejecting media reports to the contrary.

The foreign minister reasserted Cambodia’s claim to the land around Preah Vihear temple as well as Tamone Thom, criticising Thai media outlets and politicians for blowing Hun Sen’s border visit out of proportion

“Why were they really surprised about the visit of Samdech Techo? The reason is that they want to take Cambodian land,” Hor Namhong said.

Chawanon dismissed the idea that Hun Sen’s visit had stoked further tensions between the two nations, arguing that it in fact represented a positive development in their relations.

“For the past few days, I think some good signs have been shown between two countries, that we play by the rules of engagement in the area. That’s a good step for our relationship,” he said.

Bad water blamed for new deaths in KSpeu

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:03 Tep Nimol and Chhay Channyda

HEALTH officials have urged calm amid heightened fears of a diarrhoea outbreak after three villagers succumbed to the illness in Kampong Speu province, continuing a recent spate of cases that last week prompted the Ministry of Health to launch a nationwide sanitation and hygiene awareness campaign.

Ly Sovann, deputy director of the Communicable Diseases Control Department at the Ministry of Health, said samples from the three deceased Kampong Speu villagers had been sent to Calmette Hospital for analysis.

An official from the Kampong Speu Communicable Diseases Control Department who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to reporters said more than 50 people in the area had come down with serious diarrhoea.

They got diarrhoea because they drank water from a pond that was unhygienic..."

Nov Doem, the chief of Voasar commune, where the deaths and reported outbreak occurred, said villagers had begun to panic and were erecting scarecrows outside their houses to protect them from infections.

But Ly Sovann stressed on Monday that the cause of the diarrhoea outbreak was the increasing number of villagers consuming contaminated water, adding that people who had boiled their water had avoided falling ill.

“They got diarrhoea because they drank water from a pond that was unhygienic because both animals and villagers drank the same water,” he said.

Pieter van Maaren, country representative for the World Health Organisation, said Monday that his office was monitoring the situation closely in partnership with the Ministry of Health, but added that he was not concerned about the possibility of an outbreak of cholera, a diarrhoeal disease caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium.

“The situation is such that, if you get large numbers of cases with watery diarrhoea, then that definitely warrants an investigation into a cholera outbreak,” he said.

“But so far, there have been very few cases that would warrant such an investigation.”

The campaign launched by the Health Ministry last week involves posting officials on the ground in every province to treat cases of diarrhoea.


Court to sentence Thai man for laying mines near border

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:03 Chhay Channyda and Irwin Loy

ATHAI national accused of laying land mines along Cambodia’s border with Thailand is set to be sentenced by a military court this week, his lawyer said Monday, renewing questions over whether either country has been involved in placing new mines in disputed areas.

Suphap Vong Pakna was arrested last February in Oddar Meanchey province after he allegedly entered Cambodian territory and planted land mines.

In a hearing last week, Suphap Vong Pakna confessed to planting at least five explosive devices, saying Thai soldiers paid him to do so, his Cambodian lawyer said.

“He tried to lay the land mines because he wanted to kill Cambodian people who patrol the border,” said Sam Sokong, a court-appointed lawyer with the Cambodian Defenders Project.

Sam Sokong said his client was among a group of at least seven people, but was the only one arrested.

“He confessed he entered Cambodia twice. The second time, he was arrested and then sent to military court,” Sam Sokong said.

Suphap Vong Pakna faces charges – including attempted murder, endangering national security and entering the country illegally – that could see him sentenced to between 15 and 30 years in prison if convicted, Sam Sokong said.

Our policy is to work together ... to remove these land mines. we don't have a policy to lay more."

However, the lawyer said he plans to ask for leniency when the court reconvenes as expected on Friday.

“Suphap is like a victim,” Sam Sokong said. “Due to his poverty and low education, he sacrificed his life for money without knowing that laying mines is criminal.”

Thai accusations
In October 2008, the Thai government said two of its paramilitary rangers were severely injured after stepping on land mines in territory near Preah Vihear temple that Thailand claims as its own.

A Thai investigation reportedly found Russian-made land mines in the area – devices the Thais said were recently planted and of a type that Thai soldiers have never used. Thai authorities said the findings suggested that Cambodia may have been guilty of breaking the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, which bans signatories from using antipersonnel mines.

“The Royal Thai government views the sad land mine incident with great alarm, as it indicates violation” of the Ottawa Treaty, an October 17, 2008 statement from Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

Cambodia, however, said any land mines in the area were remnants of three decades of war. Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Monday that Thailand has yet to respond to a diplomatic note rejecting the allegations.

“Cambodia has never planted fresh land mines. We are trying to clear the mines,” Koy Kuong said.

“Even Cambodian people right now suffer from land mines. Cambodia has been committed to demining, not only in the country, but also abroad in areas like Sudan.”

He said the Thai government should respond to the allegations raised by Suphap Vong Pakna’s prosecution.

“The Thai side should acknowledge what happened, if a Thai national confessed he planted land mines along the border,” he said.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn declined to comment on the court case, saying the issue should be decided through “normal legal channels”.

Thailand, he said, has not been involved in planting new land mines.

“The area has a lot of land mines to be retrieved. Our policy is to work together with the Cambodians to remove these land mines,” he said.

“We don’t have a policy to lay more land mines.”

Leng Sochea, deputy secretary of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, said that officials are not aware of any other allegations that new land mines are being planted in the area.

The heavily mined areas between Cambodia and Thailand represent the highest concentration of land mines in the Kingdom, according to the group Landmine Monitor.

Repatriations: VN soldiers exhumed in Kampot

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:02 Tha Piseth and Brooke Lewis

The remains of 68 Vietnamese soldiers who died during military campaigns in Cambodia were found last week in Kampot and Kep provinces, a local official said Monday, adding that, of the more than 1,400 bodies of Vietnamese troops repatriated from Cambodia in the last decade, most have been found in Kampot. Soth Yea, the deputy governor of Kampot province and a member of the Committee for the Search of Vietnamese Soldiers’ Remains, said the bodies of 1,062 soldiers had been found in the province since Vietnamese military search teams, assisted by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces as well as local officials and villagers, began repatriation efforts in 2001. He said workers were often able to recognise Vietnamese soldiers by checking the tags on the remains after exhumation. He added that Cambodian villagers regularly help locate the often-unmarked graves.

Villagers say land was sold illegally

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:02 Meas Sokchea

OFFICIALS in Kampong Cham province’s Cheung Prey district are scheduled to hold a meeting today regarding a complaint from 200 families against one commune and one village chief who the families say sold their communal farmland to a private buyer.

Ham Khom, first deputy chief of Sampong Chey commune, where the disputed land is located, said that 196 families had recently thumbprinted a complaint accusing commune chief Mao Kong and village chief Uon Kimheang of selling more than 4 hectares of village land.

“Mao Kong would not receive the villagers’ complaint, and that shows that he has been involved in this case,” Ham Khom said.

Villager representative Suon An said he did not know when the land was sold because the chiefs had made the deal in secret. He added that land-management officials would hold a meeting to discuss the complaint today.

Uon Kimheang dismissed the accusation, saying the disputed area had once belonged to the community, but that local authorities had declared it private property in 1992.

Mao Kong said he had passed the case on to Cheung Prey district officials and the district land management authorities. He declined to comment on the details of the case.

South Korea requests elephants

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:02 Khouth Sophakchakrya

CAMBODIA is considering donating an elephant to a South Korean zoo that is short of fertile females, officials confirmed Monday. But conservationists are also alarmed at the prospect of sending a member of an already endangered species out of the country.

South Korean authorities have requested that Cambodia donate fertile females between the ages of 5 and 7 for breeding purposes, said Ty Sokhun, director of forestry and wildlife with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

But Ty Sokhun said authorities are unsure whether they can afford to spare such young specimens. Instead, Cambodia is considering donating a single, 20-year-old female elephant.

“Currently, we are considering their offer and discussing it,” Ty Sokhun said.

Though the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, prevents signatories from trading in endangered species, Cambodia views the potential transfer as a “donation”, Ty Sokhun said.

“It is not an elephant trade, but a donation, as the Korean government has requested it for their national zoo,” he said.

But Tuy Sariwathna, the Mondulkiri province director for the conservation NGO Fauna and Flora International, said he was concerned by the proposal.

“The government should not respond to the Korean request while elephants in Cambodia are endangered,” he said.

Dwindling numbers
Tuy Sariwathna said a 2009 survey found only 98 domesticated elephants in the country, down from a previous count of 162. He said rough estimates have suggested that there are between 500 and 600 elephants in the wild.

Nhek Ratanapech, director of the Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Centre outside Phnom Penh, said authorities were still debating the Korean proposal.

“We are considering cooperating with the Korean government because of our close ties with their national zoo, but we also think about the negatives,” Nhek Ratanapech said.

In a story last week, Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily reported that female elephants in Korean zoos have grown too old to give birth.

“It will be a serious problem if elephants disappear from the zoos because they’re the most beloved animals among children,” Lee Hyeon-ho, an official at a state-run zoo, told the newspaper.

Female Asian elephants usually first give birth around the age of 15, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which lists the species as endangered.

Excess liquidity rises to $900m as loans stall

An employee of OSK Indochina Bank Ltd demonstrates in December how to use a cash machine in Phnom Penh. The Minister of Finance Keat Chhon said last week that Cambodia's excess liquidity could help boost the economy, if lending were to rise.

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:02 Nguon Sovan

ANZ alone has $200m deposited with central bank, CEO says

HESITATION to lend during the global economic crisis has led to a US$900 million liquidity excess in Cambodia’s banking sector, the minister of finance has said.

At a seminar on credit quality enhancement, held Thursday, Keat Chhon said that commercial and financial institutions have been reluctant to finance long-term loans during the economic crisis. However, he predicted that the large excess of liquidity in Cambodia’s banks could aid the Kingdom’s development during 2010.

“The excess of liquidity provides huge possibilities to support investments in Cambodia. Especially if we could push commercial banks to use the $900 million surplus to invest in infrastructure projects with high productivity,” he said.

Representatives from leading banks said Monday that they are either seeking to lower excess deposits or are expecting to lend more this year as the economy improves.

Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal bank, wrote in an e-mail that his bank would like to operate with lower liquidity.

“We have over $200 million sitting with the central bank,” he added.

In Channy, president and CEO of ACLEDA, said that his bank’s liquidity at the end of last year was $80 million – much lower than ANZ’s – despite customers’ tendency to deposit money into institutions as a low-risk option during the economic crisis.

He put the liquidity disparity between banks down to the fact that the number of ACELDA’S loans grew by 16 percent to $538 million last year, despite sector-wide loans rising by just 3 percent.

He predicted that the surplus would be lower at the end of this year, compared to 2009, due to expected growth in the agriculture, production, trade and services sectors – where many bank loans are made.

Phan Ying Tong, country head of Cambodian Public Bank, said that it is his bank’s policy not to talk to the press without approval from the head office in Malaysia. Central bank officials were not available Monday.

Garment wages discussed

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 15:01 SOEUN SAY AND ELLIE DYER

GMAC said it would look into the minimum wages of garment workers as pressure increases to raise monthly pay above the $50 level of 2008

LEADING union representatives met Monday with garment manufacturers and government officials to discuss a rise in the minimum wage for Cambodia’s 358,000 garment workers.

About 100 sector representatives attended the meeting, held at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, to discuss union attempts to raise monthly wages from US$50 to $93.

According to research collated by unions, including the Cambodian Labour Union Federation (CLUF), and the National Institute of Statistics, $93 has been determined to be the minimum wage necessary for garment workers to afford food, housing and work-related travel expenses.

Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), which acts as a representative body for the Kingdom’s major garment producers, offered cautious support for the wage rise.

“In principle, I do not disagree with an increase,” he said, but adding that he would need more time for GMAC to do its own research into the issue before considering the wage rise.

“Today, I want to emphasise to workers that we are only discussing the issue, not agreeing to an increase to $93,” he said.

Van Sou Ieng also told the government-organised conference that he was “very surprised” that a meeting had been organised to talk about the wages, saying that he had only seven days to prepare for discussions.

If GMAC agrees to an increase, we will automatically agree too."

But Som Aum, president of CLUF and chairman of the Living Worker Wage Committee, said that he sent the study proposing the living wage increase in both Khmer and English to GMAC in February 2009.

Vong Soth, minister of labour and chairman of the Labour Consultation Committee, also disputed that GMAC had been taken by surprise the issue.

“No, don’t say that you are surprised by this meeting. It is an important subject to discuss in order to find a good result for both parties,” he said at the meeting.

International organisations have welcomed the opening of formal discussions on the minimum wage, which hasn’t changed since April 2008.

John Ritchotte, an industrial relations specialist at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Bangkok, Thailand, attended the Monday meeting and welcomed it as an important development. “It’s the opening step in the process. I would say it was a positive meeting for both sides, who each looked willing to engage in dialogue to reach a solution towards a minimum wage.”

A wage increase, if agreed, would be the first in just under two years.

According to a report by the ILO’s Better Factories for Cambodia initiative and talks with industry experts, in April 2008 it was agreed that garment workers would be paid an additional $6-a-month allowance by the government in a bid to boost wages.

This followed 2006 negotiations between GMAC and a council of unions, which resulted in the minimum wage being increased from $45 to $50 in early 2007.

Any increase would provide respite for workers who have been hit hard by the economic crisis.

Last year, according to Ministry of Labour statistics, 93 garment factories closed and 60 suspended work, leaving 68,190 workers without employment.

In December last year, Cambodia had an estimated 358,660 garment workers.

But some outside sources say the impact of the global economic crisis may prove a stumbling block to imporved payment in the sector.

“I already know that an increase to $93 is not possible. It is too much money to consider when the economic crisis has affected the sector,” said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, adding that he had not been invited to Monday's meeting to discuss the issue further.

Major factories have pledged to follow the lead of GMAC, whatever it decides.

Chhrun Synat, administration director at Maurea Garment Corp factory, which employs 1,500 workers, said he would abide by any decision made by GMAC.

“If GMAC agrees to an increase, we will automatically agree too. Everything depends on GMAC.”

Vong Soth said that he intends to call another meeting to discuss the wage rise but could not provide any details about when the meeting might take place.