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S.Korea to boost investment in Cambodia

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH, (Reuters) – South Korean President Lee Myung-bak pledged on Thursday to boost economic ties with Cambodia after the global economic crisis slashed its investment in the impoverished nation by more than half.

Lee said the purpose of his visit was to improve ties and encourage new South Korean companies to invest in the kingdom’s agriculture and energy sectors.

South Korea is the second-biggest source of foreign direct investment in Cambodia after China, but new investment slowed when the global economic slowdown took its toll.

‘There will be increase in economic cooperation in agriculture and others sectors to boost Cambodia’s economic growth,’ Lee said at a meeting of Cambodian and South Korean businesses.

According to South Korea’s ambassador to Cambodia, South Korea invested $2.7 billion in the country in 2007 but that figure dropped to $1.2 billion in 2008.

Two-way trade was $120 million in the first half of this year, a 58 percent decline from the same period in 2008, Ambassador Lee Kyung-soo said last week.

Investment from South Korea after 2004, mainly in garments, IT, and tourism, helped spur four years of double-digit growth in Cambodia, which is enjoying an unprecedented period of economic and political stability after decades of civil war.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen urged South Korean companies to invest in agriculture and tourism, and look into oil and gas exploration. Cambodia and neighbouring Thailand have both laid claim to offshore reserves in the Gulf of Thailand.

South Korea has also agreed loans for the country worth $200 million from 2009-2012, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters on Thursday.

Nine agreements were signed during the visit concerning cooperation in commerce, industry, mineral resources, energy and forest plantation.



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Thailand, Cambodia spar over Thaksin haven offer

BANGKOK – Thailand would seek the extradition of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra if he accepts an invitation for refuge in neighboring Cambodia, the Thai prime minister said Thursday.

The reaction came a day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen pronounced Thaksin a “political victim.” Hun Sen said that Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and later convicted of conflict of interest, was welcome in Cambodia _ even saying there’s a house ready for him.

Relations between Cambodia and Thailand are already strained over a border dispute over a parcel of land around an 11th century temple, and Hun Sen’s comments appeared timed to rattle Thailand as it prepares to host an annual Asian summit.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is hosting the summit of Asian leaders _ including the Cambodian premier _ this weekend under tight security to prevent protests by Thaksin supporters who overran a previous summit in April, forcing the leaders’ evacuation.

Abhisit said Thursday that Thailand will make an extradition request if Thaksin is given shelter in Cambodia but played down the impact of Hun Sen’s comments on bilateral relations.

Abhisit said he is aware of Hun Sen’s friendship with Thaksin and believes his Cambodian counterpart will differentiate between “friendship and duty.”

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya also suggested the remarks would not hurt relations.

“I cannot second-guess his intentions, but he’s a leader and a statesman and a senior member of ASEAN,” Kasit said of Hun Sen. “It is not possible that relations between two individuals are more important than relations between two countries.”

In Phnom Penh, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said his country will officially reply if Thai officials officially raise the extradition issue.

The two countries have had an extradition treaty since 2001.

Thaksin has been living mostly in self-imposed exile since he was ousted by the military. He was convicted last year of conflict of interest and sentenced to two years in prison, yet remains popular among Thailand’s rural poor who benefited from his populist programs.

Thai officials have revoked Thaksin’s passports, and much of his fortune remains frozen in Thai banks. He has been barred from several countries following diplomatic pressure from Thailand.

Past extradition attempts from other countries have failed due partly to bureaucracy and an inability to locate Thaksin, the government has said.

Since the coup, Thaksin has surfaced in Dubai, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Liberia and Montenegro in pursuit of investment opportunities.

Source: AP


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World Food Day: Typhoon Ketsana destroys Cambodia’s rice harvest

Two villagers set up a fishing net in the flood waters. [Photo credit: Dow Punpiputt]Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author’s alone.

Typhoon Ketsana made this year’s annual flood in Cambodia so much more intense that hectares of rice have been destroyed. Oxfam’s Dow Punpiputt reports.

This is my first trip to Cambodia and I’m heading with our Media-Communications team to Kampong Thom province, one of the most affected areas from Typhoon Ketsana. Annual flooding is common in this low-lying floodplain of the Tonle Sap lake. But this year, Typhoon Ketsana made the situation much worse. An estimated 100,000 people have been affected by the annual flood and Typhoon Ketsana in Cambodia.

It takes our team about 3 and a half hours by car from Phnom Penh to Kampong Thom. We stop at our field office on the way to meet some staff and get a brief on the situation and the aid distribution. We borrow some boots and off we go.

On the way we stop to talk to a small community living by the road in temporary makeshift shelters. They move here every year during flood season. Normally they stay for a month, but this year, it has been three months and they cannot return yet.

Our car reached the end of the road just about 50 metres beyond the last small bridge. What I saw in front of me was endless sight of lake or reservoir with some trees in it. Some people are fishing, some are playing. Life goes on.

From this point we have to take a boat to the village. Only after we take off I realise that we are cruising ‘over’ rice paddies. It is so sad to know that the harvest season is only less than a month from now and that below the vast surface of water, tons of rice have been lost to the floods. Hectares of rice crops are submerged under water. How many families will go hungry this year?

After about 10 minutes on the boat, we stop at one community who have relocated to a higher ground. Their homes now look like boathouses that float on the water. But actually they are two-storey traditional houses that were built on stilts. That is how deep the flood is. They tell us that in the worst affected areas, the water is as deep as three metres.

We talk to Thach You, 25, a mother of five young children. The youngest one was born just two weeks before Ketsana hit. The roof of her house was blown off and they had to stay wet like that all night long. They later moved from a small house that now ‘floats’ a few inches above the water to build a temporary shelter next to her grandparent’s house on higher ground.

Those who live in tropical countries will know that stagnant water is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Our staff tell us that cases of malaria, rabies and diarrhoea are increasing. And our assessment teams tell us that the problems are getting worse as people do not have enough clean water to drink and no proper toilets. Two of Thach You’s children fell ill after months of flood but luckily it was not serious.

Despite difficulties to access many affected regions, Oxfam has reached about 75% of the intended 5,000 families in the three hardest-hit provinces: Kampong Thom, Stung Treng and Kratie with our relief items. Emergency supplies include plastic sheets, water filters, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, sarongs, kettles, water buckets and soap. Our public health promoters also have been giving training on how to use the water filters and other ways of keeping hygienic. But after three months of flooding, a new urgency has emerged – food security.

Every family now depends on food from the Cambodian Red Cross and the government. After three months of living with floods, everyone’s rice stock is running so low that people with many mouths to feed like Thach You have had to borrow rice from their neighbours.

Thach You and her family don’t own land. In better days, her husband goes fishing to feed the family but now that his foot has been injured in an accident, he has had to stop. For the last two weeks their meals have been reduced from three meals to just one a day. Even as we talk to Thach You, her children are eating cassava that she has borrowed from others — and this is all they have to eat today.

Today is World Food Day. In Cambodia, 40,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed and 15,000 households are in need of immediate food assistance.



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Chinese PM vows to jointly tackle int’l financial crisis with Cambodia

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged to work along with Cambodia in tackling the international financial crisis and provide affordable assistance to the Southeast Asian country.

China and Cambodia are partners of comprehensive cooperation and have supported each other in bilateral and multilateral fields, Wen told his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen Friday in a meeting following the opening ceremony of an international trade fair in the capital of southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

Confronted with the global financial crisis, China will spare no effort in its cooperation with Cambodia and will jointly overcome the difficulties, Wen said, pledging to boost bilateral trade and implement infrastructure construction projects funded by China in Cambodia.

Hun Sen appreciated China’s assistance, saying it has brought about benefits for numerous Cambodians and asked China to continue participation in the country’s economic progress.

The Cambodian government and its people cherish their friendship and cooperation with China, he said, vowing to enhance cultural, social and youth exchanges with China.

Source: Xinhua

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Traffic at Sihanoukville Port drops further in September

091016_07Phnom Penh Post by Nguon Sovan

New deepwater port in Vietnam and economic crisis blamed for 20-percent fall drop in volumes for firm due for IPO in 2010

CARGO handled at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port (PAS) fell by a fifth in September when compared with the same month last year, as coal imports plummeted 63 percent, figures released by the port Thursday show.

The downturn in coal imports, which were described by PAS General Director Lou Kim Chhun as part of the regular ebb and flow in trade in the commodity, magnified falling container volumes on a range of import and export sectors.

“Some months, more coal is imported; some months, less coal is imported, and that dragged handling volumes down further in September,” he said.

The port, which is Cambodia’s largest shipping facility by volume, has now seen throughput fall 11.62 percent over the first nine months of the year to 1.4 million tonnes.

The 20.66 percent year-on-year drop in throughput for September came after a fall of just 6.4 percent in August and slight growth in July.

Revenues dropped 17 percent year on year to $17.92 million to the end of September. Last year, port revenues were $28.8 million, 12 percent up on 2007.

Lou Kim Chhun said imports and exports have both been hit, blaming a mix of the global economic crisis and the launch in June of the Cai Mep deepwater port in southern Vietnam’s Ba Ria Vung Tau province, which has led to a diversion of some traffic up the Mekong to Phnom Penh.

While coal imports have fallen just 7 percent when averaged across the first nine months of the year, imports of containerised cargo have fallen 23.41 percent as domestic demand for goods slumped.

Cargo exports, the bulk of which are ready-made garments, fell 23.66 percent to 225,874 tonnes. The result was broadly in line with the 22.56 percent drop in garment exports over the first eight months of the year reported by the Ministry of Commerce.

“Competition from Cai Mep hasn’t helped, but the port has also been hurt by a fall in garment and textile exports to the US and European countries, along with declining imports of autos and construction materials,” Lou Kim Chhun said.

Steel imports fell 77.88 percent over the first nine months of the year to 7,412 tonnes, figures show, while cement imports fell 23.12 percent to 37,772 tonnes.

Figures released by Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP) this month show its throughput increased 22.7 percent in September year on year, following gains in both July and August and losses in each of the preceeding six months.

Like Lou Kim Chhun, PPAP Deputy Director Eang Veng Sun put the change down to the impact of the Cai Mep deepwater port.

Before the opening of Cai Mep, exports produced in industrial Phnom Penh had to be carried overland to PAS. It lacks a deepwater port so goods must then be transferred to Singapore, Taiwan or Hong Kong and loaded into a larger container ship to take them to key export markets in the US and Europe. Shipping goods down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh to Cai Mep and then on to those markets is faster.

Port due to list on bourse
PAS is scheduled to be one of three state-owned companies that will list when the planned Cambodia Stock Exchange is launched, which is now expected to take place next year at the earliest.

Mey Vann, director of the Department of Industrial Finance at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and Ming Bankosal, director general of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia, were not prepared to comment Thursday on whether the shift in transport volumes from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh would affect the port’s listing plans.

Lou Kim Chhun also refused to comment, saying only that he expected the global economy to recover and freight volumes to rebound. The port also plans to accelerate development of a 70-hectare special economic zone on the adjacent site to attract manufacturers and boost trade volumes, he added.


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VimpelCom investing $200 mln in Cambodian phones

PHNOM PENH, (Reuters) – VimpelCom (VIP.N), Russia’s number two mobile phone operator, said it would invest $200 million in the Cambodian telecoms sector after taking a 90 percent stake in local mobile company Sotelco Ltd last year.

Anna Aybasheva, a spokeswoman for VimpelCom in Phnom Penh, said that this investment over three years included $70 million to develop the operation in 2009.

“We can see Cambodia’s market has very good potential, so we plan to develop our business here,” she told Reuters on Thursday.

The mobile phone penetration rate last year was low at around 25 percent but was expected to grow to 43 percent this year, especially with the entry of new operators, Aybasheva said.

Cambodia has a population of 14 million, 80 percent of whom live in the countryside, and about 4 million mobile subscribers, according to the government.

The Southeast Asian country has nine mobile phone firms, all foreign-owned except market leader Mobitel, which works in partnership with Luxembourg-registered Millicom International Cellular (MICC.O).

VimpelCom, which also operates in neighbouring Vietnam, said last July when it bought the Sotelco stake that it aimed for a market share of roughly 20 percent. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Alan Raybould)


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China provides 73m dollars loan to Cambodia for road construction

“China Agrees To Loan $73 Million for Construction of Road to Rattanakiri”]

Phnom Penh: The Ministry of Economy and Finance has announced that the Chinese Government on 19 May agreed to provide a $73 million concessional loan to Cambodia to build the section of National Road 78 –from O Pong Moan to Banlung Town in Rotanakiri Province –which cuts through beautiful natural forest.

Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, economic and finance minister, representing the Royal Government, and Zhang Jinfeng, Chinese extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador to Cambodia, signed the agreement on the provision of the concessional credit at the Economic and Finance Ministry on 19 May.

After the signing, Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon said that the inking of this framework agreement would allow the Economic and Finance Ministry to negotiate with the Chinese Export and Import Bank to obtain credit for implementing this project.

He pointed out that the project to build the 121-km long section of National Road 78, from O Pong Moan (Stoeng Treng Province) to Rotanakiri Province’s Banlung Town, would contribute to the integration of Cambodia’s interior with the region, through connecting the country’s northeastern part and plateau to its central part and to the centre of Vietnam. He also said that building this road would encourage quicker transformation of the northeastern part into the country’s new economic zone, with this National Road 78 becoming a new economic corridor for collectively serving cross-border trade, transportation, and tourism.

He also added that moreover, the building of this road would enable Cambodia to fully utilize the potentials of Cambodia’s plateau and northeastern part, through developing agriculture, agro-industry, mineral resources, and cultural and ecological tourism, with the aim of alleviating poverty and promoting economic growth through diversified economic policy. In sum, this road would become an important economic blood vessel in the near future.


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Response to article: Foreign Minister Critical of UNTAC’s efforts

bantey_chhmar_feb92-03By Vireak In

IIn the article “Foreign Minister Critical of Untac’s Efforts” where Cambodia’s foreign minister Hor Namhong said “The UN’s transitional authority, which occupied Cambodia in the early 1990s, did little for the country except put an election in place in 1993, but failed to end the country’s war”.

As a former UN staff in Cambodia, I find his comment somewhat offensive. I expect more from the leader. I join “Lao Monghay, a former member of the KPNLF who is now a researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission, who said Hor Namhong’s criticism of UNTAC overlooked the work the peacekeepers did accomplish”.

Foreign minister Hor Namhong ignore the humanitarian work which UNTAC carry out before the 1993 election, the repatriation of some 360,000 refugees from camps along Khmer-Thai border. Most of the refugees were civilians, rice farmers from north-western Cambodia, who had sought refuge on the Thai border from the ongoing conflicts following the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime following the invasion of the Vietnamese in 1979. Some refugees escape from the government that mean to provide them sanctuary, but fail to do so, instead people face with intimidation, starvation just to name a few, wonder why foreign minister Hor Namhong fail to acknowledge such a wonderful job by UNTACT.

At the time, the repatriation was considered to be the biggest operation ever undertaken by UN, many critic do not believe it is possible to carry out such an operation. Repatriate 360, 000 from Khmer-Thai border and then integrate the returnees into the community of their choice, issue the identification cards for all returnees so they are ready for the 1993 election.

I still remember the joy when the first convoy across the border and make their way to Sisophon, many of the children were born in the Camp and return to the country that they never knew, but they call it home. I still remember when we accompany the first envoy to Stung Treng, the road was so bad that we have make our trip by Helicopter. I still remember when we accompany returnee to the no-go zone, yet it was the wish of the returnees. I still remember how taught it was to negotiate land for returnees, some allocated land were so heavy laid with land-mine, thank to Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) returnees can settle safely in the allocated land.

Under the leadership of the late special envoy Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the repatriation operation was a very successful one. Sérgio Vieira de Mello (March 15, 1948 – August 19, 2003) was a Brazilian United Nations (UN) diplomat who worked for the UN for more than 34 years, earning respect and praise around the world for his efforts in the humanitarian and political programs of the UN. He was killed in the Canal Hotel Bombing in Iraq along with 21 other members of his staff on 19 August 2003 while working as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq. The man whom I greatly admire and have the pleasure to work with.

It is undeniable that UNTAC has done so much for Cambodia, as in the word of President Sam Rainsy from the same article “Beyond the elections, the UN and the accords helped oust a Vietnamese force that would have had people living under a communist regime even today”.

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Green group praises Cambodian ban on sand export

(AP) — PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – An environmental watchdog group praised Cambodia on Wednesday for banning the export of sand, the dredging of which the group says degrades coastlines and depletes fish populations.

The London-based group Global Witness said it was pleased that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government responded to its concerns over the potentially devastating impacts of sand dredging.

Hun Sen announced a partial ban on the practice and a total ban on exports on May 8.

Most sand exports have gone to Singapore, which has an ambitious land reclamation project, the group said. Indonesia had been Singapore’s main supplier of sand until January 2007, when the government in Jakarta banned its export.

The group-which has been critical of the country’s attitude toward the exploitation of natural resources-said the ban was a positive first step.

In a report issued three months ago, Global Witness said that “a huge sand dredging operation” began in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province last year.

The group estimated the activity to be worth at least $8.6 million per year in Cambodia.


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Exports to Cambodia to fall 30% this year: Border tensions also deter investors

(Bangkok Post – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) — SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Thailand’s exports to Cambodia are set to slide by 30 percent this year, as the neighbouring state plunges into unprecedented economic and financial hardship.

Thailand’s exports including border trade are forecast to be worth US$14 billion this year, compared with $20 billion in 2008, said Jiranun Wongmongkol, Thailand’s minister counsellor (commercial) in Cambodia.

Leading exports are automobiles, motorcycles, refined oil, construction materials, rubber tyres, food and beverages.

The slump in trade is due to the global downturn, rather than continuing tension over the disputed Preah Vihear temples, she said.

“The drop is not due to the border dispute, but the global financial crisis that has cut consumer demand. The drop is mainly due to lower demand for building materials, consumer products and petroleum,” she said.

Over the first three months of this year, Thai exports to Cambodia sank 28.23 percent to $370.59 million, down from $516.37 million in the same period last year.

Cambodia’s garment exports, which rely mainly on the US market, have been hit especially hard by the slowdown. About 200 clothing factories have shut down and about 50,000 workers have been laid off, said Mrs Jiranun.

Further redundancies are also anticipated as the world and US economies remain in the doldrums.

Cambodia’s tourism has also been damaged by the world recession and by Thailand’s recent airport closures and political riots, which scared away tourists from markets such as the US, Europe and South Korea, who use Thailand as a gateway to Cambodia, said Mrs Jiranun.

The Preah Vihear dispute has also reportedly deterred 60 percent of the 200,000 to 300,000 Thai tourists who visit Cambodia each year.

Cambodia welcomed about 2.2 million foreign visitors in 2008, a figure it aimed to increase to 3.1 million in 2010. But foreign tourists are set to fall by more than half this year, say industry experts.

“Worse still, Cambodia’s economy is now in a very poor condition as it is suffering from deflation and a ‘bubble-burst’ as Thailand experienced during the economic crisis in 1997,” she said.

But Thai products still have potential in Cambodia — particularly food and beverages, which are very popular among its consumers — said Mrs Jiranun.

Chaiyapruk Phumimuang, managing director of Angkor T.K. Travel & Tour Co, which operates food chains and Tara Hotel in Cambodia, said Cambodia offers appealing investment opportunities, particularly in tourism and manufacturing, given its low labour costs.

“Thai investors are still reluctant to invest in Cambodia for fear of national conflict following the temple dispute, leaving investors from other countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam to rapidly overtake them,” said Mr Chaiyapruk.


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