>Hok Lundy loyalist tipped to become next police chief

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Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN General Neth Savoeun grieves at Tuesday’s memorial service for Hok Lundy.

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 13 November 2008
Phnom Penh Post

Neth Savoeun is only name on the shortlist, police brass say, but the official word has yet to come on his appointment.

NATIONAL Police General Neth Savoeun is the most likely successor to top cop Hok Lundy, police officials said Wednesday, but said that no official appointment has been made.

“It is just a plan. It will not be official until a royal decree is released,” said Teng Savong, deputy director of the National Police.

An assistant to Neth Savoeun who did not want to be named told the Post Wednesday that, while the appointment is widely expected, neither he nor Neth Savoeun had seen an order by King Norodom Sihamoni formalising the arrangement.

Hok Lundy was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash while flying to Svay Rieng province in bad weather. Mechanical failure, which officials say caused a fire, is the most likely cause of the mishap.

His death raised speculation of a power struggle within Cambodia’s National Police, which Hok Lundy, a close ally and relative by marriage to Prime Minister Hun Sen, had commanded since 1994.

He was frequently the target of human rights groups, who accused him of a vast array of abuses, including human trafficking and murder. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Neth Savoeun was unlikely to be any better.

“[He] should be under investigation by the police, not be the National Police chief. He will almost certainly continue to politicise the work of the police,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“This is a very disturbing appointment.”
Neth Savoeun, 52, who is married to Hun Sen’s niece, joined the police force in the 1980s, rising to the post of Phnom Penh municipal police chief during the early 1990s and head of the Justice Department in the Ministry of Interior’s Penal Crimes Division.

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>Border talks end with tentative agreement to withdraw troops

>Sompong Amornvivat (L) and Hor Namhong (R) talks to the press after their long meeting.

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 13 November 2008
Phnom Penh Post

Drawdown that could ease standoff between Cambodia and Thailand depends on Bangkok accepting a single map to define frontier

MAGIC MARKERS
Cambodia’s border commission head Var Kimhong said 29 border markers dividing Cambodia and Thailand are undisputed, but that the position of an additional 19 still need to be determined. Twenty-five remain missing, he said.

CAMBODIAN and Thai officials said Wednesday that they had tentatively agreed to troop withdrawals from around Preah Vihear temple, a move that could end a long-running border standoff if Thailand’s parliament accepts the terms.

Foreign ministers from the two countries also said they would propose using a single map to demarcate the frontier – a point of contention that has kept many parts of their shared border undefined for decades.

Cambodia has long maintained that its borders were defined by a 1904 map drawn up by its then-colonial ruler France. Thailand, meanwhile, has insisted on using its own map, putting the two sides into frequent conflict.

“I can tell all of you that we have had remarkable results.We have had only small points of disagreement that I will bring back to the Thai parliament for debate and to make a decision on,” said Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat following daylong talks in Siem Reap with his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong.
“Our next steps will be smoother and faster,” he said.

BOTH SIDES ARE WORKING PATIENTLY TO AVOID CONFLICT ON THE BORDER.

The talks were the culmination of three days of meetings between border officials in what was another round of crisis negotiations since the border standoff began in July and erupted in violence last month in a brief gunbattle that left three Cambodian troops and one Thai soldier dead.

Tensions flared after Preah Vihear temple, which was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the World Court, was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, enraging Thai nationalists and helping to spark political turmoil in Thailand.

The military buildup on both sides of the border has been the biggest in years. Although troops have been gradually withdrawn from various points along the frontier since the October 15 clash, Hor Namhong said Cambodia would only pull back completely if Thailand’s parliament accepted the conditions of what he called Wednesday’s “temporary agreement”, including using the 1904 map.

“I hope this document to which we have temporarily agreed will be honoured,” he told reporters, in comments broadcast on Cambodian television.

“I want to stress that both sides are working patiently to avoid conflict on the border as before,” he added.
“We have a clear road map to keep the peace with our neighbours, but we will definitely protect our territory.”

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>Progress in Thai-Cambodia talks

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By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Sompong Amornviwat (l) shakes hands with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong at a hotel in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, on Thursday

The mood was relaxed and optimistic, but many obstacles remain

Thailand and Cambodia have pledged to begin placing markers along their common border and withdraw troops from around a disputed temple.

The move came in a meeting of foreign ministers aimed at preventing further clashes after four soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire last month.

The two countries have just finished three days of talks on the dispute.

But they say obstacles remain to settling sovereignty of the land around the temple, which lies inside Cambodia.

‘99% successful’

After days of talks the language from both foreign ministers was so relaxed and conciliatory you would hardly have known their soldiers were shooting at each other less than a month ago.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong described the talks as a “big practical step forward”, and his Thai counterpart Sompong Amornwiwat said they had achieved “99%” of what they had hoped.

TEMPLE DISPUTE TIMELINE
Cambodian Buddhist monks walk in line up during a prayer ceremony for peace at Preah Vihear temple, August 2008
1970s-1990s: Khmer Rouge guerrillas occupy site
2001-2002: Thai troops block access over water row
July 2008: Unesco lists temple as a World Heritage Site
July 2008: Thai FM quits after court rules he violated constitution for backing Cambodia’s Unesco bid
July 2008: Both sides move troops to temple area
August 2008: Troops withdrawn after high-level talks
October 2008: Fighting erupts around temple area
November 2008: Foreign ministers meet for talks to resolve the dispute, having vowed to resolve it peacefully

In reality, though, all they agreed was to start the difficult task of hammering out a deal on the border, and to scale down the armed stand-off around the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Troops will be withdrawn early next year, and in the meantime instructed to avoid further armed clashes.

And the two countries will begin marking out the border, which runs for nearly 800km (500 miles), much of it heavily mined.

They say they will make the stretch next to the temple their first priority – but this will certainly prove the hardest bit of border to mark, as both countries claim a 5-sq-km (1.9-sq-mile) patch of land around the temple, and each is working from different maps.

With nationalist feelings still running high over the temple, which in July was listed by Cambodia as a World Heritage Site, neither government is likely to back down over the claim.

Thailand’s room for manoeuvre is even narrower, as every agreement it makes with Cambodia must now be approved by parliament.

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>’Progress’ in Thailand-Cambodia row

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Tensions near the ancient Preah Vihear temple had threatened to escalate into all-out war [Reuters]

The foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia say they have made progress in resolving a festering border dispute, and have agreed on steps to begin demarcating disputed territory that sparked a deadly military clash last month.

Following talks in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, the two sides said they had also tentatively agreed to redeploy their troops and clear land mines in the area near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

“We have made a big practical step forward,” Hor Namhong, Cambodia’s foreign minister, said at a press conference after the meeting.

It is not yet clear, however, when the redeployment would begin, because the Thai side will first have to submit to parliament documents it negotiated with Cambodia.

“We have achieved 99 per cent, but there still remain a few points on which I need to seek approval from the Thai parliament first,” Sompong Amornvivat, Thailand’s foreign minister, told reporters.

In October three soldiers were killed and 10 wounded in a brief but intense exchange of gunfire between Thai and Cambodian troops.

The clash had raised fears of a war between the neighbours who have argued over the disputed stretch of jungle for decades.

In 1962 the World Court awarded ownership of the 14 century Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

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>Cambodia to host ministerial trade conference of least developed countries

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PHNOM PENH, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) — Cambodia will host a meeting of ministers of industry and commerce from around 49 of the world’s poorest countries described as “least developed” on Nov. 19-20 in Siem Reap province to discuss issues related to international trade, a press release said Thursday.

The conference aims to search for solutions to common problems faced by the poorest nations in their integration to global trade, the press release from the office of Cambodian government said.

One of the main topics of discussion is “Aid for Trade” (AfT), a package of incentives designed to help overcome structural and resource constraints of least developed countries in exchange for more speedy trade reforms, it said.

South-South Cooperation for Poverty Reduction is also on the agenda of the meeting, it added.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is to open this event, the release said.

The Cambodian government, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are jointly organizing this conference.

Editor: Zheng E
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>Cambodia to host annual film festival

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PHNOM PENH, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) — Preparations are under way for the CamboFest, Cambodia’s first internationally recognized film festival, to be held in Siem Reap on Dec. 26-30, national media reported Thursday.

The three-day festival will show 50 international films, including independent features, documentaries, shorts, animation and films dealing with social issues.

The X Bar will be a focal point, decking out its rooftop with a massive screen and a 4,000-lumen projector, the Phnom Penh Post said.

This venue will screen “out there” and cutting-edge features, shorts, animation and experimental films, it said.

Another confirmed venue is FCC Angkor, which will screen art flicks, documentaries and worthy social issues material, it added.

There will also be an “online venue”, namely CamboTube.com, the newspaper said, adding that a complete schedule is expected soon.

The Golden Buffalo awards will also be announced at the end of the festival.

Editor: Zheng E
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>The end of an NGO era in Cambodia

>By Craig Guthrie

PHNOM PENH – With an overwhelming electoral mandate, robust economy and a potential bounty of oil and gas revenues, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen feels in a strong enough position to move against the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which have been a perennial thorn in the strongman’s side since he took power more than two decades ago.

In late September he called for the revival of a controversial law which would require the country’s more than 2,000 associations and NGOs to complete a complex registration process and submit to stringent financial reporting requirements. The draft law is expected to be passed by Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP)-dominated National Assembly in the coming months.

“Cambodia has been heaven for NGOs for too long,” he said in a speech broadcast on national radio on September 26, adding that he had given up hope of reading any positive reports written by international or local NGOs. “The NGOs are out of control … they insult the government just to ensure their financial survival.”

By enacting the law, Hun Sen could recalibrate the government’s terms of engagement with the Western-led aid community, on which his government has heavily relied for decades to finance its budget. The move comes as private-led foreign investment has fueled the country’s economic rise, led in the main by China and South Korea.

“Many of the services provided by NGOs today will one day either be privatized or the revenues of the government will grow to such an extent that the functions currently being done by NGOs will be taken over by the government,” said Brett Sciaroni, chairman of Cambodia’s International Business Association.

The NGO law’s enactment would be a symbolic power shift between Hun Sen’s CPP-led government, further emboldened by its landslide victory in this year’s general election, and the Western-backed NGOs which have long chastised it over human-rights abuses and corruption allegations.

International aid agencies have for decades held the purse strings on the aid which has sustained the national economy since it emerged from the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, the ultra-Maoist regime which systematically attempted to transform Cambodia into an agricultural utopia between 1975 and 1979, and a subsequent decade-plus of civil war.

Some contend it was the Khmer Rouge’s economic failures, including a devastating countrywide famine that killed many and stalked the regime’s traumatized survivors, which set the stage for Cambodia’s now decades-long dependence on foreign aid.

The British aid agency Oxfam began programs soon after the Khmer Rouge’s 1979 ouster, despite incurring the wrath of the United States and the United Kingdom governments for helping the Hanoi-sponsored regime put in place by the invading Vietnamese.

Jacques Beaumont from the United Nations Children’s Fund, and Francois Bugnion from the International Red Cross (IRC), who both arrived in Phnom Penh in 1979, were pivotal players in that humanitarian effort. They finally persuaded the IRC, which was fearful of being seen as compromising its political neutrality, into launching what turned into its most significant relief operation since World War II.

But the comprehensive aid experiment did not begin in earnest until after the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which by and large ended the country’s debilitating civil war. Since then myriad NGOs have come to Cambodia to work on everything from demining to microfinance, orphanages to agri-business, public health issues to snaring globe-trotting pedophiles.

The demining NGOs in particular made great progress, clearing an estimated 25,000 hectares of mined territory between 1992-2003. Cambodia has also been hailed as a global success story in fighting HIV/AIDs transmission, led by NGO-organized education programs and health aid. Prevalence rates have fallen by nearly half, from 3% in 1997 to 1.6% in 2006.

Fractious relations
But Hun Sen’s government’s relationship with NGOs and international aid agencies has often been fractious, epitomized by its tumultuous interactions with the environmental watchdog Global Witness over its consistent accusations of high-level government links to illegal logging, and with the UK-based rights lobby Amnesty International for its criticism of state-sponsored forced evictions across the country.

The World Bank also suspended US$11.9 million in funds in 2006 for seven sanitation projects when it found evidence of rampant extortion, bribe-taking, bid-rigging and procurement manipulation, leading Hun Sen to claim the multilateral lender was trying to tarnish his government’s credibility. The bank only agreed to unfreeze the projects’ funding in 2007 after the government promised to strengthen anti-corruption measures.

Despite Cambodia’s recent economic boom, including a skyrocketing average 11% gross domestic product (GDP) growth over the past three years, a sizable portion of the nation’s real income still derives directly from donor nations in amounts wrangled out each year at annual Consultative Group meetings.

The meetings were for years characterized by vague promises from the Cambodian government in response to weak demands by donors for reform, including the long-delayed adoption of an anti-corruption law. But in the past two years these demands have become less relevant with the surge in aid from China, which typically has less good governance or transparency conditions attached.

While Chinese aid is generally funneled through vast infrastructure projects – including hydropower and road projects – usually contracted to Chinese companies, Western nations’ share of the average US$600 million in annual aid arrives through international aid agencies and NGOs. The process has been widely cast as a corrupt, inefficient gravy train, giving some traction to Hun Sen’s complaints.

“In the 1980s, there was a popular T-shirt satirizing US Army recruitment commercials with the slogan, ‘Join the army. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them’,” Brad Adams, executive director for Human Rights Watch’s Asia Program, was quoted saying to Action Aid in 2005. “In the new millennium, it could be rephrased, ‘Join the aid community. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And make a killing’.”

This is still the case in Cambodia, Adams told Asia Times Online. “You can start with all the foreign consultants making more than $10,000 per month, almost always tax free. This is a huge drain on the aid budget for Cambodia and in many cases the consultants produce nothing of value for the country.”

Many analysts and expatriates agree that NGOs and their workers suffer from an image crisis among the Cambodian public, partly due to their comparatively high salaries and lifestyles, which are far adrift from the 35% of the population which lives on less than $0.50 a day.

Country directors for prominent international aid agencies typically receive a $250,000 annual package, which includes a spacious villa in the capital’s upmarket “NGO-ville” area, a four-wheel-drive vehicle – usually emblazoned with the logo of their donor agency or charity – and fees paid for the capital’s better international schools.

The aid watchdog Action Aid estimated in 2005 that the 700 or so international consultants working for NGOs in the country earned more than Cambodia’s 160,000 civil servants put together. “In 1993, yes, 99% of foreign consultants were justified; now, 5% are justifiable. The others are embedding and enabling the mentality of dependency,” Center of Social Development director Theary Seng said in June.

Arne Sahlen, a founding member of the Cambodia Support Group, a 25-year-old volunteer organization, echoes Hun Sen’s comments that fundraising has overtaken the focus on the actual progress of several NGO projects. According to Sahlen, “vast” resources are being swallowed up on pursuing donors that could be invested on direct project needs. “The need to please donors has warped the focus to not necessarily what is best for the project but what may look best on an application,” said Sahlen.

Others contend that several NGOs are actually impeding the development of a self-sustaining private sector, mainly through the alleged abuse of their not-for-profit status to pursue business opportunities. That status helps them avoid taxes and other unofficial costs that private businesses pay, giving non-profit an unfair competitive advantage in the market, they say.

Cambodians now understand the word NGO, especially in the local context, to be a for-profit enterprise, said Sophal Ear, the author of The Political Economy of Cambodia, Aid and Governance. “It’s all a business and this is just another way to avoid taxes,” he said. “When not covered by donors, capital costs for NGOs have largely been privatized, through an extensive network of ‘donations’ to the ruling party by Oknhas [politically connected tycoons] politicians, and civil servants.”

Discretionary powers
The NGO law, known formally as the Law on Organizations, was first written over a decade ago and aims to address such complaints. It would require NGOs to submit for government approval documents detailing their structure, goals, funding resources, properties and even logos. It also entails fines and imprisonment for any NGO which fails to submit annual reports to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Many fear the discretionary powers the law will give the government in monitoring and sanctioning NGOs – rather than vice versa. Hun Sen no doubt had his one good eye on the anticipated bounty of future oil and gas revenues when calling for the controversial law’s revival. Chevron, the US energy giant, discovered oil off Cambodia southwestern coast in 2005 and analysts have predicted the find could generate anywhere between $200 million and $2 billion in annual revenues for the government when full-scale production begins in 2010.

The government is still awaiting a key assessment from Chevron of the supposed find, and both sides have more recently played down expectations. Nonetheless, NGOS are already warning of a possible “resource curse” similar to places like Nigeria, where corrupt governments pilfered and wasted earnings derived from energy exports.

“NGOs are trying to tell us how to use the oil money, but this is of no interest to us. What is important is how to make our resources profitable,” Hun Sen said in a recent radio broadcast speech.

Despite his criticisms, there are reasons for concern. A new NGO coalition has begun work to oversee the transparency of the management of future oil funds. Led by the NGO Forum, it has given little information on its structure, but has said it plans to ensure the potential financial benefits from the windfall are managed in a socially responsible manner, and that benefits filter down to the impoverished grassroots.

The World Bank, which also aims to monitor the government’s oil revenue management, noted in May that international aid is often poorly managed in key sectors, with the problem of “fragmented” assistance especially acute in health and education.

In the health sector, 22 donors are currently working with over 100 NGOs to deliver $110 million in Official Development Assistance (ODA) per year through 109 projects – yet use of the national system remains at just between 13% to 18%, said the bank. The vast majority of rural Cambodians are forced to use an expensive yet rudimentary private healthcare system which is more reminiscent of poorer African than neighboring Asian nations.

The education system is also beset by severe underfunding, with thousands of graduates churned out from poorly regulated “international” universities with degrees that often leave them ill-prepared to enter the job market. Until now, the only paying option for many graduates was to work in donor agencies and international NGOs. But if Chinese and South Korean private investment flows hold up and the country’s hoped-for energy bonanza is realized, that may all soon change if Hun Sen has his NGO-curbing way.

Craig Guthrie is a former reporter for the Mekong Times newspaper in Phnom Penh. He has covered Cambodian affairs since 2004.

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