More Clashes near Preah Vihear Temple

soldierPHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged rifle and rocket fire on their disputed border near an ancient Hindu temple on Friday, but there were no reports of casualties, officials from both countries said.

“The armed clash began when Thai soldiers entered Cambodian territory. We fired rockets at the Thai soldiers,” Cambodia’s government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters.

In Bangkok, Thai Major General Kanok NetraKaveysana confirmed there had been a brief firefight early in the morning, but he had no reports of wounded or dead.

“It was a misunderstanding and it has been resolved,” he said, without explaining further.

The fighting erupted a day after a Thai soldier was badly wounded when he stepped on a land mine near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, where both sides have stationed troops since armed clashes in the area last year.

Tensions rose last month when 100 Thai troops crossed into a disputed area near the temple and were stopped by Cambodian soldiers, but no fighting occurred. The border had been quiet for months while the Southeast Asian neighbors sought to jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area where one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers died in last year’s exchange of rifle and rocket fire.

Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand, sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two countries and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

I wont allow war to restart

Prime Minister Hun SenPHNOM PENH – CAMBODIAN Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday warned that his country would be plunged back into civil war if the current UN-backed Khmer Rouge genocide court pursued more suspects.

Mr Hun Sen, himself a former low-level commander for the communist movement, made his comments as the tribunal’s first trial heard the regime’s prison chief express remorse for his crimes.

Another four senior Khmer Rouge members are also being held by the tribunal but the Cambodian co-prosecutor has opposed pursuing six more suspects on the grounds it could destabilise the country.

‘I would like to say that I prefer for this court to fail… I won’t allow war to re-occur in Cambodia,’ Mr Hun Sen said at the opening of a street named after him in the seaside town of Sihanoukville.

‘It is my absolute position. So please try these few people (already in detention),’ added Mr Hun Sen, who himself has never been implicated in any of the regime’s crimes.

‘For example, if we try 20 more people… the country will erupt into war killing hundreds of thousands of people. Who would resolve this problem?’

The Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnamese-led forces in 1979 after nearly four years of iron-fisted rule during which up to two million people died, but continued to fight a civil war until 1998.

The arrest of Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch – the first of five former regime leaders due to face trial – has been lauded by rights groups, but there have been allegations of interference by Mr Hun Sen’s administration.

As judges mull whether to open cases against other Khmer Rouge members, the administration has been accused of trying to protect former cadres who are now in government.

After Duch’s trial, the court plans to prosecute former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith. — AFP

Hun Sen could close Sihanoukville Port

Sihanoukville PortPRIME Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday threatened to close agriculture tycoon Mong Reththy’s dry port if outstanding taxes are not paid.

The prime minister also pressed for a broader crackdown on illegal goods passing through the country’s southern border checkpoints, which is depriving the government of taxes.

“Don’t blame me if I close [the port], leaving employees jobless,” he said, during a ceremony in Sihanoukville.

“Today, I ask that authorities help the government to collect taxes from all sea-crossing points, especially Preah Sihanouk province. We have to use this occasion to collect taxes,” he said.

He encouraged customs officers, police and the navy to cooperate to curb smuggling and other illegal businesses.

“The authorities have to crack down on traders that don’t pay their taxes,” he said.

He also warned customs officers and traders to stop colluding to dodge taxes.

Agriculture tycoon Mong Reththy endorsed the premier’s pronouncement and urged authorities to scrupulously collect taxes on goods crossing through the southern borders.

“I want all ports to cooperate to collect tax on imported goods … to take this money to develop our country,” he said.
However, he would not provide figures on the volume of goods passing through his facility.

Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon said that tax income has increased this month after falling for the past two months due to declining imports.

Kep tourism continues to grow

kepbeachKep, Cambodia – In Cambodia, where a decade-long tourism boom has been driven almost entirely by safe and easy access to the ancient Angkor Wat temples, the rebirth of a seaside resort town is helping to lure visitors to country’s long-neglected coastline. The sleepy town of Kep on the south-east coast has been earmarked as Cambodia’s first boutique tourism destination, but for now it bares few of the characteristics of the countless backpacker Meccas and resorts scattered throughout South-East Asia.

Tourist numbers have surged in recent years, but this town of just a few thousand people has maintained its unhurried, pastoral character. Unlike Sihanoukville, a lively huddle of guesthouses, bars and nightclubs on the central coast, Kep seems to be taking a relaxed path towards developing its tourism sector.

But with its alluringly lush rainforests, crystalline waters and bountiful seafood, Kep is finding that the tourists don’t need much encouragement. A three-hour drive from the capital Phnom Penh, Kep has become a favorite weekend retreat for expatriates and Cambodia’s burgeoning middle class.

The town is only 20 minutes from a recently opened Vietnamese border crossing, making it a perfect place to say hello or goodbye to Cambodia.

“They told us to expect fewer tourists in Cambodia this year,” a local taxi driver says. “But more and more come here every week, to see the mountains and the caves, and of course, to eat.”

Kep’s famous crabs were among the many treasures that helped the town become playground for Cambodia’s French rulers in the early 20th century. Along with former king and independence leader Norodom Sihanouk, the French elite built dozens of mansions in the hills along the coastline and sailed their yachts in the calm, protected waters in the Gulf of Thailand.

But like many regions in Cambodia, Kep was ravaged by the United States’ secret bombing campaign during the Indochinese War and was forcibly evacuated during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-1975 rule. The ultra-communist group considered the town a symbol of bourgeois hedonism and colonial oppression, and destroyed most of its infrastructure.

Kep lay dormant for more than a decade, and the scars of its troubled past are still visible among the poor local population and neglected amenities. The seaside villas left standing have become overgrown with vines and tree trunks, and now only the smallest of fishing boats can dock in the once-bustling port.

But Kep’s striking beauty has not paled despite years of conflict, neglect and civil war. Guesthouses and hotels catering to all budgets have been built along the coast, including the exclusive Knai Banh Chatt hotel, which boasts views of the imposing Bokor Mountain from its infinity pool.

While the town has no beach and is separated from the sea by a strip of coarse red stones, a cheap 30 minute boat ride to Koh Thonsay – known as Rabbit Island – reveals one of Cambodia’s unspoilt, pristine beaches. Budget accommodation is compulsory, as

the island’s only available beds are housed in palm-wood bungalows, which can be rented for between 7 and 10 dollars per night.

The bungalows’ power generators are switched off a 10 pm, and as the fluorescent lights along the beach fade, a spectacular night sky is revealed.

But Kep’s greatest attraction may well be the variety of seafood on offer in the restaurants and stalls downtown. Crabs cooked with local pepper sell for between 3 and 10 dollars and grilled fish on skewers cost less than 5 dollars. For the more adventurous, or rather less eco-conscious, gilled seahorse is also available.

Driving past the various building sites, road workers and bulldozers on the road out of town, one gets the impression that the place is on the verge of a tourism storm. A good road now runs straight to the nearby riverside town of Kampot, which is enjoying its own tourism rebirth, and there are signs of a coastal tourism trail emerging. So as travellers look for cheaper tropical escapes in South-East Asia, now might be the time to experience Kep and beat the rush.

Internet: www.kepcity.com, www.mot.gov.kh, www.tourismcambodia.com

Fishing communities at HIV risk

From International News Network

fishingsihanoukvilleISLAMABAD: The high mobility of fishing communities increases the risk Fishing communities worldwide are up to 10 times more vulnerable to HIV/Aids than other centres, a study says. University of East Anglia researchers said fishing villages were the hidden victims of the disease.

The communities were particularly vulnerable because the populations were highly mobile, lacked women’s rights and had high levels of prostitution.

The report called on governments to improve access to treatment and sexual health services in fishing villages.

Many of the initiatives directed at such areas were done on a local, small-scale basis, the researchers said.

Thailand – Up to 20% of fishing boat crews tested HIV-positive in the late 1990s, while general rate was 1.5% Honduras – Some 8% of adults in fishing communities have HIV – four times the national average Uganda – A quarter of fisherfolk on Lake Albert were HIV-positive in 1992, compared to 4% in nearby agricultural villages

They suggested mobile or floating clinics be established to make sure fishing communities had access to testing, advice and care.

Lead researcher Dr Edward Allison said: “The plight of fishing communities has been neglected for far too long and the consequences have been devastating.

“I hope this research will raise awareness not only of the impact of the HIV and Aids epidemic on fishermen, but also highlight the vulnerability of women in the fisheries sector.”

The report said there were sub-cultures of hypermasculinity and risk taking in fishing villages with high levels of drug and alcohol abuse which contributed to higher rates of HIV.

This was exacerbated by the highly mobile populations, which moved between landing sites, markets and processing factories on a daily basis.

In Thailand one in five workers on fishing crews were HIV-positive, compared to 1.5% in the general population.

In the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville fishermen had the second highest rate of HIV. Brothel-based sex workers had the highest.

ActionAid’s HIV/Aids campaigner manager Simon Wright said the nature of fishing communities meant people were at greater risk of HIV.

“We have known for a long-time that mobile populations with access to cash are among the earliest affected by HIV and Aids.

“In particular, fishing communities can see sex become an institutionalised means of bargaining for access to the catch and the right to sell in the markets.

“Targeting these groups must be an urgent action to stop HIV from spreading further.”

Electricity Supply Improvements in Sihanoukville by 2011

Written by Nathan Green (Phnom Penh Post)
Monday, 16 March 2009

powerlinesState requests private investment for development of national grid as plans continue for increased electricity network coverage outside capital.

THE government is courting private investors for its proposed national electricity grid and is hoping to have the main backbone of the system in place by 2015, an official said last week.

Ty Norin, chairman of the Electricity Authority of Cambodia, told the 2009 Cambodia Outlook Conference in Phnom Penh on Thursday that private sector investment was needed to top-up donor and government funds already earmarked for the project to ensure maximum coverage. He did not name possible backers.

Under the government’s 2013-18 Cambodia Power Development System plan, the proposed national grid will be controlled by the state-run Electricite du Cambodge, but Special Purpose Transmission Licences will be available to private companies to operate sections of the grid, he said. It is expected that these will mostly be used to supply large individual consumers as well as rural areas off the main grid.

This is probably the biggest constraint that we hear about.

Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, told the conference that affordable electricity prices and reliable access were critical for the future of the country’s manufacturing sector.

“This is probably the biggest constraint that we hear about but one that will be fixed in the next year or two,” he said.

Higgins noted that electricity cost from 18 US cents per kilowatt-hour in Cambodia compared to around 5.4 cents per kilowatt in Vietnam.

Ty Norin said the high cost of electricity was due to the country’s almost total reliance on fuel imports due to an absence of indigenous resources.

The government also hoped to firm up fuel supply agreements with key trading partners to enhance energy security and would build a coal-run power plant near Sihanoukville port to feed into the grid.

“We are very confident in the near future our power supply will not be entirely dependent on foreign fuel,” he said.

Ty Norin ruled out government subsidies or price controls to keep energy prices low, saying the national budget could not support subsidies and that price controls would make the market unattractive.

“We cannot force the tariff down by setting it lower because if the tariff is lower than the cost we will create an issue with sustainability of supply,” he said. “The market will die.”

However, major industries and Special Economic Zones within 10 kilometres of substations will be able to source electricity on a direct feed, which would give them a comparatively lower grid tariff by exempting them from network transmission charges. However, rural areas would likely face greater costs due to higher charges, said Ty Norin.

Phnom Penh, which accounts for 85 percent of Cambodia’s electricity consumption, will be the central point of the proposed grid. Substations will be built in the capital, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampot and Sihanoukville by 2011, he added. The grid will be connected to western Cambodia by 2012 to supply electricity to Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey.