Areng on back burner?

2 Oct

By May Titthara and Daniel Pye, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 October 2014

Monks walk through a community forest during a protest against the Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong province late last year

Monks walk through a community forest during a protest against the Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong province late last year. Activists say the forest will be entirely flooded by the proposed $400 million development. Daniel Quinlan

Prime Minister Hun Sen has reportedly said the Chinese firm contracted to build the controversial Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam will not be allowed to start construction in the near future.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy yesterday said that Hun Sen had assured him, on the sidelines of a parliamentary session in which the dam was discussed, that the dam’s construction had not been definitively decided and that it may be left to future generations.

“Samdech Hun Sen confirmed to me there is no decision yet [to build the Areng dam], and [he] said it might not be done during this mandate. It may be postponed to the next term to let the next generation decide. Please do not worry. I was also happy when I heard this,” Rainsy told reporters after the session.

The prime minister’s alleged comments, which would appear to directly contradict numerous government statements prior, had activists puzzled.

“We still think there is some mystery behind the comments by the Ministry of Mines an Energy and Prime Minister Hun Sen,” Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, founder of NGO Mother Nature, told the Post.

“The ministry confirms that the project will be completed in 2020, but the premier says it will not be built.”

Eang Sophalleth, a spokesman for Hun Sen, declined to answer questions as he said that he had not heard Rainsy’s comments.

Um Serey Vuth of Sawac Consultants, which has been contracted to carry out the environmental impact assessment at the proposed dam site, said that as far as he knew, his team was waiting for authorisation to finish its work before construction could begin.

“The politics I don’t know. We’re concerned by the environmental aspects. If we can go to study the environmental impact, I will go,” he said. “Until now, we cannot risk [entering] the area. Now we’re waiting for approval.

“We have submitted a letter for approval to the Koh Kong governor. He said they [will] approve it, but … we are waiting for an answer. We call them every week.”

The comments follow a Tuesday press conference held by Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem, during which he said the project would cost $400 million and be finished by 2020.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that Sinohydro Resources, which the Post reported took over the project early this year, had hired a subcontractor to carry out the work.

The new company’s involvement prompted concern from environmentalists and rights groups.

Two other Chinese companies – China Southern Power Grid and China Guodian – backed out of the project after completing environmental and social impact assessments.

Despite the apparent comments by Hun Sen, Minister of Environment Say Sam Al told the National Assembly yesterday that the dam had not been cancelled and nor had construction been postponed.

“The Ministry of Environment has to assess [the site], to collect information so we can debate seriously without hiding [the facts],” he said.

Sam Al’s comments came in response to calls from opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann for the project to be reassessed.

“I notice those reports are not yet perfect. I would like the government to be wary of the project implementation and to study the project once again,” he said.

The Areng dam would displace about 1,300 ethnic Chorng people, according to government figures released this week. The local affiliate of Sinohydro has two of the country’s most influential tycoons on its board of directors, including ruling Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin.

Assembly OKs changes to law of the land

2 Oct

By Meas Sokchea and Kevin Ponniah, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 October 2014

The National Assembly yesterday voted to amend the constitution and add new chapters that will enshrine an overhauled National Election Committee made up of members from both the ruling and opposition parties.

All 120 lawmakers present voted for the changes, the main points of which were agreed to in July when the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party reached a deal that ended a year of post-election deadlock.

The NEC has long been castigated by the opposition and civil society groups as an institution beholden to the CPP, and it is hoped that the changes will provide an even playing field for the next national election.

But election watchdogs have complained that these amendments were passed without some of their key recommendations.

They are demanding they be consulted immediately on a new NEC law that will soon be passed and forthcoming changes to the election law, the details of which they say will determine whether yesterday’s constitutional changes will really make a difference.

The key changes pushed through yesterday are found in the new Chapter 15 of the constitution.

As expected, Article 151 of this chapter says that of the NEC’s nine members, four will be chosen by the ruling party and four will be chosen by the opposition. The final member will be a candidate chosen by both parties.

The text does not specify how this would work if more than two parties won seats.

The parliamentary standing committee will be responsible for “transparently” preparing the composition of NEC members to be voted on.

In the event that the vote fails – the CPP still holds the required majority of 50 per cent plus one, which it needs to block it – the “old composition” of the NEC would remain.

Pung Chhiv Kek, president of rights group Licadho, was selected by both parties as the ninth “consensus” candidate in July but asked for parliamentary-style immunity for NEC members to be added to the constitution.

As expected, there was no such provision. Kek has declined to speak to the media in recent weeks to confirm whether she will still take the position.

The changes also grant the NEC autonomy in the drawing up of its budget, which previously had to be requested from the government.

Senior CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said the constitutional changes would ensure a free election.

“On behalf of the whole National Assembly, I believe that when this constitution comes into effect, we will have an electoral institution that will fulfill its role independently; ensure that elections are free, fair and just; and can help to end any political crisis at the next elections,” he said.

Speaking outside the assembly yesterday, CNRP president Sam Rainsy was not quite as bold, calling the changes the “first step” in a “long journey”.

Rainsy had met privately with Prime Minister Hun Sen for an hour outside the session.

He said the pair had talked about the political situation following their July 22 agreement.

“Each party must respect the spirit [of the agreement] that we have made together. We do not need to remind [Hun Sen about the agreement], as Samdech [Hun Sen] himself has remembered it and has the will to respect this spirit.”

Sok Eysan, a senior CPP lawmaker, said he agreed that the changes would mean the public could have full confidence in the next election, but that it didn’t guarantee smooth sailing.

“We have a proper law and we have a proper procedure already, so if there are any more protests, it is up to the voters to judge,” he said.

Koul Panha, head of election watchdog Comfrel, said that there was a significant lack of detail in the constitutional changes, such as what powers the NEC will have, how its independence will be ensured and what “competence” it will have to ensure a free election – such as handling voter registration.

These issues would have to be detailed clearly in the upcoming NEC law, he said.

“But the problem is that both working groups of the parties have closed the doors and are not giving space for our input.”

The Senate and the King must still approve the change, but given the history of past laws, that step is little more than a formality.

Rosewood haul found in house

2 Oct

By Phak Seangly, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 October 2014

Two people were questioned yesterday over a huge haul of endangered rosewood discovered on Tuesday at a home in Banteay Meanchey province, officials have said.

Ing Pok, Kampong Svay commune police chief, told the Post that local authorities, in cooperation with the provincial forestry administration and the anti-economic crime police, uncovered the 510 kilograms of luxury wood on Tuesday evening following a tip-off.

“The rosewood was covered with cloth at the home. We do not know where it came from or where its next destination [was set to be] yet,” he said.

According to Pok, the homeowner, 63-year-old Nhem Lan, who rents out the property, denied any involvement.

A woman who rented the property also denied knowledge of the haul, according to Chea Phally, director of the provincial forestry administration.

Phally said authorities were still searching for the owner of the timber, and had confiscated and impounded the load at his office.

Chinese Company Donates 100 Buses to Expand City Service

2 Oct

By Ouch Sony, The Cambodia Daily, 02 October 2014

English2

Angry Evictees Throw ‘Blood Money’ at ANZ Headquarters

2 Oct

By Aun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, 02 October 2014

English1

Areng dam a boon: ministry

1 Oct

By May Titthara, The Phnom Penh Post, 01 October 2o14

Locals watch as Chinese engineers prepare to undertake a feasibility study for the Stung Cheay Areng dam in November 2012

Locals watch as Chinese engineers prepare to undertake a feasibility study for the Stung Cheay Areng dam in November 2012. INTERNATIONAL RIVERS

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has denied that the proposed Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong province will have as wide-ranging environmental and social impacts as predicted by activists, saying that the forests will be replaced by ecotourism resorts.

Speaking to reporters yesterday in Phnom Penh, ministry secretary of state Ith Praing said the reservoir would cover only 10,000 hectares and that the dam was slated for completion by 2020 at a cost of $400 million.

“In reality, the project is under study. The claims that forest is being logged are exaggerated. We do not log the forest. We are aiming at hydropower production,” he said. “If we log the forest, where can we get water resources? I pity people who are lied to. They are seeking funding and support for their organisations. If they did not do so, how would they get the money?”

Praing’s comments followed local media reports earlier this week that the Chinese state-owned firm contracted to oversee the dam’s construction, Sinohydro Resources, a subsidiary of Powerchina, had already signed an engineering, procurement and construction agreement with a subcontractor, Cambodia Lancangjiang Engineering.

The news prompted activists to suggest that the green light may have already been given for construction of the highly controversial project, but Praing claimed yesterday that their fears were overblown.

“They always say what we do causes people to shed tears, which is an exaggeration,” he said. “Will they cry when the project is completed? It will transform the area into ecotourism resorts.

“If they say it will affect 20,000 hectares [of forest], we do not know where they get that figure from,” he added.

At least 1,318 people will be forced to relocate under the project, Praing said.

Earlier this year, the Post reported that Sinohydro had taken over the project to construct the Areng dam with the help of Cambodian People’s Party senator Lao Meng Khin, and later, that clearances had been given for it to prospect for possible mining projects in the area.

Major international conservation groups have opposed the project, along with community activists, who have repeatedly blocked the access road into the site since March.

Illegal mining op halted in preserve

1 Oct

By Phak Seangly, The Phnom Penh Post, 01 October 2014

Pailin provincial authorities are searching for a suspect who allegedly commissioned the excavation of a gold mine on land the protection of which is funded by the foundation of American actress Angelina Jolie.

Provincial environmental police are holding three men at a spot where they were found guarding an excavator and 10,000 square metres of land in Boyakha commune on Sunday, said Kim Sokha, director of Pailin’s environment office.

All three said they were hired to guard the machine and area, but insisted they did not know the identity of their employer.

“Workers were illegally surrounding land near a gold mine to dig with the excavator [on protected land] near the Cambodian-Thai border,” Sokha said.

“We are searching for the person behind this illegal activity, and if we cannot find whoever is responsible for it, the excavator will be impounded at a border military police station.”

Since the questioning on Sunday, environmental police have detained the three guards at the site, Sokha said, though they have not been charged.

This is the second time Sokha’s department has cracked down on people digging or attempting to dig on the land owned by the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, run by Jolie and her husband, Brad Pitt. They started the organisation in 2003 after adopting a child from Cambodia.

At the foundation’s creation, the actress pledged an initial $1.3 million to fund protection efforts in Pailin and Battambang provinces, said Chan Socheat, its operational officer. Only two companies have been granted licences to explore the area, one of which is Vietnamese, he said.

A 1993 royal decree designated 60,000 hectares of forest land in Battambang and Pailin as a protected area, Socheat said. Since then, 20,000 hectares has been used by people who farm and live on it.

Rage at bank flares up again

1 Oct

By Pech Sotheary, The Phnom Penh Post, 01 October 2014

Kampong Speu villagers affected by a sugar plantation urge a boycott of ANZ Royal Bank outside a branch yesterday in Phnom Penh

Kampong Speu villagers affected by a sugar plantation urge a boycott of ANZ Royal Bank outside a branch yesterday in Phnom Penh. The bank helped finance the plantation owned by tycoon Ly Yong Phat. Hong Menea

About 200 villagers from Kampong Speu province protested outside ANZ Royal Bank yesterday, calling for the public to stop using its services following unanswered calls for compensation over alleged land grabbing by ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat, who financed his agro-concessions with loans from the bank.

Yesterday’s action was sparked by ANZ’s failure to acknowledge demands for compensation made in a petition and during protests outside the bank on August 1 and 14, community representative Cheang Sopheap said.

“ANZ Bank earned good profits from Phnom Penh Sugar Company, and the profits were taken from the villagers since it came from our farmlands, which were grabbed by the company,” he said.

Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar has been at the centre of years-long land disputes following the forced eviction of hundreds of families from an 8,343-hectare land concession in Kampong Speu.

During yesterday’s rally, protesters cursed ANZ while calling on the public to stop using its services.

Officials at ANZ could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the bank has previously told protesters that affected families would have to deal with Phnom Penh Sugar directly, because its dealings with the firm had concluded in July.

Ahead of yesterday’s protest, police intercepted the protesters as they travelled in trucks towards the capital, Meas Sa Em, a villager from Thpong district, said.

“They intercepted us at three points. There were about 40 police officers,” Sa Em said.

Kem Yon, a Thpong district police official, acknowledged that police had stopped the villagers but said it was merely part of a routine vehicle inspection.

Evictees Resume Protest Against ANZ Royal

1 Oct

By Aun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, 01 October 2014

English1

On flooding, patience please

30 Sep

By Taing Vida, The Phnom Penh Post, 30 September 2014

A man bails water from his shop front on Sunday in Phnom Penh following heavy rains that inundated many neighbourhoods in the capital

A man bails water from his shop front on Sunday in Phnom Penh following heavy rains that inundated many neighbourhoods in the capital. Hong Menea

After a prolonged downpour early yesterday morning left much of Phnom Penh under water and the overtaxed drainage system struggling to accommodate the deluge, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged city residents to be patient.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony in the capital, the premier yesterday promised to address the city’s clogged sewers, especially in neighbourhoods that continued to be mired in fetid wastewater hours after the storm had passed.

“Rain yesterday caused flooding of 70 to 80 millimeters, even a larger sewage [system] still could not solve the problem,” he said. “We are now drawing water out.… People, please understand.”

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the municipal government was working hard to relieve the flooded areas, but blamed climate change for leaving officials little time to prepare for storms.

“We cannot predict how many years it will take to stop this problem … because the rain is difficult to manage,” Dimanche said.

Dissatisfied with the city’s efforts, 50 residents from Boeung Kak lined up outside City Hall yesterday to demand someone address the swamp overtaking their houses.

“The authorities do not care at all. They not only leave the sewage systems clogged, but they also fill in the lakes so that seven villages in the Boueng Kak area sink beneath the flood,” said Song Srey Leap.

Expecting the heavy rains to continue for the next seven days, City Hall said all pumping stations are on alert to ensure against overflow.

But Olympic Stadium architect Vann Molyvann warned that the government will have to do more if the seasonal rains are ever to be prevented from turning neighbourhoods into waist-deep ponds.

“If we want to solve the problem, all responsible parties have to use the budget to properly restore the [drainage] infrastructure.”

According to the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, the annual wet season rains will continue from now until the beginning of November.

“We are not worried about the rain. If there is any irregularity, the ministry will inform the people,” said ministry spokesman Chan Yutha.

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