Timber seizure nabs 30-plus cubic metres in Ratanakkiri

27 Nov

source:phnompenhpost.com | November 27, 2015

People inspect a truck load of rosewood in Ratanakkiri earlier this week after it was seized by authorities.

(People inspect a truck load of rosewood in Ratanakkiri earlier this week after it was seized by authorities.)

An estimated 30 to 40 cubic metres of protected luxury timber was intercepted in Ratanakkiri province on Wednesday night while being hauled to Vietnam, according to local officials.

Nouv Dara, director of Ratanakkiri’s anti-economic crime unit said that a truck loaded with thnong logs was intercepted near the O’Yadav international checkpoint, but was unable to provide further details about the origins of its drivers or contents.

Another customs official on the operation said that officers “halted the vehicle, but the driver managed to flee”, along with his accomplices. He added that the vehicle and timber were impounded at the Ratanakkiri provincial customs office.

However, Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc who is monitoring the case, reported that the logs were impounded at the office, but that the vehicle had not been seen there.

“The timber was being transported from Mondulkiri to sell in Vietnam,” he said.

Kim Raksmey, provincial military police commander, said that the seized load had not yet been measured.

In a separate case, a 34-year-old man was charged on Wednesday for unlicensed collection of forestry products in Koh Kong province, after two cars transporting rosewood were intercepted in separate locations there.

The first vehicle contained 35 logs and the second 107, reported Kong Puthira, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Activists Want Action on Koh Kong Dredging

27 Nov

source: khmertimeskh.com | November 26, 2015

(Dredging in Koh Kong province)

Anti-dredging activists have called on the Mines and Energy Ministry to investigate what they say are irregularities in sand  dredging operations in Koh Kong province, including what they say is an unclear relationship between some officials and the dredging company.
While most people celebrated the Water Festival by rivers and lakes with festivities and boat races, more than two dozen activists from the Youth Resource Development Program Organization (YRDP) and the environmental organization Mother Nature tried to investigate dredging operations on Wednesday, but say they were blocked from taking photos or getting close by the dredging operators and local officials.
YRDP’s Ny Chetra told Khmer Times that whenever the group tried to look into dredging activities it appeared local officials were trying to block them and protect the companies.
“The Koh Kong provincial office  of Mines and Energy said the dredging boat at Koah Sarlau Island is not illegal because they have a license from the ministry,” he said, “but we found they have a fake license.
“They still can do this because they have powerful officers behind them. Their dredging operations are protected by the local authorities.”
He said the ministry said the operations had little impact on the environment, but the groups wanted to investigate for themselves.
He said that on Wednesday, one dredging boat and local officials prevented the team from taking photos or asking questions, between Tatay village and Andoung Tuek commune.
Thon Ratha, from Mother Nature said there were two companies dredging the area: Direct Access and International Rainbow.
“We don’t know clearly which boat is for which company because the authorities blocked us from taking photos and asking questions,” he told Khmer Times. “Instead, they should show us the licenses, not block us.”
“Khem Sameth, Direct Access chief executive officer, told Khmer Times the dredging boat that blocking the group was not from his company. He said his company was still waiting for a license from the ministry to continue dredging.
“For now, we have stopped dredging and we are waiting from word from the ministry. My company is dredging in Andoung Tuek only,” he said.
International Rainbow executives could not be immediately contacted for comment yesterday.
Mines and Energy Ministry spokesman Dith Tina said the ministry always checked licenses, and studied environmental impact before granting licenses.
“The ministry didn’t order authorities to block anyone. We have a hotline for the dredging issue if anyone sees irregularities,” he said.
“In Koh Kong, we check all licenses and the environmental situation in the areas,” he said.

UN, Gov’t Move to End Violence Against Women

27 Nov

source: khmertimeskh.com | November 26, 2015

The United Nations and the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs will organize four major events across the country to raise awareness of the need to end violence against women and girls, according to a UN Women’s statement on Wednesday.
The series of events will include running races in coastal Preah Sihanouk province on Sunday and at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province on December 4, a dance in Phnom Penh on December 6, and an interactive university debate in Battambang province on December 8.
The events are to mark the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence from Wednesday, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to December 10, the International Human Rights Day.
“Violence against women is one of the most pervasive human rights violations in Cambodia,” the statement said. Recent findings show that one in five Cambodian women experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, it said, adding that 49 percent of women who experience violence will justify the violence with at least one reason.
It added that 40 percent of the women suffering from violence said they have not sought help because they believe that violence is “common.”
“It is very important to change the perception that violence happens because there is a proper reason. Women should know about their rights and their rights should receive protection from us,” said Wenny Kusuma, director of UN Women-Cambodia.

Kampot dam tries to restore image

23 Nov

Source: phnompenhpost.com | November 23, 2015

Generators produce power at the Kamchay Hydro Dam in Kampot province last week where water was released from the dam caused wide spread damage to villages downstream in August.

(Generators produce power at the Kamchay Hydro Dam in Kampot province last week, where water was released from the dam caused wide spread damage to villages downstream in August)

In the wake of mass flooding, the company behind Cambodia’s first major hydropower dam used a government visit last week to distance itself from recent controversies and quell fears about the project’s alleged downsides.

In September, Kampot province experienced widespread flooding that left thousands temporarily homeless and crippled the local economy after the gates of the Kamchay Hydropower Dam were opened.

The incident was just one of many negative effects of the 194-megawatt dam the community has experienced.

But Zheng Yung, an assistant with Sinohydro, the Chinese state-owned company behind the dam, insisted that it was not at fault.

“The flooding at that time was caused by the rain since it rained for 24 hours a day for many days in a row,” he said.

He added that orders to open the dam’s gates following reports that it was filling beyond its capacity were issued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

An official working for the company who asked to remain anonymous later said that if the dam had not been opened “it would not have caused floods only in Kampot province but … in other provinces” too.

Yung, meanwhile, insisted that the devastating flooding had been long-forgotten.

“Everything is good now,” he said. The dam “does not only produce the electricity for the industry and production, but it also serves as a water resource for people to use on thousands of hectares of crops”.

Yung’s efforts to espouse the dam’s successes in electricity supply coincided with a blackout that put a stop to his digital presentation.

Kul Sokha, deputy director of the provincial department of Mines and Energy, said power shortages frequently happen because electricity from the dam is sold to Electricité du Cambodge, which distributes it around the country.

Sokha said about 60 per cent of people in Kampot receive electricity from the dam and “are happy with the result”.

One such person, 41-year-old farmer Van Saroeun, said that after initially having concerns about the dam, his opinion had changed.

“Now I have a different view on the dam; I think that it helps me and the state. For example, it provides water for crop cultivation and it provides electricity,” he said.

But many are not convinced.

A recent report by researchers at the University of London found that the dam has left many worse off.

The study identified issues with “energy access, livelihood changes, environmental impacts, access to natural resources and compensation”.

“Results also reveal divergence between national and local priorities, which in turn brings about an unequal distribution of costs and benefits of the Kamchay Dam between urban and rural areas,” it said.

Kamchay Dam Claims Not Behind Kampot Flood

20 Nov

source:khmertimeskh.com | November 20, 2015

The Chinese company that operates the hydroelectric power plant on the Kamchay River in Kampot province yesterday denied that a decision to open the dam’s gates during a recent storm was the cause of severe flooding in the area.
Zheng Yong, General Manager Assistant of the Sinohydro Kamchay Hydroelectric plant, told Khmer Times yesterday that since the dam began operations in 2012 it has never caused any problems for people living downstream.
In August this year, a flash flood hit people and rice fields. Critics said the flood occurred because the damn released water after heavy rains. The dam has a capacity of 700 million cubic meters.
Mr. Zheng said that the release of the water was at the order of the Cambodian electricity authority (EDC), which wanted an increase in power production.
Kul Sokha, deputy director of the Mines and Energy Department in Kampot, said he does not think the flooding was cause by the release of water from the dam. “It was a seasonal flood,” Mr. Sokha said.
“As you know, Kampot province is always flooded,” Mr. Sokha said, adding that since the dam’s construction flooding had decreased.
Mr. Zheng said: “We help people downstream to avoid facing floods. And we keep water sustainable for them to farm.”
The Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Kamchay Dam was constructed by the Sinohydro Kampchay Hydroelectric Project, a local subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned hydro ower engineering and construction company Sinohydro Corp. It supplies electricity to Kampot province, Preah Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.
But some nearby residents say the dam has had a negative impact.
Cambodia has six hydropower dams in four provinces – Koh Kong, Pursat, Kampong Speu and Kampot – supplying 62 percent of national electricity production. The country still imports electricity from Vietnam and Thailand.
At a presentation to 45 electrical engineering students from three universities during a two-day study tour to the Kamchay Dam on Wednesday, Ministry of Mines and Energy officials said Cambodia’s dams would increase to seven after the Lower Se San II dam construction finishes in 2017.

15 Arrested Over Illegal Logging

20 Nov

source:khmertimeskh.com | November 20, 2015

Fourteen Cambodian loggers and a Thai national have been arrested in connection with logging activities in Thai territory and are currently in jail awaiting trial, a Cambodian consular official said.
Bun Sokvibol, Cambodian Consul for Sa Kaeo province in Thailand, told Khmer Times the group of loggers had been arrested and valuable timber had been confiscated on Tuesday in the protected area in Sa Kaeo province bordering Banteay Meanchey. Thai local police are preparing the case to send to court.
“Primarily, it is illegal logging conducted in Thailand by our nationals,” Mr, Sokvibol said. “It will be proceeded with under the Thai internal law, however we are meeting them and will provide assistance to our nationals as much as possible.”
According to Mr. Sokvibol, the 14 loggers are mostly from Sampov Loun district of Battambang and from Bakan district of Pursat province, and they were brought illegally into Thailand by a broker on November 1.
Cambodian loggers have been reportedly shot dead, injured or arrested while making the risky crossing into Thailand for logging activities despite the border police and provincial authorities trying to stop them.
Yal Bunpao, an officer at the Cambodian-Thai Border Relations Office in Banteay Meanchey province, said that Thai authorities had not contacted his office and he was contacting Thai officers for the detail of these loggers.
“Most of them normally cross the corridor gates with the broker,” he said. “They never cross with official gates so that’s why we hardly control them.”
Chum Sounry, spokesman for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the loggers were currently in jail awaiting trial, for which no date has yet been set. But Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong has instructed the consular officials to closely follow this case and give assistance to them.
From the first six months of this year, Thai authorities have gunned down at least five Cambodian nationals who crossed into the neighboring kingdom to illegally log.
Another 15 were arrested and released and 29 others were locked up in Thai prisons, while another 15 went missing.

Ratanakkiri families demand land dispute resolution

19 Nov

Source: phnompenhpost.com | November, 19 2015

More than 150 ethnic Kachak families in Ratanakkiri province have accused the provincial governor of not settling their land dispute despite a months-old order from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s office to do so.

The 162 families in Andong Meas district’s Talao commune filed a complaint to the cabinet office on October 27 last year.

The complaint was forwarded to the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution, which wrote to Thorng Savuth, the provincial governor, on February 16, telling him to resolve the dispute with Phnom Penh-based landowner Meun Sam An.

Sam An reportedly took over the 116-hectare plot in 2012.

Romam Banh, 54, one of 10 community representatives who filed complaints to the governor on Monday, said the complainants were tired of waiting for resolution.

“We’ve asked Savuth to demarcate the land for us,” he said.

Sam An initially bought 20 hectares of land from villagers for $10,000 in 2011 but later took an additional 116 hectares without permission, planting rubber trees and vegetables.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he would investigate the claims and forward the villagers’ complaints to the provincial authorities.

Savuth, the provincial governor, could not be reached.

Nhem Sam Oeun, provincial hall spokesman, said he was not aware of the correspondence being received. Sam An could not be reached for comment.

‘Room for improvement’ in land dispute resolution process

19 Nov

Source: phnompenhpost.com | November 19, 2015

People hold placards as they block a road in Battambang province earlier this month during a protest regarding an ongoing land dispute.

(People hold placards as they block a road in Battambang province earlier this month during a protest regarding an ongoing land dispute)

Cambodia continues to lack an effective way to resolve land disputes, which remain a major destroyer of livelihoods for many families, according to a study released by the NGO Forum yesterday.

The study examines 26 sample villages in Battambang, Kampong Speu, Pursat and Kampong Chhnang provinces, finding that most farmers lack the documents or legal knowledge to fight for their land against better-connected companies with economic land concessions (ELCs) or powerful people connected to the government.

“Based on the findings, three drivers contributing to land dispute are: land claims according to the 2001 land law versus the customary law of possession; inconsistent decision-making by different levels [of government] . . . and the slow process of land titling but high speed of land concessions,” said Tek Vannara, NGOF’s executive director, in a statement.

Most villagers involved in land disputes lose the use of their land temporarily or permanently and their incomes tend to plummet, according to the study. Many others get compensation packages that don’t match the true value of their land.

“Most of the victims’ families received [low] compensation ranging from $35 to $300,” the report’s authors claim. “They cannot use the money to buy new land or start a new career.”

Researchers found that companies and brokers often intimidate villagers, coercing them into taking the small compensation packages, saying that if the villagers refuse, they’ll lose their land and get nothing.

Villagers had also complained to researchers that companies with ELCs try to clear disputed land before the question of ownership is resolved.

According to Hean Sokhum, an independent research adviser who helped conduct the study, 73.2 per cent of all disputes involve ELCs, while 26.8 per cent involve social land concessions.

Close to half of villagers who own disputed rice fields and more than half who own disputed residential properties have no documents to prove their ownership. Many had settled where they could during the chaos of the 1980s and ’90s.

Meanwhile, jurisdiction over disputes is spread across a confusing array of entities, including the non-binding commune councils, the cadastral and administrative commissions, various courts and the National Authority for Land Dispute resolution.

Many complaints go to multiple authorities at once, making it even harder to resolve them. Some of these authorities are not effective at solving disputes.

For example, the cadastral commissions have processed 5,000 cases but solved just over half of them, which demonstrates “room for improvement”, according to the study.

Sor Sophen, who is involved in a land dispute in Battambang, said these disputes often result in homeless families. “The government should solve the land disputes as soon as possible, in order to prevent violence from happening in the future,” he said.

The NGO Forum will submit the study to the National Assembly and relevant ministries in the coming days.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said he and his colleagues have yet to see the report and would comment after they had time to study it.

ELCs to Blame for Three-Fourths of Land Disputes: Report

19 Nov

source: khmertimeskh.com | November 19, 2015

(Officials set fire to a house on land grabbed by a family in a protected forest in Battambang province earlier this week. Forty-seven houses of families who encroached on the land were burnt or demolished by officials, according to representatives of the NGO working with the local community to protect the forest.)

The slow process of land titling alongside the high pace of land concession have created the conditions for land disputes, according to a report on land disputes in four  provinces released yesterday.
According to umbrella group NGO Forum’s report, disputes were mostly over agricultural and forest land.
The survey sampled 382 affected households in Kompong Speu, Kompong Chhnang, Pursat and Battambang provinces. Among them, nearly three-fourths said economic land concessions were the source of the dispute, with social land concessions making up the rest.
Reach Sima, a representative of a village in Kampong Chhnang that is in a land dispute with KDC International – a company co-owned by the mining and energy minister Suy Sem’s wife – said that his villagers could not reach a resolution with the company, and that villagers have no right to farming on their own land.
“The government said they were granting economic land concessions to improve villagers’ standard of living but for us we lost everything,” he said.
Tek Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum, said the goal of the research was to assess the mechanisms for resolving land disputes and to assess their impacts on communities’ livelihoods, especially on women.
Cheam Sophal Makara, the spokesman of the Ministry of Land Management and Urban Planning, said that the report did not reflect the ministry’s progress in providing land titles.
“Now we try our best to help people get their land titles,” he said.
Rights group Licadho says 2.1 million hectares in total, or 11.6 percent of Cambodia’s total land, has been leased to private companies, while the Cambodian Center for Human Rights says more than 3.1 million hectares, or 16.6 percent, has been granted, adversely affecting some 700,000 Cambodians since 2000 due to forced eviction or resettlement.
Government officials have repeatedly dismissed these figures and requested that the cases be forwarded to them for verification.
The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction has said it is unclear how NGOs compile their figures.

Activists call for delay of controversial union law

18 Nov

Source: phnompenhpost.com | November 17, 2015

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, holds a petition against the draft trade union law yesterday in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh.

(Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, holds a petition against the draft trade union law yesterday in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh.)

A group of more than 20 union leaders filed a petition in front of the National Assembly yesterday demanding a delay in the passage of the draft trade union law, while yet again requesting a full copy of the controversial legislation.

The draft law, which was approved by the Council of Ministers on Friday, is set to be presented to parliament this week, where it is expected to easily pass thanks to the majority enjoyed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said the law would restrict the right of workers to form unions and protest.

“If this draft union law is approved without considering some of the points we suggested, I expect there will not be an independent union movement anymore, giving a chance for employers to abuse rights, steal benefits and cheat workers,” he said.

Although some of the more controversial provisions of the law were dialled down in July, other contentious sections remain, such as new financial reporting requirements and the mandating of a 50 per cent-plus-one vote by membership before a union can legally strike.

Moreover, unions have unsuccessfully demanded that the latest copy of the law be provided in full, fuelling concerns that parts of it further restrict union activity.

“If they refuse to send the latest draft union law to us before approval, we will hold a big protest prior to that, so that we can avoid arrest or detainment” that may occur under the new law, Thorn said.

Employers have their own complaints about the law, with some saying it does not address the issue of multiple unions jostling for power on the same shop floor. One provision of the law stipulates that a minimum of 10 workers are required to create a union, a number the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia found too low.

“It will not be able to address the industrial relations problems faced by the private sector,” a GMAC statement from last Thursday reads.

However, a press statement from the Council of Ministers last week said the law would stabilise labour relations and attract new investors.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said any arguments about the law would be addressed while it was being debated at the National Assembly, although he did not know the exact day it would be presented.


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