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Government silent on cybercrimes draft law

10 Apr

By Kevin Ponniah and Vong Sokheng, The Pnhom Penh Post, 10 April 2014

Government officials yesterday continued to decline to comment on a leaked draft law on cybercrime that contains provisions rights groups say are very concerning to freedom of expression online.

Article 19, the London-based group that obtained an English-language leaked draft, said in a statement that with a draft in the public’s hands authorities could “no longer deflect the legitimate concerns” of civil society organisations.

But Phay Siphan, spokesman from the Council of Ministers, reiterated yesterday that only once an “official document” was released would the government engage in dialogue.

He added, however, that in the meantime the government would “consider NGO ideas and suggestions” on how the law could be improved.

“We welcome to any input from the NGOs, but we reserve our right to make any decision according to the interests of the nation,” he said.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, when asked whether the government wished to control social media, simply responded: “I told you nearly [a] million times. No.”

He added that the law stipulates that “any offences committed through the media must be dealt with [through] the Press Law”, but wasn’t sure if this included social media.

The draft law would criminalise online publications that defame the government or affect “political cohesiveness”.

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said the lack of transparency validates concerns about its “motivation”.

“I think the few millions of people, especially the youth, who are active internet users need to have their say on this law, and the government should consider listening to them or risk losing their support,” he said.

Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, said the internet, “effectively the freest media space”, should be protected not attacked, and called on officials to release a copy of the draft in Khmer.

“If the government is interested in an open, participatory approach . . . there is nothing that prevents them from sharing drafts and receiving comments at each stage in
the process.”

Jail time for governor if summons ignored

10 Apr

By Khouth Sophak Chakrya, The Pnhom PEnh Post, 10 April 2014

The governor of Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district will face arrest if he fails to appear for a second summons to Ratanakkiri Provincial Court to answer questions about his alleged involvement in the illegal logging of protected land around the Ou’Sinlair waterfall, the court said yesterday.

The Ou’Sinlair logging scandal has already seen a district land management chief and a local businessman detained and charged with illegal logging, and yesterday, provincial court director Sous Lar said that Lumphat governor Kong Srun could also find himself locked up if he fails to make his scheduled April 23 appearance for questioning.

“The court will release an arrest warrant and initiate whatever the court’s procedures are in the event that he will not come and shed light on the case as [ordered] in the second letter,” Lar said.

Lar said Srun had already failed to appear for a March 28 appearance to clarify his alleged role in “ordering the clearing of forest in the Ou’Sinlair Sanctuary”.

Deputy provincial Forestry Administration director Phan Phoeun said yesterday that he suspected “Kong Srun might be the person behind this crime”.

“That’s why he was asked to shed light on the case at the court after the court had arrested two suspects accused of being accomplices in clearing the forest in the protected area,” he said.

Last Wednesday, Srun said that he had come to Phnom Penh for a meeting, and had taken time off from work because he was ill.

But according to Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, villagers in Lumphat district said that Srun had actually come to Phnom Penh to seek the protection of a high-ranking Ministry of Interior official.

Srun could not be reached for comment yesterday, however a woman who answered the phone and identified herself as his wife said that Srun is in hospital in Phnom Penh for treatment of a serious heart condition.

However, Lar, the provincial court director said yesterday that, “the court needs evidence that is confirmed by the doctor, or else the court will not believe or accept this claim”.

A logging free-for-all

10 Apr

By May Titthara, The Pnhom Penh Post, 10 April 2014

A man fires up a chainsaw in a village in Preah Vihear province

A man fires up a chainsaw in a village in Preah Vihear province. Villagers in three districts have been clearing areas of forest at will for timber exports. May Titthara

The scale of mass logging in once-dense woodlands in Cambodia’s north now more closely resembles the free-for-all of a gold rush than the sustainable forestry more often associated with these communities.

With the financial backing of powerful businessmen, villagers in three districts of Preah Vihear are clear-felling at will, transporting the logs on homemade tractors to their houses, ready for Try Pheap’s MDS Import Export Co Ltd to carry them to the border with Vietnam.

Pheap has a licence to collect and transport timber impounded by Forestry Administration officials in the province and logs cleared from economic land concessions. But the licence does not permit his company to pay villagers to log in community forests.

Nearly every household here has at least one chainsaw at the ready for the daily harvest. In two months, MDS will move its operations to another province – Stung Treng – as it becomes less profitable to continue the trade here.

The tractors, overladen with rare thnong wood, travel freely in Chey Sen district’s Thmear commune, unhindered by security forces and officials.

“The boss comes to buy timber at people’s homes, and they spray paint a notification of purchase,” says Thong Kosal, a resident protesting against the logging in one village in the commune.

“But I do not know what it [the paint] says, because it is written in French. At night, after they collect it, they will transport it from the village.”

Kosal says a representative of MDS came to the village, asking them to go into the forest and clear as much as possible. Traders from the company arrive in the evening to weigh and price the stacks of wood piled under each house.

Villagers say the authorities are tolerating this great rush to log Preah Vihear because they have been bought off by the company.

“Since before and after the election results, Try Pheap and his representative Sreang Meng have come to the commune to encourage people in the village to go log the forest to sell,” Kosal says.

About $10 is paid to the police and forestry officials per tractor load, villagers say. The money flowing into this community has turned previously ardent conservationists into lumberjacks. In one village in Thmear commune, locals estimate that on any given day 3 million riel ($750) worth of protected thnong wood sits ready for its long journey to the carpenters’ workshops of Vietnam and China. By the time it reaches Vietnam, the same haul can fetch about $9,000 for MDS.

“Currently, doing forest business is easier,” Kosal says. “Previously, police and soldiers did the business, but now it is the people’s turn.”

Try Pheap declined to comment on the allegations this week, initially saying a reporter called the wrong number before adding “I am in France.” Pheap’s representative in Preah Vihear, Ouk Kimsan, who is also a former director of Pursat province’s Forestry Administration, and Meng could not be reached.

Logging has intensified in Cambodia over the past five years, according to several recent studies. Satellite data from NASA analysed by Open Development Cambodia in December last year estimated that about a third of the country’s total forest cover has been lost since 1973. The figure is likely higher, as it includes cash crop plantations such as rubber.

Chheang Vuthy, a forest activist in Preah Vihear, says the last scraps of forest in the province will be gone if Pheap’s company continues to provide incentives for the villagers to log.

“We are allowed to do business at our will without fearing arrest, because the company pays the authorities. This has taken place since the company arrived. They do not make arrests and they allow us to do whatever we want. They do business like they’re harvesting cassava,” he says.

Vuthy says that while local communities have always logged and made use of the forest resources, without the companies’ presence, there would be no danger of the forest disappearing altogether.

“Without Try Pheap and Sreang Meng here, the forest would be sustained,” he says.

The loggers say that since the clear-felling business in Preah Vihear mushroomed in mid-2013, it has become less profitable for MDS to continue to operate there. The next target, they say, is neighbouring Stung Treng province.

 

A man in Preah Vihear province heads back to a drop-off point with a truck carrying timber that was felled by local villagers

A man in Preah Vihear province heads back to a drop-off point with a truck carrying timber that was felled by local villagers. May Titthara

 

“The forest there [in Preah Vihear] is gone. The government cannot deny that the forest is logged. It is logged out,” says Pha Doung, a lumberjack in the Sre Veal area of Thmear commune, adding that he has recently been on MDS-sponsored logging trips to Stung Treng.

A logger in Sangkum Thmey district, who claims to work for Pheap, says the logs piled on his truck were owned by Meng and a former senior intelligence official.

“We transport it for Try Pheap. I just transport it for them. I cannot say how much I am paid. But if we commit forest crimes, we will make much money,” he says.

Since the fatal shooting of forest activist Chut Wutty in 2012, Chhim Savuth has spearheaded the struggle to end industrial-scale logging. He describes how Pheap’s company MDS has driven villagers to carry out work that would normally be reserved for company employees.

Savuth blames the former intelligence official, along with local businessmen and his deputy, Kimsan, for the deluge of illegal logging.

He estimates 190 cubic metres of timber has been exported daily to Vietnam since MDS started collecting from locals in Sangkum Thmey, Chreb and Chey Sen districts In May.

“Try Pheap’s company is responsible for transporting all the timber to Vietnam via the Dong 7 checkpoint in Memot district, Kampong Cham province,” he says. “They charge $1,800 per cubic metre.”

If the figures are accurate, this means MDS is raking in $360,000 each day from this provincial business alone.

Cambodia is often praised by the UN for having strong conservation laws, however Savuth says that what is done in law and in practice are worlds apart.

“Without hope for illegal logging prevention, people cut down trees to sell for companies, because they think that if they do not cut it, timber traders will,” he says.

Chheng Kimsun, director general of the Forestry Administration, could not be reached for comment.

Sen Chey district’s forestry chief, Chhim Sok Sivutha, said Pheap’s MDS firm was not licensed to collect and transport wood in the area, but declined to comment as to the inaction of the authorities.

According to a report by the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, Pheap’s companies are licensed to buy wood from 27 economic land concessions in 12 provinces, as well as from its own concessions, which cover about 70,000 hectares in 10 provinces.

Sat Yorn, chief of police in Chey Sen district, said the authorities had banned the loggers from blanket-felling the forests. “But we cannot stop them completely.”

Phnom Penh makes top 5 of Knight Frank real estate index

10 Apr

By Post Staff, The Pnhom Penh Post, 10 April 2014

Phnom Penh has earned one of the top spots in a new report tracking prices of residential and commercial real estate across the region.

The Knight Frank Asia Pacific Prime Asia Development Land Index, which the global real estate consultancy has hailed as a market first, has determined prices of prime residential – both apartments and condominiums – and commercial (office) development land in 13 major cities across Asia. Knight Frank sees Southeast Asian cities experiencing strong price growth, with Phnom Penh among the leaders of the pack.

Southeast Asian markets are seeing the fastest price growth for prime development land, with Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh accounting for four of the top five cities in terms of price growth, Knight Frank said in a press release timed with the release of the index.

The mature markets of Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo saw the lowest price growth, the index found.

 

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

 

“As the first-ever index on development land prices of its size and scope, this will become an important resource for developers, investors, financers and policymakers,” said Nicholas Holt, Knight Frank’s head of research for Asia Pacific. “A key observation from our findings points to the fact that in developing Asia we are seeing low liquidity and rapid land-price appreciation, whilst in developed Asia such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo, we see the highest land prices and redevelopment opportunities.”

Phnom Penh ranked fifth overall in the region – placed after Beijing – in terms of both increases in price for residential and office space, averaging an increase of around 35 per cent over the past 24 months, according to the index’s findings.

“Phnom Penh, the . . . [fifth] Southeast Asian market in the top grouping saw both its indices increase rapidly, driven by increasing demand from domestic and international players,” the report said.

Over the past 12 months, the report added, “Knight Frank’s Prime Residential Development Land Index registered an increase of 20.7% over 2013 in Cambodia’s capital city, whilst the Prime Office Development Land Index registered an increase of 19.9% over the same period.”

Latest property reports offer evidence of strong growth

10 Apr

By Post Staff, The Pnhom Penh Post, 10 April 2014

Developments like De Castle Royal have restored market confidence, according to CBRE.

Developments like De Castle Royal have restored market confidence, according to CBRE. Scott Howes

In its latest Market View report, CBRE Cambodia Research concludes that Phnom Penh has well and truly put the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis – which saw many condominium developments in the city put on hold or even fail – behind it, and the city is now responding to demand for Grade-A serviced apartments.

According to the March 2014 report, 507 serviced apartment units came on line in Phnom Penh last year, and a further 170 will arrive this year, with 20 condominium projects either completed or under construction.

“Signs across all key Phnom Penh real estate sectors are positive, with new levels of quality set to be delivered to the office, retail and residential markets,” says Chris Hobden, surveyor at CBRE Cambodia.

“Serviced apartments continue to benefit from high levels of demand, as demonstrated by the low vacancy rates in established buildings,” the report says, noting that demand is particularly high for studio and one-bedroom apartments “in popular residential areas, such as BKK and Daun Penh”.

The CBRE report also points to increased demand from “both Japanese and Chinese investors, driven primarily by anticipated capital growth in residential assets, rather than rental income.”

The declining trend in condominium developments in the aftermath of the 2007-8 economic downturn has now reversed, the report says, adding that confidence appears to have been restored to the market due the successful implementation of off-plan developments such as De Castle Royal, which is slated to open later this year and is already 90 per cent sold out.

“Sales of condom-iniums in Phnom Penh have traditionally been marred by publicised failures of developments that have been sold off plan and have subsequently ceased construction.”

 

De Castle Royal, according to the report, is only the most successful of a slew of condominium developments that have turned that trend on its head and are seeing investors return to Phnom Penh, with completed projects seeing “a notable high in sales rates of 80 per cent”.

The report adds: “Significant interest from international purchasers has helped to drive sales, with the ratio of domestic to foreign buyers as high as 65:35 in some buildings.

“De Castle Royal has been successful in attracting significant foreign interest, due both to the calibre of the building and the strong rate of return that investors can expect to achieve, although capital growth remains a priority for many.”

Meanwhile, CBRE’s February Market View report on the retail sector was similarly upbeat, citing a forecast 23 per cent increase in supply this year.

Notable developments in Phnom Penh’s retail sector, the report notes, are the imminent arrival of Aeon Mall, which is set to open in the middle of this year, and Parkson City Centre, which will open early next year.

Aeon will occupy 58,000 square metres of net retail space, while Parkson will add an additional 70,000 square metres to Phnom Penh’s retail market, marking what the report refers to as “a continued transition from traditional markets to international-quality, purpose-built shopping centres and department stores.”

“The next 12 months will see a wave of new brands entering the Phnom Penh retail market. Both consumers and retailers alike will benefit from a diverse mix of tenants in new, high-quality shopping centres.”

Vattanac Capital Tower will add another 5,000 square metres of retail space (over three storeys) to the market in coming months, while late last year saw the arrival of TK Avenue in Phnom Penh’s Toul Kork area, with a total net retail space of 7,000 square metres.

“There has been an increasing demand for luxury products, or at least mid-tier brands, in Phnom Penh,” the report says, adding “change is being driven by a combination of positive GDP growth, an aspirational middle class and a young demographic, with an increasing disposable income.”

A January report by CBRE on office space, forecasts a 23 per cent increase in supply, driven largely by demand by multi-national corporations.

That equates to approximately 52,000 square metres of new supply by year-end, with 17 per cent of the total accounted for Vattanac Capital alone, according to the report.

“The highly anticipated 39-storey development [Vattanac], opens 23 storeys of prime location, Grade-A office accommodation in May 2014, setting a new precedent for future developments, bringing confidence to the expanding sector,” the report says.

“With continued year on-year GDP growth, considerable levels of foreign investment and a domestic population whose disposable income is to set increase significantly over the coming years, the overall outlook for the Phnom Penh real estate market looks encouraging” Hobden says.

Tourism numbers give boost to Sihanoukville property prices

10 Apr

By Sum Manet, The Pnhom Penh Post, 10 April 2014

Sihanoukville property, particularly that in coastal areas, is enjoying year-on-year increases thanks to the strong tourism sector.

Sihanoukville property, particularly that in coastal areas, is enjoying year-on-year increases thanks to the strong tourism sector. Sihanoukville property, particularly that in coastal areas, is enjoying year-on-year increases thanks to the strong tourism sector. VALINDA AIM

Property has seen a boost in Sihanoukville city in the first quarter of this year, underpinned by increased tourist numbers year-on-year.

Cheng Kheng, director of CPL Real Estate Company and president of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association, said the outlook on property in Sihanoukville was positive in the first three months of 2014 compared with the same period last year. He added that the improved outlook could be put down to integration with the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which is slated for next year, and the increased number of tourists and investors coming to Sihanoukville every year.

Land prices in Sihanoukville’s commercial hub ranged from $1,000 to $1,500 per square metre, while prices for land in less developed coastal areas such as Ream Beach ranged from $100 to $150.

Land prices at Otres Beach ranged from between $500 and $600, while prices at popular Ochheuteal Beach were in the vicinity of $1,000 per square metre, he said.

Kheng said it was still too early to put percentage increases on land prices compared to 2013, but he added that his team was currently assaying land prices in Sihanoukville with a view to compiling data for the convenience of possible investors.

According to Kheng, Sihanoukville needs a bigger airport, allowing businesspeople and tourists to arrive direct from overseas, especially ahead of the AEC’s complete integration.

“If Sihanoukville has an airport with direct access from overseas, it will double land prices,” he said.

Po Eavkong, managing director of Asia Real Estate Cambodia, agreed that property prices in Sihanoukville improved healthily in the first quarter of this year, ascribing increased city property values largely to tourism, with guesthouses and the hotel sector in general doing well. Demand in the tourism sector, he pointed out, tended to have a positive knock-on effect on property prices in general.

Meanwhile, according to Eavkong even though residential prices in Sihanoukville city have remained flat, property on the coast had increased markedly.

“Land prices in the city centre have seen an increase of around 5 per cent, but prices for property on the coast have risen by between 7 and 8 per cent compared to the same period last year,” he said.

General manager at KEY Real Estate, Sorn Seap, was slightly less upbeat, pointing out that property transactions in Sihanoukville had been low volume so far this year, with a small number of investors, .

Land prices in commercial areas along Independence Road and near Psar Ler Market ranged from $1,000 to $1,500 per square metre, he said, adding that residential prices were starting from as low as $150 to $350 per square metre, and that property with hard titles at Ochheuteal Beach was priced at about $300 to $500.

“Land prices in the city will go up, though, due to Cambodia’s AEC integration, shipping at the port and increasing numbers of tourists who come for beach holidays,” Seap said.

Luxury resort looks for new lease of life with redesigned blueprint

10 Apr

By Siv Meng, The Pnhom Penh Post, 10 April 2014

A new blueprint for the long-delayed Snake Island (Koh Pos) resort development off the coast of Sihanoukville will soon be completed, and investment of up to $1 billion is hoped to kick-start the project, which has a planned completion date of 2018, according to the developer.

Kheam Kolneath, public relations manager of the Koh Pous (Cambodia) Investment Group (KPIG), said recently that the group’s director was overseeing the finalisation of a revised resort blueprint with an architect from US-based Interstate Hotels and Resorts.

According to KPIG’s website, the group has entered into a long-term strategic development agreement, with Interstate acting as the island resort’s property manager.

Plans to redesign the blueprint for the 116-hectare luxury residential and resort complex come amid poor sales and a host of other setbacks.

In 2006, the Cambodian government signed a 99-year lease for the land on Koh Pos – also known as Morakot Island – to Russian KPIG.

The Post reported late last year that the company had already invested $100 million on a 1-kilometre bridge to the island, as well as other infrastructure, including an unfinished 5-kilometre road circling the island.

 

An artist’s view of previous plans for the 116-hectare Koh Pos resort.

An artist’s view of previous plans for the 116-hectare Koh Pos resort. PHOTO SUPPLIED

 

According to Kolneath, the blueprint is not yet complete, with the group director seeking changes to some aspects of the design from Interstate before an official launch and a proposal aimed at gaining permission to initiate the new project from the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

KPIG’s director has said that the new plan will increase the project budget from $276 million to $1 billion.

“I think the blueprint will be finished by the middle of this year because the director wants to push project ahead after it was put on hold following the 2008 financial crisis,” Kolneath said. “The project originally had a planned completion date of 2016, but it has now been delayed to 2018.”

The project comprises two 4-star hotels, one 5-star hotel, one “6-star” hotel, a casino, bungalows, villas for private residents, and further infrastructure to serve the resort, he said.

Kolneath added that the group had already spent $100 million so far on island infrastructure, including the bridge and the perimeter road.

“Construction of 20 villas is under way, but progress is slow,” Kolneath said, who suggested that off-plan sales had been deterred by the high price tags of $1.5 to $1.6 million.

According to Noun Rithy, general manager of Bunna Realty Group, even if the group changed the development plan, the resort development needs to have specific goals and a strategy. He said that construction delays had led to a loss of confidence, and that the developer would need to show strong commitment to win back market confidence.

Comparing Kho Pos and Ko Pich – better known as Diamond Island – in Phnom Penh, Rithy noted that Koh Pich is open for people to visit, but Koh Pos is closed to the public despite the construction of the bridge, making for a lost marketing opportunity.

Koh Pos covers a large area, and if the owner leased some parts of the island to short-term investors they could generate income, which would be better than leaving the island deserted, Rithy said.

Families Walk Out of Land Dispute Compensation Meet

10 Apr

By Aun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, 10 April 2014

English4

New Chroy Chongva Bridge Enters Final Stage

10 Apr

By Aun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, 10 April 2014

English3

Cyber crime Law May Silence Critics, NGO’s Say

10 Apr

By Joshua Wilwohl And Hul Reaksmey, The Cambodia Daily, 10 April 2014

English1

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