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Namhong lays into US ambassador on NGOs

21 May

Surce: Phnom Penh Post,by Ethan Harfenist, Thu, 21 May 2015

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong has called out the US ambassador to Cambodia for the latter’s criticism of the Kingdom’s controversial draft law on NGOs.

Namhong wrote in a statement yesterday that his ministry was “dismayed” over an article written by Ambassador William Todd that criticised the proposed legislation.

“The words expressed by the foreign Ambassador to Cambodia are extremely insolent, even if he is a representative of a big country,” Namhong wrote.

He went on to cite the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, of which Cambodia and the US are signatories. “All members of the United Nations, big or small, shall respect each other in an equal manner, and abide by the above Convention and the international practice of courtesy in interstate relations,” the statement reads.

Todd’s piece, published on Sunday, took aim at the country’s draft law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. The ambassador wrote that the Kingdom’s “image is affected by the draft law” and warned that the “world is watching” its next moves.

Transmission line to connect dam by 2017

21 May
by, Phnom Penh Post,Chan Muyhong,Thu, 21 May 2015

A $92 million transmission line will be constructed at the Lower Sesan II hydro dam in Stung Treng by June 2017 to transfer power to Kampong Cham and Kratie provinces, according to a release from Malaysian power system engineering company Pestech International.

Pestech’s subsidiaries – Pestech (Cambodia) Ltd, Enersol Co Ltd and Diamond Power Limited – will build and operate the 230 kV line that will transfer 400 megawatts of power once the hydro-electric dam is operational.

Pestech (Cambodia) and Enersol have an agreement with Diamond Power to undertake the design, building, testing and commissioning of the project. Whereas, Diamond Power will operate the line for 25 years, with state-owned Electricite du Cambodge (EdC) paying Diamond Power $12.2 million annually for the first three years and $18.2 million annually for the remaining 22 years in transmission charges.

The total payment made to Diamond Power by EdC will be $437 million, almost five times the base cost of the project.

Officials at EdC and Ministry of Mine and Energy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ty Thany, executive director at the Electricity Authority of Cambodia, said private investors were needed to build the transmission line, as the government lacks the capital to do it themselves.

“We need this transmission line to be completed by the time the construction of Lower Sesan II dam is finished, so that it can disseminate the power for usage, otherwise the power generated will be a waste,” Thany said.

The transmission line from Stung Treng will connect to the existing national grid, as well as other available grids in the country, Thany said.

Cambodia is expected to generate about 3,430 megawatts by 2020, from 12 hydroelectric and coal power plants, licenses for which have already been granted.

The $816 million Lower Sesan II dam project was approved in November 2012 and is expected to be operational in 2017. The dam, which is a joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group and China’s Hydrolancang International, is run by Hydro Power Lower Sesan II Company, with construction having begun in early 2014.

Cambodia’s power grid has been largely dependent on electricity imports from neighbouring countries since 1993, with the country having to import 1,691 megawatts from Vietnam, 579 megawatts from Thailand and 10.73 megawatts from Laos in 2013.

Residents in path of highway seek redress

21 May
By, Phnom Penh Post,Chhay Channyda,Thu, 21 May 2015

Hundreds of families in Tbong Khmum province have called on the provincial government to negotiate compensation for land they will lose as part of the construction of huge roads in Sralop commune that will form part of a trans-ASEAN highway.

Their lands surround the newly built provincial hall and are near a university and other developments that were inaugurated by Prime Minister Hun Sen in January.

The vast roads will cut through their farmland, but the villagers have yet to receive information about the compensation plan, they say.

Chhay Bunnath, a 64-year-old representative of the claimants, said some of the land had already been cleared to make way for the road system, while in other areas, the villagers had blocked bulldozers from coming in before compensation was negotiated.

He added that he has more than 100 hectares of farmland that the government has registered as eligible for compensation, “but they never said how much. Instead we saw them clearing it to build roads on Monday, so we stopped them.”

The provincial government promised the villagers they would reach a settlement in July, but until that time, they want construction to halt.

Hun Sen opened the new provincial hall on January 5. Built on 322 hectares of state land, the building has not affected the villagers, but the surrounding infrastructure has.

Khoun Oun, 50, said she bought land in the area about two years ago for $40,000 per hectare, but the under-construction road through her 2-hectare plot has slashed its value.

“My land has been cleared, and I was promised compensation, but some villagers refused because they feared they were not being told the truth. Now I am just asking the state to provide fair compensation,” she said.

Sralop commune chief Pheap Socheat said the roads at their widest would span 50 metres, as it is intended to be part of a planned ASEAN superhighway linking Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

“I don’t know how many families will be affected by the whole project, but a few days ago 23 families blocked the construction . . . As I’m at the commune level, I have no authority to solve the problem,” he said.

“I asked the inter-ministerial officials but they do not know how much compensation [to offer].”

Tiny Opposition Party Accused of Fueling Land Grab

21 May

 News by Khmer Times/T. Mohan and Ven Rathavong/Thursday, 21 May 2015;


Villagers and local authorities square off in a land dispute at 317, Techo Aphiwat Commune, Kampot province. The people are not disabled or handicapped. KT Photo: Ven Rathavong

CHHUK DISTRICT, Kampot province (Khmer Times) – Fingers were pointed at the League for Democracy Party, a small opposition party, for inciting local people to protest last month against the provincial authorities who were demarcating land boundaries at Techo Aphiwat Commune.
“These political parties hired and disbursed money to local people to protest against the installation of boundary poles,” said Heng Vantha, deputy governor of Kampot province. “In addition, the people also sold the land after they had illegally grabbed it from the state.”
A total land area of 1,288 hectares was allocated for the Social Land Concession. A first group, 240 retired and disabled soldiers, were set to receive one hectare apiece.
“But, several hundreds of local people have grabbed  this land,” the Kampot official said.
Mr. Vantha said that provincial land officers and provincial authorities conducted a local census in 2012. That census found only 406 families actually occupying the land.
“It is definitely not over 800 families, as alleged and claimed by various quarters out to cause mischief in this area,” he continued. “However, to have a peaceful  resolution to the  land dispute, the provincial authority has decided to measure the land for  both groups:  240 families comprising retied and disabled soldiers and 406 families of local people.”
He said local authorities now are guard against activities by outside agitators, and are ready to take legal action against them.
Moa Mardy, Techo Aphiwat Commune’s Police chief, said that activists from a small party, the League for Democracy Party, has been inciting villagers to grab  land at “Commune 317.”
On Sunday, about 600 youths traveled to the contested land. Mr. Mardy said that men and women came with political intent. If 600 really came, it was a large segment of the Party. In the 2013 election, party candidates only received 68,000 votes nationwide.
“I saw those youths’ phones,” Mr. Mardy. “The back of their hand phones had the LDP’s symbol, the Bell.”
He also stressed that allegations that 800 families were landless and had lived in the  area for many years is false information. He said it was a fable manufactured by the LDP and villagers with the clear goal of grabbing state land reserved for veterans.
“The villagers and land traders sold the plots of SLC without the consent, knowledge or approval from the local authority,” Mr. Mardy said, adding that this was the real reason for the increasing number of claimants.
“We ban the villagers that do not follow the  sub degree, but the villagers came to live there after the authority had cleared the forest to distribute land for the retired soldiers,” he said.
Formed in 201, Techo Aphiwat Commune, was to be a retirement home for veterans and handicapped soldiers. Now it is the scene of confrontation between illegal settlers, veterans and authorities.
The Techo Aphiwat Commune’s 317 area was first created in 2007 with a small number of veterans and little infrastructure, except for a couple of concrete bridges.
Today, the area has developed into a bustling sub-district with a market, schools, a hospital, and at least five pagodas. Now, it is the scene of a stand off between villagers who claim up to 1,300 hectares of land designated for veterans, and authorities who failed to resolve the issue when it first emerged.
The contested site was a national park when ‘317’ was established. According to a former park ranger, there were two park rangers and two military police assigned there to deter land grabbing.
“It worked at that time as the four uniformed personnel were strictly enforcing the law,” he said. “They had numerous fist fights with illegal settlers, but were able to contain illegal settlements.”
“Illegal shelters were quickly destroyed, newly planted crops were also destroyed while older crops were allowed to be harvested with a pre-condition that the settlers do not re plant again,” the former ranger said in an interview. “When the local authorities got involved a couple of years later, the security personnel were removed and authority was in the hands of some powerful military people and local authorities.”
He charged that buying and selling of plots of land had become rampant and that no action was taken against the illegal activities. As a result, it now involves hundreds of plots and thousands of hectares.
Complaints and reports, he said, fell on deaf ears. Large scale destruction of forests and hill slopes by indiscriminate burning also was ignored.
“This led to an influx of villagers since 2012 when Order 01 was issued to mark land for settlers on state land and ELC land,” he said. “Many plots were marked at 317. The exercise concluded in 2014 with titles being issued.”
“However, this did not stop opportunistic villagers who move in, until today, to slash and grab land,” the former ranger said. “And the authorities are slow to act, or are indecisive in their actions, leading to more of such cases.”
The ranger said that the delay in addressing the issue, and the announcement of issuing land titles to almost 1,300 hectare at 317 is wrong. It will simply send a message that land grabbing will be tolerated and that the government at the national or provincial level will capitulate and, inevitably, issue titles to avoid confrontation.

Land Grabbing Spreads in Kampot Village

21 May

 News by Khmer Times / T. Mohan and Ros ChanveasnaThursday, 21 May 2015;


Villagers confront an excavator digging boundary trenches near Pongrok Village. Photo: Seng Siphan

(Khmer Times) – Here at the agricultural frontier between National Highways 3 and 4, provincial authorities demarcated land and issued land titles for 80 settler families since 2012. But land fever at Techo Pongrok village remains high.
In the last two months, more farm plots were demarcated for settlers who had recently camped out in what they treat as a Wild West, no-man’s land just 120 kilometers from Phnom Penh.
Now, encroachment is spreading into the well-defined boundaries of Bokor National Park and VG Plantations. In the case of the palm oil plantation, settlers hop over newly-cut boundary trenches.
Nearby, the same land squatting techniques are used on lands belonging to two other economic land concessions (ELCs), First Biotech and WTE. Both land concessions were granted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. VG Plantation’s ELC was granted by the Ministry of Environment.
Techo Pongrok is one of six villages created by the Kampot Governor after establishment of Techo Aphiwat Commune.
The other five villages are  Techo Akpiwat,  Techo Kbal Domrey,  Techo Angkanh,  Techo Chrey Bak, Techo Pongrok and  Techo Anlung Kmeng Leng.
The former village chief of Techo Pongrok, Mr. Norng Sam Ol was convicted of selling land illegally. He spent almost one year in jail 2011-2012. Now out of jail, Mr. Sam Ol and two colleagues are trying to grab up to 3,000 ha of ELC land granted to VG Plantations, according to villagers.
In the last 10 months, 13 families have moved into the plantation, virtually cutting it into two.
Mr. Yen Vuth, the head of Kampot’s Land Department, said in an interview that it is unlikely that the authorities will allocate the squatters this land.
“They will have to be relocated, as they are not only new, but are out to create mischief and place impediments to the ELC holder as they have plans to cut the concession into half,” he said. “This will not be allowed, as the land is still state land until ‘Right of Land Use’ titles are issued.”
A security guard at neighboring First Biotech said that over Khmer New Year, he and his colleagues detained several people, including women, who had set up tarpaulin shelters.
They were in the process of making permanent shelters, complete with fencing pole, closed to the boundary of the two  concessions.
“This is a daily occurrence, and the encroachment takes place in isolated areas or areas with some rudimentary infrastructure for them to transport their housing materials,” the guard said. He said he has no idea what happened to the villagers after they were handed to the local authorities.
On VG plantations, bureaucratic paperwork and procedures encourages encroachment, said Ren, a longtime resident of Pongrok.
His farm with land title measures about three hectares. He gained one more hectare as he had cleared land demarcated for the ELC and since it was cultivated it was allocated.
“I live next door to Mr. Sam Ol and since the trenching exercise started March 5, he did not appear on his land or house which is about  five hectares,” the old timer said. “But we know he slips in and out through other entry points. He met with one activist who even tried to grab part of my land by setting fire to forests. This spread to crops I planted.
“I have no comments on the ELC and don’t approve or reject them,” he continued. “They have done some good by building roads and bridges and grading them to enable travel even in heavy rains. They are also hiring local people, so we don’t have to worry about our children not having jobs.”
Khmer Times learned that the activist has filed complaints against the village chief, the commune chief, several Park Rangers and their chief, alleging that crops and houses had been destroyed.
Mr. Yen Vuth, the Kampot land chief, told Khmer Times that there is reason to measure land for new villagers.
“We will not measure land for the people who just come and grab the land,” he said. “We measureland for the villagers who actually occupied it [for years].”
Mr. Long, Assistant Manager at VG Plantations said that the company cooperated with the authorities and did not confront villagers.
“We want to finish with this conflict and concentrate on our development,” he said. “The authorities have to take action against new settlers. Not taking action leads to increasing numbers, as they now are not fearful of the authorities and believe that whatever land they grab, will be granted to them.”

Senate body probes Licadho land claims

20 May
A Senate commission has started an investigation into land disputes in 11 provinces based on data provided to it by local rights group Licadho despite officials publicly denying the group’s findings at the time.

Freedom Park Protesters Deny ‘Insurrection’

20 May ០១

By The Cambodia Daily Khy Sovuthy May 20, 2015

The trial of the 11 opposition activists charged with “joining an insurrection” for their presence at a July 15 protest demanding authorities reopen Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park continued in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday.

Seven opposition lawmakers and 11 activists were jailed after last year’s protest, which descended into a street brawl when the demonstrators fought back against notoriously violent government security guards who had for months terrorized their protests.


From left to right, opposition activists Ouk Pich Samnang, San Kimheng and San Seyhak sit on the stairs of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The lawmakers gained immunity from prosecution when they swore in to the National Assembly the following month, but the 11 activists had their first trial hearing last month.

Four of the 11 were questioned at the second session Tuesday, each telling the panel of three judges that they believed the brawl was sparked by the guards and denying the charges against them.

“I saw the people carrying national flags and I saw the security guards distributing wooden batons from the back of a Daun Penh district truck,” said Khin Chamroeun, chief of the CNRP’s youth wing in Phnom Penh.

“The people were not occupying the Naga Bridge area, they just went to demand that Freedom Park be freed.”

Another of the activists, Ke Khim, a tuk-tuk driver who often appears at protests in Phnom Penh but says he is not a member of the CNRP, denied he was taking part in an “insurrection” against the government on July 15.

“I didn’t know why the people went there but I heard information from the newspaper and radios, so I just joined there to use my freedom in a democratic society,” he said.

Yet Mr. Khim acknowledged that he had armed himself with a rock “for a short time” when the fighting broke out.

“When the situation had chaos, I carried a piece of stone to defend myself because I was scared someone would hit me, especially when I saw a few of the authorities’ spies walking and following me,” he said.

Ouk Pich Samnang, another of the arrested activists, said he believed plainclothes provocateurs had been employed by the state to start the fight.

“The police and military police do not dare to hit the people in public, because they are afraid to violate human rights, so they hire the third-hand group created by the state and the districts of Phnom Penh,” he said.

CNRP member San Seyhak, the last of the activists questioned Tuesday, said he did not join the fight.

“I received the voice of Khin Chamroeun through the walkie-talkie to ‘withdraw’ and that meant ‘do not join the violence,’” Mr. Seyhak said. “I was far away from the violent place, so I do not know who fought each other.”

Presiding Judge Lim Makaron said the trial will continue Tuesday.



After Ban, Students Visit Prey Lang Forest

19 May

News by Khmer Times/Chea Vannak,Tuesday, 19 May 2015;


Students listen to a forest guide while visiting Prey Lang in Sambor district, Kratie province. KT Photo: Chea Vannak

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – A move by local authorities to bar visitors from a part of Prey Lang forest in Stung Treng province forced Phnom Penh students to visit other parts of the eastern forest, a green landscape pock marked by illegal logging.
“We were not allowed to visit Prey Lang in Stung Treng,” said Bin Yan, a Pannasastra University sophomore and a member of the Kuy ethnic minority. “But we still made our field trip to other parts of Prey Lang in other provinces.”
It is believed that local officials barred the group of 25 students from the forest in Stung Treng province to cover up illegal logging, which reportedly is rising. Local residents have denounced the growing number of trees lost and had charged that local authorities look the other way.
Prey Lang, sometimes called “Cambodia’s Amazon,” is one of Southeast Asia’s last remaining lowland evergreen forests. It stretches over the four provinces of Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Kratie and shelters 20 endangered wildlife species, 200,000 members of ethnic minorities and valuable exotic wood like rosewood within its 3,600 square miles.
The forest’s integrity is threatened by illegal logging and by private companies holding economic land concessions from the government.
Student Oak Sereyroth said she joined the field trip because she wanted to see if the forest is really as endangered as claimed on social media. It was a disappointing day for her, however, as she did not see many big, old growth trees or much wildlife.
“Prey Lang is very important, so I want to see the local people join in to protect it,” she said.
Ms. Sereyroth said it is important for the younger generation to “learn and join together in preserving Prey Lang.” Her fellow student, Mr. Yan, shared similar sentiments. “The modern generation must visit Prey Lang and educate local people about the importance of the forest,” he said. “It is our affair to protect the forest.”
Sar Sengleang, the village chief of Archen in Kratie province, accompanied the group. He said he was happy to see students from Phnom Penh visit his homeland and try to preserve it.


Students from Phnom Penh are heading in the forest of Prey Lang, where there are many illegal logging always happen. (KT Photo: Chea Vannak)

Students from Phnom Penh are heading in the forest of Prey Lang, where there are many illegal logging always happen. (KT Photo: Chea Vannak)

Tigers, cobras wished on firm

19 May

Community members from Brame commune conduct a cursing ceremony in Preah Vihear province yesterday morning after being embroiled in a land dispute

Villagers at odds with Chinese plantation firms in Preah Vihear province yesterday morning held a ceremony to curse the companies for allegedly conspiring to evict them from their land since 2012.

The ethnic Kuoy community in Brame commune, Tbeng Meanchey district, lit candles and prayed for the company directors to be struck by lightning, bitten by cobras and eaten by tigers.

The villagers put a curse on “the people who destroyed our happiness through damaging our farms and forest and grabbing the land”, said village representative Nuon Mun, 63.

The dispute with Rui Feng and Lan Feng began in 2012 when the firms were granted two land concessions totalling nearly 18,000 hectares.

After coming close to exhausting the avenues of justice provided to them by the courts, villagers resorted to the ancient rituals on show yesterday, because “the companies are colluding with officials”.

“We have called for intervention from the prime minister and National Assembly. We also set up press conferences and protested more than 10 times,” Mun said. “But we did not yet get any solutions.”

After the ceremony yesterday, the villagers took direct action, blocking a company vehicle that was clearing the land where they once lived.

The community has drawn up a map of the land they claim, and is preparing to forward it to the Ministry of Interior to apply for a community land title.

Lor Chan, Preah Vihear provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc, who was present at the ceremony, said the event was the result of a lack of redress for land grab victims.

“The authorities have ignored this case. It has not been solved and the ‘tiger skin’ policy has not been implemented well,” he said, referring to a government policy whereby villagers are allowed to remain on small plots of land inside land concessions.

Sou Serey, provincial deputy governor, claimed that despite numerous negotiations with the community, their lack of understanding of the law had led to repeated impasses.

“It’s a chronic case – the NGOs are behind them and coached them to protest and make demands beyond the law,” he claimed. “They wanted the company closed down. They think Brame belongs to them.”

Ing Thing Kong, a representative of the companies, said he had watched the ceremony and claimed the villagers had gotten drunk before blocking the firms’ excavator from clearing the land.

“We were clearing the land that three of the villagers claimed was their own. But they do not have land titles yet and they stopped us from doing our work,” he said. But following the villagers’ action, the company agreed to restart negotiations, he added, and a meeting was scheduled for today.

Ninety-Five Chinese Construction Workers Protesting to Go Home

18 May
By, Cambodia Daily,  Ben Sokhean and Alex Consiglio | May 18, 2015

Ninety-five Chinese nationals working at a construction site on Koh Pich island protested outside the Chinese Embassy on Friday and then visited a commune office on Saturday to lodge a complaint against their employer for allegedly confiscating their passports.

Pea Horn, chief of Chamkar Mon district’s Olympic commune, said the workers visited his office after the protest at the embassy because they believe their boss resides in the commune.

“They came to my commune office because they want us to intervene to find their manager who stayed in a guesthouse in my location,” he said. “We went to check there, but he was gone.”

Mr. Horn said it was difficult to communicate with the workers, who only spoke Chinese, and that he did not know which company employed them.

“I just know they accused their manager of taking their passports, but I am not sure about more details because they cannot speak Khmer,” he said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Cheng Hong Bo declined to discuss the case.

“I don’t have any information right now,” he said.

At the construction site—operated by the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC)—workers on Sunday were eager to share information, but a translator at the site refused to help them.

One worker scribbled notes in a reporter’s notebook in Chinese.

“We want to go back to our country,” he wrote. “Restriction of personal freedom. No human rights.”

The translator, who would only identify himself as an office worker, called a superior on his mobile phone. Upon arriving, the man instructed workers to return to their temporary lodgings.

Refusing to identify himself, the supervisor sat down with a reporter and spoke through a translator.

He said that a CSCEC subcontractor had failed to pay the workers two months’ worth of wages. The man said that the workers’ passports were being processed by immigration authorities, then CSCEC would buy them plane tickets to return home.

But as the interview concluded, the man ordered a colleague to confiscate a reporter’s notes, refusing to return them unless press credentials were produced. Upon being presented with the credentials about 30 minutes later, CSCEC supervisors still refused to return the notes.

Another translator speaking for the supervisors, who identified herself as Mei, said reporters did not have permission to be at the construction site.

“To be honest, we sent your notes to our security office and it’s hard to get them back,” she said.


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