Archive by Author

Land-row vow sows doubts and hope

2 Sep

By May Titthara, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 September 2014

Villagers protest at Wat Chas pagoda in Chroy Changvar

Villagers protest at Wat Chas pagoda in Chroy Changvar last week to raise concerns over land disputes near their villages. Vireak Mai

The parliamentary commission on human rights has promised villagers from four provinces embroiled in long-running land disputes that their problems will be solved in the next month, community representatives and a ruling party lawmaker said yesterday.

Villagers from Lorpeang in Kampong Chhnang province locked in a dispute with politically linked KDC International were told that their woes would be over within a week.

The intervention of lawmakers is the latest development in a seemingly re-energised effort to tackle the plethora of festering disputes in the Kingdom that was kick-started by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month when he publicly slammed his underlings for failing to resolve such conflicts.

The promise to the villagers – who had trekked to Phnom Penh to seek a solution directly from Hun Sen – came after the government awarded land titles to hundreds of Kratie villagers on Saturday, ending a years-long dispute.

Since the premier’s speech, which also led to the creation of a new interministerial committee to review economic land concessions, villagers from around the country have been loudly asking for restitution.

The Commission on Human Rights and Complaints yesterday called community representatives from disputes in Kampong Chhnang, Pailin, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces to the National Assembly for separate meetings.

Villagers from Lorpeang, whose dispute has come to a head in recent months, were told that their longstanding issues would be solved in a week.

Lork Kheng, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker and commission member that has also allegedly represented KDC in negotiations with community representatives, made that promise, villagers said.

“Lork Kheng said she would put an end to the dispute within one week,” Lorpeang community representative Reach Seyma said.

When reached yesterday, Lork Kheng said the commission was “determined” to settle all the disputes soon – including the KDC dispute “within one week” – and would act as a “coordinator” between all parties.

“The meeting can be held between the company, the people and human rights groups such as Adhoc and Licadho,” she said.

However, Seyma was not convinced that the dispute could be resolved in a week, “because it has been a controversial [issue] for years”.

The owner of KDC, Chea Kheng, is married to Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem, and villagers have accused local authorities of acting in concert with the company.

“Settling the matter within a week, unless it is settled with force like before, and settling the matter by offering real justice [in that time], will be impossible,” Seyma said.

He added that Lork Kheng said she would meet with the Kampong Chhnang provincial governor today to seek a solution. She also asked his community to return home, but they refused, because no agreement was signed, Seyma said.

The community appears to understand that their presence in Phnom Penh, in sight of Hun Sen, gives them leverage and a visibility that they wouldn’t otherwise have in the provinces.

“If they do this at the province, and invite us to meet them, only our representatives will go to meet them. When a settlement is reached, we will go back home.”

Other communities appeared to be less sceptical.

“His and Her Excellencies from the CPP and CNRP said they would settle this for us at the end of the month, because they have to settle the disputes in other provinces, and it will take up to one month to sort out Pailin,” said Ok Sam Ol, who represents a community locked in a dispute with Sophany Import-Export company.

“We hope the solution will be found, because we see people in Kratie province have had their dispute successfully settled,” she said, adding that her community would return back to Pailin today, though representatives would remain in Phnom Penh.

On Saturday, official land titles were handed over to hundreds of villagers from Kratie’s Snoul district, putting an end to a long-running dispute with a South Korean firm. Many of the group had been staying in Phnom Penh while seeking intervention, like the communities that met the commission yesterday.

Eng Chhay Eang, an opposition CNRP lawmaker and the recently appointed chairman of the commission, said that his members would “urge the relevant authorities to take rapid action” on the cases.

Yakjin factory under review

2 Sep

By Kevin Ponniah, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 September 2014

A man is beaten by authorities on a dirt road in front of Yakjin garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district in January

South Korean garment giant Yakjin Trading Corp has engaged a top international labour rights expert to conduct a review of its factories in Cambodia, one of which was a flashpoint during labour strikes earlier this year that saw dozens arrested and at least five people shot dead by authorities.

Both Cambodian and international unions have lobbied the Carlyle Group – a global asset manager that took a 70 per cent stake in Yakjin through a holdings company just weeks before authorities violently suppressed protests outside Yakjin’s Phnom Penh factory on January 2 – to take action.

The crackdown sparked bigger protests in Phnom Penh the next day, leading to the fatal shootings.

The United States’ largest pension fund, a major investor in Carlyle, has also taken a leading role, according to labour activists in the US.

As a result, Yakjin dispatched Gare Smith, a lawyer who served as the top human rights official at the US State Department during the Clinton administration and a former vice president at Levi Strauss & Co, to Phnom Penh for a week in mid-August.

“Yakjin is proud of its labor rights record and, as part of its commitment to its workers, best practices, and continuous improvement, invited labor rights experts to conduct an assessment,” a spokeswoman from Yakjin’s corporate responsibility section said via email. “Though the review is still in progress, the preliminary assessment of Yakjin’s labor practices indicates significant areas of strength as well as some areas for improvement. Upon delivery of the final report, Yakjin will review it and take appropriate action to ensure it continues to meet international labor standards.”

Yakjin’s clients include Gap and Wal-Mart.

Carlyle spokespeople declined to comment.

Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center, said the January 2 incident at the factory – which saw 10 people, including activists, secretly detained and eventually put on trial – was only one of several issues at Yakjin, which employs close to 3,000 workers.

These include ongoing problems related to freedom of association and union rights at the factory, he said. It was also important that investors such as Carlyle, like brands, pay attention to macro-issues in the sector, namely ongoing minimum wage talks and the upcoming trade union law, he added, praising the review as a “positive step”.

“Nobody wants Carlyle or any other international investor pulling out of Cambodia. They want them to use the significant influence they have to change conditions on the ground.”

The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union – which initially reached out to Carlyle, according to Welsh – could not be reached.

Forbes magazine reported last week that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System had been raising questions about the military crackdown at Yakjin with Carlyle, in which it is a key investor, leading to the review.

Jyrki Raina, general secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union, said that this type of activism from pension funds was increasing, with unions regularly lobbying such investors to take a stand on labour rights.

Railroad protesters lobby ADB

2 Sep

By Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Kevin Ponniah, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 September 2014

About 50 villagers who live near railway lines in Phnom Penh gathered outside the Asian Development Bank yesterday morning to again demand more detailed information about what will happen to them during forthcoming phases of a bank-funded railway rehabilitation project.

Long Chandy, who represents the Tuol Sangke (B) community in Russey Keo district, said families feared further project phases will require them to vacate their homes.

Phase one of the project will affect villagers within 3.5 metres of the tracks.

Chandy said villagers had seen documents saying families living within 20 metres of the lines would be affected in further phases.

But ADB country representative Eric Sidgwick said the project “only requires a corridor of impact (3.5 meters from the center line in Phnom Penh). The issues raised … were outside the scope of the Project.… We agreed to bring their questions to the Government.”

Strikers vow to continue protesting

2 Sep

By Mom Kunthear, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 September 2014

Nearly 400 workers made a four-hour trek yesterday from their garment factory in Por Sen Chey district to Phnom Penh’s Ministry of Labour, where they demanded the government intervene in their dispute.

Employees at Xin Fang garment factory walked off the job on August 18, said Chhun Rinda, a union representative of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU). Among 20 demands strikers are making is that Xin Fang management reinstate three fired union workers.

“Union officials and worker representatives negotiated with Labour Ministry officials after we marched to the ministry,” Rinda said. “But good faith negotiation could not take place, because the factory officials did not appear.”

Managers from Xin Fang could not be reached yesterday.

Xin Fang workers last week burned tyres in front of the factory while picketing, but were stopped by police when they tried to repeat the action the next day.

Strikers will continue to protest until the matter is resolved, Rinda said.

Dredging boats seized in capital

2 Sep

By Sen David, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 September 2014

The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology and local authorities in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov district seized 10 unlicensed sand-dredging barges after about 100 villagers burned tyres in protest of the operation, officials said.

Ros Sopheak, deputy governor of Chbar Ampov district, and Chea Sokny, a deputy cabinet member at the ministry, led the seizure of vessels, which had set off fears that the dredging could cause riverbank collapses.

“In fact, they have a licence to dredge sand in Kandal’s Lvea Em district, but they came to dredge illegally in [Chbar Ampov],” Sokny said.

Yem Simon, chief of Chbar Ampov’s Veal Spov commune, said the boats had been warned off before and that the area had already seen “some banks collapsing”, but that it had not yet directly affected villagers

Veal Spov resident Soun Chan, 35, said fears of bank collapse were exacerbated by the rainy season, and that villagers “chose to burn tyres because we thought that the authorities would know about it and take action”.

Bus lines expand at fast pace

2 Sep

By Taing Vida, The Phnom Penh Post, 02 September 2014

Passengers sit on a new city bus as it leaves a bus stop in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district

Passengers sit on a new city bus as it leaves a bus stop in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district yesterday, the first day of an extended route. Pha Lina

Phnom Penh’s lone bus line along Monivong Boulevard was significantly expanded yesterday, while two other lines are set to begin operation in the coming weeks, according to City Hall.

Bus Line 1 – the current route, which operates from 5:30am to 8:30pm – will now run a total of 67 stops, starting from Monivong Boulevard’s Kilometre 9 near the Japanese Friendship Bridge and going south to Chbar Ampov district along National Road 1, then back up again.

Tickets will remain 1,500 riel ($0.37) per person, and services for the disabled, elderly, monks and schoolchildren will be free, city spokesman Long Dimanche said.

Line 2, which will run from Phnom Penh’s night market to Takhmao town, is to begin operation on September 7. Line 3, which is to run from the night market to Choam Chao commune, is to open a week later.

Dimanche said City Hall had obtained 45 buses for the three lines, with 19 of them for Line 1. He declined to comment on the cost, which he said was still under discussion, and added that up to 18 lines would be created by 2035.

Independent analyst Kem Ley said the sustainability of the current bus plan would hinge on three factors.

“Public transport should be open to investment from private companies, with no under-the-table corruption; infrastructure institutions must be reformed; and road construction must be expanded,” he said.

A private firm scheduled to run the buses has not been chosen yet, according to Dimanche. The current fleet, run by City Hall, consists of secondhand buses from South Korea.

Global (Cambodia) Trade Development was granted a contract for the Monivong route in March, but the municipality cancelled the deal a month later.

How the expanded fleet will fare in the city’s bustling traffic is a concern for some.

Hom Sothun, who works for Sathapana Bank, usually takes the bus in the early morning and said he had mixed feelings.

“Using the public bus helps save money and the environment, but not time due to traffic congestion.”

ADB to Arrange Meeting About Railway Concerns

2 Sep

By Aun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, 02 September 2014

English7

Gov’t to Spend $56M on Childhood Development

2 Sep

By Laurent Crothers And Khy Sovuthy, The Cambodia Daily, 02 September 2014

English6

Bus-Line Expansion in Phnom Penh Begins

2 Sep

By Hul Reaksmey, The Cambodia Daily, 02 September 2014

English5

Hun Sen Gives Hope to Villagers in Land Fight

2 Sep

By Mech Dara And George Wright, The Cambodia Daily, 02 September 2014

English4

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,782 other followers

%d bloggers like this: