Hun Sen nixes Kampong Speu bus station to appease vendors

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Fri, 5 August 2016, by and

Vendors from a Kampong Speu market protest at the Ministry of Land Management in June, calling for the government to intervene in the relocation of a local bus station. Pha Lina

Vendors in Kampong Speu’s Chbar Mon town yesterday became the latest beneficiaries of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s tour of the provinces as the premier declared the contract for an already-constructed but long-opposed bus terminal null and void.

The new bus terminal, twice the size of the old facility, was built by Chhoun Kim San Import Export in 2012. However, it was never used because vendors refused to move the 400 metres to the new terminal as it is closer to the town’s market, and they feared their clients would shop there instead.

The prime minister’s decision by fiat, announced on his Facebook page after a meeting with provincial officials, put an end to the matter, though left plans for the building, constructed with public funds, yet to be determined.

“The old bus station will be kept the way it is for vendors to continue selling there,” Hun Sen wrote on Facebook. “At the same time, the provincial governor needs to discuss with the company to find a compromise solution.”

The decision marks a victory for the vendors, who last month petitioned the Ministry of Urban Planning to reconsider the plan to open the new station.

Provincial Governor Vei Samnang said yesterday that while the new terminal was “beautiful”, he was pleased Hun Sen had made the decision to keep the people happy.

“If we remove the people from there, they will be angry with us; so I am fine with it,” he said, adding that Hun Sen had ordered that national funds be used to compensate the company so as not to burden the province.

For his part, Chhoun Kim San said he was disappointed the new terminal had been shelved.

“I made the investment for five or six years, but now it is cancelled,” he said. “I don’t have any further opinion about that.”

Kim San said the governor had previously offered him a contract to collect fees from vendors at the old bus station by way of compensation.

However, the vendors did not pay him.

“For the compensation, I cannot say how much; let the government decide how much I have lost,” he said, adding that he had also paid a $100,000 deposit to the Ministry of Commerce when awarded the project.

The move exhibited shades of a January decision by the premier to abruptly scrap a private company’s contract for collecting tolls on National Road 4, a move popular with drivers, but which left the concessionaire in need of a solution.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said that the bus station decision was taken keeping in mind the wishes of the people.

“We understand at the end of the day taxpayers’ money has to be used, but what we prefer is to make the people happy,” he said. “[This project] is a lesson learned.”

Hun Sen’s decision was emblematic of how the government is running the country, said Son Chhay, the chief whip of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party.

“People at the provincial level are incapable and should have tackled this at the provincial level,” he said, adding that sub-national officials were appointed by Hun Sen and the ruling party but often lacked the competency to take decisions that would benefit citizens.

Ou Virak, the founder of the Future Forum think tank, said the decision came as little surprise. Despite the fact that national elections are still two years off, he said, the ruling party has been nervous since the close-run result in 2013.

“[Hun Sen] will go for two or three days to the province and take these decisions, but it will not do much,” he predicted.

Hun Sen nixes Kampong Speu bus station to appease vendors

No airport for Kampong Speu, PM tells gov

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Fri, 5 August 2016, by

A plane flies over houses near Phnom Penh International Airport in 2014. Vireak Mai

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday nixed a proposal to build an airport in Kampong Speu, saying he disagreed with the idea, the province’s governor said yesterday.

The premier took the decision at a meeting with provincial officials yesterday, said Kampong Speu governor Vei Samnang. Samnang said he shared the proposal – which he said had been made by Vinci Airports – with Hun Sen, who rejected it, citing the mountainous nature of the province, which would make it difficult to land aircraft.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen said that those who did the study about the airport plan were not right, so there is no plan to build the airport now,” he said.

While the national government was unaware of the plan, Samnang said Vinci Airports held a meeting with provincial authorities in June floating the proposal, while at the same also looking at five other provinces to build an airport.

“I just wanted my province to be famous,” Samnang said. “That is why I wanted to have the airport here.”

Cambodia Airports, in which Vinci is a majority stakeholder, declined to comment on the proposal “while the matter is being addressed”.

No airport for Kampong Speu, PM tells gov

Koh Kong community petitions government, EU in land dispute

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Fri, 5 August 2016, by

Villagers from Koh Kong’s Chi Khor Leu commune march toward the National Assembly yesterday where they delivered a petition over a land dispute. Hong Menea

Seventy-four people representing 147 families from Koh Kong yesterday handed petitions to the European Union and three national institutions asking that their land be returned or that they be paid proper compensation regarding a years-long dispute over an economic land concession (ELC).

In 2006, a 2,239-hectare ELC in Sre Ambel and Botum Sakor districts was handed to the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company, at that time part-owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat.

Yesterday’s group represented a portion of the original families affected, and claim ownership of 782 hectares of land. Community representative Phav Nheoung said she submitted petitions to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Land Management, the National Assembly and the EU.

“We are faced with food shortages as we have lost our land,” said Nom Vannary, another community member. Ministry of Land Management spokesman Cheam Sophal Makara said the ministry’s working group would study the issue and offer a solution within a week.

The group said it would not leave Phnom Penh until their problem was solved.

The sugar company could not be reached for comment.

Koh Kong community petitions government, EU in land dispute

Timber traders haul off van in showdown at military police headquarters

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu, 04 August 2016, by and

A group of people drag a police vehicle out of a Kratie military police headquarter yesterday before reclaiming two confiscated transport trucks containing pepper posts. Photo supplied

Nearly 100 timber traders stormed Kratie town military police headquarters yesterday afternoon in an attempt to liberate two vans filled with confiscated timber, according to military police spokesman Eng Hy, whose account matched footage published online.

At 11pm the previous night, military police and Forestry Administration officials executing a warrant issued by the Kratie Provincial Court intercepted a convoy of 10 vans loaded with wood bound for Vietnam, according to provincial military police commander Phat Sopheak Veasna.

The convoy halted abruptly, causing one van to rear-end another. A doctor at the provincial referral hospital said the driver of one van was admitted that night with a serious chest injury, his wife with minor injuries, and his assistant with serious injuries to the chin and forehead.

Approximately 30 drivers and passengers from the remaining vans exited bearing sticks and iron bars to face-off with officials, but seeing they were outgunned, instead emptied their cargo to block the road, Veasna continued.

As officials attempted to remove the lumber blockade, the nine vans whose drivers were uninjured attempted a getaway. Eight escaped while one was immobilised following a collision with a Forestry Administration vehicle.

The following day, the timber traders descended on the provincial military police headquarters demanding the vans and their cargo be returned.

Video footage released on local media outlet Fresh News shows a large crowd first wheeling one van out through the military police compound’s front entrance. The entrance is then blocked by a blue and white military police vehicle, which the crowd simply drags out of the way, allowing the second van to be wheeled out after it.

“Put simply, they stole the evidence. The vans are gone,” Veasna said, adding that he was preparing a report to be sent to the provincial court today which will name 10 individuals, identified through photos of the incident, accusing them of damaging state property and tampering with evidence.

Deputy provincial prosecutor Hak Horn said the court will summon individuals suspected of involvement one by one for interrogation once he receives Veasna’s report.

“I have taken the photos as evidence. A criminal offence was committed by many people, and the forestry crimes have not even been accounted for yet,” Horn said.

Veasna said the crowd was insisting that the confiscated timber was only low-grade material to be used as supporting posts for pepper trees, but that this was not the case.

“In fact, it’s not pepper posts. It is number one [luxury] timber that has been cut like pepper posts. They were transporting it to sell in Vietnam,” he said.

Seng Sokheng, secretariat coordinator of NGO Community Peace-Building Network, said that while it was good to see authorities cracking down on the illegal timber trade, they should be more even-handed in doing so.

“We want to see the government respect the law and not only catch the people who have no power. They should arrest the powerful [people] and tycoons and send them to jail,” Sokheng said.

Provincial Adhoc coordinator Din Khanny noted that there is a lack of transparency in the policing of forestry crime and that many timber transporters are intercepted but later released after paying a bribe.

Yesterday’s commotion has precedent. In January, police in Preah Vihear released a community representative from detention after protesters blocked the road in front of the provincial hall with 10 tractors.

In 2012, 500 Kratie province villagers successfully sought the release of a village representative with the help of a roadblock.

Timber traders haul off van in showdown at military police headquarters

Global Witness calls for impartial probe into Kem Ley’s murder

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Thu, 4 August 2016, by

People hold up Kem Ley posters at the political analyst’s funeral in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district last month. Heng Chivoan

Investigative NGO Global Witness yesterday issued an open letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking him to ensure the independence of the investigation into slain political commentator Kem Ley’s death and to protect the rights of citizens who criticised the government.

The letter, signed by the group’s co-founder and director Patrick Alley, states that following Ley’s death last month his friends and colleagues were “threatened and intimidated”, resulting in activist brothers Chum Hour and Chum Hout seeking asylum in Thailand.

Alley calls for an independent investigation into Ley’s murder, which the letter states was part of “a long line of violence against members of the opposition, activists and journalists”.

“The early stages of the investigation into Kem Ley’s killing have done nothing to allay fears that, like the others before it, this investigation will fail to identify or prosecute those who ordered the crime,” the letter reads.

In the wake of Ley’s death, local and international bodies made similar calls for an independent and thorough investigation into the murder.

Phnom Penh municipal police chief Chuon Sovann said the police were already conducting their investigation and were making steady progress. “The authorities are working attentively and investigating the perpetrator,” he said. “We do not need any request from this institution [to do so].”

While he hadn’t read the letter, government spokesman Phay Siphan was dismissive.

“The [Global Witness Hostile Takeover] report and reasons [in this letter] are anti-government, so we do not give it any credit at all,” he said.

Global Witness calls for impartial probe into Kem Ley’s murder

Colonial-era Kampot bridge to get repairs

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu, 4 August 2016, by and

An old colonial bridge in Kampot province, pictured in 2011, is due to receive repairs following an order by Prime Minister Hun Sen. Joe Mazzola

Responding to requests on his Facebook page on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered that an old colonial bridge in Kampot province be repaired after lying in disuse for three years due to safety concerns.

Provincial engineers began an inspection of the bridge immediately after receiving the order, Suk Sarad, Kampot’s provincial administrative director, confirmed yesterday.

“Officials are now inspecting the bridge, but we don’t know when it could be repaired,” Sarad said, adding that it’s likely the bridge will only be suitable for bikes, motorbikes and pedestrians.

Officials from the Cambodian People’s Party said the decision to repair the bridge was prompted by citizens who would like to save time and gasoline while travelling. Kampot already has a new bridge available, but using it forces some local residents to make long and costly detours.

Denise Ruygrok, owner of Kampot’s Rikitikitavi guesthouse, said it’s a good idea to make the bridge safe for use, but that she hopes the design won’t be altered.

“I don’t think they should change the design; it’s quite a unique piece and really defines Kampot,” she said.

Colonial-era Kampot bridge to get repairs

Black Monday Rolls on, With Fewer Participants

Black Monday Rolls on, With Fewer Participants