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Saturday, September 27, 2008

4th National Parliamentary Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia

List of President and Vice President of National Assembly, Chairman and Vice Chairmen of 9 National Assembly's Sub-Committee, and Ministers, Secretary and Under Secretary of the Governing Ministries for the 4th (2008-2013) National Parliamentary Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Flawless new Parliament session in Cambodia

Cambodian parliamentarians and King Norodom Sihamoni pose for a picture after the opening of the first parliamentarian meeting to form a new government after the national elections in July at the national assembly building in Phnom Penh September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni (C) is greeted by parliamentarians after opening the first parliamentarian meeting to form a new government after the national elections in July at the national assembly building in Phnom Penh September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen walks past an honor guard upon his arrival to attend the first parliamentarian meeting to form a new government after the national elections in July at the national assembly building in Phnom Penh September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the country's National Assembly building in Phnom Penh on September 24. Cambodia's parliament has re-elected Hun Sen as prime minister, extending his 23-year grip on power, at a session boycotted by parties disputing the results of the July general election. (AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Flawless new Parliament session in Cambodia

24 Sept. 2008
By Duong Sokha and Ros Dina
Ka-set (KI-Media)

The inaugural session of the fourth Parliament held in the morning of Wednesday 24 September at the National Assembly, presided by the king, as well as the swearing-in ceremony of the elected MPs at the Royal Palace at 4:00 PM on the same day, went without a hitch for the very first time. With the exception of Kem Sokha’s HRP, all political parties sent in all their elected MPs, i.e. 119 out of a total of 123 MPs. On Wednesday, Prime minister Hun Sen, who was re-appointed to his PM position by King Sihamoni, called the day a “historical” one, noting that the morning meeting took place for the first time in the in the NA building under the presence of the “new” king Sihamoni who was crowned in 2004. The day also marked the 15th anniversary of the kingdom’s Constitution and it bore another symbolic meaning to the events of the day. King Sihamoni congratulated Hun Sen and the other MPs for their NA nomination, and he said that he hopes the fourth mandate Parliament will accomplish a good job.

Conditions imposed by the Opposition

“Yesterday [Tuesday], before 7 PM, it was heard that the SRP and the HRP would boycott today’s ceremony,” Hun Sen noted at a press conference held at the end of the morning ceremony. He then discussed about the negotiations led that Tuesday evening between the opposition leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, and Kith Meng, the CPP’s mediator sent in by Hun Sen.

Hun Sen added: “Among the conditions imposed by the opposition is the adoption of a proposal for a new [NA] internal rule that they have drafted. I let them know, through Oknha Kith Meng, that the NA cannot adopt a proposal which has not been examined yet. To amend the internal rule, an ad-hoc committee must be set up and the latter will send in its conclusions to the Parliament law committee, and then after this latter’s exam, it will send the text to the NA permanent committee which will then summon a debate session.”

According to Hun Sen, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had also called for the government to recognize the role of parties not appointed in the government. “On this point, I am personally its guarantor,” Hun Sen assured.

On the other hand, Hun Sen did not agree to the opposition request that the five parties having seats at the NA sign a common declaration. “I told Mr. Oknha Kith Meng that it was a dumb and impudent maneuver which hold the parties as hostages, and that this would be no more no less than a political declaration. Its signing would be contrary to the NA internal rule,” Hun Sen indicated. Hun Sen added that this declaration includes among others, the engagement by political parties to participate in the first NA session, the strengthening of public institutions, but also, an amendment to the election law and a reform of the National Election Committee (NEC) so that all competing political parties could recognize the election results – a contentious point for Hun Sen.

SRP last minute decision

It was at daybreak on Wednesday that SRP MPs decided that they will join the day’s ceremony. Hun Sen personally thanked them for their participation.

Son Chhay, the SRP spokesman, explained that the resolution to abandon the boycott was subject to the last negotiations held with Kith Meng. “Hun Sen had accepted to create a working group to revise the NA internal rule, as our party had asked. We had also demanded reforms allowing the opposition to have a guaranteed official role at the NA. I find this good, this system is in practice in several democratic countries. It will be written in black and white in the NA internal rule. The opposition leader will be officially nominated by the king and he will be allotted a special budget to lead the opposition,” said a delighted Son Chhay.

Son Chhay added that the other amendment to the NA internal rule demanded by the opposition is the fact that parties with small number of Parliament seats, i.e. those with less than 10 seats, could have their voice heard on the floor during debates, as such was not the case in the past.

“We are promoting the national interest first, in front of personal interest and of those of our party. The situation requires them, Cambodia is currently at a critical junction with the invasion of Thai armed forces and a galloping inflation…,” Son Chhay explained while indicating that his party did not ask for the presidency of any Parliament committee, but that the SRP requested that the NA internal rule be respected.

Son Chhay also insisted on the fact that, since 1993, this is the first time that all MPs came to the NA inaugural session. In 2003, the SRP MPs boycotted this session.

HRP absence

“When I shook Sam Rainsy’s hand [this morning], I asked him why Kem Sokha was not there. He told me that he did not know. Their alliance is no longer upheld? Who cheated who? Maybe Kem Sokha was held back by a traffic jam and arrived too late?” Hun Sen speculated.

Kem Sokha clarified: “We were not late! We did not go, just like what we announced because our claims were not heard. We will start working normally this Friday,” Kem Sokha explained. The HRP won 3 seats at the NA.

When asked about the robustness of the alliance between the SRP and the HRP, Son Chhay assured that nothing change. “Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha was negotiating together yesterday evening, and both wanted to have a common declaration by all the parties represented at the NA in view of a national reconciliation, and a strengthening of democracy with the existence of pluralism.”

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Human Rights Alert: Lake Residents Facing Eviction

Cambodia: 4,000 Families Face Mass Eviction.

"...a multiple blow for local residents. They stand to lose both their homes and their livelihoods." >> READ THE ARTICLE

this may be the beginning of the biggest forced eviction in post-war Cambodia." READ THE PRESS RELEASE

Over 4,000 families at Boeung kok Lake in Phnom Penh, Cambodia face eviction. The Government has started pumping sand into the lake, part of an illegal lease signed with a private company. The company wants to turn the lake into expensive real estate.
Please read below for details...

The filling of Boeung Kak Lake in central Phnom Penh should immediately stop until a proper process that ensures human rights protection is in place. The project process is in breach of both Cambodian and international law.

—Amnesty International and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)

"Filling Must Not Lead to Forced Evictions"

Lake Filling: Illegal

The agreement appears to breach domestic law and implementing regulations in that no environmental impact assessment has been made public and no bidding procedure preceded the agreement. Moreover, according to the 2001 Land Law, the lake itself should be inalienable state land (so-called state public property), so its ownership cannot be transferred for longer than 15 years, during which time the function [of the property] must not change. Many of the affected families have strong legal claims to the land under the Land Law.

Villagers Not Notified

With work starting on the redevelopment of the lake, tens of thousands of Phnom Penh residents living in its immediate vicinity fear forced eviction. They were not notified the work was going to begin. Few details about the plans have been disclosed as to what will happen to the affected people – an estimated 3,000 to 4,200 families living on the shores of the lake and around the area.

As recently as two weeks ago, representatives of the Municipality conceded to journalists in Phnom Penh that they did not know how many people were affected, but estimated the number to be just 600 families. Local group surveys show the number to be far higher.

Excluded From Negotiations

In breach of international law and standards the process leading up to the agreement between the company and the Municipality of Phnom Penh excluded affected communities from participation and genuine consultation. Information has been lacking throughout the process, and community members and housing rights advocates in Phnom Penh Penh consider that offers of compensation and/or adequate alternative housing have not been systematic, while resettlement plans have been withheld from the public.

Development Plans

The development plans for Boeung Kak Lake emerged in 2007, after the Municipality of Phnom Penh had entered into a 99-year lease agreement, handing over management of 133 hectares of land, including 90 per cent of the lake, to a private developer, Shukaku Ltd. According to the Municipality, this company will turn the area into “pleasant, trade, and service places for domestic and international tourists.”

Biggest Forced Eviction in Cambodia

“In the absence of proper plans, compensation and adequate alternative housing for at least 3,000 affected families, the filling of the lake should be immediately halted. Otherwise, this may be the beginning of the biggest forced eviction in post-war Cambodia,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International’s Cambodia Researcher.

“If the government wishes to develop Boeung Kak, they should do so through a legal process, with the participation of communities that live around the lake,” said Dan Nicholson, Coordinator of COHRE’s Asia and Pacific Programme. “Affected communities need to be able to make informed decisions. The serious lack of clear information and accountability shows that preparations are just not in place.”

Save Boeung Kak Campaign contact Info:

PHNOM PENH: Dan Nicholson, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions: +855 17 523 274 or email: dan@cohre.org

LONDON: Brittis Edman, Amnesty International: +44 207 413 5773; +44 794 692 4473; bedman@amnesty.org


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Friday, September 05, 2008

Openness to Trade Is Transforming Cambodia's Capital

A street scene in the city center of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. (Gavin Hellier and Robert Harding/drr.net)

Openness to Trade Is Transforming Cambodia's Capital

By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
Thursday, September 4, 2008 (the International Herald Tribune)

PHNOM PENH: The three-story showroom for Gold Tower 42 is as imposing as the gold-tinted residential structure that, once it is completed, will dominate Phnom Penh's skyline.

A security guard greets a visitor's car and ushers the guest into a large reception area, worthy of a nice hotel. Before going up the carpeted grand staircase, the guest is politely asked to take off his shoes and don a pair of comfortable slippers.

Once upstairs, a saleswoman stands in front of a large scale model and talks with animation about the features of Cambodia's first residential tower, including the golf practice range, the karaoke lounge and the library, before leading the visitor through the three model apartments on the third floor.

It looks as if no expense has been spared on the showroom - but then the developer, Yon Woo of South Korea, is selling a luxury dream to the few members of the local elite and foreign community eager to test the waters of a property market that appears to be doing surprisingly well, despite the ever-present reminders of Cambodia's Third World poverty.

Commercial spots, available on YouTube, have been stressing the luxury of the project. Agents say buyers have been attracted by features like the high-tech security system, home automation technology, walk-in closets and fully fitted kitchen. And while the apartments would not quite match up to high-end places in Singapore or Hong Kong, they are luxurious by Cambodian standards.

But then they are not as expensive as apartments in those Asian cities either. Unit size varies from 153 square meters, or 1,647 square feet, for a three-bedroom apartment to 336 square meters for a five-bedroom, with prices ranging from $460,000 to $1.6 million. (Cambodia's official currency is the riel but the U.S. dollar is widely accepted and real estate is routinely valued in dollars.)

Nov Ratana, a sales manager for Yon Woo Cambodia, says 60 percent of the Gold Tower 42's 360 residential units have been sold, many of them to foreigners, mainly Koreans and Chinese.

When the $240 million, 42-story development is completed in 2011, it will offer sweeping views of Phnom Penh toward the capital's bustling riverfront. But it will not stand out as the city's only skyscraper; several other high-rise developments also are planned or already are being built.

In mid-June, ground-breaking began on an even taller building, the 52-story International Finance Complex. This $1 billion, 737,000-square-meter project will include a main office tower surrounded by several smaller glass-and-steel structures housing 275 serviced apartments, 1,064 apartments and even a small international school.

Other projects being developed include the 33-story De Castle Royal Condominium, the 31-story River Palace 31 and the Phnom Penh Sun Wah International Financial Center, a mixed-use development of offices, a five-star hotel, shopping mall and three residential blocks.

While the towers have provoked some controversy - they will radically change the profile of this low-rise city and add some flashes of modern architecture to its faded colonial elegance - they also are being touted as a symbol of the country's speedy growth. Cambodia's economy has increased at an annual average of 11 percent over the past three years as the country has climbed back from decades of political instability.

Foreign investment, especially from South Korea and other countries in North Asia, has been key to this recovery, surging to 8 percent of GDP in 2007 from less than 1 percent in 2004.

Most of the new construction projects are headed by Korean construction and investment companies. The biggest foreign direct investment to date - $2 billion - is being made by World City of South Korea, for Camko City, being built on a 119-hectare, or 294-acre, site on the northwestern outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The project, started in 2005 and scheduled to be completed in 2018, will include residential, commercial and public structures.

Opening the country to foreign trade and attracting tourists, especially to the temples of Angkor Wat, has supported the expansion and even produced the beginnings of a middle class.

As a result, property prices have experienced their own boom in recent years. Charles Villar, general manager at Bonna Realty Group, the largest real estate agency in Cambodia, estimates that property prices in Phnom Penh rose between 50 percent and 80 percent in 2007 and between 80 and 100 percent so far this year, depending on location. Land prices in the city center have skyrocketed this year to more than $3,000 per square meter from about $500 a square meter in 2003.

Meanwhile, rental prices have increased 20 percent to 40 percent over the past year, Villar said. A large villa with five to seven bedrooms in a good location will rent for about $5,000 a month, while a two-bedroom place will average $1,300 to $1,500, depending on location.

Despite the sharp increases, prices still compare favorably with those in Bangkok, where a four-bedroom villa would cost more than 200,000 bhat, or about $6,000, a month. And the Cambodian sites are attracting plenty of speculative interest from foreign buyers, mostly from within the region.

Bretton Sciaroni, a senior partner at the law firm of Sciaroni & Associates in Phnom Penh, says foreigners still cannot buy land, but they can buy leasehold properties - typically a 99-year lease or a 70-year lease with an option to renew for another 70 years. The latter formula "was found in the 1994 investment law and, although it dropped out of the law when it was amended, the formula is still used," he said.

There are rumors that the laws will be changed to allow foreigners to buy land outright but that is unlikely, Sciaroni added. "If anything, earlier this year, the prime minister made it clear in various statements that foreigners will not be allowed to hold property freehold. For this to change, not only would laws have to be amended, but the Constitution as well," he said. "So we do not expect the law to change anytime in the near future."

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

State of emergency declared in Bangkok

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej spoke during a news conference at the Supreme Command Headquarters in Bangkok on Sept. 2. (Reuters)

State of Emergency Declared in Bangkok, Thailand

As the confrontation between the government and opposition escalates, the ruling party is slapped with charges of electoral fraud.

September 02, 2008
By Huma Yusuf
The Christian Science Monitor

On Tuesday, Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej declared a state of emergency in Bangkok after clashes between government supporters and opposition party members left one person dead in the worst violence seen in the city in 16 years. The violence flared as Mr. Samak's ruling People Power Party (PPP) faced charges of electoral fraud in the courts and escalating pressure from the opposition People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has been occupying the prime minister's office for the past week.

According to the BBC, fighting started early Tuesday.
  • The street clashes began shortly after midnight, when a screaming crowd of government supporters – armed with sticks and slingshots – ploughed into a group from the PAD, who have been occupying the prime minister's office.
  • Amid the ensuing fighting, some gunshots were fired – both sides are now reported to possess some firearms.
  • One person died, and TV pictures showed some of the 43 people injured lying bleeding on the ground.
Mr. Samak has stated that the state of emergency is expected to remain in effect for a brief period. Curfew has not been enforced, but the emergency prevents gatherings of more than five people and puts limitations on media coverage that may "undermine public security."

The street clashes are an escalation of an ongoing confrontation between the government and PAD protesters. Fighting is expected to intensify on Wednesday, the International Herald Tribune reports.
  • The street fighting escalated a confrontation between the government and protesters who had occupied the grounds of the prime minister's office for a week. It was the first serious violence in what had become a stubborn class struggle between the Thai middle class and a beleaguered government backed by a business and financial elite acting in the name of Thailand's poor. The protest broadened Monday when labor unions representing 200,000 workers at 43 state enterprises said they would cut off water, electricity, and telephone service to government offices beginning Wednesday.
According to The New York Times, the PAD is demonstrating against Samak and his government for being proxies for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
  • Mr. Samak's critics call him a proxy for Mr. Thaksin and his party, the People Power Party, is widely considered to be a reincarnation of Mr. Thaksin's former party....
  • Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, was ousted in a coup in September 2006 while in New York and spent more than a year in self-exile. He returned early this year once a friendly government was in place and appeared ready to contest a growing list of cases against him for corruption and abuse of power.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that "Thailand's shaky democracy and the future role of elites aligned with the monarchy and the military" are at stake in this confrontation between the government and PAD supporters.
  • Among these royalist opponents of Samak, there is anger at the return to power of old political faces. They accuse Samak of corruption at the behest of Thaksin, his political patron, and of surrendering territory to Cambodia in a border temple dispute. Some call for an overhaul of a political system that gives too much weight to the poor, Thaksin's loyal constituency.
  • Leaders of the PAD are hostile to Western-style democracy, arguing that it has failed to produce suitable leaders and instead encouraged vote-buying and corruption. In its place, they propose a partially elected legislature and a backstop role for the military to keep politicians in line.
An opinion piece in the Bangkok Post, an English-language Thai daily, states that Samak's power has been waning in the face of PAD protests.
  • Mr Samak declared his government could only be toppled in Parliament, not on the streets. His voice has absolutely no impact on the movements to topple his government. On the other hand, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has taken to the streets since May, has been stronger than ever.
  • What happened this week indicates that Mr Samak is no longer fit to run the country because he could not maintain order....
  • What did Mr Samak do to deserve all this? The simple answer is that it has nothing to do with his policy. His sin is that he and his party had made it clear they are the heirs of Thaksin Shinawatra. Their determination to amend the constitution and pass an amnesty law does not help either. When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, something's gotta give.
The Guardian reports that in a fresh blow to the government, Samak's party was accused of electoral fraud on Tuesday. A five-member panel of the Election Commission recommended that the Supreme Court disband the PPP over claims of vote-buying in last December's general election. Although the recommendation will not lead to immediate action against the party – it must first be considered by the public prosecutor's office, a process that might take months – it further undermines Samak's credibility. If the prosecutor submits the case to the courts and the ruling is upheld, Samak and other party leaders would be banned from politics for five years.

The Bangkok Post also reports that Thai and foreign business leaders are concerned that the state of emergency will lead to widespread economic losses as investor confidence is shaken.

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