I’m starting out this week’s wrap of the news from Cambodia with three links to one of my pro blogs where I posted an interview with Kari Grady Grossman, author of “Bones That Float: A Story of Adopting Cambodia”. Kari was gracious and loquacious, and the interview, like the woman and the book, is interesting and informative.

Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here, and part 3 is here.

Now, for the news …

The environmental group, Global Witness, released a report highly critical of government officials and the role they play in illegal logging in Cambodia that has many of the powers that be more than a little hot and bothered. In fact, the report itself has been banned from the country.

Like that’s going to make it go away! Sheesh. You’d think they’d understand by now that that’s the best way to get everyone to read the thing.

“The report centers its accusations on the government leader (Prime Minister Hun Sen) with an aim to provoke political animosity in the country, which exceeds the business of this organization,” said Information Minister Khieu Kanharith.

Not that reading will make all that much difference. As the group noted:

International donors, who bankroll the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, do virtually nothing to stop the plunder.

“When are the donors going to start addressing the asset-stripping, Mafioso behavior of the current regime?” Simon Taylor, the Global Witness director, said in a statement Friday.

In an interview ahead of the release of the report, Taylor described the logging business as “part of a massive asset stripping for the benefit of a small kleptocratic elite.

“The forests of Cambodia have been ransacked over the past decade by this mafia with little or no benefit flowing down to the ordinary people,” he said.

The report specifically focused on the Seng Keang Company, the country’s most powerful logging syndicate headed by Dy Chouch, Hun Sen’s first cousin.

When, indeed?

Later in the week came time to start urging donors to review funding for Global Witness!

Cambodia’s embassy in London called the allegations “totally groundless, unacceptable rubbish” and called on Britain, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, and the Netherlands to “seriously re-consider their support in funding Global Witness in the future.”

Yeah … like it’s their fault for noticing.

And it’s not just Global Witness pissing off Hun Sen this week. UN human rights envoy, Yash Ghai, has worked his way under the PM’s fingernails like a splinter of sharp of bamboo again, and the PM isn’t shy about giving him the cold shoulder …

‘This guy comes from a country which completely violates human rights,’ the premier added. ‘You can come here, but I do not need you. If I live to be more than 1,000 years old, I will still never meet with you, so please do not come to see me. The prime minister is not obliged to meet you.’

Hun Sen said Ghai’s report could be compared to a Cambodian proverb that says the dog barks, but the ox cart still rolls forward. ‘However, I will not compare you to a dog,’ he said, referring to Yash Ghai.

Okay, that’s not exactly diplomatic language, but Hun Sen does make a couple of valid points.

First, he, “issued a press release that did not deny human-rights abuses existed in the country but claimed Ghai’s report was unfair, biased and failed to acknowledge any progress the government had made, focusing instead only on negatives.”

Fair enough.

Second, and I love this:

Hun Sen said Monday that he had told former UN secretary general Kofi Annan personally that he never expected to hear a good report on Cambodia’s human-rights record while the human-rights envoy worked for a salary.

‘If you say good things about the government’s human-rights efforts, you will lose your salary,’ he said, adding that he viewed UN human-rights officials as tourists.

Keeping in mind Kari Grady Grossman’s observations from her book that the UN is almost single-handed responsible for the development of prostitution as an industry in Cambodia, I’d say the PM isn’t off base.

Not off base, perhaps, but certainly no where near a level playing field, as this story marking the one year anniversary of mass evictions illustrates.

On June 5th of last year, a pre-dawn eviction of more than 1,700 families from a Phnom Penh site set for development to the village of Trapeang Krasaing 13 miles away was eerily reminiscent of the 17th of April in 1975.

The problem begins, rights groups say, when government officials sell off vast swathes of property to a growing host of private companies promising to develop the land.

Ironically, the roadside leading out to Trapeang Krasaing is lined with billboards advertising yet-to-be-built apartment blocks, condominiums or planned communities of tidy single-family homes.

“There is all of this luxury development going on and the poor people are being discarded,” said one land rights advocate.

Many of those displaced — refugees of one calamity or another, from fires to flood, drought or civil strife — have lived for years on previously worthless real estate.

But the same land can now fetch millions.

Those legally entitled to their property are rarely fairly compensated, and there are very few avenues to fighting land grabs.

Interestingly, the German ambassador to Cambodia is urging the country join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative … How’s that for a catchy title? … an oil ethics group, to learn to properly manage what is bound to be lucrative old revenues about to start pouring in.

Hey! They haven’t even cottoned on to how to deal honestly, legally, ethically and morally with trees yet!

And now on to business …

Cambodia is planning to set up a limited stock market by 2009.

“The introduction of a financial market is very important,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said.

“It can help to mobilise the Cambodian people’s savings and channel them into long-term investments in social, economic and infrastructure projects.”

The World Bank has approved $33.5 million in grants that are to make cheap electricity available to rural Cambodians.

Under the World Bank’s Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Power Trade Program, a grant of US$18.5 million to the Kingdom of Cambodia will be used to construct cross-border transmission lines to neighboring Lao PDR and Vietnam. Along with transmission links under construction with Vietnam through the IDA-funded Rural Electrification Project, the new funding will further expand power trade with Vietnam, enabling Cambodia to import electricity and bring down the cost for poor consumers.

You know … I’m really fond of my appliances and all, but cheap electricity is a tricky thing. There’s not much sense having it unless you have a bunch of stuff to plug in, so there’s a potential trap for the poor. Plus, the changes in society that happen when “Desperate Housewives” suddenly becomes an evening option can be very scary.

It puts me in mind of seeing Bart Simpson tattoos on Iban ‘warriors’ in Borneo. it took no time at all for 10,000 years of traditional body art to bite the dust in favor of the latest from America. Yikes, that’s frightening.

While the World Bank is handing out dough, the IMF has a “rosy overall impression” of Cambodia’s national economy.

‘Prudent macroeconomic policy implementation has provided stability, in turn boosting investors’ and consumers’ confidence, and has underpinned very strong macroeconomic performance,’ the statement said.
‘Impressive rates of growth have been sustained, inflation remains low, external debt is sustainable and headway is being made in a number of important structural reforms.

‘The mission noted that the environment provides ideal conditions to re-energise reforms in key areas where progress has been less rapid, and to address the key constraints to broader poverty reduction.’

It said these factors had encouraged significantly increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which augured well for the economy.

The IMF said it estimates real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to increase by around nine-per-cent this year, fanned by increased agricultural production and ‘robust growth’ in the areas of tourism, garment export and construction.

There were some caveats, however, mainly about the garment industry and the possibility of climate change impacting agriculture.

A new AIDS Treatment Center has opened in Svay Reing Province thanks to a collaboration between the Cambodian government and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Australia is giving $7.5 million in climate change aid, and one of America’s richest men, Sumner M. Redstone, has announced a half-million dollar grand to the Cambodian Children’s Fund. He might be rich as all get out, but he’s a little slow on the uptake, apparently …

Sumner M. Redstone, said, “Until very recently I was unaware of the horrible conditions under which multitudes of children live in Cambodia.

Seems he’s planning to keep the money rolling in, though, and for that he can be as late to the table as he likes.

And that’s it for this week.

Sandra Hanks Benoiton writes on International Adoption and adopting as an Older Parent for Adoption.com, and on everything under the sun on Paradise Preoccupied from her sun drenched veranda on the island of Mahé in the Indian Ocean.

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