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Political uncertainty in Cambodia has forced the garment and footwear industry to look to alternative countries to meet production needs, forcing more than 70 factories to close and a sharp drop in orders, a senior official from the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) said.

Speaking at a press conference before the 6th Cambodia International Textile and Garment Industry Exhibition and Machinery Industry Fair in Phnom Penh on Monday, Ly Tek Heng, the GMAC operations manager, painted a worrying picture of the first eight months of the year, the Khmer Times reported on Tuesday.

“I think the political situation has affected business, both businessmen and investors. When one country has instability in politics, it is difficult to make investments and there are concerns, especially from buyers,” he said.

“The political issues, illegal demonstrations and competition from the other garment and footwear exporting countries such Vietnam, Bangladesh and Myanmar has deterred investors from investing in Cambodia and has made buyers reluctant to order products from Cambodia.”

He said that in the first eight months of this year, more than 70 factories had been shuttered, while only 20 new ones had opened. This came as orders from buyers for footwear and clothing made in Cambodia dropped by almost 30%, forcing not only closures, but the slashing of hours for workers.

The decline in orders has had a knock-on effect within the industry, leading to a decline in orders for machinery used to make clothing and footwear, warned Akai Lin from Chan Chao International, which organised the fair.

“For the last few years, the demand for machinery in manufacturing has been great, but now it is decreasing slightly due to factory closures, leading some buyers to wait for the political situation to improve before making orders,” he warned.

Commerce Ministry spokesperson Soeng Sophary on Monday downplayed the news, telling the Khmer Times that the closure of factories did not mean the industry was under threat. She blamed global insecurity for the closures, citing the upcoming presidential elections in the United States, the recent referendum in the United Kingdom where just over half the population voted to leave the European Union, as well as the high price of electricity.

“Cambodia is a small country which depends on garment exports, and as such is affected by outside issues as our export market focuses on the UK and US. The factory closures are maybe due to changing demand in the EU and US. The economic waves in foreign countries have an impact on Cambodia,” Sophary said.

“However, it is not only the impact from outside the country, but also domestically, since investors are looking for profit with low operational costs. So if the operational costs in other countries are lower than Cambodia, they could turn to those countries. We have an issue on electricity and labor costs that we be must be alert to,” she said.

She stressed that it was too early to judge whether the industry was in trouble, as the 70 closed factories need to be compared with the 20 which have opened, which may be bigger or more important.

In contrast to GMAC’s figure of a 30% drop in buyer’s orders suggesting trouble in the garment sector, recent figures released by the ministry paint a far healthier picture. The ministry stated that total garment and footwear exports in the first quarter of this year have increased by 39% to $2 billion.

The EU was the largest market, taking $717.8 million in goods, followed by the US at $419.2 million and $41.7 million to Canada.

In 2015, total exports in the sector were $6.3 billion, a 7.6% growth over 2014, with 699 factories ‒ from 73 in 2014.

Cambodia resettlement ‘voluntary’

Posted by pakin On September - 25 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

PHNOM PENH — An Australian government minister said on Thursday that only refugees who volunteer will be resettled in Cambodia as part of a new bilateral pact.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison will sign the pact with Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng in Phnom Penh on Friday to resettle refugees that Australia rejects. Morrison said Australia will support the refugees to build new lives in Cambodia.

“The arrangement is strictly voluntary,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra. “Anyone who chooses to go to Cambodia will have chosen themselves to go to Cambodia.”

The deal, which has been criticized by human rights groups, places no cap on the number of refugees that Cambodia is prepared to accept for permanent settlement, Morrison said.

“Support will be tailored to the needs of those as part of a package of measures that will go to their resettlement which is designed to make them self-reliant as quickly as possible,” Mr Morrison said.

Cambodian officials have long insisted that any resettlement must be done on a voluntary basis.

The deal has been condemned by the minor Australian Greens party which predicts refugees will be pressured to go to Cambodia.

“What is Australia offering one of the most corrupt nations on Earth to be Australia’s human dumping ground?” Greens Sen Sarah Hanson-Young asked Thursday.

The Refugee Council of Australia, an advocacy group, said in a statement Thursday that the agreement was yet another example of Australia deflecting its international obligations on to a much poorer country which lacked the capacity to provide effective protection to refugees.

On Thursday, Morrison moved to make Australia a less attractive destination for asylum seekers by introducing legislation to Parliament that would create temporary refugee visas. Instead of permanent residency, up to 30,000 refugees would be given three-year temporary protection visas.

After such visas expire, refugees could be sent back to their homelands if conditions had improved.

Both Cambodian and Australian officials have previously said they were discussing the possibility of resettling some of the more than 1,100 people housed in a camp on the Pacific island nation of Nauru. Australia pays Nauru to house the asylum seekers, mostly from South Asia and the Middle East, and has a similar deal with Papua New Guinea. Human rights groups have criticized living conditions at the camps.

Cambodia Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said details of the deal may be revealed Friday after the signing. It is widely assumed that Australia will pay Cambodia to house the asylum seekers as permanent settlers rather than in holding camps.

The empire fights back

Posted by pakin On September - 18 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Tourists flock en masse to the Angkor complex all year round yet even amongst the madness, the millennium-old carvings whisper messages of peace

The blazing sun is almost right overhead, our eyes are burning from the sweat constantly running into them, our shirts are soaked and we are not even close to entering the Bayon, the richly decorated temple at the centre of Angkor Thom and part of Angkor Archaeological Park. The site is just five minutes from the spot where we alighted from the bus but apparently a headcount has to be completed before we enter the site.

“Millions of tourists visit the Angkor complex every year,” our guide tells us.

“Do not leave any valuables like mobile phones and cameras in the bus and always be careful of your belongings or they’ll disappear. We have to enter the sites in a group so do not wander around. And don’t touch any carvings or bas reliefs or you’ll be fined,” he instructs before leading us to two officers sitting under a big tree. They finish counting us but the conversation between our guide and the officers continues and we scatter, desperate to find respite from the sun.

Fifteen years ago, when I first visited Angkor, it was all a lot less complicated. We bought our tickets, went through one check-point and then we were free to explore the 400-square-kilometres of Angkor, which encompasses Angkor Wat temple, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei and other archaeological sites boasting the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century.

Angkor Wat and the Bayon have always been the highlights of Siem Reap but in the old days, there were plenty of quiet corners where the visitor could silently contemplate the exquisite ruins.

Now when we enter the Bayon, it is almost impossible to stick to our group or even walk at our own pace. Tourists are flocking in with their guides, who explain the symbolic meaning and history of each highlight in a babble of Chinese, French, Japanese, English, Thai, German and Korean. After a while, the sounds merge, harmonising into a multi-lingual chant to the giant smiling faces of Bayon,

The Bayon, built by King Jayavarman VII, was the last and only Angkorian state temple to be constructed primarily as a Buddhist shrine at Angkor. The similarity of the 216 gigantic faces on the temple’s 54 towers to other statues of the king has led many scholars to agree that the faces are representations of Jayavarman VII though others argue that the faces belong to Avalokitesvara, as the bodhisattva of compassion is known. It is however generally agreed that the faces represent four elements that the Khmers see as virtues for a wise ruler: Metta (compassion), Karuna (the representation of pity), Mutita (the virtue of rejoicing at other people’s happiness) and Oupekha (impartiality).

Leaving the wild guesses and theories behind, I squeeze myself into a small corner of the temple to escape the endless flow of tourists and stare at the gigantic stone faces.

The towering faces, reaching up to four metres in height, seem identical at first glance. As I examine them more carefully though, each of the four faces on the individual towers seems to a slightly different expression; some smile broadly, some peacefully, others almost forlornly. Watching the gigantic faces, the babble fades away and I feel at peace.

One kilometre to the east of Angkor Thom is Ta Prohm, one of the most photographed of all the ancient temples, and a site that became internationally famous when it was used as a location in the 2001 film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” starring Angelina Jolie.

Originally known as Rajavihara or Monastery of the King, Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to King Jayavarman VII’s mother. Unlike most of the other temples in the complex, Ta Prohm has been largely left to Mother Nature. The enormous roots of banyan, fig and kapok trees have intruded into the ruins, their coiled roots weaving their own patterns in the stone. Trees trunks twist amongst sandstone pillars, their branches hugging each other to form a roof over the structures. Some areas of the temple are closed while others are accessible only via narrow and dark passages.

Only a few visitors stop to admire the bas reliefs and the Apsaras, celestial nymphs, in the corridor. Many of them are badly eroded and have been overcome by the gigantic tree root formation in the easternmost entrance pavilion and at the “Tomb Raider tree” in the central sanctuary.

The long hours in the sun have taken their toll and we decide to head back to our hotel, Anantara Angkor Resort and Spa, for a generous buffet lunch and a short rest before heading for Angkor Wat.

Once there, we choose to enter from the back of the temple to avoid both the heat and hordes of tourists.

Built by King Suryavarman II early in the 12th century, Angkor Wat is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the gods in Hindu mythology and its five towers correspond to the peaks of Meru. The outer wall represents the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat is the oceans beyond.

Wooden staircases add a strange look to the tower of Angkor Wat, but are vital for the survival of the ancient temple because the soft sandstone stairs are eroding with every step taken by every visitor.

The mysterious smiles of the Apsaras are mesmerising. I carefully take their photos, moving in for close ups to capture the details of their hair decorations, rings, attire and facial expressions. My reverie is interrupted by the line of tourists behind me trying to take the same shots, so I move off and hurry to catch up with the group. It is only then that I realise just how hot and tired I really feel.

After a full day’s walk around three vast archaeological sites, the resort’s serene spa is like manna from heaven and I sleep soundly that night, my dreams full of wondrous faces, each looking at me with a different smile.

If you go

_ If you are visiting temples or pagodas, knee-length shorts and short-sleeved T-shirts are acceptable. To visit the highest level of Angkor Wat, guests are requested to cover their knees and shoulders.

_ Pickpockets and bag-snatchers are growing with the number of tourists so be careful of your belongings and your travel documents at all times.

_ Bangkok Airways operates five flights daily from/to Bangkok and Siem Reap, Cambodia. While waiting for their flights, passengers of Bangkok Airways travelling via this route can enjoy snacks, drinks and free Wi-Fi Internet at Bangkok Airways’ Boutique Lounges at Suvarnabhumi airport and at Siem Reap International Airport.

_ Log on to www.BangkokAir.com for the best fare and all-inclusive holida

CAMBODIA will not allow any Thai politicians who face arrest warrants in Thailand to shelter on its territory – and it has laws against such moves, Cambodian deputy premier and defence minister General Tea Banh said yesterday.

Cambodia has no policy to allow anyone to use its land to operate against Thailand or other countries,” he insisted.

Tea Banh was speaking after completing a two-day official visit to the Kingdom, the first since the Thai military junta seized power in late May.

He met with National Council for Peace and Order chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, during which Prayuth informed him of the NCPO’s work, which was focused on solving political problems so that the country could move towards “perfect democracy”.

The junta chief also thanked Cambodia for freeing via a royal amnesty Veera Somkwamkit, a Thai activist jailed in Phnom Penh for espionage. He said the NCPO was also moving to develop border areas for the benefit of both countries.

Tea Banh, meanwhile, said Cambodia understood the need for the junta to step in to solve the country’s problems.

Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials support the Thai military leaders, he said, adding that the country was therefore ready to work with the junta as its neighbour steps towards the AseanEconomic Community, which comes into at the end of 2015.

A Thai source said the Thai side had asked Phnom Penh not to allow Thai politicians who fled the Kingdom when the junta seized power to use Cambodia as a shelter.

They include Jakrapob Penkair and Charupong Ruangsuwan, whose passports have already been revoked. However, it was reported that they had alternative passports issued by other countries.

Improved relations

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s deputy army chief, Lt-General Hun Manet, said Hun Sen had expressed concern over Thailand’s situation and wished that the country could move forward and the ruling junta could solve the problems it faced.

Hun Manet, who is a son of the prime minister, accompanied Tea Banh on his official visit to Thailand. He is also commander of Hun Sen’s security unit. The visit is regarded as a reflection of improved bilateral relations following the conflict over Preah Vihear temple, after Cambodia took a case against Thailand to the International Court of Justice.

During Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government, Hun Sen strongly criticised Thailand and appointed fugitive ex-premier ThaksinShinawatra as an adviser. Tea Banh’s entourage comprised high-ranking officials in the Cambodian armed forces.

Bilateral relations will have improved following Phnom Penh’s agreement to free Veera, a known activist against Cambodia over the Preah Vihear controversy.

A senior Thai Army official said Tea Banh’s visit had been arranged following the return of a huge number of Cambodian workers who fled home from Thailand following rumours that the junta would launch a severe crackdown against them.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy had used the incident to criticise Hun Sen in order to gain more support. Phnom Penh therefore wished to discuss the issue with the Thai side to make sure that it would not come up again, the military official said.

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