Monday, January 30, 2017

Cambodia pivots away from US after cancellation of joint military exercises
By Emma Richards | 23rd January 2017
JUST days before the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, Cambodia announced that it was cancelling its joint military exercises with the United States, known as Angkor Sentinel, until at least 2019.
Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat attributed the decision to two key reasons. First, the military was too busy enforcing a national anti-drug campaign, which was launched last month following a visit from Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte.
Second, with commune elections scheduled for June, the armed forces are needed to “protect the good security and public order for the people,” he told reporters.
There has been some question as to the honesty of these reasons. Past events, including the 2013 general election, were not met with a particular strain on the military capacity and, if elections were truly the issue, it would be best to maintain strategic ties with the U.S. by postponing the exercises until later in the year once the elections are complete, rather than cancel them for two years.
The revelations of cancelling the military exercises also came in the same week as Prime Minister Hun Sen made his feelings known on former President Barack Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“The policies toward Asia, Asia-Pacific of President Obama has brought complications to the Asian region,” he said at a panel discussion titled “Manufacturing Identity: Is ASEAN a Community Yet?”
“I honestly say that I am unhappy to criticize the (U.S) policy of returning to Asia and I praise the policy of the new President Duterte of the Philippines,” he said, referring to Duterte’s announcement in October that he was “separating” from the U.S. to join China and Russia.
Despite praising Trump in the past and favouring him to win the election, it appears that Mr. Hun Sen will be joining a number of other Southeast Asian nations in their pivot away from the U.S. towards China.
The competition between the United States and China for regional influence has been mounting of late with China make a convincing play to woo Asia-Pacific nations over to their side. And so far, it appears to be working.
“President Duterte has put the Philippines’ policy into reverse. Prime Minister Najib (Razak) of Malaysia is currying favour with Beijing. And Vietnam has just sent its party leader to Beijing to seek reassurances that China will act towards Vietnam with restraint,” Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor and Southeast Asia expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy, told the Cambodia Daily.
Cambodia’s cancellation of joint military exercises sends a clear message as to where their allegiances will lie going forward should they be forced to choose. A point that is compounded by the fact that it came just weeks after Cambodia hosted 500 Chinese soldiers for the largest military exercise in decades.
While it is in the best interests of Cambodia to maintain ties with both Washington and Beijing, if the mounting tit-for-tat hostility between the two escalates further, Cambodia may be hard pressed to achieve this without risking losing favour with China.
Should it come down to an either/or situation, Hun Sen will likely choose the path that is most likely to secure his position; and that is China.
As has been shown in the past, China is a useful ally for Cambodia to have and vice-versa.
Following Cambodia’s successful campaign to force the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to retract a strongly worded statement towards China on South China Sea disputes, Beijing promised Phnom Penh an additional US$600 million in aid and loans.
But while a move towards China and alienating itself from the U.S. may benefit the ruling party, it is unlikely to benefit the nation as a whole.
“China will provide more economic and military aid in forms that buttress the power of the Cambodian People’s Party,” John Ciorciari, director of the International Policy Center at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, told the Cambodia Daily.
“Cambodia will reciprocate with preferential access to resources, support in international forums, and perhaps with expanded naval access at Kampong Sam [Preah Sihanouk province]. This may benefit Cambodia’s leaders but will back the country further into a diplomatic corner and make domestic political reform even more challenging.”

An open letter to the US ambassador

26 Jan, 2017
A motorbike passes the US Embassy yesterday in Phnom Penh. Post staff

Dear Your Excellency Ambassador William Heidt,
On a sunny Tuesday morning last week, as the birds sang their favourite songs, I walked into the US Embassy of Phnom Penh for my non-immigrant visa interview. Everything was normal as I passed through its high security checks and sat down in the waiting room to wait for my number to be called.
As I waited, I listened to the many people ahead of me pleading their cases for their visa. A dental student applying to go for an internship almost got denied because his birth date didn’t match the previous application he entered the US with.
A mother and child were denied because the mother didn’t have enough ties to the US as she only wanted to visit her partner, who is a US citizen. A woman and her sister were denied for the second time because one had lied on her previous application about her ties in the US.
I suddenly felt dizzy and my adrenaline was pumping like if I had been hitting 250kph on my sports bike. When I walked into the embassy I knew I would be denied, no doubt about it. But for some reason, I felt a spark of hope.
After all, I would be speaking to a real human being that day, one who held the power to grant my visa – or at least put it in the correct pile to move forward. Maybe, just maybe, this person would at least hear me out, and then surely they would understand my situation and make a fair, just decision.
Although I tried to bury that spark of hope, I couldn’t help but daydream about how I would surprise my 9- and 10-year-old daughters when I picked them up from summer camp in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I imagined the look on their faces as they ran to me with open arms. But I caught myself as tears filled my eyes, scolding myself for even thinking that far ahead.
“Zero – eight – three”, the intercom blared.
This is it. Surely my application would be denied, but at least I would get a chance to plead my case to a real person.
As I walked up to the window, I could already sense the uneasiness of the consulate officer. He didn’t know whether to “chom-reap sor” me or greet me with a simple hello. So I broke the awkwardness and said, “Hey, how are you this morning”, in my perfect Californian accent. The officer proceeded with his first question: “Have you ever been to the United States”?
I answered that I used to live in San Diego, California, with a Permanent Resident Alien Card. As he began his second question, he didn’t look at me but instead kept looking at his computer monitor and a pile of paper on the counter. He’s only asking me these questions because of protocol, I thought to myself.
“Why did you return to Cambodia?” he asked next. I’d clearly stated in my visa application that I was deported under the US 1996 Anti-Terrorism Policy, which makes non-US citizens eligible for deportation if they were convicted of a felony. I fell in that category, so I didn’t hesitate and told the officer the same thing.
He sighed and shuffled his papers. “Let’s not waste each other’s time,” he said shrugging. “We will not issue a non-immigrant visa to anyone that had been deported for a criminal offence.”
With that, the birds stopped singing, everything went quiet, crashing in on me and making it hard to breathe. Every image I had earlier about my daughters running up to hug me all vanished.
It felt like I just got hit by an 18-wheeler, but I quickly collected myself, knowing I probably only had a few seconds more with him, I recited what I’d read over and over before, requesting a § 212(d)(3) non-immigrant waivers (also referred to as 212(d)(3)(A) waivers) that is adjudicated by the Admissibility Review Office located in Washington, DC.
The three criteria for granting a waiver under § 212(d)(3) are set forth in the Matter of Hranka:
1. The risks of harm in admitting the applicant
2. The seriousness of the acts that caused the inadmissibility
3. The importance of the applicant’s reason for seeking entry.
Both Department of State regulations and the Foreign Affairs Manual provide that: “while the exercise of discretion and good judgment is essential, generally, consular officers may recommend waivers for any legitimate purpose such as family visits, medical treatment (whether or not available abroad), business conferences, tourism, etc.”
The officer shooed away my request not with facts or explanations but with a wave of his hand, telling me only to get an immigration attorney before bidding me good day and calling for the next number.
I wanted so desperately to show him my supporting documents; there were letters from my previous employers and current employer, letters from executive directors of NGOs that are the biggest recipients of USAID I used to work with and volunteered for, letters from foreign diplomats and United Nation’s officials whom I’ve consulted for and still stayed in touch with through all these years.
If only the officer took his time to review my case, to even give me the consideration that it was even possible, the denial for my visa would’ve been a bit easier to understand. If he only knew my story, I thought, as I collected my things and walked out of the office back onto the streets of Phnom Penh.
I was charged with assault with a deadly weapon in 1999 in San Diego when I was just 19 years old. I served a one-year jail term and was held in ICE custody for another two years until I was released on supervision in 2003.
Upon my release, I enrolled in community college and worked a full time job. I was truly turning my life around. But in 2004, ICE decided it was time for me to leave the country. Shackled in a US Marshals’ bus, I bid farewell to the neighbourhood I grew up in as we drove past it on the highway as we headed up to Los Angeles.
I arrived in Phnom Penh on July 21, 2004. It’s hard to describe what I felt, so I guess I’d say I was numb; numb because I couldn’t dare start to absorb the feeling of abandonment from the US, a country that had accepted me and family from war-torn Cambodia. And now, that same government had just sentenced me to life in exile from everything I knew in my life: my family, San Diego, the United States of America.
Now, I was forced to accept Cambodia as my new home. I took a deep breath as I stepped off the plane. “This will only build my character,”I thought as Cambodian officials ordered me to keep walking. I vowed to do my best with my new life and continue the changes I’d started in San Diego.
Months later after exploring Phnom Penh, a group of friends and I saw that there was a lack of education about drug abuse and HIV/AIDS, and especially among the people most at risk. So we formed the Cambodian Harm Reduction Collaborative and solicited donations of condoms from Family Health International to pass out to workers in bars and brothels. We went on for months voluntarily educating and building relationships with the people, and, amazingly CHRC (now known as Korsang) is still operating today.
Seeing that there were so many more people who needed help, we formed another NGO called Tiny Toones, using our American hip-hop culture and breakdancing to steer the Cambodian youth from gangs and drugs. At Tiny Toones, they had a safe place off the streets and also a way to express themselves and tell their stories through performing arts.
My professional credentials also expanded the more time I spent in Cambodia, as I began exploring the private sector and and started my current job at the Phnom Penh Post, a role that has allowed me to form deep connections in the business community.
As I built my career in Cambodia, I also built my very own family. I met my lovely American in 2006, and together we built a home in Cambodia and have two beautiful daughters. It was only recently that my wife returned to the US to finish her MBA at Columbia Business School, and my daughters joined her last summer. However, I cannot go back and join them, a fact I’m reminded of every single day.
I guess the point of this letter is to let you know how unjust and inhumane the United States’ immigration policies are. There are hundreds of others here in Cambodia just like me, and thousands more awaiting removal.
I am now 36 years old, yet still being punished for something I did 18 years ago, even though I paid my debt to society back in the US. Believe me when I tell you that not being able to visit my family – my mother, my wife and my two beautiful children – is worse than any punishment you could inflict upon me.
Nor was this meant to be a permanent deportation, as technically, I was ordered removed with a 10-year ban before I am eligible to apply for a US visa. But your immigration officer didn’t bother to even check that.
In closing, I want you to know that I’m not the same person I was 18 years ago. I have a bright future ahead of me no matter what soil I call home. I will continue passing on my knowledge, positivity, and experience to those youth that may be headed down the same path I walked.
Respectfully, your imperfect immigrant,
Sophea Hang

Sophea Hang is the organiser of 1LOVE Cambodia and director of marketing at the Phnom Penh Post. He has been living in Cambodia for 13 years.

Third member of PM’s Bodyguard Unit seen kicking head of MP promoted

26 Jan, 2017 Mech Dara and Shaun Turton
 Chay Sarith arrested by officials in 2015 for allegedly beating two CNRP lawmakers.

Not just two, but all three of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit soldiers who confessed to viciously assaulting two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly were promoted following their release from jail, with one granted a general’s star, The Post has learned.
A recently obtained document shows that Chay Sarith, 34, was also elevated in rank in November along with Sot Vanny and Mao Hoeun, whose advancement to full colonels The Post reported in December.
Previously a colonel, Sarith, who can be seen in video footage kicking one of the victims in the head while they are slumped on the ground, was made a one-star general.
The decision was included in a November 18 royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni and Council of Ministers Secretary-General Soy Sokha, which also promoted another former colonel, Sun Menghai, to brigadier general status.
Reached yesterday, Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat defended the promotion, as he did with Sarith’s co-accused.
“Their punishment has already been served through the court, they can go back to work and, for promotions, and it’s implemented according to individual [circumstances],” Socheat said, adding that the decision was approved by an evaluation committee.
Sarith, Vanny and Hoeun, all members of the premier’s elite guard, were released from prison in early November after serving 12 months of a four-year sentence, which was mostly suspended.
Each confessed to participating in a gang attack on CNRP lawmakers Kong Saphea and Nhay Chamroeun on October 26, 2015.
Socheat said the military only fired personnel whose actions “seriously” impacted upon the army and country’s reputation. The group’s conviction for aggravated assault against elected representatives, he said, was a “personal issue”.
“For the personal issue, they would not be fired,” he said.
The trio was among at least 16 men who emerged from a pro-government rally, ripped the parliamentarians from their cars and beat them bloody in the street.
In court, they claimed they lashed out in response to an insult by the victims. However the attack appeared well coordinated. The suspects used walkie-talkies and a photo emerged suggesting they were driven to the parliament from a Bodyguard Unit base in Kandal.
The absence of further arrests, the largely suspended sentences and the recent promotions have only served to fuel suspicions that the premier’s bodyguards were behind the assault.
Reached yesterday, Bodyguard Unit commander Hing Bun Heang said the “problem was over” and warned a reporter asking about Sarith’s promotion to “be careful”.
“For this issue, my side does not cause the problem, you are the one who causes the problem,” Bun Heang said.
“You are an inciter and naughty, the problem is over. Why do you keep poking the problem? You should be careful. Why do you cause problems all over the place?”
Saphea, whose nose was broken and eardrum ruptured in the attack, called Sarith’s promotion “disgusting”.
“According to the law, he should lose his job as a solider ... in a country with the rule of law he would face serious punishment for beating a lawmaker,” Saphea said.
“Now he beats lawmakers and gets one star. If continues to beat top leaders, maybe he keeps getting promoted.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said that the “outrageous” promotion was “sadly predictable”.
“If you want a current example of impunity to abuse rights in Hun Sen’s Cambodia, look no further than the promotion of Chay Sarith,” Robertson said.
“He committed heinous acts in that public attack against the two CNRP MPs, and now he’s getting the reward that being a loyal thug brings in this CPP-led government.
“Really the only unanswered question remaining is how high this scheme goes up in the CPP, and who are the real masterminds of this brutal attack.”

Finding Cambodia's Ancient Cave Paintings
A visit to the mysterious cave paintings requires a six-hour journey by motorbike and a ferry ride.
By Peter Ford  January 25, 2017

Veal Veng was once just one village in a chain that stretched south from Phnom Kravanh town deep into Cambodia’s Cardamom mountains.
Now the village, a jumble of wooden and bamboo huts, is the only one remaining and serves as the gateway to a collection of rock paintings believed to be drawn as early as 2,500 years ago.
Getting to the site in Pursat province, described by experts in a paper released last year as a unique site deserving “special attention,” is no easy feat.
Traditionally reached along a single track by buffalo-drawn cart — which is still the only method of travel during the height of the rainy season — the 25-km journey between Phnom Kravanh and Veal Veng is mostly now done by motorbike. The recent damming of the small Stung Pram river to form a large reservoir, which according to local authorities is to aid farmers during the dry season, led not only to the destruction of a number of houses and farms, but has added a 30-minute ferry ride to the journey.
Driving slowly along the deeply rutted tracks, the only other travelers were loggers, brazenly harvesting the remaining valuable timber before it is destroyed by the reservoir. That, at least, is the excuse Veal Veng village chief Khvek Dim said the loggers are using. He laments the loss of trees and wildlife from his simple hut in the center of the village.
Mr. Dim has known about the paintings on the sheltered rock-face about 20 minutes south of the village, along the track that used to lead to the even remoter villages, for as long as he can remember. As a child he would sit by the paintings to shelter from the rain, tracing his finger over the depictions of elephants, deer and other unidentified animals.
He has no idea how old the paintings are, nor does anyone in the village, but the site has long been a site of religious significance, and plays host to annual festivities marking Pchum Ben, when Cambodians pay respects to their ancestors.
As to who painted them, local lore states they are the work of a mysterious group of people, who wanted to document the once common animals in the region for future generation to enjoy, but who fled after being repeatedly disturbed by the children from the village.
The village’s children have proven to be a persistent menace to the site, with smoke damage to the rocks blamed on fires lit in the past 20 years. At some point, children have also been inculpated for the appearance of chalk marks outlining some of the artwork.
In 1974, Mr. Dim recalls Khmer Rouge soldiers fighting with villagers for control of the region. He was a trainee monk at the time, and sadly recalls the loss of a silver elephant statue that had been in village for generations, and the destruction of the two large stupa next to the rock site to build a now abandoned dam.
After taking six hours to get to the site, which involved carrying motorbikes across three streams swollen with the first rains of the rainy season, offers to spend the night in the village were politely declined. With friendly wave from Mr. Dim and the sizable delegation from the 30 or so village families, the return journey took four hours — aided in no small part by the menacing grey clouds building overhead.
For now, the paintings remain safe. As the journey to reach the site proved, it is unlikely to rival Angkor Wat as a tourism destination any time soon. Instead, without preservation efforts from the government, “spalling, insect nests and trails, plant growth, lichens, moss, salt, wind and water erosion, various natural chemical processes [and] fading” remain the biggest threats, so long as the pesky kids don’t continue their contributions to the artwork.
Peter Ford is a freelance journalist based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

For more photos, click the link below

Analysts: TPP demise saves Cambodia

Khmer Times/May Kunmakara  Wednesday, 25 January 2017

US President Donald Trump’s executive order pulling the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has allayed Cambodia’s fears that it would lose its competitiveness in the garment industry, analysts said yesterday.
“The potential threats to the Cambodian garment industry under the TPP will be abated as the US is the second-largest destination of garment exports,” said David Marshall, co-managing partner of a research firm Mekong Strategic Partners.
The TPP would have eliminated most tariffs in the garment sector and there were fears that Cambodia’s garment exports would lose out in favor of Vietnam – that was set to benefit from the slashed tariffs as one of the 12 Pacific-rim countries that signed on the deal and was close to ratifying it in its legislature.
“Let’s say Cambodia has just been saved by the gong for the time being, with the TPP being declared unwanted by the Trump administration,” said David Van, Cambodia managing director for the Bower Group Asia. 
“Cambodia had been worried about migration of FDI [foreign direct investment] towards Vietnam,” he said.
“As President Trump seems to favor bilateral agreements instead of regional ones, Cambodia could eventually seize this opportunity to negotiate one such bilateral agreement with the US,” added Mr. Van.
He, however, pointed out that Cambodia would have to work hard on the bilateral agreement with the US.
“The initial BIT [bilateral investment treaty] was abandoned back in 2007 and only recently re-initiated at the end of 2015, with a major stumbling block being the guaranteed protection for US corporations from the Cambodian perspective,” said Mr. Van.
A BIT provides major benefits for US investors in another country, including national treatment, fair and equitable treatment, protection from expropriation and performance requirements for investments, and access to neutral dispute settlement.
“It is unlikely that garment manufacturing would return in a meaningful way to the US because of wage competitiveness,” said Mekong Strategic Partners’ Mr. Marshall.
However, he added: “The EU remains one of Cambodia’s major export destinations for garments and other products such as rice.”
Mr. Marshall said Cambodia has been diversifying its export markets which will mitigate any slowdown.
“Cambodia is still forecasted to have robust growth around the seven percent range in the next few years despite these changes,” he added.
Ear Sophal, author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy” and an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said that the cancellation of the TPP will not have a big impact on Cambodia’s interests.
“At the margin this does not have much impact on Cambodia, in my view. When others don’t grow as fast, it doesn’t mean Cambodia grows faster,” said Mr. Sophal.
Mr. Sophal said there were lesser-known elements of the TPP that would have been necessary to implement if Cambodia signed on to the deal, like workplace health and safety regulations, intellectual property and environmental protection.
“The real loss is the high standards that would have arisen because of TPP. While Cambodia would unlikely have joined, if it did, its environmental and labor standards would have risen, which would have been good for the country and its workers,” he said.
“Basically, the bar for TPP was set high. If you wanted to play in TPP, the rules were stricter. Now they will remain low and things like intellectual property rights won’t be as protected,” he added.

Undocumented Cambodians to get legal status in Thailand
26 Jan 2017 at 15:32  WRITER: KHMER TIMES

PHNOM PENH - Undocumented Cambodians who received migrant worker status cards after crossing illegally into Thailand are being advised to contact the embassy in Bangkok, which will help them legalise their position so they can get work.
Many Cambodians now find themselves in a grey area after having been issued with what are known as pink cards by Thai authorities. These give them migrant worker status, but are not enough to allow them to get a legal job, according to the Khmer Times.
The situation arose after the military coup in 2014, when large numbers of foreign workers were expelled.
Many Cambodians crossed back into Thailand illegally. Thai authorities created the pink cards as a way of normalising their presence, however the workers were left in employment limbo.
Cambodian and Thai government officials met to resolve the problem and a Cambodian government committee was set up to legalise the 231,626 undocumented Cambodian workers.
A ministry statement said on Tuesday: “The committee is ready to offer documents to workers following legal procedures required by Thai law.”
Heng Sour, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labour, said the undocumented workers were among one million Cambodians working in Thailand.
He confirmed that the undocumented workers had received migrant worker status cards from Thai authorities after they crossed illegally into Thailand to seek employment.
Cambodia’s Labour Ministry said undocumented workers should apply for travel documents from the embassy in Bangkok.
Workers need to pay 950 baht for the travel documents. These should be taken, along with 500 baht  and the pink card, to the Thai Immigration Department to apply for work permits.  

S’pore has stopped buying sand from Cambodia, for now

It could be temporary or forever.

The controversy surrounding sand trade between Singapore and Cambodia resurfaced three weeks ago when a Singaporean law firm was reportedly hired by Mother Nature, an environmental NGO, to investigate alleged discrepancies in the sand trade figures reported by Singapore and Cambodia, as compiled by the U.N..

The irregularities garnered attention on possible law-breaching misconduct from the companies and/or countries involved, in addition to the environmental devastation (destroying mangroves and the livelihoods of local fishermen) at Cambodia’s shores.
According to a Jan. 24 report by The Cambodia Daily, Singapore has reportedly stopped importing sand from Cambodia since last November. At the same time, Cambodia has in turn suspended its sand exports.
In response to that, Ministry of National Development spokesperson Gene Ng attributed the irregularities to the inconsistent calculation methods between countries:
“Import or export figures reported by a country are dependent on their own calculation formula.”
Ng also reiterated MND’s stance against any unlawful actions:
“Singapore does not condone any trade or extraction of sand that breaches the source countries’ laws and regulations on environmental protection. Our contractors endeavour to import sand from viable sources and are expected to obtain sand supply in accordance with domestic laws and regulations… If there is any evidence that our contractors are not in compliance with the source countries’ laws and regulations, Singapore will respect that legal process will take its course.”
While the emphasis of sand trade has often been on the social injustice and ecological destruction caused, as highlighted by academics and activists, a secretary of state at Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy Dith Tina was quoted as saying in a public forum on Cambodia’s sand exports:
” We should be proud that our sand is taken for use everywhere in the world. We should congratulate ourselves and not think that when we see sand being used in another country it means they stole our sand.”
According to The Phnom Penh Post, fellow secretary of state Meng Saktheara did not admit to any irregularities from Cambodia’s sand exports data, but acknowledged it did find “loopholes” in the current procedures which rely on certifications for clearance.
After an investigation, he said the Cambodian government will enforce inspection of shipments and include pre-export and post-export declaration in future export procedures.
¯\_()_/¯ We’ll just have to wait and see where Singapore gets our sand from next.

Nearly 50,000 Cambodians expelled from Thailand in 2016
25 Jan 2017 at 13:10  WRITER: KHMER TIMES

PHNOM PENH - Nearly 50,000 Cambodians who left to work in Thailand were sent home through the Poipet International Border Checkpoint last year because they were working illegally, according to Banteay Meanchey provincial hall.
The figures were included in a national police report.
The report said the provincial hall held its 2016 annual meeting on Monday and revealed that in 2016, 49,987 Cambodians - 16,261 of them women and 4,264 children - were returned to Cambodia in 1,159 vans through the Poipet border gate because of their illegal status.
Provincial governor Suon Bava said there was nothing wrong with going to work in a foreign country as long as it was done properly through official channels, according to Khmer Times.
“Migrating for work is a normal thing. It is part of the rights and freedom ensured by the government, but what is important is the legality of the migration,” he said.
“We can’t say if we will reduce the number of migrant workers because there are many benefits in migrating. They can learn skills and knowledge and also have more money to run a business to support their own family when they are back.”
Mr Bava said officials were trying to reduce illegal migration through restrictions at all border gates in Banteay Meanchey province, as instructed by Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
Soum Chankea, a provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that unemployment and the low   prices for agricultural products inside Cambodia encouraged more people to seek work in Thailand.
“Because there is no market for their produce and there are no jobs for them inside the country, that’s why we can see many Cambodians migrating to work in Thailand,” he said.

Cambodia's "perfect pepper" conquering world's taste buds

By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press

KAMPOT, Cambodia — A nearby sea, flanking mountains, a quartz-rich soil: It's the perfect spot on earth, devotees say, to yield a product they describe in that rapturous vocabulary usually reserved for fine wines: "aristocratic, virile, almost aphrodisiacal," with subtle notes of caramel, gingerbread and mild tobacco.
Celebrity chefs from Paris to Los Angeles swear by Kampot pepper, a southwestern Cambodian spice with a tragic past that is now reclaiming its global pre-eminence. It is also proving to be "black gold" for some of its once-impoverished farmers, thanks in part to Kampot pepper last year being awarded a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union. This identifies unique products — like Stilton cheese, Champagne or Darjeeling tea — as originating in a very specific region.
So far Kampot pepper production is a mere dusting — just 70 tons last year. Vietnam, the world's top pepper producer, churned out some 145,000 tons of the spice. But more plantations are springing up while Kampot quality is rated as high as ever and hitherto slack markets, like the United States, are getting hooked on the spice. A New York chef has even concocted a Kampot pepper ice cream while Michelin three-starred French chef Olivier Roellinger rhapsodizes about its "olfactory richness" and broad spectrum of flavors.
The spice's EU designation "has permitted a renaissance of pepper in Kampot. ... This not only recognizes the singularity of this pepper but helps protect it from imitations," says Nathalie Chaboche, a Frenchwoman who with her Belgian husband, Guy Porre, owns La Plantation, where pepper plants entwine 20,000 posts on a rolling green landscape fronted by the Gulf of Thailand.
The couple, who started the enterprise four years ago after lucrative careers in the computer industry, aim to boost production from 6 tons last year to 50 tons in 2018. They intend to grow without weakening quality control or endangering Kampot's status as a "premier cru," a French term for wine and other produce signifying impeccable quality — and hefty price.
Kampot red pepper was recently selling in Germany for as much as 378 euro per kilogram ($185 per pound), compared to an average import price of about $8 for one kilo in Europe for Vietnamese pepper. The farm-gate price for the three pepper varieties — red, white and black — averages around $10 per pound.
Believed to have originated in southern India, pepper became a widely traded item across Asia and Europe. Pepper farming in Cambodia was first recorded by a Chinese traveler in the 13th century, and energized centuries later by French colonialists. By the early 1900s, annual production peaked at 8,000 tons.
War disrupted the industry and after their 1975 victory, the murderous Khmer Rouge turned farmers into slave laborers. Deeming the "king of spice" too decadent for their ultra-revolution, the regime left plantations to decay.
A Japanese aid worker, Hironobu Kurata, pioneered a revival in the mid-1990s, but the scars of the Khmer Rouge era took long to heal. As late as 2000, only 2 tons were grown annually, but now about 450 farms produce Kampot pepper. Most belong to the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association, which assists in price-setting and marketing while policing strict standards, including adherence to organic practices.
Cultivators use methods tested over 700 years, with some injecting new techniques.
Sorn Sothy, a former teacher and social worker, tries to reproduce the jungle environment native to the pepper plant on her small plantation. Palm leaves are used as shade; the soil is enriched with bat and cow manure mixed with bloodied animal bones. To ward off predatory insects, she sprays plants with a bitter extract from the leaves of neem trees.
The plantation run by Chaboche and Porre is Cambodia's first semi-automated pepper operation, but its more than 100 employees still do much of the work by hand. "Our growing is traditional. The processing is modern," says Porre.
Jean-Marie Brun, a French agricultural development expert, says the advent of large plantations could lower prices, and possibly quality. "The future will tell us if the large plantations are as successful as the smallholder farms," he says.
Ngoun Lay, the association's head and a fourth-generation pepper farmer, waxes bullish about the future despite potential problems and ongoing robust sales of fake Kampot pepper, mostly from Vietnam.
A recent report, he says, shows European demand for the brand at around 200 tons while production next year is expected at some 100. Farm gate prices have tripled over the past seven years, keeping once-poor farmers on the land rather than seeking menial work in neighboring Thailand.
Stephane Arrii, producer of the Marquis de Kampot label, worries that extensive deforestation has degraded the region's soil. He says huge plantations on the still-fertile lands of northeast Cambodia could one day offer competition.
But will they match Kampot's quality?
"As a Frenchman, I can attest that tasting Kampot pepper is like making love," says Arrii. "Once you start, you can't stop."