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Budget Hits $9.5 Billion, Battambang Food Beckons, Expats Shine in Crime Thriller
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, November 3, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
TICKET TOLL: Lackluster tourist profits have top officials scrambling. Hun Manet wants to package Cambodia with Thailand and Vietnam. Might be a great trip, but getting those three nations to share tourist dollars? Good luck.
BOUNCE BACK: Strict deforestation rules could devastate Cambodia’s 30,000 small rubber farmers. The bar for compliance is impossibly high, critics say, and local growers stand little hope against the expensive and onerous directives.
SPEED TRAP: A top provincial anti-drug cop and five of his officers were busted for working for Chinese meth traffickers. Authorities have called narcotics a national crisis, and these dirty drug police are hardly alone in the quagmire.
Schools, security and infrastructure were other winners, with around $900 million earmarked for the Ministry of Education, and about $700 million each for the Ministries of Defense and Public Works. The annual spending is a 5.3% drop over last year.
Critics, pointing to the Kingdom’s endemic corruption, question whether the government spends all that money in the right places, and some have called for independent audits and stronger accountability.
The race is on to save Virachey National Park, a 3,400 sqm swath of mostly unexplored jungle viewed by conservationists as the Kingdom’s “final frontier” of biodiversity.
The government has identified three locations in the park for hydropower dams, and locals say an unidentified company has started quietly hiring workers.
Environmentalists believe construction would cause irreparable damage by altering the river’s flow, opening the park to development and flattening hundreds of hectares of old-growth forest. They are scrambling to prove that trees are more valuable if still standing, around $280 million if sold as carbon credits. It’s not clear policymakers are listening — or care.
Local chefs celebrated the designation and predicted it would bring more tourists to an area long acclaimed — nationally, at least — for its traditional dishes, including fish amok, prahok and nem, those small balls of spicy fish seen dangling from red rubber bands on food carts around the Kingdom.
The Creative Network includes nearly 300 cities. Battambang was the first in Cambodia to apply, and others are expected to soon follow.
Hun Manet is championing a three-country initiative to promote Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam as a single tourist destination. Angkor Wat, the country's premier attraction, has received only 600,000 visitors this year. The plan could take months to develop and might not yield results before the 2024 high season.
Thailand will move forward with talks on jointly developing offshore oil fields with Cambodia, putting aside differences on overlapping territorial claims. Even so, a drilling deal remains elusive, experts say, and could easily derail over revenue sharing, Cambodia’s claim to the Thai island of Koh Kut, or lingering resentment over Preah Vihear.
Cambodia is bracing for new E.U. regulations aimed at stopping deforestation. The rules, which go into effect next year, require "conclusive and verifiable information" that exported products were not grown on land deforested after Dec. 31, 2020. The rules could devastate small farmers.
Without preventive measures, nearly 10% of the GDP will be lost to climate change by 2050, the World Bank warned, saying the country needs to increase economic competitiveness, build human capital and invest in climate resilience. The bank called on the public and private sectors to rise to the challenge.
Capital police snatched phones and confiscated banners from 20 youth activists marching for higher taxes on plastic bags. The group was eventually allowed to meet with environmental officials, who received their petition.
The anti-drug chief in Kampong Speu province was arrested for helping Chinese drug traffickers transport methamphetamine. Police charged Colonel Tith Vannak and five associates for accepting bribes and “receiving benefits from drug offenses.” They face up to 10 years in prison.
“Silent Murders,” a crime-thriller set in Cambodia, stars Emily Markiss, a popular expat actress, as Mia, whose brother dies mysteriously in Phnom Penh. Asian Movie Pulse called it “decent and watchable.” For locals, it’s a treat to see the city and lots of familiar faces in the spotlight.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
November 3, 2003
Inflated tallies of Cambodia’s sex workers have annoyed Tom Steinfatt since 2000. That was when he began seeing figures circulated that he said were too high: 80,000 to 100,000 prostitutes nationwide; 17,000 in Phnom Penh.
November 1, 2003
A manhunt is under way for the capture of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew, Nhim Sophea, 22, after an arrest warrant was issued for his alleged involvement in the shooting of passers-by following a car crash in Phnom Penh on Monday night, officials said Friday.
November 1, 2003
Tat Marina’s injuries were horrific. After she was battered to the ground unconscious by a middle-aged woman and her two bodyguards, more than one liter of nitric acid was poured over the 16-year-old’s head, face and body in December 1999.
Chhom Nimol, the lead singer in the band Dengue Fever, said she didn’t always want to sing. Her guitar-playing brother encouraged her, she said, but her dream while growing up in a refugee camp on the Cambodian border was to be an actress.
The Elephant Valley Project in eastern Cambodia is a sanctuary where aging captive elephants can live out their days amid the forested foothills of the Annamite Mountains supported by tourism.
Cambodian interest in the marine environment grows as war remnants add intrigue to reef restoration.
Photo: Navy, public domain. Rubber, ©2015CIAT/GeorginaSmith, Flickr.
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