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Myanmar is in a unique position where it can choose to become successful, or remain a failure



hat makes a country successful? How much reform must a country welcome to shed its ‘failed’ status? Is a country destined to fail or can a country shape its own destiny? Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine? These are questions that popped up as we prepared this month’s special on Myanmar and they are questions MIT economist Darib Acemoglu and Harvard political scientist James A. Robinson attempt to answer in the recently-published Why Nations Fail: the origins of power, prosperity and poverty. Is the modern world shaped by geographical and environmental factors as argued by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel: the fate of human societies? Do natural resources and access to fresh water and fertile soil encourage wealth or war? Acemoglu and Robinson demonstrate that neither culture, weather nor geography (sorry Jared) determine the fate of a country. Rather, political and economic institutions underpin to what degree a country can be considered a success or failure. The key to wealth, as argued in Why Nations Fail, is strong, sovereign institutions: independent courts, a government committed to the interests of its people, schools in which children learn and universities that provide competitive, but inclusive, education. A simple change of government that ushers in superficial reforms will not change a system that has been fundamentally structured to enrich a small group of people. Nations thrive when they develop inclusive political and economic institutions, they fail when those same institutions become extractive, while power and opportunity are concentrated in the hands of a select few. But what makes an emperor change his clothes? Perhaps once he has had his fill, having already carved up his country’s assets amongst his friends and family, or perhaps when he is threatened by revolution and demise. Or perhaps, just perhaps, when he finally wants to give his people a chance. Prosperity requires political struggle against privilege, but wealth is generated by investment and innovation – two acts of faith. Investors and innovators must have credible reason to believe that their work will bear fruit in the future. Myanmar is currently in a unique position where it can choose to become successful, or remain a failure. As the world watches what will come next, a few leaders in the region would be well advised to take note. ¡

CONTRIBUTORS: Victor Blanco, Patrick Brown, Ben Davies, Simon Hare, Sam Jam, Frédéric Janssens, Peter Janssen, Kim Jolliffe, Susanne Lenz, Massimo Morello, Roger Nelson, Sacha Passi, Andrea Pistolesi, Sebastian Strangio WE THANK THE FOLLOWING ORGANISATIONS: AFP, Reuters, Corbis, AP, Germany Trade And Invest (GTAI), DPA, OnAsia, ImagineChina, Xinhua, Lobopress SUBSCRIPTIONS ADVERTISING & SALES Hotline: +855 (0)93 999 000 BUSINESS MANAGER Chea Eak Muy MEDIA SALES Daisy Walsh DISTRIBUTION Chea Sam Oeun ACCOUNTING MANAGER Ngorn Bunchon ACCOUNTING Chry Sok Lay ONLINE Poeudore Sophan DIGITAL EDITION by Pressmart PRINTED BY Sok Heng Printing House PUBLISHED BY Southeastern Globe Communications Ltd. #6A Street 294, 12301 Phnom Penh, Cambodia Tel: +855 (0)23 223 747

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EconoMY 48 MonEY taLK SE Asia: financial tidbits 52 In nuMBErS SE Asia: travel stats 54 SpotLIGht Cambodia: Rami Sharaf’s multi-tasking approach 56 cLonInG around Thailand: website copycats attempt to boost e-commerce

72 4 5



22 PORTRAIT: You Bunleng: changing the course of justice?


44 summIT bATTle Asean: civil society organisations embattled

24 dIscIPlINed GROwTH Charting the course to a successful state

36 GRAPPlING GRAFT Endemic corruption still strangles the nation

46 cOuRT OuT

30 ON THe RecORd A leading analyst dissects the country’s future

38 NORTHeRN RIGHTs Reform is yet to bite in isolated Kachin State

32 buIldING busINesses To what extent will enterprise be encouraged?

40 All RIse How to escape ‘failed state’ status

34 TycOONs ANd TyRANTs Ensuring new money doesn’t prop up the old guard

42 GOVeRNING cHANGe Constitutional reform is no easy task

18 IN FOcus The region’s best, worst and weirdest news


82 top FIVE SE Asia: high-end resorts 84 thE FInaL countdoWn Vietnam: the natural beauty of Phu Quoc faces an uncertain future 88 roaMInG

16 ReTROsPecTIVe Pivotal events you might have missed

8 May 2012

72 pErFEct ISoLatIon Cambodia: Song Saa Private Island offers luxury with a conscience

58 SaME not dIFFErEnt


20 IN sIGHT Malaysia: crowning a new king



Cambodia: political meddling threatens to disrupt the Khmer Rouge tribunal

Photos: Sam Jam for SEA Globe, Patrick Brown/Panos Pictures, Tank Chhin Sothy

ISSUE 63 - MAY 2012


Cambodia: LGBT Pride celebrations hit the capital 62 SaY It WIth SpraY Vietnam: graffiti movement ignites urban culture photo rEportaGE 64 KILLEr proFItS

Philippines: the island of Bohol stands out in a crowd 90 JEt SEt Cambodia: former glories recovered in Kep 92 oBJEct oF dESIrE Black Haze: a guitar for the 21st century 94 InFant IntELLIGEncE Technology: tackling baby thefts

SE Asia: the illegal trade in wildlife knows no bounds

98 LaSt QuEStIon Ben Rawson: a primatologist with a gift for gibbons


April 2012 9


beating the odds Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP About 300 injured pitbulls rescued from a South Korean-run online dog-fighting racket are chained to steel barrels used as their temporary shelters while the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (Paws) prepares to handle them.


war paint photo: Noel Celis/AFP The United States seal is covered with paint after students vandalised the outer wall of the US embassy during a flash protest in Manila against the 2012 Balikatan military drills – a joint effort between the US and the Philippines. The protest is part of their campaign against US interventionism in the country.


What the...? Photo: AFP A Vietnamese man inspects his motorcycle, which mysteriously burst into flames as he was driving through Hanoi. From small scooters to luxury SUVs, dozens of vehicles have burst into flames in Vietnam this year, triggering mass panic among motorists, who say the government is failing to respond.





25 maids on death row in saudi arabia

bloGGers face 20 years behind bars

PREMIER undER fIRE aftER REd shIRt Rally

Three Vietnamese bloggers face 20 years in prison if convicted of spreading anti-government propaganda. Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Than, all members of the outlawed Free Journalists Club, have been accused of posting 421 articles on their blogs that “distorted and opposed the state”. Representatives from the US State Department expressed concern over the cases, saying they are part of a “disturbing pattern” of increasing restrictions around internet-speech in Vietnam. ¡

quake-break prisoners warned

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been criticised for his handling of a Thai red shirt rally in Siem Reap last month. More than 7,000 security personnel were deployed at high cost to safeguard the estimated 30,000 Thaksin Shinawatra supporters who attended the rally, a move critics have cited as hypocritical in a country that is increasingly stifling domestic demonstrations. Hun Sen’s decision to give the Thais free access to Angkor Wat, a loss in entry fees as high as $750,000, has also been criticised. Hun Sen’s supporters praised him for building relations with Thaksin, who may be granted amnesty to return to Thailand by a government headed by his sister. ¡

Authorities in Aceh province have told 29 inmates who escaped during an evacuation of Sigli Prison after an 8.6-magnitude earthquake jolted Sumatra they will be shot if they resist arrest. Guards at the prison evacuated 221 inmates with memories of the 2004 tsunami that killed some 170,000 Indonesians fresh in their minds. Some of those on the run include paedophiles and drug offenders. ¡


Twenty two Indonesian maids have escaped execution in Saudi Arabia, following their exoneration and return to their home country last month. However, a second presidential task force has been sent to the Arab state to secure the release of the remaining 25 maids on death row having been found guilty of “either serious criminal offences or [after being] implicated on baseless grounds”, the Saudi English-language newspaper Arab News reported. There are currently 1,700 Indonesian nationals serving prison terms in the Kingdom. Indonesia has banned recruitment agencies from sending domestic workers to Saudi Arabia, saying the nation’s legal system does not do enough to protect foreign workers. ¡

t 1,700 Indonesians are in jail in Saudi Arabia


quote unquote

“While the new law has improvements, the authorities still hold too much power to detain people on broad grounds, for too long and without judicial oversight” Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch comments on Malaysia’s new Security Offences Bill, which replaces the long-derided Internal Security Act that was used to suppress political opponents

16 May 2012


CouRt stoPs Mall fRoM CuttIng tREEs


GamblinG rinG netted $1 billion A police raid on scores of Chinese and Taiwanese nationals in Kuala Lumpur uncovered a football betting and fraud ring that has grossed $1.3 billion in a month-long period. The 144-strong group was equipped with 241 mobile phones and 43 computers, and are believed to have carried out credit card scams in China, Taiwan and Portugal. ¡

Photos:dpa (1), Bloomberg News, dapd

High stakes: Indonesian maids in Saudi Arabia are not protected by local laws

A court has issued a temporary environmental protection order halting extension work on a mall amid a public outcry over plans to cut down nearly 200 trees in a popular urban forest. Environmentalists welcomed the move that prevented SM Malls, one of the country’s biggest chains, from uprooting trees in Baguio, known as the city of pines and the Philippines’ summer capital. ¡

t Free access to Angkor Wat cost $750,000

on RECoRd sultan of bRunEI’s Ex-wIfE wIns jEwEllERy CasE The ex-wife of the Sultan of Brunei has won a multimillion dollar case in the UK against her former female bodyguard, who was charged with selling a diamond bracelet and two diamonds, with a combined value of $20m, without permission. Mariam Aziz is seeking damages from Fatimah Kumin Lim, whose assets have been frozen. ¡

statuE lEgal battlE RagEs In thE us The standoff between Sotheby’s auctioneers and the US government over an ancient Cambodian statue of a warrior intensified last month when a federal prosecutor in New York demanded its surrender to Cambodia. The US Attorney’s office claimed the Duryodhana statue, which is valued at between $2m to $3m, was stolen from Koh Ker temple in Cambodia. Sotheby’s disputes the allegations. ¡

CoCKfIghtIng loss PRoMPts boMbIng Three people were killed and 33 others wounded after a man hurled a grenade into a cockfighting arena in the southern Philippines. The attacker, who is believed to have lost money in previous cockfights, is now on the run. ¡


March 2012 17

in focus

As the number of AsiAn millionAires soAred to 3.3 million in 2011, A swAthe of privAte bAnkers hAve Attempted to tAp into the ever-growing pool of potentiAl clients. however, the demAnds of AsiAn millionAires Are proving problemAtic, with mAny expecting high returns, trAding fAst And frequently switching to rivAls.

smoker hAsmin mohAmmed kAshim becAme the first person convicted under A new scheme Aimed At tAckling high-rise littering in singApore. the 29-yeAr-old wAs cAught on A highdefinition surveillAnce cAmerA As he tossed A cigArette butt from A thirdfloor flAt, lAnding him An $800 fine.

A little help from our friends Team work?: the South China Sea dispute involves Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as China and Taiwan

for their navies to engage in confidencebuilding and to heighten the flow of information between them. One of the first steps has been the implementation of a hotline between the two nations’ coast guards and maritime police, with the goal of

the good


n Indonesian action flick is taking the movie world by storm after winning an award at the Toronto Film Festival. The Raid: Redemption, described by the LA Times as “a slam-bang, knock-yoursocks-off action bonanza”, is set to open in the UK this month.

18 May 2012


increasing monitoring capabilities in the area. The navies have even agreed to let sailors take part in football and basketball matches on the Spratly Islands – part of the disputed area – in an effort to forge closer ties in response to China’s military might.

The Philippines has responded to a recent standoff with Beijing over a disputed shoal by kicking off joint military exercises with the US – called Balikatan and involving 7,000 troops – in Palawan, another disputed area in the region.

the bad


lmost a third of Vietnamese preschool children are malnourished, according to a study by the National Institute of Nutrition. Stunted growth and increasing rates of obesity in urban areas are among other problems afflicting the nation’s young.

Parts of the South China Sea, particularly the Spratlys, have been at the centre of a rift between Southeast Asian nations and China for years. The last fighting, between China and Vietnam, resulted in the deaths of more than 70 Vietnamese sailors in 1988. ¡


thepeculiar peculiar the


he Singapore Dance Theatre, due to present a ballet performance in Kuala Lumpur, has been denied a permit to enter Malaysia, allegedly due to the troupe’s “indecent” costumes, which include classical tutus that have been worn by dancers for centuries.


ªLet's hurry home and follow the earthquake news. And don't forget to order your favourite KFC menuº

Photos: Dennis Ng (1)


outheast Asian nations are showing increased willingness to come together over disputed territory in the South China Sea, in moves that will raise plenty of eyebrows in Beijing. The Philippines and Vietnam have signed an accord that calls

KFC Thailand gets itself into hot water after posting this Facebook message urging people to hotfoot it back home during a tsunami scare and order a bucket of fried chicken. After being denounced by the online community, the company removed the message the next day, replacing it with a grovelling apology. Last month’s earthquakes brought to mind the Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed more than 200,000 lives in 2004.


February 2012 19


The Oxford-educated king is the first person to hold the position twice Malaysia


ultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam takes his oath of office after being enthroned as Malaysia’s new king in a lavish ceremony held at the country’s new federal palace. Malaysia’s unique monarchical system involves the crown being held for a set five years by each king,

20 May 2012


before it is passed on for the next incumbent to take his turn. Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam was king previously in the 1970s and following his recent coronation becomes the first person to hold the position twice. At 84 years of age, he is also the oldest monarch in the nation’s history.

Although the king’s role is largely ceremonial, he commands great respect given his multi-faceted position as the upholder of Malay tradition, the symbolic head of Islam and the nominal leader of the armed forces in the country. The ceremony itself involves the king being presented with a Koran and

the royal long dagger, which he withdrew and kissed, before pledging to rule fairly, uphold Islamic faith and ensure a just government. The Oxford-educated king is known for his love of sports, particularly football, and is said to be a fan of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. ¡

Photo: Krish/AFP

on the throne again


May 2012 21



Closed Court How one man can change the course of justice


avigating Cambodia’s legal system to seek justice for the millions of people who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge was never touted as an easy task. At the heart of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)’s constitution is a unique hybrid model that pairs international and Cambodian judges under the protection of the domestic court system. In May 2006, the ECCC appointed You Bunleng as national co-investigating judge – a role crucial to the progress of tribunal proceedings. His ability to act impartially and independently of government influence, however, has constantly been called into question. “All across the court, national judicial actors have sided with publicly-voiced government prerogatives,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “One can only assume that the Cambodian protagonists at the court were chosen precisely because of their willingness to toe the line of the executive.” Such alleged interference has prompted the consecutive resignations, within six months, of two United Nations-approved international judges – another signpost in a rising tide of allegations that threatens to overshadow the tribunal’s credibility. One of the ECCC’s most damning moments was the decision of international co-investigating judge Siegfried Blunk

22 May 2012


and judge Bunleng to close the investigation into case 003 without interviewing suspects and without examining alleged crime sites. Court observers have called for independent examination into allegations of political interference in the court. Blunk tendered his resignation in October, citing perceptions of attempted official interference. His successor, reserve international co-investigating judge Laurent Kasper-

All across the court, national judicial actors have sided with publiclyvoiced government prerogatives Ansermet, has alleged that Bunleng opposed investigations into cases 003 and 004. Senior officials have voiced opposition to further prosecution beyond case 002. Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre who defected to Vietnam in 1978, has asserted that case 003 will not proceed and that investigations could destabilise the country; a statement that has cast further doubt over the court’s independence. “The lack of sound legal basis for discontinuing the investigation suggests

that judge Bunleng’s actions are not coincidental,” said Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association, “and can be rightly seen as supporting the government’s on-going interference in the judicial process.” Bunleng refused to accept Kasper-Ansermet as his new counterpart as he had not been officially appointed and therefore Bunleng deemed any procedural action he took to be legally invalid. He has consistently denied government interference is behind the foot dragging. “The adherence to the principle of interpretation of the Rules, ECCC Law and Agreements was solely a commitment made by a professional judge, and not an anti-measure against the reserve international co-judge Laurent Kasper Ansermet,” Bunleng said in a statement. However, such declarations have done little to stem the ‘puppet’ accusations against a man who also holds a position with the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, the body responsible for vetoing Kasper-Ansermet’s official appointment. Whether guided by the government or not, it is clear some believe Bunleng's actions have stalled further investigations into a third and fourth case, which involve five former mid-ranking Khmer Rouge cadres, leaving some observers to question the court's integrity and how much responsibility Bunleng should bear if the trial collapses. ¡ A system stonewalled, page 46

Illustration: Victor Blanco for SEA Globe

By Sacha Passi

You Bunleng Prior to his appointment as co-investigating judge to the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia on May 7 2006, You Bunleng was a judge at the Appeal Court and on the board of directors of the Royal School for Judges and Prosecutors, as well as the Royal Academy for Judiciary Professions. Sea GLOBe

May 2012 23



For the


With Myanmar stretching its capacity to usher in new reforms, Southeast Asia Globe sits down with four of the country’s key economic players to discuss their vision for the country

By Philippe Beco & Charlie Lancaster Photography by Sam Jam


hen Aung San Suu Kyi cited exhaustion as the reason for suspending her campaign a week before Myanmar’s historic April by-election, some observers claimed it was another symptom of the ‘Burma burn-out’ syndrome. The recent explosion of reformist fervour may be stretching the country’s capacity and resources, but as Southeast Asia Globe’s April roundtable with four Myanmar delegates shows, the country is not short on enthusiasm. Myanmar is burning the candle at both ends in its attempts to satisfy the demands of the domestic reformers and the international community. The delegates to last month’s AseanEuropean Union Business Summit in Phnom Penh joked that for the handful of government officials scurrying to draft reforms, weekends are a thing of the past. “We had our arms and legs tied for many decades,” enthused a softly-spoken Winston Set Aung, senior economic advisor to President Thein Sein and director of research at the Asian Development Research Institute, “but we don’t want to hop anymore, we want to run.” q

24 May 2012


Focused: (front to back) Aung Win, Winston Set Aung and Khine Khine Nwe enjoying their newfound freedom to talk to the media


May 2012 25


With some fearing the rush of regulatory reform may overwhelm the capacity of an archaic state system more familiar with crony capitalism than democratic nation building, Winston Set Aung said the country has no choice. Pointing to the International Monetary Fund’s April deadline to unify at least seven different rates of the kyat as an example of the challenges of sequencing and timing, he said the government needed to quickly initiate a law to meet the set date. “But then the international body started to say, ‘you have to slow down’, but we couldn’t do that. We don’t have time.” Such haste has taken on an even greater political dimension since the landslide victory of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won 43 of 45 parliamentary seats in the April 1 by-elections. However, while the majority of Myanmar has welcomed reforms, some observers warn of mounting pressure on President Thein Sein, fearing a conservative backlash in the ruling party that may reverse key elements of reform, or at least close the window of opportunity the private sector is so eager to pry open.

“I am really anxious about returning to a situation where competition among the political parties is so intense that unity is destroyed,” political analyst Maung Wuntha told The Myanmar Times. “That led the country into chaos [in the past].” Though Winston Set Aung, who has consulted on economic reform in several countries including Cambodia and Vietnam, insists the country’s stakeholders agree on the overall direction of reforms and only differ on mechanisms and timeframes. “I understand from all my interactions with the government,” said Winston Set Aung, “that all those who used to be considered hard liners really understand that this is the way we have to go.” Eager to be welcomed back into the international fold, the Myanmar delegation to the Asean-EU summit presented an impressive list of laws to be drafted or revised in preparation for parliamentary sessions. Areas of reform include: special economic zones; the financial sector (expected to provide more independence for the central bank); foreign exchange; imports and exports; and labour and consumer protection.

In a bid to meet, reward and position itself to benefit from Myanmar’s astonishing pace of reform, global governments have been fighting their own administrative procedures to lift sanctions, a move that will allow international companies access to one of the world’s youngest – yet wildly unknown – frontier markets. With the lifting of sanctions, poised investors are one step closer to tapping into Myanmar’s promising market. Yet analysts warn against moving too quickly, fearing the hectic pace of reform could result in patchy policies and legislation riddled with ad hoc measures and loopholes. “As such the legal framework and other requirements cannot be examined yet,” said Gordon Peters of Emerging Markets Consulting (EMC). “From a foreign investor point of view, I would urge caution until they are clarified.” With Myanmar’s ‘work in progress’ status, Winston Set Aung admitted that the country still lacks an overall development model. Yet sitting between financial powerhouses India and China, and situated in the dynamic Southeast Asian

economy, Myanmar is in a prime position to pick from the best the region has to offer and tailor a model to meet its specific economic needs. “We have been to many countries to study the policies that various countries have adopted,” said Winston Set Aung. Given high expectations from the populace, the pressure for the Burmese Perestroika to deliver is astronomically intense. “We need to support the political reforms with an economic environment or risk a fall back,” said Thaung Tin, vice president of the information and communications technology sector of the Union of Myanmar Federation National Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI). “If we cannot improve peoples’ lives through economic development, there is a danger that those left behind will get frustrated.” Indeed, ‘the people’ was the bottom line for the four delegates, who repeatedly stressed the importance of bearing “the people” in mind when drafting laws, placing “the people” at the heart of all policies and ensuring “the people” benefit from the reforms. It’s not hard to see why. In a country q

We need to support the political reforms with an economic environment or risk a fall back

We would like to provide [small and medium enterprises] with access to finance and market opportunities

We need to create jobs for this huge, hard working and quick learning labour force

We had our arms and legs tied for many decades; but we don't want to hop anymore, we want to run

Thaung Tin, vice president of the information and technology sector of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry

26 May 2012


Win Aung, president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry

Khine Khine Nwe, secretary general of the Union of Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association

Winston Set Aung, economic advisor to the Myanmar president and director of research at the Asian Development Research Institute


May 2012 27


riddled with corruption, ethnic-targeted violence and poverty, the nominally civilian, and increasingly self aware, government does not want to risk angering a population familiar with uprisings and hardened to brutal crackdowns; after all, sanctions can be reinstated. Key to opening up the market to competition is breaking the military’s stranglehold on business. Enter small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – the backbone of the economy according to Win Aung, president of the UMFCCI, which represents 24,000 SMEs. “We would like to provide them with access to finance and to market opportunities,” he said. “We also hope to attract value-added large companies that will provide these SMEs with opportunities to further develop by supplying the large groups. So we need good partners who have technologies and want to share them with us, as well as their markets.” It is a long-awaited development the country’s second tier businessmen will welcome with open arms, as will the rising number

of youth expected to enter the workforce in coming years. With 30% of Myanmar’s 55 million citizens under the age of 14, the quest to create adequate employment opportunities is no easy task. “We need to create jobs for this huge, hard working and quick learning labour force,” said Khine Khine Nwe, secretary general of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association. Decades of sanctions decimated the country’s once-flourishing garment industry. However, it is set to blossom again as Myanmar works to shift the focus from agriculture – 75% of the population live in rural areas – to labour-intensive industries. In the fiscal year 20102011, Myanmar exported $243mworth of garments to Japan, up 30% from the previous year. “Now we want the quality of our workforce to be recognised by being given more exposure,” Khine Khine Nwe said. “It makes sense to move from a primarily agriculture-based economy into other sectors because the agricultural sector has less value added than other sectors, but it takes both good

For Myanmar to shed its failed state status and join the ranks of successful nations, many challenges lie ahead

policy and a good operinto efficient and transating environment for parent organisations. the private sector to Afterall, real reform grow into new areas. requires deep structural Luckily, there are some changes, not superfigreat models of that in cial facelifts. Yet optithe region,” said Peters, mism and enthusiasm is warning that governproving to be an effecment relationships and tive antidote to fears of informal fees will remain a ‘Burma burnout’, with a hurdle for foreign people such as Aung investors, international Win, Winston Set Aung, aid organisations and Khine Khine New and development institutions Thaung Tin guiding in the short term. the country through For Myanmar to shed this unprecedented its failed state status and wave of reform, deterForward thinking: Winston Set Aung says Myanmar is eager to learn from the region join the ranks of successmined not to let their ful nations, many chalcountry down. lenges lie ahead. Real progress hinges on the degree to which “We would really like to see growth with discipline and institutions in Myanmar, such as courts, administration and proper economic principles,” said Aung Win. “We do not legislative and executive government offices, can be turned want to be a pop-up economy that cannot be sustained.” ¡



We have no idea how Aung San Suu Kyi views ethnic minority issues. Without her political involvement, any reform will have little chance of succeeding

on the record

Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at the Centre for Southeast Asia Studies, Kyoto University, sheds light on some of the major issues currently pressing Myanmar

By Charlie Lancaster

30 May 2012


I think the military is still very much responsible for domestic order as well as foreign relations. The military has a 25% share of the parliament, so this is how it has retained its authority in politics. f What of the warming relations with Aung San Suu Kyi and the military? Is the government playing her to ease sanctions? Whether the truce between the military and Suu Kyi will be long lasting, it is too soon to predict. But so far, Suu Kyi is wasting no time in going ahead with her own campaign for greater political openness. It is true that Suu Kyi would have an immense influence on the West’s decision to lift sanctions against Myanmar and this could help relieve the hardship caused by sanctions against the top elite. But if the lifting of sanctions will do ‘good’ for the people, then I see nothing wrong if it also benefits the ruling elite. f With sanctions being eased slowly, has the West successfully brought the country into line with international standards on human rights? I think we have to be realistic when analysing the politics of sanctions and the human rights situation in Myanmar. Of course, the lifting of sanctions mainly depends on the behaviour of the Myanmar elite; the more they become democratic, the more possible the lifting of sanctions will become.

The Lady: Aung San Suu Kyi remains the figurehead for Myanmar’s struggle for democracy

I must admit there is still a long way to go until human rights will become ‘normalised’ in Myanmar, but I do not think it will obstruct Western governments’ current soft stance towards Naypyidaw. We have to remember one thing: sanctions can be removed, but can also be reinstalled. f How important is national reconciliation as part of the reform process? This is a tricky question. Let me be a little cynical. To me, the current power rearrangement is very much elite-centric. In other words, the power distribution that is taking place in Myanmar is among elite groups themselves, of which Suu Kyi is a part. National reconciliation therefore, in Myanmar’s context, still focuses mainly on mending ties between the government and the opposition (Suu Kyi). We have not heard much about the involvement of ethnic groups. I somehow believe that a greater obstacle for the future of Myanmar rests on the ability

Photo: Christopher Brown/Studio X


hy is there a rush to open Myanmar economically? The opening up process in Myanmar has taken a long time. Pressure within the country had built up to such a degree the ancient regime of Myanmar was forced to look for a way to open up Myanmar if they were to survive. At the same time, the regional and international environments have changed tremendously. Almost all Asean members are concentrating more on accelerating their economic growth and building the region as a community. This has taken place alongside changes within Myanmar’s domestic realm. The new generation in the army has become more progressive and less conservative. There seems to have been an agreement among the elite on the need to transform Myanmar before it is too late and they are left totally powerless. Hence, the political reforms have begun. For the Myanmar leadership, opening up the country economically is an initial step which is less controversial and more strategic. It allows political leaders to cling on to political power while promoting liberal economic policy to justify its ongoing reform process. f What is the military’s role in politics? The military has had an immense role in politics. Today, it is still powerful but democratisation has restrained its role.

of the regime to incorporate various ethnic minorities into the nationbuilding process. Unfortunately, there has been no clear policy on the part of the Myanmar government. Worse, we have no idea about how Suu Kyi views ethnic minority issues. Without her political involvement, any reform will have little chance of succeeding. f How important is meeting the Asean Economic Community deadline? I don’t think meeting the deadline on Asean community building is a main concern for Myanmar. Frankly speaking, the chance of Myanmar being ready for the Asean community in 2015 is slim. The country has just opened itself recently and it has a lot to do to catch up to its neighbours. I think the real concern is how Myanmar will chair Asean in 2014. And the objectives of Myanmar and Asean could be very different. For Asean, it may be to vindicate itself for awarding Myanmar the chairmanship. For Myanmar, it is about

earning legitimacy from Asean and the international community, which will speed up the process of sanction lifting. f What should the government be doing to help lift the masses out of poverty? I think the government’s policy must be truly people-oriented. Mega projects may help create more jobs and therefore enlarge the labour market. This could help alleviate, if not eliminate, poverty. Lifting sanctions will become a major part of poverty reduction when labourers can be hired by international companies. I am not sure if there are differences in economic policies between the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but I believe both are targeting the empowerment of the masses economically; for the state to legitimise its grips on power and for the NLD to seek further support from the public. Either way, it will contribute to a more prosperous

society especially in upgrading the living standards of the poor. f How can the government help reverse the ‘brain drain’ that has occurred during years of sanctions? Job opportunities and the adoption of certain international standards in the workplace are essential. Many young bright Burmese left following the deadly crackdowns in 1988. If there are incentives from the government, including a chance for them to become a part of nation building, then there is a possibility that some of them who have worked in different professions elsewhere could return home. But for those residing inside Myanmar, political stability, supported by democracy and sound economic policy, would encourage them to remain in the country rather than finding opportunities outside the country. f Do you expect a backlash against the quick pace of reform? The people are becoming more familiarised with the electoral process. The NLD has been able to exercise its role as the opposition. The younger generation in Myanmar, no matter in what sectors, will learn more about democracy. The only backlash that could act as a hurdle to ongoing democratisation could emerge from the fear of the older generation whose members may feel that their political space is shrinking too fast. ¡ Sea GLOBe

May 2012 31



Buying power Crippled by decades of forced isolation yet central to a thriving economy, small businesses hope to win big with the easing of sanctions

By Kim Jolliffe


or Myanmar’s ruling generals and their billionaire associates, more than 20 years of Western sanctions have applied little pressure. At the time of implementation, the military leaders, accustomed to decades of self-imposed isolation, soon identified the fastest and most stressfree route to profit: resource exports to non-interfering neighbouring countries. It was a formula that suited politicians in the West. The sanctions kept domestic human rights and pro-democracy campaigners happy, showed solidarity to 1991 Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and avoided engagement in a part of the world where it had little footing. It was an unwelcome solution, however, within the country. Across Myanmar, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) quickly began to crumble, further disempowering the country’s oppressed middle class and exacerbating already critical unemployment and poverty levels. Worst hit was the manufacturing sector, a major source of employment. “Blanket sanctions [from the United States] on Myanmar brought almost all export-oriented businesses to a halt,” said Khine Khine Nwe, who represents the garment sector in the Union of Myanmar Federation National Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI). “Whenever there is a disaster, the oldest and the youngest are the worst hit victims. We were hit by loss of jobs, huge loss of market access

32 May 2012


and displacement of workers, most of which [in the garment industry] were women aged 18 to 30.” Consequently, the garment industry in the border areas of Myanmar’s neighbouring countries boomed most notably in Thailand, where today more than a million unregistered Myanmar workers are paid below the minimum wage and work without legal representation. The ripple effects of sanctions have been exorbitant for Myanmar’s SMEs, as transactions in US dollars have been driven into the formal sector. “All overseas transactions have to go through third parties,” says Dr Maung Maung Lay, vice president of the UMFCCI. “[They] charge around 2% for each transaction, making goods costly.” These costs rack up quickly in an unfathomably complicated system of broker networks that affects business with neighbouring states and lines the pockets of currency brokers, who usually have partners in Singapore. Sanctions also force alreadyburdened export firms to acquire freight forwarding and other transnational services from companies without links to the European Union or the US. Such an uncompetitive business environment has driven businesses into the ground, leaving wide gaps in the economy. Deeper still, the reputational effects of Western isolationist policies have warded off companies and financial institutions that are exempt from sanctions. “Non-statutory sanctions, such as reputation, fear of consumer boycotts,

Hard pressed: Western sanctions have decimated Myanmar’s once-thriving garment sector

A fractured business environment means a weakened regime and therefore an opportunity to pressure generals to loosen their iron grip

and conservative analysis of sanctions by corporate lawyers, [have made] it difficult for Myanmar SMEs to access capital, machinery, know-how and markets,” said Romain Caillaud, Myanmar’s chief representative for corporate advisory firm, Vriens and Partners. As a result, China supplies almost all machinery and other specialised equipment to Myanmar, often at high prices on soft loans to large firms with links to the military, making it impossible for SMEs to compete. Already suffering acutely from draconian land ownership policies that ensure all land belongs to the state, millions of farmers live far below the poverty line. Endemic levels of corruption and military domination of business are often cited as justifications for sanctions, as a

fractured business environment means a weakened regime and therefore an opportunity to pressure the generals to loosen their iron grip. For a long list of reasons this has proved ineffectual, but importantly it has encouraged the former junta to develop trade relations with states that have little regard for human rights and devalued engagement with the West. While corruption is rife and still favours the military, the assumption held by many in the West that the former regime still dominates business is totally unfounded. “Over 90% of Myanmar companies are SMEs,” says Maung Maung Lay. “Even though the military has substantial business ventures, they are not that significant and they are not concerned with SMEs. While the military has alternative

ways to circumvent sanctions, local SMEs don’t.” Complete isolation from the West combined with military rule has effectively left Myanmar a crippled state. Today, its gross domestic product per capita is far below what is required to maximise the potential of current reforms. For the first time, the West can leverage the promise of sanction withdrawal to push political reform in Myanmar. When lifting sanctions, the West should encourage economic growth outside the direct control of the leading former generals and their billionaire cronies. Such a move will empower and mobilise 90% of Burmese business – the country’s SMEs – and could provide the impetus the country needs to stand on its own feet, independent of the military. ¡ Sea GLOBe

May 2012 33



Tycoons and TyranTs Investors’ new money should not be used to prop up the old guard

By Kim Jolliffe

Cheers to me: businessman Tay Za

34 May 2012


Asia, re-engagement with Myanmar has become a must for the West. Yet throwing any kind of financial support at Myanmar’s modified military regime is still a highly contentious subject. Its army – the second largest in Southeast Asia – remains the most powerful institution in the country. It continues to target civilians as part of military strategy and commits rampant extortion, among other abuses. Despite having no external threats, military spending accounts for 14.4% of Myanmar’s new fiscal budget, while the country’s leading banks and major export industries remain largely dominated by Myanmar’s generals. As the floodgates look set to open, now more than ever those assessing re-engagement must scrutinise to what degree the country’s economic potential is controlled by the military. Much of the country’s industry remains in the hands of state-owned companies, such as its main conglomerate, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (UMEHL). The first venture started by the army after the 1988 coup, UMEHL later incorporated more than 100 different firms in industries as diverse as gem production, food products and arms imports. Dealing mainly with firms from China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Singapore, for years the UMEHL reported export incomes at the wildly over-inflated official exchange rate of six kyat per dollar, allowing military officials to siphon off huge personal profits. While 40% of the company’s shares are now likely in

government hands, owned by the War Office and the Ministry of Defence, the majority are owned by military commanders or by active and retired officers. Though the exchange rate was normalised in April and new laws for investment are being introduced, the government – which is still dominated by members of the former junta – will be careful not to directly threaten the military’s profits from state-owned enterprises too much. In lieu of a functioning judiciary, local and foreign business people in Myanmar

Right connections: Tay Za has built a web of trusted allies that has proved very lucrative

the past two decades, loyalty and protection has been hard earned by developing businesses deemed advantageous to the country’s leaders such as procurement of weapons, establishment of offshore bank accounts in Singapore, and the sagacious buying of assets on the behalf of Myanmar’s leaders. No better is this exemplified than in the cases of Tay Za, the country’s most famous businessman, and Tun Myint Naing, son of drug lord Lo Hsin Han and close associate of Tin Aung Myint Oo, the current vicepresident. Tay Za’s arms deals with North Korea and Russia on behalf of Myanmar’s leaders, and his decision

Business people have for decades relied on the forming of relations with military personnel to access business opportunities have for decades relied on the forming of relations with military personnel to access business opportunities. Commanders of all ranks typically have pwe zar, or brokers, to deal with prospective business partners and arrange the military’s share of the profits. Preferential treatment is also given to relatives of military strongmen. These business-minded family members receive concessions in return for loyalty. For a coterie of other cronies that has dominated big business in Myanmar for

Photos: Reuters, dapd


or the junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, pandering to Western political demands to entice international financial institutions back to the country was unthinkable. For the country’s new administration however, concerned far more with lasting economic stability than short-term profits, it has become imperative. With a green light to prioritise financial growth, reformists within Myanmar’s quasi-military government seized the reins in July last year. They quickly brought in a long list of reforms that suited Western standards and prompted the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank to begin preliminary assessments for re-entry. It is a shift in policy that Western financial powers are welcoming with increasingly open arms. Positioned in the midst of economic powerhouses such as China and India and within Southeast

to run Air Bagan at a loss to suit government targets to improve transportation, have gained him access to huge concessions of state-owned land, among other lucrative benefits. Similarly, Tun Myint Naing is thought to be the richest man in Myanmar thanks largely to his ally Tin Aung Myint Oo, who as head of the recently-abolished Trade Policy Council has given him many contracts associated with major development projects in return for help dealing with foreign banks and building relations with China. This stranglehold on business may be loosened in coming years, however, as the Thein Sein administration makes

bold moves to form a more pluralistic, and hopefully less corrupt, business environment. By introducing new legislation in numerous areas, the government is finally allowing the country’s second tier of business people the opportunity to grow. With the majority of Western sanctions likely to be lifted soon, they will gain access to the world’s largest consumer markets, the freedom to use US dollars and, eventually, the support of international financial institutions. Yet with the current system so firmly entrenched, the military’s hold on many areas of business will continue. In Myanmar’s largest industries, such as resource extraction and agribusiness, few companies outside the inner circle have been allowed to develop, making it impossible for them to compete. The peripheral contracts for the country’s largest development projects within these sectors are in the hands of companies such as the Htoo Trading Company and Asia World, owned by Tay Za and Tun Myint Naing respectively. It could be years before we see them challenged by other domestic companies. Bearing this is mind, Western nations and other international investors are right to approach Myanmar with caution. While economic development will likely be the most liberating realm of change to hit Myanmar in coming years, if it is utilised to make the military more powerful, it could also prove to be the most unstable. ¡



GrapplinG with Graft While the government is keen to tackle endemic corruption on paper, lifting its people out of poverty could be the quickest way to clean up the country

With the system change... corruption and bribery will die down Thein Sein, President

By Kim Jolliffe


ribery and chaos,” a goliath of a man boomed. “That is what makes the Burmese police force different from those in other countries.” In a small safe house in Mae Sot, on the Thai-Myanmar border, Zaw Bowm talked of his five years in the Myanmar police and five years in its special branch, a position he deserted in 2009. The “main job” his department was charged with was “watching the [National League of Democracy], the other opposition groups and their families”. “The police in Myanmar never worked for the people,” the former second lieutenant said. “It was all for the military government, and when we had time, for our own desire, for our survival.” It is no secret that endemic graft has gripped Myanmar for decades. Military commanders oiling their greasy hands in severely underfunded institutions such as the courts and the police force have bound to the rule of law more to the whims of their senior-in-command than to any form of justice. “On paper, the system would have us work for 15 years to become lieutenant,” Zaw Bowm said. “But the government would just place a military captain or major in that position. They didn’t trust the police force, they just wanted to use it for themselves.” “Corruption is the cancer of the society,” said U Min ‘Michael’ Sein, arguably the country’s most senior lawyer. “It comes in many forms and the faster its eradication, the more the country will prosper.”

36 May 2012


In recent years, law enforcers have treated the country’s legal system – generally revolving around a handful of legal codes from the British colonial era with numerous laws tacked on to suit the aims of successive military regimes – more as a guideline than any kind of doctrine. “The police are taught all the legal codes and they usually understand them, but they do not prioritise respecting the law – they generally only look out for themselves, only for their survival, their income and their wealth,” said Zaw Bowm,

We were all like friends... We take bribes, they take bribes; there was no tension Zaw Bowm, former policeman

adding that underpaid police take bribes in many forms, with their loyalty up for sale to the highest bidder. “If the victim is important or rich, they will do the work; if he is not important, they just ignore it.” Similar practices pervade the courts, according to Zaw Bowm. “We were all like friends,” he said. “We take bribes, they take bribes; there was no tension.” In a land governed by impunity, senior military leaders can overturn a court ruling and certain crimes, such as rape, are cash cows for police officers, whose three-step

system involves “work, then negotiation, then bribery”. “If we solved a crime, we would send a middle man to collect money ‘for petrol’ or something like that after,” Zaw Bowm said, explaining that such funds could boost a meagre government salary tenfold. If a daily operation cost $3 or $4, the police would often request up to $30 to make it worth their time. It is hardly surprising then that Myanmar shared second-to-last place with Afghanistan in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index. Though things may be about to change, according to U Min Sein. As Myanmar finds itself in the throes of change, he believes the drafting of a new anti-corruption law is inspiring optimism and, if successful, “a system that will guarantee full human rights and good governance” will emerge. “The [new] motto is ‘no one is above the law’,” said U Min Sein, who believes the courts are becoming more independent. “The chief justice has stressed at every meeting with the judges that the judiciary must be independent and pass judgments and orders according to the law.” There are signs that President Thein Sein recognises the importance of reining in corruption to improve Myanmar’s international image, create financial growth and regain the trust of the people, especially in rural areas where authorities have long oppressed communities. He told parliament earlier this year: “With the system change, corruption and bribery will die

down. Thus, we are taking time to restructure our administrative mechanism.” However, while such apparent commitment to institutional reform is a positive step, until the law has been passed, corruption will continue to be seen as a risk to international corporations. Few will be privy to the particulars of the law, as the constitution demands no laws are made public during the drafting process. Both Zaw Bowm and U Min Sein said the genuine eradication of corruption would involve far more than systemic alterations. “[Even if new laws are made], the people need full employment and salaries, both servicemen and the civilians, because this will encourage them to obey the law,” Zaw Bowm said. “If there is no economic change, and then new laws are enforced, they will just have to put everyone in jail.” While economic reform lies at the heart of grappling graft, U Min Sein also believes that lasting change relies on mass re-education and protecting a clean judiciary. “What is really needed is the education of judges and the other legal professionals in international commercial laws and practices. Judicial officers should have guaranteed [state] protection for them to be able to administer justice according to the law.” Perhaps during the wave of reform currently occupying parliament, this threestep system of a clean judiciary, economic reform and re-education will replace that previously employed by police – work, negotiation and bribery – finally curing the country of its cancerous corruption. ¡

New clothes: Myanmar’s reform-minded president, Thein Sein



northern rights With reforms spreading hope across much of the country, the future is less auspicious for isolated Kachin State By Sebastian Strangio Fighting fit: a young female soldier of the Kachin Independence Army. Since 2007, 1,500 women have joined the rebel army

Unlevel crossing: the Kachin State is the frontline of the conflict between the ‘tatmadaw’, as the Myanmar army is known, and the Kachin Independence Army

38 May 2012


been fighting for autonomy since 1961, and the Myanmar military. Despite optimism about the reforms ushered in by Thein Sein, life in the Kachin conflict zone shows just how far the country has to go. In a report released in March, the US-based Human Rights Watch documented how Myanmar troops have pillaged and destroyed Kachin villages during the past year’s conflict, firing indiscriminately at civilians. The developments in Kachin State, it stated, “stand in stark contrast to hopeful human rights developments in lowland Burma in recent months”. Since the outbreak of fighting, the population of Laiza, the shabby border town of 7,500 that serves as the capital of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, has swollen with civilians fleeing the fighting. For many of the displaced, like Zau Teng, a 43-year-old who fled the Myanmar military’s advances, ‘reform’ remains a distant concept. “They burned down some of our homes, they burned down our shops, then the military shot some of the villagers,” says Zau Teng, one of more than 1,300 displaced

villagers living at the Manau Wang camp for displaced persons in Laiza. Ethnic conflict is like the glitch in the hardware of independent Myanmar. Since the departure of the British in 1948, the country has been in a state of nearconstant civil war with the raft of ethnic militias occupying its hilly hinterlands. Thein Sein’s reforms have brought some signs of progress. The government is currently in talks with the Karen National Union to bring to an end the world’s longest-running insurgency, and ceasefires have been signed with a number of other ethnic groups. But the Kachin conflict is a high-stakes affair. The KIO controls valuable gold, jade and timber deposits, and the area is home to surging rivers that are being dammed by Chinese hydropower projects. With so much on the line, and half a century of suspicion to overcome, a long-term political solution in Kachin State remains elusive. The last round of talks between the KIO and the government collapsed in March, and KIO officials doubt the sincerity of Thein Sein’s ethnic charm offensive. “We want to figure out how to sort out

Myanmar troops have pillaged and destroyed Kachin villages, firing indiscriminately at civilians Rape: a weapon of waR in myanmaR


Photos: Ng Han Guan/AFP (1)


ast month’s election to parliament of Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was for many observers a hugely symbolic event. The election of ‘The Lady’, as she is widely known, capped off a remarkable year of opening under President Thein Sein, who took office at the head of a nominally civilian government in March 2011. Even long-time critics have been won over by the former general’s reforms, which have included the release of political prisoners, the loosening of media controls and the halting of a mammoth Chinese-backed dam project in the country’s north. With Western nations now relaxing long-standing sanctions, a new future and identity beckons for this one-time pariah state. But in the mountainous regions of Kachin State in northern Myanmar, a different story is unfolding. Since June 2011, bloody fighting has raged between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels, displacing tens of thousands of civilians. The clashes shattered a 17-year-old ceasefire that had preserved a fragile peace between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has

he most serious concern currently affecting women in Myanmar is the military’s rape and sexual violence against non-Burman ethnic women, particularly in remote and armed conflict areas. The army uses rape as a weapon of war against ethnic resistance movements struggling for equality and self-determination. Women of these ethnic communities bear the brunt of harsh punishment or revenge at the hands of the army. The current reform process is topdown, military-led; it is not transparent and the public is kept in the dark. There is no clear policy and President Thein Sein doesn’t have real power. The military does not support women, so I doubt women-related issues

– especially the human rights abuses against non-Burman ethnic women – will be raised in parliamentary sessions to discuss the amendment of the 2008 constitution. As for Aung San Suu Kyi, at the moment I cannot see her playing a specific role in championing women’s rights and issues – though we will have to wait and see.

An activist and advocate, Khin Ohmar is the coordinator of Burma Partnership, a network of civil society organisations that support democracy, human rights and freedom in Myanmar, and founder of the Women’s League of Burma.

this problem with a political dialogue, but the Burmese government has a hidden agenda. They just want to disarm all the ethnic armed groups,” KIO spokesman Kumhtat La Nan said at the KIA’s command HQ in Laiza. “Though it is seen by the international community that there are changes in our country, there has been no change for the ethnic peoples yet.” After so many years of conflict, it may be a long time before there is sufficient trust to build a lasting peace between the two sides. The dilemma is summed up well by Khawng Lum, one of the pastors at the small, white-bricked Baptist church in Laiza. The 35-year-old said that even if peace comes, the Kachin risk losing their identities in a flood of ethnic Burman migrants. Fearing that they could disappear like the Manchu people of northeast China, he said the Kachin would be better to fight for an independent state than to sell themselves out at the negotiating table. “Supporting the fighting is not good in a spiritual perspective, but we have to do that now, we have no choice,” Khawng Lum said. “Peace talks don’t represent progress now.” ¡ Sea GLOBe

May 2012 39


Failed StateS indicatoRS


A FAiled StAte?

The indicators below are based on the Failed States Index 2011, published annually by the Fund for Peace, a US-based institute. Each indicator is rated on a scale of 1 (best) to 10 (worst) and illustrates the pressure and the risk of instability. More information on

How Myanmar can position itself to join the ranks of successful nations

S Failed StateS Ranking Country

Text by Raphaël Jaeger, a research assistant at the Fund for Peace. Data compiled by Frédéric Janssens


he National League for Democracy’s landslide victory in the latest by-elections is a strong sign that Myanmar’s longstanding junta has finally outlived even its own perceptions of state health and functionality. Nevertheless, after decades of ruling the country with an iron fist and allowing state institutions to become barely functional rubble, it is hard not to question the future viability of the country and its institutions. Can Myanmar escape the trappings of a failed state and withstand the social, economic and political pressures it faces to avoid implosion? A failed state cannot or will not fulfil its obligations under the social contract to provide essential services and security to the population, which can lead to instability and conflict. In the case of Myanmar, there is limited institutional and technical capacity to implement some of the reform measures being adopted. Other symptoms of a vulnerable state are the loss of physical control of territory, or the loss of a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Additionally, most weak and fragile states exhibit disharmonies between communities as there are no formal processes for the airing of grievances. In spite of the ceasefires with most of Myanmar’s ethnic insurgencies, no peace agreements have been signed and many speculate that the recent ‘peace’ is only skin

40 May 2012


deep. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Kachin people were reportedly displaced in recent months and some speculate that it is ‘business as usual’ within the country despite the purported governmental reforms. Myanmar will remain unstable as long as its military continues to be involved in ethnic conflicts and the reform of state institutions remains window dressing on a much larger problem. In addition, the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions is another attribute of state failure. Therefore, if Aung San Suu Kyi’s electoral triumph is a decisive phase in the political transition, it remains more symbolic than practical as less than 10% of the seats were up for grabs in a parliament that remains dominated by the former junta. Moreover, a large segment of the population is not represented. A state is also at risk when it is unable to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visits to Myanmar are a strong signal that the reform agenda has greatly accelerated. Therefore, financial sanctions may be lifted and development assistance increased. But the path to stability is long and, either way, external intervention ultimately undermines the longterm sustainability of the state.

There are positive signs. For one, Myanmar’s President, Thein Sein, admitted in a public speech that the country has lagged behind in development. He also strengthened the legitimacy of the state by allowing key freedoms such as the right to organise, assemble, speak out and run for political office. In addition, his government set up a national human rights commission and invited political exiles to return. Nevertheless, the future remains unpredictable. The true test of whether these measures are irreversible or ‘cosmetic’ will come in 2015 with the general election. Will the opposition be circumscribed by the current constitution? Will Suu Kyi’s party manage the vastly inflated hopes for democratic reforms? By then, difficulties will certainly arise as all sectors require massive and essential investment. The government will have to make good on other difficult promises, including opening up the media landscape as well as freeing the hundreds of political prisoners remaining behind bars. But lawmakers must principally focus on addressing the institutional weaknesses in Myanmar. The military, police, civil service, justice system, and leadership all need to be vetted and revamped with outside oversight. For Myanmar to make its way from pariah status as a failed state to a fledgling member of the international community, we all must ensure that reforms are not skin-deep. ¡


World ranking (on 177)

Somalia Myanmar Cambodia Laos Philippines Indonesia Thailand Vietnam Malaysia Brunei Singapore Finland

Failed StateS: myanmaR VS. cambodia Deligitimisation of the state

Score (on 120)

1 18 38 46 50 64 78 88 111 122 157 177

113.4 98.3 88.5 86.7 85 81.6 78.3 76.1 68.7 65.8 35.1 19.7

External intervention on internal affairs

Factionalised elites


8 7.7




Vietnam Thailand




7.3 Thailand


















S exteRnal inteRVention in inteRnal aFFaiRS


(Para-)military engagement, economic intervention and humanitarian/military



interventions by outside entities

S poVeRty and economic decline Vietnam



Singapore Myanmar
















S lack oF public SeRViceS

S militaRy iSSueS and militiaS



S ViolationS oF human RightS

representation, and loss of popular confidence in state institutions



Human rights violations

Poverty and economic decline

Corruption by ruling elites, resistance to transparency and political


Uneven economic development

Military issues and militias

S deligitimiSation oF the State


10 8 6 4 2 0

Lack of public services







May 2012 41



the future starts here

Reforms are meaningless unless accompanied by fundamental changes to the constitution

By Sebastian Strangio


yanmar has come a long way in the year since Thein Sein, a former general, took office at the head of a new quasi-civilian government in March 2011. Press restrictions have been loosened, political prisoners set free, and after by-elections last month, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) are set to take up 43 hard-won seats in parliament. After decades of military dictatorship, the haze of paralysing fear that once lay over Myanmar may be finally starting to lift. But where will things go from here? The outcome depends, in part, on how far things have come so far. While the recent reforms have captivated outside observers, prompting Western governments to relax economic sanctions, some critics say that the fundamental structures of government have been left relatively untouched. At the centre of these concerns is Myanmar’s constitution. Passed by a bogus mass plebiscite in 2008, the document reserves a quarter of the seats in the two houses of parliament for military delegates, giving them a de facto veto power over any proposed legislation, as well as the selection of the President. Changes to the constitution require a 75% vote that will be all but impossible for the NLD and other opposition groups to engineer. “The military still have ultimate overall control,” said Mark Farmaner,

42 May 2012


spokesman for Burma Campaign UK. “Even if the NLD had a majority in Parliament no reforms could take place without the approval of the military.” The constitution is a particular concern of Myanmar’s armed ethnic minority groups, especially those – such as the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) – that are still in open conflict with the central government. Seen from the country’s bloody ethnic periphery, the constitution merely enshrines the authority of the Myanmar military, which human rights groups accuse of presiding over an orgy of rights abuses against civilians in ethnic conflict zones. In Kachin State, fighting with the military has raged since June 2011 in regions close to the Chinese border. Despite some progress with other ethnic groups including the Karen, ceasefire talks between the KIO and the government have failed to make any headway, and Kachin leaders say true political dialogue – including changes to the constitution – are the only way forward. “I believe Aung San Suu Kyi has done some good things,” said major Kareng Naw Awn, the KIO-appointed mayor of Laiza. “But if she wins the election and is in the parliament and can’t change the constitution it’s just meaningless.” Despite its decision to re-enter the political fold and contest last month’s by-elections, the NLD is well aware of the constitution’s shortcomings. Aung San Suu

Kyi has stated publicly that the document “does not conform” with democratic principles and should be changed as soon as possible, and the party has announced that its lawmakers will refuse to swear the parliamentary oath that pledges them to “protect the constitution”. Though it will have just a small presence in parliament, the NLD is optimistic it will be able to use this legislative toehold to promote incremental change. Party spokesman Nyan Win said the party hopes to win support for any bills or proposals that are “clearly in the interests of the people”, and that it will try to push for a change to the constitution. While it’s clear that the deck is stacked against the NLD, the country’s trajectory remains open to unpredictable jolts and changes. Myanmar’s last two constitutions, which came into force in 1948 and 1974, both lasted just 14 years. According to some, the reforms have unleashed a new dynamic of democratic competition between politicians – something that, coupled with Suu Kyi’s charisma and almost messianic popularity in Myanmar, could push the reforms further and faster than the military-backed government is willing to go. “The NLD is very powerful among the people,” said Maung Wuntha, a veteran journalist based in Yangon. “With the people’s sentiments, there’s no possibility of going back.” ¡

The Essence of Serenity

313 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia T (855) 23 214 555 F (855) 23 217 111 / 213 071 E W


ELEGANCE “The most fantastic view in the world and the undisputed best hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia” - The Cambodia Daily



May 2012 43



of mutual recriminations and public name-calling quickly ensued. “This kind of clash is unfortunate, but it’s nothing new in the history of Asean-civil society relations,” says Consuelo Katrina Lopa, coordinator of the Southeast Asian Committee for Advocacy, a regional NGO coordinating advocacy efforts of Southeast Asian civil society organisations (CSOs). “Since the very first interface dialogue held in 2005 in Malaysia, appointments of ‘friendly’ civil society representatives or exclusion of critical voices occurred at every session, leading to an increased distrust towards the whole interface process.” According to Lopa, countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia have increasingly imposed their own delegations into civil society meetings, making null and void the very concept of CSO dialogue. “Government-led NGOs were becoming part of the CSO organising committee, making it difficult for independent voices to discuss touchy issues like Myanmar or land evictions,” she says. “In 2010, a workshop on democracy was packed up by the Vietnamese delegation, defending the position of its government. Last year, Myanmar appointed police colonel Sitt Aye as representative of its civil society. It is this increasing government intrusion that pushed independent CSOs to organise their own conference this year.”

the PeoPle vs. AseAn

The most recent Asean Summit was marked by significant clashes between the Cambodian chair and civil society organisations. Is this a new trend, or just an old habit?

Their own worst enemy

A cause hijacked: the infiltration of government voices into civil society organisations’ meetings makes the independent discussion of issues nearly impossible

The ‘mirror of differences’


44 May 2012


were characterised by neither ‘peace’ nor ‘luck’. When Cambodia invited regional governments to select their own civil society representatives to attend a meeting with Asean leaders, hundreds of independent NGOs and grassroots organisations boycotted the dialogue session, setting up their own gathering independent of government bias.

Consequently, two separate Asean Civil Society Conferences (ACSC) were held simultaneously in Phnom Penh: one supported and massively attended by the Cambodian authorities; the other self-sidelined from the official summit and – according to its organisers – forced to cancel workshops on land grabbing and events in Myanmar due to political pressure. An avalanche

Photos: Caro/ Hechtenberg

By Frédéric Janssens t looked like an attempt to force destiny: while Southeast Asian officials gathered in April at the Peace Palace for the 20th Asean Summit in Phnom Penh, 1,200 civil society leaders from the region convened at the Lucky Star hotel. The two events were situated no further than two kilometres apart, yet the exchanges between NGOs and the Cambodian presidency

second are Malaysia and Thailand, who have accepted limited interaction. The third group includes mainly the regimes of Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, and most of the time Singapore, Cambodia and Brunei. These regimes would wish to stop the Asean-civil society engagement.” A striking example of these tensions was recently given in the drafting process of the Asean Human Rights Declaration, a long-awaited and major political instrument for the region. While the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines decided to hold national consultation with their civil society, other Asean countries did not see the value in initiating such dialogue. “CSOs’ role is a mirror image of Asean’s differences in democratisation and regime types,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Bangkok-based Institute of Security and International Studies, and organiser of the CSO-leaders interface during the 2009 Asean Summit in Thailand. “But their impact on Asean policies is also very much dependent on Asean chairmanship. We saw this with Thailand's chairmanship in 2009 when CSOs had an engaging interface with Asean leaders. It was more limited in 2010 under Vietnam but expanded to full vibrancy under Indonesia's chairmanship in 2011. Now under Cambodia in 2012, the CSOs’ role is hemmed in.”

However, Asean is by no means a monolithic bloc, and inter-government tensions on the role CSOs should play in building the Asean Community are present. According to political scientist Thi Thu Huong Dang, author of a study on CSO engagement in the Asean Charter process, three different groups co-exist inside Asean. “The first consists of the Philippines and Indonesia, which are willing to consult civil society and welcome its input into the Asean decision-making process. The

If the lack of democratic space and the absence of transparent consultation mechanisms remain major issues, states are not the only ones to bear responsibility for marginalising CSOs from the policy-making process. “In many cases, CSOs are their own worst enemy,” says Lim May-Ann, contributor of a 2011 study on civil society engagement in Asean. “There’s still poor or no involvement from national CSOs in Asean or on Asean-related issues. Besides, organisational issues are often the bane of many institutions and CSOs are no

exception. Building the capacity and professionalism should be one of the first institutional steps that all CSOs should take.” A point that Consuelo Katrina Lopa agrees with candidly. “There is a clear lack of capacity of CSOs to deal with some Asean issues,” she says. “For 30 years, CSOs simply ignored the Asean process as the majority of them were focused on the democratisation of their own societies. An important debate emerged then between those advocating for involvement and those defending opposition to Asean. Today, most CSOs agree on the necessity to engage with Asean, but the disparities in civil society development and the lack of resources for research make it hard to react quickly to policy developments.”

Myanmar chair ahead Despite the problems and challenges encountered so far, CSOs’ role in shaping Asean policies is definitely growing, little by little. Over the years, Southeast Asian CSOs have managed to build thematic platforms to engage with Asean officials, with some successes on social or humanitarian policies for instance. But with Brunei and Myanmar assuming the next two Asean chairs, it is easy to fear a rolling back of this trend. “Brunei is an absolute monarchy, and the space for CSOs’ interface with Asean leaders is likely to be limited,” warns Thitinan Pongsudhirak. “The litmus test for CSOs may be in 2014 when Myanmar assumes the chair. CSOs will press hard as there is a pent-up groundswell of frustration over two decades of military repression in that country. By that time, Myanmar’s democracy will either show signs of solidifying democratic transition or signs of fatigue and disillusion. The CSOs must keep their expectations reasonable for 2014 as Myanmar could be the pivotal player and tipping point for democratisation in Asean which would be beneficial to regional CSOs in the long run.” ¡ Sea GLOBe

May 2012 45



A system stonewAlled Political meddling may topple the Khmer Rouge tribunal – an outcome that would suit the government just fine


arking one of the most important trials since Nuremberg, the initiation of the Khmer Rouge tribunal was one of Cambodia’s surest signs of reform post-1979. To date nearly $150 million has been spent on proceedings by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to deliver justice for the estimated 1.7 million people, and their surviving families, who died under Khmer Rouge rule. Unable to break free from the shadows of a system marred by corruption and fragmented laws, some observers fear the tribunal teeters on the edge of collapse. “Cambodia’s judicial system is as corrupt and politically controlled as they come in Southeast Asia,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party have systematically turned the judiciary into a pliant tool to protect their power and rubber stamp their corrupt dealings.” In stark contrast to the achievements of the first case – where Khmer Rouge jailer Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, was sentenced to life imprisonment on appeal for crimes against humanity and war crimes – and the ongoing trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, the sparring over cases 003 and 004 threatens to derail the tribunal. The government has been vocal in its opposition to the two cases, which reportedly involve five former midranking Khmer Rouge cadres. Critics say alleged government meddling to thwart investigations has called into question the independence of the court

Justice on trial: the independence of the tribunal has repeatedly been called into question

46 May 2012


and its national co-investigating judge, You Bunleng. In what Amnesty International described as ‘a significant setback’, international reserve co-investigating judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet announced his resignation in March. “Judge You Bunleng’s active opposition to investigations into cases 003 and 004 has led to a dysfunctional situation within the ECCC,” he said in a statement. Set to become effective as of May 4, his resignation follows hot on the heels of Siegfried Blunk’s decision to step down as international co-investigating judge in October, citing perceptions of attempted official interference in cases 003 and 004. The consecutive resignations have raised “serious concerns” about the ECCC judicial process in relation to cases 003 and 004, according to a statement by a spokesperson for UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. “The circumstances that have given rise to these two resignations remain worrying,” the statement said, adding it is “essential” the government extends “full cooperation” to the new international investigating judge and reserve. The very role of the reserve international judge exists in order to ensure the absence of a judge does not distract or delay proceedings, but Bunleng, who said any procedural action taken by Kasper-Ansermet is not legally valid as he had not be officially appointed and subsequently refused to work with him, trumped this safeguard. “If the [Supreme Council of the Magistracy] refuses to appoint [Kasper-Ansermet’s] successor, the court will likely be

Photos: Tang Chhin Sothy, ECCC

By Sacha Passi

Hidden truth: Tuol Sleng survivor Bou Meng displays the manner in which he was once shackled, in front of a portrait of former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea

forever viewed as politically tainted and controlled by the Cambodian government,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “If that does occur, the United Nations will have to review its commitment to the court.” Critics say Bunleng’s actions have wasted time and money and have fallen in line with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s position that there will be no further prosecution beyond case 002, as it may threaten the Kingdom’s “stability”. Some observers have linked the government’s opposition to fear that the cases, which could see the suspects in cases 003 and 004 held responsible for atrocity crimes, may implicate other former Khmer Rouge members, some of whom are now in government. “Those who argued that the Cambodian justice system could somehow be improved and its capacity built by this exercise should be crying in their coffee by now,” said Robertson. “Faced with this current situation, the UN has some hard questions to answer about how much is enough, and how much more will they take.” With international donors seemingly losing faith in the tribunal, the UN says the court faces a “serious funding challenge”. In the budget proposal for 2012-2013 the ECCC has requested approval for a total of $89.6m, more than two-thirds of which requires international contribution. If the funding request fails to attract donors, the list of obstacles facing the courts will grow, leaving some fearing justice will never be served. ¡ Portrait: You Bunleng, page 22


May 2012 47

money talk

souTheasT asIa


Tax me if you can


he future could be bright for private banking and tax evasion in Southeast Asia. With Switzerland increasingly under pressure from the United States and distressed European

countries to loosen its bank secrecy rules, Singapore is expected to become the top private banking centre by 2013, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers consultancy. The West’s wealthy are

of bulls and bears: power play Online company eBay signed a joint venture agreement with Indonesia’s state telecoms company PT Telekomunikasi. The auction and shopping giant will own 40% of the new venture due to start operations next year. The value of Indonesia’s e-commerce transactions was estimated at $1 billion last year. Several Ho Chi Minh City property firms are facing bankruptcy due to a hostile business climate, according to the city’s Real Estate Association. Firms which sold property at a loss to recoup capital in the last few months are now facing loan refusal from banks worried about the sluggish real estate market liquidity.

48 May 2012


progressively moving assets to the city-state through family offices – private companies that manage the trusts and investments of rich households. According to the research company

In brIef The Thai unit of budget air carrier AirAsia Bhd plans to launch an initial public offering (IPO) of its shares in the Thai market in May. Thai AirAsia chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld expects the operation to raise about $150$200m.

Campden Wealth, up to ten European family offices have moved to Singapore since the financial crisis in 2008, bringing $5-$10 billion worth of assets with them. Swiss banks, which maintain strong relations with the families, have followed the trend. Union des Banques Suisses (UBS) set up a family office team in Singapore that is looking to cater to two dozen clients in Asia who have assets of $200m or more. Other Swiss banks including Credit Suisse and Julius Bär have established a solid presence in the country. Other countries in the region have built a reputation


for their friendly regulations and low tax rates including the Philippines and Brunei. The latter is considered an ‘uncooperative’ tax haven by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) but has still attracted several global banks. Lichtenstein’s Valartis has 100% holdings in Hypo Trust and Corporate Services, an asset management company registered in the sultanate while Royal Bank of Canada, Citibank, Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC are among the banks which have also opened wealth management offices in Brunei. ¡

aruda, Indonesia’s flag carrier, has inked a $2.5 billion deal with the European plane manufacturer Airbus for the delivery of 11 A330 passenger jets. It is the second contract in a year between the two businesses after Garuda ordered 25 A320 Airbus planes for a price of $2.18 billion last June. Garuda hopes to almost double its fleet size over the next three years. In February, competitor Lion Air signed a $22.4 billion deal for 230 Boeing aircraft, the single largest contract in commercial aviation history. Both companies have ambitious plans to meet the demand of a growing middle class, as well as businessmen who travel by air across the archipelago. The number of passengers has jumped close to 50% in the last two years to around 65 million in 2011, according to Indonesia’s National Statistics Board. ¡


The price is rice


ambodia is in talks with the Philippines to enter the island country’s rice suppliers list, according to a Filipino agriculture official. The Philippines is already a massive importer of Thai and Vietnamese rice. The agreement may include a counter trade deal as well as cooperation for the development of Cambodia’s agricultural sector through technical services partnerships and capacity-building. ¡

number crunch

business events in may


A survey by Abac poll, a business research centre within the Assumption University of Bangkok, shows 86.7% of Thai small and medium enterprises have been affected by the new 300 baht ($9.75) daily minimum wage policy. The measure is expected to have a minor impact on larger companies. According to human resources firm Manpower Thailand, a bigger change in the cost structure would be required to cause firms to relocate to Myanmar or Cambodia where skills and infrastructure are still lacking. ¡

Hanoi 22-24 banking vietnam Bangkok, 23-27 tHaiFeX – World oF Food asia

Photos: Tim Chong/Reuters

Wealth on water: Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko’s mega-yacht docks in Singapore

Plane sailing

singapore, 28-29 int. PHarma eXPo (interPHeX)

Check out our website for more events in Southeast Asia:


May 2012 49



The asean fever

S TourisT arrivals in member sTaTes

S TourisTs arrivals in asean

In 2011 the region received almost 80 million tourists – a 7.4% increase

The number of tourists in Asean countries has more than doubled since 2003

compared to 2010

millions 80


70 20,000,000

60 50




By Frédéric Janssens

10 0


Cambodia Thailand Malaysia Laos Singapore Vietnam Indonesia Brunei Philippines Myanmar

Asean average


nd ay sia






Th a



airport name

Total international visitor arrivals to Asean member states

S origin of TourisTs in 2010

number of passengers 52,446,618

World rank 12



Singapore Changi



Kuala Lumpur International



Manila Ninoy Aquino International



Ho Chi Minh Tan Son Nhat International



Bangkok Suvarnabhumi



4.5% Japan


9.5% European Union

South Korea






4.7% Australia



Source: Airports Council International Source: Asean Secretariat

43% 57%

S number of hoTels

Intra-Asean Non-Asean


Source: Asean Secretariat, 2011

S Tourism revenues (in $ billions)

Availability of one- to five-star hotels (not including guesthouses)

4,514 2,222 Philippines

52 May 2012



Total passengers enplaned and deplaned (passengers in transit counted once)

504 Source: World Travel & Tourism Council, 2011


30 31


S busiesT airporTs in 2011

non-aSEan vISItorS

9.5% 7.1% 6.7% 5.8% 5% 4.3% 3% 2% 2% 1.4%


31 30


Source: Asean Secretariat

Source: Asean Secretariat and Ministries of Tourism statements

S Intra-aSEan vS.

Direct contribution to GDP



44 42



Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International

S tourISm ContrIbutIon to gdp

Si n



do In


Vi e



in pp







os La







effects helping an estimated three times as many people. Champagne, everyone? Not so fast. Absorbing this massive tourism flow is a major challenge in the over-crowded tourism hubs of Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. Already operating above their design capacity, these cities are rushing to expand their infrastructure, yet such last-minute reactive efforts may prove insufficient to accommodate the boom in international tourism. ¡


tourism arrivals should be up to about 87 million a year by 2015 – a figure that may even be overshadowed by reality, with the World Travel and Tourism Council predicting at least 100 million tourist arrivals in 2015 alone. While the true figures will only be revealed with time, there is much reason to be optimistic about further growth. The booming industry led to more than $80 billion in direct revenue last year, generating more than nine million jobs, with trickle-down





t’s all in the numbers, as they say, and Asean’s tourism figures are nothing if not impressive. Since 2003 the number of people visiting the region has more than doubled, with the global economic crisis seemingly having little impact. In 2010 and 2011, most Asean countries recorded doubledigit tourism growth. Some even flirted with a 20% increase last year, and these figures are only set to grow. According to the Asean Tourism Strategic Plan,



56 62



1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Tourism in Southeast Asia has reached new highs in recent years. But could today’s triumph become tomorrow’s tears for millions of visitors?



In 2011 tourism revenues in Asean amounted to $80 billion


Thailand 1,155 1,103 Malaysia


209 86



Source:, April 2012


19.5 17.8

Vietnam 10 Brunei 7





Source: Ministries of Tourism Statements


May 2012 53



A chAin reAction Rami Sharaf explains what links RMA Cambodia’s car assembly, agriculture development and fast food businesses

By Philippe Beco

Palestinian Rami Sharaf joined RMA Cambodia in 2009. A member of the executive board of the International Business Chamber of Cambodia, he previously spent 18 years working for the healthcare firm Novo Nordisk in Palestine, Israel, Iraq and Pakistan.

54 May 2012


Photo: Sam Jam for SEA Globe


rime Minister Hun Sen gladly kept his promise. When Ford announced in March that it would begin manufacturing in Cambodia, it was also confirmed that the Prime Minister had inked a deal for the first Ford Everest to roll off the production line. Rami Sharaf, CEO of RMA Cambodia, the company representing Ford in the Kingdom, was delighted to secure such a high-profile customer. It is hoped that more Cambodians will follow the example of the trend-setting premier. Only about 12% of cars currently on the Kingdom’s roads have been sold through authorised dealers. While an official “three-s” (sales, spare parts, service) outlet costs at least $500,000 to set up, Sharaf is wary of competition from grey market and used-car sellers who can easily set up cheap and opaque dealerships. As chairman of the Cambodian Automotive Industry Federation, Sharaf believes the role of official retailers is to alert the public to the importance of quality, services and safety. “If you go to a grey market dealer and buy a luxury car, for an investment of sometimes $150,000 you are lucky if you get one month’s warranty,” he says. “When someone is paying almost the full price but not getting what any customer of that brand would get in another country – this is where the gap is and where awareness should be.” Sharaf recollects recent examples where cars were recalled by manufacturers

in other countries due to defects, but remained on sale in Cambodia’s grey market. “Many used cars in Cambodia were written off in other countries or are ‘cut and paste’ cars. They are like killing tools,” Sharaf says. “Why should Cambodia be the trash can of other countries?” The 45-year-old is confident Cambodian consumers will gradually begin to make savvier choices, with the real potential found in the growing middle class: those who currently zip around on two wheels will eventually upgrade to four. However, he does admit that the launch of the Ford Fiesta did not meet all expectations. Even the switched-on younger generation seem more attracted to flashy second-hand SUVs than a small, reliable runner. “It takes time to change the mindset,” he says. RMA also deals in far heavier machinery than the compact Fiesta, and Sharaf sees his company playing a key role in Cambodia’s ambitious rice export plans. “When you are using the right technology, that is not only reflected in productivity but also on what percentage of your harvest is broken. And pricing is based on this quality issue,” he says. Last year RMA even convinced John Deere to choose Cambodia for the pilot project of its latest rice harvester. Battambang farmers were asked for their feedback before the US firm finalised the machine. RMA is also involved in irrigation pilot projects, such as computerised water dripping

techniques. “Why should a piece of land in Cambodia struggle for one yearly harvest when neighbouring countries with the same climate get two or three?” he asks. Among its impressive portfolio of businesses, RMA also runs several food franchises including the Pizza Company, BBQ Chicken and Dairy Queen. The vivid colours and calorific treats of such brands seem exciting for a company primarily concerned with cars, heavy machinery and power generation. But there is a common factor, according to Sharaf. “Relations with others end when they get paid. Relations with us start once the deal is done,” he says. It is a motto and operational standard underpinning all of RMA’s businesses – Sharaf is keen to stress the focus placed on after-sale services. He believes the success of RMA’s food franchises also lies in quality and consistency. “It is always great to start where others ended. Those guys [the franchisers] have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of outlets. We follow the franchisers’ guidelines religiously from production to decoration,” Sharaf says, adding that RMA regularly discusses new formulas with franchisers in order to please the Khmer palate. “We should connect that with the new generation of Cambodian youth who are very accessible, very informed and who are able to differentiate between brands. [They don’t see it as] just another food franchise – it is becoming a major lifestyle indicator.” ¡ Sea GLOBe

May 2012 55


women and men, with a 30-day sampling period during which customers can get their money back if not satisfied. Pioneers of Thailand’s e-commerce market are welcoming the German newcomer, which already operates multiple e-commerce companies for shoes and fashion in Germany, Japan and Australia. “At the end of the day, there is a lot of room in the market and it’s great to have these other companies that are basically trying to solve some of the problems we all face, like how do you get more people to use e-commerce,” said Paul Srivorakul, co-founder and chief executive of Thailand’s Ensogo Group and Admax Network, two pioneering e-marketing and advertising sites. In 2010, the percentage of Thai internet users shopping online increased 9.4% from 2009 to 57.2% Rocket Internet’s knack for imitating and tailoring successful Silicon Valley websites to local markets in Europe, Australia and now Southeast Asia, does not threaten Srivorakul. “At this stage, it doesn’t really matter,” Srivorakul said. “These guys have a model that works for them.” “These guys” are three German brothers – Oliver, Marc and Alexander Samwer – whose first internet imitation was a German version of eBay, launched in 1999

A model business: Julian Leither (left), Zalora Thailand’s managing director, with Peter Kopitz, director of operations


The clones are coming

One of Europe’s most aggressive website copycats is bringing some much needed competition to e-commerce in Southeast Asia

and sold for $50m. Since then, Rocket Internet has gone on to copy a handful of websites and launch them internationally, adapting to local needs, such as Amazon rip-off Lazada and Pinspire, an unabashed replicate of the US-based social photosharing site Pinterest. While the company lacks visionary development, it excels in efficacy. It is known for building and scaling web services quickly and successfully. The most notable of the Samwer brothers’ clone companies was CityDeal, which it sold to coupon giant Groupon for $126m. While tech purists may lament the Samwer business model, the brothers understand that end users are more concerned with goods and services on offer than originality. They are hoping to boost e-commerce in the region while plugging the gap in the diverse Asean market by localising its websites to individual countries. The Zalora Thailand website, for instance, is in Thai and offers a stable of Thai brand fashion items, as well as using Thai website designers, motorcycle delivery boys and the local postal service. The company has a mission to make high-fashion available not just in Bangkok, but to provincial buyers. “The focus is actually outside Bangkok, because outside Bangkok most people

[Some] people don't have access to shopping malls, so e-commerce is a great way to discover new brands are going to have problems finding nice department stores,” said Peter Kopitz, Zalora’s director of operations. “So we are offering solutions for all of Thailand.” Although Zalora claims to have no local competitors, industry sources said the site could potentially take customers away from Thailand’s upmarket department stores such as the Central Group and Mall Group. “For Central Group about 60% of their purchases come from outside Bangkok,” Srivorakul said. “People don’t have access to the shopping malls, so e-commerce is a great way for them to discover new brands.” One of the great things about shopping at mall outlets is the absence of pirated brand names, which are rife in Thailand. Zalora boasts the same claim. “We have only original brand products,” Leitner said. “No fakes.” ¡


ocket Internet GmbH, a German start-up incubator that has made a fortune cloning successful website business models, is doing some original spade work for e-commerce in Southeast Asia. The group known for its copycat strategy has been quietly setting up companies and hiring staff in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand in recent months to operate its new e-commerce 56 May 2012


site Zalora, specialising in fashionable brand-name products. Zalora, modelled after Rocket Internet’s German Zalando fashion site – very similar to US e-entrepreneur Nick Swinmurn’s Zappos site now owned by Amazon – offers more than 400 brand-name items to online shoppers in Southeast Asian countries at reasonable prices with free delivery. In Thailand, where Zalora Thailand Ltd has been operating for several

months and now boasts a staff of about 100, items are either delivered by motorcycle or posted, with payments made in cash or via bank transfers. “We are aware that in Thailand not so many people use credit cards, and some are reluctant to use credit cards online, so we are providing other channels,” said Julian Leither, Zalora Thailand’s managing director. The site offers both international and local brand name clothing and shoes for

Photos: Narong Sangnak/dpa

By Peter Janssen

Sold online: the Samwer brothers, founding fathers of Rocket Internet, hopes the Zalora Thailand fashion site will stimulate e-commerce in the Kingdom


May 2012 57



Different but the same Cultural events will form the basis for increased awareness of LGBT issues at this month’s Pride Week festival

By Roger Nelson

Colour me happy: artist Lyno Vuth depicts the difficulty in stereotyping gay Cambodian men in his Thoamada series 58 May 2012


Photos: Lyno Vuth


n a dusty printing store not far from Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument, a shy young clerk hands over a box of t-shirts. The words ‘Different but the Same’ are emblazoned in internationally recognisable rainbow colours across the shirts: the slogan chosen for this year’s Cambodia LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Pride Week, which runs from May 12-20 in the capital. “This year the slogan focuses on the sameness of us all as human beings despite our differences,” explains Cambodian artist Lyno Vuth, who designed the t-shirts. The slogan playfully references the ubiquitous ‘same same but different’ items sold at souvenir stalls all over the Kingdom. Not far from this modest printing store is the colossal residence of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who publicly disowned his adopted daughter for being a lesbian in 2007. “We are concerned that one day her girls [will] take bombs and poisonous materials to our house and we all will die,” Hun Sen was quoted as saying at the time. While homosexuality is not illegal in Cambodia, and is generally tolerated within the Buddhist faith, intolerant attitudes remain common, as does discrimination within families, workplaces and the legal system.

“Maybe sometimes we hear terrible horror stories, but I think I’d hear terrible horror stories if I went back to London, actually,” says Alan James Flux, a British-born designer, spoken word performer and activist who has been involved with organising LGBT Pride art exhibitions in Phnom Penh since 2009. “I think we’re in a friendly, embracing atmosphere.” Lyno Vuth agrees. “It’s great, it’s a very exciting energy, there is really a growing support, a growing number

of artists discussing the issues, growing discussions from neighbouring countries joining the event,” he enthuses. “There is this energy of solidarity and support.” Cambodia’s Chairmanship of Asean is boosting participation from the region this year. The British Embassy in Cambodia will sponsor Pride delegations from most Asean countries, following the first regional caucus of LGBT activists in Jakarta last year. Certainly, there is much reason for optimism. Since beginning as a q

Circle of diversity: Lyno Vuth’s Thoamada installation at Sa Sa Bassac in 2011


May 2012 59

Painting courage: artist Thang Sothea encourages Cambodia’s LGBT crowd to take confidence in their sexuality

one-night party in 2003 and expanding to a week-long festival in 2009, Cambodia LGBT Pride has grown exponentially. Several hundred LGBT Cambodians, plus their friends, family and expat supporters, flocked to over thirty different events in 2011 – and this year is set to be even bigger. From daily aerobics training in a public park, to workshops offering media training for activists and tuk tuk races between LGBT-friendly venues around the city, Cambodia LGBT Pride Week 2012 will offer a packed schedule. Last year, for the first time, a ‘community day’ was held at Sam Roung Andet Pagoda, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The event, which included a deeply 60 May 2012


moving Buddhist monks’ blessing, was particularly inspiring and encouraging for the many Cambodian participants. This year, the blessing will shift to the more central and publicly visible Toul Tompong Pagoda, near Phnom Penh’s famous Russian Market. Organisers are particularly excited to have a number of new venues involved for the first time this year, including the Institut Français, which Flux describes as “a very prestigious, well-respected and Khmer-friendly space”. The Institut will screen acclaimed feature film Le Fil, a French and Arabic production. For the first time this year, the expat community movie house The Flicks will be screening a series of

Pride events are almost all hosted in private venues, in part ªso no one can come shut us down and we don't have to ask permission º

LGBT-themed classic films. These venues join Meta House, which will continue to hold nightly screenings of LGBT films during Pride Week as it has for the past three years. “Films are a great way for people to learn about a life very different from their own,” says Collette O’Regan, a leading organiser of Pride who is involved in the programming of screenings. “Each year we focus on a few important films or documentaries which we feel have the capacity to inspire, encourage and to change attitudes.” Films are dubbed into Khmer language in order to reach the broadest possible Cambodian audience. This year, organisers are also

holding a competition for Cambodian film students to make short pieces on LGBT themes. Film screenings, art exhibitions, dance performances: these cultural events dominate Cambodia’s Pride Week. This is largely because, unlike most global cities, Phnom Penh does not hold a public LGBT parade. Pride events are almost all hosted in private venues, in part, says Flux, “so that no one can come and shut us down and we don’t have to ask permission”. Artistic and cultural events are seen as more inclusive and less threatening to Cambodian audiences than a public parade. “It’s taking time for people to get comfortable talking about the issues,” Lyno Vuth explains. He co-organised 2010’s Pride art exhibition, at a gallery bordering Psar Kabko market, near Meta House. “The thing I like about it is that it’s very close to everyday Cambodians,” he says. This year, Pride art exhibitions will be held at Meta House, Top Art Gallery on the busy riverside, and K’nyay restaurant and bar. Cambodian artists including Em Riem, Thang Sothea and Din Borin will be joined by Thai photographer Piyarat Piyapongwiwat, VietnameseAmerican artist Viet Le, and selected other regional and international contributors. The exhibitions will feature a diverse range of styles and mediums, including painting, video installation and jewellery design. Just as art and culture play a vital role in attracting Cambodians to Pride Week activities and raising awareness about LGBT issues, involvement in Pride can be an important boost to the confidence and profile of local artists. In 2011, Lyno Vuth was invited to hold a solo show at respected contemporary art gallery Sa Sa Bassac. He linked this with Pride Week “to make a connection and be part of a celebration, and for the awareness”. The exhibition, Thoamada (“normal”

in Khmer language), featured portraits and recorded interviews with nine Cambodian men who have sex with men (MSMs) – males who have sexual relations with other men but who do not identify as gay or bisexual. “We wanted to share some life stories about

Bullish: Thang Sothea’s “The Horny Monk”

Cambodian men,” says Lyno Vuth, who focused on “the individuality of people: even though they are a part of the gay community they are very diverse.” Thoamada was a hit during Pride Week, but was also acclaimed by art critics and curators, and Lyno Vuth was subsequently invited to join the important Chongqing Youth Biennial last year. “It’s a great opportunity for international exposure and getting the story wider,” Lyno Vuth admits, “but the challenge is to communicate the story to Cambodians.” Cambodia LGBT Pride Week, with its busy programme of art and cultural events, continues to creatively meet that challenge. ¡ Sea GLOBe

May 2012 61



Freedom in a can Hip-hop culture is booming in Vietnam. A circle of graffiti artists is taking to the streets and saying it with spray

Text & photos by Susanne Lenz


earing baggy jeans and oversize t-shirts, the young men congregate as darkness falls over Hanoi. It is the large open space under the statue of Lenin that attracts them. Soon there is music, hip-hop to be precise. It is 7pm and on Dien Bien Phu Boulevard the first jagged movements of breakdance steps are beginning to flow. If Lenin represents the communist past of the country, the growing cultural phenomenon taking place under his carefully sculpted nose exemplifies the future. Hip-hop is big news in a nation where nearly two-thirds of the population is aged under 30. The children of a growing middle class have access to the internet, to YouTube, and although the government blocks Facebook, they have no such problem with urban culture. The music and the breakdancing are considered harmless – the policemen at Lenin Square let the youngsters be. ‘Zunk’ is 22 years old. His real name is Tran Tien Dung. For him, the music also came first. After trying his hand as a breakdancer and a rapper he eventually settled on another aspect of hip-hop culture: graffiti. As a teenager he drew inspiration from Japanese manga comics. “I used to draw with chalk on the pavement in front of our house in Haiphong,” he says. He discovered the Viethiphop page online and realised he was not alone. The graffiti scene in Vietnam is not big, 62 May 2012


Zunk says. He estimates there are five crews in Hanoi with a total of about 50 members, as many again in Ho Chi Minh City, and a few more in other cities. Like their American counterparts, Vietnamese graffiti artists call themselves ‘writers’. But unlike some of the best-known contemporary street artists, Zunk does not aim to convey a political message through his work. He simply wants to make art. “Hip hop gives me freedom,” he says. Zunk wears jeans, a black and white plaid shirt, and short hair. His introduction to graffiti came when he sprayed his name on a wall at school. “They painted over it immediately,” he remembers. Hardly anyone knows what he does in his spare time. His father, who works as a security guard, is especially clueless. Zunk joined a graffiti crew called S5 shortly after moving to Hanoi at the age of 18 with his mother and younger sister. His parents wanted him to study economics and he obeyed. He would rather have done something involving art.

A writer and his work: Zunk stands by his tag

The crew set off on their painting sprees whenever an opportunity arose. He remembers spraying every available inch of space on walls at a building site. Their work in a neighbourhood behind the Army Museum is still there. The owners gave their consent, which is Zunk’s preferred situation. “If you spray illegally, you have to hurry and cannot do your best,” he says. On the other hand, he sees illegal street art as a seizure of public space: “It’s like saying: ‘I was here’.” It was through an illegal piece that the crew reached what they view as their peak. Ten of them painted a 30-metre wall in the centre of Hanoi in broad daylight. “There were so many of us, what could they do?” asks Zunk. That was two years ago and the graffiti was painted over, the wall returning to its previous dull grey. But the authorities overlooked Zunk’s name on the curb, which is still there, in red letters. Zunk has never been caught, although a few crew members have. They had to paint over their graffiti and bribe the policemen with 200,000 dong ($10). “Graffiti is considered dirty,” says Zunk. “The city, like most homeowners, wants to have clean walls.” It is a Saturday afternoon and the hip-hop club named Rock City, in a well-to-do area of Hanoi, is closed. Zunk arrives with a backpack full of spray cans. He is soon joined by other members of the crew. All are in their early- to mid-20s. ‘Crazone’ studied

art before abandoning his course to operate a tattoo studio with fellow artist ‘Zui’. They are joined by ‘Taurus’ and ‘Shadow’. All are middle-class kids. Graffiti in Vietnam is not for poor people – a can of paint costs $3. They whirl into action, the smell of thinner filling the air. Crazone sprays a bear wearing a school uniform and holding a tattoo gun. Zunk sprays the word ‘Hanoi’ in the shape of a guitar. Later, a DJ fills the room next door with beats, members of the crowd occasionally pausing to take in the the art being created in the next room. Since finishing his studies a few months ago, Zunk works in the marketing department of a Vietnamese jeans company. He says he is happy, although his job has nothing to do with his passion for paint. The next step is to legitimise graffiti. “I want people to see it as an art form,” says Zunk, but his efforts have so far foundered. Zunk recalls his attempt to organise an exhibition at the German Cultural Centre, which failed after no Vietnamese partner could be found. They did the show in a friend’s cafe. The German artist Veronika Radulovic once gave a presentation on graffiti at the University of Fine Arts in Hanoi. She said that everybody was horrified. “I’m afraid that my students will do that,” the director told her. That was 15 years ago. The times have not really changed. ¡ Sea GLOBe

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Inside Scotland Yard's animal protection unit, an officer displays a tiger's head seized during a raid in London



killers For more than 10 years, photographer Patrick Brown and Ben Davies have followed the global wildlife trade and its gruesome pursuit of profits

By Ben Davies


Asean and Myanmar 2014, page 42

Bats gathered from the forest surrounding Medan, Sumatra, on display at a roadside restaurant in Indonesia

The market in the town of Thakhilek, Myanmar, just across the border with Thailand, has many shops that sell wildlife products

Parts of a crocodile for sale in a wild game restaurant in the city of Guangzhou, China

At the Chitwan National Park, Nepal, a Royal Forestry Department officer holds a rhino skull. The stockpile of items is five years old and the value is an estimated $750,000

Photos: Patrick Brown � 2012 Panos Pictures


ay by day, hour by hour, our planet’s rarest creatures are being hunted, trapped and slaughtered to feed a global black market in wildlife products. Patrick Brown and I have been documenting the illegal endangered animal trade in Asia for more than ten years – covering its dealers, stockpiles, trafficking routes and markets. We have travelled across Asia to document the devastating impact of wildlife trafficking and the decade-long project will culminate with the publication of Trading to Extinction later this year. It is a shocking tale of cruelty, crime and human greed. As with drug trafficking, money fuels the animal trade. Its tentacles wrap around the world, from the remote forests of Asia to the trafficking hubs of Beijing, Bangkok, London, Tokyo and New York. A poacher who kills a rhino and removes its horn in India gets $350. That same horn sells for $1,000 in a nearby market town. By the time it reaches Hong Kong, Beijing or the Middle East, one kilogram of horn is worth $95,600. Tiger bones are worth up to $700 per kilo. This trade is flourishing, but the fightback has begun. An extraordinary worldwide movement is bringing people together in a bid to save our most endangered species before it is too late. Trading to Extinction will tell their stories. The images will be accompanied by my personal introduction which takes the reader on a journey into the seedy world of the illegal wildlife trade, as well as efforts to stop it. The funding received by Trading to Extinction will help to produce a campaigning tool and get copies of the book into the hands of people who can make a difference. By raising awareness of the speed and ruthlessness with which our endangered species are vanishing, the issue can be confronted head on. It is a problem that needs the world’s urgent attention. ¡

Campaigner: Australian Patrick Brown has lived in Thailand for more than a decade

HOW TO SUPPORT THE PROJECT AND PURCHASE THE BOOK: $65 – includes postage and handling. $150 – A signed and numbered limited edition of the book + a print. $500 – A signed and numbered limited edition of the book + an 8” x 10” work print. $1,000 – A signed and numbered limited edition of the book, plus a 12’’ x 16” signed limited edition fiberbase print. For more information, visit:


May 2012 69




Singapore goes pop


Panic on the streets

ªAs far as I know, it is the world's smallest toothpick replica of the Titanicº

Legend: The Smiths’ Morrissey


ig mouth is poised to strike again this month when the perennially chirpy Morrissey hits Southeast Asia to play three shows in six days. The former frontman of indie legends The Smiths makes most of

american craftsman steve backman states the obvious after completing work on a recreation of the titanic, sculpted from a single toothpick. the real ship measured almost 270 metres from prow to stern. backman’s model is just over 4cm long.


he amazing world of infamous pop artist Andy Warhol is open for exploration in Southeast Asia. Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal is a showcase of more than 260 paintings, drawings, sculptures, films and videos that runs until August 12 at ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. The exhibition charts a journey through Warhol’s early years, into his celebrated ‘factory’ years and his later works, featuring masterpieces including “Marilyn Monroe”, “Campbell’s Soup”, “Silver Liz” and numerous iconic self-portraits. ¡

70 May 2012


Gosling’s gone


omen want him, men want to be him, but Bangkok no longer gets to see him. After a number of months spent in the Thai capital, the world’s hottest, in every sense of the word, actor has finally wrapped filming on Muay Thai action film Only God Forgives. In the movie,

ªThis thing can be smoked with some of your finest, where you at or however you atº snoop doggy dogg describes a suggested use for his new book, rolling words. containing the lyrics to hip-hop classics such as “gin and juice”, the songbook is printed on paper that can be rolled and smoked upon completion.

Gosling plays a gym owner who embarks on a revenge mission after his brother is killed by an ex-cop. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has said the film will be even more violent than Drive, the last movie he worked on with Gosling, with much of the action taking place amongst the kitsch nightclubs and neon lights of Bangkok’s Chinatown. ¡

number crunch

Photos: Marina Bay Sands

Blonde ambition: artscience museum’s showcase is the largest collection of warhol’s works ever displayed in singapore

his headlines nowadays via scathing tirades against carnivores. However, recent albums have been generally well-received and when allied with miserablist manifestos such as “Panic”, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, his quiffness of gladioli has access to one of music’s richest back catalogues from which to construct his setlist. This charming man plays Singapore on May 8, Jakarta on May 10 and Manila on May 13. ¡


The amount, in dollars, that vegetable seller Goh Weng Soon was carrying when he was arrested in Singapore. It later transpired that he moonlighted as an illegal football bookie. Goh was jailed for a year and fined $390,000.


May 2012 71



IsOlAtIOn Nestled in the stunning Koh Rong archipelago, Song Saa Private Island has taken luxury to a new level, in more ways than one

By Dene Mullen 72 May 2012


Photo: Sunya Thadathanawong



May 2012 73

A thousand words: exquisite sunset views await on your doorstep at Song Saa, which means ‘sweethearts’ in Khmer

74 May 2012


On Song Saa, it seems as if the sun rises and sets a little later, providing an apparent extra hour in bed for early-risers, or a longer afternoon for sunset-gazers. In a tourism market so reliant on temples and tragedy, it is hoped that Song Saa can be the catalyst for a new conversation – one that looks to Cambodia’s future, rather than its past, and proves that world-class destinations need not be the preserve of the country’s Southeast Asian neighbours. This is apparent from the moment the rustic luxury of its accommodations is revealed: a bed so soft that it is difficult to stifle a chuckle upon your first visit; enveloping oneself in the chenille microfiber robes is akin to being wrapped in a cloud and, on the initial guided tour of the villa, few visitors will fail to mentally set aside an hour or two to wrinkle in the huge terrazzo sunken baths with magnificent views of the Gulf of Thailand.

Yet Song Saa soon proves to be more than just Cambodia’s most lavish resort. Its two islands are connected by nothing more than a wooden footbridge, with Koh Ouen the site of almost all facilities and accommodation, and Koh Bong remaining largely untouched emergent rainforest. The desire to tread lightly first becomes apparent when staff politely request that guests not use shampoo in their villa’s outdoor showers “because

We never set out to find an island and build a luxury resort. It came with a big sense of responsibility Rory Hunter, Song Saa

Photos: Sam Jam for SEA Globe (1), Markus Gortz (1)


he engine of the 500-horsepower speedboat is fired up and within minutes the natural majesty of Song Saa Private Island is little more than a blip on the horizon. As Cambodia’s first luxury island resort disappears from view, with its smiling staff frantically waving goodbye, time briefly stands still. For Song Saa has adopted its own time zone. Known as ‘island time’, any soul fortunate enough to find themselves mindlessly kicking along the pristine white sands, luxuriating in one of the resort’s 27 bungalows, or enjoying eyewidening creations at the fine-dining restaurant, is doing so one hour ahead of the rest of Cambodia. Upon arriving back on the mainland, it is necessary not only to reconvene with reality, but also to reconfigure timepieces. Island time is designed to make life just that little bit easier in surroundings where such cosseting is patently not necessary.

Evening elegance: the resort’s overwater bar and restaurant, Vista, offers both fine-dining and a more relaxed spot for a drink

of the damage to the sea environment”. Further inspection soon reveals that driftwood found washed up on the western shores of local islands permeates practically every structure on Song Saa. The scaviola plants and pandanis trees that line the sand walkways were chosen because of their nativity to the area. The kitchen doors in villas are made from recycled fishing boats that had sailed their last voyage. Six years ago, husband and wife team Rory and Melita Hunter chartered a fishing boat of their own and set off on a two-week adventure to explore Cambodia’s islands. By the time they arrived back onshore, they had been offered the chance to buy both Koh Ouen and Koh Bong from the islands’ inhabitants and land title owners, many of whom were keen to return to the mainland. “It was such a crazy, left-of-centre proposition that we sort of said yes, there and then. And that was the

catalyst for everything,” explains Rory. “We never set out to find an island and build a luxury resort. It came with a big sense of responsibility, to do it right and set good benchmarks and standards on how to treat the environment, how to respect the local community… we had to engage at that local level.” That meant creating what the Hunters refer to as a ‘triple bottom line’ business, where people and the planet are added into the equation alongside profits. “A perfect example is that if we bulldoze that island over there and build a skyscraper, that would dramatically impact our profits because we have destroyed the planet,” says Rory. While en route to Song Saa’s neighbouring island of Koh Rong for a refined picnic on ‘five-mile beach’, Barnaby Olson, Song Saa’s head of conservation, explains the resort’s many environmental schemes. When relaxing on this stretch of beach, where the sand is

like icing sugar, so delicate it squeaks underfoot, it is particularly easy to understand the desire to protect the Koh Rong archipelago’s natural charms. The resort has established, and is monitoring, a marine protected area that extends 200 metres around both of its islands. This is in the process of being extended to an area of 14 square kilometres, and a carbon-offsetting scheme for guests is also on the horizon. Artificial reefs have been created and deployed underneath the overwater villas to increase the complexity of the habitat, while ‘the coral garden’ will be a monitoring site that produces some of Cambodia’s only solid, long-term scientific data on environmental issues and processes such as coral bleaching. According to Barnaby, all of the resort’s work is introduced to, and run in conjunction with, local communities. “It’s never us going in and saying this is what we’re doing, live with it,” he q Sea GLOBe

May 2012 75

explains. “We try to give them as much involvement as possible.” Song Saa offers a number of guest ‘encounters’ – from water sports and snorkelling to rainforest hikes and mangrove kayaking – many of which are designed to engage visitors in the resort’s conservation work. Following a spot of wakeboarding – not a sport to try if afflicted with the unholy alliance of no technique and a distinct lack of upper-body strength – the chance to meet members of the local community is presented.

Much of Song Saa’s work with the native population is centred on the village of Prek Svay, on the island of Koh Rong. Roughly the same size as Hong Kong Island, Koh Rong remains largely untouched and is home to just 2,000 inhabitants, about 700 of whom live in the village. The scene on Prek Svay is a familiar one: replace the sand and soaring palms with dirt tracks and banyan trees and this could be any village in Cambodia. Dogs that have seen better days nap in the shade, seeking solace from the heat.

In the bin: Prak Saran works alongside local villagers on waste management in Prek Svay

76 May 2012


Shirtless teenagers dart about with the tenacity that only teenagers can muster. An elderly woman wields a cleaver, skilfully dissecting a pile of lizardfish and juvenile flatheads. Prak Saran, Song Saa’s community engagement officer, greets members of the community while discussing the programmes taking place in Prek Svay. The waste management scheme is perhaps the most noticeable at a glance – piles of litter, so often synonymous with Cambodian village life, are almost entirely absent here. After the village committee stated a desire to tidy up, cash was the initial incentive for the people of Prek Svay to collect rubbish, but over time the villagers began to see the benefits for themselves, eventually forming a waste management group of five people. “It was a big responsibility to clean a whole village but our group got great support from the people here. q

Photos: Sam Jam for SEA Globe

Road less travelled: a traditional buffalo cart transports visitors to the site of the resort’s agriculture initiatives

Breakfast is served: in-villa dining arrives on foot


May 2012 77


78 May 2012


ªI guess that people might consider sea urchin ice cream to be strangeº


ne of the key features of the Song Saa experience is the degustation dreamland it provides, thanks to English executive chef Neil Wager and his team. The fine-dining Vista restaurant and laid-back Driftwood bar provide vastly different options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Wager’s take on Khmer street food is served all afternoon from antique hawker trolleys positioned beside the resort’s main infinity pool. A mixture of homely Western and Khmer cuisine is available in-villa, 24 hours a day. Ever wake at 4am and fancy a Tasmanian ribeye steak with chips, fresh shucked oysters, or tamarind and honey roasted quails? If so, you are well catered for on Song Saa. ‘Destination dining’ options are tailored to the desires of guests and served in style at locations around Song Saa’s two islands. On Koh Ouen, a table can be set on a platform in the pool, with water between the toes. Koh Bong remains largely untouched, connected to its smaller sweetheart by a wooden footbridge, and provides a dinner setting among the emergent rainforest, fireflies twinkling in the perfect darkness.

Food, glorious food: room service reaches new heights at Song Saa (top); Tim Pheak is the rising star of the resort’s kitchen (centre); ‘destination dining’ offers guests an array of striking venues for a romantic meal

Upwardly mobile: Sin Sarouen, one of the islands’ original inhabitants, has become an integral part of the Song Saa team

Photos: Sam Jam for SEA Globe

Now some of the families even donate 1,000 riel ($0.25) per month to support the group,” says Chan Sarin, a villager who has become the leader of the waste management group. Bins now proliferate in the village, nestled under palm trees, or standing tall and full next to local coffee bars. The villagers also approached Saran to have educational signs installed, meaning that most bins are now twinned with a sign, written in Khmer and worded by the locals, that reads: ‘Please put your waste in the bin for a clean village, clean environment, good health and to attract tourists.’ Due to poor soil quality in Prek Svay, Song Saa has also instigated a composting scheme and provided advice about irrigation techniques. “It is having a knock-on effect,” says Saran, a biology graduate of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “We have two other villages on this island and I had a meeting with the local authorities. They asked me what we are doing here and then set up their own systems by themselves.” These other villages have approximately 500 and 300 inhabitants respectively, meaning that 1,500 of Koh Rong’s 2,000 villagers are engaging in professionally planned, long-term schemes. A man soon approaches, bare-chested and with a smile as broad as his belly is round. This is Keo Pov, Prek Svay’s village chief. “I hope that in the future our children will benefit from Song Saa’s projects because they try to educate people here, especially the kids,” he says. “People have work now, it is helping to reduce poverty for local people in Prek Svay.” There is not much time to chat, however, as one of the more rustic modes of transport made available to Song Saa’s guests is waiting. Our buffalo-drawn, wooden cart makes its way along a sandy track, through a corridor of cashew nut trees, en route to a local farming family that has benefited from the introduction of agri- and aquaculture techniques. En Phea and her family greet guests with smiles and freshly harvested q

fHow did you come to be on Song Saa? I was working on North Island in the Seychelles but wanted something different. I was sitting by the pool on holiday and did an internet search for ‘new private islands opening in 2012’ and Song Saa was the first one that popped up. I thought, ‘that looks good’, so I sent an email and it went from there. fYou’ve had some pretty interesting jobs in the past as well, haven’t you? I’ve been consultant chef to Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, when she was the face of Weightwatchers in the US. I produced a food line for David Beckham

Executive chef Neil Wager discusses the triumphs and challenges of the Song Saa kitchen

as well, when he did ready meals called ‘Go 3’. I have also worked as a consultant development chef for Jean-Christophe Novelli, John Burton Race and Marco Pierre White. Before that I worked in Formula One for eight years as an executive chef at an event catering company. fWhat have been the main challenges to starting a kitchen from scratch on Song Saa? Getting ingredients here is probably the biggest challenge. It’s not that they aren’t available, it is getting them here. Sourcing them is not always easy in Cambodia and neither is getting the kind of equipment I want to use, such as liquid nitrogen. fIs there any piece of equipment you couldn’t do without? A sous-vide machine, which is a water bath – basically a big square kettle. We’ll marinade meat and then put it in a plastic bag inside the water bath. You cook it for 24 hours at 50 degrees celcius and it will be really tender and soft.

fWhat proportion of your ingredients is sourced locally? We’ll soon have at least 50% of our ingredients sourced from the islands and Sihanoukville. Then, in terms of Cambodia, it is probably 70% and we’re hoping for that to get higher. fHave you taken the opportunity to get to know local ingredients? When I first joined the company, I was allowed to tour around Cambodia. I went to Kampot for the pepper and ended up finding salt, which was interesting. We found ibis rice up in Preah Vihear province, which is where the paddy fields are farmed the traditional way with buffaloes instead of metal tractors. By doing that, they’ve seen the ibis population increase. Which, being the national bird, is a very good thing. fWhat about Cambodian dishes and cooking methods? I got to learn about the way that local people use ingredients and bring that here. Some of the great chefs in this country, like Luu Meng and Johannes Riviere, are doing lovely traditional recipes in a modern way, so I realised that I should deconstruct those dishes and use the same ingredients in a different way. fWhat have been the most weird and wonderful recipes you’ve come up with so far? We made a dessert called Pebble Beach, which contained touches like cocoa butter for the sand, coconut espuma for the sea and coral made from caramel. I guess one that people might consider strange is sea urchin ice cream, or maybe yakitori eel. fWhat food do you miss from home? Good back bacon. But we’ve got two pigs coming tomorrow so we are going to start making our own, and English pork sausages too. ¡


May 2012 79

Splendid sea: of Song Saa’s 27 villas, nine offer the opportunity to plunge straight into the Gulf of Thailand

80 May 2012


Photos: Sam Jam for SEA Globe (1), Markus Gortz (1)

coconuts, while cockerels strut and the cheeping of tiny chicks provides a gregarious soundtrack. Phea and her husband decided to take up the resort’s offer of teaching them freshwater farming skills and a large pond now stands on their land, home minaly to tilapia fish, chosen because it is a locally found species, and due to its speed of growth and unfussy eating habits. “It is very good for my family to get help with new projects,” says Phea. “We hope to be able to help other families in the same way once our fish project has matured. When we have raised enough, we will give some of them to another family and teach them the skills we have learned.” Yet it is not just the local people of Prek Svay that are benefiting from Song Saa’s triple bottom line business model. Of the resort’s 200 members of staff, 170 are Cambodian, each with their own story to tell. One of the most remarkable is that of Tim Pheak, a former street kid who was nurtured by Phnom Penh NGO Pour Un Sourir D’Enfant (PSE) and is now the rising star of Song Saa’s kitchen.

Executive chef Neil Wager gurgles superlatives when describing Pheak’s work ethic and natural ability. The young Cambodian will soon spend time in the kitchens of some of the world’s finest restaurants, and top chefs will share their knowledge on Song Saa, in a skills exchange programme that the resort hopes to eventually roll out across most departments. As Rory Hunter says: “Cambodia is winning at both ends, this is about imparting skills and knowledge that people can then use for the rest of their lives.” When the Hunters first arrived on the islands six years ago, they promised a job for life to any of the 50 original inhabitants who wanted one. Sin Sarouen decided to stay on and it is immediately apparent that this is one special human being. His vast smile and positive energy are delightfully infectious as he explains his experiences thus far. “I have lived here for almost 20 years. I was a fisherman and when Song Saa bought the island I couldn’t speak English but I applied to work with them. I wanted to learn new skills and I

wanted to work. Melita and Rory were very kind to me and taught me skills like how to speak English,” says Sarouen. “At first I was working on a longtail boat as the captain and helping to turn the power generators on and off. They were my first two jobs. Then I joined the conservation team, where I was taught how to dive. Now I have moved up to transport supervisor. I have to organise boats to and from the island, whether it is people or goods, I help oversee the whole operation.” For all of Song Saa’s personal infinity pools, chenille robes and frightfully well-stocked minibars, for most guests it is people like Sarouen that truly complete their experience. Or people like San Narith, the impeccably courteous, yet inquisitive and laid-back, guest experience supervisor. Or the conservation team’s supremely knowledgeable Nong Channy, who insists on being called ‘Johnny’. This is a place where people matter. Where the environment matters. A place where, for a while at least, time stands still. ¡

Upwardly mobile: Sin Sarouen, one of the islands’ original inhabitants, has become an integral part of the Song Saa team


May 2012 81


resorts Five of the best spots for a refined getaway

beachfront, or indulge in traditional Thai cuisine and flavours at Banyan Tree’s signature restaurant overlooking the glittering swells of the Gulf of Thailand.


Four seasons, thailand

P Natural: Pangkor Laut remains largely untouched

Pangkor laut resort, Malaysia


pulent accommodation isn’t hard to come by in Southeast Asia, but it is an undeniable truth that not all luxury getaways are created equal. With a string of tourism awards to its name, Pangkor Laut Resort is well established as one of the region’s prestigious retreat options. Named after its private island home, the exclusive resort is located a short distance off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. Perfect white sand beaches surrounding the tropical isle are a given, while access to a library, hair salon and gift store ensure that every whim is catered for. Some of the nine villas sit at the edge of Marina Bay with access to a private beach, 82 May 2012


ristine beaches take a backseat at Four Seasons Resort in Chiang Mai, with vivid green rice fields commanding the spotlight. Four Seasons offers 98 spacious accommodations, each complete with opulent interiors featuring Thai art and an outdoor sala. Located minutes from the artistic and cultural heritage of Thailand’s northern capital, guests can immerse themselves in as much or as little of the local culture as desired. Take a balloon ride over the plains of the Ping River Valley at sunrise, learn the art of rice planting or get active with Thai-style kickboxing classes for a holiday with a difference.

Blue heaven: the Nam Hai’s infinity pool is a highlight, made up of three pools, each sloping down into the next

while others blend seamlessly into the natural surrounds of the hillside jungle. Both options, however, demonstrate how opulence and nature work best in unison to create an unforgettable holiday experience.

Bulgari resort, indonesia


rue to the luxury brand’s legacy, no expense was spared developing Bali’s Bulgari Resort. Nestled atop Jimbaran peninsula’s cliff tops, and teetering above the Indian Ocean, sits a perfect fusion of traditional Balinese architecture and Italian style. Located on the peninsula’s southern tip, Bulgari’s unique positioning offers both spectacular sunrise and sunset views. Upward

of $900 affords one night in a spacious ocean view villa complete with a private plunge pool. If the lush surrounds don’t satisfy, total pampering is an optional extra. The onsite spa provides a holistic experience, blending therapeutic traditions of Indonesian massage and the contemporary healings of modern spa technology.

Banyan tree, thailand


hailand’s Koh Samui throws up myriad resort options but leading the prestige market is the island’s Banyan Tree resort. Reminiscent of the coastline of southern Italy, the resort’s villas are nestled in a series of cascading terraces on a private hill cove overlooking

the scenic Lamai Bay. Each dining location at Banyan Tree seeks to showcase the island’s inviting sapphire waters and white sand beaches. For a gourmet experience, enjoy fresh seafood at the

At Nam Hai... each of the 40 pool villas is assigned a world-class butler ± available 24 hours a day

nam hai, Vietnam


am Hai offers one of the best examples of sophisticated resort living in the region. Marking a point of difference in service, each of the 40 pool villas is assigned a worldclass butler – available 24 hours a day – to ensure expectations are always exceeded. Inspired by traditional Vietnamese garden houses, each accommodation utilises elevated platforms to feature local artwork and dramatic furnishings. The Spa treatment pavilions are a design marvel, with French doors opening to reveal a Koi fish-filled lagoon, while ensuring complete privacy. ¡


May 2012 83



the fINAl couNTdowN The island of Phu Quoc has enchanted independent travellers for years. What does the future hold for this teardrop in the Gulf of Thailand?


other Nature was certainly in a generous mood when bestowing her gifts on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc. Dense green rainforest cloaks the 99 peaks running along the island’s spine, like the ridges on the back of a mythical dragon, and is home to a 84 May 2012


stunning array of plants and wildlife: endangered orchids, eagles and falcons; and species such as the Bengal slow loris, the Asian small-clawed otter and the great hornbill. This tropical arcadia tumbles down gentle slopes to a string of sandy beaches, remote coves and clear waters that guard

an equally diverse bounty of coral reefs, sea grass meadows and myriad creatures including turtles, seahorses and the elusive dugong – a huge, seal-like creature minus the endearing face. Amongst these rare species is the rather more ubiquitous Phu Quoc hunting dog. With its pronounced ridgeback, q

Photo: Frank Guiziou/Hemisphere/AFP

By Simon Hare

Worlds apart: Phu Quoc pairs glorious beaches and high-end resorts with traditional fishing life


May 2012 85


Island life: the 20km Long Beach; Duong Dong, Phu Quoc’s largest and busiest town (far right)

86 May 2012


are revered by Caodaiists, with less likely ‘holy spirits’ such as Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King and Lenin a few rungs lower on the ladder of enlightenment but nonetheless revered inside the temple. A darker experience awaits at the Phu Quoc Prisoner of War museum. Many locals believe that tales of execution and torture carried out by South Vietnamese soldiers on their northern counterparts are pure fabrication, but the museum

Calm seas: a statue at Chen Sea Resort

documents explicitly the fate of thousands of prisoners over the centuries. The ‘tiger cage’ displayed on the museum’s grounds – a small, barrel-shaped cage of barbed wire where prisoners would be left naked to burn in the midday sun – seems to verify this idyllic island’s bleaker times. Alongside Phu Quoc’s more abstruse attractions is the staple fare of tropical island life. Mile upon mile of deserted beaches beg inspection and relaxation, a jungle-clad interior taunts obstinate adventurers, while traditional fishing villages dot the coast, vivid colours splashed here and there by the numerous boats waiting to take to the waves. Accommodation options were once limited, but are beginning to run the gamut. The most affordable options remain clustered around the northern end of Long Beach, which stretches for some 20 kilometres along the western coast, while luxurious resorts to the north of the island can command nightly rates of up to $500.

For so long the island’s relative inaccessibility, despite its location only 12 kilometres southwest of Kampot in Cambodia, had kept visitor numbers at manageable levels. Just 80,000 foreign tourists were recorded in 2011, but as visitors fly into the island’s tiny airport, a giant gash in the luxuriant green is clearly visible where the new $810m international airport is nearing completion. A second scar cuts through the forest to make way for a multi-lane

economically but one that is alarming environmentalists, traditionalists and independent travellers. A visit to Long Beach in high season offers a glimpse of what could become of this jewel of an island if further development is not properly managed. The once celebrated beach is fast disappearing as hotels creep towards the water’s edge in subtle land-grabs; whining jet skis and pounding music shatter the silence; and the island’s

Just 80,000 foreign tourists were recorded in 2011 but... targets for tourist growth are set at a staggering three million visitors by 2020 Photos: Simon Hare

curly tail and blue tongue, it is a loyal beast that has inspired many myths on the part of the locals. Allegedly unable to thrive anywhere other than Phu Quoc, it is also claimed that the breed is capable of capturing its master’s scent from over a kilometre away. Visitors will be delighted at possessing a slightly less refined sense of smell should they choose to visit the fish sauce factory in the island’s capital Duong Dong. Phu Quoc is famous for producing a particularly fine version of the Southeast Asian staple, known locally as nuoc mam. A three-metre ladder even provides a chance for advanced stench snooping – by peering inside a giant vat of the slowly fermenting condiment. Also in Duong Dong, the gaudily painted Cao Dai temple provides an interesting introduction to one of the region’s more idiosyncratic religions. Caodaiism is based around the ‘three teachings’, each representing a different level of spiritual attainment. ‘Saints’ such as Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed

highway. Targets for tourist growth are set at a staggering three million visitors to the island by 2020. A recent report in The New York Times described Phu Quoc as “the next Phuket”, a comparison that may sound attractive

fabled dogs happily use the beach as playground, boudoir, battlefield and toilet. Elsewhere, illegal logging threatens endangered animal habitats, careless divers gradually eat away at coral reefs,

and over-fishing to satisfy the increasing demands of the fish sauce industry is depleting marine stocks. For now, however, development has slowed. The new airport is still on schedule to open later this year, but payments to contractors building the highway have dried up, leaving an unfinished road and bulldozers standing idle at its side. The island still awaits connection to the cheaper national electricity grid, meaning many investors are biding their time before committing significant cash. These delays may prove to be nothing more than a temporary stay of execution, but it seems that Phu Quoc has reached a fork in the road. Will it become another tale of a long-gone ‘untouched Asia’ spouted by sentimental travellers, or one of the tourism industry’s great missed opportunities? The island, when seen from the air, is said to be shaped like a teardrop. The next couple of years could reveal from where it was shed. ¡ Sea GLOBe

May 2012 87



Many travel agencies and guides offer trips to the Chocolate Hills but a visit also provides a good opportunity to get closer to the locals on public transport. From the town of Tagbilaran, buses depart regularly for the town of Carmen. Ask the bus driver to drop you at the Hills complex about four kilometres before Carmen.


NatuRal wonder With over 7,000 islands to choose from, Bohol manages to stand out in the crowd


Weighing between 100 and 150 grams, the tiny fellows with huge, soulful eyes fit comfortably in the palm of a human hand, but are capable of leaping more than three metres between trees. The best spot for a close encounter is at the Philippine Tarsier Research and Development Centre, where they roam free in their natural habitat, about ten kilometres north of Tagbilaran, Bohol’s busy port town. The quirks of nature continue to come thick and fast on Bohol, but the undisputed king of the island’s tourism destinations are the Chocolate Hills. An incredible terrain of conical limestone mounds covered with grass, the hills at first glance seem ethereal due to their amazingly uniform height and formation. During the dry season, the grass on the hills turns a delicious shade of brown, thus providing the confectioner’s finishing touch. A multitude of geological explanations have been applied to their formation, some more credible than others, but the mythical tale of two giants who forgot to tidy their mess after an extended rock fight will suffice for the romantic at heart. When the time comes to unwind and empty thoughts of feuding giants and petite primates from the mind, Panglao Island, connected to Bohol by a bridge, is usually the destination of choice. A sparkling dribble of sand, Alona Beach, winds along the southwest coast and the choice between a San Miguel and a Red Horse Beer may be the most taxing question visitors face during their stay. ¡

meeting rooms & catering in the heart of Phnom Penh fully equipped multi function rooms for events from 2 to 100 persons Comme à la Maison has been providing catering services in Cambodia since 1996

The tiny tarsiers with huge eyes fit comfortably in the palm of a human hand but are capable of leaping three metres

chocolate hunter

88 May 2012

he Philippines is certainly a land of contradictions. Thousands of unspoilt, coral-fringed islands but relatively few tourists. The victim of numerous colonisations, but possessed of a unique flavour all its own. Even cash-loving dictator’s wife and politician Imelda Marcos – who abruptly quashed scurrilous rumours that she owned 3,000 pairs of shoes, claiming to have ‘only’ 1,060 pairs – has seemed confused about her country’s place in the world. At one point she claimed it was “bad enough that the Philippines is really hamburgered geographically”. On another occasion she gushed: “The Philippines was right at the centre of the globe... As Chairman Mao said, ‘You can change ideologies any time, but you can never change geography.’ Geopolitics – this is what will make the Philippines great and beautiful again.” Yet one feature of Southeast Asia’s easternmost nation that has never been in doubt is the incredible charm of Bohol Island. Located just a short ferry hop from Cebu, one of the Philippines’ main transport hubs, Bohol can be taken in briefly but rewards those who stick around with bounteous offerings from the bosom of nature. In the last few years, increasingly glamorous resorts have begun to nibble on Bohol’s teat, but ecotourism remains the default setting of this 60-mile-wide island and its surrounds. The jungleclad interior is home to an array of flora and fauna, with none more interesting than a lovable little primate known as the Philippine tarsier.

for information or booking please contact our sales department RESTAURANT, DELISHOP & CATERING _______________________________ 13-15 STREET 57 PHNOM PENH 0 23 360 801 - 012 951 869 _______________________________ s a l e s @ c o m m e a l a mSea a i sGLOBe o n - d eMay l i c a2012 t e s 89


A crAb dinner

Crab with Kampot pepper is the local speciality and one of the best places to try it is Kimly Restaurant, located among the many restaurants of Kep’s famed crab market. The shrimp tom yum soup and the shrimp with Kampot pepper are also worth trying. Bookings are preferred, tel: +855 12 435 096

SAiling club

A stone’s throw from Knai Bang Chatt (but outside the resort, assuring guests’ privacy), the Sailing Club is the ideal sunset bar and restaurant. Reminiscent of an exclusive members’ club in Miami or on the Cote d'Azur, it is actually a former fisherman's house with a pier and a dock. Be sure to head there for the sunset happy hour, but arrive early to guarantee a seat.

HAnd in HAnd

Three percent of Knai Bang Chatt’s total income goes to the Hand in Hand Project ( The project helps the community development plan for Chamcar Bei village, working to help improve the lives of over 256 families, providing education, clean water and economic opportunities. The Sailing Club sells fun items such as regenerated plastic bags, designed and made in the ‘funky junk’ plastic recycling project.


Jewel in the

Kep expo

CROWN Colonial majesty is rejuvenated at Kep’s Knai Bang Chatt

Former glory: the main villa housing Knai Bang Chatt is one of the finest examples of restored architecture in Kep

The past and future of Kep will be examined in the Kep Expo, an event set to open on 12.12.12 in Phnom Penh, before travelling to Paris and finally returning to Kep. This permanent exhibition aims to promote and recreate Kep in a limited space through an audio-visual tour. It will also run workshops and projects that develop the skills of young Cambodian artists and students. Director: Serge Remy (


Tel: +855 78 888 556. For queries or reservations: reservations@ or Rates: doubles from $150 per night. See website for offers and special stays.


his is a place where you can sit down, look out to sea and start talking about the meaning of life.” So says Jef Moons, the co-owner of Knai Bang Chatt, a luxurious boutique hotel in Cambodia's small seaside town of Kep. Known in the 1920s as the ‘jewel of the Côte d’Agathe’, Kep was a favourite destination of the French colonial administration. Following independence, then Prince Norodom Sihanouk planned to make it the Saint-Tropez of Southeast Asia in the 50s and 60s. Kep became a showcase for a Cambodia that was cultured, wealthy and apparently far from the war in Indochina. The villas of the new national elite were a symbol of this confidence. They were designed in the modernist style of New Khmer Architecture, a combination of the style practiced at the time in Europe by Le Corbusier and ancient Khmer forms, with a functionalism that reflected climate and territory. The master of this style was Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, who also designed the Olympic Stadium and Independence Monument in Phnom Penh.

90 May 2012


In the dark years that followed, those same villas turned to ruin. Climbing roots and India-rubber trees covered and devoured the walls, framing the gaps of former windows, drawing metaphysical designs on the walls on which mouldy greens and yellows have stained what is left of the blue, ochre and pink decorations beneath. Knai Bang Chatt was originally one of the most beautiful of these villas, built close to the sea in the early 70s by a protégé of Le Corbusier. Moons and his partner Boris Vervoordt, along with architect Francoise Lavielle, have cleverly retained the original style in the building’s recent additions, as well as the elegant interiors, the communal spaces such as the seafront dining pavillion, the infinity pool and the roof terrace on one small building. “We went in search of a lost time here,” says Moons. “We’ve tried to recreate a dimension of luxury and escapism, a place of refuge.” It is a natural, architectural and psychological dimension. An ideal place for discussing the meaning of life by the sea. ¡

Photos: Andrea Pistolesi

By Massimo Morello

Purple haze: Knai Bang Chatt's infinity pool provides views over the Gulf of Thailand


May 2012 91


ElEctric feel I

n 1967, when singing “Purple Haze”, Jimi Hendrix was keen to be excused while he kissed the sky. Guitar virtuosos of a more recent vintage may find it difficult to resist planting one squarely on the sleek body of this creation by Andres Lüer Solorza. The Black Haze guitar features internal digital technology, allowing axe-wielders to control both volume and tone via an LED display. An exchangeable body makes it possible to customise string attacks, while the guitar’s design is ambidextrous, putting an end to lefties occasionally having to learn to play upside down – as was once the case with a certain Mr P. McCartney. ¡

Dark matter: the Black Haze can be played by both left- and right-handed guitarists

92 May 2012



May 2012 93


can happen. The bracelets carry handwritten or printed information, but it is easy for the mother’s data to be misplaced or become separated from that of the child. Hospital workers usually take ink fingerprints of infant and mother – but a baby’s prints are illegible at that age. Also, the bracelet can simply slip off. The ICN system is novel in that it combines two technologies: biometrics and radio frequency. “The biometric function ensures an unequivocal and permanent identification of the newborn by taking high-resolution fingerprints. The radio frequency allows for monitoring, control and real time localisation of the baby, his or her mother, and the nurses taking care of them,” said Herreros. The gadget uses an electronic reading device that takes fingerprints of a newborn and the infant’s biological mother in the birthing room. Hospital workers place an electronic bracelet on the mother and her child that contains that data. Fingerprint biometrics is a method already being used to identify adults, but this is the first time it has been applied to newborns. It is also the first time the two techniques are used conjointly. “Radio frequency monitoring can be applied in any environment in which it is necessary to identify and monitor people and valuable objects,” Herreros said. The ICN Technologies system includes an alarm that is activated should someone tear off the baby’s bracelet. The system locks hospital doors shut, blocks elevators and the entire hospital centre goes into alert.



babY Gone

A new monitoring system aims to make the mix-up, or theft, of newborns a thing of the past

The system locks hospital doors and blocks elevators

Rock-a-bye: a mother and her baby using the ICN Technologies device to protect infant identity and prevent theft or accidental switches


hen Carlos Herreros’ first daughter was born, he did not expect the occasion would trigger a mission to create a new technology aimed at improving infants’ security while

in hospital. The Spanish chairman of ICN Technologies set his firm the task of creating an identification and monitoring system for babies, after he returned to the hospital where his baby was born and found her wearing different clothes and with her identification band on a different leg. “I felt overcome by a sensation of total defencelessness,” said Herreros. He has since been working on his gadget, which he considers infallible, for 11 years and says that cases of hospital negligence are far more common than is known. “Hospitals and administrators keep those figures very tight,” said Herreros. A private study last year of a Spanish hospital 94 May 2012


found that out of 4,000 births in a year 24 infant identity errors occurred in barely six months. “The question that comes to mind is: ‘How many went undetected?’” said Herreros. Additionally, in numerous Latin American countries, infant thefts are common because of negligence in hospitals or for personal gain. The consequences of child theft or mistakes leading to identity mix-ups are unacceptable, said Herreros: “That someone should impose on another person that he or she live a life that is not theirs is inadmissible and goes against every legal precept.” There could also be serious medical considerations, for example, if the individual ever needed a transplant and there was no genetic compatibility with his or her parents. Currently, children are protected in most hospitals through identification bracelets for mother and infant. But errors

Photo: ICN Technologies

By Raquel Miguel

Demand for the system is growing outside of Spain, especially in Latin America and the Gulf countries. Herreros said that in Latin America baby loss or theft is not always due to negligence or human error, but also because of economic interests and because some people are forced under financial duress to sell their own children. Chile is even considering using the system to track mineworkers after the 2010 accident in which 33 miners were trapped for nearly 70 days before finally being rescued alive. Herreros said that getting hospitals to install the baby security devices is not always easy. There are financial objections as well as psychological ones. “It is hard to get them to understand that a reliable identification and control system for a newborn deserves the same attention and financial investment as a diagnostic device,” he said. “A system like this one does not cure, but it avoids errors with grave consequences, such as the loss of a human being’s identity, sometimes for life.” ¡ Sea GLOBe

May 2012 95

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Gibbon Spotting Cambodia is a gibbon-viewing community-based ecotourism project in northeast Cambodia. The project is an initiative of See Cambodia Differently and DutchCo Trekking Cambodia in partnership with Conservation International and local communities.

Gibbon gabber Ben Rawson is a primatologist with Conservation International and has worked with gibbons for more than ten years

f What makes gibbons special?

Once you see them brachiating through the canopy in the wild, you will be able to answer this question yourself. They are simply beautiful, elegant animals. Adult males and females sing in harmony together, and their calls echoing out over the quiet dawn forest is for me an almost spiritual experience. f Gibbons pair-bond as humans do. Is this the only similarity to humans? Gibbons have long been thought to be monogamous and to pair-bond for life, and have been called the romantic ape. However, as researchers collect more data on wild gibbons it is becoming clear that this is not quite as accurate as we would like to imagine. While most gibbon species form groups of a single male and female, some species actually 98 May 2012


form single-male, multiple female groups while others form groups with one female and several males. It has also been discovered that monogamous relationships may be anything but, with individuals stealing into their neighbours’ territories and mating with other individuals outside of the pair-bond. Group transfer (an individual leaving its mate to join another individual in another area) has also been reported. Not as romantic as we once imagined. f What kinds of gibbons can be found in Cambodia? The pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus), which is found largely in the southwest, with the largest populations being in the Cardamom Mountains and surrounding forests. The southern yellow-cheeked crested gibbon

(Nomascus gabriellae) found only east of the Mekong River (like all Nomascus genus gibbons) and south of the Srepok River, this species is limited to eastern Cambodia and southern Vietnam. The northern yellow-cheeked crested gibbon (Nomascus annamensis) is found in northeastern Cambodia (including Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area) south and south-central Vietnam and southern Laos. This species was only discovered and described in 2010. f What threats do gibbons face? Conservation of gibbons is incredibly difficult. They occur at low densities because each group uses relatively large areas (30-200 hectares), they breed slowly – a female may only have five babies during her lifetime – and they are quite conspicuous to hunters because of their loud morning calls which can be heard up to two kilometres away. Intense hunting along with clearance of their habitat has resulted in gibbons disappearing across large areas of their former range. Hunting may be for traditional medicine, subsistence or the pet trade. For the pet trade, females with infants are shot in order to get the infants, which may or may not survive the fall from the canopy and resulting captivity. This means that for every gibbon seen as a pet, many more died in procuring it. f Why does gibbon conservation traditionally attract less funding than that of the great apes such as gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans? This is probably because of humans’ closeness to the great apes evolutionarily. We share a common ancestor with chimpanzees only six million years ago, whereas our common ancestor with gibbons dates back some 18 million years. Gibbons have long been in the shadows of the great apes in public perception. They have received far less exposure despite being the most successful ape in terms of their global coverage (excepting humans) and number of species. ¡

Interview by: Charlie Lancaster



May 2012 99

SEA Globe May 2012  

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