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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - An expanding South Korean presence

An expanding South Korean presence

OF the 20 South Korean companies now based in Cambodia, Sun Trading has been here

the longest.

Founded three years ago, the company has recently leased more than 200 square kilometers

of land in Kompong Cham and Mondulkiri provinces to mine gold, said chairman Yong

Wethington, a Korean-American.

The first phase of the project has recently been completed, with $4.2 million spent

on building road and base camps, Wethington said.

He said studies showed that there was a significant amount of gold in the sites.

Within three months, he added, Sun Trading would start drilling 100 meter- deep exploration

mines to test the amount of gold, copper and other mineral resources.

With hopes to start digging full mines by December this year, Wethington was working

in a joint venture with Korea Mining Promotion Corporation which would provide huge

financing for the project.

"[The corporation] is willing to invest $25 million per year until we start

to produce gold," he said.

"I have tried to get as many companies as I can to divide the work to develop

[the project] faster," he said.

Wethington, who has lived in Cambodia for five years, said he spent one year in South

Korea to make contact with businessmen and invited them to come to Cambodia.

But at that time, he continued, there was no information about Cambodia and the Koreans

thought that Cambodia was a war zone. He said some might even still have the same

thought.

"They saw The Killing Fields [movie], and nobody wanted to come to Cambodia,"

he said in an interview at his office.

"The South Korean government said in ten years maybe they would look to Cambodia,"

he said.

But things, including the trade opportunities in South Korea, have changed. Wethington

said that the business climate in the republic has become tightly competitive, prompting

the Korean government to lift restrictions on businessmen.

"Because South Korea has too overly grown, too many companies were trying to

compete," he said. "In order to save all companies, President Kim Yung

Sam opened the door for all companies to be able to participate, to compete in overseas

investment," he added.

Andy S. Seo, managing director of the Royal Palace hotel, said that three years ago

there was no information about Cambodia in South Korea. The republic's government

only lifted travel restrictions to the Kingdom in September last year. He said the

government listed Cambodia along with North Korea, Cuba and South Africa as countries

where its people could not visit.

"Many Koreans still think that Cambodia is a communist country, it's very dangerous.

The situation changed, our government wanted to connect with many countries,"

said Seo, who has invested $2 million in his business.

He said Cambodia was a good place for doing business compared to China and Vietnam,

where he had traveled to look at opportunities. One reason, he explained, was cheap

labor. He said that Cambodia's political and security situation was nothing extraordinary

from other countries like South Korea which also went through a period of war and

military dictatorship.

"This country is very good to invest... I hope it will develop and become more

stabilized," Seo said.

According to Wethington, Hyundai and the Khaou Chuly company are planning a joint

venture project to build a cement factory in Battambang province.

Khaou Phallaboth, Khaou Chuly's executive director, said that he was negotiating

with Hyundai about terms of the joint venture.

South Korean company GINRO is acquiring 100,000 hectares of land to grow cassava

to produce wine. Wethington said the company would also set up a factory to make

bottles for wine to be shipped to the South Korean market.

"[Having] MFN with the US will make a significant difference for SK to make

business in Cambodia," Wethington said optimistically. He joined the government

chorus in blaming the press for painting a negative picture about Cambodia.

Chanthol Sun, secretary of state of Ministry of Economy and Finance, told the Koreans

: "We have a bad image overseas. I'm asking you to help change that."

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